Watching the rise of transphobia in the media through 2020 has filled me with a sense of déjà vu. We’ve been through all this before, with homophobia in the 1980s. Through the Thatcher years, homophobia was rising, with a survey in 1987 finding that 75% of the UK population thought homosexuality was ‘always or mostly wrong’. People like Michael Portillo and Michael Howard championed Clause 28, Andrew Neil published stories in the Sunday Times claiming that heterosexuals couldn’t catch AIDS, and Mrs. Thatcher herself said, at the 1987 Conservative Party conference, ‘Children [...] are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay; all of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life. Yes, cheated.’
The response to this political pressure was the coalescing of the LGBT+ movement, a loose coalition of oppressed groups coming together to put forward the argument that we should be treated equally with everyone else, and young LGBT+ people should learn that they are normal. By denying them this education, LGBT+ youth are in reality the ones being cheated of a sound start in life, which is why we still on average have lower incomes, poorer health outcomes, higher suicide rates and are the victims of all kinds of discrimination, though less blatantly than in the past.
When Tony Blair repealed Section 28 and gave sexual orientation minorities almost full legal equality, with an equal age of consent, protection from discrimination at work, pension rights and civil partnerships, it looked like the equality argument had largely been won. But a few within the LGBT+ movement were never comfortable with the consensus approach, and have continued to pursue an agenda of separatism and discrimination. Julie Bindel is one example, having sadly been given a platform time and time again by the UK’s only independent newspaper, The Guardian, to vent her prejudices against bisexual women. Now, joining with a wider movement of radical feminists, she has turned her hate against trans women. They are rapidly gaining political ground, and not just via a flood of transphobic articles in The Guardian and influential hangers-on like J.K.Rowling with her 14 million twitter followers. Now the transphobes are having an increasing impact on legislation, most recently defeating proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act to make gender recognition a less humiliating, protracted and medicalised process.
The arguments of the transphobes all mirror those advanced against homosexuality in the 80s. Here’s a ‘top 10’ list of them:
|1.||I’m heterosexual and I don’t accept the lived experience of people who say it feels natural to them to have a different sexual orientation||I accept the lived experience of people who say it feels natural to to them to have a different sexual orientation to me, but not the lived experience of people who say it feels natural to them to have a gender other than the one that was assigned to them at birth|
|2.||Homosexuality exists but it’s morally wrong, certain books of the Old Testament (300-150BC) say so||Trans women aren’t proper women, certain feminist texts before Gender Trouble (1990) say so|
|3.||Homosexuality was considered pathological by early 20th century psychology (before Kinsey), so that must be true||The gender binary was supported by early genetic science (before karyotypes), so that must be true|
|4.||When I was growing up I learned that sexuality was simple (men and women only have sex with each other), so I deny any evidence that the world is more complicated than that||When I was growing up I learned that sex science was simple (we have either XX or XY chromosomes and never other variations, and always have bodies and also brains that correspond perfectly to those two prototypes), so I deny any evidence that the world is more complicated that|
|5.||Being LGB is just an invalid lifestyle choice, those people should conform to what society expects||Being lesbian/gay obviously isn’t a choice, but being trans is just an invalid choice so those people should just conform to what society expects|
|6.||I know gay men exist and I don’t like it; if lesbians and bisexuals even exist, they don’t bother me so much...||I know trans women exist and I don’t like it; if trans men and non-binary people even exist, they don’t bother me so much...|
|7.||...because it’s gay men who are ‘really’ pedophiles who want to abuse children||...because it’s trans women who are ‘really’ misogynists who want to attack women|
|8.||I have nothing to say about the physical bullying of gay people, but I’m outraged about this hounding of anyone who expresses perfectly reasonable doubts about the validity of homosexuality, it’s practically a witch hunt! (Activists like Peter Tatchell are doorstepping them with placards and fake nuns turn up at all their events!)||I have nothing to say about the physical bullying of trans people, but I’m outraged about this hounding of anyone who expresses perfectly reasonable doubts about the validity of being transgender, it’s practically a witch hunt! (Activists are posting unkind hashtags on Twitter!)|
|9.||Children are too young to know for sure whether they’re gay; so they must be kept in ignorance and fear about it until they’re adults (and even then, gay men still can’t have sex for another 3 years just to make sure)||Children are too young to know for sure whether they’re trans; so they must be forced to live in a body that feels increasingly horribly wrong throughout puberty|
|10.||This isn’t even a real issue. It’s just political correctness gone mad!||This isn’t even a real issue. It’s just woke-ness gone mad!|
It's clear that what we are seeing is a rearguard movement. Having largely lost the battle on equality for people identifying as different sexual orientations, regressives have shifted the battleground to oppose equality for people with different gender identities or incorrectly assigned gender (trans people, non-binary gendered/genderqueer and intersex people). This battle has been less completely won. So the agenda of transphobia is ultimately the same as that of biphobia: to ‘divide and conquer’ the LGBT+ movement, as a first step towards rolling back the rights of others too.
The fact that the arguments are always the same shows exactly why we must continue to stand together. I’m not transgender but I’m against prejudice – which, some people need reminding, means pre-judging everyone in a group based on the actions, or imagined actions, of a group member. That’s why I support, and have always supported, trans rights, and follow the lead of trans people themselves, who can best tell us what they need. Trans men are men, trans women are women, and also, intersex and non-binary people exist. We are LGBT+ and we still, mostly, stand together. That hasn’t changed since the 1980s, and for good reason: none of us are free until we are all free!