Trigger Warning: This article discusses transphobia and TERFs, and contains mentions of racism.
The past few months have seen us assaulted daily by a barrage of transphobic articles published by the likes of The Spectator, the Daily Mail, the Daily Star, The Times, and even the left-wing Guardian. The British media is currently launching a hate campaign of shocking proportions against one of our most vulnerable groups.
A large proportion of these articles have been in relation to the Gender Recognition Act reform consultation – a piece of legislation that, if changed, will allow trans people to change their gender on official documents with greater ease than at present. This seems harmless enough but, somehow, the debate surrounding it has become overwhelmingly about… bathrooms.
The reform of the Gender Recognition Act will have no impact on trans people’s right to use whatever bathroom they like, since that right is already covered by the Equality Act. Nevertheless, outrage has been manufactured and Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) have been telling all and sundry that making admin easier for trans people will enable them to infiltrate cis women’s spaces and attack them, since (as TERFs like to remind us) trans women are supposedly just as dangerous as cis men – if not more so.
“Arguments like these are never really about protecting (cis, white) women. They’re about Othering minorities and reinforcing dangerous stereotypes.”
This tactic of disguising prejudice as concern for vulnerable (cis) women is not new. In the days of the British Empire, British men justified their acquisition of India by stating that Indian women needed protecting from the barbaric actions of Indian men. The practice they cited was sati, a tradition that sees a widow burned on the funeral pyre with her husband. Admittedly, this is pretty f*cked up, but the idea that British men were benefiting Indian women in any way rather than using this as a guise to get rich is also pretty f*cked up.
Likewise, the rigid US bathroom segregation laws were supposedly put in place to protect white women from black people. During the civil rights movement, the proposal of racially neutral bathrooms was faced with a huge backlash due to the fear of white women catching venereal diseases from black women. This was then capitalised on by pro-segregationists, who stated that this would then lead to black men sharing bathrooms with white women, which would threaten their safety and purity. The underlying argument here was that black women were fundamentally different and therefore not entitled to the same facilities as white women because of their physical attributes. The similarities between this and the arguments about trans women are fairly self-evident.
Of course, arguments like these are never really about protecting (cis, white) women. They’re about Othering minorities and reinforcing dangerous stereotypes. They’re about maintaining the status quo and enabling the privileged to retain their power and subjugation over others.
“The threat that trans women pose to cis women is statistically… none.”
We see this in other movements against minorities as well: this prejudice under the guise of protecting something or someone. David Smith’s recent article in the Guardian, ‘Why Africa is the most homophobic continent’, uses using LGBTQ+ rights as a veil to tar the whole of Africa, a huge continent, as inherently homophobic while ignoring the fact that it was Europeans that imposed these rules and societal expectations. Additionally, Peter Tatchell, a prominent LGBTQ+ rights activist, paints Islam as inherently homophobic when it is in fact the cultural background and interpretation of scripture that leads to this, just as it does in Christianity. Articles and arguments like this are a way to spread racial tension in an already tense environment, as it sells. So do anti-trans articles.
Since we know that the threat trans women pose to cis women is statistically… none, we can see that this anti-trans rhetoric is extremely dangerous. It harms trans people, with one in eight trans people being physically attacked by colleagues or customers, and four in five trans pupils having self harmed. It also harms society as a whole, by opening up a norm where people are entitled to different rights because of their bodies.
The right in question here with the Gender Recognition Act is to be able to alter one’s official documents so that they are accurate without enduring intrusive assessments and distressing medical procedures. This little act can make a huge difference, and the government is consulting the public on how to achieve this right now. If enough people take part in support of trans people, we can improve the lives of many. Anyone can take part in the Gender Recognition Act reform consultation, and by doing so, cis allies can help make life easier for our trans siblings, and drown out the hatred of TERFs and bigots.