Steph's Place

Opinion: Understanding the extent of hatred directed at trans people

An opinion piece by Freda Wallace

You have to forgive some people for not fully understanding the extent of hatred directed at trans people on social media.

It's not that they don't care - it's sometimes because the language has become coded and rarefied; it can be alienating if you don't know your 'GC' from your 'TERF' to the 'TRA'.

Those of us who are used to this world use these acronyms all the time because we are entrenched in this algorithmically processed set of signifiers, and it has become almost common parlance when it shouldn't be.

Sometimes it feels like a virtual world.

Unfortunately, it has real-world effects at a street level for people exposed to it.

I will attempt to break down the mechanism at work that has seen trans people become the target of exclusionary politics online over the last few years. It's not the whole story, but I will use two recent instances of the amplification of bigotry that have occurred in the previous few months.

This is written for people who might be just outside of gender politics and probably don't see themselves as having a dog in the fight. This will show you why you have something to lose by not being a trans ally and nothing to gain by throwing in with those seeking to divide us. It is complicated.

First of all, it's important to note that the trans experience isn't something that can be hidden. We are visible. When you come out as trans, you are a walking, talking protest, even if that isn't your intention. That said, let's remember Galop (an LGBT charity) reports 50% of trans people are scared to go out of their own homes.

Those who are visible are a protest because they immediately challenge peoples' perceptions of what sexuality looks like. You become acutely aware that people can target you simply on the way you present to the world.

It’s easier for some than others, and many of the attacks on trans people come down to physical appearance.

There is a notion of “passing” and going unnoticed is often promoted as a good thing even within the trans community. Prescribing to a set of beauty parameters is fine but has no bearing on our legitimacy as human beings.

Trans men who bind or trans women who pad are not doing this to “pretend” to be. They do it to bring bodies in-line with consciousness. There is no right or wrong in this respect. No one owes you an explanation if you can’t ‘figure out’ the gender of a person.

It’s a basic human need to delineate arbitrary differences, though.

It’s one of the flaws of our nature.

The first thing anyone wants to know when they see a baby is “is it a boy or is it a girl” and the answer will magically change the way we think about the child from then on. No one complains about pronouns at that moment. But as you’ll see, if you spend enough time down the culture war rabbit hole, pronouns become a rock some are willing to perish on.

Being frightened of the fundamental weightlessness of gender is a tangible anxiety for many people, it seems.

People are prejudiced much of the time, of course.

Being a teenage Goth, l was used to being singled out for looking odd. So, it's common for people to be upset and confused by something they don't fully understand. It's the same negative energy at work when people comment on women wearing the Hijab etc. It’s basic xenophobia, so let us not pretend being trans is on a separate, more difficult strata of the normalised hate speech we have come to accept at street level.

The difference with trans issues is they have become a barometer issue in the same way gay rights used to be. The debate rests with us, not because we have increased in number but because we talk to each other in our own networks more freely.

If they fear anything, autonomy and self-actualisation smash both patriarchal structures and social norms. Some people are determined to petition against personal freedom, and for the first time in recent history, hard-fought for human rights are under threat in the UK.

You build up a thick skin and a good set of come-backs when you grow up in a northern town where the only culture is the local Conservative club, where even the local drag queen is a racist. That's the world l had to escape from in the 1990s to move to Manchester. I have a tortoiseshell built up of 20 years of verbal attacks in the real world.

Forgive me if this recent online onslaught is basic noise pollution to me. I've had to validate my existence too many times. This is part of the problem with people who are down this rabbit hole. The same arguments recycle themselves in a constant drone, so you end up with well-rehearsed replies.

You stop thinking.

One reason the arguments echo themselves is to do with the synoptic nature of social media. Certain words and phrases work like nodal triggers, lighting up and flashing like lighthouses and across a sea of noise. We become like isolated asylum seekers willing to sell parts of our souls to catch a bit of light. We gravitate to that which comforts us; we amplify and follow the brightest lights in the network for guidance, then try to diminish those which challenge the consensus.

So here we are on "TERF island", as the UK has become to be known by American commentators.

TERF is; Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. But as you will see, they are neither radical nor feminist. They sometimes go by the term Gender Critical. This is confusing because it is actually me who is gender critical. I've been criticising gender norms all my life.

The reason they use this is because some of these people believe there is a 'gender ideology'.

You'll see that a lot on Twitter etc. It allows people to think we are a cult of trans indoctrinators who want to turn your children trans as if we are some kind of vampires that recruit in the shadows when parents are not looking.

I've actually seen some idiots suggest that.

I'm going to look at two recent cultural commentators who bring these issues into focus and demonstrate how the opinion influencers have twisted logic to propel an attack on trans lives and weaponise data against us.

The first moment concerns the resignation of Dr Kathleen Stock from her role at the University of Sussex.

Kathleen Stock was a little known figure, writing philosophy based on sexual orientation and identity. Nothing great, nothing to make her stand out at any rate. It was only because of the publication of Material Girls 2021 that her cheques started to role in. Material Girls is the perfect gift to the current click-bait hungry media which is failing to sell print copies and simply relies on likes, shares and retweets. Its tacky pop culture play on the famous Madonna song should not go unnoticed.

She is cautious in her writing to say that trans people are not her enemy, but unfortunately for Stock, all the fans of her book definitely believe trans people are invalid (at best).

She has become a folk hero to the kind of people who believe trans women shouldn't be allowed to share changing rooms with anyone they claim to be a valid woman. There is no need for me to point out why this is nonsense. It simply sexually objectifies people like me as nothing but predators, and obviously this suits the people who are already against us.

It creates a moral panic within the minds of people already scared to death by “loony lefty liberals telling us how to think”.

There are people out there still who believe TRAs (Trans Rights Activists) ousted her from her role at Sussex University. In actual fact she was already facing a challenge from her own colleagues. When she was nominated for an OBE in 2020, over 500 fellow academics protested her appointment due to their feelings on marginalising transgender people. Stock's position was already untenable, and rather than being a ‘free speech’ issue as some duplicitously claim, it was her choice to jump ship.

The stage was set then for her to throw in with the right-wing media and the stage-managed exit from the university was enacted. Just well enough to give her latest book the maximum publicity and make her enough cash to comfortably leave her day job.

Well done.

Now she's on the 'I'm a celebrity, I've been cancelled' tour of the usual outlets with the punishers rubbing their hands in approval.

So, in steps, Julie Bindel.

She is already a darling of the right. She needs people like Stock to validate her political stance and jumped on this like a parasite on a fattened host. Where Stock was careful, Bindel tends to be the opposite.

I'm not sure who is worse to be honest - but I have followed Bindel for a while and the only time you see her name outside of social media is when she is attached to right-wing publications like Spiked Online, albeit that Bindel suggests she has left-wing views.

Who funds Spiked Online? I asked my friend Steph for her view. "Probably the ADF" (a named US hate group) was her reply.

Bindel is so keen to promote Stock there is a staged interview on Unherd (no need to point out the irony there) in which Stock digs bigger and bigger holes for herself. She requests people read her book before judging her while ignoring the fact Bindel is only there for points in her own fight, not philosophical insight. Bindel comes across as the agent to Stocks roadshow.

In this interview, Stock claims that some parents might accept that their gender-questioning child might prefer to go down the trans route than accept the child is gay. This makes no sense whatsoever. Parents who shame children for expressing feelings are not going to suddenly think a trans identity is fine. These are the kind of parents children learn to hide their feelings from or eventually run away from.

Clearly, the concern is erroneous and simply propelled by a need to frame trans issues as the danger of our age.

It’s an ace card in their culture war but a joker to anyone with any real experience of trans lives.

There will be some hoodwinked by it - the same people would have thought gay men were trying to lead young boys astray at any opportunity in recent history.

She also believes that there is pressure on lesbians to accept trans women as lesbians.

Surely that's up to individual women?

Who is saying anyone has the right to approach anyone?

The inference is that trans women are forcing themselves upon others. This only creates the false fear that we are all domineering and only motivated by taking up space. You have to wonder in which social circles these people exist in. In all their arguments, the exact fear mechanism is at work, the sense of an invading force or undercurrent of recruitment into a new order of trans indoctrination.

It’s completely backward when you consider how few trans people there are and how anxious many of us are just going out of the house, never mind trying to intimidate anyone. Their scare method makes no sense when I consider my own social life of unisex spaces with gay men, lesbians and every point in between just chilling out having a good bop to some tunes.

If a woman had a problem with me I’d have to accept that, but there’s little I could do but walk away. If a group of women excluded me from a space, I’d concede that isn’t the kind of place I’d want to be anyway, but I’ve never experienced that.

People don’t have time to be checking who’s trans!

It only matters to Bindel and Stock because it feigns concern for women in a clamour for moral high ground.

It masks transphobia (the prejudice of a trans person) from the casual reader while dog-whistling to their fan base.

The idea of 'women-only spaces' has only become a talking point for Bindel when she can focus it through the concept trans women are trying to 'invade' those spaces. In the same way, she is obsessed with prisons, changing rooms, toilets and single-sex hospital wards, they are intent on finding instances where we are the 'other'.

I rarely see them talk about vulnerable women unless they can attach the fear of this minority group to it.

While they are busy blaming trans women and weaponising data to justify their prejudice they are looking the wrong way and real abuses are still taking place.

Within the police and other institutions, women are known to be unsafe or unprotected when help is sought.

When police say hate crimes are on the increase, Bindel appears to be silent when she is unable to wrap it up in her simplified scapegoating narrative.

One of the other significant issues Bindel loves to obsess over is Self-ID.

Currently to change your official gender marker on a passport or official government document you must apply for this with a doctor's recommendation. Self-ID simply allows the dignity of the correct gender on your birth certificate. It’s very simple but means a lot to us. Self-ID makes that a personal choice rather than something gatekeepers restrict.

People who complain about self-ID always talk themselves into a predictable hole.

Do they seriously think sex offenders care whether it says M or F on their driving license or phone bill? No, their best tool is convincing others to look the other way and blame or scapegoat trans women. This is how transphobia is simple misogyny and enables abuse.

So, you have these two well promoted online presences with thousands of followers powering this engine of hate. They feed off each other and boost the post of those who agree with them in an algorithmically rewarding network. Each node in the network can make gains by using the adopted phrases of the hive. You will see 'I love JK Rowling' a lot (Rowling recently became a favourite of them because she was the highest-profile figure to express an anti-trans stance).

You will see 'Adult Human Female', and you will see 'Gender Crit'. All these accounts have only one interest, and it is weaponising data to harm trans people. People like Stock and Bindel know this, but rather than use their position to educate people they ‘like’, share and boost these people, What you end up with is an atmosphere of fear which has a tribal dynamic.

This is why TRA's are often cited as representations of all trans people. A lot of harsh words are exchanged and people become abusive. It is the fire that feeds itself.

Most trans people just want to get on with their lives, get the healthcare they need, have a nice day at work and enjoy a weekend away or a chippy tea now and again.

It's that simple.

I know l do.

Life is complicated enough without this nine sided dice of nonsense constantly being thrown around. You never know where it will land but one thing you can bet on, the game is rigged.

It’s a well mapped board game of snakes and ladders, and no one is winning.

If some people seek to exclude a minority by virtue of their difference, by attaching an existential threat to them and attempting to convince others of this perceived peril by finding the publishing of books that proliferate division, then sorry to break it to you - it’s basic fascism.

You can ask: “when they came for trans people, did you do nothing”?

Some might suggest that it is dramatic to invoke Niemöller there, but I stand by it.

Trans people have become the canaries in the coal mine of contemporary bigotry. Social media is giving certain malicious individuals a free pass to indulge in premeditated hate speech.

Unfortunately, there is hay to be made out of conflict, and some people are very willing to manufacture that strife to sell copy. Fear really gets the blood flowing, and the endorphin rush of being rewarded for your thoughts is probably highly addictive (share my article!).

But the people who set up Twitter accounts with the sole aim of creating division are often most shared by those who are insecure about their own identity.

It is harmful but gratifying for the end-user.

They take aim and fire their bullets while only getting high off their own gun smoke.

These are the wasps who have learned to make honey.

Its a trap.

Authored by Freda Wallace - opinions her own. 

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