The last day of March marks the International Transgender Day of Visibility, which must be in contention for most redundant event in the calendar. Some readers might be of the opinion that a few days of transgender invisibility might be more timely.
As a transgender person, I am tempted to agree. When I transitioned eight years ago the goal was to assimilate back into society, and with the minimum of fuss. Occasional stories did reach the press but, while there was passing interest, they were never high up the news agenda.
While the increased visibility cannot be denied, some people are now claiming that transphobia is taking over the nation. In an astonishing opinion piece for the New York Times earlier this week, Juliet Jacques announced that Transphobia is Everywhere in Britain.
Collins Dictionary defines transphobia as “a fear or hatred of transgender people”, so — if Jacques is correct — this is serious. Are there really hordes of people who are either fleeing from me in terror or on a warpath to my door?
I don’t think so. Certainly it is not my experience, nor is it the experience of my transgender friends. I earn a living as a teacher and go about my life much as I always did. Many things can keep me awake at night, but transphobia is not one of them.
While vociferous transgender activists repeat endlessly their demand for “trans rights now”, it’s much less clear what rights we lack. The 2010 Equality Act established gender reassignment as a protected characteristic to defend us against harassment and discrimination. Meanwhile, transphobia is recognised as an aggravating factor in hate crime legislation. We can readily change sex markers on passports, driving licences and other documents. Even the sex recorded on our birth certificates can be amended — or falsified depending on your point of view — if we can demonstrate evidence of need. What more do we want?
Yes, transgender healthcare is buckling under the strain following unprecedented increased demand, and we suffer appalling delays for specialist medical treatment. Scope also remains to further develop additional “third spaces” for trans people, and anyone else who doesn’t want to share with their own sex. However, my fellow citizens do not appear to fear me or hate me because I am transgender.
Some perspective is needed here. Only 12 years ago, a transgender friend was dismissed from her job as an assistant headteacher because she proposed to transition. Her school told her that should she come to work in female attire, she would be escorted straight off the premises. Such outrageous transphobia is no longer permissible or acceptable. Society has been transformed.
So what is this transphobia that Jacques is complaining about? She is not alone; seeking out transphobia in order to moan about it seems to be a key part of transgender activism.
On Monday evening, I was at an epicentre of this so-called transphobic hate: a rally hosted by the Labour Women’s Declaration in support of Woman’s Place UK and the LGB Alliance. Those two organisations were recently singled out by the egregious Labour Campaign for Trans Rights (LCTR) as trans-exclusionist hate groups. Strong words — and a total misrepresentation of reality.
I not only attended that rally — held in a North Kensington social club — I spoke from the platform. Alongside me were those who the LCTR would no doubt condemn as premier league transphobes.
Kiri Tunks, a founder of Woman’s Place UK, reiterated her astonishment at the controversy Woman’s Place has generated. Their campaign to uphold women’s sex-based rights, as enshrined in UK Law, and defend women’s right to be heard, has been twisted out of all recognition in the minds of their opponents. From the LGB Alliance, Bev Jackson described the worst attack on lesbian rights in her lifetime. As sex and gender have been conflated and confused, 40% of people on some lesbian dating sites now have male bodies. She was clear: sex is biology; gender is stereotypes. As a scientist I agree wholeheartedly.
The barrister and former firefighter Lucy Masoud and UnHerd’s Paul Embery called out those leading Labour Party politicians who had signed the LCTR pledges. Masoud described it as “a descent into political lunacy”, but it is an entrenched position in the party. Lachlan Stuart — former adviser to Jeremy Corbyn — explained how doors were closed to him in 2018 when he voiced his concerns about the qualifying criteria for all-women shortlists.
Julie Bindel then let rip. The old-style sexism she had grown up with in the 1970s was preferable to this insidious misogyny dressed up as progress. Transgender ideology, she declared, was men’s rights activism. By now my erasure should have been complete but instead I listened intently as Professor Selina Todd — no platformed recently at Oxford University for alleged transphobery — told the packed hall that not signing the LCTR pledges and silence was not good enough, and if the Labour Party disappeared down a rabbit hole of misogyny then the Labour movement will go forwards without them.
If this was the transphobia that Jacques had in mind, trans people need not be concerned. Trans people in the hall were welcomed warmly and treated with dignity and respect. Trans rights are human rights and they were safe in that meeting.
Unfortunately, the sense of solidarity was not replicated outside the building. Throughout the evening a noisy and intimidating group of protesters repeated their catechism ad nauseum, trans women are real women (spoiler: we are not, we are a different sex) and trans men are real men. But after shrieking about terfs on their turf, they exposed their vacuous ideology and political naivety when they ignited smoke bombs outside the building, just two hundred metres from the shocking sight of Grenfell Tower. As smoke entered the room, the tension and fear was palpable. Memories are still raw in this neighbourhood: it most certainly was not their turf.
When I engaged with the demonstrators after the meeting I was met with fear and animosity. There certainly is transphobia in society — we must not be naïve about that — but it wasn’t found in that meeting, it was outside in the darkness. Maybe the frenzied concern that Britain is being consumed by transphobia is a projection of their inner fears?
The view from the New York Times that “Transphobia is everywhere in Britain” is not just nonsense. It deflects us from the work that we should be focusing on. Trans rights are not secure: we suffer appalling delays for specialist NHS treatment, and we would be foolish to think that bigotry and discrimination were behind us. But we are stronger when we find common cause with other groups that face similar opposition, namely women and LGB people; and from a platform inside a North Kensington social club we made that clear.
Debbie Hayton is a teacher and a transgender campaigner.
* This article was first published by Unherd on 12 March 2020: Britain is not a transphobic country.