What the Hell is Wrong With You People?

Last week thousands of transgender people, sick and tired of suffering systemic and chronic abuse at the hands of an institutionally transphobic medical profession, decided we were going to tell the world about it.

Or at least the bit of it that reads Twitter.

It was relatively successful. Lots of people looked at the stories of routine and pointless abuse, abuse for its own sake, and were shocked.

So what did our intrepid press do? Did they decide to run daring exposés of this systemic abuse? Bring justice to a minority denied it for decades? Campaign to stop further abuse from happening?

No, they didn’t do any of these things. Noticing that it looked like a bit of a laugh, and the the doctors were getting away with it, they apparently decided to join in themselves.

So far we have the Guardian, Observer, Telegraph and today the Independent joining in (apparently we should be able to take a joke as our “shoulders are broad enough”). Interesting to note that this is mostly the broadsheets too. I await the contributions of the Times and Financial Times with interest. What will it be? A hilarious witty take on how trans women have deep voices, and are ugly, and how we have hairy arms, and smell and are stupid?

A development I’ve also seen this morning is the Dawkins Brigade joining in. Not just the ones who think rape is funny, but some of the ones who are horrified at the ones who think rape is funny, because while rape is definitely Not Funny, apparently trans people are. They can agree on that: laugh at the trans people, they’re funny. Ha ha!

Apparently this is about “freedom of speech”. When a newspaper editor publishes something randomly abusing trans people and then thinks better of it, and withdraws the article, this is an attack on Freedom of Speech and it is Censorship, and because trans people had the nerve to complain about being abused in the national press, it is Our Fault and we are The Censors, and Julie Bindel was right all along about a trans cabal.

The irony of telling a minority to shut up in a forum where we’re mostly being ignored anyway so that the majority can call us bedwetters in a national newspaper without worrying if their editor is going to pull the piece is apparently lost on “freedom of speech” campaigners.

I think, reflecting on this, I have one point to make: Freedom of speech is many things, but what it is not is the right to a column in the national press, free from editorial constraint, where you get to abuse “the little people”, and have a baying mob telling those same “little people” to keep quiet while our betters tell us how rank we are. In caricaturing it thus, you cheapen it.

Meanwhile, trans people are increasingly wondering what the hell is happening us and curling up into balls and feeling like begging for the abuse to stop. I know I am.

Please stop it. Please just stop. Stop.


25 thoughts on “What the Hell is Wrong With You People?

  1. I read the Julie Burchill piece and thought it was extraordinarily offensive: not many things shock me, but that did. I have read her writings occasionally and always thought her a deeply unpleasant woman but this was just vile. It’s another form of minority persecution of course. What annoys me also is the assumption in the press that only trans people are upset by this kind of thoughtless, cruel abuse. I’m a Cis woman and I’m furious. It’s not how I want society to be!

    • Thanks. Yes, it’s a good point, and that protests about this from cis people are being represented as “trans people overreacting” is depressing.

  2. Well, I try to do something by refusing to let people make transphobic comments in my presence, because they assume that since I’m cisgendered I won’t care. But it never seems to stop does it? My fb block list is getting longer… :(. *hugs*. I think you are great, btw. Sending good vibes your way.

  3. I have a confession to make. It’s embarrassing, but here goes. Once upon a time, in about 1995, I was one of those people who said that trans* people couldn’t be in women-only space, because they don’t have XX chromosomes (and ignored intersex choromosomes). I banged on about reinforcing gender stereotypes and the gender binary. My (pathetic) excuse was that because I am bisexual and genderqueer, and i wanted the boundary between the genders to be blurred, and preferably erased, people being trans* was upsetting the applecart. I apologise wholeheartedly for any distress i may have caused with my horrible views.

    Then (around 2005) I started to meet real trans* people, hear their stories, and learnt that they were not the ones reinforcing that gender binary – it was the doctors who were forcing them to jump through hoops to prove that they needed gender confirmation surgery. Making them live as their preferred gender without benefit of adjustments. And all the other horrors that were detailed in the #TransDocFail hashtag. I started to rethink gender. I stopped being a prejudiced asshole. I grew up.

    I met FtM people and MtF people. I learnt that many of the writers I respect and admire are trans (e.g. Raven Kaldera, Patrick Califia). I met ordinary trans* people. I read more around the issue (books, blogs, articles). I realised that the same people who had sold me the line about trans* people reinforcing the gender binary were the same people who persecute sex workers and kinksters. They were the same people who rejected me for being bisexual.

    So yeah, why can’t people learn to understand trans* people? Just listen. I did.

    • Thanks for the comment, and the confession. Lots of people seem to grow through experiencing the world and having their prejudice challenged by experience. Some, however, get that challenge and seem to simply ignore it.

      • And furthermore, it seemed to me at the time that my bad attitude was legitimised by reading articles in the liberal media which appeared to back up my views. One doesn’t feel bad about having a prejudiced view if it’s backed up by what one reads in the Grauniad, in academic papers about gender, etc.

        I think that is why there is a demonstration outside the offices of the Grauniad – because they are the one paper that might, just might, be expected to get it, and to make an effort not to be transphobic. It’s kind of obvious that right-wing papers will be transphobic, and a pleasant surprise if they commission articles from people who get it – but it feels like a stab in the back when the Grauniad attacks trans* people. It’s a betrayal of what they are supposed to stand for.

    • I have never before heard the phrase “gender confirmation surgery”. I love it.

  4. “A development I’ve also seen this morning is the Dawkins Brigade joining in.”

    What does this refer to?

    • Sceptics, with a capital S. the final straw, for me, on Twitter was seeing a number of Sceptics/Free Speech advocates joining in to opine that trans people need to shut up in the name of Free Speech.

      • Oh god, that. When I was an undergrad, a number of other students decided to bully me by posting massive amounts of horrible, personal, insulting crap on a local usenet group in order to upset me. A few of my friends complained and the free speech idiots did their thing saying it was “wrong” to complain about people saying hurtful things about my appearance, apparent lack of friends, supposed sexual habits etc. It felt like such a betrayal. *hugs*. I’m so sorry you’re going through that. I’m not trying to suggest it’s equivalent, but I remember shaking every time I logged in as there was yet more bile.

        • Sounds like the same sort of thing to be honest, although yours sounds more directly personal. This is aimed at a whole community, so I guess it spreads it out a bit maybe?

      • I don’t know who you’re talking about specifically but it really shouldn’t surprise us. If recent history has shown us anything it’s that being a Capital-S Skeptic doesn’t even imply any kind of concern for equality, human rights, social justice or simply being a halfway decent human being. Sad.

  5. Been right there curling up in a ball as well, I’m midway through transition (funnily enough, right at the ‘NHS access issues’ point) and the world I’m entering seems darker and darker with every news report like this I’ve read in the past couple of years. Funnily enough, it’s still better than the place I’m leaving, but it’s still pretty depressing to see.

    I’m trying to look at the bright side, though, and pay attention to the not-insignificant support that has come out by allies and people been recently made aware of these issues.

  6. Free speech isn’t much use when it doesn’t come with a free printing press, is it? And of course, when people actually do start handing out free printing presses – with such names as “twitter” and “tumblr” – the users of same immediately get discounted as activists, horribly uncouth (and probably unwashed, those hoi polloi) and hounding the poor journos.

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  9. Dear Sarah,

    I was about to publish, inside a Brazilian LGBT community, some excerpts I translated from the Guardian article “The real trans scandal is not the failings of one doctor but cruelty by many”, but then I read your text here, where you said that the Guardian joined in with all the laughter. So i had a second thought, Jane Mae’s article indeed talks about laughter and doesn’t quite notice that she’s maybe the only one giving the news with a more serious intention. Now I’m not sure if it’s a good take on the issue. If you could give me your light into it I would highly appreciate it (although I’ll now probably share your other article instead, that surely went deeper into the subject and shines with your expertise).

    Regards from Brazil

    • Hi, thanks for the comment.

      I think Jane writes some good stuff on this and it’s worth spreading.

      Best of luck with everything. xx

  10. I live in Spain, so I missed most of this, but Julie Birchill’s piece appalled me. You might get some comfort from http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/01/15/who-the-heck-is-julie-burchill/ and http://freethoughtblogs.com/zinniajones/2013/01/the-crass-hypocrisy-of-julie-burchill/. I’m not the only cis person who thinks you’re human and who are appalled at this bullying. I would bet money that the atheists who yell FREEZE PEACH while insisting that you have no right to speech are the ones who treat feminist atheists the same way. I doubt if it’s much comfort, but you’re not the only victims -they’re equal opportunity bullies. It’s just that you have so much extra shit to cope with before they piled on.


  11. First scientific persecution was abolished, then religious persecution, and then racial, and nowadays we’re seeing homosexuality and bisexuality more and more accepted within most first world countries. Yet we still have this problem, where people can’t look to the past and see how stupid it is to persecute people for being different. It’s like society doesn’t become any more accepting through civil movements, rather they just find someone else to degrade after it’s not cool to do to who they’ve been doing it to anymore. I don’t ask if we’ll be treated equally anymore, I ask instead who’s going to be the target after people grow to “accept” us?

  12. Yes, the Atheism+ movement was formed in response to sexism, homophobia (and I think transphobia as well) in the atheist/skeptic community, and all the same arguments are being had in that community as are happening in the feminist movement over this.

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