It’s been difficult to escape the storm of transphobic commentary from an unholy alliance of TERFs and right-wing dinosaurs over the last few months. The Government is to reform the Gender Recognition Act, and since this is anathema to the unholy alliance we have seen some very dark days indeed.
A moment of light in the wilderness came from Owen Jones in the Guardian, a paper that has been problematic to trans people in the past due to its provision of an unquestioning platform for TERF hate speech, but which is slowly showing signs of mending its ways. In it, Jones makes the point well, that those ranged against us now will be seen in future decades in the same light as those who ranged against gay people are now. As particularly abhorrent, and belonging to a less civilised era.
As a trans person reading the piece, for me he was definitely preaching to the choir. It was a shame that a trans person wasn’t being given the platform to say it, but here was a powerful cis journalist finally telling the world where it had gone wrong. Perhaps now someone might listen to us!
Then I came to this paragraph, and suddenly that bright light rather went out.
Opponents of trans rights are losing, and they know it, hence the viciousness. There are brilliant trans voices emerging – like Shon Faye, Paris Lees and Munroe Bergdorf – but the media surely have a responsibility to provide a greater platform. And just as gay rights was once seen as the preserve of the “loony left”, trans people are desperately lacking in influential media allies.
The thrust of the paragraph is spot on, but the problem was in his list of names. Not Shon, Paris and Munroe personally, but the group of voices they are a part of, what, and in fact who they represent. He’s rattled off the list of succesful trans people that appear on his radar as a Bright Young Columnist. Invariably young, attractive, and successful trans women, who look good on TV and whose transitions went perfectly. The Trans Story, neatly packaged for media consumers, so they aren’t challenged by anything.
The problem is with the mass of trans people whose voices have been amplified, that invariably they have brought to the table some level of privilege that has given them a leg-up. They might be from a well-off background, the NHS didn’t fail them, perhaps they went private for their treatment, they had facial surgery, they are young enough to have escaped the worst excesses of testosterone, or maybe they are just blessed with good bone structure and voice. Even when their pasts contain some low points, these are packaged for sensationalism, for edginess rather than to highlight inequality. Trans journalism has become not a means to give voice to the marginalised, but instead a means of publicising the success of the few, and though any trans person in the public eye is a welcome sight it does little to bring a spotlight on those of our community who are most beleagured.
The media and publishing in general is a world overwhelmingly populated by privileged people, and therefore to achieve success in that sphere you either have to possess that privilege to start with, or act to the standards imposed by the privileged to break into it. A very long career in publishing having arrived as a technical specialist and then as a successful niche journalist who happens to be trans has introduced me to any number of attractive people with the assurance of having a rich daddy, and given me the understanding that those people only bring forward those who conform to their expectations. To achieve that without a rich daddy takes an astounding combination of looks, talent, bravado, and sheer luck, but notwithstanding that achievement to look at those who have managed it as representative of those who haven’t is to further extinguish and marginalise the bottom of the pile.
I will only agree with Jones’ view about the haters being vanquished by brilliant voices when I see being amplified those who have not arrived with privilege. I want to hear from the old, the broken, the failed, and the dispossessed, because these are the people who make up a huge part of our community and who bear the brunt of the hate levelled against us. If a trans person in the media eye suffers street abuse it forms the basis of a good write-up, but if a forgotten and jobless trans person in temporary accommodation suffers the same abuse it likely as not eventually forms the basis of a coroner’s report. There’s your story, should you choose to write it.
Of course, we here at nGendr are hardly in a position to talk. We may not be celebrities, but it’s fair to say we’re all pretty lucky in our lives and professions, we have roofs over our heads and we know where our next pay cheque will come from. Among our writers are more than one professional journalist, for whom even though our trans status may not figure in that side of our writing we’re still part of that media establishment, insiders of a sort. As a collective we’re painfully aware of this, and we will always take a moment to encourage anyone in our community and especially those with less privilege to come forward and write for us. If you think nobody would listen because the Guardian and their like wouldn’t give you the time of day, give us a try and get in touch. After all, if you build a solid portfolio of work then that could be your way upwards. When we’ve added a trans voice who arrived without privilege to Jones’ list, we’ll know our work is done.
Newsprint image: MarkBuckawicki [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.