It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that the media and many of those with a platform in the UK have been on the attack against the trans community recently. Their attack vector is our gender identity. They will target many of us specifically based on the ease with which they can get to us. They’ll use existing societal structures to get at those who are already at risk – sex workers, people of colour, disabled people, femme presenting people – but do not be under any illusions that they care whom among us they hurt – whatever the colour of our skin, whether we’re disabled or abled, men, women or non-binary people, trans people are their targets.
There is thus a temptation, a really powerful one, to try to defend ourselves by separating us from those that we see as embarrassing, or who we think hold us back in our quest for equality in both law and in the eyes of society. This temptation is as old as time. Look at our allies in the LGBT+ community – many gay men in the past tried to distance themselves from femme/camp gay men as they thought they hurt their push for equality. Many still do. In the 1970s and 80s, the cross-dresser movement in the US tried to push for more societal acceptance by telling people that they were just straight men with ‘a need to dress as women’. “We’re not like those queer people”, they said. They thought that making themselves seem more like their oppressor would make the oppressor respect them. In the UK, you only have to look at India Willoughby writing about how women who aren’t ‘transitioning’ shouldn’t use women’s toilets, or… er… India Willoughby agreeing with Piers Morgan about gender neutral terminology, or even, well, India Willoughby agreeing with Ann Widdecombe that trans people should be charged for their surgery by the NHS – you’ve only got to look at any of those things to see that it’s easy for transgender people who think that they’ve got it made, to try to throw less privileged members of our community under the bus in order to try to grab respectability for themselves. We will all see it from time to time in the spaces we inhabit.
It rarely works. Even if it does work – it is short lived. If you manage to make yourself second from the bottom of the ladder, what happens once the bottom rung is gone? If you dance to the tune of your oppressor in order to try to gain their acceptance, what happens when you miss a step? And that’s before you even consider that, as humans, we should probably have some sense of solidarity with our community siblings and at least try to help them too. I like to think our society still has some sense of collective responsibility, and that we don’t want to see other people suffer.
What I’m trying to say here is that we’re stronger as a group. Sometimes we have to, as individuals, go through some personal stress and soul searching, and we have to face our own failures and prejudices and mistakes in order to grow and become more accepting of our friends and allies, but doing so makes us better and more effective. I’ve seen people saying that the public does not understand some of the issues in our community. That non-binary issues are too complex for the general public to understand, and that it turns them against us and so we shouldn’t address them. That we shouldn’t listen to trans sex workers because they’re a damaging stereotype and we shouldn’t be associated with them. None of this is what we should be doing. If people do not understand, that is precisely why we SHOULD address them. We should tackle these issues head on, and educate and win over these people as we go.
Times like now, when we’re all under attack, are when we should look to build bonds with each other, to understand each other better, to respect each other – not to attack each other in the hope that we’ll have fewer people to compete with for the scraps from the table.