There’s been a thoroughly predictable outcry against The Old Vic theatre’s move to gender-neutral toilets, and trade magazine The Stage invited two cisgender women to write about it. A Twitter storm ensued and the articles were both taken down again, but it’s been reported on social media and on the BBC as the silencing of critics. That isn’t true; the supportive article was taken down too.
When I tweeted a pretty innocuous comment in response to the Old Vicâ€™s announcement – ‘This is fantastic, thank you for making this important change to help those of all genders feel welcome at your venue’ – I found my notifications inundated with aggressive responses calling me â€˜an idiotâ€™ and asking â€˜why do you want women to be assaulted?â€™. As a cis woman, it was an unwelcome reminder of the levels of intimidation and harassment faced by trans* people every day. Many of those attacking me were apparently, like me, privileged, cis women – and it has made me more committed than ever to use my own privilege to stand alongside the trans community.
Besides, itâ€™s not only trans* people who benefit from these changes. Itâ€™s carers looking after someone of another gender to them, parents, and any woman who has ever stood in a long queue waiting for a cubicle to become available, watching men sailing freely in and out of the toilets designated exclusively for them.
These orchestrated pile-ons â€“ and yes, some trans people do it too, albeit not in the massive numbers that anti-trans pile-ons attractâ€“ are making it impossible to have any sensible discussions about anything. People take the most extreme positions (eg. thinking gender neutral toilets are a good idea means you want women to be sexually assaulted) and just scream them endlessly.
And some of that screaming is being done deliberately by people who know better.
One of the most frustrating things about being a trans researcher on Twitter is seeing lies and misrepresentations which are *demonstratably* wrong propagated by journalists and commentators. Anti-trans activists call for “debate” but there is literally not enough time in the day.
Debating trans issues online feels like banging your head against a brick wall. You can produce evidence, appeal to human decency, point out logical inconsistencies – to absolutely no avail. If you manage to bring around one person, others have been spreading the lie elsewhere.
Part of the problem here is that “debate” rarely works to persuade – it’s more frequently a form of political theatre… it’s hard not to feel massively disheartened when I’ve spent days, months, years interviewing people, reading publications, visiting clinics etc, and meanwhile people are running around the internet propagating myths because they read a thinkpiece and all their mates agree.