A personal and powerful essay by Katelyn Burns who, like me, is a late transitioning trans woman.
As a child, I could not see positive examples of trans women having meaningful lives, so I could not be a trans woman who had a meaningful life.
I’m a bit older than Katelyn so I didn’t discover the internet until later: she was a teen and I was in my twenties. But this is nevertheless very familiar.
I had trouble finding helpful information. Search engines weren’t really a thing and most of the AOL chatrooms I found were just forums for “tranny chasers” to have cybersex with trans women. Not a healthy environment for a scared 14 year old closeted trans girl.
I dove further into the closet.
There’s a phrase I like: we cannot be what we cannot see. One of the reasons it seems that there are suddenly more trans people in the world is that there are more visible trans people in the world. Earlier today I saw one anti-trans Twitter user express her disbelief that trans women were around before she was born: “But I’m 42,” she harrumphed.
We were always here. But for a long time we didn’t know there were others like us.
Despite the transphobes’ best efforts, there is now more representation, more visibility and more information for trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people who would previously believe that there was nobody else on Earth who felt the way they feel.
To those who aren’t trans, it may feel like trans people and issues are everywhere. And that’s true. We have trans actors and actresses playing leading roles on TV, even on those over-the-air channels I received as a youngster. Our issues are debated in national publications. Books written by trans people are more available than ever.
If I was a child now, even in the mountain-hill house with no cable, there’s just no way I wouldn’t have had access to positive trans content.
…It’s pretty clear that the dramatic increase in child referrals to youth gender clinics has grown out of the increased positive media exposure of trans people in general. Looking at the numbers, it appears that the children of the past, like me, who didn’t have any idea that you could even be trans, are learning about trans identities at younger and younger ages.
If you go by the most common estimate for the percentage of trans adults as a share of the general population, currently about 0.6 percent, the number of children being referred for gender services in the UK remains below that number as percent of all children. In other words, it’s the same people who previously would have waited into adulthood to transition just deciding to come out earlier in life.
Many of us grew up unaware that there were other people just like us, and that people just like us could be happy and loved. And that, at last, is changing.
There are some very vocal people who don’t want us to have any information, who don’t want us to have any support, who don’t even want us to have any healthcare. Just today, they’re using the hashtag #OnlyFemalesGetCervicalCancer on social media to punch down on trans men and non-binary people, people who already encounter discrimination and gatekeeping in medicine. I know a few trans men whose experience of screening services is horrific. The message is clear: we’d rather see trans men and non-binary people die of cancer than get screening.
These are people whose attitudes towards the “genuine” trans people they pretend to care about was summed up in this tweet by a non-binary mum on Twitter:
trans kids – “you’re too young to know!”
trans teens – “you just need to go through puberty first to be sure!”
trans adults – “why is this just coming up now?”
every step of the way there’s an excuse to try and keep trans people from living an authentic life and its all fkn bs
The justification changes but the core belief – that trans people do not know their own minds, that what they experience is not real, that they are fakes and frauds who do not deserve acceptance, support, healthcare or even basic human rights – is constant. It is the same world view as the climate change deniers, the anti-vaxxers, the anti-maskers, and every other kind of conspiracy theorist: I know what I believe, and the world should conform to my beliefs.
These people and the people who amplify them have power that trans and non-binary people do not.
For example, today The Scotsman ran its second consecutive opinion column in two days supporting JK Rowling against those terrible trans “activists” (never “people”. That’s reserved for transphobes). Today’s columnist notes that the author is a “dear friend” of his.
That one was pretty mild. The day before, in the same newspaper, another columnist slammed trans people as misogynists, said trans women could never have any insight into being women and should not talk about feminism, and namechecked a whole bunch of demonstrably anti-trans activists including the head of the anti-trans hate group LGB Alliance, the anti-trans hate group For Women Scotland (whose founder called trans women “sick fucks… fucking blackface actors” and peddled antisemitic conspiracy theories) and an anti-trans extremist whose demands for the legal right to bully trans people at work were memorably described by a tribunal judge as “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”.
This is the norm in the newspaper industry, and with the wider media ecosystem it so often sets the agenda for. There are no trans equivalents of Nick Cohen, Suzanne Moore, Julie Bindel, Janice Turner, Douglas Murray, Brendan O’Neill, Toby Young, James Kirkup, Kevin McKenna or any of the very many other high profile figures who regularly use their platforms to misrepresent trans people or to falsely claim that trans people’s rights (as Janice Turner would put it, “trans activists’ demands“, because all trans people are activists and rights are only for cisgender people) conflict with women’s rights.
To those unaffected, all is seen is words against words in the abstract, surely something worth cheering for. But for folks at the bottom, with enough time and encouragement from those at the top, those words metastasize into violence. Examples abound. In a different context, hilarious memes exchanged on white nationalist message boards about driving cars into crowds of protestors turn into actual terror attacks. Intellectual debates over whether trans women are women lead to mobs of men beating up trans women. Concerned parents take their children’s internet away.
…In our world, debate is a one way street.