Journalist Jane Fae writes on Medium about the bogeymen and women the press likes to call “activists”.
Just last week, for instance, Gillian Phillip kicked off in the Mail about the “violent, hate-filled language that has become chillingly familiar to anyone who has had the temerity to question the prevailing orthodoxy of the transgender activist brigade”. Meanwhile, over in the Times, James Kirkup contributed a piece that totally lived up to its headline: “Trans activists hate Rowling because she’s a woman”.
Catherine Bennet was at it in the Observer this weekend too, arguing that anybody who criticised JK Rowling – a hugely significant cultural figure whose views are taken very seriously by very many people, and whose books were very important to many trans people – but not the aforementioned Kirkup – an insignificant arse who’s made a career of having bad opinions for money – is a woman-hating misogynist.
There’s no middle ground in any of this coverage. Any trans person with the slightest opinion on anything is portrayed as ISIS in makeup. Trans people aren’t allowed to talk about the vicious abuse they get simply for being trans, usually in the wake of yet another anti-trans blog post or column. Trans people as vulnerable? As victims? As too scared to leave the house because they’re expecting to see the transphobia from the papers reflected in other people’s eyes? That doesn’t fit the narrative. All trans people are violent, hate-filled activists. Never people.
It’s the oldest trick in the book: portray the other as a monolithic bloc where the opinion or actions of the very worst extremes are presented as the opinions and actions of all. It’s known by many names, but the one I think suits it best is the Klan Fallacy: because one black person committed a crime, all black people are criminals and it’s okay to be a racist piece of shit.
Why do they print this stuff? For starters, it allows commentators to put the boot into minorities without appearing to do so. Who us? Having a go at trans people? Or black people? Or any other sort of people? Nah. We’re just calling out the bad ones.
The definition is infinitely flexible.
If you want to demonise a whole group of people, you can absolutely go on Twitter and find some hothead. That hothead might not even be trans – the person behind the supposed bomb threat from trans activists, a story Fae writes about in the article, was a right-wing cisgender teenage gamer from the US trying to stir some shit against trans people – but that doesn’t matter. The columnist’s feelings don’t leave any room for facts.
Trans activists: the “trans lobby”, cabal, ideology; these all furnish a target and an enemy to fight against. Much easier than owning to the fact that your own position is itself fundamentally ideological — often evangelical Christian, occasionally a reductive and back-to-the-stone-age feminism. Sexier, too than admitting that your primary goal is to resist minority demands for basic civil rights.