It’s ironic that The Guardian, a newspaper that – alongside its Sunday sibling, The Observer – has helped normalise transphobia in the UK, has published one of the best pieces I’ve read on the effects of transphobia in the UK. It’s an extract from Shon Faye’s forthcoming book, The Trans Issue, and I can think of many journalists who should read it and feel deeply ashamed and regretful. They won’t, but they should.
What’s striking about Faye’s book is that in stark contrast to the recent rash of books claiming to be definitive guides to “the trans issue”, Faye went out and talked to people: trans people, parents of trans people, specialists of all kinds. Existing books haven’t done that, preferring instead to rely on anti-trans obsessives: one recent book, Helen Joyce’s Trans, cites ludicrous pricks Graham Linehan and Stuart “Wings” Campbell as legitimate sources (in a very small list of citations) and appears to have swallowed Jennifer Bilek’s antisemitic conspiracy theories wholesale.
The reason anti-trans writers don’t talk to trans kids, parents of trans kids and specialists is because they would encounter uncomfortable truths: a great deal of what they write about trans people is bullshit.
A good example of that is the claim that children are being “transed” because their parents are homophobic and would rather have a trans child than a gay one. It’s a pretty good indicator that the person telling you this hasn’t talked to any parents of trans children, let alone children themselves: they’re sitting in front of a laptop with their friends, telling each other scary stories about the sinister transes.
Parents who decide to support a child in their wish to transition and live socially in a different gender are still usually regarded as controversial by much of the population. This can range from schoolgate whispers and pointed questions at best, to outright accusations of child abuse or Munchausen syndrome by proxy at worst. Some parents even fear losing their children because of misguided intervention by authorities.
It is much, much harder to be the parent of a trans child than the parent of a gay or lesbian child now. Here’s what happened when one child’s parents wrote a letter to other parents at their child’s nursery.
The initial positive responses to their letter gave way to hostility, as they found themselves confronted by parents who said they were doing the wrong thing. “The responses that hurt were where people thought that their child could be confused and/or that our child was contagious. So people stopped their kid hanging out with ours, or quit some of the groups that she was part of.” Kate recalled how people pulled their children out of the swimming lessons and gym club that Alex attended: “We had people ask to be put in a different class, saying, ‘My child can’t be around a trans child or a confused child.’”
Another claim is that coming out as trans gives kids at school special status, an excuse for bad behaviour, special privileges.
research reveals that the reality for trans pupils in British schools is starkly different: 33% of trans pupils are not able to be known by their preferred name at school; 58% are not allowed to use the toilets in which they feel comfortable. Horrifyingly, almost one in 10 trans young people have received a death threat while at school. Rather than being indulged or given special treatment, the stark truth is that many trans children are receiving little institutional support and, in some cases, are explicitly discouraged from being fully themselves at school.
The moral panic surrounding trans children and their families not only obscures the bullying and exclusion trans kids already face, but actively encourages it.
It’s a pity that the people who should read and reflect on this won’t.