I should be annoyingly happy right now. I’m doing another book festival this weekend, and the day after I’m off to London for the British Book Awards where I’m shortlisted for Discover Book of the Year – quite exciting given that I wasn’t sure anyone would want to read my book, let alone enjoy it. And there are some other things I can’t tell you about yet that are even more fun.
All things considered, I should be a Tigger, bouncing around with excitement and driving everybody around me up the wall. But I’m not. Instead, every day feels like a slog and it’s getting harder and harder to stay positive. And that’s because every single day since I came out as trans, I’ve been subject to a war of attrition waged against trans people by bigots and their friends in the press.
That’s over six years now. Six years of the same old slurs, the same old “just asking questions”, the same long-debunked statistics and long-debunked talking points. And yet it never stops. Just yesterday, The Observer let Sonia Sodha write her weekly column about how anything bad in the news – in this case, the police arresting republican protesters at the Coronation – is all the fault of trans people. It’d be funny if it weren’t a weekly occurrence not just in the Observer but in pretty much every other paper too. The Daily Mail alone is currently running over 100 anti-trans articles a month, up from 6 a month in 2013. The Times, The Herald, The Scotsman, The Telegraph, The Express and others appear to have full-time anti-trans columnists now.
It’s relentless, and of course it has an effect in the streets: according to the Home Office, anti-trans hate crime has risen from under 500 cases in 2011/12 to nearly 4,500 in 2020/21. I have no doubt the next set of figures will be even worse.
The constant flood of bad news and of anti-trans talking points across what feels like every single media outlet has a debilitating effect on people, to the point where some of the highest profile trans people I followed when I first came out have abandoned social media: blocking bigots is a constant game of whack-a-mole, a massive time sink and a huge drain on your mental health.
Which is the point. As the late Toni Morrison famously said about racism, its function is distraction.
It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing”.
Reflecting on Morrison’s words, author and former TV reporter Aminatta Forna writes on the Luminato Festival website:
The very first time I read these words, I knew them to be true. I was in my late twenties, working as a television reporter. I was being pushed and resisting being pushed into reporting the same story, over and over – the story of white people’s, specifically, British white people’s racism. At first I regarded this, at least in part, my duty. It didn’t take long for the hidden fallacy to reveal itself. I was being asked to explain, not to black people who knew plenty, but to white people who I was being asked to pretend were oblivious to the fact of it.
At a time where in the US trans people are having their healthcare removed, their right to exist in public removed, the safety of their children threatened, the press is full of “are trans activists too unreasonable?” by writers pretending to be oblivious to what’s happening. And with the architect of that cruelty Ron DeSantis greeted like a god by UK equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, who DeSantis says wants to emulate what he’s doing in Florida, these endless articles and social media posts are deliberate distractions.
I’ve written many times that the line between anti-trans and anti-semite is often very blurry; some of the highest profile members of the anti-trans movement, and some of the highest profile anti-trans books, claim that “transgenderism” is a Jewish conspiracy. So it’s worth reminding ourselves of Sartre’s comments about anti-semites:
“They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.”