Content warning: child murder, transphobia, slurs
When primary school children were massacred in Dunblane in 1996, the UK responded with severe restrictions on gun ownership – and when twenty children and six adults were massacred in Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012, most people expected the US to do the same. No sane person can accept the murder of children.
It turns out that many people can.
Like the people who expected Sandy Hook to be the moment when the US said “no more”, I expected the same with the brutal murder of Brianna Ghey, whose killers were sentenced this week. Surely the murder of a young trans woman would make the UK’s anti-trans madness stop.
But I underestimated our politicians and our press. Faced with the murder of a young girl who was chosen in part because she was trans and whose killers used similar dehumanising language to them, they decided to circle the wagons instead.
From the outset, papers such as The Guardian – which has arguably done more than any other publication to promote transphobic groups in the UK and present them as reasonable rather than the dubiously funded religious and social conservatives they are – seized on initial comments by the police that transphobia wasn’t the motive for the murder. But as the court case continued, it became very clear that that wasn’t true. Transphobia wasn’t the sole motive, but it was still a key motive – a fact so apparent that this week the Daily Mail – the Daily Mail! – ran a headline saying that Ghey was murdered because she was trans.
The evidence presented by the prosecution left no room for doubt. One of the murderers hated Brianna because she was trans, and he used dehumanising and transphobic language during the planning of her murder. Her isolation, the killers agreed, made her an easier target. One of the murderers wanted to know whether she would scream like a boy or a girl when they stabbed her, and wanted to see her genitals.
The murderers’ sentencing took that into account; it was a hate crime, fuelled in part by transphobia.
The response to this has been predictably awful. One of the most prominent famous-author-approved “gender critical” figures turned to Twitter to blame Brianna’s mother, misgendering the girl, sexualising her and calling her mother “evil”. That post was liked by prominent anti-trans authors and journalists.
Rishi Sunak took time out from making anti-trans jokes in cabinet, overseeing the Tories’ ongoing assault on trans healthcare and human rights and answering Prime Minister’s questions with “but he doesn’t know what a woman is!” to cry some crocodile tears.
The Telegraph, among other papers, gave one of the murderers the attention she craved by posting not her mugshot but a glamour shot of her on its front page. After all, what’s sexier than a young woman who murders a tranny?
There have been some lone voices of sanity. Zoe Williams wrote a compelling piece in The Guardian arguing that “Trans people have been used instrumentally as a muster point for the right, and the far right, in media and in politics, and this has concrete, foreseeable results.” But that piece is an outlier from a paper whose own contributors were happily liking that tweet calling Ghey’s mother “evil”.
The response to the transphobic murder of a young woman has largely been a single, chilling fact: as far as the “gender critical” movement is concerned, the murder of Brianna Ghey is nothing more than inconvenient PR. In some circles – the circles that urge trans kids on social media to “KYS”; the circles that demand the removal of trans kids’ healthcare; the circles that demand schools out trans students, misgender them and isolate them; the circles that speak politely but genocidally about how trans people are “a huge problem for a sane world” and that their numbers should be “reduced” – this is a win.
For a few days, some of the papers will take it easy on trans people. Brianna’s murder will sell papers; having helped promote the intolerance that got Brianna killed, they’ll spend some time now profiting from it. But in a few days, when the horror has begun to fade, they’ll go back on the attack. Trans lives only matter to them if they can be monetised – and the cash is in calling us demons or crying crocodile tears over our coffins.