Subject to debate

  • Posted on May 13, 2018 at 1:42 pm

As an avid blogger for over four years, I always felt there was something important to say, something that would help incrementally educate people socialised into transmisunderstanding. I hope that I did, by being a pretty ordinary person, articulate and reflective, from the inside of my own trans experience. Well, I don’t claim to be pretty, but I am still terribly ordinary. Time has passed, and being trans is no longer a significant pert of my daily experience. I have a life to live, and this was mainly something I (belatedly) sorted out. So I don’t talk about it much any more.

Except I am still subject for debate.

A lot has changed since my realisation of late 2010, that there was a perfectly valid reason for my discomfort with myself. Overall, in this neck of the woods, and indeed in a number of other countries, understanding of gender diversity has improved. I have often written about the constant undermining by religiously-constructed culture, and we see that writ large in Trumpism and authoritarian regimes rooted in traditions. Any regression in law, in perception, in support of bigotry, is directly harming the well-being of trans and gender queer people. But it isn’t just religion or tradition, it is other ideologies, some born of resentment at the aeons of patriarchal domination, violence and subjugation.

Whatever the origins, it runs deep. Just as we have seen strides forward in media presentation of the trans and gender queer experience, so the media has facilitated the notion that human experience is up for debate. Maybe it is fear in some that equality ground gained and held by one group might sometimes be held by another, even though against the same opposition. One of the great successes of scientific method, is that any discovery, any assertion, any finding – might be upturned by another. Certainty is only as far as the next piece of research. Social understanding is far, far less fluid. We hold onto our beliefs so dearly, because our personal values are described by them. And we won’t protect another person or group, if doing so makes us eat humble pie, and step into shoes like theirs.

It feels much easier to dither. Well, maybe these trans people have a point, but maybe those feminists who think the trans people are just predators have a point too. Let’s listen to both and see if we can compromise on this?

That may be well and good, when done respectfully and reflectively. We should be thoughtful and balanced people if we want to create and maintain a fair society. What media want (social, news, documentary opinion), however, is ‘lively’ debate. Let’s be provocative, let’s be controversial, because that creates audience and audience response, and that creates financial value. And so it was that financial value was the offset to plain human respect in the Channel 4 debate in the Genderquake series this week (8 May 2018). In these debates, the subject essentially is the validity of gender being what you experience, rather than an assessment of what sex-related body parts you have, or have had, or never had. The background is mainly male violence and protection from it. That is rarely the debate though; the debate is who gets to set the game rules for being safe against male violence. Panels are therefore typically selected for being controversial feminists (called ‘well-known/respected feminists’) or for being public trans figures (called ‘trans activists’). Maybe none of them represent the groups they are associated with. Maybe they are the ones guaranteed to grate with broader opinion, or to be particularly outspoken. If the trans minority voice is heard in a less than minority way, then the ‘activists’ are perceived to be suppressing debate. Because a feminist view is more important?

Let’s rather debate the options for tackling male violence. No; let’s rather debate the problem of male social acceptability. Not just violence, but what it means to ‘be a man’.

Also this week, I watched Peter Kay’s Car Share, in which the humour is the dialogue in the confines of a daily commute. Normally scripted, the final one (and it isn’t unfunny) was not. The dialogue revolved much of the time around what was on the local radio station. This featured the music-overlaid sob stories sent in by listeners (a pale reflection of the original on Radio 2). Today’s was sent in by a woman who discovered her partner was trans the day she walked in on [them] dressed in her clothes, with two others. Apart from the narrative about this (as it transpired) genuinely trans person being misgendered, it turned out all friends in the end. Maybe Peter Kay and fellow actor were role-playing, but it was a bad one, saying how pervy and disgusting it was for men to dress as women, and then to be accepted as a friend. You know the score. Entrenched, this view encapsulates with it that men must never be feminine, that gender, that sex, is heavily polarised, and that anything else is undermining and disgusting.

We really have to talk about gender, and about what it is not. Most of all, we have to focus not on gender, but on attitudes to each other. Jesting about a trans person is abusive. Shouting ‘you’re a man’ and ‘penis’ repeatedly at a trans woman on a TV show, and not being challenged, is abusive. Instructing your child not to associate with a trans child as a friend, is abusive. Putting gender up as the subject for debate, rather than challenging male attitudes to women, is abusive. Painting trans women as all being potential predators, as being essentially male, and painting trans men as failed butch lesbians, is abusive. Disenfranchising intersex people by not even including them is thinking about sex and gender, is abusive.

Making my gender legitimate, whatever I hold it to be, is not a medical thing. Refusing my gender on grounds of male attitudes to women for thousands of years, is not the right focus. False arguments about men making a legal pretence to be female in order to legitimise invasive and abusive behaviour, is a nonsense. And yet this is precisely the context of the current proposals for changes to the Gender Recognition Act, and why discussion of it has become abusive.

Let’s just talk about respect between human beings, about what attitudes are not acceptable, and about social privilege, whatever its form. Let’s talk about why men do not really want women to be equal. Let’s imagine what this world would be like now, if we had been equal determinants of it for thousands of years.

 

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