In The South

OPINION: Sam Trans Man salutes his Lesbian Icons

Besi Besemar September 10, 2018

Dr Sam Hall
Dr Sam Hall

Dr Samuel Hall on the hijacking of feminism, the gender divide, and the struggle to access safe spaces.

I WRITE with a theme of Lesbian Icons the morning after Big Pride, as opposed to Trans Pride, which was two weeks previous. These two celebrations feel worlds apart.

The one, huge and carefully orchestrated, brimming with tension over the various implications of allowing corporate money to flow and simultaneously supporting local grassroots LGBT+ support network; the other, smaller, poorer, newer, with a palpable sense of respect for diversity that far exceeds the norm, bonding people together because they’re different. Trans Pride isn’t just about gender, it’s about learning to love our bodies in all their uniqueness, whilst appreciating we’re all equal. All one.

Trans Pride started six years ago because trans people didn’t feel safe at Pride. Or Gay Pride as it’s still often referred to. Feeling unsafe is a horrible experience that many of us can relate to. It happens in emotionally abusive or neglectful homes and relationships; in schools where bullies roam unchecked, usually acting out their own victimhood; and it happens to women and children whenever they are vulnerable, which is most of the time in a world order where misogyny rules. It happens when we lose our mobile phones and connectivity, and it happens when we get together in a spirit of love to celebrate our differences. That’s what Pride is supposed to be about – feeling safe.

And yet year after year trans people didn’t, and still don’t, feel safe. For many trans women, rather than once a year at Pride, this is a daily experience. Trans women suffer micro-aggressions, often in the form of misgendering, countless times in a day. They get bullied, harassed and spat on, even here in the heart of our belovedly queer Brighton. This makes them feel invisible, less than equal, unworthy of respect. Many trans women embody this societal attitude and live small lives with poor support networks because they don’t feel safe.
It’s a tragic twist of history that the community at the heart of the Stonewall riots included some very prominent trans women of colour (some argue they were transvestites or drag queens, but the boundaries were and are blurred, and the opportunities to live life as permanently transitioned to female in New York in 1969 were far fewer), and that this demographic are the most persecuted among us LGBT folk.

So sad then to see the aggressive denial of our trans sisters at the front of the London Pride Parade, when their forbears fought first and foremost for gay rights. And sadder still to see that these protesters are lesbians who seem not to understand that their own freedom rests on the sacrifice of the very women they now seek to exclude.

I’m proud to live in a city that takes this seriously, with statutory bodies listening to trans voices and our fears that the current backlash against trans people may escalate as our visibility, and pride, grows. We saw a concerted effort to spread fear in the run up to Trans Pride, with a radicalised women’s group seeking to spread transphobic views. Their cause is to erode the rights already won in the 2004 Gender Recognition Act. They platform women only, including trans women who support their views, whilst insisting that trans women aren’t women.

The irony doesn’t stop there. They refuse to platform trans men on the grounds that they are men, thus revealing the true incentive of this well-funded campaign, which is to persecute trans women alone, on the grounds that penises are weapons and that a trans woman is nothing more than a rapist or paedophile in disguise.

This denial of trans women is toxic and misguided. These are the most vulnerable of women, with no safe spaces in our society, who are raped and murdered through sexual violence around the world on a daily basis, no different to their cisgender sisters.

There appears to be a well coordinated propaganda exercise going on, with money and strategy behind it that smacks of the US religious far right. Certainly much of the anti-trans rhetoric we’re hearing sounds like that surrounding the Bathroom Bill passed in North Carolina in 2016 and partially repealed a year later, which caused widespread derision and concern from the more enlightened, and corporate losses to the state.

Here in the UK, feminism has been hijacked by white, cisgender, heterosexual women forging unlikely alliances with parts of the lesbian communities and, in the online world of Mumsnet, the word ‘TERF’ is bandied around, although many consider this an insult to radical feminism, and I don’t think we should use this word. It’s considered an insult by the women in question, and since I demand respect as a trans person, even if it isn’t forthcoming, I will respect this.

I know that these women are very afraid, and that their fear is of continued oppression by men, but this isn’t the fault of trans women, who are their natural allies in the fight for gender equality. Being trapped in a cycle of misogyny, driven by oligarchy, money, power and Trump, is the lot of every woman in the world today, and that includes trans women.

Surely feminism preaches equality above all else, and its misandry (fear or hatred of men and boys) that’s taken hold here. You cannot seek equality through revenge or reverse persecution. Misandry breeds toxic masculinity, war, sexual violence and hate speech such as that seen in the incel communities. Trans-exclusion in women’s spaces fuels this divide, and trans women are falling through the gaps, with no access to safe spaces at all.

The women who are jumping on this bandwagon deserve love, not hate, passive counter-protest, not violence, and gentle education if at all possible. If battle lines must be drawn, we will have succeeded in undermining the very heart of feminism. The fear I see most is a fear of the loss of gender boundaries even whilst they are being fought for.

Trans people are victims of the gender divide, not perpetrators of it, and my lesbian icons are the many cis gay women who stand as our allies. Thank you, you know who you are.