The Endless Demand for “Debate”

Well known trans activists such as Paris Lees and Shon Faye are well used by now to being invited to “debate” trans rights in the media. Mostly they turn these invitations down because they know that they will be “ambush interviews” in which you get asked to talk about one thing and find out when you get to the studio that you have been put up against some Trans-Exclusionary Self-Identified Feminist (TESIF 1) and are expected to talk about some completely different issue. The TESIF will get the majority of the air time and the presenter will support the TESIF’s side.

I don’t get such invitations. I am occasionally asked to be on local TV, but they are much nicer people than the national lot. However, of late I have started to get requests to “debate” trans rights from non-media people. I am starting to see a lot of ordinary people — often nice, middle-class, left-wing women — asking me when trans women 2 are going to answer the legitimate concerns of ordinary women about this new trans agenda that they have heard so much about.

Now talking to cisgender people about trans issues is my job. I do it a lot (though I normally get paid for it these days). However, it is very clear that when I do training for an organisation I am mostly preaching to the converted. That is, the course is optional, and the only people who attend are people who already have sympathy for trans folk. The people I am getting asked to talk to now are not those people. They are folk who are becoming increasingly worried and frightened about what those evil trans women are up to.

In politics there is a concept known as the Overton Window. The idea is that for an given issue there is a spectrum of views on that issue. Any position within a Window on that spectrum is seen as fair and reasonable by the public. Any position outside the Window, on either end of the spectrum, is seen as extremist and unreasonable. The way to win at politics is to move the Window so that your own views are squarely within the Window, and those of your opponents mostly outside of it.

The way that you move the Window is through the media. As the TESIFs have almost complete control of the media in the UK, they have managed to shift the window so far that trans women are now faced with being accused of extremism if we defend rights that we have exercised in the UK, without any negative effect, for the past eight years. The results of this are deeply worrying.

We are asked to defend things that we have never said.

We are asked to debate political positions that we don’t hold.

We are asked to apologise for things that we haven’t done.

And if we refuse to do so then we are accused of being angry extremists.

In any case, it is very difficult for us to do so. We have no access to the mainstream media except where cisgender allies facilitate it for us. Most of the discussion has to take place on social media, where everything we say will be attacked by people who have nothing better to do with their lives than hate trans women.

It is all very frustrating and depressing. I regard myself as having pretty good mental health these days, but even I’m starting to worry about what’s going to happen over the next year or two. It is pretty clear that the TESIFs want to remove gender reassignment from the list of protected characteristics in the Equality Act, and repeal the Gender Recognition Act. I suspect that the only thing preventing action being taken in Parliament is the ongoing Brexit paralysis.

I will continue to try to talk to people about this when asked, but it is very difficult to know what to say. Presenting the facts won’t wash, because the public has become so conditioned to the lies that they won’t believe anyone who says otherwise. And why should they? The stories they have been told have often come from respectable middle-class journalists from broadsheet newspapers and Radio 4. The only “compromise” positions I can see myself taking involve trans women giving up a lot of the rights that they currently have.

Still, last year a British trans woman was given political asylum in New Zealand because the nice Kiwi people deemed the UK too dangerous for her. I think I might try Canada first as it is closer to Kevin.

1. The TERFs keep complaining that “TERF” is a slur, even though it was coined years ago by irritated Radical Feminists wanting to distance themselves from the trans-hating crazies. So I am trying a new term. They certainly don’t deserve “Radical” as their biological essentialism makes them deeply conservative on the subject of gender roles. And while they might self-identify as feminists I think that anyone whose feminism isn’t intersectional, and who does no political work save for hating trans women, doesn’t deserve to be called a feminist.

2. I talk mainly about trans women in this post, because almost all of the hate is directed at trans women. Can you say “misogyny?” Apologies to trans men and non-binary folks. I am happy to fight your corner too where necessary.