Trans* Love, Tory Hate

Trans* Pride gathered thousands in a display in London of joy, solidarity, and humanity, but it was overshadowed by a Tory leadership contest that is being fought over who can hurt trans* people the most. Rowan Fortune reports on the fight for trans* survival against an ever more threatening reactionary backlash.


Trans* people in the UK (as with most other places in the world) have few reasons to celebrate. We have developed a sometimes fractious but close, networked community comprised of mutual aid, online safe spaces and intermeshing campaigning, but as hostility intensifies and few come to our assistance, we are increasingly atomised, locked out from positions of visibility and influence, with the very poorest and most marginalised of us easily lost to despair.

One particularly callous transphobic dog whistle invoked online with alarming frequency is the number 41, alluding to a US study from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey on the percentage of trans* people who have attempted suicide. Comparable stats are not known for the UK, since data on trans* people is scarce, but evidence indicates that trans* people are at alarming risk of mental illness and suicide as they face sustained trauma and harassment.

Pride and Pessimism

Given the situation is so grim, it is all the more important that the UK is host to events where the trans* community can gather and express its shared joyfulness in being trans*. We are clear, being trans* does not cause our rates of depression and suicidality, but rather, that is the responsibility of a society that steadfastly refuses to treat us as human, which ignores our plight while congratulating itself on its openness and tolerance.

Trans* Pride London was held on the 9th of July and saw thousands march from Wellington Arch in Hyde Park to Soho Square. Slogans accompanied the procession: “Know your history. Black trans women fought for me!”  “What do we want? Trans rights! When do we want them? Now!” “HRT should be free!” “Stonewall was a fucking riot!”

“What do we want? Trans rights! When do we want them? Now!” “HRT should be free!” “Stonewall was a fucking riot!”

Alongside hordes of Socialist Workers Party placards (many with the SWP’s name torn off) were many creative signs expressing further demands and messages of hope and solidarity: “Lesbians 4 Trans” “Trans Women of Colour = Pioneers of Pride know your history” “My Identity Is Not Your Excuse” “Trans Joy” “Femmes Can Be Thems” “Femme TBoys Butch TGirls Are Cool as Fuck” “Conversion ‘Therapy’ Is Fucked Up” “Ban Conversion Therapy” “Fuck the GICs” “The BBC Are Transphobes” “Protect + Cherish Trans Lives” “Gender is a Social Construct” “Gender Bender Cis-Tem Offender” “Re-Think Gender” “Love Wins”.

As well as the SWP, Socialist Action and Socialist Party were represented. I also saw banners and placards from three trade unions: the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union; the National Education Union, and the GMB. Conspicuous for their absence were Labour Party banners. Moreover, the social democratic and Marxist left could not be said to be heavily represented, with far more people sporting anarchist symbols.

The theme of this year’s trans pride was solidarity against the onslaught of oppression. An article by the Independent, the only mainstream news source to report on the event, quoted a spokesperson for London Trans+ Pride. They cited how the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have “dramatically shifted its position on trans rights”, opposing reform in Scotland and arguing for delays to bans for conversion therapy. The feeling among trans* people is justifiably that the EHRC, like many other key institutions, has been captured by the Gender Critical hate cult that increasingly holds sway over the media, political parties, the charity sector, the academy, and courts.

At one point on the procession, a group started chanting “T4T”. This stands for Trans for Trans, originally a dating preference it has become a slogan for a current of trans seperatism as a desperate strategy when faced by overwhelming prejudice. This was the first time I encountered the slogan at a pride event, and it represents a tragic but inevitable undercurrent to the expressions of trans* euphoria. Increasingly, the mood is of defeat. The government is poised to erase us from public life. One placard, shared widely on social media, read simply, “You’re Ignoring the Start of Trans Genocide”.

One placard, shared widely on social media, read simply, “You’re Ignoring the Start of Trans Genocide”.

This is not alarmist. Trans* affirmation is increasingly framed as child abuse by the US Republican Party, and the British Conservative Party is moving in an eerily similar direction. NHS medical transition services for trans women, nonbinary people, and trans men are in an appalling state, often inaccessible or with waiting lists stretching to four years. Two prominent leaders of the anti-trans movement, Helen Joyce and Helen Staniland, recently openly discussed trans* people in eliminationist terms, with Joyce speaking of “reducing or keeping down the number of people who transition”, as we are apparently “a huge problem to a sane world.”

It is worth remembering that the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, where some of the earliest research into gender transition was held, was among the Nazis Party’s first targets. Today we are witnessing a fascist movement gathering momentum across society to ‘defend’ the patriarchal and cisgender status quo against the ‘threat’ of what they regard as a new degeneracy. The point has come to put lines in the sand, those who advocate such prejudices should not be tolerated when in doing so they are directly aligning themselves with creeping fascism. We do not debate the ‘concerns’ of racists, nor should we the concerns of avowed transphobes.

Who’s Afraid of Trans* Joy?

The majority of the Parliamentary Tory Party, reflecting their base, is on record for opposing trans* rights. Unfortunately, the picture is similarly grim in every other party, too. The Labour Party have prominent transphobic MPs such as Rosie Duffield, and allow transphobic members to openly organise as Women’s Place UK within the party. The Greens and the SNP have been likewise rocked by internal debates about whether to align with such bigotry or with trans* survival. As a trans* person, I could not in good conscience support any of them.

With nowhere else to look for hope in parliament, then, trans* people must watch in horror as the party of government makes us scapegoats for the corruption, scandals, and social turmoil they find increasingly hard to deflect. Of their current leadership race contenders the majority have indulged in anti-trans dog whistles in the recent past. One of the few who has previously shied from doing so, Penny Mordaunt, was soon targeted by Conservatives for Women as too “hung up on trans rights”, resulting in a twitter rant against trans* liberation in which she stressed her status as a “biological woman” concerned about “the volume girls referred into trans services”.

Of their current leadership race contenders the majority have indulged in anti-trans dog whistles in the recent past. One of the few who has previously shied from doing so, Penny Mordaunt, was soon targeted by Conservatives for Women as too “hung up on trans rights”

Suella Braverman, however, is currently the worst of the lot. In her Telegraph interview pitch to become the new Conservative Party leader and the Prime Minister of the country, she couches her case in the nonsense of anti-woke politics. Although there is insufficient data on the number of trans* people in the UK, there is broad agreement that we comprise less than 1% of the population; nonetheless, trans* is mentioned a shocking eight times in this consistently theatrical diatribe against human rights, Jeremy Corbyn and Remainers.

Unlike many transphobic organisations and pseudo-intellectuals who disguise their hatred behind the veneer of a respectable debate, Braverman is explicit. She wishes to prevent the Scottish Parliament from enacting moderate reforms, arguing that the lowest hanging fruit of de-medicalising gender recognition certificates has “incredibly serious implications” including “constitutional issues”. Ludicrously, rather than wanting to see the same basic reform enacted across the UK (as has been recommended by consultations and promised by Tory administrations), she warns of a “two-tier system”.

Shamelessly, she takes credit for transphobic decisions made across Boris Johnson’s government. On advising Nadhim Zahawi, then Education Secretary, on taking an anti-trans position on schools, and Nadine Dorries, as Culture Secretary, on preventing transgender athletes from competing. Most sinister, as transphobic hate crime reports have quadrupled in just half a decade, she wishes to eliminate all legal protections trans* people enjoy by gutting the Equality Act of 2009 and 2010, arguing that “it was not foreseen how that would be interpreted”.

Specifically, she argues that the categories protected against discrimination are too broad, “You don’t have to have undergone surgery, you don’t have to have obtained a gender recognition certificate.” This is perverse when she is in favour of making said certificates harder to get, and when surgery is not seen by all trans* people as necessary and is not readily accessible. For many disabled trans* people and all nonbinary people what she proposes amounts to completely stripping away all discrimination protections.

For many disabled trans* people and all nonbinary people what she proposes amounts to completely stripping away all discrimination protections.

The idea that safeguards from discrimination at work, schools, prisons, etc. should depend on such qualifications is a recipe for widespread ostracization and economic ruination. It would result in a loss of access to suitable public toilets, the ability of employers to fire us with impunity, and a further increase in the hostility we already daily experience. But it is hard to believe these consequences are unintended; it is clear Braverman wants trans* people to be hounded out of public life.

Her final salvo takes aim at the legitimacy of trans* identity itself. She suggests that “the risks[…] of social transitioning” are not fully anticipated for young trans* people, that it is undertaken “prematurely”. She claims without substantiation that there “is an issue about social contagion[…] a risk of gender dysphoria spreading by social contagion, within a school”. Here she hints at the discredited idea of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, a pseudo-theory that trans* identity spreads through peer networks resulting in regret and later detransition.

Fear and Loathing in a Disunited Kingdom

In a co-authored piece by myself and Logan O’Hara, we argue that solidarity must be rethought to address the crisis faced by trans* people, in the UK, the US, and elsewhere. There is more still to be said on this topic, but I would urge everyone to start here, and to offer your own ideas. This is no idle game, despite occasional public displays of joy trans* people are facing attacks on too many fronts to endure forever.

If the Conservatives and the ghoulish anti-trans* movements succeed in eradicating us, they will be bolstered and the forces of emancipation, socialism and humanity will be powerfully demoralised. Even if we are few in number, it will be a prominent and decisive defeat that will cost us all dearly, even if it costs some of us more imminently and utterly than others. The time to act was years ago, but in lieu of time travel, please do so now.

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Rowan Fortune authored Writing Nowhere; edited the anthology of utopian short fiction Citizens of Nowhere; and contributed to the collaborative book System Crash. It writes on utopian imagination, revolutionary theory and trans* liberation.

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