In 2017, I wrote an end of year review on the subject of social equality. In this piece, I remarked that 2017 appeared to be the beginning of the backlash against certain trends within the equality movement. Whilst same-sex marriage appeared to have triumphed, the public had become awakened to stories of young – that is, very young – transgender children.
In fact, right from the get go 2017 was dominated by stories of young children expressing symptoms of gender dysphoria, and professionals assisting them to socially transition. What we saw there was a concern, socially, that children cannot possibly want to transition. They’re children, after all.
In 2019, concern has reached a fever pitch – concern not just for transitioning children, but transitioned adults too. Alongside this, 2019 saw a deeply disturbing homophobic attack on a lesbian couple on a bus, as well as the emergence of a group referring to themselves as the LGB Alliance.
Two women sit on a bus
On May 30th, four young men took an interest in a lesbian couple who were sat on the top desk of a London bus. When the couple refused to kiss for the young men, they verbally and physically abused them. The picture of the two bloodied women has gripped our collective imagination ever since it was first published.
We must ask, though, exactly why this happened. In writing this piece, I believe I stumbled across the answer, quite coincidentally. In hunt for the date of this attack, I popped into an internet search engine ‘two lesbians bus’ – hardly the most imaginative of searches, but surely something that would do the job.
Well, apparently not. The result was pages and pages of pornography, with the story in question not making an appearance until the second page. The list featured such delights as ‘two lesbians meet at the bus stop’, courtesy of xvideos.com, and ‘Asian lesbians on the bus’ courtesy of xnxx.com. These porn videos, constituted by violent and degrading imagery, were not made with women in mind.
This pornification same-sex female attraction has turned same-sex attracted women into a commodity, and a commodity that certain men feel that they can have unlimited access to. When the two women on the London bus wouldn’t ‘perform’, the four young men turned to violence in an attempt at getting what they wanted.
We are reaching a cultural tipping point, one in which we must start to recognise that when Catharine Mackinnon described the porn industry as ‘an industry that mass produces sexual intrusion on, access to, possession and use of women by and for men for profit’, she was right.
This explanation, of course, only goes so far. It doesn’t explain the pathetic, cursory, sentence handed down by the judge, which rather downplays the severity of the attack. Whilst gay people are, theoretically, equals before the law, the violence that we face isn’t taken quite as seriously.
An unstable culture, dripping with the commodification of the female body, coupled with a legal system that satisfies itself with youth referral orders for violent crime, does not a pretty picture paint.
Transgenderism: a de-transition
In December, UnHerd published a piece by Julie Bindel entitled ‘What if you regret transitioning?’ The article discussed ‘an alarming number of girls’ who are now attempting to reverse their decision to live as men. In particular, Bindel makes reference to the Detransitioner Advocacy Network (DAN), which offers support for ‘more than 300 women who regret transitioning from female to (trans) male.’
This is, I believe, a perfect example of the tension that has emerged within the debate surrounding transgenderism, gender transition, and children presenting with symptoms of gender dysphoria. Whereas ‘transition’ is an easy concept to understand, the concept of de-transitioning after months (or years) of hormones is not an easy path to take. It is becoming clear, however, that such concepts need to be grappled with, and understood. And, it appears, quickly.
The general election saw the spotlight be shone on transgender people, with the Liberal Democrats advocating for a system whereby individuals could ‘self-identify’ without a medical certificate. This was an attempt to combat the costly, long, process that one has to go through in order to legally change gender.
Naturally, it was received with much criticism. In particular, some women’s advocacy groups argued that at-risk women would be made more vulnerable as the system would create an opportunity for men to feign being transgender, and thus gain access to women-only spaces. It’s an argument we’ve heard before, most prominently in the 2016 US Presidential election, which briefly became obsessed with transgender women in bathrooms.
It is difficult to see exactly where we’re going to go with this. I was writing about the concerns surrounding transgender children in 2017 and now, at the end of the decade, I’m writing about concerns with transgender adults. Whilst some activists are raising valid concerns about a disjointed legal theory, it is clear that some are using their criticism to make thinly-veiled attacks against the dignity of transgender people.
What is needed, now more than ever, is a serious, adult, discussion about a societal accommodation for individuals who are transgender. Gender dysphoria is a medical condition, so the question is raised about whether it is appropriate for the law to be involved at all. A secondary question is raised about whether it is appropriate for the medical profession to be blind-sighted by a politically motivated desire to see the introduction of self-identification.
For the past few years, we have dallied around these issues. Some activists have been outright rude with regards to transgender people, treating these individuals like dirt off the bottom of their shoe rather than people who are equally as deserving of our respect. In the same breathe, however, some transgender activists have poisoned the pool of debate by denouncing all criticism as bigoted nonsense that does not deserve to be heard. Is it any wonder that we’ve reached this stalemate?
In the past year, the LGB&T community have also been asking these questions, though in a different form. What framework would best serve transgender people? And, what framework would best serve LGB people? It is one answer to this question that I will focus on now.
The LGB Alliance: do they have a point?
The LGB Alliance were a fringe group that cropped up, seemingly overnight, in the middle of 2019. Their aims, according to their website, are simple: to advance the interests of LGB people, to amplify the voice of lesbians-as-women, to protect children from ‘unscientific gender doctrines’, and to promote respectful freedom of speech.
And yet, they have been criticised (pretty much from day one) for being ‘transphobic.’ ‘First they came for the T’, Linda Riley hysterically declared. Anthony Watson, Labour’s LGBT advisor, suspended his critical faculties, and decried them as a hate group. Munroe Bergdorf, forever rational, declared that they are ‘an embarrassment to the community.’ I imagine you’re getting the picture.
What these critics, and many more like them, missed, is that several transgender people were at the inaugural meeting in London. In fact, rather than being a movement that seeks to eradicate transgender people in their entirety, the LGB Alliance are simply asserting that involving the T in the LGBT necessarily entails that the needs of LGB people are not being met.
And yet, this rather niche point is being missed. Instead, in stark contrast to the LGB Alliance’s calls for respectful and free discussion, people dismiss their concerns as outright bigotry. Rather than us having to confront a societal division of sexual majority v sexual minority, we are faced with a deeper division within the latter part of that equation.
This is exactly what has happened throughout this year and, indeed, throughout the last decade. Think back to the debate around gay marriage: so focused on pursuing the right to access the bourgeois form of the family, activists completely missed the tensions beneath the surface. The very tensions, by the way, that are starting to crop up now.
A gay identity, an identity defined by same-sex attraction, is a relatively new identity in comparative terms. It’s facing teething problems, and these are being obfuscated by the inclusion of transgender-identified individuals into the discourse surrounding the needs of same-sex attracted individuals.
It would be far more humane if the needs of LGB people were recognised as separate from, but equal to, the needs of transgender people. Where there is overlap, a push for solidarity could be made. Most importantly, where there is divergence, solidarity would be of the utmost importance.
It’s for that reason I believe that the LGB Alliance deserves a fair hearing in 2020. But will they get one? I won’t hold my breathe.
Daniel Clark is the Editor-in-Chief of Backbench