Hate speech — why a minority of women go out of their way to verbally kick the shit out of transwomen

Me, on a train. Stay with me, the relevance will become clearer. Honest.

As a transwoman I’ve had to battle for my rights, but as a middle-class, middle-aged white woman I know how to count my blessings (which are many) and I find I’m mellowing out as I get older. The same can’t be said of some 2nd wave feminists who still trumpet the old cliché that “all transwomen are rapists”, Germaine Greer being perhaps the longest serving and most unpleasant of their number. From my perspective, it’s a shame they’re still around, but I comfort myself in the knowledge that they won’t be with us for much longer, and that their hate will die with them.

But am I too complacent? I recently came across an article by a 23-year-old woman calling herself @LivLife&Wolves (I’ll call her Liv for short) which trotted out prejudices against people like me which I really thought were on the way out. For the first time in a long time, I surprised myself and got angry. The piece is unfounded and unfair.

Pray silence

The article is headlined up by an image showing a woman with her mouth sewn shut. It is truly grotesque, with blood stains and all, and the first sentence then reads:

“Silenced by men first and now transwomen, will women ever not feel silenced?”

Rhetorical questions like this rarely work for their authors. The fact that this ill-informed, agenda-ridden, prejudiced article is in the public domain suggests that, if there is someone out there trying to silence Liv, they need to raise their game.

It’s not what you’ve done, it’s what you might do

Liv continues:

“I asked why, as a woman who was born with woman parts, it is considered transphobic to want to have conversation about the distinct and unquestionable differences in life experience between cis and trans women.”

I don’t think that anyone, in a moment of quiet reflection, would seriously suggest that such a conversation is, of itself, transphobic. Society robbed me and those like me of the ability to grow up female as I had wanted — I had to take matters into my own hands later — so there are indeed distinct and unquestionable differences in life experiences here. If Liv and her like-minded friends want to have a conversation about how they had periods when I didn’t, I have no problem. They don’t need my permission, and, to be frank, I’m not that interested. But in the very next breath Liv says:

“I asked why, when women have faced systematic violence at the hands of men and 1 in six women is raped, it is wrong for cis women to have some places just for them to feel safe in a world where they don’t”.

And there it is, right there; one sentence that says so much.

Let’s unpack that sentence; it says: 1. Women are raped by men. 2. As a consequence, women do not always feel safe with men around. 3. There should be places where women feel safe. 4. Transwomen are men, they are therefore a threat to women, and should not be allowed into women’s safe places. 1, 2 and 3 are statements of the sad but obvious. But where did 4 come from?! There seems to be some short-circuit happening here. The conceptual leap from “women sometimes need protection from men” to “women sometimes need protection from transwomen” is simply not explained.

Liv goes on to suggest that mere “questioning of things” (which is what she claims to be doing) cannot be “an act of hate, discrimination or intolerance”. I want to look at that proposition from a historical perspective, taking the examples of people of colour in the US and gay men in the UK as illustrations. Let’s see if this kind of “questioning”, designed merely to highlight the differences between human beings, is so benign in practice.

By the 1890s it appeared settled law in the US that all citizens had the same right to travel on the railways regardless of their racial background; after all, the Thirteenth Amendment, prohibiting slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing the same rights to all citizens, had both been passed. However, in 1890 the state of Louisiana passed a law that required separate accommodations for blacks and whites on railroads, including separate railway cars. Determined to challenge the law, an enterprising group of New Orleans activists engaged the assistance of a Mr Plessey who was of seven-eighths European descent and one-eighth African descent. Pale of skin, he passed as a white man. However, under Louisiana law, he was classified as black, and thus the new law required him to sit in the “colored” car of any train. When he sat in the whites only section, he was duly arrested.

The US Supreme Court held the Louisiana law did not infringe the Fourteenth Amendment. In essence, the court found that highlighting and then legislating around the differences between whites and blacks, so they could then be dealt with separately, was perfectly lawful as long as they were being treated equally. The court rejected outright the suggestion that “the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”

Of course, the reality was that whites-only facilities, on the railways and elsewhere, were uniformly better than those available to people of colour. And the segregation was not necessarily based on hate; many whites were happy to support people of colour in other ways, as this astonishing next photograph shows…

just as long as they were kept separate. The consensus was often that people of colour were of simple stock and were happiest in positions of subservience. Segregation just seemed to many to be “for the best”. The Plessey ruling was not overturned until 1954.

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales. A look at the final Parliamentary debate which took place in July 1967, just before the law was finally pushed through (the government report that recommended the change had been published more than 10 years earlier), gives a flavour of the prejudice that had prevented the change in the law for so long. As in the case of race above, few claimed that they hated the targeted group outright, but rather that they simply needed to be dealt with differently, given different rights. One legislator asked whether “the full stretches of medical research [could] be put to the limit to try to help these unfortunate people, the homosexuals, and to try, at least in part, to cure them of these habits? Because with medical research as it is at present, I believe that this can be done, even if it takes a long time. I think it is a great fault to suppose that this can never be cured”. Another legislator described the proposed law thus: “I am satisfied that the Bill is a “queer’s charter” and will encourage that most loathsome creature, the male prostitute”.

So, it would seem that homosexuals were not bad people, they just need to be cured and the general population needed protection from male prostitutes. Simple.

I’m only asking

In the cases both of race and homosexuality the lifting of the legal oppression and segregation of these minorities did not lead to the dire consequences many predicted as laws were amended and attitudes changed. The years since these changes started to take effect have shown up claims such as “people of colour are happiest in positions of subservience” and “gay men should be cured rather than decriminalised” for what they really were; smokescreens for blind, ignorant prejudice. These claims weren’t simply innocent cases of raising issues or questioning the status quo, they were designed from the outset to act as stumbling blocks to human progress. The fact that they failed is testament to the fundamental goodness of the human spirit.

So now we have the modern version of all of this; the questioning of whether a transwoman could ever be “a real woman”. Just like “is a person of colour happiest as a busboy” or “can gay men be cured”, these questions are not asked out of a genuine interest in the answer. They are asked to block, incite, demean and humiliate. There is no real debate here, just prejudice. When the proponents of these questions get called out, they cry that they are being silenced. I for one do not want to silence any of them; quite the contrary, I want to light them up and show the bigotry beneath.

Everyone’s got a little crazy in them

I take an active interest in trans rights, but I’ve never heard of the nonsense about “chest feeding instead of breast feeding” reported by Liv. I’m sure there are some out there who have made suggestions of this ilk, just as there are those to continue to swear the earth is flat. Every section of society has its crazies, its zealots, and we have our fair share too. I don’t think we have more than our fair share. In addition, I think it is entirely right to say a lesbian who does not want to sleep with someone with a penis is not transphobic; sexual preference is valid. And Caitlin Jenner? Well, let’s just say she’s not on my Christmas card list.

But a little craziness in some quarters in no way justifies discrimination against transwomen. And let’s take a reality check to the dreadful prospect that Liv raises of seeing a penis in change rooms and woman spaces. Of course, the likelihood of penises popping up all over the place like this is vanishingly small, given the size of the trans population, but let’s go with it for a moment. Whatever the nature of your junk, if you disport it in a lewd or provocative way — in a changing room or elsewhere — you are likely to be breaking laws that have been in place for centuries. Furthermore, I have seen many people of all sexes in changing rooms over the years with one or more physical characteristics that I did not care for. So I didn’t look. (Chances are there have been people who didn’t want to look at me twice either. And that’s OK!) No one forces you to look at someone else. In saying this I do not for a moment make light of the fact that Liv is a rape survivor. Unlike many transwomen, I’m lucky enough to have never been sexually assaulted, and of course the prospect horrifies me. But it is simply not right to impose restrictions on people who have committed no crime because someone else is uncomfortable with their very presence or appearance. If this were to be acceptable, it would be right for a Christian business to refuse to serve a lesbian couple because they held hands in public. It is not acceptable, and it is not right.

Of course, cis and trans women have more that unites us than divides us. Liv talks about issues of body image forced upon women by society, the concept of not being “woman enough”, and there is not a transwoman I know who does not share those feelings, often in magnified form. Society’s general attitude to what a woman should look and behave like is cruel and wrong. Liv says she has never felt equal to a man; that breaks my heart! More has to be done to achieve true equality, and you’ll find transwomen just as much up for the fight as anyone else.

I don’t care about your junk — why are you so interested in mine?

There are only two reasons, it seems to me, why person A needs to enquire about the detailed nature of person B’s genitalia; firstly if person A needs to carry out a relevant medical examination of person B, and secondly if person A and person B are considering intimate relations with one another. Outside that, why does anyone need to know, let alone care? Unless they want to segregate, to discriminate. This gratuitous interest in other people’s “junk” is simply a means to a prejudicial end, and needs to be challenged at every turn. Just like Mr Plessey, I will not travel in a separate train carriage (see above for evidence of the same :-)) or be segregated or treated differently in any way.

Let me finish where I started; with the (according to Liv) “crucified” Germaine Greer. In one of her choicest comments in recent years she said:

“Just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a fucking woman. I’ve asked my doctor to give me long ears and liver spots and I’m going to wear a brown coat but that won’t turn me into a fucking cocker spaniel.”

The comment was deliberately offensive, but she had books to sell, and, well, that’s capitalism for you; there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Liv also chooses focus on genitals when she says:

“my being born with a vagina matters in the conversation around the rights of trans women”.

Greer might want to regard me as a cocker spaniel, and Liv might have been born with a bulldozer between her legs for all I know or care; I don’t need to know what’s between her legs to assess that she is human and consequently she is entitled to the same human rights I am. It’s all good, as long as these arguments remain irrelevant, academic nonsense. But the moment they impact on my human rights, the moment you try and segregate me and claim that I am not worthy of protection in a woman’s refuge should I ever need it, do not be surprised if I and others like me push back — hard.