[CONTENT WARNING: discussions of transphobia, transphobic violence]
Something terrifying is happening in Scotland, something so familiar yet so brazen in its viciousness. A campaign of lies, misinformation, bullying and hatred is being directed at a marginalised group of people by politicians, the tabloids and an organised campaign of bigots.
Following the announcements from the UK and Scottish Governments that there were (separate) plans to review the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), there’s been a targeted campaign of harassment directed against trans people, particularly trans women and trans feminine people with public profiles, supported and amplified by the gutter press. Documenting all this hate would require many more words than I have, so since this is A Thousand Flowers, let’s focus on the roasters in our own backyard.
The change to the law being proposed by the SNP in Scotland is simple: allow women, men and non binary people to register their correct gender with the state. This means non binary people (people who’re not men or women) will gain legal recognition for the first time in Scotland and it means people who’re waiting to take other steps in their transition, either through choice or due to lack of appropriate support/money/energy etc. – and those who have no need or desire for anything besides new documents with their correct name and/or gender – won’t be stuck in limbo forever.
If this law is passed, people will be able to make clear to the state what gender they are, something they are capable of figuring out for themselves. That’s it: no end of the world, no weans raised by wolves in polygamous genderqueer tribes, no requirement for moral panic. Like so much that LGBTQ communities have battled for over the years, by the time it gets close to reality, it seems a lot like a few scraps of paper, broadly because, it is. But the message they send matters, the recognition they give counts, people’s lives will be improved and we can’t deride that.
But there’s nothing new or shocking here. People transition all the time, they always have, other countries have recognised gender isn’t a binary in law without the sky falling in, sometimes for decades/centuries, Ireland has had self ID for a few years, with none of the horror and terror envisaged by the tabloids and the transphobes. You’ve always pished next to trans people and that’s not about to change. This is about reducing some of the strain, upset and – at its worst – violence which trans people are subjected to because the state just gets who they are wrong, for no reason, and previously wouldn’t listen, respond to or change that. The consultation on the review can be found here, and we’d encourage everyone who supports trans and non binary people’s right to fill it in, you can guarantee the haters will.
While it’s clear where media outlets who frequently denigrate trans people, like The Daily Mail or Wings Over Scotland, were going to stand, you’d imagine our “progressive” numedia would welcome these changes. You’d assume those who constantly act like Scotland is a progressive beacon would be proud of the example this legislation sets about who we are and where we’re going as a society. When the Tories dropped any pretence they’d review gender recognition laws in England and Wales, all the bigoted fire became focused on preventing trans people in Scotland making progress. Rather than resisting this hatred, the pro independence press seems to have joined in.
On Friday, the National published an article by a transphobic activist, uncritically promoting a event at which trans and non binary people were ruthlessly mocked and denigrated from the platform. Bella Caledonia praised the piece as “brave” and “clear.”
Seeing the media ganging up on a marginalised group and promoting a campaign to deny people access to healthcare and basic services isn’t my idea of Scotland The Brave. Did any of the editors check what was actually said at this conference? Coz we did…
But before we get on to the meeting itself, I’d like to address some of the homophobic, transphobic and dishonest article Shona Craven wrote about the event and the GRA. It’s an attempt to minimise the hatred being generated by this campaign and the aims of those involved, and even suggests those covertly organising to bully others are definitely the people we should feel sorry for. The piece begins pointing out this meeting has to occur in secret, presumably because the handful of men and women at the meeting are too ashamed to be more open about their participation in a campaign to deny human rights to others. Although, given there’s a video of at least some of the meeting (which we’ll not be linking to but which is publicly available), clearly no-one’s not that ashamed.
It’s notable the only 2 people referenced in the article by name are Owen Jones and Patrick Harvie. Journalists using their platform to target gay and bi men is nothing new, this is a deliberate strategy to try to pull apart the support and solidarity within the LGBTQ community when we need it most. It’s about trying to make men who’ve been ridiculed and attacked by the same forces, who were bullied as kids with the same venom now being directed at our trans siblings, feel we don’t get to challenge this when Craven et al try to do it again. We do get to challenge it, we will and we must. Trans women threw the bricks my house is built on, fought alongside me at every stage for the rights and freedoms I now enjoy – I’m not just gonnae shut up and watch the bullies win this time.
We then go into “what about lesbians?” which is to transphobia what “what about the homeless?” is to racists. Journalists are being allowed to use their platform to misrepresent the LGBTQ community, confuse the issue in the eyes of the public and ultimately, promote a violent status quo which harms us and targets anyone who doesn’t meet their standards to be judged a legitimate man or woman.
There’s a blatant dishonesty at the core of this fearmongering, exemplified when Craven misrepresents organisations like Engender, Close The Gap, Rape Crisis Scotland, Equate Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Women 50:50, and Zero Tolerance. Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis provide services to all woman, based on self identification, already. The very organisations being painted as “at risk” by the change in the law do this anyway and wrote a statement to the Government which essentially says “thanks 4 catching up.” Yet Craven chooses to attack state funding of vital support services and insinuates everyone who works in these organisations is a secret bigot. No, that’s just you. Except without the secret part. Suggesting otherwise does a massive disservice to the work these groups do.
Craven claims she “didn’t see any hate” at this event, other than from the people protesting for their rights. Except, a brief review reveals it is just a hate campaign. They don’t even try to disguise it.
To give you a flavour of some of the lowlights of the “We Have To Talk About The GRA” event held in Glasgow on 10th January:
- Speakers state and imply that trans people do not exist and that they do not want them to exist, repeatedly. From the platform “transgenderism” is described as “a phase”, “a cult fad”, “narcissistic”, “perverted”, “confused liberalism”, “profoundly irrational”, “a fashion statement”, “self harm” and “mutilation”
- Non binary people are written off with derision as “the kind of thing that middle age women like us should maybe have a quiet snigger about”, who we’re told will “grow out of it.”
- People are repeatedly misgendered, which makes exactly which groups are being belittled hard to follow. A large section stated as being about the impact on “women” was actually all about men…
- Vital national institutions, like the Antiques Roadshow, stand accused of promoting gender confusion as part of an elite plot by conservatives/liberals/men
- Gay marriage is suggested as being a Tory plot and we’re informed 16 year olds shouldn’t get the vote (as one of various “issues” which only seem related to gender in the eyes of that wee man, now prattling on about key questions like: what if he’s a black woman, eh? Wot then??)
tl;dr – it’s an unbelievable bigoted shitfest but The National and Bella Caledonia believed it to be worthy of space for promotion and praise.
We do need to ask how a movement based on the principle: “if you just let us do it ourselves, rather than dictating to us what we are, we’ll be fine thanks” can’t explain the concept of self identification, the notion it doesn’t matter if someone else says you’re something you not: you’re actually what you are. Either you support independence and self organisation as basic principles or you don’t.
At a time when trans people have been abandoned by the Tories, let down by a Westminster Government who promised to do more. At a time when kids, specifically young women are being hounded by the tabloids, we have a real opportunity to be the better, fairer Scotland, to work with those who we don’t agree with on the constitution/anything else to make sure we get legislation that empowers trans and non binary people as much as possible – that means standing up to bigoted attacks, not joining in.
Instead, media organisations viewed as being representative of those who support independence are amplifying the hatred they should be resisting and challenging – either because they can’t be arsed checking sources, don’t care about trans rights or both. None of those answers are acceptable but we hope now the editors are aware of what they’ve done, they retract their support for this hatred and stop associating the Yes movement with organised transphobia. By Friday afternoon, The National were sharing an article about a new Stonewall report which highlights the shocking scale of violence and harassment trans people face – due to the very forces they were shamelessly promoting for clicks just a few hours previously.
When this legislation passes – and we need to work to make sure it does – all the false and misleading claims made during the “debate” will fall down. After the bile, the reality that all this does is makes things a bit easier for trans people will become accepted wisdom, those who oppose the bill know this, that’s why they’re so scared.
When this legislation passes, “reforming the gender recognition act” will be added to the list of Holyrood’s achievements, to be rolled out for the next election, referendum or shite campaign video. But people will remember those who stood with them and those who were set against them when it mattered. And the message those in positions of influence send trans kids now will have a lasting impact on whether they feel part of our society or whether they feel excluded.
Media distortion, organised bigotry and a fear of change seem ever present features of Scotland’s story. But there has also always been something else: those prepared to stand together, for a better society.
If we genuinely believe people can define, defend and govern themselves better than others can, it’s time we applied those principles to the Scotland we’re fighting for in the here and now. Self determination doesn’t have to be that distant dream that never was, we can build a country in which trans people have the confidence to determine their own futures, for themselves. Let’s get on and do it.
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