By Yas Necati
When those who supposedly stand for gender equality and may themselves be in some form ‘gender variant’ want to suppress others, where does that come from?
I wish I could tell you the name of the person who shouted “dykes not dicks” at Pride. But for all the noise that her and her friends made protesting against trans people, hardly anyone has owned up to actually being there.
Even if you’re not LGBTQ+, you’ve likely heard of the anti-trans protest that took place at London Pride last weekend. A small group of cisgender women somehow managed to make their way to the front of the march, lay down on the floor, and shouted about how trans women aren’t women and are apparently “raping lesbians. Not only that, but organisers allowed them to lead the Pride parade for an entire 20 minutes, blaming their failure to step in on “hot weather”. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
But the anonymity of the women involved is a reassuring sign, at least, that even those who are very passionately transphobic are cautious of being loud and proud about it.
It’s a promising indication that wider society is slowly changing – becoming gradually more open to the fact that trans people exist, and gradually more condemning of those who oppress us. In short, transphobia is not “cool” in the UK in 2018. Still prevalent, still existing, still in many ways considered acceptable… but not cool.
But of course, even though a large portion of society is finally adapting and changing, there are still small anti-trans hate groups who are doing everything they can to push back against progress, for those of us who don’t slot so easily within cisnormative ideals of gender. And when I say small, I mean it – the group that disrupted Pride at the weekend barely numbered 10 members. It’s not exactly a mass movement.
To get to the bottom of who these people are and what motivates them to be filled with so much hatred, it’s important to acknowledge who the different groups are – and how they differ.
In the anti-trans parade there are the usual suspects: highly conservative religious groups; far-righters and MRAs (men’s rights activists). These are the kind of groups that hate most minorities, it’s no surprise that they think they’ve “taken the red pill” when it comes to trans rights.
Far-righters have, quite ironically, hijacked the iconic Matrix term and now use it as a code for seeing the world through their eyes. Ironically, of course, because the Matrix starred a part Asian and Hawaiian man and was directed by two trans women siblings – not exactly representative of the white, hetero– and cisnormative future many of these people want to see.
But that’s a whole other article – what I want to focus on is not the resistance that comes from outside the LGBTQ+ and feminist communities, but that which comes from within. When those who supposedly stand for gender equality and may themselves be in some form “gender variant” want to suppress others, where on earth does that transphobia come from? After all, it’s easier to laugh off hatred that comes from outside the community than within it – from known “enemies” rather than from people who should be allies.
And as well as the small group who caused the friction, the organisers of the Pride parade should be ashamed of themselves for not immediately fighting transphobia when they saw it, and then blaming the “hot weather”.
Trans people deserve better than this – and it’s this institutionalised relaxed attitude to trans rights that is, if anything, the most harmful thing of all. You can bet if it was a group against gay men trying to hijack the protest, something would have been done a lot sooner. Transphobia, unfortunately, has long been present within our communities, and this latest stunt at Pride weekend is all too reminiscent of scenes of the past. I want to take you back to New York City on 28 June, 1969.
In the early hours of the morning, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street. The raid was nothing unusual – police breaking up and arresting queer and trans people simply for gathering together in one place was pretty common at the time. What made this night different was that the community fought back, and they fought hard.
It wasn’t the first time, but it was the first sustained period of protest: riots that lasted for nights on end as LGBTQ+ people fought for their right to exist and just hang out together. The riots are widely known as the starting point of the queer and trans liberation movement; they kickstarted Pride protests in the US and shortly after around the world. Many countries name their Pride march “Christopher Street Day”, after the road the Stonewall riots happened on.
The riots are also widely believed to have been started by three women of colour – Stormé DeLarverie, a butch lesbian, and Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two trans women. But this wasn’t where Johnson and Rivera’s activism stopped. Between them they started Star: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, which helped young LGBTQ+ homeless people off the streets. They were themselves both homeless for most of their lives. In 1992, Johnson’s body was found in the Hudson River, with a wound to the back of her head. The police ruled the death as a suicide without much investigation.
Still to this day, the LGBTQ+ community are trying to piece together what actually happened that night. Many believe that Johnson was killed, or that she jumped into the river to escape attackers. As for Sylvia Rivera, in 1973, four years after she had effectively started Pride, she was booed when she got on stage at the New York City Pride parade.
It was the stage for her famous speech, starting “Y’all better quieten down”, where she told the crowd: “I will no longer put up with this s***. I have been beaten, I have had my nose broken, I have been thrown in jail, I have lost my job, I have lost my apartment for gay liberation, and y’all treat me this way? What the f***’s wrong with you all? Think about that.”
Fast forward 45 years to London, and it’s hard to feel optimistic that much has changed. As the anti-trans group, themselves lesbians, handed out flyers saying that trans women are “coercing lesbians to have sex with men”. The lies continue, the prejudice continues, the exclusion continues. And the compliance of organisers continues. Once again coming from within the LGBTQ+ community itself.
Luckily, this time the backlash against trans rights does seem to be much smaller. The leaflets were signed at the bottom by a number of groups – Critical Sisters, Mayday4Women, Object and the Lesbian Rights Alliance. This is by no means the entirety of the transphobic resistance in the UK, but I’d just like to give you an idea of who they are before we talk about the rest.
Critical Sisters state on their website: “We stand in opposition to man-made beliefs; be that religious faith or the ideology of gender. No Gods. No Gender.” Despite claiming that gender doesn’t exist, they say they “put women and girls first” and despite claiming they “exist to discuss ideas without hatred” their Twitter feed is pretty much exclusively about protesting against trans women’s rights – not much of the religious stuff at all.
Mayday4Women believe that “lesbians’ first political group of reference is women, not the queer alphabet soup” and therefore want lesbians to break off from the wider LGBTQ+ community, which they call an “absurd coalition”. This is why the group at Saturday’s Pride parade protested with the slogan #GetTheLOut. They literally want to remove lesbians from the wider community, whilst also claiming that trans people have no place in that same community and that they want to kick them out of it.
The group’s primary aim is to campaign against reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, that would make it easier for transgender people to change their birth certificate and other official documents to match the gender they identify with. Object started as an organisation that campaigned against sexism in the media. It was for a time a pretty mainstream campaign that worked alongside many other feminist groups of the early-mid 2010s. It has been in the feminist spotlight very little over the past few years, and is now reemerging as an anti-trans organisation.
Lesbian Rights Alliance
Lastly, the Lesbian Rights Alliance, a group that calls trans women “biologically male transgender activists who self-identify as women”. They are very much a strong voice in the anti-trans community, known by many intersectional feminists as Terfs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists). Their purpose is to campaign against trans women’s rights as they believe that all trans women are men and therefore can’t accept that trans women can be lesbians.
This is by no means an extensive list; other groups, including Fair Play for Women, Transgender Trend, A Women’s Place, Man Friday, and ReSisters are also at the forefront of transphobia. Transgender Trend has written an incredibly transphobic bookletadvising teachers how to respond to gender-questioning kids, which is disguised as a helpful, friendly resource.
Many of the individuals in these groups have come together to write a book that came out earlier this year entitled: Transgender children and young people, born in your own body. And Man Friday compared being trans to being a Wotsit ahead of the Trump protest.
These are the kind of people we’re dealing with. Although small, they have the power to make life incredibly uncomfortable for trans people. Someone telling you your identity is no different to pretending to be a Wotsit, and eight people shouting that you’re a rapist as they lead Pride – a space where you are supposed to feel accepted, celebrated, and is literally supposed to be for you – is all it takes to make an already discriminated against group feel defeated.
The day after London Pride, a transmasculine person has committed suicide. In the UK 48 per cent of transgender people have attempted suicide. Forty-five years ago, Marsha P Johnson was either murdered or took her own life for who she was.
Transgender women started this movement. As Sylvia Rivera said, trans people have given everything and lost everything to champion all of our rights. Anti-trans protesters would do good to remember it – until then, they are the biggest part of our problem.
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