Comment: The trans community has finally arrived

Jane Fae: 'The sense is one of near surprise: we did THAT?'
Jane Fae: 'The sense is one of near surprise: we did THAT?'

By Jane Fae

At the start of 'Airplane' – one of Hollywood's all time greatest comedies – flight controller Steve McCloskey opines that he "picked a bad week to give up smoking".  As events turn from bad to worse, the list of things he gives up giving up on grows longer, encompassing smoking, glue sniffing and amphetamines, before he finally throws himself out of the control tower.

The last thing suggested here is that writer and columnist Suzanne Moore has any such bad habits. However, reading through the car crash that was her last week on Twitter (for now), I couldn't help but think: she picked a bad week to take on the trans community.

Let's start with the narrow focus – the stuff everyone has been writing about over the past 24 hours. A while back (though actually a little more than a week) Moore wrote a perfectly OK piece about the power of women's anger. Ok, that is, apart from one small reference to Brazilian transsexuals which was not so much offensive as indelicate.

Some members of the twittersphere – not, in fact trans ones at all, initially - took exception to it and instead of apologising, Moore defended.  Then she took to the Guardian to be ever so slightly rude about the trans community, which in turn got ruder back and possibly (it depends on your point of view) ruder still until Friday, when Moore walked.  From Twitter, that is, claiming she had been bullied off.


There was a temporary respite until Sunday morning's Observer, when friend and columnist Julie Burchill escalated the alert level from DefCon Three to DefCon One with a piece that oozed venom toward the trans community from its every pore. The trans community retaliated and, if we conclude the metaphor, the entire matter was now nuclear, with both sides MAD as hell.

Which takes us back to the start and why Moore really did choose the wrong week to take on the trans community.

Like many minorities, the trans one has put up with a lot of stick over the years.  Go back ten years and the idea of 'trannies' as simply men in dresses practising some weird kind of sexual deviation was still widespread. Then, in rapid succession, there came European court rulings that established a few basic rights and ruled against discrimination, the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010.

Things have undoubtedly got better.  No more is a trans person required to divorce as a precondition of medical treatment.  Gone, almost, are the bad old days when trans women particularly had to choose between using the little boy's room, and risking violence or even rape – or going with their gender identity, thereby risking arrest and a ban.

Still, not everything is rosy. There is no recognition in law of intersex individuals: little acknowledgment of the non-binary in medical treatment.  The trans community continues to suffer appalling levels of on-street violence as well as discrimination in jobs, housing and the provision of healthcare. In the press, too, the trans minority, along with a number of other out-groups, is seen as an easy and regular target for sensationalism.

That changed a little with Leveson, when Trans Media Watch spoke up on behalf of both the trans community and other minorities picked on in this way.  For a while, the nastiness abated. But it never quite went away.

Now, as Leveson fades and the press spin meisters lobby hard, we are starting to see a return to that nastiness, this time with a spiteful edge.  That, mostly, was how the community felt about a piece in the Guardian a week or so back, exposing alleged malpractice by one of the UK's most popular trans medics – and utterly ignoring the literally hundreds of complaints of bad practice, as serious or worse, from the trans community as a whole.

This time, the community decided it had had enough. It rose to the occasion, creating, in a couple of days, a massive documentation of medical poor practice. It swung mightily behind the latest target of press prurience.  Everywhere, it seemed, there was a sense of: Enough! No more!

Of course, that may not last – though watch this space: my own sense is that trans awareness and trans empowerment will prove very difficult to put back in the box.

But still, that is the context against which Moore’s "offence" was committed.  Ironically, it was her off reference in a piece that was, in its way, celebrating the power of women's anger that evoked its counterpart: trans anger.

Today, this week, the community seems in reflective mood. The sense is one of near surprise, as if to say, looking around in bemusement, a young adult finally aware of its own strength: we did THAT? Barring further shocks – and of course, in politics, a week is always a very long time and the unexpected lurks ever round the next corner – we are in for a period of calm.

But alongside the calm, I predict far more unity of purpose: far harder bargaining, less tolerance of compromise.  Because, since 2012, certainly since the beginning of 2013, the trans community is starting to feel like it has arrived.  Just where it has arrived to remains to be seen.

Jane Fae is a feminist and writer on gender issues. You can read more of her writing here and follow her on Twitter here.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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