By Robyn Banks
Content warning: discussion of transphobia, genitalia
In June, the news broke that Graham Linehan, former comedy writer turned full time transphobe, was finally removed from twitter for his continued attacks on the trans* community. Whilst it is positive that twitter is finally taking the action that the trans* community have long been asking for, this should have happened years ago, when Linehan started doxing people who dared challenge him.
However, removing one bigot from a social media platform doesn’t mean that his horrible ideas and behaviour will disappear. Linehan’s crusade to declare who is and isn’t a woman is supported by many others, ranging from prominent academics such as Kathleen Stock to celebrities such as JK Rowling. The support of these influential individuals has helped to perpetuate a pervasive ideology of intolerance, which seeks to make the life of the trans community as difficult as possible by attacking their very right to exist. Removing a major transphobe from an important platform is a start, but there’s more work to be done.
Although its proponents claim to be feminists, this is an actively misogynist belief system
The ideology of Linehan and his ilk is underpinned by a form of biological essentialism. In short, it boils down to the view that sex governs gender and that the two are immutably linked to one another through a series of characteristics that define what is a ‘Man’ and what is a ‘Woman’. These ‘characteristics’ are usually to do with the genitalia of a person – specifically, whether or not they have a penis. Although its proponents claim to be feminists, this is an actively misogynist belief system. It is anti-feminst in two main ways. Firstly, it is an ideology that ‘still believes in the ontological reality of the Penis as hegemonic genitalia’, as Paul B. Preciado puts it in his Counter-Sexual Manifesto. By focusing so heavily on the phallus, biological essentialists perpetuate the patriarchal notion that the male genitalia is the ideal genitalia in our society. Secondly, as a result of this notion, it frames women as defined and regulated not by the genitalia they have, but by the ones they do not. By insisting that the penis is the defining genitalia not only of what is male, but also of what is female, it makes women definable only by the fact that they are not men. It is a straightforwardly toxic position that treats the continuation of violence against trans* people as an acceptable price to pay to help its defenders feel secure in their inflexible ideas about gender.
This issue should not just be left to the trans* community to deal with. Our cis-gendered allies need to speak up and help us, not only in amplifying our voices, but also in actively fighting against the systems that oppress and erase us. Many allies came forward to protest the government’s abandoning of the Gender Recognition Act consultation, but it’s not enough to only call out transphobia in the wake of individual highly-publicised events. One of the reasons that Linehan was able to get away with what he did for so long was that many turned a blind eye to it, often choosing simply to unfollow him rather than actively call him out. Many people who witnessed his increasingly vile behaviour consoled themselves with their fond memories of the comedy shows that he co-wrote. This tacit acceptance of his discourse gave him license to continue with his tirades against trans* people and their allies because he knew that he wouldn’t being challenged en masse without more continuously vocal support from the cisgendered community.
We need the allies of the trans* community to speak up, and to make space for trans* folk to centre themselves
There is also further work to be done within the trans* community itself to help guide these conversations and make changes. Whilst we need the support of our cisgender siblings, they should not be leading the fight and talking for us. This leads to our concerns and needs being drowned out by those who do not know what it’s like to be trans, as seen with the case of Mermaids, an organisation led by a majority cisgendered staff group that works with trans children. This has resulted in a disconnect between the trans community’s needs and wants and what the organisation thinks needs to be done, as evidenced by their continued support of the police despite objections from within the community. In order to resolve these issues, the community’s voice needs to not only be listened to, but centred within organisations such as Mermaids in order to ensure that our voices are not lost or glossed over in the fight for our rights.
It’s good news that ‘Glinner’ is gone, but a lot more work needs to be done. In recent weeks, new figures have confirmed that trans* people are twice as likely to be victims of crime than cisgender indivudals, and yet the news has focused on Rowling continuing to sue anyone who dares call her out on her bullshit. What it shows is that the plight of trans people will always be secondary to those who weaponise their issues for as long as transphobia goes unchecked, even when the evidence shows how much more we suffer. We need the allies of the trans* community to speak up, and to make space for trans* folk to centre themselves in the creation of solutions to trans* issues, to ensure that the systemic transphobia in our society is finally booted to the curb once and for all.
Featured image credit: Lgbtqteiath/Wikimedia Commons
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