Shon Faye’s ‘The Transgender Issue’ is a cry for justice and a voice of reason

By Kit Roberts

IT’S no secret that some alarming ideas about gender and identity are gaining momentum in the UK.

So-called ‘wokeness’ is manufactured and condemned by conservative voices, who seem unaware that many of the people they are attacking probably wouldn’t even describe themselves as such.

Among the ideas which might be associated with this label, climate science, critical race theory, post-colonialism, the so-called ‘Transgender Issue’ has become a hot topic in public discourse, to put it mildly. 

It’s no accident that writer and activist Shon Faye gave her book this title.

Framing the complicated and deeply personal struggles that trans and non-binary people face simply as ‘the transgender issue’ has been a way for anti-trans voices to reduce the complexities and nuances of trans people’s lives to a soundbite. They are not people, they are an ‘issue’ to be dealt with.

At the start of her book, Faye makes it clear she has named it ‘The Transgender Issue’ in an attempt to reclaim this phrase.

Whilst there have been previous books by trans authors which have examined trans people’s experiences, Faye highlights that many of them have been framed as at least partially an autobiography.

If you want a confessional account of her experiences as a trans woman, Faye says, go elsewhere.

Instead, what the reader is presented with is a deft and nuanced look at the challenges facing trans people and British society as a whole in the 21st century.

Faye seldom draws on her own experiences, instead repeatedly emphasising that while she has of course experienced transphobia, her privilege as a white, middle class woman with a strong support network has shielded her from many of the vulnerabilities experienced by other members of the trans community.

This admission does not weaken her position at all, and if anything strengthens her argument that the best things society can do to help trans people are things which would help everyone.

Proper funding and structuring of physical and mental healthcare, higher wages, income security, greater employment rights in the workplace, and a functioning judicial system are among the ideas Faye lists as inherently good for the trans community.

It’s an argument which is easily lost in the bickering around who should and should not be allowed into which bathroom, that social policy which supports all vulnerable people would of course also benefit the trans community.

Faye does also examine some of the issues more specifically affecting trans people, including an in-depth look at some of the frightening pushback they have received from anti-trans feminists. 

Looking into controversies such the no-platforming of Germaine Greer, Faye reveals the stomach-churning ideas which have been publicly advocated by figures such as Greer, sparing no hateful detail.

There is also excellent insight into the divisions within the LGBTQIA+ community, something people outside the community might not be aware of.

For example, the demonisation of trans people as undermining the idea of ‘same sex attraction’, as well as the lie that trans women regularly ‘force’ cisgendered lesbians to have sex with them.

It’s a poignant chapter for any members of the LGBTQIA+ community who fall outside the L and the G, who are sometimes considered to be not the ‘right kind’ of queer, or ‘not queer enough’. 

One piece of analysis also reminds us that the UK in particular is facing a pushback against trans rights, while countries like Germany and even the US move ahead.

Faye suggests that feminism in the UK remains largely white and middle-class, and has not met with the reckoning from black, Latino, and indigenous feminists that the US has. 

Meanwhile many formerly colonised places already had a non-binary social understanding of gender before their colonisation, so in these places decolonising politics and history can also be an advocation for trans rights.

Faye’s book approaches an emotive debate in a rational and matter-of-fact way, calmly drawing attention to problems and suggesting ways in which they might be remedied.

She reminds us of the furious debates and monumental pushback against trans rights in the UK, writing:

“We are not an ‘issue’ to be debated and derided. We are symbols of hope for many non-trans people, too, who see in our lives the possibility of living more fully and freely. 

“That is why some people hate us: they are frightened by the gleaming opulence of our freedom.”

Anyone who wishes to learn and understand more about the challenges trans and non-binary people face should read this book.

Featured Image: Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office @Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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