Imagine a gentile, with no real understanding or appreciation of the discrimination faced by the Jewish community, writing about Jewish people (as someone of Jewish background I’m sickened by the thought). My guess is many people would think such a proposition ludicrous or that people would be outraged that baseless ideas would even get the time of day. Spot on. But when people who aren’t trans (cisgender) express extreme ideas about trans and gender diverse people this is suddenly considered reasonable?
We see this again and again, and I’m sick of it. The media regularly gives a platform to any number of cisgender people who reproduce stereotypes, exaggerations and outright lies about our community. Crikey did it just last week. I’d like to correct the record.
Firstly, it is simply not true that cis women are unsafe around trans women. Some fundamentalist right-wing groups have now candidly admitted that they “concocted the ‘bathroom safety’ male predator argument as a way to avoid an uncomfortable battle over LGBT ideology”. The bathroom debate was a lie (something trans and allies have been saying for years). It was just designed to tap into emotions, particularly fear — and also to try to wedge cisgender women from trans and gender diverse people.
This confected argument is also used against trans women seeking refuge at women’s shelters. As someone who has advised crisis accommodation on this issue for nearly 15 years, I know most providers have a code of conduct for residents including respectful behaviour. So no one, regardless of body, would be any sort of threat to anyone else. It’s often implied that there is a fear of seeing another person’s genitals, but most facilities have showers that are enclosed when a person strips down so no one sees anyone else’s body. The best, as per one newly-built shelter in Melbourne, have a toilet and a shower in each room so gender and body don’t matter. This also means trans young people, as well as people who identify as other than male or female, who are thrown out of home by uncaring family can be placed quickly and easily.
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All of this ultimately stems from a basic prejudice. It seems as though whenever one trans person supposedly does something bad, it’s fine to bag all trans people. Yet in debates about “men behaving badly,” this sort of thinking is instantly drowned in football crowd-like chants of “not all men” — another gross inconsistency.
Likewise arguments around trans people and incarceration which combine an emotional fear-mongering law-and-order beat-up about violence in custody settings with stereotypical ideas re: gender and body. Or beat-ups on trans people combined with anti-lefty beat-ups, such as Crikey’s, that claim because there allegedly might not be 100% agreement on trans issues the left is “tied in knots”.
I’m saddened a media outlet that in the same week as running stories on outrageous media behaviours gave air to a columnist resorting to Murdoch media-like outrageous behaviours and who has demonstrated his repeated denial of the experience of trans people. I’m reminded of how I’ve lost track of the times a producer of a commercial radio program has contacted me and said things like “the presenter knows your side but only wants to debate bathrooms”.
Commercial media (along with other elements of society), for the most part, discredits trans people; it puts disrespectful labels on us that are not ours. Disrespectful labels like “male embodied”, as per Crikey’s article, that deny our sense of self. It also denies the numbers of trans people and tries to deny our existence altogether.
If we want to do something as simple as play sport, we’re called cheats and frauds and liars. But even more miniscule rights are under attack too.
Trans people are fighting for the right to get a legal document that doesn’t breach our privacy and “out” us when presented. We’re fighting for the right to get our identity verified online in an hour like cisgender people, rather than having to send paperwork by post and wait 15 days, probably missing out on a job in a tight job market. We’re fighting for the right to not be pathologised by having a health professional “approve” our gender when cisgender people don’t have to go through this experience. We’re fighting for the right not to be forced into often costly surgery that often involves jumping through hoops set down by a medical profession frequently dominated by limited perspectives.
I think that’s pretty fair and clear-cut; there’s nothing “blithely oversimplified” about it.
Einstein said “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. When we examine the underlying bias in who speaks for whom — what they say and don’t say, what evidence is used, what respect is shown if any — we might get on the road to solving the real problems.