Someone posted this cartoon on Twitter, trying to suggest that those who argue against gender ideology are opposed to trans rights and are therefore on the wrong side of history. This is an argument I’ve heard a lot, but don’t think it holds.
The first panel, in black and white to suggest it was some time ago, shows a man shouting
DENYING BLACK PEOPLE EQUAL RIGHTS IS THE ONLY WAY WE CAN PROTECT OUT PRECIOUS CHILDREN FROM THESE HYPERSEXUALIZED PREDATORS!
The next panel shows the same people campaigning against gay rights, this time with the woman shouting
DENYING GAY PEOPLE EQUAL RIGHTS IS THE ONLY WAY WE CAN PROTECT OUR PRECIOUS CHILDREN FROM THESE HYPERSEXUALIZED PREDATORS!
And then, in the third panel, the man is shouting
DENYING TRANS PEOPLE EQUAL RIGHTS IS THE ONLY WAY WE CAN PROTECT OUR PRECIOUS CHILDREN FROM THESE HYPERSEXUALIZED PREDATORS!
So you get the point. History is repeating itself. Each time an oppressed group demands equality, out come the reactionary bigots in an attempt to shut them down, each time claiming to be protecting children, and each time the bigots are defeated. Society moves on, and subsequent generations wonder how people could ever have dreamed of denying equal rights to those groups.
Is it really that simple though? Is the backlash against gender ideology about denying rights to trans people or is there something else going on? The shouting man in that third panel holds a sign saying “I CARE ABOUT WOMEN’S SPORTS SUDDENLY!”, implying of course that he doesn’t really care, he’s just using women’s sports as a way of attacking trans people.
But trans people competing as women in women’s sports is a contentious issue, and one that raises the question of what we mean by equal rights for trans people. The men’s and women’s categories in sport are based on sex rather than gender identity. They’re due to the physical differences between males and females. What then would equal rights for trans people in sports look like? Should a trans woman have the right to compete in the women’s category, even though she has likely benefitted from going through male puberty?
A couple of weeks ago, the UK Sports Councils came out with a report concluding it is not possible to secure safety, fairness, and the inclusion of trans women in women’s sport. In other words, if trans rights includes the right of a trans woman to compete in the women’s category then, in most sports, that would be unfair and potentially unsafe as well. Trans rights are in conflict with the rights of women.
It’s notable that this cartoon does not have a panel showing the Suffragettes campaigning for equal voting rights, though perhaps the cartoonist would argue that that was a long time ago. Women did not stop campaigning for equal rights after they won the right to vote though, and there have been some recent significant campaigns by women such as the #WomenWontWheesht campaign against what they see as the SNP administration’s attack on women’s rights, in particular on their right to speak freely.
So it starts to look as if the narrative of an oppressed group fighting for equal rights against reactionary bigots is overly simplistic. We need to consider what is meant by equal rights when the rights being claimed are not rights that people who are not trans would ever want or need to exercise, save for in a malicious way like a man wanting access to a women’s changing room or a male prisoner wanting to transfer to a women’s prison.
That’s where the recurring theme of the hypersexualised predator comes in. When people express such concerns about allowing male bodied people into women’s spaces, rather than debating the issue or suggesting safeguards, just deflect and remind your audience that people raised similar fears around black people and gay people and since we now accept that those fears were overblown and based on prejudice, that must be the case for these fears as well.
There has also been some push back against gender ideology from gay people who regard the replacement of sex with gender identity as an attack on those who are attracted to people of the same sex, with some seeing the encouragement of young gender-non-conforming people to come out as trans rather than as gay as a form of conversion therapy.
In Iran, where homosexuality is illegal, gay people are under great pressure to undergo state subsidised gender-confirmation surgery.
If we’re to have a rational discussion of trans rights, of what they ought to be and how to balance them with the rights of women, gay people and others, then we need to stop seeing this as a battle between trans people and their allies on one side and hateful reactionary bigots on the other. For a start, trans people have a wide range of views. They don’t all think the same thing. And here in the UK gender reassignment is already a protected characteristic in the 2010 Equality Act, as is sex and as is sexuality.
Rather than framing this as “are you for trans rights or are you a bigot?” we need to be specific about what rights and what legislation we’re referring to. We can’t discuss things like this with memes and cartoons, we need to be using words.
Still, the narrative expressed in this cartoon appears to be pretty powerful. No one wants to be on the wrong side of history and no one wants to be vilified as a transphobe for expressing the wrong views.