CN: transmisogyny and transphobia, Germaine Greer, homophobia
The recent ‘Drop the T’ petition on Change.org has attracted infinitely more attention than is warranted by its 1,900 signatures. There are, you would think, far more important things going on; there are transphobic messages being excreted over a much wider audience that require immediate attention. But, on the other hand, it is entirely understandable that trans people have been so enraged by the petition, managing as it does to collect almost every major transphobic argument and trope into its 8 paragraph description; a depressingly familiar cradle of shit.
Personally I am still not quite sure what to make of it. I try to ignore these things because, after the latest Germaine Greer episode, I realise what a major impact it can have on my mental health. For that reason I won’t detail or debunk the specific contents of the petition, which has been done capably elsewhere. I will focus, though, on a single line that almost made my jaw drop: the claim that most children who suffer gender dysphoria ‘grow out of it by adolescence and, in most cases, grow up to be well-adjusted gay men and women’. That’s right: ‘well-adjusted’. Because of the use of that term, half of me still believes the petition is a callous attempt at trolling. The words ‘well adjusted’ appear with tedious repetition in practically every paper supporting ‘gay cures’ – and the claim that people ‘grow out of” their queerness has had, of course, an equally common history in homophobia as in transphobia. Surely nobody is that immune to irony?
Whatever the case, the petition does bring up the chance to more widely address the concept of ‘solidarity’ in the LGBT+ movement – or rather, the disturbing lack of solidarity. At every stage of post-war queer history, the practice of turning against vulnerable people for one’s own benefit has been habitual. In Britain, the process starts to become recognizable in the 1950s during the debate about the decriminalization of homosexuality.
In 1954 the Daily Mail diplomatic editor, Peter Wildeblood, was tried and convicted of homosexual offences alongside Lord Montagu and Michael Pitt-Rivers – three people of ‘respectable’ standing. The moment the three of them exited the court has become minor folklore; instead of jeering and booing, the crowd clapped and shouted messages of support. This signalled to Wildeblood that there was room in society, the patriarchy, the establishment, or whatever you want to call it, for people like him.
That meant, first, people of standing. But it went deeper than that. In his trial Wildeblood distinguished between ‘introverts’ – the ‘true’ homosexuals who are, by nature, attracted to people of the same sex – and ‘perverts’, those who, out of some sort of malice, importune other men for sex. Wildeblood further explained the distinction in his influential book Against the Law (1955), in which he wrote the famous lines condemning ‘the pathetically flamboyant pansy with the flapping wrists, the common butt of music-hall jokes and public-house stories. Most of us are not like that. We do our best to look like everyone else, and we usually succeed.’ The respectable homosexual, therefore, was somebody who could blend in. Somebody who did not threaten the gender binary with non-conformist behaviour. Somebody who would ‘behave himself’ if homosexuality were to be decriminalized, as it finally was in 1967.
In another time and in another set of circumstances, Wildeblood would probably have been subject to reactionary vitriol. But once he noticed an opening in respectable for people like him, he was immediately willing to swivel his guns. Like a bullied child who sees an opportunity to be accepted by their tormentors, the instinct is then to join in with bullying others. Likewise, it could easily be seen as a calculated move by the cisheteronormative patriarchy to employ Wildeblood’s verbal armoury against the ‘pansies’ – to accept the lesser evil in order to ward off the greater one. Such a view would probably be too conspiratorial, but it nevertheless reminds me of Lyndon Johnson’s calculation that it is better to have someone inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.
That, to put it crudely, is where trans people are at the moment – outside the patriarchal, cissexist tent, pissing in. The type of people behind ‘Drop the T’ find us embarrassing for the same reason that Wildeblood felt the need to attack the ‘pansies’. It is part of their initiation ceremony as ‘respectable queers’.
Fast-forward to the 21st century. I remember being happy but anxious a few years ago at the prospect of same-sex marriage; anxious, because I could see a problem on the horizon. Same-sex marriage (SSM) had been the totemic lesbian and gay political issue for well over a decade; what would happen next? SSM certainly isn’t the final issue for lesbian and gay people, but its passage into law was a seminal moment nonetheless, heralding an age when homophobia appears to be on an irreversible retreat. So what of trans people? Would we be at the receiving end of solidarity, or Wildeblood-like attacks?
Thankfully there are plenty of cisgender LGB+ people who do take trans liberation seriously, and these people are the reason I reject the argument that trans people should leave the LGBT+ movement of our own accord. Feminism, to draw a rough analogy, is more than the desperate, transmisogynistic ranting of Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel, and similarly, the LGBT+ movement is more than this petition. We certainly should not dismiss that these people exist, but to give them too much attention and allow them to define our view of the LGBT+ movement based on their actions would be to assign to them an importance well beyond their real influence.
In the end these people are just singing the latest rendition of the same old chorus. They see an opening in society for people like them, and are willing to throw irony to the wind and hurl back at trans people the very same attacks that would once have fallen on their heads.
Mariah Hickman (Get Real. contributor)