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We are having the wrong conversations about trans people.
This is the crystal clear, monumental, and defining message of Shon Faye's new book, The Transgender Issue. Faye's work signals the birth of a new, healthier conversation about trans people. By making redundant the incessant reduction of trans people's humanity to headline fodder, The Transgender Issue is a manifesto for change, which succinctly, smartly, and with heartfelt candour, calls for the long-deserved justice for trans people.
Despite making up less than one per cent of Britain's population, trans people are constantly subjected to toxic and polarized 'debates' in the media. I open the news pages whilst researching this article, and I'm faced with reams of headlines featuring 'outrage' and 'nightmare scenarios.' It’s the latest kindling added to an oft-fiery 'debate' about who should or shouldn't use a particular bathroom, or participate in sports, or swim in gender-split pools.
Faye's book attests that these current conversations are precisely that: a so-called debate which are often one sided but mostly do nothing more than spark a carousel of reliable controversies - frenzies - which move us increasingly further from the right kinds of conversations we should be having instead. Conversations about how to better the lives of trans people.
Faye called the book The Transgender Issue because the phrase "used to really irritate me." It was, she says, a way of others to refer to "their own issues and anxieties about what they think trans people represent." Current conversations - like the bathroom debate - serve only to fuel misconceptions and dangerous stereotypes.
Indeed, Faye is proven right. Two headlines down: 'A young Black trans woman has been shot dead.'
The carousel continues.
This murder, of Pooh Johnson in Shreveport, Louisiana in August 2021, is the 35th violent death of a trans or gender non-conforming person in the US so far this year. In the UK, the number of transgender hate crimes recorded by police forces in England, Scotland, and Wales rose between 2016 and 2019 by 81%. Just as in the 1980s, the British media capitalised on the fear of a "gay agenda" in schools, British media today continues to capitalise on the similar panic of the late 2010s - the supposed "gender ideology" infiltrating the education system.
Faye's book deftly negotiates which arguments merit a response, and "those which should be refused because they are cruel and harmful, or stupid." The liberation of trans people would improve the lives of everyone in our society - so says the opening line of Shon Faye's book, and at the core of this manifesto the 'toxic debate' around trans people’s lives is redefined. Debate is no longer chewed over, but rather spat out, and newly versed meticulously into an address of the systematic misrepresentation and forces which prevent trans people "from moving freely in public spaces with privacy and dignity."
Transphobic issues and anxieties are reappropriated, undercut, re-evaluated - successfully and valuably. Faye's arguments are wide-ranging but key. The book considers everything from the impact of living in a transphobic society from everyone through toddlers to the elderly. Faye directly addresses the actual issues trans and non-binary people face - trans healthcare and the ongoing crisis of resources; the criminalisation of sex work; class oppression; unstable employment and trans oppression in the work force; trans homelessness; as well as the violence and abuse of power inflicted on trans people, particularly trans people of colour, by healthcare professionals and the state.
Faye speaks of trans liberation, rather than trans equality, and the book serves as a brilliantly and comprehensively articulated manifesto for the future.
The Transgender Issue is hope. It is an important book. It's a hard read, in places, but it's a compassionate and level-headed one. It’s a book I couldn’t put down. It's the articulation and heart-felt belief in a brighter future. Shon Faye's The Transgender Issue can - and will - define trans liberation for decades to come.