Sunday, 19 March 2017

The art of the Implicit Lie

Sometimes you wonder whether things people say, especially when
they are repeated often (presumably so as to become the truth) are actually believed by those who propagate them. The most significant lie however, is the indirect lie, the lie that piggybacks on another statement, a statement which may well be true within its own terms of reference but which also tells a lie by implication.

The recent spate of articles by transphobes in the one-sided "debate" about whether trans women are "real" women or not manifests a number of prime examples of this; statements that are internally correct but which contain external implications that are misleading. Implicit lies, unlike explicit ones, are both harder to identify and harder to counter and are usually employed when the case one is trying to make is weak. They have been employed in abundance in material published by transphobic "feminists" in mainstream media in recent weeks, and as such these texts present us with a significant number of examples with which to work.

One of the most common manifestations of the implicit lie in recent years has been the TERF focus on Caitlyn Jenner. Jenner is an individual who is so obviously in a privileged position that of course TERFs are going to want to foreground her in any discussion. The implicit lie here is when she is used to (mis)represent all trans women, and because Jenner has at least apparent privilege then QED all trans women therefore have benefitted from male privilege. There were a flurry of TERF articles about Jenner which employed this technique. Murray employs the same technique, only this time avoiding Jenner (probably since transphobes have overused her name so much that they risk their implicit lies explicit) by selecting from the small and decreasing number of late transitioning trans women she implies that all trans women have enjoyed male privilege. Here the implicit lie is, as with Jenner, produced by selection. She could have selected any number of very young trans girls, she could have talked to girls like Sarah-Jane, aged 7, from the Midlands who was introduced to me by her mother when they were visiting the Tavistock and Portman institute in London after Sarah-Jane was  diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

Even as a trans person I had difficulty believing that this girl was transgender, there was absolutely nothing masculine about her, she was so clearly a girl, and obviously had been for as long as she could remember, and indeed for as long as her mum could remember. Her male privilege consisted of being forced to wear boys school uniform, to being forced to wear her hair in one ponytail instead of two bunches as she preferred, being called by her old name, and "he" by her teachers even though the school had been shown her deed poll in which her name had been legally changed to Sarah-Jane. This, despite all the children in her class knowing her as Sarah-Jane from out-of-school activities and general play in the street. She was also forced to use the boys toilets and changing rooms, something which traumatised her unbelievably. It took a lot of pressure, both legal and social, to stop the school's bullying of her (and bullying was the only way to describe it).

Sarah-Jane is not alone, there are large numbers of trans children and young people coming to understand themselves as trans. I have met trans girls aged between 5 and 8, and older trans girls who have been out since they were very young. My own research  suggests that while the mean average age for coming to understand oneself as trans is just under 8 years old, and the modal average is just 5 years old. So it is no surprise than that the number of trans girls coming out and living in their true genders is increasing significantly, while the numbers of older transitioners, largely transitioning late because of the social and cultural erasure of trans people prevalent during the 20th century, is in decline.

The lie here is about "male privilege" and, whilst Murray's descriptions may have been internally correct, they also contained implicit lies about trans women, constructed by her selection of material. Sarah-Jane has never had any kind of male privilege, nor has she ever had the kind of socioeconomic privilege Murray possesses. There are plenty of young trans women and trans girls in her position too. Of course there are huge amounts of problems about Murray's use of the concept of privilege as a stick to beat older trans women with too, it is likely that male privilege is non-existent or at least not a benefit, unless also accompanied by cis privilege.

Murray also takes an older transitioner to task because of her concern, as a vicar, about her appearance when meeting her parishioners for the first time. This apparently makes her unfeminist and therefore not a "real" women. Newsflash, just about every woman I know, and most men too, are concerned about their appearance on the first day in a new job, and after transitioning, I would expect the situation to be little different from that. If you work in a job, as I do (and as Murray doesn't) which is public/client facing then appearance is always going to be important, especially for women. That isn't because of trans women it is because of the rest of society. After I transitioned my employer was concerned about my appearance, as was I, when meeting students for the first time. Murray's criticism of another trans women for saying she didn't like unshaved legs is also an implicit lie because it deliberately ignores the large number of cis women who have similar opinions. Again the implicit lie piggybacks on something internally true.

Hadley Freeman presents us with more implicit lies in her article follwomg Murray's as she attempts to subtly make Murray appear to be a victim of sexism;

It is no coincidence then that the implicit lie has become the choice of weapon against trans women by those intent on harming us. If their implicit lies are expressed explicitly they become so easily detectable:

  • "If one trans woman doesn't like hairy legs all trans women are sexist and unfeminist and have male privilege."
  • "No cis woman has ever expressed distate for hairy legs on women."
  • "If one, older trans woman is concerned about her appearance when meeting her flock for the first time since transitioning all trans women are sexist and unfeminist and have male privilege."
  • "All trans women/girls have male privilege because they have all lived for 50 years as men."
  • "Gary Lineker is just as likely to express controversial opinions on Match of the Day as Jenni Murray is on Women's Hour."

In the articles I have cited here there are many more examples of implicit lies. Perhaps this is what trans activists and our allies need to become adept at; making the implicit lie explicit. I have the feeling TERF writers would struggle to produce anything without these dishonest devices. 

Maybe it is something we all need to become adept at exposing. In the age of post truth politics the TERFs are already past-masters at the art of the implicit lie. Doubtless assorted Brexiters, Tories, and the TERF's Trump supporting friends in the US will be deploying these more often also. The educationalist Neil Postman once said "You can't indentify bullshit in the same way you can identify phonemes." So maybe this is a skill we need to teach all our children, but especially our trans children, too.

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