Friday, 31 March 2017

(In)visibility and The Transphobes' Big Lie


The prevalence of Sarah Ditum's drearily predictable output in New Statesman has probably contributed to it being renamed "New Transphobe" by trans people. So her recent post in social media attempting to use Rachel Dolezal to delegitimise trans people was not exactly unexpected since she appears to have some deep need to weaponise any possible nugget of information against trans people.


However this time her post has proved very useful in reminding me, not only why the Rachel Dolezal case is not comparable to trans people but why one of the TERFs' main lines of attack against trans people is actually a huge lie. The main difference between trans people and Dolezal is that, while trans people have existed for millennia, people like Dolezal have not. CN Lester's outstanding LGBT History Month lecture at Oxford reveals some of this hidden history, and there is plenty more where that came from.


Marjorie Garber's cultural history demonstrates how trans people have existed throughout history, back to the earliest human civilisation, and in every culture. The discovery by archaeologists of a trans woman buried 5000 years ago in what is now Prague shows how trans people have existed for a long time even in Europe. Harold Garfinkel's study of a transsexual woman in the United States in the 1950s also provides plenty of evidence about our existence throughout history.


But we don't even have to look at second-hand evidence; the autobiography of the Chevaliere D'Eon; The Maiden of Tonerre is the true story of a trans woman who transitioned in London in 1777. Pilot Officer Roberta Cowell's memoirs tell of her transition in the years after she saw action as a Spitfire pilot during D-Day. 


What these examples do, is undermine the basic TERF argument that trans people exist as a kind of "movement", as the result of "transgender ideology" and that being trans is a kind of "fad" or "trend". Indeed two of what I regard as the most dishonest and abusive transphobic websites both use the word "trend" in their title. "Gendertrender" seeming to me nothing more than a collection of weaponised abuse, while "Transgender Trend", in my opinion, aims to harm trans children by misleading their parents.


The aim of these sites, by employing titles such as this, is deliberately to mislead. The idea behind the use of these words is to convey the idea that the emergence of trans people, largely as a result of trans activists hard campaigning inn the last 50 years, is just an ephemeral "fad". The danger is clear; by encouraging people, especially parents, believe that their trans children are just being transgender as the result of a "trend" might engage in actions that are harmful to those children. Yet if something as basic as the names of two of the TERFs' most prominent sites is employing the myth of trendiness, this is actually very revealing of their most basic misleading falsehoods.


One of the reasons trans people have been invisible for such a long time has been the ideological oppression brought about by the central ideology of materiality which was ushered in by the Renaissance, and by fascist attempts to maintain this oppression, for example, these well-known images of Nazis burning books were actually taken as the work of Magnus Hirschfeld, one of the pioneers of research into trans people, was destroyed.


Yet trans people are clearly not a
trend, nor do we exist because of any "ideology" or "movement". We have been around for millennia. Obviously it suits those whose fanatical opposition to trans people can only be sustained by multiple misrepresentations of trans people. Misrepresentations that are becoming harder to maintain. Ultimately it is the particular type of transphobia widely known as TERFism that will turn out to be ephemeral. Existing, as it has done for only around half a century this hate-campaign is the "ideological" "movement". The transphobes have used the historic invisibility of trans people against us, the sudden visibility of trans people brought about by trans activists hard work and campaigning gives the impression that we represent a trend, something the transphobes are desperate to maintain. This is one of the reasons why Transgender day of Visibility is so important, because it exposes this big, fundamental lie. But unlike these anti-trans fanatics, trans people have always been here.

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