Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Rebecca Reid and the Production of Ignorance

I was talking to a non-binary trans student recently and they said that explaining about trans people is easy, it usually took them about 5 minutes. This person’s experience of explaining their gender to other students was probably not difficult, students at my university are intelligent, open-minded and can normally spot bullshit a mile away. I disagreed that it would always take 5 minutes however and the subject of the Production of Ignorance came up.

The Production of Ignorance is a concept I am particularly grateful to talented trans non-binary writer and performer CN Lester for introducing me to. Indeed it is the first chapter (available online here) of their beautifully-written and very informative book “Trans Like Me”.
This is what Rebecca Reid appears to be doing in her Metro article, engaging in the Production of Ignorance about trans people. This happens when she refers to the strange stunt by some women who decided to “identify” as men for the day last Friday and go swimming in a men only swimming session. Apparently this was in protest against the idea that trans people should be allowed the same human rights as everyone else; the right to define their own gender.

The crucial piece of information that Reid fails to mention about this stunt is that no-one is proposing that anyone should be able to do what these women did. Under the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act a declaration of one’s gender will be for life not just for Friday. Indeed once the proposed amendment to the Gender Recognition Act is passed, at least if it is anything like what has already been enacted in Ireland, which I’m told is highly likely, then making a false declaration of gender on a statutory declaration would have landed them with a very large fine or up to two years in jail for perjury - unless they live and identify as men for the rest of their lives.

So when Reid makes much of the fact that these women could identify as men for the day she argues that this means;

“… there’s nothing to stop men from using a false gender identity to gain access to spaces where women are vulnerable, like changing rooms and bathrooms.”

and concludes;

“Which is exactly what these women did when they attended an all male swim, demonstrating that it’s hardly impossible.”

Again, a serious misrepresentation of the issue. It may theoretically be possible to identify as a different gender for a day now but it will certainly not be after reform of the Gender Recognition Act.

In fact there are five other countries in the world which have legislation similar to the proposed provision for self-identification; Argentina, Denmark, Norway, Malta and Ireland. When she describes the fear of some man entering a woman’s changing room or whatever to “prey on” women she omits to tell us that, in these countries there have been no instances of this happening. Yet instead of looking up these verifiable facts, 
she chooses to talk about some trans person swearing on YouTube.

Actually what is also the case right now, and will continue to be the case in the future, is that any swimming pool, if it has good cause, may ask for reasonable identification (like a credit card or drivers licence) of someone's gender if it suspects their behaviour may be inappropriate in single-sex facilities. 

More Production of Ignorance. 

So much for Reid’s assertion that “people” – presumably people not in possession of all the facts – are in fear of “debating” my existence, or at least debating my existence from a point of view of being misinformed. Conversely it is a well-founded fear amongst trans people that the media continually produces misinformation about our lives, as fear that, unlike Reid's "fears" has demonstrable consequences.

This is why I had to disagree with my trans student that it can take a lot longer than five minutes to explain about trans people; because the media is churning out misconception after inaccuracy after dishonesty. Indeed since September the production of ignorance about trans people in the UK media has reached an industrial scale. One might almost characterize this production of ignorance as manufactured with such a degree of regularity that it has become banal. Sit in a nice caff with a Macbook Air and a skinny latte, produce some oppressive copy about trans people, go home, put kids to bed, watch TV... rinse, repeat...

So if Rebecca Reid says she wants to “debate” trans rights she ought to do her homework first. There are plenty of trans groups she could have contacted to ask questions, although I have to admit that trust in journalists is at an all-time low, and is even lower amongst trans people. All About Trans, Trans Media Watch, GIRES, Mermaids, CliniQ, Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence… to name but a few, there are plenty of individuals as well she could have asked to get the real SP. But then her article, if it included the facts would have been a completely different thing.

An observation by Professor Todd Gitlin, perhaps explains all this, he said that the media tends to; 

“... cover the event, not the condition; the conflict, not the consensus; the fact that "advances the story", not the one that explains it.” 

So Reid’s attempt to set up, and then leave open a “debate”, when seen in this way, ticks, or unticks, all these boxes. If "people" fear talking about trans issues, it is probably because they are not being given the real facts to do this, they are being fed disinformation and ignorance, something Reid is in a position to do something about.


I was chatting with another trans woman a few days ago about the swimming pool stunt, and it turned out that neither of us had been swimming in a public swimming bath for more than 15 years. If Reid had talked to any trans organization she would have been put in touch with TAGS, a group that, out of necessity, organises separate swimming sessions for trans people. The “Man Friday” stuntwomen were doing little more than exposing their cis-privilege.

Postscript 2

The company that runs the swimming pool where the stunt in question took place is apparently redeveloping its pools away from having separate gendered changing facilities and going back to what they call the "Village" system of changing with separate cubicles for everyone, a bit like the original Victorian swimming pools had.

No comments:

Post a Comment