October 7, 2021
EP. 79 — Transgender Justice with Shon Faye
Journalist, presenter, and author Shon Faye joins Jameela this week to discuss how fighting for trans justice is fighting for human justice at large. They cover why liberals can be very transphobic as well, how the media creates scapegoats out of minority groups, the difference between allyship and solidarity, why people are so afraid of trans kids, and more. Check out Shon’s book The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice, available now in the UK from penguin.co.uk .
You can follow Shon Faye on Instagram @shon.faye & Twitter @shonfaye
You can find transcripts for this episode on the Earwolf website. I Weigh has amazing merch – check it out at podswag.com
Jameela is on Instagram @jameelajamilofficial and Twitter @Jameelajamil And make sure to check out I Weigh’s Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube for more!
79 — Transgender Justice with Shon Faye
Jameela [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to another episode of I Weigh. I just wanted to say, I miss you guys, I love hearing your incredible I Weighs and I love sharing them at the end of this podcast and encouragement really to all of our listeners. And I would love to hear from more of you. If you are comfortable with sharing your I Weigh with me and the rest of the I Weigh community, then you can leave a voicemail or text at 818-660-5543 or you can email us your I Weigh at IWeighpodcast@gmail.com. I really love getting them. They make my day. We have wonderful ones like this. I weigh the three humans that I’m helping to raise as good people who will make an impact in our world who already are. The empathy I try to lessen with the love and devotion I put into my relationship with my husband, my aging father and my beloved brother, sisters in law, nieces and nephews and friends who are family. The patience I try to have every day with myself as a person, forever recovering from disordered eating and body image. This is such a special way to end our show when you share with us like this. So thank you and please do call or email us. Now onto today’s guest. I was quite nervous for this interview, not just before the interview, but for, like the first 15 minutes of the interview. I always get a bit posher in accent when I am nervous and afraid, and I kept on catching myself being like, Why are you being so fucking posh? Why speak in a posh accent? It’s some awful, deeply ingrained, classist defense mechanism that I adopted from being a poor kid who is a scholarship child at a rich school, and I feel there must be some part of me that I hate. That goes and gets posh when I feel protective of myself and I want to show someone that I’m smart, such as shit side of myself, I hate it so much, so mad at myself. I will work to change it. At least I’ve identified it in the moment this time. I think I relaxed towards the end, but apologies in advance for the fact that I was just sweating and I was sweating so much because I love this guest so much and I admire her so much and I’ve learned so much from her. I look up to her so much. I’m so fucking intimidated by her. It was actually a really big relief to just say that to her in the middle of the interview. I feel like we should do that more. We should just tell people when they’re scaring us and she’s not scaring me because she’s scary. She’s scaring me because she’s extraordinary. Her name is Shon Faye and she is a writer, an activist, a leader in social justice. She has a book out called The Transgender Issue that she’s just published. It’s been published in the United Kingdom, but it is going to be coming out next year in the US, and it is a masterclass in writing about the liberation of any group. But really, we just don’t have enough text about trans people and trans liberation. And what she’s done is create a ma like the manifesto as to how to understand trans history, trans rights, how to really look at science more objectively and look at fact more objectively and sensibly. She dissects all of the hysteria around trans issues and and she writes in this way, that isn’t up all about her. She’s not navel gazing in this book, she’s writing across the kind of entire intersection of different people, different struggles. She is fascinatingly brings up the kind of intersection between trans liberation. And, you know, the reason that that’s so hard is partly because of patriarchy, but also massively because of capitalism. And there are similar systems that oppress trans people, that also oppressed immigrants. They also oppress fat people, that also oppressed people from different racial and ethnic minorities. It’s fascinating. And listen, I know that a lot of the people who do listen to this podcast are people who probably think, Oh, I don’t know if I need to read a book about trans people because I’m already pro trans liberation, right? I’m already someone who stands in solidarity with those people. That’s not what this book is for. Of course, this book is for trans people or people who love and care about trans people. But the thing that makes it extraordinarily valuable is the fact that she’s giving us talking points to combat bigotry and ignorance that we may come across in our own friends and family and colleagues. And that is so valuable. It’s so rare that someone has the emotional bandwidth after everything they go through as a marginalized person to then also do the emotional labor of writing down all of the things that are going to help us assist them in being fucking free, which they deserve to be. And so buy this book to learn how to destroy this argument once and for all, it’s it’s going to be it’s one of the I think it might be like the book of our time, and I’m not exaggerating. I asked Shon to come on to my podcast very nervously to talk to me about the book, some of the issues that we cover so you can see if you’re interested in it. And just generally, I think her perspective is just really fascinating. She’s someone you should definitely follow the work of, support her online. You will just have your mind so expanded. She is very kind of scholarly minded. I think that’s also intimidated me because I really can’t read very well or very fast, and I’m just not as smart or educated as she is. But it’s just oh what a joy. What a gift to have her on this podcast. I’ve wanted this to happen for ages, and there’s just so many different parts of the trans experience and trans issues that we speak about, and I hope that you find this episode not just helpful, but also deeply hopeful. And I hope it inspires you to jump into action the way it did me and and the way I hope it will continue to do so. And I certainly think her book will. So the book is called The Transgender Issue. Her name is Shon Fay. And here she is, prepared to be blown away. Oh, you’re an icon, you’re an icon, and you’re on my podcast, I feel very grateful. Hello, Shon Fay, how are you?
Shon [00:06:16] I thank you. That’s so nice. I’m very well. Thank you. How are you?
Jameela [00:06:19] I’m good. Are you exhausted? Your book? I mean Times bestseller. It’s being called like the book. And I think it was Owen Jones who said that when we look back like 100 years from now or something, we will look back at this book as like a defining moment of change in trans issues.
Shon [00:06:39] Yes. And when he said that he’s a friend of mine and when he said that I was like, Well, you’re putting me under quite a lot of pressure and
Jameela [00:06:43] I know, and I’m doing it again I’m amplifying it yeah.
Shon [00:06:47] Um yeah, it’s exhausting. It is my first book, so I’m not used to a book tour. Also I think when people have asked me, like, you know, a lot of people ask about your writing process and stuff like that when you do publicity, which I’m doing at the moment and I don’t know how to write a book, not in a lockdown, in a pandemic, because I wrote most of the book in my teenage bedroom at my mum’s house in the first lockdown. So it’s gone from my being a very solitary experience with just me and the text to suddenly all this reaction about 18 months later, and someone that’s used to writing online and doing journalism online where everyone reacts instantly. It’s been quite overwhelming, but in a good way.
Jameela [00:07:23] I would say that I was deeply relieved. I was hopeful when I knew that you were writing this book because I have long thought of you as truly just one of the most excellent voices around many issues, but in particular, trans liberation. But also, I was afraid for you because as we know, the more visible someone becomes and I know this also probably been your experience, but the more visible someone becomes, the more vitriol they receive. But also a book like this at a time that is so heated around this discussion, it should never be called a debate quote unquote around this discussion. I was worried for you that people would go out of their way to try and pick this book apart. And what I feel like, at least from my maybe my echo chamber. But I feel as though this is a book that has been written so in such a bulletproof way that I haven’t actually seen anywhere near as much pushback as I was expecting because you have preempted all of the possible kind of arguments against your basic rights and freedom in a way that feels quite impersonal. Not to say it’s cold, but you’re just literally not utilizing your own experience to create, I don’t know to. To invite empathy, you are just using history and fact in this book, and it’s very hard to defeat you. And so I’ve been very, very happy to see that it feels like it’s opening a lot of eyes. Were you surprised?
Shon [00:08:58] Yeah. I mean, I’m glad that you said that because I think that is part of how the kind of yeah, as I say this ties to what I said a minute ago about writing in lockdown as I felt I entered a very intense space with it because of lockdown. I wrote every day I was quite religious about it. On the first draft and I think, yeah, because at the time you spent so much time on your own during quarantine and things like that. So yeah, it became just me being hyper focused on the text. And I think my mind was racing the whole time and I was trying to often preempt every possible criticism or every time I sort of like made an assertion about someone would be checking the footnotes and checking I’ve done it correctly. So in a way, I did write in quite a hyper vigilant state. And I’m glad that at least that probably has benefited it now. In terms of being worried about me, I think. I mean, I was worried about it. I think now I’m actually a lot happier and out in the UK two weeks and actually the worst period was about four or four weeks before publication because it felt like the calm before the storm and the anticipation was much, much worse than the reality. And and yeah, I think I think it’s been interesting. I mean, I don’t read the reviews. I feel like in very classic style, like people like Sally Rooney, who I was reading interviews with her around them because she had a book coming out same time with me. And I know she doesn’t read reviews. And I was like, If it’s good enough for Sally Rooney, I’ll do it. And yes, I haven’t really read them, but friends kind of tipped me off. And I think interestingly, it’s more the kind of left wing argument that the British press seems to have a problem with, more so than the trans stuff. But I’m happy for that because at least at least, it means that we’re taking the discussion to a different place, which is
Jameela [00:10:39] What do you mean by that?
Shon [00:10:43] So people so, I think it’s that yes, some of the big criticisms have been like the fact that the book argues that against capitalism, that I’m very critical of the prison system and don’t really think it can be reformed and think it’s just a blunt instrument. We need to be thinking about a completely different society. You know, I’m not saying it’s not this simplistic argument. Say, get rid of all prisons now, but it’s kind of like we should be thinking about a society where they wouldn’t be necessary and criticisms of things like policing and hate crime law as ways to tackle transphobia, which I am critical of because the police are themselves for many different types of people, particularly people of color, they are, you know, they can be a source of violence. And so to say that they are going to be all prime defenders against transphobic attacks and violence I don’t think works, particularly as most people who in Britain, we have hate crime laws. So like if you do something to someone crime and is motivated by transphobic haters, it’s a hate crime and and most hate crimes as recorded by the police are like, by teenagers or younger. And when it’s people that young, children, essentially, I don’t think the police is the way to solve it. I think education is the way to solve it because clearly, you know, punishing young people who have already somehow acquired bigotry, you know, between the ages of zero and 15. So those sort of things have been more controversial, I would say, because they go to bigger questions about the state, about society, and I use trans people’s experience as a way to make more expensive arguments. And I think the British press were all fine with me being like, you know, be kind to trans people and we deserve better healthcare. But when it actually came to that, well, what would actually being kinder to trans people look like what society need to do? And some of the more radical changes, I think, would be necessary not just for trans people, but for lots of marginalized groups. That’s what people have seized on. But I would rather that because what we’ve been seeing in the mainstream media is certainly in the UK and I know in the US as well is like an infantile argument I’d rather argue about, like what we do about prisons, which is at least a sophisticated conversation than just arguing about toilets or whether or not people’s pronouns are reasonable. You know what I mean? It’s it’s so it’s so banal that like at least there, I feel like if I got some, you know, if I if I’ve managed to irritate these people more by making more radical arguments, at least I’ve distracted them for a second for talking about the same nonsense they’ve been regurgitating for probably the last ten years.
Jameela [00:13:14] I also think, you know, you bring this up in your book about the fact that, you know, there is a strain. A strain is a new word that we use now, a strain of of liberals and people on the left who are all for vocalizing hashtag trends, trans rights hashtag Trans Lives Matter, but they’re not actually willing to challenge the infrastructures that. So you kind of preempted this in your book because that would then actually truly liberate trans people. And I think that it’s it’s really important to call that out because I find my own frustrations with liberals, with some feminists, with, I mean, they call themselves feminists, but I think obviously if you don’t stand for the rights of trans women, you can’t call yourself a fucking feminist, radical or not. And even people on the left, I find that to be still some like smugness around their own progressiveness to the point where they don’t feel the need to look inside of themselves as to whether or not they still have some bias. You know what I mean? Like, they consider themselves to be so progressive that they don’t actually see a lot of their own transphobia, like a lot of the most transphobic comments that I see in my timeline because I’m very vocal, vocal about trans liberation. And so therefore I am a target, not in the same way that you would be or any other visible trans person. But I’m a target for transphobic people, and I find the vast majority of those people are actually people who consider themselves to be on the left. That’s what I’m finding, and a lot of those people are, quote unquote, feminists, liberal feminists.
Shon [00:14:50] Yeah, I mean, that’s true. I mean, I mean, I think so. I think what you’ve identified, there are two almost different things I think. So one is so one probably the first one is actually the kind of well-meaning ally, which is which is something that isn’t necessarily transphobic, or certainly doesn’t want to be. And what I’m kind of critical of a little bit in the book or at least what I’m trying to do is push that person onward onto doing a bit more is that I think what’s happened is it’s become so toxic this discussion on particularly on social media, particularly Twitter, we know. But like all across different social media channels. And I think what happens is that for some cisgender people perhaps who you know, who really are trying to do the best, they’ve got caught up in that too. And they see Twitter as the main fight, you know, like arguing with these, these these people, these very aggressive bigots and, you know, using hashtags and things like that about saying trans women are women or whatever. And I know they’re well-meaning, but it’s a bit like, you know, I again, I wrote the book last last summer with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. As a white person, I had to think like, what is actually more helpful for me to do here, is it to use hashtags or is it like, you know, I felt quite disempowered because with these changes that we’re talking about, policing and state violence against people of color is black people, particularly. It’s, you know, there’s nothing I can do. But actually, maybe kind of putting myself forward on social media isn’t the best way. And there were lots of things that I thought I could do better be reading better, you know, thinking about times that it’s better to be quiet, thinking about times that maybe I think about black people in my life and actually listening to what they might need. And that to me, is I was kind of like an analogy for kind of actually how I am, because that’s how I went about thinking about it. I was like, Well, how do I feel sometimes when I see these people tweeting all these hashtags? I’m like do you know anything about our health care? Do you realize that this isn’t a big priority? These, you know, fighting these kind of famous transphobes, you know, tweeting something at J.K. Rowling, JK Rowling, right? Like OK. Yes. I think she’s mistaken on her view on trans which I think it’s deeply unhelpful, but she isn’t. She isn’t the primary it’s upsetting to trans people because she’s
Jameela [00:17:02] It’s a lof of treating the symptom rather than the cause, right?
Shon [00:17:03] Exactly, exactly. That’s it. And then so so there’s that which I kind of thought liked call out a bit in the book is What can we do? You know, what’s the step further beyond having a go at J.K. Rowling or using a hashtag like trans rights are human rights? What do you do next if you’re a cis person? I kind of like, think a lot of people want to know that, but they just don’t know. They’re not armed with the information. And why would they be? Because we’re a very small minority, and unless it touches your life, why would you know?
Jameela [00:17:28] Also the only times until now that trans people, visibly trans people, have been unable to actually put their arguments forward. Often their life stories are reduced to tragedies or sob stories non reflective of their true reality. Stories around trans people like it’s been. No one’s really been allowed to get to the point of actually having the conversations of the systemic oppression and the ways in which that intersects with all different other types of oppression that we aren’t seeing the similarities between. And so I think that it’s so important that a book like this comes out, where people aren’t able to change the entire conversation they were trying to bring by sensationalizing your life story. I think it was so incredibly smart to to instead take this to other people’s stories and make this a broader conversation and also show the intersection of trans existence and to show the stories that don’t normally get told. Because often we see kind of either more privileged people who are trans given more airtime in the media. I really appreciate that.
Shon [00:18:30] Yeah, thank you. And I think it’s interesting, actually, that I know that a lot of people who have reviewed the book because I do put small like, it’s not a memoir. I’m very.
Jameela [00:18:39] Anecdotes.
Shon [00:18:39] Yeah, anecdotes. But what’s interesting is how many people, cis people who review it. And particularly, like, yeah, quite maybe cis people, you know, but reviewers, but they don’t really know anything about this issue at all. They they’re they’re obsessed with the small bits I put about, like loads of reviews of sprinkled it with things about my life and often do make me sound quite like tragic by talking about being bullied at school. And I just think it’s interesting that there’s still, even though I’ve been like, this isn’t a memoir. My life is fine. Because why I guess I should explain to business why I kind of avoided a memoir is in terms of like the British class is still, I’m pretty solidly middle class. I had, you know, pretty comfortable. I wasn’t rich, but I was comfortable upbringing. I got scholarship to a really nice school. You know, all these things, which mean I’m not really reflective. And I guess what I felt if I was going to write a book when I was up in Paris to write a book on this issue was I was like, Well, that’s not center me and rather use the access that I knew I had that some of these interviewees would not have spoken to a cis person, but they might have spoken to me because I was a prominent writer in the community. And I think that comes with a certain level of trust that they knew I wasn’t going to screw them over, which a lot of these people, their stories are so sensitive they’d be really. They wouldn’t talk to a cis journalist, for example. And and then I was going to just follow up on your point about the kind of left liberal transphobes who some of whom identify as feminists. And I think that’s for probably your American listeners. I think like that’s really common in the UK that we really are like a hub of this like feminist, left wing, liberal kind of, yeah, type of transphobia. And it’s a little bit different, right to what you see with the Christian right or Republicans, which like that’s usually like very similar to how homophobia works, is that like it’s often like religious, sometimes objection to certainly a quite patriarchal objection to trans people is that we’re doing gender wrong. We’re like gay people, we’re freaks, we’re degenerates. And there’s that just like repulsion when it’s wearing like a feminist mask, I would argue that there’s still a lot of the kind of revulsion like I only, you know, if you look at some of these people, despite them claiming to be feminists, the first thing they do is mock trans women’s appearance, very much going to kind of body horror and disgust about trans bodies and things like that. So actually, I still think it’s a mask that a lot of them are wearing. But to be kinder to some of them, I think it comes. It can come from a very different place. It can come from a place. I think if we’re being generous for some women who have probably been quite badly traumatized by cis men who have experienced some of them are domestic violence survivors, some of them are lesbians. And you know, if we were going to be empathetic to those women, I think that perhaps it’s a misdirected anger is that in the UK, you know, for the last 10 years, we had austerity following the recession that started in 2008, and our Tory government was very brutal about kind of cutting services for women. Crisis services. Rape crisis services. Domestic violence crisis services. So, you know, now the women’s sector that’s supposed to support the most vulnerable women in the UK is on its knees. And I think that a lot of women have, feel very angry and they’ve, you know, they’ve essentially had a lot of life lines taken from them by economic policy for the last 10 years in the UK, and I’m sure in many states in the US as well. And so sometimes I think there’s a scarcity mentality and a pessimism about the ability to change society and stop particularly cis male violence against women and girls. And I think what happens is it becomes a sort of mutates into a sort of paranoia about well we can’t change men. But what we can do is defend womanhood against trans men and trans masculine people who seem to be leaving it. And trans women who seem to be entering it. And I think that becomes a preoccupation. And unfortunately, with a lot the dynamics of social media with online radicalization quite quickly, it can become quite obsessive and quite black and white and unfortunately quite aggressive and abusive in some cases.
Jameela [00:22:42] Yeah, and not to not to diminish this in any way, but we see a similar pattern with the media when it comes to immigration, right? Rather than encouraging the people to challenge the government that are underfunding every single sector of public service, we they just shift the the gays onto this minority of people who are desperately unhappy, who are often the ones who, you know, as we saw last year, the people who stepped up most in the pandemic were often people who had been at some point immigrants over to the United Kingdom. You know, even I’m not going to say his name, but even one of the more prominent assholes on British television was one to call out like and praised immigrants in this country who were massively responsible for keeping Britain alive last year. And so it is a very tried and tested and devastatingly successful media model to just distract us.
Shon [00:23:35] Yeah, well, everyone loves a scapegoat and I and I and I say that in the introduction of the book, I mean, obviously, that’s, you know, trans people are not the only scapegoats. The media targets, and I do I mentioned immigrants, I think Muslims in general, BLM, fat acceptance movement, Gypsy Roman traveler communities in the UK and unlike feminists channeling state violence against women, say things like Sisters Uncut and the Kill The Bill protests we saw earlier this year in London and basically feminist groups that are resisting cutting more state surveillance like they all become targets. And it’s a very ancient method. And I use the framework of what’s called a moral panic, which was a kind of term coined by sociologists in the 20th century, describe a very specific phenomenon that’s always existed and probably in European and Western culture, probably antisemitism is the archetype for it. It’s the idea of an enemy within. And yeah, it’s a very effective way to kind of create a divided population by picking on a minority that has no power realistically and managing to create a narrative that they are actually secretly very powerful and that they are a threat to you and that they’re growing and that they’re trying to recruit new members. And certainly in the British media, what we’ve seen for the last three or four years, I would say, is, yeah, the Murdoch media is this idea of the trans lobby that controls the government. We control the police, you know, and we control the NHS
Jameela [00:25:07] The coming together kids.
Shon [00:25:08] Yeah, exactly where we’re in schools. And this is about like naught point six percent of the population. And the reality is, you know, certainly in the UK, I know that there are some elected officials in the US now, which is great state senators and things. But in the UK, in the UK, we’ve never had a trans MP openly and we’ve never had to trans even though we’ve got devolved parliaments in Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland. No members there, like the most, is local councils. So like and we’ve got no trans staff journalists at any real newspaper a part for maybe one of the Guardian who writes about sport. There’s no trans TV commissioners. There’s a Trans High Court judges have never been like, so where is this lobby? It’s, you know, but people believe it clearly. I mean, there are people that really believe that we’re secretly powerful behind the scenes. And then the irony is that we’re actually nowhere to be seen. And when we are, it’s like, you know, maybe as a model, maybe as a freelancer, maybe doing a diversity campaign. But it’s not like in real seats of power, which is what some of the public are being, like believed, by the media.
Jameela [00:26:08] Yeah, I mean another obviously, we are not going to spend more than two minutes talking about toilets because it’s truly the least the least of the issues that you are trying to bring awareness to. But I just I always would like to reiterate to my to the listeners of this podcast that, you know, for example, with one of the models that the media can use is suddenly last year bringing up trans women being allowed into women’s toilets and women’s spaces, as if that hasn’t already been happening for ten years beforehand, as if it’s about to happen now, and we have to fight now to stop that from happening. I think it was 2010 when that became Am I wrong?
Shon [00:26:49] Yeah yeah that was protected under the Equality Act. But the reality is that it was going on for like almost a century, you know, like it’s been almost a century in the UK. I mean, I
Jameela [00:26:56] Exactly exactly but there was no rise. My point is that there was no rise in that 10 years for violence against women and women’s public toilets. So it was such an it was so fascinating to have been in my 20s watching that bill passed. Seeing that nothing, nothing changed. And also it had been going on forever. And I was, I mean, the majority of us who are like caring, thinking, empathetic people know that it’s much unsafer for a trans woman. Let’s just focus on trans women for now to use men’s toilet than it is for them. It’s not that we’re unsafe is that they are unsafe if they are not in our spaces because men can be quite dangerous historically,
Shon [00:27:35] Yeah of course and that’s just a point where it becomes ludicrous. I mean, it would just be like, you know, it would be ludicrous for me to in fact, I have, I’m sure, you know, like, I’m pretty sure that drunk a few times after I transitioned, probably in gay clubs, I’ve walked probably muscle memory, walked into men’s toilets and people shout at you to leave. But there’s a point where like people like the men do not like that. I mean, it’s just it’s just it’s just ludicrous. And again, it’s the immediate attribution of like ill intent to transwomen. And yeah, and I can say that someone that’s been there myself, there is no trans in particular, someone that transitions, you know, post puberty. Well, there’s going to be some point in your transition where you’re going to have to make that decision about maybe using female toilet and obviously especially if you’re early in a transition process or whatever. That’s terrifying. I mean, you’d rather not you’d rather die, but it’s like, it’s that all the men’s and and and and yeah, and actually that trans woman is usually ten times more afraid than anyone else around her. And I think I think, yeah, and I just think it taps into this real fear, which I can understand is justified for some women, right? Is that like you know the idea of male voyeurism or predatory male behavior in society, but the reality is, is that like that goes on regardless of whether or not trans women are able to go about freely in public, that that happens anyway. And I’m not saying, Oh, it doesn’t matter, it happens anyway. But actually, most of the kind of like real problems of male violence, are like men and women know, it’s men that they’ve got on dates with. It’s men that they’re chatting to at a bar, it’s men that they’re married to, it’s men that they live with or their family. And actually, this kind of phantom thing that it’s like I don’t know a man that’s pretending to be a trans woman to follow women into toilets you know, I can understand what it taps into, but to me, I just can’t believe that really, people buy into it for more than a second.
Jameela [00:29:39] We had Dr. Jackson Katz on this podcast who was just talking about the systemic like base of of men’s violence against women. And so that’s what we should be tackling right now instead of just again focusing on trans people, specifically trans women. That’s a prevalent argument throughout your book is like, let’s just be logical here. And and and remedy the actual base of these fears rather than just diverting them elsewhere.
Shon [00:30:09] Yeah. The other thing there as well is that what happens in those narratives is it strips trans women of our experiences of the same kinds that, because of what I argue for in the book, is that like actually like, like in the UK, 16 percent of trans women say that they’ve experienced domestic violence from a partner in the past year. It’s like that’s, you know, we’re talking about similar rates, and I just know anecdotally amongst my own friends and I have cisgender women, friends and trans women friends, obviously, you know, is that that the things that we’re kind of facing and you know, it’s again, it’s the same thing. It’s like if you go on a date with someone, you have to tell your friends where you are. And you know, these things are the same kind of concerns and anxieties that we have in public as cisgender women do. And one thing I used to do when I was talking about refugees and domestic violence services, when I used to work for the UK, LGBT charity Stonewall and we do training for women sector charities is sometimes I would just use myself as an example and I’d be like right every boyfriend I’ve ever had post-transition his girlfriends before me and after me have all been cisgender, like luckily my ex-boyfriends were all within reason, nice men and not abusive men. But had that, had they been abusive to any one of us they would have been abusive to the others so that men repeat those patterns. So why would it be that all the other girlfriends, if it was an abusive man, they would be able to access women’s services, but I wouldn’t, even though it’d been the same man, the same pattern of violence, the same, you know, gendered relationship. Why is it that because it’s basically my chromosomes, I should be denied some kind of support or solidarity, and that tended to have a breakthrough moment I felt with some of these women that.
Jameela [00:31:44] 100 percent.
Shon [00:31:45] You know, when it was put like that because I think it’s often that we’re dehumanized and we’re like our experiences of the same anxieties that a lot of women have are kind of erased in these discourses, and that’s really that’s really detrimental to trans women as well.
Jameela [00:31:59] Something something I really want to talk about with you is, you know, you’ve kind of talked about other issues that kind of feel parallel to the arguments for trans liberation. And we, you know, you cover multiple different issues in the book, and I would love to talk about those intersections and patriarchy and capitalism that are at the helm of all of these issues. This just overarching kind of system of oppression that impacts everyone, and we’re made to feel like all of these things are separate issues. But actually, they’re deeply, deeply interconnected at the source of patriarchy and capitalism. I would like to understand more about that, please.
Shon [00:32:38] Nice. Simple question.
Jameela [00:32:40] Sorry.
Shon [00:32:44] OK so if we yeah so if we I’ll start the sort of top down these kind of ideas of these structures. So capitalism obviously is an economic system that we’re all living under in its late stages, hopefully. And where, you know, a small group of people who own what we call the means of production, you know, the things that we all need to have a functioning society, the resources, whether they’re the resources used to manufacture, whether the resources are oil, you know, there was a very small group of people at the top that own those resources and then they employ everyone else and everyone else sells their labor. That’s the system that we live under. And so, you know, we all need most of us who aren’t part of that elite group need to work to live. Now some people, obviously, the conditions of their work are quite good. Now people like you and me work under pretty good conditions. Probably paid better than a lot of the people in the world and, you know, afforded a lot more kind of comfort, essentially. And obviously, that can go right down to people whose work is work in appalling conditions. And one of the ways that capitalism works is that we need to like, for example, the heterosexual nuclear family is part of how the capitalist system functions. And traditionally that was like, you have a man and a woman. The woman does all the kind of home labor and looks after the children and raises them, and the man goes out to work and produces the labor for capitalism, obviously with feminism and kind of advancement in recent years that women go out to work. But actually, if you still are in a nuclear family and you’re heterosexual, like most studies show that women still do all the child care or they if they’re really rich, they outsource it to nannies and cleaners. But like women are still there’s still a whole lot of work that we feminized and say, this is women’s work.
Jameela [00:34:18] We saw that statistically last year in particular, that was really that really hit home last year.
Shon [00:34:24] Yeah, yeah, it did. Well, even like even quite privileged white middle class women in Islington, north London, were like, you know, because they couldn’t have their cleaners and they couldn’t have their nannies, they would have to work from home and still do all the childcare in the husband would do exactly what he’s doing before. But yeah so the reason I’m explaining this, because you think, what has this got to do with trans people, so right. So this is how patriarchy and capitalism mixes that there are two systems that work in tandem with each other because for both to work, we need a way of dividing up men and women. And for capitalism. That’s useful because it’s like, this is women’s labor, this is men’s labor, it’s men’s responsibility. And so you need a clear idea of how to divide men and women. And then patriarchy is a system built around oppressing primarily women because they’re the largest group and cisgender women in the largest group of women. And obviously that, you know, historically women is understood, is tied up with reproduction. I’ve always accepted that. And so it’s the fact that, you know, one half of the human race met most of whom identifies women, but some aren’t women have the capacity to reproduce. And so patriarchy is a structure that’s partly, you know, in large part built around controlling that is that one one one one side of the population can control can can. Yeah, it can perform reproductive labor, can gestate and give birth to a child. And so male dominance is often about controlling that and using women as a resource. But for that, for that system to work, you again need a really clear idea of who is a man who’s a woman and that needs to be tied then to biology and where trans people complicate that right is that. We know that gender variant people, people who have existed, that we might call trans now some existed as hundred years have existed throughout human society. And there have always been people who led cross-gender lives and their repugnant to patriarchy because what we essentially do is undermine the idea that, like the biology you’re born with, defines your social role, designs how you should behave, what you should look like. And of course, feminist cisgender women have defied that too. And gay people have defied that because one of the one of the key tenets of patriarchy is that we’re all supposed to be heterosexual. So anyone that sleeps if a woman sleeps with women or men that sleeps with men or someone sleeps with both is already not performing the gender role the patriarchy’s laid out for them correctly. So which is why there’s lots of social punishments for, you know, through homophobia, biphobia as well as transphobia. So trans people are another iteration of that is that we essentially break the rules of how your body, your biology, your social role, your behavior and then the work that you perform for capitalism should all basically coalesce around these systems. And so, yes, so in many ways, that’s why just like women have been oppressed for centuries on the basis of their reproductive capacity, which is something again, I keep saying I’ve always agreed with because a lot of anti-trans feminists think that I’m trying to erase the fact that like women are oppressed or the fact that they have the ability to reproduce. Obviously, not all cisgender women do actually have the ability to reproduce, but it is a source of oppression in the way that we’ve defined and categorized who who are women throughout history and how we treat women and what women’s rights are. And so, yeah, so this is why. So an example of why this sort of stuff is relevant. This theory is that because this is all about the roles of patriarchy, it’s a patriarchal, right wing sexist institutions always punish trans people just as they punish cisgender women. So, for example, the Trump administration, first thing they did was attack reproductive freedom for anyone with a uterus. Cisgender women and trans people who can give birth. And, of course, trans rights, you know, immediately, Trump started rolling back federal protections Barack Obama had put in place. Banned trans people from the military so they couldn’t access health care from the federal government. And started to like look into see if it could kind of allow insurers to deny trans people health care. And that’s not unsurprising that now obviously, Trump is gone. But the Republican states and the state Senates are attacking trans youth healthcare are also, as we’ve seen, like, you know, attacking Roe vs Wade or attacking women’s reproductive freedom or trying to kind of like delay women, you know, push women to the edge, you know, to basically deny them reasonable access to pregnancy termination. And of course, you know, that would be progressive, that would go onto contraception. And you know, I do believe if these people have their way it would quite quickly turn into homophobia, anti-gay laws, it’s just that.
Jameela [00:38:39] Well, I mean, we’ve already heard that that’s what they’re preparing in Texas is is to take away gay marriage. This is, this is something that’s just emerged in the last week.
Shon [00:38:50] Yeah of course of course. And that’s why it’s so dangerous for left leaning liberal feminists to align themselves with these people. Even if you if you knew you hate trans people, particularly trans women, even if you hate us, it’s that unfortunately these people like even in the even if you don’t care about being a good, decent person to us, it will ultimately harm you. Do you know what I mean? Because it because these people, you’re giving them the rhetorical arguments, you’re giving them the ammunition that they need. And trans people are a very weak group in this kind of matrix I’ve described of like gay people, cisgender women. And you know, and the kind of patriarchy capitalism thing we’re a very small minority. So it’s easy to kind of, you know, if no one stands up for us outside our own community, then it’s very, you know, we’re a very easy target. But ultimately, the progression will be to cisgender gay people and to eventually to all cisgender women. So to me, it’s just completely bonkers. One which would inadvertently align themselves or provide kind of rhetorical cover for the right wing that are quite obviously going to come and come for them eventually
Jameela [00:39:56] You pretty much open. You pretty much open your book by talking about the fact that trans liberation would liberate everyone.
Shon [00:40:03] Yeah, yeah, I do. I mean, that’s the very first sentence. And what I mean by that is I wanted to argue essentially because what. So the first sentence of my book is, the liberation of trans people would benefit everyone in our society. And the reason is one that’s true because most liberation politics movements and this isn’t just for trans people like Gay Liberation Socialists of the 70s set this and black women socialist collectivist manifestos in their alot suffragettes in the UK and probably, you know, like the women’s rights movements around the world, I’ve often said, if you if you free women, everyone benefits. If you free the black woman, everyone benefits. And if you free gay people, everyone benefits. So it’s not. It’s because there’s this idea that if we rather than the glass ceiling model where like if you just smash through, the person at the top gets through the glass ceiling, but anyone beneath them doesn’t, it is that actually, if you start looking at people on the margins or at the bottom and you start improving their conditions, you actually redistribute power and raise everyone up. And that’s that’s that’s as true of trans people as anyone else. And then the other reason that I put that right front and center was because I think people, you know, because this is intended for everyone, but especially for people who never really read anything about trans issues before, people who don’t know any trans people I wanted to be accessible to everyone is a lot of those people are so used to hearing about how trans people are a nuisance for them. I mean, that’s the media narrative, whether it’s the right wing in the US or whether it’s the Murdoch media or, you know, even the Guardian, unfortunately. Is that all you ever hear is, you know, these people are demanding they want pronouns in your email signature. I don’t want to do this
Jameela [00:41:37] 100 percent, and I feel as though there is sometimes treatment like even within the LGBTQ plus community and among women that I feel as though sometimes the rhetoric is stating that there’s a fear that trans people are sort of sucking up all the air in the room. They’re taking away all the attention. It’s just like, Well, you’re making that happen by hyper focusing on trans people. They are the minority. All they’re asking for is basic fucking human freedom, basic rights. It feels really petty and really scary to watch how much like people kind of feel threatened. This kind of, um, I don’t want to use the diminishing term like oppression Olympics, but it’s kind of like people competing for who is more oppressed. And it’s just like, why don’t we all work together to over ride these ultimate systems? So speaking of ultimate systems, because a lot of people listening to this are starting to hear more rhetoric around anti-capitalism, they’re starting to hear, you know, and understand more about patriarchy and how much it infiltrates, like every single part of our culture. What is your kind of practical advice for how we move forward and actually start to dissect and destroy these systems that are harming so many different marginalized groups?
Shon [00:42:54] Yeah, and the reality of that is that that’s no small task, and it’s incremental, and these movements have throughout history have always been very slow. One step forward, two steps back, it’s not as easy as you know. Again, social media activism, for example, that’s growing in popularity is perhaps that’s instant satisfaction. You know, you post something and it makes you feel good and you get lots of likes. But reality is nothing’s changed. It’s kind of coalition building as well. I guess I’d be interested in is, I think, one one practical thing I think I would say to people is maybe expand your definition of what politics looks like. Politic politics isn’t just when it’s an election every four years. There is more than democratic classic you know what we call in the UK parliamentary politics and I guess in the US, you just yeah, you would say electoral politics is the politics takes many different forms. There can be politics in terms of mutual aid in your own communities care work for each other. But also, yeah, I think I think what the key thing is about this idea of solidarity, which is in a very leftist term that’s grown and come back into popularity and it’s very different to allyship because allyship is almost almost sometimes be a bit like, Well, I’m trying to help you. I I want to be a good person and help you. And that can almost, you know, in some forms it can almost sound a bit like I feel sorry for you. Whereas solidarity, I think, is a bit more like we don’t have to understand everything about each other. But clearly the same people that are basically fucking you over are fucking me over. So we’ve got a shared interest and we would be we would be much better at meeting our goals if we can work together. And that doesn’t mean that we always have to like each other or that we have to understand about everything, about each other. You know, it’s it’s it’s not that kind of emotional one person’s helping the other. I want to be a good person. It’s it’s it’s actually a bit more strategic. And that’s been the case throughout history. So for example, the Gay Liberation Front in the US after the Stonewall riots, the Black Panthers as a black liberation movement, you know, they worked together closely and often that was kind of, you know, not necessarily a lot in common initially in the UK there’s an example of like that film Pride, where the miners who were on strike against Margaret Thatcher worked with gay activists from London. And there were these like New South Wales miners, some of them quite homophobic probably to begin with and these kind of gay people from London, these kind of, you know, they considered complete mavericks completely odd. But they worked together because they realized that they were both being kind of screwed over by the Thatcher government. So there are examples for coalitions, unlikely coalitions that have worked throughout history, and unfortunately, we are going to need them more and more. If we are going to kind of change some of these systems because none of us can do it alone. And you know, you can’t necessarily overthrow your government realistically no matter how much you might want to. So it’s about kind of like having kind of clear goals about what is in your local community, whether it’s resisting a policy somewhere, whether it’s whether it is going to taking to the streets, as we saw earliner in Britain with the government was trying to hold on to its powers of that emergency powers it is giving itself in the UK for the Coronavirus Act is that it was planning to reentrench those, so you had to Kill the Bill protests. Where people did take to the street groups like Sisters Uncut. Sometimes it will be necessary to kind of put pressure on governments through protest or through civil disobedience. That’s that’s always existed throughout history. But there are much smaller things you can do. It’s about building collective spaces where people can have these conversations, where people can cross the divides of different groups and different identities and start to work out what we have in common. And I think we’re a long way from doing that. And I think part of the reason for that is that social media a little bit. A lot of us see, we’ve done our learning on social media, which is good. But social media often rewards individuals and it gives it raises individuals up. It’s about how many likes you can get. And you know,.
Jameela [00:46:52] I have no idea what you mean.
Shon [00:46:53] As someone that’s come out with a book right so like I’m I don’t want to be put on. I don’t want to be put on a pedestal. You know, there are people that are like, Oh my God, you’re amazing, blah blah blah. And you know, I’m very grateful for that. But it’s like, I’m not the trans movement. Like, obviously, I’m just I’m a writer, but I know loads of great activists. I know loads of people who do that work, and I, you know, I try and amplify their stuff. But but like, yeah, just because I’m a public facing person, it’s not all about me and that’s something I’m gonna have to contend. I mean, it’s a first world problem, but it’s it’s about thinking about like, yeah, I don’t. Social media encourages us to make ourselves the center and that we’ve all got to have something to say, and it fetishizes discussion a lot. And actually, I think what we need to do is start thinking about getting off line and maybe building coalitions with each other in our own communities and across community lines as well.
Jameela [00:47:41] One hundred percent, I think I think you’ve raised a really important point there, and I would still like to get into more of the practical steps of solidarity. But. We are in such I’ve been shouting about this for years of the self cannibalizing the infighting among oppressed groups where we cannot like, we’re so obsessed with nit picking each other that that we end up distracted with one another and our common oppressor watches us and laughs as they continue to get away with their billions turning into trillions. And they’re rolling back of more and more of the rights activists before us have fought for for decades and risked their lives for. And and it’s it’s just it’s extraordinary to see how pathetic the targets of social media are. They’re almost never the actual threat to people’s rights. That’s just the easy mark that you can just feel like you’re doing something, you know, and I think that that’s it’s really, really frustrating.
Shon [00:48:46] Yeah. Often a it’s often like it’s like the gratification of instant justice, isn’t it? It’s very similar to what I was saying about when I was using the example of feminists earlier and misdirecting their anger about these systemic things that affected cisgender women and directing them at trans people. Because it’s like well trans people are in front of you, they seem new to you. They’re weaker, actually so they’re an easier target than like actually directing at like things that you can’t see to change men yeah
Jameela [00:49:10] Patriarchy. Yeah.
Shon [00:49:12] And I think and I think that, yeah, I think there is an issue with that, I think, is that we we all probably have participated in it at times if we’ve been on social media too much, which I think lots of us that will have been as we probably all at certain points participated in it as well, both been targets of it and been participated in if you’re prominent on social media. And it’s yeah, it’s a desire for that thirst for instant justice, a bit like kind of blood sports in ancient Rome or whatever. Is that like it’s gratifying to basically see people taken down, but they are usually the wrong people. And and yeah, the trouble is, is that the advantage that like if you like our enemies have, which is that if you like it’s capitalists, it’s is like the super wealthy. It’s the billionaires flying around the moon while, like the planets being destroyed. And it’s and it’s yeah it’s right wing governments. It’s Republicans who are trying to kind of crush everyone’s health care and and restrict everyone’s bodily autonomy is that these people don’t care about moral purity. All they care about is power and wealth, so they will happily change their morals and work with each other, even if they don’t.
Jameela [00:50:15] Yeah, they organize.
Shon [00:50:15] They will, because because wealth matters to them more than anything, like whether or not they like each other does not matter. Like, Trump wouldn’t work with anyone that would have helped Trump. Like he doesn’t he doesn’t care.
Jameela [00:50:25] We saw it in California, we just saw in California where you suddenly had like Caitlyn Jenner’s like spewing all kinds of fucking transphobic nightmare nonsense to try to suck up to Republicans, conservatives, you know, the kind of like the Trump plan. And you had people who had been historically so violently and vehemently, explicitly anti-trans, suddenly siding with Caitlyn Jenner because, OK, well, she’s she’s forwarding our agenda somewhat. So fuck it let’s just get in line and organize. Now, I’m not saying that we should just be like that. I’m not saying that we should turn a complete blind eye to anything harmful that one another do. We just have to develop a better system of like, all right, that was fucked up. Don’t do that again. Back to the main problem. We have to go back to that.
Shon [00:51:15] Yeah.
Jameela [00:51:15] Rather than this kind of excessive like feasting that we do on the kind of like corpse of a harmless individual.
Shon [00:51:23] Yeah, I think so. I mean, I think it’s like how, you know, there’s been things in the past where people who are that’s happened on social media, just to give a really simple example is there have been examples of often like yeah, particularly gay men, basically who are very strong vocal trans allies now and someone’s gone through, you know, their old social media posts. And about 10 years ago, 12 years ago, sometimes they’ve used really transphobic slurs in their tweets before. But when people present that to me, as like a gotcha, I don’t care. Like, I remember what the gay scene was like 12 years ago before there was all this trans visibility. And to be honest, yeah, a lot of gay men did use transphobic slurs because they didn’t know any better. I don’t care about what someone said ten years ago I care about what they say now. And like, you know, frankly, I used transphobic slurs when I was a teenager because I think, you know, that was what was the language was used. I didn’t even sometimes know how hurtful it would have been to if a trans person had been around me and I, I was one. And so for me, I think that, you know, like you said this gradations a bit, but I think I care about like current harm someone could be proposing and about getting them to stop that harm. It’s a similar argument to what say here about prisons is that what I want is a reduction in harm and violence in society. I don’t care about punishing people. And that doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t want to. I mean, that’s part of our nature is that sometimes, you know, if people have done awful things or you’re really angry at them, you do kind of have a thirst to see them punished. We all do. And but we do. Yeah, we have to come up with better systems for that. But. I don’t, you know, I think that something that has to be done collectively, I’m I’m not sure I can give like a very anti-carceral guide to how we can all save for that but, I
Jameela [00:52:59] No I know it’s funny. It’s funny the irony of how much we are anti the police, and yet we police each other so rampantly.
Shon [00:53:06] I do think that I think some of the people that like have achab on their bio are the biggest cops going
Jameela [00:53:14] So true. The the capitalism conversation of how we dismantle capitalism in and of itself is probably one for another time where we probably focus just on that because I I think that you’re right in pointing out that it’s backing the right senators, it’s backing the people who care about universal basic income. It’s about making sure that you are using your voice and your influence, even if you have. Even if you don’t have a social media account, you have influence because you have access to any other individual whose mind you can change. Who you can influence or his dollar you can influence them to vote with when they when it comes to backing different organizations or non-profits, you can change who’s in power.
Shon [00:53:58] Yeah, that’s true. You can. I mean, those things are all true. And you know, there are you can put pressure on people in power too. I mean, we don’t know what social movements are coming. I mean, you know, we’re seeing a rise in. We’ll see more and more of things so what I would say to anyone who’s maybe listening and unconvinced by this like, Oh, I’m not sure about this anti-capitalism stuff is all I would say is capitalism has been going, you know, for several centuries now. And we have we have now ending up in a climate crisis that has no signs of slowing down. And what scientists are assuring us, is in probably my lifetime. By the end of my lifetime, we will be seeing drastic social change and that will either be because we are responding to the climate crisis or it will be because the climate crisis is causing such a crisis in capitalism and immigration in terms of like resources available to us, water, etc. is that it will drastically change the way we’re living. I think it’s really useful to think about like, well, if we’re going to have a seismic social change, which one would you prefer? Because I would prefer the one where we all get to live in a habitable planet and and that you know that there are resources for everyone and that there isn’t like this whole mass migration movement on the global north trying to keep people out because people have had to migrate because they can no longer live in certain parts of the world. And that is, you know, that’s not opinion. That’s not my opinion. That’s basically fact.
Jameela [00:55:16] That’s not dystopian. That’s a reality that we’re seeing right in front of us.
Shon [00:55:20] And I know that doesn’t seem very tied to trend stuff, but I think it’s all interlinked. And one of the things that when I was writing this book again is that I did almost retreat from making these radical arguments. I was like, No, no, what happens if people are like, No, they want to know how to be nice to trans people? And then you’re going off on one about all these bigger systems and you’re going to lose people because they’ll be like, Yeah, kids shouldn’t be bullied at school. Yeah, they should have healthcare. Yeah, they should be able to get a job. And obviously, like, yeah, all those arguments are at the front of the book. But the reason why I felt like I couldn’t at least allude to some of these bigger ideas was because, yeah, it was because the climate, the climate crisis, all the data was coming through last year we were in lockdown. We’ve seen this huge change of how we lived our lives. You know, like after years of being told you can’t work from home or, you know, there’s no money left, right there’s no magic money tree. The British government used to say when people were saying that the benefits are being cut and suddenly it was like, Oh, now we can furlough workers. Now everyone can work from home. We can put homeless people in shelters because it will stop the spread of the virus. There was even talk at one point of releasing nonviolent prisoners both in the US and the UK like in New York. And, you know, I don’t think I don’t think it was ever seriously considered by lawmakers because they were worried about the precedent it set instead they kept prisoners in their cells for 24 hours a day, which is really inhumane. But even the fact that some of these ideas got a bit more of a mainstream hearing than they had before, when they were previously laughed at. I mean, if you look at like the left in Britain and the Labor Party when it was under Jeremy Corbyn, and it’s very kind of soft left, you know, people were really just like, this is ludicrous. How can you think this could possibly work? There’s no money for this. And actually the money was there when when it was necessary because of coronavirus. So that really signaled to me like, look, this is this is the time not to be timid about what with some of the changes are and yeah, Black Lives Matter. There was a resurgence last year, and then we see an Extinction Rebellion in the UK and you know Greta Thunberg and much more discussions about people are starting to get to grips with the immensity of the crisis in capitalism. And so why not? If you’re going to try and improve society for like a minority group like trans people, then you might as well start thinking bigger because we’re going to need it anyway.
Jameela [00:57:35] Well, to bring to bring trans liberation more into focus for a second, like specifically just trans liberation into focus, and thank you for talking about those bigger issues because I think that it it does appeal to the logic that most people need to finally get in line and just fucking help. I would like to talk to you about trans kids because that is especially in America. You know, I think I totally agree with you that it feels as though transphobia is more openly rampant in the United Kingdom’s media. We are still seeing a lot of transphobia worldwide and in the United State one of the conversations I see come up the most is this like fear around trans kids. This, you know, indoctrinating of kids to become trans as if that is a choice. As if that is the easier choice in life, as if that is a decision that they have made rather than just their innate identity.
Shon [00:58:37] Yeah, and the interesting thing about that, I think the easiest way, which is if you look at all the statistics, all the data about what children who are trans go through in terms of school bullying say, like, for example, in the UK. Sixty four percent of trans people say that they’re bullied at school and over half of them never tell anyone about the bullying. One in, I believe, yeah, one in 10 trans schoolchildren in Britain have received a death threat at school. You know, I think it’s just under half of trans people aren’t allowed to use their preferred name at school, so this like children are being made to be trans. What incentive is there to be a trans child? I mean, there is none. While we have seen a reduction, fortunately, in bullying, homophobic, biphobic and lesbophobic bullying and of cis LGB kids, but it’s by no means as much as a lot straight people think all this evidence shows that there’s been no diminishment really in it for trans kids. And so there is like, you know, just logically, this idea that kids are being persuaded to be trans. Why? Why would they be incentivized? What would be the attraction in being trans? Some people say, well, that their damaged case and they’re being misled and that they are gay kids is often that is that one is that, like most trans people are queer anyway. It’s not this idea that gay parents are pushing their gay kids to transition to become straight.
Jameela [00:59:59] I mean, that is a that is such a that is such a rampant argument is that, you know, I mean, even when Elliot Page came out as trans, he was kind of temporarily shunned by lesbians who felt as though he was homophobic for having wanted to instead live a heteronormative life as a man with a woman rather than as a lesbian woman. It was just bonkers to watch the internet do its thing.
Shon [01:00:31] It is and yeah I think trans men get that a lot more because that because the narratives around trans men and trans women are a little bit different. I think because trans men are often seen as traitors to womanhood or that they’re so damaged they’re women who are so damaged that they’ve been misled into thinking they can be men. Whereas trans women are seen more as like threats, creeps fetishes.
Jameela [01:00:47] Perverts yeah.
Shon [01:00:47] You know perverts. And so the way that transphobia works for trans men and trans women is a bit different. Yeah, with that example. So but the reality is right. So yeah, I know a lot of trans men who did identify as lesbians before they transitioned ultimately. And I do discuss Elliot Page briefly in the book actually on a chapter on this. And yeah, I mean, all of them say it was easier frankly, day to day, it was easier for them being a butch lesbian than it was being a trans man. It wasn’t like I’ve never met a trans man that maybe there’s a certain point when they start to maybe if they can pass as cis men that maybe yeah they just get treated as men and it’s better than being treated as a gender nonconforming woman. I mean, I sort of can relate to a little bit because I came out as gay myself as a teenager and because I knew I liked boys. And so that was the nearest thing, and I was an all boys school, which was obviously great. And and but ultimately, like I held off on coming out as trans for a long time because everyone signaled to me at every turn like whenever I start to talk about it, it was kind of the messaging I was getting was like, Can’t you just be gay? Like, we can sort of tol because you know this, the change in name, the chang in pronouns, changing your body, changing, you know, the things that your parents the name that your parents gave you
Jameela [01:02:01] Oh it’s very inconvenient Shon for everyone around.
Shon [01:02:05] Yeah, exactly. But that’s the thing is, people are, you know, when they’re not educated, hopefully, you know, I grew up in a slightly different time. I don’t think everyone meant it in a bad way. They just were fearful for me is, you know, there was no incentive for me to say, Oh, you’ll get to be a straight woman fab. Better than being a gay guy. No one said that that wasn’t how it went. I mean, like, yeah, OK, now because I conform to gender, and I said that I was very I very much stood out when I lived and presented and was read as a boy because I was already such a feminine boy that, yeah, probably walking down the street, I got a lot more shit than I do now. But, but but I mean, that’s years down the line. There was no incent that was not my end goal, and I wasn’t in a position like oh I’ll get to a point where like, actually, it’s taken me a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of pain, a lot of things to get to a point where no one harasses me walking down the street and maybe in a different society, I wouldn’t have worked so hard for it if I wasn’t harassed on the street. I wouldn’t have cared so much about my medical transition. But, but yeah, so so there’s this kind of misreading like this idea that, yeah, gay kids are being encouraged to be trans. There’s literally no incentive. And you know, to be honest, I think it’s like, how if you yeah, I mean, why is it? Why is it we are so afraid of people questioning or people? Actually, what is so bad about being a trans person that it’s like, Oh, well, if someone was gay before or they identified as gay before and now they decide to transition, why is that met with such hostility or such confusion? It comes basically from this fundamentally supremacist idea that being a cis person is better than being a trans person. And that’s what influences a lot of stuff with trans kids and trans health care for young kids is people are much more afraid of the idea that a young person will regret transitioning because then they’ll be one of those awful trans people, horrible, mutilated trans people, basically. And how awful is that if they were actually not the whole time
Jameela [01:03:56] And the numbers are so misrepresented of that ever happening, by the way, just for anyone out there has heard that argument like circulated by transphobic people. These numbers of people regretting that transition are in the vast, vast, vast minority.
Shon [01:04:13] Yeah, they very they are very small. And what I would say about them as well is that, you know, the vast majority of people who do detransition, which aren’t the ones that necessarily pushed before in these arguments, a lot of people trans people detransition, not because they’re not trans, or because they don’t have dysphoria anymore, but because being trans is simply too hard. I’m like, I don’t know if some people might have read, who are listening ofmy friend Detransition, Baby, the novel by Torrey Peters that came out this year and one of the characters in that is a detransitioned trans woman who’s now like, he’s a male character in the book, but it’s because he detransitions after a really violent attack. And I know I’ve met people, worked with trans people who did that. Some people then retransition. I worked with a trans woman who’s in her 50s now, and she re-transitioned five years ago, but she tried in her early 30’s, and she lived for three years as a woman and then detransitioned, because none of her family spoke to her. She couldn’t get a job. She was getting stuff thrown at her in the street. I mean, it was, you know, but she was miserable she was miserable, living as a trans woman because of how people treated her. She was miserable, living as a man because it wasn’t like who she was. And so that’s actually a huge chunk of people who detransition. It doesn’t mean that they’ve been misled. It’s just is that actually, if we had a kind of society, maybe they would need to. And then, yeah, there will be a very small number of people who maybe feel like it was the wrong choice. But the trouble is, is that the example again, the comparison I would make is unfortunately it’s a bit like abortion regret is that obviously there will always be. If we give women choice, you give people choice over their bodies. Some people will make choices that are wrong for them. And and that’s not to deny those people empathy. But what we can’t do is like use some people’s regret and there’s such a miniscule number people’s regret as a as a kind of sleight of hand to deny everyone else the autonomy to make their choices. Because that’s what people do with, you know, in the first thing the Christian right do isn’t it, they get out women who regretted their abortions and then they sensationalize their stories and they say, you know, isn’t this awful? We don’t want other young teenage girls to go through what this woman went through. And they find really hard cases, and that’s how they they campaign against reproductive rights. And similarly, yes, there will always be one, and it usually is like one or two in each country or state or whatever. They can find someone who is there and says, I bitterly regret transitioning. But for them there’s like thousands of people who have had had to, you know, kids in particular who have not been able to access treatment in a timely way gone through puberty, that’s really distressing to them. And that’s irrevocable like you can’t undo your puberty. You might be able to reverse some parts of it with medical transition, but there’ll be some things you can never change. And, you know, and they are the majority and what we do, I think the trouble is is what a lot of people struggle with. And I understand why some people struggle with trans kids, right is that like it’s it’s such a rare experience. And unless you know these families and you know, these young people and you hear them talk about it, it’s really hard to believe that even though we’re actually system the children know what gender they are all the time, and we don’t question that. Is that that we can’t believe that a child profoundly knows that they’re another gender. And I can understand why that’s hard. And you get people who say things like, Oh, well, my kid thought he was a helicopter when he was four. And it’s like, you know, I understand why you’re making this facile comparison because because you probably haven’t met someone that’s gone through this, but often the parents have never met or heard of trans children until their own child maybe starts expressing a supportive parents I mean. And and yeah, and I think I think people what people don’t grasp is one is that sometimes I think to unpick the idea is being a cis person better than being a trans person. And often often a lot of people deep down think, yes, it is in much the same way. I hope people don’t think as much about gay people now, but a lot of people used to say, Oh, I’m fine with gay people. I wouldn’t want my child to be gay. It’s a harder life. And I think we’re at that with trans, I think a lot of people are like OK. Well, some people have got a transition, but like, really let’s keep it to the minimum guys. We don’t want too many, like we’ve got restrict it and actually it’s about unpacking that.
Jameela [01:08:13] Yeah, rather than actually unpacking the belief system, that one is better than the other.
Shon [01:08:18] Yeah. And then and then from that too is a failure to recognize. And I guess that’s hard if you’ve not experienced gender dysphoria, is that not acting, not intervening sometimes to alleviate a child or teenager or an adult’s gender dysphoria isn’t like a neutral option. It’s not like, Oh, well, giving you healthcare is the is the it’s the risky thing. So if we stand back and do nothing, that’s the fair thing and actually sometimes for some people, standing back and doing nothing is the harmful act. And and we don’t know why.
Jameela [01:08:48] You’re denying them health care, essentially.
Shon [01:08:50] Yeah, you are. Yeah, because it is healthy. And I think that’s the trouble, too, is that a lot of people haven’t quite grasped that trans healthcare is health care. And a lot of people say, well, it’s not meant I thought you said it’s not a mental illness. So why is it health care? Well, you know, not being pregnant isn’t isn’t an illness either, but contraception is health care because it’s about contraception or abortion. Any reproductive rights. It’s about a woman or a person who has a uteruses ability to say, I might want to have sex, but I don’t want to be a mother. I don’t want to carry.
Jameela [01:09:20] It’s autonomy.
Shon [01:09:20] That would be, yeah, it’s autonomy. It’s like, I get to choose my own destiny. My body is not just a vessel for reproduction. I get to say, when I get to say, where, I get say how. And actually that can be intensely distressing. I mean, that’s why abortion rights were granted in the first place, especially in the UK, was mostly because of fear of like women going to backstreet abortions doing desperate things. It doesn’t. Women will do desperate things. And similarly, trans people will do desperate things if they are not yeah, if they’re not heard, if they’re not given the health care, they’re not given the support. So I would think I would encourage that comparison for people who are like a little bit like, Oh, I didn’t realize I didn’t think of it in that way is like health care, because you are denying people health care is the same thing to me is like denying me my estrogens is the same as denying me my asthma inhaler, you know?
Jameela [01:10:06] 100 percent. And also, like when it comes to, I mean, I get shit every time I say this, but puberty blockers are such a a godsend because they help you avoid so many different and difficult, painful extra things that you’re going to have to do if you are going to make you know like a specific esthetic transition, for example. And they’re and they’re reversible as soon as you stop taking them. You like everything, everything keeps going as it was a lot all along, all along.
Shon [01:10:38] And you know, and what’s, and you know what’s the worst thing is that often the people in you, you know, probably the people you meet on social media, the people who are the worst about puberty blockers and the worst about trans health care are also always the first people to make fun of visibly trans people’s appearance. So if you get like a six foot four trans woman, you know they’re the first people to laugh make fun of their hair and all that stuff. And it’s like, So you don’t want you don’t want the health care that would prevent someone being like tall for a woman. Not that it matters, but like, maybe it matters to her. And maybe she she’s she had had the option she would have liked to have blended in more.
Jameela [01:11:11] Also, we live in a such a fucked up society.
Shon [01:11:13] It’s just like you don’t want us to exist basically not being melodramatic. It’s that you don’t. Basically, it’s like in any form, you just want us to remain in this gender associated with our sex at birth. That’s what these people want. So the attack on puberty, but often they’ll say things like, Oh yeah, but it’s it’s about bone density, it’s about it. And it’s like, Well, all these things should be monitored. Like any drug, there will be some potential side effects. And I’m very pro research on that. But fundamentally, it’s about alleviating a really strong psychic distress. And I think these a lot of these people are either very disingenuous or they’re just completely unsympathetic to the reality of gender dysphoria.
Jameela [01:11:47] We also have a lot of people who look at look at transitioning as something that, you know, they relate to the kind of bourgeois kind of elite, you know, and the very wealthy and the people who had the money, maybe to make the medical transition because of their level of privilege and those people who would like the media has kind of signal boosted and said they are an acceptable trans person. They look at it as like a vain pursuit. Some people even love to use the argument of late that actually it’s anti-feminist to to, you know, emulate the appearance of the most stereotypical kind of patriarchy led form of a woman, people getting their lips made bigger, their noses made smaller, their jawline shaved, etc. bigger breasts, smaller waist and never taking into account that we live in such a fucked up dangerous society for trans people because we haven’t done the fundamental work at base to stop the bigotry that often is. This doesn’t come from just some place of vanity. This comes from a place of basic fucking safety any of my friends who’ve made a transition to look as hyper femme as as possible. And it’s so painful and and sometimes, you know, all operations can have their own kind of dangers and risks, etc. They’re going to such lengths, mostly because they would like to get home safely.
Shon [01:13:09] Yeah. Yeah, I think I think that’s true. I mean, I think that’s the core of it, but also, you know,.
Jameela [01:13:13] You know, women are generally pressured to a certain way.
Shon [01:13:15] Yeah. And it’s this transphobic lens and particularly when I think here we’re looking at trans women and the term the trans feminist Julius Serrano coined was trans misogyny, which is a term I discuss in the book of people basically is what it says on the tin. It’s a combination of transphobia and misogyny directed at trans women, and it’s a kind of weird it’s like an intensive form of like lots of forms of misogyny that other women get. So a classic example is that I’ve always liked makeup, right? So I was I used to before. I now don’t tweet about anything serious apart from book publicity. But when I used to tweet in a more chatty way, I used to talk about make up and there would always be someone being like, you know, just liking lipstick. You know, that’s what you. That doesn’t make you a woman, Shon. And I was like, I never said it did. I liked make up before and like, and plenty of men I know, like, make up, you know, if I actually have, like, clearly much more interesting friends and I never thought about lipstick being tied to womanhood. I just I just fucking talking about lipstick. But it’s because, you know, there’s this desperation to kind of do this like gotcha like Oh, you’re basically, yeah, if if you if you’re interested in femininity at all, you’ve conflated that with being a woman. And that’s not the case. It’s that like unfortunately, society tends to conflate femininity with being a woman. And so like, you know, for trans women, yeah, it’s about safety. It’s about being recognized as a woman. It’s about like comfort going through, blending in and moving through society safely. So femininity is a very quickly quick way to direct people in the right direction of kind of like putting you in the woman box in their head socially. And so, yeah, and then there’s this double bind where if you’re not feminine, then you don’t. And some trans women do not want to be, you know, they are butch trans women, there are gender non-conforming trans women who don’t who, who, who would feel as awkward in a pair of high heels as like, you know, I don’t know, like many men, many butch lesbians, you know, then they’re not interested in it. But like often if they’re transwomen is that they’re told, Well, you could make more effort or you like a man, you shouldn’t be in the men’s toilet. You’re creeping everyone out. And so you can’t win. Basically, it’s a double bind. And the other thing I would say about, um yeah, this kind of accusation that I trans women are stereotypical in our femininity and therefore we’re regressive, isn’t it, that we’re reinforcing gender. It’s like what I think it’s a bit rich coming from people who are 99 percent of the population
Jameela [01:15:25] No one ever says that to me at the Emmys, do you know, I mean, I’ve got my tits out like, I mean, I’ve got hair and makeup.
Shon [01:15:31] I know all the people. It’s all those things are always directed at, often sex workers and trans women like that. Like, it’s those two groups in particular seem to be the real kind of targets for this like, Oh, you’re aggressive, you’re letting all women down, you’re reinforcing gender stereotypes, you’re reinforcing sexist stereotypes and it’s like, Yeah, well, actually, yeah, if you look at any but the media, any cis gender women in the media, any award show, like why aren’t you you’re looking at those people and I think I said this to you when we spoke recently is that like, what really annoys me is I’ve had it from women like I’ll look and I’ll know it’s, you know, feminist writers or whatever who said this about me. And it’s like, I know that she’s taken her husband’s name like her surname is her husband’s name and I’m like, Why are you saying that I’m I’m this champion of really sexist, regressive femininity because I like eyeshadow. And yet you’ve named yourself after your husband, which comes from a time where women were chattels like, obviously, that’s fine. She’s welcome to do that. And maybe it’s it’s a sexist tradition that, like she’s reinforced, but we all reinforce sexist things sometimes because we we all live in a society. We can’t all dismantle gender. You know, a lot of gender is very powerful in that way. So why target trans women of all? Like, you know, it’s always trans women that seems to be the problem with this, and I just think it’s really disingenuous.
Jameela [01:16:48] Listen, you do such a fucking amazing job throughout this book of of presenting case studies that are incredibly diverse, incredibly interesting. They the book made me feel incredibly emotional. It also made me feel incredibly empowered when it came to finally having better and more kind of, as I said earlier, bulletproof arguments. When I am tackling these conversations myself as a someone who stands in solidarity, I’m not going to use the word ally anymore. I’m really glad that you pointed that out. No, don’t be, no. Oh my god, please. I live to be called out if you follow me on Twitter. Shon you know that. So I’m fine, I’m a sucker for it. And so as someone who’s stand in solidarity with trans people, I really I like, I so appreciate the fact that you’ve put the time and effort and energy into into such a well-researched, well-studied you’ve just thought of you’ve thought of fucking everything in this book. I mean, you you’ve covered everything. It’s all covered. Maybe they don’t need to be anymore, but I’m only joking there needs to be more books. Of course, they need to fill the bookstores with. But but you’ve you’ve set a precedent in this conversation and and armed all of us with a more like concise and intelligent approach to just hopefully being able to collectively destroy these stupid fucking arguments, the systems altogether, once and for all. And Shon talks about so many of these subjects in such great detail in such an accessible way. It’s such a fair and calm examination of these biases and and these are such intelligent solutions that you present in this book for these biases. And I just thank you for such deeply logical and excellent work, and I’m so sorry that you even had to do it in 2020. Can I just end on a note based on the way that you ended this book where you talked about, you say that’s why some people hate us. They are frightened by the gleaming opulence of our freedom. Our existence enriches the world. Can you talk to me briefly before you go about that opulence, about the joy of being trans, about the joy of your experience?
Shon [01:19:13] Yeah. Well, I mean, I think. I think where the joy lies in being trans is despite all the difficult stuff, it’s we’re given a rare gift, which is to we often have to find new ways of living and ways to adapt in a society that like often even though we’ve always existed. So it was built around the idea that we don’t exist. And what that does is one it gives us a sense of community that we have to find each other and that’s what greatly benefited me. And then when we start, because we’ve resisted one of the most powerful forces that shapes us as a society, which is the gender binary and basically said, No, this is wrong or whatever gender assignments wrong.
Jameela [01:19:54] And the patriarchy yeah.
Shon [01:19:57] Yeah, I think it gives us the potential to see the world in ways that other people don’t see them. And for me, that’s like, you know, I’m a 33 year old trans woman. And I think like a lot of the things about how I envision what I could get out of life, what I could do with life are not the same as they would have been had I been cisgender. A lot of the people I’ve met, a lot of the work I get to do a lot of the experience. I mean, like, you know, even in my case, as I say, like probably from the background I came from. If I hadn’t been trans like, I could’ve easily been quite maybe I mean, I don’t think a Tory I mean, that’s not go too far. But there are there are lots of things that, you know, like I have been opened up to other discourses. I mean, I probably wouldn’t have thought about a lot of the issues that I discussed. Had I not, you know, and things affecting other people, had I not learned to see the world from the margins or from a vantage point that, you know, other people don’t even know exists. And that’s very freeing. That gives you choice and autonomy and a way to kind of cultivate the life you want to lead within reason. And yeah, there is a lot of joy to be found there and freedom. A lot of people go around with a lot of scripts in their heads and maybe never challenge them until they have therapy in their 40s or 50s. And and and I’m I’m pleased, even though it’s not been easy at times to have been freed sometimes from the constraints of expectation. And there is a joy to that. And that comes sometimes from the freedom that we have to exercise as trans people in order to leave livable lives.
Jameela [01:21:22] Yeah. Amen. I think it’s fucking beautiful and and for so much of my life, I’ve I’ve looked upon that freedom with like envy and wonder, especially because as a kid, the gender binary and all of the constraints and the pressures of living up to gender traits, gender normative traits like suffocated me as a kid. And it’s taken me until my adult life to like figure out how to just walk through this world as me, rather than according to what I’m supposed to be. I still fall into the traps all the time. At the Emmys, for example, I’m still navigating it, but but I am so in awe of all of my trans and non-binary friends the gender nonconforming friends who have found that freedom at such an early point in their lives like that rebellion is just so inspiring and that rebellion against patriarchy and gender norms would truly solve so many, like the basis of not all mental health issues, obviously, but that so much pain, so much suicide, so much depression often comes from a lack of feeling just innate freedom to be yourself and so to set that example. To set that example, I think, is imperative to our like social well-being. Um, I I I was very nervous at the beginning of this interview because I’m really intimidated by you because you’re so smart and great. But I also wanted to say thank you for being such an accessible figure and and for being an example of someone who always manages to somehow retain empathy, even for the people you most disagree with. I think that’s an incredible example of how to further this movement is not to give too much empathy, but to at least try to understand what it is that we’re tackling, rather than just demonize and dismiss. We have to try to understand that some people are a product of their environment. We need to kind of recruit them via empathy.
Shon [01:23:23] Yeah, we do. We have to be the human beings otherwise we’re screwed.
Jameela [01:23:27] It’s fact it’s fact. Shon, before you go to continue saving the world, will you please tell me, what do you weigh?
Shon [01:23:35] I weigh the amount of times that I’ve made people laugh in my life. I weigh certainly the weight of the book that I’ve just written, but hopefully by the time I die I’ll weigh the weight of several books and I weigh far too many carbonated drinks because I’m ordering addict of like lemonade, etc. So I will weigh myself in endless cans of lemonade and Diet Coke probably as well.
Jameela [01:24:04] Fantastic. I, I hope I get to properly meet you in person someday.
Shon [01:24:07] Yes, same. You’ll have to let me know.
Jameela [01:24:08] Because we keep meeting in formal interviews about liberation, which is great, but also I just think you’re an ideal human. So thank you so much for making the time for me today and and all of the love and luck when it comes to this book. I really think it’s going to change a lot of people’s minds and hearts, and I’m really excited.
Shon [01:24:29] Thank you.
Jameela [01:24:31] Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode. I Weigh with Jameela Jamil is produced and researched by myself, Jameela Jamil, Erin Finnigan and Kimmie Gregory. It is edited by Andrew Carson, and the beautiful music you’re hearing now is made by my boyfriend, James Blake. If you haven’t already, please rate review and subscribe to the show. It’s a great way to show your support. We also have a bonus series exclusively on Stitcher Premium called Ask Jamila Anything. Check it out. You can get a free month of Stitcher Premium by going Stitcher.com/premium and using the promo code I Weigh. Lastly, over at I weigh we would love to hear from you and share what you weigh at the end of this podcast. You can leave us a voicemail at 1-818-660-5543 or email us what you weigh at IWeighPodcast@gmail.com. And now we would love to pass the mic to one of our fabulous listeners.
Listener [01:25:23] Hello, I’m gay and I’m from Belgium. I weigh my kindness and empathy, my unapologetic loudness and humor, my queerness and sexuality. I weigh my art and love for movies and books, and I weigh my mistakes and there are many. And my ability to learn from them.
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