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Current Affairs

A Magazine of Politics and Culture

Understanding What Trans Justice Means

What does trans liberation look like? How does it differ from mere inclusion? How should socialists think about trans justice? Author Shon Faye explains all.

Shon Faye has written for The Guardian, The Independent, and Vice, among others, and her first book is The Transgender Issue: Trans Justice is Justice for All, about which the legendary Judith Butler has said, “It is a monumental work and utterly convincing, crystal clear in its understanding of how the world should be.” Faye’s book is a manifesto for a socialist form of trans liberation, which she contrasts with the politics of liberal inclusion, which is often “inclusion within deeply unequal at best and at worse quite oppressive systems.” Faye argues that the things that make trans people’s lives difficult (lack of housing and healthcare, incarceration) often oppress others as well and that we do not just need representation/diversity at the top but a caring society in which everyone has what they need. Faye prefers the language of “liberation” over “rights” and “equality” (though rights and equality are important), and argues that “the liberation of trans people would benefit the lives of everyone in our society.” 

Faye came on the Current Affairs podcast to talk to editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson about her ideas as well as the difference between U.S. and U.K. feminists’ approaches to trans issues, how the Right has tried to push a moral panic around one of the most marginalized groups of people, and what it really means to live in a “cisnormative society,” plus the infamous “Harry Potter lady.” This interview was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.


Your title, The Transgender Issue, is a little bit ironic in its intention, because part of the book comes out of a frustration with the fact that there is such a thing in our discourse that is boiled down to the “transgender issue.” You say,

“In the U.K., as elsewhere, trans people have suddenly become an issue that everyone needs to have an opinion on. What does it mean to be a man or woman, or to assert your existence as something else entirely? If anyone can determine their own gender, is this true of race? Are trans children being fast-tracked to irreversible decisions about their bodies? Are those who cross the lines of gender to be embraced or feared? In all cases, trans people have been dehumanized, reduced to a talking point, or conceptual problem, an issue to be discussed and debated endlessly. And when the media wants to talk about trans issues, they want to talk about their issues with us, not the challenges facing us.”

And later in the book, you say,

“The topic of trans has been limited to a handful of repetitive talking points—whether nonbinary people exist, whether gender-neutral pronouns are reasonable, whether trans women will dominate the Olympics, etc.”

And you say you want to start the conversation in a different place, and get out of what you call the “closed loop debates that go ad infinitum.” Where would you like the conversation about the “transgender issue” to begin instead?


I would like the conversation to begin with the opening sentence of the book: “The liberation of trans people would benefit the lives of everyone in our society.” That’s quite a big idea in a small sentence. This is a marginalized group. Trans people are a very small minority, but even if they weren’t a small minority, they would still be under the current hegemonic gender system we have. Any society should judge itself by how it treats those at the margins. I think that’s quite a common socialist, progressive, left-wing principle. And at the moment, the forces that push trans people to the margins are forces that tend to push other groups to the margins of society, too, whether that’s due to poor social safety nets outside the nuclear family, poor housing, welfare, and a system of incarceration that’s predicated on dehumanization as a form of punishment. All of these things oppress trans people as a group, but also oppress far greater numbers of people that aren’t trans. The conversation should begin not so much in these closed-loop debates that present trans people as a potential nuisance or a bug in the system to be accommodated. Instead, begin where trans people point to wider issues in the social matrix and the social contract that are failing many people.


One of the things that distinguishes your book is that you’re an advocate for a specifically socialist trans politics that advocate universal solutions and attends to people’s particular needs. But as you’ve been hinting is that many of the things that are most oppressive and make trans people’s lives, in particular, difficult, make other people’s lives difficult as well. There’s a real opportunity for an inspiring kind of left-wing coalition politics here.


I hope so. That is the intention. This is a particularly socialist lens through which to view trans liberation, and that’s how I refer to it throughout the book. I don’t refer so much to trans rights, or trans equality. I believe in trans equality as a stepping stone, and I believe in trans rights in the context of legislative politics. I see those ultimately as stepping stones, and sometimes goals, that we can get so bound up in that we lose sight of a wider project of liberation. It has parallels with gay liberation, women’s liberation, black liberation, disability liberation, and other liberation movements.

What I would say about the socialist lens with this—it might be a slight cultural difference for me as a British writer—is that I feel in certain liberal (not left wing) parts of the United States there was, at least for a time, a little more success with a somewhat liberal narrative around trans inclusion and trans rights, i.e. a politics of inclusion within a kind of corporate liberal sphere, things like workplace equality and pronouns in your email signature. The idea that accommodating trans people and groups to be their complete selves in the workplace, that people are allowed to pursue their own destiny—this is a realization of individual identity politics. We tried to do that here in the U.K. as well. It’s just been a little bit less successful, and we’ve had much more backlash against that kind of liberal vision. But whether in the United States or in the U.K., liberal trans politics is itself quite limiting and ultimately self-defeating, because what you’re fighting for is inclusion within deeply unequal, at best, but at worst, quite oppressive institutions, structures, and systems, if you want to use that language.

The idea of the corporate inclusion model and diversity model is that you tell people at J.P. Morgan to put “non-binary” on their job application form. Sure, that’s great, but who’s applying for jobs at J.P. Morgan? College graduates who are white, middle class, rich. This idea of a liberal trans inclusion favors a certain kind of trans person on the grounds of class, ethnicity, and citizenship. So for me, it’s not a liberation movement if it’s only including small echelons of an already tiny community.

“Liberal trans politics is itself quite limiting and ultimately self-defeating, because what you’re fighting for is inclusion within deeply unequal, at best, but at worst, quite oppressive institutions, structures and systems.”


Are you saying that trans justice will not be achieved when the first transgender general bombs a Middle Eastern country, or the board of the leading hedge funds have transgender members? Is that what you’re implying?


Yes, that is what I’m implying. You’ve used particularly heinous examples. I’ve met people like Sarah McBride, who I mention in the introduction to the book. The U.S. has far more potential for mainstream political candidates who are trans women, like state senator Sarah McBride and Danica Roem, for example. However, this kind of representation and visibility purely through electoral politics trickling down hasn’t worked for cisgender people, so why would it work for trans people? It hasn’t worked for women. We had this discussion about Hillary Clinton and feminism, and similarly, it’s not going to be the case. Angela Davis—whose work I draw on a lot in the book, particularly around the state and prison system—gave a talk in London once. She said if you smash the glass ceiling, the woman that passes through it is the woman who was already standing on top of other people, anyway. That model presupposes a kind of hierarchy in and of itself. Actually, we should be looking at the woman, the trans person, whoever is already at the margins, and if they were the center of our politics, then it would look quite different.


As you’ve mentioned, the United States is more open in many ways, and U.S. feminism has been better on trans inclusion than British feminism, which is just horrific. We celebrate Caitlyn Jenner, who is a Republican. You point out that there’s this opposition between “the authentic working class” and trans people. But actually, when you pay attention to the reality of the average transgender person’s life, they are working-class people who have many of the same concerns as other working-class people. And in that sense, the United States, which is cruel to working-class people of all identities, is not necessarily a better or more advanced country in terms of trans justice.


I absolutely agree. It’s a very reductive question to ask: which country is better, my country or the U.S.? They’re very different landscapes. I’m a middle-class white writer who lives in London. Considering my counterparts who might live in New York, professionally, I would have an easier time in those circles because there’s a certain degree of liberal politeness that’s now custom in the U.S., even to the point where Kamala Harris had her pronouns in her bio, which would be unthinkable in Britain. That would cause a national meltdown in our press in terms of feminist discourse. So there’s a difference there.

However, in terms of legislative rights, I may have better employment protections in the U.K. because our equality legislation is very different compared to some states in the U.S., certainly. The health care system in the U.K. for trans people is deeply screwed, but for slightly different reasons—in principle, we can access it for free, unlike in the US. I find the privatized healthcare system of the U.S. quite baffling, and quite antithetical to my kind of very British sensibilities that it should be free.

I touched on this in the introduction to the U.S. version, which is that what can be confusing for the American reader of my book, or the American person who is perhaps aware of the discourse in the U.K. (particularly thanks to the Harry Potter author), is that the landscape is very different because U.S. politics is so much more polarized. Transphobia is automatically aligned with the Trumpian Christian Right, Bible Belt, and Republican governments that are anti-abortion and aligned with homophobia. It seems so natural to many liberals that have to adopt a position on trans issues that is opposed to their enemies. In the U.K., it’s a little more complicated because we don’t have that kind of set polarization. There’s a very liberal form of transphobia, in which people can very much claim to be liberals and be transphobic.


Yes, I was hoping you could explain what’s going on in Britain. You have the NHS (National Health Service) for any working-class person. The British safety net means that you have a slightly less precarious existence there than here.


I would say that for trans people, trans healthcare in the U.K. is effectively privatized now. In theory, we’re supposed to be able to access it for free. But the infrastructure of trans healthcare in the U.K. has not changed in the last ten years, and the number of people seeking treatment has skyrocketed. There is an effective halt because the current system is overburdened and cannot cope. And it’s not just about funding; it’s about the entire infrastructure. The process you have to go through was designed for a very small number of people, and there has been very little movement and no political will to change that. So now most trans people in the U.K. who are coming out and starting their transitions are self-medicating, either on the black market, or they’re passing hormones amongst trans communities without prescription because that’s the only way to really start on hormones, and they’re seeking private health care, some of it based outside the U.K. In theory, we have free health care, but trans people do not. Surgeries, at the moment, you can forget—the queue is so long. No employer here provides a health insurance package because that’s not our culture. Trans people here are struggling with that.

The other thing I was going to say about the U.K./U.S. divide is about the British feminist flavor of transphobia. The sort of feminist liberal gloss on transphobia in the U.K.—the type that you would see from someone like the Harry Potter lady, or any number of more high profile media transphobes—is the belief that “transgender ideology” is an American idea that we have imported and doesn’t sit well with British culture, that it has to do with American hyper capitalism and individualism. “You can be whoever you want to be.” “The American dream.” “Big Pharma companies are trying to convince people that they can biohack themselves and turn themselves into whoever they want to be.” It’s fundamentally un-British and lacking in class consciousness. 




Yes, there’s a real idea that these ideas are an American import that don’t sit well in our in British culture. It amuses me that if you read British gender critical writing, Judith Butler will often be referred to as the “High Priestess of the Temple/Church of Gender Identity”—that Butler is somehow infiltrating Britain, like a pope of a gender church. This language and framework for understanding why trans people have suddenly appeared is fundamentally an un-British idea and an American import. It’s quite common in British gender critical discourse.


It shocks many American feminists, I think, to find out just how deep transphobia can run in mainstream British feminism. This divide has come out between the U.S. and British staffs of The Guardian, where U.S. staff would never run anything openly transphobic, and the in the U.K. Guardian, you could just get away with writing stuff that would be considered Trumpian and associated with Matt Walsh or Ben Shapiro if it were published in the United States. You quote Nicole Cliffe, who says, “The U.S. feminist who encounters the British feminist says, ‘Oh, yes, the pay gap. We agree.’ And then the British feminist says, ‘Trans people are poisoning our youth and trying to kidnap and turn them trans!’ and the U.S. feminists say, ‘What?’”


Yes, that’s true. Obviously, it’s a fun generalization. American feminism has more of a liberal hue, perhaps. Here, socialism has a slightly stronger tradition in parts of the U.K. What I would say is that it’s not just American feminists. The feminism that has grown in Ireland—a country that was once colonized by the U.K. and escaped from under the mantle of Catholicism and the abuses of the church to women in the 20th century—since Irish independence, is very much a rebuke of gender critical British feminist transphobia. It’s odd. Transphobia, in terms of feminism, is such a heterodox view in most parts of the world, except in the U.K. and U.K. media, where it is more of an orthodox position. I think that must just be so startling.

When the book came out in Spain, I went on a small tour there and they had similar public debates over their gender recognition laws. Some of the Spanish trans people I met said they did have gender critical feminists in Spain, but interestingly, most of the propaganda, leaflets, and documents were written by British women and translated into Spanish, and some of them didn’t actually make much sense in terms of the difference between Spanish and British law. So not only is the British media feminism a hub of transphobic discourse, it’s also trying to export it around the world.


Separate from British feminism, you open the book with the story of Lucy Meadows, a trans teacher who ended up committing suicide. One of the shocking things about that story is just how vicious the British tabloid press can be towards private individuals, people who never asked for any publicity. There’s a kind of ruthlessness in the British tabloid press that I think is also unique to your country.


Yes. The authority I would probably appeal to on this point is Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex. She has said she was warned by her friends, but had not realized until she married into the prominence of the British Royal Family, that the British tabloid press, to which there’s no equivalent, is uniquely vicious. Obviously, she is not a private individual. This tabloid culture is quite vicious, and has been to trans people for a very long time. Meadows was not an aberration, but almost a horrifying crescendo of decades of terrible media treatment, right from the beginning. In the early ’60s, the model April Ashley, who recently died, had modeled in Vogue and been a trans woman who was stealth. She had gone to Casablanca and had surgery in the late ’50s, was outed by the Sunday People newspaper, and it destroyed her career in the early ’60s.

Random trans members of the public used to regularly have these really intrusive stories published about them with really derogatory, derisory headlines. It could destroy lives. We had a huge inquiry, called the Leveson Inquiry, into the conduct of the British press after it was found that various people’s phones had been hacked. (The News International phone hacking scandal.) Trans organizations [gave] evidence to that inquiry, saying the way that trans people [are] treated by the media is humiliating, detrimental, harms people’s mental health, and something needs to be done about it. And unfortunately, nothing was.

Then Lucy Meadows, a trans teacher, had horrific treatment at the hands of the media a year later. That, combined with other stresses in her life, really impacted her mental health, and she unfortunately took her own life.

Anorak News | Daily Mail fails to mention Richard Littlejohn's part in the  trial and death of Lucy Meadows
Left: an attack on Lucy Meadows in the British tabloid press, Right: Coverage after Meadows’ death


When you go back to look at some of the tabloid news stories about her, you would almost think that they are trying to get her to kill herself. This is a teacher at a small school, has never done anything other than transition her gender, and all of a sudden, the national press is reporting on this person, encouraging the entire country to point at her and see her as a danger to children. It makes your skin crawl just to look at this stuff.


Yes. Things have slightly improved, but there are still elements of the British press that are still like this. Now, you don’t get quite the same levels of misgendering in a lot of the main press. But, even when I brought out this book in the U.K., there were pundits and authors who make regular appearances in the British media, someone like Brendan O’Neill—I criticized him in the book, he’s the political writer on Spiked and worked at the Spectator, for example—began to get very meta, and began a review of my book by writing,

“Shon Faye is a man who believes he is a woman. He’s wholly convinced that while he may have reached womanhood by different methods, to say my mother, he’s as much a woman as she is. I think he’s mistaken. In fact, I think he’s deluded.”

And then talks about me as a male who has castrated himself. I regurgitate that here only to say the reality is that, as a trans author, I’m not a private individual. I suppose I volunteer myself in some ways. But that perniciousness is still very much alive in the U.K., because a lot of these people haven’t retired.

I think what is often at the root of media transphobia in the U.K. is a slight outrage from a certain generation of people who are finding that they’re in the middle of a cultural shift, where what they once felt was fine and actually quite humorous or felt entitled to say, is somewhat repugnant to greater and greater numbers of the population—particularly younger people, but in general.


Brendan O’Neill is obviously a scumbag who pretty aims to provoke people. His brand is to say outrageous things and present himself as a martyr for free speech. [But it comes from “respectable” outlets too.] I watched a debate you had a few years back on the BBC with some Canadian psychiatrist. You write in the book about how you generally turn down requests to do debates. Going back and watching that, I saw why. One of the things that you’re trying to do with this book is to have an intelligent, nuanced, and detailed conversation about this, and to critique the way in which even outlets that pretend to be doing fair and intelligent journalism, like the BBC, are obscuring and detracting from the real serious questions about trans justice.


Well, yes. There has been a huge shift from political news programming, like News Night, which is the program you mentioned, that has moved really from intending to inform or educate the public into entertainment. There’s a self-regarding idea, at least in British journalism, that they’re bringing truth, and especially the BBC as this highly regarded global pinnacle of impartiality and rigorous journalism. And of course, some aspects of the BBC really are those things. But some of these programs are just designed to create entertainment for people at home. For a trans person to participate in that sort of entertainment is inherently degrading. Some people would say the reason I don’t want a debate like that is because I know that I’m going to lose, because my ideas are irrational, and I’m a biology denier, and so on. No, the reason that that sort of format doesn’t work is it is inherently degrading. The impact on me personally, as a trans woman, in that sphere is so different to a professional cisgender person. They walk away from this discussion, go home, and that’s not their life. It is my life. So there’s a fundamental psychic impact it will have on me.

I make a political point that, as a trans woman, I should not be compelled to participate in this kind of theater. It’s fundamentally antithetical to my dignity and human rights. But the other aspect to it is that we live in such a cis normative society which defaults to thinking cisgender people have a better grasp on who trans people are than trans people themselves, that cisgender people are somehow more real and more trustworthy about these topics than trans people. That cis people are “the normal” and that trans people are “the deviant.” We have a deeply cis normative, transphobic culture in the U.K. and decades-long misinformation. If we’re talking about a four-minute debate, where I have one minute to speak, and then a person, perhaps transphobic—certainly not particularly sympathetic to trans people—has a minute to speak, they need only reinforce what the culture has been saying for decades. Whereas I am supposed to present an argument that dismantles people’s preconceived ideas, present a whole range of new linguistic and conceptual tools, and then show them how to use them in one minute. It’s impossible. No matter how articulate or intelligent I am, I cannot do that.

With a book, it’s a fundamentally different medium. The book is a prompt tool, like all nonpolitical nonfiction writing, that I think works well. Hopefully, I’m not lecturing to people. Of course, I’m presenting arguments and ideas, and I’m very much presenting them with a pro trans view. But what I hope the reader is doing, as they read my book, is engaging critically with what I’m saying and formulating their own opinions, but with the more reflective and expansive space that a book provides compared to a ridiculous TV debate.


If some not particularly well-informed person asked you, “What do you mean when you say that we live in a transphobic culture?,” how would you explain to them that they live in a transphobic culture?


In terms of transphobic culture, there are a couple of things that I would probably begin to point to. I would probably begin to point to the interior experience of trans people. There are plenty of mental health statistics which I present in the book that I could repeat, ranging from the figures of more extreme things like self-harm, right through to figures of depression and anxiety and so on. I’d ask, “Realistically, do you think that this group of people are inherently unstable in some way? Or do you think that there’s a correlation here, [that how society treats trans people] manifests in symptoms of mental health, depression, and anxiety that might be prompted by a degree of social isolation?”

[It’s] just like we’ve seen in experiments with rats. When rats are isolated and divorced from community, they start to become depressed. Similarly, trans people might be a minority group who are affected in that way. Then I might point to the experiences of trans young people, where in the U.K. 64 percent of trans young people say they are bullied for being trans, not for other reasons, and half of those young people never tell anyone about that bullying. So not only are you being targeted, there is also a culture of shame and stigma that means that you cannot even talk about the fact you’re being targeted with people you trust. And if that is your earliest experience in education, what does that do to your psyche in your formative years? It creates an expectation of social exclusion, that, unfortunately, will tend to repeat itself throughout life. It is a culture that doesn’t treat trans people very well, pretty much from childhood. Many people think a lot more trans people have been popping up since about 2012, like we appeared on Tumblr out of nowhere. The reality is, as I write in the book, that there are people coming out in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s as trans, and if you speak to those people, they tended to know they were trans in their youth. The reality is that they have waited all this time to come out and transition. Why? Because society is gradually becoming less and less hostile—we are emerging out of a transphobic culture. That’s the damage it does to trans people’s psyche.

The other thing is just the material conditions. One in four trans people in the U.K. have experienced homelessness. That is an extremely high percentage. Homelessness is such a barometer of social disenfranchisement. That’s where I’d start.


The Right is quite brilliant, almost, taking the people who have the most difficult lives or are facing most challenges and elevating them into a group that is the oppressor—flipping reality on its head so completely. I assume this is part of the dialogue in Britain as well, but the theory on the Right [in the U.S.] is that there is a “contagion” where the coolest possible thing you could be in school is trans. That’s how you become popular in high school in Arkansas.


It’s odd because on the one point, this is an ancient tactic. I point to the sociological studies or work that have been done in terms of moral panic theory, folk devil theory. It’s not that surprising, as well, that a lot of the scholars that have worked on that tend to be people who are Jewish. Why? Because it’s an ancient form of prejudice, certainly in Europe, with antisemitism being one of many blueprints. It is the idea that if you have a minority group within or among you, the way to get away with atrocities, abuse, or harassment against that minority group is to present them as an enemy or as a secret threat, despite the fact that they are relatively powerless and smaller than the majority, and present them as an insidious secret threat who are spreading and growing in numbers. That has obviously existed with many ethnic groups throughout history, but also was something that was done to gay people, certainly in the U.K.—the idea of the “Gay Lobby” or the “Gay Agenda”—and I think that was similar in the U.S. [It] was extremely potent, particularly in the ’80s and ’90s. I think trans people are a current iteration of that.

It’s undeniable that trans people are 0.6 percent of the population, and it shouldn’t matter that we’re that small a number because we’re not a threat anyway. Even if there were more of us, we should be allowed to lead our lives in safety and dignity. Realistically, we’re not capable of the threat that we’re supposed to present. Even if every trans person was terribly wicked, there aren’t enough of us. So what has to be done is to create a fear that we are spreading a contagion. And of course, that’s a very dehumanizing way to talk about a group—to dehumanize you to make you sound like vermin, germs, or viruses. It’s to create this idea that we are a threat of some kind and growing in numbers, and not what the reality might be, which is a small group of people who are struggling.

We go from being a relatively powerless group—not represented in any corridors of power and severely underrepresented and hugely disenfranchised socioeconomically—to being a powerful secret lobby. From people who are bullied, harassed, stigmatized, and that hate themselves, struggle to come out, and hide in silence for years, to actually being quite glamorous, getting special treatment, and the coolest thing you could possibly be. Everyone’s trans now. It earns you loads of money, and it’s good for your career. I’m sure there probably are some corners of the internet where people really theorize that I transitioned in order to assist my media career. This is the sort of brain rot that’s there when you get into proper bigotry and conspiracy theory.


As a trans journalist, you end up facing pressures to write really personal stuff and end up being pigeonholed in certain ways that are obnoxious.


Yes, absolutely. I wrote this book for political reasons. I wanted an archive and a centralization of these arguments that have been part of trans discourse for a long time but have not been collected anywhere I wanted them in one place that could then be accessible to the mainstream. And that’s very noble. But as a writer on a purely selfish level, I wrote this book so that I could shut the hell up about this issue and move on with my own career in writing. So for me, this book is about discharging my sense of responsibility or obligation to the community to which I belong.

This is quite a spicy take, but most trans people, even now, have to sell themselves or their identity in some way to make a living. Traditionally, you either went stealth, and were able to hide your trans identity and pass as a “normal person”—as a cis person—and hope you never got found out, or maybe you did sex work. Now, in the visibility era, a lot of trans people have to do things like work in NGOs, equality organizations, professional trans activism, or as Instagram influencers. You have to sell your trans identity in some way, in most cases, to make a living.


Yes. I suppose a component of liberation is going to be when that is no longer the case. Just to finish up here, I recently reviewed the documentary What is a Woman? by Matt Walsh, and it struck me that he is a propagandist worthy of Joseph Goebbels. I really thought his Nazi-like ability to effectively dehumanize people was impressive. And one of the reasons for that is the way he frames the documentary around this question, “What is a woman?”—and the whole documentary is, “I can answer the question, because it’s biology, but nobody else can.” Effective propaganda is about choosing questions. When you choose the questions that we’re going to discuss, you control the narrative. You address and give clear explanations in the book as to why the answer to that question is complicated. If you were to keep other, better questions foremost in our minds, what do you want people thinking about instead of the Matt Walsh question?


Instead of something like “What is a woman?,” I would be much more interested in the questions of who is setting themselves up as defining what women can do, where can women go, and what they’re allowed to be, and what does that have in connection with trans people? What are the connections between the oppression of women, reproductive rights, bodily autonomy around the world, and the oppression of trans people? Why are women and trans people both being oppressed at the same time? What does being trans in a transphobic society produce, and what can be done to change it? When discussing some of the oppressions of trans people, where do you see or hear similarities between the oppressions of other minority groups, and what do you think the connections are? Those are the more interesting questions, not so much a sense of estrangement such as, Why is a person trans? What makes a trans woman a woman or not? Actually, let’s ask instead, what are the present social conditions and dangers that are coming, in terms of the climate crisis, the rise in far-right sentiment across the world, the free fall of capitalism, and a completely declining social safety net? Who is this affecting the most? Trans people are one group, but there are multiple groups. There are actually far more people oppressed than there are oppressors. But the oppressors maintain power because they’re creating divisions between us. It’s thinking about those divisions and asking questions about that.


Yes, a much more interesting question than “What is a woman?” is, why is the rhetoric around trans people precisely the same as was heard about the Communist Party in the 1950s?


If we have a fixed, tidy definition of what a woman is, who does that benefit? There is this argument that it somehow benefits women, but when women have only ever been defined as an underclass—a fixed, robust, never changing, unyielding definition of what a woman is—it’s actually about identifying members of an underclass. That is what the purpose of a strict definition of woman is, in my opinion.


One of the real values of your book, though, is that it draws our attention to the actual real world, material conditions faced by trans people and all people today, and our priorities. You’re talking about homelessness, healthcare, and things that are outside of a philosophy seminar—what are people’s lives like?


That’s true. The trouble is that trans people are framed as a conceptual problem, especially less so by the Right. The Right see us more as a genuine manifestation of a fear they have about gender roles, full stop. If you can “change gender”—not all trans people would agree that they changed gender—but seemingly, if you can change your gender, that presents a threat to this strict separation of gender roles with a hierarchy, men over women, that the far right really believe in. For liberals and progressives who should know better, this is a theoretical discussion rather than a group of people who already exist. We’re not a conceptual problem. This is not a theoretical problem. The reality is, gender variant people have always existed. They have been referred to as trans for the last century in some form or another. We’re already here, and so it’s about looking at the actual conditions in which we lead our lives and engaging with serious politics about how to improve those conditions on the basis that all human beings deserve justice, rather than treating trans people endlessly as a conceptual problem.

Transcript edited by Patrick Farnsworth

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