I guess I should start at the beginning.
Last Tuesday, I got an A4, slightly battered envelope in the post. I immediately recognised that the name and address were written in my mum’s handwriting.
Interestingly, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen my mum write my current name, ‘Ash Wu’. She had recently been trying to avoid using my birth name, and would correct herself when she slipped up. I knew me transitioning would be hardest on her and my dad, and I deeply appreciate her effort.
So, with that being said, even though I had no idea what the envelope contained, I assumed that whatever was inside would be a definitive, clear cut show of support. But the reality was, as it often is… a lot more complicated than that.
Inside the envelope was a magazine, which had a couple of luminous tabs within it. At a first glance, I saw that the magazine was The Economist, which my mum is subscribed to.
And then, upon closer inspection, I saw the subheading on the front cover: ‘the case against gender self-ID’.
My blood ran cold. In a complete state of shock, I was physically frozen, while my brain flooded with questions.
Was this an anti-trans article?
My mum had sent this envelope in the post first class – did she desperately want me to see it and change my mind about transitioning?
Was she trying to tell me that she thought me being trans was not a legitimate reality?
Needless to say, I was terrified to read it. The tiny luminous paper tabs no longer brought to mind the adorable display of effort by my mum, but instead made me think of the similar vivid colours of poisonous frogs.
Shaking, I carefully opened to the first bookmark, and started to read the first article, ‘Who Decides Your Gender?’
Once I finished that, I read the second, titled ‘The Body of Law’.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, both articles contained an impressive swath of unsubstantiated fear-mongering. It’s not anything I haven’t seen before.
After all, during my intense attempt to put myself through my own conversion therapy, I would seek out transphobic rhetoric not unlike that in this article, and try and use it to convince myself that it would be impossible for me to live with myself if I was trans.
But since those days, for my own well-being, I do what I can to avoid transphobia on a daily basis. However, this time was impossible, since I literally had an envelope full of it posted first class to my front door. And by my mum, of all people.
After I finished reading it, I sent a text to her.
This left me even more confused. If this was meant to be a show of support, then why send me something that was full of so much fear-mongering and anti trans rhetoric? Had she even read the article?!
I asked my dad what he thought, regarding whether my mum was trying to express her disapproval by sending the magazine.
… And it turns out, like the principle of Ockham’s razor… that the simplest explanation is often the correct one. They had literally both just skimmed through the article and not picked up on the sheer amount of transphobia in it at all.
My mum had seen that the article was about gender ID, thought, “Oh! This is about transgender stuff, I should send it to Ash!” Then she maybe said to my dad, “I’m going to send this to Ash with a first class stamp as a show of support! What do you think?”
And then my dad, probably while distracted by some highly intense engaging thriller on TV after a long day of work, skimmed through the article and said: “Yeah sounds good.”
Look… … … …
Firstly, in defense of my parents, they are both extremely busy people. They spend most of their time working, as they have done for all my lives. They’re both extremely talented musicians, and want nothing but the best for their kids.
But… … … …
Sending me that article in the post was honestly one of the most well-meaning but ill-thought out parenting decisions they have ever made in their entire lives. I think in a month or two, I’m going to be able to laugh about how terrible it was, but right now I am still so stressed out by the whole experience…
Once again, in their defense, I think it just goes to show how little they are aware of the amount of transphobia in the media, and the real effect that it can have on the wellbeing of trans people like me.
Paris Lees, a prominent trans journalist, is usually the first on the scene when it comes to debunking these kinds of transphobic pieces in the UK press. However, even she had to take a break from Twitter recently. Repeatedly reading articles written by people who seem intent on spreading fear regarding your identity takes a huge toll on your well being.
Like I mentioned, I felt confident that I could largely debunk a lot of the more ignorant claims of that article. I don’t want to delve into them too much, because I think other people have written more in depth articles on the matter, so I’ll include some links at the end of this journal entry.
But before I do so, here’s the core issue.
As a trans guy, I do feel a huge amount of responsibility when it comes to educating people on trans issues.
It can feel like a burden at times because it’s such an uphill and never-ending struggle. There are so many people out there who are full of fear and hatred and ignorance regarding trans people, the fact that we exist, and want the same rights as everyone else.
I hope that pointing people in the direction of facts and truth is a good start. But I know that sometimes, facts and statistics can make no difference to people’s opinions, because of how much fear they have.
It’s such a primal instinct in us human beings, to fear the unknown. People can get caught up in that fear, to the point where they are literally incapable of accepting the reality of things.
So while I obviously think truth is the best remedy to ignorance, what use is the truth if people can’t even see past their own fear?
I don’t think trying to confront the writers of such articles, or others who spout transphobic abuse is necessarily the answer. People don’t react well to criticism, or being told they’re wrong, especially in a public forum like the internet. I think it’s good to call out their words, but not them as individuals.
As tempting as it can be, this level of personal confrontation often makes opinionated people hold onto their views more rigidly, out of wounded pride. This makes them more likely to antagonize those who try to change their minds.
And I don’t think all people perpetuating transphobia necessarily have ill-intent towards trans people, even journalists who write these problematic articles. Given we live in such a politically divided time and digital age, where generating controversy and more clicks on an article seems to be a priority at times, perhaps they just forgot they were writing about actual human beings, and not just a popular buzzword.
But here’s where I think an actual solution could lie. What is the remedy to fear, or indifference?
The truth is as obvious as it sounds… It’s compassion.
I think people with transphobic opinions don’t view trans people as actual living individuals, but as some collective, intangible, amorphous mass of hypothetical dangers. They don’t actually know any trans people on a real and personal level, and are therefore indifferent to, or ignorant of, the very real damage of false claims. They don’t realize that trans people are just like them, and aren’t predators after their kids. After all, there are many trans parents out there. There are also trans journalists, and musicians, and artists, and actors, and politicians, and you name it. We’re just… people. It’s such a weird thing to feel like I have to assert.
Though it’s not really a huge shock that not many cis people, especially transphobic ones, really know any trans people. After all, I can probably count the number of trans people I have interacted with on a personal level on one hand. And of course, this has come out of a result of seeking trans-friendly spaces.
Likewise, I think I’m one of the only trans people that a lot of my cis friends know. And again, I am public about my identity. There are many trans people out there who are private and wish to only been seen as cis, which I don’t blame them for, given the hurdles you can face for being openly trans.
So what can really be done about cis people who have no compassion for trans people? Who hold transphobic opinions, and aren’t likely to ever really (knowingly) meet a trans person in their day-to-day lives?
The answer is positive trans representation in media. The reason I am able to say this with such confidence is due to the major shift in attitudes towards homosexuality in the West, and subsequently the progress of gay rights, thanks to the positive media representation in the last 20 or so years. That isn’t to say at all that the fight for gay rights is over in the slightest, or at all that media alone was wholly responsible. After all, homophobic articles are unfortunately still being published in the UK. But some major steps forward have been made, in part, thanks to more media representation.
In ways, I think people let their guard down with fictional characters more than they do real people. They’re more likely to empathise with characters who, if well written, you feel like you know on a personal level, and understand to a greater degree than even those around you. Characters also can’t challenge you on their opinions, or really threaten you on any real level. That’s why I think they have the potential to really open people’s minds, and change damaging attitudes about minorities.
As a writer, I feel like this is one of the most positive things I can do for my trans brothers, sisters and enbies. Creating trans characters who simply exist in the universe, and not having their transitioning define them or be the crux of their complexity as individuals, is really important to me. I want trans people, or anyone questioning their identity, to read these stories and see these characters and see that they have a right to exist, a right to be happy, a right to love and be loved.
It’s also a proactive and healthy way for me to deal with what can at times, be an overwhelmingly transphobic world.
Fear-based claims by that article and corresponding facts.
1) Claim: ‘Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria’.
What is it? The idea that many teens come out as transgender during puberty as a result of interaction with trans friends, and that trans-themed social media portrays being trans as ‘trendy’, making more young people incorrectly believe they themselves are transgender.
The truth? This isn’t a thing. Many people come out as trans at puberty because puberty is when you gain secondary sex characteristics, resulting in dysphoria. Notably, a lot of the research ‘supporting’ this ‘phenomena’ involved interviews with parents who claimed that their children had experienced ‘rapid onset gender dysphoria’, rather from the experiences of those struggling with dysphoria themselves. In other words, the expression of gender dysphoria had seemed sudden to parents, rather than literally being a sudden experience.
What a big surprise it would be if it only seemed sudden because the children involved in the study had been hiding it from their parents? Like maybe… teenagers don’t share everything that they are going through with their parents, at the exact time they are going through it?
Here is a great article on ‘rapid onset gender dysphoria’.
2) Claim: ‘Letting trans women use female bathrooms is dangerous for women and children’.
The truth? Again, this isn’t a thing. Numerous studies have debunked this claim.
Here’s one study.
And a third.
And hey would you look at that a fifth one too.
3) Claim: ‘Letting trans kids transition could result in detransitioning.’
Truth: From an NHS study: ‘And here’s the error in centering parents in detransition media stories. According to the NHS, 0.99% of trans kids of 303 surveyed detransitioned. One later retransed [retransitioned] again later, the other two detransed [detransitioned] before reaching NHS service. All cited like of family support.’
Here’s that study.
And two articles about detransitioning myths, which can be found here.
How positive LGBTQ+ representation in the media affects non-LGBTQ+ outlooks.
Why LGBTQ visibility matters in the media.
An article about the character Nomi Marks, a trans woman portrayed in Sense 8.
An article about homophobia in UK journalism.
To anyone who has read this far… Wow, thanks! Very appreciated. It’s especially always very appreciated when non-trans allies educate themselves on these topics. To quote Paris Lees:
Part of the problem is that it almost always falls on trans people (who already have their own problems to deal with) to feel pressured into correcting misinformation and defend themselves. It’s so tiring. So we appreciate when allies show up for us like this and share the load.
This was a very, very, very exhausting entry to write. Even just contemplating writing this over the last few days has affected my ability to sleep. It’s extremely draining to feel like the burden of educating people, and defending yourself rests so heavily on your shoulders.
Now that it’s written, I do feel a lot better, but I probably won’t be writing anything else about transphobia anytime soon.
And if I didn’t make it clear, to my dear family and friends… … please don’t post transphobic articles directly to my home address because this was one emotional rollercoaster ride I did NOT sign up for
Until next time!