Shon Faye: The phrase ‘the transgender issue’ used to irritate me

·3-min read
 (Shon Faye)
(Shon Faye)

After a hectic week of promotion for my new book The Transgender Issue, I intended to have a quiet bank holiday weekend. I almost managed it but then on Sunday I ended up going to a friend’s party and staying out much later than I’d planned.

I decided on the book title because the phrase “the transgender issue” used to really irritate me. I felt it decentred trans people from the conversation and reduced us to a talking point or a conceptual problem. When people use that phrase, they’re usually referring to their own issues and anxieties about what they think trans people represent. I wanted to undercut that, reappropriate it and use it to introduce a positive conversation about the trans community.

Monday was a much needed rest and recuperation day, spent finalising some promotional bits for the book. I’ve been writing it for almost three years now and in that time I’ve gone through a lot of personal change as well as the world transforming unrecognisably. Transphobia is at an all time high. Trans people have become much more visible which is wonderful, but it also means we have become the scapegoat for grievances and problems that have their roots elsewhere. A hostile consensus has been generated that views trans people as a nuisance at best, and at worst a threat to society. I’ve noticed that this rhetoric has amped up during the pandemic. We’ve all been sat inside glued to our phones which makes people ripe for online radicalisation.

Being a trans woman online can be f***ing depressing. If I engaged with all the cruelty and spite that people throw at me I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning. I wanted to provide some alternative to this vitriol and I hope my book can be a part of that.

On Wednesday, I was marching around London signing books. I had lunch with my team at Penguin Press at Granary Square Brasserie in King’s Cross, where a waiter sent a profiterole with a candle in it to celebrate my book. Last month, schools in Scotland were issued guidelines to protect trans children, which people have latched onto as an example of the “trans lobby” endangering kids. Most decent people care about safeguarding children but what that looks like can be interpreted very differently. For trans people and the parents of trans children, protecting means not distressing them by coercing them out of their identity.

A lot of people don’t understand how deeply trans children and teenagers can feel their identity, and how much their lives can be improved if they are accepted for who they are. Scepticism about trans children can come from a place of ignorance rather than bad faith, and many are uncomfortable about asking questions for fear of being osctracised.

Thursday was publication day. I spent it with my best friend on a tour of bookshops because you’re supposed to share these moments and had dinner at Soho House. Making society more just, fairer, kinder for trans people would benefit everyone: cis women, queer people, people of colour and other groups who face marginalisation. If you improve the conditions for minorities, you make society better as a whole. I hope this is the message that people take away from my book.

Shon Faye’s The Transgender Issue is out now

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