Read an extract from Shon Faye's powerful book 'The Transgender Issue'

Tech 3-9-2021 Mashable 61

"The liberation of trans people would improve the lives of everyone in our society."

That’s the opening line of British author Shon Faye’s powerful new book, The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice, forming the core of her hopeful, compelling, necessary manifesto. But if you've been anywhere near British press anytime over the last few decades, you might have been constantly pummelled with a different, bigoted story.

Though trans people make up less than one percent of Britain’s population, they are constantly subject to toxic abuse and harassment by the British media and influential famous figures. Trans people increasingly endure discriminatory, negative coverage in British press, and this obsessive tirade of open bigotry comes disguised as a 'debate,' a barricaded culture war in which trans people themselves are rarely heard. Instead, trans people constantly find their wide range of experiences distilled into the same anti-trans subjects.

Faye points all of this out in her extremely needed, meticulously researched, and powerful book, The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice, in which she reclaims the catch-all phrase "the transgender issue" and centres different experiences of trans people, both young and older, today.

"Typically, trans people are lumped together as 'the transgender issue', dismissing and erasing the complexity of trans lives, reducing them to a set of stereotypes on which various social anxieties can be brought to bear," Faye writes in the book's prologue.

"By and large, the transgender issue is seen as a 'toxic debate', a 'difficult topic' chewed over (usually by people who are not trans themselves) on television shows, in newspaper opinion pieces and in university philosophy departments. Actual trans people are rarely to be seen. This book intentionally and deliberately reappropriates the phrase 'transgender issue', in order to outline the reality of the issues facing trans people today, rather than as they are imagined by people who do not face them."

Author Shon Faye calls for the liberation of trans people in 'The Transgender Issue.'
Author Shon Faye calls for the liberation of trans people in 'The Transgender Issue.' Credit: Paul Samuel White

Faye examines questions of power in these so-called 'debates', that public conversations about trans people happen without or around them (I recognise that writing about this book as a cis journalist in the UK myself is a significant privilege). As she writes in the book's introduction, "Trans people have been dehumanised, reduced to a talking point or conceptual problem: an 'issue' to be discussed and debated endlessly. It turns out that when the media want to talk about trans issues, it means they want to talk about their issues with us, not the challenges facing us."

But The Transgender Issue offers hope. Dubbed a "manifesto for change" by publisher Allen Lane, the book calls for a healthier, more representative conversation about trans lives that reflects this range of experiences. Faye argues for the liberation of trans people in order to create a truly free and just world, and promotes solidarity between all marginalised people fighting for social justice.

SEE ALSO: This transgender activist went through hell. Here's how she got to the other side.

In her book, Faye covers a lot of ground addressing the real challenges trans people face that aren't adequately addressed in public 'conversations', starting with how the press has distorted the conversation around trans people and the double-edged sword of social media as both empowering and toxic. Beyond this systematic media misrepresentation, the book predominantly looks at everyday life and challenges for trans people, from children to older people, including stories of family, parenting, and relationships, navigating school and education, finding housing, work and employment, inadequate access to healthcare, and trans lives in prison. And Faye also addresses how systemic discrimination and state violence against trans people restricts them "from moving freely in public spaces with privacy and dignity."

Faye also examines how trans people fight for justice alongside other marginalised people, and unpacks trans relationships within the LGBTQ+ and feminist communities. As she writes in the book, "Trans people have endured over a century of injustice. We have been discriminated against, pathologized and victimized. Our full emancipation will only be achieved if we can imagine a society that is completely transformed from the one in which we live. This book is primarily concerned with explaining how society, as it is currently arranged, often makes trans people's lives unnecessarily difficult. Yet, in posing solutions to these problems, it does not limit itself to thinking solely about trans people, but also encompasses anyone who is routinely disempowered and dispossessed."

The book has already seen exceptional praise in the UK, with journalist Vic Parsons calling it "an important work of non-fiction that should change the tired conversation we've been having about trans people." In a personal response to the book on Refinery29, they noted, "It's radically different to much of what has been published about trans lives previously, politicising our struggles and situating them in solidarity with those of other marginalised groups of people."

Mashable is lucky enough to have an extract from Faye's The Transgender Issue, adapted from the book’s prologue, which you'll find below. Everyone should read this.


The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice by Shon Faye

Adapted from the prologue

The liberation of trans people would improve the lives of everyone in our society. I say 'liberation' because I believe that the humbler goals of 'trans rights' or 'trans equality' are insufficient. Trans people should not aspire to be equals in a world that remains both capitalist and patriarchal and which exploits and degrades those who live in it. Rather, we ought to seek justice — for ourselves and others alike.

Trans people have endured over a century of injustice. We have been discriminated against, pathologized and victimized. Our full emancipation will only be achieved if we can imagine a society that is completely transformed from the one in which we live. This book is primarily concerned with explaining how society, as it is currently arranged, often makes trans people's lives unnecessarily difficult. Yet, in posing solutions to these problems, it does not limit itself to thinking solely about trans people, but also encompasses anyone who is routinely disempowered and dispossessed.

Full autonomy over our bodies, free and universal healthcare, affordable housing for all, power in the hands of those who work rather than those privileged few who extract profit from our vastly inequitable system, sexual freedom (including freedom from sexual violence) and the end to the mass incarceration of human beings are all crucial ingredients in the construction of a society in which trans people are no longer abused, mistreated or subjected to violence. Such systemic changes would also particularly benefit everyone else forced to the margins of society, both in the UK and across the world.

The demand for true trans liberation echoes and overlaps with the demands of workers, socialists, feminists, anti-racists and queer people. They are radical demands, in that they go to the root of what our society is and what it could be. For this reason, the existence of trans people is a source of constant anxiety for many who are either invested in the status quo or fearful about what would replace it.

"Typically, trans people are lumped together as 'the transgender issue', dismissing and erasing the complexity of trans lives."

In order to neutralize the potential threat to social norms posed by trans people's existence, the establishment has always sought to confine and curtail their freedom. In twenty-first-century Britain, this has been achieved in large part by belittling our political needs and turning them into a culture war 'issue'. Typically, trans people are lumped together as 'the transgender issue', dismissing and erasing the complexity of trans lives, reducing them to a set of stereotypes on which various social anxieties can be brought to bear. By and large, the transgender issue is seen as a 'toxic debate', a 'difficult topic' chewed over (usually by people who are not trans themselves) on television shows, in newspaper opinion pieces and in university philosophy departments. Actual trans people are rarely to be seen. This book intentionally and deliberately reappropriates the phrase 'transgender issue', in order to outline the reality of the issues facing trans people today, rather than as they are imagined by people who do not face them.

Today, representational equality and true redistributive politics elude trans people, even as more and more trans people are coming out than ever before. Trans people have now become one of a number of targets in right-wing media, alongside, for instance, Muslims, immigrants generally, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, Black Lives Matter, the fat acceptance movement, and feminists challenging state violence against women. All these groups and more have been reduced to issues in a toxic and polarized public rivalry between value systems. The past few years have seen discussions around trans people become not only poisonous but, crucially, banal. The 'topic' of trans has now been limited to a handful of repetitive talking points: whether nonbinary people exist and whether gender neutral pronouns are reasonable; whether trans children living with dysphoria should be allowed to start their transition; whether trans women will dominate women's events in the Olympics; and the endless debate over toilets and changing rooms.

This book will not regurgitate these talking points yet again. I believe that forcing trans people to involve themselves in these closed-loop debates ad infinitum is itself a tactic of those who wish to oppress us. Such debates are time-consuming, exhausting distractions from what we should really be focusing on: the material ways in which we are oppressed. The author Toni Morrison once spoke about how precisely this tactic is employed by white people against people of colour: 'The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction,' she told students at Portland State University in 1975. 'It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being . . . None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.' In much the same way, the public discourse over trans people’s experience is distorted and derailed.

With this book, I want to change the trajectory, to move beyond this discussion of trans people as framed by those who want to stoke a so-called culture war, and to start a new, healthier, conversation about trans people in the UK and beyond. Something that this book is not: a memoir. You don't have to know the intimate details of my private life to support me. Don't worry about the 'why'; act on the 'what'. What does being a trans person in a transphobic society produce? At the moment, too often, it is still violence, prejudice and discrimination.

Throughout this book, cis (non-trans) readers will recognize inequalities often endured by trans people that they personally, or other minority groups they are familiar with, are also experiencing. This is a good thing: the framing of trans people as ‘the transgender issue’ has the effect of cutting us off from solidarity and making us the ‘other’. A new conversation, then, must necessarily start to undo this estrangement and consider what we share and where we overlap with other minorities or marginalized groups. It is only through solidarity, compassion and radical reimagining that we can build a more just and joyful world for all of us.

Taken from The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice by Shon Faye, published by Allen Lane on Sept. 2, 2021.

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