Long Reads

Juno Dawson: It’s time to put an end to transphobic abuse

Stylist.co.uk is celebrating Pride 2018 with a series of open letters and essays from influential LGBT+ people. Here, writer Juno Dawson describes the reality of being an LGBT+ person in 2018

“When Tom Daley and Dustin Lance Black announced the birth of their baby last week, the comments underneath the BBC news story on Twitter were so negative. It’s incredible that, in 2018, there are still people questioning the right of gay or lesbian couples to have children. And, shockingly, gay ‘cure’ therapies are still perfectly legal in this country, although the new proposals announced this week will ensure they are finally banned.

I hope people realise that Pride is not just about putting on a rainbow, because there is still so much prejudice. Even if you haven’t been punched or spat at – and I have been both of those things – even if you haven’t experienced homophobic or transphobic violence, then you’ve definitely had somebody tut at you when you’re holding hands with your boyfriend or girlfriend (this week’s survey found that over two thirds of LGBT+ people are afraid to hold hands in public), or been asked ‘are you a he or a she?’ It’s low level, but it can be really hurtful.

I spent 28 years with one identity, and the last four as a different one, so I’ve had both homophobic and transphobic abuse. Verbal abuse can take many forms. On one hand you have things like people telling you it’s a phase, or you just need to ‘meet the right woman’ and, at the more extreme end, earlier this year a man threatened to throw acid on me. The privilege you have if you are straight and cisgender is that you haven’t necessarily experienced that fear. Of course, women all know something about fear. Walking home, or getting into a taxi, can be scary. But, on top of that, you have this extra element of: ‘If this person realises that I’m gay or transgender, this person could hurt me’. It’s depressing but you learn to live with that level of fear. It’s part of being LGBT+ and hopefully the end goal of Pride is that children who are figuring out their identity right now might be able to live free from fear.

“I spent 28 years with one identity, and the last four as a different one, so I’ve had both homophobic and transphobic abuse”

After I transitioned, Twitter became a much darker place for me. And it’s a shame because I used to bloody love Twitter. It was where I talked about Bake Off and Love Island. But now it’s a place where people challenge everything from my credentials as a woman to my right to speak about feminism. Hilariously, people send me old author pictures of myself. Like, hello? I know what I used to look like. Yet it’s designed to hurt me. They’re saying, ‘You’re not a woman; this is who you really are’. Sometimes I have a break, but I’ve been back on there recently because of Love Island. I refuse to let people bully me off of it. It’s a part of my job; a way to speak to my fans. Lots of readers get in touch with me on there, which is lovely, but the downside of being an LGBTQ+ person in the public eye is that people can get to you very, very quickly.

Despite the trolls, I will always defend social media because what’s wonderful now is that young teenagers come bounding up to me to say, ‘I read your book and it helped me realise that I’m bisexual’. It’s amazing. And the reason they’re so emboldened is because they have an online community. When I was growing up, I really did think I was the only person like me in the world.

But trans rights are still fragile. Some commentators and columnists have objections under the guise of ‘protecting’ women, and they raise spurious concerns about keeping changing rooms and swimming pools for cisgender women. This conversation is a distraction because we know who abuses women. It’s men. Generally partners and acquaintances, husbands, boyfriends, family members and colleagues. These are the people that statistically are likely to abuse women. Discussing trans people in that context is a witch-hunt.

These transphobic voices are saying, ‘this is how all women feel,’ so if you don’t feel like that, it’s important to speak out, and speak up. Don’t let prejudiced voices speak for you.

Trans women are women, and trans men are men. We might not have been born that way. But we’ve worked really hard and sacrificed a lot to be who we are.

I’m finally who I was always meant to be. And that’s just a woman.

There is a conversation around whether Pride should be a protest or a party, and I’ve always said that it can be both. So while you’re putting on your glitter to celebrate Pride, that’s great, I like throwing on some glitter as well. But also remember why you’re doing it.”

Follow Juno on Twitter @JunoDawson

Images: Eivind Hansen