Long Reads

Juno Dawson: “Why I’m no longer debating trans rights”

Author and activist Juno Dawson explains why she’s no longer willing to debate trans rights, as she calls for us all to unite against the patriarchy. 

Perhaps my personal brand of feminism is naïve, but – to be fair – I did learn it from the Spice Girls

I was raised on a diet of Findus Crispy Pancakes, butterscotch Angel Delight and Girl Power. As such, I understood that girls got more done if they came together despite their differences: whatever your background, you worked together to achieve a common goal. Zig-a-zig-ah!

As I said, I now realise this is Feminism Lite. Feminism is a lot more complicated than friendship, and we must never discount a woman’s background as that background entirely dictates her prospects in life. Even the Spice Girls now recognise that “Colours of the world! Every boy and every girl!” doesn’t quite cut it in 2020. Last year’s tour visuals, created under the guidance of non-binary art director Kate Moross, welcomed all genders, all races, all faiths, all sexual orientations, all ages, and all abilities to Spice World.

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Remembering that now is more important than ever. For example, every year on International Women’s Day, I’m wheeled out as Trans Spice for various panels. I appreciate that many organisations (including Facebook and Google, among others) invite me along to speak. This signals their commitment to diversity and inclusion – and I get paid, so it’s a win-win. Because women from minority groups have differing experiences of navigating the patriarchy, we absolutely need to hear from as many types of woman as possible if we’re to dismantle that male-dominated power structure.

“The best part of being trans is being trans, the worst part of being trans is other people,” Bergdorf wrote in a tweet
“The best part of being trans is being trans, the worst part of being trans is other people”: Munroe Bergdorf.

That time of year is also the time that trans women have to speak to the organisers of events concerning a security detail. You see, some small, but very vocal, groups are angry that trans women are included in events and celebrations for IWD. When I officially opened the (absolutely gorgeous) Feminist Bookshop in Brighton last year, they had to hire a bouncer. Writer Shon Faye and model Munroe Bergdorf have had to withdraw from appearing at events in previous years over fears for their safety.

Although transgender people have been around for as long as history has been recorded (no, really, there’s evidence stretching back to early civilisation), I came out in 2013 to what’s now being described as a “culture war”. I don’t experience much of a “war” in day-to-day life, it must be said. The world very much perceives me as a woman, and treats me as such. The abuse comes mostly on social media and in the form of some wildly inaccurate tabloid headlines. Small groups have sprung up determined to revoke the rights of trans and/or non-binary people. There’s a few now, but you might have heard of A Woman’s Place, Fair Play for Women and, more recently, LGB Alliance, who aim to “remove the T” from LGBT.

These groups all make the same arguments: the rights and freedoms that I experience as a trans woman somehow impact on the rights and freedoms of cisgender (not transgender) women. I’m exhausted, weary and drained. I’ve had six years of the same conversations, and I can’t do it anymore. No trans person should have to explain, on behalf of an entire community, that we pose no danger. It should go without saying. Like I said, we’ve been around forever. This is moral panic.

Moreover, we have a common enemy. These are troubled times. Increasingly, all around the world, right wing politicians are getting elected on platforms of white supremacy, misogyny and “family values” (so that’s homophobia and transphobia). Boris Johnson has made no attempt to hide his racism and homophobia, refuses to apologise for it, and yet still got elected to be our Prime Minister. This says as much about our society as it does about him.

In America, bodily autonomy – the right to make decisions about our own bodies – is under threat. This is Handmaid’s Tale territory. In the US, Republican lawmakers are coming after both abortion rights and transgender healthcare. Global warming is spiralling out of control and politicians don’t seem to care. This is an emergency – an emergency which affects all women from all walks of life. Poor women, and women from minority groups, will be affected first and worst.

Boris Johnson Muslim women
Boris Johnson has made no attempt to hide his racism and homophobia, refuses to apologise for it, and yet still got elected to be our Prime Minister.

So, with all due respect, me chanting “trans women are women” on repeat like a wind-up monkey with cymbals really isn’t the best use of my time or energy. I’m simply not engaging with Trans Rights 101 anymore. We have to move on. 

Like a very modern, far more diverse, Spice Girls, we need to tool up – with willing men alongside us – to dismantle the power structures which are holding all women back. And we’ll do it much faster if we do it together, united.

Images: Eivind Hansen, Getty