Dialogue is better than debate when it comes to trans issues

Debra Allcock Tyler shares her views on why dialogue is better than debate when it comes to trans issues.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to and doing a lot of reading about transgender rights. And I need to say up front that I am not here to engage in a ‘debate’ that puts the existence of trans people into question. Just as I am not up for debating whether gay people, or Black people, or people with disabilities or any other marginalised group in society should be accepted and welcomed, and able to live their lives.

It is clear to me that different lines are being drawn on ideological grounds, which may be incompatible or non-negotiable. And there are people who have taken an anti-trans position and will not budge from it. I’m not here to try and change their minds – arguing with folk who have taken a position on ideological grounds seems to me to be pretty pointless. Whatever I say is unlikely to move them.

So my focus is on those who are unsure about their position on trans rights, because they are confused or think it’s too difficult or toxic an issue to think about or engage with. I want those people to have a better understanding of the arguments without the heat of hate getting in the way.

Trans people exist. We either know them or know of them. They have existed pretty much for as long as humans have. And studies show that many people do accept their existence as fact. However, this is often caveated by people saying that there are ‘legitimate’ questions about them.

To be honest, I feel a bit uneasy when folk say they are not transphobic but have apparently ‘legitimate’ questions. So much of that narrative reminds me horribly of the gay rights ‘debates’ of the 1970s and ‘80s. The ‘legitimate’ questions that allegedly non-homophobic people had about the right of gay people to teach kids or to serve in the Armed Forces. People who pose such questions today are rightly ignored. And for me the two movements are rife with similarities.

When it comes to the discussion on trans rights, it seems to me that things aren’t just a zero-sum battle with winners and losers.

This is about human beings who just want to live their lives and be free to be who they are – and some people who, for whatever reason, are afraid of that happening.

In my experience no-one chooses to be a member of a community that faces prejudice, discrimination, and outright hate. It reminds me of the old argument about people choosing to be gay. When you ask a straight person when they decided to be straight, they immediately say they were born that way. It’s the same with trans people. They didn’t choose to be trans; they too were born that way.

So in my view, we don’t need to debate about their existence or their right to live their lives. But we do need more dialogue.

It’s worth noting that much of the fear and hate we see on social media and elsewhere is primarily directed at trans women, not nearly as much at trans men. But from what I have read there appear to be roughly equal numbers of both. So why is there so much vitriol about one particular part of the trans community?

There are those who argue that there are men who pretend to be women in order to abuse women or steal their spaces and extrapolate that to all trans women. When it comes to women-only spaces in particular, it seems to me that those who object to trans women sharing those spaces view all trans women as predatory males – hence the fear.

But that argument simply doesn’t make sense. Yes, there may well be a few bad men pretending to be women. But there are far more men who pretend to be good friends, husbands, fathers, uncles – who are way more likely to be a threat.

Yes, Isla Bryson is a self-professed trans woman, and a thoroughly bad person who violently attacked women and was allowed into a woman’s prison.

But another thoroughly bad person was Rose West – a straight cis woman, who violently attacked women and was allowed into a woman’s prison. That doesn’t make all straight cis women a threat to all other women. Denis Nilsen was a gay serial killer. That doesn’t make all gay men serial killers. Ted Bundy was a straight cis man who raped and killed many women. That doesn’t make all cis men serial killers.

Holding up extreme examples of bad people and extrapolating that to others in that community is, in my view, at best unthinking and at worst inflammatory.

And the idea that there are only two ways of existing as a human being – born a woman therefore always manifesting as a woman (whatever that means) and vice versa, is an ideology doesn’t seem to me to be backed up by the reality of human existence.

The thing is that a gender binary view helps people make sense of the world in a very simplistic way. The LGBTQ+ community derails these simple concepts, which some folk find hard to handle. We like the world to be simple. But it simply isn’t.

It is of course true that there are genuine complexities when it comes to biology and gender. Some people are not sure where, or indeed if, boundaries should be placed and how best to try to reconcile, say, women-only spaces with the rights of trans people when it comes to engaging in sporting activities, prisons, toilets, access to social and health care and so on.

But hurling hate is not the way to resolve these issues – all of which are resolvable with a bit of common sense, common humanity and a common goal.

The trans community is a marginalised group that is othered by society. The conversation needs to focus on the discrimination this community faces in terms of access to health care, public spaces and proper support.

Most studies show that a majority of the public are supportive of trans people. I think it behoves those of us who have not been captured by an ideology of hate and denial to ensure that it stays that way.

There are still people who are openly racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic. But there are far fewer of them than there were before because those of us who don’t share those views spoke out and society changed as a result.

Silence is complicity. Those of us who believe in the acceptance of difference and compassion for the marginalised have to speak out. When we stand up for people who are different to us, and we work collectively to be inclusive, ultimately everyone benefits.