Nowadays you can watch Euphoria (or even Fair City), listen to Kim Petras, all while attempting to avoid the increasing amount of transphobic vitriol published by many popular news outlets. While it’s expected that visibility leads to an increase in the amount of press any group receives, the sheer amount of transphobic reportage (specifically in the US and UK) is alarming. At some point, around the mid-2010’s, Trans people went from sensationalised curiosities and lazy punchlines in bad sitcoms to lightning rods for criticism.
In the US, Supreme Court Justice to-be Ketanji Brown Jackson was asked to “define a woman” at her confirmation hearings. Across the pond, both Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer and Prime Minister Boris Johnson were asked similar questions.
According to a study done by Trans charity Mermaids in 2019: “The British press has increased its coverage of stories about Trans people over the last six years - writing roughly 3.5 times as many articles in 2018-9 compared to 2012.”
More recently, in her 2021 book, The Transgender Issue, writer Shon Faye noted that, “In 2020 alone The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times between them ran over 300 articles - almost one a day - on Trans people.” Not a single one was positive either. Just this year, the Conservative UK government announced a plan to ban conversion therapy - just not for Transgender people.
In Ireland, the media has, until recently enough, stayed relatively quiet in relation to Trans people. Lately, however, we’ve seen a spate of what was regarded as “transphobic journalism” popping up in the Independent and the Irish Times, two of the biggest newspapers in the Republic. The style of article often published by these papers is beginning to look eerily similar to that seen in the UK.
For example, former professional athlete Sonia O’Sullivan weighed in on the tired issue of Transgender people in sports earlier this year, and despite lacking any apparent science degree, concluded that they should not be allowed to compete. The Independent featured an article last November titled ‘It’s time to say no to extremists who want to let children pick their gender.’
Dog-whistles anyone? This discourse, which implies that children are being targeted by a mythical Trans lobby is a sinister echo of the far-right harassment of LGBTQ+ people in the US - where queer people have been accused of ‘grooming’ children alongside the introduction of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills.
Though some Irish media coverage of Transgender people is positive, and starkly contrasts with the amount of, frankly, hate speech written in the UK and America, it is worrying to see the same rhetoric parroted by Irish journalists. It’s particularly alarming when you consider how well Irish feminism has resisted the UK’s attempts to import anti-trans discourse in the past.
For instance, in 2018, a group of UK-based TERFs attempted to hold a lecture called ‘We Need to Talk’ in Dublin to discuss their opposition to any reform to the GRA (Gender Recognition Act) in the UK.
The group were told quickly, and in no uncertain terms in a letter written by the group Feminist Ire and signed by over 1,000 people that: “We neither want nor need your lecture tour. You’re not welcome here.” Such an effective show of solidarity was heartening, and showed the possibility Ireland had, and still has, to stand apart from the UK and US.
There was another show of solidarity recently too when, following a boycott led by the Irish Trans Writers Union, USI (Union of Students in Ireland) voted to boycott the Irish Times. USI represents over 374,000 third-level students nationwide.
These boycotts were initiated in response to a now-infamous op-ed published entitled ‘Bill to ban conversion therapy poses problems for therapists’ in the IT back in August 2021.
Why should a ban on conversion therapy pose a problem to therapists? Especially if, as the article states, conversion therapy is an “abhorrent practice”.
It should be mentioned that the ISP (Irish Psychological Society) and the IACP (Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) denounced conversion therapy as far back as 2019.
In Britain, the BPS (British Psychological Society) and NHS have condemned the practice too. Given this, and the fact that more than one extensive study has shown that conversion therapy is both ineffective and harmful (as published by the Government Equalities Office in the UK), it’s difficult to see why anyone would be professionally concerned by the practice being banned.
Despite articles like these, the Irish government has recently pledged to ban conversion therapy, and this plan does include Transgender people. Minister Roderic O’Gorman confirmed this lately, taking to Twitter to say that: “A ban on conversion practices will happen, and it will leave no one behind” pointedly including the Trans flag emoji alongside the Pride flag.
It seems that, while transphobia unfortunately exists everywhere, that TERF ideology - which seems to centre around the idea that any advancement in Trans rights will lead to the reversal or loss of women’s - has really taken root and flourished in Britain. It is important that in Ireland, Trans allies and feminists continue to reject the importation of such a damaging and toxic ideology.
At the moment, it feels like we’re at a tipping point in Ireland. The news media is not yet as oversaturated with anti-trans content as it is in the UK. Politicians - for the most part - are not using Trans issues as sticks to beat one another with. Yet.
There’s still hope that the small, but loud, minority of anti-trans journalists and commentators will not become as powerful as they are in other places. Let the UK and US be a cautionary tale rather than an inspiration.
To any journalists in Ireland who are convinced that ‘children’ are being seduced by quick and easy access to hormone therapy and surgery, I would ask them to look at the facts behind this. People are currently waiting up to five years for a first appointment with gender-identity clinics, both here and in the UK. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, waiting lists for transition-related healthcare reached new heights in 2021.
There’s nothing efficient or quick, or ‘rushed’ about this whole experience. Ask anyone who’s experienced HSE or NHS care, and they will tell you this.
‘Concerned’ individuals make much of the fact that HRT is a serious treatment, with long-term effects. Yet these people don’t seem to cause a fuss when HRT is prescribed to menopausal women or cisgender men with low testosterone levels, as it has been for decades.
It seems that, while transphobia unfortunately exists everywhere, that TERF ideology has really taken root and flourished in Britain...
The same people worry that Trans people are making commitments to ‘lifelong treatment’. Asthma, epilepsy and Type 1 diabetes are also usually lifelong conditions, treated with medication which makes life easier for the individual. Are people concerned about this? No. This is thinly veiled transphobia, and it shouldn’t go unchecked.
If cisgender people are concerned about young Trans people’s access to healthcare, they should be. They should be worried about the impact long waiting lists, insufficient and unaffirming support and lack of communication from GICs (Gender Identity Clinics), have on young people.
According to Stonewall, 20 percent of Transgender people have been pressured to access services to suppress their gender identity when accessing healthcare services. No ‘child’ or young person is being pressured to transition. Instead, the opposite is often true.
Transgender people face enormous barriers to treatment, whether it’s social, financial or otherwise. We should be given support and appropriate care, rather than ignorance and scrutiny. The media should not platform anti-trans rhetoric in the name of ‘concern’.
As we’ve seen in the past with USI, the Irish Trans Writers Union and Feminist Ire, acts of solidarity and allyship can be powerful and effective. Hopefully, as a country, we can continue to push back against anti-trans backlash and create a more positive sort of Trans visibility.