Human rights Opinion

Debate over trans people's right to exist fuelling hatred

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The so-called debate over trans rights is encouraging Right-wing extremist groups in Australia (Screenshot via YouTube)

Transphobia has reached dangerous new levels as online voices are speaking out against the right for trans people to even exist, writes Dr Victoria Fielding.

*Also listen to the audio version of this article on Spotify HERE.

IN THE AGE of the internet, everyone has an opinion. But should they always voice that opinion? Is it really in society’s best interest to host debates that contribute to harm, extremism and violence? I think any good-natured person who wants to live in a healthy society would answer “No”.

The “debate” topic of which I am most concerned is damaging vulnerable people centres on opposing opinions about the right of transgender people to exist. This debate is a toxic cesspit on social media. It is also being waged by Right-wing news outlets across the world, particularly amongst Murdoch media, who are currently obsessed with the topic as the latest salvo in their never-ending culture war.

Whether people are sharing their abusive views on drag queens reading storybooks to children, trans women participating in sport, trans women using female bathrooms and other women’s spaces, what they’re really doing is opposing the existence of trans people. There’s a reason why anti-trans activists have teamed up with hateful neo-Nazis. They share the common goal of eliminating queer and trans people. I don’t use the word “eliminating” here lightly.

Anti-trans activists and supporters have also muddied the apparent “debate” about the existence of trans people by hijacking the feminist movement. “TERFs” claim they’re sticking up for women. This is offensive to actual feminists who know that feminism fights discrimination and certainly does not promote it.

In a similar vein, anti-trans “views” are also dressed up as philosophical and theoretical arguments. This even leads some anti-trans activists to claim their abusive rhetoric should be protected by academic freedom rules at universities. Anti-trans people often frame themselves as the victim, a strange argument to make when they’re the ones telling other people they shouldn’t exist.

My problem with the idea that every argument is worthy and should be had publicly is that the word “debate” automatically places different perspectives on the issue as equivalent to each other. It suggests that those who oppose the existence of gender fluidity have every right to voice their anti-trans “views”.

It also suggests that those of us who are inclusive and tolerant of diversity, who step in to defend trans people’s rights, are playing on the same field as those exhibiting hatred.

This debate frame doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation. It ignores the immoral frameworks used by anti-trans people and legitimises the harm and misinformation being aggressively promoted by anti-trans campaigners. This harm is not rhetorical. It is real.

Studies show that in Australia and internationally, trans and gender-diverse young people are at much higher risk of experiencing mental health distress and suicidal ideation. It is not hard to understand why when they live in a society that openly debates their right to exist.

Non-binary and trans young people are also at much higher risk of verbal, physical and sexual assault. This is not just the violence of individuals, but the violence of a society that stands by and lets everyone, whether in mainstream news outlets, social media influencers, academics and armies of online trolls, publicly harass them and legitimise others doing the same.

To add more complexity to this already messy situation, when anti-trans people are criticised for their bigotry, whether that be via online feedback or public protest, they get accused of being part of a “cancel culture” mob. It’s not cancelling, it’s condemnation. The irony is, anti-trans people are trying to cancel transgender people. What do they expect trans people and those who defend them to do when this happens? Do they not expect society to oppose their bad behaviour?

Healthy societies have always condemned unacceptable ideas, including whether people have a right to exist and to participate in public. Society would not put up with “debates” exhibiting such discriminatory and hateful fearmongering if the topic was some other human characteristic other than gender fluidity. If the dispute was whether women should be allowed in public places, whether races should be segregated or whether people have a right to practice different religions or to choose their sexuality, society would do the civil thing and shut it down.

Of course, these discriminatory “debates” have occurred in the past and often not in the too-distant past either. But thankfully, society has progressed to a point where we at the very least acknowledge that misogyny, sexism, racism, religious discrimination and homophobia should not be tolerated.

It feels almost like there are groups in society who are so disappointed that we no longer tolerate their bigotry against minorities, that they have gleefully jumped on the transphobia bandwagon, perceiving this form of prejudice to represent legitimate debate. It should not be accepted.

I don’t think a healthy civil society, one that prioritises the welfare of the public, would stand by and let anti-trans views spread under the mistaken guise that these views represent genuine perspectives.

If we are going to have a debate about this, can we start by debating whether people have a right to discriminate against minorities, harm vulnerable groups and tell other people they shouldn’t exist? That is the only terms of the debate I’m interested in.

*This article is also available on audio here:

Dr Victoria Fielding is an Independent Australia columnist. You can follow Victoria on Twitter @DrVicFielding.

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