Respectful debate

I am becoming increasingly disheartened at the lack of compassion, empathy and respect when it comes to debating some really sensitive issues online.

Perhaps social media simply mirrors real life, or maybe it does bring out the worst in some. Either way, it almost certainly leads to an over-simplification of issues and debates.

This may be why we are seeing so many ‘All Lives Matter’ posts in response to the Black Lives Matter campaign – one simple message being countered by another, because people haven’t taken the time to look at the many complex and nuanced messages behind the Black Lives Matter campaign. Of course people aren’t suggesting ONLY black lives matter or that they matter MORE – the campaign is making the entirely correct point that black lives matter just as much as any other, and that sadly, the reality of our world doesn’t reflect that at the moment. We live in a racist society.

Another human rights issue that is being debated fervently online is that of self-ID for trans women and men. For those not aware, it stems from Scottish Government proposals to make the process of self-ID a lot more straightforward, and save trans women and men from what can be quite a degrading and traumatising process. Not something you think people would object to, as it’s something that’s supposed to make life a bit nicer for people.

However, there are some who are concerned that the proposed simplification could lead to the exploitation of the system – by men, presenting themselves as trans women in order to inflict harm on all women, through access to safe spaces. That’s a perfectly legitimate concern to raise, and one that in no way undermines regard for trans women, their rights or attempts to make progress. This is where a perfectly respectful discussion could have centred around safeguards for all women, including of course trans women. For the record, given the levels of violence against women perpetrated by men, I don’t see why they would need to go to all the hassle of going through the process of self-ID to present as a trans woman, when frankly, there seems little barrier to them hurting women as it is. But if this of concern, then let’s talk about it and talk about how to keep ALL women, including trans women, safe from violent men. The premise should be that we will improve the rights of trans women and men, and the discussion is just around ensuring we have covered any potential unintended consequences. People should not be shouted down, or labelled transphobic because they raise concerns about men.

But that’s now where we are – in a place where people don’t feel they can contribute to this discussion without being shouted down or ‘cancelled’. But how did we get to the point where lovely people, who want to progress the rights or trans women and men, don’t feel brave enough to make their voice heard?

Because this issue has been hijacked. It’s been hijacked for political ends (that’s a whole other story) and it’s been hijacked by those who do hold prejudiced views. Of course, these prejudices need not be set in stone. Behind a lot of prejudice is misunderstanding and fear – so call out the prejudice, but help the people who hold these views to reflect and understand. Put yourself in their shoes, to help them do likewise with you.

I know that’s not always possible, but we should always give people a chance. I’ve seen folk change their minds on this issue, simply because someone has engaged respectfully with them and given them some information to allay their fears.

Sadly, there will always be a core group that may be impossible to reach – those who use the language of ‘predator’ in anything they write about trans women, who scour the internet for examples of crimes committed by trans women so they can imply that ALL trans women are violent, who quote individuals using really horrible explicit language and threats and say ‘look – this is what trans women are really like’. These are the tactics of the far right, and they have been used time and time again to fuel hatred and prejudice against a number of different groups of people – including asylum seekers, immigrants, gay men and others.

I’ve seen some people, who would not consider themselves transphobic, share comments from people who are and I’ve seen others with a huge platform and position of responsibility amplify those with transphobic views. In an era of fake news, we can’t simply take statements at face value. We need to consider who is making the statement and what their agenda might be – see the bigger picture.

The current discussion around self-ID has now been used as a platform to argue against rights that trans women and trans men already have! So many issues have now been conflated, it can be hard to remember the actual proposal, and that there isn’t some concerted campaign to ‘erase women’.

In terms of conflating issues, don’t get me started on toilets! When was the last time you were asked for ID to use the loo!?! Nothing about the proposed changes will impact on who uses women’s toilets. Trans women have been using women’s toilets for years. Trans men have been using men’s toilets for years. And frankly, the whole discussion around gender-neutral toilets is driving me up the wall. I don’t really want to share toilets with anyone to be honest – regardless of gender. Do any of us? Let’s focus on the entirely inadequate public toilet network that doesn’t suit anyone – we need individual toilet facilities to ensure everyone can access this essential service with dignity. We need more changing places, disabled toilets, family toilets and private facilities. The horrendous set up of toilet facilities should not be a reason to deny anyone their rights.

Just see people as people, try to walk a mile in their shoes, and everything falls in to place from there.

Julie Hepburn

1 Comment

  1. So true! This excellent blog should go viral.
    The real question is: ‘Do we humans have the intelligence or brain power to control our embedded animal instincts when up against the conduct of the far right folk?’ Engaging with them when they have calmed down and, as Julie says, calling out their prejudices to be able to tackle animal instinct fears intelligently is our biggest challenge.

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