Everyone’s got a Glinner

Anyone who has been following the ongoing public debate/conflict between trans civil rights reformists and their opponents is likely to by now be familiar with Graham Linehan’s attempt to present his ongoing efforts in the area as similar to the anti Nazi resistance (and by implication, potentially, of trans activism as a similar sort of adversary).

Glinner has since defended the point he was making, in part by taking to periscope to claim that he’s not against trans people, just "con men", and there’s a disingenuousness about this that’s worth investigating and talking about because of how similar patterns have played out more widely.

He says it’s not controversial that women shouldn’t be receiving bomb threats just for trying to have meetings and discuss things and noone ought to disagree with that†. But it deflects the way he’s dedicated his time to supporting people who consistently present trans women as an existential threat to cis women (a suggestion which in terms of concern for safety and well-being of vulnerable people might as well be shouting fire in a crowded theatre). Also from the ways his own well known and loved comedy work has been weirdly and violently transphobic, the ways that he responds to disagreement by blanket disregard or calling trans women (and occasionally non trans women) men.

He talks briefly, in his periscope post, about his worries that the toxicity of this public debate drives a wedge between cis and trans women and the risks that poses to trans women, but I’ve literally never seen any evidence he cares for trans women materially at all. It’s all just a way of deflecting criticism.

The Glinner effect

What is happening (and it isn’t just him!) is that by diving into things and pushing hard in one direction he’s further encouraged a situation where it’s harder to address anything with nuance, to discuss and deal with abusers on the fringes of the fight using it as an excuse to target victims safe in the comfort of a righteous cause. One of the most harmful things in this last few years in terms of escalation of this particular struggle has been the huge influx of mostly straight, previously more or less apolitical people into this conflict which is essentially situated within LGBT and feminist politics. They start throwing their weight around and making it harder to talk generally.

Those of us who actually spend serious time and energy trying to talk across the divide and work on things are constantly put in difficult situations by the more and more deeply polarised situations leaving no room for nuance. Especially if we’re not willing to be made into tokens for the other side. Put another way, it’s easy for him, having picked a side, to call out the group of trans ppl whose response to every social issue we face is "Hello, the police?", the same way it’s easy for me to sit around mocking the ways transphobes obsess about Keira Knightley’s forehead for signs she’s trans.

But I’ve never really seen any evidence of him doing the hard work of actually building a means for working against the toxic bullshit (the way that I or other people have, e.g. attempted to by calling out the attempt to prosecute Linda Bellos from this side of the conflict) in ways that will usefully affect anything.

To some extent what it’s going to take to deescalate and detoxify the discourse isn’t criticising the other. The core of the other side mostly doesn’t care for us and we can’t make them. What we can do is build a better more effective movement ourselves that is less full of dangerous contradictions.

On lanes and minding them

The reason people like Linehan can’t do this is at least in part because it’s not even his (their) fucking movement. He doesn’t have much to reflect on other than his own irrelevance to the whole thing which would probably be unbearably uncomfortable to face up to for him at this point. He’s so consumed with the idea of sacrificing himself for women he’s lost track of his own place in this whole thing and can’t reflect on much whatsoever which is why he’s behaving in such an irresponsible way so often.

In the spirit of all the above, we have figures on "our side" who have this similar self sacrificing mentality who similarly spend a lot of time talking over us on trans issues (Dr. Harrop, I’m taking a long hard look at you here!) however well intentioned it’s supposed to be. I’m not aware that anything like as dangerous has been coming from the high profile cis allies engaging in this wading in to Glinner (and I don’t think it makes much difference if I’m mistaken), but more importantly they make it harder for trans ppl to be a leading voice for ourselves just by being so bloody loud on our behalf.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ll be trying to have a conversation about the issues and people will only respond to the cis person getting involved and our cis allies are as guilty of facilitating that ignorance and structurally centering themselves as anyone.

When I say building a more viable movement I don’t just mean just criticising each other more (criticism without building alternatives is disastrous). I mean literally working on building something stronger, more cohesive, more independent from doctor, parent, and charity "allies".

We, trans people struggling to resist the social issues we face, need something that.. radical idea I know!.. isn’t primarily dependent on using the police and the justice system as the main means of trying to change social attitudes and structures (because neither the police nor the justice system are capable of doing that), and that isn’t dependent on big brother allies doing it for us and taking over. We need organisations and a cultural movement to give us pride in our own right that’s not based on tragedy-medical models that reduce us to victims of an affliction for which we need cis sympathy. We need a movement which isn’t just empowering rich trans people to take private prosecutions of people who speak out against us, and instead is able to mobilise to defend trans people who have nothing from transphobic evictions, that can usefully defend trans sexual and domestic violence survivors from being demonised at the point they try to access vital crisis resources, defend trans prisoners from the ongoing attempts to paint them all as the likes of Karen White or Ian Huntley.

We need a trans movement which spends less time glibly throwing around references to the colonialism and racism of our gender structures and to intersex conditions as a symbol of sexual diversity and we need a trans movement which spends more time advancing decolonial, black, indigenous and other voices of people of colour as well as intersex people (including intersex trans people!) to speak for themselves in their own interests rather than as symbolic tokens for the rest of us to win arguments with.

† Since writing this, it’s since been pointed out to me that the bomb threats being referred to by Linehan were apparently from a very obvious non trans antifeminist gamer/troll. Which I think underlines my point that there’s a lot of noise dominating the ongoing debate, much of it generated by people with no stake of their own participating, destructively, for their own amusement.

is a trans woman, sometime activist and researcher of cis studies.

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