'Reducing trans people to body parts is not anyone’s free speech'

Freda Wallace: 'I’m from the North, I’ve always had to shout to be heard'

By Freda Wallace

I’ve spent a lot of time researching and poking the hornet’s nest known as gender critical (aka transphobia) discourse on social media. It is becoming toxic and divisive, especially for trans people.

In Twitter chat spaces people use their freedom of speech to say abhorrent things, which Elon Musk's version of Twitter has emboldened, forcing some of the LGBTQ+ community off the platform.

For gender critical arguments to turn the public (already frightened by the tabloid media) into terrified identity sceptics, they must construct morally weighted arguments, rather than focus on evidence.

A YouGov poll suggests more Brits have seen a ghost than there are trans people in the UK. Census data shows there are 96,000 trans people in the UK (0.06% of the population).

If you judge public opinion by comments on social media, you would think the public are more afraid of trans and non-binary people than actual ghosts.

The arguments around sports inclusion, prisons, the NHS and gender recognition reform expose the motivations of high-profile gender critical writers, especially when you consider the lack of interest in these subjects before we started to see the prefix of “trans and non-binary” thrown into the mix of public opinion.

Trans people are tired of seeing prominent, well-funded and heavily promoted gender critical writers and polemicists amplified.

These individuals are never silenced. They stage events they know will be challenged by people who understand the systems of power which keep the gender critical movement afloat.

It’s good money on the right-wing podcast circuit if you exchange your soul for an hour with a trad-conservative narcissist, or two.

LGBTQ+ people who challenge them are portrayed as the “angry mob”. We often only have strength in numbers, and we protest because it is our democratic right.

If gender critics won’t debate reasonably, rather than 'men can’t be women and here’s why', no one will take them seriously.

The malignant duplicity in gender critical arguments is a mechanism that aligns trans people with all wrongdoing, societal threats, and even sexually predatory behaviour and ‘serial killers’ through a lens of protecting women or children.

It’s an old tactic that works because some people need to demonise and scapegoat, which will lead to innocent people being hurt.

We have seen hateful rhetoric being more openly expressed and the normalisation of anti LGBTQ+ hate being brought to public squares in the UK and promoted abroad by authoritarian organisations.

It’s becoming dangerous but the use of cynical marketing and sloganeering, the bigotry is overlooked.

At a Standing for Women gathering organised by Kellie Jay Keen (a regular opinion-for-hire in right-wing media), speakers aligned LGBTQ+ people with sexual predators.

A young trans man infiltrated her stage but was quickly pushed away by Keen and her acolytes.

Keen reportedly complained the police failed to intervene. I’m sure, as all authoritarians do, she hopes the police will be her personal security. I have tried to be included on TV discussions with her but she has shied away.

Whatever her motivations, they are not about standing for women’s rights. The message is trans exclusion.

Hate crimes aimed at trans people are increasing and we mourned the brutal murder of a young trans person, Brianna Ghey this year. Whatever the motivation for that, media that emboldens hate is complicit in the attitudes held about trans people because often the experience the general public has of trans people is from biased news, toxic social media or porn searches.

Trans Safety Network reports a rise in trans-hostile social media used to propel exclusionary government policy. The idea trans people are a societal problem exists only in the minds of people invested in finding lazy answers to complex issues.

Dehumanising LGBTQ+ people on YouTube or reducing trans people to body parts through biological essentialism, is not anyone’s “free speech”. It has no value and makes it permissible for people to hate those who have little power to fight back.

Shouting “women don’t have penises” or “people can’t change sex” won’t change anything, but it will accelerate the harm done on the street to innocent people who want to live happy lives.

Trans people understand their biological reality and battle with for most of our lives. That said, l have this opportunity to voice my small moment of free speech, but I had to work hard for it, I don’t have the money to buy myself into the media and l don't have the funding of lobbyists.

I’m from the North, I’ve always had to shout to be heard among those who take their privilege for granted.

Freda Wallace is a trans activist, artist and host of the Gender Nebulous podcast.