I waded into the so-called ‘trans debate’ entirely by accident. In 2017 I gave an hour-long keynote speech at the Girls’ Schools Association Annual conference. For about ten minutes I spoke about the damage heteronormative assumption can do to the mental health of (already statistically vulnerable) LGBTQ+ people and the importance of using inclusive language. I suggested delegates might switch from saying ‘hello girls’ when addressing groups of pupils to ‘hello everyone’.
I considered this an entirely uncontroversial suggestion. How wrong I was. The next day I appeared on the first five pages of every major newspaper in the country with headlines like ‘Former Government Advisor Orders Teachers to Stop Saying Boys and Girls’. It was suggested that I was part of a powerful lobby group, that I was trying to convince all children they are nonbinary and that I was ‘confusing’ kids with ‘gender ideology’. Every right-wing rabble rouser threw themselves into the pile-on. Piers Morgan had a rant about it (obvs). A slew of death and rape threats followed via my socials and website. Five years later, I still get them.
Despite this, I’m glad it happened. Firstly, because it forced me to do some in-depth research into gender (big shout out to academics at the UWL and UCL who helped me with this) and secondly because it showed me exactly how blatant the agenda of 90% of media is, on this.
The attempts to portray trans people and their allies as not only dangerous, but also far more organised and powerful than they are, have only got worse. I have seen how people’s confusion about, or ambivalence towards, a tiny minority has been harnessed and turned into fear. Now ‘the trans question’ (as it is frequently and terrifyingly termed) has become the central battle of the Culture Wars.
I have colleagues in media – progressives whose work I respect and admire – who refuse to comment on any story featuring trans people, so toxic and divisive has the ‘debate’ over their rights and existence become. It is true that every time I speak out on my LBC show, or write a tweet, which attempts to shine truth on attempts to misrepresent and malign the trans community, a week or more of abuse follows. But it’s reached a stage now where I can’t not say it, not just because I can’t bear to see a vulnerable group being bullied, but because it’s so obvious to me that this won’t end with them.
Where transphobia leads, homophobia, racism and misogyny inexorably follows, I have found. Indeed, many of the same people who initially hated me because of my stance on trans rights, have gone on to abuse me based on my status as a mixed, bisexual woman. There’s also a conspiracy theory doing the rounds that I am secretly trans, because a cis woman could never be as tall, broad-shouldered and large-footed as me (for a movement that calls themselves ‘gender critical’ there seems to be a lot of stereotyping).
I gave up a professionally-lucrative weekly column for a magazine because they recommended school resources from an organisation many, including Stonewall, considered transphobic. I’ve been refused opportunities to go on podcasts because the high-profile host is a second-wave, trans-exclusionary feminist. I’ve lost count of the number of pile-ons I’ve endured. If I were a different sort of person, I’d say I’ve been ‘cancelled’.
I haven’t, of course. And for as long as I have a platform, I’ll call out injustice wherever I see it.
Natasha Devon is a writer, broadcaster and activist. Her LBC Show airs on Saturdays from 7pm. Her debut fiction novel ‘Toxic’ is out now.