Trans journalists Freddy McConnell and Shon Faye expertly dissect ‘what’s so intrinsically British about transphobia’

Owen Jones, Shon Faye and Freddy McConnell dissect British transphobia

Trans journalists Freddy McConnell and Shon Faye discussed the prevalence of transphobia in the UK with Owen Jones.

Freddy McConnell, a dad whose pregnancy was documented in the film Seahorse, and the writer and journalist Shon Faye revealed why they think transphobia is so rampant on the British left in an interview with journalist Owen Jones.

“In the US, there’s huge amounts of transphobia,” Jones explained, citing Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on trans rights and so-called anti-trans “bathroom bills”.

However, this is driven by a “transphobic moral panic pushed by the Republican right”, Jones said, while mainstream feminism in the US is trans-inclusive. Incoming vice president Kamala Harris has her pronouns in her bio and Joe Biden paid tribute to trans people in his election victory speech.

In an hour-long video about trans rights on The Owen Jones Show, a viewer asked: “So-called left-wing TERFs are way less of a social phenomenon in the US versus the UK. What’s so intrinsically British about transphobia?”

“Anti-trans feminism did actually start in the US,” Faye said. “It originated in the 1970s in the US, with Janice Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire. But it had died out as a mainstream force in the US by the 80s and 90s.”

But it’s taken hold in Britain because there are “almost two strains of transphobia”, Faye continued. “There’s the one that’s like Trump and the Christian right and the far-right: trans people are gross and unnatural and degenerate, in a similar way to how gay people are, and we just want them to not exist for that reason.

“The other is a more liberal position, which is more the case in Britain. It doesn’t have the disgust at gender non-conformity, but has a real problem with the idea that trans identities are valid, particularly trans women’s.”

Faye also pointed to the UK’s “long-standing platforming” of anti-trans comments from feminists, naming Germaine Greer as an example.

“She’s older now so she’s not around so much, but she was a staple of British public life. Our newspapers, our broadsheets, she was on Question Time. Her sequel to The Female Eunuch – one of the bestselling feminist books of all time – has a chapter on trans women that is just outrageously hateful. And people like her led the discourse.”

Since Greer, feminism in the UK has continued to stay “quite middle class, quite white”, Faye added. “The editorial coverage in the media over the past 10 years has really painted trans people as a debate. Do we want to give them rights? Is it going too far? That’s a discussion that’s been much more acceptable in the liberal left in Britain than it ever has in the US.”

Meanwhile in the US, feminism is more diverse, and Black feminism particularly – led by Audre Lorde, bell hooks and Angela Davis – has been more welcoming of gender diversity and non-conformity, Faye said.

“The other thing I would say,” she continued, “is that in British culture we have – for Americans, I would always use the example of Meghan Markle – we have a very vicious tabloid culture. People forget that until about 10 years ago, it was perfectly normal for the British tabloids to out trans people who weren’t public figures, like “sex swap mechanic”… we come from a tradition of huge national cruelty to trans people in the media.”

And as more trans people have gained a voice on social media platforms such as Twitter, there’s been more pushback against those who write in bigoted terms about trans people in the media, Faye said. Trans-hostile journalists disliking receiving public pushback against anti-trans columns has been “a huge source” of transphobic media, Faye said.

Freddy McConnell dissects ‘generic centrist comedian’ Graham Linehan with Owen Jones

Owen Jones said that Father Ted co-creator Graham Linehan – who is permanently banned from Twitter for hateful conduct – is an “interesting case study” of the phenomenon of “online radicalisation”.

Graham Linehan became obsessed with trans people,” Jones said. “Like, 3am tweeting about trans people in the most absurd, derogatory fashion.”

“How are people being preyed on online by anti-trans bigots?” Jones asked. “Because that’s what happening. And what’s going in with the mainstream media, including the liberal media.”

Linehan is at “the extreme end” of “getting into this and it becoming his entire life”, McConnell responded.

“But it’s so interesting where he comes from – he’s a comedian. I think what Shon said about people being annoyed at being told that they can’t say rude things about a certain tiny group of people anymore is really true, and it’s really true of comedy in particular.”

From Ace Ventura to The Inbetweeners movie to Love, Actually, transphobic jokes are commonplace in British culture, McConnell said. “That is how we’ve been taught, as a British society, to think of trans people. So those are the images that journalists will evoke, and they’ll say: ‘Well, that’s what these people are.’ And then those journalists teach more people to think about trans people.

“And those people, like Graham Linehan and Robert Webb, for instance, get pissed off when they’re told that trans people are real people and you can’t just use them for your lazy jokes when you can’t come up with anything else.”