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Illegitimi non Carborundum

We are firmly in what some are calling the third year of March 2020, and it’s been rough. In addition to the general omnishambles of the world and British society (the pandemic is part of this, but not the only thing I’m referring to), it seems that the Establishment has it out for LGBT+ people, and particularly trans people, supported by the @FirstnameBunchOfNumbers brigade on social media. A lot of us are feeling demoralised right now, and if that’s you - I don’t blame you. It is demoralising to have your personhood attacked and lied about relentlessly.

This post isn’t going to be doom and gloom. I don’t want to go into detail about the situation, because many of us are aware of it. What I wanted to write about was things you can do to take care of yourself, and to help.

You Are Not Alone

Firstly, Space is here to support you. In addition to our groups - both for young people and Trans Family Day - we have one-to-one sessions with Youth Workers, and if they can’t help, they can signpost you to those who can. One such source of help is our counselling services, which are available to both members and staff if you need them. On top of that, we are continuing to work with our fellow LGBT+ organisations to stand up for the rights of LGBT+ people in the UK, and educate people so they are less likely to fall for the rhetoric of the Gender Critical movement.

On top of that, YouGov polls showed that the majority of people in the UK are at least somewhat in favour of LGBT+ rights. In 2021, 85% of British people said they’d be supportive of a family member who came out as lesbian, gay or bisexual, and 71% said they’d be supportive of a trans or non-binary family member. A more recent YouGov survey, sponsored by the Times newspaper, is also pretty encouraging: 65% of the surveyed population said they’d support bans on conversion therapy for sexuality, and 62% for gender - and breakdown for political party support showed that the majority supported bans across all major political parties, for both sexuality and gender. Despite an alarming rise in anti-trans press (a jump of over 400% from 2014 to 2019, most of which has been ‘polite’ transphobia), people still support us. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s definitely possible for us to retain our current rights and win more - as long as we keep fighting.

Remember What We Are Fighting For

I get it. Doom-scrolling is, in a weird way, addictive - it makes you feel something, even though those feelings are often of anger, despair, and pain. And it is good to be informed about what those opposed to LGBT+ rights are doing. But there’s a point where it can become unhealthy and unproductive. Random ‘Gender Critical’ accounts online, for instance, posting completely unhinged, uninformed lies and insults aren’t useful to look at. Their purpose is to spread hate, obscure information that discredits their worldview, and destroy the morale of trans people and their allies. I admit I am speaking as an adult with my schooldays years behind me, but many of the ones I’ve seen remind me of school bullies - nasty, pathetic people who never moved beyond that mentality. Like school bullies, they want to abuse you until you break. Unlike school bullies, you’re not stuck in a building with them for around seven hours a day for most of the year, and that takes away a lot of their power to hurt you. My advice is to block them when you see them, and get any info you need from LGBT+ oriented sources, for the sake of your mental health.

It’s also important to remember what we’re fighting for. Not just our aims and goals, but the people. We’re standing up for our right to have futures and happiness, and for a better world for those who come after. One source for me is right here, at Space Youth Project. I remember when I was 12 - in 2003, the same year Section 28 was repealed - and by that point I had ‘learned’ that being gay was shameful, that trans people were a punchline, and that there was something wrong with me (although I didn’t know what). Seeing kids that age today having the knowledge, confidence and safety to come out and explore their identities, and having access to support, warms my heart and makes me tear up a bit. We have a long way to go - but we’ve come so far, too.

My suggestion is to find examples of joy and progress to balance out the mire. Good Trans News on twitter is an account that collects positive trans news and articles from around the world - political, personal, and celebrity. There are other accounts with similar purposes too. Read and watch stories with positive endings for LGBT+ people - both fiction and nonfiction. And for any young people reading - we are so proud of you.

Educate Yourself

I’ll admit to being a giant nerd who enjoys learning, especially now that I’m not in a school setting. However, I do have reasons other than that for this segment - that it’ll provide armour against LGBT+phobic thoughts and other forms of bigotry.

The first is the discipline of critical thinking. No-one is completely immune to being misled or deceived, but learning how to analyse arguments and sources, and how to construct good arguments of your own, is a good foundation for not being led up the garden path and into steer manure (being polite about it.) For example, one of the major transphobic arguments - Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria - comes from one study that can be fairly easily debunked, if you know how. It also means you’re less likely to support inaccurate or false arguments that support your own opinions too.

The second is LGBT+ history. All of it, be it tragic, delightful, disreputable, funny, or just plain odd, the history of our people and community is rich and beautiful. It’s also an important part of remembering what we’re fighting for - just as we are fighting for a better future, so were the activists of the past who fought for our present. I have seen some people pushing the idea that certain sexualities and genders - most often bi/pan people, trans/nonbinary people, and aro/ace people - do not belong in the LGBT+ community. It is harder to argue this once you realise how deeply bi, trans and aro/ace people are woven into the fabric of our community’s history. To give a few examples, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson - two key figures of the Stonewall Riots and the subsequent activism - were trans and genderqueer. Brenda Howard, a bisexual polyamorous woman, was key part of the organising of the Christopher Street Liberation Day march (to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising), advanced the idea of a week-long festivity, and along with fellow bisexual activist Stephen Donaldson and gay activitst L Craig Schoonmaker, coined the term ‘Pride Parade’.

Nourishing the Spirit

When things are difficult, it can be very tempting to batten down the hatches and focus purely on survival. This is fine, and if it’s all you can do, please prioritise surviving. We’d rather have you come through this, even if you’re somewhat mentally battered, than not at all. Ideally, though, even during tough times you should take a moment to nourish your spirit and give yourself purpose beyond survival.

There are a number of things you can do, but my main recommendation is that they aren’t passive activities. You want something that engages your mind and body, rather than something that encourages you to switch off. For example, reading a book, learning a skill, or taking up a craft. I do cross-stitch, which occupies my hands and mind, and is easy to get started with whilst offering scope for improvement. I also enjoy baking as a form of stress relief - and here, the delicious outcome is its own reward. The aim isn’t to create a masterpiece or learn something ‘useful’ - although that might happen - the point is to have fun and gain personal satisfaction. Write that indulgent story. Learn a language because you think it’s cool. Create the most eye-searingly garish friendship bracelets known to humanity. Throw a hundred wonky pots - eventually you’ll start making some pretty good ones.

I also suggest enjoying nature. This doesn’t have to be a dedicated trip or anything - taking a walk through a copse or local park, or perhaps taking a book you love and reading in the shade of a tree, will do the trick.

None of these are cures or permanent fixes for stress or low mood, especially that caused by external situations and threats. But the fight for trans rights and LGBT+ rights in general has been long, will be long, and taking care of yourself will reduce the risk of you burning out or falling into despair. Please, keep yourselves as safe and healthy as possible.

Being Yourself

It’s pretty obvious, once you read them, that the arguments of virulent transphobes don’t hold up when faced with the reality of what trans people are like. The same can be said of the arguments of virulent homophobes - and that’s pretty much because they’re the same old arguments. The current ‘moral panic’ over trans people in the UK is pretty much the same as the old ‘moral panics’ about gay people in the UK back in the 80s, 90s and 2000s.

Those ‘moral panics’ were pretty effective, having lived through them. But I don’t think this one will be, for one very important reason: LGBT+ are part of society now.

A lot of those arguments rely on one core assumption - that we aren’t people, that we don’t have agency, or individuality, or compassion. In the 1980s and 90s, this was effective because it was highly unusual for LGBT+ to be out and visible as part of ‘normal’ society. We were oddities, and often forced into the margins, out of sight and not allowed to speak for ourselves. This was in fact encoded in law until 2003 - the infamous Section 28 which meant that local authorities could not speak positively about LGBT+ people or issues.

Nowadays, there are more LGBT+ people just around and about. The Office for National Statistics puts LGB people at 2.7% of the population in 2019 (up from 2.2% in 2018, and 1.6% in 2012), and 93.7% of the population identifying as straight. Unfortunately trans statistics haven’t been measured until last year, and they’re still processing that data. However, Stonewall puts its best estimate as 1% of the UK population being trans or non-binary. To put it another way, 1.8 million people in the UK are LGB, and 670,000 are trans/non-binary, with some overlap. That’s bigger than the individual populations of most UK cities.

If you’re in a situation where it is safe to do so - especially if you’re an adult - one of the best weapons we have is to be open about being trans. It’s pretty hard for someone to believe that trans people are “perverts and predators” when the trans people they know are normal, friendly, pretty harmless people - their friends, their relatives, their neighbours, their co-workers.

It’s tough right now. But it’s not hopeless - and we cannot allow ourselves to think so. So please. Take care of yourselves, remember that we’ve won before, and we can win again - and keep fighting. We’re with you.

By Max Watson


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1 Comment

Love this article - thanks so much. You're right, it's so easy to get ground down by people spreading misinformation and nastiness. But we are strong together and we will win in the end.