Book Review: The Transgender Issue - An Argument for Justice by Shon Faye


Book cover of The Transgender Issue.

Trans people in Britain today have become a culture war 'issue'. Despite making up less than one per cent of the country's population, they are the subjects of a toxic and increasingly polarized 'debate' which generates reliable controversy for newspapers and talk shows. This media frenzy conceals a simple fact: that we are having the wrong conversation, a conversation in which trans people themselves are reduced to a talking point and denied a meaningful voice.

In this powerful new book, Shon Faye reclaims the idea of the 'transgender issue' to uncover the reality of what it means to be trans in a transphobic society. In doing so, she provides a compelling, wide-ranging analysis of trans lives from youth to old age, exploring work, family, housing, healthcare, the prison system and trans participation in the LGBTQ+ and feminist communities, in contemporary Britain and beyond.

I don't get it. I just don't. Where does all this anti-trans angst come from? I have trans friends. It doesn't cause me any distress. When a friend told me that they were trans, I... Well, look, I can't say I didn't care - I wanted them to be happy and safe - but it didn't bother me. Is it a bit cumbersome remembering a different name and pronouns? Sure. But it's no harder than remembering Miss Smith is now Mrs Jones. Is it a bit discomforting to hear about some of the medical issues they face? Yup. But I'd be just as green-gilled if they were talking about a burst appendix.

Should trans-folk use the same toilets as cis-folk? I genuinely don't care as long as they don't piss all over the floor. The only thing that bothers me is that there just aren't enough toilets. When I'm king, every toilet will be an accessible, unisex stall, with a sanitary bin for those that need it. We shouldn't be restricting who gets to use "our" loo - we should be building more loos!

The existence of trans folk has zero negative impact on my life It's like the argument against equal marriage. If you don't want gay people to get married - don't marry someone who is gay. So why do other people get so wound up by the "Transgender Issue"?

This book presents some of the flimsy arguments that people wield against the trans community - and demolishes them with ease. But, if you're so far down the rabbit hole that you think trans-folk are an existential threat to your way of life, then I'm not sure if this book will change your mind.

Shon Faye presents her case with plenty of data and anecdotes to cut through the blustering rage from the media. It has a strong UK focus - with occasionally dips into USA and EU issues. Again, it's good to remember that the UK has its own unique set of issues - even if we are in the orbit of two outsized cultural influences.

The book covers history, common myths, and contemporary issues. You can feel the righteous indignation behind each paragraph, and it would be easy for the author to lapse into a howl of rage, but she stays remarkably calm.

She handles the delicate subject of how to help trans kids with sensitivity and rationality. Far away from the usual moral panics, the book sets out why it is necessary to support kids in a hostile world and how to do it safely.

There are a few parts which I think make poor arguments. Much like the book "No Bath But Plenty Of Bubbles: An Oral History of the Gay Liberation Front " there's an assumption that LBGTQ+ acceptance means the necessary reconfiguration of society into a socialist paradise. It's an argument I have sympathy with - but I don't think it is particularly convincing. There are plenty of gay investors, lesbian landlords, and trans CEOs - do they all want the abolition of capitalism?

Similarly, should we reform prisons? Absolutely. Does it have much to do with the Transgender Issue? I don't think so. As the book points out, trans-people are a minority and only have the tiniest impact on the prison system - they cannot simultaneously be insignificant and be a compelling reason for abolishing prisons.

In the end, this is an excellent book. It distresses me that some people spend so much of their time, effort, and money to demonise a minority. Undoubtedly there are some difficult questions to be asked about how we alter society to accommodate people who don't feel that they fit. But that doesn't necessitate witch-hunts and pearl-clutching.

Here's the thing. The only slight bit of gender non-conformity I exhibit is long hair. Very rarely, someone makes a snarky comment. Even rarer, someone misgenders me. Also, I'd kinda like to wear a utility-kilt, but don't really want yobs beating me up because I'm "in a skirt". Total liberation for my trans friends also liberates me. There's no downside here.

I thoroughly recommend this book - and will be buying a copy for a few friends.

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy. The book is available now.


2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Transgender Issue - An Argument for Justice by Shon Faye

  1. I haven't read this yet but I intend to. Meantime, a kind and supportive and fair review I imagine I'll agree with after reading the book.

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