What lies behind the monstering of trans people in the press?

We have to get to a place where the trans population are not pantomime but people.

Parents were informed of Lucy Meadows' decision to undergo gender reassignment and surgery by the school where she taught. The rest of the country’s parents were then informed of the story in the bear pit of the national press. Most of them took great offence at this.

Parents at the school too took a very negative view - many of them actively protested that they were worried that their children would be confused. One quoted parent even opined at the time that his son was worried that he would wake up with a girl’s brain! But I put this to that parent - which is worse? Is it death or perhaps confusion? Discuss.

If that sounds glib to you, it is not meant to be. I simply suggest that death is a high price to pay for living your life as you see fit. Let me tell you this at the outset. You do not just wake up one morning, blast out some Shania Twain and gain an immediate passport to womanhood. It is a far more visceral process, and to say that it is just about putting on a few skirts and the latest shoes is also a gross oversimplification.

A lecturer of mine once told us when studying post-colonial literature that in order to know what you are you must also know what you are not. For some trans people, it’s a slow burn situation. For others it’s pretty clear cut. I was lucky enough to fall into the latter category.

Lucy Meadows did not wake up one morning and think, “Oh, I fancy becoming a woman today.” It’s not like you can reduce it to an easy peasy decision like making a cup of tea. That is just too simplistic. Gender dysphoria is not an easy condition to live with. It is a constant, gnawing feeling that you, and your identity, are out of kilter with the world.

Personally, I always contend that I was born with quadriplegic cerebral palsy AND gender dysphoria. I screamed at my genitals in the bath! I hated my blue clothes! Instead of rough and tumble, I preferred music and the wendy house. My overriding point here is that no one goes to bed a man and wakes up a woman. It does not happen that way. It is not chicken pox and is not contagious. But Lucy Meadows is dead. I am not going to blame the press. However, I would say that it appears they were a cumulative factor, along with other variables like prejudice and ignorance as well.

Let us look firstly at how this story ended up in the public domain. Somebody leaked private correspondence from the school to the local press. Details of Lucy Meadows’ changing gender presentation were leaked under the heading "Staff Changes".

The national press then got hold of it, and turned it into something cheap and salacious, probably akin to a cheap ready meal. The whole thing was nurtured via the discriminatory views of parents, and as Jane Fae has already stated in the New Statesman, attempts by other parents to provide positive commentary were rejected.

But why is such monstering considered acceptable? Why are trans people the last bastion of cheap titillation for the press? My answer is this. It is quite simply, due to alpha male patriarchy. The same type of people who snigger at Lucy Meadows are also journalists, because hey presto! Journalists have prejudices too, and the national press gives them a platform to air them. Such prejudice is shared by those who read what they write, namely those who are worried by changes in gender presentation, and use their children as a vehicle to cloak their own prejudices, which is unforgivable while children are in the education system. What does Lucy Meadows' death teach these children?

And yes, what of the children? One of them drew a picture of Miss Meadows with long hair. Children are understanding people, open to all sorts of variety. My own view is that as long as Lucy carried on behaving in a consistent manner, as would be expected of any teacher, the children would not care much, but would want to support as much as any child could. Children care more than we think, and one can hope they do not inherit parental prejudice.

What about if a teacher was in a wheelchair, or blind? Would they be monstered in the press? I doubt it. Press regulatory body pronto, I say. We have to get to a juncture where the hubris and alpha male arrogance disappears from the press, where the trans population are not pantomime but people. People like doctors, lawyers, artists and writers. This is not about Leveson, or statutory underpinning. A repeat of Lucy Meadows does not need that. It needs care, compassion and common sense. Sadly, those writing about Lucy Meadows made no attempt to exercise these things.

At the end of the day, which is worse for a child to hear? That their teacher is called Miss Meadows, or that their teacher is dead? I believe this is something for all those who have a vested interest in journalism, and those who do not, to contemplate hard on this sad day.

For advice about the issues raised in this post, you can read more on the Samaritans website or contact them on 08457 90 90 90

Hannah Buchanan is a blogger with a specific interest in LGBT, disability, and feminist issues and the potential crossover between them. Follow her @HannahBoo3131

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Celebrate Labour's electoral success - but don't forget the working class

The shutting down of genuine, constructive debate on the left is the great danger we face. 

In the moment when the exit poll was released on 8 June, after seven weeks of slogging up and down the streets of Britain, dealing with scepticism, doubt and sometimes downright hostility, we felt a combination of relief, optimism, even euphoria.
 
This election broke wide open some assumptions that have constrained us on the left for too long; that the young won’t vote, that any one individual or political party is “unelectable”, that perceptions of both individuals, parties and even policies cannot change suddenly and dramatically. It reminded us that courage, ambition and hope are what’s needed and what have been missing from our politics, too often, for too long.
 
We have learnt to tread carefully and wear our values lightly. But in recent weeks we have remembered that our convictions can, as Jonathan Freedland once wrote, “bring hope flickering back to life” and meet the growing appetite for a politics that doesn’t simply rail against what is but aspires to build a world that is better.
 
In this election at least, it seems the final, anticipated fracture of Labour from its working-class base after Brexit did not materialise. Shortly before the snap election was called I wrote that while Brexit appeared to be Labour’s greatest weakness, it could just be our biggest strength, because: “consider what remain voting Tottenham and leave voting Wigan have in common: Labour… We will succeed if we seek the common ground shared by the decent, sensible majority, and more importantly, so will Britain.”
 
But consider this too. The Tories ran a terrible campaign. It was, without any doubt,the most inept, counter-productive campaign I’ve ever seen in British politics. The day their manifesto hit the headlines, even in our toughest neighbourhoods, we could feel change in the air. Arrogance is never rewarded by the British people and Theresa May has paid a price for it. Yet, despite a Tory manifesto that was a full, square attack on older people, the majority of over 65s still came out for the Tories.
 
And despite the growing relevance of freedom, internationalism and tolerance in an era characterised by Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the Liberal Democrats managed to become bystanders in the political debate. They stood on a platform that aimed to capture the support of those remain voters for whom Brexit is the major question, but neglected the rest. And they quite spectacularly failed to foresee that those who were intensely angered by May’s conversion to a little England, hard Brexit stance would vote tactically against the Tories. Over those seven weeks, they all but disappeared as a political force.
 
As Bob Dylan once said, "the times, they are a-changin" – and they will change again. The recent past has moved at extraordinary speed. The Brexit Referendum, the rise and retreat of nationalism, the election of Trump and his crushing unpopularity just a few months later, the reversal in fortunes for May and Jeremy Corbyn, the astonishing phenomenon of Emmanuel Macron and pro-European centrism, and the dramatic rise and sudden collapse of Ukip. Politics, as John Harris wrote last week, is now more fluid than ever. So now is the time, for hope yes, and for conviction too, but not for jubilation. We need some serious thinking. 
 
We should be cautious to rush to judgment. It is only two weeks since the exit poll sent shockwaves across the country. There is no comprehensive explanation for the multitude of motivations that delivered this election result and will not be for some time. But there are some early indictors that must make us think. 
 
After seven years of austerity, as John Curtice observes, the Tories made some of their biggest gains in some of the poorest areas of Britain. It is something I felt in all of the eight constituencies I campaigned in during the election. While the Labour vote rose significantly in towns like Wigan, so too did the Tory vote, despite little or no campaigning activity on the ground. As Rob Ford puts it, “Labour, founded as the party of the working class, and focused on redistributing resources from the rich to the poor, gained the most ground in 2017 in seats with the largest concentrations of middle-class professionals and the rich. The Conservatives, long the party of capital and the middle class, made their largest gains in the poorest seats of England and Wales… Britain’s class politics has been turned completely upside down in 2017”.
 
To acknowledge the growing, longstanding scepticism of many working-class men, and women, towards Labour in towns across England is not to take away from the hard work and drive of the activists, advisers and politicians that helped to fuel such a dramatic turnaround for Labour during the short campaign. To have won considerable gains in wealthier suburbs is no small achievement. 
 
But if the future of Labour lies in a coalition between middle-class young professionals and the working class, what is the glue that binds? While there is shared agreement about investment in public services, how are those interests to be squared on areas like national security and immigration? I believe it can and must be done, but – as I said to conference when I was first elected seven years ago - it will demand that we begin with the difficult questions, not the easy ones.  
 
Just a few days before the election, statistics were released that pointed to a collapse in trade union membership. What does the decline of an organised Labour movement mean for who we are and what we can achieve? These are not new questions. They were posed by Eric Hobsbawm in his brilliant lecture, "The Forward March of Labour Halted" in 1979 - a challenge laid down in the year I was born. Now, 37 years on, we are no further down the road to answering it. 
 
The most dramatic finding from this election was the support Corbyn’s Labour party appears to have won from middle-class, young professionals. They said he couldn’t do it and quite stunningly it seems they were wrong. But a ComRes poll last week caught my eye – by a large margin those 30-44 year olds would favour a new centre-ground political party over the current political settlement. In an election where we returned strongly to two-party politics, it appears they moved to us. But what would a dynamic and renewed Liberal Democrat Party, or a British En Marche do to our support base?
 
After a hellish two years we have learnt in Labour, I hope, that unity matters. The public and private anger directed towards each other, whether the Labour leadership, the parliamentary Labour party or elected councillors, is desperately damaging and its (relative) absence in the campaign was important.
 
But unity is not the same as uniformity, and while two weeks ago I felt there was a real danger of historic fracture, now I believe the shutting down of genuine, constructive debate on the left is the great danger we face, and must avoid. No one person, faction or party has ever had the monopoly on wisdom. The breadth of the Labour movement was and remains our greatest strength. 
 
Consider the Labour manifesto, which drew on every tradition across our movement and demanded that every part of the party had to compromise. Those broad traditions still matter and are still relevant because they hear and are attuned to different parts of Britain. Our country is changing and politics must catch up. The future will be negotiated, not imposed.
 
As we witness the age of "strong man" politics across the world, here in Britain our political culture has become angrier and more illiberal than at any time I can remember. The Brexit debate was characterised by rage, misinformation and a macho political culture that demanded that we abandon nuance and complexity, an understanding of one another and tolerance of different points of view.
 
But this is not where the future of Britain lies: it lies in pluralism. It lies in a politics that is nimbler, more fleet of foot, less constrained; a return to the great tradition of debate, evidence, experience and argument as a way to build broad coalitions and convince people; not shouting one another down, nor believing any of us are always right; an arena in which we listen as much as we speak; a political culture in which we are capable of forming alliances within and across party lines to achieve real, lasting change.
 
And ultimately that’s the prize: not just seek power but, to paraphrase a philosopher whose work inspired millions, in the end “the point is to change it”. We could sit tight in Labour and hope to see the current government fall apart. We might even inherit power, we could temporarily reverse some of the worst of the last seven years, but what then? If we have learnt anything from 13 years of Labour government it should be this: that to build lasting change is the hardest political task of all, and it requires now that we do not turn to the political culture, the tools or even the ideas of the past, but that we think hard about where the future of our movement and our country really lies. Now is not the time to sit back and celebrate. Now is the time to think.

 

Lisa Nandy is the MP for Wigan. She was formerly Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

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