A dangerous upsurge of transphobic narratives in Irish media is putting trans lives at risk

A dangerous upsurge of transphobic narratives in Irish media is putting trans lives at risk

In the past weeks there has been an unacceptable upsurge in Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) and transphobic talking points as well as false narratives being expressed within Irish media. This is happening while the trans community is currently facing massive disruption in the implementation of healthcare reforms, including the potential collapse of healthcare for trans children and teenagers

Meanwhile, a recently successful case in the UK Supreme Court has had terrible consequences for the delivery of healthcare for trans people under the age of 18. And it also potentially undermines access to abortion and contraceptives for everyone in this age group. 

Much of this disruption and rolling back of trans rights can be linked to an alliance between second-wave white feminists in the UK and a well-funded evangelical right based in the US who are funnelling money into English speaking countries. They’re doing this in an attempt to use trans issues as a wedge to undermine LGBTQIA+ rights and attack the bodily autonomy of women and people who can get pregnant.

An Irish media with a British problem

Last month Roisín Ingle described an article by British journalist and transphobe Suzanne Moore as “one of the best pieces on class, journalism, feminism & more that I’ve ever seen”. This has drawn the attention of many from outside the trans community to a dangerous attitude within the Irish media of legitimising the transphobic talking points of a UK culture war that has been ongoing for a number of years within British media. And this is being done to the detriment of actual trans issues in Ireland. 

This false narrative was brought about through opposition to now failed gender recognition reforms that would have brought UK legislation in line with Irish gender recognition laws. For the past five years these reforms have existed here without issue.

Subsequent responses from fellow journalists to Ingle’s tweet ranged from describing Irish feminists calling her out as a pile on, Fintan O’Toole writing an article mansplaining patriarchy to women and trans people, and outright transphobia in the form of Brenda Power comparing trans people’s sense of self to those suffering from anorexia.

The first major instance of this transphobic trend can be traced back to the RTÉ Prime Time documentary entitled “An in-depth look at transgender issues”. Broadcast in January 2019 when prominent UK based TERFs and transphobes such as Graham Linehan — who was subsequently banned from Twitter due to persistent transphobia and harassment of trans people — were interviewed on the topic of young trans people and proposed changes to the Irish Gender Recognition Act. Around the same time the editor of Prime Time, Donogh Diamond, appeared on 2FM and proceeded to reiterate Linehan’s earlier claim that a trans woman is an “intact man” who could potentially sexually assault children in changing rooms.

Two days prior to Roisín’s tweet lauding a transphobe and the subsequent columns that resulted, the trans community were themselves reeling from yet another scandal in Irish trans healthcare. The National Transgender Healthcare Steering Committee’s report on trans health, which was supposed to be published in March, was seemingly lost by the department of health and has yet to be published. Despite the subsequent stories in LGBTQIA+ publications of reports being lost, then found, and talk of implementation by ministers which suggested that the department of health had breached its own confidentiality clause, and even the taoiseach himself calling for the as yet unpublished report to be made public, there was nothing in the newspaper of record. 

It was almost a fortnight after the initial story broke before the mainstream press finally picked up the story in early December. 

The resulting consequences of this delayed report are life-threatening. Waiting lists for trans adults have continued to grow to approximately three years and trans people are continuing to be assessed under a maverick and unproven psychiatric model that includes assessments that are sexually invasive and voyeuristic. Healthcare for trans children and teenagers could potentially collapse entirely as no provisions have been made to replace the current treatment abroad arrangements with Tavistock in the UK which have now ended.

This trend of ignorant cisgender commentary on trans issues also includes clinical psychologist Dr. David Coleman writing in the Irish Independent that perhaps gender dysphoria is just a “phase”. Psychotherapist Stella O’Malley has talked about how a haircut made her realise she wasn’t trans and therefore no young trans person should have bodily autonomy. Last year O’Malley wrote an article in which she commented on the mental health of prominent transgender health campaigner Noah Halpin and also petitioned the health minister in the same regard despite having never met him.

She is also a member of fancily titled Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine (SEGM). The same group received donations amounting to thousands of Euros for their GoFundMe campaign in September when they were name-dropped by TERF author JK Rowling the month earlier. More recently, patron of the Iona Institute and consultant psychiatrist Patricia Casey also had an article published by the Irish Independent in which she suggested that the treatment of Irish trans children be legally challenged in the Irish courts.

An upsurge in transphobia in the Irish media like this, something also seen in the far-right media, has potentially huge knock-on effects for the trans community here. In the UK where this hate has festered for a number of years, hate crime directed at trans people has increased by 81% and in some areas it has tripled. Proliferation of anti-trans messaging in the media is also linked to increased depression and psychological distress within the trans community. A recent report revealed that anti-trans campaigners have raised roughly £1m in the last four years to attack transgender rights in UK courts. 

At the same time the duty of journalists to properly research and investigate multiple scandals in the Irish health system and hold these institutions to account is largely falling on community publications such as Gay Community News (GCN). When the voices of trans people do crop up it’s on alternative media sources such as the TortoiseShack and The Week at Work podcasts. Trans people are being shut out of traditional media institutions, with editors wilfully ignoring their voices.This is in service of a media hidden behind expensive paywalls — the middle-class version of an echo chamber — that many trans people would struggle to afford in the first place. It is worth noting that a 2013 study by the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) revealed that the unemployment rate for trans people was 49%. 

Harassing allies

In the backdrop to all this is an increased online harassment campaign from a handful of Irish TERFs, many of whom have a history of living in Britain, with important sounding Twitter accounts. The list of their Twitter followers is stuffed with transphobes from the UK who are systematically targeting womens’ rights organisations in Ireland for their use of trans-inclusive language and for supporting transgender rights. This has spread to also include harassment of prominent lesbian and gay individuals in Ireland, such as the CEO of Amnesty International Ireland Colm O’Gorman and veteran LGBTQIA+ activist Izzy Kamikaze, often as a result of the refusal of Irish trans people to directly engage with transphobic hate speech that attempts to fundamentally deny their existence.

TERFs in Ireland are an insignificant but vocal number, scarcely amounting to 100 people. The amount of Irish feminists who signed the TERFs Out letter dwarfed this obnoxious 100 by a huge order of magnitude. Obviously Irish TERFism is an extremist voice that does not gel with Irish feminism. This is a feminism that has fought for abortion rights and bodily autonomy, marriage equality, the right to work in the civil service after marriage, the right to drink in pubs, the right to divorce, and the right to not be raped in marriage. 

All of this was achieved within living memory by an Irish feminism that is wise and resistant to the backwards antics of UK white feminism. Indeed, it also contrasts with UK abortion rights charities who are afraid to speak out on the impacts on abortion and contraception access, brought about by the Keira Bell case, for women and people who can get pregnant for fear of being attacked by UK TERFs. 

Lessons to be learned

Ireland is not England and editors in the Irish media who default to the same tactics of the English press need to stop. The Irish public has also steadfastly refused to be influenced by right-wing money attempting to distort the facts on issues such as marriage equality and abortion, as evidenced by the significant yes votes in both referenda. Our media institutions would do better in reflecting real attitudes and not those of Little England in reporting on transgender issues. We are Ireland and we deserve to have our cultural attitudes reflected and not those of a declining UK. 

In terms of the realities of trans bodily autonomy, the time has also come to move beyond the statements and letters of the past. The dangerous decline in trans healthcare has continued unabated over the past five years with waiting lists growing from 15 months to three years since 2019 alone. The risks of tragedy are growing. 

When condoms were unavailable, networks of people travelled north of the border to supply them through direct action. When abortion pills were unavailable organisations and networks were created that ensured access where possible and these realities hastened change. The trans community is small and does not necessarily have such a capacity. The trans community also has a history of standing with cisgender people in the campaigns for marriage equality and abortion rights despite being relegated to the background on numerous occasions. Access to hormones, surgery, and bodily autonomy for trans people that their cis counterparts take for granted needs to be addressed in such a manner that is free, safe, legal, affirming, and de-stigmatised. 

Health professionals, legal professionals, journalists, feminist activists, and allies must listen to the needs of trans people. They should wield their organisational capacity and practical stills to ensure that trans people can have control over their own bodies. And the ignorance on display in the Irish media and institutional prejudice present in healthcare settings must be challenged, usurped or, indeed, mandated out of existence.

Lilith Ferreyra-Carroll (She/Her) is a feminist, working-class activist specialising in community development and advocacy. With an MA in International Development, she has 15 years experience working in the non-profit sector.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons – Smirkybec

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