Rose Cunningham

Rose Cunningham

Toxic Gender Discourse: a Trans Perspective

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Gender Recognition Act consultation, which closed earlier this week, has been a source of hostility and aggressive arguments over the past few weeks. Rose Cunningham, who identifies as a trans woman, says the discourse has been toxic even among allies and close comrades and calls for a discourse that respects and centres the views and experiences of trans people without resorting to the worst elements of “call out culture”…

Last Friday, the three day consultation on the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) was launched following what has become a toxic and bitter debate (I scare here because despite the constant calls for it, a debate is about the last thing it could be described as). I’ve been conflicted about writing on this topic due to my own circumstances. Despite questioning my identity for years, it wasn’t until April of this year I fully realised I was a woman. This means it’s been less than a year since my realisation, which makes me worry that maybe I’m somehow not trans enough to write a piece like this or something along those lines. Still, here we are, and there’s plenty to be said.

The best to start is probably the way the GRA consultation has been presented in the media. Despite having nothing to do with access to women’s spaces, this is all the focus seems to have been on. It’s felt as if every other there’s been another article arguing that “we can’t talk about this” or “I’m being silenced” on a major newspaper or website. The absurdity of this seems totally lost on many people, but the lack of trans voices in the whole “debate” was far more insidious. I recall seeing far more articles written by Cisgender male allies than by actual trans people within the media, leaving this as a debate about trans people involving everyone but us.

Another worrying effect of this coverage is the idea that somehow “trans activists” are stressors, oppressing and silencing women everywhere we can. The reality that faces us is we’re a very marginalised group simply standing up for ourselves against those using the ideas of “legitimate concern” to spread the same toxic crap fed about gay people back when there was still debate over the repeal of Section 28. That’s not to say there aren’t some who overstep the mark, but in many cases this is understandable – after all, can anyone really be surprised trans people become angry and upset when it’s our identity being questioned?

On a personal level, this has caused fractures amongst my friends and comrades. On one hand, people I count as some of my staunchest allies have been smeared as transphobes for seeking to raise that the GRA itself should be analysed through a firmly feminist lens; on the other hand, I’ve needed to cut people off due to their willingness to accept the toxic hate of groups like A Woman’s Place.

It was already hard enough to deal with the inevitable “I identify as an attack helicopter” nonsense every time my identity comes up, so it hurts deeply to see discourse between people I count as friends turning so toxic and there be such unwillingness to have any sort of meaningful conversation. Instead the practice of subtweeting or vaguebooking has become far more common. It’s hard to even do anything about it: on one side there are those who have embraced the most toxic aspects of call out culture, and on the other transphobic vultures clinging on to anything they can see as tacit approval for their hatred.


For a reform that’s meant to improve the lives of trans people, why has almost all discussion left us marginalised and sidelined? Why is it groups taking money from reactionaries in the US and now even peddling anti-Semitic Soros myths about a “trans agenda” are allowed to portray themselves as the victims? Why is it there seems to be a growing tendency on the British left by those calling themselves Marxist-Leninists (who confusingly have reactionary social views) to characterise trans identity as a distraction from class struggle? All these questions seem so overwhelming.

I expect this article will get flack from both sides, leaving me in a very strange position. I’m far more used to occupying what’s seen as the “extreme” side a of debate, but in this case I feel stuck somewhere in the centre. That is not to say there’s any weight to the idea that “both sides are bad” – there is a clear oppressed group and oppressor in this dynamic – and my words here are not meant in any way to give that idea credence. I fully understand those who feel the need to be aggressive in the defence of their identity, and I can’t (and shouldn’t) expect them to change.

With the closing of the consultation, hopefully we can turn to a new chapter with the discourse around trans people, centering our voices, not letting hatred sneak in under the subtle premise of “legitimate concerns”, and comrades and friends trusting one another to having meaningful and productive conversations. Hopefully, the results of the consultation will be similar to those of the Scottish consultation, and the changes that have been so long needed will be made as quickly as possible.


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