Friday, 17 February 2012

Outing trans people

This is about the current fuss over the 'trans man who has had a baby', and the efforts being made to out the person concerned.

First thoughts: is this the only instance in the UK? Is it really that rare? Is it even newsworthy? Knowing that trans men cannot routinely have hysterectomies, and can't routinely get their vaginas sealed up forever, am I surprised that occasionally they make use of their baby-ready anatomy? What's wrong with that? What's the issue? Is having a baby a bad thing? Is experiencing parenthood a bad thing? Something to be denied? If a severely disabled natal woman can have a baby, then why not anyone else?

Trans women are always asked, before hormone treatment commences, whether they'd like to freeze some sperm. Freezing sperm is officially all right. That sperm could fertilise a female egg and produce a baby in someone's womb. That's generally all right too. Maybe a trans man's womb: ah, what about that? Isn't that perfectly all right also?

Imagine a scenario where a differently-gendered couple are both trans, and both decide to transition. The male-bodied partner freezes her sperm, and after each have undergone the usual procedures in transition, that sperm is used in the female-bodied partner's womb to produce a child that they both want. No question that he, the female-bodied partner, is naturally a suitable vessel for conceiving the baby, carrying the baby, and giving birth at the natural time. Maybe he now has reduced breasts, maybe not, but there is still a proper womb, all the correct physical connections between the embryo and the parent-to-be, all the correct muscles, the right kind of hips, and so on. The child is born into a parenting situation that both partners feel very comfortable with. The child's welfare, and the love it gets, and the nurturing skills given to it, are all as they should be. The eventual outcome is actually likely to be much better than it would have been pre-transition, because each partner is in their proper natural role, and free of internal conflicts that might have adversely affected the child. Some time later they repeat the process.

Is anything wrong with this scenario? What can be bad about it? Why would it be the business of a media organisation, such as a newspaper, to poke into it and make all the details public? What interest does that serve? Who takes responsibility for the damage done?

I don't care whether or not this particular trans parent has used the National Health Service. I do care whether this was a baby that was wanted and will be loved. I also hope that whatever high expectations this new parent had for the birth and its aftermath are now being fulfilled. And I'd wish to ensure that those conditions continue and are not put at risk by outside intervention. This is not the time to be intruding into the parents' world, when their attention should be focussed on the baby.

So why does the Sun (and no doubt others yet to come) consider that intrusion is justified in the public interest?

The point has been made elsewhere that what interests the public is not always in the public interest - meaning that there is always a standard to be observed, a line drawn, a distance to be maintained. That while media articles, documentaries, advertisements and crusades may indeed appeal to a large number of people, they may yet be so wrong and inappropriate and subversive of decent standards that they simply encourage the bad sides of human behaviour. In other words, they make life worse. That effect can't at all be in the public interest.

It isn't a good thing to encourage people to look down their noses at other lives and purse their lips in righteous indignation. It isn't a good thing to encourage a feeling in some that they are better than others. Or that their views are more valid or healthy. Or simply 'normal', as if all deviants from normality must, of course, be freaks to joke about, or shudder at, or commit social murder against. Consider those who are wonderfully intelligent, or wonderfully artistic, or wonderfully beautiful, or wonderfully saintly. They aren't 'normal' either. Will the Sun be mounting a campaign against them soon, in the public interest?

While it is right to search for the perpetrator where a genuinely criminal act has been committed, it isn't right to conduct a witch-hunt against those who have merely done unusual things. Witch-hunts remind me of other kinds of hunt. And of phrases like 'hounded to death'. And of ritual purging and killing generally. An advanced society shouldn't be shouting 'Tally-ho!' and turning on its own members. To take part in any hunt is, at best, to agree that the quarry is fair game, even if it has done nothing worthy of harrassment. At worst, it is to be complicit in an appalling and wanton act of destruction.

Getting back to this current affair. I ask again: what is the precise public interest? Whipping up ill-feeling against this trans parent is degrading the moral standards that society needs to maintain. Offering rewards to informants even more so. That kind of thing simply isn't in the public interest - to foster an atmosphere in which denunciation is OK. A bounty hunter world. Who will be safe? Is that in the public interest?

Then there's the collateral damage done. The notion implanted that all trans men want babies. Following that, the idea that all trans people, male or female, are frauds. That trans women still have male capability. I know: that would be completely in defiance of the physical facts - hormone treatment leaves you sterile, and, if post-op, male-type penetrative sex is impossible - but when have details like this stopped people believing whatever they want? Horrific things like 'trans women are perverts, not to be trusted near children'.

How can misrepresenting and outing trans people be in the public interest, when a large number of ordinary UK citizens must be to some extent trans? Maybe several million? It's a natural thing, weak in most, strong in a few, like so many birth conditions that endure lifelong. Do we want to create a national neurosis?

It is newsworthy to draw attention to astonishing and inspiring human experiences. But in a spirit of celebration, surely? Not in a spirit of victimisation.

And certainly not while mouthing those empty words, 'in the public interest'.


  1. I'm sorry that you have had to write a post like this.

    A baby should be born to people or a person who will love it. That's all they need, they don't judge.

    There are so many children growing up in families that don't want them. The newspapers should have a go at sorting that one out.

  2. Absolutely. A loved and wanted baby can be born to anyone. It only matters that the parents put the baby first, both at conception and after birth, and raised it with love and care.

    No newspaper has the right to say who it approves of as the parent. Ferreting out who gave birth implies a prior judgement that something is very wrong.

    Exposure will put it on record that this baby was born in unusual circumstances, and the headline 'facts' will lurk in its life forever. Imagine the catastrophic effect of a 'public interest' follow-up story ten years from now.

  3. I understand what you are saying here Lucy and for the most part I agree but I do have reservations about the whole idea. I hold a different view on things so I won't say further for fear of upsetting someone. It is a shame though that this has become an issue to some people.

    Shirley Anne xxx

  4. Couldn't agree more with you Lucy. This child and parents deserve what we should all be able to take for granted; anonymity.
    For me the huge issue here is a power for positive change that is notably missing from the picture. Media and politicians could be championing human rights and promoting acceptance and dignity for all, but instead they take the easy route by cheapening lives in order to sell advertising, or get themselves re-elected.

    Great post.


This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford