Revolutionary Reading


The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice

by Shon Faye

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.”

As always, a little later than everyone else, I have finally finished listening to The Transgender Issue written and read by Shon Faye on Audible.

“The liberation of trans people would improve the lives of everyone in our society.”

shon Faye the transgender issue

Some Things I Found Interesting

As I listened to this book over the course of 4 months these are just the things I can remember from the top of my head/ the things that stood out to me. It’s a testament to how good the writing is that I even remember anything usually as soon as I’ve closed a book on it’s last page and dramatically thrown it across the room, I’ve already forgotten half of the plot.

  • Whilst transphobia is something that exists all around the world, the crazy media obsession with trans people is quite unique to the UK and it’s the media’s sensationalisation that has led to a wide spread misunderstanding of trans issues by the general public. An example of this are provocative news paper headlines that make it seem like children are medically transitioning (taking hormones or having surgeries) this creates a moral panic amongst the public when in actuality children do not and can not medically transition, rather children experiencing gender dysphoria sometimes socially transition by doing things like changing their clothes, pronouns and name aka things that are easily reversible.
  • Yes, a higher percentage of trans people commit crime but that makes sense considering a high percentage of trans people are working class and crime rates generally tend to be higher amongst poorer people, the vast majority of crimes committed by trans people are non violent things like shoplifting, drug use and survival sex work. Trans people make up such a small percentage of the population and the amount of trans people in prison for violent crimes is exceptionally low. That’s why when Shon, a prison abolitionist, is asked her opinions on transgender women in prison she argues that most women in prison shouldn’t be there because most have not committed violent crimes. Further, when newspapers create headlines about trans rapists (plural) being in women’s prisons, it’s a bit disingenuous because in actuality cases like that are so rare and should be looked at on an individual basis.

“Out of 122 reported sexual assaults in women’s prisons in the past decade, five were perpetrated by trans inmates; in 2019 alone, 11 trans women were assaulted in prisons in England and Wales.”

Pink News
  • Shon also writes about the right to transition, should a person in prison for sex crimes against women be able to transition? She makes a really good point by comparing the question to the debate around the death penalty, yes someone whose loved one was murdered might want that person to be given the death penalty, which is understandable, but as a society we know the death penalty is wrong. She concedes that if someone has raped you or someone you love, of course it’s understandable that you might take the position that they shouldn’t be allowed to transition but as a society we know that too is wrong. However just because someone is given the freedom to express their gender identity doesn’t mean that person would be allowed to move to a women’s prison especially if they have history of violence against women.
  • The majority of hate crime committed against trans people is done by young people, I have personally witnessed this, having worked in secondary schools where students as young as 12 have been excluded for using homophobic/transphobic language in school. Shon doesn’t think harsher prison sentences are the answer to solving hate crime, rather further education is.
  • We have a BIG problem with TERF’s (trans exclusionary radical feminists) in the UK.
  • There was also a section in the book about how we talk about historical figures particularly when language is always evolving, is it appropriate for us to refer to a historical figure as transgender when they did not refer to themselves in that way?

A fantastic quote by James Baldwin included in the book

“I think white gay people feel cheated because they were born, in principle, in a society in which they were supposed to be safe. The anomaly of their sexuality puts them in danger, unexpectedly.”

James Baldwin

Shon uses this quote in relation to white trans people who want to work with the police because as white people they don’t feel threatened by them in the same way that people of colour do because as white people they have this inherent belief that the police are there to protect them.

Would I recommend listening to this book in audio? It’s difficult, on one hand; I personally prefer listening to non fiction on audio because I find it easier to engage with the text in that format but on the other you can’t really underline sections which would have been useful when listening to this particular book because it was so rich with facts, figures and first hand testimonies from trans people on their experiences.

am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

Audra Lorde

To conclude The Transgender Issue by Shon Faye is a really important book and Shon makes a very clear argument for justice in that there is no liberation without trans liberation and we cannot achieve liberation under capitalism. Trans liberation benefits everybody, nobody is free until everybody is free.

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