Writer Lorelai Patnaik delves into Shon Faye’s debut novel, and asks some important questions.
At first glance, The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice by Shon Faye may seem like a mere introduction to transphobia in British society and culture. Yet the book goes above and beyond a simple introduction, as Faye literally and metaphorically argues for justice for the trans community, since it is something which has historically been denied. In the face of trans people being systematically deprived of their rights, liberties, and inherent humanity, being reduced to a topic of debate while also being turned into a focal point of societal hatred, the “transgender issue” becomes an issue of justice and liberation.
Shon Faye substantiates her argument for justice by giving deep insight into the nature of the problem, explaining clearly where the roots of the problem lie. Her argument starts by describing how transphobia is ingrained in every part of life from the British media, to schools, to access to healthcare, and even the home itself. Faye also highlights how societal transphobia deprives a trans person of the safety and comfort of an accepting home, and goes even as far as to deprive them of a right to shelter that corresponds to their gender identity. The role played by the British government and institutions in perpetuating and sustaining transphobia is explained within Faye’s book, from inequality in laws to the role of police and prison industrial complex that deprives a community of its rights and penalises them for existing.
"...societal transphobia deprives a trans person of the safety and comfort of an accepting home..."
From an intersectional perspective, as this is her first work she must be credited for making it a guide that has adequately examined issues of race, gender, and sexuality when it comes to introducing the nature of transphobia in Britain. She has centred trans folks of colour when required, from Robyn’s case in “Trans Life Now” to Miriam Rivera’s story in the final chapter. Faye has successfully pointed out the extent of violence faced by trans women of colour who happen to be sex workers, and how police and the prison system disproportionately target trans folks of colour, especially trans women of colour.
As a trans woman of colour, my criticism of Faye’s book is twofold. Firstly, the fact that race and transphobia are interlinked was only mentioned after going through forty pages of her work. Race should have been a crucial factor from the beginning itself. What was more concerning was that the Faye did not adequately examine how transphobia and colonialism are interlinked when it came to part of the book that explored histories of the trans community and sex work. Because gender norms the British empire imposed on its colonised countries also evolved into the values and rhetoric evident in modern day transphobia today.To conclude, The Transgender Issue is definitely an essential read to critically understand how transphobia has manifested in British society and its institutions. Most importantly, Faye’s text explains why the issue of justice needs to be addressed, as the trans community have been denied this justice since the advent of time.
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