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Aoife Martin: When you question trans people's rights, it shows you see us as second-class citizens

Our columnist writes in the wake of the Liveline controversy that trans rights are at the forefront of the so-called ‘culture wars’ – but it’s not going to stop at trans people, she says.

Aoife Martin

ON THURSDAY, 9 June, a group calling itself The Countess was given a platform on RTE Radio 1’s Liveline programme, hosted by Joe Duffy.

The group had earlier been denied access to the National Women’s Council of Ireland’s (NWC) AGM at the Spencer Hotel in Dublin’s docklands. As it happens, I had intended attending the AGM myself but had to pull out at the last minute due to the late rescheduling of a medical appointment.

That morning I had gotten a phone call telling me The Countess had issued a statement objecting to a trans woman running for a position on the board of the NWC. Imagine my surprise, then, when listening back to Liveline that none of this was mentioned, even though it was referenced in the statement given to Liveline by the NWC.

The group were there to object about the erasure of the word “woman” from legislation that was going through the Dáil, we were told by Sandra, a representative of The Countess. The word “woman” was being replaced by the word “person”.

I’m not sure that this has to do with the NWC. For a group like The Countess, which is so concerned about the erasure of the word “woman”, they really do go out of their way not to use that word when referring to trans women on their site.

A Google search pulls back one link for the use of “trans woman”, and even that’s a quote from the TENI website. “Trans women” fares a little better, with 5 results.

There are, however, several pages for the use of the term “trans identified”. They seem quite happy to tie themselves up in linguistic Gordian knots to avoid giving any sort of legitimacy to trans women. The first casualty of the culture war is, it seems, language.

Debating trans people’s rights

At the end of the day nothing that was said on Liveline was new. If you have any sort of online presence, especially if you’re transgender, then you’ll have heard it all before.

Chances are, much of what was said on Joe Duffy’s show will have been said to you or about you or about your community. It didn’t take long for the conversation to move away from the “erasure” of the word “woman” to debating trans people’s rights: trans women shouldn’t be allowed to participate in women’s sport or use women’s bathrooms or changing rooms.

Trans rights are human rights, they agreed, “but…” And, as one caller said on the first programme, there’s always a “but”.

What was new, however, is that RTE decided to give a platform to people that espouse these views over the course of three programmes. For that day and the following two, trans people, their families, their friends, and their loved ones had to listen to their rights being debated on the national airwaves.

If this had happened to any other minority group there would have been uproar – and rightly so. At one point on Friday Duffy asked at what would happen if the under 15s girls’ team from Lusk had to play a team from the capital who were all “born as boys” but were now “identifying as women”. Such was the level of discourse.

The following Tuesday, Dublin Pride announced it was terminating its media partnership with RTE, saying that it was “angered and disappointed by the recent unacceptable, triggering and extremely harmful anti-trans “discussions” that have been given a platform on Joe Duffy’s Liveline on RTE Radio 1″.

It was a welcome intervention and, I have no doubt, a difficult one for Dublin Pride to make. Since then, numerous column inches have been written (ahem) some in favour of Dublin Pride’s decision and some against. Lines have been drawn and sides taken.

‘Culture wars’

I’ve talked about this before, but trans rights are now at the forefront of the so-called culture wars and they are not going to stop at trans people. In Ohio there is a bill that, if passed, would subject women and girls to genital exams if an athlete’s sex is disputed.

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration has moved forward with a proposal that would deny Medicaid coverage for anyone seeking trans affirming healthcare, including hormone blockers, hormone therapy, surgery, and any “other procedures that alter primary or secondary characteristics”.

Just this week FINA, swimming’s world governing body, voted to bar transgender women from elite female competitions unless “they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2, or before age 12, whichever is later”. This is effectively an outright ban by any other name, bearing in mind that it’s nigh on impossible for trans people to get gender-affirming care before the age of 12. I could go on, but you get the picture.

This is the hostile environment that trans people find themselves in today. It’s constant and it’s scary and it’s never-ending.

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I do not use these words lightly but trans people’s rights are under attack and RTÉ, and Liveline in particular, should know better. Our national broadcaster does not need to add to this.

This is not about free speech.

People can and do say what they like about trans people. RTÉ, however, is not obliged to give them a platform for the sake of a debate.

We are not a debate.

When you question our rights, it tells us that you see us as second-class citizens. We are not beholden to you, awaiting and grateful for whatever scraps fall from your human rights table. We are equally deserving of a seat at the table.

Trans people are being pushed further and further to the margins of society. None of this is going to stop trans people from being trans.

It’s only going to make trans people’s lives more difficult and that, it seems, is what certain people want.

Aoife Martin is a trans woman and activist. In her spare time, she likes reading, going to the cinema and practising card tricks.

The Journal sought clarification from The Countess on the use of the phrase ‘holding an action’ in the press release ahead of the NWC conference. A representative of The Countess said: ”A number of Countess volunteers signed up for tickets for the NWCI AGM. We intended to draw attention to the erasure of the word ‘woman’ from the Work Life Balance Miscellaneous Provisions Bill and highlight our concerns over the re-election of Sara Phillips [...] to the NWCI Board.”

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Aoife Martin

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