Recent years have seen rise to increasing amounts of transphobia online; with polarising, provocative opinions and misinformation dominating the conversation around trans rights. Recently, the Irish Trans Writers Union lodged a complaint with the Irish Independent over their review of Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, a book which Psychology Today has described as being “full of misinformation.”
The Irish Trans Writers Union (TWU) is a “union of support for trans writers of all walks” in Ireland and the UK. As a union, they aim to “give trans creatives a point to gather around, pool knowledge, share opportunities, and keep one another safe in overtly or implicitly hostile industries.”
As the Irish Trans Writers Union gathers support and publicity, we spoke to two of the union’s founding members about their experiences within the industry, as well as how the union came to be:
Anna Walsh, one of the founders of the Irish Trans Writers Union, wrote that:
“I think forming the TWU was one of the quickest things I agreed to in my life! James [another founding member of the union] messaged me after I had been yelling on Twitter about John Boyne, and suggested we just did something, something like making a union. Since then, we’ve been building a database of actively supportive publishers and journals, and thirty trans writers have joined us. I’ve felt more secure in my writing practice, as well as much more connected to something outside of myself. It’s amazing to me that we (queer trans people) have lost almost all drive to work together, indeed, seem to have forgotten that the choice is even there.
“While any union can attend only to the symptoms of the problem and not the root, it does feel like the only way I can move forward in this industry is by being part of the TWU. I want to have my books published, but I refuse to do it by being complicit in a silence, or by monetising my identity at the cost of those who share that identity. The TWU is a small endeavour, and simple in its premise, but small and simple foundations can build powerful futures, and we are working hard to realise those futures.”
We have emailed the Irish Independent about an article they published this morning at 2.30 am. This article is a review of a book that advocates withholding gender-affirming medical care for trans adolescents, and this article has breached several codes of practice.
— trans writers union (@transwritersu) January 17, 2021
Similarly, James Hudson (another founder of the union), explained:
“For a while I’d been really afraid to speak out about some truly horrible transphobia I’d seen from Irish writers, editors and more, fearing for my budding career. But what activated the do something! [The] impulse for me was the discovery that bigotry was an open secret among Irish trans writers and their allies. It’s assumed that if you’re a trans writer, you know the who’s who of Irish transphobia, and you just deal with it. I didn’t know. How could I? Who told me? They don’t exactly teach these things in a Creative Writing college course.
“When I found out that people I had worked with or hoped to work with were posting hate speech in their spare time, and nobody was willing to acknowledge it—who was there to talk to? What could I do? How many trans writers are out there right now, dealing with the knowledge that their industry is not safe for them, without any support network?
“The TWU’s goals are simple, but the way trans writers and allies have flocked to join us or give support demonstrates how prevalent the issue of transphobia in publishing is. The fear that I felt has evaporated because I don’t feel alone anymore. I don’t feel like I can be squashed or dismissed, because I know I have support now, from allies but especially from my trans peers. Like Anna, I feel more secure. I feel connected. I feel better now. I feel a little better every day I’m in this Union.”
In discussing the main tenets of the Irish Trans Writers Union, some of their members talk about their experiences with issues such as inclusion, self-preservation, leading by example, permission, and collective action:
Rían Browne O’Neill, on inclusion:
“The most frustrating aspect of the current media debate around our community is most obviously the lack of inclusion of trans voices. Oftentimes a consequence of this, I’ve noticed, is as trans people we become expected to engage in uncompensated emotional labour in order to limit the damage wrought by irresponsible journalism from dispelling scaremongering and bad faith arguments to educating (albeit well-meaning) allies who may be drawn in by these baseless narratives without any acknowledgement of the harm that engaging with these debates near-constantly can have on our own wellbeing. Ultimately including trans voices not only ensures our experiences as trans people are represented faithfully but the labour that goes into doing so, on behalf of publications, readers and allies, is also respected.”
Ely Percy, on leading by example:
“I came out as agender and changed my name and pronouns halfway through negotiating a book deal for my debut novel. My publisher Knight Errant Press was great, just asked me to clarify the pronunciation of my new name. Monstrous Regiment couldn’t be more supportive. They organised a video chat between me and another author on National Non-binary day last year at their own expense simply to give us a platform. They constantly amplify the voices of other trans writers and continue to ask me all the time if there’s anything else they could be doing better.”
Kate Kiernan, on collective action:
“The only way to confront transphobia in the media is through collective action – individual attempts to shame or coerce people online don’t work. That’s why I joined the Trans Writers Union.”
it was really exciting to work on this logo for @transwritersu – a union of support for trans writers & the people who wish to support them in the literary industry. follow them to keep up with the great work they do or if you are a trans writer looking for support! pic.twitter.com/Du3X36ZxC0
— becks coad (@beckscoad) January 9, 2021
James Hudson, on self-preservation:
“I’ve been published next to people who want to roll back trans rights in the name of hearing ‘both sides’. It’s terrifying to have your name printed next to someone who believes your identity should be debated, knowing that if you say anything the response will be “well get published somewhere else then”. How can I succeed in writing if I refuse to be published by or with transphobes? I can’t. (For now. Let’s be optimistic.)
“The silence around transphobic writers, editors, journalists and more in Irish publishing puts me in a position of choosing between my career and my morals every single day. Do I want to submit to this esteemed journal, knowing an editor is transphobic? Do I want to contribute to this fascinating book, knowing a featured writer is transphobic? Do I want to pitch to this popular website, knowing their other articles are transphobic? It’s everywhere, it’s unacknowledged, and it’s not right. I’d echo Kate Kiernan: collective action is essential to confronting this. That’s why I need the Trans Writers Union.”
Anna Walsh, on permission:
“I’ve spent almost a decade trying to navigate the world of literature, working two jobs at twenty to spend 7K on a creative writing masters, all so I could ‘get’ permission to write and speak. All I really learned from that was that ‘getting’ permission to do and write is a fallacy, and I want the union to point a way for people to skip those years of bullshit. This goes hand in hand with actively resisting transphobia in the media, and ensuring that trans writers know they have more options than begging to be included or tolerated, in a largely hostile landscape.”
The Trans Writers Union aims “for collective support and agitation for comfortable working conditions, fair treatment, and access to both financial and creative support for all, while also fostering connections for writers.” If you are interested in becoming a member or getting involved with the union, check out their Twitter, or website for more information.
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