Transphobia Used As A Stick To Beat Gay Parents

Iona Institute

Exploit transphobia, and hey presto! The Iona Institute have another argument against same-sex marriage, says Brian Finnegan.


On April 17, founder of the Iona Institute David Quinn (pictured) wrote an opinion piece in The Irish Catholic entitled, “‘Gender-bending’ comes to your local primary school”. The article, designed to make its readers snicker while frightening them at the same time, painted the complex issues surrounding gender identity with a wide brush before bringing them to bear on the same-sex marriage debate.

In the wake of Pantigate, which has left Iona completely on the back foot, the content of this column was both a clever effort at manipulation, and an indication of what’s to come in a fight that seems already lost. After RTÉ paid out €85,000 plus costs to Quinn and the other complainants who sought an apology for being called homophobic on The Saturday Night Show, support for same-sex marriage increased. A poll in The Irish Times on April 7 showed that 67 per cent would now vote ‘yes’ in a referendum.

The strategy of getting rid of the word ‘homophobic’ from the debate around same-sex marriage (thereby making it a reasonable debate between ‘reasonable’ people, as opposed to a reasonable debate between people who want to secure their civil equality in Irish society and people who, for deep seated reasons, want to stop them from having that equality) has backfired, so new strategies must be found. It looks like one of these strategies will be to bring transphobia into play.

No Understanding

Now, I’m not calling Mr Quinn transphobic (far be it from me to say such a slanderous thing), but I do believe that a great many people do have transphobic feelings – including, I’d say, a large proportion of The Irish Catholic’s readers. Indeed, far from him being transphobic, it would appear that Mr Quinn simply believes that transgender people do not actually exist. The Australian hospital where his wife trained to be a nurse, he writes, now has a transgender policy and “three nurses who are in fact men are allowed to serve as women”.

This suggests that Mr Quinn has no understanding of, sympathy for, or empathy with the suffering of those who were born into the wrong gender. Despite full acceptance in the medical and psychological worlds that people are born transgender, Mr Quinn prefers to stick with the notion that all babies who are born with penises grow up to be men and all babies who are born with vaginas grow up to be women. There can be no question otherwise.

He is not alone. The vast majority of people neither understand, sympathise nor empathise with those who were born into the wrong gender. Nor do they entertain the idea that some people find it impossible to identify as either male or female. However, we live in a world that is beginning to explore what gender identity is, to question whether everyone is on one polar end of the gender continuum or the other, and to look at what it might mean to be somewhere else on that continuum.

Lost The Plot

This, according to Mr Quinn, is a sign that “we have completely and utterly lost the plot”, as is the idea that a child does not need “the love of a mother and a father”. And hey presto! We’ve got another argument against the validity and value of same-sex parents, one that speaks deeply to fears around gender identity that many people hold.

If you think about it, transphobia and homophobia are almost identical. Our Lady J, the trans woman we are proud to have on our cover this month, told me when I talked to her last week: “The kids who got beat up at school when I was a kid weren’t the gay butches. The butch queens are fine – they pass. Nobody’s going to really care about their sexuality as much because it’s not on display. But whenever a man is feminine, it’s threatening.”

Most people can identify with this. Picture a team of guys in the football locker room, horsing around. None of them wants to be seen as anything other than masculine, and the key slag is that one of them is ‘like a girl’ (usually the word for this is ‘gay’). The majority of straight men fear being identified as feminine. Plenty of gay men do too.

Trans people completely transgress the boundaries set up to keep men masculine and women feminine, so when you think about it they’re even more threatening. And when you further think about it, it’s no wonder Mr Quinn is bringing them into the gay marriage debate. His argument is that gender polarity does matter in terms of parenting, that a child has a right to the love of a mother and a father, a woman and a man.

What Children Need

Children need to be loved, cherished and well cared for in families that foster them to grow up to fulfill their potential and contribute to society around them. The most common form of family that does this is based on the model Mr Quinn seeks to preserve, where the parents are male and female. Let’s be clear: legislating to recognise same-sex parents will not effect the preservation or the value of the heterosexually parented family. What it will do is recognise the many families who are outside this model, with children who are being brought up equally well.

Bringing complex issues of gender identity into an argument about what kinds of parents children deserve is a red herring, designed to press new buttons. Now that he’s unable to say things that might be considered ‘homophobic’ (and because of him and his cohorts, all of Ireland now knows what homophobia actually is), Mr Quinn has begun targeting other members of our LGBT community in his fight against equality. It would seem that he thinks readers of The Irish Catholic are stupid. Like many of us, his readers may harbour deep prejudices about trans people, but a ruse is a ruse is a ruse – and it will never wash.

Follow Brian Finnegan on Twitter @finneganba

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