Words: Thomas Stichbury; Images: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa
Author Shon Faye opens up about reclaiming the narrative around trans lives and tackling transphobia.
Featured in the Attitude 101 issue, platforming the work of LGBTQ+ people in a variety of fields, out now to download and to order globally, the journalist and writer takes a stand in the Third Sector and Community category following the release of her debut book, The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice, earlier this year.
"There was a conversation – in Britain, in particular – happening about trans people without trans people involved in that discussion at all; it was being conducted above our heads because we’re so unrepresented," Shon recounts, of why she wanted to write the book in the first place.
"So, there [is] this hostile conversation that’s taken root in the mainstream press about trans people – The Times wrote, like, 300 articles in 2020 about trans people when we’re less than one per cent of the population – but it’s not actually about our lives or what concerns us… I wanted to recentre trans people in the discussion of their own lives and amplify their voices."
She adds: "The central argument of the book is, if you liberated trans people and you created the conditions for trans people to lead happy and free lives, then it would benefit everyone… the things that systemically and structurally disempower and dispossess trans people are the same things that affect lots of other groups."
Shon, 33, knew the project would make her even more of a target for transphobes but says that the positive responses have far outweighed the negative ones, especially from within her community.
Shon wears dress by Zilva (Photography Francisco Gomez de Villaboa; Styling: Sacha Dance; Makeup by Viorela Coman using NARS)
"There has been abuse, there has been targeting of me and others, but the fortunate position I’m in now is, because it sold well and people have engaged with it, I have that feeling of being listened to," she explains.
"It means a lot to me that I’ve, kind of, discharged my responsibility as a member of that community properly. And that’s an ongoing thing. My ethics and my politics is to think about the good of the group, rather than just myself. I didn’t want people to think I’d screwed them over to get ‘fame’ or a media platform."
Reading has never been so fundamental, as Shon points to the power of words to change hearts and minds.
Shon wears dress, by ASOS, top, stylist’s own (Photography Francisco Gomez de Villaboa; Styling: Sacha Dance; Makeup by Viorela Coman using NARS)
"In the wider LGBTQ+ community, all sorts of pockets – lesbians and gay men and cis bi people – I get loads of notifications from them being, like, ‘I didn’t know this, I thought I was broadly pro trans. I’m in the community, but I didn’t know all this’…
"If we want to go into it, too, I’ve had a couple of responses [from] women, lesbian women, bisexual women, women in the LGBTQ+ community, who have said, ‘I was a little bit sympathetic to some anti-trans feminist talking points before and it’s changed my mind.’ And, obviously, that’s great because that’s what it was intended to do," she continues.
"I think lesbian women deal with a lot; they deal with a lot of homophobia and misogyny, and lesbian sub-cultures haven’t been prioritised, you know, gay men do hold the most power in the LGBTQ+ community. And so, I can see why some would hear that [rhetoric] from anti-trans people, and then instead of thinking about the bigger things, they start to think it’s trans people taking stuff away, or trans men are all lesbians who are trying to escape lesbianism, and trans women are all creeps who are trying to infiltrate it.
Shon wears blouse, by Anastasia Bull, jeans, by Mother of Pearl at Fenwick (Photography Francisco Gomez de Villaboa; Styling: Sacha Dance; Makeup by Viorela Coman using NARS)
"These people… weren’t that extreme, they hadn’t gone down the rabbit hole of that prejudice, but they were maybe flirting with it in their head."
She goes on: "Those are the people you want to get. You don’t want to preach to the choir, it’s about the people who are on the cusp… this anti-trans moment we’re having in Britain wouldn’t happen if they weren’t effective at tapping into real anxieties in people. Not everyone wakes up a massive bigot – it takes time and people get radicalised into it."
Shon – who also hosts the podcast Call Me Mother, dedicated to queer elders – calls on a course-correction of trans 'discussions' in the media.
"Everyone is talking about J.K. Rowling or Kathleen Stock, and people still aren’t talking about the issues in the book, which is, why is it now almost three to six years for a first appointment if you are seeking trans-affirming, gender-relating healthcare? I can go to my GP and expect to be seen in 2027. That’s nuts when the NHS guideline is 18 weeks; that’s getting worse, it’s not getting better, and there are no plans for that. Trans people are self-medicating, buying hormones on the internet and sharing hormones with each other. Where is the coverage of that?" she asks, rhetorically.
Attention turning to her follow-up book, Shon shares that she will be telling a different kind of story: “The Transgender Issue… is all about the stuff I think is different about me and then I would probably like to write something that’s more about the universal, human things I share with everyone else."
The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice, by Shon Faye, is out now
Read the full interview and check out the full, detailed list in the Attitude 101 issue, which is out now to download and to order globally. The Attitude 101 issue includes the FREE Attitude 2022 calendar, presented in association with Taimi.