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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  August 10, 2022 12:30am-1:01am BST

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welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. according to research in the us and the uk, roughly one in 100 people is transgender. but the fact that the debate about transgender rights has become a political and even health care battleground isn't driven so much by the numbers, but more by conflicting ideologies.
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shon faye is trans, a writer and a former lawyer. is all this attention on issues of sex, gender and identity making it easier to be trans, or not? shon faye, welcome to hardtalk. pleasure to be here. thank you for having me. it's great to have you here. i also have a copy of your book, the transgender issue, which you wrote. published last year. it's described on the cover as a landmark bestseller.
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it has done well. and in the intervening months since you published it, the transgender story, as we put it, the issues around transgender rights has consistently been prominent in the political debate. would it be right to assume that you are delighted those issues are so prominent? shon laughs er, ithink... in one way, i feel vindicated. the argument that i make in the book, essentially, is that there has been an explosion in discussion of transgender people across all forms of media and in politics. but what i argue in the book is that trans people are often not at the centre of these conversations, and the actual issues facing most trans people day to day do not form the substance of what is being discussed in the media. and i think we've seen this a lot recently in our own tory leadership election here in the uk, where often this is used as a sort of sound bite issue to kind of "gotcha" with politicians, but doesn't actually address the key issues facing a group which all evidence shows
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are somewhat marginalised, likely to be discriminated against and in some cases suffer greatly still. we'll talk a little bit about politics and politicians and the stands they take on this issue in a moment. but let's start with the public. do you think the public generally has a clear understanding of what it means to be trans? i don't... well, i mean, the public is quite a diverse group of people, but i think what most people watching this will think is that probably, in the last few years, there seems to have been an explosion in discussion of this topic. for some people, it feels like trans people are suddenly everywhere, where they were nowhere before. of course, that's not true. and i think a lot of people are often confused because of the intense media focus on such a small population, who are less than i% of the population. a lot of people feel this debate is very fraught, this discussion is very fraught.
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and... and i think suspect sometimes that they're not getting decent information from certain parts of the media. so what i wanted to do was put something out there that gave people a sense of confidence in talking about these issues and this group of people. and just to be very clear and basic about it, would it be right, if i was to just do the most shorthand description of what it means to be trans — it is, in essence, a person whose sexual sense of themselves, their gender identity, is at odds with the biological sex that they were born into? would that be...? i think that's a pretty robust definition, yes. and i think, within that, there is a huge spectrum of experience, because obviously your experience of being trans is inflected by so many things, right? whether your social background, your class position, your ethnicity. so there's a hugely diverse range of experiences. and of course, even within the label "trans", some people medically transition, some people are nonbinary — they reject
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the gender binary altogether. so it is an umbrella term to describe a diverse range of experience. and as you've just suggested, therefore, personal experience is very important to understanding. if you don't mind, i'd love to just talk a little bit about your own personal experience. you were born in the south—west of england. yes. raised as a boy. mm—hm. but it seems from very early in your life, you felt at odds with that identity. and ijust wonder how easy it was for you to make that transition to telling the world that you were not and could not identify as male. er, it wasn't particularly easy. ithink... igrew up... my teenage years were spent in the early 2000s, which was a time where even gay people, the level of kind of acceptance and tolerance in society for gay people was not where it is today, let alone trans people. and when i was growing up, there was so little representation of trans people. where it was there, it was as objects of ridicule. and so, growing up in that
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environment, knowing that i had a dissonance with certain aspects of gender that were being imposed on me, but not having any reference point. you assume you're the only person in the world. and so it took a long time and a couple of evolutions... interesting you say a couple of evolutions. because i think i'm right in saying that for a time you came out as gay. yes. as a gay male. and then you still felt at odds with this identity and you, in the end, after university, after, ithink, qualifying as a lawyer, you came out as a transgender person, a woman. you felt you were a female. how difficult...? because we're talking a lot about the mental health issues, the context in which this happens. how difficult was that for you to do? i mean, extremely difficult. again, as i point to in the book, i think this is a systemic issue for all trans people.
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i'm probably at the more privileged end of the spectrum of trans people. i'm middle class, you know? university educated. but for me, i was extremely depressed. i had a lot of issues in my late teens and early 20s that i think were tied directly to a feeling of being lost. i wouldn't say that's entirely due to gender, but certainly it's a major factor when you feel existentially on some levels different to people around you. and what i'm keen to point to in the book is that this is unfortunately all too common an experience. so, for example, 64% of trans young people in school now in britain say they are bullied for being lgbt, and over half of those never tell anyone about the bullying. that was my experience, too. i was bullied for being gender—nonconforming, for being quite feminine — as you say. at that time, the only reference point if you were presenting or you were raised as a boy and you were sort of construed as feminine, then people would assume that
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you were gay. and so, yeah, unfortunately, even in the time since i've been at school, all the evidence shows actually trans young people are coming out earlier and earlier, and that means they're encountering hostility in some cases earlier. and there's quite a lot of data now on this. i mean, self—harm is a problem for people who are in this situation. and suicide is also more common amongst trans young people than amongst the rest of the population. i wonder if... did you ever get into that dark place yourself? well, i did. but also, i think there's a pressure sometimes as a public—facing trans person that you have to make yourself a spectacle of trauma or of difficulty. and i'm not necessarily here to be a professional victim myself. i certainly struggled with my mental health. that's something i've spoken about very publicly. i think it's important as a public—facing trans woman to not sanitise my experience everywhere, because i've
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reached a point in my 30s. i also think it points to, often, my own personal experience as do the case studies in my book, which i would probably be more keen to focus on — point towards a society that unfortunately creates a hostile environment in which mental health problems for trans people are sort of reinforced. and i think it's really important to stress, too, that when we say that there are high rates of mental health problems amongst trans people, it can almost potentially lead to a narrative where trans people themselves are sort of painted as inherently unstable or pathologized as mentally ill, as they have been for a lot of the 20th century. it could feed in to some of the other data which shows that trans people find it harder to getjobs, they find it harder to deal with the housing system — all sorts of different ways in which life appears, for a lot of trans people, to be very tough. well, one in four trans people in the uk will
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experience homelessness. that's staggeringly high. and the reasons for that start unfortunately often in yourfamily home, fear of family or community rejection. and from there you can be set on a path that entrenches itself to disenfranchisement. and of course, with that comes attendant mental health issues. and it's clear in the book that you feel this should be absolutely top of the agenda when it comes to the discussion of what it means to be transgender in the uk, or other countries around the world, too. but if we are honest, it is not top of the discussion at all. no, it is not. what we find in the uk right now, and you referred to the fact that it even rears its head in the debate about the future of the conservative party and who will be the next prime minister, what we find is the debate centres on a few issues which are concerned with rights and how transgender people fit in a society when it comes, for example, to treatment in the prison service, treatment within organised sport. those are the issues
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which consistently get the prominence. yes, they do, because... i mean, the title of the book, the transgender issue, is a trojan horse because what the essential argument of the book and why i use that title is that often when people talk about the trans issue or trans issues, they're not really talking about the challenges facing trans people. they are talking about anxieties in society at large amongst non—trans cisgender people. but that's entirely understandable, is it not? because as i said at the very beginning, roughly one in 100 people is trans. therefore 99% of the population is not trans. and it is inevitable that those 99% will want to work out how trans people fit and how they, as non—trans people, relate to trans people. i think, yeah, of course people will want to do that. but i think, at the same time, where there becomes a problem with that is that trans people are constantly reframed as a new thing, as a new group that sort of turned up knocking on the door,
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asking to be let in. sometimes literally, if you're talking about public space. and actually, what i would say is, trans people are already here. we're already living amongst you. and the reality is that we're not a theoretical or conceptual problem. and i think that's a huge problem with some of the ways in which the issues that are amplified in the media is that we get into this theoretical debate about whether i'm a woman or the nature of sex and gender. and they're a bit of a smokescreen. but it's not theoretical to many women. and i guess this is where one of the deepest fault lines lies in the debate about transgender rights, because there are many women — women — who say they are deeply unhappy with the notion that trans women should be given access to all of the spaces, including the safe spaces that women say they need to feel secure in society. yeah. it's a women's issue. yes. no, i do understand that.
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ithink... i actually have a lot of sympathy for the anxieties that are in play in this discussion, in terms of fear of male violence. and male violence against women tends to be perpetrated by men known to women — usually an intimate partner or family member. or the lack of space and women's safe spaces and refuge services, which have been cut by successive tory governments so that one in two women are refused a refuge space in the uk. neither of those issues are about trans women. those are about successive conservative governments and about a broader problem with male violence. and i think it's worth saying that 16% of trans women in the uk in the past year will have experienced domestic abuse at the hands of a partner or ex—partner. so what i am focusing on is the fact that trans women are often struggling with gender—based violence in similar ways to the ways that cisgender women are. and for me, it's much more about coming together to resist austerity and cuts and a devaluation of women's crisis services... that's where you want to put the debate. but it's not necessarily where,
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you know, some prominent women, including long—time feminists, feel the debate has to be right now. now, not so long ago on this show, we had dr kathleen stock on the show. she was an academic who wrote about these issues. she says she was hounded out of her academic post by the trans activist community and supporters of that community. she says, and i'm going to quote you now, that actually she's not anti—tra ns. she's just trying to ensure that women's rights are not undermined. she says, "genuine female—only services and spaces "aren't a character slur upon all men, "nor are they a character slui’ on trans women. "they are simply safeguarding measures "designed to protect women and girls." do you understand where she and many other self—styled feminists are coming from? i understand where they're coming from. because, i mean, i've read professor stock�*s book.
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i mean, she describes trans people's lives as an immersive fiction. stephen, even if i said to you, "your life is an immersive fiction" — it's exactly what i said before, isn't it? it's abstraction and a theoretical discussion about real people that exist. and when we look at trans women's experiences of gender—based violence — of misogynist violence, frankly, when it's domestic and sexual violence at the hands of cis male ex—partners, which is exactly the same patterns as women who are seeking safe spaces. what i am interested in is not these arguments that look at exclusion of entire groups, but if we cannot accommodate all women currently — which we can't, not even all non—trans women — there is something wrong politically with how we're investing in women's services. i understand what you're saying. i just wonder whether you feel, right now, despite the success of your book, whether you're losing the argument? because in certain different spheres it seems the movement is in a direction you don't want it to be. for example, the equality and human rights commission has
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declared that trans women can be excluded from some contexts, from some female—only changing rooms and bathroom facilities. in sports, for example, we've got some key sports like swimming and rugby, which have now, at an official level, said, "no, trans women can't compete." so do you feel you're losing the argument? i mean, that's an interesting question. i think there is a question here about interpretation of the equality act — is what you were discussing there. but i think, to be honest, all women are losing currently because we have existed under successive conservative governments which are not prioritising any women at all. and if you look globally, there is an attack on trans people's bodily autonomy and, as we see in the us, there is an attack on women's bodily autonomy by the right. all women have a big storm coming. and for me, it's about coming together to look at the broader context and the fact that it's important for us to be fighting for safety from violence for all and bodily autonomy for all women. perhaps the most significant
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battleground of all right now, particularly in the uk — but it's happening elsewhere, too — is over health care and young people and how one deals with children who are suffering from what i think is often called body dysphoria. who feel that they are inhabiting a body that doesn't represent their gender identity. and we're talking about kids — very young kids in some cases. what do you think the right thing to do is in those cases? well, i think the first thing to say there is that there is no one right thing to do. this is a bespoke situation in every case. every child is different. every child's particular experience. we have to talk in generalisations for the purposes of this discussion, for the purposes of media. but every child will have a different relationship with gender, and even children experiencing gender dysphoria, there can be, like, a huge difference in experience. in the book, i look at a case study.
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i speak to a family of a young trans girl who, at the time i spoke to her, was still in primary school. she had socially transitioned. 0bviously, young children do not medically transition. and the alleviation of her distress from when she was allowed to go into school and all her friends now understand her to be a girl, even though she was assigned male at birth, the alleviation in her distress compared to how she was before, that for me is the convincing argument in her case. and i think it's about looking at balancing... what we have to look at with young people is balancing the severe distress that gender dysphoria can cause versus all potential options for them. of course, potential risks. and a constant review with the child themselves. but what is really going on here? because the data is extraordinary. there seems to have been this exponential sort of explosion in the numbers of children who are being taken to clinics and who are being reported as experiencing gender dysphoria in recent years. you know, i think the
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figures that were used in the new statesman magazine not so long ago — in 2010, a0 girls under 18 were referred to the gender identity development service in the uk. by 2018, that number had risen from a0 to 1,800. now, that suggests that perhaps it isn't that children are experiencing something fundamentally different. it's just standards of diagnosis and the way clinicians are dealing with this is fundamentally changing. is that what you think? well, i actually think... i mean, it goes back to your earlier question about my experience growing up. as i said to you, when i was growing up, when i turned on the television or opened a newspaper — the internet was very ropey in those days — but i didn't see any trans people, so therefore i did not come out until my 20s. what is happening now, i think, is that more and more young people are aware of the existence of gender diversity, of trans people,
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of gender—nonconforming people. and so a lot of young people are able to give voice to what some people have always felt. and i think... you know, it's those statistics about the rise in referrals to gender identity development services for young people can be used as a sort of scare tactic. but provided the services are good, it's good... yeah, well, the tavistock clinic, which is at the centre of what has been happening, the government has now said it should be closed down. its gender identity services are going to be closed down in the next few months. and when you talk about experiences, let's talk about one particular experience. i just wonder whether it gives you pause. keira bell. she's gone public with her own experience. she was put on puberty blockers at the age of 16. and a year later, she says she was receiving testosterone shots. when she was 20, she had a double mastectomy. this is her words. "the further my transition went, "the more i realised i wasn't a man "and never would be." something went very badly wrong there. people like janice turner and otherjournalists who call themselves feminists say this
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isn't an isolated example. too often things are going badly wrong — and that needs to stop, doesn't it? i mean, keira bell's surgical interventions all happened in adulthood, and... sure, but she was put on the... puberty blockers have become a big issue. yes. she was put on them at 16. which is a reversable treatment. puberty blockers are a reversible treatment. she made the decision as an adult, and i think all adults should have bodily autonomy. that to me seems analogous... should children have bodily autonomy? within reason. i mean, children do. we have legal rights for children about certain... you know, there was the gillick case about whether or not children should be able to access contraception, for example. puberty blockers, which are used for the alleviation of gender dysphoria for trans young people, were originally prescribed to children for precocious puberty. most treatments given to trans young people were actually developed for non—trans young people. and the other thing i wanted to say is that whilst keira bell's apparent distress with the decisions that she made is very real, i feel its use in this context is analogous to what
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you see in the us. as we're seeing right now with the anti—abortion lobby is that you can get very powerful stories of abortion regret. but would most feminists agree that because... i mean, the plaintiff in roe versus wade, roe later came to regret the abortion that she created case law over. the reality is that human lives are much more messy when we allow them autonomy. but what we do not allow is one person's regret to curb the principle of autonomy generally. these are complex issues — there's no doubt about that. one thing is clear is that the increased focus on, as you put it in the title of your book, the transgender issue, has created deep divisions within the feminist movement. yes. now, you're a woman, a trans woman. do you regard yourself as a feminist? yes, i think most trans women do, because our experiences of the constraints of gender roles, our experiences of, unfortunately, gender—based violence and harassment put us in great sympathy, even before transition, with feminist principles.
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so the question then, if you do — and you're very clear you do — how do you build bridges to so many...? you know, sometimes they're called traditional feminists. and i've already cited janice turner. i could citejk rowling and others who are adamant that they are feminist to the core, but they feel that you and the community you represent are in some ways making arguments that are anti—feminist, that are undermining many of the rights that women had fought for, for decades and centuries. how do you build bridges? well, i mean, one of the sort of realities of feminism, wherever it has existed throughout history, is that it has always had quite deep divisions. there are divisions over sex work, pornography, divisions around race. it's a movement that often is involving women who are coming to it for reasons of great passion. and that can involve deep divisions. i am a believer in bridge building. i do think things have become highly polarised and it's unhelpful. to me, i think
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writing a book... because one of the problems i think with this discussion is that a lot of it has happened on social media, and i think there's a real problem there with people entrenching themselves in positions. when you give people an audience, when it becomes very tribal, people don't want to back down on either side. and one of the reasons that i wrote this book was to create a tool so that people can have some thoughts. not everyone has to agree with everything i say in the book, but hopefully that will build a bridge. and i have actually had messages and emails from women, feminists, who have said that it has shifted their position. we might not agree on everything, but it has somewhat shifted their position in the privacy of their own home. and that's the best i can do as a writer. shon faye, sadly we're out of time, but i thank you very much indeed forjoining me on hardtalk. thank you for having me.
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hello. 0ur spell of largely dry and increasingly hot weather is set to continue for the rest of this week. over the next few days, we see those heatwave conditions building and hardly any rain in the forecast. just the far northwest of scotland, where we see a weather front close by, we'll see a little bit of rain, but for the rest of us, high pressure dominates. as that high pressure shifts its way slightly more towards the east, that will draw in this really hot air from the near continent, so particularly by the time we get to thursday and friday, we'll see those temperatures soaring, particularly across a good part of england and wales. temperatures to start your wednesday morning between about 11—15 in our towns and cities, a touch lower in the countryside first thing. lots of hot sunshine on the cards for wednesday, that weather front bringing a bit more cloud to the far
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northwest, bit of rain for the western isles, perhaps. but temperatures in england, scotland and northern ireland in the mid—20s, but down towards the south and southeast, 30—31 degrees pretty widely. then, from thursday onwards, that's when that amber extreme heat warning kicks in across a good part of england and into eastern wales as well. but wherever you are, you can feel the heat and disruption due to the those high temperatures in terms of health problems, potentially transport problems as well. so, thursday, another hot, dry day away from the northwest of scotland, and temperatures widely in the mid—to—high 20s in the north, mid—30s in the south. 3a, possibly 35 degrees on thursday, could be even a degree or so hotter than that as we head on into friday. again, a bit more cloud and rain for the western isles, highlands, northern isles as well where it's a little bit cooler, but most of us baking in that hot sunshine, so the mid—20s to mid—30s during the course of friday. if we zoom into the hottest spots — probably across parts of central and southern england, just into wales as well — somewhere here could see 36 degrees on friday. and looking towards the weekend, perhaps a degree or so hotter
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than that into saturday. so, warm sunshine once again lasting for many of us through the course of the weekend. we are hopeful that things will start to change a little bit later on sunday, particularly overnight into monday. a few thunderstorms developing across france, which could really do with the rainfall, and then they look like they will develop more widely across the uk, but still quite a lot of uncertainty at this stage about exactly when and if those thunderstorms are coming. but we're hopeful that, into next week, things will start to turn cooler with an increasing chance of rain. bye— bye.
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welcome to newsday, reporting live from singapore, i'm karishma vaswani. the headlines: senior republicans condemn the unprecedented search of donald trump's florida home. the white house insists it only learned of the fbi's action from media reports. the un says there's growing evidence in myanmar of crimes against humanity committed by the army since it seized power in a coup last year. record rainfall in 80 years leave homes and roads submerged in floodwaters, in the south korean capital, seoul.
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france is in the grip of its worst drought on record

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