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MNHQ: Mumsnet and transphobia - our thoughts

(170 Posts)
SarahMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 03-Jul-14 10:23:08

Hey everyone,

Thanks to all for your posts on this issue - we appreciate them, and have read through them all in order to take everyone’s views into account. We’ve had a lengthy discussion - several, in fact - at MNHQ on how to move forward re transphobia on Mumsnet, and this is where we’ve landed.

Firstly: we need to hold up our hands. Mumsnet is a general interest site; we moderate across a wide host of issues on a daily basis, and can’t claim to be experts in any one field. As a result, our policy in terms of Talk Guidelines and what we deem deletable has always been inclusive rather than exclusive: we find it more sustainable to operate under broad principles of mutual respect and courtesy, rather than specifying what users can and can’t say on any given topic.

Having thought about it, therefore, we’ve decided we want to apply those same broad principles when it comes to transphobia, rather than coming up with a “Mumsnet” definition of what transphobia is, or with a list of specific deletable transgressions. We realise that several of you have asked for just such a list, on the very reasonable grounds that transgenderism is, for some, an area about which they know little, and it would therefore be helpful to have a clear set of “you can say this/you can’t say that” guidelines. Our reasons for not wanting to go down that route are as follows:

1) we don’t do this for any other type of deletable offence - racism, sexism, homophobia, disabilism or ageism

2) we’re poorly placed to do it. We can’t claim to be experts in transgenderism; therefore, for us to come up with a definition of what we believe it to be would, we feel, be presumptuous

3) part of the reason we haven’t done so for any other “ism” is because it’s impossible to make such a list definitive. For every ruling we make (“it’s transphobic to say X”) 3/10/a thousand more questions will arise (“what about if you say Y?”)

4) such a list wouldn’t take any account of context. As I said above, many of the people who suggested a definition/list would be useful did so because of the lack of knowledge and clarity around the issue. Having given this some thought, and in particular, having read the recent thread on the subject in Chat, it seems to us that folk might very reasonably ask questions around transgenderism that are purely in the spirit of enquiry and in no way intended to give offence but which might, under specific guidelines on wording, be construed as transphobic. We’ve no wish at all to stifle discussion of an issue that is, rightly, gaining visibility - in fact, we think it’d be counterproductive.

Currently, we don’t specifically mention transphobia in the list of offences we delete for in the Talk Guidelines. We’ll amend that now, so it’s spelled out to anyone using the website that transphobia is not welcome on Mumsnet. We’ll also change the Lesbian and Gay Parents topic to LGBT Parents, as suggested, to make it consistent with our LGBT Children topic.

Ultimately, we think one of the real strengths of MN is that it allows users to have robust disagreements about difficult topics, but without hate speech, and without comments that are just plain mean or personally directed at other posters. If there are any posts that you think we need to look at please flag them up by hitting the 'Report' button and we'll always take a look.

Apols for the essay. Hope all of this makes sense, and you can follow our reasoning on it. Please let us know what you think and as ever, thanks for the input. flowers


TiggyD Fri 15-Aug-14 17:02:27

You said: ..."To expect everyone to make the change immediately, without slip ups, seems unreasonable; in many cases, the use of the "wrong" pronoun will be inadvertent." - Mumsnet.

I reported this post:
"Transwoman Voz Latina has said on Twitter 'Save a woman, kill a feminist. Preferably before she kills one more of us.'
Personally I believe you can tell someone's true sex by the amount of death and rape threats they issue to women who disagree with them. Voz Latina and his ilk are not only men but male extremists."

Pretty vile stuff. But once again the poster deliberately used transphobic language when talking about it.

The Mumsnet response was "Thanks Tiggy. In the context of the debate and the discussion about this person's online behaviour we will leave it to stand."

So now you're allowing people free rein to use deliberately abusive language if the person appears to be an arsehole. Except you're not are you, because it won't apply to everybody. Just transpeople.

TiggyD Thu 14-Aug-14 21:32:53

"1) While we obviously support anyone's right to request that others refer to them by whatever name and pronoun they choose, and we think it's courteous to do just that" - More Mumsnet crap.

It's not being "courteous". It's not being transphobic. Would you consider it "courteous" to avoid using the term 'poof' when talking about gay people?

"in this case we're talking about a well-known public figure whom many of us have been used to referring to as "he" for several decades" - Mumsnet.

Have they? Have all the people on the other thread really been constantly talking about Frank Maloney for the last 20 years? All big boxing fans are they? I said on the other thread I'm not that bothered by Lennox Lewis referring to Kellie Maloney as "he" because he actually has known him 20 years. Unless the people on the other thread can prove they know her personally before she 'came out' it's just plain abuse that you're letting happen.

"we think that in the case of this thread, blanket deleting of "he" would make a nonsense of what has, for the most part, been a thoughtful debate." - Mumsnet.

Or put another way 'we think that taking out all the harrasment and abuse aimed at a minority group would make a nonsense of what has, for the most part, been a thoughtful debate'. Do you have any principles? You're really going to let your stupid transphobia allowance be seen for years to come?

Justine, you're sanctioning harrasment against minorities.

TiggyD Thu 14-Aug-14 19:42:18

From the bullshit you posted earlier:
"The main thrust of the reports has been about our failure to delete posts which refer to Kellie Maloney as Frank, or that use the pronoun "he" rather than "she"...

..."To expect everyone to make the change immediately, without slip ups, seems unreasonable; in many cases, the use of the "wrong" pronoun will be inadvertent."

There was one poster who stated that they would never call 'him he'. You didn't delete any of their other posts containing male pronouns despite that admission that it was deliberate rather than inadvertent. That's not you accepting mistakes will be made, that's you enabling transphobic abuse.

TiggyD Wed 13-Aug-14 20:09:44

Well, a month after you said you would you changed the title of the Gay and Lesbian Parents' board to GBLT Parents. Shame you could be arsed until I reminded you today.

Meanwhile on another board people are merrily referring to transwomen as he with the permission of Mumsnet. That's possibly the most basic requirement in the Ladybird book of how to avoid transphobia.

Mumsnet, your efforts in this field has been one big fuck of of a step backward. Very dissapointing that you've made this site so hostile to the trans minority.

Mammuzza Fri 04-Jul-14 09:20:35

but I stand by my point that it is absolutely unrelated to transexual people

And it would appear from that link that (at least some) people with intersex conditions agree with you.

Having read the link, I am wondering if some of the tension over the appropiration of intersex could be down to intersex and trans perspectives being not just "not all that similar" but actually oppositional, at least in some areas.

If an intersex perspective is that children should not have surgical or hormonal proccedures foistered upon them by adults in order to "tidy" them into a binary sex classification system... then isn't that oppositional to what appears to be support towards diagnosing children as young as 5 as transgender and support for the use of hormonal and surgical proccedures to transition the child as early as possible?

If an intersex perspective is that those who do not fit neatly into either the female or male box should not be forced into a binary system, but accepted for what they are, intersex... then is that oppositional to a trans persepective that there are two boxes, man and woman, and it is unacceptable to have a third/forth box called transwoman or transman?

That is a rather large question(s). To which I am not sure any of us has the answer. But for the time being, if intersex people feel they are co-opted and their reality is being appropriated in/by a transgender context... then perhaps intersex realities shouldn't be waggled so consistently as "ah, but ...!" points in discussions and debates about transgender.

ICanHearYou Fri 04-Jul-14 09:09:47

Thats interesting. I don't really know enough about it.

People have been born with two wombs and all the trimmings though. So I am sure it has happened it must just be very very rare.

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 04-Jul-14 09:03:16

Oh, good, I wasn't sure I was making any sense there.

FWIW, I don't think humans are ever born with two sets of genitalia.

Intersex people are born with genitalia that don't fit neatly with what medics expect genitalia to look like.

I don't know enough about hormones to comment on that side, though.

ICanHearYou Fri 04-Jul-14 08:57:10

X posted with LRD, annoyingly I could have just say

'yer wot she said'

'plus some hormones'

ICanHearYou Fri 04-Jul-14 08:54:46

Thank you mam

As I pointed out I am unhappy putting intersex people in the same box as trans people, I think that is unhelpful.

I think that what my logic was based around is the thought that hormones and the development of the body around those hormones have as much to do with the sex of a person as anything else. If testies are viable and left, the person will develop masculine characteristics, if ovaries are viable and left, then vice versa. I am speaking purely physically here, I strongly believe that certain behaviours attributed to men and women are as much to do with socialisation as hormones and much to do with both.

I can see why there would be some worry about leaving an infant with two sets of genitalia that might develop and produce two lots of hormones. However rationally at a certain age (perhaps prepubescent) perhaps the person could decide for themselves, arguably though this would be far more traumatic for the child than a smaller and less memorable operation as an infant.

I think it is a very interesting subject, I think it must be very difficult for the people who are personally affected by it but I stand by my point that it is absolutely unrelated to transexual people who are socialised as one sex, have the hormonal development of one sex and then are told that they can 'change' sex in adulthood. I think this is impossible.

LRDtheFeministDragon Fri 04-Jul-14 08:51:50

I find the points about people with intersex conditions strange too. How is it not obvious? The differences between men and women are of two kinds - there are biological differences, which shouldn't make us unequal but, in practice, do, and which inevitably give us different experiences. And then there are socialised differences, which are (so far as I can see) entirely suited to making us unequal.

Someone brought up female was brought up female.

If some twisted fucker had decided to bring up a child with an obvious, fully-functioning penis as female and had somehow managed to convince the child and everyone around the child that he was a she, while maintaining the same social situations the rest of the world experiences (you can see this can't be done), then that child would, to my mind, be socialised female. That child would not have a literal risk of, say, pregnancy complications, but in my view, they'd already have all the disadvantage that goes with people expecting them to be female.

The socialisation is the big issue here, for me, not the biology. The biology comes into it because I believe women as a class are oppressed because we're the ones capable of being impregnated and because I think lesbians are as entitled as anyone else to be attracted to certain physical types and not others, but on an individual level, it's the socialisation that shapes how you act.

Mammuzza Fri 04-Jul-14 08:44:10

I suppose, logically, the most important thing would be to secure a normal as possible life for the child, so depending on what gonads were formed, what surgeries could be done early to secure a sex either way would be preferable for the child.

I don't get the impression that is necessarily true from the perspectives of people who are born with ambiguous genitalia.

This writer touches on the issue here, along side the issues of intersex being approporiated.

FloraFox Fri 04-Jul-14 08:39:33

But perhaps my point does open up questions as to the validity of the 'I am female because I was born that way' position.

No it does not. Intersex is not trans. Not at all.

FloraFox Fri 04-Jul-14 08:37:15

where would such a person fall within the categories you privilege?

What does "you privilege" mean?

ArcheryAnnie Fri 04-Jul-14 08:35:56


I'm not sure that the word "privilege" has any place in a discussion about either women or intersex people. Neither are privileged, and both have their issues co-opted by trans activism.

CoreyTrevorLahey Fri 04-Jul-14 08:35:39

ICan, you know I wasn't asking you to determine the sex of a real child or make a decision comparable to one made by such a child's parents. I was asking for an opinion.

Indeed, I agree that someone being born with ambiguous genitalia and living as female after surgery at birth and someone choosing to live as female in later life are very different cases, with plenty of shades of grey in between.

But perhaps my point does open up questions as to the validity of the 'I am female because I was born that way' position.

Anyway, thanks for answering my question.

ICanHearYou Fri 04-Jul-14 08:23:44

I suppose, logically, the most important thing would be to secure a normal as possible life for the child, so depending on what gonads were formed, what surgeries could be done early to secure a sex either way would be preferable for the child.

That is totally separate from the suggestion that a person can 'change sex' as an adult though, which is just not true. You cannot implant ovaries and uterus and so on into a human you cannot 'make' them female.

In the situation where a child is born with two sets of genitals I suppose the question would be which ones are viable. I imagine that if a womb, uterus and ovaries existed these would be harder to remove. I'm not a doctor though.

ICanHearYou Fri 04-Jul-14 08:18:32

If it is not the parents decision. What on earth makes you think that it would be mine?

CoreyTrevorLahey Fri 04-Jul-14 08:13:17

You haven't answered my question: would you consider this person female?

ICanHearYou Fri 04-Jul-14 07:56:07

I don't necessarily think that is the parents choice, nor do I think it is in anyway comparable to someone being raised, socialised and treated as one sex and then choosing to 'become' a different sex.

I actually think that in the incredibly rare cases of having two separate sexual organs, the people involved would be rather unhappy to be put in a group with transsexuals.

CoreyTrevorLahey Fri 04-Jul-14 07:23:25

Genuine question for ICan: if someone is born with ambiguous genitalia and their parents choose the female sex for them, they spend childhood unaware that they were ever anything but biologically female, then they are told by their parents about the circumstances of their birth and choose to carry on identifying as female, where would such a person fall within the categories you privilege?

ICanHearYou Thu 03-Jul-14 23:46:20

I'm going to teach my sons that women are the female of the species and men are the male of the species and that everything else is just socialisation.

oaksettle Thu 03-Jul-14 23:42:58

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MrsTerryPratchett Thu 03-Jul-14 23:26:10

How are we supposed to teach our young the birds and the bees if we cannot even state what a woman is. Oddly, I was thinking about this the other day as I read a book about bodies and families with my DD who is three. It's a nice book with lots of families represented, quite good representations of boys and girls with their similarities (girls like being loud, so do boys, girls like playing sports, so do boys). It also has, 'who has what' IYSWIM. Boys have penises and so do men. Girls have vulvae and so do women.

I was pondering how exactly to write a book for preschoolers about bodies that some people wouldn't find transphobic and some children wouldn't find really confusing. I want DD to grow up happy in herself and understanding to everyone. If she is trans or gay I hope the world is shrugging by them (and about her gender as well come to that) because it has become such a non-issue. I still, however, cannot shake the belief that sex is biological and gender is social.

LRDtheFeministDragon Thu 03-Jul-14 23:17:02

Oh, sure, I take your point, absolutely.

CoteDAzur Thu 03-Jul-14 23:15:55

I understand your point.

I was trying to say that the problem may be the language (which was forged during times when male privilege was even more acute than it is now, obviously)

For example, Turkish has no gender (like French le/la) and no male/female pronouns (like English he/she). There is also no distinction between waiter/waitress, no gender-specific professions like postman , and no " mankind" ("humankind" is the only term in use). I wonder if the two are related - i.e. there is just much less inherent sexism in the language than English.

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