Transphobia and patriarchy in action: Jason Wong

On Tues­day night, I wrote and pub­lished this piece on trans­pho­bic fem­i­nism, and how it’s inher­ently part of the patriarchy.

On Wednes­day morn­ing, I woke up to find out about a com­ment piece writ­ten by LSE stu­dent Jason Wong that was printed in Lon­don Stu­dent on the sub­ject of gender-neutral toilets:

Jason Wong's comment piece in Leeds Student

Should uni­sex toi­lets exist on uni­ver­sity cam­pus?”: No, by Jason Wong.

Wong is not a stranger to con­tro­versy. He has run twice for student-run posi­tions at LSE, and both times, has been dis­qual­i­fied: the first time for a sex­ist cam­paign, and the sec­ond time for an anti-Semitic cam­paign poster. His twit­ter pro­file says he’s rail­ing against a “far-left Stu­dent Union” and sup­ports free­ing Julian Assange, sus­pected rapist. So, you know the kind of char­ac­ter he is. And now he’s got a mas­sive bee in his bon­net, and is build­ing his cam­paign against gender-neutral toi­lets on the grounds of women’s pri­vacy. From a man who, less than a year ago, ran a cam­paign with incred­i­bly sex­ist imagery.

Let’s deal with the com­ment piece first, and the con­cept of gen­der neu­tral toilets.

One of the hard­est parts of social tran­si­tion for a trans per­son, once they start pre­sent­ing as their pre­ferred gen­der, is the con­fi­dence to use pub­lic toi­lets. If you’re a trans woman, you run the risk of being thrown out of some­where and maybe get­ting the police called if you’re read as male in the women’s toi­lets, or ver­bally and phys­i­cally attacked if you’re read as female in the men’s toi­lets. The con­verse is true for trans men. A lot of trans peo­ple don’t use pub­lic toi­lets at all out of this fear, which can lead to uri­nary tract infections.

Gen­der neu­tral toi­lets already exist in soci­ety any­way. Dis­abled toi­lets are de facto gen­der neu­tral, and are often used by trans* peo­ple if they aren’t Radar Key locked. Train toi­lets are gen­der neu­tral. Pri­vate toi­lets in houses are gen­der neu­tral. Civil­i­sa­tion won’t crum­ble if a uni­ver­sity union decided to make one set of toi­lets in a three-story build­ing gen­der neu­tral. Gen­der neu­tral toi­lets also offer advan­tages to peo­ple who fit in the gen­der binary too: they can offer baby chang­ing facil­i­ties that can’t fit in the gen­dered toilets.

A dilemma fac­ing every gen­der vari­ant per­son every day.

So, it’s not polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness gone mad, or a “ghastly game of social exper­i­ment” to sup­port gen­der neu­tral toi­lets. For the health and wel­fare of trans* peo­ple, for one, there has to be pro­vi­sion so they can use the restroom facil­i­ties like every­one else can. And to the argu­ment it costs money? When Leeds Uni­ver­sity Union opened its gen­der neu­tral toi­let, the only cost was to change the sign from “Dis­abled” to “Gen­der Neutral/Disabled”, which was cov­ered for in refur­bish­ment of the build­ing already.

The pri­vacy issue is another issue that doesn’t stand up well to exam­i­na­tion. Although the boogey­man of cis women being attacked if trans women were allowed to use the same facil­i­ties (which has to be allowed by law), Wong has, despite mul­ti­ple requests, not named a sin­gle case in which a trans woman attacked a cis woman in a toi­let. How­ever, the reverse hap­pened: at Lon­don Pride 2008, sev­eral trans women, includ­ing jour­nal­ist Roz Kaveney, were refused access to the women’s and made to use the men’s (where an attack later took place). This is not a ran­dom busi­ness we’re talk­ing about. This is at Pride.

For every­thing that soci­ety thrusts on cis women, they also thrust on trans women too, on account of both groups being women. To trans women even more. But — and this is why it so relates to Tues­days post — some peo­ple see the wel­fare of “true women” as more impor­tant than trans women. It’s a very com­mon argu­ment from the trans­pho­bic rad­i­cal fem­i­nist movement.

That would be bad on its own, if it were not for the fact that Wong implies that trans women want­ing to use the same toi­lets as cis women are really just “strange unknown men” and the pol­icy “openly invites sex offend­ers”. In essence, he’s call­ing all women sex offend­ers. An argu­ment that Sarah Brown, Cam­bridge City coun­cil­lor, did not take too kindly.

In the last line, he claims that the instal­la­tion of gen­der neu­tral toi­lets would make LSE equiv­a­lent to a “cheap strip club in Bangkok. That’s a) hor­ri­bly trans­pho­bic, b) hor­ri­bly racist, and c) hor­ri­bly anti-sex-worker. One has to won­der if he’s been recently watch­ing Lady­boys on Sky Liv­ing, or maybe Lit­tle Britain, but it’s imply­ing that all trans women are Thai kathoeys — which is sim­ply not true — and that Bangkok is filled with trans peo­ple — again, not really true. The “strip club” line also hor­rif­i­cally triv­i­alises the sur­vival sex work that many trans peo­ple, espe­cially trans women in the United States, have to do to afford food, let alone their hor­mone replace­ment therapy.

But Jason decides to dou­ble down: he claims to sup­port LGBT rights, but not gen­der­less toi­lets. This doesn’t make sense, really, because the right to bod­ily auton­omy is a human right itself. By oppos­ing the right to allow a trans per­son to use the toi­let, you’re oppos­ing their bod­ily auton­omy. And notice the let­ter “T” in the acronym. I know, from impres­sions of Stonewall, that it’s dec­o­ra­tion, but quite a lot of gay issues are also trans issues as they tie into the con­cept of gen­der. But no, accord­ing to Jason, the state of being trans­gen­der isn’t real: it’s just “the lat­est trend of the polit­i­cally cor­rect mob”.

Which leads us to Wednes­day evening’s Face­book post, in which he starts what is now a series of pho­tos of stu­dents sup­port­ing Jason. He makes claims that the Stu­dent Union are play­ing polit­i­cal games with the wel­fare of stu­dents. Which is laugh­able because, well, that’s exactly what he’s doing. He also asserts the SU are engaged in a “war on het­ero­sex­u­als”, which is about as real as a war on cater­pil­lars (riff­ing on Reince Preibus slightly). He also claims, in a com­ment, to be con­cerned about stu­dents hav­ing kid­ney prob­lems by refus­ing to use toi­lets — which his cam­paign would actu­ally cause. But the worst part is him claim­ing the stu­dent in the photo is, and I quote, “an actual female/ not trans­gen­der and has never been to Bangkok.”

Ugh.

And you know the fun­ni­est thing? The gender-neutral toi­lets are com­pletely optional! They’ll only be one set in the new build­ings at LSE, which are being installed for acces­si­bil­ity issues. And gen­der neu­tral toi­lets are never manda­tory any­way, because, admit­tedly, some peo­ple would pre­fer to use seg­re­gated toi­lets. Insti­tu­tions often deseg­re­gate one set of toi­lets to offer gender-neutral stu­dents that choice.

Still, this is how patri­archy works: the denial or rejec­tion of asser­tions of priv­i­lege being used to oppress minor­ity groups. And I don’t doubt Jason is part of that patri­ar­chal sys­tem: a Tory middle-class (at least) kid unashamedly sup­port­ing some­one accused of rape, with hor­rif­i­cally trans­pho­bic views. I wouldn’t be sur­prised if he ended up as a Tory can­di­date some­where in the 2015 election.

Luck­ily, all hope is not lost. Jason has been roundly crit­i­cised by both peo­ple at LSE, includ­ing Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Alex Peters-Day (who has been stel­lar this entire week) and LGBT Offi­cer John Peart, and peo­ple in the trans com­mu­nity, not least Sarah Brown, who has shown an amaz­ing amount of restraint see­ing as she’s a tar­get of Jason’s big­otry. Hell, even I got quite a few barbs in. It brings hope in the future, and I do hope this inci­dent will show the need for a dis­cus­sion on sex seg­re­ga­tion of pub­lic toi­lets, as for the wel­fare of gender-variant peo­ple every­where, we really need to have that discussion.

3 comments

  1. Nic says:

    Let’s remem­ber that gen­der neu­tral toi­lets are also essen­tial for gen­derqueer or androg­y­nous peo­ple who fear abuse in seg­re­gated toilets.

    • Sarah says:

      I would say that gen­derqueer and androg­yny do fit in the trans* umbrella. And I do apol­o­gise by focus­ing so much on tran­si­tion­ing trans­gen­der peo­ple! Because, yes, it’s not just a wefare issue to them. Hence why I did men­tion the wider ground of gen­der vari­ance in the pic­ture cap­tion and the last paragraph. :)

  2. […] men­tal­ity. For exam­ple, the edi­tor of Lon­don Stu­dent, Jen Iza­ak­son, signed the let­ter, just weeks after pub­lish­ing and defend­ing Jason Wong’s hor­rif­i­cally trans­pho­bic com­ment piece. I actu­ally chal­lenged her by ask­ing whether […]

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