Scraping the bottom of the transphobia barrel: Daily Mail fearmongers about trans-inclusive safer sex advice

Zinnia JonesThe British press often seems to have an insatiable need to find the next big thing to get upset about regarding trans people – and what could be a more sensational topic than having sex with us? This month, the Daily Mail decided it was necessary to express pretend bafflement at NHS safer sex guidance for lesbian women. What’s the issue? Well, the materials outrageously acknowledged that not all lesbians are cis:

An NHS-backed safer sex guide for women who sleep with women will leave many readers scratching their heads over its advice to wear a condom, ‘if you or your partner has a penis’.

The mind-boggling advice comes in a booklet produced by LGBT Youth Scotland in a section on ‘Contraception and safer sex tools’.

The publication is endorsed by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which said the condom advice related to transgender women who may still have male genitalia.

The guidance in the booklet – entitled ‘Good Sex Is… For Women Who Have Sex With Women’ – states, ‘if either you or your partner has a penis then you should always use a condom’ to avoid becoming pregnant.

The notion that such advice is somehow “mind-boggling” is… well, mind-boggling. Are we to believe that the same transphobes who take every opportunity to point out that many trans women have penises, for whom our genitals have become a topic of incessant and disturbing focus, are now surprised and confused at this new information about how we should we should wear condoms? Are we also to believe that they can’t make heads or tails of the word “if” – as in, if you or your partner don’t have a penis, this advice obviously does not apply to your circumstance? More than that, educational materials generally serve not to boggle but to unboggle minds – this is no different from the age-old canard that children will be “confused” by LGBT-inclusive sex education, when such education specifically functions to remedy confusion. Even in relationships between cis lesbians, condoms can have important uses, such as with strap-ons or other sex toys, or unrolled to serve as a dental dam.

Of course, nuance is not on the menu today, and the faux-confusion soldiers on with wholly unnecessary input from “feminist” Linda Bellos, an admitted arsonist who previously threatened to attack trans women:

Last night, lesbian feminist Linda Bellos, a veteran campaigner for women’s and gay rights, said it was ‘ludicrous’ to suggest ‘women’ have penises.

Ms Bellos said: ‘This guide is not only foolish but as far as I’m concerned, it’s downright dangerous and anti-lesbian.

It’s not been very long since lesbians had any kind of social recognition. We are always being erased and this is another example of our erasure.

‘It’s belittling our history that now men are claiming they are lesbians. If they are encouraging lesbians to have sex with men then, as far as I’m concerned, that is being heterosexual.’

It’s rather bold to allege that lesbians are being “erased” while explicitly calling for the erasure of some lesbians – both trans lesbians, and the cis lesbians in relationships with them – from a safer sex guide for lesbians. To Bellos, “recognition” of lesbians somehow requires that these lesbians must go unrecognized. But her argument isn’t merely an objection to the content of a safer sex advice booklet – it’s an objection to reality. Lesbian cis women, with an enduring orientation and pattern of attraction to women, can and do engage in relationships with trans women. For them, this is not in conflict with their orientation – it is a part of their orientation as lesbians, and wholly concordant with this. Trans women are women, cisgender lesbians who choose to enter into relationships with us regard us as women, and these are relationships between women, also known as lesbian relationships.

To call the mere inclusion and recognition of these relationships “dangerous” (compared to unprotected sex and unintended pregnancy?), and to claim that talking about this at all constitutes “encouraging lesbians to have sex with men”, reveals Bellos’ true concern: Cis lesbians do sleep with trans women – and Linda Bellos would just really rather they didn’t. The fact of these relationships, which the NHS rightly recognizes, represents a threat to her preferred vision of the world: one in which cis lesbians don’t sleep with trans women. Her assertion that this is “dangerous” says much more about her, and the vulnerability of her philosophy, than it does about anything else.

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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