‘ Loving people makes them less aggressive’
Amid an increasingly toxic debate about trans rights, transgender philosophy professor Sophie Grace Chappell suggests how to foster tolerance and compassion instead
Interview by Franki Cookney Photography by Murdo MacLeod
In June, Sophie Grace Chappell wrote an open letter to Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who opposes reforms to the Gender Recognition Act that would make it easier for trans people to get legal recognition. Chappell showed great empathy for Rowling, who had revealed that she was a survivor of sexual violence. Here, Chappell speaks to Positive News about how we can move past the toxicity and come together.
— Your letter to JK Rowling was very empathetic. How can we bring more kindness into these conversations? When people are loved, they’re more secure, less shrill and less aggressive. I haven’t always been completely secure and free from shrillness myself, but when you’re loved by a family it is much easier to be gentle and kind to others. I think the most basic thing to do when people have these fears, is to think about how it looks from their point of view. If you’re a woman who survived a serious sexual assault, certain things can be triggering for you. I never want to silence people. We need these debates, but we also need to be able to recognise when people are just being unpleasant. When I get fed up, I listen to You Need To Calm Down by Taylor Swift, which is wonderfully trans-affirming. I love that song. People need to stop hitting the panic button and assuming that the other side are monsters. When we do that, we dig our trenches and we polarise ourselves.
— What motivates you to stay engaged in this conversation? There’s a nice meme that says: ‘What gender-
critical people think trans women want: to convert all the kids. What trans women actually want: to be left alone and have somewhere safe to have a pee.’ There’s no question of converting people to be trans. You can’t do that. I think what gets misinterpreted by some people as missionary zeal is actually just a lot of trans women, like me, who are thinking about their own younger selves. That was an awful position to be in – I didn’t understand myself. I want to help other people to get off that awful track.
— You recently compared the trans experience to being an adoptive parent: can you expand on that? As an adoptive parent, you’re starting from somewhere different [to biological parents], but you get to the same place. You won’t have the same experience as biological parents, but you’re likely to go through the sleepless nights, to have all the worries about your child. The solidarity has to do with shared experience. People get bound together by the fact that they’re all in the same struggle. In many ways, trans and biological women have the same struggle for women’s rights. There are differences, but there’s more that unites us than divides us.
— What can we do to raise children to be tolerant and accepting of differences? I think the lessons often run the other way. Talking to my own children, the younger generation seem much more tolerant. They’re much more inclined to say, ‘OK, Kevin’s like this,’ or ‘Maria’s like that, that’s fine, that’s her life’.
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