Books, UEA Live

Shon Faye on her ‘Trojan Horse’ book at UEA Live

Walking in to a thunderous round of applause, Shon Faye takes her seat at the front of the lecture theatre.

Lawyer turned writer and campaigner, with podcast Call Me Mother, Faye’s works have reached mass audiences. Her first book, The Transgender Issue, is a liberating piece analysing the trans experience in the UK. As a freelance writer amidst the outpour of misinformation surrounding trans people in the 2010s, Faye found herself writing honest pieces about trans visibility and trans issues, confiding, “I felt a moral obligation.”

“When I met my agent, I said I wasn’t going to write a book about trans issues, and then I wrote a book called The Transgender Issue,” she jokes. She tells us that she found books like Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race and Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight For Sex Workers’ Rights incredibly important in telling the right stories, and how she decided to follow this medium when it came to trans issues. Expanding on the title, Shon describes how determined she was to stick to The Transgender Issue, against worries the book would appear as anti-trans. Faye comments, “that’s the reason I liked it, I love a Trojan Horse”, expanding that it falls into the reappropriation of anti-queer comments. There is a long history of the queer community reclaiming slurs, Faye plays on this idea, wanting to rewrite years of degradation and othering. Spinning it on its head, the book steals the phrase back, discussing the issues trans people face in their everyday lives.

The Transgender Issue, Shon says, isn’t just about trans issues, but is “about how trans people are an exemplar of many structural issues that are wrong with our society.” What Faye lays out in the book, and her talk, isn’t simply that trans people want to be themselves, but that they want liberation. When Faye was the Trans Engagement Officer with Stonewall, most issues trans people spoke about were housing problems, healthcare waits, benefit payment delays, which Faye recognised didn’t only affect trans people. Intersectionality runs throughout the book, leading Faye to discuss the “politics of coalition” over the idea of allyship during this talk. Where allyship tends to have a power imbalance, the coalition Faye discusses is minority groups working together to find common aims. “When I write about feminism, I’m keen to say it’s not just why trans people need feminism, but also why feminism needs trans people.” Faye expands on this by discussing bodily autonomy, and the limitations trans people face when they seek out healthcare, and how this parallels with pregnant people being denied access to safe abortions. Her argument is that trans people and pregnant people should work together to fight for bodily autonomy and an improved healthcare system. 

The 2010s shift in media representation is discussed. Trans people go from “non-threatening” to a “scary monolith”. KR Moorhead asks where the shift came from, to which Shon Faye replies, “trans people started answering back.” The ‘non-threatening clown’ portrayals made the general readership laugh, and dismiss trans struggles, but with the rise of the internet, trans people around the world started to talk to each other. The challenge of misrepresentation began, and in Faye’s words, “trans people committed the ultimate crime by being visible and talking about it” bringing about better trans representation in media. Some people weren’t happy with this, and as they could no longer make trans people into a joke, they could “make them something to be feared.” But as Faye concludes in her book, “they are frightened by the gleaming opulence of our freedom. Our existence enriches this world.”

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Louise Collins

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June 2022
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