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12th October 2021

The real transgender issue: a review of Shon Faye’s new book

Aileen Loftus reviews Shon Faye’s new title The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice, after hearing Faye speak about the book
The real transgender issue: a review of Shon Faye’s new book
Shon Faye in Conversation with Christine Burns. Photo: Danny @ Manchester Libraries

In her new book The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice, Shon Faye reclaims what ‘the transgender issue’ means. The media often uses this phrase. As Faye outlines, “to talk about their issues with us, not the challenges facing us”. This book turns that on its head, discussing the issues and injustices facing the transgender community. 

Last week, Shon Faye spoke with political activist Christine Burns at Manchester Central Library about her recent book. Faye was a funny and engaging speaker, but didn’t shy away from the more serious elements of her work. The opening line boldly asserts that “the liberation of trans people would improve the lives of everyone in our society”.

Faye read English Literature at the University of Oxford and then went on to train as a lawyer. She then had an ‘implosion’ (a word Faye was happy to use herself to describe the period of her life) and left the law. She now pursues writing and campaigning full time, and The Transgender Issue is her first book. 

Talk of ‘transgender issues’ often brings to mind the Olympic Games, JK Rowling, or public toilets. It is these associations that Faye wants to challenge. Faye writes: “The ‘topic’ of trans has now been limited to a handful of repetitive talking points” such as “the endless debate over toilets and changing rooms”. She wishes to move on from these repeated points. The function of such repetition is distraction and time-wasting. The more serious issues facing transgender people are sidelined. This book refuses to be distracted, and prioritises the issues that are most urgent.

The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice is split into chapters covering sex work, housing, healthcare, the prison system and trans participation in the LGBTQ+ and feminist communities. Though some of these topics are heavy, the style is readable and flows quickly. The book is not a memoir: Faye emphasises, “if that’s what you’re here for, prepare to be disappointed”.

She described the process of writing, two thirds of which was during lockdown, as an exorcism of her anger. Faye explained that she had been angry for a long time, but the process of writing was cathartic, and she did not feel angry while writing the book, despite the injustices it describes. This partly explains, or is perhaps a result of, the calm tone of the book. 

The Transgender Issue is powerful, instructive and persuasive, and the issues faced by transgender people cannot be ignored. Faye explained that she wants the book to help people form their own conclusions and be able to construct their own arguments. With this in mind, the book ends hopefully: “We are symbols of hope for many non-trans people, too, who see in our lives the possibility of living more fully and freely”. 

Blackwell’s bookshop organised this event. Here is Blackwell’s Manchester’s full schedule of events for Autumn.

Aileen Loftus

Aileen Loftus

Books Editor

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