Best-selling trans author, Juno Dawson, and the editor-in-chief of best-selling gay men’s magazine Attitude, Matt Cain, have issued statements clarifying an interview that appears in the latest issue of the magazine.
In the interview, British writer Dawson talks about how she has identified throughout her life.
Dawson’s books include Say Her Name and Cruel Summer. Popular with young adults, she has been dubbed the ‘Queen of Teen’. She publicly revealed that she is transgender in 2015.
She is a regular contributor to Attitude, and gave an interview to Cain to promote her new book, The Gender Games: The Problem with Men and Women by Someone Who Has Been Both
Previous to revealing that she was transgender, she had identified as a gay man, and talked about this in the interview.
‘When I realized I fancied guys I thought, “Oh, I know what that is, there’s a word for when a boy fancies other boys. I must be a gay guy”,’ she said.
She now sees her life as a gay man as a ‘personal misdiagnosis’ and says, ‘I think that there are a lot of gay men in the world who had the same personal misdiagnosis, because we didn’t have the information that we have now.
‘I think there are a lot of gay men out there who are gay men as a consolation prize because they couldn’t be women. That was certainly true of me.’
Attitude took the sentence and made it the headline for the piece. In terms of grabbing attention, it worked. Yesterday, an op-ed appeared on the Independent from writer Douglas Robertson, who called Dawson’s assertion a ‘ludicrous … utterly generalizing.
‘In a simple sentence it manages to conflate gender identity and sexuality, and dismiss the identities and existences of millions of people as a “consolation prize”.’
‘I was born with male genitalia but never felt I was a gay man’
London-based trans activist, singer and actress Mzz Kimberley told GSN that she also had problems with the interview but respected it as Dawson’s own experience.
‘When I saw the title I was a little taken back and took some time to think about it.
‘I think it’s extremely important, trans or cis, everyone has their own personal experience with how they feel as a human. I can only speak for myself, there is nothing gay about myself. Yes, I was born with male genitalia but never felt I was a gay man.
‘Because of lack of education when I was growing up I was lead to believe I was something that I wasn’t. I do not agree that gay men are gay because they couldn’t be women. That’s utterley ridiculous.’
Social media users were quick to pile in to the debate, and yesterday afternoon Dawson and Cain posted statements on Attitude’s website clarifying their position and the interview’s purpose.
‘Attitude interviewed me about my own experiences as a trans woman who once identified as a gay man,’ said Dawson.
‘Lots of trans men and women previously lived as gay men or lesbians prior to transition so I think it’s a really important thing to discuss. Our experiences of gender and sexuality are unique and equally valid. Clearly I am not – and would never – suggest that ALL gay men are trans. That would be crazy.
‘Some discourse around this article has been both transphobic and misogynist. I believe the LGBTQ+ community is stronger as a whole and the article was not intended to be divisive.’
‘There is no reason for anyone to be offended by the discussion unless they consider being trans a slur’
Cain said, ‘As an effeminate child and the victim of school bullies, I was called a girl years before I was called gay. Since reaching adulthood I’ve always been comfortable identifying as a gay man but have often been intrigued by the stories of trans women like Juno Dawson who once believed themselves to be gay.
‘There is no reason for anyone to be offended by the discussion unless they consider being trans a slur or being a woman an insult. On the contrary, I hope the piece will increase understanding of certain aspects of the trans experience – and help those in our community who may be struggling with their gender.’
‘When you don’t let people be who they want to be they will disguise themselves’
Dawson’s comments were defended by fellow trans writer and activist Shon Faye, who wrote, ‘It’s not homophobic to say some gay men are actually trans – I should know, I was one of them.’
Faye points out that she previously wrote an article for the Guardian in 2014 about being a ‘proudly feminine gay man’.
‘I remember the day the piece was published – it got hundreds of “likes” on Facebook and I had messages thanking me from gay men across the community for speaking proudly about breaking gender stereotypes. But inside I was dying.
‘As I was moving through my twenties the gulf between me and my body was getting wider, it upset me more and more that I looked, sounded and moved through the world as male and this was how I was supposed to see out the rest of my life. I had a breakdown. And then I finally admitted I was transgender.’
Faye points out that transgender awareness and rights have in increased greatly in the last 20 years, but it’s still very hard to come out as trans.
‘If you’re a boy who isn’t ready to come out as a woman but still bangs men every now and then the gay label is the one everyone will attach. But it’s not always right. For some of us, it’s another mask we wear to protect ourselves from the harsh reality of transphobia.
‘Juno Dawson’s interview points to a reality – when you don’t let people be who they want to be they will disguise themselves and, for some women, gay identity is such a disguise.