Given that neighbourhoods in Northern Ireland still bear the marks of a war, the news that people were at risk from stickers seemed faintly ludicrous. On Friday the Northern Irish LGBT charity Rainbow Project tweeted:
“We have been made aware of transphobic stickers being put up around #Belfast. Please take a pic & report this directly to ourselves. Try to remove them safely but use a tool to do so. As we have been aware of razor blades being placed behind them.”
Outrage flared on social media and politicians, including Belfast’s Lord Mayor, retweeted the claims. Whilst photos circulated of stickers with slogans such as “woman: adult human female”, no evidence was offered to support the warning that some had razor blades behind them.
Ann Black, spokeswoman from Sex Not Gender Northern Ireland (SNGNI) told Lesbian and Gay News that she had contacted the Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) to ask whether they had received any reports of razor blades being found under stickers. PSNI confirmed that they had not. As an aside, PSNI have donated £68,650 to the Rainbow Project over the past two years.
The fear of razor-blades behind ‘TERF’ stickers has surfaced on social media before, and as with the current incarnation, evidence has been lacking. It is what might be termed a ‘zombie rumour’; a baseless claim that is circulated so widely it cannot be killed. The intent is clear, to associate those involved with the civil fight for sex-based rights with shadowy bigots who want to hurt people.
The timing of the panic over the mythical razor-blade wielding feminists is significant. Last week SNGNI began to delve into a document entitled ‘Sexual Health for Young Trans People.’ The guidance was produced with funding from Southeastern and Southern Health and Social Care Trusts. What’s contained in the guidance would shock most reasonable adults with a moral compass; were Arlene Foster to see it she would crush her pearls to powder.
As is now fashionable, the wording erases homosexuality. Young people are informed “two trans guys having sex are having gay sex if they say they are”, in plainer terms this means that if women identify as men and have sex, they should be regarded as having gay male sex not lesbian sex. This is unsurprising as the guidance casts human sexual dimorphism as just a bit passé, stating with unwarranted confidence: “A lot of people in our society assume that men have certain bodies, women have other bodies and nobody else exists… This is changing though”.
Young people are informed “two trans guys having sex are having gay sex if they say they are”, in plainer terms this means that if women identify as men and have sex, they should be regarded as having gay male sex not lesbian sex.
The guidance champions BDSM as “everything from handcuffing your partner to using pain and control” arguing that it gives “benefit to everyone involved.” Young readers who wish to practice BDSM in public are advised that consent should be sought from the public – one assumes waivers are to be carried at all times by those walking human pups down the frozen foods aisle in Tesco.
‘Sex work’ is glibly referred to in matter-of-fact terms, and those engaged in it are told to get in touch with the Sex Workers’ Alliance Ireland (SWAI). SWAI is an organisation which is lobbying for full decriminalisation of the sex work industry.
With regard to surgery for those who identify as trans, the guide says “One of the biggest impacts that surgery can have on trans people is increased body confidence, and this often results in sex that’s more enjoyable! If you have genital surgery, your enjoyment of sex may totally change, and your comfort in life generally may improve.” This is baseless propaganda, seeding the notion that young people’s discomfort with their bodies can be solved by brutal, irreversible and experimental procedures that may leave them sterile. How cutting into the most sensitive nerves and flesh on the body can improve sex is not explained.
It seems professionals who ought to know better have abdicated their responsibility to clueless young people; the introduction cheerily states: “this guide was written by young trans and non-binary people”. Through fear of seeming out-of-touch, those charged with protecting a vulnerable cohort have instead burdened them with a responsibility they are unable to discharge.
Stickers placed in Belfast’s Royal Avenue (Belfast Telegraph/Twitter)
Black from SNGNI explains:
“We find it horrifying that this guidance was signed off and paid for by our health service. A former policeman who reviewed the document described it as a ‘groomers’ charter’. The guidance links to The Rainbow Project NI website, and we also highlighted that they – none of them medical professionals that we can see – have been offering to send chest binders to young people who fill out an online form.”
“We shared the harmful transgender health guide shortly after publishing photos of ‘adult human female’ and ‘transwomen are men’ stickers that people had sent us from Belfast and nearby Jordanstown. After the guide started picking up attention, The Rainbow Project published claims that these stickers had been found to have razor blades underneath them, with no supporting photographs.”
“We find it baffling that so-called LGBTQ organisations and elected politicians would seek to scare the young people they claim to support. Some have speculated it was an attempt to deflect from the inappropriate materials story.”
The Rainbow Project NI tweet has not yet been removed
The Rainbow Project NI did not to respond to a request from Lesbian and Gay News for further details to substantiate their claim that razor blades might be under the stickers. Despite the police confirming there had been no reports, the tweet has not been removed.
Northern Ireland has fallen hard for gender identity, and organisations are buckling under the weight of edicts about how to best support those who identify as trans and non-binary. Bizarrely, it is an issue that cuts across sectarian divides, with prominent nationalist and unionist politicians proudly proclaiming ‘transwomen are women’ and ‘transmen are men.’
Northern Ireland bears the scars of war; to the rest of the world Belfast and Londonderry are still portrayed by grim-faced reporters as grey, socially conservative and depressing. As such the attraction of queer theory to politicians of all stripes is obvious – a rainbow paintjob and some glitter are a cheap way to cover the sectarian murals – a faddish distraction from the rumbling, ongoing tension.