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The professor using compassion to detoxify the debate about trans rights


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 legal recognition. Chappell showed great empathy for Rowling, who had revealed that she was a survivor of sexual violence. Here, she talks to Positive News about how we can overcome toxicity and come together.

His letter to JK Rowling was very empathetic. How can we bring more kindness to these conversations?

When people are loved, they are more confident, less strident, and less aggressive. I have not always been completely safe and free from fanfare, but when you are loved by a family it is much easier to be kind and kind to others. I think the most basic thing to do when people have these fears is to think about what it looks like from their point of view.

If you are a woman who survived a serious sexual assault, certain things can trigger it. I never want to silence people. We need these debates, but we also need to be able to recognize when people are just being nasty.

When I get tired, I listen to You Need To Calm Down by Taylor Swift, which is wonderfully trans-affirmative. I love that song. People should stop pressing the panic button and assume that the other side is monsters. When we do that, we dig our trenches and become polarized.

You recently compared the trans experience to being a foster parent: can you expand on that?

As a foster parent, you start from a different place [to biological parents], but you arrive at the same place. You won’t have the same experience as birth parents, but you will likely go through sleepless nights and have all the worries about your child. Solidarity has to do with shared experience. People are united by the fact that they are all in the same fight. In many ways, trans and biological women have the same fight for women’s rights. There are differences, but there is more that unites us than divides us.

What can we do to make children tolerant and accept differences?

I think the lessons tend to go the other way around. Speaking to my own children, the younger generation seems much more tolerant. They are much more inclined to say, ‘Okay, Kevin is like that’ or ‘Maria is like that, okay, that’s his life. Very often it is the children who have something to teach their parents.

What role has your Christian faith played in helping you realize your gender identity?

It has been the biggest change in my life. When I was younger, I was convinced that it was completely wrong to be gay or transgender. I was waging a civil war on myself. In 1998, I had a religious experience. He was saying to God, ‘Please help me fight this bad side of myself.’ And the way I would describe it is that God said, ‘Sure, I’ll help you. You don’t have to fight this war at all. You are the way I made you, so please stop wasting your energy fighting it and work on it. ‘ I went from hating one side of myself to accepting myself as I am. And I stopped believing that Christianity was a stick to hit me with and started to believe that religion is really about love or that it is not worth having.

The younger generation seems much more tolerant. Children often have something to teach parents

Much transphobia recalls people’s attitudes toward gay and lesbian communities in the 1970s and 1980s. Gay rights have come a long way; Does that give you any hope?

It does. The wonderful American philosophy professor Kate Abramson told me how lesbians were called the “lavender menace.” They had people who said that women would be attacked by predatory lesbians and that they would be trying to turn people into [toilets]. This nonsense was talked about about the lesbian community in the same way that transgender people are now being talked about. So yes, it seems to me that the ideological machine that generates these monsters is quite unoriginal.

You are working on a book on epiphanies. Would you describe your change of course with your identity as an epiphany?

Yes, it was absolutely fantastic. I think epiphanies can come to us, but I think we miss a lot of things. If we stopped huffing and puffing and worrying about our own schedules and enjoying the beauty around us, we would see them.

How can we know if we have had an epiphany?

It does not have a clear advantage. You have the little things like when you see a beautiful flower in the garden and it brightens up your system a bit. There are cases where it is definitely an epiphany, and there are other cases where it is too small, actually, to count as an epiphany, but that’s okay. Dawn comes gradually and yet we know the light from the darkness.

Images: Murdo MacLeod


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