The Society of Authors posted a tweet which included the phrase “self-identified” in relation to disability. Transphobes, who have been trained to view the phrase as negative, reacted badly.
The Society of Authors is a trade union professional writers, illustrators and literary translators, founded in 1884 to protect the rights and further the interests of authors. They are based in the UK and represent upwards of 11,000 members.
They have attracted the ire of people usually engaging in anti-trans activism with a tweet that used the phrase “self-identified” in relation to disability. The tweet from the Society of Authors official Twitter account reads as follows;
The ADCI Literary Prize for a work by an author who self-identifies as disabled or chronically ill. It must be fiction and must contain one or more characters that are disabled and/or living with chronic illness. D/L 31 Oct. https://t.co/zCrDIFJfPJ
— Society of Authors (@Soc_of_Authors) August 4, 2022
The tweet to most people is pretty standard. Its informing people of the Society of Authors awards, detailing the prizes available and announcing that there’s a new category for disabled people too. Sweet stuff.
Not so much for those who have spent the last 7 or so years poisoning themselves with anti-trans rhetoric surrounding phrases like “self-identified”. Starting from disinformation surrounding proposed GRA reform under Theresa May, phrases like “self-ID” and “I identify as” have become increasingly toxic to use. Often attracting mobs of hateful people coming along to make crap comments and bad “I identify as” jokes.
To them the tweet from Society of Authors is saying that people who aren’t disabled can pretend to be disabled and then take part in this competition. The same way that they view the phrases for trans people; we aren’t who we say we are we’re just pretending.
But that just isn’t what those words or what the Society of Authors were saying. They were simply saying that they won’t ask for proof of a disability because they know that often that proof is damn near impossible to come by. Sometimes even for the same reasons trans people find it hard to access medical diagnosis; bad healthcare systems.
At time of writing there are over 200 quote responses and 300 comments to the tweet. The vast majority are negative, with a few voices speaking up to try and dissuade the mobs from picking up the pitchforks over this entirely non-issue.The vast majority of which hone in on the use of “self-identified” in order to misrepresent it.
Though credit where credit is due a couple of responses do attempt legitimate criticism such as;
I appreciate that the Society of Authors has good intentions here, but making eligibility for the prize a matter of self-identification leaves it open to exploitation by non-disabled/chronically ill writers. You risk further marginalising the voices you’re trying to amplify. https://t.co/5WMdKwpBwG
— Sister Outrider is editing (@ClaireShrugged) August 5, 2022
This criticism is legitimate because she first of all isn’t misrepresenting what self-identified means in this context. But also because by not asking for proof of a disability or chronic illness, anyone could just pretend to be disabled or chronically ill for the sake of this competition. I can’t deny its possible or speak to how likely it is. Though another of the quote tweets does quite succintly put this criticism into perspective;
There’s criticism of the “self identify as disabled” line used here but, what’s the alternative do you think? A register for disabled? A benefits slip as proof? It isn’t to let non-disabled people fake it, it’s to enable disabled people who worry their disability “doesn’t count.” https://t.co/kc2Ts0Q7kb
— Frances Ryan (@DrFrancesRyan) August 8, 2022
“What’s the alternative” writes Dr Frances Ryan. “It isn’t to let non-disabled people fake it, it’s to enable disabled people who worry their disability “doesn’t count”. Often due to the strict binary thinking of able-bodied people’s systems surrounding disabilities.
This extends further than just The Society of Authors and systems surrounding disabled people too. We have seen so many stories of disabled people being abused or disadvantaged because someone else has decided they aren’t disabled enough.
In yet another similarity to ‘the trans debate’, disabled people have been harassed while trying to use bathrooms for not looking disabled enough. A recent example from May of this year involved Tay Beales at Marks & Spencer. She was first told she couldn’t use the women’s bathroom – as the shop assistant assumed she was a man – and then she was told couldn’t use the disabled bathroom, despite being disabled.
Stories like this have prompted a rise in the use of phrases like “invisible disabilities” to help able-bodied people understand that not all disabilities are something you can just see by looking at someone.
So when groups like The Society of Authors work to include disabled people in their awards they have to decide; are we going to be cops about this or not? Are we going to police who is and isn’t disabled, ask for proof, put in our own systems for deciding things – or are we just going to let disabled people have the same level of access we give to anyone else? One that doesn’t usually require diagnosis or documented evidence of a condition.
We had the same conversation when we launched Trans Writes and we made the same decision they did. I’m not a cop, I’m not going to police anything about our contributors genders. If you say you are trans, nonbinary or a detransitioner; you can write for us. We hope that you send us a kick-ass pitch!
Anything less than that is an authoritarian nightmare invested more in the bureaucracy of disability than it is in the actual disabled people they are meant to be supporting, in my opinion.
Sure, a few chancers might pretend to be disabled – but putting in strict systems and rules doesn’t hurt those chancers. They just stop pretending to be disabled and try some other scheme instead. While the lasting consequences rest squarely on disabled people who now have a minefield to navigate alongside having to manage living with their disability.
They are the people hurt by policing disabilities and I am glad Society of Authors decided not to be part of that. Even if they are now having to deal with backlash from those invested in online transphobia.