“Snowflake” is a term often bandied about these days, coined to describe a generation of young people who are over-sensitive, easily shocked and quick to call out the rest of the world for even the most seemingly innocent word or act. The snowflake asks everyone else to wrap them in cotton wool, appearing to create a new set of boundaries with every breath. Unfortunately, and especially with our ever-expanding rainbow of definitions for sexuality and gender, the LGBTQ+ community is a prime target for the “snowflake” label. Most recently, proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act have provoked an intense debate over trans and non-binary people’s right to self-identify, with opponents suggesting that they should just suck it up and move on without causing a stir.
“The claims of LGBT+ ‘snowflakery’ are exaggerated,” prominent LGBTQ+ campaigner Peter Tatchell tells OutNewsGlobal.com. “Some take offence at the slightest thing but they are a minority. It is not ‘snowflakery’ to oppose prejudice and slurs against LGBT+ people.” Tatchell is blunt about his feelings on trans people’s right to respect. “It strikes me as perfectly reasonable for often victimised trans people to want access to safe spaces where they are not under threat of abuse, threats and violence.” Tatchell also reminds us that other social justice movements have been through the same process. “Those who challenge injustice and seek to extend the realms of inclusion and equality are always denounced as pushing too far and too fast,” he says. “This was said of the suffragettes and the black civil rights movement. It is a common charge today against #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and trans and non-binary activists. What they demand today will be the consensus in the future.”
Dr Meg-John Barker is a celebrated non-binary academic, author and activist. “The snowflake insult tends to conflate a few different things,” they say. “If you look into the meaning it includes the idea that ‘snowflakes’ believe they are particularly unique and special (like every snowflake is different), as well as the idea of being particularly fragile – and therefore in need of protections like safer spaces.” Barker points out that in some ways, however, although it is intended as an insult, the snowflake label can be considered in a positive light. “When we consider intersectionality, and how every person is positioned in relation to multiple intersecting aspects including gender, sexuality, race, class, disability, age, generation, nationality, etc. then snowflake is about right,” they suggest. “There won’t be any two people where this constellation of aspects is identical. That helpfully draws our attention to the ways in which all of us are privileged in some ways, marginalised in others, and how we need to hold our similarities and our differences simultaneously. Snowflakes all look similar, but in fact they are unique.”
Jennie Kermode is the chair of Trans Media Watch. “People from outside the LGBTQ+ community who describe us as snowflakes commonly have no experience of social exclusion and, therefore, no idea what they’re talking about,” she says. Kermode questions, indeed, where the avalanche is really coming from. “It puzzles me that people are still in a tizzy over something Shakespeare addressed in Hamlet back in 1609,” she sighs. “We have borne the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune for long enough and there is nothing ignoble about us taking arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, ending them. There is a difference between the real distress that LGBTQ+ people experience and the offended sensibilities of a straight man who sees two other men kissing – something that can’t possibly harm him. I think it’s very clear who the real snowflakes are.”
The progression of history has always been a messy ride. What was preposterous yesterday is run-of-the-mill tomorrow. And the Baby Boomers breathing down the necks of the X-Genners and Millennials is an inevitable part of this progress. This is not, of course, to say that everyone in that older generation is a bigot, but it seems that the string-pullers, the lawmakers, of a certain age are often the most blinkered. However, when Orwell said “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear,” in some ways he had a point. Trigger-warning every tiny thing is a dangerous game, mostly because it makes us weak against the larger threats.
There has been a recent uproar over universities adding trigger-warnings to texts on their syllabi, and a YouGov poll published last year showed that 68% of UK students believe that Holocaust deniers should be no-platformed at their institutions. Distressing though it is to listen to someone like that speak, these people exist. Should we face them or ignore them and hope that they go away? The inimitable (thank the gods) Katie Hopkins was recently allowed to speak at the university where I’m doing my very right-on, multicultural, queer-focused PhD. Instead of no-platforming her, the students who objected to her invited her in, let her take the stage… then simply got up, one by one, turned their backs to her, and filed out. They heard what she was saying, they turned up, they showed her that they’d been reading what she wrote. But they found a way of saying no.