CBB, India Willoughby and the Culture of Transphobia for Clicks and Views

India Willoughby is being made into a representative for the trans community by cis audiences of Celebrity Big Brother – even though India has perpetuated hate against other trans people herself.


Content note: this article contains discussions of transphobia, ableism and contains evidence of transphobia.

The latest series of Celebrity Big Brother was supposed to celebrate the empowerment of women, by recognising the centenary of when (some) women won the right to vote in the UK. Yet, it’s clear that ratings are the driving force and this is an attempt by a brand to cash in on the politicised landscape post-Brexit and post-Trump’s election. It’s a series that has given Ann Widdecombe a platform to spout yet more of her bigotry, that has seen Dapper Laughs enter the house and despite claiming he has changed since his rape joke days, most of his aired content has seen him talking about which women he finds attractive in derogatory terms. The biggest talking point though has been India Willoughby, who is probably one of the most divisive housemates to have entered Big Brother in recent years.

India Willoughby has become the spectacle of Big Brother, as cis audiences only ever seem to be able to reduce trans people to their trans identities, and never go beyond that. The result has been that the trans community has been in the spotlight because of India’s divisive nature. India may be trans, but she’s no friend to the wider trans community. India’s politics centre around herself. She’s claimed that genderfluid people “cheapen” the trans movement, has been dismissive of non-binary people as well as attempts to be more gender inclusive and destroy narrow gender binaries – that’s even included siding with Piers Morgan who is obsessed with attacking non-binary trans people. India has even attacked trans women for needing access to women’s bathrooms. India’s language was harmful and reduced trans people to their bodies. She showed absolutely no respect for anyone who doesn’t share her circumstances. It is therefore painful and infuriating that yet again the trans community are having to defend a trans person from misgendering and transphobia when that person (much like Caitlyn Jenner) has shown absolutely no solidarity to trans people herself.

“It is painful and infuriating that yet again the trans community are having to defend a trans person from misgendering and transphobia when that person (much like Caitlyn Jenner) has shown absolutely no solidarity to trans people herself”

Yet, cis people are making India an easy punching bag to attack the wider trans community, often in veiled terms and even while presenting as concerned allies. India is not a representative of the trans community, but she has been made so by cis audiences who can only see her trans identity. How India behaves should be irrelevant to discussions around being trans. Trans people should not have to earn approval from cis people to be granted respect. However, because India is angry, is quick to jump on people and doesn’t behave to a way people believe respectable she gets endless criticism (often referencing her trans status), and even more attacks than the vile Ann Widdecombe.

Sorry, James Jordan but it’s never okay to say “transgenders” and she’s not a representative – you’re making her one because you can’t see the trans community beyond India. Is Widdecombe a representative for all older women? Is Jess a representative for all people with red hair? Trans people should be allowed to exist – as problematic as they are without somehow damaging the community they’re associated with for not being likeable. There are legitimate criticisms of India just from her time in the house.

India shockingly compared drag to blackface, after housemate Andrew Brady tried drag for the first time to challenge his own ideas around gender expression. This reaction by India was an appropriation of racism, and it was also done so to enforce a strict gender binary of how people should present and behave according to assigned genders. It was foul and should have been called out. Instead, people are using India as an opportunity to attack women who are angry, demean the wider trans community and spew hate.

Pulling in India’s presentation, gender expression and trans status is disgusting. People are jumping at the chance to attack India, often while claiming to be progressive. Pitting drag queens against trans people especially shows how many allocishets just want to cause division. India was completely wrong in her reaction, but there’s also been little understanding given for India at all. Some people can find drag triggering because it can cause anxiety about whether allocishet audiences view trans women as “dressing up”. This is a symptom of societal transphobia, and rather than attack people for different expressions of their gender, or breaking down norms with presentation, India should have solidarity with those who are in any way gender non-conforming. Instead, India relied upon her own oppressive politics to attack. There was no consideration given to why India may be reacting in that way (even though it was wrong and unfair), no conversations. Instead, people online used it as an excuse to slam India’s own appearance and for being trans.

There was even ableism, (predictably) from Helen Wood, which may not have been aimed at India being trans, but trans women who show any sign of distress at society’s engrained transphobia or often made to feel as though they have mental health problems. Not to mention how many trans people who ever come out are told that they are mentally ill instead.

This series of Celebrity Big Brother has so far been one of the hardest to watch. In India, there are all of the signs of someone who expects to be ridiculed at any moment and to have her trans identity weaponised against her. She expects it from cis producers, she even expects it from Shane through being so much more fluid and open with regards to gender. India seems to be snapping because she’s frightened, but people won’t recognise that. She’s attacking people in the worst way by perpetuating oppression herself, but that isn’t being addressed. Instead, because India is seen as moaning and angry, there are endless tweets denying her gender and calling her a man. There are insinuations that she’s mentally unstable because she doesn’t act like a nice woman. Being out as a queer person shouldn’t be like Strictly Come Dancing where if you win enough points from the judges you get your identity affirmed and respected. It’s tiring. It’s exhausting defending people who themselves are awful, but it has to be done because the comments around India aren’t just about her but about all binary trans women who face the prospect of being verbally abused and disrespected if they aren’t liked.

This series hasn’t taught me anything new about trans issues, but has been another unnecessary reminder of how cis people will revoke any and all respect for trans people the second they don’t meet their standards. It’s hard to see any real concern for the trans community from CBB or the majority of the audience. It just feels like another excuse to try to tear a trans woman down for views.

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