Jennifer Finney Boylan is the Anna Quindlen Writer in Residence at Barnard College of Columbia University.

The scientific community in Scotland regards the phenomenon as one without a biological basis. Stories about its appearance are mostly hoaxes, based on ancient fears. Still, during the night I spent camping in the hills near Inverness years ago, I wondered whether I was in danger.

What I was feared wasn’t the Loch Ness monster. It was hatred. Because there are people — both in Scotland and the United States — who believe that as a transgender woman, I’m some sort of fearsome creature.

Which I’m not. I’m just an English teacher. About the worst thing I could do to you is give you a B-minus.

You could be forgiven for mixing up fear of transgender people with a belief in the Loch Ness monster this spring, though, especially if you attempted to follow the British elections. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party formed a coalition with the Scottish Greens that produced a pro-independence majority within the Scottish parliament.

What, you might wonder, does this have to do with transgender people? Well, hold on to your Lagavulin whisky because the story shows the perils — and the opportunities — for progressives, and other supporters of trans people’s rights around the world.

The story begins with the former head of the SNP, Alex Salmond, who, as first minister, led an independence referendum in 2014. When the “No” vote prevailed, Salmond resigned, and Sturgeon took over as SNP leader.

In January of 2019, Salmond was arrested and charged with 14 offenses, including two counts of attempted rape and nine counts of sexual assault, by nine women; he was later found not guilty. Sturgeon was accused of mishandling the investigation of the charges against her former boss, though she was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing. In the process, the relationship between the two was irrevocably sundered.

Then, ahead of this May’s elections, Salmond launched a new party called Alba, the Scots Gaelic name for Scotland. While Alba supported Scottish independence, it also offered a safe harbor for anti-trans activists and so-called “gender critical” feminists, sometimes also known, especially in Britain, as TERFs (transgender exclusionary radical feminists).

Also among the supporters of Alba were social conservatives who felt as though they’d been left behind by the SNP’s progressive gender politics — not just angered over Salmond’s ouster over the #MeToo charges, but over Sturgeon’s endorsement of the right of trans people to self-identify.

After Sturgeon had made SNP support of trans individuals clear in remarks earlier this winter, backers of Salmond released a stream of bigoted vitriol on social media, including a lie that gay activists wanted to reduce the age of consent to 10. Salmond said that he “deprecated” the incidents — but also defended a candidate who promoted the falsehood.

In the Times of London, journalist Alex Massie described Alba as “a party for all the people you’ve muted on Twitter.”

All of this led to the awkward sight of some feminists rushing to support a man who’d attained a reputation as a libertine, as even Salmond acknowledged. He’d told a gathering of journalists in a Linlithgow pub, he was “no saint”; during his trial, Salmond’s lawyer admitted his client “could have been a better man.”

Why, you wonder, would feminists throw their support behind a man like this when they could, instead, work for the first female first minister of Scotland, a woman who might well lead her country to independence and become the first prime minister of a post-Brexit Scotland?

It’s the transphobia, lassie. Of course, rejection of trans people isn’t unique to Britain, but it takes a particularly vitriolic form there, driven by a sensationalist conservative media as well as a large number of left-leaning TERF-curious feminists. Disdain for transgender people is the one thing in Britain that seems to unite both left and right — even though the belief that gender is fixed from birth actually has no real basis in science.

In the end, the Alba party failed to win a single seat. In one poll, Salmond’s personal approval ratings were even lower than those of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

But Alba’s defeat shouldn’t be misinterpreted as a permanent victory over anti-trans bombast. This is surely not the last time transgender women will be used as the personal whipping girls of conservatives and TERFs, either in Scotland, or in the United States.

Like Nessie herself, it’s likely that some people’s need to believe in monsters will continue to outweigh reality, all evidence to the contrary.

Actually, if there were a Loch Ness monster, I can think of one thing that she would have in common with trans folks such as me. She wouldn’t want to scare you. She wouldn’t actually even be that concerned with you.

What she would want, more than anything else, is to be left alone.

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