A feminist case for trans inclusivity

Lorna Finlayson, Katharine Jenkins and Rosie Worsdale argue for trans women in women’s spaces as a feminist cause. Excluding us can lead to misgendering women including butch lesbians, and is intrusive. They summarise the exclusionary case: the prevalence of violence against women by men, the fact that men typically have certain biological features and have been socialised in a certain way, the fact that at least some of this seems to be true of many or even all trans women, and the fact that anyone can self-define as a woman, no matter how cynical or sinister their motivation then refute it.

Access currently depends on self-ID because of the Equality Act, and so some excluders seek to change that. Men are more violent to women than women are, but not necessarily because of qualities trans women share: rather it is because of social factors and expectations of men. Feminists argue there is no proof that biological factors make men and women different. And socialisation affects us differently, because we see ourselves as women. All sorts of factors shape us, and gender identity is an important factor. There is little clear empirical evidence on this, but trans women suffer from extraordinarily high levels of violence and need protection. We should not be excluded without evidence.

Women-only spaces are a best-fit measure for tackling gendered and sexual violence. It is a complex issue, so what is the pragmatic way to increase protection? To protect trans women too. Putting trans women in men’s spaces risks our safety. Third spaces would out us as trans, and policing women’s space might oppress masculine-appearing women.

Who counts as a woman is a political or ethical question, not a scientific or metaphysical one. It’s not that we are women because we feel we are, but in the radical feminist tradition, gender is a matter of social position, being part of a subordinated class. And our feelings, while not conclusive, carry weight. As a tiny, marginalised minority we are not oppressors.

Excluding us is similar to bigotry in that the arguments are similar to bigoted arguments against immigration. Sometimes, excluders are obsessive about the tiny number of instances of violence by trans women, rather than the much larger number of instances by men, just as the racist right obsess over rape by Muslims. Like the hard Right, the excluders foment fear that an inclusive, compassionate system will be exploited by benefits scroungers, bogus asylum seekers, or fake trans women. Including us reduces limited resources for women, just as the Right argues that immigrants “take our jobs”. Attending to the reality of trans women’s situation and our relation to patriarchy suggests that these arguments are Right wing and transphobic.

Giving energy to opposing gender recognition reform is the least effective strategy possible, if you want to oppose violence against women. In prisons, men might have the incentive to pretend to be trans women, but the policies themselves are robust even if the implementation is not. Feminists would be better to work alongside trans women for a better society. GRA reform makes it easier for trans people to live with dignity and respect.

Full argument here.


Quaker diversity

Edwina Peart is measuring how diverse Quakers are. A friend thought the survey badly designed. Rather than the tick-boxes I see on job application diversity forms, there is a blank for whatever words you wish. So if she is measuring how many working class people there are in the Society, she first has to decide what the words used mean.

Class is difficult. George Orwell called himself “Upper-lower-upper middle class”. I think of myself as “lower-middle” class, which for me is a matter of attitudes ingrained from my upbringing. People are capitalists through their pension funds or savings, as well as workers. Pierre Bourdieu defined social, economic and cultural capital: Social capital is the resources you gain from being part of a social network and social groups; cultural capital is non-economic resources such as knowledge, skills and education; economic capital is money. I was familiar with five classes with class C divided between C1 and C2, but a BBC social survey resulted in seven classes from Elite to Precariat.

We still think of class as a matter of family origin as well as current status. Family origin affects social and cultural capital, both the groups you are in and the ways of relating that show your membership. My Friend from a family of miners was in an association of working class academics, and felt that social signifiers she had or lacked disadvantaged her in her profession.

The survey question is “How do you define your socio-economic status (class)?” It could produce all sorts of answers- by origin or current income/savings, or in terms of the five letters or new seven classes. To approximate a quantitative result, you would have to assign those verbal answers to a particular box before counting the boxes.

The survey will not confirm or deny the statement “Quakers are all middle-class”- which can feel excluding to those of us who are not, even if the speaker is lamenting the fact. It can be an expression of those social signifiers, the subconscious ways we decide who is most comfortable to talk to. It may give an idea of how we think of ourselves rather than an objective view.

I found out about the survey from the AM assistant clerk Membership. I don’t see how it can be a representative sample if it is voluntary, and publicised haphazardly.

For sex there is the Tabular Statement. The word “other” produces an element of uncertainty: I have said I want to be classified as “Woman”, but some trans people would definitely be “Other” and some would be revolted by the idea. You might be uncomfortable classifying the Attenders in your meeting, but some people might not want to be asked. It can be unpleasant putting these matters of identity into words. They are implicit, in our body language and our relations, but not stated.

Most people mould ourselves to fit the social groups we belong to, minimising our differences. Differences which should not be relevant in a worshipping community matter to us.

The survey asks “How would you describe your gender?” It asks for “gender”, not “sex”, and some say they are different: sex is a matter of reproductive organs, gender is cultural, so my gender is “feminine” rather than “woman”. The survey won’t produce numbers, so much as different stories of where some people are.

I am a trans woman, but don’t really want classified as one. See me as a person, not by that characteristic. There is some latent transphobia in the Society. No-one will refuse to worship with a trans woman, but some trans women have left, or been ejected. Being trans affects the way I am in any dispute with others. It affects the way I am seen.

If as a white person I said “Quakers are overwhelmingly white” that could seem excluding. I love YM. I can start a deep conversation with almost anyone. I spoke to a man with a different skin colour, and that was not his experience. Do we feel “colour-blind” while in fact being slightly less open to talking with people of colour? We would not ask the “Where are you from, no, where are you really from?” question; are you as open with all Quakers you meet for the first time, or does colour or class make subtle differences? I have heard that “colour-blind” is impossible for a person of colour, for you wonder how important your own colour is to the people around you.

I fear I am less open with people of colour, and my self-consciousness might make it so. I know diversity is of value to the Society, for different voices, different perspectives, different experiences enrich our common understanding. And groping for understanding, when hearing another I try to find what in my own experience fits what they are saying. Hearing that difference is difficult.

It asks national identity. Mine is Scots, as I was brought up there; English, as I had an English parent and have lived in England for many years, and British. I don’t know whether any other Quaker would specifically name those three, or whether there is a relevant difference between me and someone putting Scots and English, or British.

The survey will unearth some of the stories that we tell, and perhaps a quantitative survey would not attain the objectivity it pretends to. You can take it here.

Crime in toilets

Protecting trans women in women’s loos does not increase crime. A statistical study of gender identity anti-discrimination law and crime in toilets showed that places without such law had more crime in their toilets, but introducing the law had no effect on those crimes. One incident per a hundred thousand people per year is pretty bad if it’s you, but not something that should prevent anyone from using loos.

The study noted that Legislation, regulations, litigation, and ballot propositions affecting public restroom access for transgender people increased drastically in the last three years. Some people are obsessed with us. Like “Mass Resistance”. I thought “Resistance” was a Left thing, when the hard Right had the US government and many state governments sewn up with voter suppression and gerrymandering, but this is a “Pro-family”, that is anti-LGBT, anti-choice, group. Pink News noticed, a month later, a sentence in a Mass Resistance blog post and made this gloating headline: “Anti-trans group admits bathroom predator myth is made up”.

It was just one sentence from the transphobes: in addition to transgenders, this law allows male sexual predators to lurk in women’s restrooms to prey on girls and women. This was technically true, but was largely contrived. Why should a male predator bother to dress up before going after women? Instead, the writer wants what he admits are “more inflammatory” arguments pressed: (1) the LGBT movement’s “civil rights” argument has no basis whatsoever; (2) that “transgenderism” is actually a mental disorder and a destructive ideology, and (3) this law forces people to accept an absurd lie – men can never become women. Thus, the “yes on 3” people were pushing bizarre lies and an Orwellian mandate on society.

He thinks left-wingers all think the same, and the Right do things their own way. Tell that to the anti-trans campaigners on the Left over here. Charlotte Prodger’s being misgendered came up in The Guardian: someone yelling “There’s a boy in the girls’ toilets!” in a night club; on a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry, a middle-aged woman hesitating on the threshold of the loos as she catches sight of Prodger, saying: “I thought I was in the wrong toilet there.” These episodes appear in the film without rancour, but now Prodger says that such encounters “are just relentless actually. It’s something that punctuates my life nearly every day now. It’s pervasive – though I don’t experience the levels of confusion that other queer people do. It’s exhausting, making it OK for people. I’ll be drying my hands and someone will come in and they will look embarrassed or ashamed. I feel for them. I want to make it all right for them. It’s a structural problem when everyone involved ends up feeling embarrassed.”

Note the sympathy for the phobes. She wants to make it all right for them. A commenter did not sympathise. She should “take responsibility for her choices,” he wrote. So everyone should rigidly follow gender stereotypes on clothes to keep him comfortable. Anyone looking “deliberately sexually ambiguous” is responsible for all the embarrassment that follows, he says. He calls his anger “justified”- which entitles him to what, exactly, in his own mind?

I meet a person who had a female body shape and a full moustache.
He/she took great delight in my embarrassment, confusion, and anger.
This is not a good idea.

Delight? Possibly weariness; possibly that nervous laughter that comes from embarrassment rather than enjoyment.

The Soul

Do human beings have souls? If not, does it matter?

Humans observe human capacity, and put it down to Gods or Devils, muses or spirits. Prometheus stole fire from the Gods, because humans could not make it or control it without Divine intervention. At one moment I am unconscious of a poem, and then it flows through my mind, apparently fully-formed, and that must come from Inspiration, something outside myself.

There’s a particularly stupid article in the NYT today, where Avi Shafran argues against materialism, which he diminishes to “electrical activity within our craniums”. If we humans are nothing more than our physical cells, and the innate human awareness of our souls and sense of free will are mere illusions, we have no ultimate value beyond that of any insect. And no compulsion, beyond an ultimately meaningless utilitarian social contract, to bind ourselves to any ethical or moral system. A society that denies the soul idea is, in fact, in the word’s deepest sense soulless.

Shafran makes a leap without an attempt to justify it: humans are capable of creation and destruction, so there must be something beyond the mammal that we see with our eyes, which he calls a soul. His only definition of it is “an entity which can be sublimated or polluted by the conscious exercise of free will”, but he implies it produces all our best and worst acts, and our spiritual value. If a devil possesses the traitor, as Dante imagined, we might hope he is a thing apart, and we are not capable of such wickedness.

Humans observe human capacity. We see the banality of evil and the heights of altruism, the acquisitiveness of a Charles Koch and the organisation for the common good in the Beveridge report. Shafran’s example is Yo Yo Ma playing a cello concerto, where we can see the technical ability and the emotional content, the power to move human beings and possibly to purify or ennoble us.

The ennobled human, the good they do and the beauty they create, are real whether or not evolution is capable of producing a brain with these capacities, or a multitude of brains capable of appreciating them. It might be terrifying that such capacity could age and die, that the creative power of, say, Leonard Cohen should simply be gone, a function of complexity which fails at last and dissolves into simpler molecules. Yet the creative power of Daniel Barenboim and others endures. We lose the person, yet keep the music; and there are more people, developing and extending the creative tradition.

And I too will die. My brain will submit to entropy and be burned or buried. The Earth will become too hot, so that its oceans evaporate long before it is absorbed into the red giant Sun.

It is not just a brain. It is a nervous system, capable of sensation from all over my skin, of moving my body and increasingly complex tools, of communicating with others so moving them to action and contemplation. That which is me is so bound up in the body and its physical needs, affected by tiredness, sickness and pain, that I cannot imagine a “me” without that body and those sensations, that physical way of achieving closeness. My words can move in your mind so that we become momentarily one, but those words relate to that physical reality, the mystery of what it is to be human.

The compulsion to be ethical comes from our humanity, from being one of a social species incapable of survival alone. Practices we call “spiritual” have value, and as humans we are drawn to them for what they achieve, individually and collectively.

The range of human possibility from transfiguration to depravity is hard to imagine, and so we use metaphors of spirits and Spirit. If there is no immortal Soul that does not make us worthless insects, but more precious, as evanescent. If not me, then who? If not now, when?

Rosa Freedman

Rosa Freedman had her door soaked with urine, saw graffiti telling her to leave her job, and had phone calls throughout the night saying she should be raped and killed. She hid behind a tree because she was frightened of people following her.

Pause for a moment, and think of the horror of these experiences. Imagine this happening to you, or someone you love. Trans people, who receive such abuse all the time, should feel particular sympathy. She was abused because of what she says, which is trans-excluding. She wants to make a rigorous legal distinction between sex and gender, and enforce single sex spaces. My gender would be recognised as female, and I would be excluded from women’s space because my sex would still be male, unalterable.

Differentiating sex and gender does not make such an exclusion, by itself. At the moment both the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act use the words- if not interchangeably, or as if to confuse the two, certainly in a way it is difficult to distinguish them. But for trans women in women’s space, there is a two stage test. A service can be for women only if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” (PaMALA). Then it can exclude trans women, again if that is PaMALA. For law to permit what is “legitimate” may seem circular, but from such mysteries lawyers make their dosh.

If sex and gender are legally distinct, the service would have to justify being a single-sex service. Why a single-sex service, rather than single-gender? The law might say, again, the service is single-sex if that is “legitimate”. Or it might just assume that services are single-sex, and exclude trans women from where we have been for decades. I hope it would not choose the latter course, because that would be against international human rights law, but Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Rosa is willing to try. For her, services should be single sex, not considering gender. She would “reconcile the concerns of those who identify as trans and those who are women” by excluding trans women from women’s spaces.

Rosa made a twitter thread describing the abuse, and the Daily Mail published it, with sympathetic commentary and her own words justifying her views. A much-upvoted comment said that if trans people were being harassed in this way the police would soon be arresting the perpetrators, which is not my experience. The police told me they could do nothing.

Rosa claims she has been “reasonable and respectful” in her expression of her views. I am not sure that is enough to avoid being objectionable. When she demands that I be excluded from where I am safe, when she claims I am a threat, it is worse that she uses apparently passion-free language, because that shows that she is cold and premeditated in her hatred.

I am glad Diva magazine is on my side. Their publisher was on Woman’s Hour, making a courteous, straightforward argument for inclusion, shouted down by a woman who said our rights were incompatible. When people fly-post stickers saying “Women’s rights are not for penises” they dehumanise us. I was so much more than a penis, even when I had one. That is a standard tactic for getting people to persecute a group, mockery and dehumanisation.

Safety, and proper boundaries

I wanted us to revise the book of discipline as soon as I heard of the possibility, because of this sentence: “The acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends.” I know it was 1987, but- not “PDAs during Meeting” or even “homosexual relationships” but the acceptance of “homosexuality” distressed some Friends. Some of them might have been elderly, and repressed gay themselves. Some might have thought their view integral to proper respect for the Bible, and seeing Quakers as Christian.

However brave 22.45 was in 1987, it is a bit clunky now. We recognise that many homosexual people play a full part in the life of the Society of Friends. Of course! Why should it need to be said? But it was against the culture of the time to recognise that some gay Quakers might consider themselves married, and ask their meeting to celebrate their commitment.

In 1994 we minuted, The Yearly Meeting has struggled to find unity on this [subject of sexuality], which comes so close to the personal identity and choices of each one of us. We are still struggling for the words which will help us, so that we may come to know the balance which allows us both to deal with the personal tensions of our own response to sexuality and also to see ourselves as all equal in the sight of God… we recognise, in love, the Friend whose experience is not our own. We pray for ourselves, that we may not divide but keep together in our hearts.

Attending encounter groups, I was most distressed by the person who said they wanted to “feel safe”, or, worse, that “people should be safe”- that is, they wanted to restrict other people’s shares, and they were claiming it was a principled stand for the good of all. But you cannot feel safe in this process. It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Today at Meeting my Anglican Friend was wearing his clerical collar, as he had celebrated the Eucharist before coming. That’s the first time he has not changed his shirt. I felt this was disrespect (I am speaking as a fool) and more so when I saw the Book of Common Prayer on his seat in Meeting. This, even though I am former Anglican. The prayer book made me feel uncomfortable.

What do I mean by “speaking as a fool”? I am speaking from the ego, from a petty desire for safety in the sense of more or less being able to predict what is going to happen and knowing I will be comfortable until it is time to go home.

Meeting is not “safe” in this sense. Sometimes it is like a roller-coaster, where I see over the plunge and my stomach turns over. It is very rare that someone is hurt on a roller-coaster; but it is probably better not to ride one if you want to appear dignified.

I would definitely wonder what was going on if in Meeting I realised that someone was verminous.

I am angry. Excuse me while I go and chew the carpet for a moment. I may even scream at it.

Ah, that’s better.

My Friend’s clerical collar offended me. I could get righteous about it- what about the notional person who has been hurt by the Church and has been told we are somehow better? It’s the principle of the thing! (My law lecturer said principles are good, because they make money for lawyers.) There is the ego, or small self; and it is in me, and it reacts in that way. In this particular case, I can deal with it fairly easily: I spoke to him, sharing my love for particular Anglican prayers which I used to pray every week. I do not want to deny or suppress my reaction. It is me that objects. The Meeting itself gives me the way to deal with it, of emptying myself of the desire that the world be other than it is. Repeat as necessary. There is no harm- probably. All manner of thing shall be well. Any harm will be dealt with organically.

In another case I am angry, resentful, frustrated and frightened, and living with uncertainty. The uncertainty makes it harder to “respond in love”. Possibly a petty-self, or ego, desire assists me: I want my Meeting to be inclusive (even, possibly, that is a leading, something from my inner light). In the 1980s we might unobtrusively and without much fuss have sorted ourselves, so that in some meetings “homosexuals” felt unwelcome, and did not attend, and in others those “distressed by homosexuality” quietly left. I don’t know. If you were around at the time, were you aware of this happening? It might have felt safer, but it would not have been, really. It would have been a reduction in the Light available to those meetings, which is in our diversity. If we are all the same, we lose something.

So I keep telling myself, as I try to live with that anger.

I love what my Friend Rhiannon wrote: even the merest, softest touches of suggestion that in order to be a Proper Quaker one ought to [x]… sets me imagining ways in which I might find myself outside that boundary. I want my Meeting able to include trans folk, and those “distressed by trans” (or anxious sharing a toilet with me) but that might be uncomfortable. But then, it’s just possible that I will become homeless, in which case I might even get lice.

I thought, 22.45 is not so objectionable read as a whole, and it is good to show the history of our discernment. Chapter 16, last revised in 2015, shows where we are now, governing our marriage procedure. I wanted a beautiful quote from there to round this off. 16.03 is not really beautiful, but matter-of fact: “Friends understand marriage to be equally available to same-sex and opposite-sex couples.” But then I see 16.07, which refers to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act: “It is, therefore, expected that our registering officers, on appointment, understand that they will be required to officiate at all marriages authorised by that area meeting.” The homophobes may still be with us, mostly keeping quiet about it.

Are Quakers transphobic?

Are Quakers transphobic? No. I doubt we will escape allegations of it, though. There are things I want to say to Quakers in Britain, to other trans people, and to anyone else who will listen.

Quaker Life has produced a discussion document. That is, a committee which supports Quaker meetings in their pastoral role and the practical tasks for running a Quaker meeting has made an initial statement, and called for further discussion. It is quite a dense document, not easy to read if you are affected by it. I have faced rejection after rejection, I am attuned to rejection and expecting rejection, and extremely sensitive to potential rejection. At first I read the document as a rejection of me and of people like me. Reading it again with care I do not feel rejected. However, that in itself is an exercise of my love, care and forebearance, my willingness once more to seek community, my bravery in the face of fear.

The document is not a final position. Quakers will apply our love and care for those affected, seeking the truth. We will consider particular situations and underlying principles, what we could wish for and what we can do. We are no more transphobic than we are antisemitic. We may come to a statement discerned by more Quakers, and the process will include trans and gender diverse people. Separate Quaker groups have made statements particularly welcoming us.

Quakers and gender diversity


This statement by Quaker Life Central Committee has emerged as a response to the shared experiences of Friends throughout Britain Yearly Meeting and the sense that it is our responsibility to lead on this. We commit to this being the start of a discussion for the comfort and discomfort of all Friends, with a focus on listening to where the words come from and upholding one another.

We accept that this is where we are now. There is much more to be done and more discussion to be had and this will be a process of careful thought and prayerfulness. We are aware of the pain and hardship around this topic and hold all Meetings in the Light and in our hearts during this exploration. It is essential to remember that we are Friends with each other and to treat ourselves and this sacred community with gentleness and love as we go forth.

My Friends who drafted this are aware of the pain and hardship. They include at least one gay man who as an adult experienced the casual and endemic homophobia of Britain in the 1970s, and some of them have heard my personal experiences. It is hard for me to trust and yet I trust these people. For now: I am watching them!

An Initial Statement on Gender Diversity by Quaker Life Central Committee

We condemn all forms of bigotry, oppression and discrimination and seek to do all we can to remove such experiences from our Quaker community. Where this is not humanly possible we trust that, with Divine help, we can move forward together in making our Society a truly welcoming place for all. We affirm the right of all to explore their own expressions, non-conformity and identity in matters of gender and sexuality and note that this may involve clarity, decisiveness, doubt and re-thinking in any individual’s life. We commit to providing places of worship and community that are welcoming of all on that journey. While we cannot hope to be perfect in attaining this, we seek to try what love can do.

Quakers have a record of opposing discrimination: of being among the first among the churches to welcome and destigmatise gay people; of supporting the original Gender Recognition Act, Civil Partnerships and equal marriage; of counting Equality as among our founding principles and most important values. I have been to a joyous lesbian wedding at a Quaker meeting house.

We note, with sadness, that the current expression of gender diversity across our society has been coloured by bad feeling and hurtful language. We denounce such language and action. We exhort all Friends to consider their every word and deed carefully and lovingly and commit our organisation to work with tenderness to all as we work through this new social territory.

I am not clear what they mean by “bad feeling and hurtful language”. I hope they do not mean any statement by trans people. Whatever, I support the desire to hear people, know where their words come from, value their experience and be careful to hear all that is good and true in the communication. Otherwise, we are driven further apart, and hurt again.

We affirm the right of women’s organisations to critique and explore the nature of gender identification and respect their right to freedom of speech. We recognise that some Friends will find such organisations supportive and of comfort and respect their right to make their case. We do not accept that the critique of transgender identities in the political sphere is necessarily transphobic. We affirm our welcome to such organisations to meet publicly or privately on Quaker premises. We will work with all such organisations to address any potential uses of hurtful language.

This is the paragraph which will most offend trans people. We feel attacked, by the barrage of hostile and prurient articles in the media, especially The Times, the hatred and mockery on twitter and Mumsnet among other places, and by organisations like Woman’s Place UK, which does not simply “explore the nature of gender identification” so much as spread fear against trans people.

My own feeling is that I hear the hurt expressed by such organisations, as well as the anger and self-righteousness. These particular organisations include marginalised people. We even may have things in common. Both sides accuse the other of being in league with the hard Right. I accept that both are on the Left, and so solidarity would be of benefit to both.

The sentence is quite careful. It says not all critique is necessarily transphobic, not that all criticism is acceptable. Some individuals may seek understanding and common space rather than to exclude and spread fear against us. But with WPUK now openly seeking to roll back the rights we already have, I don’t know who they are thinking of. We experience much “exploration” by others of our gender identities as excluding. They are talking of my life, my lived experience; I know who I am on a deep level, and do not take kindly to theorising about it.

If such organisations interact with Quakers or use our premises we can call them up on “hurtful language”. They might listen to Quakers hosting them more than to trans groups.

We affirm the right of organisations that support transgender individuals, and all exploring their gender identity, to all such activities in pursuit of this, and respect their right to freedom of speech. We recognise that some Friends will find such organisations supportive and of comfort and respect their right to make their case. We affirm our welcome to such organisations to meet publicly or privately on Quaker premises. We will work with all such organisations to address any potential uses of hurtful language.

Some will not like the words “exploring their gender identity”. Many people knew in early childhood they were really of their true sex. Yet many explore whether we can transition socially, and where we have to present in the birth gender at work or in families we need spaces where we can be our true selves.

I want to use hurtful language sometimes. I am hurt. The depth of my feelings, of my pain, is expressed in strong language- sometimes. Trans people might read Judith Green’s account of recovery from childhood sexual abuse: entirely female space “was the one space where we put our own needs first”. We may also resonate with her when she says this: “that I wasn’t alone, that it wasn’t my fault, that I was entitled to feel angry, that my boundaries were important, my truth and understanding of reality were important – not the lies imposed on me”. I found that with trans people. We have things in common, if we can hear each other. I do not condone her arguments for trans exclusion, but I hear her own experience.

As a Quaker community, we respect and uphold the self-expression of all members of and visitors to our community. We commit to using and respecting individuals’ current names and pronouns.

“Ze” and “hir” as well as “they”. I need Quakers to be clear on this. It is my right to specify how I should be imagined, or how I should not be imagined. I am not a man. I am vulnerable, and suggestions that I am a man can cut to my heart. And, being open is risky: sometimes I need a defensive carapace of Fuck You.

In all our work with children and young people in our community, we respect and uphold their self-expressions and seek to offer them nurturing spaces in which to continue to grow and develop. We recognise that such self-expressions may change over time and that exploration of identity and conformity or otherwise to gender norms is a normal part of youth and may continue throughout life. We commit to offering our children and young people affirming activities and spaces which are not gender stereotyped and allow each individual freedom of self-expression that is appropriate for them at that time.

This statement is not just about trans people, for others besides trans people are afflicted by gender norms. Many people find gender norms oppressive, and gender norms are part of the apparatus of Patriarchy, or pervasive sexism. Masculinity becomes toxic when people try to fit norms which do not fit them. Everyone balances being themselves with conforming to expectations, trying to find a comfortable or bearable space between. We experiment with expressing different parts of ourselves, ideally in our teens and if necessary later. We face the question “Who am I?” It does not say people question their gender identity- most people do not- but their identity.

In the Quaker meeting I can find who I am. It is a long journey: a Friend admired how I had “climbed a mountain”, and I felt that I had clambered out of a pit. I experience the nurturing spaces. Quakers have enabled me to be more myself.

We note that shared spaces such as toilets, changing and sleeping areas can cause anxieties and concerns for people. We believe that no-one should have to use shared spaces which do not feel comfortable to them. In a context of systemic male violence, particularly towards women, we are especially minded to examine the potential adverse impact of any policy on women and girls and to make efforts to remedy this. All Quaker premises and events ought to provide facilities which everyone feels safe and comfortable using. The usage of these facilities must be clearly defined and communicated and must offer choice for the individual.

Trans people will object to this. If it does not mean that I could be excluded from women’s toilets in a Quaker meeting house, I feel it could be clearer. Yet- “How can everyone feel safe and comfortable?” This is an initial discussion document. That is a useful question. The document does not give all the answers, but everyone feeling safe and comfortable is a worthwhile goal: and it includes me, as well as others.

And, treating trans issues in the context of male violence is objectionable. We are the victims of violence, generally, rather than perpetrators. Many of us have been assaulted, or sexually assaulted, because we are trans. Yet others are victims of violence too.

Throughout our history, Quakers have affirmed the equality of all before God. We profess that ‘each one of us is unique, precious, a child of God’ (Advices and Queries 22). We commit to continue our work in this matter, continually seeking new solutions to eradicate all forms of exclusion and to create safe space for all within Britain Yearly Meeting.


What next?

We invite Friends to reflect and discuss the topic together. We also invite Friends across Britain to send personal stories and think-pieces to us – contributions will help us learn, and to consider whether to draw together some form of publication. Notes or minutes of discussions in Quaker communities could also be sent, as this will help us understand more about this exploration, and whether further resources might be helpful.

We’re not inviting ‘dots and commas’ comments on the present text.

“Dots and commas” is Quaker jargon for quibbles about individual words and punctuation.

Please send any response, with your name, address, and the name of your Area Meeting (or other Quaker community)

That is, they want responses from Quakers. They may hear from others besides.

to us at…. This email address will not be monitored regularly and we do not expect to enter into correspondence with those making submissions, but you will be contacted if we wish to publish any response you send.

Quaker Life Central Committee, November 2018

This post is about Quakers in Britain, and not in the rest of the world.

Trans and violence against women

I would normally be delighted to read an acknowledgment of “systemic male violence particularly towards women”. Men use their greater size to intimidate, bully, sexually demean and assault women. It prevents women reaching their potential. Not all men, of course, but enough to make it a serious problem, affecting all women and girls. Like trans women, cis women restrict where they will go alone because of fear of male violence.

And yet it comes in a document on gender diversity, which addresses issues around trans people, and says “We note that shared spaces such as toilets, changing and sleeping areas can cause anxieties and concerns for people. We believe that no-one should have to use shared spaces which do not feel comfortable to them… The usage of these facilities must be clearly defined and communicated and must offer choice for the individual.”

That is clearly stating that someone might reasonably fear violence from me, and should be protected from me.

The suggestion that I might be violent against someone is an extremely effective attack on me. The thought that anyone might be frightened of me distresses me: I want people not to be frightened, and especially I want not to cause fear. I want human togetherness and acceptance, and such fear would create distance and rejection.

Then, it is a threat. If I frighten people, or might be violent, that justifies defensive measures against me. I can be restricted to protect others. I know it is not justified, but those self-righteously protecting themselves or others from me may feel justified doing anything to hurt me for the greater good.

And it reminds me of characteristics I still think of as weak and unmanly, especially in this context. I know I am not violent, because I have considered the matter and thought of those times when I have been assaulted, even sexually assaulted. In a “fight or flight” situation, I freeze. It’s a primate thing, reacting to other primates’ dominance displays. I don’t hit back. “Unmanly” rather than “feminine”- I know women who resist.

In a document about trans people, don’t raise the idea that a way to deal with women’s fear of male violence is to exclude a particular group. We are at the bottom of the pecking order. If we went into women’s spaces to attack women, we would be found out, excluded, and paraded for mockery and vilification, which is so terrifying for us that only a very few of the most damaged of us might be tempted. I have no wish to assault anyone, I want consensual sexual practices. So the allegation that we might be dangerous in women’s space is like similar accusations against lesbians. As with any crime, we should assume that people are not criminal, then deal with those who are.

The document goes on to say, “We commit to continue our work in this matter, continually seeking new solutions to eradicate all forms of exclusion and to create safe space for all”. This just seems bizarre. It’s gaslighting. They might exclude me from women’s space to prevent women from feeling fear, but want to eradicate exclusion. Even justified exclusion? It’s merely confused. Will I be excluded, or not?

The Guardian has an article expressing it beautifully today: marginalising trans women at actual risk from regularly documented abuse /violence in favour of protecting hypothetical cis women from purely hypothetical abuse/violence from trans women in women-only safe-spaces strikes me as horribly unethical as well as repellently callous. Cis women might convince those trans women can’t reach.

Telling the truth for Quakers

We know this stuff. It is hard, but not complicated. It is part of our spiritual practice, and in our most precious writings:

Our diversity invites us both to speak what we know to be true in our lives and to learn from others. Friends are encouraged to listen to each other in humility and understanding, trusting in the Spirit that goes beyond our human effort and comprehension… Are you following Jesus’ example of love in action? …

Take time to learn about other people’s experiences of the Light. Remember the importance of the Bible, the writings of Friends and all writings which reveal the ways of God. As you learn from others, can you in turn give freely from what you have gained? While respecting the experiences and opinions of others, do not be afraid to say what you have found and what you value. Appreciate that doubt and questioning can also lead to spiritual growth and to a greater awareness of the Light that is in us all.

Receive the vocal ministry of others in a tender and creative spirit. Reach for the meaning deep within it, recognising that even if it is not God’s word for you, it may be so for others… Do you welcome the diversity of culture, language and expressions of faith in our yearly meeting and in the world community of Friends? Seek to increase your understanding and to gain from this rich heritage and wide range of spiritual insights…

Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern? Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it. When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken.

Do you cherish your friendships, so that they grow in depth and understanding and mutual respect?

We know all this. Love is the heart of it. Listen in Love, speak the truth as best you can. I am very protective of my eye. I do not like things near it. It matters a lot. Yet I notice that the eye is a robust organ, not easy to damage, though it is sensitive and complex. In the same way without meeting for worship we would be impoverished, perhaps disabled, but it is robust.

We know what to do. Listen patiently and seek the truth. Reach for the meaning. Give freely, say what you have found and what you value. Recognise the beautiful humanity of the people around you. Do all this in Love and humility. Then we receive the blessings of our Friends.

Possibly we think it should be easier than it is. Possibly we do not realise how badly hurt we are or how threatened we feel. Possibly we do not realise the effect our words may have.

Possibly, the first time we hear an uncomfortable view it drops, like a bomb, into a conversation we found congenial until that moment. My buttons are pressed, and I withdraw. I want that sense of being with people like me which I can gain from denying their true strangeness or enforcing certain rules about what must not be said. So, one Meeting quotes the Bible all the time, another does not possess a copy, and members of one might be uncomfortable in the other.

Rhiannon Grant’s book “Telling the truth about God” addresses Quakers hearing each other specifically about the words we use for our spiritual experiences. Frameworks can be useful. We have meetings for learning. We take lots of time to hear why one Friend values one idea of God, or of what our spiritual experience is. We recognise the difficulties our ideas can cause, so we find ways in. I like her exercise placing words for God or spirit on a piece of paper, according to which we would always, sometimes or never use. Different people will put the same word in different places, then share why. Ideally that will unearth the hurt in a safe space, where others will take time to hear it and express sympathy. Then at least the hurt will not be renewed.

“We usually find ourselves richer for our differences,” said Baltimore YM, when the separate Orthodox and Hicksite YMs reunited. Yet the differences remain, and we fear that we will lose out. How can people respect my view, if they accept its opposite? And these views are mutually exclusive. That fear, and sense of difference, are the “seeds of war”. Can we calm our own fears, making sure we do not fear anything which is unlikely or would not really be harmful? Can we separate out our ego and desire for respect that is not due, or safety that is not possible? Can we trust the process?

My Friend said you did not always need the business method- not, in her usual example, for deciding the colour of the meeting house door. But if you can’t use it for that, you can’t use it for anything. Different people might have strong opinions. We listen to each other and follow God’s loving purposes- not because God wants a particular colour in the abstract, but a colour which fits our community.

In due humility I set aside my ego-desires, for a desire for the good of all. I use my judgment, but apply it for good, or God, not my own purposes. I am not hiding any part of myself for a quiet life, but present in my full humanity. I let go of demands that the world be other than it is. It’s not easy, but it is simple.

In our own difficult issue, a Friend suggested we get together to “share our hurts”. I don’t want to share my hurts. I have been to too many benefits tribunals, where some hapless claimant states how painful they find it to walk forty yards, and is challenged and often disbelieved. Quakers might feel good supporting the underdog, but I want my contribution recognised, not my hurt. I do not want your sympathy, I do not want a saviour, I want others to work with me for the common good, including my needs.

Threshing, I would rather share my hopes and fears. The reason I want particular action is because it will make the world a better place, as far as we can. Some will be reasonable predictions of likely outcomes and some will be paranoid.

My desires include the good of my Friends and the wider community. Sharing desires may show what we have in common, and bring us together; it may help each understand the differences between us and get a richer understanding of the Good.

My beliefs are the foundation on which these hopes, fears and desires are built. Exposing them can correct them. There is an understanding in me, wordless, which may be my Light; I want my verbal formulations to approximate to the truth it perceives, and together we find the best words.

My sympathies are with Friends even where I disagree. If our differences are magnified, the chances of hurt and disagreement increase. Sympathies bring out all we have in common. We show how we care for each other.

Achieving equanimity

How could I ever play poker? I wear my heart on my sleeve. It is rarely difficult for someone to read what I am feeling. I wonder if I could manipulate my feeling, or change its focus: rather than misery or delight at the turn of a particular card, desperation at a particular gamble, I could focus on more long term things. It is good- fascinating, challenging, informative- to be with these people, doing this thing together. I can afford to lose the money I have brought. I might win. I will learn. The evening will be a worthwhile experience whatever happens.

Or (not having played poker) I imagine a lot of the skill is concealing whether I am lying or telling the truth. So, I am not lying. That I choose to bet on this particular hand does not mean that it is a good one, only that I consider I have a reasonable chance of winning. I have as much right to bet on a poor hand as a good one. (I have heard that the straight flushes and full houses we see on TV drama come up considerably less often in actual play.) I am not ashamed. I am not even deceiving you, as what you think is your concern.

Again, I might consider that I am unduly internally focused, on my own feelings, and notice other people. If I pay attention to what is around me, I might be less disturbed by what is within.

These could make me feel better in real life, not just a poker fantasy. To be aware of all the good and beauty surrounding and supporting me, to be aware that the thing distressing me may just be momentary and the thing and my reaction to it will pass.

I have been feeling anguish this morning, and I have written something I find worthwhile. The anguish is existential: I feel discounted, treated as worthless, my needs and feelings as of no account, and it seems I am “cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth”- outside the community, where the social animal cannot survive. I am not, really. This temporary worry will be all sorted, fairly soon. And I will die, and perhaps be expelled from my various communities. That fear may sometimes be more intense and immediate, and sometimes in the background, but has not come to pass yet. It is from childhood, feeling not valued, feeling squashed into a box I did not fit, feeling my natural characteristics were unwelcome. It is old trauma I may never entirely heal.

There is beauty and delight and possibility. I am alright so far. I have survived.