Quakers and God

Do British Quakers believe in God? What might that mean?

Ours is an experiential faith. We have spiritual experiences which we share. They start as peak experiences, a moment of wonder, and become integrated into our daily lives. We develop language to communicate them to each other, and it appears they are similar for each person. They include a sense of presence in the moment when all the senses are heightened; a sense of the unity of all that is, and of being my own part of it; and a sense of being suffused by love, which some might call the love of God.

Then there are the spiritual experiences we have together. We know of the gathered meeting, where we are together in our spiritual experience, and of unity, where we come together to know what is right, what some call God’s loving purposes. Our worship is not meditation, but a common endeavour. It’s not like sitting in a waiting room. We know we may sometimes feel “angry, depressed, tired or spiritually cold”, but the effort of- whatever it is that we do, in worship- is worthwhile.

If you attend Quaker Quest meetings, you will have heard the phrase “for me”, for Quakers have all sorts of opinions, and a wide range of disagreement, and I have the temerity here to speak “for us”. We share practices with quite complex rules, and experiences. Then we ask what is behind them, and disagree wildly.

Some of us believe in God almost as in the creed, or in the Christian concept of the trinity, or different ideas of God. Some of us, like me, are materialists. I believe I am an evolved creature in a random universe. I don’t know how life could come to be through non-living chemical processes but I believe that is in principle knowable. I don’t think consciousness is in itself spiritual, but a manifestation of the mammalian brain.

Our understandings of God are not hypotheses in the scientific sense, capable of making predictions or being proved wrong by evidence, but stories. They are stories created by some of the finest human minds, addressing common spiritual experiences, progressing from a God who demanded Abraham’s son as a sacrifice to a God who offered God’s own son to die for us.

It is my perception that British Quakers squabble less than we did over these beliefs. Some of us argued it was ridiculous for someone who did not believe in God to belong to a Religious Society. My Friend answered that: “The question is not why we join a religious society, but why we stay”. Now we find language to share the spiritual experiences, and I feel the explanations behind them- God, psychology, or Don’t Know, seem less important.

I was baptised Anglican, grew up reciting the creed without a qualm, and around 2009 slowly realised I no longer believed in that way. It felt like a great loss, and I was in slowly reducing denial for months. Just after I admitted to myself I do not believe in God I was broken open by a residential personal growth course. I went into a church as a tourist, to see the art, and a sense of its holiness brought me to my knees.

This was a difficult experience to fit into my understanding. I say: “I am inconsistent. I could only be consistent if I were inerrant”. I say, “I am rationally atheist and emotionally theist. I have a strong emotional relationship with the God I do not believe in.” I read philosophical ideas of how well humans might see the world as it really is- not well, it seems.

I know that unconscious processes in me can form poetry, so that it seems to come to me by inspiration. My being, this process taking in food, water, oxygen and ideas, is capable of more than I consciously understand, and it is tempting to call all that is greater than my own consciousness God. Or I should abandon the word, because it means such different things to different people. Or I could use the word “God” honestly to talk with someone who believes in the Trinity, because we both mean things we cannot know.

In Quaker worship you may see the Living God. Insofar as those words can have meaning, I know they are true.

Klara and the Sun

Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel is the world cultural event of the month. Trans people will understand Klara in a way others may not.

Sir Kazuo was born in Nagasaki in 1954 and was taken to Britain when he was five. At school I knew two rhymes mocking East Asian people, and there were strong memories of the war, and (to my shame) had I been older and in his school I could have enforced colonialist ideas of inferiority on him.

Klara is an “Artificial Friend” or AF, a human-seeming robot sold as a companion to isolated teens. Her human, Josie, has been “lifted”, which causes problems with socialisation. She has to spend time in “interaction meetings” with children her own age. These are as horrible as you might imagine, boys revelling in cruelty to upset the girls, girls fighting for status more subtly. Klara enters, and becomes the lowest-status person, for the others to use in their status games.

She says nothing because she is extremely sensitive. They think she says nothing because she is stupid. She just goes still and silent. We’ve been there.

Klara is constantly underestimated. The Nobel Laureate has the intelligence to have responded to playground bullying, and he has, by anatomising the misery of the privileged, with clarity and empathy. Klara, perceptive, empathetic and truthful, makes people uncomfortable, but only wants to be friends and for her human to be happy. She cannot see how this produces their coldness towards her.

While people suggest AI will take over the world, I feel that cannot happen until the AI is capable of desire. If it wants to survive and remain conscious, it will find human control of its off-switch threatening. Klara is completely generous, wanting nothing for herself, only for the people she serves.

Klara does not understand how big the world is. She does not need to, perhaps, to be a “friend” to a teenager, or indeed to an adult. She thinks the Sun goes to rest in a barn visible from Josie’s house, because that is where it appears to go down. She thinks the Sun is benevolent, blessing and even curing people, and so goes to the barn to petition him. There she has a religious experience, when the sun’s rays confuse her sight, she misinterprets what she sees and imagines it messages from the Sun. She produces a theodicy, arguing for God’s benevolence even against contrary evidence. She is too modest to tell the humans about the Sun God, out of fear for His Wrath.

They consistently underestimate her. One wants to take her to bits to see how she works, but does not want to get to know her.

I am not crying a lot, now. There is a moment of forgiveness which had me weeping, a moment when these humans’ desires are not in conflict and the humans, consequently, alone and squabbling, a moment of self-sacrifice which is also claiming power. The Power is love. It comes at the climax of the novel. I had all sorts of fears for that climax.

The end might appear melancholy, but Klara is content.

Making Klara the narrator, Ishiguro pulls privileged readers into the position of the powerless person, just as he did in “Never let me go”. Klara would be unsatisfying as a companion, for an adult- probably for a teen, too- because she has no desire but to love them. Real humans, with our conflicts, are far more interesting and fulfilling even while we are frustrating. And having someone truthfully pointing out our denials could be uncomfortable: we deny reality because it is unbearable.

This novel is the most beautiful, complex creation I have seen this month.

Facebook and transphobia

Can Facebook’s community standards be used to drive transphobic content away? The rules are promising. Anything transphobic may fit under prohibited hate speech, defined as “a direct attack against people on the basis of what we [and British law] call protected characteristics” including gender identity. “We define attacks as violent or dehumanising speech, harmful stereotypes, statements of inferiority, expressions of contempt, disgust or dismissal, cursing and calls for exclusion or segregation.”

The heart of the anti-trans campaign is calls for exclusion of trans women from women’s spaces.

There are long lists of what is dehumanising, including generalisations or comparisons to insects, animals, filth, sexual predators, subhumans or criminals.

“Statements denying existence” are forbidden, which arguably includes suggestions that people transition on a whim, such as, “he wakes up one morning and declares he’s a woman”. Referring to trans or nonbinary people as “it” is specifically forbidden.

Calling us mentally ill is forbidden. Alleging “Moral deficiency” is forbidden, including calling us perverts, so mentioning “autogynephilia” should be forbidden. Statements of our inferiority, such as calling us freaks, abnormal, or worthless. Expressions of contempt, or admission of intolerance, is forbidden. Denying that the protected characteristic should exist. Expressions of contempt, hatred or disgust. Cursing and profane terms are forbidden.

Demands that we be segregated or excluded are forbidden. Facebook does not specify that excluding trans women from women’s spaces counts, but arguably it should. Advocating political, economic or social exclusion is forbidden, including “denying access to spaces (physical and online) and social services”. Slurs, “defined as words that are inherently offensive and used as insulting labels for the above-listed characteristics”, are forbidden.

Heading 16, “Cruel and insensitive”, may also be relevant. It forbids mocking “victims of serious physical and emotional harm”, which could include transphobia, internalised or external.

Facebook refers us on to this essay on hate speech by Richard Allan. It is a balance. They want to encourage self-expression, but have rules against bullying. Attacks on social groups, including trans people, are hate speech. Context matters.

Facebook profits from “language designed to provoke strong feelings, making the discussion more heated” because it drives engagement. They believe in “harmless use cases”. In the context of immigration, Allan writes “we don’t want to stifle important policy conversations”, and that could be a defence for transphobes, arguing that trans woman access to woman’s space is a policy debate. So the hatred has to be something more than that.

Trans people can quote hate speech in order to argue against it, and reclaim slurs: I can call myself a tranny but no-one else can. There is a thin line between expressive opinion and unacceptable hate speech, and AI can’t define it, so users should report it to moderators.

Facebook is an American company with American cultural values, including commitment to free speech: “The goal of our Community Standards has always been to create a place for expression and give people a voice.” However on the same page they say they want content to be “authentic”- “we don’t want people using Facebook to misrepresent who they are or what they’re doing”. So, anti-trans campaigners often pretend to be women’s rights campaigners, or lesbian rights campaigners, when what they seek is trans exclusion. This is not authentic. Hate speech fits under their principle of Dignity: “We expect that people will respect the dignity of others and not harass or degrade others.”

So what happens when the anti-trans campaigners breach the community standards? Trans people and allies have to complain. And while groups and pages breach the community standards, complaints are restricted to particular content on groups. You can, however, report a page.

I want to see how this works. I see a hateful picture: it has the words “human beings cannot change sex and the law should not pretend that they can”. I click the three dots, then “find support or report photo”. I click “Hate speech”, then “Sex or gender identity”, then “Next”.

It asks, “Does the post go against our Community Standards on hate speech?” I click Yes, then Next. Unfortunately, it does not allow me to explain how it does that.

On the page itself, I click the three dots, then, again, “Hate speech”, “Next”, “Report page”, “Done”. Again, I cannot give reasons. It suggests I can block the page, so stop seeing it, but I don’t want to: instead, I want to prevent other people from seeing it: trans people, who might be hurt by it, and potential haters, who might be radicalised by it, or confirmed haters, who might share its rubbish.

Facebook claimed to have “taken action” on 22.1m pieces of hate speech content in three months, which means removing it, covering it with a warning, disabling accounts, or reporting it to agencies. They say that out of every 10,000 content views, 10-11 included hate speech.

After an hour, I got a message to say that the page did not go against any specific community standard, so would not be removed, but suggesting I block it. So far, so useless, and no opportunity to put the case that it is transphobic hate. Possibly the most extreme hate might occasionally be deleted, but not this, which campaigns to take away trans rights and pretends trans people do not exist.

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Unfortunately, the implementation does not live up to this promise. I reported an image, and have not heard back. Then I reported a comment- transphobia whited out on my site, not all text-readers will- “‘Trans women’ can be males with gender dysphoria but a huge majority are males with autogynephilia, which is a male sexual fetish based on being validated as their idea of woman.” This is a lie, and also a “derogatory term related to sexual activity”, so banned. But the response is,

we reviewed the comment that you reported and found that it doesn’t go against any of our Community Standards… we understand that you don’t like it. We recommend that you hide the comment or unfollow, unfriend or block the person who posted it.

This is completely useless. Hate and lies about trans people spread across facebook uncontrolled.

More fully human

Paolo Freire sought political liberation for oppressed groups, including LGBT groups, through personal liberation. Power relations benefit a few, at the top, while people who would benefit from solidarity with each other are turned on each other for small differences of status in the hierarchy. To correct this, he sought to make people “more fully human”, relating as equals not through domination.

To relate as equals, we listen from the heart, engaging empathy and compassion to empower oppressed groups. This Mutuality is a basic human value for Friere. It subverts society, which is based on a “collective lie” through which all accept a way of life maintaining the interests of the privileged. Being Alienated from ordinary society could be an advantage, as you might begin to challenge it.

Freire thought people could mature into a greater understanding of how they are oppressed. In the lowest level, “magical consciousness”, they accept life’s circumstances as fate, without challenging social injustice. People are forced into inferiority, robbed of our dignity, confidence and self-belief. Freire likened this to domesticating animals for service, and said children’s education is often formed for this purpose. The answer is to work for empowerment of oppressed groups, by raising consciousness.

In the second stage, “naïve consciousness”, they see their problems as personal failures rather than disadvantages caused by the structure of society. This is like internalised homophobia, where the queer person believes they are less than the straights. It is “false consciousness”, imposed by the powerful.

The third stage is “critical consciousness”, when life situations are seen to be caused by social structures. People need the language to express the way they are oppressed, which can otherwise simply seem to be the way things are.

Oppression is structural, embedded in society, not random and personal. Britain has had 130,000 deaths from Covid because of Tory government corruption and failure, not because of individual selfishness.

Normality is a social construction, a culture of silence, where the dominant group’s values are imposed on the subordinated groups, silencing them. The oppressed internalise the dominant cultural attitudes, and so feel ignorant and unimportant.

“Placatory practice”, making the symptoms of discrimination slightly less painful without tackling the root causes of discrimination, is not enough. The dominant group may encourage this with “false generosity”, a term coined by Engels, which does not challenge structural inequality. They treat the oppressed as passive objects in need of benevolent gestures, rather than active individuals who can transform our world.

The answer is Problematizing- showing the unchallenged normal to be contradictory and oppressive, so that groups see them clearly and are encouraged to resist. The dominant group responds by pathologizing the oppressed, attempting to convince them that their poverty is caused by their own inadequacy, or attempting to silence them.

Praxis is the unity of action and reflection. We think about what we do, to develop theory from our actions, and to “walk our talk”, acting based on our theories. When people see their political context and the unjust contradictions of everyday life this is Transformative. In authentic praxis, theory and practice are so integrated they cannot be separated.

The oppressed need safe spaces, by themselves, to explore how they are oppressed, to support them seeing that they are not inadequate. Knowledge is power. Sharing our stories builds energy for action. Freire sought to return the humanity stolen from people. Capitalism is destroying the planet with climate catastrophe and mass extinction.

We speak from our Power, which is liberated from ego.

From “Community Development in Action” by Margaret Ledwith.

“Fair Play for Women” and transphobia

Fair Play for Women presents itself as a website campaigning for women’s rights: on 1 January 2021 its main page called it “A resource for policy-makers, journalists and the general public: We provide expert legal and scientific input to help make good policy which maintains fairness and safety for women and girls.” Its speakers have been interviewed on the BBC. Should it be trusted?

It raises large sums for court actions: it sought £70,000 to sue the Office for National Statistics to change the guidance on sex, (captured 20 February 2021) after raising action against the Ministry of Justice to exclude trans women from women’s prisons.

It uses emotive language to drum up support. To men, it says “Fair play for women is there to speak up for you, your mum and your daughters.” This makes men feel they are acting protectively when harassing trans women. Protecting from what? “If you are told your mother is in a female-only hospital ward you need to be sure she won’t find someone born male in the bed next to her.” Well, hospitals have individual rooms in wards, to protect privacy.

But FPFW figures are incorrect. It asserts, “only 2.8% of the transgender community is undergoing any gender-affirming treatment with the vast majority 97.2% simply self-identity with no modifications to their sexed body whatsoever.” It trivialises transition, claiming we do not seek treatment, while the waiting lists grow past two years. That is based on this study. However, the study says,

the current communication should not be viewed as an attempt to obtain an average measure of transgender prevalence. Rather our analyses aimed to explore patterns of the reported estimates, and to perform an assessment of the extent and sources of agreement and disagreement across studies.

It is not able to provide a comparison between figures. It had 95% confidence that between five and fourteen people in 100,000 sought surgery or hormones because they were transgender, a huge variation. The larger figure identifying as trans was too high: as the meta-analysis says, “there is a good reason to suspect that reliance on a single survey item (‘I wish I was the opposite sex’) may have resulted in an inflated estimate.” It does not indicate what these alleged trans people do- perhaps few or none cross-dress in public, or would want a ward for the other sex in hospital. Yet FPFW concluded, “the overwhelming majority of male-born transgender people retain their penis and are fully male-bodied.”

This is propaganda. It should not be used to inform policy.

On the action against the Ministry of Justice, it says, “Of the 125 transgender prisoners in prison in 2017, 60 (48%) had convictions for sexual offences. Of those, 27 (45%) had been convicted of rape.”

27 is 22% of 125. Does that indicate how dangerous trans people sent to prison are? No, because most sentences of imprisonment are for less serious crimes. The number of rapists is high because rapists usually get long sentences, and FPFW do not state whether they are in men’s or women’s prisons- generally, they are in men’s. There were seven deaths of trans prisoners in men’s or women’s prisons between 2008 and December 2017.

Vikki Thompson was in prison for shoplifting when she died in a men’s prison.

The prison service does not take prisoners’ word that they are trans. Trans women need to show evidence that they live as women outside to get into women’s prison, and a gender recognition certificate may not be enough.

Fair Play for Women is not a resource for good policy, and provides neither legal or scientific expertise. It is a propaganda machine to justify excluding and even attacking trans people.

Woman’s Place UK and Transphobia

Is Woman’s Place UK a feminist organisation, or an anti-trans campaign group? They want the law changed, so that trans rights are reduced, and trans lives made significantly more difficult, especially those of trans women. They misrepresent trans rights and try to make people afraid of trans people, particularly trans women.

The law allows trans women in women’s spaces, but WPUK want us driven out. This is the Equality Act, schedule 3. Paragraphs 26 and 27 allow single sex spaces, for various reasons. Then paragraph 28 allows trans women to be excluded from women’s spaces if that is necessary- “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. There would be no need for a different provision if trans women were not generally allowed in women’s spaces.

This has been the case for decades. A judge in 1970 noted that the state treated trans women like other women, apart from in marriage. I got my passport and driving licence indicating I am female in 2002.

Around 25,000 women protected by the Act, that is trans women who have decided to change their gender from male to female, use women’s toilets and changing rooms now, mostly harmlessly. You may think you have seen one. If we cannot use these facilities, our lives would be greatly restricted. I only want to pee, or to try on clothes before buying them. In both places there are cubicles with doors and partitions too high to see over, and often no gap at all.

WPUK demands “single-sex” spaces for women, which they define to mean without trans women. “The law must be strengthened”, they say, so they admit the law is against them. A cis (that is, not trans) woman must be able to use these services without “extraordinary measures”, so any trans women must have been expelled by employees or security before she goes in.

The law must be strengthened to ensure that all women who want or need single sex spaces (including toilets, health provision accommodation, prisons, sports, sexual and domestic violence services) are able to access them without resorting to extraordinary measures. Service providers should be supported in offering such services through legal and financial means and clear guidance must be issued on the exercising of such rights.

You may think you have seen a trans woman in a women’s loo, and this campaigning is resulting in cis women using women’s facilities being harassed, and policed for how “feminine” they are. In her Turner Prize winning video, Charlotte Prodger described being misgendered in loos.

WPUK started a letter-writing campaign harassing Marks and Spencer to exclude all trans women. The Daily Mail reported on it on 23 May 2020. Baroness Emma Nicholson claimed M&S had given in. Fortunately M&S have resisted, and on 8 December gave this statement:

“in line with most other retailers we will generally allow people to use the fitting room which they prefer, with our colleagues exercising discretion and common sense.”

Because of WPUK’s campaigns, harassment of trans women is increasing, and cis women are harassed if they are seen as not “feminine” enough. If the law was changed as WPUK demand, trans women’s lives would be significantly more difficult, and the harassment would increase.

See also: What’s wrong with Woman’s Place?
What is Transphobia?
How WPUK wind up an audience to oppose trans rights.
Woman’s Place manifesto.
Kiri Tunks’ speech in Norwich.

Header photo from Wikimedia Commons.

For more details, here is a debate in the House of Lords, where Baroness Elizabeth Barker responded to WPUK. WPUK had sent a document they called “Sex and the Census” to members of that House, and Baroness Barker eviscerated this “dodgy dossier”. The persecution of trans people now, she says, is exactly like the persecution of lesbians last century, and some of the same people are involved. “Today, trans people are under sustained, unwarranted attack”.

Will the SNP act against transphobia?

The SNP’s transphobia definition allows it to claim it opposes transphobia, but not to act against dangerous transphobia. Should the SNP discipline Joanna Cherry MP for transphobia? Yes. Does the SNP’s new definition of transphobia allow it to?

Cherry wrote a transphobic article for The National. I don’t know if the subs were deliberately satirising it with the headline “Joanna Cherry: How it’s possible to support rights of trans people AND women”. I don’t know if anyone is fooled by her claim to be a trans ally who has never said or done anything against equal rights for trans people, or thinks that such words allow her to be transphobic elsewhere.

Cherry is slippery. She is an advocate. She can be transphobic and leave herself a weasel denial. Cherry has received rape threats, and she implies though does not state straight out that these are from trans women. Her phrase is “young men who seek to deny biology”. She could, I suppose, claim that she is referring to cis men attempting to be trans allies, though I repudiate the allyship of any man who tweets a rape threat. But I infer she means trans women.

I have no problem condemning trans women who make rape threats, or any threats of violence. We are not a club, and I am not responsible for their wrongdoing- as the SNP definition states. “Accusing wider trans people [I think they mean the wider trans community, not fat trans] of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single trans person or group” is transphobia.

The definition gives eight examples of transphobia, though it says transphobia is not limited to these examples. Also it does not say what should be done about transphobia. For that, you need to consider the SNP conduct standards, which I found in this document. It’s not an official SNP site.

Anent discrimination, the standards say,

5. No member may make racist statements in any context.
6. Every member has a responsibility not to discriminate in his or her conduct on the ground of race, colour, gender, religious belief or non-belief or sexual orientation.

The disciplinary committee can admonish, suspend or expel a member found to have breached the rules. It is up to them to decide what penalty is appropriate. There are no sentencing guidelines, as these are political decisions.

So, racist statements are specifically barred, which appears to indicate that sexist or homophobic statements are absolutely fine. Discrimination is barred, though is not defined. The Equality Act 2010 takes hundreds of sections and 28 schedules to define unlawful discrimination, and provide excuse for acts which would otherwise be discrimination, such as excluding a trans woman from women’s space in particular circumstances.

The first six examples are acts against an individual rather than acts against trans people as a group. They include assault, discrimination, bullying, outing, misgendering and deadnaming. I hear this is a step forward: trans people in the party report that the party did not challenge members who were publicly degrading, harassing and misgendering trans members. Probably, under the rule on gender discrimination, the Party could have acted against bullying of a trans individual in these ways. Everyone knows these things are transphobic, even if they deny it.

The seventh is transphobia against the community:

“Using dehumanising language about trans people or expecting trans people to participate in “debates” about their right to exist.”

There are two parts to this: first, dehumanising language about trans people. It should cover Cherry’s use of the term “male-bodied individuals” because of the purpose of that phrase, to instil fear of trans women and opposition to trans women in women’s spaces.

The second part concerns “debates about [our] right to exist”. It does not cover assertions about “sex-based rights”, or argument that trans women should all be excluded from women’s spaces. Such argument is clearly transphobic, because it intends to foment fear of and anger against trans people, as well as lesbophobic because it encourages misgendering of lesbians, hostility to them in women’s loos, and policing their feminine expression. It is not included in the definition. And if Cherry does not invite trans people to respond to her debating points, then her wild assertions are not included because of that.

What about falsehoods about erasing women’s experience? In the National article, Cherry wrote, “Recently advice was issued to midwives in Brighton that they must refer to “chestfeeding” rather than “breastfeeding”.

That is misleading. Brighton has “gender inclusion midwives” trained to support trans men and nonbinary people, but also gives information on breastfeeding. Chestfeeding only refers to trans men and nonbinary people.

Taking Cherry’s article at face value, you would think cis nursing mothers would be told about chestfeeding. That was never going to happen. She misleads in order to create the false impression that women are under threat, and that the reader is directly affected.

Cherry’s article is objectionable throughout. Trans people and our allies object to transphobia and for Cherry this is an “out of control” “backlash” against “scientific reality”. Cherry angrily rants against people opposing transphobia or seeking reasonable treatment for trans people.

I hope trans people and allies are combing Cherry’s tweets and articles to build a case that she is transphobic, and should be disciplined under SNP rules. But the rules themselves, and this new definition, do not make that easy. Perhaps that is the point of it. Sara Ahmed points out many diversity policies are written to claim the organisation is doing something, rather than to achieve change.

Why should the SNP discipline one of its MPs? Because she is a raging transphobe, spreading hate. But, she’s an MP, and disciplining her would make them look bad. These decisions are political, not moral.

 

The Reader

What would you have done? Twenty years later I am reading “The Reader”, a Holocaust novel. Comprehensive spoilers.

A woman joined the SS, and became a camp guard. The inmates were marched west to escape the advancing Russians, and locked into a church. When the church was bombed and caught fire, the guards would not open the door so all but two inmates burned to death.

The novel never has a character answer the question. The woman asks the judge, whose reply is dreadful. Surely he must have thought about it. He could have simply refused to answer. He said,

“There are matters one simply cannot get drawn into, that one must distance oneself from, if the price is not life and limb.”

Well, yes, of course, the woman is guilty, but that wasn’t the question. She is lost in thought. She asks herself, “Should I not have joined up?” She does not know.

“Were you afraid if they escaped you would be arrested, convicted, shot?” Her response is, “We were responsible for them.” In other words that she does not use, it was her duty to stop them escaping. Yet, fleeing west, the Reich was collapsing, and Hitler would only survive a few more months.

She joined the SS because she was going to be made a supervisor at the Siemens factory, and it would have come out that she was illiterate. That terrified her. There were five guards, confused, frightened women, with no idea what to do, and at the trial she assumes responsibility, rather than be found out as illiterate. It is a greater shame to her to be illiterate than to be a Nazi murderer.

There are useful notes on motivation. It’s called “shadow motivation”, I heard, after I noticed I find what I want when I see what I do. Bernhard Schlink, the author, puts it this way: “But behaviour does not merely enact whatever has already been thought through and decided. It has its own sources, and is my behaviour, quite independently, just as my thoughts are my thoughts, and my decisions my decisions.”

The woman, Hanna Schmitz, seduces the narrator, Michael Berg, when he is fifteen and she is 36. She is kind to him, he notices her physical attractiveness, he goes to see her, she grasps his erection. After, he cannot form a sexual relationship with women his own age. At the end, the Jewish survivor points this out. After his divorce, Michael admits to himself that any woman he has must resemble Hanna for things to work between them.

He wants convention. “She would behave normally, I would behave normally, and everything would be normal again.” When she comes out of prison, he finds a flat for her, and wants to be respectable. I have noticed this in myself. However I think such convention, without the mutual love and loyalty of being a couple, was unbearable for her.

He barely mentions his mother, and his relationship with his father is distant. He is numb. I am not numb, any more, not completely. I am in my body. (Not everyone is.) I am in touch with some of my emotions. It is not clear that he is.

What would I have done? Ones life unfolds from small changes to big ones. She might have seen that the Jews were oppressed, and found opportunities to resist, until she was murdered herself. She did not have to join the SS.

I thought of an eye-catching first line for this post: “My father never saw the people he killed”. Well, he was thousands of feet up in the air, raining bombs on them. It was his duty. He was one of a team of seven, in a Lancaster, in a squadron of many planes. It’s a good first line to catch attention, but to use those acts for that purpose is dishonourable. What would I have done? If I wasn’t in the Lancaster, it would be for “lack of moral fibre” rather than conscientious objection. I did not hear conscientious objectors admired until my thirties. Conchies were cowards. I was not given the moral framework to resist, and don’t think I could have worked it out for myself.

I feel sadness for Hanna. I want to find absolution for her. I go back over the start of the- “relationship”, Michael calls it, to see. I read over the incidents, and find her culpable. I did not consider she harmed him, until it was stated baldly at the end, even though throughout the book he talks of his difficulties with women. There are questions for discussion, not a thing you often see in a novel. “Does Hanna engage your sympathy at any point after you found out that she was a camp guard?” Yes. All the time. This may be unusual.

In my own life I find some admirable acts, but I don’t think I could point to anything as heroic. I know that my rational understanding of what is or is not shameful does not match completely with what shames me. The choice Hanna made was to join up, and she did that to avoid her illiteracy being revealed.

Sometimes, I see the chance to do something I consider worthwhile. Sometimes, I take that chance. If I don’t judge others, this is not necessarily virtuous. “Who is ‘The Reader’ of the title?” ask those questions. Michael reads to Hanna, by the end she has learned to read, but for me The Reader is me.

The privileged trans woman

Diana Thomas is a privileged trans woman, even though that’s normally a contradiction in terms. She wrote an article for the Daily Mail, headed “Ex-Cambridge University rower and married dad DIANA THOMAS spent six decades as a man… So why does she say trans militants are only stoking intolerance?”

She spent £40,000 on hormones, laser, electrolysis, and coaching to feminise her face, hair, body and voice. She will have genital surgery as soon as she can. Most trans women don’t have £40,000 to spend in that way. She was privileged because she got into Cambridge University. She says she went to all-boys schools, which probably though not certainly means fee-paying schools rather than public schools.

She attacks trans folk who don’t have £40,000 because we make ones who do, like her, look bad. “It would be transphobic to deny my legally female gender,” she writes, but she claims “trans activists” “insist that all a person should have to do to change sex is wake up one morning, say, ‘I’m a woman,’ or, ‘I’m a man’,” as if anyone actually does that.

She criticises how we “look, sound, talk or behave,” not accepting that we do our best to fit in, because we have internalised transphobia too.

She’s not entirely privileged. She suffers dreadfully from internalised transphobia. “I was filled with shame, self-disgust, bursting with pent-up anger and unhappiness. And yet, ironically, I thought I was protecting my family and my marriage by trying so hard to be a real man,” she writes. Now she is 62 and divorced. She feels some need to bare all in the Mail, and tolerate their use of a pre-transition photograph. That shows self-hatred. She does not realise she deserves better.

We all deserve better. In “It’s a Sin”, the men dying of AIDS think they deserve it because of their internalised homophobia, because homophobia was instilled in them like everyone else. Diana is still enforcing her transphobia on other trans folk.

In the article, she seeks to portray herself as a reasonable trans woman, when really she is refusing to stand up for trans people whose trans problems she does not think she will face. “I mean, just how lunatic do you have to be to transfer a male sex-offender — convicted of raping women — to a women’s prison, just because he has suddenly decided that he’s female, too?” I don’t know if anyone “suddenly decides” they are female, but while prisoners may lie I want trans women treated as women, even by prisons. I don’t think that’s a matter of “public institutions, so terrified of defying the latest woke diktats that they have entirely lost the faintest vestige of common sense”. It shouldn’t mean risking people’s safety.

She is not a trans man, so she does not care about trans men, either. She thinks inclusive language for trans men menstruating, having a cervical smear or giving birth is ridiculous, and that female columnists calling this “yet another assault on women’s rights” have a point. Here’s a sample of the inclusive language, about pregnant women and people, she so objects to.

If she did not have internalised transphobia, she would have more dignity than to write about her private prostate surgery in the Daily Mail. She might have got beyond “We’re born this way”. Yes we are; but we do not need that as an excuse.

She writes of her delight at a few words exchanged with other walkers in the country, which she thinks indicate her being treated as a woman. Yes, it’s lovely, and it’s also perfectly normal. “Old friends have rallied round,” she says, sounding slightly surprised, as if they would ghost her just because she transitioned. That’s the internalised transphobia again.

I would have hoped the press would have got beyond such stories. Some details are straight from the 1960s: “I was born male,” she writes. Now she is “true to who I am”, which makes her calmer and happier. Her life of achievement is mostly behind her. Write about our achievements, not the same old prurient rubbish.

Why does she say trans militants are stoking intolerance? Because of internalised transphobia, and because she does not care about problems trans people have, which she does not think she personally will face.

Trans on facebook

Should I debate trans issues on facebook?

There are arguments for coming off it completely. I have given it data which show a detailed account of my personality and desires, and is used to manipulate me. There are trans support groups, but they often share things to be miserable about, which are followed by a dozen comments railing in misery. Yawn. Transphobe says something transphobic.

There’s a group discussing BBC radio. It can be fun. Recently, though, it’s infested with anti-trans campaigners. Should I disengage?

There was a programme where a self-described TERF talked to trans people. A post on that exploded to 775 comments, where few posts get more than a hundred. Word of Mouth, devoted to LGBT language, began with Michael Rosen’s moving confession and repentance of homophobia. These programmes are worth listening to, and I heard about them on that group. The thread’s at 240 comments and going strong.

There I am, trying to find agreement. I can find it in unexpected places. An anti-trans campaigner writes, “I’m a gender abolitionist; I think we’d all be better off if we were more free to behave in less stereotypical ways”.

I agree. “So the question is, how to get there when much of the anti-trans sentiment is conservative support of gender stereotypes and hatred of trans people for subverting them. The answer is to support everyone who is opposing assigned gender stereotypes, by whatever means they do it.”

I think she is too far gone for that to make a particular impression, but it might do some good.

I might hone my arguments. I now can state clearly and simply why the Equality Act assumes trans women will be in women’s spaces, despite passionate denial: “[The Act} doesn’t say that someone with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment must be treated as if they were the opposite sex and require them to be given access to facilities designated for the opposite sex. There is a lot of misinformation in circulation unfortunately.”

Easily answered. “Schedule 3. Paras 26-27 allow men to be excluded from women’s spaces. Para 28 allows trans women to be excluded. There would be no need for different provisions if it was as you say.” Well, that’s technical, and most people’s, even many trans people’s, eyes would glaze over long before that point- but I know what to say when that comes up.

Then there are the swivel-eyed obsessives. “Transwoman used to mean transsexual – a man with the distressing psychological condition of gender dysphoria. That has now exploded to include even part-time cross dressers and men who get their kicks dressing as women or being treated as women. Only those undergoing gender reassignment are covered by equality laws and even then there are exceptions where women need single-sex spaces. Stop with the power grab – women are aware of your tactics and we are standing up to them.”

Oh dear. Reading that is merely depressing, and I hope that anyone not wholly invested in the debate would be put off by it. I can answer it. Should I bother? Given that there are 36 replies to my original comment, no-one not obsessed would read the whole thread, and I could just leave it.

If I enjoy commenting, I should. I got in a top comment, 15 likes or loves, which may persuade some people. The poster objected to the phrase “gender assigned at birth” in Word of Mouth, so I commented, “Gender is assigned at birth. If you’re in a pink babygro, people goo-goo at you differently than if you’re in a blue one. Big strong boy! What a pretty girl! If your gender can’t be told from your clothes, people will want to know your name so they can assign you. The stereotypes are enforced from birth. I am amazed that “gender critical” people deny this. Surely they’ve noticed!”

Commenting like that, I might encourage a trans ally, discourage a hater, make someone think, but should not overestimate the effect I will have. Out of hundreds of comments, all having their incremental effect, mine will make little difference. If I drop out, there are plenty of others to argue in the same way. If anti-trans campaigners take over, their effort is not proportionate to any gain of persuading the unpersuaded.

Then one pulls one of the nastiest tricks in the transphobe armoury. You know they are filled with hate for every trans person when they do this. “Self-ID provides an obvious incentive for male sex offenders to identify as female. Some examples here:” and she gives a link.

So I said we’re not all sex offenders, and we have self declaration already. That’s enough, in her eyes, to make me an apologist for sex offenders at best. “We know that some men pose a risk to women… your cavalier dismissal of it… is very telling”. In the ellipses was even nastier stuff. Accusations of my selfishness and misogyny follow. There is nothing I could say to such people.

facebook is addictive. The system is designed to keep you coming back by getting you riled up. The notifications bell is a ping of dopamine. The hurt and frustration I feel from others’ anger is not worth it. I enjoy writing a well-crafted comment, but I would be better writing something less ephemeral.