People

He tells us a paedophile targeted his daughter, and after that what he says is confusing. He put the man six feet under. He told some biker mates of his about him, and they dealt with the man, and he won’t say what they did. So I wonder if he did start off saying he killed the man then walked it back, or if I misunderstood. Is anyone else as uneasy as I am? Helen says you would do anything to protect your child. I consider that depends on how immediate the threat is, and how certain you are of the wrongdoing. I don’t trust the police in every circumstance, but that is a matter to refer to them. I thought of challenging, perhaps even telling my meeting a paedophile story, but fear it might be misconstrued. I remain silent. I thought of complaining about him. Talking nudgingly about murder is not right. I was glad when he was not there next day, but he was forty minutes late.

Before, he needed help filling out the forms. He says he was sent to a special school, and they did not get taught anything. He tells how his “work coach” mocked him, saying he was not doing enough to find work, so he complained and got a new work coach.

“So you dealt with the problem,” says Helen, who after all is here to instill confidence.

“We’re not here to help you. Go down to Evolve,” they told him. I feel there should be help for people with literacy difficulties. Evolve is an adult education centre, I am not sure about their funding or what advice or help they provide. He says he will be pulling his kids out of school, it is the worst in the county. “They hide when they see me walk through the door”. This series of stories of confronting enemies successfully disturbs me. I would like to think of schools as potential allies. I can’t tell his age, he looks too old to have teenagers. I do not like sitting beside him, he manspreads into my space.

Jill and Zoe (she does not use a diaeresis) are friendly enough, chatting away. Others are guarded. We did an icebreaker, saying something about ourselves no-one would guess, and that has not opened us all up. Helen says Newcastle people chat at bus stops, and no-one does here. I protest we do. Maybe not in Corby, where she is living. “Corby is different, that’s Scotland,” says someone.

One man when younger wrote a play, produced it, made money from it, got good reviews, thought he was The Boy. Here he is, in the town where he was born, trying to write a novel for 25 years. He went to the pub Jill worked in, and she saw him working hard in the bookie’s. None of our lives have gone as we might hope. One woman is in hostel accommodation, always noisy, not clean, not safe. She had been living with her mother, and looking after her sister’s children. She had a sales job. She seems bright and articulate.

Jill was on benefits for twelve years as a single mother. Now, you cannot claim as a single mother if your youngest is five. So she went to the jobcentre, and asked if she could go on any courses. No, because then she could not claim any benefits. That seems stupid to me, too. Perhaps she could have done courses while eligible as a lone parent, but I feel people are wasted, where a little help would let them fly. Let us fly, something.

Helen thinks English people are generally not touchy-feely, but E who likes horses is a huggy person.

I have just discovered Joan Didion, and might not have written this but for this line: “People tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. This is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.” Her italics.

There are lots of posters on the walls about the armed forces. “Ten questions you might have about Army Jobs”. They are all about training, pay and roles. “Will I have to shoot anyone?” and “Will I get shot at?” are not on the list.

Against confidence

I do not want to be confident. When I feel confident, I make mistakes.

Russell Crowe, every time he came on set, required a round of applause. He can produce wonderful performances out of a place of deep insecurity. The applause might be an affirmation of his power rather than of others’ respect for him; but remembering it is not enough, he needed the symbol of it each time.

I am doing an “Improving confidence” course, and seeing how I interact with people new to me. I am unlikely to meet any of these people again, and in one case at least I am glad of that. I am also hearing useful stuff. You need to be confident approaching a horse: they can read you, and take advantage of a nervous person.

I feel they, and I, are dancing around a central truth which is hard to put in words, and their words are very different from mine. I faced difficult challenges until I could not any more. Helen, the tutor, says Mindfulness practice, or “chill-out time”, is good for health. Yes, when I could not come down from the last stressor before being stressed anew it became too much. I am completely turned off when she quotes from “Feel the fear and do it anyway”:

Squash that doubt. Squash it down!

Well, no. It is me, and I will not be cruel to myself. Perhaps I should coax myself reassuringly- yes, this is important to me, I will give my all to it– and possibly I should listen to the doubt, and get myself away from the situation. I forced myself, and then I gave up, and while neither forcing or giving up has made me happy they may be the best I can do. I am not sure what middle way is available. I can think of words for it- reasonable, ordinary courage; know your limits- but don’t know what that would look like in practice. It is a judgment in each case, and I can make mistakes both ways.

Helen tells us Richard Branson is afraid of public speaking, Whoopi Goldberg of flying, Oprah Winfrey of people chewing gum (after continual bad experiences of her grandmother sticking it to her own furniture) and Jodie Foster of other people’s opinions. As she is the youngest of the four, aged 55, and our age range is from sixties down to twenties, including people who do not recognise her, I feel they should get different examples to show respect to us. What is Taylor Swift frightened of?

It was all too much for me, and I don’t feel this course is going to help me at all with that. “Once more into the Breach!” they shout encouragingly, and I just get more worried.

What words describe confident people, class? Self-assured? Yes, possibly. Or, merely acting it. Georgia O’Keefe was absolutely terrified all the time: effectiveness is the goal, not confidence per se. Smug, suggests C. Her former boss in sales had loadsamoney. Knowing what you want and going for it. I feel telling me being goal-oriented is good is no use to me, if I cannot find goals within myself. Or I can, such as keeping my benefits and keeping out of others’ attention, and they are not the goals I am supposed to follow.

Rather than being “Confident”, I want to be open to possibilities. I imagine the meekness which would inherit the Earth- no sense of entitlement, observant and aware, no assumptions, open to possibilities and pursuing them when seen. I feel confidence is a product of success, which in part is luck, in part is social and community support, so cannot be given by a course. But I am here, and trying to get all I can from it. T performs a drag act, and shows his photographs. I show some of mine, too. We are capable people, and we are in the jobcentre.

Confident, not confident

With LĂ©ne to Nupton, to start the Queer Trans Inclusion Partnership. She drove me down, and we compared notes over lunch in a pub. I learned that the shy, silent types we want to get talking are not called “difficult to reach” as they were when I was delivering services, but “seldom heard”. That changes the phrase from the perspective of the service provider to a global perspective, as when someone is not heard that is a problem for everyone.

We gave a talk for about half an hour. I wanted to say how self-declaration made no difference from the current position for the wider community: only people committed to transition will seek gender recognition. I spoke almost without notes. I quoted Scottish Women’s Aid in our support. I can speak confidently. On a platform, I have a role, which I play well.

And then we discussed things as a group. Only eleven turned up, three trans and several others gay. How to include trans people? A woman at the STD clinic said that her rainbow lanyard won the trust of LGBT folks. Was there something else needed for trans? I felt that a rainbow would do. Someone felt a trans flag, blue pink white pink blue, would be better. It will cost a bit to get NHS printed on the lanyards, and other people have expressed an interest, so a decision would be good. I don’t want to require a different symbol for trans. Someone did, and I wanted to shut them up but went silent.

I would not have read –, but he talked of his trans experience. He wanted to know how to engage older trans folk- he is 23. On his website, he has soundcloud interviews showing the change of his voice over the last year on T. Now he has facial hair, he seems a gentle, charming, alert young man, in rainbow braces.

possibly the hairline, round over the temples, is feminine-

I would have read — even without the context. She has a professional job within a large company, and is their trans face to the world and within the company. We went for a drink, after. We have made a good start. And I have judged them, perhaps as a way of showing trans is not safe, to my own satisfaction. I am better off reclusive as I am. It was Friday evening, and blokes came to the pub from the office. I am uneasy with them swearing so loudly. The pint of “Black Hole” tastes weird. “Black Sheep” at lunchtime was unusually bitter and hoppy, but clearly fresh. I try drinking my pint and ignoring the taste, but eventually take it back to the bar, where the man agrees to change it for Black Sheep. Why would he not? He wants to keep the customers happy. And, if he refused my trying to be overbearing would be useless, what with the bouncers on the door. I am still pleased I asked.

There’s a new drama on the telly, Love, Lies and Records. It is set in a registry office, and has a number of ridiculous plot lines, as if taken from lurid weekly women’s true life magazines like Chat, Yours or Take a Break. None are believeable, and only Rebecca Front as the villain, whose ambition to be supervising registrar has been thwarted, is watchable, but it has a character announce she will be “coming to the office dressed as a woman” from the following week. She is gormless but mostly harmless. She is promptly thrown out by her wife, the mother of her children, and cadges a bed from the big-hearted heroine. Her beard stubble is showing in the morning as she makes up. What would the target audience think? At best they would see her as harmless and she would win sympathy. Surely she would not arouse fear, though possibly disgust. But I want role-models on the telly, not people having a crap time. And it’s not about the clothes, not really. After deadnaming her, the villain says “It’ll take me some time to get used to it,” clearly never intending to.

Sharing our stories

Should we share personal stories of transphobia? The time I was called a “fucking nonce”, the time I was assaulted. Yes, if there is a good reason to.

The story becomes mine, to do with as I wish, when I have processed the emotion arising from it. That man tried to push me in front of a car. I was distressed after, but talking of it now does not bring up that distress. The world has risks, and chaotic individuals, but fortunately the risk of coming across such a person is low.

Processing emotion is a bad reason to tell these stories in public. I have told my stories privately, using people as confidantes, as my distress returns and eventually it subsides. But I don’t want to use them to gain sympathy. She has heard people’s stories, and she is angry. She wants to tell their stories to make other people angry on our behalf in the same way. I don’t feel that emotion is useful. It paints us as victims. Sometimes, journalists want us to tell those stories as entertainment, to paint a picture of the world and what kind of people we are, rather than to produce useful change for us.

And, as a professional I wanted to see what good I could do. People would be surprised when my care and sympathy turned into a curt dismissal; it was because I felt they had no chance.

It might be better to share public transphobia. Linda Bellos, otherwise an admirable person, does not like trans people, saying of us, If anyone of those bastards comes near me, I will take my glasses off and thump them. Yes I will take my glasses off… But I do, I am quite prepared to threaten violence, because it seems to me that what they are seeking to do is piss on all women. I don’t, actually. That shows there is a general problem of prejudice, which everyone who wants diversity and inclusivity should oppose. It illustrates a systemic problem rather than individual victimhood.

I do not want to come over as a victim. Society has a problem of transphobia. It is pervasive: The Times reports that Lily Madigan has applied for the Jo Cox Leadership scheme, calling her Lily Madigan, who was born male but identifies as female. This is not a story: woman applies to women’s scheme. It might be a story if she got in, so we could celebrate her, but this is only of interest to those who want to tut or fume at “men pretending to be women”. Linda Bellos should know better than to get in bed with Rupert Murdoch. Let us gather to resist this transphobia.

We are people with rights. What can you do so that we vindicate our rights?

But she has heard the personal stories, and she is angry. She is fired up on our behalf, and cannot believe than anyone hearing those victim stories would not feel the same way.

An address to the radical feminists

A change of tack.

I transitioned fifteen years ago, and I don’t know why beyond it was what I wanted, more than anything else in the world. No-one knows why, not really; in the nineties I heard about the bed nucleus of the Stria Terminalis central section, a bit of the brain which is twice the size in trans and non-trans men that it is in trans and non-trans women, but there is no definitive research. I am a complex organism in a complex social structure is about as precise as I can get: I transitioned because I am human. I am I.

So we tell stories to each other about it. I don’t think the autogynephilia hypothesis is useful to explain or predict, but you might like it. I don’t know what being “really” a woman would mean. I know people have been doing this for thousands of years. Deuteronomy would not prohibit something no-one ever did. They were not “trans people” as understood now, but they were people seen as men by the authorities, wearing women’s clothes. There are people born with testicles who believe they are women, or third gender, all over the world. People transition in far less accepting cultures than ours.

Socially and legally I am a woman, accepted as a woman by such as Diva magazine and Women’s Aid Scotland. The former editor of Diva said, Thirty and forty years ago to be a lesbian was to be questioned. Today things are much better for us (for the cis lesbians, that is) but there are still places where to be a lesbian is impossible. So it is for transmen and women, many of whom have been or are lesbian or bi-identified. We know something of these struggles. And just as others have supported us, so we must support those among us who are trans or we risk ending up on the wrong side of history. Unfortunately, that quote is no longer on their website.

Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland said, We do not regard trans equality and women’s equality to be in competition or contradiction with each other. We support the Equal Recognition campaign and welcome the reform of the Gender Recognition Act.

Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid in Scotland provide trans inclusive services on the basis of self identification. We will continue to work collaboratively with Scottish Trans Alliance and other equality organisations with the aim of ensuring that new processes are appropriately designed and without unintended consequences.

So the trans lobby that afflicts you is not a few dowdy, frightened trans women but a huge number of campaigning feminists, who are “women born women” or whatever phrase you would like to use. When you campaign against the trans lobby, you are campaigning against feminist organisations. Even if a few men in mini-skirts with their penises showing could terrify Women’s Aid by the threat of an Equality Act court action, they could not force them to make such a statement. Women’s Aid are used to assessing the risk posed by clients, and whether they should be in a group hostel or alone- or sent away because of lack of funds.

And you are working with the establishment and the hard Right: the Telegraph, the Spectator, Standpoint magazine, the Daily Mail. The Times is virulently anti-trans at the moment. I don’t know what Mr Murdoch has against us, but he has never been progressive.

Before I transitioned, I was friendly with a colleague. We were committed to the work we did and the people we served. Then I started testing out whether transition would be possible, and on one of our works meals out together dressed female. Ann was revolted. She apologised to me about her revulsion. She was aware of the organisation’s diversity policy, and equality legislation, but after we worked together on a strictly professional basis. I had great sympathy for her.

Again, there are stories we can tell about this. Ann might accept the word “transphobia”. We worked around it, just as people tolerate an arachnophobe, protecting them from spiders. The arachnophobe may be ashamed but other people are accepting. Or, you can be self-righteous, calling us dudes/chaps/trans-identified males/male-to-trans/trans rights activists. I am not going to say that your reaction is irrational, it is for you to consider how proportionate it is. I do not want to disparage your fear of male violence against women, but feminists whose life work is helping women who suffer male violence accept trans women in their spaces.

And it is not for me to tell you where to devote your campaigning energy, but you can fight those feminist organisations, or you can fight conservatism, the establishment and the patriarchy. It is a tragedy when feminists fight amongst ourselves.

Applause- thunderous applause- standing ovation. All congratulate me, and rush to tell of their Damascene conversions at my words. Or not.

unable to speak

Would you rather be right, or happy? Oh, Right, every time, vindicated in my own mind. Actually, only both will do.

I don’t want to look her in the eye. I don’t want to say anything: I don’t see the point. What I think, and how I see things, does not matter, and even I can’t believe it. Is any common understanding necessary, or possible? What is talking for?

-What were you writing, just then?
-I watch the emotions run across her face, in silence.

Dr Graeme McGrath wrote to my GP that ironic detachment is a powerful defence mechanism for me. I pull myself together. My feelings are below the surface, and I can talk. There is bitterness in what I say.

It seems my pain is a weapon to be held against me. It felt to me that the rules around our meeting, rather than building trust, were a game to make me safe for them, to keep me controlled. The offer was a listening game, where one person would talk for five minutes, one would listen, and one would observe, then we would discuss the experience. I wanted to get straight down to the problems. So I did. I started by saying “I don’t trust you”.

They admitted some difficulties. We do not really know each other. There are tensions in the group. It seemed to me they see me as a threat. They are doing all they can to restore relationships, and therefore any difficulty with that is my fault.

I need to approach them in a state of perfect ego-less Love, and perhaps that would be misconstrued. The most important thing in my life is how I relate to these people. Possibly the relationship will break down completely, and I will be excluded. That might be the fabled “Rock bottom” where I finally begin acting in my own interests without illusion, or a further slide into withdrawal and isolation.

What do I want?

To be myself. Not to be suppressing myself, being careful, pretending, acting, holding myself back in order to fit in. I do this out of fear. It has become unbearable.

And to fit in. To build relationships, take a constructive part, serve so that I do some good and have my service appreciated.

So I wonder. What do I tell myself? I am Charismatic, enthusiastic, passionate. I am forceful and strong-willed. These are all beautiful things, and when my passion or ardour comes out when I speak, people feel overwhelmed, and feel resentful. Or they see my passion directed at another, and they rush in to defend the other against me.

I am Good. I am seen as Bad. So what I tell myself is not improving relationships. It is simply a narrative. I struggle for a better understanding. I am uncomfortable with myself, sometimes self-suppressing, sometimes with passion bursting out, and so others are uncomfortable with me. I do not see others properly, their concerns or fragility.

I hear that other people are uncomfortable with me, and whether or not I hear about particular instances I do not understand how. So it seems all I could do is suppress myself.

Then there is the siren song of the non-dual mystic God-In-Us brigade. They say you must be present in the moment. Sometimes it seems I am that, but when I feel that way I can still create even greater distance from others. Possibly it is just that I have expectations and demands for them, which they will not meet. Can I shed all my expectations?

So I am forced back into stories. I must respond in a state of perfect ego-less Love. I have no idea how that would be. See “Present in the moment” above.

Being completely powerless, I might respond as someone completely powerless. I would be watchful. Who is this person, what do they want, and how can I avoid antagonising them?

By the end of the session, I am able to look her in the eye, and say what it seems I want to say. I am calmer. This may just be because I am ceasing to address the concern. I was caught up in my inner turmoil, conflict and incomprehension, and now I just stop.

The listening ear

“People tell me things,” he said. He has a sympathetic manner, and simply by not interrupting or gentle prompting at the right moment might get me to tell all my woes, but I got the feeling telling him was not entirely safe. Might he use what you told him? Why would you tell people these things anyway? Because it is a relief. You get it off your chest. You feel better.

Samaritans can talk to a supervisor after a difficult call about what they have heard. While listening, I needed to empathise, to feel with the other. After hearing, I always found I needed to shed their pain. Sometimes I was like a dog shaking myself on coming out of water, and sometimes it took much longer. Once I needed to talk to a friend for two hours. And sometimes it was as if they had a bottomless pit of pain. I would listen, and it would be as difficult as the most painful story could be, and I gave no relief.

Why would you do that? I liked it. It made me feel useful. It was a thing I felt I did quite well. It made me feel good. I would always rather say I do a thing because of what I gained from it- it made me feel good- rather than claim a good quality. Perhaps I am a loving soul, perhaps it is a sign of lovingness to want to do this for people, but that seems to me a story I tell about myself rather than a perception. “I am a good listener” is an idea to alter my conduct, or make me feel guilty when I do not live up to it. There is no life in it. In a particular moment, I want to listen and earth distress. It seems to me to be good right at that time. There is the life.

It also seems possible to me that someone might want to listen, because that feeling of being useful might make them feel better. Three of us at the trans club- the Baptist minister, the trainee Unitarian minister, and me- heard a trans man begin to tell his difficulties, and we all leant forward in unison, with our concerned listening faces on.

People offer to listen. There’s a way of saying “How are you?” to which the only acceptable response is “Well, thank you” unless you are really distressed, in which case you still need their consent to be a shoulder to cry on. Lots of people use “How are you” as a conventional greeting and are not interested in any answer. And there’s a way of saying “How are you?”, dripping with sympathy, begging to hear your most intimate thoughts.

And it is good to phone a friend. I share what is on my mind at the moment. She listens, asks some questions, does not sort my problem out but may say something useful. It is reciprocal. I do that with H occasionally. She has just moved house and is settling in. The couple she is staying with are really nice, welcoming and friendly. I am glad to hear it.

If you offer to listen to me, you take the risk that my hurt is too much for you to bear. If you are in a fragile state, perhaps it is better not to search me out and offer to listen. It is not my fault if you are perturbed by what you hear. But remember that I do not need you to make me feel better. My response is my own.

I wanted to communicate the depth of my distress, and I did so by curling on the floor in a foetal position. That was where I was at the time. I am not feeling that bad all the time. So it was a clusterfuck, two fragile people colliding, and if either had been less fragile at the time there would have been no problem. Not my fault, though, and unfair to blame me.

Do you like to listen, or find unburdening to someone does you good?

Why do people transition?

Why do people transition? Because we are trans. Because we are human. No more precise answer is possible- because we are complex organisms in complex social structures. But transition continues to shock and distress trans folk and others. Because I wanted to is not a good enough answer for me, because I feel I have suffered because of transition and life might have been easier without that desire; and not for other people, because they want to debate what rights I get as a transitioned woman.

The answer “Autogynephilia” is given by people who want to treat trans women as men, limit transition, and exclude us. So it matters whether that is scientific or not. It isn’t. Haters insist on it, though.

The answer “because I have a woman’s brain/spirit, because I am really a woman” would give us full rights, but I don’t believe it myself. Women’s brains are not particularly different from men’s, trans women’s brains are not clearly closer to cis women’s than cis men’s, it is not clear what differences would be relevant to transition, and brains are plastic, changing throughout life. “Gender essentialism”, the idea that women are in some way innately feminine, is offensive to women who reject femininity but are clear they are women. I observe gender non-conforming people who do not transition, and conclude the idea that people with ovaries are fundamentally different from people with testicles, with the exception of trans people who are really in the other group, is ridiculous.

There is nothing which is a virtue in one sex which is not a virtue in the other; no characteristic which one has but the other has not, apart from those reproductive differences.

“Should a trans woman be allowed in women’s space?” should be addressed without a definitive answer to whether we are women or not. Socially and legally we are women. At worst, we should be pitied and tolerated, for we are mostly harmless. Some say we are men, so should not be there; but society is too complex for such a simple answer. Anti-trans campaigners scaremonger with imagined consequences: male abusers pretending to be trans to enter women’s space, or cis women seeing trans women, thinking they are men, and being retraumatised over past male violence; but most people either don’t care, or see that the gain in allowing us to lead productive lives as members of society outweighs such imagined problems.

A trans person just transitioning might need to justify that to themselves. I wanted to believe I was really a woman. I feared transitioning if I were simply an autogynephiliac pervert, consumed by my sexual fantasies. You doubt yourself, so other people’s opinion that you are a man hurts- it was as if I wanted the whole world to say I was a woman because I could not trust my own judgment and any doubt of it confused depressed and terrified me. But you doubt yourself, then you transition, or you don’t. It is hard to be a campaigner when you need affirmation, because you will meet the opposite.

Now my answer is It was the best I could do at the time. I look back on the difficulties, but with effort I also see blessings, and I may have been worse off if I had not transitioned. It is part of forgiving and acceptance.

A friend said Those who look for a cause are looking for a cure. That was in the nineties, when gay people questioned their own orientation. This is who I am, they should say. Gay Pride. I still looked for a cause. Transition is such an odd thing to do.

#Stand with Heather!

I stand with Heather.

Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans is a public intellectual, an incisive and persuasive speaker, an energetic campaigner, and a passionate feminist. I have heard her speak, and also met her more informally, where I found her warm and funny. She campaigns on porn culture, and I entirely agree. She supports the Nordic model of sex work law (which has inspired the law in France and increasing numbers of jurisdictions). On that I am unsure, but clear she has important things to say and is worth hearing, as she has researched the arguments. And she does not like being called a TERF- perhaps a gender-critical feminist, radical feminist or just feminist.

She appeared on The Moral Maze on Radio 4, where she expressed concern about teenage girls transitioning to trans men. She is the spokesperson for the Women’s Equality Party policy on sexual violence against women and girls. A complaint has been made that she contradicts the party’s position on trans women, which accepts our self-determination as women.

The party has 65,000 members, as of July 2016, and while it has no elected councillors has won thousands of votes in various elections. It stands for equal pay, equal treatment in the media, and an end to violence against women. It will have difficulty while the UK parliament and local councils operate first past the post electoral system but it has value as a campaigning organisation; and it cannot be expected to enforce cabinet responsibility, with no spokesperson ever contradicting party policy, at such an early date in its existence.

That is, I want WE to flourish, and have the passion, skills and experience of Dr Brunskell-Evans, and I want her to be able to speak her understanding and campaign as she wishes- even though I do not agree with her. She does not like the word TERF, but when she says we should not be in women’s space it feels exclusionary to me. It is a bodge, I suppose. There are many people I will never persuade that I am really a woman, but I hope to persuade them that I am mostly harmless. Rape Crisis Scotland, which works against violence against women and girls, says We do not regard trans equality and women’s equality to be in competition or contradiction with each other. I can bear Dr Brunskell-Evans’s disagreement.

Twitter is not the place for nuanced argument. There, there is a campaign with the hashtag #standwithheather. “You are being anti-feminist and cowardly”, one tweets at WE. No, they are not, they are being practical and reasonable, allowing her to say things which other members contradict. Their own twitter stream is tweeting about toilets- not trans women in women’s toilets, but the impact of a lack of toilets on women’s health and dignity globally. They mark International Men’s Day by showing the men who have joined- for women’s equality benefits everyone. “They should be ashamed of themselves and their pitiful attempt at male pandering feminism”, thunders Quelizinha. Transgender Trend suggests WE is giving into bullies. “RemakingAdam” is obsessively tweeting again and again, claiming hundreds of women are leaving the party.

The Women’s Equality Party, like most feminists, supports trans women. That is the progressive cause. We subvert gender. We are an oppressed minority, and we need the support of society: we transition because we must, and we do so in far more dangerous conditions than in Britain. They could take a “gender critical” line, and escape censure from the likes of @Janice5E, who gloats that “@WEP_UK have had a lot of practice at losing women. Sophie Walker (@SophieRunning) made a complete arse of the party on Mumsnet…” Such people, though, tend to be only interested in one feminist cause, devoting a great deal of energy to excluding trans women. I wish they would take that energy somewhere else.

Because all we know about the WEP position is that complaints have been made, and they are investigating. Here are their statements. The paranoid response on Twitter only damages the tweeters’ own cause. No-one has threatened Heather’s expulsion from the party. The tweetstorm damages the cause of feminism.

Truth in falsehood

Children who identify as trans should be allowed to transition. They should get puberty blockers if they need them. I write this post to create common ground with people who disagree with that statement. It is not working when people say, “But that’s a boy, not a girl”. Much of society supports the trans child, however conservatives and evangelicals object, however radical feminists analyse. It is difficult for the trans child, they will face mockery or violence, but official guidelines, at least, support them. Trans children are becoming more visible, and as people become aware of the possibility more will transition. It is the best way they see of dealing with their problems.

Even if you think the child is deluded and wrongheaded, would you agree that s/he is seeking to be well in the world, as best s/he knows how? The parent wants what is best for the child. The child explores what is possible and tries something which appears to increase health and freedom. The child might explore any type of fantasy in play, but before they identify as trans at school it is a fixed, settled clarity which has survived the parents’ shock, and perhaps objections.

A trans girl has some idea what girls are like, knowing many of them since nursery. At least, the “trans critical feminist” should admit that identifying as trans has some value for the child which outweighs the difficulty of persuading their parents and the bullying and mockery they face at school. Perhaps they feel they do not fit in, in their birth gender. Rather than simply insist that the child stop, why not find what value the idea has for them? What else would fill that void?

If gender is an oppressive Patriarchal concept, not all feminists accept that it oppresses men too. It certainly oppresses gay men. Homophobia is in part a dislike of the gay man not being “manly” in the right way. Perhaps some heterosexual men and boys can suffer similar oppression. The feminist might not have enough empathy for that, finding her strong personality demeaned and devalued and simply seeing men as beneficiaries. Could anyone want to be feminine? Surely not. And yet, apparently, we do.

Something which is obvious to me is impossible or ridiculous to them. “The World’s gone mad, and we should at least be able to challenge it when we think people are not speaking the truth” said Claire Fox of the Institute of Ideas. For her, the truth is that child is whatever gender their gonads indicate. She wants to claim that I am a man, and not a woman. Can I perform a similar exercise on her?

I agree that reality is objective, at least in part. There is a reality outside myself which I know in part. I can come to know it better, and my statements can be closer or further from it. Thus far I am with her, but if she believes “trans ideology” is as wrong as, say, global warming denial I disagree. I might come close to sympathising when I imagine my “Why is nobody listening to me!?” moments, but that does not mean there is common ground.

I could feel that not reacting angrily might reduce the heat and conflict in the situation. I would rather win her over than bludgeon her into silence. However accusing me of “not speaking the truth”- in context, she means the trans folk- merely blocks dialogue. She might say we started it.