Personal remarks in the loos: “Your thighs are so slim! I wish I could wear boots like that!” She put forward a slightly chubby leg, and said she had to wear extra-wide boots to get round her calves. Mmm. I thought, too late, of ripostes: “I love your bewbies! Mine took ages to grow this big. Do you think I should have implants?” Or, more self-deprecatingly, “Well, I have a man’s skeleton. It does not please me, particularly.” Then again, she might simply have been complimenting me. She did not actually say “I love your tranny legs”.
I was a little nervous at the start of the Labour Party regional women’s conference. I am entitled to be there as my GRC says I am legally a woman, and some cis women object to me in women’s space. Just before getting up, I had read on facebook of anti-trans activists, campaigning to have trans women excluded from all women shortlists with a crowdfunder raising £20,000, being suspended from the Labour Party.
I drove there with D, whom I am getting to know reasonably well, and like, and M, who recently joined having left the Tory Party and was eager to tell of the work she had done for Marsby as a district councillor. She wanted to do good for the town, and the Labour party were far more in tune with that, but she might be nervous having been Tory until last year. D and I were friendly and accepting.
Then Beth, the recently appointed candidate, told me that she had heard from someone “on the other side of your issue”. She did not want to name it. We had been corresponding through facebook, with most of the words from me, explaining trans to her, and mostly positive comments from her, embarrassed about asking basic questions like what does the C in GRC stand for. I am in this hall filled with activist women, worried that some might be TERF.
Then I sat near a woman who had a shirt saying “A woman’s place is in the House of Commons“. I felt more nervous. It is a common phrase, and need not be related to the “A Woman’s Place” campaign against gender recognition, but that is what I thought of.
Yet the place we are in is a good place. The conference rooms are at the back of a building owned by a church, with a coffee shop and food bank. On the wall, there is this:
I love it, and others comment on it. I can’t find an exact source, but it is close to Isaiah 58.
At the back of the stage there is a beautiful quilt.
I go to have a closer look, then see what it is and recoil in shock: it has 598 panels, one for each woman murdered by a partner or former partner in the UK between 2009 and 2015. Oh! It is still very beautiful; and it brings to mind a horror. Later, the woman who conceived it, a Labour councillor, speaks of it. It is the Women’s Quilt. A man taught himself to sew so he could make panels for it, and called it “the most beautiful project that should not exist”. A woman said she had never felt sisterhood until she got involved. We need a memorial for these women. I am glad to see it.
I am happier speaking to Neelam from Unite the Union’s LGBT section. This is more than small talk. I remain nervous; however when the actual talks start I am reassured. Karen Lee, MP, a former nurse, talks of women’s representation. She is proud that she is building on the work done by Harriet Harman to make the House of Commons a more woman-friendly place. A bar has been converted into a crèche. She is proud that 46 target seats have all-women shortlists, and that includes trans women. Neelam, in the hustings for women’s representatives on the regional committee, one of whom must be from the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community, talked of women “including trans women who are facing an incredibly difficult time”. So I voted for her, obvs.
Lilian Greenwood MP gave the closing remarks. She was delighted by “Cheryl, Nadia and Heather”, three wonderful women for a local all-women shortlist. That is Dr Heather Peto, a trans woman. Lilian says “Trans women are women” and she is delighted that the NEC has just affirmed that is Labour policy. “Abuse does not belong in our party.” That brought forth cheers and applause, and I felt accepted in that moment; and also felt the weight of my nervousness and experiences of rejection. When I realise I am not only rejected I become aware how painful the rejection, and the fear of it, is.
Women need promoted within the Labour Party. There is still rampant sexism. Someone quotes “What you said is inappropriate and I will not tolerate it” because women are socialised to not make a fuss and take care of others’ feelings and you might need a set phrase prepared in order to mount a challenge. A black woman spoke of the abuse she had suffered when canvassing for support as a local council candidate: “Get that filthy N——- off my doorstep”. That is my problem. As a white person I must stand with those suffering pervasive racism. 86% of welfare cuts have fallen on women, and the charity Refuge has suffered 80% cuts. 155 women a day are turned away from refuges.
In a session on Increasing Women’s Representation a speaker, with The Times placed on the table in front of her, says that she had campaigned in the 1970s not for equality but women’s liberation, from patriarchy and capitalism. Rich white men made the world to suit themselves. A feminised politics would have a wider perspective and be more inclusive. She asked contributions from the floor on why increasing women’s representation is a good thing- mine was that there is talent not being used, but an older woman said we must be careful not to discriminate against the men, as if that was even close to becoming a problem. The chair of a local branch had resigned from the party, and joined the Tories, because they were required to nominate a man and a woman, rather than two men, for a shortlist for Parliamentary candidate selection. There is a working class narrative about men, with women as an afterthought.
Here are feminists, conscious of the oppression of women, and angry about it. In the heat of the battle they face, I am justified being nervous about what they may think of trans women. The fight can get nasty. And, I am accepted. At the end, I am part of a photo of smiling happy activists in front of that quilt. (Someone texted it to me, and I can’t download it from my phone.)
That crowdfunder, seeking to challenge trans women on Labour women only shortlists: they shot themselves in the foot. They are suspended from the party, and what did they expect? Their transphobia was tolerated, but not their action against the party. Perhaps as a result, there was this interview of the leader:
Andrew Marr: Is a trans woman a woman?
Jeremy Corbyn: Yes
Marr: So she can self-identify?
Women might complain in private, but not in my hearing. I am welcome in Labour.