Diversity, inclusion and Quakers

How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other’s lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God’s love and forgiveness.

Do Quakers welcome everyone? Do they feel welcome? An area meeting committee considered the possibility of putting the Inclusive Church statement on our website, or something similar: We believe in inclusive Church – church which does not discriminate, on any level, on grounds of economic power, gender, mental health, physical ability, race or sexuality. We believe in Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ. That is probably too Christocentric for us in its language. “Gospel” means “Good news”, which I would prefer in case there was any misunderstanding. We don’t need you to know our jargon yet. It also has the ring of a paragraph designed by a committee, to please the people inside rather than those outside. I have read Marcus Borg, so think a “scripturally faithful” church is liberal not conservative, but that could be off-putting.

Roll up, roll up! Get your spirituality and mysticism here!

Ten years ago I was inspired by City URC in Cardiff, which had a welcome sign outside: now, their website says We are an Open and Affirming Church, made up of and welcoming people from all communities regardless of race, colour, gender, age, nationality, economic circumstance, marital status, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability or emotional condition. I like that. It says we welcome, without making any requirements. Yes, we still need to talk about economic power, though James worked that out two thousand years ago.

Some of my Meeting do not know what “intersectionality” means. Oppressive institutions are interconnected, so misogyny and racism together oppress the woman of colour; more generally, there are harmless or worthwhile parts of ourselves which we keep quiet about, as we fear they will not be welcome in any social group. At a Greenbelt session on intersectionality, I heard

When they enter, we all enter

-that is, if the most marginalised person can thrive in a group, everyone can. Every part of ourself is welcome. If my Friend does not know the word, I could quote Jesus: just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

All the chairs in my meeting room have arms. We are replacing them. They are sturdy enough, but getting a bit shabby-looking, and I feel my respect for the worship requires, if we can manage it, attractive chairs. But I was embarrassed today when someone who worshipped with us for the first time, having been thinking about it for a year, had those chair arms pressing into her flesh. They simply were not wide enough for her.

We are considering getting two or three of the firmer sort of easy-chair, supportive of the back, high enough to ease getting up, as we have older people who find our existing chairs uncomfortable, which makes them less likely to want to come. We are considering painful backs, poor balance, difficulty getting up from a chair and we could also consider the range of sizes people come in, if we get over our prejudices. We have so many unspoken ways of doing things, what we’ve always done, and people who don’t fit in can learn to like it or leave- just like any other community which has not thought about these things.

I went to talk to her afterwards, but that breached a rule against personal remarks. It is intrusively personal to comment that someone does not fit a chair, because it is seen as a criticism of her rather than of our welcome. I couched it as an apology. I explained that we were getting new chairs- and fat-shaming is so prevalent that it was still seen as a personal remark, as “You don’t fit our chairs” rather than “Our chairs don’t fit you”. The personal remark is the usual thing in society. The apology and pledge to make amends is revolutionary.

I was introduced to my first Quaker meeting by a lesbian, and because I had learned of Quaker action for LGBT folk I chose Quakers when I left the Anglican church. I was a stranger, and you took me in– because of this, I have a need to be an ally to any group disadvantaged among us. We need similar positive work on behalf of all disadvantaged groups. And we need a careful audit of all the things we don’t notice, imagining ourselves as the people who don’t come to meeting.

With a content warning on sexual assault, violent assault and abuse, here’s Whippoorwill, a self-described gender freak… existing somewhere between intersexual and trans-gendered. They have been able to pass, sometimes, as one sex or the other, but hiding was killing them: and “owning their peculiarities”, no longer seeking to pass, they feel less fear. I hope this delights you.

Birth of the inner critic

You have that inner voice which tells you how useless you are. Most people have. I know mine comes from my mother, and possibly this is how.

In counselling, the inner critic said “How can you be so fucking useless?” and I knew that was my mother. My mother would not have said “fucking” but it came from her- probably pre-lingual, that is my adult vocalisation of the interaction. I know it comes from my mother like I know my own name-

yes, that’s me protesting, I know it and I don’t think anyone will believe me-

and at the same time it does not feel right. I have felt my own rage, as a baby, in a pram under a tree watching the light through the leaves, a recovered memory, a reconstructed clarity of how I felt at the time-

it does not feel right because my mother was so completely dutiful and controlled, as well as controlling. She would never have expressed rage like that. Rather,

she felt that rage.

Her rage, like mine, was always directed internally against herself. She could not get me to stop crying, or I did not like what she fed me, or there was some inability to communicate, and she was angry- with herself, not me, but I sensed it, and felt it was with me. I feared it. So comes my raging sense of inadequacy, whipping myself until I can go no further.

Research shows that the sins of the parents are visited on the children. We know how patterns are created, maintained and passed on, says my friend who should know. This fits, for me: how the pattern could be passed on. Two human beings want to be happy, together, and fail- and each rages against herself.

I told her that I do not trust my “Inner light”. I am not sure I have one. I can discern different voices or characters within myself, but not an inner light. Of course, that may just mean that I do not understand it: I have a false view that it should be particularly moral, or it should seek my flourishing in a particular way, or even that it should fit me into wider society in a particular way. One barrier to spiritual growth is a false conception of what that growth might look like.

She found this hard to understand, and asked, “What sustains you?” I don’t know how to answer that question. “Test the spirits,” said St Paul, and Licia Kuenning’s local Quaker meeting easily discerned that the voice she thought was that of Jesus leading her to prophesy was a damaging fantasy.

I have been crushed. I did not know my feelings, and when I found them I felt them as anger, frustration, resentment and fear, later refined to rage and terror. Does this mean that my inner light is crushed, feeling rage and terror? It would be easier if I were a theist, believing the Light is from God, but the Light is part of my humanity.

How weak, that I would want to hide away as I do, would not use my talents but just bury them? I despise myself. I have wanted to die, wanted to kill myself. I have found how I want to survive. These are two strong voices inside me. My mother was very controlling, and that came from fear. Everything has to be accounted for. I have taken on that controlling pattern. Possibly, the idea of a “Light” is getting in the way of perceiving how I am.

And yet- I like the idea of an inner light. Many people testify to its existence. I want to know it.

There is that one thing that I feel I could do, that would be worthwhile. And my Friend wanted to warn me of the dangers of it, especially for a trans woman. I cannot be sure it is a leading. I might test that leading, even if my Friend thinks it unwise.

The gender critical trans woman

How can a trans woman be a radical feminist? Surely it is completely incompatible, to assert I am a woman, and that gender is a Patriarchal construct in the interests of men?

Humans reproduce sexually, and therefore there are sexual differences between males and females. It makes no sense to me that about 0.1-1% of the population is really the other sex, so must transition, with brains built to run on the opposite sex hormone, or whatever. If we are invested in transition, then when we start taking cross-sex hormones we are not able to assess their effects objectively, as they affirm our chosen course of action. Oestrogen may make hair removal easier. We will minimise negative effects, as we want this so much. The trans woman is not in any sense physically female, even after hormones and surgery.

I am caught by my rationality. This is simply the truth for me. And yet, I am a trans woman. I wanted to transition- I found it irresistible- and I did, and I have no wish to revert now. So there is what I think, and what I do, and they might seem inconsistent, but they enable me to understand the extreme variation in understandings of gender among those of us it fits least well. If I am a man, then I am proof that gender is cultural not genetic.

Some women call themselves gender-critical, because they find gender oppressive. They might admit to be gender non-conforming, but would possibly argue that was trite, as gender fitted no-one and everyone fails to conform in some way. One said she “performed” gender, meaning she made herself look alluring, and there is another difference: to her gender is strongly linked to sexuality, to me it is about other aspects of personality as well.

Other people are AFAB non-binary. Their gender is neither masculine nor feminine, they say. They may signal it with androgynous hairstyles or clothes, or dress conventionally as women. These two groups, though their theory is completely different, may have similar character and similar behaviour: the tragedy is that they are turned against each other, when they might work together for common goals.

Perhaps it is the Quaker in me, but I don’t think the theory or understanding is as important as what we want and what we do. Trans women don’t fit gender conventions, at least not those applying to men. Trans men have found a way to live in this current gendered patriarchal society which works for them. Younger adults are maturing in a less violent society, with no corporal punishment at school, smacking by parents frowned on and possibly criminal, and so are less violent and controlling, with violent crime rates decreasing. They can then be more gender fluid. By one measure more people call themselves “non-binary” than “trans”. The old model of binary transition from one set of gender roles and markers, which do not fit me, to another, which fit me slightly better but still do not fit me, is giving way to a rejection of gender roles by both “gender non-conforming” and “non-binary” folks.

The problem in prisons is not trans women in women’s prisons- or indeed trans women being kept in men’s prisons- but privatisation and austerity. Trans women in women’s loos- well, more and more places have “all-gender toilets”. Refuges can find ways of keeping potentially violent trans women out of communal spaces, and help them in other ways. There is no problem with trans women which cannot be solved by a bit of thought and good will, and there is no need for all the fear and anger to be directed against gender recognition. Gender recognition is not the problem, and all that energy is being wasted. Gender non-conforming is pitted against non-binary.

Trans philosophy

What does it mean to say “Trans women are women”? Should philosophers debate this? Angelos Sofocleous was sacked for tweeting “women don’t have penises” from his post at Critique, a philosophy journal, and The Times got hot and bothered: The censorious junior philosophers of Durham… appear to have an absolute moral conviction that this is something not to be thought about. There was more huffing and puffing from Conatus News: Thought Crime in the UK: in Solidarity with Angelos Sofocleous. But Angelos’ twitter says he is a writer/editor at Conatus.

Well. Sofocleous is only an undergraduate, and Critique is an undergraduate journal. And he was not philosophising, but making a bald statement, sharing a Spectator article.

My French friend has lived in Birmingham for thirty years. He has two daughters, both now graduated from university. He bought a house. He divorced his British wife, and never took British citizenship. Is he one of us, or a foreigner? Before the EU referendum, only a few hard-right haters would have said he was foreign; after, the British Government says he is. I am angry and ashamed that my friend should be excluded like this.

Emily Thornberry MP, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said, My starting point is that I’m a feminist, and I’m a feminist of a certain age. I was involved in the women’s rights movement in the late 70s and early 80s, when we had our discussions about women-only meetings, and we were talking about the importance of us as women, and our own experiences in contrast to men. That’s kind of what my background is. So I’ve found the trans debate quite challenging.

But actually talking to people and listening to people- when they’re not shouting- what really struck me actually is that what I have learnt from feminism is that there are people who are marginalised and people who are treated badly, and actually the feminist movement is big enough and big-hearted enough, and if someone believes that they have been born as a man but they are a woman, we have space.

Of course philosophers should consider what it means to say “Trans women are women”. But as with my French friend, who has been told to “get back where he came from,” there are dangers in this. We can be excluded, and we can be hurt. A tweet of a Spectator article encourages those who would hurt and exclude us.

So the philosopher might be allowed to say things in an academic journal which they could not tweet. What does this mean for other women? is a legitimate question. What is a woman?

Suggesting that there are dangers from trans women in general, extrapolating from one trans woman who has committed rape, is inciting hatred and fear so transphobic by the core definition. Any suggestion that we should be excluded should be carefully argued. Any suggestion that there are dangers from trans women should stick to facts rather than speculation, and take great care not to express those facts to exaggerate any risks, or make someone think them disproportionate. Saying there are risks from a group of people- foreigners, coming over here, taking our jobs, taking our benefits– is a simple way to incite others against them.

Any philosopher writing about risks from trans women should expect push-back. Of course we will pick up any exaggeration of those risks, any false argument. The Shadow Foreign Secretary has the right idea. But Sofocleous was not philosophising, and was not sacked for philosophising.

Here is useful philosophising about trans.

The Limits of Mindfulness

It rained all Saturday, and Sunday morning, and around eleven I walked into the garden, under my umbrella, into that clear light of high sun diffused by cloud which is excellent for photography, in search of an apple. The tips of the branches of the fir tree were a grey-blue, and I paid it attention because I had not seen one like that before. Either it was diseased, or it was a different subspecies, but I saw it as beautiful simply because I saw it in that Mindful way. I have practised mindfulness for years, so that I can fall into it, and it still gives the things I see, and even the light I see them in, an intensity I find beautiful. I walked to the apple tree, communing with my surroundings, and lightly pressed apples until one fell into my hand.

That fir distracted me from my task, and from the group. Or, I had time; or, it helped me descend into the state of presence, which would help me be in that group. I looked at it, and took pleasure mixed with doubt- is it sick?- without knowing why. I just did.

I should not have agreed to that Occupational Health report. She phoned me for half an hour, patronised me, told me things I knew, suggested my room was untidy because I have bad habits not because I am depressed (there’s a lot to unpack in that, and in my reaction to it) and wrote a report saying there was nothing wrong with me. Please look at doing Mindfulness exercises. This website offers 6 exercises to try daily. Mindfulness can help reduce daily stresses and balance the mind and body which may be helpful as you move forward into work.

Lucie asked me what I thought of that. I wasn’t meeting her eyes at all, that session; I said nothing, and closed mine. It is not that I don’t want to participate, but that I can’t see anything of value to say.

“You look like you were doing it then,” she said. Yes. She is perceptive. I don’t do mindfulness exercises because if I kneel in my ritual space my anguish may explode over me, and I fear that. And I want to advance my own interests, and I feel I am less capable of that in Mindful Presence than when I am in the endless internal debate, conflicted, concerned with appearances- only how things appear to myself, not how they appear to others.

Shortly after, she said “Shall we arrange another appointment?”, bringing this one to an end. I had been resisting begging to just go. It was twenty minutes short of the hour.

I don’t have the luxury of liking myself. I might have been in that Mindful Present state- or that aspect which I think of as my Real Me, my Emotional Bit, possibly my Inner Light though that would make the Light strange indeed, not virtuous according to my conception of virtue-

when I was begging the other day. I was begging. I abased myself. Please don’t let that happen. Please delay that. I was speaking in the high voice I sometimes use with Tina; I was articulate, putting forth arguments (this is why it’s good from your point of view arguments). He went away to check. He could not decide to grant my wish. He could not even ask the one who should decide, to grant it. But it’s delayed, often, anyway, by weeks or months. “You can ask when it happens,” he said, encouragingly. “Don’t worry twice- deal with it when you have to.” I liked him. That did not stop me thinking after he had been trying to catch me out, and had succeeded.

So there I was. Acting in my interests as I best see them. Failing. And that might have come out of my integrity.

Memory bothers me. I had talked to A before, just not remembered it. How to get people to stick in my mind? It was only six months ago.

Symbols v Reality

Through the crucible of crisis, we enter the heart of Contemplation. I desire freedom, in two senses: flourishing, where my gifts and humanity are best utilised, in a role which fits me; and choices so I can best use those gifts, to be fulfilled. I want to be able to like myself, and fear this may be a luxury I cannot afford.

At Charney Manor I had experiences where I might not even trust myself. On Saturday evening I laid out a hand of fan patience, and stared furiously at it, wanting to see the way ahead to win it. I explained it to others sitting nearby. I played a few hands, and as we were supposed to gather I was so frustrated by being blocked that I stayed alone, wanting to get one out. We noted that playing patience on computer is far more addictive, with the pretty patterns cards moving to the correct place made, and the little instant ping of dopamine, which is diffused when one has the physical sensations of handling the cards. I have not played it for years, and still the compulsion grabbed me, to stop me going to Epilogue. I could easily fritter a morning with it now: in my mind, one voice says “fritter” and another portrays the idea far more winsomely.

At the end, we wanted a group photo: but who would take it? I said “Does anyone’s camera have a timer?” Silence. “Would you like me to get my camera from Andrew’s car?” No objections, so I ran off- jogged off, at least- to get it. I set the timer ten times for ten photos, and said “just one more” as people were getting restive. I know this, because my camera had ten photos on it, and in one case people said, “it isn’t flashing”, meaning I had not set the timer properly. And I only remember doing it three times.

I worried that I had made too much of a fuss, going to get the camera. Were people irritated by the time-wasting? No, said Anne, and I am grateful: absolution sought and given. C is also prone to beat herself up like this: I suggested to her that we speak on the phone, as each would be far kinder to the other than to herself, so we could get a better perspective on our actions.

In the last discussion session, before worship, lots of people expressed thanks to organisers, which irritated me: we had not finished yet, this is preparing for going when we still have worship and lunch. And also it seemed to be creating a reassuring narrative about the weekend- wasn’t it lovely- which it was, but there was other stuff, it was more rich and strange than narratives allow. What I remember saying in the worship sharing, though, was “All this gratitude!”- sarcastically, unpleasantly, without explaining what my objections were. Though having misremembered taking photographs, I might not remember what I said.

Liz was too moved to read that poem, so I read it for her, delighting her. It is a good amateur poem. It shows its author. I was so pleased to serve in that way.

The Quaker ideal of Simplicity confuses me. I pit virtue against eudaemonia, or flourishing. I think of Virtue as “Being good”, an ideal of morality I reject, following social rules. Eudaemonia is about fulfilment, which may mean breaking conventions. Simplicity is not merely “decluttering”. It is certainly not asceticism, or at least not that kind of asceticism which tots up the virtue-points and claims superiority. I think of asceticism like that, as a kind of collection-mania, acquiring things-I-avoid.

I abhor virtue in the sense of Being Good. I do good things, follow the rules, with the intention of thereby making myself safe, accepted within society. But you can’t please everyone.

I scrawled “Symbols v Reality” on a piece of paper. Simplicity is part of facing reality in an aware way. Rather than being distracted by symbols- either ascetic avoidance of self-indulgence, or acquisition of things to show Success- one decides what one finds important, and seeks it. So simple clothes means not being distracted by fashions, but also not choosing clothes for any appearance- of virtue, of asceticism, of an artful carelessness, anything. One might want to give any sort of impression- of seriousness, attractiveness- and that is OK.

You see I contradict myself. I am unsure.

Being undistracted. Giving the clothes, appearance, presentation, just the amount of attention it needs and no more.

Being non-dual: escaping self-consciousness into simple being, united in integrity. Just as I lift a weight with my qi, so I use it to get dressed.

The great gift of Charney is to see that clarity is possible, though I have not attained it. There is a link to mindfulness, if I can manage that.

Demons

I wrestled with some demons, they were middle-class and tame, sang Leonard Cohen. My demons and I are well-matched, for they are me.

On TV Tropes, there is the term Wangst, meaning weedy or whiny angst. Cohen might have overcome his demons, but mine have the trick of making themselves appear small to me, and then mocking me: you mean, you could not even overcome Us??

Well, it’s meaningful to me, matters to me, bothers me. My demons want to convince me they are not there, or not a problem, so that they can overcome me.

They are trying to protect me.
They are failing.
A woman turned her occupying army into security guards.

All of me is trying to protect me, seeking my flourishing, but in conflicting ways. Much of it is unconscious, or so normal-seeming as to be imperceptible. Bring it into consciousness, name it, notice it- not the air I breathe, but the wind that holds me back. When I call my reaction Wangst, I minimise it, so make it impossible to overcome. Or pass through, whatever, the whole point is not to feel bad, surely?

I feel pain, and I blame myself.

How could you be so fucking useless?

Hello, Mum.

-It feels very Scottish, she says. The English woman notices the Scots resistance to showing pain: it’s showing weakness. All genders are like this. I, having made the opposite move, Scotland to England, am not so sure: it is English, too, possibly in many or most societies.

Part of what I can achieve by permitting myself to feel the pain is not showing it. I try to ignore it, it shouts louder, it manifests in tears or gasps or wails.

So that part of me which seeks to suppress pain, and that part which seeks to acknowledge it and feel it and process it, all internally, are on the same side: not to show it.

I am going round and round in circles with my counselling. What am I trying to achieve?

I am finding out about myself, and how I function.
I am finding out about myself, and valuing my qualities.

I am reconciling my different internal voices, the
part I call rational and the part I call emotional,
both of which are both rational and emotional

-Do they speak to each other?
No.
But they can speak, here. I am sure that higher, softer voice is a part I do not hear, myself, which-

God was not in the wind that broke mountains, or the earthquake, or the fire, but in the sound of sheer silence.

while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen

that higher softer voice is a strong part of me, which normally I cannot hear, which does not trust enough to speak, but trusts when I am in counselling. Then other voices in me crowd in, and change the subject.

Not passing

He wore a multicoloured skirt, in a light shiny fabric with narrow pleats, mid calf length, under various more androgynous layers. He had a beard. It took me some time to think when a woman might wear such a skirt- on holiday in high summer, perhaps, five hundred miles south of wherever you normally live, on the sunniest days. Some might just possibly think it evening wear. There he was, bold as brass, shameless, striding over the Millennium Bridge.

He. They, possibly. Ridiculous solipsistic man, wanting to be looked at and only inspiring disgust. Or, wonderful, inspiring and courageous person, subverting gender rules and rules about aesthetic expression- you can’t wear something so beautiful on a mid-September afternoon in London. At most a silk tie or scarf, if you are particularly raffish, rather than a silk skirt.

His choice. Some think him “inappropriate” (imagine that little moue of disapproval in the word. It’s whispered, scarcely audible, though filled with venom) and some heroic, and he does what he does.

Others will create lines, and I can’t. Each woman reading this will have experienced, probably in the last 24 hours, being shut up, talked over, interrupted or simply ignored by a man. I get ignored or patronised by both sexes, and women’s anger is coming out more and more. Trans women who pass, whose face, figure, mannerisms, voice, hair, dress sense, do not give them away, are accepted as women. Those of us who don’t may be accepted as trans women, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I would like to draw a line just below me in the hierarchy, and it’s a hierarchy and I am better than them or at least more deserving- I’m making an effort and they’re not. My voice sometimes has masculine harmonics in it, and that’s alright, surely? I’ve completed facial electrolysis and so that should be a minimum requirement: a beard is deeply inappropriate. For trans women at least, gender non-conforming or non-binary people have different rules. So I should be accepted in the women’s spaces, where I usually don’t speak, but if you haven’t completed hair removal it should be among your highest priorities. And a GNC man or non-binary AMAB should not be in women’s spaces. I can’t produce a line. The only rationally defensible line is of Stealth, which places a burden on trans folk- too great a burden, I say, because I can’t bear it. Or, perhaps, absolutely anything goes.

Women are drawing lines. Some who feel free to state their needs without apology demand women-only space, and see me as a man. I was eleven, the first time someone shouted at me out of a car window. I won’t repeat the comment here. But I will say that I did not start to heal from the years of those kind of interactions until I found women only space.

I don’t feel able to ignore that pain, and yet it makes a demand on me which I find too great to bear. It is a conflict, not a problem. Problems have solutions, but conflicts have outcomes. My hope is that the situation is in flux. It is with that man in a skirt, an eyecatching, ridiculous, glorious skirt, shifting gender norms, and with other non-binary folk, finding more or less subtle ways to subvert gender norms. And with female anger at other targets, such as handsy or cat-calling men, which might also change society.

Meanwhile I will do what I want, unable to rely on a rule that I can because there is no such rule, hoping I will be alright.

Karen White

Karen White is a rapist who was placed in a women’s prison, New Hall, where she sexually assaulted two prisoners and allegedly also sexually assaulted two others. She is now in a men’s prison. She pleaded guilty to a rape which took place in 2003, though she insisted she was not attracted to women and suffered from erectile dysfunction. She had previously pleaded guilty to a rape in 2016. Further counts of rape against the 2016 victim will lie on file, as will the two sexual assault charges in prison.

These are the facts, available from the Daily Mirror. Two rapes, two sexual assaults while in a women’s prison. She awaits sentencing while reports are made on whether she is a danger. “Danger” must be relative, she sounds dangerous to me. But the thing I have in common with her- having adopted a female name and female expression- should not be used to judge me.

That’s obvious, you would think. Not to Times readers. “A rapist and paedophile who was transferred to a women’s prison and assaulted four inmates there” it begins. No, assaulted two, allegedly assaulted two. One sexual assault of a vulnerable woman is appalling, but the Times wants to make the trans woman look worse than the law says she is.

This is irrelevant to the consultation on gender recognition. I am not a danger to women. But The Times, a propaganda sheet owned by Rupert Murdoch, wants to create a connection in readers’ minds: its third paragraph reads, “The Government is holding consultations on proposals to allow people to ‘self-declare’ their legal gender. Campaigners fear that opportunists will exploit the changes to gain access to protected female spaces.”

It quotes neighbours saying White was not trans, did not attend gender identity clinic appointments, wore a wig but did not seek hormone treatment. That’s all right, then. Trans women should not be judged by comparison to criminals pretending to be trans. But the Times did not accept that obvious distinction, and published an article headlined Trans rapists are a danger in women’s jails. It says, “It never happens,” women were told when they worried that losing sex-segregated private spaces might allow attacks by predatory men… it happens.. no fox has a right to live in the henhouse, even if he identifies as a hen.

The Daily Mail article is prurient and vile, but its attack is on prison policy: Sickening proof our prisons have finally lost the plot, screamed the headline. Politically correct and incompetent, rather than privatised, underfunded, violent and unfit for human habitation, as you would learn if your news intake included reports about official inspections of prisons. It quotes a Prison Service Instruction: Transgender offenders must be asked their view of the part of the prison estate (male or female) that reflects the gender with which they identify. That’s the fourth sentence of the article, as if the prisoner’s desire were the only criterion. It goes on to explain that a transgender case board of prison managers and psychologists decides where to place the prisoner, and considers risk factors- but that is a long scroll down through a long article, in which we learn White claimed disability benefits, another bugbear of the Mail.

The Sun, another Murdoch rag, gave White’s former name and said White was sent to a women’s prison “despite not having gender reassignment surgery”. Penises are so fascinating to that kind of journalist. The Telegraph also comments she had not had GRS, and says she “told the authorities she identified as a woman and was remanded into [a woman’s prison]” as if it were that simple. “But within days White made sexual advances to another inmate”. The Telegraph considers the details of the sexual assaults and alleged assaults newsworthy.

And finally, The Spectator. Yes, it’s James Kirkup again. “Politics has failed,” he exclaimed, melodramatically. David Top Cat Davies MP put down an urgent question for a minister about the assaults, but the Speaker rejected his request. The Question would call a minister to parliament, disrupting the minister’s day, so should not be granted willy nilly. There is clearly room for judgment. Only about thirty are granted a year, far more than by previous Speakers. The story of transgender policy is a story of political failure, where many people fail to do their job and speak openly about matters of clear public interest, Kirkup emoted. Repulsive, a disgusting abdication of responsibility that brings shame on [The Speaker] and his office… There is at least one male born rapist in a women’s prison today. Presumably that prisoner is safe, or there would be more publicity about it.

I find rape abominable. Most trans women would. Karen White sounds a revolting individual. But her crimes have almost no relevance to the human rights of trans people. These hard-right publications emphasise them to reduce my rights.

Added 11 October: she was sentenced to 8½ years’ imprisonment. The prosecutor described her as an “alleged transgender female”, but the “court was told” that she had begun gender reassignment treatment. She is in HMP Leeds, a male prison, and as a child molester will be segregated. She regularly uses a wheelchair.

The most transphobic article I have seen was in the Daily Express on 13 October. Headlined “This transgender madness is now a danger to women”, it started with an account of Karen White, using her male name, which it says [offensive, so whited out: highlight to read] highlights the danger of allowing men to use gender self-identification as a means to pursue their perverted acts.

… It makes you wonder what it takes for a monster like this to be treated as a very dangerous person… but of course he has “rights”… the problem is that while accepting that society should be more tolerant to transgender people, the pendulum has swung too far in their favour.

We should not allow the bullying of a vociferous minority to drown out the legitimate concerns of women who fear that safe spaces reserved for them will be invaded by men posing as women for sinister motives. Some women protesters have been physically attacked by transgender campaigners.
It should not just be a case of donning a wig and giving yourself a female name. We all deserve more respect than that.

Domestic and Sexual Violence services for trans women

In any year, one in six trans women experience domestic violence, double the rate for cis women. Fortunately, women’s domestic and sexual violence services are trans inclusive, working to meet our particular needs, and other service users are supportive. Transphobes tell of challenges trans women pose in such services, but never tell the way those challenges are resolved, with sensitivity and common sense, for the benefit of all involved. The full story needs to be told. Jess Philips, who ran a refuge before becoming an MP, says such organisations are experts at risk assessment, and seek the help of LGBT charities to ensure they meet trans women’s needs, despite the funding restrictions they face.

Services say, a woman who identifies as a woman should be respected as a woman. They train their members on specific trans policy. Service users can be uncomfortable with each other for a lot of reasons, including homophobia and racism, and staff respond to these matters to keep everyone safe.

The other women told me that another woman was basically physically abusing the transgender woman in the refuge… When I talked to the transgender woman I said I know this is happening, why haven’t you said anything to me. And she said to me because I want to be safe and I don’t want to leave the place and nobody is going to take me in any other place, and I said but you’re not going to leave, you need to talk to me. And it was a big issue and she said this is the only place I’ve been able to get because I’ve been rejected everywhere in the refuge accommodation and this is the only place I got and that’s why, if I have to accept this from the other women in the refuge that’s fine because at the end of the day I know the staff and you are helping me and supporting me and that’s fine. And I said no, that’s not fine, that is absolutely not fine.

Residents can be lesbophobic as well as transphobic: ‘Oh she’s weird and probably she wants to kiss me, I’m going to punch her.’ We don’t want to be bringing residents into a situation where they’re going to face discrimination because we went through that journey in the seventies and eighties with BAME women going into refuges that were largely full of white women and experiencing a lot of racism and hostility, or just lack of understanding. Gender Recognition Act reform would have no relevance to how they deliver their services.

People say ‘Yes, but what if some man decides to dress as a woman and goes to the refuge’, and I’m like ‘That’s why we’ve got risk
assessments.’
Indeed, some trans women do not pass well, but we tend to pass better than some straight man dressing up for the first time. It is ridiculous to think such a man could fool women’s services. No service said they had used the Equality Act 2010 to exclude a trans woman. If the risk assessment recommended not admitting to a communal shelter, they would offer dispersed accommodation. Some staff thought the Equality Act exemption should be abolished.

The fears raised by Women’s Place UK are divorced from reality. Services do not ask for a gender recognition certificate or birth certificate- they operate on self-ID already. Trans inclusion “has been a really positive experience”.

Trans women remain vulnerable. When they seek refuge, they are victims of domestic or sexual violence, and then some people seek to exclude them by calling them a threat. Services see that this makes us so much more vulnerable, and want to help, to make sure we feel welcome from the start. Including trans women emphasises the gendered nature of domestic violence, against commissioners who move towards a gender neutral perspective.

There is prejudice in shelters. One black woman said that “the category of woman [is] designed very much in a white, Eurocentric, middle class way and everybody else is falling outside of that”. It made her more determined to support trans rights. It is appalling that the right-wing press calls us a threat, where the main threat to services is austerity and loss of funding.

Research carried out by Stonewall (pdf).