Are Quakers transphobic?

Are Quakers transphobic? Not all of us. I doubt we will escape allegations of it, though. There are things I want to say to Quakers in Britain, to other trans people, and to anyone else who will listen.

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

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

Quakers and gender diversity

Introduction

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

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

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

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An Initial Statement on Gender Diversity by Quaker Life Central Committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quaker Life Central Committee, November 2018

This post is about Quakers in Britain, and not in the rest of the world. Here is the pdf statement. There is also a Survey Monkey form, asking,

Please name the worshipping or other Quaker community you are involved with
Please share your reflections on the QLCC paper
If you have a personal experience relating to the subject, or a further reflection you wish to share, please do so here
What are your hopes and aspirations for Quakers in relation to these issues over the coming years?

It then asks for name, email address and age, because there may be a generational divide within BYM. Members of QLCC will consider responses.
Some Quakers are extreme transphobes.

More on this: how mentioning “systemic male violence against women” is inappropriate in the context of trans rights: Trans and violence against women.

How it is impossible to produce “clearly defined and communicated” rules about trans women in women’s space, which are fair to all, and how we must be prepared for disagreements: Zero-sum game.

Trans and violence against women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Telling the truth for Quakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Achieving equanimity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dysphoria after transition

Transition to expressing myself female was what I had to do. It was liberating. After trying to make a man of myself, I was able to be me. And the work of liberation has continued, and been difficult, over the sixteen years since.

I grew up with definite ideas of what it meant to be a man. It meant fighting, if necessary. Being dominant, athletic, not expressing emotion- the concept fits, even fulfils, some folks.

I had possibly my first celebrity conversation recently. “I feel as if I know you,” she said. She had been on the tiered seats at Yearly Meeting, looking down on me as I spoke before hundreds of people, and then read my articles. Modestly, I pointed out the new outreach leaflets which have my words about me in them. Oh, wow.

I want more of that.

So I was telling a friend, and she observed that I am expressive when I am delighted by something: it is always quite clear. Same with dislike. This expressive self might not be 20th century British, with the “stiff upper lip” ideal, but we are all more expressive now. I am not sure it is “feminine”, particularly, more extreme extrovert, or perhaps for those more powerfully connected to feeling- it was a lot of work to suppress my feelings. Given that I am like that, I am glad to be able to express it without an internal censor. Even if it is no more “feminine” than “masculine”, I don’t think I could express it without having transitioned. I was too buttoned-up. Forty years after some teenagers find it, I finally realise I can be Fabulous! And my attempts are as in need of practice as theirs; and my trans woman’s self doubt and judgment are as strong on this as anything.

It is not just my femininity I have liberated, it is all of me. And yet the constraints on me, my own beliefs about what I must suppress in myself, continued to hurt after transition. It has been a long road, and is not over yet. My discomfort and embarrassment at who I am continued. It may be hard for anyone not trained into it to attain dignity, but self-acceptance is essential and transition was only the first step.

I was still embarrassed, and especially in the first year I faced a gauntlet of mockery, derision and hatred walking down the street. That will increase self-doubt unless, with tremendous strength, you ignore the opinions of the haters and decide to love yourself regardless.

Andrea Long Chu, writing in the NYT, says she is suicidal since transition. She is conscious of her appearance- she is a trans woman, so she looks like a trans woman, with some mannish characteristics. She picks on the length of her index fingers, and denies that she is beautiful. Hormones make her weep, and all the pent-up pain of having to present male for decades has exploded. She wanted to be a woman, and she gets to be a trans woman. Her vagina is a “wound”, not a human organ linked to a womb. “There are no good outcomes in transition,” she writes. We are not made well, just made better- it is a choice between two dark shades of grey. So psychiatrists and surgeons should recognise that incremental improvement, and be satisfied with it. It is what we want. It is the way they can “do no harm”.

My hips are narrow, my waist and shoulders relatively wide, and my face mannish. Facial feminisation may be more important and more beneficial than vaginoplasty. I am conscious of my mannishness; but also intensely conscious of being a body, a physical animal, loving to walk barefoot, to cycle, and to feel wind or sun on my bare limbs. Before, I was stuck in my head. And this increase of conscious feeling has involved intense emotional pain. If you want equanimity, not to be troubled by strong feeling, do not transition.

The doubting, blaming and hating of myself continued after transition, and to an extent still does. I am not the woman I wish to be. I am dysphoric. Yet I am more myself, I see myself and love myself better. Transition was what I had to do. I can’t be certain I would be alive without it.

Hannah Bardell, MP

Women MPs in a debate in Parliament stood to defend trans women. Women MPs from the Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat parties spoke in favour of trans rights after one male Tory tried to spread unfounded fearmongering. Hannah Bardell in particular spoke of how homophobia had scarred her life, and how LGBT people should support the rights of all LGBT.

Don’t spend too much time on the Tory. He’s an idiot, and it’s a car-crash. I glanced at a sentence, and read on open-mouthed at such incredible lying stupidity. A 15-stone bearded man could simply define themselves as female and… suddenly gain access to women’s toilets, hospital wards, changing rooms, refuges and prisons. They would have the right to [act as]… nurses or carers conducting intimate procedures. The hatred and desire to inflame fear is horrible. Thank God the women stood up to him. He was stupid enough to ask Layla Moran MP if she would be happy to share a changing room with someone who “had a male body”. “If that person was a trans woman, I absolutely would,” she said. “I just do not see the issue.” “If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about violence against women, that is what he should focus on,” said Danielle Rowley MP- actual violence by men, not imaginary threats from trans women.

Layla Moran MP explained why no-one will get a gender recognition certificate in order to assault women in women’s spaces. It’s a made-up threat: Let us assume that someone wants to go into a women-only space for nefarious purposes. That [gender recognition] would be quite a stupid thing to do because, apart from anything else, if an offence was committed it would show evidence of premeditation, which would increase the person’s sentence. Also, had the certificate been gained for the sole purpose of entering such a space to commit a crime, that would be a separate crime under ​the Fraud Act 2006. If someone was intent on harming women, that would be one of the stupider ways of doing it. People can be trusted to state our own gender identity. It affects no-one else.

Hannah Bardell MP quoted Women’s Aid. Any service has the potential to be abused, and they would deal with that case by case, not restrict the rights of a particular group. This is obvious to all but those wilfully blind to it. Born in 1983, she started school when Section 28 came into force, preventing teachers from talking to gay pupils about their sexuality. It was not repealed until 2003, when she was at university. She said, I grew up believing that, if I came out, I could not live a normal life and I would not have equal rights. I am an ardent feminist and an openly gay MP. I am not about to shut the door on the equality of trans people just because people like me now have greater equality. Those of us in the LGBTI+ community, and all of us who believe in equality and enjoy greater equality, must do all that we can to support others who are marginalised and discriminated against. Scotland now has inclusive education, with sex education for gay as well as straight, but she did not come out as lesbian until she was 32. She called the challenges her trans constituents have faced “heartbreaking”. Not having equal rights is “corrosive to the soul”.

I do not think it helps when the media sensationalise… we must not make policy based on a few individuals who seek to abuse the system. Of course- and certainly not based on unfounded fears. 84% of trans people have had suicidal thoughts, and 50% have attempted suicide. “It is a stain on our society,” she said.

She quoted, The chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, Sandy Brindley, said that the most important thing to say was that the proposed legal changes “should make no difference to the provision of women-only services – that’s where some confusion has arisen. There isn’t any Rape Crisis which would ask to see documentation of gender.” She said trans young people, like all young people, will get on better if supported to be themselves. 41% of trans people have experienced a hate crime in the past year. As Lilian Greenwood MP says, trans women need precisely the same protection from male violence and access to safe spaces that other women need.

Here is Ms Bardell’s peroration: I hope the hon. Member for Monmouth and others who have concerns will be reassured by the fact that women’s groups such as Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Zero Tolerance, Engender, Equate Scotland, Close the Gap and the Women 50:50 campaign have come out in support of the proposed changes in Scotland, as have their equivalent organisations in the UK. We must recognise that there are concerns and we must address them, but we absolutely must hold a mirror up to those who are marginalising and attacking trans people and their rights. There is a groundswell of support for equality and for a change in the law to ensure that gender identification and the processes that trans people have to go through are not discriminatory at their core. We absolutely must change the law to ensure that they are properly supported, that the law reflects that and that our society reflects that.

That idiot Tory was repeatedly owned. Unfortunately the Tory minister said “We have no intention of lowering the age [limit]”; they are considering how management of trans prisoners might prevent crimes like Karen White’s in prison; and will consider whether single sex services need “further action” to confirm their right to exclude trans people. Gender Recognition reform is not safe with this Tory government. But all the arguments go our way. The transcript of the debate is here.

Gender Recognition in Scotland: the consultation responses

The consultation in Scotland has produced powerful arguments for gender recognition reform. Trans people should have our true gender recognised with the minimum of bureaucracy. There were over fifteen thousand responses, from Scotland and around the world.

The terfs had got their publicity machine going in England by the close of the consultation in March. In England, nearly half of respondents said trans people should not be allowed to declare our gender. But of people in Scotland, who are most affected, 65% agreed that the law should recognise the gender we officially declare. Why? Because no-one makes such a declaration without thought and commitment, and because the existing procedure is expensive and demeaning, deterring people from applying. We should not need to provide medical reports, because we are not ill, and we have to wait too long to see the particular specialists. A rape crisis centre reported that they work by self-declaration already, and never demand to see anyone’s birth certificate.

Should we have to make a “statutory declaration”, a formal oath or affirmation before a Justice of the Peace or solicitor? A bare majority said Yes, and I agree. It is a serious matter. However, a meeting with a registrar is an alternative. Should we say we will live in the acquired gender “until death”? Some fear reference after death to the previous name and gender, others say they do not know what their intentions will be. Wording like “Currently intend to live in the acquired gender permanently” would solve these problems. Any statutory declaration sets a bar for gender recognition, which might put people off. It may be contrary to the spirit of self-declaration.

There should not be a reflection period after the declaration. People have thought long and hard before we change our gender, and social transition has far more consequences than the declaration.

Should there be a limit on the number of times a person can get legal gender recognition? Some dullard, to make a point, might do a stat dec every week, and if he wants to it harms no-one, and does not make a wider point about the system as a whole. There is no evidence of frivolous behaviour or fraudulent abuse elsewhere, and a limit might show undue concern about such abuse. It might deter people from self-declaring. But for trans people, our understanding of gender can evolve over time, and we might revert because of external pressure- my friend reverted as she could not see her grandchildren otherwise.

Should the declaration only be open to people living in Scotland or whose birth was registered there? I think yes, though a majority disagreed. Other countries might not recognise a Scottish gender declaration of a person without a link to Scotland, but it would be something people could do, symbolically, if they could not get gender recognition in their own countries. It would have effect while in Scotland. It demonstrates Scottish values of liberal inclusiveness. Asylum seekers might not be considered legally resident, and should be able to change their gender. Some people might be planning to move to Scotland.

Now, only people 18 or over can change their gender. Should 16 year olds be able to? Increasingly, 16 year olds can exercise other rights in Scotland. They can get married, and vote in Scottish elections. Most people agreed they should, especially Scots. However existing Scots law presumes capacity to make choices and exercise rights from the age of 12, and younger children can demonstrate their capacity to do so. The UN convention on the rights of the child requires that children are not discriminated against on the grounds of age, gender identity or sexuality. Children can be aware from an early age that they are trans. Gender recognition could help them move into adulthood, and thrive in education or employment. They sometimes avoid applying for opportunities because it would mean showing a wrong gender birth certificate. It affects their self-esteem if their documents are questioned. A parental application or applications by capable children are other possibilities.

Should we be able to get gender recognition irrespective of a spouse’s consent? 70% said yes. Even in marriage we should have a right to personal autonomy and self-identity. Spouses refusing consent could be abusive or manipulative. Trans people are at a high risk of domestic abuse. Abusers should not be given power or control, or the ability to ridicule. You do not need spousal consent for hormone treatment or surgery. Should a civil partnership be converted to a marriage or annulled? I feel opposite-gender couples should be able to get civil partnerships, but that’s really not a trans issue: there should be an option of leaving it be. 73% agreed.

Should gender recognition be a ground of divorce? “Irretrievable breakdown of marriage” is the ground of divorce, including where a spouse has behaved in such a way that it is unreasonable to expect the other to carry on living with them. That does not mean the behaviour was wrong, just the spouse reasonably felt it broke the marriage. So there is no need for a separate ground. That’s the Scottish Government’s view. To have legal gender recognition as a standalone ground for divorce is stigmatisation. It could contravene a right to privacy.

Most people didn’t know whether there should be changes to our right to privacy, and only 15% said there should. But for those who said there should be no change, the most frequent comment was that the right to privacy should be paramount. I feel we need additional protections, but the consultation is inconclusive. We should be protected whether we have a gender recognition certificate or not.

Most people agreed that if someone’s gender is recognised by another legal system, Scotland should automatically recognise it. Of course. No-one should need to reapply. It is unwelcoming and distressing to require a second gender recognition process. There is no basis for treating a person Canadian law, say, treats as a woman, as anything else unless the person desires it. We should not have to prove our gender.

Should Scotland take action to recognise non-binary people? Yes, and 66% of Scots respondents agreed. Being non-binary is just as valid as other genders or being trans. Non-binary people are humiliated by misgendering. They deserve respect and the same rights as everyone else. Non-binary recognition subverts overly rigid gender stereotypes. 75% opted for full recognition with the existing gender recognition system.

The Scots parliament cannot amend the Equality Act, but amendment is vital. Rather than referring to “gender reassignment” it should protect people on the ground of “gender expression and trans identity”, or of gender identity or gender expression. That would protect those terfs who find gender stereotypes particularly repugnant or oppressive. There could still be protection on sex as a separate ground.

The English consultation received over a hundred thousand responses, and the Government hopes to have a response in Spring next year, but the minister says “There will be no loss of trans people’s rights”. That’s a relief. The pdf summary of the responses to the Scottish consultation is here.

Emma and the Muslim

Emma Sherdley worked for a women-only driving instructor’s group. Many women would prefer a female driving instructor. A Muslim student stopped the two hour lesson after one hour, saying she had to go home to breast-feed her baby, then her husband complained to the employer that Emma was not a woman. The husband then sued.

Cue a giggly, nudge-nudge story from the Daily Mail, which gave her dead-name, and quoted the exact words of his original phoned complaint: “You have sent me a man. Send a proper female. How dare you send me a man with a deep voice.”

Emma told the Mail, “I always knew as a child that I was a woman stuck in a man’s body”. Generally, the story is positive about Emma, whose employer praises her as “friendly, professional and patient”. The employer gets the last word: “For [Emma] to be subjected to abuse and threats is simply intolerable”.

I don’t like the idea of a woman needing her husband to book her driving lesson. The husband sounds like a transphobic bully. But of all the Daily Mail articles on trans women, most of which mock and deride us, this is the one I find most loathesome, for it uses us to give a Muslim a kicking. The Mail clearly hates Muslims even more than trans people.

The story went around the world, to Lifesite News in the US. It referred to “Emma” as “he” throughout, and gave this explanation:

The practice of “gender reassignment” or sex-change therapy comes from the popular opinion among psychiatrists that there is a distinction between a person’s sex and his “gender”. The theory, promoted heavily by the homosexualist movement, is that sex is genetically and hormonally determined from conception, while gender is culturally conditioned and is therefore malleable. Hence the theory of “gender dysphoria” where a person feels as though he was born with a sex that conflicts with his “gender”.

It then quotes the director of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University calling “transsexualism” a symptom of personality disorder, and says the concept of malleable gender grew from the radical feminist movement in the 1970s. Tell that to my radical feminist chums.

The Police UK forum demonstrated perfect “I’m not prejudiced” language. “The law says she’s a lady now… though she needs to sort her makeup out. She looks like something out of Gilbert and Sullivan in that photo.”

“Would you have been totally happy with a trans gender turning up? It wouldn’t bother me although I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it made a few people uncomfortable.” Me? Prejudiced? Never.

Even the one wading in at great length to defend us, in sensible tones, used unfortunate language: The law is not an ass in this respect – it has simply been modified so that it can take a more enlightened and sophisticated approach to gender designation rather than the mind-numbingly simplistic “if it’s got a willy it’s a fella” theory grunted by numbskull Sun readers. I would rather Brutus had not referred to willies, but there you go.

This was ten years ago. We are more in the news now, with the manufactured debate about gender recognition, but the language has not changed much. Emma died aged 51 last year, much loved Mum of Katie and Rachel. Donations to Trans-Positive Bradford.

Are you female, or feminine?

I asked trans men if they were transitioning because they were really a man, or because they were masculine; women if female or feminine, non-binary because their true physical form, or their character, was non-binary?

Several trans men said they were really men. Their female-developed bodies revolted them. Their breasts, their widening hips, had been horrible, a weird, squishy, fleshy thing. Their chest masculinisation freed them to be feminine. Femininity before transition was an act, now they could be their authentic feminine selves if no-one would think them a woman. Female puberty had confirmed that they really were men, if there had been any doubt. Body hair delights them, the voice breaking delights them. So even in a utopia without gender stereotypes, they would transition.

I worried about this, when I heard it. I have no idea what proportion detransition. It might seem to confirm the gender-critical feminist perspective, that teenage girls want to transition because being a woman can be horrible, subject to groping, unwanted advances, sexist “banter”, sexist assumptions and treatment at school, university and in employment, and being a man would seem liberating, and yet being a woman is wonderful, being a mother, giving birth and suckling a child are the purpose of these body parts, as well as the sexual pleasure of their owner. Women can be used sexually in a way men are not, so much. Approximating to being a man is liberating, at great cost in physical mutilation and long term hormone treatment with unknown consequences. These women pay the price of sexism with their beautiful female bodies. Sexism erases lesbians.

And yet, that denies the ability of these trans men to make decisions for themselves, or to know themselves. None will say that they transition to escape sexism, but because they really are men, and that they want their bodies to reflect the fact. They are clear that they are men.

I feel feminine. That is how transition enabled me to discover myself and value myself: I could be my feminine self, and begin to peel back the thick layers of shame obscuring myself. I don’t feel constrained by any particular concept of feminine. It is elastic and fuzzy, covering a wide variety of women. I don’t know how things would be, if I had not had hormones and surgery, but had attempted a transition without, but I transitioned because of my femininity.

Others echoed this. They were feminine rather than female. Many, men and women, were not really masculine or feminine, they thought, but both or neither. “I’m just me” is a good way of being. I feel non-binary is freeing. We should be able to adjust our bodies just as far as we need, and express our personalities without feeling constrained by ideals of masculinity or femininity. Men need to find and liberate their feminine side, not just trans women. Yet it is uncomfortable being feminine, and appearing to be a man.

As people went through the transition process they thought less about these things, and were more simply and unaffectedly themselves. Not everyone. Some detransition, and curse the whole idea of changing sex or gender; but it saves many lives.

And the gender-critical should get alongside us. So, yes, they are oppressed by sexism, by men interrupting and taking up space and not respecting them and suspicious of their leadership and ogling and groping and demanding sex. They are distracted from fighting these things by being drawn to fight a few thousand mostly-harmless trans women. We liberate ourselves from patriarchal oppression as best we can.

With young Friends

I was privileged to join a Young Friends’ special interest gathering on affirming trans people. I saw these people being themselves, being real with each other, and feel hope for the Society: this is what Quakerism can do for people.

It is striking to spend time with a group of people a generation younger than I am. Of course there is the energy and brilliant intellect I find everywhere among Quakers: the PhD student, the person doing important work; and a wide range of different life-experiences, different from mine. “I have honestly never seen someone do that before,” said one, and I am delighted to have increased his options or perhaps moved him to investigate further. I am so glad that he said it. And I was self-conscious; I know that cultural references I would expect everyone of my generation to get are a bit nerdy twenty years later, and the Hufflepuff slippers show people deeply affected by something I found entertaining but no more. With another I shared my way into appreciating art, and found it was his way into appreciating music.

I saw one particular expression of beautiful masculinity, unselfconsciously expressed. He was serving us, and the leadership he gave was also service. It has led me to think anew of “toxic masculinity”: it is “toxic” when it is forced on people, or demanded of people whose gifts are different; or if someone thinks he must be dominant or a sissy, and lashes out. It is toxic to the man as well as his victims. Yet masculinity can be fitting. We just need to enlarge our concepts of what a “man” is, or can be: and the generation after me are doing just that.

They supported each other, and they supported me. I talked with each person, at least glimpsed them, shared something with them. In Meeting for Worship on Sunday, at Chester meeting where we had been sleeping on the floor without showering, I was thinking of the Kingdom, of the beauty of each person in their place, their gifts and strengths valued and used, their vulnerabilities protected.

We wrote a draft values statement about trans issues, which we hope will be adopted (perhaps with modifications) by Young Friends’ General Meeting. We spoke deeply of trans issues, and I am inhibited: even to say whether there were trans or non-binary people there might reveal specific things about specific people. I feel valued and affirmed by the draft. I spoke of my experience, it was why I was there, and one asked if I had internalised transphobia. Oh, yes, I am filled with it, it has constricted my life and scarred me deeply. I second-guess and judge myself, and people pick up on my own discomfort and reflect it back to me, so that I feel more uneasy in my skin. So seeing people who do not suffer in that way is liberating. I feel that I understand better, and that the disputes of my generation are finding creative new solutions in theirs. The law needs to get beyond its rigid insistance that everyone must be one sex or the other, as being non-binary is real, and liberates people from stultifying boxes.

Would that we older friends were more blessed with the presence of young friends. We need their leadership and their understanding. The George Gorman lecture is a good start, and Chris Alton’s Swarthmore lecture showed off a beautiful Quaker man.