Are Quakers transphobic?

Are Quakers transphobic? No. 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.

________

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.

2 thoughts on “Are Quakers transphobic?

  1. This is an excellent post, and I particularly appreciate your balanced comments. Yes, the text risks sliding into a legalistic, ‘tries to please everyone, pleases no-one’ quagmire, but, the principles of equality are so self-evident that there should be no difficulty calling out perjorative comments…

    I admire any statement of policy that manages to deal with the apparent dilemma that is often expressed as, “It is an article of faith for me that all kittens…(frogspawn, frangipani….) are the spawn of the devil, and your attempts to persuade me otherwise amount to religious persecution’. (Though in fact, equality, again, makes that relatively easy to refute. Quid pro quo and all that jazz.)

    Thank you, Clare. ((xxxx))

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