How should Quakers welcome trans people? As part of the glorious diversity of humanity, people with new perspectives, which enrich us; as suffering under the weight of transphobia in society, requiring our support as part of the testimony to equality. As people who can bless a Quaker meeting. Treat them with courtesy like any other enquirer attender or member. Simple. Few meeting houses need to separate loos by gender, and trans people can be trusted to choose which they use just like anyone else. It need not cause a problem.
It only causes a problem if we trans people are treated as a symbol of other conflicts in society. For a small, passionate minority, we are. Someone told me that when trans women are included as women, the centring of women’s rights disappears. Even if no trans woman is seen, the suggestion that she would be tolerated is unacceptable for that person.
Transphobia exists like arachnophobia. Just as someone might overreact to a spider, so some people feel disgust, a disproportionately strong feeling, just on seeing me in my ordinary clothes. I know because they’ve told me.
So we have a zero-sum game. Do we welcome the trans woman, and risk offending that principled woman, or do we ensure the principled woman is protected, and exclude the trans woman? You could of course argue that the trans woman is not disadvantaged by being told to use the disabled loo, but the trans woman might disagree. I don’t want told which loo to use. I want to be trusted to make my own choice.
Many meeting houses will not have specifically women’s activities or women’s spaces. Many will have no trans people. Even where there are women’s activities, they may accept trans women. The Quaker Women’s Group which did the Swarthmore Lecture in 1986 but I think has been laid down decided around 2003 that they would welcome anyone “who experienced themself as a woman”. I had asked, and my Friend said they had considered and would welcome me. The Quaker Lesbian Group had more difficulty deciding.
I find the Quaker Life statement problematic, addressing 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. That seems to indicate there should be a rule, established beforehand. I don’t think there should.
If we address it as a matter of principle, without considering individuals involved, we risk excluding people before they arrive. A rule excluding trans women from women’s spaces in Quaker meetings would offend trans people. It would become the important matter I would need addressed. It might drive others away, or prevent them from enquiring. This must not be a zero-sum game. If someone is offended by me, let us find ways forward using Quaker processes. Unless someone is specifically offended by me, allow me to make my own choices. This involves accepting unknowing- yes, theoretically someone might be offended; but we can’t know if anyone will. We can never know we will be safe and righteous in every conceivable situation.
Unless we create a specific rule for ourselves, the default is that people can choose the spaces we use. We can deal with difficulties as they arise, but if we anticipate them we are guaranteed to offend someone.
There is a problem with this. When I have been excluded from women’s space, no-one has said they personally, individually, find me offensive- they are caring for others who might. Indeed if you are offended by me you may feel unable to speak out about that. Someone might find this principle particularly important.
We should address such a principle as a belief. Some people accept trans women are women, or see how transition frees us to be ourselves, and see that as something to be celebrated. Some people think transition is wrong, and that accepting trans women undermines feminism. If we accept that we benefit from welcoming different beliefs about spiritual experiences- though the spiritual experience is at the heart of what brings us together, we welcome Christocentric and Non-theist and a wide range of other understandings, and are enriched by that- we cannot demand that anyone has a belief about trans people.
Some truths clearly emerge from our testimonies. Slavery and nuclear weapons are wrong. We should reduce our consumption for the good of the planet as well as for simplicity. But we should be careful about establishing particular understandings of truth, which can be contradicted by philosophers or scientists, or policies, which can be superseded. There need be a single Quaker View on remarkably little, for it restricts our ability to learn, develop and change. I cannot be consistent until I am inerrant: I accept uncertainty as the price of being open to new understanding.
It is not a matter about clear truth, but about inconsistent partial truths. To say that I am a woman expresses a profound personal truth for me, and perhaps a few dozen other trans Quakers. To welcome me as a woman respects my Leading. To respect my idiosyncrasies is profoundly important to queer Quakers, who need acceptance too, and to any Quaker who sees that their idiosyncracies may be expressed among Quakers to a greater extent than anywhere else, because of our love and our freedom.