Quakers, inclusion and Trans

I feel a Concern that different views of trans issues must be acceptable in the Society, and accept that this is a risk. Just because Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness later gained the nickname “The Chuckle Brothers”, does not mean they were laughing when they first met Senator George Mitchell. It will not do to “say peace, peace where there is no peace,” or try to brush problems under the carpet.

So when I say that some Quakers, including one who has ministered movingly about the need for Truth within the Society, are lying, I should be clear what I mean. The lie is that gender recognition reform, which they refer to misleadingly as “Self-ID”, will have more than a marginal effect on women. The reason is that most of the law and practice treating trans women and cis women the same is years or decades old. We have self-ID: when an AMAB person decides she will transition to female, she is protected from discrimination, even if she has no diagnosis of gender dysphoria from a psychiatrist. The later official diagnosis depends on the patient’s own conviction and desire, which is a form of self-ID.

I got a passport and driving licence indicating I am female years before the Gender Recognition Act came into force, and a bank card in my female name six months before I changed my name officially, or stopped going to work dressed male. It would be more honest to argue against trans women’s legal rights to be in women’s space, and to be treated as women, under the Equality Act 2010 and its legislative precursors, but that would entail dealing with the fact that there have not been great problems under the law as it stands. After human rights law for gender recognition could no longer be resisted, the main purpose of the GRA was to prevent same-sex marriage, and now is to regulate how marriage is seen and prevent opposite-sex civil partnerships. Anyone who writes or speaks on the issue should be aware of this. There are marginal issues, which she might attempt to inflate, but they do not affect most trans and cis experience. For example 40,000 trans folk are a rounding error in statistics, even if we are ten times as criminal as cis women. Especially, the lie should not be asserted during a meeting for worship.

Insisting that women’s rights are suddenly imperilled foments fear of trans women. Trans women are in women’s prisons, sports, statistics, domestic violence and rape services, loos and changing rooms already, mostly harmlessly. We must abide by our testimony to Truth if we are to talk meaningfully to each other. I can tolerate being told that someone thinks I am a man, or that I should not be in women’s spaces, but not that a group including me are dangerous as a group, or that our group rights threaten women. Or that a group I used to belong to, or a group from whom I can only be distinguished by a groin inspection, are dangerous. To be clear, I think there is no real problem with me in women’s spaces and that welcoming me enhances women’s rights, and I am grateful to cis women allies putting those points. And the opinions I tolerate, some trans women will find threatening, and feel excluded.

The cis organisers of the diversity and inclusion gathering produced a trans speaker who cuts through this sterile debate. Sabah Chowdrey makes it irrelevant. They shared who they is, their mingled femininity and masculinity, reframing and subverting binaries. You can’t necessarily place someone on the gender binary by looking at them, and they said they knew people were speculating. There are all sorts of stereotypes we use: I loved Sabah’s phrase that we should

normalise uncertainty.

Then we get to meet the person not the stereotype. It is worth the extra work.

Sabah wants more than tolerance. They want to take their space. They are not ashamed and not hiding. Gender stereotypes restrict all. It is difficult to have to constantly justify my identity. They notice they are safer when seen as a man, seen more as a person, given privilege, yet the are non-binary, not a man. People should not need to pass as others. Trans people should be trusted to know our own minds. Statistics don’t add validity to our experiences.

Fear stunts everyone’s ability to explore who they really are. We should make the world a safer place. We should acknowledge and identify our power. We should show solidarity across communities. We should value being uncomfortable, Keep questioning, Listen to diverse voices.

Rhiannon Grant led an exercise in which we named words used to indicate gender, and then in pairs and small groups made sentences with them and discussed them. Naming a word did not indicate approval of it: the words indicated not a binary but a hierarchy, which needs deconstructed. I said to the group, harridan is an unpleasant word for a good way of being. A Black woman said Black girls are considered more macho than white girls, and I thought of quotes- “White folks feel, Black folks do”; “Ain’t I a woman?” These quotes are American.

I noted a difference here between participants asserting their rights, and those seeking to be allies to others, not always paternalistically. Some of course were both. Though there was little mention of disability, the woman in a motorised wheelchair was a noticeable presence, a member of our community, and we benefit if we value her.

7 thoughts on “Quakers, inclusion and Trans

  1. My own personal experience is that the public are more afraid of non-binary than they are of trans, and I can’t help feel that “trans with penises” is part of the same fear.

    On a separate point, I’m a little puzzled by “… and prevent opposite-sex civil partnerships“. I presume a civil partnership is what we call a civil union? Can’t opposite sex partners be in such a union? Civil unions here have always available to opposite sex and same sex partners. From the introduction of civil unions, opposite sex partners have been able to change from civil unions to marriage, and vice versa (for a small administrative fee), and that right was extended to same sex relationships in 2013.


    • In the UK, the “Civil Partnership” was introduced in 2004 to have a legally regulated same sex relationship similar to marriage which was not a marriage. In 2014, gay people got the right to marry, with certain restrictions- religious groups can refuse to marry same sex couples, for example. Same sex couples can still register a civil partnership, and one straight couple has used human rights law to seek the right to do so: marriage is linked to old patriarchal ideas, and CPs have equality of the partners. They have been opposed by the government. The Gender Recognition Act has a lot of detail, added by the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 about ending or converting CPs and marriages when one partner gets a GRC.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for that clarification Clare. It seems that the UK and NZ have drifted in somewhat different directions.

        Civil unions were introduced as a means of easing the path to same sex marriages. From the beginning they were exactly the same as a marriages except for the name and the fact that gender didn’t matter. I say this because in NZ de facto marriages are recognised, and since 1984 de facto marriages have had all the same rights and protection as registered marriages, regardless of whether it was an opposite-sex or same-sex relationship.

        Although not a popular as marriages, civil unions are here to stay in NZ, although it won’t be too long before there will be more de facto marriages than registered marriages if current trends continue. Currently 2 out of 5 relationships are not registered.

        In NZ, religious organisational celebrants can refuse to marry any couple if it’s contrary to the beliefs of the organisation, so doesn’t just apply to same sex couples, and I believe the same is true for non-religious organisational celebrants (e.g. the humanist society). Independent registrants and registrars can refuse only of the marriage would be illegal. Religious and non-religious organisational celebrants between them account for less than 25% of marriages. By far, most marriages are performed by independent registrants, with registrars lying a very distant second, religious organisational celebrants third and non-religious organisational celebrants fourth.


        • In Scotland, there is the concept of “Marriage by cohabitation with habit and repute”, where someone may raise a court action for declarator that they are married. They have to prove that both the couple held themselves out as married, so that is less likely: most cohabiting couples now are open about that. Otherwise, cohabitees have certain rights which are less than those of married persons. Civil Partnerships were like marriage, and ten years later same sex couples could marry, but we still have CPs. It’s an anomaly. A CP can be converted to a marriage if the couple wish, but the rights are the same.

          Liked by 1 person

          • That’s so different from the situation here where de facto marriages have equal status with registered marriages or civil unions. Sometimes, discovering one is in a de facto relationship comes as a surprise. This sums up the situation in Aotearoa New Zealand:

            The tricky question is determining whether people are “living together as a couple”. The answer can have potentially severe consequences, as the general rule applying to property division between couples is that once you have been living in a de facto relationship (or marriage or civil union) for three years or more, in the event of separation all relationship property is divided equally.

            The Act provides some guidance, and states that all the circumstances of the relationship are to be taken into account, including any of the following matters:
            The duration of the relationship;
            The nature and extent of common residence;
            Whether or not a sexual relationship exists;
            The degree of financial dependence or interdependence, and any arrangements for financial support, between the parties;
            The ownership, use and acquisition of property;
            The degree of mutual commitment to a shared life;
            The care and support of children;
            The performance of household duties; and
            The reputation and public aspects of the relationship.
            However none of these factors are decisive, and the Court has stressed in recent years that they are merely indicative. It is a matter of fact and degree in each case as to whether the particular circumstances satisfy the overall assessment of whether people are living together as a couple.

            At one end of the spectrum, there is no real question when people live in the same home and have children together. However it gets a little murkier when there is no clear start or end date to a relationship, and the living arrangements have varied. People can be held to be living together as a couple even though they do not live under the same roof, which means it is not always easy to know when property consequences can flow from a relationship.
            Some situations where the Court has found a de facto relationship to exist include:

            Where people have maintained separate homes over a period of many years, but nonetheless been found to lead a life most would regard as “shared”;
            Where a foreign divorce has been pronounced, but people have continued to live in the same home; and
            Where a relationship began as that of flatmate/boarder, but there were degrees of emotional dependency and sexual intimacy.


    • Welcome, Peter. Thank you for commenting. Yes. However much of the words in the GRA are precise rules about what happens to marriages and CPs, and what the trans person and his/her partner can do to convert or preserve or end them. The point was that GRCs are about registration, not primarily about identity or other rights. The hate-explosion has been such that I wish the Government had just gone ahead with a two clause Bill, rather than their desperate attempt to be looking as if they were doing something for the LGBT on the 50th anniversary.


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