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
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.