Is Quaker dialogue on trans rights necessary?

We are not a political party, and do not need policies on the issues of the day. We are a religious society whose principles work themselves out through our lives, and we have four words expressing the heart of those principles: we say we have testimonies to peace, equality, simplicity and truth.

Our testimony to Equality should result in our positive work for women’s rights and trans rights. Our work on privilege and inclusion shows that our society is a profoundly unequal one, and we cannot simply imagine that belief in equality is sufficient. We need to expose how we unconsciously entrench privilege, and root it out. Part of this is exposing and opposing gender stereotyping, particularly around children.

However we should not necessarily get involved in perceived conflicts between trans rights and women’s rights.

We should refuse room bookings to groups claiming that they seek a debate on trans rights, from a feminist perspective, unless they can demonstrate that they will be truthful. This is because such groups have been untruthful in Quaker premises in the past.

I want trans people to feel as welcome in Quaker premises as anyone else, and because of our hurt and vulnerability that cannot just be assumed. I don’t trust social groups new to me. I came to Quakers in 2001, on the cusp of transition, as I did not feel welcome in the church which had baptised me, and I felt I would be welcomed by Quakers. In a similar position today I might stay with the Anglicans.

Many meeting houses will not need to consider the issue. If their loos are not labeled with gender indicators they may have no gendered spaces. If they have women’s groups or gendered spaces, generally the law is a good guide: the Equality Act 2010 admits trans women to women’s space unless there is good reason to exclude one, on a case by case basis.

So we may have to discern such issues ad hoc. An anti-trans campaigner explained to me that a woman who has been raped may feel scared seeing me in a woman’s loo, perceiving me as male, especially as loos only have one entrance. If such distress were actually felt by a regular attender of my meeting, I would consider what love requires of me.

A problem is that a vulnerable woman might not feel able to express such distress. Distress is often not heard. The consoling hug can be disrespectful: it can mean that we want your feelings to go away and stop bothering us. Again, belief that we are supportive is not sufficient. We need positively to communicate that to a possibly distrustful, vulnerable individual.

And it is what love requires of us: that’s not necessarily my self-sacrifice. I sometimes don’t even feel barely tolerated. I need evidence that I am accepted.

It would be easier to hold such discernment if the debate were less polarised. And we can’t produce one rule for all meetings: each meeting should consider the situation if it arises.

Some types of rhetoric should be off limits. The press reports endlessly on trans women who can be portrayed as unpleasant. The case of a trans rapist does not indicate how I should be treated. She is an individual and the characteristic we share does not mean we share any other characteristics. If I go to prison for peace campaigning I hope Friends would want me in a women’s prison not a vulnerable prisoner unit in a men’s prison. So Friends should not pay undue attention to particular difficult cases.

Anti-trans campaigners might have other arguable requirements.

I call them anti-trans campaigners because that is what they do. They speak out against my existing legal rights, making my life more difficult. I don’t consider them women’s rights campaigners because excluding 0.1% of the population, or even 1%, will not improve women’s position, or make women safer, and the “debate” contributes to making hate against trans people more prevalent. The “debate” takes energy which could otherwise be devoted to women’s rights causes.

This is not a free speech issue. Positions expressed regularly in The Times are not subject to censorship; but people cannot complain if their expressed views revolt others, who no longer wish to associate with them.

No one speaks for trans people. We do not have a Board of Deputies. So Quakers cannot perform reconciliation work, because there are no groups to reconcile.

Should we bring together trans people and anti-trans campaigners who are Quaker? Not necessarily. I find the debate wearing and depressing. I should not have to face a threat to my way of life. It may be too personal for me to discern. And yet I don’t want non-trans Quakers to discern without me.

So I would limit Quaker involvement in the debate. We could uphold the process in wider society. We could trust professionals in trans treatment. We could uphold children to make their own decisions about who they are, with the available professional help. Trans people exist, and have done for thousands of years.

All comments welcome.

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