For the edification of the Nice People called Quakers.
I went to Norwich Quaker meeting at the weekend. After they hosted the hate group WPUK, they decided to hold listening meetings to hear the experiences of trans people, and of those who “wish to think through all the possible consequences” of gender recognition reform. I could object that they are using the hate group’s language, but I suppose that they are outdated- realising that gender recognition reform will have no consequences, the hate group has moved on to attacking a Parliamentary committee report which the government has no intention of implementing, and to seek to repeal trans rights under the Equality Act.
I cycled to Peterborough and took the train to Norwich, where Quakers put me up overnight.
In Meeting the chorus This is the day that the Lord has made ran in my mind. I thought of how in Meeting one lets go of resistance and resentment of the way things are, to be empowered to take right action. I hoped to accept the Love of God, breathe it in, and so be enabled to open my heart and channel it. Invited to introduce myself I expressed nervousness of the afternoon meeting, and prayed may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
I want to tell the truth in Love.
This is more or less what I said or wanted to say.
Be wary of asking for personal experiences. I used to represent at benefits tribunals, where an often inarticulate claimant would be asked personal questions about their health difficulties, then the tribunal would decide if they believed them, and if it was enough. I remember Sarah Beech, the chair, leaning forward and asking in a loud, posh magistrate’s voice, “Do you wet yourself?”
I thought of various sexual assaults to tell of. Before transition I was walking across Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester to a black tie dinner in my kilt, when some men began speculating whether I wore anything underneath it. One, taller and broader than me, came over to check. He overwhelmed me. He whispered almost gently in my ear, and I did not resist, and confirmed to his friends that I wasn’t.
I tell this not to prove that it makes me a woman, or that I am entitled to be in women’s spaces, but to say that sexual assault and manipulation is all-pervasive in our society, that it is humiliating, and you should beware of asking for personal experiences because of the world of pain you will expose. I told of an incident involving a Quaker who hits his wife. At YM a Friend ministered that the only place she had been fat-shamed was amongst Quakers, and an article in The Friend referred to someone being excluded from a discussion group because she is Black. My uncle beat my grandmother, and the last time he saw her my father told me “she couldn’t stop screaming”. This phenomenon is described in The Karamazov Brothers.
When Tommy Robinson claims “Muslims are coming over here, raping our women and girls”, no-one here would call that a feminist position. When David TC Davies, the MP for Monmouth who voted to reduce the abortion time limit to twelve weeks, commented on the conviction of a Muslim of rape that “we are importing bad attitudes to women into this country” he was condemned. Now he’s claiming gender recognition reform may affect women’s rights, not out of feminist principle but to set the Left against itself and, by making that form of alternative gender expression that is transition more difficult, to reinforce authoritarian gender stereotypes. In the same way, Kiri Tunks, here in Norwich Quaker meeting house, with fearmongering and half truths, sought to inflame fear and anger against trans women. I am Scots. You would not want to exclude me because of Scottish rapists and murderers in prison, but Tunks sought to inflame fear of us by talking of a trans rapist. I share one characteristic with that rapist. It does not mean I share others.
I am not here in this rather lovely Monsoon dress to show anyone how women should be, but to express my true self. It is a paradox: at the same time we reinforce stereotypes by the way we express ourselves, and subvert them by being ourselves against our upbringing.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the anti-trans campaigners. They find gender stereotypes constraining, and so do I.
I show my calculation of 40,000 trans people protected by the Equality Act 2010 here. There are more gender variant people, but they are not protected and they may not wish to present as the other sex, or be too frightened to. My Friend has decided not to transition as their wife could not bear it and they love their wife.
What does a gender recognition certificate mean? Everything and nothing. It declares that my gender is female, and the Act declares that my sex is female, but as soon as I went full time female I got a passport and driving licence indicating I am female. That was before the Act: Corbett v Corbett or Ashley indicates it was the case from at least 1970. In 2005 my Friend got a GRC and got her state retirement pension earlier, but retirement age is equalised now. At the time it would have affected whom I could marry, but not after the Marriage Act.
It is the Equality Act which lets me compete in women’s sports subject to rules by governing bodies- the IOC requires a significant reduction in testosterone levels. The Equality Act lets me into women’s spaces, but also lets me be excluded, as I remain a person who has undergone a procedure for reassigning sex. I can be excluded if there is a good reason, a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. I have a law degree, and read discrimination law to represent in employment tribunals. I have familiarised myself with the Act.
Gender research shows that the enforcement of stereotypes is all-pervasive, like atmospheric pressure, and like the air some people hardly notice it, some are buffeted by winds. People have an idea of which characteristics are masculine or feminine, but they don’t correlate: having some does not mean you have others.
Mine is the Love that has not chosen its name. We do not call a gay man a “sodomite” any more, or even a “homosexual”, which is deprecated as quasi-scientific and medicalising. Yet the words for my way of relating are all condemning or mocking: I am a pansy, attracted to viragos, termagants or harridans- “mannish” or “overbearing” women. This is my sexuality: I am not speaking for all trans women, and not all people like this transition.
My parents were like that. My mother “wore the trousers”. They were terrified of anyone finding out. They had few friends. Relations with people outside the family were at arms length. We were terribly concerned with appearances- I still am- and I had to appear to be a real man. I was delighted when I started to grow body hair as I would not appear so runtlike.
In 2013, three months before he died, I had my first honest conversation about this with my father. It was not deep or detailed, but we acknowledged it to each other. In the late Nineties, in my early thirties, after my mother had died I decided it was time to rebel against my parents, and I have been doing teenage ever since. I was completely under my mother’s thumb. I am Scots. I have an English accent because my mother was English.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor brought up in a fundamentalist church, still reacts to other female pastors- a voice in her head says women should not teach in church. She resisted that voice, and now has come to terms with it. In the same way introjects thoughts still bully me for being unmanly, or say other trans women ought not to be that way, the way I am myself.
Transition allowed me to accept myself. I am soft, gentle, peaceful, and not seeing that as weak sick perverted disgusting ridiculous and illusory has been a struggle. My slender arms and hands are beautiful. I could only appreciate my body as beautiful after transition. I wanted transition more than anything else in the world. A woman I knew was in a wheelchair with MS, and I would have swapped lives with her.
Transition gave me a framework of ideas, words and stories which enabled me to see clearly, appreciate and value who I really am. My introjects still say I am unmanly, and that is a bad thing, but I am not so scared of them any more.
Sara Ahmed shows how hard it is for people to admit anything is wrong. So when someone complains, they may be treated as the problem. To admit their complaint is justified and someone else is a wrongdoer is too terrifying. A university may have an inclusion policy to signal virtue rather than to correct its faults.
I am a symbol. I am one every man is entitled to despise, such as the man who came to my meeting house four days before the sentencing hearing at which he was imprisoned. When he said to me “look mate, I don’t know if you’re a man or a woman” that was a personal challenge, claiming his right to contempt for me. Friends have a blind spot on that, as if it were a simple observation.
I was cycling to Meeting when a car passed me selfishly and dangerously. When he stopped because a car in front was turning right, I overtook and shouted at him. He was very angry. He shouted “I’ll kill you, you fucking poof. You need killing.” I was distressed at this, and when before Meeting (not during worship) I expressed the depths of that distress, Friends objected.
A Friend asked how can WPUK be a hate group? She knows people who give out their leaflets. It is a hate group because it spreads hate and fear through lies and half-truths.
If gender recognition reform is ever enacted, it will be merely symbolic. Few people who would not have transitioned otherwise will transition because of it. It will not affect the rules about women’s spaces and services. It will indicate that the law accepts us slightly less grudgingly. I Affirmed in a statutory declaration that I intended to live as a woman life long, and there is no serious suggestion that requirement might be withdrawn. I had to get a letter from a psychiatrist on a list of specialists confirming I am transsexual, and he charged me £100, which many cannot afford.
If my Equality Act rights were rolled back, it would also be symbolic: women would not be any safer, or feel safer. 40,000 mostly harmless trans people are no real threat to women, and the threatening ones could be better dealt with under existing law. But I will be the person every woman, as well as every man, will be entitled to despise. And one way of living out gender diversity will become more difficult, and oppressive gender stereotypes will gain more power.
I have worked hard to support anti-trans campaigners who are Quaker- to bring them together, and to help their voice be heard; to empathise with their concerns, and find common ground. I believe these Quakers should be heard in our discernment. I do this because I see in them the same discomfort with gender stereotypes that I feel myself.
And gender stereotypes are all-pervasive and oppressive. Friends should therefore support any way people have of subverting or escaping them, including transition.