A progressive response to anti-trans campaigning

When younger I found gender nonconformity disturbing but now enjoy exploring it in myself. I saw your cashmere scarf. It had several colours including black, in large oblong blocks, but one of the largest was pink. You let me feel how soft it was. It was definitely a woman’s scarf. Your colleague bought it for you, and I thought, she knows, values, cares for you. I had a strong reaction to it. I was so discomfited by it. Men should not have such things, leave alone let anyone else notice them! You smiled, inviting me to join in your delight in it, and I felt hope. I don’t know what the average man’s reaction to you having such a scarf would be. I hope anyone who knew you would respect you and see your beauty.

If you have surrendered the safety we find in convention and embraced the strength that comes with open vulnerability (which I can write of but am not sure I believe in) I admire you. You told me something of your hurt. I see something of your strength. I don’t know what others’ reaction to your discreetly feminine scarf would be, beyond that some might feel contempt or disdain, or not notice, or like it- or even not care. Caring so much I find it hard to believe anyone would not care.

So the first response of comfortable, cis people to anti-trans campaigners would be to notice the gender non-conformity of so many, and find a way to support it. It’s difficult. It is something trans people share with many of those campaigners.

Their hurt and mine is the same.

The fear, the microaggressions, the sense of self-betrayal when we hide it (Now I’m closeted as well, thought Charlotte Prodger when she said her partner was her “friend”). This was written about people experiencing racism, but it’s not just racism: They are often made to feel excluded, untrustworthy, second-class citizens, and abnormal… and that they feel trapped in a stereotype. The burden of constant vigilance drains and saps psychological and spiritual energies of targets and contributes to chronic fatigue and a feeling of frustration and anger.

This hurt matters. Search out whatever in your own way of life may contain the seeds of enforced gender conformity.

And it is difficult. My hurt can be used against me in a number of ways: concern-trolling, denigration, or for the entertainment of others, feeling vicariously, feeling good about themselves for being sympathetic, and even if you use it to educate yourself about how the world is I feel used, unless it results in you taking action. I may feel used even if you are an ally.

Trans exclusion is not a solution to gender non-conforming anti-trans campaigners’ hurt, but it is a symbol that their hurt matters. They may find transition completely repulsive and incomprehensible. Surely these people will come to their senses! Mastectomy is mutilation! What about the detransitioners who have been mutilated? They find community with each other, as they face similar problems. That community has value. If they could get over their repulsion, they might find community with happily-transitioned trans men. What we have in common should be far more important than what divides us.

The other hurt revealed to me by anti-trans campaigners is of a barrage of sexual harassment and assault. No, women will not be safer in toilets if they are absolutely certain there are no trans women there, but excluding us is a symbol of their value and that something might be done for them. Can we speak out against this, against street harassment, harassment in work, sexual assault?

I hope Quakers can find a way to love each other with the difference and pain. Yes, me too. I hope we can come together. That has to mean addressing anti-trans campaigners’ real concerns, of sexual harassment and of stifling gender stereotypes, and convincing them we mean it rather than simply asserting trans women are women. I hope for Emily Thornberry’s feminist movement [which] is big enough and big-hearted enough, and if someone believes that they have been born as a man but they are a woman, we have space. We can’t expect that big-heartedness unless we address the trauma.

Elif Shafak puts it beautifully: anger, when left alone for too long, is highly corrosive. And, most important, it is addictive. It must be diluted and counterbalanced with more powerful, positive feelings: empathy, compassion, kindness, sisterhood and love. I’m not suggesting that we should suppress female rage or be embarrassed by it, not at all, but if we make that our main guiding force, we will be lost in the maze of our own cultural ghettoes, echo chambers, identity politics. And the only thing that will benefit from this will be patriarchy itself.

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