How can a man live as a woman, or a woman live as a man? When gender stereotypes are enforced like moral laws, with disgust, contempt, derision, anger, resentment and violence fencing round how a man or woman can be, how can we express our true selves? Some strong or fortunate individuals might live like that- Elagabalus the Roman Emperor proclaiming herself Empress, or WC Blackwell the police sergeant of Calcutta, rounding up suspects while wearing women’s clothes- but most of us might pretend to be straight. Humans fit in to society, like bees or termites fulfilling a role. In the shadows, discreetly, some who cannot do otherwise express ourselves.

The psy professions- psychiatry, psychology, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy- find us, and because we do not conform we are called mentally ill. Scientists classify the extent and causes of our deviance,  to construct an understanding so we might be predicted and controlled, and devise treatments to return us to normality. In the 19th century, women were seen as mentally ill if either too feminine or not feminine enough.

Eugenics, the idea that the white race was superior and could be improved through selective breeding or degenerate if inferior people produced children, influenced the ideas of how humans should be. The male “invert” Lili Elbe could become an exemplar of vigorous European womanhood through genital operations, and the implantation of uterus and ovaries which killed her.

Gender variance was legitimised, made almost normal, by bodily transformation. We cannot know whether people would desire genital operations but for that fugitive hope of acceptance. Some doctors worked with trans people’s desire for operations, some were revolted by the idea of mutilating healthy bodies. Psy professionals found trans women could not be assimilated to an ideal of normal masculinity.

Transnormativity evolved: a concept of a “real transsexual” who might be suffered to exist on the edge of society, tolerated though not valued. This was constructed by psy and medical professionals. From press reports and other trans people, we learned the narratives the professionals required, and said what was expected of us. In order to keep control, the medical Standards of Care required knowledge “independent of the patient’s verbal claim” that the characteristics of defined acceptable transsexuality applied. From 1981, the Standards of Care required the psychiatrist diagnosing to be a specialist in gender therapy.

At the same time, intersex people had operations as babies to normalise genitalia and provide a role, either boy or girl. “It’s easier to make a hole than a pole” joked my mother’s midwifery tutor. You can’t “dress it in a kilt and call it Frances”. Gay men suffered aversion therapy and hormone treatment to suppress “homosexual” desire or attempt to create heterosexual desire.

Heterosexual people, conforming to gender stereotypes, were idealised and others had to conform to that as much as possible. Trans people sought the treatment, the psychiatric assessment, years of real life test, and surgery, to avoid the social violence enforcing conformity. It was important to pass as the other sex.

Affirmative treatment, accepting our desires, will not set us free while the wider society and trans groups preserve transnormative ideas. We remain presented with limited choices- treatment and acceptance is for the “real transsexual” who wants surgery. If there is a wider acceptance of gender variance, rather than specific treatment paths, people will find better what is right for them. Gender variance is beautiful. Complexity is beautiful. Unfortunately conformists find others’ non-conformity threatening, and seek to prevent it.

I got much of this from the paper Transnormativity in the psy disciplines, at least one of whose authors is trans. Of course then I spun it and riffed off it following my own concerns.

The weight of the world

I want to save the world because I could not rescue my mother.

The suggestion that TERFs claiming to protect vulnerable women from trans women is as baseless, as much in bad faith and as invidious as racists claiming to protect white women from Black men was like a plunge into cold water or a slap in the face for me. I simply could not have seen it that way. That someone else sees it that way gives me hope. Those calling me monstrous, those demanding protection from me, are wrong about me.

Then the leadership team of UNISON wrote a letter, including this: UNISON stands with our trans members and all trans people, who face high levels of discrimination and prejudice in work and increasing levels of hate and abuse in public spaces.

I am writing something for publication. I dumped a sentence in the middle of it, apparently apropos of nothing: A social work tutor said BAME and LGBT people were less likely to complete courses. The editors pointed that out. I really had not wanted to state explicitly, on my own authority, that people leave courses because being policed into heteronormativity or the constant reinforcement that Black is less, white is normal and better, is STRESSFUL!!!!!! It may be easier for me to speak, as an ally, on behalf of people of colour than to say it for myself. I should just cope, after all, it’s entirely normal, everyone has their problems.

It is about acceptance and rejection. I am crippled by repeated rejection. It sits like a reservoir of pain in the centre of my being. Conform or be cast out– I suffer from it now, and have not processed it.

There is a risk in writing of something I have not fully processed. The pain may come out. Excuse me for a moment, I need to scream.


Ah, that’s better.

Writing of something I am processing may set me off, but it can give the writing an immediacy or edge which is harder to capture when I have finished the processing.

One group kicked me out, and another group takes me in, and my friend’s words and actions, especially the hugs, are warm and welcoming. And I want to say, look! Listen to them, this is what they say! I respect them (though I have riled them and they have rejected me I still like and respect several of them). Partly I might tell myself this is wisdom, seeing the positive in nine years of relationship and even Acceptance of Reality, and the thing in me which is harder for me to see is my assertion that they were right to reject me because I really am that bad, destructive, negative, totally worthless. And I am nervous about the new group. It is only a matter of time before they see how repellent I am, and reject me too.

I wanted to download four years of texts from my phone, with a particular person, as a reminder of her intelligence, strength, enthusiasm honour and humour. So I put a “phone manager” program on my computer which has probably hoovered up all my data to sell on. A few hundred texts is not much of a memorial- I have blog posts and diary entries, emails and even memories- but I wanted them because I cannot resurrect the friendship, which is dead. Previously I have felt good about dumping a long chain of emails as a sign of moving on, but not in this case. Despite quite a bit of fiddling, I could not download the texts.

I have not been crying much this year, and now I am weeping helplessly. I want the tears not to go down the tear ducts to the throat, I want them to well over, because that is a cultural proof that they are real. Sobbing is not enough. It is midnight, and I feel I need to talk to someone to regain equanimity. I will not tell myself sharply to GET OVER IT!!!!! It has to be the Samaritans. The phone rings out for a long time, then I get Ivy. She wants me to explain. I am crippled by rejection, I say. I do not want to give all the important or most recent examples, though I tell her of my father and sister to establish I am not whining over nothing.

Emoting for a bit to another human being gives relief from the immediate misery, and will help me sleep, so that’s a good thing, but I want more. This is shaking me to my core, and I want to understand why. I want all gender variant people, including the anti-trans campaigners, all working together for our common good, united. It is a ridiculous thought, and there is nothing I can do to forward it- or small actions now and then which have a pitifully small effect before the enormity of the task. I may go into pointless symbolic activity, like copy-pasting each of those texts individually, to create a relic or monument which I despise even as I create it. The relic is worthless, the desire is pointless, and feeling that is unbearable and I weep. Well, it makes sense to me, whatever Ivy or you think of it. I type notes as I talk to her, because I am questing for answers beneath my screams.

The pain is in my need to reconcile the irreconcilable. My love should be sufficient to understand explain and persuade. And it isn’t. And others see the dispute very differently. I am loving, creative, intelligent, articulate, persuasive, and that gets me nowhere because the problem is intractable.

I could not save the friendship and I could not save my mother.

I did all I could.

I could not rescue my mother. All I can do is rescue me, which I do more slowly than I would wish.

Am I non-binary?

Does trans include non-binary? Is there a difference? Can someone be enbyphobic, having an irrational reaction to non-binary people, without being transphobic?

Around 2010 we were writing trans*, as “Trans” meant transsexuals, perhaps, or transsexuals and cross-dressers, and Trans* was a more inclusive term. Then nobody knew what the distinction was, and people stopped writing “trans*”, as “trans” was inclusive. Everyone who chooses the identity is trans. Or some people try to police the idea of trans, to keep control of others, because they imagine it makes them safer even though behaving like that only increases the threat, and perception of threat, to everyone.

Someone might be clearly enbyphobic without being so clearly transphobic. Imagine a man who is happy enough to address an AMAB person by a female name, refer to her as “she”, but draws the line at calling them “they”. “They” is a pronoun for more than one person, they say. They will not refer to an NB person as “they” though they might use “they” for a person whose gender they don’t know. They seem to accept the trans person, but draw the line at the NB person.

If trans includes NB, then enbyphobia is transphobia. But it might be useful to distinguish the two. So why include NB in trans? To make a big tent, where everyone is welcome, and everyone feels solidarity. If we need to distinguish, we could refer to “binary trans”. Because there might be different interests. A non-binary person might need third spaces, non-gendered spaces, and a trans person object to third spaces seeing them as excluding him or her from their acquired gender space. I might use a third space, where I might be less likely to be challenged (I don’t get challenged, though lesbians do) but would hate anyone to choose a space for me. “No,” they would say. “Not here. Go there,” and I would be excluded, and devalued.

I would like NB identity if it could be seen as permission. “I am non-binary”, I declare, when I go about without a wig. Those who judge will see it as permission for them to judge and exclude me.

Non-binary is the generally accepted term, but I might criticise it. Why should I define myself by what I am not? There is no generally accepted alternative. Self-gendered perhaps. Gender-free. I am not sure what I would propose, and it’s not going to be more accepted than NB. Enby, then. Some say it sounds twee.

Some people don’t admit that NB can exist. Others say it is ridiculous. Behave in whatever gendered way you want, express whatever gender you have, but you are male or female. There is widespread reluctance to recognise non-binary identity. That’s enbyphobia, not transphobia. When I am told to explain what LGBT stands for, as if people won’t know, I wonder about asserting I am NB, and that could be my own enbyphobia. I am surrounded by transphobia and enbyphobia, which I take into myself. Some accept me as I am. Some won’t accept me however much I try to change myself to be acceptable.

So am I NB? There is no typical woman’s response to anything. My response is within the range of responses of womankind, and even generally within the range seen as acceptably feminine by those who enforce gender on women, though they must be resisted. I am not even sure that there is a group of people who are non-binary, definitely distinct from trans people by essence rather than label, or perhaps stage in a process, but many NB people are, and might call my attitude enbyphobic.

I like NB as permission. I can do this, and I don’t have to do that. I want to flit in between trans and non-binary, as it suits my interests, to evade anyone who would control me. If there were the possibility to be whoever you want to be, rather than the desire to control what is harmless, no identity would matter.

A Christian view of trans

Christian theology supports trans people and transition unequivocally. The Bible recognises and values trans people. As Peterson Toscano said, a man carrying a water jar was doing women’s work, which was beyond shameful for a man in that culture- she must have been trans.

The Bible values bodies as good. God created humanity in God’s image, and everything God had made was very good. Male and female God made me! God knitted me together in my mother’s womb- I am fearfully and wonderfully made. And after my transition I was freed to see my body as beautiful and wonderful, not inadequate as I thought before. As God does not have a body, whether like in the Sistine Chapel with a grey beard and pink shirt or otherwise, the image is of our nature- like God, we are loving, creative, powerful and beautiful. It is that nature, made in God’s image, that drives us to transition.

Philip baptised the Ethiopian eunuch. Eunuchs were condemned in the old testament, but not in the new dispensation of Christ.

Jesus identifies with the lowly and downtrodden: whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me. When the Church spits hate, such as the Pope inveighing against “gender theory, which does not recognise the order of creation” calling it as bad as the use of nuclear weapons, he continues the oppression of the strong against the weak that Christ condemned. Francis was pleasing his conservative followers then, the modern equivalent of the scribes and pharisees who Jesus said locked people out of the Kingdom of Heaven. For them, morality is a set of rules, to be used to condemn others. However the Kingdom of Heaven is completely different: we have one Father, who is in Heaven, and one teacher, one instructor, who is the Christ. Jesus will send the Teacher, the Holy Spirit, who will be in us.

You know who you are and what is right because Christ has sent Christ’s spirit to be in you. Your conviction that your gender is not that assigned, your conviction that you are of the other gender, which you know despite all denial, which eventually you have the courage to assert despite all the mockery and hostility others rain down on you, comes from Christ, who says, In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!

Paul confirms this: If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. In Acts, we read of the holy spirit coming on all kinds of people. Peter’s epistle predicts the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts– which is the moment you commit to transition, and fully expressing who you are.

The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. That is, the Kingdom of Heaven is among us, here, present, now, when we follow the Spirit of Christ within. You know your transition is right through the Spirit of Christ leading you.

This post is not written for atheists. If you do not value the Bible, it will not convince you that God leads you to freedom through transition. You know that transition is good for other reasons. Rather I write for people when the Bible has been used to condemn them, for that is a false use of the Bible. The words of Jesus within us confirm that we are right to transition.

Performing gender

Lying on the floor weeping “I am not a man” even as I pretended to be one at work, I believed in a real me, separate from that pretense, which manifested herself when I expressed myself female. Like others, I found that at first presenting male was just normal, and expressing female mind-blowingly wonderful; then presenting male was a bit unpleasant and expressing female was really nice; and finally expressing female was just normal and presenting male unbearable. I had wanted to prepare for transition, with electrolysis of my face and other things, but I went full time before my electrolysis was complete. Then, needing to avoid shaving so I could have electrolysis I was abused in the street, and became depressed and miserable.

Judith Butler says we could perform gender, that is act a gender role, much as my friend said I appeared to be acting when presenting male and just being me when expressing female- have you noticed, I write “Presenting” male, saying that’s something about how I appeared, and “Expressing” female, when my appearance was the expression of my real self? I have expressed (wrote spoke and thought about) it that way all this century. But that’s not what she means when she says gender is performative. There’s no actor underneath, putting on a performance. Instead we act and speak in ways which consolidate the impression that we are men or women, not expressing an internal reality but responding to others as we are conditioned to, following habits which seem to us to be part of some essence. The phenomenon of gender is self-sustaining, people enforcing it on each other.

I need to do more reading on this, but Butler does not fit that description. She was walking down the street and a teenager called out, “Are you a lesbian?” There’s the policing, enforcement, bullying right there- she is not walking in a normal manner, so a stranger calls her out on it- but she does not change. Gaydar is a thing. Gay people can spot each other. Straight people can spot us too. The bullying isn’t working, or not completely. There is something in her which rebels. It might not be something as complex as a gender: the underlying reality could be as simple as a sexual attraction, stopping her from following others’ gender rules and making her own, but the effect is a range of behaviours and interactions which mark her out as “unfeminine”.

Lesbians might be butch or femme. H was particularly disgusted by femme lesbians, “attracted to that type of masculinity”- quite unable to understand them. There are fashions for butches, a butch uniform which is quite as constraining as straight women’s fashions, even if they change less frequently. Is the standard butch expression constrained by lesbians, or by the wider community?

H, particularly highly sexed, at twenty wore jeans and DMs and a crew cut, to avoid unwanted sexual attention, then in her forties her daughter persuaded her to dress sexily and around seventy she still does, with long hair and tight dresses. She talks of “performing gender”, but appears to mean making a choice, having twice exercised a choice and made a huge change. Now her sexiness is power, holding male attention despite her age, controlling the men by skills learned through experience.

Tim, a gay man, told me that in some relationships he was bottom, in others top, and he found his feelings around his body changed as he moved between. The areas which were erogenous zones would be different. He could pass as straight.

There’s something inside so strong. We transition. My father, attracted to women, was a primary head teacher. He had one male teacher and five women in his school, and while he thought the women more talented he noticed them encouraging the male to apply for promoted posts- to Dad’s disgust. Other men might have found their feminine encouragement of the man, and holding themselves back, unremarkable, or even appropriate. If men take the promoted posts are they really more talented and efficacious or do we imagine them to be more talented because we are programmed to see them so? Yet Dad saw them differently, perhaps because he was attracted to strong women, as am I.

Wikipedia is not the best of sources, but there I find a one paragraph criticism of Judith Butler by Martha Nussbaum, saying that rather than political campaigning Butler encourages feminists to subvert gender by speech and gesture, in “unfeminine” ways, subverting gender norms. I imagine both would be possible- walk like a man, refuse to smile and be accommodating, and campaign against VAWG.

When I was presenting male I did not see myself as acting. I was aspiring to masculinity, but it would be one real human being that was a man, going running to make myself fit, and when I was behaving in a masculine way it seemed to me that this was me, being how I ought to be, rather than hiding a “real me” underneath. Later, I either became aware of that Real Me which had been suppressed in fear (as I have always thought since) or that “feminine self” somehow came into being.

Happy birthday to Judith Butler, 64 today (I planned this post before finding it was her birthday). She provided this photo for Wikipedia when she was 57.

This is Martha Nussbaum, photographed aged 61 by Robin Holland.

How do you see these photographs? What does Professor Nussbaum’s makeup, and Professor Butler’s lack of it, signify? Are they feminine? Strong? Open or guarded? Can you read intelligence in either picture separately from the titles they have earned?

Added: here’s long distance runner Emily Halnon on My Boyfriend’s Wedding Dress. She loves his flair, imagines she’s contributing to a progressive shift in how we define masculinity, finally allowing men to be emotional and vulnerable, or to ask for help, or to hug their male friends, and yet was uncomfortable with him cross-dressing. She loves his muscles and athleticism, and his hairy chest, as well as his emotional depth, vulnerability and openness, but she and her girlfriends want men who are bigger and taller than they are, or who are better than them at sports, or who don’t cry in front of them. So- she wants to subvert gender norms, but still finds herself enforcing them because of the gravitational pull of wider society. Or, she’s a heterosexual woman who has particular desires, even if a minority of women might enjoy the support of a more vulnerable man.

Ain’t I a woman?

Trans women are women, but increasingly we have to defend ourselves in “debates” where haters allege trans rights conflict with women’s rights, or trans women should not be in women’s spaces because we are men. So, how can we argue that trans women are women, or should be treated as women?

On twitter, against slogans such as “sex is real” the best response I know is “Trans women are women”. Comment if you think of a better one. There is no room for nuance or persuasion on Twitter, only for encouraging different sides.

If forced to produce a definition of “woman” which includes me, I would say, a woman is a person who believes herself to be a woman (which includes all non-trans women and some trans women) or who wants to be or become a woman (including all other trans women). That’s circular, using the term defined in the definition, and it is good enough if someone is an ally. I don’t like to make a definition, because I don’t feel the argument about a definition advances whether or not trans women should be in women’s spaces. I am a woman if your definition of woman includes me. I don’t care if your definition of woman does not include me, because mine does.

I say I am socially and culturally a woman. Trans women exist, and are more or less accepted as women depending on the culture. Should there be space for a vulnerable, marginalised group or not? It has to be decided as an issue of politics and human rights, and anyone whose definition excludes me will not be persuaded by contrary definitions. Trans women need spaces.

If “woman” is defined only on sex, with DSD people assigned a sex based on physical characteristics, there are two ways to respond. One is what my teacher father used to call “dumb insolence”- blank denial, a useful trick for a pupil. Give no ground, just stare them out. Of course I am a woman, it says so on my passport. Of course I am “biological”, what else would I be? An angel, demon or ghost? I am a biological woman. You can give details: lots of women don’t have wombs. I have breasts.

There is evidence to cite. The Endocrine Society says There is a durable biological underpinning to gender identity that should be considered in policy determinations. Their practice guideline says, Gender-dysphoric/gender-incongruent persons should receive a safe and effective hormone regimen that will suppress the body’s sex hormone secretion, determined at birth and manifested at puberty, and maintain levels of sex steroids within the normal range for the person’s affirmed gender. I don’t think that proves I am a “biological woman”- I was not impotent before treatment, but have no evidence whether or not I was fertile. That might appear to make me closer to a “biological man”. And I don’t like the born that way argument: even if my transition was just a whim one day, I have proven commitment to it since. People do. I should not need to prove I was born that way, to be acceptable in society. My needs have value. I have value.

Or, you could say reproductive biology matters when you are reproducing, but not otherwise. Gender, and the treatment of women in society, are social phenomena. Most human behaviour around reproduction is social phenomena. The rigid “biological” distinction matters only with regard to who can carry a foetus, not who is a woman.

Trans people exist. Trans people have needs. Society benefits when our needs are met and we are enabled to contribute, rather than fight for survival. Argument about definitions is a kind of sterile sparring, seeking debating point wins rather than being morally clear. 0.1%, or even 1%, of society won’t have a huge effect on everyone else, but for us inclusion and exclusion are a matter of survival.

Trans pronouns and the US Constitution

Can a professor use male pronouns and the title “sir” for a student who is a trans woman, because he claims his religion requires it and he has a right to Freedom of Speech under the United States Constitution, and that “forcing” him to use people’s pronouns violates his right to exercise his Presbyterian religion? Jordan Peterson first achieved notoriety by refusing to use the pronouns courtesy requires, and Nicholas K Meriwether, an otherwise unremarkable academic, sought to follow in his footsteps supported by an anti-LGBT+ hate group called “Alliance Defending Freedom”. He has failed at the US District court, and I hope that’s an end of it.

Meriwether questioned students during lectures, addressing them as “Sir”, “Ma’am”, or by the titles Mr or Miss and their surname. Treat a student as an adult, and they might behave like one. He addressed Jane Doe, a trans woman in his class,  as “Sir”, and refused to address her as “Miss Doe”. So he differentiated her, by addressing her as “Doe”. According to Meriwether Jane Doe “became belligerent, circling around [plaintiff] and getting in his face in a threatening fashion” while telling plaintiff, “Then I guess this means I can call you a cunt”- but the evidence has not been heard in court, and Meriwether’s exaggerated whining about the complete impossibility of treating students the same or the claimed effects on him of the university’s response makes me doubt his credibility. The judge says at least one of Meriwether’s claims is “not entirely accurate”.

The university suggested Meriwether could address all students by their first name, or surname, but Meriwether refused. In August 2016 the university emailed all academics to require them to use students’ pronouns. On 9 January 2018 Meriwether called Jane Doe “Sir”. After repeated meetings and discussions, on 22 June 2018 the university gave Meriwether a written warning, which Meriwether claims unmanned him completely: he could not discuss gender identity, fearing dismissal, so he sought an injunction preventing the university from enforcing the discrimination policy on him.

The policy for reporting discrimination prohibits Negative or adverse treatment based on… gender identity, [where] the treatment denies or limits the individual’s ability to obtain the benefits of Shawnee State’s programs or activities. It defines gender identity as A person’s innermost concept of self as male or female or both or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different than the sex assigned at birth. Calling Jane Doe “Doe” and all the other students Sir, Ma’am, Mr or Miss is plainly disrespectful and would make the class needlessly unpleasant for her.

Meriwether said he would respect Jane Doe’s gender identity if he could include a disclaimer in his syllabus that he was doing so under compulsion and setting forth his personal and religious beliefs about gender identity. He was teaching a political philosophy class, not otherwise relating to gender identity, and as his student I might find that disclaimer more offensive than his refusal to use a title for me.

The judge said any reasonable person would discern the difference between refusing to acknowledge the gender by which an individual student identifies and a discussion of substantive issues surrounding the topic of gender identity.

The judge found use of pronouns was speech, but not protected speech. He was addressing his student as part of his duties as an employee. He might have been entitled to state his beliefs about gender identity in class, but his refusal to call Miss Doe “Miss” did not by itself convey any belief, state facts or make arguments about gender identity. Even if people hearing knew that he did that to express his belief on gender identity rather than to insult Miss Doe for some other reason, the judge said he was not sharing ideas or inviting discussion but was directing his personal beliefs toward Doe, who objected to his speech, and other members of a captive audience who were not free to leave his class or decline to participate in class. The speech did not take place in the context or a broader discussion, and there was no admitted academic purpose or justification. In the speech of an employee the court distinguishes self-expression from the expression of ideas or opinions [which is] participation in the intellectual marketplace. So whenever law or rules protect us from discrimination, we can insist others use our pronouns.

Meriwether’s religious beliefs are repulsive. He believes in Hell for those who fail to declare faith in Jesus Christ- that’s eternal conscious torment for most people, imposed by a “loving” God. The chair of his department, of English and Humanities, expressed her revulsion. He claims his religious beliefs are extremely limiting: they constrain him from calling a trans woman “Miss”. I think his religious beliefs do not limit him at all. Rather they permit him to do what he likes, including insulting and bullying a student, and imagine he is acting morally. However, public authorities may enforce neutral and generally applicable rules and may do so even if they burden faith-based conduct in the process- including a rule to use preferred titles, or, say, a rule against bigamy though it affect some Mormons. Religious beliefs, even if sincerely held, don’t allow you to break any rule you choose.

God save us from what Neil Gorsuch might make of this case, but for the moment in the US our pronouns are safe. Meriwether v. Trustees of Shawnee State University may be found here.

Melanie Phillips

Nothing excites Melanie Phillips more than the chance to be transphobic. She is a tedious writer, repetitively hyperbolic, whose prose soon revolts anyone who does not agree with her or is not addicted to pointless moral outrage. If you don’t want to get high on rage at the “culture wars”, she will bore you silly. Here’s a representative sample:

At long last, an English court has struck a blow against the cultural tyranny of thought-crime and in support of freedom of speech, reason and sanity. Well, that’s not what the court said. Harry Miller tweeted in a way a judge called opaque, profane, unsophisticated and abusive, and sought to have the police hate crime guidelines declared unlawful. He failed, but the judge said the police had not, on the evidence shown, demonstrated it was right to pay him a visit about his transphobic tweets.

I’ve just watched a video in which Phillips claims that she can’t say “I’m a woman” in case it offends someone. Don’t watch it. She speaks in a weird, enraged monotone, and her words are divorced from reality. The issue was how to make the census more accurate when recording trans and non-binary people. The video was posted by some right-wing nutter, who thinks Phillips won because he’s too blinkered to listen to opposing views, but Dawn Butler MP skewers them: Every time we talk about someone’s equality rights there’s an uproar- when it’s about women, or people of colour. Now it’s about transgender people, and we just need to take it with care and compassion as we talk about these issues.

When it seemed like the last Conservative government might reform Gender Recognition law, Phillips screeched This is why the Conservative Party has lost its way. For her, it’s not just a government she basically agrees with doing something she does not agree with, it’s proof that the government is no longer conservative.

This ‘binary’ distinction is accepted as a given by the vast majority of the human race. No matter. It is now being categorised as a form of bigotry. No-one is saying you can’t say you are a woman or a man, or even that you can’t say a trans woman is a man, only that trans women exist and are generally treated as women by reasonable people. I now find I can’t read her prose without hearing her hectoring voice in my head. She is careful to distance herself from Germaine Greer- a baffling skirmish on the wilder shores of victim culture has now turned into something more menacing.

She uses words to evoke a sense of threat- the Conservative government will legalise lying, enemy, battleground, enforceable orthodoxy, the crime being committed by society, their prime target will be children, dangerous frivolity, supine surrender, hijack, totalitarian- and to ridicule- bizarre, scoff at your peril, obsessed, logic doesn’t come into this. She claims, contrary to evidence, that trans people are the bullies.

She indulges paranoia freely. The intention is to break down [cis] children’s sense of what sex they are and also wipe from their minds any notion of gender norms. She supports gender stereotypes: Gender derives from a complex relationship between biological sex and behaviour. And nature and nurture are not easily separable.

She generalises from the particular transphobic moan to the general: Indeed, you could say the West is very much on a journey. From divorce and lone parenthood to gay marriage, what was once regarded as a source of disadvantage or category error has been transformed into a human right. In the process, compassion has turned into oppression. She reads something she does not like, and immediately screeches “Help Help the sky is falling!”

Don’t read Melanie Phillips if you want to be informed, as all she does is rant. Recently she has ranted about Trump’s ending the Iran nuclear agreement- she argues that Britain supported President Obama’s treaty though its effect was to target Israel, and complains of sneers about an Israeli warmongering agenda from people for whom the threat of another Jewish genocide occasions at best an eye-roll. She stands up for Jews, though does not want mere “equality rights” but the collective punishment of the Iranian people. Trump’s reneging had the effect of encouraging further Iranian work on nuclear weapons, but Phillips is merely a propagandist, uninterested in facts. Decriminalising abortion is, she says, a grim elision between abortion and infanticide, ignoring the reasons for abortions, and the fact that late term abortions don’t happen.

I hope in ten years we can watch Phillips’ rants and laugh. Now, they are too threatening. Don’t get wound up by them, because she makes her money out of people being enraged, and she does not care on which side they are.


And yet, I envy her. I watched her on video in this strange rant, enacting rage and righteous indignation about the ridiculous vileness of trans people, and it was so articulate! It came out in complete sentences, even complete paragraphs. You could take it down and it would almost be publishable as it was. I love the practised way her words flow.

The people who communicate professionally learn, practise and craft their words, not from the heart but from the bank balance, as professional writers. Some produce articles and books at a rate of knots, about anything, convincingly. Phillips has a simple shtick, making culture war issues out of news, and it gets her publicity and a good income, however much harm she does.

Compassion for transphobes

I have compassion for transphobes on the Left, at least the women- they have been hurt by the Patriarchy too, they can have some wonderful feminist campaigning energy. Not for the men, they’re just looking for an excuse to treat someone with contempt, and not for the Right-wingers, they want to enforce gender stereotypes and create a hate-group for people to look down on, but for the feminists?

There is a passionate group of women, called by others TERFs (Trans-excluding Radical Feminists)- a term initially coined by one of them, and claimed by them, which they now claim is a slur, calling themselves by increasingly inoffensive terms: “Gender-critical”, that is, opposed to gender stereotypes, or even “gender-concerned”.

What do I feel? Sadness, frustration, depression. The worst are full of passionate intensity– self-righteously tweeting #expelme because they have been called out on their hate. There’s a tactic on twitter, needle and provoke a trans woman, and when she reacts, screenshot it and retweet ad nauseam:

Look! Look! Look what they’re like!

They want people to see me as a threat. If they want to inspire people to feminist action, they want to do it by fomenting outrage that I have been in women’s spaces for years, and fear that suddenly some great flood of trans women, too frightened to transition before, will join me, or perhaps that sex offenders will dress as women and pretend to be trans women in order to go into women’s spaces and commit crime, rather than not bothering with all the trouble and barging in, like they do now.

Calls for compassion may be met with denial. Their motivation is compassion, they might say. They do not want anyone else to suffer like Keira Bell. They do not want vulnerable women surprised by men in women’s space. They claim they want trans people to have the same rights as other people- they are not against trans rights- but mean that trans women are men so should be treated as men.

The question was, How can we resolve human conflict without violence? But the violence is in spate. Before, I thought of trying to talk their language, and be as winsome as possible, but no longer have the energy.

So the first step has to be, the anti-trans campaigners have to ask themselves why people they respect are against them. Why would the female Labour leadership and deputy leadership candidates sign the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights pledges and say “Trans women are women”? Is there any socialist, feminist or humane principle behind their position? No, they have not been bullied by the Powerful Trans Lobby, which from my side appears to have no power at all, or by Trans Rights Activists, who are just ordinary trans people living our lives.

Then, get them to see us as human beings. This is difficult. No-one likes to admit that they are dehumanizing others. They think they are being entirely reasonable, and compassionate. Showing a trans woman’s suffering may not break the spell. Analogies of other dehumanization campaigns will make them recoil in disgust and denial. You could remind them of the Lavender Menace, but they may imagine they are protecting lesbians.

After that, a mediator could ask them if they have any characteristics or interests in common with trans people. To me it’s obvious- they are more oppressed by gender stereotypes than the average, and so are we; they want to pull them down, and so do we. They don’t see it that way.

Unfortunately the anti-trans campaign on the feminist Left is not merely internet froth, diverting people from real feminist campaigning. It is a concerted effort by the hard Right to inflame culture wars.

Five years ago a blogger group called 1000 voices speak for compassion started posting in unison on themes around compassion, and this post is for their fifth anniversary: other links are here. My compassion is shrinking as I feel more constrained.

Hate incidents

If someone says, or tweets, something hateful towards trans people, should the police get involved?

In the US, constitutional protection of speech, held to include burning crosses, is fundamental, but in Britain we recognise the concept of hate speech. Hate speech oppresses particular groups, suppressing their speech, so vitiates the main benefit of free speech: hearing different perspectives so as to find the truth. But not everything that is hateful should be criminal. A hate crime involves harassment, intimidation, violence, or property damage motivated by hatred of the victim as a member of a particular group rather than as an individual. Shouting abuse in the street is a crime under the Public Order Act 1986. A hate incident is not criminal but may still offend and distress a member of a minority.

Here are the current Hate Crime Operational Guidelines, last reviewed in 2014, currently subject to a consultation. Dr Nathan Hall’s foreword (p1) makes the case for police involvement even when there is no crime: Regardless of how trivial an incident may appear initially, the actions or inactions of the police in response to that incident can have a significant impact on the way that the organisation is viewed by the community it serves.

Where there is no crime (p60) The police have limited powers in these circumstances, but should recognise that hate incidents can cause extreme distress to victims and communities and can be the precursor to more serious crimes.

Such incidents are discussed at pp60-63. Where another agency is responsible the police might not even formally record a “non-crime hate incident”- for example transphobic shouting in a school. Where no other agency is responsible, the police should record the incident. Any risks to the victim should be identified. Police forces should keep local statistics. The public may object, calling the police the “thought police” (a term from 1984), so the police should not overreact or breach the hater’s human rights.

Hate Crime on the Internet: see pp115-122. Making threats is a crime, and if the anonymous individual is in England, threatening someone in England, and can be identified then English courts have jurisdiction even if the servers are elsewhere.

There is a site, True Vision, on which to report hate crime including on the internet. Personal threats should be investigated.

Not all hate is criminal. On line, haters radicalise each other, and their hatred may spill over into real world harassment and intimidation, but criminalising the hatred is politically impossible. And while I would like the self-righteous hatred exhibited by such as WPUK rebuked, I find others called “extremists”, such as Extinction Rebellion, admirable, so don’t want criminal law to encroach too far. Yet I read that the vile Harry Miller tweeted personal abuse as well as the inanities quoted by the judge, so possibly he got away with his court action because of the evidence rather than the facts.