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.

6 thoughts on “Compassion for transphobes

  1. Oh, I feel sad to read this, particularly your last sentence: “My compassion is shrinking as I feel more constrained.”
    I’m sorry it is such struggle for you just now.
    One of the people I quoted, Paul Gilbert, talks about how when we are in overwhelmed and in need of extra compassion ourselves, it can be hard to feel compassion for others. And as always, I think any form of compassion has to start with self-compassion.
    Your point about dehumanizing is spot on. Nobody wants to believe they are doing it, yet almost everyone does sometimes, even if we just yell, “He’s a pig.” It’s so ingrained in our language that it goes by almost unnoticed, but I’ve become more and more aware of it.
    Thank you for sharing your perspective, maybe it will help some feminists who currently feel afraid to take a closer look at see that they are indeed just like you.


    • I am demanding compassion, for me and my kind. Others say they are not uncompassionate to us, but recognising the rights of others, so all the requirements compassion makes on them are fulfilled. I disagree. I recognise the value of compassion in bringing people together or in helping to accept and so release ones own hurt. £lsewhere you mentioned the Sedona method: I will look into that, as it looks self healing. With a particular feeling, which may be long lasting, they give three questions:
      Could I let this feeling go?
      Could I allow this feeling to be here?
      Could I welcome this feeling?
      I have been working on self-compassion, on letting go of some of the more outrageous demands of my inner critic, and on stopping fighting my feelings. And I have just posted on Melanie Phillips, whose simple shtick, from which she seems to make a good income, is to tell people who to hate, despise and fear (including, of course, trans people and our allies). It is hard to acknowledge anger, because it is often against things we cannot confront, they are too frightening- so we need a proxy for it, a cat to kick, a “pig” who does something offensive or an out-group to resent. Trans people are a good such outgroup, being weak, and easily represented as ridiculous and yet threatening. Quemcumque miserum videris hominem scias, said Seneca and the Royal Life Saving Society. Well, when you (everyone) see me in distress, recognise a fellow human being.


      • I hadn’t heard of Melanie Phillips, or possibly more accurately, if her name has come up, I’ve paid her no attention. I used to admire Germaine Greer, but that was long ago. She’s been ranting incoherently for a long time, angry for the sake of being angry. It sounds from what you say as if Melanie Phillips is similar. I feel that Greer is stuck in a sort of timewarp, clinging a time when she was relevant and wants to still be an important voice. In honesty, I’m quite ignorant of the plight of trans people. It’s not that I’ve been totally unaware of arguments, but I had thought that there was much more acceptance that you have been experiencing, probably because that’s what I mostly see in my social media feed, and the blogs etc I read – eg very liberal parenting magazines carrying stories about children whose parents are supportive towards their decisions to transition. So just by having this discussion, you’ve opened my eyes and made me think more about the difference between the circles I move in and the general public. Of course it’s obvious there is a difference, and with all the intolerance that’s surfacing in general lately, it’s bound to affect you.

        As to your point about “requirements compassion makes on them are fulfilled” – for people to think that way is totally misunderstanding compassion. We either feel compassion for all or it’s not true compassion, as far as I’m concerned. If I don’t feel compassion for all, then I’m creating “us and them” –  as you say, creating an outgroup. And I’m not immune to do doing this, sometimes I can lack compassion even towards people close to me, and of course even towards myself. I’m glad you’re working on self-compassion. It’s made such a difference to my life and continues to. Once upon a time, when I lacked any self-compassion, I would have read your comment and felt too guilty to reply. Instead of admitting my ignorance, I would have retreated into a self-protective shell, all the time not really protecting myself at all, because of the guilt. Guilt/shame and fear are also what cause many people to lash out or to stick to their point of view and not consider others.

        With the Sedona Method, start with welcoming or allowing the feeling. For me, that’s often all that’s needed and it then dissolves by itself. With some emotions and some situations, you need to do this over and over, because we are so used to resisting feelings that it’s almost automatic to do so. Small children don’t resist their feelings, but let them come and go, so we all know how to do it, we’ve just forgotten or more accurately had it drummed out of us, since most “negative” emotions are seen as undesirable or wrong. Some feelings, like you say, are long lasting and there can be an attachment to holding onto them, for all sorts of reasons, even when they cause us suffering.

        And anger is the emotion most often seen as wrong, which makes it such a challenging emotion to allow. That fear you mention is part of it, and for me, as well as feeing powerless to confront people, I used to feel terrified that if I allowed anger I would explode with rage. But actually suppressing anger was what created the rage and when I allowed anger, rage left. I found it hugely helpful to focus on how the emotion of anger felt in my body and discovered I could just be with it, not try to do anything about it, which released much of the fear. It’s the stories we tell ourselves when we’re angry that keep it burning, which is why focusing on the body is so powerful a way to release. And I find it much, much easier to take action when the anger has released. I’ve often found myself just calming saying something without even thinking about it. Hope this makes sense.


        • Yes.

          On fighting and suppressing emotions, it seems to me my desire to suppress came from a desire not to show a physical sign, and the struggle to suppress made physical signs of feeling- face changing, body tensing- more likely.


  2. I wish I had something of real tangible value to say. I’m sorry you are so sad, frustrated, and depressed. May we all work together to create safe places, even small ones, for people who feel judged or marginalized. Life is way too heavy to add hate.
    And may the constraints fall away and your compassion return and continue to grow. God’s peace…xoxox


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