Though a few Quakers are viciously and closed-mindedly transphobic, most transphobia among Quakers comes from arrogance or ignorance, and a failure to see privilege, rather than hate. The Friends Quarterly has printed a transphobic article, because the transphobe has disguised her hatred. In this post I analyse the article, and illustrate the hate. This is a content warning. If you feel able to bear a gaslighter pretending her transphobia is speaking out for vulnerable cis women, read her quotes below. But as trans people will spot the transphobia immediately, this post is mainly for Quakers who might wonder what the fuss was. These well-intentioned souls may be asking, “Who, me? Surely I am never transphobic?”
First, what the anonymous transphobe says, that I completely agree with.
I feel led to work to dismantle the imposition of gender, hoping to free both males and females from the gendered expectations our society imposes.
And later she writes,
It is of vital spiritual importance that we explore society’s expectation of us on the basis of our sex, as well as other characteristics and experiences. It is by slowly stripping away these layers that we are able to listen to the still small voice inside.
Yes. That is what I mean by “gender assigned at birth”- from birth, you are treated differently according to how you are perceived as male or female. If you wear a gender-neutral babygro, strangers will demand to know your name so they can decide whether to gush that you are “strong” or “pretty”. Unfortunately, she claims her opposition to the gender binary is “by contrast” to non-binary people, whom she calls “male” and “female”. Trans and non-binary people subvert gender. The transphobe inhibits that, by diverting energy into excluding trans people. She claims there is “a conflict between trans-inclusion, feminism, and liberation from gender roles and stereotypes”. There need not be.
The article is entitled “Towards a Quaker view of gender and sex”. I recoil from that title. Towards a Quaker view of sex was designed to promote inclusion. This is designed to drive away trans people, and particularly trans women.
Is she transphobic? She writes, “When I am called “cis” I recoil. I feel nauseous.” Well, cis is the usual opposite to trans, as in translunar and transalpine, not just transgender. The nausea at an ordinary word used by trans people may indicate transphobia. There are other indications in the article. She pretends not to be: “I wholeheartedly hope that all who identify as transgender are welcomed into our Meetings with love, as I hope that I myself will also be welcomed.” She never says trans women should be treated as women, or allowed in women’s space, in any circumstance.
In this context, the “Discussion Question” at the end of the issue, inserted by the editors, may give cover to transphobia. They ask readers to “Consider how we can be inclusive and welcoming of trans Friends living their gender truthfully”. I marched at Pride in London with one of the editors, and though I do not know the other imagine she does not think she is transphobic. However, I fear some people will use the question to assert that trans women should be treated as clearly “not-women” in some way, distrusted or excluded from anything any other woman visiting might enter without question, or see being “inclusive” and “welcoming of trans Friends” as in some way in tension. Few Quakers are inclusive enough to know all the ways they exclude trans people, and if you want to know that, ask trans people, not people who don’t know their own privilege.
Some Quaker meetings do not even have separate men’s and women’s toilets, and for almost all purposes we welcome people without consciously treating them as a member of a specific sex or gender. There is no harm in allowing a trans woman to use women’s loos in a meeting house. If there is a specific women’s group meeting at a meeting house, either arranged by the meeting or hiring a room, the Quakers should question the need if that group seeks to exclude trans women, or speaks against trans women.
The writer’s central lie is that “women’s single-sex spaces (eg refuges and prisons)” might be “forced to admit anyone who self-identifies as a woman (ie someone who says they are a woman)”. It ignores the scandal of eleven trans women assaulted in male prisons last year, and that many prisoners are held in conditions that fall short of what most members of the public would consider as reasonable or decent. But “someone who says they are a woman” diminishes and denigrates the soul-searching and terror we go through before transition. For years I was terrified of transition, until my horror at not transitioning became even greater. This is not something people do on a whim.
The editors agreed to the writer being anonymous. She uses her anonymity to attack a vulnerable minority, and also to increase her victimhood. She says, “I am still in disbelief that I am afraid to write under my own name”, and later that she writes anonymously “in order to protect the organisation I work for”. These claims should not have been allowed to be made unchallenged. I see through her false victimhood. I fear ordinary Quakers will not. She writes,
Lesbian Friends… feel coerced into colluding with the redefinition of themselves as people who are also attracted to male-bodied people who define themselves as women, though they know this not to be true. In contrast, there is no evidence of any pressure on male heterosexuals to redefine their sexual orientation.
Well, it’s not all lesbians. Lesbians working with Stonewall and the LGBT Foundation support trans people. Many heterosexual men make endless derisive, mocking or contemptuous assertions that trans women are men, and trans people are generally powerless to resist that. Such men often pretend to be allies to “vulnerable women” rather than persecutors of harmless trans women. And I fear she exaggerates “pressure” on lesbians. If a trans woman forces herself on a lesbian, I hope Quakers and trans women would all support the lesbian resisting. But, I get peeved by assertions on line that lesbians would never have sex with trans women- they imply that lesbians who do are not lesbian, for one thing- and if someone you’ve never heard of tweets that such an assertion is transphobic, block them, rather than make this claim of victimhood.
Her whole article is full of claims of victimhood. The claim that she is a victim of trans women is intended to make others take action against us, imagining they are defending a victim. She talks of single-sex services throughout, but fails to distinguish between them. Even I agree there might be a debate to be had, in the case of the service for female asylum seekers who have suffered sexual violence, but to read the article there is no distinction between that and any shop changing room, however private. That is the position the Tory Government may take, suddenly excluding trans women from spaces where we have been for decades. That is the threat Quakers should be concerned about.
Her single-sex service for women seeking asylum does not accept male volunteers, because men commit most sexual and violent crime. She has not had any trans women volunteer, but she fears one might in order to use Equality legislation to shut them down. She puts this case clearly:
For many of the deeply traumatised women I work with, what they see is a man. Their physiological response, their fear or panic, is real. They do not feel safe, regardless of the gender identity of the person before them.
She does not believe that women should be educated to turn off this response. Well, that’s arguable, but it creates a difficulty: when someone feels unsafe around me, I have to be excluded. Fortunately Women’s Aid are already supporting trans women.
She makes no distinction between her service for traumatised women, and, say, toilets and clothes shop changing rooms. She writes, “My belief is that it is reasonable and proportionate in our society for women who need it to have access to limited single-sex services.” At no point does she consider that trans women might be included anywhere, or suggest that there is a difference between that clothes shop and the refugee service. If Quakers are to exclude trans women from a refugee service, they must make a clear distinction and be clear why.
I often see it asserted that some, usually women, are rejecting trans people when they express the belief that women may have specific needs and may experience discrimination specifically on the basis of their sex, rather than their gender identity…. They are accused of lacking kindness…. Love is not the same as kindness.
When younger, she claims, she would have argued that “transwomen” should be included in a Women’s Centre. But there was an anguished debate: “So you would just let in anyone who said they were a woman, even if they had a male body and genitalia?” The emphasis on genitalia is designed to increase fear and disgust. To reach her current view, she claims, “It took years of listening to others with female bodies, whose experiences of males are such that all they can see is the ocean of darkness that can be mankind”. She claims to have been persuaded, as if that means anyone else should be persuaded likewise, or she has thought especially hard about this so her word should have more weight. This claim is spurious.
I hope a women’s centre could have some activities, perhaps a choir, or a discussion group, where trans women might be included. Particularly I might want to join in political activities for women’s rights. Women’s rights matter to me. We are stronger when we work together. But she says her position is not prejudice or hatred towards males, nor transphobia. Both the asylum-seekers she serves and British born women need single-sex services because of pervasive sex crime, she says, and this can be read to require driving me out of a public toilet.
Rather than coming out and making assertions, she tries to hide behind questions. “How, as Friends, do we behave and speak, not kindly, but with ‘radical truthfulness’ and ‘radical unconditional commitment’ towards everyone? Both, for example, the women who need single-sex spaces and the trans women requesting entry to those spaces?” Well, by giving no encouragement to unjustified fear of trans women, for one thing. And, we’re there already. She seeks a change, to exclude us, but I have been in women’s space, including feminist campaigning spaces, for years. If anyone hasn’t seen us, it is because there are so few of us, and some of us pass as cis.
The language of the article emphasises the victimhood of [non-trans] women, but there is no suggestion that trans women are vulnerable. So “trans-rights campaigning organisations are demanding”, but there is a “concern” about “women as a disadvantaged group”. She is “afraid” and “in tears,” claiming “Our central bodies do not trust our processes enough to allow a space for true discernment”. She claims to be acting in “Love” for all, including trans people, though she says this is not the same as “kindness”. [Cis] women are the victims of sexual crimes and violent crimes, “the ocean of darkness that can be mankind”. “Women arrive visibly terrified.” People who say trans people might be included are “coming from a place of privilege”.
The language emphasises the alleged reasonableness of the trans-excluding position, and portrays the argument for trans inclusion as contemptible. She writes of “the complexities” of her perspective, but the ignorance and carelessness of trans allies: “Some believe, as I do, that, in the context of systemic male violence, there is a potential conflict between transgender people’s rights and women’s rights if women’s single-sex spaces (eg refuges and prisons) are forced to admit anyone who self-identifies as a woman (ie someone who says they are a woman), regardless of their sex… Other Friends believe that this perspective arises from hate and fear of trans people and is hence transphobic and unacceptable.”
Well, most trans allies would accept there are occasions when “someone who says they are a woman” might be excluded from women’s spaces, but our position is portrayed as entirely without nuance. “Forced to admit”- the language of force and violence is applied to those supporting trans inclusion. “Conflict between transgender people’s rights and women’s rights” as if trans people can never be women, nor both could be accommodated. “Someone who says they are a woman” trivialises the anguish we go through before making the decision to transition.
She ends with a long analysis of Quaker Faith and Practice 20.71. I agree with much of this: yes, there are difficult disputes where Quakers should take great care. She does not argue, so much as insinuate, that her trans-excluding position is one such. That passage contradicts much of what she says: for example, it insists on being clear about naming issues, but she refuses us our words, nauseous at “cis”, insisting on “transwomen” rather than “trans women”. A “trans woman” is, for social purposes, a woman, as in many societies over millennia, as in Britain for fifty years, with me using women’s spaces freely and without harm. A “transwoman” is claimed to be something different.
Slave trading Quakers could not, in the end, block minutes against slavery and this woman and her small, passionate clique should not block minutes for trans inclusion. The article should not have been published, because it creates a false controversy, and works to exclude trans people from the spaces where we have been for decades. Therefore it will make trans people feel unwelcome at Quaker meetings.
And yet the editors put the article in. They are not consciously transphobic, but they enable their publication to be used to spread intolerance of trans people. Like most Quaker acts tending to exclude vulnerable minorities, it was done unintentionally and inadvertently. I would advise a trans woman to very carefully check out whether she is really welcome in a Quaker meeting, before trusting it. It is so much more painful to be rejected by those we trusted.
There’s a quote from the editors on the cover: “On our journey to that place of loving inclusion, we may need to become aware of our own prejudices and privileges, for we all carry them- identifying them is the most important part.” They’re right there. They also include an excellent article from Nim Njuguna, about diversity in general, arguing that diversity “is a Quaker spiritual and moral imperative”. His article says how allies can be problematic, and is trans-inclusive. As a Black man, he may have learned by hard experience that he needs to be friendly. “Those who yearn for something different and authentic, knowing we are not where we need to be, should be enthused by knowing that we belong to a society of people who have a long history of interrupting the cycle of oppression by going against the grain.” He encourages privileged Quakers by picking out all the good in them, as well as pointing out difficulties.
I got the issue because my own article is in it, about the diversity and inclusion gathering. As well as my own lived experience as a trans woman and the arguments for inclusion, I took pains to express clearly and persuasively as I could some trans-excluding arguments, and gave links for other sources for them. I would not have done so had I known such a disingenuous transphobe would also be published. I fear some Quakers, ignorant of the issues, may take the anonymous article seriously.