Towards “Towards a Quaker View of Gender”

A Quaker view of gender should work towards inclusion, particularly of people whose inclusion now is contingent or insecure. As far as possible, we should see people as individuals, rather than as members of groups, or through the prism of particular characteristics. Where there is disagreement, we should first see what we agree about and what we have in common before delving into those disagreements, which can be painful and protracted. There is deep hurt and concomitant lack of trust, so we should work to show that all the hurt, and all the people involved, matter. We need threshing, and separate spaces so that all perspectives may be heard.

Gender is a social construct, and not innate. Margaret Mead investigated societies where both sexes would appear feminine to US gender expectations of the time, or both masculine, or the men feminine and the women masculine. Within one society, gender roles, stereotypes and attitudes can vary between different social classes or by skin colour.

Sexual differences are relevant. Women tend to be smaller and physically weaker than men, though there is an overlap. However culture, convention and the language people use may make sexual differences appear more or less important. It may not be possible to entirely strip away culture, to see those sexual differences, or any human characteristic, as it would be without any cultural influence at all.

The culture that we live in is invisible to us, like the air we breathe, simply normal, unless we make a sustained effort to bring it into the light. The culture privileges particular groups, and oppresses or marginalises others. It is particularly difficult for privileged people to see the oppression in their culture, which at first seems to them to be normal, unobjectionable and unquestionable.

Apart from the gametes they produce, there is no characteristic or trait of one sex which does not exist in the other, or which is not equally valuable or admirable in both.

One person cannot write “Towards a Quaker View of Gender”(TAQVOG) which, like “Towards a Quaker View of Sex” from which it takes its name, should point out oppression and seek liberation, so that the gifts and qualities of all people may be valued, and all people flourish so that the whole community flourishes. Each individual will have blind spots, which conceal from them the oppression or the gifts of another.

So I passionately desire anyone who can to write what they would wish included in TAQVOG. There are many blogs, magazines and organisations which might publish such pieces- I’d publish you on mine, whether I agree with you or not. Personal testimony is necessary, but also there are many involved in the disputes who are well qualified to analyse from an academic perspective, but might feel unwilling to tell personal experience. All kinds of responses have value.

I am a trans woman, and my fellow-feeling is first with trans women, then other trans and gender-variant folk, then with all affected by gender- which is everybody. First with trans women, whether considering transition, transitioning, or long transitioned, whatever they look like, in all their responses and needs including intimate and personal ones: because I know the terror and isolation I have felt and can still feel. If I were to write for TAQVOG, trans would be my first concern.

If one of us does wrong, deal with the wrongdoing, but don’t punish her for being trans as well, doubt that she is trans because of the wrongdoing, or judge all of us by that wrongdoing. If one of us does well, notice, welcome and recognise that, because we have potential which is not realised because of the difficulties of being trans. Don’t speculate about our genitals! Most of us want surgery, but waiting lists are long.

TAQVOG would not primarily be about trans people and trans issues. Around 0.1% of the population has transitioned to express themselves as another gender, but gender stereotypes, attitudes and roles oppress everyone to an extent. Perhaps 1% of the population have extreme difficulty with gender, either because of being particularly distant from the stereotypes or having a strong internalized tendency to see the world in gendered terms and judge themselves and others on conformity to those roles. Many trans women, for example, work hard to conform to male stereotypes before transitioning.

Instead it would primarily be about violence, and first violence against women: physical violence and coercive control, violence in the home, the workplace and public spaces, and the way women are inhibited from full participation in public spaces by the threat of violence. This includes physical violence by Quaker men. But it would be about all the violence, the cultural and structural violence which prevents people from valuing and developing their qualities because of gendered restrictions, including on men. This needs a wide range of personal testimony, and academic analysis which I am not qualified to make.

I got the idea of TAQVOG from an article entitled “Towards a Quaker View of Gender and Sex” in the Friends Quarterly, which I condemn, as I see it as tending to promote unjustified fear and exclusion of trans women. So it is important to me to quote a part I agree with, to show partial agreement is possible even between the most apparently opposing views, and because it summarises one of the most important issues TAQVOG would address:

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.

Though some societal expectations affirm some people, if we did this we could truly appreciate our diversity, and include everyone.

The human inner light lives on despite society’s expectations, and stripping away those layers is the way we fulfil these words of George Fox, from the Journal, Nickalls’ edition p263: “So the ministers of the Spirit must minister to the spirit that is transgressed and in prison, which hath been in captivity in every one, whereby with the same Spirit people must be led out of captivity up to God.” It is the same paragraph: that is how we “answer that of God in every one”.

This freedom is in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

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