Talking to Tories about Trans

I am not a Conservative. How should I approach my Tory MP about the Tory threat to trans rights? I could start with David Cameron: “Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative, I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative.” That’s the point. Tories should not interfere more than is necessary in people’s lives, and when people are enabled to thrive by a vibrant, tolerant society they may be conservative.

Jonathan Haidt argues conservatives have different moral values to liberals.

Liberals value care/harm, providing for people in need, more than Conservatives. Conservatives are wary of fairness/cheating. That, and the Conservative value of sanctity, might make him prone to listen to the trans excluders. Is the trans woman really a trans woman? Is she cheating? What about the sanctity of privacy? Is this fair to cis women? I might address these matters, but want to start on stronger, positive ground.

Cameron’s argument draws on the conservative value of an ordered society, with people contributing. I would argue that gender recognition is only symbolic, as trans people are accepted already under the Equality Act, and self-declare under ICD-10; but gender recognition certificates are a simple way to recognise that, and will be a symbol of acceptance. It is a cost-free way of showing trans people are accepted. Then we can be the stronger people in a stronger, more cohesive society, contributing members of the community. Haidt’s Authority/Subversion foundation may add to this: if the law is on the side of trans people, trans people are not breaking it. We went into women’s spaces before the law officially allowed us to. It adds to the moral weight of the law when it fits what society actually does. It weakens authority to make law which is widely ignored.

Cameron’s argument points towards loyalty. When gay sex was outlawed, gay men were outlaws. Now, they can be ordinary, loyal, patriotic people.

A Tory view of liberty, freedom from restriction rather than freedom to act, might be on our side, but it involves persuading him of our nature. Transition was what I wanted more than anything else in the world. People transition under great persecution, even the threat of death.

Then, I would refute arguments based on cheating. It is difficult to present female. How would you like it? No-one will go to all this trouble. No-one does now, when someone could use the Equality Act to pretend to be trans and access women’s spaces. Predatory men don’t bother asking permission or following rules. They predate, often with impunity.

If Haidt is right, I don’t think Tory views of morality get us very far, but would be grateful for any suggestions in the comments. However Michael Oakeshott’s ideal of conservatism (see below) is that government should do as little as possible. Then clearly it should not be policing toilets. If you accept that trans women after a genital operation should be allowed in women’s, how are you going to find out whether this trans woman is?

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I want to argue hate has no place in the modern Tory party. Trans people should not be a vilified minority. I wanted to distinguish Conservatism, which is proper to the Conservative party, from Nationalism, or the hatred of the other. Enoch Powell stepped over the line. He thought he had found a way to entice the workers to vote for him.

A week or two ago I fell into conversation with a constituent, a middle-aged, quite ordinary working man employed in one of our nationalised industries.

After a sentence or two about the weather, he suddenly said: “If I had the money to go, I wouldn’t stay in this country.” I made some deprecatory reply to the effect that even this government wouldn’t last for ever; but he took no notice, and continued: “I have three children, all of them been through grammar school and two of them married now, with family. I shan’t be satisfied till I have seen them all settled overseas. In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.”

I can already hear the chorus of execration. How dare I say such a horrible thing? How dare I stir up trouble and inflame feelings by repeating such a conversation?

The answer is that I do not have the right not to do so. Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that his country will not be worth living in for his children.

He gave that speech in April 1968. He remained a Tory MP, and quit his party in 1974 because he opposed it joining the European Community. He meets a man who talks of violence between black and white British people, and calls him a “decent, ordinary fellow Englishman”. He made the speech against the Race Relations Act 1968, which prohibited discrimination on the grounds of race, and gave a copy to his local TV station which sent a TV crew.

The most racist campaign for a Tory seat was in Smethwick in 1964, when the Tory candidate refused to disown the slogan “If you want a N— for a neighbour vote Labour”: “I would not condemn any man who said that,” he told the Times during his election campaign. “I regard it as a manifestation of popular feeling.”

Two years earlier, his Labour opponent had opposed the introduction of the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act, which sought to restrict the entry into Britain of black migrants from Commonwealth countries. “How easy to support uncontrolled immigration when one lives in a garden suburb,” the Tory sneered at the incumbent during the general election campaign.

The Brexit referendum was won on fear of immigrants, and the whole of the EU was conflated with specifically Polish immigrants, even with asylum seekers. Dominic Cummings’ statement to The Sunday Times was enthusiastic about directing hate towards trans people, as part of their “culture war”.

So Tories seem quite happy with hate. However, they try to conceal it. Powell’s insistence that his constituent was a “decent man” shows his desperation to pretend to decency himself, even as he talks of civil war. Of British equality legislation, only the Disability Discrimination Act was enacted under a Tory government.

So I would appeal to his hypocrisy. We are ordinary people, just living our lives. You would not call a culture war against us, with waves of hatred making our lives unbearable, even though we are harmless? Would you?

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Mrs Thatcher’s guide was Friedrich Hayek, who wrote in The Constitution of Liberty “Why I am not a Conservative”; but in 1956 the philosopher Michael Oakeshott wrote an essay “On Being Conservative,” published in “Rationalism in Politics”. How might that affect the argument?

His writing style has great charm. I imagine lolling in a leather armchair after a good dinner, with a liqueur, listening to his voice of reason.

My theme is not a creed or a doctrine, but a disposition. To be conservative is to be disposed to think and behave in certain manners; it is to prefer certain kinds of conduct and certain conditions of human circumstances to others; it is to be disposed to make certain kinds of choices.

The Conservative, in his account, has a virtue I find spiritually mature- to “delight in what is present rather than what was or what may be.” Where there is much to be enjoyed, and evident risk of loss, “men” will be conservative. The world has much to offer men who can only see it.

To be conservative, then, is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to Utopian bliss. Familiar relationships and loyalties will be preferred to the allure of more profitable attachments; to acquire and to enlarge will be less important than to keep, to cultivate and to enjoy; the grief of loss will be more acute than the excitement of novelty or promise.

Psychologists studying bias find loss aversion stronger than desire for gain. The profusion of his examples rolls over me like a wave. He distinguishes change and innovation: “change denoting alterations we have to suffer and innovation those we design and execute”. If we enjoy present reality, we become attached to it, and are averse to change, but can tolerate small and slow changes. The conservative is not an ardent innovator, and must be sure there will be improvement before he begins. “The disposition to be conservative is, then, warm and positive in respect of enjoyment, and correspondingly cool and critical in respect of change and innovation: these two inclinations support and elucidate one another.”

The Industrial Revolution might indicate Britain is not conservative. We seek to be “up-to-date” (his scare quotes) and relentlessly innovate. Workers will seek to improve their wages, and employers seek to improve the workers’ productivity. But in friendship, patriotism, and “conversation” (not sure what he means by that), and in hobbies, such as fishing, where one just enjoys doing it rather than do it to catch fish, people are conservative, enjoying passing the time.

Whenever stability is more profitable than improvement, whenever certainty is more valuable than speculation, whenever familiarity is more desirable than perfection, whenever agreed error is superior to controversial truth, whenever the disease is more sufferable than the cure, whenever the satisfaction of expectations is more important than the ‘justice’ of the expectations themselves, whenever a rule of some sort is better than the risk of having no rule at all, a disposition to be conservative will be more appropriate than any other.

We may innovate in projects, but the tools we use are the ones we are practised with, so our tool choice is conservative. And when rules are appropriate, as in cricket, we need certainty: the rules may be changed, but not radically, and only in the off-season. We are conservative of our routines.

Having established the general wisdom of conservatism, Oakeshott turns to politics. He says political conservatism is a disposition not a philosophy, requiring no particular beliefs, either in the Church of England or about human character. For the conservative, the government is an umpire, providing the rule of law. Let individuals pursue happiness and use their lives as they wish, and let well-known law deal with the inevitable conflicts.

His contrast is with socialism, where all human effort is directed in one direction, by dreamers who imagine they can arrange the world better.

The office of government is not to impose other beliefs and activities upon its subjects, not to tutor or to educate them, not to make them better or happier in another way, not to direct them, to galvanize them into action, to lead them or to co-ordinate their activities so that no occasion of conflict shall occur; the office of government is merely to rule. This is a specific and limited activity, easily corrupted when it is combined with any other, and, in the circumstances, indispensable. The image of the ruler is the umpire whose business is to administer the rules of the game, or the chairman who governs the debate according to known rules but does not himself participate in it.

Some conservatives “contend that there is absolute value in the free play of human choice, that private property (the emblem of choice) is a natural right, that it is only in the enjoyment of diversity of opinion and activity that true belief and good conduct can be expected to disclose themselves. But I do not think that this disposition requires these or any similar beliefs in order to make it intelligible.” Government is not concerned with moral right or wrong, just with keeping the peace.

Innovation may require new law. He suggests the law of copyright needed reform, but law should only be what the situation requires, and not for “the public good” or “social justice” (again, his scare quotes).

Government conducts foreign policy, should protect private property, and its only economic activity should be to maintain a stable currency, he says. Keynes had shown how harmful such views were. Again, he makes his contrast with the socialists, to whom “‘government’ appears as a vast reservoir of power which inspires them to dream of what use might be made of it”.

What I hope I have made clear is that it is not at all inconsistent to be conservative in respect of government and radical in respect of almost every other activity. And, in my opinion, there is more to be learnt about this disposition from Montaigne, Pascal, Hobbes and Hume than from Burke or Bentham.

Well. government should defend the country from attack, and work with other countries for peace. Government should act in the interests of all when common action for the common good is worthwhile- liberal governments instituted public education in England, but Disraeli, a Conservative, made it compulsory, and the Conservative government of Lord Salisbury, lauded by Roger Scruton for doing almost nothing while in office, established local education authorities with the power to charge local taxes. Church schools were subsidised by government, but had to meet uniform standards.

Law governed morality in a way Oakeshott appears to condemn, making gay sex illegal. That required a Labour home secretary’s reform.

I find his writing charming, but unpersuasive; but it might help me in talking to a Tory. And this concept of government being an umpire would exclude Hate, which I particularly want to exclude. Oakeshott’s conservatives would permit trans people, and seek no great restrictions on us. They would not fan the flames of hatred of immigrants or queers.

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I am not sure about the questions to ask. The ministerial statement is slippery. Liz Truss said, “First of all, the protection of single-sex spaces, which is extremely important”. Elizabeth Berridge said, “This Government has been clear that we must take the right steps to protect safe single-sex spaces for women and girls; their access should not be jeopardised”. I would argue that trans women should be allowed in to women’s spaces, and excluded if the trans woman, herself, does something objectionable meriting exclusion, as a cis woman would be excluded. Truss has not yet stated what the “right steps” might be.

Should single sex spaces be protected?
From what or whom?
What about a trans woman like me. I’ve been transitioned more than ten years. Should I be excluded?
If so, from where? What good would that do?
What about a trans woman like I was just before I went full time. I had not seen a psychiatrist yet. Should such a trans woman be in women’s spaces?
Would you agree trans rights are human rights?
Would you agree trans women are women?
What about trans children? Should their treatment be a matter for specialist psychiatrists, or should the law intervene?
The Sunday Times’ alleged government source referred to “hippie quack doctors”. Do you think that appropriate language to refer to a professional person?
Mr Starmer talks of “a mature cross-party conversation”.

LGBT Conservatives said,

An opportunity for sensible reform has soured and created a toxic atmosphere. Many trans people now fear for their safety and future.

The Government must make clear beyond doubt its commitment to equality for all trans people. Streamlining the GRA is welcome but it must also give assurances that it will not tinker with the Equality Act (which will negatively affect all women), and be clear about any change to the current protections for young people.

The Minister for Equalities has said that all trans adults should be “free to live their lives as they wish without fear of persecution”. The LGBT+ groups of all major UK parties call on the Government to back that with action.

They backed the cross party LGBT statement, but oddly, their account of it is shorter than that on the Lib Dem page. However they have useful demands:

We urge the Minister for Women and Equalities to:
Meet with the representatives of this broad political coalition to hear our position on trans equality
Rule out any revisions to the Equality Act 2010 or any restrictions on trans young people’s access to healthcare
Publish a timeline for legislation for meaningful reform of the GRA in line with recommendations of the Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry and the results of the Government’s consultation.

9 thoughts on “Talking to Tories about Trans

    • We should get a proposal before the recess, which begins on 22 July.

      My MP would not give his views. I asked him if single sex spaces should be protected and he said he was “listening to views”. He did not think “hippie quack doctors” was appropriate language to refer to professionals- he was happy to add to that, talking of how they have spent a long time qualifying. I had to tell him what I thought, and he said he would include my views in his discussions with ministers, but would not let me know their responses.

      He did think law and politics should govern medical treatment of trans children, though, not just medical judgment.

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  1. This was a very well written piece however, Clare. I have serious trouble with talking to Tories in my own family.. Nowadays l try not to do so mostly. They recognise my daughter in theory, in a rather ‘my children don’t have mental health issues’ patronising way (though it was only the bossy sister who said that awhile back, to be honest). They have spoken to her on the phone for eg, but l don’t trust that they would step up to any of this recent stuff, really

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      • My daughter thought that all of us would reject her & my mother most of all, but she was wrong there and my mother who was always fearful of people not like her (ie black people when we were kids; she had a copy of Enoch Powell’s book which l hid then threw away!) and who voted Tory her whole life (so that when we lived together after Dad died we actually joked about our votes cancelling out eachothers) though she did mellow somewhat in her old age to the point that she felt all politicians were a shower, which l couldn’t entirely disagree with (except for JC – the best thing since Harold Wilson [who was my MP at college & why l joined] IMHO) until Brexit etc. when she then went over to the Lib Dems.. People can surprise you! My Father spoke of some of those Tory principles you mention, was always a fan of Lloyd George who he also quoted, but always maintained that what he voted was private, so I don’t know for sure! My ‘difficult’ sister has canvassed for the Tories and still thinks l need educating into her way of thinking.. and the other one sits on the fence.

        I feel that the fear of making hereself unacceptable to those who loved her stopped my daughter coming out too.

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        • My spiritual awakening. Valuing myself and valuing my femaleness came together for me. My “nervous breakthrough” came when I became aware of my vulnerable bit, which I saw was my real self, and was feminine. I still ran from it, for a time, but eventually I stopped trying to “make a man of myself”.

          Liked by 1 person

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