There are disputes about trans women in women’s spaces, on the Left. If people on both sides can genuinely be reasonable, some reconciliation might be possible. And, if you can appear reasonable to ordinary people who don’t take much interest in trans rights issues, you can win them over: defeating the other side, who are the enemy.
In The Atlantic on 6 July, Helen Lewis wrote that JK Rowling’s views on gender are “compassionate”! Rowling “wrote about her sympathy for transgender victims”. You don’t want to read yet more analysis of Rowling’s screed. I have gone through it again to find all the bits which could be said to show compassion to trans people, and that is a footnote to this post which only people who really want to need read.
I thought, reading Lewis’ article, but that’s ridiculous. I went back to Rowling’s post. All her attacks are on “trans rights activists” who say completely ridiculous things, in her view. All the threat is from them. For someone who sympathises with Rowling’s position, she could appear compassionate to trans people, and ordinary people who don’t really care could be persuaded.
For reconciliation to be possible, trans people would want trans excluders to admit some obvious facts:
1. Trans women have self declaration already.
We have self-declaration formally under the Equality Act since 2010 but informally from medical treatment and the government response, giving documents indicating trans women are female, from decades before. I wanted a bank card in my female name for when I was dressed female, before I went full time, and when I produced evidence I was seeing a psychiatrist about transition I got one. I was in women’s spaces twenty years ago. So:
2. Trans women are in women’s spaces now, and if “predatory men” wanted to go there too by pretending to be trans, they could, now.
Predatory men have far easier ways of attacking women than pretending to be trans. And transition is not a whim: we agonise about it, and many of us fight it as long as we can.
3. Trans women are mostly harmless, and do not deserve collective punishment.
In any group there are a few bad apples. There are bad people in all the groups I am a member of: Scots, left-handed people, Quakers… Just as I should not be treated with suspicion as a Scot in England, so I should not be treated with suspicion as trans.
Trans excluders- gender critical people, is the term they use, might want trans people to agree certain propositions too:
1. Sex is real.
Well, yes, but what conclusions do you draw? In an attempt at reconciliation, I would want to get beyond the zero sum game. Emma Nicholson (and WPUK) want no trans women in the changing rooms at Marks and Spencers. That’s the last thing we should look at. “We were constantly triggered”, wrote Amy Dyess.
2. Concerns about detransition, medicalisation, and loss of fertility or sexual function matter.
Yes. Some people detransition. And, medical treatment liberates trans people. Possibly, trans people would seek hormones and surgery less desperately if we were accepted without it.
I am not the best person to state their “obvious facts”. There’s a lot of quibble-room.
Lewis’ last line is about Severus Snape, saying he was morally complex: “A bully, a victim, a villain, and a hero: human”. She says Millennial Potterheads, and people in the trans debate, see in black and white, where there are only shades of grey.
On 7 July, a trans woman called Kim Humphery wrote in the Guardian about how many feminists are trans allies. She writes that the media portray a vicious social media battle between trans and feminist activists, but in reality trans and feminist theory cross-fertilizes, and most feminists see trans as allies. She says feminist voices need to be heard on institutional responses to sex and gender, and we need to abandon “the dead-end of territory-claiming wars over biology and rights”.
It can’t be done through social media. Most newspapers won’t do it either.
These are all the parts of Rowling’s post that could possibly be read as trans-friendly. To me, she is merely hostile, attacking trans women who stand up for ourselves, or even tweet occasionally. Is she, from a position of bad faith, merely pretending to be reasonable? Could she convince those centrists who don’t really care?
The image in my mind is (Male Stereotype ALERT!) of James Bond in Casino Royale, trying to rescue Vesper Lynd from drowning. He can’t reach her. She slowly drifts away, vanishing in the murky water.
I write this without any desire to add to that toxicity. I think she failed to avoid it.
My interest in trans issues pre-dated Maya’s case by almost two years, during which I followed the debate around the concept of gender identity closely. I’ve met trans people, and read sundry books, blogs and articles by trans people, gender specialists, intersex people, psychologists, safeguarding experts, social workers and doctors, and followed the discourse online and in traditional media.
Here she portrays herself as a concerned, open-minded person listening to trans people.
She pictures eminently reasonable people with reasonable concerns, and claims they’re worried about a climate of fear that serves nobody – least of all trans youth – well. I’ve seen the horror and disgust transphobes have for children transitioning.
She’s not anti-trans, she would claim, she’s “worried about the new trans activism”. Creating a monster, the Trans Activist, she ties all trans women to it.
The writings of young trans men reveal a group of notably sensitive and clever people. The more of their accounts of gender dysphoria I’ve read, with their insightful descriptions of anxiety, dissociation, eating disorders, self-harm and self-hatred, the more I’ve wondered whether, if I’d been born 30 years later, I too might have tried to transition.
Trans men are “sensitive”, a “feminine” stereotype. She expresses sympathy with trans men, only to claim they are deluded.
I want to be very clear here: I know transition will be a solution for some gender dysphoric people, although I’m also aware through extensive research that studies have consistently shown that between 60-90% of gender dysphoric teens will grow out of their dysphoria. Again and again I’ve been told to ‘just meet some trans people.’ I have: in addition to a few younger people, who were all adorable, I happen to know a self-described transsexual woman who’s older than I am and wonderful. Although she’s open about her past as a gay man, I’ve always found it hard to think of her as anything other than a woman, and I believe (and certainly hope) she’s completely happy to have transitioned. Being older, though, she went through a long and rigorous process of evaluation, psychotherapy and staged transformation.
She has some trans friends, she says, but she uses her account of them to spread further myths about trans people.
If you could come inside my head and understand what I feel when I read about a trans woman dying at the hands of a violent man, you’d find solidarity and kinship. I have a visceral sense of the terror in which those trans women will have spent their last seconds on earth, because I too have known moments of blind fear when I realised that the only thing keeping me alive was the shaky self-restraint of my attacker.
I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others, but are vulnerable for all the reasons I’ve outlined. Trans people need and deserve protection. Like women, they’re most likely to be killed by sexual partners. Trans women who work in the sex industry, particularly trans women of colour, are at particular risk. Like every other domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor I know, I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men.
So I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe.
She never says any anti-trans campaigner, not even Maya Forstater, could be unreasonable. She’s only concerned for safety. There are predatory men, and trans activists, who are a threat. Trans women’s place in women’s spaces should be contingent and restricted because of women’s reasonable needs. “I want trans women to be safe” is not enough to be a trans ally, if you monster anyone who tweets occasionally, or asks to be in women’s spaces.
She is clearly hostile, and in bad faith, but would she convince people? Quite possibly.