Why would Quakers oppose trans inclusion? Liz Truss, say, might oppose it as an authoritarian, wanting conformity, as a nationalist, seeking out enemies, and as a Conservative tactician, desiring to sow dissention on the Left, but these motives do not apply to the Quaker anti-trans campaigners I know.
The Quaker case against trans inclusion is founded in love and human need. As a trans woman who disagrees, I may be the best person to put it. If we are to reach unity on this matter, that case needs heard and addressed. A Friend complained that Friends seeking trans exclusion based their case on apparently rational argument, rather than feeling. If the feeling were expressed she might be able to sympathise; but it is too much to ask people to express their feeling, at least in a meeting for worship.
The case against trans inclusion is based in experience, and accounts are readily available on line. Everyone knows some of it. We all know women who have had violent, abusive partners or sons. A Quaker told me her Quaker husband hit her, and other Quaker women, talking quietly and privately, have told me they know of cases too.
There is the experience of women afflicted by gender stereotypes, girls brought up not to be too forward, to be caring of others’ feelings, not to put their wants first. At puberty men want sex from them, and won’t take no for an answer. Experience varies. I have hints of it- after transitioning aged 35, when I was not read as trans men might abuse me as a “whore” or a “slut” when I did not do as they wanted, touch my bottom, come on to me, call out to me in the street. One woman told me of not being given any tools to deal with sexual demands, of men grudgingly accepting the excuse “I already have a boyfriend”- that is, not that she objected but that another man might. There are experiences of assault and rape.
There is deep hurt and anger at being devalued as human beings. Such hurt may be too great to express in a business meeting, too great a threat to self-respect. It is one thing to express ones hurt in order to win others over, and achieve a result, and quite another to express hurt, and gain nothing, for it to be judged insufficient. Take care what humiliation you ask of Friends. I express my hurt to Friends if I know I will receive sympathy, understanding, and the help I want. I do not want to express hurt so others may experience my emotion vicariously and still speak against me. Expressing anger is more fraught, as it may provoke opposition.
And then there is delight, of coming home to our tribes. We talk of “Coming Home to Friends”, finding people amongst whom we perfectly fit. I first had that feeling around 1990 with Mensa, when I highly valued my intellect and devalued or ignored my emotional intelligence. Then I had the same feeling with the Sibyls, a Christian spirituality group for transgender people, when I was considering transition. Other Friends have this feeling in feminist circles. There is a sense of being free: with no men, the long ingrained habit of deferring to men falls away and you can speak up. Women “listen each other into existence”, blossoming as they value each other, finding their voices as they are heard. There is solidarity around sharing a female reproductive system, with its pain, delight, taboos and vulnerability.
There is the sense that trans women are men, and that men in these spaces diminish that sense of support and solidarity. There is revulsion at trans men’s medical treatment, and fear that these are teenage girls, rejecting oppressive femininity and having womanhood stolen from them.
After the feelings, come the logical arguments. Women need single-sex spaces for reasons of privacy and vulnerability, and just as men should not be in those spaces neither should trans women, because trans women are men. They may resist the term “trans women”, preferring “trans-identified male”. The Woman’s Place UK Manifesto talks of “sex-based” rights and “single-sex” spaces without once mentioning trans people.
I think my needs should be taken into account too, because I could no more not be trans, not be a trans woman, than these women could not be cis women. However, that is disputed, in the long, rational arguments that people hone amongst themselves.
It is my feeling that those women who do not tolerate trans women in women’s spaces are particularly far from the feminine gender stereotypes. This is disputed: they might say that feminine gender stereotypes are merely oppressive, and fit no-one. Whatever, my own perception of their gender variance is at the heart of my sympathy for their need. They might object to my language, talking not of “trans exclusion” but “the need for single-sex spaces”- for them, treating trans women with respect and dignity and giving us equal rights does not mean admitting us to women’s spaces; however changing my language in that way is a step I cannot take, because I too have needs and value.
Others can express their need better than I can; but I don’t think they should be required to. God is Love, requiring that all of us are valued.
Practically, the only question for Quakers is around a few room hires. However, for some women, trans women in women’s spaces become a symbol of sexism, patriarchy and oppression, of their needs and desires being discounted. It becomes personal, linked to experience of violence and trauma, even the single most important feminist issue. The British government is moving against all work for equality, and opposing trans rights for them is a way of putting the Left in disarray.
Quakers are seeing that the testimony to equality requires us to become more aware of privilege- white privilege, male privilege, class privilege and cis privilege among others. I don’t think my needs should be discounted either, because trans people are vulnerable too. Ceasing to meet in person, the difficult issue of trans rights is off the British Quaker agenda, but Quakers should be standing up for trans rights, which requires addressing these issues.