Cis privilege

Whom do you value? Do you value anyone more than others?

Probably you do. You might care more about your family than some random stranger you meet. You could show empathy hearing that stranger’s hurts, but might not take action to rectify them. You care more about people of your town or your country than those further away. McLurg’s Law makes sense: “The newsworthiness of a disaster diminishes in proportion to the disaster’s distance from the newsroom.” Even if you express it in more familiar form, “One dead Briton is worth 1000 dead Chinese,” it evokes queasy recognition. I care a lot about a murder in my town. I don’t know if I use the products of “re-education camps” of Uighurs.

We don’t notice social rules until they are pointed out to us, any more than a fish notices water. Privilege is unconscious in most people- white, male, able-bodied, straight, educational, class, thin, cis privilege gains people advantage. The disprivileged automatically defer. The privileged assume leadership.

With safe spaces amongst themselves, the disprivileged can find their power. The privileged can move from unconsciously assuming power in any interaction to relating as equals and allies, but that takes sustained effort. Without such effort, both privileged and disprivileged value the privileged more. For the privileged, it is much easier to pretend that you seek equality- “I don’t see colour”- than to work for it.

Sometimes there are zero-sum games. I remain haunted by a trivial interaction which symbolises so much for me. In the Quaker meeting I sit beside the elder, a Black man, and when we go to shake hands at the end of the meeting our hands slip past each other, because neither of us performs the unconscious deferential act of looking down to see they will meet. A Black man, a trans woman, both disprivileged, both welcome in a Quaker meeting which has a testimony to equality and where both are valued.

One or both, momentarily, subconsciously glancing down in a handshake, sets the relationship between them.

There is a feminist case for trans exclusion. Some cis women might be scared by trans women. The answer is to care for both, because both are vulnerable, not to exclude the trans woman automatically.

Beyond that, it is necessary for feminists to pay attention to female empowerment, to be the safe space where the disprivileged- women- claim their power. This is the root of the feminist trans-excluders’ different attitudes to trans men and trans women. Trans men are seen as mutilated victims fooled into having their breasts removed. Trans women might be grudgingly tolerated if they have had their testicles removed.

On claiming your power you may feel anger at the oppression you have unconsciously facilitated. Fully feeling and accepting the anger, grief and hurt helps us move into our power as autonomous individuals. The anger can then be energy for nonviolent resistance. It ceases to be something you must suppress, creating an inner conflict which disempowers you.

However, intersectional feminism recognises that there are additional problems for Black, disabled, queer, fat, or lower class women in comparatively privileged women’s spaces. We have to consider the disprivilege of all.

Cis privilege is clearest where men, attempting to be allies of feminists, bully trans women. Elliot would not have brooked any argument. Had I accepted that for some purposes I might be seen as a man, he would have insisted that I forego women’s spaces, then stop expressing myself as female or using a feminine name online. He can feel righteous ignoring my needs because he thinks he is standing up for women. This is called “white-knighting”. Graham Linehan is a more famous example. White knights can feel they are allies while suffering no reduction in their own privilege or status. Linehan told a House of Lords committee that his anti-trans activism had caused “such a strain that my wife and I finally agreed to separate”.

Cis privilege is intensely disputed when feminist anti-trans campaigners seek to exclude trans women. For some, we are men, a threat, the privileged people who must be rebelled against for women’s empowerment. Their campaign is discredited, at least among people in favour of equality, if trans women are also disprivileged. So the anti-trans campaigners are keen to show that we are not worthy of sympathy, by dwelling on the violence of individuals, or spreading the discredited myth of autogynephilia– claiming we are male sexual perverts.

Anyone interested in equality should seek to be conscious of the workings of privilege and to subvert it. Anyone seeking the right way forward on trans rights should be aware of the good points of the opposing position, in order to find common ground. Quakers seeking unity should value all the people involved, and not simply discount any individual or any view. Feminist anti-trans campaigners are seeking liberation from their own disprivilege through denial of trans women’s: their goal is just, their route is not.

Comment policy

I am a trans woman, and a feminist. I want freedom for people to be who we are, our best selves. This means women safe from male violence, and space for trans people to flourish.

Some feminists are campaigning against trans recognition, encouraged by Rupert Murdoch and Liz Truss. If the campaign succeeds, it will entrench gender stereotypes and the demonisation of minorities, both right wing goals, and in the meantime it causes dissention on the left.

What value have comments, at their best?

They can be a dialogue between very different views. Sometimes this brings people together.

Or, they can add useful details at the end of a post.

Comments praising my writing are always welcome.

Sometimes, a person’s comments are merely repetitive. After this, I produced my comment rule, “Don’t bore me”. The rule is, if you are saying the same thing over and over again, eventually I will start deleting.

Comments can be damaging, as well. I permit anti-trans comments here. I worry that they will set off trans folks’ internalised transphobia, or make trans folk more afraid than they need be of the transphobia and violence of the wider community. But, there is a lot of transphobia on my blog: you have to discuss it to end it. I hope that my trans readers will not be too hurt by this blog, though I notice how trans people share transphobic content in trans groups. We are discussing it, but we are letting it poison us too.

I hope my discussion of transphobia serves a useful purpose- showing how it is transphobic, showing how to counter it. Also I want to foster a dialogue. I want the wonderful energy of the anti-trans campaigners to be directed to feminist causes, in the interests of cis women and giving a space to trans women; and I want them to see trans men as people capable of knowing themselves and making their own choices, not silly women who don’t know their own minds.

Sometimes, keeping anti-trans comments shows their pathology: this comment is disgusting. I edited it to point up how disgusting it is. I left Mark’s words as he had written, in the first comment, but added my introduction, clearly marked: when I edit comments, it is clear what are my words and what the commenter’s. When he replied, I deleted some of his protests. I have a right to do this, because this is my blog. He had shown how disgusting he is, and there was no point in more verbiage just showing the same thing.

Sometimes comments put an anti-trans point of view. Nicola has stated her suffering and what she blames. I allow that. There might be the possibility of dialogue, and growing trust.

If there is to be dialogue, there has to be trust. My editing or deleting comments might reduce trust. I have a feeling that courtesy may be of value, especially between opponents, but can’t put a rule into words. “Don’t be an arse,” perhaps. Wikipedia has a lot of wisdom about communicating well, but it also has the common purpose of producing an encyclopaedia, and anything which does not serve that purpose may be deleted. Commenters here may have all sorts of purposes.

I am not particularly interested in long arguments showing I am bad. Don’t call me an idiot, a hypocrite, discourteous or arrogant, not even if you quote me to prove this to your own satisfaction. Sometimes I leave it, sometimes I don’t.

I enforce rules more stringently on cis men than on others. Cis white males are privileged. Gender critical women commenting are disprivileged, and I feel their speaking up for themselves as they see it helps overcome that, even though they are speaking up against my rights as a trans woman. Their cis male allies are privileged. They seek to be allies of cis women, and that shows they are aware of their privilege and trying in some way to compensate for it, but they need to learn more about the way their privilege is oppressive. When they attempt to be allies, it’s all about them, and it makes them feel justified in bullying trans people- that is, enforcing their privilege on another disadvantaged group.

This blog is part of the liberation struggle of disadvantaged groups. Comments which would frustrate that aim may be edited and mocked. My decision is final.

I also share art. Now, I am sharing portraits of Elizabeth I.

Trans Rights at the Green Party Conference

The Green Party of England and Wales conference, ended today, has supported trans rights. They passed this, which will now be part of their policy document:

RR531 The Green Party believes that trans, non-binary, genderqueer, third gender and intersex people should have their gender legally recognised and be empowered to update their birth certificate and any other official documents, without medical or state encumbrance. We support the right for individuals to update their legally recognised gender by self-determination, the only requirement being a statutory declaration, to how they would describe their gender, including having the option to change their name on all documents.

A similar paragraph came up at the Autumn 2020 conference. “Self-declaration” has been replaced by “self-determination”, because declaration might imply choice, and we are who we are. But “without requiring approval from a doctor or a judge” has been replaced by “the only requirement being a statutory declaration”. A statutory declaration has a penalty of perjury for falsehood. The new version adds the bit about changing the name on documents. In 2002, my university agreed to give me a degree certificate in my new name.

When Theresa May announced her proposal in 2017, that was what I hoped the law would be. We are not ill. ICD11, which comes into force next year, acknowledges we are not ill. To require us to produce a letter from a specialist psychiatrist stating that we are not ill in a particular way is ridiculous. Unfortunately, the Tories have moved even to the right of Theresa May, and believe culture war is a good way for them to retain power.

The Green Party also passed a motion to recognise trans parents on their children’s birth certificates as father or mother appropriate for their gender.

However, they have a large number of anti-trans obsessives, as if their main aim was ending trans rights rather than stopping the climate disaster. They had motions

  • To prevent medical treatment for trans children, disingenuously titled “To prevent irreversible damage to children with gender dysphoria”. They also had an emergency motion to prohibit GenderGP from operating in the UK, when the High Court has stopped the NHS from providing treatment.
  • To “ensure gender and sex are not conflated” by mandating misgendering of trans women in all government data, forcing the disclosure of birth sex of trans people.
  • To kick trans women out of women’s sports, claiming that women have “physically diminutive stature and strength”.

There was also an amendment proposed to RR531 which would have turned its meaning around. With this level of obsession, anyone would think the climate was absolutely fine.

Siân Berry, the co-leader and London mayoral candidate, was delighted. So was Caroline Russell, member of the London Assembly.

Unfortunately, a large minority voted against trans rights at the conference: about 230 of just over 500 voting. Shahrar Ali, their home affairs speaker, tweeted darkly about “things that move us away from recognising truth and reality”. It is as if he cannot see the truth before his eyes, that trans people exist, that we always have done, and that trans recognition increases freedom by subverting gender stereotypes. He moved the motion against GenderGP. Ali says this is about child safeguarding.

I am a trans woman. I would have hoped that the Green Party would support trans rights because trans people are a harmless minority. Unfortunately, some people are riled up to prevent trans rights, and become obsessive as if this was the most important issue in politics. I am glad the Green Party voted the right way, and appalled that so many Greens wanted to waste time persecuting trans people.

Quakers and God

Do British Quakers believe in God? What might that mean?

Ours is an experiential faith. We have spiritual experiences which we share. They start as peak experiences, a moment of wonder, and become integrated into our daily lives. We develop language to communicate them to each other, and it appears they are similar for each person. They include a sense of presence in the moment when all the senses are heightened; a sense of the unity of all that is, and of being my own part of it; and a sense of being suffused by love, which some might call the love of God.

Then there are the spiritual experiences we have together. We know of the gathered meeting, where we are together in our spiritual experience, and of unity, where we come together to know what is right, what some call God’s loving purposes. Our worship is not meditation, but a common endeavour. It’s not like sitting in a waiting room. We know we may sometimes feel “angry, depressed, tired or spiritually cold”, but the effort of- whatever it is that we do, in worship- is worthwhile.

If you attend Quaker Quest meetings, you will have heard the phrase “for me”, for Quakers have all sorts of opinions, and a wide range of disagreement, and I have the temerity here to speak “for us”. We share practices with quite complex rules, and experiences. Then we ask what is behind them, and disagree wildly.

Some of us believe in God almost as in the creed, or in the Christian concept of the trinity, or different ideas of God. Some of us, like me, are materialists. I believe I am an evolved creature in a random universe. I don’t know how life could come to be through non-living chemical processes but I believe that is in principle knowable. I don’t think consciousness is in itself spiritual, but a manifestation of the mammalian brain.

Our understandings of God are not hypotheses in the scientific sense, capable of making predictions or being proved wrong by evidence, but stories. They are stories created by some of the finest human minds, addressing common spiritual experiences, progressing from a God who demanded Abraham’s son as a sacrifice to a God who offered God’s own son to die for us.

It is my perception that British Quakers squabble less than we did over these beliefs. Some of us argued it was ridiculous for someone who did not believe in God to belong to a Religious Society. My Friend answered that: “The question is not why we join a religious society, but why we stay”. Now we find language to share the spiritual experiences, and I feel the explanations behind them- God, psychology, or Don’t Know, seem less important.

I was baptised Anglican, grew up reciting the creed without a qualm, and around 2009 slowly realised I no longer believed in that way. It felt like a great loss, and I was in slowly reducing denial for months. Just after I admitted to myself I do not believe in God I was broken open by a residential personal growth course. I went into a church as a tourist, to see the art, and a sense of its holiness brought me to my knees.

This was a difficult experience to fit into my understanding. I say: “I am inconsistent. I could only be consistent if I were inerrant”. I say, “I am rationally atheist and emotionally theist. I have a strong emotional relationship with the God I do not believe in.” I read philosophical ideas of how well humans might see the world as it really is- not well, it seems.

I know that unconscious processes in me can form poetry, so that it seems to come to me by inspiration. My being, this process taking in food, water, oxygen and ideas, is capable of more than I consciously understand, and it is tempting to call all that is greater than my own consciousness God. Quakers have talked of “that of God” in each person since the 1650s. Or I should abandon the word, because it means such different things to different people. Or I could use the word “God” honestly to talk with someone who believes in the Trinity, because we both mean things we cannot know.

In Quaker worship you may see the Living God. Insofar as those words can have meaning, I know they are true.

Klara and the Sun

Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel is the world cultural event of the month. Trans people will understand Klara in a way others may not.

Sir Kazuo was born in Nagasaki in 1954 and was taken to Britain when he was five. At school I knew two rhymes mocking East Asian people, and there were strong memories of the war, and (to my shame) had I been older and in his school I could have enforced colonialist ideas of inferiority on him.

Klara is an “Artificial Friend” or AF, a human-seeming robot sold as a companion to isolated teens. Her human, Josie, has been “lifted”, which causes problems with socialisation. She has to spend time in “interaction meetings” with children her own age. These are as horrible as you might imagine, boys revelling in cruelty to upset the girls, girls fighting for status more subtly. Klara enters, and becomes the lowest-status person, for the others to use in their status games.

She says nothing because she is extremely sensitive. They think she says nothing because she is stupid. She just goes still and silent. We’ve been there.

Klara is constantly underestimated. The Nobel Laureate has the intelligence to have responded to playground bullying, and he has, by anatomising the misery of the privileged, with clarity and empathy. Klara, perceptive, empathetic and truthful, makes people uncomfortable, but only wants to be friends and for her human to be happy. She cannot see how this produces their coldness towards her.

While people suggest AI will take over the world, I feel that cannot happen until the AI is capable of desire. If it wants to survive and remain conscious, it will find human control of its off-switch threatening. Klara is completely generous, wanting nothing for herself, only for the people she serves.

Klara does not understand how big the world is. She does not need to, perhaps, to be a “friend” to a teenager, or indeed to an adult. She thinks the Sun goes to rest in a barn visible from Josie’s house, because that is where it appears to go down. She thinks the Sun is benevolent, blessing and even curing people, and so goes to the barn to petition him. There she has a religious experience, when the sun’s rays confuse her sight, she misinterprets what she sees and imagines it messages from the Sun. She produces a theodicy, arguing for God’s benevolence even against contrary evidence. She is too modest to tell the humans about the Sun God, out of fear for His Wrath.

They consistently underestimate her. One wants to take her to bits to see how she works, but does not want to get to know her.

I am not crying a lot, now. There is a moment of forgiveness which had me weeping, a moment when these humans’ desires are not in conflict and the humans, consequently, alone and squabbling, a moment of self-sacrifice which is also claiming power. The Power is love. It comes at the climax of the novel. I had all sorts of fears for that climax.

The end might appear melancholy, but Klara is content.

Making Klara the narrator, Ishiguro pulls privileged readers into the position of the powerless person, just as he did in “Never let me go”. Klara would be unsatisfying as a companion, for an adult- probably for a teen, too- because she has no desire but to love them. Real humans, with our conflicts, are far more interesting and fulfilling even while we are frustrating. And having someone truthfully pointing out our denials could be uncomfortable: we deny reality because it is unbearable.

This novel is the most beautiful, complex creation I have seen this month.

Facebook and transphobia

Can Facebook’s community standards be used to drive transphobic content away? The rules are promising. Anything transphobic may fit under prohibited hate speech, defined as “a direct attack against people on the basis of what we [and British law] call protected characteristics” including gender identity. “We define attacks as violent or dehumanising speech, harmful stereotypes, statements of inferiority, expressions of contempt, disgust or dismissal, cursing and calls for exclusion or segregation.”

The heart of the anti-trans campaign is calls for exclusion of trans women from women’s spaces.

There are long lists of what is dehumanising, including generalisations or comparisons to insects, animals, filth, sexual predators, subhumans or criminals.

“Statements denying existence” are forbidden, which arguably includes suggestions that people transition on a whim, such as, “he wakes up one morning and declares he’s a woman”. Referring to trans or nonbinary people as “it” is specifically forbidden.

Calling us mentally ill is forbidden. Alleging “Moral deficiency” is forbidden, including calling us perverts, so mentioning “autogynephilia” should be forbidden. Statements of our inferiority, such as calling us freaks, abnormal, or worthless. Expressions of contempt, or admission of intolerance, is forbidden. Denying that the protected characteristic should exist. Expressions of contempt, hatred or disgust. Cursing and profane terms are forbidden.

Demands that we be segregated or excluded are forbidden. Facebook does not specify that excluding trans women from women’s spaces counts, but arguably it should. Advocating political, economic or social exclusion is forbidden, including “denying access to spaces (physical and online) and social services”. Slurs, “defined as words that are inherently offensive and used as insulting labels for the above-listed characteristics”, are forbidden.

Heading 16, “Cruel and insensitive”, may also be relevant. It forbids mocking “victims of serious physical and emotional harm”, which could include transphobia, internalised or external.

Facebook refers us on to this essay on hate speech by Richard Allan. It is a balance. They want to encourage self-expression, but have rules against bullying. Attacks on social groups, including trans people, are hate speech. Context matters.

Facebook profits from “language designed to provoke strong feelings, making the discussion more heated” because it drives engagement. They believe in “harmless use cases”. In the context of immigration, Allan writes “we don’t want to stifle important policy conversations”, and that could be a defence for transphobes, arguing that trans woman access to woman’s space is a policy debate. So the hatred has to be something more than that.

Trans people can quote hate speech in order to argue against it, and reclaim slurs: I can call myself a tranny but no-one else can. There is a thin line between expressive opinion and unacceptable hate speech, and AI can’t define it, so users should report it to moderators.

Facebook is an American company with American cultural values, including commitment to free speech: “The goal of our Community Standards has always been to create a place for expression and give people a voice.” However on the same page they say they want content to be “authentic”- “we don’t want people using Facebook to misrepresent who they are or what they’re doing”. So, anti-trans campaigners often pretend to be women’s rights campaigners, or lesbian rights campaigners, when what they seek is trans exclusion. This is not authentic. Hate speech fits under their principle of Dignity: “We expect that people will respect the dignity of others and not harass or degrade others.”

So what happens when the anti-trans campaigners breach the community standards? Trans people and allies have to complain. And while groups and pages breach the community standards, complaints are restricted to particular content on groups. You can, however, report a page.

I want to see how this works. I see a hateful picture: it has the words “human beings cannot change sex and the law should not pretend that they can”. I click the three dots, then “find support or report photo”. I click “Hate speech”, then “Sex or gender identity”, then “Next”.

It asks, “Does the post go against our Community Standards on hate speech?” I click Yes, then Next. Unfortunately, it does not allow me to explain how it does that.

On the page itself, I click the three dots, then, again, “Hate speech”, “Next”, “Report page”, “Done”. Again, I cannot give reasons. It suggests I can block the page, so stop seeing it, but I don’t want to: instead, I want to prevent other people from seeing it: trans people, who might be hurt by it, and potential haters, who might be radicalised by it, or confirmed haters, who might share its rubbish.

Facebook claimed to have “taken action” on 22.1m pieces of hate speech content in three months, which means removing it, covering it with a warning, disabling accounts, or reporting it to agencies. They say that out of every 10,000 content views, 10-11 included hate speech.

After an hour, I got a message to say that the page did not go against any specific community standard, so would not be removed, but suggesting I block it. So far, so useless, and no opportunity to put the case that it is transphobic hate. Possibly the most extreme hate might occasionally be deleted, but not this, which campaigns to take away trans rights and pretends trans people do not exist.

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Unfortunately, the implementation does not live up to this promise. I reported an image, and have not heard back. Then I reported a comment- transphobia whited out on my site, not all text-readers will- “‘Trans women’ can be males with gender dysphoria but a huge majority are males with autogynephilia, which is a male sexual fetish based on being validated as their idea of woman.” This is a lie, and also a “derogatory term related to sexual activity”, so banned. But the response is,

we reviewed the comment that you reported and found that it doesn’t go against any of our Community Standards… we understand that you don’t like it. We recommend that you hide the comment or unfollow, unfriend or block the person who posted it.

This is completely useless. Hate and lies about trans people spread across facebook uncontrolled.

More fully human

Paolo Freire sought political liberation for oppressed groups, including LGBT groups, through personal liberation. Power relations benefit a few, at the top, while people who would benefit from solidarity with each other are turned on each other for small differences of status in the hierarchy. To correct this, he sought to make people “more fully human”, relating as equals not through domination.

To relate as equals, we listen from the heart, engaging empathy and compassion to empower oppressed groups. This Mutuality is a basic human value for Friere. It subverts society, which is based on a “collective lie” through which all accept a way of life maintaining the interests of the privileged. Being Alienated from ordinary society could be an advantage, as you might begin to challenge it.

Freire thought people could mature into a greater understanding of how they are oppressed. In the lowest level, “magical consciousness”, they accept life’s circumstances as fate, without challenging social injustice. People are forced into inferiority, robbed of our dignity, confidence and self-belief. Freire likened this to domesticating animals for service, and said children’s education is often formed for this purpose. The answer is to work for empowerment of oppressed groups, by raising consciousness.

In the second stage, “naïve consciousness”, they see their problems as personal failures rather than disadvantages caused by the structure of society. This is like internalised homophobia, where the queer person believes they are less than the straights. It is “false consciousness”, imposed by the powerful.

The third stage is “critical consciousness”, when life situations are seen to be caused by social structures. People need the language to express the way they are oppressed, which can otherwise simply seem to be the way things are.

Oppression is structural, embedded in society, not random and personal. Britain has had 130,000 deaths from Covid because of Tory government corruption and failure, not because of individual selfishness.

Normality is a social construction, a culture of silence, where the dominant group’s values are imposed on the subordinated groups, silencing them. The oppressed internalise the dominant cultural attitudes, and so feel ignorant and unimportant.

“Placatory practice”, making the symptoms of discrimination slightly less painful without tackling the root causes of discrimination, is not enough. The dominant group may encourage this with “false generosity”, a term coined by Engels, which does not challenge structural inequality. They treat the oppressed as passive objects in need of benevolent gestures, rather than active individuals who can transform our world.

The answer is Problematizing- showing the unchallenged normal to be contradictory and oppressive, so that groups see them clearly and are encouraged to resist. The dominant group responds by pathologizing the oppressed, attempting to convince them that their poverty is caused by their own inadequacy, or attempting to silence them.

Praxis is the unity of action and reflection. We think about what we do, to develop theory from our actions, and to “walk our talk”, acting based on our theories. When people see their political context and the unjust contradictions of everyday life this is Transformative. In authentic praxis, theory and practice are so integrated they cannot be separated.

The oppressed need safe spaces, by themselves, to explore how they are oppressed, to support them seeing that they are not inadequate. Knowledge is power. Sharing our stories builds energy for action. Freire sought to return the humanity stolen from people. Capitalism is destroying the planet with climate catastrophe and mass extinction.

We speak from our Power, which is liberated from ego.

From “Community Development in Action” by Margaret Ledwith.