Yearly Meeting and Trans people

At our Yearly Meeting Quakers in Britain will consider “acknowledging and welcoming gender-diverse people”. This will be

early steps in a longer journey. As a starting point, we hope to name the places where there is unity, acknowledge that there are trans people in Quaker communities and state that they are welcome.

We are enjoined to respect our diversity and “take care over how you communicate”, and told bullying will not be tolerated, either from unconscious patterns of behaviour or deliberately: people breaching the guidelines may be excluded. Immediately I feared being excluded, which I hope is just a paranoid reaction on my part. I don’t know it has ever been seen necessary to warn against bullying before. I agree bad behaviour is more likely online than in person, and Quakers are not immune.

And, the distress felt by people affected may result in hasty words. I hope this could be handled with sympathy rather than condemnation. Stating that trans people are welcome seems innocuous, and minimal, but do we trans people feel it? I know trans people who have been in dispute with meetings. A cis woman Friend, with whom I reconciled after years, suggested trans women were like teenage girls. Well, possibly. We are in adulthood coping with unfamiliar hormones which change us, and coping with the loss of male privilege passing as straight. Even if that trans person who left was being totally unreasonable, could love have found a better way?

There is huge hurt around gender diversity. I know of trans people, allies, and sex-based rights campaigners who have felt unable to continue worshipping with their meeting or with Friends.

The hurt is not always expressed as hurt. Arguments for reducing trans rights may be couched in impersonal, superficially rational terms, without expressing underlying hurt, which I believe is the trauma of male privilege and violence. I am aware of male violence against women even among Quakers. Asking people to express their hurt makes them vulnerable, so requires a space where they feel safe. Rooms full of Quakers do not automatically feel safe for everyone.

We do not share language. The concept of “sex-based” rights is an attempt to exclude trans women from women’s spaces by stating we change gender but not sex. Sex-based rights campaigners can demand the end of trans rights without mentioning trans people, because of their definition of “woman”. There is a campaign against “medicalising children”- that is, to prevent trans children having treatment they, their parents and specialist doctors consider necessary.

I am glad documents for YM use the term “gender diverse”- in my experience sex-based rights campaigners are often particularly different from feminine gender stereotypes, and have a great deal in common with nonbinary people and trans men. However, they might say all women are oppressed by those stereotypes.

We do not share facts. Trans women have been in women’s spaces for decades, and with legal entitlement since the Equality Act 2010. Some campaigners argue the law is far more restrictive.

A Friends Quarterly article included the claim that most trans women do not have genital operations, based on a false interpretation of the source it cited. The scary idea of penises in women’s spaces is used to incite fear of trans women.

I have seen a minute claiming that adolescent children are making life-changing decisions, that is, getting hormone treatment they will later regret. In fact, since November 2020 trans children have been refused hormone treatment their doctors recommended, because of a high court decision.

If you include Quakers who support trans rights, like me, and those Quakers who are anti-trans campaigners, there is no unity. Individual Quakers do not have a right to “stand in the way” of a Yearly Meeting decision if most Friends are convinced it is a spiritual leading; but a decision can hardly exclude those most involved or concerned in the issue.

Unity might have to go back to the most basic principles. Quakers value Equality. But we do not all agree about Privilege. White straight men with professional careers can get nervous when the word is mentioned, as if it were an attack on them. Privilege is usually unconscious. Stevie Krayer’s article in The Friend gives an example: she had an immediate reaction she then analysed, and found it was unconsciously racist. Quakers may have such reactions without performing the necessary analysis, and, believing their adherence to the testimony to equality is sufficient protection, not see their unconscious prejudice. Society is awash with racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. People, even Quakers, take it into themselves unconsciously.

The sex-based rights campaigners would argue I have male privilege. In a negotiation, I would not want to concede that. But a Meeting for Worship is not a negotiation, but coming together in Love under Spirit.

I love meeting on Zoom. I have experienced gathered meetings on Zoom. Some Friends have not found Zoom meeting nourishing and sustaining, and miss meeting in person; when meeting for worship in person has been discontinued some have not worshipped on Zoom.

God moves in mysterious ways. I trust the process of meeting. I know that for there to be progress, people must come prepared to be changed. Common-sense, rational answers will get nowhere.

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