Discussing trans rights with people who don’t care

Some people do not know what LGBT stands for. Being online gives a false perspective. Being interested in trans rights, we could scroll for hours a day and still read only a tiny proportion of the insane hatred devoted to rolling back trans rights, and the resistance to it. Twitter, facebook, etc, are desperate to show us transphobia in the hope we will engage, but usually only those already invested look.

I wanted Greens to know Shahrar Ali was making his pitch to anti-trans campaigners, so shared my blog. Mad haters plunged in: one alleged that Ali was being targeted by Zionists for his support for the Palestinians. Unfortunately, I called them “mad haters”, which makes me seem angry and confrontational, not good on a Green forum. Another went to the drafter of the Labour Party Transphobes’ Declaration and passed on her scurrilous accusations against me.

By using the term “mad haters” I had a tactical loss. I defended it- they are “mad” in that they are divorced from reality, only caring about opposing trans rights and not any other party issue; and they are haters, demanding the exclusion of absolutely every trans woman from all women’s spaces. And I was still rebuked, and warned to use constructive language, by people who apparently thought claiming a Jewish conspiracy was absolutely fine. She’s not attacking Jews, she’s attacking “Zionists”. Yeah, right.

Then someone wrote, “I certainly wouldn’t be happy with a Green party that didn’t support trans rights, but it doesn’t seem to me Shahrar wouldn’t. He explicitly says he supports the Equality Act.”

I wasn’t sure about that. Was this an anti-trans campaigner who had the knack of appearing reasonable? Ali does not say he supports the Equality Act, only “all the protected characteristics”. Anti-trans campaigners say they “support trans rights”, meaning trans rights as they define them- a right not to be harassed in the street or be sacked for being trans, but not a right for trans women to use women’s loos. But if someone could not recognise a trans flag, they would not spot that nuance by themselves.

So I explained, and met another question: How is ‘sex based rights’ code for excluding trans women? I explained that too. To my slight surprise she accepted my argument, saying people should accept the “single-sex” services in the Equality Act should include trans women. Then, rather than putting an argument, she was thinking out loud as she typed, she said some women felt vulnerable and threatened by trans inclusion. Could we work together?

No, is the answer to that. They make it a zero sum game- no trans women in women’s spaces, ever. They could see what they gain by trans inclusion, and work for a range of spaces, but they would be affronted to be restricted to some out of the way loo which was for trans-excluders, with the women’s for all women. But this woman has Green sympathies- For the Common Good- and likes to think people can always work together.

And then she said, if Shahrar supports the EA, surely he supports trans women in women’s spaces? I had to explain the other code he uses, around “politically homeless” women and “sex-based rights”. She still thought there was some doubt, and a need to help both sides of the “debate” to understand each other. Only a direct question to “Shahrar” would clear it up, but he isn’t answering.

-Do you still think there is doubt?
-The vast majority would not read Shahrar’s site the way you do. And trans people need to listen to the excluders, and hear their concerns.

She is right on that. People would not read it that way, unless they are engaged with the debate. They do not read it closely, and don’t particularly think about the bits they don’t understand- of course no novelist should receive a death threat for writing a think piece, and they don’t bother asking which novelist he means.

From Sara Ahmed, I get the understanding that people do not like to believe their social group contains bad people such as sexual predators, or those who discriminate on gender, colour or sexuality. So, they find accusations of bad behaviour a threat. The accusations and the accusers threaten their comfortable illusion that everything is OK. Surely Professor Smith would not do such a horrible thing? Diversity policies are put in place as proof that the organisation acts properly on diversity, not as a template for action against discriminators.

So I asked her directly. Now I have explained the code, do you accept Ali is calling for trans exclusion? I explained the whole screed again. And I was rewarded. “I think the issue here is exactly as you say.” But then, she immediately qualified. She still wanted a straight answer from Ali to “clear things up” and could see that Ali’s site could be interpreted as innocuous.

Even LGBT+ people disagree on what letters to add to the end, or what they stand for. QIA- Allies? Asexual? Both? I have seen a strong argument that Allies are definitely not included. The mad haters have created a jargon all their own. “Sex is Real” they say, and only the trans excluders and trans people, only people who have scrolled for hours and hours, see the pure nastiness they put in that phrase. It is hard to persuade the unengaged, and has to be done with great care.

Still, it’s lovely to think of someone who gets sympathy when she whines on a mad hater group, “I can’t go out, because there are no single-sex toilets anywhere! I haven’t bought new clothes in five years because there’s only mixed sex changing rooms to try them on!” Then she tries that with unengaged people, and meets perplexity and derision. If instead she stokes paranoia- trans women are dangerous, penises in women’s loos, etc- she may put off the Left-wingers, as she is more clearly spreading hate.

Greenbelt at Prospect Farm

I cycled to the Greenbelt festival, my tent balanced on my panniers, my bedding and coat in a rucksack. “Wow, respect,” said the woman there to direct traffic, though there was little traffic to direct. It’s only ten miles, I said, modestly, delighted. “Still, wow,” she says.

It’s Prospect Farm, because the financial risk of having to cancel a whole festival would be too great. There are six hundred people here rather than twelve thousand, three venues, three food outlets. As I walk my bicycle in, Oliver, who is nearly ten, starts chatting. He tells me of his love of Park Runs- his 50 t-shirt means he has done fifty of them. His father is a keen runner, who did a 100km. Would you like to be an athlete? At this, he looks very serious and says yes, he would. I tell him, if that’s what you love, go for it. It’s a lot of work.

He offers to help put up my tent, and this means I teach him how. His mother tells me to send him away if he is bothering me. Later, he comes over to ask me to have dinner with them. If your mother consents, I said. I am delighted. I go over and chat as she cooks. The children play with another family they have just met.

“I saw that was a wig as soon as I saw it,” says a rude boy. Well, it’s old. I am camping. I put up my tent with my newly shaven head on show, as I was so hot. Ellie, who is “practising to be a teenager”, said she had thought I was a different person. That is kind.

There are free showers, working all the time, without a queue.

What makes the small festival is the conversation. It is like a party. We talk of churches and of our lives. Many are dissatisfied with our churches, and Greenbelt keeps us Christian.

A Black woman, a trustee of Greenbelt, gives a talk on white privilege and we affirm that we are working against white privilege. The festival is almost entirely white. Its theology is not a good fit for the Black churches, and we are privileged. We affirm that white people should be doing more work on this.

LGBT is integrated, though. We had about twenty for the LGBT “Out at Greenbelt” eucharist, sharing bread only because of covid. A man aged 17 told me he had just come out. We had nineteen for my Quaker meeting, which is proportionately quite good. One was a lifelong Quaker who did not actually attend, now, because the local meeting had never been very friendly. One was in her twenties, and I told her of YFGM.

Comedy included Harry and Chris, and I now have a t-shirt marked “A coupla copella-packing a cappella pelicans pick up a piccolo in Acapulco’s archipelago”. Around the camp people are memorising the phrase. Two say it in unison.

My major woke liberal fail was seeing someone with a t-shirt reading “Words are hard”. “Everyone has gifts, and everyone has needs. Society should support people’s needs so their gifts can benefit all,” I declaimed earnestly. “This man had a t-shirt reading “Words are hard”, but did a somersault from standing.” Later I talked to him. My assumption that he was neuro-diverse was apparently wrong, as his words flowed easily.

I went without an air pump for my bed, as I thought I could borrow one. My airbed leaked in the night so that I was just above the ground in the morning, and three times had no trouble borrowing. A man came over and worked the pump himself. I was too cold, even though wearing my coat in the sleeping bag, the first, clear night, with heavy dew getting through to the inner tent. It is a pain to have to balance on your shoulder blades to pull your jeans up, at 55. But other nights were overcast and I was warm enough. It was a gorgeous two days.

We went in to where the festival had been, 2014-2019. It looks so different.

Sandra and Ezra

“Is your child trans?”

Greenbelt is a good place to camp. I have got chatting with lots of people around the site, as if it were a party, and we can get quite deep quickly. Now I chat to Sandra in the next tent, who is a teacher, and we talk of difficulties pronouncing names from other languages. Conversation meanders, and she reveals her “child” is also here, just camping up there. Use of the nongendered word is a bit odd, so I asked that question.

Getting the new name hurt. Sandra says you have to mourn your child. The name is Ezra, so the child is either nonbinary or binary trans, but Sandra insists on using female pronouns. I asked her, could she refer to her child (I did not use the name Ezra) as “they”? No, she felt the need to use female pronouns. “She’s still exploring! She was wearing a dress the other day!”

Well, it was hot and sunny, perfect weather for a dress. And why ever not? You can be nonbinary and mostly one, but still a little of the other. But Ezra chose his/their name when they were twelve, eight years ago, so you have had time to mourn.

“You’re not in one of those horrible ‘concerned parents’ groups, are you?” No, she’s not. That’s a mercy. However, she is still concerned for her child, a little resistant, and concerned about her own loss. Ezra is going into their second year at Uni, though that’s been a nightmare too, what with Covid.

Ezra comes over and chats for a bit, and I feel unable to say “Hello, Ezra” because they/he will know their mum has been talking about them, and I can’t ask Sandra to introduce him for fear she’ll use the wrong name. It’s embarrassing.

I go off to the loo. Camping, you need much more food. Talking to Sandra, I can be caring- for Sandra as well as Ezra. It is not my place to tell her off, and would probably do little good. Encouraging her, rather than shaming her, to accept her child is more likely to work. And now I feel upset. Sandra talks to the trans person, and feels quite happy to go all Poor Me. I have done a caring thing, for both of them, and now I feel my own needs.

We’re packing up. I go to say goodbye to Ann and John, and break off because I have to say something to Sandra. I go over to her in a rush. “I’m so much happier, now, transitioned,” I say. She does not look reassured. Possibly she sees how old my clothes look. Well, I am camping, there will be sweat and mud, and still.

I explain to Ann and John why I dashed off so suddenly. “She’s not gone to Mermaids or Gendered Intelligence, then,” says John. You know about this! Well, Ann is a teacher too, and has had trans or questioning pupils. We help with each others’ tents, and then go off for a cup of tea before leaving. At the Tiny Tea Tent we meet another couple, and talk of our experiences of churches. Margaret was brought up Catholic, and has a great burden of guilt and shame round that, so has found another church. She likes churches which do not emphasise Hell. John says he always remembers hearing of a boundaried model of church, you’re one of us or you’re not, and a centred model of church: Jesus is the centre, and we are either moving towards or away from that centre. What matters is the direction, not the distance from the centre, which no-one can tell anyway.

I enjoyed the Out at Greenbelt service, worshipping with LGBT folk, only about twenty of us in a tent together.

Quakers and Equality

Quakers have no hierarchy, but we have leadership. Every time someone speaks in ministry in the business meeting, they offer leadership. The rest decide whether to follow or not. With a single leader, decisions might be made more quickly, and not necessarily less well, if that leader listens to others. If anyone can lead, everyone has to be willing and able to follow when appropriate, or we just bicker pointlessly.

This is difficult, and requires practice. On listening to others, Britain YM’s Advices and Queries says, “try to sense where [the words] come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people’s opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language.” We have to be careful in both speaking and listening.

Every human being has inexpressible value. We are made in the image of God. Jesus says the hairs of your head are numbered, all valued by God. Quakers say there is that of God in every one. I am materialist, averse to the idea of a mind or soul in a body, so think of it as the incomprehensibility of the whole human, responding in the moment, so much greater than ego or consciousness which is just a part of it.

On the spiritual path, we learn our value, and the value of every other human being.

Unfortunately, out in the world, we learn the opposite. Capitalism values people for what they produce. White supremacy and the ideology of empire values white people higher than others. Men are valued higher than women. People who have been to university or have higher status jobs are valued higher than others. Certain accents are valued more highly.

My autistic friend is devalued because of his difficulty reading certain social cues, rather than valued for his excellent memory and systematising ability.

In hierarchy, life is a struggle. How can I exalt myself, and do others down? Or, how can I keep up? In the Kingdom of Heaven, which is among us, ready for us to step into it, everything is beautiful. Just as we seek the value in others’ words, we seek the value in everything, and are rewarded by seeing it. What is there that is good, in this moment, situation, encounter?

We grow up in the world, we are steeped in the world, and we are imbued with the world’s habits of hierarchy. It teaches us not to see God in the other. Seeing God needs practice, effort and thought. The unconscious reaction that another is a lower status person is hard to shake off. First we have to become conscious of it. My source of pride, that I am white and educated, is an invisible barrier preventing me from seeing the value of others. It is painful to lose something that is a source of pride, and gives a sense of entitlement and safety in the world, yet felt so normal and natural I thought no more of it than I think about gravity.

Quakers are wrestling with these matters now. Iowa YM (Conservative) asked “How is white supremacy keeping us from hearing God’s voice?” Well, by making Black people uncomfortable amongst us, so that they do not stay, or do not imagine they will be welcome, and by making white people think less of Black people’s ministry. More widely, our privilege stops us listening to the disprivileged, and makes them feel unwelcome. We do not hear the voice of God in the words of those we subtly devalue.

I am aware that the Black person’s experience of a Quaker gathering may differ from my own. I feel assured of my welcome and that if I speak I will be listened to. A Friend told me of Quakers touching her hair, a put-down so cliched that it made a book title. Perhaps the white Friend thought she was being friendly. She meant no harm. She was blind to the disrespect she exuded.

With LGBT folk, in the 1950s Quakers might tell them their love was sinful. Since then we did a great deal of discernment to come to the point where we support equal marriage, but Meetings have split over the matter, and even now some LGBT folk feel pressure to appear normal among Quakers.

Our initial steps to include disabled people can feel othering: it is what we, the good Quakers, who are able-bodied, do for them, the disabled. A ramp gets a wheelchair into the building, but not necessarily its occupant into the position of trust and service fitting their potential. Or some talk of how “we Quakers” are well-off, which can make people who are struggling financially feel excluded. In reality it should be what we can do for us- every person has gifts, strengths, needs and weaknesses, and we must care for each other, allowing each to serve.

When we restrict the range of people in our meetings we restrict the range of perspectives we hear. The Spirit speaks through people, and cannot say what her instruments are incapable of saying. White supremacy restricts God’s voice among us.

Most Quakers come to the Society as adults. We are on a spiritual path. We are not perfect. We do the work necessary as we become aware it needs done.

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.

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.

Trans on facebook

Should I debate trans issues on facebook?

There are arguments for coming off it completely. I have given it data which show a detailed account of my personality and desires, and is used to manipulate me. There are trans support groups, but they often share things to be miserable about, which are followed by a dozen comments railing in misery. Yawn. Transphobe says something transphobic.

There’s a group discussing BBC radio. It can be fun. Recently, though, it’s infested with anti-trans campaigners. Should I disengage?

There was a programme where a self-described TERF talked to trans people. A post on that exploded to 775 comments, where few posts get more than a hundred. Word of Mouth, devoted to LGBT language, began with Michael Rosen’s moving confession and repentance of homophobia. These programmes are worth listening to, and I heard about them on that group. The thread’s at 240 comments and going strong.

There I am, trying to find agreement. I can find it in unexpected places. An anti-trans campaigner writes, “I’m a gender abolitionist; I think we’d all be better off if we were more free to behave in less stereotypical ways”.

I agree. “So the question is, how to get there when much of the anti-trans sentiment is conservative support of gender stereotypes and hatred of trans people for subverting them. The answer is to support everyone who is opposing assigned gender stereotypes, by whatever means they do it.”

I think she is too far gone for that to make a particular impression, but it might do some good.

I might hone my arguments. I now can state clearly and simply why the Equality Act assumes trans women will be in women’s spaces, despite passionate denial: “[The Act} doesn’t say that someone with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment must be treated as if they were the opposite sex and require them to be given access to facilities designated for the opposite sex. There is a lot of misinformation in circulation unfortunately.”

Easily answered. “Schedule 3. Paras 26-27 allow men to be excluded from women’s spaces. Para 28 allows trans women to be excluded. There would be no need for different provisions if it was as you say.” Well, that’s technical, and most people’s, even many trans people’s, eyes would glaze over long before that point- but I know what to say when that comes up.

Then there are the swivel-eyed obsessives. “Transwoman used to mean transsexual – a man with the distressing psychological condition of gender dysphoria. That has now exploded to include even part-time cross dressers and men who get their kicks dressing as women or being treated as women. Only those undergoing gender reassignment are covered by equality laws and even then there are exceptions where women need single-sex spaces. Stop with the power grab – women are aware of your tactics and we are standing up to them.”

Oh dear. Reading that is merely depressing, and I hope that anyone not wholly invested in the debate would be put off by it. I can answer it. Should I bother? Given that there are 36 replies to my original comment, no-one not obsessed would read the whole thread, and I could just leave it.

If I enjoy commenting, I should. I got in a top comment, 15 likes or loves, which may persuade some people. The poster objected to the phrase “gender assigned at birth” in Word of Mouth, so I commented, “Gender is assigned at birth. If you’re in a pink babygro, people goo-goo at you differently than if you’re in a blue one. Big strong boy! What a pretty girl! If your gender can’t be told from your clothes, people will want to know your name so they can assign you. The stereotypes are enforced from birth. I am amazed that “gender critical” people deny this. Surely they’ve noticed!”

Commenting like that, I might encourage a trans ally, discourage a hater, make someone think, but should not overestimate the effect I will have. Out of hundreds of comments, all having their incremental effect, mine will make little difference. If I drop out, there are plenty of others to argue in the same way. If anti-trans campaigners take over, their effort is not proportionate to any gain of persuading the unpersuaded.

Then one pulls one of the nastiest tricks in the transphobe armoury. You know they are filled with hate for every trans person when they do this. “Self-ID provides an obvious incentive for male sex offenders to identify as female. Some examples here:” and she gives a link.

So I said we’re not all sex offenders, and we have self declaration already. That’s enough, in her eyes, to make me an apologist for sex offenders at best. “We know that some men pose a risk to women… your cavalier dismissal of it… is very telling”. In the ellipses was even nastier stuff. Accusations of my selfishness and misogyny follow. There is nothing I could say to such people.

facebook is addictive. The system is designed to keep you coming back by getting you riled up. The notifications bell is a ping of dopamine. The hurt and frustration I feel from others’ anger is not worth it. I enjoy writing a well-crafted comment, but I would be better writing something less ephemeral.

Counting trans people

In 2021, the British census will count trans and nonbinary people. In England and Wales, these are the questions people will see:

What is your sex?
A question about gender identity will follow later on in the questionnaire
[ ] Female
[ ] Male

Is the gender you identify with the same as your sex registered at birth?
This question is voluntary
[ ] Yes
[ ] No
(Enter gender identity)

The census put “female” first in 2011. Before, the standard was to put male first, and other forms asking sex or gender usually do; but in other census questions the answers were either alphabetical, or the largest group first, both of which would put female first. So the order was changed.

Possible questions were tested to see how well people understood them, as well as whether they objected. The researchers timed how long it took to pick a response. The second question took five seconds, compared to “What do you consider your gender to be?” which took fourteen. People objected strongly to the word “consider”. I say my gender is female. If I say “I consider my gender is female” that includes the possibility others might disagree.

Gender and sex are synonyms in English, and this introduces a distinction. The report on question development assumes we know what it is. Under definitions, it says “The sex question is binary: female and male”, so DSD people have a sex.

“The gender identity question is about a person’s personal internal perception of themselves.”

I don’t think it helpful to distinguish my “personal internal perception” and reality in this case. I am female. I would not say so if I weren’t. Those who are habitually disbelieved, such as prisoners, might lie, but people generally are truthful about such things.

However we dropped the word “transsexual” for “trans”, for various reasons: “transsexual” sounds impersonal and scientific, sounds like a sexual orientation, when it is different; and puts pressure on people to have genital surgery. “Transgender” is an acceptable word.

The annex says, “the gender category with which a person identifies may not match the sex they were registered at birth”. Most of the readers of this document, and the people answering the questions, are cis, and the writers are explaining to them as well as to us.

They explain trans includes binary and nonbinary trans, and non-gendered identities, and identity may be fixed or variable.

It’s not spelled out that sex means genes, gonads and genitals, and I will answer that my sex is female. Gender has to be wider, to include nonbinary people. When the question asked some variant on “Are you trans?” nonbinary people did not consistently include themselves.

To the cis, the document explains that the sex “question wording and response options are unchanged from the 2011 Census. We will continue to collect this data in a way that is consistent with previous censuses.” Well, I said my sex was female then, too. There are so few of us, that statistics are barely affected.

“The gender identity question is voluntary. It will only be asked to respondents aged 16 years and over.”

The trans question comes at the end of the sociocultural questions. It affects fewer people than race or religion.

In Scotland, the trans question is different. The census will take place in 2022, because of Covid.
3. What is your sex?
[] Female [] Male
4. Do you consider yourself to be trans, or have a trans history?
This question is voluntary
Answer only if you are aged 16 or over
Trans is a term used to describe people whose gender is not the same as the sex they were registered at birth
Tick one box only
[] No
[] Yes, please describe your trans status (for example, non-binary, trans man, trans woman):
[Space to write in answer]

The National Records of Scotland explained their question testing. They tested a nonbinary sex question- male, female, Other- write in. The Scottish Parliament rejected the “Other” option for sex, though the NRS research showed that the questions, including the “other” sex option, were publicly acceptable, and would produce good data. Stakeholders preferred a nonbinary sex question, which produced fewer non-responses. Their aim was “to allow inclusive questions which all respondents can answer with ease”. They found putting the sex and trans status questions together made respondents understand better.

In Northern Ireland, the census will only include a binary sex question, and none on gender identity.

In England, the guidance on how to answer the sex question will read,

If you are considering how to answer, use the sex recorded on one of your legal documents such as a birth certificate, Gender Recognition Certificate, or passport.

That’s fine for me, but I would resent it if I had no GRC. I would ignore it, and tick F anyway. The ONS explains their reasons for the guidance here.

Estimates of the results will be published in March 2022 and the full data set in March 2023.

Status, Rank and Power

How does unjust privilege fester, and how can it be combated? Leticia Nieto and Margot Boyer explain. People experience oppression or privilege based on their gender, gender identity, ethnicity, social class and membership of other groups. Nieto calls this our “Rank”. A white straight middle-class educated able-bodied cis male has the highest rank. He is overvalued- society makes him seem better than a disabled person or a woman, but he is not, really. His privilege is a social construct. Power relates to our connection to God within: are you stuck in your ego, or do you have true integrity? Anyone can connect to their power through spiritual practices.

“A person’s ability to be grounded, to exercise compassion, to use humor in a healing way, to love without demands, and to support themselves and those around them can indicate the presence of Power.

Status arises from rank and power, and varies between interactions. High status behaviour is marked by posture, and claims of leadership, knowledge or dominance. Low status behaviour is marked by submissive posture, and messages of compliance, acceptance and support. With close friends status might be fluid. High status behaviour can be positive- teaching a group, speaking up- or negative- physical or verbal violence. A high rank person can temporarily take a low status position, but that does not change their rank. Low status behaviour can be positive, for example active listening, supporting another’s idea, or appreciating someone; or negative, for example passive-aggressive behaviour.

Nieto calls the higher ranked person in an interaction the agent, and the lower-ranked person the target. Working age adults, 18-65, have higher rank than old people or young people, and so having been a child is the only experience that white male etc has had of being a target.

We learn rank unconsciously, and how we should behave as members of those groups. We follow the rules, and adopt status positions accordingly. This has certain advantages: “When both people insist on taking a high-status position, there’s likely to be conflict. When both choose the low-status position, the interaction can be stagnant and the pair may find it impossible to make decisions or move forward.” However it is wearing for the targets. The ideal is that status is flexible, and all support the good work or ideas of each.

Overcoming that social conditioning takes a lot of work, and acting from our Power. As targets, we learn to take the low status role, and that is a survival skill. Also, behaving as if the Agent way of being is normal and preferable is a survival skill. This makes Agents comfortable. Then we behave like the Agent’s conception of our target group- girls adopt “feminine” behaviour. Whatever other skills we develop, we may find ourselves driven back to that survival skill- when tired, or threatened. We get the most practice in survival skills, so they seem easiest, but they are exhausting because they require us to conform to others’ expectations of us. Targets merely surviving may oppress other members of their target group.

Nieto calls the next level of target skills “confusion”. We become aware that survival is exhausting, and we are being oppressed. We see the Rank dynamics, though we cannot yet respond to them constructively. We don’t have the language to understand, but sometimes we think, say or do things which do not fit the Target role. Nieto calls Survival and Confusion Agent-centric skills, as we cannot yet act independently of target role.

To move to Empowerment, an agent-relative skill, where we are in principle equal with the Agents, takes a great deal of energy. It is being born again. We need access to spaces for Empowered targets, such as for women, BAME people or LGBT people. Targets talk about our common experience, and learn to value each other and ourselves. We learn about the roots of oppression. It’s painful but keeps us awake. Empowerment skills involve bringing up the issue of oppression in different interactions. We express anger at Agent norms. Then we mobilise to resist oppression. This is exhausting and risky.

Then we develop Strategy skills: when using Empowerment will produce the most good, when using Survival skills is necessary. We make more conscious choices of when to walk away. We align ourselves with our Target group, and spend less time on Agent expectations. We find norms which work for us, and support our own and other Target groups. Nieto calls these Re-centring skills. We operate out of our Power. We challenge systems of oppression in the most effective way.

Few Targets get to use Re-centring skills, and even the wisest and most skilful use them only some of the time. We use the higher level skills best when feeling calm, supported and well. Anything causing distress makes this more difficult: so self-care is important for anti-oppression work.

Agents can be allies. Because rank is unconscious, Agents rarely notice their privilege even as they enforce it. Unconscious agents start in Indifference. We don’t notice or value Targets. Then privilege is not our problem. Everyone pays attention to different information and stimuli, and through conditioning Agents become indifferent to anything that threatens their superiority.

When we encounter Targets and cannot be Indifferent, we practise Distancing. We notice how much they are not like us. Distancing Out- we hold them away. “I don’t have anything against—-, I just don’t want to live next door to them.” Distancing Down is most easily seen as oppressive. “They’re dirty.” Distancing up makes us pretend to value them: claiming that — people are musical, spiritual or close to nature. Distancing takes more energy, and organised hate groups support people to distance Targets.

Inclusion is more comfortable. We use verbal messages that emphasise similarity and connection. “I don’t see colour.” It feels that we are valuing Targets, and no longer oppressing, but we as Agents still centre ourselves. We want the Target group still to meet our expectations. We can’t work effectively against oppression until we wake up.

Moving beyond Inclusion, to Agent-relative skills of Awareness and Allyship, requires strong motivation, such as a strong relationship with a Target group member. Awareness feels unpleasant, and we feel disorientated by guilt and shame. We remember when we took advantage of privilege. We recognise how harmful Indifference, Distancing and Inclusion skills are, and that we normally use them.

Society discourages Awareness skills, so we need to practise them with a group who can confirm the reality of oppression. We can learn from Targets even if they might not want to teach us. We see the Rank system and see how much talent it wastes.

If we can bear the discomfort, we may be able to learn Allyship. We are aware of oppression and our own privilege. We stop being paralysed. We work against oppression, support targets and help other Agents wake up, see oppression, and develop anti-oppression skills.

This is based on Nieto’s summary pdf. More details are here.