The Ten thousand doors of January

I read it because a copy was in a photograph. The subject of the photograph was so fascinating I fear others would think me weird for noticing it or caring, but I notice details. There is no Wikipedia page for it, no reviews in The Guardian or the New York Times.

I feel I should have grown out of fantasy adventure novels, now I am middle-aged- I felt similarly when I went to University- and imagined I despised it. I condescended to reading it. And, any book worth publishing contains off-cuts of the wisdom of the author:

“I wondered how long it would take before I stopped discovering these petty little laws that’d governed my life, and whether I would only reveal them by breaking them.”

This week I took a brick from the great edifice of my self-contempt and used it in the fragile construction of my self-respect. Numbing out is not ridiculous and disgusting, it is self-protection the best way I know. Numbing out was breaking the rules in a permissible way, one of my hacks to get round the rules. If numbing out is admirable rather than grudgingly acceptable it may cease to be necessary.

Knowing that, I said to Quakers that I had a joy I could hardly articulate, and days later one told me my words had stuck with her. She had translated them, to mean the joy she feels when she enters nonduality, and I am happy that my words have meaning I did not intend. Someone admired my imagery, of the brick transferred from contempt to acceptance, and a retired builder told me of his career, the possibilities in the merchants’ neat parcels of bricks and timber.

In the novel, I love the way the women are stronger than the men- the bad and the good. Some of the danger comes from men’s weakness, and some from their evil, which arises from their desire to control. I love the idea of making things happen by writing them: “wordworking” is magic. Of course it is: we change the world by imagining and articulating how it might be better.

There are doors between worlds, through which magic and danger come. The attempt to make the world ordered and reasonable, against the anarchy of the doors, is the source of threat in the drama, through which great wrong comes, but is made relatable even if I cannot condone it.

I know I should be reasonable and controlled, and this winsome story of the blessings of freedom tempts me. The darkness and wonder of the world is beyond my comprehension and I could not control it, and my control of myself is breaking down. Thank God. The author Alix E. Harrow becomes yet another blessing on me.

I love the words “you both”, and fear them, for you might be embarrassed. I imagine you drily correcting a misapprehension. I would be sad you were put to the trouble. But you said that, and people noticed my confused delight. And you told me to say “I love you”, in a roundabout, deniable way- read a poem, so I read that one.

Transphobia everywhere

Adam Phillips is a fascinating writer. Surely an editor should have red-lined this: “if we can’t let ourselves feel our frustration – and, surprisingly, this is a surprisingly difficult thing to do”. I have been thinking about this repetition, which however I analyse it I cannot make mean anything. Possibly the value is making the sentence memorable, about finding inconvenient emotions difficult to feel, so getting the lesson over. I know emotions I find threatening can remain unconscious, though still affecting me, and someone who did not know that might be brought to a halt by this apparent solecism, and so consider its message, and possibly admit it.

I am reading “On Wanting to Change”. As I want to change, I feel this erudite therapist might prompt me in useful directions. And then I find this sentence: “Converts are like transvestites: they disguise something the better to display it.” I could think of female impersonators, or drag queens, or even alleged fetishists who suffer no gender dysphoria at all- some category for the “transvestite”, so I could say, oh, he does not mean me- but I am not sure he would make the distinction. Would he think me an exhibitionist? I walk the streets with my real self on show, which most people have the modesty and discretion not to do.

Would he think me ridiculous or disgusting? As a therapist, he would see the full ridiculousness and surprisingness of people, and still find some motivation to spend time with them- the fees they pay, or dispassionate interest, or even perhaps a desire to make them better.

I have been paying attention, as I feel it might benefit me, and I am caught short by a reminder of my vulnerability and the contempt, distaste or political hostility some feel for people like me. This is a complete pain.

I had been thinking how I want to follow current affairs, in the hope that I might influence them, by protest, canvassing, blogging. But if I read the Guardian, or New Statesman, or listen to BBC news, I may at any time be brought up short by the Trans is Bad article, or a throwaway Trans is Bad comment. The New Statesman had no Trans is Bad article last week, which is a mercy, but I was reading Rachel Cunliffe’s views on Azeem Rafiq, nodding in agreement and seeing new angles through her eyes, when she rewrote history about JK Rowling to make that transphobic aggressor appear like a victim.

Does Cunliffe believe Rowling was a victim? Did she not read Rowling’s screed, in which she weaponised her experience of domestic violence to preach hatred of trans people? Has she just forgotten the screed itself, only remembering what haters claiming victimhood wrote about it?

Ideally I would want to read Cunliffe’s views of Azeem Rafiq, which help me understand, and might help me persuade others, without being reminded that I am a pariah simply because of being trans.

I read Rebecca Solnit, whom I admire, asking for donations to The Guardian, which I value, which has worthwhile journalism on pollution, the climate crisis, and tax havens, and thought, yeah, but it’s full of transphobia. Then I read Rebecca Solnit on Donald Trump, with a line about reading books being better. So I started reading Adam Phillips.

I could turn to facebook. There I might find encouragement and solidarity, and express it, but there I read that Richard Dawkins has tweeted that his followers should sign a transphobic hate screed. I knew Dawkins was a transphobe, and that real feminists might find him problematic, and still I find this a blow. Our enemies are so powerful, and always getting stronger!

At the recital on Saturday, the older woman sitting behind me started a conversation with me, and remarked on how weird it was that I stripped down to a short sleeved shirt in November, as if she had never heard of hot flushes.

Wherever I go, whatever I read, I will find reminders that people I admire and want to like find trans, and therefore me, repulsive, ridiculous, or threatening. I cannot escape. As far as I can tell, it is almost like being Black, in kind if not in degree. Perhaps the answer is acceptance and Love. I would become fully open to my feelings, however threatening, and admit the full horror, pain and fear I feel at the thoughtless or carefully constructed anti-trans idea. Then I would pass on. I would accept the thing I cannot change. It might be better than being tied in knots of resentment.

The World is not as it should be. How may we change it?

Silke Steidinger’s “Exploration of gender dysphoria”

Silke Steidinger, psychotherapist, musician, and researcher on minority religious movements, “explores being human” and produced her film, “Trans-Actions: An Exploration of Gender Dysphoria” for her MA degree. She is gender nonconforming, AFAB, but apparently not trans as the person who introduced me to it claimed. That person is an anti-trans campaigner, yet she called it “a very good film” and I find it interesting.

In 2018, Steidinger produced a ninety minute film, and now only a thirty minute cut is available. She interviewed trans people, anti-trans campaigners, and medical professionals. They were,

  • Christopher Inglefield, a plastic surgeon who performs trans surgeries and cis man;
  • E-j Scott, curator of the museum of transology and trans man;
  • Susie Orbach, psychoanalyst and cis woman;
  • Emily-jo Miller, performer and trans woman;
  • psychotherapist Robert Withers, later disgraced, cis man;
  • Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, cis gay man;
  • Susan Matthews, contributor to a discredited anti-trans book and cis woman, who unfortunately spreads the myth of desistance;
  • Peter Fonagy, psychologist and cis man, and
  • James Caspian, cis man anti-trans campaigner who seeks to do worthless, unethical “research” and conspiracy-theorises about why the ethics committee prevented it.

Caspian introduces himself, then only appears once in the film, saying he is taking his former university to court. Judicial review was refused, so he went to the European Court of Human Rights in February 2021. Their target is to deal with cases within three years. (When I refer to “the film” hereafter, I mean the shorter version, as I have not seen the longer version).

Then Steidinger assembled their comments to show different ways of seeing trans. Her questions are rarely included. Sometimes she writes an afterthought on the film. She has a twitter but does not tweet. Her eponymous website is no longer available. As a psychotherapist, she offers help with gender and gender dysphoria, among many other issues, by offering a secure attachment with professional boundaries.

Why would an anti-trans campaigner and a trans woman both think a film about trans interesting or worthwhile? Perhaps she saw the ninety minute version, and perhaps it gives a very different impression. Or, on a superficial viewing both could pick out the bits they agreed with, and dismiss the rest, not knowing how someone coming new to the film might see it.

The film starts with Scott, the trans man, who says the NHS has a gender crisis, then goes on to Withers, who says trans people have psychological issues they can’t recognise. Scott is shown saying he knows no detransitioners and the panic is unfounded, then Withers tells the story of his trans patient. After nine years expressing female, the patient reverted. Being post-operative, he needed a testosterone prescription and cannot live fully as a man. He was vilified by the trans community, says Withers, and unfortunately that is likely. He would be angry about being treated, we would be frightened his case would be used to prevent our treatment. Therapist and client both thought he had been sold a surgical solution to a psychological problem, and Withers’ refusal to consider alternative explanations later led him to being sanctioned by the discipline tribunal- but few people coming new to the “debate” will know that.

Very well. There are detransitioners. For the anti-trans campaigner, that is all that needs to be said. Transition has damaged them. For me, given that retransitioners talk of the transphobia that led them to detransition, it is all more complicated than that.

The surgeon, Inglefield, repeatedly says that surgery- the removal of breasts and penises, changing the facial appearance- is the only cure, but then is shown saying “Even five years ago, individuals would have been pushed into surgery because they were told the only way to manage GD is surgery.” So he is shown apparently contradicting himself. So is Peter Tatchell: he is shown saying with gender dysphoria there is too much focus on anatomy and not enough on psychology, and then shown saying he has always opposed the designation of trans people as having a mental health issue.

Matthews is an academic in English Literature who nevertheless expresses forceful opinions that trans children aren’t really trans. In the film, she appears once, saying she was concerned about the psychology of gender clinic clinicians, “blasé to the harm” they did their patient. At this point, the hater would be cheering.

Orbach gets a lot of screen time. She says the idea that medical treatment should be for a medical disorder throws up challenges to gender treatment. She does not think you should need a psychiatric diagnosis in order to get treatment. But as a psychotherapist, she would investigate people’s search for meaning, the complexities of their situation, their ability to be certain and at the same time tolerate internal differences.

Then she says (I think) that gender dysphoric children are forced into treatment because of pressure in the culture stopping them accepting their bodies, rather than a problem with the body itself. Well, I would like to change society too, and get rid of gender stereotypes, but until we do we need physical therapy.

Fonagy is chief executive of the Anna Freud national centre for children and families, where he taught Steidinger. He says that the distinction between physical and mental is unhelpful. I am not a Cartesian dualist either. He says trans people should have an opportunity to explore, psychologically, their problem with their experience of their body, without being stigmatised as mentally ill. The stigma reduces their willingness to explore their feelings. He feels if this were done, it might produce a resolution of gender identity issues “above other approaches that are more radical”. He can only mean surgery. So, if we understand, we will cease to want to transition, or at least to transition physically.

In the middle of this, Miller is shown saying easing gender dysphoria by psychological treatment is not a viable alternative. It would only end up seeking to deter people from transition. So cisnormative people, uncomfortable with trans people, are seeking a solution which they find comfortable.

Near the end, a caption asks, “What is gender dysphoria?” Miller says, “I dunno it’s hard to describe”. She is 23, transitioned since 17, and still “hyper aware of facets that seem overly masculine”. It’s how she is perceived, but also it is in her body.

Fonagy then says we need to be more sensitive to how gender can manifest in an individual.

Steidinger hardly appears until the last segment. She strings together her interviewees’ answers. But with Scott, we hear her voice. She asks him if he has thoughts about the causes of transgender, and he finds this stigmatising, like old questions about causes of homosexuality. We seek causes for things we find unpleasant or unacceptable.

Steidinger still thinks it is an important question. Things run smoothly for cis people, for trans people there is disruption, she says. Well, that is because society others us. Scott says it is possible that there are problems with current understandings of gender, even understandings which include trans people, but that is a different question.

Steidinger says, “I identify as lesbian”. An afterthought appears written on the screen- “Well, gay really”. “And also as gender nonconforming. I wanted to be a boy until I was twelve or something” and in writing it says, “Maybe to this day at times….”

“I ask what being gay was about,” she says. Ah, there it is. It is a film made by someone forced to question herself because she has minority sexual desires, and possibly a minority gender identity. So she produces a film where authority figures speculate on causes and psychological cures for gender dysphoria separate from being trans.

I know nothing of the ninety minute cut. I too speculate about causes, and underlying psychological issues, and get more and more certain that I am deeply feminine. Transition was the only way I could permit myself to be who I am. For me to feel safe presenting male but expressing my femininity would need a different life for me, a different upbringing, and almost certainly a different world.

I hope Steidinger has not suffered abuse for her film, but probably she has. Anti-trans campaigners could probably watch the short version and go away satisfied that surgery is wrong, and possibly that post-operative trans people are damaged, pitiable, and probably dangerous. And I see a filmmaker whose gender does not fit our society, who is questioning, and who just wants a psychological solution, as I still do. Oh, I want not to be in conflict.

And the film shows various cis people claiming that gender dysphoria is a psychological problem needing psychological solutions, and two trans people insisting it isn’t. So it is the perfect introduction to the “debate”. Which do you believe?

The New Statesman and trans

Are trans people a threat to women and children? You decide: The New Statesman is even-handed on the matter. It printed a review of Shon Faye, The Transgender Issue, and Helen Joyce, Trans, and an interview with Helen Joyce, in which a man, Harry Lambert, parroted her accusations in a fawning manner. On its website but not the print edition it had an interview with Shon Faye.

The editor really should spot the signs in the Helen Joyce hagiography. There is a threat to women, Joyce and Lambert claim, and it’s a bigger fight for women than the suffragettes faced. Inclusive language for trans men and nonbinary people is “dehumanising” for cis women, who are “vulnerable”. Anyone standing up for cis women’s rights to spaces without trans women, in a completely reasonable way, is “demonised” and “vilified”, despite their heroic “suffragette” status. There is a threat: schools, hospitals and prisons adopt “self-ID” where there are no safeguards, and people simply say they are trans. This is “regressive” (a word to offend NS’s “progressive” readers) and schools are “at risk”. Trans children receiving treatment from doctors is “a massive medical scandal”. “A climate of fear” prevents cis women from standing up to the Trans Threat.

Trans people dangerous! Cis people- women and children!– at risk! The minority is demonised in the article, which Denies Attacks and Reverses Victim and Offender.

This is of course ridiculous. Self-ID in prisons? Then why are most trans women prisoners in men’s prisons? A moment’s thought would refute all this, but the emotive words threat, risk, fear, prevent that thought. And so ordinary decent NS readers are taught to fear a minority. NS is not Völkischer Beobachter, but the article is Stürmeresque.

Sophie McBain reviewed both Faye’s and Joyce’s books. Writing of Faye, she seems mostly sympathetic, but gives statistics of girls referred to the gender clinic: 40 in 2009/10, 1806 in 2017/18. “Not all of these will transition medically” she says, but in fact the proportion is tiny: 16% were referred for puberty blockers, and only 9% for cross sex hormones.

No-one is being “pushed into identifying as trans”, as the article suggests. The problem is the opposite: if a trans child manages to reach the clinic, despite all the obstacles and the years-long waiting list, they are still unlikely to get treatment. The “massive medical scandal” is trans children left untreated, not as Joyce and these articles would have you believe innocent cis children being transed just because they are gender nonconforming or gay.

Then, in the course of balance, McBain goes on to Joyce’s book, which “raises questions”. What about the detransitioners? Should self-ID get you into women’s domestic violence shelters? Should any trans women (she does not mention the hormone requirements) be in women’s sports?

McBain does not simply accept Joyce’s views. “The more conspiratorial aspects of the book are the least persuasive”, she says, of the allegation of a “well-funded, politically sophisticated group of trans activists”. Harriet Harman produced our current system of self-id, out of decency and solidarity not ideology. McBain says Joyce “raises important, complicated issues”, and suggests teens with gender dysphoria should have “emotional support and counselling” rather than puberty blockers. She is right that “true freedom comes from dismantling gender stereotypes” but not as a replacement for hormone therapy. Then she suggests that male sex offenders get into women’s prisons by self-ID.

McBain gets a lot right, but her attempt at being judicious and nuanced means she falls for some, though not all, of Joyce’s paranoid propaganda. She calls Joyce’s figures that women athletes are slower than men, the “strongest parts of Joyce’s book, grounded in rigorous research and focused on the facts”, ignoring that all women athletes have exceptional physiques from natural aptitude, and hormone rules mean that no male athlete pretends to be trans.

If I just avoid news and comment sites which publish transphobic lies and propaganda, that means avoiding of all the mainstream British sites. If I read sites which print progressive views I support, such as The Guardian or NS, I will come across disturbingly transphobic articles which make me anxious and depressed. I don’t know what to do about this. I recommend you read the Shon Faye interview. It makes some excellent points. Now I will re-watch Philosophy Tube.

7 October: the transphobe Lambert attacked the Green Party in the new issue of NS. He claimed new co-leader Carla Denyer calling the anti-trans hate group LGB All Liars a hate group would divide the party and drive away supporters. He asked her co-leader Adrian Ramsay if “spaces” should be reserved for “those born female”, clearly showing his trans-excluding ideology. Ramsay told him the law: services could exclude individual trans women on a case by case basis. Lambert then told a falsehood about the current law, claiming that services could restrict access “on the basis of sex”, by which he means cis women only. He then claims that the leadership contest revolved around trans rights because Siân Berry challenged Shahrar Ali, rather than because Ali made an attack on trans rights his whole pitch.

8 February 2022: Louise Perry said trans rights is a matter of compelled speech: according to her saying trans men are men is like insisting water is not wet. So she calls for cis people to “fight”.

“Biological men” and centre-left politics

“Labour is proud to stand with the LGBT+ community,” it tweets. What does that mean in this political climate, and does anyone believe them?

The anti-trans campaigners have moved on. Trans women have been in women’s spaces and services forever, and that just wasn’t a problem. There are so few of us hardly anyone noticed, and they mostly didn’t care. But then in 2017 Theresa May proposed reforming the Gender Recognition Act, and the campaign against trans people got the billionaire rocket fuel it has now. At first, the haters pretended they had nothing against “genuine trans women”, only predatory men pretending to be trans women. One vile slogan against GRA reform was “Self-ID gives predators the green light”. This is obviously transphobic, teaching people to fear “genuine” trans women, and judge us. Is that really a trans woman, or is it a “predatory male”?

But now there is no chance of GRA reform, and the transphobes have moved on. There is still the ritual claim “I have always supported rights for trans people”, along with a demand for “biological men” to be excluded from all women’s “single sex” or “separate sex” services.

Keir Starmer’s response was to support the Equality Act. Trans women can be excluded if there is good reason to do so, and not otherwise. Trans rights are just about fine as they are now, and so are women’s rights. He might think that was safe, but being centrist- listen to both sides, do what is reasonable- is not safe. The Independent reported this in the most confrontational way possible. “Keir Starmer backs excluding trans women from some women only spaces”, as if he had come down on a side. If there was any reasonable discussion, this might be tenable. I have no wish to retraumatise a woman who has just been raped, and would stay out of some spaces if it was reasonable. But the demand is for total exclusion, which brooks no compromise.

Ideally just before Conference attention should be on Labour values and policies, on Keir Starmer and his Fabian Society pamphlet. Instead, Rosie Duffield, relentless anti-trans campaigner, is “trending”.

On The Today Programme culture warrior Justin Webb asked Ed Davey, leader of the LibDems, “Do you believe there should be places in our society where biological males can’t go?” He spent more than a third of the interview (starts at 1.51.40) putting the views of the extremist trans excluders, with a petulant sneer, as if they were only seeking what everyone would agree is right. Absolutely no trans women, not never not nohow, in any women’s service. If I wanted to try on a T-shirt before buying it I should trek to the men’s section. Not all clothes shops have a men’s section. I should be humiliated.

Poor Ed Davey tried to be consensual. “I think the trans rights issue is an issue that all parties are grappling with and we need to come to some consensus across political parties.” Webb demanded a straight answer. Attempt at nuance, with any complex issue, is portrayed as equivocation. No issue is black and white, but any admission of shades of grey is called dishonest.

So Labour needs a clear, defensible position. Trans women might be excluded from women’s spaces if we did something wrong. Karen White should not be in the general population of a women’s prison. But we should not be excluded simply because of who we are. I would treat traumatised women with compassion, but not be excluded by diktat.

This needs a soundbite. “Trans women are women. Trans women should never be excluded from a women’s service because of who they are.”

Then explain as necessary. Any person who behaves badly might be excluded from a service because of what they have done, but not because of who they are. The Equality Act has always protected trans people from the moment they decide to transition. Trans women are vulnerable. Portraying us as a threat incites violence against us.

So Rosie Duffield is trending, and the news is full of the right to “single sex services” meaning No Trans Women, and my friend who is cis, in favour of trans rights, and bi, says Labour’s tweet is “opportunistic and not-credible”. Trans people should support Labour, to get the Tories out. Labour should return the favour. If that made anti-trans campaigners leave, that would be a bonus. They already are only of use to the hard Right.

Greenbelt Festival 2021

Grace Petrie is the weekend’s headline act. I took down my tent unhurriedly, helped by neighbours, and stayed, chatting. Over tea, a woman told of the trauma of being brought up Catholic- terrifying small children with Hell- then of how she needed a church, so was now Anglican.

I cycled home with the tent, then checked if there were tickets available: I bought one. I decided to commute in, so cycled to the festival on Saturday without my tent. On Monday Paul N. had greeted me by name as I came in, and now Joe does. We chat of Quakers.
All the venues are next to each other: Caravan of Love, Tiny Tea Tent, Indian street food, Long Barn main venue, Café, Shed talks venue. There are toilets at both ends, showers at the downhill end away from the path out. I love “Please do not be a selfish tit” signs, and this is a prime example.

A little way away is the Clearing, for worship, with logs to sit on among the trees. All the tents are close to the venues. 1500 is a good number attending. The Long Barn is a large marquee without sides, and for Harry and Chris the audience spills out. We are lucky it did not rain at all in the day, with only one brief shower in the night. And still, in front of the stage in a large dancing crowd I wonder if we could spread covid. Its friendly. I parked my bike, with clothes to keep warm in the evening, by the top end, unlocked.

I am here for the music, but went off for the introduction to stargazing. So now I know what the Summer Triangle is: the bright stars Altair, Deneb and Vega, from which constellations can be found. The man pointed out Saturn and Jupiter.

There was also a poetry workshop. We went into the clearing, and first looked down to what was underneath our feet. I loved the ladybird. I saw the creeper all across the ground, the leaves and twigs not yet mould. The creeper has been cut from the trees, and apparently the dead, hanging strands cannot draw life from the trunk itself, but new creepers are climbing.

Next exercise was to pick a tree and write about it. The trees are tall and straight, but I picked a shorter one. I noticed some of its branches had no leaves at all.

Come late? No matter.
Hungry leaves at all levels below the canopy
Keep trying. Spread wide. Reward success.

You can address the tree, as I did, or give it a voice.

In the café, a woman told me she worked in a mental hospital locked ward. I had for a time. She wanted to train as an advocate for the patients. One says that the nurse on suicide watch overnight fell asleep, and she felt unsafe. The staff member denies it, and the patient is ill, so not believed, but then the same thing is said by another patient.

Another nurse told me that she worked in palliative care for a bit, and one of the nurses had managed to steal morphine, diluting the vials. Trust can cause problems. Now, she works overseeing the first human trials of new drugs, on healthy volunteers.

I got chatting to another Scot who had come to England after Uni, and went to her tent for coffee. There is a trans flag on a tent, and I ask her if she knows what it is, but she does not. She introduces me to the people in the tent opposite, who share their chocolate brownies. Then I wander off to another tent as the gazebo has a Pride flag, and chat for a bit. They may volunteer with the Out at Greenbelt group next year. There’s a Welsh flag further on, and I could have gone and said Shwmae. Someone told me her flag was Devon’s.

There were about fifty for the Quaker meeting, and after I went for tea with a woman who had found Quakers at Greenbelt in 2015, and just become a member.

Music. This is Nick Parker and the False Alarms

and this is Daudi Matsiko.

I am here for Grace Petrie, and her fiddler. Of course she sings Black Tie. I turn to the woman next to me, and say, “This is what I am here for”- and then burst into tears with the chorus. After all the hostility of the anti-trans campaigners, it is wonderful to hear such a strong blast of goodwill and sanity. Then I cycle home.

Two poems

Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet is strange. It consists of hundreds of sections, stuffed in an envelope, edited by others. We do not know what order they should be in, or whether any particular section should be included. They are beautiful. I summarised twenty sections in 26 lines, and included a reference to the death of Newton.

I write
to pass the time as we wait for death
(A well, staring at the sky)
I dream, and act, detesting both.
Feeling is pain.
I am the half-deserted streets
where a scary army drifts
I write pebbles by the Sea of Unknowing.
I am great!
A clerk at my ledger, a monk meeting Christ
I want to be the ordinary man I am.
My ledger records the world’s worth.
No poet enters it.
I imagine seeing, but do not see.
Everything is denied me.
My negligible genius embodies the hopeless hopes of millions.
I love my desk and inkstand.
Everyone lives to be exploited.
I dream of knights and princesses.
Vasques- the boss.
A brute, a God, he will fill all my life.
The street of the gilders contains everything: Life, and Art:
monotonous banality.
Frustrating changeability!
I escape oppression only to oppress myself.
I see and hear everything about you, except your words.

A hundred years later, this is me.

It is good to be seen. It is good to be not seen.
Seen, I clasped a mask in terror
I could not take it off.
Alone, unseen, I start to dance.
Not seen, I wriggle in delight
in light, I might
become myself, not tight, set loose
juicy, a goose flying, crying, mystifying
soaring, a fountain pouring forth
I am the light, the source,
no mists or silks obscure the pure
So much better than a mask,
a task of pleasing or fitting in,
being useful, submerged, subsumed
not accepting what I felt
unsafe, bound.
Only if I can hold the grief and pain
can I hold all the joy and delight.
Now, having found the world entire, the fire
the crier and the cry, the heart, the dart
all mine, my desire
is to see and be seen,
naked and unashamed.
I am here. Now.

Art recently has been by Gerard ter Borch, who painted skirts really well. This shows he could also paint faces. There are several versions:

Helen Joyce, “Trans”

Birds swim, fish fly, mammals lay eggs. Nothing natural comes in nice, clear categories. However precisely we define them, every concept has fuzzy edges which challenge our understanding of it. Most or all women are indeed “adult human females”, whatever that means, and some women are trans.

I only did not chuck Joyce’s book across the room because it was on an e-reader. Every paragraph contains falsehoods or inaccuracies or simply misses the point. “This is a book about an idea”, she claims, which she calls “gender identity ideology”, which is simply not the way I see myself or any other trans person.

According to Joyce, “gender identity ideology” is a wide-ranging philosophical system which defines and describes everyone. It “sees everyone as possessing a gender identity,” she claims. However, many women, especially anti-trans campaigners, say they have no particular sense of a gender identity. Therefore gender identity ideology vanishes in a puff of logic. But, since it is her ideology rather than ours, trans people don’t vanish with it. We’re still here.

As a quasi-scientific explanation of humanity used to justify the argument that trans women are women, gender identity ideology only exists in the minds of the anti-trans campaigners. What we have instead is stories. I wanted to transition more than anything else in the world, but the thought terrified me. So I needed stories to justify this decision to myself and fortunately the word “transsexual” was there to help with that. I was a transsexual. There is fiddling with language since- transsexual, transsexual person, transgender, trans woman, whatever- but it made enough sense to me for me to transition. And I wanted stories to tell other people, to explain myself. This is my identity. It feels like who I am. And others observed how much happier and more relaxed I was, expressing myself female.

If “Trans” is a book about an idea, as the first sentence of the introduction says, then it can be put in the bin. It refutes a straw man so ridiculous that no-one need pay any attention to it. So what if Magnus Hirschfeld, Harry Benjamin and John Money had ridiculous ideas. They helped a huge number of people find our true selves. Unfortunately it is a book about people, which seeks to change how trans women are seen and treated, to expel us from the women’s spaces we have been in for decades, officially and as of right since 2010. Yes, all of them: her chapter “We just need to pee” sternly expels us.

Trans people, mostly harmless eccentrics, are portrayed as the great threat, to women and children. She claims studies show children with gender dysphoria mostly “grow out of it”, but such studies were flawed, based on the idea that being trans was a “disorder”, and some children were referred to clinics because they had a few cross-gender behaviours- boys liking dolls, for example- not a consistent, years-long conviction that they were of the other sex.

Rather than ordinary people trying to live our lives, she claims there are “trans activists”, funded by billionaires. The funding is on the other side. Someone I knew got money from a billionaire, paid through an intermediary- but she is an anti-trans campaigner. There was around £20,000 for a Times full page advert, and there are oodles of more or less hopeless cases against trans rights.

“Gender clinics have come under activists’ sway”, she claims, and the result is the mutilation of children! Help! Murder! Polis! What could we possibly gain by transing cis children?

However, in case her hate is showing, she distinguishes “ordinary trans people who simply want safety and social acceptance” from those nasty trans activists. Who are they? They have not had surgery, because people coming out as trans don’t usually “under[go] any sort of medical treatment”, (her claim is untrue) even though those cis children are “fast-tracked to hormones and surgery”.

She discusses David Reimer, whose penis was damaged when he was a baby, so he was brought up as a girl. His parents and teachers maintained the fiction that he was a girl, but he was unhappy and unfeminine, gaining the nickname “Cavewoman”. This is evidence of an innate gender identity, which survives despite socialisation. Joyce denies that. She claims his biology made him a boy. This contradicts much feminist thought, which claims that femininity is the oppression of the patriarchy, and that women have “masculine” characteristics which get suppressed by socialisation. But Joyce claims that being a biological male made him masculine despite his upbringing.

It’s all a ridiculous fantasy, belying Richard Dawkins’ cover quote: “Frighteningly necessary, thoroughly researched, passionate and very brave”. So he’s a transphobe: trans is frightening, restricting us is necessary. Did he even read it?

Escaping the culture wars

The Fabian Society shows how culture wars are created by the right wing to damage the left. Its pamphlet “Counter Culture” details how we could resist them and build solidarity: by working to end culture wars, not to win them. Culture wars are political fights picked not to change public policy, but to enflame emotion and deepen division as a campaigning tool. They do not show differences in interest or beliefs among people generally, but instead are fomented by elites.

Even right-wingers who might profit electorally should see that the damage to social cohesion is not worth it. The Left sees we have “more in common than what divides us”, and only solidarity offers real security. Our anger at injustice can give us energy for campaigning, but harms us when it breaks relationships.

I got the pamphlet to see what it said about the anti-trans movement. There may be 50,000 people transitioned or transitioning in Britain now, but trans is dragged up constantly by the right wing press, and Tory MPs recognise it is a wedge issue to divide the working class from other disadvantaged groups. “MPs have been piling pressure to engage in a war on woke. Issues ranging from alleged BBC bias and Extinction Rebellion to trans rights and Black Lives Matter could unite the base, wrote Katy Balls. So this is a campaign strategy, to “fatten the pig before market day” and get people identifying as Tories, rather than a coherent strategy on policy, and the war against trans people is a central plank.

“Culture war” is an American term, concerning issues of who we are as a nation. The international hard right exports this around the world. Though in Britain Christianity is less important, and on the Left as well as the Right, the media which ignored culture war in 2015 was writing about it daily in 2020. Even now, few people care. But Tory voters who have “leant their votes” in the North of England are economically left wing, dividing them from the core Tory vote, members and MPs. But on questions of identity and values, Tories are united, and Labour MPs, members and voters divided.

Populism is different: a view of Left or Right that the corrupt elite oppress the real people. So for the Left, plutocrats distort our politics to avoid paying their share or supporting the common good, and for the Right, enemies of the people, such as judges, tried to block Brexit. But most people are reasonably accepting of trans people, and those working for us or against us are educated and comparatively wealthy.

The writers propose three elements in culture war. 1. An attempt to argue that the Left undermines or disrespects Britain or its people. Jonathan Haidt says on the Left, morality is based on care for others and fairness, but on the Right includes respect for tradition, loyalty and sanctity. 2. This exploits majority fears, and the loss aversion cognitive bias, with zero-sum thinking that others’ gain is our loss, producing a thwarted sense of entitlement, that something is being taken from us. 3. Something minor, marginal, or made up is being amplified: you will rarely see a trans woman in a women’s loo, and Laurel Hubbard is one trans woman in a competition of 11,000 athletes in 339 events, the first since trans women could compete as women in 2004.

Culture war is a Right wing strategy to divide, distract and demoralise the Left. The British Social Attitudes survey shows an increasingly liberal outlook. The media is creating culture war, for example The Times’ obsessive reporting demonising trans people. 2% of the people produce 80% of the tweets. The BBC found someone from Philadelphia to argue that Adele committed cultural appropriation, in order to stage a “debate”.

The culture wars distract us from real issues that affect our lives. A cis woman might read a pejorative article about Laurel Hubbard, “do her research” and start campaigning against trans rights even though she has never had a bad experience with a trans woman, let alone have her off-line life affected by trans rights. They divide feminists on trans rights, so feminists oppose each other with arcane debates, rather than working together against patriarchy, and appear irrelevant to other women. We spend time in smaller echo-chambers, so do not seek common ground. And people on Left and Right use the word misgendering as a shorthand for allegedly woke policies, not in the interest of the working class, which the Left should avoid- as if we could not support trans rights as well as equitable economics. But working class cis people may have trans friends, and trans people also suffer materially. Class is a matter of identity.

The culture war demoralises us, exhausting us. The class interest of the majority of people, in getting companies and the wealthiest to pay fair taxes, is clear, but the Right would claim supporting Black rights is an attack on white people. Women, particularly Black women, in politics face dreadful abuse.

The culture war is fomented by grievance mongers driving a wedge between supporters of interventionist economic policy, tempting some away by a “war on woke”. And by those who make a living from outrage, such as Melanie Philips. Once they start, people affected join in- trans people on facebook occasionally speak up for our rights, because our lives are affected, and so public threads started by enthusiastic trans-excluders grow like tumours. Toxic social media polarises debate, then news media gets attention by quoting tweets, or inviting grievance peddlers to “debate” on news programmes.

Then there are trolls, who enjoy being transgressive, or enjoy seeing others emotionally wounded, or are marginalised people who crave status, or who work for malign foreign actors seeking to promote division. Social media amplifies them.

How can the Left build a better politics? We need to repay our debts to those who have sacrificed or suffered the most, from the financial crash, austerity and Covid. We need a vision of the future everyone can value. Robert Kennedy in the 1960s built a coalition of working class whites and blacks by saying what he believed, and giving a coherent, popular message, rather than relying on focus groups, by finding a consistent story that unites voters in all battlegrounds. We need to mention all groups by name, or they do not feel included. Their dignity and feelings matter, not just their income. A story of our past which everyone can take pride in showing the unity Gareth Southgate builds in his team?

Politicians should calm down angry division, and show how they can negotiate a solution where everyone wins, through co-operation. To love one’s country is not a matter of having a particular view on the legacy of empire, but to uphold the integrity of its institutions; not to demonise immigrants and benefit claimants, but those who seek to buy influence or avoid their responsibilities to society. We should shame culture war peddlers, and promote the understanding that a diversity of opinions and values is essential to democracy. We need to regulate social media out of making money from division and misinformation.

We should name and oppose the attempts to distract and divide us. We need to know a good argument before facing the questions. 77% of people believe the media makes the country look more divided than it is, and 44% believe politicians exaggerate culture war as a political tactic. Why are they trying to shift the debate from covid deaths to statues?

We need inclusive social movements, cross-class, multi-racial and intergenerational. We should not use a language of weakness and shame, labelling people vulnerable or hard to reach. We should use clear language- most people agree that it is easier to get ahead if you are white, but far fewer agree that there is white privilege in Britain.

The pamphlet is freely available here.

Transphobic and trans-friendly news reporting

It can be good to read an obsessively transphobic publication, because they print good news about trans. The Times reported that the French Rugby Federation would allow trans women to play in women’s teams, based on T levels alone, a day before The Independent reported it, because they are obsessed with trans and on the lookout for anything that can be twisted to make trans look bad. Hooray!

A paper is entitled to provide context, but all the context here is slanted against trans women. So we read that World Rugby recommended trans women couldn’t, and that it would be unfair on cis women, who they called “women”. The RFU said trans women taller than 5’7” would be assessed individually so they were not a “risk”. Safety, fairness, risk, stated and repeated. No comments praising the FFR.

The Guardian reported that the UK government was going to host a global conference on LGBTQ+ rights. Its reporting was clear, newsworthy and trans friendly. The government had made pledges to the Equal Rights Coalition. Nick Herbert, formerly a gay Tory MP, now a lord and outspoken trans ally, will chair it.

Again good news. But the context, here, is relevant to LGBT rights, the subject of the conference, rather than transphobe assertions. ILGA says there is an increase in HoBiT and political repression, and a standstill on policy progress. The Tories’ policies on voter suppression, demanding photo ID, would disproportionately affect trans people. Stonewall criticised the government for failing to act on gender recognition.

Author Amelia Abraham’s comments are quoted, saying the consultation on conversion therapy was ridiculous- ban it, already. The failure to reform gender recognition was a slap in the face.

Here we have a clear, useful summary of why the British Government is a transphobic load of haters, and I am delighted. And even the Times report has to tell us the good news, in order to repeat its transphobic drivel yet again.

The Guardian also had a useful article on how much campaigning against “the woke left” is against trans rights. Zoe Williams says Labour should oppose social conservatism, and say why. The “Campaign for Common Sense” picked on eight items on the “Woke agenda”, and three were trans related: inclusive language for trans men, trans women existing, and medical treatment for trans children. To see the rest of the list, and the transphobic way they expressed it, see the article.

My trans friend thought a transphobic Guardian editorial two years ago, saying the trans excluders had a point and should be heard, was a declaration of their policy. I hope they are moving away from their earlier transphobia.