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.

Klara and the Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end might appear melancholy, but Klara is content.

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

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

The Reader

What would you have done? Twenty years later I am reading “The Reader”, a Holocaust novel. Comprehensive spoilers.

A woman joined the SS, and became a camp guard. The inmates were marched west to escape the advancing Russians, and locked into a church. When the church was bombed and caught fire, the guards would not open the door so all but two inmates burned to death.

The novel never has a character answer the question. The woman asks the judge, whose reply is dreadful. Surely he must have thought about it. He could have simply refused to answer. He said,

“There are matters one simply cannot get drawn into, that one must distance oneself from, if the price is not life and limb.”

Well, yes, of course, the woman is guilty, but that wasn’t the question. She is lost in thought. She asks herself, “Should I not have joined up?” She does not know.

“Were you afraid if they escaped you would be arrested, convicted, shot?” Her response is, “We were responsible for them.” In other words that she does not use, it was her duty to stop them escaping. Yet, fleeing west, the Reich was collapsing, and Hitler would only survive a few more months.

She joined the SS because she was going to be made a supervisor at the Siemens factory, and it would have come out that she was illiterate. That terrified her. There were five guards, confused, frightened women, with no idea what to do, and at the trial she assumes responsibility, rather than be found out as illiterate. It is a greater shame to her to be illiterate than to be a Nazi murderer.

There are useful notes on motivation. It’s called “shadow motivation”, I heard, after I noticed I find what I want when I see what I do. Bernhard Schlink, the author, puts it this way: “But behaviour does not merely enact whatever has already been thought through and decided. It has its own sources, and is my behaviour, quite independently, just as my thoughts are my thoughts, and my decisions my decisions.”

The woman, Hanna Schmitz, seduces the narrator, Michael Berg, when he is fifteen and she is 36. She is kind to him, he notices her physical attractiveness, he goes to see her, she grasps his erection. After, he cannot form a sexual relationship with women his own age. At the end, the Jewish survivor points this out. After his divorce, Michael admits to himself that any woman he has must resemble Hanna for things to work between them.

He wants convention. “She would behave normally, I would behave normally, and everything would be normal again.” When she comes out of prison, he finds a flat for her, and wants to be respectable. I have noticed this in myself. However I think such convention, without the mutual love and loyalty of being a couple, was unbearable for her.

He barely mentions his mother, and his relationship with his father is distant. He is numb. I am not numb, any more, not completely. I am in my body. (Not everyone is.) I am in touch with some of my emotions. It is not clear that he is.

What would I have done? Ones life unfolds from small changes to big ones. She might have seen that the Jews were oppressed, and found opportunities to resist, until she was murdered herself. She did not have to join the SS.

I thought of an eye-catching first line for this post: “My father never saw the people he killed”. Well, he was thousands of feet up in the air, raining bombs on them. It was his duty. He was one of a team of seven, in a Lancaster, in a squadron of many planes. It’s a good first line to catch attention, but to use those acts for that purpose is dishonourable. What would I have done? If I wasn’t in the Lancaster, it would be for “lack of moral fibre” rather than conscientious objection. I did not hear conscientious objectors admired until my thirties. Conchies were cowards. I was not given the moral framework to resist, and don’t think I could have worked it out for myself.

I feel sadness for Hanna. I want to find absolution for her. I go back over the start of the- “relationship”, Michael calls it, to see. I read over the incidents, and find her culpable. I did not consider she harmed him, until it was stated baldly at the end, even though throughout the book he talks of his difficulties with women. There are questions for discussion, not a thing you often see in a novel. “Does Hanna engage your sympathy at any point after you found out that she was a camp guard?” Yes. All the time. This may be unusual.

In my own life I find some admirable acts, but I don’t think I could point to anything as heroic. I know that my rational understanding of what is or is not shameful does not match completely with what shames me. The choice Hanna made was to join up, and she did that to avoid her illiteracy being revealed.

Sometimes, I see the chance to do something I consider worthwhile. Sometimes, I take that chance. If I don’t judge others, this is not necessarily virtuous. “Who is ‘The Reader’ of the title?” ask those questions. Michael reads to Hanna, by the end she has learned to read, but for me The Reader is me.

American Politics

Why should a British person be so interested in US politics? Is it weird or shameful, like a Chelsea FC fan from Vladivostok? When I cannot name a German politician apart from Angela Merkel, why can I name, say, Brad Raffensperger? German politics affects me, now the mad Brexiters have reduced the UK to a powerless satellite of the EU, unable to control our own fisheries, with Northern Ireland, part of the kingdom, subject to laws made elsewhere and perhaps soon to be excised?

US politics affects me. There are still British troops in Afghanistan, suffering 454 deaths so far, who have caused many times more deaths. There were British troops in Iraq for eight years, with 179 deaths, causing many times more deaths. The total cost in Iraq was £9.24bn in 2010. The Trump administration defunding the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and reducing the climate data they collected makes action against climate change more difficult. Along with his other manoeuvres to prevent action against climate change, this makes the survival of human civilisation less likely.

There are US military bases in Britain. This is illegal, so they are, wholly fictionally, Royal Air Force bases. A single RAF lieutenant (pronounced leftenant) invites the Americans as his “guests”. Britain has nuclear missiles made and targeted in the US, hardly an “independent” deterrent. British politicians shamefully, oleaginously, whine about the “special relationship”.

The New York Times and The Atlantic, which I read, are mainly about the US, but their contents are relevant to me. There are QAnon and anti-maskers in Britain. What they say about social media informs my understanding of my own addiction to likes, and my understanding of how British, as well as American, people behave. Paul Krugman writes about the US economy, but about ways in which the Conservative government in Britain damage the British economy.

Then there is the purely American aspect: the interaction between Federal and State law and politics, the Electoral College, the law and politics around abortion. The technical issues Linda Greenhouse writes about, explaining the US Supreme Court in the NYT, are completely irrelevant to me, but the questions she writes about and the ways they are answered, such as the concept of “Originalism”, fascinate me. This is news as entertainment, for me, a story of how humans are outside my own experience, which enlarges my understanding of how humans can be. How do we solve problems? How do we disagree?

It becomes more personal for me, Zooming with Americans. I was aware of the murder in Charlottesville of Heather Heyer, but meeting and talking with someone from there makes it more real.

The more grotesque aspects of Donald Trump also form politics as entertainment. Trump says or does something disgusting or shocking, and I want to read about it just like rubbernecking a car crash. OMG what has he done/said now??? Demonstrators went to the airports to inveigh against the Muslim ban, and I was with them in spirit even though I could do nothing to advance their cause. I demonstrated against Trump when he came here. His machinations over the election was a fabulous drama.

I feel uncomfortable about these articles when it seems I am feeling other people’s feelings. Writers and publications are, rightly, disgusted or offended by Trump, and the articles communicate these feelings. It seems to me that feeling along with these feelings of contempt or anger, at an acceptable target, in an acceptable way to my community and my self-image, is addictive and cuts me off from my real feelings about situations more real and immediate to me. I want to understand the man, so read psychologists on his narcissism, and his 6 January speech to find how he gains the adulation and service of his crowds. I don’t want to be moved to outrage by every little thing he does. It’s not my outrage. It does me no good. And if Marjorie Taylor Greene wants to take over his role of owning the libs by shocking us, I have no wish to play along.

Finally, there is so much to inspire in the US. It may be the greatest country in the world.

Media regulation

Impress has a consultation on its Code of Standards for British newspapers. Does this give a chance to reduce transphobia in the media?

Impress has a Royal Charter, and therefore is officially recognised as a press regulator. This was backed by the National Union of Journalists and Hacked Off, a campaign group against press intrusion. However it is rejected by the national press and major regional newspapers, who use the Independent Press Standards Organisation, IPSO, instead. Nevertheless Impress’s code may influence what is considered wrongful in journalism, so it may be worth responding.

Clause 4, on discrimination, is relevant. Other clauses do not refer to particular groups.

4.1. Publishers must not make prejudicial or pejorative reference to a person on the basis of that person’s age, disability, mental health, gender reassignment or identity, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation or another characteristic that makes that person vulnerable to discrimination.

4.2. Publishers must not refer to a person’s disability, mental health, gender reassignment or identity, pregnancy, race, religion or sexual orientation unless this characteristic is relevant to the story.

IPSO’s code mirrors 4.1 and 4.2, but has no equivalent for 4.3. 4.1 and 2 allow people to complain about mistreatment of individuals.

4.3. Publishers must not incite hatred against any group on the basis of that group’s age, disability, mental health, gender reassignment or identity, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation or another characteristic that makes that group vulnerable to discrimination.

Publishers who do not accept Impress’s code freely incite contempt, mockery and disgust for trans people, claiming we are dangerous to women. Contempt and disgust lead to violence, just as hatred does.

The current guidance on 4.3 says it should be interpreted narrowly.

Language that qualifies as hate speech is that which is intended to, or is likely to, provoke hatred or to put a person or group in fear. The disputed words, therefore, must be more than provocative, offensive, hurtful or objectionable: this provision is about hate speech, not speech that merely hurts feelings. It includes, but is not limited to, speech that is likely to cause others to commit acts of violence against members of the group or discriminate against them… It is intended to allow for freedom to engage in even the fiercest attacks upon and criticisms of the political views and beliefs of others.

When applying this provision to non-racial groups, and especially to those groups who are not covered by existing UK hate speech laws, IMPRESS will interpret it narrowly and cautiously and with a strong presumption in favour of freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression is the priority. Under the continual prejudice we face, a lot of press comment, mocking jokes, whatever, is likely to put us in fear, but if each instance is judged by itself most will not meet that threshold. Statements that cis women need “single-sex spaces” incite hatred against trans women, but are designed to appear innocuous.

Impress also says about religion,

beliefs or practices may be subject to the fiercest criticisms, insults or ridicule. It is people who are protected by this clause, not religion itself.

Transphobes would argue transition is akin to a “belief or practice”.

Impress seeks evidence:

Whether Clause 4 of the Code is fit for purpose, and adequately reflects how discrimination is experienced by those with protected characteristics, particularly in an online context. Specifically whether the discrimination standard adequately addresses the degree, manner, and extent to which journalism practices impact on discrimination in society and whether they sufficiently reflect the relationship between discrimination and other clauses of the Code such as accuracy, privacy, and harassment.

Complaints are generally about individual articles, and individually many articles don’t meet the criteria. The Mail’s article on Redvers Buller could not possibly breach this code, even if the Mail accepted it. It’s just one more sneering reference to nonbinary.

The cumulative effect of such derision is to increase my fear. It’s not just one article, it’s a daily barrage of derision and contempt. Anything which makes a trans woman look bad might get reported, even if it would obviously not be newsworthy if about a cis person. We don’t need the code to deal with individual stories, most of which are not clearly enough hateful to be censured. We need the code to deal with publishers on their whole content, all the sneering and mockery. Viewed together, each mocking aside mounts up to deliberate hate.

Evidence of the levels of hatred in society, the constant derision and loathing from the press, and the effect this has on trans people, could be relevant, but would need to be particularly strong and detailed. Each individual story in the Mail or Times comes nowhere near hate speech. The cumulative effect is to incite hatred and contempt.

This page explains how to give evidence. The closing date is 30 January.

Kathleen Stock

Professor Kathleen Stock, OBE, gave a talk calling for the drastic reduction of academic feminism. Though she barely referred to trans rights, her talk only makes sense if you realise she considers its acceptance of trans people renders academic feminism worthless.

She says academic feminism is not feminism because it is “no longer directly concerned with women and girls”. That feminism says nearly all differences between men and women are social and cultural constructs. She calls respecting trans and nonbinary identities “anti-feminist and anti-intellectual”. She claims people who believe in cis privilege deny any claim cis women have to political attention: as if they did not think male privilege important at all, never objected to it, and did nothing about it.

She says academic feminists cannot “easily” discuss menstruation, or properly talk about the objectification of girls, because they use language which includes trans men and nonbinary folk. She seems to disapprove of academics “working in the name of justice rather than simply documenting or explaining things”. But academics cannot simply document, because justice or injustice is advanced by where they pay their attention. Prof. Corinne Fowler reporting on slavery links to British wealth acts for justice merely by describing, and is passionate about attacks on her right to so act. Ethics is the philosophical attempt to define justice: without philosophy, we cannot improve our understanding of what is right, and so our work for it is impeded.

Stock’s definition of “liberal” is wide. It includes a “dream of objective universal values”. I would call that “Enlightenment” rather than “liberal”, which refers to freedom, even though “freedom” can be defined in so many different ways, some the opposite of others. Stock talks of “neoliberal” universities. Neoliberalism is about the absence of restriction by government, freedom to make monopolies and despoil the planet. It is far, politically, from trans inclusion, which requires government action to promote equality.

I don’t understand this criticism. “Academic feminists are still likely to think of themselves as uniquely well-placed to see what ordinary women cannot, via their superior rational capacities and quasi-technical methodologies.” Surely that is the point of academic study? If you devote yourself to knowledge about a particular subject, you will understand it better than someone who does not.

She wants a “post-liberal feminism”, free of all this.

It should recognise that women have different interests from men because of sexual dimorphism and heterosexuality. Men are stronger and more aggressive than women, and desire them sexually, and this causes “huge suffering” in women. Of course. She claims academic feminism “takes away the words of women to say this”. She does not say how. It is left to the audience to infer that she means, by promoting trans inclusion. But feminism also needs to address male privilege, which she does not mention, the cultural tendency of both sexes to show women less respect and attention than men.

She wants a recognition of “femininity”. Feminism should work to eliminate gendered ideas and practices which negatively affect the well-being of women, but always recognise the value those ideas have to those women who are attached to them: she recognises mere condemnation alienates those women, and achieves nothing.

I like that bit, and it’s the part most widely mocked. Someone quoted her phrase “The goal of feminism should not be equality”, out of context. Roz Kaveney tweeted that Prof. Stock was “replacing freedom and equality with ‘well-being’ which she can’t define”. That is no criticism: Prof. Stock says feminism’s purpose is defining it.

Well-being seems a pretty clear word to me. As Prof. Stock says, it has physical, mental and spiritual aspects. Different people have different ideas of well-being, which may be more or less “feminine”.

The most important thing when considering femininity is that there is no characteristic, emotion, virtue or aptitude which is not equally valuable in both sexes, or which only applies to one sex (apart from role in reproduction). True freedom is the ability to develop ones capacities to the full, however “masculine” or “feminine” they are, even when they contradict social stereotypes. Some women want a large family, and accept Complementarian gender roles in order to nurture it: feminism must wrestle with that reality.

My feminist friend, going to university around 1970, told me she could not understand how compliant the other female students were, and because women like my friend are particularly oppressed by gender stereotypes they may be particularly drawn to feminism. That makes feminism’s response to homemaker women more fraught. Outside universities, there are women’s groups which fit homemakers better, others which foster radical feminism. These groups will simply be at cross-purposes unless academic feminists can make some sense of the issues.

Prof. Stock finds feminism outside the Universities best able to define women’s well-being. “Collectively groups of women and girls can work out what is conducive to their well-being, or at least what clearly isn’t.” Perhaps she is thinking of Ovarit, or the trans-obsessives of Mumsnet. When “many spheres of value are still dominated by men, others by liberal elites, and nearly all by capitalism” she admits working out well-being is difficult. Fortunately, among ordinary women as well as academic feminists there are many trans allies. There is no feminist aim supported by all women.

Ordinary women might not need academics to tell them that “choking during sex” is harmful, but academics might find how prevalent women being aroused by it is, or women consenting when it arouses men, or how, legally, consent to strangulation as a defence to a charge of murder could be treated. Considering what questions are most useful to ask, or how best data might answer them, is a peculiarly academic skill.

Prof. Stock says academic feminists should help grassroots feminists achieve their aims, through data collection, not claim to know better about “ontological or moral reality”.

Prof. Stock’s rejection of academic feminism, and feminist ontology or ethics, makes no sense but for her rejection of trans inclusion. If there is any other grassroots feminist issue which academic feminists oppose overwhelmingly, please do say.

Prof. Stock’s transcript is here. It is clear she got her OBE for hating trans people, and advancing Tory nationalist aims. There are too many equally eminent academics who have not been so honoured. It is because she would get rid of academic feminism. She believes any value academic feminism has, is vitiated by trans-inclusion. This assigns far too great a weight to trans inclusion, and finds it uniquely damaging. It is clearly transphobic, that is, an irrational fear reaction.

Her talk, and others from Res Publica, are on video here. A long detailed refutation of Stock’s poor argument, mendacity and transphobia is on Praile.

Trans in Game of Thrones

A voice inside her whispered, There are no heroes, and she remembered what Lord Petyr had said to her, here in this very hall. “Life is not a song, sweeting,” he’d told her. “You may learn that one day to your sorrow.” In life, the monsters win, she told herself.

All of A Song of Ice and Fire is bleak: mostly unsympathetic people have a ghastly time, then die. Very occasionally, courage is rewarded, but more often betrayal and trickery. One of the oaths sworn is “Grant mercy to our weak, help to our helpless, and justice to all, and we shall never fail you.” That does not turn out well, though. Some characters, such as Sansa, believe in honour and chivalry, even after seeing its opposite close to: “True knights protect the weak.” But this idea is mocked: “When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die,” Cersei tells Eddard Stark. Life is harsh:

The Peaceful People, [Missandei’s] folk were called. All agreed that they made the best slaves.

What about the trans people? Brienne of Tarth is mocked so long as a freak she believes it herself.

Had Brienne been a man, she would have been called big; for a woman, she was huge. Freakish was the word she had heard all her life. She was broad in the shoulder and broader in the hips. Her legs were long, her arms thick. Her chest was more muscle than bosom. Her hands were big, her feet enormous. And she was ugly besides, with a freckled, horsey face and teeth that seemed almost too big for her mouth. She did not need to be reminded of any of that.

She does not see herself as trans, as the concept does not exist in Westeros, but she takes a man’s role, as a knight. She is hated for it.

The Maid of Tarth had seen such eyes before. Lady Stark had been kind to her, but most women were just as cruel as men. She could not have said which she found most hurtful, the pretty girls with their waspish tongues and brittle laughter or the cold-eyed ladies who hid their disdain behind a mask of courtesy. And common women could be worse than either.

Randyll Tarly is typical:

“Some men are blessed with sons, some with daughters. No man deserves to be cursed with such as you.”

Renly’s acceptance made Brienne forever loyal:

She was prepared for coldness, for mockery, for hostility. She had supped upon such meat before. It was not the scorn of the many that left her confused and vulnerable, but the kindness of the few.

Only Podrick Payne, who acts as her squire, shows respect, addressing her as “Ser, my lady”.

Possibly there is a trans woman, mentioned once:

Some of the dockside whores were vicious, and sailors fresh from the sea never knew which ones. S’vrone was the worst. Everyone said she had robbed and killed a dozen men, rolling the bodies into the canals to feed the eels. The Drunken Daughter could be sweet when sober, but not with wine in her. And Canker Jeyne was really a man.

Prince Doran’s brother Oberyn has bastard daughters known as the sand snakes:

Obara Sand moved first. Even without her whip and shield, she had an angry mannish look to her. In place of a gown, she wore men’s breeches and a calf-length linen tunic, cinched at the waist with a belt of copper suns. Her brown hair was tied back in a knot. Snatching the skull from the maester’s soft pink hands, she placed it up atop the marble column.

Like in real life, women can be soldiers, pretending to be men, possibly trans men, though they are seen as remarkable:

“Did Mance ever sing of Brave Danny Flint?” “Not as I recall. Who was he?” “A girl who dressed up like a boy to take the black. Her song is sad and pretty. What happened to her wasn’t.” In some versions of the song, her ghost still walked the Nightfort.

The warrior witch Morna removed her weirwood mask just long enough to kiss [Jon Snow’s] gloved hand and swear to be his man or his woman, whichever he preferred.

There’s a bit of female domination, by magic:

Melisandre spoke softly in a strange tongue. The ruby at her throat throbbed slowly, and Jon saw that the smaller stone on Rattleshirt’s wrist was brightening and darkening as well. “So long as he wears the gem he is bound to me, blood and soul,” the red priestess said. “This man will serve you faithfully. The flames do not lie, Lord Snow.”

Ramsay Bolton, Lord of Winterfell, threatens his creature:

“She has no handmaids, poor thing,” he had said to Theon. “That leaves you, Reek. Should I put you in a dress?” He laughed. “Perhaps if you beg it of me. Just now, it will suffice for you to be her bath maid. I won’t have her smelling like you.”

There’s a slave hermaphrodite, who fulfils a trans cliché- that we are freakish, and imagine that makes us interesting:

a willowy creature called Sweets who dressed in moonstones and Myrish lace. “You are trying to decide if I’m a man or woman,” Sweets said, when she was brought before the dwarfs. Then she lifted her skirts and showed them what was underneath. “I’m both, and master loves me best.”

George RR Martin brings forth the worst of trans experience: the mockery and disdain, the violence, but everyone in his world has a horrible time. He does not single out trans people particularly.

The Critic

The Critic is a recently launched magazine, with its first issue dated November 2019, which is obsessed with trans people. It loathes us, lies about us, incites hate against us- but why does it care so much?

Dominic Green starts his history of trans with TS Eliot and Tiresias, the prophet of Apollo whom Hera transformed into a woman. The readers of rubbish like this like to think they are cultured. I had not heard of Michael Dillon, who he says was the first trans man with a phalloplasty operation, in several stages over three years, 1946-9. Green gives his old name. Green then argues that 97% of trans women have penises. He quotes an estimate of 200-500,000 trans people, then says the 4910 GRCs by 2018 is less than 3% of 200,000, so almost none of us use hormones or surgery. But then, of that 500,000 people maybe 50,000 will have transitioned, and 60% seek genital surgery.

Do we seek “the psychological rewards of specialness and victimhood”, as Green alleges? Well, I don’t. Being a victim is ghastly. Perhaps Green has never been a victim.

Julie Bindel claims “transgender ideologists are winning the battle for media hearts and minds”. Perhaps she never reads The Spectator, or The Times. She starts by whining about being called a transphobe in 2008- perhaps seeking “the psychological rewards of specialness and victimhood”- and goes on to claim The Guardian “push[es] the trans agenda”. It really doesn’t. When Bindel says the BBC has “activists with microphones”, she alleges these are its trans journalists, rather than its transphobes.

Josephine Bartosch attacks the Women’s Equality Party in advance of its consultation on trans rights results. “Is the WEP really for women?” asks the headline. Obviously it is: as Bartosch admits, it campaigns for “equal representation in parliament, the pharmaceutical industry to not treat men’s bodies as the default, and for an end to the pay gap between the sexes”. In advance of the result of its consultation, the WEP is supportive of trans women, and for Bartosch that means it is not working for women. Reading these transphobic whines can be oddly reassuring- Bartosch also lashes out at the Fawcett Society and the Red Tent for failing to back her view.

The editors claim there is no clear moment when someone transitions, or when this is recognised in law. This is untrue- the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act are clear about when they protect people. That article started with an attack on the American Civil Liberties Union for tweeting “men who get their period are men” (again, note the power of our allies, and the obsessive squeaking of the phobes). This is no more than saying “trans men are men”, but probably gets The Critic’s ire because it suggests that we can be trans without taking hormones and having surgery.

In a year, The Critic has 25 articles tagged “transgender”. It asked, “Can self-respecting feminists remain in the Labour Party?” I would expect The Critic to attack the Labour Party, being a hard right publication, but this is completely lacking in proportion. Which is the party with the best chance of being elected, at the same time as being feminist? Labour, of course, which introduced the All-woman shortlist among other feminist projects. As a trans woman, I would say trans rights are not the most important feminist issue. This article attacks Labour’s “grotesque fetishisation of a fashionable minority group”.

To me, the Critic is the one fetishising us, giving an attack on us far more coverage than 50,000 or even 500,000 people deserve. Even Brexit has only 99 tagged articles. It gives a long article to extremist Brexiters opposing the Northern Ireland Protocol- that’s the part of the withdrawal which respects the Good Friday Agreement treaty with Ireland, which is essential for a US trade deal or to obey international law. It writes of a “clean break Brexit”- ie, no deal, damaging our economy and international relations. It is yet another extreme right publication attacking trans people. “The point is not trolling,” the editors write, disingenuously.

When it launched, The Critic claimed it “exists to push back against a self-regarding and dangerous consensus that finds critical voices troubling, triggering, insensitive and disrespectful”. That is, its sole purpose is to foment culture war, rather than say anything interesting about politics in general. Culture war is all the Right has to offer its dupes, as it entrenches plutocracy in the US and UK. The main tone I see in its attacks on trans people is one of whining resentment, seeking “the psychological rewards of specialness and victimhood”. I am so glad I had not heard of it before now. I cast a cursory glance at boring, transphobic rubbish, so you don’t have to.