Shame, identity and the “causes of transgenderism”

If you’ve ever felt shame about trans fantasies or practices, or being trans, read this now.

In right-wing hate site Unherd, a trans woman who is an anti-trans campaigner shares her misery. She asks, “why am I also transsexual? What could have caused psychological distress so severe that I felt I had no choice but to transition?” She calls herself a “man”, “real” in that she used to produce sperm, though not the cultural concept of “real man”, who is “probably not wearing a dress”. Her answer is “autogynephilia”, the idea that sexual fantasies about being female make trans women transition.

Poor thing. She is not the only one consumed with shame. The hate sites using her to promote this shame, disgust at trans women, and lie of autogynephilia are truly diabolical. She likes the attention she gets from writing such articles, and the pain of seeing the truth, and realising what a fool she has made of herself and the harm she has done, might drive her to suicide. So she probably will remain in self-torturing denial.

According to the autogynephilia myth, trans women who transition after adolescence, or are lesbian, bisexual or asexual, started having fantasies about themselves as women, and the fantasies caused them to desire to transition. Ray Blanchard asked trans women “Have you ever become sexually aroused” by such fantasies- not, do you regularly have them, so that even one fantasy was enough for a positive score. He said that lesbian trans women who denied such fantasies were lying. He claimed that there were two kinds of trans women- those attracted to men, whom he called “homosexual”, and those not exclusively attracted to men, whom he called autogynephilic.

Many trans women have had such fantasies, particularly if they felt unable to transition. Could this be a cause of their desire to transition, as the poor sad hater imagines?

In Western culture, women are taught to see themselves as the object of sexual desire, so often fantasise about being desired, or being naked and seen as sexually attractive. Possibly trans women have similar fantasies because we are women. But humans fantasise about impossible things, and a third of cis men have fantasised about being or becoming women. These fantasies do not cause them to become trans.

Some trans women exclusively attracted to men have female embodiment fantasies. That contradicted Blanchard’s division of trans women into two types, and he accused them of lying about their sexuality. But if you accept they are women, they are just having ordinary heterosexual fantasies, like any woman might.

You can’t prove that the poor sad hater’s transition was not caused by her female embodiment fantasies, against her insistence. But the onus of proof is on the person asserting the cause. She had fantasies, and she transitioned. But both these facts might be coincidental; or caused by a third factor; or the fact of being trans might cause someone to fantasise about having the body of their true gender. It is for Blanchard’s dupes to prove the causal link, not for others to prove its impossibility.

Imagine Philip, who had a normal boyhood until puberty, when he started to have fantasies about kissing other boys. These fantasies became more frequent and intense. Philip called them “compulsive” and “addictive”. He could not resist them, however hard he tried. Eventually he came out as gay, and is convinced the fantasies caused his being gay.

It’s far more credible to believe his being gay caused him to have gay fantasies. As for “compulsive”- I think about food a lot, and eat three meals and some snacks every day. You would not call that “compulsive” or “addictive” because it is seen as normal and healthy, just as heterosexual fantasies are, and increasingly gay fantasies are. Most people would say Philip was gay all the time, but in denial or not fully aware of it, and that caused the fantasies.

No-one would ever suggest that heterosexual fantasies “made them straight”. It’s the default, seen as normal and acceptable, in Patriarchal culture, which sees gay and trans as less.

“Compulsive” does not just mean, “I do it all the time”. It means there is a strong negative value judgment. People who define themselves as “addicted” to pornography do not necessarily spend more time with it, just see it as a bad thing.

In the 1980s, some psychiatrists and gay people imagined being gay was a bad thing, and imagined lots of possible causes for it- sexual abuse as a child, particular problems with parenting.

The self-hater’s anguish is real. “Why am I transsexual?” she asks, stricken. She imagines a shameful cause. But, trans is just how some people are, just as some people are gay, some straight, and some are cis.

The self-hater shows negativity bias. She judges herself for being trans, and so obsesses over this bad thing, and ascribes it to some cause. Nobody worries what made them straight. Seeing being trans as bad, she feels huge relief at coming upon this [false] explanation, a cause she can blame. So she has huge emotional attachment to it. That does not make it true.

I get this from Julia Serano, whose 45 minute read is worth every minute. She explains how scientists have disproved the hypothesis of autogynephilia conclusively, and the dishonest arguments its proponents indulge in. They have the gall to claim that those critiquing their hot mess of a theory are “trans activists”, but this is a mere ad hominem attack. They make ad hoc amendments to the myth, to fit any contradictory evidence, and so make their myth unfalsifiable.

It is incredibly hard to overcome the idea that trans is bad, when so much of the culture insists on that, and when we are relentlessly shamed when we have little power to resist. We internalise transphobia, and even find it reassuring to believe the same that our culture does.

But being trans is just part of ordinary human diversity. The sooner I accept that the sooner I will be able to deal with my real problems.

Opie, John; The Angry Father (The Discovery… Correspondence); Birmingham Museums Trust; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-angry-father-the-discovery-correspondence-33360

Britain Yearly Meeting on Zoom

All I have ever wanted for the longest time is to feel equal, and again, here in this room, I don’t. I hear people talk all week about George Floyd but we are here now, in the UK, in your meetings, feeling like outsiders every day. This is not the experience I was promised.

At our Sessions (the American term avoids the confusion between YM as a group of Quakers and YM as a Quaker business meeting) we addressed the issue of racism among us, and this powerful ministry from my Friend, quoted in the Epistle, showed us where we are.

My ministry in the open worship before business was quoted at length in The Friend: ‘I know that black Friends’ experience of Yearly Meeting and Friends’ Meetings is different [from] mine, as a white Friend. I know that though I am committed to equality as a testimony that I see black Friends differently and treat them differently. This shames me. It is my intention to bring into consciousness all the ways that I do this, and to amend my life.’ The assistant clerk quoted it introducing another session.

The first part was summarised. I quoted QF&P 22.45 which appeared liberal in 1987, but has not aged well. “We recognise that many homosexual people play a full part in the life of the Society of Friends… We have found the word ‘marriage’ difficult… The acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends.” That is, we are committed to Equality, but we need to do the work to achieve it, including work on ourselves. It took twenty years after that to get to our affirmation of equal marriage.

I was heard twice. On Sunday 8th, I ministered the commandment of God: “Love one another. We come to worship to meet with God and be changed.” This was quoted in the Minute. My heart is gladdened. I know I say valuable things because my words are valued. Perhaps I have value.

Should I claim the gift of prophecy? I have been thanked for my ministry, though some Americans would object to that, saying it is the ministry of Spirit through me. “The water sometimes tastes of the pipes,” said an American Friend. No; as a bassoon plays different music to a trumpet, so ministry is richer coming from Friends. Actually, I am moved to say what I have heard repeatedly from Black Friends, whose dignity among us whites is my example.

A Friend referred to a racist cab driver. I wondered if there was a difference between a racist wanting people to “go home”, and someone asking “Where are you from?” Often people add “No, where are you really from?” making it completely clear they think a Black person is a foreigner, an incomer, to be treated differently; but even without the addition it is treating someone differently because of skin colour, or perhaps accent. After 26 years in England I am no longer to be treated as an outsider from Scotland, and how much less for people born in England?

We should be aware of these things. Once they are pointed out there is no excuse. We treat people differently because of their skin colour, less well because their skin is darker, better because their skin is lighter, and this is not acceptable. It may seem worse if intentional, but negligence can constitute a crime. Experiencing others’ prejudice, I know that of those who imagine they are accepting can be as painful as that of those who are frankly intolerant.

We also addressed welcoming gender diverse Friends. I did not attend that session. I do not have the dignity of my Black Friends, or perhaps a clear view of the wrongfulness of some treatment gender diverse Friends receive. I am still developing self-acceptance- see above. The Epistle said, “Providing support can lead to greater self-acceptance, enabling Friends to flourish and contribute. Belonging is being accepted as one’s true self. Who are we to resist what God has created and continues to create in all their glory?”

The Quaker Gender and Sexuality Diversity Community led a session in which three trans Friends talked of their lives. They talked of coming out, self-acceptance and getting on with their normal lives. It was a beautiful, optimistic session. My inner critic, always on the hunt for new ways to beat myself up, said to me, “Well, they manage it.” My inner critic, which cannot accept that I might have any difficulty with anything, is part of my problem.

Sessions lasted ninety minutes rather than three hours. I found them tiring, unlike the longer sessions in person, but this is not long enough to discern complex topics. What we had instead was a moral challenge- do we welcome diverse Friends? Do we commit to living sustainably? Increasingly I feel the concept of a “personal carbon footprint” is pernicious. Friends beat themselves up over not doing more, yet there is always more one can do. Meeting God we are changed, and we live our lives better. I see the changes in my own life. Beating ourselves up does no good. Find joy in what you are given to do.

When Zoom brings all the raised hands to the top of screen one, it is harder to ignore people than if they stand in the large meeting house. Meeting in person I have stood and not been called and on balance been glad of it.

I hope we can meet in person next year. I feel with testing it should be possible, yet I would be sorry if Friends caught covid from our worship.

Worshipping with Americans, who sing, quote scripture, and exhort in ministry, I feel British ministry can be too rational/analytical. Often it seems like an argument. There may be a story to point a moral as if we could not just hear and accept a moral truth, speaking directly from heart to heart. One Friend, speaking in a way Quakers might have found rebarbative- not using the right words, or the right tone of voice- spoke of “snobbery”. That’s not quite the same as class privilege and internalised feelings of class inferiority, but close enough. Perhaps he was prophetic. More people than Quakers have spiritual experiences, and we would benefit from a wider demographic. And, when we enter the Stillness, we are so vulnerable!

There were lots of small groups to discuss matters of concern to Friends. There were also spaces for unstructured conversation, bumping into people, meeting new people. I have seen my Friends. I have seen the beauty of the Society I am part of. I am glad of it.

I was glad the Book of Discipline Revision Committee led a session for art work. I give you my connections wheel. You might draw the lines differently, or choose different words.

The attack on Stonewall

Stonewall, the LGBT charity, supports trans rights, and helps companies by advising on discrimination law. This gets it an income of millions, which it spends on charitable campaigning. Because it supports trans rights, it is under sustained attack from well-funded anti-trans campaigners, and any mistake it makes is exploited.

In response, it should rigorously divide its campaigning from its advice arms. When advising, it should take a more judicial position, rather than advocating for LGBT rights. It should invest in technical expertise to make clear the legal underpinning of its advice. Rather than saying “You should do this”, the advice section might say, “If you do this, these are the risks”. There are risks in all courses of action.

In Winter 2019/20, Essex University cancelled the invitations of two transphobe academics to speak. One was to speak on trans women in prison. The other was to speak on a panel on “The state of antisemitism today”. It is worrying that the report of barrister Akua Reindorf bleeps out the ordinary descriptive word terf, quoting “’Shut the **** up, ****’.” Terf is simply a word for trans excluder or anti-trans campaigner. Treating it as a slur or rude word reduces the language trans people can use to oppose the removal of our rights, and attempts to drive us out of ordinary society.

[Update 2 July 2021: The Vice-chancellor of Essex University, Anthony Forster, has apologised to trans students and staff and committed to working with Stonewall.]

Reindorf makes Stonewall’s imprecision on the law look far worse than it is. She writes, “In my view the [Supporting trans and non binary staff] policy states the law as Stonewall would prefer it to be, rather than the law as it is. To that extent the policy is misleading.” (Para 243.11)

However, when we consider the actual imprecisions she names, it does not look nearly so bad. For example, Reindorf explains that the policy protects “gender identity” rather than “gender reassignment”.

The Equality Act is well enough drafted, but capable of attack by non-lawyers. Reindorf explains “gender reassignment” clearly enough, but merely quoting the name might make people think we were protected only from my gender reassignment surgery, rather than our decisions to transition. In effect, gender identity is protected, because no-one knows it until we decide to transition, the moment our protection starts. Non binary is protected, as the employment tribunal has decided.

The policy, on Stonewall’s advice, says that denying a trans woman access to women’s loos is discrimination”. Reindorf states this is inaccurate, because “the protected characteristic is gender reassignment”, but that is a distinction without a difference.

Reindorf mentions the provision allowing a trans woman to be excluded from women’s spaces where it is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”, but does not suggest that anywhere in the University of Essex there would be such a legitimate aim. If anyone wanted to argue such an aim, possibly the university might have a moral obligation to hear them out, but no legal obligation under the Equality Act or anywhere else to argue such an aim or exclude trans women. It has a positive legal obligation not to unlawfully discriminate against trans women.

Reindorf also mentions health and safety legislation, which in 1992 required employers to provide toilets on a single-sex basis. But insofar as that might prevent trans women from using women’s toilets and changing rooms, it is superseded by the Equality Act.

Any organisation which wishes to exclude trans women from women’s spaces must identify and prove both a legitimate aim, a reason for doing so, and that excluding a trans woman is a proportionate means to that aim. If they cannot, they are discriminating unlawfully and could be liable for damages. Stonewall is entitled to advise that. There are no cases where a legitimate aim has been found, so it is hard to argue what such an aim might be, but the distress of a traumatised woman on seeing a trans woman whom she sees as a man in a women’s changing room may not be, because the trans woman’s feelings and needs are of equal value to the alleged traumatised woman.

There is huge glee in transphobe circles about Stonewall’s advice to exclude the transphobic speakers being called in question. A former Tory MP and regular columnist for The Times wrote there that Stonewall should stop working for trans rights. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? The Times publishes a barrage of anti-trans propaganda.

In any case, as Neil Gorsuch so clearly explained, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity is discrimination on the grounds of sex.

The terfs (no need for ***) will continue assaulting trans rights and claiming trans women are dangerous. Generally, all Stonewall need do is make clear the technical basis of its advice.

What conversion practices should be unlawful?

It should be unlawful for a priest to preach that gay is sinful, if a gay person is present.

I consider the effect on the gay person. They may have been traumatised by prejudice, which makes it more difficult for them to resist that lie. The priest- imam, minister, whatever- has power in the community, and ostracism from community hurts. I would not make it criminal, but I would enact that any gay person present during an anti-gay sermon after the law came into force could claim damages for it, and allow such claims for twenty years after, rather than the accustomed three, because of the time it can take victims to recover and realise how harmful such preaching is.

Praying away the gay should be criminal. A figure with any religious authority who tries to “heal” a gay person or counsel that gay person to be celibate should be charged with a criminal offence. The gay person is never wholly voluntarily in such a situation, as they are affected by general societal homophobia or the specific homophobia of the religious body.

Note that the religious body attempts to change who the person is, not just how they act. The faculty of being sexually attracted to other humans is part of the person’s very essence. More people are bi than the culture admits, and prejudices and fears might prevent someone acknowledging an attraction, but the attraction comes from our very nature. Some people are mostly attracted to male or masculine, some mostly to female or feminine.

It’s not what you call that attraction that is the nature of the person. If you think they are a man, and they are attracted to men, you call them gay, but the attraction does not change if in fact they are trans, really a woman, and they transition. They may still be attracted to men. They may admit more attractions, as they are not suppressing their essence after transition, but even if the words we use for them, heterosexual rather than gay, change, their truth, their nature, of being attracted to men, does not.

So it is completely ridiculous to call transition “conversion therapy”. It is a complete fabrication. Unfortunately, some people hate trans so much that they are putting forward that argument- either in a hategasm where they cannot control themselves, or in the cold, deliberately deceiving way that they and their ilk might use denying climate change or evolution by natural selection.

On 15 May, Janice Turner told this lie in The Times, claiming that parents might try to transition a gay child to avoid the stigma of being called gay. She appears to believe that there is no stigma in being called trans. This is divorced from reality.

Worryingly, she claims that the government plan to include compelling someone to transition in the definition of unlawful conversion therapy. The idea that a parent could, or that even the medical professional most committed to children being able to transition would go along with it, is ridiculous. That is the lie she tells, though, in an attempt to smear Stonewall and Mermaids.

So what should be unlawful conversion therapy for trans people? The religious figure preaching against it should be subject to paying damages. The religious figure praying over a trans person should be criminal. What about psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists?

The definition here is simple: attempting to change who someone is should be unlawful. Exploring who someone is should be permissible. Robert Withers, who pretends to transphobes that he can cure trans, should never be allowed near trans people, but a therapist should be able to help a person presenting as trans to get to know themself better.

Sometimes it will be subtle, but the therapist should be aware when they are putting pressure on a person. If they are unaware, they are not qualified to be therapists, because the therapist in a position of authority can damage people by suppressing their nature, in all sorts of ways apart from LGBT. Professional bodies are capable of investigating and disciplining such therapists.

Criminal sanctions will only be available when the pressure to change is clear beyond reasonable doubt. That is enough to protect any therapist helping a client explore their relation with their gender and gender identity. So the definition of criminal conversion therapy could be quite simple: it is an offence for someone in the position of therapist to attempt to change someone’s gender identity. However much some might attempt to obscure it, there is a clear line between attempting to change someone’s nature and helping them explore it.

Experimenting with trans

What is happening when teenagers say they are trans, and then a few years later say they aren’t?

Possibly, they are really trans but societal transphobia is so bad that they have gone into denial again. The relentless opposition of parents may be insurmountable. The desistance myth, that they are in some way “cured”, that they have regained a healthy sense of self, is part of that transphobia.

What does “really trans” mean? Compare “really gay”. Some men are attracted to other men. Society calls them “gay”. From vilification and prosecution in 1966, there has been increasing tolerance from mainstream society and gay pride pushing boundaries, asserting gay men’s right to be who they are. Some people are born gay. Some people are bisexual. Most people are straight. And prisons alter that narrative, for some people choose to have sex with other prisoners, who were straight on the outside. Ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian ideas of what same sex love or sex was don’t fit, either.

There’s a mostly accepted concept of “really gay”, so that people identify as gay, are seen as gay, are accepted as gay, share stories of knowing they were gay as young children. Teachers say they can spot them young, too. Conversion therapy is going to be made illegal.

There is some conception of “really trans” which fits some of that: knowing when young, having particular attitudes to your body. I fit that. I despised my body. I felt detached from it, as if I were a separate intellect. Then I transitioned, and I love my body, I feel it is me. Transition cured the detachment. Yet, there is fierce opposition to making anti-trans conversion therapy illegal. What if the trans identity is a delusion, and the person can be made comfortable in their birth sex, which some would call their real sex? There is even the allegation that transition is anti-gay conversion therapy: gay men transition to female and are thereby “converted” to being straight. ICD 11 says trans is not a medical condition, but many people have not got the memo.

The “detransition voices” website would have you believe trans is a poisonous myth. Rachel was born in 1990, came out as lesbian aged 22, having been molested by her father when she was four. She was homeschooled into repressive Christianity, with strict gender roles. She was raped four times, the first when she was 14.

She identified as trans aged 22, and detransitioned five years later, having taken testosterone. Now, she calls transition running away from Patriarchy and its oppression of her female self, a quick fix. It was a fantasy, it failed, she had to cope with reality, to “deal with my shit on my own”.

The detrans voices site recommends Lisa Marchiano in Quillette, who writes an easy morality tale of Carl Jung. Aged 12 he was shoved to the ground by another child, and hit his head on the pavement. Later he wrote, “The thought flashed through my mind: ‘Now you won’t have to go to school anymore’.” He started having fainting spells, which felt real to him but doctors could find nothing wrong. He had a six month “picnic”. Then he overheard his father say, “What will become of the boy if he cannot earn his own living?” Jung called this “the collision with reality”.

I met a woman who may have been like that. After a car accident aged about 12, she was still an invalid in her early twenties. Her immigrant husband by arranged marriage was her full time carer. The doctors could find nothing wrong with her. Seeing his complete subjugation, we called him “Mr Bibi”.

Marchiano says trans is “victim culture”, a way of avoiding our fate by imagining ourselves sick. Her answer is the Stoic Marcus Aurelius’: “I am rising for the work of man”. There is a happy ending- people taking control of their lives and finding health and energy- but there is also a living Hell, for those who persist as seeing themselves as victims. It’s a neat moral for Quillette: the poor have themselves to blame, the rich are meritocrats.

In your teens you find who you are. This shocks parents and the old: sometimes, what the young come up with is entirely new. Death and birth is how human culture advances. Why not try on a number of identities, to find which one fits? If gender stereotypes do not fit, that does not mean that you are trans, but exploring that identity to see if it fits might help you know yourself better. Rachel found absolute clarity about what she did not want. Someone else might tease apart the various strands in this concept of trans, and find some work for them, some don’t. Nonbinary is more capacious, variable to fit the individual. Surgery becomes an option rather than the obvious course of action for someone who fits the trans box. Experimenting is how we find things out.

If someone identifies as a “desister”, they might look with horror on the trans community, and be glad that they have escaped medicalisation into loving their bodies, genders and whole selves. If they see themselves as having experimented, they will be grateful to others who experimented alongside them, all working to find out who we are. If this is impossible, that is because of society’s extreme transphobia.

Cis privilege

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kathleen Stock and LGBT conversion therapy

Is there a problem with free speech in universities? No. Kathleen Stock, OBE, professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex, is the great hero of the trans-excluders, yet she has published little academically on trans rights. She prefers sites like thearticle. She argued there that Stonewall’s definition of conversion therapy was illogical. Here it is:

Conversion therapy (or ‘cure’ therapy or reparative therapy) refers to any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity. It is based on an assumption that being lesbian, gay, bi or trans is a mental illness that can be ‘cured’. These therapies are both unethical and harmful.

Prof. Stock imagines an AFAB person aged 14, who is aware they are attracted to “women (or at least, to females like her).” It seems Prof Stock thinks lesbians are incapable of unrequited love for straight women. If they were some heartache would be avoided. M, whom Prof Stock gives a female name, has dysphoria, which Prof Stock claims is “an unconscious response to the social imposition of sexist and heteronormative stereotypes upon females”.

Prof Stock’s argument that the therapist cannot avoid some kind of conversion therapy is this:

If [M’s] self-diagnosis (‘I’m a boy’) is questioned by the therapist, the therapist can be construed as failing to affirm, and so putatively ‘converting’, a trans child to a ‘cis’ one. If, on the other hand, [M’s] self-diagnosis is affirmed unquestioningly, the therapist is effectively failing to affirm [M] in a sexual orientation of lesbianism; something which also looks like conversion by omission.

Orientation conversion therapy would entail attempting to make M attracted to men. It is objectionable because it disapproves how M is attracted, and attempts to change that. It can’t be changed, but the attempt can hurt the victim.

Rather, Prof. Stock imagines it is about words and descriptions. M’s transition would not stop them being attracted to women, but, Prof. Stock says, it would stop her being a lesbian. They are the same person, with the same attractions, but because the words used to describe them change, Prof. Stock thinks this is conversion therapy. However, if M is trans, rather than confused, M has never been lesbian.

M’s nature is not changed. A therapist might legitimately explore M’s gender dysphoria, to assess whether transition is appropriate, but need not change M’s nature at all. It would become conversion therapy if M could never convince the therapist they were trans, and the therapist insisted on making M happy to present female. It would not be conversion therapy if M was not trans, and the therapist helped her discover that.

Prof. Stock can’t quite believe in trans men, even though she is obsessed by them. Her description of M assumes M is really lesbian. But no conversion therapy need be attempted here. The therapist wants M to be happy and well adjusted- so does not attempt to change their orientation or their gender identity. Therapists never affirm trans self-diagnosis “unquestioningly”. They challenge us.

If Prof. Stock really is the main anti-trans campaigning philosopher, one would expect something better than this. Prof Stock has not been unable to publish transphobic rubbish in academic journals not because it is transphobic, and there is some problem with her freedom of speech to utter transphobic ideas: the journals have not published her because her ideas are too silly.

The work of the Scottish artist Gertrude des Clayes has recently come out of copyright.

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.

Ky Schevers

Ky Schevers compares trans men detransitioning into “gender critical” circles to the “ex-gay” movement. Having spent time with them, and transitioned to male again, he says they are harmful both to trans people and detransitioners. He has written some perceptive Medium posts about his experiences. Any human being might recognise the tension between seeking acceptance from others, and being proudly who you are, which for trans people is particularly fraught.

At times I have needed to say different things about myself, and wanted different affirmation from others. Before I committed to transition, I wanted to, yet was too frightened, and I read up on “autogynephilia”, and told myself my desires were unreal. Then I decided I would transition, and joined Transsexual UK, a Yahoo group. There my desire to transition was affirmed, though it was nastily transmedicalist- not just the clear desire for hormones and surgery, but the implication that those who did not want surgery were perverts or transvestites and we should distance ourselves from them. And all the time I have wanted affirmed just for me, for who I am.

Since the March lockdown I have been powerfully affirmed here, Saturdays at 11am GMT. It is a space for everyone, not just trans, where we can show ourselves.

Ky transitioned female to male, then detransitioned, and joined gender critical groups. They would affirm him if he asserted that he was a woman, that being butch was fine but saying that it was in any way “masculine” was wrong, because that was a way some women were and all women were allowed to be if they wanted to. He used his strong gifts for thinking, analysis and writing on a wordpress blog which is now deleted. His crashchaoscats tumblr is now “Hemp Life Mag- CBD reviews, news and guides”, with no obvious indication it has ever been a detransition blog.

As a F-M-F detransitioner, part of his belief system was that he had undertaken a terrible act of self-harm caused by “transgender ideology”, and it was important to him to shield others for similar harm. His “Open letter to Julia Serano” remains, shared by another on facebook, and I copied it to a word document which I retain. He wrote to Julia, a powerful transadvocate,

I see these young women, lesbian and otherwise, finally find other women they can relate to, who also feel out of place in this society, who don’t fit the patriarchal myths and I watch them grow proud of being female, being a woman. It has been beautiful to watch and amazing to be a part of so many women’s healing.

You can choose to listen to us and change how you talk about us or you can keep repeating the same misinformation. In case you do choose to listen, I’ve included some links to other detransitioned women’s blogs and videos. In any case, we will keep speaking our truths because even if you’re not listening, a lot of women are and they need to hear what we have to say.

There it is. Beautifully articulate, powerfully expressed, definite, and he would say now completely wrong. Or at least if right for anyone not right for him. I wrote about him at the time.

There has to be a better way. As he says, people who transition and detransition have a lot in common with people who are transitioning or want to, or who have transitioned. It would be so much better if they could be in community together for mutual support. And yet they are pitched against each other, forced to argue that the other groups are deluded and perhaps that they personally have been in the past.

I want a Gender Variant community, of people who recognise that gender stereotypes do not fit them, and support any way of coping with that- living against the stereotypes, living with a particular presentation such as “butch”, having surgery- because we recognise what we have in common. I don’t know it is possible. Too many people are invested in their own way and want to save others from different, wrong, paths. There is a strong taboo in the wider community against body alteration- some people even condemn tattoos, piercings, or rhinoplasties, leave alone what we have done. He says,

People also need spaces where they can freely explore how their sense of gender may have been shaped by trauma and/or living in a homophobic transphobic patriarchy without being pressured to adopt a particular identity or interpretation of their experiences.

Ky now feels he was exploited by people with their own axes to grind- conservative Evangelicals who claim gender variance is a sin encouraged by feminism, parents of trans people who are disgusted by their children’s desires and encourage each other to oppose them, or conversion therapists who want to make money from them. “Ideologically motivated detransition is conversion therapy,” he says. We want to be accepted in community, because we are social beings, and so we seek out their conditional acceptance. But,

People invested in transphobic ideologies have no interest in helping detransitioned people heal because they want to frame transitioning as being as damaging as possible.

I needed to sort out who I was as opposed to what I had become in order to belong to the community.

Now, he says, it is “surreal” to accept himself as a trans man and lose that community. “I still care about a lot of detransitioned women but I no longer feel like I can be close to them.” How could he, when he sees them as perpetrating the same harms? Could he just be with them, without trying to fix each other? Could we each accept that my path is right for me now, and just because it is different to your path does not mean either is wrong? Could we support each other in such different choices? We need an identity, and feel such confusion when that identity changes- I thought I was a “man”, and now see I am a trans woman. An answer might be to cling less tightly to a rigid conception of that identity, but that troubles straight people and raises our internalised self-phobia.

He feels terribly guilty.

I betrayed the trans community by adopting and promoting transphobic views and creating material that was then picked up and used by other anti-trans groups. I betrayed the detrans community by coming out as trans, leaving the community and talking openly about how detransitioning hurt me. I further betray them by naming the harm done by the detrans community [including Keira Bell.]… The thing I’m really trying to figure out is how do I take responsibility for my past actions and do what I can to fix the damage? … I don’t want to harm others, even unintentionally… Those transphobic ideas harmed me but they also motivated me to speak and act in ways that harmed other trans people as well.

He has been writing. It is his skill. It is powerful stuff, and anyone interested should read him and engage with him, trans people, allies, and those he says are exploiters.

He is vulnerable. Not for the first time,

I am dismantling who I once was and still figuring out who I want to be now.
I’m working to heal from the damage of trying to erase an important part of myself.
I was in pain and I wanted it to stop.

The exploiters should have pity on us, but they too have their needs and identities to protect. I will have pity on him. Ky, you were seeking community and seeking to understand yourself in a blizzard of conflicting interpretations, anger, contempt and fear. You did your best to help others and find community. I will not blame you for anything you did, however mistaken you now feel it was.

These are Ky’s three Medium posts:
Detransition as conversion therapy: a survivor speaks out.
What is ideologically motivated detransition?
Moving between worlds deciding what to do next.

Normal

How can we find delight, in not being “normal”?

“Normal” means something like usual, or common, but it’s related to “norm”, which means rule or value. If you are normal, you fit in. On facebook I saw a “quiz”, purportedly to test gender, personality, lifestyle and politics, and did it, even as I thought, why am I telling the data thieves? I was pleased to come out more female than male, though in the middle, but thought it might be because I said I was interested in makeup but not gadgets.

Why should that be female? It’s descriptive, rather than prescriptive- they asked women and men, and women were more interested in clothes and makeup. It follows the culture. People are moulded like this. How natural it is depends on how malleable people are, and I think people are malleable. And some people do not fit at all.

“Normal” or “Abnormal” in this test refer to personality. Do you have disordered personality traits? According to the page, some “abnormal” means you share traits with people who are “crazy” or have a personality disorder, but are not necessarily one of them. To me, the concept of a personality disorder makes sense. It is a disability, making it harder to function, but again that depends on how rigid society is, and in what ways. Or a personality disorder is a response to trauma, or a sane response to an insane situation. A man told me “I grew up in a plague zone, and caught the plague”. Societies can be disordered, as in Nazis “just obeying orders”, that is, fitting in or being normal.

One said “disorders” should be called “conditions”- as if “disorder” is a moral judgment. That moral judgment could mean that such people are bad, to be condemned, or afflicted, to be pitied.

I did not like the way Male, Normal, Traditional and Right-wing were all on the left side, as if they were the positive qualities. They’re also in the address bar for your result, so that being Left-wing or Progressive is a low score. To me, what they call “Traditional” lifestyle, shown by for example denying the possibility of gender fluidity, is a personality disorder, causing friction with worthwhile and valuable people. I want to stretch the concept of “normal” to include gender fluidity.

One said some trans or autistic people wanted classed as disordered or disabled in order to benefit from medical insurance or disability discrimination law.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph had a scare story. “Lesbians facing ‘extinction’ as transgenderism becomes pervasive”. It had no information, just quoting the rantings of LGB All Liars. They said there were 24 trans kids but no gays or lesbians in one school. If they were all taking hormones, that might be a worry, but in a year 161 children under 16, out of 12 million children in Britain, were referred for puberty blockers. The rest of these trans kids are using different words and ideas to explore their identity. It is extremely hard to get medical treatment.

I don’t know if anywhere there are a couple, both AFAB nonbinary, who refuse the terms lesbian or bi, but if there were it would be a change of language not of reality, or even of acceptance. Same sex attracted women may feel social pressure to act “normal”, and even marry men, or deny their attractions. You build up a self-image of a normal, acceptable person and are terribly conflicted when your unconscious desires lead you to explore. Then your self-image breaks down. I hope it gets easier to find our tribes and accept ourselves, and to accept other people’s difference.

There is delight in finding ourselves and being ourselves. First we are rejected by some, and that hurts and frightens and leads us to anticipate more rejection, but we find acceptance from others. Delight comes in recognising the value of the acceptance, and stopping caring so much about the rejection.

The Telegraph article is behind a paywall, so I got the text from Ovarit, a “feminist” forum set up to hate on trans people.