Lesbian liberation

Some people can just be themselves, some try to be something else, and some can almost be themselves if they find a label. The label “transsexual” liberated me to be almost myself. The Lesbian Rights Alliance, a hurriedly-set up name which has a facebook page but not yet a website, claims that the identities of “tomboy” or “butch” allow girls to express themselves other than in a feminine way, but these identities are being erased. The facebook page has 296 likes according to Google. It is seeking the experience of lesbians: Are you a Lesbian currently living in the UK? Have you experienced harassment, rape threats by Trans Identified Males (“trans-women”) on dating sites/social media? Have you been pressured by LGBT+ groups, student unions etc to accept the penis as a female sex organ? Have you ever felt pressurised to have dates with men self-defining as lesbians? If you have had a date with a self-defining lesbian have you experienced rape or sexual assault?

I find this reassuring. It is a myth going round transphobic circles. I am glad they do not have the evidence for it. No-one should pressure another into sex; and there is no need for anyone to say they would never have sex with me, or a group I belong to.

It claims, Only a few years ago young girls were allowed to be ‘tomboys’ – have short hair, wear trousers, and undertake games and activities which traditionally have been considered the domain of boys, without being told that they had to change their sex. Many of these young girls defined as lesbians when they reached adolescence. This is no longer allowed. Transgender training given to schools is telling teachers that these girls are experiencing ‘gender confusion’ and should be assisted or supported to self‑identify as boys.

This is a serious allegation. Gendered Intelligence would tell schools they should support trans children, but not force that identity on children who had not expressed it. I am glad that Transgender Trend printed this in their “Resource pack for schools” because it reduces their credibility.

I can believe that butch girls are “bullied, stigmatised and isolated” but not that they are pressured to socially transition. Trans is not a “positive and fashionable identity”. We, too, are bullied, stigmatised and isolated- see the Stonewall School’s Out report. And Stonewall was a gay organisation led by a lesbian before it was trans-inclusive. Out, campaigning lesbians do not encourage cis lesbians to transition to male out of lesbophobia. The allegations are paranoid.

There is no acknowledgement or support for these young lesbians in schools and no funded youth groups for them outside of school, although there are many funded trans youth groups. Some schools, not all, have an LGBT group.

They say some tomboys later identify as lesbian, and refer to young lesbians in schools who do not want to conform to feminine stereotypes. But not only lesbians do not want to conform to feminine stereotypes, and not all radical feminists are lesbian. Some might grow up to be heterosexual viragos, and some might just be experimenting. Yes schools need positive information about lesbians, but also support for children experimenting with identity beyond narrow stereotypes. The “Lesbian Rights Alliance” ignores the rights of girls who do not fit that identity. We all have to work out our identity for ourselves, and those of us who have should support a wide range of identities including bespoke identities, so that no-one is excluded.

The Labour Party

Personal remarks in the loos: “Your thighs are so slim! I wish I could wear boots like that!” She put forward a slightly chubby leg, and said she had to wear extra-wide boots to get round her calves. Mmm. I thought, too late, of ripostes: “I love your bewbies! Mine took ages to grow this big. Do you think I should have implants?” Or, more self-deprecatingly, “Well, I have a man’s skeleton. It does not please me, particularly.” Then again, she might simply have been complimenting me. She did not actually say “I love your tranny legs”.

I was a little nervous at the start of the Labour Party regional women’s conference. I am entitled to be there as my GRC says I am legally a woman, and some cis women object to me in women’s space. Just before getting up, I had read on facebook of anti-trans activists, campaigning to have trans women excluded from all women shortlists with a crowdfunder raising £20,000, being suspended from the Labour Party.

I drove there with D, whom I am getting to know reasonably well, and like, and M, who recently joined having left the Tory Party and was eager to tell of the work she had done for Marsby as a district councillor. She wanted to do good for the town, and the Labour party were far more in tune with that, but she might be nervous having been Tory until last year. D and I were friendly and accepting.

Then Beth, the recently appointed candidate, told me that she had heard from someone “on the other side of your issue”. She did not want to name it. We had been corresponding through facebook, with most of the words from me, explaining trans to her, and mostly positive comments from her, embarrassed about asking basic questions like what does the C in GRC stand for. I am in this hall filled with activist women, worried that some might be TERF.

Then I sat near a woman who had a shirt saying “A woman’s place is in the House of Commons“. I felt more nervous. It is a common phrase, and need not be related to the “A Woman’s Place” campaign against gender recognition, but that is what I thought of.

Yet the place we are in is a good place. The conference rooms are at the back of a building owned by a church, with a coffee shop and food bank. On the wall, there is this:

I love it, and others comment on it. I can’t find an exact source, but it is close to Isaiah 58.

At the back of the stage there is a beautiful quilt.

I go to have a closer look, then see what it is and recoil in shock: it has 598 panels, one for each woman murdered by a partner or former partner in the UK between 2009 and 2015. Oh! It is still very beautiful; and it brings to mind a horror. Later, the woman who conceived it, a Labour councillor, speaks of it. It is the Women’s Quilt. A man taught himself to sew so he could make panels for it, and called it “the most beautiful project that should not exist”. A woman said she had never felt sisterhood until she got involved. We need a memorial for these women. I am glad to see it.

I am happier speaking to Neelam from Unite the Union’s LGBT section. This is more than small talk. I remain nervous; however when the actual talks start I am reassured. Karen Lee, MP, a former nurse, talks of women’s representation. She is proud that she is building on the work done by Harriet Harman to make the House of Commons a more woman-friendly place. A bar has been converted into a crèche. She is proud that 46 target seats have all-women shortlists, and that includes trans women. Neelam, in the hustings for women’s representatives on the regional committee, one of whom must be from the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community, talked of women “including trans women who are facing an incredibly difficult time”. So I voted for her, obvs.

Lilian Greenwood MP gave the closing remarks. She was delighted by “Cheryl, Nadia and Heather”, three wonderful women for a local all-women shortlist. That is Dr Heather Peto, a trans woman. Lilian says “Trans women are women” and she is delighted that the NEC has just affirmed that is Labour policy. “Abuse does not belong in our party.” That brought forth cheers and applause, and I felt accepted in that moment; and also felt the weight of my nervousness and experiences of rejection. When I realise I am not only rejected I become aware how painful the rejection, and the fear of it, is.

Women need promoted within the Labour Party. There is still rampant sexism. Someone quotes “What you said is inappropriate and I will not tolerate it” because women are socialised to not make a fuss and take care of others’ feelings and you might need a set phrase prepared in order to mount a challenge. A black woman spoke of the abuse she had suffered when canvassing for support as a local council candidate: “Get that filthy N——- off my doorstep”. That is my problem. As a white person I must stand with those suffering pervasive racism. 86% of welfare cuts have fallen on women, and the charity Refuge has suffered 80% cuts. 155 women a day are turned away from refuges.

In a session on Increasing Women’s Representation a speaker, with The Times placed on the table in front of her, says that she had campaigned in the 1970s not for equality but women’s liberation, from patriarchy and capitalism. Rich white men made the world to suit themselves. A feminised politics would have a wider perspective and be more inclusive. She asked contributions from the floor on why increasing women’s representation is a good thing- mine was that there is talent not being used, but an older woman said we must be careful not to discriminate against the men, as if that was even close to becoming a problem. The chair of a local branch had resigned from the party, and joined the Tories, because they were required to nominate a man and a woman, rather than two men, for a shortlist for Parliamentary candidate selection. There is a working class narrative about men, with women as an afterthought.

Here are feminists, conscious of the oppression of women, and angry about it. In the heat of the battle they face, I am justified being nervous about what they may think of trans women. The fight can get nasty. And, I am accepted. At the end, I am part of a photo of smiling happy activists in front of that quilt. (Someone texted it to me, and I can’t download it from my phone.)

That crowdfunder, seeking to challenge trans women on Labour women only shortlists: they shot themselves in the foot. They are suspended from the party, and what did they expect? Their transphobia was tolerated, but not their action against the party. Perhaps as a result, there was this interview of the leader:

Andrew Marr: Is a trans woman a woman?
Jeremy Corbyn: Yes
Marr: So she can self-identify?
Corbyn: Yes.

Women might complain in private, but not in my hearing. I am welcome in Labour.

Trans feminism

Trans rights are essential to feminism, for they are the way to value all that a woman can be, from ultra-feminine to (almost) trans man. Trans rights are a feminist issue. Trans people advance feminist concerns.

I spent half an hour last night on Youtube watching a feminist attack trans rights on feminist grounds. She told of the opposition to the women’s suffrage movement a century ago, by women as well as men, based on the idea that women were different and would not have the objectivity to judge the interests of the public sphere. She has been held back by this persisting idea of difference, which is the heart of women’s oppression, and which she says “trans ideology” actively enshrines.

That might be true if trans were static, one way of being trans being the only way. But trans people are creative, finding new ways of being ourselves in our own spaces, in performance writing and entertainment, and in ordinary lives in the world. Trans is a force undermining that idea of difference between sexes and promoting the truth of the variation within the sexes which increases the freedom of everyone.

I want to relate to others as myself, with minimal pretence to comply to gender norms. This is easier after transition. I tried to “make a man” of myself, with a restrictive idea of how a man should be. Expressing myself as a woman freed me. If it were indeed seen as leaping a chasm, becoming something utterly different, that would be conservative, enshrining difference. When the doctors got hold of the idea of trans, taking it out of our own subcultures, they produced a medicalised idea of transition, involving hair removal, genital alteration and hormone treatments, to create a person who would look like a man, or look like a woman, undressed as well as clothed.

The idea that I am really a woman, with a woman’s brain, spirit or character, which this feminist finds so oppressive because it means there is a difference between men and women beyond our reproductive function, freed me to transition. Thousands of us, rather than tens of thousands in Scotland where she was speaking and which proposes altering the law, might be freed from a conception of their gender which they find oppressive, yet they cannot change without this drastic step- by allowing transition. Out of 5.3m people, ten thousand would be 0.2%, a large number actually to transition.

The idea of a transsexual person freed me to transition, but even as I did I realised there were two questions.

Am I transsexual?
Will I be happier if I transition?

The second is more important. First the ideology, then the idea frees me to express my gender by teaching me that it is possible. So individuals and society together produce formalised routes for transition and recognition. Trans people become more visible, vocal and encouraged, and empowered to do something about the restrictions of their gender rather than living fearful, stultified lives or ending them.

As we become empowered, we critique the medicalised concept of transition. Do we really need genital surgery? Should someone necessarily be sterilised before their gender is recognised? No, we say. Do we need to live in stealth, where people think we were born (wo)men? No, because that is in fear of transphobic violence- it may be prudent sometimes but it oppresses us with an impossible ideal of beauty.

Gender ceases to be a choice of two, almost entirely aligned with physical sex, and becomes a palette of possibilities. It is happening- here, now, in Scotland and beyond, with people who would never think of themselves as trans but also with trans people, blurring the lines and increasing freedom. Eventually the two groups will meet, a spectrum of gender rather than a division between those self-identified as trans or not-trans. The increasing complexity of ideas such as genderqueer and non-binary accelerate this change.

Femininity is oppressive when people are judged as less because of their natural unfeminineness. Then femininity can seem merely oppressive, a tool to oppress women. Trans shows that femininity freely chosen is a source of strength and self-actualisation, valuable in its own right for AFAB as well as AMAB. I see trans men choosing what I rejected, and so am enabled to see value in it.

That feminist on the video, wanting to say “NO” to a trans woman entering a woman’s bathroom, and getting a loud cheer for rejecting the idea that women must always put others’ feelings before their own, paradoxically aids the conservatives by restricting trans people to a narrow, absolute concept of transition. She opposes the law being more liberal, and discerns a loosening of the concept of a “sex change”, though in Scotland the proposals would still require us to swear we would live in the other gender life long. Allowed to grow freely, the trans movement would increase the range of gender expression and freedom.

Trans is a feminist movement, promoting the freedom of all, including cis women who do not conform to the cultural stereotype of femininity, including that woman who rails against it. Many cis women support trans rights. As Margaret Atwood says, A war among women, as opposed to a war on women, is always pleasing to those who do not wish women well. Women strongly opposed to trans rights should consider whether any of the wrongs they rail against has any realistic chance of happening.

Mukhannath

Mukhannath is classical Arabic for “man who resembles a woman”. Were they gay men, trans women, intersex or something else?

It seems they were classified by others rather than themselves. A hadith, or recorded saying of Mohammed, says A mukhannath who had dyed his hands and feet with henna was brought to the Prophet. He asked: What is the matter with this man? He was told: Apostle of Allah! he affects women’s get-up. So he ordered regarding him and he was banished to an-Naqi’. The people said: Apostle of Allah! should we not kill him? He said: I have been prohibited from killing people who pray. AbuUsamah said: Naqi’ is a region near Medina and not al-Baqi. I note al-Baqi was the Medina cemetery.

Men find something they do not understand, and seek the judgment of their prophet. Why could they not see she was harmless? Because their own masculinity was fragile, perhaps. They doubted their own manhood. I have had my hands henna painted, because it is pretty. It lasts a few days. It was a lovely experience, being groomed in that way.

“Should we not kill him?” There is nothing new in transphobia.

Aisha’s marriage to Mohammed was consummated when she was nine or ten, according to the Hadith. She reports, A mukhannath used to enter upon the wives of Prophet. They (the people) counted him among those who were free of physical needs. One day the Prophet entered upon us when he was with one of his wives, and was describing the qualities of a woman, saying: When she comes forward, she comes forward with four (folds of her stomach), and when she goes backward, she goes backward with eight (folds of her stomach). The Prophet said: Do I not see that this one knows what here lies. Then they (the wives) observed veil from him.

They refer to the person with male pronouns. “This one knows what here lies” may mean he desires women. “Free of physical needs” may mean he does not, but when the wives veiled themselves they were not taking chances.

If a Mukhannath was seen as effeminate, or as less than a man, the men might not care whether s/he was gay, trans, intersex or something else. It is enough that s/he is less.

Al-Nawawi, a collector of hadith who lived in the sixth century after Mohammed wrote, A mukhannath is the one (“male”) who carries in his movements, in his appearance and in his language the characteristics of a woman. There are two types; the first is the one in whom these characteristics are innate, he did not put them on by himself, and therein is no guilt, no blame and no shame, as long as he does not perform any (illicit) act or exploit it for money (prostitution etc.). The second type acts like a woman out of immoral purposes and he is the sinner and blameworthy. That could be a camp gay man, or a trans woman; but I don’t understand the distinction between innate characteristics and acting for immoral purposes. No-one can act against their nature, or it would not be their nature.

The Sultan Suleiman, who reigned a century after Mohammed, ordered all the Mukhannath to be castrated. They responded with jokes:

Ṭuways: “This is simply a circumcision which we must undergo again.”
al-Dalal: “Or rather the Greater Circumcision!”
Nasim al-Sahar: “With castration I have become a mukhannath in truth!”
Nawmat al-Duha: “Or rather we have become women in truth!”
Bard al-Puad: “We have been spared the trouble of carrying around a spout for urine.”
Zill al-Shajar: “What would we do with an unused weapon anyway?”

Trans women now often seek out genital surgery, but I consider this story and wonder if the originator wrote with disgust, sympathy or understanding.

Many Mukhannath were actors and singers. Some were matchmakers: they could get to know a woman without threatening her chastity, and then describe her to potential suitors. The Mukhannath Tuways had a wife, and was a singer, dancer and actor. Tuways wore henna, but it is not reported whether s/he dressed as a woman.

Peter Tatchell

From Peter Tatchell’s address for the Transgender Day of Remembrance:

In the 1970s, feminists of the day like Germaine Greer, their battle cry was “biology is not destiny”. That biology should never dictate a woman’s place, aspirations or achievements in life. What a tragedy now for those same feminists to say that biology is destiny, they say that if you are born a man or a woman, that’s the way you are, forever. Now one of the great things of the trans movement is to challenge that orthodoxy, to recognise that gender and gender identity is about much more: it’s about psychology, and feelings.

It’s about mental state, you can’t simply reduce it to genitals, and that’s a new understanding which I’m really sad to see so many traditional feminists, and some of the new ones, don’t seem to understand. They’ve gone back on their liberating ideas of the 1970s and reverted to a biological determinism in the twenty-first century. That is really sad.

Even sadder is the hostile attitudes of some feminists towards trans people and those who are gender fluid, as shown by Sheila Jeffreys and Linda Bellos in York. I’m astounded: Linda Bellos, this great black lesbian activist pioneer, threatening violence against trans people. She said “if they come near me, I’ll sock ’em”, waving her fist. She was prepared to threaten violence to “defend women’s rights against trans women”. That is shocking, to have such an extreme, bigoted and negative attitude towards trans people. There is a faction of feminism now lobbying against the much needed changes in the Gender Recognition Act. In the name of defending women’s rights, they are prepared to trample trans rights. That is wrong. We should stand together in solidarity, recognising that all of us, whatever our experience of discrimination, marginalisation and violence, have a common interest to support each other, because divided we are weak, united we are strong.

 ♥♥♥

He is right about the most important thing, and wrong that these feminists are saying “biology is destiny”. Rather, they are saying sexism hurts women, in which they include trans men but not trans women. That is true. In the world without patriarchy, sexism would cease, and that would benefit just about everyone. Tatchell is right that they are prepared to trample trans rights, and that we oppressed peoples should stand together in solidarity: trans people aware of the oppression of people with non-European heritage, gay people aware of the oppression of women, educated white women however aware of everyday sexism, misogyny and harassment also aware of the oppression of trans people. Almost everyone has some privilege: I have not yet mentioned disabled people.

Tatchell is right that gender is about emotions and psychology, and that trans people are oppressed. From whatever motive, no feminist should add to our oppression. There are better ways to protect women than to attack trans women.

He does not mention here that trans people subvert patriarchy by existing.

Peter Tatchell was accused of transphobia after signing this letter to the Observer. “No platforming” used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists… But today it is being used to prevent the expression of feminist arguments critical of… some demands made by trans activists. To me, provoking a crowd to hostility by mocking trans women is not OK, and Germaine Greer should know better; but preventing her from speaking about unrelated topics is counter-productive. The letter goes further, saying she should be able to oppose our demands. I don’t know what he thinks about that now, whether he has changed his views since 2015, but he opposes Linda Bellos’ threats of violence. He could be consistent, supporting criticism but not hostility. To me as a trans woman, the two can seem difficult to distinguish in practice.

Yet I am glad he was accepted as a speaker, and glad he said what he said. He seeks the unity of the oppressed, and so do I.

Masculinity

If before transition I had to define the masculine ideal I was trying for, I would say “Christian gentleman” or even “Boy scout”. I had enjoyed the Scouts.

A Scout is to be trusted.
A Scout is loyal.
A Scout is friendly and considerate.
A Scout belongs to the worldwide family of Scouts.
A Scout has courage in all difficulties.
A Scout makes good use of time and is careful of possessions and property.
A Scout has self-respect and respect for others.

The Prayer of St Francis, not by Francis of Assisi, has some similarity:

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

The similarity is self-reliance. We act, give, create unflinchingly and unswervingly. It is a promise not to be weak, not to be stressed, not to be unable to cope with the burdens on you, which is a promise only a fool makes. At the university Christian Union I changed “Francis”‘s word “seek” to “need”.

The emotions of this man are strong and positive, quiet and undemonstrative: pleasure in service and achievement. Like Arnold Swarzenegger in Commando, first seen carrying a large tree trunk on his shoulder, doing a manly thing because he is a man, getting the pleasure of being entirely himself and fitting his world. Men on the front line of the Somme would go over the top and walk towards the enemy as they were ordered, resolutely because that was simply what men do, even though machine guns made such tactics insane.

A man’s shoulders are broad enough for anything. In that film, Arnie shows intelligence strength and courage thwarting his enemies. He has the task of rescuing his daughter and he does not rest until he accomplishes it. The one joke I remember is cruel.

-You remember I said I would kill you last?
-Yes, yes (the man begins to beg and plead)
-I lied.

But he is provoked, and so the audience of pimply boys completely sympathises with him.

Emotions would be positive, and rarely expressed. Men do not cry: I cried three times in the year following my mother’s death. Ideally, emotion produces motivation. One is enthused by a task, which one chooses rationally. The paterfamilias behaves like the good father, in control for the good of all. A man would fight if he had to, but that would be a last resort.

My problem was that my emotions were not accepted when I was a child, so I did not know what they were. They still affected me and my behaviour, but I was not conscious how. I began to learn to accept emotion after I had decided to transition.

We observe that the violent man who physically abuses his partner expresses emotion- hurt, anger and resentment- easily. Anger and derision, especially for weakness, are emotions men are encouraged to show. That produces the vicious cycle that boys learning to be men show anger and derision at any perceived effeminacy in fellows. Drunk men can become enthusiastic, but their enthusiasm carries the possibility of violence.

That ideal, of the Man capable of all life would demand of him, is not within the individual’s control. I would temper it with resilience at setbacks, clarity in perceiving possibilities and determination in pursuing them. Kipling’s Man is surrounded by knaves, fools and doubters who lose their heads, so this is an ideal many cannot live up to. A Scout is considerate- that is close to “kind”- and that is a feminine virtue seen virtuous in men: in the end, I have an ideal for humans, not for one gender.

Coming Out

We went to the “Coming Out” exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Here we find a picture book about a child called “Tiny”, whose name and clothes do not indicate what sex they are. A boy thinks that silly and wrong, but the teacher stands up for them. I think, how wonderful not to have your gender expression policed based on your sex, but that would not prevent bullying and hostility. All children should be treated that way, and very young children know women should not wear ties: we would observe adults even if we did not know gender.

There are two Hockney paintings, “We two boys together,” from before 1967, and one of a man getting out of a Californian pool. There are six photographs by a lesbian of herself in mannish poses which I find beautiful. I love her strong face, her level gaze, the naturalness of her spread legs and arms, making herself bigger, the way the camera looks up at her. I notice the background has been cut away from one, and a clear blue sky replaces it, with a hand-drawn line between. L would not have noticed. So, spending time with art works increases my appreciation. I saw the butterfly in my first time considering Uli’s painting; she noticed it after owning the thing for months.

Why is it in an art gallery? Excellent question. A curator paid to judge such things considers that it says something worthwhile, or is beautiful or striking. Why am I drawn to it is more difficult. I find the woman beautiful, and love her challenge to femininity- or, perhaps, her otherness from femininity, inhabiting her self as if “femininity” did not exist. I can’t imagine wearing Grayson Perry’s cream coming out dress, with flat chest and sash like a little girl’s party frock, with colourful motifs which are disembodied cock-and-balls, arranged in circles like flowers or tied with a bow like a flying creature. It’s not normal, and I find that empowering, because neither am I.

Some paintings here are by gay artists, and not on diversity of gender or sexuality at all. Does the artist’s sexuality imbue any painting? This minimalist landscape, with a green background. The green is slightly mottled by the moments of application. I notice that, when I study it. That tiny pool grabs my attention. The lines which could be the edge of sky, and the straight line grid with only one line diagonal, as if creating a third dimension.

We went off round the German Christmas market, where people drink warmed wine as the snow falls. It’s a party atmosphere before the city hall. The tat is overpriced. I like the dragon which breathes out smoke from a joss stick, but only as an idea. I would not want it in my house. There’s a huge plastic Santa on a roof, cheeks blotchy red from cold or from drink. Recorded music blasts out and drunken men sing along. We talk of our conflicts. L’s are principled. How do we oppose oppression? Is “Fit at any size” better than an attempt to get to a “healthy” BMI ignoring all other factors in a person’s life, or is it just another thing which misses the point? A PhD lets her be heard, but is the kind of way of evaluating who and what is worth hearing that she opposes. I find a principled struggle for freedom for all.

The Edwardian Teashop in the museum. I would not mind using these people as an audience. “Ladies and Gentlemen”
-Would you stop there?
-Ladies, Gentlemen and others?
She gives a long list which I will not approximate: I found it. Butches, Radfems and Kingsters, Nancyboys, Nellies, Dandies and Drakes, Bears, soft butches, chubsters, chicks with dicks, ponces and goddesses, two-spirited folk, pansexuals, asexuals, lesbians gay men and bisexuals…

On the train the woman talked enthusiastically of working for Network Rail, and the ideas of the engineers. She does not follow all of it, but notices a smoother or rockier ride. That group of young posh people mentioned a man so keen on appearing hipster that he wore glasses he did not need.

Safe space, free speech and hate speech

No trans woman should have to hear that trans women are a threat to cis women, without robust rebuttal, ideally by allies rather than ourselves. In particular in universities, where trans women are in their late teens and early twenties, where they live on or near campus and spend much of their time on campus, they should be protected from the idea that we are a threat, either ourselves or that violent men will pretend to be women in order to assault women, if we get recognition. If people say we are a threat, they feel entitled to use violence against us to protect themselves or others.

That might be the most protection we can get.

Safe spaces in Britain have been created by students, usually allies protecting fellow students. This started with far right speakers attacking students of south Asian heritage. The leaders of Britain First, recently retweeted by Trump, or the English Defence League have nothing of use or interest to say, cannot be trusted to tell the truth, and are grossly offensive to most students, not just Muslims. If you do not have the basic empathy to feel with those minority students, you have something wrong with you. Some students are prejudiced, and BAME students will receive microagressions, but generally the most overt racism is taboo.

Now, the National Union of Students policy is that attacks on students cannot be tolerated, and it was a cis woman NUS women’s officer who opposed Germaine Greer speaking in Cardiff. Their video here explains that as charities they have to be careful external speakers do not incite hate crimes, and consider health and safety. That is separate from their no-platform policy, which bans the EDL and Al-Muhajiroun. Freedom of speech should be balanced with the right to be safe from harm, such as Linda Bellos saying she would take off her glasses and punch one of those bastards- trans women. That is incitement to violence, but as they put it it might have a “possible impact on campus cohesion”, emboldening TERFs to mock or threaten trans women. If “risks or tension arose at a similar event before” that might be a reason to refuse a speaker a platform within the Student Union. The Union might consider “robust regulatory steps” to allow a higher risk event to go ahead. Steps to mitigate risk could include having Union officials observe, stewards provide security, or the speech submitted to the Union in advance.

Germaine Greer could simply have been told not to mention trans people. At another speech she made in Norwich she refused to answer a question about trans women, saying “What do I know?”

The risk to cis women of trans women in women’s loos is less than the risk from other cis women. Self-certification when one pledges to live in the acquired gender life-long by oath is sufficient protection against people faking.

Before researching this I did not know the difference between the No Platform policy, applied to particular extremist groups, and the External Speakers policies, applied to all speakers. This is arcane. When everyone knows about the difference, it is a useful distinction to allow people to distinguish different issues. When listeners might not know, there can be a bait and switch, making someone answer about extremist groups and then ridiculing the answer as if it applied to any speaker.

#Stand with Heather!

I stand with Heather.

Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans is a public intellectual, an incisive and persuasive speaker, an energetic campaigner, and a passionate feminist. I have heard her speak, and also met her more informally, where I found her warm and funny. She campaigns on porn culture, and I entirely agree. She supports the Nordic model of sex work law (which has inspired the law in France and increasing numbers of jurisdictions). On that I am unsure, but clear she has important things to say and is worth hearing, as she has researched the arguments. And she does not like being called a TERF- perhaps a gender-critical feminist, radical feminist or just feminist.

She appeared on The Moral Maze on Radio 4, where she expressed concern about teenage girls transitioning to trans men. She is the spokesperson for the Women’s Equality Party policy on sexual violence against women and girls. A complaint has been made that she contradicts the party’s position on trans women, which accepts our self-determination as women.

The party has 65,000 members, as of July 2016, and while it has no elected councillors has won thousands of votes in various elections. It stands for equal pay, equal treatment in the media, and an end to violence against women. It will have difficulty while the UK parliament and local councils operate first past the post electoral system but it has value as a campaigning organisation; and it cannot be expected to enforce cabinet responsibility, with no spokesperson ever contradicting party policy, at such an early date in its existence.

That is, I want WE to flourish, and have the passion, skills and experience of Dr Brunskell-Evans, and I want her to be able to speak her understanding and campaign as she wishes- even though I do not agree with her. She does not like the word TERF, but when she says we should not be in women’s space it feels exclusionary to me. It is a bodge, I suppose. There are many people I will never persuade that I am really a woman, but I hope to persuade them that I am mostly harmless. Rape Crisis Scotland, which works against violence against women and girls, says We do not regard trans equality and women’s equality to be in competition or contradiction with each other. I can bear Dr Brunskell-Evans’s disagreement.

Twitter is not the place for nuanced argument. There, there is a campaign with the hashtag #standwithheather. “You are being anti-feminist and cowardly”, one tweets at WE. No, they are not, they are being practical and reasonable, allowing her to say things which other members contradict. Their own twitter stream is tweeting about toilets- not trans women in women’s toilets, but the impact of a lack of toilets on women’s health and dignity globally. They mark International Men’s Day by showing the men who have joined- for women’s equality benefits everyone. “They should be ashamed of themselves and their pitiful attempt at male pandering feminism”, thunders Quelizinha. Transgender Trend suggests WE is giving into bullies. “RemakingAdam” is obsessively tweeting again and again, claiming hundreds of women are leaving the party.

The Women’s Equality Party, like most feminists, supports trans women. That is the progressive cause. We subvert gender. We are an oppressed minority, and we need the support of society: we transition because we must, and we do so in far more dangerous conditions than in Britain. They could take a “gender critical” line, and escape censure from the likes of @Janice5E, who gloats that “@WEP_UK have had a lot of practice at losing women. Sophie Walker (@SophieRunning) made a complete arse of the party on Mumsnet…” Such people, though, tend to be only interested in one feminist cause, devoting a great deal of energy to excluding trans women. I wish they would take that energy somewhere else.

Because all we know about the WEP position is that complaints have been made, and they are investigating. Here are their statements. The paranoid response on Twitter only damages the tweeters’ own cause. No-one has threatened Heather’s expulsion from the party. The tweetstorm damages the cause of feminism.

Accepting Ourselves

The NHS and professional bodies are committed to ending the practice of conversion therapy in the UK. With “gay cures” it is clear that means attempts to make a gay person attracted to the opposite sex or not attracted to their own sex, but what does it mean for trans folk?

We self-diagnose. No-one goes to a doctor with a set of symptoms and is surprised to be told they have gender dysphoria: if you know of anyone, please tell me. We have contacted people in the community and reached an understanding of what we want. Possibly we have got hormones off the internet, or already transitioned.

Gay identity can be liberated. Battered down by the homophobia pervading society, a person can actualise their fully functioning human identity by therapy, accepting their attractions, using them to build relationship and community, and getting sexual release without shame. The whole person is good, right and acceptable. Self-acceptance empowers them to fulfil their goals and share their gifts in society.

Trans identity comes from a feeling of not fitting, not being congruent. My being, my personality, character, real me, inner self, conflicted and oppressed through internalised transphobia, are nevertheless right and beautiful and can be liberated by good psychotherapy working with my intense desire to know the truth, my human capacity for growth and healing, and my Love. But that misses out my body.

Bodies are embarrassing. We cover them with clothes, not just for warmth. They do embarrassing things like belch, fart, excrete, menstruate. They get sore and tired. We want them to be other than they are, so diet and exercise to change them, rather than for the joy of it. Encouraged by the culture, we imagine an ideal body and always feel we fall short of it.

My body is beautiful.
My body is acceptable.
My body is full of potential.

I can develop it, but should be careful when I imagine I should constrain it, and only do that for good reason. Here is Walt Whitman, section 20 of Song of Myself, worth glorying in for its shocking Acceptance:

I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.

In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.

I know I am solid and sound,
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.

I know I am deathless,
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass,
I know I shall not pass like a child’s carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night.

I know I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood,
I see that the elementary laws never apologize,
(I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by, after all.)

I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is my- self,
And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.

My foothold is tenon’d and mortis’d in granite,
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time.

Is that not glorious? Read it again, breathe, glory in it. This- this creature, body, mind, spirit, brain, thews and sinews, questing intelligence, empathy, Love- is completely and entirely beautiful. My body is beautiful.

I only realised my body is beautiful after transition. My arm is beautiful: rounded, long and slim and strong enough, with a lovely, dextrous hand, and before transition I saw it as thin, weak and unmanly.

Something does not fit. What is it? There are three alternatives:

  • The soft, gentle, empathetic spirit
  • The body, with penis and testicles, precisely the size it is
  • The cultural understanding that a man should be like this and a woman should be like that.

We take into ourselves that cultural concept. First I tried to make a man of myself, to fit that concept, and then when I began to accept my spirit as it is I transitioned, so I could be that spirit-self and at the same time conform to the cultural understanding. My presentation, as a man, dressed as a man, did not fit, so I changed it; my body, with a man’s facial and body hair, penis and testicles, did not fit, so I changed that too.

The NHS wants to end conversion therapy, but what would preventing conversion therapy look like, when the culture does such a brilliant job of convincing us that we are wrong, inadequate, not as we ought to be? It gives us two courses, both of which involve converting us to fit in: make a man of yourself, or alter your body and express female. We start therapy converted, not accepting ourselves. Therapy addresses the mind, and helps us accept our spirit, but does not address the cultural rejection of the body. Unless  therapists take into account the conversion wrought by the culture, and oppose it, they are complicit with it. All of me is acceptable, just as it is, body as well as spirit.

The problem for me is that I don’t know if I could convince my 35 year old self, committed to transition, believing that was the way to accept and liberate my feminine self, and to give a clear impression of who I am so that others can interact comfortably with me and I with them. Clothes are so much of how you signal who you are. I always knew that I might be trying to live as a man five years after, but I had to get there via transition.

To accept my spirit, I had to transition, and spend years on it. I could accept my body if I saw it as female. I still best get a handle on my personality if I conceptualise it as “feminine”.  To accept my spirit and body together without transition might have been too much for me.