A feminist case for trans inclusivity

Lorna Finlayson, Katharine Jenkins and Rosie Worsdale argue for trans women in women’s spaces as a feminist cause. Excluding us can lead to misgendering women including butch lesbians, and is intrusive. They summarise the exclusionary case: the prevalence of violence against women by men, the fact that men typically have certain biological features and have been socialised in a certain way, the fact that at least some of this seems to be true of many or even all trans women, and the fact that anyone can self-define as a woman, no matter how cynical or sinister their motivation then refute it.

Access currently depends on self-ID because of the Equality Act, and so some excluders seek to change that. Men are more violent to women than women are, but not necessarily because of qualities trans women share: rather it is because of social factors and expectations of men. Feminists argue there is no proof that biological factors make men and women different. And socialisation affects us differently, because we see ourselves as women. All sorts of factors shape us, and gender identity is an important factor. There is little clear empirical evidence on this, but trans women suffer from extraordinarily high levels of violence and need protection. We should not be excluded without evidence.

Women-only spaces are a best-fit measure for tackling gendered and sexual violence. It is a complex issue, so what is the pragmatic way to increase protection? To protect trans women too. Putting trans women in men’s spaces risks our safety. Third spaces would out us as trans, and policing women’s space might oppress masculine-appearing women.

Who counts as a woman is a political or ethical question, not a scientific or metaphysical one. It’s not that we are women because we feel we are, but in the radical feminist tradition, gender is a matter of social position, being part of a subordinated class. And our feelings, while not conclusive, carry weight. As a tiny, marginalised minority we are not oppressors.

Excluding us is similar to bigotry in that the arguments are similar to bigoted arguments against immigration. Sometimes, excluders are obsessive about the tiny number of instances of violence by trans women, rather than the much larger number of instances by men, just as the racist right obsess over rape by Muslims. Like the hard Right, the excluders foment fear that an inclusive, compassionate system will be exploited by benefits scroungers, bogus asylum seekers, or fake trans women. Including us reduces limited resources for women, just as the Right argues that immigrants “take our jobs”. Attending to the reality of trans women’s situation and our relation to patriarchy suggests that these arguments are Right wing and transphobic.

Giving energy to opposing gender recognition reform is the least effective strategy possible, if you want to oppose violence against women. In prisons, men might have the incentive to pretend to be trans women, but the policies themselves are robust even if the implementation is not. Feminists would be better to work alongside trans women for a better society. GRA reform makes it easier for trans people to live with dignity and respect.

Full argument here.

 

Rosa Freedman

Rosa Freedman had her door soaked with urine, saw graffiti telling her to leave her job, and had phone calls throughout the night saying she should be raped and killed. She hid behind a tree because she was frightened of people following her.

Pause for a moment, and think of the horror of these experiences. Imagine this happening to you, or someone you love. Trans people, who receive such abuse all the time, should feel particular sympathy. She was abused because of what she says, which is trans-excluding. She wants to make a rigorous legal distinction between sex and gender, and enforce single sex spaces. My gender would be recognised as female, and I would be excluded from women’s space because my sex would still be male, unalterable.

Differentiating sex and gender does not make such an exclusion, by itself. At the moment both the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act use the words- if not interchangeably, or as if to confuse the two, certainly in a way it is difficult to distinguish them. But for trans women in women’s space, there is a two stage test. A service can be for women only if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” (PaMALA). Then it can exclude trans women, again if that is PaMALA. For law to permit what is “legitimate” may seem circular, but from such mysteries lawyers make their dosh.

If sex and gender are legally distinct, the service would have to justify being a single-sex service. Why a single-sex service, rather than single-gender? The law might say, again, the service is single-sex if that is “legitimate”. Or it might just assume that services are single-sex, and exclude trans women from where we have been for decades. I hope it would not choose the latter course, because that would be against international human rights law, but Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Rosa is willing to try. For her, services should be single sex, not considering gender. She would “reconcile the concerns of those who identify as trans and those who are women” by excluding trans women from women’s spaces.

Rosa made a twitter thread describing the abuse, and the Daily Mail published it, with sympathetic commentary and her own words justifying her views. A much-upvoted comment said that if trans people were being harassed in this way the police would soon be arresting the perpetrators, which is not my experience. The police told me they could do nothing.

Rosa claims she has been “reasonable and respectful” in her expression of her views. I am not sure that is enough to avoid being objectionable. When she demands that I be excluded from where I am safe, when she claims I am a threat, it is worse that she uses apparently passion-free language, because that shows that she is cold and premeditated in her hatred.

I am glad Diva magazine is on my side. Their publisher was on Woman’s Hour, making a courteous, straightforward argument for inclusion, shouted down by a woman who said our rights were incompatible. When people fly-post stickers saying “Women’s rights are not for penises” they dehumanise us. I was so much more than a penis, even when I had one. That is a standard tactic for getting people to persecute a group, mockery and dehumanisation.

Hannah Bardell, MP

Women MPs in a debate in Parliament stood to defend trans women. Women MPs from the Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat parties spoke in favour of trans rights after one male Tory tried to spread unfounded fearmongering. Hannah Bardell in particular spoke of how homophobia had scarred her life, and how LGBT people should support the rights of all LGBT.

Don’t spend too much time on the Tory. He’s an idiot, and it’s a car-crash. I glanced at a sentence, and read on open-mouthed at such incredible lying stupidity. A 15-stone bearded man could simply define themselves as female and… suddenly gain access to women’s toilets, hospital wards, changing rooms, refuges and prisons. They would have the right to [act as]… nurses or carers conducting intimate procedures. The hatred and desire to inflame fear is horrible. Thank God the women stood up to him. He was stupid enough to ask Layla Moran MP if she would be happy to share a changing room with someone who “had a male body”. “If that person was a trans woman, I absolutely would,” she said. “I just do not see the issue.” “If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about violence against women, that is what he should focus on,” said Danielle Rowley MP- actual violence by men, not imaginary threats from trans women.

Hannah Bardell MP quoted Women’s Aid. Any service has the potential to be abused, and they would deal with that case by case, not restrict the rights of a particular group. This is obvious to all but those wilfully blind to it. Born in 1983, she started school when Section 28 came into force, preventing teachers from talking to gay pupils about their sexuality. It was not repealed until 2003, when she was at university. She said, I grew up believing that, if I came out, I could not live a normal life and I would not have equal rights. I am an ardent feminist and an openly gay MP. I am not about to shut the door on the equality of trans people just because people like me now have greater equality. Those of us in the LGBTI+ community, and all of us who believe in equality and enjoy greater equality, must do all that we can to support others who are marginalised and discriminated against. Scotland now has inclusive education, with sex education for gay as well as straight, but she did not come out as lesbian until she was 32. She called the challenges her trans constituents have faced “heartbreaking”. Not having equal rights is “corrosive to the soul”.

I do not think it helps when the media sensationalise… we must not make policy based on a few individuals who seek to abuse the system. Of course- and certainly not based on unfounded fears. 84% of trans people have had suicidal thoughts, and 50% have attempted suicide. “It is a stain on our society,” she said.

She quoted, The chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, Sandy Brindley, said that the most important thing to say was that the proposed legal changes “should make no difference to the provision of women-only services – that’s where some confusion has arisen. There isn’t any Rape Crisis which would ask to see documentation of gender.” She said trans young people, like all young people, will get on better if supported to be themselves. 41% of trans people have experienced a hate crime in the past year. As Lilian Greenwood MP says, trans women need precisely the same protection from male violence and access to safe spaces that other women need.

Here is Ms Bardell’s peroration: I hope the hon. Member for Monmouth and others who have concerns will be reassured by the fact that women’s groups such as Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Zero Tolerance, Engender, Equate Scotland, Close the Gap and the Women 50:50 campaign have come out in support of the proposed changes in Scotland, as have their equivalent organisations in the UK. We must recognise that there are concerns and we must address them, but we absolutely must hold a mirror up to those who are marginalising and attacking trans people and their rights. There is a groundswell of support for equality and for a change in the law to ensure that gender identification and the processes that trans people have to go through are not discriminatory at their core. We absolutely must change the law to ensure that they are properly supported, that the law reflects that and that our society reflects that.

That idiot Tory was repeatedly owned. Unfortunately the Tory minister said “We have no intention of lowering the age [limit]”; they are considering how management of trans prisoners might prevent crimes like Karen White’s in prison; and will consider whether single sex services need “further action” to confirm their right to exclude trans people. Gender Recognition reform is not safe with this Tory government. But all the arguments go our way. The transcript of the debate is here.

Gender Recognition in Scotland: the consultation responses

The consultation in Scotland has produced powerful arguments for gender recognition reform. Trans people should have our true gender recognised with the minimum of bureaucracy. There were over fifteen thousand responses, from Scotland and around the world.

The terfs had got their publicity machine going in England by the close of the consultation in March. In England, nearly half of respondents said trans people should not be allowed to declare our gender. But of people in Scotland, who are most affected, 65% agreed that the law should recognise the gender we officially declare. Why? Because no-one makes such a declaration without thought and commitment, and because the existing procedure is expensive and demeaning, deterring people from applying. We should not need to provide medical reports, because we are not ill, and we have to wait too long to see the particular specialists. A rape crisis centre reported that they work by self-declaration already, and never demand to see anyone’s birth certificate.

Should we have to make a “statutory declaration”, a formal oath or affirmation before a Justice of the Peace or solicitor? A bare majority said Yes, and I agree. It is a serious matter. However, a meeting with a registrar is an alternative. Should we say we will live in the acquired gender “until death”? Some fear reference after death to the previous name and gender, others say they do not know what their intentions will be. Wording like “Currently intend to live in the acquired gender permanently” would solve these problems. Any statutory declaration sets a bar for gender recognition, which might put people off. It may be contrary to the spirit of self-declaration.

There should not be a reflection period after the declaration. People have thought long and hard before we change our gender, and social transition has far more consequences than the declaration.

Should there be a limit on the number of times a person can get legal gender recognition? Some dullard, to make a point, might do a stat dec every week, and if he wants to it harms no-one, and does not make a wider point about the system as a whole. There is no evidence of frivolous behaviour or fraudulent abuse elsewhere, and a limit might show undue concern about such abuse. It might deter people from self-declaring. But for trans people, our understanding of gender can evolve over time, and we might revert because of external pressure- my friend reverted as she could not see her grandchildren otherwise.

Would anyone get a gender recognition certificate in order to assault women in women’s spaces? Layla Moran MP, responding to a hysterical, evidence-free rant from one of our stupidest male MPs, explained why not in Westminster Hall recently: Let us assume that someone wants to go into a women-only space for nefarious purposes. That [gender recognition] would be quite a stupid thing to do because, apart from anything else, if an offence was committed it would show evidence of premeditation, which would increase the person’s sentence. Also, had the certificate been gained for the sole purpose of entering such a space to commit a crime, that would be a separate crime under ​the Fraud Act 2006. If someone was intent on harming women, that would be one of the stupider ways of doing it. People can be trusted to state our own gender identity. It affects no-one else.

Should the declaration only be open to people living in Scotland or whose birth was registered there? I think yes, though a majority disagreed. Other countries might not recognise a Scottish gender declaration of a person without a link to Scotland, but it would be something people could do, symbolically, if they could not get gender recognition in their own countries. It would have effect while in Scotland. It demonstrates Scottish values of liberal inclusiveness. Asylum seekers might not be considered legally resident, and should be able to change their gender. Some people might be planning to move to Scotland.

Now, only people 18 or over can change their gender. Should 16 year olds be able to? Increasingly, 16 year olds can exercise other rights in Scotland. They can get married, and vote in Scottish elections. Most people agreed they should, especially Scots. However existing Scots law presumes capacity to make choices and exercise rights from the age of 12, and younger children can demonstrate their capacity to do so. The UN convention on the rights of the child requires that children are not discriminated against on the grounds of age, gender identity or sexuality. Children can be aware from an early age that they are trans. Gender recognition could help them move into adulthood, and thrive in education or employment. They sometimes avoid applying for opportunities because it would mean showing a wrong gender birth certificate. It affects their self-esteem if their documents are questioned. A parental application or applications by capable children are other possibilities.

Should we be able to get gender recognition irrespective of a spouse’s consent? 70% said yes. Even in marriage we should have a right to personal autonomy and self-identity. Spouses refusing consent could be abusive or manipulative. Trans people are at a high risk of domestic abuse. Abusers should not be given power or control, or the ability to ridicule. You do not need spousal consent for hormone treatment or surgery. Should a civil partnership be converted to a marriage or annulled? I feel opposite-gender couples should be able to get civil partnerships, but that’s really not a trans issue: there should be an option of leaving it be. 73% agreed.

Should gender recognition be a ground of divorce? “Irretrievable breakdown of marriage” is the ground of divorce, including where a spouse has behaved in such a way that it is unreasonable to expect the other to carry on living with them. That does not mean the behaviour was wrong, just the spouse reasonably felt it broke the marriage. So there is no need for a separate ground. That’s the Scottish Government’s view. To have legal gender recognition as a standalone ground for divorce is stigmatisation. It could contravene a right to privacy.

Most people didn’t know whether there should be changes to our right to privacy, and only 15% said there should. But for those who said there should be no change, the most frequent comment was that the right to privacy should be paramount. I feel we need additional protections, but the consultation is inconclusive. We should be protected whether we have a gender recognition certificate or not.

Most people agreed that if someone’s gender is recognised by another legal system, Scotland should automatically recognise it. Of course. No-one should need to reapply. It is unwelcoming and distressing to require a second gender recognition process. There is no basis for treating a person Canadian law, say, treats as a woman, as anything else unless the person desires it. We should not have to prove our gender.

Should Scotland take action to recognise non-binary people? Yes, and 66% of Scots respondents agreed. Being non-binary is just as valid as other genders or being trans. Non-binary people are humiliated by misgendering. They deserve respect and the same rights as everyone else. Non-binary recognition subverts overly rigid gender stereotypes. 75% opted for full recognition with the existing gender recognition system.

The Scots parliament cannot amend the Equality Act, but amendment is vital. Rather than referring to “gender reassignment” it should protect people on the ground of “gender expression and trans identity”, or of gender identity or gender expression. That would protect those terfs who find gender stereotypes particularly repugnant or oppressive. There could still be protection on sex as a separate ground.

The English consultation received over a hundred thousand responses, and the Government hopes to have a response in Spring next year, but the minister says “There will be no loss of trans people’s rights”. That’s a relief. The pdf summary of the responses to the Scottish consultation is here.

Baltimore welcomes trans people!

Baltimore Yearly Meeting has issued a statement in support of the civil and human rights of trans and non-binary people. They mean well, that’s part of the problem; but when something written about trans seems off, try replacing with “people of colour” to see why it is objectionable:

Baltimore Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) rejoices in the presence of transgender people [people of colour] in our midst including non-binary [mixed race] people. Our transgender members enrich our community and deepen our worship. We believe that there is that of God in everyone [even people of colour and trans folk] and everyone has gifts to bring to the world. Whenever anyone is excluded, God’s ability to work in our midst is diminished.

It should not need to be said. It makes me wonder if some Friends balked at it. If Quakers feel the need to state that I am welcome in their meeting, it shows that could be doubted: at best because trans people are generally wary of transphobia, at worst because we have experienced it among Baltimore Quakers. They may know this, so have chosen the words “rejoices in” rather than “welcomes”. This is just saying the same problematic thing, more effusively.

We commit ourselves to support transgender people in our meetings

Ah. There’s the issue. I want everyone supported in our meetings, to learn the full beauty of the Meeting for Worship. We welcome enquirers. Why would we need specifically to commit to supporting transgender people? Perhaps because Friends are best at welcoming people who look like them, and sound like them- in Britain, mostly though not all white, educated, prosperous. Everyone needs support, to learn what centring down means, what being moved means, but trans people might need additional support, to show that those who are unwelcoming are balanced out by the particular welcome by some. That is, this others trans people.

and the civil and human rights of our transgender members and all transgender people.

Yes. Because our civil and human rights are not recognised by some, including the US President.

We also commit to enlarging our understanding of the experience of being transgender.

Um. Well. No two trans people are alike, and no two have the same experience. The risk is that we are classed in one type, the trans people, who have to be welcomed and managed in a particular way. The “trans expert” of the YM might be called in, when one of us becomes particularly problematic. Yes I’m being a bitch. You’ve admitted you have had problems welcoming us in the past, so I am suspicious of you. I will hold you to what you say, and point out where you fall short of a proper welcome: for there is that of God in me, and my leadings and service are as valuable as the next Quaker’s.

No one should face discrimination in employment, housing, health care, or otherwise, or have their dignity assaulted and their human rights curtailed because of their gender identity.

Indeed. What are you doing to do about it? “There is an injustice,” you say: will you oppose it actively, with your time and resources, or be satisfied with merely pointing it out?

What would I want instead? What I say is affected by my understanding, that there is not a single group of trans people, to be distinguished from cis people who have no problems with gender. I use the term “non-binary” as a permission rather than a description of a particular group: when it is too much trouble to attempt passing as a woman, I say I am being non-binary. Others see these things differently. Here is my attempt at an inclusion statement:

We recognise that gender stereotypes are oppressive to many people, and that people are damaged by that oppression.

I am traumatised. That will make me behave oddly occasionally. I want all of me welcome, not just when I pass as normal. I tried to make a man of myself. I suppressed my feelings. I don’t mean that I want to be some sort of parasite on the Quaker meeting, which becomes a support group for me; I have responsibilities as well as rights; but I want to be safe enough to show my hurt, and be valued for my gifts.

We recognise that gender stereotypes have no place in God’s Kingdom, nor among Quakers, but that Quakers are infected with worldly standards of what it means to be masculine or feminine. We pledge to search out whatever in our lives may contain the fruits of those stereotypes.

That’s a reference to Britain YM’s Advices and Queries paragraph 31: Search out whatever in your own way of life may contain the seeds of war. I like religious language, but would not insist on it- only on the underlying sentiment.

Our aim is to welcome each person as a unique, precious child of God, without judgment or stereotype.

A&Q 22. All this is generalisable. People of colour are affected by racism. Disabled people are stereotyped, and many of their difficulties arise from a society made for a stereotype normal/healthy.

We recognise the right of all to escape or subvert those stereotypes in any way they choose, using whatever theory or belief most works for them: we welcome transgender, non-binary and gender-critical people and pledge to learn from them, to grow in mutual understanding and acceptance. We recognise that they are part of our community, like any other Quaker.

Advices and Queries 18: How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other’s lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God’s love and forgiveness.

As part of my research writing this post, I came across BYM’s statement on spiritual unity. BYM split in the 19th century, as many US meetings did; and in 1964 they came together. I find that beautiful. They did not minimise the difficulties, but found value in them: We usually find ourselves richer for our differences… From the stimulus of dissimilarity, new insights often arise. That can be true of all human diversity, not just religious disagreement.

This is my 2,500th post.

Liberals support transphobia

Trans people are rigorously policed by transphobes, who define what is acceptable: how we might express ourselves, what we can do, where we can go. Liberals make it harder, not easier, for us to be ourselves. Partly from internalised transphobia, we go along with the transphobes, and the liberals do not help.

We are surrounded and formed by transphobia. There is the concept of what it is to be a man- physically fit and emotionally stoic- and we do not fit it. I still find it difficult to see my qualities as strengths, rather than missing the mark of what a man should be. Then there is the concept of the trans woman, which transphobes police. There is extreme transphobia, as with vile abuse in the street, and more subtle transphobia, being treated slightly differently because I am trans. I can’t quite put my finger on it but the relationship seems odd. Many of us go on a quest for the acceptable trans woman, fitting the stereotype in a way the transphobe will find acceptable, except nothing is really acceptable and they will keep moving the goal posts.

So the liberal, who “takes people as she finds them”, “treats them as individuals”, “quietly lives her own life”, “engages with people on the basis of who they are not what they are” meets the trans woman. The trans woman is nervous, having had bad experiences with cis people before, and the liberal is oblivious. What an unpleasant person, she thinks. Why was she so unforthcoming? Why could she not look me in the eye?

(like my friend Barbara, who did not look even me in the eye, apart from the occasional nervous glance up. Like me, I notice when I am hurt and cannot look someone in the eye even if I have sufficient courage to name my hurt)

If the standard of racism in this country is the neo-fascist who screams abuse at strangers in the street and tells people to “go back where you came from”, the ordinary liberal can imagine she is not racist. She may not notice how “taking people as you find them” reinforces their subjection. I am the only trans person in the room.

If you recognise that privilege exists you work to avoid it. It is not the job of the trans person to point out to the “liberal” where it is; if we do, we may be ignored; if we don’t, we suffer for it.

This is not a matter of learning the language we speak, knowing the precise term a trans woman wants to name gender surgery, but of seeing how we are ground down, and making absolutely clear that you will not grind us further. We don’t know if you will come out with something transphobic, so we are wary.

How can you “take people as they are” anyway? You can’t see their differences, always. We make assumptions about people, and normally those assumptions fit the Kyriarchy. The difficulty is to shed the assumptions. You can’t always see how people are, so we don’t surprise you because you don’t notice.

Living on the edge of chaos

What they were saying aloud was, “We need strong [Trans] people”- but what they were also saying was that their ideas of what strong was had come from our oppressors and didn’t jibe with their feelings at all.

I have always had the sense of Armageddon and it was much stronger in those days, the sense of living on the edge of chaos. Not just personally, but on the world level. That we were dying, that we were killing our world- that sense had always been with me. That whatever I was doing, whatever we were doing that was creative and right, functioned to hold us from going over the edge. That this was the most we could do, while we constructed some saner future.

What about the effects of white racism upon the ways Black people view each other? Racism internalized? What about black teachers going into ghetto schools? … Not just in terms of expectations, but of self-image, in terms of confusion about loyalties. In terms of identifying with the oppressor.

The black mother who is the poet in every one of us. Now when males, or patriarchal thinking whether it’s male or female, reject that combination then we’re truncated. Rationality is not unnecessary. It serves the chaos of knowledge. It serves feeling. It serves to get from some place to some place. If you don’t honour those places then the road is meaningless. Too often, that’s what happens with intellect and rationality and that circular, academic, analytic thinking. But ultimately, I don’t see feel/think as a dichotomy. I see them as a choice of ways and combinations.

I’m saying that we must never close our eyes to the terror, the chaos which is black which is creative which is female which is dark which is rejected which is messy which is sinister, smelly, erotic, confused, upsetting-

The way you get people to testify against themselves is not constantly to have police tactics and oppressive techniques. What you do is to build it in, so people learn to distrust everything in themselves that has not been sanctioned, to reject what is most creative in themselves- to have them reject it to begin with, so you don’t even need to stamp it out.

But I’m used to associating a request for documentation as a questioning of my perceptions, an attempt to devalue what I’m in the process of discovering.

I have a difficult enough time making my perceptions verbal, tappng that deep place, forming that handle, and documentation at that point is often useless. Perceptions precede analysis just as visions precede action or accomplishments. It’s like getting a poem-
That’s the only thing I have to fight with, my whole life, preserving my perceptions of how things are, and later, learning to accept and correct both at the same time, and doing this in the face of tremendous opposition and cruel judgment. And I spent a long period of time questioning my perceptions and my first interior knowledge, not dealing with them, being tripped by them.

Quotes from A Conversation between Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich. I hope to inspire you to seek her out, as her writing is liberating.

Transphobes deny reality

You are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts. What has Woman’s Place UK achieved? Nothing that they should feel any pleasure in whatsoever. They have made Rupert Murdoch quietly satisfied, and enabled his organ to print as many as four trans-bashing articles in a week. They have made David TC Davies very happy- after trying to rile feminists in service of Islamophobia and anti-immigrant nationalism, he has finally managed to rile some of them against trans people, to further his far-right, hate-stoking ends. This is the MP who voted to limit abortion to 12 weeks, so making him happy is not a feminist cause.

What do they think they have achieved? They think the consultation on gender recognition reform is thanks to their agitation. Yet Justine Greening announced it in July 2017, two months before WPUK was formed.

They don’t understand the proposal, even after completing the consultation. Who is allowed to go into women’s spaces is governed by the Equality Act. That will not change. A gender recognition certificate is almost entirely symbolic. And yet they claim any man will be able to go into women’s spaces. They seem to think that men will either declare themselves female without being transgender.

That’s a matter of muddled thinking, partly because of the way people have become more extreme as this debate has gone on. Most on the side of WPUK seem to recognise the category of true transsexual, a person who has a diagnosis and medical treatment and probably should be accepted in the acquired gender. In their need to exclude men from women’s spaces, some might extend the requirements: they must have had surgery, so excluding people on a path to surgery; they must pass, to avoid distressing women present; their motivations may be suspect, and “Autogynephilia” is a good excuse to exclude trans women with a diagnosis and surgery.

There are two clear, principled positions: trans women are women, and should be treated as women; trans women are men, and women’s spaces and privileges should be for women born women only. Between these views, it is hard to draw a line, and can just lead to confused argument between allies rather than Opposing the Enemy. So there is the assertion that men will come into women’s spaces. They mean different things by that. Some mean post-op transsexuals, some claim to mean men who are not really transgender but are using the system.

So there is a dispute about what is likely to happen. I say no man will declare himself to be a woman unless s/he is trans. I say no man will enter a woman’s loo or changing room without presenting female, and generally that will be fairly clear- no beards, for example. This is not a question of fact- we cannot be certain of likelihood- but I find their fears ridiculously exaggerated. I also feel some risk should be tolerable, for the sake of us well-intentioned trans women. They seem to accept no risk at all.

They overestimate the numbers involved. I put it at 40,000, about 0.1% of the population will transition. More may want to but not, for various reasons. I think that’s a manageable problem, not deserving the great scrutiny they give it. I say they are ignoring the hard Right’s delight in fomenting conflict on the Left and prejudice against trans people, and enforcing strict gender stereotypes. They seem to think that just because they are Left themselves they have no responsibility for the hard-Right causes they further.

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde gives the consolation trans women need. I feel seen by her. I am reading Your silence will not protect you, a new British selection of her prose and poetry, of her most timeless works.

“We have been raised to fear the Yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings. But once recognised, those which do not enhance our future lose their power and can be altered. The fear of our desires keeps them suspect and indiscriminately powerful, for to suppress any truth is to give it strength beyond endurance. The fear that we cannot grow beyond any distortions that we may find within ourselves keeps us docile and loyal and obedient, externally defined, and leads us to accept many facets of our oppression.”

-from Uses of the Erotic: the Erotic as Power.

To gender-critical feminists opposing AFAB non-binary people whom they so resemble, from the point of view of everyone except themselves, I would quote from Scratching the Surface: Some notes to barriers to women and loving:

“The distortion of relationship which says ‘I disagree with you, so I must destroy you’ leaves us as Black people with basically uncreative victories, defeated in any common struggle… This kind of action is a prevalent error among oppressed peoples. It is based upon the false notion that there is only a particular and limited amount of freedom that must be divided up between us… so instead of joining together to fight for more, we quarrel between ourselves.”

Why do trans women not enjoy each others’ company more? StS: “For so long we have been encouraged to view each other with suspicion, as eternal competitors, or as the visible face of our own self-rejection.”

This is prose so rich and poetic that I feel moved to read it aloud, feeling each syllable in my mouth. From Poetry is not a luxury:

“That distillation of experience from which true poetry springs births thought as dream births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding.” I know that. Truth comes to me as poetry before I know it intellectually. Here is her definition of the erotic, from UotE:

“The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognising its power, in honour and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.”

From The transformation of silence into language and action:

“In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly, now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else’s words. And I began to recognise a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into a perspective gave me great strength.”

Audre Lorde speaks for me and inspires me. Yet this is Black experience, lesbian experience, which is not my own and is in so many ways alien to my white, educated understanding. That shows me why we white people must be allies to Black people, because they see things we do not see, they can lead us to our own freedom, and her words “I am not free while anyone is unfree” is simply fact.

George Cruikshank

At the end of British Black History month, I present this cartoon by George Cruikshank.

Here is a larger version on the British Museum website, which claims copyright.

The cartoon, from July 1826, calls the slavery abolition campaigners “canting humbugs”. In Cruikshank’s view, the Caribbean “planters” host happy, well-fed, fat black people, who are portrayed making music, dancing and drinking rum. The Abolitionists are deceiving decent British people to take an interest in slavery when there are poor whites in Britain, needing charity but ignored.

Oh, George! Cruikshank’s cartoons are still worth looking at, and I note his sympathy with starving people- a genuine concern- but the lies about slavery shame me now. Britain made a vast amount of money from slavery and colonial exploitation. Loving the Tate Galleries, I have just checked they are not directly contaminated by slave profits, which is a relief; but all over Britain the legacies of slave ownership remain. I am not free when anyone is unfree, even when their shackles are very different from my own. It is imperative for me to be an ally, and develop as an ally. I found the cartoon through David Olusoga’s documentary Britain’s forgotten slave owners.