Academic debates, trans lives

Erudite academics applying philosophical techniques to the nature of trans affect my life, but only if I let them.

Prof. Kelli Oliver protests that she is openly bisexual and has mentored women and students of colour in her male-dominated discipline, in order to eliminate injustice and inequality. I find myself in an educational environment in which outrage, censoring and public shaming has begun to replace critique, disagreement and debate. She is still getting hate mail after defending Rebecca Tuvel, who wrote an article comparing transracialism to transgender. One way we delegitimise Nkechi Amare Diallo is by using her former name, though she has changed it, an act equivalent to deadnaming a trans person.

Mmm. Deadnaming. Prof. Oliver pointed out that Caitlyn Jenner herself refers to “Bruce”: I will refer to the name Bruce when I think it appropriate. Bruce existed for sixty-five years, and Caitlyn is just going on her second birthday. That’s the reality. I feel it behoves me to bear references to Stephen. I have enough ways for people to provoke me, without that. Yet deadnaming distresses many transitioned people: it is a way of denying the reality of transition and gender identity, the person’s gender and right to assert it.

Deadnaming is unfriendly. I can imagine psychologists or philosophers debating these matters in an academic setting, and if Rebecca Tuvel’s journal article had just been in print in University libraries perhaps no-one would have objected to it. However, it was available on-line, and so the least active transactivist and lots of incipient trans folk, as well as people of colour who objected to “Rachel Dolezal”, read it and got angry. As Kelli Oliver says, some who were in a position to ruin Rebecca Tuvel’s career read it and objected.

What you don’t know rarely hurts you. Had it been only available in print in a scholarly journal, trans activists would not have heard of it, and few might have bothered to communicate objection if they had to type a letter and use a stamp- perhaps even dictating rather than writing, in my first job I used a dictaphone to dictate letters for secretaries to type. Now, it is online, and gains notoriety. People read it. We are hurt by it. Transracialism is not accepted by black people, and I don’t like it compared to transgender. Others can make moral or practical distinctions, but finding those is effort.

I stop being able to ignore Rebecca Tuvel. People talk about her. So she affects me, threatening to delegitimise me. I have no safe space. Just as once there was a Gender Recognition Certificate I had to have one, so now Rebecca Tuvel impinges on my consciousness and that of other trans folk I have to read her.

The Guardian had an article saying that teenagers were not having gender surgery. Comments were opened, and people saying prejudiced things about trans people had a field day. Their comments got lots of upvotes. Some suggested that the Transgender Day of Remembrance was a fraud, that there was no evidence murder rates of trans folk were any higher than the general population. A few trans folk answered, and were abused.

Any TERF can join a TERF bubble, and learn horrible words like autogynephilia, or about assaults on cis women by trans women, including sexual assaults. Then they can come out and attack us with them. Articles about transracialism, or by Anne Lawrence, are used to attack us. And yet it need only affect me if I let it, if I read the hostile articles and the difficult arguments. People will transition, whatever the climate of hostility. Perhaps no-one I know IRL would read them, but me. I could just cut myself off from all this ferment, simply by switching off my computer, and no-one I know IRL would care. But I am drawn to it, however much it stresses me. Academic freedom has to take account of the casualties.

Possibly it would be better if philosophers and psychologists could debate trans in ivory towers, find a solution and just apply it. Actually, no, we have fought for what we have, it gives us a sense of agency. We are part of this argument. We know what we want. If academics debated, then lawmakers followed their recommendations, the world would be like the prayer of Teilhard de Chardin, archaeologist and mystic:

Ah, you know it yourself, Lord, through having borne the anguish of it as a man: on certain days the world seems a terrifying thing: huge, blind, and brutal. . . . At any moment the vast and horrible thing may break in through the cracks—the thing which we try hard to forget is always there, separated from us by a flimsy partition: fire, pestilence, storms, earthquakes, or the unleashing of dark moral forces—these callously sweep away in one moment what we had laboriously built up and beautified with all our intelligence and all our love.

Since my human dignity, O God, forbids me to close my eyes to this . . . teach me to adore it by seeing you concealed within it.

But then the world is.

Kelly Oliver in NYT.

Puberty blockers

No-one transitions on a whim. It is so difficult to transition that anyone who does probably is trans. That includes children.

There are 12.4m children aged 0-15 in the UK, and 1.4m 16-17 year olds. So 800 children on puberty blockers is a tiny fraction. Help, help, the sky is falling! cries the Daily Mail. They reported the fact, and sensationalised it- “Huge growth”- from what? Is not 800 out of 12.4m a tiny number? Then they interviewed and photographed a 17 year old trans woman who said puberty blockers saved her life, as she would have been suicidal suffering male pubertal changes. And then they started quoting transphobes. A spokeswoman for the Grassroots Conservatives campaign, who could be assumed to have no expertise whatsoever, said, This drastic notion that we should change our gender should be a last resort, as if a handful in a hundred thousand showed mass poisoning of children, or even the possibility that anyone who had the treatment did not need it. The children are diagnosed with life long gender dysphoria. The doctors predict that these are the children who will never regret their decision.

A woman speaking for Transgender Trend, a parents’ group speaking against transition, said These kids are not old enough to make life-changing decisions as if they were not diagnosed by doctors who were clear the treatment was appropriate. A doctor said the treatment relieved suffering, and three doctors said it was unsupported by rigorous scientific evidence, as if control groups could ever be ethical.

The treatment is puberty suppression. It gives children and families more time to make the final decision to transition surgically, before puberty changes the child’s body to appear irrevocably of the gender assigned at birth.

There were 2016 referrals of children and adolescents aged 3-18 in 2016 (yes, it is an odd coincidence). Children may remain under the care of the clinic for several years. Help, help, the sky is falling! said the Daily Telegraph. Chris McGovern, chair of the Campaign for Real Education so not obviously a medical expert called this a “politically correct agenda”. The Telegraph blames feminists! Feminists were attempting to reshape school policies on gender… children were being forced to “unlearn” the difference between boys and girls. If children did not know the difference, they would not know they wanted to transition. Liberating children from rigid gender roles would reduce the pressure to transition.

I feel that not all children who are trans will have been able to convince their parents, even if they have had the courage or desperation to try. I feel the children who are referred will be the strongest-minded and most certain trans children. And only a minority of those referred get any treatment. They are encouraged to transition and live in role, including at school, but most do not get puberty blockers, leave alone surgery.

Before puberty blockers, trans girls have their sperm frozen so that they might have children later in life. The Daily Mail opposes this. Storage costs £300 a year, and the Mail says the money should be spent on people with sympathetic health problems, not these weirdos. The article put “trans girls” in scare quotes, and referred to them as boys who believe they are female.

“Shouldn’t be allowed at all” was one of the highest rated comments. Consider the hostility to transition! No parent would accept it unless completely convinced. The barriers to a child’s transition are so great that children who do are trans.

I feel that schools which prevented gender indoctrination and permitted children to experiment with gender would produce more balanced adults. I am ambivalent about transition in children. What if it is wrong for them? I understand the worries- but surely all those involved are doing their best, for the best interests of the child.

Changing gender

Who would want a gender recognition certificate, anyway?

I did. I was more or less OK with the law calling me a “man”. I had a passport and driving licence which indicated I am a woman. I was not thinking of marriage or civil partnership. But when the law offered the chance to be declared a “woman”, I wanted it. I can’t think of any way it affects my legal rights. It makes me almost certain to go to a women’s prison if imprisoned, but I have not committed that sort of offence.

Should someone with a penis be sent to a women’s prison? It is a grey area. Whichever prison we go to, we are going to have a tough time. In the cause of protecting themselves against us, people are violent towards us. If a trans woman has committed a violent crime, she is capable of violence; and if she has transitioned before she was charged, and wants to go there, I would send her to a women’s prison. If she were violent or threatening there, I would subject her to prison discipline- though that requires a sufficient number of prison officers.

Now, under the gender recognition act, I needed to show I had lived as a woman for two years, which I proved with wage slips, and I needed to show I was likely to live as a woman for the rest of my life. The evidence required for that was letters from two doctors, one on an approved list of specialists. I am not faking this, or trying to prove a point. I am sincere. This is my life.

Under the consultation, which has not yet opened, Proposals to streamline and de-medicalise the process for changing gender will be part of a broad consultation of the legal system that underpins gender transition.

Why should I need a doctor’s diagnosis? Why should I need any written evidence beyond my bare assertion that I am a trans woman, and I intend to live as a woman for the rest of my life? To stop anyone getting a GRC insincerely, and to protect others from us, if we might harm them. Provisions on evidence and length of time have to be justified, but can be if a good case can be made that people would be harmed.

There might be policy on trans women in women’s prisons. Any restriction is subject to Human Rights challenges. I tend to feel we should be placed in women’s prisons and the system should work to prevent violence, by us or against us. That depends on having sufficient prison officers. Perhaps there could be restrictions on getting a GRC, for people who had been in prison or charged with an imprisonable offence. Prisoners seeking gender transition have psychological assessment, and also have hormones. Taking hormones would deter most men.

I feel most men would not like to sign a form saying that they are women. I doubt anyone has had a second GRC for a reversion. I would have heard of it. It would have been reported. Google would find it. People do not transition lightly.

Another suggestion was that men go to great lengths to get into women’s refuges. Well, former partners whom women have fled often try hard to track them down, and sometimes the refuge’s security fails; but I don’t see how a GRC, and the attempt to prove he needs domestic violence services, would help a man find his former partner.

So there are a lot of scare tactics about theoretically possible, highly unlikely scenarios where a determined man might lie to get a GRC then use it to attack women. There are so many other ways men can attack women, without all that effort, why bother? The advantage we gain is that we would no longer have a long drawn out, expensive, intrusive and humiliating procedure in order to get a GRC. There is no real cost to anyone in granting self-certification. None.

Reconciling trans and terfs

We could start to reconcile trans folk and gender-critical feminists by asking- what do we have in common? We are gender diverse, and this means we are oppressed. We have a common oppressor, the conservatives seeking to enforce gender norms and the ordinary people unthinkingly reinforcing gender norms.

We are hurting, and angry. We have a lively sympathy for those hurt in the same way, and a desire to support them, stop the hurt and condemn the causes of the hurt. There are similarities in the way we are hurt, even though there are differences both sides feel are important.

Each side hurts the other. There is the tragedy. How to move forward? By recognising that the other group is not the main enemy or main source of oppression, and that the other side is hurt too. We are all gender-diverse, because we do not fit into, and we oppose, restrictive gender conventions. That is what feminism is. Both sides do what we do and are what we are, and get slapped down for it. Then it becomes the most important thing in the world for us.

I want you not to be hurt is the moment of reconciliation. There are apparent zero-sum games in this- can trans women come into women’s space?- which are difficult, and need to be set to one side while we see how we hurt each other, and how to protect each other.

Non-conforming men and women are those who least fit the gender stereotype. We should recognise that the other exemplifies those human characteristics we feel least fitting and most oppressive, which we resist as strongly as we can. That is, we revolt each other. The gender-critical feminist looks at me and thinks, that is not what a woman is, or should be, but a grotesque caricature of the worst aspects of cliché femininity. The answer is to see why I do as I do: because I am gender diverse. I would not present as this femme stereotype if it were not the best approximation I can find for who I really am. The imaginative leap I ask of them is to concentrate on what we have in common, not what divides us.

The gender-critical feminist is revolted by the idea of mutilating women’s bodies, but needs to see that it works. If T breaks the trans man’s voice and gives him facial hair, then he has chest masculinisation surgery, people really do see him and treat him differently. Ideally that would not be necessary: we would value everyone’s gifts and strengths, and support everyone’s weaknesses; but with the world as it is, the trans man pays a price he is willing to pay, and is freed from gendered oppression.

Trans folk need to recognise the basic idea of radical feminism, that it is not reproductive roles that determine gender differences, but culture. There is no masculine or feminine virtue or vice which the other sex does not share. Men often have greater strength, but in post-industrial economies strength is less and less relevant.

Gender-critical feminists need to recognise how difficult that is for us. I want to express my feminine side. That is condemned. I am hurt, and I hide it, seeking to please others- a personality trait which in other circumstances would be positive, but here is poisonous. The doctors give us a way out: I suffer from “gender dysphoria”, and they name the appropriate treatment, of hormones and surgery. When I am not able to express my soft, yielding feminine self, “I am a woman” becomes my means of defence.

Society has dictated a narrow path for us. An AMAB child can wear a dress to school, if they call themself a girl and wear girl’s clothes all the time. The answer is to cease segregating children’s clothes between girls’ and boys’, as John Lewis wants to, and to recognise that the clothes are a symbol for the personality or nature of the child which the child wishes to express, rather than the true gender itself. All boys should wear dresses sometimes, to see what it feels like and whether they like it.

I sought to be poisoned and mutilated because that was the way I could justify and realise expressing my real self. It comes at a cost, but it works.

I don’t think I am getting far with these ideas of reconciling gender-critical feminists and trans folk because I am asking more of them than of us. But- let us devote our energies to our common enemy!

I started this post because of a squalid little scuffle between TERF and trans, described here. Why was the alleged victim filming, and why did she have someone in a headlock? Why were there no charges? The New Statesman makes her out to be a victim, and this blog post just about calls her a Nazi. There must be a better way.

Being an activist

Does being trans make you an activist? The time comes when you realise, it is OK to be me, just as I am. Then all the messages that it is not OK become toxic monstrosities, and you take up your sword against them. Or, perhaps, you transition, and carry on making your life.

The problem with being an activist is the people who aren’t. Here I am, the Truth hot within me to be proclaimed and defended, and there are they, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes bemused, sometimes wishing I would give it a rest. It does not stir their hearts as it does mine.

And I see other activists for other activisms. The woman tells me that by patriarchy men are to her like white people to black people, in a time when to say Black Lives Matter is to challenge, because for too many people black lives do not matter enough, if at all. She is oppressed. I could sympathise except she says that she is oppressed by me, and trans women are perverts who get sexually aroused by fooling others into imagining we are women. I cannot be an ally, only a persecutor. Then I see that activism may be wrong, rejecting allies and chasing irrelevancies, putting off the allies we need so making the struggle more difficult.

The Friend, the Quaker magazine, has an article this week enthusing about Greenbelt, and one by Symon Hill criticising it. If you expect the Guardian – or Greenbelt – to be a voice of the radical grassroots, to meaningfully include the excluded, or to be run as a workers’ cooperative, you’re going to be disappointed. They both broadly accept capitalist assumptions and are compromised by being large commercial institutions. They are liberal, not radical. He is glad that gay couples can hold hands there- queers are celebrated, where elsewhere in the church toleration is often too much to ask- but angry at the wickedness of the Government in cutting away support for disabled people and thereby making Britain a less civilised country, and angry that this was not highlighted at Greenbelt during the focus on disability. The Government deliberately undermines our social fabric, and Greenbelt should resist that. I sympathise- I fear the benefits snatchers. I have a personal stake.

He wrote a similar article for the Morning Star, removing references to Quakers and including references to Communists.

I was at the Greenbelt session when someone said the police should be abolished. They are always there to preserve the status quo, to prevent demonstrations changing anything, to protect property rights, to move on homeless people. I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting- why?” I don’t actually agree, because I think public order and its preservation are important, and that we can change things through democratic politics. People will see that selling arms to kill people in Yemen is criminal. We may by opposing end it. There were people there who strongly objected to such views being expressed there. I had not considered the idea before. I feel without the police, strong capitalist forces would find more brutal ways of defending themselves.

At the festival, there are a range of views. I am not dismissing the idea immediately. Someone who is angry that it even be voiced is still exposed to it. There is a mix of people, talking to each other. It’s a church festival. There might be someone there who thinks themselves wildly liberal for being willing to tolerate queers, but a bit uncomfortable seeing people holding hands. If you build coalitions and gain support, you have to have a place where activists can meet with people who have not really thought about it, might be open to some of our least radical ideas. Our choice is between ideological purity- being right, and being agreed with- or achieving change. Though it is restorative to spend time with activists, you have to work with others to make a difference.

Transphobia IV

My mother said, “They want to be disgusting because they are disgusting”. She was talking of homosexuals, a word she could hardly bring herself to say because the thought was so revolting. The thought may have been more revolting to her than the actual person would be- I hope so- if you cut us do we not bleed? Moral disgust is like physical disgust for rotting flesh, activating the same brain area. I can’t be certain. This is one of those filters which prevent some people seeing the humanity of others. Perhaps it would have prevented her. She was a product of her time and circumstances.

“Trans women get a sexual thrill from fooling others into imagining they are women”. Really? Is that all, do you think? Do you know anyone like that? Trans women are people with particular feminine characteristics. Of course not all women are soft like this, but it is an accepted gender expression for women, when we were too frightened to express our femininity as men. I do not have ovaries, but if the law and society call me a “woman” I can express myself as I am. I am not fooling anyone, but expressing myself.

Radical feminism, when it addresses transgender, is a conservative movement. It is femmephobic. When a person identifies as female, what is being defined as female? Is it the breasts? Lips? Ass? Slim waist? Small hands? Batting eyelashes? Flirtatious smile? Long hair? Finger-nail polish? Eyeliner? Lipstick? Submissiveness? Thighs? Heels? Demureness? A want to be taken care of? A want to be adored? Cat-called? Beautified? Idealized? Softness? Quietness? Well, what is wrong with any of that? (Except catcalling). It’s not for everyone. It is for some of us. I would put it more positively, the desire to promote reconciliation and smooth conflict, and not all of those apply to me. If there were not such social pressure to conform to gender stereotypes, perhaps no-one would transition, but right now it is my way to be feminine.

Just as the conservative says, men should not be like that, so the radical feminist’s revulsion comes from her idea that no-one should be like that. We are disgusting because we want to be disgusting. No, I am this way you don’t understand and don’t want to be because it is how I am, or as close to that I can get with the ways of being and expressing myself in the world that I see available. You are not like that yourself. Hooray! Your way of being is beautiful, and I support you in expressing yourself, and oppose the forces that would oppress you. That writer objects to feminists being empathetic to confused and vulnerable people [us]. Empathy is wrong, as it sees us as people trying to live our way in the world, rather than as subhumans or enemies.

That “radical feminism” is conservative because it preserves gender norms. Rather than being freed to express our gender and subvert patriarchy, we would be shamed and bullied into presenting male, and be unable to express ourselves.

As it is conservative, women promoting this view write for conservative publications such as Standpoint and the Federalist, a publication not afraid to promote conservative lies about climate change. Just as they lie about climate change, they also lie about transgender, claiming we imagine all gender non-conformity is transgender.

Consider the risks taken and the effort required to transition, then continually just living and expressing feminine after. The sexual drive is strong, but we take those risks to be our true selves, not to get a sexual high. Who would want to be aroused all the time? My transvestite friend had a week of it, and was sick of cross-dressing by the end. He could not wait to get his acrylic nails off. He dressed to arouse, in short skirts, I wear practical as well as pretty clothes. That is perhaps why he could not make the imaginative leap to see that transition was right for me. The conservative man feels disgust for me, the radical feminist feels the same conservative disgust. Men should not be like that. People should not be like that. I am Human! See that I am Human!

Celebrating femininity

Is there anything in femininity beyond oppression of women? Is there anything positive in it? Is there anything which might be real in an AMAB person, that she would use transition to express her true self, as we generally imagine we have done? I am still thinking of my sternest, least forgiving critic, whom I will never persuade, and her strong arguments, and trying to convince myself that there is, that I have gained something by transition to balance its costs.

I pick on a will to co-operate, and to support, and aversion from competition, which hurts feelings. People have observed women who are not feminine in this way: Eric Berne’s game “Let’s you and him fight” considered a woman provoking battle, as Helen did without counting the cost. And Jesus wanting to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings is feminine in this way. But I am talking of femininity, not how women are. I see it in me, as a thread throughout my life, and think it is beautiful. I have enjoyed court victories, but mainly when I felt I was fighting injustice, exercising an impulse to protect. And having blundered into litigation work twice in my life, I wanted to settle fairly rather than fight.

Arguably it comes from oppression. The NYT had a powerful argument for that: a man sexually assaulted Taylor Swift during a photo shoot, and after she thanked him for his participation. That automatic thank you, smoothing away conflict, at the cost of subservience, self-doubt, even self-flagellation, is instilled into girls and women. Her mother worried she had raised her to be too polite. Possibly it arose in me from caring for my mother’s feelings- yes, really, possibly my mother made me a pansy through wanting too much to make me a “proper boy”.

Also in NYT I read of Michel Foucault’s (or Theodor Adorno’s) term subjectivisation — a phenomenon in which individuals subject themselves to a set of behavioral regulations, and by doing so, acquire a sense of their own identities. My critic has studied and written on Foucault. This is the opposite of Richard Rohr, where today I read The True Self is consciousness itself. The false self lives in unconsciousness, and we do evil only when we are unconscious. Surely Foucault would see subjectivisation as a bad thing, a way of creating some sort of false self. For my critic, my “femininity” is an act, a pretense, a thing apart, though for me my whole existence.

So for her, my discomfort in the masculine conversation yesterday, my pleasure in the feminine, would arise from this is not how I am supposed to be; for me, this is not how I am. If I admit the possibility of her understanding being true, that could be a feminine socialised self doubt, where women keep smiling, swallow their feelings, will not rock the boat, are not assertive, are subservient. Seen that way, from the point of view of a woman not naturally subservient who has asserted her right and been repeatedly attacked for it, I get that “femininity” would be revolting. She might note my occasional anger and competitiveness, and see them as my true, manly self. I can be very angry. “I want to control you,” I said to her, forcefully. I feel I was provoked-

and she could wipe the floor with me, then blame me, I deserved it

This is an increasingly competitive world. Twentieth century principles of the good society, caring for all its members and ensuring that all share the benefits of that society, have given way to neoliberal ideals of funnelling all wealth to a tiny minority of capitalists. Having to compete yet being forced into that subservient role against ones natural character would be revolting. Yet if society is not to implode, some people have to salve feelings, and to work for reconciliation and co-operation. I felt that was the real me, so far from how I perceived I ought to be, as a man, that I transitioned. To be who I really am, that is a price worth paying.

Day out

I went into the men’s loos. They smell awful- they don’t use the same floral air-freshener as the women’s. Who knew?

I got oil from my chain on my hands, and wanted to wash them. There is no soap in the women’s loos. The friendly cleaner explained that replenishing of the soap had been contracted out to PHS, a service company, and there was no soap in the station to refill it. He suggested I could go into the men’s, as the place was quiet. No soap there either.

He then unlocked the disabled people’s loo, so that I could wash my hands there. That’s not under the same contract, so there is soap there; however I noticed the disposal unit in there had the same PHS logo. Neo-liberalism in a nutshell: poorer service, greater cost.

I told this story on the train, where three of us round the table chatted and one sat silent, and there was the sound of conversation from all the carriage. Something in the air. The woman asked me if my bike was safe and I said once I had left it unlocked at the station for a day: no thief had bothered to check, or noticed. She has had four bikes stolen, but wanted to cycle to the station before work, as parking was £9.50 a day. Get a cheap reconditioned bike. When she started at work in the 90s they typed memos for internal mail, which would take two days to be delivered then two for a reply. As email increased, her line manager, who was in Miami, was copied in on every email she had- for support rather than surveillance, she thought- and broke down under the strain. Even on her day off, going for a meal with a friend she used to work with, the only former colleague she has ever kept in touch with, she has to keep checking her work phone. She is in contact with people from all over the world. Scandinavians are happy with a reply within two days, Russians want a reply immediately, even if it is 5am here. “Do you work?” she asked. God, do I look unemployed? Hardly a rentier, no-one would retire on my income willingly. I write a little, mainly on spiritual matters. I tried to explain Quakerism, to an avowed unspiritual person. “Spirituality” is one way of putting it. Some people might call it “life lessons”.

The man, a widower, volunteers at the Nupton theatre. As a volunteer he gets to see the shows. His wife died, and he had to get out of the house, being retired.

To the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition with H. There are thousands of works, including two complementary prints, each of three columns, light-dark-light and dark-light-dark, each an edition of 20 for £1200 each. £48,000 for at most a week’s work: one might produce several candidates, then print off a favourite. The income could support you for a year, while you made any art you liked.

Here there are two figures, about eight feet tall. I don’t know what the core is, but the exterior is fabrics. They are gagged with tights, with £20 notes stuffed into their mouths. One is male. One has breasts, but the forehead and chin look male, and the hips narrow. They are horrible. I don’t like the blowsy, sagging shape of the breasts, a bra visible. I talk to a stranger about them. Yes, it could be one of my lot.

To the Royal Albert Hall for my first Prom concert since 1986. After the Berg violin concerto, the conductor stands with his baton poised. Often with a quiet, contemplative ending there is a period of silence, but here it extends for an age. The I-player shows it is 24 seconds, but I have not experienced anything like it. Five seconds’ pause is rare.

To St Pancras, where I play the piano for the first time in months. There are three people round it: the old man says there are often more at this time of night. He often comes to play, living about a mile away. He says “She’s classically trained,” of me, appreciatively. “Is that Chopin?” asks the woman. Yes, the C Minor prelude. I haven’t played the piano for months, but can remember this.

Why haven’t you played? Too depressed. Too lacking in energy. And now- they changed my meds! I had an experiment with nine days of Norethisterone, synthetic progesterone, and had a wonderful high on it and colossal downer after. So now I want to experiment with taking it for longer, and see if the increase of energy continues. She says it never does. I hope it will.

He plays by ear. He plays the tune of Summertime, and stabs vaguely at other notes. Sometimes he makes useful chords, sometimes not. I sing it, baritone, I want to play with gender. No-one minds.

Not Cis; not a TERF

My friend loathes the word “cis”. She told me of going to University, where the young ladies had a curfew of 11pm imposed on them, and had to wear a dress for the evening meal on Sundays. Male guests were not permitted after 7pm. She rebelled.

She was amazed and repelled by how compliant the others were. This was in the ‘Seventies, not the ‘Forties. I love her strength and determination. She managed to get round some of the rules, and was part of the pressure for their relaxation. There was no curfew when I went to Uni in the ‘Eighties, though one lad asked when “Lights Out” was, and we got the impression he would have liked one.

Back in the Eighties, feminists talked of “Consciousness raising”. If you could explain to women how oppressed they were by patriarchy, they would become feminists, fighting it. No-one talks of that now. No amount of consciousness raising will drive the soft pink floral sweater from the nation’s wardrobes. Some women see the oppression and fight it, some women love femininity and work with it. I don’t know whether James Damore, formerly of Google, is right that women are generally more co-operative, interested in people rather than things, or whether that is from socialisation or predisposition, but some women are.

Why should she be called “cis”? She rejects the feminine gender stereotype, because she does not fit it. She is a radical feminist: women share reproductive organs, and femininity is merely cultural, merely oppressive. She is a woman, but that does not make her a particular gender, and her gendered expression sometimes fits and sometimes fights the gender stereotype.

I wish she would meet me half way. I would love co-operation between her gender non-conformity and my own, because the gender stereotype, the Patriarchy, oppresses both equally and because I am more interested in people than things, and in co-operation. She called Trans a conservative movement. Tell that to the conservatives, who hate us! I suppose her argument is that we go along with the idea that my co-operativeness, etc, makes me feminine so I should express myself as female. Feminine = Female is a conservative idea. However, I have sought out the way society permits me to be my extremely feminine self- it is transition, which allows me to escape the masculine expectations forced on me. I love floral blouses and dresses, so want women to wear men’s shirts, jackets and ties if they wish; and if they wear dresses I do not imagine that says anything about their levels of co-operativeness or interest in people.

So, she is not Cis, because she does not conform to gender. Not only trans people reject the gender enforced on them. I could argue that it makes a useful shorthand to distinguish those who call ourselves trans or non-binary from everyone else, but she is not having that. She even rejects the idea that we might be particularly distant from the stereotypes, thinking gender oppresses everyone, apart from a few “alpha” males.

I would not presume to state her argument against the word TERF, but she is not hostile she says to trans women, only supportive of the rights of- she would say “biological women”. Calling us “women” sticks in her craw, but it is our way in to freedom.

The lesson I draw from this is that it is a disaster for both trans folk and her kind of feminist that we should be ranged against each other; that the oppression we suffer from Patriarchy, or whatever, is very similar, as is our interest in attacking that oppression. I feel in some cases her side’s objection to us is rooted in revulsion from femininity, falsely enforced on them. Femininity freely chosen is beautiful.

Transracialism

Can someone cross between races as we express other genders? Transracialism is not a good analogy for transgender, either for those seeking to support transracialism or oppose transgender.

When considering transition, one of the ways I argued myself out of it was to imagine what Afro-Caribbean friends would think if I blacked up. Blacking up for entertainment is seen as repulsive and racist, but transition is not blacking up: Drag queen expression is more like it. We do not perform a caricature to mock, we seek to live our lives normally. Now women perform imitating drag queens, and some say they are appropriating gay culture, and should not.

White people use black people’s art forms- white rappers, white jazz players, without pretending to be black. Could we not dress in brighter, softer fabrics without claiming to be women? No- playing the piano is only part of my being, my nature, and would be so even if I did it as a full time job. Improvising in words or music, the free flow rather than planning and executing the plan- or planning in advance a musical edifice, an epic poem, a symphony- is human, not of one race. No. I could not have softened and presented as a soft male. Others could, perhaps, I could not. I was too terrified of it. As a man I had to be Manly. Only as Clare could I free my soft self.

In one way, transracialism may be more justified. People who appear white may have black ancestry. In Black and British: a forgotten history David Olusoga met apparently white people who had black ancestors, who intermarried rather than being part of a black community. Those people should be allowed to celebrate their heritage. And they do not have black skin in a white-dominated world.

Why would you pretend to be black? When I googled “Rachel Dolezal” I found she had changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo. She taught African Studies, and tried to advance her career through the NAACP and the Spokane Police Ombudsman Commission. She told lies, claiming to be the victim of hate crimes which did not happen, using the title “Professor” without being entitled, copying JMW Turner’s paintings without acknowledgment. Her lies were designed to produce career advantage and social capital. She is a fraudster. It is therefore not clear that her claim to be black is based on her internal sense of her identity, rather than a feeling that a black person might have an advantage in the career path she chose.

As a teacher, she would be a role model for black students. She has no right to that. I do not claim to be a role-model for girls. That is one of the attacks on us, that we prescribe an ideal femininity, we enact the patriarchal oppression that this is the way to be a woman, but I do not imagine my way of being is ideal for anyone but myself, or deny the good of “manly” virtue in women, or assert that they should not exemplify any virtue seen as unfeminine. I speak for no-one. My identity as a woman is cultural not biological, and so I exemplify the freedom to alter cultural identity.

The NAACP has white officials, black people have white friends, and it is not clear that any Caucasian self-identifies as Black as a matter of identity rather than a way of fraudulently seeking advantage. The analogy of Nkechi Diallo breaks down, and the analogy of some transracialism for other motives is worthless, as such transracialism does not exist.

(c) Ferens Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation