Powerful speech

There is no free speech in the world. Instead, we have power speech. Powerful people can say what they like. The rest of us might not be arrested for our opinions, but anyone can be persecuted if the persecutor is sufficiently powerful or determined. People are persecuted for who we are.

Jonathan Freedland, in the Guardian, challenged anyone to disagree with “The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away,” one of the “anodyne statements” in this letter to Harper’s magazine. OK. These things often don’t work. Paul Krugman talks of arguing with zombies– because the zombie statements are in the interests of the powerful.

Here’s what would have been arguably an “anodyne statement” in 18th century London. It’s transphobic. On my blog I will white it out, that doesn’t work on the WordPress reader app unfortunately:

Edward Gibbon states that when Elagabalus proclaimed herself Empress and married a man, she “subverted every law of nature and decency”.

The social consequences of challenging this opinion would have been severe. “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” is one of the ornaments of the Enlightenment in England, a feat of scholarship, well worth reading, and includes this brutal prejudice. No trans person could have silenced him then, or had that opinion excised. There were trans people, but they were quiet about it. They might have been mistaken for gay.

The bad opinion that harmless trans women should be expelled from women’s spaces is subject to endless reiteration by the powerful, particularly Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch, and their minions or hangers-on. Sometimes it might persuade people, particularly when they are made to look away from the real issue. If you believe the myth of the predatory men just waiting for gender recognition reform so that they can pretend to be trans and attack women, you are a fool, but it is so loudly proclaimed that it feels like an anodyne statement. Jonathan Freedland, who is Jewish, should know the blood libel was anodyne, in some cultures and at some times. In the diaspora, there have been many Jewish commmunities, where the surrounding goyim could attack, encouraged by the authorities, at any time. The blood libel is false, but here’s a Saudi cleric repeating it, on television. He may even convince some people.

Possibly the blood libel, and the common transphobia of such as Rowling, is best defeated by looking to its consequences for its victims. Enough people see the harm and suffering such rubbish causes, and rise up against it. This is a response from the heart, not an Enlightened refutation. The answer to Mein Kampf is a roar of righteous anger, not wasting time reading the thing.

The letter says that the main threat to “the free exchange of information and ideas” comes from snowflakes like Mr Trump, but leftists should be better than that.

Several NYT columnists signed the letter, possibly objecting to the resignation of James Bennet. Then Jennifer Finney Boylan distanced herself from the letter because JK Rowling had signed. I don’t get that. If you think Tom Cotton’s article calling for the National Guard to be called on protesters should be met by reasoned refutation, surely Rowling’s should too? What if David Starkey had signed? His racist remark, which leaves me speechless, may be read here. I won’t quote it because of systemic white supremacy in the UK. He would only have been saying that bad ideas should be met with good ones, not that his own statements are always good. That remark could have been refuted by the definition of genocide: the term includes attempts. Completed genocide is rare.

Starkey has been a “controversialist”, making his money from saying offensive things, for a long time, clickbait both for his supporters and many who loathe him. He’s pushed it too far now, but previously he dismissed female historians as “historical Mills & Boon”. That is a nasty little insult. It’s trolling, not the “free exchange of information and ideas”. Anyone responding to it with a long, detailed account of how female historians make a worthwhile contribution would be feeding the trolls. No-one who disbelieves that may be convinced of it.

I am glad that Daniel Ratcliffe, Emma Watson, and the Leaky Cauldron condemn Rowling. There are any number of posts refuting Rowling, some line by line- may I recommend my own? As the Cauldron says, her remarks are “harmful and disproven”. That makes no difference at all. If “exposure, argument and persuasion” were enough to refute her rubbish, Rupert Murdoch would be penniless and powerless. The money of millions of Potter fans may have some effect on Rowling.

Margaret Atwood signed the letter, tweeted something mildly pro-trans, and was subjected to a hail of abuse, including calling her a “gender traitor”.


White Privilege, White Fragility, White Supremacy- what is Whiteness, and how can understanding these terms help fight racism?

Recognising my white privilege may help me see where I need to act. I talked to my MP last week. He is my colour. This is part of white privilege. What can I do about that? Well, attending Constituency Labour Party meetings, I did not notice, but am pretty sure all the people there were white. The last candidate selection for the constituency, all the potential candidates were white. I could talk about ways of encouraging Black people to join us. It also may help demonstrate the structural racism in society: the lie that ours is a meritocratic society also harms working class and queer people, as well as Black people. I can’t just renounce that privilege. I have to work hard to negate it.

Poet and writer Momtaza Mehri, from Somalia, is concerned that he can use liberal white guilt to leverage his lack of privilege into a career based on representing other Black people. There are “structures, logics and economic arrangements that perpetuate global anti-blackness”.

These come under the heading of White Supremacy, which is not the racism of Mr Trump, who wants immigrants from Norway but not “shithole countries”. It is much broader than that: the everyday experience of people of colour, practices and policies made invisible, normalised, and taken for granted, even in a liberal society. Well-meaning Whites sustain it.

Confessing my white privilege may be a ritual where I demand absolution from the nearest available Black person, making me a “good person”. This protects the system of White Supremacy from subversion. When I deny complicity, or that race is involved in any particular disadvantage, I deny Black experience. Why should someone “play the race card” if it is so often ineffective?

Whether I am good or bad is not the issue. That centres my feelings as a White person rather than the oppression of Black people. How does benefitting from the system make me complicit? In Britain, our history as we speak of it is White- the good White people abolishing slavery are emphasised, not the British people making their money from slavery or the suffering caused by colonialism and the British repression of the Kenyan liberation struggle. I as an individual can educate myself about these things, and seek to educate others. I can challenge praise of our Empire.

White invisibility reproduces white supremacy. White norms permeate white-dominated society, and appear to be common and value-neutral to we whites who benefit from them. Through these norms we construct difference. Critical Whiteness Studies attempts to make whiteness visible. It can only be studied by problematizing it, making it strange.

Whiteness is like a right of property protected by social institutions. “whiteness involves a culturally, socially, politically, and institutionally produced and reproduced system of institutional processes and individual practices that benefit white people while simultaneously marginalizing others.”

White Supremacy sustains white privilege. White privilege is not passive, even if unconscious. Failing to pay attention to the processes whereby White people take resources from people of colour perpetuates the White sense of innocence. White privilege allows whites to be oblivious and arrogant.

Tolerant people who love diversity and believe in justice may still sustain white supremacy through ignorance. We don’t pay sufficient attention to Black voices. We act as if all spaces are ours. We share an understanding of reality, in our language and action, which centres us. This is so all-pervasive that it requires labour to see it. It ensnares us. So one can never become the ideal anti-racist, as the system blinds us. So my goodness should not be the issue, only, what can I do next.

Critical Whiteness Studies helps make the oppression visible. From the Oxford Research Encyclopedia: pdf available here.

Whiteness is culturally constructed, so different groups can be added or removed. In the British Empire “Europeans”- non-British whites- were privileged over local people, but below British people. In New England, WASPs- White Anglo-Saxon Protestants- were privileged over Catholics and other white immigrants, who are now admitted to whiteness. In Britain, Eastern European workers may not have the full privileges of whiteness, reports Dr Helen Moore: pdf available here.

Being reasonable about trans

There are disputes about trans women in women’s spaces, on the Left. If people on both sides can genuinely be reasonable, some reconciliation might be possible. And, if you can appear reasonable to ordinary people who don’t take much interest in trans rights issues, you can win them over: defeating the other side, who are the enemy.

In The Atlantic on 6 July, Helen Lewis wrote that JK Rowling’s views on gender are “compassionate”! Rowling “wrote about her sympathy for transgender victims”. You don’t want to read yet more analysis of Rowling’s screed. I have gone through it again to find all the bits which could be said to show compassion to trans people, and that is a footnote to this post which only people who really want to need read.

I thought, reading Lewis’ article, but that’s ridiculous. I went back to Rowling’s post. All her attacks are on “trans rights activists” who say completely ridiculous things, in her view. All the threat is from them. For someone who sympathises with Rowling’s position, she could appear compassionate to trans people, and ordinary people who don’t really care could be persuaded.

For reconciliation to be possible, trans people would want trans excluders to admit some obvious facts:

1. Trans women have self declaration already.

We have self-declaration formally under the Equality Act since 2010 but informally from medical treatment and the government response, giving documents indicating trans women are female, from decades before. I wanted a bank card in my female name for when I was dressed female, before I went full time, and when I produced evidence I was seeing a psychiatrist about transition I got one. I was in women’s spaces twenty years ago. So:

2. Trans women are in women’s spaces now, and if “predatory men” wanted to go there too by pretending to be trans, they could, now.

Predatory men have far easier ways of attacking women than pretending to be trans. And transition is not a whim: we agonise about it, and many of us fight it as long as we can.

3. Trans women are mostly harmless, and do not deserve collective punishment.

In any group there are a few bad apples. There are bad people in all the groups I am a member of: Scots, left-handed people, Quakers… Just as I should not be treated with suspicion as a Scot in England, so I should not be treated with suspicion as trans.

Trans excluders- gender critical people, is the term they use, might want trans people to agree certain propositions too:

1. Sex is real.

Well, yes, but what conclusions do you draw? In an attempt at reconciliation, I would want to get beyond the zero sum game. Emma Nicholson (and WPUK) want no trans women in the changing rooms at Marks and Spencers. That’s the last thing we should look at. “We were constantly triggered”, wrote Amy Dyess.

2. Concerns about detransition, medicalisation, and loss of fertility or sexual function matter.

Yes. Some people detransition. And, medical treatment liberates trans people. Possibly, trans people would seek hormones and surgery less desperately if we were accepted without it.

I am not the best person to state their “obvious facts”. There’s a lot of quibble-room.

Lewis’ last line is about Severus Snape, saying he was morally complex: “A bully, a victim, a villain, and a hero: human”. She says Millennial Potterheads, and people in the trans debate, see in black and white, where there are only shades of grey.

On 7 July, a trans woman called Kim Humphery wrote in the Guardian about how many feminists are trans allies. She writes that the media portray a vicious social media battle between trans and feminist activists, but in reality trans and feminist theory cross-fertilizes, and most feminists see trans as allies. She says feminist voices need to be heard on institutional responses to sex and gender, and we need to abandon “the dead-end of territory-claiming wars over biology and rights”.

It can’t be done through social media. Most newspapers won’t do it either.


These are all the parts of Rowling’s post that could possibly be read as trans-friendly. To me, she is merely hostile, attacking trans women who stand up for ourselves, or even tweet occasionally. Is she, from a position of bad faith, merely pretending to be reasonable? Could she convince those centrists who don’t really care?

The image in my mind is (Male Stereotype ALERT!) of James Bond in Casino Royale, trying to rescue Vesper Lynd from drowning. He can’t reach her. She slowly drifts away, vanishing in the murky water. Continue reading

Christine Goodwin

Christine Goodwin won many of the rights trans people now have, in the European Court of Human Rights in 2002. We already had passports and driving licences in our true gender, but she established the right to marry someone of the opposite gender, when gay marriage and even civil partnerships were not in law, the right to change the birth certificate, and the right to pensions for trans women under women’s rules, when those were different.

My passport, driving licence and bank cards show that I am female, and entitled to be in single sex spaces with other women. Under the Equality Act as a trans woman I may be excluded from women’s space if it is proportionate and legitimate, but that will be extremely rare.

The case refers to her as a “post-operative transsexual”. This is now language which is old-fashioned and offensive. Just as women replace “Mrs” and “Miss” with Ms or Mx, because the title should not disclose something which the woman may not want to disclose, we replace “post-, pre- or non-operative transsexual” with trans woman and trans man. Sometimes it refers to “transsexuals”, which arguably means that all trans people should be entitled, and operation status should not matter. If you argue that operation status matters, you increase the social pressure to surgery, which is clearly against the trans person’s human rights.

There was a breach of Articles 8 and 12 of the convention.

8.1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic wellbeing of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

12. Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right.

In three previous cases, the court had decided there was no loss of the right to marry, because the trans woman could marry a woman. Ms Goodwin had been married to a woman, but was now living with a man. The ECHR right refers to “men and women”, but the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU does not: it says “The right to marry and the right to found a family shall be guaranteed in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of these rights.” The court decided that as she lived as a woman, in relationship with a man, and could not marry him, that infringed her article 12 right.

What made her a woman? (Article 12 referred to men and women). Paragraph 100 names three factors:

The Court has found above, under Article 8 of the Convention, that a test of congruent biological factors can no longer be decisive in denying legal recognition to the change of gender of a post-operative transsexual. There are other important factors – the acceptance of the condition of gender identity disorder by the medical professions and health authorities within Contracting States, the provision of treatment including surgery to assimilate the individual as closely as possible to the gender in which they perceive that they properly belong and the assumption by the transsexual of the social role of the assigned gender.

Medical acceptance, treatment including surgery, and “the assumption of the social role”. The court also noted the EU had dropped the reference to “men and women”, moving towards acceptance of gay marriage.

I decided to look at Goodwin, because trans excluders I know claim that it turns on Ms Goodwin being “post-operative”. That was only one factor, and “the assumption of the social role” has much greater day-to-day significance for single trans people. All reasonable people recognise trans people have existed for thousands of years. Recognition by the medical professions is like recognising that kidneys exist.

I dislike the court’s references to surgery. However, consider para 81:

Nor, given the numerous and painful interventions involved in such surgery and the level of commitment and conviction required to achieve a change in social gender role, can it be suggested that there is anything arbitrary or capricious in the decision taken by a person to undergo gender re-assignment.

It took me 18 months to prepare to go to work as Clare. That shows commitment and conviction, whatever my surgical status is. The Equality Act recognises that with protection from the moment we decide to transition. The decision itself requires commitment and conviction. The court says scientific questions of the precise cause of transgender is “of diminished relevance”.

Ms Goodwin claimed her right to privacy had been breached, because she had no proper protection against discrimination at work, rules on national insurance contributions and pension were unjustified, and she had to declare her birth sex when applying for loans or insurance.

The court said the State has a positive obligation to ensure respect for our private life. This means balancing the interest of the community against that of the individual. Previously the court had decided the UK had no obligation to issue altered birth certificates, but that allowing driving licences and passports were sufficient to ensure privacy.

Note that these documents and my bank card say that I am female. They mean that I can go into women’s spaces as a female. Now, the law officially confirms that: a single sex space which has established that men should be excluded needs a separate legitimate, proportionate reason to exclude me.

The court said human rights evolve. The purpose is to improve.

74. In the present context the Court has, on several occasions since 1986, signalled its consciousness of the serious problems facing transsexuals and stressed the importance of keeping the need for appropriate legal measures in this area under review.

The court relied on emerging international consensus, with “a continuing international trend towards legal recognition”. In 1986 the court had refused Mark Rees’ application in part because the trend was not advanced, but by 2002 there was (para 85) “clear and uncontested evidence of a continuing international trend in favour not only of increased social acceptance of transsexuals but of legal recognition of the new sexual identity of post-operative transsexuals.” This causes problems, perhaps, when Hungary now decrees everyone must use their birth name and gender change is illegal- but Hungary is clearly breaching human rights, and a trend towards withdrawal of rights should not be recognised.

The law affected Ms Goodwin where distinctions are made between men and women, such as, then rules on retirement age.

77. The stress and alienation arising from a discordance between the position in society assumed by a post-operative transsexual and the status imposed by law which refuses to recognise the change of gender cannot, in the Court’s view, be regarded as a minor inconvenience arising from a formality. A conflict between social reality and law arises which places the transsexual in an anomalous position, in which he or she may experience feelings of vulnerability, humiliation and anxiety.

We are anxious, humiliated and vulnerable when our social reality, living as women, is in an anomalous position. 78: “it appears illogical to refuse to recognise the legal implications of the result to which the treatment leads.”

In Bellinger v Bellinger, a trans woman sued to have her marriage to a man declared valid. The Court of Appeal said it had no power to, but Parliament should. In a dissenting judgment, Thorpe LJ said he would consider psychological factors more important than chromosomal, and assess gender at the time of marriage not at birth.

The ECHR agrees with Thorpe (para 82). Some people have chromosomal abnormalities. Chromosomes should not be decisive.

90. Nonetheless, the very essence of the Convention is respect for human dignity and human freedom. Under Article 8 of the Convention in particular, where the notion of personal autonomy is an important principle underlying the interpretation of its guarantees, protection is given to the personal sphere of each individual, including the right to establish details of their identity as individual human beings … In the twenty first century the right of transsexuals to personal development and to physical and moral security in the full sense enjoyed by others in society cannot be regarded as a matter of controversy requiring the lapse of time to cast clearer light on the issues involved. In short, the unsatisfactory situation in which post-operative transsexuals live in an intermediate zone as not quite one gender or the other is no longer sustainable. Domestic recognition of this evaluation may be found in the report of the Interdepartmental Working Group and the Court of Appeal’s judgment of Bellinger v. Bellinger.

Dignity. Freedom. Personal autonomy. The right to establish details of our identity. Physical and moral security. All establish our right to recognition in our true gender. In para 91, the court proposed full legal gender recognition.

No concrete or substantial hardship or detriment to the public interest has indeed been demonstrated as likely to flow from any change to the status of transsexuals and, as regards other possible consequences, the Court considers that society may reasonably be expected to tolerate a certain inconvenience to enable individuals to live in dignity and worth in accordance with the sexual identity chosen by them at great personal cost.

That “certain inconvenience” might include the objections of trans excluders to seeing trans women in women’s spaces. If we do something objectionable, such that any woman would be excluded for it, we should be excluded. But the distaste which they build in themselves as they radicalise each other should have no weight at all.

In 1999, regulations formalised the Sex Discrimination Act applicability to trans people discriminated against in employment. The law was, slowly, tending towards our recognition. Christine Goodwin’s case was the decisive factor winning us gender recognition.

Black Lives Matter UK

Black Lives Matter.

On 4 August 2011, Mark Duggan was followed by firearms police from a meeting where he reportedly had collected a gun, according to the controversial “Operation Trident” focused on gun crime in London’s black communities. Three cars executed a “hard stop”, forcing his minicab to a halt. Duggan came out of the car. A police officer was shot during the incident, and officers told journalists that there had been “an exchange of fire”. The Daily Mail called Duggan a “gangsta”. Two days after, the police had not met the Duggan family, and they led a protest march to Tottenham police station. Police continued to refuse to meet with the family, and the protest became confrontational, eventually with rioting. In 2013 a coroner’s inquest interviewed dozens of witnesses, and in 2014 the jury concluded it had been a lawful killing, but also that the first bullet fired by an officer at Mr Duggan had injured the other officer. A year later, the Independent Police Complaints Commission published its report, saying Mark Duggan had thrown a gun onto grass seven metres away from the mini-cab.

The detailed Forensic Architecture report concludes that Duggan could not have thrown the gun. No officer gave evidence that he had seen Duggan throw the gun. Their video shocked me. My vague recollection of the case was that Duggan had had a gun, but there was no DNA link from the gun, wrapped in a sock, with Mr Duggan. I noticed in myself an initial desire to exonerate the police, and challenge the evidence which eventually led to a large settlement in the family’s unlawful killing action against the Metropolitan police. This is the desire to see society as basically well-functioning, documented by Sara Ahmed, which causes difficulty for complaints against the police, or about authority in any institution.

Sean Rigg wrote, performed and produced his rap album Be Brother B Good and volunteered at the Franz Fanon community centre in Brixton. He suffered bouts of mental illness. On 21 August 2008 he was arrested and restrained by Brixton police, and died shortly after. The inquest reported four years afterwards, and the family’s Justice and Change campaign site does not seem to have been updated since 2014. Rigg was fit, healthy and forty years old when he died. The inquest in 2012 concluded the way he had been restrained, “more than minimally”, had contributed to his death: his heart stopped after “unnecessary” and “unsuitable” restraint while lying face down. However in February 2019 the Metropolitan Police exonerated five officers of charges of failing to identify Rigg’s mental illness, excessive restraint, and giving false evidence to the IPCC and the inquest. In The Guardian, his sister Samantha Rigg-David described her “anguish”, says the subhead, and her courage in campaigning.

A man claiming to have Covid 19 spat and coughed on Belly Mujinga, a railway worker, and her colleague at Victoria Station in London. The British Transport police took no further action having decided there was insufficient evidence. She died on 5 April from Covid 19.

Naomi Hersi, a trans woman, Continue reading

Lloyd Russell Moyle, the Labour Party, and trans rights

“Labour must stand with trans people against a new section 28,” wrote Lloyd Russell-Moyle in Tribune. It’s a good article.

Recently, of course, we saw people like JK Rowling using her own sexual assault as justification for discriminating against a group of people who were not responsible for it. Trans people are no more likely to be rapists; in fact, they are more likely to be victims of sexual assault themselves. That’s why, despite JK Rowling’s hate towards them, hundreds of trans people wrote to complain to The Sun when it trivialised her domestic abuse on a recent front page… Those who try to weaponise women’s rights as a tool to push transphobia are hurting women and trans people, and we should not be quiet in calling it out.

JK Rowling’s hate is well documented. Her ex-husband’s violence does not excuse it and is entirely irrelevant to innocent trans people. However Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, told Russell-Moyle, a shadow junior minister for the Environment, to apologise. When I searched for him, Google was quoting wikipedia as saying he is a “politician and men’s rights activist”, though the lie had been deleted from Wikipedia when I went there. He is a politician who has a reasonable view on trans rights.

However Russell-Moyle apologised on twitter.

I want to apologies unreservedly about the comments in the article that I wrote last week in Tribune regarding Trans rights in which I mention J.K. Rowling. J.K. Rowling’s first disclosures of domestic abuse and sexual assault in her recent article on Trans issues were heartfelt and must have been hard to say. Whilst I may disagree with some of her analysis on trans rights, it was wrong of me to suggest that she used her own dreadful experience in anything other than good faith. I have asked Tribune to remove the line in question.

The paragraph is still there. Tribune explain, “It is against Tribune’s editorial policy to amend the contents of articles after publication in the fashion requested,” but they publish the apology.

As Moyle says,

While it is sickening to see trans people being caught up in a lazy attempt by the government to gain headlines, we must also know that their existence was threatened day in and day out even before this latest fiasco. Socialists must not only defend their rights, we must stand with them against exploitation, intimidation and mistreatment by the state.

On Monday morning, Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, was interviewed on The Today Programme (from 2:10:04 on the recording). He said “The PM is good on promising and bad on delivery”- mentioning the broken promise to build affordable housing- but the interviewer wanted to ask about his sacking Rebecca Long-Bailey, former shadow Secretary for Education, and Lloyd Russell-Moyle.

On Rebecca LongBailey, he said he will “take the action that is necessary on antisemitism… we can move forward with a clearer view of what needs to be done to rid the Labour Party of any sense of antisemitism”. Good. I have followed the equivocation, a little, what Amnesty International said, what Maxine Peake said, what Long-Bailey actually tweeted, and equivocation just perpetuates the smell of antisemitism.

JK Rowling was clearly in bad faith. To describe her experiences of partner violence would have been brave and valuable in the struggle for women’s rights. To describe them and then go on to express vile prejudice against trans people is using them in propaganda and demeans her. However as the interviewer Nick Robinson pointed out, she is a life long Labour supporter, and as we know very rich with a huge platform.

What did Starmer say? He said social media is never the best guide to public opinion.

[Moyle] was wrong to say that and he has apologised for it and I have accepted that apology… that was my judgment call and I’ll be judged if you lead a political party you have to take responsibility for the decisions you make.

The interviewer framed the question in exactly the most damaging way, saying “the conflict between two sets of rights trans rights and women’s rights to safe space How do you as Labour leader choose which side you come down on?” He gabbled in the way people do in these interviews, never pausing for fear of interrupting, producing a stentorian monotone.

I think that’s the wrong question, and that’s the problem: people are saying which side are you on this. I think the trans community deserve more protection than they’ve got. I don’t think the legislation goes far enough. That then takes us into difficult questions. Let’s take those difficult questions in a mature calm way without taking sides. Treating this as a political football which is what’s happened over the recent months is completely the wrong way forward. There’s a better way, and that is to reflect, and to do it in a mature, I would hope cross party basis, because the entrenchment is no way- that doesn’t protect the trans community, it doesn’t protect some women who are completely concerned about safe spaces. Let’s have the conversation.

I am convinced there is a way forward here if everybody is prepared to stop chucking bricks at each other, have a mature conversation, not treat it as a political football, and I think the sooner we get to that the better.

Well. He often says “trans rights are human rights”- trans people are human, I hope no-one would disagree. It could be completely neutral, even anti-trans: transphobes claim to support trans rights when seeking trans exclusion. “I don’t think the legislation goes far enough” to support our rights. He isn’t taking sides, he says. I trust he is a progressive. Here he was neutral, and with the storm of Government transphobia that is hard for me to hear; but his words before have been supportive.


On Good Morning Britain, the same day, Keir Starmer got friendly questions about the PM and the polls, and transphobic questions about trans rights. Piers Morgan ranted:

There is a creeping sense that the transgender lobby is being so aggressive that it’s actually beginning to damage women’s rights? … I mean can somebody who is born with a male biological body simply say I am now identifying as a woman and be afforded full respect do you think that’s right… and have all the rights a woman should have?… JK Rowling is trying to defend women’s rights, she’s not transphobic, from anything I’ve read, she says she supports transgender people, she supports their rights to fairness and equality… is it right that people born in male biological bodies should be able to compete in sports against people born to female biological bodies given that there is in almost every case a massive physical advantage…

Susanna Reid backed Morgan up.

RLB does not actually write the words over which she was sacked but she retweets an interview, but LRM had actually written the article in which he criticised a woman for talking about a sexual assault that she had experienced.

Keir Starmer did not state a personal view. He said Moyle was right to apologise.

Well what I’ve said in this because it is a sensitive issue, trans rights are human rights, the legislation we’ve got doesn’t go far enough and we all have a cross party consensus about it to look at it and see whether it can be developed. But what concerns me here is that this whole issue has become a political football. There must be a space for a mature discussion about how we improve the rights of the trans community, obviously preserve safe spaces. I’m very conscious of the experience of women that have gone through sexual assault, sexual violence, I worked on it very hard as DPP with women’s groups, I do absolutely understand that, but there is two sides here. Let’s stop the political football and have a mature debate about how we improve-

I think we need to respect the right to self-identify, but we need to look at the framework that goes around that. That’s where the legislation needs to take place. That’s where the broad discussion needs to take place. I really don’t want to get drawn in to doing the opposite of what I’m suggesting here which is treating it as a political football. It’s complicated, it’s sensitive. I don’t think that hurling things at each other is the way forward…

I think we can go forward on this if we have a sensible debate about it without just drawing hard lines in the sand. On both sides we need mature reflection on it. We need absolutely- There was a cross-party consensus about this on the discussion that needed to take place and that’s fallen away and that’s a great shame. I actually think these are practical issues there are good questions, let’s reflect on them and find a consensus on the way forward because just chucking mud at one another is not going to help.

Starmer played a straight bat on this. ITV’s article under the video quoted at length stuff they had got they found interesting, but on trans they only quoted “[Moyle] was right to swiftly apologise and he did.” However he said some reassuring things for trans people. “The legislation does not go far enough”. “We need to respect the right to self-identify”. I consider he means there needs to be an advance in trans rights. It might not be as far as we wish. He says we should not draw hard lines. I don’t think a consensus is possible with the hard line anti-trans campaigners, but it might be with some people.

I don’t like the interviewers at all. Anti-trans campaigning was portrayed as reasonable concern, and Morgan played up the alleged threat of male bodies.

Catherine Bennett

What do you do when you like a transphobe?

Catherine Bennett, who writes in The Guardian, is a transphobe. Consider this article, which claims entirely reasonable women with reasonable concerns about men pretending to be trans- not about trans women at all- have sincere political meetings, and activists demonstrate outside. She wants the concept of transphobia limited to hate-crime. Trans people and “veteran campaigners for gay rights” support LGB All Liars and WPUK. Trans people campaigning against transphobia are “disturbingly undemocratic”.

The article is deliberate distortion, with half-truths used to pretend the reasonableness of transphobes, and ordinary trans women demonised.

Here’s another, in which the word “transphobe” is called bullying, an “imputation of backward irrationality”, “the progressive way of telling women to shut up”, and “hate speech”, and transphobes are called brave people who think, wonder or have reasonable concerns. Her article comparing trans activists to incel murderers I discussed here.

I have no wish to defend her, but as a lawyer come up with some semblance of a counter argument. She is proudly feminist, aware of male privilege and hostile to any sense of women being silenced. Her instincts are with other feminists. She sees WPUK campaigners as feminists- indeed, many of them have made names for themselves as campaigners on feminist issues- and stands with them. However, she sees trans women as men, and spreads the myth of predatory men patiently waiting on a change in the law to pretend to be trans in order to attack women.

I found three articles in four years. There may be more, and she may allude disparagingly to trans rights or trans people elsewhere, which my search has not picked up. I have no wish to go through her twitter for the last ten years. She is a committed transphobe, but not an obsessive one, thinking about nothing else.

Then I read this. I like it. It is a strong attack on the Tories, who, having caused tens of thousands of extra deaths by their mismanagement, as if they did not have any conception of what good government could look like, now show little concern about the covid deaths. It is selective and unfair: she writes of the health secretary’s elation over horse racing: “wonderful news for our wonderful sport” (30 May, 215 more deaths). That sounds worse than it is: I knew he was MP for Newmarket, actually his constituency is West Sussex which includes that town, famous for horseracing, but checking this found he trained as a jockey.

She is not a writer to give a balanced, even handed account of anything. Her word “disgusting” of government attitudes brought me up short. I want balance, and I love her style. I thought of adjectives for it: “Attack dog”, “stormtrooper”- don’t compare her to an animal or a Nazi, but those had the right shocking level of bite. “Tribune”, perhaps, the fearless defender of the people. I think she is right about the government. So she marshalls facts against the Tories and expresses them acidly. She arranges them in a melodic way- she takes us through different emotions, so notes of sympathy and sadness make our righteous anger stronger. I noted a sign of lack of self-belief: “For once… I may have some vaguely relevant experience”. I read this as disparaging her own style, a sign of female lack of privilege, and feel sympathy.

I could be sad because she, with her writing, has made me sad, with tales of heartless Tories interspersed with stories of death, bereavement and loss. Or because of her self-deprecating line. I want to deny it, saying “That doesn’t matter. You’re brilliant.” I am a fan of her writing though I cannot imagine writing like she does. But really I am sad that one of the battles she fights is against people like me.

I have been sharing pictures of Athena, or Minerva. It is striking how few of them make her look like an actual goddess, with power:

Dropping “Trans women are women”?

“I’m really focused on the idea that we don’t have to convert everybody to our way of understanding gender,” Nancy Kelley said in her first interview since taking up the position as head of the UK’s leading gay rights charity. “For Stonewall to succeed, it doesn’t have to make people believe as it believes. What it has to do is make people support changes that make trans lives easier.”

Kelley said that her priority was to reach a broad consensus that trans people need protection and that reforms to the administrative process – “which makes little difference to anybody apart from trans people” – are treated as just that.

“There is a lot of debate on the theory of gender and sex, it’s all terribly interesting and there are a million PhD theses to be written about it,” said Kelley, “but for the experience of trans people’s lives to be more positive, and for them to have lower levels of hate crime, better access to health services and more inclusive schools and workplaces, we don’t need people to agree on what constitutes womanhood.

“We must come back to the basics of building empathy for the idea that we want our fellow humans to experience a dignified, positive life,” said Kelley. “And there are things that as a society that we can change to make that more likely.”

What does that mean? I fear it means making trans people more uncomfortable. I don’t think it means taking the edge off hate groups’ campaigns against trans people, or necessarily off Stonewall. It may confuse the general public.

In theory, I could agree. However when I say “trans women are women” I mean we are socially women, not necessarily that we have women’s brains or women’s souls or are in some way intersex, just that society grudgingly tolerates transition. Hate groups hate that simple phrase. Graham Linehan has just been kicked off Twitter for tweeting “Men aren’t women”.

What is “Stonewall’s way of understanding gender”? I searched Stonewall for “transgender” and did not find the page “the truth about trans”, though that page does not use the longer word. I fear Nancy Kelley is going to be changing the website, or changing their campaigning.
In their “glossary of terms” I found

Transgender woman
A term used to describe someone who is assigned male at birth but identifies and lives as a woman. This may be shortened to trans woman, or MTF, an abbreviation for male-to-female.
Often expressed in terms of masculinity and femininity, gender is largely culturally determined and is assumed from the sex assigned at birth.

I would like Stonewall, and Nancy Kelley, to make people believe that definition of gender, but I find the definition of “transgender woman”- not a phrase I would use- fairly non-threatening to trans excluders. We “identify and live as women”. This is alright so far as it goes, but does not say we are actually women. However on “The truth about trans” they say “Being trans isn’t about having (or not having) particular body parts. It’s something that’s absolutely core to a trans person’s identity and doesn’t alter – whatever outward appearances might be.” We don’t need to have surgery. I find that an absolute minimum on trans rights, as a demand we have to have had surgery excludes all those starting transition, but trans excluders fearmonger about our surgery. It also says,

So, could a lesbian have a trans woman as a lesbian partner, or a gay man be with a trans man?
Of course. If they fancy each other. First and foremost, we need to recognise that trans women are women, and trans men are men. After that it becomes a matter of who you are attracted to. Adults are free to have relationships with other consenting adults, whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity.

What would reforming gender recognition mean?

If you’re a cis person, it will barely affect you. All that will happen is that trans people in the UK will have a slightly easier life. However, it will mean you and your family are living in a fairer society, one where people – maybe including some people you love and care for personally – are free to lead the lives they want to live, without the abuse and discrimination that’s an everyday part of life for many trans people at the moment.

It says trans children should be supported, and trans women should be in women’s toilets, women’s refuges and women-only shortlists. It does not mention sport, but that may be an oversight. It’s fairly clear “The truth about trans” is written by a trans person, or an extraordinarily sensitive ally; the glossary probably not.

Having trans women “experience a dignified, positive life” means treating us for all social purposes as women. I am happy to say “Sex is real” as long as that is not taken as some sort of denial that socially I am a woman. I would like Stonewall to campaign against rigid gender stereotypes, as that would help free lesbians, gay men and even straights, as well as trans people.

I don’t know whether Stonewall under Ruth, Baroness Hunt, had one way of understanding gender. Gender is complex and can mean different things when discussing trans people and when discussing wider society. I am happy Nancy Kelley, another lesbian, wants to “make trans lives easier” and get widespread support for that. But I don’t know what changes Ms Kelley might make in trans campaigning, and fear the fairly meaningless words at the start of this post will encourage trans excluders and dispirit trans people. I would love there to be less heat in the trans debate, for anti-trans campaigners to build bridges with trans people and for both groups to find how we could work together, but at the moment both sides have a “with us or against us” mentality, prone to analysing the words of prominent campaigners like Nancy Kelley like theologians analysing the words of Jesus. It ain’t like working for the National Centre for Social Research, as Kelley formerly did.

“I don’t know if the government is stoking a culture war,” said Kelley, “but they’re certainly not reassuring the trans community that they will make positive steps, and the trans community is incredibly distressed and worried.”

She is on our side. Cut her some slack. I am not sure she is ready for this, though.

I was bothered by this because trans people are worried by Keir Starmer. Rather than saying “trans women are women” he now says “trans rights are human rights”, and we get wound up. Recently LGBT Labour’s campaign for “progressive reform to the Gender Recognition Act” (as anodyne a name as anyone could ask for) was published under the heading “trans rights are human rights”. No trans person could disagree. Trans excluders might have difficulty disagreeing with the phrase, even if they might disagree on what our human rights should actually be. Maybe that’s the point.

Cecil Hinshaw

I heard of Cecil Hinshaw in ministry on Sunday. An older man said Hinshaw had inspired him to be Quaker, and had integrated the Quaker institution William Penn college in Oskaloosa, Iowa, with black and white students and faculty. I thought the 1940s was late to be integrating a Quaker college, but the pastor of the local Friends Church objected to black people in his meeting, quoting “birds of a feather”. The church appointed a committee, then decided all races were welcome at worship.

Hinshaw, a former Quaker pastor, sought to make the college a training ground for radical pacifist activists, involved in nonviolent direct action against the militarist state. With a theology of holiness and perfectionism, he sought to convert society following the example of Gandhi. He said, “Words from the Bible ought to shock us, stab us awake so fiercely that we could hardly sleep at night.” Instead we repeat them piously and meaninglessly. He became college president in 1944. The college was near bankruptcy, and suffering low enrollment because of the war. Iowa YM had already welcomed minority students to the college.

Hinshaw recruited students and faculty from pacifists in Civilian Public Service camps, and prisons. He encouraged racial integration, which caused friction with the town. Racial equality was his attempt “to practise the principles of pacifist living”. It was an embarrassment to most Friends Church members who supported the peace testimony but lived in small towns and wanted less publicity. In 1948 seven students or recent graduates were sentenced to eighteen months in prison for refusing to register for the draft.

A community council elected by proportional representation made decisions for the college. Military veterans and conscientious objectors mixed and worked together for justice and peace.

In 1948, 10% of the enrollment were from ethnic minorities: Japanese Americans, Hispanics and Jewish refugees. The 22 black students and reports of interracial dating troubled the town. When Marian Anderson, a black singer of classical music and spirituals, gave a concert on campus the local hotel refused to let her stay. Hinshaw recruited the first woman African-American professor in Iowa, and the first African American woman to teach in a predominantly white college. A mob threatened Cecil’s children if she remained, and she had to move onto the campus. The debate team boycotted a tournament when their black teammate was not allowed to compete.

Hinshaw resigned in 1949 after losing a vote in the Trustees. His resignation devastated his supporters- faculty shrank from 33 to 19, and only 7 of the 1948 faculty remained in 1950. The new interim president was quoted as saying “I am hopeful the number of Negro students will be reduced”. Divisions caused by the conflict lasted a generation within Iowa Yearly Meeting. The college fell away from Hinshaw’s radical pacifism, and in 2003 students demonstrated in favour of the Iraq War.

From “Penn in Technicolor” by Bill R Douglas, published in Quaker History. The title comes from an editorial in the Monroe County News, from a place just south of Oskaloosa, mourning Hinton’s departure: “If man is to be saved for something other than sizzling to his death under the bomb, the Penn idea must bloom again”.

Lenna Mae Gara wrote in Friends Journal of her experience and fellow students there: when Hinshaw left, Oskaloosa got what it wanted, a bland little community college. But when Kazuko Arakaki, from a Japanese-American internment camp, arrived as a student in 1944, it made her fellow students question the racism and war hysteria that made the camps possible. Julian Winston, a black student, became an attorney in Washington DC.

Joining the “Black Lives Matter and Racial Justice” course from QPSW, I was referred to the Friends Journal article in 2014 by Gabbreell James, telling of feeling unwelcome among Quakers as a black woman, and an article from 2011 on white fragility by Robin DiAngelo. She has now written a book with the same title. I recognise it. In small groups men were told not to monopolise the conversation. I am rarely short of things to say, but have not wanted others to monopolise so much since my first AM nominations committee meeting. My guilt and embarrassment are part of that white fragility, which gets in the way of work for integration, peace and equality. Speaking possibly from my inner light I said I want to move on from guilt to action.

Reni Eddo-Lodge, currently enjoying a windfall from white guilt after the death of George Floyd, says debates about racism are a game to some, a form of entertainment where writers and controversialists can take a position and argue. “We all know… all the stuff people have been saying for years,” she says.

I’m not looking to tell people what to do. People are very willing to give up their agency and look for leadership when they feel impassioned about something and I don’t want that at all, I want them to use their critical thinking skills to challenge racism and I can’t tell them how to do that.

Imagine you had a partner who you were hoping might be able to improve their perspective on something, and instead they say, “just tell me what to do”. That tells me that person isn’t willing to take on any level of responsibility and I guess what I’m trying to do is prompting people to take responsibility for racism. That takes initiative and using your own brain.