Antisemitism and transmisogyny

Vocal prejudice tends to be right-wing, with the exception of prejudice against trans women and Jews. Many people who would think of themselves as left-wing, and hold some left-wing opinions, are happy to speak their prejudice against both; so trans women can learn from Jews about seeing where prejudice lies. People on the Left can be sexist and racist, of course, paying less attention or respect to women and people of colour, but tend not to express racist and sexist views. When they express antisemitic or transmisogynist views they are working in the interests of the extreme right, dividing the Left and chasing mirages.

So it is worth reading Understanding Antisemitism by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (click for pdf) which starts with a picture of Muslims in solidarity with praying Jews, and ends with a picture of Jews in solidarity with Muslims at an “Iftar in the streets” after Trump’s Muslim ban. The Right seeks to divide people, possibly because they are incapable of understanding life without out-groups; solidarity is our answer. That is why I want to learn about antisemitism, and stand against it.

I have seen antisemitism shared by a Labour member, against rich elites exploiting workers, but painting those elites as Jewish rather than merely rich. There are rich Jews- in 2015, 11.6% of the world’s billionaires were Jews, and 1.7% of millionaires- a bigger proportion than of the population as a whole, but a small proportion of the very wealthy. More than half the world’s millionaires identified as Christian.

Aurora Levins Morales skewers this: Racism is like a millstone, a crushing weight that relentlessly presses down on people intended to be a permanent underclass. Its purpose is to press profit from us, right to the edge of extermination and beyond. The oppression of Jews is a conjuring trick, a pressure valve, a shunt that redirects the rage of working people away from the 1%, a hidden mechanism, a set up that works through misdirection, that uses privilege to hide the gears.

Unlike racism, at least some of its targets must be seen to prosper, must be well paid and highly visible. The goal is not to crush us, it’s to have us available for crushing.

By redirecting rage against oppressors onto Jews, the rich escape democratic oversight and proper taxation. The tactic of the Right is to divide us. In the same way, some trans people are prominent, such as Caitlyn Jenner, and thereby a focus for hatred of trans women, which is then generalised. We could be allies working on genuine feminist concerns, and instead we are sniping at each other. Caitlyn is not celebrated because she is Trans, but because she is a former athlete and connected to the Kardashian family- she is a celebrity. It is not quite the same: prominent trans people tend to be writers, speakers, actors, celebrities, and George Soros is a billionaire funding progressive causes such as the People’s Vote campaign in the UK, but both are privileged and targeted.

I saw a post writing about women murdered by partners or former partners, with legitimate emotion, then phobically turning that emotion on trans women: while men kill women that they know at the rate of over 2 a week, all the energies of the women, like me, who stand up for these women and fight for these women are being focused on fighting against men for the right to define womanhood and all that entails. It would be legitimate rage against feminist energy being diverted from true feminist concerns to an unimportant matter; but rather her rage is against trans women.

Legitimate criticism may shade over into prejudice and phobia. We should criticise violence by trans women, but it should not be over emphasised. Tara Wolf committed an assault, but it was not newsworthy. JFREJ say We must criticize Jews who support the oppression of Palestinians on the same terms and by the same standards that we hold for all oppressors the world over — we are enraged because of what they do, not by who they are.

JFREJ say Jews fear that the State of Israel is all that stands between them and a new Shoah, but eschew the argument that claims of rights for Palestinians which would make the State of Israel no longer Jewish are antisemitic. I disagree. I consider that Jews born in Israel have created a right to stay in a Jewish state. The existence of Israel gives a measure of protection to Jews, who are subject to prejudice and have been for millennia. And trans women are safer being treated as women, rather than if we were tolerated dressing as we do but expected to be treated as men.

Their account of internalised antisemitism may help understand internalised transphobia. Many trans women try to make men of ourselves before transitioning, and still fear we should be manly or that our femininity is weakness. But internalised phobia does not manifest itself in the same way in all trans women. JFREJ reports that even where Jews are safe, such as financially secure Jews in American cities, they can be aware of the history of antisemitism and so that safety feels precarious. Even when mostly safe, we are continually made aware of transphobic incidents and transphobia in the media. They call on Jews to work against white privilege, and trans women should be feminist.

Jennifer James

Jennifer James took seven thousand pounds entrusted to her for a court action in others’ interests, and applied it to her personal debts. When found out she said, “I know it was less than ideal promise not to borrow again. Desperate times call for desperate measures.” (Update 60). Later, she said (Update 68) “I now get that this was more serious than I thought. I understand I was trite about it. I have since heard that some people were stressed and worried about it and that is entirely my fault. At the end of last week I got very stressed by a creditor’s actions and I panicked and made a bad decision. That’s not an excuse that’s an explanation.”

Then she wrote, I feel bad because you all put your trust in me and I fucked up. I also know that for a few loudmouths I can do nothing right and, to be honest, that’s a ‘you’ problem not a ‘me’ problem. But carry on, whatever… Well. Oddly enough, I agree with her here. Yes, she fouled up. And, that does not mean she should never be trusted again, or that what she has to say should be ignored. In the well-worn phrase, more used by Tories than Labour, I would rather have her in the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in. I understand that people who object to her suing the Labour party may crow at this evidence of her untrustworthiness; and trans people, as she is suing to prevent trans women getting on all-women shortlists, but generally I am against trump cards, the idea that one mistake shows someone need not be listened to ever again, or one argument is valueless. Trump cards are a way of stopping thinking.

James does not show great self-understanding. She complains she has been expelled from the Labour Party, and shows some of the evidence used against her. She has made slurs against the Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, which are not just antisemitic but reek of conspiracy-theory: “Ruth Smeeth is literally working hand in hand with Right Wing Power that is her purpose: that’s why she was GIVEN her position.” And she has said pretty horrible things about trans people, probably more than she has reproduced here.

The real reason why she should be opposed by anyone on the Left is that she proposes to sue the Labour party about trans women, rather than to pursue her goals through democratic party channels, as if trans women were the only important political issue rather than unseating the Tory government, whose risking no-deal Brexit is the most harmful single Tory act against the population of the UK since the General Strike of 1926. With NHS privatisation, or benefit cuts, trans rights should not weigh on the scale. Now is the time for all good folks to come to the aid of the Party (Google tells me that was a learn-to-type exercise, rather than a quote from Trotsky).

Many of these donations of £10 or so may come from individual women on the Left of politics in the UK, but many are anonymous. I am sure Robert Mercer or American hard-right organisations would like to cause trouble on the Left, using this issue. As I type, £29,750 of £40,000 has been raised, but only £100 in the last five days.

Having shown herself untrustworthy, James should find someone else to manage the fundraiser. Who is to say she will not take more money out? Was it just luck that it was repaid the same day? Better still, she should shut it down. No political issue is worth weakening the Labour Party right now, with the threat to the country from Tory power.

Using a crime

Katie Dolotowski ambushed a ten year old girl coming out of a toilet cubicle. She pushed her back into the cubicle, saying a man outside would kill her mother. However the girl punched her in the face, stomach and groin and ran outside.

This is chaotic and wicked behaviour. The intent was a sex crime: Dolotowski told her intended victim to remove her trousers. I completely understand the mother being angry that Dolotowski was released into supported accommodation and ordered to work in the community. However I also understand the sheriff court sentence, and the sheriff has had reports to justify it. She has been in care since she was three, and has mental health problems. Not everyone with mental health problems who has been in care commits sex crimes, the mother pointed out, but as she is 18 the sheriff may believe some rehabilitation is possible in supported accommodation which would not be possible in an adult prison. Dolotowski had just come out of a young offenders’ institution. The offence took place in March last year, so possibly some time in the YOI was spent remanded in custody, which would be taken into account in sentencing.

The intent was a serious crime, and Dolotowski has culpability for that, but sentencing also takes into account the harm done, even though the harm was less because of the courage of the child rather than any action of the panel. Being generally against imprisonment and for rehabilitation, I am not going to be more or less liberal just because the criminal is trans.

Most sexual assaults go unreported in the press, but there was some excuse for the Dundee Courier, a nearby regional paper, reporting the sentencing on 1 February. The bravery of the child and the anger of the mother made it newsworthy, for a regional paper.

There was no excuse, however, for the Times reporting it on 6 February. Eleven million adults in the UK are survivors of contact and non-contact sexual abuse. The Times reported it because, while she was given her correct name in court, Katie Dolokowski had been in a YOI for boys. She is trans. The Times reported a “gender critical” campaign group which has had a twitter account for six months, and a website marked “©2019”, complaining about the offence. Had they done a vox-pop, they could have quoted someone equally notable, though perhaps only anti-trans campaigners would think the accused’s trans status was relevant.

Most people who are not Trump supporters would see that the fact that a US citizen died in a car accident with an immigrant, even an illegal immigrant, does not mean that immigration is bad. Yet The Times believes they can use this ridiculous yet disgusting crime against all trans people, or they would see it is not newsworthy, six days later, in a national newspaper.

It is not newsworthy, unless you want to campaign against trans people. Restricting the rights of trans people will not reduce the crime against women and girls in Scotland or elsewhere. The Times wants to tar all of us with the same brush, and incite hatred against us.

A similar game was played by the Daily Star, whose website does not carry its admission that it had no basis for its story that Ian Huntley, who murdered two young girls from sexual motives, was trans. It had claimed Ian Huntley had got a blonde wig and wanted fellow inmates to call him Nicola. “Ian Huntley would like to make it clear that he does not own a wig and has never asked to be known by any name other than his own”. Here’s a tweet saying that even though Huntley is not trans, people should still fear trans people as sex criminals. Pink News quotes tweets using Huntley to inflame fear against trans women. No, we should judge sex criminals, whether they be cis, trans or Scottish.

Advice for Julie Bindel

I doubt she will hear it, but I will try.

Julie Bindel is a gender-critical feminist often accused of being transphobic, including by me. There has been some concern about British gender critical feminists working with the hard Right in America against trans rights. Venice Allan went to America to make contact with hard-Right groups, and also apparently “laughed at a racist posh girl calling a feminist activist a Nazi”.

My advice is, don’t do this in public on Twitter. Phone her up, or just ignore it.

You agree about a lot. I don’t agree with this, but you both believe that trans rights conflict with women’s rights, and you both campaign for women’s rights against the encroachment of trans rights. You don’t campaign about all the same things, but most things one campaigns on, the other will be broadly sympathetic.

There are two views which a gender critical feminist might have. One is that the hard-Right is anti-woman, seeking to enforce regressive gender stereotypes, against birth control, and against bodily autonomy when there might be an embryo, and you would have nothing to do with them. The other is, while the hard-Right is wrong about almost everything, they are right that trans women are a threat in women’s spaces, and might provide useful support for feminists on the Left wanting to make that argument.

My personal view is that no feminist should have anything to do with The Heritage Foundation, but I can see why Posie Parker does.

I admire Julie Bindel’s integrity even as I disagree with her. I admire the directness of her campaigning. She uses words brilliantly, her polemic skewers her enemies, yet she should be able to make the leap of empathy with Posie Parker to understand why she has done what she has done, and (if she criticises at all) only criticise in private. You agree about almost everything. Do not let the one thing you disagree about come between you.

I agree with Julie Bindel when she said, in three tweets on 1 February,

Before anyone suggests that what I am about to say is in order to get myself a reprieve from the 15 years of hell being targeted by the trans lobby, I am aware that even if I set fire to myself in the street by way of ‘apologising’ I would simply be accused of causing the death of trans people who were in the vicinity and died of smoke inhalation – so not only do I feel I have nothing to apologise for, it would be a massive waste of time. But I want to say how I despise the latest tactics of Posie Parker and disciples, and want no part in it. As far as I am concerned, they are motivated by narcissism, bigotry, and ego. They are causing harm. THE END.

But I do not think she should have said it in public. It gives delight to her and Posie’s common enemies. Where do you think I found that screenshot above? On a trans campaign group. Everyone there is delighted at their- oh, I’ll be honest, our- opponents falling out.

In a similar way, the Heritage Foundation want to set gender critical feminists and trans people against each other. They are on the Right, and they recognise that gender critical feminists and trans people are on the anti-authoritarian Left, however much we might accuse each other of being right-wing. The Heritage Foundation is delighted that their enemies are fighting amongst themselves, for thereby we give ammunition to Right-wing causes and reduce the effectiveness of the Left.

The Left is fractious. To the Left of the Labour Party, recently, there have been the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party of Britain, and the Socialist Labour Party, with clear differences between them a bit like the differences between the Free Church of Scotland and the United Free Church of Scotland. For me, Jeremy Corbyn and I don’t know, Chukka Umunna would be better PMs than Theresa May and I would leaflet and door-knock for either of them within the Labour Party. Twitter especially, and the internet more generally, makes the fractiousness worse. We have to find ways of working together.

“Are you prejudiced against trans people?”

2% of British people said yes, they were very prejudiced. 13% said they were a little prejudiced. How weird. These 2% are not the ultra-woke, who analyse themselves, recognise their inner prejudice, and resolve to contradict it. Nor are they the gender critical feminists, who would not admit any of their attitudes were prejudiced.

Honestly. I would hope the question “Would you describe yourself as prejudiced against trans people?” in the British Social Attitudes survey would get a 100% no. This means that people do not view this prejudice as wrong. You see a trans woman and make assumptions about her. 6% said such prejudice was rarely or never wrong. Only 52% said it was always wrong. So often, people imagine bad things about a trans woman, and believe these imaginings are correct.

Do you think trans people have transitioned because of a “very superficial or temporary need”? Transition was defined as “all of part of a process to change the sex” which “might include by changing their name, wearing different clothes, taking hormones or having gender reassignment surgery”. 15% agreed that transition could be from a very superficial or temporary need. 22% did not know, 61% disagreed. So most people recognise that we take transition very seriously, and only do it because we really mean it- usually for life- but some people minimise our need and our decision. That makes it easier to dismiss us.

Women were more likely than men to disagree that transitioning was superficial and temporary. Younger people were more likely to disagree than older people. People with a degree were twice as likely to disagree than people with no qualification. So, if you have a degree and you manage to get a job which fits your educational level, you will face less prejudice, but woe betide you in an unskilled job.

However when people with degrees, professional or managerial jobs, or the highest incomes were most likely to say prejudice was wrong, that is in part because they know what to say. In the 1970s, race discrimination claims were about appalling treatment, completely clear prejudice, comparing black people to apes and monkeys. By 2010 the abuse was far more subtle.

While the research brief has just been published, the data was collected in Summer and Autumn 2017, so before the current hard-Right funded campaign of hatred against trans people.

Other prejudices seem to be diminishing. 75% said premarital sexual relationships were not wrong, and 68% said same sex relations were “not wrong at all”. In 1987 74% said same-sex relations were “always” or “mostly” wrong, and now just 17% say that. It’s an improvement, and the ones saying it is wrong are disproportionately old and ill-educated.

33% of people said a woman with a child below school age should stay at home, and 8% agreed that “a man’s job is to earn the money; a woman’s job is to take care of the home and family”. There are still weird people about, with horrible opinions. But you knew that. The research brief can be found here.

One truth, or many?

The reason we have had enough of experts is that they tell truths we don’t care about. That you can’t articulate a truth does not mean it is unimportant. That everyone else thinks you should have a particular priority does not mean you do.

I know the truth of Brexit. Governments working together can provide a social safety net, decent health care for all, education, legal aid where someone needs to navigate the courts, a legal framework of human rights and regulation to hold polluters and exploiters in check, and the rule of law to enable entrepreneurial activity: to enable people to work together by enforceable contracts. At the moment we do not have in Britain government organising the utilities of water, gas, electricity, public transport and internet, but that can work well too. We need a fair living wage enforceable by law, not the meagre minimum wage the Tories fail to enforce. Governments working internationally can combat climate change and other pollution, limiting the wealth of the exploiters. So the exploiters object, though unchecked they would eat the planet.

The aim of the exploiters, of the Tory Brexiters, was to weaken the power of democratic government to prevent their depredations. Many Tories voted for that. How did they get Labour voters to vote for it? By lies, about what the EU does, and about what it costs; and by hate, stoking hatred and fear of immigrants. That lie about 70m Turks coming here, when there is less prospect of Turkey joining than there was twenty years ago. The Tories had the plan for an unskilled one-year visa for people from anywhere in the world, without any rights, so the immigrants taking the worst jobs will continue.

Now there is the rise of the far Right, some nebulous myth of Britishness involving the Second World War and facing down the Germans. There is Lexit, but while the EU may be coloured by neoliberalism any Tory Brexit will make things much worse, inside the EU and out.

Remain is hope in what we have built together. Leave is hope in what we might achieve some other way. I don’t just have to give hope to the hopeless, but to restore hope in something where it has been lost, and people have found illusory hope elsewhere.

Possibly if I could put the Leave arguments without mocking and undermining them, I would understand them and then could work against them. If I were open to being persuaded, then I could engage. I know the Tory government has two priorities: to preserve Tory rule, and to destroy all we have created together, privatising the NHS and education, destroying the safety net.

It is not truth against lies, but one truth among many, what is and how we understand it, what is likely and what is possible, with exaggeration, illusion and denial but also clear seeing, and not all the clear seeing is on my side. The complexity is too much to grasp so what I can grasp seems contradictory, and trying to communicate it muddies it further like a photocopy of a photocopy exaggerates the distortions. There are reasons why someone might be wrong in particular ways, and people might be wrong in an interesting way, on a path to new understanding. And then there are competing interests. I sympathise with anyone who sees a part of the whole, and clings to it as the only part that matters. We are divided into bubbles when we need to come together.

Very occasionally, there might be some good I can do, but much of the roiling national argument is like the monkey mind, going over the same things repetitively without change or growth or openness. I have no control over this. All I can do is leaflet if there is another vote. All things are transitory: my ceasing to worry over Brexit is part of the endless task of letting go. Isaac Pennington: Give over thine own willing, give over thy own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee and be in thee and breathe in thee and act in thee; and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of Life, which is its portion. “Seed”, or Real Self.

Jean Hatchet

Jean Hatchet wrote about anti-trans campaigners taking money and help from far-Right American groups The Heritage Foundation and Alliance Defending Freedom. Her blog post has been taken down, after being widely shared among trans people. For the moment, there’s an archive link here. I have evidence of a soi-disant “left-wing” feminist taking far-right American money here. The amount Jean Hatchet named was $15,000.

She wrote, I don’t care what these people think about trans ideology. That cannot be separated from the things they do and advocate that specifically harm women. She named opposing abortion, supporting Mr Trump, and opposing divorce because it “causes social problems”.

There is a radical feminist argument against trans inclusion. I don’t accept it myself, but I see the intellectual basis for it. However these people paying the far-right money only care about excluding trans, and their ideas why are quite different. Most people don’t delve into those arguments: they don’t care about the specific arguments why men and women are different, and the result is to affirm the hard-right beliefs about those differences, which is the intention of those right-wing groups: differences of gender, of natural and normative personality and gifts, rather than of reproductive biology. That’s why the Times, Spectator and other media devote so much space to monstering trans women. The hard right campaign against trans people harms feminists, even gender-critical ones.

Jean Hatchet’s blog still contains her speech to the “We Need to Talk” anti-trans campaign. Trans rights campaigners should read it.

For women – their experience at the hands of violent men is not science fiction. They don’t wake one day and find themselves in the wrong body. They wake up and find themselves fighting for their lives. Or being raped. Or shielding their children from attack. They wake to find they are still facing a day where they will be humiliated and degraded and shamed and stripped of their confidence and human dignity by a man who hates them. He hates them because they are – not born in the wrong body – but born in a woman’s body. Domestic violence is overwhelmingly a male on female crime. Not a “gendered” crime. A “sexed” crime.

She quotes another woman’s experience: I hope one day [my story] may help others. My first encounter with male violence was at 6 months old, my dad damaged my skull after he punched me, violence continued against me until I was 3, when he then locked me in a bedroom and set fire to our house. Thankfully I was rescued by the fire department, but was immediately put into care. Things were fine until I reached 9, that was when the sexual abuse started. I was living in a care home. One of the carers was male. He abused me until I was able to leave at 16. After that I met my husband, from the start he beat me, raped me, and financially Destroyed me. But at that point I thought I deserved it, after all that has happened through my life I convinced myself that something was wrong with me, and this was all my fault. So I went along with it, I was defeated. 10 years later, I happened to find Mumsnet, and from that I found you, you changed all that for me, you gave me strength I never knew possible, you showed me this wasn’t my fault.

I can answer the error in her speech. She says, A piece of paper – a legal document downloaded from the internet will get determined, violent men like these easy access to a refuge if they want it. Not true: Layla Moran MP refuted it. See here.

The great triumph of the right-wing has been to set left-wing campaigners against each other. We have aided it ourselves- too often campaigning groups campaign for their own rights not for those of others, and some feminists campaign about the number of women on FTSE 100 boards rather than women in refuges. Trans women need to campaign on wider feminist issues. I am grateful to lesbian campaigners such as in Stonewall who recognise that the campaign against trans people will harm all queers, not just us. My cycling speed and endurance is probably nowhere near Jean Hatchet’s, but, whatever her views on trans rights I need to support her campaign against male violence.

Quakers, inclusion and class

The attender who took me to my first Quaker meeting was a member of an association of working class academics. As the daughter of a miner she found that certain attitudes and assumptions in academia were less natural to her. Possibly that produced diffidence contributing to her delay in applying for membership. I know some Quakers have working class (WC) origins because they have told me, rather than because I have observed particular traits in them, and such observations are invidious.

There is a great difference between the child whose family inculcated a great respect for learning, and who progressed to the adult section of the library at the Working Men’s Institute (“The ‘Stute”) after reading all the children’s books; and the Quaker with a violent past who said to me “I grew up in a plague zone, and I caught the plague”. Possibly what they would both lack in childhood, and I had, is an idea that society is basically good, and set up in their interests, but even that is a huge generalisation. There is privilege here and it is difficult to put my finger on what it is. The generalisation has some use, but putting people into two Classes, six or seven, will obscure idiosyncrasies.

Class is wealth, status, education, attitudes and behaviour. There is strength in class diversity: with it, we able to speak directly to more people, and have more different perspectives.

At the diversity and inclusion gathering, I met someone else downwardly mobile, with middle-class origins, and working class jobs. It made me feel slightly less inadequate. I begin to think of what in my background might be thought of as “class” rather than idiosyncratic family background. I took copious notes, and can’t remember what exactly was said when I noted “Working class people can have deep rich spiritual lives”. It depends who’s saying it, doesn’t it, how you react to that. I am shocked it needs saying. It could be the amazed ejaculation of a MC Quaker seeing a WC Quaker minister: It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all. I think it was the comment of a WC origin Quaker who felt Quakers need to hear that.

How much of our practice is MC culture rather than Quaker spirituality? The Guardian and Radio 4 were mentioned as the MC indicator, but one who often cited The Guardian in ministry had I think a WC background. I don’t like “The Archers” either, but that started when I imagined myself MC.

How much of our practice is influenced by whether we are introvert or extravert?

What gets in the way of connection? People stereotype others, and judge whether they are competitors. We were told to share the joys and difficulties of our class journeys, and I have suggested that to my LM. I feel it will bring out hidden depths of diversity we already have, and help us know each other, but in the workshop we shared pain of internalised judgments and changing to fit in. A Southern child was ostracised as “posh” in Lancashire. A man lost his accent in an MC job.

Sharing the pain of these internalised judgments is a risk. I am hypersensitive to the possibility that my hearers may judge me the same way. After all, it is my judgment, so it feels right to me.

Our speaker, Lynne Cullens, an Anglican priest, found systemic barriers to achievement as the child of a lone mother in Ordsall. She said despite her degrees WC Anglicans could instantly recognise her as WC. When I met a criminal lawyer he said the clients needed to see him as on their side of the desk, with their understanding of their problems, sorting those problems out. I got better at that, doing benefits appeals with people. Lynne could see motivations MC people couldn’t. Why would you get a large telly on credit when behind with the rent? The MC social housing workers could not understand. Lynne suggested you want a sign of status even for a moment, when money was always tight and the rent arrears hardly more disastrous than other continual money problems.

In the CofE, MC people reporting on WC concerns can seem like anthropologists. We talk of hierarchy, upward and downward mobility. As a lone mum she can inspire other lone mums. People like people who are kind and compassionate. A working class church thrives with working class leadership, as with the last Anglican church I joined.

Local Friends did not like the diversity survey, with open text boxes. “If you treasure it, measure it”; but they made a quantitative result difficult. But then, Quakers might be resistant to stating “socio-economic group”, and with an open text box could give an idea quite how resistant, and produce the categories we might use later.

I got the impression that a Friend thought gender recognition reform would mean a sudden flood of “men in women’s spaces”. We are there already; whatever damage we might do, there should be evidence that it has been done; but the lie is that there is a sudden change, and a threat.

Quaker inclusion

Speaking as a white person, I feel it is in the interests of white people among Quakers to listen to BAME voices. We gain a better understanding of the world when we see it through everyone’s eyes, rather than just a narrow range of privileged experience. Last year, I decided I should be more actively anti-racist, and so have read a little, two books and a number of articles so far. For example, this is clearly racist:

-Where are you from?
-Wellingborough, says my Black friend.
-No, where are you really from?

But racism goes much deeper. That question excludes people, but exclusion can be more subtle. We should consider outcomes: if the proportion of BAME people in our Society is less than in the wider society, that may be evidence that subtler forms of exclusion are at work. A Black Friend at the Quaker gathering on Diversity and Inclusion told me over the decades he had lived in Britain, with a white wife, that a third of white people were supportive, a third hostile and a third could go either way. He needed the support of the supportive third to be able to bear the hostility of the others.

Black people do not have the luxury of being “colour-blind”, so nor should we whites. They are intensely aware of the prejudice and social friction making it more difficult for Black people to fulfill their potential, and so should we be, actively to oppose it. They may also not want whites to be blind to distinctive cultural contributions which can enrich lives.

We had excellent speakers. Edwina Peart, the Quaker diversity and inclusion project co-ordinator, who is Black, introduced Robert Beckford, Professor of Theology and Culture in the African Diaspora, who is Black. She enumerated many of his achievements and cultural contributions: the assumption that the privileged white male speaker is worthy of his platform is not always extended to others. He comes from a Pentecostal tradition where the Spirit moving in the congregation is manifest in movement, speech and song, unlike Quakers where deep feeling may be indicated by a slight tightening of the hands folded in the lap. This announcement brought out some self-conscious whoops from the audience. He explained that Black people do not talk of “Diversity”, which is top-down; rather they talk of “Whiteness”. He is expert in Critical Whiteness Studies. Whiteness is a social construct, which can exclude some of us: the pseudoscientist John Bedloe (sp?) measured British skulls, formulated an “index of negrousness” and decided that the Irish were closest to the Negro. Such hierarchies and sense of superiority underpinned the exploitation, cruelty and destruction wrought by the British Empire.

Professor Beckford went to a new post, and someone approached him to ask if it was his first day there. When he said yes, he was led to the kitchens to scrub potatoes. When he had finished his talk to us, another eminent academic stood to state the insights he shared were replicated in critical gender studies. The sex difference has been invested with cultural meaning, which needs deconstructed.

I am trans, and I am delighted that Trans inclusion was at the heart of the weekend. When our elders stood to welcome us on the Friday evening, they welcomed all genders and identities first, then all ethnicities and languages. After they mentioned “disability” someone talked of “impairment”, which is a physical or mental state; “disability” arises from the way social space is organised, to facilitate or impede all people moving through it, and is socially constructed. There was a long list, including different sexualities, faiths, ages, levels of activism. They said we welcome your emotions, joy, grief, rage, indignation, contentment and disappointment. They offered us a chance to name other diversities, and people named different social classes and backgrounds, and routes into the Society. I named “disagreement”, feeling it important to be able to live with differing views. Someone named Romany heritage.

Quaker history mentions our Abolitionists, and Samuel Galton, disowned in 1795, is less well known. He had been in the Society for decades as a successful gun manufacturer, and refused to give that up, arguing that the whole of British society, including many Quakers’ trades, was based on war and war-preparation.

Edwina Peart introduced intersectionality. Where do we find That of God? Who is erased? If Black men are excluded from an audience for prejudiced fear of their violence, but white men and black women included, we may only prove the discrimination by properly describing it. In Quaker history she could not find celebrated Black Quakers.

What identities can you bring, and which can be named modest-proudly, or need asserting, or might cause nervousness? When someone said they were exploring Paganism I was keen to talk of Quakers interested or involved in Paganism, to make her feel welcome. I want to pass as educated middle class, to fit in and have my voice heard; yet I do not want to deny I am a benefit claimant. When well-intentioned Quakers state “We are all” old, prosperous, middle-class, white, Quakers who do not fit that description can feel excluded.

We should set aside our ego before speaking in Meeting, including business Meeting. We should not have to set aside our life-experience or our personalities.

There was disagreement. Even in the final Meeting for Worship, questionable ideas were expressed which tend to increase prejudice against trans folk, particularly trans women. I stood and remonstrated. I am not proud of all I said, or the way I said it before walking out, but I said that worship had ended for me at that moment. Someone has said to me, many Friends agreed the previous speaker ended the worship. I still hope Quaker processes can find a way to ease this tension.

More on the weekend tomorrow.

Identity Politics

Is “Identity politics” destroying beauty and truth in Art? Writer and art critic Sohrab Ahmari argues particularly trans and gender variant issues are clogging galleries with worthless pieces.

Why is there identity politics in Art? It is a reaction to failings in the art world. All art is political. I love The History of Art by EH Gombrich, but it has only one work by a woman. Here it is.

Women’s art addresses issues important to women from a woman’s perspective. Men will benefit from seeing this, by gaining empathy and understanding. Almost ignoring women’s art, Gombrich missed out the perspective of half of humanity. Artemisia Gentileschi’s rapist said she could recover her honour as a woman no longer virgin, by marrying him. See the glorious contempt her female subjects have for the men:

Ahmari says political work is not beautiful. Identity politics is fundamentally opposed to free speech and free thought… art that deals with race, gender, sexuality, power and privilege dominates the art scene. He contrasts this with a Caravaggio:

The beauty of Italian art in the 17th century is clear. Both these paintings show real people, in complex poses. Their faces are expressive. The boy reaches out for fruit, and is unexpectedly bitten, perhaps a metaphor for a dose of the clap.

Ahmari wants art to describe the world as you really see it rather than putting everything through a political frame. Yet the experience of unwanted sexual attention is the world as Gentileschi experienced it, and any man should see is widespread.

It is not clear that the “identity politics” work, dealing with the women’s issue of unwanted sexual attention, is less beautiful. However, the skills of representation are so widespread now, when many illustrators could show a wide variety of facial expression and human posture, that art has moved on. Gombrich shows how the greatest painters learned them from scratch, over centuries, but now they can be taught in amateur sketching classes.

Contemporary art is beautiful in a different way. Charlotte Prodger’s Turner Prize-winning piece is beautiful. In her video she talks of being misgendered. I relate to it. My experience is in her art. It may not be Ahmari’s experience, yet art about how trans and gender variant people experience the world directly speaks to us, and enables others to see our point of view- it enlarges their empathy and understanding.

Ahmari claims not to be criticising autobiography in art, using one’s own life, but you need to say something about the human condition as well, not just about yourself. Well, Ahmari does not get misgendered, but he probably gets misunderstood and misrepresented. If he approaches Prodger’s work with empathy and imagination rather than judgment, he would see the universal message in it.

In the programme, Alexander Adams says publicly funded art tends to have a very narrow political view. There should be art that is critical of multiculturalism, critical of immigration, critical of transgenderism. If he can point to any good art critical of immigration I would like to see it. I am reminded of the Great German Art exhibition, running concurrently to the Degenerate Art exhibition. We hear again the idea that the Trans Lobby is fantastically powerful, shutting down debate, and yet here are all the free speech advocates, endlessly inveighing against us.

All art is political. It either underpins or subverts current power structures. It either silences or gives a voice to disempowered groups. In the programme, Tiffany Jenkins says I think the arts have been asked to solve social problems. So they’ve been asked to improve the lives of communities by raising their self-esteem, by making them feel good about themselves. I don’t think the arts can do that. But I loved the exhibition Art in the Age of Black Power: Black people, standing tall and proud despite oppression. Seeing these heroes must have inspired Black people looking at these works, and I, with my white privilege, can delight in that heroism and resistance.

Ahmari mentions the controversy over Dana Schutz’s painting of Emmett Till. He ignores the point that Black artists are underrepresented in white-run art galleries. When we are equal, we can share each others’ stories, but the powerful should not use the stories of the weak for their own gain.

My experience as a trans woman is generalisable to universal human experience- of the tension between being yourself and fitting in; of feeling and hurt and delight. Art by trans people seen with sympathy can enlarge the understanding of its audience. It is not “identity politics” to show art by gender variant people, but simply Art- seeing the universal in the particular, enlarging our understanding of what it is to be human. As Ahmari says, probably most of the art created now will not be around in fifty years’ time- but the best will survive, and will include art by minorities. Because not only white western men can be artists.