Objective history

Can we be objective about the British Empire?

The Times complained that the National Trust encouraged children to “lament Britain’s history”. There’s a group of “members, supporters and friends” of the National Trust that wanted “an objective assessment of history”, and thought such denigration wrong.

What does Restore Trust want? To avoid demonizing anyone’s history or heritage. To enjoy the beauty of the stately homes without “intrusive interpretation”. To focus on the property, and the families who created them. To use history as a tool for understanding, not as a weapon.

For the Colonial Countryside project, children wrote poems about Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, and The Times reports that one such poem “has been removed” from the Trust’s website. Children were upset about the uses of animals by the families involved.

I wondered if it were possible to be objective about history, to take a God’s eye view. I do want to demonize Richard Drax MP, who inherited his family’s sugar plantation in Barbados. From 1640 to 1838 the family used slaves on that estate. He has inherited the profits of slavery. He may have breached company law, and has breached House of Commons rules. He voted for a reduction in welfare benefits, and against measures to prevent climate change. From these facts I find Drax to be a bad man.

The Times refers to the “Indian mutiny”, choosing not to use the term “First War of Independence”. I don’t know if objectivity is possible. “Mutiny” calls the Indian soldiers bad. “War of Independence” casts them as heroes. Language might denote the struggles of Imperialists and the local peoples who resisted them, without implying that one side or the other were morally superior, but the language the Imperialists used claimed their superiority in every way- morally, intellectually, physically, spiritually, culturally and technologically. So an objective view requires new language, which conservatives might dislike.

Between 1850 and 1947 the Indian economy grew an average of 0.55% a year, because wealth was taken from India to Britain, and used for the benefit of those wealthy families. At the same time, those families and others in their ruling class exploited British workers, and took common land which previously all could use for their benefit. My political view is that this exploitation is wrong, and should be demonized.

I suppose a political view that exploitation is unavoidable, and we should celebrate those who do it most successfully, is possible, but I don’t think it is objective.

Even if you write an account of wars, conquests and independence victories, with as neutral language as possible, it is a choice to pay attention to that, rather than to technological advances. Whether war produces technological advance better than peace can be assessed objectively with evidence, but does not mean war is preferable.

News reporting is about choices too. That a child’s poem was on a website, and now is not, is not news. That people object to that child’s poem is only news if you want to emphasise what they say. I am pleased that children are learning about slavery, and how intrinsic it was to the Empire and British wealth. I consider abhorrence of slavery and anyone who would defend it a simple moral value which shows the advance of humanity as well as any technological advance.

Looking round a great house and its beautiful gardens, seeing its works of art, seeing the servants’ quarters and kitchens and getting an idea of how they, as well as the family, lived, learning of the careers of theft, exploitation and blackguardry that built its wealth or frittered it away- how any of this is presented is a choice.

It is good to promote human flourishing, the greatest happiness of the greatest number. History which shows how that is achieved or prevented is worthwhile. History that hides it, to make white British people proud of our Empire and its achievements, is bad history. All history is political. I love the politics of Colonial Countryside. That its opponents have to take refuge in calling it “subjective” rather than pointing out anything untrue or immoral in it shows the strength of its position.

Trans Rights at the Green Party Conference

The Green Party of England and Wales conference, ended today, has supported trans rights. They passed this, which will now be part of their policy document:

RR531 The Green Party believes that trans, non-binary, genderqueer, third gender and intersex people should have their gender legally recognised and be empowered to update their birth certificate and any other official documents, without medical or state encumbrance. We support the right for individuals to update their legally recognised gender by self-determination, the only requirement being a statutory declaration, to how they would describe their gender, including having the option to change their name on all documents.

A similar paragraph came up at the Autumn 2020 conference. “Self-declaration” has been replaced by “self-determination”, because declaration might imply choice, and we are who we are. But “without requiring approval from a doctor or a judge” has been replaced by “the only requirement being a statutory declaration”. A statutory declaration has a penalty of perjury for falsehood. The new version adds the bit about changing the name on documents. In 2002, my university agreed to give me a degree certificate in my new name.

When Theresa May announced her proposal in 2017, that was what I hoped the law would be. We are not ill. ICD11, which comes into force next year, acknowledges we are not ill. To require us to produce a letter from a specialist psychiatrist stating that we are not ill in a particular way is ridiculous. Unfortunately, the Tories have moved even to the right of Theresa May, and believe culture war is a good way for them to retain power.

The Green Party also passed a motion to recognise trans parents on their children’s birth certificates as father or mother appropriate for their gender.

However, they have a large number of anti-trans obsessives, as if their main aim was ending trans rights rather than stopping the climate disaster. They had motions

  • To prevent medical treatment for trans children, disingenuously titled “To prevent irreversible damage to children with gender dysphoria”. They also had an emergency motion to prohibit GenderGP from operating in the UK, when the High Court has stopped the NHS from providing treatment.
  • To “ensure gender and sex are not conflated” by mandating misgendering of trans women in all government data, forcing the disclosure of birth sex of trans people.
  • To kick trans women out of women’s sports, claiming that women have “physically diminutive stature and strength”.

There was also an amendment proposed to RR531 which would have turned its meaning around. With this level of obsession, anyone would think the climate was absolutely fine.

Siân Berry, the co-leader and London mayoral candidate, was delighted. So was Caroline Russell, member of the London Assembly.

Unfortunately, a large minority voted against trans rights at the conference: about 230 of just over 500 voting. Shahrar Ali, their home affairs speaker, tweeted darkly about “things that move us away from recognising truth and reality”. It is as if he cannot see the truth before his eyes, that trans people exist, that we always have done, and that trans recognition increases freedom by subverting gender stereotypes. He moved the motion against GenderGP. Ali says this is about child safeguarding.

I am a trans woman. I would have hoped that the Green Party would support trans rights because trans people are a harmless minority. Unfortunately, some people are riled up to prevent trans rights, and become obsessive as if this was the most important issue in politics. I am glad the Green Party voted the right way, and appalled that so many Greens wanted to waste time persecuting trans people.

More fully human

Paolo Freire sought political liberation for oppressed groups, including LGBT groups, through personal liberation. Power relations benefit a few, at the top, while people who would benefit from solidarity with each other are turned on each other for small differences of status in the hierarchy. To correct this, he sought to make people “more fully human”, relating as equals not through domination.

To relate as equals, we listen from the heart, engaging empathy and compassion to empower oppressed groups. This Mutuality is a basic human value for Friere. It subverts society, which is based on a “collective lie” through which all accept a way of life maintaining the interests of the privileged. Being Alienated from ordinary society could be an advantage, as you might begin to challenge it.

Freire thought people could mature into a greater understanding of how they are oppressed. In the lowest level, “magical consciousness”, they accept life’s circumstances as fate, without challenging social injustice. People are forced into inferiority, robbed of our dignity, confidence and self-belief. Freire likened this to domesticating animals for service, and said children’s education is often formed for this purpose. The answer is to work for empowerment of oppressed groups, by raising consciousness.

In the second stage, “naïve consciousness”, they see their problems as personal failures rather than disadvantages caused by the structure of society. This is like internalised homophobia, where the queer person believes they are less than the straights. It is “false consciousness”, imposed by the powerful.

The third stage is “critical consciousness”, when life situations are seen to be caused by social structures. People need the language to express the way they are oppressed, which can otherwise simply seem to be the way things are.

Oppression is structural, embedded in society, not random and personal. Britain has had 130,000 deaths from Covid because of Tory government corruption and failure, not because of individual selfishness.

Normality is a social construction, a culture of silence, where the dominant group’s values are imposed on the subordinated groups, silencing them. The oppressed internalise the dominant cultural attitudes, and so feel ignorant and unimportant.

“Placatory practice”, making the symptoms of discrimination slightly less painful without tackling the root causes of discrimination, is not enough. The dominant group may encourage this with “false generosity”, a term coined by Engels, which does not challenge structural inequality. They treat the oppressed as passive objects in need of benevolent gestures, rather than active individuals who can transform our world.

The answer is Problematizing- showing the unchallenged normal to be contradictory and oppressive, so that groups see them clearly and are encouraged to resist. The dominant group responds by pathologizing the oppressed, attempting to convince them that their poverty is caused by their own inadequacy, or attempting to silence them.

Praxis is the unity of action and reflection. We think about what we do, to develop theory from our actions, and to “walk our talk”, acting based on our theories. When people see their political context and the unjust contradictions of everyday life this is Transformative. In authentic praxis, theory and practice are so integrated they cannot be separated.

The oppressed need safe spaces, by themselves, to explore how they are oppressed, to support them seeing that they are not inadequate. Knowledge is power. Sharing our stories builds energy for action. Freire sought to return the humanity stolen from people. Capitalism is destroying the planet with climate catastrophe and mass extinction.

We speak from our Power, which is liberated from ego.

From “Community Development in Action” by Margaret Ledwith.

“Fair Play for Women” and transphobia

Fair Play for Women presents itself as a website campaigning for women’s rights: on 1 January 2021 its main page called it “A resource for policy-makers, journalists and the general public: We provide expert legal and scientific input to help make good policy which maintains fairness and safety for women and girls.” Its speakers have been interviewed on the BBC. Should it be trusted?

It raises large sums for court actions: it sought £70,000 to sue the Office for National Statistics to change the guidance on sex, (captured 20 February 2021) after raising action against the Ministry of Justice to exclude trans women from women’s prisons.

It uses emotive language to drum up support. To men, it says “Fair play for women is there to speak up for you, your mum and your daughters.” This makes men feel they are acting protectively when harassing trans women. Protecting from what? “If you are told your mother is in a female-only hospital ward you need to be sure she won’t find someone born male in the bed next to her.” Well, hospitals have individual rooms in wards, to protect privacy.

But FPFW figures are incorrect. It asserts, “only 2.8% of the transgender community is undergoing any gender-affirming treatment with the vast majority 97.2% simply self-identity with no modifications to their sexed body whatsoever.” It trivialises transition, claiming we do not seek treatment, while the waiting lists grow past two years. That is based on this study. However, the study says,

the current communication should not be viewed as an attempt to obtain an average measure of transgender prevalence. Rather our analyses aimed to explore patterns of the reported estimates, and to perform an assessment of the extent and sources of agreement and disagreement across studies.

It is not able to provide a comparison between figures. It had 95% confidence that between five and fourteen people in 100,000 sought surgery or hormones because they were transgender, a huge variation. The larger figure identifying as trans was too high: as the meta-analysis says, “there is a good reason to suspect that reliance on a single survey item (‘I wish I was the opposite sex’) may have resulted in an inflated estimate.” It does not indicate what these alleged trans people do- perhaps few or none cross-dress in public, or would want a ward for the other sex in hospital. Yet FPFW concluded, “the overwhelming majority of male-born transgender people retain their penis and are fully male-bodied.”

This is propaganda. It should not be used to inform policy.

On the action against the Ministry of Justice, it says, “Of the 125 transgender prisoners in prison in 2017, 60 (48%) had convictions for sexual offences. Of those, 27 (45%) had been convicted of rape.”

27 is 22% of 125. Does that indicate how dangerous trans people sent to prison are? No, because most sentences of imprisonment are for less serious crimes. The number of rapists is high because rapists usually get long sentences, and FPFW do not state whether they are in men’s or women’s prisons- generally, they are in men’s. There were seven deaths of trans prisoners in men’s or women’s prisons between 2008 and December 2017.

Vikki Thompson was in prison for shoplifting when she died in a men’s prison.

The prison service does not take prisoners’ word that they are trans. Trans women need to show evidence that they live as women outside to get into women’s prison, and a gender recognition certificate may not be enough.

Fair Play for Women is not a resource for good policy, and provides neither legal or scientific expertise. It is a propaganda machine to justify excluding and even attacking trans people.

Woman’s Place UK and Transphobia

Is Woman’s Place UK a feminist organisation, or an anti-trans campaign group? They want the law changed, so that trans rights are reduced, and trans lives made significantly more difficult, especially those of trans women. They misrepresent trans rights and try to make people afraid of trans people, particularly trans women.

The law allows trans women in women’s spaces, but WPUK want us driven out. This is the Equality Act, schedule 3. Paragraphs 26 and 27 allow single sex spaces, for various reasons. Then paragraph 28 allows trans women to be excluded from women’s spaces if that is necessary- “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. There would be no need for a different provision if trans women were not generally allowed in women’s spaces.

This has been the case for decades. A judge in 1970 noted that the state treated trans women like other women, apart from in marriage. I got my passport and driving licence indicating I am female in 2002.

Around 25,000 women protected by the Act, that is trans women who have decided to change their gender from male to female, use women’s toilets and changing rooms now, mostly harmlessly. You may think you have seen one. If we cannot use these facilities, our lives would be greatly restricted. I only want to pee, or to try on clothes before buying them. In both places there are cubicles with doors and partitions too high to see over, and often no gap at all.

WPUK demands “single-sex” spaces for women, which they define to mean without trans women. “The law must be strengthened”, they say, so they admit the law is against them. A cis (that is, not trans) woman must be able to use these services without “extraordinary measures”, so any trans women must have been expelled by employees or security before she goes in.

The law must be strengthened to ensure that all women who want or need single sex spaces (including toilets, health provision accommodation, prisons, sports, sexual and domestic violence services) are able to access them without resorting to extraordinary measures. Service providers should be supported in offering such services through legal and financial means and clear guidance must be issued on the exercising of such rights.

You may think you have seen a trans woman in a women’s loo, and this campaigning is resulting in cis women using women’s facilities being harassed, and policed for how “feminine” they are. In her Turner Prize winning video, Charlotte Prodger described being misgendered in loos.

WPUK started a letter-writing campaign harassing Marks and Spencer to exclude all trans women. The Daily Mail reported on it on 23 May 2020. Baroness Emma Nicholson claimed M&S had given in. Fortunately M&S have resisted, and on 8 December gave this statement:

“in line with most other retailers we will generally allow people to use the fitting room which they prefer, with our colleagues exercising discretion and common sense.”

Because of WPUK’s campaigns, harassment of trans women is increasing, and cis women are harassed if they are seen as not “feminine” enough. If the law was changed as WPUK demand, trans women’s lives would be significantly more difficult, and the harassment would increase.

See also: What’s wrong with Woman’s Place?
What is Transphobia?
How WPUK wind up an audience to oppose trans rights.
Woman’s Place manifesto.
Kiri Tunks’ speech in Norwich.

Header photo from Wikimedia Commons.

For more details, here is a debate in the House of Lords, where Baroness Elizabeth Barker responded to WPUK. WPUK had sent a document they called “Sex and the Census” to members of that House, and Baroness Barker eviscerated this “dodgy dossier”. The persecution of trans people now, she says, is exactly like the persecution of lesbians last century, and some of the same people are involved. “Today, trans people are under sustained, unwarranted attack”.

Will the SNP act against transphobia?

The SNP’s transphobia definition allows it to claim it opposes transphobia, but not to act against dangerous transphobia. Should the SNP discipline Joanna Cherry MP for transphobia? Yes. Does the SNP’s new definition of transphobia allow it to?

Cherry wrote a transphobic article for The National. I don’t know if the subs were deliberately satirising it with the headline “Joanna Cherry: How it’s possible to support rights of trans people AND women”. I don’t know if anyone is fooled by her claim to be a trans ally who has never said or done anything against equal rights for trans people, or thinks that such words allow her to be transphobic elsewhere.

Cherry is slippery. She is an advocate. She can be transphobic and leave herself a weasel denial. Cherry has received rape threats, and she implies though does not state straight out that these are from trans women. Her phrase is “young men who seek to deny biology”. She could, I suppose, claim that she is referring to cis men attempting to be trans allies, though I repudiate the allyship of any man who tweets a rape threat. But I infer she means trans women.

I have no problem condemning trans women who make rape threats, or any threats of violence. We are not a club, and I am not responsible for their wrongdoing- as the SNP definition states. “Accusing wider trans people [I think they mean the wider trans community, not fat trans] of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single trans person or group” is transphobia.

The definition gives eight examples of transphobia, though it says transphobia is not limited to these examples. Also it does not say what should be done about transphobia. For that, you need to consider the SNP conduct standards, which I found in this document. It’s not an official SNP site.

Anent discrimination, the standards say,

5. No member may make racist statements in any context.
6. Every member has a responsibility not to discriminate in his or her conduct on the ground of race, colour, gender, religious belief or non-belief or sexual orientation.

The disciplinary committee can admonish, suspend or expel a member found to have breached the rules. It is up to them to decide what penalty is appropriate. There are no sentencing guidelines, as these are political decisions.

So, racist statements are specifically barred, which appears to indicate that sexist or homophobic statements are absolutely fine. Discrimination is barred, though is not defined. The Equality Act 2010 takes hundreds of sections and 28 schedules to define unlawful discrimination, and provide excuse for acts which would otherwise be discrimination, such as excluding a trans woman from women’s space in particular circumstances.

The first six examples are acts against an individual rather than acts against trans people as a group. They include assault, discrimination, bullying, outing, misgendering and deadnaming. I hear this is a step forward: trans people in the party report that the party did not challenge members who were publicly degrading, harassing and misgendering trans members. Probably, under the rule on gender discrimination, the Party could have acted against bullying of a trans individual in these ways. Everyone knows these things are transphobic, even if they deny it.

The seventh is transphobia against the community:

“Using dehumanising language about trans people or expecting trans people to participate in “debates” about their right to exist.”

There are two parts to this: first, dehumanising language about trans people. It should cover Cherry’s use of the term “male-bodied individuals” because of the purpose of that phrase, to instil fear of trans women and opposition to trans women in women’s spaces.

The second part concerns “debates about [our] right to exist”. It does not cover assertions about “sex-based rights”, or argument that trans women should all be excluded from women’s spaces. Such argument is clearly transphobic, because it intends to foment fear of and anger against trans people, as well as lesbophobic because it encourages misgendering of lesbians, hostility to them in women’s loos, and policing their feminine expression. It is not included in the definition. And if Cherry does not invite trans people to respond to her debating points, then her wild assertions are not included because of that.

What about falsehoods about erasing women’s experience? In the National article, Cherry wrote, “Recently advice was issued to midwives in Brighton that they must refer to “chestfeeding” rather than “breastfeeding”.

That is misleading. Brighton has “gender inclusion midwives” trained to support trans men and nonbinary people, but also gives information on breastfeeding. Chestfeeding only refers to trans men and nonbinary people.

Taking Cherry’s article at face value, you would think cis nursing mothers would be told about chestfeeding. That was never going to happen. She misleads in order to create the false impression that women are under threat, and that the reader is directly affected.

Cherry’s article is objectionable throughout. Trans people and our allies object to transphobia and for Cherry this is an “out of control” “backlash” against “scientific reality”. Cherry angrily rants against people opposing transphobia or seeking reasonable treatment for trans people.

I hope trans people and allies are combing Cherry’s tweets and articles to build a case that she is transphobic, and should be disciplined under SNP rules. But the rules themselves, and this new definition, do not make that easy. Perhaps that is the point of it. Sara Ahmed points out many diversity policies are written to claim the organisation is doing something, rather than to achieve change.

Why should the SNP discipline one of its MPs? Because she is a raging transphobe, spreading hate. But, she’s an MP, and disciplining her would make them look bad. These decisions are political, not moral.

Counting trans people

In 2021, the British census will count trans and nonbinary people. In England and Wales, these are the questions people will see:

What is your sex?
A question about gender identity will follow later on in the questionnaire
[ ] Female
[ ] Male

Is the gender you identify with the same as your sex registered at birth?
This question is voluntary
[ ] Yes
[ ] No
(Enter gender identity)

The census put “female” first in 2011. Before, the standard was to put male first, and other forms asking sex or gender usually do; but in other census questions the answers were either alphabetical, or the largest group first, both of which would put female first. So the order was changed.

Possible questions were tested to see how well people understood them, as well as whether they objected. The researchers timed how long it took to pick a response. The second question took five seconds, compared to “What do you consider your gender to be?” which took fourteen. People objected strongly to the word “consider”. I say my gender is female. If I say “I consider my gender is female” that includes the possibility others might disagree.

Gender and sex are synonyms in English, and this introduces a distinction. The report on question development assumes we know what it is. Under definitions, it says “The sex question is binary: female and male”, so DSD people have a sex.

“The gender identity question is about a person’s personal internal perception of themselves.”

I don’t think it helpful to distinguish my “personal internal perception” and reality in this case. I am female. I would not say so if I weren’t. Those who are habitually disbelieved, such as prisoners, might lie, but people generally are truthful about such things.

However we dropped the word “transsexual” for “trans”, for various reasons: “transsexual” sounds impersonal and scientific, sounds like a sexual orientation, when it is different; and puts pressure on people to have genital surgery. “Transgender” is an acceptable word.

The annex says, “the gender category with which a person identifies may not match the sex they were registered at birth”. Most of the readers of this document, and the people answering the questions, are cis, and the writers are explaining to them as well as to us.

They explain trans includes binary and nonbinary trans, and non-gendered identities, and identity may be fixed or variable.

It’s not spelled out that sex means genes, gonads and genitals, and I will answer that my sex is female. Gender has to be wider, to include nonbinary people. When the question asked some variant on “Are you trans?” nonbinary people did not consistently include themselves.

To the cis, the document explains that the sex “question wording and response options are unchanged from the 2011 Census. We will continue to collect this data in a way that is consistent with previous censuses.” Well, I said my sex was female then, too. There are so few of us, that statistics are barely affected.

“The gender identity question is voluntary. It will only be asked to respondents aged 16 years and over.”

The trans question comes at the end of the sociocultural questions. It affects fewer people than race or religion.

In Scotland, the trans question is different. The census will take place in 2022, because of Covid.
3. What is your sex?
[] Female [] Male
4. Do you consider yourself to be trans, or have a trans history?
This question is voluntary
Answer only if you are aged 16 or over
Trans is a term used to describe people whose gender is not the same as the sex they were registered at birth
Tick one box only
[] No
[] Yes, please describe your trans status (for example, non-binary, trans man, trans woman):
[Space to write in answer]

The National Records of Scotland explained their question testing. They tested a nonbinary sex question- male, female, Other- write in. The Scottish Parliament rejected the “Other” option for sex, though the NRS research showed that the questions, including the “other” sex option, were publicly acceptable, and would produce good data. Stakeholders preferred a nonbinary sex question, which produced fewer non-responses. Their aim was “to allow inclusive questions which all respondents can answer with ease”. They found putting the sex and trans status questions together made respondents understand better.

In Northern Ireland, the census will only include a binary sex question, and none on gender identity.

In England, the guidance on how to answer the sex question will read,

If you are considering how to answer, use the sex recorded on one of your legal documents such as a birth certificate, Gender Recognition Certificate, or passport.

That’s fine for me, but I would resent it if I had no GRC. I would ignore it, and tick F anyway. The ONS explains their reasons for the guidance here.

Estimates of the results will be published in March 2022 and the full data set in March 2023.

Harriet Harman

Is Harriet Harman now an anti-trans campaigner? Saying male predators pretend to be trans is a big deal.

This is the quote from the interview:

I ask her to respond to Jenny [sic] Murray’s recent comments regarding transgender women, and she states: “I think that people who are transgender face a very high level of difficulty and discrimination and that should never be underestimated.”

However, she adds: “I also think we have to recognise that there are some men who would want to falsely claim to be transgender to infiltrate women only spaces.”

I have used my gender recognition certificate to get a birth certificate in my name. I don’t carry either certificate around to show when I enter public loos. Self-declaration came in with the Equality Act, and you would think Harman would know that. On her website, we read a document from 2010:

Trans

The Equality Bill will change the definition of ‘gender reassignment’ to make it clear that a person does not have to be under medical supervision to be protected from discrimination.

“Make it clear”- that was the intention from the beginning. We are trans women from the moment we decide to transition. It’s all about self-declaration.

Possibly in prisons a trouble-making male prisoner might claim to be a woman to cause trouble, or even to alleviate the boredom. This is because in prison men are comparatively powerless. A violent man can just kick the door down, he does not need a gender recognition certificate.

And the myth is dangerous. It creates suspicion. Is that person a trans woman, or a violent male pretending to be a trans woman? It foments violence against us.

Is it just that she disnae ken? There’s little excuse for that three years after the hate campaign really started to hot up.

The Guardian found that Harman supported self-declaration of trans women on women-only shortlists.

When acting leader of Labour, she wrote for Pink News about IDAHoBiT. She refers to “homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying” but says nothing specific about trans people.

Janice Turner in The Times wrote, “Harriet Harman too supports self-ID but also wants stop men exploiting their access to women’s spaces. But how, Harriet?” Yeah. An accusation of hypocrisy from a phobe, in February 2018, is not conclusive either way.

Paris Lees’ agent claims that Harman praised Lees’ appearance on Question Time.

Transphobe clique WPUK pointed me to this Guardian article. Harman, as chair of the joint parliamentary committee on human rights, issued a report that free speech on university campuses was inhibited by safe space and no-platform policies, in 2018. That would include policies to protect trans people.

Harriet Harman, while part of a Labour cabinet or shadow cabinet, has achieved good things for trans people, including the Equality Act. Now, she has helped spread a myth which is easily disproved, which she should know to be false, and which foments violence against us. This matters.

No doubt an army of bots and trolls will change their usual misogynist abuse of Harman to include abusing her as a transphobe. Whether this is intended to increase transphobia, or merely to increase mayhem, that’s not in our interests.

People who can should call her out as a spreader of transphobic myths, but probably not on social media: in Labour circles, and in articles, would be better.

I will complain to the Labour Party.

Status, Rank and Power

How does unjust privilege fester, and how can it be combated? Leticia Nieto and Margot Boyer explain. People experience oppression or privilege based on their gender, gender identity, ethnicity, social class and membership of other groups. Nieto calls this our “Rank”. A white straight middle-class educated able-bodied cis male has the highest rank. He is overvalued- society makes him seem better than a disabled person or a woman, but he is not, really. His privilege is a social construct. Power relates to our connection to God within: are you stuck in your ego, or do you have true integrity? Anyone can connect to their power through spiritual practices.

“A person’s ability to be grounded, to exercise compassion, to use humor in a healing way, to love without demands, and to support themselves and those around them can indicate the presence of Power.

Status arises from rank and power, and varies between interactions. High status behaviour is marked by posture, and claims of leadership, knowledge or dominance. Low status behaviour is marked by submissive posture, and messages of compliance, acceptance and support. With close friends status might be fluid. High status behaviour can be positive- teaching a group, speaking up- or negative- physical or verbal violence. A high rank person can temporarily take a low status position, but that does not change their rank. Low status behaviour can be positive, for example active listening, supporting another’s idea, or appreciating someone; or negative, for example passive-aggressive behaviour.

Nieto calls the higher ranked person in an interaction the agent, and the lower-ranked person the target. Working age adults, 18-65, have higher rank than old people or young people, and so having been a child is the only experience that white male etc has had of being a target.

We learn rank unconsciously, and how we should behave as members of those groups. We follow the rules, and adopt status positions accordingly. This has certain advantages: “When both people insist on taking a high-status position, there’s likely to be conflict. When both choose the low-status position, the interaction can be stagnant and the pair may find it impossible to make decisions or move forward.” However it is wearing for the targets. The ideal is that status is flexible, and all support the good work or ideas of each.

Overcoming that social conditioning takes a lot of work, and acting from our Power. As targets, we learn to take the low status role, and that is a survival skill. Also, behaving as if the Agent way of being is normal and preferable is a survival skill. This makes Agents comfortable. Then we behave like the Agent’s conception of our target group- girls adopt “feminine” behaviour. Whatever other skills we develop, we may find ourselves driven back to that survival skill- when tired, or threatened. We get the most practice in survival skills, so they seem easiest, but they are exhausting because they require us to conform to others’ expectations of us. Targets merely surviving may oppress other members of their target group.

Nieto calls the next level of target skills “confusion”. We become aware that survival is exhausting, and we are being oppressed. We see the Rank dynamics, though we cannot yet respond to them constructively. We don’t have the language to understand, but sometimes we think, say or do things which do not fit the Target role. Nieto calls Survival and Confusion Agent-centric skills, as we cannot yet act independently of target role.

To move to Empowerment, an agent-relative skill, where we are in principle equal with the Agents, takes a great deal of energy. It is being born again. We need access to spaces for Empowered targets, such as for women, BAME people or LGBT people. Targets talk about our common experience, and learn to value each other and ourselves. We learn about the roots of oppression. It’s painful but keeps us awake. Empowerment skills involve bringing up the issue of oppression in different interactions. We express anger at Agent norms. Then we mobilise to resist oppression. This is exhausting and risky.

Then we develop Strategy skills: when using Empowerment will produce the most good, when using Survival skills is necessary. We make more conscious choices of when to walk away. We align ourselves with our Target group, and spend less time on Agent expectations. We find norms which work for us, and support our own and other Target groups. Nieto calls these Re-centring skills. We operate out of our Power. We challenge systems of oppression in the most effective way.

Few Targets get to use Re-centring skills, and even the wisest and most skilful use them only some of the time. We use the higher level skills best when feeling calm, supported and well. Anything causing distress makes this more difficult: so self-care is important for anti-oppression work.

Agents can be allies. Because rank is unconscious, Agents rarely notice their privilege even as they enforce it. Unconscious agents start in Indifference. We don’t notice or value Targets. Then privilege is not our problem. Everyone pays attention to different information and stimuli, and through conditioning Agents become indifferent to anything that threatens their superiority.

When we encounter Targets and cannot be Indifferent, we practise Distancing. We notice how much they are not like us. Distancing Out- we hold them away. “I don’t have anything against—-, I just don’t want to live next door to them.” Distancing Down is most easily seen as oppressive. “They’re dirty.” Distancing up makes us pretend to value them: claiming that — people are musical, spiritual or close to nature. Distancing takes more energy, and organised hate groups support people to distance Targets.

Inclusion is more comfortable. We use verbal messages that emphasise similarity and connection. “I don’t see colour.” It feels that we are valuing Targets, and no longer oppressing, but we as Agents still centre ourselves. We want the Target group still to meet our expectations. We can’t work effectively against oppression until we wake up.

Moving beyond Inclusion, to Agent-relative skills of Awareness and Allyship, requires strong motivation, such as a strong relationship with a Target group member. Awareness feels unpleasant, and we feel disorientated by guilt and shame. We remember when we took advantage of privilege. We recognise how harmful Indifference, Distancing and Inclusion skills are, and that we normally use them.

Society discourages Awareness skills, so we need to practise them with a group who can confirm the reality of oppression. We can learn from Targets even if they might not want to teach us. We see the Rank system and see how much talent it wastes.

If we can bear the discomfort, we may be able to learn Allyship. We are aware of oppression and our own privilege. We stop being paralysed. We work against oppression, support targets and help other Agents wake up, see oppression, and develop anti-oppression skills.

This is based on Nieto’s summary pdf. More details are here.

Johann Lamont and Forensic Medical Services

Is there any place where a cis woman should be able to insist there is no trans woman, or is that transphobic? What about a medical examination of a victim of sexual assault or rape?

The medical examiner might have to take a semen sample from inside a woman’s vagina, or examine her internally for injury. The woman has been violated, and so is in a vulnerable state, possibly disconnected from her body, or flinching from touch. Should she be able to insist that the examiner is a cis woman?

In Scots law generally there is no distinction made between gender and sex. Both the Equality Act and the Gender Recognition Act use the words interchangeably, and after my GRC the GRA confirms that both my gender and my sex are female. The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 allowed a woman to choose that the forensic medical examiner should be a woman, by saying the victim could choose the “gender” of the examiner.

Transphobes campaigning against trans rights have sought to create a distinction, saying that transgender people change our gender, that is, our presentation and our conformity to stereotypes, but not our sex, which is based on genes, gonads and genitals. I still have a Y chromosome, so they say my sex is male. Then they say I should be expelled from women’s spaces. This would change my life. I have been in women’s spaces for decades.

The purpose of the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Act 2021, which came into force on 20 January, is to allow victims to seek a forensic medical examination from the NHS without needing to report the crime to the police. I would have hoped such a change could be made administratively, by changes to police, NHS and court procedures, but it was a Bill, taking months to get through Parliament.

Johann Lamont MSP introduced an amendment into the draft Bill, to change the word “gender” in the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 to “sex”. She imagines that now, victims can specify that they want a cis woman, not just a woman.

I am not sure what practical effect that has. I want a woman to be able to get an examination where she is, in Ullapool or Lerwick as well as Edinburgh, ideally without an examiner being flown out from the city. But then, the examiner has to be able to stand as an expert witness in the High Court of Justiciary. I have no idea how many people are qualified to perform such an examination, and whether any of them are trans women.

Johann Lamont, that is, used a Bill designed to benefit victims of sexual abuse to enshrine discrimination against trans women in Scots law, and form a basis for an argument that there is a legal distinction between “gender” and “sex”, so that there could be further discrimination in future.

She does it from a clearly transphobic position. She signed the Labour Transphobes’ Declaration and said at the time

I have fought all my life along with my sisters in the Labour and trade union movement to ensure that women’s voices are heard, that our needs and rights are addressed, to end the inequality women face and to change women’s lives. The progress made by women has come from women organising together and refusing to be silenced. That is as necessary now as it ever was.

To characterise demands to exclude trans women as “addressing women’s needs” is deeply transphobic.

When the amendment went before Parliament, there was a disgustingly transphobic article in The Scotsman. The delusional transphobe hack who wrote it claimed that “women are fighting for the very right to exist”. That’s paranoid. She wrote, “Women and girls the world over are mutilated and murdered because of their sex, not because of gender stereotypes such as lipstick and high-heels”. Trans women are assaulted and murdered because we are trans women. She diminishes our very nature to the fetishist whim of wearing high heels. She sets cis women against trans women. It is one of the most transphobic rants I have seen. She quotes Lamont saying,

Women should be able to choose the sex of the person who conducts the investigation. This is a key test for the Parliament, which is committed to rooting action in the understanding of experience. Women courageously and powerfully spoke up so that others might fare better than them. The amendment is tiny but would be a huge step in listening to survivors. The committee was convinced. The Parliament should be too.

“Listening to survivors” means excluding trans women. Speaking up courageously means demanding that trans women be excluded. It is a horrifying paean in praise of hate.

I am not sure whether a trans woman should heed the desire of such a victim to have a cis woman examiner. It may just be my internalised transphobia suggesting that could possibly be reasonable, that the trans woman should stand aside. But, unquestionably, the motive for the amendment is transphobic hate. Transphobic hate now has an entrée into Scots law.