The importance of disagreement

Trans rights are held back by trans women working against them. I’ve just seen that one of them has written of me, Clare and I disagree on some issues but I suspect we agree on many others. Yes; but right now our disagreement matters more.

The most important issue in the struggle around trans rights now is the involvement of the hard-Right and far-Right. The Heritage Foundation works incessantly against women’s rights, even when it funds feminists. Its desire is a world run in the interests of the rich, where only the rich are free. I have changed my mind about my advice to Julie Bindel– she should shout this from the rooftops. The aim is to set left-wing trans women, and left-wing feminists, against each other so that we consume our energies and do not resist the hard-right.

“Gender-critical” campaigning against trans rights had been a mainly British phenomenon. The persecution in the US was from the hard-Right. Trump pleased his base with a ban on transgender troops. But now there is a “Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights” which entirely bizarrely suggests that the threats to women’s rights are surrogacy and transition.

On the re-affirmation of women’s sex-based rights, including women’s rights to physical and reproductive integrity, and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls that result from the replacement of the category of sex with that of ‘gender identity’, and from ‘surrogate’ motherhood and related practices.

What are the most important feminist issues? Worldwide, literacy and education must come pretty high; in developed countries, the gender pay gap affects most women; FGM; bodily autonomy, and access to family planning matters everywhere; I would argue even the number of women on the boards of the biggest multinational companies is more important to average American women than a few trans women.

The declaration argues, the concept of ‘gender identity’ makes socially constructed stereotypes, which organize and maintain women’s inequality, into essential and innate conditions, thereby undermining women’s sex-based rights. Rubbish. Transition only affects trans folk, not anyone else. I have no interest in other women behaving in a “feminine” way if they do not want to.

There was a launch in New York last Friday. Jean Hatchet may have revealed the funding for that.

I can see that if “femininity” does not fit you, you would feel irked, angry or hurt for someone to doubt you were a proper woman. For centuries women have been attacked as unfeminine, as bluestockings, for being too clever. Yet the heart of “transgender ideology” is the idea of gender identity, the knowledge at the heart of me, before any justification, that I am a woman. Therefore any woman can define her own womanhood. We are not the ones doubting or circumscribing your womanliness. All we do is assert our own. It would not affect women’s rights if even 5% of women were AMAB, but 0.1%?

I agree with them. They are women. Any time they want to talk, or find how we are natural allies, I am open to that. And I disagree. They are being set against their allies by their enemies, and the ridiculous self-justification they use for imagining attacking trans people is left-wing, principled, or against stereotyping of gender is utterly wrong.

And, what do I agree about, with that trans woman? I would like some accommodation with gender-critical feminists. What do I disagree? I condemn her utterly for writing for the Spectator. It is a right-wing rag. Yes, it’s nice to get your name on a well-read website, but not worth. betraying all you should hold dear. They want to criticise the prosecution by the prosecuting authorities of someone for doxxing a trans child, or pretend there is some “free-speech” issue around putting forward a view trumpeted in The Times four times a week, or even argue that trans women are not women. They are your enemy, and the enemies of all feminists. Yet you publish there, undermining everything you might want to achieve as a union activist, or even as a teacher. And these “feminists” undermine feminism by diverting feminist energy against trans women. I am with John Major on this- it’s time to “condemn a little more, and understand a little less”. Debbie Hayton: stop self-harming, and stop betraying feminism.

Sympathy for the anti-trans campaigners

Some of the stories these women tell, of how they changed from being “live and let live” to campaigning against trans rights, really speak to me. Then I feel anger and resentment against individual trans women, not just because they make it harder for the rest of us. The trans woman might tell the story differently, of course; yet I think how dare anyone do anything like that? Or there are things where I understand why trans people are like this, and understand why others might be offended.

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Anti-trans campaigners’ personal experiences

Some anti-trans campaigners become obsessive because of what they read or imagine- they read that the Girl Guides have a policy of including trans girls, and they imagine a trans girl committing sexual assault on a Guide camp. They think “What’s the worst that could happen?” Then their imaginations dream up the most awful things.

I call them campaigners, but the campaigns may just consist of posting horrible stuff about trans women on line, or reading others’ postings. And they may escalate to writing to MPs. It does not mean people will necessarily be hostile IRL, but they are on line.

Some have particular personal experiences which lead them into campaigning against us, and those experiences can be particularly minor and petty.

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Why did you become an anti-trans campaigner?

A thread on a site where anti-trans campaigners go asks them how they started with that campaign. It has over six hundred responses, and the personal stories are fascinating. Why would people invest so much time and energy in trying to evict 0.1% of women from women’s spaces? Why do they spend so much time on line, radicalising each other, nursing their wrath to keep it warm? There is qualitative evidence there, and I hope serious research is done to draw some conclusions from this archive. Meanwhile, here are some quotes and stories.

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Phantom Fears

Looking at the transphobes, you would think trans women outnumbered cis women. There’s now a Women’s Human Rights Campaign seeking the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls that result from the replacement of the category of sex with that of ‘gender identity’, and from ‘surrogate’ motherhood and related practices. It’s now sharing worldwide- three British transphobes are off to New York to speak on the matter, and try to increase the hatred of trans women in other countries. Perhaps the Koch brothers are paying, again.

0.1% is my estimate of the proportion of people who transition. This is a lot less than the 1%-odd that Stonewall estimates. How long does it take to see a thousand people? Consider the poor transphobe. Walking down a city centre shopping street at noon, she might pass a thousand people in a few minutes. Her eyes are drawn to the trans person, because she is overly sensitive to trans people and her brain always picks them out. But, they’re walking in the opposite direction, they don’t notice her, and probably their existence has not ruined her life, or even her day, unless their mere existence provokes her to dwell on how much she hates trans women.

I clock other trans women occasionally, but not that often.

In loos, it must be very rare. You are in a queue with five ahead of you, and when you get to the front there are three behind and two washing their hands. It’s a one in a hundred chance that one of them is trans. Most loos are not that crowded.

So women’s rights are not particularly affected by trans rights. The obsession some transphobes exhibit is completely disproportionate to their actual experience of trans women. The experiences which make them think about us is almost entirely moaning on-line about us, and reading others’ moans. For example:

I had no idea what was going on with the proposed changes to the GRA, etc in my own country. Well, of course not. It does not matter to anyone but that 0.1%.

Eventually looked into [trans issues] and shit my pants! I’ve been peaking daily ever since. But it’s what she reads, and the message-boards she goes on, that “Peak Trans” her, not real life experiences.

What about this one? My next experience was with a lecturer at the University who transitioned from mtf. They were very sweet and gentle and their joy at transitioning was quite touching. Never made any move to colonize women’s spaces, didn’t get stampy about accidental misgendering. No problems. So, the actual trans person she knows, she likes. It’s all the others she reads about that are so awful. Several of them say that Caitlyn Jenner being some magazine’s “Woman of the Year” was the thing that made them obsessive (sorry, they say “Peak transed” them): 32 out of 500 mention Caitlyn in one thread. Most of them don’t mention personal experience, it’s always just something they’ve read.

It is a right pain when they say they met a trans woman they didn’t like. Oh, brilliant. So now they judge us all, because every trans woman obviously has every bad characteristic any trans woman has ever been accused of. How any of us are outside prison I don’t know.

Of course, the same applies to us. We read about transphobia all the time, but encounter it a great deal less. Let us shed our phantom fears. We meet transphobia in real life very rarely.

Trans and intersex women in sport

Cultural assumptions about testosterone, not all borne out by studies, affect how we regard trans and intersex women in sport. What questions of fairness should affect whether and on what basis intersex and trans people compete as women? Most people are one sex or the other- genes, gonads and genitals all point one way, and gender identity does too- if the person denies having a gender identity, ask whether s/he intends to transition. If they don’t, they are cis. It is not the person’s fault that they are trans or intersex.

If an intersex person has been assigned female at birth, she should compete as a woman. Doctors making the assignment do so with the best interests of the patient at heart, checking whether people transition after, in cases where there is apparent ambiguity. Other intersex conditions are noticed later. Women with Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, CAIS, are overrepresented in sport, if the evidence for one in 99,000 people is robust, but they are women even if they have underdeveloped testicles and XY-46 genotype.

What of trans women? There are complaints of non-disabled people competing in the paralympics, which categorises disability according to severity. Similarly, would someone pretend to be trans to win women’s competitions rather than do badly as a man? Now, they will face complaints that they should not be in women’s competitions, and transphobic attacks, but winning might be the only thing that matters to them. So they should have to prove they are really trans, and should do that by a change of name and expression. Possibly, that should be some time before they are competing. It should also persist after competition: a person who reverted after winning would have their titles taken away. It is uncomfortable for a man to present as a woman. If they want to present female life-long, they are trans.

All athletes have physical advantages from birth, natural talent, though they also need that talent recognised and developed, and the facilities to train. Women who end up at the highest levels are exceptional, physically. Both sexes have oestrogen and testosterone, though at different levels. Dosing with T can increase muscle mass and power, but does not necessarily make a better athlete (says that Guardian article). Katrina Karkazis points out that many skills are necessary for athletes beyond strength- hand-eye coordination in tennis, though strength means men have an advantage; what of luge, where the ability to isolate body parts and make subtle adjustments, and to remain flexible and relaxed while going unprotected down a track at 90 miles an hour, are just as important as power? I could not find whether there are significant sex differences in Luge speed, at elite or average levels, but the speed-skiing men’s record is 3.2% faster than the women’s.

We are not just talking of elite sport, but of local marathons and 10K races, tennis and golf clubs. People who lose at all levels may claim the winners have an unfair advantage. Others may agree, and get that delicious feeling of righteous anger as they stick it to the trans. The issue, with sport, refuges, prisons, toilets, changing rooms, anything, is that women are generally smaller and more sexually vulnerable than men. Should women be segregated for fairness or for their protection? Should trans women be classed as women? If not in sport, then why at all?

Trans women in sport

Does anyone transition in order to have an unfair advantage in sport? No. Trans women transition because we are women, because the difference between presenting male and expressing female is the difference between living life in monochrome and in colour. This does not stop the anti-trans movement from complaining about us. The complaints show transphobia at work.

In 2015 the International Olympic Committee sought to guarantee fair competition, and accepted that surgery was not necessary for that. The athlete must declare herself to be female, which cannot be reversed for four years, and show her testosterone levels were below 10nmol/L (290 ng/dl) for at least 12 months before her first competition and throughout her period competing. Longer periods of reduced testosterone may be required by medical authorities on a case by case basis. Normal levels are 240-950 ng/dl in males, 8-60 in females. In 2018 the IOC were set to halve that level to 5nmol/L, or 145 ng/dl, but apparently didn’t.

In high levels of sports, trans women are underrepresented. That shows that the sociological disadvantages we suffer outweigh any physical advantages. There are physical advantages in size, but in boxing where there are weight categories a trans woman is not going to be bigger than a cis woman competitor.

I write this because of Hadley Freeman’s column today. She minimises the Olympic criterion, “to have been reducing testosterone for twelve months”- actually, it is to have reduced the level. Martina Navratilova started the current publicity, though I have heard angry opposition to trans women in sports long before then. When she was in competition, she faced terrific homophobic abuse: one headline read “Martina turns girls into gays”.

Hadley Freeman claims to be persecuted, that all the coverage is for the trans women. The media, terrified of being on the wrong side of history, responded predictably, and headlines said that Navratilova was “criticised over ‘cheating’ trans women comments”. There are some pro-trans articles. But the Times, predictably, wrote “Male bodies do not belong in women’s sport”- however much we reduce testosterone- and the Spectator risibly said “Women’s sports may one day soon consist entirely of men”. The Mirror quoted India Willoughby, a trans woman, saying trans women should not compete in women’s events. While Susanna Reid was “nervous” talking about the subject because she was worried that she would get the wording wrong, swimmer Sharron Davies said You’re still doing to have those advantages.. a lot of people are saying, come on we’re not transphobic but we need to support female athletes too.

Ooh, aren’t all these anti-trans campaigners brave? India Willoughby said LGB at the moment is more like the KGB in that no alternative opinion is allowed. Yet here they are, in the Mirror, Times, Guardian and Spectator mocking, belittling and monstering trans women.

The Telegraph announced, As Martina Navratilova has discovered, trans activists have won the debate – but lost the public. The West is now in a state of psychological civil war, a war between opposing realities. Consider what happens when a man becomes a woman, enters a women’s sporting event and takes the gold. To the trans activist, this is a natural and beautiful thing: the athlete is competing in the right category and it’s a win for equality. To many feminists, it’s a reversal of equality. The trans athlete may be taller and stronger than the other competitors – they are, said the tennis champion Martina Navratilova, “cheating”.

Um. The transphobes continually claim to be an oppressed minority, even when backed by Rupert Murdoch and the Barclay brothers, even when writing in the Guardian.

I am sorry that I am quoting the transphobes so much here. My next post goes on to the question whether trans women should be included in women’s sports. I argue that we should, with no requirement of a particular testosterone level; and say why.

Women support trans

Reading this letter, I am glad they say it and sad they have to. They want so little for us- to be treated as other human beings! To have minimal respect! We should feel “welcome and safe”. But transphobic media and journalists write as if trans women were the only potential source of violence against women, rather than its victims; as if those objecting to us are the only voices to be heard, rather than a minority; as if theirs is a crusade for freedom of speech, rather than the loudest voice. Our opponents think themselves victims, so entitled to attack in any way they can, but we are suffering. We could be working for LGBT and women’s rights, but we are trying to survive.

I am delighted at the people signing: the actor Emma Thompson, and also MPs, MSPs and people from all over civil society in Scotland. The letter:

We, the undersigned, are a large and diverse group of women who are committed to ensuring that trans people feel welcome and safe within our society.

Recently there has been a rise in ill-informed articles and commentary, where writers have continually insinuated that trans women are not women. These same pieces misrepresent current legal statutes, equalities policies, and public attitudes in Scotland.

Since 2004 the Gender Recognition Act has realised, in law, the rights of trans women as women and trans men as men. Since 1999, the Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations and then the Equality Act (2010) have recognised, in law, the right of the trans community not to be discriminated against on the basis of their gender reassignment. The right of trans people to access gender specific services is an already settled legal matter.

Many national and regional news outlets routinely fail in their pages to recognise this legal reality. Instead, it is our perspective that some writers rely on recycling outdated arguments in an uncomfortable attempt to shoehorn trans identities into much needed conversations about gender-based discrimination and violence.

We believe that national conversations about gender-based discrimination and violence are necessary, however these conversations should not in any way attempt to roll back the rights that trans people already have in Scotland, nor spread misinformation.

In the Scottish Government’s recent public consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act (2004) a majority of respondents supported gender self declaration, as well as recognising non-binary people. As a collective of women, we urge that trans-exclusionary writers do not suggest that their narrow and archaic arguments are in any way representative of the women of Scotland. They do not speak for us.

This is not an issue of Freedom of Speech. Both sides have a plethora of platforms to outline their position. However, it is imperative that these platforms should not be used to spread misinformation or misrepresent the law or the facts in this area.

When this conversation is reduced to allegations of “shutting down debate” whenever misrepresentation or misinformation is challenged, the result is to purposefully discount the position of many women – like us – who support the trans community. We will be heard.

Trans people have played an integral role in every civil rights movement to date; from LGBT equality to women’s causes. Attempts to airbrush trans people from conversations regarding equality and human rights, or to exclude them from advancements for LGBT and women’s rights, have happened before. Such efforts may have re-energised, but they are nothing new, and we say as a collective of women: they are not representative of us. We support trans rights.

Outlets and commentators have an ethical responsibility to consider the impact of their reportage, analysis and commentary particularly on the mental health of trans young people. Recently, data from Stonewall Scotland revealed that over half of trans people considered ending their lives last year. Trans people continue to face unlawful discrimination and violence. Routine misinformation and sensationalism is contributing to a cultural climate where this is legitimised. This has to stop.

Journalists, commentators, and publishers have a central role to play in ensuring Scotland is a welcoming and inclusive place for trans people.

The conversation has to change.

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.

Stonewall and gender diversity

Are there really 600,000 trans people in the UK? That would be nearly 1% of the population. Most of that half million would never consider transition, and perhaps many of them would not even cross-dress. They would include cross-dreamers, who fantasise but do not necessarily act out their fantasies, and people who do not fit gender norms but are adamant they are of their birth sex. Some would not think of themselves as trans, and may have different ideas of what trans is- even before you ask whether non-binary people are trans.

My own figure is 40,000 people who have transitioned or are strongly likely to. But that’s a different number from those who are gender diverse.

I noticed with mentally ill people in the CAB that they had ordinary human characteristics, slightly exaggerated. Most people will have gone out then wondered if they have locked their front door that morning, but for some people it becomes a problem. Different people have more or less rigid understandings of gender stereotypes, comply with them more or less, and are more or less distressed about this. It’s not a binary, either fitting gender norms or not fitting them, but a matter of degree. Other aspects of character and personality, and family and community situation, will affect whether the person decides to transition, or not, and how happy they are with their decision.

And that’s fine. Gender diverse AMAB people who are certain they are men are still gender diverse. A lot of homophobia is around how gay men are not seen as manly. A gay man told me “feminine” characteristics were tolerated in gay men, perhaps they are even expected, and most of them do not think they are women. Whether same sex attraction is on a spectrum too, and the culture makes people decide they are gay or straight- well, it’s possible. Whether I am gynephile because of relatively low attraction to men together with strong inhibitions against such attraction- there is no way I could answer that.

Stonewall are confusing two things, gender diversity and gender transition. Gender diversity can cause problems for someone, either from internal suppression or from bullying, and gender transition is one partial solution to those problems. The LGBT Foundation in Manchester defines trans as “anyone who identifies with a gender which is different from the one which they were assigned at birth”- so there are more than two genders- which means that anyone who says they are trans, are. It’s something a lot of people would feel wary of admitting, or ashamed of, so they are safe enough from people who are not entitled accessing their services. But I can imagine someone suffering with gender dysphoria who is terrified of transition, so insists they are a male cross-dresser, who by that definition would exclude themselves.

The gender recognition reform proposal makes the public discussion about transition, . I don’t think there is any point in a man declaring s/he is a woman if they are not going to “live in the acquired gender”- make some stab at transition. It’s unclear what this could mean, whether skirts high heels and makeup, or jeans and t-shirt, male pattern baldness with a bit of length at the back with no attempt to modify the voice to sound female. Cis women are often unfeminine. Do you look like a woman? If your face is particularly masculine, do you make an attempt to look like a woman? For the law in England and Wales, there is no suggestion that there could be more than two genders.

Transition is difficult. 600,000 people in the UK are not going to transition. Yet the rest of Stonewall’s “The truth about trans” page describes trans people as if we are all transitioning or transitioned. This terrifies transsexual separatists- a terf has just shared to a Labour party page another blog post suggesting that there are true TSs, who knew they were the other sex from a young age, and sought surgery “after lengthy physical and psychological assessment”. That excludes the 40% of people going to the clinics who do not want genital surgery, and human rights law says genital surgery should not be necessary for gender recognition. Possibly all the trans women monstered in the Times or the Daily Mail in their campaign against us fit that definition.

Stonewall should stand up for all gender diverse people, and then accept that we are not all trans, that transition is not right for all of us, that we do not even want transition, but should be able to express contrary to gender stereotypes. Those internal inhibitions need loosening. The bullying needs to stop. But not every gender diverse man will transition to permanently presenting as a woman, and those who don’t will not want legal gender recognition as women.