Powerful speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being reasonable about trans

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

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

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

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

1. Trans women have self declaration already.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Sex is real.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affirming trans sexuality

“I want to open up like a flower,” I said. The three women agreed. I felt affirmed. My sexuality felt fitting, possibly for the first time.

The exercise, on this day Zoom workshop, with people I might never see again, was to make three requests of men, what we would want them to know and understand that we wanted. We discussed what opening up might mean, and while there was some agreement, this is my interpretation. Ideally, it is like the flower opening up to the sun- warmed, caressed, fulfilling itself, the flower opens. I want to be caressed. I want to be wooed, courted. I want foreplay.

I want to be able to trust. I am hurt, and I need my hurt held; and that enables me to be vulnerable. I want to be my full primate, animal nature, which might seem like darkness and chaos. I need to be enabled to trust. I want to feel safe, nurtured and protected.

When I said that after, a man said that is the most beautiful invitation he had ever heard from a woman.

A woman said, she wasn’t keen on “wooed and courted”- should we not be escaping traditional roles and meeting as equals? Of course! I do not want to define womanhood for any other woman. Possibly, not all men will fit all women. Though my gay friend said he could be a bottom or a top, when he changed from one to the other he felt the erogenous zones on his body changing. Some people might adjust to meet a wider variety of possible partners.

And for me, the winning of trust is more necessary because I have been hurt, and hurt can make me freeze, make me numb, make me unable to open up, state my needs or even know them myself. We all have baggage. When I trusted, and opened, and was cared for, I opened fully. More experience like that, more exploration, more acceptance and understanding, I might need less to set me alight.

This is sexuality for mature people. We want an authentic, truthful, journey to complete bodily connection. I want us to help each other to maintain conscious awareness and see when we are triggered, when we are back in old patterns or old pain, when we are numb. Welcome, rather than resisting the pattern: what need does it express? Possibly, when one is triggered they will trigger the other. I was briefly triggered during the workshop. Taking responsibility for myself being conscious and aware- of my feelings, the other and our surroundings, and undertaking to help them to be aware too, we may escape the triggers. Notice the feeling without blame or judgment.

It’s about being conscious of feeling without needing to express the feeling in order to be conscious of it; and responding to the stimulus in freedom and strength rather than reacting like a machine- when that button is pressed I can only react like that. So, recognise and disconnect the buttons.

People recognise the difficulties, too. Freezing and becoming numb, that “courting” is just the time to develop trust.

In the patriarchy with rape culture, men and women are hurting, not just trans people. Jamie Catto planned this as a truth and reconciliation exercise between the sexes, telling each other what we wanted, defusing male privilege, maintaining our positivity and lightness among some heavy stuff. Seeing myself as a “man” attracted to women, I wanted to open like a flower to a woman. I have seen these relationships working. I have also approached a woman in that way and while that was what we both wanted, we just triggered each other. And I have seen a man with a similar sexuality to mine try to “man up” for a woman, and become so much more relaxed after they split.

We recognise masculine energy in women, feminine energy in men. It does not matter whether this comes from nature or nurture- my problems come from resisting who I am now, whether that comes from nature or nurture. Some is unchangeable.

Men can be strongly affected by women’s radiance. Women cannot be held solely responsible for that. I tend to feel no-one should dim her light to avoid hurting another. A man should appreciate the beauty without needing to take her, or resenting that she is not available to him. There are the stereotypes of the modest maid and the bad girl, and men should not assume the whole applies to a woman because she shows one alleged characteristic of one.

I loved the description of the tango. A man and a woman catch eyes across the dancefloor, and agree wordlessly to dance. In the first dance the man assesses his partner’s expertise, and does not push too far. The man is leading, but the woman’s assent is needed at all times. They dance together, both giving and receiving, with balance and reciprocity.

Let us be kind to each other, heal and forgive each other, explore together and enable each other. We inherit so much pain. I am not going to pass on the pain.

I felt like a woman, as if transgender is real. I think it is.

Christine Goodwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amy Dyess

“We were constantly triggered. Now I realize we were used as pawns in a culture war. It was never about defending and strengthening lesbians. The goal was to divide our community.” Social media does not keep anyone informed. Keeping us triggered is the point. Keeping us angry, defensive, fearful. Amy Dyess has revealed the hate and fear of the anti-trans campaigners, who she calls “gender critical”. She quotes their propaganda in her article, and it is vile, saying trans rights is persecuting lesbians. Amplifying it made her feel needed, that she was helping lesbians, giving her good feelings when her life was so difficult.

She was brought up evangelical, and people said it was immoral for her to marry. Some trans or allies’ tweets “saying lesbians were hateful for not liking penises” seemed lesbophobic to her, even though she is sometimes attracted to trans women. Perhaps they were. She was insecure and in pain, so open to “GC” propaganda. Her recruiter love-bombed her, and co-ordinated action against “Diva, PinkNews, Autostraddle, Juno Dawson, Grace Petrie, Ruth Hunt, Ellen Page, Chase Strangio, Rhea Butcher, and so many more”.

Amy Dyess was living in a car, working full time and trying to get a better job. She was groomed to go on TV to put the gender critical case. She was offered a house. Rosa Freedman, who distanced herself from the Republican and Evangelical right, offered to fly her to Britain, and have her speak at different events. Julie Bindel paid some of her expenses. There’s a lot of money in the GC movement. Much of it comes from Republicans (Julie Bindel spoke out against that).

“Gender-critical” Memoree Joelle, former editor of AfterEllen, supported Donald Trump.

When Amy Dyess considered suing Twitter for discriminating against women’s free speech, the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) proposed she got funding and support from religious right organisations.

Hands Across The Aisle, a religious right organisation seeking out wedge issues to detach leftists from the Democratic Party, worked with Posie Parker and produced anti-trans content as well as the founder’s homophobic content. Julia Beck, Meghan Murphy of Feminist Current, and Julia Long also worked with HATA.

Amy Dyess is against “political lesbianism”, “the harmful idea that women can ‘choose’ to be lesbians and strategically deny men sex”, “an anti-lesbian ideology”. She did not feel safe at WPUK events because Judith Green attacked her for criticising political lesbianism. “Lesbian rights depend on ‘born this way’,” she says. I disagree. It’s nobody’s business who you go to bed with but yours. “Born that way” might make some homophobes relent, a little, on their homophobia, but if they think lesbianism is not a perfectly reasonable choice, needing no justification, they are still homophobic.

I am not sure of the rigid boundary between straight, gay and bi. A woman I knew married a man and had a daughter, and I think she thought she was straight. Then she had an overwhelming affair with a woman, and told me she was lesbian. Then she went back to her husband. “Political lesbianism” could be a cover for a bi woman, and there is biphobia among LGBT folk (internalised in the B). Or a woman who had always been attracted to men could find herself attracted to a woman, and call herself a “political lesbian” because she found it reassuring. “Gold star lesbian” is the mocking phrase for someone who tells others she’s only ever been with women, and makes a point of it.

“I didn’t think that I was anti-trans, but looking back over the screenshots it’s clear that I was.” She still had trans friends in real life.

She wanted kindness, and I feel she misunderstands #fuckkind. The point is that being kind and considerate of men’s feelings is part of women’s socialisation. #fuckkind can be liberating. Who should you listen to, or pay attention to? Kind should be a choice not an obligation. If we could all stand up for our rights, and hear each other without being triggered, we might work together. LGBT+ should be allies despite all the tensions, because the prejudice from straightworld is so much greater. But we are traumatised, and triggerable.

Moral Panic, Culture War, and the Anti-trans coalition

Conservatives attack trans people for nefarious purposes. Ideas around moral panic or culture war may explain the current anti-trans coalition, despite their different interests and motivations for campaigning against trans people.

In 1973, Stanley Cohen identified five stages in the construction of a moral panic:

  1. Someone, something or a group are defined as a threat to social norms or community interests. Cohen called these “folk devils”- there is no real threat.
  2. The threat is then depicted in a simple and recognizable symbol/form by the media
  3. The portrayal of this symbol rouses public concern
  4. There is a response from authorities and policy makers
  5. The moral panic over the issue results in social changes within the community

His analysis was of Mods and Rockers in the 1960s, but the concept has been applied to witch trials. James VI, King of Scots, appears genuinely to have believed in witches, as a threat to the people. Society might be brought together in the face of an external threat, and the king gain support from fearful people.

The press increases its circulation by horrifying and frightening people. There was a minor flurry about necrotising fasciitis, or galloping gangrene, and the horrible way it killed or maimed people. Then we learned it killed about one person a week in Britain. It is rarely a threat.

In the “AIDS- Don’t die of Ignorance” campaign in the UK, the government worked to reduce the moral panic against gay people: the campaign said anyone could catch it or pass it on. Then there were stories of satanic abuse– organised child abuse rings using satan-worship rituals, either from belief or a desire to terrify. That may have been a mass hysteria: but I am sure the people who raised the alarm genuinely believed in the threat.

This paper from 1995, from the leaden age of the fourth consecutive term of a morally and intellectually bankrupt Tory government, says that moral panics could be deliberately fomented as part of a marketing campaign. The moral panic about “Acid house” dance music, and its relation to drugs, was a way for the record labels to get publicity and big up an “illicit” attraction. John Major’s “Back to Basics” morality campaign was a front to reduce welfare benefits for lone parents, but it was turned against Tories: people argued they were hypocritical and should resign when they had affairs. John Major had an affair with Edwina Currie MP, whom I met: my abiding memory of her is her waving her bra around. I will tell the story below if anyone asks. The article points out that by then there was a strong gay press and gay economic muscle, to fight back against moral panic tactics used against gay people.

Moral panics become culture wars when the folk devils fight back, or liberals defend them. In the US, it seems, every issue can be used in a culture war. Republicans use attacks on women’s right of bodily autonomy to solidify their Evangelical vote, and Trump’s various attacks on trans people are a similar tactic. In the UK the Prime Minister, BoJo the Clown, has been attempting to foment culture war around the Black Lives Matter protests pulling down a slaver’s statue, but the Guardian has a former Tory pollster saying while all Tory voters are socially conservative and Labour voters are split, these concerns are not important to people right now. Johnson or his puppet-master Cummings attempted to stir up a culture war around trans, but Keir Starmer refused to oblige.

I understand all this through “Out-groups”. Social conservatives bond within a community of enforced sameness by naming and vilifying not just bad conduct, but made-up threats, from immigrants, queers, anyone they can attack. Sometimes this works.

In 2017, the Tory government appeared to think it would get positive publicity from liberalising gender recognition. Several Tory women MPs appeared to be in favour. But they delayed and delayed. The Times, a propaganda sheet, owned by Rupert Murdoch, a US citizen from Australia, started to foment a culture war. The Koch brothers and the Heritage Foundation in the US funded anti-trans campaigners who imagined that they were left-wing feminists. Now, there’s a lot of bandwagon-jumping: JK Rowling‘s screed shows she imagines she has “reasonable concerns” because various people told her their anti-trans campaigning was reasonable. This is deluded, and could be explained as hysteria.

Anti-trans campaigning women claimed to be oppressed by The Powerful Trans Lobby (I wish we were) and some feminists may be using us as a proxy for male violence: campaigning against rape culture is too threatening, so they will campaign against a few harmless trans women instead. I almost sympathise- I see the attraction in a hall filled with women expressing solidarity against male oppression. It’s just that my kind are not the oppressor.

The anti-trans campaigners, despite differing political perspectives and motivations, have come together in a campaign to persecute harmless trans people. Aspects of hysteria, bad-faith campaigning, or an authoritarian hatred of those who do not conform may explain some of their actions. Social media inflames the situation. Keir Starmer is probably right to keep calm and ask for dialogue. He could usefully point out that no predatory man is going to go to the trouble of pretending to be trans in order to get access to women. They find it too easy to attack women in other ways. Imagine these predatory men, patiently waiting three years for a change in the law. They would not wait three weeks.

This is the calm before the Tory government announces its plans on trans law, some time before 21 July.

Lloyd Russell Moyle, the Labour Party, and trans rights

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

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

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

However Russell-Moyle apologised on twitter.

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

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

As Moyle says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susanna Reid backed Morgan up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stonewall and the transphobes

Stonewall gets much of its money from its Diversity Champions Programme. It helps more than 800 employers ensure that all LGBT staff have “Acceptance without Exception”. A transphobe, who attempts to foment fear and anger against trans women, is seeking to take away this source of funding for Britain’s leading LGB charity, even though she is lesbian and claims to support the rights of lesbians. However, she uses extreme right slogans in her campaigning.

Allison Bailey is a barrister with Garden Court Chambers. Their first statement on their About page is “We are committed to fighting injustice, defending human rights and upholding the rule of law”. They are part of the Diversity Champions programme. Last year, Bailey took part in setting up LGB All Liars, a group committed to fighting against trans rights. According to Bailey, Stonewall complained about her because of her links with All Liars, and the chambers investigated her. So she is suing them. Her claim is that they investigated her because of her “gender critical beliefs”, and because she claims more women than men hold such beliefs, this is indirect discrimination.

Transphobia whited out. Select text to view. “This was an attempt by Stonewall to intimidate and silence me and others critical of what we see as its malign influence in British life”- “malign” because it supports trans people- and she claims that she “criti[ises] and investigat[es] notions of gender identity that are in conflict with, and doing harm to, the interests, safety and rights of women, children and LGB people”. I got those quotes from a screed claiming martyrdom for her anti-trans campaigning.

Indirect discrimination is justified if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. The claim is worthless. Maya Forstater’s similar claim, heard in the Employment Tribunal in January, failed- or else we would have heard the result by now. The legitimate aim is promoting trans rights, and it is proportionate to complain about and investigate an anti-trans campaigner in order to do that. Such an extremist in chambers might make LGBT people less willing to use the chambers. In her statement she does not claim any action was taken against her beyond the investigation of complaints, and she is still a member of the chambers.

However, litigation such as this might make employers less willing to enter the Diversity Champions programme, choking off a main source of income for this LGB charity.

Extreme right slogans: the headline for her screed is “I am suing Stonewall to stop them policing free speech”. “Policing free speech” is meaningless. You are not free to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre. I am embarrassed to quote that, it is so well known. “Free speech” is never licence to escape consequences: if you preach hate, people will condemn you. The extreme right: I mean this attack on higher education.

Bailey’s crowdfunder reached £60,000 within three days, despite being suspended by CrowdJustice because of serious complaints. It is now closed to further donations.

Bailey has also challenged the Equal Treatment Bench Book, guidance for judges which says that trans women should be treated as women. She wants trans women not to have a fair trial, because the trans woman would be fighting prejudice as well as assessing the evidence. Defendants, innocent until proven guilty, should not have to face that. Most people would not have been able to withstand the level of discrimination that Ms. Oger faced during the Tribunal’s hearing. They should not have to, said a female judge who does not share Bailey’s prejudice.

The threat to free speech comes from Bailey. Another quote many will be familiar with:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Bailey writes, “I have always been an advocate for transgender rights. I believe passionately that transgender people must enjoy protection under the law from discrimination and abuse.” She means, our human rights apart from the ones that let trans women share women’s space. That’s not what international or British human rights lawyers mean by our human rights. Bailey is lying, by twisting the ordinary meaning of words.

It does LGB rights no good to defund Stonewall. Bailey’s hatred of trans women means she is doing LGB folk lasting harm.

Catherine Bennett

What do you do when you like a transphobe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dropping “Trans women are women”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would reforming gender recognition mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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