Not all women

“Not all women have vaginas,” tweeted Munroe Bergdorf, a trans woman. “Think about your message, use your voice for all women, not just yourself.” She objected to pussy hats on the women’s marches.

I disagree. Yes, there is pressure on trans women to have genital surgery. No-one should need to be sterilised to be recognised for who they are. Trans women are women. Dwelling on reproductive rights and reproductive matters can be a way of excluding trans women, deliberately. We feel rejected and excluded, and lots of things can remind us of that. Rejection hurts, and a rude comment in the street could depress me for days when I transitioned. Yes, all of that, and a vagina is still a symbol of womanhood.

I am not saying we should not object to allusion to vaginas because objection is impolitic. TERFs might express anger about avoiding discussion of reproductive matters, which affect most women, though some are infertile, and not all women without uteruses are trans women. Ordinary feminists might hear that and agree. Our extremism may alienate potential allies, especially when we tell them what to do.

The reproductive system, the beauty, pain and danger of it, is central to feminism. We should be allies on that, not because it is politic, but because it is right. If you don’t empathise with women’s concerns, you are still a woman, but lacking in some humanity. All oppressed people should oppose all oppression.

Our oppression is around our bodies, too, judged, scrutinised and assaulted. We may feel alienated from our bodies because they are seen as male. Yet not all talk of bodies has the purpose of excluding us, and it must be possible to talk of bodies and the oppression of bodies.

Munroe Bergdorf was objecting to a symbol, not a campaign: a cat-eared hat, because Dolt 45 boasts of grabbing pussies. It is a symbol of genitalia which most women have. How wonderful, to wear a symbol of genitalia on your head, for they are private but not shameful. The hat shows pride in every part of a body, even the ones we hide. Men wore them at the marches in solidarity, and surely trans women can too.

Perhaps there is nothing all women have in common. Not all women have the same gender identity, which is shaped by experience. Gender identity matters most to those who have to assert it, like trans people. Some women are close to stereotypical femininity and some rail against it; and non-binary people may have another gender identity and women’s bodies. What is your gender identity anyway- is it “woman” or “feminine”?

There is a slippery slope here. Refusing a wedding cake to a gay couple is not the same as restaurants excluding black people, which impinges on all of life. The wedding cake is only a symbol of rejection, but everyone has suffered rejection and is vulnerable to it, even cis white non-disabled well-educated males. The law forces service providers to provide services equally because the symbol matters and there is widespread rejection of gay people who don’t pass as straight. Needing to pass is oppression. The slightest rejection or erasure hurts, but the lack of logical consistency in the term “woman” is the very thing that allows us to call ourselves women, so perhaps we should not draw attention to the lack: the logical consistency simplest to comprehend excludes us.

Reproductive rights matter to all who can get pregnant, and should matter to all women. Biology matters. Munroe Bergdorf’s tweet brought out the TERFs, mocking, angry, yet appearing sensible to lots of people who have not thought about the matter (so it is important to be politic in these things). Gaby Hinsliff is a writer for the Guardian who generally writes on feminist issues and rarely on trans. There’s a woman alive now to contradict pretty much any given statement about what a woman is, she wrote, arguing to include us on all-women shortlists, but she was exasperated by Munroe’s tweet. Just let women, and men, be what they want to be. The rules are that there are no rules, she wrote earlier. I agree, for that is the best way for us to be included.

Possibly, at some time in the future someone will come up with a verbal understanding encapsulating what it is to be a woman and including every woman, but not men. And people will stop squabbling about that, and go onto something else.

Gender equality

Long before the Equality Act, trans people used the Sex Discrimination Act to argue rights for ourselves. I met an accountant who, fed up with going to work male, went in a skirt suit, and was dismissed and walking home an hour later; but others kept their employment rights. Arguably the statutory instruments drafted to regulate trans rights reduced them.

The Equality Act protects “transsexual persons” who “propose to undergo a process for the purpose of reassigning sex”. The heading is “gender reassignment” so at best the law makes disentangling sex and gender difficult. They are different, but not in law. Medical jargon is the same, referring to the “homosexual transsexual” suffering from “gender dysphoria”.

The Act also protects men and women from discrimination on the grounds of sex, with some exceptions for employers such as women’s refuges. However it only prohibits “less favourable” treatment, not different treatment, which is why arguments that women should not have to wear skirts to the office fail. Making women wear skirts is not less favourable than making men wear jackets and ties. So different treatment is enshrined in law.

That means the law supports the Patriarchy in saying there are two genders, and that generally they are mapped onto the two sexes, though a tiny number of people may swap from one to the other. How may we be liberated? One way is to change the idea of gender so that it is not thought to restrict capacity, such as by the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which removed restrictions on women practising as lawyers or civil servants, or on juries. There I go, conflating sex and gender again. There is no reason why women should not be lawyers.

The other is to divorce the concept of gender from that of sex. Men can be feminine, women can be masculine. There is no characteristic, aptitude, quality, virtue or vice peculiar to one sex, or which is not equally good or bad in both. We signal our gender with our clothes and body language.

No-one should be treated badly because another disapproves of their gender presentation or their gendered behaviour. No-one should have the right to enforce gendered behaviour on another.

Arguably, the very concept of gender is oppressive because it is imagined to fit the sexes- man/masculine, woman/feminine. Ideally, society should abandon it; but while it exists people should be protected from discrimination because of perceived gender.

So my Equality scheme would prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sex. Men and women should not be treated more or less favourably, and any necessary exceptions should be specifically defined, such as the genuine occupational requirement for some jobs, or the All-woman shortlist while women are underrepresented.

It would also prohibit discrimination on the ground of actual or perceived gender: the signals we give, the behaviour and the underlying attributes and desires. An employee should be judged on their skills and abilities, not on how they look. This would permit a wider range of gendered behaviour in both sexes, and gradually strip away the link between sex and gender, men and masculinity, women and femininity. Where we generalise and stereotype people because of their sex, and disapprove of those not conforming to our stereotypes, the law could intervene and guide us away from that. The law would be applied in the worst of cases, and would guide society and people’s ideas of what is acceptable so that the stereotypes fell away.

Sex dysphoria

Some find that the most distressing thing about the dysphoria they experience as trans people is their physical sexual organs.

For me, transition was an attempt to express my true self. My gender is feminine, I am most comfortable responding in a feminine way, and part of my problem is that I conflated the symbols of femininity, such as the soft floral sweater, with the underlying reality, the will towards support and reconciliation; or that symbol of masculinity, the penis, with what you do with it- do you penetrate, or become enveloped?

People conflate symbols and reality. How could I communicate my femininity except by transition? Body language can communicate femininity without particular clothes. We also conflate transsexualism with transgenderism- the protected characteristic in the Equality Act is “gender reassignment”, the protected group “transsexual persons”, and doctors give hormones and surgery to a man who is feminine.

There was one thing I could do: become transsexual, which means expressing myself differently, but also dressing like a transsexual and altering my body like a transsexual.

That tweed skirt suit with the frumpy little frills on it, fashionable some time in the 1980s, that you like because you know no better- or those gorgeous elastic-sided long boots, with a bit of a heel- these things are unnecessary, and some make a thing of it. “I wear jeans far more than I wear skirts”. And I would rather wear dresses. It makes me feel more comfortable. Using the symbol gives me permission to express myself in that way.

And “I am female. Being male hurt” said someone. I read that, I may be wrong, as needing the body to be changed. That is not a signal, as you show it to very few people- unless it is a signal to yourself. Yes, I am a true transsexual, I have had the operation. I feel I had the operation because of social pressure. It was expected.

It is a package. Way of being + way of presenting + physical changes. If I could have tolerated the way of being without the way of presenting, that would have been better, but it seemed impossible to me. Then, if I could have had the way of being and the way of presenting and realised that did not necessitate physical changes I might regret…

I understand that some people have physical changes without fully transitioning. AMAB people who present male but have had surgery, or hormones meaning they need a binder to get through the working day. So I have heard, but never heard from anyone like that directly. If this is you please do say. And some have the operation because it is what matters most, and transition, but don’t go for the “feminine” presentation. Though women wear jeans, and can use them to look feminine/signal femininity.

Just because I now feel I had the operation because of social pressure does not mean that everyone does, and certainly not that anyone else would believe that of themselves. Dysphoria arises from my place in society, and I felt that surgery would alter that place- it did, but not enough. Still there is the feeling that real trans women want surgery, as well as the feeling that trans women should not have to be sterilised to be recognised, both held strongly.

We could accept each others’ variation if we did not feel so scrutinised by the general public. You do not need an excuse to be as you are. Neither do I, it just felt that way. I do not need to find excuses for others- this fat person has a slow metabolic rate, that gay person was the opposite sex in a former life; but people do.

Virtue and Indulgence

At the breakfast bar, there were sausages, bacon, fried and scrambled egg, mushrooms, and black pudding. I had a bowl of muesli. “You’re so virtuous!” said several people, in resisting the fry-up. Rather, I took what I wanted at the time. Sometimes I want fatty meat, sometimes not. I can feel I want a particular thing to eat, or do not want a different thing, and it seems that is because of something in it; possibly my cravings could be fine-tuned, so that I work out what it is that I am craving and where best to get it.

I like a pudding, perhaps a chocolate cheesecake, after eating out. “It’s self-indulgent,” I said, possibly echoing what I had heard from others. “What do you mean, ‘indulgent’?” asked Lucy. Gosh, dunno. Er-

It’s really nice. If they get taste, texture and appearance right it is a treat. I don’t eat things like that at home, so it is rare for me.

Sometimes I pay attention to what I eat, and enjoy the physical sensations: taste, texture, aroma, the movement down my throat, the aftertaste. This is, bizarrely, called a “spiritual” experience: I pay attention to experience in the moment rather than ruminating about other things. I find this most with fruit. I will always remember a formal dinner in my twenties, when I was in my kilt and bow tie with interesting people making combative, intellectual conversation and the first mouthful of the main course grabbed my attention. It was wonderful. Even now much of the time I just shovel food down my throat, while reading or watching TV, or even talking in a restaurant. Or I am trying something, and it is interesting- what do I think of this?

After the main course, I want my chocolate torte with crème fraiche and raspberries. Is that just habit, picked up from others because it is the thing people do, and done thoughtlessly? We learn from others what is “fun”, or “indulgent”. If I like a pineapple carpaccio with passion fruit when I am out, why never buy one in the supermarket and scoff it at home? Am I signalling something, perhaps that while money’s too tight to mention I can still pay a fiver for a prosecco and chilli poached pear with raspberry sorbet? Is it just that generally one gets food to enjoy in a restaurant, fuel to survive in a supermarket? Boiling arborio rice to the right consistency- the water is fully absorbed one second before it becomes too dry- and stirring a tin of tuna into it, with a little pepper, is satisfactory. It is filling, the taste is pleasant enough though I do not dwell on it, I can have it once a week without great thought.

That moment when you need a drink, or eat all the chocolate box or the packet of biscuits- I don’t fill that function with food. I have other trauma-related behaviour. How could I condemn someone for that, living as I do? I eat healthily, taking moderate pleasure in it, usually I eat to live but sometimes to socialise too; it is no more virtuous than my ability at speling. It is how I am, how my life is. If I enjoy a pavlova served with fruit salad and berry coulis, I call that “indulgent” because I have learned to. “You’re treating yourself” says the world, or the culture, or my parents or companions. “I’m treating myself” I repeat. I enjoy it, I am sure of that. There we are with our “wicked grins” being not particularly wicked. I suppose puddings could even be sophisticated, though generally they are just a treat.

And possibly the word “indulgent” condemns those who respond to trauma with food. We do what we need to do. Condemnation and disrespect will not win over the overeater, and it is no-one’s business but theirs what they should give their attention, to improve their lives or not decline further, or even how much they should eat. I could make excuses for them around gut flora or metabolism, but excuses are otiose. Though we tend to our own healing, social support makes that easier, but too often instead we police each other, staring at the obese person, scoffing or condemning- and the trans person: I respond by taking less notice of the people around me.

That man in the bank went one stage further, singing to himself as he considered the autoteller. The man ahead of me in the queue remarked on it, and I said it probably reassures him, and is quite harmless, like an autistic person stimming. So the man in the queue started making personal remarks about my accent: “Oh, you don’t live in Swanston, do you?”

Marie Dean

The “cross-dressing Burnley burglar” is serving an indeterminate sentence for public protection, after breaking into houses and stealing underwear and being charged with burglary and voyeurism. S/he videoed herself on her phone, in the underwear in the victims’ bedrooms, and the quote picked by the Lancashire Telegraph to give its readers an entertaining feeling of disgust, loathing and derision was “I hope you don’t mind me borrowing your underwear. They smell nice.” Possibly the sentence would not have been so great but for the videos. The story is the worst kind for the trans community- predatory trans in your daughter’s bedroom, getting sexually aroused- but these are upsetting things to do, and ordinary decent readers of newspapers will want to read about them.

Then she was back in the news because she is on hunger strike. This got a sympathetic write-up in The Observer (the Guardian’s Sunday paper). She claims that the prison authorities “deny her chosen gender”, and it is not clear what that means. She has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, she is in a men’s prison, and she claims prison officials “refused to give hair straighteners, epilator or any makeup”. Hair straighteners get hot, and could conceivably be used to assault someone, but if a friend outside is willing to give her makeup, or she can buy it herself, I don’t see why she should be denied it. A letter from friends outside said she should be “given back her clothes”. Convicted prisoners wear prison uniform, but she should be entitled to wear women’s uniform.

In the same prison run by incompetent profiteers Serco, Jenny Swift killed herself. She complained of “bullying”, though Serco claimed the prison officer was being “robust”. She was angry at officers calling her “fella”. Prisons are understaffed and underfunded, with little or no attempt at rehabilitation and increasing suicide, self-harm and violence.

The indeterminate sentence indicates Marie Dean was seen as a danger to the public, and that is not just from burglary. The judge must have believed her behaviour could lead to physical harm. She has no right to be in a woman’s prison, as the Ministry of Justice has to take care of her safety and that of other inmates. She has the right to be treated with dignity, and that means being able to express herself as female and be free from violence. “Assessments will be made on a case by case basis” says the government.

The story is a gift to the TERFs, and in the Murdoch press Janice Turner took advantage. Corbyn must decide if he’ll sacrifice allies who aren’t prepared to see women’s safety compromised for the sake of dogma. This conflates two completely different issues, whether trans women should be allowed on all woman shortlists for appointing candidates for election, and whether a trans woman should be placed in a women’s prison. Gender identity does not erase biological reality, she argued. Well, so what? Jeremy Corbyn has decreed that gender self-identity is official policy. That means that transitioned women can get on all women shortlists, and that Marie Dean should be allowed to express herself as a woman and not be misgendered. It does not mean that she should be placed in a women’s prison. Marie Dean, and the disgust many will feel reading of her crimes, is irrelevant to how trans women should be treated, but trotted out by Janice Turner to oppose any trans rights at all.

Notour TERF Sarah Ditum played the same game in the New Statesman. If being denied hair straighteners can be presented as a cruel and unusual punishment, one might imagine that housing female prisoners with a voyeur would rate somewhere even higher. But in prison, as everywhere else, the expectation appears to be that women’s safety comes last. Belittle the difficulties the trans woman faces, and conflate the threat she poses with issues pertaining to trans women generally:  it’s so dispiriting to hear Jeremy Corbyn on Marr this weekend, saying things like “we should respect people however they identify” or “where you’ve self-identified as a woman, then you are treated as a woman.”

Also in the Murdoch press was the story that Women’s Aid was considering whether to employ trans women. That is, an organisation run from top to bottom by women, committed to the needs of their service users and women in general, with a great deal of expertise on those needs and with knowledge of the relevant law, would make a decision in the interests of their organisation. They may decide to continue refusing to employ trans women. However, that is boring, so to make the news entertaining we had a load of TERFs wheeled out to make “Help, help the sky is falling!” quotes, to make readers feel pleasurable disgust and fear.

Lancashire telegraph.
The Observer on Marie Dean, and the Guardian on the death of Jenny Swift.
The New Statesman.

“Who I am” v “Men in women’s toilets”

I am hopeful about greater rights for trans people, because our arguments are more winsome. We gain sympathy, and the TERFs and conservatives don’t. We lose on logic. “Piss off, you’re a man” they say, and keep reiterating. One TERF identifies as a MERF (Go on, guess-) they are talking of TIMs, trans-identified males, and M-T, male to trans rather than male to female. If a trans woman spends too much time with their websites and twitter accounts, and not with affirmation in the mainstream press from the likes of, say, Margaret Atwood, they can get wearing. I take encouragement from their desperation: But they’re men! Men! Men in women’s washrooms! They just get ignored. “Trans women are women” say female Labour MPs, and here’s Angela Rayner MP, who has an inspiring life story and is just pure dead brilliant:

We are also calling on the Government to reform the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act 2010 to change the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” to “gender identity” to provide proper protection for trans people.

Margaret Atwood, feminist: It is always – ‘What do you mean by the word?’ For instance, some feminists have historically been against lipstick and letting transgender women into women’s washrooms. Those are not positions I have agreed with.

We generate empathy. This is who I am. This is what I wanted, more than anything else in the world. This wins hearts, and where the heart is with us the mind will find a way. Cold rationality has nothing on sympathetic emotion.

This morning I fell off my bicycle again. I hate that road, narrow and busy, with a narrow path by the side that cyclists are permitted to use, which is potholed and muddy. I skidded in a muddy puddle, bent the supports of my mudguard, possibly knocked my derailleur out of alignment and the chain came off. And after, every motorist that passed me without courtesy, just a foot away, without care for my safety, shocked and angered me.

So, I don’t get propositioned, cat-called and touched up in the street. And I can sympathise absolutely with a woman who, having suffered a particularly egregious example, dodged into a toilet and was angry and shocked to see a trans woman. Normally it would be bearable but in that particular situation it was not. There, I have given you two examples where the slings and arrows of quotidian irritation might become too much, and perhaps you can supply your own. I feel if TERFs said, I saw this trans woman in the loo and it creeped me out, it was too much for me after what I had endured that day, they might win more people over. But instead they say, men in women’s clothes, whether trans women or not, might be a threat; and everyone knows they are exaggerating; and trans women cannot be blamed for people pretending to be trans women.

And if one said, I have given birth, I love my body, it is a woman’s body doing what a woman’s body does, and I loathe the simulacrum of a woman that is a trans woman- that might work too, though love of your own physicality need not mean despising someone else’s, nor excluding that person.

So they are reduced to calling us perverts, even paedophiles. It won’t work. Hate never does.

Asserting our rights

Trans women should be calm and careful in asserting our rights, and possibly even circumspect; but we should not back down from asserting them. Some people need wheelchairs. Conceivably, some people might be boorish in a wheelchair, banging it against others, or deliberately blocking space making it difficult to pass. That is not a reason to deny anyone a wheelchair, and this is a good metaphor for gender recognition as we are equally unlikely to be boorish. Getting recognition might make us more relaxed and confident, so able to listen and respond courteously when challenged, rather than lashing out because frightened and hurt.

Debbie Hayton, writing in the noted transphobe publication The Times, argued against Lily Madigan, a trans woman taking a place in the Jo Cox Leadership Programme, which is aimed at women. I don’t know what that programme is like, but imagine it will draw out talents of self-expression, and aid in building confidence to use those talents. Those of us socialised as boys need to think carefully before taking places in schemes designed to compensate the rather different formative experience of girls, she says: as if the training will not be appropriate.

The bargain we have with society is that we are treated as women: honorary women, or asylum seekers. That means we enter women’s spaces. If we don’t, we are more marginalised. There is no place for us.

Debbie also wrote for The Morning Star, which has a smaller circulation and Marxist heritage. It has published trans-excluding feminism based on a class analysis of the class of men oppressing the class of women, not seeing the possibility of moving between those classes. Under self-declaration, how do women distinguish between a trans woman and an opportunistic man? asked Debbie. Well, self-declaration is irrelevant. I don’t carry my GRC around with me. I usually carry a credit card with a feminine name. That is, if challenged I could show evidence that I am generally treated as female, if my clothes, hair and actions are insufficient for anyone.

My psychiatrist said I was not psychotic- not suffering from delusions- but the diagnosis of transsexualism was based on my own determination and self-understanding. That determination is equally shown by my change of name and change of documents. If for gender recognition I give the additional guarantee that I intend to live in the acquired gender life-long, I don’t see what a specialist’s diagnosis adds to it.

Debbie Hayton argues that being a woman means having a woman’s reproductive organs, generally, or some disorder of sexual development which women have. She is associating with people, a strange coalition of conservatives like Rupert Murdoch and gender-critical feminists, who assert that only cis women should be treated as women, and not trans women. However the fabric of our lives depends on being treated as women. We could never reach an accommodation with the conservatives, whose world view requires that we do not exist and who will enforce that world view on us given any chance.

We might reach an accommodation with the feminists. How can the restrictions gender places on people be broken down, as both groups desire? We can’t do that by abrogating our rights.

“Not all men” is misogynist. “Not all trans women” isn’t.

Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by men: in every place of work, on the streets, in shops, in pubs and in places of entertainment, a drink in their hand, their inhibitions loosening and their boisterousness getting louder. Out in the countryside you have to be somewhere remote before you are unlikely to see a man, and particularly remote before you have no chance. So, “Not all men” is derailing. It is irrelevant, and a way of picking away at a woman’s complaint, a false way of painting her as unreasonable or shrill. There may be a man, somewhere, who has never pushed a woman’s boundaries after a clear no, never used power wrongfully against a woman at work, never dehumanised or objectified a woman, but men do, it is women’s universal experience, and any man may be that boorish or worse.

“What about the men” is a similarly misogynist derailing tactic. Yes, men suffer from patriarchy, and from the hierarchies neoliberal capitalism creates; but women’s suffering needs to be acknowledged. There is time for discussing men’s problems, and women’s problems deserve time too.

These slogans, “Not all men” and “What about the men?” are useful to name and identify these derailing tactics. We will not let people move us on to other topics, the sufferings of men or even the (un)acceptability of derailing.

Trans women are not like men. We are less expansive, generally, because we try not to be noticed; we are not as loud; and particularly we are not ubiquitous. You may go for weeks without seeing one, and months without talking to one. So the problems cis women have with trans women are different. You may be reading trans stuff on the internet, and disagree with some of it. You may even overhear a trans woman saying something you don’t like. But you and your IRL friends will not have a great deal of direct, personal, unpleasant experience of trans people.

Patriarchy gives men privilege, but not trans women. We go from approximating to the default acceptable person to being visibly weird. So we are laughed at, attacked, and discriminated against. We don’t have the power at work.

So if someone complains about a trans woman who has directly affected them in a bad way, that should not be derailed. That is, to an extent, my problem- knowing nothing about trans women, some people might generalise from their first experience of one of us, so I have an interest in that experience being good. I want that complainant to process the experience and get a good experience from the next trans person. But if someone complains about a trans woman behaving in a way she objects to, but has only read about, that is entirely different. Not all trans women are like that, and what is the problem with it anyway? Many people behave badly, but that does not mean you should choose some characteristic of that person and hate everyone with that characteristic, for ever after.

The seeds of conflict

Bring into God’s light those emotions, attitudes and prejudices in yourself which lie at the root of destructive conflict, acknowledging your need for forgiveness and grace. In what ways are you involved in the work of reconciliation between individuals, groups and nations?

-Advices and Queries 32

The elder reads this, and I am thinking of various conflicts. Trans v TERF is one. I am so pleased by the Labour Party conference yesterday. Is a reconciliation possible? Always at the back of my mind is the possibility of standing to speak. Of course I cannot, on this: speaking in worship should be ministry, and not making an argument where ones antagonist may be inhibited from replying.

And there is that. Oh, I am sorry; and yet I do not think the situation is simply good people trying to cope with Bad Abigail and her troublesomeness.

Still thinking of the possibility of speaking, I pick up the New Testament under my neighbour’s chair and turn to 1 John 4. It is beautiful, talking of Love- but it thoughtlessly refers to “Father”, “brother”, “man”, “he” when it means God, Christian, person. I am unsure what inclusive language to translate it into, and I could say that conflict inhibits me even from this. I love the way Phillips expands the verse- fully-developed love expels every particle of fear, for fear always contains some of the torture of feeling guilty. This means that the man who lives in fear has not yet had his love perfected. The NRSV has perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

But there is a struggle even in myself. Have I an inner light? Is it as corrupted as Licia Kuenning’s was? I am divided, two parts of my brain at war with one another. How can I be at peace with others when there is no peace in me?

At that moment a black woman, (I am no longer “colourblind”, POCs are rare among Quakers) who has been thumbing through a song book stands and sings.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me…
break me, melt me, mould me, fill me
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me

Break me, words sometimes bowdlerised out. But, I need the Spirit. This was what I needed to hear. I start to pray the Jesus prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
lamb of God
have mercy on me,
a sinner.

Repeatedly. That is what I need. Richard Rohr recommended it, and explained it is non-dual in a way I read too quickly to understand or recall. I have just gone back to it: say the words repeatedly until the prayer moves from your head into your heart and you connect with the Presence already praying ceaselessly within. I am praying it out of need. I repeat it a few times out loud, cycling home. I misremembered it.

After meeting, a white man who turns out to be the black woman’s partner is reading the Friend, and I go over to see if he would like to chat. He tells me about Shungite, pronounced Shungai, which is Russian, coming from a meteorite three billion years ago. It is almost pure carbon. It purifies water, and a Friend who keeps bees says a small amount of it in the hive protects the swarm from the poisons which are killing off the bees. When he says Nobel prizewinners have tested it and found its amazing properties I am trying to get away.

Strange, disturbing and yet I feel it has been worthwhile. I cycle home. I say it now:
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.

The Labour Party

Personal remarks in the loos: “Your thighs are so slim! I wish I could wear boots like that!” She put forward a slightly chubby leg, and said she had to wear extra-wide boots to get round her calves. Mmm. I thought, too late, of ripostes: “I love your bewbies! Mine took ages to grow this big. Do you think I should have implants?” Or, more self-deprecatingly, “Well, I have a man’s skeleton. It does not please me, particularly.” Then again, she might simply have been complimenting me. She did not actually say “I love your tranny legs”.

I was a little nervous at the start of the Labour Party regional women’s conference. I am entitled to be there as my GRC says I am legally a woman, and some cis women object to me in women’s space. Just before getting up, I had read on facebook of anti-trans activists, campaigning to have trans women excluded from all women shortlists with a crowdfunder raising £20,000, being suspended from the Labour Party.

I drove there with D, whom I am getting to know reasonably well, and like, and M, who recently joined having left the Tory Party and was eager to tell of the work she had done for Marsby as a district councillor. She wanted to do good for the town, and the Labour party were far more in tune with that, but she might be nervous having been Tory until last year. D and I were friendly and accepting.

Then Beth, the recently appointed candidate, told me that she had heard from someone “on the other side of your issue”. She did not want to name it. We had been corresponding through facebook, with most of the words from me, explaining trans to her, and mostly positive comments from her, embarrassed about asking basic questions like what does the C in GRC stand for. I am in this hall filled with activist women, worried that some might be TERF.

Then I sat near a woman who had a shirt saying “A woman’s place is in the House of Commons“. I felt more nervous. It is a common phrase, and need not be related to the “A Woman’s Place” campaign against gender recognition, but that is what I thought of.

Yet the place we are in is a good place. The conference rooms are at the back of a building owned by a church, with a coffee shop and food bank. On the wall, there is this:

I love it, and others comment on it. I can’t find an exact source, but it is close to Isaiah 58.

At the back of the stage there is a beautiful quilt.

I go to have a closer look, then see what it is and recoil in shock: it has 598 panels, one for each woman murdered by a partner or former partner in the UK between 2009 and 2015. Oh! It is still very beautiful; and it brings to mind a horror. Later, the woman who conceived it, a Labour councillor, speaks of it. It is the Women’s Quilt. A man taught himself to sew so he could make panels for it, and called it “the most beautiful project that should not exist”. A woman said she had never felt sisterhood until she got involved. We need a memorial for these women. I am glad to see it.

I am happier speaking to Neelam from Unite the Union’s LGBT section. This is more than small talk. I remain nervous; however when the actual talks start I am reassured. Karen Lee, MP, a former nurse, talks of women’s representation. She is proud that she is building on the work done by Harriet Harman to make the House of Commons a more woman-friendly place. A bar has been converted into a crèche. She is proud that 46 target seats have all-women shortlists, and that includes trans women. Neelam, in the hustings for women’s representatives on the regional committee, one of whom must be from the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community, talked of women “including trans women who are facing an incredibly difficult time”. So I voted for her, obvs.

Lilian Greenwood MP gave the closing remarks. She was delighted by “Cheryl, Nadia and Heather”, three wonderful women for a local all-women shortlist. That is Dr Heather Peto, a trans woman. Lilian says “Trans women are women” and she is delighted that the NEC has just affirmed that is Labour policy. “Abuse does not belong in our party.” That brought forth cheers and applause, and I felt accepted in that moment; and also felt the weight of my nervousness and experiences of rejection. When I realise I am not only rejected I become aware how painful the rejection, and the fear of it, is.

Women need promoted within the Labour Party. There is still rampant sexism. Someone quotes “What you said is inappropriate and I will not tolerate it” because women are socialised to not make a fuss and take care of others’ feelings and you might need a set phrase prepared in order to mount a challenge. A black woman spoke of the abuse she had suffered when canvassing for support as a local council candidate: “Get that filthy N——- off my doorstep”. That is my problem. As a white person I must stand with those suffering pervasive racism. 86% of welfare cuts have fallen on women, and the charity Refuge has suffered 80% cuts. 155 women a day are turned away from refuges.

In a session on Increasing Women’s Representation a speaker, with The Times placed on the table in front of her, says that she had campaigned in the 1970s not for equality but women’s liberation, from patriarchy and capitalism. Rich white men made the world to suit themselves. A feminised politics would have a wider perspective and be more inclusive. She asked contributions from the floor on why increasing women’s representation is a good thing- mine was that there is talent not being used, but an older woman said we must be careful not to discriminate against the men, as if that was even close to becoming a problem. The chair of a local branch had resigned from the party, and joined the Tories, because they were required to nominate a man and a woman, rather than two men, for a shortlist for Parliamentary candidate selection. There is a working class narrative about men, with women as an afterthought.

Here are feminists, conscious of the oppression of women, and angry about it. In the heat of the battle they face, I am justified being nervous about what they may think of trans women. The fight can get nasty. And, I am accepted. At the end, I am part of a photo of smiling happy activists in front of that quilt. (Someone texted it to me, and I can’t download it from my phone.)

That crowdfunder, seeking to challenge trans women on Labour women only shortlists: they shot themselves in the foot. They are suspended from the party, and what did they expect? Their transphobia was tolerated, but not their action against the party. Perhaps as a result, there was this interview of the leader:

Andrew Marr: Is a trans woman a woman?
Jeremy Corbyn: Yes
Marr: So she can self-identify?
Corbyn: Yes.

Women might complain in private, but not in my hearing. I am welcome in Labour.