Labour infighting

The invasion of Iraq was a turning point for the Labour Government and for its supporters. For some Labour members it is a symbol of all that was wrong with Tony Blair as PM and Labour politician. We should not be fighting amongst ourselves. We should not first criticise the last Labour government, but the Tories’ ideological devastation of government’s acts for the good of the people, and ideological campaign against international co-operation. So the question for this Corbynist pacifist is, can you defend the Iraq War? Yes.

Trying to set aside hindsight, I argue R2P, the Responsibility to Protect, could be an argument for the invasion. Saddam Hussein’s regime was uniquely vile. His campaign against the Kurds has been recognised as the Anfal Genocide, which included the Halabja chemical attack. There was also the British alliance with the US, which advanced British interests. There is less justification from the US point of view- Saudis based in Afghanistan attack the US, so the US invades Iraq. I wonder how accurate a portrait of Bush Benjamin Hayes in Homeland series 8 is.

As a pacifist I would rather Britain had taken a principled stand against invasion, in the UN Security Council. Neo-colonial wars do no-one any good. And I recognise the idealism as well as realpolitik behind British involvement. Hindsight can show decisions were wrong which were made in good faith. Even the Dodgy Dossier, selecting what intelligence to reveal by whether it supported the case for war, rather than by how reliable it was, is justifiable. Experts tell the truth, and politicians decide, then politicians persuade.

So let us now praise good government: Attlee’s welfare state, Wilson’s liberalisation including the Abortion Act and the Sexual Offences Act, Callaghan as a “strong and efficient administrator” weathering economic difficulties, Blair’s Sure Start Centres and work to reduce child poverty, and Brown’s strong action mitigating the 2008 recession, among many other things. And let us remember the Tories- Suez, “selling off the family silver” for far less than its value, the great distraction from Britain’s real interests that is the Brexit debate, and now the botched response to Covid resulting in possibly more deaths here than anywhere else in Europe, and all the money Rees-Mogg and others are making from Covid market disruption. And always the cuts and mismanagement of public services, and failure to deal with climate crisis. Johnson’s view of public money- the Garden Bridge when Mayor, now HS2- is, spaff it everywhere except where it will do any good.

We have to stick together. We have to get behind Keir Starmer. It would have been better if we had got behind Jeremy Corbyn, rather than having the botched challenge to his leadership in 2016. Much of what Mr Starmer pledges is out of Corbyn’s policy: Support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water; end outsourcing in our NHS, local government and justice system. I am proud of the call for migrants’ rights. Corbyn and the membership moved the party leftwards.

That is why people on the right of the party calling for party unity now should be heard. Yes they were the schismatics undermining the leadership, allied to those leaving the party last year, but the policies they now support are close to the policies from the manifesto. Now Corbyn is out, and Rebecca Long-Bailey is shadow Education secretary rather than Leader of the Opposition, some on the “We Support Rebecca Long-Bailey” facebook group are saying they are leaving the party. At membership level, canvassing is far more important than going to meetings. Reading those self-righteous posts, I was struck by the nastiness of some on the Left, wanting to be saints of their own tiny sect rather than members of a governing party.

I would rather Britain had not invaded Iraq, but I am not going to use the war as a purity test. Many in Parliament now, even in the Cabinet or Shadow-Cabinet, were not there in 2003. Move on, and don’t do down Labour governments. Photo by Ruth Gaston.

The Mirror and the Light

Sometimes Hilary Mantel has done the preparation, and five words can produce a rush of horror, a foretaste of the gates of Hell closing behind you. And sometimes, a phrase is so beautifully turned that it stands by itself:

Recently his son was sent off to learn the art of public speaking, and the result is that, though he still lacks the command that makes for rhetorical sweep, he has become more interested in words if you take them one by one. Sometimes he seems to be holding them up for scrutiny. Sometimes he seems to be poking them with a stick. Sometimes, and the comparison is unavoidable, he seems to approach them with the tail-wagging interest a dog takes in another dog’s turds.

‘They ask,’ Wriothesley says, ‘who was the greatest of the cardinal’s enemies? They answer, the king. So, they ask – when chance serves, what revenge will Thomas Cromwell seek on his sovereign, his prince?’

There were certain miserable divines, in darker days than these, who said that if God had meant us to wear coloured clothes He would have made coloured sheep.

At his feet, eels are swimming in a pail, twisting and gliding; interlacing in their futile efforts, as they wait to be killed and sauced.

Incest is a sin, we all acknowledge; but then so is congress in any position other than the one approved by priests. So is congress on a Friday, the day of Christ’s crucifixion; or on Sundays, Saturdays and Wednesdays. If you listen to churchmen, it’s a sin to penetrate a woman during Lent and Advent – or on saints’ days, though the calendar is bright with festivals. More than half the year is accursed, one way and another. It’s a wonder anyone is ever born.

The age of persuasion has ended, as far as Henry is concerned; it ended the day More dripped to the scaffold, to drown in blood and rainwater. Now we live in an age of coercion, where the king’s will is an instrument reshaped each morning, as if by a master-forger: sharp-pointed, biting, it spirals deep into our crooked age.

He is not as other Englishmen, his masters said, when they sent him to their friends: does not brawl in the street, does not spit like a devil, carries a knife but keeps it in his coat.

His body trembled, his lower limbs shook, he sagged and staggered as he rehearsed what he would never let the world see, his fear, his incredulity, his hope that this was a dream from which he might wake: his eyes slitted by tears, his teeth chattering, his hands blindly grasping, his head seeking a shoulder where it might rest.

you would hear the aspirations of the dying, you would hear them cry to God for mercy. And all these, the souls of England, cry to me, the king tells him, to me and every king: each king carries the crimes of other kings, and the need for restitution rolls forward down the years.

Pole’s folly is, that he thinks aloud.

‘I hear you will bring in a law,’ Kingston says. ‘It seems harsh, to make them commit a crime in retrospect.’ They try to explain it to the constable. A prince cannot be impeded by temporal distinctions: past, present, future. Nor can he excuse the past, just for being over and done. He can’t say, ‘all water under the bridges’; the past is always trickling under the soil, a slow leak you can’t trace. Often, meaning is only revealed retrospectively. The will of God, for instance, is brought to light these days by more skilful translators. As for the future, the king’s desires move swiftly and the law must run to keep up.

In Wyatt’s verse there is a tussle in every line. In the verse of Lord Thomas, there is no contest at all, just a smooth surrender to idiocy.

It’s two years since Bishop Fisher tottered down that stair, led to his execution. He was old, spent, frail; his body lay on the scaffold like a piece of dried seaweed.

‘We will dispose of him. Most of us do wrong, if we know it or not. Enquire into any man’s conduct, and I am sure some charge will lie.’

If you marvel at your good fortune, you should marvel in secret: never let people see you. When you are Lord Privy Seal you must walk abroad with solemn countenance, looking chosen by Jesus, like More did when he was chancellor.

‘You see, Dick, Dick, it is why we have courts of law, and judges, and juries … to protect us from the tyranny of one man’s opinion.’

There is a place, a sequestered place in the imagination, where the eel boy is always waiting to be whipped, where George Boleyn is always in his prison room, always rising in welcome: Master Cromwell, I knew you would come.

Black elongates the young man’s spider limbs. As he turns, a red-gloved hand on the horse’s mane, a low shaft of sunlight catches him and he glitters, head to toe, as a web glints with dew. On closer inspection, it proves he is sewn over with diamonds. He should have thrown a cloak around himself, even at the risk of dimming his lustre; high-bred though the jennet is, she still smells of horse.

-When my brother was led to the scaffold, I was quick with child, but I would have come to court to petition for him. I would have begged to wear mourning for him, and observe the proper rites, in which I would have found some solace, I dare say – but one does not pray for a traitor’s soul, nor wear black for him. At a traitor’s demise, one must smile.
-I do not think the old king would have required that.
-You did not know him. In those days no one was safe… “He who climbs higher than he should, falls lower than he would.”
-A feeble saying, and feebly expressed. It leans on that same conceit, the wheel. What I say is, these are new times. New engines drive them.
-…You speak of new times and new engines. These engines may rust before you have wheeled them to the fight. Do not join battle with the noble families of England. You have lost before you ride out. Who are you? You are one man. Who follows you? Only carrion crows, bone-pickers. Do not stop moving, or they will eat you alive.’

One by one, those gentlemen depart, who served the king’s father, whose memories stretch back to King Edward and the days of the scorpion; men bruised in the wars, hacked in the field, impoverished, starved out, driven into exile; men who stood on foreign quays and swore great oaths to God, their worldly goods in sacks at their feet. Men who sequestered themselves in musty libraries for twenty years and emerged possessed of inconvenient truths about England. Men who learned to walk again, after they had been stretched on the rack.

Christ is Risen

Queuing for the supermarket
is like walking a labyrinth.
Every few moments, some mindful steps.
Ribbons wind the path, and we turn in sunshine.
Blossom and birdsong are beautiful.
Over the fence,
a path curves into the woods,
in cool green light.

“Wonderful,” said a friend. “You woman of so many talents. I’d lose the last sentence…” Well. I wanted to share the idea, of walking in the queue being like in a labyrinth, but for me it evokes a specific place. The police are telling people not to buy inessential items or sunbathe in parks, and they have the power to impose on the spot fines, so if you want to enjoy sunshine, doing nothing at all, a supermarket queue is a permitted place. This one has trees, so even if a carpark is not beautiful there is beauty there worth my attention. And across a steel fence of sharp uprights a few inches apart, there is the Greenway, with the contrast of light through a scrap of mature woodland. There is a contrast in the last three lines, in the lowered intensity of words matching the difference of the vision. So there.

There is no afterlife. If “He descended into Hell”, as the Apostle’s Creed says, it is here, in this life on Earth, and if Jesus saved people from Hell as apocryphal Gospels state and the Orthodox Church celebrates in icons it is now, and how better when people are afraid of a pandemic?

I remember my first labyrinth. The path was marked in different coloured square tiles, and was square so that repeatedly one turned a 90° corner, facing a different vista, bushes, trees, grass, and angle of sunlight. I did it slowly, barefoot in March, in about 2007. It did the job, bringing me into the moment, contemplating the beauty, out of Hell. From that place one can begin to see what needs to be done in the moment now. I probably didn’t have covid two weeks ago, but I don’t know if I picked it up yesterday; and the sun is so hot in my back yard that I sit in the shade. A siren. Is it a police car come for someone who bought something inessential, or an ambulance taking away a sufferer? Someone tells me her child brought it home from school and they all had it, and were fine after a week. Someone has died. A neighbour shouts at his daughter for eating chocolate before tea.

Here is an icon of “The Harrowing of Hell”. Christ breaks the walls to rescue the imprisoned, while angels hold Satan down.

Western European art tended to go more for Last Judgment scenes, with sinners falling unequivocally and finally into torment, but there are some examples. In this by a follower of Bosch, the devils resist, and only some people take notice. Click for a larger version.

In this Cezanne, Christ saves individually and personally.

Another follower of Bosch. Most of the people are untrusting. The woman covering her nakedness makes me think of Eve.

I went to the supermarket
and came home with a poem.
Would the police deem it essential?

Georgina Beyer

Georgina Beyer was the first trans member of Parliament anywhere in the world, though she says she is the first Out trans person. She started showing transgender behaviour aged four, and transitioned aged 16. She was unemployed, and the benefits office told her she could not get benefit unless she put her trousers back on. So she became a sex worker. She hated it from her first “client” to her last. She had been brought up middle class and wanted to reach her potential, but there was a barrier to trans people. As a sex worker she was in a twilight world, constantly in danger. Clients were often hypocrites pretending to be straight.

She still wanted to be an actor but after five years she escaped, and worked in a drag show in a gay club. “I sold my arse to get my moneymaker.” The New Zealand health service now performs SRS but not enough. In 1979, she was working in a strip club and when it closed she went to Sydney. She worked in a bar, her first legitimate job, and after four months she was gang-raped. The police told the Maori drag queen she asked for it. She thought of suicide.

“Fortunately I got angry. I got a fire in my belly that anybody who had to endure anything like that deserves justice, including a transgender person like me.” She got into TV, and made a film about a TS in a platonic relationship, presenting trans characters in the most realistic way made to that date, but the public censor cancelled the whole series because of her film. Eventually it got her a best actress nomination in the NZ Film and TV Awards. She was recognised as a woman.

She got typecast into trans roles, eg trans rape victim. Being visible, she reduced prejudice. Queers became less threatening. She moved to Carterton north east of Wellington, and started to teach drama on a life skills course: they were unemployed young people, and she got them to create a show to express their view of the world, and gained confidence. Expressing their frustration was fulfilling.

She ran the course from the community centre, and in 1991 the finance minister of the National party cut 25% from state benefits, which was devastating for the most vulnerable in the community, which has caused deprivation and dependency including homelessness even now. They got a caravan which they used to house homeless people. She kept being made the mouthpiece, talking with the local council, and in 1992 she stood for that council. She only ran with the intention of raising the issues, and missed out by 14 votes. Then she stood in a by-election, when she got half the vote.

She took her duties seriously. She was the first Maori on the council, and was the person who was appointed to liaise with the local Maori iwi, though she knew no Maori beyond Kia-ora (“hello”). In 1995 she ran for mayor. She was told she was popular, and she did not know she was being set up. She won with a good majority. She loved it. It’s about being genuine and straight-up. Doing Anzac day, she found her acting experience helped. She had the mana (Maori word- see Barry’s comment below). She engaged people as young as nine in speaking to the council. She got the local school to elect their own council and arrange a meeting. She preferred to lead by consensus without votes.

She was mayor until 1999 when she stood for parliament for the Labour party. Formerly it had been a National party stronghold. She got a 32% swing and a 3000 majority. She suffered impostor syndrome but got on with it. No-one mentored her, she learned for herself. She helped push through the Civil Union Act and prostitution law reform, to provide human rights, health and safety for the sex workers. It was a world leading piece of legislation. The debates were divisive and horrible, across the nation. It was dehumanising. The haters were getting self-righteous, including 8000 Christians who marched on Parliament shouting “Enough is Enough”. Georgina stared them down, holding a rainbow flag. There were a hundred children on that march and she was shouting at them “Why do you hate us so much? What are you teaching your children?”

It is wrong to use children like that, to deny the rights of others.

“I have been very fortunate. I could not be more proud to participate in my country. I thank New Zealand for that. They could look beyond my colourful past.” It inspired other trans people and minorities. After, trans people were elected to the Italian and Polish parliaments. People are afraid of diversity, and she blames religion. Christians quote Leviticus, and that countermands the commands of Christ. If we can be who we are, we can contribute to our society rather than being a burden, but we commit suicide because of the oppression.

Why New Zealand? Our isolation, she says, and people escaping the British class system for an egalitarian society. You can make anything out of nothing. The treaty of Waitangi was very important: Maori were more equal than other indigenous populations. It was hard to build the economy. New Zealand is a caring society. Rural folk can spot a fake, and spotted her talent.

Taken from her speech to the Oxford Union. Here is her maiden speech in Parliament.

Photo by Montrealais.

Keir Starmer and the trans-obsessives

Now Keir Starmer is leader of the Labour Party, he has promised to root out antisemitism, but unfortunately not transphobia. There’s a grilling by obsessive trans-haters on Mumsnet, which helps understand where Labour is on trans rights. Content: I quote the haters, and that includes transphobia, obsessive hate, and misgendering.

Mumsnet is filled with trans-obsessives. Some have chosen nicknames which refer to their obsession, often in arcane ways: “RetainTheSpousalExitClause” refers to the interim gender recognition certificate. Eight of the first ten comments were about trans rights, couched as “women’s rights”- “gender issues and the conflict with the rights of women and children”- though trans inclusion has little effect on most feminist issues. They are not even radical feminists: I counted fourteen questions related to trans, but of 175 posts on the thread only three mentioned porn and none mentioned sex work. “GeordieTerf” indicated the level of obsession, saying “The Labour candidates in my area made it very clear that they didn’t want my vote. I tried to debate my views, but the people who knocked on my door refused.” No, they would not agree with your hatred of trans people as the price of your vote. If you demand they agree with repulsive hate, of course they will not.

Mumsnet asked them to stop asking about trans- “We don’t want this to become a single-issue webchat”- and they wouldn’t. They dog-whistled: “Clearly the identity politics vote hasn’t been enough to make up for the lost votes”. I don’t know if they would object to gay or lesbian “identity politics”, but it is surely OK to talk about institutional racism- only trans rights are bad “identity politics”. Two asked what a “woman” is, as if they were spraying hate on Twitter. They don’t want a “respectful dialogue that doesn’t pit one set of concerns against others” as Starmer put it, they want to hate and persecute trans women.

What is a woman? It depends why you ask. Trans people are in all cultures over millennia, and for most social purposes trans women are women. Satisfied? A more detailed explanation is here.

Keir Starmer answered thirty questions. Five were from people whose monikers indicated trans-obsession, such as “CisMyFatArse”, though there were also questions about the last Labour Manifesto, Brexit, the NHS, Irish reunification, Scottish independence, the armed forces, Jeremy Corbyn, climate change, social care for the elderly, euthanasia, water bills, housing, special educational needs, transport and legal aid.

On antisemitism, he was clear, and I wish he would say the same about transphobia:

If you’re antisemitic, you shouldn’t be in our Party – or anywhere near it.

I would make this my personal responsibility. On day one, I would demand an update on ongoing antisemitism cases and ask for a clear timetable for their resolution. I would ask the Jewish Labour Movement and others to submit the list of cases they believe are still outstanding. And to leave no stone unturned I would also ensure an independent process and work with social media platforms to take hate off the internet.

And my test for our party will be this; do those who have left the Party because of antisemitism feel comfortable to return. Only when they do, will I be satisfied that we have made progress. At the next election I don’t want a single Labour member or activist to knock a door and be told that people who previously voted Labour won’t do so because of antisemitism.

I am not sure the terfs recognised the rebukes. One asked, “If you become Labour leader, how will you tackle sexism within the party? As a female, I am on the verge of leaving Labour over sexism I’m experiencing, both online and locally.” He replied, “…But the Party needs to be friendlier, more open and more respectful of each other. I’ve led a large organisation before and I know you can change culture through leadership, if you lead by example, if you put in place training, and if you argue for the culture that you want to see. That’s what I would do if I am elected leader.”

I think that’s what he is trying to do with trans rights. We should debate in a friendly and respectful manner. It won’t work with these obsessives. It might work with other people. It means rebuking the way the obsessives communicate, rather than their hateful beliefs. The transphobe Jo Stevens is in the shadow cabinet.

“StealthPolarBear” asked,

More than 200 of us are worried about gender issues and the conflict with the rights of women and children.

These are issues that affect the fundamental rights of half the population. They are across every conceivable layer of public policy, and affect us from cradle to grave. The issues are varied, ranging from men on women’s sport, the impact of self ID on women’s safety, the spousal exit clause and the emphasis on transition of children, including puberty blockers.

Are you concerned about any or all of these issues? How do you plan to ensure the rights of natal women and children?

He replied,

Thank you for this question – I know it’s a really important topic on Mumsnet and for parents.

Trans rights are human rights. I have met with members of the trans community and I know this is a group of people who have been subjected to incredible abuse and discrimination for a very long time.

But this conversation has become incredibly heightened, and I do understand the points being made on all sides. But if we just treat this as a political football, we are not being fair to anyone. I do believe we need to update the Gender Recognition Act. But what we need right now is a respectful dialogue that doesn’t pit one set of concerns against others. If elected leader, that’s a dialogue I would want to help facilitate.

Answering a trans-obsessive hater, he says, “Trans rights are human rights” and “we need to update the Gender Recognition Act”. These statements are unequivocal. He is on our side. “A respectful dialogue that doesn’t pit one set of concerns against others” takes away most of the arguments transphobes make, because trans-inclusion really does not prejudice women’s sport, women’s safety or the rights of children.

“rogdmum” asked,

My 14 year old daughter recently announced that she identifies as a boy. She falls under the loose description of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) where adolescents who did not show any signs of gender identity issues as children, develop gender confusion as adolescents. Many of these adolescents are autistic or have suffered from trauma or have serious mental health issues.

Referrals to the Tavistock clinic have skyrocketed from around 100 a decade ago to 2600 last year. The Government agreed to carry out an investigation into the sudden rise, but it appears to have vanished into some hole somewhere.

What will you do to raise awareness of this issue and ensure a proper investigation is carried out?

He replied,

Thanks rogdmum for this question and for sharing your family’s experience. I’m acutely aware of the anxiety and distress that this causes to individuals and families. This has to be seen as a human rights issue and we need to ensure that this debate is conducted respectfully and calmly, and with the best interests of children at heart.

“Best interests of the children”. That’s at the heart of Scots and English law on children, including social care, divorce and other matters. That means trusting doctors treating them over the prejudices of parents. It doesn’t mean transitioning every girl who ever climbed a tree into a boy, it means rejecting doctrinaire transphobia like this mother’s. I fear for the child. If they are not trans, perhaps they will transition in rebellion against the parent’s controlling tendencies, lack of trust, fear and hate. If they are trans, they may transition in their forties having had a blighted life.

“GCAcademic” asked,

What will you do to protect academic freedom and open debate in universities when so many institutions are failing to meet their legal obligations in this regard? To be clear, I am not talking about Tommy Robinson-style extremists being welcomed onto campuses, but professional people, including academics, lawyers, prison reformers, artists, etc, being prevented from contributing to events on matters of public policy, or such events being cancelled altogether due to pressure from lobby groups. There have also been numerous physical threats to speakers and academics, resulting in speakers being assaulted at two universities and a female academic currently requiring protection from two security guards at all her lectures at a third institution. The silencing of people who have the expertise and experience to contribute meaningfully to public debate on difficult issues is extremely concerning to many of us in academia, and is not a situation which is consistent with liberal democracy.

Starmer replied,

Thank you – I’m becoming increasingly concern by the shutting down of political discussion, whether in meetings or on social media by abuse and intimidation. It must be possible to have a political discussion where people profoundly disagree in a constructive and respectful way. I have long been a champion of free speech and always adopted the approach set out in international human rights instruments (which I spent my time as a lawyer promoting), which treat freedom of speech as a right and not a freedom, and sets out the limited circumstances in which free speech can be curtailed, which is where it’s lawful, necessary and proportionate to do so.

The free speech argument is hardly worth repeating. Right to free speech does not mean right to a platform. Academically worthless transphobia should have no place in universities, however exalted the transphobe. As a lawyer Starmer states the law, including that free speech can be curtailed, and again calls for “constructive and respectful” debate.

Reading the thread is depressing. These obsessives have no sense of proportion, often no apparent understanding that any issue other than trans inclusion has any importance. Perhaps capital punishment for transition would satisfy them.

Keir Starmer does not respond to their clear hatred of trans people as he responds to antisemitism. Yet he rejects their positions and supports our rights. Keir Starmer is not a transphobe. Possibly he fears he does not have the strength to counter them more strongly. I am pleased he signed LGBT Labour’s ten pledges, including this: “I will campaign to reform the Gender Recognition Act to introduce a self-declaration process and for the introduction of legal recognition for non-binary gender identities. I believe that trans women are women, that trans men are men, and that non-binary gender identities are valid and should be respected.

I saw a tweet shared on facebook: “I’ll show him exactly as much loyalty as he showed the trans community when he went on mumsnet and sympathised with a parent whose son caught ‘the social contagion’ of transness.” Like Sir Keir, I trained as a lawyer and want lawyerly precision here: “rogdmum” did not call trans a “social contagion”, and Starmer did not sympathise: he thanked her, and said he is aware of the anxiety and distress. I can be aware of her distress and utterly disagree about her child. Mentioning “human rights” and “the best interests of the children” is his lawyerly way of disagreeing. I wish he were more explicit, but he might just then get into social media storms. He pushes back against the trans-excluders.

29 June: today he gave almost nothing away, despite transphobic questioning.

26 September 2021: On the Andrew Marr show, Starmer called for “a mature, respectful debate” on trans rights. The topic starts at 45.00. He says the trans community are “amongst the most marginalised and abused communities”; that it is “not right” to say that only women have a cervix; and that “we need to make progress on the Gender Recognition Act”.

Lockdown birds

Bored in the lockdown, I notice the birds are strutting their stuff and sometimes psyching each other out on the untidy spruce hedge south of my back yard.

It was a beautiful day on Sunday. After I went outside to wait on the birds, they seemed to have decided to do something else- feed, perhaps. This was the only picture I took. The colours, unadjusted, are beautiful.

I waited, in the gorgeous light, including during the Zoom Quaker meeting. I thought, I am distracted, roll with it, I won’t distract others too much. I was worshipping, and the ego-acquisitiveness of wanting a picture, unknowing if I could get one, and what that made me feel seemed suitable for contemplation. Once, a bird alighted for a moment and took off before I could adjust the camera.

On Monday, the light was much poorer, and these needed adjusting.

I am so pleased to have caught the moment of take-off. That’s luck, and snapping a lot, and spending the time.

And on Tuesday the weather is better.

I disliked the irritating habit they have of perching so the fronds are in the way, and the camera focuses on the fronds. So for my favourite photo, the one that is possibly worth keeping, I have made a feature of the hedge.

Or perhaps framed in this way:

Jo Stevens

Is Jo Stevens MP a transphobe? Possibly. She is the new shadow digital, culture, media and sport secretary. She refused to sign the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights pledges, and her explanation is dodgy.

The Labour Campaign for Trans Rights calls for the expulsion from the Party of “those who express bigoted, transphobic views”. Well, that’s in accord with the rule book, which says, No member of the Party shall engage in conduct which in the opinion of the NEC is prejudicial… to the Party. The NEC and NCC … shall regard any incident which in their view might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on … gender reassignment or identity … as conduct prejudicial to the Party.

Ms Stevens’ letter refusing to sign the pledges was shared on twitter. She claims to have been considering gender recognition reform since 2016. She has “listened to a very wide range of passionately held views about possible future reform”. She wishes to ensure the legislation is workable and will not have unintended consequences. She writes,

“My current view is that there is a case for reforming the Gender Recognition Act to create a simpler, less medicalised process but alongside that, there must also be protection of single-sex spaces. And in that regard, it has been extremely concerning to see and hear both transgender people and women who are vocal and visible in defence of sex-based rights and single-sex spaces being repeatedly targeted with abuse, threats and violence.

“…Everyone needs to understand that there are legitimate fears on each side of the debate that need to be recognised and respectful listening and discussion is essential…

“I will not be signing the unofficial ‘Labour Party Campaign for Trans Rights Pledge.’ It does not recognise the responsibilities I have outlined above and its language hinders rather than helps the case for reform of the Gender Recognition Act.

“I have fought for equality all my life and will continue to do so. I will continue to safeguard and progress women’s rights while also supporting advances in trans rights.”

Gender recognition reform, self-declaration, will not affect women’s rights at all. Stevens uses TERF language: “sex-based rights” means trans exclusion. The phrase involves the claim that trans women are men, so should not be in women’s spaces. “Single-sex spaces” for women generally admit trans women. It is perfectly lawful to exclude trans women from single-sex spaces if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. Everyone accepts the need for women’s spaces- changing rooms, loos, rape crisis centres, etc- so campaigners for “single-sex spaces” have the sole aim of excluding trans women.

Stevens writes, “There must also be protection of single-sex spaces”. The Tory government has expressly stated there would be no change to the law on excluding trans women from women’s spaces, in its consultation. Stevens is stating TERF fake “concerns” and repeating TERF propaganda.

I do not accept that TERFs have legitimate fears. If they had, they should state them, rather than monstering and dehumanising trans women by endless comparison to Karen White and Jessica Yaniv, etc. Nor do I think anyone should “listen respectfully” when LGB All Liars says (transphobia whited out) “Self-ID gives predators the green light”. The pledges recognise trans people’s concerns as reasonable.

If TERFs are “repeatedly targeted with abuse, threats and violence”, I condemn it. I know some. I even like them, but for their obsessive hatred of trans people. But they should still be expelled from the Labour Party for their “conduct prejudicial to the party”. Their bleated victimhood does not make them innocent. Stevens is muddying the waters here, seeking to punish all trans people for abuse by a few, and because of the way some trans women express themselves painting the victims as the oppressors.

Stevens is working against trans rights by giving encouragement to anti-trans campaigners. If she will do this publicly, she will do a great deal more behind closed doors. She should not be a member of the Labour Party, leave alone the shadow cabinet.

According to a TERF on Mumsnet, Marsha de Cordova, the new shadow women and equalities secretary, who is registered blind, wrote to her that “fighting for the rights of women means fighting for all women, including those women who may have been given another classification at birth”. That’s what Labour MPs should be saying about trans rights.

Morgane Oger

Morgane Oger, a trans woman, was attacked and vilified by the Christian transphobe Bill Whatcott when she stood for the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. He called her deceitful simply because she is trans, and distributed flyers saying that anyone who supported her would go to Hell, “The lake that burns with fire and sulfur”. So she sued him in the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, supported by the West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF).

LEAF supported her as a woman, drawing the tribunal’s attention to the experience of politically active women across the world, which can include being targeted for gender‐based harassment, as well as threats and acts of violence. The aim of such attacks is to “discourage women from being politically active and exercising their human rights and to influence, restrict or prevent the political participation of individual women and women as a group”. Their support warms me. Whatcott would not have attacked Ms Oger simply as a woman, but women come out in solidarity with her.

The judge writing the decision, Devyn Cousineau, quoted Whatcott in a particular way:  “I definitely didn’t want [her] to get elected and I do want to see [her] disinvested of all political power and would rather [she] do something else with [her] time.” That is, she took Whatcott’s voice from him, by silencing his malice. Why should Whatcott’s use of male pronouns be used in a public legal judgment? Whatcott was unmanned. In summing up, he argued that his right to “Life, liberty and security of the person” under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was violated. It was too late to introduce such arguments, the judges ruled, but anyway the argument had no merit. They did not accept there was a “serious state-imposed psychological stress”.

Also showing the obsession of the transphobes was Kari Simpson, previously Whatcott’s assistant representative. She was sacked, but went to the public gallery, and asked to intervene in the case on the last day of the hearing, to attack Ms Oger’s “tactics to silence voices” and give evidence. The role of intervenors is to assist with legal issues, and she too was silenced. She shows the transphobes’ self-righteousness and arrogance, and their desperation when their hate is named and resisted.

Whatcott’s argument was remarkable in that he did not mention the Supreme Court case where he lost a similar argument about gay people. The tribunal’s time was wasted by his repeating arguments that had lost before in that case, and also by repeating claims on which the tribunal had adjudicated, such as what evidence was admissible.

At the tribunal, he wore a t-shirt with a pre-transition photo of Ms Oger on it. The tribunal told him this was improper, because the tribunal should be a safe space to air issues of discrimination, and he replied, “I see this Tribunal as an affront to freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and is a completely inappropriate process”.

The purpose of the law is to “create a climate of understanding and mutual respect”. The tribunal repeatedly required Whatcott to use Ms Oger’s name and pronouns, and he refused. He would not even call her “The Complainant”. The tribunal found this deliberately disrespectful. He complained about the judges’ use of female pronouns, claiming it showed bias against him, and that it was as ridiculous as if they had ordered him to call Ms Oger “a tomato, a dog, or a cat”. The tribunal said,

For trans and gender non‐conforming people, being properly ‘gendered’ by the service providers they are required to interact with is a critical part of their ability to participate with dignity in the economic, social, political and cultural life of the province. The tribunal process should honour the dignity of the people who come before it.

How did Whatcott feel when Ms Oger called him a “Christian Jihadist”? For the purposes of the Tribunal, I was devastated and crying. For the purposes of me, I found it to be entertaining. So he showed his contempt. Possibly he does not believe the feelings of those he attacks are hurt- he cannot empathise, though his actions show the distress of the privileged when they are called out.

The tribunal recognised the claimant’s bravery: 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. To her immense credit, Ms. Oger comported herself with grace and dignity in the face of the persistent efforts to insult, undermine, and humiliate her.

Whatcott compared her to a trans woman who was a sex offender. The judge found that associating her with serious criminality in this way is hate speech.

In his blog and social media, Whatcott attacked the judge, the tribunal, Ms Oger’s counsel as a “lesbian lawyer” which he believes to be derogatory, and Ms Oger. That might deter less resilient claimants than Ms Oger from pursuing her claim. The tribunal ruled that they should tolerate “public, forceful, and uncomfortable criticism” and that attacks on the tribunal and judges did not affect the integrity of the process, but the attacks on Ms Oger and her counsel prejudiced their participation in the complaint, and therefore awarded costs against him of $20,000, in addition to the damages of $35,000. Costs in these cases are a punishment for bad conduct.

The Canadian Association for Free Expression intervention was “unhelpful” said the judge- “inflammatory, derogatory, disrespectful and inappropriate”. It argued Ms Oger was a man, and called her a transvestite. Its written submission, submitted late, was “65 pages of dense, disorganized and barely intelligible text”.

The judge discusses how free speech should be restricted by rules on hate speech and discrimination, and I will return to this. The decision in full is here.

Anger and sadness, depression and motivation

-Part of you is dreadfully sad. You have this deep well of sadness in you. When you are motivated to do something that succeeds, you notice and hold that achievement. I am wondering what happens when you don’t, whether you judge yourself or care for yourself and feel the disappointment.

Of course I would like only success, and failure, sooner or later, makes me withdraw. “We tried that once and it didn’t work”- I have noticed people not trying something a second time when trying again seemed worthwhile to me, and I notice that I stop trying too. I could not bear yet another failure, so I stopped. Trying was too painful, but I needed to be screaming before I acknowledged the pain, and by then I could not try again.

-We can see the positives, achievement and celebration and success and doing is very much our culture, but not so good about seeing the other side of things, or fearing trying again, failing again. Fail better, said Beckett’s Krapp, showing the difficulty of it. I dwelt on this until we met again two weeks later. What stops me feeling the sadness, or the pain, is my anger. My anger is directed inwards, at me. What do I have to be sad about? I demand, disdainfully, contemptuously. It is like my other internal conflicts- the anger pushes down, the sadness pushes against it, I exhaust myself but do not move.

Richard Rohr wrote Your life is not about you– the ego at the centre of the Universe. It is about God. It is about a willing participation in a larger mystery. At this time, we do this by not rejecting or running from what is happening but by accepting our current situation and asking God to be with us in it. I thought, The spiritual lesson is learning the opposite of what you believed- I was worthless, not the centre of the Universe at all. Learning the different aspects of truth- my value as a unique being, my ordinariness as one among billions- I need a different corrective to the one Rohr administers.

What does the anger say? I sympathise more with the anger (as it is righteous, with something soft and weak). I am proud of it, so I bring it into consciousness and accept it. It seems appropriate. My anger tries to be stoic, accepting trouble and keeping on (except that it fails at that). I admire stoicism: Marcus Aurelius was seeking the Good Life, was the moral philosopher whether talking of getting out of bed or facing death. And my anger denies the sadness- go away and stop bothering me. It blocks the sadness from consciousness. Stop whining! it commands, and the whining becomes quieter though no less effective as a block to action.

The anger is inside me now, the anger is me, though it may be learned from the culture or the family, from voices outside. I don’t remember it, particularly, as an outside voice, condemning me- perhaps I learned it from others’ example.

Then I find the sadness, and I want to process it. I have the idea that if I could simply feel the sadness it would have told me all it needed to tell me, I would have learned from it all I needed to learn- not Don’t do that! but Take care doing that. And I have the idea that I am simply coaxing the sad part of me- I will listen to it for a time then say, that’s enough time now, come on- wheedling- coaxing- now take action. At which the sadness or the sad part digs its heels in again. It’s too painful right now. Rest a while more.

The anger is me. The sadness is me. Consciously I am more in the anger because it feels right, and it feels effective. Kicking my own backside was my way of motivation. Get on with it. It did actually work, for a while, it got me out of the house, going to work, achieving some things. Now if it works, if I get out of bed because I kick myself, I am wearied by it, it is heavy, an effort, it gives no joy. Anger and sadness are in stalemate.

-Where is your agency? she asks. Where’s the rest of you? I see your appreciation of culture and awe and beauty and there is something in you which wants to go and appreciate these things.

Well, that was my social training. My Dad showed me that culture required effort. We listened to Bartok string quartets expecting not to enjoy them- for them to be so alien, so complex, that my first feeling would be distressed boredom. Then with concentration and repeated listening the drama of the work, its progression and feeling, would reveal itself. I had this experience aged about 14 with The Silmarillion. I struggled through it, and found it weird, and the third time I read it I enjoyed it. Now I have The Mirror and the Light. It has huge sales, and I imagine more people will buy it than read it because they do not appreciate the effort it requires; but it will reward that effort. I am re-reading Bring Up the Bodies, knowing the characters better than I did. Its sequel is a 900 page novel which will be worth savouring.

In the same way I walked up the stairs in the National Gallery with a stool, because standing still too long is uncomfortable for me, turned right into the first gallery, turned left to the first painting and sat in front of it. That Veronese is fabulously beautiful. I retain it in my mind, and think of the legend of St Helena. And it is an effort. I need to concentrate, and I need to go and seek it out.

The anger is conscious, the sadness comes to consciousness. Partly it is an intellectual exercise, working out what might be there, partly it is trust in you as the expert who sees sadness in me, and partly it is inklings of feeling, peeking out from the woods, or surfacing briefly from the depths.

The anger is directed inwards, against myself, because I am weak and without status. If my anger is expressed outwards I will be squished. I got this from my family, and perhaps from their experience as human beings in the pecking order. I am at the bottom of the pecking order. Well, when I am sucking up to this admin worker, Oh, you lost a stone! How strong willed you are, how determined! What an achievement! Rather than about time, you’ll ruin your knees otherwise you fat slattern.

I have value only for what I can achieve, rather than in myself. So I need the opposite of Rohr’s lesson. I don’t blame my parents, it’s sins of the fathers, just the situation being passed on, like a mother rabbit bending to lick her kits, and the rabbit parasites march down her nose and onto them. It’s just what happens.

-Where is your agency? she asks again.

I have desire without action. I passionately want to be seen. And I want not to be seen, to hide away at home. My friend said it was as if I wanted to blend into the background in the most eyecatching way possible, which he might have wanted for himself. One of the best ways of hiding in plain sight is the steady achievement of the quiet efficient worker, who does what is expected.

-When do you feel these things rather than intellectualise about them?

When you talked about my sadness I felt irritation. Feeling the sadness- it’s too much to bear in consciousness, and I need to intellectually accept that, it’s part of the process of unearthing it.

HELP ME!

-That does not feel real. It feels like an intellectual exercise.

Well, yes. I am acting. I can only say that within several sets of quotation marks, and you can hear the quotation marks in my voice- but I am acting myself. That is what I want to say to you, perfectly sincerely, and I can only say it as an act.

-What stops you being as opposed to acting?

Lack of practice. Uselessness and inadequacy. A deep lack of trust, in myself and in the world. Those are the things that come to mind immediately.

-Is the better self totally intellectual?

No. But the feeling self, anger and sadness, is tied in such knots I can barely perceive it. Or there are feelings flooding through me, and I cannot speak them. I might type or write them.

-Does this practice, of seeking art, music and literature out, and working on them, apply to anything else?

It applies to ideas. I read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Implicit Bias in order to understand implicit bias better. I found it a struggle. I want to understand. I’d like to walk down the street buying stuff, but I can’t see how to get to there from here. I want to meet people and get to know them, and I do, sometimes, talking to people with different experiences to see through their eyes. People learn what is fun by convention, then do that for fun because they don’t know any better, but by exploration we might find something rewarding.