I have compassion for transphobes on the Left, at least the women- they have been hurt by the Patriarchy too, they can have some wonderful feminist campaigning energy. Not for the men, they’re just looking for an excuse to treat someone with contempt, and not for the Right-wingers, they want to enforce gender stereotypes and create a hate-group for people to look down on, but for the feminists?
There is a passionate group of women, called by others TERFs (Trans-excluding Radical Feminists)- a term initially coined by one of them, and claimed by them, which they now claim is a slur, calling themselves by increasingly inoffensive terms: “Gender-critical”, that is, opposed to gender stereotypes, or even “gender-concerned”.
What do I feel? Sadness, frustration, depression. The worst are full of passionate intensity– self-righteously tweeting #expelme because they have been called out on their hate. There’s a tactic on twitter, needle and provoke a trans woman, and when she reacts, screenshot it and retweet ad nauseam:
Look! Look! Look what they’re like!
They want people to see me as a threat. If they want to inspire people to feminist action, they want to do it by fomenting outrage that I have been in women’s spaces for years, and fear that suddenly some great flood of trans women, too frightened to transition before, will join me, or perhaps that sex offenders will dress as women and pretend to be trans women in order to go into women’s spaces and commit crime, rather than not bothering with all the trouble and barging in, like they do now.
Calls for compassion may be met with denial. Their motivation is compassion, they might say. They do not want anyone else to suffer like Keira Bell. They do not want vulnerable women surprised by men in women’s space. They claim they want trans people to have the same rights as other people- they are not against trans rights- but mean that trans women are men so should be treated as men.
The question was, How can we resolve human conflict without violence? But the violence is in spate. Before, I thought of trying to talk their language, and be as winsome as possible, but no longer have the energy.
So the first step has to be, the anti-trans campaigners have to ask themselves why people they respect are against them. Why would the female Labour leadership and deputy leadership candidates sign the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights pledges and say “Trans women are women”? Is there any socialist, feminist or humane principle behind their position? No, they have not been bullied by the Powerful Trans Lobby, which from my side appears to have no power at all, or by Trans Rights Activists, who are just ordinary trans people living our lives.
Then, get them to see us as human beings. This is difficult. No-one likes to admit that they are dehumanizing others. They think they are being entirely reasonable, and compassionate. Showing a trans woman’s suffering may not break the spell. Analogies of other dehumanization campaigns will make them recoil in disgust and denial. You could remind them of the Lavender Menace, but they may imagine they are protecting lesbians.
After that, a mediator could ask them if they have any characteristics or interests in common with trans people. To me it’s obvious- they are more oppressed by gender stereotypes than the average, and so are we; they want to pull them down, and so do we. They don’t see it that way.
Unfortunately the anti-trans campaign on the feminist Left is not merely internet froth, diverting people from real feminist campaigning. It is a concerted effort by the hard Right to inflame culture wars.
Five years ago a blogger group called 1000 voices speak for compassion started posting in unison on themes around compassion, and this post is for their fifth anniversary: other links are here. My compassion is shrinking as I feel more constrained.