The ALBA party manifesto and transgender

I was surprised to see a picture of someone with a trans flag round her shoulders, in the new ALBA Party manifesto. It’s on a page headed “Scotland’s many people”.

It claims its “commitment to women’s rights” does not mean it rejects trans rights. ALBA wishes the two groups were not set against each other. It wants a Citizens’ Assembly to develop proposals on Gender Recognition Act reform. So it would chuck out the two consultations and the Bill already drafted. It says it supports human rights for all LGBTQ people. Hurrah! It recognises we are human! That’s a start, anyway.

On the same page it says religious people have human rights too, and it supports their human rights as in the European Convention on Human Rights. This is absolutely minimal, and means almost nothing. It was written in a hurry by someone with better things to do.

Its “Women and Equalities” page, however, has a picture of a woman in overalls with ear and eye protection, so a rare woman in Scotland. It echoes the trans-excluders’ rubbish: Sex-based rights! “Female only” spaces: they think I am a man, so should not be in a “female only space”. Possibly, they would tolerate people with GRCs, but not other trans women, and make getting a GRC more difficult. “Single sex sports”, contradicting the International Olympic Committee. And then it mentions “reform”, though it does not say of what. At the end, it mentions gender recognition.

So, it’s a complete excluders’ charter: it claims trans women are men, no trans women in women’s spaces. The Women and Equalities page has nothing to say about equal pay for work of equal value, say, an actual feminist concern, only trans exclusion. That’s the only issue they deem of interest under “Women and Equalities”. Apparently it is the only issue the “ALBA Women’s Conference” addressed.

It is totally bizarre that women, especially women considering themselves feminist, would want to join a party led by Alex Salmond. He admitted sexual contact with two of the complainants in his trial, both junior to him and much younger. He said he wished he had been more careful with others’ personal space. One charge of sexual assault with intent to rape had the strange Scots verdict “Not Proven”.

So why has ALBA eighteen women candidates for the Scottish Parliament? Because they do not care about sexual assault if they can campaign against trans rights.

Otherwise, it’s a party for those dissatisfied with the SNP, who do not feel their talents were properly recognised. There have been other independence parties in Scotland as rivals to the SNP, but if a second vote for a different party gives any additional tactical support to independence, the Scottish Greens fulfil that function.

ALBA was founded on 8 February 2021, and has featured in dozens of articles. Polls show them with 1% support, which is too much. Nigel Farage spoke out for them.

Margaret Lynch, a candidate, expressed the homophobic lie that Stonewall wants to reduce the age of consent to ten. This is based on ILGA, the International LGBTI Association, which includes Stonewall, backing the Women’s Rights Caucus Feminist Declaration at the UN. To “end the criminalization and stigmatization of adolescents’ sexuality” means not treating adolescents as criminals. No-one wants to legalise paedophilia. The age of 10 comes from the UN’s definition of adolescent as aged from 10. Salmond defended Lynch.

8 May: I am delighted to see that Mr Sleepy Cuddles and the transphobes won not a single seat in the Scottish Parliament.

How anti-trans activism damages feminism

Trans exclusion in Britain has evolved to a simple understanding which its adherents consider rational, logical and feminist. They say trans women are men. This seems obvious to them, as we have, or had, testicles. Women do not have testicles. Women have ovaries. They don’t need a position on whether people with androgen insensitivity syndrome are women, because their targets are trans women, so they pretend the definition of “woman” is simple. At any rate, it excludes trans women, whom they call males.

Their position is inconsistent and irrational, but they compartmentalise. They claim trans boys are victims of a fad or trend, an appreciation of the burden of patriarchy on women and a false way of evading that burden for themselves. They claim that trans women are autogynephilic perverts. These positions are contradictory.

Yet the simplicity of their position- that trans women are men- gives it a superficial clarity and logic. “Women are oppressed on the basis of sex.” As trans women are men, trans women in women’s spaces appropriate women’s resources and women’s spaces become mixed sex spaces.

They insist on their rationality. “It is counterfactual and pseudoscientific to claim that people can change sex by altering their appearance”. In reality, society recognises trans people and grants us a place where we can begin to thrive.

Then they leap to irrational conclusions. In the attack on the Women’s Prize for Fiction, they speculate that in a few years, half of the long listed authors might be trans women. In real life no-one transitions in order to get into women’s space. The cost is too great. We transition because we are trans, and the cost of not transitioning is greater.

They also claim that the law excludes trans women from women’s spaces, though it clearly does not.

They say that “gender ideology” is an attack on women’s rights. No, trans people exist, and always have. Trans recognition is a way of mitigating our distress in heteronormative society, promoting diversity and freedom for everyone to be who they are rather than conforming to narrow social norms.

The result is that they ignore when women’s rights and resources are curtailed. To the gender critical, there is no longer a Women’s Prize for Fiction- it is a “Fiction Prize”. In the same way, if a women’s shelter adopts a policy whereby it could, in theory, admit a trans woman, they call it a “mixed sex shelter” and bemoan the end of women’s domestic violence services. In reality, women’s shelters are being defunded and closed down. That is the threat to women’s domestic violence shelters.

Rather than objecting or campaigning when women’s shelters are actually closed, or seeking to fundraise for those shelters, they campaign against women’s shelters which are still admitting women, and fundraise for court actions to exclude trans women. They damage the women’s spaces and resources they claim to cherish.

The Women’s Prize stooshie is a storm in a thimble. The complaint had about 160 signatures, including some transphobes who sign any transphobe rubbish going, “Mary Ann Evans” and “Currer Bell”. The use of female authors as pseudonyms caused particular mockery, and the response of the prize to the trans-excluders’ bullying made the Guardian, which quoted the excluders’ paltry argument, but also the range and eminence of the feminist condemnation of it.

Women’s rights are under attack in Britain. The government contends that there is no structural discrimination, and that anti-discrimination initiatives are Leftist vandalism. Trans excluders appropriate the language of feminism to attack trans rights, and divert campaigns against functioning women’s resources.

Cis privilege

Whom do you value? Do you value anyone more than others?

Probably you do. You might care more about your family than some random stranger you meet. You could show empathy hearing that stranger’s hurts, but might not take action to rectify them. You care more about people of your town or your country than those further away. McLurg’s Law makes sense: “The newsworthiness of a disaster diminishes in proportion to the disaster’s distance from the newsroom.” Even if you express it in more familiar form, “One dead Briton is worth 1000 dead Chinese,” it evokes queasy recognition. I care a lot about a murder in my town. I don’t know if I use the products of “re-education camps” of Uighurs.

We don’t notice social rules until they are pointed out to us, any more than a fish notices water. Privilege is unconscious in most people- white, male, able-bodied, straight, educational, class, thin, cis privilege gains people advantage. The disprivileged automatically defer. The privileged assume leadership.

With safe spaces amongst themselves, the disprivileged can find their power. The privileged can move from unconsciously assuming power in any interaction to relating as equals and allies, but that takes sustained effort. Without such effort, both privileged and disprivileged value the privileged more. For the privileged, it is much easier to pretend that you seek equality- “I don’t see colour”- than to work for it.

Sometimes there are zero-sum games. I remain haunted by a trivial interaction which symbolises so much for me. In the Quaker meeting I sit beside the elder, a Black man, and when we go to shake hands at the end of the meeting our hands slip past each other, because neither of us performs the unconscious deferential act of looking down to see they will meet. A Black man, a trans woman, both disprivileged, both welcome in a Quaker meeting which has a testimony to equality and where both are valued.

One or both, momentarily, subconsciously glancing down in a handshake, sets the relationship between them.

There is a feminist case for trans exclusion. Some cis women might be scared by trans women. The answer is to care for both, because both are vulnerable, not to exclude the trans woman automatically.

Beyond that, it is necessary for feminists to pay attention to female empowerment, to be the safe space where the disprivileged- women- claim their power. This is the root of the feminist trans-excluders’ different attitudes to trans men and trans women. Trans men are seen as mutilated victims fooled into having their breasts removed. Trans women might be grudgingly tolerated if they have had their testicles removed.

On claiming your power you may feel anger at the oppression you have unconsciously facilitated. Fully feeling and accepting the anger, grief and hurt helps us move into our power as autonomous individuals. The anger can then be energy for nonviolent resistance. It ceases to be something you must suppress, creating an inner conflict which disempowers you.

However, intersectional feminism recognises that there are additional problems for Black, disabled, queer, fat, or lower class women in comparatively privileged women’s spaces. We have to consider the disprivilege of all.

Cis privilege is clearest where men, attempting to be allies of feminists, bully trans women. Elliot would not have brooked any argument. Had I accepted that for some purposes I might be seen as a man, he would have insisted that I forego women’s spaces, then stop expressing myself as female or using a feminine name online. He can feel righteous ignoring my needs because he thinks he is standing up for women. This is called “white-knighting”. Graham Linehan is a more famous example. White knights can feel they are allies while suffering no reduction in their own privilege or status. Linehan told a House of Lords committee that his anti-trans activism had caused “such a strain that my wife and I finally agreed to separate”.

Cis privilege is intensely disputed when feminist anti-trans campaigners seek to exclude trans women. For some, we are men, a threat, the privileged people who must be rebelled against for women’s empowerment. Their campaign is discredited, at least among people in favour of equality, if trans women are also disprivileged. So the anti-trans campaigners are keen to show that we are not worthy of sympathy, by dwelling on the violence of individuals, or spreading the discredited myth of autogynephilia– claiming we are male sexual perverts.

Anyone interested in equality should seek to be conscious of the workings of privilege and to subvert it. Anyone seeking the right way forward on trans rights should be aware of the good points of the opposing position, in order to find common ground. Quakers seeking unity should value all the people involved, and not simply discount any individual or any view. Feminist anti-trans campaigners are seeking liberation from their own disprivilege through denial of trans women’s: their goal is just, their route is not.

The trans excluder conspiracy theory

The campaign to exclude trans women from women’s spaces works like a conspiracy theory. Though their falsehoods are continually discredited, it makes no impression on them. They ascribe huge importance to the threat they imagine comes from trans people, which is entirely imaginary.

How awful it must be, to look up at the vapour trails from jet planes and imagine “chemtrails” are poisoning us! Claiming that trans women make feminism impossible is a similarly horrific and imaginary threat. One prolific content-provider, behind the activity of a number of alleged organisations, has claimed that trans rights and surrogacy are the two greatest threats to women’s human rights in the world. The claim is that, rather than an anomaly, a tiny minority who can be easily accommodated, that trans women demand the redefinition of what it means to be a woman and so make organising on the basis of sex impossible. Or they believe that any advance in trans people’s rights will unleash a horde of predatory men into women’s spaces. These fears have no basis in reality, but how awful to believe such things!

Like any conspiracy theory, the false fears have the effect of giving anti-trans campaigners a belief that they are valiant for truth, but turning their energies and activism from their real concerns in the real world to worthless efforts which do no good and some harm. Conspiracy theorists present themselves as sceptics, probing the commonly told stories, seeking the truth. Their arguments leap from the undeniable to the unbelievable.

I have read a long explanation of why astronomy shows the universe is only about 6000 years old, apparently written with some knowledge of physics, and another of how the World Trade Centre could only have been demolished as it was by explosives placed within it, apparently with some knowledge of architectural engineering, and similarly long, detailed and passionate arguments that trans women are a threat. I can refute the third, because I know the truth, but rely on engineers and physicists to refute the first two, because I do not have the specialised technical knowledge. However, I know enough to recognise they are ridiculous. The conspiracists, however, have a blind spot to their own conspiracy theory, letting go of all their critical faculties when considering it. As David Baddiel said, conspiracy theories are a way idiots can imagine they are intellectuals. They take in all this detail, and regurgitate it, and the simple refutations of their gibberish only makes them more convinced.

Just as Andrew Wakefield panders to anti-vaxxers, and makes money out of them, so Robert Withers panders to the anti-trans campaigners, giving their ridiculous views a scientific veneer. Anyone with any understanding can see through Withers’ witterings, but the conspiracy theorists are victims of their own confirmation bias. Like other conspiracists, they accept their falsehoods without criticism, and demand impossible standards of proof of any refutation. The amount of detail they produce further insulates them from correction.

Like other conspiracy theories, anti-trans campaigners develop a fanatical obsession. People with a grip on reality tell them they are wrong, and this sets up painful dissonance in them. So they return to anti-trans sites, which become as addictive as flat-Earth sites are to their adherents, because they reassure them they are right after all. In the worst cases they are unable to read anything telling the truth about trans.

They give far too great importance to their campaign. If Donald Trump was indeed battling deep state paedophiles, that would be extremely important and I would want to support him, and if there was such a dreadful threat to women as the anti-trans campaigners pretend I would support them too. So, the Labour Women’s Declaration, issued just before the election, just caused trouble for the Labour Party. I was out canvassing, trying to get votes for Labour, but the haters were banding together and attacking from within.

Conspiracy theories such as the anti-trans campaign have some resemblance to religious cults. Potential supporters are recruited by love-bombing, the campaigners seek to isolate them from other friends and support networks, and then the recruiters get them to say ridiculous things, in order to break their bonds to real life further.

Robert Withers

Two trans people have had the misfortune to see Robert Withers, a psychotherapist, but he has set himself up as an “expert” in trans, to transphobes and anti-trans campaigners what Andrew Wakefield is to anti-vaxxers. If the quotes attributed to him on far-right hate-site Spiked are accurate, he has a remarkable lack of insight and self-knowledge for a psychotherapist. Perhaps the clinical supervision ordered by the UK Council for Psychotherapy discipline tribunal will help him work with his counter-transference onto trans people. After six months, the UKCP will assess a report by his supervisor and his own reflective piece summarising his learning from the supervision, and decide whether further sanction is necessary: not as a punishment, but to uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour.

He has a lot to learn. Spiked quotes what the anti-vaxxers, sorry, anti-transers love: Withers’ equivalent of “vaccines cause autism”. Withers claims he could see a patient who identifies with the opposite gender, “work successfully on a patient’s mind, who is experiencing these feelings, and you reconcile him with his body and his past”. Amazing! With the experience of two patients, he claims to do what surely all psychiatrists and psychologists involved with trans people would want to do, if only it were possible. The reason they give hormones and surgery is that transition is the vaccine, as it were, which prevents gender dysphoria from being such a misery. However, Withers has never done this: his first trans patient had decided to revert, and Withers just went along with it, and his second trans patient made a complaint against him.

Withers says there is no such “thing as a male body with a female brain. But even saying that is considered transphobic”. He lacks self-knowledge. He is called transphobic because he is transphobic. It is true that there is no proof of a biological cause for “transgenderism”, but the proof trans people exist is trans people. The proof that transition is appropriate is the experience of tens or hundreds of thousands of trans people and the clinicians who have treated us.

Withers’ persecution complex comes out: he says if he managed to reconcile someone with their birth sex he could be struck off for conversion therapy. This is to misunderstand what conversion therapy is: it is an attempt to force a person to believe they are other than they are. Withers’ reading comprehension is clearly too low for a psychotherapist. He is scare-mongering about the Memorandum of Understanding of the NHS on conversion therapy, which states, “Some people may benefit from the challenge of psychotherapy and counselling to help them manage dysphoria and to clarify their sense of themselves. Clients make healthy choices when they understand themselves better.”

The anti-trans campaigners love Withers: he makes them feel vicariously persecuted. They want to feel, as with any conspiracy theory, that they are a small minority who alone know the truth.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his income depends on his not understanding it.” Addressing the mental health issues of trans people, even possible causes for them saying they are trans, is permitted. A therapist who, from a closed mind, pretends there is some cause which, when understood, can make transgender ideation melt away, and devotes his time with his patient to finding evidence of such a cause, should be struck off.

Withers was so excited about his second trans patient that he did not ask her consent to refer to her case in his writings. She met with him and asked him to stop publishing about her, and he refused. He denied this before the discipline tribunal, but they found his evidence defensive, inconsistent, muddled and avoidant, transparently annoyed that her refusal of consent prevented him from publishing details. So they disbelieved him. This brave woman gave an account of her ordeal: “To have someone pour scorn over who you are”- in what was supposed to be therapy!- “is really destabilising”.

Having seen two patients, Withers is keen to share his “expertise”. For example, he gives “clinical commentary” on an account of therapy of a trans child. That page shows his article has zero citations- his peers see his value- but still he hawks his opinions about to the transphobes. In the paper he says that when working with his trans patient, the countertransference- the feelings evoked in him by the interaction- was “hatred”. I would not want to work with a psychotherapist who felt hatred in the sessions.

In that paper, Withers claims “Identifying as a ‘butch lesbian’ is not currently celebrated or socially affirmed.” There is a great deal of homophobia about, though there is more transphobia- The Times prints transphobia several times a week, homophobia more rarely. Not all trans children find affirming parents or schools, and if they can find others like themselves on line so can young lesbians. Despite all this, Withers suggests the patient might “drop his male identification” if he were affirmed as a lesbian.

Withers attempted to argue to the disciplinary panel that the code of conduct for psychotherapists is deficient, in that it should allow some interest in publication to override obligations of confidentiality, and attempted to call an expert witness to make that point. His witness was unable to turn up. The panel said that argument was not relevant. Withers’ arrogance before the panel, evident from their judgment, shows he would be a poor choice of psychotherapist. Perhaps like Wakefield he will end up making all his income from conspiracy theorists.

Here is the discipline tribunal decision: Robert Withers psychotherapist misconduct hearing.

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From Withers’ own words, a more serious case than mere breach of confidentiality might have been made in the discipline tribunal. Withers is quoted in Spiked as saying, of his trans client, “Half an hour after the session ended, [she] came back to my consulting room in a psychotic state. [She] had been out in the world and [she] thought people were going to attack [her]… For a moment, I caused [her] to doubt [her] identity, and [she] had a catastrophic collapse in [her] sense of who [she] was.” He indicates no remorse about this. By his own words, he had endangered his client, and she says he traumatised her. Withers is not a doctor, so is not qualified to diagnose, and the tribunal enumerated reasons to doubt his word, but by his own words he showed no understanding of his obligations to her. Is he truly fit to practise as a psychotherapist? Here are some links on harm that can be done by a bad psychotherapist: The Conversation, Psychology Today. As Psychscenehub says, “A therapist that prioritises his or her own needs (exploitative, narcissistic, voyeuristic) over the patient’s needs can do harm.”

“Inventing” trans children and young people

A new book claims that school books featuring trans children “fail child safeguarding and conflict with the law”. Unfortunately, there is not the expertise to back this up. “Inventing transgender children and young people”, edited by Heather Brunskell Evans and Michele Moore, is another attempt to inflame fears against trans children.

I know Dr Brunskell Evans. I have seen her bewildering trans people. “It’s ridiculous,” said a nonbinary friend. “She claims you’re a danger and I’m mutilated.”

The Telegraph, a hard-Right publication, was delighted. Under the headline “Children being put at risk by transgender books that ‘misrepresent’ medical knowledge, academic claims”, its first paragraph blared out that “Children are being put at risk by transgender books in primary schools that “misrepresent” medical knowledge on puberty blockers, an academic has claimed”. Only later did it reveal that the “academic” was a “senior research fellow in creative writing”. How could that academic have any expertise on medical treatment for trans children? One such book, “Julian is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love, has just won the prestigious Klaus Fugges award for the “most exciting and promising newcomer to children’s book illustration”. It describes how a child dreams of looking like the spectacularly dressed women they see on the New York subway, and “his” grandmother helps them join the Mermaid Parade.

What else does the book say? Transgender children who undergo medical or surgical treatment risk “serious or irreversible damage”, says Dr David Bell. Who is he? The President of the British Psychoanalytic Society: an eminent man, but not one with particular expertise on endocrinology or paediatrics.  Of course there are risks to puberty blockers, but I prefer to trust experts, such as the paediatricians and clinical psychologist drafting the Australian Standards of Care and Treatment Guidelines for trans and gender diverse children and adolescents.

One chapter is by the discredited psychotherapist Robert Withers, recently described by the discipline tribunal as defensive, inconsistent, muddled and avoidant. His professional experience of trans is two patients, one of whom made a successful complaint against him.

One chapter is by Michael Biggs. It discloses that he is a sociologist (not a paediatrician, endocrinologist, psychologist, or any relevant discipline) at the University of Oxford. It does not disclose that he used the twitter handle “Henry Wimbush” to tweet abuse such as “transphobia is a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons”. This says little for his ability to be objective.

Transgender children are not invented. There has been transition since 500BC, as seen by prohibition in Deuteronomy. The reason children are allowed to transition is that they demand it. People say they knew something was wrong aged three, and what it was aged five, that they were of the opposite sex. This arises spontaneously from the child, usually resisted strongly by parents and wider society until the parents, unable to block the child’s desire, try to do their best for their child by investigating transition.

This polemic book claims to “demonstrate the considerable psychological and physical harms perpetrated on children and young people by transgender ideology”. Not ideology, but rather research and observation. No psychiatrist, no parent wants to harm children in their care. Social transition improves emotional functioning. Medical transition is extremely difficult to get.

Books like this cause bullying and make children seek medical treatment. If the authors think that medical treatment for trans-identifying children is a problem, they exacerbate it. Trans children know who they are. Social transition improves their lives. The campaign against trans children, and trans people generally, encourages social conservatives to noisily oppose transition and bully trans children. One author in the book encourages teachers to tell children that transition is not possible.

Faced with the hostility of the wider culture, school staff and pupils, trans children feel the need to prove themselves. They do this in the way trans people do, by seeking hormones and surgery. In a more child-centred environment, children could be nurtured by social transition. Those for whom it is wrong will realise that. Social transition is not like playing dress-up for an afternoon. Trans children will not respond to the bullying by developing “normally” according to their assignation at birth, but by withdrawing. When transition becomes impossible, transition becomes the only important thing in the world, threatening school work and emotional development.

Dr Brunskell-Evans is “co-founder of the women’s human rights campaign”, various book plugs proclaim, named as if the United Nations 1981 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women had never happened, or no one else campaigned for women’s rights. Her declaration is bizarre: it starts, “On the re-affirmation of women’s sex-based rights, including women’s rights to physical and reproductive integrity, and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls that result from the replacement of the category of sex with that of ‘gender identity’, and from ‘surrogate’ motherhood and related practices.” Surrogacy and Trans are the only issues this campaign recognises.

Most people are not trans. I estimate 0.1% of the UK population is; finding space for one in a thousand people is very different from “replacing the category of sex”. Most people are cis, and most women don’t even notice trans people in real life.

This is what the hard right funding of anti-trans campaigning seeks to achieve: that the campaign against trans rights becomes a symbol feminists are cozened into fighting for, without achieving anything concrete for women, and progressives are divided. Someone who does not know a trans person is made to fear by an article claiming “children are being put at risk”, and progressive campaigning energy is diverted to punching down at harmless trans people.