Nick Cohen

How does your own oppression affect how you see the oppression of others? Nick Cohen spoke pungently against the antisemitism in the Labour party; why does he hate on any expression of disapproval of transphobia? Why can he not see that transphobia is as vile?

Antisemitism is the stain on Christianity- from Matthew’s Gospel, “His blood be on us and on our children”, through the German Crusade in 1096, when French and German peasants destroyed Jewish communities in Speyer, Worms and Mainz, through the Blood libel to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, antisemitism besmirches European civilisation. It survives in QAnon, where the Moneyed elites allegedly ruining the world are said to be Jewish, rather than owners and senior executives of fossil fuel companies.

Antisemitism exists in obsessive form, where all an individual’s anger and resentment is channelled at Jews, and in a widespread, mild form, involving distaste. So does transphobia.

There is antisemitism in the Labour party, chiefly in the milder form, but by the time Chris Williamson MP was accused, his wrongdoing was to say that the response to antisemitism was overblown, and he was tainted by guilt by association with antisemites. That was enough for him to be suspended as an MP and silenced. His talk at Brighton Friends Meeting House was cancelled, according to Jane Dawson, head of BYM external communications, because of threats of violence. Nick Cohen tweeted, “You can be an anti-racist or you can be a supporter of the Labour party. But you can’t be both.”

I respect Cohen’s opposition to Labour, even if his work against them helped get the most appalling government of my lifetime elected, so why does he not notice transphobia? Instead, he amplifies it. He wrote for The Spectator, the British Breitbart (the two share writers) to claim JK Rowling was not transphobic. He wrote of the transphobic novel Troubled Blood “nothing is made of the fact that the killer wears a wig and a woman’s coat as a disguise when approaching one of his victims”. This is a “tiny detail”. Well, why put in the detail? Could it possibly be linked to Rowling’s transphobia? One victim? The Guardian’s direct quote referred to victims. Cohen made no mention of Rowling’s transphobic screed, as if his memory does not stretch back to June. Rowling can’t make a serial killer real enough to be repulsive in himself, so she is forced to put in details, and one of them is that Creed dresses female when seeking victims.

It’s a common tactic. Minimise and deny the transphobia, find something unpleasant in the reaction and inveigh against that. Cohen then quotes at great length the more angry and unpleasant tweets against Rowling. Every British national newspaper is a willing platform for transphobia. Trans people objecting to it are outside, shouting, and some have to shout loudly for attention, and some people shouting may be trolls attempting to amplify discord. Though he admits “What the hell are they screaming about now?” is a recurrent thought when he turns on Twitter, and though we know how abusive the transphobes can be, he incites hatred against all trans people objecting to Rowling by quoting the worst of us.

On abuse, Judith Butler puts it perfectly:

if we are going to object to harassment and threats, as we surely should, we should also make sure we have a large picture of where that is happening, who is most profoundly affected, and whether it is tolerated by those who should be opposing it.

I was going to write about the person in an oppressed group who only sees his own oppression, and can therefore oppress others. We should object to the oppression, not to the action against oppressors. In Cohen’s case it is not so simple. He recognises that “The novel’s descriptions of how men condescend to Robin Ellacott, how they send her lewd pictures, grab her, talk over her, and refuse to accept her opinions because they are from a woman” relate to real life. The problem is that he sets feminism against trans women, where in the real world feminists support trans women.

Cohen directly states a transphobic myth, “the safeguards or lack of them governing the clinics that offer hormone suppressing drugs or surgery”- as if NHS doctors give dangerous treatment without due cause.

Experience of oppression is no guarantee that you will recognise it in other circumstances. Cohen’s self-righteousness, and use of a platform like The Spectator to punch down at his innocent victims- me- don’t make me object to his work against antisemitism, but they do make me hate him.

Powerful speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A working definition of transphobia

How could we define transphobia? The working definition of Antisemitism might be a good start. The same techniques, of mockery, and attempts to inspire anger or fear, are used in both. The IHRA explanation starts with a definition then has illustrative examples.

Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. For us, I would specify what that perception may be: a perception of trans women as a class, rather than trans individuals, as a threat; and attempts to make others perceive us in the same way.

Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities. So we are abused, and others are told we are dangerous, ridiculous, or disgusting.

There is also this definition of Islamophobia Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness illustrated by a range of examples.

Should we describe a root? Transphobia is rooted in a right wing desire to preserve gender stereotypes or a Left wing desire to- what? Preserve cis women’s rights with no concern for trans people? The trouble is, the campaigns do nothing for cis women’s rights. When someone says she feels sick if she is referred to as “cis”, that shows more than “a concern for cis women’s rights”. On the Left it is revulsion. Islamophobia is linked to racism, and because atheism is unobjectionable, and some of Islam can be reasonably criticised, it is the racist root that must be emphasised. Slurs for Muslims are like slurs for BAME people: racist.

Saying it is rooted in revulsion adds nothing. I would not describe a root. There is revulsion, even if a transphobe can maintain some politeness speaking with a trans person. I am open to suggestions. There is a difference between right wing transphobia and left-wing transphobia, though: on the Right, transphobia preserves gender stereotypes, but on the Left those who loathe stereotypes may still be transphobes.

I would say this. Transphobia discounts the experience, history and needs of trans people. It may claim that as a class trans women are a threat to cis women, or that trans men are incapable of knowing themselves or making decisions. Non-binary and binary trans people are subject to transphobia. It may manifest in physical violence, abuse, or apparent reasoned defence of moral values.

Then the definitions go on to specific examples.

I don’t think a belief that women need women’s space is transphobic, but a belief that trans women necessarily vitiate it is transphobic. Trans women need women’s space too.

It is transphobic to vilify trans people where their being trans is the reason for vilification. For example, the Times reporting criminal cases against trans women, where any similar case against a cis person would not be reported.

It is not transphobic to say “Sex is real”. Of course sex is real. It is transphobic to make transphobic conclusions from the fact that sex is real, such as, that trans women should not be in women’s space.

It is transphobic to refer to trans people who are criminals or who behave offensively, and draw conclusions about all trans people from their crimes or other behaviour, which is as wrong as it is with any other class of people.

It is transphobic to allege that gender recognition reform will affect anyone other than trans people. Some transphobes suggest that it will introduce “self-id” so that men will use it to enter women’s spaces. Diagnosis and Equality Act rights are based on self-declaration already, and men enter women’s spaces without any need to claim they are trans. Getting a gender recognition certificate in order to enter women’s space for criminal purposes would be an aggravation of the offence, and so is unlikely.

Transphobia may be expressed in apparent reasoned, moderate language, or as passionate defence of the rights of other groups such as women or children.

Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust is antisemitic, and accusing trans people of exaggerating our deaths, suicides or the hate crimes against us is transphobic.

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor. And saying that people should not transition when they want to and their doctors recommend it is transphobic.

It is transphobic to divide trans people into good and bad, or genuine and false, for any reason.

Trans people are exposed to societal transphobia, which they internalise. Trans people can be transphobic.

Misgendering may be an innocent mistake, but may also be transphobic, depending on context.

Prejudice against gay, lesbian and bi people expressed as disapproval of their failure to conform to gender stereotypes is transphobic as well as homophobic or biphobic.

This definition and examples clearly indicate that WPUK and the LGB Alliance are transphobic organisations. It may be reasonable to exclude a particular trans woman from a particular women’s space, but not all of us all the time, as WPUK advocates.

There is transphobic discrimination: trans people are less likely to get jobs after interview than straight people. Trans people may be treated less well by services.

Who defines it? Trans people should, like we do with hate crimes and hate incidents: The Macpherson report said: “A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.” That was later widened to the five “monitored strands” of hate crime, “race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender” (sic). In Manchester there was a consultation on what other strands should be added recently. But, I am uncomfortable with anyone suggesting that what I see as reasonable criticism of the government of the state of Israel is antisemitic. Possibly pushback is unavoidable, but I would want cis people to accept trans people’s definition of transphobia unless there is absolutely clear argument they should not. (If we could ever agree on anything- we are not some monolithic bloc.)

A microaggression

You’re not Jewish, are you?

She might get buried in the Jewish part of the cemetery, she said, surprising him, and this was his response. Yes, she said. I found his question impertinent, telling us something about him: I found it a microaggression, and write this to get clear why it is objectionable, and shows an objectionable way of thinking. I don’t know if it affected her in any particular way- she sounds a lovely person, knowing herself and comfortable with the self she knows, but it might.

What does it tell us about him? That he has a concept of “normal”, and Jewish is not included. Jewish is other. Learning she is Jewish, he adds this to his knowledge of her, and now ideas about “Jews” may add to ideas about “writers”, or anything else he knows about her, to form a judgment.

And what he said was, “You’re not Jewish, aya?” I noticed the abbreviation, and thought, “Manchester”. My colleague used to say, “Aya, awaya?”- “Hiya, how are you?”- on greeting. “Manchester,” I thought, having not heard the programme from the beginning, or Manchester in other voices.

Manchester, I think. A particular kind of one of us. Totally acceptable. “Jewish,” he thinks, and possibly files it away, a fact to remember about her, and- I assumed that makes him think not quite one of us. Different. And I am not certain he did- a particular kind of one of us, or someone different? There are Jewish populations in Greater Manchester.

Do I use “Manchester”- or even “Working class” (from his job, gravedigger)- to judge him? We know things about other people. Some might make us put them in stereotyped categories. I don’t know what he thinks “Jewish” adds to his knowledge of her.

I don’t know how she feels about it. She included it in her half hour radio programme. It could be she feels it as a microaggression, feels that he might have some slight hostility (Oh, not to you! You’re one of the good ones!) feels distance created, feels apprehension that distance means threat, that not being quite one of us means not being safe.

-Oh, don’t be so sensitive!
-People get killed for being Jewish!

-Does she look Jewish?
Judge for yourself!

I don’t know. “You don’t look lesbian”, a Quaker said to my friend. While Quaker women might be more likely to have short hair and no makeup, and to dress “plainly”- not all of us, but many- I found myself wondering what he thought “lesbian” looked like. She wrote after, “It was only after I got home that I began to think about this comment”. And the first response was sympathy. Yes, it’s awful.

I wondered if any Jew might object to me- I am not Jewish- picking on this example. They might object to the idea of “looking Jewish”- except by particular clothes- but it’s a question people ask, as if they really want to be able to see who the outsiders are.

It seems to me that very subtly this commenting on the difference is policing the boundaries of Normal-Acceptable. Jewish, or lesbian, is remarkable, odd, other. Possibly if you want to fit in you should not mention it, allude to it or give away signs of it. I tend to feel I “look trans”, that few people would think I was a cis woman after half an hour’s conversation, possibly not even after a minute’s. If I imagine that will not set them against me, or not appreciably, perhaps I am a fool. I started a comment, “When I was presenting male,” and someone responded, “Serious question, why is what you were presenting as relevant?” Because I was writing about interacting as male. But also because it is entirely acceptable, a quirk or not even that. I felt the question implied I should not mention it. I don’t really mind what they do, as long as they don’t rub our noses in it.

A painting by Simeon Solomon, whom I first noticed in the Tate exhibition in 2017. Is there some derivativeness and dullness about his painting, so that he is not now in the first rank of well known Pre-Raphaelites? Or is it because he was Queer and Jewish? Are his sentiments slightly off, not quite people like us? Wikipedia said He achieved notoriety after he was caught engaging in sexual activity with a man. I objected to “caught”, “achieved notoriety”, so have changed it. On the talk page, people ask why it is relevant that he was gay, . Well, what do you think?

Here’s another. A woman wondered why people referred to her as “The woman with the French passport” rather than “The French woman”. I checked my concept of French woman (or Frenchwoman). Effortless style, perfume “where a woman expects to be kissed”- white, of course, because European. Yeah. It is a racist stereotype, and she’s called that because she is Black.

hard and soft transphobia

Some people are obsessively transphobic, eternally thinking, writing and preaching about how dangerous trans people and “trans ideology” are to women, children and society. And some people are a bit transphobic, enough to keep me wary of everyone.

How many would follow “of course you are a woman” or “I accept you as a trans woman” or “I’m not transphobic” with But?

-but you look a bit weird
-but I understand why some people don’t think you’re a woman
-but you might frighten someone in a changing room.

Generally they are accepting, or perhaps tolerant. It’s not because she’s trans! I use the pronouns she wants and everything! But her voice/wig/personality just gets to me. Their desire to seem so, to themselves and to others, gets in the way of their being accepting. They stop being accepting when something goes wrong.

Someone might say, “well, I never liked her” and be highly resistant to the idea that me being trans had anything to do with that.

Being trans is rarely the sole problem, in any situation I find myself in, and it always makes things slightly more difficult.

This article in Ha’aretz discusses research on a similar phenomenon in antisemitism. 2.4% of people are virulent antisemites, and 30% hold one or more antisemitic opinions. So the endless arguing, raising all sorts of issues, might make some such opinions acceptable. I’m not transphobic, but- trans women should not be in women’s prisons/refuges/sports events. Are underlying mental health issues properly treated? (No, the psychiatrists don’t have the time). Will they regret mastectomy in a few years’ time?

Prejudice links to status, and I have noticed myself patronising less privileged people, to keep them in their place. I am in a state of conscious incompetence, noticing when I enforce society’s standards rather than what I would like to be my own. I want to treasure real value but still judge by worldly standards. So I would say I am not racist, then notice myself reinforcing colourist hierarchies.

Giri/Haji:
-we weren’t bad people, we just did bad things.
-is there any difference?

There is. I seek to change. How much difference there is depends on how successful I am. I will cure myself of these habits.

I am also low status because I am unemployed. People notice my clothes, and judge me for them. I was patronised in the library, and looking back I am mortified to see it was late September, it bothers me so much still. So I went back after The Testaments was published, they have several copies, and I ordered it.

When the email came to say I could pick it up, I did not for a week because I could not summon the motivation. I went down on Monday, and the same woman said the book was not there, and she would bring in her own copy so I could get it on Wednesday. I appreciate the generosity. I was disappointed she was not there on Wednesday. I wanted to indicate my educated status. I have been thinking up clever things to say about the book, so that when I take it back I can show how sophisticated I am. How pointless! It is not that I want this person to like or admire me, but that I want her to see my positive status signifier, the ability to appreciate literature, rather than my negative ones, old clothes and being trans.

At the CAB I advised a man who irritated me by coming with an abstruse question on pension contributions and entitlement and his constant refrain, “Are you wi’ me? Are you wi’ me?” He had done his research. Of course I was with him, I thought, as usual I was way ahead. I looked it up and may have got it wrong.

Status indicators stop us seeing people. Low status indicators may produce irritation we could never name, so assign to other causes. If someone with Cotard’s syndrome comes up with an explanation for why they can talk to you consistent with their delusion of being dead, you know they are fabulising. It is harder to spot when they fabulise to make consistent explanations with their belief they are not transphobic.

Everyone is transphobic. Society makes us so. I have internalised transphobia. It is constant hard work to rid ourselves of prejudice. Until being trans is as normal as being Black should be, everyone will be a little bit transphobic.

Labour transphobia

Can trans women vote Labour?

Transphobia is rife in the Labour Party. On the Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we mourn our dead, a Labour MSP invited a noted anti-trans campaigner to speak at the Scottish Parliament. Her topic is the weird assertion that the great threats to women’s rights are surrogate motherhood and trans rights: that trans inclusion is not accommodating a few mostly harmless eccentrics, about 0.1% of the population, but the redefinition of womanhood itself.

So trans women must all be excluded from women’s spaces forever. Yet the paranoid haters refuse to accept the term “trans-exclusionary”.

Later the event was put off until January, possibly because of incompetence by the organisers, possibly to eke out its notoriety a little longer. (February 2020- I find no reference to it on their website, so perhaps it did not go ahead.)

I don’t know if Jenny Marra MSP will face any sanction. The election is for Westminster not Holyrood. Feminist organisations including Scottish Women’s Aid, Engender, Zero Tolerance and the Young Women’s Movement, as well as the Scottish Green Party, have condemned the event.

Will the Labour Party? Trans rights are no threat to anyone. This event foments hatred and violence against us. It is the worst kind of prejudice. An analogy is a meeting advocating violence against Jews.

This analogy comes to mind as Jews picketed a meeting where Chris Williamson, former Labour MP, was to speak even though he was speaking on economics. Williamson’s offence was to say the party had been “too apologetic” about alleged antisemitism. He was suspended for those remarks.

Is that the answer? Unless Marra is suspended from Labour, the party is proven to be transmisogynist?

It is not just Marra. Lachlan Stuart in 2017 claimed trans women are not women and are not subject to the oppression of sexism. He remains a domestic policy adviser in Jeremy Corbyn’s office. He wants to redefine LGBT to LGB, excluding trans women.

There are allegations Jeremy Corbyn himself is antisemitic. I know a man in my constituency Labour party who shares antisemitic memes on Facebook. He performed at a Labour fundraiser. A woman obsessively shares TERF articles on the constituency women’s forum page.

There is a moral calculation to be made. We know how dreadful the Tories are: “Fuck business”, said their leader. They put ideology over economics and islamophobia is rife. They cut solar panel subsidies, and will barely start window dressing on the climate. My last MP is a liar, climate change denier and Leave campaigner. The question is, is a Labour Party infected with transmisogyny and antisemitism better? Or, am I tarred with antisemitism and transmisogyny campaigning for Labour?

Labour tries to be inclusive. I am glad Roger Graef, who supported parents campaigning against age-appropriate LGBT education in schools, was deselected. While some in Labour stand up against prejudice I will stand with them.

I loathe what the Tories have done to the country. Labour would be better. I will campaign for them. It is not that I am working for a party with transmisogynist or antisemitic policies, but for one including antisemites and transphobes. It still rankles.

On radio 4, Laura Pidcock, shadow Employment Secretary, said, She said: “We have said that single-sex spaces exemptions within the Equality Act are enforced… I think, there has to be the enforcement of single space exemptions for women to heal and recover.

“It is absolutely crucial, however, that there are spaces, that there is provision, for trans people to also get help and support on any issue.”

Oh brilliant. Separate but equal.

There’s now a “Labour Women’s Declaration“. It’s the usual rubbish- “single sex, “female only”, plus the right to “freedom of belief and discussion”, so that they can hate us without criticism. Nothing else. They’re not campaigning on rape culture, period poverty, child care, just NO Trans Women!!

Prominent and damaging Labour transphobes include Jo Stevens, Shadow secretary for digital, culture, media and sport, and Rosie Duffield MP.

13 February 2020: Sign the statement and pledge for the Labour Campaign for trans rights.

20 February: It’s hard to know what Tony Blair meant when he said, You’ve got to distinguish between the advocacy of certain things that are right, whether it’s about gay rights, transgender rights, whatever it is… and launching yourself politically into a kind of culture war with the right. If you go, ‘Transgender rights is our big thing’, and the right goes, ‘Immigration control is our big thing’, you’re going to lose that war. Should we not mention trans rights? Journalists ask us about it and write about it because controversy means clicks, just as they asked Tim Farron endlessly about his Evangelical faith and gay people, whatever else he wanted to talk about. I don’t want trans rights to be our “big thing” either, but I want us to speak up for them.

Here is the relevant part of the Rule Book 2019: Chapter 2, Clause I, para 8: No member of the Party shall engage in conduct which in the opinion of the NEC is prejudicial, or in any act which in the opinion of the NEC is grossly detrimental to the Party. The NEC and NCC shall take account of any codes of conduct currently in force and shall regard any incident which in their view might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on age; disability; gender reassignment or identity; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; or sexual orientation as conduct prejudicial to the Party: these shall include but not be limited to incidents involving racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia or otherwise racist language, sentiments, stereotypes or actions, sexual harassment, bullying or any form of intimidation towards another person on the basis of a protected characteristic as determined by the NEC, wherever it occurs, as conduct prejudicial to the Party.The disclosure of confidential information relating to the Party or to any other member, unless the disclosure is duly authorised or made pursuant to a legal obligation, shall also be considered conduct prejudicial to the Party.

The words I have put in bold show the “Labour Women’s Declaration” is “conduct prejudicial to the party”. The members who signed it should be suspended under the Chapter 6 disciplinary rules.

6 April: I am delighted with our new leader Keir Starmer. In his letter to Labour MPs, recorded in this video, he said, “The truth is that antisemitism has been a stain on our party. I have seen the grief that it’s brought to so many Jewish communities. That is why I used my first words as Leader to apologise to the Jewish community. It will take time to rebuild trust but with your support we can do it.” He should say the same about transphobia. He said “We need to update the Gender Recognition Act”.

29 June: Keir Starmer demanded Lloyd Russell Moyle apologise to JK Rowling, then said we should “have the conversation” about trans rights, listening to transphobes as well as trans people.

Opposites

I have two desires: to hide away and not be noticed, and to let my Effulgence shine forth that I may be admired. My former friend noticed this years ago, remarking that I wanted to blend into the background in the most eye-catching way possible, and his remarking on it helped me see it. The contradictoriness of it befuddled me, and both desires seemed ridiculous or reprehensible, as there is nothing I need hide from (I lectured myself sternly) and I have nothing particular worth showing off. George- Don’t do that.

If I dislike these desires, I am uncomfortable whether I achieve both or neither. I have been so uncomfortable in my own skin, second-guessing every desire and every act. I am wasting my life, hiding like this; showing off when I have so little to show off appears foolish. And yet both are necessary, to protect myself as I see fit, and to take risks and give service. I could hardly believe it: I value being inconsistent, but how could I be so contradictory? So I half-understood what I wanted, condemned it, and was paralysed.

It felt, with my friend on Saturday, saying it so bluntly, admitting both desires coexist, that this was new. I have both desires, and that they were opposite ceased to be a barrier to seeing them. Either might be fitting, in different circumstances. The self-concept is a particular steady, reasonable human being with particular admirable, consistent qualities- obviously a myth. The organismic self is mercurial, ad hoc, inconsistent, unpredictable.

How on Earth did we evolve the capacity to be conflicted?

This is my spiritual journey- finding who I am, and coming to accept it. I am finding it hard work. It takes my intellect, love and good will. I am reading Etty Hillesum’s diary, and have just read the fabulous entry from 3 July 1942.

I must admit a new insight into my life and find a place for it: what is at stake is our impending destruction and annihilation, we can have no more illusions about that. They are out to destroy us completely, we must accept that and go on from there. She writes of the Nuremberg laws, of the blisters on her feet because she cannot use trams and must walk, how she cannot go out of the city, use any patch of grass which are all labelled as parks; go to non-Jews’ houses, though she broke that law; go to greengrocers, so that she would queue for permitted shops and get nothing. It is ghastly. The long entry ends with a German soldier. I shall have to pray for this German soldier. Out of all those uniforms one has been given a face now. There will be other faces too, in which we shall be able to read something we understand: that German soldiers suffer as well. There are no frontiers between suffering people, and we must pray for them all. Goodnight.

I find life difficult, and have particular sorrows. I do not envy hers. We looked at a couple having coffee together, two men. I wondered if it was a first or second date. He thought it might be a pre-date, the two of them “meeting as friends” but there is so much going on under the surface, now clearly surfacing. Mmm. Gay male couples can be so direct and immediate. Two women can dance around each other, getting no closer, for ages. He wondered if a straight man would notice. Some would, some wouldn’t, I suppose. There are some allies. Around lunchtime, one went to get another coffee, and the other wondered if he might have wine. I restrained the impulse to encourage him.

Etty accepts the fact of her own death, and is enabled to Live: I accept it all as one mighty whole.

Yes, we carry everything within us, God and Heaven and Hell and Earth and Life and Death and all of history. The externals are simply so many props; everything we need is within us. And we have to take everything that comes: the bad with the good, which does not mean we cannot devote our life to curing the bad. But we must know what motives inspire our struggle, and we must begin with ourselves, every day anew.

Wow. It is stunning stuff. I am embracing my own contradictoriness. Both desires are acceptable. I might pursue either and delight in it, escaping being conflicted. Brains are plastic after all. How can I cease to resist myself? I have this spiritual path, and I must follow it.

Being an ally

I feel an obligation to be an ally to other disadvantaged groups. I like to think that trans folk, and LGBT more generally, would see the value in that, as together we are stronger, and we know the experience of being an outsider so should wish to mitigate it for everyone. I like to think that any civilised human being would understand the value of diversity.

I hate to think of humanity as everyone for themself, a survival of the fittest struggle. It is a mark of increased civilisation and maturity to abhor the idea of an out-group, to have fellow-feeling with everyone, and indeed the whole biosphere. More co-operation is always a good. Everyone gains when everyone is included. “Whatever you did for the least of these you did for me,” says Jesus.

In thinking about being an ally to Jews against antisemitism, I see from both sides- the ally to Jews, and the trans woman supported by allies. I am reading in order to learn more, and find beautiful things:

Dara Horn wrote in the NYT: Since ancient times, in every place they have ever lived, Jews have represented the frightening prospect of freedom. As long as Jews existed in any society, there was evidence that it in fact wasn’t necessary to believe what everyone else believed, that those who disagreed with their neighbors could survive and even flourish against all odds. The Jews’ continued distinctiveness, despite overwhelming pressure to become like everyone else, demonstrated their enormous effort to cultivate that freedom: devotion to law and story, deep literacy, and an absolute obsessiveness about transmitting those values between generations. The existence of Jews in any society is a reminder that freedom is possible, but only with responsibility — and that freedom without responsibility is no freedom at all.

So it is in my interests to be an ally. I find cosmopolitanism attractive, as an antidote to the blood and soil nationalism of Batten, Farage, Yaxley saying “I want my country back”. I am not a little Englander- Vaughan Williams is wonderful, but not a patch on Beethoven or even Bartok. Some peaks of non-European culture are mine, and I benefit from engaging with Hokusai or The Tale of Genji. Jews’ freedom to be Jews and my freedom to be trans are inseparable, but our freedom makes all more free: supporting minorities is enlightened self-image. Farage does not want to do anything for his countrymen, beyond giving them worthless myths. When he whips up hatred and fear in order to get votes, no-one gains.

As an ally I will see differently. I have read Augustine’s confessions, but remember little of them. For me Augustine is “Make me chaste, but not yet”, Original Sin and Substitutionary Atonement. A Jew might recall his treatment of Psalm 59- he says of the Jews “do not kill them”, but the context is of the enemies of God- allow them to live, as a dread reminder of God’s wrath.

The beauty of Amos Oz! I love his story about being the child throwing stones at soldiers in uniform with guns, though in his case British colonial troops. It does not mean he was a supporter of the Intifada, but a supporter of a two state solution. He wrote, Israel is a refugee camp, Palestine too. The conflict is a tragic clash between the right and the right … both nations don’t have another place to go. Crusade, Pogrom, Holocaust, exile, two thousand years of persecution and murder. So I am against anything which makes the continuing presence of Jews in Israel impractical, so against BDS.

I feel an obligation to be an ally to Jews because I am a member of the Labour Party, which faces a continuing stream of allegations about antisemitism. We desperately need a Labour government to reverse the damage done to the social fabric by the Tories, and Mr Corbyn’s pacifism might reduce some of the damage done by “defence” contractors and spending. And his admiration for JA Hobson, without condemnation of Hobson’s antisemitism, is wrong. He should apologise for it. He has greater prominence than he had in 2011 when he praised Hobson, so things come to light about him which went unnoticed before. And an obligation because I am British; we did damage as the colonial power with our divide and rule policies.

I do not think Quakers are antisemitic, but our engagement with disinvestment from the Occupied Territories means I feel an obligation to be clearer about the boundary between legitimate support of the Palestinian people, and antisemitism.

I have also read about “philo-Semitism”, which Jews may see as suspect. It is clearest in the extremes, with US Evangelicals supporting the State of Israel in order to bring forward the Rapture, from which I discern how being an ally in ones own interest may repel Jews. So: I don’t have a right to define the boundaries of the group, or groupish behaviour.

That being an ally involves Respect comes far more clearly to me thinking of antisemitism than of transphobia.

Here am I, being an ally. I love Richard Rohr; and yet find this sentence about Etty Hillesum rebarbative. In The Universal Christ chapter 6 he writes, although she wasn’t a Christian, she was highly spiritual in the best sense of that term. She was an utter realist, devoid of self-pity, and with an almost impossible freedom from need to blame, hate, or project her inner anxiety elsewhere. Without desiring to patronize her, I would identify Etty as a person Karl Rahner would’ve called an “anonymous Christian”. Rohr may fear that his audience think Christians uniquely enlightened by God, more than he needs to with me, but the implication that anyone should be surprised that a Jew was so wonderfully spiritual is offensive.

What can I do, as an ally? I can learn, and I can speak out- as I do here.

Powerful, beautiful, alive

I cannot see, in an art work, anything which is not myself; but I can see something I have not admitted to myself. The human being contains multitudes. The whole human being, the artist, speaks to the whole human being, the viewer. Content: suicide and internalised prejudice; and also overcoming that in celebration.

It seems to me that my conscious mind is a filter, preoccupied with what a human being, and in particular this human being, should be. The “shoulds” come from outside, from parents and the wider society. The brain, being part of a whole organism, calculates what others desire and what it can get away with, and produces a simulacrum of that, while underneath there are greater possibilities and desires. Primo Levi observed inmates of Auschwitz who wanted to live by the rules, a common human desire, which might be understandable in Jews- I fit in, give unobtrusive service, try not to be noticed, and thereby might survive- but in Auschwitz the rules were designed to starve and freeze the inmates to death, and so that route to survival was no longer open.

This crushed response of traumatised Jews in Eastern Europe in the 1930s, or Venice in 1516, is not the Jewishness of Naftali Bennett. Bennett, the politician of the settlers, may be a bad man, an oppressor of the Palestinians; but outrage at him can still be antisemitic, insofar as it is outrage because he is uppity.

You need a queer eye to read Francis Bacon. His lover George Dyer committed suicide in a hotel bathroom. Triptych 1973 may show him dying, that black stain seeping out being his life draining away or death coming upon him like a wraith. A straight woman guide led us to Triptych 1972, and suggested it was the same, the death, the man crushed. No. Those pools on the floor, I was sure they were cum. These figures are ejaculating, a glorious, joyous climax, more I think than most prostates would achieve, a superhuman effervescence of life. Coming, he feels immortal.

You need a queer eye because the straight might see the poor oppressed gay having a ghastly time then dying, poor soul, wasn’t it awful to be gay with all that homophobia? And I see Bacon, the gay man who knows exactly who he is, being it and showing it. Elsewhere in his work subjects have manly energy, physically and psychologically imposing, with a sense of threat, but here they are soft gay men and glorying in it.

Partly I do not listen to you because my concern is not to hear what you have to say but to maintain and affirm the societal consensus, what we should think. Or, perhaps, you would free me if I could hear you but I am not ready for that.

I want you to find this offensive- and then laugh in delight. If I am I in all my Light this is not taking physical goods which are not mine, so that others have less, so much as dancing new moves which will embolden others to dance their own.

I do not see my power, my inner Light, because I imagine it ought to be good, that is, good as the societal consensus would see good. And it is so much more than that. It could feel like a threat, or danger, because it is so alive. It wants to shine, for shining is its nature, and thereby to draw out others’ light. The Light is hard and soft, gentle and commanding, all that is possible in a human, made in the image of God, loving, creative, powerful, beautiful.

I want everyone to be uppity. I want us to dance together, showing our abundance. Jesus said let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Antisemitism and transmisogyny

Vocal prejudice tends to be right-wing, with the exception of prejudice against trans women and Jews. Many people who would think of themselves as left-wing, and hold some left-wing opinions, are happy to speak their prejudice against both; so trans women can learn from Jews about seeing where prejudice lies. People on the Left can be sexist and racist, of course, paying less attention or respect to women and people of colour, but tend not to express racist and sexist views. When they express antisemitic or transmisogynist views they are working in the interests of the extreme right, dividing the Left and chasing mirages.

So it is worth reading Understanding Antisemitism by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (click for pdf) which starts with a picture of Muslims in solidarity with praying Jews, and ends with a picture of Jews in solidarity with Muslims at an “Iftar in the streets” after Trump’s Muslim ban. The Right seeks to divide people, possibly because they are incapable of understanding life without out-groups; solidarity is our answer. That is why I want to learn about antisemitism, and stand against it.

I have seen antisemitism shared by a Labour member, against rich elites exploiting workers, but painting those elites as Jewish rather than merely rich. There are rich Jews- in 2015, 11.6% of the world’s billionaires were Jews, and 1.7% of millionaires- a bigger proportion than of the population as a whole, but a small proportion of the very wealthy. More than half the world’s millionaires identified as Christian.

Aurora Levins Morales skewers this: Racism is like a millstone, a crushing weight that relentlessly presses down on people intended to be a permanent underclass. Its purpose is to press profit from us, right to the edge of extermination and beyond. The oppression of Jews is a conjuring trick, a pressure valve, a shunt that redirects the rage of working people away from the 1%, a hidden mechanism, a set up that works through misdirection, that uses privilege to hide the gears.

Unlike racism, at least some of its targets must be seen to prosper, must be well paid and highly visible. The goal is not to crush us, it’s to have us available for crushing.

By redirecting rage against oppressors onto Jews, the rich escape democratic oversight and proper taxation. The tactic of the Right is to divide us. In the same way, some trans people are prominent, such as Caitlyn Jenner, and thereby a focus for hatred of trans women, which is then generalised. We could be allies working on genuine feminist concerns, and instead we are sniping at each other. Caitlyn is not celebrated because she is Trans, but because she is a former athlete and connected to the Kardashian family- she is a celebrity. It is not quite the same: prominent trans people tend to be writers, speakers, actors, celebrities, and George Soros is a billionaire funding progressive causes such as the People’s Vote campaign in the UK, but both are privileged and targeted.

I saw a post writing about women murdered by partners or former partners, with legitimate emotion, then phobically turning that emotion on trans women: while men kill women that they know at the rate of over 2 a week, all the energies of the women, like me, who stand up for these women and fight for these women are being focused on fighting against men for the right to define womanhood and all that entails. It would be legitimate rage against feminist energy being diverted from true feminist concerns to an unimportant matter; but rather her rage is against trans women.

Legitimate criticism may shade over into prejudice and phobia. We should criticise violence by trans women, but it should not be over emphasised. Tara Wolf committed an assault, but it was not newsworthy. JFREJ say We must criticize Jews who support the oppression of Palestinians on the same terms and by the same standards that we hold for all oppressors the world over — we are enraged because of what they do, not by who they are.

JFREJ say Jews fear that the State of Israel is all that stands between them and a new Shoah, but eschew the argument that claims of rights for Palestinians which would make the State of Israel no longer Jewish are antisemitic. I disagree. I consider that Jews born in Israel have created a right to stay in a Jewish state. The existence of Israel gives a measure of protection to Jews, who are subject to prejudice and have been for millennia. And trans women are safer being treated as women, rather than if we were tolerated dressing as we do but expected to be treated as men.

Their account of internalised antisemitism may help understand internalised transphobia. Many trans women try to make men of ourselves before transitioning, and still fear we should be manly or that our femininity is weakness. But internalised phobia does not manifest itself in the same way in all trans women. JFREJ reports that even where Jews are safe, such as financially secure Jews in American cities, they can be aware of the history of antisemitism and so that safety feels precarious. Even when mostly safe, we are continually made aware of transphobic incidents and transphobia in the media. They call on Jews to work against white privilege, and trans women should be feminist.