Kenan Malik

“We need a political language that can both encompass the varied experiences of particular groups and imbue a sense of solidarity to struggles for social change.”

Kenan Malik’s aims are close to mine. Solidarity, change, equality, calling the oligarchs to account. We have different ways to get there, though. He talks of respect and tolerance. Tolerance is “the willingness to accept ideas or practices that we might despise or disagree with but recognise are important to others”. We tolerate ideas, such as, the way other people worship differently to us, or “possess beliefs contrary to the social consensus”. Respect is “regard for other people as human beings, as an acknowledgment that every individual possesses an equal standing in the moral community”. We respect human beings, though not necessarily their beliefs or acts.

He wants to “tolerate” the beliefs of football fans booing players who take the knee. I want them recognised as racists, and to face consequences: they could be identified from CCTV, and perhaps banned from matches. Racist chants and banana-throwing was typical abuse in football, so there needs to be strong action against racism in football now.

You might think banning spectators from matches too great a sanction. Nigel Farage wants racism normalised: he tweeted that BLM are a “Marxist mob” and got 20,000 likes. This is much like Mr Trump referring to Mr Biden’s prospective government as “Radical socialist Democrats”, as if wearing a mask led to corruption, authoritarianism and poverty.

Malik’s “social consensus” is a myth. I want the booing punished. Farage wants taking the knee expunged. People want to move the Overton Window to Right or Left, and already it allows strongly divergent views.

Malik’s view also denies the relevance of power. Most BLM protesters are lacking in power, though when people come together they are stronger. He quotes Bhikhu Parekh- “Since human beings are culturally embedded, equal respect for persons… entails respect for their cultures and ways of life”- only to dismiss that. He wants the “equal treatment of people” but tolerates “ideas” which militate against it. He writes,

We should respect trans women and men as individuals, acknowledge the ways in which they identify themselves, recognise the hostility they face, and defend their right to equal treatment. We should equally recognise that many feminists identify what it is to be a woman differently, and that their arguments are important to hear, rather than being summarily dismissed as “transphobic”, and the debate closed down. Being tolerant of disagreement is not the same as being tolerant of hatred.

This is not a matter of ideas, but of people’s lives. This is no ivory tower symposium on the precise nature of women, but a fight to exclude and monster us. Trans women have been in women’s spaces for decades, as the law has officially allowed since at least 2010, based on our own self-declaration. Trans excluders want us kicked out. So when a transphobe tweets “men are not women” it changes from being an obvious and unobjectionable statement into transphobic hate. Malik wrote about the tweet on his previous article asserting that transphobia was simply “ideas” to be tolerated.

The twitterer was what Malik called “feminist Meghan Murphy”. That is an assertion too: she is not acting in a feminist way when she tweets transphobia. It is quite as relevant to call her “cinema-goer Megan” or even “soi-disant ‘feminist’ Megn”. I want Meg to disappear. I am not using argument here. I am fighting for my life.

Then, Malik wrote,

If it is “hate speech” to question a particular definition of what it is to be a woman, or “bigoted” to express concern about non-natal women being allowed into female-only spaces, the very notion of public debate is transformed. There would seem to be little one could say on most difficult issues that could not also be construed as hatred.

The purpose is hatred. They so want to erase us that they deny us the language to describe ourselves: WPUK calls for exclusion of trans women, over and over again, without mentioning us. You can still talk about the current climate catastrophe, Brexit, any number of important political issues, and I have virulent hatred against the destroyers and deniers. I want them silenced and ostracised, though they continue in pomp, power and adulation. When deniers like Nigel Lawson get a hearing, they make the end of the biosphere more likely.

But for Malik, it’s just argument. He wails, “We live in a world, though, in which many insist that there can only be one way of interpreting contentious issues, whether racial justice or trans rights.”

Rude names, mockery and dismissal lead inexorably to violence against trans people. I wish it were only a matter of speech and argument. The Guardian does not treat transphobia with the hatred it deserves.

Heron Greenesmith: Disrupting anti-trans feminist advocacy

Heron Greenesmith, Esq, senior research analyst at Political Research Associates, has produced a webinar on arguing with anti-trans feminists, which is now on Vimeo, and other writings worth a look. The whole is worth watching, but if you don’t have ninety minutes, here are the main points, sometimes with my own gloss:

The Left works with an abundance mindset, that there is enough for everyone if it is fairly shared, and from a belief in interconnectedness, that unless everyone is included everyone’s inclusion is threatened. The Right works from a scarcity mindset, promoting competition for scarce resources, and a smaller circle of empathy or moral concern, supporting the rights of an in-group against the rest. The Right is happy to amplify any oppressed voice which speaks out against other oppressed groups, and so pays for anti-trans campaigners, who have adopted that scarcity and in-group mindset.

The anti-trans piling of detail follows the tactic of the Gish Gallop, named after the creationist Duane Gish, who often spouted lots of ridiculous arguments in one paragraph, so that the opponent either wastes time refuting them or lets them pass. RationalWiki really wants to counter such things.

Trans excluders use scare tactics around bathrooms and talks of “erasing women and girls”. These tactics are effective, particularly in radicalising groups where beliefs are not subject to challenge. In response we can respond with empathy, particularly when the excluder may mean well, humour, logic, data, or just ignore them when they are finally closed minded. We need to persuade the people in the middle, not every single trans excluder.

Some of their talking points can be disrupted:

“Biology isn’t bigotry,” they say, but in fact biology based bigotry is the basis of white nationalism. Human gender and sexuality are complex.

Point out that they are talking of comfort, rather than safety. Trans people suffer violence. Someone might be uncomfortable seeing a trans person, but is not really in danger. Women’s spaces were never actually safe for many women- women of colour, disabled, low income, nonbinary. Safety is aspirational. There may be actual ways to increase safety in a space.

Trans excluders claim trans people recruit children, just as homophobes claim gay men recruit children. This pretends we have more power than we have. The Patriarchy is the enemy, not trans people. The Patriarchy pressures people to conform to gender roles. Trans people, including children, feel safer to be visible than we did before.

Trans excluders use apparently innocuous slogans, such as “Woman: adult human female”. This is the same tactic as “Blue Lives Matter” or Ronald Reagan’s “Make America Great Again”. I see that and I feel personally slighted, and under threat. It is violence, designed to make trans people afraid to walk in the street or be ourselves on line. It is violent to deny words are hateful when the trans excluder intends hate.

They say we need to prioritise real women. “Real” is harmful. It reinforces hierarchies, a tool of the Right, rather than inclusion. Lots of women are on the fringes- intersex, nonbinary, gender non-conforming. Many women do not menstruate. When we prioritise the most marginalised, everyone benefits. (See John Rawls’s “Relative Least Advantaged Person”).

Excluders say cis women deserve their own “sex-based” spaces. Spaces can exclude some women. It is scary to feel vulnerable, but it is the Patriarchy, not trans people, who make spaces scary. Trans women face violence.

Excluders say trans women should not compete in women’s sports. But the Olympics has included trans women since 2004, and the US National College Athletics Association since 2011. Our participation is governed by strict rules on testosterone levels, and we do not dominate. Go on, name that cyclist. Rachel McKinnon. Heron spoke to a man who said there were trans women in tennis, but could not name one, not even Renee Richards. And even if trans women did dominate, would that not be worth it, to make trans women safe in society? The US Women’s National Basketball Association welcomes trans women, but includes none yet.

Excluders say “Why can’t we be butches any more?” It’s the Patriarchy that says women can’t be butch. JK Rowling said “I too might have tried to transition. The allure of escaping womanhood would have been huge.” It is the Patriarchy, and rape culture, that makes female adolescence so difficult, not trans people. Reifying the gender binary makes that problem worse. Butch gender is misunderstood by the Right and the Patriarchy: it’s the same problem trans people endure.

Rowling said her gender was not affirmed. It should have been.

Anti-trans campaigners harp on about penises, falsely claiming fewer trans women seek medical treatment than actually do. Penises, and men, are not the problem. It’s the Patriarchy, the Right, the scarcity mindset and the limited circle of empathy. Trans excluders are not true feminists.

I need not to care

“Am I a ‘woman’? Yes if your definition includes me; no if it doesn’t.” I might have to speak about trans in front of a partly hostile audience, and I thought of saying that. It is necessary for me not to care what people think, and saying that makes it clearer. I have said that people considering transition need to believe that they are women, in order to pluck up the courage to transition, but after transition I could be depressed for weeks by one fool abusing me in the street, and it was a huge release not to care. Jan Morris, challenged on the radio about asserting she was a woman, said she was probably something in between. Transition exists. People do it. Therefore it is acceptable.

Others try to argue we transition because we are perverts, or because we are really women. I want to be accepted because I am human, doing what humans do. I hate the arguments, even that we are really women- saying that means it needs to be said. I don’t want to be argued about.

“Are you a woman?”

Oh, god. I dunno. Or, why are you asking. Or, what do you think. Or, shut up and go away. Or, a blank stare, which is a mixture of depression, lack of motivation, and revulsion. I do not want to say “Yes”, because that confers some legitimacy on the question, on the questioner’s right to ask it. Saying yes means it is a question that can be asked.

Here we are. We are mostly harmless, and should be judged as individuals, not as a group threat because some of us are criminals. Harold Shipman was a serial murderer, but people still trust their doctors.

When I lay on my floor weeping, “I am not a man,” that was important to me. Then being able not to care when someone told me “I find you profoundly masculine” was important to me. So I constructed a narrative- people who transition need to assert that they are women. I don’t need anyone else to believe that, and so I am free.

I need not to care what other people think, or their doubts will depress me. My narrative said that recent transitioners with a fragile sense of their womanhood needed to assert it: their position came from their psychological need. Now it seems my own position comes from my psychological need.

Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still

To care- enough to stand up and speak the truth, to act where action is needed. Not to care- not to be worried by the opposition, even if they seem to be gaining ground, for what I must do is the same even if they are gaining ground. The ability to speak and act is affected by depression.

The truth of the argument does not change. My ability to put it does. I feel able to put different arguments to different groups.

To the gender critical, I want to put the specific argument that gender stereotypes will be reinforced if transition becomes impossible. I don’t want to simply exclude them as wrong for wanting to exclude me, I want to persuade them that excluding me is wrong so that they stop, and we can all be one inclusive accepting group. That argument is polarising, which depresses me.

Persuadable outsiders

I am glad when TERFs say I should not be allowed to use women’s toilets or changing rooms, or that they refuse to use feminine pronouns when referring to me. They are more likely to alienate women who are not already invested in TERF propaganda.

It is a simple argument. People feel great distress, and find transition relieves it. We are mostly harmless. We are not all the same, so when rapists transition it does not mean all trans women are rapists, any more than when a doctor murders three hundred people it would mean that all doctors are considering murder.

Once a feminist is convinced of the TERF case, she may be radicalised completely. They tell each other of autogynephilia, as if that could cause anyone to transition. The more hostile someone gets, the more extreme her arguments. Where there is a range of opinion the least hostile may be seduced into greater hostility. Anger has energy. They call us ridiculous and disgusting. They attribute fetishistic, sexual motives to us, though I just want to pee. More people might be enticed by statements of pain and distress, that someone was frightened, say, but I tend not to hear “I was frightened by this person” but that people might be. In theory, a recent rape victim might be upset seeing a trans woman in a women’s toilet, perceiving that person as a man, and that matters, but there are not many of us and the risk is not sufficient to justify stopping us using toilets. There are better ways to protect women from male violence.

They other us. We are the threatening Outsiders, who may hurt reasonable people. Good people should therefore protect the vulnerable good people from us. The lie that we are threatening is used to justify violence against us. Fortunately, people can see through that. There is enough experience of othering, from antisemitism to the Rwandan genocide, or conservatives whipping up hostility to immigrants; and of outsiders winning the argument, like homophobia changing from being ubiquitous to unacceptable.

We have won the argument. We are harmless, just trying to live our lives, like anyone else. We can often win sympathy talking of our struggle, but if you want to transition why shouldn’t you? Most of the froth of the argument goes on arcane websites only read by convinced extremists, or the occasional browser wondering what the fuss is about- so extremism is to be welcomed, as it puts ordinary people off.

That means trans women should ignore such sites. They are tempting. People evolved to be wary of threat. There might be a lion in that bush. Now, in generally safe societies, we see more threat than there is. Wondering if we will be safe to transition, we check out what society says and are disproportionately drawn to sites indicating danger. A plane crash, but not a safe flight, is news, so news is less realistic than advertising. If you really want to transition, you will probably be safe enough.

It means we should have an eye to the persuadable outsider. A woman shoving a camera in your face is hostile and provocative, but hitting her or snatching the camera is not justified, and attempts to justify it will put most people off us. Generally only people considering transition will be interested in arcane matters like tucking or female embodiment fantasies. TERFs might look, seeking ammunition or stoking their own fear and disgust, but outsiders aren’t interested in that.

It is a simple argument. We are living our lives as best we can. There is nothing wrong with that. That is as far as most people will bother going, if they consider trans rights at all.

Thinking and feeling II

What do you think about it? and What do you feel about it? are different questions, eliciting different responses. Each is half the question, neither sufficient by itself. After, I wished she had asked, “What do you think about the job interview?” as I would not have sounded so silly, self-centred and irrelevant.

Ah. I still despise my feelings. I find them unconstructive. They get in the way.

That dispute. It is a pecking order thing. I altered the way a question was to be put to Area Meeting. I altered the expression of the question, not the issue to be considered. My motive was to facilitate discernment, which I felt would be disrupted by the poor formulation of the questions. K thought I was changing the issue, and told me I should not. She asserted that the original question had been put by a particular authority. When I showed this was in error, she approached J to seek reconciliation of our dispute.

The facts matter. Was the original question badly expressed? Did my rephrasing cover the same issue? That can be assessed. Then there is the feeling: when I act for the good of the group, I resent being accused of favouring my personal preferences. I resent being told what to do, without justification.

Now I assert, I am standing my ground for the good of the group. If the whole group sets our agenda, and debates it, our time is wasted. No-one else should criticise my agenda-setting without good reason, because the only efficient way to deal with agenda-setting is to delegate it to one person, who gets it mostly right. So my agenda-setting should be tolerated unless it is particularly bad. This is arguable, but may be rationalisation. I know what I want, and construct arguments that it is right. The argument emboldens me to keep contesting the matter.

Here thinking and feeling intertwine. The question is, “How do I respond?

Earlier, I thought, give up. Then it nagged at me. I could not give up. I analysed the matter and found a way to assert myself. So much of this is unconscious. It just seems to happen.

I cycled past Boughton House, thinking, I have about another hour to go. The late afternoon sun is beautiful. The inclines can be a bit of a bind. I saw a tiny deer, only the height of a golden retriever, staring out from the woods. Exercise is good. Now, I am committed. I encourage and chivvy myself along. There are different voices in me, seeming more rational or emotive, and their relative power varies in different situations.

Hammershoi, interior with potted plant on card table

World views

Everdingen- girl in a large hatOn the telly, a group of British creationists was taken on a road trip across America, having their beliefs challenged. At one point, they saw the Grand Canyon, and said it was laid down in the Flood. Dialogue between world-views does not happen, generally: blog debates are something like this:

-Scientific Rationalism!

and however much they repeat these steps, with whatever expressions of derision and contempt, both go away thinking they have won. Perhaps they have sharpened their own understanding of their own position, and so go away more solidly in their own camp. It is the same if I debate with people who think Trans is Wrong, or that my religion must involve silly beliefs, however much I say it is about practice and attitude. We talk to ourselves.

Everdingen- WinterA “Side B Christian”, who thinks gay people should be celibate, but does not want gay cure therapy, might be more able to persuade others against gay cure therapy than I could. Because they are so similar, they might listen to nuances of difference.

I might tentatively enquire what they get out of the world-view. The TERF is transphobic, having a disgust reaction to trans people, and she gets validation: her dislike is rational, and Feminist. Those who do not share it need consciousness-raising. On no account should her phobia be challenged. One holds an irrational world-view because it achieves something good in ones eyes. But this must not be acknowledged: I must assert that my world-view is rational, or else I will lose that good thing.

Here is the Kingdom of Heaven. First clutching my filthy rags about me, which do not clothe me at all, I suddenly throw them away to stand naked and unafraid.

Everdingen, Elisabeth van KesselMy world view is different from what I inherited, and the same. That fight with the Director of Education which led my father to be forced into early retirement- I see it, and say, “Completely ridiculous! Why did you have to stick your heels in?” And I can see myself in the same self-harming fight. In different circumstances I have been in it.

My parents kept themselves to themselves. I have had serious friendships, but I do not form them easily. I think of “Auntie” Bess and my mother, who kept in touch though Bess stayed in Falkirk, and see similarities. After my parents retired they visited Malta for six weeks with SAGA holidays, met two couples from Berkshire and Kent respectively, stayed in touch, and spent weeks in each others’ houses. It felt like a wonderful opening, like new freedom and flowering.

In my first post, here, I wrote of Pupating, and that claim was premature. I still cling to my rags. The power of illusion is that they appear to be warm clothes, showing me off to my best advantage.

Question. What do I want, but take no action to get, because I imagine I have it?

There may be other ways into this.

Towards a meeting of minds

Avenue_of_Plane_Trees_near_Arles_Station (2)Children have a right not to be brought up by gay couples, because children suffer loss by not having connection with both biological parents.

Well. Children are separated from one or both biological parent in the cases of sterility of one heterosexual partner and artificial insemination, or by divorce, or death. Loss of connection with biological parents is no more an argument against gay parenting than against all infertility treatment.

There is a separate argument about whether children have a right to be brought up by opposite sex parents, for whatever reason. Well, my mother “wore the trousers” in their relationship, but I would rather exist than not- given the range of parenting situations, it is wrong to restrict only gay couples from having children, by legislation or by social shaming, by punishment or by restricting access to medically assisted fertility.

Research into gay parenting is unclear, not proving definitively that children of gay couples have as good outcomes as children of straight couples; and if their outcomes were worse, whether that was a result of prejudice against the parents, rather than a bad experience of family life. Problems include the paucity of research subjects, and lack of funding. In the absence of long term large scale quantitative studies, small scale qualitative studies provide useful evidence, if not definitive proof.

Given that Western society restricts parenting in only the most extreme situations, with social workers ready to take the baby from certain unfit mothers, there is no ground to restrict gay parenting unless it could be proved to be harmful. The onus of proof is on those who would restrict gay parenting.

Askme argued that there is insufficient research to show gay parenting is not harmful. In this post Violetwisp argues that separation from biological parents is not a good ground to restrict gay parenting, and provides a forum for two sides to meet. You may detect a tincture of sarcasm in her post. Do have a look. It seems to me that Askme is right on her narrow point that available research does not yet prove that gay parenting Avenue_of_Plane_Trees_near_Arles_Station (centre)produces at least equal outcomes, but Violet is right on the wider point that this gives no ground for restricting gay parenting.

So, we talk past each other.

This is an emotive subject, and the argument descends. The first comment gives an example of a parent whose insanity has taken the form of religious extremism. It is not, by itself an argument against religious people being allowed to be parents- insanity can take many forms- though there is such an argument, in that religious people often inculcate beliefs in their children which are harmful. So- arguments by religious people for restricting parenthood can simply be derailed by saying religious people should not be parents- even if the religious people are not making specifically religious arguments.

What brought me to post on this? “Hewhoshallnotbenamed”. He widens the argument onto gay marriage and gay parenting in general, making sweeping assertions including Homosexuality is an error. All species driving primary imperative is to reproduce and no one has produced any evidence to support Homosexuality being aligned with that goal. That makes me want to start railing, with sarcasm, rhetorical questions, dismissal and mockery. Any chance for a meeting of minds has gone.

I have drafted and redrafted this post, teasing out the disputes and arguments. There is certainly a place for encouraging our own side by stating the arguments and deriding the opposition. How much more difficult it is, to hear the opponent’s arguments and argue courteously.

Choosing the ground of an argument- what research shows, on whom should be the onus of proof, do children need caregivers of both sexes, is homosexuality natural- can give tactical advantage in arguing, but shifting the ground of argument just distances the parties further.

In my own comments there, I notice myself unconsciously alluding to particular grounds of argument with a brief summary of my side. This makes an argument against me either appear tedious and plodding, teasing out all the questions and answering them, or appear to fail to answer my points. I can express myself clearly and elegantly, but that requires effort.


Born that way a comment here, Coleman Glenn explains why, unless you see gay lovemaking as morally neutral, the “born that way” argument fails.

He is careful to say that he does not think homosexuality is anything like paedophilia, because paedophilia has a victim. He thinks gay sex harms those who practise it, though he does not say why. He says that “attraction to children” is classified as a mental illness in DSM5, and that arguably people are born with that orientation. But we who accept equal marriage would not accept that those attracted to children should act on their desires, and therefore for someone who believes gay sex is wrong, the “born that way” argument does not make it right. Let us debate other reasons why gay couples should be left in peace.

Well. Coleman is a Swedenborgian, and all I know of Swedenborg is that he was some kind of Christian whom William Blake despised- much of “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” is against Swedenborg. As a Christian, Coleman would value “It is not good for the man to be alone” and “it is better to marry than burn”. So, when I say that gay people are born that way, I argue that the person to assuage my loneliness, or the person who could stop me burning, is one of my own sex. So the “born that way” argument should work against Christian objectors to gay people, which explains the energy they put in to trying to argue we are not, in fact, born that way.

“Born that way” should also work against atheist objectors, if there be any such: if from your own experience you believe it is better to be part of a couple than not, “born that way” shows that gay people form couples which are- gay.

The real problem with the “born that way” argument is that it gives credence to people bleating that there is something wrong with equal marriage, or that gay one night stands might in some way be worse than straight ones. No. Really, no. Come up with some moral argument, and I might engage. Bleat that gay sex is wrong or icky without such an argument, and I have better things to do with my time. The homophobe has failed the basic test of human empathy, so the “born that way” argument will not work on him or her.

Added, late: if you came here from Facebook, please let me know how the comment thread there went.


For whom should I vote?

Louise Mensch went to New York to live with her husband, so resigned as an MP. A Labour colleague on a committee said he hated her politics but he found her a wonderful committee operator. I think, having been elected, she should have stayed the course. There will be a resentment of Mensch vote on the 15th, as well as a resentment of the Government.

I have been a lifelong Tory, because my father was Tory. He was chairman of the Constituency Association, I was briefly treasurer. I went out canvassing in my 20s. When I was 12, Mrs Thatcher was elected, and that was my first interest in politics: I thought it wonderful.

“If a man is not socialist in his teens, he has no heart. If he is not Conservative in middle age, he has no brain.” Well, I have neither, because I have moved Left, in part because of my toleration of my own idiosyncrasy, which I found vile. Self-hatred produces conservatism, the right-wing desire to control.

I rather liked Andy Sawford, the Labour candidate, when he knocked on my door. He invited email questions, and mine got no answer. I wrote it to be really hard, but that is no excuse: How, during a recession, do we have a trade deficit? That being the case, would not increases in government spending produce a consumer boom, which would appear in the GDP figures, but in reality cause worse problems later?

I understand Keynes advocated borrowing during a recession, to kick-start growth. What would Keynes have thought of Government borrowing during a consumer boom? How do you defend the Government’s record between 2005 and 2008?

Then a canvasser phoned, and said it was because of the Euro crisis, problems in our biggest markets. He sounded about twenty, and he knew Nigel Lawson was chancellor in the 1980s. We conversed for twenty minutes. How should I vote? Not for resentment of Government, because my memory stretches back to 2010 and before. He told me how wonderful Mr Millipede’s speech was at Conference, and how showy but facile Mr Cameron’s, and that did not convince me either, I will judge for myself. He had the rhetoric, but I seek the truth. Every time he answered my arguments and overcame them- he knows more, he cares more- he put me off more: his certainty, or something. And both main parties wish to manage the economy better, rather than to take a radical new direction. The gap between their policies is small. George Osborne borrows, perhaps more than Keynes would counsel.

A big issue in the election is Skew Bridge, an out of town shopping centre near Zhuzhkov. It will be good for shopping, perhaps with a Marks and Spencer! It will be bad for local town centres. The Conservatives say they support it and Labour oppose it, Labour says the opposite, and both use selective quotes. The leaflet pictured repels me. Red is the Labour colour. At first glance, it might be a Labour leaflet, then it calls them liars.

Also standing is Ian Gillman, who hates the EU yet cannot work with even the English Democrats or UKIP, whose leaflet reveals him as a tragic knowall. I could vote Liberal, though with a third the number of votes of the Conservatives or Labour in the General election, she is unlikely to win. I could vote Green- certain not to win, but I could register how beautiful I find windfarms. The trouble with the main candidates is that I want them both to lose.