What is a woman?

Anyone who wants to be is a woman. Trans women are women. I am going to argue what the word “woman” means and what it should include, considering various conservative and feminist arguments. This is a different argument from what is true in the real world, or what is morally right, but people use these arguments to argue about truth and justice. Continue reading

Morgane Oger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tribunal recognised the claimant’s bravery: Most people would not have been able to withstand the level of discrimination that Ms. Oger faced during the Tribunal’s hearing. They should not have to. To her immense credit, Ms. Oger comported herself with grace and dignity in the face of the persistent efforts to insult, undermine, and humiliate her.

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth Berridge

Another day, another transphobe, a nonentity saying what she is paid to say- but this one could be dangerous. The Mail on Sunday reported in its print edition, though not on line, that she had said in the House of Lords,

“Those seeking to rely on the protections and exemptions contained in the Equality Act 2020 [sic] must be able to do so with confidence and clarity. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s statutory codes of practice on the Equality Act 2010 explain the provisions of the Act and the EHRC is responsible for updating these codes as necessary.

“This Government has been clear that we must take the right steps to protect safe single-sex spaces for women and girls; their access should not be jeopardised. Some women’s organisations have expressed concern that predatory men may abuse the gender recognition system, intended to support transgender adults. We have heard these concerns and are considering carefully our next steps.”

This was in answer to a question by Ralph Palmer, a noted transphobe. He asked, “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Equality and Human Rights Commission about amendments to its guidance on the Equality Act 2010 to help providers of services understand how to handle requests for access to services and facilities from transgender people.”

How to handle requests? Grant them. If there is a clear reason not to serve trans women with non-trans women- not just someone finds trans icky, but a clear, statable reason- explain it, and find another way to support the woman. Instead, Berridge quoted myths from WPUK, and “considering carefully our next steps” means “We are going to find the best way to make trans people, and particularly trans women, a culture war target”.

The Mail apparently asked her for further comment, and summarised her response- the law is clear that such places [single sex spaces] should be for biological women only. When they quoted her directly, it was more circumspect: ‘Transgender people can be excluded from singlesex facilities if service providers have a legitimate reason for doing so and if exclusion is the least discriminatory way to proceed.’ That is mostly unobjectionable, though I would put it the other way round- trans women should be admitted unless there is a legitimate reason to exclude.

Berridge is the kind of nonentity to be appointed a Tory “working peer”. She was Executive Director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship: I found this page asking for “prayers” about the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, now deleted from their own site: Berridge would like to call gay men “Sodomites” but is too frightened to. So, meanly, she attacks trans people instead.

In February, she was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System at the Department for Education and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Women) at the Department for International Trade. These posts are so junior within government that no-one bothered to update her wikipedia entry for weeks after. But she is a person, with a name, unlike the “unnamed source” which was reported in the Times in February, saying While we believe adults should be able to live their lives, and trans rights should be respected and protected, the government also has a role to play in protecting children (nudge nudge, wink wink)- protecting children, they mean, from medical treatment facilitating transition. The Times began, Ministers are expected to drop plans to make it easier for people to change their gender amid concerns about the impact on children, but the sources they named were neutral or supportive of trans rights.

The hate progresses very slowly, but it is progressing. The haters are more willing to speak out. I would say that the “LGB Alliance” should note who its allies are, but I don’t think they care.

Richard Rohr

Catholic priest tolerates gay men, and even trans people shock!

Rohr’s daily meditations reach millions, and recently he tackled LGBT folk, or SOGI, Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity issues. He started by assuming his audience was hostile.

With all the changing ways of understanding gender and sexuality, most of us truly need contemplative eyes and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to “rupture simplistic binaries” and be compassionate and respectful of difference and diversity. It clearly seems that God is quite comfortable with immense diversity.  We have a much harder time with it, preferring uniformity and conformity instead.

I found it almost impossible to read. He is challenging his queerphobic Christian followers, saying that while he has to make a continual effort to be “non-dual”, his instinct and theirs is to judge gay as unacceptable. Jesus, he says, ruptures and transgresses simplistic binaries between self and other, but most people dismiss and judge every thing that does not fit neatly in their simplistic categories.

He wants to teach the Mind of Christ by getting readers to think about SOGI, which he has no doubt they will instinctively reject. This week is a good test case for one’s ability to think in a nondual way.

So he decides to preach that the church should include and accept LGBT people not in hopes that they can force us into a normal, celibate, straight-acting box but accept us as part of God’s beautiful diverse creation, and he starts by othering all his LGBT readers.

He says some good stuff. God’s will is that people and things become their true selves, and then live in “supportive coexistence”. Conservative Christians, however, want to control God’s good creation which they fear, seeing it as chaos.

Institutional religion tends to think of people as very simple, and therefore the law must be very complex to protect them in every situation. Jesus does the opposite: He treats people as very complex—different in religion, lifestyle, virtue, temperament, and success—and keeps the law very simple in order to bring them to God… Love God, and your neighbour.

Jesus, and Rohr, allow people to be ourselves. Do not let the labels trip you up—woman, man, transgender, cisgender, straight, bisexual, gay, queer. I note he does not mention lesbian. There is a reason we bring L to the front. Formerly people wrote GLBT.

He goes on to use queer folks to teach about the Bible. Yes, Leviticus commands stoning gay men to death, but the Bible records a developing understanding of God from Abraham’s attempted human sacrifice to Jesus’ teaching. Jesus’ harsh words are reserved entirely for those whose certainty about their religious rectitude causes them to condemn others. Jesus is all about inclusion, forgiveness, and empowerment. In the light of his compassionate presence, people are set free to live their lives in strength and hope, regardless of whether they be considered outcasts by those in the “religious know.” Rather than complex rules teaching us what is OK so we feel safe with no need to think, or even to see clearly, the only law is Love.

Just as the Bible supports slavery and we don’t, so also we find deeper themes in the Bible support LGBT acceptance, and even oppose Patriarchy. Rohr writes, God sides with the powerless. God liberates the oppressed. God suffers with the suffering. I resent that. Many LGBT people flourish despite oppression. We are not his exemplar group of powerless and suffering people, and his attitude encourages others to look down on us and pity us- perhaps he does himself. We do not need his support, but justice.

He claims the secular culture “celebrates” us. Perhaps he has not read The Times’ articles on trans people. It is almost as if he shares the homophobic Christian’s shock when we are shown in a good light.

God, he says, creates each of us unique, with different gifts and challenges, and desires us to live into the fullness of our humanity and our identity.

Rohr’s example is Episcopal priest and lesbian Liz Edman, who aged five wanted boy’s shoes and was supprted by her mother. Everyone wants things forbidden by the complex rules humans create. From object of pity, we change in an instant to patterns and examples for others, who should all Know who you are. Be who you are. Be the person God created you to be. It is deeply uncomfortable for me. I am as enchained by convention as anyone. I have no wish to be forced to teach others any more than be pitied by them.

At the end, he quotes Liz Edman on Jesus turning water into wine. The water was used for ritual washing, the wine intoxicates and liberates us from rules. This is a queer interpretation, which might get her fired. To liberal straight Christians, she says, Let us be ourselves, and assure us that you will have our backs when our proclamation unsettles and afflicts those who are comfortable in a dualistic worldview.

Yes, Queers can be free as Christ intended, and our freedom help liberate others. But our experience belongs to no-one straight. We are not your teaching tool. And the idea of sheep and goats, the binary division between in group and out group, is everywhere reinforced in the church. For example:

Later, Rohr quotes an Asian man:

Now that new voices are being enunciated about him by those . . . outside the traditional framework of Christianity, Jesus must be experiencing an emancipation from the confinement of orthodoxy that has immobilized him. . .

Spirit of Life

Am I safe? Yes- until I am not.
Am I good? Yes- until I am not.
I am powerful, until I am powerless.

I am not sure I fully agree with Paul, but what he says makes some psychological sense. What does he mean? I do the very thing I hate. I agree that the law is good. I will what is right, but I cannot do it. When I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. Who will rescue me from this body of death?

What is the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus [that] has set [me] free from the law of sin and death? What is that law of sin? It seems to me, wrestling with the passage in Meeting, that the law of sin is an external standard of Right- not just the 630 commandments of the Torah, but every external standard, every set of rules for conduct no matter how well-intentioned, every attempt to keep safe by telling others what to do. Every standard imposed from outside, even if I accept it and think it is a good standard and want to live by it.

The spirit of life in Christ has set me free. If I walk according to the spirit of life within me, I will do Good- for I am Love as God is Love. Any other Rule is impossible to obey. And yet we feel unsafe, and we feel threatened by the Others, so Christianity since Paul is filled with these sets of rules. A trans man I met had been subjected to “Heavy Shepherding”, where his church did not believe in his ability to make correct decisions for himself, so his pastor had to vet each one. That comes from Hell not Heaven. I am not safe, and no-one is safe from me. Or, I am safe and good, until I am not. Yet we are children of God, brothers and sisters, so we will act in love.

One ministered on decluttering- not just stuff, but relationships, ideas and memories. Why keep a memory and worry at it like poking a bruise? I said to her after, because it still has something to teach me. My mother’s lack of understanding had so wounded me from the age of nine to 44, when I accepted it. I recounted the memory. She had experience as a teacher, of parents driving their children to achievements they never realised. That’s close enough. I had accepted my mother’s lack of understanding, but today I accepted my powerlessness and inability to communicate my own feeling, which was a lack of confidence. I wanted to be confident.

I am powerful until I am not. Sometimes I am not as powerful as I would have wished. IT FEELS LIKE DEATH! IT SCARES ME! But it isn’t death, not really. I am still alive, even well-situated and happy. If only I could recognise that.

In the afternoon, in the Quaker business meeting, we considered whether we should become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation or remain Unincorporated when we register as a charity. This is fairly dry and technical. What makes it beautiful is the way we deal with it, in discussion before and in the moment of the Meeting. I am open to persuasion, and I am not going just to give in. So I talk to the former managing director of a company with factories in several countries, and feel somewhat abashed, the queer benefit claimant. He could seek to dominate, and I would defy him; instead, we respond in Loving equality.

Christianity not belief, but poetry

Belief has always been at the heart of Christianity. The problem with belief is that it can be false. It is necessary to have the correct belief, or you will go to hell, and lead others there too: that is the idealistic justification for burning heretics, to save their souls. We use the word “creed” as a metonymy for religion because the creed- including such things as “born of the Virgin Mary”- is so important. The Church of England is defined by the 39 Articles, additional essential belief; and the Church of Scotland by the Westminster Confession. Now Fundamentalists believe in the “inerrancy of Scripture,” which creates innumerable impossible things requiring Belief.

This makes Christianity impossibly fragile. If Noah could not have taken four million different species of beetle into the Ark, then Christianity cannot be true. Still, creationists attempt to argue that the World is less than ten thousand years old.

It also makes Christianity pernicious. If a child is brought up to believe in Adam as a historical figure, such that they refuse any evidence to the contrary, they make it difficult to function well in the world: any university degree should confront them with evidence refuting it.

If people were inspired to write about the nature of the world, I doubt anyone before 1800 could have comprehended that the local galaxies are moving at a thousand kilometres per second towards the Great Attractor. I had not heard of the Great Attractor before idly googling to get a link for this paragraph. I see the first article is from 1998 and may have been superseded- don’t take this as gospel: I was only looking for some figures to bamboozle.

Instead, we have stories. Gordon wrote on facebook this morning, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18.20).
This is not dogma, or doctrine, or theology, or magical or ‘supernatural’. It is a poetic expression of the realisation of the experience of coming together in community to share our lives with one another
. I agree. It does not matter whether Jesus said these words, and it is not necessary to imagine the Presence in the Midst literally. What matters is the experience of being together with this intention.

For me, Christianity in the 21st century has to get rid of belief entirely. The beliefs are so often impossible or ridiculous. Though when Hosea realised I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings he realised a better way for people to be together. Job suffered, purely because the world is like that; it does not mean he was bad; he is impossibly small, within the workings of the World; he realised this, stood up, and by his own efforts regained what he had lost. It is a story, and a worthwhile one.

the-serpent-satan-temps-eve

Taking a stand

My test of whether someone is truly Christian is their attitude to LGBT. Any mature Christian will be entirely accepting.

Religion is a tool for helping people to understand and relate to Reality, or alternatively to block out and deny reality in a fruitless search for comfort. Humankind cannot bear very much reality, and those who can bear very little can huddle together in conservative Evangelical churches. There they can be reassured that gays are bad, God made the world less than ten thousand years ago, and everyone outside their little huddle is deluded, and going to Hell. Any threat to that belief system and the bottom drops out of their world, which is why they defend it so aggressively.

And yet, unless they close their eyes, put their fingers in their ears, and shout “La La La” all the time, reality will challenge their falsehoods, and, thank God, so will Christianity. If they actually read the Bible they will realise that God could not create everything, then man and woman on the sixth day, and at the same time create man, then plants and animals, then woman. People do believe impossible or incompatible things, but eventually the scales fall from their eyes. They will also see that while the Bible can be mined for reasons to see other people as bad, it also says that everyone is your neighbour, even those you most despise, then commands you to love your neighbour.

Then the despising falls away. Seen with love, we see the beauty of the Samaritan, and all which seemed most loathsome is seen not to be.

Yet there are these terrible attempts to defend the fundamentalist lie. And some people are just stuck. They cannot turn to Christ, because they prefer the illusion.

I did not like Henry Meynell Rheam, so look at his work more deeply.

Rheam, the fairy wood

Why are they wrong?

James wondered why any Christian ever might disagree with him. Fortunately, he has the answer: they are ensnared by the World, and have not allowed the Holy Spirit access to every area of their heart. When they do, they will think exactly as he does, and leave behind the things he disagrees with- which are “The World’s System”.

This absolves James from thinking. Anyone who disagrees with him is simply less spiritually mature than he. When you have had the same inestimable blessings James has had, you will think just like him, and if you do not, and go to Hell- well, the ways of God are strange.

Whereas, we do not all follow the same path of spiritual maturing, but learn different lessons at different times.

One has only so much head-space, and surely it is better to devote it to learning what is Right, what I Believe, than to listening to wrong people. This short-cut absolves you from ever having to refute them. Their ideas are not even wrong in an interesting way, so should not detain us.

I give some attention to any opinion. Possibly, it will increase my understanding. I might be happier with more confidence in my own opinion. There are many good choices: like the supermarket cereals aisle, there might be a best cereal but there are many which are good enough; with so many things one can be wrong, but not wrong enough to hurt. I am giving more attention to attitudes, ways of being: some people with ways of being with others, or in the world, radically different from mine, seem effective or happy and I might learn from them. Though some are merely an awful warning.

Like James, I experience God as changing me, bringing me to health. The changes are unimaginable beforehand, sometimes inexplicable after. It is one reason why I am religious not atheist: I do not proceed by rational argument, but sometimes against what had seemed rational.

Degas, at the milliners in gloves

If I should die

The church is completely beautiful. The central section of the nave has rounded arches, conceivably Norman, with those thick pillars. The west and east ends of the nave have Gothic arches. Unusually, the window above the altar is of clear glass; the whole is whitewashed; so it combines light and solidity. It feels strong and supportive, a womb of protection against the World, filled with Light to lift the heart.

I was there for a concert, the City of London Chamber Orchestra playing the Britten Sinfonietta, the Lark Ascending, the Siegfried Idyll and Mozart’s twentieth symphony. I could imagine myself there each Sunday morning, part of the church community, singing the Creed and the Gloria, kneeling for the consecration, my spirit lifted and grounded at the same time. My spiritual practice now is to open myself to life and experience, so I chose an open posture and paid full attention to the Wagner, and was rewarded by being moved to tears.

“They’re all hypocrites. No-one believes that” say more than one friend. Well. Certainly not the virgin birth, and possibly not the divinity of Christ, though God spoke in Him. My Christianity is stories and images which encourage me or help me make sense of the world; a link to a spiritual reality beyond the reality I can comprehend with my conscious, occasionally rational mind, or express in words. God is. I have a relationship with Jesus Christ, living in my heart.

Not all Christians feel this way. Evangelicals have a series of verbal formulations, which fit to the words of the King James Bible, to which they consciously assent, formulations like Christ died as a sacrifice for our sins provided by God yet the Sacrifice needed against God’s Wrath, which you must Accept, in order to be Saved from Hell- conceived by some as a state of perpetual conscious torment after earthly death. Well, not all people are as sensitive as I am, or have my emotional intelligence.

The Isaiah 53:5 project seems to know the weakness of the Evangelicals. He imagines women craving appreciation: “Do you see me? Do you delight in me?” He says “most husbands” do not even hear: perhaps because of the vilely narrow concept some Evangelicals have of what is a “real man”. I don’t like the idea that “all women” feel exactly the same- my femininity, the Evangelical ideal, is certainly not the experience of all women. With his heart in the right place, I53 demands that men show their appreciation. Some men and women are naturally like this.

Violet and her atheist chums had a good laugh at this. It seemed to me a wasted opportunity: deriding the others’ view, rather than using it as a chance for understanding.

My loveliest religious experience to date was on Monday 4 May. I had a heartfelt conviction of God’s love for me and my beauty as a created animal. And I still want to be appreciated, for someone to acknowledge that I can light up a room, that my drama and dance is Beautiful- by her words or her appreciative look.

Rossetti, Joan of Arc