Light, Dark, Equality, Dignity

If we have a pie-in-the-sky, everything is beautiful attitude, we are going to be trapped by the darkness because we don’t see clearly enough to separate the wheat from the chaff. Conversely, if we can only see the darkness and forget the more foundational Light, we will be destroyed by our own negativity and fanaticism, or we will naively think we are completely apart and above the darkness. Instead, we must wait and work with hope inside of the darkness, even our own— while never doubting the light that God always is, and that we are too.- Richard Rohr.

Wow. I have adopted Everything is Beautiful as a motto. I had to. I knew that eight years ago, because with my negative attitude I was seeing too much blackness, in myself and in the world, seeing things that might be good as bad or threatening. I had to say Everything is beautiful as an antidote to that. And I was not seeing the real threats or darkness if everything appeared dark to me.

I did not understand the well known quotes:

I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. And in that also I saw the infinite love of God;

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (comprehended it not).

I was not ready to balance light and dark. How could I see light in the darkness, as in the yin/yang symbol which I learn is called a Taijitu? Yet today this thought is strong in me: the anti-trans campaigners are foolish as well as oppressive; what they have been taught to hate is no threat, what they have been taught to demand is no benefit; and yet I love their standing on dignity. No, they will not simply accept us. They will stand up for their (imagined) interests, and for their Sisters.

I love the solidarity. I love the self-assertion, even if they are more unhinged and obsessive than anti-vaxxers.

Probably it is better not to see things as chaff, too easily. If in doubt, it’s wheat until proven otherwise. And, when proven otherwise, recognise that. Rohr says hard and fast laws are not good at distinguishing good from bad: for an example of that, take the moral rule that “homosexuality is sinful”. Possibly moral principles might. Here’s one.

Whatever gets in the way of the I-Thou encounter is Wrongful.

Things do, unfortunately. This article in the Guardian portrays Mr Corbyn’s politics as close to mine- valuing all human beings equally, including foreigners- and opposed to older voters’ transactional, us and them politics. Voters were fixated on the inevitability of scarcity, and the need to guard against naive hope. They wanted politicians loyal to them.

What gets in the way of an I-thou encounter? Fear, a sense of painful vulnerability, not dignity, a sense of one’s own worth. In the encounter there is vulnerability which has to be accepted joyously, a small price for the blessing of seeing and being seen, having a sense of all conditions of people so one can speak to all conditions.

If my dignity gets in the way of encounter I should change myself rather than shout at the world. But it is not my dignity, but unearned assertion. I want the true dignity of a human being, unique and valuable, and one of 7.8bn, not the dignity of a white, or middle class, person, from my place in a formal structure in society. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Without the formal structure there is vulnerability, but without that vulnerability there can be no encounter.

Gender Recognition Reform in Scotland

The new draft law on gender recognition in Scotland has been published. There’s another consultation on it, which shows how far the hate campaign against trans women has come. The proposal is good enough, but the commentary and blog posts talk incessantly of “women’s rights”- the commentary says there is no threat to women’s rights, of course, because that is simply true, but raising the matter will encourage anti-trans campaigners to complain. Continue reading

Jessica Yaniv

Does any trans woman support Jessica Yaniv? She is suing several Canadian beauticians for refusing to wax her scrotum. She demands several thousand dollars each from them in compensation, and some have gone out of business.

She pretended to be someone else when approaching them,  using the profile of a pregnant woman.

Wedding cakes are symbolic of equality. If a baker can refuse a wedding cake, a landlord can refuse an apartment. The same might apply to waxing, except that it is an intimate service. Some traders are happy to wax a penis and scrotum for payment, some are not. Also, it is different from waxing a vulva. The hair lies differently and the surfaces to be waxed are more complex. Jessica may have a woman’s genitals, but she does not have a vulva. Arguably, a “Brazilian” is a vulva wax. (Added Oct 2019- This was part of the grounds for the decision against Yaniv.)

For me it is not the appropriate cause for activist litigation. Punch up, not down.

I heard about it days ago in strident Facebook comments from anti-trans campaigners. “What would be a good enough reason to force someone to handle someone’s genitals against their will?” They put the case as shockingly as they can, of course, but it is an open goal.

Then it got into The Guardian, in a popular piece which was about as little transphobic as possible, I suppose. “It’s not a hate crime for women to feel uncomfortable waxing male genitalia” said Arwa Mahdawi. I agree, though I don’t think the case tells us anything interesting about trans rights, or equality legislation, except that some trans women are unpleasant people. I don’t want to be so vulnerable that I am unsafe to be unpleasant, and I also don’t like the press drawing attention to people whose only newsworthy characteristic is that they are an unpleasant trans woman. It increases transphobia.

Mahdawi points out that right wing media which usually campaigns against women’s rights and immigrants are now hypocritically using women’s rights and immigrant rights to hammer a trans woman. But then she states Yaniv is a “troll, not an activist”. I agree, because I feel there are reasons to sympathise and argue for Yaniv’s victims.

Catriona Stewart in The Herald used the case to campaign against trans rights. “The case encapsulates the concerns of feminists around self-id”, she writes. No, it doesn’t. There is a clear distinction between a vulva wax and a scrotum wax. Possibly it “Disregards women’s boundaries and dignity”, but in a unique way. I don’t expose myself in a loo, I use a cubicle. It is easy enough to make the distinctions and see where trans rights are justified, unless you want to make a transphobic point.

“There is a bitter divide between trans allies and women’s allies,” she writes. That is the hideous lie. It is not all cis women against trans women, many support trans rights. I am glad of the female politicians Stewart quotes taking a stand, though she mocks them.

Stewart writes of another Canadian case in which a cis woman would not share a room in a hostel with a “masc-presenting” trans woman, that is, one with a beard and men’s clothes, and so was evicted. That’s a difficult case. I don’t think UK law would require the trans woman to share with a woman. But then my voice does not pass as female. There is a line to be drawn, and if it is at stealth then I don’t measure up.

So liberal media plays the conservative game, drawing attention to problematic trans women, which has the effect of making us look bad. Yes it’s transphobic to judge all trans women by a few onjectionable trans women, just as it would be antisemitic to judge all Jews. It does not mean people don’t do it.

People often think of issues in terms of individual stories. The relentless focus on unpleasant trans women turns people against us.

To end on a positive, here are those female politicians Stewart quotes. Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, says “trans women are women”. Mhairi Black, Scottish MP, supports us. And The Herald is on both sides like the Guardian, with an opinion piece saying Scotland must introduce gender reform.

October 2019: This is the tribunal’s decision and reasoning.

Gender equality

Long before the Equality Act, trans people used the Sex Discrimination Act to argue rights for ourselves. I met an accountant who, fed up with going to work male, went in a skirt suit, and was dismissed and walking home an hour later; but others kept their employment rights. Arguably the statutory instruments drafted to regulate trans rights reduced them.

The Equality Act protects “transsexual persons” who “propose to undergo a process for the purpose of reassigning sex”. The heading is “gender reassignment” so at best the law makes disentangling sex and gender difficult. They are different, but not in law. Medical jargon is the same, referring to the “homosexual transsexual” suffering from “gender dysphoria”.

The Act also protects men and women from discrimination on the grounds of sex, with some exceptions for employers such as women’s refuges. However it only prohibits “less favourable” treatment, not different treatment, which is why arguments that women should not have to wear skirts to the office fail. Making women wear skirts is not less favourable than making men wear jackets and ties. So different treatment is enshrined in law.

That means the law supports the Patriarchy in saying there are two genders, and that generally they are mapped onto the two sexes, though a tiny number of people may swap from one to the other. How may we be liberated? One way is to change the idea of gender so that it is not thought to restrict capacity, such as by the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which removed restrictions on women practising as lawyers or civil servants, or on juries. There I go, conflating sex and gender again. There is no reason why women should not be lawyers.

The other is to divorce the concept of gender from that of sex. Men can be feminine, women can be masculine. There is no characteristic, aptitude, quality, virtue or vice peculiar to one sex, or which is not equally good or bad in both. We signal our gender with our clothes and body language.

No-one should be treated badly because another disapproves of their gender presentation or their gendered behaviour. No-one should have the right to enforce gendered behaviour on another.

Arguably, the very concept of gender is oppressive because it is imagined to fit the sexes- man/masculine, woman/feminine. Ideally, society should abandon it; but while it exists people should be protected from discrimination because of perceived gender.

So my Equality scheme would prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sex. Men and women should not be treated more or less favourably, and any necessary exceptions should be specifically defined, such as the genuine occupational requirement for some jobs, or the All-woman shortlist while women are underrepresented.

It would also prohibit discrimination on the ground of actual or perceived gender: the signals we give, the behaviour and the underlying attributes and desires. An employee should be judged on their skills and abilities, not on how they look. This would permit a wider range of gendered behaviour in both sexes, and gradually strip away the link between sex and gender, men and masculinity, women and femininity. Where we generalise and stereotype people because of their sex, and disapprove of those not conforming to our stereotypes, the law could intervene and guide us away from that. The law would be applied in the worst of cases, and would guide society and people’s ideas of what is acceptable so that the stereotypes fell away.

All women shortlists

Political parties can decide to attempt to increase the number of women in Parliament, by only selecting women candidates for particular seats. This is the All Women Shortlist (AWS). A bunch of TERFs is trying to get the Labour Party to exclude trans women from all-women shortlists. We believe that the election of self-identifying transwomen as women’s officers and their inclusion on all-women shortlists is reducing and undermining female representation in the Labour party.

We are absolutely committed to trans people, as a marginalised group, living free from discrimination and violence: we need trans representatives, trans councillors and trans MPs in our party. We are socialists and we are egalitarians. However, trans representation must not happen at the expense of female candidates and we are furious that we are having to fight another battle for women’s representation, just 100 years after the suffragette victories.

I would not write off that “absolute commitment” to trans people, they want a place for us and I want to challenge them to state what it should be; I put a message on Jennifer James’ facebook page, and will see if she replies or just deletes it. Now, it is by being accepted in society as women.

The next bit is legal stuff. An all woman shortlist which includes trans women without a gender recognition certificate is open to legal challenge, and I state why.

The Equality Act applies. Normally an AWS would be discrimination against men on the grounds of sex, so s104 gives specific permission while women are underrepresented. If any protected characteristic, such as disabled people, is underrepresented the party can make efforts to encourage potential candidates, but only for sex can the party make a shortlist only of those candidates.

After a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) I am a woman, and if I claim sex discrimination I need to show a man is treated better. I can still claim discrimination on the grounds of “gender reassignment” (not gender identity). A man can claim discrimination because women are favoured, unless an exception applies, but a cis person cannot claim discrimination because trans people are favoured.

All AWS must be open to trans women who have gained a GRC. However, a man could argue that an AWS which included a trans woman without a GRC was not entitled to the exception in s104, and so discriminated against him. A woman could argue that an AWS including a trans woman breached Labour Party rules, as the rules should be presumed to comply with discrimination law.

And we’re back. It could mean a legal debate about what “sex” or “woman” means. Emotionally, I like the idea that I have always been a woman. My most important transition moments are, first, changing my name and going to work expressing myself female; then deciding to transition, and having my operation. Gaining my GRC is a long way behind, less significant than getting my bank account, passport and driving licence in my female name. It was done by then.

I think both allies and opponents would agree. Those enthusiastically declaring “Trans women are women” and those who think we are perverts don’t think the moment of acquiring the GRC is particularly important. And yet in law it is.

That is why the consultation is important. We need to be able to get a GRC without a psychiatrist’s say-so. That I have changed my name and intend to live life long as a woman is enough. Now, getting a GRC is expensive and humiliating, but there is different treatment once you get one.

There can be disabled-only shortlists, because it is not unlawful to discriminate in favour of disabled people; but even though we are in the ICD and DSM, few of us would claim disability. A debate on whether trans women without a GRC are women would go back to Corbett v Corbett, orse Ashley. The psychiatrists would not speak for us: why do they call an androphile trans woman a “homosexual transsexual”? The law is confused- the Equality Act refers to “gender reassignment” of “transsexual persons”- but I doubt it would say my sex is female before a GRC, and it may not say so after.

Transgender Equality- the Government’s response

The Government says Equality is very important to us- but limits what it will do to achieve it. Often, they do the minimum required under international obligations, which is why leaving the EU is so troubling.

The minister writes, A commitment to equality is at the heart of this Government and is essential to building a strong economy and a fair society. We want to build a society that celebrates and benefits from the talents of everyone; ensuring fairness, protecting the most vulnerable, and prioritising equal opportunities for all. We know that transgender people face continuing transphobia, increased mental health issues, discrimination in the provision of public and private services and bullying in our schools. That is why I made transgender equality a key priority for my department after the General Election last year. 

Yet. The committee recommended that discrimination against trans people be made unlawful. At the moment, I am protected because I have transitioned to female, and anyone who decides to do so is protected. The committee wanted that extended to anyone with a gender identity not male or female or as assigned at birth: those who are transsexual but feel unable to transition, as well as those with other identities. The Government responds, The provision of a protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” in the Act is fully compliant with our obligations under the Equal Treatment Directive (2006/54/EC). They do the minimum required. They say that others might argue they are falsely perceived by the discriminator to intend to transition.

They refer to their guidance to employers on recruitment and retention of transgender staff. It correctly states that When people feel valued by their employer for the contribution they can make to the organisation as an individual, regardless of their personal (or protected) characteristics, they are more likely to:

  • Feel engaged and enthusiastic;
  • Go the extra mile and expend discretionary effort;
  • Have better attendance;
  • Be a better team member;
  • Stay longer and offer loyalty; and
  • Talk about their employer in positive terms.

However, that guidance then defines “gender reassignment”, showing that anything other is not protected.

Similarly, the Committee recommended that there be no exceptions. The rules that discrimination against transsexual people is legal when there is a “Genuine Occupational Requirement” that a worker be cis muddies the waters. It makes certain employers more likely to discriminate, and more likely to defend a court action on discrimination. The Government is keen to ensure that that law in this area operates fairly and is not abused, therefore we are keen to receive further representations and evidence on the availability and use of the exceptions in the Equality Act 2010 from all affected parties to take into account for future policy discussions. That is, they will do nothing about this yet.

Charges for using Employment Tribunals, the abolition of the discrimination questionnaire which could obtain evidence of discrimination, the greater likelihood of costs being awarded against claimants who lose and the cutting of the Equality and Human Rights Commission have all made equality law less valuable, because it is more difficult to enforce.

The Response (pdf)
Guidance on employment of transgender staff (pdf).

Fenny Drayton

St Michael's Church Fenny Drayton from the south west

Pilgrimage with Quakers to Fenny Drayton, where George Fox was born. There is a pretty church, with 13th century bits and some additions.

Some Purefoy or other

There is this huge monument to some local bigwig or other who died in the 16th century, so the spectacle of his wives and children praying round him is subversive for the time. Here he is, either looking up his wife’s skirts or contemplating the family crest:

Fenny Drayton, a view of the family crest

East of the rood screen, there is another Purefoy monument, from the early 17th century, in Latin. I can’t remember whether it is East of the altar rail or not. The other arch contains a Hagioscope, or Leper-window, partly sealed up, where undesirables could have seen the celebration of the Eucharist from a concealed place, so that they would not disturb the decent worshippers.

Fenny Drayton, two arches

The effect is to turn a place of worship into a memorial for the Purefoy family. Paul did not object, seeing it as a historical accident. I find it disturbing centuries later. George Fox was christened here and would have known these huge monuments. Perhaps this church helped form our testimony to Equality.

Duke

Andrew’s chance remark made me think how lucky I am to have been born when I was. We were walking towards Boughton House by the back way through the old stable block, which is the route used by the public when allowed admission, and he said, “Imagine how terrifying it would be for an 18th century villager to approach this building.”

The unfinished wing, seen through the stable blockI grew up in the seventies, when most such houses belonged to the National Trust, and I could approach them in the secure knowledge that they were ours: they belonged to my society, and I had a right to be there. Similarly with the grand public buildings of London.

The side of the house, shorter than the front, with the unfinished wing on the leftThe unfinished wing was built to maintain some notion of symmetry, in the imagination of someone familiar with the building, or the eye of any passing Montgolfier, but the internal floors and ceilings were never added. The building contains some impressive art, yet is not even the Joke of noCleugh’s largest private house.

As the bus clanked back through British Leyland (yes, that is its name, at least in Swanstonshire) we went down a street at the end of which three great wind turbines loomed, and I wondered if that were still the case. The people live in their shadow, but do they belong to members of our society, with whom we share a common bond? It is less clear, in the twen-teens.

Possibly, though, the fragmentation which allows such great accumulation of wealth in few hands once again to be lauded rather than corrected also allows me to be me. One of my main themes

parchmentThis might be less possible, if our solidarity were closer.

Politics

I love this video. I find it hilarious. And it disturbs me.

I’m hard core
and I know the score
and I am disgusted by the poor
and my chums matter more
because we are the law
and I’ve made sure we are ready for class war…

Punch him in the faceInequality breaks social bonds. The problem with the “trickle down economy” is that someone has worked very hard to fix the leaks; or it is the “gush up” economy; but if democracy is to have value, people with answers have to be voted in. This comment on the video illustrates the difficulty of that: Milliband makes me laugh. I wouldn’t let him look after my Cat. No way should he ever be given the chance to run our Country. I’m voting UKIP. It just makes sense to me. Or, They’re all crap, you’re angry, vote UKIP. You feel better about yourself for a moment in the voting booth- Ha! That’ll teach them! But the result is worse.

If I were a billionaire conspiring to weaken and subvert any control of my exploitation of the World, I would reduce respect for mainstream politicians- they’re all useless- as well as dividing people by turning their resentment against benefit claimants, or immigrants, or public sector workers. It would have the added benefit of making money, as readers like to feel communal resentment and contempt. I would produce the Daily Mail, or the Times, or the video.

In Britain, we had two broad coalitions, one on the right, one on the left, fighting over the “centre ground”. Both have moved steadily Right. Labour ditched Clause 4 of its constitution, To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service, as an act of “modernisation”. Common ownership was no longer the intent, though in the case of the privatised railways, it becomes increasingly popular.

Run away very fastConservatives took control of language: they would free schools from “local authority control”, which means imposing central control and reducing local authority support. Public services are best provided by publicly controlled bodies, when people can see what works and share best practice. If they are forced to contract out, the commissioning body has to define in words what the service provided will be, and the provider’s interest is not to provide the best service, but to interpret those words in the most creative manner to minimise its costs.

The Conservatives talk of benefits being paid on a prepaid card, which claimants could use to buy goods, but not use in betting shops, or spend on alcohol. The policy was sold as helping addicts who volunteered avoid addictive substances, to safeguard them and their families and ensure their basic needs are met. But Alec Shelbrooke MP, who came up with the idea, says A Welfare Cash Card, on which it is proposed all in-work and out-of-work benefits (excluding disability payments and the basic state pension) be paid, will prohibit the purchase of what Alec coined ‘NEDD’ (Non-Essential, Desirable and often Damaging) items such as cigarettes, alcohol, Sky TV and gambling. I could get round that easily, but at a cost. They demonise the vulnerable.