Is there any end to the self-righteousness and victimhood of transphobes? From one post on facebook: Continue reading
Some people do not know what LGBT stands for. Being online gives a false perspective. Being interested in trans rights, we could scroll for hours a day and still read only a tiny proportion of the insane hatred devoted to rolling back trans rights, and the resistance to it. Twitter, facebook, etc, are desperate to show us transphobia in the hope we will engage, but usually only those already invested look.
I wanted Greens to know Shahrar Ali was making his pitch to anti-trans campaigners, so shared my blog. Mad haters plunged in: one alleged that Ali was being targeted by Zionists for his support for the Palestinians. Unfortunately, I called them “mad haters”, which makes me seem angry and confrontational, not good on a Green forum. Another went to the drafter of the Labour Party Transphobes’ Declaration and passed on her scurrilous accusations against me.
By using the term “mad haters” I had a tactical loss. I defended it- they are “mad” in that they are divorced from reality, only caring about opposing trans rights and not any other party issue; and they are haters, demanding the exclusion of absolutely every trans woman from all women’s spaces. And I was still rebuked, and warned to use constructive language, by people who apparently thought claiming a Jewish conspiracy was absolutely fine. She’s not attacking Jews, she’s attacking “Zionists”. Yeah, right.
Then someone wrote, “I certainly wouldn’t be happy with a Green party that didn’t support trans rights, but it doesn’t seem to me Shahrar wouldn’t. He explicitly says he supports the Equality Act.”
I wasn’t sure about that. Was this an anti-trans campaigner who had the knack of appearing reasonable? Ali does not say he supports the Equality Act, only “all the protected characteristics”. Anti-trans campaigners say they “support trans rights”, meaning trans rights as they define them- a right not to be harassed in the street or be sacked for being trans, but not a right for trans women to use women’s loos. But if someone could not recognise a trans flag, they would not spot that nuance by themselves.
So I explained, and met another question: How is ‘sex based rights’ code for excluding trans women? I explained that too. To my slight surprise she accepted my argument, saying people should accept the “single-sex” services in the Equality Act should include trans women. Then, rather than putting an argument, she was thinking out loud as she typed, she said some women felt vulnerable and threatened by trans inclusion. Could we work together?
No, is the answer to that. They make it a zero sum game- no trans women in women’s spaces, ever. They could see what they gain by trans inclusion, and work for a range of spaces, but they would be affronted to be restricted to some out of the way loo which was for trans-excluders, with the women’s for all women. But this woman has Green sympathies- For the Common Good- and likes to think people can always work together.
And then she said, if Shahrar supports the EA, surely he supports trans women in women’s spaces? I had to explain the other code he uses, around “politically homeless” women and “sex-based rights”. She still thought there was some doubt, and a need to help both sides of the “debate” to understand each other. Only a direct question to “Shahrar” would clear it up, but he isn’t answering.
-Do you still think there is doubt?
-The vast majority would not read Shahrar’s site the way you do. And trans people need to listen to the excluders, and hear their concerns.
She is right on that. People would not read it that way, unless they are engaged with the debate. They do not read it closely, and don’t particularly think about the bits they don’t understand- of course no novelist should receive a death threat for writing a think piece, and they don’t bother asking which novelist he means.
From Sara Ahmed, I get the understanding that people do not like to believe their social group contains bad people such as sexual predators, or those who discriminate on gender, colour or sexuality. So, they find accusations of bad behaviour a threat. The accusations and the accusers threaten their comfortable illusion that everything is OK. Surely Professor Smith would not do such a horrible thing? Diversity policies are put in place as proof that the organisation acts properly on diversity, not as a template for action against discriminators.
So I asked her directly. Now I have explained the code, do you accept Ali is calling for trans exclusion? I explained the whole screed again. And I was rewarded. “I think the issue here is exactly as you say.” But then, she immediately qualified. She still wanted a straight answer from Ali to “clear things up” and could see that Ali’s site could be interpreted as innocuous.
Even LGBT+ people disagree on what letters to add to the end, or what they stand for. QIA- Allies? Asexual? Both? I have seen a strong argument that Allies are definitely not included. The mad haters have created a jargon all their own. “Sex is Real” they say, and only the trans excluders and trans people, only people who have scrolled for hours and hours, see the pure nastiness they put in that phrase. It is hard to persuade the unengaged, and has to be done with great care.
Still, it’s lovely to think of someone who gets sympathy when she whines on a mad hater group, “I can’t go out, because there are no single-sex toilets anywhere! I haven’t bought new clothes in five years because there’s only mixed sex changing rooms to try them on!” Then she tries that with unengaged people, and meets perplexity and derision. If instead she stokes paranoia- trans women are dangerous, penises in women’s loos, etc- she may put off the Left-wingers, as she is more clearly spreading hate.
The Fabian Society shows how culture wars are created by the right wing to damage the left. Its pamphlet “Counter Culture” details how we could resist them and build solidarity: by working to end culture wars, not to win them. Culture wars are political fights picked not to change public policy, but to enflame emotion and deepen division as a campaigning tool. They do not show differences in interest or beliefs among people generally, but instead are fomented by elites.
Even right-wingers who might profit electorally should see that the damage to social cohesion is not worth it. The Left sees we have “more in common than what divides us”, and only solidarity offers real security. Our anger at injustice can give us energy for campaigning, but harms us when it breaks relationships.
I got the pamphlet to see what it said about the anti-trans movement. There may be 50,000 people transitioned or transitioning in Britain now, but trans is dragged up constantly by the right wing press, and Tory MPs recognise it is a wedge issue to divide the working class from other disadvantaged groups. “MPs have been piling pressure to engage in a war on woke. Issues ranging from alleged BBC bias and Extinction Rebellion to trans rights and Black Lives Matter could unite the base, wrote Katy Balls. So this is a campaign strategy, to “fatten the pig before market day” and get people identifying as Tories, rather than a coherent strategy on policy, and the war against trans people is a central plank.
“Culture war” is an American term, concerning issues of who we are as a nation. The international hard right exports this around the world. Though in Britain Christianity is less important, and on the Left as well as the Right, the media which ignored culture war in 2015 was writing about it daily in 2020. Even now, few people care. But Tory voters who have “leant their votes” in the North of England are economically left wing, dividing them from the core Tory vote, members and MPs. But on questions of identity and values, Tories are united, and Labour MPs, members and voters divided.
Populism is different: a view of Left or Right that the corrupt elite oppress the real people. So for the Left, plutocrats distort our politics to avoid paying their share or supporting the common good, and for the Right, enemies of the people, such as judges, tried to block Brexit. But most people are reasonably accepting of trans people, and those working for us or against us are educated and comparatively wealthy.
The writers propose three elements in culture war. 1. An attempt to argue that the Left undermines or disrespects Britain or its people. Jonathan Haidt says on the Left, morality is based on care for others and fairness, but on the Right includes respect for tradition, loyalty and sanctity. 2. This exploits majority fears, and the loss aversion cognitive bias, with zero-sum thinking that others’ gain is our loss, producing a thwarted sense of entitlement, that something is being taken from us. 3. Something minor, marginal, or made up is being amplified: you will rarely see a trans woman in a women’s loo, and Laurel Hubbard is one trans woman in a competition of 11,000 athletes in 339 events, the first since trans women could compete as women in 2004.
Culture war is a Right wing strategy to divide, distract and demoralise the Left. The British Social Attitudes survey shows an increasingly liberal outlook. The media is creating culture war, for example The Times’ obsessive reporting demonising trans people. 2% of the people produce 80% of the tweets. The BBC found someone from Philadelphia to argue that Adele committed cultural appropriation, in order to stage a “debate”.
The culture wars distract us from real issues that affect our lives. A cis woman might read a pejorative article about Laurel Hubbard, “do her research” and start campaigning against trans rights even though she has never had a bad experience with a trans woman, let alone have her off-line life affected by trans rights. They divide feminists on trans rights, so feminists oppose each other with arcane debates, rather than working together against patriarchy, and appear irrelevant to other women. We spend time in smaller echo-chambers, so do not seek common ground. And people on Left and Right use the word misgendering as a shorthand for allegedly woke policies, not in the interest of the working class, which the Left should avoid- as if we could not support trans rights as well as equitable economics. But working class cis people may have trans friends, and trans people also suffer materially. Class is a matter of identity.
The culture war demoralises us, exhausting us. The class interest of the majority of people, in getting companies and the wealthiest to pay fair taxes, is clear, but the Right would claim supporting Black rights is an attack on white people. Women, particularly Black women, in politics face dreadful abuse.
The culture war is fomented by grievance mongers driving a wedge between supporters of interventionist economic policy, tempting some away by a “war on woke”. And by those who make a living from outrage, such as Melanie Philips. Once they start, people affected join in- trans people on facebook occasionally speak up for our rights, because our lives are affected, and so public threads started by enthusiastic trans-excluders grow like tumours. Toxic social media polarises debate, then news media gets attention by quoting tweets, or inviting grievance peddlers to “debate” on news programmes.
Then there are trolls, who enjoy being transgressive, or enjoy seeing others emotionally wounded, or are marginalised people who crave status, or who work for malign foreign actors seeking to promote division. Social media amplifies them.
How can the Left build a better politics? We need to repay our debts to those who have sacrificed or suffered the most, from the financial crash, austerity and Covid. We need a vision of the future everyone can value. Robert Kennedy in the 1960s built a coalition of working class whites and blacks by saying what he believed, and giving a coherent, popular message, rather than relying on focus groups, by finding a consistent story that unites voters in all battlegrounds. We need to mention all groups by name, or they do not feel included. Their dignity and feelings matter, not just their income. A story of our past which everyone can take pride in showing the unity Gareth Southgate builds in his team?
Politicians should calm down angry division, and show how they can negotiate a solution where everyone wins, through co-operation. To love one’s country is not a matter of having a particular view on the legacy of empire, but to uphold the integrity of its institutions; not to demonise immigrants and benefit claimants, but those who seek to buy influence or avoid their responsibilities to society. We should shame culture war peddlers, and promote the understanding that a diversity of opinions and values is essential to democracy. We need to regulate social media out of making money from division and misinformation.
We should name and oppose the attempts to distract and divide us. We need to know a good argument before facing the questions. 77% of people believe the media makes the country look more divided than it is, and 44% believe politicians exaggerate culture war as a political tactic. Why are they trying to shift the debate from covid deaths to statues?
We need inclusive social movements, cross-class, multi-racial and intergenerational. We should not use a language of weakness and shame, labelling people vulnerable or hard to reach. We should use clear language- most people agree that it is easier to get ahead if you are white, but far fewer agree that there is white privilege in Britain.
The pamphlet is freely available here.
Avril and Alison moderate a facebook group. Alison has gone down the rabbit-hole, quoting hate group foul play by transphobes to argue Trans is the world’s greatest threat to women. Avril, however, only wants to be nice. I had an exchange on messenger with Avril for two weeks, testing the breadth of her transphobia.
Early in the conversation Avril told me she had two trans friends, and wanted to buy the book of poems one had written. She told me she is “trying to come with terms” with trans. “This may take decades.”
Society has changed out of all recognition in the last 50 years. It will continue to change. 50 years ago, homosexuality was illegal and gays had to live quietly, without drawing attention to themselves. Nowadays, no-one turns a hair. I was at a gay wedding, 5 years ago. It was a wonderful occasion.
Wow. So if I “live quietly”, everything will be alright after I’m dead. I don’t believe it. The arc of history has to be bent towards justice, and if not me, then who?
She has strange ideas about trans, claiming there are people who claim to be women, who are frauds. “All women know this.” She said the swivel-eyed transphobe Alison “has looked into the subject of trans in considerable depth”. I said that reading up the hate sites was like an anti-vaxxer memorising lists of ingredients of vaccines, and their alleged harms. She said I was “like Michael Gove decrying experts”.
Avril thinks the group, including those who rave about inclusive language, autogynephilia, “trans-identified males”, just because someone on the radio happened to use the word “cis”, has a lot of “nice people”. Avril is nice. She continued messaging me because she wanted to help me. She is “confident that Alison is well-intentioned”, “does not consider herself to be anti-trans,” and her views “are not stemming from hate”. She doesn’t know much about trans, she says, “but I wish trans people well”.
She agreed with me that there should be a moratorium on trans. Then she discussed it with Alison, and refused. They would keep an eye on trans discussions that arise. She wants “free speech,” but “hate speech, abuse, intolerance, etc, are not allowed”. Hurt feelings are unavoidable.
So I started a trans thread myself, and Avril closed it. She said there were complaints about me, and I was putting people’s backs up. She stopped me making further posts. “You must stop rocking the boat”, she wrote, and I am sure she thought herself loving and helpful at that moment. Then she changed the subject, pleased that the Queen’s Speech said something about “conversion therapy”.
All the time she was keen to point out how reasonable she was being. “We allow people to express their views, provided they are not extreme.” And how unreasonable I was being, to challenge anti-trans bigotry. “If something upsets you, don’t read it.” “Please don’t foment trouble.”
She wanted to seem friendly, and the high point of this was writing, “I’d like a moratorium on trans too. I don’t see ‘cis’ as a slur.” But it did not lead to anything.
And then she started trying to be “helpful” to me. She wanted to improve my mental health. “Please focus on the positives. Please think of how far you’ve come in a short time.” “You’re the one who sees this scenario of ‘win or lose’.” “Please stop obsessing”. She thinks I am unrealistic, as if I expect everyone to agree with me.
“As a trans woman, you have entered a very difficult and a very challenging world. However, some pioneers have made a success of it, and I hope you will too. Think of Jan Morris, Angela Morley, and others.” “There’s nothing wrong with seeing a psychiatrist, a psychoanalyst or a counsellor. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. In fact, psycholanalysts have to go through analysis themselves as part of their training. It’s part of personal growth. No-one should be embarrassed about seeking counselling.”
I asked, “Should I be ejected from women’s spaces or not?” She proposed gender neutral space. That’s no use when there is no gender-neutral space, as in most places.
Her positive self-image is immovable. “I’ve done my absolute best for you.” “I have bent over backwards for you.” “The person spreading hate is yourself.” I was “spurn[ing her] decency and kindness”. “You’re determined to exhaust the patience of a saint.” The saint is her.
I referred her to that Ha’aretz article I cited before. The mad obsessives like Alison are in a tiny minority, but people who think they are nice, and tolerant, and reasonable are the real problem.
23 May, afternoon: the group is “not available at the moment,” fb says.
How does it feel, to be real?
I am scrolling facebook, feeling the things one feels scrolling facebook. At a joke I feel happy. At something moving, I feel moved. At something political, I feel the feeling appropriate for my tribe- anger or hope, derision or inspiration. Other tribes feel the same feelings at different stimuli. These are simple feelings I share with many people. It is easy to know the right feeling, and to feel good at feeling it. So facebook is a warm comfort-blanket, insulating me from reality. I could be plugged into the Matrix.
There is something I promised to do. Scrolling, I am only dimly aware of it. I will do that later, and that makes me feel mostly OK about not doing it though later never comes. The conventional feelings get in the way.
I close my computer. How do I feel about what I promised to do? I do not want to do it. I feel fear. I sit with that and discern underneath that is a feeling of hopelessness: I find myself creating arguments why doing it is counter-productive, and though I promised I would be forgiven for not doing it. And also self-loathing, at perceived uselessness, which is exacerbated by scrolling facebook. I am writing this today because I did what I promised, just in time. Yesterday I did not, because I got into arguing with a transphobe on facebook.
Doing it, I have fantastic things going through my mind and realise they are symbols or indicators of anger. The anger, now, is at something particular, and energy for the task I am completing. It is so good when that happens. I take care to complete the task: this requires love. Doing it at another time, I gave myself encouraging pep-talks. Do you still feel the fear? Yes. It’s not enough to stop you doing it, though. There is the feeling being and something else giving the pep-talks.
This is human. When I find myself bullying myself, that is probably a bad thing, but an inner dialogue, from two different points of view, can be advantageous: just as a group of people will make a better decision than individuals, so an individual may make a better decision having worked through different ways of thinking about a problem.
The only motivation is desire. If the desire is merely to survive, it wears us out. I need desire in my life that is more inspiring.
A Tory party leaflet, before the local elections. Vote Conservative because of the vaccine, it says! Ha! We have vaccine success because of public enterprise, with only a tiny input from business required by Tory ideology, because that particular public enterprise has not been Toried yet. Bribe-taking, body-piling, trans-hating, racist, lying Tories!
Looking for the art-work for this post, I had an experience I have not had since the last time I went to the National Gallery, over a year ago. With this Vermeer on my screen, I was overwhelmed with delight at the beauty of the pure colours, and their relationship to each other- that blue of the table-cloth, and the yellow of the sleeve, as an abstract composition before I spend time on the skin, and then the facial expression. It is ravishing. I get that experience with real art in galleries, and rarely with copies on screens. If you don’t get that with this picture, I hope you have it, somewhere in your life.
Can Facebook’s community standards be used to drive transphobic content away? The rules are promising. Anything transphobic may fit under prohibited hate speech, defined as “a direct attack against people on the basis of what we [and British law] call protected characteristics” including gender identity. “We define attacks as violent or dehumanising speech, harmful stereotypes, statements of inferiority, expressions of contempt, disgust or dismissal, cursing and calls for exclusion or segregation.”
The heart of the anti-trans campaign is calls for exclusion of trans women from women’s spaces.
There are long lists of what is dehumanising, including generalisations or comparisons to insects, animals, filth, sexual predators, subhumans or criminals.
“Statements denying existence” are forbidden, which arguably includes suggestions that people transition on a whim, such as, “he wakes up one morning and declares he’s a woman”. Referring to trans or nonbinary people as “it” is specifically forbidden.
Calling us mentally ill is forbidden. Alleging “Moral deficiency” is forbidden, including calling us perverts, so mentioning “autogynephilia” should be forbidden. Statements of our inferiority, such as calling us freaks, abnormal, or worthless. Expressions of contempt, or admission of intolerance, is forbidden. Denying that the protected characteristic should exist. Expressions of contempt, hatred or disgust. Cursing and profane terms are forbidden.
Demands that we be segregated or excluded are forbidden. Facebook does not specify that excluding trans women from women’s spaces counts, but arguably it should. Advocating political, economic or social exclusion is forbidden, including “denying access to spaces (physical and online) and social services”. Slurs, “defined as words that are inherently offensive and used as insulting labels for the above-listed characteristics”, are forbidden.
Heading 16, “Cruel and insensitive”, may also be relevant. It forbids mocking “victims of serious physical and emotional harm”, which could include transphobia, internalised or external.
Facebook refers us on to this essay on hate speech by Richard Allan. It is a balance. They want to encourage self-expression, but have rules against bullying. Attacks on social groups, including trans people, are hate speech. Context matters.
Facebook profits from “language designed to provoke strong feelings, making the discussion more heated” because it drives engagement. They believe in “harmless use cases”. In the context of immigration, Allan writes “we don’t want to stifle important policy conversations”, and that could be a defence for transphobes, arguing that trans woman access to woman’s space is a policy debate. So the hatred has to be something more than that.
Trans people can quote hate speech in order to argue against it, and reclaim slurs: I can call myself a tranny but no-one else can. There is a thin line between expressive opinion and unacceptable hate speech, and AI can’t define it, so users should report it to moderators.
Facebook is an American company with American cultural values, including commitment to free speech: “The goal of our Community Standards has always been to create a place for expression and give people a voice.” However on the same page they say they want content to be “authentic”- “we don’t want people using Facebook to misrepresent who they are or what they’re doing”. So, anti-trans campaigners often pretend to be women’s rights campaigners, or lesbian rights campaigners, when what they seek is trans exclusion. This is not authentic. Hate speech fits under their principle of Dignity: “We expect that people will respect the dignity of others and not harass or degrade others.”
So what happens when the anti-trans campaigners breach the community standards? Trans people and allies have to complain. And while groups and pages breach the community standards, complaints are restricted to particular content on groups. You can, however, report a page.
I want to see how this works. I see a hateful picture: it has the words “human beings cannot change sex and the law should not pretend that they can”. I click the three dots, then “find support or report photo”. I click “Hate speech”, then “Sex or gender identity”, then “Next”.
It asks, “Does the post go against our Community Standards on hate speech?” I click Yes, then Next. Unfortunately, it does not allow me to explain how it does that.
On the page itself, I click the three dots, then, again, “Hate speech”, “Next”, “Report page”, “Done”. Again, I cannot give reasons. It suggests I can block the page, so stop seeing it, but I don’t want to: instead, I want to prevent other people from seeing it: trans people, who might be hurt by it, and potential haters, who might be radicalised by it, or confirmed haters, who might share its rubbish.
Facebook claimed to have “taken action” on 22.1m pieces of hate speech content in three months, which means removing it, covering it with a warning, disabling accounts, or reporting it to agencies. They say that out of every 10,000 content views, 10-11 included hate speech.
After an hour, I got a message to say that the page did not go against any specific community standard, so would not be removed, but suggesting I block it. So far, so useless, and no opportunity to put the case that it is transphobic hate. Possibly the most extreme hate might occasionally be deleted, but not this, which campaigns to take away trans rights and pretends trans people do not exist.
Unfortunately, the implementation does not live up to this promise. I reported an image, and have not heard back. Then I reported a comment- transphobia whited out on my site, not all text-readers will- “‘Trans women’ can be males with gender dysphoria but a huge majority are males with autogynephilia, which is a male sexual fetish based on being validated as their idea of woman.” This is a lie, and also a “derogatory term related to sexual activity”, so banned. But the response is,
we reviewed the comment that you reported and found that it doesn’t go against any of our Community Standards… we understand that you don’t like it. We recommend that you hide the comment or unfollow, unfriend or block the person who posted it.
This is completely useless. Hate and lies about trans people spread across facebook uncontrolled.
Should I debate trans issues on facebook?
There are arguments for coming off it completely. I have given it data which show a detailed account of my personality and desires, and is used to manipulate me. There are trans support groups, but they often share things to be miserable about, which are followed by a dozen comments railing in misery. Yawn. Transphobe says something transphobic.
There’s a group discussing BBC radio. It can be fun. Recently, though, it’s infested with anti-trans campaigners. Should I disengage?
There was a programme where a self-described TERF talked to trans people. A post on that exploded to 775 comments, where few posts get more than a hundred. Word of Mouth, devoted to LGBT language, began with Michael Rosen’s moving confession and repentance of homophobia. These programmes are worth listening to, and I heard about them on that group. The thread’s at 240 comments and going strong.
There I am, trying to find agreement. I can find it in unexpected places. An anti-trans campaigner writes, “I’m a gender abolitionist; I think we’d all be better off if we were more free to behave in less stereotypical ways”.
I agree. “So the question is, how to get there when much of the anti-trans sentiment is conservative support of gender stereotypes and hatred of trans people for subverting them. The answer is to support everyone who is opposing assigned gender stereotypes, by whatever means they do it.”
I think she is too far gone for that to make a particular impression, but it might do some good.
I might hone my arguments. I now can state clearly and simply why the Equality Act assumes trans women will be in women’s spaces, despite passionate denial: “[The Act} doesn’t say that someone with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment must be treated as if they were the opposite sex and require them to be given access to facilities designated for the opposite sex. There is a lot of misinformation in circulation unfortunately.”
Easily answered. “Schedule 3. Paras 26-27 allow men to be excluded from women’s spaces. Para 28 allows trans women to be excluded. There would be no need for different provisions if it was as you say.” Well, that’s technical, and most people’s, even many trans people’s, eyes would glaze over long before that point- but I know what to say when that comes up.
Then there are the swivel-eyed obsessives. “Transwoman used to mean transsexual – a man with the distressing psychological condition of gender dysphoria. That has now exploded to include even part-time cross dressers and men who get their kicks dressing as women or being treated as women. Only those undergoing gender reassignment are covered by equality laws and even then there are exceptions where women need single-sex spaces. Stop with the power grab – women are aware of your tactics and we are standing up to them.”
Oh dear. Reading that is merely depressing, and I hope that anyone not wholly invested in the debate would be put off by it. I can answer it. Should I bother? Given that there are 36 replies to my original comment, no-one not obsessed would read the whole thread, and I could just leave it.
If I enjoy commenting, I should. I got in a top comment, 15 likes or loves, which may persuade some people. The poster objected to the phrase “gender assigned at birth” in Word of Mouth, so I commented, “Gender is assigned at birth. If you’re in a pink babygro, people goo-goo at you differently than if you’re in a blue one. Big strong boy! What a pretty girl! If your gender can’t be told from your clothes, people will want to know your name so they can assign you. The stereotypes are enforced from birth. I am amazed that “gender critical” people deny this. Surely they’ve noticed!”
Commenting like that, I might encourage a trans ally, discourage a hater, make someone think, but should not overestimate the effect I will have. Out of hundreds of comments, all having their incremental effect, mine will make little difference. If I drop out, there are plenty of others to argue in the same way. If anti-trans campaigners take over, their effort is not proportionate to any gain of persuading the unpersuaded.
Then one pulls one of the nastiest tricks in the transphobe armoury. You know they are filled with hate for every trans person when they do this. “Self-ID provides an obvious incentive for male sex offenders to identify as female. Some examples here:” and she gives a link.
So I said we’re not all sex offenders, and we have self declaration already. That’s enough, in her eyes, to make me an apologist for sex offenders at best. “We know that some men pose a risk to women… your cavalier dismissal of it… is very telling”. In the ellipses was even nastier stuff. Accusations of my selfishness and misogyny follow. There is nothing I could say to such people.
facebook is addictive. The system is designed to keep you coming back by getting you riled up. The notifications bell is a ping of dopamine. The hurt and frustration I feel from others’ anger is not worth it. I enjoy writing a well-crafted comment, but I would be better writing something less ephemeral.
Who are the anti-trans campaigners? What are they like, when not posting exclusion and dehumanisation? On facebook, I could just trade the usual lines with them, but instead I clicked on their profiles. I am not doxxing- kudos to anyone who finds the source of the pseudonyms I give them. The Green Party of England and Wales shared a simple meme, “Trans rights are human rights” on a trans flag background, and the hate commenced.
Abigail is an actor, who lives in Brisbane. She shares tourist photos of her in Europe. She obsessively shares articles attacking trans rights: her two latest public shares are an attack on Joe Biden’s allyship, and a claim that autistic trans people are not really trans, both in the Times. She claimed that that meme alone would stop her voting Green.
Catharina lives in Portland, Oregon, US. She coined the term “album-ination” to mean a record which was unfairly trashed. She refers to trans women as “men who wear women’s clothes”, but “respects that plants are living beings”. She accused the GPEW of trying to silence women, and warned it would make those women more keen to shout their transphobic hate, though that’s not how she put it. Brisbane? Portland? The GPEW? They clearly trawl facebook for anything supporting trans rights, so they can join a pile-on.
Annestine is 63. She went to Beverley Girls High School, and studied at the University of Sheffield. She created an image to “celebrate Pride” by imposing a rainbow on a picture of poppies. She donated to animal-free research, and an animal rescue centre. She fearmongers about “male bodied people in changing rooms”.
Someone commented on the length of the thread. “It’s driven by a business model that incites rancour”- well, yes, because that drives engagement. He got 41 replies, including Eleanor’s comment about the “cotton ceiling”. Eleanor’s other obsession is Remaining: her profile pic says she’s “Still European”. She shared a photo of graffiti, saying “I dream of you in COLORS that dont exist” and a vile transphobe “joke” tweet. She crocheted a gorgeous, complex blanket.
Olympe called the GPEW post “woke nonsense”, and said people are leaving the Party because of this. She is a freelance classical singer and singing teacher, a member of Jewish Voices for Labour and anti-Zionist. She also supports Extinction Rebellion.
Ann lives in Tewkesbury. She shared a cartoon showing Covid as a tidal wave about to engulf Westminster, but dwarfed by Brexit, which was in turn dwarfed by climate change. I agree. She has photos of countryside, and sheep. Her other visible posts are hateful, mocking transphobe images, including one of a trans woman’s penis.
Madeleine likes Jeremy Corbyn and does not like NHS privatisation. However everything else visible on her profile is transphobe. She obsessively repeats the mantra “adult human female” as if it meant that trans women do not exist.
Dorothea shared the quote “Let this radicalise you rather than lead you to despair”. I love that quote, though I would hope pushback about trans rights would make her see sense. She is a young woman who supports Labour. She self-justifies by claiming trans exclusion is “asserting boundaries”.
Jane is a lesbian from Buenos Aires. She shares cute puppy photos marked “buenas”. She also shared a tweet from “Assigned angry at birth” claiming “lesbian is female same sex attraction”, as if the most important thing for lesbians was ending trans rights.
Sarah claims trans people “hate women”. She is from Seattle. She is “Anti-Q, wanted for thought crimes”. Her profile picture is the photo of Bernie Sanders in mittens.
When they’re not obsessively campaigning about trans, they “love to hear the little brook a’gurgling, and listen to the merry village chime”. I share fbfnds with some of the haters. If I could meet and talk to them, we would find things in common, maybe even like each other. They get into anti-trans campaigning from a desire to protect vulnerable groups, or to stand up for themselves, which I could admire if it were not perverted in this way. Coming from all over the world, they plot together to go on any public post saying positive things about trans rights, and flood it with hate.
Some pages are using that to get clicks. They post a simple pro-trans meme, the haters pour in, and their page gets more attention.
Liz Truss spoke about Equality, and attacked Trans rights.
“In Britain, you can be whoever you want to be. Dress however you want to dress.” Of course this is not true. At work, some men are expected to wear ties, and some women skirts. But worse, it is an attack on trans people. It’s not just about the clothes. The clothes are the way I express my nature. It’s not just that I could wear a man’s suit and a tie, but choose to wear skirts. It’s that I find presenting male unbearable- weeping, curled in the foetal position unbearable.
And no, trans women can’t wear what we like. Presenting male, we might go under the radar, though it is living a lie in a way that makes the rest of life a drifting dull ache. Expressing ourselves female, we are exposed to hate and prejudice which Liz Truss and her government have encouraged.
It is a clear trans reference. Why else would she tell a falsehood about clothes?
Liz Truss says she will reject identity politics, and “move well beyond the narrow focus of protected characteristics” because those “end up excluding other people”, and are used to define people rather than our “individual character”. People often don’t see my “individual character”. They see only my gender reassignment, and treat me worse because of it. Sometimes they think they are considering my character, but they judge me more harshly because I am trans. (If someone with Cotard’s syndrome can rationalise away evidence that they are alive, anyone can rationalise away evidence that they are prejudiced.) That’s why we need protected as a characteristic, because we suffer direct discrimination. It’s also why we need statistics gathered about our employment rates, because we are less likely to be employed, and that is a sign of discrimination against us.
She names some protected characteristics- “sex, race and gender reassignment”. Why those three? Half the population are female, and 14% are BAME. A different but overlapping 14% are immigrants. 22% are disabled. By contrast only about 50,000 people are protected by the gender reassignment rules, 0.1%. She is using the rule of three, which is a good way of inspiring passion but also a way of conveying bathos. She uses “gender reassignment” not as a climax, but intending it to sound a dull thud, making the protected characteristics even less inspiring- because she finds gender reassignment unpleasant, and imagines other people do so too.
She will consider “socio-economic status and geographic inequality”, and “white working-class children”. This is pernicious. It divides the working class, and encourages the white majority to be racist, seeing themselves as particularly done down. The problems of BAME and immigrant people often come from being working class, because they are disproportionately so. We need class solidarity, not division by race.
The data project she offers is a good thing. It will “look at issues around geography, community and socio-economic background”. If the government actually addressed regional disparities, with infrastructure spending in the North of England, that would help. Her government is arguably exacerbating geographic inequality, spending £44bn on another rail link between London and Birmingham. Public spending is no problem to them, as long as the money is wasted.
She promises more Academies, run by private companies rather than supported by local authorities. This results in worse education. Always she puts the Tory privatisation ideology above the good of the country.
She has some warm words: “It is outrageous in the 21st century that LGBT people still face harassment in public spaces”. She promises no action against that.
The most threateningly transphobic line is not on the government website, which excises “political content”, because it is an attack on the Labour Party. It is also an attack on trans people: “It has led to the Left turning a blind eye to practices that undermine equality, whether it be failing to defend single-sex spaces, hard fought for by generations of women, enabling and tolerating antisemitism, or the appalling grooming of young girls in towns like Rotherham.” Antisemitism, sexual abuse, and trans women in women’s spaces are linked together here, equally appalling.
She describes protected characteristics as “misguided, wrong-headed and ultimately destructive ideas that take agency away from people”. She will do less to advance the equality of protected groups, and especially trans people. Her other attacks on trans rights frighten me. The speech is here.
Since then, I have been debating the speech on a public facebook group- not a trans or “gender-critical” group, but a general interest one, where trans folk and phobes may attempt to convince the public. One person raised Truss’s Foucault with a Baudrillard, which I thought a good bet. I said Foucault was right, and found myself in a debate with six women, which started when one claimed only transphobe MPs were “sticking up for women’s and children’s rights”. I asked them repeatedly whether they found any of the speech objectionable- its racism, its opposition to any method to ameliorate inequality- and they did not say, as if its one use of the term “single-sex” had hypnotised them. For them, it appears there is only one important political issue, eclipsing even Brexit and Covid.
Where could I find evidence of the support of lesbians and feminists for trans people? Oddly enough, the whining of haters. “There are very few public stories of lesbians on the ‘cotton ceiling’” said a transphobe, Angela C Wild, who worked with a named transphobe organisation to try to get more, but failed. While QAnon and other conspiracist groups can get 200,000 in a facebook group, Wild’s energetic attempts to find transphobic lesbians found respondents from three continents, but only resulted in eighty responses to her questionnaire.
“The sample does not claim to be a representative sample of the lesbian community,” Wild writes. Rather, her eighty respondents show an extreme view. “Would you consider a transwoman (sic) as a potential sexual partner,” she asked, and though lesbians will, all but one of her respondents said no. Wild uses the word “transwoman” though she does not consider it appropriate, preferring to think of us as males. This is valueless as research, but some of the stories are interesting.
The haters were members of lesbian or LGBT groups online or IRL. Though 58 of them were part of groups excluding trans women, they still felt “silenced” or unable to speak freely. Allies of trans women had excluded forty of the haters from LGBT groups. One hater had been sacked- perhaps it was Maya Forstater. The pressure came from “other women” (that is, not trans women) within their groups.
Online, it is easy to find your own kind. Facebook will suggest groups for you. So, some of the respondents had left their LGBT groups and joined hater groups, where they could be sure their views were not challenged. They prefer hater groups even though they say “how much more difficult it has become for them to meet lesbians”- the hate they share was their main focus. One said in a city of a million people all the lesbian groups included trans women, at least potentially.
On dating sites, in getting messages from trans women, one is quoted as saying “she has never felt coerced or intimidated”. While others claim to be pressured, they admit that the pressure comes from cis lesbians. Despite her repulsion against trans women, one had had a relationship with one, but they judge us on our looks, claiming we were not “making an effort to pass”.
This document cannot be dignified by the term “research”. For example, Wild misrepresents Dhejne’s research, though Dhejne has refuted Wild’s interpretation, and in her “references” cites tweets, youtube, and a Medium article. Though facebook radicalises people, by suggesting extremist groups to anyone who might do a search, Wild has found few people, and they tell of the pressure from cis women including cis lesbians to accept trans women.
Wild’s account makes a number of serious allegations, of threats and even assaults, but these come from a prejudiced source, from anonymised obsessives who would rather leave a lesbian group than accept the possibility that a trans woman might join. Most lesbians understand that if hatred against trans women spreads, lesbians will be next in the firing line. Now, with this Tory government, we need LGBT solidarity.
For example, there is this statement on the Pride in London website, when such haters disrupted the Pride parade in 2018:
The lesbian board members at Pride in London made their anger towards the unsanctioned group clear and our organisation as a whole condemns their actions. The protest group showed a level of bigotry, ignorance and hate that is unacceptable.
We reject what this group stands for. They do not share our values, which are about inclusion and respect and support for the most marginalised parts of our community.
We are proud of our trans volunteers, proud of the trans groups that are in our parade, proud of our trans speakers at events and proud of the trans people who take part in our campaigns and proud of those who cheered even louder for them yesterday.
While The Times and other powerful right wing forces seek to spread hatred of trans people, and internet contacts ensured her questionnaire reached Canada, Germany and New Zealand, Wild’s “research” shows this has little purchase among lesbians.