How anti-trans activism damages feminism

Trans exclusion in Britain has evolved to a simple understanding which its adherents consider rational, logical and feminist. They say trans women are men. This seems obvious to them, as we have, or had, testicles. Women do not have testicles. Women have ovaries. They don’t need a position on whether people with androgen insensitivity syndrome are women, because their targets are trans women, so they pretend the definition of “woman” is simple. At any rate, it excludes trans women, whom they call males.

Their position is inconsistent and irrational, but they compartmentalise. They claim trans boys are victims of a fad or trend, an appreciation of the burden of patriarchy on women and a false way of evading that burden for themselves. They claim that trans women are autogynephilic perverts. These positions are contradictory.

Yet the simplicity of their position- that trans women are men- gives it a superficial clarity and logic. “Women are oppressed on the basis of sex.” As trans women are men, trans women in women’s spaces appropriate women’s resources and women’s spaces become mixed sex spaces.

They insist on their rationality. “It is counterfactual and pseudoscientific to claim that people can change sex by altering their appearance”. In reality, society recognises trans people and grants us a place where we can begin to thrive.

Then they leap to irrational conclusions. In the attack on the Women’s Prize for Fiction, they speculate that in a few years, half of the long listed authors might be trans women. In real life no-one transitions in order to get into women’s space. The cost is too great. We transition because we are trans, and the cost of not transitioning is greater.

They also claim that the law excludes trans women from women’s spaces, though it clearly does not.

They say that “gender ideology” is an attack on women’s rights. No, trans people exist, and always have. Trans recognition is a way of mitigating our distress in heteronormative society, promoting diversity and freedom for everyone to be who they are rather than conforming to narrow social norms.

The result is that they ignore when women’s rights and resources are curtailed. To the gender critical, there is no longer a Women’s Prize for Fiction- it is a “Fiction Prize”. In the same way, if a women’s shelter adopts a policy whereby it could, in theory, admit a trans woman, they call it a “mixed sex shelter” and bemoan the end of women’s domestic violence services. In reality, women’s shelters are being defunded and closed down. That is the threat to women’s domestic violence shelters.

Rather than objecting or campaigning when women’s shelters are actually closed, or seeking to fundraise for those shelters, they campaign against women’s shelters which are still admitting women, and fundraise for court actions to exclude trans women. They damage the women’s spaces and resources they claim to cherish.

The Women’s Prize stooshie is a storm in a thimble. The complaint had about 160 signatures, including some transphobes who sign any transphobe rubbish going, “Mary Ann Evans” and “Currer Bell”. The use of female authors as pseudonyms caused particular mockery, and the response of the prize to the trans-excluders’ bullying made the Guardian, which quoted the excluders’ paltry argument, but also the range and eminence of the feminist condemnation of it.

Women’s rights are under attack in Britain. The government contends that there is no structural discrimination, and that anti-discrimination initiatives are Leftist vandalism. Trans excluders appropriate the language of feminism to attack trans rights, and divert campaigns against functioning women’s resources.

The feminist case for trans exclusion

Is there any merit in trans excluders’ arguments to exclude trans women from women’s spaces? Is there any harm to cis women from allowing trans women in?

If there were, we would have seen it by now. Trans women are in women’s spaces informally tolerated since the 1960s, officially under the Equality Act 2010, and even under Theresa May’s Tory government trans inclusion was seen as a good thing. Now, the English Nationalists in power seek to make trans people a vilified hate group, but they are not succeeding yet.

Any harm is not to all cis women. Many are trans allies, and say that they are perfectly willing to accept trans women in women’s spaces. However it is suggested that women traumatised by sexual assault may be retraumatised by seeing those they consider to be men in women’s spaces, that this is a harm to those women, so trans women should be excluded. For the purposes of this argument, I will assume such cis women exist.

We then have two groups of people whose interests conflict, trans women and these traumatised cis women. How could we resolve this conflict?

One way could be to argue that trans women are entitled to less consideration than cis women, or that our needs are not real, and trans excluders devote a great deal of energy to that, saying that our transition comes from false conservative understanding of gender, or from feelings which may dissipate. However trans women are real. Transition is in no sense a “lifestyle choice”, but something we do because we can’t bear not to. Without playing oppression Olympics, we can’t decide that one group’s interests should be sacrificed to the other’s.

Because trans women exist, cis women who merely feel angry that trans women are in women’s spaces are no more entitled to consideration than white women who feel angry at the presence of Black women. Trans excluders have sought to fan the flames of this anger, arguing that the presence of trans women is a danger or an insult. This is clear transphobia.

Trans excluders also collect all reports of trans women who are criminals, in order to stoke fear of trans women. There are criminals in every  social group (apart from the theoretical group of “non-criminals”). Sanctioning a group for the actions of individuals is wrong. Also, there are cis women who are criminals, and may pose a risk in toilets. The answer is to deal with wrongdoers, not collective punishment.

However there may be conflicting rights, between trans women, and some number of cis women, retraumatised when they see us, or placed in fear.

To resolve the dilemma, we could show that trans women in general are not a threat. Get to know some trans women. We don’t all look conventionally feminine, but the beauty myth is tyranny over all women. The Christian argument against the Shrek films was that children would see the trans character, see she was not evil, and come to accept trans people in real life rather than loathing and fearing us, as they thought people should.

In places where you do not talk to others, usually, the chance of a trans woman traumatising a cis woman is small. We use loos and changing rooms, then leave.

In rape crisis centres and women’s shelters, the two groups could be kept apart without reducing the service for either, and getting to know each other would reduce the hurt.

Then, what will reduce the suffering of female victims of male violence? Greater conviction rates might, societal disapproval, increasing women’s social status, dealing with the gender pay gap. A hate campaign against harmless trans women is the last thing to benefit cis women. All it will do is give them an out-group to despise, and direct their anger downwards rather than at the sources of their oppression. That is why the Tories support the hate campaign.

When you consider what might actually have value for some women, even at such a huge cost to so many others, in the trans-excluders’ arguments, you see how harmful their campaign is. It may arise from women’s pain and hurt, but it has no way of assuaging it.

Kathleen Stock

Professor Kathleen Stock, OBE, gave a talk calling for the drastic reduction of academic feminism. Though she barely referred to trans rights, her talk only makes sense if you realise she considers its acceptance of trans people renders academic feminism worthless.

She says academic feminism is not feminism because it is “no longer directly concerned with women and girls”. That feminism says nearly all differences between men and women are social and cultural constructs. She calls respecting trans and nonbinary identities “anti-feminist and anti-intellectual”. She claims people who believe in cis privilege deny any claim cis women have to political attention: as if they did not think male privilege important at all, never objected to it, and did nothing about it.

She says academic feminists cannot “easily” discuss menstruation, or properly talk about the objectification of girls, because they use language which includes trans men and nonbinary folk. She seems to disapprove of academics “working in the name of justice rather than simply documenting or explaining things”. But academics cannot simply document, because justice or injustice is advanced by where they pay their attention. Prof. Corinne Fowler reporting on slavery links to British wealth acts for justice merely by describing, and is passionate about attacks on her right to so act. Ethics is the philosophical attempt to define justice: without philosophy, we cannot improve our understanding of what is right, and so our work for it is impeded.

Stock’s definition of “liberal” is wide. It includes a “dream of objective universal values”. I would call that “Enlightenment” rather than “liberal”, which refers to freedom, even though “freedom” can be defined in so many different ways, some the opposite of others. Stock talks of “neoliberal” universities. Neoliberalism is about the absence of restriction by government, freedom to make monopolies and despoil the planet. It is far, politically, from trans inclusion, which requires government action to promote equality.

I don’t understand this criticism. “Academic feminists are still likely to think of themselves as uniquely well-placed to see what ordinary women cannot, via their superior rational capacities and quasi-technical methodologies.” Surely that is the point of academic study? If you devote yourself to knowledge about a particular subject, you will understand it better than someone who does not.

She wants a “post-liberal feminism”, free of all this.

It should recognise that women have different interests from men because of sexual dimorphism and heterosexuality. Men are stronger and more aggressive than women, and desire them sexually, and this causes “huge suffering” in women. Of course. She claims academic feminism “takes away the words of women to say this”. She does not say how. It is left to the audience to infer that she means, by promoting trans inclusion. But feminism also needs to address male privilege, which she does not mention, the cultural tendency of both sexes to show women less respect and attention than men.

She wants a recognition of “femininity”. Feminism should work to eliminate gendered ideas and practices which negatively affect the well-being of women, but always recognise the value those ideas have to those women who are attached to them: she recognises mere condemnation alienates those women, and achieves nothing.

I like that bit, and it’s the part most widely mocked. Someone quoted her phrase “The goal of feminism should not be equality”, out of context. Roz Kaveney tweeted that Prof. Stock was “replacing freedom and equality with ‘well-being’ which she can’t define”. That is no criticism: Prof. Stock says feminism’s purpose is defining it.

Well-being seems a pretty clear word to me. As Prof. Stock says, it has physical, mental and spiritual aspects. Different people have different ideas of well-being, which may be more or less “feminine”.

The most important thing when considering femininity is that there is no characteristic, emotion, virtue or aptitude which is not equally valuable in both sexes, or which only applies to one sex (apart from role in reproduction). True freedom is the ability to develop ones capacities to the full, however “masculine” or “feminine” they are, even when they contradict social stereotypes. Some women want a large family, and accept Complementarian gender roles in order to nurture it: feminism must wrestle with that reality.

My feminist friend, going to university around 1970, told me she could not understand how compliant the other female students were, and because women like my friend are particularly oppressed by gender stereotypes they may be particularly drawn to feminism. That makes feminism’s response to homemaker women more fraught. Outside universities, there are women’s groups which fit homemakers better, others which foster radical feminism. These groups will simply be at cross-purposes unless academic feminists can make some sense of the issues.

Prof. Stock finds feminism outside the Universities best able to define women’s well-being. “Collectively groups of women and girls can work out what is conducive to their well-being, or at least what clearly isn’t.” Perhaps she is thinking of Ovarit, or the trans-obsessives of Mumsnet. When “many spheres of value are still dominated by men, others by liberal elites, and nearly all by capitalism” she admits working out well-being is difficult. Fortunately, among ordinary women as well as academic feminists there are many trans allies. There is no feminist aim supported by all women.

Ordinary women might not need academics to tell them that “choking during sex” is harmful, but academics might find how prevalent women being aroused by it is, or women consenting when it arouses men, or how, legally, consent to strangulation as a defence to a charge of murder could be treated. Considering what questions are most useful to ask, or how best data might answer them, is a peculiarly academic skill.

Prof. Stock says academic feminists should help grassroots feminists achieve their aims, through data collection, not claim to know better about “ontological or moral reality”.

Prof. Stock’s rejection of academic feminism, and feminist ontology or ethics, makes no sense but for her rejection of trans inclusion. If there is any other grassroots feminist issue which academic feminists oppose overwhelmingly, please do say.

Prof. Stock’s transcript is here. It is clear she got her OBE for hating trans people, and advancing Tory nationalist aims. There are too many equally eminent academics who have not been so honoured. It is because she would get rid of academic feminism. She believes any value academic feminism has, is vitiated by trans-inclusion. This assigns far too great a weight to trans inclusion, and finds it uniquely damaging. It is clearly transphobic, that is, an irrational fear reaction.

Her talk, and others from Res Publica, are on video here. A long detailed refutation of Stock’s poor argument, mendacity and transphobia is on Praile.

17 October: it appears Stock has decided to give up on academia, and go into full time anti-trans campaigning. She seeks martyrdom for publicity, and some of the claims are risible- a photo appeared on social media of someone with a “Sack Stock” placard! Mercy! Grace Lavery gives an account, and explains the distinction between academic freedom and free speech: Stock’s academic freedom has never been challenged.

28 October: Stock has left Sussex University. That will be good for the university, its staff and all its students. These things are usually negotiated, but the Vice-Chancellor’s statement specifically says “We would have supported her to return to work”- so it was her decision to go. She probably thinks she can make more money as a full time anti-trans campaigner. Her academic career perhaps disappointed her: she was hardly Elizabeth Anscombe.

Prof. Steven Whittle wrote on facebook, “As a trans academic, I’ve faced many different sorts of protest over the last 28 years (from being thumped to having students stand up in my lecture saying I shouldn’t be allowed to raise kids). But have stood by my research & Manchester Met Uni have stood by me.”

Eddie Izzard

Ask not, how can we be tolerated, but, how can we be ourselves?

Eddie Izzard has not changed her name, or even her pronouns. Eddie has been going on stage in makeup and blouses for years. In 2016 she started referring to himself as a “transgender man”, confusingly, as “trans man” means F-M, saying “I’ve got boy genetics and girl genetics”. In December she was painted on Sky Arts “Portrait artist of the year”, and referred to with she/her pronouns. Trans people were delighted. LGB All Liars sought a bit of publicity by attacking her. However she kept her male name, and did not change presentation particularly. She is not trying to “pass as a woman”.

Then she got in the news again, in the Telegraph, Evening Standard and Pink News, when she said JK Rowling was “not transphobic”.

I don’t think JK Rowling is transphobic. I think we need to look at the things she has written about in her blog. Women have been through such hell over history. Trans people have been invisible, too. I hate the idea we are fighting between ourselves, but it’s not going to be sorted with the wave of a wand. I don’t have all the answers. If people disagree with me, fine – but why are we going through hell on this?

Rowling finds inclusive language for trans men offensive, and rants about “trans activists”. She is literally transphobic. If you consider “transphobic” a uniquely condemning word only to be used for the most extreme transphobia, it is just possible she is “not transphobic” in that sense.

I don’t know which loos Izzard uses.

The path for trans women is well trodden by now. We seek a diagnosis from psychiatrists, then hormones and surgery. We transition, changing our name and presentation, to clearly coded-female clothes and hair. We call ourselves women and use women’s spaces. Eddie doesn’t. She uses pronouns interchangeably, and clothes sometimes masculine, sometimes feminine, sometimes a bit of both. I don’t know whether they seek any medical treatment, and it’s up to her whether he does and whether she speaks about it. Binary transition is OK, and being nonbinary OK too.

He says he’s a “transgender man”, and I say “trans includes nonbinary and gender-queer”, so that is accurate. He does not say he is nonbinary, he does not want classified or explained at all. Instead he behaves as if gender is this great, glorious playground and he can play in all of it not just half of it. They are a comedian! They provoke and entertain! They also like publicity.

Trans people are a battleground for the authoritarian nationalists and the oligarchs manipulating them. Nationalists need enemies. The Critic had a go again: “male transgenderism is sexism on steroids”, yawn. No-one should have any fun, everyone should be normal, and anyone not obeying these rules is an Enemy of the People. If the authoritarians can manipulate feminists to attack us too, they can undermine feminism as a bonus.

The trans excluders want us out of women’s spaces, but that would not satisfy them. If we left, they would want us to stop using women’s names. In our angry, frightened world, people will attack trans folk. We are the low status people anyone can pick on. Eddie says Rowling is “not transphobic” and the news exults and trans people wring our hands. Chill, people.

We will not be tolerated. All we can do is be ourselves proudly.

One problem is people claiming there is only one way to be trans, and others should follow their lead. Transmedicalists do that. I would rather Izzard had not defended Rowling, but it is one raindrop in the blizzard of hate we face. It does not mean Izzard is an enemy, I hope.

Ky Schevers

Ky Schevers compares trans men detransitioning into “gender critical” circles to the “ex-gay” movement. Having spent time with them, and transitioned to male again, he says they are harmful both to trans people and detransitioners. He has written some perceptive Medium posts about his experiences. Any human being might recognise the tension between seeking acceptance from others, and being proudly who you are, which for trans people is particularly fraught.

At times I have needed to say different things about myself, and wanted different affirmation from others. Before I committed to transition, I wanted to, yet was too frightened, and I read up on “autogynephilia”, and told myself my desires were unreal. Then I decided I would transition, and joined Transsexual UK, a Yahoo group. There my desire to transition was affirmed, though it was nastily transmedicalist- not just the clear desire for hormones and surgery, but the implication that those who did not want surgery were perverts or transvestites and we should distance ourselves from them. And all the time I have wanted affirmed just for me, for who I am.

Since the March lockdown I have been powerfully affirmed here, Saturdays at 11am GMT. It is a space for everyone, not just trans, where we can show ourselves.

Ky transitioned female to male, then detransitioned, and joined gender critical groups. They would affirm him if he asserted that he was a woman, that being butch was fine but saying that it was in any way “masculine” was wrong, because that was a way some women were and all women were allowed to be if they wanted to. He used his strong gifts for thinking, analysis and writing on a wordpress blog which is now deleted. His crashchaoscats tumblr is now “Hemp Life Mag- CBD reviews, news and guides”, with no obvious indication it has ever been a detransition blog.

As a F-M-F detransitioner, part of his belief system was that he had undertaken a terrible act of self-harm caused by “transgender ideology”, and it was important to him to shield others for similar harm. His “Open letter to Julia Serano” remains, shared by another on facebook, and I copied it to a word document which I retain. He wrote to Julia, a powerful transadvocate,

I see these young women, lesbian and otherwise, finally find other women they can relate to, who also feel out of place in this society, who don’t fit the patriarchal myths and I watch them grow proud of being female, being a woman. It has been beautiful to watch and amazing to be a part of so many women’s healing.

You can choose to listen to us and change how you talk about us or you can keep repeating the same misinformation. In case you do choose to listen, I’ve included some links to other detransitioned women’s blogs and videos. In any case, we will keep speaking our truths because even if you’re not listening, a lot of women are and they need to hear what we have to say.

There it is. Beautifully articulate, powerfully expressed, definite, and he would say now completely wrong. Or at least if right for anyone not right for him. I wrote about him at the time.

There has to be a better way. As he says, people who transition and detransition have a lot in common with people who are transitioning or want to, or who have transitioned. It would be so much better if they could be in community together for mutual support. And yet they are pitched against each other, forced to argue that the other groups are deluded and perhaps that they personally have been in the past.

I want a Gender Variant community, of people who recognise that gender stereotypes do not fit them, and support any way of coping with that- living against the stereotypes, living with a particular presentation such as “butch”, having surgery- because we recognise what we have in common. I don’t know it is possible. Too many people are invested in their own way and want to save others from different, wrong, paths. There is a strong taboo in the wider community against body alteration- some people even condemn tattoos, piercings, or rhinoplasties, leave alone what we have done. He says,

People also need spaces where they can freely explore how their sense of gender may have been shaped by trauma and/or living in a homophobic transphobic patriarchy without being pressured to adopt a particular identity or interpretation of their experiences.

Ky now feels he was exploited by people with their own axes to grind- conservative Evangelicals who claim gender variance is a sin encouraged by feminism, parents of trans people who are disgusted by their children’s desires and encourage each other to oppose them, or conversion therapists who want to make money from them. “Ideologically motivated detransition is conversion therapy,” he says. We want to be accepted in community, because we are social beings, and so we seek out their conditional acceptance. But,

People invested in transphobic ideologies have no interest in helping detransitioned people heal because they want to frame transitioning as being as damaging as possible.

I needed to sort out who I was as opposed to what I had become in order to belong to the community.

Now, he says, it is “surreal” to accept himself as a trans man and lose that community. “I still care about a lot of detransitioned women but I no longer feel like I can be close to them.” How could he, when he sees them as perpetrating the same harms? Could he just be with them, without trying to fix each other? Could we each accept that my path is right for me now, and just because it is different to your path does not mean either is wrong? Could we support each other in such different choices? We need an identity, and feel such confusion when that identity changes- I thought I was a “man”, and now see I am a trans woman. An answer might be to cling less tightly to a rigid conception of that identity, but that troubles straight people and raises our internalised self-phobia.

He feels terribly guilty.

I betrayed the trans community by adopting and promoting transphobic views and creating material that was then picked up and used by other anti-trans groups. I betrayed the detrans community by coming out as trans, leaving the community and talking openly about how detransitioning hurt me. I further betray them by naming the harm done by the detrans community [including Keira Bell.]… The thing I’m really trying to figure out is how do I take responsibility for my past actions and do what I can to fix the damage? … I don’t want to harm others, even unintentionally… Those transphobic ideas harmed me but they also motivated me to speak and act in ways that harmed other trans people as well.

He has been writing. It is his skill. It is powerful stuff, and anyone interested should read him and engage with him, trans people, allies, and those he says are exploiters.

He is vulnerable. Not for the first time,

I am dismantling who I once was and still figuring out who I want to be now.
I’m working to heal from the damage of trying to erase an important part of myself.
I was in pain and I wanted it to stop.

The exploiters should have pity on us, but they too have their needs and identities to protect. I will have pity on him. Ky, you were seeking community and seeking to understand yourself in a blizzard of conflicting interpretations, anger, contempt and fear. You did your best to help others and find community. I will not blame you for anything you did, however mistaken you now feel it was.

These are Ky’s three Medium posts:
Detransition as conversion therapy: a survivor speaks out.
What is ideologically motivated detransition?
Moving between worlds deciding what to do next.

The vulnerable cis woman

One trans-excluding argument is that cis women need space for cis women only, because of male violence. If the cis woman sees a trans woman in women’s space, she will see her as a man, and will have the same fear reaction that she would if there was a man there. I am mortified at the idea I could terrify someone. The argument arouses my sympathy with my potential victim, leave alone a feminist or someone who has not thought of social justice issues. How can we counter it?

It was put to me like this. Young women may suffer continual sexual harassment and occasional extreme experiences such as sexual assault or a man demanding sex who will not brook refusal from whom she has great difficulty escaping. She seeks refuge where only women should go, a toilet, and then I come in. She reads me as a man, and her refuge is penetrated. More, almost all loos have only one door, and as I am nearer to it, I prevent her escape. Her trauma is redoubled.

The argument appeals to some feminists particularly. I wondered why a woman would be revolted by chest masculinisation surgery, yet insist on vaginoplasty? She could tolerate a “Post-op transsexual” in a women’s loo, but not a “trans woman”. Others argue against all surgery, such as Green campaigners claiming that just as we should not mutilate the rain forest we should not mutilate healthy bodies. That feminist’s position made sense to me if she sees solely from the cis woman’s point of view, thinking that the trans man is a woman victimised by society into imagining she wants to be mutilated, who is then mutilated. The answer is reducing the oppression of women and the shame inflicted on women. But the trans woman is a potential threat to women. If the trans woman has no penis the threat is slightly less.

The argument plays on my feeling of being conditionally tolerated. I will be permitted if there is no problem for anyone else. I am wary of angry dismissal, and want to avoid it, so am alive to reasons to exclude. This is internalised transphobia. Other trans women take a stand on their rights asserting trans women are women, and this may be an overreaction/ rebellion against internalised transphobia.

Anyone else, either a social justice warrior or an ordinary person who hardly thinks about such things might say, thoughtlessly, either that trans women are men and should not be in there anyway, or that trans women are also vulnerable and need women’s space. The argument particularly appeals to someone who places women’s needs above those of other vulnerable groups, which raises the question what is a woman?

Groups subject to oppression will succeed when we work together and support each other. BAME people, LGBT+ people, working class people, disabled people, have the same interests in tearing down structural injustice and implicit bias. Conservatives and oppressors have an interest in setting oppressed groups against each other and creating out-groups whom all of society can look down on. When cis women exclude trans women only the Patriarchy wins.

One is not born a woman, but becomes one, and the kind of woman may depend on skin colour, class, and disability. Talk of general women’s experience applies to more privileged women. Our socialisation is not primarily based on gender, but on all these factors. White middle-class feminists talking of the particular problems arising from feminine socialisation are placing their own problems first, ignoring those of other women, and defining what womanhood means, when feminism requires womanhood to have no stereotype at all. Judith Butler says identity categories are always normative and exclusionary. They mean that there are women these feminists’ campaigns ignore.

Trans women are oppressed as other women are. Like all women, we are required to spend a great deal of time on our appearance, or suffer from being treated as invisible. Any woman performing gender in conventional ways reinforces those conventional ways. The goal is to end these gender stereotypes, but we all succumb. Trans women have women’s experiences of sexual harassment and violence.

Taken from the NYT: When a cis woman complains that trans women haven’t had the same experiences as “real” women-born-women, then, what she’s really saying is, “Trans women haven’t had the same experiences as women like me.” If 30-plus years of intersectional feminism has taught us anything, it’s that this is precisely the move that feminists need to stop making. See also Gal Dem.

What about Judith Green’s argument? She says in her sex abuse survivors’ group, the women needed a single sex group as they had been socialised to look after the men. Had men joined, the women’s implicit bias would have stopped them caring for their own needs and placing the men first. However, trans women are also socialised to put ourselves down, ignore our needs and feelings, and cover up our real selves.

Let us be allies. Anything else is the conservatives’ work.

Selina Todd

Selina Todd’s invitation to lecture at the University of Kent should be withdrawn, because she campaigns against trans people’s rights. Many academics agree, and have signed an open letter to the University.

As colleagues and students at the University of Kent, we would like to register our opposition to this event. Selina Todd is a self-proclaimed gender-critical feminist who has been widely criticised for her arguments against trans people’s- particularly trans women’s- right to self-identify. We believe that the message that our hosting of Selina Todd sends to trans and nonbinary students and staff in the university, our students who are trans and nonbinary allies, and our trans and nonbinary future applicants, is that the School, and more broadly the University, believes that trans identity is “up for discussion”.

They say there has been no proper consultation, that trans and NB people have to defend their right to exist. As Sara Ahmed says, there cannot be a dialogue when some at the table are, in effect or intent, arguing for the elimination of others at the table. Todd’s ideas encourage trans excluders, contribute to a wider climate of intolerance, and justify transphobic violence. Todd has many platforms to spout her views, arising from her privilege which trans and NB people may lack. Transphobic speech is hate speech putting trans and NB students and staff at risk.

What kind of thing does Todd say? She complains that she has been misrepresented, the poor thing, then starts with a misrepresentation. I believe that UK law should remain as it is, with sex a protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act, against the claim of some trans activists that people should be able to define themselves as men or as women simply by describing themselves as such. Gender recognition reform will not affect the Equality Act, which already protects those who have decided to transition in their true gender. She implies transition is a silly whim rather than a terrifying but necessary striving for freedom to be ourselves. She goes on to claim that trans rights are “highly socially conservative”. She should tell that to her social conservative allies. Her page headed My Feminism currently only mentions trans issues, as if equal pay, VAWG or reproductive rights do not matter to her. Not everything she writes is harmful: I found her essay on refusing to be overworked interesting.

The public lecture comes under Colonial and Postcolonial Studies. In October, David Olusoga and Razia Iqbal spoke on Empire. Todd’s title is Women and Social Class. The University has put out a statement that Her visit is in conformity with the University’s Code of Practice concerning Freedom of Speech, External Speakers and Events. They link to their Student trans support policy, which specifically includes those who do not seek medical treatment, and nonbinary people. It recognises people might transition at University: The University recognises that the period of transition can be very complex and difficult for the student, and wishes to act in a supportive and sensitive way to ease any transition period. It’s a 37 page policy. As Sara Ahmed says, having a good policy document can be an end in itself- asserted to be proof that they are trans-accepting rather than a pledge to take useful action.

The Universities and College Union election candidates have made a joint statement on Academic Freedom and Trans Inclusion. The right of transgender, non-binary, and gender diverse people to self-identify in no way threatens academic freedom. Claims to the contrary not only undermine the dignity of our colleagues and students but also divert attention from those forces which are increasingly undermining academic freedom in the United Kingdom. They show that media stories do not show the real threats to academic freedom, from the ways academics are managed, but made up threats in a way that undermines the dignity and threatens the safety of transgender, non-binary and gender-diverse people.

29 February: Todd was kicked off the platform of the Women’s Liberation Conference in Oxford, because feminist trans allies threatened to boycott the event. Lola Olufemi, not a trans woman, said, I have seen first-hand how middle-class white women with social capital have used their gatekeeping power to harass trans people, threaten them with defamation, actively work to curtail their rights, refused to extend solidarity, and then claim victimhoodResist this imposed culture war, and practise a feminism that recognises that trans liberation is central to our collective liberation.  Todd made a statement, claiming single-sex spaces are enshrined in law, but “her opponents believe the law should be changed”. It is difficult to believe Dr Todd does not understand the current law on self-declaration, so she is deliberately lying.

16 February 2021: Todd was on Radio 4 complaining about Free Speech again. She’s left the University and College Union, and supports the Tories’ free speech law. Every other academic sees how it will chill debate in universities.

Trans excluders at the “Inclusion Gathering” shock

The Quaker “National Gathering on Diversity and Inclusion” weekend started with a talk from Heather Brunskell-Evans, “philosopher and social theorist”, “Gender concerned” Quaker, campaigner who claims the greatest threat to women’s human rights comes from trans inclusion and “trans ideology”. Edwina Peart, organiser, phoned me up beforehand to warn me about it, saying when we carefully and with boundaries open this conversation we begin to see some similarities between what have been seen as diametrically opposed positions- I don’t believe they are. I applauded the bravery, and felt it might be too much for me personally to bear. I frightened my friend, who emailed, Be just another woman, don’t be the ambassador for trans, let others wrestle with the issues.

The programme, sent to participants on Monday 13 January, said something different. Other arranged speakers were introduced as keynote speakers, but not Heather. Edwina Peart wrote, It is one of my goals as diversity and inclusion coordinator that Quakers sit with issues around gender diversity and trans inclusion and ultimately reach a position. I feel that momentum is building through the strands of work that are occurring under this theme. However, this cannot develop into an active standpoint without the inclusion of the Gender Concerned group. This is an opportunity for deep examination of their position and an analysis of its base. It will encourage us to consider how we can be inclusive and welcoming of trans Friends living their gender truthfully. I do not think a position will be achieved without acknowledging, laying bare and ultimately allaying the fears of some cis gendered women and men.

I found that disrespectful. One “allays” fears that are groundless. Meeting with and hearing anti-trans campaigners, I do not hear fears. Yes, they talk of individual trans women who have committed crimes as if we should all be judged by the worst acts of the worst of us, but what I hear is righteous anger. They think it is part of the systematic disrespect the Patriarchy shows women that they should have to share spaces with trans women, and women’s spaces are valueless if trans women might be there. I am aware Heather in particular finds the thought of chest masculinisation surgery, which she would call double mastectomy, revolting.

As far as I understand it, she finds gender stereotypes oppressive, and finds that oppression only gets worse when we are driven to surgery to alter our bodies in order to escape them. Whereas, in the imperfect community we find ourselves in, I find surgery a completely reasonable thing for someone to choose. She thinks we will find freedom from gender norms by rejecting the norms but valuing our beautiful bodies. I think freedom from the norms is harder to achieve than that, and any tool- even surgery- should be permitted. This is different from the usual trans view, that trans people need surgery to cope with gender incongruence.

This is my disagreement with Heather. Continue reading

Trans and politicians

The Labour Party leadership contest is on. What are the candidates saying about trans people? What would we like them to say?

There is a principled position- trans women are women, trans people know who we are, including trans children. And there is a “principled position”- sex is real, gender is meaningless; there should be no men in women’s spaces; trans women are men; children are under threat from trans ideology. It’s nasty, it’s unrelenting and it is unwilling to compromise.

So what I want is pragmatism. I want politicians to affirm certain clear truths: it is wrong to judge a class of people by one or two individuals. It is a propagandist way of fomenting hate. Even if someone can name a trans rapist and several trans people she dislikes, most trans people are decent folk trying to live ordinary lives. Trans women are mostly harmless, and mockery and hatemongering is wrong. No man will pretend to be trans in order to assault women: rapists don’t need to. Yes “sex is real”, but gender is all-pervasive in the culture and some people deal with gender nonconformity by transitioning. Children below puberty may identify as trans, and allowing them social transition in school improves their mental health. All children should be supported and bullying is unacceptable. Children above puberty are not a threat until proved so, if they are trans they can be accepted in schools in their true gender. Children who feel safe, valued and respected will thrive and seek their own best interests. With an increase in child referrals, child gender clinics need more funding and more training for professionals.

You have a right to free speech, but if you claim the right to insult someone you may suffer consequences. The law, which says trans women can enter women’s space but be excluded if that’s reasonable (a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”) is good enough.

Then we could get over the drama. There is a huge amount of abuse: when Jess Phillips tweeted “I was one of the MPs who wrote the report on improving trans rights” an anti-trans campaigner made an excellent point: “Nothing you do or say will ever be enough”. Exactly. He meant for the “Trans Rights Activists” who s/he thinks make unreasonable demands, but the transphobe who tweeted that she is a “traitor to her sex” won’t be satisfied by anything less than total ideological purity either. And some oaf tweeted “Can’t wait for you to lose embarrassingly”: twitter is a place for hatred and spite where opposing groups meet, and for extremists to encourage each other into even more uncompromising positions.

There will be more direct questions. Keir Starmer said something worthwhile, and a video is circulating: We have instinctively to protect and defend, and we mustn’t make a political football and I’m really worried on this particular issue that a particularly vulnerable group is being used as a political football across the Labour Party and we have to deal with it in a much much better way than that and the Government has effectively now abandoned this and any legislative change I think won’t come under this Government so we’ve got to make the argument on this loud and clear and start with the proposition that this is a group, a small group of people who have been subjected to incredible abuse and discrimination for a very very long time.

Precisely. He did not say what “the argument” was, so he could weasel out of challenges from the transphobes, but it’s pretty clear he is not condemning the small, vulnerable group (us).

And, let them move on! Jess Phillips worked in women’s refuges. Of course she is interested in, say, the Weinstein trial. As the Weinstein trial begins I am reminded of the bravery of those who spoke truth to power– neatly including her slogan for the leadership, Speak Truth. Win Power. Trans women should be too. Violence against women and girls is a women’s issue, so a trans women’s issue, so everyone should be concerned with it.

Lisa Nandy put it well: see her video.

More Simeon Solomon: the androgynous beauty of Bacchus.

A progressive response to anti-trans campaigning

When younger I found gender nonconformity disturbing but now enjoy exploring it in myself. I saw your cashmere scarf. It had several colours including black, in large oblong blocks, but one of the largest was pink. You let me feel how soft it was. It was definitely a woman’s scarf. Your colleague bought it for you, and I thought, she knows, values, cares for you. I had a strong reaction to it. I was so discomfited by it. Men should not have such things, leave alone let anyone else notice them! You smiled, inviting me to join in your delight in it, and I felt hope. I don’t know what the average man’s reaction to you having such a scarf would be. I hope anyone who knew you would respect you and see your beauty.

If you have surrendered the safety we find in convention and embraced the strength that comes with open vulnerability (which I can write of but am not sure I believe in) I admire you. You told me something of your hurt. I see something of your strength. I don’t know what others’ reaction to your discreetly feminine scarf would be, beyond that some might feel contempt or disdain, or not notice, or like it- or even not care. Caring so much I find it hard to believe anyone would not care.

So the first response of comfortable, cis people to anti-trans campaigners would be to notice the gender non-conformity of so many, and find a way to support it. It’s difficult. It is something trans people share with many of those campaigners.

Their hurt and mine is the same.

The fear, the microaggressions, the sense of self-betrayal when we hide it (Now I’m closeted as well, thought Charlotte Prodger when she said her partner was her “friend”). This was written about people experiencing racism, but it’s not just racism: They are often made to feel excluded, untrustworthy, second-class citizens, and abnormal… and that they feel trapped in a stereotype. The burden of constant vigilance drains and saps psychological and spiritual energies of targets and contributes to chronic fatigue and a feeling of frustration and anger.

This hurt matters. Search out whatever in your own way of life may contain the seeds of enforced gender conformity.

And it is difficult. My hurt can be used against me in a number of ways: concern-trolling, denigration, or for the entertainment of others, feeling vicariously, feeling good about themselves for being sympathetic, and even if you use it to educate yourself about how the world is I feel used, unless it results in you taking action. I may feel used even if you are an ally.

Trans exclusion is not a solution to gender non-conforming anti-trans campaigners’ hurt, but it is a symbol that their hurt matters. They may find transition completely repulsive and incomprehensible. Surely these people will come to their senses! Mastectomy is mutilation! What about the detransitioners who have been mutilated? They find community with each other, as they face similar problems. That community has value. If they could get over their repulsion, they might find community with happily-transitioned trans men. What we have in common should be far more important than what divides us.

The other hurt revealed to me by anti-trans campaigners is of a barrage of sexual harassment and assault. No, women will not be safer in toilets if they are absolutely certain there are no trans women there, but excluding us is a symbol of their value and that something might be done for them. Can we speak out against this, against street harassment, harassment in work, sexual assault?

I hope Quakers can find a way to love each other with the difference and pain. Yes, me too. I hope we can come together. That has to mean addressing anti-trans campaigners’ real concerns, of sexual harassment and of stifling gender stereotypes, and convincing them we mean it rather than simply asserting trans women are women. I hope for Emily Thornberry’s feminist movement [which] is big enough and big-hearted enough, and if someone believes that they have been born as a man but they are a woman, we have space. We can’t expect that big-heartedness unless we address the trauma.

Elif Shafak puts it beautifully: anger, when left alone for too long, is highly corrosive. And, most important, it is addictive. It must be diluted and counterbalanced with more powerful, positive feelings: empathy, compassion, kindness, sisterhood and love. I’m not suggesting that we should suppress female rage or be embarrassed by it, not at all, but if we make that our main guiding force, we will be lost in the maze of our own cultural ghettoes, echo chambers, identity politics. And the only thing that will benefit from this will be patriarchy itself.