The social contract

For as long as clothes have existed, men have dressed as women. Whether it means removal of penis and testicles by a single blow of a sword or a seven hour operation, being feted as a two-spirited shaman or the death penalty, people have expressed our gender and our true selves. Deuteronomy forbade it and Heliogabalus was murdered for it. God’s commands and the self-righteousness of violent hordes could not stop it. We did it in Molly clubs and in basements, in tights pinched from washing baskets when we were sure our parents were out and would not come back. We did it in shame and self-loathing, in resentment and fear, in proud defiance, and in blissed-out delight when we found acceptance.

And- not entirely an afterthought- AFAB people have presented as men, and been soldiers or academics or otherwise made their way in the world. But it seems to be trans women who bother the straights most.

There are straight people, more or less happy with gendered roles, and other groups: trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming. We can differentiate these people by behaviour, but not by their nature or characteristics of their true selves: whether a person manifests as trans or GNC may be an accident of their history. I find gender does not fit me, and proclaim I am a woman. An AFAB person finds gender oppresses her but asserts I Am a woman.

Straight people react differently. Those who are violent read us as victims, treat our difference as an excuse to hurt us, and attack. Those who value order and predictability in society condemn us as misfits, not differentiating between being a productive contributor to society and fitting restrictive norms. That becomes self-fulfilling: as expressing my gender is more important to me than anything else in the world, I am less productive if I cannot express it. And liberal folks who don’t really get why we care so much see that it is harmless, and find a way of accommodating it.

That way is transition. I see a psychiatrist, sign an affidavit saying I will live as a woman life long, and get a gender recognition certificate. I am a woman. This is the social contract. The normal people put up with me, as I am relatively harmless. I express myself as I wish, and become a productive member of society. It is not perfect, as there are still violent people and conservatives, but it sort of works. Rape Crisis Scotland says there is no conflict between trans rights and women’s rights, and works with us.

The conflict is with gender non-conforming people who want to express their gender without transition, mostly AFAB, or as they would say biological women. Cis is a slur, they say. There is the tragedy: people who do not fit normality in very similar ways at war about how we should be accommodated. Straight people are beginning to take sides. “Trans women are women” proclaims Rhea Wolfson, who is on Labour’s National Executive Committee. A woman on a facebook group expresses disquiet that the concerns of women are not being treated with respect.

It is expressed as a zero-sum game by A Woman’s Place. Either trans women are in women’s loos, changing rooms, hospital wards, prisons, refuges and crisis centres or we are not. Sometimes they proclaim earnest support for us and a wish that we are not victimised, sometimes loathing, mockery and threats of violence, but they are clear that we should be excluded, claiming threats to AFAB women which I feel are at best exaggerated, and egged on by extreme conservatives. Women’s Aid can work with us, so there are more constructive possibilities, but we have to find them and negotiate them.

Trans feminism

Trans rights are essential to feminism, for they are the way to value all that a woman can be, from ultra-feminine to (almost) trans man. Trans rights are a feminist issue. Trans people advance feminist concerns.

I spent half an hour last night on Youtube watching a feminist attack trans rights on feminist grounds. She told of the opposition to the women’s suffrage movement a century ago, by women as well as men, based on the idea that women were different and would not have the objectivity to judge the interests of the public sphere. She has been held back by this persisting idea of difference, which is the heart of women’s oppression, and which she says “trans ideology” actively enshrines.

That might be true if trans were static, one way of being trans being the only way. But trans people are creative, finding new ways of being ourselves in our own spaces, in performance writing and entertainment, and in ordinary lives in the world. Trans is a force undermining that idea of difference between sexes and promoting the truth of the variation within the sexes which increases the freedom of everyone.

I want to relate to others as myself, with minimal pretence to comply to gender norms. This is easier after transition. I tried to “make a man” of myself, with a restrictive idea of how a man should be. Expressing myself as a woman freed me. If it were indeed seen as leaping a chasm, becoming something utterly different, that would be conservative, enshrining difference. When the doctors got hold of the idea of trans, taking it out of our own subcultures, they produced a medicalised idea of transition, involving hair removal, genital alteration and hormone treatments, to create a person who would look like a man, or look like a woman, undressed as well as clothed.

The idea that I am really a woman, with a woman’s brain, spirit or character, which this feminist finds so oppressive because it means there is a difference between men and women beyond our reproductive function, freed me to transition. Thousands of us, rather than tens of thousands in Scotland where she was speaking and which proposes altering the law, might be freed from a conception of their gender which they find oppressive, yet they cannot change without this drastic step- by allowing transition. Out of 5.3m people, ten thousand would be 0.2%, a large number actually to transition.

The idea of a transsexual person freed me to transition, but even as I did I realised there were two questions.

Am I transsexual?
Will I be happier if I transition?

The second is more important. First the ideology, then the idea frees me to express my gender by teaching me that it is possible. So individuals and society together produce formalised routes for transition and recognition. Trans people become more visible, vocal and encouraged, and empowered to do something about the restrictions of their gender rather than living fearful, stultified lives or ending them.

As we become empowered, we critique the medicalised concept of transition. Do we really need genital surgery? Should someone necessarily be sterilised before their gender is recognised? No, we say. Do we need to live in stealth, where people think we were born (wo)men? No, because that is in fear of transphobic violence- it may be prudent sometimes but it oppresses us with an impossible ideal of beauty.

Gender ceases to be a choice of two, almost entirely aligned with physical sex, and becomes a palette of possibilities. It is happening- here, now, in Scotland and beyond, with people who would never think of themselves as trans but also with trans people, blurring the lines and increasing freedom. Eventually the two groups will meet, a spectrum of gender rather than a division between those self-identified as trans or not-trans. The increasing complexity of ideas such as genderqueer and non-binary accelerate this change.

Femininity is oppressive when people are judged as less because of their natural unfeminineness. Then femininity can seem merely oppressive, a tool to oppress women. Trans shows that femininity freely chosen is a source of strength and self-actualisation, valuable in its own right for AFAB as well as AMAB. I see trans men choosing what I rejected, and so am enabled to see value in it.

That feminist on the video, wanting to say “NO” to a trans woman entering a woman’s bathroom, and getting a loud cheer for rejecting the idea that women must always put others’ feelings before their own, paradoxically aids the conservatives by restricting trans people to a narrow, absolute concept of transition. She opposes the law being more liberal, and discerns a loosening of the concept of a “sex change”, though in Scotland the proposals would still require us to swear we would live in the other gender life long. Allowed to grow freely, the trans movement would increase the range of gender expression and freedom.

Trans is a feminist movement, promoting the freedom of all, including cis women who do not conform to the cultural stereotype of femininity, including that woman who rails against it. Many cis women support trans rights. As Margaret Atwood says, A war among women, as opposed to a war on women, is always pleasing to those who do not wish women well. Women strongly opposed to trans rights should consider whether any of the wrongs they rail against has any realistic chance of happening.

Peter Tatchell

From Peter Tatchell’s address for the Transgender Day of Remembrance:

In the 1970s, feminists of the day like Germaine Greer, their battle cry was “biology is not destiny”. That biology should never dictate a woman’s place, aspirations or achievements in life. What a tragedy now for those same feminists to say that biology is destiny, they say that if you are born a man or a woman, that’s the way you are, forever. Now one of the great things of the trans movement is to challenge that orthodoxy, to recognise that gender and gender identity is about much more: it’s about psychology, and feelings.

It’s about mental state, you can’t simply reduce it to genitals, and that’s a new understanding which I’m really sad to see so many traditional feminists, and some of the new ones, don’t seem to understand. They’ve gone back on their liberating ideas of the 1970s and reverted to a biological determinism in the twenty-first century. That is really sad.

Even sadder is the hostile attitudes of some feminists towards trans people and those who are gender fluid, as shown by Sheila Jeffreys and Linda Bellos in York. I’m astounded: Linda Bellos, this great black lesbian activist pioneer, threatening violence against trans people. She said “if they come near me, I’ll sock ’em”, waving her fist. She was prepared to threaten violence to “defend women’s rights against trans women”. That is shocking, to have such an extreme, bigoted and negative attitude towards trans people. There is a faction of feminism now lobbying against the much needed changes in the Gender Recognition Act. In the name of defending women’s rights, they are prepared to trample trans rights. That is wrong. We should stand together in solidarity, recognising that all of us, whatever our experience of discrimination, marginalisation and violence, have a common interest to support each other, because divided we are weak, united we are strong.

 ♥♥♥

He is right about the most important thing, and wrong that these feminists are saying “biology is destiny”. Rather, they are saying sexism hurts women, in which they include trans men but not trans women. That is true. In the world without patriarchy, sexism would cease, and that would benefit just about everyone. Tatchell is right that they are prepared to trample trans rights, and that we oppressed peoples should stand together in solidarity: trans people aware of the oppression of people with non-European heritage, gay people aware of the oppression of women, educated white women however aware of everyday sexism, misogyny and harassment also aware of the oppression of trans people. Almost everyone has some privilege: I have not yet mentioned disabled people.

Tatchell is right that gender is about emotions and psychology, and that trans people are oppressed. From whatever motive, no feminist should add to our oppression. There are better ways to protect women than to attack trans women.

He does not mention here that trans people subvert patriarchy by existing.

Peter Tatchell was accused of transphobia after signing this letter to the Observer. “No platforming” used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists… But today it is being used to prevent the expression of feminist arguments critical of… some demands made by trans activists. To me, provoking a crowd to hostility by mocking trans women is not OK, and Germaine Greer should know better; but preventing her from speaking about unrelated topics is counter-productive. The letter goes further, saying she should be able to oppose our demands. I don’t know what he thinks about that now, whether he has changed his views since 2015, but he opposes Linda Bellos’ threats of violence. He could be consistent, supporting criticism but not hostility. To me as a trans woman, the two can seem difficult to distinguish in practice.

Yet I am glad he was accepted as a speaker, and glad he said what he said. He seeks the unity of the oppressed, and so do I.

A feminist

I love what Dr Jen Gunter writes, on abortion, empathy, privilege, feminism, and incidentally on trans people.

An advert on facebook led me to an article from last month’s NYT on vaginas. Male partners sometimes criticise healthy vaginas as too loose, or smelling wrong, or tasting wrong, as a way of controlling women and making us feel insecure. This is not OK. I decide how I want to look. Women may actually harm themselves trying to make their vaginas acceptable. As a gynaecologist, Jen Gunter hears a lot of women describing the men’s manipulation.

In the comments here, I see different lines on “Not all men”. It gets clearer to me how that is offensive. Indeed, not all men rape women, and perhaps some men have never pushed women’s boundaries or wronged them in any way, but when a woman complains of shitty male behaviour, why should a man feel the need to say not all men? That’s irrelevant, she is not complaining of all men, but some men. The man may not be saying it never happens, but is derailing: it happens, it matters, and we should consider the experience of it, rather than judging the way it is shared. And, why feel any need to protest, if you do not feel guilty? What she wrote was “This is a form of control men often use”- not, all men; not, women don’t do something similar, though women may have less power in a relationship so might not, so much; but, men do it. Let us agree it is a bad thing, and try not to ourselves.

I dislike the line that “men suffer the same way”. Yes; but she was not claiming a right of retaliation, only saying it happens and is wrong. Someone signing a woman’s name accused Dr Gunter of an offensive, gross mischaracterization of an entire classification of people based on gender. That was not what I perceived. “Not all men” becomes a way of saying SHUT UP rather than a reasonable response.

She is worth reading for the facts on late abortions: after 25 weeks, a woman with a wanted pregnancy but health problems making continuing pregnancy too dangerous would have a C-section or induced labour. The child would be cared for. Concealed pregnancies, perhaps of a frightened teen or a rape survivor, are very rare. Sometimes a foetus has severe defects but the mother elects to carry anyway; but a foetus lying horizontally cannot be delivered vaginally.

She continually calls for our empathy. Some women don’t want a C-section in this situation for baby who can’t live. I think you can understand that. And Some women just can’t bear continuing. Imagine everyone touching your belly asking if you are having a boy or a girl and you know your baby has no brain? I have heard that story. It breaks people.

This post is particularly good on empathy, privilege, and thinking your way into someone else’s situation. You can’t experience the same situation, every situation is different, yet you should be able to imagine theirs. Assuming what someone else felt or might have felt based on your own experience (or wanted experience) is the opposite of empathy.

Once as a resident I rolled by eyes when discussing a woman who was presenting for her third abortion. I mean really, I thought. She’d been sent home after both of her previous abortions with 4 months of free birth control pills and here she was just six months later. My attending, an older man, took me aside and reamed me for that display of privilege. I’ve never forgotten that. In fact, it prompted me to design a study to look at that very question, why do women have repeat abortions? Guess what it turns out is a big factor? Domestic violence. Though empathy may be too much of a stretch for Republican authoritarians concerned for their own moral rightness.

I checked whether she had anything on transgender. She mentions it in passing, but always in a friendly way. The agency tasked with enhancing the “health and well-being of Americans” now believes that certain religious beliefs are more important than health care. This could apply to contraception, abortion, vaccines, addiction medicine, sexually transmitted infection screening, and transgender care just to name a few… government planning will be all based on some non science ideas such as life begins at conception, pre marital sex is wrong, anything but marital sex between cis women and men is wrong. If we think too much about the hostile people it colours our view of humanity. Here is a woman working for the rights of women, who is positive about trans people, and uses our words such as “cis”.

#Stand with Heather!

I stand with Heather.

Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans is a public intellectual, an incisive and persuasive speaker, an energetic campaigner, and a passionate feminist. I have heard her speak, and also met her more informally, where I found her warm and funny. She campaigns on porn culture, and I entirely agree. She supports the Nordic model of sex work law (which has inspired the law in France and increasing numbers of jurisdictions). On that I am unsure, but clear she has important things to say and is worth hearing, as she has researched the arguments. And she does not like being called a TERF- perhaps a gender-critical feminist, radical feminist or just feminist.

She appeared on The Moral Maze on Radio 4, where she expressed concern about teenage girls transitioning to trans men. She is the spokesperson for the Women’s Equality Party policy on sexual violence against women and girls. A complaint has been made that she contradicts the party’s position on trans women, which accepts our self-determination as women.

The party has 65,000 members, as of July 2016, and while it has no elected councillors has won thousands of votes in various elections. It stands for equal pay, equal treatment in the media, and an end to violence against women. It will have difficulty while the UK parliament and local councils operate first past the post electoral system but it has value as a campaigning organisation; and it cannot be expected to enforce cabinet responsibility, with no spokesperson ever contradicting party policy, at such an early date in its existence.

That is, I want WE to flourish, and have the passion, skills and experience of Dr Brunskell-Evans, and I want her to be able to speak her understanding and campaign as she wishes- even though I do not agree with her. She does not like the word TERF, but when she says we should not be in women’s space it feels exclusionary to me. It is a bodge, I suppose. There are many people I will never persuade that I am really a woman, but I hope to persuade them that I am mostly harmless. Rape Crisis Scotland, which works against violence against women and girls, says We do not regard trans equality and women’s equality to be in competition or contradiction with each other. I can bear Dr Brunskell-Evans’s disagreement.

Twitter is not the place for nuanced argument. There, there is a campaign with the hashtag #standwithheather. “You are being anti-feminist and cowardly”, one tweets at WE. No, they are not, they are being practical and reasonable, allowing her to say things which other members contradict. Their own twitter stream is tweeting about toilets- not trans women in women’s toilets, but the impact of a lack of toilets on women’s health and dignity globally. They mark International Men’s Day by showing the men who have joined- for women’s equality benefits everyone. “They should be ashamed of themselves and their pitiful attempt at male pandering feminism”, thunders Quelizinha. Transgender Trend suggests WE is giving into bullies. “RemakingAdam” is obsessively tweeting again and again, claiming hundreds of women are leaving the party.

The Women’s Equality Party, like most feminists, supports trans women. That is the progressive cause. We subvert gender. We are an oppressed minority, and we need the support of society: we transition because we must, and we do so in far more dangerous conditions than in Britain. They could take a “gender critical” line, and escape censure from the likes of @Janice5E, who gloats that “@WEP_UK have had a lot of practice at losing women. Sophie Walker (@SophieRunning) made a complete arse of the party on Mumsnet…” Such people, though, tend to be only interested in one feminist cause, devoting a great deal of energy to excluding trans women. I wish they would take that energy somewhere else.

Because all we know about the WEP position is that complaints have been made, and they are investigating. Here are their statements. The paranoid response on Twitter only damages the tweeters’ own cause. No-one has threatened Heather’s expulsion from the party. The tweetstorm damages the cause of feminism.

Being a Princess

Everyone needs a princess dress.

Feminists are picking on Elsa. No, children should not do Hallowe’en as Elsa. In her “moment of self-actualisation”, sniffed Emma Brockes in The Guardian, she busts out of her dowdy village clothes and into … an evening gown, with a slit up the side all the way to her thigh and a bridal-like train dragging behind her. In the New York Times, Annie Pfeifer, who teaches fairy tales in a department of international literary and cultural studies objects to the same moment, a sexy makeover — complete with a slinky ball gown and silver high heels.

Her clothes change in a different way. Before she had a long cloak trailing behind her, now something diaphanous floats. She throws away her thick gauntlet, designed to prevent her from expressing her powers. The thick dress up to the neck had some sort of embroidery on the front, feminine but in keeping with the restrictive style. She fights the tight braids to let her hair down. She is angry and determined, but exultant. The stultifying rules- “Conceal, don’t feel”- that the “perfect girl” had to obey no longer apply.

Annie Pfeifer complains the Grimms rewrote fairy tales to reinforce patriarchy, but as folk tales the stories were told by women, funny and bawdy with a feminist spark. Cinderella won the Prince with her cunning and skill, not her beauty. Gerda rescues her best friend from The Snow Queen, who has frozen her heart. But Frozen has the heart-freezing an accident, by a well-meaning character. The conflict arises from decent people suffering fear and unknowing, not inexplicable wickedness. I find that a wonderful lesson for small people, that good people do bad things because we do not understand, or by accident, and we can work together to be better.

Pfeifer’s ideal fairy tale empowered children to think for themselves and overcome obstacles on their own. Ah. Active characters overcome difficulties to achieve greatness. That lays children open to the disillusionment Larkin wrote of:

the dude
Who lets the girl down before
The hero arrives, the chap
Who’s yellow and keeps the store
Seem far too familiar.

Children are on the treadmill far too young. Léne works with children excluded from school, some as young as seven, for not obeying rules they don’t understand and perhaps can’t obey anyway. If you can’t sit still you should not have to immediately, some way should be found of letting you learn how. Oppositional Defiant Disorder may be a sane reaction to an insane situation. The grown ups are doing bad things because they do not understand, and they fear or resent the child.

So everyone needs a princess dress, boys as well as girls, men as well as women. You are valuable for who you are, not just for what you achieve. You are beautiful. Yes, play actively, and delight in what you, your mind, your body can do, but also take time to delight in your beauty, simply for being human.

Them too

I have been sexually assaulted, treated as sexually available, humiliated sexually, by men using their strength and power to take what they want as if I were worthless. It is a common experience of women. From early puberty, men come on to them. In work, men stand too close or brush against them, or talk about their attractiveness in mixed groups. If women are brought up not to be self-assertive, or bossy, or to rock the boat, but to be accommodating; not given techniques to handle this, but taught shame; would they not be angry?

If a woman sees me as a man, might she find this a greater humiliation after previous humiliations? She is angry. She wants me out of the public loos and the changing rooms, and my assertion that I am hurt too is not enough, however badly I am hurt. What women share is that upbringing, and the reproductive system, which makes them targets, sometimes unable to fight men off.

She becomes focused on us. She collects stories of men in women’s clothes, assaulting women, and even though I am not that person she says she has no reason to trust me any more than him. She learns about the theory of autogynephilia, and then says that is the scientific fact, that is our motivation, we are perverts in the loos being sexually aroused and so even more of a sexual threat. We transition, one told me, because we get aroused by fooling people into imagining we are women. If I go in the loo they accuse me of male privilege and acting with male entitlement. They mock our femininity and ridicule our appearance.

Piss off, you’re a man, as Germaine Greer said.

And they talk of detransitioners, and doctors rushing people into transitioning, and no-one challenging transition or offering alternative ways forward. We would not listen, of course, we would talk of gatekeepers, and arguably once you change your name and live full time you should get hormones, hormone blockers, and surgery if you want it.

The tragedy here is that women who are irreversibly hostile to us are devoting their energies to campaigning against a weak and marginalised group, who do not fit the conditioning of childhood, who are desperate, who would transition however painful transition was because it is better than staying as assigned at birth. I am not playing oppression olympics here. I am not saying we suffer worse,  that we suffer as much, or even that our suffering should matter at all; but that we are not the main enemy, and that attacking us does not achieve their ends.

Patriarchy, I am told, is the oppression of the class of females by the class of males. This class analysis leaves no room for individual differences. Male oppressing female is like white oppressing black. They will not like me telling them where best to direct their ire, or what strategy or tactics to use, so I am reduced to hoping that they will find some better enemy to fight, and saying it is a tragedy. Only the Patriarchy benefits from us fighting.

Self-confidence

Do trans women have male privilege?

I avoid actions, and ways of being or responding, because of disapproval in the past which no longer exists. I acted, I sensed another’s disapproval, I absorbed the judgment that I should not act that way, I internalised the judgment that I, my instincts and actions, were wrong. Internalised transphobia is internalised self-phobia. Even if the judgment is my own, and no-one else’s, it still paralyses me.

There is a deep well of rage inside of me. Rage about how I as an individual have been treated…; rage about how others I know have been treated; and rage about the conditions that I’m sure affect many women and minorities, … and have caused many others to leave. Well, my own rage is there, but fruitless: I still am fearful of certain expressions, and the fear holds me down. I am depressed and lacking motivation. The rage could be energy for action, but my own judgment holds it down.

Women live in a society that presents as “natural” what they experience as arbitrary constraints. This can provide them with a particular sensitivity to injustices that are due less to individual ill will than to the structures of established practices and institutions. And I don’t. I accept the judgment on my femininity as weak and as less than masculinity, not an arbitrary constraint but the natural order of things, not historically constructed social categories. I find the quotes in italics, about feminist philosophy, here.

That feminist understanding of her own worth is an attitude I could learn from. The elephant could break the chain on its ankle easily, but remembering infancy when it could not, it imagines the chain as effective a restraint as it was then. My chain only exists in my imagination, but a chain there is strong.

This is the answer to the allegation that trans women have male privilege. The feminist says that my upbringing, encouraging me to act assertively, should benefit me. I argue, against that, that their internal qualities, allowing them to reject the arbitrary constraints on them, place them in a better position to be themselves and overcome the structural injustice. I could not assert myself, only assert a masculine act, which tortured me and which eventually I fled from.

Beside that masculinity which society values, my femininity seemed weak and worthless, even to me. We project our own judgments onto others. Others may read our lack of self-confidence and downgrade their judgment of us. So I am paralysed in acting. That article quoted a definition of “woman”- S is a woman [if and only if] S is systematically subordinated along some dimension — economic, political, legal, social — and S is ‘marked’ as a target for this treatment by observed or imagined bodily features presumed to be evidence of a female’s biological role in reproduction. I am systematically subordinated, at least. Or maybe I would be a woman if I passed as a woman rather than a trans woman. Because our oppression is so different, I could sympathise with a feminist caring more about hers than mine, or even not seeing mine as oppression.

Presence may be the answer. I still the critical voices in my head, and act from a single volition rather than my conflicted state. Others suffer from Imposter syndrome, and still act. Living in Presence does not mean not setting goals or seeking to achieve them, but being present to one’s atelic activities. “Atelic” means non-goal related, from Greek “telos”, purpose, I read here. One might also be present to telic activities. One might develop self-confidence, I theorise.

Reconciling trans and terfs

We could start to reconcile trans folk and gender-critical feminists by asking- what do we have in common? We are gender diverse, and this means we are oppressed. We have a common oppressor, the conservatives seeking to enforce gender norms and the ordinary people unthinkingly reinforcing gender norms.

We are hurting, and angry. We have a lively sympathy for those hurt in the same way, and a desire to support them, stop the hurt and condemn the causes of the hurt. There are similarities in the way we are hurt, even though there are differences both sides feel are important.

Each side hurts the other. There is the tragedy. How to move forward? By recognising that the other group is not the main enemy or main source of oppression, and that the other side is hurt too. We are all gender-diverse, because we do not fit into, and we oppose, restrictive gender conventions. That is what feminism is. Both sides do what we do and are what we are, and get slapped down for it. Then it becomes the most important thing in the world for us.

I want you not to be hurt is the moment of reconciliation. There are apparent zero-sum games in this- can trans women come into women’s space?- which are difficult, and need to be set to one side while we see how we hurt each other, and how to protect each other.

Non-conforming men and women are those who least fit the gender stereotype. We should recognise that the other exemplifies those human characteristics we feel least fitting and most oppressive, which we resist as strongly as we can. That is, we revolt each other. The gender-critical feminist looks at me and thinks, that is not what a woman is, or should be, but a grotesque caricature of the worst aspects of cliché femininity. The answer is to see why I do as I do: because I am gender diverse. I would not present as this femme stereotype if it were not the best approximation I can find for who I really am. The imaginative leap I ask of them is to concentrate on what we have in common, not what divides us.

The gender-critical feminist is revolted by the idea of mutilating women’s bodies, but needs to see that it works. If T breaks the trans man’s voice and gives him facial hair, then he has chest masculinisation surgery, people really do see him and treat him differently. Ideally that would not be necessary: we would value everyone’s gifts and strengths, and support everyone’s weaknesses; but with the world as it is, the trans man pays a price he is willing to pay, and is freed from gendered oppression.

Trans folk need to recognise the basic idea of radical feminism, that it is not reproductive roles that determine gender differences, but culture. There is no masculine or feminine virtue or vice which the other sex does not share. Men often have greater strength, but in post-industrial economies strength is less and less relevant.

Gender-critical feminists need to recognise how difficult that is for us. I want to express my feminine side. That is condemned. I am hurt, and I hide it, seeking to please others- a personality trait which in other circumstances would be positive, but here is poisonous. The doctors give us a way out: I suffer from “gender dysphoria”, and they name the appropriate treatment, of hormones and surgery. When I am not able to express my soft, yielding feminine self, “I am a woman” becomes my means of defence.

Society has dictated a narrow path for us. An AMAB child can wear a dress to school, if they call themself a girl and wear girl’s clothes all the time. The answer is to cease segregating children’s clothes between girls’ and boys’, as John Lewis wants to, and to recognise that the clothes are a symbol for the personality or nature of the child which the child wishes to express, rather than the true gender itself. All boys should wear dresses sometimes, to see what it feels like and whether they like it.

I sought to be poisoned and mutilated because that was the way I could justify and realise expressing my real self. It comes at a cost, but it works.

I don’t think I am getting far with these ideas of reconciling gender-critical feminists and trans folk because I am asking more of them than of us. But- let us devote our energies to our common enemy!

I started this post because of a squalid little scuffle between TERF and trans, described here. Why was the alleged victim filming, and why did she have someone in a headlock? Why were there no charges? The New Statesman makes her out to be a victim, and this blog post just about calls her a Nazi. There must be a better way.

Why I write II

In cases of profound and permanent unhappiness, a strongly developed sense of shame arrests all lamentation. Every unhappy condition among men creates the silent zone alluded to, in which each is isolated as though on an island. Those who do escape from the island will not look back. -Simone Weil

A hard hitting essay in The Boston Review- too many people writing have nothing interesting to say and no interesting way in which to say it– and I wonder if it condemns me entirely. All my personal reflections here: are they too thinking about some stuff then thinking about some other stuff that kind of relates to the original stuff you were thinking about but not really, like that of Durga Chew-Bose, into whom the reviewer Merve Emre sticks the boot into so enthusiastically?

The tag at the top gives me a way out. “Feminism”. Aha, this is women resisting patriarchy and refusing “femininity”, first kicking the feminine essayist who reveals her feelings then praising the more muscular feminists who follow, and their insistence that we disentangle ethics from empathy…[which] We see in Weil’s “painful clarity”: her simple, yet brutal, prose style that stressed concrete detail over abstraction in her descriptions of factory work, and thus extended neither sympathy nor empathy to laborers but a far greater form of compassion: attention and intellectual honesty.

Mary Gaitskill: I think this is the reason every boob with a hangnail has been clogging the courts and haunting talk shows across the land for the last twenty years, telling his/her “story” and trying to get redress. Whatever the suffering is, it’s not to be endured, for God’s sake, not felt and never, ever accepted. It’s to be triumphed over. And because some things cannot be triumphed over unless they are first accepted and endured, because, indeed, some things cannot be triumphed over at all, the “story” must be told again and again in endless pursuit of a happy ending. To be human is finally to be a loser, for we are all fated to lose our carefully constructed sense of self, our physical strength, our health, our precious dignity, and finally our lives. A refusal to tolerate this reality is a refusal to tolerate life. Am I one of those boobs? I would love nothing more than getting on a talk show, my essays are in print celebrating my Feelings- often resentment, anger, fear and sadness, caused by circumstances which I lament as a toddler does, loudly demanding someone remove them.

There is one more problem humans, and writers, have: we live in a world of illusory shared experience, ready-made identities, manipulation, and masks so dense and omnipresent that in this world, an actual human face is ludicrous or “crazy.” Every human experience is pretense, and most attempts to write it down,or  to explain it to yourself or others, are continuations of that pretense. Not all: the best art illuminates the cracks in our inexhaustible social performances, lighting our way through “the maze of personality and persona” so that we may, if only for a brief and fragile moment, forget who or what we are playing at.

Unless I am Simone Weil or Virginia Woolf, there is no point in writing at all.

I appreciate the aims of these women, and they are not mine. I treasure a compliment from 2014: I also like this writing. There’s something Proustian about it. If you can get through the thirty pages on a goodnight kiss without throwing The Way by Swann’s across the room, you might suffer through the boredom of the narrator’s paranoid speculation about Albertine’s lesbian affairs. It is him, in his wrongness and humanity, his petulant childish idiocies stripped of all masks. This is me, attempting to understand, or self-justify, or formulate so I may communicate, or cover things up because I find them too frightening.

I am still tempted to read Merve Emre’s essay for rules on writing, so that I might obey them, and evade her criticism- though even if I obeyed them to her satisfaction, someone else would find my writing wanting. The only way forward is to do what I do, and keep doing it- or to do other stuff- in fact the way will be as it will, exploring and excavating, not necessarily a way forward at all. I write because I want to, and find it worthwhile.

Review.