Testosterone Rex

From the opening joke about testicles as a key-fob, Testosterone Rex by Cordelia Fine is a lively read. It argues that gender roles arise not from testosterone, or from our evolution on the savannahs of Africa, but from Patriarchy, by close analysis of scientific studies showing that expected gender differences do not manifest in results, and that results found do not justify the large claims made.

There lies the difficulty for me. I am unable to delve into the primary sources. I would not know where to start. Political interests drive the confirmation bias of researchers, on both sides, and patriarchy affects the theorising which makes researchers or funders choose particular projects. Fine quotes Lewis Wolpert, CBE FRS FRSL FMedSci, the author of a number of popular science books: There is no doubt that biology, via evolution and genetics, has made men and women significantly different. Fine disagrees, and has assembled impressive evidence. I am aware of Wolpert, more as an author of popular science books than for his work on intracellular positional information that guides cellular development, but he is an eminent man. Why should I believe Fine over him?

She shows that research has been based on the idea of masculinity and femininity as opposite ends of a spectrum. In 1936, the Attitude Interest Analysis Survey asked 456 questions, each of which had a “masculine” or “feminine” answer. In the 1970s, the Personal Attributes Questionnaire, with two sets of questions to measure stereotypically masculine and feminine traits separately, showed one can have both “masculine” traits of “instrumentality”, like self-confidence, independence and competitiveness, and “feminine” traits of “expressiveness”, being emotional, gentle and caring. Or, neither. But also the masculine and feminine traits don’t necessarily go together. Always the argument that women can have gifts or interests thought masculine is fighting the assumptions of researchers. The concepts of masculinity and femininity get in the way of seeing how men and women actually are.

She shows how children are indoctrinated into gender, by the pink and blue toy aisles, and by peer pressure. I told my great-niece she was strong, as well as beautiful, for standing up and learning to walk. If girls were feminine at her age of ten months, one would expect them to work on talking first, to express themselves, and boys on walking for instrumentality. There is no such clear difference. Yet there is a great backlash against gender neutral toy-marketing, as if that were the indoctrination.

She describes the White Male effect. Are men more willing to take risks? In the US, a survey showed that men are; but not ethnic minority men. Privileged men are more likely to take risks. And it depends what risks are named, for people take risks where they are familiar with the matter. A risk of high taxation might provoke privileged male fear. And the “funnel plot”, a way of excluding publication bias: where studies show greater female risk-taking, they are less likely to be published. In Sweden, men and women were equal risk takers, but again immigrants, subject to discrimination, would take less risks. Of course: they are less safe.

Are men more competitive for mates, or less likely to be faithful? She accepts that men invest less in producing a baby, a few sperm rather than forty weeks’ incubation, but not that this means men want to spread it around, which might not produce children anyway. In evolutionary biology, sexual selection is in an exciting state of turmoil.

Does testosterone make men more likely to take risks? Not necessarily. Higher testosterone levels in men who take risks is correlation, not necessarily causation. The way testosterone fluctuation in the blood affects the brain is unclear, and women have testosterone too.

She ends with a call to arms. We can continue with our polite, undemanding panel discussions about gender equality, our good intentions and gentle tinkering, and patiently wait out the fifty to one hundred or so years it’s regularly predicted to take to achieve parity in the workplace. But… maybe it’s time to be less polite and more disruptive, like the first- and second-wave feminists. They weren’t always popular, it’s true. But look at what they achieved by not asking nicely.

And look at what she promises: valuation of your gifts as a human being, separate from preconceptions about how a man or woman ought to be. We could see ourselves more clearly. Women freed to express their gifts would benefit all.

Hadley Freeman

Currently, anyone who wants to change gender needs to have lived in their chosen gender for two years and been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. If the changes go through, anyone will be able to declare they are a man or woman, regardless of whether they have made any actual changes to their lifestyle or body. This is known as “self-identification” … a lot of women have argued that predatory men could now come into female-only spaces unchallenged.

“A lot of women have argued.” That is like “People are saying”, the phrase Trump uses with his most outrageous lies. Possibly no-one will swallow it, and he will roll back from it. A journalist, even a columnist, ought to know the truth of the matter, which in this case is that self-ID will make no difference at all.

“A lot of women” claim that all trans women are “predatory men”. That does not make it true. Hadley Freeman’s article does not make it clear what she thinks, though men pretending to be trans women and dressing as women to get into women’s spaces are unlikely, as there are so many other easier options for predatory men. And men with beards pretending to “self-identify” enter women’s spaces only in diseased imaginations. Hadley Freeman praised the “feminists” who went to a men’s swimming session claiming to self-identify as men, but their stunt shows that self-id in law will make no difference. What matters is what people do.

So it seems that the “predatory men” Freeman fears are actually trans women, who are often terrified of being confronted. Before I went full time I had to investigate whether I could make a go of transition. That involved going out dressed female and using women’s facilities, before I made definitive changes to my lifestyle or body. I never asked permission of women as a class- I just did it, as other trans women always have. I had the support of women friends, then and now.

A feminist might argue that not asking women, just encroaching and presuming, was typical male behaviour. I don’t see an option. I was never challenged. I now feel that women learning to challenge encroachment is a good thing. Kasia Urbaniak, a former dominatrix interviewed in the Guardian, said women go speechless and self-conscious of how they are coming across, then acquiesce, shut down, minimise themselves and their concerns. Rather they should change the power dynamic by turning the attention back outwards, on the encroaching man. What are you doing here? What right do you think you have to come here? This involves breaking hardened social conventions where the “deck is stacked against her”- Patriarchy, in other words. Urbaniak observes men relaxing and deferring when they find she is the one with authority.

Justine Greening, then the Minister for Women and Equalities, announced a consultation on self-ID on 23 July, to be published “in the autumn”. Theresa May plugged it at the Pink News awards on 18 October. Since then a lot of women have argued that self-ID is the end of feminism and the ultimate triumph of Patriarchy. They seek to enflame hatred and fear against me, and people like me. When people pretend I am a threat, they licence themselves to attack me. I fear the Tory delay actively seeks to inflame tensions.

The refusal to make it clear whether the “predatory men” are men pretending to be trans women, or actual trans women, makes the anger and fear seem slightly more reasonable. It opens the door for hatred which can then be directed at us.

Freeman writes that “women and trans women” will have to work out a solution. Sometimes we will share space, sometimes not. This will be difficult, especially for my lot, if trans women in women’s space are the first lesson women have in confronting ~male~ encroachment. I went to see my friend Marysia, who pointed out a male among the females. She said it was malnourished and underdeveloped, and proposed a cull. It was a deer, she was working on the Balmoral estate, and still the story runs in my mind…

Solidarity with gender non-conforming people

Women’s jeans are nicer than men’s. They are not cut for the shape of my hips, and jeans look fairly alike across the sexes; but I still prefer women’s jeans. It took a leap of empathy when a trans man told me he preferred men’s.

But-
surely-
oh.

Loos were more of a stretch. The smell is worse in men’s, it’s more likely there will be puddles on the floor, and even considering the chance of queues women’s are much nicer. Still he prefers men’s. This is a person whose experience is complementary to mine- in some ways the same, in some ways the mirror-opposite. In part I can simply feel with him, because I know exactly what that feels like, and in part I have to step back, think about it, make an adjustment, and see. I do that because understanding positive motivation of others makes them more comprehensible to me, and makes it easier to associate with them.

For a woman who experiences Patriarchy as restricting women in general, and feels it most keenly restricting her, it must be hard to see men’s freedoms as restricting some. Images are pernicious. I just image-searched “scientist”. The first pictures show a man, a woman, and a man and woman together, and are gender balanced. There is a row of options across the screen: click physics or chemistry, and the images are of men. Even in biology, which was seen as a “girl’s subject” at my school, the first pictures are all of men. Girls are not expected to be rational or put themselves forward. Girls are not given the tools to defend themselves from sex pests. Girls are expected to be demure and accommodating, passive not active, listening not speaking when important matters are discussed. Even if it is not always that bad, it can seem that way: any exceptions in treatment make the bad treatment more objectionable.

And if I say, I could not express my feelings, she might say well you can. Hurt, expressed as anger or resentment, is expected of boys and suppressed in girls. I feel released by transition, and she just cannot understand that. I feel able to be more expressive, but stating precisely how is difficult for me, especially if I have to communicate that to a sceptical other.

So when you said you understood how I had felt restricted it was salve on a chronic wound, the temporary lifting of a burden. I want to be understood, especially by you. I felt distorted, shoved into a box that did not fit me, confronted with demands I could not meet. And when I said “I am not that person” even to me it felt like weakness and inadequacy rather than otherness: my real gifts, not encouraged and so not developed, I did not see as gifts.

So much is pulling us apart. These women share alternative explanations for our transition. We are perverts, they say. It is autogynephilia. They have few privileges, and women’s spaces are important. We are a threat, men in women’s spaces, men exploiting programmes designed to overcome a few of women’s disadvantages under Patriarchy, such as all-women shortlists. These things should be for women born women, not males.

The dispute is primarily between trans women and women born women who insist they are women, that gender is oppressive and we conform to it, that transition is wrong. They see the issues in terms of lack, costs or risks for women: girls should not bind their breasts and make themselves sterile! Girls should not be forced into life-long dependency on dangerous drugs! Men should not pretend to be women! If you do not fit the expectations of your “gender” and demand to be accepted as yourself, as your sex and with all your qualities used and valued, transition appears a monstrous distortion.

If you feel restricted by society yet trenchantly assert your sex, you may feel society is pushing people into transition, a monstrous distortion serving gender myths. The leap of imagination is seeing transition as a response that people make, under the same oppression you suffer, even though it is not a response you could ever consider, even though it revolts you. I experienced gender expectations as restriction, rejection, devaluation, just as you did. Just as you should be supported in the way you respond, so should I. There is oppression. Let us work together against the oppression, rather than fight amongst ourselves about the different responses of oppressed people.

Two leaps of imagination are required. Those born men are oppressed too, are gender non-conforming too. And transition is a reasonable response to that oppression, even if it is not yours. And then a third- even though you may feel your allegiance is to women born women who refuse to transition, it is worthwhile to work with trans women, for by working together we can defeat the oppression. Even though our immediate interests may appear opposed- access to women’s space- our long term interests are the same.

In the East End

In the second pub, we drank under a picture of a man and a woman with a caption saying that Jack the Ripper’s first victim had drunk there just before she died. I went out to hunt for my bus stop, and passed Leman St., a name I know from Ripper Street on the telly. The first pub had, prominently, the words “A Spitalfields Institution since 1666” and a picture of Spitalfields in the present day, including Gilbert and George.

The theatre space we used was the Rag Factory. If done up, it could make £350,000 a year as offices, but this part is leased to 2035. When we got there the loos were not working, and Silas, who leases the place, had to heat the pipes with a blowtorch. The loo doors open onto a courtyard filled with junk and dirty snow. One part of the building is a showroom for next season’s fashions: it has £350 coats for 2018/19, and customers will examine them before ordering hundreds or thousands. We sold wine to the customers there, around 250ml in large plastic cups, and admired the beautiful things. The commercial lets support the theatre space. A man does night classes and four week intensive courses in Method acting.

Silas told of his other business ventures: he had an employment agency for actors. Ten actors would take on a job needing a team of six, so that they could always take time to attend auditions. It should not be that young struggling actors need trust funds to survive. He helped actors with their careers: they complained of their agents, doing nothing and taking 20%. Well, how much did you earn last year? £2000. £400 does not buy a lot of phone calls. Should the successful actors subsidise you? Getting an agent with a good name indicates someone thinks you have promise. Do what you’re good at: act, in a space with minimal lighting and scenery. Keep going to the auditions, and when you get a break that expensive agent will get you a good deal, and may open further doors for you. He did recruitment work. He would send one candidate, telling the client he had done the work, and got them the right person. The trouble with recruitment is that Linked In has taken over people’s contacts books, and done badly it is money for old rope. Just send a few people along and hope one is good enough. Done well, recruitment is a good trade, but the shysters drive out the good recruiters.

I met two of Drea’s admirers, both of whom I found charming. One is doing a Master’s degree at SOAS- “I didn’t want to leave University,” he said, self-deprecatingly- and working as a barman, or trainee sommelier. No job pays the living wage, he says. We discussed evolutionary psychology, part of his expertise, and I found contrary to expectation he was not a chest-thumper arguing men are dominant because of testosterone and a pre-history of mammoth-hunting, but feminist.

We discussed body-shaming.
-My breasts are small.
-No they’re not, they’re beautiful.
This implies small would be a bad thing, so must be denied. At least it means you don’t need a bra all the time.

There was snow, but the buses were running, and half the number of trains were running, double length. Going home alone after midnight I saw sleeping bags for rough sleepers in Charing Cross underground, and on the bus a man who had been casting glances at me since the bus stop leaned over to tell me “I am getting off now, madam”, perhaps as if I would follow him, as if I were a sex worker or interested in following strange men at night. That would be too much of an adventure for me.

I thought my camera would cope because of the light on our faces, but it did not, particularly, as the lights were all over the stage.

Breathing space

I need space to survive, and being trans restricts that. I need to be able to move through the world, with a home to live in, means of transport, meaningful work, streets I can walk down without fear, places I can go for help, ways of participating in social life. As I am trans I may face hostility, prejudice and discrimination limiting me. If I am out I will need lavatories.

I do not assert a right to be in any of these spaces. It feels as if I am there on sufferance, on the toleration of other people which is never guaranteed and may be withdrawn at any time.

I did not find another way of being. I tried to make a man of myself, to fit cultural masculinity because it seemed that otherwise I would be shunned. Then I found the delight of being my true self in the gay village in Manchester, and it seemed possible to be who I am as a trans woman, as a transsexual as I called it at the time. “I am not a man,” I wept, meaning that cultural masculinity did not fit me. It never seemed possible to live openly as a pansy, or soft male. I thought soft men were gay. My father, who might have been my pansy role model, used the word as an insult. He was my role model in hiding my softness away.

I fit into the world as a “trans woman”, mostly suffered or tolerated with some mockery, misunderstanding, hostility. Even with the hostility it is better than presenting male. Society tolerates me in women’s spaces. I use women’s loos and changing rooms. If gender neutral space- clothes shops, toilets, shelters- is to be carved out, a lot more people will have to identify as gender neutral than currently identify as trans.

I am gender critical. Gender is cultural, and not somehow related to evolved sex characteristics. After the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act we see that women can work as barristers and solicitors as well as men, and increasingly we see women in STEM. Women can vote without going insane, contradicting concerns expressed before 1918. Gendered responses are strongly conditioned in our society, enforced by most people from small children up. A man in a pink shirt was told he would have to give up his “man card”. Gender is orthogonal to sex, ideally: Jung said men must discover their anima, or inner feminine, and women their animus, and was right, but it is such a struggle achieved so late in life because of that conditioning.

Mumsnet TERFs started paying attention to my blog, and I have had 186 clicks from there, hundreds more page views. More people read such threads than comment on them, but the commentary on me is hostile. They judge me. I wrote on autogynephilia to show it cannot exist, but my words were used as proof of it. I hope I might have persuaded some who read without commenting, but they are interested in trans issues and reading TERF threads so it’s not certain.

They say, It is an issue of men’s right not to be inconvenienced.
AGP actively impedes the ability to empathize with women.

The issue is that I  need space. I am excluded, and they seek to exclude me further. If I see distress or hostility, my instinct is to back away, to seek a work-around rather than to provoke. I am empathising. I am there, due to forces I cannot control.

They doubt I am gender critical: being gender critical means conceptualising gender as an external imposition, not a spiritual identity.
I don’t understand how a MiT can call themselves a gender critical feminist… Without gender surely we remain with biology – a man being male and a woman being female?

I observe that people have gender, just that it does not correlate with sex. It is part of human variation. I object to procrustean attempts to constrain gender expression, not gender expression itself.

I observe that there is a great deal of unthinking enforcement of gender, and ways to subvert it: trans and non-binary, “gender-critical feminist” as an identity, building resistance, and attempts such as Natasha Devon’s challenging of stereotypes. She was the former “mental health tsar” and spoke to the Girls Schools Association conference- she has platforms.  The comments on this thread show thoughtful support and mindless hostility. There is movement.

How can gender stereotypes be subverted from where we are now? Partly through visible trans folk, living out our radical rejection of the gender norms fitting our birth sex. When I see gender neutral space, I will go there.

One says, Not every male has a sexual motive for transition (ie, gay males wanting to sleep with straight men aka HSTS, third gender etc; straight males getting off on feminine presentation aka AGP). There are some people with catastrophic body dysmorphia and some people who are genuinely in retreat from masculinity. But these people have nothing whatsoever to do with transactivism or transactivists and the reason we don’t hear from them is not that they’re the silent majority – it’s that the population is tinier than tiny.

She understands that body dysmorphia and being unManly are motivations, but divides the motivations into discrete categories, so that anyone who has ever been aroused can’t be in that “tinier than tiny” group. But no-one will transition M-F unless they feel themselves unManly. (Tell me a better word- “effeminate” really isn’t it.)

I am so sad that this has made me feel less compassion for trans people. I am sorry for them but I’m angry that their cause has been hijacked by cross dressing men… But I think I want to develop a ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists’ stance. The trouble is that we have made a zero-sum game together. If she sees the problem as men in women’s space, I am in unwilling confrontation because I have nowhere else to go. The problem is, The Patriarchy. The problem is, gender conformity and gender enforcement. These problems we could attack together, but for the zero-sum game.

I managed to peak trans them [centre-left 30 something blokes] instantly with the sports issue. That is, Hannah Mouncey using masculine size competing against other women. They are “live and let live” people, like anyone they don’t show hatred for minorities easily, but she managed to make them hostile, and exults in this. Competitive female cyclists are far faster than I am. It isn’t relevant for most trans women. Some people go to Mumsnet to radicalise themselves, then go out to radicalise others.

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.