Is transphobia as bad as racism?

What turns speech into “hate speech”? What should prevent it?

Ruth Smeeth wrote in the Times that an employment tribunal case had placed anti-trans campaigning in the same category as “dangerous extremism” which threatens society. She claimed anti-trans campaigning was not the equivalent to racist hate speech.

Anti-trans campaigning is often couched in terms of safety. But then so can racism be. 1960s America had unashamed campaigners for segregation, who would argue in terms of safety. Black men were lynched after being accused of sexual crime against white women.

Homophobia can claim to work for the safety of children too. Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which was in effect from 1988 to 2003, prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” and prevented teachers from acknowledging that people could be gay. This tortured gay children. Yet in 1999 in Parliament Jill Knight claimed that “children at school [were] being encouraged into homosexuality and being taught that a normal family with mummy and daddy was outdated.”

Prejudice is also couched in terms of difference. Racists argue that Black people are different from white people. That is the basis of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory. In the same way, trans-excluders argue that differences between trans women and cis women are in some way relevant, so that we should be excluded from shop changing rooms.

The classic free speech defence is that wrong speech will be subjected to the light of truth, and be refuted. This ignores the question of power. Governments of the Right have encouraged racism and homophobia, and governments of the Left have moved to sanction them. Now, racist views are encouraged by the Murdoch media empire, because these views tend to preserve hierarchy and their own power.

Theresa May described her “hostile environment” policy- making sure immigrants without a current visa or right to remain could not work or rent, expelling them from homeless shelters, closing their bank accounts. This, combined with the Home Office’s restrictions on evidence and incompetence led to the Windrush scandal.

The Smeeth article is not an attempt to justify anti-trans campaigning or a discussion of the issues. It uses the word “dangerous” but does not say what the danger is. People who agree with it will be prevented from thinking: they will see the word “dangerous”, agree that danger must be bad, and so conclude that their anti-trans campaigning is unobjectionable. Smeeth uses the word to describe the ET decision- the danger is of restricting speech- but also dangerous extremism, where speech should be restricted.

At its core is an assumption that all good people agree “racist hate speech” is bad, but anti-trans campaigning is not equally bad.

Smeeth claims a right to say who needs or deserves protection. Minority ethnic people need and deserve protection. I agree. She claims, though she gives no reason, that trans people do not deserve the same protection.

Teaching pseudo-scientific claims of racial difference, even where backed up by selected data by tenured professors, creates a hostile environment for Black people in universities. It’s not a question of how language is used or whether it imitates dispassion. The cold hate of Jill Knight is as damaging as the hot hate of the Nazis shouting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville.

Racists, homophobes and transphobes can easily find powerful backers and ready audiences. They make money from their speech, just as climate change deniers do. Smeeth’s claim that trans people are entitled to less protection than racialised people or gay people makes it easier to persecute us, and drive us out from ordinary society. All transphobia, from debates in university common rooms and Quaker meetings, to assaults on trans people, is linked: it shares a view that we might be in some way dangerous, or not deserve protection, that we have less value than the normal people.

Kathleen Stock and LGBT conversion therapy

Is there a problem with free speech in universities? No. Kathleen Stock, OBE, professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex, is the great hero of the trans-excluders, yet she has published little academically on trans rights. She prefers sites like thearticle. She argued there that Stonewall’s definition of conversion therapy was illogical. Here it is:

Conversion therapy (or ‘cure’ therapy or reparative therapy) refers to any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity. It is based on an assumption that being lesbian, gay, bi or trans is a mental illness that can be ‘cured’. These therapies are both unethical and harmful.

Prof. Stock imagines an AFAB person aged 14, who is aware they are attracted to “women (or at least, to females like her).” It seems Prof Stock thinks lesbians are incapable of unrequited love for straight women. If they were some heartache would be avoided. M, whom Prof Stock gives a female name, has dysphoria, which Prof Stock claims is “an unconscious response to the social imposition of sexist and heteronormative stereotypes upon females”.

Prof Stock’s argument that the therapist cannot avoid some kind of conversion therapy is this:

If [M’s] self-diagnosis (‘I’m a boy’) is questioned by the therapist, the therapist can be construed as failing to affirm, and so putatively ‘converting’, a trans child to a ‘cis’ one. If, on the other hand, [M’s] self-diagnosis is affirmed unquestioningly, the therapist is effectively failing to affirm [M] in a sexual orientation of lesbianism; something which also looks like conversion by omission.

Orientation conversion therapy would entail attempting to make M attracted to men. It is objectionable because it disapproves how M is attracted, and attempts to change that. It can’t be changed, but the attempt can hurt the victim.

Rather, Prof. Stock imagines it is about words and descriptions. M’s transition would not stop them being attracted to women, but, Prof. Stock says, it would stop her being a lesbian. They are the same person, with the same attractions, but because the words used to describe them change, Prof. Stock thinks this is conversion therapy. However, if M is trans, rather than confused, M has never been lesbian.

M’s nature is not changed. A therapist might legitimately explore M’s gender dysphoria, to assess whether transition is appropriate, but need not change M’s nature at all. It would become conversion therapy if M could never convince the therapist they were trans, and the therapist insisted on making M happy to present female. It would not be conversion therapy if M was not trans, and the therapist helped her discover that.

Prof. Stock can’t quite believe in trans men, even though she is obsessed by them. Her description of M assumes M is really lesbian. But no conversion therapy need be attempted here. The therapist wants M to be happy and well adjusted- so does not attempt to change their orientation or their gender identity. Therapists never affirm trans self-diagnosis “unquestioningly”. They challenge us.

If Prof. Stock really is the main anti-trans campaigning philosopher, one would expect something better than this. Prof Stock has not been unable to publish transphobic rubbish in academic journals not because it is transphobic, and there is some problem with her freedom of speech to utter transphobic ideas: the journals have not published her because her ideas are too silly.

The work of the Scottish artist Gertrude des Clayes has recently come out of copyright.

Powerful speech

There is no free speech in the world. Instead, we have power speech. Powerful people can say what they like. The rest of us might not be arrested for our opinions, but anyone can be persecuted if the persecutor is sufficiently powerful or determined. People are persecuted for who we are.

Jonathan Freedland, in the Guardian, challenged anyone to disagree with “The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away,” one of the “anodyne statements” in this letter to Harper’s magazine. OK. These things often don’t work. Paul Krugman talks of arguing with zombies– because the zombie statements are in the interests of the powerful.

Here’s what would have been arguably an “anodyne statement” in 18th century London. It’s transphobic. On my blog I will white it out, that doesn’t work on the WordPress reader app unfortunately:

Edward Gibbon states that when Elagabalus proclaimed herself Empress and married a man, she “subverted every law of nature and decency”.

The social consequences of challenging this opinion would have been severe. “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” is one of the ornaments of the Enlightenment in England, a feat of scholarship, well worth reading, and includes this brutal prejudice. No trans person could have silenced him then, or had that opinion excised. There were trans people, but they were quiet about it. They might have been mistaken for gay.

The bad opinion that harmless trans women should be expelled from women’s spaces is subject to endless reiteration by the powerful, particularly Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch, and their minions or hangers-on. Sometimes it might persuade people, particularly when they are made to look away from the real issue. If you believe the myth of the predatory men just waiting for gender recognition reform so that they can pretend to be trans and attack women, you are a fool, but it is so loudly proclaimed that it feels like an anodyne statement. Jonathan Freedland, who is Jewish, should know the blood libel was anodyne, in some cultures and at some times. In the diaspora, there have been many Jewish commmunities, where the surrounding goyim could attack, encouraged by the authorities, at any time. The blood libel is false, but here’s a Saudi cleric repeating it, on television. He may even convince some people.

Possibly the blood libel, and the common transphobia of such as Rowling, is best defeated by looking to its consequences for its victims. Enough people see the harm and suffering such rubbish causes, and rise up against it. This is a response from the heart, not an Enlightened refutation. The answer to Mein Kampf is a roar of righteous anger, not wasting time reading the thing.

The letter says that the main threat to “the free exchange of information and ideas” comes from snowflakes like Mr Trump, but leftists should be better than that.

Several NYT columnists signed the letter, possibly objecting to the resignation of James Bennet. Then Jennifer Finney Boylan distanced herself from the letter because JK Rowling had signed. I don’t get that. If you think Tom Cotton’s article calling for the National Guard to be called on protesters should be met by reasoned refutation, surely Rowling’s should too? What if David Starkey had signed? His racist remark, which leaves me speechless, may be read here. I won’t quote it because of systemic white supremacy in the UK. He would only have been saying that bad ideas should be met with good ones, not that his own statements are always good. That remark could have been refuted by the definition of genocide: the term includes attempts. Completed genocide is rare.

Starkey has been a “controversialist”, making his money from saying offensive things, for a long time, clickbait both for his supporters and many who loathe him. He’s pushed it too far now, but previously he dismissed female historians as “historical Mills & Boon”. That is a nasty little insult. It’s trolling, not the “free exchange of information and ideas”. Anyone responding to it with a long, detailed account of how female historians make a worthwhile contribution would be feeding the trolls. No-one who disbelieves that may be convinced of it.

I am glad that Daniel Ratcliffe, Emma Watson, and the Leaky Cauldron condemn Rowling. There are any number of posts refuting Rowling, some line by line- may I recommend my own? As the Cauldron says, her remarks are “harmful and disproven”. That makes no difference at all. If “exposure, argument and persuasion” were enough to refute her rubbish, Rupert Murdoch would have made his money some other way than newspapers. The money of millions of Potter fans may have some effect on Rowling.

Margaret Atwood signed the letter, tweeted something mildly pro-trans, and was subjected to a hail of abuse, including calling her a “gender traitor”.

Stonewall and the transphobes

Stonewall gets much of its money from its Diversity Champions Programme. It helps more than 800 employers ensure that all LGBT staff have “Acceptance without Exception”. A transphobe, who attempts to foment fear and anger against trans women, is seeking to take away this source of funding for Britain’s leading LGB charity, even though she is lesbian and claims to support the rights of lesbians. However, she uses extreme right slogans in her campaigning.

Allison Bailey is a barrister with Garden Court Chambers. Their first statement on their About page is “We are committed to fighting injustice, defending human rights and upholding the rule of law”. They are part of the Diversity Champions programme. Last year, Bailey took part in setting up LGB All Liars, a group committed to fighting against trans rights. According to Bailey, Stonewall complained about her because of her links with All Liars, and the chambers investigated her. So she is suing them. Her claim is that they investigated her because of her “gender critical beliefs”, and because she claims more women than men hold such beliefs, this is indirect discrimination.

Transphobia whited out. Select text to view. “This was an attempt by Stonewall to intimidate and silence me and others critical of what we see as its malign influence in British life”- “malign” because it supports trans people- and she claims that she “criti[ises] and investigat[es] notions of gender identity that are in conflict with, and doing harm to, the interests, safety and rights of women, children and LGB people”. I got those quotes from a screed claiming martyrdom for her anti-trans campaigning.

Indirect discrimination is justified if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. The claim is worthless. Maya Forstater’s similar claim, heard in the Employment Tribunal in January, failed- or else we would have heard the result by now. The legitimate aim is promoting trans rights, and it is proportionate to complain about and investigate an anti-trans campaigner in order to do that. Such an extremist in chambers might make LGBT people less willing to use the chambers. In her statement she does not claim any action was taken against her beyond the investigation of complaints, and she is still a member of the chambers.

However, litigation such as this might make employers less willing to enter the Diversity Champions programme, choking off a main source of income for this LGB charity.

Extreme right slogans: the headline for her screed is “I am suing Stonewall to stop them policing free speech”. “Policing free speech” is meaningless. You are not free to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre. I am embarrassed to quote that, it is so well known. “Free speech” is never licence to escape consequences: if you preach hate, people will condemn you. The extreme right: I mean this attack on higher education.

Bailey’s crowdfunder reached £60,000 within three days, despite being suspended by CrowdJustice because of serious complaints. It is now closed to further donations.

Bailey has also challenged the Equal Treatment Bench Book, guidance for judges which says that trans women should be treated as women. She wants trans women not to have a fair trial, because the trans woman would be fighting prejudice as well as assessing the evidence. Defendants, innocent until proven guilty, should not have to face that. Most people would not have been able to withstand the level of discrimination that Ms. Oger faced during the Tribunal’s hearing. They should not have to, said a female judge who does not share Bailey’s prejudice.

The threat to free speech comes from Bailey. Another quote many will be familiar with:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Bailey writes, “I have always been an advocate for transgender rights. I believe passionately that transgender people must enjoy protection under the law from discrimination and abuse.” She means, our human rights apart from the ones that let trans women share women’s space. That’s not what international or British human rights lawyers mean by our human rights. Bailey is lying, by twisting the ordinary meaning of words.

It does LGB rights no good to defund Stonewall. Bailey’s hatred of trans women means she is doing LGB folk lasting harm.

February 2021: Stonewall attempted to get Bailey’s case thrown out, but it will proceed to a full hearing in June. Bailey’s campaign to defund the main LGB charity in Britain, for daring to support trans rights, continues.

Safe space, free speech and hate speech

No trans woman should have to hear that trans women are a threat to cis women, without robust rebuttal, ideally by allies rather than ourselves. In particular in universities, where trans women are in their late teens and early twenties, where they live on or near campus and spend much of their time on campus, they should be protected from the idea that we are a threat, either ourselves or that violent men will pretend to be women in order to assault women, if we get recognition. If people say we are a threat, they feel entitled to use violence against us to protect themselves or others.

That might be the most protection we can get.

Safe spaces in Britain have been created by students, usually allies protecting fellow students. This started with far right speakers attacking students of south Asian heritage. The leaders of Britain First, recently retweeted by Trump, or the English Defence League have nothing of use or interest to say, cannot be trusted to tell the truth, and are grossly offensive to most students, not just Muslims. If you do not have the basic empathy to feel with those minority students, you have something wrong with you. Some students are prejudiced, and BAME students will receive microagressions, but generally the most overt racism is taboo.

Now, the National Union of Students policy is that attacks on students cannot be tolerated, and it was a cis woman NUS women’s officer who opposed Germaine Greer speaking in Cardiff. Their video here explains that as charities they have to be careful external speakers do not incite hate crimes, and consider health and safety. That is separate from their no-platform policy, which bans the EDL and Al-Muhajiroun. Freedom of speech should be balanced with the right to be safe from harm, such as Linda Bellos saying she would take off her glasses and punch one of those bastards- trans women. That is incitement to violence, but as they put it it might have a “possible impact on campus cohesion”, emboldening TERFs to mock or threaten trans women. If “risks or tension arose at a similar event before” that might be a reason to refuse a speaker a platform within the Student Union. The Union might consider “robust regulatory steps” to allow a higher risk event to go ahead. Steps to mitigate risk could include having Union officials observe, stewards provide security, or the speech submitted to the Union in advance.

Germaine Greer could simply have been told not to mention trans people. At another speech she made in Norwich she refused to answer a question about trans women, saying “What do I know?”

The risk to cis women of trans women in women’s loos is less than the risk from other cis women. Self-certification when one pledges to live in the acquired gender life-long by oath is sufficient protection against people faking.

Before researching this I did not know the difference between the No Platform policy, applied to particular extremist groups, and the External Speakers policies, applied to all speakers. This is arcane. When everyone knows about the difference, it is a useful distinction to allow people to distinguish different issues. When listeners might not know, there can be a bait and switch, making someone answer about extremist groups and then ridiculing the answer as if it applied to any speaker.

You are oppressing us!

Trans women cannot oppress any other group. There are too few of us. What is happening when we are accused of oppression? It is a threat: others are defending themselves when they lash out at us; sometimes they are defending children from us, which is particularly threatening, as it becomes right to erase us in order to defend children.

We are accused of wrongful “No platform” techniques to prevent free speech, of seeking the end of the University as a place of rigorous enquiry to be replaced by a cosseting crèche for self-absorbed “snowflakes”. What is going on? A machine of oppression. When trans people exercise our freedom of speech by protesting against transphobic speech, our freedom of speech is understood as oppressing such people as transphobe Julie Bindel with her columns in The Guardian, Standpoint, The New Statesman and The Spectator. We have no freedom of speech, it is for others. We are called bullies, intimidating and silencing others: this is a bullying tactic. A commenter elsewhere resented any contradiction by a trans woman or in favour of trans folk: he labelled every such contradiction “narcissistic rage”, however reasonable it was.

This wilfully misunderstands freedom of speech. It is not freedom from opposition, or freedom for acceptable views, or the power to be heard.

Our tactics are vilified as “No-platforming” though they are free speech themselves: refusing to be on the same platform as a transphobe, holding an alternative event somewhere else, boycotting the transphobe’s event. I support free speech, but have no obligation to listen to anyone. Julie Bindel gets endless platforms to complain of being no-platformed, of being bullied.

Accusations that trans women are violent are an incitement to violence against us. Rape threats and death threats on Twitter are shocking. We need to see the texts of them: the term “rape threat” is not as shocking as reading CHOO CHOO MOTHERFUCKER THE RAPE TRAIN’S ON ITS WAY. NEXT STOP YOU. I would love to knock you the fuck out. Not because you’re a female or a feminist, but because you’re an enormous bitch. If any trans person is sending such things, that is vile; but trans folk as a group are not responsible for that. Saying that we are, as a group, is incitement to violence against us.

No incitement to violence is less abominable than any other. Minimising or trivialising threats of violence against us is a threat to us.

All this comes from Sara Ahmed again. When you have “dialogue or debate” with those who wish to eliminate you from the conversation (because they do not recognise what is necessary for your survival or because they don’t even think your existence is possible), then “dialogue and debate” becomes another technique of elimination. A refusal to have some dialogues and some debates can thus be a key tactic for survival. But if we express our anger, the TERFs take that as more evidence that we wrong them.

Silver and gold woman

The anger of the oppressed

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Googling i rise without quotes produces this poem as the first hit, deservedly so. It is beautiful. I heard Tony read it yesterday. He could not make it boring, but there was none of the passion I would put into it. I don’t know what Tony has faced, but it seemed the white, cis-het(?) man had not felt broken [with] bowed head and lowered eyes in nights of terror and fear. I would put contempt, and rage, and passion, prowling like an animal as I said it, feeling the triumph. Tony did not include the verse on diamonds, because there was a girl of eight present- I would let her make of it what she would.

But I am not sure I should recite it. I can enjoy it, and cheer Maya Angelou on, but it is not for me.

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I cheer her on as a fellow human being, but not as “Sister” in this case, for this is not my heritage.

A problem with free speech is that the loudest voices are those of the privileged. They have the access to print and the education to express comfortable ideas in exquisite prose. The voices which need heard are those of the excluded, pushing back against the clichés of the Kyriarchy with authentic human feeling.

So, this comment thread. I responded rudely, angrily, dismissively, and at only one point offensively, when I was triggered by a comment about a ridiculous, obvious cross-dresser at a bus stop- plunged right back into that brokenness and misery and lashing out. Seeing this, my enemy sought to trigger me again. But I laughed at him.

Beside this the hurt anger of the privileged, that what they have always believed is challenged, has no value. Waken up and show some empathy, and then repent of your claimed hurt.

A commenter railed against the ‘regressive left’ that uses such bullying techniques as banning under the banner of protecting delicate snowflakes from legitimate criticism deemed offensive under the label of tolerance and respect and sensitivity by practicing intolerance, disrespect, and insensitivity. I am not a delicate snowflake- if I were, I would have melted.

That commenter gave as an example of the Regressive Left the University of Ottawa student leaders cancelling a yoga class because it could be “cultural appropriation”. I am unsure of that one. Christianity, generally, proselytises; I have an idea that Hinduism does not. Mindfulness is a religious practice common at least to Christianity, Islam, at least its Sufi branch, Buddhism and others. Stretching exercises are widespread. Yet the privileged take what they want and dismiss the rest, and the outsider must “Integrate” to be accepted.

I rise.

Blake, Inferno, the harpies and suicides



Mosaic restored In the visitor centre, there is a Roman mosaic excavated here twenty years ago. It cost £10,000 to restore. Now it hangs on the wall, and I went especially to see it. It is something the local wealthy walked on, 1700 years ago.

What I feel about it relates entirely to its antiquity. Were it new, I might note the effort taken to assemble all those tiny tiles, but find the design like a doodle: a bit repetitive. I would move on. Now my mind moves over its meaning to those who owned it originally, or saw it before it was buried in the ruin, or walked on it, and those who restored it, handling the same pieces as the original crafters. What matters to me, looking at it, is its value to all those different people and its survival. My awe is at the experience rather than the object.


Horrible man said homophobic rubbish and got suspended. Boring. What do bloggers say about it?

GLAAD called it “far outside of the mainstream understanding of LGBT people.” Al Mohler picked up on that: So the controversy over Duck Dynasty sends a clear signal to anyone who has anything to risk in public life: Say nothing about the sinfulness of homosexual acts or risk sure and certain destruction by the revolutionaries of the new morality. You have been warned.

This is the objectionable bit of Duck’s rant:

-What, in your mind, is sinful?
Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there…. Bestiality… Er, no. Homosexuality does not lead to bestiality, and homosexuality is not the most serious sin of all, in Christianity. Do they not get it?

Imagine this: “Alcoholism leads to dealing crystal meth”. Duck also talks of desiring a vagina, as if a woman was no more than that.

If someone does not see this is offensive, how may we get through to them?


Possibly, the answer is not to be offended. Duck believes the Bible condemns gays. That is the problem. Duck probably won’t change his mind, especially not because GLAAD tells him he is wrong. There are partisans who see Duck being condemned by gay people, so defend him noisily.

Billie-Holiday-1I had thought to end this with some way of getting along, of cleansing the boil, reducing the anger: something Christmassy, in fact. Turn the other cheek, or something. Though something must be done about white Louisianans saying the Blacks were happy under Jim Crow. Perhaps I can stand up for NAACP- those happy, singing black people would have seen strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees, or known someone who had. 

Alternatively, let me try to show why his expression of his views is not maturely Christian, from the point of view that gay sex is sinful. First, he says that a vagina is attractive, and an anus is unattractive. The point of sin is that it is tempting. Basic empathy says that gay men find gay sex tempting. Jesus starts from where the person is, and enters into our concerns. Second, Duck does not go beyond a dismissive stereotype. Stephen Fry has denied using anal sex: there is intercrural sex, and other ways of making love. There can be no love without empathy, and Duck shows no love.

From the other way: there are people who find gay sex disgusting, and believe it is condemned in the Bible. They see gay characters on TV, and are disgusted: their way of life is being threatened. They don’t see Duck’s comments as objectionable: they would not be more articulate, and so shutting Duck up is shutting them up. So they object, and I sympathise.

I can do no better than this. Merry Christmas.