My spontaneous morning affirmation was,
I am a trans woman. I am never going to say my “sex” is male. To threaten me with the offence of making a false answer to the Census, with a maximum fine of £1000, would only increase my determination. I have a GRC, which has never been useful to me, which was expensive and humiliating to obtain, but which by s9 of the Gender Recognition Act ordains that my sex is female; but I would never have said I was male, certainly not after transition, probably not after deciding to transition.
Anti-trans campaigners speak movingly about pregnancy. I understand. Female reproductive biology, its wonder and delight, and the humiliation and threat of it in patriarchy, all matter. The powerlessness and difficulty of new motherhood can radicalise people.
I don’t deny sex is real. But trans people exist. At worst, I have an indefatigable delusion- I believe I am a woman, and cannot be persuaded otherwise. Unless you believe in a “soul”, this is biological, and AI can differentiate trans and cis brains. Recognising trans people does not mean devaluing cis women or their struggles. The great lie is that trans rights are a threat to women’s rights.
Sex and gender are synonyms in law. Gender, in ordinary usage, such as in a form asking your “gender”, is a synonym for sex. The Gender Recognition Act says my sex is female. The Equality Act s7 refers to “gender reassignment” of “transsexual persons”, and the Code of Practice shows trans women use “single sex” services for women. The distinction- sex is physical, gender is cultural- in gender studies cuts both ways. Unless you want to have a baby, or have a health problem, everything else is culture.
The Women and Equalities Committee of the House of Commons, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as well as anti-trans hate groups have demanded a legal distinction between sex and gender. I see the benefit for the hate groups: cis women, called “women”, would use single-sex services and transgender women would use the men’s. Perhaps we could still change our sex with two years “in role” and a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, though that is unworkable. Perhaps even with a GRC we could still be excluded. Or the law could be redrafted, so that after we decide to transition trans women could use women’s services unless there was good reason to exclude us, as now. It seems a huge fuss for no benefit.
We used to call ourselves transsexual. The word puts social pressure on us to have surgery, and not everyone wants that, but we could go back to it. I am a woman, not a feminine male.
To threaten criminal prosecution of a trans woman who says her sex is female is cruel and humiliating, yet a hate group tried to get the Scottish courts to do just that. Fortunately, unlike in England, the court refused. The judgment is in this pdf.
The guidance will say, “If you are transgender the answer you give can be different from what is on your birth certificate. You do not need a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC).” It says nonbinary people must say M or F.
The hate group’s bottomless pockets are shown by this malicious attempt, but their strategy of suing whenever they can imagine a cause of action has backfired. They attempted to argue that the word “sex” has the narrow, exclusive meaning that claims trans women are men, and the judge found the complete opposite. He said the statute should be construed in the interests of society. The Scottish government argued that had changed- as trans people are more and more recognised, the court could say that a trans woman’s sex is female, even if she has no GRC; but the judge said there were trans people in 1920 when the Census Act was enacted, and “sex” was capable of including self-identified or lived sex, even in 1920. So, trans women are women, and always have been. See paragraph 55.
In 2018 the Scottish government wanted to specify that sex included gender identity, for the purposes of the census. That definition was withdrawn. The judge calls this a “no-score draw”- both human rights campaigners and anti-trans campaigners agreed it would cause confusion, though for different reasons. However, that certainly does not mean that sex does not include gender identity (para 48).
The hate group attempted to argue that the case of Bellinger, about a trans woman’s marriage to a cis man, defined the word “sex” in law for all time. The judge said it didn’t: it only defined “sex” for the purposes of marriage in England, in 2003.
In England, the hate group got an interim order against the census on 9 March, when the census was due to take place on 21 March. They got the guidance in England changed by a trick. It is unlikely that the proportion of the population who is trans is significantly different in England and Scotland, but if the Scottish census produces a higher estimate it will show the hate group scared trans people from answering the trans question.
Even without a GRC, I would have said I am female. The judge says an answer provided in good faith and on reasonable grounds is not false, and therefore trans women have this right. As our passports say “Sex/Sexe: F”, it shows our sex is recognised by the State even without a GRC. A cis woman who had never thought she was trans would be answering the sex question falsely if she said she was male; a trans man would not be.
Hate groups say it distorts statistics to include trans women as women. The 2011 census could only estimate the Scottish population as between 5.21 and 5.38 million. There are probably not 170,000 trans people in Scotland. Beside that unavoidable imprecision, the effect of trans people is insignificant.
The Scottish census case provides a host of good legal arguments why trans women are women, and our sex is female. The hate group has scored an own goal.
If you have the time, I recommend reading the judgment. However, it quotes over four pages the hate group’s arguments. I found them horrible. I had to keep taking a break, to reconnect with decency and reality.
27 February 2022: The Inner House heard and dispatched an appeal quickly. Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, who gave the judgment in the Scottish Public Boards case, also gave the judgment here. It made this case considerably less valuable to trans people than the initial judgment might have seemed. See paragraph 23: a trans woman without a GRC can say her sex is female if she likes; but where “matters of status, proof of identity or other important rights” are involved, “it may be necessary to apply a biological definition of sex”.
I always understood that without a GRC I would not have a claim for sex discrimination if an employer preferred a man to me (notwithstanding Neil Gorsuch’s argument). I worried Lady Dorrian’s decision in the Scottish Public Boards case imperils trans women’s rights to enter women’s services, if they do not have a GRC, as Joanna Cherry implies. But, read with the census case, it does not.
Has the Equality and Human Rights Commission kept its promise to tell businesses they can exclude trans women from women’s services? It’s doing its best.
The Core Guidance for businesses is not yet changed, and the Statutory code of practice still applies, but the note on Gyms, health clubs, and changing rooms claims a difference between Sex and Gender, and could affect us in changing rooms. It was last changed on 13 July 2020, and was still visible- see web archive- on 6 April 2022, after the new, trans-exclusionary, guidance came out.
For anti-trans campaigners, trans women change gender, but not sex. Sex-based rights are for cis women. Therefore No Transwomen in Women’s Spaces! It’s a simple syllogism. But that’s not the difference between sex and gender.
Sex is physical and gender is cultural. If you want to reproduce without medical help, you need a couple with a functioning womb and functioning testicles. If any trans person has a genital operation, or takes hormones, that’s a matter of sex- their fertility is affected. But whether people wear high heels, skirts or makeup is cultural.
If a trans man needs a cervical smear test, that’s sex, and if he has bristles on his chin that’s sex too. But his choice to shave them is a matter of culture- gender, not sex. And who are the victims of violence, and whose violence is condoned, is cultural. Who needs, and who deserves protection from violence, and whose protection matters less? Culture decides.
The Equality Act says we have the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” once we decide to transition, and calls us “transsexual persons”. It makes no distinction between sex and gender.
So, what about changing rooms? Last year, the EHRC was confused about the difference between sex and gender, and this year they are confused in a different way. Before, they wrote we should be treated as belonging “to the sex in which the transsexual person presents”. But I “present” or express my sex with my feminine hairstyle, clothes, and perhaps makeup. That’s culture. I don’t have to prove my fertility or infertility.
Now they say we should be treated as belonging to “the gender they identify with”. But, I’m wearing high heels, a skirt, and makeup. If gender is cultural rather than physical, that’s my gender. It’s not a matter of “identifying with”, it’s just who I am. Or, I’m in jeans and a T-shirt, but my breasts (sex) change my visible shape, and I use the name Clare. My sex is ambiguous, if you really want to do a chromosome test, but my gender is female.
There’s another change, and it relates to those “visually indistinguishable” trans women which we should all, apparently, aspire to be. Do you pass, girls? No? Work harder!! Deportment and voice are so important, and if your frame is too masculine you should probably not transition at all.
Possibly none of us are visually indistinguishable. Justice Ormrod thought April Ashley looked like a “female impersonator”. Before, the EHRC wrote about these paragons’ “preferred gender” and “acquired gender”. Gender, cultural, even though having breasts- physical, a matter of secondary sexual characteristics- is part of passing.
Now, the EHRC refers to “the gender they identify with” and their “gender identity”. Are you “visually and for all practical purposes indistinguishable from someone of the gender [you] identify with”? That makes no sense. I and a cis woman are both glammed up, make-up, evening gown with a slit up to here, “fuck me” shoes, very different from the second wave feminist in her DMs and crew cut.
If gender is cultural, the feminine woman and the second wave feminist exhibit different gender. And allowing trans people to go out into the world and thrive shows that we can express our true gender, so increases freedom for that second wave feminist, and everyone else.
Claiming gender is cultural does not help the trans-excluders make sense.
I am worried about the EHRC. It has been captured by Tory appointees, several of whom are trans excluders: Akua Reindorf, Lady Falkner. But this page, last updated 22 December 2021, is unobjectionable- it says trans women should use women’s services except “in very restricted circumstances”. The EHRC still has a lot of employees supporting trans rights, despite their board.
Dark money is funding court actions against government bodies, human rights organisations and women’s rights organisations, seeking to make trans lives harder. These cases are often terribly weak, but each win only reverts back to the status quo, and may contain a tiny thing the trans-excluders can use, in their desperate attempts to harm trans people.
There was a case seeking to exclude trans women prisoners from women’s prisons, which failed. The judge took time to compliment the QC for the trans-excluders, who presented the case with her “customary skill”. He did that because he needed to comment that “the weakness of the arguments is the failure to give sufficient weight to the way in which the policies permit, and indeed require, the necessary balancing of competing rights.” (Judgment, paragraph 91.)
The trans-excluders lose, because they cannot see the need to consider the needs or rights of vulnerable trans people. They may continue fomenting anger and fear against trans people, and raising large sums of cash, but apparently are not good at assessing whether a case is worth pleading. It appears money is no object for them. One witness they led gave irrelevant and inadmissible evidence (72)- I imagine them railing against the human rights of trans people, ineffectually.
What do we learn from the case? The court accepts a distinction between the words “sex” and “gender”, and quoted another case claiming sex relates to “physical characteristics, including chromosomal, gonadal and genital features” while gender “is used to refer to the individual’s self-perception.” In reality, I am just as much a “real woman” as a cis woman is, and gender refers to a wide range of cultural norms and expressions including the norm that trans women are women. However the claimant conceded that the Equality Act uses the words interchangeably. Perhaps all the trans women on GIC waiting lists should start calling themselves “transsexual women”.
47% of women prisoners are serving indeterminate sentences or sentences of four years or more. That is, they are dangerous women serving sentences for serious crime. They included the claimant in this case, who has recently been released back into the community on licence. The claimant argued that seeing a trans woman in a woman’s prison amounted to “torture” under the Human Rights Act, despite the seriousness of the crimes committed by cis women, and the fear they might raise in others. The prison system is full of violent offenders.
The average length of a custodial sentence for women is 11.3 months. That is, most women sent to prison are sent there for less serious offences. However most women actually in prison are there for serious offences.
With that context, the offences of trans women actually in prison seem to fit the profile of cis women. There are no central statistics of how many women prisoners have a gender recognition certificate, but it is thought to be fewer than ten (para 13).
In March 2019, there were 163 transgender prisoners, of whom 81 had been convicted of one or more sexual offences. There were no details of whether those prisoners were currently imprisoned for sexual offences. 129 were in men’s prisons, of whom 74 had been convicted of a sexual offence, so there were seven trans women in women’s prisons then who had been convicted of a sexual offence at some time in the past.
Between 2016 and 2019 there were 97 sexual assaults recorded in women’s prisons. Seven of these were committed by trans women without a GRC, four by one prisoner. In 2019, eleven trans women were recorded as sexually assaulted in men’s prisons. No trans woman was recorded as having committed a sexual assault in a women’s prison (14). In March 2019, there were 34 trans women without a GRC in women’s prisons.
Mr Justice Swift gave the opinion that the prison service should keep a record of how many trans women with a GRC are in women’s prisons (103). The problem is that this may result in their being outed, which could be a criminal offence.
Both judges said that there could be a “significant psychological impact” on a cis woman seeing a trans woman in a women’s prison (76-77; 100). This should not be overstated. They have made a decision on the relevant facts for the purpose of this case, so it should be read as even if there is a significant psychological impact on cis prisoners, the rules are still fair. However it is still horrible to read that I am scaring cis women as I go about my daily life, when they see me in women’s services. If that were the case, trans women would have been ejected from women’s services before now: I have been in women’s spaces for twenty years.
Trans women in prison are not allowed to shower with cis women (38).
The prison service has a rule (9) that “Women prisoners shall normally be kept separate from male prisoners.” However this is not the same as invoking the Equality Act single-sex exemptions, as the claimant demanded (44). No person in charge of a service, including the prisons minister, had any obligation to apply those exemptions (88). This will make it considerably harder for the trans excluders to win cases against any women’s service that admits trans women, though I doubt it will stop them trying. I worried that this court action would blur the distinction between the Equality Act rules allowing men to be excluded, and the rule allowing trans women to be excluded. Fortunately it did not, because it was so misconceived.
The trans excluders tried to argue that statistically, a trans woman was five times more likely than a cis prisoner to sexually assault a cis prisoner. The judge called this “a misuse of the statistics” (75). They tried to argue that there was indirect discrimination, as cis women were more affected by trans women than cis men were by trans men, and failed: perhaps they are, but the prisons service has to look after the needs of trans women.
Effectively, the trans excluders lost because putting trans women in women’s prisons follows the legitimate aim of ensuring the safety and welfare of all prisoners, including the trans women (87). The prisons service demonstrated that the means adopted are reasonable, at least from the point of view of any challenge by non-trans prisoners.
Trans women will continue to be in men’s prisons, and continue to live in fear there, and be assaulted, often sexually. But the excluders have failed in their attempt to make more trans women live in such fear and threat.
Dr Sarah Lamble of the Bent Bars Collective intervened in the interests of trans prisoners. She is a reader in Criminology and Queer Theory. She argued that the lack of reliable data prevented assessing the risk of trans prisoners as a group. Because there are more trans prisoners than are recorded, the proportion who had committed sexual offences is likely to be lower than the claimant had asserted. There is no reliable basis for claims by trans excluders that trans women have “male patterns of criminality”.
When a trans woman without a GRC asks to be placed in a women’s prison, the prison service will continue to be assessed by a Local Transgender Case Board and/or a Transgender Complex Case Board (24). It seems that such boards err on the side of placing trans women in men’s prisons, placing those trans women at risk. This court case could never lessen the risk to vulnerable trans women, but at least it has not made it worse.
The Guardian misled with these figures. It did not mention the assaults on trans women in men’s prisons. It did not show that the number of trans women convicted of a sexual offence in women’s prisons was only seven.
Mark Latham wants schools to teach that trans people do not exist. He wants any teacher who breaks this rule to be sacked, and prevented from teaching ever again. Could he do that?
If you ban something, you have to define it. If Latham’s bill were passed, the Education Standards Authority would have to revoke accreditation for any teacher who “teaches gender fluidity”. Here’s Latham’s definition:
gender fluidity means a belief there is a difference between biological sex (including people who are, by their chromosomes, male or female but are born with disorders of sexual differentiation) and human gender and that human gender is socially constructed rather being equivalent to a person’s biological sex.
It’s not well defined. A girl with androgen insensitivity syndrome is, by her chromosomes, male XY. Someone with Klinefelter’s syndrome, XXY, is not clearly “by their chromosomes male or female”.
But, leaving diversity of sexual development out of it for the moment, there is a Truth, to be defined in law, that teachers must teach. There are two views posited, though in reality there are many shades of opinion.
For Latham, the Truth is that human gender is equivalent to biological sex. That might mean that changing the word from “transsexual” to “transgender” makes no difference. I could go back to being “transsexual”, and “have a sex change”. I’m female. Or, changing my gender means that therefore I have changed my sex.
Or, it could mean that “gender” is a redundant concept, that there is only sex. But then, what are we to call particular behaviours? Is playing football “masculine”, and doing ballet training “feminine”? Is a long curly wig and brightly coloured velvet clothes “masculine” or “feminine”? Here are some portraits of Charles II.
If gender is the same as sex, then anything a boy does becomes masculine. A little boy uncomfortable with another playing with dolls should not mock or bully him, because (gender being the same as sex) playing with dolls is gendered masculine. If gender is not socially constructed, then gender does not exist. Or it can be individually constructed. The boy is not constrained by gender norms. He can do what he likes, wear what he likes. The only thing he can’t do is claim to be a girl- unless he is “transsexual”.
If you can’t teach that gender is socially constructed, the bully mocking the boy playing with a doll stops being part of normal society, constructing gender as normal society has evolved to do, and becomes merely a bully. The teacher turning a blind eye to the bullying, because the boy with the doll has to learn how society works, is then abetting the bullying.
Then Latham’s other requirement, that parents define the values taught in schools, comes into play.
matters of parental primacy means, in relation to the education of children, moral and ethical standards, political and social values, and matters of personal wellbeing and identity including gender and sexuality.
That’s the responsibility of the parents, the bill says. The school can’t teach it. Imagine a boy is gay. The teacher does not know that boy’s parents’ view. It’s not a matter of “values”, but of fact. The boy is same sex attracted, whether or not the parents accept that, or consider it a good or bad thing. The teacher is forbidden to teach that this is in any way objectionable, because such things are for parents to decide.
Latham’s Bill requires schools to consult parents on teaching such values. What if parents disagree? In a conservative area most parents want to teach that being gay is an abomination unto the Lord, but one parent has a gay brother and wants to teach that gay is OK. That parent’s right must not be curtailed by the school. So any suggestion that gay is not OK must be refuted by the school, as trampling on at least some parents’ right to teach that gay is OK.
That the bill is ridiculous and unworkable does not mean that it is not evil. Law should not dictate reality. Science should decide whether “gender is socially constructed”, or whether the concept of gender has any value at all. But it is a good sign: Latham cannot rely on society to construct itself in the way he desires, so he tries to make the law force it to. Society is moving, despite Latham’s efforts.
Mark Latham’s ridiculous attempt is in New South Wales. I heard of it here. Here is the draft Bill. In that Guardian article, I also learned the word “endosex”. It’s a way of accepting intersex people, and the first sites when I googled it were Australian. Endosex means not intersex, just as cis means not trans, straight means not gay or bi. Intersex people are people, not “abnormal”.
A Quaker view of gender should work towards inclusion, particularly of people whose inclusion now is contingent or insecure. As far as possible, we should see people as individuals, rather than as members of groups, or through the prism of particular characteristics. Where there is disagreement, we should first see what we agree about and what we have in common before delving into those disagreements, which can be painful and protracted. There is deep hurt and concomitant lack of trust, so we should work to show that all the hurt, and all the people involved, matter. We need threshing, and separate spaces so that all perspectives may be heard.
Gender is a social construct, and not innate. Margaret Mead investigated societies where both sexes would appear feminine to US gender expectations of the time, or both masculine, or the men feminine and the women masculine. Within one society, gender roles, stereotypes and attitudes can vary between different social classes or by skin colour.
Sexual differences are relevant. Women tend to be smaller and physically weaker than men, though there is an overlap. However culture, convention and the language people use may make sexual differences appear more or less important. It may not be possible to entirely strip away culture, to see those sexual differences, or any human characteristic, as it would be without any cultural influence at all.
The culture that we live in is invisible to us, like the air we breathe, simply normal, unless we make a sustained effort to bring it into the light. The culture privileges particular groups, and oppresses or marginalises others. It is particularly difficult for privileged people to see the oppression in their culture, which at first seems to them to be normal, unobjectionable and unquestionable.
Apart from the gametes they produce, there is no characteristic or trait of one sex which does not exist in the other, or which is not equally valuable or admirable in both.
One person cannot write “Towards a Quaker View of Gender”(TAQVOG) which, like “Towards a Quaker View of Sex” from which it takes its name, should point out oppression and seek liberation, so that the gifts and qualities of all people may be valued, and all people flourish so that the whole community flourishes. Each individual will have blind spots, which conceal from them the oppression or the gifts of another.
So I passionately desire anyone who can to write what they would wish included in TAQVOG. There are many blogs, magazines and organisations which might publish such pieces- I’d publish you on mine, whether I agree with you or not. Personal testimony is necessary, but also there are many involved in the disputes who are well qualified to analyse from an academic perspective, but might feel unwilling to tell personal experience. All kinds of responses have value.
I am a trans woman, and my fellow-feeling is first with trans women, then other trans and gender-variant folk, then with all affected by gender- which is everybody. First with trans women, whether considering transition, transitioning, or long transitioned, whatever they look like, in all their responses and needs including intimate and personal ones: because I know the terror and isolation I have felt and can still feel. If I were to write for TAQVOG, trans would be my first concern.
If one of us does wrong, deal with the wrongdoing, but don’t punish her for being trans as well, doubt that she is trans because of the wrongdoing, or judge all of us by that wrongdoing. If one of us does well, notice, welcome and recognise that, because we have potential which is not realised because of the difficulties of being trans. Don’t speculate about our genitals! Most of us want surgery, but waiting lists are long.
TAQVOG would not primarily be about trans people and trans issues. Around 0.1% of the population has transitioned to express themselves as another gender, but gender stereotypes, attitudes and roles oppress everyone to an extent. Perhaps 1% of the population have extreme difficulty with gender, either because of being particularly distant from the stereotypes or having a strong internalized tendency to see the world in gendered terms and judge themselves and others on conformity to those roles. Many trans women, for example, work hard to conform to male stereotypes before transitioning.
Instead it would primarily be about violence, and first violence against women: physical violence and coercive control, violence in the home, the workplace and public spaces, and the way women are inhibited from full participation in public spaces by the threat of violence. This includes physical violence by Quaker men. But it would be about all the violence, the cultural and structural violence which prevents people from valuing and developing their qualities because of gendered restrictions, including on men. This needs a wide range of personal testimony, and academic analysis which I am not qualified to make.
I got the idea of TAQVOG from an article entitled “Towards a Quaker View of Gender and Sex” in the Friends Quarterly, which I condemn, as I see it as tending to promote unjustified fear and exclusion of trans women. So it is important to me to quote a part I agree with, to show partial agreement is possible even between the most apparently opposing views, and because it summarises one of the most important issues TAQVOG would address:
It is of vital spiritual importance that we explore society’s expectation of us on the basis of our sex, as well as other characteristics and experiences. It is by slowly stripping away these layers that we are able to listen to the still small voice inside.
Though some societal expectations affirm some people, if we did this we could truly appreciate our diversity, and include everyone.
The human inner light lives on despite society’s expectations, and stripping away those layers is the way we fulfil these words of George Fox, from the Journal, Nickalls’ edition p263: “So the ministers of the Spirit must minister to the spirit that is transgressed and in prison, which hath been in captivity in every one, whereby with the same Spirit people must be led out of captivity up to God.” It is the same paragraph: that is how we “answer that of God in every one”.
This freedom is in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
Lying on the floor weeping “I am not a man” even as I pretended to be one at work, I believed in a real me, separate from that pretense, which manifested herself when I expressed myself female. Like others, I found that at first presenting male was just normal, and expressing female mind-blowingly wonderful; then presenting male was a bit unpleasant and expressing female was really nice; and finally expressing female was just normal and presenting male unbearable. I had wanted to prepare for transition, with electrolysis of my face and other things, but I went full time before my electrolysis was complete. Then, needing to avoid shaving so I could have electrolysis I was abused in the street, and became depressed and miserable.
Judith Butler says we could perform gender, that is act a gender role, much as my friend said I appeared to be acting when presenting male and just being me when expressing female- have you noticed, I write “Presenting” male, saying that’s something about how I appeared, and “Expressing” female, when my appearance was the expression of my real self? I have expressed (wrote spoke and thought about) it that way all this century. But that’s not what she means when she says gender is performative. There’s no actor underneath, putting on a performance. Instead we act and speak in ways which consolidate the impression that we are men or women, not expressing an internal reality but responding to others as we are conditioned to, following habits which seem to us to be part of some essence. The phenomenon of gender is self-sustaining, people enforcing it on each other.
I need to do more reading on this, but Butler does not fit that description. She was walking down the street and a teenager called out, “Are you a lesbian?” There’s the policing, enforcement, bullying right there- she is not walking in a normal manner, so a stranger calls her out on it- but she does not change. Gaydar is a thing. Gay people can spot each other. Straight people can spot us too. The bullying isn’t working, or not completely. There is something in her which rebels. It might not be something as complex as a gender: the underlying reality could be as simple as a sexual attraction, stopping her from following others’ gender rules and making her own, but the effect is a range of behaviours and interactions which mark her out as “unfeminine”.
Lesbians might be butch or femme. H was particularly disgusted by femme lesbians, “attracted to that type of masculinity”- quite unable to understand them. There are fashions for butches, a butch uniform which is quite as constraining as straight women’s fashions, even if they change less frequently. Is the standard butch expression constrained by lesbians, or by the wider community?
H, particularly highly sexed, at twenty wore jeans and DMs and a crew cut, to avoid unwanted sexual attention, then in her forties her daughter persuaded her to dress sexily and around seventy she still does, with long hair and tight dresses. She talks of “performing gender”, but appears to mean making a choice, having twice exercised a choice and made a huge change. Now her sexiness is power, holding male attention despite her age, controlling the men by skills learned through experience.
Tim, a gay man, told me that in some relationships he was bottom, in others top, and he found his feelings around his body changed as he moved between. The areas which were erogenous zones would be different. He could pass as straight.
There’s something inside so strong. We transition. My father, attracted to women, was a primary head teacher. He had one male teacher and five women in his school, and while he thought the women more talented he noticed them encouraging the male to apply for promoted posts- to Dad’s disgust. Other men might have found their feminine encouragement of the man, and holding themselves back, unremarkable, or even appropriate. If men take the promoted posts are they really more talented and efficacious or do we imagine them to be more talented because we are programmed to see them so? Yet Dad saw them differently, perhaps because he was attracted to strong women, as am I.
Wikipedia is not the best of sources, but there I find a one paragraph criticism of Judith Butler by Martha Nussbaum, saying that rather than political campaigning Butler encourages feminists to subvert gender by speech and gesture, in “unfeminine” ways, subverting gender norms. I imagine both would be possible- walk like a man, refuse to smile and be accommodating, and campaign against VAWG.
When I was presenting male I did not see myself as acting. I was aspiring to masculinity, but it would be one real human being that was a man, going running to make myself fit, and when I was behaving in a masculine way it seemed to me that this was me, being how I ought to be, rather than hiding a “real me” underneath. Later, I either became aware of that Real Me which had been suppressed in fear (as I have always thought since) or that “feminine self” somehow came into being.
Happy birthday to Judith Butler, 64 today (I planned this post before finding it was her birthday). She provided this photo for Wikipedia when she was 57.
This is Martha Nussbaum, photographed aged 61 by Robin Holland.
How do you see these photographs? What does Professor Nussbaum’s makeup, and Professor Butler’s lack of it, signify? Are they feminine? Strong? Open or guarded? Can you read intelligence in either picture separately from the titles they have earned?
Added: here’s long distance runner Emily Halnon on My Boyfriend’s Wedding Dress. She loves his flair, imagines she’s contributing to a progressive shift in how we define masculinity, finally allowing men to be emotional and vulnerable, or to ask for help, or to hug their male friends, and yet was uncomfortable with him cross-dressing. She loves his muscles and athleticism, and his hairy chest, as well as his emotional depth, vulnerability and openness, but she and her girlfriends want men who are bigger and taller than they are, or who are better than them at sports, or who don’t cry in front of them. So- she wants to subvert gender norms, but still finds herself enforcing them because of the gravitational pull of wider society. Or, she’s a heterosexual woman who has particular desires, even if a minority of women might enjoy the support of a more vulnerable man.
Gender identity is not a useful concept. You might say your gender identity is male or female, but what does that say other than you are trans or cis? (Note the inclusive language. I do not want to alienate my cis readers.)
I am happier transitioned. Therefore I am trans. I wanted to transition more than anything else in the world. Therefore I was trans. There is no need for an additional concept of gender identity. I transitioned because I am trans. That is enough.
And, what is my gender identity anyway? If there is some identity as a woman women have because they are women, a large part of that for most involves being attracted to men. Well, I am attracted to women, and lesbians are no less women. (Note the non-inclusive language: I expect trans men just to nod along and make such translation as they need to their own experience themselves.)
The concept has value to explain ourselves to cis people only if they are uncomprehending but basically affirming. “You know you’re a woman/man, right? Well, so do I.” But it doesn’t work with people who are hostile. If someone asks “Are you a man or a woman?” I know they think I am a man. Saying I have a female gender identity won’t persuade them that I am a woman, or even that it is OK for me to express myself female. And most people are familiar enough with the idea of trans people that they don’t need an additional idea of gender identity. If they say, “I don’t understand it,” I can say that with all the prejudice and loss of privilege, I am still happier like this. You don’t need to understand, you just need to empathise.
We always used to say that everyone has a gender identity, cis or trans, and the concept of a cis person’s gender identity has even less meaning than a trans person’s.
The concept has little value to explain ourselves to ourselves. Picture me in 1999, sick fed up of the struggle to appear Manly, wanting to transition and terrified of that. So I learned of The Script- “I knew there was a problem aged three, and I knew what it was aged five”- and doubted myself further. I had not as a child known I was a girl. I was alienated from myself and my feelings as a child, and had taken in to myself the desperate need to appear manly, but I had no sense of a firm, life-long gender identity. I was not sure of any fixed identity. The script does not aid a diagnosis as trans- DSM V states you have to have had your “strong desire to be of the other gender” for only six months.
The people most alienated by the concept of gender identity are the people I most want as allies: gender variant people who won’t transition. For a gender-non-conforming woman who says her sex is important to her, for feminist solidarity, for the common experience of sexism and gynaecological problems, and of gestation and birth, gender identity is a repulsive idea, because it enforces gender stereotypes. Some ignore the stereotypes- “I’m as happy in overalls maintaining my motorbike as I am all dolled up for an evening out”. Some find them oppressive. Sex is real, and the basis of oppression, of slut-shaming, period-shaming, pain not taken seriously, and gender is the tool of that oppression, not allowing women to be “bossy” or “feisty”, demanding stereotypes they don’t fit.
The words “gender identity” don’t add anything. I am trans. I am happier expressing myself as a woman, with a woman’s hair, clothes and sometimes makeup, a woman’s name. My way of being is my own, and I don’t need anyone to see it as particularly “feminine”. Being trans is OK.
To an extent, I am calling for a tactical retreat. Many people campaigning against trans people find the very idea of gender oppressive. Talking of gender identity does us no good, and just riles them.
Anoush is being brought up gender-free. They can choose their gender later. At 17 months, they are a “lovely little human” who loves dolls but also motorbikes and machinery. Their parents are circus performers, who live on a house boat. They want their child to be who they are, not moulded by the unconscious bias of others into pink is for girls stereotypes. The grandmother found the child’s sex when she changed their nappy, but even other family members do not know.
Hooray! People want to know what genitals someone has so that they know what gender stereotypes to enforce. Even if they consciously desire to subvert such stereotypes and let the child be themself, they will unconsciously steer the child to “boy-things” or “girl-things”. That this is not happening in the first few years of life may be an invaluable foundation, even if when potty-trained and out in the world people will start caring what toilet they use, and nurseries will want to know. The stereotyping afflicts all of us.
So it was odd to read feminists opposing this treatment. Catherine Bennett in the Guardian strongly objected. People should be able to bring their child up free of gender stereotypes while acknowledging their sex.
Clemmie Millbank, in the Independent, also a parent of a baby of seventeen months, observed the gendered treatment given by her fellow Millennials, and the way her husband told their son not to be a wuss when he banged his head. Boys are rebuked for lashing out, but there’s a rueful “boys will be boys” tolerance which would not be extended to girls. Yet she says,
Every time we tell a little girl she’s pretty and a little boy he’s clever, we need to stop ourselves and consider our actions. The only way to tackle gender bias is by confronting it head on, not by hiding it.
Conscious incompetence here would be painful. Always you would ask yourself, am I cuddling this crying child because she is a girl? Am I not cuddling out of a rebellion against stereotyping when I really should? You tell someone to “grow a pair” and feel instantly ashamed.
Bennett claims that the parents are placing gender above sex. The gender-neutral extremist must be continually patrolling their own narrative, whereby gender, a matter of choice and chance, eclipses human biology.
I don’t think they are. There is nothing to indicate that they will alter the child’s body, or ignore their genitals later, just that they want to prevent gender bias now.
Sex is physical, gender is cultural. That is my observation, that of many others, and the basis of feminism opposing women’s oppression (and to a lesser extent men’s) by stereotypes. Actual humans do not naturally fit gendered boxes. So taking action to prevent forcing a child into those boxes is necessary. Some people feel the forcing is natural and appropriate – boys should be boys- some do it thoughtlessly.
I am sure Catherine Bennett would not buy a pink princess shirt for a toddler girl relative. She may even be able to cuddle crying children equally, whatever clothes they wear. Does she despise an unmanly man, or unconsciously reinforce femininity ever? The social pressure to do so is strong.
She is so hostile to concepts of gender neutral as a way to subvert the culture of gender, so hostile to trans people, that she cannot see the value of hiding a child’s genitals. It makes it impossible to stereotype! Is that not obviously a good thing, especially for a feminist?
No one fits the rigid gender boxes. Some people get along with them more or less. Some of us are so tortured by them that we must escape them by any means. We transition, or we change pronouns, or we self-consciously try to give off the signals of the other sex, to change others’ expectations and treatment of us.
None of this is acceptable to some feminists. Only their way is allowed. You can only subvert gender while being clear about sex. They even ally with the far right to oppose transition.
We have to accept all tools to subvert gender, and celebrate everyone fighting it. There are too many people who actively support stereotyping, who think boys should be that type of boy, made to man up, ashamed of showing emotion, and girls should be gentle and caring. Unless we are allies against that our cause is doomed.
A “Christian” site was confused, and in part progressive. This is the progressive bit:
As Christians we love the variety of gifts and personalities God has given to males and females made in his image. We do not want to restrict God, if indeed that were even possible, and narrowly define gender roles and behaviour in ways that are not supported in the Bible.
It seems they think stereotyping can be too restrictive. However they also think “gender is programmed into our DNA”. It is “deeply disturbing” to think Anoush might choose a gender identity different to the one their genitals indicate. But, how could Anouch do that, if it’s against DNA programming?
I wish the parents well. Anoush has a chance to find themself. It would save a lot of angst if everyone else had too.
Taking the microphone and looking out over the thousand-member audience, I said, “I am wise. Listen to me.”
I am feeling powerfully affirmed right now. I have spoken before in conversation from my integrity, all of me united in a belief or intention. I check it is right and true then say it. As I do this more I become clearer.
Then there was the Queer Spirit festival, 16-18 August. At the Authentic Communicating workshop I talked of this, of the way of speaking from my whole self, and the facilitator addressed me, “Tell us the truth, O wise one”. It is hard to imagine such words without sarcasm, but he said them with utter sincerity. There I saw beautiful playfulness, and a profound shift in a man, shedding his introjects. I asked to be lifted and supported on nine pairs of hands, and was borne aloft. I could trust. Then we group hugged.
That night I left the big top at eleven, and dozily left my handbag in a toilet. I went to that workshop with no money, no house keys, no way of getting home, wondering if I could ask anyone to drive me there. We decided I could ask the festival to loan me enough for a taxi and the buses. At eight, no one had handed in my handbag but after the workshop someone had contacted the organiser, and I went to pick it up from the Faerie area. If there was anyone who would steal it at the festival, they were unlikely to be the one to find it.
I knew no one at Queer Spirit but started conversation easily, asking and receiving hugs. I noticed how forebearing we were with each other, anxious to please as if used to hurt and slights- as you might expect in an LGBT festival. I see it in myself and in queer friends.
Leaving Queer Spirit I resented the cost of the taxi to Nupton, the buses having been cut, but a man joined me and talked of Faerie, halving my fare. It is an alternative gay culture for men tired of shallowly pumping iron and using the right grooming products. He is spiritual but not religious, having had a harmful religious upbringing, and liked my line “I am rationally atheist and emotionally theist: I have a strong personal relationship with the God I do not believe in”.
Then there was the Quaker meeting. It was a Leading to hold it at Greenbelt, but my leading was not affirmed by my Meeting, who had told the Festival there was no one to organise the worship. It felt haphazard, and I felt unprepared. Yet after we had 110 in worship and I introduced it, emphasising the welcome enquirers should expect, I felt vindicated. My leading had been recognised by events.
Nadia Bolz-Weber talked of bodies, how people are ashamed of bodies and how we are fed false ideals which we cannot match. She told us to turn to a neighbour and say something we liked about our bodies. My neighbour had beautiful eyes, and said so. We were in a place, after three days of Festival, where we could say such things.
If women did not spend the energy fruitlessly chasing the beauty myth we could solve global heating.
I spoke into the microphone. I said how after transition I finally loved my body, its beauty and effectiveness, and of how people are also shamed about Gender, and how humanity needs to affirm soft men and powerful women, strong and gentle humans. I asked the speakers to affirm our gender in all its variety and contradictoriness. I got applauded. I am affirmed again.
Another woman said whenever she had an unpleasant experience her mother would ask, “What did you do to cause that?” Such shaming could make a child hide away completely, like a rabbit fearing all attention was predatory. She is in middle age recovering.
Another said as a trans man he wanted chest surgery, yet he also wanted to bear a child and breast feed- but not yet, maybe in six years’ time. How could he live with his body as it is, and all it means to others, in that tension?
I am feeling powerful. My working out my need heals others. Having valued my softness as strength when I saw it as weakness for so long, I can help others free themselves.
This pillar was marked “The wisest thing I ever heard was-”