Towards “Towards a Quaker View of Gender”

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.”

Performing gender

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

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.

A gender-free child

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.

Greenbelt affirmations

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-”

Rosa Freedman

Rosa Freedman had her door soaked with urine, saw graffiti telling her to leave her job, and had phone calls throughout the night saying she should be raped and killed. She hid behind a tree because she was frightened of people following her.

Pause for a moment, and think of the horror of these experiences. Imagine this happening to you, or someone you love. Trans people, who receive such abuse all the time, should feel particular sympathy. She was abused because of what she says, which is trans-excluding. She wants to make a rigorous legal distinction between sex and gender, and enforce single sex spaces. My gender would be recognised as female, and I would be excluded from women’s space because my sex would still be male, unalterable.

Differentiating sex and gender does not make such an exclusion, by itself. At the moment both the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act use the words- if not interchangeably, or as if to confuse the two, certainly in a way it is difficult to distinguish them. But for trans women in women’s space, there is a two stage test. A service can be for women only if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim” (PaMALA). Then it can exclude trans women, again if that is PaMALA. For law to permit what is “legitimate” may seem circular, but from such mysteries lawyers make their dosh.

If sex and gender are legally distinct, the service would have to justify being a single-sex service. Why a single-sex service, rather than single-gender? The law might say, again, the service is single-sex if that is “legitimate”. Or it might just assume that services are single-sex, and exclude trans women from where we have been for decades. I hope it would not choose the latter course, because that would be against international human rights law, but Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Rosa is willing to try. For her, services should be single sex, not considering gender. She would “reconcile the concerns of those who identify as trans and those who are women” by excluding trans women from women’s spaces.

Rosa made a twitter thread describing the abuse, and the Daily Mail published it, with sympathetic commentary and her own words justifying her views. A much-upvoted comment said that if trans people were being harassed in this way the police would soon be arresting the perpetrators, which is not my experience. The police told me they could do nothing.

Rosa claims she has been “reasonable and respectful” in her expression of her views. I am not sure that is enough to avoid being objectionable. When she demands that I be excluded from where I am safe, when she claims I am a threat, it is worse that she uses apparently passion-free language, because that shows that she is cold and premeditated in her hatred.

I am glad Diva magazine is on my side. Their publisher was on Woman’s Hour, making a courteous, straightforward argument for inclusion, shouted down by a woman who said our rights were incompatible. When people fly-post stickers saying “Women’s rights are not for penises” they dehumanise us. I was so much more than a penis, even when I had one. That is a standard tactic for getting people to persecute a group, mockery and dehumanisation.

Baltimore welcomes trans people!

Baltimore Yearly Meeting has issued a statement in support of the civil and human rights of trans and non-binary people. They mean well, that’s part of the problem; but when something written about trans seems off, try replacing with “people of colour” to see why it is objectionable:

Baltimore Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) rejoices in the presence of transgender people [people of colour] in our midst including non-binary [mixed race] people. Our transgender members enrich our community and deepen our worship. We believe that there is that of God in everyone [even people of colour and trans folk] and everyone has gifts to bring to the world. Whenever anyone is excluded, God’s ability to work in our midst is diminished.

It should not need to be said. It makes me wonder if some Friends balked at it. If Quakers feel the need to state that I am welcome in their meeting, it shows that could be doubted: at best because trans people are generally wary of transphobia, at worst because we have experienced it among Baltimore Quakers. They may know this, so have chosen the words “rejoices in” rather than “welcomes”. This is just saying the same problematic thing, more effusively.

We commit ourselves to support transgender people in our meetings

Ah. There’s the issue. I want everyone supported in our meetings, to learn the full beauty of the Meeting for Worship. We welcome enquirers. Why would we need specifically to commit to supporting transgender people? Perhaps because Friends are best at welcoming people who look like them, and sound like them- in Britain, mostly though not all white, educated, prosperous. Everyone needs support, to learn what centring down means, what being moved means, but trans people might need additional support, to show that those who are unwelcoming are balanced out by the particular welcome by some. That is, this others trans people.

and the civil and human rights of our transgender members and all transgender people.

Yes. Because our civil and human rights are not recognised by some, including the US President.

We also commit to enlarging our understanding of the experience of being transgender.

Um. Well. No two trans people are alike, and no two have the same experience. The risk is that we are classed in one type, the trans people, who have to be welcomed and managed in a particular way. The “trans expert” of the YM might be called in, when one of us becomes particularly problematic. Yes I’m being a bitch. You’ve admitted you have had problems welcoming us in the past, so I am suspicious of you. I will hold you to what you say, and point out where you fall short of a proper welcome: for there is that of God in me, and my leadings and service are as valuable as the next Quaker’s.

No one should face discrimination in employment, housing, health care, or otherwise, or have their dignity assaulted and their human rights curtailed because of their gender identity.

Indeed. What are you doing to do about it? “There is an injustice,” you say: will you oppose it actively, with your time and resources, or be satisfied with merely pointing it out?

What would I want instead? What I say is affected by my understanding, that there is not a single group of trans people, to be distinguished from cis people who have no problems with gender. I use the term “non-binary” as a permission rather than a description of a particular group: when it is too much trouble to attempt passing as a woman, I say I am being non-binary. Others see these things differently. Here is my attempt at an inclusion statement:

We recognise that gender stereotypes are oppressive to many people, and that people are damaged by that oppression.

I am traumatised. That will make me behave oddly occasionally. I want all of me welcome, not just when I pass as normal. I tried to make a man of myself. I suppressed my feelings. I don’t mean that I want to be some sort of parasite on the Quaker meeting, which becomes a support group for me; I have responsibilities as well as rights; but I want to be safe enough to show my hurt, and be valued for my gifts.

We recognise that gender stereotypes have no place in God’s Kingdom, nor among Quakers, but that Quakers are infected with worldly standards of what it means to be masculine or feminine. We pledge to search out whatever in our lives may contain the fruits of those stereotypes.

That’s a reference to Britain YM’s Advices and Queries paragraph 31: Search out whatever in your own way of life may contain the seeds of war. I like religious language, but would not insist on it- only on the underlying sentiment.

Our aim is to welcome each person as a unique, precious child of God, without judgment or stereotype.

A&Q 22. All this is generalisable. People of colour are affected by racism. Disabled people are stereotyped, and many of their difficulties arise from a society made for a stereotype normal/healthy.

We recognise the right of all to escape or subvert those stereotypes in any way they choose, using whatever theory or belief most works for them: we welcome transgender, non-binary and gender-critical people and pledge to learn from them, to grow in mutual understanding and acceptance. We recognise that they are part of our community, like any other Quaker.

Advices and Queries 18: How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other’s lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God’s love and forgiveness.

As part of my research writing this post, I came across BYM’s statement on spiritual unity. BYM split in the 19th century, as many US meetings did; and in 1964 they came together. I find that beautiful. They did not minimise the difficulties, but found value in them: We usually find ourselves richer for our differences… From the stimulus of dissimilarity, new insights often arise. That can be true of all human diversity, not just religious disagreement.

This is my 2,500th post.

Gender justice

There is another world where there is gender justice. There, a 5’2″, curvy young woman in a leadership role can issue a clear instruction and have it heard and obeyed, rather than having to persuade or even coax or wheedle. There, a 5’16” barrel-chested man can be a nursery nurse and no-one turns a hair. In the world of gender justice there is gendered expression but it is not linked to sex. People play with gender, and find new ways of expressing it, separately from expressing sexuality. I could signal my gender in man’s clothes, for my gender would be instantly accepted, no need for someone to think about it, no-one surprised by such gender in a man.

It is not Britain now, but it could be Britain in the future, and should be, and I want to work towards it. But how? And how could we be just to those oppressed by gendered expectations now, so that we may be most fully ourselves? Possibly the most difficult question is, can I imagine a way towards gender justice that fits more people than just me, and others I care about?

In such a world, would anyone suffer bodily dysphoria? I think not. Breasts would be great, for women and the people who love them, but there would be no need for binding, top surgery or implants. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Breasts would mean femaleness but not femininity.

It is crap, sometimes, being trans. Today Will, pronounced Wił, got chatting to me at the bus stop by asking if I was one of those trans women. He followed this up by complimenting my bravery and saying I look better than some real women he knows. Some trans women he knows look awful. They should make an effort. What’s it like? I think he was also asking whether I had had the operation, but being coy about it. He’s a scaffolder, aged 46, and he’s spent five years in Amsterdam, which he finds lovely. No-one turns a hair. You can just be yourself. Others have told me this, that men can be unaffectedly feminine there, and there is still about 1:3800 transwomen. 4,432 trans women visited the Amsterdam gender identity clinic between 1980 and 2015, and most recently 65% of them started hormone therapy within five years. 75% of those had gonadectomy, and only 0.6% of them were identified as regretting it. Some data could be missing, but the study is happy to conclude “the percentage of people who regretted gonadectomy remained small”.

Even if men can be feminine, they felt the need to transition physically, and did not regret it. I regret it. That puts me in a small number. I have little sexual sensation or response, and I have heard before that others have better results, and that regret is linked to poor results. So, seeking gender justice now I should not oppose GRS because I personally regret it. I might say data is missing, and some people could not even admit to themselves that they regretted gonadectomy, and some became happily asexual, without feeling romantic attractions, but not as many as 50%. However some might find the idea of gonadectomy repulsive, could not imagine how it could be right for anyone in any circumstances, and conclude that it must be discouraged in every possible way.

However, now, it is encouraged. Non-trans people seem to have more respect for people who transition than for people who play with gender, sometimes presenting male, sometimes female. My neighbour stopped saying hello after he saw me dressed female, but started again after I stopped dressing male. The Equality Act protects people who intend to transition to the other sex, but not people who are non-binary. There is social pressure to transition, and to have surgery: Will’s way of asking would only get a response if I would feel ashamed of not having it, proud of having it, and would claim to be true transsexual. Like asking a Scot if he wears anything under his kilt: if not, he will probably tell you, because that is the approved way.

Similarly, a person should not use her feelings of horror and disgust at the thought of someone having their breasts or gonads removed as a way to decide that no-one should have it done or anyone who has it done is necessarily deluded. It is a thing people do, in this place without gender justice.

Regretting, I am crippled with self-blame.

How could I be so stupid?

Fortunately, Lucy, Virgil to my Dante, has the answer:

It was the best I could do at the time.

Regretting, and wanting sexual intimacy terribly, and feeling it is impossible now, I have no-one to blame but myself. However, given my situation and my history at the time it was what I wanted more than anything else in the world. My surgery came from the way the world is rather than any inadequacy or wrongness on my part.

Transition is a way people cope with gender dysphoria. People should be able to transition. This is not the world of gender justice, and some people express their gender this way.

I suppose it is a separate issue how trans women should be treated. Given that this is not the world of gender justice, should we be humoured and agreed with- “Trans women are women”- or not? To me, I exist, I have feelings, I have needs, this is the way it has been, there is no great need to change that. This is the way I can be myself.

Do non-trans women need space which is free from trans women as well as from non-trans men? If there is no pressing need, but they want it, are they entitled to it? Various things are thought relevant to that: are trans women really dangerous? Are non-trans women reasonably afraid of trans women, and if they want separate spaces and services should they be accommodated? Given that women often feel pressured to consider others’ feelings, or shoved aside, should they be empowered by being able to exclude trans women? Given that trans women are vulnerable too, how should we be accommodated?

I feel that accommodating trans people increases gender freedom and makes gender justice more likely. My gender critical friend finds trans a ridiculous palaver: why not just be yourself? Why all this dressing-up and repulsive body-alteration? To me, it is the only way some people find to be themselves. People do it. “But that’s ridiculous” is no answer.

Some women, not all, object to me in women’s space. Balancing my rights and needs against theirs is difficult. I can’t propose a way to do that. It seems to me, if not to them, that the women who care most about this are the ones most scarred by gender as it is now. Pitting us against each other is the most damaging way. How could I want to hurt someone, who seems wronged in the way I am?

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.

Gender is meaningless

Gender is a confused concept. The idea that there are two genders, one relating to all women and one to all men in any sort of meaningful way, either as how they should be or how they actually are, is patently absurd.

Gender is a fuzzy concept. If either “gender” were rigorously defined, it would be plainly unrelated to reality, so it is not.

Gender is a dangerous concept. As children grow up, trying to find who they are or should be, it oppresses them. As we consider another person, using our perception of their sex to try to predict them, as one of the stereotypes we use before we get to know them, it is worse than useless.

It makes some sense to talk about the “opposite” sex, but none at all to talk of the “opposite gender”. Gender might have some value if we could conceive of several, but none if we think of only two. That concept encourages transition, if we imagine that because we are not Masculine we must therefore be Feminine, or vice versa. You should simply be yourself, without the need to cross-dress, leave alone to have hormones and surgery. Having transitioned, you may find that while the concept of “feminine” fits trans women slightly better than that of “masculine”, it is still ridiculous, and gets in the way of self-perception. Before transition, you tried to make a man of yourself, seeking to conform to “masculine”. Now you seek to conform to another ideal, which is slightly better but still not you.

People should be seen as valuable in their own right, as individuals. They should be encouraged to develop their positive qualities and attributes, whatever they are. The concept of gender makes others demand particular qualities someone does not have, or deny qualities they possess.

There is no attribute, quality, virtue or vice which is not equally good or bad whichever sex possesses it.

You may notice this contradicts my post Gender is Innate, published nine days ago. I don’t know. A woman says “I like pretty clothes and power-tools” as if this implied a contradiction, or as if this truth undermined the whole foundation of society, whereas it is a sign of freedom women have. It seems harder for men to express “feminine” interests, and this oppresses both sexes- what pertains to women is shameful for men, devaluing women’s stereotyped characteristics and suppressing them in men. I observe that many people rub along more or less happily with ideas of gender. I know some find it oppressive, but it would collapse if it had no value to anyone.

When I say “Everything in this blog is true” I mean that it contains an aspect of truth, sought as carefully and rigorously as I am able. I feel better able to get glimpses of truth if I can bear to be inconsistent. If I can enter another’s frame of reference I may see truths I could see no other way. If I can argue against my own position I may improve it.