Much of the detransition experience is similar to the transitioner’s. Both find solidarity with people undergoing the same thing, and allies, both find opponents, chiefly online. Both might dislike their bodies and think that some process will make their body acceptable. Both want to be themselves, and find the stereotypes imposed by ordinary society oppressive. We should be allies. Why are we not, and what might be done about this?

Some of the most vocal allies of F-M-F detransitioners are anti-trans campaigners. They think detransitioners are proof that transition is wrong, and that sexism prevents young women accepting themselves when they don’t fit gender stereotypes. Some detransitioners, such as Keira Bell, enthusiastically join with that group. Others, like Ky Schevers, find it oppressive. The strongest analogy for transitioners is those who give us grudging acceptance, but want to police our bodies- the cis person who wants to know whether you have had genital surgery. In both cases, it’s all about them. The policers prove their tolerance, when they are phobic, by tolerating us if we have had surgery. The anti-trans campaigners want to use detransitioners in their campaigns. Both groups seek to define us.

Both transitioners and detransitioners see happiness or fulfilment at the end of a physical process- medical transition, or detransition. Where physical reversion is impossible, detransitioners may blame their unhappiness on the medical interventions they had- the woman who has to shave her face and worries about thinning hair, the man with breasts needing a binder. I would be happy if-. Both undergo long stressful processes most people would never undergo and can’t really understand, in an attempt to fit in as their true selves in society.

Both find medical care patchy and doctors and therapists obstructive or ignorant.

Even when we are different, we are different in the same ways. Both transitioners and detransitioners include some people who just want to live their lives quietly, and others who want to campaign. Both groups include some who think only their path is right- the transmedicalist who thinks only those who desire genital surgery are truly trans, and the detransitioner who thinks no-one should transition- and some who see it is hard to be gender non-conforming, and those who are should stick together, and accept each others’ different ways of coping.

Both groups are trying to find a way to live in a gendered world. We should be allies.

Both groups have had horrible experiences separate from being trans. How could you not sympathise with Y, an Asian-heritage lesbian, when she writes,

the decade of sexual abuse and misogyny I endured from my step-father made me truly hate being a girl… I still have nightmares of those years that wake me up, heart racing and on the verge of tears, in the middle of the night.

I am less sure what to say about her allegation of “casual racism and fetishization” in the trans community, except that racism is endemic in Western society, and allegations of racism are thrown around by trans and anti-trans groups to discredit the other side, rather than primarily to correct racism.

Y socially transitioned aged 14, and first took hormones aged 21. She says she passed as a cis male, and I don’t know what to make of that. Possibly it is because Asian people are even more strongly gender stereotyped than whites. When she was considering top surgery she put it off for months, in emotional turmoil, until she found community on the detrans reddit and lost all her old support group, who accused her of being brainwashed by TERFs or having internalised transphobia.

Well, of course she has internalised transphobia. We grow up in a transphobic society. I don’t think she was brainwashed by TERFs, though. She wanted to make sense of who she was, and how she could be herself and be happy as herself, but in her moment of maximum confusion the trans community rejected her.

She talks of her dysphoria. She has particular ideas about how it can be addressed, in a healthy way, and she says use of surgery or hormones is false ideology. She says she is “also an artist, pet owner, eldest daughter, trivia geek, and frappe lover”- that is, her transition and detransition processes are mostly over, and she is able to give energy to other things. Many post-transition people could say the same.

For me, greater recognition of nonbinary identity and nonbinary pathways among the trans community would help us to integrate with each other, better, rather than with campaigners who want to use us for their own ideology. Someone who wants top surgery, someone who thought s/he did but finds the idea revolting, someone who had it and regrets it, and someone who had it and feels fulfilled should be able to come together and see what unites them and their interests is so much greater than what drives them apart.

We should reject those cis who want to use us for their own ends.

We have gender dysphoria. We cope with it as best we may. We try to live as our true selves despite societal hostility. We must find a way to solidarity.

Eddie Izzard and nonbinary

When Izzard was nonbinary, no-one cared. But now, she’s transitioning!?

In 2017 in The Hollywood Reporter she said she identified as transgender but had both “boy and girl mode”. But in 2020, her pronouns were given as she/her, and it was international news. Now, she is recording a drama in a male role, and wanted to go back to he/him, but was told she can’t be both.

She came out as “transvestite” in 1985, and people would stand a foot away and ask “What the fuck is that?” They turn you into an it, she says. “People don’t expect a trans woman to be able to run 130 marathons for charity and it changes their sense of what a trans woman is,” she says. That’s because they expect trans women to be physically inadequate and without any staying-power.

Will she physically transition, asks the journalist. There it is. Are you going to have your balls cut off. What will your genitals look like. Any privacy interviewees might have about medical conditions is denied the trans woman. She has always had breasts envy, and he asks if she is taking hormones. She refuses to say but “smiles”.

She wants to be a Labour candidate. I would love to have her stand here.

Some people are nonbinary, and that matters. They could change pronouns but not presentation, they could present differently on different days like Izzard still does, they could mix it up like his man’s suit and high heeled shoes. But there’s still this idea of proper transition, hormones and surgery. Either medicalised transition is thought of as acceptable, but anything else is still seen as perverted or wrong, or medicalised transition is something the cis have somehow got their heads round but nonbinary is beyond their comprehension. No one should have to undergo surgery to be accepted. No one should have their gender expression restricted.

Izzard thinks radical feminists should be our allies. “I’d like to get to the place where we don’t have to have this fight because I’m trying to deal with rightwing fascists.” Of course. My way to make allies would be to talk about common interests rather than women’s spaces.

The House of Lords transphobia increased, using the excuse of international women’s day. Content: transphobia.

Ralph Palmer, a Conservative hereditary peer, said:

Stonewall, please climb out of the hole of misogyny and bullying that you have dug for yourself. The needs of trans people, which are pressing, are not best served by adding to the disadvantages of women.

Tories, of course, want it to be a zero-sum game, a conflict of rights. We have so much in common, especially our interests, with all feminists, and they want to obscure that. It is a shame some self-identified “feminists” go along with them.

Anthony Young, a Labour peer, said “I want to make it clear that I believe in fair rights for transgender people. I am not transphobic, although no doubt I will be accused of it after this contribution”. Not a good line. Why is he transphobic? Well, “Fair rights” to him means exclusion from women’s spaces. I don’t want “fair rights” according to Young’s definition, I want human rights.

He is transphobic because he spoke out against inclusive language for trans men as “nonsense”. Then he said,

I want to conclude on the problem of the increased violence towards women and children taking place during Covid. We need to ensure that we protect safe spaces for women in hostels, refuges, hospitals and prisons. Physical threats to women, including rape, by transgender men are a terrible indictment on our society.

By “transgender men” he means trans women. I had to think about that one, but perhaps we will have to get used to it. The problem of increased violence towards women during covid has nothing to do with trans women. It is cis men. The juxtaposition shows extreme fear or hatred of trans women, and attempts to instil it in others. It is transphobic.

Fortunately Sal Brinton, Liberal Democrat, spoke up for us.

On top of the concerns about the attacks on trans people, there is now a real concern that the equalities rights granted over many years are being rowed back on. Over the last two days, three government advisers have resigned over this issue, the Conservative LGBT+ organisation is demanding an investigation and many Back-Bench MPs are worried.

I was somewhat surprised by the assertion of the noble Lord, Lord Young, that women’s refuges were dangerous places because of the threat of trans women being there. I am not aware of any such cases, and for the Domestic Abuse Bill, a number of women’s refuges and other organisations made it plain that they are trans -inclusive. In fact, a 2017 survey showed that the reality is that one in six trans women experience domestic abuse themselves.

In the House of Commons, the usual transphobes were about: Jackie Doyle-Price claimed to “fight for women’s safe spaces” rather than for trans-exclusion, and praised Keira Bell.

Yet Caroline Nokes MP said,

On this International Women’s Day, let us champion all women—gay women, who do not need conversion therapy; trans women, who want to be treated with respect and fairness. Remember, they are the ones most likely to suffer domestic abuse.

Kirsty Blackman, MP, SNP said,

We must consider this—we must look at stereotypes—and we must always consider intersectionality: we must check our own privilege. Younger women, ethnic minority women, bisexual women, trans women and disabled women are more likely to be domestically abused.

Wendy Chamberlain, MP, LD, referred to single-sex spaces but said they were needed because of “the fear of sexual violence perpetrated by men”. Exactly. Not trans women.

Redvers Buller and nonbinary people

Who was General Sir Redvers Buller, VC, GCB, GCMG, and what relevance has he to nonbinary people? He is relevant to nonbinary people, I assure you.

Buller was a man of great physical courage. At the Battle of Hlobane in the Anglo-Zulu war, he rescued three other mounted infantry, a captain, a lieutenant and a trooper, carrying them to safety on his horse, one at a time, and winning the VC.

In command in the second Boer war, he lost the battles of Colenso, Magersfontein and Stormberg in one week, gaining the nickname “Reverse Buller” among his troops. Frederick Roberts took command, but as second in command Buller won the Battle of the Tugela Heights. Wikipedia tells us he was scapegoated for Boer guerrilla tactics, and sacked in October 1901. About 50,000 subscribers in and around Exeter paid for an equestrian statue of him, which the city council now considers removing.

I don’t think the Empire is something for British people to be proud of. It was economic exploitation of areas whose economies would have grown better outside it. Cotton grown in India was taken to Lancashire to be made into cloth, then sent back to India, rather than being processed locally. The statue should not be in a city centre. I had forgotten Redvers Buller, having read about him in “Farewell the Trumpets” by Jan Morris, credited as “James”. That’s the most definite reference to a trans or nonbinary person in this post. No, there is no clear evidence that Redvers was nonbinary.

That did not deter the Daily Mail, whose headline about the statue was, “Council is slammed for ‘ridiculous and historical wokery’ over plans to remove a statue of a British war hero – with official report claiming it ‘impacts anybody who does not define themselves in binary gender terms’.”

The Mail opposes the statue of a “war hero” being moved. Of course. That is disrespecting the Great British Empire, but The Mail also hates any mention of nonbinary people. It says, “An equality impact assessment carried out as part of the review also concluded the statue would impact anybody who ‘does not define themselves in binary gender terms’.”

The council’s papers are here. The Equality Impact Assessment does not mention nonbinary people, but rightly comments that moving the statue would have a positive impact on BAME people and immigrants. The report to the council says the statue “personif[ies] racism and the glorification of a colonial past”.

Is its prominence still relevant to the people of Exeter today? No. The Boer War was a nasty, inglorious conflict.

Possibly the quote was removed from the papers after the Mail reported. Its full quote, given in the article, is, “The General Buller statue represents the patriarchal structures of empire and colonialism which impact negatively on women and anyone who does not define themselves in binary gender terms. The consultation will need to ensure that the views of women, transgender and non-binary people are captured and given due weight”.

Mere use of the word “patriarchal” is enough to upset the Mail. However the quote indicates that the statue is not more relevant to trans and nonbinary people than to cis women. Nonbinary people are mentioned because, to be inclusive, any mention of patriarchy’s effect on women has to refer to trans and nonbinary people too. That is the only relevance of the report to nonbinary people. Any equality impact assessment, and lots of council reports, would refer to “women and nonbinary people”.

I agree. Patriarchy impacts on cis women and trans people. It also impacts on a lot of men. The Mail did not make any argument against this, merely quoting. “Wokery” was the word of conservative historian Andrew Roberts, who commented “In the year 1900 every man was a sexist”.

Buller’s biographer said, “This man was always a great supporter of and campaigner for the many native communities he came across.” That would appear contradicted by the battle of Kambula.

Redvers Buller: not apparently nonbinary.

Surviving Trump’s Autocracy

Here is a survey of Donald Trump’s vandalism of America over three and a half years. Daily outrages numb us, whether sending riot police with tear-gas to clear peaceful protesters so he can pose with a Bible, or using the Environmental Protection Agency to remove restrictions on pollution of air and water. The nonbinary journalist and activist Masha Gessen has written Surviving Autocracy, published today on Kindle and in July in hardback, based on their experience of Putin’s Russia and Trump’s America. There is analysis of how Trump gives both continuity and new direction to American governance, and how institutions have failed to prevent him. There are comprehensive notes of academic and journalistic sources.

They start with the Covid crisis, where America could have prepared, but the Presidency gave no leadership. Instead, it had utter disregard for human life and a monomaniacal focus on pleasing the leader, to make him appear unerring and all-powerful, like the Soviet government dealing with Chernobyl. They summarise Trump’s repertoire of speechifying: government by gesture; obfuscation and lying; self-praise; stoking fear and issuing threats.

Trumpian news has a way of being shocking without being surprising. Every one of the events of that week was, in itself, staggering: an assault on the senses and the mental faculties. Together, they were just more of the same. The news is unimaginable, but the reporting helped normalise it. We need better language. As Trump crushes the Republic’s political disagreement and judicial process, he attempts to introduce autocracy and a “Mafia state”, a specific, clan-like system in which one man distributes money and power to all other members. In Trump’s case, he mobilises his base, who find his posing with the Bible spiritually overwhelming, and distributes the power to those whose fawning meets his approval. Power amasses wealth, then wealth perpetuates power, like in Russia or Hungary.

Hitler’s jurisprude Carl Schmitt called the Reichstag Fire a “state of exception”, an emergency that shakes up the accepted order of things. Then the Leader institutes new, extralegal rules. After Trump’s election President Obama spoke in hope of “a presumption of good faith… a vibrant and functioning democracy”. Gessen lists catastrophes Putin has used to change the Russian system towards autocracy, and similar crises in US history such as Woodrow Wilson’s Sedition Act 1918, leading to the arrest of thousands. After 9/11, Robert Mueller led the FBI as an internal spy agency, targeting immigrants and political dissidents for surveillance and infiltration, even torture, or “enhanced interrogation”, and George Bush lied about Saddam’s weapons in order to start a war.

But there is no one sweeping, unequivocal gesture upon which we would all justifiably give up hope or, alternatively, become desperately heroic. Instead Trump’s actions change the nature of American government and politics step by step. He jettisons traditions, such as that the Justice Department functions independently, and assumes control of it. It is part of the Executive branch, so the institution is no protection against Trump, and the tradition can be brushed aside, like the tradition that Trump should not profit from the presidency: the foreign emoluments clause of the constitution has not resulted in impeachment. The Office of Government Ethics was sidelined, powerless against Trump’s bad faith. All his Cabinet profiteered, transparently.

I had thought “Drain the Swamp” was a claimed attack on corruption, but it was an attack on government itself. Trump continues to campaign as if the Deep State was still the Elite, ruining ordinary people’s lives, and attack the Government, with his cabinet picked to oppose their departments’ proper functioning. Labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder opposed labour rights. Betsy DeVos sought to privatise education. The nominees lied to congress, a criminal offence, like their patron did. They were lying to the swamp. Trump disdains government expertise and qualifications. He delayed appointing candidates to many jobs requiring Senate confirmation. He destroys regulations protecting the public. He sacked advisers and expert groups. Cabinet members argued for cuts in their departments funding.

Believe the autocrat. Trump broadcast his intentions in his campaign and inauguration. “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost” was his summary of government achievement. He attacked whatever made it admirable, or showed it to be so: He had the White House website swept clean of substantive content on climate policy, civil rights, health care, and LGBT rights, took down the Spanish-language site, and added a biography of his wife that advertised her mail-order jewelry line.

He degrades and demeans. The cake for his inauguration ball was made of styrofoam, a direct copy of Obama’s. Gessen uses this as a symbol of the administration: much of what little it brought was plagiarized, and most of it was unusable for the purpose for which presidential administrations are usually intended. Not only did it not achieve excellence: it rejected the idea that excellence is desirable. This has caused 100,000 Covid deaths: action was held up by human error… by rules that had unintended consequences; by a reluctance to make decisions; and most of all, by a system’s essentially Trumpian inability to recognize its own failures.

The federal government created a system whereby states bid against one another and the federal government. Trump gave Jared Kushner broad authority to organize a private-sector response to the pandemic, working in parallel with or around the government effort.

Trump prevented useful government action. He only wanted spectacle, such as his daily briefings. He denied the complexity of climate agreements, arms control or the use of military force, and so showed his mediocre mind. He wanted to give simple orders like “Build the Wall”. He developed the previous government by oligarchy, where elections are decided by money. Access to voters is by advertising. Former elected officials work as lobbyists.

Trump praises autocrats, like Putin, Kim Jong-un, Duterte, Bolsonaro, and Mohammed bin Salman. His cabinet grovels: “Our kind Father in Heaven, we are so thankful for the opportunities and the freedom that you’ve granted us in this country. We thank you for a president and for cabinet members who are courageous, who are willing to face the winds of controversy in order to provide a better future for those who come behind us.” Trump demanded similar adulation from Democrats, calling them traitors for not applauding his speech.

Trump packs the courts, and has appointed a quarter of the judges in the courts of appeal. He attacks the dignity of democracy, both in the dignity of voters having a part in the process, which he seeks to suppress, and the dignity of political performance, with respectful language. Before his hearing, Brett Kavanaugh gave an interview on Fox news, as measured and apparently humble as Christine Blasey Ford was before the Senate. Then Trump called him, urged him to be forceful in his denials, and before the Senate he was emotional and offensive, shouting repeatedly that he liked beer, shouting that the Left was willing to do anything to derail his nomination. Kavanaugh’s audience was Trump the autocrat.

The emphasis on Russia worked as a conspiracy theory, ascribing too much power to Putin while Trump destroyed government in plain sight. The Mueller report did not save democracy: it gave the facts that Trump had obstructed justice, but not the conclusion. So William Barr brushed it away, and asserted alternative facts which Fox News and the Republican party echoed.

Photo from Wikimedia.

Robin Dembroff and the philosophy of nonbinary

After Robin Dembroff wrote “Macho leaders are a weakness”, I thought- Robin? Sometimes a woman’s name, normally a man’s. It’s a woman. So I went to Google Images to find out, and am abashed. They are nonbinary. Watch them argue that gender is socially constructed.

They argue gendered pronouns should be abolished. For everyone. We can still gender ourselves, but others should not gender us, so as to avoid misgendering anyone. Misgendering is an insult, but not gendering is not necessarily. Not gendering trans people, but gendering everyone else, is stigmatising. Binary trans women want to be called “she” because cis women are, but if cis women were called “they” trans women would not be stigmatised by being called “they”. It is different treatment that is offensive, not the use of “they”. And evidence suggests that degendering English would reduce gender discrimination and gender essentialism, they say, though any such evidence will be contested.

That led me to their open access paper on the subject, introducing me to the concept of unpronouning someone. You unpronoun a person by referring to them by circumlocution, perhaps by name or title, because you do not want to use their chosen pronouns. This is a microaggression, less objectionable than misgendering but still off. In that paper they define transgender as including genderqueer- “(sometimes) ones gender identity differs from the sex assigned at birth”. However if gendered pronouns were abolished no-one could be intentionally misgendered or unpronouned.

Degendering English would not get rid of gendered oppression, essentialist misogyny or the oppression of trans folks, but it would help. It would take away one way of denying someone’s gender identity. Misgendering would be impossible. Referring to me as “they” now may be a way of denying that I am female, calling me indeterminate instead, but if everyone was “they” it would not be a problem.

Misgendering, and refusing to use chosen They pronouns, is disrespectful. It denies our social identity. It denies trans women resources, such as access to women’s space, and threatens criticism or ostracism for dressing as a woman.

Misgendering reinforces the ideologies, concepts and norms disrespecting trans people.

People apply stereotypes to others in an effort to understand them. So individuals might want to have some choice over what stereotypes others apply. Misgendering takes away our choice: I want to be seen as a woman, and I epilated my legs this morning to conform to a feminine stereotype.

People often use they to refer to someone whose gender they don’t wish to divulge or don’t know: because singular “they” does not imply any particular gender. Using they for everyone would mean people could keep their gender identity private- for example, if they intend to transition but have not yet.

Dembroff cites studies showing that there is a correlation between grammatical gender and the prevalence of gender essentialist beliefs. The more gender-loaded a language is, the earlier children give themselves a gender category: this is linked to the development of gender stereotypes in children, and essentialised beliefs about how gender explains stereotypical group traits, or children’s use of gender categories on making inferences about others, or forming preferences based on endorsements by people of their own gender. This reinforces the stereotypes. Language affects how you see the world.

If you use gendered pronouns you imply that gender is relevant to what you are discussing. If you use “they” you imply it isn’t.

Why be nonbinary? Dembroff finds gender stereotypes suffocating, and nonbinary identity liberating. They have never fitted gender stereotypes, and always produced doubt in others of what gender they were- anger at them using women’s loos, doubt in an airport security attendant of the pink or blue button- but they are tired of gender. The boxes are stifling, and enforced with violence. Society imposes them based on perceptions of your sex.

Arguments about whether I am a woman are “metalinguistic negotiation”- arguing about what the word “woman” means, not about what is true in the world. Nonbinary people are not saying they don’t have genitals, but that their genitals should not stereotype them in ways they don’t want: they claim freedom to own or subvert any stereotyped gendered behaviour. Like Tiresias, “Old man with wrinkled dugs”, they can move between worlds which others find rigid. They need not be androgynous.

Nonbinary identity, they say, is political. It helps people understand ourselves shorn of stereotype and expectation. Nonbinary is anti-essentialist, enforced on no-one. “I am a person wearing people clothes.” That is different from choosing an androgynous presentation- you can present how you feel in the moment.

Patriarchy enforces social control over sexed bodies, favouring males who conform to dominant masculine norms. Nonbinary undermines that. Nonbinary questions the politics of patriarchy and the unthinking unquestioning assumption that patriarchy is just the natural way.

Dembroff accepts that some people identify as having a particular gender and want to stretch that gender, to be able to do what they like. Rather than insist that men and women can be and can do anything, I and other nonbinary persons question why we categorise people as women and men at all. There is no need for conflict between these two positions, though often there is.

I thought it would be a woman objecting to the toxic masculinity of such as Bolsonaro, Modi, Trump or Johnson dealing with the virus. I wanted to know. I am rebuked- and I am liberated- they are a person, holding person views. They are trans in the widest sense, like I am.

Am I non-binary?

Does trans include non-binary? Is there a difference? Can someone be enbyphobic, having an irrational reaction to non-binary people, without being transphobic?

Around 2010 we were writing trans*, as “Trans” meant transsexuals, perhaps, or transsexuals and cross-dressers, and Trans* was a more inclusive term. Then nobody knew what the distinction was, and people stopped writing “trans*”, as “trans” was inclusive. Everyone who chooses the identity is trans. Or some people try to police the idea of trans, to keep control of others, because they imagine it makes them safer even though behaving like that only increases the threat, and perception of threat, to everyone.

Someone might be clearly enbyphobic without being so clearly transphobic. Imagine a man who is happy enough to address an AMAB person by a female name, refer to her as “she”, but draws the line at calling them “they”. “They” is a pronoun for more than one person, they say. They will not refer to an NB person as “they” though they might use “they” for a person whose gender they don’t know. They seem to accept the trans person, but draw the line at the NB person.

If trans includes NB, then enbyphobia is transphobia. But it might be useful to distinguish the two. So why include NB in trans? To make a big tent, where everyone is welcome, and everyone feels solidarity. If we need to distinguish, we could refer to “binary trans”. Because there might be different interests. A non-binary person might need third spaces, non-gendered spaces, and a trans person object to third spaces seeing them as excluding him or her from their acquired gender space. I might use a third space, where I might be less likely to be challenged (I don’t get challenged, though lesbians do) but would hate anyone to choose a space for me. “No,” they would say. “Not here. Go there,” and I would be excluded, and devalued.

I would like NB identity if it could be seen as permission. “I am non-binary”, I declare, when I go about without a wig. Those who judge will see it as permission for them to judge and exclude me.

Non-binary is the generally accepted term, but I might criticise it. Why should I define myself by what I am not? There is no generally accepted alternative. Self-gendered perhaps. Gender-free. I am not sure what I would propose, and it’s not going to be more accepted than NB. Enby, then. Some say it sounds twee.

Some people don’t admit that NB can exist. Others say it is ridiculous. Behave in whatever gendered way you want, express whatever gender you have, but you are male or female. There is widespread reluctance to recognise non-binary identity. That’s enbyphobia, not transphobia. When I am told to explain what LGBT stands for, as if people won’t know, I wonder about asserting I am NB, and that could be my own enbyphobia. I am surrounded by transphobia and enbyphobia, which I take into myself. Some accept me as I am. Some won’t accept me however much I try to change myself to be acceptable.

So am I NB? There is no typical woman’s response to anything. My response is within the range of responses of womankind, and even generally within the range seen as acceptably feminine by those who enforce gender on women, though they must be resisted. I am not even sure that there is a group of people who are non-binary, definitely distinct from trans people by essence rather than label, or perhaps stage in a process, but many NB people are, and might call my attitude enbyphobic.

I like NB as permission. I can do this, and I don’t have to do that. I want to flit in between trans and non-binary, as it suits my interests, to evade anyone who would control me. If there were the possibility to be whoever you want to be, rather than the desire to control what is harmless, no identity would matter.

Seeing the psychologist

When a psychologist treats a trans person, can they avoid harm? Less than 30% of psychologists were familiar with trans issues, and there is no clue how many of us there are- between 0.00017 and 1.3%. It depends how you define us- the finding in Massachusetts that 0.5% of people identified as trans or gender non-conforming depends on how widely you define GNC, and how restrictively you define “normal” gender roles.

So the American Psychological Association drafted guidelines for working with us, and defined us as those who have a gender identity that is not fully aligned with their sex assigned at birth. The feminine trans man is clear about his sex, and happy with his femininity, but the guidelines conflate sex and gender. Gender role is the appearance, personality and behaviour associated with being a man or a woman in a particular culture, but there can be a feminine personality in a trans-male body, or a feminine AMAB male could be quite clear he is male. Gender identity is called a person’s deeply felt, inherent sense of being male, female or an alternative gender. This matters for trans people, but some cis people deny having a gender identity. Appearance, personality and behaviour do not always coincide.

A woman might dress down with no makeup, hair tied back, jeans and a t-shirt, but people will observe she is a woman from the visual clues. This is very important to most observers, who will then apply their stereotypical understanding of women to that person. Some women respond by joining a feminist group, some by transitioning, and might experience that as a choice, a drive, an innate characteristic, or a mistake. If there is a drive to transition, many respond by resisting, because of family pressure or beliefs.

The words and definitions the APA uses seem more designed to avoid offending trans people than to create a taxonomy of issues and responses. As a taxonomy is so difficult, that may be unavoidable.

Treat the patient as an individual.
Do not see a gender identity or desire to transition as pathological.
Transition may be non-binary
Assist with the mental health problems, including those arising from the stress of being trans.

There. Simple. The APA agrees: A person’s identification as TGNC can be healthy and self-affirming, and is not inherently pathological. However, people may experience distress associated with discordance between their gender identity and their body or sex assigned at birth, as well as societal stigma and discrimination.

They state there is greater recognition of non-binary identities, rather than a concept of transition to the opposite sex with emphasis on passing. Well, passing helps you appear to fit in, and that can reduce stress as well as providing scope for subverting the stereotypes. They insist that affirmative care must be non-binary, non-prescriptive, but unfortunately law and surgery has not caught up.

The psychologist, modelling acceptance of ambiguity, may be ahead of the patient who has internalised transphobia. That will help counter stigma and assist the patient to make informed choices. But, still, we dance between fitting in and being ourselves.

Out and proud in the Bronze Age

Non-binary people were honoured in the city of Hasanlu before it was destroyed in 800 BCE. The evidence is in burials and in art: not just a hole-in-corner existence, but recognition as a normal part of society, honoured by family and the wider culture.

We have no writing from there, but there are burials. Some skeletons can be identified as female or male from the pelvis, or possibly from the skull, but if these are incomplete it might not be possible. These people were buried with valuable items, whether as a sign of respect or for use in the afterlife, and the items fitted three genders.

Weapons, armour and metal vessels were associated with male skeletons. Jewellery, needles and pins for fastening garments were for women in this culture, but out of 51 burials analysed ten burials had masculine and feminine artifacts. A male skeleton had an arrowhead, which is for a man, and a garment pin, which in that culture is as feminine as you can get. I wore a kilt pin when I presented male, but that’s a different culture.

Another skeleton which cannot be sexed had a garment pin and a metal drinking cup. They performed masculine rituals in feminine clothes. All the burials show evidence of formal ritual to show the person’s identity and social status, masculine, feminine, or between. Of the ten skeletons, five were male, two female and three not identifiable, which might show that AMAB people had greater ability to express themselves as non-binary than AFAB people.

It also shows that men being feminine was not shameful, was not denied by the relatives, was part of the culture. That in turn shows that women were more equal in the culture, or things fitting for women would be shameful for men. Am I going too far? I understand the ancient culture with my own categories. I know that non-binary exists. It seems to fit these ancient skeletons and the ritual of their burial. My readers will also know that non-binary exists, and that it is not weird, or strange, or shameful; and so be happy to imagine that it was perfectly normal for these ancient people. Anyone who might deny that might be projecting their own social categories and sense of shame back three thousand years.

Pictures from the Hasanlu culture showed only women seated on the floor, generally, but the Hasanlu gold bowl has a person with a beard in women’s clothes, seated on the floor.

Details from Haaretz. Picture credit.

The gender critical trans woman

How can a trans woman be a radical feminist? Surely it is completely incompatible, to assert I am a woman, and that gender is a Patriarchal construct in the interests of men?

Humans reproduce sexually, and therefore there are sexual differences between males and females. It makes no sense to me that about 0.1-1% of the population is really the other sex, so must transition, with brains built to run on the opposite sex hormone, or whatever. If we are invested in transition, then when we start taking cross-sex hormones we are not able to assess their effects objectively, as they affirm our chosen course of action. Oestrogen may make hair removal easier. We will minimise negative effects, as we want this so much. The trans woman is not in any sense physically female, even after hormones and surgery.

I am caught by my rationality. This is simply the truth for me. And yet, I am a trans woman. I wanted to transition- I found it irresistible- and I did, and I have no wish to revert now. So there is what I think, and what I do, and they might seem inconsistent, but they enable me to understand the extreme variation in understandings of gender among those of us it fits least well. If I am a man, then I am proof that gender is cultural not genetic.

Some women call themselves gender-critical, because they find gender oppressive. They might admit to be gender non-conforming, but would possibly argue that was trite, as gender fitted no-one and everyone fails to conform in some way. One said she “performed” gender, meaning she made herself look alluring, and there is another difference: to her gender is strongly linked to sexuality, to me it is about other aspects of personality as well.

Other people are AFAB non-binary. Their gender is neither masculine nor feminine, they say. They may signal it with androgynous hairstyles or clothes, or dress conventionally as women. These two groups, though their theory is completely different, may have similar character and similar behaviour: the tragedy is that they are turned against each other, when they might work together for common goals.

Perhaps it is the Quaker in me, but I don’t think the theory or understanding is as important as what we want and what we do. Trans women don’t fit gender conventions, at least not those applying to men. Trans men have found a way to live in this current gendered patriarchal society which works for them. Younger adults are maturing in a less violent society, with no corporal punishment at school, smacking by parents frowned on and possibly criminal, and so are less violent and controlling, with violent crime rates decreasing. They can then be more gender fluid. By one measure more people call themselves “non-binary” than “trans”. The old model of binary transition from one set of gender roles and markers, which do not fit me, to another, which fit me slightly better but still do not fit me, is giving way to a rejection of gender roles by both “gender non-conforming” and “non-binary” folks.

The problem in prisons is not trans women in women’s prisons- or indeed trans women being kept in men’s prisons- but privatisation and austerity. Trans women in women’s loos- well, more and more places have “all-gender toilets”. Refuges can find ways of keeping potentially violent trans women out of communal spaces, and help them in other ways. There is no problem with trans women which cannot be solved by a bit of thought and good will, and there is no need for all the fear and anger to be directed against gender recognition. Gender recognition is not the problem, and all that energy is being wasted. Gender non-conforming is pitted against non-binary.

Not passing

He wore a multicoloured skirt, in a light shiny fabric with narrow pleats, mid calf length, under various more androgynous layers. He had a beard. It took me some time to think when a woman might wear such a skirt- on holiday in high summer, perhaps, five hundred miles south of wherever you normally live, on the sunniest days. Some might just possibly think it evening wear. There he was, bold as brass, shameless, striding over the Millennium Bridge.

He. They, possibly. Ridiculous solipsistic man, wanting to be looked at and only inspiring disgust. Or, wonderful, inspiring and courageous person, subverting gender rules and rules about aesthetic expression- you can’t wear something so beautiful on a mid-September afternoon in London. At most a silk tie or scarf, if you are particularly raffish, rather than a silk skirt.

His choice. Some think him “inappropriate” (imagine that little moue of disapproval in the word. It’s whispered, scarcely audible, though filled with venom) and some heroic, and he does what he does.

Others will create lines, and I can’t. Each woman reading this will have experienced, probably in the last 24 hours, being shut up, talked over, interrupted or simply ignored by a man. I get ignored or patronised by both sexes, and women’s anger is coming out more and more. Trans women who pass, whose face, figure, mannerisms, voice, hair, dress sense, do not give them away, are accepted as women. Those of us who don’t may be accepted as trans women, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I would like to draw a line just below me in the hierarchy, and it’s a hierarchy and I am better than them or at least more deserving- I’m making an effort and they’re not. My voice sometimes has masculine harmonics in it, and that’s alright, surely? I’ve completed facial electrolysis and so that should be a minimum requirement: a beard is deeply inappropriate. For trans women at least, gender non-conforming or non-binary people have different rules. So I should be accepted in the women’s spaces, where I usually don’t speak, but if you haven’t completed hair removal it should be among your highest priorities. And a GNC man or non-binary AMAB should not be in women’s spaces. I can’t produce a line. The only rationally defensible line is of Stealth, which places a burden on trans folk- too great a burden, I say, because I can’t bear it. Or, perhaps, absolutely anything goes.

Women are drawing lines. Some who feel free to state their needs without apology demand women-only space, and see me as a man. I was eleven, the first time someone shouted at me out of a car window. I won’t repeat the comment here. But I will say that I did not start to heal from the years of those kind of interactions until I found women only space.

I don’t feel able to ignore that pain, and yet it makes a demand on me which I find too great to bear. It is a conflict, not a problem. Problems have solutions, but conflicts have outcomes. My hope is that the situation is in flux. It is with that man in a skirt, an eyecatching, ridiculous, glorious skirt, shifting gender norms, and with other non-binary folk, finding more or less subtle ways to subvert gender norms. And with female anger at other targets, such as handsy or cat-calling men, which might also change society.

Meanwhile I will do what I want, unable to rely on a rule that I can because there is no such rule, hoping I will be alright.