Tweets and reality

Is Eddie Izzard a lesbian? It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.

Some words have precise meanings. A zoologist plying his trade would not call her a “cat”, meaning the family Felidae or the genus Panthera or Felis. But you might see her moving on stage with feline grace. She is not a planet, because that has a clear meaning- Pluto was, then it wasn’t- but she is a star. She may be a hepcat- I knew slang, I thought it was 1960s, two words, hep for fashionable, cat for cool person. Words are slippery. Even scientific words have fuzzy edges where they may or may not apply.

Eddie says he’s a lesbian in a man’s body, and is that a good thing? A lesbian is a woman attracted to women. Homophobes find that weird, shameful or disgusting, and mourn the time when more people shared their opinion. If Eddie calls herself a lesbian it’s aspirational, something he wants to be. It becomes something to be proud of.

It’s only a bad thing if it forms some sort of threat to lesbians. The Times argues that it is, that lesbians are erased. Grace Petrie tweeted that if the transphobes were concerned about lesbian erasure, they might start a regular lesbian life column. No, because they only support lesbians in order to attack trans folk. The Daily Mail even supported a trans woman, once- to attack Muslims.

Insisting on too rigid a distinction between lesbian and bi might be biphobic. Trans women are women, so trans women attracted to women and not men are lesbians. If you think that’s a threat to lesbians, please explain why.

Right now, there are things to be angry about. The extreme incompetence of the British government has led to a sudden lockdown, when we can only go out to work if it is impossible to work from home, no more than two people can meet outside in a public place, and all the shops but pharmacies and supermarkets are shut. Schools are shut, but even on Monday 4th the Department for Education had a high-level meeting insisting they would be open, and children would be regularly tested for covid. So schools, without additional funding, have had to plan a testing regime, only to find now they will have to implement distance learning, with no notice. The hospitals are full, but infections have continued to rise, which means people will die who would have survived had they received proper medical care. Bizarrely, churches can open for worship, though many run food banks.

So, the usual suspects stir up anger against trans people instead. Jackie Doyle-Price, Tory MP, tweeted anger at Eddie calling herself a lesbian. Rosie Duffield, a Labour MP who should know better, liked the tweet. Tories, being English Nationalists, need to stir up hatred against enemies. Duffield has no such excuse.

Duffield also liked a tweet about a transphobic picture book, “My body is me”.

Bodies are different. Children are too.
Some prefer pink things. Some prefer blue.

That might be seen as reinforcing gender stereotypes in the most basic way. The book, which is unavailable on Amazon, shows children with “girl” hairstyles and “boy” hairstyles.

My body can act like a low flying plane
A mermaid, a dragon, one part of a train.

The plane- a boy walking, with planks strapped to his arms. Why low-flying? I stuck my arms out, no planks needed, and yelled NEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAOOOOWW. I was definitely high flying. It doesn’t set much store by child imagination. The mermaid is clearly a girl. Rigid gender stereotypes, again.

You are born in your body. You don’t have a spare.
So love it, hug it, treat it with care.

“My body is me” might be materialist, denying the existence of an immortal soul, so distressing Christians, but “You are born in your body” is denying the truth of trans children. Most children simply won’t understand, they won’t know what the alternative might be, but the five year old AMAB child who knows she is a girl will learn in the most direct way that she is not acceptable as she is, and has to keep quiet about it. Most children are cis, so will be unaffected. Some are trans, and will be traumatised.

Pink News reported, and quoted Duffield’s response- “click bait non story sourced solely from the weird world of Twitter” which she inhabits.

Duffield is doing the Nationalists’ work for them, spreading hate. It is deeply hypocritical of her to say that the pandemic and Brexit chaos are more important issues.

Should we respond to the phobes? Arguably not, it just gives them oxygen. Trans people spending too much time looking at this may become depressed. Haters will be encouraged to hate more. On the other hand, Duffield is doing Tory work, supporting Tories, and spreading hate in the Tory interest, so the Labour Party should take action against her.

Rosie Duffield

Is it transphobic to tweet “Only women have a cervix”? Yes. Rosie Duffield MP said “I’m a ‘transphobe’ for knowing that only women have a cervix….?!”

Trans men have cervixes, and need screening. Nonbinary people are entitled to object to being called women. There is a feminist argument here. Cervical cancer, period poverty, rising child mortality linked to Tory austerity policies, are not “women’s issues”, of interest to women, they are people’s issues and all people should be concerned about them. Rosie Duffield was born in 1971, and inclusive language for women, eg “police officer” rather than “policeman”, had been mostly won when she was in high school, though Dover District Council has a “chairman”.

Trans rights has been a huge issue in the Labour Party at least since the Labour Women’s Declaration, a transphobic document, was launched in time to disrupt the Labour election campaign. Duffield knows the issues. She is deflecting to call this a “communist pile-on”- I voted for Keir Starmer in the leadership election.

The trail goes back to the American Cancer Society, which on 31 July published a paper updating screening guidance: “Cervical cancer screening for individuals at average risk”. The abstract begins, “The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that individuals with a cervix initiate cervical cancer screening at age 25 years”. CNN reported this: “American Cancer Society now recommends screening start at 25, not 21” is the headline, and the report starts “Individuals with a cervix”. Immunisation against HPV has reduced the risk in younger women.

My use of “women” there is not a mistake: the research is on women, without sufficient data to show that the risk is also reduced in trans men and nonbinary people.

CNN tweeted the first paragraph of that report, and a link. So the tweet started “Individuals with a cervix”. Piers Morgan retweeted with the comment “Do you mean women?” Rosie Duffield saw the tweet, and clicked the heart symbol. Then she started arguing when people objected.

I googled NHS cervical smear testing, and saw this: “Cervical screening (a smear test) checks the health of your cervix. The cervix is the opening to your womb from your vagina. It’s not a test for cancer, it’s a test to help prevent cancer. All women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 64 should be invited by letter.” “People with a cervix” includes trans men and nonbinary people. I prefer “people” to “individuals” here: “Individuals” sounds more formal, but scientific papers should not be formal for the sake of it, just when necessary for clarity. “Legal persons” such as companies do not own cervixes.

Someone has had the bizarre misconstruction, possibly intentional, that “a test for cancer” means a test that causes cancer, and the NHS feels the need to explain that is wrong- they would be better to omit “It’s not a test for cancer”, because it clearly is a test for cancer or precancerous changes, and just put “It’s a test to help prevent cancer”.

Rosie Duffield’s tweets are now protected. Only approved followers can see them. However, she commented “I’m a transphobe for knowing only women have a cervix?” Labour List then quoted Jess Phillips saying Duffield was not a transphobe. They quote Duffield:

the post by CNN “isn’t a post about transphobia, it’s a post about female body parts… Hugely insulting to all women, trans or cis, in my opinion”.

Many of her followers and Labour activists reacted angrily to her comments, calling for her resignation. The Labour MP called the reaction a “tedious communist pile-on”, and said that it was “hardly a suitable discussion for Twitter”.

“Insulting to trans women,” says Duffield. Most of the “Debate” is an attack on trans women, an attempt to incite fear of us, an attempt to restrict our rights and normalise prejudice against us, but here the issue is trans men. Duffield is not stupid and should know that.

Labour party rules are convoluted, but clause 6.I.1.B says that in any alleged breach of clause 2.I.8, “any incident which might reasonably be seen to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on… gender reassignment or identity…” the NEC “may” suspend any individual, then the General Secretary or other national officer shall investigate, then the NEC “may” discipline under clause 1.VIII.3.A.iii, whose sanctions include expulsion from the party. “May” indicates discretion, “shall” indicates none. The Disputes Team will investigate and pass the complaints to the Disputes Panel of the NEC.

Clause 2.I.8 says no member shall engage in conduct which is prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Party. The NEC “shall” regard hostility or prejudice based on gender reassignment or identity as conduct prejudicial.

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You can complain here. This is my complaint. Duffield is MP for Canterbury, so from the South East. She is 49.

Rosie Duffield said, “I’m a ‘transphobe’ for knowing that only women have a cervix….?!” Trans men and nonbinary people may also have cervixes. The statement erases trans men and nonbinary people. Duffield disregards the feelings of those trans men and nonbinary people, who may object to being called “women”. Therefore she indicates prejudice against them contrary to the Rule Book Chapter 2 clause I.8.

“Individuals with a cervix” is inclusive language, which includes cis women as well as nonbinary people and trans men. “Women” excludes trans men and nonbinary people. It is thus just the same as using the phrase “police officer” rather than “policeman”. Duffield would understand that transphobia is an issue in the Labour Party. It has been an issue at least since the transphobic “Labour Women’s Declaration” was issued in November 2019, just in time to disrupt the Party’s election campaign.

Objecting to inclusive language for trans people is prejudicial, just as objecting to inclusive language for women, insisting on “Chairman” rather than “Chair” or “Chairperson”, would be sexist.

I object to Ms Duffield calling this a “Communist pile-on”. I have been a party member since 2017, and have canvassed and campaigned for the Party. I want the Party to win. I am a trans woman and an ordinary member of the Party. I voted for Mr Starmer as leader. I find Ms Duffield’s statements personally offensive.

The Labour Party says what will happen next.

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What about Jess Phillips? Labour List quotes her saying she does not think that Rosie Duffield is a transphobe, and that Twitter is not the place for reasonable policy debate about sometimes difficult and complex issues such as the trans issue, which “more than anything else, deserves proper detailed debate and attention by policy makers who almost certainly should be changing the Gender Recognition Act – it is now outdated.”

I am grateful to Jess Phillips for being part of the Women and Equalities Committee which recommended a great increase in trans rights. She is right that twitter is not the place for policy debate, but that’s a criticism of Duffield: when people pointed out she had liked Morgan’s tweet she should have stopped tweeting. She should have known about inclusive language, and not liked Morgan’s tweet which mocks it.

The “vitriolic war” here is Morgan’s mocking response to trans-inclusive language, and Duffield’s support for it. I have emailed Jess Phillips asking her to ask Rosie Duffield to apologise.

12 October: Duffield wants to ban trans women from women’s loos. Here she is in The Times: ““It was during the Labour Party conference. He [her abusive former partner] arrived in the space where I was with two friends, late at night, and it was very obvious it wasn’t a coincidence and he was physically threatening. The first thing that one of my colleagues did was rush me to the nearest women’s bathroom. We could go in and lock the door and I could calm down. If he had been able to access that room things could have been very different.”

The lie is that any man could just go lawfully into a women’s loo. It is ridiculous. The man could easily have forced his way in. A lawbreaker who will assault a woman will not be deterred by a sign on a door, and would hardly go to the bother of getting a GRC in order to follow Duffield. The argument is wholly false. But with the allusion to domestic abuse, it is designed to arouse fear, and attach it to innocent trans women. She uses the term “women only” to mean excluding trans women.