Catherine Bennett

What do you do when you like a transphobe?

Catherine Bennett, who writes in The Guardian, is a transphobe. Consider this article, which claims entirely reasonable women with reasonable concerns about men pretending to be trans- not about trans women at all- have sincere political meetings, and activists demonstrate outside. She wants the concept of transphobia limited to hate-crime. Trans people and “veteran campaigners for gay rights” support LGB All Liars and WPUK. Trans people campaigning against transphobia are “disturbingly undemocratic”.

The article is deliberate distortion, with half-truths used to pretend the reasonableness of transphobes, and ordinary trans women demonised.

Here’s another, in which the word “transphobe” is called bullying, an “imputation of backward irrationality”, “the progressive way of telling women to shut up”, and “hate speech”, and transphobes are called brave people who think, wonder or have reasonable concerns. Her article comparing trans activists to incel murderers I discussed here.

I have no wish to defend her, but as a lawyer come up with some semblance of a counter argument. She is proudly feminist, aware of male privilege and hostile to any sense of women being silenced. Her instincts are with other feminists. She sees WPUK campaigners as feminists- indeed, many of them have made names for themselves as campaigners on feminist issues- and stands with them. However, she sees trans women as men, and spreads the myth of predatory men patiently waiting on a change in the law to pretend to be trans in order to attack women.

I found three articles in four years. There may be more, and she may allude disparagingly to trans rights or trans people elsewhere, which my search has not picked up. I have no wish to go through her twitter for the last ten years. She is a committed transphobe, but not an obsessive one, thinking about nothing else. (20 September- here’s another. The transphobia is pungently expressed, and repetitive- reasonable women with reasonable concerns against vicious transactivists; misogyny should be a hate crime. Yawn.)

Then I read this. I like it. It is a strong attack on the Tories, who, having caused tens of thousands of extra deaths by their mismanagement, as if they did not have any conception of what good government could look like, now show little concern about the covid deaths. It is selective and unfair: she writes of the health secretary’s elation over horse racing: “wonderful news for our wonderful sport” (30 May, 215 more deaths). That sounds worse than it is: I knew he was MP for Newmarket, actually his constituency is West Sussex which includes that town, famous for horseracing, but checking this found he trained as a jockey.

She is not a writer to give a balanced, even handed account of anything. Her word “disgusting” of government attitudes brought me up short. I want balance, and I love her style. I thought of adjectives for it: “Attack dog”, “stormtrooper”- don’t compare her to an animal or a Nazi, but those had the right shocking level of bite. “Tribune”, perhaps, the fearless defender of the people. I think she is right about the government. So she marshalls facts against the Tories and expresses them acidly. She arranges them in a melodic way- she takes us through different emotions, so notes of sympathy and sadness make our righteous anger stronger. I noted a sign of lack of self-belief: “For once… I may have some vaguely relevant experience”. I read this as disparaging her own style, a sign of female lack of privilege, and feel sympathy.

I could be sad because she, with her writing, has made me sad, with tales of heartless Tories interspersed with stories of death, bereavement and loss. Or because of her self-deprecating line. I want to deny it, saying “That doesn’t matter. You’re brilliant.” I am a fan of her writing though I cannot imagine writing like she does. But really I am sad that one of the battles she fights is against people like me.

I have been sharing pictures of Athena, or Minerva. It is striking how few of them make her look like an actual goddess, with power:

Being hormonal

I walk along the long, crowded hospital corridor. I must not cry! My face twists in the tension of wanting to burst into tears, sobbing, and needing to appear calm and normal among these strangers. With an effort I control myself, and then my face twists again.

In case you are worried, my tears were not prompted by a diagnosis, but by being late for a meeting. I will look a fool! I am a fool! I will be rebuffed, and fail again! Wanting to cry makes it worse- what weakling would cry, at that?

I got to the hospital with a bit of time to spare, but there is an issue- I want a building called Elm Holm at the far end, but there is only Elm Leigh. I ask for Elm Leigh- I must have been mistaken- and find it is a cardiac care ward. If I needed cardiac care I could not have cycled here from Marsby. The nurse at the desk tells me to go back to reception. Again I make a mistake: I want O-H-, but only remember the old-fashioned, less accurate name for it, O-T-. I ask for OT, and after my confusion is resolved I am sent to OH. Now I am late, and more upset.

I get to OH, and say I have an appointment with Jill. I don’t know her surname, and they don’t have a staff member called Jill, or a note of such an appointment. In the small office, there is a man who stares at me incomprehendingly and a motherly woman about my age who sympathises and tries to get to the bottom of it. With her kindness I can no longer restrain my tears, but I still can’t explain or say anything sensible because I am trying to hold them back. She sends him off for a glass of water.

I have come to the wrong hospital. There’s another the other side of this small town. Who would have thought it? Actually, I check the note I made of the appointment, and I had been told to go to St Origen’s; but googling this morning I only looked for K- hospital, so found the Infirmary. She phones them, makes sure my appointment is there, and agrees that if I can get there by 12.30, fifty minutes late, they will see me.

I feel the need to explain, and choose my words carefully. I want to appear calm, but cannot because “you have been so kind”. Actually I resent her kindness. Cruelty and disdain might shame me into some semblance of normality. My resentment spills out, and I tell her that I had thought better of saying she had “made a fuss”, and as I anticipated she started to protest. You’re not the first person to confuse the two hospitals, and you won’t be the last. Anyone can make a mistake, she tells me. I express my real gratitude for her help, and curse myself that I had needed it.

I cycle across town, and am calm enough in this meeting to say the right things and not think of crying. What I say is so close to reality! This woman, too, is friendly, and I get the result I want, very glad to appear calm, grateful for her flexibility in seeing me so late. You cycled! You were quick!

Next day, I want to tell this story to my gentle Friend, and find myself tearing up again. I should be able to say this without tears, I admonish myself sternly. The more I try to hold them back, the more I have to gasp out my story between sobs.

Women learn in their teens that appearing “emotional” will decrease further the respect people have for them. Never cry! warns Siri Hustvedt. Men will take advantage. In mixed company you will be derided, perhaps with oleaginous sympathy. (I firmly believe this- it happens, mostly, I was lucky that one time.) I disagree with most things my feminist hero Germaine Greer has to say about trans, but agree that being a woman is “not all cake and jam”. The misery at feeling a fool, and feeling I will fail,

Again!

is too much for me, I cannot just accept it (though I know I must). So it forces me to acknowledge it, by making me cry. I can’t hold back the tears. Learning to accept the depth of feeling and live with it is so hard. I don’t know if I felt this deeply before transition and somehow managed to suppress it, but the change from T to oestradiol can’t have helped. It is something to consider if you are about to transition. Suppressing T and taking Ĺ’ involves difficulty as well as blessing.