Elizabeth Berridge

Another day, another transphobe, a nonentity saying what she is paid to say- but this one could be dangerous. The Mail on Sunday reported in its print edition, though not on line, that she had said in the House of Lords,

“Those seeking to rely on the protections and exemptions contained in the Equality Act 2020 [sic] must be able to do so with confidence and clarity. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s statutory codes of practice on the Equality Act 2010 explain the provisions of the Act and the EHRC is responsible for updating these codes as necessary.

“This Government has been clear that we must take the right steps to protect safe single-sex spaces for women and girls; their access should not be jeopardised. Some women’s organisations have expressed concern that predatory men may abuse the gender recognition system, intended to support transgender adults. We have heard these concerns and are considering carefully our next steps.”

This was in answer to a question by Ralph Palmer, a noted transphobe. He asked, “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Equality and Human Rights Commission about amendments to its guidance on the Equality Act 2010 to help providers of services understand how to handle requests for access to services and facilities from transgender people.”

How to handle requests? Grant them. If there is a clear reason not to serve trans women with non-trans women- not just someone finds trans icky, but a clear, statable reason- explain it, and find another way to support the woman. Instead, Berridge quoted myths from WPUK, and “considering carefully our next steps” means “We are going to find the best way to make trans people, and particularly trans women, a culture war target”.

The Mail apparently asked her for further comment, and summarised her response- the law is clear that such places [single sex spaces] should be for biological women only. When they quoted her directly, it was more circumspect: ‘Transgender people can be excluded from singlesex facilities if service providers have a legitimate reason for doing so and if exclusion is the least discriminatory way to proceed.’ That is mostly unobjectionable, though I would put it the other way round- trans women should be admitted unless there is a legitimate reason to exclude.

Berridge is the kind of nonentity to be appointed a Tory “working peer”. She was Executive Director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship: I found this page asking for “prayers” about the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, now deleted from their own site: Berridge would like to call gay men “Sodomites” but is too frightened to. So, meanly, she attacks trans people instead.

In February, she was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System at the Department for Education and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Women) at the Department for International Trade. These posts are so junior within government that no-one bothered to update her wikipedia entry for weeks after. But she is a person, with a name, unlike the “unnamed source” which was reported in the Times in February, saying While we believe adults should be able to live their lives, and trans rights should be respected and protected, the government also has a role to play in protecting children (nudge nudge, wink wink)- protecting children, they mean, from medical treatment facilitating transition. The Times began, Ministers are expected to drop plans to make it easier for people to change their gender amid concerns about the impact on children, but the sources they named were neutral or supportive of trans rights.

The hate progresses very slowly, but it is progressing. The haters are more willing to speak out. I would say that the “LGB Alliance” should note who its allies are, but I don’t think they care.

Powerful words

I saw passionate, self-righteous loathing of me, everyone like me and all that we stand for, distilled into one word. It took me aback. Non-trans people may get some echo of my feeling, seeing the word; trans people should beware reading this post because I quote it. I fear quoting it because I fear that some cis people might read it and have a revelation- that is why trans women are so objectionable!

The word is “Womanface”.

I type the word and start to weep. I feel decades of agony. I have wanted to die, much of the time, since my mid twenties and now Covid bothers me less than it bothers others, perhaps, because, well, it would mean it would all be over. So I will unpack that word. It echoes Blackface- so for this campaigner, whatever I have done, hormones and surgery, facial electrolysis- hours of pain- and voice training, is the oppressor’s mockery and appropriation. I am the oppressor and must be resisted, though it does not feel like that from where I am, right now.

For some women, trans might seem repulsive because of their principled politics and personal bravery. In January I saw a woman tell a familiar story: she is lesbian, was a “tomboy” as a child, was uncomfortable with bodily changes in puberty and worried that had she been born a few years later she would have been sucked in by internet forums and had a double mastectomy, a beard and a baritone caused by T injections. In her twenties she became comfortable with who she is, a lesbian, not wanting to appear conventionally feminine. There are variations on this story: one friend told me of four pregnancies, of the paps where she gave suck, of the meaning of the woman’s body so different from a man’s. There is pain and even threat to life in uterine problems. I get it, I really do.

And, Patriarchy exists. There is male privilege: often men are heard, women silenced, men celebrated and women judged for ordinary human reactions, and feminists resist it, and others seem just to go along with it. Would all women be feminist if only their consciousness could be raised? But how? I read that for Black, Indigenous, and communities of color (and among other marginalized groups), silence has been a form of oppression that cuts us off from sharing our voice and agency and more. For me it’s complicated. In some ways I am confident, and I know that I have worthwhile things to say and skill in saying them, and I expect to be heard.

I appreciate a feminist perspective- how are women wronged?- even though I see how it skews perception. The concern of some feminists about trans people is skewed. On trans men, they hate the thought of mastectomy and mutilation, though that denies that trans men can make their own decisions or see their own interests. On trans women, they hate the thought of penises in women’s space, threatening women, so that a post-op transsexual might be more acceptable, or they fear-monger about trans women allegedly with penises.

If the trans woman becomes the symbol of oppression, trans women are screwed. Some feminists say trans women are the first and most important threat to women’s human rights, that we poison women’s space like a drop of ink in a litre of water, and negate the very meaning of woman- a woman is someone who feels like it rather than someone with a female reproductive system, and that destroys women’s solidarity, women’s rights, women’s campaigning. Though I see it differently- we are an anomaly, a few more or less ridiculous individuals, scared and scarred in our own ways, rather than a threat a potential ally.

So my solution is this. Recognise that we don’t fit gender stereotypes any more than you do, and this is our way of coping. We are so alike! We face similar problems!

I have said this before, and I don’t feel heard.

I am writing now because of sensed discomfort in yet another encounter, where my attempt at empathy may have got it entirely wrong, where our attempt at fellow-feeling may yet establish commonality of experience and interest. I don’t want to write about that encounter so I write of previous encounters. Words like “Whiteface” may make people impervious to finding that common interest, might stop them seeing my humanity, make them see me only as threat. Words are powerful. When I was at university I saw on a toilet door the most disgusting joke I have ever seen, in twenty-two syllables elegantly and expressively constructed to work like a joke. I have always remembered it, only once shared it, and felt that because I know it a tiny part of me is sullied.

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Who is the oppressor here, and who the oppressed?

I saw that word used by Dr Julia Long, radical lesbian activist and academic. On self-isolation, she asked “would I be… forced to accept a man in womanface bringing my shopping?” Objecting to trans women in loos is bad enough, objecting to a moment’s interaction with a worker or perhaps another person in a mixed sex self-help group is- out of proportion? I don’t know if Dr Long originated the word which horrified me and made me cry while “Tranny!” hardly bothers me, but she uses it habitually. I saw it in a trans activist space, shared to show how extreme anti-trans campaigners can be. If I complained, they might tell me to spend more time in support groups and less in activist spaces.

I could make a fair case that Dr Long is the oppressor. She is highly articulate, with a number of platforms including at times the Guardian and Channel 4, and she devotes a great deal of her time and energy to monstering trans women with speech and writing at all registers from academic to dehumanising mockery, in alliance with Rupert Murdoch and the Heritage Foundation. And at the same time she is oppressed- I do not know her or her history at all, but am quite sure she will have experienced unwanted sexual attention, probably sexual violence, and may reasonably believe that her career has been held back by anti-lesbian or sexist prejudice.

I have no wish to recite the arguments why I would be seen to be the oppressor, but it does not feel that way from where I’m sitting. As Dr Long says, “Even while isolating yourself in the midst of a global pandemic, it seems there is no escaping this shit.”

Any way of escape has to involve seeing the oppression of the other. All oppression has to be recognised, as well as all the good in it: the cleverness in its creation, the comfort that it brings.

The law and trans people

Anti-discrimination law protects far more trans people than it says it does.

The Equality Act protects you from the moment you decide to transition. However, you have a right to privacy, so no-one should ask you if you are transitioning, or have transitioned. There is a statutory code on discrimination in services, which says providers should treat transsexual people according to the gender role in which they present. If you are a man cross-dressing for fun, and you go out, you should not be forbidden to use a women’s loo or changing room. If they ask you if you are transsexual or have decided to transition, you can refuse to answer such an impertinent question. There is no need to lie.

The code has a ridiculous example. Before going to a party in a local hotel, a guest lets it be known that he intends to come dressed as a woman for a laugh. However, the management says he cannot attend the event dressed as a woman as it would create a bad image for the business if there was bad behaviour on the premises. The management also tells a transsexual woman that she can’t come dressed as a woman as they don’t feel comfortable with the idea, notwithstanding the fact that they know she has been living as a woman for several years. The guest would not have a claim for discrimination because he does not intend to undergo gender reassignment and because the reason he is told not to come dressed as a woman relates to the management’s concern that overly boisterous behaviour would give a bad impression of the business, not because they think he is a transsexual person. The transsexual woman would have a claim as the reason for the less favourable treatment was because of her protected characteristic of gender reassignment.

The answer is don’t “let it be known”. Just turn up. Some AMAB people cross dress for pleasure, and some because we intend to transition. The hotel staff looking at you can’t tell which is which. I wondered if they might try to guess, if someone passed particularly badly, but that does not mean that they are not transitioning. We all have to start somewhere.

I don’t like that they say cross-dressing is “bad behaviour”. “Overly boisterous”- some cross-dressers can be meek souls, behaving quietly and respectably. The code is saying the hotel could forbid behaviour not because of how it affects other guests, but because of the motivation. They can’t forbid transitioners, but they can forbid cross-dressers. Not all businesses would: I liked an Italian restaurant in Oldham, and when I asked about going cross-dressed, they were fine about it. I did not want to draw attention to myself.

You might even make a legal claim if you are a cross dresser, refused access to women’s loos. You have to prove that the hotel believed you were transitioning. Unless they know you personally, they have no reason to believe you are not. If they have no firm belief that you are a cross dresser, they are discriminating against you though they may believe you are protected. It is discrimination if you are perceived to be trans: A woman with a medical condition that makes her appear ‘masculine’ is wrongly perceived to be undergoing gender reassignment and refused entry to a women-only sauna session at her local leisure centre. This is likely to be less favourable treatment because of gender reassignment.

If you clearly parody women’s clothes, you might be excluded, but trans people’s dress sense can be pretty bad, so you might get away with it. You may still face street harassment though. If it’s enough to put you in fear, it may be a crime. My street harassment reduced by a great deal when I completed electrolysis.

The code has this example of discrimination: A group of women complain to a health spa manager that they feel uncomfortable around another member of the spa who is a transsexual woman. In response, the manager apologises to the transsexual woman but tells her that she will not be able to use the spa again. This is less favourable treatment of her, as it puts her at a clear disadvantage compared to the spa’s other clients and will not be lawful if the spa’s conduct is because of gender reassignment. Transitioning or transitioned women have the right to be treated like other women.

Trans women have been protected by discrimination law on access to services since the Sex Discrimination (Amendment of Legislation) Regulations 2008. We have self-ID already: all you have to do is dress up. The campaign against trans women in women’s spaces pretends that there is some great change suggested, but that is a lie.

Implicit bias

People can be prejudiced even when they have a strong ethical belief in equality. I see signs of this in myself. Trans people know of internalised transphobia- though we have transitioned we still can behave in a prejudiced way towards other trans people, or even affirm others’ prejudice against us.

Some people are biased and know it but are unwilling to state it. I know when someone is being transphobic, if their transphobia is greater than mine, and I don’t care whether they are aware of it, but if I believe they intend to behave ethically- they are Quakers, for example- the existence of implicit bias shows that they can still behave transphobically.

I believe in my own implicit bias. Because I intend to act ethically, I will be unconscious of it. I can become conscious of my unconscious motivations. They could come from the wider culture. For example if I watch a lot of dramas in which Black people from poor areas trade drugs- The Wire, Snowfall, Top Boy– and the news sources I read report prosecutions of Black drug dealers (not stating the race of the accused unless it is relevant, but showing pictures of them) I can be appalled when racist Trump says “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime” but might still make racist assumptions about drug dealing.

They could come from liking familiarity. There were no Black children in my year at school. There were three in the school when I was there. I have less excuse for “being unfamiliar” having lived in cities and moved around the country, but am still affected by the associations of others. It can be hard to be the only Black person in a social group. There needs to be deliberate effort to mix people. Trans people are probably the only trans person in any group except LGBT+ groups.

My liking for familiarity shows in my desire for code-switching. I am most comfortable amongst Quakers when the code fits “Educated professional”. I was surprised when my Friend started with her Durham accent, I had heard no sign of it before. We don’t use our regional accents outside our region, often. Now, hiding signs of working class roots should not be necessary for Quakers. We are a group united by our spiritual work. And still working class people often hide it. I seek to hide or dissimulate my class status myself, bringing out aspects which show a higher class, embarrassed by other aspects.

In my experience, quick responses are more likely to produce a prejudiced action than considered responses. Slow thinking uses time and effort. Especially when I know implicit biases exist, consciously analysing what decision to make produces less biased outcomes.

If the biases are unconscious, are we morally culpable? Yes. They harm people in out groups. “Do no harm” is a good moral principle. If someone finds their anger hard to control, criminal law still deals with them when they hit someone. “He made me angry” is mitigation but not defence to assault. So what harms society takes care to avoid is a political decision.

Some biases are structural. A lot of factors work towards Black people being more likely to suffer penalties for drug possession and supply than white people, but some of them are in the minds of individuals. We can work against both factors.

I might attempt to control my bias, or change it. To control:

  • inter-group contact, where we see each other as equals.
  • approach training: notice when you hear stereotypes, and deliberately deny them.
  • evaluative conditioning: a trainer could show a Black face and counter-stereotypical words, such as “genius”.
  • counter-stereotype exposure. I could pay attention to people who break stereotypes. I never really thought “role models” mattered, but seeing someone fulfil a role helps break the idea that no-one like that could do that. The Radio 4 interview series The Life Scientific has a strict gender balance, 50% women interviewees. I could consider particular people, or imaginary counter-stereotypes.

To change it:

  • implementation intentions. Before marking scripts or considering CVs, the assessor reminds themself of racial bias in such things, and forms the intention not to show such bias.
  • Techniques for noticing prejudiced responses after they happen. I feel bad about it when I see I have done it, and that makes me want not to do it again.

These are things to practise, but everyone should know that working towards equality requires more than good intentions.

Much of this comes from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This study proposes five strategies, including

  • Stereotype replacement: recognise a response is based on stereotypes, label it as stereotypical, reflect on why it occurred, consider how to avoid it in the future and replace it with an unbiased response.
  • Individuation: getting to know a wide range of people within the group, so that I no longer apply stereotypes.
  • Perspective taking: taking the perspective in the first person of a member of a stereotyped group– It sounds like empathy.

The study showed people who wanted to could use these strategies to reduce their bias.

An anti-trans campaigner

Trans people want people like me dead. That much is clear. TERF die in a fire, right?

I am taken aback by the level of fear. “Not all of us, I hope,” I said. We met on facebook, I asked if we could pm for a bit. She is masculine in presentation, and was gang raped by people calling her a man. She has been depressed. Trans activists bombed her group. Yet she admits the attacks on trans people make it more difficult for her to dress in a more masculine way.

(I quote her claims without comment on whether I believe them or not.)

I try to be winsome. “To me, we should be allies. Indeed gender is a social construct. I believe that any quality or virtue is equally bad in men and in women.”

She says terfs are hurt by campaigns to stop them meeting. It makes them suicidal. Coming together with people who think the same way is a refuge: “It’s like water or air”.

She is so sensitive to threat that when I showed her the advert from LGB All Liars she thought it was attacking terfs. Then she made her claim: that men dress as women specifically to get into women’s spaces to attack women. She has been attacked by such a man, wearing a dress. “To me, that’s a central experience,” she said. It happens in college and in schools. “In college, dressing up as women to raid the sorority gatherings is also a long held tradition.”

People’s statements are the only evidence I have. She tells me men in women’s clothes rape and murder women, and also murder trans people when they find out we are trans. She doesn’t believe me when I deny it happens here: “It would be interesting to talk to some UK women who aren’t trans and ask them”. So I asked on facebook, including some American-born women, who said it is a myth. I did not deny her account, though.

Then she went on to socialisation. “People who are born with vaginas in this culture, regardless of what we call ourselves, are put into a second class at birth. Everything about how we are raised is to train us into submission. So when I try to live in the reality that I am of equal value to men, that gets put down every time.”

“What support would you want from me?” I asked.

Believe us when we say we know what is not safe for us. Understand male socialisation makes you see women as less. Join us in creating a world safe for everyone. Stop trans allies from attacking us. “Behind all that anger is a lot of fear.  We’ve all been threatened over and over again by people who claim to be protecting trans folks. We’ve lost our jobs. We’ve lost our friends. In some cases, we’ve been beaten or raped.” Stop men harassing us.

I said she did not know how I had been raised, and she said “That really is the problem. You can’t see the privilege.” Then she said I had accused her of lying about the non-trans men in women’s clothes.

I sympathise with the anger and fear, and the female anti-trans campaigners who feel that way have become fixated on one solution: the exclusion of trans women. It won’t do them any good, it won’t reduce the violence they suffer, but that’s what they campaign for. Any resistance to their campaigning makes them more determined.

The vulnerable cis woman

One trans-excluding argument is that cis women need space for cis women only, because of male violence. If the cis woman sees a trans woman in women’s space, she will see her as a man, and will have the same fear reaction that she would if there was a man there. I am mortified at the idea I could terrify someone. The argument arouses my sympathy with my potential victim, leave alone a feminist or someone who has not thought of social justice issues. How can we counter it?

It was put to me like this. Young women may suffer continual sexual harassment and occasional extreme experiences such as sexual assault or a man demanding sex who will not brook refusal from whom she has great difficulty escaping. She seeks refuge where only women should go, a toilet, and then I come in. She reads me as a man, and her refuge is penetrated. More, almost all loos have only one door, and as I am nearer to it, I prevent her escape. Her trauma is redoubled.

The argument appeals to some feminists particularly. I wondered why a woman would be revolted by chest masculinisation surgery, yet insist on vaginoplasty? She could tolerate a “Post-op transsexual” in a women’s loo, but not a “trans woman”. Others argue against all surgery, such as Green campaigners claiming that just as we should not mutilate the rain forest we should not mutilate healthy bodies. That feminist’s position made sense to me if she sees solely from the cis woman’s point of view, thinking that the trans man is a woman victimised by society into imagining she wants to be mutilated, who is then mutilated. The answer is reducing the oppression of women and the shame inflicted on women. But the trans woman is a potential threat to women. If the trans woman has no penis the threat is slightly less.

The argument plays on my feeling of being conditionally tolerated. I will be permitted if there is no problem for anyone else. I am wary of angry dismissal, and want to avoid it, so am alive to reasons to exclude. This is internalised transphobia. Other trans women take a stand on their rights asserting trans women are women, and this may be an overreaction/ rebellion against internalised transphobia.

Anyone else, either a social justice warrior or an ordinary person who hardly thinks about such things might say, thoughtlessly, either that trans women are men and should not be in there anyway, or that trans women are also vulnerable and need women’s space. The argument particularly appeals to someone who places women’s needs above those of other vulnerable groups, which raises the question what is a woman?

Groups subject to oppression will succeed when we work together and support each other. BAME people, LGBT+ people, working class people, disabled people, have the same interests in tearing down structural injustice and implicit bias. Conservatives and oppressors have an interest in setting oppressed groups against each other and creating out-groups whom all of society can look down on. When cis women exclude trans women only the Patriarchy wins.

One is not born a woman, but becomes one, and the kind of woman may depend on skin colour, class, and disability. Talk of general women’s experience applies to more privileged women. Our socialisation is not primarily based on gender, but on all these factors. White middle-class feminists talking of the particular problems arising from feminine socialisation are placing their own problems first, ignoring those of other women, and defining what womanhood means, when feminism requires womanhood to have no stereotype at all. Judith Butler says identity categories are always normative and exclusionary. They mean that there are women these feminists’ campaigns ignore.

Trans women are oppressed as other women are. Like all women, we are required to spend a great deal of time on our appearance, or suffer from being treated as invisible. Any woman performing gender in conventional ways reinforces those conventional ways. The goal is to end these gender stereotypes, but we all succumb. Trans women have women’s experiences of sexual harassment and violence.

Taken from the NYT: When a cis woman complains that trans women haven’t had the same experiences as “real” women-born-women, then, what she’s really saying is, “Trans women haven’t had the same experiences as women like me.” If 30-plus years of intersectional feminism has taught us anything, it’s that this is precisely the move that feminists need to stop making. See also Gal Dem.

What about Judith Green’s argument? She says in her sex abuse survivors’ group, the women needed a single sex group as they had been socialised to look after the men. Had men joined, the women’s implicit bias would have stopped them caring for their own needs and placing the men first. However, trans women are also socialised to put ourselves down, ignore our needs and feelings, and cover up our real selves.

Let us be allies. Anything else is the conservatives’ work.

Transphobic Quakers

Norwich Quaker Meeting do not intend to be transphobic. Apparently, they imagine they are not; but because they do not understand their  implicit biases their arrogance, ignorance and thoughtlessness produces transphobic results.

They don’t mean to be transphobic, and that is not good enough. Here is their account of their blundering encounter with transphobia. This is my interpretation of it.

They had a room booking from Women’s Place UK in January 2019. The booking said that “similar meetings had been targeted by activists, and organisers personally attacked”- it played the victim. Quakers like to be kind to oppressed people. It makes them feel good. They do not understand the reversing tactic, whereby victims are portrayed as oppressors.

“Our clerk looked at the WPUK website and found nothing that was at odds with Quaker values.” Well, their clerk did not understand and should have asked someone. Their website is more clearly transphobic now, though they try to cover it up, but at the time it at least had the demand “The principle of woman only spaces to be upheld and, where necessary, extended”. They mean, no trans women. They want to kick us out of the spaces where we have been, harmlessly, for years. If you look at their website as it was in January 2019 (Wayback machine) you will see a lot of obfuscation, but from their online speeches, you can see they were preaching that all trans women are dangerous.

When the venue was published, a Quaker warned that WPUK was transphobic and the meeting should not go ahead. They ignored the warning. They thought WPUK intended “legitimate discussion”. In the event, WPUK speakers spouted transphobic claptrap, intended to foment fear and hatred. However, though there were Quakers there, this seemed to have gone over their heads.

At the meeting, Quakers, arrogantly, wanted to make a statement. “We do not believe it right that intimidation should be allowed to silence discussion.” This accepts WPUK lies as truthful. It’s not intimidation, it is whatever people can do to stop hatred being spread. It’s not “discussion”, it is transphobic falsehood. They accept that there was no intimidation, just “a peaceful picket of eight or ten women”.

They don’t understand their own testimonies. “The testimony to equality reminds us that each person is of equal value, and has an equal right to a voice, and to be heard.” Well, no. The testimony to equality should mean working to achieve equality, which means acknowledging the structural barriers and implicit biases which prevent it. They don’t even see that hate speech suppresses free speech- WPUK hate reduces trans people’s ability to be heard.

“Then, just as the first speaker was about to begin, the fire alarm went off and many of the building’s lights went out. A Friend quickly restored quiet and light.” Well, objectors achieved something. I note, wearily, the claim of efficiency and good order. I can believe that Quakers would be unable to turn off their own fire alarm, but in this instance they managed it.

Only after the meeting, and further protests, did they bother to consult the central offices of Quakers in Britain, Friends House. Staff there drew their attention to the Young Friends General Meeting statement, which calls out transphobia and supports trans people. They could have left it there. They had been stupid, and allowed a transphobic meeting to go ahead in their premises. They could have just apologised. But instead, despite hearing from a Quaker who understood, they issued a statement: “We acknowledge that the proposed change to the Gender Recognition Act is both important and divisive”. Well, no. It is a minor technical matter of interest only to trans people, which those who glory in their transphobia are using to foment fear and hatred, particularly of trans women.

They said, “We are sorry that some members of the local LGBT+ community were hurt”. That misunderstands. All members of the LGBT+ community were hurt. That’s what happens when you spread hate: all the victims are hurt, even if they are unaware of your actions. The statement makes it appear as hurt feelings. No, it is hurt interests.

Their summary continues, “We understood that transphobia is a real… threat to transgender people”. That misunderstands. Transphobia is a threat to everyone, just as racism is. It reinforces gender stereotypes and kyriarchy. The testimony to equality requires that implicit biases towards transphobia be expunged. And, what could their next word be, except “But”? “But we also realised that there are genuine causes for concern among some natal women”. Even now they are echoing the transphobic lies.

The Equality Act governs access to women’s spaces. The Equality Act will not be affected. A Gender Recognition Certificate is entirely symbolic. Do the reading!

They considered doing some reconciliation work, but they thought trans people would be unwilling to listen to “individuals with different perspectives”. They decided to invite trans people to talk about our experiences. This is problematic. They are shocked at the angry responses which they say “showed a distorted interpretation of our invitation and revealed a marked unwillingness to speak to us”. They quote some, I think to gain sympathy, though I sympathise with the person who wrote, “Who the FUCK do they think they are to judge on this matter?” Some trans people nevertheless went- I was one of them. The trans people who spoke showed concern about the straights’ feelings and beliefs, and gave a rounded view of the issues, rather than a partisan one- for example, “Gender is not the same as sex. People should not be identified by their organs, but women menstruate and give birth. Quite a number of people have transitioned back, so we must be careful about taking absolutist positions.” A trans woman said some mollifying things, from which they conclude that they are entirely in the right: “This response to the actual meeting expressed a very different perception of the nature of the meeting from the prospective responses of the other protesters”. Now, I wish I had not gone.

Then, unfortunately, they met with Debbie Hayton. Hayton, a trans woman, speaks up for WPUK for some reason, thereby giving some camouflage to WPUK transphobia. Ben Carson is in Donald Trump’s cabinet, and they would not doubt that Trump is a racist (at least, I hope they wouldn’t), but being ignorant they take Hayton at face value.

They then quote over 2000 words of transphobic twaddle, without qualification: trans women are a threat to other women, doctors at the gender clinic are a threat to children, the usual boring rubbish. This is on their website. As a Quaker I am ashamed that they would publish this stuff.

They then give a list of “Lessons for Friends and Others”. I despair. They include the line “predatory and controlling men are a real threat to the safety of women”. Well, if they did not know that beforehand, I don’t know what planet they’ve been living on. However, it is quite irrelevant to issues of gender recognition reform.

Their final paragraph shows their self-righteousness and invincible ignorance. Here they are, the wise ones, platitudinously sharing what they have learned with the world. “Nobody benefits from the perpetuation of conflict. There is much more work to be done to take the hostility out of this sensitive and contentious area, to enable common ground to be explored, and to promote understanding of all perspectives.”

Are Quakers transphobic? Some are proudly and aggressively so, speaking at WPUK meetings, campaigning against trans rights, and claiming victimhood. Some aren’t: do read that Young Friends statement. And most just don’t know or care enough, so perpetuate the societal transphobia which drives trans people so often to misery, joblessness and suicide. These Quakers’ ignorance is no excuse. Any trans person wondering about attending a Quaker meeting would be well advised to check it out thoroughly beforehand.

Is “No Platforming” bullying?

Scottish Poetry Library in transphobia row shock! No-one knows whether the Scottish Poetry Library supports transphobes or not, but they have said suspicious things.

They have a code of conduct which says supportive things about trans people: we will not tolerate abuse on the grounds of a person’s… gender identity. However, they also claim they can police all the conduct of people involved with them: Misconduct is when the behaviour of someone undertaking work for, with or on behalf of the SPL does not meet expected standards of behaviour, and their actions or conduct leads to … harm of other people… our code of conduct applies to online activity.

That is, the SPL claims the right to no-platform people when they tweet negatively about others. As an organisation booking speakers and letting rooms, they can’t refuse to book you because you are trans or a woman, but they can if they think you have behaved offensively. Any organisation chooses who may speak from their platform. Others may write criticising those choices, and whether they are listened to depends on how prominent a platform they have.

Then they put out a statement, criticising “disharmony” on social media. Good luck with that. We will no longer ignore bullying and calls for no-platforming of writers. Well. Hachette has cancelled its plans to publish Woody Allen’s memoir, because of protests by staff: they withdrew their platform. There is no-platforming for all sorts of reasons, but only calls for no-platforming when there is disagreement. No openly racist speaker is going to get a platform at the SPL, but what about transphobes? Transphobes get prominent platforms all the time, and trans people and our allies call for it to be withdrawn- on our twitter accounts and in blogs if we have no better platform, in emails and protests.

There are only calls to no-platform someone when the speaker is privileged and protected, and the protesters are weak. Otherwise, the platform is denied without fuss, by the powerful. Transphobe speakers are privileged- prominent in labour unions and universities, with powerful backing from Rupert Murdoch and the Heritage Foundation among others. Someone tweeting that a transphobe should not speak is not a bully, because if they had power they would not need to tweet. If a crowd of people come together on Twitter objecting to a transphobe speaking, they are met with strong tweeted resistance from transphobes powerful and powerless. Who bullies whom?

Trans people and allies sent an open letter to the SPL, worried that their powerless calls for no-platforming would be used as an excuse to no-platform them. They write in solidarity with writers combatting racism, misogyny, ableism and other structural oppressions, so that oppressive action can be freely spoken about. They ask for clarification on SPL’s support for trans people, who receive exceptional online abuse and media scrutiny. They are against bullying and for freedom of expression, but want to call for no-platforming of bullies and transphobes, and want trans people involved in reporting transphobia. They fear the SPL statement means trans people, objecting to transphobes getting to speak. The Times report and many tweets connected the SPL statement to opposition to transphobia, and the SPL tweeted that Times article. Asif Khan of the SPL seems to think trans rights conflict with women’s rights, though they do not. We believe that it is a vital right of people to name oppressive action when we experience it, and to seek accountability from people and institutions who have acted oppressively and made space for oppressive action- by internal procedures and public statements. From the Forstater case, “freedom of speech” is not a legal protection for transphobic statements.

Prominent and less prominent transphobes made a counter-statement, extensively quoted by the Guardian, claiming to promote “intellectual debate and thought” “outside a very narrow ideology” when they were being transphobic. Of course they deny being transphobic, spread transphobic myths, and claim to support “Women’s rights”. No transphobe will ever admit their transphobia.

Scottish PEN’s slogan is “Defending the freedom of writers and readers”. They are aware that hate speech, including transphobia, inhibits and restricts the free speech of trans people and others. PEN says the SPL has a responsibility to the community to consider equality issues, and its workings should be public and open to criticism. Free expression is complex and any policy that ignores such complexity can stifle the free expression of a range of stakeholders, most notably members of marginalised communities. Such as trans people.

Race Reflections beautifully expresses this discussing “Freedom of Speech” as the right to say anything without consequences. The demand for such freedom is “Insidious reversing”, where the oppressed trans people are positioned as the oppressor. It takes away our right to resist the violence practised against us.