“Woman: adult human female.” Why is this definition seen as stirring up hatred?

Because that is its intent. It’s like “There ain’t no Black in the Union Jack”- a statement which might seem trite or inane, so obvious as not to need stating, has a particular association for those who weaponise it, and its intended victims. I am a woman, they falsely deny that.

A full page advert in The Times, with many more viewers when circulated on social media, asked that question. There are two stages to this, and the hatred is more overt in one than in the other. First, we need to know the facts.

Trans people have been transitioning for millennia, and since the 1960s in Britain this has been officially recognised. Psychiatrists were supervising trans people and getting our documents changed then, and when I saw my psychiatrist in 2001 he gave me a card saying that it was a normal part of my treatment for gender identity disorder for me to use women’s services. The Equality Act 2010 made this clear: trans women could use women’s “single-sex” spaces unless there was a particular reason to exclude someone. Socially, trans women are women, which means we can live our lives, mostly, freely and without hurting anyone.

The number of transitioned trans people has increased. In 2002, the government estimated there were 2000-5000, and in 2011 GIRES estimated that 12,500 adults had presented for treatment but another 90,000 might later. Now, around 50,000 have. This is an increase by an order of magnitude in twenty years, but is still only around 0.1% of the UK population.

In 2017 the UK Government proposed reforming gender recognition. One possibility was to remove the requirement for a psychiatrist’s opinion before we could get a Gender recognition certificate (GRC). That would be appropriate, because the International Classification of Diseases no longer classes gender dysphoria as an illness. At that moment, the hate campaign really got going. Now, it is obvious on facebook. Some people are vitriolic and obsessive anti-trans campaigners, but perhaps 30% of the population are mildly transphobic– mostly tolerant because they don’t care, but holding a few anti-trans opinions.

On social media, the people supporting the “adult human female” slogan are increasingly radicalised, and the hate is clear. Always, there is an attempt to present trans people as seeking new rights, or predatory men pretending to be trans in order to get into women’s spaces, to create fear and disgust and invoke the cognitive bias of loss aversion. There is the claim that cis women in women’s prisons lose if trans women are housed there, and endless reference to Karen White. White is a rapist, and should not have been in the women’s general population, but the campaigners argue we are all like that which is a standard tactic to dehumanise a minority group. There is constant reference to Laurel Hubbard, and the claim that her inclusion makes women’s sports unfair, though there are hardly any trans people in sports at any level.

However, there is another stage. They want to normalise the idea that trans women should not be in women’s spaces. This is Joanna Cherry’s line: she claims to support trans rights, while demanding that trans women be excluded from women’s spaces. That is behind the demand to distinguish gender from sex, and the insistence that trans women are men.

The last Labour government fostered an inclusive society, where prejudice was seen as a bad thing. It stopped being normal to express bigoted views about LGBT or BAME people. People are willing to let others live their own lives and make their own choices, and if those choices are different from the ones they would make people are less likely to condemn. For the hard right to change that takes huge effort. The right wing press has for decades presented immigration as a threat, and now is doing the same to trans people.

This requires repeated monstering, mockery and hatred. But someone who minimises trans people’s needs might not realise they were hateful. Consciously, instead of hate and fear they might feel slight distaste, pity, indifference to our pleas, contempt and a sense that we were deluded and ridiculous. It is this indifference which the advert is designed to arouse. The groups behind it refer slightingly to “men’s feelings”, denying the desperation we feel before we transition. Once this stage is reached, we become the out-group, the people it is normal to despise. Refugees, whom even the BBC calls “migrants”, are already in this position. After trans people, who will be next?

Another advantage the hard right gain from such propaganda is to demoralise and split the Left. The Green Party is conflicted, and has lost its co-leader Sian Berry. There are efforts in the Labour party to create similar conflict.

Escaping the culture wars

The Fabian Society shows how culture wars are created by the right wing to damage the left. Its pamphlet “Counter Culture” details how we could resist them and build solidarity: by working to end culture wars, not to win them. Culture wars are political fights picked not to change public policy, but to enflame emotion and deepen division as a campaigning tool. They do not show differences in interest or beliefs among people generally, but instead are fomented by elites.

Even right-wingers who might profit electorally should see that the damage to social cohesion is not worth it. The Left sees we have “more in common than what divides us”, and only solidarity offers real security. Our anger at injustice can give us energy for campaigning, but harms us when it breaks relationships.

I got the pamphlet to see what it said about the anti-trans movement. There may be 50,000 people transitioned or transitioning in Britain now, but trans is dragged up constantly by the right wing press, and Tory MPs recognise it is a wedge issue to divide the working class from other disadvantaged groups. “MPs have been piling pressure to engage in a war on woke. Issues ranging from alleged BBC bias and Extinction Rebellion to trans rights and Black Lives Matter could unite the base, wrote Katy Balls. So this is a campaign strategy, to “fatten the pig before market day” and get people identifying as Tories, rather than a coherent strategy on policy, and the war against trans people is a central plank.

“Culture war” is an American term, concerning issues of who we are as a nation. The international hard right exports this around the world. Though in Britain Christianity is less important, and on the Left as well as the Right, the media which ignored culture war in 2015 was writing about it daily in 2020. Even now, few people care. But Tory voters who have “leant their votes” in the North of England are economically left wing, dividing them from the core Tory vote, members and MPs. But on questions of identity and values, Tories are united, and Labour MPs, members and voters divided.

Populism is different: a view of Left or Right that the corrupt elite oppress the real people. So for the Left, plutocrats distort our politics to avoid paying their share or supporting the common good, and for the Right, enemies of the people, such as judges, tried to block Brexit. But most people are reasonably accepting of trans people, and those working for us or against us are educated and comparatively wealthy.

The writers propose three elements in culture war. 1. An attempt to argue that the Left undermines or disrespects Britain or its people. Jonathan Haidt says on the Left, morality is based on care for others and fairness, but on the Right includes respect for tradition, loyalty and sanctity. 2. This exploits majority fears, and the loss aversion cognitive bias, with zero-sum thinking that others’ gain is our loss, producing a thwarted sense of entitlement, that something is being taken from us. 3. Something minor, marginal, or made up is being amplified: you will rarely see a trans woman in a women’s loo, and Laurel Hubbard is one trans woman in a competition of 11,000 athletes in 339 events, the first since trans women could compete as women in 2004.

Culture war is a Right wing strategy to divide, distract and demoralise the Left. The British Social Attitudes survey shows an increasingly liberal outlook. The media is creating culture war, for example The Times’ obsessive reporting demonising trans people. 2% of the people produce 80% of the tweets. The BBC found someone from Philadelphia to argue that Adele committed cultural appropriation, in order to stage a “debate”.

The culture wars distract us from real issues that affect our lives. A cis woman might read a pejorative article about Laurel Hubbard, “do her research” and start campaigning against trans rights even though she has never had a bad experience with a trans woman, let alone have her off-line life affected by trans rights. They divide feminists on trans rights, so feminists oppose each other with arcane debates, rather than working together against patriarchy, and appear irrelevant to other women. We spend time in smaller echo-chambers, so do not seek common ground. And people on Left and Right use the word misgendering as a shorthand for allegedly woke policies, not in the interest of the working class, which the Left should avoid- as if we could not support trans rights as well as equitable economics. But working class cis people may have trans friends, and trans people also suffer materially. Class is a matter of identity.

The culture war demoralises us, exhausting us. The class interest of the majority of people, in getting companies and the wealthiest to pay fair taxes, is clear, but the Right would claim supporting Black rights is an attack on white people. Women, particularly Black women, in politics face dreadful abuse.

The culture war is fomented by grievance mongers driving a wedge between supporters of interventionist economic policy, tempting some away by a “war on woke”. And by those who make a living from outrage, such as Melanie Philips. Once they start, people affected join in- trans people on facebook occasionally speak up for our rights, because our lives are affected, and so public threads started by enthusiastic trans-excluders grow like tumours. Toxic social media polarises debate, then news media gets attention by quoting tweets, or inviting grievance peddlers to “debate” on news programmes.

Then there are trolls, who enjoy being transgressive, or enjoy seeing others emotionally wounded, or are marginalised people who crave status, or who work for malign foreign actors seeking to promote division. Social media amplifies them.

How can the Left build a better politics? We need to repay our debts to those who have sacrificed or suffered the most, from the financial crash, austerity and Covid. We need a vision of the future everyone can value. Robert Kennedy in the 1960s built a coalition of working class whites and blacks by saying what he believed, and giving a coherent, popular message, rather than relying on focus groups, by finding a consistent story that unites voters in all battlegrounds. We need to mention all groups by name, or they do not feel included. Their dignity and feelings matter, not just their income. A story of our past which everyone can take pride in showing the unity Gareth Southgate builds in his team?

Politicians should calm down angry division, and show how they can negotiate a solution where everyone wins, through co-operation. To love one’s country is not a matter of having a particular view on the legacy of empire, but to uphold the integrity of its institutions; not to demonise immigrants and benefit claimants, but those who seek to buy influence or avoid their responsibilities to society. We should shame culture war peddlers, and promote the understanding that a diversity of opinions and values is essential to democracy. We need to regulate social media out of making money from division and misinformation.

We should name and oppose the attempts to distract and divide us. We need to know a good argument before facing the questions. 77% of people believe the media makes the country look more divided than it is, and 44% believe politicians exaggerate culture war as a political tactic. Why are they trying to shift the debate from covid deaths to statues?

We need inclusive social movements, cross-class, multi-racial and intergenerational. We should not use a language of weakness and shame, labelling people vulnerable or hard to reach. We should use clear language- most people agree that it is easier to get ahead if you are white, but far fewer agree that there is white privilege in Britain.

The pamphlet is freely available here.

Laurel Hubbard

Laurel Hubbard, sporting pioneer, is under attack from the transphobic media.

The Times has several articles about her. On 18 July, Rebecca Myers wrote that she is in the eye of the storm, as if she did not realise that the eye is the still, calm centre. Myers quotes unnamed “critics” saying the rules make no sense, then the line “It polarises people”. There is a picture of demonstrators against Laurel with transphobic placards, though only about a dozen of them, and two competitors who oppose her inclusion. Joanna Harper says all these women are big and strong, and all have advantages. Then there is a long quote that men have physical advantages, implying but not confirming or denying that Laurel keeps those advantages. It’s a hit piece.

On 27 June, David Walsh protested his “deep empathy” with Laurel but wrote an article starting with a 1980s style transition story- I always knew I was a girl, etc, etc- with misgendering and prurient detail such as trying on “his” sister’s clothes. Then Walsh starts quoting opponents calling her male and opposing her inclusion, and says she retains a “strength advantage”. Despite all this, on 4 July the Times published a letter attacking Walsh’s article as not transphobic enough.

On 21 June, Matt Lawton reported that she was to be the first trans woman Olympic athlete. The picture on the piece is of her on a winner’s podium, and the first paragraph alleges her inclusion is unfair. The British Olympic Association called for research into trans women’s “physiological advantages”. Then there’s exactly the same quote from Tracey Lambrechs that Rebecca Myers used.

On 26 June, Martyn Ziegler reported uncritically on a paper by Cathy Devine, who had found 19 athletes to agree with her that trans women had a competitive advantage but claimed they were afraid to express their views publicly for fear of being labelled “transphobic”- scare quotes Ziegler’s. Devine is a noted transphobe who told a House of Commons committee that no trans women should compete in women’s sports.

Also on 26 June Graham Spiers questioned the “fair play” of including Laurel. He started by saying there were “sensitivities” in the “transgender debate” then claims, contrary to evidence, that Laurel retains all the advantages of the male body. “Were he a woman” he would stand no chance against her superior strength, he claims; but the world no.1 has a personal best 50kg heavier than Laurel’s.

On 22 June, Ross Tucker claimed that trans women retain men’s biological advantages even when we reduce T levels, and our inclusion is unfair. On 24 June, Janice Turner took a side-swipe at Laurel in her article on transphobe Jess de Wahls. She quoted Caitlyn Jenner claiming Laurel’s inclusion is not fair- trans people can be quoted, if they speak against trans rights- and quoted Jenner’s personal bests as if they would not be affected by T reduction.

On 18 June, Jason Allardyce reported that Highland Games could include trans athletes, even though no athlete has yet presented as trans. He mentioned Laurel Hubbard. As always, the most upvoted comments are relentlessly transphobic, crying Unfair.

Do other athletes get similar coverage? Abigail Irozuru, British long-jumper, who was a finalist at Doha, is only mentioned in the list of the British team. British, World champion heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson is in four articles about her injury, and has two other mentions. Dina Asher-Smith, a sprinter The Times calls one of the team’s “biggest medal hopes”, has one article in four weeks plus a few mentions, including one that she went to the same school as Emma Raducanu.

The Times reader-commenters are well trained. Even when (20 July) Melanie Phillips wrote an outrage piece about bribery and politics in Games venues, most of the most popular comments were about “men” in women’s sports.

The Daily Mail has about a hundred articles on Laurel, and just the headlines contain transphobia such as, her inclusion will knock women out of sport, is a “bad joke”, and “kick in the teeth for female athletes”. “Backlash” to “Openly” trans athlete! A man is a man!

The Guardian has several articles, including an opinion article by Tanya Aldred saying her inclusion is unfair. Well, all professional athletes have physical advantages as well as training, and no male athlete would reduce his T and pretend to be trans in order to compete with women.

At the fastest, most destructive part of the storm, Laurel Hubbard will be competing and I will cheer her on. The transphobe press is determined to harp on and on about her, crying Unfair and attacking all trans people vicariously through her. So if she wins a medal we will all triumph.

“Thoughtful Therapists”

Reading transphobes’ tweets can be rewarding- you learn bits of good news. “Momentum is in bed with the transactivists” wails some useless phobe with 18 likes, alongside (according to them) the NHS, the BPS, the UKCP and the Labour Party. Elsewhere the railing gets unhinged- journalists’ ethics and trade unions require “all material reality be abandoned”, wails some phobe with her hand out for donations. Actually, she means sometimes news sites print stories showing trans people in a reasonable light, rather than a transphobic one. No link, it’s a barely notorious transphobe called Julian Vigo if you really want to do a search.

Julian, your paranoia reassures me. It makes your hate ineffectual. Still, no doubt some US billionaire hard-right activist will bung a few bucks your way.

Another twitter account is called “thoughtful therapists”. They mean counsellors rather than physical therapists. I would say “thoughtful” is a bare minimum in a psychotherapist. It should not need to be said. So why do they claim to be “thoughtful”? Perhaps because they’ve been told they are simply reactive and not thoughtful at all. “We’re thoughtful!” they wail, failing to reassure themselves. They are up against the British Psychological Society and the UK Council for Psychotherapy. Looking down their 677 tweets since March, all they tweet is transphobia.

They want the right as “therapists” to insist that no-one can ever be trans and transition is always wrong. They want to search endlessly for some sickness, some reason that a patient falsely believes they are trans. When they try that, it does not go well.

Fraudulently, their profile picture includes the logos of NHS England, NHS Scotland, the BACP, and the Royal College of General Practitioners among others, as if they spoke for any of these organisations.

The trouble with individuals like this is that they give propaganda outlets someone to quote. One of these “thoughtful” therapists is named. I went to her site and found gushing praise for her quoted, from notour transphobes and the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph etc. But even The Times has not quoted “Thoughtful Therapists”.

And now The Telegraph, desperate for someone to speak out against trans people and give their ignorant readers a thrill of revulsion, has bitten, and quotes “A Spokesman for Thoughtful Therapists” ad longum. This spokesman is anonymous, perhaps because being associated with such a group should mean no-one consulted them except transphobe parents seeking conversion therapy for their children.

And The Telegraph, in its desperate attempts to horrify its readers and turn them against trans people, can’t help giving good news. Dr Igi Moon, chair of the group revising the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK, and the lead on the document for the BPS, is nonbinary. The Telegraph misgenders them, using “she” pronouns, and quotes them supporting trans rights. Then it refers to the anonymous “thoughtful” “therapist” by They pronouns, so as not even to give away their gender. They must be completely terrified of exposure of their hateful views. They want to avoid the reasonable disciplinary processes of the professional bodies- or perhaps the revelation that they are not a qualified therapist at all.

Propaganda rags like The Telegraph, and extreme right wing campaigning money, supports these transphobes yet they are few in number and mostly anonymous. The Telegraph reports that Momentum hosted Dr Moon. The truth is getting out, despite the efforts of the propagandists.

The word “TERF”

I will no longer use the word “TERF”.

It is a good word to express contempt, with that plosive T. Someone is only a terf, an enemy, a deluded person. They claim it is a slur, and use it to claim victimhood- see the horrible things they call us! “Punch a TERF!” they quote, endlessly.

It stands for “trans-excluding radical feminist”, and one objection I have to it is that anti-trans campaigners are not necessarily radical feminists. Some are conservative Evangelicals, and some have no particular feminist views other than hating opposing trans people. They are sucked up by social media radicalisation. Radical feminism is a world view, centring women’s oppression in the reproductive system, with particular attitudes to paying for sex, surrogacy, and violence against women and girls. One might engage with it. Often, you cannot engage with trans excluders, whose only relevant philosophy is no trans women in women’s spaces, not never not nohow, and no treatment for trans children (usually not trans men either) because they cannot believe trans children exist.

I changed “hating trans people” to “opposing trans people”. The most horrible attitude in them is dismissal: they talk of “single-sex” spaces excluding “men” as if trans people did not exist. They pretend to dispassion. There is a ghastly and complete lack of sympathy. Their one priority is protecting [cis] women.

I don’t like the term “gender critical feminist”. Some only take in feminism through social media posts, never reading more widely. And, believing that gender is an oppressive social construct need not mean that you are hostile to trans women in women’s spaces. Instead, it could mean that you welcome us, as we subvert gender norms.

Their idea of “gender ideology” deludes them. They claim trans people are divorced from reality, but the only thing you need to believe to accept trans women in women’s spaces is that trans people exist, and are mostly harmless.

Some anti-trans campaigners object to being called “gender critical” too, because they want to conceal the fact that their expressed desires affect no-one but trans people. So they claim to be campaigners for “sex-based rights” or “women’s rights”, pretending that their desired ends might give protection from “predatory men” rather than harm trans people.

They dislike the term “trans excluders”, arguing that common sense excludes “trans identified males” from “women’s spaces”, but trans women have been in women’s spaces mostly harmlessly for decades, so in effect they campaign to drive us out. So they are anti-trans campaigners, whatever they claim about respecting trans people or supporting trans rights.

The worst of them spread vile myths, and incite fear of us by constant reference to the worst of us. They may identify with Maria MacLachlan to claim vicarious victimhood, even martyrdom. It is a common tactic in anti-trans campaigning. Consumed by a sense of their own righteousness, many of them have lost all sense of proportion. And yet, each is an individual, with human vulnerability and with some capacity of empathy. Unfortunately, people’s empathy is usually shut down if they feel threatened, and mainstream media keeps them constantly triggered.

The media thrives on drama, and the simplest drama is confrontation. The media obsesses on anti-trans v trans. So the BBC had a profile of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and used the time as if the three most important things about her were “Half of a Yellow Sun”, “Americanah”, and her remark in 2017 that “trans women are trans women”.

Our empathy can be shut down too. This weakens us, making us angrier and less creative. Both sides are victims. They are wrongdoers- victims of violent men, they refuse to draw a distinction when considering harmless trans women. Then their sense of victimhood and standing up for their rights feeds off reasonable or angry demands that they cease their exclusionary campaign, or be silenced. But their initial victimhood is real, serious, and worthy of empathy.

I have removed the word “terf” from front page links, and from my tags, replacing it with anti-trans campaigner. I have left it in the titles of older posts.

Picture today: I see resonances, but I picked this because I have just watched the great film “All about Eve”.

An explanation of trans ideology

Jess de Wahls’ long blog post is back on line, including her account of what she thinks trans allies believe. What can I say to someone who claims I believe that “biology is transphobic”? Who could possibly believe that?

Trans-excluders often make claims about what “trans ideology” is. To accept trans people, all you need to do is accept we exist. Some people are trans- they want to transition, then they do. Almost all women are cis. They have genes, gonads and genitalia indicating that they are women. They might strongly reject the concept of “gender identity”, claiming that saying they are women is acknowledging physical reality not a psychological state, and that’s absolutely fine. Trans people have a gender identity.

So, no, I don’t argue that “woman is a feeling not biological reality”. “Woman” is more than one thing, including both cis women and trans women. Cis women are women because of biological reality, and the absence of any desire to transition. Trans women are women because of biological reality- unless you believe in a “soul”- and the fact of having transitioned, or the desire to.

Trans people only want to fit in as their transitioned selves. Mostly, this is harmless. There is no such thing as transgender ideology. I am happier if I express myself female. I am miserable if I express myself male. If I am accepted as I truly am, I flourish, like anyone else.

Biology is not transphobic. I want the species to continue. But attempts to use biology to deny reality- to say, for example, that there is no such thing as a trans woman- or put a moral view that trans women should not be accepted in society as women, is transphobic.

Much of de Wahls’ account of “trans ideology” merely draws out the meaning of words, to make them look ridiculous. Straw men are easy to blow away. She makes a tin man, a high tower of ridiculousness that she wants to fall over by itself. It follows from “trans men are men” that “men can get pregnant”, but it is the same use of language. Language should reflect the reality that trans men transition, and everyone benefits if they are accepted and allowed to flourish. Trans men are men.

Yes, “trans men who fancy men are gay”, but that is a belief about language, not about biology. People have the right to classify ourselves. Rather than submitting to a doctor calling you “homosexual” or a lawyer calling you “grossly indecent” people say they are gay.

Transphobia is the belief that it is worthwhile excluding trans people from gendered spaces in general- no trans woman should be in a woman’s loo because of Karen White, say. It is based on unjustified fear, and the denial of the reality of trans lives.

I don’t believe same sex attraction is trans exclusionary, either. People hook up, or form steady partnerships, and I usually think, oh, good for them. Claiming that a cis lesbian with a trans woman partner is not a lesbian is transphobic, though. Repeatedly tweeting that you could never be attracted to a trans woman because you are a lesbian is spreading hatred or mockery of trans women.

In the same way that gay men in fear married women and tried to appear straight, some trans people do not transition. I can no longer deny my truth, so I have to express myself female. But the attempt to make a man of myself, the fear, and the sense that I was profoundly unsafe expressing my true self have left deep scars. So, yes, misgendering and deadnaming are violent. Someone who misgenders me uses the violence of society against me, and threatens my precarious sense of safety.

This particular tin man includes “TERFs are fascists and deserve to be hurt”. That is a horrible idea. You can’t define trans ideology by the most extreme things some trans people happen to believe, but only by what is necessary to believe in order to accept transitioned people in society as our true selves.

Much of the tin man is designed to create fear. “Men never go to great lengths to access vulnerable women”, she says, sarcastically. Of course they do, working hard to locate women who escape them, fighting their way through barriers, angry and self-righteous; but they would not pretend to be women because there are easier ways of accessing women. Violent men pretending to be trans, or violent trans women, can be dealt with as individuals without excluding all trans women. There are violent cis women too.

She got into angry arguments on social media with trans people and trans allies, but she probably got some of this from other trans excluders. Her problem is not “trans ideology” or trans people, but social media, setting her against others and making views ever more extreme. The answer is trying to persuade and understand, rather than merely to win. I have not studied her whole screed in detail, but these extracts show she attempted to instill fear, anger and derision at trans people. It is not a simple matter of “Free Speech Good”.

Jess de Wahls

Jess de Wahls’ patches are no longer stocked by the Royal Academy shop, because of complaints about her transphobia. In 2019 she wrote in a 5000 word transphobic essay that she had no problem with trans women expressing female, but objected to our assertions that we are women or entitled to women’s rights.

She is an artist, born in East Berlin in 1983. Once, she ran a vagina sewing workshop at Tate Modern. In 2019 after her transphobic essay she lost her job dressing hair at the Soho Theatre. An exhibition in Australia was cancelled. And now she has lost some work for the Royal Academy.

On twitter and even The Times, she is incited to sue the Royal Academy for Beliefs discrimination. Well, the RA was not providing her with a service, or employing her: only buying some stuff she made or designed. That is not subject to the Equality Act. The Times should employ fact checkers. On twitter, random people who have never willingly entered an art gallery are incited to complain to the RA. So then it becomes a poll: are there more transphobe bots to attack the RA than trans allies to support it?

That transphobic essay is no longer on line. Who knows what was in it. It could have been as vile as JK Rowling’s. Why now? An artist, not of Tracey Emin or even Charlotte Prodger levels of fame but whose art has won her a platform, loses an income stream, and Janice Turner of The Times writes a broadside. It’s the usual propaganda. Transphobe’s virtues include “immense thought”, she’s “funny, outspoken… freethinking and bold”. Trans allies are “merciless”, or envious.

I am trying to think my way into it. I spend little time in art gallery shops, hardly any in the gift section. How would I feel, seeing Jess de Wahls’ patches there, if I knew about her essay? Would it be yet another thing making the world a slightly less tolerant place, increasing my fear?

I hope not. Tate, RA, National Gallery are safe spaces for me, where most people are tourists or nice, middle-class types who like Art or feel they ought to, and are not going to be overtly hostile to a trans stranger. There is less chance of someone shouting out “It’s a fucking bloke” in the Bridgewater Hall than on Princess Street. (Why pick there? Because that experience lives with me twenty years later.)

If I recognised the patches and knew who Jess de Wahl was, at worst they would be a symbol of the pervasive anti-trans hate in the world. A stack of The Times in a newsagent is a far more visceral symbol of that, but The Times, or JK Rowling, cannot be cancelled. I am desensitised to such symbols of transphobia in my world. Were I not, I might not go out at all. Just possibly, that Jess de Wahl patch would be a symbol of transphobia which would be the last straw.

The confected anger at this cancellation is terrifying me. I look at the Guardian Opinion section today, and Kenan Malik is on about culture war again. Free Speech!! He is mostly on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay which is the only thing on her site, which before was a normal author website. I don’t think Chimamanda is transphobic, even though she attacked a nonbinary writer. So on balance I count it a loss to cancel the patches. The hate explosion has affected far more trans people than the patches would have. Malik again frames this as “trans activists” rather than ordinary trans people against “feminists” rather than transphobes. As Janice Turner says, it could be envious embroiderers who want their work in the RA gallery shop instead.

I also agree with Janice Turner (though she claims she got this from Adichie) that calling out transphobia on twitter is an outlet for base feelings such as “amorphous rage”. The closest Adichie gets to this thought is “the delusion that malice and opportunism is principled feminism”. Of course, transphobia is also an outlet for rage- punching down at a safe target, rather than responding to your real oppressors. I hate twitter wars so much I almost hate the rage and self-righteousness of trans people and allies as much as that of the transphobes.

Completely abandoning fact for propaganda, The Times reported that a transphobe had “called for” the EHRC to “launch an inquiry” into the RA. It did not bother to check whether Equality legislation applies to a shop stocking goods. The hate raced through Radio 4 and The Telegraph.

23 June. Coming back to this, I can’t see a clear ethical position I can commit to. One part of me says, Rupert Murdoch must not be able to prevent action for trans rights. That The Times will hate every action to support trans people, and create a controversy, which the BBC will take up, is not a reason for not supporting trans people. Then, is it supporting trans people to discontinue that product line? What should de Wahls’ essay be compared to- an essay supporting white supremacy fits. Like a white supremacist, she is saying that other people are less important than her and people her readers should care about, and a danger to vulnerable people.

Excluding her embroidered patches from the shop is equivalent to complete ostracism. Would you have nothing whatever to do with a white supremacist?

Should a white supremacist working in, say, the production of embroidered patches, have them discontinued, judged on the morals of the producer rather than the quality of the product? Should the producer lose income because of their vile opinions? The RA have shown Caravaggio’s work- but Caravaggio will never kill another man again, whatever the RA do.

People campaign, march and demonstrate for white supremacy. Should our disapproval of such campaigns only run to arguing when they state their views? Or, worse, only when they assault a minority ethnic person? What is worse, trying to bar one trans woman from one changing room, or trying to ban us all, for ever? Does the effectiveness of the attempt make a difference?

And yet- I was cooking yesterday, with the radio on, and suddenly there’s Jess de Wahls interviewed by a friendly interviewer. If there had not been objection to her patches, almost no-one would have heard of her. Her transphobic essay had been taken down.

11.30am: The Royal Academy has apologised to de Wahls, and is in talks on stocking her patches. Yesterday the Times reported on the “fear” she suffered after the discontinuance- my fear delights them, and there will be no reports on that. Google “Royal Academy” and the first thing you see is their site. The next is “Top Stories”, all about de Wahls as victim, martyr, persecuted by trans activists.

Here is the RA press release. It refers to free speech and free thinking. Yes, art has to be about free expression. What about antisemitic art and speech? What would it think of that? De Wahl’s long blog post is back online. It attempts to create fear, anger and derision at trans people.

What is transphobia?

We understand transphobia better by imagining if it did not exist. In that ideal world not Magnus Hirschfeld but Aristotle would have described trans people, those who are not of their birth gender, the rest of the world would have said, OK then, and by now we would be generally understood and accepted.

Some people don’t conform to their birth gender. Trans women are women, trans men are men, and nonbinary identities are valid. Transition is only a choice in that one can choose to express ones true self or hide in a fearful pretense. But people deny this: we face incomprehension, distaste, and suspicion, which together are transphobia.

Incomprehension by itself is not enough. I have no idea why I would claim to be a woman, or be happier expressing myself as a woman. I passionately desire to understand, to know the causes and purposes of things, how and why they come to be, and draw a blank here. It just is. But there is a great deal of mutual incomprehension around. Different people love particular kinds of music, loathe others, and cannot understand why anyone would want to listen to them. You might object to lyrics, or music with particular associations, but otherwise you will never persuade someone they are wrong to like particular music, however loathsome you find it. You just accept it.

As well as incomprehension there has to be a lack of sympathy. Trans people are familiar enough now. Most people will know the concept, even if it makes no sense to them. Discomfort with trans women in women’s sports or prisons means a generalised suspicion.

We face generalisations. Karen White is a rapist, and women should be protected from her. That does not mean they need protected from all of us. Treat us as individuals, as you would treat Jews or left-handed people as individuals. The thoughts They’re all like that or you can’t trust them are an infallible indication of prejudice.

Is there also competition for scarce resources? It is debatable. Trans women are 0.1% of women, but if we were 1% we wouldn’t significantly reduce cis women’s access to women’s spaces. Even where there is far greater need than provision, such as in domestic violence shelters where a trans woman getting a place may mean a cis woman being denied the place she needs, the problem is the lack of provision and not that trans women share it, and excluding trans women would make little difference to cis women.

Among some feminists there is great sympathy for this notional excluded cis woman, greater than for the trans women who might need the service: we should go elsewhere, even if there is no elsewhere for us to go. They go to huge lengths to justify this or enforce it: yes, sex is real, but I am a woman.

I answer them saying we are a tiny number that does not justify this attention and that we subvert gender stereotypes, so advance feminist concerns. They say they are in favour of transsexual rights, interpreting that to mean something other than what our rights are now.

In a world without transphobia we would be accepted. We would not have to prove ourselves, or face questioning on whether we had had operations. There would be no need to face discernment about gender at the Yearly Meeting of Quakers in Britain, or hostile motions in constituency Labour parties.

That distaste and suspicion is prejudice. The wilful refusal to accept reality, manifested as incomprehension of our humanity and desires, is prejudice. In a world without transphobia we would not be sex workers. We would not be killing ourselves. We would have incomes showing our worth.

Nice people

Avril and Alison moderate a facebook group. Alison has gone down the rabbit-hole, quoting hate group foul play by transphobes to argue Trans is the world’s greatest threat to women. Avril, however, only wants to be nice. I had an exchange on messenger with Avril for two weeks, testing the breadth of her transphobia.

Early in the conversation Avril told me she had two trans friends, and wanted to buy the book of poems one had written. She told me she is “trying to come with terms” with trans. “This may take decades.”

Society has changed out of all recognition in the last 50 years. It will continue to change. 50 years ago, homosexuality was illegal and gays had to live quietly, without drawing attention to themselves. Nowadays, no-one turns a hair. I was at a gay wedding, 5 years ago. It was a wonderful occasion.

Wow. So if I “live quietly”, everything will be alright after I’m dead. I don’t believe it. The arc of history has to be bent towards justice, and if not me, then who?

She has strange ideas about trans, claiming there are people who claim to be women, who are frauds. “All women know this.” She said the swivel-eyed transphobe Alison “has looked into the subject of trans in considerable depth”. I said that reading up the hate sites was like an anti-vaxxer memorising lists of ingredients of vaccines, and their alleged harms. She said I was “like Michael Gove decrying experts”.

Avril thinks the group, including those who rave about inclusive language, autogynephilia, “trans-identified males”, just because someone on the radio happened to use the word “cis”, has a lot of “nice people”. Avril is nice. She continued messaging me because she wanted to help me. She is “confident that Alison is well-intentioned”, “does not consider herself to be anti-trans,” and her views “are not stemming from hate”. She doesn’t know much about trans, she says, “but I wish trans people well”.

She agreed with me that there should be a moratorium on trans. Then she discussed it with Alison, and refused. They would keep an eye on trans discussions that arise. She wants “free speech,” but “hate speech, abuse, intolerance, etc, are not allowed”. Hurt feelings are unavoidable.

So I started a trans thread myself, and Avril closed it. She said there were complaints about me, and I was putting people’s backs up. She stopped me making further posts. “You must stop rocking the boat”, she wrote, and I am sure she thought herself loving and helpful at that moment. Then she changed the subject, pleased that the Queen’s Speech said something about “conversion therapy”.

All the time she was keen to point out how reasonable she was being. “We allow people to express their views, provided they are not extreme.” And how unreasonable I was being, to challenge anti-trans bigotry. “If something upsets you, don’t read it.” “Please don’t foment trouble.”

She wanted to seem friendly, and the high point of this was writing, “I’d like a moratorium on trans too. I don’t see ‘cis’ as a slur.” But it did not lead to anything.

And then she started trying to be “helpful” to me. She wanted to improve my mental health. “Please focus on the positives. Please think of how far you’ve come in a short time.” “You’re the one who sees this scenario of ‘win or lose’.” “Please stop obsessing”. She thinks I am unrealistic, as if I expect everyone to agree with me.

“As a trans woman, you have entered a very difficult and a very challenging world. However, some pioneers have made a success of it, and I hope you will too. Think of Jan Morris, Angela Morley, and others.” “There’s nothing wrong with seeing a psychiatrist, a psychoanalyst or a counsellor. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. In fact, psycholanalysts have to go through analysis themselves as part of their training. It’s part of personal growth. No-one should be embarrassed about seeking counselling.”

I asked, “Should I be ejected from women’s spaces or not?” She proposed gender neutral space. That’s no use when there is no gender-neutral space, as in most places.

Her positive self-image is immovable. “I’ve done my absolute best for you.” “I have bent over backwards for you.” “The person spreading hate is yourself.” I was “spurn[ing her] decency and kindness”. “You’re determined to exhaust the patience of a saint.” The saint is her.

I referred her to that Ha’aretz article I cited before. The mad obsessives like Alison are in a tiny minority, but people who think they are nice, and tolerant, and reasonable are the real problem.

23 May, afternoon: the group is “not available at the moment,” fb says.

The Times transphobia in May

The Times expresses the transphobic ideas it wants to normalise, in order to persecute trans people. Their flaws can be expressed easily, but this is what transphobic motivated reasoning looks like.

3 May: Guidance for Edinburgh University lecturers on transgender issues. Microaggressions negate the thoughts, feelings and lived reality of trans people. The Times quotes a trans person, but will not quote the ordinary English word “cis” without explaining it: the quote contains “cis [non-trans] person”. The Times calls the trivial observation that microaggressions undermine people into question by putting it in quotes, from the guidance.

3 May: The Wairarapa book festival has cancelled its Harry Potter quiz, after consulting LGBT+ groups. The “news” article by Mike Wade takes an entirely transphobic line, saying Rowling was pilloried for arguing sex is real, and that “men who identify as women” are not the same as “biological females”. The criticism of Rowling is called “a torrent of abuse”.

4 May: Charles Wide QC, a retired Old Bailey judge, has written a pamphlet for Policy Exchange claiming Stonewall has too much influence over the Law Commission’s consultation on hate crime laws, which includes anti-trans hate.

4 May: For the Scottish elections, the Times did reports on the manifestos of the Conservatives, the Greens, Alba, LibDems and All for Unity, where their picture was of Alex Salmond though both Greens and LibDems far out-performed him, the SNP and Labour. The headings were Economy, Taxes, Welfare, Education, Health, Justice, Constitution, Housing, Environment, Infrastructure, Rural Affairs, and Transgender. These are important matters, but the emphasis on Trans is disturbing: trans rights are a small part of Equality and Human Rights generally.

6 May: “Nicola Sturgeon fails to understand equality laws, research finds”. Mike Wade, current extremist transphobe, writes that Murray Blackburn Mackenzie is a “policy analyst that writes about gender controversies” rather than an anti-trans campaigning group of three women, whose site only attacks trans rights. Wade quotes the campaigners’ interpretation of the law as if it were true. Whatever else it is, the anti-trans screed is not “research”.

7 May: New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is likely to be the first trans athlete at the Olympics. She transitioned in 2012, and has met IOC testosterone levels rules since 2015. “Some scientists have criticised these guidelines” says The Times. Well, some scientists have denied climate change and even denied evolution. The article, including the photo, is taken from Reuters.

7 May: review of the film Cowboys.

On 8 May, the comment articles were predictably giving Labour a kicking, but had sideswipes against trans people. Janice Turner wrote, “A common Twitter phrase is ‘get in the bin’. That’s where you belong if your views on immigration, gender or a myriad issues deviate from the line. Pretty soon, every voter will be in the bin.” Giles Coren pictured Boris Johnson as doing everything men wanted to but were too afraid, including despising “all the gender stuff” and declaring war on France.

9 May Schools trans guidance “breaches law”, says the headline. Actually, it’s not so clear. The Times finds the most extreme position as a quote. If a trans child does not want their parents told, should the school inform the parents? Large amounts of money, through “Christians” and transphobe parents, is being brought to challenge the right of a child to present in their true gender at school without their parents being informed. An advocate has produced counsel’s opinion when instructed by one of the phobes, saying their case is arguable. The Scottish Government is considering the matter.

15 May. “Women must be heard on transgender identity”, ascribed to the new chair of the EHRC. This shows the confusion over discrimination on “belief”. An employer could not sack someone for being a Young Earth Creationist, though arguably it shows a willingness to call academics liars and deny good evidence out of prejudice, so disqualifies one from any position of trust. But they could sack someone for attempting to convert colleagues, or forbid them from wearing a cross. If transphobic hate is called a “philosophical belief” an employer won’t be able to dismiss someone for being a hater, but might be able to dismiss for hateful action, and even perhaps expression of the hate. But the Times puts the rights of the hater at the maximum- “to be heard”, then goes on to discuss JK Rowling and transphobe Forstater.

A better paper might have wanted the new chair’s views on other things, and indeed the end of the article mentions anonymous online abuse, and ethnic pay gaps. I doubt she “attacked those who criticised” the Sewell report, either. From the quotes, she criticised those who attacked it, which is very different.

9 May: A letter from transphobes gives some of the rights at work they want, including to be able to demand a trans woman is excluded from women’s loos. Of course, this is expressed as a demand for “single sex toilets”. The Sunday Times did a report on this letter. They want an inquiry into Stonewall’s diversity champions scheme. There’s more chance of that than an inquiry into the Covid failures.

If trans-exclusionary belief becomes protected, transphobic employers and human resources workers will be empowered, to find grounds of philosophical belief to oppress trans people. Few cases get to the employment tribunal.

Positive stories

10 May: Sapir Berman, a trans woman, has refereed an Israeli Premier League match. There’s the usual patronising stuff: she always saw herself as a woman, from a young age. It’s as if that justifies her decision to transition. In reality, we transition because we are trans, whatever experiences we have had, however we articulate our reasons for transitioning.