Powerful speech

There is no free speech in the world. Instead, we have power speech. Powerful people can say what they like. The rest of us might not be arrested for our opinions, but anyone can be persecuted if the persecutor is sufficiently powerful or determined. People are persecuted for who we are.

Jonathan Freedland, in the Guardian, challenged anyone to disagree with “The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away,” one of the “anodyne statements” in this letter to Harper’s magazine. OK. These things often don’t work. Paul Krugman talks of arguing with zombies– because the zombie statements are in the interests of the powerful.

Here’s what would have been arguably an “anodyne statement” in 18th century London. It’s transphobic. On my blog I will white it out, that doesn’t work on the WordPress reader app unfortunately:

Edward Gibbon states that when Elagabalus proclaimed herself Empress and married a man, she “subverted every law of nature and decency”.

The social consequences of challenging this opinion would have been severe. “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” is one of the ornaments of the Enlightenment in England, a feat of scholarship, well worth reading, and includes this brutal prejudice. No trans person could have silenced him then, or had that opinion excised. There were trans people, but they were quiet about it. They might have been mistaken for gay.

The bad opinion that harmless trans women should be expelled from women’s spaces is subject to endless reiteration by the powerful, particularly Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch, and their minions or hangers-on. Sometimes it might persuade people, particularly when they are made to look away from the real issue. If you believe the myth of the predatory men just waiting for gender recognition reform so that they can pretend to be trans and attack women, you are a fool, but it is so loudly proclaimed that it feels like an anodyne statement. Jonathan Freedland, who is Jewish, should know the blood libel was anodyne, in some cultures and at some times. In the diaspora, there have been many Jewish commmunities, where the surrounding goyim could attack, encouraged by the authorities, at any time. The blood libel is false, but here’s a Saudi cleric repeating it, on television. He may even convince some people.

Possibly the blood libel, and the common transphobia of such as Rowling, is best defeated by looking to its consequences for its victims. Enough people see the harm and suffering such rubbish causes, and rise up against it. This is a response from the heart, not an Enlightened refutation. The answer to Mein Kampf is a roar of righteous anger, not wasting time reading the thing.

The letter says that the main threat to “the free exchange of information and ideas” comes from snowflakes like Mr Trump, but leftists should be better than that.

Several NYT columnists signed the letter, possibly objecting to the resignation of James Bennet. Then Jennifer Finney Boylan distanced herself from the letter because JK Rowling had signed. I don’t get that. If you think Tom Cotton’s article calling for the National Guard to be called on protesters should be met by reasoned refutation, surely Rowling’s should too? What if David Starkey had signed? His racist remark, which leaves me speechless, may be read here. I won’t quote it because of systemic white supremacy in the UK. He would only have been saying that bad ideas should be met with good ones, not that his own statements are always good. That remark could have been refuted by the definition of genocide: the term includes attempts. Completed genocide is rare.

Starkey has been a “controversialist”, making his money from saying offensive things, for a long time, clickbait both for his supporters and many who loathe him. He’s pushed it too far now, but previously he dismissed female historians as “historical Mills & Boon”. That is a nasty little insult. It’s trolling, not the “free exchange of information and ideas”. Anyone responding to it with a long, detailed account of how female historians make a worthwhile contribution would be feeding the trolls. No-one who disbelieves that may be convinced of it.

I am glad that Daniel Ratcliffe, Emma Watson, and the Leaky Cauldron condemn Rowling. There are any number of posts refuting Rowling, some line by line- may I recommend my own? As the Cauldron says, her remarks are “harmful and disproven”. That makes no difference at all. If “exposure, argument and persuasion” were enough to refute her rubbish, Rupert Murdoch would be penniless and powerless. The money of millions of Potter fans may have some effect on Rowling.

Margaret Atwood signed the letter, tweeted something mildly pro-trans, and was subjected to a hail of abuse, including calling her a “gender traitor”.

Moral Panic, Culture War, and the Anti-trans coalition

Conservatives attack trans people for nefarious purposes. Ideas around moral panic or culture war may explain the current anti-trans coalition, despite their different interests and motivations for campaigning against trans people.

In 1973, Stanley Cohen identified five stages in the construction of a moral panic:

  1. Someone, something or a group are defined as a threat to social norms or community interests. Cohen called these “folk devils”- there is no real threat.
  2. The threat is then depicted in a simple and recognizable symbol/form by the media
  3. The portrayal of this symbol rouses public concern
  4. There is a response from authorities and policy makers
  5. The moral panic over the issue results in social changes within the community

His analysis was of Mods and Rockers in the 1960s, but the concept has been applied to witch trials. James VI, King of Scots, appears genuinely to have believed in witches, as a threat to the people. Society might be brought together in the face of an external threat, and the king gain support from fearful people.

The press increases its circulation by horrifying and frightening people. There was a minor flurry about necrotising fasciitis, or galloping gangrene, and the horrible way it killed or maimed people. Then we learned it killed about one person a week in Britain. It is rarely a threat.

In the “AIDS- Don’t die of Ignorance” campaign in the UK, the government worked to reduce the moral panic against gay people: the campaign said anyone could catch it or pass it on. Then there were stories of satanic abuse– organised child abuse rings using satan-worship rituals, either from belief or a desire to terrify. That may have been a mass hysteria: but I am sure the people who raised the alarm genuinely believed in the threat.

This paper from 1995, from the leaden age of the fourth consecutive term of a morally and intellectually bankrupt Tory government, says that moral panics could be deliberately fomented as part of a marketing campaign. The moral panic about “Acid house” dance music, and its relation to drugs, was a way for the record labels to get publicity and big up an “illicit” attraction. John Major’s “Back to Basics” morality campaign was a front to reduce welfare benefits for lone parents, but it was turned against Tories: people argued they were hypocritical and should resign when they had affairs. John Major had an affair with Edwina Currie MP, whom I met: my abiding memory of her is her waving her bra around. I will tell the story below if anyone asks. The article points out that by then there was a strong gay press and gay economic muscle, to fight back against moral panic tactics used against gay people.

Moral panics become culture wars when the folk devils fight back, or liberals defend them. In the US, it seems, every issue can be used in a culture war. Republicans use attacks on women’s right of bodily autonomy to solidify their Evangelical vote, and Trump’s various attacks on trans people are a similar tactic. In the UK the Prime Minister, BoJo the Clown, has been attempting to foment culture war around the Black Lives Matter protests pulling down a slaver’s statue, but the Guardian has a former Tory pollster saying while all Tory voters are socially conservative and Labour voters are split, these concerns are not important to people right now. Johnson or his puppet-master Cummings attempted to stir up a culture war around trans, but Keir Starmer refused to oblige.

I understand all this through “Out-groups”. Social conservatives bond within a community of enforced sameness by naming and vilifying not just bad conduct, but made-up threats, from immigrants, queers, anyone they can attack. Sometimes this works.

In 2017, the Tory government appeared to think it would get positive publicity from liberalising gender recognition. Several Tory women MPs appeared to be in favour. But they delayed and delayed. The Times, a propaganda sheet, owned by Rupert Murdoch, a US citizen from Australia, started to foment a culture war. The Koch brothers and the Heritage Foundation in the US funded anti-trans campaigners who imagined that they were left-wing feminists. Now, there’s a lot of bandwagon-jumping: JK Rowling‘s screed shows she imagines she has “reasonable concerns” because various people told her their anti-trans campaigning was reasonable. This is deluded, and could be explained as hysteria.

Anti-trans campaigning women claimed to be oppressed by The Powerful Trans Lobby (I wish we were) and some feminists may be using us as a proxy for male violence: campaigning against rape culture is too threatening, so they will campaign against a few harmless trans women instead. I almost sympathise- I see the attraction in a hall filled with women expressing solidarity against male oppression. It’s just that my kind are not the oppressor.

The anti-trans campaigners, despite differing political perspectives and motivations, have come together in a campaign to persecute harmless trans people. Aspects of hysteria, bad-faith campaigning, or an authoritarian hatred of those who do not conform may explain some of their actions. Social media inflames the situation. Keir Starmer is probably right to keep calm and ask for dialogue. He could usefully point out that no predatory man is going to go to the trouble of pretending to be trans in order to get access to women. They find it too easy to attack women in other ways. Imagine these predatory men, patiently waiting three years for a change in the law. They would not wait three weeks.

This is the calm before the Tory government announces its plans on trans law, some time before 21 July.

Lloyd Russell Moyle, the Labour Party, and trans rights

“Labour must stand with trans people against a new section 28,” wrote Lloyd Russell-Moyle in Tribune. It’s a good article.

Recently, of course, we saw people like JK Rowling using her own sexual assault as justification for discriminating against a group of people who were not responsible for it. Trans people are no more likely to be rapists; in fact, they are more likely to be victims of sexual assault themselves. That’s why, despite JK Rowling’s hate towards them, hundreds of trans people wrote to complain to The Sun when it trivialised her domestic abuse on a recent front page… Those who try to weaponise women’s rights as a tool to push transphobia are hurting women and trans people, and we should not be quiet in calling it out.

JK Rowling’s hate is well documented. Her ex-husband’s violence does not excuse it and is entirely irrelevant to innocent trans people. However Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, told Russell-Moyle, a shadow junior minister for the Environment, to apologise. When I searched for him, Google was quoting wikipedia as saying he is a “politician and men’s rights activist”, though the lie had been deleted from Wikipedia when I went there. He is a politician who has a reasonable view on trans rights.

However Russell-Moyle apologised on twitter.

I want to apologies unreservedly about the comments in the article that I wrote last week in Tribune regarding Trans rights in which I mention J.K. Rowling. J.K. Rowling’s first disclosures of domestic abuse and sexual assault in her recent article on Trans issues were heartfelt and must have been hard to say. Whilst I may disagree with some of her analysis on trans rights, it was wrong of me to suggest that she used her own dreadful experience in anything other than good faith. I have asked Tribune to remove the line in question.

The paragraph is still there. Tribune explain, “It is against Tribune’s editorial policy to amend the contents of articles after publication in the fashion requested,” but they publish the apology.

As Moyle says,

While it is sickening to see trans people being caught up in a lazy attempt by the government to gain headlines, we must also know that their existence was threatened day in and day out even before this latest fiasco. Socialists must not only defend their rights, we must stand with them against exploitation, intimidation and mistreatment by the state.

On Monday morning, Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, was interviewed on The Today Programme (from 2:10:04 on the recording). He said “The PM is good on promising and bad on delivery”- mentioning the broken promise to build affordable housing- but the interviewer wanted to ask about his sacking Rebecca Long-Bailey, former shadow Secretary for Education, and Lloyd Russell-Moyle.

On Rebecca LongBailey, he said he will “take the action that is necessary on antisemitism… we can move forward with a clearer view of what needs to be done to rid the Labour Party of any sense of antisemitism”. Good. I have followed the equivocation, a little, what Amnesty International said, what Maxine Peake said, what Long-Bailey actually tweeted, and equivocation just perpetuates the smell of antisemitism.

JK Rowling was clearly in bad faith. To describe her experiences of partner violence would have been brave and valuable in the struggle for women’s rights. To describe them and then go on to express vile prejudice against trans people is using them in propaganda and demeans her. However as the interviewer Nick Robinson pointed out, she is a life long Labour supporter, and as we know very rich with a huge platform.

What did Starmer say? He said social media is never the best guide to public opinion.

[Moyle] was wrong to say that and he has apologised for it and I have accepted that apology… that was my judgment call and I’ll be judged if you lead a political party you have to take responsibility for the decisions you make.

The interviewer framed the question in exactly the most damaging way, saying “the conflict between two sets of rights trans rights and women’s rights to safe space How do you as Labour leader choose which side you come down on?” He gabbled in the way people do in these interviews, never pausing for fear of interrupting, producing a stentorian monotone.

I think that’s the wrong question, and that’s the problem: people are saying which side are you on this. I think the trans community deserve more protection than they’ve got. I don’t think the legislation goes far enough. That then takes us into difficult questions. Let’s take those difficult questions in a mature calm way without taking sides. Treating this as a political football which is what’s happened over the recent months is completely the wrong way forward. There’s a better way, and that is to reflect, and to do it in a mature, I would hope cross party basis, because the entrenchment is no way- that doesn’t protect the trans community, it doesn’t protect some women who are completely concerned about safe spaces. Let’s have the conversation.

I am convinced there is a way forward here if everybody is prepared to stop chucking bricks at each other, have a mature conversation, not treat it as a political football, and I think the sooner we get to that the better.

Well. He often says “trans rights are human rights”- trans people are human, I hope no-one would disagree. It could be completely neutral, even anti-trans: transphobes claim to support trans rights when seeking trans exclusion. “I don’t think the legislation goes far enough” to support our rights. He isn’t taking sides, he says. I trust he is a progressive. Here he was neutral, and with the storm of Government transphobia that is hard for me to hear; but his words before have been supportive.


On Good Morning Britain, the same day, Keir Starmer got friendly questions about the PM and the polls, and transphobic questions about trans rights. Piers Morgan ranted:

There is a creeping sense that the transgender lobby is being so aggressive that it’s actually beginning to damage women’s rights? … I mean can somebody who is born with a male biological body simply say I am now identifying as a woman and be afforded full respect do you think that’s right… and have all the rights a woman should have?… JK Rowling is trying to defend women’s rights, she’s not transphobic, from anything I’ve read, she says she supports transgender people, she supports their rights to fairness and equality… is it right that people born in male biological bodies should be able to compete in sports against people born to female biological bodies given that there is in almost every case a massive physical advantage…

Susanna Reid backed Morgan up.

RLB does not actually write the words over which she was sacked but she retweets an interview, but LRM had actually written the article in which he criticised a woman for talking about a sexual assault that she had experienced.

Keir Starmer did not state a personal view. He said Moyle was right to apologise.

Well what I’ve said in this because it is a sensitive issue, trans rights are human rights, the legislation we’ve got doesn’t go far enough and we all have a cross party consensus about it to look at it and see whether it can be developed. But what concerns me here is that this whole issue has become a political football. There must be a space for a mature discussion about how we improve the rights of the trans community, obviously preserve safe spaces. I’m very conscious of the experience of women that have gone through sexual assault, sexual violence, I worked on it very hard as DPP with women’s groups, I do absolutely understand that, but there is two sides here. Let’s stop the political football and have a mature debate about how we improve-

I think we need to respect the right to self-identify, but we need to look at the framework that goes around that. That’s where the legislation needs to take place. That’s where the broad discussion needs to take place. I really don’t want to get drawn in to doing the opposite of what I’m suggesting here which is treating it as a political football. It’s complicated, it’s sensitive. I don’t think that hurling things at each other is the way forward…

I think we can go forward on this if we have a sensible debate about it without just drawing hard lines in the sand. On both sides we need mature reflection on it. We need absolutely- There was a cross-party consensus about this on the discussion that needed to take place and that’s fallen away and that’s a great shame. I actually think these are practical issues there are good questions, let’s reflect on them and find a consensus on the way forward because just chucking mud at one another is not going to help.

Starmer played a straight bat on this. ITV’s article under the video quoted at length stuff they had got they found interesting, but on trans they only quoted “[Moyle] was right to swiftly apologise and he did.” However he said some reassuring things for trans people. “The legislation does not go far enough”. “We need to respect the right to self-identify”. I consider he means there needs to be an advance in trans rights. It might not be as far as we wish. He says we should not draw hard lines. I don’t think a consensus is possible with the hard line anti-trans campaigners, but it might be with some people.

I don’t like the interviewers at all. Anti-trans campaigning was portrayed as reasonable concern, and Morgan played up the alleged threat of male bodies.

Stonewall and the transphobes

Stonewall gets much of its money from its Diversity Champions Programme. It helps more than 800 employers ensure that all LGBT staff have “Acceptance without Exception”. A transphobe, who attempts to foment fear and anger against trans women, is seeking to take away this source of funding for Britain’s leading LGB charity, even though she is lesbian and claims to support the rights of lesbians. However, she uses extreme right slogans in her campaigning.

Allison Bailey is a barrister with Garden Court Chambers. Their first statement on their About page is “We are committed to fighting injustice, defending human rights and upholding the rule of law”. They are part of the Diversity Champions programme. Last year, Bailey took part in setting up LGB All Liars, a group committed to fighting against trans rights. According to Bailey, Stonewall complained about her because of her links with All Liars, and the chambers investigated her. So she is suing them. Her claim is that they investigated her because of her “gender critical beliefs”, and because she claims more women than men hold such beliefs, this is indirect discrimination.

Transphobia whited out. Select text to view. “This was an attempt by Stonewall to intimidate and silence me and others critical of what we see as its malign influence in British life”- “malign” because it supports trans people- and she claims that she “criti[ises] and investigat[es] notions of gender identity that are in conflict with, and doing harm to, the interests, safety and rights of women, children and LGB people”. I got those quotes from a screed claiming martyrdom for her anti-trans campaigning.

Indirect discrimination is justified if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”. The claim is worthless. Maya Forstater’s similar claim, heard in the Employment Tribunal in January, failed- or else we would have heard the result by now. The legitimate aim is promoting trans rights, and it is proportionate to complain about and investigate an anti-trans campaigner in order to do that. Such an extremist in chambers might make LGBT people less willing to use the chambers. In her statement she does not claim any action was taken against her beyond the investigation of complaints, and she is still a member of the chambers.

However, litigation such as this might make employers less willing to enter the Diversity Champions programme, choking off a main source of income for this LGB charity.

Extreme right slogans: the headline for her screed is “I am suing Stonewall to stop them policing free speech”. “Policing free speech” is meaningless. You are not free to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre. I am embarrassed to quote that, it is so well known. “Free speech” is never licence to escape consequences: if you preach hate, people will condemn you. The extreme right: I mean this attack on higher education.

Bailey’s crowdfunder reached £60,000 within three days, despite being suspended by CrowdJustice because of serious complaints. It is now closed to further donations.

Bailey has also challenged the Equal Treatment Bench Book, guidance for judges which says that trans women should be treated as women. She wants trans women not to have a fair trial, because the trans woman would be fighting prejudice as well as assessing the evidence. Defendants, innocent until proven guilty, should not have to face that. Most people would not have been able to withstand the level of discrimination that Ms. Oger faced during the Tribunal’s hearing. They should not have to, said a female judge who does not share Bailey’s prejudice.

The threat to free speech comes from Bailey. Another quote many will be familiar with:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Bailey writes, “I have always been an advocate for transgender rights. I believe passionately that transgender people must enjoy protection under the law from discrimination and abuse.” She means, our human rights apart from the ones that let trans women share women’s space. That’s not what international or British human rights lawyers mean by our human rights. Bailey is lying, by twisting the ordinary meaning of words.

It does LGB rights no good to defund Stonewall. Bailey’s hatred of trans women means she is doing LGB folk lasting harm.

Catherine Bennett

What do you do when you like a transphobe?

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

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

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

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

I found three articles in four years. There may be more, and she may allude disparagingly to trans rights or trans people elsewhere, which my search has not picked up. I have no wish to go through her twitter for the last ten years. She is a committed transphobe, but not an obsessive one, thinking about nothing else.

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

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

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

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

The threat to free speech

Rowling is Right! thundered the Sunday Times, a Murdoch paper. She is “justified in conscientiously stating opinions on issues of public interest without being deterred by fear of causing offence”. Trans people who are offended are “not entitled to sympathy”. Well, that’s me told. If she says the Scottish government is “playing fast and loose with women’s safety”, and stout defenders of women’s rights attack trans women because of it, I am not entitled to sympathy, and nor are the victims.

Once a society allows that people who feel emotional anguish are entitled to apology and moral restitution, there is no limit to the abridgment of free speech it will allow in the name of compassion. Radcliffe should think again. His comments are, to coin a phrase, offensive and hurtful to those who cherish liberty.

The emotional anguish I feel is fear. The repeated allegations in Rowling’s piece that trans people are dangerous, and women are terrified, may lead others to violence against us: possibly physical violence, possibly just social shunning, which is hurtful to a social animal. Rowling encourages transphobes.

This is not the standard “Free Speech!” argument easily answered, that you have free speech but no right to a platform, and no right to avoid condemnation for odious views. It is that it is oppressive to liberty to assert that trans people or our allies are entitled to an apology. Now, I don’t know what trans people would feel about an apology from Rowling, either now or in a possible future in which an entrenched hard-right government has gone on from hate of trans people to all LGBT, but the debased platform of the Murdoch Times

(oops, a bit of rhetoric there, I should not have read the Times article, its moralising tone is catching)

condemns Radcliffe for this:

To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you. If these books taught you that love is the strongest force in the universe, capable of overcoming anything; if they taught you that strength is found in diversity, and that dogmatic ideas of pureness lead to the oppression of vulnerable groups… — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred.

The “sorry” comes from him. There is no demand that anyone else apologise. He acknowledges that many people around his age have been deeply affected by Rowling’s books, and the positive message in those books remains despite their author’s views.

Is there any abridgement to free speech? Rowling put her anti-trans rant on her blog. There is no obligation on anyone to read it, but many did, including me. While some people may have distanced themselves from her or deprecated her views, that is also free speech. If the Times is entitled to condemn Radcliffe, then Radcliffe is entitled to condemn Rowling.

Oddly enough, I got the Times text from an anti-trans website which probably believes its readers would resent paying money to Murdoch, from a left-wing standpoint like mine. Sorry. If you agree with the Times and quote it approvingly, that says something about you, however much you might want to distance yourself from Murdoch propaganda.

Rowling’s remarks did hurt a lot of her fans. They were profoundly affected by her books, and it is hard for them, to see she is a transphobe and a person detached from reality when it comes to trans issues. Radcliffe’s sympathy for people who are hurting is the thing that most offends Murdoch.

The Times also had an article by Neil Oliver: “JK Rowling outrage is a load of hufflepuff that misses her point: Harry Potter author seeks fairness in women’s and trans issues”, starting with warm words about his love of her books. Condemning speech Mr Murdoch dislikes is permitted. Only condemnations of his dupes will be criticised. Of course he has a right, as the world is organised now, to use his billions to persuade people of anything he wishes; but he does not promote any recognisable or valuable concept of free speech. The threat to free speech is the control of so much speech by Murdoch. Rupert dislikes nothing more than sympathy. He loves outrage, disdain and hate.

A “nuanced debate”

What possible answer is there to “Do you condemn death threats?” but “Yes”?

Keir Starmer’s spokesperson was asked about JK Rowling’s screed on trans, and replied,

“This is a nuanced debate, a very important debate, and what Keir wants to do is work closely with all sides of this debate in scrutinising the government proposals and ensuring that we remain committed to trans rights.”

Did Sir Keir stand by the last Labour manifesto on trans recognition? “Keir stood on that manifesto and Keir has a proud history of supporting advances in human rights across a variety of areas.” He need not say, to most of his audience, that the manifesto of a party that lost is as valuable as a month-old newspaper.

Did anyone send death threats? It is loathsome if they did, but even if they were trans, I am not responsible for them any more than I am responsible for Bad Things done by my fellow left-handers.

This led to wailing and gnashing of teeth on trans facebook. “I will never vote Labour again,” wrote someone who perhaps prefers Tories. What part of “ensuring that we remain committed to trans rights” does she not understand? “Nuanced debate” allows Sir Keir to dismiss out of hand the anti-trans rantings, while denying he is doing so.

The Times, a paper which can only be trusted to Murdochian levels of truthfulness, screamed “Labour Stands Back From Gender Debate”. “Measures designed to prevent people with male anatomy using female lavatories and domestic violence refuges have also been included in a package drawn up by Liz Truss, the equalities minister.” Well, honestly. Do they expect me to carry confirmation of surgery about my person? Who would be entitled to inspect it?

Labour Shadow Ministers spoke up. The Shadow Home Secretary said, “we need to listen very carefully going forward in what is an extremely sensitive area”. The Shadow Justice Secretary said, “I’m not sure the government just scrapping plans and then leaking it out in a newspaper is the way to deal with this, you need a much better way that’s sensitive, that seeks consensus and respects everybody’s rights.” So the Times reports TV interviews. These are not positive commitments to trans rights, but there have been such commitments before.

It is beneath the dignity of the Leader of the Opposition to comment on the calculated nastiness of “A Government Source”, however prominent its platform. When a minister makes a statement, the shadow minister should make the appropriate response, which I am hopeful will be to oppose, on the side of trans recognition, with a truthful account of the actual position rather than fearmongering about claimed threats to women’s spaces.

Meanwhile, “a nuanced debate” is a meaningless phrase, saying “ask me later”. Nuanced means you can’t pin him down to one “side”.

The statement by A Government Source is froth. Johnson wants to distract from his complete failure on covid deaths, on care homes, schools, lockdown, reopening, everything. An actual statement on trans rights would be useful, but I could think of little else before Liz Truss, the responsible minister, appeared in the House of Commons yesterday, and she said nothing.

I may cut down my news consumption. Much of what Mr Trump does is distraction, and reading the breathless coverage, even the magisterial disdain of Michelle Goldberg, just gets me wound up to no purpose. Instead I have read one book, “Surviving Autocracy” by Masha Gessen, and even considered reading John Bolton’s when it comes out, though he is a monster, who joined Trump’s regime because he thought he could use it to bomb Iran. But day to day Trump coverage is no more valuable than any other reality show. There is of course Gerry Adams’ response to “Do you condemn,” but he was in specific circumstances which do not apply now.

Both the Trump and the Johnson governments are doing real harm to people, but that’s all the more reason to keep my head clear.

Trans woman admits “Sex is Real” shock!

JK Rowling has been tweeting again.

If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth. The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women – ie, to male violence – ‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences – is a nonsense. I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.

Where to start?

Well. Sex is real. Absolutely. Sex is how almost all flora and fauna reproduce. Sex is real in its effects on people, in sex-related medical conditions. Much of our culture revolves around sex, and ascribes experience related to being female or male specific meanings, but there is a “real” thing underlying that culture, and it can be difficult to establish what is real and what is cultural.

And, trans people are real. We exist. We do not rely on anyone saying “sex is not real”. Claiming trans people “erase the concept of sex” is transphobic. We don’t have the power.

However, if a form requires you to state your “gender” rather than your “sex”, that is not a denial that “sex is real”. For most purposes English uses “gender” and “sex” as synonyms. It might reduce sex discrimination to cease to specify sex except when that is essential.

So. Sex is real. Women menstruate. Women get pregnant. Women give birth. All this matters. Experiencing these things shapes people’s lives, but much of what is experienced is cultural. If a man denigrates you because of menstruation, that is cultural. Trans people have the experience of denigration too.

Lesbians can be attracted to cis women and not trans women and nobody cares about that. We just care when they deny that a cis lesbian in a relationship with a trans lesbian is a real lesbian, or announce loudly and repeatedly that they could never be attracted to a trans woman, or that trans women are not women. That is, we do not want to define “lesbian” for others or force anyone into a relationship or a hook-up they do not want, we just want them not to be vocally transphobic.

What are the “lived consequences” of sex? They are physical- the physical processes of menstruation and pregnancy, and cultural, including the vulnerability to rape culture. They don’t mean that trans women should not be treated for every social purpose as women. Women who do not menstruate and are not incontinent do not need sanitary towels, and are still women. Women who are not pregnant do not need maternity care, and are still women, even if they are trans women. Trans men can get pregnant and are still men. Trans men menstruate.

I don’t know why Rowling would use the term “same sex attraction”. Some Christian homophobes use it, but it could be used to distinguish the attraction from the culture around it. But then, there is no need for a separate term. People fall in love. People are sexually attracted to each other. People form life-partnerships. Much of the culture of lesbians is around resisting homophobia. Homophobia is only cultural, not “real” like “sex is real”. If there were no homophobia, if the culture simply accepted that people may hook up or form life partnerships without being of opposite sexes, there would be no need for counter-culture or resistance.

That does not mean that saying “lesbians are real” should give cover to transphobia.

To say “Sex is real”, or “same-sex attraction exists”, is not transphobic. It becomes transphobic if it is used to justify transphobic conclusions: to argue that trans women are men, or trans women are not lesbians, or trans women should be excluded from women’s space.

This twitter thread is transphobic because it implies that standing up for trans rights, or speaking up for trans people, might in some way mean “erasing the concept of sex” or “removing the ability of [cis women] to meaningfully discuss their lives”. Menstruation matters. Intrauterine cysts matter. Endometriosis matters. Talk about them as much as you need, demand the help you need to live with or overcome them.

To avoid transphobia we need to make a rigorous distinction. We do not erase sex, or say sex is not real, or say it does not matter, physically or culturally. It is transphobic to eject a trans woman from women’s spaces because she is a trans woman rather than because she has done something relevant and objectionable, as an individual, justifying exclusion. Being a trans woman, by itself, does not justify exclusion. Trans men may need cervical smears and trans women don’t, but that is only relevant to the provision of cervical smears, not to women’s space generally.

These tweets are transphobic, more in what they imply than what they say on their face. “Women like me”- does she mean her, specifically, or other women who say “sex is real”? If a woman campaigns against violence against trans women, but also to exclude trans women from women’s space, she is acting in a transphobic manner.

Rowling is attempting to stop us calling out transphobia. Yes sex is real. Period poverty matters. Girls missing school because of menstruating matter. But any transphobic conclusion anyone seeks to hang on the idea that sex is real is still transphobic.

Rowling is transphobic in assuming the role of martyr. She, or “women like me”, is accused of “hatred”. Well, if you express transphobic ideas then you’re a hater, not a martyr.

To say “Sex is real” is not transphobic. Sex is real. There. I said it. But to say “Sex is real, therefore [transphobic conclusion- trans men are women, you should always say “pregnant women” rather than “pregnant people”, lesbians can’t be attracted to transwomen, whatever]” is transphobic.


Added: Various people, including Daniel Radcliffe, have responded to the tweets by saying “Trans women are women”. Really, here, we should be saying “Trans men are men”, as Rowling initially said that women menstruate, excluding trans men. She was responding to this article, headed “Creating a more equal post-Covid 19 world for people who menstruate”, who the article said were “girls, women and gender non-binary persons”, also excluding trans men. I found that from this Guardian article.

“People who menstruate”, “pregnant people”: including trans men and nonbinary people offends Rowling. There are ways round that. The headline could be rewritten, perhaps “Reducing inequality arising from menstruation”, though the social model of disability, which explains that inequality arises from how society is organised not from physical conditions, might improve it further: “Reducing inequality related to menstruation.” The article argues that development aid should continue investing in menstrual health and hygiene, so the headline has to involve menstruation somehow. Talking of menstruation as a women’s issue may make it appear of no concern to men- talking of it affecting “people” shows all people with empathy should be concerned.

I am not sure how I feel about the Guardian explaining how the stooshie started. It provides context, but does not excuse Rowling. Language which includes trans men and nonbinary AFAB people might be made more elegant, but going back to just using the word “women” is not the answer. “Critics accused her of being transphobic”- well, talking of “women” menstruating excludes AFAB trans people, and the article should explain that, rather than merely saying “critics accused”, as if the accusation might be baseless.

I wonder if we should not do the transphobes’ work for them. “Sex is real!” they cry. “We are erased!” With a piteous air of martyrdom. We could wearily point out the transphobic errors they make, but another way to respond is to ignore everything that is not clearly and on the face of it transphobic. Mocking the phrase “people who menstruate” is transphobic. But this mini-rant might just be ignored. “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction.” Congratulations on your trivial reductio ad absurdum! If gravity wasn’t real, there would be no planets. “It isn’t hate to speak the truth,” she says, obscurely- what can she mean? So one might politely ignore her gibberings, or, less politely, say, “Well, yes. So what?”

A Quaker transphobe

Though a few Quakers are viciously and closed-mindedly transphobic, most transphobia among Quakers comes from arrogance or ignorance, and a failure to see privilege, rather than hate. The Friends Quarterly has printed a transphobic article, because the transphobe has disguised her hatred. In this post I analyse the article, and illustrate the hate. This is a content warning. If you feel able to bear a gaslighter pretending her transphobia is speaking out for vulnerable cis women, read her quotes below. But as trans people will spot the transphobia immediately, this post is mainly for Quakers who might wonder what the fuss was. These well-intentioned souls may be asking, “Who, me? Surely I am never transphobic?” Continue reading

Trans women need LGB people and cis women as allies

If a trans-excluder says that vulnerable women would be scared, seeing me in a women’s loo or changing room, I am silenced. My friends say, “Nonsense!” robustly, and I need that protection, because I am put into such a state of misery and fear that I cannot speak for myself. I just want to hide.

Saying I am dangerous, or that people reasonably fear me, is a threat, because it means that someone might feel justified in attacking me, to defend those vulnerable others. And, more, it raises echoes in me, of being the outsider, not accepted, which may be pre-verbal. It knocks the stuffing out of me. I am terrified. I lose all my energy.

So I am glad to have robust allies against the government’s plan to take away all protection for trans people. The pledge of the minister, Liz Truss, to “protect single-sex spaces” means working to exclude me, and a Tory peer’s extension of that principle to clothes-shops changing rooms show what they want. It is an emergency. Having caused thousands of unnecessary deaths, and repeatedly lied about the number of covid tests performed, they need out-groups for the populace to hate as our anger grows.

First up, the LGBT Foundation. This Manchester charity has been supporting and representing lesbians and gay men for over forty years. They have drafted an open letter to the minister for cis women to sign, to say they do not fear us. Please share it and get as many cis women- lesbian or straight- as possible to sign.

They point out, the language you have used is very similar to the anti-trans rhetoric used by transphobic hate groups and organisations such as Woman’s Place UK, Transgender Trend and the LGB Alliance. They say the evidence shows trans women are mostly harmless, and that medical treatment for trans youth is in the young people’s interest- as you would expect of medical treatment by NHS doctors. An actual, urgent feminist issue is that in covid lockdown intimate partner violence has increased, and they suggest the minister directs her attention to that instead.

We do not need protecting from trans people. Please focus on protecting us from the dangers that are killing women right now. If the Tory attack on trans people succeeds, they will come after lesbians and gays next.

This week, Liberty, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued a joint statement. They say we are treated as outsiders without rights, and as always At times of crisis and political change, marginalised groups are often singled out for abuse and hate. We are not heard, but dehumanised, made to defend who we are. In Hungary, Russia and the US trans people suffer vicious attacks on our rights: We cannot allow this to happen here.

Trans men need allies too; but the attacks are different. Trans men are attacked as pitiable and mutilated, trans women as perverted and dangerous. Both are attacked as deluded. Allies point out the attacks are baseless.