The importance of disagreement

Trans rights are held back by trans women working against them. I’ve just seen that one of them has written of me, Clare and I disagree on some issues but I suspect we agree on many others. Yes; but right now our disagreement matters more.

The most important issue in the struggle around trans rights now is the involvement of the hard-Right and far-Right. The Heritage Foundation works incessantly against women’s rights, even when it funds feminists. Its desire is a world run in the interests of the rich, where only the rich are free. I have changed my mind about my advice to Julie Bindel– she should shout this from the rooftops. The aim is to set left-wing trans women, and left-wing feminists, against each other so that we consume our energies and do not resist the hard-right.

“Gender-critical” campaigning against trans rights had been a mainly British phenomenon. The persecution in the US was from the hard-Right. Trump pleased his base with a ban on transgender troops. But now there is a “Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights” which entirely bizarrely suggests that the threats to women’s rights are surrogacy and transition.

On the re-affirmation of women’s sex-based rights, including women’s rights to physical and reproductive integrity, and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls that result from the replacement of the category of sex with that of ‘gender identity’, and from ‘surrogate’ motherhood and related practices.

What are the most important feminist issues? Worldwide, literacy and education must come pretty high; in developed countries, the gender pay gap affects most women; FGM; bodily autonomy, and access to family planning matters everywhere; I would argue even the number of women on the boards of the biggest multinational companies is more important to average American women than a few trans women.

The declaration argues, the concept of ‘gender identity’ makes socially constructed stereotypes, which organize and maintain women’s inequality, into essential and innate conditions, thereby undermining women’s sex-based rights. Rubbish. Transition only affects trans folk, not anyone else. I have no interest in other women behaving in a “feminine” way if they do not want to.

There was a launch in New York last Friday. Jean Hatchet may have revealed the funding for that.

I can see that if “femininity” does not fit you, you would feel irked, angry or hurt for someone to doubt you were a proper woman. For centuries women have been attacked as unfeminine, as bluestockings, for being too clever. Yet the heart of “transgender ideology” is the idea of gender identity, the knowledge at the heart of me, before any justification, that I am a woman. Therefore any woman can define her own womanhood. We are not the ones doubting or circumscribing your womanliness. All we do is assert our own. It would not affect women’s rights if even 5% of women were AMAB, but 0.1%?

I agree with them. They are women. Any time they want to talk, or find how we are natural allies, I am open to that. And I disagree. They are being set against their allies by their enemies, and the ridiculous self-justification they use for imagining attacking trans people is left-wing, principled, or against stereotyping of gender is utterly wrong.

And, what do I agree about, with that trans woman? I would like some accommodation with gender-critical feminists. What do I disagree? I condemn her utterly for writing for the Spectator. It is a right-wing rag. Yes, it’s nice to get your name on a well-read website, but not worth. betraying all you should hold dear. They want to criticise the prosecution by the prosecuting authorities of someone for doxxing a trans child, or pretend there is some “free-speech” issue around putting forward a view trumpeted in The Times four times a week, or even argue that trans women are not women. They are your enemy, and the enemies of all feminists. Yet you publish there, undermining everything you might want to achieve as a union activist, or even as a teacher. And these “feminists” undermine feminism by diverting feminist energy against trans women. I am with John Major on this- it’s time to “condemn a little more, and understand a little less”. Debbie Hayton: stop self-harming, and stop betraying feminism.

Sympathy for the anti-trans campaigners

Some of the stories these women tell, of how they changed from being “live and let live” to campaigning against trans rights, really speak to me. Then I feel anger and resentment against individual trans women, not just because they make it harder for the rest of us. The trans woman might tell the story differently, of course; yet I think how dare anyone do anything like that? Or there are things where I understand why trans people are like this, and understand why others might be offended.

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Anti-trans campaigners’ personal experiences

Some anti-trans campaigners become obsessive because of what they read or imagine- they read that the Girl Guides have a policy of including trans girls, and they imagine a trans girl committing sexual assault on a Guide camp. They think “What’s the worst that could happen?” Then their imaginations dream up the most awful things.

I call them campaigners, but the campaigns may just consist of posting horrible stuff about trans women on line, or reading others’ postings. And they may escalate to writing to MPs. It does not mean people will necessarily be hostile IRL, but they are on line.

Some have particular personal experiences which lead them into campaigning against us, and those experiences can be particularly minor and petty.

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Why did you become an anti-trans campaigner?

A thread on a site where anti-trans campaigners go asks them how they started with that campaign. It has over six hundred responses, and the personal stories are fascinating. Why would people invest so much time and energy in trying to evict 0.1% of women from women’s spaces? Why do they spend so much time on line, radicalising each other, nursing their wrath to keep it warm? There is qualitative evidence there, and I hope serious research is done to draw some conclusions from this archive. Meanwhile, here are some quotes and stories.

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Phantom Fears

Looking at the transphobes, you would think trans women outnumbered cis women. There’s now a Women’s Human Rights Campaign seeking the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls that result from the replacement of the category of sex with that of ‘gender identity’, and from ‘surrogate’ motherhood and related practices. It’s now sharing worldwide- three British transphobes are off to New York to speak on the matter, and try to increase the hatred of trans women in other countries. Perhaps the Koch brothers are paying, again.

0.1% is my estimate of the proportion of people who transition. This is a lot less than the 1%-odd that Stonewall estimates. How long does it take to see a thousand people? Consider the poor transphobe. Walking down a city centre shopping street at noon, she might pass a thousand people in a few minutes. Her eyes are drawn to the trans person, because she is overly sensitive to trans people and her brain always picks them out. But, they’re walking in the opposite direction, they don’t notice her, and probably their existence has not ruined her life, or even her day, unless their mere existence provokes her to dwell on how much she hates trans women.

I clock other trans women occasionally, but not that often.

In loos, it must be very rare. You are in a queue with five ahead of you, and when you get to the front there are three behind and two washing their hands. It’s a one in a hundred chance that one of them is trans. Most loos are not that crowded.

So women’s rights are not particularly affected by trans rights. The obsession some transphobes exhibit is completely disproportionate to their actual experience of trans women. The experiences which make them think about us is almost entirely moaning on-line about us, and reading others’ moans. For example:

I had no idea what was going on with the proposed changes to the GRA, etc in my own country. Well, of course not. It does not matter to anyone but that 0.1%.

Eventually looked into [trans issues] and shit my pants! I’ve been peaking daily ever since. But it’s what she reads, and the message-boards she goes on, that “Peak Trans” her, not real life experiences.

What about this one? My next experience was with a lecturer at the University who transitioned from mtf. They were very sweet and gentle and their joy at transitioning was quite touching. Never made any move to colonize women’s spaces, didn’t get stampy about accidental misgendering. No problems. So, the actual trans person she knows, she likes. It’s all the others she reads about that are so awful. Several of them say that Caitlyn Jenner being some magazine’s “Woman of the Year” was the thing that made them obsessive (sorry, they say “Peak transed” them): 32 out of 500 mention Caitlyn in one thread. Most of them don’t mention personal experience, it’s always just something they’ve read.

It is a right pain when they say they met a trans woman they didn’t like. Oh, brilliant. So now they judge us all, because every trans woman obviously has every bad characteristic any trans woman has ever been accused of. How any of us are outside prison I don’t know.

Of course, the same applies to us. We read about transphobia all the time, but encounter it a great deal less. Let us shed our phantom fears. We meet transphobia in real life very rarely.

Antisemitism and transmisogyny

Vocal prejudice tends to be right-wing, with the exception of prejudice against trans women and Jews. Many people who would think of themselves as left-wing, and hold some left-wing opinions, are happy to speak their prejudice against both; so trans women can learn from Jews about seeing where prejudice lies. People on the Left can be sexist and racist, of course, paying less attention or respect to women and people of colour, but tend not to express racist and sexist views. When they express antisemitic or transmisogynist views they are working in the interests of the extreme right, dividing the Left and chasing mirages.

So it is worth reading Understanding Antisemitism by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (click for pdf) which starts with a picture of Muslims in solidarity with praying Jews, and ends with a picture of Jews in solidarity with Muslims at an “Iftar in the streets” after Trump’s Muslim ban. The Right seeks to divide people, possibly because they are incapable of understanding life without out-groups; solidarity is our answer. That is why I want to learn about antisemitism, and stand against it.

I have seen antisemitism shared by a Labour member, against rich elites exploiting workers, but painting those elites as Jewish rather than merely rich. There are rich Jews- in 2015, 11.6% of the world’s billionaires were Jews, and 1.7% of millionaires- a bigger proportion than of the population as a whole, but a small proportion of the very wealthy. More than half the world’s millionaires identified as Christian.

Aurora Levins Morales skewers this: Racism is like a millstone, a crushing weight that relentlessly presses down on people intended to be a permanent underclass. Its purpose is to press profit from us, right to the edge of extermination and beyond. The oppression of Jews is a conjuring trick, a pressure valve, a shunt that redirects the rage of working people away from the 1%, a hidden mechanism, a set up that works through misdirection, that uses privilege to hide the gears.

Unlike racism, at least some of its targets must be seen to prosper, must be well paid and highly visible. The goal is not to crush us, it’s to have us available for crushing.

By redirecting rage against oppressors onto Jews, the rich escape democratic oversight and proper taxation. The tactic of the Right is to divide us. In the same way, some trans people are prominent, such as Caitlyn Jenner, and thereby a focus for hatred of trans women, which is then generalised. We could be allies working on genuine feminist concerns, and instead we are sniping at each other. Caitlyn is not celebrated because she is Trans, but because she is a former athlete and connected to the Kardashian family- she is a celebrity. It is not quite the same: prominent trans people tend to be writers, speakers, actors, celebrities, and George Soros is a billionaire funding progressive causes such as the People’s Vote campaign in the UK, but both are privileged and targeted.

I saw a post writing about women murdered by partners or former partners, with legitimate emotion, then phobically turning that emotion on trans women: while men kill women that they know at the rate of over 2 a week, all the energies of the women, like me, who stand up for these women and fight for these women are being focused on fighting against men for the right to define womanhood and all that entails. It would be legitimate rage against feminist energy being diverted from true feminist concerns to an unimportant matter; but rather her rage is against trans women.

Legitimate criticism may shade over into prejudice and phobia. We should criticise violence by trans women, but it should not be over emphasised. Tara Wolf committed an assault, but it was not newsworthy. JFREJ say We must criticize Jews who support the oppression of Palestinians on the same terms and by the same standards that we hold for all oppressors the world over — we are enraged because of what they do, not by who they are.

JFREJ say Jews fear that the State of Israel is all that stands between them and a new Shoah, but eschew the argument that claims of rights for Palestinians which would make the State of Israel no longer Jewish are antisemitic. I disagree. I consider that Jews born in Israel have created a right to stay in a Jewish state. The existence of Israel gives a measure of protection to Jews, who are subject to prejudice and have been for millennia. And trans women are safer being treated as women, rather than if we were tolerated dressing as we do but expected to be treated as men.

Their account of internalised antisemitism may help understand internalised transphobia. Many trans women try to make men of ourselves before transitioning, and still fear we should be manly or that our femininity is weakness. But internalised phobia does not manifest itself in the same way in all trans women. JFREJ reports that even where Jews are safe, such as financially secure Jews in American cities, they can be aware of the history of antisemitism and so that safety feels precarious. Even when mostly safe, we are continually made aware of transphobic incidents and transphobia in the media. They call on Jews to work against white privilege, and trans women should be feminist.

Jennifer James

Jennifer James took seven thousand pounds entrusted to her for a court action in others’ interests, and applied it to her personal debts. When found out she said, “I know it was less than ideal promise not to borrow again. Desperate times call for desperate measures.” (Update 60). Later, she said (Update 68) “I now get that this was more serious than I thought. I understand I was trite about it. I have since heard that some people were stressed and worried about it and that is entirely my fault. At the end of last week I got very stressed by a creditor’s actions and I panicked and made a bad decision. That’s not an excuse that’s an explanation.”

Then she wrote, I feel bad because you all put your trust in me and I fucked up. I also know that for a few loudmouths I can do nothing right and, to be honest, that’s a ‘you’ problem not a ‘me’ problem. But carry on, whatever… Well. Oddly enough, I agree with her here. Yes, she fouled up. And, that does not mean she should never be trusted again, or that what she has to say should be ignored. In the well-worn phrase, more used by Tories than Labour, I would rather have her in the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in. I understand that people who object to her suing the Labour party may crow at this evidence of her untrustworthiness; and trans people, as she is suing to prevent trans women getting on all-women shortlists, but generally I am against trump cards, the idea that one mistake shows someone need not be listened to ever again, or one argument is valueless. Trump cards are a way of stopping thinking.

James does not show great self-understanding. She complains she has been expelled from the Labour Party, and shows some of the evidence used against her. She has made slurs against the Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, which are not just antisemitic but reek of conspiracy-theory: “Ruth Smeeth is literally working hand in hand with Right Wing Power that is her purpose: that’s why she was GIVEN her position.” And she has said pretty horrible things about trans people, probably more than she has reproduced here.

The real reason why she should be opposed by anyone on the Left is that she proposes to sue the Labour party about trans women, rather than to pursue her goals through democratic party channels, as if trans women were the only important political issue rather than unseating the Tory government, whose risking no-deal Brexit is the most harmful single Tory act against the population of the UK since the General Strike of 1926. With NHS privatisation, or benefit cuts, trans rights should not weigh on the scale. Now is the time for all good folks to come to the aid of the Party (Google tells me that was a learn-to-type exercise, rather than a quote from Trotsky).

Many of these donations of £10 or so may come from individual women on the Left of politics in the UK, but many are anonymous. I am sure Robert Mercer or American hard-right organisations would like to cause trouble on the Left, using this issue. As I type, £29,750 of £40,000 has been raised, but only £100 in the last five days.

Having shown herself untrustworthy, James should find someone else to manage the fundraiser. Who is to say she will not take more money out? Was it just luck that it was repaid the same day? Better still, she should shut it down. No political issue is worth weakening the Labour Party right now, with the threat to the country from Tory power.

Using a crime

Katie Dolotowski ambushed a ten year old girl coming out of a toilet cubicle. She pushed her back into the cubicle, saying a man outside would kill her mother. However the girl punched her in the face, stomach and groin and ran outside.

This is chaotic and wicked behaviour. The intent was a sex crime: Dolotowski told her intended victim to remove her trousers. I completely understand the mother being angry that Dolotowski was released into supported accommodation and ordered to work in the community. However I also understand the sheriff court sentence, and the sheriff has had reports to justify it. She has been in care since she was three, and has mental health problems. Not everyone with mental health problems who has been in care commits sex crimes, the mother pointed out, but as she is 18 the sheriff may believe some rehabilitation is possible in supported accommodation which would not be possible in an adult prison. Dolotowski had just come out of a young offenders’ institution. The offence took place in March last year, so possibly some time in the YOI was spent remanded in custody, which would be taken into account in sentencing.

The intent was a serious crime, and Dolotowski has culpability for that, but sentencing also takes into account the harm done, even though the harm was less because of the courage of the child rather than any action of the panel. Being generally against imprisonment and for rehabilitation, I am not going to be more or less liberal just because the criminal is trans.

Most sexual assaults go unreported in the press, but there was some excuse for the Dundee Courier, a nearby regional paper, reporting the sentencing on 1 February. The bravery of the child and the anger of the mother made it newsworthy, for a regional paper.

There was no excuse, however, for the Times reporting it on 6 February. Eleven million adults in the UK are survivors of contact and non-contact sexual abuse. The Times reported it because, while she was given her correct name in court, Katie Dolokowski had been in a YOI for boys. She is trans. The Times reported a “gender critical” campaign group which has had a twitter account for six months, and a website marked “©2019”, complaining about the offence. Had they done a vox-pop, they could have quoted someone equally notable, though perhaps only anti-trans campaigners would think the accused’s trans status was relevant.

Most people who are not Trump supporters would see that the fact that a US citizen died in a car accident with an immigrant, even an illegal immigrant, does not mean that immigration is bad. Yet The Times believes they can use this ridiculous yet disgusting crime against all trans people, or they would see it is not newsworthy, six days later, in a national newspaper.

It is not newsworthy, unless you want to campaign against trans people. Restricting the rights of trans people will not reduce the crime against women and girls in Scotland or elsewhere. The Times wants to tar all of us with the same brush, and incite hatred against us.

A similar game was played by the Daily Star, whose website does not carry its admission that it had no basis for its story that Ian Huntley, who murdered two young girls from sexual motives, was trans. It had claimed Ian Huntley had got a blonde wig and wanted fellow inmates to call him Nicola. “Ian Huntley would like to make it clear that he does not own a wig and has never asked to be known by any name other than his own”. Here’s a tweet saying that even though Huntley is not trans, people should still fear trans people as sex criminals. Pink News quotes tweets using Huntley to inflame fear against trans women. No, we should judge sex criminals, whether they be cis, trans or Scottish.

The edge of transphobia II

My friend wrote, I think there is a real discussion to be had about what constitutes a woman (I’m open to discussion but I currently think being a woman is an embodied state, so ones body is relevant to it) and calling people transphobic who think that differences between cis gender women and trans women are up for discussion transphobic or TERFs does not help reflective engagement in an open discussion about gender.

How can we show respect for women’s bodies? A woman spoke impassionedly to me about her body, about suckling with her breasts, about carrying a baby, about giving birth. These things clearly matter. We have no experience of them. There are many reasons why there should be women’s spaces, and the vulnerability of bodies which might give birth is surely a strong reason. I felt the emotional swings that progesterone could bring, and when I found them unbearable could simply stop taking the tablets. I remember the miserable pleading of a child, “Please, Miss, can I go to the toilet?” repeatedly during lessons, from nearly forty years ago, and realise I have no idea of the shame and pain of her experience.

Many on the other side see menstruation and penises as trump cards. That’s it, there is no further need for discussion. Trans women are men, and should be kept out of women’s spaces. Some tolerate post-operative transsexuals, some not even that.

I may have driven a woman into the arms of the anti-trans campaigners by my attitude to menstruation. I hated the thought that it was a trump card. Germaine Greer said, Being a woman is a bit tricky. If you didn’t find your pants full of blood when you were 13 there’s something important about being a woman you don’t know. It’s not all cake and jam. Well, no. Yet, if that means there should be female spaces where not even post-operative trans can go, it changes my life completely. I am afraid. I see myself as a harmless anomaly, one in a thousand, not really a threat, and wish feminists would devote their campaigning attention to the gender pay gap or sexual harassment, and not to me.

There was a loose group of bloggers, commenting on each others’ posts- queers, straight Lefties, and religious sceptics- and Roughseas’ first comment on my blog admired the portraits I had had taken expressing female when I was nerving myself to transition. She commented here from 2012-2016. Then I wrote on menstruation as a trump card, and she challenged me. And, as you’ve said you’ve lived as a woman for 13 years, I can take it you have no experiential knowledge of horrible bloody soggy knickers in your teens, leaking sanitary towels, leaking tampons and people making snide digs when you were ‘on’. Her last comments here were challenging my feminine presentation: Whatever you think and buy, you are supporting patriarchal imagery. It may be what you want. It still supports the idea that the rest of us should do the same. She started following and supporting anti-trans blogs. I don’t think I converted her to anti-trans campaigning, but what I said could have pushed her in that direction.

My friend wrote, I disagreed with a statement you made early in the gathering to the effect that objections to people with penis’s in women’s spaces is transphobia. I thought it was unhelpful and should have been publicly challenged at the time as I think that sort of statement serves to shut down debate.

There is a moment where slight discomfort with trans people, moderated with sympathy for our struggles, can become anger at “trans rights activists” and campaigning against trans inclusion. Looking into each others’ eyes, making an effort to understand the other, and being very careful with our speech we might still see each others’ humanity and accept the other; yet that is so difficult.

How can I accept your slight discomfort when I am sensitised by open hate? I see the disgust and contempt on twitter, and claim that all this talk of penises is transphobic. Well-

Having a penis is also a source of shame and pain. I was always sitting to wee long before I stopped presenting male. Like others, I was bathing with bubble bath to avoid seeing the thing. When presenting male is unbearable, and expressing female is terrifying-

I now fear my initial reply is not enough. I wrote,

I said it was transphobic to object to penises in women’s spaces because most of us have penises. To give myself as an example: I associated with transsexuals, and knew I wanted to transition, but took some time seeing if I could manage it before seeing my doctor. That meant dressing female and going in women’s spaces, first around Canal St., the gay area of Manchester, then the Bridgewater Hall, then supermarkets and other such places. Later, I had a diagnosis from a psychiatrist and had thrown out all my male clothes, but had not yet had my operation. Some people wait more than ten years for the operation. So although most of us want it, many of us have not had it.

There is a constant harping on about penises in the campaign against us, in stickers saying “Women do not have penises”. I find it dehumanising. I am so much more than a penis.

These things could have been brought out if we had a longer dialogue. But I take the point about dislike of the word “transphobia”.

I now fear that was not enough. A minor point was, what women’s spaces? Loos but not changing rooms, and only loos when I really needed them. Not changing rooms: I did not swim for three years. Though I think we should be in changing rooms, we do not want to show off our genitals more than any normal person.

But more, it does not address the discomfort. I am claiming a trump card of my own- because transition is more important to me than anything else in the world, I should be accepted. On the anti-trans side, there is the idea of “Peak trans”- you are a liberal feminist, or even a radical feminist, believing that trans people have a lot to cope with and should be accepted, and then you meet a few, or read what trans women write, and find that natural slight discomfort becomes campaigning energy against us. If that is true, then trans women have no hope.

There is so much fear and shame here. Trans women should never forget the depth of oppression of cis women by patriarchy. My own burden of fear and shame is so great! I hate the thought that I pushed someone to be against us; but if we cannot hear each other, and see each others’ humanity, across the divide between trans women and cis women, then trans women will not survive.

Yet- I am here! I cry, despairingly. I am human too!

“Are you prejudiced against trans people?”

2% of British people said yes, they were very prejudiced. 13% said they were a little prejudiced. How weird. These 2% are not the ultra-woke, who analyse themselves, recognise their inner prejudice, and resolve to contradict it. Nor are they the gender critical feminists, who would not admit any of their attitudes were prejudiced.

Honestly. I would hope the question “Would you describe yourself as prejudiced against trans people?” in the British Social Attitudes survey would get a 100% no. This means that people do not view this prejudice as wrong. You see a trans woman and make assumptions about her. 6% said such prejudice was rarely or never wrong. Only 52% said it was always wrong. So often, people imagine bad things about a trans woman, and believe these imaginings are correct.

Do you think trans people have transitioned because of a “very superficial or temporary need”? Transition was defined as “all of part of a process to change the sex” which “might include by changing their name, wearing different clothes, taking hormones or having gender reassignment surgery”. 15% agreed that transition could be from a very superficial or temporary need. 22% did not know, 61% disagreed. So most people recognise that we take transition very seriously, and only do it because we really mean it- usually for life- but some people minimise our need and our decision. That makes it easier to dismiss us.

Women were more likely than men to disagree that transitioning was superficial and temporary. Younger people were more likely to disagree than older people. People with a degree were twice as likely to disagree than people with no qualification. So, if you have a degree and you manage to get a job which fits your educational level, you will face less prejudice, but woe betide you in an unskilled job.

However when people with degrees, professional or managerial jobs, or the highest incomes were most likely to say prejudice was wrong, that is in part because they know what to say. In the 1970s, race discrimination claims were about appalling treatment, completely clear prejudice, comparing black people to apes and monkeys. By 2010 the abuse was far more subtle.

While the research brief has just been published, the data was collected in Summer and Autumn 2017, so before the current hard-Right funded campaign of hatred against trans people.

Other prejudices seem to be diminishing. 75% said premarital sexual relationships were not wrong, and 68% said same sex relations were “not wrong at all”. In 1987 74% said same-sex relations were “always” or “mostly” wrong, and now just 17% say that. It’s an improvement, and the ones saying it is wrong are disproportionately old and ill-educated.

33% of people said a woman with a child below school age should stay at home, and 8% agreed that “a man’s job is to earn the money; a woman’s job is to take care of the home and family”. There are still weird people about, with horrible opinions. But you knew that. The research brief can be found here.