Letter from a Transplainer

I have never met a trans activist. I have met many trans people some of whom I count among my friends but encounters with trans activists continue to elude me.  I am beginning to wonder whether they actually exist, other than as straw men/women to be knocked down by those radical feminists who have an issue with trans people.

I am going to tell you about two trans people I regard as friends.  Allow me to introduce Helen  and Jake (not their real names)

Helen is in her early 50s and has been living as a woman for 3 years. She is not really political, although she was politicised enough by her experiences to attend her first Pride in London in 2019.  Her main interests are music and vintage fashion. It is through the vintage scene that I know Helen. She is very active on the scene and has a number of close female friends. She is socially well networked, something she could not be without. Her network consists mainly of cisgendered women.

Jake is in  his late 30s. I have known him for nearly 15 years, in other words since before he began his transition. Our shared passion is poetry and it is through poetry that we originally met and became friends. Jake is deeply interested in gender politics and I will always be grateful to him  for persuading me that the impenetrable prose of Judith Butler was worth persevering with. Jake is essentially a loner who doesn’t belong to any scenes. He moved to his current job after staring his transition and his new colleagues do not know that he is transgender. He has a deep voice, a beard and is starting to go thin on top. Once they start taking hormones it is much easier for trans men to pass than it is for women.

Helen and Jake live their lives quietly, keeping their heads below the parapet as far as they can. Nonetheless Jake is angry at the way that people like him have been airbrushed out of the debate on gender issues and their rights threatened by the radical feminist obsession with trans women. What their lives show, above all, is that trans people are not a race apart, they are fully integrated members of society, they are brothers, sisters, friends, and work colleagues. Many of them do not identify themselves predominantly in terms of their transness. The only difference between them and cisgendered people is that a vociferous minority hates them solely for who they are.

Which brings us back to the trans activists. They are part of a radical feminist typology of trans people (more specifically trans women as they mainly appear not to recognize the existence of trans men and non binary people.) This is not a trivial debating point. I am informed by a doctor at the London Gender Identity Clinic that F to M transitions now account for over half of new referrals to the GICs nationwide. And yet the rad fems have been able to get the debate framed solely in terms of alleged threats to the rights of women.

According to them trans women are, to put it crudely, blokes in frocks trying to invade women’s spaces (with a suggestion that they do this to sexually assault women), telling women what to do, bullying lesbians into having sex with them, erasing women’s identity as women, demanding rights that adversely affect women, and much much more.

The rad fems have shown themselves to be organised, articulate and very effective campaigners. One of the most pernicious aspects of their activity is that they have been able to persuade many politicians that they speak for women, all women.

They do not. As Helen’s example shows, lots of women do not have an issue with trans women. Quite the opposite, they have trans friends or rather they don’t. For Helen’s female friends, she is not a trans woman. She is a woman.

The issue of transgender is not, of course, the only area where radical feminists are far away from where most women are. The list of things that many women do, and freely choose to do, and which rad fems disapprove of is quite long. So long, in fact,  that you might think they don’t like women very much.  These include

Being friends with trans women

Engaging in sex work in any form.

Engaging in BDSM. It should be noted that women dominating submissive men is as frowned upon as women submitting to  dominant men. .

Using make up

Wearing heels

Liking fashion

Going to the salon for waxing.

Enjoying or producing porn.

Just a few examples taken from radfem social media. On the fringes it gets loopier still.

I was recently told about an academic at a Midlands university  who is trying to have the student Burlesque Society banned as “burlesque objectifies women for the male gaze.” I can only think that she has never actually been to a burlesque performance and studied the gender composition of the audience

And on the far shores it gets even mote bizarre. So I have heard a rad fem argue that freely available contraception and abortion are bad as they give men “a free pass to penetrate women.” Another has criticised lesbians who enjoy strap on play as this replicates “patriarchal phallocentric sexual practices.”

And then there was the radfem who gave advice to lesbians who suspect that a new partner might be a post-op trans woman. There are, she suggested, ways you can tell from a close inspection of the genitalia, including the angle of the slit to the vertical (different in a surgically created neo-vagina apparently) and the distance from the navel to the clit. This conjures up images of radfem lesbians keeping a tape measure on the bedside table just in case. I am not making this up, believe me.

I think you all get the picture. And I haven’t even mentioned Cathy Brennan. Look her up if you’re interested. I really haven’t got the stomach for saying anything about her anti-trans crusade.

It is hard to avoid concluding that telling women what to do is more important than actually starting where women are and starting the fight for equality from there. The other aspect to this is that their obsession with trans people eclipses the actual struggles of real women, struggles incidentally in which many trans people have been allies.

So it is that they make common cause with both religious fundamentalists and the far right, neither of who have been conspicuous supporters of women’s’ rights. Take, for example, Posie Parker whose concern for women has led her to the US to address meetings sponsored by the anti-abortion Heritage Foundation and who has had the support of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the far right demagogue better known to his intellectually challenged supporters as  “Tommy Robinson.”  She has also called for trans men to be forcibly sterilised. Parker, like others, spew their hatred and when called out on it, protest that they are only exercising freedom of speech.  A bit like Yaxley-Lennon himself. This is a point I will return to.

Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism is a cult. It is not radical. Neither is it feminist. It has, however, made the whole issue of transgender rights so toxic that I wonder why people who don’t need to, (some of us have no choice of course), venture into it. Some  cisgendered men do take the plunge. One of the most notorious is Graham Linehan, the creator of Father Ted, who has embarked on a side hustle as trans baiter, seeming oblivious to the fact that his home country has for 5 years had gender self certification without the sky falling in, or indeed without Irish women being erased by the befrocked tranny hordes of rad fem mythology.

Then there was the gay man Jonathan Best who wrote a piece that reads more and more like the founding document of the transphobic LGB Alliance and which I discussed here.

One commonality of their expressed views on transgender is the way in which they have uncritically accepted the most pernicious of all the radical feminist sleights of hand. This is the idea that the trans people they bully are in fact the real bullies.

I am not going to say much about Inigo More’s post, (and I still cannot begin to understand why he felt the need to write it), except that it displays evidence of the same thinking, that there are trans people policing language, denying freedom of speech, ready to cry “transphobe” at anyone using the wrong pronouns. I believe this was an attempt at satire. It fell flat and the themes underlying it are so wearily familiar to anyone who follows the sterile gender debates that it was inevitable that people would react as they have. And he really can’t complain.

I am prepared to entertain the thought that Inigo is not a transphobe and that it was not his intention to mock trans people. That, however, is the effect. Context is everything. I have set out the context in the first few paragraphs of this post. And it is deafness to this context and to the lived experience of transgender people that is the real problem here. And reading pieces like this from people on the fringe of the sex blogging community hurts. It really bloody hurts. .

Saying this is not seeking to play the victim, Neither is it demanding special treatment.   Trans people just want to be addressed by the names they have chosen to use and be addressed by the gender pronouns that are appropriate to their identity. This is not a lot to ask. It is, after all, what everyone else expects.

That said, I was deeply uncomfortable with the naming and shaming that went on social media the other week, the calling out of certain people as transphobes. I cannot pass judgement on all of the people named as I don’t know them but there are three people named who I do know. I have spoken to them in the weeks since the controversy erupted.  In fact they all contacted me to check that I was OK. (I was).  I do not regard them as transphobic. I will continue to regard them as friends and I will continue to work with them. I will not be boycotting memes or shunning people. It is surely better to engage with people and talk to them rather than shout.  This is what I have done and  will continue to do.

And what about the wider sex blogging community? My personal experience is wholly positive. I first attended Eroticon as Eve in 2015 and the experience was emotionally overwhelming, not the acceptance (which I had expected) but the positivity, even love, towards me. And I continue to feel that love. In saying this I do not seek to deny the experience of others.  In the same way I have had no negative experiences on the fet scene but am well aware that transphobia, (and misogyny and homophobia) are issues there.

Transphobia has no place in the sex blogging community. It is the responsibility of all of us to make it a a safe space for all of us, regardless of how we identify. All the bars in Birmingham’s Gay Village display posters that say “No TERFS on Our Turf.” Let’s make that our motto too.

Many or most bloggers are members of sexual minorities or subcultures of various kinds, some are members of several. Trans people accept your kink, your queerness, your polyamory or whatever. Accept us in return. We are not strangers. We are family.





2 thoughts on “Letter from a Transplainer

  1. There are such a lot of interesting thoughts here!

    I have only met a few trans activists, which is a surprise because I’m old enough to have a signed-by-the-author first edition of the Old Testament. Maybe I fly under the radar as a nonbinary person, or maybe I’m just seen as non-threatening because I’m camper than Larry Grayson’s underpants.

    Trans activism feels like such a hard path to walk. Even when I speak to my trans friends, we don’t all see ourselves in the same way and we don’t all want the same things. Which is not a surprise; these are normal human feelings and we are just normal humans! I have seen quotes from older trans people along the lines of, “we don’t want to be celebrated, just accepted” and I understand where that comes from. I was bullied in the playgrounds in the 70s, beaten up in the same playgrounds in the 80s, and attacked in pubs and bars in the 90s. And we’re still under attack! No wonder they just want to blend in, drive a grey BMW, live in a cul-de-sac (at least my BMW is green. And it’s a Mini!).

    Sometimes I wonder whether my ideal trans activists are the ones who act as friends to us and role models to everyone else; who ask questions respectfully when there are things they don’t know; who accept a gentle correction when they make an honest mistake; and who go to extraordinary lengths to treat us with mundanity. To paraphrase Roosevelt, who speak softly and let their actions be the big stick.

  2. I read this post with great interest, and will continue to read the articles you have linked to. I am horrified by the things you describe, and agree this type of radical thinking is untennable. To suggest forcibly sterilising someone, is disgusting as is the suggestion that a transgender person would abuse someone. I’m always astounded at the intolerance we as humans can lay on one another. I don’t understand it. I never will.

    As you say a person should be able to live as the gender they chose and the trans persons I know, are my friends (and in their cases, women) first and foremost, I don’t normally separate them as I have here, because to me they are just my friends.

    Wishing you well in this strange time,


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