A Load of Balls – The U -Turn on Gender Recognition

At the end of what has been a pretty traumatic week for transgender people came the news that most of us had been expecting but still hoping not to hear. This was the announcement that the Government will not be proceeding with plans to amend the Gender Recognition Act to permit self-declaration (as has been permitted in the Republic of Ireland since 2015) despite this having been the policy of previous Conservative administrations (it was originally put forward by the then Equalities Minister Maria Miller, and despite the results of a consultation being largely in favour. The Government has come up with the odd justification that the result was skewed by lots of pro trans gender groups submitting favourable responses. By the same logic one might argue that the result of the 2019 General Election was skewed by lots of people voting Conservative but logic and consistency is not something populists go in for.

For populist is what the Conservative Party now is. It wasn’t always this way. Just fifteen years ago David Cameron became party leader and set out to remodel the party as fiscally conservative and pro-business but socially liberal. The intake of Conservative MPs at the elections of 2005 and 2010 included a number of LGBT people who went on to hold ministerial office, such as Justine Greening, Margot James and Nick Boles. That was before Brexit swung the party in a populist direction and pragmatic, centrist Tories were purged.

With populism come culture wars. And this is what we now have. An internal Conservative Party paper leaked before the General Election suggested using attacks on trans rights as a means of gaining support with socially conservative working class voters, so no one should be surprised by what is happening now. There have been press reports about the Government legislating to protect single sex spaces and this raises the prospect of US style bathroom bans being brought in.  Some transwomen I know are desperately worried.

I just want to consider what a bathroom ban could mean in practice.  It has been suggested that it could apply to “male bodied” transwomen.  Female bodied transmen don’t get a look in, they have been airbrushed out yet again although their presence raises issues that neither the Government nor the noisy and unrepresentative trans-exclusionary radical feminists seem to have considered. But let us stay with transwomen for the moment. What does it actually mean for a transwoman to be male bodied? It can’t just be about surgery because a transwoman who has been taking hormones for an extended period will have a number of characteristics that males do not, notably breasts (plumbed in in exactly the same way as cis female breasts), but also softer skin and hair. After a while the male genitalia even cease to work in the way they used to. And at what point does a transwoman taking hormones cease to be male bodied? How big would her breasts have to be? What testosterone level would she need to be under? These are not debating points if legal definitions of male bodied are to be made.

In practice it is impossible to produce a coherent and consistent definition of male bodied in respect of transwomen. So the fall back will be, I am sure, genitalia, which is effectively saying that women are nothing more or less than vaginas on legs, (a slightly odd position for feminists to be taking). And how could such a ban be policed except by requiring all users of the ladies bathroom (the vast majority of whom of course are cisgendered women) to submit to intrusive questioning or worse. In the US states that have bathroom bans cisgendered woman have been among the victims, humiliated and thrown out for not looking “feminine” enough. The alleged protection of women becomes a means of policing their bodies. It usually does and it is, at first sight, astonishing that women who call them feminists can make common cause with religious conservatives and populist politicians, common cause with people who seek to attack women’s demands for bodily autonomy and reproductive rights. But then few things that radical feminists do surprise me anymore.

And what about the transmen happily using the Gents? Are they to be forced to use the ladies? They  will not be put in danger by this is the way that transwomen being forced to use the gents will, but  will women be necessarily happy to share a bathroom with someone with  male characteristics, a deep voice, possibly a beard, their body bulked up by years of taking testosterone?

However this policy shift is framed, it should be clear that trans rights are the thin end of the wedge. If existing gains for transpeople can be reversed so easily by populist governments, (and Hungary is the most egregious example, the stripping of trans rights the work of a man who also thinks that Hungarian women should be having more babies) , so can gains for women and gains for the rest of the LGBT+ community. I well remember Margaret Thatcher’s chilling speech to the Conservative Party conference in 1987 when she told delegates that there was “no inalienable right to be gay.” Section 28 became law the following year. If we don’t want to go back to those dark days we need to fight now, all of us together. Fight for your trans brothers and sisters, as they have fought for you.

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.

 

 

 

 

DIVA Days

A week ago, a grey plastic package arrived in the post. I ripped it open to find my first subscriber copy of Diva magazine. I suppose it is a sad reflection of our times that it is necessary for the magazine to be sent out in such packaging, in a way that my copies of Private Eye are not. But shame and stigma are still the lived experience of many LGBT people. And this is something I can relate to. It was seven years ago that I bought my first copy, blushing furiously as I approached the till.  There are still shops where DIVA is tucked away far from the women’s lifestyle magazines where it really belongs

I soon fell in love with the magazine, with its varied and interesting features, its high quality of writing, (OK they are still to accept a pitch from me but I live in hope!)   , but above all for its generosity and inclusiveness. For DIVA is both bi- and trans- positive. This stance, particularly on trans issues, has brought it a lot of criticism, and has alienated some long-term readers, but the editors, Jane Czyzelska and for the last year or so, Carrie Lyell, have stuck to their guns. And then there were the amazing sex issues. I have kept all of these, there were hot photoshoots, one of which inspired a story on this blog, there was flash fiction, there were features from which I learnt so much. For a time, the amazing Anna Sansom was sex editor. Anna is the best friend I have never met. We have been engaging online for over 7 years now, she encouraged in the early days of my blog, and was a virtual ear for my experiences as I belatedly discovered myself sexually and began to explore BDSM.  It was Anna who made me aware of Fetlife. And Anna, if you are reading this, 2020 will be the year we finally meet. If you don’t make it to Eroticon I will be heading down your way. It is high time we had coffee and cake together, or maybe gin?

Anna gets a mention in the current issue because the sex edition is back after an absence of a few years. And it is a brilliant issue, not least because it includes the sexual experiences of those for whom sex is unusually problematic, transgender, genderqueer and intersex people. There was much that I can relate to my own experience. Reading it, I became aware of how much I have grown in the few years and how much Diva has helped me on my journey. I feel genuine excitement when I open a new issue, I feel too a sense of belonging to a community of amazing women.

The only downside is that I tend to read it in one sitting and then feel empty until the next one arrives. If you have never read it, do. You will not regret it, however you identify in terms of gender or sexuality. For as they headlined my letter many years ago,

“Diva is for everyone.”

Flying the Flag

I never really thought that at my age I would ever be a football mascot. Well, actually, I wasn’t really but I did get to hold the Proud Baggies’ flag as the players came out for West Bromwich Albion’s home game against Swansea City on Rainbow Laces Day.

Rainbow Laces Day is the day when football clubs and their supporters embrace diversity and promote the message that football is for everyone. Several of the players wore rainbow laces, there  were rainbow corner flags, there were clear messages for those who are not yet on board (and there are some) that the club stands fully behind its LGBT supporters.

This is not a football blog so I will say little about the actual game except to say that our team played the best football I have seen for several years and won 5-1. The weather gave us a lovely surprise with the rapid interplay of rain, hail and sunshine producing a lovely rainbow over the rather unpoetically named Smethwick End.

And so on to the Loft Lounge for drinks. And chat. And more drinks.  We are a diverse group and fully reflect the diverse nature of the LGBTQI community.  There are those who argue that the various parts of the community don’t necessarily belong together, and it has been suggested that the T doesn’t really belong. I have discussed this here and explained why I consider it to be wrong. This is not an issue in this particular queer football family. Our group includes straight allies, there is Carlos from Portugal who just loves hanging out with queer folk (and well who wouldn’t!). For we are multinational too. Our Austrian Proud Baggie Sophie couldn’t be with us on Sunday but was watching at home in Vienna.

In a world that is darkening with the rise of populism, nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia and suspicion of the other, our rainbow is a light pointing the way towards a better world. And an illustration of the capacity of football to bring out the best in people.

If you want to know more about our group check out our website https://proudbaggies.com/

 

Being a Proud Baggie

I suppose I should have been part of the LGBT scene rather longer than  I have.  I occasionally go to meetups of the Birmingham LGBT Meetup and have met some people I really like. But I never had time to go that often.  Their main event is Coffee and Cake on a Saturday afternoon, and on Saturday afternoons I often have other things to do, like supporting West Bromwich Albion.  And when I say that if I had the choice between going to a Baggies game and having lunch with Victoria Broom,  I would mostly choose the match you will see where I am coming from on this one.

It was last August that I read the winning entries in the annual competition run by When Saturday Comes for new writers. One of these was a really excellent piece about he LGBT Albion supporter’s group, the Proud Baggies. So I signed up.  A few days later I met Sarah Robinson, the author of the piece, for a prematch coffee in Starbucks, having taken the precaution of wearing my new rainbow Docs so that she could recognise me. She did. And Albion beat Mansfield (just about) This was then a good evening.

Over the following months I met several other members of the group and was made to feel really welcome. Yesterday I attended my first Birmingham Pride and paraded with the Proud baggies. We sang, we chanted, we exchanged banter with Villa fans among the spectators (good natured  by the way). We finished up at the Eden Bar with drinks. I was buzzing at the end.

But this was mainly for reasons unconnected with the Proud Baggies. As many of you reading this will know, there have been demonstrations and boycotts at some Birmingham schools over the No Outsiders programme which, as Carrie Lyell DIVA editor, cuttingly put it, exposes children to the shocking idea that “LGBTQI people  are not radioactive waste.”

Pride’s answer to the bigots was to invite two queer Muslims to lead the procession and to get the programme’s initiator Andrew Moffatt, to make a powerful speech before the Parade moved off.

As we walked through Birmingham city centre I was struck too by the immense support and goodwill of ordinary Brummies. We hear a lot these days about the rise of  the Far Right and the threat to LGBT rights, women’s rights and so on, but I dare to hope after yesterday that the bigots will not win.

My first Pride was huge fun but, and this is something Pride has been accused of no longer being, political. And this combination suits me fine,

 

A FEW THOUGHTS ON STONEWALL AND WHY THE T BELONGS IN LGBT

The recent announcement that Stonewall Chief Executive Ruth Hunt will be leaving in the summer has sparked a fair bit of comment. It has been argued that the organisation has lost its way and that it took a wrong turn by deciding to campaign for trans rights. This piece by Jonathan Best in Medium sets out the arguments cogently. I want to look at some of the claims made, in the light of my own experience.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the fightback against police oppression that began in New York’s Stonewall Inn. Prominent in the fightback that night were two trans women of colour, Marsha Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. I am going to argue that trans people are not a dispensable bolt on to the LGBT movement but have always been an integral part of it just as they were that night at the Stonewall Inn. It is both that logical and necessary that Stonewall should fight for the rights of transgender people.
Best argues that being trans is essentially different from being lesbian or gay or bi. Clearly, being trans is different from having a specific sexual orientation but I think there are three reasons for disputing the argument that it is basically a thing bolted on to the LGB.
Firstly, many trans people identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, so they are not a discrete and separate group within the community. I identify as bisexual,. For many this is, of course, a matter of logic; a straight man transitioning will identify as lesbian, a straight woman as gay.
But there is a deeper argument. The very process of transitioning, exploring gender, and embarking on the journey of self-discovery this entails, can lead to discovering sexual fluidity and new forms of sexual attraction. This is my experience. I identify as bisexual but I did not do so before beginning my transition. Sexual attraction to men is actually a function of my transition. Yes, that means I like cock. I actually like pussy more and I will return to this later. But the point is that my transness and my bisexuality are not separate from each other so that can be put in separate boxes, they are intimately linked aspects of who I am.
And haven’t trans people always been part of the queer scene? And not only trans people but genderqueer and non-binary people too, all of whom featured in the Tate Gallery exhibition Queer Britain 2 years ago. This, I fact, was one of the things that most struck me. Exploring gender fluidity and swapping gender roles has been seen as subversive as actual gay and lesbian sex. I find this fascinating and attractive. It is not by chance that I have a tattoo of Marlene Dietrich in a man’s suit on my right arm.
Best also claims that being trans is nothing to do with sexual attraction. I don’t agree. In my case it has everything to do with it. Since transitioning I have become attracted to men, attracted too to different kinds of women. Straight men in some cases are attracted to me, yes, I had to pinch myself too, but it is the case. The way I do sex with both men and women has changed, the way that I engage sexually too, and also the way in which sexual partners engage with me. I have experienced this in a powerful way as I have had sex with two women who were sexual partners before my transition and seen who their perceptions and sexual engagement with me changed.
Best argues that Stonewell’s redefinition of gays and lesbians as “people sexually attracted to the same gender” rather than the same biological sex has the effect of making gays and lebians “transphobic”. He seems to imply that trans people generally see gays and lesbians who won’t sleep with them as transphobic. He even suggests that some male bodied trans women have browbeaten lesbians into having sex with them. I take consent very seriously and would never browbeat anyone into having sex with me. And, let’s face it exercising undue pressure on people to have sex is hardly the preserve of trans people.
I want to tell a couple of stories to illustrate my point here.
On a warm summer night two years ago, I sat in the garden of a pub in Birmingham’s Gay Village drinking beer with a young lesbian friend. I asked her whether she would consider a relationship with a trans woman. I asked this out of curiosity, not because I was looking to make out with her, as I hope I made clear.
“With a post op woman may be but preop definitely not, it’s all about the body for me.”
“So you are saying that you prefer pussy to cock?”
“Every time!” She laughed. “Cock is just so not my thing.”
“I totally get that” I replied. “I am bi but, yeah, I do have a preference for pussy.”
And then there was the time I asked my closest girl friend for sex. She is a woman I have known for 20 years and with whom I was in a 10 year sexual relationship. But she turned me down.
“Eve I am straight and for me you are a woman. So it simply wouldn’t work for me.”
Neither of these friends is remotely transphobic and both have been loving and supportive friends. I have many other dear friends who, I guess, don’t want to have sex with me. This is for a variety of reasons, them being in monogamous relationships, my body, or maybe I just don’t float their boat sexually in terms of looks and personality. There is potentially a whole range of reasons why anyone would not want to have sex with a concrete other person. I wild never be so presumptuous as to accuse someone not wanting to make out with me as transphobia and neither would any other trans person I know.
Neither can I imagine any of the several trans women I know browbeating lesbians into sex they don’t really want. I can’t actually imagine them browbeating anyone into sex. For trans people sex is deeply problematic, for obvious reasons, and also because they are potentially negotiating a legal minefield where they could be accused of sexual assault if they do not make clear to potential partners what they have between their legs. For many trans people this is all too problematic and they resign themselves to living without sex and relationships because living an authentic life, as they see it, is more important.
I think the issue of gender probably needs a post in its own right. I do not believe, as Best asserts “the trans ideology” (whatever that is) holds, that gender is innate and internal. I believe that gender is fluid, believe that this very fluidity can be a response to external influences and our response as individuals to those influences. I grew up as a boy and has a happy childhood. No gender dysphoria for me and I can still bore for England about rush back goalkeepers!
Gender is complex and endlessly fascinating and the critique of gender by radical or if you prefer “gender critical feminists” is pretty thin gruel. Sexual stereotypes imposed externally and lived as oppression is part of the picture but only part. It leaves questions unanswered. What, for examples are the mechanisms of imposition? Where does patriarchy come from? Some commentators treat it as being sui generis, an ahistorical approach that I have difficulty with. How do concepts of gender change over time? When and where did the whole idea of gender originate? How is gender linked to biological facts? How does it link to concrete social formations? Is the woman queuing up at the department store beauty counter to buy a new foundation oppressed? Is she oppressed if she subjectively enjoys her femininity? There are those who would say that she is but this takes us into the territory of false consciousness which I think I think is deeply problematical for feminism.
As a socialist feminist I see gender in the light of concrete social formations, and in the modern world as something shaped by the needs of industrial capitalism. Gender, like class is not only a terrain of oppression, but also a locus of struggle, and a source of strategies for liberation. I do not find it progressive to see all men as a class oppressing all women. At some point class and race have to come into it. I think future generations will see Sheila Rowbotham as a rather more significant feminist thinker than Sheila Jefferies.

Sadly many gender critical feminists make common cause with evangelical Christians, the most reactionary elements of the Roman Catholic Church (yes the same people who blame clerical child abuse on some mythical “gay agenda”) and even the far right. I will just mention Posy Parker’s recent endorsement of “Tommy Robinson.” This, I have to say, is not the basis for a constructive and progressive politics either.
I think, too, that Best’s piece sets up straw men (women) in the shape of unnamed “trans activists” or a “trans lobby” allegedly saying or doing things which few, if any, trans people can relate to their own experience. I don’t recognise any of this in my lived experience. This is simply not a basis for arguing that Stonewall is wrong to campaign for trans rights. Most trans people just want to keep their heads down and get on with their often difficult lives. And knowing that Stonewall is fighting their corner is surely a help.
So why don’t we all, those of who identify as LGBT, pull together and fight our cause side by side, for it is a common cause, just as it was in Stonewall on that New York summer’s evening in 1969 when 2 brave transwomen helped lead the fightback.

Down to a T

I recently read a piece (I can’t remember where so can’t provide a reference) in which it was argued that the T in LGBT I was out of place since gender is a distinct phenomenon from sexual orientation. On one level this is true although we might point out that if a change of gender does not entail a change in sexual orientation this would mean that the act of transitioning the T actually entails the L or G since a straight man transitioning becomes a lesbian.

But there is a deeper problem with this way of thinking. It simply has an excessively narrow view  both of gender and sexuality and  ignores the ways in which they have been intertwined in gay and lesbian subcultures.

I began to think about this whilst at Tate Britain last week,  visiting the exhibition Queer British Art 1861 to 1967, held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales.

For, from the Victorian era, experiments with gender fluidity were part of the artistic expression of gay and lesbian identity. Everywhere where there is androgyny and this was something that was clear to contemporary observers.   Clothes, make up, hair,  the use of beautiful young men as models for female figures from  classical mythology, this even before we get onto pantomime dames and  drag queens. In short, those who identified with alternative and stigmatised sexualities, sought to perform their sexuality in ways that also challenged gender stereotypes. Look, for example, at the photograph of Quentin Crisp in the exhibition or the iconic portrait of Radclyffe Hall.

And maybe the words gay and lesbian are out of place here too. At the start of the period represented by the exhibition medical science had still to invent and define hetero- and homosexuality as concepts. As categories they can be restricting too. Science seeks to define and classify. Art doesn’t.  Art like this serves to undermine the neat order of science’s categories. It points the way to which allow us can live art through our sexuality and through our performance of gender. Queer art is saying that sexuality is elusive, a range of possibilities, a range of pleasures, and gender a stage for our self-representation. Seen through the prism of art, rigid definitions of gender are as constraining as heteronormative binary views of sexuality and, in a sense, underpin them.

There were parts of this exhibition I found deeply erotic. Some of the exhibition was wickedly funny. Take a look at the library book covers doctored by Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell, an act for which the state exacted vicious revenge with six month prison sentences.  All of it was empowering, much of it beautiful. I left, thinking that sexuality and gender form a space where can express ourselves, a space where we can be free.

ESSENTIALISING BULLSHIT

I suppose the story of Tara Hudson is old news now that she is serving her sentence in a women’s prison.  I am not going to say anything on what she did or about whether a brief custodial sentence was appropriate although some might think that prisons are overcrowded enough and that sentences like this are ultimately pointless. Neither will I say anything about the idiotic decision to send her to a male prison simply because she hasn’t gone through the hassle and expense  of obtaining a gender recognition certificate when prison regulations already allow transgender prisoners without certificates to be considered on a case by case basis, and particularly where prisoners have already embarked on the process of physical transition.

No, I want to talk about something else. You see, I took it as read that people, or thinking people at any rate, would consider the decision to transfer Tara to a women’s prison to be the correct one. Then I stumbled across a discussion on Twitter. I should perhaps have realised that some radical feminists would have a problem with this, as they seem to believe that   trans women are men pretending to be women to access women only spaces. The argument was that violent men who transition remain violent and by their continuing to commit acts of violence prove that they are still really men. Which, in effect is saying that committing violence is a man thing.

Men are perpetrators, women, if they are involved at all, are victims.  On this analysis men and women are essentially and fundamentally different ab ovo .  This assigning of behavioural characteristics on the basis of biological sex seems however strangely at odds with the usual radical feminist  claim that transgenderism is damaging precisely because the aim of feminism is the abolition of gender roles which transgender people reaffirm by their very transition. It is not clear how you can consistently argue that gender is a social construct at the same time as holding that certain types of behaviour are inherently linked to the genitals you were born with.  Not for the first time radical feminism appears mired in contradiction.

This all reminds me of a discussion I had in the bar during my student days. One student, a self proclaimed anti-feminist Marxist expressed forcefully his view that much contemporary feminism was “essentialising bullshit.” Reading some of these rad fem tweets about Tara Hudson it was hard not to agree.

A Tale of John and Linda

A lot has been written about transsexuals and whether they are welcome in feminist circles, whether they are ‘proper’ women and so on. I don’t know any stats but have a probably superficial impression that  that most transgender people are biological males wanting to live as women. We seem to hear little about biological women who identify as male.

I met Linda some years ago through a shared interest in poetry and we became friends. We lost touch for a few years before re-establishing contact via social media. Linda is no longer Linda. Linda is now John. John is a stylish man in his early thirties, still at the start of the long and difficult process  that will end in gender reassignment surgery. He jokes that he already has a prick, several in fact and keeps them in a draw.  He is now, just as he was years ago, sensitive and intelligent with a love for poetry. We have the same things in common as we did when we first became friends. That a girl friend has become a platonic male friend has really changed nothing in our friendship. And I will support John in his journey. The essential worth of a human being is surely something that transcends gender

Of Julie Burchill and Bitter

It was in November that, channel hopping after watching Chelsea lose in the Champions’ League, I switched to BBC3 and, by chance, watched the documentary about Jackie Green, the transgender beauty queen. I am still not sure why she wants to be a beauty queen but I was very impressed by her courage and strength of character. The following day I sent her a message of support on Facebook. I got a reply. Jackie had hundreds of messages and tried to reply personally to all of them. This says a lot about her.

There were, inevitably, offensive messages, some from the usual suspects and, sadly, a few from older transgender women who seemed bitter that she had, in their view, had it easier than they did.   I don’t think she did. She was suicidal before her parents paid for her to undergo gender reassignment surgery on her sixteenth birthday.  The thing that Jackie, apparently, gets most upset by is that is the suggestion that she used to be male. She maintains that she has always been female but trapped in the wrong body. All of which raises the question of what actually makes a woman a woman.

Julie Burchill, in her rant in yesterday’s Observer, is clear. You need to have been born female and had the experience of feeling shit for a few days every month. Transgender women beware. You are fakes and Julie is going to get very angry with you.

The essence of woman is, then, the period and the menopause; to menstruate or to have menstruated, so that older women are not excluded. But isn’t this a narrow, impoverished view of what it is to be female? If you didn’t get the right chromosomes forty weeks before you breathed your first, tough.  Apart from the obvious fact that Jackie, and others, live fulfilling lives as women and are accepted as women by those Burchill would class as “real women”, it is a sad and dismal definition of the feminine. No joy, no celebration. She probably prefers vinegar to champagne.

Enough of Burchill. I am sure that those reading this are as appalled as I am at her ravings. But I do wonder why so many transgender women so keenly embrace the stereotypically feminine, frocks and heels and so on. It strikes me as betraying a lack of confidence in their femininity. I once chatted to some members of a TV/TS Group in Birmingham on their weekly social night in a gay pub in Birmingham. To a woman they were drinking girly drinks, like Babycham with a cherry on a stick. I bet most of them didn’t even like Babycham. I say to them: welcome to the sisterhood but some girls drink real ale. Next time I dare you to come in jeans and I’ll buy you a pint of bitter.