What is Territorial Cissing?

There has been a recent spate of articles in the UK press, mostly at weekends. Pretty much all of them are written by cis women. They all attack trans women for, as far as I can tell, having the very nerve to exist as women. Perhaps the most notable recently was this piece by Woman’s Hour presenter, Jenni Murray (paywalled). Murray starts by proclaiming that she is definitely not transphobic in any way, and certainly not a TERF.

After this important disclaimer, she then trots out a few classic TERF tropes, which she seems to earnestly believe: trans women are fashion obsessed airheads; we were “socialised as men”; we need to stop pretending we’re “real” women; and by the way, a trans woman she knows agrees with her so don’t call her transphobic.

This is tedious. There’s nothing new here. These “arguments” are such cliches that one can number them ahead of time and provide handy links to their standard refutations if one desires. It’s well into “drinking game” territory.

I found myself wondering what the point of these “paint by numbers” weekly hit pieces is. The people writing them act like they’re imparting important new information, but pretty much the exact same piece appears every few days. Right on cue, a few days later author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie came out with the same nonsense, and then a few days after that it was the turn of Hadley Freeman. Yesterday it was Ellie Mae O’Hagan’s turn.

Here’s my recipe for writing one of these pieces:

Start by declaring yourself “not transphobic” and say something about how you “deplore discrimination”. Like those things companies add to the bottom of emails, this is Very Important and Definitely Legally Binding.

Talk about how trans women have “male socialisation”, then pick a few of these and write a paragraph about each:

  • Political correctness means you can’t say “cervix” any more
  • Something about testosterone and sport
  • Trans activists are transing our children and forcing them to swallow bottles of deadly hormones
  • “autogynephillia” (caution – this will blow your “not a TERF” cover – use with care)
  • Trans women are airhead bimbos, definitely all of them, and no cis women behave like this, ever, amen

Now you’ve carefully constructed your devastatingly effective and completely original (or your money back) argument, close out by saying that trans women need to identify as trans women, and stop calling themselves women, and get off my territory!

Because that’s the rub, isn’t it? The thing these pieces are all asserting is territorial dominance. “I am woman, this is mine, you can’t have none, look at my expensively maintained by an Islington dentist middle class canine teeth! Grrrr!”

A dank pedestrian underpass

This seems safe

You know those dark, concrete pedestrian underpasses? Every city has them: even beautiful Cambridge with its medieval university. They’re just a bit grim, no matter how hard councils try to make them seem safe and welcoming.

And quite often, they smell of urine.

We all know who’s doing this. By and large, it’s young men. Whatever they think their reasons are, this whole “urinating in underpasses” thing has a very clear effect: it marks the area for women as being a place we shouldn’t linger. We’re probably not safe there. It’s not our territory.

The man pissing there probably did so with their mates present. They probably thought it was “top bantz”, or something. They were probably drunk and engaging in the sort of loud, territorial behaviour that women tend to instinctively fear. Yes, even trans women, despite what these thinkypieces would have us believe.

These constant hit pieces in the press are doing the same thing. Every time we see one, it reminds trans women that we can never take acceptance by feminists, or by any cis women we don’t already know well enough to trust, for granted; it’s not safe for us to do so. Feminism and women’s issues aren’t for us; if we speak up we will be punished and cast out because this is not our space, it belongs to the people who want us dead, or at least invisible. Like uppity women asking drunk men to just use the fucking toilet, we’re spoiling their gig.

And just to remind us, they’re going to ensure the media constantly bombards us with their territorial cissing, week in, week out.

My Lib Dem Spring Conference 2016 Speech on All Women Shortlists

This is the 3 minute speech I gave to the Lib Dem conference on all women shortlists. It was supporting an amendment which would remove them from a diversity motion we were considering. I took the view that the underlying problem is that the political environment is hostile towards women, and all women shortlists don’t address that, but paper over it.

We lost, but it was quite close, and some told me that my speech had changed their minds, which I suppose is the mark of a successful debate speech.

Conference,

In days of yore, it’s said coal miners took caged canaries down mines, to test the air. Imagine, if you will, one mine that has a problem. Nine miners take down a canary, and the canary, after looking distressed for a bit, dies.

The miners realise they have a problem. “Better get another canary”, says one.

So they do, and that canary dies.

As does the third, and the fourth.

Well word gets round the local canary flock, and when they see the miners coming they make themselves scarce. Now the miners really have a problem.

“I know”, says one of them; “for every five of us who go down, we will reserve another five spaces for canaries.”

“We’ll fill them from all canary shortlists.”

Slowly the miners all get unpleasant health problems, because canary targets don’t clean up toxic air.

I served four years as a councillor. At the end of my term, I feel like I discovered a dirty little secret. I ended my term on antidepressants and so, it seems did a statistically implausible number of my colleagues, in all parties.

Some of us ended up comparing notes: Citalopram or Mirtazapine, which has worse side effects? That sort of thing. How messed up is that?

Maybe we need a spent canaries support group.

Studies show that men often overestimate or overstate their abilities and women underestimate and understate them, and this is reflected in how different genders tend to respond in toxic environments, be it investment banking or be it politics.

We ask a lot of our candidates: organise deliverers, run campaigns, spend x nights a week knocking on y hundred doors. Our local parties often ask for more time than is reasonable. Men will quite often sign up, and then just not do it all. Women, who tend to have less free time to start with, will look at the expected workload and become stressed.

I’m no expert in why the response here is gendered; but it is, and we in all parties have built an environment that unconsciously selects men by tailoring it towards male-typical responses to stress. That’s a bad thing for the men too, by the way, they just tend to respond differently to it.

The problem is not with the women. The problem is with the toxicity of the environment. If we learned anything from New Labour’s love of targets and quotas, it’s that they provide simple solutions to the wrong problem.

Don’t get more canaries. Fix the toxicity.

Call-Centring to Dispose of Sealions

Hello ladies (and some others, but I think this is going to be mostly of interest to women).

If you are like me, you will be talking along to friends on Twitter, and someone you’ve never spoken to before will jump in to give you their very important insight. Most often, these seem to be cisgender, heterosexual white men, i.e. the group in society most used to assuming their view of the world is right and proper and that by imposing it on you, they are merely educating you.

This phenomenon is so common that it has a name: sealioning.

Arguing with these people tends not to work, they love arguing and eventually accuse you of being “illogical” or “emotional”, and declare themselves the winner. Asking them to go away doesn’t tend to work, because they just get cross.

Well I’ve discovered how to deal with them, and so far it has been foolproof. Introducing, call-centring.

Here’s the idea: you respond to their tweets, but you don’t respond to THEM.

I’ll show you an example. Let’s assume I’m talking to my friends about cats or something, and twitter user, @sealion_1990 jumps in:

@auntysarah: Oh wow, @my_friend just found this really nice picture of some kittens!
@sealion_1990: @auntysarah Actually … sealion sealion mansplain sealion

Now we invoke the call-centre. They play the customer. You play the bored and indifferent call centre hold system/computerised agent. Just like a customer service agent at a real call centre, IT IS VITAL TO STICK TO THE SCRIPT AND NOT ACTUALLY ADDRESS ANYTHING THEY SAY FROM NOW ON. First inform them that they are in the queue:

@auntysarah: .@sealion_1990 Thank you for your unsolicited opinion. It has been placed in a queue for consideration. Your queue position is … 9 billion.

Note the use of the .@ reply. This heightens the effect by humiliating them in front of your followers. They just don’t realise they’re being humiliated yet. What follows are actual responses to this technique, but I’ve changed the name. It helps to have a few pictures and vines on hand of you chilling, ignoring the phone, whatever. I keep a few stored ready to go.

@sealion_1990: @auntysarah it was solicited, otherwise you would not have posted it publicly for public response.

They often come out with something like this. DO NOT ENGAGE, hold your position:

@auntysarah: .@sealion_1990 All our operators are busy ignoring other unsolicited opinions. Your opinion is important to us.
IMG_5091

Ooh, you aren’t playing his game. Now he’s getting irritated. He must sneer.

@sealion_1990: @auntysarah I take it you have nothing intelligent to reply back to

The assertion that he is “intelligent” and you just don’t understand. Silly little girl, you need to debate him on his own terms. Not going to happen, time for another canned response:

@auntysarah: .@sealion_1990 Press 1 to hear a beep and 2 to hear a different beep. Your opinion is important to us.

Anyone sensible would realise you were mocking them. Anyone sensible would likely give up now, unless somehow their ego was wounded and demands redress!!!!!!

@sealion_1990: @auntysarah no intelligence. You do a good R2D2 impression though.

Let’s throw in a vine. I have one of me humming the allegro from Vivaldi’s Spring. You know, the one call centres always use:

@auntysarah: .@sealion_1990 Please continue to hold. Your queue position is now… nine billion … and … one

(You may need to click the volume control to hear the hold music).

We bumped his queue position up by one, too. If he still doesn’t go away, he will say something like:

@sealion_1990: @auntysarah You don’t pass on ideas with rudeness

You have a number of options, you can keep going with canned responses, you can ignore him, or you can block him. What I tend to do is keep a few more canned responses in reserve, such as:

@auntysarah: .@sealion_1990 Our engineers have detected a strange whining noise on the line. Please continue to hold.

And

@auntysarah: .@sealion_1990 Ignoring your opinion is sponsored by Tissues for Cissues and Spaghetti Feelz in Menztears Sauce. Please continue to hold.

What pretty much always happens is that they get more and more frustrated until they just go away. If not, when you get bored, finish off with:

@auntysarah: .@sealion_1990 Please continue to hold…

Then block them, and move on.

This technique is like kryptonite to sealions, seriously. It completely flummoxes them and it has the advantage that unlike trying to ask them to leave you alone, or actually engaging them, it’s fun.

Go get ’em!

Whatever This Nonsense Letter is Complaining About, it is Not Censorship

My attention was drawn this morning to this open letter in the Guardian/Observer/Whatever signed by a long list of notable transphobes and whorephobes, and a few people who really should know better. “We cannot allow censorship and silencing of individuals”, it says.

It goes on to describe a number of examples of this “censorship and silencing”. They are:

  1. The cancellation of Kate Smuthwaite’s gig at Goldsmith’s College last month.

    There was, it is claimed, “intimidation” over this show, which caused it to be cancelled. However, the organiser of the very same show paints a rather different picture, one where they only sold 8 tickets, where the only suggestions of a picket or protests appear to have been manufactured by Ms Smurthwaite herself (possibly in a misguided attempt to generate some controversy and sell some tickets?)

    This is all because Kate has curated a reputation of being a sex work abolitionist, and tends to be quite abrasive towards sex workers who take the view that they’d like to continue their livelihood in safety, without someone trying to coercively “rescue” them, than you very much.

    The show was cancelled because nobody bought tickets, for whatever reason, but in the two weeks since, the student volunteers who run Goldsmith’s SU and their comedy society have been the targets of some abuse as a result.

    It sounds like someone is being silenced and intimidated here, but I don’t think it’s Kate Smurthwaite.

  2. Calls at the Cambridge Union to withdraw a speaking invitation to Germaine Greer.

    I actually know something about this one, because I was involved. The Union Society (an expensive bit of prime real estate in Cambridge City Centre with a debating society attached, known for being somewhere were aspiring political hacks cut their teeth, and not to be mistaken with Cambridge University Students’ Union) did indeed invite Germaine Greer to speak.

    Greer has a long history of transphobic bigotry, and managed to fire herself as a Cambridge lecturer over it. the Students’ Union LGBT+ society, who had a partnership with the Union Society for their weekly socials, felt this was a bit off and wrote to the Union Society outlining their concerns.

    The Union Society noted their concerns by way of reply, and said they would go ahead anyway. In response, the LGBT+ Society and the Women’s Society organised a separate event featuring noted trans feminist writer, Roz Kaveney, at which I also spoke. A couple of students also handed out some leaflets to those going to the Union Society’s Greer event.

    That’s not “silencing” and it’s certainly not “intimidation”. I saw the whole email chain between CUSU LGBT+ and the Union Society. It was all terribly polite and respectful, but the two sides did disagree. That’s ok, that’s allowed.

    The expression of disagreement is a fundamental part of freedom of expression. Shame on the letter signatories for trying to silence it.

  3. Rupert Reed, the Green Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Cambridge, recently got into something of a kerfuffle over comments he made in a blog and on twitter, initially about the use of the word, “cisgender”, but later compounded in a clumsy apology where he shot himself in the foot by suggesting there was a debate to be had about whether trans women should be allowed to use public toilets.

    All that I have done is join many feminists in saying that it is up to women, not anyone else – and certainly not me – to decide who gets let into women-only spaces, such as women’s toilets. All women have a right to be involved in making those decisions.

    Reed apologised again, properly this time. I understand some LGBT people in Cambridge who wanted to vote Green wrote to the local party saying they didn’t think they could while Reed was their candidate and … that’s it.

    The letter to the Guardian says, “The Green party came under pressure to repudiate the philosophy lecturer Rupert Read after he questioned the arguments put forward by some trans-activists”, but those “arguments put forward by trans activists” are basically just, “can we use the toilet, please?”

    Regardless, telling a politician that you thought something they said was out of order, and you’re not going to vote for them as a result, is not “silencing” and it’s not “intimidation”. What it actually is is democracy. Shame on the letter signatories for opposing it.

  4. Julie Bindel is no platformed by the NUS LGBT.

    No platforming sounds terribly serious. In reality, it basically means, “we won’t invite this person to our stuff, and we won’t appear on the same platform as them.”

    Given Bindel is known for her transphobia and has spoken publicly in support of trans conversion therapy (remember Leelah Alcorn?), it’s hardly surprising that the NUS LGBT don’t want anything to do with her. The thing is, people are allowed to take their ball and go home, and they are allowed to express opinions about public figures and even protest about them. These are fundamental parts of freedom of expression, and not in any way an attack on it.

Some people around the world are actually oppressed because of the things they want to say. They’re not comedians engaging in publicity stunts, washed up academics getting invited to plush debating societies, politicians getting caught saying something stupid or transphobes with more newspaper columns than I can reasonably count. By signing this letter, you do a disservice to those who are actually denied freedom of expression around the world. Shame on you.

Those who signed and have a history of transphobia and whorephobia know what they’re doing and are being deeply cynical here.

To those who signed it because they were told it was about “freedom of speech” and didn’t research the context, I merely ask to please try to be a bit less credulous in future.

Oh, and maybe try to be a bit less “first world problems” about healthy disagreement, ok?

Thanks.

On “Male TERFs”

Many will have noticed the phenomenon of the “male TERF”, that is a man, typically regarded as a left wing progressive, declaring himself a feminist ally, or perhaps even a male feminist, where the feminism he signs up to is the transphobic, whorephobic, anti porn kind.

In response to a furore over comments made by Rupert Read, a Green Party member who seeks to be MP for Cambridge, on Twitter and on his blog, a friend commented to me that the existence of male TERFs made the world “a truly strange place”. I have to say that I disagree. I think it’s entirely a natural place to be.

Mr Read, reassuringly for the trans people, sex workers and avid pornography consumers of Cambridge will likely be fighting UKIP for 4th place come May, but that’s not really the point…

Despite declaring themselves “radical”, the feminists who sign up to the transphobic, whorephobic, anti porn kind of feminism are basically reactionaries. There are few things more conservative than the view that trans people are dirty perverts who shouldn’t be indulged in our supposed delusion, that sex workers are wanton harlots who are certainly to be discouraged, and that masturbation is some kind of social ill that needs eradicating.

These are non-threatening ideologies which do not trouble the patriarchy one iota. Any man holding these views would likely be entirely safe and uncontroversial in espousing them in the surroundings of a conservative 19th century gentlemen’s club.

“Male TERFism” thus gives the “male feminist” the best of both worlds: they get to have the ideological seal of approval which comes from knowing you’re an “ally to women”, even if the women in question also happen to be the worst kind of reactionary bigot hypocrites, while signing up for an ideology which requires them to do nothing that would even draw the ire of the Daily Mail on a bad day.

The only surprising thing about male TERFs is that lots more reactionary men who still want a bit of left wing approval haven’t cottoned onto the wheeze.

My Speech to the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference, 2014, on Sex Work and the Nordic Model

The Liberal Democrat autumn conference debated a motion calling for further decriminalisation of sex work, and condemning the so-called Nordic Model, which criminalises the purchase of sexual services by making it a criminal offence to buy sex, but not to sell it. This has caused significant controversy amongst sex workers, with evidence that this “partial prohibition” model does nothing to help keep sex workers safe, and just further stigmatises the practice aqnd drives it underground.

Still, the Nordic Model is very popular amongst certain whorephobic radical feminists, who promote it as a way of “ending demand”, while pretending it doesn’t place women in harms way (it does).

A number of what I consider to be wrecking amendments were submitted, to remove the language condemning the Nordic Model included in the motion. I putt in a card tho speak against these wrecking amendments, and was lucky enough tone called to speak. Here is what I said:

Conference, we’ve heard a lot of people talking about sex workers today. I wonder how many of those seeking to weaken this motion actually talk to sex workers? I am proud to count sex workers amongst my friends. I am privileged to have some of my friends share their thoughts, their hopes, and their fears with me.

One thing, conference, they consistently fear is the Nordic Model.

The Nordic Model, supposedly criminalizing clients but not workers, is profoundly illiberal. It is profoundly damaging. Make no mistake, it is a model of prohibition. It criminalises an activity between consenting adults that is legal as long as no money changes hands. Since when are we about telling consenting adults what they can and can’t do with their own lives? Since when are we about telling consenting adults how thy manage their sex lives?

The Nordic Model is illiberal, and it also puts sex workers in danger. Supporters of the Nordic model claim sex work has decreased, but these claims are often based on sex workers coming forward voluntarily to speak to social workers and the police. My friends don’t trust the police. They don’t trust social workers. They say they’d trust them even less with the Nordic model. What they would do is be driven underground.

Don’t take my word for it. Research recently published in the BMJ concluded that, and I quote:

“These findings suggest that criminalisation and policing strategies that target clients reproduce the harms created by the criminalisation of sex work”, there is no difference between the Nordic Model and criminalisation. “In particular, vulnerability to violence and HIV/STIs.”

Conference. We need to stop talking at sex workers. We should stop telling them how to live their lives. We should stop passing laws that get them hurt and killed.

I want to finish with the words of one of my friends. She asked me to say the following about the Nordic Model.

“It doesn’t work. It was intended to make sex work so dangerous women wouldn’t do it. It is not about safety. It is ideological.”

Thank you.

In the event, the motion passed unamended, with overwhelming support. This marks a party of government taking a stand for sex worker safety, and for the rejection of the prohibitionist Nordic Model, and the injustice and violence against sex workers which accompany it.

The speech was also recorded on video, where you can observe me giving it on a bad hair day:

My Thoughts on the Block Bot, as a User and a Member of the Blocking Team

I was recently contacted by an American journalist, keen to speak with someone involved “at the coal face”, as it were, of Twitter’s block bot, both as a user of the tool and as a member of the blocking team, which I now am.

For those unfamiliar with it, the Block Bot is a crowd sourced tool that will, if you allow it to, block a list of people on twitter. These are divided into three categories – level 1 for people who should probably be banned if Twitter’s abuse process worked correctly, level 2 for people who are generally abusive but it’s not their raison d’être, and level 3 for people who show abusive behaviour through ignorance or refusal to acknowledge their own privilege in ways that cause distress to marginalised groups.

It won’t block anyone you already follow, and the list is crowd sourced, peer-reviewed and constantly being examined to ensure people are placed correctly. If adding someone to the list would prove controversial amongst the bot’s users for some reason, they are generally not added.

Anyway, here’s what I said to the journalist (fixed a couple of grammatical errors).

As a somewhat visible trans woman, being for a few years the only openly trans elected politician in the UK (Im not currently serving), and a somewhat outspoken one on issues of trans equality, I have attracted a lot of attention, and some of it has been quite negative.

In February to May of this year, I was subject to an offline harassment campaign where numerous people made vexatious complaints to my party, and to my council, all of which were dismissed, but which had a very negative toll on my mental health, requiring me to take antidepressants and tranquillisers for some time. The harassers were openly discussing their campaign on Twitter, and the people involved continue to try and attract my attention, and engage in the technique known as gaslighting and getting under my skin in other ways. Some of them even turned up to picket London DykeMarch in June because I was one of the podium speakers. It gets a bit much when social media bullies start turning up to events one is at to harass!

Unusually, compared to the harassment most women experience on social media, where the perpetrators are men, the perpetrators of the transphobic harassment I’ve been experiencing have been mostly (but not exclusively) women.

I blocked most of them manually, but a common technique of harassers is to create new accounts and try again from there, so it was difficult to keep up, and the ones that got through were often very distressing. I can sometimes look at what these people are saying, as long as it’s on my own terms, and when I’m able to walk away, but to have them impose themselves, when I may be having a bad day or whatever, is not good.

I signed up for the blockbot, after being sceptical of it for some time, but found that the blockers, most of whom are women, are generally sympathetic to the harassment transgender women face from the transphobic fringes of the feminist movement. As a result the bot was a good match, and I increasingly discovered, some time after the fact, that people had been trying to harass me and the bot had already blocked them for me.

My mental health is much better now. Some of that is because I’m no longer in office and face less stress generally, but undoubtedly some of it is not having to deal with constant harassment, or exposed to constant microaggressions associated with being a member of a minority community (people persisting in those tend to get blocked too, but at a lower severity level – you choose which severity level you sign up to). I have since joined the team of people who maintain the block list and decide when to add new blocks, and they’re a great bunch of people.

I know the idea of a block bot is proving very controversial in some quarters, but I don’t hesitate to recommend it now. It has played a significant part in keeping Twitter as a usable platform for me, and I can only see that as a good thing.

Open Letter to Academic and Media Feminists – Deal with the Transphobia in your Ranks

Anti-transgender protestors held a picket at London Dykemarch on Saturday 21st of June, chanting transphobic slogans in an attempt to drown out my keynote speech.

Some of the picketers at the Lesbian Pride march who handed out transphobic literature

Some of the picketers at the Lesbian Pride march who handed out transphobic literature

As I gave my speech, a group of 6 protestors started trying to shout me down, and distributed leaflets amongst the gathered crowd calling me a “lesbian hating man”, claiming that I was part of a “male” takeover of lesbian spaces, and accusing me of appropriating a lesbian identity.

Two of the protestors have since been identified as Dr Julia Long of Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, and Dr Lynne Harne, of Bristol University. Both lecture in women’s studies and both are involved in developing equalities policy.

Both academics have previously been involved in the London “RadFem” conferences, which are notorious for their trans exclusionary policies and their lineup of transphobic speakers. The conference lost its venues in 2012 and 2013 due to its transphobic-hate focus, having to find alternate venues at the last minute.

This is the latest incident in a campaign of transphobic harassment of me, coordinated via social media, which has been going on for several months, ever since I declined to engage in a panel discussion with journalist Julie Bindel, also noted for transphobic writing in the past.

Since then, a series of coordinated complaints about me were sent to the Liberal Democrat Party and Cambridge City Council, each of which was investigated and found to be invalid. I have had my blog targeted for a denial of service attack and my email hacked, and have received anonymous hate mail accusing me of abusing my position as a councillor to obtain a “sex change operation” – a charge which would require me to invent a time machine for it to be true.

My family was targeted, with harassers claiming that my wife left me because I “could no longer satisfy her sexually” after “mutilating” myself (my wife and I are together and very happy). The abusers wrote blogs calling me a “privilege denying t****y”, and described my vagina as a “f**khole”.

The harassers make their goal clear

The harassers make their goal clear

More recently, one of the harassers made their intentions clear, saying that, “Sarah Brown should gracefully bow out of public life”. It seems that any trans person who has any kind of public profile is considered “fair game” by these people.

The stress of the constant harassment, coinciding with my reelection campaign caused me to seek medical help for acute anxiety and depression. I spent around 3 months on antidepressants and tranquillisers and much of that period is still a black hole in my memory. After losing my seat, and while coming off the antidepressants, I finally snapped back at one of the people who had claimed responsibility for involvement in the harassment campaign, in response to constant provocation, telling her to, “suck my formaldehyde pickled balls”.

I regret saying that, but it was done after months of provocation, the destruction of my mental health and the targeting of my family. This was used as “proof” that I am a “violent male”, and the justification for picketing the London Dyke March.

I am not the only transgender woman to suffer this kind of abuse. I am deeply concerned that any transgender woman who dares to have any kind of participation in public life is subject to this kind of relentless hounding, I am deeply concerned that prominent academics, involved in researching and developing equalities positions and in a position of responsibility over students, some of whom may be trans themselves, see fit to picket a Lesbian Pride march, chant transphobic slogans and hand out transphobic material.

This abuse is performed in the name of “feminism”, and many mainstream media feminists either turn a blind eye, or actively endorse these activities. Enough is enough – this persistent abuse of transgender women by a vocal minority of transphobic radical feminists, pushing discredited transphobic ideology from the 1970s should not, and must not be tolerated.

My DykeMarch London 2014 Keynote Speech

This is the speech I wrote for to address the marchers before London’s 2014 DykeMarch:

It’s amazing to be here, to be surrounded by so many inspirational women. Being invited to speak here is extremely humbling, and I’m a bit nervous, so I hope you’ll bear with me.

I’m nervous, because I have a confession to make. I have a confession about how I feel about my ability to participate in lesbian spaces, a confession about my ability to relate to the life experiences of other lesbian and queer women, a confession that, despite my best efforts to maintain a positive mental attitude, I still sometimes worry that I am a fraud.

Getting ready for the march

Getting ready for the march

There are those who hold the view that because of certain aspects of my biology, I do not, and can never, truly qualify as a lesbian. There are those who feel this very strongly. Some of them are active in lesbian and queer women’s spaces.

Now I want to stress that these people are, I am certain, a minority. Most lesbian and queer women I have the privilege to know are amazing people who have been nothing but understanding when I explain my situation to them. They have been wonderful, and accommodating, and told me that I am just as much a lesbian as they are.

But there is still a little voice inside my head that never quite shuts up – “they won’t accept you, not really, not properly, because they know, and they are disgusted.”

Make no mistake – this voice isn’t a reflection on any of you – it’s a realisation of my own insecurity, but I think I do have good reason to be insecure.

I like to socialise with other women. I like to socialise with other queer women. The vast majority of the time, my little problem is irrelevant to how I interact with other women, in mixed sex spaces and in single sex spaces, because there is no reason for it to be an issue.

But there are times when, and this very much depends on the nature of the space, it *is* an issue for me, and for the women who share my secret, and I know it can make other people in those spaces, other women in those spaces, feel a bit awkward. They want to be accepting, but … well, it’s maybe not seen as compatible with how lots of lesbian women live.

That’s just socialising though. I’m in my 40s now, and I mostly can’t be bothered with dating, and with what sometimes comes after – I’d rather have a nice cup of tea frankly, and how many of us can, hand on heart, say we haven’t felt like that on occasion?

But I wasn’t always in my 40s. Back in the day, I remember being with friends in venues which will be known to many of us, but which sadly no-longer exist. I look back with fondness on the Glass Bar, and its amazing location. I really miss First Out, which survived cross rail excavations only to be forced out by rent increases. I even look back with fondness on nights at the Candy Bar, as long as someone else was paying for the drinks, that is.

And these places always had lots of really interesting and cute women in, and sometimes we’d strike up a conversation, and then the dilemma came up.

“Is this going to go further? Might we meet again? Might we even spend the night together? At her place? Oh god, I have to tell her. When do I disclose? What if it’s a deal breaker for her? What if she reacts badly? What if I feel ashamed? I left my pills at home too, and I’ll feel awful by morning without them. What do I do?”

Disclosure of such things is, I think, a deeply personal issue, and I don’t presume to say there’s a right answer for everyone, but I tend to, and by and large, things have been OK.

But not everyone reacts well, not everyone can make the necessary accommodation, not everyone wants to make the necessary accommodation.

And so more often than not, when I’ve met someone really great, and when it could go somewhere, I find I’ve chickened out, and I hate that. I hate feeling frightened. I hate feeling like I can never properly belong.

And so, fellow marchers, here is my confession. My name is Sarah, and I, like many other self identified lesbians, through no fault of our own, feel excluded from living fully and openly as lesbians because we are … allergic to cats.

 

TERFs and Privilege

As I write this, a group of Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists are taking a moment from trying to intimidate trans people to have a discussion around privilege on Twitter. Specifically, straight privilege.

UPDATE: @Rayne_2 has written a blow by blow account of their stumbling here, and it’s worth reading.

This is difficult for them. The problem is that TERFs are horrible transphobic bigots, which becomes obvious if you have a basic understanding of privilege.

Privilege is not a hard concept to understand. There are a multitude of ways in which a person can have privilege, such as sex, skin colour, access to education, etc.. Many of these ways are entirely independent of each other, some are related, but they essentially define a multi dimensional space in which each person occupies a point defined by their various privileges (or lack thereof),

So I, for example, have white privilege, middle class privilege, educational privilege, financial privilege, and a whole bunch of others, but I lack cis privilege, male privilege and straight privilege.

That means that if we’re comparing me to, say, a white male working class heterosexual person who left school at 16 and has a minimum wage job, this person has various things going for them I do not: they’re a white man, they’re straight, they’re not trans all things society values, but I’m wealthier, have a Cambridge degree, and access to people with influence.

So which of us is more oppressed? You cam’t tell, because privilege isn’t a single variable; it’s a multi dimensional space. On one axis I have privilege this man does not, on another he has privilege I do not.

Who is more oppressed? It depends on the circumstances.

But what about the TERFs?

TERF analysis isn’t like this. Their analysis is based on class. There are two classes: the oppressor class (male) and the oppressed class (female), and that’s it, end of. All men have the power to oppress all women, and women can’t oppress anybody because they are the oppressed class.

So their discussion to try and understand straight privilege is a comical exercise in missing the point. At first they argue that it doesn’t exist, presumably because straight women and lesbians are both women, and straight men and gay men are both men. This “feels wrong” though, because they know homophobia is a thing, so how can they include that in their analysis?

The way they’re trying to square the circle is by reducing it to things that men do to lesbians that they don’t do to straight women. Straight privilege exists, apparently, because lesbians are exposed to corrective rape, and straight women are not.

That seems to be about as far as they’ve got. They can only understand the concept of relative privilege in terms of how their oppressor class (men) interact with their oppressed class (women). Any more complicated analysis appears to elude them because of cognitive dissonance.

“But this multi dimensional privilege space doesn’t seem that hard to understand, Sarah! Why can’t they grasp that, or at least think about it?”

TERFs can’t see privilege for what it is because TERFs are awful human beings who use their privilege as a weapon to terrorise trans women. If they were able to conceptualise privilege in a way independent of their oppressor male/victim female discourse, the full horror of what horrible people they are, and just how evil their behaviour is, would suddenly hit them in the face.

Presumably they wouldn’t enjoy this much.

That’s why their clumsy attempts to understand straight privilege are comical. They’re trying to find something in a room that the elephant they’re trying to ignore is sat on.