So many women have now spoken up

Jonathan Best wrote a piece the other day.

In 2005 I became the artistic director of Manchester’s Queer Up North Festival. QUN took place annually in Manchester between 1992 and 2011 and had a tradition of disruptive, provocative performance work centred around sexuality and gender, alongside literature, film, music and debate. Artists and performers such as Lea DeLaria, Ursula Martinez, Mojisola Adebayo, Mx Justin Vivian Bond, Taylor Mac and Sandra Bernhard appeared. Scores of writers spoke, including Edmund White, Patrick Gale, Armistead Maupin, Sarah Waters and Val MacDiarmid. We invited a wide range of speakers, including Linda Bellos, Julie Bindel, B Ruby Rich and Billy Bragg. It was an irreverent and stimulating mix of events. Most importantly, it was a place where artists, writers, performers and audience were free to be themselves.

It also had an activist side, including an anti-bullying theater for schools project.

In 2007 QUN began a drive to programme a greater variety of events aimed at our lesbian audience. Like many LGBT or queer organisations, we’d been a bit gay men-centric. One of the artists I researched was a hugely talented singer songwriter — Bitch — yet to perform in the UK. She is top-notch musician who’d appeared in John Cameron Mitchell’s gorgeous film ‘Shortbus’ — I felt confident she would find an appreciative audience in Manchester.

So I invited her. She accepted and the event quickly sold out.

Then, a few weeks before the festival, I got an email.

It informed me that Bitch had performed at Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which had a policy of admitting only natal women. Apparently not only had Bitch appeared at the festival, she’d defended its women-born-women admission policy as well. Therefore, the email argued, Bitch was transphobic and the event must be cancelled.

The therefore, of course, is not a therefore. Not inviting or including Xs in a thing is not necessarily based in hatred of Xs. It can be, but it isn’t necessarily. Women organize women-only events and spaces for several reasons, none of which boil down to “because we hate men.” Feminists hate patriarchy, but that’s not the same as hating men.

But of course that’s not the issue; the issue is that seeing trans women as men is labeled “transphobic.” It’s not transphobic. Not agreeing with people’s fantasies about themselves is not hatred and should not be labeled as such.

Jonathan Best felt the need to think more about the subject.

As I continued to think about all of this, I did what I imagine many people do when they’re thinking about LGBT issues and considering their view — I consulted the Stonewall website. I found a page (no longer live) which listed examples of transphobic views and ideas. Included there were words to the effect of ‘if you don’t think trans women are real women, that’s transphobic’.

This troubled me in two ways. Firstly, Stonewall’s version of transphobia didn’t seem to require any negative view of trans people, let alone hate or unfair discrimination. All that was necessary to be designated a bigot by the UK’s leading LGBT charity was to question whether trans women and natal women might, in some ways, be different.

Secondly, Stonewall’s edict unquestioningly prioritised the wishes of trans women over those of natal women. This seemed both arbitrary and unfair to me. This question had been turning around in my head since I discussed it with Julie a year earlier and I’ve still not heard a satisfactory answer to it: why should feminists, engaged in their own civil rights struggle, be forced to redraw their definition of a woman to include trans women? Of course, some feminists have been happy to do so. Some have not. Labelling those who have not as bigots seemed intolerant and disproportionate to me then — and it still does today.

To me too; see above. To many of us, many of whom are now speaking up.

Best goes on to analyze the disagreement between trans activism and gender critical feminism, and the terrible state of the relations between them.

I have been thinking about writing this for several years but — to be frank — I have been nervous of coming out as gender critical. So many women have now spoken up — often at considerable risk to themselves —whereas, since I left QUN, I have not. That has started to make me look somewhat cowardly. So here we are.

It’s undeniable that trans issues were marginalised in LGBT politics for a long time. Many in the trans community are angry and I don’t blame them. I do not argue for meek, timid activism — positive change only comes to those who are willing to make a stink.

For what it’s worth, I think this is the challenge facing us all: to advance trans rights and liberation without compromising natal women’s sex-based rights and protections. This must be done in an atmosphere of mutual respect in which anyone is free to critically discuss anything they wish, using whatever (respectful) terminology they choose. The underlying issues of sex and gender must be seen for what they are: nobody’s exclusive property.

We are a long, long way from this ideal state of affairs.

On Twitter a gender critical feminist praised his article and hoped he wasn’t getting too much grief for it.

It is stark, isn’t it. It never ceases to amaze me how blind people are to that contrast and what it means – how blind people are to the raging misogyny of social media trans activism.

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