Thursday, 14 August 2014

The common enemy

Two nights ago in the pub, another topic bearing on trans life was mentioned, the book recently published by Professor Sheila Jeffreys, Gender Hurts: a feminist analysis of the politics of transgenderism.

Professor Jeffreys is an important figure in the radical feminist world, and, as she is a woman above all else, and also an academic professional, I am myself perfectly prepared to examine her views. But I'm afraid the feeling in the pub was that she had produced yet another book that misrepresented trans persons in general, and ignored the wide variety in real-world trans personalities, including all the bad stuff that they have to put up with.

Women rightly fear rape. But trans women (Professor Jeffreys' especial target) fear rape too, because they are also women. In the dark, all cats are grey. Any woman, trans or not, walking alone at night in the wrong place, is a potential victim of male attack. That's a brutal fact that should not be, but is. And trans women have the same physical limitations when it comes to a struggle. To be more exact, a tall, bulky trans woman may escape rape because a potential attacker on his own will doubt whether he can pull her down her fast enough for his purposes. A shorter trans woman, especially one with a typical woman's build, stands no chance. The only possible advantage might be that a male upbringing could give the lady a keener will to fight viciously in self-defence. That might make a difference. But if (like me) you have always avoided fights, and have never actually hit anyone in your life, it's impossible to judge what degree of successful resistance could be put up against a determined attacker. Thus it seems sensible to accept the same limitations as any woman on where one can go, and who one might feel safe to be with. Restrictions to resent. But one can't stupidly ignore obvious dangers.

Rape is not the only problem. Women are put upon in many subtler ways. But ordinary women and trans women who suffer ongoing violence at home or elsewhere get it chiefly from the same type of man, the manipulating self-centred misogynist. In other words, a man with a severe mental problem, a psychopath. That type of man is the common enemy. You can't reason with them, and they won't change. Get away from them, and stay away.

I think that radfem writers have a point when they say older trans women can't appreciate what it means to have grown up as a female. It's an entirely fair point. If you did not have a chance to be a little girl, nor a teenage girl experiencing all the things that happen then, nor a young woman getting involved in love and marriage, nor life as a mother, then certainly much understanding is lost beyond recovery. That doesn't mean a trans woman can't try to absorb these experiences second-hand, and learn from them. A trans woman concerned to study her role surely would do just this. She'd eagerly want to empathise with other women, and be like them, as much as humanly possible. And of course the age at which transition takes place has an important bearing. Transitioning at twenty gives you an excellent chance of catching up and taking things forward as if you'd never had an untypical girlhood. It's a lot harder at forty or fifty or sixty.

But even at sixty you still have the experience of the present moment, and what future years will bring. I think my own experience of a woman's life at sixty-two is authentic and perfectly valid. All my remaining life will be. But I admit that not living a female life when growing up, nor for most of my adult life so far, is a serious handicap. As much so as if I'd been blind and deaf at birth and then for most of my life, but, when old, had had my sight and hearing restored. That scenario would also have deprived me of experiences I should have had when younger. I'd have missed out on so much. But, once the disabilities were put right, the loss of past experiences wouldn't stop me living a normal life henceforth.

Radfem writers suggest there is a world-wide male conspiracy to do women down, with trans women as its secret agents. But I just see entrenched cultural and religious traditions that have maintained men as top dog for far too long. Certainly no cartel of alpha males, with trans women in thrall to them. If there really were such a cartel, it would hurt me too, and I'd want to fight it tooth and nail. But I think the common enemy is actually nobody in particular. Just men in every country who hold to traditional roles and resist change. An enemy who is hydra-headed, whose approach is unplanned, unsystematic, not centrally directed, sometimes doctrinaire, sometimes casual, but always taking it for granted that men are right and deserve the best of whatever is going. This state of affairs won't be magicked away overnight. It's a psychological thing. It'll take education and a lot of time and patience.

Radfem writers also refer to male privilege, and how trans women, whether or not actively subverting the female world, retain this and enjoy it. They most certainly don't, because once she is 'out', a trans woman is separated forever from male society. There is no having a rethink and going back. The odd detransitioner is never accepted as before. The consequences are permanent. Ordinary men don't regard trans women as men. They see them as something else. If enlightened, they will treat a trans woman as an ordinary women, making no distinction. She'll get respect, but only what an ordinary woman would get. Some narrow-minded men regards trans women as freaks, fit only for mockery. Still other men regard trans women as casual sex toys. And a small number of men see us as little better than bits of sub-human flesh that ought to be trashed. None of these viewpoints, benign or not, bestows any kind of male clout or privilege on a trans woman.

It is true that articulate and confident trans persons, especially those who are financially secure, are in a very good position to explain and defend themselves, and indeed bite back. But financial security and verbal skill do not make a trans person part of the ruling class. Trans women share with radical feminists the depressing reality that they can publish, they can make speeches, and an educated fringe will take notice, but there is no critical mass among the general public paying attention. At least not yet. It will come. Hope rests on a gradual shift in public attitudes, that secure both enforceable legal protections and on-the-ground fairness for all kinds of women. Meanwhile both groups have reasons to feel defensive, misunderstood, and denied full respect. It's a pity that we don't join forces, to push this along faster. It won't happen, though, because argument and conflict is more attractive.

You know, I don't think many trans people will get selected as party candidates for the forthcoming 2015 General Election. And I'll wager that none would get elected, even if allowed to stand. So much for that all-powerful cartel.


  1. Lucy, I don't think Woman's Hour is on your radio listening list otherwise you would have been shocked by one of their broadcasts last week.

    This lunatic writer was given free reign to spout her vile untruths by a programme whose researchers should know a lot better. Some poor trans spokesperson was brought in for "balance" that could never happen, a lightweight fighter up against a heavyweight who would not be averse to biting off an opponents ear.

    The creepy writer got loads of free publicity for her lies and must be laughing at us and we got more hatred preached to the listeners as truth making us out to be nothing but a load of perverts that just want access to public toilets to perform misdeeds. The fact that there are no reported incidents was never mentioned!

    That is one favourite programme I no longer listen to, the sound of that interviewer's voice now makes me physically sick.

    You could try complaining to the BBC and you will just get a standard reply, "we think the programme was balanced", they do not think at all...

    What a shame that you were not available to counter the nasty creatures vile lies.

  2. Ah, I think this must have been the very Professor Jeffreys who sparked that discussion in the pub. Her words and attitude were described as horrible. I wonder who the trans representative was. I hope she was not too damaged. I would myself have refused to participate. It was never going to be a meeting of minds.

    No, Woman's Hour is not my style. I prefer You and Yours, Money Box and Any Questions?



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