From: Frankie Green
Subject: Interview with Rosie Duffield MP, Gazette 2 December
Date: 5 December 2021 at 16:09:13 GMT
Dear Gazette Letters Page Editor,
Surely by now the electorate is tiring of Rosie Duffield’s disingenuous attempts to portray herself as unfairly misunderstood? [Gazette, 2 December]
Her claim to be an ally of the transgender community will ring hollow to many people. Why would a trans ally be a guest speaker on a panel at the recent conference of the LGB Alliance, an organisation causing enormous harm to people whose rights and safety are threatened by anti-trans lobbies? The specious attempt to pit women’s rights against trans rights is a misguided simplistic argument rejected by many of us who have been involved in feminism and LGBT politics since before she was born. Trolling and misogyny should always be opposed. However when she re-tweeted Piers Morgan, she was not disapproved of for having re-tweeted a man’s tweet; the person in question is a right-wing commentator who was undermining – and jeering at – the importance of an inclusive and vital cancer prevention public health message. It is inappropriate for a Member of Parliament to thoughtlessly play with Twitter so irresponsibly.
The assertion that she has stood up for Jewish people is also risible; hundreds of Jewish people have been expelled or suspended from the Labour Party for having the temerity to disapprove of the atrocious Israeli regime, having wrongly believed the party’s self-description as being democratic, socialist and pro-human rights. Duffield played a part in this unjust purge which saw the cynical conflation of anti-zionism and anti-semitism weaponised to facilitate the removing of elected leader Jeremy Corbyn and the policies which would have brought about a very different government than that under which we suffer today. In doing so she not only betrayed many constituents but revealed herself as unfit to be a parliamentary representative, as indeed her behaviour continues to demonstrate, characterised as it is by lack of judgement and knowledge and the absence of narcissism the post should require.
The following article appeared in Whitstable Views https://whitstableviews.com/2021/01/16/water-from-the-stone-something-from-nothing-by-frankie-green/ It is, as the title indicates, about some current thoughts, in no way intended as a comprehensive or objective overview of the situation. It should be taken as read that aggressive, abusive and criminal behaviour, whoever it is perpetrated by, is totally unacceptable.
Water From The stone, Something From Nothing: Women’s Rights, Transgender Rights, and Rosie Duffield – An Opinion
‘As long as we have literature as a bulwark against intolerance and as a force for change, then we have a chance … literature is plurality in action; it embraces … a place of no truths; it relishes ambiguity, and it deeply respects the place where everybody has the right to be understood.’ – Caryl Phillips, Brave New Words https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48910375-brave-new-words
In a recent conversation with a lifelong friend we talked about what had changed over our lifetimes, in relation to what we hoped for fifty years ago. We had met at a time of great hopefulness, amidst burgeoning movements for social justice: the Women’s Liberation Movement, Gay Liberation Front, Black Power, civil rights activism, anti-apartheid campaigns and worldwide anti-colonialism; we took part in many demonstrations including the UK’s first Pride protest. And though the world is still riven with racism, violence, war, misogyny, xenophobic nationalism, poverty and other injustice, it is in many ways a very different place from that of our youth.
One thing that has altered hugely, she remarked, is the situation for trans people, hardly short of a miracle. Julia Serano https://juliaserano.medium.com/detransition-desistance-and-disinformation-a-guide-for-understanding-transgender-children-993b7342946e has described witnessing ‘the slow evolution from the old gatekeeper system — which engaged in pathological science and often harbored antagonistic attitudes towards its trans clients/research subjects – toward what is gradually becoming our contemporary trans healthcare system – one that works in partnership with trans communities, and which increasingly has trans people’s best interests at heart.’
This will chime with many of us. In a similar and overlapping trajectory, the lives of lesbians of our generation have straddled two different eras. From growing up in the1950/60s and being stigmatised, ostracised, incarcerated, pathologised, seen as predatory, unnatural, perverted and mentally ill (literally: the American Psychiatric Association did not remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders until 1973) with no legal protection against losing children, jobs and homes, we’ve gone to a time when in some countries we have achieved legal rights and are mostly no longer regarded as mad monsters. ‘Woman’ had been synonymous with heterosexual, wife, mother, as per its etymology; biology as destiny. We had to de-naturalise meanings which seemed fixed, forge new realities, transform consciousness. As Rauda Morcos of Palestinian lesbian NGO, Aswat https://electronicintifada.net/content/though-small-palestines-queer-movement-has-big-vision/12607 says, ‘we built a new language, a new discourse.’ Shame was turned to Pride, transformation created through the alchemy of activism and imagination.
Yet such progress can’t be taken for granted, may have to be fought for all over again when at risk of being rolled back, when gains made are in danger of being weakened. An increasingly polarised debate – or more of a furore, far from a civil discussion – about transgender people has been in the news lately, mostly on the degraded level to which much public discourse frequently sinks: often dismissive of diverse opinions, with people of all positions intimidated or harassed, on and offline.
This is not an overview of this situation, but an individual opinion piece, from personal observations. Readers can find plenty of info online providing various opinions and arguments about recent developments; e.g. this perspectivehttps://foreignpolicy.com/2020/12/15/uk-transphobia-transgender-court-ruling-puberty-blockers/ and a thread https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1347457964320452608.html which one transwoman describes as explaining why almost every trans person in the UK is scared. It is appalling that anyone is made to feel afraid in this way. As if there wasn’t enough to be fearful of amid the daily horrors of deadly pandemic, Brexshit, climate catastrophe, misogynist and racist violence, multiple manifestations of untrammelled thuggery, untrustworthy politicians and venal corrupt government.
It might seem that issues arising from mooted legislative changes could be a matter of rational dialogue and decision-making; however, an initial spark of concern over a potential clash of rights and interests regarding changes to gender recognition law seemed to morph into full-scale and increasingly virulent belittling and ridiculing of transgender existence. It has been so alienating many have been wary of popping their heads above the parapet; nuanced discussion felt impossible. There is also a concern that to engage in such a debate legitimises it, as if the validity of some people’s lives was up for debate. Important discussion about women’s spaces has too often elided with abusive, derisory comments implying trans people are deluded, predatory or ill, don’t really exist/shouldn’t be allowed to exist.
For many trans people, their friends and family, this is horribly reminiscent of previous times when open hostility and violence was even more commonplace. It’s painful to revisit the situation of the 1970s, when it was horrific to witness the persecution of transwomen, from attacks and rejection by other feminists to assault and false arrest by police and mistreatment by the courts. A recent resurgence of dogmatic, hostile attitudes revisits the agenda expressed in The Transsexual Empire – a book described by one reviewer on publication in 1979 as ‘the Mein Kampf of transexuals’, with the author’s proposal that ‘transexualism’ should be ‘morally mandated’ out of existence – and is equally chilling. On the assumption of a right of entitlement to dispense such attitudes, many agree with Jacqueline Rose who wrote https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v38/n09/jacqueline-rose/who-do-you-think-you-are ‘I am genuinely baffled how anyone can believe themselves qualified to legislate on the reality, or not, of anyone else.’
Zealous campaigners advocating for the upholding of the sex-based rights of women/lgb people ostensibly also support trans people’s right to dignity and freedom from fear, but nevertheless contribute to spreading a climate of hostility, bigotry and endangerment that taps into longstanding prejudice. It would be disingenuous to deny this. A classic example of purporting to seek the prevention of harm yet actually causing it. Ramping up this atmosphere has escalated to a point where some trans people understand their existence to be under threat. The animus expressed toward them seems out of touch with reality. The trans people I know or know of are musicians, award-winning writers, poets, teachers, cooks, parents: people whose existence enriches the world – this is irrelevant of course; you don’t have to be a great person to be entitled to human rights, but the irony is painful. It is hard to see good people being traduced, their existence portrayed as delusional or inauthentic.
This would have no more bearing on Whitstable and Canterbury than the rest of the country were it not for the fact that the MP for the area, Rosie Duffield, adding to the reasons many residents are disillusioned with her https://whitstableviews.com/2020/06/03/rosie-duffields-brand-collapses/, has alienated even more with her behaviour on this issue. Local readers will be aware of the dissatisfaction felt about this MP. With no apparent political experience, qualifications or knowledge, she was installed deliberately to keep socialism at bay through dubious, undemocratic Labour Party machinations. Her alliance with other right-wing lobbies helped ensure we don’t have a Labour government (which has huge implications for women); she was prominent in the egregious witch-hunt deploying accusations of anti-semitism, which continues to cause enormous suffering to those falsely accused https://whitstableviews.com/2020/11/28/sacked-for-saying-good-luck-by-christine-tongue/. When challenged she has frequently reacted rudely to CLP members, constituents and former supporters, or refused to respond.
The twittersphere is awash with ignorance and silliness, but Rosie Duffield is a Member of Parliament, not simply a member of the public, with a responsibility to all her constituents. As a public servant, an elected representative, in an official role which calls for an adult and professional approach, she is required to use common courtesy in her dealings with others. If her role brings her into contact with issues she knows little about, surely she has a responsibility to become educated, not tweet or re-tweet ludicrous remarks. (E.g., her remark about cervical cancer screening was inaccurate https://labour-trans.org/news/lctr-statement-on-the-comments-of-rosie-duffield-mp/, ridiculing what should have been a straightforward cancer-prevention public health information announcement – a message it is important to spread as widely as possible, obviously.)
Failing that, it is not necessary to understand everything: if other people’s realities are opaque to us, we can be empathic, or even be content to dwell in Keats’ state of negative capability: ‘capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’ There is no need to be derogatory when we are unable to squash the complexity of life into the limits of our own comprehension. It would be helpful if Rosie Duffield and others with trans-hostile views could learn from the wisdom of the judge in a recent asylum case https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/30/i-felt-like-i-was-born-again-first-non-binary-person-granted-uk-refugee-status who affirmed the need to provide legal protection from the hate crimes and brutality enabled by bigotry and ignorance.
Or she could maybe just use lockdown to watch Pose https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2019/mar/21/pose-review-ryan-murphy-show-voguing-underground-ballroom-new-york, which portrays with ‘respect, pathos and love both the glamour of the ballroom and the guts of the Aids crisis, transphobia, sexism and racism.’ Whatever, it’s not necessary to lapse into unkindness or contempt.
Ms Duffield’s attendance at Pride events garnered her support from people alienated by the previous bigoted Tory MP; however, many are now thoroughly disenchanted by what is seen as her use of pinkwashing https://femmagazine.com/feminism-101-what-is-pinkwashing/. She has been accompanied at Pride by friends from the so-called Jewish Labour Movement, key players in the lobbying against Jeremy Corbyn and the relentless purge of socialists from the party https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/jewish-labour-movement-was-refounded-fight-corbyn .
The late Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, whose family members were murdered by the Nazis, remarked of the Israeli regime that there was no point in appealing to its conscience, as ‘one cannot appeal to a vacuum.’ Sadly, so it seems also with Ms Duffield, who rebuffs any criticism, portraying it as unwarranted. (I am referring here to political and procedural critique, not misogynist or other abuse, which is unacceptable in any situation whatsoever, as should go without saying.)
In the new year, troubled party members and supporters have affirmed that the Labour Party must be a ‘safe and welcoming space for trans members’ in an open letter to Keir Starmer, asserting that Ms Duffield has made the party ‘less welcoming for transgender people. Two of her staffers, one her only LGBTQ+ member of staff, have quit her employment citing her ‘overtly transphobic’ views as a main reason for resigning.’ They asked ‘why has no meaningful action been taken to discipline Rosie Duffield? Trangender people just want to live their lives free from oppression, they do not wish to be a pragmatic political issue that senior politicians can choose to ignore when it suits them,’ and demanded ‘that the Parliamentary whip be removed from Rosie Duffield M.P. and her membership of the party be suspended until she recognises the genuine harm and hurt caused by her views.’ Trailblazing trans activist and author Rachel Pollack https://www.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=969 views this as ‘a sign of true progress. In the old days, when transwomen were losing their council flats, and their jobs, no one spoke up for them at all.’
Those of us who have worked in the Women’s Liberation Movement to establish women’s spaces and to defend them from funding cuts, who have trans friends and support their human rights, and do not accept that these two principles need be in conflict with each other, have been disheartened by the superficial and vitriolic nature of current ‘debate.’Feminists, including transwomen, who assert that respect for trans rights, and concern for trans people who experience exclusion, impoverishment and murderous violence, need not in any way compromise a commitment to women’s rights, that it’s not either/or, are wearied by seeing a stream of social media posts implying we are unaware of the existence of opportunistic predatory misogynists or the need to protect children. If young people are being wrongly pressured to conform to stereotyped gender roles or being mislabelled transgender, if medical malpractice is occurring, it should be properly investigated. Again, matters that could surely be discussed rationally and thoughtfully. But anti-trans campaigning has gone far beyond the aims of protecting women’s spaces and safeguarding children. We have moved into a time where trans people are being denied access to resources and support. Gal-dem in an opinion piece https://gal-dem.com/puberty-blockers-young-trans-people-autonomy/, stated that a recent High Court decision https://www.economist.com/britain/2020/12/01/the-judgment-in-keira-bells-case-upsets-trans-groups means that gatekeepers are ‘now further empowered to decide who qualifies for treatment — a process that is inherently demeaning and likely only afforded to those who have the access, time and resources to go to court. Also, it exacerbates existing inequalities in access to trans health care.’
Hostility and derision has extended into many areas; the recent refusal to change the birth certificate of a transman’s child https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/nov/16/trans-man-loses-uk-legal-battle-to-register-as-his-childs-fatherto enable him to be registered as the father was claimed by some as ‘a victory for common sense’, whereas to others it seemed more like non-sense.
Is it really beyond the wit of the British bureaucracy to devise documentation that reflects the realities of today’s families? Space to record data for policy purposes could be included, for those concerned with statistics re natal biological sex. Or must official certification remain forever rigidly heteronormative/anti-trans?
In 2018 the London Pride march was disrupted and held up by anti-trans lesbians, in a protest which appalled even people who don’t go to Pride, who find it depoliticised and commercialised, or don’t identify with the umbrella term LGBT+. We found it hubristic, totally inappropriate, and contrary to Pride’s celebratory collective spirit. Amongst thousands of people attending there must have been those who have fled their home countries to seek asylum, or their communities here, because of persecution, and some of them will be transgender. They should be welcome and safe. Already dealing with the Tories’ anti-immigrant hostile environment policy, they should be free from insult or harassment at the one time when LGBT people are in the majority, taking over the streets in a carnivalesque reversal of normativity. The action overrode the event’s plan, which was to have been led by NHS unions trying to save services from privatisation. Holding up the march made thousands wait in exhausting heat, with the disrupters able to then not only join the march but in effect lead it, which led to the absurdity of an LGBT march being led by anti-Tprotesters. This was noted positively by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation, which of course has its own reasons for policing gender; in a dangerous liaison some feminists have rightly drawn flak https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/conservative-group-hosts-anti-transgender-panel-feminists-left-n964246 for cooperating with such anti-marriage equality, anti-abortion rights, right-wing institutions.
‘The greatness of literature lies in its capacity to communicate the experiences and feelings of human beings in all their variety, affording us glimpses of the boundless variety of humanity.’ – Carlo Rovelli, There are Places in the World Where Kindness is More Important Than Rules
Whether or not the inclusive LGBT+ term suits everyone, it’s likely that when the crunch comes – male supremacist, white supremacist, fascist, right-wing and religious fundamentalism – as it has in many places, those who resist or don’t fit into the rigid dualism of the roles of masculinity and femininity, those cornerstones of heterosexism: lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, trans people, women exerting our right to control our own bodies and sexuality and fertility, or anyone Othered for failing to submit to patriarchal control and compulsory heterosexuality, may all be classified as gender traitors. Treated similarly to, and overlapping with, disabled people, older people, poor and unemployed people (i.e. ‘useless eaters’, the Nazi synonym for Tories ‘economically inactive’), and with People of Colour in all groups being hardest hit, we will be demonised as trans people were in Donald Trump Jr’s rant which helped foment the mob attack in Washington when a transwoman was reported as having to flee from the mob inside the building. https://medium.com/james-finn/trump-jrs-anti-trans-rant-riled-up-insurrectionist-mob-8a3805812fbb.
So we face the choice of human solidarity with one another, and of deciding whether or not to be bystanders when other groups are persecuted. Excising one section of a coalition negates the imaginative, open-hearted ideas expressed by the writer Otamere Guobadia https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/06/the-most-pleasant-chaos-what-pride-means-to-me , when questioned about his hopes for the future: ‘… queerness does away with our binaries, our bizarre fixation on fixedness … Queerness is evidence of more. It is a peek into the cauldron at the beginning of the universe. Evidence that we, in acting purportedly ‘against nature’, might ourselves expand it. It is evidence of the divine. Queerness is water from the stone, Lazarus from the depths, something from nothing.’
It’s striking that the world of literature often offers a generosity of spirit and depth of understanding not often found in political discourse, is more hospitable, caring and imaginative than the ‘real’, everyday one we live in, with its constraints and hardening of borders. Science fiction and many other writers, authors as various e.g. as Arundhati Roy, Elif Shafak, Armistead Maupin, Banana Yoshimoto, have envisaged vastly different possibilities. To take a couple of examples, Shafak’s life-affirming Ten Minutes Thirtyeight Seconds in This Strange World, set in Istanbul, creates a home for marginalised people whom society considers expendable – ‘foreigners’, trans women, gay men, prostituted women, disabled women – a place wherein all are respected and valued, humanity and individuality restored, a chosen family of love. Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32388712-the-ministry-of-utmost-happiness also conjures a welcome to ‘this place where we live, where we have made our home … the place of falling people.’
When the author Pat Barker recently remarked on Radio 3 that writers ‘delight in the complexity of the world, ’ she invoked a capacity for joy, an ethical principle and a way of being that all can share or aspire to. This suggests that it’s possible, while working for progressive political change, not to Other anyone else, collude in anyone else’s oppression, or add to the sum total of suffering in the world, but to prefer to follow Margaret Atwood’s advice https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/sep/12/margaret-atwood-if-youre-going-to-speak-truth-to-power-make-sure-its-the-truth: ‘Rejoice in Nature’s infinite variety!’
© Frankie Green 2021