I’m taking a break from planned posts to write on this, since Cambridge is pretty much local to me (I’m in South Cambs Parliamentary constituency, but Cambridge is close).
[EDIT TO ADD: Rupert Read has added a long comment on the article linked by Cambridge News, in which he retracts several of the statements in that article, mainly on the basis that he’s learned a lot in the two years since he wrote the original article, and that he expressed himself poorly. I still stand by my arguments in this piece, because he still told Cambridge News for their 22nd January 2015 article that it was okay to exclude trans women from women’s loos if cis women voted for it. Also, “Sorry I used the wrong words” doesn’t actually mean much.]
Rupert Read, Green Party candidate for Cambridge in the upcoming election, has issued a non-apology for his remarks rejecting trans women as women. Cambridge News carried the story and quoted him:
“I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused by my tweets,” Dr Read said.
“I’m sorry, especially for any upset caused to transgender people, who remain sorely oppressed in our society today.
But even in this article, he says he would rather come to a “mutual understanding”, apparently, than accept trans women as women.
In the heat of the debate, philosopher Dr Read linked to an article he had written in the past on the subject, which he said clarified his stance on this “complex matter”.
Thing is, I’ve looked at the article. I don’t even believe his non-apology any more. Why? Because in it he writes:
I have some sympathy with Suzanne Moore, Bea Campbell, Julie Bindel and even Germaine Greer over this issue: The way they have at times been targeted and criticised is unpleasant. There IS a Feminist case against some of the discourse of the trans lobby.
there has also without doubt been some real and I think in part quite unwarranted unpleasantness from one very vocal section of the trans community against anyone, including some prominent Feminists, who dares to say out loud anything resembling (1).
So, he may claim he’s not transphobic, but he is quite happy to defend transphobes and to say that when people are angry that such people deny the lives and safety of trans women, that it is the anger that’s the problem, not the transphobic beliefs. And now people are angry at him. What are we to believe he really feels, when we have this evidence versus his claims to be sorry for causing offence? He seems to think it’s the offence that is unreasonable.
The essay is also rife with references to “[men who] choose to become women” as if he thinks being a trans woman is just like choosing to have pizza or takeaway curry for dinner. The only way that statement makes sense is if you have already decided what you believe, and are now creating post hoc justifications to support it. I make no apology for the fact that the same is true of the way I, as a trans rights activist and genderfluid-identified person, frame the issue. But I at least understand what I’m doing.
To wit: my starting assumption is that the self-identity of a trans woman is accurate. She is a woman from the moment of consciousness (when she as a person comes into being) and there is probably some physical correlate that determines this, in the brain, genetics, pre-natal environment or something else – or maybe God just makes her so. It doesn’t matter the “how”, but she is a woman. Bearing in mind that not all trans women feel the need for vaginoplasty, but many do, it is reasonable from this assumption to say that many trans women find their embodied experience jarring – just as a cis woman might if she found herself transported into a male-coded body. To talk of transness as a “choice”, as Dr Read does, is utterly absurd if we understand the experience of trans women (and trans men for that matter) in the light of such discord. But there are ethical reasons to take my stance and not Dr Read’s: I centre the person, and centre their rights and dignity, whereas Dr. Read centres an external, physical and social, measure that ignores the individual’s personhood.
To take the assumption that “trans women choose to be women” is a dangerous statement. It is only valid if “cis women choose to be women”, and “cis men choose to be men” are also true. One rarely sees those statements from trans-exclusionary arguments, and Dr Read seems not to consider whether he himself has chosen to be a man.
But is he, in fact, transphobic? Let’s see:
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.
I wish I could remember the source, but there’s a saying that, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb deciding what’s for dinner.” When it comes to the basic human rights and dignity of others, it’s not cool to say, “decide amongst yourselves, ladies.” What would he say if White women (as the majority in the UK) were to decide Muslim women don’t get to go into women-only spaces such as women’s toilets? By his statement, as long as the Muslim women were “involved in making those decisions”, then that’s totally cool, right? (I chose Muslim here, rather than the usual directly racial comparison, because Islamophobia is rising in this country it seems, and because it’s not always possible to tell just by looking whether a person is or isn’t Muslim; there are White British Muslim women, for example.)
Dr Read says “All women have a right to be involved in making those decisions”, but we already know that, in his view, trans women are not women. His entire argument is that trans women should hold up their lives and experience to be judged by others as either valid or invalid. Now, that’s not unique to trans women: one only need look at the experiences of any oppressed group on the receiving end of a ‘splainer (mansplaining, ablesplaining, etc) to see it’s a fairly common experience. But, gosh, maybe if one wants to be viewed as not a transphobe, one ought not to cissplain? By the “2 wolves 1 lamb” version, if trans women are initially accepted as women, then Dr Read says it’s okay for women to vote to exclude trans women from the group. If we exclude trans women from the initial class of women, then it’s purely waiting for privilege to stoop to grant access.
Either way, to allow a debate on whether people get to go to the loo or not is to diminish their humanity, and to state that there is some valid reason why they should not be allowed into the loos. Dr Read therefore must on some level accept the transphobic ideas as valid, or potentially valid.
I don’t care whether he himself holds the transphobic beliefs or not. He is happy to give succour to those who do, he is happy to suggest that they might have a point, and a valid reason to fear trans women. And he is happy to deny the experiences and lives of trans women in favour of a theoretical “logical” argument. I don’t need any more than that to call him a cissplaining transphobe.
PS A brief moment of looks-based judgement: the photo on that article, I swear all he’s missing is the hat. Creepy grin, dodgy facial hair… yep. He’s that sort of “progressive”.