Dr Rupert Read isn’t really sorry

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”.


About ValeryNorth

I overthink everything.
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7 Responses to Dr Rupert Read isn’t really sorry

  1. You are wrong. I do not and never have believed that trans-women are not real women, or are any less women.

    • ValeryNorth says:

      I don’t know how to interpret your statements otherwise:

      “Is it enough, in order to BE a woman, to psychically identify as one? To this second question, we must surely answer: no.”

      “ordinary women, so-called ‘cissexuals’”

      “being gendered female as a result of a choice.”

      The entire premise of your linked piece is that trans women are not sufficiently women as to be accepted unequivocally as such. That there is “a debate to be had” about whether their lived experiences are valid.

      If you really believed trans women were real women, or not any less women, that’s not a debate that would make sense. Suggesting that there is any validity in excluding trans women from women’s toilets (as you did in the Cambridge News article) really is impossible to square with your denial.

      Nice try, but no.

  2. Dr Read, your “defence” seems only to be valid if one reads your words

    “I do not believe and have never believed that trans-women are not real women or are any less women”

    actually to mean

    “I have never intended to be transphobic. A bunch of anti-trans ‘radical feminists’ who do believe that transwomen are not real women have duped me into believing that their anti-trans arguments about ‘women-only spaces’ and trans identity are not actually transphobic. In truth, even though I am mortified by the accusation of transphobia, I simply haven’t ever thought deeply enough about transgender to realise what is and isn’t transphobic in actual practice. And I am easily drawn to arguments that sound rational and progressive even when their practical consequences are the oppression of minorities such as transgender people. This is how I was duped – with cogent-sounding arguments from clever people who knew I wouldn’t think about the actual practical consequences. I still haven’t really realised that these issues are more than just philosophical debate – I haven’t fully understood, for example, that ‘negotiating access to women-only spaces’ affects whether transgender people are allowed to use public toilets without ‘outing themselves’ in circumstances where they face the risk of serious assault. And I haven’t realised that, if elected to parliament, I will be expected to vote not just on broad woolly ideas, but on practical matters that profoundly affect peoples’ lives on a day-to-day basis. To me it’s all just words, and I haven’t yet realised that, in the world of grown-up politics, words about human rights from politicians turn into matters of life or death, and suffering or survival.”

    Personally, Dr Read, I am now getting the strong feeling that you really DO wish us transgender people well, and that you aren’t “at heart” a transphobe, in spite of the clear anti-trans consequences of many of the ideas you continue to espouse … just like many of the UKIP blunderers we read about are not “at heart” racist. They (and you) are just “easily led” by the true bigots, and are unable to see that they (and you) have become accomplices to bigotry. That’s why they (and you) immediately follow your “apologies” with more bigoted statements – not out of malign intent or hypocrisy, but simply because they (and you) “just don’t get it”.

    But a “defence” of a parliamentary candidate that says he “is easily led” and “doesn’t see the practical effects of the ideas he adopts” and “is no worse than UKIP” are by no means a defence that leads any sensible voter to conclude that he or his party deserve any votes. So, until I see repeated clear practical evidence to the contrary, the Green Party have joined UKIP and the BNP on my list of “bigots and their deluded followers to be avoided”.

  3. Charlie Kiss says:

    Too quick to judge a whole party! and how ridiculous to put in same box as UKIP and BNP! that’s outrageous! Complaints process has only just begun for one thing and the National non leader led body has the power to suspend or expel. .Cambridge party may or may not deselect. ( my personal view is that they should)

    Here are the leaders statement and Green Party Women statements.Statement from Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, and Amelia Womack and Shahrar Ali, Deputy Leaders of the Green Party:

    “As leaders of the Green Party we wish to state our disappointment with the comments made by Rupert Read and express our sympathies with anyone who was hurt or offended by his remarks.

    “We are pleased that Rupert Read has issued a full apology and hope that his meetings with LGBTIQ groups will help to repair some of the upset that has been caused.

    “The Green Party is wholly committed to fighting for equality and fair representation for all transgender and LGBTIQ communities and we wish to reiterate and reaffirm our party’s commitment to that cause. We now want to do all we can to move forward positively and continue the important job of standing up for LGBTIQ rights.”

    Statement from the Green Party Women’s Group:

    “We reiterate the sentiment of the Green Party’s leaders in response to these comments from Cambridge parliamentary candidate; Rupert Read. We were deeply concerned that Rupert Read’s comments could promote misunderstanding of trans issues, and of modern feminism. Green Party Women considers feminism which excludes trans people to be an extremist fringe, with no place in the Green party, or the wider feminist movement. The feminist movement cannot succeed without paying attention to all aspects of inequality. We welcome all women with open arms, and defer to trans women in issues of particular relevance to them.

    “We hope this incident serves as a reminder for all our future candidates of the importance of being informed about issues of oppression. We will continue to work to ensure the party fights for inclusive feminism, and that all our candidates and members are briefed on the issues of all women.”

    • ValeryNorth says:

      I’m assuming that the BNP/UKIP remarks mean that your reply is directed at Tina Torrontes above, rather than the OP. Nevertheless, I feel it appropriate to respond to some of the sentiment in your reply.

      As to “judge a whole party”, that is certainly not the basis of my problem. The policies expressed by the party on issues such as trans rights and sex workers’ rights, are exemplary. However, candidates – and even prominent members such as Caroline Lucas – seem to be strong advocates of policies that are detrimental to those groups. Lucas in particular is known to support the Swedish Model, and I corresponded with her when she was my MEP to oppose it. Sex workers’ rights organisations and campaigners are unanimous that the Swedish Model is harmful. Now we discover that another Green Party candidate is expressing views that are detrimental to a marginalised group, and seemingly in opposition to Green Party policy.

      The consequence of this is to raise doubts in the minds of would-be supporters of the Green party about whether they and their candidates can actually deliver on their policies and their advocacy for marginalised groups. What other views contrary to the inclusive policies of the Party are held by its candidates? Who else might turn out to be a let-down when push comes to shove, and a marginalised group is depending on them?

      It may be somewhat theoretical to consider such questions when as yet the Green Party does not seem likely to win many seats, but to wish your candidate’s victory, I must hope that they will provide the advocacy promised. To win my vote, I must believe that the candidate will be a good representative if I have issues, that the Party has good policies, and that the candidate will support those policies. The Green Party’s situation is that belief in the last condition has been damaged.

      I will be looking for reports from the Cambridge LGBTQI meetings with Rupert Read to discover whether they accept his stance. His “full apology”, as I note in my post and the Edit To Add, does not ring true to me and I would like to see how he is received in person.

  4. Lol. You yourself don’t respect women’s right to name their boundaries, and castigate those who do?
    Hand in your feminist badge love, you’re done with that.

    Women, no women, are obliged to put themselves second to anyone’s life. We’re not your mother or morally obliged to take up every cause.
    Grow up.

    • ValeryNorth says:

      1/. I don’t identify as feminist, so I have no badge to hand in.
      2/. I have respect for women’s boundaries, right up until they claim their boundaries override other women’s boundaries, or humanity. As I explained in the OP: I’ll tend (although I am poor at doing enough about it) to side with women facing other/additional oppressions (such as racism or transphobia) against White, middle class, cis, relatively-privileged women’s boundaries that are used to exclude and oppress those other women.
      3/. “Love”? Really? That’s considered good feminist praxis now?
      4/. Respecting others’ humanity isn’t being “mother”, or even taking up their cause. It’s just being a decent human being.

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