Saturday, 20 January 2018

What I Can Say About Sex and Gender

A group of people in silhouette against a white background, with the silhouette itself being filled with a rainbow heart pattern.
I've been disappointed in some discussion I've seen in British Quaker circles recently. I shan't go in to what prompted the discussion, because that's not relevant right now. What I can say is that it's about trans issues, and feminism.
I'm disappointed because I see attitudes expressed that, while not outwardly hostile to trans people, they are denying their experience. They hold up an attitude that the rights of one marginalised group are inherently in tension with the rights of another, at least at this time, and do not seek to find ways to resolve that tension to the benefit of all. That hesitate to be critical of those that advocate the idea that trans women, however well they pass, should use men's toilets. I might not reasonably hope that all Friends would support the reform of legal gender recognition, making it easier to access, but I would hope that they would not participate in scaremongering that it would somehow lead to insincere, casual changes of legal gender for frivolous or malicious purposes. That it would allow such things to be done with impunity.
I'm a cisgender, heterosexual, white man. I hope to be a good ally, just as I hope to find allies, especially among Friends, in support of my experiences and efforts as a disabled person. I know that being a good ally doesn't mean being entirely uncritical of the positions of those in another marginalised group – but also not to deny their lived experience. Their wisdom in such matters is not flawless, but will be deeper than my own. My own views are not without merit or relevance, but it is secondary to theirs.
And yet, I am heartened that we can share our opinions, even those I am disappointed by, in what is largely a loving way – certainly by comparison to discussions in many other communities. That those who know their views are not conventional for British Friends can, at least in this context, share them without feeling hemmed in by our social dogma. Even if I might hope that they change their minds, I know that it is by allowing dialogue – as well as the illumination of the Divine – that such a change will occur. It will not occur by verbal warfare or the discourse equivalent of a bludgeon.
So I share my understanding, my views. I feel they are spirit-led, but I do not have some shining revelation behind them to insist that others share them.
I support the right, indeed the imperative, of people to live as the gender to which they identify.
I know that neither sex nor gender are binary characteristics, and though most people find themselves near one of the traditional “poles”, many find themselves somewhere in between. I know that gender is not always a fixed thing in a person's life, that it may move from point to point on a spectrum.
I support the right for that gender to be recognised legally without excessive barriers put in place.
I do not believe that easier access to gender recognition will lead to consequence-free or widespread frivolous or malicious use by people who actually identify as the same gender they were assigned at birth.
I believe that social expectations of gender are damaging to everyone, and it would be of great benefit to society to break them down.
I believe that, with society in its current state, gender is not solely performative, but is also a matter of personal identity.
I understand that it is easy to conflate these two elements of gender, but believe that we should strive not to confuse gender non-conformativity with a need to identify as a gender other than that assigned. A person whose gender does not match that assigned at birth can be non-conforming in their gender of identity just as much as in their assigned gender.
I know that applying aesthetic expectations to gender harms not only trans people who do not “pass” as their gender of identity, but those who identify as their assigned gender yet do not meet the aesthetic expectations of that gender.
I know that there are women who have a genuine need for space away from men, and that sharing that space with women they perceive to be men compromises the feeling of safety in that space – even if it does not compromise the practical safety of that space. I recognise that the feeling of safety is important in these situations.
I also know that not all of these women will be perceived as women by all other women.
I know that this is a hugely complicated situation, and it may well not be fully resolved in the lifetime of anyone alive as I write this. But I hope it will be.
Written January 2018
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