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Culture Wars on the Left, The Gender Recognition Act, and Transphobia in the UK.

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Image result for helen steel anarchist book fair

Helen Steel: Attacked by Trans Activists.

For some years the left has rightly taken up LGBT issues.

But the ‘T’, transgender, side of this has become increasingly fraught and the word itself is now an invitation to argument.

For some people Transgender people are (also?) women or men.

The Gender Recognition Act has brought the issue to the fore.

The Socialist Feminist Network – a site that should be compulsory reading for those commenting on the subject – has this,

What do Socialist feminists say about gender identity ideology?

The proposed changes by the Tory government to Gender Recognition Act are a fundamental change to the legal definition of the sex categories man and woman allowing individuals to opt into their chosen gender. Women are currently protected as a sex under the equality act. If anyone of the male sex identify into this protected characteristic it renders it meaningless. Males who identify as women will have legal protection but the female sex will lose protection as a distinct category.

They go on to say,

Under the Transgender umbrella a number of self- identities exist including non-binary, bi gender, gender queer and gender fluid. If the effect of the Bill, is in practice, to give male bodied people access to female intimate space that will be an unacceptable outcome. The stereotypical criticism of women as “pearl clutchers” for expressing concern over access to toilets is a horribly sexist dismissal of the idea of the importance of safety for women and girls. There are concerns about toilets, yes, but also about male access to female sport facilities, to refuges for women fleeing violence and to the female prison estate etc.

We believe that there may be possibilities that strengthening sex discrimination law will have the effect of improving rights to express gender more freely whilst not undermining existing laws that protect women.

This is probably the most controversial section,

We do not accept that transwomen are women and trans men are men. We associate this with unscientific thinking and the demand that it is an accepted truth of progressive politics as worryingly authoritarian. The demand that the left adopts this level of irrational thinking is often associated with vicious misogynist attacks, usually against feminists, on those who will not submit to the lie. There is a worrying trend of silencing women associated with transgender activism, petitions demanding feminists lose jobs, memes suggesting that we are hateful, petty snarking etc. and this is unacceptable. We are confident that our movement will back us and provide support to us in this.

They conclude,

Repeatedly feminists refuse to acknowledge the term “cis” women to describe themselves. It is simply a descriptive word, why object so strongly?

Our view is that women’s struggle for rights are part of a wider class struggle and should be at the centre of our movement. However gender theory denies us the vocabulary to discuss our biology or be explicit that even reproductive rights are for women. This is not just a problem in Ireland; recently students at Oxford University demanded the removal of references to women’s biology from abortion rights literature on the grounds that they were “transphobic” and “cis sexist”. Not only did they demand the removal of words describing female biology but they also threatened disaffiliation from abortion campaigns.

Language determines consciousness, or to put it less strongly, the structure of language influences cognition and world view. Therefore we will not simply shrug our shoulders at attempts to re-classify the meaning of a word as fundamental as “woman”. By demanding that we drop some words that describe our reality but insisting that we utilise others that frame a new context, gender theory is seeking to determine new classifications. At a minimum the left should try to unpack these new frameworks to understand what lay behind these motivations.

We should always try to understand the relevance of seeking to reframe language both in relation to the world around us and in relation to power. To place the word “cis” in front of the word woman immediately makes the actual woman/ adult human female “other”. In this classification anyone who “self identifies” is more oppressed than a “cis woman”. It creates a hierarchy of women, soon to be manipulated into new insidious classifications such as “cis women” having “privilege” or in some way being oppressive to those who “self-identify” as non cis or part of the transgender umbrella. These kinds of mental gymnastics have resulted in the absurdity of a major British political party, the Greens, calling women “non- men”. In this post- modern construction feminists become “cis sexist” and are then the valid target of abuse, this abusive behaviour, not surprisingly, follows familiar patterns of misogyny but that now have the cover of the cis / trans binary.

This is the pit in which liberal feminism currently thrashes around, a post- modern word salad, insisting feminism must centre everyone, except ourselves. This will not do. Instead we want a socialist feminism that unapologetically centres women, particularly working class women, in our movement. We say, unapologetically, feminism is for women.

The following article appeared in the Observer this Sunday.

UK transgender rights row intensifies as book fair is cancelled. 

Accusations of ‘transphobia’ have led to bitter divisions within Labour and the Women’s Equality party, feminist and anarchist movements.

An annual book fair that has served for more than three decades as the most important meeting point for the British anarchist movement has become the latest casualty of widening splits over the issue of transgender rights.

Organisers say that they no longer have “the appetite or the energy” to stage next year’s London Anarchist Bookfair, following fraught scenes at the event last month. A group of feminists were confronted by other activists who accused them of distributing “transphobic” leaflets that promoted prejudice against transgender people.

The acrimony follows highly publicised splits in universities, women’s organisations and political parties over the issue. Lily Madigan, a 19-year-old who has just won a vote in Kent to become Labour’s first women’s officer from a transgender background, has been at the centre of a row within the party.

…….

The increasingly angry disputes follow government proposals to streamline the process for how people can change their gender, under the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). A public consultation is to be held on speeding up and demedicalising the process, with the current need to be assessed and diagnosed by clinicians seen by some as intrusive.

Choosing whether one is a man or a woman is a matter of self-identification, trans activists assert. Some opponents of the GRA have warned that this may lead to young, vulnerable people making decisions they later regret. Others have suggested that self-identifying undermines the status, rights and experience of biological women.

The rows “are going on within all sorts of social movements”, said Helen Steel, the veteran social justice campaigner known for her role in taking on McDonald’s in the 1997 “McLibel” case.

She said she had been left traumatised by her experience at the book fair, claiming she was surrounded by a “baying mob” after intervening to stop the bullying of two women who had been distributing leaflets about the GRA. (1)

“I have been aware that women have been bullied on this issue for a long time now but, until it happened to me, I was not aware of the extent of the bullying and am shocked by it,” Steel said. “I have been an environmental and social justice campaigner for most of my life. In all that time, I have never experienced such a toxic environment.”

Opponents of Steel and the other feminists assert that to have allowed the distribution of the leaflets was to create an environment in which transphobia was encouraged, discriminating against a group of people who already experience high rates of suicide, poverty and persecution.

Spiked-on-line’s  Ella Whelan had already opined, LILY MADIGAN IS NOT A WOMAN

Having a 19-year-old boy as a women’s officer is ridiculous.

Lily Madigan, a transgender teenager formerly known as Liam, has been elected as the women’s officer for the Labour Party branch in Rochester and Strood in Kent.

Madigan’s election has caused a stir — something this teen is used to doing. At 18, he hired a solicitor and threatened to sue his mixed Catholic secondary school for not allowing him to use the girls’ changing rooms or dress according to the girls’ uniform code.

……

So, here we have a trans teen who has previously been part of an effort to undermine a women’s officer’s career now being elected as a women’s officer. Understandably, some are angry about this. How can a teenager who has only recently declared himself to be a woman be eligible as a women’s officer? As Teresa Murray, vice-chairwoman of the executive committee of Rochester and Strood CLP, said: ‘Lily will have to work very hard to convince other people that her very presence there is not going to undermine them.’

The role of a women’s officer is important, feminists argue, because the lived experience a woman is something men cannot understand. Therefore, in order for women to feel politically represented, they must be represented by women. Now, some of us may disagree with this and think that it elevates the narrowness and divisiveness of identity politics over the idea of politics as a universal democratic pursuit. But it is what some people believe, and of course have a right to believe. And yet identity politics and the cult of diversity have now gone so far that women in politics are being pressured to accept a man as their ‘female representative’.

The new obsession with transgenderism is throwing up many difficult questions. What does it mean to be a woman? Is simply looking like a woman enough? And what about the rise in transgender feeling among young people? Are we comfortable with children fixating on their gender — with girls binding their breasts or boys taking drugs to prevent puberty? These are serious issues and they must be discussed openly, without fear of ostracism or demonisation. But that isn’t happening. Tragically, transgender politics has become a new dogma, promoted by almost every wing of the elite, and that is bad for young people, for women, and for freedom and critical thinking.

It is tempting to reject anything the ex-RCP says but Labour does not appear to have been thought through the difficulties this appointment raises.

But do we agree with this?

Theorising Feminist Transphobia Phil Burton

“According to Janice Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire, trans women represent patriarchal agents within the women’s movement. In plainer language, she argues they are men who have surgically altered their bodies to become simulacra of women’s bodies, but that does not make them women. The socialisation of being brought up male, along with its myriad entitlements, privileges, expectations, and complicity in the reproduction of patriarchal social relationships remains. Therefore the acceptance of trans women runs the risk of constituting an alien presence within the women’s movement”

After further analysis of this current of thought, from the marketing of femininity,  a concern “with all women’s experiences and seeks to articulate them, which includes trans women, and is characterised by inclusion and an interest in the individual” and the contrasting, “marketable commodity” of feminist transphobia, with “roots in anxiety”,  Phil concludes,

There is no reason why, for instance, the existence of trans men and trans women should reinforce the gender binary, especially when the performance and resistance of gendered practices vary as much among trans as they do among cis people. Indeed, by arguing that treatment/surgery should not take place isn’t one upholding the binarism by forcing people to inhabit the gendered bodies they received? Additionally, the existence of a gender industry no more delegitimises trans people than the gay men’s health care “industry” (or the so-called pink pound) does gay men.

Yes, both try and produce subjects of particular kinds, but all institutions and constellations of institutions do so, sometimes for profit. So what? Furthermore, some elements of second wave feminism are exclusionary of women, and there remains perspectives that criticise BDSM lesbians, butch lesbians, indulge bi-erasure and critique bisexuality, and of course, there is the small fringe of lesbian separatism. The difficulties some feminists have with trans women are inseparable from identity border wars, but simultaneously newer generations of feminists view these feuds as old hat and irrelevant to the main job of critiquing and opposing patriarchy and capitalism.

The comrades from the Socialist Feminist Network raise legitimate concerns.

Not least, for political activists,  is the following, “To place the word “cis” in front of the word woman immediately makes the actual woman/ adult human female “other”. In this classification anyone who “self identifies” is more oppressed than a “cis woman”. It creates a hierarchy of women, soon to be manipulated into new insidious classifications such as “cis women” having “privilege” or in some way being oppressive to those who “self-identify” as non cis or part of the transgender umbrella. ” And, “recently students at Oxford University demanded the removal of references to women’s biology from abortion rights literature on the grounds that they were “transphobic” and “cis sexist”.

Many will sympathise with the wish to be inclusive and to understand the point of view of trans activists and to fight against the prejudices towards them.

But Phil raises a number of straw figures to argue against, beginning with the idea that critics of trans people who wish to identify as women, be recognised as women is linked to the wilder claims of those who consider them as “patriarchal agents within the women’s movement”.

It is very far from clear what “forcing people to inhabit the gendered bodies they received” means. Perhaps it implies that we can leave our bodies for new ones.

But one thing overshadows anything else.

The hatred against so-called Terfs, (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists), extended to anybody who criticises trans-activists, is repellent just as is some of the language used by some feminists against them.

Or this litany of lies.

Related image

The more recent sight of people screaming “TERF Nazis” at radical feminists is not easy to forget or forgive.

Image result for Terfs

Biological differences between men and women exist. There is a limit to the social construction of identity, and those limits, outlined in Norman Geras in, Marx and Human Nature: Refutation of a Legend (1983), include physical differences in our “corporal organisation” which no gender reassignment can deconstruct. We can begin with reproduction and menstruation, or, the Socialist feminists call it “women’s biology”.

Kindness towards people does not include the obligation to remain silent about these issues.

 

*******

(1) Comrade Helen Steel’s statement includes this:

  • Half an hour later, I was surrounded for over an hour by a baying mob of around 30 trans activists who shouted misogynistic abuse in my face and at others, and who would not leave me alone. This included: ugly Terf, fucking Terf scum, bitch, fascist and more. That kind of behaviour should have no place in anarchism or any other progressive politics.
  • Despite that provocation, I did not at any time threaten or assault anyone. No trans activists were threatened by anyone else in my sight or hearing.
  • While I was surrounded, I saw a man’s hand moving towards my face and when it was within inches of my face I blocked it and pushed his arm away. He then started shouting that I had assaulted him and I should be thrown out.
  • Some of those in the baying mob tried to stoke anger and division by calling me a snitch, making false claims that I had filmed them assaulting a feminist at Speakers Corner and had handed that footage to the police. Footage of the incident is available and actually shows me intervening to protect the victim of the assault, not filming it. The videos embedded in this article show what actually happened, please do watch them and see the truth for yourself.

Image result for Terfs anarchist book fair

Her opponents’ views can be seen on Phil’s Blog and here: Transphobia at the London Anarchist Bookfair 2017

 

Update: This by Helen Saxby, one of the best overviews of the whole debate,  has been signaled by a feminist socialist comrade on Facebook. When Women’s Rights Are #NotaDebate

 

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Written by Andrew Coates

November 28, 2017 at 11:54 am

Helen Steel, Victim of Political Police Spy, is Forced to Pay Coppers’ Costs.

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Helen Steel: Respected and Loved in the Labour Movement and on the Left. 

Comrade Helen was targeted by the Police in the  McLibel case.

My Union Branch donated money to support the defendants.

We met Helen at a Blair Peach memorial demonstration in West London.

I have a memory of how she managed to be both serious and approachable despite the burden of the case.

Since that trial, which the McLibel couple, Helen with David Morris, won, this has emerged that “In the course of the UK undercover policing relationships scandal it was revealed that one of the authors of the “McLibel leaflet” was Bob Lambert, an undercover police officer who infiltrated London Greenpeace and Helen Steel’s partner for two years was also an undercover officer.”

 

Bob Lambert, “Lambert infiltrated activist groups (environmentalists, animal rights activists and anti-racists) using the alias Mark “Bob” Robinson. To gain credibility as an activist, he formed friendships with other movement members; he also embarked in long-term relationships with women as a means of establishing a cover story.He fathered a child with one of the activists he was spying on[1] although he already had a wife and children in the suburbs.[8] After that relationship ended he embarked on another with a woman who was politically conscious, but was not herself an activist. His colleagues at Special Branch raided her home in order to bolster his image as a hardcore militant.”

Since then Lambert has been an advocate of “partnerships” with Muslims (“Countering Al Qaeda in London: Police and Muslims in Partnerships (2011): Police and Muslims in Partnerships) and as such won the praise of the Islamophobia Watch site by Ken Livingstone employee Bob Pitt, “Can those who smear Bob Lambert claim such anti-terrorist success?” He is now some kind of ‘academic’.

The Helen Steel case stands on its own:

Here is her statement in December 2016.

The Undercover Policing Inquiry (1) has named John Dines as an undercover police officer (2), the third officer confirmed in recent weeks (3). John Dines was the long term partner of Helen Steel (4), who until recently was suing (5) the police, with seven other women who had been deceived into relationships with undercover officers.

It was Helen’s search for John Barker, after he had disappeared from her life, which revealed he was John Dines, an undercover officer. This is only being confirmed by the Inquiry now. Despite settling her legal action with a comprehensive apology (6), the police have until now refused to admit that John Dines was an undercover officer, relying on their ‘policy’ of ‘neither confirm nor deny’ (7).

Helen Steels Statement:

“While I welcome the official admission that my former partner John Dines was an undercover policeman in the Special Demonstration Squad, it is a travesty that the police have been allowed to take this long to confirm what I and others exposed years ago.  Even after they issued a public apology for serious human rights abuses to myself and six other women who had been deceived into relationships with undercover policemen, the police still argued they could not confirm the identity of my abuser.  To date, despite that apology, they have also refused to confirm the identity of Mark Jenner who deceived ‘Alison’ into a five year relationship.  We and other women similarly deceived have had no disclosure at all about how these abusive relationships were allowed to happen, instead we have been subjected to intrusive demands for evidence of the effects of the abuse.  None of those responsible for this abuse have been held to account – even those still employed by the police have kept their jobs.

It is an insult to the many victims of political undercover policing that the police who are responsible for serious human rights abuses have been allowed to cover up the truth and withhold information from those they abused.  The public inquiry should release as a matter of urgency the cover names of all these political police and also the files they compiled on campaigners, so that those spied on are able to understand what happened and give relevant evidence to the inquiry.

We know that over a thousand campaign groups have been spied upon by these political undercover policing units.  This represents a significant interference with the right to political freedom of thought and the right to protest.  Ultimately it is a means for those who hold power to preserve the status quo and prevent social change.  For this reason it is in the public interest for the cover names of all the political undercover police to be released, along with the files they compiled so that those who have abused their power can be held to account, the public learns the true extent of this political spying in this country and further human rights abuses by such units can be prevented.”

—statement ends—

More on these abuses:  Police Spies Out of Lives  Support group for legal action against undercover policing

Today we learnt this:

Morning Star.

AN ACTIVIST who was deceived into a relationship with an undercover police officer has been ordered to pay £7,000 to cover the Met Police’s legal bill for the 2015 court case relating to the scandal.

Helen Steel is one of eight women who was a victim of the spy cop scandal in which police spies infiltrated campaign groups and trade unions.

Over a 25-year period, at least four other women brought civil claims against undercover police officers who had deceived them into relationships.

There were continual cover-ups over the numbers of police spies who exploited the female activists.

Ms Steel first met John Dines at a London green activists’ meeting in 1987 and, throughout their two-year relationship, knew him as John Barker — but found that he lied about his name, age and background. Police had given him the identity of a dead child.

Only by tracking down Mr Dines last year did she receive an apology and admission that he had been a spy.

He was a member of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad, which targeted protest groups until it disbanded in 2008.

In 2014, a court ruling allowed the police to maintain that they would “neither confirm nor deny” whether cops were spies and Ms Steel launched an appeal, which she lost.

At the time, she said she felt angry at the continuing cover-up and “the fact that they can have the audacity to claim that the relationships were genuine in any way.

“There is no way anybody would consent to a relationship with somebody if they knew they were using the identity of a child who had died, if they knew that they were there to spy on them, if they knew that everything about that person was fake.”

Blacklist Support Group secretary Dave Smith branded the Met Police shameful.

He praised Ms Steel for her tireless campaigning and told the Star: “The Met Police have already given a public apology, admitted it was human rights abuse and admitted the identity of John Dines.”

An ongoing inquiry into undercover policing — originally led by Christopher Pitchford and now overseen by Sir John Mitting — was launched in 2015 in which Ms Steel is a core participant. But it is yet to take evidence from witnesses.

A friend of one core participant proclaimed they were “flabbergasted at how much control the police have over the evidence and over the process.”

And Mr Smith accused the police of “using tactics to stifle the public inquiry.”

At the time, the Met police, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the National Crime Agency were all represented by their own barristers and solicitors at preliminary hearings.

But the inquiry only paid for one legal team for the victims, though there were 178 organisations and individuals involved.

The letter, from Weightmans LLP, demands that Ms Steel pay the five-figure sum by Wednesday and informs her that she was sent reminders in August and September 2015.

Ms Steel took to Twitter to express her dismay, saying: “Morally bankrupt Met Police sent spycop John Dines to invade my life and privacy. Now demand I pay them £7,000 for seeking to expose that!”

Written by Andrew Coates

August 26, 2017 at 10:51 am