I attended this event for Labour Party members run by the Hove Park Branch, near Brighton, well known for fervent LGBT+ politics.
A Labour Party member opened by reminding people that the CLP had recently passed a motion strongly in favour of trans rights and that it was ‘not a debate’.
It certainly wasn’t, it was yet another training session. The Chair, Rita, misgendered the trainer, non-binary Riley, three times as she introduced him, which was glorious. Riley squirmed.
Riley is a member of the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights (https://labour-trans.org) and Black Rose Labour (https://blackroselabour.uk) which is a ‘libertarian socialist’ offshoot of the main Labour Party, one of their main aims is to decriminalise drugs.
Riley is just 21 years old and had a shock of blue hair which covered half his face most of the time, is very posh and uses they/them pronouns.
Actual photo of Riley.
Riley began his sob story – people had decided to label him as something based on his private parts as a baby, but really they were all wrong because he is actually non-binary and transgender. Judging people on their privates is ‘bio essentialism’.
We were only a few minutes in but already everyone was mouth covering.
In a deep voice Riley told us in the past he had been forced to ‘telegraph’ what was between his legs by wearing male clothing. Being non-binary was a ‘really difficult thing’ because the whole entire world around was gendered (‘toilets, changing rooms, toy aisles, to movies’) and it makes you feel alone. The most basic needs and services were denied to non-binary people and this needed to be fought for every step of the way forward.
Then there was the threat of harassment, violence and murder. That was all worth it though for those moments of ‘gender euphoria’, like the joy ‘of people being confused about whether I’m a boy or a girl’ and ‘the relief of when someone uses my right pronouns’ (I’m sure we all shot Rita a look).
Riley haltingly read his speech from his computer screen, and later when he talked off the cuff it became clear that he was just plain awkward and inarticulate.
Riley wants to be able to shop for clothes safely. The more access non-binary and trans people get to their chosen spaces, and access to hormones, the more gender euphoria they will experience and it will be more frequent.
Unfortunately Riley doesn’t live in a world which is positive about trans people and the community is the ‘punching bag’ of the current nasty bigoted government. Trans people are more likely to be homeless and Riley bravely ventured that they were also the lowest paid.
Trans people are the most likely to get murdered and commit suicide, especially black trans women of colour [i.e. black men]. The waiting list just to get seen in a gender clinic is between 2-4 years. Once there, the doctors are often frightening.
So how do we detect and prevent transphobia? Riley told us that transphobes describe themselves as ‘terfs’ AKA the ‘gender critical movement’. You can normally spot them because they say things like ‘trans women are men’.
Then he got his trans activist bible out, i.e. he misquoted Simone De Beauvoir, claimed that intersex baby genitals were being mutilated and explained that sex wasn’t binary, for example, if a woman had small breasts, body hair, low oestrogen and high testosterone would she be a man? Riley claimed that there were sex organs which were ‘inbetween a penis and a vagina’.
The main tenet of terfs was that they claimed that trans people were predatory and that trans people were an ‘affront to women’s rights’. Riley explained that terfs wanted to ‘sanctify the woman’s body, it is that which is to be protected’ and that trans bodies (i.e. male bodies) were ‘an act of blasphemy’.
Riley said the women’s fears about the abuse of female-only spaces was simply nonsense and that ‘transwomen’ were more likely to be attacked in male single sex spaces than they were to ‘attack other women in single sex spaces’ (thereby acknowledging that men pose a risk).
As per usual for trans activists, Riley claimed the real enemy was ‘the patriarchy’.
‘How can a trans person appropriate a woman’s body if there is no definite woman’s body to be appropriated. What of the trans people who do not have surgeries or take hormones, what of the people like me, who don’t have anything relevant in our society to appropriate.’
‘Real womanhood doesn’t exist. Trans women are just as much women as cis women. Trans men are men like any other. Non-binary people have existed forever. We pose as little and as much threat as any other person does and the discourse that we’re harmful to women for existing and demanding to be treated with respect only adds to the harm we face daily, it leads to harassment and dog-piling and abuse and sometimes real actual violence. And it should stop. Why? Because fundamentally we just want to be happy and feel like ourselves, like cis people do so often,’ said Riley trying his best to sound bitter and upset.
So how can we help? Firstly learn about pronouns because that will indicate to trans people that they can trust you. Add them to your social media bios today! Embrace gender neutrality in conversation. Refer to tampons and pads not as ‘feminine hygiene products’ but as ‘menstrual hygiene products’. De-gender language about the body.
Educate yourself by watching online lectures by trans scholars, especially BTW. The more you challenge transphobes they less they will attack us.
When Riley finished his prepared speech, Rita thanked him and invited people to ask questions. Rita noted that no one wanted to and added: ‘I’m not surprised, it was transfixing’ and hinted that it might be the end – but then someone had a question. What did Riley think would happen with GRA reform now? Riley looked palpably relieved.
Riley explained that the proposed GRA reforms would have gone ahead if it hadn’t been for this damn government.
Now there could be no self-declaration, non-binary passports and trans people would continue to be abused by their partners withholding consent.
Someone on the call thought Riley’s speech was so fantastic that they wanted to be emailed a copy of it.
Riley organises the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) in Brighton. Despite that Riley isn’t sure, but thinks TDoR was set up by a ‘trans feminist socialist activist’ to remember his partner, who was also a trans-identified man. Last year there were 300 murders/suicides of trans-identified men. Riley wrote all the names down as part of the commemoration. Riley tried to look a bit tearful.
Conversely Transgender Day of Visibility (TDoV) is the opposite of TDoR. It’s a day of celebration when marches and talks are held. Riley tried to look a bit excited.
One man wanted to know what to say to people when they expressed concern about the current debates, in particular female sports, as he didn’t know how to answer them. He felt that his friends and family had come under the influence of right wing media. Riley explained that were lots of white middle class women who worked in journalism, who were typically terfs. He recommended the Stonewall Trans in Britain report had all the necessary statistics to quote back at people. Then the man replied that he was already aware of the Michael Phelps argument (the swimmer whose double jointed feet have a greater angle of flexion making them like flippers) – ‘Oh yes that’s a good one’ agreed Riley.
Then there was this potentially terfy question from one of the women:
Riley responded that if you looked at a heat map of Europe, the UK is simply abysmal. There were more attacks of trans people in the media than anywhere in the world, including America. (Did you see what he did there?) Besides there was a 2 year waiting list to be seen in a gender clinic and unrivalled by any other country. Britain had also been a colonial Empire and had kept is laws longer ‘and it stinks’ whined Riley. Riley has friends from ‘other parts of the British Isles and they call England terf island for very good reason’ (speshshul friends clearly).
Another woman wanted to know about teens accessing medical services and was it harmful. Well, Riley huffed and puffed, he didn’t want to medically transition but friends of his were doing it either privately or using ‘illicit avenues’ and explained that it was necessary to take that risk as the NHS wasn’t supportive. Although Riley isn’t seeking to transition, he was turned away by a medical professional for being ‘non-binary’. The woman then expressed sadness that the clinics weren’t being funded properly because there was no political leverage, so I guess it wasn’t a probing question after all.
Someone else wanted to know if schools were becoming more liberal? Yes, said Riley, puberty blockers were completely reversible and not dangerous at all. Okay.
Riley was so excited by Judith Butler’s interview in the New Statesman he dropped a link into the chat to it and advised we could learn about ‘trans feminism’ from it, which is the only thing he said that I agreed with.
Someone who had a role in infection control said they were sad that when they process patients, there were only two [gender] options, and asked ‘why do they need to know?’ and since there were 12 options for ethnicity – why couldn’t it be the same for gender? Riley agreed he would prefer an ‘other box’ and said it was often something to do with ‘gender equality quotas’.
This led Riley onto wondering aloud ‘again if we’re talking about little things – toilet stalls – why are they gendered’ and ‘changing rooms I kind of understand, but still – bit weird’. ‘If we’re going to talk about liberation politics, it’s going to come down to little things, or if you like micro aggressions’ and then said he didn’t like that term but that society was ‘taking little chunks’. ‘That is how systems do operate, they fill the space with discourse, and then that discourse eats away at little bits of people’. Now what does that remind us of? I somehow expect that Riley has a ‘trans mum’ taking care of him.
Rita, when rounding off, thanked Riley and said she felt better equipped to challenge and was much better informed than she was an hour ago and ‘we’ll be seeing articles from you, and we’ll be like, “oh I know him -her -they”‘. ‘You’ll get there,’ laughed Riley. Then the training session ended with someone promising to start asking pronouns from the vulnerable young adults they work with.
Little chunks indeed.