A Regurgitation of Old Tripe

This is part of the text from an email I received a mere eleven days after Squid and I were officially ‘terfed’. The writer was a friend of ours who we’d known for years. This part refers to a Twitter spat that happened between me and a mutual, ahem, friend… although that person and I hadn’t been friends for a year prior to this, when I came to the conclusion that she was a silly little girl who needed to grow up.

“You’re welcome to your opinion, however it felt an awful lot like you were taking offence at a term like ‘cis’ out of nowhere an [sic] unnecessarily. As if somehow being a woman was a limited resource or trans women existing diminished you being a woman simply by association. I don’t get why you would be against trans people or taking offence to general terms used such as ‘cis’ when it’s not really any kind of issue for you, it’s not a matter of oppression or lessening being a woman. Let’s face it, trans men and trans women are the ones who have this whole thing worse off if you look at things like suicide rates, life expectancy and general treatment of them. If you’re going to be a feminist, standing up for trans women feels like it should really be baked into the subject.”

I was incensed, by this point. Of course, I spent time answering, though I was rather more polite than I’ve been below, but I’m not dumb enough to think he even opened my email before he deleted it and so I am exercising my right of reply here, publicly. Oh, sorry, did I not mention that this load of regurgitated old tripe was written by a man? Don’t tell me you didn’t guess…

So first of all, I’m going to respond quickly to each point as it comes and then afterwards I’ll go into more detail about why I found it so annoying and actually rather insulting:

“You’re welcome to your opinion [Gee, thanks], however it felt an awful lot like you were taking offence at a term like ‘cis’ out of nowhere an unnecessarily. [Neither out of nowhere nor unnecessarily. I am a woman. Woman is enough.] As if somehow being a woman was a limited resource [It is limited – to be a woman, you first need to be female] or trans women existing diminished you being a woman simply by association. [Nope – they’re not women because they’re not female. Are you seeing a pattern, yet?] I don’t get why you would be against trans people [Whoever said I was?] or taking offence to general terms used such as ‘cis’ when it’s not really any kind of issue for you [It isn’t? Really? Please, do explain my own reasoning to me. Oh, you’re not even going to try. OK, then. As you were…], it’s not a matter of oppression or lessening being a woman. [It is a matter of oppression, actually. Calling women cis just because we’re not trans is deeply insulting, because it’s yet another label forced upon us by men and a way to control how we think, speak and act. And to that, I say: Get fucked.] Let’s face it, trans men and trans women are the ones who have this whole thing worse off [Two women a week are killed by partners or ex-partners – that’s without mentioning all the women who are killed by other men or the 85,000 of us a year who are raped in the UK alone] if you look at things like suicide rates [Based on one bullshit survey], life expectancy [A lot of transwomen are prostitutes – female prostitutes get murdered at a higher rate than other women, too] and general treatment of them [Oh, PLEASE, can you hear yourself?!]. If you’re going to be a feminist [I am, no thanks to ‘friends’ like you], standing up for trans women feels like it should really be baked into the subject. [To you, perhaps – but I’m not in the habit of including men in things that are meant for women.]

Right – now point by point, I’ll go into more detail about why exactly this pissed me off as much as it did:

1 – You’re welcome to your opinion [Gee, thanks]

A man tells a woman she’s “welcome to her opinion” and expects not to get pushback for it. Fucking hell. It’s not as if women have been fighting to have our opinions heard and respected FOREVER, or anything…

2 – however it felt an awful lot like you were taking offence at a term like ‘cis’ out of nowhere an unnecessarily. [Neither out of nowhere nor unnecessarily. I am a woman. Woman is enough.]

Unlike a lot of people these days, I do not easily take offence. But this statement – that I am wrong to be offended by the term ‘cis’ – is in itself deeply offensive. I don’t need a qualifier to explain what ‘type’ of woman I am. I am female and I am an adult human. That really is enough, and if it isn’t enough for you, then, well, we’re unlikely to be friends. Saying that I am a ‘cis woman’ is to suggest that a transwoman is simply another kind of woman, which is untrue. A transwoman is a kind of man. A woman is not simply whatever men say a woman is. A woman is an adult human female.

3 – As if somehow being a woman was a limited resource [It is limited – to be a woman, you first need to be female]

I couldn’t believe he’d written this and probably kept a straight face while he was writing it. The category of woman – what I am (and what he emphatically is not) – was up for grabs by men. No, mate. It fucking well ain’t.

4 – or trans women existing diminished you being a woman simply by association. [Nope – they’re not women because they’re not female. Are you seeing a pattern, yet?]

I don’t think I need to explain this further.

5 – I don’t get why you would be against trans people [Whoever said I was?]

You’re assuming I don’t like trans people. Far from it. What I don’t like are misogynistic arseholes, of which there are a hell of a lot. Forgive me for being blunt, here, but had I realised you were one of them, we would never have become friends in the first place.

6 – or taking offence to general terms used such as ‘cis’ when it’s not really any kind of issue for you [It isn’t? Really? Please, do explain my own reasoning to me. Oh, you’re not even going to try. OK, then. As you were…]

To assume this isn’t any kind of issue for me says exactly what about you, I wonder? You’re assuming I won’t give a shit that men are pretending to be women, insisting they are as much or even more ‘woman’ than I am and then shoving their size elevens into my personal space, disrespecting the boundaries I’ve set. Why would I not have a problem with that? Do you always assume it’s OK for men to cross boundaries women have set? What about young girls? Are they wrong to not want a man to come any closer, or are they bigots, too? ‘Cis’ says that a transwoman is as much female as me. He’s not. He’s male. And males pose a danger to females. End of discussion.

7 – it’s not a matter of oppression or lessening being a woman. [It is a matter of oppression, actually. Calling women cis just because we’re not trans is deeply insulting, because it’s yet another label forced upon us by men and a way to control how we think, speak and act. And to that, I say: Get fucked.]

So it’s not a matter of oppression when men tell women what we can and can’t call ourselves; what we can and can’t talk about; how we can and can’t refer to our own bodies; what we can and can’t say or think about how society has always treated women and girls as less valuable and less important than boys and men? Really? You think I should be just fine with being told I’m no more woman than a man? You’re fucking delusional, mate.

8 – Let’s face it, trans men and trans women are the ones who have this whole thing worse off [Two women a week are killed by partners or ex-partners – that’s without mentioning all the women who are killed by other men or the 85,000 of us a year who are raped in the UK alone]

The statistics are out there. I wish I was exaggerating. I’m not.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/domestic-abuse-violence-death-women-partner-a9333161.html

https://rapecrisis.org.uk/get-informed/about-sexual-violence/statistics-sexual-violence/

9 – if you look at things like suicide rates [Based on one bullshit survey]

This is something that keeps getting wheeled out in an attempt to guilt-trip women into feeling sorry for those men who are constantly sending us rape and death threats if we don’t capitulate, and it’s based on a single survey carried out by the misogynistic men’s rights organisation Stonewall. This is a statistic that is based on the self-declaration of 27 people. TWENTY-SEVEN. I call bullshit.

https://www.genderhq.org/trans-youth-suicide-statistics-kill-themselves-manipulate-parents

10 – life expectancy [A lot of transwomen are prostitutes – female prostitutes get murdered at a higher rate than other women, too]

“Sex work is work!” – just like any other job, eh? Uh-huh. Gotcha. It’s as dangerous for transwomen as it is for women. It’s a dangerous thing to do, selling your body for cash. Men have a nasty habit of murdering those they hate. Or haven’t you realised that yet?

https://fairplayforwomen.com/trans-murder-rates/

11 – and general treatment of them [Oh, PLEASE, can you hear yourself?!].

Your treatment of me right now is questionable at best. I say that male people can’t be turned into female people (fact) and you have to stick your oar in and tell me I’m wrong for saying that in case it hurts some poor men’s feelies? That says more about you than I think you realise, me ole pal.

12 – If you’re going to be a feminist [I am, no thanks to ‘friends’ like you]

I hardly need anyone’s permission to stand up and fight for women’s rights which means, by the way, my rights. You have a girlfriend. Sounds to me like I care more about her rights than you do.

13 – standing up for trans women feels like it should really be baked into the subject. [To you, perhaps – but I’m not in the habit of including men in things that are meant for women.]

Feminism is about women, girls, and our liberation from oppression by men. You are a man. I am a woman. I am more invested in this fight than you are because it’s not your basic rights they’re gunning for.

Any more questions?

Thought not.

A Woman Among Women at Women’s Lib 2020 – The Female Perspective

This was a first for me. I’d never been to any kind of political meeting before. But this is a cause that not only can I get fully behind, it’s a cause I can’t not get fully behind. After all the work done by our sisters in the past, including the Suffragettes, women’s legal rights are at risk of being taken from us. If I didn’t get behind that, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. And if our rights are stripped – which is looking increasingly likely – I would never be able to forgive myself if I hadn’t spoken up and said, ‘Not without a fucking fight.’

For several weeks, friends had been asking whether I was going to the WPUK (A Woman’s Place UK) Women’s Liberation Conference in February, but I had come off Twitter back in September (much to the relief of my kung fu instructor, who could see what it was doing to my state of mind), and I didn’t know how to get tickets.

By the time we did get details, the first batch had already sold out. Shit. Not a massive surprise. More went on sale the following week, but again, by the time I got there, they’d all gone. I had more or less resigned myself to the fact we weren’t going and started making provisional plans to meet friends in the pub after the event. Then that Friday, a friend gave me another link. The final batch would be going on sale in the morning. But – damn it! I was going training tomorrow, as I do practically every Saturday. And there is very little that will stop me from going training. (I am proudly obstinate. A family trait. And besides which, if I didn’t go because I was trying to get tickets for something that had nothing to do with martial arts, my instructor would be having words… It’s OK. It’s what he’s there for, and it keeps me honest.)

So I tasked my significant other, known throughout the Twitterverse and beyond as Altered Squid, or just Squid, to get tickets if he possibly could. While I was training, I heard my phone bleep, and between classes, I checked. There was a message that said he could only get one, so he’d got it for me (because Squid is a star). But I’d not been able to look while I was training so I saw all the messages at once, and in the meantime, lo and behold! Yes! He’d managed to get two! WE WERE GOING!!!

I must confess to feeling a little apprehensive, despite my excitement. When WPUK held a meeting in Brighton back in September, the protest outside was so vicious that women were having panic attacks once inside, or were unable to get in at all, having insults screamed in their ears (do these idiots not know that this can cause an eardrum to burst, or do they just not care because we’re ‘terfs’?), while the local coppers stood around with their arms crossed and did nothing as some of them banged and kicked on the windows throughout the event.

The nearby residents eventually got so pissed off with the incessant racket that they began slinging buckets of water over the trans rights protesters (who later blamed the ‘terfs’ for it). There was a lot at stake, and I was wondering if, for the first time since I had begun training more than a decade ago, I’d actually have to use my kung fu in self defence (which I have a legal right to do). Linda Bellos once said that if she were ever attacked, she would defend herself, and she was subsequently taken to court for threatening behaviour. As if she doesn’t have a legal right to defend herself if attacked.

https://womansplaceuk.org/linda-bellos-self-defence-is-no-offence/

However, those who know me well know that I am not one to let others tell me what to do, and I’m damned if I’ll let a group of people who apparently can’t tell men from women stop me from going to a women’s rights event.

But we found out there may now be a snag. Because Squid had secured both tickets, and you could only buy one ticket at a time, they were both in his name. And WPUK had sent out an email saying that we’d need ID that matched the name on the ticket (for security reasons – see above). But it was sorted when another email arrived with Squid saying that if one of the tickets was for someone else to please tell them, otherwise they would refund the money. He duly gave them my name and my email address.

Phew! I got my own ticket through, with my name on it, the same day.

I said a moment ago that there is very little that will stop me from going training, and this is true, but this conference was being held on a Saturday – and it would be going on all day. So I told my instructor what was happening and went training on Thursday instead. I can’t not train, but I also couldn’t pass up this chance to be present at what has since already turned out to be something of a historic event.

Squid has written about the day here:

https://www.critorix.co.uk/essays/the-female-vibe-a-man-among-women-at-wpuk/

However, some of you may have noticed that Squid is a man, and I am a woman. (Although I know it’s hard, as you can’t always tell, these days.) As a consequence, our experiences were, naturally, slightly different.

Despite the early start (I don’t do mornings), by the time we reached the station and saw some of our friends there, I was ready to go. I waved maniacally at them as we reached the ticket machines and then we went over to greet everyone.

None of us really knew where the venue was, but as we approached, it became obvious, as we could hear the chants of the protesters three streets away. In fact, their presence made things very easy for us to figure out where we were supposed to go. Ah, we thought. It must be in here. Thanks, protesters! You were a big help, there.

And they weren’t scary. My heart started to race a little, because I didn’t know what to expect, but it wasn’t hammering. After Jo had hugged me and welcomed me – as she appeared to have been doing to many of the women who arrived – we went inside and my heart stopped fluttering.

I immediately felt invigorated. Surrounded by so many women, some of whom were our friends, others we’d seen in WPUK videos on YouTube, and hundreds of others:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzFqsUqDzyXEQMJVy42NwUw/videos

In all, there were around 900 people, of which no more than maybe a dozen were men. (Squid reckoned about twenty. I swear I didn’t see that many.) We met other friends there, and we knew many of those who would later be giving talks or running workshops, none of which we attended. I really was spoilt for choice and I had one of those moments when my head goes a bit funny and I find it impossible to make a decision. It may be my age (don’t say a fucking word) or it may simply have been that there were so many people there that I couldn’t think straight. Either way, we didn’t go to any of them. And in any case, we were mainly there to hear the talks, mix with women, make connections and just be there.

That was it. You always hear these tales of historic events, important movements, and I wanted, for once, simply to be able to say that I’d been there. I wanted not just to have witnessed the fight for women’s rights, envious of other women who were at these meetings but unable to do much, as I saw it, myself. I wanted to have been an active part of that fight. To be able to get to my old age (hopefully) and say, ‘Yep. I was there.’

One of the first people I spotted was Linda Bellos. I did ask for a photo, as well as a hug, but she wasn’t comfortable with the idea of being put on a pedestal, which I completely respect. I never did get the photo, but when she said she would be happy to hug me as a sister, I did what I am very good at and she returned the hug with genuine sisterly warmth.

I was looking around while Squid was in the loo (and for an event with so many women present, it was notable that there were NO QUEUES for the ladies’ – women who weren’t there may find this hard to believe, but it’s true) and there on one of the chairs was one of the most amazing women anyone could ever hope to meet – Hibo Wardere, who wrote the book Cut and who travels the country and indeed the world teaching people about the horrors of FGM. We’d been in touch for a while and had swapped numbers before I left Twitter, so I went over, told her who I was and gave her the biggest, warmest hug. She is a true legend. When Squid came round the corner and spotted who I was with, a huge grin appeared on his face. We hung out with Hibo for some time. She really is the loveliest woman.

We spotted Julie Bindel (who I later half-hugged across a table full of sandwiches), Maya Forstater, Allison Bailey, Selina Todd, Nicola Williams… SO MANY POWERFUL WOMEN! The femaleness of the place was unbelievable, and I said to Squid that for perhaps the first time in my adult life, in a room full of strangers, something odd had happened. My guard, which is usually up all the time when I’m out, was down. I felt safe. And I never feel safe when I’m out, except under certain circumstances (such as when I’m training – I don’t just go to learn kung fu…). Hundreds upon hundreds of people, most of whom I didn’t know and had never met, and I felt as safe as I ever had. It was weird, and it was wondrous.

(To clarify: I don’t mean that I feel constantly in danger and under threat when I’m out. I mean that I don’t know what it’s like to leave the house, close the door behind me and feel a hundred per cent safe. Women, if not men, will know the difference.)

Although the morning speeches were introduced by a man, Brad Blitz, of the UCL Institute of Education,  he wasn’t part of the conference itself. A few women were miffed that it felt as if the first speaker at a women’s event was a man, but he wasn’t involved in the event, he was simply introducing it. He welcomed us into his institution, made clear that free speech was as important to him as it was to us, and left us to get on with it. The speeches were – I’m going to use a word I’ve never used before, I think, ever – rousing. Both the morning and afternoon speeches gave me hope that all was not lost in the fight for women’s rights. 

Around the edges of the hall where the sandwiches had been laid on, along with tea, coffee, fruit juice, biscuits, bananas, etc., there were several stalls run by various campaign groups. I spotted some little tins wrapped with bits of white cotton on which had been printed THOU SHALT NOT SUFFER A WITCH TO LIVE, but sadly these were not for sale, or I definitely would have bought one. What I did buy were little pin badges of the female symbol (I’d seen women wearing them and had been eyeing them all morning) – for me and for my mum, whose birthday it had been a couple of days before – and some notebooks, as well as picking up various leaflets and postcards and things. I wish I could have bought more stuff (I was particularly drawn to cotton patches and badges with uterus designs), but with restricted finances, I had to make strategic choices.

I felt a sisterly vibe, overwhelmingly and gloriously female, and realised it is this feeling that certain men resent. They may want this, they may try to get it, but they can’t have it, because they are not female. They can experience a version of it if they get access to spaces where there are many more women than men, but they can never fully belong to it, because they are not women. Something fundamental is missing. And they hate us for it.

As I have got older, certain things are falling into place for me. I have realised that far from being afraid of old age, I shall welcome it – because it’s better to reach old age than not reach it. I shall let my hair go grey and leave it long and go about showing it off, because I am proud of it. Women with silver hair are gorgeous and I will never be ashamed of that or try to hide it. If my face shows more lines as I grow older, they will be lines caused by much laughter in my life – I laugh a lot and I laugh loud, like any self-respecting witch should.

There were many women at the conference who were my age or older, others who were younger. I felt an affinity with all of them, because we are all female and we have a range of shared experiences. Not being able to talk about this openly without fear of social death (because we no longer put witches and heretics to actual death) is a symptom of a sickness in our society. It is probably down to women to cure – partly because many of us are witches and partly because it’s always down to women to fix things like this. And will we get any thanks, when this all dies down (as it surely must)? We shall see. But I doubt it.

While others were at their various panels and workshops, I had an idea to go to Gower Street, where you can procure remaindered books at decent prices, so with the help of Squid’s phone, we found our way there and had a nosey around. And yes, of course we came out with some books. Don’t tell me you thought even for a moment that we came out empty-handed? We’re skint, sure, but cheap books are cheap books and the temptation is hard to resist.

We made sure to return to UCL in plenty of time for the closing plenary, found a couple of seats and settled in. 

During the last few minutes, as things started to wrap up, a clipboard was passed round, which contained sheets of paper that we could fill in with our details. On the back were some of the questions in the Scottish GRA consultation, and the good people at WPUK had answered the relevant ones for us in advance. You don’t have to live in Scotland to fill it in. You can find details here. As the writers of this document have said they especially want to hear from trans people and trans allies, with no mention of wanting to hear from women, I encourage you to do your bit.

The last words of Kiri Tunks’ speech have stayed with me, and will likely stay with me forever: “This is a movement. We are the movement. Let’s move.”

As we were leaving, I spotted Kiri and gave her a hug, told her that it had been a fabulous day and thanked her for organising it.

To paraphrase a David Bowie lyric: I hugged a lot of women, that day.

Actually, the feelings evoked in that song really sum up how I felt at the conference. So here it is:

We came away awash with love for women and with renewed determination that women’s rights will not be taken from us without a fight. We will fight with words rather than weapons, but words are powerful, and should be used with care. It’s easy – too easy – to yell and swear at idiots on social media. But all that gets us is stress, and (if we really piss off the wokebros and TRAs) a place on several block lists. (I think I had made it onto 40-odd such lists before I deleted my Twitter account. It’s something of which I’m very proud.)

What we need to do is connect, in person as well as online. Make plans. Talk to people, whether people we know or people we don’t. Myself, I’ve been talking to people who know me well enough to realise that there may just be something to what I’m telling them. That it isn’t just a load of pissed-off, hormonal women with nothing to do but moan about men, but something much deeper and much more dangerous, and even sinister. Because make no mistake – women’s rights are in peril. And the Labour Party have since proved that they are no friends to women, either. At least, not to women like us.

For we are the troublesome women. The women who aren’t afraid to say, ‘Now hang on a minute!’ The women who won’t comply. The women who dare to set boundaries (and woe betide any man who crosses them).

We are the women who, when faced with a group of people trying to take away our legal rights, will stand up and say, in the words of our friend Jane Clare Jones:

‘Get stuffed.’

https://janeclarejones.com/2019/02/07/why-british-feminists-are-such-a-bunch-of-evil-witches/

I’ve never been a dissident before. It’s quite exciting.

But it’s also frightening. I am frightened. Because it seems the moment women started speaking up about what happens to us daily at the hands of men, the backlash started. Feminism isn’t feminism, we’re told, if we don’t include transwomen. What a load of old tripe!

Transwomen are male, and adult human males have been known across the world and across the millennia, in every language that has ever been spoken, as men.

Men.

Women need to be afraid of men.

But we must not be afraid to say no. We must not be so afraid that we capitulate to the demands of a few at our own expense. And remember, sisters, that we are more than half the population of the planet.

They cannot, and will not, silence us all.

So speak up.

Tipping Point

We all have a tipping point

All of us. Sometimes, we don’t know when that tipping point is getting close, but once we feel it approaching, there’s nothing to prevent it, and when it arrives, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma: we can carry on allowing ourselves to get hurt, or we can walk away.

During the course of the gender debate, I’ve made a lot of friends. I’ve lost a few people I thought were friends. Some of the friends I made I’ve since lost or walked away from. One friendship I even walked away from twice (never ignore your instincts). Some of those friends have been men, some trans people. Most of the friends I’ve made – and kept –  are women.

There’s a good reason most are women.

One of the trans people I made friends with so desperately wants to be a woman, but – and this is my personal opinion – he does not sound, talk, feel, look, think or in any way behave like a woman. This person appeared sweet, at first. Friendly. Approachable. A good laugh. Smart. Talented. Most of all, it seemed he was on women’s side. (And I’m going to say he, because it’s a point of principle – male people get male pronouns, because it avoids confusion and also I refuse to gaslight myself.)

My boyfriend had been speaking to this person, who I’ll just call K, before me, and he encouraged us to become friends. K seemed decent. Vulnerable, as most of us are, and willing to talk about it. Sometimes, a little too willing, and the same stories would be repeated week after week (that should have been a red flag, right there – bear with me). But mostly, we were able to have a good laugh, and we thought the friendship was special – that it had staying power.

But whatever else we had – the laughs, the disagreements – there were two sticking points that K and I couldn’t get past. Ever. Oftentimes, my boyfriend wanted to bang our heads together (no matter that we were on opposite sides of the Atlantic), and so we argued things out, K and I. We argued a lot. K, having previously conceded that transwomen were not women (but neither were they men – they were transwomen), insisted that if a transwoman had taken puberty blockers to prevent them from going through male puberty (which I consider to be child abuse, but I’ll get to that), then that person would have no significant physical advantages over women in sport and should therefore be allowed to compete against them. I said no. I said no because whatever a person does to their body, whether or not a boy goes through male puberty (and therefore lacks the physical advantages inherent in male sportsmen), one thing remained that I would never budge on: that sports person is still not, and never will be, a woman. Women’s sports are for women, not for men who have altered their bodies. For me, it really is as simple as that, and it should not be controversial to say so.

The other sticking point was “trans kids” and I’ve put that in quote marks because I don’t believe there is any such thing as a trans child. In my opinion, giving children drugs because they don’t conform to society’s accepted gender norms (“likes trucks, must be a boy; likes dolls, must be a girl”) is tantamount to child abuse. This is even worse when they are then mutilated – and I will use that word. Their healthy body parts (breasts, penis, balls) sliced off so they and society can pretend they’re the opposite sex. This is worse still when it’s encouraged by those who should know better –  it then becomes state-sanctioned child abuse.

This was the sort of language I used in conversations with K – mutilation, medicalised for life, child abuse. Because I’m not in the habit of sugaring the pill. Jazz Jennings – poor kid – is a particular case in point. K asked me not to “misgender her again.” (I had insisted Jazz was a mutilated, badly abused boy – I still believe this to be the case. Try getting me to move on that and I guarantee you’ll get the same response as K did.)

So anyway, this is not meant to be about my opinions as regards the trans debate, but I wanted to use the above to illustrate a few things. One, I am stubborn. It’s a trait I’ve inherited from my mum and my nan and I am proud of it. I do imagine I can be intensely irritating at times because of it, but it is who I am. Two, when it comes to children and their welfare, I am immovable. I don’t have children myself, because I’ve never had the patience to be a good mother, but touch a hair on a kid’s head in front of me and I swear you will not know what’s hit you. Three, no matter how nice I appear to be, I am only nice up to a point. I have discovered in the last few years that if I stop saying or doing things just to “be nice” or if I don’t say or do what people expect of me, those people will call me an awful person and cut me off, or I’ll simply never hear from them again. (This mostly doesn’t bother me, but in some cases, it hurts, because I’ve thought these people friends who knew better than to think I would budge on something I felt strongly about. Hey-ho. The loss is theirs.)

These are facets of my character that I don’t hide. I tell people about them, and this should serve as warning enough that if they try to persuade me of something I’ve already made up my mind about, they will come up against those facets of my character that are not necessarily very nice (because they’re not meant to be). And I also do not hide the fact – because I am not ashamed – that for nearly a decade, I was in a coercive relationship. I tell people I will not let anyone – and I do mean anyone – make me feel that way ever again. The reason the repetition of the same stories should have been a red flag was because that was something I experienced in that coercive relationship. I’ve since found out that it’s a common tactic used by abusive people – a form of guilt-tripping. (“This person did this, but you would never do that to me, would you?”)

I told K these things about me.

I never thought he would test me to the absolute limit.

Against my own better judgement, I continued with the friendship, despite these two main sticking points and despite all the arguments, stress and lost sleep. I didn’t want it to end. K seemed sweet, beneath it all, but there was something niggling at me that I simply couldn’t shift. And one night, I recognised, with a jolt, what it was. I was talking to my boyfriend about K, and said, “But it doesn’t matter what I think, because I’m a woman. My opinion is worthless to K.”

It doesn’t matter what I think.

I’m a woman.

My opinion is worthless.

It seems innocuous, nothing to get het up about, but it was exactly the same way I had felt so often with my abusive ex and it was at that point I put the guard back up to full height, and yet still I continued. We were friends. Surely he didn’t mean to be so cruel?

One night (and it was always us in the UK up into the early hours, never K in the States), we were Skyping again – we did that a few times. And we were talking about various things. We got onto the topic of implanting uteruses into transwomen.

Now, I’m going to be brutally honest here, and say the very idea makes me feel sick. I have disturbing images in my head of women being pinned down and having their wombs forcibly ripped from them, and if I can see something in my mind’s eye, I trust that instinct. I never – ever – ignore it. I told K this, thinking it was obvious why I found the idea utterly terrifying. I’m not even going to explain why here, because it really is that obvious.

K didn’t get it. Or at least, he appeared not to.

My boyfriend isn’t generally a soother, he’ll usually let me cry things out (I’m a big girl, I can cope), but this time, he took me in his arms and made sure I felt safe, because if K’s opinion on uterus implants into transwomen – men – was a common one, what did that say about how society views women and girls in general? I couldn’t get through to K. It was like being faced with the brick wall I’d felt I was bashing my head against on the day I finally walked out on my abusive ex. I was shaking and I was crying, and in the end, I gave up, curled into a foetal position on the bed and told my boyfriend that he could deal with it now because I was done.

K did not say to my boyfriend, “Hey, mate, you’d better take care of her, she’s a mess, this can wait.” He continued to argue his point. My feelings didn’t matter. What I thought didn’t matter. My opinion was worthless.

Again.

(K had even said to me on several occasions that my opinion was in the minority, i.e. that most people thought that a person with a penis could actually be a woman. No matter how many times I said most people are not arguing because they don’t know it’s even an issue – because of course everyone knows what a woman is – he continued to try to gaslight me.)

I think my boyfriend continued to talk to K for another two hours, at which point, he too gave up, annoyed that not only did he have an extremely distressed girlfriend – a mess of snot and tears – next to him on the bed, he was indulging the person who’d got her into that state in the first place. Enough. We went to bed.

And you’d think that would have been it, wouldn’t you? If this was someone else’s story, I’d be thinking, surely this is it? Surely she didn’t let him treat her that way any more after that? Surely the friendship was over now?

Nope.

Not quite.

What finally finished it was K telling me that either I could accept him as a woman or we’d have to temporarily put the friendship on hold – for his benefit, you understand, not mine. And I refused to see him as a woman. In fact, no – scratch that. It wasn’t that I refused to “see him as a woman.” I just didn’t. I never had. Because he’s male, and he will always be male. Adult male (however sweet) = man. So anyway, I said fine. I’m done. This is not going anywhere.

Because emotional manipulation is something I know about. It’s something a great many women – too many women – know an awful lot about. And K was a master at it. Anything I said that went against what he was fighting for was plain wrong. What I said seemed “transphobic”. The attacks on me – one of them very public – became more frequent. He said things like:

“[E]verything you say lately seems designed to make me feel like less of a person.”

“I love you so much, and yet for me it’s survival and for you it’s opinion.”

“It’s perspective for you. It’s stubbornness. For me it’s life or death.”

And yes, he actually said these things to me. My perspective – that a male person cannot be a woman and most of the time can’t even understand how women think and feel – was no more than “an opinion.” For K, however, it was “life or death.”

One thing you’ll see frequently when you read about abusive people is that they will regularly issue suicide threats. And I do not respond well to emotional blackmail, as K discovered that night. The friendship was over.

Shortly after this, K visited the UK, and the original plan was that we would take the chance to meet him. Now, of course, I decided this was not going to happen, at least not for me. My boyfriend was still dithering and wondering whether to meet him without me. I promised I wouldn’t stop him, though I thought it was a bad idea, and in the end, none of us did meet. Believe me – this was for the best.

In the meantime, people who have since become good friends have reached out – either to my boyfriend or to me – and we’ve given our thoughts about K while not saying outright that they should stay the fuck away from him for their own sake (though this is actually now how I feel). They explained the situation and asked for anything I could tell them that might help. So I did. I apologised for my opinions sounding rather negative, but as far as I was concerned, what I had told them was the truth.

Forewarned is fore-armed.

The inevitable happened. Those friendships with K broke down. New ones were forged as a direct result. And now we want to prevent other women, women who may be compassionate and want to protect K (particularly when it seems as though he’s being attacked on social media), from getting caught up in the same web as we ourselves managed – with help from each other – to escape.

It wasn’t easy. Breaking friendships is hard. Even when you know that walking away is the best thing not only for you but for them. K has his demons. We have ours. I have plenty, and they still haunt me. And the only person who can really fight my demons is me, but I can only do that if I’m not trying to fight someone else’s at the same time. I’m happy to help – always – but not at the expense of my own wellbeing. I have to put myself first.

Dealing with K felt as though my energy was being drawn from me by a vampire. It had to stop. I had to take time for me, and repair myself. The pieces were scattered, but I think I’ve now managed to find them all and put them back in the right place.

Women need to stick together. Tightly. Men can be welcome into our groups, but it’s a by-invitation-only contract and it can be revoked at any time if we stop trusting those men. And that does, I’m afraid, include transwomen. Some trans people are great, and none of what I’ve said here is in any way an attack on trans people in general, although I confess I am flummoxed by the whole thing. But women – those of us who are born female and know what that means – must reach out to each other. Because when push comes to shove, we know we cannot rely on men. Individually, they may be great. I love men. But we have to face the fact that, collectively, they won’t help us. Men help other men, even when they don’t realise they’re doing it. Men make excuses for other men’s behaviour.

Helping women is down to women. This is what I’m attempting to do here.

This is not an attack on K. This is a warning to other women whose kindness he may try to exploit.

I want you to not feel what I felt. I want you to feel safe.

Take care.

Subversion

It’s good to subvert people’s expectations. What you see is not always what you get, and that’s the way it should be.

When we were just breaking away from the war-ravaged Forties, emerging into the Fifties, the decade that was filled with colour after years of drabness, people still weren’t quite ready for what the Sixties would bring. It was too early. Here are a couple of songs from the Fifties, and remember that, although it’s hard for us born later to really understand, these were considered shocking at the time:

[Little Richard, Lucille]

[Elvis Presley, Hound Dog]

In the Sixties, everything changed. We had Op Art – strange optical illusions that made your eyes see things that weren’t there, or made you perceive movement in perfect stillness, or colour where no colours were present. But musicians, although beginning to branch out – think of the hippie movement, the Flower Children – were still quite clean cut. Even though at this time, we had acts such as the Stones, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, when we think of “Sixties music”, the sort of thing that springs to mind is likely to be something like this:

[The Mamas and the Papas, California Dreamin]

But then we also have this: 

[Janis Joplin, Try (just a little bit harder)]

 

There’s a reason people who lived through the Sixties wax lyrical about the music of that time. There was just so much of it!

In the Seventies, everything changed again. We now had glam rock. Musicians, mostly men, wearing flamboyant clothes, glitter and make-up and relying on the necessary (and, at the time, inevitable) shock value to add impact to their image. People who grew up in the Thirties, Forties and Fifties certainly weren’t prepared for what happened, and it made the shock value all the more profitable – and desirable – to those who were making the music.

[T-Rex, Get It On]

[Roxy Music, Ladytron]

(It’s true: the Seventies were nuts.)

And by the late Seventies, we had punk, and the following link may not be what you’re expecting:

[Adam and the Ants, Car Trouble]

In the Eighties, we had post-punk and the New Romantics (a movement that began with the Blitz kids). More men wearing make-up. Electronics added something otherworldly – creepy? – to the sound. Adam and the Ants, moving on from punk to embrace a wider audience, added a tribal element to the mix with their Burundi-inspired double-drum soundscape. Boy George confused a generation of young men and inspired the same generation of young women by making himself beautiful – and vulnerable.

[Culture Club, Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?]

[Adam and the Ants, Kings of the Wild Frontier]

Many of these Eighties bands were heavily influenced by the previous two decades, especially the Seventies, and added something of their own to it. For the rest of the Eighties, musicians had a lot to live up to:

[Adam and the Ants, Ants Invasion]

[Then Jerico, The Big Area]

[Sisters of Mercy, This Corrosion]

The Nineties were different again; as a reaction to what some saw as a fairly “safe” music mainstream – Britpop in the UK, for instance – we now had bands such as Placebo and Suede emerging, taking risks, wearing dresses and make-up and singing about nancy boys and gay sex.

[Placebo, Nancy Boy]

[Suede, Animal Nitrate]

And we also had beautiful Finnish men singing about death:

[HIM, Death is in Love With Us]

But the one constant who had been with us since the Sixties, and who most definitely had been leading the way, style wise, since the early Seventies, was David Bowie.

[David Bowie, Time]

Now, recently, certain trans folk have been quick to tell feminists that they’re wrong for thinking the concept of gender identity is harmful. Just look at David Bowie, they say. He was trans positive, he had a trans lover (Romy Haag, we know, eye roll), he hung out with Jayne (formerly Wayne) County (again, we know)… and yes, many of those feminists the trans folk are trying to “educate” are themselves Bowie fans. He accumulated millions of fans over the years, many of them obsessive, from all across the globe.

So, with this in mind, we’re going to look at the concept of gender ideology through a Bowie-shaped lens. What was the message he was trying to convey? That varies, of course, depending on your point of view and where you stand politically.

[David Bowie, Fame]

Identity – this seems to be what much of the transgender movement is about. I am who I say I am and you’re in no position to refute that because I know who I am better than you do. OK. Let’s start there.

Who we are is not a given. It shifts. Mutates. Like a kaleidoscope of colours merging and separating, separating and merging, finally stopping in a particular place – and no matter where it stops, it’s never the same as any other combination of colours and shapes that’s ever existed before. Each one of us is unique. On this, the woke blokes, the transgender people and the feminists are in complete agreement. But too often, people fail to recognise sufficiently that there are also things certain groups have in common, and which bind us together. One of those commonalities is rooted in the body we were born with. Our sex.

As we grow up, we explore who we are. This exploration is in part a series of interactions with the people around us, and much of the time, the nature of these interactions is coloured by our sex and by how we are perceived by others. And then when puberty hits, we’re flooded with hormones, our bodies start changing and our sexuality develops. (Remember, I’m not talking about gender identity here. That’s a modern concept that feminists prefer to call “personality.”) But, crucially,  our minds develop, as well. As we seek to separate ourselves from our families, and become autonomous human beings, we start to question who we truly are. And those questions lead us to some strange places. Some frightening places. Why do I feel this way? Am I the only one? Are there others like me? Everyone else seems to be having an easy time, so why is life so hard for me?

[David Bowie, Changes]

These are the questions that every young person going through puberty asks. And yet certain people use that same shared sense of isolation and disconnect to manipulate young people into believing the rest of us don’t share their sense of isolation at puberty. It invites them into an ideology that promotes the misguided idea they can literally be whatever they would prefer to be. That if you like boy things, that means you’re a boy; if you like girl things, that means you’re a girl. Feminists believe this is the kind of sexist claptrap that they have been fighting against for centuries.

Although we may not suffer from exactly the same kind of isolation as that felt by these young people – times change – the notion that any of us goes through life without these feelings of isolation and struggle with our own internal sense of who we are is patently nonsense.

David Bowie was practically the walking embodiment of this feeling. Whether or not he felt that way himself is irrelevant – he told a lot of fibs, and the fibs were part of his image. But one thing we do know is that he never stopped asking questions. He never stopped exploring. To try to find out who he was and who we all are, he peered into the darkest recesses, those none of us really wants to look into. He did it for us. He went there, he came back and he showed us what he’d seen. He never claimed to understand it, but he was always eager to share what he’d found.

His final album, Blackstar, was perhaps his way of giving us the sum of everything he’d learnt about himself over the course of his long career by asking all those questions. Who am I? What is my purpose in life? What am I here to do? 

Did I change the world? 

[David Bowie, Loving the Alien]

As regards that last, for many of us, the answer is yes. He did. He changed our world. Because he told us we could look at things in a different way but without ever telling us how it was done. For many fans, Bowie’s message seemed to be that we could – and indeed should – flip what was expected of us and turn it upside down, forcing people to look at us –  and themselves – in a different way. That way wasn’t prescribed for us. It just said, “Look. What do you see? How does it make you feel?”

When someone says, “I am X,” and we perceive something different, our minds do a double-take. What you see isn’t necessarily what’s there. A skilled actor can make you believe they’re someone else, suspend disbelief. A skilled mime artist can make you see a gate as they pretend to walk through it, a car as they pretend to drive it, an invisible key as it unlocks an invisible door. We know those things aren’t really there. Like those Magic Eye pictures that were all the rage in the Nineties, what we see depends partly on how we look. We can change our depth perception and see something different. We can look at a pane of glass, or we can look through it and see what’s beyond. (That’s how those Magic Eye pictures worked, for those who could never figure it out. You had to look through them, not at them.)

David Bowie showed us that if we looked at something in a different way to how we’d been taught to look at it, perhaps we’d see something different. Perhaps we’d see what was really there, hiding just beneath the surface. Perhaps we’d see something no one else had ever seen. But we had to really look.

[David Bowie, Ashes to Ashes]

This, I suspect, is one reason transgender people use the example of Bowie to “explain” to us why they’re not what we perceive them to be – rather, they are precisely, and only, what they perceive themselves to be. Nothing more, nor less. Some of us will be afraid to look more closely, for fear of what we might see. So, should we look they way they say we should? Or should we subvert? Look differently? Think for ourselves? Seek what’s really underneath?

We’ll always see something, but can we be certain that what we see is real? Because as well as looking to find something no one else has seen, we can also fool ourselves into seeing something that really isn’t there at all. Think of that invisible key in that invisible lock, opening that invisible door.

Those glam rockers in the Seventies – starting with David Bowie and Marc Bolan – dressed in a way that made people look. Made people think. Some were afraid of what they saw, and looked away. Perhaps it shocked them to the core, or made them angry. Others looked, and liked what they found. Either way, the kids loved it. And parents – with the odd (very odd) exception – were terrified. Were these the ch-ch-ch-changes Bowie had told us about? What the devil was going on?

But what none of those glamsters asked us to believe was that they were anything other than what they were. The message was – and remains, for many – that you could be as weird as you liked, that masculinity and femininity were irrelevant and sometimes even undesirable. Some said masculinity was a joke, something to be made fun of. For a while, in the Seventies, the most manly thing a man could do was wear make-up. (Bolan alone must have sent sales of glitter soaring.)

[T-Rex, Children of the Revolution]

Bowie often looked out at his audiences and saw hundreds of clones of himself. And he loved that fans were taking what he was doing and running with it. He thought that was fabulous. They were themselves, but more sparkly, more glittery versions of themselves. Louder, and much harder to ignore.

In 1980–81, Adam Ant wore a white war stripe across his nose, partly as a big “fuck you” to the corrupt music industry and partly as homage to the warriors he was trying to emulate for his stage persona. For me, this was the first time I had seen a good-looking man with make-up that made me sit up and really look. I was six years old. I knew even at that young age it was subversive. It was dangerous. And I also knew I found it attractive. I still do.

[Adam and the Ants, Ant Rap, 1981]

Radical feminism has no problem with men wearing make-up and outlandish clothes. For a certain type of women, it’s the most attractive thing! Feminism wants to do away with restrictive norms of behaviour laid out for both men and women, which for an inordinately long time had been considered indispensable. There is no need to create new categories, which are just as restrictive as the old ones – many would say more so. Part of Bowie’s message was that we don’t need to be hemmed in by these categories. We can escape the boxes, break out of them and subvert expectations., while remaining fundamentally what we are – a man or a woman.

One thing Bowie never advocated was sticking rigidly to sex stereotypes. Androgyny was the name of the game for most of the Seventies, and for most of the Eighties, as well. (“Wow, she’s nice! Oh, it’s– That’s a dude.”) 

[Aerosmith, Dude Looks Like A Lady]

And that was true subversion of expectations. It forced people to question themselves, and sometimes also their sexuality. And questioning yourself, though perhaps an uncomfortable experience, is a good thing. And (going out on a limb here, bear with me) one of the reasons it’s good is precisely because it’s uncomfortable. 

[David Bowie, Rebel Rebel]

Here’s a quote from Bowie: “Always go a little further into the water than you feel capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

[Alice Cooper, The Ballad of Dwight Fry]

Being uncomfortable can, therefore, be a positive thing, as long as our personal safety is not at risk. Being uncomfortable can arouse our curiosity. Bowie taught us to figure out who, and perhaps also what, we are. But he also taught us that other people’s perceptions of us are unpredictable. And this is a good thing. The confusion arising from these varied perceptions is part of what makes us human. That confusion can keep us guessing for years. Bowie certainly used those notorious fibs of his to that effect. He was an artist. His whole life was part of that art.

Fuck, he even made art out of his own death:

[David Bowie, Lazarus]

So now, let’s come back to Romy Haag and Jayne County. Both of these individuals were transsexuals, and it was precisely that, I suspect, that would have drawn David Bowie to them. They were different. They were interesting. Neither was what they initially appeared to be. 

People – all sorts of people – fascinated Bowie. He was often called a chameleon, but actually, that description annoyed him; a chameleon changes in order to blend in. But Bowie wasn’t a chameleon. He was a magpie. He stole ideas. (In 1979, Adam Ant even wrote a song about his idea-stealing propensities, called Zerox.)

[Adam Ant, Zerox]

David Bowie would hear a riff, or see an image, and ask himself how he could use it. He once said, “The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.” He wasn’t coy about it, he was very open; and when he did this, he turned it around – subverted it – so that it became uniquely Bowie. Subversion became his trademark, and is one reason so many people loved him, and why his influence will continue to spread. As long as people want to subvert, they will be drawn to David Bowie.

Bowie didn’t try to be like Romy Haag or Jayne County, but he stole from them both. Watch this, and note the costume changes:

[David Bowie, Boys Keep Swinging]

Some of us are different, whether we like it or not. Some of us stand out for our personalities. Others stand out because of the way we dress, or the way we do our make-up; for our brains; for our magnetism. And humans have always decorated ourselves for one reason or another. It’s what we do.

[David Bowie, The Heart’s Filthy Lesson]

The filthy lesson of the heart, Bowie once said, was that you’re going to die. And because we’re all going to die one day, why not celebrate our lives together? Why not celebrate the complexity and wonder of being fully human while we can? Nature has already given us so much to celebrate! Human beings come in various shapes, sizes and colours. We’re already so diverse and wonderful; we have endless material for art and self-expression. We can dress however we want – we don’t need to pretend to be something else when what we are is already so fascinating.

In the end, it was Bowie’s fascination with people, especially with those who don’t quite fit, that made him the incredible artist he was – why so many of us feel such a deep connection, not just with his art, but with Bowie as a person – whoever he may have been. We can embrace our differences, celebrate them; and through our differences, we can find unity.

Please – and this is a sincere request – don’t use my love of Bowie to tell me why I’m wrong about identity politics. Let’s love Bowie together, in our own way, and do our best to understand what it was he was trying to tell us.

And remember that, in the end, we can’t change who or what we are – but we can express ourselves however we damn well please. And no one can stop us from doing that.

[David Bowie, Heroes]