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.
(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?
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.