The article below replies to a letter by WPUK, which in turn is a response to an article by Workers' Liberty activist Natalia Cassidy, 'Anti-trans feminists blinkered on Tories', and refers to a video by Workers' Liberty activist Zack Muddle, 'Fighting for trans rights in today's labour movement'.
The article written by Natalia Cassidy entitled 'Anti-trans feminists blinkered on Tories' was not, in fact, written with Woman's Place UK (WPUK) as an organisation in mind. It was written after seeing swathes of people on social media responding in celebratory fashion at the statement made by Liz Truss.
The video also referred to is a recording of sections of a meeting on a different - although related - topic. In it a different activist, Zack Muddle, gives a lead off and summation. It does directly criticise WPUK, but on different topics to Natalia’s article. The letter by WPUK does not take up these criticisms.
Given the article was not written about WPUK, the attempt to hold it to account as caricaturing their positions is not particularly watertight.
That said, whilst this may not be the view of WPUK as an organisation, it certainly seemed to be the view taken by many supporters and fellow travellers of the organisation.
The contention that simply working with trans people absolves WPUK of transphobia is the same insidious logic that people in JVL use to excuse their antisemitism. Jewish people can hold antisemitic views, trans people can hold transphobic views.
Likewise, a general belief “in the right of everyone to live their lives free from discrimination and harassment” does not absolve WPUK, and the political current with which they associate themselves, from allegations of specific forms of discrimination or harassment.
Nowadays, most racists declare themselves not racist, most sexists repudiate allegations of sexism, most homophobes are closetted about their homophobia. Such people would, by and large, agree to such bland statements as the one quoted above. This is doubly true for people who hold bigoted ideas but are, or see themselves as being, on the left.
Left-wingers who promote restrictive border policies and nationalism, who see “Zionist” conspiracy theories everywhere, or who oppose legal changes which would facilitate inclusion of trans people (particularly trans women) do not generally hate all migrants, Jews, or trans people respectively.
This is why they could happily place their names by such bland, generic statements as “[w]e applaud the commitment to ensuring that transgender people [or migrants, or Jews] are able to live free from persecution.”
Regardless of intentions, these political opinions and currents do have anti-migrant, antisemitic, and transphobic logic and conclusions respectively. They make migrant, jewish, and trans people feel less welcome on the left; contribute to politics and policies that harm people from these groups; even inadvertently fuel hatred which leads to harassment of and violence against migrants, Jews, trans people.
In the letter WPUK refer to “men, by which we mean biologically male adults.” One implication, it seems, is that adult trans women are “biologically male adults”, and therefore “men”. Refusing to recognise trans women as the gender they identify as - before we even get to excluding them on such ground - constitutes transphobia.
While the article was not directly referring to WPUK, or their response, most of its criticisms would be fair, if made against them. Their response to Truss is soft, and blinkered, on the Tories, and on bigotry. They strike a very different tone in their letter to us than in their original response to Truss. In their letter to us:
“Women only spaces were won as a direct result of the struggles of women activists in previous decades. If we are now in a situation where even Conservative ministers recognise them to be essential and worth protecting we see that as a victory for women rather than us agreeing with a Tory policy. One could make the same point about how women in struggle forced the Conservatives to allow us to vote.”
The tone of this is appropriately critical of the Tories, attributing victories to struggle. Yet the response to Truss is littered with phrases such as “We are pleased...” and “We welcome the clear commitment...”, a tone of general praise, and sentences such as: “We think the statement indicates a willingness to listen and respond to women’s concerns...” They give a misplaced defence of Truss with respect to the principle of Gillick competence. They do, rightly, make criticisms of the Tories’ record on women’s rights. However these are extremely mild compared to the severe, deep and prolonged attacks that the Tories have made to women’s rights and services over the last decade.
WPUK says that they “fully support the Gillick test of competence” though do not fully commit to it in the case of young trans people. Instead, they skirt around the issue giving a statement on supporting those with gender dysphoria as they move into adulthood. This can be read however the reader chooses, either as a commitment to support young trans people accessing healthcare they require or as support to deal with their lack of healthcare until they are adults. The implication that there is something to be concerned with the number of “girls” being referred to gender identity services is also something to take exception with. The likelihood is not that there is a greater number of trans men and assigned-female non-binary people, but rather that the level of violence, harassment and abuse that trans women face in society prevents many from seeking referral and transition-related healthcare.
We continue to champion open debate within the labour movement, the left, and society. Confronting bigotry with polemic, winning individuals and movements around to better ideas, is a vital part of building a better world. We purge our movement of transphobia through arguments, not silencing.
Despite our fundamental disagreements, we are pleased that WPUK is engaging with us. There is too little debate between conflicting sections of the left. That said, WPUK’s response to us fails to engage with the issues we raise head on.
We have always, and continue to, oppose attempts to blanket “no platform” WPUK, or other anti-trans feminist organisations or individuals. We recognise that such undemocratic and out of order behaviour has been perpetrated by individuals and currents on “both sides” of the debate. Trans individuals and pro-trans activists have been subject to harassment, abuse, and attempts to silence - by anti-trans activists on the left.
Two wrongs don’t make a right, and we do not say this to in any way justify the bad behaviour of any individuals, or currents, on “either side”. But it is important to have the record straight.
• Listen to our recent audio below (or follow link to SoundCloud):
• Fighting for trans rights in the labour movement below (or follow link to SoundCloud):