Not The Only One

by Angela Garrigan

There has been a lot of talk recently about lesbians. Gentleman Jack, the series about Anne Lister has certainly provoked some of these conversations. Described as the first modern lesbian many were delighted that finally a butch lesbian albeit a 19th century one whose style may not fit our ideas of what butch is, was finally front and centre in a TV series.  To hear people talk one could be forgiven for thinking that Anne Lister was the only lesbian to ever emerge from our past. No thought has been given to the numerous women that she had sex with. Anne Lister was not alone. She was in the midst of a group of lesbians who lived and loved just like she did. The only difference being is that they were not prolific diarists. Isabella Norcliffe was older than Anne and was a hard drinking, snuff taking,gun toting butch. Not exactly “Jane Austen”. Miss Pickford, another friend of Anne’s was also a butch lesbian who was mentioned in the diaries. Anne saw herself reflected in this woman. There was fascination and curiosity rather than attraction. She was also curious about and went to visit the most famous lesbians of the age, the Ladies of Llangollen. Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby had eloped from Ireland and set up house together in north Wales in 1778. They both wore “masculine” clothing and like Anne Lister, wore only black which was a male preserve.

Anne Lister was sexually attracted to femmes. They were the women who lit her candle. Although she had a sexual relationship with Isabella it fell far short of the pleasure that she enjoyed with Mariana the woman that Isabella introduced to her.

If you scrape the surface there are butch and femme lesbian lives scattered throughout recorded history but they have never been easy to find. There are claims that Joan of Arc was a lesbian and her refusal to stop wearing men’s apparel made it all the more possible for her to be persecuted and killed.There are stories of women donning men’s uniforms to fight in wars from the American war of Independence to World War2.

Fast forward to the early part of the 20th century. Ireland was fighting for independence from the British. In 1916 the Easter Rising took place in Dublin. Lesbians played their part and took up arms. Kathleen Lynn and her lover Madeleine Ffrench-Mullen. Sheila Grennan and her lover Elizabeth O’Farrell.  Margaret Skinnider who was a sniper and led men in a daring raid against the British.

Moving on to the 1920s, Gladys Bentley cut a sophisticated figure in her top hat and tails. Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall and Una Troubridge made a striking butch/femme couple.Let’s not forget the femme who became one of the most loved gay icons of the last few decades of the 20th century, Dusty Springfield.

What about the film industry? Well, it’s no surprise that lesbians barely made it into films and when they did it was invariably tragic.  (The Children’s Hour. The Killing of Sister George). In the 1980s Desert Hearts blew everyone away. At last a film where there was, kind of a happy ending. In 1996 Bound was released and to date it is the only one that I have seen that featured a butch/femme couple that did get their happy ever after.

While all this was going on, lesbians have fought tooth and nail for equal rights. That fight has been going on for decades and without the brave lesbians who put themselves out there, Stonewall could never have happened. And talking of Stonewall, I couldn’t end this without including a truly courageous butch, the lesbian who threw the punch that started a revolution, Storme Delarverie.

There are many more unsung butch and femme lesbians who have lived their truth throughout history. It’s not new, it’s not a trend, it’s not a lifestyle or a political theory. We are not aping men or heterosexual “roles”.  It is what we as butch and femme lesbians show to the world. It is our sexuality and our desire. We are here, we have always been here. We will always be here.

 

anne-lister-portrait_li_moment-2-3

Anne Lister

 

ladiesllangollen

Sarah Ponsonby & Eleanor Butler The Ladies of Llangollen

lynnmullen

Madelaine Ffrench-Mullen & Dr Kathleen Lynn in 1917. Lifelong lovers

 

eliz-ofarrell-grave

Elizabeth O’Farrell & Sheila Grennan Lifelong lovers, buried together

skinnider

Margaret Skinnider

gladys-bentley

Gladys Bentley

 

radclyffe-and-una

Una Troubridge & Marguerite Radclyffe-Hall

 

dusty-springfield

Dusty Springfield

 

stormebench

Storme Delarverie

And finally,

just because it’s my favourite scene in the film…

bound

Corky & Violet

Corky For me, stealing’s always been a lot like sex. Two people who want the same thing: they get in a room, they talk about it. They start to plan. It’s kind of like flirting. It’s kind of like… foreplay, ’cause the more they talk about it, the wetter they get. The only difference is, I can fuck someone I’ve just met. But to steal? I need to know someone like I know myself.

Violet You think you know me like that?

 

Letter to the Minister

08- 05-2119

Dear Minister McHugh,

I am alarmed at the assertions and conclusions contained in the recently published report, Exploring Genders Identity  and Gender Norms in Primary Schools by Dr. Aoife Neary (University of Limerick) and Catherine Cross (TENI). I call on the Minister for Education and Skills to consult widely with parents groups and other interested and informed stakeholders while considering the implications of this report.  Below I have outlined some of the major failings of the report.

1.Understanding the Difference between Sex and Gender

This publication wrongfully defines ‘sex’ as a ‘designation’ given at birth. It equates sex with the act of identifying sex, thus positioning it from the outset as arbitrary. Having dismissed the biological reality of male, female and intersex, the authors assert ‘gender’ as the correct means of establishing whether a child is male or female.

Whereas sex is commonly defined in terms of biological function, gender is understood as a social construction as in this example from Collins Dictionary  –

Gender is the state of being male or female in relation to the social and cultural roles that are considered appropriate for men and women.

The authors of this report do not give us their definition of ‘gender’. They do define ‘gender-identity’ as a person’s deeply-felt identification as male or female… Effectively they have, at the outset, dismissed the physical nature of a person’s sex and replaced it with inner feelings.

Feelings are deeply personal, indefinable, and, especially in children, prone to change. The Glossary of Terms which accompanies the report is a testament to the ever-extending vocabulary needed to keep pace with the feelings that are here being asserted as human conditions. I contend that accepting all of these definitions as presented, while at the same time, jettisoning the physical reality of biology, presents unexplored dangers and the conclusions drawn from such acceptance should not be drafted onto policies aimed at school children.

  1. Re-enforcing Gender Stereotypes

A key premise of this study is that the children it highlights were strongly gender non-conforming from the time they could communicate. While ‘gender non-conforming’ is not listed in the Glossary of Terms, ‘Gender Variant’ is described as  People whose gender identity and/or gender expression is different from traditional or stereotypical expectations of how a man or woman ‘should’ appear or behave.  I would argue that this describes many children. It especially describes many girls who are frustrated with the boundaries imposed on them by cultural expectations associated with femininity.  Not conforming to the dictates of gender is hardly a reason to claim a child is the opposite sex.

In recent years there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of girls identifying as trans.  Indeed the subjects of this report bear out that trend citing the experience of almost twice as many children who were born female as those born male.  This international phenomenon is not yet fully understood but it is an area of concern for professionals working in the field and parents alike.

 One UK parents’ group put this theory forward.

In the past, there have been some escape routes from the oppressive gender and sex-role stereotypes society applies to females. In the Sixties girls could embrace androgyny, in the Seventies Punk provided a way out. In the Eighties New Romantisism and gender-bending were the alternatives and in the Nineties into the Noughties Goths, Emos and Geeks were the tribes to join. But as popular culture, and in particular youth music culture, has become more hyper-sexualized for girls, escape routes have not only been closed down, but youth culture itself reinforces the sex-role stereotypes oppressive to teenage girls. Porn on smartphones passed around in school is now what they’re up against. [From Adult Males To Teenage Girls – The Movement From Etiology To Ideology]  Full Article

I am concerned that the authors of this report are relying on the societal and cultural constructions of gender performance to assign maleness and femaleness in children.  This approach, perhaps unwittingly, entrenches such stereotypes and reinforces the limitations already placed on our children by outdated sexist ideology.  They state, Highly gendered systems, practices and language in primary schools caused particular difficulties for the children in this study. (Key Finding 6)  While recognizing the existence of a gendered approach in schools their criticism of it stems not from the premise of gender division but from the exclusion of some children from particular gendered activity and language.

They recognize how children are … processing gender identity and are effected by gender norms for very early on. (Summary) They then suggest that children discuss gender in ‘supportive and informed’ spaces. How is ‘gender’ going to be defined for such a discussion and by whom? What ‘gender norms’ will be presented as examples of male and female behavior? How will this conversation be monitored to ensure that children do not feel pressured to claim a ‘gender identity’ which they think best reflects their current flux of feeling?

Discussion Must Be Allowed

 

There is a growing number of children and young people who have changed their minds about their gender identity and de-transitioned.  Their voices and those of their parents should be an important contributory factor in this debate.

There is also increasing international concern among parents, including parents of children who are identifying as trans, in relation to the increasing numbers of trans school-age children.  Academics and parents alike are pointing to the social contagion facilitated by online activity among children. One group of parents whose children have claimed to be trans have written.

Three of these factors in determining if a youth will trans-identify can be summarized as the effect of the environment on the youth’s cognitive processes during development. This is exactly as we have experienced; these social factors are the dominant factors, and not biology. Evidence for social contagion is emerging in the literature (Littman, 2018) and is consistent with our experiences. By immersing themselves in trendy transgender-indoctrinating videos recommended when they open YouTube or when their friend groups decide they are transgender together in clusters, they become myopically fixated on transition. Full Text

Already we are seeing a situation in Ireland where our Girl Guides Association has introduced rules based on the recommendations of TENI  and are now accepting children’s claims to be the opposite sex without question.  This has lead to a policy where male-bodied adolescents are allowed to sleep in girls’ quarters without informing the parents of the girls.  There is clearly a huge problem here and parents have a right to know if the safety of their children is being compromised to accommodate the adoption of ill-conceived policies.

We need an open a frank discussion on this topic in Ireland and the voices of those who oppose the rollout of TENI’s recommendations in our schools and institutions should be respected.

I have  no confidence in the ability of the authors or of the organisations cited in the introduction as collaborators, the School of Education at the University of Limerick and the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), to frame any such discussion among schoolchildren or to train educators or provide source material for our schools while they dismiss concerns such as I have outlined as ‘transphobic’.  They should not be able to use that accusation as a means of silencing those who disagree with their agenda.

  1. The Need for Sex-(not ‘gender’) Segregated Spaces.

While I acknowledge the negative impact of gendered stereotypes on our children I also acknowledge and support the segregation of male and female children in some instances, for example, the locker room at school, the changing room at the swimming pool and toilets.

It is at best naive to imagine that a male child on the cusp of adolescence in a state of undress does not present a problem for girls of a similar age in a similar state.  Likewise, teachers should not be forced to supervise children of the opposite sex in their underwear.

Sport is another area where the replacement of sex with ‘gender’ poses problems, especially for girls.

There are sound reasons behind the provision of such sex-segregated space and those reasons cannot be swept aside because of the claims of organisations whose reasoning is based on assertations they are unable to explain beyond ‘feelings’ however deeply felt.

The introduction of policies based on the recommendations of these organisations would have huge implications for our school children.  I believe it is incumbent on you Minister McHugh,  to consult widely on this vital issue and to inform yourself on all aspects of the ongoing international debate concerning the claims of those who are pushing this agenda into our schools. And I believe you should encourage discussion and participation from all quarters.

  1. Erasure of Lesbians and Gay Youth

A clear outcome of presenting ‘gender’ as a replacement for the biological category of ‘sex’ is the increasing pressure on our young people to conform to the stereotypes of gender.  In relation to young lesbian and gay people this means being urged to think of themselves as the opposite sex.  For example, if a girl is a ‘tomboy’ and attracted to girls, she is encouraged by trans ideology  to see herself as a boy, thus enforcing heteronormative stereotypes.

There is much more to say on this final point but I will not expand on it at this time as my letter is specific to the TENI Schools Report.

Finally, I would ask that you do not publish my name or email address as speaking up against the trans lobby is a dangerous activity in Ireland.

I look forward to your comments on the above.

Yours sincerely,

Jean Cross,

I Don’t Agree With Linda Riley

Some Comments on Linda Riley’s Dismissal of Angela C Wild’s Call to Get the L Out of the LGBT+ Community and of her Research, Lesbians at Ground Zero

 

Wild’s Research, Lesbians at Ground Zero Here

Wild’s  Article in Openly Here

Riley’s  Counter Article in Thomas Reuters Foundation News Here

 

Linda Riley opens her critique of Angela C Wild’s call for lesbians to organise outside of the LGBT+ community by claiming that such a move would contribute to lesbian erasure rather than reverse it.

Riley’s rationale for this is that by ‘opening one’s hearts and minds to a community that has been … vilified and marginalised by much of society,” lesbians will somehow benefit as a group.  This reflects a common call to women to include everyone, every struggle, every injustice in the world in our own cause.  We are not allowed to centre women and because lesbians are women, we are not allowed to centre ourselves, we have to include other groups.

Riley does not explain how ‘opening our hearts’ to this group of ‘vilified’ trans people will help our cause.  She just reprimands us for being mean.

Her next attack is on Wild’s account of a protest she and others took part in last year when they brought banners proclaiming lesbians to be female homosexuals to the front of the Pride march in London.  Many lesbians saw this as a classic tactic in the tradition of abseiling into the House of Lords during the long fight against Section 28.  But not Riley, she wants things done properly, according to the rules.

Riley suggests that Pride was not a wise choice of event at which to stage this protest.  She points out that lots of lesbians are allowed to gather at the DIVA Women’s Stage in Leicester Square and suggestions that we should organise separately could hamper this privilege.  Better to keep our heads down and do as we are told.  She seems to have forgotten how we used to have Lesbian marches and events and festivals and we seemed very capable of having a good time without placing ourselves under the control of organisations and committees that tell us we must include male bodies in lesbianism.

Riley asks if Wild and her colleagues ‘really want lesbians not to enjoy the sort of visibility that, frankly, we never had before?”  What she does not say is that it is the new version of the lesbian community that is celebrated here, the one that includes all the men who want to call themselves lesbians.  We can have a fab day out at Pride, as long as we erase the idea that lesbianism is all about female to female sexuality.

Riley next attacks Wild’s research.  She calls it ‘unconvincing’, saying that 80 respondents were not a useful sample.  My first response to this is amazement that the publisher of a magazine supposedly dedicated to lesbian issues has not the slightest interest in the specific experiences of 80 lesbians.  I have personally read a  Report by TENI (Trans Equality Network Ireland) about the experiences of trans children in Irish schools.  It highlights lots of findings and makes plenty of recommendations.  Was it blasted for not having enough respondents?  No, it was heralded as groundbreaking and now it is being used to try to change government policy.  This report is based on the experiences of 11 children and 7 educators.  We are constantly hearing that more research must be done on the needs and experiences of trans people, that we need a clear picture so we can provide the proper levels of support etc.  I have no problem with that. But I would like the same courtesy extended to lesbians researchers.

What I would have expected from the publisher of a lesbian magazine in relation to Wild’s report is shock and indignation that lesbians are going through such terrible experiences.  I would expect a lesbian magazine to demonstrate some sense of alarm. Then a clear, unequivocal call for more research, perhaps an offer to help fund it.  Perhaps an interview with the author of the report.  Perhaps an offer to use the pages of said magazine to reach even more lesbians.  But not Riley, not DIVA.  From her we get dismissal and ridicule.

Riley has nailed her colours to the mast.  She has thrown her lot in with the men who present themselves as lesbians and demand to be treated as such by lesbians.  She seems to have no problem accepting the definition of ‘lesbian’ to be ‘anyone who says they are’ which is what these men demand.

Now she must defend that position.  She says she has not seen any evidence of anyone being coerced into having sex with a trans woman.  Well, she’s never going to see it if she decides that it just does not exist, no matter how many lesbians say otherwise.  She’s never going to hear about it if she won’t listen to the lesbians who are saying it happened to them.

Concentrating on the issue of rape, which Wild highlights among many instances of harassment and psychological coercion, Riley says this:

Of course, there are people of all sexualities and gender identity who do not understand that no means no – mainly straight cis-men – but I see no evidence of any greater incidence of this reprehensible attitude to sex among trans people when compared with men and women across the wider UK population’

Her assertation that it is mainly straight men who are the chief perpetrators of rape is true.  But she fails to acknowledge that trans women follow male rather than female patterns of committing violent crimes. Study Here  A big factor in separating people who commit sexual assault from those who largely do not, is the possession of a penis. Incidentally, rape is not a matter of not understanding that ‘no means no’.  It is about knowing that and doing it anyway. 

Riley has nothing to say about the lesbians in the study who recount their experiences of being ridiculed, isolated,  accused of transphobia and ejected from LGBT organisations for not accepting, or even questioning the trans lesbians are lesbians dogma.  These experiences don’t appear to be worthy of comment.

Riley recounts how she was verbally attacked by lesbians for simply saying that DIVA was trans-inclusive and that she had not seen any evidence of lesbians being forced to have sex with trans women.  She says some of the abuse she was subjected to was obscene.   I  do not condone such treatment of anyone.  I commented on twitter myself at that time and I stuck to the point, as many did, but obviously, some went beyond that, regrettably, in my opinion.

Riley then states ‘If a trans woman says she is a lesbian, nobody has the right to question that self-identity.’ Well, surely lesbians do. Surely the women who find the female body erotic, whose sexuality is based solely on the female form do.  Surely the women who will be expected to open their dating pools to this trans woman do.

Surely the women in Wild’s study who repeatedly recount the difficulties they encounter, the expectations demanded of them, the pressure to accept straight sex as a lesbian encounter, have the right to question that self-identity.

Riley then evokes the age-old chestnut levelled at lesbians, the accusation that ‘they haven’t met the right man yet’.  Somehow this is supposed to equate to lesbians asserting that lesbianism does not include male bodies. I think she is making Wild’s point for her.  Saying that lesbians just haven’t met the right man is saying that female to female sexual fulfilment cannot exist.  That sex has to involve a penis.  What’s the difference between that and Riley’s view there can be no sexuality that includes only the female form, that penises have to be allowed in?

She then trots out the ‘individual choice’ argument.  This is followed by the assertion that trans women are unlikely to want a relationship with ‘transphobes’ anyhow.  So, you can assert your right not to have an intimate relationship with a ‘trans lesbian’ but that makes you a transphobe.  She likens this choice to straight women in the 70’s and 80’s who avoided lesbians for fear of the lesbians pouncing on them.  She says ‘we did not want any sort of intimacy with lesbophobic people who thought like that’.  So, it’s an individual choice but beware the consequences of making it.

Her likening of the experiences of butch women in female public facilities to that of trans women is bizarre.  Overwhelmingly trans women present as ultra feminine.  They reinforce the very gender stereotypes that hinder women who do not conform to those strict presentations. Fighting for the acceptance of a wider range of female expression does not mean fighting for the idea that the female body does not exist.

Riley then asserts that she has never met a trans person who wants to erase or marginalise lesbians.  This statement is meaningless.  It’s not about what trans people want to do, men have always wanted to invade lesbian spaces, it is about what people like her are allowing them to do.  By failing to defend the only sexuality in the world that does not involve a penis.  By capitulating to every demand, every whim of the trans lobby, it is magazines like DIVA and organisations like Stonewall and Pride that are effecting lesbian erasure.

It is individuals like Linda Riley, individuals with a platform, who refuse to listen, who turn away when lesbians recount their experiences, who stigmatise and belittle the women who are fighting to defend our right to a female based sexual orientation, those are the people who are furthering lesbian erasure.

Riley finishes by saying that she expects to be attacked for her article.  Instead of positioning herself as a martyr, why does she not invite discussion, argument, actual discourse, there is plenty of it around but she chooses to ignore or discredit it.

Her final wish is that we all spare a thought for the unfortunate trans women whose lives are blighted by bullying.  Not a jot of sympathy for the 80 lesbians in the study, nothing, it seems, could be further from her mind as she calls again for us women to ‘find some compassion and understanding.’  But only for some.

When lesbians organised against Section 28, we were fighting for our right to assert a sexual orientation centred solely on the female body.  Today that right is under attack again.  This time the threat is coming from the very organisations and publications that purport to speak for us and defend us.  They are redefining who we are, demanding that we change our sexual orientation and pretending there are no consequences to consider, beyond the happiness of other groups.

 

Jean Cross

 

 

 

Feminism, Where the Left Supports the Centre

Radical Feminism recognises that all women are oppressed.  That women exist as a class of humans who are oppressed because they are female.   It presents us with a theory of how the oppression of women is maintained through the operation of the world under patriarchy.

Our modern world was constructed without the influence of women.  We were omitted from the power structures, philosophy, religion, literature, science, human expression and everything else that it took to build our modern societies.  Indeed the very fabric of these institutions was interwoven with misogyny as they propagated, excused, and upheld the domination of men over women as the natural order. We were we not allowed to participate in the building of the world men made for themselves and their sons and consequently, we fare very badly in it.

Women are raped with little legal consequences. Girls and women are forced into prostitution. Women are murdered by men at alarming levels.  Women are beaten at home to the extent that we have to set up safe houses for those who flee. Women occupy the most poorly paid jobs and even in better employment don’t earn the same as men and are passed over for promotion.  When women work outside of the home, they do most of the work at home too.  There are many, many terms to belittle us and the greatest insult a man can subject another man to is to liken him to a woman.

All of this is in the most supposedly progressive countries. In other places women and girls suffer this and more. They are denied education, denied bodily autonomy, denied the freedom to simply go out into the daylight, put under the authority of their fathers and brothers and husbands and sons and prostituted, beaten, raped and murdered on epic scales.

Everywhere we are held to standards of behaviour that do not apply to men. Everywhere girls and boys learn very quickly that being male is better than being female in this world.

Radical feminists do not get hoodwinked or sidelined into thinking that we have achieved equality because our laws say we are equal.  Misogyny cannot be eradicated by edicts and legal proscriptions.  Fifty years after the equal pay legislation in Ireland we still don’t have equal pay.  There is a reason for this and therein lies the truth about the relationship between the sexes.

In modern politics, we see the misogynistic attitude of the Right in their overt efforts to restrict abortion and in their alarming male-centred movement of white supremacy.  It used to be harder to see the anti-woman bias of the Left because they used to say the right things and support our right to choose.  But it is becoming much easier as they increasingly support the pornographers and pimps and traffickers that trade in the bodies and lives of women and girls.

They dress this misogyny in the rhetoric of ‘choice’.  Oddly supporting the hypothetical entrepreneurial aspirations of individual women who might seek to embark on  a career in prostitution and curiously ignoring the multitude of feminist research and analysis of the trade in women’s bodies and the tide of testimony from women and girls who have been bought and sold and raped and beaten by men over and over again.

What they do listen to are the lies of the lobbyist for this trade.  They listen when the men who benefit from selling women set up organisations that purport to represent prostituted women.  They listen to the capitalists when it comes to the bodies of women and children.

They listen too when men claim to be women and they support those men in accessing women’s safe spaces.  They listen to men who call themselves lesbians and they preach that lesbianism is no longer centred on the female body because the men who want to be lesbians say so.  They label lesbians who disagree as ‘transphobic’.

That is how shallow the Left’s commitment to women is. They have ditched us at the first opportunity and they revel in their new version of feminism which allows them to pursue an agenda which favours men.  Now not only do they criticise radical feminists who fight for female only spaces, who fight for sex-based protections, who fight for lesbian’s right to define our own sexuality but they also deny us the right to speak at all.  They no-platform us and call for us to be silenced. They liken us to fascists.

Somehow this treatment is more surprising coming from the Left. But it shouldn’t be.  The Left has always been blinkered when it came to men’s oppression of women. They have no real analysis of it, beyond economic considerations.  And they don’t want to look any further than that because that might bring them face to face with their own misogyny.

When it comes to feminism, the Left is far more likely to support the limited analysis and the timid aims of liberal feminism than it is to support the dynamic, world-changing vision of radical feminism.

From where we stand, as radical feminists, we see the misogyny of the Left as clearly as we see the misogyny of the Right and we feel its impact as sharply.

 

 

Being Butch

   By Angela Garrigan

Being butch is not a choice. Being a lesbian is not a choice. Being a butch lesbian is who I am. Not all butch women are lesbians. So what is a butch? I can only say what it is and what it means for me but it’s a bit like trying to explain your name or hair colour. For me it just is but I’ll try to shed some light on it.

Women are generally expected to fit into the gender stereotype known as femininity. We are supposed to want babies. We are supposed to adore men. We are supposed to like make-up, manicures and hair dos. We are supposed to be able to cook and clean. We are supposed to smile and look pleasing. We are in short expected to be a mixture of Barbie and a Stepford wife. I am not saying that that is how most women live. I am saying that this is what is promoted.

I am none of those things, except for one crucial fact. I am a woman. Because I live outside of the gender role assigned to my sex, I confuse and confound a lot of people. Many don’t see me. They see a man or a woman who wants to be a man. I am neither of these things. I am a butch dyke and that means that I am strong, I am capable and I am attracted to women in every way that it is possible to be.

Apart from underwear, I don’t own any women’s clothes. My shirts, my trousers, my socks, my coats and my boots are all bought from the men’s departments. I wear these clothes because they fit me. They fit me.

We ascribe most of the positive human attributes to men when in truth they don’t actually deserve them. If a woman is seen as strong, independent, capable and assertive, society has many ways of taking her down. And take her down they do.

Maleness and masculinity are not benchmarks that I aspire to. In fact, I despise them. I aspire to be the best butch dyke I know how to be and it has nothing to do with men, maleness or masculinity.

It does have something to do with strength, tenderness, justice, compassion, love and a burning desire for an end to the oppression by men of women. Its way past time that we stopped putting butch and masculine together. They couldn’t be more different.

The Gender Trap

In 2015 the Irish Government passed the Gender Recognition Act.  In Part 3 it states:

18. (1) Where a gender recognition certificate is issued to a person the person’s gender shall from the date of that issue become for all purposes the preferred gender so that if the preferred gender is the male gender the person’s sex becomes that of a man, and if it is the female gender the person’s sex becomes that of a woman.

As commonly understood, ‘gender’ is often interchanged with ‘sex’.  Crucially though ‘gender’ can be constructed in a manner in which sex cannot. We all understand what ‘gender roles’ are.  We understand how girls and boys have historically been socialized differently, each according to the gender role expected of them. As stated in Colllins dictionary:

Gender is the state of being male or female in relation to the social and cultural roles that are considered appropriate for men and women.

Sex is a different matter.  Over to Collins again:

The two sexes are the two groups, male and female, into which people and animals are divided according to the function they have in producing young.

Biology dictates which function a body carries out in procreation, nothing else does.  Not  inner feelings, choice of make-up,  hyper-feminine appearance,  or even fake periods.  None of that can change a body from the one that produces sperm, the male body,  to the one that produces eggs, the female body.  There is no way to change sex.

Gender, on the other hand, is a lot more fluid.   The gender role ascribed to women has been cultured in a society where the male has dominated every aspect, religion, politics,  art, philosophy, literature, and education for thousands of years. Needless to say the traits and expectations associated with feminity which resulted have a lot more to do with male fantasy and expectation than with how women actually navigate the world. A basic tenet of feminist theory is the rejection of the stereotypes and gender-roles imposed on women by this male culture and generations of feminists have fought to free women from the equation of our sex with the performance of femininity.

With the implementation of the Gender Recognition Act 2015 the Irish government has declared that gender is the sole consideration in determining sex. Effectively, this recognises the trappings of feminity as actual womanhood.

At a crucial time when feminist are uncovering the widespread abuse women and girls endure and calling out predatory male behaviour, the Irish government is recognising males who act out femininity as actual women.

The state now supports the idea that a woman can impregnate other women, that a woman can impregnate men and that men can impregnate each other. It supports the idea that women and men and boys and girls can all become pregnant.

Most people in Ireland still have no idea that our law now stipulates that anyone can change their sex.  They have no idea that, as a nation, we have abandoned biology as taught in schools and replaced science with feelings and fetish as the determiners of physical sex. The government did this without discussing the implications for women’s safe spaces, planning women’s health initiatives, our lesbian community, sports, and on and on.  The Irish people had no say, no national discussion, no referendum.

Recently, on the BBC’s Woman’s hour, Irish journalist, Una Mulally said that the act has had no adverse effect in Ireland and, frankly, that Irish feminists are confused by the outcry they see among feminist in the UK in relation to similar proposals there.  It is far more worrying that a journalist who calls herself a feminist could be confused about why women would have concerns around full male bodies in female-only spaces, around people with penises demanding recognition as lesbians, around young male-bodied people sleeping with girls in the Girl Guides without informing parents of the policy.  How can any feminist be confused about why such concerns have arisen in the UK?

Then we have our socialist TD, Paul Murphy standing up in the Dail to urge that the new abortion legislation refers throughout to ‘pregnant people’, not ‘women’.  Such a move would compound the folly of the Gender Recognition Act.  It would set the tone for all future government initiatives regarding women.  We are currently reeling in the aftermath of the cervical smear scandal.  We have uncovered historical state-wide medical mistreatment of women including the symphysiotomy affair.  We have only just won the right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy, a fight that took decades.

How can we proceed with the struggle to end the patriarchial, even misogynistic tone of health provision for women in Ireland if we cannot even name ourselves as a specific group with specific needs from our health service?  Is our next cervical smear campaign to be targeted at ‘people with cervixes’?

What of the spaces women have carved out in recognition of the fact that we sometimes need separation and protection from male aggression? The core of our feminist understanding of women’s need for safety is that the danger comes from males.  That the provision of safe spaces is organised and run by females for females.  How is this system not compromised if the government recognises any man who declares himself female as a female?

And what of lesbianism in Ireland?  There can be no understanding of lesbianism as a sexuality based on a person with a female body being attracted to another female body when male-bodied people claim to be lesbians and are recognised as such. This supersedes the physical nature of sex and imposes a new view of homosexuality as something based on the coupling of preferred genders. If a man opts for womanhood and is attracted to females, then he is a lesbian.

Trans women have named ‘the cotton ceiling’ (ie lesbians undergarments) as something which has to be pushed through. Because most trans women retain their male genitalia and are attracted to women, they seek sexual partners in the lesbian community.  LGBT media and organisations would have us believe that this is unproblematic for lesbians, that only a few dinosaurs resist the idea of introducing penised people to the lesbian community.  There is certainly a lot of pressure to conform to the new definition of lesbian. Lesbians are told it is transphobic not to consider transwomen as sexual partners. The word ‘lesbian’ is seen less and less in LGBT publications, often replaced by ‘queer woman’, a connotation that departs from the exclusivity of female to female attraction and opens up the possibility of other, (straight), sexual activity. This is particularly problematic in relation to young lesbians who are confronted, in their own community, with a version of lesbianism that has departed utterly from the female form and an exclusively female sexual attraction.

If we start with replacing the word ‘woman’ in a bill concerning abortion, what will the next steps be?  Will we rewrite our biology books to explain how sometimes it is the woman who becomes pregnant and sometimes it is the man.  How some men have uteruses and some don’t. How some women can impregnate other women or men? Will we abandon collective pronouns altogether and replace them with descriptions of bodily function, ‘uterus-havers’, ‘people with penises’, describing the physical bodies that we have detached from the community that shares them?

Will every woman have to declare that she identifies as a woman in order to be recognised as such?  How will she know what that is without some clear definition of what a woman is?  When will the government provide this? What factors will they consider in determining womanhood, the inability to walk past a perfume stand without dabbing an expensive scent on the wrist? A penchant for new shoes?

How long will parents have to wait to see if their child is a girl or a boy?  Will they use a train set and a doll and see which one the child chooses?  Or wait until the child expresses a preference for the group that society treats as male or the group that society treats as female?

Had the Irish people been given a chance to discuss the implication of supplementing ‘gender’ for ‘sex’ in law we might have found some answers.  We might have focused on the rights and needs of our trans people in a manner that recognised and protected the rights and needs of women.  We may not have abandoned biology so readily.  We might have made some considerable headway in considering the negative impact of the gender roles we have constructed instead of writing them into law as the basis of womanhood and manhood.

 

 

 

Pussy Hats in Ireland

A spectre is haunting Ireland, the spectre of liberal feminism.  The most recent anti-woman outburst from this sector was their abject rejection of wearing pussy hats to protest against Trump when he announced his intention to visits this country in November. Now this visit seems unlikely but the reaction to the announcement is still worth considering for what it reveals about the limitations of liberal feminism.

Never mind that women around the globe wore these hats as an easily recognisable symbol of international sisterhood and solidarity, in Ireland we don’t do that sort of thing.

We are repeatedly told by the bright stars leading this movement that ‘Our Feminism’ is different.  ‘Our Feminism’ is inclusive and extraordinary in its capacity to embrace the women who need it most. It celebrates prostitution as a career option for plucky young women.  It gleefully offers womanhood to anyone who wants to claim it.  ‘Our Feminism’ leaves no man behind.

So, if  Trump was to visit Ireland, how would we show our disgust for his blatant misogyny?  Would we stand with the international sisterhood?  Of course not.  ‘Our Feminism’ is too special for that.  We’d take him down a peg or two with flowers,  yellow flowers.  Lots and lots of yellow flowers.

How did the top ladies of ‘Our Feminism’ hit on this incredible suggestion?  For those unfamiliar with the symbolism of yellow flowers in Ireland, aka the entire world, I will explain.

In the mid-eighties, the body of an infant washed up on a beach in Kerry.  At the same time, a woman gave birth on the family farm and buried her stillborn child in a field. This woman was accused of murdering the baby on the beach and when her own child was found, the case against her, which should have ended there and then, escalated instead.

In a mind-boggling display of misogyny, the state pursued her and the case was put that she had been pregnant by two different men simultaneously, had given birth to both infants around the same time and had killed them.  Finally, a year later, a tribunal was set up to investigate the Garda handling of this case,  to examine how she was accused of absurdities and pursed beyond reason.  But instead of delivering some measure of justice, the tribunal put the woman under the microscope.  A room full of men in suits pored over all aspects of her sex life, her menstrual cycle, her uterus, for days and days.

As this case progressed, women became outraged and started sending her yellow flowers to show their solidarity. My mother sent some, her neighbour sent some.  They were not rabid feminists they were women who were disgusted with how the female body itself was being put on trial through the suffering of one individual.  It felt like every woman in Ireland was standing with their accused sister.  It felt like every woman in Ireland understood what it was like to be in the presence of men in suits, men in collars, lingering on the shame of the female body, relishing the power they claimed over it.

The yellow flowers represent a moment of solidarity for women in Ireland.

When Trump boasted about grabbing women by the pussy another symbol of female solidarity was born.  The hats were immediately and unequivocally recognised as a symbol of the common understanding of women all over the world.  Of the knowledge, we hold, that our bodies are simultaneously the site of male sexual gratification and male brutality.

Objection arose almost immediately.  By highlighting the fact that our bodies are central to the oppression women endure under the patriarchal system, we were failing those men who claimed womanhood. Because some men would rather be regarded as women, it was no longer ‘feminist’ to refer to the female body in any way.   The very site of our oppression could no longer be spoken about.

The organisers of some Women’s Marches took this absurd reasoning on and denounced the hats.  Women around the world wore them anyway.  The pussy hat endured as a symbol of international sisterhood.

When we got our chance to show our sisters everywhere that we stand with them, that vile male predatory entitlement will not go unchallenged in Ireland, what did ‘Our Feminism’ do?  It pulled back to its insular, nationalistic outlook. Desperate that some men might be offended, it denounced the hats.  (It also claimed that women who are not white are somehow excluded if the hat is pink, but that’s a whole other set of delusions.)

Instead of pussy hats, the women of Ireland were encouraged to go with the yellow flowers.  Because we know what they mean and we like to wallow in matters the rest of the world doesn’t understand. Because liberal feminism’s biggest flaw is that it includes that which will devour it.  Because its leaders in Ireland have no understanding of the political significance of international solidarity.  Because ‘Our Feminism’ can’t see the irony of denouncing one symbol that represents the exploitation of the female body and lauding another symbol that does exactly the same thing.

This is what comes of confusing femininity with womanhood. This is what comes of having no real understanding of the feminist cause.