It's LGBTQ+ History Month and I've been mulling over how, and even whether, I should be blogging about it. I'm a 50-something straight, white, cisgender woman; young enough to have benefited from the actions of the feminists who came before me, old enough not to have been taken in by the post-feminsim of the 90s and noughties, when some assumed all the battles had been won and that "feminist" was an embarrassing and archaic way to describe yourself. You could easily say "What's it got to do with her?"
On the other hand, homosexuality was only decriminalised within my lifetime and I was middle aged with children of my own before equal marriage was recognised in law. I was in my 20s when AIDS came to public attention, at university when Section 28 was introduced. It may not have affected me directly, but LGBT History was happening all around me.
Things did get better. Section 28 was repealed; civil partnerships and equal marriage; the Gender Recognition Act. A few years back, watching Great Manchester Police take part in the Pride parade, my partner and I commented that when we had come to the city as students, the force was led by James Anderton. For a good while it looked to the straight, white world as if attitudes had shifted permanently. The homophobia and racism of the 70s and 80s that we'd grown up with had been banished to the fringes of discourse, vocalised only by the very worst of people.
What the last decade (and especially the last 5 years) has shown us, though, is that those attitudes did not go away; they merely went to ground for a while, until they were again given legitimacy by a small but influential group of the very worst people, given massive public platforms in the name of "balance."
The targets have shifted, but the aim is the same - to 'other', delegitimise and demonise a minority group. The current moral panic is about transgender people but the "debate" remains depressingly similar. So much of the transphobia of today is the re-heated homophobic prejudice of my youth. What is different about today's transphobia is that it is led and spurred on by..... feminists.
It is unutterably depressing to watch women of my generation raging against trans people, shouting about their "sex-based rights" and aligning themselves with racists, far right politicians and extreme evangelical religious organisations. Women who spent their youth acting in solidarity with other marginalised groups are now pursuing an irrational vendetta against one of the most marginalised of those groups and siding with the very people they fought against for so long, putting forward the falsehood that granting others rights will diminish their own. As academic Alison Phipps says:
Of all the awful things about trans-exclusionary feminism, it’s the claims of victimhood I find most difficult. In my experience these women enjoy unprecedented institutional protection: trans people and their allies are silenced & scared. We are being gaslit & it’s so painful.
— Alison Phipps (@alisonphipps) September 14, 2019
I think what I am coming round to, in a convoluted way, is intersectionality. This is, to be fair, a concept which struggles when released into the wild, but is nonetheless fundamental to how we as human beings relate to each other. Our life experiences will overlap and sometimes contradict those of others and recognising both differences and similarities is vital. Life is messy, and we sometimes may feel aggrieved that someone appears to be ahead of us in the pecking order, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do everything we can to support those who are more marginalised and oppressed than we are.
I am heterosexual, so I cannot know what it's like to be gay or trans, but that does not mean that as a feminist I should ignore (and even oppose!) the fights and rights of others. The forces of reaction won't stop at the current marginalised group - if they succeed in taking away the rights of one group of people, they will move on to the next, and finally you will be the one being demonised.
For those of us who do have a fair amount of privilege, we should both acknowledge that privilege and not resent others' desire to have the same rights that we have. And we have a duty to act as the best allies we can be. That's not to say that we charge in and take control of the discourse (see - again - Alison Phipps' excellent book on the tendency for white feminism to do this) but to stand up to transphobes, to amplify trans voices and to do - well, the things feminists should always do!
I came to a position of trans allyship the hard way.
I come, unashamedly, from a long line of "stroppy" women who did things their way. A child of the '60s and '70s, I reaped the benefits of the social mobility of the post-war era. I can't ever remember not being a feminist - my infant brain took issue with the whole Christian Garden of Eden thing, where banishment was on the basis of "She did it!" and I was one of a group of girls at my primary school who loudly voiced our objections when we were discriminated against. When the WWII air raid shelters below the boys' playground were about to be filled in, we were all promised a trip below ground. When we discovered the demolition had begun, and that the boys had been allowed down and we hadn't, we gave the headmaster the full "women's rights" treatment (as much as 10 year olds can).
I was very much a product of my age and background and I thought I knew my feminism. When my son came out as trans in 2015 it hit me like a brick. In part, I went into mourning for the fabulous, feminist woman he would have been but also I knew so little about trans issues - I'd heard of Stephen Whittle and Jan Morris, but that was about it - that I was very ill-prepared to deal with it. And, to be honest, I dealt with it badly. A friend pointed me in the direction of literature on ROGD and told me my son was "just a butch lesbian but hasn't realised it yet." Life got very difficult (especially as my partner had been far more accepting) and it threatened to wreck my relationship with my child. Over time, I tried hard to understand the issues and things got a little easier.
The turning point was the 2018 GoFundMe campaign by some Labour party members to challenge Labour's decision to allow trans women on all women shortlists, which stated clearly that "any leftover funds would be used to fight self-ID". Two women I considered friends and political allies had signed it. I was so upset and angry that I blogged about it, as a result of which I have spoken to neither since. This saddened me, but ultimately it came to a choice between my political friends and my child. Like I said, life's messy.
Over the last few years, I have done my best to be a good ally. Followed and shared trans voices on social media. Got to know my son's friends (a universally lovely group). Sought out other cis het women who aren't prepared to have gender critical feminists purport to speak for us - the many cis women who have no problem with trans women sharing our spaces, who aren't threatened by trans women and who believe that feminism without inclusion is not feminism.
So my relationship to LGBTQ+ History Month is one of allyship. I have no relevant lived experience, but I can at least do my best to be an empathetic ally and if I can't do much to make things better at least not make them worse. Promoting marginalised voices rather than speaking for them and challenging transphobia.
They say that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, so this time I'm paying attention.