On achieving unity in the midst of battle

pussy hat

Like many women recently, I’ve just seen my life implode. This, surprisingly perhaps, is a good thing.

This blog’s a bit over a year old, and has been a thing of two halves so far. As a publisher and bibliophile, I wanted a space to write about the books and the authors I work with. As a Labour Party officer in a town battling against Tory austerity, I also wanted a space to write about politics.

(Geeky buttons bit

(There’s this natty little switch this blog has, so you can put one set of articles on your front page where people will see them if they come looking specifically for your words – leaving other articles to sink down out of sight – where you can go pick them up and share them out in the world to specific groups you have messages for. Great, I thought – books and authors on the front page, and a bank of political stuff down there, where I can find it when I need it.)   

And then there was the #metoo campaign. And then some women got assaulted, and there was the #labourlosingwomen thing. And then…

Then I decided to put it all together.

Penelope Toomey
Penelope may not be your vision of an ideal woman – but she is hers.

The political is personal

And then came the trans issue, and oh boy, the political got personal. My local Labour Party included men who said, “I haven’t a clue what it’s all about, but it’s divisive and a dangerous distraction, don’t talk about it.” It included women who, when you met them in quiet corners, were full of questions and concerns, but said they couldn’t talk about it openly – because of their job, or their personally involved friends, or because of the men who’d told them not to… What? …And it included one or two of these here ‘trans-activists’, who just wanted to shout ‘bigot’ at everyone who didn’t agree with them.

An illegal list

Well, that’s not how ‘activism’ works, in my book. I will not tolerate people trying to shout people down, so the ‘political’ part of my blog filled up with stuff about the trans issue – and that led to my name appearing on an (illegal) hit list drawn up by trans ‘activists’ and passed around the internet. I have to thank them for that, I really do. Thanks guys – you know I know who you are, and I know you follow my blog, and try to pick out words that look dodgy on their own – here’s one… bollocks! There, screenshot that – but I do really thank you, because the people who found themselves on that list with me contacted each other and it led to lots of befriending and learning and, in my case, a great piece of book business which I’ll be announcing soon.

The personal is political.

Turbulent Spinsters cover pic
Are they telling you it’s 100 years since women *were given* the vote? That’s not quite what happened.

Yes, that last piece of news demonstrates the point where the separate areas of my blog (and my life) proved not to be separate at all. I found myself ever more involved in women’s groups, I found out I was ‘gender divergent’, and wrote about that. I found stories about trans people preying on women turning up in our story competitions, and one of our poets getting yelled at for writing on a topic others don’t agree with.

On the other side of the non-existent line, I found political comrades being no-platformed, people telling me they dare not speak on topics of concern at meetings, people threatening to campaign against colleagues in the party with the ‘wrong’ opinions on this issue and people telling me they’ve quit the party because they’ve been bullied and barracked by men who are suddenly ‘trans allies’.

Bigots? Transphobes?

At no point in any of this have I found anyone who wants to kick trans people out of the party. I have found very few who want to deny trans people anything at all – just a growing movement of women in the Labour Party saying that a) Labour should have consulted with women before deciding to ignore the ‘sex’ exemption that used to be applied to all-women shortlists, b) a growing movement of women and men who believe that man-to-woman trans people should not have the legal status of women unless they really have ‘transitioned’, medically, psychologically and socially and c) a huge, frightened and confused host of parents who are increasingly worried about organisations going into schools – even primary schools – telling kids of an age that should not be having to worry about such things, that they might have been born in ‘the wrong body’.

Winds of October cover pic
Did you know it was the women factory workers who started the Russian revolution?

Muddy waters

A few dinosaurs have raised their heads in the swampy fog – a very few – people who never really reconciled themselves with the legitimacy of gay and lesbian people, people who were upset by the ‘gender bending’ of my generation in the ’80s and ’90s, and who were upset and confused by transsexuals – but they are few, and really not what all this is about. The trouble is, those people won’t get any wiser because they’re called ‘bigots’, either – and meanwhile silence allows rumours to build, twist and confuse, and brings out more of the weirdest of ideas.

A misleading letter

Out of that confusion, there’s a letter going to the Labour Party, signed by a growing list of members, saying something along the lines of ‘we don’t want to kick transwomen out of the party and we still support Jeremy Corbyn.’ Well, tell me – whoever did want to kick anyone out, and whoever said you can’t support women’s rights AND Jeremy Corbyn?

The Freak and the Idol cover pic
Somewhere inside, there’s always a voice telling you you’re just not doing womanning properly…

Corbyn himself has said this is an issue people can campaign on, so that we all hear and understand each other.

You can’t campaign in silence

A consequence of all that is that I need to change my personal direction – and the buttons on me blog. I am standing down as a CLP officer next week, and bringing 90% of my political effort back where it was before we all piled in to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership bid. That does not mean I don’t support Corbyn’s Labour. You’d be mad not to, when the likely alternative is a Tory govt that couldn’t look after us all even if it wanted to.

From now on, I hope to spend a lot of my time, and blog space, on books by women, books about women, and books about women by women, until everyone knows what we’re on about, and why.

A happy noise

That’s where the unity comes in. Women working together do not all agree. They never did and they never will. After two years spent deeply in cahoots with Corbynite socialists to establish the new, anti-austerity, pro-public ownership Labour Party, I moved into working with women’s groups – groups made up of women from all the fantastically various factions of Labour, women from the Green Party, even some (gasp) women who aren’t in any political parties and, do you know what? We get along!

Forget me Not cover pic
Know anyone who can’t tell the difference between sex and violence? Or between love and possession? Give them a copy of this.

People talk about divisions on the left – well, those are natural and human disagreements, not divisions. Why should we all be the same? That would be tedious. Left, right, or upside down on a Thursday, on the whole, women are better at dealing with difference than men. (Not always. That’s the thing about averages. I’ve learned a lot in the last two years, about dealing with difficulties between people, from our party chair, who is a man of the male persuasion. That doesn’t alter the fact that, in general, women are better at dealing with difference than men are.)

Disagreements between women may be noisy but, as far as I know, they’ve never led to high-tech, country-flattening, commercially funded wars. We need more women in politics, so we can make politics more female in style – if you are un-afraid, arguments are not dangerous. They are better than silence, and always better than wars. Yippee, I’ve switched off the ‘politics here, books there’ button – life just got a bit less snarly!

I identify not 'as' a girl or a woman but 'with' girls and women - Kristina Harrison              Can I self-identify out of being black? - Lina Bellos

womens place 2

Click here for Transgender Trend’s Resource Pack for Schools

The Featured Books

(No, they’re not all about the trans issue – in fact none of them are – they are about women, life, and everything but they’re good books that really help.)

The Sorcery of Smog - cover pic
Hualophilia, autogynephilia, technophobia… and other things that are all in a day’s battle.

The Adventures of Penelope Toomey and other stories

Turbulent Spinsters

The Sorcery of Smog

The Freak and the Idol

Winds of October

Forget Me Not


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