This Is What Solidarity Looks Like
15th May 2019
Last weekend, Helen Steel was forced off a protest walk across moors at a camp organised by the Land Justice Network. This happened not because of anything that Helen had done or said at the actual camp, but because individuals objected to views she had previously expressed regarding the impact of gender identity theory on women’s rights. She was told that a decision had been made prior to the camp starting that she would not be welcome. Although Helen had been at the camp from the first day, she was only told she wasn’t welcome after the ‘action’ ramble had left the camp – leaving her to walk back across the moor alone. Fortunately two comrades walked in solidarity with her, one of them (like Helen) a founder member of the Land Justice Network.
Whether calculated or not, the impact of this treatment was to give a very public and demeaning punishment to someone who has voiced opinions which differ from those of the activists who inflicted it. None of the small subset of the organisers who were involved in making this decision were prepared to either publicly explain themselves or to give Helen a right of response. There were others on the site who shared opinions similar to Helen’s who were not asked to leave. The claimed justification for treating Helen so shabbily was that she is a hateful transphobic bigot. We do not believe that Helen is a bigot.
Helen is a feminist who holds beliefs based on basic biology, that humans are a dimorphic species and it is not possible to biologically change sex. Her view prioritises objective facts above personal subjective feelings when looking at how we should try to change society and dismantle oppressive social constructs such as gender stereotypes.
This was the third time that Helen has been threatened or evicted from political events in this way and others have received similar treatment. The idea that questioning gender identity theory amounts to bigotry and ‘hatred’ of trans people is justifying the exclusion of people from the movement. The effect of this is that many are afraid to express an opinion on the issue or even to ask any questions about it, and the end result is that most do not understand different perspectives on the issue. Progressive movements are supposed to work on the basis of mass participation; it is only through the honest exchange of views and varied life experiences that we are able to understand the implications of power dynamics, policies and laws and able to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected.
It is out of order to single out one individual to be excommunicated, hounded, physically assaulted and humiliated for views which many other progressive people in our radical networks share. No comrade deserves to be treated so shabbily, much less comrades whose commitment to social justice is undoubted and who have suffered so many attacks from both Corporate and State power.
This has to stop. It is time to make up your mind. Do you really think Helen Steel is a bigot?
Even if we disagree with some of her views, wouldn't you agree that her motivation is not hatred, but her experiences of sexism and wanting to dismantle it?
Maybe you need to look into the issues and do some reading and thinking before you can decide. Fair enough. But now is the time to do this. [Suggestions and a brief description of a gender-critical perspective on this issue are in the Appendix]
As we’ve said many times before – an attack on one is an attack on all.
If you don’t think Helen is a bigot then you must acknowledge that the way she is being treated by people in our movement is wrong.
We need to talk about this.
It is time to speak up.
& in alphabetical order...
Abigail Elizabeth Rowland
Aida Akmar Kaman
Amelia ap Ellis
Annie Gwillym Walker
Cambridge Radical Feminist Network
Clare B Dimyon
Cllr Andrew Cooper
Cllr Imogen Makepeace
Cllr Shane Collins
Darina Roche Kiang
Dr Lesley Semmens
Jane Clare Jones
Karen Ingala Smith
Maureen K Doll
Meg Edgoose Clubley
Obi - Raymundo Obedencio
Orla Ní Chomhraí
Peter Le Mare
Raquel Rosario Sanchez
S J Smith
Sue Quinn Aziz
Women's Voices Matter
(448 names 10/6/19. To be added email firstname.lastname@example.org))
NB - This is an outline of gender critical views such as those held by Helen Steel, given here to clarify where she is coming from on this issue, and not all signatories to the letter necessarily agree. This can be a complex issue and there isn't space to fully explore this, please do look into it further.
Gender and its associated stereotypes is damaging to all of society and especially to women and must be challenged, but as women's oppression is based on biological sex, biology is important. Trans people should absolutely be accorded every human right, and these rights must be defended. Their struggle should be recognised, they should be treated with respect and dignity and without prejudice. A compassionate society should treat trans people as if they were their preferred sex up to the point at which this brushes up against the rights of another oppressed group. The point at which these rights conflict with each other is the space in which we need sensitive but thorough debates to occur, if sensible solutions and compromises are to be reached.
However, if we are forced to believe, at the threat of exclusion or accusation of bigotry, that trans people actually are the opposite sex because they believe themselves to be so, not only are we being asked to deny material reality but the logical conclusion of this view leads society down some regressive paths.
Examples of such would be that if transwomen are actually female, then they can also be lesbians (as many claim to be), and female lesbians are subsequently pressured into accepting male bodied people into their communities and their sexualities (if you don't think this is a thing look up 'lady-dick', 'man-pussy' or the 'cotton-ceiling'. Many lesbians are very worried and gay men are also starting to recognise the pressure to be attracted to people with vaginas as an attack on homosexual rights).
Another example would be the societal pressure which may lead gender non-conforming children down trans pathways which may result in lifelong medicalisation, sexual disappointment and irreversible bodily alterations. A final example being the opprobrium directed by some in the transgender movement at trans people who acknowledge their biological sex, labelling them with the slur 'truscum'.
If it is gender and not sex that is to be the yardstick, then sex segregated spaces or sports (for which our foremothers fought) become meaningless. All of society will be impacted, but the burden inevitably falls heaviest on women.
For further reading on this see:
http://notthenewsinbriefs.wordpress.com/ – for an intro to the issue.
http://womansplaceuk.org/ (a campaigning group established by left-wing feminists, socialists, anarchists and trade unionists)
www.janeclarejones.com – for a funny and frank take on trans issues from a feminist philosopher – especially good on picking apart the academic Judith Butler-esque intellectual scaffolding holding up trans issues, with an illuminating article on the difference between gay rights and trans rights.
Mrkhvoice.com – for how intersex issues are entirely distinct from trans.
fairplayforwomen.com (particularly on the sports issue)
Rebecca Reilly Cooper -https://aeon.co/essays/the-idea-that-gender-is-a-spectrum-is-a-new-gender-prison
transgendertrend.com (particularly on the impact on children and young people)
Helen's own words on her views https://helensteel12.wordpress.com/2017/12/26/my-speech-to-a-womens-place-public-meeting-in-cambridge-on-23rd-nov-2017/
More about Helen Steel
Since leaving school at 17, Helen has worrked as a minibus driver, bar worker, trainee electrician, and council gardener.
She has been a dedicated and lifelong unpaid activist in the following movements and campaigns (sometimes playing a pivotal but 'behind-the-scenes' role in some of the core groups involved): environmental, anti-nuclear, animal rights, housing, anti-fascist / anti-racist, prisoner-solidarity, feminist, labour movement (including being a shop steward for many years), anti-poll tax, anarchist, freedom to protest,land rights, family justice campaigns, anti-blacklisting, Earth First!, anti-capitalist, opposing multinational corporations (including being one of the 2 'McLibel' defendants successfully defending campaigners' rights to challenge censorship), local community issues (eg via residents groupsnd Friends of Parks), and most recently anti-spycops campaigning (exposing and challenging the police infiltration of campaign groups, especially the deceitful and abusive intimate relationship formed with women by officers while undercover - Helen was one fo the women affected).
Helen's unstinting opposition to oppression, bullying and censorship, and unwavering solidarity with others up against the rich and powerful or facing the legal system has been an inspiration to many of us.