On the recent experience of nearly being no-platformed
There are two identities in one when it comes to being part of a disempowered minority. The first is for yourself: all your failings, your insecurities, your doubts, and connected to this, your curiosity and quirks. Let's be Lacanian analysts for a moment: what we're talking about is the transgender imaginary, your autonomous self such as it is. You have doubts and ask questions internally and even externally. You may even think you have solutions. For me a few months ago, this involved confronting my slow-burning, eternal-flame impostor syndrome as a trans woman, intensified by the isolation of lockdown. Without a real-world society to verify my transness, and with only a flatmate for company, I thought about Third Spaces for non-binary people and trans people like me, be it in the form of public restrooms or prison cells, hospital wards or refuges and shelters.
I said at the time that I believed trans people needed a choice, and that trans women should continue to have the choice between their current option of women-only spaces (safeguards permitting, as they currently, legally exist), or Third Spaces. I didn't think this was so contentious. I even discovered a petition calling for such a Third-Space provision, which I signed and re-tweeted. I'm aware the petition was created by two transwomen who are proudly gender-critical, Fionne Orlander and Miranda Yardley. I didn't think much of it at the time, I even exchanged messages with Fionne and Miranda afterwards, they seemed perfectly nice as people, and I've always been a coalitionist. In a criticism of my signing of this petition, apparently the wording of the petition suggests trans women shouldn't use women-only spaces. I guess I missed this subtlety, my focus was on wanting the Third Space for myself while recognizing other trans women will prefer and continue to have the right to use women-only spaces.
Connected to this notion of working with others, part of my motivation came, more controversially, I know, from acknowledging the need for natal women to safeguard women-only spaces. Unlike some or even many trans people, I believe there is a universal natal female experience founded in reproductive rights and the fear of male violence. I even altered my Twitter profile (now removed) to include the twin columns of my developing, personal position: Trans Rights are Human Rights; Women's Sex-Based Rights are Human Rights. This belief doesn't alter my position on the right of trans women to access women-only spaces (safeguards permitting, as they currently, legally exist), but it does mean I'm careful in how I communicate trans rights, not out of entitlement but in respectful recognition of natal women's anxieties.
So far, so imaginary, in the Lacanian sense. But Lacan also talks about the second of his triad, the Symbolic. It is the Law, the Social, it is Language, and Ideology. It controls the way we behave and think in the plural, social sense (you'll notice Freud says similar things about the difference between ego and superego, which Lacan can be said to have adapted). Its presence emerged last week for me as I prepared to give a talk about my PhD at my university for the Staff Pride Network whom I've worked with as a volunteer since 2016. They were facing some online pressure to remove me as a speaker for my new views on Third Spaces and the implications of this for other trans women. As I've said, I believe trans women should continue to have this right, but I've told the Staff Pride Network that I'll re-assert my position here so that it's clear and unambiguous. So here it is again: trans women should have the right to access women-only spaces, as they already do, and as is enshrined between two pieces of legislation, the 2004 Gender Recognition Act and the 2010 Equality Act.
Let me close this blogpost by referencing the third part of Lacan's psychoanalytic triad, the Real. It represents in our mental processes the absence of language. It is trauma or ennui, melancholy or depression, or worse. For the longest time, trans people in the Anglophone Global North didn't have a language that allowed us to make sense of our selves within a social setting, so we lived with the bewilderment, the trauma, the shame, of gender dysphoria. We have found a language now, and even a set of policy goals, but I think it's still a work in progress as it always will be. The language we use will never be perfect for all of us, there will always be some trans people who feel one way, and others who see things a completely different way. For political, activist reasons, some will feel compelled to police this language and related activist goals. I understand this compulsion, I feel it myself sometimes. But it doesn't hurt to acknowledge diverse ways of seeing trans identity and acknowledging diverse aspirations. Seeing such diversity can be achieved in all kinds of ways, for me partly via research: as those who listened to my talk at the Staff Pride Network event will know, my PhD partly covers the disconnect in North America between mainstream, white, middle-class trans policy goals and those from communities of trans women of colour who want something entirely different at a structural level. It can also be through introspection, to immerse oneself in an exercise of empathy and try to understand what others see. I'm not a social-policy wonk or a healthcare specialist. I'm a student of the fine arts and I love complexity and contradictions, the seeing things from different perspectives, the clash between the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real. My recent excursions into introspection ultimately represent my own human clash of processes, and even more so than being trans, I'm also only human.