Protesting Stonewall – Lesbians Up Against the Wall

“We’re here to remind Stonewall what a lesbian is, on Lesbian Visibility Day. This is Stonewall’s supposed Workplace Equality Conference. There is no equality for women in the workplace when women are forced to pretend that men are also women. Stonewall gaslights lesbians. Stonewall promotes the censorship of women and exclusion of women from the workplace, and Stonewall forces women to share their private spaces with men.”                             

Julia Long

Lesbian Visibility Day originated in America and has been celebrated annually on April 26 since 2008.

Stonewall is the main LGBT organisation in the UK. It was founded in 1989 by a small group of people who had fought against Section 28. Their aim was to ‘create a professional lobbying group that would prevent such attacks on lesbians, gay and bi people from ever occurring again’.

In 2003 Stonewall was granted charitable status. Over the years Stonewall has fought successfully for many equality goals such as the equalisation of the age of consent, allowing lesbians and gay men to serve in the military, advocating for legalising civil partnerships and then for same-sex marriage. So you would be forgiven for thinking that Stonewall’s main focus on Lesbian Visibility Day (LVD) might have been lesbians.

But no.  Stonewall’s Twitter banner on LVD sported an image of some burly sportsmen. Not a lesbian in sight.

There’s a good reason for this. Lesbian and gay marriage became legal in the UK in 2014.  In 2015, perhaps in need of a new battle, Stonewall became, in its own words, ‘trans inclusive’.

On Stonewall’s website you can download 13 posters to celebrate Trans Day of Visibility. I couldn’t find any posters for Lesbian Visibility Day, but it’s possible I didn’t look hard enough. Their 2017 video for LVD features a young woman who used to ‘define as’ lesbian but is now ‘non binary, gender fluid or gender queer’ and ex-Royal Marine transwoman Katie (nominated for a ‘Woman of the Year’ award) who is glad LVD validates his sexual orientation. The young woman who speaks last speaks of how “trans women, black women and working class women all make up our (lesbian) community.”

In an article for Stonewall’s Lesbian Day of Visibility this year, a young woman staff member writes “Claiming a lesbian identity was exciting and terrifying… I came out to my mom again this year when I told her I was non-binary and tried to explain I was still me and I was still a lesbian. Some people don’t understand how I can be both, but it’s not for those people to understand. My gender, my sexuality, they’re just that: mine.”

Another warns her fellow lesbians about the ‘wrong’ sort of lesbians. “..there are lesbians who wish to weaponise our sexuality against others in the community. Being a lesbian in 2019 to me means I can be proud and secure in my gender and sexuality and that doesn’t have to invalidate anyone else’s.”

Erin Walters-Williams in the same article writes about ‘living the lesbian dream’ but his Tweets on LVD made it pretty clear what he really thinks about women who are same-sex attracted.

A third talks of how hard it is to accept lesbian as a label. “Even now it can make me feel uncomfortable” and another wears a ‘Some People are Queer’ TV shirt.

So much for same-sex attraction. In post-2015 Stonewall, there is no place for lesbians who define themselves as such. In post-2015 Stonewall, lesbians are problematic unless they are willing to accept men as women.

In fact, you might well have missed Lesbian day of Visibility altogether. Nobody even seems quite sure if it’s Lesbian Day of Visibility of Lesbian Visibility Day.

The Independent ran a short article celebrating LVD- with some interesting words in the link  ‘lesbian-visibility-day-trans-rights-lgbt-terf’ and author Ella Braidwood made sure to include a reprimand to those who might want to exclude men from their lesbianism.

‘It’s also important to call out the disgraceful views of a small number of lesbians, who oppose rights for trans people and will try to hijack this Lesbian Visibility Day.’

So, lesbians who don’t believe men should have the right to call themselves lesbians are ‘disgraceful’ and are trying to ‘hijack’ that right from those men. Happy Lesbian Visibility Day indeed. Oh, the irony.

No wonder lesbians are pissed off.

The QEII (or QE2) centre at Westminster

Not only was Stonewall not putting much energy into celebrating LVD, but April 26th 2019 was the morning of its Workplace Equality Conference (or Coinference as some referred to it, tickets costing up to an eye-watering  £514) and a group of lesbians and allies had gathered outside the QE2 centre in protest at what they view as Stonewall’s betrayal.

When I arrived at about ten thirty, most of the women were already there. We could see people milling around in the upstairs gallery, through the huge plate glass windows that lined the building.

Some women had attempted to fasten a banner to the railings behind them but had been ticked off by security, who made a half-hearted attempt to move them over onto the pavement. Janice had somehow managed to get inside the conference and was texting messages to people outside.

“I was just wandering around in there.” she told us later. “I sat down near the stage: the microphones cover quite a big area so I was hoping to get up and do my shouting from there. At lunchtime I was pointing at you lot and I was saying to people ‘Oh, who are those protestors? They don’t look scary. They’re pro-lesbian. What’s going on?’ and trying to get some discussion going. People were saying ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ and looking curious. I think somebody must have said something about me, they recognised me and I could see security were going to come over so I just started shouting at the top of my voice, ‘Transmen are women! Let lesbians be lesbians! Stop transing children! Transing children is child abuse! Transwomen are men. Science not ideology!’ and I kept on repeating those things. I walked around so people couldn’t stand in front of me and silence me. I was surprised they didn’t call security sooner. Then two big men came and I got carried out. I almost tripped one of them up as they moved me, but they were just doing their job really. I said to them ‘I know you’re just doing your job.‘ Then they put me in the lift. I shouted a bit more as the lift doors closed.”

We all clapped and cheered.  Janice seemed unfazed by the experience and I was gobsmacked by both her bravery and good humour.

“We’re everywhere, Stonewall!” one woman called up to the conference room and everyone laughed again.

While Janice was seizing the moment inside, in the sunshine outside the other women had unfurled their banners and taken up position opposite the conference hall.

“Today is a day of lesbian visibility,” called out Julia. “We’re here to remind Stonewall what a lesbian is because Stonewall has forgotten. Get the L out of LGBT. Stonewall has betrayed lesbians. Get both the Ls out of Stonewall, so that it’s just Stone-waaaaa!”

“Shame on you wealthy corporations that send your delegates to do the work of male supremacy!” called Julia. “This is Stonewall’s agenda and you lot are swallowing it hook line and sinker. Shame on you Stonewall, and shame on you for attending!”

 

It seems astonishing that Stonewall would support a ideology that erases the age-old definition of being a lesbian, that a woman who loves women is a female homosexual, that she is same-sex attracted, not attracted to an elusive inner sense of gender identity that can be found lurking within a penis.

And yet here we are.

 

Here is the Stonewall definiton of a lesbian.

Nothing there about same sex attraction or being a female homosexual, so let’s have a look and see how they define woman.

Oh. They don’t.

But they do have a definition for transgender woman…

So can this person ‘assigned male at birth’ actually be a lesbian? Let’s ask Stonewall…

 There’s your answer. Of course! Also, you can be a woman sometimes, if you want, or you can be neither a man or a woman. Stonewall believes that the right to self define as such, and to coerce those around you to comply with this self-declared transformation should be enshrined in law.

No wonder lesbians are pissed off.

 

For lesbian women, those who supposedly lead the LGBT acronym adopted by Stonewall, this betrayal is vast, running somewhat along these lines:

‘First and foremost’ we need to redefine reality, change the meaning of words. Male bodied people can be women. Women can have penises. Lesbians can have penises. If a lesbian doesn’t want to have sex with someone purely on the grounds that they have a penis, she is transphobic.

This statement below, which would have been considered completely reasonable and rational just a few decades ago, is now seen as both transphobic and hateful.


No wonder lesbians are pissed off.

The mid morning break came and a few attendees stepped outside, mostly smokers. A police officer came over, very smiley and gentle, and reassured us that it was our right to protest, but that people inside the building had called the police. He said he could see we weren’t causing any trouble. He asked how long we were likely to be there and if we had a sound system. I was tempted to say that we didn’t need a sound system because we had Julia, but I told him no, we didn’t. He drifted off and some of us began handing leaflets out to passers by.

Some people smiled and seemed keen to read about what was going on. Others put their heads down, or shook them. I was happy to hand out leaflets; I got to coo over a couple of adorably cute babies, always a bonus of interacting with the public.

“It’s so lovely to have young lesbians join us,” said Sheila.

She sang a rousing chorus of ‘Maybe it’s because I’m a lesbian that I love women so,’ which I videoed and texted it to my daughter at uni who hadn’t yet got out of bed.

“Maybe it’s because I’m a lesbian

That I love women so

Maybe it’s because I’m a lesbian

That I think of them

Wherever I go.

I get a funny feeling inside of me

Just knowing they are near

Maybe it’s because I’m a lesbian

That I hold women dear 

-get out the closet! –

that I hold women dear”

‘Happy Lesbian Visibility Day!‘ I texted Jessie.

‘OMG Queen’ she texted back.

The Lesbian Rights Alliance were there, and they also had a leaflet which they were handing out.

Lunchtime came. A group of conference attendees gathered by one of the exits. One of our number drifted over to them and was scolded crossly by a security guard ‘Go back over there! You’re not allowed over here!”

Two more police officers turned up, saying they had been called by people inside. They were polite and chatty. One told us he’d been on that beat for nearly 20 years. He said it was fine for us to be there. Hannah talked to him about netball.

Dee and her friend spoke to two young women attending the conference. One looked nervous, saying, “Come on, let’s go, we don’t want to talk to them.” She scuttled away, but the other stayed.

I think what you’re doing is hateful,’ she told Dee.

Dee, of a similar age, explained how hard it had been for her growing up in Europe as a young lesbian, of the violence and bullying she had faced and how important the word ‘lesbian’ was to same-sex attracted women.

She was told in all seriousness that things weren’t so bad for lesbians any more.

“We cis women must support the most oppressed, and that’s transwomen, especially transwomen of colour.

I hope I’ve given you something to think about,” she concluded as she headed back into the building.

“Yes, I hope we’ve given you food for thought too,” replied Dee.

“Oh no,” the young woman laughed a little too lightly. “I won’t be changing my mind. I still think what you’re doing is hateful.”

Overhearing the exchange depressed me slightly.One thing the young woman had said stuck in my head.

“If we can’t agree on the definition of words, we can’t have a proper conversation.”

Yet whose fault is it if we can’t agree on the definition of words any more? Who has changed the definition of woman? Who has changed the definition of lesbian?  You take away our words and then you say you can’t discuss it with us because they now have different meanings, and trying to reclaim the old ones is hateful and old-fashioned.

You take away our words.

My pensiveness was broken by the realisation that some of the women had broken into a chorus of ‘Wonderwall’. Wonderwall? Why?

But it wasn’t ‘Wonderwall’.  It was ‘Bonerwall’.

Today is gonna be the day that you finally understand

By now, they should’ve somehow realised that you’re just for trans

I can’t believe that any lesbians don’t realise the truth about you now.

Back beat, the word was on the street that the letter in your heart was T

I’m sure, they’ve heard it all before, you don’t care about the LGB

I can’t believe that any lesbian doesn’t feel the way I do about you now.

And all the links we ever shared are broken

Your hate’s in every word you’ve written or spoken

There are many things that I would like to say to you

and I’ll do that now

You’re traitors

You’re homophobes and betrayers

Cos after all, you are Boner Wall.”

Lunchtime came and went, and eventually so did we, off to the pub for well earned drinks and some lunch.

I had a vegan bean burger. It was delicious.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

The Gendered Child

Where does a child get its sense of gender?

There are certainly some biological differences between girls and boys. Firstly, girls have XX chromosomes and boys have XY, except in very rare intersex conditions. You cannot change your chromosomes. It doesn’t matter if you like princesses or pirates, if archaeologists dig up your bones in two hundred years time, they’ll be able to tell if you were a man or a woman. It’s in your DNA. Girls and boys are born not only with different genitalia but with different hormone levels. But as the nature/nurture debate rages I become more and more convinced that boys and girls would have far fewer differences if we stopped shoving them into pink and blue boxes.

A study conducted by the University of Indiana reported that there is no difference in the athletic abilities of pre-pubescent children. They analysed the data of nearly two million swims and found that there was no difference in performance between boys and girls aged eight, and only little difference until the teenage years when puberty kicked in.

“The typical girl is slightly shorter than the typical boy at all ages until adolescence. She becomes taller shortly after age 11 because her adolescent spurt takes place two years earlier than the boy’s. At age 14 she is surpassed again in height by the typical boy, whose adolescent spurt has now started, while hers is nearly finished. In the same way, the typical girl weighs a little less than the boy at birth, equals him at age eight, becomes heavier at age nine or 10, and remains so until about age 141/2.”

                                                                                             Encycolpædia Britannica

So the physical differences between pre-pubescent boys and girls are slight.

What about the psychological and temperamental differences?

Are boys really naturally inclined to be louder, more boisterous, more physical and aggressive and girls to be empathic, calm, creative and compliant?

While we certainly see some differences in behaviour, it is hard to tell to what extent they are biological or cultural- because we start gendering our children before they are born.

Think I’m exaggerating?

I recently watched an episode of Marie Kondo’s show (well obviously, anything rather than tidy up). A couple were expecting their first child and as they watched it move on a scan, they joked that the baby was ‘flexing like daddy’. My ears pricked up right away and yes, the baby was, of course, a boy. While there is obviously no reason whatsoever why a girl foetus might not flex just as effectively as her male counterpart, it isn’t a verb we tend to associate with girls.

The small differences between boys and girls at birth become amplified over time, as society, teachers and parents- often unintentionally- reinforce gender stereotypes.

One study showed that mothers of new born boy babies tended to describe them as ‘stronger’ although there was nothing to suggest this was the case.   Another showed that when mothers estimated their babies’ ability to crawling down slopes, mothers of girls underestimated their performance and mothers of boys overestimated their performance. This bias had no basis in fact. Girls and boys achieve early motor milestones such as reaching, sitting, crawling and walking at roughly the same ages. 

So where do small children get a sense of gendered behaviour?

Dressing the Gendered Child

I decided to visit a large Primark store and photograph the children’s clothing there. The following photos were all taken on the same day. Here are some of the boy’s clothes.

And here are some of the girls’ clothes.

The ‘little but wild’ boy-child is ‘kind of a big deal’. He is a ‘cool dude’ who knows how to ‘make some noise’ and he is ‘ always hungry’. ‘Mummy’s little superhero’ is raised knowing ‘I am the future’.

‘Daddy’s girl’ is ‘pretty like mummy’. She is ‘lovely all the time’ and will ‘keep on dreaming’ until her ‘time to shine’.  According to Primark, frilly laced socks are ‘essentials’ for a girl, and to top it all the kid is expected to nap comfortably in a babygro with a fucking tutu attached to it!

And if that’s not enough, here are some swimwear options.

 

Socialising the Gendered Child

Outside home life, clubs and school, a child’s reading matter plays a big part in their socialisation.  For every issue of First News or Aquila there are a score of lesser publications. Think The Economist and New Scientist surrounded by copies of lads mags and Cosmo. Check out the magazine shelves in your local newsagents. I went to a nearby Tesco, the same day that I visited Primark, to see what was on offer.

 

Here are the girls’ magazines. They are pastel shades of pink, purple and baby blue, adorned with sparkles and a sprinkle of friendship and caring; the free gifts are cheap plastic jewellery, shiny secret notebooks and endless unicorn stickers. This week I saw no make up or nail polish, but it is not an uncommon free gift with these magazines.

Animals and You magazine (far right) embraces a plethora of pink hearts and sparkly wrapped flying horses. Why? It’s a magazine about animals! How many boys look longing at the cover but never dare ask for it, having received the message loud and clear that a love of cute kittens is strictly for the girls?

 

The boys’ magazines are bold in primary colours. The covers promise adventure and heroism inside;  there are robot armies to be vanquished and villains to be thwarted; free gifts are badges and ‘epic’ puzzles but mostly gun-like apparatus for shooting frisbees or sponge balls.

Paw Patrol magazine (far right) has removed the one female character from the line up on its cover. Presumably the publishers were worried about putting the boys off, because in the same way that kittens are for the girls, action and adventure is strictly for the boys.

Books and DVDs do not fare much better. I checked out what was on sale in my local charity shop.

Again and again, it’s the story of the fairy and the superhero, the princess and the pirate.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Horrid Henry breaks the cannibals’ curse! Dirty Bertie the pirate brandishes his cutlass; monsters create mayhem and football stars are  made.

Barbie tosses back her hair as she poses with Pegasus, Sabrina the fairy spreads the gift of sweet dreams and the ‘Best Friends Club’ share stories of ‘crushes and blushes’.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Dora in 2004 and Dora in 2019

And, excuse my Spanish, what the very fuck have they done to Dora the Explorer? Dora was a firm favourite of my older kids. With her short bobbed haircut and her little pot belly, she took no nonsense from anyone and was fazed by nothing. Now she has long hair and a Colgate smile and she’s wearing a V-necked dress and earrings.

 

Of course, girls can choose to ask for magazines from the ‘boys’ section. My older kids were obsessed with Ben 10 and smallest has a boy friend who will happily peruse the pages of  Animals and You. These days the ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ sections of toyshops are rarely marked as such, although a quick glimpse tells kids who ‘belongs’ where. Girls, if you’re expected to like it, it’s probably available in pink.

The less conventional choices are harder for the less confident child; the child who values the importance of playing the gender game even if it leaves them feeling uncomfortable.

Ask yourself what might happen when that child is introduced to the GIRES penguins, to Introducing Teddy and to I Am Jazz? What happens when the child is led to believe that their choice in clothing or magazines might – just might- mean they were actually born the ‘wrong’ sex?

Celebrating the Gendered Child

Ever tried to find a birthday card for a girl that had a football on it? I popped into the newsagent where I top up my Oyster card and had a look at the cards on display. Happy birthday, Gendered Child.

Pink, pink, pink. Hearts and flowers, trinkets and corsets, frills and tiaras, that’s what little girls are made of. Make a wish, Princess.  Meanwhile, the pirate has found the treasure and go Spiderman,  but I’d love to see a birthday card that told a girl she was ‘amazing, brave and clever’. As for the two cards top left, both offer advice. The boy is told to ‘have a brilliant time that’s fun the whole day through’ and the girl is advised to ‘put your favourite outfit on and give us all a twirl’.

 

Cleaning the Gendered Child

I think that’s probably enough now, don’t you?

Let Toys be Toys

Although I haven’t dealt with toys in this piece – that subject really needs an article all of it’s own – I was inspired to write this after seeing  an announcement by an organisation I’ve always admired, Let Toys Be Toys (LTBT).  LTBT has always fought to break down the stereotypes surrounding children’s toys, to discourage gendered packaging and ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ sections in toy shops.

“Children should feel free to play with the toys that most interest them. Isn’t it time that shops stopped limiting children’s imagination by telling them what they ought to play with?”

LTBT website

 

So imagine my surprise when LTBT made this announcement on Twitter a few days ago.

It stopped me dead in my tracks. Had their account been hijacked? By the time the Tweet was visible to many of us, it was April Fools Day –  was it a rather tasteless joke?

 

 

 

 

 

A few hours later Let Toys be Toys posted another Tweet, this time claiming there was no one way or right way to be a girl.

Yet at the same time they were defending their earlier Tweet, commenting, “Let Toys Be Toys has supporters with a range of views on gender, but crucially we unite behind the message that narrow stereotypes are bad for everyone.”

It all sounds very nice, but you can’t have it both ways. It doesn’t make sense.

Let Toys Be Toys, for years you’ve been telling kids that boys and girls should not be defined by the books and toys they like playing with, the clothes they wear or the games and hobbies they enjoy, and bravo for that. Now – BAM – you’re telling them that it isn’t their biology that makes them a boy or a girl either.

So when you say there’s no right way to be a girl – presumably you now believe that being a boy can also be included in that?

Where does a child get its sense of gender?

Let Toys Be Toys, please answer me this: where does a small child get its sense of gender, if not from social experiences?

How can you possibly have a transgender child without stereotypes?

Who has got to you, or infiltrated your organisation: who is making you betray the very principles LTBT was founded on?

I don’t really expect an answer. 

  I never thought I’d see the day when Mermaids and Let Toys Be Toys were playing for the same side.

Happy Easter, Gendered Child.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment