In April 2019, I wrote an article in The Feminist Current, an online publication founded and run by Canadian feminist Meghan Murphy. Entitled “I supported trans ideology until I couldn’t anymore”, the piece was read widely (TW if you choose to read it).
Now, more than two years later, this is my recantation. But first, there’s a bit of time to be filled in.
Within days of the 2019 article’s release, I was banned permanently from Twitter, based on tweets I’d made about a person (initials JY) whom I’d negatively portrayed in the piece. Largely due to the efforts of Graham Linehan (someone who is either despised or admired by many), my permanent ban was overturned, an occurrence that isn’t common (note: later, I was banned again, and this time, it stuck).
My new connections within the gender-critical community (i.e., those who believe that sex and gender are distinct, that there are only two sexes, and that the rights of women must always stem from sex, not gender) galvanized me to reach out to like-minded Canadian women. Within months, a small national collective formed, to create what is now known as “caWsbar” (Canadian Women’s Sex-Based Rights), an organization that was officially launched in late 2019.
For months I was heavily involved in all things caWsbar. Weekly meetings by phone, frequent messaging, researching topics, helping to write copy for the website, as well as briefs/letters. For quite a while, caWsbar was what I lived and breathed, what I spoke endlessly about with my spouse, parents, closest friends, and children (including my then 9-year-old child).
Much like someone born-again, my speaking about GC issues quickly turned into actual attempts at proselytizing those in my life. To my dismay, people in my life who were intelligent and caring, people who I loved and respected, were never willing to take up arms with me. Instead, they tended to have one of two reactions to my preaching. The first was to listen, agreeably, before changing the topic, seemingly untroubled by what I was saying (Why weren’t they alarmed about the imminent dangers of “gender ideology”?!?!?). The second reaction was much worse, as it involved having those close to me vehemently disagree to such an extent that cracks (perhaps permanent ones) were created in our relationships.
While I was far from ready to question the veracity of my beliefs, I did find it hard to be confident that so many people I loved and respected were on the “wrong side of history”, while I (standing alone), was on the “right”. And so, I turned away from them for confirmation, and towards caWsbar.
I won’t divulge anything private about the organization, but will focus briefly on what is on their public website: caWsbar is “a cross-Canada, non-partisan coalition of women and male allies…”, who welcomes “all Canadians, regardless of political or religious affiliation, to join us…”
Non-partisan. All Canadians, regardless of political affiliation.
That sounded wonderful to me (indeed, I helped write it).
But once such words were put into action, I started to be increasingly uncomfortable with the idea that if anyone else also holds GC views, then at least some sort of connection with them must be a good thing, a welcome thing, even if all of their other beliefs don’t align with yours.
Because, in reality? I wasn’t truly fine with the organization seeking out public figures and politicians I vehemently disagreed with in terms of almost every other ethical issue. I also wasn’t truly fine with having new members join who vehemently disagreed with me on most beliefs.
The assertion (not just necessarily by my organization) that GC ideals were somehow sacrosanct, even if it meant becoming bedfellows with those who were on the other side of the political spectrum from you, made me uneasy.
When, for example, I expressed discomfort to other GC women about being a united front with those who are adamantly pro-life, because for me the legal right to have access to an abortion is a fundamental one, I was dismissed.
“Nothing else can matter,” someone told me, “as long as women are extinguished as a sex category.” No ifs, ands, or buts.
I began to think more and more about what being a member of a non-partisan organization really meant, at least for me.
The idea of aligning with people who were opposed to same-sex marriage or access to abortion, or who were against immigration or against gun control, was increasingly difficult to accept. Such dissonance flowed into questions about what I actually did believe, regarding the fundamental rights of trans people, gender identity, and gender expression.
Relatedly, once the early grunt work of creating an organization was over, I did less and less for caWsbar in terms of true activism, other than research topics or write letters. Even the weekly meetings started to seem too much of a chore. I left most of the work and heavy lifting to the other members, while making excuses for my blatant slacking off.
Privately, my lack of effort puzzled me. I’m quite introverted, but I do have a history of activism, once being highly involved in autism awareness (two of my sons are autistic). At the time, I regularly wrote a community blog, spoke at events and on panels, and was on the radio and in a few publications. I at least tried to walk the walk, when it came to increasing understanding about ASD, because I had wanted it so much. So what did me now avoiding GC activism actually mean?
Could it be that I didn’t really want it? That I didn’t really believe the views I’d been spouting?
By early December, 2020, it was becoming clear to many (myself included), that I wasn’t fully “in”. It was then that I officially left caWsbar.
A few months later, I noticed an online GC feminist thread in which others were chastising all-things Biden, as he’d recently signed an executive order regarding gender legislation. As a dual citizen who lives in Canada, I don’t take my right to vote in the US election lightly.
“I voted Biden”, I posted.
The responses were swift.
“Sorry to hear that you’re mentally ill. Hope you get help for that.”
“You should try joining the Klan while you’re at it. Make change from within.”
“Thanks for helping to drag our sex based rights & protections over the cliff. With your eyes wide open. Woke.”
And, best of all, “Leftie!!!!”
That’s when it hit me. Yes. One hundred percent, yes. That’s who I am!
The reason I voted for Biden, Clinton, and Obama, the reason I voted for Trudeau, for that matter, was because liberal-based policies, philosophies, and legislation have always fit with who I am. Could the reason I’d left a non-partisan group be for similar reasons? More pointedly, could the reason I left also be because I’d begun to shift back towards my original beliefs regarding trans’ rights and gender, beliefs that were more congruent to how I think of and perceive the world?
And then there’s my eldest kid. Once a sensitive, compassionate, and intelligent child, who’s now a sensitive, compassionate, and intelligent man. When I was first pontificating about my GC ideals, a few years ago, I assumed he’d be onside. We’d always shared similar views, after all.
How wrong I was.
“Mom”, he said. “You know I’ll always love you, but I’m really upset about this. Your views are hurtful. I never thought I’d say this to you, but I’m really disappointed.”
My kid is disappointed in me? What?
“You raised me to accept everyone, regardless of differences. To not be a bystander, let alone a bigot. To embrace diversity!”
“I still believe all of that,” I said. I was about to say more, but he turned away, wanting to be careful, before too many cracks could form.
For almost two years, whenever we talked, I avoided speaking to him about my GC views. Still, I remained convinced that I was in the right. He was young, after all, not to mention male. He couldn’t possibly understand the issues like I did.
Since leaving caWsbar, I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with how fixed and impermeable my beliefs were. I’ve also begun processing what having so many people in my life (whose opinions I’ve always valued) not agree with my GC ideas, could mean. What if, during the last few years, when family and friends had either listened indulgently to me, left the room in anger, or avoided conversations, it had been me who possibly had been missing the point?
Could my insistence that the definition of woman must be rooted solely in “material reality”, possibly have been missing the point? Could my insistence that trans women couldn’t possibly be “real” women possibly have been missing the point?
Relatedly, could the trans community’s (and allies’) demand to have equal rights, possibly be based on a legitimate refusal to be discriminated against, versus any nefarious or selfish plan?
What if science (with all of its limitations) had yet to fully catch up to valid human experience? What if science never catching up was okay, because human experience isn’t solely tethered to “absolute” material reality?
And, why had I, a former psychologist, thrown emotion, authenticity, and self-identity out of the equation, as if they were trivial, unimportant, and irrelevant, rather than what formed the very foundation of my former field?
Finally, what if my eldest child’s innate integrity and compassion for fellow people, was something that I desperately needed to learn from?
I’ve begun to realize that I’ve been trying to trudge through the muck of cognitive dissonance for the last two years, and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of fighting, even half-heartedly, for a cause I no longer support. I suppose I want to reclaim who I am and what I believe in, rather than what I thought I should.
So what does this mean, exactly, in terms of advocacy, allyship, or my beliefs about trans people, gender identity, or gender expression?
I don’t know. I really don’t.
But I suppose that’s the point. Recognizing that I actually don’t have all of the answers (including not having a clue what it is like for anyone to experience unrelenting gender dysphoria, for example). Because it turns out that such a recognition brings with it relief, to finally let go of an ideology that never fully fit.
I find life is much better when I can admit that I’m not smart enough to be so certain about the human condition. What I can be is curious. What I can be is someone who wants to learn about what it turns out she doesn’t actually understand. What I can try to be is kind.
What others may call a cop-out, or a weakness, or being a “handmaiden/mentally ill/in denial/overly emotional/a Leftie”, others might say is a willingness to be vulnerable. Part of that means acknowledging that I was wrong, that I hurt a lot of wonderful people by what I wrote, and that I’m truly sorry. And there’s at least a bit of strength in that, I think.