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Sunday, 4 March 2018

It's always good to talk -

The first time I mentioned self-id
I was talking to a male Party colleague.
It was a social thing, really, but the subject came up
and this guy happened to be there.

He admitted he didn't knew much about it.
He didn't even know the terminology.
He didn't know what cis gender was
or the requirements of the current GRA.

I expected maybe not complete understanding
but surely a sympathetic hearing.
We were comrades, weren't we, after all?
We shared the same ideals.

But I was wrong about this man.
He rounded on me fiercely.
WHY couldn't a man be a woman -
if he had a strong 'feeling' - in spite of his penis -
that this was in truth what he was?

These people, they are oppressed, he blustered.
Women are oppressed, I responded.
How can it be right to safeguard
the position of one oppressed minority
via the erasure of the legal category 'women' -
and by taking away without consultation
women's hard won rights?

It's a matter of policy, my comrade insisted.
But he couldn't tell me when this had happened.

What about the promise that 'impact assessment'
for all legislation would be made?
Policies have to be formulated, surely?
When was the membership consulted?
I am a member. I don't recall that happening.
Wasn't it worth mentioning at least?
Exactly when did the party in its infinite wisdom
overrule the facts of human biology?
What about democracy? Wasn't this a test?

He said that all he knew for sure was
'trans women are women'.
How this came about, however,
it really wasn't up to him to say.

If you women don't like it then it's up to you, he said.
You'll have to fight for your rights like in the old days.

He meant it, too. It's OK for the Party
to pull the rug out from under us -
and OK for some men to hang on to their genitals
but call themselves women instead.

© Abigail Elizabeth Ottley

Women are a vital part of the socialist movement – they must be consulted over changes to the Gender Recognition Act

Abigail Elizabeth Ottley writes poetry and short fiction from her home in Penzance where the sea air and beautiful scenery keep her mostly on the right side of sanity.


  1. You link to an article by Ruth Serwotka. Ironically, when I did try to engage with her on Twitter she was abusive and then blocked me. She presumably prefers a grandstand to a discussion. I get the same feeling from this poem tbh...

  2. A fairly confused polemic

  3. Oh that's not very nice. I am happy to welcome sisters-all into my sphere - such as it is. Let's be nice to each other, please.

  4. ...I do realise that there is a world of difference between getting legal recognition and protection for my adopted gender identity, and having that identity accepted by the people around me. And that latter thing is grounded on information, education, discussion, personal interaction. Every trans person is an ambassador in that sense, whether they want to be or not.
    But the present media and ‘feminist’ campaign against GRA reform seems far removed from true duscussion, and intended more to erase such legal protection and medical intervention as trans people can currently access. It seems regressive and reactionary, and I believe repressive to all women- and of course men, as gender policing hits everyone

  5. May I ask what makes this a poem? The fact that you identify it as one? Because it's got damn all in the way of rhythm, feeling for language, skill with words, that would make it one!

  6. If I were to be nasty I'd suggest this reads more like a letter to the Daily Mail than any kind of poem: the language is formal but anaemic, there is no use of image or compression or scansion or any other poetic technique. Chopping prose into lines doesn't make a poem. And of course telling it as a story allows the argument to be slanted the author's way, by using a male to put the case, by using terms like 'bluster' and 'erasure'.

    I think I'd also add that only a minority of women feel threatened like this by what is after all a small and beleagured minority who have terrible experiences of every day prejudice up to and including serious violence. And that is on top of the mental health issues related to acute body dysphoria. As a life long feminist I am disappointed, but then I also recall the similar furore about gay men thirty years ago, which was pretty similar.

  7. Thank you for this poem. It’s vital that our creative output isn’t censored and both sides of this situation need to be discussed.

  8. *Applause* Brava! The censorship of women's voices by men is escalating; and judging by the people responding in such a negative and patronising ways, self ID, or reassignment does nothing to dampen the misogynistic burbling of men. If you think it is a small number of women who are questioning this, you are so far off the mark, and have no idea what women want or feel.

    1. I see no censorship on this issue whatsoever - and indeed I am not a man either. Let's be clear: there is a big difference between vigorous opposition (ie calling this out as rank prejudice) and censorship. Moreover this site clearly has no quality threshold for poetry or they wouldn't have published this independently of the case it was arguing - which is being argued in many other venues too. The low quality does the argument a disservice in fact and I'd strongly suggest this author tries to defend her case in actual prose on a relevant forum.

  9. This is what poetry is uniquely able to do; to get people riled up and angry and get them engaging with issues that they might otherwise shy away from. Whether I agree or disagree with what the poem says is neither here nor there. I found it a stimulating and thought-provoking read, and am pleased it's up here.

    1. On the contrary the discussion is better carried on in prose (though to be fair this was prose in fact) and indeed IS being; at least I have had a number of such discussions on social media. And in prose we can at least abstract away from the fact that this was really very very bad as an attempt at poetry and just focus on content.

  10. Well I think it’s good to talk but some iseem to think it’s only good to agree with them. All proposed changes to legislatoin should be open to discussion surely? I don’t think anyone is objecting to the 2004 GRA so it’s not as if anyone is proposing to put the clock back so to speak. The poem specifically identifies self id as the area of concern for women and let’s face it women have fought a long hard battle to be where they are, any suggestion that their achievements are under threat could be expected to generate concern surely?

  11. I personally found this poem rather powerfull. The the shock of being told by someone more powerful that your voice and experience are of no consequence must surely have resonance with any group in society who feels powerless and voiceless.

    1. Isn't this "poem" telling trans women that their voices and experiences are of no consequence?

    2. No, not at all. I don’t see how you can come to that conclusion from what has been written.

  12. Transphobic terf nonsense, and not a poem in any sense of the word. Transgender women are not men, and recognition and respect for trans women takes nothing away from cisgender women. This is just hate speech, pure and simple.

  13. Thank you to all those who have taken the time out of their day to comment. I am here now just to say that I have only recently seen the comments. Sadly, I am about to leave the house for an important seminar and have no time at the present to reply. Back later this evening. Enjoy your day. :-)

  14. Poetry is a way of looking at things and a form of questioning. This poem does that. Poetry is not designed to be "nice", "pleasing" or non confrontational, nor is it part of being female to be "nice". To have a female poet create a poem which questions a difficult subject in a manner that cannot please all is truly feminist!

    I also would state that be critical of a poems content is an attempt at censorship and silencing and those who attempt to shame, use violent terms to shut a woman's creativity off are following the historic tactics of misogyny. Those that are critical of a poems form are suitably following an English literary tradition when done with clarity.

    1. I'm sorry Ros, but I don't understand why disagreeing with content is censorship? I would gree asking for it to be removed would definitely count as such.

  15. Once again thank you to all those who have taken the time to comment. As it would be very time-consuming to try to reply to everyone individually I propose to make one response in which I will attempt to cover the key points. Firstly, poetry comes - quite literally - in many different forms so, in my opinion, it would be silly to expect any one kind of work, never mind any one piece, to be to everyone's taste. Just this evening I have returned from a lively and interesting session where a dozen pieces were considered. They were all very different and had different purposes. The scope of the work was excellent and a good time was had by all. So, over the years I have tried to avoid narrow concentration on any particular type of work, both in my reading and in my writing. I appreciate, however, that some people may have a different and more limited perspective. I have no issue with that at all although, in poetry circles at least we do try to be respectful of everyone's work. In this instance, the tone, the diction and the form of the piece came about as the result of deliberate choices. To those who don't like them, well that's fine, but it seems to me to be unnecessary to be rude.

  16. Secondly, I would like to point out that there is nothing in the piece that is either 'transphobic' or constitutes 'hate speech'. If the piece has a 'target' at all then that target is the Labour Party which chose go again it's own own promise to make a full impact assessment for women in relation to all its policies when it embraced the principle of self-identification and the proposed changes to the 2004 GRA without, apparently, even thinking to consult its female membership. In fact, this piece is actually a simple narrative giving an account of my own experience of trying to open a discussion with people who I genuinely believed were my colleagues and who would be willing to hear my concerns in an open-minded way. I have added or invented nothing. Again, that was part of the point of the exercise. In the three months that have passed since that encounter took place I have repeatedly experienced attempts to 'shut down' my questions and concerns, not infrequently by means of insults and even threats of violence. I have never responded in kind. It is not 'hate speech' that one disagrees with another person's view no matter how much that person might want to believe that his or her view is the 'right' one. Neither is it 'hate speech' to suggest that it might be a mistake to seek to improve one person's 'rights' by undermining or removing another's and that, this being the case, there should be a full and proper debate.

  17. Thirdly, I would like to address the use of 'TERF'. I am afraid that I do not know any of these supposedly hate-fuelled harridans. The people that I know are just women, some of them lesbians, who have what they feel are valid concerns about the way self-id and the proposed changes to the GRA would impact on women. The truth is I don't know even a single gender critical woman who actually hates - or even dislikes - trans people as people and most have trans people among their friends. What gender critical women object to is the fact that they have not been given - and are not being given a fair hearing because any attempt to voice their concerns is met with accusations of 'transphobia'. It seems to me that there is some danger that 'TERF' will become nothing more than the modern equivalent of 'witch' or 'harlot' and will be bandied about with just as little justification. It is a word that is being used by some to define people, mainly women, as 'other' as a preliminary to dismissing and or attacking them or both. I think that perhaps we should all stop and have a long hard think before letting ourselves go too far in this direction.

  18. Lastly, may I respectfully ask you not to respond to this, my response, with yet more accusations and unpleasantness. There are two reasons for this request. One is that I have done you all the courtesy of a civil response and it would be nice if you could all be civil too. The other is that I simply don't have the time because my life is a busy one. So, now I will bid you goodnight and I will sign off with a short verse. I didn't write it tonight but I keep it by me for occasions such as this one.

    I am myself and no-one else –
    defined and drawn by me –
    and though the style is primitive
    my authenticity

    is proven past all question.
    Beyond price my value soars.
    Here’s fiddlesticks to emperors.
    They cannot me afford.

    Once again, thank you for your time.

  19. Since, as you say, it is always good to talk, it might be helpful to talk with trans people too; your poem concerns a conversation between you and a cis man, after all. I’m no longer a member of the Labour Party and I wasn’t consulted over the proposals to change the GRA; but I am interested to know at what stage and in what manner you think your input should have been sought... this is my response to the concerns about self-id and women’s spaces; I wonder if you could read it and tell me what you think? http://dru-withoutamap.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/down-toilet.html