As the rights of trans people are being endlessly examined, discussed and made the subject of official inquiries, women are yet again being asked to compromise.
The segregation of spaces and services by sex is under sustained attack for not being ‘inclusive’ enough, and to this end it is currently being framed solely from the perspective of those being ‘left out.’ It sounds mean when presented that way: it sounds like mean girls are manning the barricades and pushing other people away, meanly. At the same time it is increasingly being claimed that trans people have used the facilities which match their ‘gender identity’ for decades with no adverse effect. The inference is that everyone was happy with the arrangement until a sudden unprovoked uproar from feminists threatened to ruin it for everyone else, who up until that point were getting along just fine thank you.
Firstly, if true, this contradicts the assertion that trans people are currently being prevented from being their true selves and living authentic lives, and it begs the question: In that case what exactly is being fought for? Why did things need to change?
Secondly, if true, the fact that so far males have been accessing facilities put aside for women means that female-only spaces have been used without our consent, and this not only throws into question the justification for continuing the practice, but also demonstrates such a lack of respect and sensitivity towards women that it is evidence if anything that we should double down on protecting these spaces even more.
Thirdly, if true, past experience is no longer especially relevant in today’s ‘trans umbrella’ world, where part-time cross-dressers, transvestites, ‘gender fluid’ and ‘non-binary’ people are now included in the list of people who are women if they say they are. Moving from a historically tiny number of transsexual males who presented with some form of visual ‘transition’, to an effective free-for-all of different gender identities, renders the evidence of the past null and void. Today, on numbers alone there is bound to be more of an impact.
It is a possibility of course that the ‘no adverse effect’ argument is not quite true. It’s quite possible that the presence of an unexpected male in a toilet or changing room has had quite an effect on an individual woman, whether or not she makes a fuss or reports it. There are anecdotal stories to support this view, although no official figures reflect it. Women seldom report violations of their privacy, even extreme ones, but that doesn’t mean that women or girls have not felt frightened or anxious, and it doesn’t mean women or girls have not self-excluded from a service as a result.
The ‘no adverse effect’ argument is also undermined by the trans movement’s extremely combative distrust of women. If women’s spaces had already been graciously ceded, we wouldn’t need the outrageously prescriptive trans inclusion guides produced for businesses and schools, designed to enforce a narrow range of approved beliefs. The alleged historical acceptance of male transsexuals in women’s spaces is simply not compatible with such an authoritarian clamp-down on our speech, behaviour and thoughts. It doesn’t make sense if it had previously all been going so well. Surely the trans movement could have built on the established trust of women, who were already being ‘inclusive’, rather than using bullying and silencing tactics and emotional manipulation? That’s how you treat an enemy, not a friend.
So far then, I’m not convinced that the history of sharing women’s spaces is as hunky dory as it’s being made out to be. I think it is being misrepresented partly in order to suggest that trans rights are being rolled back, which they’re not, and partly to suggest that any opposition to more ‘inclusion’ must be coming from a place of transphobia and bigotry rather than any genuine concern for women and women’s boundaries.
From a woman’s point of view, the trans activists are looking at it from the wrong angle. From our perspective we are not pushing anyone out, we are simply reiterating the fact that we have boundaries, and reminding everyone that these are historically and legally based on biological sex. There might be other ways of distinguishing between human beings, but in terms of safety, privacy and dignity, sex seems to fit the bill most accurately and include the most number of people. Everyone has a sex. We could try to distinguish by gender identity instead, as is being proposed, but this would be so ‘inclusive’ as to not leave any boundaries at all. Maybe that’s the point.
The arguments in favour of gender identity are often based on the idea that sex is not always accurately discernible and therefore mistakes can be made: a common claim is that butch lesbians might be read as male for example and barred from a woman-only space. This is a spurious argument: no lesbian that I have ever spoken to has confirmed that this happens, but more importantly it inadvertently backs up the need for sex distinction. If ‘gender identity’ was the criterion for access to a space there would be far more risk of making mistakes of this kind, because gender is a spectrum and infinitely variable. In some cases you would probably have to look into someone’s soul in order to get their gender right.
The process of assessing someone’s ‘gender identity’ has much more scope for personal and individual offence because it becomes more about the individual than the category, and relies on how well someone ‘passes’ or how much we feel we can trust someone’s innermost beliefs about themselves. Everyone who doesn’t ‘look right’ would effectively be on trial. This would lead to exactly what trans people say they don’t want: a policing of gender expression. As it stands, in public facilities which are separated by sex we don’t police users, we rely on a common understanding of sex differences and a willingness to play by the rules. Men therefore are trusted to avoid using women’s facilities and any man who breaks the rules can be legitimately called out on his transgression. The pull of societal norms is so strong that most people comply. Those that don’t are immediately objects of suspicion, and that is what works to keep women as safe as is possible. Just because the system isn’t perfect doesn’t mean we should opt for an even less perfect one.
If you argue for the inclusion of ‘some’ males, and those males can now opt to identify as women full-time or part-time, can have had some surgery or no surgery, can be on hormones or not, can be dressed in a typically masculine or feminine way, can be bearded or clean shaven, can feel like neither a man nor a woman, or can change depending on the day of the week, then there is no way of policing which males are admissable and which are not. To avoid transphobic ‘mistakes’ you would have to admit any man who wanted to enter. We would go from a strict sex binary, understandable by the majority of people, to a situation where nobody could be challenged by anyone. In other words, single-sex spaces would be unenforceable and they would effectively cease to exist.
The belief that anyone is trans who says they are is a cornerstone of trans ideology, which is currently being taught in schools and offices all over the UK, but it is this dogma which will make a compromise solution almost impossible to achieve. Amongst women, the ‘Not my Nigel’ claim was notoriously used by a minority as an argument for making an exception of the ‘good men’, but most people recognise the impossibility of differentiating between good men and bad and so a blanket ban has remained. A similar argument looks set to rear its head in the trans debate, between ‘good trans’ and ‘bad trans’, between the ‘original’ transsexuals and the whole other newer range of transgender identities: ‘Not my Trutrans’ we could call it. However, the transactivist movement, in its insistence that all trans identities are equally ‘valid’, has effectively shot itself in the foot. It has become impossible to take a Karen White for example, and to say ‘this sort of trans person should be kept away from women but not that sort of trans person over there’ because this would involve gatekeeping, and gatekeeping is transphobic. It would make some trans identities less valid than others and it would mean not believing some people’s claims about their own gender identities. Who decides who to believe and who not to believe? Not women, that’s for sure: the new rules insist that every individual knows their own gender identity best.
Women have never claimed that all male transgender people are sex offenders, despite the accusations; but we have watched as trans advocates publicly and uncritically welcome sex offenders and other abusers under their new trans umbrella. Uncritical acceptance includes everyone, as evidenced by the overwhelming support for Ian Huntley from trans activists over a story which would later appear to be fake news. Trans ideology represents the antithesis of safety policy for women: the current measures in place (legislated for in the Equality Act) mean that ‘all men are excluded’ to ensure the exclusion of the dangerous ones, whereas trans policy means that ‘all trans people are validated and included’ which ensures the inclusion of the dangerous ones. Women’s safety has historically been allowed to trump the disgruntled feelings of some men who feel unfairly maligned; we are now in danger of allowing the feelings of some trans-identified males to trump women’s safety. A complete reversal.
As more and more women become aware of the attack on their rights, the trans movement is on the path to becoming a victim of its own extreme dogma. Insistence on 100% belief in individual testimony as a basic tenet so integral to trans acceptance that you are a transphobe if you don’t subscribe to it, has ensured that, for the sake of women’s safety, 100% of males identifying as trans have to be excluded. The old understanding, if it ever existed, where transsexual males used women’s toilets and women allowed this ‘honorary woman’ status as a nod of respect towards the length and difficulty of the transition process, will no longer work now that transsexuals have no more legitimacy than Eddie Izzard on a nail varnish day. The trans rights groups have achieved this, not feminists.
It is a really salient point, not to be dismissed, that feminists will at least argue over whether women can afford to be ‘inclusive’ and if so, to what degree. There are schisms within feminism and the larger ‘gender critical’ movement over exactly this point, and this is at least evidence of a willingness to look for solutions to conflicting needs, even if it leads to a feminist falling-out. Stonewall and the other trans lobby groups on the other hand will not countenance any argument over the validity of anyone’s ‘gender identity,’ nor consequently any compromise at all over the issue of women’s safety. ‘Transwomen are women’ is the mantra which kills the conversation and gives women no choice, and ‘transphobia’ is newly-defined as a refusal to say it. Politicians who parrot this mantra and then say the debate is toxic and has more heat than light are blind to their own complicity in it.
The #NoDebate tactics of the trans lobby have never worked to still the robust debate amongst women over the ‘trutrans’ issue. It is Stonewall et al who have made this disagreement between women more or less academic, because they have left us no choice over the answer. It doesn’t matter if you have a trans friend and it doesn’t matter if your trans friend is one of the good ones: we have been prevented from making any nuanced judgement by the trans lobby groups themselves. Even if you believe that some trans-identifying males are more ‘deserving’ than others, even if you believe in ‘meaningful transition’, it’s not up to you to make that judgement. Trans people themselves who question the dogma or support women’s rights are equally wrong. Trans advocates are very clear about this: ‘trutrans’ quickly becomes ‘truscum’, the trans community will not even debate with its own.
The refusal of trans lobby groups to acknowledge the risk inherent in uncritical acceptance of self-ID makes it effectively impossible to discuss any compromise. The uncompromising 100% of Stonewall’s ‘acceptance without exception’ leaves only one possible outcome. In order to keep women as safe as possible, when it comes to women’s spaces and services we have no choice but to retain the 100% sex distinction without exception.