Turning the Tide

This is an expanded version of a talk I gave at the Woman’s Place meeting entitled ‘A Woman’s Place is Turning the Tide’ in Brighton on July 16th 2018.

 

The GRA consultation has been announced by the Women and Equalities minister Penny Mourdaunt, which means that the original Gender Recognition Act of 2004 is to be examined to see if it is still fit for purpose. This is the first time that women have been allowed a voice in the discussion, which is a good thing – but it’s not all good. Ms Mourdaunt declared that the consultation would start from the premise that ‘transwomen are women’, which actually makes the whole idea of a consultation redundant, because one of the issues at stake is what makes a woman, how a woman is defined, and what rights should be particular to that definition.

‘Transwomen are women’ is a familiar mantra if you spend any amount of time on social media, particularly on Twitter. Some tweets just say ‘transwomen are women’, others say ‘transwomen are women transwomen are women transwomen are women transwomen are women transwomen are women transwomen are women’. Some say ‘transwomen are women, get over it’, others say ‘transwomen are women, choke on it TERF’. Others, to end an argument, say ‘but transwomen ARE women’. Some, much less frequently, say ‘transwomen are women transmen are men’. It’s not just random trolls saying this either: it is politicians, councillors, doctors, left-wing commentators like Owen Jones.

The phrase ‘transwomen are women’ is naively understood to be simply a courtesy to a male trans person, a sign of allyship. If you don’t join in, because you stick to the definition of women which is biologically correct, you are nailing your colours to the mast and this is risky. There is a huge amount of abuse directed at women who refuse to do as they are told, and this fact demonstrates that the use of ‘transwomen are women’ is not as benign as it first seems. If you wish to be ‘nice’ to someone, that is your free choice, but if you are punished for NOT being ‘nice’ then it is no free choice at all and it begins to look more like bullying and coercion.

‘Transwomen are women’ as a slogan is nothing to do with being nice. It is a political mantra: it does not define its terms and it is used to shut down all dissent. The impact on women and girls is huge. Although self-ID is not law yet, the government’s Guide for Service Providers, published after the 2015 Trans Inquiry, and written by trans lobby group Gendered Intelligence, made sure that public and private institutions would be so confused about it that they would act as though it was law, just to be on the safe side. This has already led to the erosion of women’s single-sex spaces such as shops’ changing rooms, public swimming baths and gyms’ changing rooms, women’s refuges, prisons, the Girl Guides, sports, youth hostel bedrooms, as well as women’s prizes and shortlists – there is an ever-expanding list. Treating sex as a ‘gender identity’ rather than a biological and material reality will ALWAYS mean that girls and women lose out, and leave men and boys relatively unscathed. In a society where the sexes are unequal this is inevitable.

Transgender rights groups have been established and well-funded for years: Gendered Intelligence, GIRES, Mermaids, Action for Trans Health, Trans Media Watch, TELI, Stonewall: most of these groups have been around for a decade or more. The Allsorts Trans School Toolkit has been used in East Sussex schools since 2013. These groups  have successfully promoted the idea that only trans people can talk about trans issues, and that any difference of opinion is transphobic. You can always tell when an organisation has had the trans awareness training because they all suddenly start using a particular kind of language. This is the kind of language which is based on a belief system rather than fact, for example: ‘sex assigned at birth’. Even the NHS uses ‘sex assigned at birth’ – as if somewhere in their maternity wards there is a Hogwarts-style Sorting Hat, under which babies are placed after birth in order to get their sex allocated.

In all these years there has been one narrative, endlessly reinforced, and no challenge to this view has been allowed. Trans Media Watch for example, has been busy ensuring that a crime committed by a male transgender person is recorded in the press as a female crime, but if that person takes their own life in prison it gets recorded as a trans suicide. GIRES pushes for schoolgirls to share their changing rooms with any male who identifies as a girl. TELI are working on ensuring that male sex offenders have the right to be intimately searched by female prison officers. Action for Trans Health demand that all transgender prisoners be released, and advocates violence against women who disagree with their ideology. The government has listened to them all. The Trans Inquiry in 2015 listened to evidence from 15 trans advocacy groups and no women’s groups.

Women’s groups currently working to protect the rights of women and girls have grown up much more recently and have no public funding: they rely on volunteers and crowdfunding.  A Woman’s Place, We Need to Talk, Fairplay for Women, Transgender Trend, Mayday4Women, Man Friday, Critical Sisters: all of them have grown out of grassroots activism in the last few years.  Women have been put on the back foot: much has already been done and dusted without consultation and behind closed doors. The feminists who originally talked about this subject have been vilified and silenced. Transactivists say there is #nodebate, and they are right: up till now there has been no debate.

The success of women’s groups in getting an alternative message across has been fantastic, but has also shown up how difficult it is to get your voice heard when an accepted narrative has already been so well entrenched, especially when part of that accepted narrative is that any disagreement is bigotry. Parts of the press have begun to report on women’s concerns, although others are still happy to paint women as bigoted transphobes. The BBC has occasionally resisted the wrath of Trans Media Watch and presented a more balanced picture, but largely it has been running scared. Woman’s Hour won’t touch the subject. Well, I say that, but obviously they included Caitlyn Jenner on their Power List, and obviously they saw Munroe Bergdorf as the ideal candidate to talk about the silencing of women. But apart from that: nothing. There have been thunderstorms on Mumsnet and earthquakes in the Girl Guides, but Woman’s Hour has its fingers in its ears and hasn’t noticed. I don’t think anyone’s told them yet that there is a consultation on the GRA and that this might be a story which affects women.

It has become clear to me that ‘transwomen are women’ is political marketing genius.  Under the ‘human rights’ guise of treating a minority with respect and dignity, it cleverly undermines all of women’s sex-based rights. If transwomen ARE women’ then there is no need to do any impact assessments on women when legislation is changed, as would normally be required by Public Sector Equality Duty. It completely disappears women as a sex class. The protected category of ‘sex’ in the Equality Act is therefore overridden. The government has said that the Equality Act 2010 is not up for review, and will be unaffected by the current consultation, but if the GRA is reformed it will result in the effective removal of a protected category from the Equality Act, by making it meaningless. Thus the change will happen anyway, but by the back door. Male transgender people will then have two protected characteristics in the Equality Act: ‘gender reassignment’ and ‘sex’, and women will have nothing left to themselves. Gender identity will always overrule sex because it is unidentifiable: I cannot be a transwoman because of sex but a transwoman can be a woman because of gender identity.

If the government implements gender self-ID as a means of distinguishing between the sexes, it will not simply make the paperwork a bit easier for trans people, as is claimed. It will cement the changes already taking place, to the detriment of women and girls’ equality, and it will reify the notion of ‘gender identity’ as a marker. For those of us who understand gender as a tool to keep women in their place, rather than an innate identity, it would be a disaster. The law of the land would be telling us that we choose our own subordination. The law of the land would be agreeing with trans activists that Ian Huntley is a woman because he says he is.

Transwomen are women’ is political dogma, repeated endlessly and deliberately in order to reinforce the message. Because there is #nodebate  it has been made almost impossible to counter. For this reason I now reject, as a political act in my turn, the notion that ‘transwomen are women’.  It has nothing to do with ‘hate’ or ‘transphobia’ or ‘bigotry’. If the political arm of the Anti Kitten-Stomping League was trying to infringe on women’s rights, I’d fight them too: it wouldn’t mean that I approved of stomping on kittens. It is purely a political defence of the rights of women and girls, against a political movement which threatens those rights. It is undemocratic to threaten and abuse women who speak out on this.

Now is the time to get involved and speak up, so that our daughters will be able to benefit from the rights and protections that we take for granted, and which are now under threat.

Including the fundamental right to actually name ourselves as the female sex.

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