Are All-Women Shortlists Transphobic?

A controversy around the subject of trans-inclusion is currently rumbling in the Labour Party: the question of whether trans-identified males, with or without a Gender Recognition Certificate, should be able to access women-only shortlists or become Women’s Officers, or take advantage of initiatives such as the Jo Cox Women in Leadership programme to encourage women into politics. A crowdfunder has been set up to legally challenge the Labour Party’s acceptance (without consultation or debate) of trans self-ID, and there is now a counter-petition accusing all those involved of transphobia. This has been followed by what seems to be a hit-list giving details of Labour members with ‘transphobic’ Twitter accounts, and two women have already been suspended from the party based on this evidence.

What is sometimes forgotten in this argument is the reason that women-only initiatives exist in the first place. AWS and similar schemes are necessary in order to correct a historic imbalance in female representation, but it is not just about helping individual women to pursue a career in politics they may otherwise have been unable to do. The reason women need equal representation is that women have different needs to men and that these are often overlooked by male politicians: when male is the default setting women inevitably lose out.

The status of women as second class citizens is perpetuated by a majority male government who, with the best will in the world, do not always see or consider women’s perspectives on law, healthcare, science, education, crime, and all the other areas of policy which affect women and girls differently to men and boys. The reasons for the sex difference fall into two categories: female biology and female socialisation. Politically we need to talk about, amongst other things: the mental health and aspirations of girls, menstruation and the tampon tax, pregnancy and healthcare, reproductive rights, prostitution and porn, childcare and education, FGM and VAWG, emotional labour and caring, and the menopause and pensions. There is a component of female biology or socialisation, or both, in all these areas, and it is generally accepted that having men make all the policy is not best practice. Not all women feel the same way about any of these areas of policy, but the more women there are in positions of power the more likely it is that they will at least be addressed from a female perspective.

The difficulty when considering transwomen in these posts is that they do not share the two aspects of female experience which inform and prop up inequality – that is, biology and socialisation. However much the desire is there to support trans people within the party, to do so via the use of mechanisms designed to promote women must result in disadvantaging women. Female socialisation ensures that many women will support this, seeing transwomen as women and welcoming their inclusion, but is it fair to do this on behalf of the many other women who are trying to escape the socialisation which tells them to put other people’s needs first?

The mantra ‘transwomen are women’ has been used for years to silence the debate about trans inclusion, but now it is also being used as a form of gatekeeping over who is on the right side of the debate. ‘Do you believe transwomen are women?’ is increasingly being asked as a sort of test of your progressiveness, and there is only one right answer. Many women have been happy up till now to refer to trans-identified males as women, largely out of courtesy and respect, sometimes out of sympathy, but not because it’s actually true. Many of these women now feel that the courtesy and respect has been thrown back in their faces by transwomen acting with what looks suspiciously like a very male sense of entitlement.

The preoccupation with ‘passing’ is an indication that within the trans community itself it is actually acknowledged that transwomen usually look like men. The instinct to recognise sex difference lies very deep within us all, and despite the attempts to discredit feminists, there never was a call for, or a need to, examine someone’s genitals before letting them in to a women-only space. We all know what a man looks like: we can’t not know. It is asking a lot of women to pretend otherwise, but of course we will do so if treated with similar respect in return. What some of us won’t do is be bullied into it.

A good illustration of the attempt to bully women into it was the recent performance of India Willoughby on Celebrity Big Brother. India’s extreme rage and threatening body language, complete with jabbing finger, were very ‘male’ to a woman’s eye. The accompanying repetition of ‘I am … A WOMAN!’ was very like the mantra repeated endlessly on Twitter, and the response from the women was very much that of appeasement towards a violent man. Many of us will recognise that moment when a woman’s expression becomes slightly glazed over in an attempt to do nothing to provoke the man who is angry with her. All the women in the Big Brother House wore that expression. That kind of bullying is employed every day on social media towards gender-critical feminists, and also in real life when feminist meetings are violently disrupted.

If men who identify as women have to go to those lengths to procure compliance then it is very clear they don’t ‘pass’. This means that, when it comes to privilege, they have had the advantage of a lifetime of being seen as male and treated as male. However different you feel inside, the way you are treated depends on what other people can see. However much ‘gender’ is claimed as innate and real, it doesn’t show. Men can have no experience of what it’s like to be a girl growing up, either through socialisation or biology, and this limits how much they can understand the needs of girls and women, even if they identify as women themselves.

Ahead of the recent Women’s March Munroe Bergdorf admonished women for wearing pussy hats because ‘not all women have a vagina’. Bergdorf, a transwoman who ironically benefited from a platform on BBC Woman’s Hour recently to talk about ‘how women are silenced’, tweeted: ‘Centering reproductive systems at the heart of these demonstrations is reductive and exclusionary’. This is an opinion which is mainstream within the trans activist community. (Some of the march organisers tried to ban the wearing of pussy hats after last year’s complaints). If biology itself is seen as exclusionary amongst trans people, then it could be argued that transwomen are actually less useful even than men in representing women politically, because their needs are in direct opposition to women’s.

Coincidentally, it is not the case that transmen are spending much time publicly telling men which body parts they can or can’t talk about, almost as though transmen don’t feel a sense of entitlement over a whole other class of people.

There cannot be a clearer example of how ‘feeling like a woman’ does not necessarily give you a female perspective, and does not give you the ability or experience to represent women’s issues. Notwithstanding all the slogans and mantras in the world, sex will out. If it’s the case that ‘only trans people can talk about trans issues’ (a good reason for aiming for more trans-inclusion in the first place) then it is surely also true that we need more female representation to talk about women’s issues, and that this has to come from women born and socialised female, because otherwise we just defeat the object.



What is Transgender?

On the eve of a parliamentary debate on the government response to the Trans Enquiry, it might be useful to look at what people mean when they say Transgender. The rights of transgender people are up for debate, and the Women and Equalities Select Committee who hosted the initial inquiry obviously felt that the government’s response did not go far enough in updating these rights, and are seeking to push them further. The government was certainly cautious in its response, and I would suggest this might partly be due to the confusion over terminology. As it stands, trans rights (in terms of ‘gender identity’ becoming a protected characteristic) are in direct conflict with women’s rights (in terms of ‘sex’ being a protected characteristic). Now, we all know what a woman is. (Well, we used to know anyway: a woman is a female of the species, a grown-up one. A girl is an immature member of the female class). But nobody seems to agree on what a trans person is. It is hard to legislate on behalf of a group of people who seem to shape-shift in their own definition (or other people’s definitions) depending on the circumstances.

The difference between sex and gender is not always well understood, so here is the definition according to the World Health Organisation (with thanks to @sueveneer on Twitter for flagging this)


Some of us understandably struggle with the idea that a socially-constructed set of characteristics can be experienced as ‘innate’, but this is exactly what the notion of ‘gender identity’ asks us to believe. It becomes even more ludicrous when applied to children, who do not yet have the context in which to understand the world around them, and the way in which it operates to instill social norms. The whole notion of being ‘born in the wrong body’ only makes sense if you believe that certain personality traits are intrinsically linked to certain body types.

Trans activists argue that it is nothing to do with toy choices, hair styles etc, but that trans identity is deeply felt and believed and A REAL THING ON THE INSIDE. This is asserted, notwithstanding that all the kids showing up at gender identity clinics are doing so because they present with ‘non-typical gender behaviour’ ie boys with long hair wearing dresses and girls with short hair who don’t like playing with dolls. These children might also be convinced they should be (or in fact ARE) the opposite sex, but if this conviction alone is used as proof of genuine trans status then the obvious problem is HOW DO THE REST OF US KNOW? And if we can’t tell a genuine trans person from a simply gender non-conforming one, how can we legislate and, if we do legislate, how can we then stay within the law?

To illustrate the problem here are some pictures of men (I use the word to mean adult human male, obviously) who have unconventional gender identity or presentation.

These two people identify as women:


One of these two people identifies as a woman, the other as non-binary:


The two people here identify as male, but also transvestite, transsexual, cross-dressing or transgender as well:


And finally, these two people retain a sense of humour about the whole thing*:


With respect, can the Women and Equalities Commission tell me which of the above people, if any, I should be worried about if they were to enter a public toilet or changing room I was using? (I know which ones I would be worried about, but obviously, it’s not about me…) And can the trans lobbyists tell me which ones are ‘genuine’ trans people who come under the protection of the trans umbrella and which ones do not warrant this protection? And why? And when you say ‘Trans women are women’ which of the above are you talking about? And why?

Because if you can’t answer these questions (and probably, even if you can, because there will be disagreement depending on who you ask) the proposed change in legislation might just as well be “Anyone who feels like it can use the ladies toilet and if you object to that you’re a bigot!” That’s because if the law is changed we will all have to act *as if* the male-bodied person next to us in the changing room is a trans woman or girl, because we are the ones who will be in trouble if we get it wrong: we will be guilty of a hate crime. How to remove at a stroke the rights of women and girls to set boundaries and protect ourselves!

This has never been about demonising trans people, as the lobbyists would have you believe, but about defining trans anti-discrimination legislation in a way that is robust enough to minimise adverse effects and to take account of the risks of exploitation. The proposed changes to the laws surrounding trans equality leave women wide open to abuse, as they remove many of the sex-based protections that help to keep women safe in public life. The fact is that we are on the brink of taking a backwards step regarding the rights of women and nobody seems to be talking about it (except for radical feminists of course, particularly lesbians, who have seen the writing on the wall for a lot longer than most of us).

More details on the disproportionate effect on women that the proposed trans legislation will have can be found here.  And to the MPs who will be discussing this in the house next week: before you decide to remove women’s rights in favour of trans rights, please can you tell us what your definition of transgender is, what your criteria will be, and, most importantly, when we are in a public sex-segregated space and feel threatened by the presence of an unexpected male, HOW CAN WE TELL?

*Thanks to Miranda and Hope for letting me use their pictures

Edit: The World Health Organisation has removed its page on the differences between sex and gender so I have inserted the screenshot of the page as it was. I have asked them to show any new evidence which has necessitated a change of information but so far none is forthcoming.