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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Have Women and Girls Got Too Many Rights?

Do you think women and girls have got too many rights? Should some of these be rolled back now? Are we too equal? Too safe? Too represented? Too visible? Too powerful? Do you believe there should now be a reduction in women’s rights? Has it all gone too far? Are women actually the oppressors now? Would you support policies which would curtail some of those rights? Do you believe that women should have fewer rights?

Well, if you do, you’re in good company. It’s not just Men’s Rights groups who agree with you: there are increasing numbers of public institutions and businesses who believe that women and girls are so equal now that we no longer need the legislative and social protections which were fought for and won by previous feminists. We are so safe now we no longer need the provisions in law intended to ensure our safety. We have such a major voice now that we no longer need the mechanisms intended to increase our political representation. We have so much recognition for our work that we no longer need women-only prizes and awards. We are so equal in opportunity to men and boys that we no longer need any special treatment to level the playing field.

Do you agree? Lots of people do.

Women have so many rights in fact that we can afford to share them. We are not yet required by law to share them, but a combination of female socialisation, the post-Trans Inquiry Guide for Service Providers, and a rampant disregard for the Equality Act from trans advocacy groups, means that we are being compelled to share them. Or bullied into sharing them. Or coerced, or guilt-tripped, or emotionally manipulated. There are many ways.

The result of the Trans Inquiry and the Trans Report is that in public life the issue of trans self-ID has essentially all but been decided, without the need for the upcoming government consultation, and without any debate. Many institutions are already putting self-ID into place, and women and girls are already feeling the effects.

GirlGuidingUK for example, have implemented a transgender policy which effectively changes the organisation from being single-sex, and allows trans-identifying boys to share showers, tents and private spaces with girls, without informing parents first. Topshop has designated its girls’ changing rooms as unisex, based on a complaint from one man who identifies as non-binary. Hampstead Ladies Pond has decided to admit trans-identified males, based on self-ID, after they had some ‘trans-awareness training’. Cabins on the Caledonian Sleeper are suddenly to be separated along the lines of ‘gender identity’ rather than sex.

GirlguidingUK, Topshop, Hampstead Ladies Pond and Caledonian Sleeper are just four examples of what is becoming a trend. Businesses know they need to do a bit of diversity training, they get in their local friendly trans group for a trans awareness day, and suddenly the women working there, or the female customers, have fewer rights than they did beforehand. Many other institutions have come to the conclusion that women and girls no longer need the same degree of protection we once did. We have too many rights, we really don’t need them all. Some can surely therefore be removed without the need to consult with us first. An recent example of female protest, in the form of the group ManFriday, resulted in Swim England retracting their new transgender policy in favour of having a consultation. I have yet to come across a company which sees the importance of consulting with women before changing their policies.

In schools there is a definite move towards ensuring that girls grow up with fewer rights than their mothers had.  A recent story from Transgender Trend documents the methods used to ensure compliance at one school in Essex, which was coerced into converting its girls’ toilets into unisex toilets, after a campaign led by local trans group Transpire. The Equality Act specifically warns against giving one protected group rights at the expense of another, but when this is trans rights versus girls’ rights, trans groups are ignoring it and misleading schools into putting trans rights first. It is always girls who lose out.

Trans advocacy group GIRES has this advice in their factsheet about trans inclusion:

GIRES factsheet Toilets

The advice to schools provided by  LGBT support group Allsorts, in Brighton, follows the same pattern. This is from their East Sussex Schools Toolkit:

 

This advice was written in 2013 and since then the toolkit has been listed as a resource on the Mermaids website, and used by many schools across Sussex to inform and educate staff on trans inclusion. The aim to teach girls that a boy can be ‘in every other respect a girl’ clearly makes absolutely no sense, and moreover it conflicts with all other initiatives in schools designed to empower girls to respect and assert their own boundaries. It also compromises safeguarding practice. The sentence about the trans pupil’s rights under the Equality Act is a straightforward lie.

In addition to this, girls should get used to the idea of having fewer rights to compete equally in sports:

 

In a tortured attempt to spin the language, Allsorts believes that girls who object to a male competing with them should be ‘supported to do a different activity’. We all know that that really means ‘be chucked off the team’ though. This is a blatant and intentional misrepresentation of the Equality Act. Girls and women are protected under the category of sex, but trans groups going into schools and workplaces are providing materials which deliberately hide that fact in order to prioritise trans people. Women and girls are always the ones adversely affected.

Trans groups providing guidance for schools and businesses include Mermaids, Gendered Intelligence, GIRES, Educate and Celebrate and the Intercom Trust, as well as Allsorts and Transpire. They all believe that girls and women don’t really need all the rights they currently have, and some of these should be rolled back. It is no longer necessary for girls to enjoy bodily privacy as they grow up, for example, or to expect a level playing field in sporting activities. These are unnecessary cherries on the cake of female equality, and can be removed with no consultation and no impact assessment.

Sport at an elite level fares no better. At the University of Brighton in March, Professor Yannis Pitsiladis introduced a talk by Joanna Harper, at an event entitled ‘Beyond Fairness: The Biology of Inclusion for Transgender and Intersex Athletes’. Harper, a trans-identified male, delivered a shockingly biased talk which suggested no possible disadvantage to women from allowing men into their sports. The research evidence was extremely limited in size and scope, but was nevertheless used to ‘prove’ that there was no physical advantage to be gained from having a male body. Harper suggested that it was ‘traditionalists’ who believed sports should be separated by biology, but that ‘others’ believed gender could be self-identified, as if these two positions carried equal weight, and also as if Team Biology was just a bit old-fashioned.

Professor Pitsiladis had introduced the event as being the first in a series of hopefully informative debates on trans inclusion in sports. If the goal is proper debate then a powerful advocate for trans rights should always be matched with a powerful advocate for women’s rights, as it is always women who will bear the brunt of any changes. This did not happen and there did not appear to be any plans for it to happen in future events. Follow-up reading after the event revealed that Harper’s flawed research was the very research used by the International Olympic Committee to inform their policy on trans inclusion. There are already male trans athletes winning against women in sports such as cycling, boxing and weightlifting. There are already trans sportsmen taking the place of women in team sports such as football, Australian rules football and basketball. The uncomfortable truth is that for every trans person who wins a place on a team there will be a woman who will have lost hers. We can’t just pretend that’s not true.

Once again the views of a minority interest group have been allowed to inform policy which has a profound effect on women, without consulting women first. The IOC obviously take the view that women no longer need a level playing field in sports. We’ve had equality for ages now. For example women’s football is no longer banned by the FA. We have little left to complain about. No, women have had too much equality and too many rights, and some of these are no longer completely necessary, and should be taken away and given to someone else. Women after all are supposed to be good at sharing.

Feminists who have concerns about the erosion of the rights of women are currently being characterised as ‘anti-trans activists’ in an attempt to discredit them. It is clear from the examples above that there are many ways that women and girls lose out when trans rights are given precedence, but there is deliberately no acknowledgement of this from trans activists: it is more useful to them to characterise feminists as haters and bigots than to admit there might be a conflict of interest. In fact, to acknowledge a conflict of interest at all would be to acknowledge that there is a difference between women and ‘transwomen’ and this transactivists cannot do. The law itself does differentiate: it allows sex-based exemptions to the equality law where women’s safety, privacy or dignity is concerned. Biological differences are enshrined in law. Trans activists will never accept this: in their view ‘transwomen are women’. This mantra is used frequently to shut down any argument. Here’s a classic of the genre:

Transwomen are women

The repetition of this mantra is not just used to shout women down, it is also used as a justification for not conducting proper impact assessments. If ‘transwomen’ ARE women then there is clearly no need to look at the impact on women of any change in legislation because changes to help ‘transwomen’ will help women. The purpose of ‘transwomen are women’ is not just to be ‘nice’ to trans-identified males and show solidarity and support, as many people seem to think it is. Its purpose is to deny the whole notion of women having separate rights, because it is in this way that trans activists can get every change they want passed without any opposition. It’s almost as if a Trojan Horse dressed as My Little Pony has landed smack bang right in the middle of the women’s movement and now Men’s Rights Activists are pouring out of it intending to get their own way.

If  ever there was a reason for avoiding the language of ‘transwomen’ this is it. Using the phrase ‘trans-identified males’ instead works for women because it serves to clarify the boundaries of the conflicting groups, and leaves no doubt as to the necessity of impact assessments for women and girls before changing legislation for trans people. When most of the rights enshrined specifically for women involve biology to one degree or another, and usually safety, privacy and dignity as well, this is an essential distinction to make. If we are not allowed to make it we can’t fight for our own rights. This is why it has become the preferred language for many women: we have been told ‘transwomen are women’ once too often, and it is never to our advantage.

Feminists are pro-women, not anti-trans. Feminists do not attack and assault trans people, we just know that for women sex-based rights are crucial. When the trans movement is deliberately intent on misleading schools, businesses and institutions, to the detriment of women and girls, the time for being ‘nice’ is over. We have to be honest instead. We have to defend our rights. In every new case of changing trans policy, if there is anyone who needs to budge up, shift over and lose out, it is women and girls. The only way this could be acceptable is if you believe that women and girls have too many rights already. Do you?

 

When Women’s Rights Are #NotaDebate

When there is conflict between trans rights and women’s rights (such as whether toilets and changing rooms should be segregated by ‘sex’ or ‘gender’) an open debate should be encouraged to ascertain how best to accommodate the rights of both parties. This hasn’t happened, and it hasn’t happened in a big way, so it’s worth looking at how and why the debate has been stifled.

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 gave trans people a right to be legally recognised as the opposite sex. The Equality Act 2010 gave the characteristic of ‘gender reassignment’ a protected category status. At that time ‘gender reassignment’ essentially meant ‘sex change’ – the language used in the Act refers to transsexuals, and people understood ‘trans’ to mean a transition of some sort, usually (at that time) from male to female. The Act was for a person who was ‘…proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex’. Although biologically impossible, sex change was recognised in law as it was the only treatment which could alleviate the suffering of a minority of people with gender dysphoria.

Things have changed greatly since 2004, and the pace of that change has accelerated since 2010. The use of the word ‘trans’ no longer necessarily indicates any kind of transition, the word ‘transgender’ has replaced ‘transsexual’ and ‘sex change’ has disappeared altogether in public discourse. An Act which was formulated to protect a tiny minority of people who experienced such discomfort with their biological sex they would risk invasive surgery to fix it, became an Act which protected a larger minority of people whose ‘identity’ fell under the ever-widening trans umbrella, whether or not there was a medical diagnosis or any kind of transition. The Act itself didn’t change but the definition of ‘trans’ did. Arguably the biggest change was the insistence that now a man who believed himself to be a woman was actually a woman, and had always been a woman.

The disadvantage of formulating a protected category with indistinct boundaries is that it can grow and grow until it hardly resembles the original definition at all. There should be public unease about protecting the ‘rights’ of a cross-dressing middle-aged man to get undressed in the same changing room as a teenage girl, but this aspect of the proposed changes to the GRA has been largely ignored. On the contrary, any mention of the potential risks will result in the accusation of inciting hatred against a marginalised community. The wider public perception of transgender as ‘sex change’ has remained back in the times when the original Act was drawn up to protect it, but the contents of the category itself have moved on.

The Act is therefore no longer fit for purpose, but not for the reasons that trans advocacy groups would have you believe. The view of activists is that the Act needs to be updated to take away any ‘gatekeeping’ of trans identities, such as doctor’s reports, surgery or treatment of any kind, or even a ‘binary’ understanding of sex in the first place. A person’s gender, it is said, should be entirely theirs to define, and so gender self-definition is being promoted as the only humane way for the Act to go. The problem with this is that without any gatekeeping at all, there is a much greater risk to women from predatory men misusing the new definition. This side of the argument has been almost entirely closed down, despite the fact that women are still supposedly a protected category based on sex, and therefore should have been allowed a voice in the debate.

The new meaning of trans is currently being cemented into public consciousness by some very simple ideas used in a rather emotionally manipulative way. These ideas have been promoted so widely as to have reached the status of ‘self-evident’:

  • Trans people are ‘Born in the Wrong Body’
  • Gender is innate
  • Around half of trans people will attempt suicide
  • Trans people suffer abuse more than any other group
  • Only trans people can talk about trans issues

There is no evidence for any of this, and plenty of evidence against. ‘Born in the wrong body’ is a feeling or a belief so it cannot be proved or disproved: it relies solely on the say-so of the speaker and whether or not they are being honest. (Imagine if the same criteria were applied to people with disabilities applying for disability benefits!) Innate gender would rely on there being a male or female brain, an idea disproved repeatedly by modern neuroscience, or on there being a male or female ‘essence’ or ‘spirit’, which is akin to a religious belief: again, unprovable and unmeasurable. The suicide stats have been debunked in several different studies but are still used repeatedly as though they are fact, despite the risks outlined by the Samaritans of associating suicide ideation with one particular cause. The crime stats for the UK show that trans people are actually less likely to be the victims of homicide than the perpetrators. And on gender issues trans people are not the only experts: there is a huge body of work on the subject by feminists, partly because gender is one of the social structures used to keep women in their place and uphold the Patriarchy. Women have a stake in this.

Possibly because there is a lack of evidence to back up trans ideology, there has been a sustained campaign to rule feminists out of the debate, and it has been done partly by ensuring there is no debate to start with. The hashtag #NotaDebate is routinely used to protest against feminist meetings and to suggest that people who want to debate are actually trying to deny trans people’s right to exist. Just to want a debate at all is framed as transphobic.

In 2015 the Trans Inquiry, led by Maria Miller and the Women and Equalities Committee, invited contributions from trans groups and other interested parties to give evidence. There were 208 written submissions from groups and individuals, including trans advocacy groups and women’s groups. Of these a number were called as witnesses, to provide further evidence and answer questions from MPs. Fifteen of these were trans people or groups, a further handful were health professionals (mostly working in gender identity settings) and absolutely none of them were women’s groups. On the subject of prisons for example, this led to the anomaly whereby no mention was made of the nefarious reasons that a male prisoner may wish to begin transitioning in prison (listed by the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists in their written evidence), whereas a question about strip-searching prisoners precipitated a collective bout of amnesia from both expert witnesses, and was then not pursued by the questioner. A women’s group may have had something to say about the right of a female employee to refuse to strip search a male body, but no women’s groups were there to do so.

The Trans Inquiry legitimised the notion pushed by trans groups that only trans people should be allowed to speak on trans issues. Amongst the groups invited to give verbal evidence were Action for Trans Health, GIRES, Trans Media Watch, Gendered Intelligence, Mermaids and the Scottish Trans Alliance. Since then these same few groups have been allowed a near monopoly on trans discourse, consulted by everyone from the BBC to the NHS, the NSPCC, the EHRC, schools, prisons, the Girl Guides, universities, political parties and the media. Some of these organisations then recommend all the same groups for their members or customers to go to for ‘more information’. The same mantras are being repeated on an endless circular self-reinforcing loop because nobody has been allowed to challenge them. All of them, it goes without saying, are to the benefit of the trans community. No consideration is given to any other protected groups. Not women, not children.

The Trans Report, published that year, was therefore predictably one-sided. Not only had women’s groups been excluded, but Maria Miller herself made a little dig about ‘purported feminists’ in her dismissal of those expressing criticism. In spite of the government’s cautious response to the report, a Guide for Service Providers was published in November 2015, in association with Gendered Intelligence. It was written as if the recommendations of the report had already been implemented. Service providers were told that the definition of trans included ‘transsexual, transgender, a cross-dresser (transvestite), non-binary and anyone else who may not conform to traditional gender roles’. This had changed considerably from the original Act’s definition. Services such as shops and leisure centres were advised that they must ‘Assume everyone selects the facilities appropriate to their gender’. This amounts in practice to something very close to gender self-ID. No laws had been changed to achieve this, and no impact assessments had been undertaken. Essentially at this point the UK government had given away the word ‘Woman’ without asking us first.

{Last week it was announced that Topshop had made all its changing rooms gender neutral, to appease a male customer who identified as trans non-binary, after he had complained in a tweet that he had been refused access to the women’s changing room. Topshop is a fashion retailer whose customer base is largely teenage girls and young women. Service providers now seem to think we have a law which protects young adult males from the indignity of being refused access to a teenage girls’ changing room. Meanwhile the Saturday girl, probably on minimum wage, has responsibility not just for the number of garments taken in, but also for the policing of which men should be allowed access. I hope they put her wages up.}

It wasn’t just the government who was keen to push forward trans rights. In 2014 the LGB support group Stonewall decided to add transgender people to their remit. From then on all LGB groups became LGBT groups, a move which tapped into the public support for LGB people at a time when same-sex marriage was in the headlines. Trans organisations have always been keen to make it clear that transgender is not a sexuality, probably because they wish to distance themselves from the evidence of autogynephilia (a sexual paraphilia associated with cross-dressing men), the highlighting of which is unlikely to foster much public support (although, unlike the accepted myths like ‘born in the wrong body’ there are decades worth of research and evidence to back it up). Trans people have benefitted from being a part of a group intended for minority sexualities, with its existing support base and funding, and have gained a much wider platform from doing so. One of the benefits has been that now anyone criticising trans rights can be accused of ‘attacking LGBT people’, and this has been very successful as a means of silencing women who want to support lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Lesbians have borne the brunt of the new trans activism: a lesbian refusing to accept the idea of a male-bodied potential sex partner is increasingly seen as transphobic by LGBT allies, and lesbians are attacked rather than supported by the organisations meant to represent them.

In October this year a meeting was held at Garden Court Chambers in London entitled ‘Progress and Challenges in Advancing Equality for Trans People in the UK’. It was hosted by the Human Rights Lawyers Association and the speakers included Bex Stinson from Stonewall and Michelle Brewer from TELI (Trans Equality Legal Initiative). Bernard and Terry from GIRES were in the audience and were also asked to speak. It was to be expected that the talks would focus on trans rights but nevertheless the extreme level of female erasure was breathtaking. When discussing the experience of trans people in prison for example, much was made of the human rights of a male bodied trans person to be strip searched by a person who matched his ‘gender identity’. One of the lawyers there had represented such a prisoner and had won the case. The word ‘dignity’ was used a lot. Not one human rights lawyer there even considered the dignity of the female prison staff asked to perform such an intimate task as part of a day’s work. In a similar vein, two of the speakers talked about the trans suicide rate in prison and both of them mentioned the most recent case, ‘just this last week’,  to hushed and respectful silence. The trans prisoner they referred to was a man called Martin Eatough who was serving a life sentence for violently raping a fifteen year old girl. He had begun his ‘transition’ in prison and was taking hormones but had not yet had any surgery. The sympathy shown to this rapist because he now came under the trans umbrella obscenely overlooked the rights of his victim.

No suicide in prison should be tolerated, whatever the offence or the sex of the perpetrator. However, due to the tireless work of Trans Media Watch, it is now increasingly the case that male crimes are being reported as female ones. So it seems from reading press reports that a man can be a woman when committing rape or murder, but that he becomes trans again if he commits suicide. It’s a double whammy for his victim: if a crime which she has experienced as male violence cannot be named (does she have to refer to him as ‘she’ for fear of committing a hate crime?) and then his suicide is elevated in the press due to his trans status (most other prison suicides are not reported individually) then where does that leave the rights of the victim to be treated with dignity, respect or sympathy?

An evening spent with human rights lawyers highlighted how large a disparity there is between trans support groups and women’s support groups. The tactics of  trans rights groups and allies to smear, no-platform and threaten people who do not support the dogma 100% has put women’s groups in an impossible position. Groups which cater for women, and are technically able to remain women-only under the current legislation, have in practice become overwhelmingly trans-inclusive. The mantra ‘transwomen are women’ is repeated ad nauseum to close down any argument, and women’s groups risk losing not only friends, but also jobs, and in some cases funding, if they voice any uncertainty. The trouble threatened by trans rights activists is often more than a small women’s centre can deal with.

High profile cases of no-platforming or public reprimand, such as Julie Bindel, Germaine Greer, Dame Jenni Murray, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Linda Bellos have shown us that anyone can be a target of trans hate. They serve as a warning to us all. Best not to speak up.

On social media there is a constant stream of abuse from trans advocates and allies towards women who don’t believe everything they are told, as documented by the website terfisaslur. Some trans Twitter users seem to be making a career out of reporting feminists to their employers for stepping out of line. This has real life consequences such as the recent case of Anne Ruzylo, Labour party women’s officer in Bexhill and Battle. Accounts which challenge the trans narrative, such as transcrimeuk, are routinely shut down after mass reporting. The website was set up to collect data about trans crime because no public body is monitoring it. Trans lobbyists would prefer that you didn’t know these stats which contradict their own statements, and the press and prison service are colluding with this spreading of misinformation by recording crimes by gender identity instead of sex. This does not stop the majority of sexual crime being committed by males and the majority of victims being female, it just means we can’t talk about it. Claims by trans groups that there is no risk to women from male-bodied trans people are disproved by the number of male sex offenders in the UK currently identifying as women –  EITHER ‘transwomen’ have male rates of violent criminal offending OR males will pretend to be women when it suits them. One of these has to be true. Women have a right to be worried.

The highly-respected academic Heather Brunskell-Evans was recently made the subject of a disciplinary investigation by the Women’s Equality Party over her comments on the BBC Radio 4 programme The Moral Maze. She had expressed her view that caution was needed when diagnosing children as transgender. This resulted in complaints from trans members of the party, and the party was ‘quick to act’ in raising a complaint with the Executive Committee. The opposite view meanwhile, that ‘trans kids’ should be affirmed and celebrated in their chosen identity, is being taught in primary schools by groups such as GIRES and Mermaids, despite there being no long term evidential base for diagnosing a child as transgender. Feminists have not yet succeeded in even getting consent education added to PHSE lessons in schools, but a trans dogma that can lead to a lifetime of medicalisation and sterility is being added with no public consultation and little parental awareness.

The Labour Party supports the updating of the GRA to include gender self ID and has recently appointed a nineteen year old man who identifies as a woman as its Women’s Officer in Rochester. The Green Party refers to women as ‘non-men’ in order to include trans and non-binary people in the category, although the category ‘man’ remains unaffected.  The Conservative Party is planning to push through gender self-identity after a consultation on changes to the GRA in the new year. Trans activists at the Anarchist Bookfair attacked women handing out feminist leaflets about the impacts of the GRA. It seems there is no longer a political home for women.

Along with the slurs and public shaming meted out to women who don’t agree with the new gender identity rules, there has been a refusal to debate the issues publicly by trans activists themselves. Meetings of women wishing to discuss the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act have been disrupted, even though speakers have been invited from the trans community (and subsequently failed to attend). A refusal to debate by trans spokespeople like Paris Lees has led to the cancellation of slots on BBC Newsnight, and, even more worryingly, a consultation by the NSPCC was cancelled after representatives from the trans community refused to debate with Sarah Ditum, calling her a ‘notorious transphobe’. (Top tip: call a woman a transphobe often enough and you can then justify calling her a notorious transphobe). Ruth Hunt, CEO of Stonewall, refused to answer questions put to her by Times journalist Janice Turner, for an article she was writing about trans children. Feminists have always wanted this debate to be balanced and transparent and public. It’s beginning to look as though trans activists have something to hide.

The outcome of the tactic of #NotaDebate is that when there is a conflict of interests which needs to be talked about there is little public understanding of the issues. Facts are hidden and simple mantras take their place. Trans people can call on the support of not only trans groups but also LGBT groups, human rights organisations, political parties and even women’s groups. Women have effectively been left with nothing. Not only that but the protected category of sex, intended to protect women from discrimination, has been neutered by the inclusion of men. Groups and political parties set up to support women and level the playing field now have to be ‘inclusive’ in order to survive, despite the fact that the sex category ‘women’ is by definition ‘exclusive’. Prizes, awards, sports and jobs reserved for women are being awarded to men in the name of inclusivity.  This is the natural consequence of giving away the word ‘woman’. We could still exclude trans-identified males from spaces reserved for women, if only we could name them as trans-identified males. Feminists are now increasingly adopting this choice of language in order to reclaim ‘Woman’ as a sex-specific category that belongs to us. We have to be able to assert our own boundaries.

The argument we have to contend with from trans activists and allies, is that  transwomen are women, and not only that, but they are the most oppressed and marginalised of all women so they deserve more support than the rest of us. The fact of male anatomy, biology and physiology evidently doesn’t change this and nor does the fact of male socialisation. The argument usually made is that ‘transwomen’ do not benefit from male privilege as they have never felt ‘male’, but aside from the fact that privilege does not work in that way, it is irrelevant anyway: what men benefit from is female socialisation. When women are brought up under the constructs of gender they are socialised into wanting to please, to be nice, to be kind, to care about other people. Stepping out of line is painful, and also it is punished. Women who speak out about gender are called TERFs and TERFs are the same as Nazis and Nazis deserve violence. At least, that’s the view peddled by Action for Trans Health (remember? The group invited to give evidence at the Trans Inquiry?)

When trans activists say trans lives are #NotaDebate what they really mean is that they refuse to discuss women’s rights and they refuse to discuss child protection issues. The focus on listening to trans people has proved to be indulgent and infantalising towards the people it is meant to help, and it has led to an extreme level of entitlement amongst activists, evidenced by the level of verbal and physical violence deployed.

It’s sometimes difficult to remember, amongst all the arguments, exactly what women stand to lose here. The sex category ‘female’ is being asked to absorb the sex category ‘male’. What women are being forced to accept could literally not be any more extreme.

So, that’s the point we’re at. Changes to the Gender Recognition Act are due for consultation in Spring 2018. Grassroots groups of women are springing up everywhere as more and more women realise what’s happening. On Facebook, on Twitter and on Mumsnet, increasing numbers of women are finding groups where they are allowed to debate, and real-life groups are forming off the back of these. Unfunded and voluntary for the main part, ordinary but extraordinary women are working together to protect the rights of all women. Our voice is finally being heard in the mainstream media. There will be a tipping point where the number of women refusing to be silenced will overtake the number of women too scared to speak up.

If you want to find out more, or join in, go and look at Fair Play for Women, Transgender Trend, A Woman’s Place, Mayday for Women, Youth Trans Critical Professionals, the Lesbian Rights Alliance, Socialist Feminist Network and more. Come and join us. Remember, as a clever feminist recently coined it, what TERF really stands for is Telling Everyone Real Facts. And someone’s got to do it.