Originally published: 24.01.16
Maria Miller has stated that she is ‘taken aback’ by the ”hostility’ towards the government’s recent transgender reportfrom ‘purported feminists.’ She says: “I think that all of us who are feminists know that equality for other groups of people, and a fairer deal for other groups of people, is good for us as well.”
Yes of course, as a society nobody wants to see any group suffering discrimination so why would anyone not give just a passing nod of approval to this new report, even those horrible feminists?
This time it’s not so simple; ‘transgender’ is not one of those ‘other groups’ defined by distinct boundaries, as all other minority groups are. By definition, ‘transgender’ stakes claim to membership of already existing groups; the mantra ‘transwomen are women’ accordingly puts them into two protected categories; both ‘transgender’ and ‘women’.
In the blurring of boundaries, ‘women’ as a distinct group ceases to exist; we have to say ‘women-born women’ now to make the sex-based distinction clear, and we are losing the right to do even that: any sex-based comparisons are seen as ‘transphobic.’
This is the crux of the matter; if the recommendations in this report are passed into law as expected, it means that in important legal terms the distinction between men and women will become ‘gender’ instead of ‘sex’. This is an arbitrary move; when did we decide that ‘gender’ is a stronger marker than ‘sex’ if you need to differentiate between men and women? Gender, as a concept of masculinity and femininity, is based on subjective opinion; a means of dividing men and women along personality lines. ‘Correct’ gendered behaviour and presentation is already enforced and policed by society in a million different ways from birth, and the group it mostly harms is women. This report does not ask women to support transgender rights, it demands that we accept a definition of women which reinforces a limiting stereotype and at the same time deny the biological sex which is the basis of discrimination against women.
If gender-based rights are enshrined in law, women will still suffer sex-based oppressions such as sexual assault, rape, FGM, and discrimination based on our perceived capacity to give birth, but we will lose the language to talk about it and the right to organise against it as women, along with all sex-based protections such as single-sex facilities and services.
The report may look like little tweaks here and there to tighten up previous Acts, but it represents a fundamental shift: the process of erasing ‘sex’ and replacing it with ‘gender’ will become near-enough complete. The move from ‘transsexual’ (a recognition of two sexes) to ‘transgender’ (the idea of two genders), together with the change in definition of transgender from a clinically diagnosed condition of ‘gender dysphoria’ to a non-pathological state of ‘gender identity’ establishes ‘gender’ as not only the main marker, but a fixed innate one. (The suggestion of changing ‘gender reassignment’ to ‘gender confirmation’ and ‘acquired gender’ to ‘affirmed gender’ would seal the deal).
Language is important; it’s why the transgender lobby have worked so hard to change it and to train the media to do the same: ‘sex-change’ for example has become an offensive term as sex no longer exists and transgender people aren’t changing anything, but seeking acknowledgment of innate gender. If we were still using the term ‘transsexual’ parents would obviously not be so willing to apply it to their own children and nor would society as a whole. The label ‘transgender’ nicely obscures the fact that we are telling children that they are really the opposite sex, as implicitly acknowledged in the ‘treatment’ with cross-sex hormones.
Obfuscation of language is a great way to hide reality.
The biggest shift lies in the fact that we were never obliged to see transsexual men as ‘real women, the same as any other woman’ – because we all know that you can’t actually change sex, it’s a biological impossibility. If the government had stopped there and called for tighter laws to protect this distinct group from discrimination, at the same time as ensuring women’s continued protection as a sex-based category, there would be no problem. Perhaps we could have then examined the issue of male violence against transsexuals and worked on real protections for that group.
Instead, the report demands that women accept that ‘gender’ is the important distinction between men and women in areas where it’s really not.
The biggest practical impact for women is in the proposal to both simplify the application process for a gender recognition certificate in line with the principle of self-declaration, at the same time as making it illegal to exclude anyone in possession of a certificate from single-sex services. Facilities and services will in effect become single-gender, and yet the need for these sex-based protections hasn’t just gone away; single-sex services are there for a reason which hasn’t suddenly, magically changed.
This is how we get ridiculous situations like the recent case of the prisoner Tara Hudson, a transwoman whose crime was to head-butt a man so violently he lost all his front teeth, who had eight previous convictions for GBH and was a fully-intact male who boasted about his ‘7-inch surprise’ on his online escort site. Someone exhibiting behaviour at the extreme male end of the spectrum is now housed alongside vulnerable women, around 50% of whom will have experienced male violence and who are in prison overwhelmingly for non-violent offenses. Gender, though.
Why is holding out for rights based on sex seen as discrimination against trans people, and yet establishing gender-based rights is not seen as discrimination against women as a sex? How come gender gets to win?
To say transwomen are women doesn’t just minimise the importance of biological sex, it denies its existence altogether. One of the most heartbreaking things I’ve seen is a young transwoman’s genuine bewilderment and shock that young heterosexual males lose sexual interest in ‘her’ when they discover that ‘she’ has a penis. We have been teaching kids this stuff in schools since 2008 and in this report the government proposes more. No wonder our young people are so confused; outside the echo-chamber world of transgender groups, biological sex does matter.
The more we continue to enforce gender as the truth and sex as an illusion, the more 3-year-olds will be admitted to gender clinics by parents invested in the gender-stereotype version of difference between boys and girls, and another confused generation will be created.
In this report the government establishes that, in legal terms, where there is a clash of sex-based and gender-based rights, gender beats sex. If we go by the old-fashioned sex-based distinction between men and women, that means that men gain rights over women and validation by government will ensure that female-identified men will be more confident of those rights in other situations. As the report makes it easier for any man to identify as a woman and be taken at his word, this clearly puts women at risk. What feminist would not point that out?
It is not the case that feminists are ‘against’ transgender people as a group; the implicit assumption of Maria Miller that this is the only possible explanation for speaking out says it all. The government has put feminists in an impossible position: the very act of asserting women’s rights as a sex class, by definition, makes transphobes of us all.