Facts Matter; Challenging the myths about self identification
We have watched with growing dismay the campaign against allowing self identification of gender. It has been accepted by those with knowledge of, and experience in the current system that it is outdated, and needs reform. The Gender Recognition Act, whilst ground breaking in its day, needs to be changed. We know from countries such as Denmark, Ireland and Malta that self identification works, and does not bring about the apocalyptic outcomes claimed.
There is a lot of misinformation even about the current law, and what it means to be trans, and we hope to address some of the confusion in this post. There is no legal requirement in the UK to have gender affirmative surgery, to take hormones, or to legally change your name, birth certificate or other documentation. There is conflation of the steps required to access surgery and other medical interventions, with some kind of legal process. This is simply not the case, for all intents and purposes, particularly when it comes to gender variant children, we already have a system which recognises self declared binary* gender. Reforms would provide easier access to documentation for those who wanted it, and remove barriers such as the spousal veto, and gender recognition certification process. They would not however fundamentally change the rights and protections which a person has from the moment they declare themselves to be a binary trans person.
This matters because yet another piece has been published making wild claims, and attempting to create the type of “bathroom panic” which we have seen in America. Even more worryingly the writer Kiri Tunks is a teacher, and Vice President of the National Union of Teachers. This is such an important position, with the ability to influence how trans children are treated within schools that we feel we must directly address the piece.
The piece opens with the type of conflation and misrepresentaion which we are weary of seeing;
The relaxing of any legal definition of what it is to be a man or a woman could render sex discrimination law meaningless and any imposition of change without winning people to it is likely to cause a counter-productive backlash.
Allowing self identification of gender would not be “relaxing the legal definition of what it is to be a man or a woman” It is simply changing the rules by which trans people access the legal rights and protections they are entitled to under the 2010 Equality Act and 2004 Gender Recognition Act. Trans women are women, trans men are men, specific exemptions apply under the Equality act to exclude them from certain services. This is wrong, and should be changed, but it is nothing to do with the protections provided according to your gender and/or trans status. Just as someone can have more than one protected characteristic under the Equality Act now, so they could after self identification of gender was adopted. Someone could be disabled and a woman, so they could be trans and a woman, and thus have more than one protected characteristic. Sex discrimination law would therefore clearly be unaffected.
The author of the Morning Star piece then goes on to say;
It is also likely to impact on society’s ability to plan for and accommodate the needs of its population and the way it attempts to even out inequality
There is no explanation of how it would impact, it is simply stated that treating trans people with fairness is bound to harm non trans people.
Concerns about access to single-sex spaces are often dismissed as unjustified moral panic. The truth is that this society has failed to ensure equality of treatment for women and girls: single-sex spaces exist to try to ameliorate the oppression women face
We at Be also recognise that there may be a need for single sex spaces. however, binary trans people are not a third gender, or their assigned at birth gender. Trans women are women, trans men are men, we will be repeating that a lot in this article. So, the only reason to be concerned about single sex spaces is because you do not believe that fact. This is often phrased along the lines of -“If you allow trans people in single sex spaces Jimmy the Rapist will put on a dress to attack women“. This is called a dog whistle. The person is actually saying that they believe that trans women are men who put on dresses to falsely access women only spaces. Whilst there is no law stopping men using women’s toilets (or vice versa, as any visit to a busy nightclub will show you) there are laws against rape, assault and violence. Preventing trans people accessing single sex spaces does not change these laws.
Currently it is legal to exclude trans people from certain single sex spaces. So a trans woman who is the victim of rape or domestic violence can be refused access to services designed to support women. Imagine being told as you are traumatised by a violent assault that you are not enough of a woman to access services?
Trans women are women, trans men are men, we told you we would be repeating that a few times,
Removing legal exceptions will mean that services already under attack from austerity politics will be further hampered in their ability to deliver for the people they were created to serve.
The self identification of gender has nothing to do with the much needed removal of the exemption that allows a raped and assulted trans woman to be denied services. Single sex services designed for women can easily also allow trans women to access them, many do so. Services like Survivours Manchester, for cis and trans men, have adapted their policies so trans men are included.
“But what about Jimmy the Rapist who puts on a dress?” The idea that hundreds of men are perfectly law abiding now, but if self identification of gender is allowed they will use it to abuse women would be laughable if the abuse of women were not such a serious issue. We believe the blame for the gendered harms in our society needs to be placed where it belongs, at the door of men and boys who abuse women, both cis and trans, not at trans women simply trying to live their lives.
This Morning Star article follows a very familiar pattern. After the argument that trans rights will lead to harms to cis women it moves onto the science.
Terms that are used to describe people of and from specific groups must be determined by all the people in those groups. But the term “woman” is now being defined in several ways. For the majority of women it is still determined by biology; for many transwomen it is by a strongly held belief or “knowing.” In this context, how can the term mean the same thing to both?
Firstly terms are never defined by all members of a group. There is no referendum on language. Instead it changes and evolves from a number of sources, including common usage. For example 100 years ago gay meant happy, now it means homosexual. No one asked every gay man if they were OK with, or even wanted this change.
What it means to be a woman changes according to culture, society, history, language and a variety of biological markers. Whilst cis women may be in the majority, huge variation exists within that majority. Some cis women have beards, some cannot have children, some do not have breasts, some menstruate, some do not. It is also the case that with one in a hundred people having some difference of sexual development, many people may believe they are cis, when their chromosomes or other physical features may say otherwise.
It is worth taking a moment to point out here that not once does Kiri Tunks address the existence of trans men. That is because in her “biological” conception of gender, they are women.
How do you know your gender? How do you know you are a man or a woman? Take a few moments to think about that question. It is an area we cover in our trainings. Often cis people have not had to consider how they know their gender. They often feedback to us how it comes down to a strongly held belief, or feeling. Cis people and trans people have a sense of their gender, regardless of how this is physically expressed.
Natally born women now find any number of terms being used to define them (most of which have not involved any discussion inside the women’s movement): “cis,” “non-men,” “non-transwomen,” “vagina owners,” “menstruators,” “non-prostate owners.”
The phrase used to be womyn born womyn, now it is “natally” born as if anyone could be born any other way. It is a construct designed to avoid using cisgender. Cisgender presents cis people on a par with trans people. It says some people remain with their assigned gender at birth (cis comes from the Latin meaning same side) while some people move away from their assigned birth gender (trans). Many of the terms listed may well be used, a festival might advertise itself as not for men, a cervical cancer screening service might speak of people with cervixes, a food bank might offer free sanitary towels for mensturators. Not a single one of these stops anyone calling themselves a woman, and outside of specialist services, the term woman is the most commonly used.
There is also a growth in the substitution of “queer” for “lesbian” or “dyke.”
Some people identify as queer, some as lesbian, some as dykes. For someone to object to how other people define themsleves throws us back to the old days of trying to cure homosexuality. If someone identifies as a queer person, it takes nothing away from those who identify in other ways. Just as straight people are not harmed by the existence of gay people, so lesbians are not harmed by the existence of queer people, of any gender.
These terms, we are told, are being applied in an attempt to be inclusive. The term “vagina owners” was used in a recent article on anal sex in Teen Vogue, a magazine primarily catering to teenage girls and young women.
It would be useful to have a link to the piece cited here, but we can only applaud Teen Vogue for not excluding trans men and non binary people from their valuable sex education work.
For a movement that prides itself on inclusivity, it feels like, once again, women are the exception. When we express our disquiet, we are abused or silenced, like the FGM campaigner who was called a Terf (trans exclusionary radical feminist) for referencing female genitalia
Again without context we cannot say whether this claim is true or not. Or if it was one angry person shouting on twitter. Perhaps though, denial of a group’s rights should not be based on unsubstantiated claims?
Terms and definitions must be based in some kind of material reality that is apparent to more than just an individual. If “woman” or “man” mean different things to different people then the terms become meaningless — and useless
It is the case that all words have different meanings, and contexts. This is not an academic piece, however, many women of colour have written of how they are excluded from ideas of what a women is. There has been much discussion of how murdered black boys in America are described as men, how young black girls are sexualised as women. Even within a UK context there has been a change in our own lifetimes about what we see as a child, and an adult. That words have different meanings to different people does not make them useless or meaningless. Or to use the example of gay again, to someone in their 90’s it might mean happy, to someone in their 30’s it might mean homosexual.
Women, who are told that our biology is not female when we feel that is what makes us female,
Earlier we were told that it is only trans women who have “feelings” about their gender identity. Here that is directly contradicted, because of course, all genders have feelings about their gender.
Another trend is the casual substitution of “gender” for “sex” when they mean very different things
It can be very difficult when science advances, and causes us to have to change our views. It can also be difficult to explain without getting very academic, but we are going to try.
800 years ago everyone believed the Sun went around the Earth. Science taught this as fact, mathematical equations were used to estimate the size of the Sun, Earth and other planetary bodies. Then, first with Copernicus, and famously Galileo, mathematics was used to suggest that in fact the Earth revolved around the Sun. The science had to change in order to fit what was now known. Lots of people refused to change their beliefs, Galileo was punished for his writing, but it did not change the fact that the old belief was wrong and the new belief right.
For a long time people said, sex is biological, limited to two forms, man and woman, and gender is how we present ourselves, or construct our identify. Or, sex is real, gender, is manufactured.
They were wrong. Science now shows us that there are immense amounts of variations in how people may be sexed, or gendered, the words are not the two distinct categories we believed, the Sun does not go around the earth.
As the journal of Stanford university explains
The simple scenario many of us learned in school is that two X chromosomes make someone female, and an X and a Y chromosome make someone male. These are simplistic ways of thinking about what is scientifically very complex. Anatomy, hormones, cells, and chromosomes (not to mention personal identity convictions) are actually not usually aligned with one binary classification
So the claim that “sex is biological” made in the piece is rather like saying the Sun goes round the Earth. It may not be your fault you believe it, it may be that is what you were taught in schools, it may be that some of the science is complicated, and harder to understand, but it still isn’t as simple as many people think. This does not mean that there are not stereotypes and sexism that need to be challenged. It is just that this is a completely different debate from asking what biologically makes someone their gender.
The next section is frankly a little confusing.
Women who live in poverty, cannot access education or equal pay at work cannot identify into wealth or equality. Sex data on issues as diverse as pensions and pay or domestic violence become harder to collect and use as part of our battle for equality.
We work with organisations to improve their data collection methods, knowing how many trans service users a hospital trust has (for example) means they can provide better services. Knowing how many people on file do not need to be called in for a cervical smear test (because they do not have a cervix) saves money. Knowing how many people whose medical records say “male” who might need breast cancer screening because they are trans men saves lives. Having accurate data on all sections of the population helps everyone. There is no push to stop collecting data on cis women, and the addition of accurate data on trans people does not harm cis women. It is reminiscent of those who said same sex marriage would harm their marriages, simply by existing. Indeed making research more inclusive has many benefits. Not assuming, for example, that every woman is married, has children, changes their name upon marriage, has led to more accurate research and data collection methods.
This is a women’s rights issue because women’s rights are still not won. We are still fighting a battle for universal access to reproductive rights services or abortions — look at Northern Ireland or the ridiculous moralising from Boots over the morning after pill
Access to reproductive rights is very important, and it is just as important for trans men and non binary people. Since not just women can have an abortion it is simply a matter of accuracy that advertisements and flyers reflect that. It may be that for some this new language is confusing, and there may be times when simplicity needs to be balanced with accuracy. This is not the same as saying this is not an issue which affects women, but that in being accurate we are trying to ensure that no one is excluded from services.
We have spent a long time on this piece, largely because it is very familiar. The same arguments have been made a number of times, and will continue to be made, because change frightens some, and because others are opposed to trans rights. We live in a society where trans people are excluded, assaulted and murdered because of their difference. We believe it is wrong that a national figurehead like Kiri Tunks is allowed to voice transphobic views uncensured. If her union will not do it, we shall, and we shall continue to provide a voice for Trans people across the North East and beyond.
You can sign the petition calling on the NUT to publicly repudiate the views of their own Vice President here.
- We are aware that much of the current debate, and all current legislation assumes a binary gender, we will continue to support and campaign for non- binary people