I am a transwoman but I am also a science teacher, and I do understand the reality of biological sex. It is the basis of the procreation of our species. There are seven and a half billion people on this planet and each has two biological parents – one female and one male – that’s real.
A recent billboard campaign that defined women as “adult human females” was met with howls of protest for being unkind and even transphobic. Because it left the question hanging: where do transwomen fit in?
I won’t speak for anyone else but I know where I fit in, and I am not female. I have XY chromosomes and I was born with male sex organs. If that wasn’t enough, I fathered three children. I am male.
But I was a male that always struggled with the expectations and restrictions that society placed on me because of my sex. Struggled was an understatement. The incongruence between how I wanted to relate to society and how society insisted on relating to me caused my mental health to collapse. I transitioned to escape. I changed my body and I changed my relationship with society. But I didn’t change my sex.
I do not identify as a woman; I identify with women and I am proud to stand with them. I also respect their boundaries: boundaries that would look very flimsy if government proposals for self-identification of gender become law.
The assertion that trans women are women is superficially attractive – for trans people, and self-identification would establish that legally. But with no objective definition of “trans woman”, any male person could become a female person just because they said so, and inherit the protections and rights of women. The group formerly known as women would then lose control of their boundaries to a new group of women – including men who choose to identify as women.
I am not surprised this prospect is driving fear in women. And fear on both sides has made this debate so heated and toxic, and damaged the trust and confidence that has existed between women and transwomen. We need to talk and we need to listen because without trust and confidence, transwomen are very vulnerable.
A gender recognition certificate may give any trans woman the right to enter women’s spaces and join their groups. But it can never stop women from then leaving those spaces at the same time. And that is no way for any of us to live.
Debbie Hayton is a transwoman and a physics teacher
* I read this essay on BBC Radio 4 World at One on 19 October 2018.
15 replies on “Trust and confidence must be restored”
At last, a voice of reason. Thank you.
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Thank you for your kind words.
Like many people, not all of us women, I am very, very grateful to you for your work over the past year (and perhaps before then, though I wasn’t aware of it then). Your essay above has made me feel faintly teary. Thankyou.
Thank you for your kind words. 🙂
This is a beautiful statement.
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Your bringing up Karen White on Woman’s Hour was disgusting. She has nothing to do with the experience of most trans women.
The boundaries you talk of: many women are happy to include us. Emily Thornberry put it beautifully: as a radical feminist of the 1980s she knew that her feminism was capacious enough to include people like me. But some women would exclude all trans women. Now, a small lesbian group, I am not going to insist on being allowed in if they don’t want me; but if a woman says that I should not be allowed to use women’s loos, that means I cannot use loos at all, in most places. Some boundaries are phobic.
There will be no sudden inrush of men pretending to be women. Not from GRA reform, which has only peripheral relevance to anything, and is largely symbolic.
But bringing up that prisoner associates us with that prisoners. There are teachers now in prison, even for sex crimes, but no-one would judge you because you share one characteristic with those teachers. Karen White is a sex criminal. Karen White is trans. Bringing up Karen White, you conflate the two things and besmirch all of us, but mostly yourself.
It comes down to boundaries, Claire: the boundaries of women’s spaces, groups, associations and protections. Who controls them? Women. or people who identify as women?
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Well, which women? Phobic women, who just want all trans women out, or women like Emily Thornberry, whose radical feminism is capacious enough to include anyone who identifies as a woman?
Any feminist who thinks you are not transphobic has not heard of internalised misogyny (or cannot make simple generalisations from concepts). Karen White. Really.
Karen White is a transwoman just like me and just like you. We need to take responsibility for our own.
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Um. Saying that when trans women are placed in the male or female estate that should take account of the safety of the cis prisoners has a superficial attraction. I don’t want trans women sexually assaulting people any more than WPUK. But the issue is the safety of prisoners, not the danger of trans women, and that’s an issue of funding and management of prisons generally, which allows transphobes to raise White as a bogeyman. And in women’s refuges, the Stonewall report showed bullying of a trans woman, the trans woman was too frightened to report it, other cis women in the refuge reported it. The transphobes are exaggerating fears of trans women, which has real life consequences for harmless trans women. Don’t join them spreading their propaganda.
Sorry Clare but you cannot have it both ways. We are told ‘trans women are women’ we are told ‘I am what I say I am’ we are told there is ‘no debate’, we are told there must be ‘acceptance without exception’, we are also now told that as women, we are no longer allowed to define what a woman is. Well the logical conclusion to all of that is that ANYONE who says they are a woman is a woman, including Karen White and any other predatory man who decides to take the opportunity presented by Self id, to attack women. If women have to accept men in our spaces, men in our sports, men in our private spaces, men in our refuges, men on our women only shortlists, then you have to accept Karen White is a trans woman and failure to do so makes you a transphobic bigot.
Debbie is speaking her truth and it is the truth of a transsexual woman, the kind of woman who has been welcomed and respected for decades, by women. An ally, a sister and a friend who recognises what feminism is and that it is about women who are oppressed, by men, because of their biology. Thank you Debbie.
I can’t make sense of this. You seem to think Debbie is a woman because she agrees with you.
I find it strange that you cannot make sense of it, the first paragraph concerns trans ideology and how you are contradicting it by not accepting Karen White, coz you know, she is what she says she is. The second is an acknowledgement that Debbie understands the reality of who she is and the relationship that can exist between women and transsexual women if we have understanding, empathy and solidarity with each other. I can’t help you if you cannot see that. Bye now.
Read my comments again. What makes you think I deny Karen White is a trans woman?