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.