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A Woman’s Place is a Safe Port – a transsexual perspective

Abusers will take opportunities wherever safeguarding is weakest.

And every time someone abuses the system then it is our credibility that’s being damaged. Women say “how can I trust you?”

[Transcript of the Speech I gave at A Woman’s Place is a Safe Port, a meeting organised by Woman’s Place UK in Liverpool on 25th September 2018 to coincide with the Labour Party Conference]

Thank you, Megan [Dobney – Chair of the meeting]

Just some facts about me first before I start:

  • I’m a member of the Labour Party, and I’m campaigning for a better fairer Britain;
  • I’m a trade unionist. I’m a caseworker and I’m an advocate for working people; and
  • I’m a Physics Teacher. That is the conversation killer at parties all the time.

But Physics easy compared to people. That’s something I’ve learned over the last two years. This morning, for example, I was teaching heat to Year 8. Now in Physics, heat is the macroscopic manifestation of kinetic energy of microscopic particles, or that’s what I was teaching Year 8.

But this evening we are aware of heat of a different kind. The debate around proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act has become so inflamed that it has led to threats, intimidation, bullying and violence, and – I think – many of us are aware of that.

How to cool this debate down and find progressive solutions calls for a different kind of wisdom, and it’s harder than explaining physics. But one thing is for sure: we are not going to find those solutions by shouting at each other, or shutting down the debate.

I’m so grateful to Woman’s Place for promoting respectful discussions at meetings across the country.

And there is a fourth thing about me: I am a trans rights activist campaigning for trans people who do face less favourable treatment in the workplace.

I have three points I want to make this evening

  • Firstly, in a healthy democracy we must be able to discuss public policy;
  • Secondly, it’s not transphobic or bigoted to question assertions made by the trans lobby, and that includes me – I am part of the trans lobby as well; and
  • Thirdly, self-identification poses huge risks to transsexual people. At risk is the social acceptance we have built up in recent years. Much of that is informal and based on trust.

Now Ann [Sinnot], Helen [Watts], and Lucy [Masoud] and Ruth [Serwotka] to come: they speak from a female perspective; I’m speaking from a transsexual perspective. I use that word deliberately: transsexual. Some people seem to think it’s archaic and antediluvian but for me it has meaning. It implies someone who has made – or intends to make – a meaningful transition that has been driven by Gender Dysphoria.

Transgender is a much broader term. It includes transsexuals: we are under that transgender umbrella. But it also includes people previously known as transvestites and cross dressers.

According to one campaign poster I found when I was preparing these notes, transgender “encompasses any individual who crosses over or challenges their society’s traditional gender roles and/or expressions.” Anyone here?

If any women want to identify as men, go ahead! You are now due for a 20% pay rise, a reduction in unpaid caring duties, and other men will suddenly start giving way to you in meetings.

But that’s not going to work is it? It doesn’t work! Women are not oppressed due to their gender – how they express themselves – they are oppressed because of their sex. That’s why we call it sexism.

We can replace sex with gender but we won’t replace sexism with genderism, and I agree with everything Helen [Watts] said: If we ignore sex we will ignore sexism.  And that sex in transsexual matters. This is not about gender. I identify with the opposite sex.

Now back to my three points

  • In a healthy democracy we must be able to discuss public policy.

Some people don’t agree with that, and make a lot of fuss; they don’t like it. But I want to thank Woman’s Place for what they are doing to host these debates. The proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act affect women and trans people and we need to talk about them.

  • Second point, it is not transphobic or bigoted to question assertions made by the trans lobby.

Let me give you one assertion: Transwomen are women. It’s almost like some mantra that must be followed. But what does that mean?

What is a woman? There was a poster around here that gave the answer – adult human female – but a man demanded that it was taken down, so down it went! It seems that some consider it hate speech to define a woman by her sex.

Secondly, what is a transwoman? We’ve got that huge transgender umbrella. Let’s look at transsexual women: transsexual women are women – OK, maybe – maybe if they have been “done”. Though Sooty my cat – when my cat Sooty was spraying around the house – we had him done as well. It didn’t change his sex.

But what about, cross dressers are women? Two years ago I would have rolled my eyes at that but when a cross dresser wins recognition as one of the Top 100 female executives two years running it seems that people believe it.

While I speak on that, I do want to pay tribute to Pips Bunce for pushing back the boundaries so that male people can wear a dress to work, and that’s great. Absolutely they should, but putting on a dress does not change your sex.

But are transwomen women? I speak for myself here; I don’t want to get in any debate with any other transwoman. Women are female. Now I fathered three children and, unless there were some visits by the Angel Gabriel that I didn’t know about, I’m responsible for them. I’m not female. Sex is a pretty important distinction when it comes to defining women.

As I said before, I don’t identify as a woman. I hear it but I’m not sure what it even means to identify as a woman. It’s nonsense. I could just as easily say I identified as a lottery winner; that would be good. You are either a lottery winner or you’re not.  And after I leave here I’ve got to go home because I’m at work tomorrow morning at 8.30 so I’m not a lottery winner.

Instead, what I say is that I identify with women. It’s a better place to be. It does not rely on assertions that I can’t justify, and I know I can’t justify. My identity is not vulnerable to people not believing me. And I got here – into this better place – because people challenged me. We must challenge each other in society.

  • My third point was to say that self-identification risks the informal social acceptance that transsexual people have built up in recent years.

There was a thread on Mumsnet that some of you might have read that went on for about 700 posts, and I read it. That’s what I mean: I predicted this two years ago. I wrote on my blog two years ago that we are risking this acceptance, and I’m seeing it with my own eyes. And the reason is – it’s because people are concerned. I want to finish by citing two separate issues, which I think are a problem.

  • One is safeguarding, and that follows on from things Helen has said;
  • and secondly is positive discrimination methods.

We don’t live in a perfect world where everybody’s nice to each other (I think some activists do exist in that world). If we did then we wouldn’t need any laws at all – we wouldn’t be discussing laws because we would all just treat each other with dignity and respect. But our real world is not like that, and we need laws that have teeth, [for] when people are not nice to each other.

And first in the safeguarding – we need to protect women and girls from male violence, oppression and intimidation, and sex-segregation is central to many safeguarding policies. And how do you divide society if it is not strictly by biological sex?

Now, for years transsexuals have been quietly included by women. Either as of right (if we have a GRC) or by consent (in many cases, including my own, where there is no GRC), and in real life women do include me in those spaces because they say they want me to be there.

But I suspect that some in the room may think that is an imposition, and I see where people are coming from. I’m happy to debate this point in the pub later with people, but what I would say is that the gatekeeping involved in the medical reports within the present Gender Recognition Act offers safeguards against abuse and reassures society.

Sweep those safeguards away and we are left in different territory. If any male person can become a female person just because they say so, then some will be tempted to do it for nefarious purposes.

I hear the argument that men wouldn’t do that, would they? I was a man for long enough to know that some men definitely would do that and they are precisely the men that women need to worry about. They are also the men that that transsexuals need to worry about as well.

Abusers will take opportunities wherever safeguarding is weakest.

And every time someone abuses the system then it is our credibility that’s being damaged. Women say “how can I trust you?”

Secondly onto Positive Discrimination

We are on the fringe of the Labour Party Conference: All-women shortlists. All-women shortlists were introduced to promote an under-represented group: females.

Under-represented because girls are socialised differently and women are treated differently. Now, I was socialised as a boy and I made my way in life, and high in my profession, as a man with the benefits that gave me.

I want to say that Hell would freeze over before I applied for a female list. GRC or no GRC

Yes. Trans people are underrepresented and yes I support affirmative action to support under-represented groups. But using All-Women shortlists creates two wrongs – first it excludes transmen – a group equally in need of representation and secondly it takes representation from another under-represented group: women. Let’s take the places from the over-represented group – the men!

Thank you

By Debbie Hayton

Physics teacher and trade unionist.

4 replies on “A Woman’s Place is a Safe Port – a transsexual perspective”

Thanks Debbie. I’ll circulate it round Women members in Wavertree clp. Helen

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Thanks. Although I don’t always agree with what you say (but… who does ever agree on everything anyway?), I’m really glad I discovered you. I think you are a very important voice, and I love your writings. The debate has gone more or less to hell also where I live, because of both sides, I think, and while I want to support trans people, also those who simply identify as transgender and not transsexual, I’m quickly growing very tired of some “mantras” they push. When I first got interested in the trans rights movement, I wasn’t quite expecting this. I hope I’ll be able to discuss things constructively with people I know some day, without being labelled a transphobe, and if that still happens and the conversation turns sour, well, that’s oki doki I guess.
Anyhow, thank you for taking the time to write these things. I think it really helps to spread a different way of thinking.

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