Sophie Grace Chappell and Debbie Hayton
The Gender Recognition Act was debated by Sophie Grace Chappell (SGC) and Debbie Hayton (DH) on Mornings with Kaye Adams (KA). BBC Radio Scotland, Monday 21 February 2022.
Sophie Grace Chappell is Professor of Philosophy at The Open University; Debbie Hayton is a physics teacher.
KA: Well, let me bring in Debbie and Sophie Grace because I think they do have different views on this. Sophie Grace, if I could ask you first. What do you see? I know you are in favour of this reform. What is the significance of it for you? Why is the Gender Recognition Certificate, and making it easier to obtain that, so important?
SGC: Well, I think the upfront issue is a matter of people’s identity documents which is pretty much like a bureaucratic detail. Though what stands behind that, and I think what raises the blood pressure on both sides of the debate is that we’re talking about whether a rather stigmatised minority are going to be allowed to have the same rights as anyone else in society to say who they are, and to be who they are, and to be recognised as that without being looked down on or treated as monsters.
SGC: And I think one of the big problems in this debate – I think it’s very interesting when you go through the details, as we just have, and as John Curtis does on the BBC Website – what’s obvious is how many people just don’t know what to think about this because they are only seeing trans people in various kinds of monstering stereotypes. They’re only seeing them in the context of loaded questions like, “should trans women be allowed into the women’s bathrooms?” and that sort of thing. It sets us up to be perceived as monsters.
SGC: We’re talking about identity documents; we’re talking about something at the level of the passport; we’re talking about something that will almost never be seen by anyone except your employer or the government so in a sense it’s a very small deal. In a sense it’s not a big deal at all, and all the countries where there is already self-ID: Argentina, Ireland, Canada, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Brazil, Belgium, other places too. In all these places it’s just been a total non-event, the passing of self-ID. And of course, there are big problems about violence against women and about violence against … including violence against trans women and other trans people. Of course, there are huge problems about violence but the way that the debate is set up, it’s always we trans people are a threat.
SGC: I think if people knew trans people then this wouldn’t happen, and I think the problem with this debate is that a lot of the time the people who are giving these responses don’t actually know any trans people. They’ve never seen a trans person on the telly; they’ve never heard a trans person on the radio. Perhaps it’s the first time for some of your listeners today will hear trans people speak? We are not monsters, we’re just members of society. We want the same rights as anyone else in society and it’s really not a threat and it’s really not to do with a lot of the issues that it’s often connected with.
KA: Well Debbie can I ask for your view? Sophie Grace doesn’t think this is a big deal if you boil it down. Would you agree?
DH: Well, if it’s not a big deal, let’s just scrap the whole thing. Why do we need a Gender Recognition Act? That’s the base of it really. Sophie Grace has actually said it’s not a big deal, it’s a minor thing, it’s a birth certificate in a filing cabinet that never comes out. If the Gender Recognition Act, if all it does is change a birth certificate then let’s scrap it. It serves no purpose. But it runs deeper than that. The birth certificate is the definitive document of our sex, and to allow male people like me and Sophie to have a birth certificate …
SGC (interrupts): I’m not a male person. Excuse me, I’m not a male person. You shouldn’t say that Debbie. I’m not a male person. Don’t say that, please.
DH: To let people like me and Sophie have a birth certificate which says that we’re not the sex we really are, that says we’re …
SGC (interrupts): It does say the sex I really am. It does say the sex I really am. I’m not having that.
KA: OK. Well, I can hear that this is very contentious and I don’t really think it’s my place to be honest to intervene, so Debbie please carry on but I’d ask you also to be respectful of Sophie Grace’s position which she has clearly outlined.
DH: Well, I’ll go back to what I was saying about the birth certificate. The birth certificate is a historical record of our birth, of our sex which was observed at birth and documented at birth. And what a Gender Recognition Certificate allows us to do is to effectively falsify that certificate, create a legal fiction which says that we were born as the other sex. And that, because in society men and women are treated differently when it comes to safeguarding procedures. To allow someone just to do that, not on the basis of medical evidence of need, but simply because they want to do it, is an affront to safeguarding.
DH: I don’t believe that the UK, and Scotland, is a transphobic country. I get on really well in society. I like living here; I feel confident and secure in society. But if society thinks that there is a safeguarding weakness here, it’s going to raise suspicion and it’s going to raise concern. And this entire debate – I do agree with Sophie Grace on this – this entire debate has done very little good for trans people. But the reason why is because the confidence and trust that we used to rely on has been compromised.
KA: I hope you don’t mind if I just clarify, Debbie, that you are a trans woman? You’ve already alluded to it, but I don’t want people think we’re trying to set people up. It’s really interesting that you and Sophie Grace have a very different view on this, obviously. So, Debbie, when you talk about safeguarding, what are the concerns in your view? And then Sophie Grace, I’ll let you come back in.
DH: Well, these are the informal safeguarding that we’ve operated for generations. This is not official processes. It’s like when my children were little. If my children were lost in a crowd, I would always say to them, if you get lost find a woman. And that’s the way we operate. So, it’s those sort of processes that we rely on and we’re confident with …
KA (interrupts): But wouldn’t you want to be a person that you could say to a child, go to you?
DH: It’s safeguarding. Men and women are subjected to safeguarding processes different. And that’s the way it’s always gone. If I want to keep my children as safe as I possibly can, I always said to them when they were little, find a woman. Ideally a woman with children. I’m not saying that all men are potential abusers, but we apply different levels of safeguarding to both sexes.
DH: What the Gender Recognition Act does, it changes our legal relationship with the state – the legal sex – and in doing so it does change those processes. That’s where people, when they do think about it – many people have never really looked at this, people just want to be kind and rightly so – but when people do look at it they notice this and they think there’s a safeguarding weakness here. And wherever there’s a safeguarding weakness it will attract people who are on the look out for safeguarding weaknesses. That’s my concern.
KA: Sophie Grace, you don’t share those concerns?
SGC: I’m very concerned about children’s safety, obviously. I think the suggestion that any child in Scotland is not safe with their father, which Debbie’s just made, is a suggestion that fathers up and down the country are jumping up and down in annoyance about. Because I think that’s ridiculous to suggest that just because people are – as Debbie perceives them – male, they’re automatically a threat is one level of ridiculous. To suggest that trans women in particular are a particular threat is the same scare mongering as I began by talking about.
SGC: Just to go back to a couple of other things Debbie said there which I think need correcting. First of all, there’s no question of falsifying any documents. What you’re doing in correcting the sex on a Gender Recognition Certificate is you’re making sure that someone who may be to all eyes of people who know her maybe just as much a woman as anybody else, that was in fact born in the other gender.
SGC: You’re making sure that she’s safe from the prejudice of employers who see a woman coming for a job. The Gender Recognition Certificate comes before them. They see the previous gender on that and think oh, the prejudices get going. And they start thinking things like Debbie’s just been suggesting. Oh, maybe this is a safeguarding threat? maybe there’s a problem here? Which is I think a very strange line to go down. I don’t really get why trans women are constantly being monstered as a threat to other people. I’m a philosophy professor, for God’s sake, I’m a middle-aged philosophy professor. I’m no threat to anyone. I’m about as threatening as a traffic cone.
KA: We don’t have this debate around trans men, do we?
SGC: No we don’t. We don’t, and very often trans men are treated by the people who won’t recognise the reality of trans at all see trans men and trans women in very different ways so trans women are monstered as potential predators – which is unfair on us – trans men are characteristically monstered as being delusional or confused. And in both cases, there’s just this basic refusal to accept the reality of what trans people are saying.
SGC: And I think that’s the thing I want to say more than anything to people on the other side of this debate. Will you please just listen to us; will you please just believe what we’re telling you. We know who we are. We’re not confused; we’re not delusional. But it’s time to recognise us.
KA: But also, what’s interesting in this is that when you say ‘we’ – and I’m going to be careful what I say – one might say that Debbie has a similar experience from you, Sophie Grace, but you’re clearly not ‘we’ because Debbie, you have a different view. So, we shouldn’t necessarily assume that everyone with a similar experience has a similar view on this. Can I thank you both, though, for your contributions.
Transcribed by Debbie Hayton