As ministers consult the public over plans to simplify the legal process for changing gender, it’s important to recognise the valid concerns that many women have about their safety. Removing medical and legal barriers to people who want to identify their own gender is welcome, but it involves a lot more than wearing new clothes and changing names.
I am grateful to both The Economist and my fellow contributors for shedding light on such a controversial debate. The apparent clash between trans rights and women’s rights has created a storm but, in this feature, calm voices on both sides of the discussion are working towards solutions where everyone can feel secure, valued and respected for who we are.
WHEN the government announced a consultation on changes to the Gender Recognition Act in July last year, trans people expected that by now we might be discussing the outcome.
However, proposals to streamline and demedicalise the process to change our legal gender proved more controversial than the government perhaps anticipated. Repeated delays left a vacuum that spawned polarised and often heated discussions on social media and elsewhere.
When the government announced a public consultation on changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) in July last year, Justine Greening, then equalities minister, explained that her government was “committed to building an inclusive society that works for everyone, no matter what their gender or sexuality”.
It turned out to be rather more complicated than Ms Greening anticipated. Proposals to allow self-identification of gender sparked a bitter feud between transgender activists and feminists concerned about the impact on women’s rights. Angry exchanges on social media spilled on to the streets and, as the government dithered, women meeting to discuss the proposals have been met with intimidation and violence.
When Tara Wolf assaulted Maria MacLachlan at Speakers’ Corner on September 13th 2017, a social-media dispute between transgender activists and radical feminists burst out onto the streets of London. Ms MacLachlan, a 60-year-old woman, was going to a feminist meeting that had been forced to move to a secret venue after protests by a group of transgender activists that included Ms Wolf, a 26-year-old trans woman.
Transsexuals are worried about their rights being challenged under new legislation
We are transsexual people deeply concerned about the proposed removal of safeguards from the Gender Recognition Act. Replacing the evidenced-based process for obtaining a gender recognition certificate with an over-the-counter style self-declaration blurs the distinction between us and transgender people who remain physically intact. This is problematic when such male-bodied people, including sexual fetishists, demand the rights afforded to women as a protected sex, including access to their private spaces.
International Transgender Day of Visibility falls annually on March 31, though even the most casual observer must wonder if we still need a day to mark it. In the three years since Caitlin Jenner transitioned there has been an explosion of transgender visibility. What might be lacking is an International Day of Transgender Understanding. Western society has been keen to affirm trans people, and that is to be welcomed, but it has been slower to think critically about the wider impact of legislative change, and particularly the effect on women and their right to organise and associate as a biological sex.
When Lily Madigan, a 19-year-old transgender woman, was elected as a Labour Party women’s officer and applied for the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme, social media squabbles between transgender activists and women’s rights campaigners exploded into the mainstream.
Guardian columnist Owen Jones predicted last week that history will damn anti-trans zealots as it has judged those who resisted gay rights.
I’m a trans woman, so for me this is personal. Transphobic keyboard warriors have called for me to be sacked from my job as a teacher and a supposedly respectable Christian charity misgenders me deliberately on its website.
Self-declaration of legal gender is a reckless proposal that would deny trans people the opportunity to have their gender externally verified and force them to rely entirely on their own assertions. While that might work in some parts of society, it could be catastrophic for those living in hostile environments where their motives may be questioned and their claims disbelieved.