I am a trans woman. And I have great sympathy with anyone who finds gender roles and stereotypes in our culture restrictive, however they react.
Two responses people make to feeling so oppressed stand out: one is to transition to the other gender, and another is to insist on their sexual identity. In both cases we are finding ways to value ourselves as people, despite the subtle depreciation we suffer because we do not fit in. People have been expressing themselves in the opposite gender for millennia: Elagabalus, Emperor of Rome, proclaimed herself Empress and married a man; Deuteronomy forbids women to wear men’s clothes. People transition despite the threat of death or destitution.
At least by 1970, the Government was treating trans women like other women, for example by agreeing they could pay national insurance under the different rules then applying to women. Before the Gender Recognition Act passed I got a passport marked “Sex: F” and a driving licence indicating I was female. By the Gender Recognition Act my gender and sex are female.
By the Equality Act, an employer or provider of services can refuse to employ or provide services to a “transsexual person”, including those who have gender recognition certificates, if it is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.
In October at the Pink News awards Theresa May promised to consult on self-identification. The consultation, promised in the Autumn, has not been issued. The Scottish government has produced a parallel consultation which finished in March. It proposed that anyone who swore a statutory declaration that they intended to live in the acquired gender until death could obtain a gender recognition certificate. We would no longer need to prove ourselves with a letter from a specialist psychiatrist. Both the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and the International Classification of Diseases give as a diagnostic criterion that we have a steady conviction that we are really of the other gender to that assigned at birth. Transition, with that fixed intention, demonstrates that we are trans.
This is a small change. No-one who did not express themselves full time in the acquired gender would be granted gender recognition. The legal procedure and the evidence requirement would be streamlined, but the thing to be proved- that we have transitioned, and intend to stay transitioned life long- would be the same. Transition is a radical act. No-one does it lightly. When female Labour MPs and Mr Corbyn say “trans women are women”, and agree we should be treated as women, they are following the practice of society for decades.
International human rights law- the Yogyakarta Principles– and EU human rights law according to a recent report to the European Parliament are that gender recognition should be granted without the need for surgery, but that we should be able to obtain surgery or hormone treatment if we required it. We should not suffer social pressure to alter our bodies. Many of us choose hormones and surgery.
People on the hard Right seek to foment division in the Labour Party. David TC Davies, the MP for Monmouth, not to be confused with David Davis the Brexit secretary, is not a feminist. He has voted for the reduction of the abortion time limit to 12 weeks. He seeks to incite feminists against progressive causes, so after a man of Asian heritage was convicted of rape Mr Davies commented that “we are importing bad attitudes to women into this country”. He was universally condemned for that; but has had more success with self-ID. Twice he has invited feminists to Parliament to speak against self-ID. The Spectator, a hard Right magazine which shares writers with Breitbart, speaks out against self-ID. On The Sunday Politics, a Spectator writer claimed there were questions around women’s rights, even though the Spectator is not notably in favour of women’s rights otherwise.
In response to the Scottish consultation, Women’s Aid in Scotland and Rape Crisis Scotland, with other women’s organisations, made a statement that trans rights do not conflict with women’s rights.
The Labour Party has all-women shortlists, women’s forums, women’s conferences and rules under which additional women delegates may be appointed to conference. Now, women who have transitioned from male may be admitted to these roles. That is reasonable. No-one transitions on a whim. No-one, to quote a guest on The Today Programme, “wakes up one day and declares I am a woman”. We take months or years to prepare, or psych ourselves up, for that.
Compared to the number of women members in the Labour Party, the number of trans members is tiny. Trans women will not exclude other women from these roles.
We cannot allow the hard Right to foment discord within our Party. If the issue is framed as a zero-sum game, trans women and gender non-conforming biological women are pitted against each other, though our interests are the same: the loosening of gender norms and freedom to express our gifts and qualities without gendered expectations. Conservatives know that gender transition threatens gender norms, but that human rights law demands it. So they seek other ways to restrict transition. The longer we wait for the consultation, now it has been announced, the more polarised people on the Left become.