Liz Truss spoke about Equality, and attacked Trans rights.
“In Britain, you can be whoever you want to be. Dress however you want to dress.” Of course this is not true. At work, some men are expected to wear ties, and some women skirts. But worse, it is an attack on trans people. It’s not just about the clothes. The clothes are the way I express my nature. It’s not just that I could wear a man’s suit and a tie, but choose to wear skirts. It’s that I find presenting male unbearable- weeping, curled in the foetal position unbearable.
And no, trans women can’t wear what we like. Presenting male, we might go under the radar, though it is living a lie in a way that makes the rest of life a drifting dull ache. Expressing ourselves female, we are exposed to hate and prejudice which Liz Truss and her government have encouraged.
It is a clear trans reference. Why else would she tell a falsehood about clothes?
Liz Truss says she will reject identity politics, and “move well beyond the narrow focus of protected characteristics” because those “end up excluding other people”, and are used to define people rather than our “individual character”. People often don’t see my “individual character”. They see only my gender reassignment, and treat me worse because of it. Sometimes they think they are considering my character, but they judge me more harshly because I am trans. (If someone with Cotard’s syndrome can rationalise away evidence that they are alive, anyone can rationalise away evidence that they are prejudiced.) That’s why we need protected as a characteristic, because we suffer direct discrimination. It’s also why we need statistics gathered about our employment rates, because we are less likely to be employed, and that is a sign of discrimination against us.
She names some protected characteristics- “sex, race and gender reassignment”. Why those three? Half the population are female, and 14% are BAME. A different but overlapping 14% are immigrants. 22% are disabled. By contrast only about 50,000 people are protected by the gender reassignment rules, 0.1%. She is using the rule of three, which is a good way of inspiring passion but also a way of conveying bathos. She uses “gender reassignment” not as a climax, but intending it to sound a dull thud, making the protected characteristics even less inspiring- because she finds gender reassignment unpleasant, and imagines other people do so too.
She will consider “socio-economic status and geographic inequality”, and “white working-class children”. This is pernicious. It divides the working class, and encourages the white majority to be racist, seeing themselves as particularly done down. The problems of BAME and immigrant people often come from being working class, because they are disproportionately so. We need class solidarity, not division by race.
The data project she offers is a good thing. It will “look at issues around geography, community and socio-economic background”. If the government actually addressed regional disparities, with infrastructure spending in the North of England, that would help. Her government is arguably exacerbating geographic inequality, spending £44bn on another rail link between London and Birmingham. Public spending is no problem to them, as long as the money is wasted.
She promises more Academies, run by private companies rather than supported by local authorities. This results in worse education. Always she puts the Tory privatisation ideology above the good of the country.
She has some warm words: “It is outrageous in the 21st century that LGBT people still face harassment in public spaces”. She promises no action against that.
The most threateningly transphobic line is not on the government website, which excises “political content”, because it is an attack on the Labour Party. It is also an attack on trans people: “It has led to the Left turning a blind eye to practices that undermine equality, whether it be failing to defend single-sex spaces, hard fought for by generations of women, enabling and tolerating antisemitism, or the appalling grooming of young girls in towns like Rotherham.” Antisemitism, sexual abuse, and trans women in women’s spaces are linked together here, equally appalling.
She describes protected characteristics as “misguided, wrong-headed and ultimately destructive ideas that take agency away from people”. She will do less to advance the equality of protected groups, and especially trans people. Her other attacks on trans rights frighten me. The speech is here.
Since then, I have been debating the speech on a public facebook group- not a trans or “gender-critical” group, but a general interest one, where trans folk and phobes may attempt to convince the public. One person raised Truss’s Foucault with a Baudrillard, which I thought a good bet. I said Foucault was right, and found myself in a debate with six women, which started when one claimed only transphobe MPs were “sticking up for women’s and children’s rights”. I asked them repeatedly whether they found any of the speech objectionable- its racism, its opposition to any method to ameliorate inequality- and they did not say, as if its one use of the term “single-sex” had hypnotised them. For them, it appears there is only one important political issue, eclipsing even Brexit and Covid.