Liz Truss Speaks

In a time of Brexit madness, a Tory government considered whether making recognition of trans people’s true genders easier would advance equality of opportunity, and decided it would. Today, Liz Truss answered questions to the Minister for Women and Equalities in the House of Commons after “a government source” was given the platform of the front page of The Sunday Times to threaten, obscurely, “big moves on safe spaces”, but state, clearly, plans for gender recognition reform had been “scrapped”. So, while waiting for Liz Truss’s slot to come on the BBC Parliament channel, which I was obsessing about all morning, I went back to the Pre-Consultation Equality Impact Assessment for the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

By law, Ministers should seek to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations, in this case between trans and non-trans people. The Government Equalities Office (GEO) thought their consultation would achieve these aims.

They said 4910 GRCs had been issued by 31 March 2018, but the “trans population” is estimated at 200,000-500,000. They made no estimate of the number of people who had actually transitioned. As 12% of trans people had applied for a GRC, most of that “trans population” would never seriously consider transitioning, or needing another gender recognised.

Trans people in the government’s LGBT survey said the GRC process was bureaucratic, too expensive, and intrusive. If the government made it simpler, the GEO said that would reduce discrimination, reduce the barriers we face, help improve our mental health and wellbeing, “reduce the stigma attached to being trans” and publicise that we are not mentally ill.

The GEO said that there would be a positive impact on relations between trans and non-trans people, increasing knowledge and understanding of the issues we face, and reduce misunderstanding and misconceptions. They said that in the 2017 National LGBT Survey in which 108,000 people participated, 39 had claimed that self-declaration of trans people would “threaten women-only spaces”. But then, the transphobic campaign to foment anger, fear and “concern” had hardly got started. The GEO pointed out,

again,

that the Equality Act would not be amended.

The GEO promised, “We will use any insight gained from the consultation exercise to help foster good relations [between trans and women’s groups].” As I write, it seems likely that promise is being broken.

In the LGBT survey, 53% of trans men respondents and 15% of trans women respondents had begun transition before the age of 18. In Norway, children aged 6 can change gender, with parental consent. In the Netherlands, 126 people aged 16-18 applied for gender recognition in 2016. The government thought it would not reduce the age limit of 18, but welcomed responses.

“The Government does consider being trans to be a disability”- I am not sure if that is a misprint. They don’t consider gender dysphoria to be a mental illness. Some consider it a mental health problem. The GEO referred to another report saying isolation, discrimination and transphobia contributed to “88 per cent of [trans] respondents had suffered from depression, 80 per cent from stress and 75 per cent from anxiety at some time,” but that does not mean that being trans is an illness in itself. The GEO said “40% of trans men, 30% of trans women, and 37% of non-binary people had tried to access mental health services in the last 12 months.” Streamlining gender recognition “may have a positive impact on their wellbeing and mental health”.

In a time of Brexit and Covid madness, after that anonymous source spoke to the Sunday Times, I awaited Liz Truss answering Parliamentary questions hardly able to think about anything else. Kemi Badenoch and Liz Truss answered questions. There were questions on payments for self-employed people during covid, BAME people suffering disproportionately from covid, hospitality and leisure workers, the closure of child care facilities, and other matters relating to equality and women’s issues. Many of the questions were from Tories, to give the impression that the government were doing something useful. They have suspended face to face assessments for disability benefits, which they usually use to take away benefit. There were warm words about addressing unconscious bias.

Liz Truss said that conversion therapy is a vile and abhorrent practice which the Government want to stop. The Government has commissioned research on conversion therapy in the UK- they don’t even know if it is a problem, really. Specifically, they have a concern for under 18 being coerced into conversion therapy. Why the announcement on conversion therapy now? Is it to split LGB people from T people? Does it even relate to some idea that gay people are forced to transition because of homophobia? These concerns are not paranoid. All I can say is we can’t be definite this is action against trans people, yet. Probably, the announcement on conversion therapy is to pretend to advance LGB rights, even if there’s no serious risk of conversion therapy here. All the professional bodies say conversion therapy is unethical.

Truss said the government would work towards global LGBT equality. At least the T remains in LGBT for now. She said it is essential to deliver on 2018 LGBT action plan. Happy Pride, said Liz.

So, there was nothing on trans self-declaration. I will continue badgering my MP.

23 July: In similar questions today, Liz Truss was asked about trans rights. Nadia Whittome, MP, said, “Does the Secretary of State agree that her quibbling on this issue is fanning the flames of populist hate towards an already marginalised group?” Gotcha! Truss did a partial climbdown, though I see no more reason to believe her on this than Government assurances that the NHS will not be sold off. Truss said, “Let me be absolutely clear: we will not be rolling back the rights of transgender people. It is important that transgender people are able to live their lives as they wish, without fear, and we will make sure that that is the case.”

Truss and Johnson want to make us a hate group, but the British people are too canny to fall for that one, and the Labour Party is doing well in damping down any possible culture war.

MP on self-ID

My MP is not interested in trans issues. I feel disrespected. He takes two weeks to even pass on my concerns. Then I asked to see him, he took eighteen days to respond, ignoring that request. He will pass on my concerns again.

On 5 March, I wrote,

The Scottish government has now completed its consultation, but the English consultation has not yet started. When will it start? Now, it is an issue, with the papers printing endless stories about trans people, many in a negative light. They bias the argument against us by picking inconsequential stories and giving them undue prominence. A small but vociferous group of feminists violently objects to trans women. When people say trans women like me as a threat, they may provoke violence against me: if they see me as a threat they feel justified in defending themselves against me.

There is a tiny number of GRCs issued, 4712 to September 2017. We are a tiny group of people, but we are a symbol in many people’s minds for many feminist or culture-war issues. I want not to be noticed, because I fear violence.

I feel that when the consultation is completed, the passions will subside slightly. People will go on to debate other things. Until it is completed, now self-ID has been proposed it is a live issue. The more people get radicalised around it, the more danger I am in.

Will you put my concerns to the relevant authorities?
Will you find out what is causing the delay, and when the consultation might commence?
Will you speak out for self-ID, and against the fear-mongering and rabble-rousing against trans people like me?

On 20 March Tom wrote to Baroness Williams of Trafford, who responded on 23 April. “I am sorry for the delay in my responses,” but not for the delay in the consultation. The Government remains committed to taking action to remove the barriers faced by transgender people. What action? Discussions are ongoing about the content and timing of the consultation… we are continuing to engage with a wide range of stakeholders… including transgender, LGBT and women’s groups, to understand better what they want from the consultation.

I quoted this to a civil servant who said it means “kick it into the long grass”. Tom himself ignored my questions, just sending the response to me on 25 April. So I wrote to him again:

That letter does not address my concerns. In particular, why is a consultation promised for Autumn 2017 in July 2017 still not launched? So, how long will this pre-consultation “engagement” last?

And you- have you familiarised yourself with what self-ID means? It is a minor administrative change which only affects trans people. Will you speak out against rabble-rousing against trans people?

Can I see you about this?

No. Well, he does not propose how I could see him. He is encouraged by the commitment to equality, and hard work is underway to build a society that celebrates and benefits from the talents of everyone. No, actually, hard work is underway to set us against each other by creating hostile environments for immigrants, benefit claimants, and now trans people. The consultation, to be published in due course Ha! will aim to relieve the bureaucratic and medical burdens for those who want to change their gender… and reduce the stigma faced by the trans community.

He has written to the Minister for Women and Equalities, not Justine Greening who announced the consultation in July last year, nor Amber Rudd her successor, but Penny Mordaunt.

The UK is a world leader for transgender rights, he says. No, actually, it is behind Malta and Colombia, which have self-ID.

The hostile environment is for immigrants and benefit claimants. Rather than paying fair benefits to people in need, the government spends more on sanctions, often unjust, arbitrary decisions taking benefits away and causing the rise in need for food banks. Sanctions cost more than they save. The government’s cruelty costs money. David Davies MP is a backbencher, a mediocre man who fails, usually, to stir up hatred, but this time is working hard with particular feminist groups. What are they doing for transgender equality? Nothing. Anyway, in March next year with Brexit our human rights will end.

A Woman’s Place

Woman’s Place UK is a transphobic organisation, hosting public meetings where transphobic speakers are cheered on by transphobes. It is also highly confused, misunderstanding or wilfully misrepresenting the current law and the proposed changes. It is transphobic because it peddles falsehoods about trans women and trans rights with the purpose of inciting fear, and mocks trans women with the purpose of dehumanising us and fomenting hatred.

A room full of women cheering and applauding when Pilgrim Tucker says, around ten minutes into this video, if you have a dick you are not a woman, are being incited against us whether or not you agree with the sentiment. The vast majority of transgender male to female trans women don’t have what are called bottom surgery, she says. By no means all of us have it, but it is not “the vast majority”. I have heard over 40% have it, though many of us are on waiting lists.

The whole speech sets us out as potentially violent abusers, and the audience as our victims. It is a single argument. First, she defines self-ID: at 4.40, Any man can be a woman just because they say they are one… just literally a signature on a form. This is inaccurate.

5.00 She deals with the Equality Act. Trans women can be excluded from certain spaces for women only. Even though those men [trans women] are legally seen as women. Exclusion is important, she says, 6.00 because men are much more violent compared with women, much more sexually intrusive and predatory towards women. She calls us violent and predatory. 9.00 Trans women have a conviction rate for sex offences that is very much higher than for biological women.

She denies she is calling us all violent- 9.30, Now of course as with men we are not saying by any means that all trans women are rapists or sex offenders. Then she says women should be frightened of us anyway: Just the fact that they are much more likely to be than we are.

She claims the Equality Act exemptions are not being used, not because they are unnecessary in most cases, not because rape crisis centres and shelters want to help people in need and can cope with trans women, but because of 12.00 pressure from the Trans lobby. Would that we were so powerful! We can’t achieve that without the support of those services.

12.50 And there are predatory men who will use any means to gain … access  to women’s spaces when they are vulnerable -yes, she means trans women- and all they have to do is sign a piece of paper -misrepresent the proposed change again.

Then, referring to the debate AWP has manufactured about this small administrative change, she claims to be the victim: but we are not being allowed to talk about these facts… 13.25 Trans Rights Activists are lobbying campaigning bullying threatening manipulating. With the full-hearted support of Rupert Murdoch’s platforms, she can hardly claim her position goes unheard.

Frightening men. Women as victims. She attempts to stoke fear and anger against trans women, who are mostly harmless. That is simple transphobia. In a loo, theft is more of a risk than assault, and a man wanting to commit a sexual assault in a loo would hardly bother dressing as a woman first.

She wants women, stoked with this transphobia, to view themselves as righteous, justified and heroic: 16.00 for every single time each one of us is speaking up, even with shaky voices, even in fear we see more and more women speaking up and standing up.

The enemy are coming for you. You  are righteous: defend yourselves (I paraphrase). It is clear rabble-rousing to hatred and fear. It is transphobia.

More analysis of their videos showing their misrepresentations here.

The “women’s place manifesto” says women’s rights are all about excluding trans women.

A socialist feminist view of what gender recognition means for women.

There’s a shocking transphobic article in The Guardian. Under the headline “Violent misogyny is unfortunately not confined to the internet’s incels,” Catherine Bennett writes, a red bespattered T-shirt reading: “I punch terfs!” (trans-exclusionary radical feminists/women who disagree with me), may have struck a chord with anyone following the current UK debate about the government’s self-ID proposals. To date, threats, from one side, which echo, inescapably, some of those in the pro-Rodger playbook (“die in a fire terf scum”) have yet to generate comparably widespread concern, even after a woman was punched. Her assailant had earlier expressed the wish to “fuck up some terfs”. Tara Wolf did us great harm; but it is not “one side” of the debate, it is a few violent angry people. To link that to murderers is fomenting anger and fear against us.

What “self-ID” means for women

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.