"I talk to Tories, so you don't have to" was a strapline from a left-leaning former City Councillor I know.
Just the same, I talk to some gender-critical (GC) folks, and to my surprise, many of those I have spoken to on a one-to-one basis are often decent people. Sure, I have found some abhorrent "transphobes", but they are few and far between. I appreciate that many GC women have been in horrific relationships with men and have often been sexually assaulted or raped.
These experiences impact women's lives forever, and it is reasonable that they want to protect themselves and their kids from the same trauma. That is not to say that sometimes men and trans folk don't get abused; some do - but it is not on the same scale.
The gender war is far too toxic - the "middle ground", though wanted by many, doesn't at first sight exist.
When Brent Green Party appealed for respect from both sides, the trans activists (sadly, perhaps I was one of them) screamed you shouldn't talk to transphobes. A couple of weeks ago, I tweeted that Portsmouth Labour was gaining, not losing, women members - I know I am the Women’s Officer.
A massive 322 retweet campaign by hateful gender-critical keyboard warriors' deciding to tell me I was male and stealing a job from a woman. The fact of the matter is no natal woman wanted the position, so I stepped in, and trust me...I fight like hell for the women!
Many people are too frightened to talk about the gender war.
A high percentage of politicians, for example, are afraid to speak, knowing they will gain votes from one side but lose votes (and be called a misogynist or transphobe) by the other.
The cost of food crisis? The fuel crisis? The NHS crisis?
Thanks to our media, what matters in the political arena is if 0.3% of the population - trans women - has a willy!
So, isn't it time to move on? To hold politicians to account for issues that matter? For feminists to unite and defeat patriarchy and, perhaps more importantly, the far-right, who are globally stripping away LGBT and women's rights?
This blog is about finding common ground with "the enemy". Not a submission of the principles of being a gender-critical or trans rights activist (tra) - but simply trying to understand the fears of both sides so we can move forward.
Here is the disclaimer - at SP, we are forging a Policy Statement. As an organisation that is starting to be recognised as a "serious player," we need a manifesto, and this blog is very much my personal thoughts; some of which, I would add, my colleagues and other tra's will disapprove.
Hard hat time!
Still, in no particular order, I will list the main issues between the gender crits and tra's, and hopefully, it may help.
The Single-Sex Space Debate:
This argument is about trans women occupying and/or using spaces primarily used by natal females. We are talking prisons, domestic abuse shelters and refuges, NHS hospital wards, communal changing rooms, changing rooms with cubicles and public toilets. Quite a list! The gender critical argument centres around some trans women not having had lower surgery or the potential of men to identify as 'trans' and use those spaces, putting natal females at risk. The tra's response is trans women have existed since time immemorial, and virtually no significant problems have ever occurred.
How can we move forward?
The core principle in this issue is that no sex or gender "owns" spaces. The spaces belong to service providers who, by way of the 2010 Equality Act, can legally (proportionate to a legitimate aim) discriminate. In regard to prisons, in England and Wales, over 90% of trans women are already in the male estate, and Her Majesty Prisons & Probation Service (HMPPS), together with the Ministry of Justice, already have the policy of placing any trans woman in any prison they wish. Even having a Gender Recognition Certificate makes no difference whatsoever. The group 'Keep Prisons Single Sex" would argue that no "males" should be in the female estate, but if April Ashley was still alive and, heaven forbid, sent to prison would anyone argue she should be held in the male estate?
Domestic abuse shelters have their own policies - that is their right - THEY own the spaces. But these service providers certainly know their clients, most of whom are women. And given the horrific circumstances women find themselves when in a refuge, I would like to think trans women care enough to give these poor souls some space. If the service provider is trans-inclusive, then again, I would argue they know best how to look after vulnerable people.
In hospitals, we at SP (thanks to numerous Freedom of Information Requests) have established that they have no issues with trans women in women's wards. In fact, many hospitals don't even have 'sexed wards'. Patients are often treated in a ward according to their condition or illness. Trans women (and trans men) are usually offered side rooms for their own dignity and the dignity of others, and the majority accepts. In short, the NHS knows about diversity and has everything well-taped.
Communal changing rooms are challenging, and much depends on a trans woman's presentation, but I certainly (despite having had lower surgery) have too much respect to even go in one. It should also be noted that communal changing rooms are scarce - indeed, I have never seen a women's changing room without cubicles. Changing rooms and toilets with private cubicles have no issues - seriously, have you ever seen another women’s fanny in the loo? This is a non-debate.
So, I guess what I am saying is this. Trans women should respect women's privacy and dignity in places and situations as appropriate. We all need Single Sex Spaces sometimes. The gender-critical need to realise that this is not the big issue that they make out.
The Sex Is Immutable Debate:
This argument centres around it is not possible to change sex and biology. It has been highlighted by gender-critical campaigns first started by Rosie Duffield MP with her claim "only a woman has a cervix" and more recently with the "can a woman have a penis" campaign. Both campaigns have been aimed to demean trans women and extenuate the differences between biological and trans women. We can also tie in JKR's tweet "sex is real" in this heading.
How can we move forward?
I am not sure what this debate proves. Trans women were obviously not born with the correct reproductive systems, but our brain tells us we are women - and we go on an incredibly difficult transition journey to get things right. For sure, trans women have not experienced the level of oppression that women do - but would a female GC want to be trans? I suspect not.
I want to moot that we look at this in debate differently.
When we talk of our parents, many assume we are talking about biological parents, but often we are not. Stepparents are real parents. Parents that adopt kids are real parents. Both are social constructs with equal value to biological parents. Being a stepparent or a parent who adopts kids has different challenges, but we always accept them as parents. Why can't this analogy be extended to trans women?
I would add one more point. I don’t give a rat's ass about biology; it's very much a condition of the mind as to the relevance of biology. We should also consider that we identify sex by gender expression. If you don’t want to believe what I say, perhaps read Finn Mackay's book "Female Masculinities and the Gender Wars". Butch lesbians often have a nightmare using the ladies' loo - trans women don't.
People should be who they are without stereotyping them by their genitals. Sure, sex is real, but it's honestly not that important in everyday life (GC people will disagree).
Stereotyping is sexist, potentially homophobic (because we then make expectations on what people should do with their reproductive organs) and potentially transphobic. Stereotyping is also potentially misogynistic guiding girls to accept the patriarchy.
The Language Debate:
I must admit I am still confused about what gender ideology actually is. There is no definition in Oxford Languages, and meanings vary from GC person to GC person. Still, it is one phrase that will undoubtedly upset a trans person because it suggests "transness" is not real. Another is the acronym TIM, meaning "trans-identifying male". However, I have never seen TIF, which proves sexism exists in the gender-critical camp! But if gender ideology and TIM upset trans folk, bigots, transphobes and fascists (amongst other names) certainly upset the GC.
How can we move forward?
How about treating people with respect even if they have different opinions? Can we not consider how we would feel in our opponent's position?
Gender Recognition Act (GRA) Reform Debate:
The GRA became law in 2004 and allows trans people to change their birth certificate so they can marry and die in their gender. We know that just 2% of trans people have a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) because the application process is full of caveats and conditions, making it incredibly difficult to apply. In 2017 the Conservative government said they would reform the GRA, but four years later, they reneged. This has resulted in many trans people being left livid.
In Scotland, their government plan to introduce legal gender change by self-declaration (Self-ID) with considerable legal penalties if a recipient transgresses. Self-ID is a red line for GC people. Many trans-hostile "women groups" are also negative, and many don't agree with the GRA reform at all. GC people believe that by having easy access to a GRC, sex offenders will self-identify as women and gain access to single-sex spaces.
Surprisingly, the Equality and Human Rights Commission wrote to the Scottish government, asking them to reconsider their Self-ID plans. The Scottish government does not like interference from a London-based organisation, and the UK government don't like that Scotland is moving to Self-ID. The potential for a constitutional crisis now looms, which no doubt Nicola Sturgeon will relish.
How can we move forward?
Now a little story.
As it happens, I am a member of Suzanne Moore's substack. Suzanne is deemed by most tra's as an arch transphobe. I am there to ensure there is a trans voice. Somewhat amazingly, over time, I have gained a few allies; not everyone in Suzanne's substack is GC! I have rarely experienced transphobia on her substack, and when it has happened, Suzanne has always dealt with it very well, and I have seen her take "some stick" from extremist GC members saying, for example, she should not respect pro nouns. Suzanne disagrees and asks why she shouldn't. At that point, they shut up - there is no question Suzanne is the boss!
To be clear, I often disagree with what Suzanne writes about the gender war, but she has always been friendly and respectful to me and fights for women and girls, which gives us a common cause. Recently I posted on Suzanne's substack that the GRA needed reform. Eleven people liked the post. Surprisingly most GC people I know agree that the GRA should be reformed, but they don't like the idea of Self-ID.
Now I am adamant that Self-ID is not a problem. However, why can't a GRC be issued if an applicant has a GP's diagnosis of gender dysphoria as an interim step?
And surely a GRC should be awarded if a driving licence or passport is issued in the new gender? Don’t the fact that an applicant applies for a passport or driving licence prove how they intend to live? Isn't a driving licence and passport the ultimate identification documents?
We don’t use birth certificates to prove identity, but we most certainly use driving licences and passports.
And I have to say, if the GRA issue were sorted, the toxicity of the gender war would reduce. There is a blatant injustice here. If we said that only 2% of women were eligible for an abortion, would there not be a public outcry?
The Trans Women Commit Crime Debate:
For some years, this debate has raged, stoked by one Karen White who pretended to be trans while serving a sentence in the female estate. White was a manipulating sex offender. In consequence, HMPPS changed their policy on trans women prisoners. It is because of White that all sorts of statistics are published, often sourced by the trans-hostile group "Fair Play for Women". Many trans women are outraged being called a potential predator or rapist is not nice. The simple fact is less than 0.3% of the prison population is transgender, a much lower figure than other demographics.
How can we move forward?
In all honesty, simply by condemning violence and crime against women and girls. Sadly, all demographics in society have sex offenders, including the trans community. We should be honest about that but equally, point out that trans women suffer terrible male violence too.
The Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria Debate:
Also known as ROGD, this issue is based on a report from Lisa Littman, which suggested that social contagion was the reason more young people were reporting they were trans. Littman's report was subsequently disputed when it was found her methodology in compiling her report was flawed. There is no doubt, though, that for a time, increases in the number of young people saying they were trans increased significantly.
How can we move forward?
Recently two reports have confirmed the number of young trans people has stabilised and that social contagion is not a cause of kids saying they are trans. People forget that trans hate crime has increased by 300% since 2015, but this doesn’t mean there is more crime, it just means that more people report it. The same principle can also be applied to the issue ROGD.
When we look at the numbers of young people on the Tavistock waiting list (reported as 2383 by the Guardian in March 2022) and compare that to the number of kids (England & Wales) aged between six and sixteen years of age (circa 6,800,000), we can ascertain that just 0.035% of kids have issues with their gender. If the trans community are around 0.6% of the population, perhaps we should ask where the other 0.565% of kids are? In terms of numbers, that relates to 38,420 children. This fact is indeed food for thought!
The Puberty Blockers Debate:
This debate centres on whether puberty blockers are safe and should be prescribed for children questioning their gender. Puberty blockers (PB's) prevent the development of biological secondary sex characteristics and are also used for children suffering from precocious puberty. The debate centres if these drugs are safe. Gender-critical people argue they are not. TRA's campaign that they are. Medical research reports are mixed. PB's have been used in Holland to treat kids with gender issues since 1988.
How can we move forward?
Essentially, this comes down to a "risk v reward" scenario. We should remember that it is considerably easier to transition from female to male than male to female. Once a boy enters puberty, and his vocal folds lengthen and thicken (resulting in an octave difference in pitch), this physical change is irreversible without somewhat risky surgery. Other secondary characteristics for boys include additional height, the formation of the Adam's apple, masculinising facial features, body hair and beard growth.
I have no scientific evidence to back this up and am relying on my lifetime of observations, but it appears that many girls dislike their bodies from around puberty. I am also very sure the majority are not trans. What are "the rewards" for natal females being prescribed puberty blockers? Certainly, fewer than the boys.
One final thought. Do we have the right to debate children's healthcare? We need to leave this issue to scientists and health professionals, not to forget the kids themselves and their parents. Interfering with other people's bodily autonomy rights sets a precedent for losing other human rights.
The Trans in Female Sports Debate:
Possibly the most toxic debate concerns trans women competing in female sports. Trans women athletes argue that they should be allowed to compete with natal women because they have lowered their testosterone (T) levels close to those of a natal female over one or two years. The counterargument is that people born male, even after going through transition and lowering T, maintain some advantages and (dependant on T receptors) those advantages could/are be maintained for life. There is no question that T is the primary performance factor between natal male and female athletes. Depending on the event, the male advantage ranges from 11% to 16% and in strength and throwing events; the percentage is even higher.
How can we move forward?
I have several areas of thought.
The first being we should put safety as a priority. We should then consider whether a trans athlete has an unfair advantage and whether it matters. Elite sports and grass root sports are different. We should also not forget the significant benefits to mental health for those participating in sports, particularly trans people.
The lowering of T is a massive disadvantage for trans women athletes. Some gender-critical campaigners maintain that trans women should compete with men, but that is neither socially acceptable nor fair to the performance-reduced trans woman athlete.
The word "fair" is a debatable question.
We like to think sport is "fair", but it is not.
Money, ethnicity, training facilities, and quality of sports coaches, not to mention "natural" physical advantages, could all be construed as unfair. One such advantage for female athletes is PCOS.
PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome) affects about 11% of women and gives a natal female athlete a testosterone boost. In Carole Hooven's book 'Testosterone - The Story of the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us"' Carole states:
"In one study of ninety female Swedish Olympians, 37 per cent had PCOS, approximately three times the general population rate for the same age group."
The fact that we allow women with PCOS to compete sets the principle that sporting federations know sport is unfair.
Many will claim the advantage is small - but that is not the point.
Further, there is evidence from Angelica Lindén Hirschberg in her research report 'Female hyperandrogenism and elite sport' that suggests testosterone advantages can be significant, saying:
"Recently, in our double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study (RCT), 48 healthy, physically active women, 18–35 years of age, were allocated randomly to 10 weeks of daily treatment with 10 mg testosterone cream or placebo cream. In those receiving the testosterone cream, serum levels of testosterone rose from a mean of 0.9 ± 0.4 to 4.3 ± 2.8 nmol/L and their aerobic performance (running time to exhaustion) improved by 8.5%".
A figure of 8.5% is gobsmacking and certainly raises questions about why trans women who lower T to below that of women with PCOS are often not allowed to compete - even taking into account that some "male" advantage may have been retained from puberty.
I want to point out that I am an inclusionist. I don’t want anyone excluded from sports unless it's unsafe for other participants. Ways should be found to offset any advantages.
We should also consider that some events have participants where T is irrelevant, such as curling, diving and bowls.
The fact is sports will never be truly fair, and we should accept diversity just as we accept white people are better at swimming than black people and black people are better at sprinting than white people.
Sport will only ever be free of the stigma of discrimination when everyone is included - and I would like to see the introduction of open events where everyone (male, female, trans and the disabled) can participate. Advantages can be compensated by changing participants starting positions or starting times, considering past performances. Open events would be exciting and bring a new dimension to sports.
I would also like to moot the case of Oscar Pistorius - he was allowed to run against non-disabled athletes in the Olympics. What were the advantages or the disadvantages of his blades? We questioned it, but equally, we accepted it. I do wish, as a society, we were more forgiving of trans people.
Earlier in this exhausting piece, I mentioned I am in Suzanne Moore's substack, and to her credit, she has always said we must keep talking.
And I do.
Talking has enormous benefits in bringing people together, and I can prove that because of my friendship with Laura.
Laura is not her real name, by the way - she is a full-on TERF and proud of it!
She certainly has thousands of followers on Twitter, and we were throwing bricks at each other for months. But something happened in Laura's life where I could offer a bit of support, and for the past year, our friendship has thrived.
And we have both changed.
She now supports GRA reform and understands the issues around trans people in sports, but in reality, we don’t talk about the gender war at all. Laura is just amazing, and frankly, I love her to bits. She works for a local food bank, helps young mums who are struggling and did her darndest for a neighbour suffering domestic abuse.
Laura is my best online mate, and we chat more often than I speak to my kids. Perhaps one day (if we both feel brave), we might "come out”.
But our 'gender war' is finished, and that's so cool.
I would argue Trans women are women - but just a different type of woman. Just as stepparents are parents, if people want to think differently, that is their right.
So, I will leave this mammoth blog with the words of John Lennon - all I am saying is 'give peace a chance'.
Do we really want our kids to be like us?
To shout, insult and hate?
Words by Steph