It is only looking back, now aged 50 years, that I can see how unusual my childhood was. Thanks to a father with a wide ranging interests, by the age of 11 I had unearthed his entire comic book collection, found The Joy of Sex hidden in a wardrobe and was reading ‘Spare Rib’ and ‘Gay News’ on the train on the way to school. I read ‘The Story of O’ and everything Jilly Cooper had written by the mid 1980s – and of the two I am clear it was Jilly Cooper that did more damage to my impressionable adolescent self; setting up a template of the dark, brooding, unpleasant man who is nevertheless your true love.
My first introduction to men who wish to become a woman was with Caroline Cossey’s first autobiography in the early 80s. Caroline had been born Barry in 1954. I saw the photos in her book where she clearly presented as a very beautiful woman, despite at the time they were taken, retaining her male genitalia. I followed her story over the years and her battle for the right to legally marry, in the days before same-sex marriage was legalised.
I entirely supported her. What good could come of forcing Caroline to be addressed as ‘he’? Her wish to live as a woman and to marry as she wished had no impact on me or my life.
Or so I thought. I took my eye off the ball in the decades that followed as I focused on establishing my career and my family, as did so many of us. I didn’t notice that the ground was shifting as adherence to Queer Theory took hold. The move from recognising and supporting the rights of ‘transsexuals’ (those who wished to make a clear and observable move from one sex to the other) became an insistent cry that ‘transgender’ people must not merely be recognised and protected but celebrated and elevated, above all other of the protected characteristics.
This is the inevitable result of the conflation between sex and gender. Sex is, for 99.9% of us, instantly observed and recorded at birth. It can never change. It has particular consequences for women who are usually much smaller, slower and weaker than the majority of their male counterparts. Sex is therefore a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.
‘Gender’ is not – but you would not know this if you relied on the information provided by such groups as Stonewall and Mermaids. The actual protected characteristic is ‘gender re-assignment’, which means that one must be proposing to move from one ‘gender’ to the other. What is meant here, of course, is ‘sex’. There are only two sexes – male and female – but an apparently infinite number of ‘genders’, i.e. the way we choose to ‘perform’ our identities in society, a state of being I think we used to more usefully refer to as ‘our personality’.
The Gender Recognition Act 2004 pushes this hopeless muddle between sex and gender in the same sentences so I can’t blame people for getting confused. But I can and do blame them for persistently pushing an interpretation of the law which they know must be false.
It now seems that on Wednesday, Liz Truss will confirm the news leaked on 19th September by the Sunday Times – that ‘self ID’ is now off the table with regard to reform of the GRA, first mooted in 2018. Stonewall responded by misrepresenting the law again, by claiming that ‘what hasn’t changed is trans people’s legal right to access single-sex spaces in line with the gender they identify with’.
This is of course nonsense. But it’s the mantra Stonewall and others have been pushing since 2015. As Ann Sinnott tweeted in response
Trans people do not have a legal right to access single-sex spaces. They can be excluded if it is a proportionate means to achieve a legitimate aim. Such exclusion doesn't equate to gender reassignment discrimination -Equality Act Sch 3, Part 7, s28.
So what’s my problem?
Why am I so opposed to Self ID and those who push it? For the simple reason that if any man can become a woman on the basis of his declaration alone, this is effectively the end of the sex class female. Those physical characteristics that mark us out as female – our smaller, lighter frames, our genitals that make us vulnerable to rape and sexual assault from men, our reproductive capacities etc – all become irrelevant. We will no longer have a class into which we can claim additional protection for the additional vulnerability that being female brings. This has huge implications for contact sports, prisons, hospital wards etc. Places where not only female safety is impacted by the admission of male bodies, but also female dignity.
For me, it's quite simple. Women have a right to spaces where there are no penises. Self ID will destroy this right.
And the elephant in the room is this. The ‘trans rights’ movement seems hopelessly confused. On the one hand, angrily rejecting the ‘sex binary’ as some unnecessary means to attempt coercive control of the free-spirited non-binary folk – but on the other, showing a such a desperate allegiance to gender stereotyping, and wanting to ‘pass’ that ‘deadnaming’ or the wrong pronoun could lead to suicide.
While young men who seek to transition can often ‘pass’ quite successfully as women, older men invariably cannot. And I wonder whether this is what is driving this great push for ‘Self ID’.
It’s the elephant in the room that has to be addressed. When the GRA was first debated it was clear that politicians saw it would impact on a few thousand people if that – the genuinely transsexual men who obtained relief by being allowed to live and be ‘seen’ as a woman. I have no doubt such men exist. I have no doubt gender dysphoria is real and causes serious misery.
But no one can claim automatic precedence over the rights of others. The ‘transgender’ umbrella now extends to cover a vast range of people – from the genuinely dysphoric to the seriously disturbed and dangerous. It is essential that any wish to cross over from the sex class male to the sex class female is subject to external scrutiny.
I wish for all the opportunity to live their best lives. To love and be loved. To be able to walk down the street without being physically or verbally abused. To be able to get and keep a job without being subject to bullying or harassment for the way they look or what they want to be called.
But ALL of this can and should be achieved in our current framework of laws. Rights collide, rights are in tension. The answer to this is not to sweep away the rights of one group to be protected, in order to make another group feel ‘validated’.
The answer – as ever – is a mature conversation, open dialogue, good-faith discussion.
I am grateful to Steph for giving me that opportunity here.
NOTE BY STEPH: THE ABOVE ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY SARAH PHILLIMORE FEMINIST & BARRISTER. I AM GRATEFUL TO HER FOR THIS CONTRIBUTION. I DO NOT SHARE SOME OF SARAH'S VIEWS, BUT WE TALK AND HAVE MUTUAL RESPECT. I BELIEVE IT IS RIGHT THAT I MAKE SPACE ON MY WEBSITE FOR OPPONENTS VIEWS BECAUSE AS SARAH SAYS, WE NEED "OPEN DIALOGUE". MY REPLY TO SARAH CAN BE SEEN VIA THE LINKS BELOW.