Kay Green

Kay Green on books, life, the universe and, currently, quite a lot of politics

activism, Labour, Politics, prejudice, Uncategorized, women

Dear Labour Party, there are some women you have forgotten

Women returning from transition are the forgotten ones - the explorers, reporting back.

***Update3 Hmmm – well – I’d still advise you to vote Labour but… we’ll see. NEC announcement due out later this month….***

***Update 2: Jan 18*** I am reassured to find that the Labour Party are looking at this issue and am happy with the progress that’s been made.***

***update*** Since I wrote this, I have found out that the Women in Leadership Scheme is run by the LWN, an affiliated organisation, not the Labour Party itself. I haven’t changed the title because I feel the Labour Party does need to think about this issue but it is not the Labour Party itself that made the ruling I am discussing.***

When I heard that the popular and wildly over-subscribed Jo Cox Women in Leadership Scheme was admitting transwomen, I didn’t believe it. There is little enough provision for women anyway, and surely the Labour Party with its famous concern for equalities wouldn’t reduce it still further at a time when protecting women’s spaces is so contentious.

I checked with an Equalities Officer who said, and I quote, “the Labour Party doesn’t condone pretending to ‘help’ one disadvantaged group by stealing provisions from another. That’s a Tory tactic.”

Transwomen ain’t what they used to be

But, as it turns out, it’s true. The Labour Party may have famous concern for equalities but it has changed its rules in favour of transgender people and not noticed itself being neglectful of women as a whole. “Transwomen are women”, cried the first cohort on the Jo Cox scheme – and that’s totally natural – they got along quite happily with the transwoman they had amongst them, and rushed to defend the policy – as I would have in their situation, had I not looked to the USA and seen what’s down the line when you make self-declared ‘gender identity’ a protected characteristic. Here’s a clue…

Times article “Ignore the stubble, I’m not a male nurse.”

Woman who asks for a female nurse gets a man who 'identifies as a woman'.
“My gender is not male. I’m a transsexual.”

Some feminist voices were heard objecting to the Jo Cox Scheme’s decision not to invoke the Equality Act exemption for the female sex.  The objections were slapped down  with that knee-jerk cry of “transwomen are women” which, with a bit of thought, anyone can see is not the point.

We are not talking about the born-men living as women who you are used to taking into your circle and looking after. We are talking about an unknown increase in numbers, accompanied by a huge decrease in the requirement to actually live as a woman, whatever that means.

We’ve all got rather confused.

Sex or gender?

If you choose to ignore the Equalities Act exemptions for the female sex, as the Jo Cox scheme has done, and you then accept that you are the gender you say you are, and that that magically changes your sex too, then absolutely no effort is required. Male-bodied, male-socialised men with male attitudes to self-advancement can simply say “I identify as a woman” and use up female facilities and provisions. This is regularly happening in pub and nightclub toilets now – it’s the latest amusing way to annoy women. It’s not funny, and it’s only the beginning.

Proportionate representation?

Last year, something like 1000 women applied for the 60-something available places on the Jo Cox scheme but, because it’s not paying attention, the Labour Party reckons that’s enough for transwomen too, despite their rising numbers, and despite the fact that transgender (not necessarily trans-sexual) women are already comfortably represented in officer roles in LGBT, in some TUs and in Momentum.

I would like to remind the Labour Party why there are special provisions for women.

Why Women Need Equalities Act Exemptions

Miranda Yardley at the parliamentary consultation on GRA
Miranda Yardley: I am transsexual, but I acknowledge the need to recognise the material reality of biological sex….

In most cases, setting up courses and activities for one sex only is illegal but where a group is recognised as disadvantaged, they are allowed certain exemptions because of their ‘protected characteristic’. Why is sex a protected characteristic? Not because you ‘feel like a woman’, but because it is recognised that girls tend to get a poor deal in education and career opportunities, and (remember the #metoo campaign?) because they are further disadvantaged by having to spend so much energy on avoiding unwelcome treatment from predatory males. In recent years – the austerity years – women have been knocked back disproportionately by the strictures of being impoverished carers, by a lack of social care in the face of family difficulties, by the proliferation of poorly paid, insecure work and by the dreadful housing and welfare conditions imposed on single mothers.

Two factors have come together to create an unintended injustice here. Firstly, aware of the problems particular groups face, the Labour Party has set itself admirable targets to bring disadvantaged groups into government where their voices can be heard – that’s what the Jo Cox program is all about but – this is the second vital point – the quotas it sets itself are hard to fill in the case of women. Just saying ‘we want 50% women MPs/councillors/CLP officers’ or whatever does not alter the fact that most women will not be able to free themselves to take up those roles.

Labour Party video about Jo Cox scheme

“There’s an immense amount of pride about becoming a FEMALE MP,” she says – not an MP who identifies as a woman, but a FEMALE MP.

Equal, but not the same

Transwomen – especially if they declare themselves women later in life, may well have spent the formative years of their education and careers aided by all the privileges of, for example, being a middle class, white, heterosexual male. They are far less likely to be knocked out of contention by care obligations, they are unlikely to be full-time single parents – they may indeed have created another single-parent family by leaving their families in order to be the woman they want to. They are there, ready willing and able to fill those roles set aside for women, and spurred on by a male sense of ambition and entitlement. Thus organisations determined to achieve 50% women in office find a ready source of box-tickers – the result is particularly evident in Momentum which in some regions lately seems to be more visible through its fierce defence of trans rights than through the campaign work it was created for.

The Labour Party doesn't condone pretending to help one disadvantaged group by stealing resources from another. That's a Tory tactic.So the women who’ve always been women – the carers, the single-mums, the survivors of poverty, rape and abuse, lose out. Sure, transwomen have difficulties of their own and may well be survivors of one kind or another – but they have different difficulties, and “the Labour Party doesn’t condone pretending to ‘help’ one disadvantaged group by stealing provisions from another. That’s a Tory tactic.”

How to help trans people

Sure, let’s do something to help trans people but first off, don’t be so insufferably condescending. Trans people who know what they’re doing don’t need you playing games for them, but they do need a voice in government – and that does not mean one powerful group amongst them gets to represent all of them. In the case of women’s training, networks and officer-roles, how about we offer some of the available places to trans people who have had the disadvantages that make sex a protected characteristic. We could discuss offering some women’s training places to trans men – or in the case of the Jo Cox programme, if you want to stick to your rejection of the female sex as a protected characteristic, if you’d rather cater for ‘people who identify as women’, why not look for some of those young women who have de-transitioned, and now have double the amount of catching up to do. The women who are described by Maria Catt as ‘explorers reporting back’ (Catt Callahan 2017 in Transgender Children and Young People ed Brunskell-Evans & Moore, pub Cambridge Scholars).

They will have much to teach us about the advantages and problems of being women. You can find out more about these forgotten women through the links below, to detransitioners’ blogs and groups in the States, where such women are beginning to find a voice. I chose the links from a list collected by Maria Catt for the benefit of anyone who has any concern for the “re-sisters”. (I would like to think that groups designed to help men, and/or for everyone, will also make provision to help de-transitioning males, too.)

So come on Labour Party – find out which trans people need which kind of help, and get on with it, without whittling away the provisions you’ve already set aside for women. It is the least you can do, in recognition of what girls and women have to contend with.

Women returning from transition are the forgotten ones - the explorers, reporting back.Some desisters and re-sisters…





11 thoughts on “Dear Labour Party, there are some women you have forgotten

  1. Good points but it seems like you feel you still have to soft-pedal a bit?

    ‘We are not talking about the born-men living as women who you are used to taking into your circle and looking after.’

    I’m not. Looking after men is not women’s job. What does it even mean to live as a woman?

    It’s not clear how ‘trans people’ constitute a legitimate class at all. If sex dysphoria defines them, then this is a mental illness/neurological condition, and the class they belong to is that of of disabled people.


    1. Thank you, Leo. You may be right, that is debatable – I do not accept that gender-divergence is a disability – although it can be a disadvantage in a judgemental society. ‘Looking after men is not women’s job’ is very much my message to the Labour Party – it’s what I meant about being condescending. Women have got themselves into this pass by pretending a belief and an acceptance in a way that comes under the heading of ‘politeness’ but there are true friends and true allegiances and a new mood in Labour, which I very much approve of, that everyone should look after everyone else. We should be more honest about our thoughts and perceptions, though.

      Adults who choose to change their body and their way of living have a right to living space and protection. I don’t deny them – although I defend the right to deny them *automatic access* to that which has been, by law, set aside for others. One defends ones rights up to the point where they clash with another’s. The option to deny access to women’s spaces and provisions is there to protect the young, the disadvantaged and the vulnerable, and should remain for as long as sex-based prejudice and violence remain, but I would not move the bar so far that we leave trans people in difficulty.


  2. “In most cases, setting up courses and activities for one sex only is illegal but where a group is recognised as disadvantaged, they are allowed certain exemptions because of their ‘protected characteristic’. ”

    I don’t think the law actually works that way. A “protected characteristic” is something that one can not discriminate upon. So “sex” is a protected characteristic whether one happens to be male or female, because it is illegal to discriminate against both. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/part/2/chapter/1

    Then there are certain limited exemptions. But the existence of a “protected characteristic” does NOT create an exemption, even if it is generally understood that one kind of characteristic is discriminated against more often than the other (as in sex or race). They are, instead, based on particular needs, where the legislator recognizes that discrimination serves a useful purpose.

    Very importantly, general oppression is not the issue that creates exemptions. A particular pressing material need, overriding the general requirement not to discriminate, is. (For example, the exemption for sports exists because male-bodied people can be having an unfair advantage).

    You state a theoretical need here, but the numbers don’t seem to back it up. Just how many places on the Jo Cox programme were actually taken by trans women, anyway? All I know is one who did not get it.

    Also, here in Ireland we have self-ID and no problems. And your statement abut the USA is not backed up by any evidence – you link instead to a UK article.


  3. You’re right, exemptions are not automatic and must be applied for case by case, I believe – but the position of women is different – ‘sex’ is a protected characteristic in politics because women are an under-represented *majority*.

    I don’t know much about the situation in Ireland, but I do know that it’s not the same as the UK. I’m told, for example, that prisoners in Ireland can’t change and thereby get transferred to female prisons.


    1. I will try to find out about the prisons, good question.

      Yes, I agree women are under-represented, so this creates a special need to represent them – which is actually in the Equalities Act. Specifically non-discrimination “by sex” does not apply to candidate lists. However. non-discrimination “by gender reassignment” *does* apply, and I do not see material (not theoretical) proof that it should not.

      There are as far as I am aware zero trans women on the Jo Cox programme; but supposing there is one, this leaves 59 natal women. There is one elected trans Women’s Officer – one among many in the country. The numbers just don’t seem to back up the theory that trans women are “eating into” representation of natal women.

      The principle I am highlighting is that a need must be actual and demonstrated, not theoretical, in order to get exemption from anti-discrimination principles.


  4. I get your point, and would like to underline the fact that I am not saying transwomen in the Labour Party are doing any harm whatsoever – it is the Labour Party’s decision not to apply the exemption that I was objecting to – particularly with all women shortlists, and especially without full consultation amongst (all kinds of) women members – but judging by last week’s hokey cokey by the NEC, they have now realised that a conversation is needed.


    1. Well my further point is that they are right at present. Exceptions are based on clear material needs. A clear material need has not been demonstrated. Therefore an exception, at present, is not justified.

      As for the “hokey cokey”, is there any source that is NOT a right-wing rag and that alleges that the NEC is somehow moving from their previous “all self-ID women” position? “Spectator” can, you know, make things up.


  5. To compare: there *is* a factual disproportionate prevalence of men over women as Labour leaders and candidates. This factual prevalence justifies at present the exception to discrimination on the grounds of sex.

    There *is not* a factual disproportionate prevalence of trans women over natal women as Labour leaders and candidates. Therefore there is at present no justification for such an exception on the grounds of gender reassignment.

    I am not an absolutist, not denying that in some cases such an exception can well be justified, like sports and (for those who did not have SRS) common nakedness. And if we ever really see, say, over a quarter of women’s lists/awards/etc taken over by trans women, then the exception you want might be justified (though a possible alternative would be a proportionate expansion of said list/awards/etc – the important part is that natal women don’t get *less*). But there is nothing, except pure abstract theory, to suggest this might happen anytime soon.


  6. A quarter? Do you reckon self-ID will bring us one transwoman for every three others? I guess that’s not what you meant but my point remains. By accepting self-ID, the Labour Party have basically said women don’t need a protected list or provisions anymore, anyone can join in. As the representation of women in parliament is still only 36%, and the Party feel able to change the rules without a discussion with all their women members, I think we still need the provisions for women that we have – helping an additional group to get representation should be done by providing extra places, not inviting more in on existing women’s ones. Apart from anything else, far from helping transwomen, it sets them up as competition to other women which is utterly counter-productive for everyone.


    1. I do not think it will rise anywhere as high as a quarter. My estimate, when this settles in, would be about 1 in 20.

      The quarter thing was about your theory that because trans women have less family obligations they will be more available and thus take more spaces. If this theory is true we’ll see a quarter and THEN there will be justification for discrimination on gender reassignment.

      Right now there is no such justification. Provisions for women exist and they work without the need to exclude trans women from them.


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