It’s a legal issue


“Why are you obsessed with trans people?”

I must have been asked this a hundred times in the last five years or so – usually by the same few people – I don’t think they ever listen to the answer, but here it is anyway: for most of the last five years, I’ve been saying I have no reason to concern myself with trans people. To my knowledge, the first person I had an issue with regarding the Equality Act 2010 was Maria Miller MP, because she chaired a government committee that was looking at making changes to the Equality Act exemption that women’s legal rights are based on, and she didn’t think women had any business getting involved in the debate.

Then I found out about Stonewall insisting that ‘transwomen are women’. Then there were all those blokes with beards who said they were ‘woke’, and took to shouting at women…

None of them are trans people but people call the tussle over the Equality Act ‘the trans issue’, and they always seem to want to talk about trans people when women try to explain why women need their legal rights to stay right there, based on the evidenced, tangible, central issue of sex. It’s as if someone somewhere has decided that women only deserve to keep their established legal rights if they first find answers to all the problems trans people have. Like all the women on the campaign for sex-based rights, I find myself thinking and talking about trans people a lot, because I am so constantly expected to answer questions about trans people’s needs.

I honestly do not have, and do not wish to have, any influence on how other people live, how they dress, what they call themselves or what they do to their bodies. I grew up in the 1970s. I don’t think anything could surprise me along those lines. I might have opinions about it, I have quite definite opinions about it, but I don’t let my opinions reach out and become what other people ‘should’ or ‘should not’ do, unless…

Gender and gender identity

I am of course, obsessed — if that’s the word you want to use for ‘deeply concerned’ — about gender, because the cluster of ideas and expectations that are collectively known as gender are in my view a bane on everyone’s lives and the current apparently worldwide fashion for obsessing over gender is something I believe needs to be taken apart before everyone – men and women alike – can really live their best lives, personally, and uniquely, rather than desperately searching every magazine and every corner of the internet for a label that actually works for them.

I am currently very concerned (obsessed even) with the notion of gender identity, because this unevidenced, intangible idea is currently used to justify eroding women’s rights, services and spaces. Now here’s a key thing: trans people do not cause this merely by existing. Despite constant claims by some that women like me are ‘denying trans people’s existence’, women like me not only know they exist, we object to discrimination against them as with any minority. It’s not even trans people who make that accusation a lot of the time – it’s people who have a really, really weird idea of what a woman is who do it. 

What I seriously don’t believe in is innate gender identity.

I believe in character and personality. I believe in up-bringing and culture and social pressure but I don’t think any of them are innate. I don’t believe gender is innate. All those things are social, relational and mutable. We know that because their manifestations are different in different times and places, and people generally adapt to a fair extent, if they move to places with a different way of going on.

Feel like a woman?

Along with the concept of ‘gender identity’ comes the concept that a male can ‘feel like a woman’ and if he does, so the narrative goes, it’s terribly cruel not to let him use women’s spaces, services, political roles, sports and all the rest of the things women have thanks to that precious Equality Act sex exemption.

In law, women’s rights, and therefore women-only spaces, rely on the sex exemption, not ‘gender’ or ‘gender identity’. If Stonewall et al had their way and changed the exemption, many women would have a huge problem. Here’s why:              

I don’t know what it feels like to be a hamster. I might take a guess at it – loving sunflower seeds, preferring to live at night, the excitement of chewing holes in carpets and so on, but it’s guesswork. I can’t actually know what it feels like to be a hamster, because I have never been one. Men have never been women, so why do so many people think men can know that they ‘feel like a woman’? I’ve heard plenty of people try to explain it. They say it’s not just about styles of dressing, ways of speaking, ways of thinking, clothes, activities, the craving for curvy and (in their view) sexy bodies, and behaviours, choice of names and pronouns  (although those are the things people change, when they ‘transition’, and a lot of them are what the Gender Recognition Act appears to mean by ‘living as a woman’. Some say it’s about (lots of ‘you know what I mean’ hand waving here) but vaguely, the drift of what they talk about sounds to me like the crooning thing and the twinkling, flirting, fussing, simpery things that come under the feminist category of MAD (male approval desire).  That sounds like gender to me. They are really saying ‘I feel feminine’. Okay, fair enough.

The thing is, I don’t.

As a result, I have had a transwoman tell me I’m not a proper woman, because I don’t do the hair and the make up and the MAD stuff like they do.  Me, a mother, a grandmother and a feminist, one who spent the permissive, ‘let it all hang out’ seventies trying desperately not to get pregnant, not a proper woman? I was annoyed, but I didn’t really get the nature of the insult until I was reading Esmé Streachailt today in The Radical Notion #Issue Six, and she was discussing a Janice Raymond quote. She said…

The femininity that men denigrate in a woman, they adulate in transwomen as they once did in Dionysus, luring females into forgetting the falseness of femininity, blinding us to the fact that femininity is a quintessentially male attribute, attributed to women by men.

Femininity and masculinity are male inventions

And there it is. Only a man can be a transwoman, and he can only do it because only men know how to ‘feel like a woman’. What does it feel like, being a woman? If a woman can think of an answer to that question at all, she tends to say things that don’t apply to transwomen – like periods and childbirth and being doubted, denigrated and disregarded, the eternal fear of male violence.

Men ‘feeling like a woman’ wasn’t a problem in my circles when I was growing up because men who felt that way generally just grew their hair, wore glitter and flounced about doing MAD without pushing themselves into women’s groups or hostels or sports. Even those few men who became trans-sexuals still knew they were male. They wanted to (as Kristina Harrison puts it) identify with women, not as women. (Some transwomen still feel that way. I know that because my friends who are trans told me) but increasingly now, the current generation of trans people and their allies think transwomen really are women, and the sex-exemption must be changed to the ‘gender’ or ‘gender identity’ exemption, so they can make their feeling legal and total.

That idea has already been sold to a generation of children. That’s why there are suddenly so many girls doing what used to be largely the preserve of middle-aged men, and aiming to ‘change sex’. Our girls have been persuaded that if they aren’t doing feminine, or if they don’t want to behave like the porn stars they are being sold as entertainment, they must be boys.

I think that’s a real tragedy. But it’s not the only tragedy in this story.

What happens when you replace ‘sex’ with ‘gender’ in law?

There are a lot of women who don’t ‘feel like a woman’. You have to buy into the whole hair and make up and MAD stuff to ‘feel like a woman’. So that exemption, when it no longer belongs to the female sex, would belong to the people rad fems call ‘transwomen and their handmaidens’ – the hair dos and make up and MAD people. Quite a lot of the MAD people are female, but the ‘gender exemption’, if we got one, would not feel like home for rad fems, it would not be for most lesbians, it would not be for women who don’t ‘grow out of’ being ‘tomboys’ it would not be for most autistic girls (they’re generally rubbish at the MAD stuff) and it would not be for people like me. Logically, we would all be excluded from the legal category of women, and there would be no formal structure there for women to organise as a sex-class, and no legal basis for females to take refuge from male violence.


Now, I think basing women’s rights on gender is nonsense anyway, because I don’t do the hair-does and make up and MAD stuff and nor do many of the women I admire most, but there’s another problem. If the sex (or as they would have it, ‘gender’) exemption was just down to how people feel, you couldn’t evidence it, and you couldn’t gate-keep it. People could only belong because they said they did, so we would have to have self-ID brought into law to validate it – and that would actually take us back about 500 years (or whenever it was we still burned heretics) because the self-ID idea brings another idea along with it. People who support ‘self-ID’ talk about words being ‘literal violence’. Their self-identified personas only work if they are validated by others’ belief in them. Along with self-ID as legal practice comes the requirement that others believe it.

What happens when you make laws about what people must believe? Can people really control what they believe? There will be burnings.

So next time someone asks why you’re obsessed with trans people, just post this article as a reply.  I am not obsessed with trans people. I am obsessed with trying to avoid going back to a world where women had no legal rights and people got burned as heretics. It’s no fun and it’s not how I meant to spend my life but like thousands of other women, I have to do it for my sisters, and all our daughters, as well as for my own safety.


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2 responses to “It’s a legal issue”

  1. Kay is absolutely spot on as she usually is. I sometimes wish she was the candidate and I could retreat to a more supportive role but then I am obsessive (though not as eloquent as she is). I too have been asked why am I obsessed with transpeople (or worse yet their genitalia) shortly before being denounced as a transphobe or bigot when I claim to be supporting women’s sex-based rights or even just deviating slightly from my interlocutor’s notions of ideological purity where the only permissible discourse is that of unconditional acceptance.

    The truth is that I care about all those who are oppressed and/or discriminated against and I am not prepared to rank oppressions as being of lesser or greater consequence to myself especially when I belong to neither of the groups in question being neither a female nor transperson of either sex. I am however neurodivergent having been diagnosed with Aspergers and ADHD in middle age. Mine is a condition that is largely invisible to the outside observer until I become over stimulated by an unpredictable situation and/or exhausted by the excessive demand of enforced socialisation at which point I experience a ‘meltdown’.

    In autistic people meltdowns may take several forms. In my case it takes the form of screaming and/or striking both sides of my head with my fists until the stress is fully released. This is shocking to most neurotypical people for which their repertoire of learned responses hasn’t prepared them for. It is intensely embarrassing for me as I slowly come out of it to realise that everyone is either staring at me or making a blatantly obvious effort to pretend that they aren’t. followed by the depressing realisation that should I ever see any of those people again (or even if I don’t) that meltdown is what they will remember me for and if they later make the connection to autism that will colour their view of all of us.

    So if being transgender means having to conceal a pretty important aspect of who are from the world around you from fear of being ‘othered’ by people who can’t even begin to put themselves in your shoes because they haven’t lived your life then I have every sympathy for you and would stand by you to the last when you are denied your civil rights by a society that is as institutionally transphobic as it is institutionally misogynistic, institutionally racist, institutionally homophobic, institutionally ableist and institutionally neurotypical. Society’s prevailing narrative has always been the ideology of the powerful and they have always defined themselves in relation to those they exclude and set the tone for the laws and customs that govern us and set the ‘norms’ by which we are expected to live.

    Empathy however I cannot show because my capacity to filter out an make sense of the myriad non-verbal cues that would allow me to comprehend this ‘gender’ you and many others insist I have is so impaired and atrophied that my efforts to perform it failed so dismally that I grew up subject to much bullying and that abuse hardened my resistance to the entire notion of forced conformity to a gender role that I cannot accommodate the idea of women (or men for that matter) being shoehorned into adopting femininity in order to be acknowledged in law to be women or men being shoehorned into masculinity in order to be acknowledged in law as men.

    Invent as many genders as there people on the planet if that is what it takes for you to feel comfortable in your own skin but please acknowledge that there are other axes of oppression and that the identity that you find so liberating is when it is applied to women and girls the very instrument of an oppression that they cannot escape because it is directed and imposed upon their very bodies from cradle to grave and they cannot escape that without embracing sterility and a lifetime of poor health and medication.

    Liked by 1 person

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