“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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