This is a road-map of the “sex-based rights v gender-identity” conversation that’s raging out there… What? Oh – apparently, a lot of people haven’t really had that conversation yet, beyond a few comments on stories in the press. Okay sisters, we have a job to do…
Otherwise known as the “Circumstellar Habitable Zone”, there is a limited region in the planet system around any star that scientists see as potentially habitable. They call it “The Goldilocks Zone”. I find that phrase coming to mind when considering the attitudes different women have to the so-called “trans rights issue”. I get the impression very few women have a fixed opinion, and those who do generally only express it honestly among trusted friends. Rather, most women are desperately seeking The Goldilocks Zone of what it is safe and fair to say – women’s opinions are buried in a mass of needs, worries and complexes that anyone who’s ever studied the nature of oppression will have an idea of, and anyone who hasn’t will be completely baffled by.
Women are seeking a place where they can breathe.
I’ve decided it’s best to look upon our current predicament as a journey rather than a set of differing opinions. It’s a long read – sorry — but as I see it, it’s a journey, and we move forward by having conversations — whether it’s on a grand platform somewhere or at the bus stop, or with friends or family, or at work — to move forward, we need to talk to people. Everyone starts at a different place and, as discussions and revelations arise, everyone moves along a bit.
Here’s an attempt at an analysis of some of the stances around the Zone. I’m not going to attempt objectivity — it’s clear where I stand – but I am trying to achieve honest observation…
There are women who’ve transed primary school aged and younger kids – most famously in the UK, Susie Green, who runs Mermaids, who took her kid to the States for puberty blockers then, when he was 16, to Thailand for (now illegal) surgery. Maybe such women so avidly believed gender-non-conformity was a sign of a “cross sex identity” that it felt necessary to their kid’s survival, but believing is not the same as knowing.
Why did they pick up on aspects of their kid’s behaviour and believe, when others did not, that “gender affirming” action was necessary? Maybe they believed it because they were afraid of their husbands’ or the world’s, or their own, homophobia. Maybe they needed their kid to look more “normal”. Maybe they needed a belief as an end in itself – a crusade, something that made their kid “special” enough that they could make a career out of defending them.
Women like that need the whole world to believe trans kids are the opposite sex really, born in the wrong body. What’s worse, they need the world to believe their child has enemies, to justify their role as heroic defender.
There are also adults who have transitioned, and see the notion of formalising gender-identity in law as the way to secure their unhindered access to the spaces, services and roles of their “acquired sex”, and there are adults who believe they need sex-based gate-keeping swept away so that they can transition to and fro unhindered, to gain access to the people and places they desire. An example is male prison inmates wanting to escape their undeniably dangerous environment, and/or wanting to access women.
And finally, there are those who have made themselves a lucrative career out of promoting gender ideology in organizations such as Stonewall, and Pride, and certain areas of the media and entertainment industry.
None of these positions are pro anyone in particular, and nor are these beliefs common to all trans people. These people are “pro” a recently fashionable ideology.
There are those who firmly believe that gender-roles are the glue that hold families together, that society needs people to fulfil those traditional roles. Either they are anti-trans, seeing it as a transgression of gender-roles or conversely, they believe anyone who behaves in an unconventional way should transition, so that all boys behave as boys “should”, and all girls as girls “should”. Here’s an example: one Tory MP, according to Hansard, contributed to the parliamentary debate on the GRA back in 2004 the idea that if they facilitated “sex change” they would not need to sanction gay marriage. He assumed gays would transition in order to become “straight” marriages.
Pro friends and loved ones
There are those who have adolescent children or partners or clients or (if they are teachers) students who have transitioned. Of course they must support their loved ones. Of course they are determined to do it whatever the cost, but trouble comes if they believe that the way to success is not just to believe they really have changed sex, but to demand that the rest of the world believe it, too. They become in effect like the mothers who transed their kids. Both groups, faced with women who want to preserve sex-based boundaries, insist that they don’t mind losing their legal rights at all, that they are happy to see males in female sports, political roles, refuges etc, and that everyone else should accept it too — or they deny that there is a problem: they deny there are males encroaching on female territory, and defend their position with the magic words, “transwomen are women”. They say those “males” are not male, and that it is transphobic of you to say they are.
This group are indeed acting “pro” someone, but I question whether they’ve found the right way to do it, because they set themselves in a position where they must defend one group of people against the interests of another, against reality, against the evidence and indeed against their own legal interests.
It’s a gargantuan and never-ending task. That’s what makes them so steely eyed and fiery.
There are of course those who haven’t realised there is a game-changing legal issue here, have not noticed there is a danger to women and children. They see this whole controversy as a re-run of gay-liberation, and simply believe everyone should leave everyone alone, thinking that will allow everyone to do as they please. They tend to say “oh calm down, it will resolve itself.”
Freedom though, has always been a tricky concept. You cannot actually free anyone from reality, nor from the consequences of their environment. These “let them be” people do not realise that the historical record shows a long-term vulnerability of adolescent girls to body-damaging and body-denying philosophies. They do not know that there is a huge ideological and profit-seeking force promoting “sex-change” and/or sex-denial as a way of escape from all manner of troubles in a manner that often amounts to child-grooming. Nor are they aware that a significant proportion of our female population show signs of PTSD, a consequence of abuse, and so are vulnerable to gaslighting.
The more time passes, the more likely it is that those clinging to this idea are not “don’t know”s, but “don’t care”s, or are hard-core misogynists, who seriously do want to destroy women’s rights.
There are people, often called “virtue signallers” who say just be kind, when faced with women trying to preserve sex-based boundaries. They seem unaware of the downsides of what’s happening. They need to be seen to be nice and polite and good. Along with those who genuinely think that easy, smiley toleration will solve the issue, they believe all they have heard about the hordes of nasty, anti-trans people and want to make it clear to the world that they aren’t like that. They want to defend the trans kids and transmen who are having a hard time, and don’t doubt for a moment that they are bullied because they are trans, not just panicking when questioned by sceptical peers, or argued with over points of law.
There are also women who believe that their jobs depend on them presenting with that opinion, those for whom that is actually true and those who’ve seen the treatment meted out to women actively campaigning for sex-based rights, and believe the angry hordes would descend on them, too, if they as much ventured an opinion.
There are women within the trade unions and politics who seem to me to be lost in the gender-based requirements placed upon them, and seek equality by attempting to see the world through men’s eyes, and to win approval by supporting men’s needs. They seek to win political points by visibly rejecting women who challenge male ideas. They say feminists hate men, and they present themselves as the defenders of vulnerable men. They don’t really believe that transwomen are women and trans men are men, but they have clocked that many men do, so they make a big show of saying it. They are responsible for much of the disengagement and many of the job losses this issue has created.
All the groups above want “self-ID” enshrined in law, so that society makes no distinction between someone who has assumed an opposite-sex identity and someone of that biological sex. They tend to call their goal “inclusion”.
The original and over-riding purpose of feminism was always to combat gender-norms. It’s a fairly obvious progression from there to combat the idea of innate “gender identity”, because the idea of the magical sexed “soul” which lies at the heart of gender ideology would, if real, make obedience to gender-norms biologically based, involuntary and immutable. It would mean a “feminine” man or a ”masculine” woman must “change sex”, not as a defence against societal expectations, but because they have the “wrong body” because they need drastic alteration in order to be their “authentic self”.
Most of the women’s groups that have formed to lead the battle against “self-ID” believe that trans people are in fact victims of gender-stereotyping, that they cannot really change sex, but need to do what they do, and deserve legal and social protection in order to live as they choose, not because of a mythical “gender identity” but because of societal pressure.
These are the “gender critical feminists”. Those who don’t like them call them “terfs”. They believe that transwomen are not women (because they are male, and sex is immutable) and trans men are not men (for the same reason), but that they still deserve toleration of, and legal provision for, the way they are living.
Women with this view respond to the debate-denying cry of “transwomen are women” with “transwomen are transwomen.” They oppose “self-ID”, and want the law to stay as it is, with its legal protections for trans people under the category “gender reassignment”. The only change these women want is a better understanding and implementation of the sex-based rights set out in the laws we do have.
Pro-women and girls
There are people – mostly women – who have realized that the enforcement of chosen pronouns is a source of stress and danger to women, particularly those who have experienced abusive and/or controlling relationships. They see all attempts to formalize trans status as “gaslighting” because the demand that they believe things are other than what they perceive them to be is very reminiscent of what happens within such traumatizing relationships, and also because the formalizing of trans status brings with it the tendency to subsume the needs of biological females to those of males with a formalized female “identity”.
That feeling can lead two ways. It can lead to resenting trans people entirely, and wanting someone to “make them stop it” or else to the calmer suggestion that such males should dress and live as they choose, call themselves what they like, but stay out of women’s sports, politics and facilities, and refrain from demanding that the world call them women.
Within the burgeoning women’s movement the fall-out from this controversy has led to a new generation of women meeting, reading about and learning about radical feminists, and as a result coming to understand just how badly placed women are within our society, and just how badly women need opportunities to experience all-women environments, and to maintain and develop the laws, spaces and services they do have as a sex-class.
Many of those women are angered and tired by society’s determination to see all this as a “trans rights” issue. It is, they say, a “women’s rights” issue. They say so because the push-back against them seems to be, to a great extent, both male and misogynistic. They suspect it is the back-lash of sexist forces that were briefly stalled by the #MeToo campaign.
These women share a concern that the people who are grouped together as “trans” in these arguments are many and various. They include males and females, they include autistic and allistic people, they include people who would have been gay or lesbian if life had been different, but they also include “part time” transitioners such as cross-dressers, opportunists and fetishists — as well as those who are “gender refugees”, who believe they need their assumed identity to survive.
Having realized what a diverse and ill-defined group the “trans rights campaign” is supposed to be for, these women are appalled and offended by the society-wide expectation that women’s services and spaces should simply have thrown their doors open to all, without questioning the situation.
They passionately oppose that disregard for female experience that accepts a male who, by way of surgery, prescription hormones or cosmetic disguise, “looks like a woman” must *be* a woman. Macy Gray’s (very brief) stance on this was beautifully expressed when she said “Being a little girl is a whole epic book, you know. You can’t have that just because you want to be a woman.” In other words, you can’t “drop in” on womanhood without that life-long social and biological experience.
They are also appalled at the way organizations such as unions and universities have treated women who campaign on the issue, and appalled at the way a generation of children have been taught what they see as not just a wrong, but a fundamentally misogynistic view of sex and gender. As a result, they have an increasingly low toleration of people who don’t accept that women, just like all other mammals, are keenly aware of sex because noting the presence of a male is an essential part of their survival strategy. The fact that some people sometimes manage to camouflage their sex does not change that feeling one bit. Moreover, they have learned that to get beyond survival, in order for women and girls to *thrive*, the option of all-women company must be available when it’s needed.
Anger can harden and become dangerous but it can also, gradually, burn itself out and make space for re-evaluation. For some reason, this appears to have happened first and foremost in the UK, earning us the nick-name “Terf Island”, in a world where other countries are disregarding the interests of women and girls, and forging ahead with the notion that “self-ID” is the future, and gender-ideology is progressive.
Meanwhile, many women are hard at work now, reading, studying, debating, looking for that ephemeral “answer that works for all”, for the place where we are no longer in contention over this. Now though, we are seeking that Goldilocks Zone in the knowledge that “being polite” is absolutely no use to us. Now, we realize that we have to be honest before we find our way to the right answer…
Most women do not have a fixed opinion on this issue. Most stated opinions have been full of compromise and assumption. Specifically because of sex-based oppression, it takes a long, long time to see through the smoke and mirrors, and realize that gender is the enemy, gender is why it’s hard for them to be honest on this topic. Once they manage it, they are likely to understand that the way to dismantle gender is to note, analyse and flag up its manifestations wherever they appear.
That means not being “pro” or “anti” trans, but making a clear distinction between sex and gender, it means rejecting the idea that “transition” is an actual sex change, and it means defending the right to use pronouns and other language accurately, according to what they see in front of them. It means being clear and honest with the kids – protecting them from porn, sexism and misogyny, teaching sex as biology and allowing them to develop in their own way, as suits their character.
People cannot change sex. People do, though, do whatever they feel they need to do to survive. In a sexist, stereotype-enforcing society, that means some people transitioning, and others insisting that transwomen are women. We await a world that can see that the phrase “transwomen are women” was a nonsense compromise-attempt, and the notion of “the trans child” a red herring, a cover-story for the benefit of others, not a rescue-package for non-conforming children.
Overcoming fear of reality is the only way to reach the true Goldilocks Zone.
We can’t do much about the fetishists, the evangelists or the proxies. They are a job for professional counsellors but as to the rest, we need to keep talking – talking across those boundaries wrought of ignorance and misogyny until we’ve worn away all those nets and traps of shifting meanings and circular arguments; keep talking until we arrive at a place where we know sex is sex, and no-one is afraid to acknowledge it, a place where the claim of non-binary is no longer necessary as a self-defence, and no-one need “transition” to get away from bullying, homophobia or suffocating sexism, above all, a place where girls are not traumatized by their first glimpses of womanhood, a place where no-one needs to camouflage their opinions in order to be safe, or employable, and no-one makes the mistake of assuming that a male who likes dressing up, make-up and flirting is anything remotely like a woman.
We need to keep in mind all the groups above, and know which ones we’re dealing with, in order to communicate effectively. We need to do this because there are still a lot of people who really don’t know that most people don’t believe the gender-ideology, and there are people who feel beaten, who really don’t know that this stuff will fall into ashes once enough people start on the journey to speaking honestly about it all.
What may come as a surprise to you, when you get out there and start talking to more people is that the vast majority of the people you approach will say something like this: “Oh, I support trans rights … but I do think we need to get males out of women’s sports and so on.” Then, you’ll need to explain to them precisely what “trans rights” campaigners are demanding – that they are asking for nothing short of a complete destruction of women’s boundaries, and that that is not in any way, a “right” trans people can or should have. All you need do then is reassure them that a large proportion of that “tide of transphobia” they’ve heard about has been nothing worse than women standing up for those boundaries.
Then ask them if they know what’s been happening to our kids…
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