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The gender identity debate explored

Four activists discuss the pros and cons of the Tories’ proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, which would allow self-identification of gender and abolish the requirement for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria before transition

The Gender Recognition Act needs reform but self-identification is not the answer

by Debbie Hayton

Self-declaration of legal gender is a reckless proposal that would deny trans people the opportunity to have their gender externally verified and force them to rely entirely on their own assertions. 

While that might work in some parts of society, it could be catastrophic for those living in hostile environments where their motives may be questioned and their claims disbelieved.

Hostility can develop from suspicion, so we must listen to other groups who fear that their rights may be compromised.  
In particular, we need to take seriously the concerns that some women have raised about sex-based protections and access to sex-segregated spaces. 

People should have the right to identify and express their gender, but a more nuanced approach is needed when the law is reviewed. 
Reform is essential because, as our understanding of gender develops, the current legislation is increasingly unsatisfactory. 

Trans people are let down by the law, but rigid gender norms restrict everyone. Rather than contemplate self-declaration of gender, into two or possibly more categories, we should stop defining people by their gender in the first place. 

We need to relax the rules, not make new ones. When it comes to dress codes, for example, let’s legislate to stop employers treating men and women differently. While trans people may be the main beneficiaries, progressive solutions like these help everyone. 

However, access rights to sex-segregated spaces and other sex-based protections need to be considered separately. 
Women have fought for them, and it is unwise to dismiss reasonable concerns that they raise. 

Under self-declaration, how do women distinguish between a trans woman and an opportunistic man? 

Even the possibility of men taking advantage generates suspicions, and those suspicions will have a deleterious impact on trans people, including trans women who have hitherto been welcomed and accepted.

The Gender Recognition Act is in desperate need of reform, but self-declaration of gender is not a progressive solution. 
Indeed, where sex-based protections are concerned, external verification is vital to maintain trust and confidence. Otherwise, trans people face an uncertain future in a society that may decide that it just doesn’t believe them.

Debbie Hayton is a member of the TUC LGBT+ committee. She writes here in a personal capacity.

Trans women’s oppression must be recognised – and unity is needed in the struggle for equality

by Saorsa-Amatheia Tweeddale

The proposed changes to the gender recognition legislation that would allow for self-definition have excited great debate, some of it quite vitriolic and targeted specifically women with a trans history and transgender women.

Largely missing from the debate has been a socialist/Marxist analysis, and a progressive trade union perspective. 

Too much general focus and media attention has been given to the liberal radical feminist voice, a voice that has attacked the move, largely on the grounds of the dangers posed to cis-born women and their own identity politics.

It is my belief that the only principled position for a trade unionist and socialist to take is to support the move.

At the heart of the debate is the safety of cis-born women, and access to women-only spaces; that self-definition will allow dangerous “men” into safe spaces for women and lead to physical and sexual attacks and worse. 

These highly emotive arguments are predicated on little or no empirical evidence, and are anecdotal at best. 

There is absolutely no evidence to show a trans person is any more likely to be physically or sexually violent than a cis person. 

There is, however, plenty of evidence showing that trans women in particular are frequently subjected to verbal, physical, and sexual violence at the hands of cis people, which all too often ends in brutal murder, because of their gender identity.

In a socialist analysis, gender identity must be seen as another category by which capitalism seeks to divide and conquer. 

Historically the category of “woman” as a gender identity has been oppressed and exploited by capitalism and that struggle for equality continues. 

Arguably trans women are under triple oppression: we are oppressed as women; oppressed for not being “real” women; and are excluded from womanhood by some of our sisters whose movement, ironically, was the first to point out the fundamental difference between sex and gender. 

The trans experience has a lot to offer the women’s and trade union movement if we all follow one of the fundamental slogans of our movement — united we stand!

Saorsa-Amatheia Tweeddale is PCS Proud national trans representative.

Women’s concerns should be listened to, not scuppered

by Kristina Harrison

I cannot support the proposals for self-identification of gender, neither do I support the hostility and attempts to silence women’s voices in this debate.  

There has to be a process beyond merely filling out a form before any male-bodied person who self-identifies as female is legally allowed to access women-only spaces without consent and without necessarily having had or intending to have any hormonal or surgical treatment. 

The current proposal offers no safeguards and is open to abuse and inappropriate use, not by the majority of transgendered people who present no threat to women but by disturbed, confused or even malicious men.  

There must be psychological oversight which has credibility and is accountable to society, particularly women, whose involvement is fundamental in creating a just and widely supported mechanism.  

It’s not in the interests of transgendered people to scupper debate with women, then help impose a system of self-identification, especially when that system risks abuse, tabloid scapegoating and potential disrepute.  

However, the current system needs reform. It is unnecessarily lengthy, demeaning and sexist, enshrining gender role norms and leaving transgendered people without legal rights in their identified gender for up to five years.  

That’s obscenely long and leaves already vulnerable individuals abandoned at a time when they may have lost support networks and may not be able to access services like single-sex toilets, leisure facilities and women’s shelters, placing them in further danger from violent assault.  

Also problematic is the way psychiatry operates. All too often it panders to the worst gender stereotypes. 

In one early consultation I made the mistake of dressing like my female friends, wearing minimal make-up and a women’s trouser suit.  

I was told that as I wasn’t wearing a skirt or a dress I obviously “wasn’t serious” about gender reassignment and was left in no doubt that if I persisted in not conforming to antiquated notions of femininity that I would not be allowed to proceed.  

I felt demeaned and powerless before this man, who could control my destiny with his “diagnosis.” We do need reform but we must forge debate and consent.

Kristina Harrison is a member of Unison.

A socialist movement must stand with trans activists against discrimination and violence

by Bethany Pickering

The Gender Recognition Act of 2004 was a milestone achievement in trans activism. But the bureaucratic hurdles trans individuals must surmount to have their gender formally recognised means that it is still inadequate.

As Jeremy Corbyn rightly stated in his call for a review of the Act, it is an “intrusive” process which requires a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, the passing of an interview panel, and to have been socially transitioned for a period of two years.

This excessive admin, as well as the emotional labour necessary to pass these requirements, means that trans people may spend an extended period of time without their gender being formally recognised.

As well as being a distressing experience, this process creates barriers for trans people – and especially trans women – from accessing spaces and resources that they often sorely need.

There is much scaremongering around the prospect of men impersonating transwomen in order to gain access to women-only spaces; this is not only founded on little to no evidence, but underpins a flaw in its own logic.

The men that would commit this crime are not women, and excluding transwomen from these spaces means they bear the brunt of this misogynistic violence.

Transwomen need these spaces in order to discuss the violence they experience, and barring them perpetuates this violence.

Equally, concerns about skewing data on the gender pay gap ignores that there are transwomen in workplaces that do not have any formal protection from the sexism they face.

A tragic 40 per cent of trans people have experienced hate crime in the last 12 months, and around the same amount have attempted suicide. 

A bio-essentialist definition of gender, which is much contested and largely disproved, is putting thousands of trans people at great risk.

A socialist movement must stand with trans activists against systematic discrimination and violence, and fully support the Labour Party in the fight for trans rights.

Bethany Pickering is a member of Momentum and LGBT activist.


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