Letter to UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on trans/women’s rights.
Dear Jeremy Corbyn ,
I support the rights of trans people of all ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexualities, disabilities and backgrounds, whatever their gender identity or expression. I use preferred pronouns, respect trans people’s wish to be addressed and treated as the gender with which they identify, and stand with them against discrimination.
I also support the rights of natal women, of all ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexualities, disabilities and backgrounds, whatever their gender identity or expression. I assert the right of natal women to reject the prefix “cis”, and I stand with natal women against discrimination.
You recently stated that “trans women are women”. I dissent with this statement, and I ask for your intervention and support to stop the abuse, harassment, intimidation, silencing and no-platforming of those of us who support trans rights but nevertheless ask questions, raise challenges and/or express concerns about the social, legal and practical implications of conflating the category of trans women with that of natal women.
Woman is not a gender category, but a biological sex.
A woman is an adult human female. Female denotes the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs, distinguished biologically by the production of gametes (ova) which can be fertilized by male gamete.
Trans women are people who have male biological sex characteristics.
Male denotes the sex that produces gametes, especially spermatozoa, with which a female may be fertilized or inseminated to produce offspring.
Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women, whereas Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.
The conflation of sex and gender has serious implications for the rights of women and girls.
Trans women describe themselves as having an internal sense of gender which is female. Natal women describe themselves as of the female sex, irrespective of gender. We are not the same.
Because we are not the same, we have distinct and different experiences of oppression, discrimination, exploitation and abuse. Because our experiences are different, we need separate voices, services, rights and protections.
Trans activists argue that within the group “women”, black women’s experience of oppression will differ from white women’s, gay women’s from straight women’s, Muslim women’s from Jewish women’s and so on, and that this is also true for trans women.
But whilst it is true that women are not a homogenous group, we do all share one common denominator. Black, white, gay, straight, Jew, Muslim, Christian, “feminine”, “masculine””, working class, middle class etc — all of us are biologically female.
Recently, when white woman Rachel Dolezal self-identified as black, she was roundly condemned for cultural appropriation and rejected by the black community.
Just as it is not acceptable to demand that the definition of black be redefined to include white people self-identifying as black, neither is it acceptable to demand that the definition of woman be widened to include males self-identifying as females. Women are as deserving of their own distinct and separate voice, and the right to organise and advocate for their own specific interests, as any other oppressed or marginalised group.
Trans women are an oppressed group, but they are not part of the oppressed group “women”, because they are biologically male.
In addition to biological difference, natal women and trans women have different experiences of gender oppression. Where trans women experience oppression because they don’t conform to the gender with which they were assigned at birth, natal women experience oppression both for nonconforming and for conforming.
Displaying the socially defined “feminine” behaviour that supposedly “matches” our female sex characteristics in no way protects natal women from abuse. On the contrary, we are routinely exploited, assaulted, raped and subjected to male violence and abuse precisely because of this.
Equally, we suffer discrimination if we reject, subvert or challenge “feminine” gender stereotypes, if we exhibit “masculine” behaviour or fail to adequately conform to socially constructed ideals of “femininity”.
Unlike trans women, natal women experience oppression on the basis of our biological sex characteristics. Being female, with a vagina, uterus and clitoris, menstruating, having the capacity to get pregnant, bear children and breastfeed, and the menopause – all of these are specific to natal women but not to trans women.
Maternity rights, reproductive rights, FGM, the tampon tax, research into women’s healthcare and clinical trials – these are some of the areas in which natal women face discrimination and oppression directly because of our bodies and our biology. Other areas where natal women face oppression on the basis of their biological sex include marital rape, war rape, female infanticide, child marriage, forced marriage, forced pregnancy, honour killings, bride burnings and widow burnings.
The gender (sic) pay gap discriminates against natal women on the grounds of our biological sex, not on the grounds of our internal sense of gender.
The imbalance of power that sees males vastly outnumber females in positions of power and influence is not predicated on gender, but on biological sex.
Statistics show that females are overwhelmingly the victims of male violence, sexual assault and rape:
-Over 80% of all victims of sexual assault are female.
-Nearly all forcible rapes involve a female victim.
-In the ages 14 to 17, female victimisation rates are at least 10 times greater than male rates for similar age groups.
-Males account for over 93% of adults convicted of murder.
-Over 80% of sex related murders are of females.
-71% of all human trafficking victims detected globally are women or girls, with girls representing nearly three out of every four child trafficking victims.
-1 in 5 women have experienced sexual assault or attempted sexual assault as adults (compared with one in 25 men).
-In the UK, male sex offenders outnumber women sex offenders by 50 to one.
These statistics relate to biological sex categories. They do not relate to gender identity or expression.
Natal women and trans women are different.
Acknowledging our differences is not discrimination.
On the contrary, the ECHR says that “the right to freedom from discrimination includes not only the obligation to treat in the same way persons who are in analogous situations, but also the obligation to treat in a different way persons who are in different situations.”
Just like any other marginalised and oppressed group, natal women are entitled to autonomy.
Natal women need to be able to talk about, campaign and protest on the issues that affect them (and that don’t affect trans women), without being accused of excluding trans women because they don’t share our biology.
Yes, trans people are a vulnerable and persecuted minority.
But misogyny is real too, and the hatred and disgust aroused by female bodies is one of the reasons why we need to continue to assert our right to talk about them. It is unacceptable to tell women to stop talking about their bodies and biology, about wombs, vaginas and menstruation. This is a taboo that women fought long and hard to overturn. It is a battle not yet won, and we should not be asked to give it up now to avoid offending the sensitivities of another minority.
Similarly it is not ok to expect natal women to adopt the prefix “cis” in order to accommodate the sensitivities of trans women. Adult human females with female biological sex characteristics are not some kind of subset of women – we ARE women, defined not by our race, ethnicity, religion, class, sexuality, nor by our gender identity/expression or internal sense of gender, but by our biology.
Trans activists define “Cis” as describing women whose gender identity/expression matches the sex which they were assigned at birth. But most of us don’t share that definition of ourselves. Many natal women are more “masculine” than “feminine”. Gender in any case is not something we feel is innate and fixed, but rather shifting, mutable and malleable.
Almost all of us feel constrained and constricted by the gender expectations that society places on us, the female biological sex.
We are not “gender conforming” by definition, and it is not true that “cis” women “have structural advantage and political privilege”. It is ludicrous to suggest that black women, lesbians, Muslim women, disabled women — should be newly defined in terms of being a (conformist) contrast to trans women, when many trans women are white, heterosexual and biologically male.
Women (and some men) who ask questions, raise concerns, challenge or express dissent on this issue are routinely labelled “trans exclusionary radical feminists”, or “terfs”, their views branded as “hate speech”, transphobia and bigotry, and their voices systematically silenced and no-platformed.
Quite apart from the fact that many dissenters may not be radical or even feminist, anyone on the political left should know that debate and dialogue, and the freedom to dissent, are the cornerstones of democracy.
Prejudice and discrimination are to be found on both sides of the debate, with misogyny and homophobia quite apparent in some trans activist voices. In contrast, many dissenters are active and vocal supporters of trans rights.
Hate speech is unnaceptable, but disagreeing with an assertion that conflates biological sex with gender, and asserting the right of biological females to autonomy, is not hate speech.
The use of the term “terf” as a slur, to abuse, invalidate, heckle and intimidate dissenters is bullying and oppressive.
In practical terms, the proposed revisions of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, together with proposals to remove the category of “sex” from the census, and Labour’s commitment to update the Equality Act 2010, raise a number of concerns not just for natal women but for the wider public in general.
Replacing the category of “sex” with “gender” could impact on data gathering in relation to male violence and female victimhood, and into female healthcare. It will impact on the already under resourced field of female clinical trials.
Allowing males to self-define as women without medical or psychological evaluation or treatment potentially allows predatory males to access women’s safe spaces such as domestic violence refuges, and is liable to impact on vulnerable women in places such as refuges and prisons.
The apparent push on social media and in some schools to validate children and teens unhappy with their bodies when they declare themselves trans, and the unscrupulous medical practitioners offering to help them “transition” and undergo hormone treatment and other medical interventions including surgery, is of enormous concern to many parents, schools and caregivers.
People change their minds, and it’s too late. Hormones and surgery are dangerous. In many cases de-transitioners will be infertile for life, and will have damaged and deformed their bodies irreversibly. And are our bodies really so “wrong”, or is this interpretation of teenage angst just some sort of unhealthy projection?
All of these are legitimate points and concerns. None of them are about hatred, dislike or aversion towards trans people or a desire to hurt them, discriminate against them or exclude them.
At the very least, the Labour party needs to stand up against the bullying of dissenters, speak out against the “terf” label and act to prevent the harassment of peaceful women’s meetings to discuss natal women’s issues and concerns.
But more than that, as the party of the political left, Labour urgently needs to reassert the right of natal women to be defined as a separate group from trans women, and to organise, protest and campaign in the name of that separate group. Labour needs to open up debate and consultation with concerned women’s groups, advocates and professionals, and please — stop dismissing us.
I have been told several times that women like me, concerned leftwing women who care enough to get informed and involved, are white, privileged, university educated middle aged, middle class “terfs”, who feel left out now that cool young identity politics has taken over from radical feminism.
This is ageist, insulting and belittling — and makes enormous assumptions about us.
Articulate voices tend to be educated, whether white, black, male, female, natal or trans women. Whilst education may be a privelege, being educated doesn’t mean being “privileged” as in having special rights, advantages, or immunities. But in any case, is being an educated and articulate woman now something the left frowns upon?
I left school at 15, and after a bumpy 15 years went back to college as a single parent and got myself a first class degree. I’m proud of that, and resent the implication that my education or background invalidates what I have to say – especially when so many of those criticising me are white, heterosexual, middle aged, middle class males.
Many of those of us who feel most strongly about these issues have been the victims of sexual assault, abuse, rape and domestic violence – by males.
We know what males are capable of and that we need protection.
We know that in the global south, natal girls and women continue to suffer shocking levels of male oppression. We fear that given half a chance, males will strip our hard won rights away and put us back where we were before the suffragettes. We want a better world and are prepared to put in effort to make that happen. That’s why we support Labour under you, Jeremy Corbyn.
What a waste of our passion, our power and our articulacy for the Labour party to abandon us like this.
Jeremy Corbyn – when you spoke about trans women on the Marr show you said that you look at the person in front of you and respect their identification. Please look at women, natal women, and respect our identification as a biological sex.
You also said you would talk with feminist groups with concerns “and see if we can find some way forward”.
Please — urgently — do that. We have been waiting, we are still waiting, don’t leave us waiting much longer. We are losing patience and hope.
Yours sincerely and hopefully,