A Woman’s Place Is On The Frontline

On Wednesday evening a large group of women and men gathered together in Hastings to discuss proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act. By no means a monolith, the meeting heard a variety of different views regarding this potential change to legislation, but all agreed on one thing: that its impact on women and girls must be subject to scrutiny and open discussion.

Earlier in the week, a bomb threat issued on social media told us to expect a “hidden device” contained within the venue, such is the desire of some that any open discussion not be allowed to take place. I am grateful to Sussex police that such a threat was taken seriously, and to the brave and determined women who came out in force anyway.

I am hugely proud to have been given the opportunity to speak at this meeting. Below is a transcript of the talk I gave, minus my ad-libbing, general fumbling, and gratuitous bad language.

Hello everybody and thank you for inviting me to speak tonight: I am always struck by a real sense of urgency around this issue, now more than ever before as the consultation around potential changes to the gender recognition act is due to happen in the summer.

We are here to discuss these potential reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, and our concerns about how they may impact on women and girls. So first, a quick primer on the law as it stands currently: In order to be legally recognised as ones preferred gender by virtue of a gender recognition certificate, an individual needs a diagnosis of the medical condition gender dysphoria, two signed reports that confirm this diagnosis, and to have lived and presented as their preferred gender for a minimum of two years. Under proposed reforms none of this will be necessary and the process will change to one of simple self identity. What this effectively means is that all and any gatekeeping is removed and anyone — for whatever reason they choose — will be able to fill out a form and declare themselves legally the opposite sex: no need for any guidance from health professionals, to take any hormones or have any surgery, or to make even any changes to the appearance.

Currently we actually have very few people in this country with a gender recognition certificate. The vast majority of those who identify as trans remain legally, as well as biologically, the sex they were born. Under self ID this will change and it is likely many more will — while obviously still remaining biologically the sex they were born — see their legal status change.

Why does this matter to women? It matters because a gender recognition certificate allows a tans identifying person to change the sex on their birth certificate. Once this is done there is no legal document left to prove natal sex or trans status other than a gender recognition certificate that nobody can ask to see due to the privacy protections that accompany it. Sex based rights and exemptions that allow us to exclude from women’s spaces anyone born male, including trans identifying people with a gender recognition certificate, while still remaining a part of the Equality Act and technically legal to invoke, will become impossible to enforce on the ground. Add to this the intense pressure and lobbying we are seeing from transactivist groups trying to prevent the use of these exemptions in the first place, and we see how the push for self identification of gender effectively renders women’s spaces mixed sex. If anyone who merely claims to identify as a woman can enter and use those spaces without gatekeeping or challenge, then anyone at all can enter and use those spaces. The self identification of legal gender is in direct conflict with women’s sex based rights. It threatens to erase women’s sex based rights, and it is for this reason that I oppose it.

And I want to be clear here. When I talk about women’s sex based rights I am talking about laws and protections enshrined in the Equality Act. Feminists such as myself are seeking only to uphold already established laws: ones that exist and were put in place specifically to protect female people on the basis of their sex. This should not be controversial.

How then, have we reached a situation where transactivists have managed to reframe this as somehow immoral, hateful, or even illegal. It is apparently now hate speech to even speak of women as defined by sex, despite these laws that do just that. Basic common knowledge — that humans are a sexually dimorphic species with women the adult females with the potential to gestate live young, and men adult males with the potential to fertilise a female egg, and that females have, for thousands of years, been oppressed by males on the very basis of these biological differences — has become unspeakable.

Michael Biggs, Professor of sociology at Oxford said in a recent article about women having the right to meet to discuss legislation: “To my knowledge, it has never been the case that people who want to uphold the legal status quo and to oppose proposed legislation have been delegitimized as a hate group. In 1908, the Woman’s Social and Political Union could advertise meetings in advance and hold them without security measures. But Woman’s Place UK cannot in 2018.”

On Saturday 2nd June at Goldsmiths university, I personally was verbally abused, intimidated, sexually harassed, and had someone attempt to set on fire in front of me, a pamphlet I had written entitled: Sex, Gender and Women’s Rights. A few days later I was informed by Sarah Brown, a trans identifying activist and Liberal Democrat politician, that my pamphlet constituted “hate speech.” When I asked which parts in particular Brown felt broke the law, Brown replied, “Pages 1–8.”

That’ll be all of it then. So let’s see… taken from pages 2 and 3: Sex refers to innate biological and physiological characteristics: in other words whether you are male or female. A baby’s sex is determined at conception and can be detected in utero by the time a foetus is of about twelve weeks gestational age. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles and behaviours associated with, and imposed on, the different sexes. An individuals gender identity does not change their biological sex.

Fucking outrageous, I know. Somebody actually tried to set fire to that, although if I’m honest it was a bit of a comedy moment because their lighter kept going out, and in the end their many attempts resulted in only a singed corner. Awkward. Anyway, I would like to remind everyone here that hate speech is, in fact, illegal. My pamphlet — all one to eight pages of it — is also available this evening for anyone who would like to read or distribute it. Please do so, it’s free, and if you believe I have broken the law then by all means call the police.

Probably better though, to reflect on how it is that simple facts such as those contained in this pamphlet have become so unspeakable that proponents of the new gender ideology will say and do almost anything to suppress them. What exactly is going on here? What is it that is so terrifying about women sharing information and talking: talking about the reality of their sexed bodies, their lives, and their shared oppression? Transactivists will often say that access to women’s spaces is necessary if they are to be safe, yet we see them seemingly far more afraid of women’s words than of the men responsible for the violence against them. The truth is that the very fact of women as a sex threatens and invalidates their identity, and so the only solution is for women to be shut down, terrorised into submission, erased, and silenced.

In a recent article about the right of biologically male prisoners to self identify as women and be transferred to the female estate, prison reformer Frances Crook said that she was worried that “some men with a history of extreme violence against women have found a new way of exercising aggression towards women”. She said, “These men are not transitioning because they like women and want to be a woman, but in order to exert a new kind of control and dominance over women, a sort of infiltration.”

Now Frances Crook was speaking specifically about prisoners convicted of violent offences against women, but I would like, if I may, to take her idea and apply it in a wider sense to the transactivist movement as a whole. And I am talking about a movement, as opposed to individuals. I acknowledge there are many trans identifying people as horrified by its excesses as I am, and that there are many more who simply wish to access the treatment necessary to ease the suffering of dysphoria and get on with quiet lives. By the same token, this new movement counts among some of its most vociferous supporters many who do not identify as trans at all. What possible reasons could men who apparently do happily identify with masculine roles and stereotypes have for wanting to obliterate the sex based rights of women? Why might they wish to assist in exerting a new kind of control and dominance over us? What resentments might they be nursing as a result of gains made by feminism that would cause them to join so enthusiastically with a movement that has found an apparently socially progressive and acceptable way of exercising aggression towards women?

The young man at Goldsmiths who spat, “fucking ugly cunt,” who squared his shoulders threateningly and said, “are you pointing at me, bitch,” and who put me in fear of physical assault many times over, could not have presented more masculine. He wore black jeans, a black t-shirt, short hair, bare face. No attempt had been made to appear as anything other than what he was: an angry young man. And yet there he was: bullying women because they dared to say biological sex exists separately to gender identity, and that in a sexist society, sex matters. There he was, proving our point, oblivious to all and any sense of irony. What we are witnessing is a backlash.

What about the women though, I am always asked. Good question. Why might women support a movement that seeks to persuade them their own sex based rights — rights that were designed to protect them from male violence and increase their participation in public life — are now… wait for it… oppressive.

Oppressive despite the fact that two of us a week are still killed by men who claim to love us, that we are still abused both physically and sexually by men on a pandemic scale, that we still undertake the vast majority of unpaid labour in our homes, and are still massively underrepresented in every single sphere of public power and influence. Just why, despite all these things, would women now nod along as they are told the few legal rights designed to protect them and redress the balance are not only unnecessary, but oppressive, and oppressive to those born, socialised, and privileged male to boot. Why are women not rolling in the aisles? Why are we not rioting in the streets?

The answer, I think, comes back always to female socialisation. Because actually the women truly convinced by this are, I believe, few. The many are unsure and sat frightened on the fence. They know it isn’t really true — that men are not really women just because they say they are — because that is impossible, but are stuck in an abusive relationship with a male dominated society to the extent that they believe the promises that all will be well if they just keep quiet and toe the line. Women are not engaging with the reality that their sex based rights are under serious threat; that a supposedly progressive movement might not have their best interests at heart, because they do not want to believe it. These are the women we must persuade. These are the women to whom we must show the hard evidence of councils already replacing the word sex with gender in their equalities statements. These are the women to whom we must show that identifying as male, or agender, or non-binary, will not free them from sex based oppression.

Finally, all human beings — however they identify themselves, however they dress, whatever they choose to believe in — have a right to live in peace, dignity and safety. There never has, never will be, any question mark over that. There is space in this world for everybody. Yet women’s peace, dignity, and safety is being threatened on a daily basis by an irrational, faith based activism that seeks to destroy our rights, dominate and corrupt our feminist movement, pathologise women’s same sex attraction, and erase all language pertaining to our sex based reality. It doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to lie down and take it.

Join the resistance.

I include here a link to a pdf of the pamphlet referenced in my talk, should you wish to read it: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1IFZBFHZIc3aYzAII2fTHbZLp9SYu1fF2/view