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Illustration of Humpty Dumpty from Through the Looking Glass, by John Tenniel, 1871. From Flipped Again.

How can we debate the undebated?

HOT’s Chandra Masoliver describes the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act – and interviews writer and publisher, Kay Green about the meeting she helped organise in Hastings to discuss how these changes would affect women. This followed on from the Momentum meeting on 26 March, run by transgender people who are in favour of the changes. 

Nowadays there is greater awareness of gender fluidity, and laws will change to adapt to changes in society. However, people need time to consider the issues involved, and they must be allowed to debate without being demonised, bullied or silenced.

According to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act to qualify changing gender on official documents a person has to spend two years living as the sex he or she feel they are, and receive a diagnosis of gender dysphoria: the medical term for feeling one’s sex does not match one’s innate identity. Then their application has to be approved by the Gender Recognition Panel, a branch of HM Courts and Tribunal service made up of legal and medical members.

One suggested reform is to allow a person to self-identify his/her gender, which would remove the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, shorten the time needed to get a Gender Recognition Certificate, and probably abolish the Gender Recognition Panel.

Fluidity

The interplay between biology, environment and society runs through the current debate. Being male or female is not simply about penises and wombs, etc.; sex is made up of a number of dimorphic traits – like chromosomes, hormones, the endocrine system, internal reproductive organs and secondary sexual characteristics – hence there is fluidity.

Theresa May said: “Being trans is not an illness and it should not be treated as such.” Jeremy Corbyn said: “The Gender Recognition Act does not allow trans people to self-identify their gender and forces them to undergo invasive medical tests. This is wrong.” He also said: “People are free to campaign within the party and publicly, of course they are, and raise these issues and have that discussion.”

Some women feel the implications for biologically born women have not been considered. A woman who feels her body and her identity match is now identified as being a ‘cis woman’ – ‘cis’ being the Latin prefix meaning ‘on the same side’, while ‘trans’ is the prefix for ‘on the other side. When a ‘cis woman’ says, or writes, that she would like to think things out and talk about concerns she may have, she can be labelled a TERF (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist), transphobic, and a bigoted hater.

Sex and Gender

For some reason, women’s organisations were not consulted on this proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act, which makes it easier for someone once labelled a man to ‘become’ a woman, or for a woman to ‘become’ a man. When some women’s organisations complained about this to Maria Miller, Conservative MP for Basingstoke and Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, she said: “I had no opposition except a few people purporting to be feminists.”

On 27 April Gender Trender reported that San Francisco Public Library hosted a transgender ‘art exhibit’ “featuring blood-stained t-shirts encouraging patrons to ‘punch’ feminists, riot shields inscribed with the slogan, ‘Die Cis Scum’, along with several installations of deadly weapons painted baby-blue and pink: baseball bats covered in barbed wire, axes, all designed by men to kill feminist women.”

On 2 June, writer and feminist Jeni Harvey took her leaflet ‘Sex, Gender and Women’s Rights’ to the London radical book fair at Goldsmiths University, one of the stated aims being to “invite you along to explore the latest debates”. Her leaflet (1) discussed how “the proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act could potentially impact the sex based rights of women and girls, as well as the difference between sex and gender from a feminist perspective”. She was somewhat anxious, “given the assault by transactivists on a feminist at Speakers’ Corner, and the hounding of veteran social justice campaigner, Helen Steel at the Anarchist Book Fair”.

Indeed, after a while someone at Goldsmith’s made a complaint that her leaflet was ‘anti-trans’( an accusation Jeni Harvey rejects) – and she and her companions were asked to leave the hall and distribute her leaflet outside, where a crowd gathered and a “very gender-conforming man called one woman a ‘fucking ugly cunt.’” Her group were then asked to leave the premises altogether, which they did with difficulty.

The issue that has to be debated centres around the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. Often the formula ‘sex is biological and gender is socially constructed’ is used. Many women, and many trans people, take issue on the definition and use of these words. For example the difference between the words ‘transgender’ and ‘transsexual’. How they are used legally and socially have a drastic effect on both groups, so the debate is bound to be passionate. It cannot however take place in an atmosphere of violence. This country was once a beacon of free speech and critical enquiry, but there is now a growing spirit of intolerance.

“I think there are two ways in which people are controlled. First of all frighten people and secondly, demoralise them.” Tony Benn

Here in Hastings Kay Green makes a plea for debate not to become a battle between trans women and born women. She believes trans women and born women have a whole range of opinions, all of which should be heard and debated. It is not a question of ‘Debate or Just Hate’, as Natasha Scott entitled her recent article in HOT.

Nic Williams, researcher and correspondent for Fairplay for Women has pointed out that, unlike Natasha’s statement that ‘it is only about birth certificates’, this renders the protected characteristics in the Equalities Act useless to women, because while exemption for ‘gender reassignment’ remains, if anyone can claim the exemption for ‘sex’ by saying they are a woman (or man), then there can be no gate-keeping of women’s (or men’s) services and spaces.

To this end, Kay, who was co-vice chair of Hastings and Rye Labour Party, decided not to take on a constituency role in Labour this year, and get to work on women’s issues. She posted ‘The Great Gender Debate’ in HOT, announcing that ‘Woman’s Place UK’ (WPUK)  would meet here in Hastings on 20 June 20 to discuss concerns about the lack of consultation by the government and political parties on this issue. It was to follow on from the Momentum meeting run by trans men and women, which took place unobstructed and unprotested at the Café Rue de Pera, Queens Road on 26 March.

WPUK

CM: Please explain what ‘A Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) is, and what their aims are.

KG: It seems to me that WPUK is becoming a sort of ‘rolling refuge’ organisation, protecting women’s rights to gather and think and speak.

WPUK is a campaign group set up to present five demands to the government. These demands have been partially achieved, in that the government is now running a consultation, but the guidance and questions in the consultation itself show considerable confusion from the authors. They still have not agreed working definitions of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, or whether ‘transgender’ means the same as ‘transsexual’. And whether more kinds of people are involved now, and what that might mean. Very few people know what’s going on, or understand the underpinning issues. Many people find themselves verbally attacked as soon as they question anything.         

CM: I notice you did not announce a venue. Were you expecting trouble? Did you have any trouble? If so, were there any difficulties in organising the meeting?

KG: We were indeed expecting trouble. WPUK have run dozens of meetings across the country and only one or two have been free of disruption and intimidation.

First we went to the council and the police – so much misleading information is put around about WPUK, and indeed any gender critical feminist activity; we wanted them to know what we were doing, and expect saboteurs. We were not wrong.

The first two venues we booked were cancelled – they received an extremely inaccurate email, slandering WPUK, and suggesting that the council and police had not been informed, and that we ourselves had misrepresented our plans to the venues.

CM: Under what circumstances did the meeting eventually take place?

KG: We found a venue with the heart to stand against the pressure. The lovely West Hill Community Centre. The only problem was that it proved too late to hire a portaloo to solve accessibility issues. (May I apologise to any wheelchair users who had wished to attend).

I’ve never worked so hard to get a meeting to happen in my life.  One thing helped: we didn’t have to advertise the event much – the opposition did that for us, and it brought us a lot of support from people who found their accusations absurd; we were quickly booked out.

There were maybe three or four people seriously trying to sabotage the meeting, they chased around venues and organisations trying to thwart us right up to the last minute. On the day we released the details of the venue in batches, watching anxiously for any further sabotage. We hired two security people to protect the venue from any vandalism, or attempts to intimidate people coming to the event. I have never experienced anything like it.

Scan 1 18-07-page-001

The WPUK poster for the event

CM:  Who was on the panel for the Hastings WPUK meeting and please describe the gist of what each speaker said?

KG: Philippa Harvey: Trade Union activist, representing WPUK campaigns to force local authorities to comply with the 2010 Equality Act, who are breaking the law by saying gender, as opposed to sex, is a protected characteristic, even at times using the words interchangeably. Sex is one of the nine protected characteristics.

Data on the experience of women is hard to come by, particularly in the face of austerity. People changing their birth certificates later in life, after having a man’s experience and a man’s income during their ‘prime’ years, make women’s problems even more invisible. Also, if their male upbringing and past life disappear by ‘dead-naming’ being made illegal when they transition, this would also make the job much harder. (2)

Jeni Harvey, writer of ‘Sex, Gender and Women’s Rights’, said sex is physical, gender is sociological. If your sex doesn’t match your gender, you are better off keeping your body as it is and fighting gender stereotypes. When feminists try to carry this message into the world openly, they are bullied and silenced. Quite a lot of bile comes from men who seem to delight in the opportunity to ‘have a go’ at the women’s movement. She wondered if this is a backlash. (3)

Kristina Harrison, transsexual socialist activist, believes you cannot liberate society without liberating women – so trying to eradicate women’s boundaries is counter to socialism.

Kristina does not deny that being a transsexual woman or man is different from always having been a woman or a man. She spoke about her twenty years experience as a transsexual woman. Many older, and some young, transsexuals do not feel well served by the current transgender umbrella movement, which subordinates sex to gender, and therefore oppresses women, restricts men, and negates transsexual people. (4)

CM: What were the reactions of those who attended the meeting? 

KG: The atmosphere and energy in the room were refreshingly different to the political meetings I’ve experienced. I’m not sure if it’s the organisation, the topic or the audience that does it. WPUK meetings create a situation where listening is highly valued. After the speakers, anyone who wanted to speak had three or four minutes, and the audience remained rapt throughout. A range of views were expressed, people were listening, thinking and learning. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. The audience included women and men, gay, straight and trans, but just about everyone had come because they understood this is an issue that requires thinking about carefully rather than tub-thumping.  

CM: Were there any personal repercussions for you before or after the meeting?

KG: We had everything from abusive comments to a bomb threat. (5) The police were watching over us, but they warned us to keep our doors locked and to ring them at once if we felt unsafe.

I certainly lost a lot of sleep. My life has been polarised. Some people have been drawn to me as a woman who speaks out, and I have made new and amazing friends. Others have decided I’m a liability, and have drawn away – well clearly they weren’t friends.

Obviously the statement put about on social media by Hastings Pride and the local Rainbow Alliance will have convinced a lot of people who don’t know me that I’m best avoided. How much that will matter to me in the long run remains to be seen.

CM: Are you at all hopeful that we can learn the art of debate and respect for differing views on this issue?

KG: I’m not sure. The people who are paying attention are those who already have the art of debate and respect. More people are understanding, gradually, that we aren’t ‘anti-trans’, that we aren’t trying to block or reverse trans rights. I think it’s a matter of time.

People haven’t realised how much ground women have lost during the austerity years, or how difficult it is for women to speak out when they are in difficulty. Trans people, especially those who transition from male-to-female in later life, have had a male education and socialisation, and don’t seem to find it at all difficult to over-ride women’s voices.

This is a complex issue, where the rights of two groups collide. People need calm and lengthy conversations before they can see the problems and start finding a way to compromise solutions. Those who are noisiest and want it all their own way don’t intend to let that happen.

References:

(1)https://drive.google.com/file/d/1IFZBFHZIc3aYzAII2fTHbZLp9SYu1fF2/view

(2)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEkigDyj9Kc&t=2s

(3)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZUMBkIIWI4&t=1s

(4)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sowoe71IB6A&t=s

(5) James Kirkup: Why are women who discuss gender getting bomb threats?

Posted 20:14 Wednesday, Jul 18, 2018 In: Campaigns

10 Comments


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT
  1. Lillian

    *claim, not blame.

    Comment by Lillian — Wednesday, Aug 29, 2018 @ 13:21

  2. Lillian

    This is quite a bigoted view.
    Do you mention the bullying that’s been caused by transphobic people like you? You can’t blame you don’t have anything against trans people then post such awful articles as you have.
    As Tariq mentioned above, 17 supporters of trans people is nothing. That’s quite a slow clap sound for you over here. Your views will not win

    Comment by Lillian — Wednesday, Aug 29, 2018 @ 13:20

  3. irene Duncan

    If there was a debate to be had, then why was it not organised by an independent group rather than one that had an agenda?
    We had a discussion around this issue at our local Labour Party branch meeting and as a result passed a motion at GC stating that ‘trans women are women’.
    When people use language like “not wanting women with penis’s in women’s spaces”, not only are they being wholly disrespectful but they are also displaying a complete lack of understanding of the situation for trans women. Incidentally, trans women have ALWAYS had access to women’s spaces and there have been no issues what so ever.
    WPUK is a group of privileged, educated and self entitled women who use their positions, or social capital (like some in Hasting’s Labour Party) to perpetuate the idea that trans women are NOT real women and present a threat. Surely their time would be better spent fighting austerity and campaigning for women’s safe spaces to be retained, rather than arguing who should access them.
    When someone identifies as who they are, it takes nothing away from my experience or my entitlements as a cis woman. Cis women and trans women have a lot in common, they need to unite against the common enemy, which is patriarchy.

    Comment by irene Duncan — Wednesday, Aug 29, 2018 @ 13:12

  4. Abigail Rowland

    Thank you, Chandra, for writing this clear and well-balanced article. Thank you, Hastings Online Times for having the courage and integrity to publish it. When I first stumbled upon this apparently divisive issue – that was over eight months ago – I found myself being abused – and, yes, bullied – simply for daring to ask questions of the prevailing ‘trans’ narrative. I was repeatedly, and often aggressively, told that ‘there is no debate’. But surely this is an important issue, one that touches on the legal rights and protections of more than half the population. To my way of thinking, there MUST be a debate and one in which the voices of all contributors are entitled to be heard. By writing this piece Chandra Masoliver has helped to ensure that a proper debate happens. Well done, Chandra.

    Comment by Abigail Rowland — Wednesday, Jul 25, 2018 @ 15:07

  5. Cyril Gould

    A serious article about a very very thorny issue. I hope some men will respond who are NOT mysoginists. It could be assumed that all men are such, and they are not. For myself I am happy to be associated with the body with which I was born and find this whole area too complex to offer an opinion. I enjoy only simplicity and distrust complex areas of no-man’s land where opinion and victimisation hold such emotive sway.If the Law changes, then I will obey it, in this as in all fields.

    Comment by Cyril Gould — Thursday, Jul 19, 2018 @ 23:06

  6. Gordon Wasson

    A small number of children are born with or develop a strong feeling that they have been given the “wrong gender” at birth and as a result want to have their gender reassigned. This can be a very difficult transition to make. Most liberal societies and some that are considered quite conservative (Iran, India) are very tolerant of this and even consider people who wish to live the opposite sex as in some way touched by a higher spiritual calling. Personally I think people of sound mind who reach majority and feel they should be a different gender to that on their birth certificate should be allowed to adopt a new gender. The dispute seems to be over whether ‘real’ women, i.e.female with genotype XX and normal development of female secondary sexual characteristics are somehow superior to transexuals who self identify as female but with genotype XY and secondary sexual characteristics of a male. After hormone treatment and surgery the latter can approximate to a female in looks add to some extent in mental capacity. They are however not quite female in the strict sense of the term. But they deserve our sympathy and support and in turn they should recognise that birth women may have difficulty in accepting their credentials.

    Comment by Gordon Wasson — Thursday, Jul 19, 2018 @ 22:13

  7. Gothicka

    Thank you for organising this event. I went to listen and learn and to make up my own mind. It was respectful and informative. The protests, the bomb threat and the dismissive position of Hastings Pride were offputting and only made me more determined to decide for myself where I stand on this issue.

    Comment by Gothicka — Thursday, Jul 19, 2018 @ 21:46

  8. Tariq Persaud Parkes

    Trans persons are under the greatest attack verbally and physically in this country, more than they have ever been. If Kay purports to support trans rights, why has she not done or said anything about the vile abuse they receive locally and nationally on a daily basis, why have Woman’s Place refused to speak out against the abuse of trans persons? Why at the Hastings meeting did they discuss ways they can get trans persons removed from local positions? Only 17 out of 650,000 trans persons do not support the GRA, so to say many trans persons in the article is false.
    Kay talks about not wanting women with penis’s in women’s spaces, trans persons don’t want penis’s either, those who have do not like their bodies, they tape up, tuck and shower in the dark. How about having some empathy rather than a view to block ban a certain type of woman from spaces they have legally been able to use since 2010.

    Comment by Tariq Persaud Parkes — Thursday, Jul 19, 2018 @ 09:19

  9. J B KNIGHT

    I think any argument supporting violence and rape against women for having a view ends the argument of someone being female.

    The argument and reaction is immediately mysoginist male and many male socialists have picked up this view and agreed with it.

    The reality and world of violence and sexual abuse of women and children goes on, and is now used in sexual identity and gender politics.

    The fact is, there is nowhere for any vulnerable female victim or survivor to go as we can all be inundated and invaded by other values and ideas, all who tell us that we deserve our violence rape and child abuse if we do not agree with their political sexual philosophical viewpoint.

    The sexual abuse and misogyny is still greatest mace ball with spikes used against us. Anybody think of anybody except themselves these days? Or is it again, women and children last?

    We get socialists supporting rape and child abuse and disability hate and discrimination and enforced euthanasia of useless people. Now many side with trans who want to punch our faces in. Yeah Yeah says the fist in the air.

    I do not think there is anywhere to go or anywhere to turn to. Semantic arguments and nitty prissy politics argued on the head of a pin reign.

    I do not go out, defeated by your socialists and your society.

    Comment by J B KNIGHT — Wednesday, Jul 18, 2018 @ 23:07

  10. cllr Tania Charman

    A very interesting article and well presented

    Listening learning from each other and respect are essential and calm debates are paramount
    I found the meeting informative and thought provoking
    I want to be able to understand everyone’s point of view regardless
    As a local councillor I represent many people, it’s my job to understand all sides or arguments, to fully represent my residents. The meeting was held in my ward.

    Comment by cllr Tania Charman — Wednesday, Jul 18, 2018 @ 22:52

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