Recently I’ve been drawn into analysing the current state of politics about trans people because of the reforms proposed to the Gender Recognition Act. These proposals, put forward by Justine Greening (MP) would allow applicants to achieve legal recognition of a gender status on their birth-certificate that accorded with their gender identity by a simplified process, rather than having to go through a costly, stressful, dehumanising process. This would involve sending money, reams of evidence of your life “proving” that you live your life as either male or female including letters from psychiatrists and, if applicable, surgeons delving deep into a persons private life for a panel to scrutinise and decide if you were “man” or “woman” enough for them. Often trans people do this at the end of their transition having gone through the arduous journeys of outing themselves, seeking (often difficult to get) healthcare, and having numerous psychiatric evaluations (and waiting a long time for them, upwards of two years from start to finish).
Not only is it an arduous process but it excludes people whose gender identity is neither male nor female. Such people may or may not have hormone replacement therapies and surgeries to feel more congruent with their sense of self, and may feel isolated and rejected by a society built around a western concept of binary gender and binary sex. So much so have we enforced these gender norms that, historically, anyone born outside of this sex/gender criteria have been both surgically modified (sometimes with disastrous results) or forced / socially coerced into performing gender to strict binary standards. There is increasing evidence that being trans has a genetic link, and as such is a normal variation in the human population. Furthermore being transgender is to be moved out of its present location under Mental and Behavioural Disorders in the International Classification of Diseases, into a non-psychopathological section.
Sex essentialists deny the biological reality that sex and gender are much more nuanced and variable than was once thought, and has been perpetuated by a flawed education system. Evidence suggests not only that trans, intersex and non-binary people exist, but also that they have existed throughout time, from all around the world in different races and cultures. Some “feminists” – more accurately described as “anti-trans activists” (because modern feminism is trans inclusive despite its chequered history) support this sex-essentialism, and seek to separate trans women from other women, including shelters and crisis centers. This kind of view, that trans identities are somehow less real, is cis-sexism.Modern feminism recognises the intersections of trans and misogyny.
‘if feminism has a purpose, then that purpose is to represent, support and provide shelter and community to those whom the patriarchy oppresses’.
Lemert, C. (2013) Social Theory: The Multicultural, Global, and Classic Readings, 5th Edition.
Despite this, second wave sex essentialists and anti trans activists work to maintain artificial and cultural boundaries related to sex and gender, opposing changes to the GRA and thereby policing and enforcing sex/gender boundaries which are shown to be a product of artifice and of patriarchy. This is happening in the UK today, where feminism has been co-opted as a vehicle for oppression, not only by prominent feminists such as Greer and Bellos, organising and speaking at groups such as “A womans place“, and taking over spaces such as mumsnet to police and enforce a binary culture based on a binary sex model, cis-sexism, and transmisogyny – which is dangerous for all women.
Many old fashioned “gender critical” people have based their careers around “sex based oppression” and are unwilling (or unable) to see past this myopic view. Some have a visceral dislike of women who are different to them in some way. It isn’t beyond human culture to want to exclude people who are different to them. But it goes far beyond this. These people paint trans women as predators, dangerous to women and children, mentally ill (it’s coming out of the ICD) and believe so much that they are right – that when a woman was involved in gun crime, they even claim that she’s trans – because it doesn’t fit with their sex/gender essentialist schema. They join the cooky ranks of professors in Kerela.
So where does this leave the current “discussion” around including non-binary people and making it easier for trans people to have civil ceremonies, have their gender recognised on their death certificates and get married? Well contrary to what anti trans activists would have you believe, it doesn’t open the doors to sex based violence. And it doesn’t mean that it opens the doors of the women’s loos to predatory men.