Social acceptance of trans people springs from our relationship with society – and that works both ways

The Gender Recognition Act does need to be slimmed down and streamlined, but we need to consult widely and more carefully before we proceed.

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Guardian columnist Owen Jones predicted last week that history will damn anti-trans zealots as it has judged those who resisted gay rights.

I’m a trans woman, so for me this is personal. Transphobic keyboard warriors have called for me to be sacked from my job as a teacher and a supposedly respectable Christian charity misgenders me deliberately on its website.

Five years ago, Richard Littlejohn, another columnist in another newspaper, wrote about another trans teacher and declared: “He’s [sic] not only in the wrong body … he’s [sic] in the wrong job.”

That teacher, Lucy Meadows, took her own life three months later.
Deplorably, those right-wing reactionaries have never flinched from their positions. Jones compared the moral panic to the Section 28 arguments a generation ago.

In some respects, he is right. The same groups that campaigned against equal marriage now bash trans people. Their homophobia merges with their transphobia and I stand with him against them.

However, we need to keep our focus. While social conservatives act with impunity, the spotlight has fallen on women’s groups who fear that proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) may compromise their own rights.

Last year, the House of Commons women and equalities select committee recommended that individuals should be able to self-identify their gender and that the protected characteristic should be changed from gender reassignment to gender identity.

This all sounds very technical and it is. The scope of the GRA is also limited. It allows a trans person to change the sex on their birth certificate. Meanwhile, passports, driving licences, financial and medical records can be changed under more informal procedures than were in place long before the GRA existed.

But those technical changes crystallise wider concerns. Self-identification moves the basis of trans rights from how we live our lives to how we identify and facts and evidence give way to feelings and opinions.

We do not build other laws on such ethereal foundations. At the end of a long day in school, I sometimes feel like I am 70, but alas I can’t self-identify myself into drawing my pension just yet.

If anyone could self-identify as a woman, how can we define the word “woman” without resorting to circular reasoning? And without clear definitions, how can society maintain the integrity of sex-based protections?

Not surprisingly, women have been speaking out. We need to listen to them and not instantly denounce them as transphobes.

Section 28 analogies break down here. Gay rights do not have an impact on heterosexual rights, but women’s rights may well be affected if society changes the definitions of men and women.
Trans people and women face oppression from the same groups that seek to impose their vision of traditional family values on society.

The trans community is small and vulnerable. We need to maintain the widespread trust and confidence of women to defend ourselves from the anti-trans zealots. History may well judge those people, though, sadly, they couldn’t seem to care less.

We therefore ignore women’s concerns at our peril. Women who were once enthusiastic allies of trans people are now more suspicious. The group with most to lose are trans women like me.

Social acceptance springs from our relationship with society, and that works both ways. The law can command others to tolerate me, but it can never guarantee their acceptance.

Pieces of paper may give me the right to enter female spaces, but it can never prevent women from leaving en masse at the same time.

The Gender Recognition Act does need to be slimmed down and streamlined, but we need to consult widely and more carefully before we proceed. Women’s voices were overlooked by the women and equalities committee. The government must not make the same mistake.


* This article was first published by The Morning Star on 22 December 2017: Social acceptance of trans people springs from our relationship with society – and that works both ways.

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Author: Debbie Hayton

Physics teacher and trade unionist.

7 thoughts on “Social acceptance of trans people springs from our relationship with society – and that works both ways”

  1. I don’t feel there is a great deal of difficulty with most women. The noisiest women, like Julie Bindel, seem either transphobic or to direct all their hatred of patriarchy at us. If a blog uses the terms Trans Identified Males or M-T they are extremists, and a minority taste. Most women don’t mind. Bindel wrote for Standpoint mag, which is further right than the Spectator. Soi-disant “trans-critical” feminists make common cause with conservatives, even though they say their grounds for disapproval are different. Fortunately, we do not have to convince the extremists, only the ordinary women, who are mostly indifferent.

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Clare.

      Friends outside the trans world tell me that most people have been indifferent but they are now noticing, especially as the GRA consultation is being discussed in the media. My concern is that they feel they have to choose between competing and polarised messages.

      By talking and listening we have a better chance of advancing trans rights without compromising women’s rights in the process.

      Even the thought that other rights may be affected can be used by “anti-trans zealots (as Owen Jones called them) to whip up transphobia in society.

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  2. Debbie, I whole-heartedly agree with you. After being deceived by all the misinformation surrounding Woman’s Place UK, I now switch my support to you all. I am also a trans woman, having had surgery in 1995. I’m 57 now and feel most passionate about the concerns of women regarding their terrible experience at the hands of predatory males. I know what they are saying because I’ve also been indecently assaulted more times than I care to remember (I used to go clubbing in Birmingham a lot) and came very close to being date-raped as a result of my own naivety and need to be loved. On that occasion I felt the same terror all women must feel. Romance was all I craved, for in truth I have never had sexual urges at all in my life, whether a consequence of the transsexual condition I do not know. I know it has prevented me from ever experiencing a loving relationship with anyone.

    Anyway back to the plot. I think the current mania for ‘gender-neutral’ zones and terms is patently absurd. This new politically-correct climate has sparked off, I believe, a view that it is ‘trendy to be trans’, with lots of goodies to be had. This aberration will lead to disaster, many vulnerable children and young people will have their lives destroyed if not properly and correctly diagnosed with gender dysphoria. We both know the massive upheavals, sacrifices, pain, tears and crushing rejections that transitioning brings (and tragically not all of us survive these impacts) and the final act is irreversible. Yet those (perhaps with good intentions but alas lack wisdom) who encourage young people to transition or whatever saying it is their right to do so seem to have no idea of the danger and enormity of that undertaking. Do we really want the next generation to be so confused they don’t know where the hell they are? Do we really want to see further suicides all because of a disasterous wrong decision?

    And those same activists, by their very actions, appear to belittle the struggle that you, I and all our community have been through to become the people we are today, as if it’s all just a wonderful, magical joyride. I won’t mention names but when I decided to ‘come out’ last year by posting a video of my story on you tube (which was difficult in itself) I contacted a certain well-known trans person who runs a help and advice site (with an emphasis on youngsters) looking for support and guidance – alas all I got was a proud CV of her accomplishments for herself and a rather stark warning that my video must be positive so as not to give “those who would withdraw our hard-won rights over many years” more ammunition. I was dismayed as my story is a journey through hell, and she urges me to soften it up? To censor it? After that she ignored all my emails, and, noting that her website is decorated with little bunny rabbits, fairies and the like, I drily concluded that this person must live in a fantasy world where all that matters is her own vanity… Dr. John Randall, who in the 1970s used to be the only specialist you could hope to give you gender reassignment, must be turning in his grave. He was known for being very strict, not suffering fools gladly, and many transsexuals were most upset with him (including me), but at least he wanted you to be absolutely certain of transitioning lest you make a decision that might prove catastrophic.

    So Debbie, I want you to know that you have my full support in your efforts and my admiration goes out to the growing number of brave women who are standing up for their rights just as their great-grandmothers did 100 years ago. Their shining example is a reminder to us trans women, that rights do not come cheap (Emily Davison gave her life) and their respect and acceptance of us must be earned.

    Do please feel free to keep in touch. I do tend to get rather lonely nowadays so it would be super to contribute in some way.

    Kindest regards, Leanne

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    1. This comment was so entirely wonderful and my heart went out to you for your courage and your strength. I also feel infinite gladness that you stand in solidarity with all women. I am proud to be in a sisterhood with women like you and like Debbie.

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