We transgender women cannot self identify our sex

The Gender Recognition Act does need to be slimmed down and simplified. But no act of parliament can guarantee acceptance of our identities. That comes down to us: how we live our lives as transgender women.

When Lily Madigan, a 19-year-old transgender woman, was elected as a Labour Party women’s officer and applied for the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme, social media squabbles between transgender activists and women’s rights campaigners exploded into the mainstream.

The public must wonder what has been going on. A lot, it seems. The Labour councillor who was a referee on Ms Madigan’s application said the party had decided that “transgender women are women”, and he fundamentally believed that Lily is a woman.

People fundamentally believe lots of things but that does not necessarily make them true. We don’t legislate on the basis of astrology or homeopathy, for example, yet the government is considering reforms to the Gender Recognition Act that may allow people to self-identify their legal sex based on their fundamental beliefs.

As a transgender woman I find that deeply troubling. The mechanism by which our legal sex can be changed underpins the equality legislation that protects transgender rights. I am a science teacher, and that protection was vital when I transitioned in school five years ago.

The same piece of legislation defends women’s rights. Some women have perceived a conflict and they are asking hard questions. If anyone can self-identify as a woman, what does the word woman even mean? My dictionary tells me that a woman is an adult human female, but that does not fit well with the claim that “transgender women are women”. This is painful territory for transgender people, and it is tempting to shut down debate and dismiss concerns as transphobia. But concerns don’t go away, they fester, and we risk transgender-acceptance being replaced by transgender-suspicion.

To command respect, we need to ground our laws in scientific truth and in society. Science cannot be fooled. The two sexes do have different roles in the propagation of our species and women’s officers need to empathise with the issues that females face. Society grants trans people the right to change their legal sex, but we have responsibilities in return. Those of us socialised as boys need to think carefully before taking places in schemes designed to compensate the rather different formative experience of girls.

The Gender Recognition Act does need to be slimmed down and simplified. But no act of parliament can guarantee acceptance of our identities. That comes down to us: how we live our lives as transgender women.

Debbie Hayton is a teacher and transgender activist

* This article was first published by The Times on 29 November 2017: We transgender women cannot self identify our sex.

Author: Debbie Hayton

Physics teacher and trade unionist.

3 thoughts on “We transgender women cannot self identify our sex”

  1. I don’t think I could possibly disagree more with you on this subject, Dr Hayton.
    You have bought into the false idea that women own the rights to their gender.
    You have bought into the groundless scare-mongering tactics of radical feminist groups, that men will take advantage of self-identification, despite where this already occurs there being no evidence for it whatsoever.
    You have bought into the false idea that we as human beings are defined by our genitals, not our brains.
    You have bought into the false idea that chromosomes dictate gender.
    You appear to deny the fundamental biological aspects of gender identity and embrace the easy simplistic notion of anatomical sex determination. By which you appear to confuse gender and genital sex. I would love to know your reasons for transitioning because, by your reasoning, you would seem to have little grounds for such action.
    You appear to ignore the scientific research of recent years which provides compelling evidence for gender as a biological and innate aspect of identity, and the further studies that confirm transgender brains to be similar in both structure and composition, and in the way they function, to the brains of the gender with which those trans people identify. The current scientific understanding for which points to developmental issues via hormonal and genetic factors, which are admittedly yet to be understood, but only in terms of how and why.
    Obviously much of what you believe/feel is conditioned by your own experiences. I wonder how you view the differences between what you have experienced and what, say, a child growing up today, with their gender confirmed and acknowledged from an early age would feel. A trans girl, for example, never being a boy, never going through male puberty, never being a man?
    You have said elsewhere, in so many words, that our identities should not be based on feelings alone. I say that feelings are precisely what we are, even more so than anything physical about us. Feelings, emotions, identity. All are biological in origin.
    The trans condition is different for everyone. everyone is as unique as people are unique. Your experiences are not those of others and you should not assume, or presume to say how others feel about themselves.
    I do not speak for you, but a transgender woman who says she is a woman, is a woman, and any denial of that is a form of oppression. Pure and simple.


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