As a gay woman I’ve been lucky enough to have a broad range of inspirational females to befriend. Recently there has been furious debate about the changes to the Gender Recognition Act. I have friends on both sides of the debate. As I consider myself to be a generally liberal feminist (in the literal sense not ideological) who respects the right of transgender folk as well as the concerns of much more well versed feminists, I thought I could dip my toe into the mine field that it is.
Now another serious inspiration in my life is my elderly mother. I was her “change of life” baby, first diagnosed as the menopause. So I was a real pleasant surprise. I am surrounded by men in the form of my three brothers, so my mother and I have a strong bond and speak about everything. She was the first person I came out to.
Gender is something she, and I presume many well meaning people, struggle to understand. Unintentional misgendering and accidental use of long outdated language, is something she finds difficult to grasp. Trying to recite the gay alphabet to my mother only confuses the situation further, however she like myself believes everyone should have the right to live however they want to and identify however they wish without fear of persecution or abuse. She is pretty conservative about sex but liberal about sexuality. Her brother emigrated to Hawaii to avoid the persecution of gay men in the middle of the 20th century.
I wanted to state that before I continue with this piece. I am going to deliberately try to avoid gender studies type language that could cause confusion to folk like my wee Mum, such as heteronormative, homosexual, transsexual, or complex abbreviations etc. I will be using the term transgender which is someone who identifies as the opposite sex. If you don’t know what gay and lesbian is in 2018 my 77 year old Ma says you’ve to google it!
So the first thing i wanted to find out was what does the Gender Recognition Act mean to someone who’s life it would actually impact? So I asked my friend who I know is transgender and has been a woman as long as I have known her. She is middle aged and has been living as a woman since the 1990’s. Due to medical reasons, my friend will never be able to medically transition.
The changes to the Gender Recognition Act would allow my friend to avoid situations like she recently experienced as a witness in court. The opposing counsel purposely questioned her lifestyle and mockingly asked how to refer to her. Luckily for my friend she is well versed and confident. She simply stated to be referred to by her name, and the pronouns she and her. A simple request that some younger more inexperienced transgender people might have stumbled with, intimidated by the wood and leather of the courthouse, rattled and under pressure from the cloaked barristers with official titles.
This is why my friend also supports the changes to the age limits of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate. When she was young, being gay was still criminal so suppressed thoughts of her gender were nowhere near surfacing. She is thrilled by the potential life changing new policies for the youth of the transgender community. Things that were only deeply buried dreams for her as a teenager could be a reality for these young women. However she raises concerns with the proposals for 16 and 17 year old’s requiring parental consent as not all parents are supportive of an offspring’s transition.
I wanted to look at the consultation process and examine the proposed changes. The now closed consultation can be viewed here
The Gender Recognition Act 2004 allows a transgender person to change their legally recognised gender. This consultation seeks views on whether and how the Gender Recognition Act 2004 should be amended in relation to the law in Scotland .It covers establishing new arrangements for dealing with applications for legal gender recognition, the minimum age at which applications for gender recognition could be made and related matters.
Why The Consulting?In the Fairer Scotland Action Plan, the Scottish Government committed to ‘review and reform gender recognition law so it is in line with international best practice for people who are transgender or intersex’.The Government has decided that because people with intersex variations face issues that are distinct from those experienced by transgender people, we should consult separately on each set of issues. We will publish a consultation later this year seeking views about how we should address the issues experienced by intersex people/people with variations of sex characteristics.Consultation is an essential part of the policy-making process. We will use the views expressed in response to this consultation to help inform the Government’s decisions about further action.The consultation goes on to ask about different changes to the act that will affect transgender people over the age of 16. It states:“ The Scottish Government considers that people aged 16 or older should be able to apply for legal recognition of their acquired gender using the proposed self declaration process.4.05. There is clear evidence that people aged 16 do live full time in their acquired gender and want this to be legally recognised. For example, the Women and Equalities Select Committee heard evidence from LGBT Youth Scotland to this effect. In the Republic of Ireland, 8 people aged 16 and 17 have received a GRC31 after obtaining a court order permitting them to apply under their self-declaration system. The court in the Republic of Ireland is required to consider evidence about the young person’s transition to their acquired gender. “
Since we are already encouraging young people to get involved in politics, age limits lowered to 16 to be able to vote, I don’t see what the problem could possibly be about them being able to take direction of their own lives. I came out as gay when I was 16. However it wouldn’t be fair to present these points of view without also listening to the counter arguments.
So I spoke to my friend who is a radical feminist, she is also middle aged and well versed in the issues and topics that are often lobbed under the title of gender critical. My friend has referenced radical feminist theory since I have known her, she is often a source of inspirational articles for me. I asked her, what concerns she had about the changes to the Gender Recognition Act.
“I’m a lesbian woman who is also a mother who fears for the generations of girls (and boys) coming after me. Will they even have a choice in life to choose to love their own sexual preference? Not if transgenderism becomes the only explanation for boys wanting to play with dolls (nurture behaviour) or girls wanting to play football (competitive behaviour).”
My friend is also concerned about the tone of the debate around gender critical opponents, by raising any issues there is often shouts of “transphobia”. When questioning the levels of medical supervision over transitioning genders, there is a fine line between invasive stereotyping and genuine concern.
For example a lot of young gay people will resist their emotions to begin with, I know when I was 16 I first said that I was bi-sexual, as though it was somehow easier to deal with than just being a gay woman. My friend pointed out that if the new gender revolution happened when she was younger, she could have been victim of peer pressure to conform to a male persona. This is the argument for a lot of women who in the lesbian community who could be described as butch.
Another concern for many lesbians is this new notion of a “Cotton Ceiling”. Like the glass ceiling, some transgender folk believe that there is a barrier to them with regards to dating. Since gender and sexuality is individual from one another, some transgender women who identify as lesbians feel they should not be excluded as potential partners based on the level of their transition. This is something I feel everybody should take notice of.
A fundamental part of feminism is bodily autonomy. No one should feel pressured into having sex with anybody.
I feel at this point in this long read, it’s important to highlight the condition known as Autogynephillia, “which is defined as a male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as female.” It is suggested as much as 3% of men in western countries may experience this condition. This is a new field of study and complexities and association to transgenderism is not fully understood. It is however a fundamental component to many radical feminist points of debate.
I feel I should also address some other more scientific stuff here too. Such as Gender and what it actually means in 2018. Well there are two biological sexes, male and female. There is also intersex babies born who are often assigned a gender at birth. There is an argument that gender is on a sliding scale, some male born babies can behave with female characteristics and vice versa, and some folk don’t identify as any gender at all. These people are known as non-binary or androgynous.The scale on which an individual sits is often referred to as the gender spectrum.
It is said that people who identify as transgender suffer from gender dysphoria, “a mismatch between biological sex and gender identity” and this requires review at a Gender Identity Clinic to be officially diagnosed. Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness however it can lead to distressing and uncomfortable feelings.
According to a recent Stonewall survey, “eight out of ten transgender young folk have self harmed and almost half have attempted to kill themselves.” When we are talking about changing the lives of transgender folk, young transgender people have the most to gain. This same survey showed that nearly one in ten have received death threats at school. We need to change the environment for every young person, being transgender shouldn’t be an issue that stirs such hatred.
So to put it into context for someone like my wee mother, I created a hypothetical scenario. My elderly mum likes to only go swimming if it is an all ladies night. This is due to many reasons, none of which is sexist nor transphobic. I asked how she would feel if a transgender woman wanted to partake in her swimming session. Her response sums up the whole entire subject for me;
“If a woman wants to discreetly change into her swimsuit then it doesn’t matter what is in her pants, but if someone wants to gratuitously take advantage of that situation to get some sort of cheap thrill then it still doesn’t matter what is in their pants. He or she would be papped oot the club.”
To me, this is it, in these sorts of heated debates, particularly on sensitive subjects we have to come to a common sense approach.
“Extremism isn’t something that should be mistaken for rational thought with passion.”
Most of the current debate has been about the extremes; sexual assault in toilets, infringement on women’s spaces, etc. The debate doesn’t seem to involve the wee lassie who’s been out as trans since 14 and is just wanting a certificate to get a job in the public sector or something.
Changes to the gender recognition act could make life so much easier for so many transgender folk. Equally some of the changes have raised legitimate concern to some women.
To shout “TERF” (transgender exclusionary radical feminist) to someone raising a valid point isn’t very inclusive, however to deny anybody the simple and basic human right of self identity is exclusionary. This fine line of language and debate is difficult, but to make Scotland a better and fairer, more inclusive place, we have to have these uncomfortable conversations.
We have to be tolerant of each other. We have to stop being so reactionary and conclusive in our judgements. After all Gender is fluid isn’t it? Why can’t the debate around it be too?