Listening respectfully to trans people and feminists

I’ve tried to keep out of the debate on transgender self-identification. It doesn’t seem to matter what you say on the subject, you’re guaranteed to piss someone off. So it is with considerable trepidation that I publish this piece.

Much of the heat in the current debate centres around a dispute between some trans activists and some feminists about whether transwomen should be allowed in women only spaces. This has become an issue because the Scottish Government is proposing to make changes to the law to allow what is called self-identification.

At the moment, if a person wishes to change gender legally, they have to satisfy a medical panel that they have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, have undergone gender reassignment procedures, and are successfully living as their chosen gender. Self-identification would replace that with a statutory legal declaration of gender. This is because not all trans people want to surgically alter their sex organs (sometimes because they wish to retain the option of having children), and because some trans people don’t feel that they belong to either traditional gender. More importantly it’s because they believe that the right to define one’s own identity is a fundamental human right.

Self-identification has already been introduced in Ireland, Portugal, Malta, Belgium, Norway, and Denmark and several other countries, where it has not provoked any great problems, however there are many people who have grave concerns about introducing it in Scotland. It is very much a live issue, and it dominates social media where the debate is especially bad tempered, and that’s in a medium which was never noted for being good tempered in the first place.

There is a much wider argument here, but essentially the aspect of it which is generating so much bad feeling is an argument about what it means to be a woman. I might be gay, but I’m a cisgender man who has always been quite content with his gender identity.  As a cisgender man, as a cisgender gay man, it’s not my place to leap in with solutions to that particular question. My life experience offers me no special insight. It’s not my rights which are affected.  It’s not my place to dictate answers. That would be the height of cisgender male privilege. My proper place is to listen with respect and to learn from those who are directly affected by this debate, and that’s what I’ve tried to do and will continue to do.

What I do know is that as a gay man, I fought during the early part of my life for the right to define myself, and not to be defined by the stereotypes and prejudices of others. So I have immense empathy for the struggles of transgender people who likewise are fighting for the right to be able to define themselves. It seems to me that the right to define one’s own social identity is a basic human right and it should not be conditional on having to prove one’s case to a panel of doctors who may or may not be sympathetic. It would be hypocritical of me to assert my own right to define my own identity, but to deny that same right to others.

However I also see women, many of whom are lesbian, who have struggled and fought for women-only spaces, spaces in which women can be safe from the prejudice and violence inflicted upon women by men. Their perception is that those safe spaces are threatened by individuals with male bodies who only need to declare that they are women in order to be admitted into places where men have no business being.

So I am torn and upset to see two groups of people I always regarded as my allies fighting one another in what has become a bitter and bad-tempered dispute.

There is a distinction to be made between gender and sex. Sex is biology. There are certain intersex conditions, such as chromosomal disorders, or individuals born with ambiguous genitalia, but these cases do not contradict the basic truth that a mammal’s biological sex is determined by its chromosomes and that mammalian chromosomal inheritance determines important aspects of body shape and form as well as genitalia and reproductive role. Humans are mammals, and like other mammals our biology relies upon two reproductive sexes, female and male.

In most mammals, if you inherit two X chromosomes you are of one sex, the one we traditionally call female. If you have an X chromosome and a Y chromosome, you have a different biological sex, the one we traditionally call male. Pathologies aside, biological sex is a binary. It is quantum, in the sense that it exists in one state or another. Strictly from a biological point of view, a developmentally and physiologically normal mammal cannot be a little bit female and a little bit male. You have to be one or the other.

(Interestingly, other kinds of animal do it differently. Some insects only have an X chromosome, and are female if they inherit two X chromosomes and male if they inherit only one. Birds, some fish, and some other insects and some reptiles, have a W and a Z chromosome. Birds with two Z chromosomes are male, birds with a W and a Z are female. In this respect they are the opposite of mammals, in that it’s individuals who have two of the same sex chromosomes who are male, whereas in mammals having two identical sex chromosomes makes you female.

Crocodiles, turtles, and some other kinds of fish don’t have sex determining chromosomes at all. The sex of crocodiles is determined by the temperature of the eggs in the nest. Warmer or cooler temperatures make more of the eggs produce female hatchlings. Intermediate temperatures produce males.

For some fish, like clownfish, changing sex is the norm. A school of clownfish consists of a group of males and a dominant female. When the female dies, the most dominant male changes biological sex and becomes female. This would have made Finding Nemo a completely different movie. In some other fish species, like wrasses, the sex change is from female to male.)

Gender is different from biological sex. Gender is the cultural superstructure which humans impose upon biological sex. Gender is the set of social expectations and social identities which human cultures require persons belonging to a particular biological sex to adhere to. Animals have biological sex, but they don’t have gender and cultural expectations of gender norms. Animals act according to their instincts.

Humans also act according to instinct, probably more often than we as a species would be comfortable acknowledging. However what is characteristic of humanity is that we refract our instincts through cultural expectations and we are self-aware. We can, and do, divert, subvert, alter, and suppress our instincts according to cultural expectations. To do so is quintessentially human. It’s what distinguishes us from other animals. Our self awareness means that we are conscious of our biological sex and the cultural and societal expectations which are imposed upon it in a way that animals are not.

Unlike biological sex, as a cultural construct gender is not necessarily binary. There are cultures which recognise more than two genders. Some Native American cultures recognise two spirit people, who are traditionally neither solely male nor solely female, but are believed to embody both genders. Gender can, and does, exist along a spectrum. If we accept that gender is a spectrum, that means it becomes a legitimate question to ask at which point on the gender spectrum does a person become welcome in a women-only space. I don’t pretend to know the answer to that question.

Some feminists argue that misogyny and the oppression of women is based upon women’s biology. Men oppress women not solely because of gender roles and culture, but because of the basic facts of biology.  You could say that, in Marxist terms, men are seeking to control the means of (re)production. A woman always knows that her child is her own. A man has to take someone else’s word for it. The male insecurity created by mammalian reproduction is the basic motor underlying the patriarchy in societies all over the globe. It’s what has driven men to dominate and control women. Male violence against women, rape, intimidation, aggression towards women, is a serious problem in all human societies and cultures.

It is true that transgender procedures cannot alter a person’s chromosomal makeup. A person born with an X chromosome and a Y chromosome will retain them in the nucleus of every cell of their body throughout their life, irrespective of any surgeries, hormonal treatments, or behavioural changes that they make. It is also true that a person who was assigned male gender at birth and socialised as a male will continue to possess the advantages of male socialisation even after she has transitioned and lives as a woman. Males are socialised to be more aggressive and assertive, more physical, and more demanding. Habits formed in early childhood tend to persist throughout one’s life.

That said, gender dysphoria is very real and profoundly distressing to those who are affected by it. Gender dysphoria is the persistent belief that a person’s body does not match their gender self-image. In the early 1990s, I worked for a community organisation in London, and met a client who was so distressed and upset by their male body that they had attempted to amputate their own penis. Clearly, a person is not driven to such a painful, potentially lethal, and mutilating step unless the alternative of continuing to live in the wrong body and wrong gender role is even worse.

People who live with gender dysphoria can find relief with transgender surgeries and procedures. These procedures bring their body into alignment with their self-image, and allow them to live as the gender they have always believed themselves to be. Compassion dictates that we have a moral obligation to support them to do so and to respect their choices.

Not all trans people feel the need to undergo medical procedures however. Trans surgeries are excruciatingly painful, invasive, and can have serious complications. No one should be forced to submit to medical procedures which permanently alter the body if they do not want to. Neither is it appropriate for others to question their motives for not undergoing them. People have a right to keep such intensely personal decisions private.

As well as the mental torture of gender dysphoria, which can lead to suicide and self-harm, transgender people also have to live with appalling discrimination. Being a gay male in a working class community in the West of Scotland in the 1970s was a walk in the park compared to what trans people have to deal with. Transgender people are subject to violence, to discrimination in the workplace, and to societal rejection. And just like the violence that women are subjected to, that violence is most commonly at the hands of men.

As a species whose defining characteristics are self-awareness, culture, and the capacity for self-reflection, there is a very good argument to be made that amongst humans, a person’s self-perception (particularly if it is a persistent and lasting perception that first appeared in early childhood) is far more important than biological sex in determining gender identity. In that crucial sense, transwomen are women, transmen are men.

Obviously, we are dealing here with two groups of people who have been marginalised. Transgender people and women both suffer discrimination, prejudice, and the effects of male violence. That’s one reason why the current debate is so heated and – at times – bad tempered. Those involved in it and directly affected by it feel strongly that it’s not just their rights which are at stake, it’s also their personal safety and very sense of self.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, I am not going to pretend that I have any answers. Nor do I think that it’s appropriate for a cisgender male to offer any. However I would plead that we all treat one another with the compassion and respect with which we would like to be treated ourselves.

It does no one any favours to denounce women who have concerns about male bodied individuals who self-identify as women entering women only spaces and to call women who are raising their concerns in a polite and respectful manner “wankers”. It does no one any favours to insist on using male pronouns to refer to transwomen. Irrespective of what you believe a person’s gender to be “really”, it’s just out and out rude and disrespectful and guaranteed to close down meaningful conversation.

Existential questions of identity, of self, and of gender are not going to find answers when we are all screaming at one another, slagging each other off as misogynists or transphobes, or being so entrenched in our own positions that we are unable or unwilling to seek common ground. We all need to respect one another, to honour each other’s experiences, and to learn from one another. That’s the only way that we ever as a society have any chance of reaching an understanding that satisfies everyone’s concerns.

For my own part, I recognise that I still have a great deal to learn, and if this article has angered anyone it can only be because I still have much learning to do. I’m going to continue to listen and to learn, respectfully.

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107 comments on “Listening respectfully to trans people and feminists

  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    I should like to thank you for that lucid exposition.

    I have read several pieces about this debate and, sadly, they are usually so full of undefined vocabulary, of terms that stand for a much wider concept, of acronyms which are not explained. Often, I recognise the words which are being used and can parse the sentences, if required, but I do not comprehend what is supposedly being communicated. Sometimes I feel as if I am intruding into a private conversation in some kind of restricted code. Sadly, the discourse is often precious, frequently insulting and occasionally condescendingly arrogant. And, the logic of the discourse often renders pronouns obsolete; the discourse can be stifled, simply because the vocabulary does not seem to exist.

    I support any person’s right to whatever sexuality that person chooses and would support that person if that person faced harassment or discrimination. (See what I mean about pronouns?)

    I hope I have not given offence.

  2. Thank you Paul – the piece we have all been wanting to read.

  3. susan says:

    Don’t really know what to say about this Paul. But I’m sure of one thing: I won’t be browbeaten into denying biology. Transmen are women and transwomen are men. No amount of hormones and cosmetic surgery can change that. Biological sex cannot be changed.

    • Neil says:

      I am also a cis-het guy wary of wading in to this, but I think it’s important for me to have the backs of my trans friends. The trouble is that what you learned in O-Grade biology, while true most of the time, turns out to be a gross oversimplification when you get down to a small percentage of cases. In a population of 5 million people, more or less, that is still thousands of individuals who do not fit the simple answer to the exam question. There are many reasons why someone with XY chromosomes will develop female genitalia and vice versa. A surprising number of humans simply do not have two X chromosomes or one Y and one X chromosome. Some have more. Some have fewer. That’s before we even look at what is going on in the brain. Then you have to examine the effects of culture. That means that when you state that trans men are women and trans women are men you are simply factually wrong.

      • Morag Kerr says:

        This is NOT about chromosomal abnormalities. People with actual medical disorders of sexual development are sick and tired of being dragged into this. They’re also either male or female and very few of them are trans.

        This is about people with perfectly normal bodies and perfectly normal chromosomes who have a preference for the learned behaviour more commonly associated with the opposite sex. So leave chromosomes out of it.

        • Neil says:

          This was I accept, very poorly written. It was an effort to get the commenter to understand that sex and gender binaries, while often useful, are an oversimplification. I should not have used this means of doing so, and apologize for the miscommunication.

    • With respect, nobody is denying biology. What is at issue is the extent to which biology determines social roles and expectations, or the tendency to reduce the latter to the former.

      • Livia says:

        That’s not true I’m afraid. Many tran activists, and those they have advised and convinced, deny it every day. ‘Trans women are women’ doesn’t make any logical sense unless you are denying or at least discounting biology.

        • Can I ask what you believe biology does? Are “men” and “women” to be understood as categories with a purely biological foundation? What happens when biology does not make it possible to place a person in one of the two categories?

          • Livia says:

            Biology doesn’t ‘do’ anything exactly, like all the sciences it’s a collection of human knowledge and understanding, a way of cataloging, describing and predicting what we know about life on earth. At our current best knowledge, using the science of biology, for humans, some 99% or more of us are born, clearly and unambiguously, with XX or XY chromosomes which puts us, clearly and unambiguously in one of two classes, the primary purpose of which is sexual reproduction. Of the remainder the majority are still unambiguously in one of the sex class, and 99.98*of them will have a match as expected of chromosomes and genitals at birth, but may or may not have conditions related to their genetic disorder. ‘What happens’ depends, I hope, on their individual medical needs. I’m not sure why the subject is being brought up, though, because it has nothing to do with transgender identity. Being clear and truthful about this does not and should not preclude trans people from any rights to which they ( we all ) are entitled.

            Is that what you were asking ?

            *studies vary, but not hugely

            • Livia says:

              Sorry, misleading wording there!
              Should be ‘99.98% of all of us’ as in all humans

            • So you are saying that biology is the major contributor to assignment to one of two sex classes. Which is actually doing quite a lot. Obviously dimorphism of genitalia has to do with sexual reproduction, but surely this cannot be the only way humans are defined, nor are the two classes the only possible places where we can identify ourselves.

              I suspect we agree on most substantive issues here, but are coming at them from different places using different vocabularies. I refuse absolutely to identify myself in relation to my sex or gender and I have a seriously polemical attitude to all things binary. The most important message I take from these discussions is the need to listen carefully to one another and to respect how we feel about ourselves without getting bogged down in science. After all, once upon a time science told us that black folks were inferior, that there was a substance with negative weight and that smoking tobacco was good for your lungs. Flippancy aside, even the most cherished scientific truths are overturned and very often the truths of science are conveniently produced in service of dominant powers.

    • Illy says:

      How many vaginas and penises have you seen in your life?

      How many good toupees have you seen on the street?

  4. benmadigan says:

    Since “self-identification has already been introduced in several countries, where it has not provoked any great problems” why has it become such an issue in Scotland?

    • Morag Kerr says:

      Some other countries have not gone so far as Scotland is proposing to go, for example in Ireland a male will not be housed in a women’s prison. Google Karen White for what’s happening this side of the Irish Sea.

      But actually it’s not true that there haven’t been any great problems. People who publicise the problems have been shouted down as bigots and transphobes and told to deal with it. However, women are beginning to find their voice, in Canada, in New Zealand, in Norway and elsewhere.

    • Allison says:

      The issue has been hijacked by groups in the UK, supported and influenced by right wing evangelical groups in the US.

      The same groups who have been responsible for the ban on transgender people serving in the US armed forces and who are now supporting proposed legislation to allow employers to fire employees simply for being LGBT.

      The whole furore has been a wedge issue to divide the T from the LGB and it has also been a wedge issue which seems to have divided the otherwise cohesive SNP, sadly.

      Make no mistake, right wing forces would be very happy to roll back ALL rights enshrined under the Equalities Act in this country if BREXIT does happen. This furore also conveniently distracts and diverts attention away from the more dangerous crises of climate change and Brexit. We are being played. It is no coincidence that it is the right wing press, especially the Times and Sunday Times who have been obsessed with this for nearly 2 years. It was disappointing to see The Scotsman and The Herald aping their English cousins in this regard yesterday and today.

    • Livia says:

      ‘There haven’t been any problems’ is always said. 1) who is looking for them ? 2) how are they doing it – can we critically assess the research ? 3) where are they published and how do they reach and influence policy development? If you can answer these questions you can’t breezily declare there’s have been no problems.

  5. Terry Callachan says:

    Well done what an excellent appraisal ,you’ve done your homework ,it must have taken you ages to put this together.
    I feel for those affected by this debate, a lot of what you have written I was not aware of but I feel even more strongly now that there are people really suffering because of all this.
    People are people no matter what and they are entitled to and deserve respect for their choices it’s a real pity that this debate isn’t one that looks for ways to help people rather than scorn and insult.
    I totally agree with the point you make that those affected are the people who should choose and determine their futures only they will reach proper reasonable and workable conclusions.
    Power to you if you are affected by these questions.

  6. Terry Callachan says:

    Hi Susan ,I don’t agree with you, sorry but it is possible that you can be born with the body of one and the brain or mind of the other it happens to men and women and what’s wrong with that ?
    Nothing really.
    But the world makes it a problem by setting strict rules, I point the finger at religion for that.
    It is biological you can’t change your brain or your mind to suit your body so I guess some people choose to change their body to suit their mind or brain, that’s logical and fantastic that science can help us do it let’s face it ,this is what we would all do if we could and if it erased or reduced misery in our lives and it’s really only been possible to do that in modern times who knows what the future holds will it be possible to change the sexual orientation of your brain/mind in future ?
    Whatever works for people is what is best in my opinion.
    Sorry again Susan I hope my opinion doesn’t annoy you.
    I guess there are lots of opinions about this.
    Maybe mine is ignorant or just wrong, if it is I’m sure someone will tell me.
    Helping people in difficulty is what is required.

    • Morag Kerr says:

      No, that is not possible. You simply cannot be born with a brain the opposite sex to the rest of your body. This is a fiction the trans activists like to promote. The causes of trans identification lie elsewhere.

      • Illy says:

        Really? If you’re so sure of that you must have evidence of what causes it.

        I’d love to know what causes this. Care to share?

        • Platinum says:

          That’s not how science works, it’s for those making the extraordinary claim that goes against all known biological science to prove it not the other way round.

          • Illy says:

            “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

            And since you’re the one claiming that something is impossible, I ask you for your proof.

            Or hell, even your alternate theory.

            What do you think causes people to be trans, if it’s not an unusual brain makeup?

  7. Muscleguy says:

    The psychologists who work on gender dysphoria will tell you that much of it is due to ingrained homophobia. IF you are attracted to members of your own sex but are distressed by this or your family environment would be then you have a big problem. One solution is to become a member of the opposite sex, then the same ‘sex’ attraction problem disappears.

    Note the transgender persons in the US and now here who want Lesbians to have penetrative sex with them seems to me to be just standard male privilege and wishing to control women. Karen White is just opportunism allied to may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb mentality.

    The psychologists came to these conclusions based on much data from trans people themselves. This doesn’t mean trans people should not be accommodated (though safeguarding women and girls must continue to be paramount) only that supposedly trans kids should be treated very carefully. What Mermaids want to do is very, very dangerous and amounts to child abuse. Their stated aim of giving ‘trans’ kids adult trans people as guardians to guide their sexuality is just paedophilia. That govt cannot see this and gives them funding is a scandal waiting to happen.

    Add in parents who want celebrity kids getting in on the act and forcing their tomboys to be boys and their gay boys to be girls will all end in tears and lawsuits.

    This will all fall down in findings of criminality and malign intent. To the detriment of genuine and sensible Trans people, some of whom wrote to ScotGov just last week to urge them to be careful who they listened to from the Trans community.

    That various public bodies have changed their policies of allowing anyone anywhere or anywhen on self ID without doing an impact assessment on women and girls as required under equalities legislation will end up in the courts. There are smart lawyers working right now to do so. It will all come crashing to a halt fairly soon.

    An objective look at the issues will have no choice, Karen White, but to conclude that safeguarding of women and girls has been thrown under a bus in the race not to be labelled transphobic by a tiny group of aggressive persons. Bad law is made in haste, when it is made in effect under moral blackmail it is likely to be terrible law.

  8. susan says:

    Well said Muscleguy.

  9. My ignorance of all of this extends to enquiring: What is ‘cisgender’, Paul.?
    I have no place in this debate otherwise, other than to condemn any hurt being visited upon anyone for their beliefs or lifestyle.
    I write in sheer ignorance, not in a sense of walking on egg shells.

    • weegingerdug says:

      Cisgender means being the gender that you were born into, as opposed to transgender, which means living in a different gender from the one you were born into.

      • Morag Kerr says:

        It’s also regarded as highly offensive by many women – or at least, being called “cis women” is highly offensive. We are women and we don’t want or need to be put in a sub-category of our own identity. So be careful when using that term.

        • Therapymum says:

          Thanks Morag. I keep seeing “cis” being used as what I perceived as a derogatory fashion, along with TERF. Thought it was just my perception, so it’s goid to know it’s not.

        • Illy says:

          I assume you wouldn’t find being called a “Black Women” highly offensive?

          Could you explain why one sub-category offends you and the other doesn’t?

          • Livia says:

            Trans women are not a sub category of women. They are something else. I am genuinely sorry if this is hurtful, but if we can’t move beyond this 2+2=5 stuff we have no hope of moving on in a way we can all live with.

            • Illy says:

              And where did I mention trans women in the statement you are replying to?

              I was asking why one sub-catagory (cis) is different to another sub-catagory (black) in terms of why people find them offensive.

              • Livia says:

                The prefix cis makes no sense without its counterpoint trans. Use of dis is inaccurate, misleading, and works to support the notion that trans woman is a sub category of woman. Without a need to underpin that idea, there is no need for the qualifier. ‘Cis’ is a kind of lie.

                • Illy says:

                  So you’re saying that you find “cis” offensive because it implies that trans people are real?

                  Wonderful. Glad I’m understanding you now.

                  • Livia says:

                    No, because I don’t believe trans women are a sub group of women. As I said.
                    I don’t find it offensive, so much as misleading and untruthful. Obviously trans people are real, what a daft remark.

                    • Illy says:

                      So you think that the body is more important than the mind. Right.

                      Go look up “conversion therapy” for why that’s a bad stance to take.

      • Morag Kerr says:

        The term “cis” is regarded as highly offensive by many women. We don’t appreciate being relegated to a sub-category of our own identity. So be very careful when using that term, or better still don’t use it at all.

      • ta for that, Paul.
        I judge it prudent that I stay out of this very real and testing issue for folks for whom this is an issue of life changing concern.
        Never too old to learn or have my views on life the universe and everything changed by fresh information and knowledge.

      • Jan Cowan says:

        Had difficulty understanding this debate so thanks for your article Paul.

  10. darthtimon says:

    This is a very difficult issue without any easy answers, or at least answers that can satisfy all parties. The ‘T’ element of LGBT seems to cop a lot of flak from various quarters, being brow-beaten by elements of the conservative right, but also the more extreme ends of the left as well. Transgenders come under fire from some feminists, but also from some men’s rights activists and MGTOWs, leaving them with very little in terms of a safe space of their own. I can understand that someone simply saying ‘I am a woman’ whilst retaining all the traits of a man would be hard to justify in terms of access to women-only spaces – a man who has in fact fully transitioned and has had all the surgeries and treatments… that to me is a different case.

    But as I said, there are no easy answers and there’s a lot of heat on all sides of this one.

    • Therapymum says:


      Yet that is exactly what women and girls are expected to agree to, accepting someone who retains all the traits of a man into women only spaces. In fact Glasgow Council have revised the policies in sports centres and pools to say that anyone who self-IDs as female, including those who cross dress, can access women only sessions.

      Can you imagine the feelings of a woman who has been in a physically and mentally abusive relationship with a male partner and now is uncomfortable around men, who is using eg a council swimming pool to help improve her mood in women only sessions, when suddenly an apparently definite male is participating in the group? Do you think she would stay in the group? Or would she leave, never to return? What about the girl who has recently been raped, or the women and girls of specific religions that don’t allow women to expose themselves in front of men? Where is the safe place for them?

      It’s not as though theses issues haven’t been raised before. They were certainly raised in the USA and Canada before their policies became law. Recently a judge in one of the US states stated that women and girls have no right to privacy in changing rooms or toilet facilities. This was part of a response to the school board deciding that all school toilets would be male or female and children could choose which one they use. What about girls experiencing the downsides of periods? That can be embarrassing enough in front of other women, let alone someone who self-ids as female.

      I don’t have an issue with people who are genuinely transitioning, who definitely need a safe space as much as cis women. I do have a problem with the blythe assumption that women will accept those who self-id as being female into women only facilities. We have precious few of them as it is. It feels as though the policies are open to abuse and I am uncomfortable with that. I would like to see what kind of risk assessment the consultation group in Scotland used. I would like to see how other countries have settled the issues that opposers have raised, and how the concerns of those opposed have been met, or not. Mostly, I would like to see some genuine debate, without people who raise questions being aggressively abused as ignorant, transphobic, cis het women and TERFS. And I find it concerning that many of those doing the social media bullying are female activists. It’s not helpful, doesn’t allay concerns, educate women or even allow women to understand the opposite point of view. Instead, it polarises the debate and makes it less likely that women will accept the changes.

      Sorry about the rant.

    • What is MGTOW please?

  11. Mike Lothian says:

    Chromosomes are a bit more complicated than that, it’s possible to have XXY or XYY and all other sorts of combinations

    It’s even possible for a person to have XY chromosomes but be totally unresponsive to testosterone – making them appear and effectively be female

    Genetics is a complicated subject and the Olympic Committee stopped using it in 1996 because of this

    • weegingerdug says:

      Yes I know, I mentioned chromosomal disorders in the article.

      • Mike Lothian says:

        I did read it 😀 – it was this bit I disagreed with – “biological sex is a binary. It is quantum, in the sense that it exists in one state or another. Strictly from a biological point of view, a developmentally and physiologically normal mammal cannot be a little bit female and a little bit male. You have to be one or the other” – whilst most do fit into the two options, there are outliers that don’t fit that model – whilst it might not be frequent, it is normal

        • Mike Lothian says:

          Maybe they’re the superposition of both 😉

        • weegingerdug says:

          You missed out the qualifier that came at the beginning “Pathologies aside …”

          • Mike Lothian says:

            But the qualifier disproves your point. Apart from the people, who aren’t one or the other – you can be only one or the other…

            • weegingerdug says:

              But they’re *pathologies* If you have a pathology, then you’re not developmentally or physiologically normal. It means something has gone awry.

              In any case intersex people are quite insistent that their experiences are not trans experiences and they object to being lumped in with trans people.

              • Mike Lothian says:

                Yes there are some that are intersex, but there are plenty that identify as male, or female and have been brought up that way – that if they were to have a DNA test tomorrow would state that that long held belief was wrong

                Some will only find out if they pursue infertility problems. Or in the more extreme cases in the past – when the Olympic Committee takes their medals from them…

                Imagine thinking your whole life that you’re female – only to be told that genetically you’re male. That if you took steroids they would have absolutely no effect on you.

                Yes it’s unusual – sometimes biology does things that might not pan out if our only objective is to reproduce

                I’m not lumping people together, I’m pointing out that we don’t really understand sex or gender in its entirety. We might have decoded our DNA – about 1.5GB of information – but we’ve only scratched the surface of that that data actually means and the subtleties of it

                It wasn’t that long ago that homosexuality was considered an illness – that something had gone wrong with our development

                I certainly won’t claim to understand it, of the trans people I’m friends with most have had difficult journeys. It was refreshing however to meet a young transman at work, he identifies as male and I hope he’ll be one of the first to enjoy a smoother transition thanks to the new laws coming into place

                I hope you don’t find my comments to critical of yourself – I certainly don’t intend them to be

  12. Thank you for one of the clearest and most thoughtful, thought-provoking pieces on this subject that I have yet read, Paul. I wish it could be required reading for everyone!

  13. James Heydenrych says:

    I take what many would consider to be a more conservative point on this stance. I personally don’t see it as particularly conservative, but I see the whole Trans debate as inherently flawed and full of contradictions. The idea that gender is only the societal constructs that are placed upon us as we are raised is something I can accept. But one of the points that I hear many LGTBQ activists state is that they are attempting to break societal norms of gender. Trans people, by taking on the aspects of the gender which they aim to become, are simply reinforcing these gender norms. Granted, many trans people aren’t interested in the politics and sociological questions regarding their transitioning, but this only reinforces the gender stereotypes further i.e “I feel more comfortable as a woman thus I’m going to wear a dress”. I like to consider myself as reasonably polite, so I will always address a Trans person by their preferred pronoun (barring the new ones such as xe), but unless someone has gone the full mile through hormones and genital surgery, I am incapable of doing the mental acrobatics to believe a man who claims he is a woman is one.

    Again, controversial statements, I hope my comment was at least insightful and mildly interesting.

    • Morag Kerr says:

      This is so true. The whole thing is stereotypical in the extreme. “Oh, the wee boy likes sparkly unicorns, he must really be a girl.”

    • Illy says:

      How do you tell if they’ve had genital surgery?

      Do you ask every woman you meet about their vagina?

      • James Heydenrych says:

        No, and I don’t want to know. Hence I find the whole thing a bit convoluted.

  14. susan says:

    Thank you Morag and others who understand what I’m – rather badly – trying to say. There is so much gaslighting going on that I tend to get curt. Anyway off to bed! Night all.

  15. Thank you very much for this.

    While reading, I was reminded of a paper written in the seventies by sociologist Erving Goffman that was compulsory reading for a course I followed way back in the eighties.

    The paper is called The Arrangement Between the Sexes. (Interested readers can find it here as an open source PDF – Many of the issues you raise are discussed in great detail in this paper, although without wading into any specific debates about transgender identity.

    For my own part, I believe that we should listen to each other respectfully and be prepared to take seriously what we all say about what it is like to be whatever or whoever it is we are of feel ourselves to be. This is of course not what happens on the interwebs, where reacting without reading more than a couple of choice words or phrases identifying a person as for or against a particular opinion or tendency is the way things usually go, thereby creating more heat than light.

    I believe that part of the problem of the moment lies in a difference between expectations about what politics can or should do: by electing politicians, are we putting people into positions of power who will work for what might be called “the common good” – however that may be perceived, or are we hoping that they express something of our personal identity?

    I also believe that framing debates – any debate! – purely in terms of one thing or another is intellectually stultifying and deeply reactive. Which means in practice “conservative” – as in perpetuating the status quo.

    The struggle here then is to widen out discussion by suggesting that things in the complex, grubby world of experience and multiple perspectives might not be as straightforward as one thing or another. In a political context we still seem to believe that opinion can be understood in relation to extremes of left and right with everything lying somewhere in between.

    Within the sex/gender context, we like to believe that sexuality can be defied as lying somewhere on a spectrum between heterosexual and homosexual. But what one does in bed and with whom seems to me to form only a part of what is called sexual identity. Certainly by listening to what transgender people have to say, it seems that their identity has just as much, if not more, to do with a feeling of being in the wrong body than with whom they want to be sexually intimate.

    In many of my interactions both online and in real life, I encounter a profound motivation to characterise debates in purely binary terms. At the same time, I can only see a qualitative diversity in the world, a veritable plethora of perspective and experience which is utterly and profoundly non-binary. Unfortunately, the latter is more often overwritten by the former, but this will not shut me up, nor dissuade me from emphasising that by making efforts to avoid any dualism at all times, by not immediately reacting, we will both further actual discussion in the direction of real understanding of each other and generate genuine discourses of compassion.

    It seems to me, Sir, that this exactly what you have been doing with your carefully crafted prose, and for that I thank you.

  16. Tol says:


    I fear this is not as simple as you layout….sadly.

    Listening respectfully is important…but that does not mean accepting ALL statements unchallenged. Respect is a 2 way street. There are some statements about self that are solely yours to make….but once your comments effect others and the world, their needs to be dialogue, negotiation, and testing…We didn’t have the enlightenment for nothing.

    The issue is society had a history of using sex/gender as interchangeable terms. As we separate sex/gender we will need to become precise in their use and many current labels will need to be adjusted to meet the new separation. (Do we actually mean WOMEN’s movement – or do we really mean FEMALE). Our language has an inertia and to respectfully work together we all need to break those habits.

    Sadly, I fear this will get worse before it gets better as this is probably going to come down to two sets of rights clashing. History has taught us this is fraught as it deals with how individual rights meet others (Think religious freedom. Sure you can practice your religion until that practice dictates non followers behaviour/rights)

    Yes, sex and gender are gradients – but your position on one is no longer automatically correlated to the other…and the rights are affected accordingly.

  17. panda paws says:

    Thank you for this well written piece.

    “Males are socialised to be more aggressive and assertive, more physical, and more demanding.”

    Quite. It’s interesting that the wider debate focuses on transwomen and rarely on transmen. Many of the abusive transwomen seem to think biological women should just do what they are told and we are transphobes if we disagree with our protections being eroded.

    If have no problems with transwomen who have undergone reassignment surgery being in women’s changing rooms. Yes this surgery is drastic and so some may choose not undergo it but if you don’t then you should have no access to women only spaces. Gender neutral options should be provided for your use and anyone who doesn’t mind mixed genital areas. Yes trans people may be at risk there from predatory males, but if we allow self identity in women only spaces then they will be at risk there too. Plus the previously safe women, I don’t see that as an improvement.

    I don’t care how someone identifies but if it is an offence to expose your penis in women only areas when you identify as a man then sorry but it is in my eyes, so to speak, an offence when you do it with your so-called lady penis.

    We are seeing the erosion of the meaning of the word woman, though again not of the word man. If women only areas disappear, then I hope we start relabeling them penis and testicle free zones.

    I fear the trans movement is being invaded by men’s rights activists who care nothing for trans people and only about the threats to patriarchy. Many transpeople suffer terrible abuse and deserve protection. This, however, should never be at the expense of other groups.

    Protect transpeople and protect women but when their interests/protections clash, then find ways to provide separate protections that do not encroach on the other.

  18. orri says:

    My main concerns are that Self ID is being used where what is meant is Self Declaration added to Trans being used in such broad terms that it almost loses any meaning.

    The first is the main one as without policing and checking the fears put forward become all too real. Resort to statistics are as meaningless as pointing to road accidents due to speeding and claim it’s so low that it’d be worth removing speed limits. Not that I have those stats to hand. Probably better examples to be had.
    So what is it, someone who would qualify for medical treatment if they opted and has been properly assessed as having a genuine belief or simply someone who says they’re a man/woman.

    The second concern is that trans can prefix -vestite, -gender, sexual . So which is it. If it’s simply someone wearing the stereotypical clothing of their opposite sex then there’s no guarantee where their sexuality lies. In a few cases it may even be a fetish.

    I’ve no objection to genuine trans-gender obtaining a GRA and being officially recognised as their chosen gender. A free far all is not on as it’s subject to abuse.

  19. Andy Anderson says:

    Good article Paul.

    My view on transgender is simple. If your self belief harms no one fine. However I do not agree with a male who defines themselves as female competing with females in sport as muscle strength differs nor should trans males go into female toilets or share prison cells etc. We must keep sexes separate for safety and fairness.

    To me it is simply common sense.

  20. Charles McGregor says:

    Like Jack, this is a subject I know very little about so thanks for the article which explains so much.

    I have many questions but I am afraid to even ask them in case it offends someone.

  21. Sophie Grace Chappell says:

    Thank you very much for this careful and thoughtful piece, Paul. It’s exactly the tone that the debate needs–cautious, science-informed, compassionate, and gentle. Being a trans woman is a journey, and it’s not the same journey either as a cis woman’s, or as a cis man’s. It’s quite an unusual journey. And it is still not a very well-understood one. So thanks for seeking to understand. I think in that respect you’re doing a whole lot better than *cough* a certain other indy blogger *cough* that I could mention….
    As a trans woman myself I am sick of seeing these issues reduced to shouting-matches by the extremists on both sides. I’m also getting quite cross at the way the issue is being used right now by the Scottish press, as a way to stir up trouble for the SNP.
    Women who feel threatened by “men” may be a bit guilty of profiling–the threat is ALL men?? Come off it–but I can see where they’re coming from, and I think they have a position that needs to be respected. If you’re a trans woman it is pretty frustrating to be put in the threatening class yourself, since being a trans woman is all about *rejecting* that class, and stepping as far as you can away from it–and “men” are a threat to trans women too. But we trans women need to get past our sense of frustration, and just listen.
    I don’t myself think that all female spaces should be treated the same way–prisons are one case, women’s changing rooms are another, rape refuges a third, sports contexts a fourth, ladies’ loos a fifth, women’s groups a sixth, and no doubt there are others again. These are all different contexts. The trouble with self-ID is that it implies treating them all the same relative to trans women. They’re clearly not the same. So while my instinct is in favour of self-ID, I do wonder about the practicalities. Maybe trans women should self-ID *as trans women*, not *as women*. But I can see that’s not going to be a popular suggestion…
    I sometimes think the right way forward is to see transgender people in something like the same way we see adoptive parents. I argue that here…

  22. Scozzie says:

    I am not totally clued up in this debate. And I have no problem with what people want to call themselves in a social setting. However, when it starts to redefine what is male and female, in a legal and biological sense, I think we go into potentially dangerous territory with many social ramifications.

    I’m no scientist either, but my understanding is the entire animal kingdom is made up of male / female classification. I’m not sure what Paul’s examples in the insect, aquatic and reptile world brings to the argument. The immortal jellyfish can transform itself from adulthood back to infancy, Do we say that adults who want to dress up and act as babies should have the legal entitlement to be known as an infant as that’s what they self-identify with? It’s a crude example I know, but where does it end?

    As a female, I certainly have no objection to people who have undergone sexual reassignment surgery accompanied with hormonal meds having access to female only spaces. Even though they are not female in a reproductive sense, I would not feel threatened by their presence in female only spaces. When my sense of openness stops, is people who want to self-ID having open access to these spaces. I get what Paul says that not everyone will want to go as far as surgery and hormone medications etc. But self ID does not make a male be a women / female in the literal and biological sense.Therefore, having rights to access such spaces carries way more risks to females than the protection of a tiny proportion of the population who identify as trans gender.

    Please do not take this question the wrong way (it’s a genuine question coming from someone who is genuinely curious to understand the flip side) – but do females who self ID as males wish to serve time in a male prison if they commit a crime, wish to visit males toilets, wish to compete in male sports etc? Maybe the answer is yes, I don’t know, but I don’t hear from that side of the debate.

    • weegingerdug says:

      The bit about other animals is not a part of my argument. It was merely an aside because I found it interesting. That’s why it’s in brackets and italics.

      • Scozzie says:

        Sorry Paul for misunderstanding your intentions, hope you didn’t find it a dig at the dug 🙂 I just misunderstood thinking it was part of your argument.

    • Illy says:

      “but do females who self ID as males wish to serve time in a male prison if they commit a crime, wish to visit males toilets, wish to compete in male sports etc?”

      Every one of them who I have talked to says yes.

      Go google Shawn Stinson. Find some pictures.

      Would you really want to force him to use the women’s bathroom? Would that make you feel more or less safe if people who look like him were *required* to use the women’s bathrooms, women’s changing rooms, etc? Or would it make you feel like it is more likely that a random man will just walk in to cause trouble?

      On the subject of trans people who don’t take hormones:

      There is a form of cancer that feeds off estrogen. If a MtF trans person develops it, the only option is to stop taking hormones (I assume there is a similar one for testosterone). This sucks, but is not really a choice. There are other medical risks to taking hormones. An increased risk of blood-clots is another one of the really scary ones (a blood clot that hits your heart can kill you before the ambulance gets there). They read you a list of possible side-effects about a mile long before they’re willing to prescribe. I would not blame anyone for getting scared by some of the possibilities. (Though some of the ones for estrogen are things that most trans women would consider a good thing – a harder time getting erections, for instance)

      If you are one of the minority who cannot take hormones, then you are going to be stuck with the wrong secondary sex characteristics. I cannot begin to describe how much this sucks for the person involved.

      On secondary vs primary sex characteristics:

      How many women in your life have you seen the primary sex characteristics (vagina) of? (gynaecologists should discount professional views for this question)

      How many men?

      I’ve seen the occasional penis at the urinal (incidentally, I’ve never been able to use a urinal – I have a total mental block there), but women’s toilets are all cubicles, so it shouldn’t be an issue.

      Hormones and training(voice)/minor surgeries(laser/breast removal) can sort out secondary sex characteristics just fine. For most people, their bone structure is within the “normal range” for both men and women – there’s more overlap than a lot of people like to admit.

      For the overwhelming majority of people you interact with, it’s the secondary sex characteristics that make most of the difference. I actually understand the worries of people who don’t want “no-hormone” trans folks to be recognised. But not wanting “non-op” trans folk to be recognised as their declared gender is just plain stupid – because it forces people who look male into women’s spaces, and people who look female into male spaces, which is exactly the opposite effect to what the people pushing it claim to want.

      To sum up, I’ll ask a tangential question: How many good-looking toupees have you seen on the street?

  23. Livia says:

    Thanks for this piece, I have a few quibbles with some of your assertions, but I’m not going to list them here, as I’m sure they are covered in the many comments above. Your calm tone, even handed ness, and overall tolerance and gentleness are greatly appreciated and rare in this debate.
    As a woman who argued for gay rights and equal marriage all of my adult life, since the 1980s, I am furious at the assumption that women and feminists of my age have all turned into horrible bigots overnight.
    I would give a final warning to the SNP on this. Remember what happened to Scottish Labour, when they assumed their voters had nowhere else to go.

  24. Scozzie says:

    Illy thank you for your reply.
    From what I can see on Google, Shawn Stinson competes in the only world transgender bodybuilding competitions, so I take it from that, he’s not competing against biological males. And I certainly would advocate that transgender people compete within their own physical capabilities so that they’re not at an advantage / disadvantage of elite sports athletes of either sex.

    I agree someone looking like Shawn, would on observation, be more comfortable in male changing rooms and toilets. However, his physique is not natural of a woman bodybuilder so I’m guessing he is taking meds to enable that male physique. If Shawn’s female genitalia is intact would he feel comfortable being in an open male showering room? I don’t know the answer to that, only he can decide.

    My point is those who self ID without any attempt to fully transition – what gives them the right to change their biological sex just by self declaration. And that is where the question of self ID becomes an infringement of the biological sexes’ rights.

    With regards to hormones, yes of course there are risks attached. This is why there are calls for safeguarding young children on puberty suppressing meds and testosterone / oestrogen meds in young adults as it messes with physiology.

    On your last point it doesn’t matter how many vaginas I have seen in my lifetime. The point is I should not have to see a penis in an all female changing / showering room, in for example, a women’s only sauna or swim class, let alone a women’s refuge or female prison. If a male is taking female hormones and is still physically intact with male genitalia, then I do not believe that person has a right to a female only space.Just because someone self identifies as female does not make that person female in a biological sense. Like I said before, if someone has fully transitioned, even thought they are not biological female, I would be more welcoming of that person in a female only space.

    • Illy says:

      “he’s not competing against biological males”

      True, however, we have no idea if he would prefer to be competing in the regular male division or not.

      “However, his physique is not natural of a woman bodybuilder so I’m guessing he is taking meds to enable that male physique.”

      Well duh. He’s almost certainly on testosterone, like any other trans man.

      “This is why there are calls for safeguarding young children on puberty suppressing meds and testosterone / oestrogen meds in young adults as it messes with physiology.”

      Puberty blockers are actually about as save as paracetamol.

      And the whole point of taking testosterone/estrogen is to “mess with physiology”. Don’t start on the “you’re too young to be sure until you’re too old for it to work” argument.

      “On your last point it doesn’t matter how many vaginas I have seen in my lifetime. The point is I should not have to see a penis in an all female changing / showering room, in for example, a women’s only sauna or swim class, let alone a women’s refuge or female prison.”

      The point is that if you don’t see someone’s vagina, then you can’t know that they actually have a vagina, rather than a penis. So it does matter how many you’ve seen, because every woman who’s vagina you haven’t seen could easily be a trans woman.

      “female changing / showering room, in for example, a women’s only sauna or swim class, let alone a women’s refuge or female prison”

      How many vaginas do you see in these places?

      • Livia says:

        How many vaginas..? Are you aware the vagina is an internal organ? Even the vulva is neatly tucked underneath.

        Let’s be truthful. It’s not the penis, it’s the person sporting it that is potentially the problem.

        • Illy says:

          And now you’re claiming that everyone born with a penis should be treated like a rapist.

          Are you one of those people who believes that men can’t be raped, as well?

          • Livia says:

            Let’s take a step back. What is the reason for sex segregation in some areas – toilets, changing rooms, refuges, prisons?

            Now, why should some males be allowed in the spaces, when most are excluded? What is the case for that?

            PS I won’t be able to reply any more tonight.

            • Illy says:

              So you’re saying that body parts are more important than the mind.

              Go look up “conversion therapy” for why that’s a bad stance to take.

              • Livia says:

                Please stop telling me what I’m saying, especially when your assertions bear no relation to what I actually said.

                For anyone else that might be interested, my own view is that the ‘female spaces’ issue could be resolved, or some kind of compromise reached if there was discussion in good faith, a genuine attempt to understand each other. After all, all toilets are not the same, and the same rules don’t need to apply in a secondary school as in an edgy dance club. I wish there was a place we could discuss these issues without the constant accusations, diversions and gaslighting.

                • Illy says:

                  Your insistence that trans women are men *is* saying that body parts are more important than the mind. It’s the logical result of your position.

                  All I’m doing is making the source of your fear obvious to you. It’s not my fault you don’t like it.

                  “After all, all toilets are not the same”

                  Really? I thought they all were single cubicles with a pot you shit in in privacy. Funnily enough, there is more argument for segregation in *male* toilets than female ones – they actually have a place where you might see another man’s genitals – unless you think we all use japanese-style stalls?

                  • Livia says:

                    Sex is a material quality. It is defined on a material basis. Bodies are part of that materiality. Minds are not.

                    Nobody has to agree with your religious or spiritual beliefs about minds and souls. This issue is about how people interact with each other in the material world, and what rights and privileges they have or don’t have. Minds have nothing to do with it.

                    I’m not continuing this conversation because I don’t think you are arguing in good faith.

                    • Illy says:

                      What do souls or spiritual beliefs have to do with anything?

                      Why are you bringing up religion?

                      When most normal people interact with each other, how often do you ever see someone’s genitals?

                      So why does something you rarely see matter so much to you?

  25. Platinum says:

    There are mental disorders where people want to have their healthy limbs amputated. We do not try to appease these people by playing along with their delusions. Why should it be any different when those body parts are breasts or penises?

    Apart from anything else, I object to the sheer gall, the absolute brass neck that a men can put on lipstick then claim womanhood. It’s insulting.

    • Illy says:

      “that a men can put on lipstick then claim womanhood.”

      And now you’re just showing your ignorance. Go look up what the average trans person goes through to transition. You think it’s easy? I’ll quote Paul here in case you missed it earlier: “Being a gay male in a working class community in the West of Scotland in the 1970s was a walk in the park compared to what trans people have to deal with.”

      Here’s an thought experiment for you: Ignoring all the bits of a person’s body that you don’t see normally (because they really aren’t any of your business), what would you consider to be a minimum requirement for a trans woman to be considered a woman *by you*?

  26. I am loving this discussion.

    I should add that I am on hormone reducing meds because I have prostate cancer. I have also taken meds that produced substantial moobs and turned me into a girl.

    At the moment, the removal of testosterone from my body has a similar effect to the menopause, giving me hot flushes and changing my muscle to fat ratio. My libido is also gone. I have absolutely no feelings of sexual excitement or pleasure. Zip. And my countenance is softer. No longer am I motivated by the urges and power generated by testosterone. This has been a most informative experience that reveals a great deal about being male, because I am no longer male, but something else. True, I was brought up into a culture where being male meant behaving in a particular way, but at the same time I was bullied as a teenager by the usual cohorts of dickheads because I appeared to them to be not properly manly or whatever, presumably threatening their cosy privilege atop the binary division. I have therefore never been terribly keen to identify myself according either sex or gender – nor to be honest do I wish to identify as anything at all. Obviously I appear to others as male and when necessary use male designated facilities. But I am something else.

    The issue it seems to me is an insistence on binary categorisation. We need to understand that the real world is not binary, and that the dimorphism of genitalia found in mammals has to do with sexual reproduction and ONLY sexual reproduction.

    It would also be a step in the right direction if we were able to learn to see naked people without feeling either shame, embarrassment or sexual excitement.

    • Livia says:

      You raise a lot of very interesting points, Duncan, “I have therefore never been terribly keen to identify myself according either sex or gender – nor to be honest do I wish to identify as anything at all” – brings us back to the really fundamental questions – what IS identity? What is gender identity? I, personally, find your ‘ I am not a male – I am something else’ – very surprising. I am menopausal – I have radically different hormone levels than in my youth – I have hair on my chin! but it never occurred to me to say that I am not a woman now.

      There is a lot to be said and explored in there – but it’s philosophy, not biology.

      I disagree with you that ‘the real world is not binary’. First, binary is a human classification system. The material world exists whether we classify it and describe it or not, Mammals are, in reality, materially, made in a particular way: they are sexually dimorphic* whether any of us ‘reject the binary’ or not. The primary purpose of this is sexual reproduction, but whether we like it or every cell in our body is sexed, and every part of our bodies is affected in some greater or lesser degree.( Oddly, and despite what is often said, it looks like our brains, and their abilities, is one of the least sex- affected organs in the body.) The physical strength of men, the reproductive role of women, testosterone-aggression, oestrogen-submission – all of them are real and has affected our human culture from its earliest beginnings. How do we live with that now? well, feminists have been trying to find a better way for a long time. But we have to do that on the basis of facts. Sex is not a spectrum. A male is not a woman. Humans can’t change sex. 2 + 2 != 5. If campaigners for trans rights start from lies , and insist on repeating them, and insist that we accept them, and make the case for inclusion in female spaces based on them*, they are going to meet resistance, even from those of us who should be their natural allies.

      I’m very sorry about your illness and wish you all the best for recovery.

      • Livia, thanks for your kind words.

        I have known menopausal women who experience the changes as a real threat to their womanhood. I am not for a minute suggesting that things are or should be the same for everybody, and I speak entirely for myself when I say I am not male. What struck me most though when I first experienced the reduction of testosterone, was the motivational difference; my entire attitude changed, softened, and I became less wound up about stuff, much less reactive and defensive. Certainly, it was easier perhaps for me to let go of my maleness because of my other experiences – in particular my reluctance to identify as anything at all. Id and entity combined in one word, the substance of some primordial or basic drive. When in fact if we look for such a thing we will not find it, only a collection of habits of thoughts and conduct.

        Yes this is philosophy. And there is nowt wrong with that. When I say that the real world is not binary, I am referring to human experience rather than to the external world, phenomenology rather than biology. At the same time I do not deny the role of biology in reproduction and in initial assignment to sexual categories, but these things are always thereafter socially constructed.

        I agree that sex does not appear on a spectrum. And I would go further to say that gender doesn’t either. It is rather a plethora of many different experiences and identities. The idea that sexuality can be defined as desiring either the “same” or the “other” gender seems to me utterly banal, and certainly it rules out there being anything like a spectrum – except to add “both same and other” somewhere in the middle.

        I think that the issue of female only spaces should be context dependent. I don’t see any reason why all toilet facilities should not be communal – after all, with the obvious exception of urinals, the business of a toilet is usually carried out behind closed doors, and men could easily learn, if they actually worked at it, to sit down to piss, which is actually much more hygienic. Other spaces would seem to demand other criteria – somebody above listed about six different places, each of which would require different criteria of exclusion and inclusion.

        My biggest issue is with the insistence that we experience things as one thing or another. It may well be that science has discovered many important binary structures and dimorphisms out there in the external world, but this does not mean that binality is universal, nor that we should experience existence as being only one thing or the other.

        I too am very wary of self identification, but I am also very aware that making any transition is a long and difficult process. Maybe there are some men who would claim casually to be now a woman in order to invade women only spaces, and to impose their power or to gratify some sexual urge, but I suspect there are not very many. Nevertheless, if the law makes this at all possible, it should in my opinion be amended. All new legislation should be tested in practice.

        Anyway … thanks again for your kind words 🙂

        • Illy says:

          “Maybe there are some men who would claim casually to be now a woman in order to invade women only spaces, and to impose their power or to gratify some sexual urge, but I suspect there are not very many.”

          So far, as far as I’m aware, there have been *NONE*.

          Please, if you have a counter-example, do share.

  27. Terry callachan says:

    Discussion is good ,on such a subject there will always be anger ,it would in my opinion be better if we discussed ways of helping people who think they were born with the wrong body, it is clear that there are many people who feel they were born with the body of a man and the brain of a woman and people who feel they were born with the body of a woman and the brain of a man.To argue otherwise I think is narrow minded and in any case why should someone have the right to tell another person who feels this applies to them that this is not the case ?
    If we turn the clock back far enough we would find that there were no segregated areas for men or women quite possibly there are places in the world now where there is no segregation ,we could introduce a third option, shared spaces for men and women alongside men only and women only spaces, it can be done, it’s a compromise but one I’m sure some people would still object to.

  28. Harry Giles says:

    A couple of corrections:

    – Trans people do not currently need to have hormone surgery or therapy to receive a Gender Recognition Certificate, only a dysphoria disagnosis and lived experience:

    – It is quite disrespectful to refer to intersex conditions only as disorders and pathologies: constructing different bodies as “wrong” is one reason for nonconsensual surgery on intersex infants:

    – It is by no means true in the evidence base that trans women retain male privilege. For example, trans women are paid even less than cis women:

  29. Scozzie says:

    Illy your post saying: ‘Your insistence that trans women are men *is* saying that body parts are more important than the mind.’

    Of course trans women are men, they are biologically men there is no such thing as a female ‘mind’ or female ‘brain’.
    You can say you feel female till the cows come home, but what is ‘feeling’ female?
    Being female is completely physiological – i.e. based on female reproductive system, female hormones and females chromosomes – trans women have none of these physical characteristics. And for that matter being male is completely physiological.You are men simples!

    Yes, you can pump your body full of medication to give you females hormones but it it doesn’t make you female in the literal or biological sense – all its doing is messing with your biological physiology.

    I didn’t reply to your previous assumption that puberty suppressants in adolescents are safe. I think you should do more research. There is evidence it affects bone density, the immune system and may not be reversible as once thought. Cross-hormones affect growth of genitalia and potential infertility. So if people want to mess with their biological sex that’s fine but do not expect women (50% of the male / female population) to stand by and give open and free access to men in female only spaces, especially those who simply want to self ID.

    • Allison says:

      For interest.
      Although addressing the hideous discriminatory practices which have been growing in the US, it debunks the “biological reality” argument used to justify misgendering and otherwise disrespecting trans people

      “The proposal is in no way “grounded in science” as the administration claims. The relationship between sex chromosomes, genitalia, and gender identity is complex, and not fully understood. There are no genetic tests that can unambiguously determine gender, or even sex. Furthermore, even if such tests existed, it would be unconscionable to use the pretext of science to enact policies that overrule the lived experience of people’s own gender identities.”

      signed by
      2617 scientists from many disciplines

    • Illy says:

      “there is no such thing as a female ‘mind’ or female ‘brain’.”

      Amusingly, you’re factually wrong on that. The brain is gendered – there are (small) physical differences between male and female brains, and studies have shown that trans folk have the ones that are different to their gonads.

      So if you want to talk “scientific fact” (which is actually never possible – any scientist worth anything will admit that all we ever have is “close enough for engineers”) then you should start to accept that trans folk are actually what they claim to be.

      Also, have you ever had your chromosomes checked? If you haven’t, how can you be sure that you are the gender you think you are (by your own argument)?

  30. Illy says:

    So, three things to sum up this discussion from my perspective:

    Responding to the thread, instead of to the post is obviously an attempt to get the last word in without giving anyone else notification that the discussion is still ongoing.

    The people opposed to self-ID are blatantly transphobic. Lit. Afraid of trans. ie. Afraid of trans people in the same areas as them. I’m not using this as an insult, simply a description of their state.

    The people using the phrase “biologically male” are 1) Ignoring the existence of trans men and the variety of non-binary folk, and 2) Claiming that telescopes are wrong because Newtonian Physics doesn’t account for Mercury’s orbit.

    • Scozzie says:

      Illy if your comments are aimed at me, let me explain my position. Calling out people as transphobic simply because they disagree with the arguments as you’ve presented is not transphobic – I have not said anything hateful, or incited violence or fear against the trans community.

      Nor am I afraid of trans people. As I’ve said further up the thread, if a trans women transitions as fully as medical intervention can enable, them I think most females would have no objections to them accessing female only safe spaces. However, self ID turns upside down the biological state of what is male / female – and enshrining that in law I believe is flawed. Are we now to say that biology is meaningless? I think that carries societal risks.

      I am supportive of trans people advocating for their rights to freedom of expression in how they want to identify themselves and live their lives. What I’m not supportive of, is that those same rights being at the expense of safe spaces for women seggregated on the basis of biological sex.

      Self ID does not make someone a biological female. It’s not good enough to say I feel female therefore I am. I don’t ignore the existence of trans men. I asked a question further up the thread about trans men and if they they wish to compete with male athletes, serve time in male prisons and shower in male only changing rooms. That you chose to not to provide evidence of that being the case does not make me having ignored the existence of trans men.

      Perhaps the trans community should push for safe spaces for trans people, a trans category of elite sports, societal acceptance that we all don’t fit gender stereotypes. But I believe we are throwing science out the window by this drive towards the legal entitlements of self ID which is redefining what is biological male and female; resulting in the unintended consequences of safe spaces for females and the distortion of a level playing field in women’s elite sports.

      Let us agree to disagree and debate in an adult way before throwing out accusations of transphobia.

      On a side note, I think you misunderstand my point about there being no such thing as a female mind or female brain. And with that logically no such thing as a male brain. If that were the case we would all act, feel, think, behave as carbon copies of our ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain – and of course people don’t do that. So there must be something else that makes us male or female, and in my opinion, that is our physiology i.e reproductive system, hormones and chromosomes.

      Illy I have no ill feelings towards you. Talking, debating and sharing differences of opinion is the way forward. Paul stated he wanted to continue to listen and learn. I think it’s important that females’ concerns over self ID are listened to without calling us transphobic.

      • Illy says:

        “Calling out people as transphobic simply because they disagree with the arguments as you’ve presented is not transphobic”

        Never said you did.

        “Nor am I afraid of trans people.”

        Yes you are. Or you wouldn’t object to trans people being able to use a public bathroom.

        “What I’m not supportive of, is that those same rights being at the expense of safe spaces for women seggregated on the basis of biological sex. ”

        See, you’re afraid of the trans.

        “The relationship between sex chromosomes, genitalia, and gender identity is complex, and not fully understood. There are no genetic tests that can unambiguously determine gender, or even sex.”

        Stop saying “biological sex” as though it’s something meaningful. You’re just showing your ignorance. Talk about the bits you specifically mean. If you’re afraid of folks with penises in womens’ spaces then say that.

        “I asked a question further up the thread about trans men and if they they wish to compete with male athletes, serve time in male prisons and shower in male only changing rooms.”

        What would you accept as evidence here – moving goalposts are evidence of bad faith.

        “On a side note, I think you misunderstand my point about there being no such thing as a female mind or female brain. And with that logically no such thing as a male brain. If that were the case we would all act, feel, think, behave as carbon copies of our ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain – and of course people don’t do that.”

        And here you’re just being intentionally stupid. Do all penises look the same? Do all vaginas? Of course not. Same with brains. Being gendered does not mean that they’re identical.

        “Illy I have no ill feelings towards you.”

        You obviously do, since you don’t want me to be able to use a public bathroom.

  31. Scozzie says:

    Oh ffs that’s my point on brains, yes we all have the same structural components of our brains but we don’t all act, think and behave the same way. My point was exactly as you say that we are not all identical. So its impossible to say I feel female as there is not such thing as a female brain. Therefore it’s probably that trans people do not fit gender stereotypes and that is fine and should be accepted in society.

    However, I’m not sure what our brains have to do with the fact penises don’t all look the same or vaginas don’t look the same – I think you’re the one being intentionally stupid – do all faces look the same, no of course not!

    Biological sex is meaningful – it’s what categorises us as a species and all other species on Earth.

    You did call me out as transphobic as you said ‘people opposed to self ID are blatantly transphobic’ and I have said in my posts I’m opposed to self ID on the ground of accessing female only safe spaces and female sports.

    With regards to public toilets its not outwith the realms of possibility to have male / female / disabled and unisex options. Therefore, females can keep their protections in law.

    However, it’s not just about accessing female toilets to take a piss, it’s also the risks of males self IDing who are accessing women’s refuges and prisons as the Karen White case in the UK and Christopher Hambrook case in Canada exposed. And there are other cases so these are not the exception. That is why women’s safe spaces must remain protected.

    Anyway, you seems to have the view that unless people agree with you they are transphobic – I don’t think that will help the advancement of trans rights. And I’m not opposed to trans rights, but these should not be at the erosion of female rights.

    • Illy says:

      “as there is not such thing as a female brain.”

      As I’ve pointed out before, yes there is.

      “it’s also the risks of males self IDing who are accessing women’s refuges and prisons”

      So you’re afraid of trans women in these places then? Or do you want trans men to have access to these places? Do you really think having trans men in womens’ prisons is a good idea?

      “And I’m not opposed to trans rights”

      Everything you’ve said so far disagrees with this statement.

  32. Scozzie says:

    Illy – And before you get all uppity I started a new post rather reply to yours by accident.

  33. AutistiQuine says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for this. My husband of 17 years just came out to me as a woman recently. It came as no surprise to me and I am very proud of her for being able to do so. I am also a feminist and very aware of both sides of the debate. She has spent her whole life as an outsider, never quite fitting, forced to try to fit a role that does not suit her. I support her right to choose to be who she is and to be a happy and confident individual rather than feeling ashamed of not being able to fit what society deems appropriate and suitable.

  34. I agree, don’t see why any of us should tell anyone else who to be.

  35. Autumn Wells says:

    Thank you for not being afraid to cover both sides! I loved reading this. I think we all have a lot to learn and this is a great way to start.

  36. “…at which point on the gender spectrum does a person become welcome in a women-only space. I don’t pretend to know the answer to that question.” I laughed at that for some reason. I don’t know either, and I love to have opinions. We all think through these things and have theories, but there might not be answers. What about the trans male? He has female parts, but identifies as male? Should he be allowed in a women only space? I’m thinking they wouldn’t want him there. Personally, I think everyone is different. So the idea of having a women only space because everyone can supposedly relate, is wishful thinking. Even common experiences are perceived differently by different people. Now, I might go out with specific girlfriends, because we relate. And that is an exclusive club that can include or exclude as we wish. People should choose who to hang out with. But a women only club is trying to be inclusive and exclusive at the same time, and maybe that’s the hard part.

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