Are you a TERF?
Well, if you believe that possession of a penis should preclude a person from entering female-only areas such as changing rooms, or being incarcerated in female prisons, or performing intimate personal examinations such as smear tests, on biological women, then you just find yourself being called one.
It’s been remarked, by a few of my friends, that I enjoy being contentious in my blog posts. Of course I disagree. I never set out to be contentious – I, like most people, believe my own views to be perfectly reasonable and am often mystified when friends tell me they disagree, and put forward counter-arguments which I would myself consider “contentious”. But I will admit that fears that a topic may be contentious do not usually prevent me from tackling it in my blogs.
Except this one. This is a topic that has fascinated me for some time, but which I have, until now, been too frightened and mystified to go near. And for a long time I managed to convince myself that the rows between trans activists and so-called TERFS (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, i.e. anyone who believes that access to female-only spaces should be based on biological sex, rather than declared gender) were only really taking place online, that this whole crazy row was just a confection of social media and that this wasn’t having any impact on the real world.
But then the government opened up a consultation on proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, which would, if approved, allow a biological man to simply declare that he is a woman and have his birth certificate changed to reflect his sex as female, with no need for any kind of medical intervention or consultation whatsoever. Likewise, a biological woman would be able to declare she is a man and have her birth certificate altered accordingly. The consultation specifically dealt with questions relating to how these changes would impact areas such as access to women’s changing rooms, the rights of a woman to request a female doctor, women’s rights to be housed in female-only prisons and shelters, and the impact this could have on female sports.
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? It sounds like something the Daily Mailwould make up – or more likely the Daily Mash, because surely this must be satire.
But of course it’s not satire. It’s the logical conclusion of a gradual process by which the term “gender” was introduced as a way of differentiating between men and women not just on the basis of their biological sex, but on the basis of how masculine or feminine – or non-binary – they perceive themselves to be. So somebody who is born male, with male chromosomes and male genitalia, may still feel more like a woman than a man and so may “identify” as a woman and wish to be treated as a woman. Likewise someone who is born with female chromosomes and female genitalia may still identify as a male and wish to dress and be treated as a man.
So far so good – and I think up to this point nobody had too much of an issue with any of it, and nobody had yet been called a TERF.
But the issues started, as far as I can see, when the arguments progressed to suggestions that gender identity, because it is more all-encompassing than biological sex alone, should be the overriding means by which we should differentiate between men and women.
Some activists went further, essentially replacing gender with sex in their arguments, so that suddenly we were being told that biological sex is not binary but is on a spectrum. Despite the fact that there are still only two possible chromosomal combinations that make up biological sex – either XX or XY – and that apart from a small number of intersex people, we are born with either male or female genitalia, some activists would still insist that “the science is settled” and that biological sex cannot simply be reduced to chromosomes and genitalia.
The arguments went further still. Next we were told that because a person’s gender – rather than their biological sex – was the best determinant of their innate maleness or femaleness, it would be “transphobic” for a gay woman to refuse to have sex with a man who identified as a woman. That’s right – gay women being told that if they don’t wish to have sex with someone who has a penis, they are transphobic. It was round about this time that the term “TERF” originated.
And in the real world, what have we seen? Well, in the UK we’ve seen a male-bodied rapist successfully argue to be moved to a female prison because he identifies as a female – only to go on and sexually assault other women in that prison. And in Canada, a man named only as JY in official documents has lodged complaints against 16 separate beauticians for refusing to perform a Brazilian wax on him due to the fact that he has a penis and testicles. This despite the fact that there is a separate, recognised procedure for waxing male genitalia (called a “Manzilian”, of course) which each of the beauticians explained he could get elsewhere but which they were not trained to perform. JY argues that because he identifies as female their refusal to perform the Brazilian on him is discriminatory.
Whether JY’s motivation is money (he has offered to drop the lawsuits in exchange for $2500 from each of the women, most of whom can’t afford to hire lawyers to oppose him) or a more deep-seated hatred of women and desire to make a point, is unclear. But the fact that Canadian human rights legislation appears to favour JY’s cause, above that of the women he is attempting to extort, is worrying in the extreme.
But back to the GRA consultation. The reason the consultation was opened was because trans activists argued that the current process by which a transgender person can apply for a Gender Recognition certificate, to officially be recognised as the gender with which they identify, is too prolonged and is discriminatory. It was argued that forcing transgender people to go through humiliating physical and psychological examinations in order to obtain an official diagnosis of gender dysphoria, has the result of treating them as if they are abnormal, or worse, diseased.
Personally, I have a great deal of sympathy with these arguments. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for somebody who feels sufficiently at odds with their biological sex to wish to live the rest of their lives as the opposite sex. But it is the opposite SEX that they are asking to be recognised as – not simply a different gender. And despite the arguments of certain trans activists, biological sex is still, for the most part, binary – and sex-based protections for women are in place specifically because of the biological differences between men and women, not because of how masculine or feminine (or non-binary) they may feel.
So while I can understand the government wanting to reduce discrimination against trans people, and will support any calls for trans women and men to be treated with the same respect and dignity that any other woman or man would expect, I cannot reconcile myself to those who argue that “trans women are women”, that the dictionary definition of woman as “adult human female” is discriminatory and transphobic, or that women who are concerned about losing their existing sex-based protections are simply transphobic TERFs. I find those arguments not just contentious, but outright dangerous – not just to women, but to the cause of the majority of trans men and women who are not predatory or deviant, but who end up being demonised as such due to the actions of a small number of extraordinarily aggressive activists.
By all means, let’s talk about how we can make life easier for transgender people. But let’s not do it at the expense of women’s rights – hard-won and constantly under attack by a small number of aggressive men who now, through the trans movement, have found a new loophole to exploit. I don’t like the term TERF and I certainly don’t consider myself one – but I’m not going to let fear of being called one, prevent me from speaking out about the utter farce that certain elements of the trans rights movement have landed us in.