Gender Recognition – it’s not what you think

This is the first of a series of articles exploring the issues and debate around trans issues, identity, feminism and solidarity aimed at building understanding and in a spirit of open dialogue. The articles have been carefully commissioned and will be carefully moderated, but you may encounter views you disagree with. This is not only ok, it’s essential. We hope you will give some leeway to people who are entering the debate from a position of less knowledge than people who are already immersed in it. Thank you.

Jennie Kermode is Chair of Trans Media Watch and author of ‘Transgender Employees in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers‘.

The Scottish Government is currently looking at reforming the system of gender recognition which allows transgender people to be legally recognised in the gender roles in which they live. Given some of the statements that have been made about this in the press and in social media, it’s not surprising that some people are alarmed about it. Here’s why you shouldn’t be.

Access to toilets

Some people have expressed concern that making it easier to change gender will mean mean start going into women’s toilets, claiming to be female themselves and endangering women. This is not the case, however, because men can already go into women’s toilets, without having to pretend to be anything but themselves. There are no laws restricting who uses which toilets, just customs. There are, however, laws dealing with breach of the peace, harassment and assault. In other words, if men choose to do this, the law can already deal with it. Changes to gender recognition would make no difference.

In those US states that have passed laws to say people can only use toilets associated with the sex they were registered as at birth, trans men have to use the women’s toilets. This makes it easier for predators, who don’t need to make any effort at disguise. They can just claim to be trans men. Who’s going to check?

There are vanishingly few cases of trans women causing trouble in women’s toilets, anywhere in the world. Like most other people, they generally go to the toilets because they need to pee. Some trans women look quite masculine, but this doesn’t mean they’re men – it just means that their bodies don’t fit social expectations, and most women know how tough that can be. If they try using the men’s toilets, they face serious risks – a recent US study found that 47% of trans women have experienced sexual assault at least once in their lives.

The prison system

Fears have also been expressed that the government’s proposed changes will lead to men being able to say they are women and get moved straight into women’s prisons. In fact the Scottish Prison System already deals with prisoners on a case by case basis. No Gender Recognition Certificate is needed for a trans woman to be placed in a women’s prison if staff, after consulting with a psychiatrist, believe it is the best option for her mental health. A move like this often involved extra precautions to ensure that she can fit in and isn’t in danger from other prisoners. People who say they are trans but whose behaviour is considered dangerous to other prisoners are not moved, but are usually placed in high security units where they can live as women without being in danger from other prisoners. (This is why trans prisoners are disproportionately found in such units – there is no evidence to show that they are more likely to commit the kind of crimes normally associated with such places).

Sexual assault support services

There are, understandably, few places where women feel more vulnerable than in sexual assault support services. A few years ago, trans women were almost always excluded from such spaces, but in recent years organisations like Rape Crisis Scotland have welcomed them, recognising that they can need help just as much as other women. This means that changes to gender recognition will make no difference to the possibility of encountering a trans woman in such spaces. None of these organisations have reported problems as a result of extending support to trans women.


Some people worry that gender recognition will mean that men pretending to be women will suddenly start being employed by NHS Scotland to provide intimate women’s services. In fact, the NHS has employed trans women in gynaecology wards for years. It has also employed men. Most patients don’t have a problem with this because all they want is a professional service. If they feel uncomfortable about it, for any reason, they will normally be offered an appointment with somebody else, because everybody recognises patient well-being as a priority. This is the case even when, as is sadly often the case, a patient objects to being treated by a black or Muslim health professional.

Women-only shortlists

If trans women don’t pose a physical risk to other women, is there still a danger that they will take up spaces on lists intended to help women make progress, e.g. in politics? Again, most organisations that run such lists – including the Labour Party, which is currently at the centre of a media storm over this – have included trans women for years, so nothing is going to change. They see trans women as being vulnerable to the same discrimination as other women. In fact, trans women face additional barriers on top of those affecting women more generally – transphobic discrimination in employment is commonplace and a recent Stonewall survey found that a shocking one in eight trans people have been physically assaulted at work.

So what do the proposed changes mean?

In fact, all the proposed changes to gender recognition mean is that the bureaucracy of changing legal gender will be simpler (there will still be plenty of paperwork to put off anybody who’s not serious about it). They will mean that trans people, like other people, are recognised as better placed to recognise their own gender than anyone else. The system will be more accessible to people from all class backgrounds, and easier access to identity documents that match their appearance will help protect people from discrimination. For the vast majority of non-trans people, it will make no difference to anything.


Comments are welcome but will be moderated and no abuse will be tolerated.

Comments (61)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. AnneDon says:

    This is really helpful for those of us who are not directly impacted, but want to understand the issues and the individual cases. Thank you, Jennie.

  2. Amy Russell says:

    As an asexual individual I wholeheartedly reject the supposed ‘asexual’ symbol above.

    It’s redactive and unhelpful, we are not all insular and without connection. Nor is asexuality and aromantic the same thing.

    1. Thanks Amy, will take that on board. I hadn’t come across the symbol before. Is there an alternative?

      1. Connor says:

        I might add that, as a bi man, I don’t recognise those symbols for bisexuality either. If you’d asked me what they meant without telling me, I’d have ventured that they represented polyamory!

    2. Seph says:

      I’m not sure why the sexuality symbols are there in the first place—this is a transgender issue, not an LGB one.

      1. Aileen says:

        Quite. Any connection is obscure to me. But the inclusion of these symbols, some of which themselves are confusing (to me, at least) shows how we still confuse gender and sexuality even when trying to be explanatory and supportive. Oddly, this demonstrates, as much as the article itself, how much most of us, of all sexualities, still don’t know about transgender issues, and how much education is still necessary. I found the article informative (people worrying about trans women working in gynae wards? Really?) and helpful in understanding the ramifications of increasing numbers (good) of trans people trying to live normally in a bi-gendered world.

        1. Dan says:

          Ok. This last line is interesting regarding ‘living normally in a bi-genedered world’.

          As a not particularly conventionally ‘masculine’ man (who happens to be married to a not conventionally ‘feminine’ woman) I have a lot of issues with the idea that gender is something that is not a social construction. I can’t say that I go around feeling ‘masculine’ or conversely feeling ‘feminine’ in either a physical or cultural way (at least in terms of my own internal identity) due to physical form (I and my wife both present to the external world in terms that approximate to those of our expected genders).

          As with some of the commenters below, I do not understand what it is like to internally identify with one or other of the binary gender options. In my experience, they appear to be social constructions, that may statistically relate to physical sex, it not in any absolute, or near absolute terms.

          Therefore, I find myself very unsettled by the way things are going in terms of some of the the pro-trans arguments apparently reinforcing the notion of binary gender identities – something that I, as a not particularly masculine man and my wife, as a not particularly feminine woman, find as a) things that we don’t relate to, and b) oppressive (through suggesting that we should be, or should be judged against things that we do not identify with).

          If gender is not entirely a social/cultural construct, please someone direct me to something that explains this, because as yet, having read lots of stuff, I have not yet come across something which explains this (but I am very willing to try and learn).

          1. Hel says:

            Hi Dan,
            I’m also someone who does not conform to the feminine gender people expect of me as a woman, but I also do not identify as trans.
            Maybe one way of understanding it is that while gender is indeed a social construct it’s a very powerful one which in this era most of us still need to negotiate.
            I’ve had all sorts of conversations with trans women over the years, some where we had a lot of common ground, some where I just did not relate to their conceptions of gender and womanhood. But come to think of it, it’s been the same with cis women. I went to an all girl school and felt completely alien to my classmates when it came to girl stuff, apart from a few kindred spirits.
            I don’t personally think the tendency for gender transition to be more readily accepted by society needs to discredit or displace those of us who don’t fit our assigned gender but also don’t wish to transition. We would all benefit from more acceptance of divergent gender presentations.

  3. Iggi says:

    In a positive and complimentary way, it is all a bit Sybil Fawltey, school of the blindingly obvious. Found myself going, oh yeah! of course! Well written. Clear and concise. Will forward.

  4. Charles L. Gallagher says:

    I would urge great caution as those involved in this could be opening a ‘can of worms’ that could have unimagined consequences in the future. Unless some amazing discovery has been made I’ve always been of the view that in the biology of the ‘animal’ world of which we humans are part of there are just two variations, male, female with very rare genetic mutations. Whether a person whose a fully functioning male or vice-versa feels that he/she should be the opposite sex is to me irrelevant. However as I don’t know the answer I will ask that after an operation can a person who undertakes this operation to change their ‘sex’, can a born male then bear a child conceived in the normal accepted way and on the other side of the coin can a female who ‘changes. then father a child in the normal way? As I said I ask these questions out of my personal ignorance however as I suspect that the answer to both is ‘NO’ then this should be dropped like a very hot-potato before it gets out of control.

    1. alison piearcey says:

      The idea that there’s biologically just men and women was dismissed as incomplete quite a while ago. Hermaphrodite is an archaic description, the modern word is intersex. The only reason it seems more common that previously such people were shoved into one box or the other, and told to lump it.

      Oh and three sexes? That’s just mammals. The animal world features so many more variations it’s just mind-boggling. So the first premise of your argument is not true

      Then the idea that women are only women if they can have children. I’m sure that infertile cis women everywhere reject that concept – is a woman only a woman if she’s a mother? Likewise masculinity is not defined by fatherhood.

      And what exactly should be ‘dropped like a hot potato’ – the idea that some people don’t feel happy in their body? So, you’ll be banning all types of cosmetic surgery, along with all diets and exercise programs then? Or are we just letting people live comfortably. So, sometimes you have to use an unexpected pronoun. Do you have similar problems with someone whose pronoun is Doctor? Can you tell by looking whether a lady is a Miss or a Mrs?

      This proposed measure is an exercise in making a red tape event less red tape. If it were applying for planning permission or a fishing licence being made easier no one would bat an eyelid.

    2. Noanie says:

      Charles, you seem to be approaching the issue purely from the procreational perspective. Firstly, not everyone wants to reproduce. Secondly, there are already many non-trans heterosexual couples who are unable to conceive naturally, non-trans gay couples who need third party input to produce a baby, and non-trans women who are not able to carry children, for all manner of assorted reasons. If you accept that there are already a large number of people who need help to procreate, what difference does it make if some of them are transgender?

    3. Noel Darlow says:

      Charles: OK reproductive physiology (usually) comes in two discrete categories but this issue is really about the existence of gendered minds.

      Relentless social conditioning teaches us that “men” and “women” think in different ways and have different capabilities. We are punished if we step outside of our stereotypical, predetermined role.

      However, science seems to be telling us that there is no such thing as gender. There is only one type of mind – human – and a broad spectrum of cognitive abilities/characteristics which vary independently of reproductive physiology.

      This is creates a powerful argument against sexism. Men and women aren’t “different but equal” in the sense of having the same rights. They are entirely equal.

      It’s sort of good and bad for trans. If there is no “male” and “female” there can’t be any trans either because there is nothing to transition between. If there is just one category “human”, everyone is already exactly as human as they ever can be.

      Tearing up the concept of gender might remove some of the pressure a trans person feels to comply with a gender stereotype which is entirely at odds with the kind of person they feel themselves to be.

      But even if gender is 100% meme, we all have to live in the real world. Although some might feel comfortable challenging social expectations of what “men” and “women” should be by living as an effeminate man or as a butch woman, others might not and transitioning may be the best choice for the latter.

      1. Sarah Lambert says:

        Hello Noel.
        I can tell you that even if gender roles and distinctions did not exist, and we were naked the whole time, every transitioning trans person I’ve talked to would still want to alter the sexual appearance of their body. Gender has very little to do with it, and I think the term ‘transgender’ is misleading and unhelpful in this context.

    4. Neil says:

      With respect, you are confusing gender with sex. Sex is biological. Most humans fall comfortably into one of two categories, but a surprising number do not. Since this is a private matter in our society, this is not usually a subject of relevance in everyday discussion. Following due consideration, although there are evidently misconceptions to clear up, I decided not to address the questions about *sex* because it will merely serve to confuse the discussion about *gender*.

      The current discussions are about the intersecting question of gender, which is predominantly socially defined. Gender relates to the “cultural categories, symbols, meanings, practices, and institutionalized arrangements” bearing on a number of phenomena in our (or any) society, of which “females and femininity” and “males and masculinity” are only two. Some persons do not feel themselves to fit the category others perceive them to be. Some feel that they do not fit heteronormative categories at all (many other societies recognise more than two categories).

      A failure to address that in law affects those persons deeply, while doing so affects the rest of us only a little or not at all.

    5. Nicola says:

      Mr Gallagher i suppose it depends if you count a figure that is being mooted in the range of 0.5 to 2 % as extremely rare for intersex conditions …

      This is a somewhat separate matter from the confusion you appear to be demonstrating on sexual characteristics , sex, gender identity and gender roles …

      You are also wittingly or unwittingly othering those who have disorders of the reproductive system whether or not they have an intersex condition and without regard to their gender identity. If i were malicious i’d suggest you are acting from malice there, but equally Occam’s razor suggests that ignorance of the realities of sex and gender beyond a middle school textbook level of superficial understanding may be the cause of your lack of knowledge of the current best evidence and state of clinical opinion.

      1. Charles L. Gallagher says:

        Nicola, as I made abundantly clear in my response where I clearly pointed out my knowledge was limited but I will seek advice from my friend and GP who hopefully will be able to direct me to recent ‘real’ medical research. I will also point out that I accepted that mutations do occasionally happen with consequential mental problems, a situation that must be addressed somehow but I still believe that the route being advocated could open a can of worms.

        Let end by saying I don’t give a damn about what a person believes themselves to be so long as it hurts no one and is not being used for criminal purposes.

        1. Nicola says:

          Mr Gallagher how aobut the following if you want the current clinical position

          The WPATH Standards of Care document

          The Endocrine Society current clinical guidance on the endocrine treatment / management of people with gender dysphoria

          or the NHS interim protocol and services guidelines

          ( there is ongoing work for a national service guideline , revised cliniclap rotocol and possible revision of commissioning – which recognises current under provision in both paed and adult services )

    6. Melanie says:

      Prepare to be amazed!
      Your school atlas probably didn’t show the street on which you live … but I assume you accept that your street does actually exist?
      Similarly, your school biology lessons wouldn’t have covered every last detail of the latest neuroscientific research.
      There are physical differences between male and female brains, though with a considerable degree of overlap —for instance male brains tend to be bigger (not cleverer — just physically bigger). At the microscopic level, there are also differences. Back in 1995, a Dutch research team studying a part of the brain called the bed nucleus of the stria terminals (BSTc) found that there were marked differences between the BSTcs of men and women, and that Male-to-Female transsexuals had “female” BSTcs. Numerous other studies have produced similar results. And there is a growing weight of evidence that transsexuality is caused by hormones affecting the developing foetus before birth.

    7. Aileen says:

      I’m sorry that other respondents didn’t take seriously your statement that you were aware you didn’t know some important things but were interested in learning, and tended to be dismissive of you and your comments. It takes strength and humility to accept that we don’t know something when others seem to, especially if doing so implies that our education may have been limited, and to ask for the information that most puzzles us, especially if asking for it reveals the depth of our ignorance. I think you were brave and honest to ask. Your doing so should reminded us that we don’t all move in the same circles, educationally or socially, and that we shouldn’t assume that what we and our circle regard as common knowledge may not be as common as we (ignorantly) assume. When it comes to an issue like transgender it is too easy to assume a genuine enquiry is malicious, and too easy, also, to over-estimate the level of general knowledge and social awareness in the wider population, leading us to dismiss as prejudiced and hostile comments or concerns that are simply based on lack of information. I remember a time (I’m old) when ‘homosexual’ and ‘pædophile’ were widely considered to mean the same thing, and people genuinely worried that the reform of the law banning homosexuality would put their children at risk of assault. You may be old enough to remember that, too. Much of that was based on ignorance, which has now (mostly) been dissipated by education.
      Having said that, I think you need to understand that your current knowledge gap may be too large to be bridged by a chat with your GP who may themselves not have sufficient knowledge to answer anything other than the most basic medical questions, and whose own attitudes towards the matter may skew what information they do give. I think, too, that maybe the formal official sources of information suggested by Nicola might not be the best way to start.
      If you are genuinely puzzled (and I think you are) can I suggest you start with an open mind (which means not assuming that simple biology is enough to understand, or believing that biology is the single or greatest determiner of human behaviour or capacity) to read up on the topic yourself? Good old Wikipedia might be a start, as would reading articles from the better mind of newspaper, and following links from there. My own ignorance leaves me without any further suggestions, but maybe Stonewall might have some literature?
      I wish you well on your journey towards a deeper understanding of both the biological and the psychological issues involved, and of the social hurdles faced by trans people in a world where it is perfectly normal not to fully understand either of these.

  5. Peri says:

    This was useful, but ultimately short on detail. I’m not sure that the principle of determining your own gender is founded in science or practicality. I think that if your biological signals are X rather than Y then others are entitled to treat you as X, regardless of how you think of yourself. Proposals on self determination of gender seem to me to leave out the reason gender matters, which lies in its signaling role within society. A person who has all the male sexual features and wears female clothing is not any kind of woman, at least not as currently described. It’s too much to expect society as a whole to join in with the pretence. I’m happy to use a different name if Jim is more comfortable being called Julia, but I have no idea how I’m supposed to forget Jim is biologically a man. I have to say that I don’t understand what the recognition brings, what the aim of self determination is. If there is no discrimination on the basis of gender, then what is it that trans people are seeking to achieve? It seems like they are asking a lot of everyone else when the gains are very limited.

    1. Melanie says:

      You seem to be mistaken on a number of significant matters of fact, which may stem from an (understandable) confusion between sex and gender. In simple but effective terms, sex is between your legs, but gender is between your ears.
      I believe you are absolutely right, however, in saying that gender matters because of its “signalling” role.
      But if that is the case, then how can you justify your assumption that “Jim” is a man (based purely on on what you think might be between “his” legs) — when Julia is doing everything she can to signal to you that she is a woman. Let’s face it, Julia probably knows her own mind and body rather better than you do, especially after she has gone through years of assessments by highly trained specialist psychiatrists!
      And in any case, why is any transient confusion that you might feel more important than the deep unhappiness caused to Julia by having her female brain trapped inside Jim’s male body?
      I don’t think transsexuals are “asking a lot”: we are asking for the same common consideration as you would give to anyone else, and for the right to live our lives with no more fear of humiliation, abuse, discrimination and physical violence than cis-gendered people. Is that really “asking a lot”?

      1. Miranda says:

        You say “Julia is doing everything she can to signal to you that she is a woman.”
        Buy why then would Julia choose to retain male genitalia? Surely someone who identifies as female and in your words would do everything to signal that she is female would not have a biologically male body?

        1. Melanie says:

          There are many reasons why “someone who identifies as female and in your (my) words would do everything to signal that she is female would not have a biologically male body?”
          She might, for instance, have been suppressing her transsexuality for decades, and now be trying to achieve some sort of compromise that will be acceptable to her parents, partner, children, and friends. She might find that HRT is enough to ease her psychological condition without needing surgery. She might be going through the “real life test” that is a requirement even for those who are able to pay for private surgery. She might be going through other preparatory stages — such as facial electrolysis (costs about £10,000, not available on the NHS). Or she might be stuck in the NHS queue. In my own case, it took three years to get from my GP’s referral to gender clinic to the operating table… and that is regarded as exceptionally quick.

    2. Neil says:

      What, as I understand it, they are trying to achieve is recognition that the way you perceive them is not necessarily the way they perceive themselves. They want to be recognised in a manner consistent with the way they see themselves, in *law*.

      This probably matters a great deal more to them than it would to you. For a small effort from us (on a day-to-day basis remembering to call the person Julia rather than Jim and using their preferred pronouns rather than yours when describing them) they have big gains. The chances are Julia will be wandering around in Julia-appropriate, Julia-signalling clothing. Most trans people understand the rest of us have habits to break and will make mistakes. Apologise, move on, and try to get it right next time.

      (Some trans people are frustrated and angry over living in a transphobic society: I get that, and will work to see that society become less transphobic. I mean, I thought what we were working for is an open, inclusive independent country, and an inclusive society is inconsistent with a transphobic one).

      I mean, there are men out there who will react with anger, even violence, if female pronouns are used to describe them, and that’s without a sense of dysphoria!

      You write: “A person who has all the male sexual features and wears female clothing is not any kind of woman, at least not as currently described.”

      In that case, maybe it’s time we all recognised the descriptions don’t fit everybody. Writing here as a cisgender, heterosexual male I’m okay with that. This matters more to others than to me, and I’m happy to get it done and move on.

      All that having been said, the current discussion is *not* about day-to-day interaction, but about legal recognition. Those for whom this matters more than it does for me have a position (I’m not sure whether I can include links, but it’s at equalrecognition with a dot-scot suffix) and I’m happy to see their simple and reasonable requests met. I don’t actually see what difference it makes to me, but I do understand it makes a big difference to them.

  6. Lee Anne Leland says:

    The argument against access is always that men will pretend to be trans in order to prey on women. If this is true then there must be something wrong with how society is raising men for them to think that women are mere objects for their sexual desires. How about we try teaching people to respect each others space? Or will be turn a blind eye and say it’s just “boys being boys”? But then it really is not about the bathrooms is it?

  7. Crubag says:

    The consultation is also covering non-binary identification (i.e. people who consider themselves neither male or female). I imagine the numbers of people affected will be relatively small, but it could lead to a reduction or removal of the need to identify your sex in official documents more generally.

    On the male-to-female transition, this article seems fairly comprehensive (though unclear how it could work with patients requesting non-trans professionals, either for the system or the professional), but it doesn’t touch on sport. If individuals don’t need to make any physical alteration, e.g. reducing testosterone, would it give an unfair advantage? Would it matter?

  8. Melanie says:

    Dear Charles L Gallagher
    Prepare to be amazed! Just as your school atlas probably didn’t show the street on which you now live, neither did your school biology lessons tell you all there is to be known about medicine psychology, and neuroscience. Although there are considerable overlaps between the sexes, there are differences between male and female brains. That is not to say that one is “cleverer” than the other or “better at maths” — just that they are different. And in many of those sexually dimorphic areas, the brains of trans individuals more closely resemble those of their “target” gender” than of their “birth sex”. There is a growing weight of evidence that this is caused by any of several hormonal issues in the growing foetus.
    And anyway, why does it matter to you what is or was between someone else’s legs (and whether it works or not)? Would you refuse to accept someone as a woman once she has had a hysterectomy?

  9. Frank says:

    A good article and I agreed wholeheartedly with its sentiments. The wider debate around trans is one of the most interesting debates of our time although the idea that sex (biology) and gender (culture) are separate or that terms such as male and female have no basis in biology is problematic and scientifically ignorant. Having said that I’m all for trans people winning equal rights and gaining advances within the existing legal framework as this article suggests.

  10. Chrissy Jarvis says:

    Really disappointing that Peri and Charles don’t seem to have made even the slightest effort to understand the subject before spouting biological essentialist views which aren’t based on science and self admittedly they don’t know anything about. Oddly being Trans isn’t about how other people decide it should be and poor old you having to respect other people and deal with something you don’t understand so makes you uncomfortable. I suggest before you post any more of your views that you read up on it and maybe even meet/talk to a trans person. You never know you might learn something.

  11. Melanie says:

    Peri… when did you choose to be cis-gendered, and why?

    I may be wrong, but I’m guessing that you would find that an almost impossible question to answer because of course you didn’t choose your gender, any more than you chose your skin colour or your height.

    Nor did I… but I happen to be a transwoman. I tried, for decades, to be a cis-man, but eventually had to give up: I simply couldn’t do it any longer. Can you imagine going through life with everyone calling you by the wrong name, treating you the wrong way, and expecting you to behave in ways that felt wrong?
    Plenty of women get irritated if they are mistaken for men — even lesbian feminists. And to call a macho man “miss” or “love” would be simply asking for trouble. But trans people are expected to put up with this treatment constantly. Even those who “pass”in everyday life are still subjected to it in newspapers, online, and broadcast media.

    Why? What is the point?

    If “Julia” is doing everything she can to signal that she wishes to be known and treated as female, what harm does it do you to extend her the simple courtesy of doing so, rather than making her life a misery by calling her “Jim”based on what you think might be between her legs?

    She’s not asking a lot of you. But for you to call her “Sir” or “mate” will certainly spoil her day, and might, conceivably, be the last straw that prompts her to step in front of a train.

  12. SleepingDog says:

    I think it might be helpful when using statistics to include baseline rates or context for comparison; if you use figures then use figures in all cases instead of sometimes textual descriptions; and provide links to sources. Trends, international comparisons and before/after policy/law changes are also useful, if the aim is to educate and sort out the biological, psychological, cultural, philosophical and legal themes.

    If a fundamental point of law is to change (regulate) people’s behaviour, then these changes should make a difference to practically everyone (hopefully for the better), and perhaps it is somewhat disingenuous to suppose otherwise; while in chaotic systems like human society, it is entirely imaginable that the policy changes will have unintended effects, and reasonable for people to discuss these possibilities. Having said that, the article addresses some significant areas where the legal impact will apparently be negligible, and it may be one of these changes where a few years later we wonder what all the fuss was about.

  13. Miranda says:

    I think it’s important to remember that for all those saying that person A identifies in a particular way and dislikes certain labels, that this applies ACROSS THE BOARD. I know so many people who do not like being referred to as cisgendered. And you know what? That’s their right. But in so many forums and especially on social media, it seems that what other people decide goes. That’s not fair. Respecting someone’s choices should be universal

    1. Melanie says:

      Cis and trans are neutral, non-perjorative terms to distinguish between individuals whose sex and gender match, and those whose sex and gender differ.
      Those who object to the term “cis-gendered” are — in general — doing so with the intention of shutting down discussion by removing the essential vocabulary.
      The same principle is evident in the “We need to talk” tour — whose organisers refuse to allow trans people to attend their meetings!

      1. I think that’s a highly subjective comment.

      2. Miranda says:

        Wow. Just wow. Can you possibly read your comment back? Because it is PHENOMENALLY offensive

        By your “logic” I am not allowed to choose how I am seen or perceived. I reject the term cis. That is my right. Would you like to be referred to by a label you hate or reject or feel uncomfortable with, instead of just “you”?

    2. Melanie D'Artigo says:

      Miranda personally I hate being labelled as transgender, why can’t I simply be called a woman? It goes both ways.

  14. Frank says:

    Some of the comments on this thread are fascinating with several illustrating just how ignorant people are of biological science especially neuroscience and cognitive psychology. I really don’t know where to start. The distinction that sex is between your legs but gender is between your ears, as someone said earlier – is crude, simplistic and scientifically wrong. Our biological make up influences behaviour and how we think about concepts such as gender. Simply put, there is a male and female brain and also innate male and female characteristics and behaviours; by innate I mean that a biological structure exists before our experience. It is also scientifically absurd to reduce ‘Biology’ or ‘sex’ to mere body parts. It is intellectually wrong to deny science because it does not correspond with your ideological beliefs.

    The term ‘gender’ is also problematic and is not neutral but a political construct and one which has been shaped and nurtured over the years by social constructionists in the humanities sections of universities; it is shaped intellectually by radical feminism, queer theory, post-modernism and certain aspects of Marxism and is a left wing construct. I think that some people are frightened to engage in debate because of fear of being labelled ‘transphobic’ however, I support equal rights for transpeople and agree with the sentiments in this article but I will not have the culturally determinist ideology of trans-activists (who don’t represent all transpeople) imposed on me. The rights for transpeople must be grounded in science and not the social constructivist dogma of the contemporary left.

    1. Nicola says:

      In other words, you yourself are someone who does not consider that trans individuals are valid and wish to disguise this with pseudo-academic prose.

      While you acknowledge the biological basis it appears you consider transpeople to be ill and to be victims and you wish to ‘save’ them , alternatively you are a pathologiser and wish to pathologise trans individuals and recognise only those deemed worthy by a cis-tem which seeks to marginalise and mark out them out as disordered.

      1. Pogliaghi says:

        So you’ve just illustrated Frank’s point for him by labeling him in an ad hominem fashion, while attributing something to him which he did not say, namely that he considers trans-people benighted victims.

        I think the SNP and other parties indulging this agenda currently are in for an extremely rude shock when they realize that there are a vast swathe of people across the entire left who also seriously but silently despise legislation being formed in the echo chamber of truculent political correctness which these sort of comments reflect.

  15. Steven Arnott says:

    I am fully in favour of transgender equality in law – but I’m not sure of what exactly is being proposed here or why it is such a hot issue between various lines within the progressive LBGT community.

    As a socialist and pro-science rationalist I have one worry about this, but the debate here seems to be being conducted in a very reasonable tone, so perhaps people will be able to reassure me.

    Rather crudely, it seems to me, gender seems to be being seperated entirely from biology. People will readily admit that biology exists…but when it comes to gender then that is something that is entirely socially constructed – according to some. “Biology is nothing to do with it” etc etc

    But even social construction takes place in a biological brain – as one contributor to this thread has already helpfully pointed out, and the vast majority of scientists working in the fields of biology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology take the view that the human person in all its variegated and diverse forms comes about through a complex interplay between what is given by biology and what is socially constructed. Gender as part of human life, I would argue, is also, objectively, part of that complex interplay.

    My worries about this then aren’t about some people thinking that other people are using the wrong lavs, but about a deeper philosophical issue. Are we in danger of placing the subjective above the objective, and enshrining the (incorrect) notion that gender is wholly socially constructed in law?

    Following on from that, and if that is the case ( I stand ready to be corrected) is there a danger that the law would then be used to silence those who take a different view, say, that biology is fundamental?

    I, of course, accept that trans people are best place to say what their own identity is, and I repeat what I said at the outset, I am in favour of full trans equality in law. So my final question would be this: is it possible to frame the proposed equality legislation in a way that can give trans people the equality in law they seek AND address the concerns I’ve outlined?

    Please bear in mind, I have come to this debate late. Until recently I thought TERF was something you played football on, and I’m still in the process of finding out about all this from lesbian and transgender friends – so if I am in possession of any misconceptions about the proposed legislation I’m very happy to be corrected.

    1. Noel Darlow says:

      The “complex interplay” may be an interesting phenomenon in its own right but what we are looking at is a cultural pathology which justifies itself by making false assumptions about biology – rather like race. Although many insist that there are fundamental differences between male and female minds no-one seems to be able to prove it. Science has not shown there are two, discrete types of human.

      In certain circumstances biology can be fundamental. Medical care, obviously: genitourinary medicine, obstetrics & gynaecology, sexual & and reproductive health. One might think a reasonable argument could be made to prefer males for demanding physical work but even then it’s not so clear-cut. Many women will outperform many men even if men are stronger on average and all women will probably outperform the stereotypical expectation of their “weaker” sex.

      However, for anything which relates to cognitive abilities or personality it’s important to distinguish between the ways that people are conditioned to behave and what they could be if their true, gender-agnostic potential was not constrained by social expectation. We may be defined by our culture, at least in part, but we can also choose to change our culture if it arbitrarily limits what we can be.

  16. Second-Waver says:

    When I was a little girl (in the 70s) I was in a public changing room changing out of my bathers. We were on holiday and the environment was unfamiliar. It was a sign of ‘growing up’ that I was allowed to change alone. At one point, something alerted me to the fact that I wasn’t alone. I turned. A man was watching me. I made to scream. He scarpered. Whether he had a legal right to be there or not I knew that he should not have been there. He knew he should not have been there and it was broadly socially accepted that he should not have been there. I never told anyone about this. Even as a small girl I knew that my access to public space was fragile and that whereas men who harmed young girls were wrong that if I ‘told’ it would be my newly emerging freedom that would be at stake. Just to be clear; this man was not trans as far as I know (and I didn’t know the word then). He presented as male.

    What will we teach our girls today? Will we teach them that we have to accept men self-id’ing in public places where women are naked, vulnerable or otherwise exposed? Will we teach them to scream? Or will we teach them that men (if they ID as women) have access to these spaces? At the same time how will we teach them about their bodily integrity and boundaries? Because if the above had happened where self-identification is allowable and legal then I’d have also known that that man might have had a right to be there. Would I have screamed, or would I have been afraid of being told off for invalidating his rights? Self-identification will make it easier for men with nefarious purposes to enter women’s spaces. Legally they can do so now; socially and culturally they cannot. We are allowed to scream.

    As a grown woman I have been sharing spaces with trans individuals for years I suspect. Quiet ones. Unassuming ones and ones that would be as threatened by men in women’s spaces I am.

    But times have changed. Self-identification will allow individuals like those on to enter women’s spaces. It will allow fetishists of all sorts to access spaces that are safe for women and help facilitate our access to the public sphere. For women in prison it could mean sharing spaces and even cells with sex offenders, still with penises, but otherwise likely stronger and more able to overpower. Currently Marie Dean is in the news for a hunger strike she is on because they want access to a woman’s prison. Marie Dean is a transexual woman who was jailed precisely because she was a danger to women see – . If she is a danger to women then she should not be put in a women’s prison.

    Beyond this, the trans movement has become a beacon attracting a range of individuals who do not have women’s best interests at heart. This page documents some of the threats that have been made by individuals identifying as trans (most are men identifying as women) against women . Yes, this is internet land, but I have met some of these individuals in ‘real life’ and I can vouch of their hatred of women. Just to be clear, I do not mean all trans people and I certainly don’t mean those who have been living their lives as transpeople comfortably for years. I am talking about an (unfortunately large) bunch of rather unsavoury characters who have jumped on the transwagon. Unfortunately self-id will make it easier for them to access women’s spaces, putting women more at risk than we already are, and, likely many transwomen too, especially those they call ‘truscum’.

    1. Jen says:

      The answer to your changing-room example is: we should teach all children that their boundaries are important and should be respected by people of all genders and presentations. In other words, that it’s valid and good to kick up a fuss about ANYONE staring at you in a way that makes you uncomfortable when you are changing – regardless of their appearance.

      In short: police peoples’ behaviour, not their genitals or presentation.

      As you say yourself, trans women who are more likely to ‘pass’ will probably have already been sharing spaces with you without facing or causing any issues. So the actual concrete outcome of making women-only spaces less trans-friendly will be harassment of people on the basis of their *appearance* instead of their actual behaviour.

      Those facing the most hassle would be people whose presentation does not match patriarchical expectations. Considering many of the people pushing for this are (self-described) feminists who claim to be struggling against gender roles, this is deeply ironic and contradictory.

      Which scenario is most likely to result in harm: trans women being allowed to use womens’ facilities, or trans women being forced to use mens’ facilities? Does the safety of trans women matter to you?

      Finally, the various countries that have already switched to self-ID do not seem to have encountered the problems you anticipate.

  17. Dan Walker says:

    What confuses me most about this issue, is that at the heart of it there seems to be an argument that gender is a cultural construct laid atop of physical (I.e. Sex) differences.

    However, it strikes me that the current trans argument is unhelpfully reinforcing binary gender stereotypes. Y saying that it is possible to feel like/identify as ‘a man’ or ‘a woman’ irrespective of physical sexual characteristics.

    As someone that most here would identify as ‘a cis man’ I spend a lot of the time not feeling comfortable with the general ways in which masculinity is portrayed and assumed within our society, and in general I don’t feel that I conform to these, nor that I would want to.

    I therefore end up confused and also a little troubled by the issue of gender dysphoria. It seems to be a consequence of a social system of binary genders, but the diagnosis of I don’t feel like X therefore I must be Y just seems to reinforce this binary system, which as I see it is the cause of problems in the first place.

    1. Nicola says:

      The (exclusionary) ‘rad fem’ assertion is that everything to do with gender is a social construction and that by ‘abolishing’ it everyone would be better off.

      These assertions conflate the whole of what we call ‘gender’ into one thing rather than

      – gender Identity – this is the internal, probably innate, thing that sets our own self view
      – gender expression – this is the external manifestation of Gender Identity in the absence of external control or coercieve forces
      – gender roles – these are constructed by societies and can and do cahnge depending on where and when you are existing.

      Gender identity and sex are different things , and Sex is not as simple as the ‘biological essentialist’ arguments based on external genitalia and or Chromosomes / phenotype / karotype …

      Sexuality is irrelevant to the discussion , except to note that past treatment for gender identity concerns has conflated sexuality in with gender identity, either out of ignorance in Harry Benjamin;s time or out of malice by Money, Blanchard and others of their ilk.

      1. Dan Walker says:

        Thank you for the useful and reasonable response… I will have to go away and consider it and its implications… Certainly my experience as a cis bloke is that I have grown up by ‘alternative’ circles that I am supposed to view the world one way, and now that is being turned in its head by arguing some sort of biological essentialism.

        Considering what a big ask this is, I think a lot more tolerance needs to be shown in the discussion than appears in the high profile vitriol laden discussions (e.g. that anarchist bookfair shebang).

        In this light I very much appreciate your patient and helpful response as being told to ‘go away and educate yourself’ hasn’t been very fruitful so far.

      2. Dan says:

        Having considered this and discussed it with people, I still don’t understand how gender identity, gender expression and gender roles can exist outside of the context of socially/culturally constructed gender reference points?

        This is very clear for the latter two, so I presume that you are suggesting that gender identity is the separate case and therefore does not require an external reference point? I don’t understand how this can be the case (but am open minded to learning) so would welcome direction to or explanation of how internal gender identity is developed outside of the context of external (socially/culturally defined) reference points.

        1. Nicola says:

          gender identity is internal and innate , the problem is people view it through a cisgender lens in the main …

          when there are young ( pre school ) children with such profound physical dysphoria as seen in some cases it;s hard to not accept that there must be some innate element.

          even where there isn;t the profound early on set of physical dysphoria , a retrospective view of one;s self image and underastanding of self seems to point to some innate thing … See also Money;s barabarci experiment with the Reimer twins … the only difference between Money and Mengele is that mengele would have performed a penectomy for fun rather than it being the result of botched ritual male genital mutilation ( i.e. infant circumcision)

          1. Dan says:

            Ok. Can you or someone else recommend me a good article to read about innate gender identity…. I have looked and as a search term it isn’t really coming up with anything for me that I think represents your position here… from what I did find on the Money thing, that has so many issues attached to it I am not sure it can be used as good evidence of gender identity being innate.

  18. Geoff says:

    I feel like a man. I have a man’s body(penis etc..). If I listed my job, interests and hobbies down they’d all be things that would be completely normal for a woman to do/like.
    I’m trying to think what makes me “feel” like a man that’s not directly related to the body I live in.
    So how can someone feel like they are the opposite gender? Do they not just feel like wearing different clothes and liking activities that(traditionally) the other gender gravitates towards? Where does the identification part come from?
    If I really liked heels and dresses then I’d put them on..but it wouldn’t make me really feel like a woman.
    Even more so I can’t understand how someone can feel like neither male nor female. That doesn’t make sense to me at does that experience work?
    Not trying to insult anyone so take a breath before replying.
    How can you describe not feeling like a man or a woman outside of interests/clothing choice?

    1. Mill says:

      You had it at “I can’t understand” – sure you’ll never understand what you can’t experience. We should all know how to get over ourselves in that event.
      Violent crimes are directed at trans woman – not the other way about.!! Trans woman are vulnerable with definitely no dangerous agenda focus other woman.
      Beware ye the TERF righteous!

      1. Geoff says:

        Mill, that didn’t really help. I’m focusing on the human experience of what it actually feels like -not getting into the violence part. (That’s not where my confusion lies-not discounting it)
        What I’m saying is I AM a man who DOES identify as male. I cannot figure out what makes ME “feel” male other than the body. I should be able to understand me own experience enough to make a valid point about someone else.
        So if someone says they feel like the other gender I’m asking how can that experience exist? How does it materialise in your mind?
        How can it be described?

        1. Hel says:

          I don’t know whether this helps either. Because all I can offer is that I don’t completely understand it myself – I can’t claim to describe it accurately because I haven’t experienced it.
          I do have a hint of understanding what it might be like as when I look at my adult body it still doens’t completely make sense to me. In my head I’m more of a “tomboy” but my body shape is a lot more classically feminine. It’s a strange feeling and difficult to really share, and it definitely feels very exposing to write it up here.
          I’m not trans gender so I can’t tell you what that feels like.
          But equally, I’m not completely at ease with how my body is, so I can’t really imagine what it’s like to go through life like that, either.
          Maybe it’s a case of sitting back and accepting there’s experiences one doesn’t have and allowing that to be, whilst remaining open to learning as and when life experience brings clarity on it.

        2. Melanie says:

          I know this is a bit late to be responding but … here goes!
          I am a transwoman — i.e. my original birth certificate says “boy”, and for the next 50+ years, most of the paperwork I acquired said I was male. I forced myself into that mould, but I never felt quite “right”. And over the course of another few years, several doctors (including four specialist psychiatrists) diagnosed me with a condition that was then known as “Transsexualism”.
          I have never known what it felt like to be “male” or a “man”, because I have never been one: I have always been a transsexual, since before I was born.
          So, just as you can’t say what it feels like to be a “man”, I can’t say what it feels like to be a woman (or a transwoman).
          All I can tell you is that there is simply no comparison between the misery of my pre-transition, quasi-male existence and my post-transition life as a transwoman.
          And, by the way, I rarely do “heels and dresses” either: like most women of my age, I wear trousers and a top for work, and slightly nicer versions of the same thing for almost everything else. Heels and dresses are just for special occasions!

  19. SleepingDog says:

    I can see some similarities as well as differences with the issues around Sumptuary Laws which regulated a person’s appearance in society dependent upon their station/rank etc. The Wikipedia article explains these better than I could:

    Presumably some people embraced these codes, others dutifully followed, others subverted or worked around them, yet others rebelled against them. Some may have thought these divisions and distinctions in society were real and permanent; others may have thought them socially constructed and designed to enforce oppressive hierarchies.

  20. Jemma says:

    Why are those symbols still there at the top of the article? People called this out two weeks ago! Many of these symbols are not recognised by the people they “represent” and even more importantly it is confusing sexuality with gender! A person’s sexual orientation is totally different to their gender. For such a well-informed article, I am surprised these symbols are still there, please get round to removing them.

    1. They didn’t ‘call it out’ as if it was a deliberate offensive provocation, some people questioned it.

      I’ll now remove them so nobody will know what anything is referring to …

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.