Gender, the GRA and Women’s Rights

Here is the second our six-part series on the debate around trans issues, identity, feminism and solidarity aimed at building understanding and in a spirit of open dialogue. Read the previous by Jennie Kermode here ‘Gender Recognition – it’s not what you think‘.

There has been a good deal of debate regarding the Scottish Government’s proposals for changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004, but much of it has ignored what these proposals potentially mean for women and girls. So I’m attempting here to firstly explain how gender affects the lives of females, and to outline the ideological conflict between genderism and feminism. I will then go on to highlight some of the issues with these proposals, and provide suggestions for consultation responses.


To understand where feminists are coming from on gender, it’s firstly important to understand that the actual axis of oppression for females is and always has been our reproductive sex. For thousands of years, with few exceptions, patriarchy has been absolute. Based on our reproductive capacity, women were long considered to be morally and intellectually inferior to men; a woman’s role was to rear children and serve her husband, and from Aristotle on this was thought of as the natural order.

And today, women still suffer subjugation due to our sexed bodies. We are still socialised to be submissive, and to be responsible for the bulk of emotional and domestic labour. We are still less likely to have power and representation, which plays a huge part in upholding male power and privilege. We experience social inequalities in relation to employment, housing, health and social mobility. We suffer male violence, rape (including as a war tactic), femicide, FGM, lack of access to contraception and abortion (I could go on); we are dehumanised and objectified, often defined solely by what men want from us. All due to being biologically female.

And while sex is the axis of our subjugation, gender is the tool; with patriarchy long since underpinned by the notion of biological essentialism, which is the idea that gender – i.e. femininity and masculinity – is innate to the female and male sexes respectively, and thus that our gender roles are – just like Aristotle said – the natural order.

But this is profoundly regressive and so obviously a false ideology; are men really innately dominant, and women innately submissive? I don’t think so.

Nonetheless the idea persists, and along with it a fairly new iteration of genderism that says that while gender is innate, sometimes there is a ‘mis-match’ between our gender and our sex, and those for whom this is the case are considered transgender. For the rest of us, the idea is that our gender ‘matches’ our sex, i.e. that we essentially are our social roles, and this is what they say it is to be ‘cisgender’.

However those of us who understand that gender isn’t innate – i.e. that there’s no such thing as ‘lady brain’ or indeed any other biological/innate basis for gender roles – take great issue with the idea that females are inherently subordinate to men. And there is no way to separate the cause and effect here. As long as gender is understood to be innate, women will have the feminine gender coercively imposed on us and male supremacy/patriarchy will continue.

This is why feminists are clear that there is no such thing as feeling/thinking/living like a woman, and that to think so is actually to define women by gender stereotypes, which is pure sexism. Gender is not innate. Female is not the feminine gender; and it is in fact extremely misogynistic to suggest otherwise.

And we can’t identify out of it either, we simply don’t have that kind of individual control over social structures. I have challenged the feminine gender in many ways throughout my life and at times have been punished severely, because as a female I would not submit. My non-conformity didn’t give me any power over my place in the gender hierarchy.

And of course we all gender non-conform to a degree, no-one is 100% masculine or feminine (what would that even mean?) so it’s a falsehood that there’s a distinct class of people who really are the gender coercively imposed on them and a distinct class of people who aren’t.

And lastly, before moving onto the Gender Recognition Act, it’s important to note that women’s organisations, the UN and the WHO view the climate of male violence women live in to be a result of gender inequality. And gender inequality exists because of the imposition of hierarchical gender roles to uphold male supremacy. It’s male socialisation that conditions a substantial minority of men to want to control and abuse women; i.e. males are not innately dominant or violent – gender does this. Therefore for feminists, fighting for female liberation is the ultimate goal; we have to end patriarchy, this is the only way to achieve any kind of real equality of the sexes and to end male violence against women and girls.

This is why we want to abolish gender and indeed the oppressive idea that our sex is instructive to more than simply our biology. Gender abolition is the only way to end an unjust social hierarchy that is catastrophic for female people.


The 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA) allows people to legally change gender if they are diagnosed with gender dysphoria and fulfil some other conditions. This is termed ‘gender reassignment’, and became a protected characteristic in the 2010 Equality Act. Anyone who legally changes their gender receives a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), which can then be used to change their sex on their birth certificate.

The Scottish government wants to move to a system of Self-identification, which removes the current conditions and allows anyone to change their legal sex if they want to. Many feminists have written brilliantly on the potential issues with this elsewhere, and while I recommend highlighting the issues with self ID in consultation responses, it seems clear that the Scottish government will move forward with self ID, so my focus below is regarding how the government needs to protect women and girls before they do.

Firstly, it needs to be highlighted that current sex based exemptions in the Equality Act that allow for trans exclusion in order to protect women and girls in a number of ways, are not actually fit for purpose. And while at the moment the numbers with a GRC are very small, the UK government estimates that around 1% of the UK population identifies under the trans umbrella, and that most of these are trans women. Thus under self ID the numbers of those with a GRC could massively increase, and this could have a substantive impact in many ways.

For example, the Scottish government just announced that all public boards in Scotland now have to be gender balanced, however if a board comprised of 8 men and two women reassembled to a board of five men and five trans women, as legislation currently stands this would be considered gender balanced, even though females would no longer be on the board at all.

This example highlights how when you stop basing gender equality on the very axis it hinges on – i.e. sex – then not only is it possible for female exclusion and inequality to get even worse, leading to deepening marginalisation and subjugation, but we can’t even know the ways this is happening, because it cannot be monitored when sex isn’t monitored. If you stop monitoring structural inequality based on sex, you lose the ability to address structural inequality based on sex (who knew!). Gender equality is meaningless if it’s not sex equality. As such, this failure in equality legislation has to be addressed urgently and certainly before bringing in self ID.

Then there’s the issue of safety and participation. Sex segregation exists to allow women to participate in society, and to do so safely, therefore the exemptions allowing trans exclusion cover areas such as sporting events, occupations where being a certain sex is important, communal accommodation and facilities, single/separate sex services, changing rooms, areas where health/hygiene/privacy is important etc.

However those who employ these exemptions have to be able to show that it’s “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”, and often have to offer other spaces and services, otherwise they can be prosecuted for discrimination. And there is *no imperative in the legislation to ensure that women and girls have our needs met*. So if most or every women’s only space decided not to employ these exemptions, and this led to the exclusion of many women and girls in a number of ways/had other impacts, these women and girls would have no recourse, and again, such impacts are not monitored.

And this is exactly what’s already happening. These exemptions are largely not employed, including by the government, and there are women and girls who are already self-excluding due to female only spaces being opened to male bodied people. I personally would self-exclude in many of the examples given.

It must also be noted that most trans women remain fully male bodied, capable of rape, and those with a GRC are allowed to move to women’s prisons, including those who are convicted of rape. And vulnerable female inmates have no choice but to deal with it, and be placed in danger. This is especially concerning when considering the recent comments by James Barrett, consultant at Charing Cross Hospital and president of the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists, who said he had been told by the Prison Service that “about half” of transgender prisoners – most of whom are biological males – are sex offenders.

And this leads into a very important point; women need sex segregation largely in order to not just feel safe, but to actually be safe. There are many other reasons for women only spaces, but this is one of the most important. A substantial minority of males are predators, and this is true however they identify. But also predators don’t come with a warning, it’s the male body that is a threat to women, it’s around male bodies that women need to manage this threat, and it’s around male bodies that women will self-exclude.

It should be clear too that the trauma male violence creates for the female population is both not our fault and inevitable, and that victims are the most likely to self-exclude, and indeed to suffer most from any further impact created by a policy of self ID. It’s also victims who are often accused of bigotry for being affected by male violence – which is horrific victim blaming and totally unacceptable.

And such victim blaming is coming hand in hand with a challenge to women’s boundaries and consent more generally. A testament to this is in the fact that some people have disgracefully compared requesting a female nurse to carry out a smear test, with requesting a nurse who isn’t a person of colour. The fact that women feel more comfortable around females cannot be separated from the meaning of male bodies for women under patriarchy and the whole of what we are subject to. Implying this is akin to racism is an outright dismissal of the reality for women as a *sex class* and our rights to our boundaries around males, as well as a rejection of the principle of consent. Yet people with these extreme views are in organisations currently advising the Scottish government on the GRA and women’s rights.
The daily attacks on lesbians are another example of how women’s boundaries and consent are being challenged. Women who are exclusively same sex attracted face horrific, misogynistic and homophobic abuse for not viewing male bodied people as viable sex partners, and this is aided by organisations like Stonewall in their refusal to any longer support females to be exclusively same sex attracted (and it looks like the Scottish Trans Alliance agrees with them). They actually deem this transphobic, and they ignore the abuse and coercion such a view is resulting in – which makes it particularly concerning that these organisations are advising on government policy that will affect the rights of women.


So how do we address all of this?

Below I will outline my suggestions for consultation responses and I contend that these are all absolutely necessary if we are to protect women and girls. Not one of these suggestions threatens trans rights. Equal does not mean identical. Trans women are not female. Trans people have their rights to live as they wish, love who they wish, and have the same legal protections as everyone else. And they should have the spaces and services they need; everyone supports that.

*None of this requires women and girls to lose our rights*.

Our rights are only threatened because trans activists don’t want any distinction made between trans women and women. But we are not the same and pretending otherwise erases the female sex class, preventing us from addressing our sex based oppression, and what could possibly be a more heinous act of misogyny than that? Surely no-one in the Scottish government believes that women don’t suffer as a result of our female bodies.

So firstly I suggest we call on the government to establish the following principles as an underpinning to any legislation affecting women and girls:

• Females suffer exploitation, discrimination, injustice, oppression and male violence due to their reproductive sex. And as such, female bodies have a political significance that they need to be able to talk about, organise around and address as a distinct reproductive class of people.

• Females deserve equality, to participate in society, to be safe, and to have their welfare valued. The government should monitor and address females as a sex class on all of these measures, however ‘woman’ is defined in legislation.

• Trans equality should be based on trans as a characteristic, and not on erasing the female sex as a characteristic.

• Females are not to blame for the climate of male violence they live in or for the effects. Victim blaming is never acceptable, and legislation should reflect this.

• Females should be able to set their own boundaries around their own bodies; understanding that anything less is in direct contravention of the principle of consent.

• Females should not be forced to adopt trans ideology/biological essentialism/genderism. There can be no assumption that women as a group identify as the feminine gender that is coercively imposed on them to subjugate them; and women who do not subscribe to genderism and instead contend that for them a woman is simply an adult female, must be able to assert this (that’d be most of us).

• The government should not work with any LGBT/Trans organisation that deems *exclusive same sex attraction* as inherently objectionable.

In order to work with the above principles, the government should identify and pursue the necessary Scotland specific exemptions/amendments to the Equality Act before making any changes to the GRA.

In addition, before moving to a system of self ID the government should do the following:

• Carry out Equality Impact Assessments (EQIAs) on how the proposed changes to the GRA will potentially affect the equality, participation, safety and welfare of women and girls, understanding that trans inclusion has already had an unmeasured impact.

• Inform and consult with women on sex segregation and male bodied trans inclusion to properly gauge how to protect women and girls on the aforementioned measures. Most women don’t realise what is already happening, and a recent Panelbase poll found that women in Scotland are *3:1* against male bodied trans people having access to female only spaces.

• Draw up the necessary Scotland specific exemptions/amendments in response to these assessments and consultations, in order to ensure women and girls are protected, and secure these with the UK government *before* moving forward with self ID. FAILURE TO DO THIS IS ABANDONING WOMEN AND GIRLS ENTIRELY.

• Draw up guidelines on how to implement Equality Act exemptions, so businesses and providers can do so without fear of legal action.

• Be aware that the Engender led women’s organisations’ joint statement saying that these changes posed no threat to women’s equality, was released without any of these organisations consulting their members regarding the GRA beforehand, and indeed without conducting and concluding their own research on how these changes will specifically impact on women’s equality. Not only this, they have not consulted with women at all despite being asked to do so and choosing to speak for us, and nor have they carried out any other work in order to gauge how women and girls are already self-excluding/are otherwise affected. Furthermore, when approached by victims in relation to this proposed legislation, they refused to engage with their concerns. I know – I am one of them. Therefore we should call on the government to understand that these organisations cannot possibly represent women in this, and since they came to their position before carrying out the work necessary to come to said position, the government should assess any cited research/data itself, rather than rely on the interpretation of women’s organisations.

Lastly, there are a few additional suggestions for steps the government should take in relation to other parts of their proposals:

• Carry out its own research on dysphoria in young people and on desistance, not least because – as the NHS notes – studies show that most children diagnosed as transgender grow out of it, with all of the studies undertaken on this showing anywhere from a 63% to 88% desistance rate. Within this the government should properly research suicidality; follow up interviews usually halve the percentage for suicide in studies, and controls are used to filter out other factors so results can be instructive as to the causes. The study referenced in the consultation was neither followed up nor controlled. The government also needs to be clear on how transition affects mental health, including for the majority who desist, and who – due to affirmation – didn’t receive the right support when they needed it. Only then can the government assess the potential impact of reducing the age limit for a GRC.

• Unless the government wants to assert that a woman is someone who identifies with being submissive, and a man is someone who identifies with male supremacy, they should not introduce a third legal gender. It is reactionary in the extreme to uphold the idea that women and men identify as/actually are the gender imposed on them, and this should not be assigned to people as part of any legislation, and providing trans services does not necessitate this either.

• Immediately move to introduce misogyny as a hate crime. Women are being targeted for violence and abuse at unprecedented levels, just for being women. We are even becoming targets of hate for talking about the meaning of our bodies, and naming male violence. We are an oppressed and marginalised group and deserve the same protections all other such groups have.

The Scottish government consultation has been written with a very clear bias, and the fact they haven’t carried out a single EQIA regarding how these proposals could potentially impact on the equality of women and girls is simply indefensible. Surely it’s in no-one’s interests that the government moves forward with legislation without understanding how to protect the largest marginalised group in our society. So let’s make sure that happens.

Comments (51)

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  1. Melanie says:

    I’m sorry, but in spite of the measured, almost academic way in which this article is written, its premise is fundamentally flawed and hardly any of the purported “facts” are true.

    The fundamental flaw is the assumption that changing the GRA will affect anyone other than the tiny minority of transgender people. It does not. It does not change or repeal any existing legislation regarding equality, sex offences, violence (or anything else). Nor does it affect policies concerned with changing rooms, toilets, rape centres, prisons, or anything else.
    If you find that hard to believe, ask yourself whether you have ever been asked to produce your birth certificate in order to use a public toilet? Of course you haven’t.
    The change is a relatively minor administrative issue that will make life marginally easier for one of the most discriminated-against groups in society. Transsexuals aren’t looking to take over the boardrooms of the country: many of them would be grateful if they were allowed to compete for minimum-wage jobs on an equal basis with those who enjoy “cis-privilege” — the enormous but often neglected advantage of having a brain gender that matches the sex they were assigned at birth.
    The biggest losers from this campaign against trans people, however, are women, whose lives are being blighted by wholly unnecessary fear, incited by a very, very tiny subset of so-called “feminists” who occupy highly privileged positions in academia and the media, but who seem either to lack basic skills in research and fact-checking or are deliberately misrepresenting the truth.

    1. Bec says:

      Utter nonsense. Lots of ordinary women are very concerned about this. This has MASSIVE impacts on women, not least the definition of the word woman. So I ask you, if transwomen are women, what is a woman?

      1. Nicola says:

        ‘ordinary women ‘ are not concerned about this, only Transphobes, bigots and ‘ Political Lesbians’

        The basis for this assertion comes from an sample size of several hundred , while it wasn’t an academic survey ( instead being management briefings to workers about one of their colleagues transitioning) the overwhelming response to this briefing , which included things like toilets and locker rooms , was of support for the individual , respect the General Management team for bringing the issue up sensitively ( and also in reinforcing UK law position on this ) – the briefings purposefully did not include the colleague in question as to allow those being briefed the opportunity to ask questions without embarassment – briefings themselves under Chatham House rules –

        ditto smaller equally unscientific samples with regard to leisure activities , courses and the like … remarkably unconcerned and welcoming

        1. Audra says:

          Again, you seem to be getting pretty angry, Nicola. It’s not bigoted to seek reasoned debate, evidence and an understanding of a paradigmatic shift that affects us all. Probably best not to make sweeping generalisations and dismiss all women who think critically as ‘bigots’.

          1. Melanie says:

            It’s not a “paradigmatic shift”: it’s a change to an administrative procedure that has no significant effect on anybody’s rights or responsibilities, and which only affects a few thousand people.
            The only reason it is being discussed at all is because going ahead with it would have enabled the government to claim that it had “acted upon” the conclusions reached by the Equalities Select Committee.
            And the only reason it is still being discussed is because a small but very vocal minority of highly influential and privileged people are earning lots of money by writing articles inciting hatred against trans people, and setting up lucrative tours.
            Trans people (other than carefully-selected coconuts) are banned from attending these “discussion” meetings — which must, surely, make them a bit one-sided ?– but if any student union chooses not to invite a TERF speaker, then they are summarily found guilty of “no-platforming” and the rejected speaker will make full use of her chat-show airtime and newspaper column inches to tell the world about how downtrodden she is.

      2. Melanie says:

        All women are women!

        There are subdivisions which may be necessary or useful in some contexts, such as comparing young women with old women, black women with white women, rich women with poor women, cisgendered women with transgendered women, and so on.
        But isn’t life better and nicer if we co-operate across these arbitrary divisions, rather than using them as an excuse for hatred?

    2. Cath says:

      Sorry, but the moment someone uses the term “cis” for a woman I switch off. It’s an abusive term which is essentially Kevin the teenager slamming the door and saying, ‘I’m not like everyone else and no one understands me, it’s SO unfair!’

      Lots of people – especially women – spend their lives fighting against gender stereotypes and learning to live with who they are and against structures that tell them girls like pink and dolls and they shouldn’t play with “boys toys” like lego or cars. Which leads onto less women in science and engineering, and continued stereotpyes into adult life.

      The term “cis” is one from people who I imagine are still teenagers, or haven’t grown up enough to realise human beings are human beings and we all struggle. Yes, some struggle more than others, and a few struggle so much with their gender/sex that they need to change it. But if they do that on the basis of “I have a lady brain”, and with the assumption that all women think the same and “cis” is a legitimate term to denigrate women who “haven’t had their struggles” I’m afraid my response isn’t going to be polite. You get to define your own identity: not other people’s.

      1. Nicola says:


        if you are heterosexual do you object to being described as such ?
        if your blood pressure is low do you object to being referred to as hypotensive?

        objections to the use of the term cisgender are based in privilege and exercise of power over others

        1. Crubag says:

          I must admit, I find it an odd debate, especially where the public authorities are using sex and gender interchangeably. The objective reality of sexual difference will come out in a number of situations where physical attributes matter, such as reproduction, or health, or sports. Gender is altogether more culturally determined, and as kilt-wearing Scots we should be more alive to that than most Europeans. As a society, we are moving towards less dependence on physical difference, and towards more equal opportunities for all, where sex or gender are irrelevant.

          But even within the confusion over sex/gender, the cisgender neologism seems doubly odd. It is trying to lock gender down to physical attributes, and to do so in a resolutely binary way. It’s the opposite of gender fluid or the idea of gender as a spectrum.

        2. cath says:

          Similarly, if you’re a man, ie if you have male hormones and a penis, why would you mind your sex being described as male?

          Gender, entirely different. You can be what you want: it’s a construct, it doesn’t exist. You decide, no one else. But if you ask that from others, you accept they define their own gender as well, not you. Hence, “cisgender” is a definition only the person themselves can give. I’m female by sex; but definitely not cisgender for gender.

      2. Melanie says:

        “cis” as a prefix meaning “on this side of” or ” on the same side of” and its used in all sorts of technical language, including chemistry geography, history and astronomy.

        Its antonym is “trans”.

        If someone whose sex and gender differ is “transgendered”, then, logically, someone whose sex and gender match is “cisgendered”. Neither term is any more abusive than the other.

        Here’s what the Oxford Dictionary says:
        (also cisgendered)
        Denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.”

        And here’s what it says about transgender>-
        (also transgendered)
        Denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex.

        1. Dennis Smith says:

          I’m not sure that this takes us much further forward. The Oxford Dictionary refers to “sense of personal identity and gender” which seems to confuse two different concepts. Personal identity is multi-dimensional and it is questionable whether gender or sexual identity is a necessary part of it. What if someone wishes to repudiate these types of identity completely?

          The trans/cis terminology does not help. The root meaning of “trans” is “across, over, to the farther side of”, matching “cis” meaning “on this side”. So the most obvious meaning of “transgendered” is someone who is beyond gender, who has no gender at all.

          If someone does not wish to count gender as part of their personal identity, or is unclear about the issues involved, what justification is there for imposing a gender identity on them against their will?

        2. mrbfaethedee says:

          ‘the Oxford Dictionary says…’

          What’s a woman?
          What’s a man?

          *You* define them.

        3. Crubag says:

          @Melanie – this is where the debate seems to eat itself. Sexual reproduction (for humans) is binary, but gender is not, it’s a cultural thing. I don’t think there is a single social act that couldn’t be performed by men or woman.

          I’ve read an argument, which seems somewhat persuasive, that the transgender movement is an evolution of transexualism, prompted by a recognition that changing one’s physical sex is an effective impossibility, so gender is being used in place of sex. Which leads to this odd neo-Victorian notion that there are only two genders and people need to stick rigidly to their side of the fence in order for any transition to be meaningful.

        4. Nicola says:

          exactly Melanie

          the objection to the use of the term cisgender appears to be based on the loss of the Othering of the trans community by it;s use , it’s no long ‘normal’ people and ‘minorty’ people , it’s two groups where there is not a greater value applied to one group against the other solely on the basis of the characteristic.

          as a point of order the use ‘transgendered ‘ and ‘cisgendered’ rather than transgender or cisgender is deprecated , we don’t talk of maled and femaled or blacked and whited in normal discourse …

          1. Dennis Smith says:

            I don’t want to appear pedantic but I think Nicola misunderstands the meaning of “cis” and “trans” here. These are indexical terms which can be roughly paraphrased as “here” and “there”, and they are inescapably defined from the standpoint of “here”. To take a classic example, Cisalpine Gaul (the area of Gaul south of the Alps) was defined from the perspective of the (alien) Romans, not from the perspective of the Gauls themselves.

            If anyone wanted to use the language of normality here – and I entirely agree that this should be avoided – this usage is open to the interpretation that cis (here) is normal and trans (there) is alien. Cis/trans terminology is fundamentally unhelpful to the case that transgender people want to make and needs to be replaced by genuinely neutral terminology.

  2. obme says:

    This is the most useful article I’ve seen on this issue. It shows clearly how the proposed legisation review needs to go back to first base and recognise that women who are content with their feminine gender are the ones most at risk in this crazy society. Responding to those who shout loudest isn’t necessarily going to help anyone. All sensible people will accept that discrimination against people because of the colour, religion or gender is not acceptable. The routes being proposed seem unworkable and will create an even more insecure society for the majority of the population.

  3. Emma says:

    ‘The government should not work with any LGBT/Trans organisation that deems *exclusive same sex attraction* as inherently objectionable.’

    Please listen to lesbians who are being bullied with the backing of statements from these pressure groups.

    1. Nicola says:

      again baseless and pointless slurring from Political Lesbians and 2nd wave paleofeminists .

      proud of your gold star are you Emma ? or is it i the guilt you can’t have one ?

      1. Audra says:

        The tone here says everything. Why so combative? So doctrinaire? Why are you so allergic to a differing conception of gender, Nicola? We don’t have to use your definition. That’s compulsory orthodoxy. Why does our structural analysis of gender mean that we can’t share the same end goal? Having a class analysis doesn’t stop us from advocating for full and equal rights for trans people. It just means we take a wider view than Butlerian conceptions of gender, and prefer empiricism to metaphysics.

        1. cath says:

          I agree. We already have the term “TERF” – a term wholly used to denigrate women, there is no male equivalent, even though most hostility and violence towards trans people come from men, not women. It’s a term used to silence the genuine concerns of women, who’ve fought for their rights to speak and be heard for centuries. Now we also have “political lesbians”? Really? Those women have had to fight tooth and nail for their sexuality as well as all the other rights denied to them as women.

          These are the women who’re on the front line, as they’re having to deal with men – and let’s not beat about the bush here, a fully intact, male born person is a man – demanding sex with them. Everyone has an absolute right to choose who they sleep with, who they hang out with, who they don’t want anywhere near them. The moment we take away the right for women to say “no” or “leave me alone” or “that guy’s scaring me” is the moment we roll back women’s rights in their entirety, and that includes the rights of trans women.

          1. Audra says:

            And let’s not forget – gay men are not being called penis fetishists or vagina demonisers. There’s nothing like the same opprobrium towards men who set their sexual boundaries. The ire is flowing in one direction, towards women, as it always does when they speak up.

          2. Melanie says:

            TERF is an abbreviation that was coined by two cisgender feminist women in 2008 in an on-line discussion in 2008, to distinguish “trans exclusionary radical feminists” from other radfems. .

            TERFs are fellow-travellers with neo-nazis and religious fundamentalists, and a core part of their belief system is that women are defined solely by their reproductive organs.

            They are a tiny (but very vocal) minority of feminists, with opinions that sometimes conflict quite strongly with those of more mainstream feminists (see, for instance, Germaine Greer’s published opinions on subjects such as child marriage and female genital mutilation)

          3. Melanie Bartlett says:

            TERF means Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. It was coined in 2008 by a couple of adult feminists who wanted a short, simple, and non-derogatory way to distinguish between the majority of radial feminists and the minority who wished to exclude trans women. It was not insulting or abusive.

            If you regard it as abusive, which bit are you objecting to — being a “radical feminist”? or being “trans exclusive”. Surely, if TERFs believe they are fighting a brave fight for a justified cause, TERF should be a label that they wear with pride?

      2. Frank says:

        You are not doing your argument or your cause any favours Nicola. Can’t you engage in argument without being rude?

      3. Ian says:

        This response captures the problem perfectly. The way Nicola jumps to spitting out “political lesbian” as if it were a slur shows just how out of hand this has gotten. The ‘cis/trans’ terminology itself is meaningless. If gender is a fluid continuum, what on earth does it mean to be on one side or another? Side of what? Leya makes the point perfectly: protections have to
        take account of biological sex, and the rights of women and girls – and lesbians, political or otherwise, must be protected.

  4. SleepingDog says:

    I studied male/female differences in psychology many years ago, under Behaviourist lecturers. We were also test subjects, and the results were in line with predictions: statistical aggregate differences in tested skills (spatial, verbal) were small but significant, there was predominantly overlap. Discussion suggested that the tests were designed to support certain ideological views of intelligence; for example, if emotional intelligence was introduced, female aggregate scores were predicted to be higher. The field has moved on since, suggesting greater plasticity of brain and mind development partly depending on things like socially-determined gender roles.

    I mention this because, as far as I can see from articles like these, the current governmental proposals hark back to something familiar to an early pioneer of psychological experimentation, Wilhelm Wundt, who trained his subjects in analytic introspection.
    McLeod, S. A. (2008). Wilhelm Wundt. Retrieved from

    To the Behaviourist school of psychologists, and I guess to mainstream psychology today, Wundt’s work was useful in establishing an experimental base for psychology, but his methods were unscientific and now discredited. This does not mean that an individual’s subjective views about themselves are in question, but it does maintain that they cannot be the basis of science.

    If many people articulate the same beliefs, this suggests an intersubjective (a recently-learnt word for me) reality, which could be something like a belief in God, or money, or a nation: even if these cannot be scientifically tested for. Clearly, some of these intersubjective entities can be legislated for, such as freedom of religion (as long as it does not impeded others’ rights or freedoms), and so forth.

    I guess what the author of this article is saying is something like supporting the idea of freedom of religion only up to the point where followers of that religion are given a new status which intersects with another group.

    Obviously the author’s historical, political, cultural and biological summaries are important too, something I was reminded about when reading John Wyndham’s 1957 science fiction novel The Midwich Cuckoos.

    1. Melanie Bartlett says:

      There are several crucial differences between religion and gender.

      One is that transsexualism is a neurological condition that develops before the individual is born. Many TS people manage to suppress the effects for part (or even all) of their lives, but it is innate, and cannot be “wished away”.

      If someone is (let’s say) Church of England, but wishes to marry a scottish Catholic, then it is easy to renounce their religion and take up the new one — or to go for a more major change, and become a Muslim or a Buddhist. Religion is a matter of choice. If it were not, then no-one would ever have tried to “convert” someone to their religion!

      Another crucial one its that religion enjoys legal protection: it is a criminal offence to incite hatred against someone (or a group of people) based on their religion. Sadly, the same is not true of gender identity. It is not a crime to incite hatred of transsexuals. Unfortunately, we see examples of exactly that in mainstream newspapers, online, and in the broadcast media almost every day.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Melanie, indeed there are many differences across and within religions and religious experience, although in many cases there are expressions of worldview and human nature which may resemble in some way the topic of the article. For example, a belief in an individual soul, and other metaphysical components and attributes of people that cannot be scientifically detected or examined.

        If you have a link or reference for the neurological condition you describe, please post it. That would certainly take the discussion out of the metaphysical realm. I should say that although I was taught by Behaviourist psychologists (including some neuropsychology), their approach seems too limited today especially given advances in technology (such as live brain scanning) and other disciplines which suggest that internal mental states may be studied. I appreciate and have undoubtedly been influenced by their caution, though.

        You say religion is a matter of choice; well it is and it isn’t, I suppose. An infant cannot very well choose (and not in an informed way) their early exposure to religion, which will condition that child in later life. They may reject a religion in whole or part; they may found their own; they may embrace all or part of any religion they encounter (which may be a limited choice). And of course history gives many examples of forced conversions and suchlike. There are certainly group dynamics that can spur recruitment drives, as you say.

        If this central question revolves around a person’s belief about themselves and their gender, then legislation may regulate on associated behaviour; set up systems to monitor discrimination; and ascribe a right to self-expression. I suppose you are arguing, quite rationally, that a belief based on an objective, physical, scientifically analysable condition deserves a level of consideration above a belief that might be instilled by culture. I am still, however, not sure how you get from a neurological condition to a specific positive belief (rather than, say, mental states like hallucination, phantom limb syndrome and paranoia which may have underlying physical causes but whose effects are more random or negative). And if the scientific consensus changes, as science has a habit of doing, the argument changes too.

        1. Ms Nell D Stockton says:

          You asked for a link: ‘Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity.’

          Most people have no problem with accepting that neurological difference conditions such as autistic spectrum disorders, dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia actually exist but when it comes to trans people it’s suddenly ‘no can’t exist – pervert.’ I’m a trans woman. I was made homeless as a result of being trans and had nowhere to go and when I was sexually assaulted and because I was trans had nowhere to go. If asked to produce my passport it says F on it as my driving licence does too. My bank cards and all employment related material even my enhanced DBS that demonstrates I am not the dangerous criminal which some assert I must be says F or female. Only my birth certificate which I can’t remember when I last produced it has to say male on it because 7 years of transition, medical reports, appointments and so on is not enough to satisfy the arbitrary requirements of a secretive panel.

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @Ms Nell, thanks for the link. Forgive me, I think there is a lot to unpack here, but I’ll try to be brief.

            The Endocrine Society’s related field of expertise seems to be in hormone treatment, and they say that until recently the medical consensus was of a mental disorder. What the new thinking on a biological cause is, they do not say. Effectively, more research is needed.

            Incidentally, I don’t know what causes autism, dyslexia or the other disorders you mention, and apparently some opinion is sceptical of whether dyslexia is a coherent condition.

            Assuming that trans people can be reliably diagnosed as having a biological condition that sets them apart from other people, I have a few thoughts.

            Firstly is that, sadly, a biological cause for a condition may not reduce but actually increase discriminatory behaviour, as described by Ben Goldacre of Bad Science:

            Secondly, if trans people have the same biological condition (and it isn’t a question of something like ‘male brains’ and ‘female brains’) then this seems to set them further apart rather than provide a biological case for identity.

            Thirdly, if a biological condition is diagnosed, causation and symptoms may still be complex and include cultural input and expression.

            Fourthly, the question of appropriate treatment, if any, is a separate one, and might support a range of options.

            Fifthly, even if a genetic component or permanent structure is detected (i.e. something that is constant throughout the life of an individual) the development of the individual may produce varied outcomes.

            Goldacre also has a piece covering neuro-realism, which contains the observation:
            “But far stranger is the idea that a subjective experience must be shown to have a measurable physical correlate in the brain before we can agree that the subjective experience is real, even for matters that are plainly experiential.”
            If people experienced gender like they experienced pain for example, it might be less controversial, but I suspect that they don’t.

            A philosopher who has written on neuro-psychology is AC Grayling, who says in his book The Challenge of Things p126 that “any individual mind is accordingly the product of a community of minds and input from the world”. I find this view plausible (indeed it is similar to “it takes a village to raise a child”) and moves away from biological determinism of belief.

            As far as I know, transgender has been on the list of Scottish government protected characteristics for a while now, and requirements to update public databases with new gender categories were introduced some years back.

            Finally, a thought experiment may help to separate some issues. Suppose a biological condition diagnosable in infancy was strongly associated with adult solipsism (the belief that only your mind exists). Legislation may ensure the right for individuals to hold and express solipsistic beliefs, even if by definition this entails that lawmakers do not share them, nor would it be sensible for the law to make exceptions for solipsists who treat people like mindless objects. I suspect that trans people may be very different from solipsists especially if, to infer from your comments, they wish the acceptance of other minds. Nevertheless, it is both possible and consistent for a government to legislate protections for an expressed belief yet stop short of enacting rights implying that they shared it. Which I think is the tenor of this article.

        2. SleepingDog says:

          Perhaps a better comparison would be with another protected characteristic such as age. With some reflection, age is not entirely straightforward either.

          People age and develop (such as onset of puberty) in different ways, some adults are described as having a mental age of a child, some rare conditions have various atypical aging effects. A person who falls into a coma as a child could awake in an adult body: are they an adult at that point? A human spending years in cryogenic suspension may awake with their biological and experiential age different from their chronological. How much does lived experience count?

          Someone could have a neurological condition which makes them think they are younger, like senile dementia memory regression. Or an adult might be assessed as have a mental age equivalent to a child. Or a child may have such advanced mental development that areas of adult opportunity open up, like university attendance, while others avenues (like front-line combat) remain temporarily closed.

          Science could give adults the body of a child, but that person would currently not be eligible to attend school, even if their mind was childlike. Or a child the body of an adult, but they would not be eligible to draw a state pension or conduct a criminal trial.

          Age denial in Scottish is apparently not a crime (or some people I know would be languishing in prison); some latitude in dress and expression socially considered age-appropriate is legally allowed; but people have to give accurate birth dates under some circumstances.

          Suppose in some cases the recommended medical treatment for a condition of age dysphoria was to give an adult patient the body of a child (not coming to the NHS any time soon, I expect). Perhaps this would have prevented tragedy in the case of John Steinbeck’s Lennie in Of Mice and Men. Alzheimer-related confusion, slow development, wishful thinking or a range of motivations could all contribute to a patient’s wishes. Would the transformed/rejuvenated patient be eligible to attend school? Get reduced rates on bus tickets on the basis of their now-aligned physical and mental states? Would the adult-recast-in-a-child’s-body be a child?

          I think there are both clear differences and similarities between age and gender, but what can we expect to happen if medical science makes these procedures possible?

      2. Nicola says:

        interesting use of deprecated language there

        ‘transsexualism’ is a deprecated term , as is the use of transexual itself – this deprecation comes from clinicla use not from ‘trans activists’

        and not related to your comment but to others TERF as descriptor dates bacl a lot longer than 10 years

      3. Delta says:

        Dear Melanie

        As a practising neurologist of 25 years standing I would be very grateful if you could post the references in support of your statement

        “One is that transsexualism is a neurological condition that develops before the individual is born. Many TS people manage to suppress the effects for part (or even all) of their lives, but it is innate, and cannot be “wished away”

        Because I would like to read them and then do a journal club presentation about them in the institution where I both practice and undertake original research.

        many thanks

        1. Melanie says:

          I’m sorry Delta, but (like many transsexuals) I have grown weary of seeking out and checking long lists of credible peer-reviewed references during arguments/discussions like this, only to have someone claim that they are all trumped by an article they read in the Daily Mail or a documentary they half-watched on telly!

          And in any case, you will find far more relevant links (and without any pre-selection by me!) if you go to Google Scholar ( and type in something like “transsexual brain” into the search bar.

          There’s a good explanation (aimed at educated but non-specialist readers, and written in non-academic language) here:

  5. Julie Smith says:

    This is a very clear outline of the issues involved. I hope this article will help throw light on the matter and help inform responses to the consultation. I found the online questionnaire to consist of leading questions and a confusion between sex and gender. This article will help me get my point across. Thanks.

  6. mrbfaethedee says:

    A very fine article –
    Highlighting the issue of encroachment on the rights of women as a class, by ignoring sex (forget gender for now) – the heart of the premise.
    Full of context (particularly helpful for those seeking to orient themselves to the discussion), reason, and suggested actions. No empty rhetoric.

    The first comment stands as an almost perfect counterpoint.

    1. Nicola says:

      yet another pseudo intellectual response of barely disguised transphobia and bigotry.

      funny how the clinical and scientific facts are ignored in favour of of lower secondary school
      text book level misunderstanding and biological essentialism

      1. Audra says:

        Maybe you could give us a definition of ‘woman’, Nicola?

      2. mrbfaethedee says:

        As opposed to your playground slurs? Transphobia, bigotry? I guess when a huge part of your m.o. is simply defining words however you want, that sort of stuff comes easy.

        That said, I did enjoy how you managed to cast my response as pseudo intellectual (?), yet finish off your response by handwaving about ‘biological essentialism’.

        1. Nicola says:

          You are on the wrong side of the law and of the clinical and scientific facts.

          quick and dirty link to reliable source on the current position adopted officially across the UK

          It is not my job to educate you or do the heavy lifting on the subject unless of course you are offering to pay my normal hourly rate for such work

          1. mrbfaethedee says:

            ‘It is not my job to educate you’
            Clearly not!
            What are you here for then, handwave about clinical and scientific facts, pop a wee link in?

            What is a woman?
            What is a man?


  7. Alan McGinley says:

    Good article.

  8. Roz says:

    Beautifully well-written article. The best I’ve read on this topic.

    1. Nicola says:

      I strongly suggest you read the relevant parts of the Equality Act and the EHRC guidance on applying the exemptions. then you may wise to reconsider whether this piece is well written.

      the Exemptions are there and are used , in the purpose they were written for , not in the way which certain Political Lesbians and (not)Radical Paleofeminists wish to use them

  9. Nicola says:

    Interesting that a number of the most bigoted commentors do not allow their bigotry to be challenged by refusing to accept replies to their comments

    it is not the role of a minority to do the heavy lifting , unpaid, to try and convince those who are being wilfully ignorant on a topic.

    and for those finding that minorities challenging bigotry to be ‘distastefu;’ or that ‘ if you were nicer you;d have more supporters’ etc – you are just allowing your unchecked privilege to run wild .

    Cisgender , heterosexual people are never required to ‘prove’ their identity to external sources , who often have no right or need to seek that proof .

  10. Kat Kahma says:

    Clear, concise, well-written article.

    1. Melanie says:

      “Clear, concise, well-written”? Yes.
      Well-researched, accurate, and well-reasoned? No.

  11. Sarah says:

    One only has to read Nicola’s increasingly aggressive comments to see that the political wing of the transgender movement badly needs its wings clipping by our authorities and institutions. Nothing less than Trans Year Zero will satisfy these people.

  12. Chris Malvern says:

    Thanks for this – I’m a 48 yr old man trying to better understand the issues around feminism and transgender people.

    I struggled to understand the premise behind the paragraph starting ‘This example highlights how when you stop basing gender…’ can you help me? My sense is that a person who has undergone sexual reassignment and has legally changed their sex should be regarded as that sex and don’t fully follow how this can dilute sexual equality. I am genuinely trying to understand so forgive my ignorance.

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