Why trans critics are wrong & how we can ensure women’s safety
London, UK – 29 November 2021
Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, writes:
For over five decades, I have argued that women’s rights are human rights and supported hundreds of women’s rights campaigns in the UK and worldwide. There can be no liberation without women’s liberation.
Equally, for the same five decades, I have supported the struggle for trans equality, respect, dignity and human rights. I see no contradiction between trans and women’s liberation. Both have my support. I echo the stance of the many pro-trans feminists.
I oppose the trans critical views of Germaine Greer, JK Rowling and others but urge an end to abuse and intimidation by some people on both sides of the argument, including the insults, threats and smears directed against trans people and trans allies like myself.
Biological sex is a fact. So is gender identity. Both are real. Biological sex and gender identity are different but equally valid. Trans women are women but not the same as other women. They are different from biological women and that difference is legitimate and should be accepted and respected. I salute and celebrate all women, trans and non-trans.
It is true that biological sex is the basis on which women are oppressed but not entirely. In large parts of the world, women are also oppressed because they don’t conform to the way women are supposed to dress, speak and act ie. they are oppressed because of their gender non-conformity. This is similar to the way trans people are oppressed because they don’t conform to the expectations that go with their biological sex.
Trans critics sometimes seem determined to police and reinforce a strict male-female divide, rather than break down and overcome those barriers and divisions. They reject gender transgressors, like trans people, who stray from the way men and women are ‘supposed’ to look and behave.
In the early 1970s, a battle cry of the women’s liberation movement was “biology is NOT destiny”. Now some trans-critical feminists are saying “biology IS destiny.” A regressive step, I think. Biology is a reality but progressives should be doing everything in their power to limit its adverse consequences for both women and trans people.
Contrary to the claims of trans critics, gender identity is not an ideology. It is something we all possess, regardless of whether we are trans or non-trans. I have a male gender identity as a man. Female feminists have a female gender identity as women. We all express our gender identity in our daily life: in our speech, behaviour and relations with other people. Trans identity is just another, different form of gender identity expression.
When people identify as trans, it is not based on a whim or fancy, as trans opponents allege. It is rooted deep in the psyche of trans people. There is emerging evidence from multiple scientific studies, over more than a decade, that trans people have different brain structures and processes, compared to non-trans people. This suggests that trans identity is based on, or substantially influenced by, brain biology. Therefore, just as sex is biological, so too is trans identity.
In addition, trans identity may have a biological genetic component, evidenced by the fact that in the case of identical twins when one twin is trans the other twin is much more likely to be also trans than in the case of non-identical twins.
Like many women, including many feminists, I stand with trans people. I support protection for them and for other women.
Women’s safety is a very important and legitimate concern but it does not require or justify the blanket exclusion of all trans women from women’s spaces. Some women’s centres have accepted trans women for many years, without a problem. They vet all women users and rightly exclude anyone (trans or not) who acts in an abusive, threatening or harmful way.
Many institutions, from schools to pop festivals, Pride events and even right-wing GB News, have gender-neutral toilets with lockable cubicles. There is no evidence that this has in any way compromised women’s well-safety and being.
Obviously, any person who claims to be a trans woman and presents with a beard, engages in sexual harassment or exposes male genitals in women’s spaces, should be ejected – and possibly prosecuted.
Sexual harassment and unwanted genital exposure that could cause offence is wrong and should never be tolerated, regardless of whether it is perpetrated by biological women or trans women. However, such unacceptable behaviour by trans women has almost never happened and is totally unrepresentative of how almost all trans women respect the sensitivities and dignity of other women.
Much women-on-women violence and sexual assault is not by trans women. It’s perpetrated by biological women. Any women, including trans women, with a history of sexual or violent offences against women, should not be placed in the general population of women’s prisons, unless there is clear and strong evidence that they have reformed. Even then, they should be subject to supervision, monitoring and review, as would happen with any biological woman prisoner with a history of similar offences against other women.
If there is evidence that a trans woman is an on-going threat to other women, they should be placed in a separate unit within a women’s prison, and not be permitted to mix with the general women’s prison population.
These practical solutions can be the basis on which we resolve the legitimate concerns about women’s welfare and security.
It is wrong to demonise and exclude all trans women based on what a few bad trans people do, in the same way that it is wrong to demonise and exclude all Muslims because a tiny handful are terrorists. Making generalisations about trans people is wrong and bigoted.
Both trans and non-trans women who are a danger to other women should be excluded from women’s spaces but not the other 99.9%. I equally believe that gay or bisexual men who are violent or sexual predators should be excluded from gay safe spaces.
When it comes to trans women in sport, competitions need to be fair. Biological men who have gone through puberty generally have an advantage in size and strength over biological women but this advantage is not always significant or universal. Some trans women athletes may actually be smaller and weaker than some rival biological women competitors. Others may have higher testosterone levels than biological women but these higher levels may not necessarily, in every case, be sufficient enough to confer an unfair advantage.
Moreover, it is common for many elite athletes to have advantages such as a higher or lower ratio of fast or slow twitch muscle fibres, extra large and strong hearts and lungs, exceptional height, very long legs and so on. So why are the alleged advantages of trans women athletes being singled out as a reason to ban them when no one is pressing for other athletes with physical advantages to be excluded from sport?
The Olympic champion swimmer, Michael Phelps, for instance, had huge physical advantages over other swimmers – an enormous lung capacity, extra large feet that acted almost like flippers, flexible joints, less lactic acid than the average person, a long torso and relatively short legs, big hands, and a giant arm span of 6’7”. Yet no one said he should be banned or stripped of his medals.
Having said this, sport must be fair for both biological women and trans women athletes. More research needs to be done to establish what degree of advantage trans women may have, if any, in particular sports.
Instead of a generalised blanket ban on all trans women athletes, I favour individual assessment, based on scientific evidence, to establish if they have an unjustified advantage. Some may have an advantage. Others may not. Some advantages may be significant and others may not.
To sum up:
Trans critical women do not speak for all women. Many women see no conflict between feminism and trans human rights. I support them. I am an ally of trans-inclusive feminists.
Trans women are not the enemy of other women. The fight by some women against trans inclusion is a distraction from the major inequalities and abuses that all women, including trans women, are at risk of: violence, rape, harassment, domestic violence, unequal pay, lack of affordable child-care, under-representation in senior positions and the trafficking of women into sexual slavery and domestic servitude.
The huge energy that some women put into opposing trans rights and inclusion is undermining, and deflecting from, the struggles against these many serious oppressions that women still face.
I believe we should all stand together, whatever our biological sex or gender identity, to oppose these sexist injustices.
Let’s not divide and fight each other. It weakens both the women’s and trans movements. The only people who gain from the ‘trans culture wars’ are misogynists, transphobes, religious conservatives and the far right – all of whom back trans critical campaigners, which ought to a cause for extreme concern.
Fight both misogyny and transphobia. Unity and solidarity! Together, we are stronger.