Debbie Hayton

It’s time to pause the transgender debate

It's time to pause the transgender debate
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As the United Kingdom plunges into an unprecedented crisis, the time has surely come to halt the reforms to self-identification of gender. Schools are closing; London could be locked down; even The Archers has an uncertain future – this really is a crisis. At such times, we can no longer afford the luxury of devoting time and resources to the foolish idea that biology matters less than feelings, when we divide humanity into male and female.

Self-identification has already been paused in Westminster with Boris Johnson’s government content to say as little as possible on the subject, while the opposition parties tear themselves apart. Whether it is Dawn Butler claiming that babies are born without a sex or Lisa Nandy calling for the right of rapists to be housed in women’s prisons, or Jo Swinson telling the BBC that not everyone is male or female, all seem to be under the spell of an ideology that demands total compliance.

But while Westminster has stopped its attempts to introduce self-identification, the Scottish Government has not. A second Scottish government public consultation on the subject closed on Tuesday and if it’s anything like the first, it will show that many people are concerned about potential changes to the law. In the last consultation, the most frequently raised issue was that:

‘self-declaration may pose a risk to women’s safety in spaces including toilets, changing rooms, hospital wards and refuges. Often associated with this concern was that the proposed self-declaration system may be open to abuse, exploitation or false declarations.’

That bad people may exploit the system is obvious to anyone who has considered the wisdom of self-identification. But this has not dissuaded the Scottish government. Only last month Shirley-Anne Somerville – the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People – said the Scottish Government is determined to press ahead with their reforms. Specifically, the government wants to allow anyone to change their gender – effectively their legal sex – without providing evidence of need. Equally worryingly, they plan to extend these rights to 16- and 17-year olds – children too young to consent to a tattoo.

It is puzzling why so many politicians seem set on these changes without any apparent concern for women’s rights or the children who are making huge decisions before they can appreciate the enormity of their implications.

In normal times we might debate these issues. But when the Prime Minister declares himself to be head of a wartime government, we have far more immediate worries. Will our families survive intact, and will we have jobs afterwards? Those are my thoughts as a transwoman. It’s true that trans rights are human rights, but those rights are already protected. It is illegal to harass me or treat me less favourably on the grounds of my gender reassignment – and rightly so. And while I do report poison pen emails sent to my employer, it’s hardly transphobic to disagree with me on social media. Trans people can now marry people of either sex, and our privacy is protected through various pieces of legislation including the Data Protection Act; not because we are trans but because we are human.

It does make you question the purpose of legal gender recognition, but that debate can be held later. For the present, we have a war to fight. Campaigners on both sides of the recent gender debate face a common enemy. Viruses do not care about anyone’s pronouns; they will infect us irrespective of how we might choose to identify ourselves in society.

We have a massive battle on our hands, and this is not the time to reform the Gender Recognition Act. As the LGB Alliance said recently, it’s time to press pause. Personally I agree with ForWomen.scot and their campaign to ‘Bin the Bill’, but we can come back to that later. The war against Covid-19 may be won by self-isolation, but to resolve the gender war we need to break out from our echo chambers and talk to each other.