Something dramatic happened in the House of Commons yesterday: Penny Mordaunt told MPs that 'transmen are men and transwomen are women'. This mantra – for that is what it is – has been said so often in recent years that it might now be an unremarkable way in which to wind up a debate. But it is a worrying sign to see it repeated so unthinkingly in parliament.
Mordaunt is wrong: transwomen are male, and women are female. Male people are not female people, and therefore transwomen are not women. As a transwoman I should know: I fathered three children – I am definitely male. Their mother was a female person. She is a woman, not me.
The context of Mordaunt’s remark was the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill: a bill that allows the Prime Minister to designate a Minister on maternity leave as a 'Minister on Leave'. Once upon a time, such legislation would naturally have talked about pregnant women. But this is 2021. Only after a lengthy debate in the House of Lords last week was the bill amended to replace pregnant people with expectant mothers.
It is appalling that the class of people formerly known as women – the sex that gives birth – can no longer always be described by that word. The policy capture by transgender activists has been insidious; now it appears to be complete. These were not off-the cuff remarks from the back benches. Mordaunt was speaking from the despatch box in her role as paymaster general. These were the words of the government itself, and recorded in Hansard as she referred to the changes made by the Lords:
'The amendments we are accepting today are legitimate and understandable, and critically they are also legally sound, but let me say in supporting them from this Dispatch Box that trans men are men and trans women are women, and great care has been taken in the drafting and accepting of these amendments to ensure that that message has got across.'
How did we get here? Because too many people thought that this sort of talk was inclusive language that was kind to trans people. It has certainly been inclusive by one measure: male people have been able to access places formerly reserved for women; changing rooms, hospital wards, and prisons, for example. But it hardly benefits women who have been expected to budge up and make room.
As a trans person, let me be clear: it is not kind to trans people to let us build our lives on a fallacy. Nobody can change sex, not even trans people.
While Penny Mordaunt may be willing to perpetuate this idea, increasing numbers of people – men and women, including trans people of both sexes – see the dangers. We are not bigots, or transphobes, or TERFs. We are reasonable people who think critically and understand reality when it stares us in the face.
Why? Because language is important. The words woman and man are defined in Section 212 of the Equality Act 2010:
'‘man’ means a male of any age; ‘woman’ means a female of any age.'
This is what women rely on when they defend their sex-based rights. If anyone can be a woman just because they feel like it then those rights are meaningless.
As more people wake up to the dangers, women’s rights can be reclaimed. The awakening in the women’s movement led by groups including Woman’s Place UK, For Women Scot, and Fair Play for Women will not be easily quelled.
Yet children caught up in the illusion that they can choose their sex face profound changes to their bodies that cannot easily be rectified. The Keira Bell case might have stopped the NHS handing out puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to children. But private providers continue to exploit loopholes in the law to prescribe life-altering drugs to children: children that they may never have actually met.
Language matters. The implications are massive, and this government needs to get a grip before any more damage is done. Mordaunt should learn from her mistake and think carefully before she repeats this mantra.