Finding a progressive way forward for women and trans people

On 17th January 2018 Kristina Harrison addressed the second Woman’s Place meeting in Manchester, following is a transcript of her speech, which is also available on YouTube.


It’s a cliche but I really am honoured to be invited to speak at this meeting and to speak alongside socialists, feminists of the calibre of Ruth Serwotka and Bea Campbell.

As a transwoman I have identified not ‘as’ a girl or a woman but with girls and women for most of my life…. I’m also a socialist who understands with absolute clarity, that there can be no progressive agenda that uses abuse and harassment to silence women, there can be no socialism of any kind, that tells women, we’re re-defining you, be quiet and submit and there can absolutely, never be any human liberation without women’s liberation. As someone who understands that, I value women’s rights as highly as I value my own trans rights.

That is why I’ve not only marched through these very streets here in Manchester against section 28, not only stood tall as a proud and unapologetic transwoman, demanding rights, but I have also demonstrated and picketed in defence of women’s abortion rights and their right to control their own bodies. It’s also why I am implacably opposed to both the proposals for self-recognition of gender identity and the current ideology of I’m sad to say, the majority of transgender activists.

There’s simply too much to try and cover all the problematic aspects of the self-identity proposals and current trans ideology in this speech and hopefully much more can come out in the discussion so I’m just going to touch on a few issues but before I do I want to put these things into a wider context that I think is crucial to a fuller understanding of what’s going on in what I think are very complex issues of gender as well as I think, critical distinctions between everyday social sensitivities and status or even to a large extent legal protections on the one hand and on the other more fundamental political, biological and philosophical distinctions which must also be reflected in law.

So, context. As one of those troublesome Marxists I’d argue that oppression is rooted not in individual prejudice but in systematic discrimination arising from the needs of various male dominated class societies, most recently, capitalism. One of those systemic aspects of discrimination are gender roles, their deliberate propagation and policing across generations. Such ideas are propagated through newspapers, film, TV and advertising industries and very much policed by right wing politicians, by corporate media, religious groups, by families influenced by the ongoing justification of these norms and still today here in Britain they are occasionally policed with violence by usually male bigots.

The idea that the extraordinary richness and diversity of human personality and interests can be adequately accommodated by two roles based upon a child’s genitals at birth is an absurd one. If it wasn’t such a deeply damaging and fundamentally inhumane notion it would be simply laughable, so why are we still subjected to these deeply restrictive rules that limit and suffocate the scope of girls aspirations, that tell girls they are weak, frivolous, vain and valued principally for their looks and boys that they must not cry, that tenderness, sensitivity and heaven forbid, playing with girls or with girls things is for cissy’s… and who wants to be one of those?

The reason we are still subjected to these arcane and artificial roles is they serve an important purpose for our ruling elite. These ideas have evolved over centuries fundamentally to keep women in their place in a subordinate role that now seeks to control their ability to bear and raise children in ways that maintain, nurture and replenish a healthy and productive workforce at very low cost or no cost to big business or the state and to control and exploit women’s sexualised bodies to sell commodities, to titillate men and to further divide and divert working people from recognising our common interests and common humanity. The system benefits hugely from all that. That’s partly why many establishment politicians, the likes of the Daily Mail, the Sun and other right-wing forces constantly push these norms.

Another is the gender role for males which has also evolved in ways which attempt to control and shape men, in particular working-class men, preparing them for their exploitation at work or for war. Though occupying a more socially valued and higher status category the gender role for men is still fundamentally restrictive and exploitative, setting unrealisable standards of toughness and emotional constipation for instance.

When trans identitists talk about ‘cis’ people as individuals who are somehow congruent with their gender, not in conflict with it all, I have to stifle a little laugh. I think it’s fundamentally misleading. Even a man who sees no conflict with his gender role but ends up committing suicide as all too many young men do, because his ‘role’ and the rules he thinks he has to live by as a man render him incapable of addressing and dealing with his emotional needs or feelings is in fact in a very real and all too human sense, in conflict with his unhealthy, unnatural and mentally corrosive gender role even if he doesn’t know it.

Only a minority of adults fully conform to the gender stereotypes for their sex. Most people find that their real lives and real personalities are more complex than stereotypes and whilst most conform in broadly socially acceptable senses they do not do so fully.

Many people, especially women become aware of the oppressive nature of their gender norms and actively rebel against them. Feminists and socialists such as myself are for the complete removal of these artificially created rules and roles. However, whilst women in particular are oppressed by them, as well as in many other ways, some children discover that major or central aspects or our natural personalities and childhood interests are so completely incompatible with the gender role and norms inflicted on us that we find our core sense of self completely rejected and delegitimised as children.

The very same traits and interests that bring us shame and rejection seem to bring love and pride toward children of the opposite sex….and boy do we notice! In my opinion this is one of the major reasons children can begin to feel trapped by their bodies because it is our bodies that determine whether our personality is treated with love and approval or shame and illegitimacy.

Is it really surprising then if kids begin identifying with and especially in the age of social media and an increasingly connected and ideological trans bubble ‘as’ members of the opposite sex, yet really, we are trapped by our norms, not by our bodies. On reaching puberty there is also evidence that children can also be further driven or perhaps even begin to be driven towards trans identities in some cases by sudden homophobic rejection of emerging gay or lesbian sexualities and also by revulsion towards and/or attraction towards sexualised imagery and involuntary associations or bodily changes.

So, we are oppressed because as defenceless children we are invalidated and abused by the policing of norms which serve powerful elements of society and often by our own families and immediate social circle. This rejection is hugely damaging to children. If and when we find the courage to continue to act in ways which are true to our natural self-expression both as children or later as adults we are often abused as deviant transgressors of gender norms and even though our situation has improved significantly in the last few decades we are still subject to social rejection, ridicule, discrimination and even violence.

It shouldn’t be a surprise then that many gender-rejected children can form entrenched opposite-sex identification and see their only chance of having a life of free self-expression without all that rejection and social illegitimacy is to undergo gender reassignment and ‘pass’, that is to be taken for a member of the opposite sex. That in my opinion is why as long as society attempts to keep shoving children into suffocating straitjackets that for some are just too painful to bear, gender reassignment will remain a life-affirming, even life-saving option for some people.

I do though think that we need to give our children every possibility to be fully informed and supported so that they can be as sure as they can be in young adulthood that they are not mistaken in their trans identity and the drastic surgeries and life-long medication that follows are not unnecessary and simply adding to deeper underlying issues. Clinicians should be free to help patients fully explore their underlying feelings, motivations and experiences to uncover the actual issues and whether a person is likely to benefit from reassignment treatment or not. We need more studies of the long-term outcomes for post-op transsexuals so that practice is evidence led, not ideology led. All this of course would be uncontroversial in any other arena of healthcare but is blasphemy to the self-identity campaigners who argue that trans identities are fixed and innate, that such an approach amounts to conversion therapy. This is nonsense. There’s no credible evidence of innate opposite-sex, gender identity and we know it’s not fixed because the majority of children who identify as trans eventually desist from their once firmly held identity.

We also have a growing minority of de-transitioners who realise after largely irreversible treatments that they were mistaken in their identity after all and have come to reject it. Some are people who eventually realised that their issues were in unresolved abuse, many de-transitioners are women who now realise that they were butch lesbians all along, they had been without role models and facing a triple whammy of homophobia, deeply embarrassingly hetero-sexualisation of their bodies and a deeply repulsive ‘pink’ gender role that was hugely restrictive and demeaning to masculine women. Yet, such is the extent of the liberal collapse before this trans ideology that according to Times journalist Janice Turner a recently approved NHS ‘memorandum of understanding’ states that questioning a patient’s declared gender or examining other underlying mental issues is equivalent to gay conversion therapy. Are young lesbians presenting as trans to be regarded as acceptable collateral damage then? That is not an ethical healthcare policy.

Gender Identity specialists themselves we are told, are afraid to speak out and afraid to do their job of actually exploring a patient’s underlying problems. In effect they can do little more than rubber stamp what may be a clear and good decision by one patient or a confused misreading of their thoughts and feelings by another. Self-identity will only ensure more vulnerable young people embark on treatments that will do them more harm than good. Trying to deconstruct, sex, gender and sexuality along with often many other issues is hugely complex. If understanding your own feelings and behaviour were so easy and obvious the fields of psychology and psychiatry would be pointless and redundant.

What this affirmation-only policy means then is that once young people self define as trans they will by default be on a conveyor belt towards irreversible treatment that for some will only compound their problems. This is a form of gross neglect and a burgeoning potential scandal. That this is being done in the name of trans rights to our children and young people when we already know these identities are often mistaken, makes me apoplectic with rage for the injustice and ideological blindness of it and the fact that in the very worst possible way this plays right into the hands of right-wing bigots and the gutter press who would love to return us to the days when calling trans people perverts and a danger to your kids is back in the mainstream.

Listening to so many of the trans activists you would think the oppressors of transwomen are feminists, such is the hate directed at women who refuse to accept that identifying as a woman magically makes you one. How could it? Yet feminists explicitly oppose the gender roles that transpeople are oppressed for transgressing and feminists are explicitly against discrimination or violence towards us.

No, we’re oppressed, fundamentally by a male dominated system and the violence we suffer from is typically from men. Whilst individual women may support or try to enforce gender roles or be prejudiced and hold transphobic or homophobic views, sometimes in powerful roles as adults over children, as journalists or as employers, on the whole women as a sex are neither in control of this society, nor can they be fundamentally responsible for its oppression of transgender people.

I find it both illuminating and deeply disappointing that instead of directing their anger at bigoted Tories, the hard right and the likes of the Daily Mail the targets for the most venom are women who refuse to know their place or bow to demands that infringe on sex-based rights. T-shirts like “kill a terf”, “Die terf scum” glorify violence and hatred against women. They have no place in any progressive movement. Whilst this may be the sentiment of a highly vocal and abusive minority it is incumbent upon trans activists who claim to be progressive, especially those who claim to be women or even to be ‘feminists’ to denounce such misogyny and expel such people from their campaigning groups.

It points to a wider issue of sexism though and one that is intractable within the logic of the current ideology. Insisting that identifying as a woman makes you a woman, is intrinsically sexist in the true sense of the word. Why? because inevitably if you say being a woman is fundamentally about psychology not biology then at best you minimise biological sex, you minimise women’s biological reality, their every-day experiences and also their long history of struggle for reproductive rights, sexual health and sex based rights. If you are blind to sex you will be blind to sexism.

As we see with the neglected rights of young butch lesbians, the usurped rights of women in the labour party to specifically address their own political under-representation as a sex by having seats and posts reserved for them being undermined without debate or consent and as were already seeing in terms of the de-legitimising and harassment of women who show a shred of independence from this movement, the female sex is being sidelined, re-defined and being told to make room without even a pretence of consultation…. And for what? for an Orwellian charade that’s not honest, not progressive, not rooted in reason.

People can’t be reasonably asked to accept something that’s not real, especially when it minimises their lives, but they can be asked to accept the equal validity and worth of transwomen and transmen, that we deserve protection, safety, dignity and equality and that we can find respect, solidarity, love and a sense of belonging by respecting both women and accepting ourselves for who we are, trans people and essentially, gender role refugees.

Our interests lie in a reality based approach which seeks to advance both groups rights and services, whilst respecting women’s autonomy as well as our own, needing as we do our own health statistics, specialist services and political representation.

Whilst the current law is not without its flaws it enjoys a fairly wide degree of credibility including I’d argue from women and it gives transsexuals who undergo gender reassignment, commonly understood to mean surgery and hormone treatment, protection in a legal category akin to a kind of legal manhood for transmen and a kind of legal womanhood for transwomen in most circumstances. In practice this gives us a wide degree of inclusion yet at least in theory if not in practice it maintains a distinction with biological sex and allows for sex based protections. This needs to be strengthened and simplified so that it is easy and practical to use where sex based protections are required by women.

Let me be clear, the final decisions on access to women’s spaces should lie with women but I am for arguing in defence of current laws which enables us to live broadly the way we want to live and with an everyday dignity previously denied to us. However…. I am not for the status quo. I am for a drastically improved and fully resourced system of assessment and treatment which is far quicker and more supportive than the current one. Waiting for up to 5 years from referral to be diagnosed, start treatment and gain legal protection is cruelly long and totally unacceptable.

We need prompt treatment and fully funded services, a range of above all safe unisex and single sex toilet and changing room provision and legal protection for everyone’s right to free gender expression, whether at work, at home or elsewhere. Above all we need to fight gender norms and the systemic forces that benefit from them, but as a tiny minority we cannot win without allying with the women’s movement and the broader Labour movement and that will only happen through mutual respect. One way to destroy that respect is to ignore biology and demand that subjective gender identity should trump objective biological reality. No, we will never tolerate that sexism but we will continue to work for the voluntary unity of all oppressed people against our common oppressors. I urge transgender people to join us in that fight and to speak out against the sexism and misogyny in the self identity movement.

One woman’s Journey

Dear Womans Place UK

I’m Patricia, female specimen of the human species and identificated as woman in the human world. I mean, I’m just a human female but I “live woman” more than I am one. My inner self doesn’t even have a name let alone a sex. I may not have the intellectual baggage a lot of my socialist feminist sisters have but I have enough to understand humans live on different levels depending on different axis of oppression affect their lives and how able or enabled they are to struggle against them. I cannot know this and simply say I’m woman. I live woman is more accurate at this level and on this level it’s not that different than living under a black identification.

I’m also a member of the Labour Party, following its change of stance re austerity.

I only woke up to the, then unimaginable, prospect of the seeing a minority’s rights being pit against women’s rights this December. Since then I’ve been avidly reading everything I can get my hands on and I’m increasingly worried.

To add to the glaring examples of violence against women speaking out (one of which managed to shut down a much beloved annual book fair), I’ve now read too many stories of how our younger lesbian sisters are finding themselves increasingly sidelined and silenced even in their own communities, of younger women (such as a friend’s daughter) trying to escape the misogyny of this world by transitioning. It’s hard not be worried.

I feel too green to to broach all of these subjects with confidence but I have enough confidence to speak out as I can.

I have a son. Before he was two we had to flee his father. The way society works my son and I were the ones to have been uprooted. My son and I were the ones to have had to leave everything behind. And my son and I are the ones living with the consequences of abuse of which a form of persistent depression I suffer from is one. I cannot imagine what it might have been like for us if we hadn’t been able to seek refuge with Women’s Aid then. Bruised and traumatised I also don’t know what it may have been like to have found a man in that house. It’s how traumatised I was.

For the 8 months I was there, it was beneficial for me not to have to deal with any men. This abuse-related phobia of men lasted a bit longer but I’m fairly okay now.

I recently had a row with a friend. She cried in disbelief as I extolled on the great spanner in the gender works that allowing men and women to self-ID as the opposite sex could represent. Oh how naive I have been for so long. I’m afraid to say, it was only then that I got it. Get it I did though.

What I have since then found about the claims made by trans ideologues is that they could set us back decades if not centuries. Female brains. Aaaargh!

It’s not just self-ID. It’s mental health for girls struggling as they discover their personalities in a misogynous world.

It’s healthcare professionals being pressured by policy into indulging young persons’ self-mutilation instead of helping them navigate the troubled waters of sexism.

I can’t speak on gender dysphoria per se but it strikes me as problematic that a one-size-fits-all solution to people who try to sail against sexist currents problem is being pushed even as each person pushes against them in different ways.

I’m delighted to have now started a standing order to help you send our message anywhere and everywhere. It’s not much but it will increase if the Labour Party fails to get its act together and listen to women in seriousness, in good faith and with all women in mind.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you are doing. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can get people in my area to help organise a meeting.

In solidarity,

Patricia

Open Letter to John Lansman on women’s political representation

Dear John Lansman

I have attached a copy of a response you sent to a feminist friend of mine after she requested reassurances from you, as a candidate for L.P. NEC elections, on the burning issue of womens political representation within our movement.

Your response appears rushed and quite confused and I hope this is because of your busy schedule rather than the priority you attach to the issue. I thought now, following the closure of ballot, it would be a good time to tackle your response and the concerns many Labour Party women have with your position and as such the reflection it is of a position of the wider movement.

You say you think it is a problem the L.P. has “not adequately reflected in its structures non binary identities”. What does this even mean? Women in the L.P. requested a reassurance from you of our place at the heart of our movement. You can only be confused by providing that reassurance if you think non-binary people will take the place of women.

You then suggest, and I do hope that this is a drafting error, that because of under representation of women in the party trans women can be treated as women. If you mean trans women can adequately represent the experiences and political and social battles of women for reproductive rights, for instance, or equal pay or for services to protect women from violence and harm or for adequate childcare services or adequate womens health care services I would respectfully suggest to you that you are wrong and you should urgently re-think. Only womens mass participation in the L.P. can ensure the party adequately represents women and only by encouraging women into membership and leadership of the party will we ensure we have a socialist party fit for purpose.

You go onto support the notion of self identity as the basis for categorizing “gender”. I have to hope that you support the idea from a position of ignorance as you have, in a single move, obliterated the sex categorisation protections upon which UK equality law is constructed. Have you consulted on this basis? Do you really think women in the party think this cavalier approach to our rights is acceptable? Women only shortlists exist on the basis of single *sex* exemptions, womens officer roles exist on the basis of sex. The reason for this are sound and remain urgent; it is to ensure the elevation of more women into the political life of the party. I do hope you continue to consider this a worthy political goal?

I am taken aback by your reference to “professional, white, middle class women” as if they are some sort of over represented, domineering group in politics. This is not true. By making such a reference you are in reality suggesting sexism does not exist, implying the battle for womens representation is over, that some women have privilege over men. It’s a very revealing passage in your response and I think motivates your approach to the whole question; you do not seem to think women further require protections or suffer sex discrimination. If that is your position you are wrong.

We agree that more trans people could be involved in the Labour Party. But I think that might involve men standing aside rather than womens political structures and organisation being obliterated. Why did you not even make a nod to the problem of the over representation of men in our political culture?

I do hope that the Party and the movement you represent understands this is an issue over which socialist women feel strongly and over which we will stand our ground. The reality is that one hundred years after the suffragettes the question of womens equal political participation and representation is not settled.

Ruth Serwotka
Convenor Socialist Feminist Network

A litany of myths, misrepresentations and misinformation

The following response to an article by Roz Kaveney in Red Pepper from Womans Place UK was originally published on Facebook after Red Pepper declined to publish it.

Woman’s Place UK: A Right of Reply

Woman’s Place UK rejects outright the litany of myths, misrepresentations and misinformation contained in Roz Kaveney’s article. To refute them one by one would make for tedious reading. Suffice to say that Woman’s Place UK is not transphobic; has not engaged in or supported any abuse; has not been responsible for posting offensive images or flyers; and is not actually running a campaign against the GRA. Neither has Venice Allan ever been a part of Woman’s Place UK (a fact she has stated publicly).

Woman’s Place UK is made up of people from a range of backgrounds who are rooted in trade unions, women’s organisations, academia, the NHS and other walks of life and who are determined to defend women’s hard won rights.

We are against all forms of discrimination. Transgender people should have the same rights as anyone else to be free from discrimination, to access the services that they need and to be treated with dignity and respect.

The demands of Woman’s Place UK, as outlined in our launch statement are quite specific and quite clear. We want:

  1. Respectful and evidence based discussion about the impact of the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act to be allowed to take place and for women’s voices to be heard;
  2. The principle of women only spaces to be upheld — and where necessary extended.
  3. A review of how the exemptions in the Equality Act which allow for single sex services or requirements that only a woman can apply for a job (such as in a domestic violence refuge) are being applied in practice;
  4. Government to consult with women’s organisations on how self-declaration would impact on women only services and spaces;
  5. Government to consult on how self-declaration will impact upon data gathering — such as crime, employment, pay, and health statistics — and monitoring of sex-based discrimination such as the gender pay gap.

We have held one meeting to date (in Cambridge) and have another planned in Manchester. A speaker from Woman’s Place UK spoke at a fringe organised by others at Labour Party Conference in Brighton. *

We reject Kaveney’s account of the incident at Hyde Park. In fact, it was this incident (clearly shown in this footage) that resulted in the creation of Woman’s Place UK.

Some of our members were there and they witnessed the unprovoked attack on a woman who was trying to attend a meeting which had to be relocated because of intimidation and threats. We were horrified that women were being prevented from discussing sex and gender and resolved to make sure these discussions would take place.

Women are routinely silenced, defamed, threatened, trolled, harassed and even physically assaulted for daring to engage in a discussion about the possible consequences of a legislative change. They are ‘doxxed’ and their employers are contacted via Twitter and urged to fire them. The accusation of “transphobia” should not be used to shut down women’s voices.

We are campaigning to ensure that women’s voices are heard on a question which affects them.

We do this because the Women & Equalities Select Inquiry failed to call in any women’s groups or feminists to give evidence in person.

We do this because so many other structures are failing in their responsibility to make sure women are heard.

We do this because it is the only way we will come to a progressive position which upholds the rights of everyone and allows us to move forward.

Woman’s Place UK


* We have been asked by Venice Allan to clarify further that Woman’s Place UK were not involved in the organisation of ‘What is Gender?’ held in London on 13 September and ‘Debate Not Hate’ held in Brighton on 27 September. We are happy to do so. Both these events were organised by a small team of women, including Venice Allan, none of whom are or have ever been involved with Woman’s Place UK. We also have no association with ‘We Need to Talk about the GRA’ held in York on 8 November, or any forthcoming meetings, organised by Venice Allan.

Protection of Women and Children’s Rights

An open letter to the leader of the Labour Party.


Dear Jeremy Corbyn

I am an ordinary working woman. I come from a trade union, Labour voting family – parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I have always voted Labour and I have been involved in anti-racist, gay liberation, pro NHS, feminist and trade union campaigns since I was a teenager. I have been a member of Labour and Momentum for some time. I write now, with a great deal of sadness. I have already written to my local MP but received back only a standard reply which did not address my concerns. Yet my experience tells me that what I write here represents the views of many ordinary women and men in this country.

As a woman and as the mother of a young woman, the protection and rights of women and children must be one of my priorities. Protection. not just against domestic abuse, rape, sexual exploitation, inadequate care services, degrading and demeaning representations and work underpayment but now against the demands, distortions, lies and claims of what appears to be a science-denying sect sweeping aside the safety of women and children and, which is apparently supported by yourself and the Labour Party. I refer of course to the very well- funded and, well organized, movement that claims that science, in the form of biology, is an illusion, and that only reported personal feelings determine whether one is a man or a woman.

As a feminist I do not care what gender role or fantasy people choose to act out as long as it does not harm others. I have no issue about the behaviour of transmen (adult women who claim to be men), cat people, dog people, baby adults or any other group because they neither threaten others, nor take away the hard fought for rights of other vulnerable groups. But I am concerned about fully intact physical males jeopardizing the safety of women by claiming the legal right to self- identify as a woman and to enter any female only space – changing rooms, domestic violence asylums, rape crisis centres, and women’s prisons and, to physically endanger and, in some cases, to actually seriously injure, women in women’s sports teams. Men who claim the right to take funding and positions meant by law to go to women. As part of a reality based community, I am concerned that the Orwellian erosion of meaning in our language will lead to a decline in our ability to debate and reason. Increasingly acts of male sexual violence rape and murder are being reported as female crimes, distorting facts, statistics and our understanding and analysis of crime. I am concerned that at the very time when the world needs science to defend the earth against global warming and the destruction of our natural habitat, science is being left undefended and undermined.

I hear claims that transgender people experience oppression and persecution, to which I am totally opposed. You pat yourselves on the back for being inclusive whilst women who try to broaden the debate away from the hostility of social media into the real world are subjected to abuse, intimidation and silencing. But you are too late to silence the debate. Feminist women and their male supporters will continue to look at the evidence and to question, whether we can vote for a Labour Party that is intent on destroying the rights of women, and the safety and health of our children by proclaiming that a transgender woman is a woman simply because they say so. A party which appears to be advocating gender rather than biological sex as the determinant in accessing female only services and spaces. A party whose spokeswoman, in the form of Emily Thornberry, on national TV weakly shrugs, smiles and says that she “doesn’t care” about men using women’s facilities. A party which consults only transgender activists -not women, -not de-transitioned people – not transsexual groups – about sex, gender and the consequences of transitioning confused and non-conforming young people. And which encourages people who are, biologically and legally, men to represent women on, and in, women’s posts and panels.

I fear that the Tory party will eventually pick up crucial votes from women swing voters on this issue and I do not want to see another Tory government attacking ordinary people’s living standards, destroying our NHS and destroying our environment. And yet who can women – who can I and my family – vote for, now that the Labour Party is throwing away our rights and threatening the safety of our children. How can Labour women vote at all? Is the Labour Party for the many? Because right now, it seems, it is for the few.

Yours sincerely,

Jan Oliver

Making sure A Woman’s Place is on the Platform

By Judith Green

When I heard that Linda Bellos had been ‘uninvited’ by a student society of a Cambridge college at which she had been due to speak, I knew I couldn’t let that stand. I asked her if she would speak at a Woman’s Place UK event, extending the invitation to speak in Cambridge that she had been denied. I was honoured she agreed. We announced our intention to hold a meeting, and set about deciding a date and a securing a venue.

A Woman’s Place is on the Platform

In the weeks leading up to the event, we heard of more women being shunned, intimidated, smeared and silenced for their views about gender. Helen Steel was threatened at the Anarchist Bookfair — we asked her to speak on our platform. Anne Ruzylo was subjected to an orchestrated campaign against her, prompting the entire executive committee of her Constituency Labour Party to resign in solidarity — we asked her to speak on her platform. Just days before the meeting, Heather Brunskell-Evans was placed under investigation by the Women’s Equality Party — she agreed to join our platform.

However, as soon as we made the tickets available, the attempt to shut down the meeting started in earnest. As the venue hadn’t been advertised it could not be put under pressure. Instead there was an organised campaign to book up all the tickets in order to quickly ‘sell out’ the event, and hence prevent those who genuinely wanted to hear our speakers from attending.

Had we stuck to our original capacity, we would have been ‘sold out’ in less than a day, and our speakers would have addressed an almost empty hall. Our attempt to have women’s voices heard would have been stillborn.

Once we realised this was an organised campaign, we acted as best we could to protect the viability of the meeting. Each time we had a flurry of seemingly fake bookings, we increased the number of available tickets to account for them. We made our very best efforts to attempt to distinguish between bookings made by those trying to disrupt the meeting and those by people who genuinely wanted to attend. It was easy to discount bookings that were abusive, silly or hostile.

Fake bookings made in the name of well-known feminists (sometimes misspelled) but with unlikely email addresses were also easy to discount.

If that’s not creepy enough fake bookings were also made in the name of women without a public profile, using false email addresses. The evening before the meeting our event site received a message from a Facebook user hoping that ISIS would blow us up. It wasn’t a direct threat — we assumed this man wasn’t connected with ISIS — but it did confirm that some feel violence against women wishing to speak on gender is justified.

We were understandably anxious about releasing tickets and venue details into well-networked in activist communities that announce their intention to shut down meetings and boast their ability to do so. Our anxiety was justified. When we our venue details were released, our venue was called within minutes and in an effort to have them withdraw their hospitality. It is reasonable to assume that had we released venue details more widely and earlier, the venue would have received many more and persistent demands not to host us. We didn’t wish to bring this trouble to their door. We are grateful that they did not succumb to the pressure they did receive.

In an effort to discredit the entire event, much has been made of a assertion by a single audience member that the transgender lobby is an alt-right movement. I have been to countless left meetings in my decades in politics. In almost all of them at least one man of the left has stood up and made a demagogic contribution, complete with hyperbolic over-reaching. Indeed, there are men on the left who have made whole careers out of such speechifying. We tend to gloss over their deficiencies (‘oh, he’s always like that’) and are able to focus on the big picture. But as Helen Steel pointed out in her powerful speech – we hold women to higher standards than we hold men, and demand perfect speech from women in order to allow them to speak at all. Her talk and those of Linda Bellos and Anne Ruzylo will be published in due course so that viewers can hear directly with what they have to say.

Anyone who feels that this meeting was less open than it could have been know to whom they must address their complaints: the lobby which has decided women have no legitimate right to speak on matters which affect our lives and use a catalogue of underhand tactics to shut our meetings down.

The Case for Single Sex Exemptions

Kiri Tunks is a teacher and an active teacher trade unionist and feminist.

The Gender Recognition Act GRA was passed in 2004 and, for the first time, allowed people who were uncomfortable with their sex to legally change their gender.

When the GRA was passed in 2004, women’s sector services lobbied for, and won, legal exemptions to enable them to provide single sex services on a case-by-case basis where there was a “proportionate response to a legitimate aim”. One example given in the EHRC guidance relating to the law was that of group counselling sessions for rape survivors because it was recognised that some female survivors would not attend such sessions if someone was present that they experienced as male. There are other scenarios like women’s refuges, women-only swimming sessions etc.

There is also an exemption for Genuine Occupational Requirements where a case can be made to employ someone according to their sex if the job requires it. An example of this is mammography where statistics show that a significant percentage of women would not attend this voluntary screening service if the mammographer was male — higher numbers might attend but will be uncomfortable with it and may not return. Other examples are jobs like bra fitting or running a women’s refuge. A specific case has to be made for these exemptions.

The Women’s & Equality Select Inquiry (WESC) proposals want to move to a process of gender self-identification and to remove these exemptions.

I agree there are problems with the GRA process (not least the requirement to prove you live like a man or a woman because that seems to play into stereotypes of gender that many of us are fighting against) but it is unclear what the impact of a change to self-identity will be and whether the numbers will increase.

However, it seems perfectly reasonable for women to want to retain the rights to legal exemption where necessary and proportionate. This is what women’s organisations like A Woman’s Place UK are demanding.

Seeking to maintain these quite limited exemptions is presented as women attacking Trans rights when it is about women preserving rights they have won to ameliorate the oppression they face in society.

Society doesn’t seem to be doing much to make things better — endemic levels of sexual harassment and violence, nearly 3 women a week killed by intimate partners, workplace discrimination and the gender pay gap, pregnancy discrimination, the impact of austerity of public services which women rely on heavily etc, etc.

To add insult to injury, these concerns were not properly considered by the Women & Equalities Select Committee — women’s groups who made submissions to the Inquiry were not called to give evidence in person and their concerns were not addressed by the findings of the Inquiry. Perhaps if they had been we would be in a better place now.

I cannot think of another oppressed group with protected characteristics under the law who would be expected to give up rights they have won without consultation or consideration. Yet, when women insist their concerns will be heard they are denounced and abused. None of this reassures us that society cares about women’s needs. As usual, we are expected to accommodate and make the best of things.

I realise there are women who say they don’t need these exemptions but that has always been the case. Maybe they don’t; maybe they haven’t needed to yet. That’s fine, they don’t need to make use of them. But there are many, many women who do. At the moment, they have that right under the law. They want to retain that right. It’s as simple as that.

Kiri Tunks

Equality Act 2010 Exemptions Should Be Retained, Strengthened And Extended

Following is a written version of the talk given by Judith Green on 31st October 2017 at a Transgender Law Concerns Meeting held in the House of Commons, which was chaired by David T C Davies MP. Talks given by the other speakers have been published on other sites, Miranda Yardley, Stephanie Davies-Arai, Transgender Trend and James Caspian, UKCP.


In thanking David Davies, I have a small confession to make. I’m a card-carrying member of the Labour Party and David’s party won’t be winning my vote, but he has won my gratitude for giving me this platform.

The current law sets out that being discriminating is not discriminatory where it is a proportional means of achieving a legitimate aim. This is a good law. It permits distinctions to be made that are vital for women. For example, women-only shortlists as a way of increasing representation in parliament are perfectly legal under the Equality Act. The same law permits a distinction to be made between those of us who are women by virtue of our sex and those who have a legally recognised gender under the provisions of the Gender Recognition Act.[1]

I’m here to talk about why this principle is absolutely vital to women, but also about some of the problems in the application of the law and how it could be strengthened. One of the reasons I feel so strongly is my own experience of using women-only services.

Due to my experiences of male violence, I was a justifiably angry and traumatised teenager. I left home and moved halfway across the country at sixteen. An organisation for female survivors of childhood sexual abuse was vital to my recovery. We were more or less a self-help organisation — fundraising to pay for therapists to facilitate small groups. The barriers to accessing that support were huge. For months I put off attending.

But once I found my courage, I never looked back. Amongst other female survivors I learned that I wasn’t alone, that it wasn’t my fault, that I was entitled to feel angry, that my boundaries were important, my truth and understanding of reality were important – not the lies imposed on me by the man who assaulted and raped me. That my instincts to protect myself, which I had suppressed in a situation where I had no hope of escape, were good ones to be trusted. I needed women-only space to learn these lessons.

In that organisation we had discussions about our relationship with groups for male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. We decided we wanted solidarity but not shared space. This was not only because including men would have hindered the valuable work I’ve just described, but also because, as women, we had been brought up to take care of others. We didn’t want to also take on that role for male survivors. For many of us, with boyfriends or husbands, this was the one space where we put our own needs first.

In those groups, what mattered to us was we were all of the same sex, not that we shared a letter on a driving licence or a reissued birth certificate. I imagine myself at that age, plucking up the courage after months to finally go to a meeting and finding myself sharing the space with someone physically male. All the vital lessons – about truth telling, boundaries, trusting my instincts and speaking up would have been undone in that moment. I would have been uncomfortable and silenced, familiar experiences from years of abuse. I would have been re-traumatised. I would not have gone back.

This is why such groups are given as an example in the guidance notes on the Equality Act, to explain that single-sex spaces can be exempt from including those who have a legally recognised gender through gender reassignment.[2]

However, the current law is not working to protect women-only spaces. I give as an example the service I used. It no longer offers spaces exclusively for women, instead advertising its services as being for self-defined females: that is for anyone who defines as female irrespective of their sex, and thus includes those who are physically male. Although the Equality Act permits an exemption, the organisation that allowed me to rebuild my life has chosen not to invoke it. Why?

The law is top-down. It relies on organisations to act on behalf of their clients but gives those service-users no rights to demand exemptions are invoked. It gives no rights to the most vulnerable service-users who are likely to feel the need for sex-segregated spaces most keenly. There is no obligation to consider whether invoking the exemptions is necessary in order to achieve legitimate aims. The cultural climate of funding considerations and activism intimidate organisations that might otherwise use the exemptions. They simply can’t afford to defend a legal case or be bogged down in a messy campaign against them. Official government guidance – co-written with campaigners taking a one-sided view – says exemptions only apply in ‘exceptional’ circumstances.[3]

But my circumstance is actually not that exceptional. Male violence against women is very common. According to the Office of National Statistics:

  • 26% of women have experienced domestic abuse since the age of sixteen.[4]
  • 5% of women have been raped since the age of sixteen.[5]
  • 20% of women have been a victim of a sexual offence since the age of sixteen.[5]
  • 11% of women have been a victim of sexual abuse in childhood, that is up to and including the age of fifteen.[6]

Even allowing for some overlap between these groups this is a massive constituency, amounting to millions of women in the UK. For those women who have escaped this type of violence, navigating male sexual aggression, intrusiveness and harassment is a much more universal female experience. This has been very clear in recent weeks with social media campaigns of women speaking out, such as #MeToo.

I’ve talked about one type of woman-only space. And you may be sympathetic to the need for protections for women in those circumstances. However, women are not only survivors of or fearful of male violence when we are in therapeutic groups. We carry these experiences with us when we use the swimming pool, use fitting rooms in a department store, when we are inpatients in hospital (where the policy to eliminate Mixed Sex Accommodation should apply). We are survivors of male sexual violence when we receive health services such as cervical screening and maternity care. I now work on the other side, in women’s health. It is widely recognised that women have a right to request a practitioner of the same sex, without having to give explanations or apology. It is a very sensitive area in which gender should not be allowed to override the category of sex.

We know that female prisoners are even more likely to have experienced male violence than other women.[7] Due to differences in patterns of offending, male prisoners outnumber female prisoners by 22 to 1. Even relatively small numbers of prisoners relocating from the male estate following transition would have a disproportionate impact on the women’s estate. In Littlehey, the largest dedicated prison for male sex offenders in the UK, it is reported there are eleven inmates on the Transgender Pathway, just under 1% of the inmates.[8] If across the male estate 1% of prisoners with convictions for sexual offences transitioned and were therefore relocated, they would outnumber the entire population currently imprisoned for sexual offences within the women’s estate.[9] If reflecting female-offending patterns, you would expect transgender prisoners to be a much smaller fraction of male sex offenders. That they are overrepresented suggests male patterns of offending are unaffected by gender-identity or transition, in keeping with the findings of a Swedish study published in 2011.[10] This overrepresentation has also been commented on by the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists who note the ‘ever-increasing tide of referrals of patients in prison serving long or indeterminate sentences for serious sexual offences. These vastly outnumber the number of prisoners incarcerated for more ordinary, non-sexual, offences.”[11] The Prison Service is entitled under Schedule 23 of the Equality Act to invoke exemptions to protect female prisoners in communal accommodation, but has chosen not to with some examples of abuses as a result.[12] Segregation on the basis of gender-identity cannot be an acceptable substitute for sex-segregation if we are to uphold the human rights of women prisoners and protect them from harm.

The statistics I’ve used depend on the category of sex – male and female – having meaning. Yet we have recently seen the Office of National Statistics recommend, albeit tentatively, that the question in the Census on sex be made non-mandatory, therefore undermining accurate comprehensive data collection.[13] Exemptions should be upheld in the visceral realm of health care and prisons and all the other physical single-sex spaces I’ve discussed and many others I haven’t had time to cover. If gender identity has primacy over sex, then sex as a protected characteristic ceases to exist. It is vital to extend the exemptions so that meaningful distinctions can be made in data collection and in law. Without that commitment, women simply won’t count.

Judith Green

References

[1] Equality Act 2010. Schedule 3 (in relation to service provision). Schedule 9 (in relation to employment). Section 195 (in relation to sport). Schedule 23 (in relation to communal accommodation).

[2] Equality Act 2010. Explanatory notes. “A group counselling session is provided for female victims of sexual assault. The organisers do not allow transsexual people to attend as they judge that the clients who attend the group session are unlikely to do so if a male-to-female transsexual person was also there. This would be lawful.”

[3] Government Equalities Office & Gendered Intelligence. Providing services for transgender customers: A guide November 2015

[4] Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) Compendium Domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking, year ending Mar 2016

[5] [5] Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) Compendium Focus on violent crime and sexual offences, England and Wales: year ending Mar 2016

[6] Abuse during childhood: Findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, year ending March 2016

[7] http://www.womeninprison.org.uk/research/key-facts.php

[8] https://www.imb.org.uk/report/2016-17-imb-littlehey-annual-report/

[9] The Number of Gender Variant People in the UK – Update 2011 archived at https://uktrans.info/attachments/article/197/Prevalence2011.pdf see also https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/prison-population-figures-2016

[10] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0016885

[11] http://data.parliament.uk/WrittenEvidence/CommitteeEvidence.svc/EvidenceDocument/Women%20and%20Equalities/Transgender%20Equality/written/19532.html

[12] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4856268/Transgender-rapist-moved-women-jail-segregated.html https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2792998/pre-op-transgender-killer-moved-back-mens-wing-sex-female-inmates/

[13] https://www.ons.gov.uk/methodology/classificationsandstandards/measuringequality/genderidentity/qualitativeresearchongenderidentityphase1summaryreport


The photo of the panel of speaker above was copied from Twitter

Helen Steel aggressively bullied at the London Anarchist Bookfair

Helen Steel is a very well known and respected activist due to her role in The McLibel Trial and as a victim of undercover police officers. Following is a statement written by Helen, about her experience at the London Anarchist Bookfair held on 28th October 2017, where she defended Olivia and another woman who were attacked for giving out leaflets. This statement was originally posted on Facebook as images, then turned into text using OCR by supporters then posted to a WordPress blog, we have also reproduced the introduction Helen posted on Facebook. Helen can be found on Twitter @helensteel12 and on Facebook.

Introduction

This is my statement on events at the Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday, where I and other women were aggressively bullied by around 30 trans activists. The bullying has continued since then, with many friends and colleagues being told to disassociate themselves from me, condemn me and the other women and the Bookfair or else be de-friended themselves. Malicious rumours have been spread about me. I have also received death threats. Many other women have been bullied in this way previously to silence women’s voices. Please read the statement and share it to help resist this bullying. Women have the right to speak about matters which affect their lives. I thank everyone who has sent me messages of support during this time, your solidarity is appreciated.

Statement on events at Anarchist Bookfair 2017

I was in the process of writing a longer article around the events at the Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday, but I am also trying to stay on top of the rest of my life while dealing with the horrendous bullying of people around me which is underway by some trans activists and allies. I have been traumatised by my experiences on Saturday and by events since, resulting in a lack of sleep and inability to concentrate. I wanted to complete the longer article, but as lies are being circulated by those who attacked me, I feel I have to put out a shorter statement now.

When I refer to trans activists in this statement I mean people who are activists on trans issues, I do not mean that all of them were trans, nor that they represent the views of all trans identifying people. For those who don’t know what TERF means, it is an acronym for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist, but whatever its origins it is currently used as a term of abuse to dehumanise women and so excuse violence and bullying against them.

I thank everyone who is taking a stand against bullying and I urge more people to stand in solidarity too. Those trans activists and allies who are carrying out the bullying can be defeated by growing numbers of people resisting that bullying. This will facilitate a proper space for the concerns of women and trans identifying people to be discussed.

Short statement on the facts:

  • The Tories are planning to amend the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) to include Gender Identity as a protected characteristic in law. This does affect women and as such, women have a right to express their views on this issue.
  • I am aware of three leaflets which were distributed at the Bookfair. I did not actually write or distribute any of them, but I supported other women’s rights to distribute them. The first leaflet I heard complaints about is available here.
  • None of them call for violence against trans identifying people, obviously I would not have supported them if they had.
  • Refusing to validate other people’s belief systems is not the same as threatening to harm them.
  • Bullying people to force them to accept your views does harm people.
  • If you think that other people should not be allowed to question your ideology, it makes you an authoritarian NOT an anarchist.
  • Women are oppressed in our society on the basis of our sex, those who deny this perpetuate that sexism.
  • It is a basic concept of progressive politics that oppressed groups have the right to self organisation and autonomy in their fight against their oppression.
  • I intervened to stop the bullying of two women who had been distributing leaflets about the GRA at the Bookfair and who were surrounded and being threatened by trans activists. Women’s voices have been silenced throughout history, which is why so many people have internalised misogyny and the assumption that women’s concerns are unimportant.
  • Half an hour later, I was surrounded for over an hour by a baying mob of around 30 trans activists who shouted misogynistic abuse in my face and at others, and who would not leave me alone. This included: ugly Terf, fucking Terf scum, bitch, fascist and more. That kind of behaviour should have no place in anarchism or any other progressive politics.
  • Despite that provocation, I did not at any time threaten or assault anyone. No trans activists were threatened by anyone else in my sight or hearing.
  • While I was surrounded, I saw a man’s hand moving towards my face and when it was within inches of my face I blocked it and pushed his arm away. He then started shouting that I had assaulted him and I should be thrown out.
  • Some of those in the baying mob tried to stoke anger and division by calling me a snitch, making false claims that I had filmed them assaulting a feminist at Speakers Corner and had handed that footage to the police. Footage of the incident is available and actually shows me intervening to protect the victim of the assault, not filming it. The videos embedded in this article show what actually happened, please do watch them and see the truth for yourself.
  • Their claim of ‘snitch’ in the circumstances is obscene in any event – when you assault women you do not get to claim the moral high ground by complaining that they have reported your behaviour to the police.
  • Those in the mob asserted that the leaflets setting out women’s concerns about the GRA should not be handed out because they amount to violence against trans people. They then used this to justify actual physical violence and intimidation. They didn’t care about the distress caused to others in close proximity, including children. Nor did they care about the trauma they cause to women by surrounding us, threatening us and using violence to silence women’s voices, repeating the patterns women face throughout our lives when reporting sexual harassment or assault or other sexist behaviour.
  • Women’s experiences are always erased – we are asked what were we wearing at the time, what did we say and do. Always the message is; as a woman it’s your fault, shut up. So what’s new here?
  • It is absolutely ludicrous that anyone could think that the behaviour of the mob was justified in any way by my actions or those of other women. That is victim blaming. People need to take a reality check.
  • Progressive people need to call out sexism, male dominance and violence and stop protecting sexist behaviour. Those offering support to bullies need to stop appeasing sexist behaviour.
  • Nonsense claims equating feminism to fascism are an insult both to feminists and to those who have endured racist and state violence under fascist regimes.

Of course I believe that all trans identifying people have the right to live their lives free from harassment and abuse, as does everyone. But I note the double standards that while women are repeatedly told to explicitly affirm that right, there is never a requirement on those advocating for trans issues to acknowledge the level of violence and harassment that women face or to state their opposition to sexist abuse, or to challenge the outrageous statements made by some trans advocates which repeatedly deny women’s experiences and silence women’s voices. This is a power imbalance based on the long held expectation in society that women should be subservient.

It is notable that a statement issued a few days ago calling for groups to boycott the Bookfair in future, makes no mention of sexism or of women’s rights or for the provision of women only meeting spaces. There is no acknowledgement at all that women are subject to oppression, sexual violence and harassment on the basis of our sex. It appears that those who have signed the statement are in denial about women’s experiences in much the same way that the rest of society is. Only the recent and snowballing reports of sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood, Parliament and via #MeToo have started to awaken people to reality. It is time those who signed up acknowledged that reality too.

The Anarchist Bookfair organisers do a huge amount of work to facilitate an amazing event which allows thousands of people to learn about alternative views and experiences of oppression and to discuss ways to improve society for the benefit of all. The self entitled mob attacking women for leafleting thought they had the right to dictate who could say what in that space rather than arguing their views and listening to the counter arguments to develop critical thinking. They need to think again.

I am lucky to have so many friends and comrades who put themselves in the line of fire to protect me, I thank them for this, especially those who were assaulted and abused. I also thank everyone who has sent messages of solidarity and support which are enabling me to get through this horrendous experience. I include in my thanks those trans identifying people and supporters who may not agree with my views but who recognise the importance of women being able to speak too and are resisting the intimidation they face from people claiming to act in their name.

I want to add that a couple of people have commented that while they agree with women being able to speak on these issues, they feel that in a few places the wording used is not helpful. The problem with requiring leaflets to be perfectly worded before they can be distributed is that it excludes very many people from being able to express their opinions. Only the confident will feel able to speak. It particularly excludes those born female who are generally socialised from a young age to keep quiet about their views and so who are less confident about expressing them. Perfection is certainly not a qualification used to prevent men from speaking. And ultimately, who decides what is right? That is the purpose of having debate, so we can all clarify our thinking.

Helen Steel

Leaflets distributed at the bookfair about the Gender Recognition Act

I am attaching the leaflets so people can read for themselves rather than speculating about what they said. Before people jump to conclusions about the leaflets, I would like them to understand the violent misogynistic bullying and death threats that women are being subjected to by a really vile subset of trans activists, so that they are aware of some of the context of women’s concerns. This abuse has been going on for a long time now. People need to understand just how frightening and intimidating it is for women, and why women are fighting back and need allies to stop this abuse and create the space for discussion on these issues. Here are a few examples, there are plenty more on terfisaslur.com.

Note my twitter handle is copied in on this so I can see the the threat of killing terfs.

Sex and Gender Ethics Society

The Sex and Gender Ethics Society leaflet distributed at the London Anarchist Bookfair can be downloaded from here, a longer version has been copied here.

Mayday for Women

The Mayday4Women leaflet:

Erasure

The erasure leaflet:

Let’s talk about Eddie Izzard

He’s been in the press promoting himself for election to the Labour NEC and one has to assume that he considers himself material for a parliamentary seat. Yesterday he said “Labour needed to tap into the diversity within our movement” and “do more to increase involvement from a range of groups that I don’t feel are represented enough in our party”. This is the language we are deeply comfortable with and indeed how could anyone object? It is an appeal, on the grounds of equality, for greater representation of under-represented groups. However, in this case, it is a trojan horse. Hiding behind the fine words are ideas that cannot continue to go unaddressed because Izzard is not talking about getting more women, for example, into parliament, the greatest under represented group of all in our democratic high places, but of promoting people like himself without any further scrutiny of his politics.

Izzard is the latest in a number of high profile celebrity males to claim some aspect of the transgender umbrella for themselves. Bizarrely on Monday the bearded Sam Smith claimed to be a woman, a non-binary transgender person stating “I feel just as much woman as I am man”, making it all seem so cutting edge and fashionable. Of course its not obvious to most that a male bodied person with a beard is so obviously a woman. And similarly with Izzard who recently said “I have some of the same genetics as women so I am transgender” and as proof he utilised his love of high heels and posed in a ridiculous pair of boots which one is unlikely to see on a woman. As with many trans identifying males Izzard shows a great affinity with the stereotypical sexist persona of the femme fatal and zero identification with the harassed single mum making ends meet.

Eddie Izzard is particularly problematic to us as socialists because he looks ready to infiltrate political spaces that are meant for women and has all the language to tell women to shut up when we notice and raise objections. Wikipeadia describes Izzard as identifying as “a straight transvestite or a male lesbian”. He has also described himself as “a lesbian trapped in a man’s body”, transgender and “a complete boy plus half girl”. Describing yourself as a “lesbian trapped in a man’s body” does not just hint at a man struggling with dysphoria but suggests a man who struggles with recognising womens boundaries. His comments are deeply insensitive to the sexuality of lesbianism which precludes men entirely. He seems oblivious to the notion of female same sex attraction and thinks he, as a man, can also make a claim on it.

He has further dismissed feminist concerns about gender neutral toilets and moves towards mixed sex changing rooms similarly ignoring the real boundaries women fear being infringed. When men make these dismissive generalities about women’s concerns you know that they’ve given no thought to the teenage girl going to the non-binary school loo with tampons in her bag. She should make no objection to the boys hanging about whilst she deals with her most intimate bodily functions. She should instead think she has some sort of privilege over them suggests Izzard who has promoted the idea of chemically inducing menstruation in men so they’re not missing out. There’s a lack of imagination involved in the extreme end of transgender ideology, ironically it involves zero empathy with women and girls.

But this is the real the elephant in the room. Izzard wants us to acknowledge he’s transgender, he wants us to consider him on the woman spectrum, he also wants political clout. The next move for transgender activists, I have little doubt, is to demand they are placed on Labour Party women only short lists. The next move is to demand that “cis” women move aside for them.

Woman’s Place UK, the campaign to secure exemptions in law from new legislation to support gender self-identity, has listed one of the areas for exemptions as women’s political representation. We do not want to move back on the progress made by feminists in the party for women only shortlists which have helped make small steps to the greater representation of women in parliament, or in the movement in general. Further, the Labour Party now has excellent working class women on their benches such as Laura Pidcock, Rebecca Long Bailey, Dawn Butler to name just a few and we do not want these gains undermined in any way.

Izzard shows us what is at stake, shows us why women have to wake up and why exemptions are crucial. Some men have the nerve (the balls one might say) to literally march in and demand we hand over the gains we have made to them.

Ruth Serwotka


This article was originally posted to Facebook on 25th October 2017.