Making room for trans people in society.
Please note: these views are my own and do not reflect Speak Up For Women policy. They are by no means comprehensive — rather a few thoughts and an evergreen offer of conversation and conflict resolution.
We are destined, by our nature as social animals with freewill, to disagree about everything large and small. We disagree about whether there is a god or not, or if there is one god or multiple gods, or if it is my god or your god. We disagree about whether the state should have the right to end a person’s life because they ended someone else’s. Or whether we should have the right to end our own life with medical assistance. We even disagree about whether we are a disagreeing. We cannot agree on what is funny, what is art, what is fair, and certainly we have shown over and over that we cannot come to a single consensus on what is offensive. And of course, the ultimate of all disagreements…whether coriander is a herby abomination or a pleasant addition to a meal.
It is important, therefore, to acknowledge that disagreeing cannot be inherently bad, as it is inevitable. We must accept that it is part of life and often a very helpful part of living in a society. We must learn to disagree in productive or at least less anti-social ways. We must know when it is imperative to continue to argue and when it is time to cut our losses. And, hardest of all, it is vital that we find ways to compromise on our positions and resolve the conflicts that result from these disagreements.
Perhaps it is part of the human condition to feel as if our little spot in time is the most fraught, but I certainly wonder at times if there was ever a time so politically dysfunctional as the present. The extremes on both the left and the right seem to be becoming more and more unhinged and more and more convinced that the problem is the other. It feels like polarisation is rapidly becoming our norm and that makes it impossible for us to disagree in ways that result in compromise or democratic consensus. I refuse to believe that we are destined to tear each other apart and that is why despite knowing that my ‘opponents’ are determined to see me as a force of pure evil, I will continue to ask over and over again for constructive conversation.
I have been vocal in my defence of and advocacy for women’s rights and from that I will not budge. From our defensive position trying to hold back what feels like an attack on our rights, our history, our sense of self, our ability to name ourselves, our bodies and our oppressors, it has been difficult to imagine any kind of resolution. The hatred we face each day in the form of name-calling, threats, bullying, and ostracism does not fill me with much hope. Women have been assaulted, lost their jobs, their livelihoods, their reputations, friends, and family. The stakes are so incredibly high and that is why I ask, again, for constructive conversation.
When I look at those who oppose us — transactivists and alike — I see a multi-layered and far from unified force. There are some bad actors at the core for sure. They have taken postmodern social deconstructionism and run with it. They are anarchists and want to watch the world burn. As we move further out from the core though, there are people and groups with varying intentions and degrees knowledge of what is going on. There are people genuinely suffering from gender dysphoria who see the movement as a way to improve their lives. There are eternal activists looking for something to do post-marriage equality success. There seems to be an army of men on the internet who want any excuse to be hateful to women without consequences and there are those who are caught up in the tribalism of it all and who enjoy a social media conflict. The biggest group of all are those who know very little about what is going on, but like to do the right thing and have been told that “TERFs make kids kill themselves”. What I don’t see are any solutions that will satisfy all strata of the layer cake.
While I will not compromise on women’s rights. I do genuinely want to find solutions to end the conflict in this divisive and hostile political space. I believe in universal human rights and that as a society we should strive to enable everyone to live the best life they can. We must promote equality of opportunity, caring for those in need, and peaceful coexistence. So, tentatively, I present some ways I think we can better make room for transgender people in society…
I will start by making a couple of assumptions:
- Transgender people want to feel validated and welcome in society.
- Transgender people want to live their lives free of violence, discrimination, and impoverishment, in a way that feels authentic to them.
I believe we can achieve this, but in order to do so we must be willing to accept some established facts. We can only work together and be successful if we agree on the key truths. Of utmost importance is a willingness to accept proven truths even when we do not like them. For example:
- Humans cannot literally change sex.
- There are two sexes in our species; males who produce small gametes and females who produce large gametes.
- The existence of disorders of sexual development does not disprove that there are only two sexes, nor does it prove humans are able to change sex.
Accepting these facts does not mean that we cannot succeed in achieving the assumed goals above. In fact, from a sturdy foundation of agreed science and knowledge, more sustainable change and progress is possible.
It is not just facts that we must agree on, it is each other’s humanity. Whatever our wider world views, we must be able to treat each other with dignity and understanding and without violence. If we approach this on the assumption that we are all seeking to protect and promote our own interests and neither group wants to do the other harm, we can begin to see how this doesn’t need to have a winner and a loser.
“Human rights are not a pie…”
I have heard that a few times and while I agree wholeheartedly that they should not be a pie, I think the approach of trans activists thus far has made it feel like one. Their strategy has been to simply force their way into the sex class they want to be part of with little regard for those who belong in it. They seem to think the only way for them to succeed is to make society agree that “TRANSWOMEN ARE WOMEN”. Remembering our agreed facts above, it is clear that this strategy will not be successful. Humans resist being made to lie about something plainly observable. We don’t need to force trans people into the pie. We can make room for them as they are. I propose that we get rid of these hardline, destined-to-fail tactics and agree on a few more things:
- Transwomen are transwomen and are entitled to be treated with dignity and not be discriminated against.
- Transmen are transmen and are entitled to be treated with dignity and not be discriminated against.
In order to be ‘trans’, a person has to make some kind of transition. Since we know humans can’t change sex we know it is not their sex that transitions, it is their experience and presentation of gender (the stereotypes and attributes society has imposed upon the sexes). Therefore we know that a transwoman is male and transman is female because their expression of gender is not conventional to their sex. These facts do not necessitate that trans people should not exist — as is often charged. In fact, the opposite is true. The ‘existence’ of trans people is erased when we pretend that their experience of transition doesn’t exist. We should be teaching acceptance of gender non-conformity and protecting trans people from discrimination by virtue of their trans-ness, not ramming lies like “TWAW” down the throat of society.
The overwhelming majority of trans people do not pass. Mostly this is through no fault of their own — although trolls like Danielle Muscato do no good for the genuine trans cause. It is relatively easy to spot a male frame from a female one and medical transition isn’t able to mask all secondary sex characteristics. Additionally, humans are simply attuned to discerning between the sexes. We evolved a sharp ability to do this in order to protect the survival of the individual and our species, recognising threats and potential reproductive mates. It is the honest truth that excepting a few anomalies, passing is a pretty unattainable goal and that setting this up as if it is the norm is setting trans people up to experience further dysphoria and heartbreak. It is because trans-ness is almost always going to be perceived that it is crucial that society is taught to accept trans-ness itself. Society must be taught to make room for trans people because trying to force everyone into an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ situation will never work — in general people are not going to enable a fiction that impacts their life and doesn’t benefit them or the ones they love. I realise this sounds harsh, but I am not being gratuitously so. I believe that forcing the fiction is a big part of the reason a lot of people struggle with the trans movement.
In New Zealand, like other English-speaking liberal countries, we have a society that is much more accustomed to change. People want to be progressive in accepting difference on the whole. It is my belief that if New Zealanders were asked to accept trans people as they are, most people would already be onboard. We are a live-and-let-live kind of place. However, it is when acceptance becomes a demand to redefine our entire cultural framework that people start backing away.
Throughout history there have been societies that recognised that, layered over the two sexes, a varied number of gender expressions could exist. I propose we start to shape our own world similarly. At a base level we need to acknowledge the two sexes as for many reasons — including medical, scientific, and rights-based — we need to be sex-segregated in certain circumstances. However, at other times I propose we operate with four social categories instead of two: women, men, transmen, and transwomen. By formalising acceptance of the two trans identities we explicitly validate the existence of gender non-conforming people who choose to transition. If we make it common place for forms, registrations, and in language to include transwomen and transmen we will see people from these communities more able to assert their identity without fear of invalidation. We could have the options of TW or TM join M and F on driver’s licenses and passports and facilitate a process in which a trans person could get some kind of document that serves the same functions as a birth certificate with TM or TW on it. We are told that having the “wrong” sex on one’s ID is horribly embarrassing but it must be even worse to have an updated ID with one’s desired sex on it questioned because you aren’t believed. The simple honesty of having TW or TM on documentation would remove confusion and enable people to feel confident in how they engage with you.
The key thing here is to also facilitate wider attitude changes by making transgenderism its own thing to be accepted rather than an enforced lie. The message society will receive is that there is room for trans people to be openly trans among us. Rather than being marginalised, trans people would be brought into the fold.
It would be important in this process to depathologise transgenderism so that as a normal part of society trans people would not be treated as deficient in someway or so fragile that they cannot participate fully in life. However, knowing (as we do) that currently transgenderism comes with certain comorbidities, in my ideal world, we would provide the community with additional support in the form of mental health services. These would not be with the aim to treat the person’s “trans-ness”, but rather to treat the key comorbidities like depression, suicidality, eating disorders, personality disorders etc.
In addition, getting some high quality data and research programmes underway would be vitally important to helping support this part of our society. Currently, there is not enough information available about trans health especially in regards to medical and surgical transition. The risks involved with taking cross-hormones and under going surgery are very high and we need to do proper analysis of the potential harm before sending more and more people down that path. Studies and research have been shut down following protests from transactivists who seek to control the rhetoric of the community, but who knows what wonderful medical advancements lay waiting in this kind of research that could really benefit trans lives.
Following on from this, it is my strong belief that medical and surgical transitioning should be only allowed from the age of 18. No child can make such a life-altering decision and no adult should place a child on the path to sterilisation. I also believe it is imperative to let kids grow as organically as possible exploring the world and their identity. Let kids be who they want to be but no formal social transition should happen before age 16. This is not conversion therapy. I am not advocating for gender non-conforming children to be forced to perform the gender stereotypes associated with their sex. Not at all. I’m saying that they should be allowed to be gender non-conforming without being taught that that has any bearing on their sex. They should be supported and protected from discrimination and harm.
Trans people should be given the same opportunities to enjoy and compete in sport as everyone else. However, because of the vast differences in athletic capability between male and female bodies, we must organise sport by sex not gender identity. That means we must support trans athletes to compete in their sex category. We must create a supportive environment where how someone expresses their gender does not prevent them from safely competing in their sex class. Our battle should be against those who seek to discriminate, not against those of us speaking up for fair competition. This not about exclusion of trans people. This is simply advocacy for organising how we compete in sports in a way that protects women’s existing rights and enables fair competition.
There are many other ideas and thoughts I have on the subject. I desperately want solutions that will allow us to move forward collectively. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I am earnest in my desire to find them. We need to start looking for humanity in each other and start working out ways to facilitate the necessary conversations. No crisis or conflict has ever been resolved by refusing to engage in constructive discourse. The lies and the attacks are creating more victims and not furthering the cause of anyone involved. Our elected officials need to step up and show leadership. Likewise leaders on both ‘sides’ of this must lead by example. Willingness to work towards peaceful resolution of conflict is all I ask.
I don’t hate you. I swear.
Hating you isn’t going to make this conflict go away. It won’t protect women’s rights and heal the vast fissures that now exist in the LGBTQ community. Hating you won’t make me feel any better and it won’t stop you from hating me.