THE storm that has been brewing about ‘trans rights’ may be reaching its peak. At the last election, the Liberal Democrats decided to go ‘peak trans’, declaring that trans women are women, along with everything that implied, caution dismissed; they crashed and burned. Some of us hoped that would be a warning to other political parties, and that the debate about trans rights and how they interplay with other established rights, particularly those of women, might become more open, respectful, tolerant and reasonable.
No such luck. This week the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights issued a revolutionary statementcontaining a series of pledges about the rights of trans people. It expressed its hope that this statement would be adopted by ‘members and MPs alike’.
Most people would regard the pledges to be so extreme as to be impossible for any Labour MP to sign up to. They include:
· Accept that trans women are women, trans men are men, and non-binary people are non-binary;
· Accept that there is no material conflict between trans rights and women’s rights.
The person in the street knows these to be extreme positions which were not heard in mainstream public discourse even a few short years ago. Until yesterday, the very meaning of ‘trans woman’ was a biological male who wished to present as female. Now suddenly, biological sex is a spectrum, or even only an oppressive construct. A woman is a self-declared state of being, a choice as opposed to a biological fact. Women’s services and states of mind are thus open to all who self-declare into them.
As for the suggestion that there is no material conflict between trans and women’s rights, whether to their female identity or to their privacy and protection, the simple fact is that many women believe there is. And if some people think there is, there is – that is how rights work today. Two different groups want something they can’t both have. One group’s demands conflict with another group’s demands. You can’t assert the conflict away. You can explore, debate, seek compromise.
But no. There is to be no debate. The Trans Rights pledges include:
· Oppose transphobic motions which run contrary to our own party equalities policy;
· Organise and fight against transphobic organisations such as Women’s Place UK, LGB Alliance, and other trans-exclusionist hate groups;
· Support the expulsion from the Labour Party of those who express bigoted transphobic views.
Putting aside the grave slur in calling the named organisations ‘hate groups’, the position is extraordinary. State a position which ‘yesterday’ no one had thought of, let alone believed to be truthful; shut down the debate by invoking ‘transphobia’; call for anyone who doesn’t sign up to be expelled from the Labour Party. You might have hoped that such an extreme position would have played itself out in the fringes of Labour Party committees and forums.
But no. Within hours, Angela Rayner and Dawn Butler, vying to be deputy leader of the Labour Party, had signed up to the pledge. Leadership candidates Rebecca Long Bailey, Lisa Nandy and Emily Thornberry followed suit.
Other women had had enough. #ExpelMe began trending on Twitter as thousands of women spoke up for their belief in science and biological sex, in the need for safe and exclusive spaces for women, and the need for respectful debate on this issue.
We’ll wait to see where this ends up for the Labour Party. If it retains its hold, we are indeed in very worrying times with a triumph of unreason. Science – binned. Biology, chromosomes, DNA – binned. Sexual dimorphism of human beings – binned. Freedom of speech – binned. But for me there is something more important than all these things. Something that existed for humans before we discovered science or dreamt of freedom of speech. Something that I suspect helped us even to become human. That is a deeply held instinctual respect for women and their rights to privacy, dignity, and safety, and the public recognition and upholding of those rights. Binned.
We now all turn to the Conservatives. They keep on keeping quiet. But this is becoming cowardly. The Conservatives need to show us how it is done. They need to lead a respectful moderate debate on the interplay between trans rights and those of others, particularly women.