I saw a tweet to Susanna Rustin’s article (My hope for a more open discussion of women’s and trans rights is fading, 13 October) from the MP Jess Phillips. Reading the vitriolic responses below her tweet, which was later deleted, I can only despair and conclude that some sort of safe, private, facilitated citizens’ assembly for trans and cis women is urgently needed so they can share, at length, their life experiences, fears and hopes, and perhaps reach some small shared ground as a first step towards eventual mutual respect.
Temperatures are clearly running very high on social media, and division and name-calling will get nobody any further forward. Trans women exist, and their concerns are not going to go away, but neither are those of their cis counterparts. Both deserve to be listened to and taken very seriously as a first step.
I cannot help being frequently disappointed by how many self-proclaimed gender-critical analyses lack a genuinely critical approach. “Sex matters” has now become a mantra, with rarely any attention given to the complex but fascinating biochemical pathways involved in the expression of physical sex. Susanna Rustin sets up something of a straw man argument by linking transition with a belief that the human body has no limits. The reality is often very different – a belief in finding something “good enough” to allow a transgender person to lead a decent life. Would those who argue that surgery cannot allow someone to change physical sex criticise those who have undergone reconstructive surgery for other reasons? Would they mock those who have undergone reconstructive surgery because the result is not perfect?
This is not to call for a closing down of the debate or to force people to accept a fixed set of beliefs. Rather, it is a call for a much greater level of critical thinking, exploration and questioning than currently characterises gender-critical arguments.
It is self-identification of sexual identity that is the main problem, yet Susanna Rustin’s otherwise helpful article only mentions it in passing. As long as a man can self-identify as a woman, many women are understandably afraid of allowing trans women into women-only spaces. No one is allowed to self-identify as married, or as a UK citizen. Why should they be allowed to self-identify as the opposite sex?
Trans people who are settled in their gender identity should go through an official procedure that recognises and documents their new sex. This should give them access to single-sex spaces. Those who are unsure about adopting a gender identity should remain officially with the sex they were born with. Sexual identity has social as well as individual implications, and a way of managing it has to be found which takes account of both.
Of course, we need lots of open discussion too, as this is a new area for the majority of people. Thank you, Susanna Rustin, for clarifying the term “gender-critical feminist”, which does not wear its meaning on its sleeve.
As a Guardian-reading practising Catholic and sometimes teacher of philosophy, ethics and theology, I often find that the foundations of discussion about topics such as sex-based rights, abortion and same-sex marriage are undermined by hatred, anger and fear, with the meaning of words hijacked and mangled into meaning-lite uselessness, or weaponised to shut down debate.
It does not help towards clarity if a discussion is tiptoeing around the accusation of phobia and/or the threat of being sacked, as I see in the case of Prof Kathleen Stock. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a “phobia” is a morbid fear, of which I am sure no one suffers with respect to diversity issues. It does not mean the irrational hatred that some have been accused of as sufficient reason to have someone removed from their post. The exploitation of anger, fear and hatred are so often used to hijack reason, avoid a dispassionate examination of the grounds of opinion, and remove true freedom of thought and faith.
The article on Kathleen Stock (Professor says career ‘effectively ended’ by union’s transphobia claims, 12 October) prioritises the professor’s career in the headline, and captions the photo of her in print with: “Kathleen Stock has been accused of transphobia for rejecting the idea that gender identity is always more important than biological sex.” However, the article itself refers to the more damning opinion that the professor expressed, that people cannot change their biological sex. Regardless of how narrowly anyone chooses to interpret that statement, it does seem to deny trans men and trans women, or those who are intersex, the right to exist. The Guardian’s poor record of reporting on trans matters continues.