The Times view on the risks of gender self-identification: The Gender Trap The Times 10.12.19

The original article is here

Jo Swinson has had a dreadful general election campaign. But the Liberal Democrat leader has at least succeeded in catapulting one of her party’s principal policies up the national agenda even if many of her supporters may now wish she hadn’t. In an interview on BBC Radio Five Live yesterday she found herself stumped for an answer to a caller who asked “what is a woman?”. That followed an equally difficult interview on the Today programme on Radio 4 when she was asked whether she accepted that biological sex existed. “I don’t think things are as binary as is often presented,” she replied.

The source of Ms Swinson’s difficulties is her party’s proposal to repeal the Gender Recognition Act, which requires an individual to satisfy a tribunal that they have been living as the opposite gender for two years before their transition is legally recognised. Under the Lib Dems’ proposals, trans people will be allowed to self-certify their gender. In other words the answer to the question “what is a woman?” is that it is anyone who calls themselves a woman, regardless of biology. This would mean that someone who called himself a woman could gain access to any place reserved for women, including female-only shelters, prisons and changing rooms. It would furthermore open up women-only sports competitions to anyone who declared themselves to be female.

Ms Swinson’s policy is motivated by noble if confused intentions. There is no question that trans people are some of the most vulnerable and discriminated against in our society. There’s also no question that the rules can often add to the misery of those suffering from gender dysphoria by obliging them to submit to years of rigorous and bureaucratic tests to establish what they believe to be their genuine identity. It should also be noted that it was the Tories who originally proposed writing self-ID into law, although their manifesto now supports the status quo. Similarly, although Labour’s 2017 manifesto supported self-ID, as does Jeremy Corbyn personally, the party’s present manifesto also backs the status quo.

Nonetheless there are three reasons to reject the idea that gender can be legally reassigned on demand. The first is that to deny the relevance of biological sex is simply to deny science. With the exception of a tiny number of people who are born of indeterminate sex, the definition of a woman is someone born with a uterus and ovaries and a man is someone born with a penis and testicles. To base the law on some other definition is simply delusional and could ultimately open the door to other science-denying policymaking.

Second, it is vital that the law provides safeguards to young people who are considering transitioning. They need adequate protection along a path that sometimes leads to radical surgery. Third, the proposed change in the law will present a risk to women, undermining hard-won rights. Already police allow males accused of rape to identify as women and female-identifying men have been sent to female jails where they can and have abused women. Some schools have introduced “gender-neutral” lavatories, much to the discomfort of young girls. Virgin Active gyms have been known to let men into women’s facilities. NHS hospitals allow men on to female wards.

Where Ms Swinson is right is that more needs to be done to recognise the difficulties faced by trans people. But this debate has to be conducted in the open. Too often trans rights activists have tried to advance their cause by stealth. Meanwhile anyone who has attempted to question the push to strip the law of any legal recognition of biological sex, including Times writers, has been subjected to sustained abuse. In this respect the Liberal Democrats in raising the issue may have unintentionally performed a public service.

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