Why the Toxicity of the Trans Debate Works Against the Trans Community

May 31st, 2023

I’ve never been afraid to express my opinion. This is how I was raised. My mother was a very outspoken person. If she ever saw someone verbally abusing a shop worker in a store she would pile in and stand up for them. It used to embarrass me when I was really young but I’ve taken a leaf out of her book and routinely intervene when I see injustice. Like the time an elderly lady with a shopping trolley would not vacate the disabled bay on a London bus causing me to tell her what the law was and leading to her calling me a sanctimonious bitch! The bus driver turned off the engine in solidarity and there was a round of applause from the rest of the commuters when the nasty lady finally exited the bus. I digress. 

I’ve been a feminist my entire life. At school I regularly stood outside the headmaster’s office because I had protested not being allowed to play football or do some other activity that was reserved for the boys. At university I read French and became immersed in Simone de Beauvoir and other French feminist writers, ultimately starting a PhD in New French feminisms. I’ve had my fair share of misogyny at work and routinely suffered sexual harassment. I am not a man-hater. I love men. My partner of 27 years and my best friend of (this year) 40 years: both men.

I’ve had very limited experience of the trans community but two episodes stick out. The first was when I underwent my heart transplant at Papworth Hospital in 2006. One of the nurses on the ward was a trans woman – male to female. She was the most gentle soul, clearly in quite an early stage of treatment but devoted to her work. Many of the elderly ladies on the ward (I was on a mixed cardiac ward after the first couple of intense weeks) refused to allow D to take care of her. They did not want to be bed-bathed by her or even touched to change a dressing or whatever. I get that. For them it was unfathomable for them to think that a biological man might take care of their intimate needs. I did not mind at all. I was very happy for D to accompany me to the bathroom, help me wash, etc. For a few weeks I could not stand by myself (my blood pressure took an unexplained dive when I tried to stand alone). She was wonderful. A sweet soul.

I tell this story so that there can be no suggestion that I am a trans-phobe. I also tell it because I found her profoundly brave: she clearly felt she was in the wrong body and that her life would be better if she were to live her reality but that did not mean she was going to have an easy time of life and could expect acceptance. I wonder how she is doing now and remember her fondly at one of the most difficult times in my life. 

My other trans community experience was in fact a client, A. She was also male to female. A young trans woman who told me during our contact the story of coming out to her father. She had been through so much emotional pain in her life but I admired her strength and her determination to live her reality. She came to me when she started having issues at work. Her dream was to “pass”. To be accepted as a woman so that no one would know she had been born a man. She was convincing. Very attractive and someone who you would unlikely suspect as being trans.

Oddly her problems at work started when she asked for time off to undergo her final surgery in Thailand. Her boss knew she was trans and her co-workers did not. Her boss got weird when he realised that she was still pre-op. Her whole life has been a battle. This is not a choice you would take lightly and again I admire her courage.

Despite these personal experiences I am with JK Rowling, with Julie Bindel, with Doc Stock, with Maya: biological sex is a reality. A person born a man cannot be a woman. Ever. She can be a trans woman but she will never have the biology of a woman in every cell despite drug therapy and any amount of surgery. It is not scientifically possible. She should also not be allowed to participate in women’s sports because biology gives her an unfair advantage.

To say this is not a hate crime: it is a fact, a biological, scientific fact. To suggest that to utter this opinion is inciting trans hatred is utter nonsense. The quickest way to incite trans hatred and violence – which none of us wants – is the medieval, violent, disgusting way the trans lobby protest and try to silence anyone who disagrees with them. This lobby does way more harm than good to people like D and A. 

Conversely I had another trans woman client who I was assisting to exit her workplace. Once done with her employment matter, she asked me if I could help her to secure a place for treatment at a female-only psychiatric unit. I declined the instruction. B was clearly a biological man: he still had a beard, was over 6 feet tall. I could not countenance putting her into a ward for women who have suffered sexual violence. That would be traumatic for them and they deserve a safe space. There were plenty of other options available for B. 

It seems that the tide is turning and more and more women feel able to speak out about the need for single sex spaces. I explained to my husband once that he does not know what it feels like to constantly have to be vigilant in the world: he can walk home late at night without getting his keys ready to use as a weapon. He does not have to plan his movements with military precision or spend an evening out worrying about how safe it will be to travel home. I have been a victim of male violence: I was mugged in 2006 which involved being wrestled to the pavement in West London and left on the ground terrified. Then hours spent in Fulham Police station looking at mugshots. I’ve been followed home, I’ve had to pretend to knock on doors of strangers to get away from someone I sense is following me.

So do I believe that women – biological women – need safe spaces free from men of any kind? Yes I do. Another example. Aged 18 I was on a mixed cardiac ward for a week undergoing lots of tests because teenagers with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy were dropping dead on the netball court. They still are. I was the only person below the age of 50 and I was the only young woman. A skinny, blonde girl. I was ogled non-stop by the men on the ward – there was not much else to do – and I felt vulnerable and self-conscious. I don’t think a young girl – or any woman – should have to share a hospital ward with men. Trans women in women’s prisons? No, just no. Trans women in women’s support groups? Never. Trans-women in women-only support groups for victims of sexual violence? Are you insane?

Women need and deserve safe spaces. Nothing in that sentence is anti-trans. The trans community needs tolerance, understanding and to live peacefully without violence. We can all coexist happily but not until the trans lobby starts to behave in a civilised manner and realise how much harm they are doing to the real cause. Only then can both sides in this vitriolic war move past the current horrendous state of affairs and start to understand each other’s position. Just because you don’t agree with someone does not mean you hate them. Where does this dodgy logic originate? Since when do we all have to agree on everything? Since when is debate and intellectual curiosity a crime? 

This blog is by Karen Jackson, Managing Director of didlaw, her law firm which she created so that she could practice law in a different way, free from the patriarchal and misogynist attitudes of many established law firms. Also, so that she would retain her freedom of expression and not be curtailed into towing the party line.  

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