The final words of Kathleen Stock’s essay can stand as a summary for the whole of this series: “there are more things to consider than some trans activists would have you believe.” The contributions that have argued for the self-declaration of gender identity have offered affecting personal stories (Charlie Kiss and Emily Brothers both movingly describe the peace that transition has brought them), but rarely reckoned with the political and cultural conflicts that writers with more critical standpoints have raised.
Only Vic Valentine of the Scottish Trans Alliance referred to the problem of balancing rights, and then only very subtly, by writing that trans women’s “thoughtful inclusion [in women-only services] is not an undue threat”. What, then, would that thoughtfulness entail? What would thoughtless inclusion look like? And what constitutes an “undue threat” to service users? These are questions of policy, and answering them is a vital stage for the trans rights movement. In short, the trans rights movement needs to articulate exactly what rights it is seeking, and give frank consideration to how those rights would interact with protections currently afforded on the basis of natal sex or transition.
Deborah Hayton and Kristina Harrisson, both trans women, express the fear that corroding public trust in the Gender Recognition Act will cost trans people dearly. Recent polling data supports their case: public backing for gender self-identification is low. But, more positively, the polling also shows that trans activism in Britain is not a culture war issue. Unlike America, where this is a defining schism between liberals and conservatives, in Britain support or resistance to self-identity doesn’t map onto any one political group.
That means that British politics—if it resists the toxic terms of debate exported from America—has the chance to conduct a serious discussion about trans rights and inclusion, in which voices such as Pippa Fleming’s and Kathleen Stock’s are listened to rather than swept aside with the charge of bigotry, and in which trans people are not reduced to proxies in a war of political identities. Only open conversation, like that fostered by The Economist in this series, can produce good law; and bad law will be bad for women and trans people alike.