There's been a lot of talk recently on the internet, much of rooted in the USA, about allowing 'transgender' men into women's loos and changing rooms (and prisons and so on). If someone had asked me the question a year ago, I would have replied along the lines of 'if someone's gone to all the trouble of having hormone treatment and surgery, to my mind there is no question that, as far as it could possibly affect me, they have changed their sex'. (There are some biological difficulties with this statement, but I use the caveat for that reason).
It turns out that 'transgender' doesn't mean what I thought it has meant for decades. It actually means someone who doesn't conform 100% with the gender roles imposed on their biological sex by society. Well, lah-di-dah. Who does? I mean, some Neanderthal type blokes or bimbo chicks might, more or less, but most of us don't. Apparently, transgender means that you 'feel' in the same way as someone of the opposite sex feels. Dig a little deeper, and nine times out of ten, this is explained as wanting the clothes, hairstyle, toys or colour of toys more 'traditionally' ascribed to the opposite sex. I grew up in the 70s when girls with short hair wore trousers, and played with construction toys or cars in bold primary colours. Turns out we were all transgender! I was a teen in the 80s when the coolest male pop stars wore visible make up, including nail varnish.
I can't abide the thought of someone being discriminated against in employment or bullied in the street because of their personal choice - a very difficult choice - to transition, or to present in a way that confronts neat categories.
But it turns out that 'transgender' doesn't mean this at all. Apparently, if you're a woman who is lesbian, and presents as butch, you're no longer a woman, but a 'transman'. If you have polycystic ovary syndrome, as 10% of women do - it's an endocrine condition which leads to the production of more testosterone than is normally produced by women without the syndrome. Well, if you have that, you're not a woman, you're a transman. If you want to debate abortion or FGM, you're not allowed to say that they're women's issues. Doctors are accused of discriminating against self-styled women for not calling them for cervical smears, even though they don't have cervixes. 'Pregnant woman' is no longer a valid term, because, apparently, men can get pregnant too. So, any man who wants to call himself a woman is entitled to, even a grotesque circus act like Brice Jenner who gets kicks out of wearing his then pre-teen daughters underwear, whereas women who are pregnant, lesbian or have a treatable endocrine disorder are no longer allowed to call themselves women - because men said so. Once again, men get to define women in terms of 'otherness'.
Incidentally, I have a mortgage, and I vote. I went to University have a professional qualification and have held public office. These were not considered 'female' activities - even in my lifetime a woman couldn't get a mortgage without a husband or father to guarantee it. I have sometimes wanted the opportunities that are open to men but not to women. I have sometimes cursed aspects of my body - some aspects are distinctly female and some are largely gender neutral. None of these things make me male, or a transman, they just make me a woman who dwells within the range of attributes and behaviours common to most, many or some women.
In the USA it seems, there are strict laws governing sex segregation in what they call 'bathrooms'. I'm not aware of any similar law in the UK, although there is convention, and context.
- When I was a teenager, as a family we were travelling on the motorway and stopped at Services. My mother, sister and I came out of the Ladies to meet my father and brother. My mother was approached by a man and woman. The woman carried a white stick, and the man asked my mother if she'd mind escorting her into the Ladies. Cleverly picking a respectable family woman, even though she wasn't wearing her 'Trust Me, I'm a Social Worker' t-shirt. My father, an engineer, later remarked in jest that, actually, as the woman was blind, it wouldn't be a problem for her going into the Gents. But this was a new experience for us, and one often-rehearsed for them.
- A few years ago, at the theatre, my friend was audibly grumbling about the long queues outside the women's loos, compared to none outside the men's. A man overheard her, he was stood guard outside the men's, and confessed to my friend that his wife was in the men's. This problem can be seen at most theatres and venues up and down the land. (Always fun at the ROH for Wagner, when the men's queue unusually exceeds the women's. A kd lang concert, on the other hand...)
- Last year, we parked up in Hertford and I declared I wanted a wee before setting off on a several mile walk. I went in the public conveniences and met Jimmy outside. He said the men's were locked. I said there was no one in the Ladies, I'd stand guard, as he went in. As it happened, no woman approached the loos, but I'm sure that if they had, they would have understood my 'standing guard'.
These three anecdotes are mere illustrations as to the sometimes difficulties in sex-differentiated loos.
There is a really strong argument for having gender neutral loos in addition to single sex loos. More and more places do. They're often called 'Disabled' loos, but perhaps should be called 'accessible'. Accessible for people without visible mobility problems but needing an integrated bathroom eg mooncup users. Or parents supervising small children of the opposite sex - particularly fathers supervising small daughters. Or carers of opposite sex adults. But opening up 'disabled' loos, can in some contexts, lead to them not being accessible to people who absolutely have no other options.
I haven't encountered intimidating behaviour by men in women's loos. I have only really encountered them in drunken situations - being in a local pub and collapsing laughing with the woman on the next table as her very very very drunk soldier husband (on his last night of leave) headed straight for the women's. But other women have experienced threatening behaviour and sexual assault by men in women's loos. And I was followed into 'gender neutral' loos by a predatory male (who, it turned out, had been sacked by the restaurant I was visiting and had sneaked in on the manager's day off).
I hate pubescent boys being in women's changing rooms. I'm happy to go from shower to locker with a towel wrapped precariously around me in an all-woman changing rooms. I certainly don't want to be stared at by a man, or, frankly, to see penises on display (I'm not offended or scared, I just don't want). I certainly don't want men who state that they are transgender to be allowed into changing rooms, alongside self-conscious adolescent girls and post-menopausal women. Maybe they do genuinely feel that they are women (whatever that means...!), but how we can possibly know that they're not voyeurs or opportunist sexual predators?
There are enough barriers in society already to girls and women being physically active. I don't see how allowing physically intact males to share their changing space will improve the situation. And you only have to see the queues in public places to see how poorly women are already served by toilets, relative to men. (On average women take longer, because of cubicles vs urinals, let alone when menstruating). I wonder how many women would feel comfortable washing out reusable sanitary protection in a room where men can enter freely, unconstrained by long-standing convention.
As I said above, I strongly feel that people who have made the difficult decision to transition from one sex to another should be free from discrimination, and I would wish to support and show solidarity.
But it seems that any man who wants to jump on a bandwagon or prove his 'right on' credentials, can claim to be female, perhaps only at weekends (where it doesn't reduce his inbuilt advantage in a patriarchal society/career structure). I can't accept this. It's yet another example of Men's Rights Activists claiming special status based on their perceived lack of privilege. They have decided, as men (who pretend that they feel like women), they should be allowed in to women's facilities, irrespective of what women want. And one man's desire is considered more important than the needs, not just of one woman but of many. Sounds a lot like unreconstructed misogyny to me.
Frankly, if you're a man who pretends to 'feel' like a woman, and can't feel the inherent problem, you've just demonstrated that you have no idea how it feels to be an awkward body-conscious teenage girl or an older woman dismayed at her failure to meet society's standards.
And when you see privileged males, such as rock stars whom I normally respect, arguing for the right for men to enter women's loos, I'm tempted to ask, do they want this right for themselves, and if so, is this because they are predatory? Or, more likely, are they decent blokes, who wouldn't go in a women's loos - except in unusual circumstances, with a 'stand guard' - and don't understand the reasons for their reticence - ie, that being decent and non-predatory, they can't see a reason to encroach on a space they don't belong in? I'm fairly sure that if women were to wander regularly into men's loos, where men get their willies out in full view of other users, most men would be at least non-plussed, if not perplexed and possibly downright angry. Because this isn't about women wanting to encroach on men's space but men demanding access to women-only space.