If we learned anything from the GRR debacle, it's that good law needs robust debate
We start the new year with a sense of déjà vu and, for me, a deep foreboding that the launch of the consultation on banning conversion practices only brings with it haunting memories of the ghost of Christmas past and the passage of the ultimately thwarted Gender Recognition Reform Bill (GRRB).
The government’s Ending Conversion Practices consultation carries with it all the hallmarks of the flaws, pigeonholing and divisions put in place by the GRRB. And while women like me, broadly labelled gender critical by a disparaging band of ideologues, should have been applauded for their fearlessness in pursuing, without fear or favour, concerns about the GRRB, which would have enshrined in law the lie that a man can become a woman on his simple say-so, we were instead vilified.
And disapproval of that intrepidity by women who were dismissed as bigots, had their employment threatened, told their concerns were not valid, and at times feared for their personal safety, was only compounded by a Scottish Government that was so intent on pushing on that it went into mourning over the fact that Westminster had halted this flawed piece of legislation.
But further, it is still so unable to recognise the inherent risks that women saw to their rights that it has left the GRRB on the statute book, like a Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of women, and thereby it is goading any incoming Labour-led administration to lift the Section 35 and let it pass.
My advice to Labour is: don’t take the bait. If we have learnt anything from the whole GRRB debacle, it should be that good law requires robust debate, open minds, clear definitions and a spirit of inquiry. To their shame, politicians, in the main, picked a particular side in all of this and then refused to open the door, even a crack, to allow the disinfectant of curiosity to trickle in. It is only after the event that some have begun to ask questions.
And as we have learnt from the Post Office scandal, cover-ups depend on a lack of inquisitiveness, the marginalising of protagonists and an influential community so heavily invested in believing in the integrity and words of a supposedly trustworthy body of people or thinking that it buries its head so deep in the sand it can’t see the blindingly obvious.
The same principles could be said to apply to the scandals around Savile, Rangers, Eljamel, mesh implants, or to any manner of issues where there is an entrenched belief that an organisation peddling a particular set of arguments or practices could do no wrong. And, similarly, in the whole debacle around gender recognition reform, it has taken time, evidence, case law and, frankly, brave women like Maya Forstater and, more recently, the social worker Rachel Meade, who have been prepared to put their necks on the line to expose some of the flaws, risks and absurdities in an evangelical adherence to the myth that you can change your sex. And central to that ideological dividing line have been lobbying organisations that were once considered beyond reproach and whose word was taken as gospel.
So, let us not go down the same closed-minded, unquestioning, intellectually bereft and polarising path that pits one group against another with a debate about conversion practices.
Big human issues, issues of identity, of life and of death, will all be raised in this next parliamentary session. What confidence can we have that our parliamentarians are up for the big thinking when what we witnessed over the course of last year was nothing short of a retreat into apathy?
With ‘conversion’, the public is having to get its head around a whole new lexicon that lacks clear definitions and in an area of policy that most will assume has nothing to do with them and so, like with gender recognition reform, may fail to initially engage with the issue which will again give lie to the notion that this is a government that consults.
The likes of Ross Greer and Maggie Chapman tell us that conversion is torture, that words are literally violence, and so we begin in a place of high emotion. Who wouldn’t agree to ban that?
But good intentions should not prevent questions being asked or see inquiry as opposition to the cause. Trying to ‘convert’ someone out of their sexuality is, on the face of it, abhorrent and we should all turn our faces against it.
But for good law, we still need clarity, we still need definitions, and we need to understand why gender identity has been lumped in with sexuality when they are entirely different things that may require different approaches.
And so I find no succour in the fact that by way of explanation as to what gender identity means in the context of the consultation, equalities minister Emma Roddick posted on social media that her ID shows she is a woman and said “people generally accept I am a woman. I am generally feminine – I often wear make-up and dresses. I talk about being a woman and experience sexism and misogyny. But expression of gender identity means different things to different people.”
I type these words make-up free, in trousers and with my femininity boiling over with rage. I know it is my biology that tells me I am a woman, not some set of regressive gender stereotypes that I have spent my life fighting against but by which ministers now use as some marker to legislate. It is that biology that has shaped my feminism, that has caused me to fear male violence, that has been at the root of the suppression, oppression and even depression that I may have felt over the years.
But it is also that physical womanhood and the experiences I have had because of it that makes me the powerful force I am today. And it is that which determines my refusal to kowtow to a worldview that gives Emma Roddick the right to impose on me a gender identity, even if it is one I eschew and is described as ‘none’.
And if, as the equalities minister further claims, gender identity means different things to different people, and even different things at different times for the same individual, I would fundamentally like to understand how she proposes to legislate around a feeling that can be forever in flux?