The Isla Bryson case only highlights the real risks to women of gender self-ID
In reflecting on the fact that this issue of the magazine is our 500th, that we started publishing even before the first votes had been cast in that historic election of May 1999, and that through these pages, over almost 24 years and into our sixth parliament, we have charted the ups and downs of Scottish politics, I hesitate right now to say whether we are in a better place than we were back then.
Of course, it was always going to be a journey. Who would ever really expect a thrawn nation like ours, where we can pick a fight with our own shadow in an empty room, to ever truly rest on a settled will?
And here we are, a new year, and a new constitutional battle.
But this argument between Holyrood and Westminster feels different – and so our 500th issue is resting at an interesting juncture. It is, after all, the first time the UK Government has deployed what is being described as the nuclear option – invoking section 35 of the Scotland Act that delivered us devolution – to thwart a piece of legislation passed by Holyrood but which the Secretary of State for Scotland believes could impact on laws reserved to the UK.
And crucially for the intensity of the row, the focus of the law in question has been one of the most divisive of our times. The Gender Recognition Reform Bill (GRR), which would allow for a marginalised, minority – trans people – to change their legal sex by self-identification, carries with it huge sensitivities and high emotion. And it is that additional dimension that really ups the ante in a toxic row that has already torn political allies asunder and now helps throw shade in this constitutional debacle on the motivations of the UK Government and whether it is driven more by political ideology than by legal complaint.
All of this deserves scrutiny. Of course, it does. But right now, current events have put into sharp focus the absolute absurdity of a double rapist who has self-identified as a woman being locked up in a women’s prison.
The fact that this has happened even before the GRR bill is enacted is beside the point. Practice in the delivery of single-sex services has stealthily leapfrogged the legal requirements that bind them. But the fallout from this case has blown a hole in the rhetoric that trans women are women and has exposed the reality of the risks that women, whose concerns about self-identification were infamously dismissed as “not valid” by the first minister, have been saying for years.
In simple terms, how do you tell a bad actor from one of good faith? What is the test for telling whether someone is really a trans woman or really a man pretending to be a trans women?
And in what circumstances could you ever believe that housing a male rapist, no matter how he identifies, in a women’s jail, could possibly not increase risk to women?
Clearly the rapist’s lawyer understood the mind-boggling context of the times in which we live, when he argued that his client, given his transition to be a woman, could not be described as a predatory male and should therefore be acquitted. Thankfully an absurdity the judge ignored.
But despite this, the rapist was sent to be housed in a women’s jail – no matter that that was temporary – which surely raises questions about the matrix used to assess risk, and whether that assessment of risk was solely calculated around a presumption that incarceration would be within the women’s estate?
He’s a rapist, for God’s sake. Why would you even go there?
And the sheer ridiculousness of it all would be laughable if we didn’t already live in a Scotland where, when it comes to the safety of women, we are now in a dark place where the path of least resistance is being followed. Where the feelings of a man who has violated women are considered above those of his victims. Where an assailant’s favoured pronouns are given more clout than the dignity of the women he abused. And where a judiciary and a media, so captured by current mores, can find it appropriate to agree to a rapist being referred to in court as “she” and his weapon of assault as “her penis”?
But the fallout from this case has blown a hole in the rhetoric that trans women are women and has exposed the reality of the risks that women, whose concerns about self-identification were infamously dismissed as 'not valid' by the first minister, have been saying for years.
This is not normal and it is why the question to politicians about what defines a woman had a serious point.
Sadly, the rally call over trans rights has increasingly become a shield for misogyny and the timing of sending a double rapist to Cornton Vale, an institution packed with some of the most vulnerable women you could ever choose to meet, could not have been worse for the SNP, Green and Lib Dem MSPs who, only last month, rejected an amendment to the GRR bill that would have barred anyone charged with rape or other sexual offences from changing their legal sex before trial. They now have the evidence of their foolishness before them.
This is before the GRR, which would formalise in law the right to self-ID, is enacted.
And if your first response to all of this is to be outraged that the rapist has been “dead named” or even “misgendered” or that so-called Terfs are conflating predators with trans people, then you need to reflect on the fact that this is a rapist conflating himself with being trans because he can. You have let him. And you need to seriously re-evaluate your own priorities and consider who it is in Scotland that has been radicalised here.
This case should leave no room for debate and yet even it has become mired in what side of the sex and gender debate you find yourself on. It is where a belief in gender ideology trumps biology and the feelings of a male rapist take precedence over abused women, and it leaves the gender ideologues so tied up in knots by their own facile arguments that they now can’t even bear to describe a rapist as a “him”.
That is as abhorrent as it is indefensible. And it harms women, and it harms trans people.
Every person who calls a rapist for what he is – a man – makes it easier for the rest of us to speak truth to power and not allow for fantasy and mendacity to pollute issues of equality.