A range of structural inequalities between females and males are widely recognised. These material facts about female oppression must be acknowledged when we think about two questions at the heart of a bitterly disputed UK government consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act. The first is whether self-identifying as a woman without medical certification should be sufficient criteria for legal gender reassignment. The second is whether self-identifying transwomen should be allowed into women-only spaces, and have access to women-only resources. Some answer “yes” to both. Others, like me, argue that a positive answer poses unacceptable harm to the original occupants of the category “woman”.
It seems clear that woman-only spaces such as changing rooms, hostels, and prisons should be organised according to sex category, not self-assigned gender. Transwomen are biologically male. Studies show that most retain male genitalia. Many have a sexual orientation towards females. If we think there are good reasons to retain same-sex spaces generally, in terms of protecting females from a small number of malfeasant males, these reasons don’t cease to operate when males self-identify as women. Either we keep same-sex spaces, or the result is effectively mixed-sex spaces, to the detriment of females.
Meanwhile, allowing self-identification as the criterion of eligibility into woman-only resources, such as shortlists and prizes, seems to both incentivise unscrupulous cheating, and count as a stunning dismissal of the original reasons such (still scarce) resources were created – to combat the low numbers of females in associated roles.