Fairness comes from basing our rules on clear principles.
For those people not familiar with my work, I am an anti-prejudice, anti-discrimination campaigner. At the same time, however, I am opposed to political-correctness — the idea that we should decide our ethics, not according to clear principles, but according to what other people (often irrationally) deem to be acceptable or unacceptable.
Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of debate about trans-related issues. And one of the biggest, fiercest debates at the moment concerns how trans women, in particular, should be treated, when they wish to have access to facilities designated for ‘women.’
On the one side, we have people who believe trans women should have every right to use women’s facilities. And on the other side, we have some ‘feminists’ — some of whom get very agitated and angry about this issue — who wish to exclude them and reserve women’s spaces entirely for females.
There’s a lot of emotion surrounding this debate. But what if we made a real effort to focus on following clear, ethical principles? What conclusions might we then reach?
So let’s try to sort this out from basic principles:
1. The term, ‘trans woman,’ usually refers to someone who was born as a (biological) male, but who wishes to live their life ‘as a woman.’
The reasons for this may be many and varied, but in terms of ethics, we don’t have to concern ourselves with what those reasons are. It doesn’t really matter what other people think of someone’s reasons for wanting to live their life as a woman. Some people will think they are perfectly reasonable. Others will think they are ridiculous. But so what?
The important principle here is that we support people’s freedom to live their lives as they wish.
And if someone wishes to wear dresses and make-up or behave in other ‘womanly’ ways, that should be up to them. You are free to think what you will about them. But it isn’t your business or my business to dictate to someone how they should live their lives, so long as they are not harming others.
So far, so simple.
2. Some facilities (and some events) are reserved exclusively for ‘women.’ And this puts some people in the position of having to decide who qualifies as a woman and who does not.
3. Difficulties can then arise from differing and changing definitions. Not so long ago, the term, ‘woman,’ simply referred to an adult female. Furthermore, a person’s sex and gender were usually regarded as pretty much one and the same thing.
Nowadays, things are different and the matter is more complicated. For one thing, it is complicated by medical interventions. The question arises: Can a male, with the help of ‘gender-reassignment surgery’ and/or hormone treatment, become a female?
The issue is also complicated by the fact that gender is often now defined, not by biological factors, but by the choices people make as to how they behave; such as how they dress, for example. According to modern, ‘progressive’ definitions, it is now entirely possible for someone to be simultaneously both a male and a woman. Whereas, according to more ‘traditional’ definitions, this would be impossible.
So, because people’s definitions differ, there is disagreement about who qualifies as a woman and who does not.
4. But perhaps the fact that people have such different definitions needn’t, in itself, be a problem. Building on the idea that people should be able to live their lives as they wish, we can at least take a positive approach to treating people as they wish to be treated.
If someone wishes to be addressed as ‘Madam,’ for example, it seems reasonable to do so, as doing so causes no harm. And if someone wishes to use women’s toilet or changing facilities, it seems reasonable to allow them to do so, so long as doing so causes no harm to anyone else.
5. Thus, the issue seems to come down to this: Does it cause anyone harm to allow trans women to use women-only facilities?
It isn’t sufficient merely to say that some females ‘feel uncomfortable’ when having to share facilities with trans women. Such feelings, on their own, would usually be regarded as too subjective to justify segregation.
Some white racists feel uncomfortable in the presence of black people, but we don’t accept that this means the black people in question have actually caused them any harm. And we don’t accept that such feelings of discomfort would justify racial segregation. The real cause of their discomfort is their own racism — their own prejudices.
Thus, in terms of females who would feel uncomfortable sharing facilities with trans women, we have to ask whether they have any solid, rational reason to feel uncomfortable — or whether, just like the racists, they only feel uncomfortable as a result of their own prejudices.
6. So: Is there any good reason why someone should feel uncomfortable simply because a trans woman shares the same facilities?
And I think there is a very simple, straightforward answer to that question: No.
Some females fear attack if trans women are allowed to share their facilities. But are trans women any more likely than other women to attack females in toilets and changing rooms? I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of one such incident, let alone any sort of epidemic of such behaviour.
In a world of billions of people, there are almost bound to be a few examples of such attacks, but that wouldn’t prove that the trans woman you see entering a women-only facility is any more likely to attack you than any of the other women there.
Are there any incidents of men dressing up as trans women, just so they can enter a women’s facility and sexually assault someone? I’ve never heard of that happening either. If such incidents occur, they’re probably extremely rare.
Thus, the demand that trans women be excluded from women’s facilities seems to be based on irrational or exaggerated fears. It appears to be based on scaremongering and prejudice.
7. We should not discriminate against anyone just so we can pander to other people’s irrational fears and prejudices.
If a white woman has an irrational fear of black people, we don’t exclude black people from toilets and changing rooms and have white-only facilities. A more ethical and sensible course of action might be to send her for some sort of educational therapy, so she could overcome her prejudices and irrational fears. The same thing applies if she has an irrational fear of trans women. We try to educate her, so she can overcome her phobias.
It’s not the fault of trans women that people have irrational fears about them. They should not be blamed or discriminated against or treated with suspicion because of other people’s demands that society should pander to prejudice, however widespread that prejudice sadly still remains.
8. My conclusion is that I see no good reason not to let trans women use the facilities of their choice.
And that comes from me — someone who cares not at all for political-correctness.
I just wish to let people have the freedom to live their lives as they wish to live them, without interference from people who are prejudiced against them.