In September, the annual Trades Union Congress (TUC) covering England and Wales voted “for a simplified, free, statutory gender-recognition process based on self-declaration”. (Motion 41) This would allow people to declare themselves man or woman, and be legally taken as such, regardless of sex of birth. No unions voted against, and as far as I know only three abstained, the Fire Brigades Union, the National Union of Journalists and the Association of Educational Psychologists. Of these the FBU executive has now voted to support gender self-ID, despite resistance from some union members.
This post will discuss the broad impact of the TUC vote. Later posts will suggest some of the more general reasons why it happened and how class politics relates to gender ideology.
Gender identity and the attack on women
By approving Motion 41 the TUC has effectively endorsed the concept of gender identity, the mystical notion that we simply know whether we are man or woman based on some kind of deep personal communion with our inner selves, regardless of our sex of birth – an identity that only be expressed through stereotypically feminine or masculine appearance and behaviour. And in doing that the TUC has fallen in behind the corporate media and the institutions of neoliberalism, in delivering a series of damaging, sexist messages to working class women and girls. Almost all of you, the story goes, have a gender identity aligned to your female body. If you love self-adornment and display, notice dirt in the house more than the men do, love to keep everyone happy, apologise often, let your man run the TV remote, that doesn’t come from socialisation but from a natural, if mysterious, feminine essence, just as the social conservatives say. Discontent with sex stereotypes is now a minority concern, it’s not about querying you own life but about supporting “them” over “there”, unless of course you’re one of “them”, in which case you’re non-mainstream, other; defying convention means a sudden major rupture in your life and maybe your body too, so you might want to think again. If any of this makes you uneasy, watch yourself: one step out of line and you become a “hater”, and will be hated – and that might cost you your job, career, social circle.
Yet there are many reasons to be uneasy about self-ID, quite apart from these sexist messages. Gender self-ID means that natal females are now exposed to new risks in female-only spaces, as has been widely argued by gender-critical feminists and previously discussed on this blog. And as Fair Play for Women points out, self-ID policies also mean “that males who self-identify as women have gained access to schemes set-up to tackle under-representation of females in politics. Teenage males who identity as girls are also racing against girls, and beating them in sports.” There are also concerns that girls and young women may be transitioning as a way to escape the impact of a sexist society, and concerns that homophobia may be driving some people, or their parents, towards transition as a way to escape their same-sex attraction.
From open debate to violence and no-platforming
It is ironical that the union movement has endorsed an ideology so much at odds with its own traditions of dialogue, debate, and democratic decision making. For supporters of gender ideology have used the result of the TUC vote to try to silence further debate. Here are two small but symptomatic examples.
The Wales Equality Alliance tweeted “The TUC has carried a motion to support gender self-declaration. Hopefully Mark Serwotka and Len McCluskey who recently supported an anti trans campaign were paying attention”. The “campaign” they are talking about was a one-off open letter condemning violence against feminist critics by some transgender activists, to which these two union leaders added their names. Rather than being anti-trans, the 150-odd signatories of the letter took care to explain that they had a “range of views” on gender self-ID and the GRA (see earlier discussion here and here). So essentially the WEA is attacking them for defending open debate, free of the threat of violence and intimidation. By “paying attention” the WEA implies that any union leader who tries to resist further violence or intimidation towards left-wing gender critics might pay a high price.
The tension between the democratic traditions of the union movement and the anti-democratic instincts of gender ideologists also comes out in a minor intervention from Ian Murch, a senior official in the National Education Union. He is without doubt committed to free debate within the workers’ movement and the wider society, but when his support for trans self-id was condemned by gender-critical feminists his response (12/9/18) was to tweet a link to an article in the Huffington Post, an article that conveys no sense of that democratic tradition. It makes no attempt to take on the arguments of gender-critical feminists. It simply says opposition is driven by “hate”: that’s it. Opponents are placed beyond the bounds of dialogue, so once again it is right to close them down without discussion.
This is not the method used on other contentious issues within the labour movement. For instance, workers who fear that refugees will take jobs are not dismissed out of hand as haters (even though anti-refugee sentiment might indeed lead to bashings or killings); rather, concerns over jobs are acknowledged and the racist argument is refuted.
Why so much support
One obvious reason for the TUC’s support for gender self-ID was the motion’s progressive wrapping. It talked about equality, and protection of a vulnerable persecuted minority: the “current processes for gender recognition” are “lengthy, intrusive, humiliating, and not fit for purpose”. And this was aligned with fighting for women’s rights. As the official explanation of the motion says:
The fight for women’s rights is far from won. For too many women sexual harassment and domestic violence is a daily reality, alongside unequal pay and other forms of discrimination at work and in society. Unions will always campaign to protect the rights of working women…
One group’s gain need not be another’s loss. On the contrary, we must resist attempts to turn people against one another, and instead find common cause.
However, there is no point in denying the extensive support for gender ideology among women and men within the union movement. The next posts will discuss why gender ideology has so much backing within the western labour movement and the Left, and what this means for gender-critical progressives.