single sex spaces

“The transman gotcha”

Single and separate sex services are provided to meet the needs of people of one sex or the other. Often this need is simply for a place to undress, wash, and undertake bodily functions with privacy and dignity, in order to take part in public life such as at the gym, pub, clothing shops, school, university, train station or at work.

In the UK this basic privacy is provided for under the Equality Act – Schedule 3 Paragraph 27 (6)

This section of the law reflects some facts of life that were until quite recently taken for granted – people come in two sexes, people can usually recognise the sex of other adults, and there are circumstances (especially involving undressing and being vulnerable) where it is reasonable to object to having to share a space with a member of the opposite sex.

Single sex spaces are created by institutions setting rules: for example “women only: no males in here”, and people complying with the rule.

Most people follow the rules, not because they are necessarily strongly policed (there is no one checking IDs at the door), but because they understand that transgressing other people’s boundaries is inappropriate. The formal rules, and any enforcement of them is a backstop to this social norm.

There are many arguments mustered by people who want to erode this social norm, to tell women and girls that their boundaries are bigotry, to say that is fine for males who want to access spaces where women are undressing to break these rules and to make it impossible to enforce them.

The “trans man gotcha” is one of those.

It involves pictures of biological females who have taken testosterone for many years and developed a convincingly male appearance.

Here is LGBTQ+ Campaigner&Advocate Dr Adrian Harrop telling Baroness Nicolson that her request to Marks and Spencer to reinstate women’s changing rooms is unreasonable.

The argument is set out by writer Helen Pluckrose here.

“Women’s anxiety about people who appear to be male in their space won’t necessarily lessen if trans women are required to leave the space but trans men are required to use it. “

Helen Pluckrose

Another variation on the theme

Gotcha?

This is set up as an “impossible dilemma” for people who believe that sex is immutable. If we say that these people are female, then surely we must want to force them to share intimate spaces with other female people, which would be humiliating for all concerned?

The trick that is being played here is presenting single sex spaces as if the purpose for their existence is to be an undergraduate philosophy thought experiment about platonic forms.

It is not. Separate sex services exist in the real world to provide practical privacy for the vast majority of people, to allow them to get on with their daily life with dignity. In order to do this they need to have unambiguous rules, so that everyone understands expectations.

The unambiguous rule “no males can use this facility” (which is necessary to ward off opportunistic voyeurs, flashers, cross-dressing fetishists and others who just enjoy making women feel uncomfortable) does not imply that a service provider must have the rule “all females must use this facility”.

Nor is it unreasonable for people to object to the presence of someone they reasonably perceive to be the opposite sex (and no this does not mean tall women, women with short hair, women without make up)

Intellectually, those of us who are following closely might say the transmen above are females who have developed male secondary sex characteristics through taking exogenous hormones. But practically, to the women and girls using the changing room they look like men.

There is no obligation for gender critical women to respond to Dr Harrop’s “gotcha” question that they feel comfortable changing with Jamie. And even if you can convince yourself you do, you can not answer this question for all the other women who would feel just as afraid, violated and humiliated as if a biological male person walked into the women’s showers.

Society can accommodate the small number of people who don’t feel comfortable with their sex by providing, where possible alternative accessible spaces that don’t have sex based rules, not by dismantling the sex-based rules and social norms that protect everyone’s dignity, particularly the dignity, safety and autonomy of women and girls.

A real life case: Kay Browning

Here is a real life case of a the “transman gotcha”

Kay Browning was asked to leave the men’s toilets at “Remedies” a Tiverton nightclub in 2015. Kay was not forced to use the ladies, instead this tiny Devon bar was able to offer a solution which respects everyone’s privacy – a unisex, accessible toilet.

Had Kay wanted to use the women’s I doubt any of the other women in the bar would have complained as, unlike the beefcakes in the pictures above, Kay (who hopes to one day conceive a child) does not read as male, which was presumably why Kay was asked to respect the men’s privacy.

Kay was offended by being directed to the unisex toilets and pursued legal action. The venue settled out-of-court paying out £1,500 and making a promise that Kay can use the male toilets from then on.

While this might have seemed to the bar owner like a way to make the threat of action go away, they were right in the first place. The Equality Act allows single sex services, and does not require that venues allow people to use services provided for members of the opposite sex on an individual case-by-case basis. Offering a unisex alternative means everyone is catered for and no one’s privacy is invaded.

While “Remedies” could have fought this in court, they were probably scared off by the costs, and the even more so by the prospect of being publicly branded “transphobes”.

Marks and Spencer’s know this threat and have also abandoned sense.

As a business that sells sensible, reliable clothing mainly to women, they have had sensible, reliable single sex changing rooms since forever. They know that this is legal, and the law has not changed.

While many men enjoy wearing women’s underwear, and there is nothing to stop them buying it, there is no right for males to try on women’s underwear in the women’s changing room.

Rather than giving their staff the policies, training and back-up to continue to politely but firmly say no to males wanting to use the women’s changing room, as they are entitled to by the Equality Act, Marks & Spencer’s declared all of their changing rooms to be mixed sex.

“As a business, we strive to be inclusive and therefore, we allow customers the choice of which fitting room they feel comfortable to use”

Marks and Spencer

Denying women and girls spaces for undressing without males is not ‘inclusive’. That some young women have been made to feel so unhappy, that they are willing to take extraordinary measures to try to escape having a female body does not change this.

Perhaps Marks and Spencer’s could strive to think of their female customers’ interests.