The Transgender debate: Toilets, self-identification and sharing public spaces

The Transgender debate: Toilets, self-identification and sharing public spaces

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A debate on the Matthew Wright show tackled the issue of transgender rights and toilets, and whether a trans person’s right to identify as the opposite gender should come before a biological woman’s concerns about sharing a private space with someone who may have a penis.

Joining Wright was Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull - the woman behind the ‘adult human female’ posters, who has faced widespread accusations of transphobia - trans woman and teacher Debbie Hayton, and PinkNews reporter Nick Duffy.

The debate around trans rights has grown increasingly heated since the government announced a consultation on the Gender Recognition Act (the consultation finished in October), with some radical feminist campaigners claiming that making it easier for trans people to obtain documentation in their new gender would provide an avenue for predators to access women’s spaces.

Often cited is the case of Karen White - a transgender convict who was moved to a women’s prison and sexually assaulted two women while incarcerated.

The judge jailing White in October said: “he prosecution suggest the reason for the lack of commitment towards transitioning is so the defendant can use a transgender persona to put herself in contact with vulnerable persons she can then abuse."


'It's a safety issue'

“My issue is, as a woman, I’m being told I have to compromise my safety and my rights,” said Ms Keen-Minshull, also known as Posie Parker.

“A third option is maybe something we should consider - a male toilet, a female toilet and a gender neutral toilet.”

“But toilets at home are unisex. I’m not bothered who’s using the toilet,” Wright interjected.

“It’s a safety issue,” Ms Keen-Minshull continued.

“I think the Times did something recently where they found 90% of attacks in changing rooms and toilets were gender neutral toilets.

“So it is a proper risk to women, girls and children when you allow unisex facilities to replace same sex facilities.”

“This debate does have real tensions and this issue is one of them,” Mr Duffy replied.

“No one is denying some women may find that uncomfortable. But equally I know cis women [biological women who are not trans] who, since this debate has kicked off, have been forced not to use the female toilets because they’re butch lesbians, people assume they were men, and they were told to use the men’s toilets. So this policing bathrooms is actually really harmful.”


'I could identify as a budgerigar!'

Wright pointed out that the majority of sex attacks are committed by men against women - ONS statistics show that, over the year ending March 2017, 99 offenders who committed rape or attempted rape were men, as opposed to two women  - and the discomfort of some comes from sharing with someone with a penis.

Duffy said that “equally, trans women might feel discomfort being forced to share a room with men - there’s no overall solution”.

“I find that absolutely preposterous - why should I have to share a private space with a man, however he identifies?” said Ms Keen-Minshull, who over the course of the debate, made clear she does not accept that trans women can be women.

Ms Hayton said she thought an “individual risk assessment” could be required in some situations.

“I think it has to come down to individual risk assessments,” she said.

“When I’m at work, my female colleagues invite me into their spaces, they know who I am and they feel safe with me.

“But what we’re talking about is, who controls those boundaries? Is it women? Or do trans women share in the control in those boundaries?”

“When we start saying, whatever you want to identify with everyone else has to go along with, that is turning society on its head,” said Wright.

“I could identify as a budgerigar, I could want to wander around and say I’m a budgerigar and insist everyone else has to call me a budgerigar as well. That’s quite an imposition.”


'We saw this with gay people in the Eighties'

Mr Duffy said the idea that trans women may see being in a women’s toilet as a sexually-charged situation were “dangerous”.  

“I think there’s a really dangerous idea at the route of this, and it’s the same thing we saw with gay people in the 1980s,” he said.

“People saying, ‘I don’t want to share a space with people who are attracted to people of my gender’. If you’re saying trans women can’t be in women’s toilets because they may be attracted to women, the women may be attracted to women.”

“That’s not what it is. It’s not thinking someone’s going to fancy me in a changing room,” argued Ms Keen-Minshull.

“It’s the male gaze, it’s the fact I see people who call themselves trans women as men. You can’t make me not feel uncomfortable in that space.”

Ms Hayton said a solution would only be possible with more debate.

“We need to listen to each other and we need to talk,” she said.

“As somebody who’s been on this from both sides in some ways, it’s very easy to say as a man, as I was, to say there haven’t been any problems, but there’s problems if a woman feels awkward using some toilets and decides not to use them.

“I don’t think as a man I’d have ever understood that.”

talkRADIO approached several other transgender people with a range of views in the hope of facilitating such a debate, but many declined to participate.