Let’s get this out of the way first: Karen White is clearly a monster. The person born Stephen Wood, who raped two women, had a conviction for indecency with a child and assaulted two more women while being held in a women’s prison, should not have been placed in the women’s estate in the justice system. Of that, there is no question.
But White is being held up as poster person of the potential dangers of amending the Gender Recognition Act.
The public consultation on whether the Act should be amended to make it easier for transgender people to obtain legal documentation affirming the gender they identify with runs until October 19.
Campaigners say that, if it’s as easy as filling in a form to get a new birth certificate, men who pose a threat to women will abuse this to enter toilets, changing rooms, women’s refuges and the like, with the intention of harming women.
Transgender people say they just want to go for a pee in peace, in an environment that matches the gender they live their lives as.
'Insinunates the danger comes from the transgender population'
Both sides of the argument are passionate, often verbally - and even physically, in the case of a radical feminist who was assaulted by a transgender woman at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park - attacking each other. There are countless threads on Mumsnet, the unexpected hub of gender-critical debate, discussing the case of White and the similar case of Jacinta Brooks, another transgender woman who was jailed for 11 years in October. Brooks is being held in HMP Winchester, a men’s prison, for sexual activity with children.
There is no debate to be had about whether White and Brooks should be kept away from women - they should. But using them as examples of the dangers that may befall women if it became easier to legally change gender, however polite the language is, insinuates that the danger comes not from catastrophic policy failures, but from the people who would be taking advantage of the law changes: the transgender population.
Whether or not you believe that sex-segregated spaces should strictly be for people possessing certain genitalia, using perverts to backup your argument is not going to get the message across in a way anyone wants to engage with, least of all transgender people.
As Brian Paddick said, it’s the same kind of ‘casual prejudice’ that labels all young black men as criminals. Yes, SOME young black men are criminals, as are white men. SOME sex offenders are transgender, but they don’t represent the entire trans population any more than Isis represents all Muslims, or the 35 people prosecuted for making false rape claims between 2011-2012 represent the 1.1 million British women who have genuinely been raped (figures from 2016-17).
'Acting inappropriately around women would still be a crime'
That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be allowed to hold the belief that private spaces should be segregated on the basis of bodies - I’m not in favour of a totalitarian society that tells people what to believe, despite not giving two hoots what’s in the pants of the person in the cubicle next to me - but that telling an entire subset of people that they might be dangerous is offensive.
What’s more, if any men or trans women did assault, harass or act otherwise inappropriately in a women-only space, it would still be a crime. Having a birth certificate declaring them to be female would not exonerate them.
Of course, risk assessments should be done on a case-by-case basis, and exceptions made, when it comes to prisons, and this is where the justice system monumentally failed. But Ireland adopted the self-identification system in 2015, and has not seen a rise in reported sex crimes in sex-segregated places.
It is fair to say that the debate has become upsetting and toxic, and hardline transgender activists are not innocent in this. But the rift will only grow wider if the opposing side only see trans women as a danger and not as people.