Trans versus women versus lesbians versus TERFs: The remix

Just over a week ago Whaleoil published my guest post. I was seeking to make some sense of the gender self-identification debate. I knew I was walking into a wildfire wearing sunscreen and virtually everyone that knew I was writing it told me not to touch the issue. It’s a tough issue. There are strong passions on both sides as the comments section of this blog made clear.

I put a lot of thought into the comments you made. I realised that I had made some mistakes in my position but wasn’t sure what to do about it given the extreme controversy. It would be much easier for me personally to say nothing else and hope it’s all forgotten. However, this issue is only going to get bigger in New Zealand as the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill will result in a parliamentary debate over the right of individuals to change their gender on their birth certificate by way of statutory declaration. Therefore I’m going to ignore my gut instincts and the wise advice of others by giving this issue a second go.

Now I’m still of the live and let live opinion in terms of how I treat transgender individuals on a personal level. If you’re biologically male but identify as a woman, I’m happy to refer to you as a woman. It doesn’t cost me anything to be polite.

That personal position doesn’t suggest for a moment that I think you MUST follow my example. I think it would be nice if you did but it’s not my place to tell you how you MUST refer to another human being, assuming you aren’t violating their individual rights.

In my previous opinion piece, I endorsed allowing transgender people to change their gender legally on their identification because life is hard enough being trans without going through this extra layer of confusion.

That was wrong.

Biological women living in a country that grants access to toilets and changing areas determined by law, not property rights, are concerned by the prospect of males being legally entitled to share changing areas with themselves and their daughters. That concern is totally understandable and valid.

Thinking back to the difficulties trans-people face due to appearing to be a gender that their identification does not match, I still believe there is a way to approach this issue which removes that difficulty. It doesn’t mean denying scientific facts. It doesn’t mean obligating you to ignore reality against your own will.

A birth certificate is a record of a fact; it registers that a person is born male, female or, in rare cases, intersex. That fact will never stop being true because the person registered has chosen to identify as a different gender and therefore I think the current laws on birth certificates are wrong. At the present time, the gender on your birth certificate can be changed following confirmation by a judge. The law ought to be changed to prevent that from happening. This isn’t a matter of transexual rights or transphobia. It’s simply a fact.

There are other forms of identification which individuals use where a different form of gender classification can be used which is fair and doesn’t deny reality. Male and female should be reserved for those who are biologically and factually male or female. I advocate that TM/trans-male (female to male), TF/trans-female (male to female), intersex or quite simply X – indeterminate also be included as options.

This change to the existing law gives transgender individuals the ability to live with dignity without the repeated humiliating confusion that results from using identification which isn’t fit for purpose. It also ensures men and women are protected from deception which has the potential to cause harm to themselves or trans individuals.

It’s an issue many wish didn’t exist. It’s an issue that will be impossible to ignore as it goes to parliament for debate. Now is the time for all of us to give it considered thought before passions and anger inevitably cloud the public debate.


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Stephen Berry is a political commentator, professional retailer and ‘home-schooled economist’ who promotes the virtues of free speech, free markets and individualism. He has previously been a parliamentary Act party candidate, most recently in the 2018 Northcote by-election. This post is compiled in his private capacity.

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