Dear Nicola Sturgeon, please read this plea from a sister feminist about the trans debate – Susan Dalgety

Dear First Minister, Forgive my directness in addressing this column to you, but as someone who describes herself as a “feminist to her fingertips”, I am sure you won’t mind correspondence from a sister.
Nicola Sturgeon said earlier this year that it distressed her that young people were leaving the SNP because they felt it was not 'a safe, tolerant or welcoming place for trans people' (Picture: Andy Buchanan-WPA pool/Getty Images)Nicola Sturgeon said earlier this year that it distressed her that young people were leaving the SNP because they felt it was not 'a safe, tolerant or welcoming place for trans people' (Picture: Andy Buchanan-WPA pool/Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon said earlier this year that it distressed her that young people were leaving the SNP because they felt it was not 'a safe, tolerant or welcoming place for trans people' (Picture: Andy Buchanan-WPA pool/Getty Images)

And like me, you love books and reading. At the start of this life-changing pandemic, you tweeted they were “always a source of comfort and perspective in tough times”, and only two nights ago you recommended two “outstanding, but very different” books by women writers, Val McDermid and Elif Safak.

I know you barely have time to draw breath these days, but can I recommend a third essential read by a woman? It was only published this week, so you may not yet have a copy, but I am sure the publishers will be happy to send you one.

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It’s Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, by Helen Joyce. She’s an Economist editor by day, but took a year’s sabbatical to write this book, and trust me, it was worth it. It’s a searing analysis of the transgender debate that has dominated much of public discourse in Scotland in recent years, at least among feminists.

You know the one I am talking about – those pesky trans wars where women are fighting to retain their hard-won sex-based rights, such as single-sex spaces, and are accused of being hateful bigots for stating the obvious, that sex is binary and immutable. You even got involved yourself one night in January when you made that YouTube video. Remember, the one where you begged young people not to leave the SNP.

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“It grieves me deeply that you’ve reached this conclusion after much soul-searching because you consider, at this stage, the SNP not to be a safe, tolerant or welcoming place for trans people,” you said. “That’s not acceptable to me. As SNP leader, I will do everything I can to change that impression and to persuade all of you that the SNP is your party and that you should come home where you belong.”

You said your words came “from your heart”, and that remaining silent was not an option. I know how you feel. I have been unable to stay silent as your government has promoted gender self-identification, where a man can become legally female simply asserting he is a woman.

It’s under your government that Police Scotland allows people (invariably men) suspected of rape to identify as a woman, and it was your then Justice Secretary who insisted that men in drag be protected in the Hate Crime Bill that recently went through Parliament, but not women.

And I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but you – our sister, our First Minister – seemed content to ignore the thousands of women who have begged you to listen to their concerns about trans ideology.

How it has subverted feminism, how it is damaging the lives of young women who think fear of their burgeoning sexuality means they must be a man, not a lesbian. How some of us have lost work, been shunned by former colleagues and been bullied on social media for standing up for women’s sex-based rights. Even someone as loved as JK Rowling has been vilified for stating the truth.

Why didn’t you send a message of solidarity to us? Why didn’t you reassure us that Scotland is a safe, tolerant and welcoming place for women and girls, even those who don’t ascribe to the mythology of gender identity?

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But it’s not too late. I know that you’re a feminist at heart. You’ve got a legally trained mind. You believe in justice. That is why I urge you to read Helen Joyce’s book. You may find it hard going in places, as she dissects the myth of gender ideology, but please persevere with it (I admit I struggled a bit with the Matrix metaphor, but then I am not a big fan of science-fiction, though I do quite like Keanu Reeves).

Like most people, Joyce used to think that trans-ness meant “transsexuality: such a deep discomfort with one’s sexed body and strong identification with the opposite sex that only surgery to reshape the body to the extent possible could bring a measure of peace”.

But that is no longer the case. A new ideology has emerged in recent years, rooted in post-modernism. Gender is no longer a set of social stereotypes, but an essence, a feeling. A transwoman means someone who keeps their male body but as Joyce writes, “understands themselves to be a woman because of their gender identity and expects everyone else to agree”.

And if you don’t subscribe to this mythology then you are denying trans folk’s very existence. You are transphobic. A Terf. Tantamount to a Nazi. Sorry, First Minister, I am shouting, but I tend to get emotional about this whole sorry mess.

I fell in love with David Bowie when he wore a dress and campaigned with my gay brothers and sisters for their equal rights. My sex shaped my life, from my teenage pregnancy to my chronic hypertension (a legacy of serious pre-eclampsia), my feminism informed my politics.

It’s tough at my age to discover that my sincerely held views about sex, gender and feminism are bigoted, that I am reactionary because I won’t swallow a queer, postmodernist theory that overturns 1.2 billion years of evolution.

But I am a Scot. This is the birthplace of the Enlightenment. I want trans folk to be treated with dignity and offered the medical and social support they need. But I believe in facts, in science, in reason. And I think you do too.

So please, I beg you, find a few hours out of your busy schedule and read Helen Joyce’s book. It may well offer you a new perspective on this most troubling of national conversations. It may even change your mind.

Yours in sisterhood, Susan.

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