Even that most disciplined body, the SNP, has found itself at odds over the trans debate, with internal criticism of Nicola Sturgeon’s stance – feminist and in favour of “greater recognition of transgender rights” – on the issue, writes Susan Dalgety.
No-one knows how many transgender people there are in Scotland, not even Scottish Trans, the Equality Network project that campaigns on their behalf.
The UK Government admits that there is no robust data, but tentatively suggests that there could be between 200,000 and 500,000 trans people across the country.
And Mermaids, the charity that supports transgender children and their families, says it is difficult to know how many people are affected, but points to surveys that suggest between one and three per cent of the population. And their website insists that there is a growing number of people identifying as non-binary.
While the numbers shouldn’t matter in a society where every person should matter, it is interesting to observe how a relatively small section of the population has been able to dominate public debate in recent years.
So much so that feminists are now split between those who adhere to a more traditional view of gender equality where biological sex matters, and those who – genuinely it seems – believe that a man is a woman if he simply says he is.
Sporting heroes such as Martina Navratilova and Sharron Davies have been vilified for daring to pose questions about the challenges that the inclusion of transwomen in women’s sports can bring.
When Olympic medallist Davies tweeted her heartfelt view that “to protect women’s sport those with a male sex advantage should not be able to compete in women’s sport”, she was deluged with hate mail and dismissed as a bigot.
And even that most disciplined body, the SNP, has found itself at odds over the trans debate. Earlier this week, a row erupted after social media messages between three women SNP MSPs were leaked. The MSPs suggested that their leader, “ardent, passionate feminist” Nicola Sturgeon, was out of step with the SNP group on the issue of trans people.
Their frustration was sparked off by the First Minister’s speech to the United Nations in New York earlier this year where she described the concerns of women about the transgender rights as “misplaced”.
Adding, in her best schoolteacher voice, “as an ardent, passionate feminist, and have been all of my life, I don’t see the greater recognition of transgender rights as a threat to me as a woman or to my feminism”.
Therein lies the nub of the argument. On one side sits the First Minister and a number of well-connected feminist campaigners who support the Government’s plans to simplify the process of changing sex, and regard any concerns, no matter how gently they are expressed, as extreme prejudice.
On the other is a large number of women, genuinely concerned that their rights, particularly regarding single-sex safe spaces, are being ignored by politicians and campaigners, desperate to mollify a tiny minority.
And there is a very real fear that women’s biological identity is being slowly erased by trans activists and their woke sisters.
Over the top? Perhaps. But when reputable organisations describe women as “menstruators”, “bleeders” or “cis-women” instead of simply “female”, and some transwomen with penises argue that lesbians should accept them as lovers, and if they don’t, accuse them of transphobia, then we are in danger of letting an extreme ideology take precedent. It seems to me that trans activists and their supporters, including the First Minister, are trying to redefine the meaning of sex and gender.
They dismiss biological sex as nothing more than something casually assigned at birth, based on whether a baby has a vulva or penis, and argue that a person’s lived identity – their gender at any given time – is all that matters.
And if you disagree with this new definition of humanity, largely defined by transwomen with penises, then you cannot call yourself a feminist, or even a woman. You are a dismissed as a terf – a trans-exclusionary radical feminist.
The very basis of feminism – that women have been, and continue to be, economically, socially and politically oppressed because of their biology – has been tossed aside like an old pair of Doc Martens, to be replaced by the killer heels of trans activists.
Suddenly, those hoary old gender stereotypes, including long blonde hair and pouting lips, have become the true signifiers of womanhood. Gender is now real. Biological sex is not.
The experience of two very different women struck me this week. One was a long-time education and social care expert, who was recently forced out of her job because she was overheard to question Education Scotland’s latest guidance on trans children.
Writing in the Scottish Review, she described how she was accused of “contravening equalities legislation” and given a stark ultimatum. “Either I left my post voluntarily, or action would be taken against me that, I was left in no doubt, would be seeking to dismiss me,” she recalls. She left. Reluctantly.
Decades of unwavering commitment to equality and human rights were for naught. She had questioned the new trans ideology, and therefore was no longer to be trusted. My heart breaks for her.
The second is Neneh Bojan, an Edinburgh woman. When she was nine years old, living in Gambia, she had her clitoris ripped from her body in a traditional rite of passage that millions of girls across the world still endure.
Her life was destroyed by female genital mutilation (FGM), an unspeakably cruel practice that regards female biology as “unclean” and “unworthy”. In far too many cultures, men still decide what is a “real” woman.
Neneh’s courageous testimony made me cry, and I welcome the Scottish Government’s move to strengthen the current legislation that protects women and girls from the horrors of FGM. Even if it only saves one girl from being mutilated while on “holiday”, as happens just now, it will be worth it.
We live in a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world. And that is a good thing, because we are all, to some extent, mixed-up.
But some things are certain. Two hundred million women worldwide live with the terrible effects of FGM. Nearly two thirds of Scots working for poverty wages are women. And around 140 women are murdered by men in the UK every year.
Only one in five of our engineering and tech students are female, and Scottish women aged between 50 and 59 earn 25 per cent less than their male counterparts. Yes, 25 per cent.
These are the battles that women – all women – should be fighting.