Pride Month, the annual celebration of the alphabet soup that is the enforced marriage of LGB and T, is almost over. During this weekend’s Pride parade through central London, there will be much chanting of the mantra “No LGB without the T”. But when the rainbow decorations are put away for another year, it will be a good time to think about this coerced civil partnership — and whether divorce might not be preferable, for both our sakes.
The two groups, yoked together under an uglier-than-ever rainbow flag, have diametrically opposed objectives. For the LGB wing to achieve progress, the only tool we have is visibility. We have to come out. We have the constant advantage or penalty, depending on circumstance, of the closet. Years ago I wrote a joke which reflects a profound truth about gay life: the difference between being gay and being black is that if you’re black you don’t have to tell your mother.
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But what trans people need, want and campaigned for is the opposite. They fight for invisibility. That was the explicit objective of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), which was designed to enable trans people to live quiet lives, precisely without being noticed as different. As so many trans people have told me, they transitioned in order to “pass”.
The background to that 2004 Act was the case of Christine Goodwin. She argued in the European Court of Human Rights that — and this was before gay civil partnership and equal marriage would have allowed him to do so — she was being discriminated against because, among other issues, she couldn’t marry her boyfriend. Without a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) that the Act would grant, every time she needed to show her birth certificate she’d be outed as male and, therefore, as trans; her privacy would be breached. Which was the exact opposite of what she — who had undergone sex reassignment surgery more than a decade earlier — actually wanted.
The GRA was a direct consequence of Goodwin’s ECHR win. It included an explicit provision to safeguard this essential privacy for transgender people. It made it an offence for any official who knew the birth sex of a trans person to disclose it. The GRA gave trans people the comfort of a legal fiction, on which they could rely fully, that they could be treated as the opposite sex. And more than that, it guaranteed that they would not have to come out as trans. It was a political triumph for invisibility.
The effect of this was to create a social contract. Society would pretty happily go along with the GRA’s legal fiction because, as remains the case today, the majority of people think that transgender people should be free from discrimination. But that deal has been broken by the current generation of transactivists — often to the horror of many trans people, especially those who, under the auspices of the GRA, have fully transitioned. Those transactivists are making a fundamental error by enforcing the coupling of the LGB and the T: they have seen the campaigning success of lesbians and gays through coming out, and mistakenly think they should copy it.
But unthinkingly merging the two makes little sense. As an idea, it is based on nothing more than the rather flimsy notion that “alphabet” people are united under a banner of similar oppression. And other letters, increasingly opaque in their relevance, are added daily to the Ts & Qs. Not long ago I was sent a leaflet circulated by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario which invited to an “inclusiveness training” session for those who were “LGGBDTTTIQQAAPP”. To be fair, the leaders of the group did subsequently say they were trying to be “a bit tongue-in-cheek” — but the current fashion for salami-slicing personal identities made it depressingly believable.
The fact that prejudice, in its stupidity, cannot tell the difference between anyone who is gender non-conforming, trans or gay, and in their eyes is just a “poof” or a “lezza”, is no reason for us to copy their idiocy by lazily conjoining the two under some generalised feeling of discrimination.
There is an obvious disparity. Sexual orientation — the sex or sexes to whom you are attracted — is a totally separate phenomenon from gender identity, a subjective feeling of who you think or claim you are. The specific needs and disadvantages of each are markedly different. Unless gays wear our badges and T-shirts and tell people that we’re gay, we can go about the world unnoticed, wearing what a friend of mine calls “heterosexual drag”. But to gain equality, we had to wave our flag and drop our disguise. We needed to march in protest and to lobby politicians, we had to show our difference in order for us to win the rights to marry, to adopt, to serve in the military, to have an equal age of consent.
But transactivists muddle these different requirements of visibility and invisibility for the LGB versus the T. As we saw in Scotland, they want society to accommodate an even wider extension of the GRA’s legal fiction, an even more public profile, to those who, without any kind of diagnosis or process of actual physical transition, can simply self-identify as the opposite sex. However, they also then want everyone to ignore completely the very obvious differences — sporting advantages where they occur, and visual clues, especially in the transwomen who have chosen to remain physically unchanged in any way.
The case of Adam Graham, the Scottish rapist who claimed trans status as Isla Bryson in order to be housed in a women’s prison, graphically illustrated the problem, with Scottish politicians tying themselves in linguistic knots trying to justify their legislation. Transactivists have threatened women with guns if they question their right to using a women’s loo. Amara Vasquez, a trans social media influencer, shouted at feminists on a march in 2022 that “these titties are more real than you, bitch…” These may be particularly egregious examples, but they are not untypical of the kind of belligerently conspicuous behaviour rejected by those who have fully transitioned.
What the Gender Recognition Act did for those who needed to live as the opposite sex was provide them with a way of doing it, without being unmasked or forced to admit their history. But the ideological insistence of transactivists that “transwomen are women” has blown that apart. They have opened every trans person’s history to scrutiny, while at the same time insisting that the rest of society turn a blind eye to it.
The great success of the Stonewall campaigns — I was one of the charity’s six co-founders in 1989 — came from creating a shared goal with the rest of society. The wider population agreed that it was damaging to democracy and all of us for any one group of people to be discriminated against under the law. The accomplishment was not just to right a wrong, but to create a platform from which lesbians and gays could contribute fully to a society in which we all could live well together.
But for those born male now to push themselves into women’s sport, spaces and services was never the intention of the Gender Recognition Act. It was to give dignity to people whose lives would be immeasurably improved, psychologically and socially, if they took the enormous step of transition. Society responded by accepting that shared goal and the contract which that implied. But activists are trying to trash that social bond which was created by their own campaigning legacy.
By trying to copy the successes of the lesbian and gay movement, transactivists misunderstand their own history and drag trans people into the unwelcome glare of exposure. They should be unsurprised that the rest of society is now pushing back — and that the LGB seeks separation from the T.