August 8, 2023 - 7:00am

When you hear someone describe me as a trans woman, what do you think this means? Recent polling commissioned by an Edinburgh-based policy collective has found that four in every 10 people do not know. As politicians have stumbled over the astonishingly simple question, “what is a woman?” it was long assumed that we knew what a trans woman is. But evidently not.

The survey polled 1026 individuals on the trans woman question. Only 60% answered correctly — “someone registered male / a boy at birth”. Over a fifth (21%), thought it was someone who had been registered female, or a girl at birth, while 19% did not know. That matters when the term is used so widely — yet almost always without further explanation. When such a large proportion of the public does not comprehend the terminology, they are hardly going to grasp the issues associated with it. 

That was not a one-off anomaly. Another group of 1008 people was asked the similar question, “when you hear someone described as a transgender woman, what do you think this means?” That cohort did slightly better — 65% realised that they belonged to the group that was registered male at birth — but over a third of the sample either did not know, or did not know that they did not know.

Let’s be clear: this is not a question of metaphysical beliefs about whether male people can be a type of women (spoiler: we can’t); this polling has found that over a third of the population either thinks that trans women are actually female, or they do not know whether they are male or female. Terminology so widely misunderstood is at best unhelpful, and can be downright misleading. With this new research, ignorance can no longer be an excuse.

On an emotional level, the descriptions trans woman and transgender woman register very differently to the term “male transsexual”, but they all refer to someone of the male sex. Indeed, the only people who cannot be trans women are women. But that sort of language is strongly discouraged by activists and those they have captured with their ideology. People have lost their jobs after denying that males can be women.

This should also be a wake-up call to anyone who reports on transgender issues. We must never again see headlines such as, “Trans woman Isla Bryson jailed for eight years for raping two women”.  Both terms — “trans woman and “transgender women — were unknown until little more than 20 years ago. It’s beyond time that we returned to clear and simple English which everybody understands and, using that outrage in Scotland as an example, point out that a male called Isla Bryson was jailed for eight years for raping two women. Who can argue with that?

Debbie Hayton is a teacher and a transgender campaigner.