New research about trans equality is misleading
A new survey has found that 46% of Britons think that a transwoman is a woman, but only 19% think that transwomen should be allowed to compete in women’s sports. How does that work? Are we women or not, or does it depend?
The data comes from a survey of 5000 people from across England, Scotland and Wales. The data is certainly interesting — nearly half of young people know a transgender person and well over half thought that transgender issues should be taught in schools. But percentages tell us only part of the story. Why do people think that transwomen are women? Unless — it seems — where women’s sports are involved.
One possible inference is that the British public wants to be kind to transgender people, but they are less keen to yield to every demand from the transgender community. That’s fair enough. Other people also have rights, which is why we should have single-sex spaces, for example.
In another part of the survey, only 24% thought that transwomen should be welcomed into the women’s changing rooms. But that percentage doubled when it was specified that the transwomen had undergone gender reassignment surgery. It seems that inclusion depends on bodies as well as identities.
So when a survey like this hits the press we need to be very careful when interpreting the results. The Guardian suggested that ‘Britons [are] not bitterly polarised over trans equality.’ That makes sense. Away from the maelstrom of Twitter, most people probably don’t think about transgender issues very much, and why should they? I’m trans and transgender politics doesn’t fill up my days either. My concerns are pretty much the same as everyone else’s: juggling deadlines at work and trying to work out how to pay the bills.
But get people into a focus group and ask them questions, the conflict of rights cannot be ignored. Sports and changing rooms crystallised the issue for many. Transgender people enjoy widespread rights and acceptance in liberal societies like the UK, and we have the same opportunities as everyone else. But transwomen are not women — we are the other sex — and we cannot expect to be treated in exactly the same way as women.
We also need to clarify what “transgender” actually means. The survey suggested that many people considered gender reassignment surgery to be important, at least in some contexts. But the prevalence of transgender people is apparently skewed towards the young, a group that has historically been prone to break social gender norms and identify with fads and fashions.
Are we talking about transsexuals — a group that makes significant changes to their bodies — or a much wider group that includes transvestites and gender non-conforming people? The survey doesn’t say, and as such its findings are rather limited.