On 22 April, Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss addressed Parliament's Women and Equalities Select Committee, laying out her priorities. The Tory minister's comments and plans were met with much support from many from socialist feminist backgrounds on the basis that she thought single-sex spaces should be protected (a shorthand to communicate to the relevant audience that trans women will be excluded from accessing services and particular areas of public life).
The feminists in question - who subscribe to a very different kind of feminism from ours - have spent the last few years agitating against any reform to the Gender Recognition Act. Hence their acclaim for Truss' call for “checks and balances” on the ability of trans adults to live their lives as they wish without fear of persecution.
So busy lauding the Tories for their efforts in taking up the mantle of eroding the rights of trans people, these feminists failed to take any kind of critical view on the final point of priority laid out by the minister: that “under 18s are protected from decisions they could make, that are irreversible in the future [...] it’s very important that while people are still developing their decision-making capabilities that we protect them from making those irreversible decisions”.
Given Truss' previous stated priorities, one might understand why many have reacted as if the only application of this is the seeking of trans healthcare by teenagers. It is important to be clear in this matter, it is often construed that these treatments are surgical when in fact most treatment for trans adolescents amounts to hormone blocking treatment in order to delay the effects of puberty. This course of treatment is not nearly as irreversible as surgical intervention that we are led to believe is being performed en masse.
There are, however, far wider ramifications to what Truss is saying here. This is effectively an opposition to Gillick competence: the ability for children under 16 to consent to their own medical treatment. This means that teenagers will often be unable to access contraceptive medication (for whatever reason) and that pregnant teenage girls could be forced to carry children to term by way of a parental veto. These represent a huge step backwards for the bodily autonomy of girls, the way for which was paved by cries to “protect women and girls”.
This is the logical end-point of the anti-trans feminism that has dominated the bourgeois press, is a major force in the hierarchies of many unions (much less so among their activists) and much of the left influenced by the Morning Star.
For some even on the left, the desire to push back against the rights of trans people is so strong that it scarcely matters what other rights must be pushed back at the same time. The calls for vigilantism against trans women in women’s toilets led to widespread harassment of butch and otherwise gender non-conforming women. This was a price worth paying for these feminists. When the calls to protect children by preventing all treatment to trans adolescents inevitably mean that teenage girls will be unable to access medication they need or be forced to carry their pregnancy to term by their parents, that too will be a price worth paying.
Of course this will more broadly aid the conservative and radical right, who actively want to drive down the rights of all oppressed groups.
We need to assert rational, inclusive socialist feminism and mobilise the labour movement, including obviously the Labour Party, for trans rights, women's rights and the rights of all the oppressed.
• More on fighting for trans rights in the labour movement: see our recent video below:
• Listen to our recent audio below: