Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Labour Controversy over Gender Recognition.

with 7 comments

Activists divide on issues such as trans women on all-female shortlists.

A veteran feminist and opponent of government plans to streamline how people can legally change their gender aims to set up a “new women’s liberation movement” to lobby a future Labour government.

Ruth Serwotka, convener of the Socialist Feminist Network, said she and others on the left had been “frozen out” of voicing their concerns to the party leadership about what they believe would be the impact of the government’s proposed Gender Recognition Act. The act would make it easier for people to self-declare their gender without having to be assessed by clinicians.

Nearly 500 people from Labour, the Greens, the Women’s Equality party and trade unions attended the latest meeting of the group, which took place in London at a location that was kept secret because of what the group alleges is intimidation by trans activists.

I think that in time there will be an impact on Labour’s support among women and trust in the party from women,” said Serwotka.

Further meetings are planned around the country, she said, and will lead to the establishment of “a new women’s liberation movement” later this year.

“It will talk about wider issues than just transgender issues and really go back to the founding principles of the women’s liberation movement, look at whether they are fit for purpose, and consider what any new founding principles might look like. We want to do that because we certainly want to be able to influence a Labour government.”

The campaign by Serwotka and other feminists comes against the backdrop of divisions in Labour over whether transgender women can be included on all-women shortlists for parliamentary seats. The party is embarking on a consultation after confirming they are welcome to stand without a gender recognition certificate.

Factions in the bitter split had both been encouraging supporters to join the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, which met in central London.

Rest of article via link above.


Leading members of hard left group the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy are set for a showdown at its AGM this Saturday in a bitter dispute over the status of trans people.

CLPD executive member Jennifer James sparked the row by launching a campaign to ban trans women from all-women shortlists, leading to her suspension from the Labour Party. Now James, who has spoken alongside Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott at a fringe event, is pushing for her own proposals on Labour’s approach to trans people to be officially adopted by the CLPD at its AGM this Saturday 3rd March.

The acrimonious row has seen James threaten opponents saying “say it to my face one time and you’ll find out”, while a supporter of hers burned a copy of Owen Jones’ book following statements of support for trans women in Labour.

I am still absolutely fuming after reading this below – the attacks against comrade Pilgrim Tucker.

Pilgrim is one of the best, most respected, activists and writers in the UK today. 

In the past few weeks I have been called trash, disgusting, despicable, f**ing scum, compared to a Nazi, a white supremacist, and a supporter of apartheid South Africa. I have had the insults ‘TERF’ (trans exclusionary radical feminist), transphobe and bigot aimed at me too many times to count.

I am one of the women Labour Party members who recently put my name to a crowdfunder to raise money for a legal examination of whether Labour is abiding by the Equality Act 2010. Currently the Gender Recognition Act states that a transgender person wishing to legally change their sex must meet certain criteria – to ‘live as’ the opposite sex for two years and a have a doctor’s diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Once they’ve been through this process they are given a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), can change their birth certificate to say female instead of male, and access sex-segregated spaces currently reserved for women such as female dorms in backpacker hostels, hospital wards, women’s prisons or domestic violence shelters (basically spaces where women are likely to be vulnerable or in a state of undress).


But what’s happened to me, and every other woman I know in the Labour Party who has publicly stated they want to examine the impacts of these proposed changes, is an onslaught of abuse of the type I mention above. My name has been put on a ‘hit-list’ and an active campaign launched by a number of Labour members to have us expelled for ‘transphobia’. Two women on the list have been suspended from Labour, one for saying ‘women don’t have dicks’. So far nobody in a senior position within the party has spoken up for the many, many women (and good numbers of men) who have serious concerns about these issues.

Meanwhile women have had their employers contacted by anonymous activists accusing them of transphobia for simply questioning the trans rights agenda – every single meeting that women have tried to organise to discuss the issues has been targeted by activists attempting to shut it down.

Huffington Post.


The below is intended to give carefully thought out presentations of different sides in this controversy.

One thing that stands out is that the Socialist Feminist Network makes a contribution which is as far as possible from the ‘hate speech’ its critics allege.

Socialist Feminist Network.

“I urge transgender people to join us in that fight and to speak out against the sexism and misogyny in the self identity movement.”

Finding a progressive way forward for women and trans people

On 17th January 2018 Kristina Harrison addressed the second Woman’s Place meeting in Manchester, following is a transcript of her speech, which is also available on YouTube.

It’s a cliche but I really am honoured to be invited to speak at this meeting and to speak alongside socialists, feminists of the calibre of Ruth Serwotka and Bea Campbell.

As a transwoman I have identified not ‘as’ a girl or a woman but with girls and women for most of my life…. I’m also a socialist who understands with absolute clarity, that there can be no progressive agenda that uses abuse and harassment to silence women, there can be no socialism of any kind, that tells women, we’re re-defining you, be quiet and submit and there can absolutely, never be any human liberation without women’s liberation. As someone who understands that, I value women’s rights as highly as I value my own trans rights.

That is why I’ve not only marched through these very streets here in Manchester against section 28, not only stood tall as a proud and unapologetic transwoman, demanding rights, but I have also demonstrated and picketed in defence of women’s abortion rights and their right to control their own bodies. It’s also why I am implacably opposed to both the proposals for self-recognition of gender identity and the current ideology of I’m sad to say, the majority of transgender activists.

There’s simply too much to try and cover all the problematic aspects of the self-identity proposals and current trans ideology in this speech and hopefully much more can come out in the discussion so I’m just going to touch on a few issues but before I do I want to put these things into a wider context that I think is crucial to a fuller understanding of what’s going on in what I think are very complex issues of gender as well as I think, critical distinctions between everyday social sensitivities and status or even to a large extent legal protections on the one hand and on the other more fundamental political, biological and philosophical distinctions which must also be reflected in law.

So, context. As one of those troublesome Marxists I’d argue that oppression is rooted not in individual prejudice but in systematic discrimination arising from the needs of various male dominated class societies, most recently, capitalism. One of those systemic aspects of discrimination are gender roles, their deliberate propagation and policing across generations. Such ideas are propagated through newspapers, film, TV and advertising industries and very much policed by right wing politicians, by corporate media, religious groups, by families influenced by the ongoing justification of these norms and still today here in Britain they are occasionally policed with violence by usually male bigots.

The idea that the extraordinary richness and diversity of human personality and interests can be adequately accommodated by two roles based upon a child’s genitals at birth is an absurd one. If it wasn’t such a deeply damaging and fundamentally inhumane notion it would be simply laughable, so why are we still subjected to these deeply restrictive rules that limit and suffocate the scope of girls aspirations, that tell girls they are weak, frivolous, vain and valued principally for their looks and boys that they must not cry, that tenderness, sensitivity and heaven forbid, playing with girls or with girls things is for cissy’s… and who wants to be one of those?

The reason we are still subjected to these arcane and artificial roles is they serve an important purpose for our ruling elite. These ideas have evolved over centuries fundamentally to keep women in their place in a subordinate role that now seeks to control their ability to bear and raise children in ways that maintain, nurture and replenish a healthy and productive workforce at very low cost or no cost to big business or the state and to control and exploit women’s sexualised bodies to sell commodities, to titillate men and to further divide and divert working people from recognising our common interests and common humanity. The system benefits hugely from all that. That’s partly why many establishment politicians, the likes of the Daily Mail, the Sun and other right-wing forces constantly push these norms.

Another is the gender role for males which has also evolved in ways which attempt to control and shape men, in particular working-class men, preparing them for their exploitation at work or for war. Though occupying a more socially valued and higher status category the gender role for men is still fundamentally restrictive and exploitative, setting unrealisable standards of toughness and emotional constipation for instance.

When trans identitists talk about ‘cis’ people as individuals who are somehow congruent with their gender, not in conflict with it all, I have to stifle a little laugh. I think it’s fundamentally misleading. Even a man who sees no conflict with his gender role but ends up committing suicide as all too many young men do, because his ‘role’ and the rules he thinks he has to live by as a man render him incapable of addressing and dealing with his emotional needs or feelings is in fact in a very real and all too human sense, in conflict with his unhealthy, unnatural and mentally corrosive gender role even if he doesn’t know it.

Only a minority of adults fully conform to the gender stereotypes for their sex. Most people find that their real lives and real personalities are more complex than stereotypes and whilst most conform in broadly socially acceptable senses they do not do so fully.

Many people, especially women become aware of the oppressive nature of their gender norms and actively rebel against them. Feminists and socialists such as myself are for the complete removal of these artificially created rules and roles. However, whilst women in particular are oppressed by them, as well as in many other ways, some children discover that major or central aspects or our natural personalities and childhood interests are so completely incompatible with the gender role and norms inflicted on us that we find our core sense of self completely rejected and delegitimised as children.

The very same traits and interests that bring us shame and rejection seem to bring love and pride toward children of the opposite sex….and boy do we notice! In my opinion this is one of the major reasons children can begin to feel trapped by their bodies because it is our bodies that determine whether our personality is treated with love and approval or shame and illegitimacy.

Full version:

From a standpoint critical of this view:

The setting up of a socialist feminist network/website should have been worth investigating.

But a look at its contents indicates that the network/website has been set up purely to voice concerns over forthcoming possible amendments to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), specifically that transgender people will be able to register a change of gender by self-declaration.

The site includes a Q&A on the GRA and promotion of a new campaign Women’s Place UK. That campaign’s statement says that while it supports transgender rights it believes self-declaration may undermine the integrity of women-only spaces; in the forthcoming consultation on the GRA women’s groups (unspecified) should be consulted.

I disagree with this stance against self-declaration. If self-definition (and thereby self-declaration in a registering process) is a false or insufficient basis on which people should be allowed to live their lives, in this case be a woman, what do you put in its place? It can only be a more or less elaborate system of institutionalised vetting procedures where a transwoman is not a good enough woman, a semi-woman, and second class citizen, who can never gain entry to parts of society that other women have automatic access to.

But these arguments have been dealt with in previous issues of Solidarity (448 and 452) and are not what I want to take up here. As a socialist feminist I was annoyed by the description of socialist feminism which the site puts forward. For brevity, I’ll focus on this statement from the Q&A:

“Feminists do not conflate sex and gender. Sex is a scientific term for one’s biology, and this cannot be changed. As materialists we believe the root of women’s oppression lies in her biology, a view underpinning socialist theory for generations. Gender theory does not provide an alternative credible analysis and it is regressive. Queer theorists see the intimate connection between biological sex and oppression and react by trying to dismantle the notion of biological sex whilst socialists and feminists react by seeking to dismantle oppression.”

More background:

Marxism, feminism and transgender politics. Sue Caldwell ISJ December 2017.

 No, Corbyn is not throwing women under the “trans bus”! Helen Rutherford Gregory. Clarion. September 2017.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 5, 2018 at 2:01 pm

7 Responses

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  1. Looks like a storm in a D cup to me!

    Dave Roberts

    March 5, 2018 at 9:54 pm

  2. We saw a bearded bloke? woman? wearing a skirt going into the ‘Ladies’ along with a gang of schoolgirls while out shopping in the local Asco just the other day. If s/he ‘identifies’ as a woman what is wrong with it. Why are these feminists getting their boxer shorts in a twist?

    The Shopaholics

    March 5, 2018 at 10:44 pm

  3. The Shopaholics…they have too much time on their hands?

    Steven Johnston

    March 6, 2018 at 10:08 am

  4. Perhaps the s/he should have asked the schoolgirls if they were happy and/or willing to share the toilets with him/her? Wouldn’t that have been the most democratic?

    Sue R

    March 6, 2018 at 11:47 am

  5. All no doubt very helpful, but I am still fuming at the treatment meted out to Pilgrim Tucker,who, apart from being one of the best known and most respected activists on the left, visited Ipswich to attend a protest for claimants (part of national day of action) at the Jobcentre.

    “In the past few weeks I have been called trash, disgusting, despicable, f**ing scum, compared to a Nazi, a white supremacist, and a supporter of apartheid South Africa. I have had the insults ‘TERF’ (trans exclusionary radical feminist), transphobe and bigot aimed at me too many times to count.”

    Andrew Coates

    March 6, 2018 at 12:49 pm

  6. Pilgrim Tucker appears to be getting her boxer shorts in a twist over Labour (Jezza’s) decision to allow trans women full rights, including access to to women-only shortlists. Expect to see a few more male… er. female faces on Labour’s front benches now. You couldn’t make this stuff up. If a bloke want to get a shot at being elected to Parliament all he has to do is ‘identify’ (NEVER confuse sex with gender) as a women and wear a skirt (optional).

    Trans Terf

    March 6, 2018 at 2:43 pm

  7. Ad hominem attacks are only to be used in very special circumstance but let’s face it: Transphobia is antithetical not only to Liberalism but also more radical socialist praxis. In no way should it be considered as a necessary part of Feminism. Patriarchy hurts all of us.

    Austin America

    March 7, 2018 at 4:19 pm

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