There will be two posts on human biological sex today—at least if my exhaustion permits. Here’s the first.
I suppose this declaration by Keir Starmer will anger gender activists, especially those who insist that “a trans woman is a woman,” but it comports with common usage and avoids the fracas that the Scottish government got into last year when it declared (with court affirmation) that self-identification of a biological male as a woman, declared on a certificate, establishes the sex of a person. Here’s the declaration of Lady Haldane, a judge of Scotland’s Supreme Court, affirming the government’s decision.
“I conclude that in this context, which is the meaning of sex for the purposes of the 2010 Act, sex is not limited to biological or birth sex, but includes those in possession of a GRC [gender recognition certificate] obtained in accordance with the 2004 Act stating their acquired gender, and thus their sex,” she wrote.
Sex is not gender, for one thing, and you can’t change your gamete type by getting a gender recognition certificate, which is not about sex but about gender (see below).
Last year, the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, refused to define what a “woman” was, and although she was motivated by an admirable desire to protect the rights of trans women, she got into trouble for saying “I’m not going to. I’m just not going to get into this debate at a level that’s about simplified and lurid headlines.” Shortly thereafter she resigned, but of course she’d been assailed on many issues. The refusal to define “woman” is a hallmark of extreme gender activism, a fracas that Sturgeon and the Scottish government got itself into. Your either have to say that it’s an inborn biological trait or is the result of self-identification. Waffling means that you know there’s a conflict between the two.
The Scottish declaration, however, was overturned by UK’s Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who exercised a “nuclear option” to block Scotland’s system of gender self-identification.
Now, according to the Times of London (click on screenshot, though it’s mostly paywalled; perhaps judicious inquiry will yield the piece), Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has gone along with the Tories by not only refusing to accept self-declaration of sex (or gender, if you will), but also giving its own definition of “woman”, one that, in my view, is pretty correct in a biological sense:
Here’s the central bit:
Sir Keir Starmer has said that “a woman is an adult female” as he hardened his stance on gender.
The Labour leader insisted that biological women needed single-sex spaces and ruled out introducing self-identification for changing gender.
At Labour’s national policy forum at the weekend, the party formally ditched a policy of self-ID, which would have allowed people to change their legal gender without the need for a medical diagnosis of dysphoria.
Starmer cited controversy over the Scottish government’s law introducing self-identification, which was blocked by Rishi Sunak, and said he disagreed with Scottish Labour’s decision to support the reform.
“We don’t agree, we don’t think that self-identification is the right way forward,” Starmer said. He added that he had “reflected on what happened in Scotland”.
The Labour leader has been shifting position since struggling to say in 2021 whether a woman could have a penis, before declaring this year that 99.9 per cent of women “haven’t got a penis”.
Challenged on a BBC Radio 5 Live phone-in, Starmer went further. “Firstly, a woman is an adult female, so let’s clear that one up,” he said.
The party would “keep it a medical process” to change gender, Starmer said, while adding that he wanted to “modernise” the Gender Recognition Act and “get rid of some of the indignities in the process”.
The weekend’s policy discussion has “allowed us to be clear that there should be safe places, safe spaces for women, particularly in relation to violence against women”, he added.
Citing his own experience prosecuting violence against women as director of public prosecutions, Starmer said he felt “very strongly” about the need for safe spaces and that “biological women who have been subjected to violence against women and girls want a safe space where they can feel . . . that they are properly supported and protected”.
Asked what women needed to be protected from, Starmer raised the case of Isla Bryson, a rapist who was moved from a female to a male prison after a public outcry.
Starmer’s definition comports with that of the Oxford English Dictionary, whose first definition is this one:
The statement is not perfect (Starmer could have said “a woman is an adult human female”, as we don’t speak of “women flies”; and he could have recognized the obvious earlier instead of waffling). But at least there’s a recognition that one can change gender, though Starmer says that that would require a medical process (some would disagree), and a recognition that in some cases, like prisons and safe houses, biological women need safe spaces that don’t include trans women (I would add sports).
And the concept of “gender” is currently subject to lot of debate: is it a social sex role or a self-identification that isn’t clearly connected with how you behave in society? Or all of the above? And what does Starmer mean by “medical process”? Does a psychological analysis count as a medical process (remember, psychiatrists are doctors), or do you need hormones and/or surgery? I would, for example, avoid all this debate by calling what most call a “trans woman” as someone who has medically transitioned to living in a female sex role”. That avoids self-identification as the sole criterion for your “role”.
But despite this quibbling, Starmer’s statement is a good one, particularly the emphasis on using the definition to provide safe spaces for women.
And I would add that I don’t consider this discussion transphobic, though some will. I agree with J. K. Rowling’s statement—except of course for the last two sentences:
I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth,” she tweeted. “The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women—i.e., to male violence—‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences—is a nonsense.”
She continued, “I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.”