By explicitly stating that trans women should be included on Labour all women shortlists, this progressive movement is ensuring that trans people are treated with respect and dignity. This, writes Dawn Foster, is worth celebrating.

By explicitly stating that trans women should be included on all women Labour shortlists, this progressive movement is ensuring that trans people are treated with respect and dignity. This, writes Dawn Foster, is a victory worth celebrating.

You reach crunch points in fights for progress: the repressive foes don’t fall immediately, but small flashpoints later reveal themselves as the torches that lit the path forward. The fight for trans rights is one such fight currently being played out culturally in Britain, and the fact that the Labour party has ruled that trans women can stand on all women shortlists is one small stroke of victory. But of course, for every step forward, those battling to prevent trans people from achieving parity, and even peace, will continue their onslaught, though hopefully they will eventually realise they were on the wrong side of history.

It’s a curious fact that the majority of this invective comes from a band of feminists who have traditionally claimed gender is a construct, and one that is utterly constraining in its effect on both male and female lives. Why then, wouldn’t attempts to deconstruct our social perception of gender and its limitations be welcome? A shift away from relying entirely on biology as destiny? An odd preoccupation is the belief that trans women are not real women by dint of being socialised male, and therefore if they haven’t survived a whole lifetime of being gendered female, their voices and experiences are far less valid.

No trans woman I know claims to share my experiences of growing up: I don’t claim to share their experiences now – we accept there is a huge spectrum of experience both in terms of trauma, victimisation, opportunities and life choices. But oddly, we do not consider gay and lesbian people as authentically straight and inauthentically gay until they ‘come out’.

Society is configured around conventions that force people to disclose when they veer from very narrow preconceptions of normality, including gender, sexuality, mental health, disability and the sorts of intimate relationships we engage in. This disclosure reinforces the othering of many of us, and makes accepting ourselves more difficult, and repression a much easier option at times. We should work to accept people rather than reinforce these old dichotomies – many people are already arguing against the presumption of a need to ‘come out’, or disclose mental health issues – and that isn’t done by attacking people for coming to terms with their authentic self.

The Labour party say they are serious about mental health, which is good, because some politicians need to be for once. Part of that is pushing forward trans rights, and one small step in that is making the party machinery more accepting. The party rightly accept they have no place in deciding someone’s gender, and only want the best candidates, so affording trans candidates the same rights as those of their stated gender makes perfect sense.

The hoops the British health system makes you jump through for legal and medical rights as a trans person seem hellishly complex. The farming out of services to Gender Identity Clinics rather than through trained up GPs leads to a gatekeeping system with years long waiting lists. It is while languishing on these waiting lists that trans people are most prone to attempting to kill themselves. One prominent anti-trans commentator accused trans people who raised this of blackmail, stating that threatening self-harm is a tactic of abusers. This remains abhorrent.

As someone who was abused for over a decade by a man who threatened suicide, it is unequivocally clear when someone is threatening their own suicide as a tactic of control, because it is embedded in a history of violence and control. It’s also entirely obvious when someone is in genuine distress, because they have a history of such suffering. No one worth a sideways glance at would dare accuse people with mental health problems admitting they were close to such a crisis of blackmail and abuse. Those people should be condemned and discounted just as readily.

It’s also very obvious when someone is taking the piss rather than genuinely standing as a self-defining trans candidate. The mainstream commentariat cheerleading of a man standing to be the women’s officer of his local Labour branch was as pathetic as it was crushingly inevitable. The applause for a member ‘exposing the ridiculousness’ of the policy was rightly seen by the central office for what it was: a self-absorbed attempt to grab attention, while ignoring how much women were giving up to come to those meetings, and very deliberately mocking and attempting to put off any trans participation in his branch.

If party members genuinely do not believe a person standing for a women’s position is trans, complain, and as we have seen, the party will adjudicate. Otherwise, admit you are unhappy that trans people can participate in local democracy and that your preoccupation is purely with policing gender in the most intrusive and bizarrely gender essentialist way possible.

The way forward is, as the Labour party have shown, acceptance and kindness. Life is incredibly tough for many of us, with all sorts of struggles to contend with, even disregarding the beleaguered economy and chaotic government. Hate gets people nowhere, whereas working towards a society where everyone is – if not loved – treated with grace, humanity and respect, is something to be commended.

Equality is about trying to lift up as many people and assure a decent standard of life for everyone. Economically, that argument may slowly be sinking in, but as trans rights show, for some hate and self-interest will still be paramount. Luckily, the Labour party, and increasing numbers of people feel differently about treating trans people with basic human dignity.

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