I’m publishing this for anyone who doesn’t want to share pronouns at work – which is to say, I decided fairly early not to declare a gender identity and have needed to be prepared to defend this decision ever since. To cut a long story short, I consider gender as a set of stereotypes and a social imposition I’ve spent a long time trying to get away from, and consequently I don’t have a gender identity. But even as I ungender myself, I still have a biological sex – female. Human animals tend to use the term ‘woman’ for female bloggers (girls are more likely to be found on the gram). However, unlike hens, does, cows, and mares, some human animals are also trans, which means that the meaning of ‘woman’ has expanded to allow some males.
The reason I won’t declare a gender identity is not that I don’t welcome trans people or want them to feel comfortable. It’s that adopting one myself might identify me with political positions I don’t hold, namely that gender identity should have primacy over biological sex, and that recognising biological sex as a major social determinant is essentialising and akin to or as bad as racism.
I realise that may seem a bit of a leap. You might observe that it is equally essentialising to use pronouns to denote biological sex – and in any case what place does biological sex have at work, where we’re supposed to have equal rights and professionalism dictates that we don’t hook up with each other – at least not in core hours. And I’d respond in turn that even if it were desirable to be biological-sex-blind it would be futile. But I can’t see how it is desirable, because distinguishing between equality and equity depends on recognising differences that matter, and biological sex is a major determinant in our lives – for women, menstruation, maternity and menopause are hugely influential, and those are only the most obvious. It’s also not desirable because we are being urged to do the opposite for gender, not to mention other legal equality characteristics – why should sex be excluded? And futile because biological sex is never going to stop being fundamentally important in our society. It’s no coincidence that two of the three gender identity pronouns in general use map directly onto dimorphic sex, and no coincidence that the pride flag does gender as the (I’d say stereotypical) binary pink and blue alongside the non-binary white. Biological sex is very present in trans rights movements. I’d say it’s not a problem to solve – it’s simply at the heart of our species. But we also know that high profile campaigns believe that biological sex undermines gender identity and cannot exist along side it. In many spheres they have attempted to eliminate biological sex as a relevant category, even to the extent of interfering people’s sexuality. And if you publicly objected to that, as many – mostly women – did, it would be open season on you and you’d be fortunate to keep your job.
I’d actually go further. I see the attempt to sever the links between ‘he’ and ‘she’ and biological sex as creating injustice in a number of settings. A failure of monitoring participation by sex coupled with a sharp rise in younger trans people means we have to guess representation in different study, leisure and career pursuits where women are under-represented. If you’re into sport, you’re being asked to accept male-bodied people competing against women in sports where they are likely to win. We cannot accurately monitor sex offences and where there are signs of a sharp rise in women committing them, we cannot know whether the women are biologically male (there is no centrally mandated policy on data collection) which means that we cannot feed the data into valid policy. Accommodating male sex offenders who identify as women in women’s prisons has been recognised as a risk by a judge who nodded it through anyway. I never again want to read the headline “woman accused of exposing penis”. That’s not because I’m in a state of moral panic, it’s because it only takes a few cases like that to ruin the data on female sex offenders and frame women as more likely to commit sex crimes than they are.
I recognise that rounds of gender identity declarations are also intended as a gesture of welcome for trans and non-binary people. Our places of work are supposed to be spaces for people of different beliefs and none to come together and get things done, and one way we do that is not to impose one group’s set of beliefs on groups who object to them – unless it’s a battle for rights where the group being imposed upon is responsible for the injustice. It’s not like that in this case, and moreover here we need to avoid a zero sum game battle of rights between gender identity rights and biological sex rights. There are many kinds of marginalisation that I would like to acknowledge and bring in at work, so If I’m running the introductions I’ll invite people to share anything they want the group to know about them. Then, if anyone wanted to express their personal gender identity, I would observe the pronouns they requested. I might forget sometimes, and I hope that everyone would treat that with the same tolerance I extend to people who, say, refer to me as ‘he’ on social media or forget how to pronounce my name.