A process of exploring his gender

Maya Forstater on gender fluid people in the workplace:

The case of Taylor v Jaguar Land Rover has been trumpeted as a “landmark”  employment tribunal decision recognising that people who identify as non-binary or gender-fluid can be covered by the Equality Act protected characteristic of “gender reassignment”.  

The case concerns Mr/Ms Taylor, a man who began to wear women’s clothing to work in 2017 as part of a process of exploring his gender.

It makes me feel tired already. Work is work, it’s not therapy, it’s not your living room, it’s not a place to “explore” your anything. Do your exploring and navel-gazing and self-actualizing and diary-keeping and mirror gazing on your own time, away from the job and your bosses and above all your fellow workers, who have other things to do and don’t want to have to spend their time and attention on your Journey.

The Equal Treatment Benchbook, which guides judges’ conduct, says:

It is important to respect a person’s gender identity by using appropriate terms of address, names and pronouns.

It isn’t though. It isn’t important. It’s trivial. People have been shouting and screaming it into importance over the past 10 or 20 years, but that’s what people do; in reality it isn’t important, it’s silly. It’s just silly. It’s like saying it’s important to respect a person’s Star Wars identity by using appropriate terms of address, names and pronouns. It’s treating adults like very young children, and playing along with them.

But what if following this guidance means the court loses sight of reality itself? 

What indeed.

Jaguar Land Rover is a male dominated company.  Women make up 1 in 10 of the workforce. With 50,000 staff in the West Midlands, it is the region’s largest employer. Sean Taylor had worked at Jaguar Land Rover as an engineer for 20 years.  He was based at Gaydon – a complex with some 13,000 staff; the size of a small town. In the building where he worked there were over 1,000 people. 

The case against Jaguar Land Rover was that in not protecting him from colleagues’ comments, and asking him at one point to use the accessible unisex toilets, they engaged in a course of harrassment and discrimination. 

Harassment in the Equality Act is defined as “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, and which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”.

I wonder how many women dealt with unwanted conduct of that kind at Jaguar Land Rover. I wonder how much time anyone spent fixing that problem.

There was a big issue about the toilets. Which oh which oh which toilets to use.

On 16 July 2017 Taylor wrote to HR saying he was not sure what the toilet arrangements should be.

On 19 September 2017 Taylor sent an email to a manager, saying: “I don’t know what toilet to use, I raised this three times with no progress over six weeks. I spoke to HR twice about moving as part of the transition at work, but this was ignored.”

How about using the same ones you’ve been using for 20 years? That way you won’t be bothering the women in their toilets – or maybe you don’t care about that. Maybe it’s all about you and your “exploring.”

Finally, following on from the grievance meeting there were a series of discussions between local management and HR, and it was decided to allow Taylor to use whatever toilets he wanted on any given day…

Ah that’s great. And if any women on any given day don’t want to use a toilet with him in it well that’s just tough shit, isn’t it. It always is.

The tension between the exception applied to Taylor and the general rules of the company quickly became a  problem.  Taylor complained that the women’s toilets were locked (with a code) in some locations to avoid vandalism, and this caused him stress. He was concerned that trying to gain access to the women’s toilets would involve “difficult conversations with local staff”.

He was apparently not, however, concerned that trying to gain access to the women’s toilets would be unpleasant for the women who needed them.

The employment tribunal was keen on grand gestures – comparing Taylor to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, and rewriting history so that the events it considered appear to relate to a woman called Rose, rather than a man called Sean. They refer to Taylor, a man in his 40s, as a “poster girl for LGBT+ rights”. 

So much more interesting and glamorous than mere boring women, who are just women. Yawn.

They are less keen on the idea of occupational health support for Taylor’s mental health issues, including self-harm and suicidal ideation, saying these were only the symptoms. They diagnose the way Taylor was treated by colleagues as the cause of his distress, apparently without the benefit of any expert evidence.

It is notable that Taylor began the “social transition” to dress in women’s clothing at work without any diagnosis, or medical or psychological support. His mental health seriously deteriorated. A therapist might have been able to better prepare him; helping him to anticipate how colleagues might respond, and supporting him to develop resilience strategies for when those responses did not align with his inner world.

The tribunal’s enthusiasm for playing along with the fantasy meant that it failed to consider the practical dilemma faced by Jaguar Land Rover, namely, where there was a mismatch between Mr Taylor’s self-perception and material reality, what exactly should the company have done to protect him from feeling distress at how others perceived him? What rules should it have communicated to all employees? 

And even more basically, why should a workplace play along with one employee’s fantasy (at the expense of all the other employees) in the first place? Why has this whole idea of playing along with the fantasy of “becoming a woman” taken over so completely? It’s definitely not a general rule that employers and workers have to play along with other workers’ fantasies on the job. Why is this one fantasy treated so differently? Massive social pressure is one reason, but why isn’t there more resistance to the massive social pressure?

Maybe someday people will start to notice how damn silly it all is.

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