A smoke screen for her underlying bigotry

Katelyn Burns explains the Maya Forstater ruling for readers of The New Republic:

But a closer look at the case reveals that it doesn’t have much to do with a belief that “there are only two sexes in human beings … male and female,” as Forstater claims (and growing bodies of science dispute). In practice, Forstater was seeking legal cover to disregard the already established rights of trans people in the U.K.

What rights? What rights of trans people was Maya “seeking legal cover to disregard”?

Hers was a familiar argument—one that for too long has dominated mainstream coverage of trans rights.

What rights are those though?

A passage from employment judge James Tayler’s ruling explained it perfectly: “The claimant is absolutist in her view of sex and it is a core component of her belief that she will refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”

It’s not about what anyone “considers appropriate” though is it. It’s about safety, for one thing. Women sometimes need to know who is a man for their own safety. It’s not a whim, it’s not “absolutism,” it’s not random, it’s not being cruel or rude. It’s self-preservation. Women are given a lot of self-preserving advice about what to do around men, which seems to hint that women can be at risk from the presence of men in some situations. If we’re not allowed to know who is a man and who isn’t any more, how can we follow any advice of that kind?

Forstater’s claim about protected belief was just a smoke screen for her underlying bigotry, and Tayler saw through it. “It is also a slight of hand to suggest that the Claimant merely does not hold the belief that transwomen are women,” he wrote in his judgment. “She positively believes that they are men; and will say so whenever she wishes.” The case, then, wasn’t so much about belief as it was about actions.

But how does Katelyn Burns – who is a trans woman – suggest we deal with this issue of sometimes needing to know who is a man for our own protection? Just ignore it?

In the U.K., trans people are protected on the basis of their “gender reassignment,” meaning that they should be treated as their transitioned genders under the law.

“Treated as” – what does that mean? Does it mean the law is telling us to lie about what we perceive? Can a law really order us to do that?

In her employment case, Forstater wanted her own beliefs to supersede the rights of those trans people.

But what about our rights? What about our rights to deal in facts as opposed to fantasies? What about our rights to name things accurately as opposed to being forced to lie? Why don’t those rights matter?

Winning her suit would have meant potentially nullifying protections for trans people and eroding emerging social norms that allow trans people to feel safe and respected in basic social interactions.

What protections? Is it really “protection” to force other people to call you what you are not? That’s not my idea of a protection.

I’m not convinced it’s about protection; I think it’s more about attention. If people are forced by law to use counter-intuitive pronouns for other people, then those forced people will have to pay constant attention to the people of pronoun so that they don’t get it wrong. It’s a wonder Trump hasn’t latched onto this wheeze yet.

Anti-trans activists like Forstater can talk all they want about their simple and humble personal beliefs in the supposed immutability of biological sex, but the truth is, as the judge found, those views are—or should be—irrelevant to how trans people are treated in society and on the job.

Then again you could say that people’s magic inner gender feels are irrelevant to how people at work refer to them.

It doesn’t matter what Forstater believes about trans people or the body—the court found that it didn’t entitle her to misgender people. That’s why nondiscrimination laws exist in the first place.

No it isn’t. Nondiscrimination laws in general have nothing to do with pronouns, and the reason they exist is to prevent injustice, not to indulge people’s personal fantasies about themselves.

Cases like this—which pit the actual lives of trans people against the beliefs of somebody who decided to test her colleagues’ patience by posting over 150 anti-trans tweets in a single week—are a win-win for anti-trans activists.

One, the tweets were not “anti-trans”; two, were Maya’s colleagues forced to read her tweets? Did she print them out and place them on her colleagues’ desks? Is it really any of her colleagues’ business what she tweets?

If they prevail, they now have a new legal basis to treat trans people like garbage without reprisal.

Saying that people cannot literally change sex is not “treating trans people like garbage.” People can’t literally jump over tall buildings; it’s not treating them like garbage to say so.

I don’t think Katelyn Burns is garbage, but I certainly think this article is.

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