Please be specific

Same old same old same old – we’re told about the desperate need to respect trans rights, while we’re not told what, exactly, trans rights are meant to be, and whether they’re the same basic rights we should respect in all cases (cf the “Universal” in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) or special rights particular to trans people, and if it’s the latter, whether those putative rights are compatible with everyone else’s rights.

Amnesty press release:

UK human rights organisations speak out for trans equality amidst growing threats to trans rights

But what is “trans equality”? Is there anyone anywhere who claims that trans people are not “equal” to everyone else? I sure don’t know of any such claim.

But what does “live freely as themselves” mean?

Drawing up declarations of human rights takes some thought and care, because if you’re sloppy about it you find you’ve said we can all ride roughshod over each other, and goodbye to human rights in that world. The slogan in the image is like that. Do we want to say that pedophile priests must be able to “live freely as themselves”? Do we want to say that of murderers, frauds, gang bosses, CEOs of corporations that trash the planet or poison the consumers or exploit the workers or all of those?

And then the sign hiding behind the slogan – “I am who I say I am.” You may be, whoever you are, but does it follow that everyone is? Is it the case that everyone is who she says she is? Is it true that all people are who they say they are?

Don’t be ridiculous. Of course it’s not, and it would be massively less so if that became a Human Right and a general law. I could say I’m the boss of Amazon so please send all the checks to me, but I would be telling a falsehood.

And it’s not just fraud and crime; it’s also life more broadly. People don’t know everything there is to know about who they are. People take an optimistic view of themselves, which could often benefit from a more detached view from outside. The puff adder in the White House is a glaring example – do we want to agree that he is who he says he is? Or that Kushner is, or Princess Ivanka, or Kayleigh McEnany?

Also depressed people have a distorted view of themselves, as do anorexic people; correction from the outside can help them. “I am who I say I am” just isn’t a general truth, and it makes a rotten slogan.

Today a joint statement has been released from some of the UK’s leading human rights organisations in support of trans equality to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia and Transphobia (17 May). 

See above. Who opposes trans equality? No one that I know of.

Amnesty International, Liberty and Human Rights Watch joined to send a message that trans rights are human rights:

“Human rights are universal and belong to everyone. Yet too often in the UK trans people are spoken about and treated as though their rights don’t matter.

No they’re not. The claims that some trans activists make are challenged on the grounds that they are too sweeping and/or conflict with the rights of girls and women. Nobody says the rights of trans people don’t matter; we question the new bizarre special rights that are in tensions with the rights of female people.

The toxic media coverage about trans people has recently spiked. At times of crisis and political change, marginalised groups are often singled out for abuse and hate. History has shown us time and time again the dangers of setting the rights of one marginalised group up for debate. But we know that our rights and freedoms are bound together.

That sounds nice, but the reality is that some of the claimed rights of men who say they are trans are not at all bound together with the rights and freedoms of women.

What’s more, this isn’t an equal conversation or level playing field. Key voices are missing – trans and non-binary people, and in particular young trans people. They are so often spoken about, not listened to. As a society, we need to make space so they can be finally heard without having to defend who they are.

If “who they are” is men who claim to be women, then there are situations in which women need to be able to say no.

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