Gender Identity: What Does It Mean for Society, the Law, and Women — A talk by Meghan Murphy

Talk at Toronto Public Library, Oct 29, 2019

On October 29, 2019, I spoke at the Toronto Public Library at an event called, “Gender Identity: What Does It Mean for Society, the Law, and Women?” Hundreds protested, claiming what I was saying constituted “hate speech” or that I didn’t support “human rights” for all. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Despite the protests, petitions, and threats, the event went on, with a massive police presence and security team. And women, at the end of the day, were allowed to speak about their rights, boundaries, and spaces, safely.

If people would genuinely like to hear our concerns, all they have to do is listen.

This event was organized by Radical Feminists Unite, an independent feminist group based in Toronto.

What follows is a slightly edited transcript of my talk.

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Thanks everyone for coming today. I hope we didn’t have to turn too many people away… The organizers tell me they emailed about 20 venues before contacting the library, as no one was willing to host the event. So while we do wish we could have gotten a bigger venue, in order to accommodate demand, we’re still glad to be here, finally having this conversation in Toronto, despite the best efforts of local activists and, of course, your seemingly confused mayor.

I’m here today to disappoint you all. I’m not going to say anything controversial, or shocking, or hateful. I’m going to say some perfectly rational, reasonable things, that the vast majority of the world already knows and agrees with. But because we now live in a world where our friends tweets matter more than reality, more than reading comprehension, listening, or critical thought; saying very reasonable things can very quickly become “bigotry.”

So, actually, let’s talk about bigotry — what does that word mean? “Intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself.” And let’s consider, for a moment, who it is, in this debate that is intolerant. Who is inside this room to have a conversation, to consider valid questions and concerns coming from primarily women; who wishes to form their own opinion, based on information and rational thought, rather than mob mentality; and who is it that’s decided to vilify, hate, threaten, bully, ostracize, and silence. Based on no information, a refusal to listen, a refusal to engage, and based on invented, dehumanizing stereotypes.

Bigotry is “an obstinate or intolerant devotion to one’s own opinions and prejudices.” It is someone who “regards or treats members of a group with hatred and intolerance.”

Women who have raised concerns about the impact of gender identity ideology and legislation have been roundly vilified. I know women who have been fired from their jobs, threatened, punched, kicked out of their left wing political parties, ostracized by friends and fellow activists, and no platformed.

In Vancouver, a housing activist working with Asian low income seniors in Chinatown was publicly libeled and no-platformed from a conference organized by the Vancouver District and Labour Council, where she was to speak on behalf of her group, the Chinatown Action Group, which organizes to improve the lives of low-income residents of Vancouver’s Chinatown, all because she had retweeted Vancouver Rape Relief and a link from my website, Feminist Current. These were her crimes. For this she was labelled a “TERF” — the slur used against women who support women’s sex based rights and spaces. This is common practice. We’ve essentially normalized thoughtcrime.

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, Canada’s longest standing rape crisis centre, who also operate a transition house serving 1200 women and their children a year, lost a $30,000 grant from the City of Vancouver, which they have been receiving annually for years to do public education — offered for free to all members of the public (not exclusionary whatsoever) — because they have a woman-only policy in their transition house. This is a place that houses some of the most marginalized women in the city — poor women, Indigenous women, prostituted women — women escaping and attempting recover from some of the most horrific violence imaginable. It is inexcusable that any activist group would work to destroy such a place — one of the few in Canada.

In August, trans activists spray painted “Kill TERFs,” “Fuck TERFs,” “TERFs go home, you are not welcome,” “Transwomen are women,” and “Trans Power” across Vancouver Rape Relief’s storefront, where they hold meetings for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault as well as meetings for Indigenous women. In other words, these activists are threatening women — again, particularly marginalized women who have suffered horrendous abuse. They also nailed a dead rat to the door and stuffed a dead skunk, disemboweled and with a noose around its neck through the mail slot.

In the UK, a woman in her 60s named Maria MacLachlan attempting to attend a meeting to discuss gender identity and women’s rights was punched by a young man.

Maya Forstater, an international tax policy expert, was fired from her job for publicly expressing concerns online about gender identity legislation. She is far from the only woman I know who has been fired for asking the “wrong” questions about gender identity, but the rest are too afraid to go public about what happened, lest they be rendered permanently unemployable.

I have personally been threatened with death and rape numerous times, libeled, and called every name you can imagine, simply for asking questions about the impact of gender identity legislation on women, and for stating it is not possible to change sex through self-declaration.

This is unacceptable. Women have the right to speak about their sex based rights and to discuss valid concerns about the impact of men identifying as women on their safety.

I have no idea why so many people readily lie about my views — Toronto seems particularly bad on this front, and I’m not sure why (no offense to anyone here) — but because of what has been reported by some journalists and what has been said about me by many local writers and “progressives,” I want to clarify my position and correct some misrepresentations of my arguments:

I have not said trans people should not have rights or that they are dangerous. I have not suggested trans people be excluded from spaces. I am not interested in whether or not people identify as trans, it has no bearing on my arguments. I am interested in who is male and who is female. I do not wish violence on anyone. I have never encouraged violence. I have never engaged in hate speech.

I have never said that “transwomen are not real women.” I have said that trans-identified males are male. Because they are. This is not a judgement or an insult, it is simply a material reality — a biological reality. If you are born male, you remain male for life. Everyone knows this. It is not a belief or an opinion, it is a fact. Also, to be clear: This does not — or should not — preclude males from wearing clothing designated for women, wearing makeup, growing their hair long, or even getting cosmetic surgery (I personally believe cosmetic surgeries are serious surgeries that should be considered very carefully and analyzed within the context of a culture that demands women be sexually desirable and pleasing to the male gaze above all else, but nonetheless, I’m not in the business of trying to ban people from spending tens of thousands of dollars going under the knife in a fruitless pursuit of the “perfect body,” if that’s what they desire).

Being male should also not preclude you from pushing back against the sexist stereotypes attached to masculinity. As a feminist, I fully support people pushing back against such stereotypes.

I have not said that “that trans women shouldn’t be allowed to compete in sporting events against non-trans women.”

What I have said is that female athletes should not be made to compete with or against male athletes. This is because female bodies are different than male bodies.

Males are generally bigger than females. They have more muscle mass, longer limbs, bigger bones, bigger organs, and are, on average, taller. This is why they compete separately in sport. Even if a male athlete reduces their testosterone, it doesn’t undo puberty, nor does it alter their body in significant enough a way to rid them of the advantage they have over women, physically.

The mere fact that mainstream Canadian media is now referring to women as “non-trans” should reveal exactly how regressive this ideology is. Historically, women have been positioned as lesser versions of men, and as existing in comparison to men — men being the norm. Even today, as outlined in Caroline Criado Perez’ book, Invisible Women, the world continues to be built to male standards, as they remain the assumed “norm,” and women the “other.” This means that office temperatures are set for male bodies, which explains why you’ll see women wearing sweaters in the office in the middle of July. Women are more likely to be injured or to die in car crashes, because cars are built for male bodies. Women die from heart attacks more often than men, because heart attack symptoms show up in different ways for women, and we assume the universal symptoms of heart attacks are those experienced by males. Even smartphones are built to be comfortable for male hands, not women’s hands (or pockets). This list goes on and on.

Yet today, in 2019, the trans movement has determined there are not women and men, but males and “non-males,” essentially defining women right out of the picture. I guess the future isn’t so feminist after all…

And that isn’t just a mistake made by one journalist.

The entire language of the trans activist movement has taken up the erasure of women in order to accommodate a tiny minority of people who would like us all to pretend that material reality doesn’t exist. We are no longer women, but ‘cis women’, which means, supposedly, we are women who ‘identify with the gender assigned to us at birth’.

This is insulting. I am not a woman because I identify with femininity. Femininity refers to the set of stereotypes imposed on women in a patriarchal society. I do not identify with those stereotypes. I am not passive, irrational, or over emotional. I am not a woman because I wear makeup or high heels. My long hair does not make me a woman. If I were currently in sweatpants and sneakers, if I shaved my head and went makeupless and took up football, I’d still be a woman.

I did not emerge from the womb in a skirt. And at no point in my life have I identified with every single one of the stereotypes associated with “my gender.” I did not, as a child, prefer dresses to pants or dolls to trucks. In fact, I very much wanted to be “like the boys” when I was little, refusing all things pink and choosing the boys black ballet uniform over the girls’, for the brief period I suffered through ballet. While surely there are plenty of feminine stereotypes that do apply to me, I am not at all “binary,” when it comes to gender. I’m far more complex than that, as we all are. And yet, despite the multitude of personality traits and likes and dislikes that do and not fit within the “gender binary,” I am still female. And there is absolutely nothing I can do about that.

Labelling women “cis” defines us based on only gender stereotypes — something feminists have been fighting since the get-go.

This trans activist movement — this gender identity ideology — is nothing if not an absolutely regressive, irrational, anti-woman movement that appears to have become incredibly authoritarian, as no one is allowed to question, challenge, or disagree. And those who do, like myself, are threatened with just about every social and physical punishment imaginable — jail, social ostracization, loss of income, violence, even death. It is insanity. Even moreso when you consider that it is those of us simply trying to speak — to have a conversation — to ask pivotal questions about laws and ideas and policies that impact our lives and the lives of others — who are accused of “bigotry,” “fascism,” and “violence.” The reversals boggle the mind. And the government and the media have completely failed women on this issue.

They have failed to address or even acknowledge our concerns. And we are half of the population.

It seems the media here in Toronto is finally paying attention, due in large part to the protests and petitions to shut down this event. Nonetheless, I am disappointed by what I’ve seen printed about myself and others by many reporters and commentators.

Vickery Bowles, city librarian for the Toronto public library was treated horribly by Carol Off on the CBC, simply for standing up for free speech and understanding the important roles libraries play in supporting free expression and diversity of thought. She didn’t even take a position on this issue. Yet it was implied she was somehow harming trans people simply by allowing the room booking. She’s, rather ironically, been accusing of “fascism” online.

Tabatha Southey, who was once a Globe and Mail columnist, and now has a Twitter account, tweeted that the current library policy should prevent me from speaking at the library. That policy being that the library can refuse a permit if they reasonably believe “the purpose of the event will promote discrimination, contempt or hatred for any individual or group.”

Pride is holding a rally in response to the library allowing this event to be held. Not even in response to the event, which they of course cannot respond to, seeing as they have no idea what my opinions about gender identity actually are.

Toronto Mayor John Tory publicly stated he is “disappointed” by the TPL’s decision to stand by [my] right to speak, urging that the “highest of standards” be employed to weed out “offensive commentary” in public buildings.

The writers who created and shared and signed a petition demanding this event be shut down accused me of “transphobia” and of profiting from “hateful tweets.” (I have no idea how one profits from tweets, but I certainly have not…) And demanded the library cancel this event under threat of boycott.

I have never promoted hatred or discrimination against anyone. I will NOT stand by and allow people to claim that protecting women is bigoted. Women are being thrown under the bus so that very privileged people can virtue signal to their friends online.

Just this week, I spoke with a woman named Heather Mason, who advocates for women in prison. She told me that already there are violent men — sexual predators — being housed with women in prison, here in Ontario — sometimes women who have their babies with them. Women have already been sexually harassed and sexually assaulted in prison, as a result. Women in prison are some of the most marginalized women in this country. They have already suffered high rates of abuse and sexual assault, and suffer more once locked up. These are poor women, Indigenous women, addicted women, women suffering from trauma and mental illness. Why don’t these women matter? Why do the desires or preferences of a few men matter more, particularly when those men pose a danger to women? Heather told me she believes something horrible is going to have to happen before the government and the media start paying attention to this issue. And sadly I think she’s right. Why are we all waiting around for something terrible to happen before we stand up and say “no”?

In Vancouver, we just saw a predatory man drag multiple women to the BC human rights tribunal for refusing to wax his scrotum. These women suffered enormous psychological and emotional stress through this process, most of whom are immigrant women who work out of their homes. They lost income as a result. One woman lost her business. And the only reason this man’s complaint was treated as legitimate is because of Bill C-16, and the legitimization of gender identity — that is to say, the notion that any man who declares himself a woman is a woman and must be treated as such, no questions asked.

One of the reasons I challenge gender identity ideology is because I think it is regressive, sexist, and nonsensical. I think it limits us, rather than allowing us a full range of options as human beings with diverse interests and personality traits. But I also think it has incredibly negative impacts on women’s rights, in particular. And I think it’s important that, when enacting legislation and making sweeping changes to policies that impact women and girls, we be having a conversation about it, and engaging in rigorous, public debate. And we have not done that in Canada.

Women have specific rights based on the history and reality of sex based oppression. We also have specific sex segregated spaces, based on the understanding that men post a threat to women — not all men, but only men. Female firefighters had to fight in order to have access to their own locker rooms and facilities, because they were being subjected to sexual harassment and assault in the shared spaces. They only won this fight recently in Canada. Feminists built and funded transition houses for women escaping male violence. They built them from the ground up, volunteered to keep those spaces running, funded them, and fought to keep them open, so that women would have somewhere to go when abused or victimized. Now, we’re being told this is “discriminatory.” That having spaces for women, to protect them from male violence is “bigoted.”

Over and over again, I ask those who insist that “transwomen are women” what the word “woman” means. They refuse to answer. They simply say, “It’s a person who identifies as a woman,” which essentially means, “it’s nothing at all” — it is anything anyone says it is.

On what basis do women’s rights exist, if the word “woman” is meaningless? If anyone can identify in and out of femaleness on a whim?

If we wish to maintain women’s rights and protect women’s spaces, we cannot separate women from femaleness. It is irrational and dangerous. It makes women and girls vulnerable. Beyond that, there is absolutely no reason why we can’t protect the rights of individuals to step outside gender roles, and to express themselves as they like, and also understand that sexual dimorphism is real, that males and females exist, and that those differences matter.

We still don’t know what defines a trans person. We don’t know what makes a male actually a woman. There is, to date, no coherent definition of “transgender.” It can be anything or anyone. It is nothing more than an unverifiable announcement. And to create legislation around something completely vague and undefinable seems odd to me, if not dangerous.

I’m told that saying these kinds of things “hurts people’s feelings,” and that therefore I may not say them. But if we are going to talk about “feelings,” why is it that women’s feelings are being ignored in all of this. Why is it that women’s feelings about whether or not they have to share a change room with a man don’t matter? What about the feelings of girls who don’t want to see a penis when they’re changing for gym class. What about the feelings of women who have been victimized by men and don’t want to share a room in a transition house with a man. What about the feelings of women who are being made to compete against males in sport?

Here in Toronto, a woman named Kristi Hanna filed a human rights complaint against the Jean Tweed Centre, which runs Palmerston House, a shelter for female recovering addicts, after she was told she had to share a room with a man claiming to be a woman. She said that this man “looked like a man” and “talked like a man,” had a beard, was wearing “big combat boots,” and that he had not had any sex change surgeries, but he was admitted to Palmerston House anyway. When she and some other women complained to the staff about his presence, the response was, “We’re inclusive.” This, to a woman who has been sexually assaulted multiple times by men, who suffers from PTSD and insomnia, on top of struggling with substance abuse issues, and who felt so triggered and unsafe upon this man’s arrival and placement in her room that she had to leave her room in the shelter to stay elsewhere because she was so stressed she couldn’t sleep. What about her feelings?

For a group who claims an interest in “feelings” and “empathy,” these activists don’t seem to have any concern for women’s feelings, nor do they seem to have any empathy for women and girls.

None of this is about transphobia. It is about women having the right to say no to men. To not be gaslighted and bullied for daring to consider their own safety, rights, and feelings first. To speak, to tell the truth, to name reality, and to maintain their sex-based rights.

Those who are speaking out about and asking questions about gender identity are not doing so to be cruel, and they are not doing so because they are hateful. They are doing so because they have real, genuine concerns that deserve to be taken seriously and addressed.

It is not ok that I am standing here with a police presence and body guards to state the obvious. It is not ok that people are afraid to speak, never mind to show up. And the only way to combat this is to speak more.

So thank you all for being here, thank you for pushing back, or at least engaging — for refusing to join the mob, and for instead trying to understand the issues. Thank you to the library and Vickery Bowles, for standing up for what is right, and for free speech in the face of extreme backlash, and thank you to the organizers of this event, who are just regular women, with no funding, no social or political power, who just want this conversation to happen.

I have hope that this is the beginning of many more conversations.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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