Saturday was a big day for the Sole Sisters. For the first time, we set up a stall in a high street and spoke to ordinary people face to face about reform of the Gender Recognition Act.
It was a momentous couple of hours in many ways.
We have long believed that the key to building public support for opposition to GRA reform in its current form is by taking the arguments off social media and out into real life.
Yesterday proved we were on the money.
Because we received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from shoppers on Ayr High Street to our cards and our discussion of the issue that’s going to dominate Holyrood for the next year to 18 months.
#nodebate is over
Most people had no idea about GRA reform. Most had no idea that gender self-identification – where an individual can make a simple legal declaration that they are the opposite sex with no medical gatekeeping and immediately be treated in law as that sex – is already embedded in public policy in Scotland without any public debate or discussion of its effect on women and girls in particular.
Few were impressed at the news that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon dismissed concerns about GRA reform as “not valid” in an interview on Friday.
For most, our postcards were the first to provide any information at all about what the Scottish Government has facilitated over the last decade: male-born prisoners in women’s prisons; male-born patients on women’s hospital wards; male-born boys and men playing on women’s sports teams.
This is the sort of information that the Scottish Government would rather people didn’t discuss; the sort of information that caused those on Ayr High Street to raise more than an eyebrow at and immediately recognise the issues caused by gender self-ID.
Here the Sole Sisters on the ground talk through their experience of our first – but most certainly not the last – high street activism.
@glesga_keelie found a public keen to engage on an issue most had been in the dark about
I have spent a working life on the other side of street activism, reporting and commenting rather than participating so Saturday was a new experience for me. And what a great one it was.
The nerves about what kind of reaction we might get approaching people as they shopped dissipated within minutes. Because once people listened to what we were saying, they were instantly focused and engaged.
But while the day was incredibly positive, I found myself brooding on the single negative interaction.
A young transman, accompanied by two young women, felt insulted by the contents of our cards. The two women took the cards but returned them minutes later, saying they were “horribly transphobic”. They’re not. Their content is strictly factual.
I recognised this transman as someone I could easily have been if I’d been born 30 years later. Young lesbians, butch or otherwise, are fleeing womanhood in record numbers, claiming trans and non-binary identities. Anything rather than be seen as a lesbian, as society’s most gender non-conforming individual – the woman who rejects men from her romantic and sexual life.
I see the proposed GRA reform as simply lip service from an administration that specialises in gestures. It will do nothing for the practical issues facing transgender people in Scotland, which would surely be vastly improved by better mental health services and faster healthcare, for example.
GRA reform and the #nodebate stance of its proponents won’t change hearts and minds and make society more accepting of trans people, either.
Fostering a culture where lesbians deserting womanhood and men rejecting demands for masculinity by claiming a female identity can instead live comfortably as their own sex should be a greater priority.
But, like addressing poverty, drug deaths, health inequalities and housing insecurity, that’s a hard, long-term project that can’t be handwaved into existence by reciting a series of mantras.
Rejecting self-ID might seem hurtful right now to that young transman. I understand and empathise but I believe the hurt will be so much greater to women and girls if this reform passes.
@Pmmac was bowled over by the positivity on the street
Like many women, I stumbled on the argument about gender reform on social media and I knew most of the public had no real idea what’s going on.
I was bowled over by how positive Saturday’s event went. People were coming up to us and asking what we were there for, and when they found out, they were happy to take information away.
Most people I spoke to knew very little or nothing about self-ID and GRA reform. Lots of the younger individuals and couples I spoke to didn’t agree with the idea at all. One woman knew a little about the proposal and she told me she was angry about the recent trans school guidance that had been released because she has a four-year-old in nursery.
A couple of encounters stick out. I spoke to a girl who appeared to be in her late teens. She hadn’t a clue what was involved in self-ID. Once I’d explained, she said she didn’t agree with it. Then she told me she has a large Instagram following and would be posting our card on her account.
Then there was the man who stood across the street watching us for about 20 minutes. He eventually came over to ask what it was all about. He was very supportive of what we are doing and took information away to share with his female relatives.
All in all, I thought spending time on a busy high street was very worthwhile and a great way to get the word out about a policy so many people still know little about.
#WomenWontWheesht – and they will not be wheeshting in more high streets across Scotland over the coming months!