As a doctor I have thought about this issue quite a bit. How do you rationalise a need to be respectful to someone who says they are female when every aspect of your scientific teaching tells you this is clearly untrue?
The conclusion I have drawn is that the issue of gender identity is one of belief that happens to coincide with gender at birth for the vast majority of people. For those who believe otherwise, I can only say I do not believe this.
I respect your beliefs as far as I can without believing them myself. This isn’t a strange concept, for it is the bedrock of religious tolerance and, by extension, a liberal society. I am not Muslim for recognising another as Muslim, nor am I am a heretic for denying the truth as believed by Muslims. I am also not an infidel as this suggests my beliefs specifically are wrong and devalued by true believers.
2016 has been a busy year. A lot of radical ideas have emerged that only a few years ago would seem impossible. No, not Trump. He was not difficult to predict. Transgenderism, however has seen a rapid expansion into mainstream discussion. There was a sudden jump in articles on BBC news from 2014 onwards.
This was not simply an increase in media coverage of the topic but quite specifically the term transgender being used. This may relate to celebrities coming out as transgender such as Kellie Maloney, Caitlyn Jenner, and Chelsea Manning, although the famous Thai kick boxer Parinya Charoenphol was reported for many years in the 1990s by Western media.
I cannot in a free society have my own beliefs denigrated nor described as hostile for not believing others.
I feel every duty to treat a Muslim as if indeed Muhammed was the Prophet and that his teachings were the truth as far as that affects the Muslim in question. I would not offer them alcohol or pork in the first instance and would be happy to make some reasonable adjustment if we were say to each other: I’d forego the hog roast and beer round for another occasion.
I could not, however, be expected to go much further. Tolerance and generosity are valued by their limits as much as by their extent. To that end I cannot understand any rights afforded to anyone of religion or any other belief system that I would not expect everyone to enjoy which means they are not to be enjoyed at the expense of others.
The transgender toilet is a classic MacGuffin of the rights movement. No one reading has not seen a unisex cubicle toilet. Many of us have to our shame resorted to using a disabled toilet, only to move on as swiftly as possible. Yet people identifying as transgender somehow coped for, well, centuries really. It begs the question how convincing the transition has been if, in a public toilet where few strive to make idle small talk with strangers, women find themselves so unconvinced that they object and make one unwelcome. Again, it’s a question of belief.
In a civilised society where genders mingle and interact, the perception of others is very important.
So what to do? An honest answer is nothing. Nothing beyond the respect you would give any human being while respecting your own beliefs, perception, instinct and personal space. Some problems do not have to be problems.
Few toilets are now built as a battery of cubicles and this is probably sound going forward. However, I cannot see how this extends to the exclusion of others. Women do not want people they do not see as women in their toilets. To insist otherwise seems incredibly intrusive and antagonistic, conservatism points to established social norms as having the priority and a very strong case, away from litigation required to change these.
There is every duty to respect other people. I do not believe the above people are now female but they do and so I’m happy to identify them as such.
I do not believe the Earth is flat, I do not believe that man from Mecca is a prophet nor do I believe men are women and am quite happy for others to believe the contrary and cannot abide insulting or degrading others. This is the freedom we all cherish. Christopher Hitchens said as much of organised religion in a secular though not atheist society.
“I will not play with the toys, they are not my toys and they will not stop me playing with mine”
Dr. Jon Stanley is Health Research Fellow at the Bow Group, a Junior Doctor and a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons