Legal Recognition of Non-binary Gender Identities — [Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:44 pm on 23rd May 2022.

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Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge 4:44 pm, 23rd May 2022

“Non-binary” is a term for gender identities that are not solely male or female—identities that are outside the gender binary. So what do we mean by gender? The word “gender” used to be interchangeable with biological sex, and biological sex is indeed binary. Humans, like all mammals, have either male or female sex chromosomes in every cell. We are male or female; that is immutable and scientifically indisputable.

So what is gender identity? Gender is sometimes used as a descriptor of how masculine or feminine something is perceived to be, such as a particular character trait, choice of clothing or type of behaviour. We all understand what feminine or masculine clothes look like, though of course the stereotypes change between cultures and over time. Certain preferences are considered to be more masculine or feminine, and certain characteristics are more common in males or females. We all know both males and females who possess these traits. Given how important one’s sex is to one’s biology and psychology, it would be very odd indeed if our sex did not have some influence over our choices and behaviour.

What is the evidence for the idea that someone could have a gender identity that is different from their biological sex; the idea that someone can be male but feel female or, in the case of non-binary people, be either male or female but feel neither or both? It is absolutely normal for an individual to feel that they do not fit in with cultural or stereotypical ideas of how boys or girls and men or women should behave. How many of us in this room feel like we fit into a purely male, female or any other stereotype? No one completely fits neatly into a mould. Some people feel that they do not fit at all. Of course it is possible for someone to feel that they identify in some ways more with people of the opposite sex than their own, or not particularly with either. This is a normal part of the human experience.

While there are infinite different ways to express masculinity and femininity, it does not follow—logically or scientifically—that one’s soul or self has a gender, or that that gender is distinct from one’s biological sex. There is no observable marker for what it feels like to be female or male, because no one knows what it feels like to be anyone other than themselves. If we see a person’s likes or dislikes and preferences or behaviours only through the lens of gender, then we have lost sight of a concept far more important and evidence-based: the variety of human personality.

Through the wonder of DNA and the infinite permutations of upbringing and environment, every one of us has a unique personality, but those who see everything through the lens of gender are watching humanity in black and white, rather than through the glorious technicolour of the richness and variety of human nature. In trying to squeeze all that human diversity into the box of gender, there is also a danger of losing a grip on material reality.

Some people struggle intensely with gender distress, and some from a very early age. They should be treated with the utmost compassion and care. They should receive all the care, support and treatment they require. Adults in this country should, of course, be free to dress and present in any way without fear or discrimination, and they should be fully accepted. However, in this country our law is based on facts, evidence and material reality; it should not be used to embed contested and unevidenced ideologies that can sometimes be harmful. I will explain why I do believe this ideology is so harmful.

Children are now being taught in schools that there are more than two genders and that they can change their gender. They are being told by trusted adults that if they are gender non-confirming—itself a regressive concept that we threw out in the 1980s—then that might mean they were born in the wrong body. In one classroom, children are being taught the facts of sexual reproduction, and in another that women can have penises and men can have periods. They are being told to suppress the evidence before their own eyes by saying that a boy is now a girl and a girl is now a boy—or neither boy nor girl.

Vulnerable children, particularly those who are autistic, same-sex attracted or have mental health conditions, latch on to gender theory as an explanation for why they might be different or why they do not fit in. These children then look up the terms “trans” and “non-binary” online and are drawn in by adults they do not know on Discord and TikTok, who tell them how to obtain and inject cross-sex hormones. They follow YouTube stars who glorify surgical transition. Schools jump into transitioning children, changing their names and their pronouns and celebrating their new gender status publicly, sometimes without informing their parents, which cuts them off from the people who care about them most.

There has been a fifteenfold increase in the number of children referred to gender clinics, and an exponential rise in the number of trans and non-binary-identified children in school. Let us remember the ultimate consequences of transition: infertility and loss of sexual function for life; and for girls, permanent facial hair, a deep voice, male pattern baldness and lifelong health problems. This is a failure of safeguarding. It is not biology; it is ideology, and in many cases it is indoctrination.

It is not open-minded or compassionate to teach a child that they may be trans or non-binary. It is not open-minded or compassionate to encourage a child to look up gender on the internet, and to talk to adults who ask them intimate questions and for intimate pictures. It is not open-minded or compassionate to tell a child that their teenage problems can be solved overnight by a rejection of their own body and a denial of their biological sex.

We need to wake up. Gender theory is not the next frontier in the culture war or a new battle for civil rights; it is an unevidenced ideology that is causing harm to women, children, and people who are gay and lesbian. There is a significant amount of work to do to fix the safeguarding failures that are taking place in some schools, and I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary is aware of some of these issues.

To recognise non-binary as a gender identity in statute would be a mistake, separating law from reality and putting vulnerable children at risk. I echo the comments made by my hon. Friend Nick Fletcher: this is a debate about people, and I fully recognise that there are many people in this country who identify as non-binary and should absolutely be accepted. However, this is a matter of putting ideology into law, and we should resist that.