I recently read these three tweets by Helen Lewis, and it helped clarify for me the difference between those against self-ID and the rest of us.
The second tweet is the key one here, because it assumes that those in favour of self-ID believe the act of saying a thing causes it to be true, rather than the thing being true in and of itself and then expressed by speech.
This is why the false equivalency argument is brought out. Piers Morgan can say “I identify as a penguin” as much as he likes, but this doesn’t make it true. He doesn’t identify as a penguin. He can say it, but it isn’t a true fact about his beliefs, or about the state of the world.
Those against self-ID (Terfs and others) believe that there is a measurement of gender which can be tested and pointed to as an objective state of fact about the world (usually genitalia). And so saying “my pronouns are [what-have-you]” can never be true unless they match the objective fact about that person’s gender.
But their basic premise is wrong. Intersex people make up between 1-2% of the world’s population. That’s about the same as redheads. Here is an excellent explainer thread by Delaney King about being intersex.
Gender isn’t a simple binary. Never has been.
If you believe in the absoluteness of gender, then the concept of pronouns assigned by any way other than this absolute must be a lie. An untruth. An evasion. A belief that one can magically change what-one-is by the power of language.
And if that’s true, why can’t you simply turn into a penguin by saying you are one?
But telling people your pronouns isn’t that. It’s still a statement of the truth, just one that can’t be objectively tested. If someone steps up onto a stage and says “My favourite TV series is Doctor Who” then for some people, this is a true statement. For others it’s not. This is not a fact that can be objectively measured. But it can still be true.
If Jeremy Corbyn had said “my pronouns are she/her” on that stage, Labour would not have its first female leader, because that statement isn’t a true fact about the state of the world. Specifically: Jeremy Corbyn’s pronouns are not she/her. They are he/him.
But if the Terfs are wrong and gender isn’t an absolute, then people can have different pronouns to those they have been assigned, either at birth or later in life. And those pronouns can change over time.
So if someone whose pronouns truly were she/her became leader of the Labour Party – whether trans, cis, or intersex – then at that point Labour would have its first female leader.
At some point, I expect that we’ll also have our first Prime Minister who’s a Doctor Who fan. And the way I’ll know that to be true is this:
They’ll tell me. And I’ll believe them.