“I’d like to have an argument, please”

Various of the great and the good (Keir Starmer for one, and David Isaac for another) have expressed dismay over the level of heat and unpleasantness in the ongoing debate over trans rights and how – or whether – they conflict with women’s rights.

I share that dismay. It does seem to be difficult to get a civilised conversation going on this subject.

It’s a subject I find interesting. I have read a lot about it, discussed it with friends and colleagues, thought a lot about it. My views have evolved over the last few years. My position – as anyone who has read anything I’ve written on this blog will know – is now unmistakably “gender critical.”

I have plenty of people to talk to about all this: the rest of the Legal Feminist team are a wonderful bunch – clever, funny, well-informed, brave and diverse, and it’s been a joy to get to know them and count them friends. And they have put me in touch with other people it’s been a privilege to interact with. The gender critical bubble is a lovely friendly supportive thing.

But something’s missing… damn it, I’m a lawyer. I do like a good argument! But also, I genuinely want to understand the opposing position.

I have been trying on and off over the last few years to persuade various lawyers – friends and/or colleagues – who are on the other side of this debate to engage with me on it. To tell me why I’m wrong, so that I know what I’m up against; so that their ideas and mine can be tested by robust friendly argument.

It’s not usually difficult to persuade lawyers into an argument. Indeed, the problem is usually the opposite one (try getting a bunch of barristers to agree on a new Chambers logo, for instance, and you’ll see what I mean). But on this issue, all the lawyers I know are strangely reticent. I’ve emailed friends and said “I really wish you’d engage with me on this – can’t you tell my why I’m wrong?” I’ve tried friendly approaches to colleagues, and lawyers on the other side of this debate I vaguely know, and said “How about a private email debate, in strict confidence until and unless we both agree to publish?” No takers.

So I’m putting it out here instead. Will a practising or academic lawyer on the other side of the debate agree to discuss this with me? What I’m proposing is an email exchange, initially in private and with no particular urgency – because what I want to achieve is so far as possible a friendly relaxed dialogue. But I propose, too, that we should agree at the outset that at the end of an agreed period – say a year? – either of us should be free to publish the exchange.

Obviously we each take a risk in that. It’s possible that our respective bubbles will each be sure that we have “won” the debate, and both of us will emerge from it claiming (or even if we are too polite to claim, anyway sensing) “victory.”

But it’s also possible that my arguments or yours are reduced to rubble. I’m willing to take that risk. Are you?

It’s possible that my arguments or yours will be reduced to rubble, in public. I’m willing to take that risk. Are you?

If you’re willing to play, please identify yourself (real name please, and a link to a professional profile) in a comment. If there’s more than one offer, I suppose I’ll have to work out how to make a choice, but at any rate I promise I won’t aim to choose the least formidable foe. I won’t try to set detailed ground rules now, because I think those are better negotiated 1:1. But I will suggest that we should each be willing to attempt direct answers to each other’s questions.



8 thoughts on ““I’d like to have an argument, please””

  1. This is great! I assume you’ve tried Twitter? Seems there are a number of lawyers in Canada only too willing to defend transrights! One of them resorted to calling me a Russian troll (possibly because I was masquerading as Dr Zhivago for Man Friday!) rather than state a coherent point about Canadian legislation. I just like Russian sounding akas. 😀

  2. Many thanks indeed for the offer, Rachel. Although you have legal qualifications, and I don’t doubt you when you say you know this area of the law inside out, I’m going to hold the line “practising or academic lawyer” – so I’m going to decline.

  3. This is probably not quite what you’re looking for, but, oversimplifying somewhat, I normally agree with what you say about the lawfulness of sex segregation policies but tend to disagree when you say that a failure/refusal to adopt and enforce such policies may be unlawful. It seems to me that it will normally be possible for an employer or service provider to justify said failure/refusal except perhaps in some very limited circumstances.

    For your purposes, I may be “a little bit conciliatory” as the Pythons would have it.

    1. That made me properly laugh out loud, anyway! I think you probably are too conciliatory for these purposes – though I may return to the attack here, at some point, on the question of justification.

      1. Well, I’m here any time for minor quibbles if not great debates. Incidentally, while I’m here, thank you for all the fantastic tips on tribunal advocacy and practice that you’ve provided over the years. As a largely self-taught advocate, I found your website to be a fantastic resource (and I did eventually shell out for the book, so you reaped a modest reward in the end!)

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