Talking Point

Rights and Responsibilities?

By: Linda-May Ballard

CEO, Focus: the Identity Trust.


It’s generally agreed that, if someone is being bullied, the issue is not the intent of the individual doing the bullying, but the impact upon the person who experiences it that should be taken into account. Among other things, bullying behaviour may include recognising the vulnerabilities of an individual and using these to create an environment that is hostile and unpleasant for that person. I think perhaps it may be worth taking a moment to consider this in the context of the decision taken in respect of the Olympus Spa in Washington state, USA. Once again we stand at a cultural crossroads, another point at which the rights of transgender women and the rights of cisgender women appear to be in conflict. A legal decision, handed down, incidentally, by a female judge, is that a lady who identifies as transgender must, under the law of Washington state, be permitted to use a spa that provides as part of a Korean bathing tradition treatments for which it is essential for individuals to be naked. According to tradition, men and women are segregated so that single sex treatments alone are permitted. The transgender lady in question is understood at present  to retain the physical characteristics more usually associated with males than with females. She has welcomed the judge’s decision and has been quoted as stating ‘I did it! I worked with the Washington Human Rights Commission and got Olympus Spa (the main naked lady spa in the area) to change their policies and allow all self-identified women access regardless of surgery and genitals.’ (  viewed 10 June 2023). It appears she has also stated ‘’I am more woman than any TERF will ever be, because I am an intentional woman whereas they are only incidental’.( viewed 10 June 2023 ). 


A ‘TERF’ is a Trans Exclusive Radical Feminist. I’m not a TERF, though I do identify as a feminist. I am also the parent of a (now adult) transgender child. As this debate that seems to oppose the rights of transgender and cisgender women continues, I hold onto my hope that ways can be found for activists concerned with the rights of transgender people and activists concerned with the rights of women to find ways of working together. I’m a cisgender woman, so by the definition, or perhaps we may say the opinion, just quoted, I too am merely an ‘incidental’ woman. As a ‘lady of a certain age’, I began my career at a time when it was still fine for (almost exclusively male) bosses to ask young women in job interviews if they could be relied on to stay in post or if they intended to ‘go off and have babies’ in the coming years. Rights to maternity pay were themselves in their infancy, ahead lay battles for rights to equal pay, young women competing in Beauty Pageants were required to parade in bathing costumes as part of the process and ‘page three’ models were the order of the day. There was certainly no intentionality on my part to be born a member of both a sex and a gender that would need to struggle to establish rights that might nowadays seem self-evident to most of us.

Societies and cultures change, often changing gradually and as the consequence of careful persuasion and negotiation rather than of conflict, and perhaps in the course of changing they may even improve a little. There are certainly those of us who are working hard to improve the rights of transgender people and of understanding of transgender identity. It’s important to remember that laws may be amended or even revoked entirely. It’s important to act in ways that protect hard one rights rather than to risk the potential to lose them altogether. It’s important to remember too, that actions taken in jurisdictions where laws have been liberalised may have a potentially adverse impact in jurisdictions where liberalisation is merely under consideration. One possible set of consequences of the decision taken in Washington is that the Spa concerned may close, and hard earned investment may be lost along with jobs for several people. It’s important too to remember that impact, not intentionality, is the criterion accepted in relation to bullying. In my opinion, it will not be in the longer term advancement of the rights of transgender individuals if any action were in any way to carry the potential to be interpreted at any time, by anyone, as bullying. There’s an old adage about being careful what you wish for. If we are seeking to advance and retain rights for everyone who may currently be at a disadvantage within our society then surely the best plan will be to find ways of working together cooperatively to secure improvements for all?