THIS is a column I should have written many months ago. The truth is I’ve been too cowardly to write it. It’s the one current political issue I feel afraid of stepping into. I don’t feel qualified. I don’t feel I’ve quite got the right language. And I worry that maybe, following a lifetime of always being on the “progressive” side of any issue, my middle age has rendered me conservative.

But two things have happened this week to coax me out from the blanket I’ve been hiding under. First, Lady Hale, the first female president of the UK Supreme Court, a trailblazer in ground-breaking law reform and the architect of famously progressive judgments, pronounced her and her fellow justices’ judgment in the so-called gay cake case. She insisted that the European human rights laws governing the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the right to freedom of expression, include “the right not to be obliged to manifest beliefs one does not hold”.

To many people’s surprise, Peter Tatchell supported the judgment – and so do I. As he put it, if the judgment had been otherwise: “it would have meant that a Muslim printer could be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed and a Jewish printer could be forced to publish a book that propagates Holocaust denial”.

The second thing that has finally made me bash out these words is hearing that Ann Henderson, a lifelong socialist, feminist and trade unionist, and current rector of Edinburgh University, has been accused of transphobia for tweeting details about a meeting titled “How will changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) affect women’s rights?”

Now, I think I’m probably in the minority of the population who has read a range of theoretical books and articles about sex and gender. I know the difference between biological sex and gender performance. I know what’s meant by the terms intersectionality, gender fluidity, gender identity, gender non-conforming and gender non-binary. But I also know that my 16-year-old self, living in Castlemilk, would’ve been paralysed by fear of my own ignorance.

I am absolutely opposed to the persecution, oppression and discrimination that transgender people routinely experience. I cannot know what it feels like to grow up feeling that you’re in the wrong body. That is not my experience, but I try my best to understand.

And I have experienced, from birth, the inequality, discrimination and even danger that gender stereotyping causes. When I changed from a prepubescent girl looking like a boy, with my navy cagoule on and my hood up, to a pubescent girl with visibly growing breasts, I saw how men’s behaviour towards me became predatory.

When I worked as a midwife, it saddened me to see babies’ lives being mapped out as soon as they were born with the arrival of the blue or pink balloons on the post-natal ward. I held my head in my hands when the Early Learning Centre, a pioneer of gender-non-binary toys for children in the eighties, conformed and started stocking pink ironing boards and buggies for girls. Lives should not be limited or constricted because of the expectations that society puts on people who are born with particular genitalia.

The debate over proposals to change the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to allow people to achieve legal recognition of their gender identity without having to navigate the red tape and overcome the obstacles of the current Act is one of the most heated I have known in my life.

Instinctively, I feel that it must be intrusive and stigmatising to have to prove to two doctors that your gender assigned at birth by dint of your visible sex organs is wrong. It must strip your dignity and self-esteem to have to provide documentation and “proof” that you have lived in your acquired gender for more than two years before the state will give you the stamp of approval in the form of a Gender Recognition Certificate.

The fact that only a minority of people who identify as transgender have actually gone through the process demonstrates that the barriers required by the 2004 Act are too high.

Also instinctively – and this is where I have really wrestled with my own thoughts and tried to be honest about any prejudice I may harbour – I worry that an increasing number of young people are reporting that they believe that their bodies are wrong. And I want to know more about offering hormone treatment to children under 16.

And as the meeting Anne Henderson tweeted about asks, I want to discuss what the impact might be of changes to the Gender Recognition Act on women’s rights. I have concerns about people born and raised as men having the automatic right to access female-only spaces. And that appears to be the bit that has been the most polarised and heated. It’s made the independence debate look like a genteel exchange of views.

I want to ask these questions in a respectful space where everybody tries their best to empathise and understand everyone else’s point of view. The reaction to Ann Henderson is, unfortunately, not uncommon. The irony is that a movement pioneering the idea that gender is fluid appears to have become a battle of two binaries.

I know this is real life for trans people. And I don’t think it’s helpful to use the example of rapist Karen White, formerly known as David Thompson, who sexually assaulted women in prison, to deny the rights of transgender people. The problem was the abysmal failure in the risk-assessment process when this particular person was placed in a women’s prison. Lessons will, hopefully, have been learned.

It’s also real life for women. I’ve locked myself in many a ladies’ toilet to escape the attentions of a persistent eejit at the dancing. It’s not trans people I worry about – it’s men who may abuse the freedoms offered by the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act. And there are also genuine philosophical and political questions about the identity and collective power of women as a group.

I have contemplated that this may be the issue of our time that illustrates the generation gap. It’s clear that, in general, there is an age divide – and I’m on the wrong side of it. Maybe the younger folk are right and since I’ve landed the other side of 50, I “just don’t get it”. Maybe I’ve suddenly metamorphosised into Ann Widdicombe. I am prepared to address that notion.

But I would ask some of the younger people out there to question whether one of the other isms of our world – ageism – is also present. Is it possible that the many older women out there have some valuable insight, experience and knowledge that might be worth listening to?

I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a lot of questions. And I’m grateful to Lady Hale for upholding my right to ask them.