IT has been an odd facet of the debate around trans rights that those claiming to be silenced have managed to publish endless commentary in major newspapers, while the voices of trans people have remained remarkably absent.

For all intents and purposes, this is a national debate that has barely engaged with one of its key players and, without that perspective, a truly toxic environment around the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) has been allowed to flourish – and the responsibility lies squarely at the feet of anti-trans activists.

The word trans comes from the Latin “across” or “beyond” and is used as an umbrella term for a range of identities for people whose gender does not match what they were thought to be at birth. These include trans men who are men that were assigned female at birth, trans women who are women that were assigned male at birth, and non-binary people who do not identify as male or female, regardless of what they were assigned at birth.

READ MORE: Questioning gender law is not a form of transphobia

Proposed changes to the GRA would allow trans people to self-declare their identity, skipping what is at the moment a lengthy and degrading process. It could also allow for the legal recognition of non-binary people like myself.

However you could be forgiven for thinking that the GRA was about trans women having access to women-only spaces. I’m going to let you in on the truth: they already do.

Trans men use male bathrooms. Trans women use women’s. Services such as Rape Crisis Scotland and Women’s Aid already provide access to self-declared trans women seeking refuge without incident.

Their right to do so is enshrined already in the Equality Act.

Anti-trans activists have used the GRA consultation as a springboard to discuss rolling back the rights that trans people already have, and in doing so have painted a one-sided picture that is more than reminiscent of Project Fear.

The case of Ann Henderson this week is a prime example. The Edinburgh Uni rector was accused of transphobia after sharing links to a Westminster event that claimed it wanted to ask questions about the GRA. Supporters of Henderson say these accusations are simply a means to shut down debate, but the reality is more complicated.

The debate was supported by A Woman’s Place, Fair Play for Women and Transgender Trend.

Between them they have encouraged followers to smear bloody tampons on the walls of public bathrooms with the intention of scaring away trans women; they’ve had to delete years worth of tweets after they were exposed as transphobic online; they created school resource packs that were described as “deeply damaging” by Stonewall; and they have pushed to legitimise a pseudoscientific diagnosis called Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria, which has no peer-reviewed backing, and claims that children can essentially catch being transgender. Gay panic, is that you calling?

READ MORE: Women must not be silenced in the debate on gender identity

Fair Play hosted events with speakers such as Sheila Jeffreys, who claimed that trans women were really men who “need to be able to express their sexual rights in women’s toilets by getting erections”.

All movements have extremists that it would be unfair to hold up as an example of what a group represents. However, in the case of Fair Play, we aren’t talking about extremists on the fringes, we’re talking about the women who have been put front and centre, onstage, at their events.

It would be absurd to believe these three organisations together could address the “legitimate concerns” of the GRA, and that was the seed from which accusations of transphobia against Ann Henderson came.

Another element that has come to characterise anti-trans activists has been an almost gleeful penchant for misinformation.

This week an anonymous Twitter account shared a bizarre story that a nurse had been forced to perform three “cervical smears” on trans women who did not have a cervix. Their avatar displayed a copy of the Fair Play for Women logo.

If anyone had paused and spoken to a trans person about this, they would know that not only did this absolutely not happen, but that trans women are often bemused at best when they are called in for a cervical smear, frustrated at a health system that doesn’t quite understand trans identities yet.

However, that did not stop accounts with huge followings from sharing the story, showing that even those we consider to provide good analysis may not be interested in applying the same rigour to trans rights.

With the debate so heavily influenced by these groups, it’s no wonder that a narrative proclaiming trans rights must come at the cost of women’s has found mainstream attention, while sneaky facts that contradict it have been quietly relegated to the back room.

Although these groups speak as if on behalf of all women, the reality is that feminist organisations in Scotland support self-ID. A statement from Engender, which included Close the Gap, Equate Scotland, Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Women 50:50 and Zero Tolerance, made that clear.

My local queer bookshop, Category Is Books, is run by a wonderful wife-and-wife team in Glasgow’s Govanhill. The shelves are stocked with books by transgender authors, and about the trans experience. They don’t accept that the rights of trans people undermine their own.

In fact, the right to self-ID has already been a reality in Ireland since 2015 with no negative consequences, yet this is dismissed with a quick “but it COULD happen”. Perhaps it will be uniquely different here?

With the reality of self-ID brushed aside, and the voices of feminist organisations sidelined, the campaign to oppose trans equality intends to create only doubt – not unlike the No campaign’s “If you don’t know, vote No” slogan in 2014.

Was Ann Henderson transphobic for asking questions about the reform of the GRA? No. Was it transphobic to share links to an event hosted by these groups? That depends on whether or not she knows who they were.

For me, a depressing aspect of the debate has been how well-intentioned and compassionate feminists have been caught up by the rhetoric. I believe that people genuinely do have questions about the GRA, but to find the answers you have to look past the loudest voices.

Speak to trans-inclusive feminists. Speak to trans people.

The reality of being trans is holding a loved one as they shake with tears after being denied surgery for the third time, or watching as another is screamed at on live television that they are not what they are.

It’s watching Channel 4’s Genderquake debate as an audience member, who I have no doubt would claim they just wanted an open discussion, continuously shouted the word “penis” at the trans panellists and who was never removed.

Trans women face horrifying degrees of assault and sexual violence, yet anti-trans activists argue they should be rejected from women-only spaces on the basis that a man could abuse the system.

In other words, some women should be denied access to vital services they need, because of the actions of some men. There is nothing feminist about that.