TRANSGENDER and LGBTQI groups are celebrating the results of the Scottish Government’s consultation on reform of the Gender Recognition Act. More than 60per cent of respondents agreed with the proposal to allow people to self-identify as women or men, from the age of 16, without going through the bureaucratic and medical procedures required under the original 2004 Act. Many women, and not just in religious groups, will be less than enthusiastic.

Indeed, this is revealed in the consultation itself. Six out of 10 respondents said they believe self-identification will have “a profound impact on women”. Many women wanted assurances that there would be protection of female-only spaces, especially in schools. So the Government would be unwise to take this consultation as confirmation of wider public attitudes to gender reassignment. A YouGov poll in July indicated that only one in five UK voters support self-identification.

Most people in Scotland – myself included – were unaware that a consultation on changing the very definition of what it is to be male or female had been taking place at all. Activist groups, like the Scottish Trans Alliance, were involved in the consultation process at an early stage, and have been advising the Government on its legislation. They’re well equipped to ensure that their constituency is mobilised.

These consultations are generally designed to tell ministers what they want to hear. The Scottish Government is determined to press ahead with the legal changes to burnish its credentials as a progressive administration. An entirely new gender, non-binary, is also to be recognised, and people allowed to alter their birth certificates accordingly. It might be that other genders, like queer or intersex, seek specific recognition in future. Intersex people do not regard themselves as non-binaries and vice versa, at least according to the LGBT Foundation.

So, get ready for profound changes in our sexual identity – whether you like it or not. Trans groups ask us to believe, quite literally, that “women can have penises and men can have vaginas” – no argument. The Scottish Green Party passed a motion at its conference last month ruling that anyone who questions the proposition that “transwomen are women” would be guilty of “a serious actionable offence under the party’s complaints procedure”. Police forces are already investigating remarks like “women don’t have penises” as potential hate crime.

Parties like the SNP and Labour refuse to debate the Gender Recognition Act (GRA ) fearing that to do so is “hate speech”. There is active suppression of debate in universities and in the media. When the Guardian published an editorial arguing “gender identity does not cancel out sex”, it was accused of transphobia, and its US staff walked out in protest. The Rector of Edinburgh University, Ann Henderson, has been accused of transphobia for tweeting a parliamentary meeting attended by feminist groups who are opposed to self-identification.

Yet, there is no scientific basis for claiming that biological sex can be changed by an act of the imagination, let alone by legislative fiat. Humans are a binary species, and our sex is written into our DNA. Someone born a man cannot develop the reproductive apparatus of a woman and vice versa. A transwoman cannot menstruate, a transgender man does not produce sperm. That’s just how it is.

This doesn’t mean that people have to assume any particular lifestyle because of their sex. Gender is a social construct, and people are perfectly at liberty to behave or identify with any gender they wish. In many cultures, Western notions of masculinity and femininity are effectively reversed. Just as it is perfectly natural for people of the same sex to be sexually attracted to each other, so people are free to express their sexuality in anyway they want. But their genetic identity will not change, no matter how many hormones they consume or surgical procedures they undergo.

The shibboleth that “transwomen are women” should really be irrelevant to the equalities issue. No one is suggesting that there should be discrimination or vilification of transgender women just because they are not genetically female. Nor is it necessary for the cause of trans rights to insist that biology text books are scrapped. Or that terms like “male-bodied” are banned as offensive, as trans activists wish. Or that Wikipedia should remove references to “male” and “female” reproductive anatomy.

Feminists will never accept that people born male can become female, because it alters the very meaning of being a women. And there are a lot more women than there are transwomen. (Though that may not be the case in future, because there will be no distinction in law between a woman and a man who “becomes” a woman.) Nor will ordinary people willingly accept the GRA, if they are required to accept that women can have penises.

The reform is presented as an administrative change – which in one sense it is. The current law, under the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, requires a doctor’s diagnosis of gender dysphoria and evidence that the trans person has lived in their preferred gender for two years. This will be scrapped in favour of a signed statement witnessed by a lawyer or doctor. Most people are relaxed about removing bureaucracy, even if they don’t quite understand the metaphysics of self-ID.

But many of the women who responded to the Scottish Government consultation expressed deep concerns about men self-identifying as women in order to access women’s prisons and domestic abuse refuges. Abolishing sex difference creates obvious anomalies, not least for single-sex pursuits like women’s sporting events or girl guides. Will men be allowed on all women shortlists? Yes – of course, if they self-identify. Should children really be given puberty blockers to prevent their sex organs developing fully?

The issues could probably be resolved, given goodwill. But goodwill is impossible when anyone who tries to raise them is dismissed as a bigot. The political parties should lift their omertà on discussion of the GRA. The law should not be changed until the wider public have been informed and engaged. We need to talk about what it means to be human in the 21st century.

Read more: Scots back new laws to allow people to self-declare gender