TWO headlines this week, both using phrases that some may be surprised to see because they might seem to go without saying.

The first, on Wednesday: Student cleared after being investigated for saying women have vaginas.

And yesterday: Woman who lost job for believing men can't be women wins landmark employment case.

These statements - that women have vaginas and men can't be women - may seem uncontroversial statements of fact to some, but are grossly offensive and inflammatory to others. Hence the headlines.

In the first case, Abertay University student Lisa Keogh has spent two months awaiting the outcome of a Student Disciplinary Board investigation after complaints were lodged that she had made "offensive" and "discriminatory" remarks during a lecture.

As well as the aforementioned statement, she also said that women are not as strong as men and so it was unfair that women should have to compete against trans women in sport.

READ MORE: Woman who lost job for believing men can't be women wins landmark employment case

All complaints against the 29-year-old have been dismissed but the university also released a statement saying that it was Ms Keogh's "behaviour" in online seminars that had been investigated, not her views on sex and gender.

Ms Keogh insists she was the victim of a witch hunt and now feels unable to attend her graduation, her final months at university being tainted by this episode.

In the second story about a woman's views on sex and gender, the case has dragged on for two years. Tax expert Maya Forstater was employed at the thinktank the Centre for Global Development, which ceased giving her work in March 2019 when complaints were made about comments she had posted online relating to her gender critical feminist beliefs.

"I don’t think being a woman/female is a matter of identity or womanly feelings," one post read.

"What I am so surprised at is that smart people who I admire ... are tying themselves in knots to avoid saying the truth that men cannot change into women."

It was complained that these views are transphobic and deeply offensive and distressing to trans people.

Ms Forstater took the thinktank to an employment tribunal and lost. Its findings were that her views were “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”. She appealed, with the backing of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Yesterday a judge overturned the previous ruling. The honourable Mr Justice Choudry said that such philosophical beliefs about sex and gender are protected under the Equality Act and people who espouse them must not face discrimination.

The judgement is also very clear that trans people must be treated with respect and that those with gender critical views are not being given carte blanche to misgender trans people or otherwise "indiscriminately and gratuitously refer to trans people in terms other than they would wish."

In his ruling, which is balanced and thoughtful, Mr Justice Choudry makes the observation that each side made "dramatic claims as to the effect of upholding or reversing the Tribunal’s judgment."

Ms Forstater's representation said that the effect of the tribunal is "Orwellian" while the respondents maintained that to overturn the initial ruling would mean no trans person would be safe from harassment in any workplace.

"Such positions are reflective of the debate in wider society about the rights of trans persons, which is often conducted in hyperbolic and intransigent terms."

Hyperbole and intransigence - yes. So what do we do about that?

There will be a great many gender critical women feeling relief at yesterday's judgement. There are ample examples of women who have spoken of their beliefs about sex and gender in public and have faced consequences for such - such as employment lost or police involvement.

In his judgement, Mr Justice Choudry outlines existing case law and says that only the gravest views, such as Nazism or totalitarianism, would not be protected.

It is not uncommon to see women who hold gender critical beliefs accused online of being literally Nazis.

But the judge went on to say that, while Ms Forstater's beliefs may be offensive and abhorrent to some, "Most fundamentally, the Claimant’s belief does not get anywhere near to approaching the kind of belief akin to Nazism or totalitarianism."

This is a public conversation that has much life left in it but that runs in circles without ever getting anywhere. Yesterday's ruling was about freedom of speech and liberal values but also about the real life impact of such beliefs and the language used to express them.

One of the issues raised by trans people is that they feel their existence is being questioned and erased. Mr Justice Choudry preferred to use the term "transgender debate" throughout his ruling, which is somewhat unfortunate as it feeds the notion that trans lives are debatable.

At the same time, women feel their experiences are being erased by a push to prioritise gender identity and inclusivity for trans people over their sex-based experiences. As an example, trans supporters say it is wrong to reduce people to their body parts but also that it is more inclusive to use expressions such as "people with a cervix" rather than "woman".

The uniquely female experience of motherhood is, some fear, being undermined by a push to use language such as "pregnant person" or "birthing parent".

Trans people claim their rights are being eroded; women claim their sex-based rights are being stripped from them.

Yesterday on Twitter the opposing hashtags "trans rights are human rights" and "sex matters". Both these things are true and do not necessarily conflict.

There is, and I know that some will scoff at this, a real environment of fear around expressing views on the issues of sex and gender and we will get nowhere unless people are able to express themselves without that fear.

Each side has firmly held, immutable beliefs and this new judgement says both gender identity beliefs and gender critical beliefs are protected in law. Might that give a framework for a way to move forward?

A never ending, aggressive climate of fear harms all and helps no one; we have to look at how we overcome divides. There are existing frameworks in society for acknowledging opposing beliefs but allowing them to exist in a mutually separate but respectful form.

It might be a good start to remove the word "debate" from the issue and replace it with discussion. Debate produces winners and losers while discussion produces answers and, at best, understanding.