QotD: “”(The Vancouver Police Department) will be monitoring and will take appropriate action should conduct breach the Criminal Code”, says a Canadian public library about a feminist speaking about women’s rights”
“(The Vancouver Police Department) will be monitoring and will take appropriate action should conduct breach the Criminal Code”, says a Canadian public library about a feminist speaking about women’s rights.
Today is International Women Human Rights Defenders Day.
Do universities have a broad enough diversity of political opinion? Matthew Flinders, professor of politics at Sheffield University, presents a personal view and asks fellow academics whether the intellectual climate in universities is damagingly constrained by a lack of “viewpoint diversity”.
An essay by a prominent leftwing academic that examines the ethics of socialist revolution has been targeted by a leading university using the government’s counter-terrorism strategy.
Students at the University of Reading have been told to take care when reading an essay by the late Professor Norman Geras, in order to avoid falling foul of Prevent.
Third-year politics undergraduates have been warned not to access it on personal devices, to read it only in a secure setting, and not to leave it lying around where it might be spotted “inadvertently or otherwise, by those who are not prepared to view it”. The alert came after the text was flagged by the university as “sensitive” under the Prevent programme.
The essay, listed as “essential” reading for the university’s Justice and Injustice politics module last year, is titled Our Morals: The Ethics of Revolution. Geras was professor emeritus of government at the University of Manchester until his death in 2013. He rejected terrorism but argued that violence could be justified in the case of grave social injustices.
QotD: “Jenni Murray pulls out of Oxford talk after students try to ‘no platform’ her over ‘transphobic’ comments”
Jenni Murray has pulled out of a talk at Oxford University after LGBTQ+ students claimed that she is “transphobic” and attempted to “no platform” her.
The veteran BBC broadcaster and Women’s Hour presenter was due to speak this Saturday at an Oxford History Society event, as part of their “Powerful British Women in History” series of events.
But on Wednesday Murray told the History Society that she is no longer able to attend the event due to “personal reasons”.
Earlier this week, three student groups wrote a joint letter urging their peers to “publicly condemn” Murray’s views and “if possible, cancel the event”.
The LGBTQ+ campaign and Women’s Campaign, both of which are run by Oxford University’s student union, as well as the LGBTQ Society have all signed the letter.
They say that “inviting publically transphobic speakers to the university, without challenge, further marginalises and unnecessarily compromises the welfare of trans students and staff”.
Students claimed that Murray “explicitly transphobic comments” in a newspaper article last year, in which she argued that trans women who have lived as men “with all the privilege that entails” do not have the experience of growing up female.
The students’ letter contains “trigger warnings” for “Terfs”, which stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, and is generally used as a derogatory term to describe those who believe that “identifying” as a woman is not the same as being born a woman.
Academics working in the field of gender identity have warned that hostility and threats from student activists are affecting their ability to research the possible effects of proposed reforms to the law.
Rosa Freedman, a law professor at Reading University, revealed last week that one student had called her “a transphobic Nazi who should get raped” because of her work on the legal implications of reforms that would make it easier for people to change their gender.
Selina Todd, a history professor at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, said yesterday that she feared a “witch-hunt” would target anyone who dared to challenge proposals to open female-only spaces — such as changing rooms and refuges — to men who identify as women.
Other leading lecturers have called on universities to defend their freedom after protests against academics who signed an open letter two weeks ago complaining they were being “harassed over research into transgender issues”.
Activists have tried to block an event that Freedman is organising on her campus tomorrow on the “legal implications of reforming the Gender Recognition Act” at which the feminist Julie Bindel is scheduled to speak. Bindel has been no-platformed by some student unions.
A Reading University spokesman insisted the event would go ahead and said the university would try to ensure “healthy and respectful debate”.
He added: “We respect the right of our trans staff and students to self-identify their gender and we have a track record of support for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] staff and students.”
Todd has faced demands that she should not be considered for future membership of women’s committees because of her views on preserving women-only spaces. “First of all I was taken aback — now I feel angry,” she said.
“This feels to me like an attack on women’s rights and their right to speak. It feels like the beginning of a witch-hunt. I would like universities to strengthen academic freedom in the face of a few activists trying to stir up trouble.”
A fellow don at Oxford, Michael Biggs, another signatory of the open letter, said he had been “threatened with a formal complaint for transphobia”.
Students at University College London (UCL) complained about Julia Jordan, an English lecturer who also signed the harassment letter, describing her views as “alarming and disappointing”. They warned that their faculty could become a “hostile space” for trans students.
UCL said: “We would like to see respectful and constructive dialogue on the issues raised in relation to the Gender Recognition Act consultation.”
In a recent article for Forbes, “The Vaccination Debacle,” I discussed the frightening rise in the number of European measles cases. The reason for the spike is simple: Fed a daily online diet of nonsense and ideologically motivated activism, many people have come to reject mainstream medical science—including the science behind vaccinations. You’d think that “get vaccinated” would be a relatively straightforward message. But in the days following the article’s publication, I received a good dozen emails from doctors thanking me for writing the piece, and describing how difficult it has become to convince some patients that their local paediatrician isn’t part of an international conspiracy.
But at least the effort to push back against anti-vaccination conspiracy theories is seen as a respectable form of discourse. In other spheres, it’s not so easy to speak common sense.
Consider, for instance, last year’s saga involving Rebecca Tuvel—who was hounded by trans activists and scholars after applying a theoretical application of transgender ideology to the idea of “trans-racialism.” Scandalously, the article in question was edited post facto so as to remove the name “Bruce Jenner”—in response to the claim that these two words served to “dead-name” the person now known as Caitlyn Jenner (despite the fact that Caitlyn Jenner herself repeatedly refers to “Bruce” in interviews). To cite the historically verifiable fact that someone named Bruce Jenner once existed is now seen as a sort of religious heresy. And like all heresies, it must be ritualistically expunged—not because it is factually wrong, but because it is seen as morally wrong.
In August, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island was criticized for removing a news release about a peer-reviewed study published in PLoS One by one of its academics—Lisa Littman, a physician and researcher at Brown’s School of Public Health. Littman’s article, titled “Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports,“ discusses the phenomenon by which social media and peer pressure seem to have fuelled the recently observed trend by which young teenagers (typically girls) suddenly declare themselves transgender. The paper infuriated transgender activists, who claim that the entire notion of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) is a transphobic invention. Both Brown and PLoS One also were attacked as Brown’s enablers.
While no one could offer any evidence that Littman’s results were wrong, PLoS One issued a statement acknowledging the complaints about the study, and promising “further expert assessment on the study’s content and methodology.” Meanwhile, the dean of the School of Public Health, Bess H. Marcus, claimed that concerns over methodology had incited the university to remove the news article from the university’s web site. She added that members of the university community members had “express[ed] concerns that the conclusions of the study could be used to discredit efforts to support transgender youth and invalidate the perspectives of members of the transgender community.” In other words, Marcus is worried that facts might be used to undermine ideologically hallowed “perspectives”—also known as “opinions.”
As former Harvard Medical School dean Jeffrey Flier noted in Quillette, the whole spectacle raises important issues of academic freedom at Brown. But it also symbolizes how severely transgender activism has undermined the efforts of clinicians and researchers who have sought to investigate the issue of gender dysphoria. There is perhaps no other area of human behaviour where ideologically motivated actors have been so successful in creating what are in effect no-go zones for academics, and even for facts themselves.
Another case study may be found in Kenneth Zucker’s work on desistance among children afflicted with gender dysphoria at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Following a lengthy misinformation campaign against Zucker, the transgender lobby was successful in having him fired in 2015, notwithstanding his status as a leading researcher in the field. In that same year, bioethicist and Northwestern University historian Alice Dreger published her book Galileo’s Middle Finger, which analysed the case of Michael Bailey’s The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender Bending and Transsexualism (2003). Bailey’s thoughtcrimes were contained in his review of the work of Canadian-born sexologist Ray Blanchard, who has argued that there are two types of male-to-female transsexualism: one being a deflected form of homosexuality and the other being an expression of a paraphilia known as autogynephilia. In Galileo’s Middle Finger, Dreger concluded that a small group of activists has endeavoured to bury such theories by attacking Bailey. For her troubles, Dreger endured a series of attacks by trans activists (including personal threats), and the filing of ethics charges with her university.
In the UK, there have been similar attempts to shoot the messenger. James Caspian, a psychotherapist specialising in the field of transgender mental health, proposed research on “de-transitioning” as part of his Master’s degree in counselling and psychotherapy at Bath Spa University last year. Initially, Bath Spa had approved Caspian’s proposed course of study, but later rejected it, citing fears of a “backlash” by transgender activists. (Caspian was told that he was “engaging in a potentially politically incorrect piece of research, [which] carries a risk to the university.”)
Another British researcher, cited by The Telegraph, abandoned a Russell Group university for Italy because, as he sees it, British schools are “covering their own arses” by allowing ethics committees to exert control over politically charged research. Last Fall Heather Brunskell-Evans, a Research Fellow at King’s College London, was asked by medical students to give a talk to her school’s Reproductive and Sexual Health Society on the subject of pornography and the sexualisation of young women. Things changed, however, after she appeared on Radio 4’s “Moral Maze,” where she elaborated on heterodox ideas contained in a book she’d co-edited with Michele Moore, Transgender Children and Young People. Brunskell-Evan’s talk was cancelled. She also sustained a campaign of harassment, and was accused of “promoting prejudice” by members of her own Women’s Equality Party (WEP), for which she served as Spokesperson for the Policy on Violence Against Women and Girls. (After a lengthy investigation, Brunskell-Evans resigned from the party.)
Students are getting the message. Aside from the well-publicised case of Lindsay Shepherd—who was bullied by a supervisor for the crime of suggesting that pronoun usage was a matter of legitimate debate—there is the more recent case of Angelos Sofocleous, a philosophy MA student at the University of Durham who was fired as Assistant Editor from a journal for re-tweeting: “RT if women don’t have penises.” Sofocleous also faced a social media backlash, and eventually resigned as President-elect of the Humanist Students club. Indeed, trans extremists aren’t even trying to hide their witch-hunt tactics anymore. Goldsmiths researcher Natacha Kennedy, working under the name of Mark Hellen, was discovered to have orchestrated a smear campaign targeting female academics in the UK who refuse to conform to transgender ideology. (Kennedy encouraged members on a private Facebook group to draw up a list where “members plotted to accuse non-compliant professors of hate crime to try to have them ousted from their jobs.”)
Lisa Littman knew what to expect, in other words. But she also knew that her critics wouldn’t have a scientific leg to stand on. Her research passed peer and editorial reviews, and was reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. And while critics focused on Littman’s methodology, which focused on testimonials from parents instead of children, such methods are quite commonplace in studies dealing with minors. (It also has been pointed out that nobody in the trans community spoke out in protest when a study using these exact same methods concluded that children thrived after transitioning.)
Last weekend the trans activist Helen Belcher resigned as a judge of a journalism prize because, against her wishes, I reached the shortlist. She announced that: “Since The Times started printing such [transphobic] pieces, starting with one by Turner in September 2017, I have heard of more trans suicides than at any point since 2012. These have mainly been of trans teenagers.”
When probed on Twitter she said: “I have heard reports of four trans suicides in the past few months, two in the past month. The media reporting was referenced in three of them.” Later, trans activist Paris Lees added that she held “individual journalists who stigmatise trans people personally responsible for the suicides of young trans people in this country”. No further detail was given.
That my work has caused the deaths of children is the most upsetting accusation I’ve faced in 30 years. It provokes many serious questions. Most importantly, is it true?
But first consider The Samaritans’ guidelines for reporting suicide which warn it is dangerous to attribute a death to a single cause: “speculation about the ‘trigger’ . . . should be avoided” as “young people are especially vulnerable to negative suicide coverage”. Yet some trans activists casually breach this code. This week Professor Stephen Whittle of Press for Change, a transgender lobby group, said that any delay to changing the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) would “lead to a flurry of suicides”. Retaining a 14-year-old law to permit further debate, he believes, will literally kill people.
Suicide is a dark trope in the trans movement. Parents who hesitate over medical intervention are told by some activists: “Better a living daughter than a dead son.” The ITV drama Butterfly, an infomercial for the trans support group Mermaids, is based upon the story of its CEO Susie Green, who took her child to Thailand for genital surgery at 16 (which was illegal in Britain and is now illegal in Thailand) and features a graphic suicide attempt. Mermaids cites high suicide rates in trans youth to push for faster, younger access to hormones and surgery. Ms Green told MPs that Gids (the NHS’s youth gender identity development service) has a suicide attempt rate of 48 per cent. This was based upon a self-selecting sample of 27 trans people aged under 26 analysed by the LGBT charity Pace.
The sane, compassionate response is more research. Let’s pull out the serious case reviews of every teen suicide to examine all possible causes, including newspaper reporting. Surely Mermaids would welcome proper, independent, methodologically-sound scientific inquiry. In the meantime, the most reliable source is Gids which says of 5,000 young patients referred between 2016 and August this year, there were three suicides and four attempts. Each death is the deepest tragedy, yet this makes a suicide rate of less than 1 per cent. Moreover, Gids director Dr Polly Carmichael has warned that suicidal discourse is “quite unhelpful”, creating a narrative around gender-diverse children “imbued with negativity and lack of resilience.”
Undoubtedly the suicide rate in Gids children is higher than average: many also suffer from anxiety and self-harm; a third of girls are on the autistic spectrum, others have suffered sexual abuse. This is a very troubled, vulnerable cohort. A 2011 Swedish study published in PLOS One found a high suicide risk prevails even after transition. So is it responsible for activists to insist that suicidal feelings are intrinsic to the trans experience, perhaps even a sign of being “true” trans?
A friend who was hospitalised with anorexia for three years as a teenager lost three fellow patients to suicide. She notes that although anorexia has the highest morbidity of any mental illness, clinicians do not let suicidal threats hamper treatment. “No one ever told my parents ‘Do exactly what she wants or she will kill herself.’ Because that would have been disgraceful.” Yet this is what is said to parents and clinicians who support “watchful waiting” of gender-questioning kids. Nor is discussion of anorexia framed by, say, ordering fashion designers to use bigger models “because you are literally killing girls”.
This past year, since Maria Miller’s women and equalities committee report, must have been gruelling for many trans people. I feel huge compassion for those stuck in the crossfire of a vicious debate. But Mrs Miller is to gender what David Cameron was to Brexit. She created a toxic, divisive mess then left others to clear up. In ignoring concerns from women’s groups, listening only to trans lobbyists, she recommended far-reaching legal changes including self-identification and an end to single-sex spaces, thus rewriting the definitions of “man” and “woman”.
Trans campaigners cannot demand legislation without scrutiny. My Times column from September 2017, which supposedly precipitated a suicide epidemic, described a feminist meeting where a trans activist punched a 60-year-old woman in the face. Everything I have written since has been intended to shed light. Why is there a 4,000 per cent rise in girls believing they are in the “wrong body”: why is a male sex offender’s gender identity more important than the safety of women prisoners, resulting in the case of Karen White; can a compromise be reached which meets both trans and women’s rights?
I asked questions because many women (including trans women) risk their livelihoods for airing dissent, and could not. Even 54 per cent of MPs, according to a ComRes poll, are scared to raise this subject. In the middle of a government consultation! No wonder, when suicide is shamefully wielded as a political weapon, when anyone who strays from dogma is accused of having children’s blood on their hands.
On 28 September, Leeds city council cancelled a room booking by Women’s Place UK, which was planning a meeting that night to discuss government proposals to change the Gender Recognition Act.
When the consultation on changing the GRA was launched by the minister for women and equalities, Penny Mordaunt, she said: “We particularly want to hear from women’s groups who have expressed concerns about the implications of our proposals.” However, the action by the council is only the latest in a series of attempts to halt discussion among women about GRA reform. Harassment of those organising, speaking at or even attending meetings is now routine; one woman had the details of her children’s school posted online with a view to intimidating her into desisting.
Earlier this year the Mercure hotel in Cardiff and Millwall football club were successfully pressured to cancel bookings made by women’s groups to hold panel discussions about proposed changes to the law. In Bristol a meeting was picketed by masked activists blocking attendees’ entrance in an attempt to prevent it going ahead.
In September 2017, a 60-year-old woman was violently assaulted when she was part of a group gathered at Hyde Park Corner waiting to be directed to the venue of a meeting to discuss the GRA.
Professional intimidation and attempted ostracising of, in particular, female academics is also rife. In September this year the Sunday Times revealed an orchestrated campaign, coordinated by a lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, to report academics who had questioned some aspects of transgender ideology to their institutions for “hate crime”.
On International Women’s Day, a trade unionist was hounded off a picket line by activists because she had attended a meeting. Girlguiding has removed two guide leaders from their posts for questioning policies that anticipate changes to the GRA.
We believe the right to discuss proposed changes to the law is fundamental in a democratic society. Public authorities, academic institutions, unions and NGOs should be facilitating discussions and protecting the rights of people to take part in them without harassment or intimidation. We find it troubling that institutions have not condemned these actions and in some cases have expressed support for them.
Marina Strinkovsky, feminist organiser; Beatrix Campbell; Graham Linehan, writer; James Dreyfus; Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters; Abigail Rowland, retired head of faculty (English); Professor Adam Swift, UCL; Alice Bondi, psychotherapist; Dr Amanda Maclean; Amina Lone, secularist and women’s campaigner; Anoma Jacobs, N Surrey Green party; Councillor Amy Brooks; Ann Day, musician; Ann McTaggart; Ann Sinnott, former Labour councillor and author; Professor Ann Stewart, University of Warwick; Anna Bluman; Annabella Ashby; Anne Morch, social worker; Annie Gwillym Walker; Annie Thomas; Andy Healey, play worker; Angela Stewart-Park; Anya Palmer, barrister; Ashlee Kelly (Rose of Dawn), social commentator; Betsy Stanko, OBE, emeritus professor; Bronwen Davies, Labour party member; Caroline Spry, TV producer; Dr Catherine Butler, Bath Spa University; Catherine Muller, business adviser; Cathy Devine, former senior lecturer, University of Cumbria; Celia Wangler; Ceri Tegwyn; Ceri Williams; Charlotte Ayres, student; Chetan Bhatt, LSE; Chris Holt; Claire Graham, intersex advocate; Clare B Dimyon MBE (L-GBT), educator and broadcaster; Clare Davies, PhD student; Clare Davies, PhD student; Dale Rapley; Darren Johnson; Dawn Furness, opera singer and film-maker; Debbie Hayton, teacher and transgender activist; Professor Deborah Cameron; Dr Deborah Dean, University of Warwick; Dr Diane Brewster; Diane Jones , teacher, Labour party member;
Donna Stevenson, school librarian; Elizabeth Mansfield, North Surrey Green party; Emma Aynsley; Emma Flynn; Eva Poen, University of Exeter; Dr Fiona English, academic author, former branch chair (Labour) Tottenham Green; Fiona Montgomery; Fionne Orlander, transperson; Frances Barber, actor; Frankie Rickford; Freda Davis, poet, artist, feminist;
Gemma Aitchinson, Yes Matters; Georgia Testa, University of Leeds; Harriet Wistrich, lawyer; Hazel Pegg; Hazel Turner-Lyons; Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans; Helen Gibson, former Labour councillor; Helen Jackson; Helen Mary Jones AM, National Assembly for Wales; Dr Helen Mott; Helen Raynor; Helen Saxby, writer and campaigner; Helen Steel; Helen Watts, former leader, Girlguiding UK; Helena Coates; Hilary Adams; Holly Sutherland; Ivy Cameron; Jack Appleby, web developer; Jacquie Hughes; Dr James Harrison, University of Warwick; Jane Galloway, autism parent advocate; Dr Jane Clare Jones, writer and philosopher; Jalna Hamner; Janet Veitch OBE; Jayne Egerton, radio producer; Jean Bartrum; Jeni Harvey, writer; Jenny Randles, author and broadcaster; Jessica Goldfinch
Jill Mills, Green party member, retired nurse; Jill Nichols, film-maker; Joan Smith, journalist and human rights activist; Joan Scanlon; Jonathan Best, former director, Queer Up North international festival; Josephine Bartosch, Critical Sisters; Judith Green, co-founder, Women’s Place UK; Judith Jones; Judy Maciejowska; Julian Norman, barrister; Julia Pascal, playwright, director; Dr Julian Vigo, writer and anthropologist; Julie Armstrong, Gateshead CLP; Julie Bindel; Justine Potter, producer; Karen Ingala Smith, CEO, nia; Katheen Stock, University of Sussex; Kay Green; Kim Thomas; Councillor Kindy Sandhu; Kiri Tunks, co-founder, Women’s Place UK; Kristina Harrison, trans campaigner; Kym Barlow; Laura McGrath
Leonora Christina; Lin Harwood, lecturer; Linda Oubridge; Lisa-Marie Taylor, CEO, FiLiA; Professor Liz Kelly; Lolly Viv Willowes; Lorraine Roberts; Lorenzo Obi Abadinas, Barnet Green party; Louise Evan Wong; Councillor Louise Paine; Louise Somerville, Women’s Voices Matter; Lucy Masoud, firefighter and FBU London regional official; Lynn Alderson, Totnes CLP; Councillor Lynne Caffrey, Gateshead; Maggie Saxon, arts manager; Maire Smith; Marina Strinkovsky, feminist organiser; Marion Gow; Councillor Mary McGarry; Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, director, Women’s Budget Group; Marta Garcia de la Vega; Maureen O’Hara, Coventry University; Michael Biggs, University of Oxford; Professor Michele Moore, Patient Safety Academy, Oxford University; Mike Shon, ex-mayor of Stafford; Miranda Yardley, transsexual rights activist; Dr Miroslav Imbrisevic, philosopher; Nick Rogers; Dr Nicola Williams, Fair Play 4 Women; Pam Isherwood, photographer, former lecturer; Dr Patrick Turner, Bath Spa University; Paula Dauncey; Peter J Hughes, N Surrey Green party; Phil Rose; Phillipa Harvey; Pilgrim Tucker, academic researcher and community campaigner; Professor Rosemary Auchmuty, School of Law, University of Reading; Professor Selina Todd, University of Oxford; Professor Victoria Rimell; Rahila Gupta, Southall Black Sisters; Raquel Rosario Sánchez, feminist writer and campaigner; Rebecca Gill, consultant; Rebecca Lush, environmental campaigner; Richard Byng, University of Plymouth; Rosa Freedman, law professor, University of Reading; Rosey Bennett, councillor; Rupert Jackson; Ruth Conlock, social worker; Ruth Serwotka, co-founder, Women’s Place UK; SJ Atherton, writer; Samira Abdi, accountant; Sarah Jay, consultant; Sarah Tanburn, writer; Shahida Chudhry; Sheila Jeffreys, University of Melbourne; Sian Sullivan; Sioned-Mair Richards; Solange Hughes, N Surrey Green party; Dr Sophie Allen, Keele University; Stephanie Davies-Arai, Transgender Trend; Steve Trafford, writer, N Surrey Green party; Sue Parrish, Sphinx Theatre; Susan Matthews, Roehampton University; Tania Glynn; Tom Farr, human rights researcher; Tony Green, freelance writer and tutor; Tracey Smith; Veronica Quilligan, actor; Wendy Sarah Davis, Rooms of our Own; Wendy Savage, MBBch FRCO; Wendy Wheeler, professor emeritus, science and culture studies
Your 13-year-old daughter tells a teacher that’s she’s uncomfortable with her body. She prefers trousers to skirts, football to ballet. She says she thinks she’s a he and wants to be treated as a boy at school. Would the teacher tell you your daughter wants to change gender?
Your 11-year-old granddaughter comes home from school upset. Changing after gym, another girl stood watching her undress and playing with her penis. (The girl in question is transgender, so yes, she has a penis.) When your family complains to the school, what happens?
In the first case, no, the teacher wouldn’t tell you. ‘All people, including children and young people, have a right to privacy… Staff should not disclose information that may reveal a pupil’s trans status to others, including parents.’ In the second, it’s not the girl with a penis who has a problem, it’s the girl without one. She and her parents have wrongly assumed the child with the penis is ‘not a real girl’. That error should be ‘challenged through training and awareness raising’ so your granddaughter is comfortable with her classmate.
These cases are real. So are the responses, which come from the Allsorts Trans Inclusion Schools Toolkit, guidelines for school staff developed with Brighton and Hove City Council and used, in different forms, by several dozen councils in England and Wales. It is unsurprising that schools want guidance on how to deal with children describing themselves as transgender, since more and more seem to be doing so.
Why? Is it about tolerance: as society becomes more understanding, more trans people feel able to ‘come out’? Could the internet be accelerating ‘social contagion’, where the idea of being transgender spreads rapidly?
What explains the disproportionate number of girls (child ‘assigned female at birth’, to use the approved term) who are starting a journey that can lead to hormone treatment, then binding and ultimately removing their breasts? Is it possible that this is simply part of a wider crisis of mental health among girls?
I don’t know, and neither do the doctors and scientists who study this issue. If you talk to the clinicians at the Tavistock Clinic in London, the NHS centre for the treatment of gender-variant children, they’ll tell you that all the factors I mentioned may be at work, but the evidence base is still incomplete, that they need more time and data before offering explanations. (They’ll also tell you that quite a lot of the children referred to them as ‘transgender’ will in time ‘desist’ and decide to live in their original gender.)
The government now intends to commission research into all this. You might think that sounds sensible and mundane. You would be wrong.
According to Tara Hewitt, founder of the Trans Equality Legal Initiative (TELI), prominent campaigner for transgender rights and an adviser to numerous public bodies including the NHS, the proposed research is ‘absurd and offensive’. The project should be ‘dropped in the bin — it’s simply not an inquiry that needs to happen,’ Hewitt reckons.
This is the quintessential trans-rights response to scrutiny: even looking for facts about children’s welfare is transphobic. Just accept that trans girls are girls and trans women are women. End of debate.
If you haven’t heard that mantra ‘trans women are women’, you will soon, for it is the orthodoxy of the moment, a phrase even politicians are expected to repeat as proof of their embrace of trans-equality. And woe betide anyone who suggests that donning a dress and a new name doesn’t magically render a male body female. Biology is transphobic too.
Women’s Minister Penny Mordaunt said the magic words in the summer when she announced an overhaul of the Gender Recognition Act, the law that allows someone to change their legal gender. Right now, a man can legally be recognised as a woman if he ‘lives in gender’ for two years and has that transition certified by a doctor.
Under reforms advocated by many (but not all) transgender campaigners, such ‘gatekeeping’ would be scrapped and replaced by a system of ‘self-identification’, that means that if a man says ‘I am a woman’, he is in fact a woman and must be treated as such, with all the legal and cultural rights that go with womanhood. Even before any change in the law, public bodies and companies are effectively adopting such a policy, often after receiving highly dubious quasi-legal advice from lobby-ing groups.
Many people still have an idea that changing gender involves some sort of physical change. In fact, sexual reassignment surgery is rare. Many and probably most transgender people keep the bodies they were born with; there are no official figures (the absence of good data defines this issue) but some estimates suggest up to 80 per cent of ‘trans women’ retain their male anatomy and genitals.
Exactly who counts as a trans woman is another issue where most of the public might find some surprises. According to Stonewall’s ‘trans umbrella’, you are transgender if you sometimes cross-dress.
That’s what makes Philip Bunce a woman, when he feels like it. Mr Bunce is a senior Credit Suisse executive who sometimes wears a dress and calls himself Pippa. On that basis, the FT recently named him one of its Top 100 Champions of Women in Business.
Such cases help explain why a significant number of women (and men) are deeply uncomfortable with the agenda promoted by Stonewall, TELI, Allsorts Youth Project and the rest of a loose network of ‘trans-rights’ advocates who enjoy immense influence in public life today, and significant public funding.
Others groups include Mermaids and the Gender Identity Research & Education Society, both frequently consulted by councils, NHS trusts, police forces and Whitehall departments for guidance on applying the law around transgender children. Both are tiny charities run not by lawyers but by parents whose children changed gender; it’s hard to think of another field of policy where personal experience is prioritised over objective expertise.
According to Michael Biggs, an Oxford University sociologist, the speed at which transgender rights advocates have advanced their cause is unprecedented in western history. In less than a decade, he suggests, the movement has embedded itself in public and corporate life and often succeeded in changing policy and practice without significant scrutiny or question.
How? Stonewall is the biggest exponent of the argument that trans rights are the new gay rights, and that conflation of gay and trans is key to the trans lobbyists’ power, especially in the public and voluntary sectors, where allegations of intolerance can end careers. The CEO of a major charity, a woman who has worked at board level in FTSE 100 companies, recently told me she was simply ‘too scared to speak publicly’ about her fear that the systematic misapplication of equality laws is eroding women’s rights and safeguarding rules. Being called a bigot might cost her her job, she says.
In fact, a good many gay people are uncomfortable with the addition of T (Transexual) to LGB (Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual). Some of the most vocal critics of transgenderism are lesbians, their concerns based in part on the fact that one logical outcome of ‘trans women are women’ is that lesbians should regard male-bodied trans women as female and thus as potential sexual partners. Yes, this most progressive of social movements tells women who really don’t like penises that they must consider having sex with people who have penises.
Among the gay men voicing doubts about all this is Simon Fanshawe, one of the founders of Stonewall, who now laments that there is ‘no room for dissent’ from the official trans orthodoxy — even though many trans people themselves are uncomfortable about the militancy practised in their name. They fear that the policies promoted by the ‘trans women are women’ camp risk a backlash against trans people as the wider population notices the increasingly awkward consequences of the doctrine. That day is fast approaching,
In the past month, the casual consumer of news media might have seen any or all of the following stories in the headlines: a transgender rapist was sent to a women’s prison where she used ‘her penis’ to sexually assault women; Girl Guide leaders were expelled for questioning a policy of allowing transgender girls (with penises) to share tents and showers with girls born female; a Durham university student sacked as editor of a philosophy journal for tweeting an article (by me) which asked if it is a crime to say women don’t have penises; the removal on grounds of transphobia of a billboard which repeated the dictionary definition of ‘woman’ as ‘adult human female’.
All raise serious issues of public policy, yet politicians are silent, fearful of questioning the trans-rights advocates and the consequences of their orthodoxy. Sometimes with good reason, too. Those MPs, mostly women, who have tried to debate this issue have been showered with online hatred. I’ve stopped counting the politicians, cabinet ministers among them, who tell me privately they worry about the trans agenda but won’t say so publicly
That silence troubles me. I am no social conservative, no culture warrior defending ‘traditional’ values. My interest here is fear of political failure, of what happens when sensible politicians fail to do their job by weighing evidence and reconciling conflicting interests. The failure leaves the trans debate dominated by shrill and aggressive groups intent on eliminating inconvenient evidence and dissenting views.
Failing to debate trans issues on the facts also creates the conditions for deliberate and harmful populism. Rows about trans people in bathrooms are a staple of America’s culture wars. The current vacuum of leadership on the issue means Britain could easily go the same way, if a politician on the make decided to make trouble. That would benefit no one, least of all transgender people, who deserve to live their lives with the same ordinary dignity as anyone else.
That’s not all that’s at stake. Trans-genderism is the perfect ideology for the on-demand internet age. It gives unquestioned primacy to ‘lived experience’, elevates emotion above evidence and convicts — after instant trial by social media — any scrutiny or doubt of that most heinous contemporary crime, intolerance. It chills debate and stifles critical thinking.
Should policies and laws be made on the basis of facts and evidence, or feelings and demands? You might not think so today, but the way our political system responds to the transgender rights movement will matter to everyone.