Festival Toilets are a Feminist Issue

In my decades of attending UK festivals I have experienced a huge range of different festival toilets and I have navigated them all, mostly with a cheery lack of concern. I’m at a festival for the music, I don’t much care about anything else, and I’m not very squeamish when it comes to other people’s mess and smell. I’m the person who will jump the queue to use the toilet everyone else is avoiding because it’s too disgusting. I put this down to cutting my festival teeth at Glastonbury, surely the worst of all in the toilet department. Much like learning to drive in London, once you’ve mastered that, everything else is easy by comparison. Except the Isle of Wight, obviously. That’s a bad one. I’ve never done Reading/Leeds but the toilet anecdotes there are enough to put me off, involving as they do crowds of youths setting fire to toilet blocks or even uniting to push a portable toilet over while somebody is still in it. That’s a step too far.

But in general I will put up with a lot in order to get my fix of camping and live music. The two festivals I attended this year however (with much gratitude that they went ahead at all, obviously) flagged up a few issues which seemed to be more relevant than ever considering our current quest to make everything ‘gender-neutral’. Festivals in fact are often quoted when someone wants to make the point that mixed-sex toilets ‘work’ and that we should embrace them wholeheartedly in every context. So here are are a few points to show that they don’t ‘work’ for women, and that what we are obliged to put up with for a few days in order to get to see our favourite bands should in no way at all become the norm for public toilets in everyday life. Festival toilet experiences actually serve very well to illustrate the point that it is not only (or even first and foremost) safety which is an issue for women in toilets, but accessibility, useability and hygiene. And equality with men.

The most obvious problem for women when hygiene is lacking is that we have to sit down every time we use the toilet and we have to use toilet paper. As soon as the toilet paper runs out in your nearest toilet block (halfway through the first morning of the festival usually) women are disadvantaged. It is not only that we need to wipe every time, but that before we even sit down we need a clean seat. I try to use a toilet vacated by a woman wherever possible because she will have cleaned the seat ahead of me in order to use it herself. Men leaving toilets are a sadly predictable bunch. When a man uses a festival toilet, if he just needs to pee he does not have to clean up first and he does not have to dirty his hands by lifting the seat, and if there is already a mess there is little incentive to take care, so he might as well relax and add to the mess. Somebody in the queue will have to clean up that accumulated mess and that someone will invariably be a woman. I spend a proportion of my festival time doing housework: cleaning up the pee (and sometimes worse) of strangers. The paper I have taken in with me in case the toilet roll is empty might all get used up before I even get to sit down on the toilet myself. Men are not doing this housework at festivals, they don’t have to. I am inordinately grateful to any man leaving a clean toilet behind when he vacates it, as I know that he has either taken the trouble to clean it or been careful enough not to soil it, and that is a rare and wonderful thing.

There is a way for a woman to use a toilet without sitting on the seat, but that involves a squat or a perch. It is achievable but it really helps if there is something to hold on to, otherwise the prolonged strain on the thigh muscles can make things very difficult. Men, with their superior muscle to fat ratio, usually have stronger thigh muscles and can squat for longer if they need to, and most of the time they don’t need to. The disadvantage of portable toilet design, with the toilet seat on a ‘shelf’, is also reflected in the fact that softer, fatter and more squashy female thighs easily splay over the edge of the plastic seat when sitting, and come to rest in the disgusting mess either side. It takes an awful lot of toilet paper to clean not just the toilet seat but also the shelf surrounding it before you can sit down.

At the (otherwise brilliant) Green Man festival this year all the usual portaloos had been replaced with compost toilets, a laudable idea and one which I fully support, but which made things even worse for women. The shelf was high (much more difficult to squat above when you’re in the class of people who are on average shorter) and the hole down to the drop was surrounded by such a flimsy toilet seat it may as well have been painted on. In the traditional portaloos at least the toilet seat is positioned on a moulded plastic ridge, raised slightly from the surroundings, and therefore some help in raising the backs of your thighs from the mess. The portaloo design also usually incorporates a vertical post set into a recess in the door, which can be used to hold on to whilst perching, but the eco toilets had no such feature to mitigate the higher shelf/inadequate seat combo, so the only solution was to use half a toilet roll each time to clean the large flat area covered with other people’s piss (and worse) before the toilet was useable. Not very eco-friendly, not very woman-friendly. (I wrote to Green Man about this and they wrote back thanking me for taking the time to flag up the problems).

Portable toilets made for festivals and events are clearly designed with a default male in mind, and this makes things unequal even with no added problems in the mix. Not all of us will even be ‘default women’ for the weekend: the fact is that at any one time there will be a sizeable proportion of women and girls who are menstruating, or suffering a particularly heavy period or a bout of thrush or a case of cystitis, or any one of a range of other infections which are exacerbated and even caused by a lack of hygienic facilities. None of these conditions has ever dissuaded anyone I know from going to a festival, but it means that a lot of women are being inadequately catered for, or even being put at risk. The lack of provision for sanitary disposal is the least of it. Interestingly, I have seen comparatively few used sanitary products floating in festival toilets over the years, even though I’ve seen lots of everything else you could imagine (or would rather not) in a toilet situation. It’s almost as if women and girls are considerate enough to wrap their used products in toilet paper or make sure they are adequately flushed away before leaving the toilet for the next person.

At the (otherwise brilliant) End of the Road festival this year there was an interesting variation on the male default theme. In a couple of locations on site there were toilet blocks rather than individual portaloos. The signage on half of them said ‘Urinals’ or ‘Men’ or had a male symbol displayed. The other half of the blocks were not signed at all. I can see the thinking behind this: if you speed all the men through the urinals you can shorten the queues for women and make sure their toilets are cleaner. However, there are men who need to poo. What to do about them? You can’t really put up a sign saying ‘Women. And Men Who Need To Poo’. So there were men in the women’s queue but it wasn’t really a women’s queue because it wasn’t really a women’s toilet, even though inside there were individual cubicles and mini washbasins and hand driers and a very confined space. The impression given was that men could be individually catered for, but not women, and it added to the feeling of the current social atmosphere whereby the word ‘woman’ somehow cannot be mentioned. The toilets were much cleaner though, and an absolute treat compared to the single portaloos elsewhere on the site. It made me wonder why it would not be possible to have dedicated women’s toilets on a festival site. I haven’t come up with an answer to that.

Talking about poo (I was, earlier) the biggest human poo I have ever seen was in a festival toilet, after a man had vacated it: it was perched atop the usual unflushable mound of soaked toilet paper and crap that accrues by the middle of an average festival day, and looking for all the world like a horse had produced it. I couldn’t help but reflect that the larger the species the larger the waste products, and that truly, on average, men are larger than women.

In a BBC report today the issue of having a period at a festival is tackled by some young women who want to see change, although unfortunately they are complicit in the current fashion of shunning the word ‘women’ and choosing to refer to ‘menstruators’ instead. Some people are more squeamish about the word ‘woman’ than they are about the contents of a festival toilet. But, importantly, it’s about far more than menstruation, as I have tried to set out above. As sex is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act, you would at least have half a chance of instigating change by proving indirect sex discrimination, if you wanted to use the law, which is on your side. ‘Menstruators’ do not have protected characteristic status, so the word is less than useful legally. By avoiding the word ‘woman’ you are therefore also avoiding the legislation set up to provide potential support for your claim of sex discrimination. I would not personally wish to use the law in the case of festivals, I just want to be their friend, but it helps to know it’s there and that it backs up your claims. With the push for more gender-neutral provision in other contexts it may become necessary to use the existing legislation to prevent women’s facilities becoming reduced even further. It helps to remember you have rights and that those rights are sex-based.

Gender-neutral toilets disadvantage women and girls. Trying to use gender-neutral language to talk about it shores up the inequality which the Equality Act was formulated to overcome. Festivals are brilliant, I’d put up with anything to attend, but even I can see that festival toilets are a feminist issue.

Laurel Hubbard and the Olympics Trans Inclusion Policy

In 2015 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) published new guidelines for transgender inclusion in sport, which greatly reduced the previous barriers to males competing in female competition. Former athlete Joanna Harper who, according to the report ‘happens to be trans’, was a major voice in the decision making process, presenting evidence to the committee based on a study of just eight trans athletes. On the srength of this flawed evidence the IOC banished the requirement for sex reassignment surgery and two years of lowered testosterone. Instead, a man could now simply declare his ‘gender identity’ was that of a woman and reduce his testosterone level to 10 nanomoles per litre (nmol/L) for a period of one year before competing. The new guidelines came too late to have any impact on the Rio Olympics of 2016, but made the headlines in 2018 when the Commonwealth Games were held on the Gold Coast.

The controversy surrounded a transgender weightlifter called Laurel Hubbard, a male representing New Zealand in the women’s super-heavyweight category, who had previously won two silver medals at the World Championships in 2017. Hubbard failed in the end to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games, due to injury, but the publicity had served to highlight the IOC’s decision-making processes and prompt some criticism and investigation. The realisation that there was no representation of the rights of female athletes anywhere in the IOC’s process was shocking to many women.

In March 2018 I attended a meeting in Brighton entitled ‘Beyond Fairness: the biology of inclusion for transgender and intersex athletes.’ The meeting was organised by Professor Yannis Pitsiladis of Brighton University, and it platformed Joanna Harper as guest speaker. I wrote about this meeting here and detailed the unevidenced and biased presentation which so angered the group of feminists with whom I attended. The pushback at that meeting, and in subsequent correspondence with Professor Pitsiladis, seemed to represent the first time there had been any direct criticism of Harper’s inadequate evidential influence, because it clearly came as a shock.

The following month it was reported in the Sunday Times and in Pink News that the IOC had halved its testosterone recommendation in a move which would restrict trans inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Joanna Harper claimed some credit for this change to the rules, although a trusted source told us it came about as a direct result of the unexpected backlash at the Brighton meeting. Despite the feeling that a small difference had been made, the result was actually a little meaningless. The normal range of testosterone for females is less than 2nmol/L so the new limit of 5nmol/L for males was still much too high, as well as ignoring the lasting benefits of going through male puberty. It was all beginning to look a little arbitrary.

In 2019 World Athletics (then known as the International Association of Athletics Federations or IAAF) held a meeting on trans inclusion, which was attended by Nicola Williams of Fair Play for Women. In a hostile environment she proved to be a lone voice speaking on behalf of women’s sports. The IAAF then published a press release on transgender eligibility in sport, in which they recommended the new lower level of testosterone as a starting point for individual sports to research and draft their own rules. It was almost as if the buck had been passed by the IOC to the IAAF who had then passed it on to the individual sports federations. Fair Play issued a response to the statement, welcoming the commitment to looking at scientific evidence and formulating fair policies.

That same year saw the voices of some top elite athletes join the debate. Women like Martina Navratilova in the US and Sharron Davies in the UK helped to raise awareness of the unfair burden of ‘inclusion’ on women in sport. The abuse they were subjected to in return was a lesson to any woman currently competing of what might be at stake if they spoke up. It was instructive that to begin with it was only women already retired from their sport who felt able to stick their heads above the parapet. In July 2019 Woman’s Place UK and Fair Play for Women held a joint meeting in London called ‘A Woman’s Place is on the Podium’ which dealt specifically with the subject of a level playing field for women in sport. The speakers were Nic Williams, Sharron Davies, Victoria Hood and Emma Hilton. In the audience was Daley Thompson, one of the first male athletes to speak up in support of women’s sports.

In September that year Fair Play wrote a letter to the IOC and Sharron Davies organised the signatures of sixty top athletes and scientists, urging a suspension of the transgender guidelines in the light of new scientific evidence, until more evidence had been gathered.

In February 2020 World Rugby took the initiative of organising a workshop to look closely at all the evidence available regarding the biological differences between males and females and the potential effect on sporting achievement. It was the largest (and to date, only) conference of its kind, taking into account as it did scientific, medical, legal, social and ethical considerations. As such there were representatives from women’s interests (Fair Play) and trans interests (Gendered Intelligence). A trans scientist (Joanna Harper) was matched by a female scientist (Emma Hilton) and evidence was heard from neutral experts in all the relevant fields. World Rugby produced its report in October 2020 and the results were unequivocal: the advantages conferred by male puberty present a risk to safety and fairness for women which are hardly reduced by any hormone treatment in transition. It would be neither fair nor safe to allow male athletes to compete against female athletes, whatever their gender identity. Fair Play wrote a considered response to the draft guidelines. Joanna Harper was interviewed by Outsports and was slightly less considered:

“Well, frankly, I think they had their minds made up, before they called the meeting,” Harper said.

The trans lobby groups (noteably Stonewall in the UK and ACLU and Outsports in the US) went into overdrive in their condemnation of World Rugby and the alleged ‘banning of trans people from sport’. Despite the evidence showing 20-30% greater risk of serious injury to women in contact sports, our largest LGBT charity encouraged rugby unions across the world to ignore the guidelines, and England Rugby did just that. Their transgender policy stipulates the lower level of testosterone (5 nmol/L) but does not take into account that it is a testosterone-driven puberty which is responsible for the disparity between males and females, and it completely ignores the safety implications. It seemed it was perfectly acceptable for trans groups and supporters to treat women as collateral damage in the quest for trans ‘inclusion’.

In March 2020 the IOC put out a statement to say that new guidelines for transgender inclusion would be made available after the Tokyo games. Due to the Covid 19 restrictions and the subsequent postponement of the games these new guidelines have been delayed by a year. The statement said the IOC had listened to ‘hundreds of athletes, doctors and human rights experts’ but the efforts of women’s groups in the UK and around the world, as well as scientists and female athletes and coaches, meant that this time there was much more evidence of conflicting rights which could not be so easily resolved or ignored. It was reported by the Guardian that the draft guidelines, in which the testosterone levels were supposed to be halved, were now to be shelved, with responsibility being passed on to individual sporting bodies to make their own rules.

In December 2020 a paper was published by Hilton and Lundberg which presented comprehensive scientific evidence of male performance advantage:

“These data overwhelmingly confirm that testosterone-driven puberty, as the driving force of development of male secondary sex characteristics, underpins sporting advantages that are so large no female could reasonably hope to succeed without sex segregation in most sporting competitions.”

New research by our old friend Joanna Harper conceded that a sporting advantage was retained by males identifying as trans, even after three years of hormone therapy. Interviewed about this evidence Harper was predictably reluctant to draw any firm conclusions.

In May 2021 Fair Play wrote to World Athletics to put the case for the new scientific evidence, as a conribution to their ‘global conversation’ about the future of their sport.

The Tokyo Olympics was finally given the go-ahead for July 2021 and Laurel Hubbard qualified to represent New Zealand in the women’s super-heavyweight weightlifting competition. In a statement which perfectly illustrates the fact that consulting ‘human rights experts’ no longer necessarily means you have consulted ‘women’s rights experts’, the IOC publicly praised Hubbard’s ‘courage and tenacity’ and proclaimed that everyone knows that ‘transwomen are women’. The tone of the IOC’s medical and science director, Richard Budgett, came across as annoyed and irritated that things had become so unnecessarily complicated:

“To put it in a nutshell, the IOC had a scientific consensus back in 2015,” he said.

It’s easy to get a scientific consensus of course when you don’t invite any dissenting voices to the table. It seems that the success of women in the last few years in defending women’s sports may have a direct correlation to just exactly how irritated the medical and science director of the IOC appears to be.

A further report from the Guardian’s Sean Ingle brought an admission from the IOC that the trans guidelines are not fit for purpose. Far from admitting that the science was lacking, however, once again Budgett made his own bias absolutely clear:

“There is some research, but it depends on whether you are coming from the view of inclusion as the first priority or absolute fairness to the nth degree being the priority,” he said. “If you don’t want to take any risks at all that anyone might have an advantage, then you just stop everybody. If you are prepared to extrapolate from the evidence there is, and consider the fact the have been no openly transgender women at the top level until now, I think the threat to women’s sport has probably been overstated.”

This seems to be an astonishingly entry-level statement from someone who has purportedly been examining the evidence since 2015.

The IOC 2015 trans guidelines were introduced very quickly, with totally inadequate ‘evidence’, behind closed doors. These guidelines have allowed a male weighlifter in 2021 to take the opportunity of a lifetime away from a female competitor. One missed opportunity for a woman is one too many when the way to keep competition fair is blindingly obvious to almost everyone who looks.

It is frustrating to hear the IOC complain about the compexity and difficulty of the decisions which have to be made in order to take into account fairness for everybody. The subtext here is that it was clearly so much simpler when they didn’t have to listen to women. There were already rules in place which protected women’s sports of course: reserve women’s sports for females. The onus should have been on trans advocates to prove that any changes would not disadvantage an already disadvantaged group, and this proof should have been mandatory before any changes were made. It should not have been up to women to try and roll back a done deal, achieved without their participation.

Many women have been villified, smeared and attacked for standing up for female athletes and defending the rights of women to compete on a level playing field. The IOC have had years to take a considered look at all the evidence and to come to a decision which would protect the rights of everyone. They might have started this process earlier if they had not wasted so much energy fending off women, and they might have sounded less confused about the whole thing if they had approached all the evidence right from the start in good faith and with an open mind.

It should have been completely unnecessary for women to have to fight this battle, in which we are being forced to reinvent the wheel. The Tokyo Olympics has brought a whole new audience to the issue and the IOC will be held to account if they don’t get it right this time.

Would I Lie To You?

I have just finished reading Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, a Sunday Times bestseller shortlisted for the Women’s Prize 2021. It’s a book with large themes, predominantly those of racism and colourism, but I bought it because it was about twins. Briefly, the twins of the story are Black but so light-skinned that one of them makes the choice to ‘pass’ as white, and thenceforward their lives necessarily massively diverge. I am always disappointed when twins are used as a plot device in novels: in my experience it usually means hanging a storyline onto one of several cliches or stereotypes to do with two human beings being interchangeable, whether this is done in an amusing gimmicky kind of way or a threatening scary way. It angers me every time. I read this book looking to be offended.

So the first thing to say is that I found the depiction of twins as realistic as I could have reasonably expected in a work of fiction. There was enough, but not too much, about the closeness of twins, but the sisters were also honoured as individuals in their own right. The twin relationship was not overplayed, despite its centrality to the story. The aspect of how much the twins might miss eachother in their separate lives remained frustratingly unexplored but a small observation towards the end of the book reiterated the strength of the twin bond, when, after decades apart, Stella finally makes the decision to go home and visit her sister again. She looks in the mirror at the grey strands in her hair and suddenly worries that her sister’s hair might be dyed: ‘She couldn’t be the old twin. The thought terrified her, looking into Desiree’s face and not seeing her own.’ Subsequently, Desiree’s partner, observing the sisters together for the first time, felt ‘that he didn’t know Desiree at all, that maybe it was impossible to know one without the other.’ The writing of these characters was honest, the observations felt true. Both twin sisters were real people and, separately, the twinship was also real. It was a surprise and a relief to me.

The book is set in the US and spans the nineteen fifties to the eighties. Not much has changed for twins since then but a lot has changed in race relations, so the depiction of blackness, racism and segregation has historical and social significance as well as current cultural relevance. The story of identical twins, one living a ‘black’ life and one living a ‘white’ life, sounds like one of those awful fifties social experiments twins were subject to, and could have come across as a gimmick were it not for the quality of the writing. The race issues were written as authentically as the twin issues, the experiences were believable and the points made with such a light hand that the story was not swamped with its message.

It was a surprise then to come across a seemingly gratuitous ‘trans’ character, not drawn with any depth or detail but possibly there to illustrate another kind of ‘passing’? I really don’t know what the purpose of the character was, but to slot a young woman presenting herself as a man into a seventies storyline felt like it needed some explanation, or at least some acknowledgement from the other characters. Instead, the character is referred to with male pronouns throughout and the fact that ‘he’ is female does not seem to surprise Jude, the young woman who becomes her romantic and sexual partner. There is reference to some injuries caused by breast binding, and eventually a trip to the hospital for ‘some surgery’ (we are told ‘he wanted a new chest’) and towards the end of the book, after some pressure from Jude’s mother for the couple to marry, there is a nod to the fact that this would not be possible without a change of birth certificate. Jude’s mother does not realise that her potential son-in-law is female, though by now there is the presence of a beard due to some testosterone treatment, so the sex is better hidden.

This storyline was incredibly frustrating. Unlike the other themes, I experienced this one as manipulative: I knew exactly how I was meant to think and feel. Interestingly, the word ‘trans’ is never used, possibly because it was not in common useage in the seventies and would therefore not ring true, but also I imagine because once ‘trans’ did gain traction it was almost exclusively meant as ‘transsexual’ and almost exclusively used for males. There is a deceit somewhere at the heart of this story, that gender dysphoric people were common enough in the seventies not to be remarked upon by any other character, and that a trans character was just as likely to be female as male. The ‘transition’ is depicted as being as simple as this:

‘On the road from El Dorado, Therese Anne Carter became Reese… He cut his hair in Plano… In Socorro, he began wrapping his chest in a white bandage… the truth was that he’d always been Reese.’

We have already met Reese at this stage, and witnessed the beginning of his relationship with Jude, so this is ‘his’ backstory, and it did nothing so much as to make me think of the lyric to Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side:

‘Hitch hiked her way across the USA, Plucked her eyebrows on the way, Shaved her legs and then he was a she…’

But Lou Reed’s 1972 song is about drag and gay culture, not trans (and ironically, has itself been accused of transphobia in recent years). It would fit better another character in the book, Reese’s friend Barry, a man who becomes ‘Bianca two Saturdays a month’ at a drag club. Jude loves this drag act: ‘It was fun because everyone knew that it was not real.’ Barry refers to the other men who perform alongside him as ‘the girls’ but everyone knows they are not really girls. If this is fun because it’s ‘not real’ what does this mean for Jude’s relationship with Reese? Is this fun because it’s not real, or fun because it is real or does the realness or lack of realness not matter to her in her closest relationship? Does Reece really ‘pass’ in the way the storyline suggests? We are never allowed to examine any aspect of the relationship which turns on this central question. A storyline which would stretch the bounds of plausibility even today, with the unprecedented increase in girls presenting to gender clinics with gender dysphoria, and the prohibition on questions about ‘dead names’ and previous lives, is written as being unremarkable in the nineteen seventies. The author’s use of male pronouns, even when describing the female character’s journey to ‘becoming’ a man, is a modern conceit superimposed onto a previous age.

I was irritated by this weakness in an otherwise literary and honest book. It is difficult to write with an authentic voice at the best of times but the subject of trans seems to bring out the worst in writers of all stripes. I was thinking about this as I watched the trailer for the trans storyline in Hollyoaks this week. The same type of awful indoctrinating use of a trans character was played out in the more lowbrow setting of a soap opera, in this case the unrealistic depiction of a male trans person in a women’s jail (there for murder no less!) being terrified by the aggression of the female inmates. It was laughable, but also, in its extreme reversal of known facts, possibly gave a clue to what it is about trans subject matter which reduces writers to such artifice. The fact is that the trans narrative as it stands is dependent upon a lie: the lie that human beings can actually change sex. The lie was what made the story of Reese and Jude so false, and the lie was what made the Hollyoaks storyline false. There may not be a way of telling a story about a trans character which rings true, if this central lie remains unaddressed, but to address it has now been deemed transphobic. It is a lie which has only recently become mandatory, but it makes every fictional trans drama into a piece of propaganda.

Brit Bennett in The Vanishing Half already had a theme where ‘passing’ could be explored, both to facilitate an exploration of racism and also, if she had chosen, to explore the relationship between the twins themselves. In the story there is a desire to pass as white by Stella, just as there is a desire to pass as male by Reece, but nothing of value is added by this juxtaposition. The twins themselves though could have been the counterpoint: constantly being mistaken for eachother could be seen as another kind of ‘passing,’ one which is neither welcome nor sought after but an accident of birth. What if you have to spend your life trying not to pass? There is a story here which is a kind of inversion of the usual twin ‘swapping places’ narrative, and in my biased way, I think this would have made for a much more interesting and original mirror to the ‘swapping races’ theme. The percentage of twins in the world is roughly equivalent to the percentage of trans people: are our stories not interesting too?

This week I also read a thread by Vulvamort on Twitter about the Gender Recognition Act and whether or not it should now be repealed. The GRA was introduced in 2004 as a ‘legal fiction’ and one of the main reasons it was said to be needed was so that trans people could marry – a problem which, as mentioned previously, came up in the novel. That problem was fixed in 2014 in the UK and in all US states in 2015, with legislation which allowed for same-sex marriage, so now it is less clear what the GRA is actually for. A ‘legal fiction’ could alternatively be described as ‘a lie’. Maybe the introduction of this lie into the legislation is what makes the trans narrative so divisive, in fiction as elsewhere? Maybe, after having served its purpose it has now become counterproductive.

In the Twitter conversation, defending the existence of the Act, Lachlan Stuart described the variety of males traditionally attracted to and welcomed by gay culture:

I wondered again why the culture Lachlan describes, along with the gay/drag scene depicted in The Vanishing Half and the Andy Warhol crowd depicted in Walk on the Wild Side, has to be legislated for at all, beyond the basic need for equality and protection from discrimination? Why the legal fiction? Why the lie? As Jude notes in the book, it’s fun because it’s not real. I have come to believe it is the lie which people can’t and won’t accept. We often know instinctively when we are being lied to, and nobody likes it. It fuels resentment, it gets a backlash, people will not stand for it. A wild and alternative social scene, where rules are broken and anyone can be whoever they want to be, holds an attraction and excitement for many people, and acceptance of nonconforming identities is obviously to be welcomed here. Once the law starts to get involved in matters of ‘identity’ though, other people’s rights need to be considered too.

Much has been written about the conflict which arises from allowing males the legal fiction that they are female in a world where there is inequality between the sexes. Making sex a matter of personal choice has implications for gay rights too, and legislating for a lie also has repercussions for sexual consent when deception is written into the law.

Ironically it was reading a work of fiction which clarified for me just how much in everyday life we rely on being told the truth. There is no way you can make your story out of a lie, and then lie about telling a lie, without it resulting in propaganda rather than art. Even in fiction we need to believe the author’s voice, we need to trust it, otherwise the story is not worth the investment of our time. When it’s a ‘legal’ fiction we need to believe in the benefit of the lie in order to make it worthwhile suspending our disbelief. The suspension of disbelief becomes almost impossible if the benefits are not discernible or if the results are perceived to be actively harmful. Just as when reading fiction, once the trust is gone we naturally want to stop engaging and put the book down. We stop caring.

Reading a novel which in all other respects tells with integrity a believable version of a truth, the one false note stuck out like a sore thumb. I resented it and I felt like I’d been had. Maybe I couldn’t trust the author’s other storylines if she felt it was okay to treat me with such dishonesty in this one. Maybe she thought I’d be easy to fool, maybe she thought I wouldn’t notice, maybe she assumed I was really stupid. Whatever the case, it serves as an analogy for the feelings engendered by gender extremists, who assume you need ‘educating’, tell you what to think and demand that you stick to their script.

Just as we have an instinct for observing someone’s correct sex, we also have an instinct for when we are being lied to. If you really want the allyship of the majority of people you are unlikely to get it if you won’t at least start by telling the truth.

The Butler Did It – a Review of Material Girls by Kathleen Stock

Material Girls is the new book by academic philosopher Kathleen Stock OBE, professor of philosophy at Sussex University. It is an essential read if you want to understand what the current transgender debate is all about and why there is conflict with women’s groups and feminists. If you cannot understand why anyone in their right mind would consider it fair to allow a male person to compete against a woman in female sport, then here you will find the background to how seemingly impossible beliefs such as these have come to dominate certain sections of ‘progressive’ politics. If you are shocked at the sudden proliferation of ‘gender-neutral’ toilets where there used to be single-sex facilities, and wonder where that trend is coming from; if you are surprised at the increasing number of press reports on ‘female’ sex offenders; if you have noticed the use of dehumanising words such as ‘menstruators’ where the word ‘woman’ used to be, or if your favourite organisation, business or political party seem to suddenly be falling over themselves to be more rainbow-washed than the next one, here are some of the answers.

It’s a fascinating story, based in academia but so well written that it feels like reading a detective novel in places: what’s going to happen next?! The ‘eight key moments in the rapid intellectual onset of gender identity theory’ (as well as containing a delicious joke) is a tour de force. We get a whistle-stop tour of theories from the most influential thinkers in the field, including Anne Fausto-Stirling, Judith Butler and Julia Serano, and the results in some places are mind-boggling. When people complain about academics ‘sitting in their ivory towers’ and informing policy on the ground which is entirely divorced from reality, this is surely a case of that, with knobs on. Despite being an account of academic theories, for non-academics the writing is fresh and accessible and, most importantly in a debate which specialises in deliberately obfuscating meanings, it has clarity. Such clarity. Terms and concepts are defined. I can’t tell you how much of a treat this is.

Stock has both sympathy and criticism for the concerns of trans people and of radical feminists, and she brings her own philosophical speciality to the debate with her concept of ‘immersion in fiction’. This reframing of the transgender experience is original and thought-provoking, keeping a distance as it tries to do from any position which is so entrenched as to be non-negotiable. It’s so thought-provoking that I haven’t made up my mind about the idea yet, to be honest, but I am always happy to have a new concept to ponder. The aim as I understand it is to move away from the polarising positions of ‘Transwomen are women’ and ‘Transwomen are men’, (TWAW v TWAM) as taken respectively by transactivists and radical feminists. It is not, to my reading, a proposal of compromise in terms of women’s sex-based rights (Stock makes it clear as the book concludes that sex as a concept is crucial and necessary and we must keep it to do the job it needs to do). It’s definitely not a proposal of compromise as to the meaning of the word ‘woman’, which Stock defends for the same reason she defends ‘sex’. What it is though, is a proposal to clear some ground for debate, in order that some mutual concerns might have room to be addressed.

To this end, in the most unsympathetic part of the book for radical feminists, there is a critique of some of the ideas expressed by Julia Long. I am a big fan of Julia Long but she is a controversial figure because she speaks her mind, calls a spade a spade and won’t be made to shut up. That’s partly why I like her. Stock’s criticism sees Long as the ‘extreme’ end of a polarised debate, but many feminists would argue that the material truth is not an extreme position to take, and that enough linguistic and conceptual ground has already been lost. Still, there had to be some criticism of a feminist scholar in order to balance the demolition of practically every major queer theorist out there. Long’s work is quoted at length and some readers will hopefully be inspired to go and find out more. If part of the aim of mainstream feminist writing is to raise consciousness there will be some readers that Long speaks to and some that Stock speaks to. I, like many others, value the ideas of both.

There has inevitably been some feminist criticism based on this part of the book (which I now have to refer to as *that bit*) and some of it I agree with. I don’t for example accept that there is ‘frequent casual denigration of trans women’s characters.’ It may be that the overall criticism of transgenderism as a movement, as personified by the writing of Sheila Jeffreys and Julia Long for example, will of necessity be critical of the men within it, but it seems to me that there has been a huge effort on the part of the majority of ‘gender critical’ feminists to be respectful under conditions of extreme provocation. Stock has personal experience of this, having been subject to hateful campaigns against her both at her place of work and on social media, simply for suggesting that sex and gender are a suitable subject for philosophical debate. I understand that she may be criticising one specific branch of radical feminist theory here, and not the general conduct of women on Twitter, but it is hard to stomach nonetheless when the general level of abuse is so one-sided.

The claim that there is a ‘commonplace suggestion, without evidence, that any trans woman’s reasons for transition are likely to be malign’ has produced the most anger, particularly from groups such as Transwidows who have suffered the most personal, private and misunderstood abuse. In a book which is so thorough in the clarity of its language it is a shame that this one statement is so open to misunderstanding. The word ‘any’ here can be read as the suggestion that ‘all’ trans woman’s reasons are likely to be malign, whereas I think it actually means ‘any particular’ trans woman’s reasons are likely to be malign. I might be wrong here, and it may make no difference to some people, but I think it’s an important distinction because there is plenty of evidence for many of the claims being made and it is misleading to suggest that’s not the case. Not least because Stock herself in her conclusion calls on, amongst other things, more evidence to be gathered on the experiences of transwidows in order to define what their political needs are. I don’t believe she intended to belittle their experiences and I think this line has been misunderstood.

On balance though, this is a mainstream publication from an academic philosopher, and looking critically at both sides of an argument comes with the territory, or it should. So much of the debate has been shut down that this is a welcome development and a courageous project from the publisher. I suspect that the book will continue to upset trans activists far more than radical feminists because after looking with a critical eye at evidence from both sides of the divide, Stock comes down firmly on the side of material reality.

In my reading of it, this is not a book which asks for compromise, at least not in the area of women’s rights, including our right to define ourselves. It presents an alternative conceptual worldview to the TWAW/TWAM binary, without telling anyone to ‘be nice’. It presents the thorny question of language as a matter of common humanity rather than necessarily a political ‘gotcha’. The feminist use of TWAM has come about of necessity, in order to reclaim the truth in an argument over language which has up until now disadvantaged women. In that sense it can be defended: clearly in terms of material reality TWAW is false and TWAM is true. Take the language further than that though and you are in the realms of opinion pitted against opinion, or theory v theory, less easy to defend to a mainstream audience and some of it pejorative: for example ‘innate souls’ v ‘delusion’ or ‘marginalised minority’ v ‘men’s sexual rights movement’. In the area of children and young people there is an understandable wish to counteract the bland obfuscating language of ‘top surgery’ and ‘bottom surgery’ but in Stock’s view it is a mistake to go to the other extreme and use shocking terms like ‘mutilation’, if only because it can alienate the young people we want to reach. I see Stock’s argument here as one which seeks to take the emphasis of the debate away from this binary, to sidestep the two extremes, and to create a space of shared experience where the conversation can happen. As I believe the conversation needs to happen, and women need to be consulted as stakeholders in it, I see this as a positive suggestion.

This is absolutely not the same thing as asking for a compromise on rights. By analysing both sides so thoroughly Stock gives more, not less, credence to her conclusion that sex matters, and that where sex matters it really matters. The evidence for and against is laid out and the result is clear: gender identity as a concept cannot and must not take the place of sex as a concept. The book taken as a whole, notwithstanding *that bit*, succeeds to my mind in moving the Overton window of what it is acceptable to think in this controversial debate. Stock has very clearly positioned herself in the centre of the debate and in doing so she has shown that it it is the centre, not an extreme fringe, which supports women’s rights. The central ground, which a lot of readers will be able to relate to as the reasonable place to be, takes it for granted that retaining women’s right to self-define and the right to legislation based on sex is a starting point, not a negotiation. The brilliant thing is, she makes it all seem so obvious.

13/05/2021 Edited to include this screenshot because I keep having to explain it wasn’t my joke. Full credit goes to Kathleen Stock. It still makes me laugh.

‘Trutrans’ and the Question of Compromise

As the rights of trans people are being endlessly examined, discussed and made the subject of official inquiries, women are yet again being asked to compromise.

The segregation of spaces and services by sex is under sustained attack for not being ‘inclusive’ enough, and to this end it is currently being framed solely from the perspective of those being ‘left out.’ It sounds mean when presented that way: it sounds like mean girls are manning the barricades and pushing other people away, meanly. At the same time it is increasingly being claimed that trans people have used the facilities which match their ‘gender identity’ for decades with no adverse effect. The inference is that everyone was happy with the arrangement until a sudden unprovoked uproar from feminists threatened to ruin it for everyone else, who up until that point were getting along just fine thank you.

Firstly, if true, this contradicts the assertion that trans people are currently being prevented from being their true selves and living authentic lives, and it begs the question: In that case what exactly is being fought for? Why did things need to change?

Secondly, if true, the fact that so far males have been accessing facilities put aside for women means that female-only spaces have been used without our consent, and this not only throws into question the justification for continuing the practice, but also demonstrates such a lack of respect and sensitivity towards women that it is evidence if anything that we should double down on protecting these spaces even more.

Thirdly, if true, past experience is no longer especially relevant in today’s ‘trans umbrella’ world, where part-time cross-dressers, transvestites, ‘gender fluid’ and ‘non-binary’ people are now included in the list of people who are women if they say they are. Moving from a historically tiny number of transsexual males who presented with some form of visual ‘transition’, to an effective free-for-all of different gender identities, renders the evidence of the past null and void. Today, on numbers alone there is bound to be more of an impact.

It is a possibility of course that the ‘no adverse effect’ argument is not quite true. It’s quite possible that the presence of an unexpected male in a toilet or changing room has had quite an effect on an individual woman, whether or not she makes a fuss or reports it. There are anecdotal stories to support this view, although no official figures reflect it. Women seldom report violations of their privacy, even extreme ones, but that doesn’t mean that women or girls have not felt frightened or anxious, and it doesn’t mean women or girls have not self-excluded from a service as a result.

The ‘no adverse effect’ argument is also undermined by the trans movement’s extremely combative distrust of women. If women’s spaces had already been graciously ceded, we wouldn’t need the outrageously prescriptive trans inclusion guides produced for businesses and schools, designed to enforce a narrow range of approved beliefs. The alleged historical acceptance of male transsexuals in women’s spaces is simply not compatible with such an authoritarian clamp-down on our speech, behaviour and thoughts. It doesn’t make sense if it had previously all been going so well. Surely the trans movement could have built on the established trust of women, who were already being ‘inclusive’, rather than using bullying and silencing tactics and emotional manipulation? That’s how you treat an enemy, not a friend.

So far then, I’m not convinced that the history of sharing women’s spaces is as hunky dory as it’s being made out to be. I think it is being misrepresented partly in order to suggest that trans rights are being rolled back, which they’re not, and partly to suggest that any opposition to more ‘inclusion’ must be coming from a place of transphobia and bigotry rather than any genuine concern for women and women’s boundaries.

From a woman’s point of view, the trans activists are looking at it from the wrong angle. From our perspective we are not pushing anyone out, we are simply reiterating the fact that we have boundaries, and reminding everyone that these are historically and legally based on biological sex. There might be other ways of distinguishing between human beings, but in terms of safety, privacy and dignity, sex seems to fit the bill most accurately and include the most number of people. Everyone has a sex. We could try to distinguish by gender identity instead, as is being proposed, but this would be so ‘inclusive’ as to not leave any boundaries at all. Maybe that’s the point.

The arguments in favour of gender identity are often based on the idea that sex is not always accurately discernible and therefore mistakes can be made: a common claim is that butch lesbians might be read as male for example and barred from a woman-only space. This is a spurious argument: no lesbian that I have ever spoken to has confirmed that this happens, but more importantly it inadvertently backs up the need for sex distinction. If ‘gender identity’ was the criterion for access to a space there would be far more risk of making mistakes of this kind, because gender is a spectrum and infinitely variable. In some cases you would probably have to look into someone’s soul in order to get their gender right.

The process of assessing someone’s ‘gender identity’ has much more scope for personal and individual offence because it becomes more about the individual than the category, and relies on how well someone ‘passes’ or how much we feel we can trust someone’s innermost beliefs about themselves. Everyone who doesn’t ‘look right’ would effectively be on trial. This would lead to exactly what trans people say they don’t want: a policing of gender expression. As it stands, in public facilities which are separated by sex we don’t police users, we rely on a common understanding of sex differences and a willingness to play by the rules. Men therefore are trusted to avoid using women’s facilities and any man who breaks the rules can be legitimately called out on his transgression. The pull of societal norms is so strong that most people comply. Those that don’t are immediately objects of suspicion, and that is what works to keep women as safe as is possible. Just because the system isn’t perfect doesn’t mean we should opt for an even less perfect one.

If you argue for the inclusion of ‘some’ males, and those males can now opt to identify as women full-time or part-time, can have had some surgery or no surgery, can be on hormones or not, can be dressed in a typically masculine or feminine way, can be bearded or clean shaven, can feel like neither a man nor a woman, or can change depending on the day of the week, then there is no way of policing which males are admissable and which are not. To avoid transphobic ‘mistakes’ you would have to admit any man who wanted to enter. We would go from a strict sex binary, understandable by the majority of people, to a situation where nobody could be challenged by anyone. In other words, single-sex spaces would be unenforceable and they would effectively cease to exist.

The belief that anyone is trans who says they are is a cornerstone of trans ideology, which is currently being taught in schools and offices all over the UK, but it is this dogma which will make a compromise solution almost impossible to achieve. Amongst women, the ‘Not my Nigel’ claim was notoriously used by a minority as an argument for making an exception of the ‘good men’, but most people recognise the impossibility of differentiating between good men and bad and so a blanket ban has remained. A similar argument looks set to rear its head in the trans debate, between ‘good trans’ and ‘bad trans’, between the ‘original’ transsexuals and the whole other newer range of transgender identities: ‘Not my Trutrans’ we could call it. However, the transactivist movement, in its insistence that all trans identities are equally ‘valid’, has effectively shot itself in the foot. It has become impossible to take a Karen White for example, and to say ‘this sort of trans person should be kept away from women but not that sort of trans person over there’ because this would involve gatekeeping, and gatekeeping is transphobic. It would make some trans identities less valid than others and it would mean not believing some people’s claims about their own gender identities. Who decides who to believe and who not to believe? Not women, that’s for sure: the new rules insist that every individual knows their own gender identity best.

Women have never claimed that all male transgender people are sex offenders, despite the accusations; but we have watched as trans advocates publicly and uncritically welcome sex offenders and other abusers under their new trans umbrella. Uncritical acceptance includes everyone, as evidenced by the overwhelming support for Ian Huntley from trans activists over a story which would later appear to be fake news. Trans ideology represents the antithesis of safety policy for women: the current measures in place (legislated for in the Equality Act) mean that ‘all men are excluded’ to ensure the exclusion of the dangerous ones, whereas trans policy means that ‘all trans people are validated and included’ which ensures the inclusion of the dangerous ones. Women’s safety has historically been allowed to trump the disgruntled feelings of some men who feel unfairly maligned; we are now in danger of allowing the feelings of some trans-identified males to trump women’s safety. A complete reversal.

As more and more women become aware of the attack on their rights, the trans movement is on the path to becoming a victim of its own extreme dogma. Insistence on 100% belief in individual testimony as a basic tenet so integral to trans acceptance that you are a transphobe if you don’t subscribe to it, has ensured that, for the sake of women’s safety, 100% of males identifying as trans have to be excluded. The old understanding, if it ever existed, where transsexual males used women’s toilets and women allowed this ‘honorary woman’ status as a nod of respect towards the length and difficulty of the transition process, will no longer work now that transsexuals have no more legitimacy than Eddie Izzard on a nail varnish day. The trans rights groups have achieved this, not feminists.

It is a really salient point, not to be dismissed, that feminists will at least argue over whether women can afford to be ‘inclusive’ and if so, to what degree. There are schisms within feminism and the larger ‘gender critical’ movement over exactly this point, and this is at least evidence of a willingness to look for solutions to conflicting needs, even if it leads to a feminist falling-out. Stonewall and the other trans lobby groups on the other hand will not countenance any argument over the validity of anyone’s ‘gender identity,’ nor consequently any compromise at all over the issue of women’s safety. ‘Transwomen are women’ is the mantra which kills the conversation and gives women no choice, and ‘transphobia’ is newly-defined as a refusal to say it. Politicians who parrot this mantra and then say the debate is toxic and has more heat than light are blind to their own complicity in it.

The #NoDebate tactics of the trans lobby have never worked to still the robust debate amongst women over the ‘trutrans’ issue. It is Stonewall et al who have made this disagreement between women more or less academic, because they have left us no choice over the answer. It doesn’t matter if you have a trans friend and it doesn’t matter if your trans friend is one of the good ones: we have been prevented from making any nuanced judgement by the trans lobby groups themselves. Even if you believe that some trans-identifying males are more ‘deserving’ than others, even if you believe in ‘meaningful transition’, it’s not up to you to make that judgement. Trans people themselves who question the dogma or support women’s rights are equally wrong. Trans advocates are very clear about this: ‘trutrans’ quickly becomes ‘truscum’, the trans community will not even debate with its own.

The refusal of trans lobby groups to acknowledge the risk inherent in uncritical acceptance of self-ID makes it effectively impossible to discuss any compromise. The uncompromising 100% of Stonewall’s ‘acceptance without exception’ leaves only one possible outcome. In order to keep women as safe as possible, when it comes to women’s spaces and services we have no choice but to retain the 100% sex distinction without exception.

Objections to ‘Cis’

Many women have written eloquently over the years about their objection to the word ‘cis’. According to those who wish to impose it on us, it is just the equivalent of using the word ‘straight’ to define yourself if you are not gay: without this word some people might be tempted to use the word ‘normal’ for their sexuality, thus positioning the other as ‘abnormal’. So far so understandable, but there’s a fundamental difference in the function of the words ‘straight’ and ‘cis’. ‘Straight’ has a definable meaning, which is ‘heterosexual: attracted to the opposite sex’. Even if homosexuality did not exist, heterosexuality would still be a meaningful definition – you don’t have to believe in homosexuality for heterosexuality to exist.

‘Cis’ however, does depend on a belief system to make it meaningful, and it is this which makes it more than a neutral descriptor. Cis is short for cisgendered, and the usual definition (apart from ‘not trans’) is having ‘a gender which matches your sex assigned at birth’. Immediately there are two major assumptions to challenge: sex is not ‘assigned’ at birth, it is recorded, and ‘gender’ is a concept which is rejected by many people and is in any case impossible to define. Calling me cisgender does not just say I am someone who is ‘not trans’, it ties me in to a belief system I don’t share and which I see as actively harmful, especially to women and girls. This is a perfectly understandable reason to reject the word ‘cis’ and that should be the end of it… but there’s more.

The unwanted labelling of ‘cis’ is enforced whether you like it or not. Many women object to being demoted to a subset of their own sex class, when previously the word ‘woman’ was sufficient and carried meaning. For a movement dedicated to the idea of always believing that people are what they say they are, there is a notable lack of acceptance of the position ‘I’m not cis’. According to the ideology you have to be either cis or trans, and this imposition of gender is one of the things that is most regressive about trans ideology. I didn’t spend a lifetime trying to escape the confines of the feminine gender box only to be forced into the restrictive cisgender box instead.

If you’re forced to accept the word ‘cis’ then you have to concede that women come in both male and female varieties. ‘Cis’ is the other side of the coin to the ‘transwomen are women’ mantra, in that it ensures the category of women contains both sexes. In this system a ‘transwoman’ is a male woman and a ‘cis woman’ is a female woman, and these are now equal subsets of the category ‘woman’. Cis is doing the job of letting men into the female sex class, and it means you can no longer be just a woman, you have to make a choice over what sex of woman you are.

An argument I have been seeing more frequently when women object to men in their spaces, is that it’s not ‘cis men’ who will be allowed in, but ‘transwomen’. Cis works here to differentiate between the men who are really male (cis men) and those who are really female (transwomen), and at the same time it puts ‘transwomen’ and women into the same category. However, without the belief system which says that women can come in both male and female varieties, it is not always possible on the ground to tell the difference between a ‘cis man’ and a ‘transwoman’, especially now that the bandwidth of ‘trans’ has been widened so exponentially. In accepting the word ‘cis’ you have lost the means to differentiate between men and women, because they both now come in both sexes.

Question: “What is the difference betweeen a cis man and a transwoman?”

Answer: “His say so”.

Once ‘cis’ has done its job of mixing up the sexes into a new gender-determined classification, a much bigger problem becomes clear. The two subsets of women (cis and trans) turn out to be not so equal after all. Cis is being used to posit an axis of oppression which subverts the usual order of things and places females as the oppressors of males: if women come in both cis and trans varieties it’s the cis ones who have the privilege. Cis privilege means that cis people oppress trans people, so it naturally follows that males are the most oppressed of all women. Once that’s established, then it’s clear that female women, with all their privilege, can no longer be allowed to organise alone without their male ‘sisters’. Groups like ‘Sisters not Cisters’ have sprung up to make sure we can never have anything just for ourselves ever again.

The result is that women are increasingly being called out when they prioritise ‘female women’, or leave out ‘male women’, in activities which were formerly perfectly well-understood as women-only. What once would have been celebrated as progressive for centering women, helping to promote justice, level the playing field or correct the male default, is now a sign of ‘transphobia’. Karen Ingala-Smith suffers periodic abusive Twitter pile-ons because her ‘Counting Dead Women’ project does just that, and Jean Hatchet endures a similar fate for her ‘Ride for Murdered Women’ fundraising bike rides. The Twitter accounts of ‘Women’s Art’ and ‘Great Women of Mathematics’ have had similar attacks from trans allies who cannot bear to see the word ‘woman’ being used without the inclusion of men. International Women’s Day has become just another opportunity on social media to insist that males must be included in the category of women.

It’s a double bind: we are apparently expected to adopt the categorisation of ‘cis women’ but then we are not allowed to organise as ‘cis women’.

Trans people on the other hand are allowed to have meetings and days of rememberance, days of visibility, and all manner of trans-only events and celebrations, without bomb threats or violence or protest. ‘Inclusion’ of other categories is not demanded of trans groups, it’s only demanded of women. When we are lambasted for ‘excluding’, there is no recognition that we are losing something we are entitled to, and often something we rely on. ‘Women-only’ has meant a place of safety or of sanctuary or of healing ever since second wave feminists fought for our rights as women, decades ago.

The Women’s Institute is the latest women’s organisation to come out as trans inclusive, which means it is no longer women-only. It is not just the case that women’s organisations have the choice whether or not to include males, it is now the fact that any which decide not to are hounded until they give in, or forever have to accept the label of bigoted transphobes. We are very nearly at the point where whenever we do anything for women we will have to include men. Many women are happy with this, actively wishing to include men who identify as women, and this is their choice. The choice though, for women who don’t want to, or can’t, include men, is dwindling. These women are often the most disadvantaged and vulnerable: sexual abuse or domestic violence survivors, prisoners, women who need refuge and women of particular faiths for example. For other women it’s just a matter of preference: the presence of males in the room makes a difference: men dominate, they talk louder, they interrupt more; sometimes you don’t want that; increasingly it’s being forced on you.

The implications of this are far-reaching. When services are advertised as ‘women-only’, or expected to be so because of social convention, then a possibility arises that a woman needing a male-free environment, for whatever reason, will at some point come across an unexpected male, possibly when she is in a state of undress or otherwise vulnerable. Very few women in this position will know what the new rules are. Not everyone is on Twitter. No woman can say on behalf of any other woman that it is now ok for ‘women-only’ to mean ‘both sexes.’ Nobody has that right. Each woman gives consent for herself and herself alone.

The equality law in the UK works by protecting certain characteristics that have traditionally suffered discrimination. Although ‘sex’ as a protected characteristic can be used to protect either sex, in reality sex discrimination mostly discriminates against women. The fundamental basis of women’s rights is a distinction between the sexes, allowing single-sex spaces and services where this is ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.’ It is the service which is judged by these criteria, not the individual wishing to use it, and up until now the aim of providing a healing space in which to recover from male violence has always met those criteria. Single-sex spaces are therefore ‘allowed’ by the law, even if the provision of them discriminates against another protected group.

It has been suggested many times (as a serious argument) that the aim to keep women’s toilets and changing rooms women-only would entail a policing of people’s genitals at the doorway, as if we were not very good at determining the sex of anyone we come across without checking their chromosomes or looking inside their pants first. Pictures of ‘passing transwomen’ are rolled out as a ‘Gotcha’, as though the successful feminisation of a single man disproves the male and female sex binary. It doesn’t though; quite the opposite: it highlights just how difficult it is to escape the confines of biological sex, with its combination of obvious and subtle visual differences. The problem is that you may say ‘transwoman’ but we see ‘male.’

What’s the difference again, between a ‘cis man’ and a ‘transwoman’?

His say so.

There is no definition of ‘ciswomen’ in law. ‘Ciswomen’ is not a protected characteristic. Choosing to use the definition ‘cis’ turns ‘woman’ into a two-sex category for which the law cannot deliver single-sex protection. Arguably, that’s the whole point of it. The protected category of sex becomes unworkable, and with it women’s basic rights. Distinct rights for women become impossible if ‘women’ includes ‘men’. If the use of the word ‘cis’ becomes normalised, then as females we will always be yoked to males.

Every manifestation of the word ‘cis’ is detrimental to women. There are no benefits. We have everything to lose. Don’t give in, don’t use the term ‘ciswomen’.

Why Can’t Women Just Be Nice?

How nice do women have to be?

Well, very, it seems, if we want to hold on to our rights. I’m talking about the rights which are already enshrined in law, by way of the Equality Act 2010, updating and incorporating the sex equality legislation from the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. Rights for women are based on sex, and they always have been, because there is no other legal or material or commonly recognised way of differentiating between men and women. Despite recent assertions from many lobbyists, we have never had to resort to looking inside someone’s pants to distinguish one sex from the other. The common understanding of what male and female categories mean, and the difference between them, has always sufficed to ensure that laws intended to level the playing field for women are actually used to benefit women. They may not always have been adequate to the task, but it’s always been clear who they’re for.

Women are expected to be nice in all walks of life, it’s true, and female socialisation works to prop up this expectation by a system of rewards and punishments as girls grow up. However, recently there has been a ratcheting-up of the demands that women be nice specifically in the arena of defending women’s rights. Being nice has become the number one demand made of feminists, above being fair or knowledgable or determined for example, and I wonder why it’s so important now?

One of the current attacks on women’s rights has taken the form of denying that women exist at all, at least as a distinct category. In normal circumstances this would be laughed out of court but it has gained traction because it has been linked (nefariously) to the supposed oppression of another group (trans people) and the campaign for trans rights has been so successful. To facilitate the demands of trans activists, women have been painted first and foremost as an obstacle to, and gatekeepers of, all the good stuff (including biology itself). The reason that women need sex-specific rights in the first place has been deliberately obscured, minimised and forgotten.

When Alice Roberts, scientist, posts on Twitter an article which posits that somehow, because of clownfish, it is impossible to accurately categorise binary human sex characteristics, feminist Twitter responds en masse. Feminist Twitter includes a lot of scientists and biologists. Many many women gently put Alice Roberts right. Some do it with impatience, some are critical, a tiny minority call her stupid or some such insult, but largely what we get is an astonishingly informative thread about human biology. With lots of evidence. This doesn’t stop people referring to it as ‘a pile-on’ and if Alice Roberts doesn’t post for a few days she will be said to have been ‘hounded off Twitter by trolls.’ Roberts herself says this:

Alice Roberts

When Jo Maughan, barrister, pontificates on Twitter about the right of trans-identified males to be housed in the female prison estate, feminist Twitter also responds. Feminist Twitter is full of lawyers, barristers and law students who really understand the law. They produce an informative thread, disagreeing with Maughan, based on the provisions in the law as it stands. One or two of them get irritated with his refusal to listen or to take on board any points they present as evidence. There might be the odd insult. Largely though the thread is an education on current UK equality law. Maughan thinks these women, rather than presenting their (very knowledgeable) side of the argument, are simply being bigoted:

Jo

When Billy Bragg, socialist, argues on Twitter for the right of men who identify as women to be included in women-only spaces and sports, feminist Twitter responds again. Feminist Twitter is full of socialist and trade unionist women, grounded in class-based analysis and feminist history. They calmly put Billy Bragg right, based on a socialist analysis of women as a sex class. Occasionally there is a swear word, sometimes a tweeter sounds a bit exasperated, many women express their disappointment with him, but largely Bragg is repeatedly told facts. He responds by telling all these highly intelligent and caring women that they are lacking in compassion:

billybragg

In the years since the 2015 Trans Inquiry, during which trans demands have been promoted and women’s rights have had to be defended, many grassroots women’s groups have grown up to do the work of protecting women in light of the fact that no one else was doing it for them. Over time there have been many meetings, blogs, tweets, speeches, essays, articles and submissions to government enquiries, all from women and women’s groups keen to protect their existing rights. An overriding sentiment, voiced repeatedly, is that trans people should of course have all the rights that everyone else has. Women have bent over backwards to ensure that the defence of women’s rights is in no way seen as a desire to reduce trans rights. All women’s groups want trans people to be free from abuse and to enjoy equal treatment in healthcare, employment and housing, and they frequently say so.

Woman’s Place UK state this:

WPUK

Fair Play for Women are clear on this:

Fair Play

Women and Girls in Scotland say this:

Women and Girls in Scotland

These sentiments are commonly and routinely expressed on social media by individual women too. It could not be clearer that the fight for women’s rights (which means existing rights, already fought for, well-researched and evidenced, and finally won) is not at the expense of trans rights and is not an attack on trans people. In comparison, no trans advocacy group (Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence, GIRES, Mermaids, TELI, Trans Media Watch, Allsorts and countless others) has once expressed the corresponding wish that the changes they are fighting for should not come at the expense of women and girls. There has never, in all their public campaigning, ever been a concern that other people’s rights might be affected by their demands, despite the fact that these demands do involve a rolling-back of women’s rights. To use a technical term, none of them actually gives a shit about women and girls.

This is, after all, what Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence and the Scottish Trans Alliance are fighting for:

Stonewall Trans Inquiry

But nobody is telling them to be ‘nice.’

At the same time as this complete disregard for women’s rights is being promoted as progressive, the insults, abuse and threats, as well as physical assaults, intended to silence women, go unremarked by the same prominent figures who implore women to be nicer, be kinder, be quieter.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown up in stark relief the need for women to have single-sex spaces to provide refuge from male violence. Domestic abuse has increased markedly during the lockdown all around the world. Other traditional inequalities such as low-paid work and family roles conribute to the worse effect of the lockdown on women. If it wasn’t clear before, it’s clear now: the effects on women of being the subordinate sex according to their ‘gender’ include greater risk, greater violence and greater poverty. These gendered assumptions of the value (or lack of value) placed on ‘women’s work’ are part of the structure of gender that feminists have been fighting forever. We don’t like gender, we reject it and we are not hateful for doing so. It’s sensible; you can see that now. It is gender that disempowers women and girls.

Equally clearly, the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the sex differences between men and women. Men are much more likely to die from the virus, and this is because of their sex, not because of their ‘gender identity.’ To science and biology deniers, for whom ‘transwomen are women’, the virus tells a different story. Initial studies show that women are more likely to catch the virus, because of their greater exposure, which is a result of the inequality of gendered roles and occupations, but men are more likely to die from it once they do catch it, because of their sex.

Is it still ‘unkind’ to insist that there is a sex difference between men and women and that it is straightforward (and vital) to categorise it? Is it still ‘lacking in compassion’ to analyse and assess a woman’s greater risk of harm according to gendered norms visited on her sex class? Is it still ‘bigoted’ to ask that women continue to be protected in law when these sex and gender differences in outcomes for men and women are now being highlighted so clearly?

Well, apparently yes.

What will you lose by being kind

We have everything to lose, and I’m beginning to think that this is the point. The demand that women be ‘nice’ and ‘kind’ goes further than just being a matter of tone policing, it has an impact on what women are allowed to say, and how much we can expect to be listened to when we say it. Women are not just expected to be nice whilst fighting for our rights, we’re expected to be nice instead of fighting for our rights.

Here’s an idea: just for a change the world could try being nicer and kinder to women.

Equality Law in a Postmodern World

Always above all else: how does one act

If one believes what you say? Above all how does one act?

Bertolt Brecht – The Doubter

So let me play devil’s advocate for a minute and suggest that I actually agree with this new gender-based definition of human beings: that I accept the premise that the male and female categories are no longer useful or accurate and we need to completely change the way we see and account for one another. What we see with our own eyes is no longer necessarily to be trusted: we are likely to get it wrong if we rely on our senses alone. We must ask people how they identify, what pronouns they prefer and how they would like to be seen by us, and if we don’t do this we are disrespectful and even transphobic.

We are learning new things about gender all the time and we must take on board all these new discoveries. In this new and current scenario, male and female as characteristics no longer have any real meaning, and must instead be replaced with gender identity as the primary marker between different groups of people. Biological sex must give way to inner belief and innate identification, and it is on this basis that we must now look to the law and analyse the way it is formulated to protect particularly vulnerable groups of people. It has worked quite well (although not perfectly) up until now, in terms of protecting women from men and helping them to recover from male violence, as well as making social policy to ensure fair representation. But can it still work in the same way now that we know so much more about the way in which our gender identity informs our sex? Will it still do the job it was intended to do?

The first problem I can see is that the law as it stands is not at all equipped to deal with this new way of categorising people, because the law we enjoy today was written before we had all this new understanding of gender identity. We are therefore living in a world which finally recognises the supremacy of individual gender identity, but within a framework of equality law which doesn’t. This is a problem because equality law for women has been based on something that until now has been universally recognised – biological sex – and this is no longer relevant or even acknowledged. Sex differences have been used as the criteria for all the research and evidence gathered so far in order to inform public policy, as well as for legislation intended to level the playing field and keep women safe. The evidence which has been collected and analysed over the decades has shown clearly that biological males (boys, men) are responsible for most of the physical, sexual and violent crime, and biological females (girls, women) aren’t. It is on this basis that the Equality Act legislates, funding is made available and public policy is written.

We have legislation then, based on outdated criteria. We have a binary law for a spectrum world. A radical new understanding requires a radical new approach to the law. When there is such an unequivocal difference between the perpetrators and the victims of certain crimes, based on a measurable set of parameters, then it is inadequate to simply add to the protected group another category of people who do not share the discrete properties of that group. To do this would be to dilute the protection and make the group as a whole less safe. Fiddling around the edges of a law intended to protect a group which no longer effectively exists does not make good law: it lessens the protection for the original beneficiaries whilst not helping the new group it is supposed to include. Equality law based on sex is clearly no longer fit for purpose. A new set of laws is needed which is based on a new set of criteria which adequately reflects the modern world.

We need a complete overhaul of our equality laws, and as far as ‘sex’ goes we need to start from scratch. Anything less would just destroy the binary, and all the evidence and research behind it, without providing any back-up protection for the spectrum. Like the previous old-fashioned laws, the new laws must be based on adequate research and evidence, which this time must look at gender identity instead of sex. Statisticians must quickly get to work to assess which genders are more likely to be sexually violent, say, and which ones might be more likely to need protection. If the vulnerable are to be protected to the same degree as they are now there is little time to lose.

A problem can be seen straight away here of course, because an accurate means of assessing people, based on a quality seen only on the inside of their heads, does not immediately spring to mind. If a way can be found to overcome this difficulty then we can hopefully look forward to gender identity activists organising to provide all the evidence needed to ensure that the right protection can be put in place for the right genders. Much as women’s rights activists in the past insisted on this process and worked towards it to create a safer and fairer world for women, gender idealists must now do the same for all the genders. They seem to have confidence in themselves so let’s hope they get on with it.

There is still a problem though. Even if the gender activists manage to do their research and provide all the evidence needed in order to inform new and better equality legislation, it is still the case that ordinary people on the ground might not be able to instantly recognise the people who pose them the most risk. In the old-fashioned binary system between biological men and biological women it was relatively easy. In the vast majority of cases a man would be instantly recognisable as a man and a woman could rightfully object to his presence in her changing room. In this way, the use of the senses was in accord with social policy, and both worked together to keep a vulnerable group as safe as was possible. In today’s world this is no longer an acceptable way of keeping the vulnerable safe. It is after all impolite to assume someone’s gender.

I have given this some thought, because we cannot simply concede defeat on the basis that it’s all way too complicated. In today’s brave new world there will still be people of varying genders who are more in need of protection than others, and we need to find a way of identifying them and keeping them safe. If we can no longer rely on our senses to spot danger then the law as it stands will not work for us. We need to find a way to identify whichever genders the new research tells us are more prone to violence, and which genders will need the law to be on their side in order to protect them.

I think I’ve come up with a solution, and actually it’s so simple you’ll laugh. The answer has been staring us in the face all along. If we make legislation which demands the wearing of pronoun badges by all people in all circumstances at all times, then we’ve solved once and for all the problem of recognising the gender of the stranger in front of us. No longer will we have to rely on the Layla Moran school of soul recognition, which many of us still find impossible. Yes, I know, it feels a bit like the idea of identity cards for all citizens, which keeps rearing its ugly head and then once again being kicked into the long grass because nobody would stand for it in real life. But I think the public are ready to accept something like compulsory pronoun badges: a small thing really for the greater good. There are already many people on social media very willing to admit their gender identity to a watching public by putting their pronouns in their bios. It is surely a small step to ask everyone to wear a pronoun badge at every moment of the night and day, just to ensure the safety and comfort of vulnerable minorities? It is the only way I can think of, now we’re not allowed to use our common sense anymore, for everyone to be sure who they are sharing safe spaces with, and for everyone who needs it to have protection under the law. The census question would be solved in a stroke. Instead of asking numerous complicated questions about sex and gender, all these could be replaced with the one question which matters: ‘What are your pronouns?’

I think the world is ready for this, and it is in any case probably the only way a new gender-based Equality Act could work. I hope the lawyers amongst you will take this on board and begin to work towards a new law fit for the postmodern world. The Equality Act 2020: protecting the spectrum and not just the binary.

Who Really Influenced the IOC?

Fierce feministsL-R Stephanie Davies-Arai, Helen Saxby, Sheila Jeffreys, Ali Ceesay. Photo: Anne Ruzylo

Women’s sports and transgender rights are currently in the news, but a recent contribution by Joanna Harper in the Guardian is unhelpfully misrepresentative of many of the facts. Harper talks about ‘respecting the rights of all athletes’ and wanting ‘equitable competition for all’ whilst also recommending a testosterone level for trans athletes which has not been properly researched to ensure fairness. Most outrageously though, Harper claims the credit for a reduction in the testosterone limit by the International Olympic Committee, and argues that the original limit was set too high:

“Paula Radcliffe and others have suggested that the current limit of 10 nanomoles per litre of testosterone (T) for trans women is too high – cisgender (or typical) women are usually under 2nmol/L – and I agree. In 2017, I was on a committee that recommended to the International Olympic Committee that it should reduce the limit to 5nmol/L, and I believe this change will be implemented for next year’s Tokyo Games.”

But the fact is that it was Harper’s own flawed research and presence on the original IOC committee that set the high levels in the first place. Compare this report from January 2016 about the original higher guidelines:

 Joanna Harper, chief medical physicist, radiation oncology, Providence Portland Medical Center, was one of the people at that meeting. She also happens to be trans, and she said her voice in the room was important in determining these guidelines.“The new IOC transgender guidelines fix almost all of the deficiencies with the old rules,” Harper said via email late Thursday night. “Hopefully, organizations such as the ITA will quickly adapt to the new IOC guidelines and all of the outdated trans policies will get replaced soon.”

 The choice of the higher or lower limit of testosterone allowed in transgender athletes begins to look a bit arbitrary. No new research project has been done with trans athletes and no new scientific evidence has been presented to the IOC, so even though a lower limit is obviously preferable, it is still not evidenced. What Harper is actually advocating is using women’s sports as an experiment in how trans inclusion will pan out, whilst at the same time purporting to take a ‘middle ground’.

Here is some background to the story:

In March 2018 I attended an open lecture by Joanna Harper and Professor Yannis Pitsiladis at the University of Brighton, entitled ‘Beyond Fairness: The Biology of Inclusion for Transgender and Intersex Athletes’.  Unaware at the time of who Harper was, I had expected a fairly dry scientific presentation, interesting mostly to students of sports science. What I got instead was a party political broadcast on behalf of the trans lobby. Harper’s presentation was crudely designed to manipulate public opinion. It contained flawed research evidence, an obfuscation of the biological differences between males and females, diversions into weight categories to muddy the waters of sports classifications, and a suggestion that it was old fashioned to still see sex as a binary. Harper’s lecture suggested that testosterone alone was the difference between male and female athletes. No reference was made to the lasting benefits of a male puberty: bone structure, muscle to fat ratio, height, strength, heart rate, lung capacity and all the rest. There are differences in socialisation and external pressures too when you grow up female. Women are not just men with reduced testosterone.

To add insult to injury we were presented with some quite offensive sexual stereotypes based on gendered expectations. We were invited to swoon over a picture of a transman athlete described by Harper as a ‘hunk’, and encouraged to find a transwoman more ‘feminine looking’ than the female athlete also pictured. Fallon Fox was shown standing next to a victorious opponent to suggest there was no advantage, and the difficulties of Hannah Mouncey’s career were described in full, without any mention that both these athletes had injured female opponents. Fox broke an opponent’s eye socket and Mouncey broke an opponent’s leg, but you wouldn’t know it from this lecture.

I attended the meeting in the company of three other feminists from the Brighton area: Ali Ceesay, Stephanie Davies-Arai and Sheila Jeffreys. After the presentation Sheila spoke first from the floor in the Q and A. Introducing herself as a political scientist she launched into a tirade of justified and righteous anger at the complete disregard for women’s rights we had just witnessed. The eloquence of Jeffreys’ fury was a joy to behold. Harper’s shocking response was to flounce. There is no other word for it. Harper ‘flounced’ to the far end of the stage and refused to answer any of the criticisms. Ali Ceesay then had a turn with the microphone, and she too was angry. She  challenged the scientific evidence used by Harper, giving an account of all the physiological differences which benefit all athletes who have been through male puberty. The response from Harper was the same as before: another flounce, another refusal to answer questions. It was quite extraordinary.

Stephanie Davies-Arai and I collared Professor Pitsiladis after the event to talk some more. Professor Pitsiladis was genuine in his desire to hear all sides of the argument and he gave us a lot of his time. He asked us to email him with all the important points we had made, and assured us our views would be taken into account. The points I made to the professor included a concern about male socialisation, which I repeated in my email:

“Further to this, your research into muscle memory was interesting, especially as regards the idea that strength training may have a lasting effect which could be beneficial in later life. You could look at gender in a similar way: that male socialisation and privilege provides men with a bank they can draw on, even after transition, which can give them confidence, a sense of entitlement and a drive to succeed – all attributes seen as natural for males but a little bit less attractive in females. I believe you cannot separate physical attributes of sporting achievement from psychological ones, and that to do so gives you an incomplete picture which favours trans identified males over females.”

Stephanie made the point that female athletes too have difficult choices to make:

“We are all adults, we all have to make choices and sacrifices in life. Some female athletes sacrifice motherhood in order to reach their potential in sport. Some sacrifice sport in order to have children. Some manage to do both, continuing in their sport after pregnancy and childbirth. Men do not face any of these choices or sacrifices. Why should a man who makes the decision to hormonally alter his body to superficially resemble a woman not be expected to make any sacrifice, but to in fact gain advantage in his sport? Clearly female athletes who make the same decision do make a sacrifice as they are unable to compete on a level playing field with men, so why is it that we must do everything we can to accommodate men, even to the extent of sacrificing women’s sport?”

Ali made the point in her email that trans inclusion will always mean women will lose out:

“With every inclusion of a transwoman athlete in sport, (despite the advantages listed above), she failed to acknowledge the experience of dedicated female athletes that missed out on their lifetime dream of competing in order to facilitate this. This is after all the reality: that every biological male competing professionally in a biological class to which they do not physiologically belong, takes the position and opportunity of a biological female.”

You can read the full text of all the emails sent to Professor Pitsiladis here: Helen Saxby  Stephanie Davies-Arai   Ali Ceesay

In contrast to Professor Pitsiladis’ openness to evidence and valid concerns, Joanna Harper just expressed shock that anyone could hold contrary opinions, and seemed to assume that we were transphobic for voicing them. When I subsequently found out the part Harper had played in IOC decision making, I was furious. I had expected that sport, with its wealth, its international power and its plethora of public regulating bodies, would have plenty of people at the top looking out for human rights in general and women’s rights in particular. I assumed scientific rigour would be sacrosanct. I was wrong on both counts. In a global industry which hardly seems to stop talking about doping, there was not one person who stood up for women’s sport when faced with the transgender agenda.

And now, in trans-friendly Brighton of all places, four women had.

The following month it was reported in Pink News that the IOC had changed its rules on testosterone levels, halving the limit to 5 nanomoles per litre.

Joanna Harper is now busy doing some not-so-subtle damage-limitation, possibly because the recent participation of elite sportswomen in the debate has highlighted how much public opinion is on the side of women’s sport. The Guardian article tries hard to present a voice of reason, and includes a claim to have petitioned on behalf of women in the IOC’s latest decision to halve the testosterone levels. The truth is different. Harper had no choice but to back down when faced with the depth and fury of feminist opposition. The impetus for the rethink, according to a source, was a direct result of the Brighton lecture and the response to it.

Who then really influenced the IOC? Was it a transgender athlete who has always campaigned for the inclusion of transwomen in women’s sports, at the expense of a level playing field for female athletes? Or was it in fact down to the righteous fury and concerted input of four fearsome feminists? My female socialisation (obviously) makes it difficult for me to blow my own trumpet, but on behalf of my three comrades in arms… Come on…

Credit where credit’s due.

I am Not and Have Never Been Gender Dysphoric

welding 001

There is an argument around the meaning and relevance of the term gender dysphoria since it has replaced ‘gender identity disorder’ in the medical literature. On the one hand there is a push to remove gender dysphoria from the list of necessary conditions to being assessed as transgender in law, but on the other hand the diagnosis is being jealously guarded by trans activists and allies. In summary the attitude seems to be ‘We may not need gender dysphoria anymore but you sure as hell aren’t going to have it either’. This plays out in the outrage shown towards two main groups of women: those who were tomboys as children and who therefore can see the dangers of extreme trans ideology in schools; and those who have teenage daughters who have suddenly become trans-identified with no warning, and who therefore can see the dangers of an ideology which is subject to social contagion.

So who is qualified or entitled to make a diagnosis of gender dysphoria? Gender dysphoria is defined on the NHS website as being ‘…a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there’s a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity’. This is sufficiently open to interpretation for many people to take a view on it. On Twitter recently, trans ally Dr Adrian Harrop admonished a woman for calling her early childhood experience ‘gender dysphoria’:

harrop tweet 2

In the same week US journalist Jesse Singal was dismissive of a woman who had written a post on the phenomenon of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, so-called because of the sudden onset of symptoms, usually in teenage girls. The mistake made by Abigail Shrier, according to Singal, was to listen to the mothers of the girls exhibiting these symptoms, and to believe them. Check out the derogatory use of the term ‘a bunch of mothers’.

jesse singaljesse singal 2

I would like to make it clear for my part that I am not, and have never been, gender dysphoric. Far be it from me to self-diagnose.

As a young child I felt like a boy. I rejected dolls. I had my hair cut short, I wore shorts and T shirts and I was mad about football. I played with Scalextric, I climbed trees, I set fire to old car tyres in the woods, I trespassed in other people’s back gardens, I went on adventures. I was not George from the Famous Five, who was just pretending to be a boy, I was William from Just William, or I was one of his Outlaws.

But I did not have gender dysphoria.

I called myself by a boy’s name, I wore boys’ clothes, I became a better football player than most of the boys in my school. One day we had a slideshow in class and one of the slides was of an abattoir. I exclaimed ‘I’d LOVE to visit an abattoir!’ and I expected the boys to agree with me and to look at me in admiration for being tough like them. But they didn’t: they, like the girls, looked at me in disgust. My attempt to perform masculinity had failed. I am still embarrassed, looking back.

I never had gender dysphoria though.

I hated women. Women were weak and pathetic, I was never going to grow up into one of them. I thumped my chest to try to stop any breasts growing. As I reached adolescence I despised the girls in my class who wanted to have babies. I had no maternal instinct whatsoever. Suddenly I was expected to behave ‘like a young lady’ (by my parents) but also to be ‘sexy’ (by my peer group). I developed eating disorders: anorexia and then bulimia. One of my sisters, meeting me off the train, exclaimed when she saw me ‘Oh my God, you’ve got no thighs!’ My other sister when she saw me undress, said ‘You look like a Biafran’. I felt validated. Inside I was Johnny Ramone: now my thighs finally agreed. My periods stopped.

But I didn’t have gender dysphoria.

At art college I learned how to weld. When I put in my order for my own portable arc welder, I was told by the tutor in the sculpture department that I could always swap it for a sewing machine when I left college. After college I got a City and Guilds qualification in Light Fabrication and Welding. At my first job interview I was told welding wasn’t for girls: ‘What if the sparks flew down your top and burned your tits?’ At my second attempt I got a job in a garage but finally left after inadvertently setting fire to a Volkswagen. I learned later that due to the fire risk a welder would always be accompanied by a fire-watcher when welding the underside of a car, but that none of the men who worked there had bothered to inform me or to volunteer. I left because of the humiliation, and the realisation I would never be allowed to fit in.

I was very depressed at this point. I was diagnosed with a depressive illness, and sent for counselling. I still didn’t have gender dysphoria.

Shulamith Firestone in ‘The Dialectic of Sex’ explains the Freudian Elektra Complex in  terms of feminist theory, and examines the pressure on girls to simultaneously identify with the mother and to resist ending up like the mother. This observation about the female child hits home:

This is why she is so encouraged to play with dolls, to ‘play house’, to be pretty and attractive. It is hoped that she will not be one of those to fight off her role till the last minute. It is hoped she will slip into it early, by persuasion, artificially, rather than by necessity; that the abstract promise of a baby will be enough of a lure to substitute for that exciting world of ‘travel and adventure’.

I was one of those girls, like many others, to ‘fight off her role’. The insights of radical feminist and psychological theory would have been more useful in this situation than a gender ideology which places ‘gender’ as an innate quality rather than an outside pressure. Schools do not teach feminist or psychological theory but they do now teach gender ideology from an early age, via trans groups like Mermaids, Stonewall, Allsorts and Gendered Intelligence. If  Mermaids had been around in my childhood, visiting schools with their GI Joe and Barbie gender spectrum theories, I know I would have identified almost 100% with GI Joe, and rejected Barbie in disgust.

the gender spectrum

But still, I know I was not gender dysphoric.

What I also know is that if I had been told at the time that it was possible to have been ‘born in the wrong body’, that my identification with GI Joe (or Just William) meant that inside I might actually be a boy, I would have jumped at the chance to ‘change sex’. It would be like a dream come true: to continue to wear comfortable clothes and have a practical haircut, and to have my skill at football be a positive thing rather than a threat, and to make everybody call me by my boy’s name. Wow! What if that were possible? What power! What excitement! I didn’t want children anyway.

That is how I would have felt as a child.

Trans activists seem to be very angry at the notion that any old tomboy back in the day might have identified as trans given half a chance. This is especially odd considering the current push for self-ID, a notion that the only criteria for a trans identification should be self-declaration. Alongside the claim that a diagnosis of gender dysphoria should no longer be a pre-requisite for trans status, it is strange to see trans activists gatekeeping so furiously. But still, if a doctor can tell a woman she is wrong about her own self-diagnosis on the basis of a couple of tweets, self-ID is obviously not for everyone.

I often see trans activists and allies dismissing the views of women because they are not trans: saying that women who are mothers or lesbians or who used to be tomboys, can have no insight into what the trans experience feels like. But if experiential knowledge is so revered, then my area of expertise tells me a lot about the pitfalls of growing up female in a male-centred world: about body dysmorphia, eating disorders, risk-taking, addiction, self-harming, depression. Teenage coping strategies such as these are being dismissed and minimised if a confusion with gender identity is also present, and it is the trans lobby groups that have successfully pushed for this. My problems as a teenage girl and young adult would have all been swept up as one under gender ideology, much like consolidating a loan. Neat and tidy. One problem instead of six. I would have loved that. It is often said that you can’t make a child trans, as if the concept of being born in the wrong body is a benign idea with no potential to influence or inform. I disagree: I think you can make a child believe they are trans, and that it’s quite simple to do: just make sure all the adults in a child’s world are singing from the same hymn sheet, and ensure there is no access to a different viewpoint. Again, the trans lobby groups have been quite successful at this.

But I did not suffer from gender dysphoria as a child. (Am I allowed to say that?)

What I believe I did suffer from was the confusion that comes from heavily proscribed gender roles and an inability to escape them. Without any consciousness of the larger patterns at work, I was attempting, like many girls, to shift huge weighty blocks of patriarchy all by myself, without any tools. Forcing a way around one block would only ensure another one would heave into view. A good example is culture: it wasn’t much use to me to reject the messages of the popular culture of the time and run full-tilt from Benny Hill, only to find myself slap bang in the middle of the literary clutches of Henry Miller. When gendered expectations are shored up and policed by both individual men and wider institutions, they become nearly impossible to escape. I didn’t know this when I was young. I just thought I was a bit shit.

It is not just a question of being a ‘tomboy’ with a ‘preference’ for masculine things, it can be in some cases a deep identification. Without the perspective of life experience to draw on, or the insights of a feminist analysis, a personal sense of wrongness, felt by many children who don’t fit in, can easily be mistaken for something else. The insistence of trans lobby groups, that affirmation of a child’s self-belief is the only appropriate treatment for a child identifying as the opposite sex, is in fact a belief that children like me should have been diagnosed as trans. An updated Memorandum of Understanding informs all health professionals in the UK that to explore the underlying reasons for a child’s gender confusion is akin to gay conversion therapy. I’m quite pleased looking back that my parents and teachers largely left me alone.

Here is Shulamith Firestone again:

…she rejects everything identified with her mother, ie servility and wiles, the psychology of the oppressed, and imitates doggedly everything she has seen her brother do that gains for him the kind of freedom and approval she is seeking. (Notice I do not say she pretends masculinity. These traits are not sexually determined). But though she tries desperately to gain her father’s favour by behaving more and more in the manner in which he has openly encouraged her brother to behave, it doesn’t work for her.

If we take the brother in this passage to symbolise boys, and the father to symbolise men, it sums up the problem facing girls as they grow up, which for some will result in a male identification of one kind or another. If society does not provide enough of an alternative narrative for girls, it is more difficult to escape the unwanted fate up ahead. I grew up to a backdrop of Benny Hill and Page 3, which was bad enough, but today’s girls grow up to a backdrop of airbrushed perfection, social media and porn culture. There is a crisis in girls’ mental health in the UK, at the same time as an unprecedented rise in the number of girls identifying as boys.

The dehumanisation of girls is made worse by trans culture. Girls can no longer talk about their own bodies or ask for their own safety, privacy and dignity to be respected, for fear of not being ‘inclusive’ enough. Ubiquitous adult porn tells them they are nothing but fuck holes, Teen Vogue calls them ‘vagina-havers’ and ‘non-prostate owners’, trans culture tells them they have a ‘front hole’. Inclusive trans-friendly language means being referred to as bleeders, menstruators, cervix-owners, uterus-havers, egg-producers and non-men. In a masterclass of lack-of-empathy from the Allsorts trans toolkit, in an attempt to cast them as the oppressors of teenage boys, girls are referred to as ‘cis-gendered females’. The problem for girls is not that they identify as boys but that they identify as human in a world which treats women as less than human. When default human equals male, this can sometimes look like the same thing.

My experience of mental health problems as a teenager and young adult may well have looked very much like gender dysphoria to a teacher or counsellor subject to the influence of today’s ‘trans-awareness training’ as delivered by Mermaids, Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence, Allsorts and others. I would certainly have been ready to be convinced. In the despair and isolation I felt at being unable to ‘be who I really was’ in the world in which I found myself, a trans diagnosis would have provided welcome relief from crippling self-blame. I really really wanted ‘all the answers’, lots of young people do. Adults jumping in with ‘answers’ which involve a lifetime of synthetic hormones and medication, surgery, decreased sexual function, and infertility, are not always what young people need, especially as there is so little long-term evidence of the benefits.

It would appear from the evidence that fewer women transition than men, fewer women than men reach middle age and ‘realise’ they have always been the opposite sex, more women than men believe they may have been ‘transed’ mistakenly had trans ideology been around in their childhood, and within the growing detransitioning community there are more females than males. And yet, despite this, there is suddenly an explosion in the number of girls transitioning, and a whole new phenomenon of late-transitioning teenage girls, which has been labelled Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria. Coincidentally, we have had a decade or so of trans teaching materials and toolkits in schools. It is surely possible that mistakes are being made.

I am not and have never been gender dysphoric.

But trans lobby groups themselves are saying gender dysphoria is no longer necessary to being trans. I might have been, and could have been, diagnosed as trans. Stonewall et al insist that trans people are trans whether or not they have gender dysphoria, or hormones, or surgery, or any kind of treatment at all, at the same time as insisting hormone treatment for children must be started as soon as possible. Trans is now supposedly an identity, relying solely on the say-so of the person concerned. If I had been presented with the option as a child, I may well have self-diagnosed as trans. If I had been encouraged to believe there could be a different sex inside than the one on the outside, it would have made sense to me. It will currently be making sense to many young people. Children are suggestible, and troubled children more so.

In September 2018 Penny Mordaunt announced an inquiry into the sudden rise in the numbers of girls transitioning in the UK. There has been no further update on this inquiry or its methods, but it is essential that this time, unlike the 2015 Trans Inquiry, women are listened to. Trans people may be the experts on trans experience, but women are the experts on female experience, and we are the ones who know best, often through difficult personal experience, all the many reasons why girls today might strongly resist the process of becoming adult human females.