Twins Rights are Human Rights

I set up the Rad Twin Twitter account in the summer of 2015 in order to illuminate the increasingly outrageous demands of transactivist lobby groups.The point was to be funny whilst doing it, and it was easy: there was so much material to send up: an embarrassment of riches. I shared the password with my twin sister so we could amuse eachother by trying to outdo the other in how outrageously serious we could be in our quest for ‘twins rights.’ In the intervening years the situation depicted by the demands of the ‘twinnywinnies’ has so nearly come to pass that it is sadly no longer funny. There is nowhere to go with this satire. Completely ridiculous demands, such as that twins be allowed to play in goal together in football, or ride a tandem in cycling (because there is #NoAdvantage), no longer work as parody in the era of Laurel Hubbard, Lia Thomas and Emily Bridges.

Along with the decrease in hilarity, ‘trans rights’ have become so divorced from reality and so demanding that, well, ‘twins rights’ start to look like not such a wild idea after all. The comparison between twins and trans is not purely one of alliteration. It can be used to look at the line between a minority group’s expectation that society attempts to accommodate them and their particular needs, and the need to take personal responsibility for your own challenges.

Twins are one of the last minority populations in the world which haven’t yet had a progressive movement dedicated to them, despite the outrageous singleton-normativity of everyday culture and society. Around 1% of the global population is twins, and about a third of these are identical or monozygotic twins. The population is bigger if you include all multiple births, but in any case the size of the identical twin population is roughly comparable to the estimated trans population, at 0.3%. Despite this, sadly, nobody has ever designed us our own flag. Like the trans population, the twins population is growing. The choice of many mothers to delay childbirth, coupled with the rise in the use of IVF treatments, has led to more multiple births, including fraternal twins, triplets and larger multiples. The monozygotic twin population remains stable though, as it is unaffected by either of these trends. (Clearly we are the really special ones…)

Twins are uniquely placed to understand people with gender dysphoria because there is a surprisingly large overlap of concerns. The first and most fundamental is the issue of identity. For people with gender dysphoria it is well-documented that an internal sense of self is experienced as being at odds with the outward body, and that this is interpreted as being about gender. A congruent sense of identity is therefore lost, and whatever your political beliefs about sex and gender, this is undoubtedly a painful and sometimes unbearable experience for a small number of people. We may disagree politically about the best treatment, whether psychological or medical, but the fact remains that it becomes untenable to stay as you are. As a twin, identity is also at the forefront of mental health concerns, although it’s only conjoined twins for whom surgery is an option. The rest of us have to make do with mental health services which have no specialist training and treat twins as if they were the same as two singletons. For some twins the enmeshing of identities is so impossible to live with that the only answer is estrangement. Identical twins will move to the opposite ends of the earth to escape one another and attempt to get away from the insurmountable identity problems which being a twin engenders. It’s really not the same as being two singletons.

The problem for many trans people is that if you don’t pass as the sex you feel you are inside, random strangers are liable to ‘misgender’ you in the street. I understand the pain of being reminded, everywhere you go, of an identity which isn’t yours and which you may have rejected. However, the notion of gender is only one aspect of your identity as a human being, so, however distressing it is, it cannot be quite as annihilating as having your whole identity mistaken over and over again, so that it is your whole person which gets obliterated, not just one aspect of it. Rad Twin would surely claim that twins have it worse. If only we had one of those lovely activist groups working on our behalf, then calling a person by the name of their twin sister would be a hate crime by now, and half the attendees of the Women’s Liberation Conference 2020 would have a criminal record.

The popular image of twins, particularly children, is mischievous, naughty and cute, which makes it difficult to see a different picture or to get across the downside. To twins themselves growing up, it’s a form of brainwashing. With any other marginalised community we might call it ‘stereotype threat’. So pervasive is the public perception that it seems almost churlish to disabuse anyone of their belief that being a twin is nothing more than having a best friend for life and who wouldn’t want that? Trans people might set great store by their inner ‘identity’ but what if there is no individual inner identity to defend? Brought up on Bill and Ben, Pinky and Perky and Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and dressed identically throughout childhood, it is clear to an identical twin right from the start that the only identity available is as part of a unit. We never hear about Bill, Pinky or Tweedledee on their own. Even the thought of it is slightly embarrassing, somehow inappropriate. So strong is this indoctrination that twins themselves can find it too threatening to contemplate. And don’t even start me on pronouns. Insisting on other people referring to you as she/her is the height of singleton privilege when your pronouns have been they/them for as long as you can remember, entirely without your choosing.

Today’s emphasis on being your ‘true authentic self’ presupposes there is a true authentic self to be. To an extent everybody’s sense of self is a work in progress, but as an identical twin, born and raised as a unit of two, the notion of an authentic self is in itself a prime example of something only singletons can take for granted. Popular psychology in the form of magazine articles, books and agony columns have never been any use to twins, with their emphasis on being ‘who you really are’ and their insistence that you are unique, there is only one you and therefore you should strive to be yourself rather than copying anyone else. Comparing yourself to others, or the belief that you are being compared, is written into the DNA of identical twins, it’s not a choice. Academic psychology fares no better and has little to say about twins. Some of the more established developmental theories, such as attatchment theory, fail to take into account the developmental repercussions of attachment to a twin as well as to the mother. It’s possible that twins develop differently to singletons. Seeking to understand yourself as a twin, you will find there is no informed help out there. Somewhat ironically, if you’re experiencing problems, you’re on your own.

Media representation is a constant bugbear which trans groups campaign about. Just as transsexual males have often in the past been the butt of jokes, identical twins are usually portrayed as a bit of a lightweight gimmick. When twins are not an amusing novelty they are invariably a sinister threat. We go straight from The Shining to Jedward, with very little in between. Trans groups have complained about the lack of trans actors playing trans roles in films and TV but this is nothing compared to the habit of using one actor to portray both twins, such as Tom Hardy playing both the Kray twins in Legend or Lisa Kudrow playing Phoebe’s twin sister in Friends. The lazy cliche of interchangability makes for entertaining viewing, but it is the source of existential crisis for real twins. The most recent culprit was the Norwegian drama series Twin, which not only used the same actor for both twins, but had a storyline which suggested that an identical twin is so identical that even their own families would not be able to tell the difference. This is a completely unrealistic and gimmicky stereotype, but at the same time it is the stuff of nightmares for twins. What is the point of your existence if you are so completely interchangeable with someone else? I don’t know why it isn’t taken more seriously, but it isn’t. People just find it entertaining.

The publishing industry, under great pressure from trans lobby groups and allies, has greatly increased its representation of trans people’s lives, both in children’s literature and books for adults. The same attention is not given to twins. I grew up with old-fashioned stereotypes such as Enid Blyton’s The Twins at St Clares, with its twin-based pranks and mischief. As an adult I progressed on to the casual bigotry of books like Dostoevsky’s The Double:

“Good people live honestly, good people live without any faking, and they never come double.”

The blatant twinsphobia here remains unchallenged to this day and the Society of Authors does nothing.

In representation more broadly twins remain marginalised. Whereas trans people are gaining a higher profile in politics and journalism, twins remain largely unrepresented, apart from in entertainment, where acts such as Bros, the Proclaimers and Jedward capitalise on their USP. The politicians Angela and Maria Eagle are the only twins in public life in the UK who buck the trend. There are no specialist twins groups in political parties, nor even specialist NHS groups or counselling organisations. If you try to find twins support groups you will find many groups designed to support parents of twins and the odd ‘lone twin’ group for people who have suffered a twin bereavement, but nothing for adult twins living in a world made for singletons. You might come across TwinsUK though, which uses twins for research and are therefore the experts, but you will find they have no interest in research which benefits twins themselves, or support for twins or any knowledge of where to look for it. There is a long and disturbing history of twins being exploited for research, and the modern manifestation is obviously benign by comparison. If you have voluntarily contributed to this research there is nothing to complain about, but still it niggles that there is not more recognition in the scientific community that twins themselves might benefit from different areas of research, and that twins too are important. It is still almost impossible to find any quantative data on twins as a distinct demographic.

There has been a recent social media controversy over the role of trans people in the Holocaust: were trans people targetted in the same way that homosexuals were, or were some of the Nazi officers themselves cross-dressers or possibly transsexual? There may be evidence on both sides, but in general the re-writing of ‘trans history’ has been criticised by women’s and gay rights groups, as more and more historical figures have been retrospectively transed despite a lack of evidence. There is no such need to embroider the truth in the history of twins. It is well known that twins were used for medical experiments in the concentration camp at Auschwitz, and uncontestable that social experiments in the fifties and sixties resulted in the deliberate splitting-up of twins and triplets so they could unknowingly form part of research projects. If the definition of oppression is the exploitation of a class of people for the gain of another class, then twins have a realistic claim on a society which has exploited their unique genetic inheritance more or less from the time it stopped killing them at birth. The benefit to singletons has been immense, from medicine to the social sciences to psychology, everyone benefits from experiments on twins and research projects featuring twins. You would have to look a long time before you found a project designed to benefit twins themselves. Nor is there a Twins Day of Remembrance to honour those lost.

Trans rights groups are always banging on about pronouns. Words conventionally used to denote sex are being repurposed to represent gender, for the benefit of 0.3% of the population. The demand that people put their pronouns in their email signatures or Twitter bios is defended as a nod to the idea that we cannot always tell someone’s ‘gender’ from their name or appearance, whereas in reality of course we can tell someone’s sex with almost unerring accuracy. This is an unrealistic expectation of the majority. In my quest for my twin identity to be always recognised and honoured I could claim that nobody’s ‘number identity’ should be assumed on a first meeting and that therefore it should become normalised to ask every new aquaintance whether or not they are a twin. Singleton status should not be the default because it ‘others’ those of us who are twins. (I think that this was in fact one of the first demands of Rad Twin on Twitter, and, rather winningly, some of our early allies agreed to it…)

The damage done to minority groups through misrepresentation and marginalisation can be serious. To some extent we are all subject to the pressures of the perceived ‘normality’ of the majority. Minority groups deserve advocacy and deserve to be seen. The reality though is that the majority will always be the default setting, and however hard it is, minority groups cannot expect to become the default themselves. At best they can become more visible and more people will understand them and treat them well. The fun of Rad Twin was in imagining a world where twins became the majority voice in all policies and public discourse. It was funny because it was ridiculous. And this is where I part company with the demands of extreme trans rights groups, who cannot see how unrealistic it is to expect that everybody else resets their instinctual and very human propensity to see and respond to averages and patterns, in favour of the demands of outliers. In reality nobody can live like that. It can be difficult to live as a twin in a non-twin world but the non-twin world is never going to prioritise twinship for my benefit and I wouldn’t presume to demand it. There comes a point where having your every demand indulged only serves to infantalise and you have to learn to stand on your own two feet. Or four.

Being part of a minority group can be a lonely place to be. If you have basic human rights which protect you from discrimination, and support groups which advocate for these rights, then the law on its own cannot do much else for you. It is up to you to find the support you need and to advocate for services particular to your needs and to encourage education which will help with other people’s understanding so that you can live amongst the majority without too much friction. Any more than that and you enter a realm of unrealistic and sometimes ridiculous demands which only serve to alienate well-meaning bystanders who have concerns of their own which they may need to prioritise. Demanding that everybody else must change their language for your benefit or that children must be taught your feelings as fact is a step too far. No amount of empathic understanding warrants the world being turned upside down to benefit one tiny group of people at any other groups’ expense.

To illustrate the point you only have to think about all the identical twins you know, or have ever known in your whole lifetime. Then imagine that all the language you use to describe yourself has to be changed just to keep this tiny group of people happy, and that every new person you meet is just as likely to be a twin as not and you have to check this with them every time before you can even address them. You might begin to feel this is disproportionate, and that’s before we even get to the bit where you have to lose your safe spaces and sports. My sympathy diminishes even more when the ‘gender dysphoria’ part of being trans gets taken out of the equation, as has been lobbied for by all the organisations fighting for ‘self-ID’. Natural empathy for existential identity distress is impossible to extend to the fetishists and fakers now welcomed under the trans umbrella.

Twins of course are not usually beaten up for being twins (except for that one time in primary school when the local thug just didn’t like the look of us…) and we can always pass as singletons if we keep out of eachother’s way. Even Rad Twin would stop short of demanding that twins become a protected characteristic in the Equality Act. Some sensitivity in media representation and entertainment would be accomodating though, and whilst not asking for a 46-page school twins toolkit to explain us to the educational community, some early years policies in education could be of benefit, if only to counteract the ubiquity of the doppelganger myths and cliches identical twins have to grow up with, and to facilitate more understanding from normal people.

In case it seems like I’m complaining, I should make it clear that being an identical twin is obviously the best thing ever. #TwinsIsBeautiful as they say on Twitter (or something like that). You singletons don’t know what you’re missing: for me, life is unimaginable without a twin sister to share it with. The downside though can be brutal. So although the popular conception of twins can sometimes match the reality, it’s not always as much fun as it looks being born in two bodies.

Rad Twin though: that was fun while it lasted 😉

The Theft of Women

The failure of politicians to define the word ‘woman’ is getting ridiculous. Keir Starmer is the latest to fumble the question and all the most recent examples are Labour MPs, but plenty of other parties have a similar woman problem: the Green Party resorts to calling us non-men, Layla Moran of the LibDems thinks you have to be able to see souls in order to differentiate between men and women and Lorna Slater of the Scottish Greens believes that merely asking the question constitutes a ‘transphobic dog whistle’.

The reason that it has become impossible to voice a truth which to most people is self-evident, is to do with the basic aims of the transgender lobby and the need to obfuscate these aims. If we go back for a minute to when we all shared a common language around sex and everybody knew what everybody else was talking about (I date this at around 2015) it becomes clear that the political aims of the trans lobby risked being unpalatable to the general public. These aims, in plain language, were to ensure that some men could access spaces and facilities set aside for women. This was not necessarily, of itself, nefarious. An argument could be made for the accommodation of a tiny number of dysphoric males who wished to live as closely as possible in a gender role normally thrust on women. This argument had in fact already been made (and it led to the Gender Recognition Act of 2004) but with the proviso that there would be exceptions to the rule of inclusion in areas where it mattered most to women.

Some feminists completely disagreed with this Act from the start and have argued that the ‘legal fiction’ created has been responsible for subsequent raids on women’s rights. They might be right, but at least there was a recognition of why women needed single-sex rights in the first place, and there was an attempt to balance the needs of one community with those of another. And, as stated, the numbers were expected to be tiny. It’s worth mentioning here that the reason there is not the same scrutiny on the word ‘man’ is that it was always women who were expected to have to give something up for the accommodation of trans people, and the reason for this is that traditionally trans people were predominantly male. The GRA uses the word ‘transsexual’ and a transsexual was commonly seen as a man who wanted to present as a woman. It is close to the word ‘transvestite’ in the popular imagination, and not without reason: a joke in the trans community itself goes: ‘What’s the difference between a transvestite and a transsexual? Answer: Three years’. The tiny number of females expected to apply for a GRC was not exactly ignored – the issue of primogeniture was legislated for so that no woman could ‘identify’ into an inheritance – loopholes were quickly closed for women seeking to personally benefit, because obviously it was women, not men, who were seen as inherently untrustworthy and likely to take advantage of the new law.

Because it was stressed at the time that the GRA created a ‘legal fiction’ we still understood all the sex words to mean what they had always meant, even though a small number of people might be allowed to live outside them. The Equality Act of 2010 made ‘gender reassignment’ a protected characteristic, and language began to get a bit muddier at this point with the conflation of sex and gender. ‘Sex’ though, was still a protected characteristic and everyone still knew what it meant. Women in the Act were defined as ‘females of any age’ and men were defined as ‘males of any age’. Politicians were not expected to define women back then: we still enjoyed a definition of our sex class which came under the banner of self-evident facts.

What changed in 2015 was the first Trans Inquiry and Stonewall. This was when trans activism began to get aggressive. Stonewall leant publicity and weight to the existing trans groups like Gendered Intelligence and GIRES, and new language began creeping into the mainstream. The reality of what was being demanded was hidden right from the start: it was recognised as impossible to get away with redefining ‘women-only’ to ‘women (and-a-few-men)-only’ when it came to women’s spaces. The repercussions of allowing males into the female category were predictably full of risk, and any debate on the subject would have exposed this immediately, so the answer was to never express it that way in the first place. Instead, the pretence was that something else was being asked for. The era of ‘transwomen are women’ was ushered in, alongside a campaign of harassment against anyone who disagreed. Stonewall wrote on a T shirt ‘Some people are trans. Get over it’ because they couldn’t put on a T shirt ‘Some men are women. Get over it’ although that’s exactly what they meant. The public might find it hard to accept that ‘some men are women’ but might possibly accept that ‘some people are trans’ because the meaning of that is never defined.

Trans in any case began to mean something entirely different to the popular perception: it was no longer confined to a small community of gender dysphoric males but became an umbrella term for a much wider group of people. A semi-magical ‘inner essence’ called ‘gender identity’ was suddenly expected to do the job of describing the experience of everyone from fetishistic middle-aged men to young girls rejecting the Insta/porn backdrop to their adolescence and deciding to opt out of womanhood. It would stretch any ideology to encompass the huge variety of experience under this new definition and that is why we need all those 46-page trans toolkits in our schools to explain it all. The language has to be tortured into new shapes to accommodate the new ideology, and every time a sex-based word is redefined a whole slew of words has to follow suit in order for the ideology to stay coherent.

If ‘women’ for example now means adults of both male and female varieties, then ‘lesbian’ now has to mean a male or female person who fancies another male or female person.

The change in sex-based language is crucial for the trans project. Without it we would be forced to confront the reality that a man (in old money) is breaking all the women’s records in U Penn swimming in the US, that sexually-offending men are being allowed in to women’s prisons and that a man is now the CEO of Edinburgh Rape Crisis. We would be forced to acknowledge that ‘gender-neutral’ toilets and changing rooms are in fact ‘mixed sex’ and that girls are being forced to change alongside boys. We would be faced with the fact that a man is now permitted access to any women-only facility he chooses, on his say-so alone, and that there is nothing we can do about it. The change in the meaning of words deliberately obscures what is happening on the ground. We’ve been had.

All this is because trans groups refuse to have an honest debate over which males, if any, can be allowed to access women’s spaces. To be fair, if they had asked us nicely in the first place we would probably have said no to all of them. The risk is too great and the gatekeeping would be impossible. We might have talked about it first, we might have been open to debate, but at the end of the day we would have said no. I think they knew this, so instead of being open in making their case and trying to persuade us, they went for a pre-emptive strike on our language instead, to get in by the back door as it were, and in order to reinforce their defences they instigated a hate campaign against those of us who noticed. This is what led directly to the toxic fight over the meaning of words and particularly the meaning of the word ‘woman’.

In the early days (by which I mean 2011 or thereabouts) there was robust feminist argument over the importance of our language, and to be fair there were some mixed opinions. Some thought that we could concede the word ‘woman’ to trans-identified males because we had the word ‘female’ to fall back on when we needed to differentiate. How naïve that seems now. Not only has the word ‘female’ been taken too, but every single sex-based word needed to describe and protect women’s rights has been requisitioned. All the words we need in order to differentiate between men and women have become verboten, to the point that we can no longer complain about a ‘man’ or even a ‘male’ winning a women’s swimming race without a collective gasp of outrage (a ‘Buttergasp’ if you will), and the possibility of loss of work, public condemnation or at the very least a Twitter ban.

Shifting the meaning of words in this way is clever: it has only taken a few short years for everything sex-based to become transphobic. Calling a ‘transwoman’ a ‘man’ is transphobic, calling a ‘transwoman’ a ‘male’ is transphobic, so the only word left is ‘trans’ and it’s clearly transphobic to reference someone’s trans status. It doesn’t matter how many times we say we wish to exclude ‘males’ rather than ‘trans people’ from women-only spaces – ALL our language is now deemed transphobic.

Redefining women sneaks men in without anybody noticing, but it’s a dirty trick and we have definitely noticed. Real life is not semantics and in real life everybody knows what a woman is and everybody who pretends they don’t is lying. Lying and trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes is not the way to go about fighting for anyone’s human rights, even if you’re a politician, a journalist or a celebrity wishing to be on-message.

The real reason the ‘woman question’ is asked of MPs is not just as a gotcha (although it is that too) but because it is a test of honesty and integrity. We know they know what a woman is, they know we know they know what a woman is. It is clear to everyone what a woman is. If anyone is prepared to lie about this very simple question which is fundamental to women’s rights, then they are not to be trusted with much else. Different political views and different priorities regarding human rights are to be expected, but lying so brazenly and openly because of a not so hidden agenda is just insulting. Politicians who do this expose themselves as having no argument at all. Rather than trying to persuade us with a reasoned thought-out case for male inclusion in every area of life fenced off for women, they rely on a non-argument which goes like this: ‘We have redefined women to include men’.

Well women aren’t having it. We know who we are, we’re proud of what we are, and we’re currently to be found on a hill somewhere, with JK Rowling, having a party.

The EHRC Listens to Women

The Equality and Human Rights Commission published two statements this week, regarding the reform of the Gender Recognition Act in Scotland and the government consultation on the draft conversion therapy bill. Their stance basically boils down to the urging of caution and the recommendation that more discussion is needed in order to make sure that everyone’s rights are taken into account. Nevertheless, it has resulted in a tsunami of hyperbole from trans activist groups and allies.

Mermaids called it ‘a shameful act of trans exclusion’ and ‘a systemic oppression of the trans community.’ Stonewall says it is an ‘attack on trans equality’ and moreover the statements ‘seek to exclude trans people from improved rights and protections’. Gendered Intelligence goes further: ‘Their guidance suggests that abuse is ok as long as it’s happening to trans people.’ Pride Cymru called it an ‘ill-informed and dangerous transphobic stance.’

The EHRC’s crime, according to trans ally Maggie Chapman MSP on Radio 4’s Today programme, is that it has paid attention to people who are ‘transphobic or misinformed’. Stonewall blames ‘a noisy minority of anti-trans activists’, Pride Cymru said the EHRC had ‘endorsed dog-whistle transphobia’, LGBTQ Labour refer to a ‘moral panic…which has created a deeply hostile environment for trans and non-binary people’ and Mermaids accuses the EHRC of being ‘captured by anti-trans rhetoric.’ Owen Jones claims the EHRC have made a ‘public U-turn on trans rights.’

This is familiar language to the women who have been fighting to get their voices heard for over a decade. Those wild accusations against a human rights body, simply for doing its job properly and considering the rights of every protected group equally, echo the abuse directed at women over the years for defending women’s rights as they currently stand. Being accused of hatred and bigotry isn’t much fun and can have an impact on work and friendships and mental health, but most of all it distracts from the real issues and puts off anybody else thinking of having an opinion. That’s partly the point of course.

It is ironic to all the women involved in grassroots organising, that the very groups who have had the ear of the EHRC and the Government Equalities Office for so long, and have kept feminists out by a strategy of smear tactics and #NoDebate, are now the ones to be so upset that things aren’t going completely their way. They have become used to being consulted on ‘trans issues’ exclusively and are now outraged that it’s not just them anymore. It must be awful for them.

Stonewall et al have never engaged with the evidence from women’s rights campaigners and they have never expressed any concern at all that the changes they are lobbying for could have a negative impact on any other protected group. They are not interested in a ‘balance of rights.’ They have expected legislators to share their uncompromising stance, and largely their expectations have been met.

Back in 2015 when the Women and Equalities Select Committee held the first Trans Inquiry, not many people outside of the trans community were even aware that it was happening. Feminists who had been following the legislation closely for years nevertheless contributed a significant number of submissions to the inquiry. The pattern was set by that inquiry: no women’s groups were invited to give verbal evidence, trans issues were only to be discussed by trans people and there was to be no debate. Debate became a dirty word, equivalent to genocide: feminists who wanted to talk about women’s rights were accused of debating trans people’s right to exist. Maria Miller set the ball rolling in smearing ‘purported feminists’ as being legitimate targets for abuse, the Trans Report was a wholly biased document, skewed towards trans demands at the expense of women’s existing rights, and Gendered Intelligence were promptly hired to write the GEO Trans Guide for Service Providers. It all seemed to be neatly sewn up.

Feminists though are a determined bunch.

By the time of the GRA Consultation of 2018 there was a huge groundswell of grassroots women’s groups who were well-educated on the issues and informed of exactly what was at stake. The word had to be spread on social media and in private networks because there were no established women’s organisations mobilising support and there was very little balanced media coverage to alert women to the assault on their rights. Not even Woman’s Hour would touch the subject until the day before the public consultation closed. A small number of journalists and broadcasters had nevertheless begun to turn the tide in the media and the voices of women could no longer be so easily ignored – this time women were invited to give evidence, both written and then in verbal evidence sessions at the GEO. It was still a hostile environment: questions were like accusations, we were on the back foot from the start. The picture painted by trans activists over the years had clearly had an influence: we were not just giving evidence, we were having to defend ourselves from the outset.

A couple of years later a similar tone of hostility can be witnessed in the 2020 WESC Inquiry into the Reform of the GRA: women were being invited into a discussion which concerned their rights, but not, it seems, as equals. The impression was that women’s motives were still not to be trusted. The degree of respect afforded to the trans witnesses, even down to using their titles in the introductions, was not afforded to the female witnesses, despite their academic qualifications and articulate arguments.

Throughout all the political engagement over the years, women have been at a disadvantage: the disadvantage that comes from somebody else having got there first and laid the groundwork for the tone of the debate. Women were deliberately kept out of the process, then reluctantly admitted, then eventually grudgingly listened to. Behind the scenes women have been gathering evidence, conducting research and raising awareness. The landscape of feminist activism has completely changed since trans lobbyists first started calling us ‘transphobic bigots in need of education’ all those years ago. Many more specialist grassroots groups have grown up through local networks: groups of parents and teachers, academics, LGB people, lawyers, medical professionals, politicians of all parties, therapists, detransitioners, sports professionals – any area where the chilling effect of gender ideology has been making an adverse impact on other people’s rights. The level of education around the issues has skyrocketed but the insults and abuse have strangely remained the same.

The purpose of trans rights hyperbole is to smear the opposition and close down their arguments, but it’s looking now as if they may have overplayed their hand. Public institutions, including government departments, have recently been leaving the Stonewall Diversity Scheme and finding that the world hasn’t come to an end. The EHRC itself left the scheme last year and it’s hard not to suppose that this has had an impact on their current stance. There is a sense that the stranglehold on public opinion is lessening.

The length of time it has taken for women’s rights to be considered in this debate has been frequently frustrating, but in one sense it has benefited the case being made. The more time that it takes, the more examples come to light, not just from the UK but from all over the world, which illustrate the unintended but highly predictable consequences of legislation which makes sex a matter of personal choice rather than a material reality. Well publicised stories of males winning women’s swimming races, males assaulting women in prison, academics being hounded out of university careers, and many others, just keep coming. No wonder the EHRC’s call for ‘more consultation’ has sent the trans lobby groups into such a tailspin.

It’s tiresome and predictable that once again their reaction to this perceived setback is to insult and threaten not just the people that the EHRC have listened to, but now the EHRC itself. As a handful of the UK’s trans organisations threaten to pull out of the government’s LGBT Safe to be Me conference this summer, Stonewall call on the UN to ‘urgently review’ the EHRC and Gendered Intelligence threaten to ‘cut ties’ with the EHRC (Which begs the question ‘What ties?’) the pressure is clearly on. To those of us who have seen it all before it looks a lot like sour grapes.

Bullying tactics such as these aim to shame and discredit everyone into silence, but it hasn’t worked on feminists, and we’ve been putting up with this for years. It’s taken a huge amount of work, determination and courage and some individual women have paid a considerable personal price. Let’s hope the EHRC shows as much bottle.

Who’s Been Bullying our Prisons?

Originally published on Medium on September 12th 2018

In a Guardian report about the conviction of male transgender prisoner and rapist Karen White for sexual offences against female prisoners, Frances Crook, CEO of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said this:

“It is a very toxic debate, but I think prisons have probably been influenced by some of the extreme conversations and have been bullied into making some decisions that have harmed women and put staff in an extremely difficult position,”

So who bullied the prisons into accepting a male rapist into a female prison based on his ‘gender identity’ rather than his sex?

It all started in the autumn of 2015 when transgender rights were on the table in the form of the Women and Equalities Committee’s Trans Inquiry. There were two high-profile incidents involving trans prisoners in UK jails. The self-inflicted death of Vicky Thompson in a male prison caused outrage, although it was not clear that the death was intentional, or that any request had been made for Vicky to be housed in the female estate. In other words, prison reform was not necessarily something that would have prevented this particular tragedy, although that was the lesson that was taken from it.

The bigger public story though was of Tara Hudson, a male transgender offender who caught the public imagination with the help of a convincing, if pornified, feminine appearance. A huge public campaign was set up and promoted via a petition, which received massive publicity on social media. Thousands of people got involved in the campaign. Some of the people backing Tara were politicians:

Caroline Lucas wrote personally to the Ministry of Justice on Tara’s behalf and Tim Farron wrote to Justice Secretary Michael Gove.

Predictably, all the LGBT and trans organisations and activists came out in force in support of Tara, and promoted the petition over all their social media sites:

Some organisations you would hope might be more neutral, or at least equally committed to the safety of women, were instead surprisingly gung-ho about putting a violent male in a women’s prison:

Even some purportedly feminist organisations backed Tara’s campaign:

The press gave a voice to the campaigners and the Ministry of Justice subsequently announced a review into the care and management of transgender offenders in December 2015. This coincided with the publication of the Transgender Equality Report, produced by the Women and Equalities Committee. This report contained a section on transgender prisoners written solely on the evidence of trans advocacy groups. The subsequent review from the Ministry of Justice was published in November the following year, and its recommendations drew heavily on a combination of evidence from trans lobby groups such as Gendered Intelligence, the Trans Report, and the well-publicised campaign for transgender prisoners following the case of Tara Hudson. The most far-reaching change in the management of transgender prisoners was that now it was no longer necessary to have a Gender Recognition Certificate in order to be moved to the prison of the opposite sex. Prisoners who were legally as well as physically male could, and should, now be considered for transfer.

At no stage in any of the decision-making process did the government ask for the views of women. On the contrary, women who did raise objections were vilified as transphobes. Many women did voice their concerns over the Tara Hudson case, but no one was listening.

Some very good blogs and articles were written by women on the subject, but these were ignored by mainstream media. Articles which minimised the risk to women and painted us as prejudiced and discriminatory found a home in the Guardian. The press and the BBC did not inform the general public of the seriousness of Tara Hudson’s crimes, nor did they mention the fact that Hudson had referred to himself as a ‘she-male’ and ‘a bloke’ with a ‘seven-inch surprise in my panties’ for the benefit of his escort clients. Hudson became a cause celebre for transgender rights and facts were not allowed to get in the way of the near-religious support for him.

Fast forward to September 2018 and Tara Hudson popped up again, this time as the trans guest on Victoria Live on BBC 2 to debate the recent case of Karen White. The other guests were a former professional acquaintance of White’s and Dr Nicola Williams from campaign group Fair Play for Women. Surprisingly, to start with, all guests were in agreement that White should never have been transferred to a women’s prison in the first place. However, factions appeared when the reasons behind these views were expressed. In the eyes of feminists White should not have been transferred to a women’s prison because he is male. It’s that simple. Women have had that protection in place for a long time and there is no sensible reason to change it now. Hudson though took exception to this, as in his view it was because White wasn’t a *real* transwoman like himself. Hudson was so agitated about this point he ended up being rather rude to Victoria Derbyshire on national TV.

Hudson’s point about ‘real transwomen’ illustrates the impossibility of distinguishing people by ‘gender’. If a ‘real transwoman’ has had no reassignment surgery apart from a boob job, and if trans people themselves cannot agree on what makes a ‘real transwoman’, then to keep women safe we must obviously continue distinguishing people by sex instead of gender: there is no other sensible or possible way to do it.

Other commentators have expressed the view that only trans-identified males who have been convicted of rape or other violent crimes against women should be prevented from moving to a women’s prison, but this argument too is flawed. There are men in prison for lesser crimes who may be sexually violent but have no conviction for any sex crime (we know this from the under-reporting of rape, and the low conviction rate). There are men in prison who have not been convicted of sex crimes, but will have sex (coerced or otherwise) with other men whilst they are incarcerated. Rape happens in male-only prisons already, it is naive to think it won’t happen in a women’s prison. Danger is one part of the problem, but privacy and dignity is another. The pressure to allow males to urinate, shower and undress alongside women and girls is coming from trans rights groups in and outside of prisons.

The answer to the question ‘Who’s been bullying our prisons?’ is this: Politicians, Social Justice Warriors, Human Rights Activists, virtue signallers, the press, the BBC, every single person who has used the derogatory term ‘Terf’ to diminish and dismiss the concerns of women. And all of them have been bullied in the first place by Trans Rights Activists. We are allowing legislation to be influenced by people who care more about the rights of rapists than about the safety of women. Groups like Gendered Intelligence, Mermaids, GIRES, Stonewall, TELI and Trans Media Watch campaign solely for the rights of trans people and do not care about the collateral damage caused to women and girls. Our elected representatives are failing us by giving in to the bullying tactics of extreme lobby groups.

Prisons are a small microcosm of society at large: what has happened here is already happening elsewhere, and will continue to escalate as long as the people who are supposed to be looking out for us continue to appease and to capitulate to bullies. If the unintended consequences of transactivist demands on prisons are exactly as women have predicted, then it’s important we should be consulted on other scenarios too: schools, changing rooms, refuges, rape crisis centres and women-only exemptions in the Equality Act for example. Women’s experience and expertise counts for something. Speak up everyone, it’s not transphobic to care about women and girls. Don’t give in to the bullies.

By Helen Saxby on .

Canonical link

Exported from Medium on July 7, 2021.

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 strength 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.

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.

Why is a A Male Rapist In a Woman’s Prison?


Watching footage in the news this week of a male person running into a crowd to swing a punch at a sixty year old woman, you might be forgiven for assuming this was another example of male violence against women, and therefore proof that women sometimes need spaces of their own, in order to stay safe. You’d be wrong in this instance, because in fact this was apparently a trans-identified male doing the punching, so it’s not male violence at all: in fact the sixty year old woman is the one to blame because she wants to go to a feminist meeting about gender. It’s a neat trick: if you make sure women can’t go to feminist meetings about gender they will not be informed enough to criticise an ideology which transforms a fist-swinging male into the victim of a sixty year old woman who wants to go to a feminist meeting about gender.

It ties in with other issues raised recently by reports of a male rapist who got to be housed in a woman’s prison because he identified as trans. In both examples I’m interested to know how a man with a male body (sex) who has displayed the most extreme kind of toxic masculinity (gender) can get to be diagnosed as a woman. Where, in this man’s body or soul, is there even room for the tiniest chink of the female or the feminine? It’s surely already filled up with all the male and the masculine?

Many people seem to believe there is a process whereby, in settings like prisons, the men who pretend to be women are weeded out. People believe that only genuine gender- dysphoric men get to be acknowledged as women, and that therefore they must need this recognition and special treatment. Some common beliefs about male rapists in women’s prisons include:

She's a woman tweet

Josh jackman

Considering that Josh Jackman wrote an article in Pink News admonishing everyone for ‘misgendering’ this rapist, I thought he must have known something I didn’t.

So I decided to do some research on these ‘rigorous psychological tests’ that could prove that a man is indeed a woman, against all other evidence to the contrary. Some evidence about the Scottish prison system was sent to me. It states that ‘since 2011 prisoner healthcare has been the responsibility of the NHS’ and it gives a link to the NHS guidelines on gender reassignment for further information.

I duly read through the NHS Scotland Gender Reassignment Protocols. The treatment pathway for trans-identifying prisoners certainly takes considerable time (a whole year on hormones before assessment for surgery for example). But that’s ok: that is the one thing that the most serious of offenders have got in spades isn’t it…? Time…?

Diagnostically though, there is nothing rigorous or testing about it: it relies totally on the say-so of the presenting prisoner. Counselling or therapy are provided on the basis that the prisoner is telling the truth about his feelings, just as it is for non-prisoners. In fact, to do otherwise is now on the verge of being officially identified as conversion therapy.

A statement from UK organisations in January 2017 condemns the practice of conversion therapy and refers to a memorandum of understanding from 2015 which adds ‘gender identity’ to ‘sexual orientation’ as a characteristic which may no longer be challenged. They say:

Conversion Therapy is the term for therapy that assumes certain sexual orientations or gender identities are inferior to others, and seeks to change or suppress them on that basis.

What this means in practice is that a presenting gender identity must be taken as the truth. NHS Scotland are one of the signatories of this statement and there is pressure on NHS England to follow suit. Trans support groups such as Stonewall, Pink News, Mermaids, GIRES and Gendered Intelligence have promoted the notion of conversion therapy with regard to trans people, to the point where to question it is to be automatically labelled transphobic. At the same time they have insisted that only trans people can be consulted on trans issues. And trans groups certainly have been listened to. In England and Wales the prison service says this:

Policy guidelines

At the Trans Inquiry chaired by Maria Miller in 2015, written evidence from the British Association of Gender Identity Specialists said something more cautious:

The converse is the ever-increasing tide of referrals of patients in prison serving long or indeterminate sentences for serious sexual offences. These vastly outnumber the number of prisoners incarcerated for more ordinary, non-sexual, offences. It has been rather naïvely suggested that nobody would seek to pretend transsexual status in prison if this were not actually the case. There are, to those of us who actually interview the prisoners, in fact very many reasons why people might pretend this. These vary from the opportunity to have trips out of prison through to a desire for a transfer to the female estate (to the same prison as a co-defendant) through to the idea that a parole board will perceive somebody who is female as being less dangerous through to a [false] belief that hormone treatment will actually render one less dangerous through to wanting a special or protected status within the prison system and even (in one very well evidenced case that a highly concerned Prison Governor brought particularly to my attention) a plethora of prison intelligence information suggesting that the driving force was a desire to make subsequent sexual offending very much easier, females being generally perceived as low risk in this regard. I am sure that the Governor concerned would be happy to talk about this.

The Governor concerned was not asked to come in and talk about this. The groups invited in to give further evidence did not include any representatives from women’s groups either. Trans support group Action for Trans Health however were one of the trans representatives who were invited to give evidence. Action for Trans Health were coincidentally one of the main players stirring up protest against the feminist meeting on gender this week, mentioned above. They helped to instigate and organise the shutting down of the original venue through sustained online harassment, and they coordinated the search for the new secret meeting place so they could disrupt that as well. A lot of threats against ‘TERFs’ were shared on social media. They ‘loved’ this tweet on Twitter:

Action for trans health heart comment

After the event, when the stories of the violence had circulated, they posted this:

Action for trans health

The Trans Inquiry chose to listen to trans groups such as this one, actively engaged in fighting women and stirring up hatred, instead of women’s groups with genuine concerns over what changes to the Gender Recognition Act will mean to women’s rights and services. The result is that there can be no public discussion about competing rights. Public bodies continually have to refer to the same small group of unchallenged and often unqualified ‘experts’ who all reinforce one another. Once NHS England signs the new Memorandum of Understanding (which they probably will because they are actively ‘listening to trans people’) the door will effectively be closed, and sealed, against outside opinion. Health professionals including GPs, counsellors, therapists and all NHS staff will be constrained in their treatment of patients by a restrictive ideology which has no evidence base. Institutions such as the Prison Service, the courts and the government itself will look to the NHS for ‘expert’ opinion.

Certain things will become unsayable. For instance: ‘Young man at protest punches middle-aged woman’. Unsayable.

And men will have to be women when they say they are. There is no alternative. Even when, as recently reported, there are now eleven inmates in one prison alone seeking sex realignment surgery, all of them sex offenders. The Prison Governor mentioned above could have predicted that, but he’s not trans so his evidence was not called for.

In summary, these appear to be the new rules:

Demonise women as TERFs for wanting to have a say in legislation that affects them

Insist that only trans people should be consulted on gender legislation 

Persuade everyone that questioning a trans identity is always transphobic

Punch feminists who persist in questioning the trans narrative

Frighten everyone else into silence

Once all those rules are in place and are applied to all situations, including male on female assault in a public place and the housing of male sex offenders in a woman’s prison…job done.

And this is how a man with a male body (sex) who has displayed the most extreme kind of toxic masculinity (gender) can be housed in a women’s prison.