The BBC charter specifies that ‘we should do all we can to ensure that controversial subjects are treated with due accuracy and impartiality’. I have written numerous complaints to the BBC of late due to the bias in programming regarding trans issues. After the last complaint (here) I received another inadequate reply, which failed to answer any of the points I had raised, so now I want to look at the BBC’s output as a whole, in order to provide some context for my concern.
It is worth noting to start with what the BBC says about the sources used for its information about trans issues, as this is instructive. Many of the quotes used to defend its stance come from GIRES (Gender Identity Research and Education Society). Apart from GIRES, the BBC’s view on transgender issues is lifted wholesale from transadvocacy sites such as Gendered Intelligence, Mermaids and Trans Media Watch. There is little awareness of the issues that affect women, and no quotes which suggest any research has been done into the subject from a feminist point of view.
This is strange because the BBC knows this is a controversial subject. It has reported on the no-platforming of Germaine Greer, the trashing of Peter Tatchel and Mary Beard and the apparently controversial opinion of Ian McKewan that the male sex organ is normally associated with men. In the BBC’s editorial guidelines on controversial subjects it says:
“When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active. Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.”
And yet, despite an awareness of the disagreement between feminists (not the fun kind) and transactivists, there has been very little attempt to look at the issue from the point of view of women’s rights. Getting Sarah Ditum onto Newsnight one time doesn’t count as a ‘wide range’ of views and perspectives, however articulate she was.
There are several areas of concern where the expansion of trans rights will potentially adversely affect women:
- The pressure on parents to accept a trans diagnosis for a gender non-conforming child, based on gender stereotypes of clothing and toy preferences; or in the case of teenagers, to give in to the social media contagion to which they might be susceptible.
- The threat to current sex-based rights, which keep males and females segregated in public places where women and girls might be physically vulnerable. These include toilets, changing rooms, rape crisis centres, refuges, hospital wards and prisons.
- The inclusion of male-bodied, male-socialised people, into areas of success and achievement where women currently have their own space in order to make competition fair or to level the playing field. These include sports, prizes and awards, shortlists and quotas.
- The negative affect on the lesbian community of the pressure on young women to identify as trans rather than as lesbian. There is also pressure to accept male-bodied self-identified ‘lesbians’ as sexual partners.
- The skewing of national statistics regarding crime, due to the higher rate of offending by male transitioners as opposed to women, with possible knock-on effects on funding for women’s services.
- The effect on the ‘trans widows’ of men (and it mostly is men) who transition in middle age. There is nowhere for these women to turn: all the help and support is directed towards the ‘trans’ person.
- The changing of language pertinent to women and girls in order to make it more trans-inclusive, thereby making ‘women’s issues’ impossible to talk about. This includes the use of such terms as ‘pregnant people’ by health providers.
These are all legitimate concerns which the BBC has largely ignored.
Instead we get this:
Louis Theroux: Transgender Kids
CBBC: My Life: I am Leo
Victoria Derbyshire: Transgender Children
All these programmes are largely uncritical of the transing of children, despite the research which shows that around 80% of gender non-conforming children will grow out of it before puberty. All programmes rely heavily on gender stereotypes to prove that children are not really the sex that they were born. All programmes minimise the harms of transitioning, and repeatedly use the idea of ‘born in the wrong body’ which has no scientific basis, and is an idea, not a fact. The reality, including such downsides as double-mastectomies, a lifetime on medication and probable sterility, is minimised or left out completely.
The message to teenagers, on radio and online, is similarly on-script:
iPlayer radio Advice
Newsbeat: transgender terminology
BBC Taster: Transgender
These sites link to sites such as Mermaids and GIRES to go to for more information and support, and in return Mermaids recommends BBC programmes such as ‘I am Leo’ to the young people consulting their site. It’s all very cosy and circular. Teenagers get enough encouragement and support for trans identities from social media today without having the BBC reinforcing it too. The BBC should be aware of the impact of social contagion.
As women are the class of people most adversely affected by trans ideology, you’d think that Woman’s Hour might tackle the implications. After all they do a good job of tackling the implications for women of every other subject under the sun. But no:
Woman’s Hour: Power List
Woman’s Hour: Kellie Maloney interview
Woman’s Hour: 2015: The year trans became mainstream?
Caitlyn Jenner’s inclusion on the Power List was accompanied by the accepted narrative of ‘always felt like a woman’, and, as an additional reprimand to the more sceptical amongst us, the only motivation suggested for challenging this was ignorance and intolerance. Kellie Maloney was allowed to get away with minimising the violence he had previously inflicted on his wife (brilliantly analysed here). Both these men had had a lifetime of male privilege and entitlement, and both had presented with toxic masculinity, Maloney by way of domestic violence and Jenner by dangerous driving resulting in the death of a woman. To celebrate either of them was understandably an insult to many women, not only because of the numbers of women who have suffered this kind of violence at the hands of a man, but also because of the number of unsung heroines who work to help victims of male violence but are never celebrated. One of these women could have been on the Woman’s Hour Power List and enjoyed some recognition, but her place was taken by a person who was male-born, male-socialised and male-entitled.
The news though: that’s fact, rather than opinion, right? Afraid not:
BBC news programmes, on TV and radio, have consistently misrepresented trans offenders in a way which is sympathetic to the trans people in question. Tara Hudson for example, was talked of purely as a victim, who would not be able to survive in a male prison, rather than as a violent offender with previous convictions and a fully-functioning penis. No mention was ever made of the rights of female prisoners to be safe. The suicide of any prisoner is a tragedy but the reporting of trans prisoners’ suicides has been misleading, especially in the case of Joanne Latham whose only ‘transition’ had been a change of name a few months earlier. Again, the BBC reported this uncritically so that Joanne Latham was presented as a trans suicide statistic, whilst in contrast, Claire Derbyshire, a male transitioner, was presented as a female murderer, her trans status not mentioned on most radio news bulletins.
Finally, analysis…a chance for a more informed and critical exploration of the facts maybe? Er, no:
Radio 4 Analysis: Beyond Binary
The Today programme is a serious news and affairs programme, and as it decided to tackle the subject of transgender on two consecutive mornings you might have expected some in-depth research to back it up. What happened was a re-hash of the usual story regarding children who ‘didn’t feel right’ and felt ‘better’ once they identified as trans, with a bit of added John Humphreys-style confusion over a subject in which he was clearly out of his depth. He treated his young transgender guest with a combination of a desperate attempt not to say the wrong thing, along with a patronising and almost jovial ‘what you kids get up to these days’ tone which made light of the implications of transing children. The (male) scientist who was consulted couldn’t see a problem with male transitioners using the women’s toilets. So that was informative.
Analysis promised more: a whole half hour on the subject of ‘non-binary’ gender identities, and, as non-binary comes under the trans umbrella these days, there was an opportunity here to look at what this means in terms of the conflict between protecting gender-identity rights and protecting sex-based rights. This didn’t happen. Instead, some common and glaring mistakes were made, such as the conflation of non-binary with intersex and the incorrect use of the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ which were used interchangeably throughout. There was no attempt to even define what ‘non-binary gender’ means (possibly because it’s actually meaningless: we are all non-binary in terms of gender). The only mention of the feminist argument led to a bit of a joke about a Star Trek episode in which there was no gender so people were a bit boring and everyone looked the same. In other words, there was no analysis.
The BBC has clearly done its research into transgender issues, but unfortunately has only consulted transadvocate sources and then failed to question any of the ideology found there. Much of the ideology does not stand up to scrutiny, but you would not know this if you relied on the BBC for your information. Despite knowing that feminist arguments exist, it has obviously not been considered necessary to explore these arguments or take them seriously. Woman’s Hour did look at the worrying rise in the rates of young girls referring to gender clinics, and touched on the subject of the influences girls face regarding social media and body image, but the dots were not joined up. The BBC, in its coverage of trans issues across the board, are adding to the ‘trend’ and not questioning it. As a public service broadcaster the intention to be inclusive of a minority should be balanced with the duty to be factual and well-researched so that another group does not suffer as a result.
If the downside of the transgender trend is left to feminists to analyse and challenge then it makes it easier for transactivists to villify and slur those feminists and bully them into silence. If the general public is not given a balanced view it makes it easier for them to discount a few women’s voices and to believe that they come from a place of bigotry and transphobia. The view presented by the BBC’s programming is of a brave struggle by children and teenagers to express their true identity, (with the support and love of courageous parents), followed by the brave struggle for justice by ‘women’ held unfairly in male prisons, and the brave struggle by rich and successful middle-aged men to achieve an authentic ‘gender identity’ through the spending of vast sums of money on cosmetic surgery.
With all that sympathy on show it can be very hard to go against the grain and criticise or ask questions, but a public service broadcaster needs to do just that.
It is not just feminists who are being silenced: there is also a backlash from the gay and lesbian community who see that the transing of children can sometimes be a homophobic response to a gender non-conforming child. And, as previously mentioned, lesbians are being pressured to accept male bodies in such vile ways it would be seen as rape culture if it wasn’t for the fact it is trans people doing it. Transsexuals, who have gone through a process of transition which takes time and hard work, are often not happy with the current assertion from transgender people and allies that you ‘are a woman if you say you are’ as this will potentially lead to a backlash against all transsexual people. Detransitioners are routinely rejected by the transgender community and do not have a voice, presumably because their experience contradicts the preferred narrative. Scientists and professionals who work with children and young people are shamed and slurred if they step out of line and can only voice their concerns anonymously, despite the fact that there are serious child protection issues at stake. Women dealing with the experience of a husband transitioning in middle age (often after years of cross-dressing) are not listened to because their own needs at this traumatic time are deemed transphobic. Even rape victims are castigated for expressing a desire for a woman-only space in which to recover, as this too is now considered transphobic.
The BBC, in its response to my complaint about the film ‘I am Leo’, was keen to assert that the inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the programme were due to the necessity of simplifying the story so that children could understand it. I am not a fan of myths being presented as facts in order to help children understand anything, as it is not so different from just telling them lies, but there is a bigger problem here. In its presentation of all transgender stories, not just those directed at children, the BBC has simplified the issues and presented a sanitised version for public consumption, and this has resulted in serious misrepresentation. The whole of the general public is being treated like a child. Most people will have no idea that 80% of men who transition do not get rid of their penis for example, as this fact gets in the way of the simple story of the ‘poor woman trapped in a male prison’ which is so easy to tell and to understand. No moral ambiguity has been allowed, so that the public is kept ignorant of the facts they need in order to form an opinion. The BBC might be protecting transgender people with this approach, but they are completely neglecting women’s rights in order to do so.
The laws around sex-segregated spaces are currently under review as part of the trans inquiry, and the Women and Equalities Committee has already published some new guidelines for service providers, which give trans people more rights to use the facilities which match their gender identity. This is not an issue which affects men, as men do not generally fear the inclusion of women in their private spaces. For women however, the change in the law to allow ‘gender identity’ to take the place of ‘sex’ as a criteria means that we would no longer be allowed to challenge the presence of a male-bodied person in a toilet or changing room. It is not a slur on trans people to say that this provides a loophole for abusive men. Abusers, whether they are flashers, voyeurs or rapists, will go to great lengths to get access to women and girls in vulnerable situations and it is naive to believe that the new law will not be abused.
It has become impossible to talk about women’s safety without being accused of bigotry against trans people. To end all arguments about competing rights the common argument used is that ‘transwomen are women’. This has become a mantra from transactivists, and is an assertion which is unscientific and unprovable, much like any faith position. The great irony here is that existing hate crime laws include transgender people as a protected group, but not women. So if transwomen really are women they are no longer protected by UK hate crime legislation.
Women’s rights are about to take a backwards step and nobody knows about it. The BBC has not only seen fit to ignore the issue and fail to inform its viewers and listeners, but through its oversimplified and over sympathetic presentation of trans issues, it has actively helped to obscure the problems and made it more difficult to tell the truth about what is going on. The BBC is failing in its duty to inform and educate and to present a balanced and unbiased point of view, and the people who will ultimately pay the price for this will be women and children.