This is not easy to write for reasons that will become clear shortly, but I know it is time to explain myself on a subject that is surrounded by toxicity. I write this without wanting to increase this toxicity.
For people who don't know, last December I tweeted my support for Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who lost her job because of "transphobic" tweets. She brought her case to a labor court and asked the judge to decide whether a philosophical belief that sex is determined by biology is legally protected. Judge Tayler decided that this was not the case.
My interest in transactional issues was almost two years before Maya's case, in which I closely followed the debate about the concept of gender identity. I met trans people and read various books, blogs and articles by trans people, gender specialists, intersexuals, psychologists, security experts, social workers and doctors and followed the discourse online and in traditional media. On one level, my interest in this issue was professional, since I am writing a crime series that takes place in the present and my fictional detective is of an age who is interested in and affected by these issues. but on the other hand, it's very personal, as I'll explain in a moment.
All the time I've researched and learned, accusations and threats from transactivists are bubbling up on my Twitter timeline. This was originally triggered by a "Like". When I became interested in gender identity and transgender issues, I started scanning comments that interested me to remember what I would like to research later. Once I liked being absentminded instead of screenshots. This single "like" was seen as evidence of wrong thinking, and a persistent low level of harassment began.
Months later, I made my accidental "like" crime worse by following Magdalen Burns on Twitter. Magdalen was an incredibly brave young feminist and lesbian who died of an aggressive brain tumor. I followed her because I wanted to contact her directly, which I did. However, since Magdalen firmly believed in the importance of biological sex and did not believe that lesbians should be referred to as bigots if they did not go out with trans women with penises, points were added to the minds of Twitter transactivists and at the level of social media abuse gained weight.
I only mention all of this to explain that I knew exactly what would happen if I supported Maya. I must have been on my fourth or fifth cancellation by then. I expected that the threat of violence that I was told would literally kill transsexuals with my hatred would be called a cunt and bitch and, of course, that my books would be burned, even though a particularly abusive man told me he composted them .
What I didn't expect after my cancellation was the avalanche of emails and letters that came down on me, the vast majority of which were positive, grateful, and supportive. They came from a cross-section of friendly, empathetic and intelligent people, some of whom worked in areas dealing with gender-specific dysphoria and transsexuals. Everyone is deeply concerned about how a socio-political concept influences security, medical practice and politics. They are concerned about the dangers for young people, gays and the erosion of the rights of women and girls. Above all, they are worried about a climate of fear that is not good for anyone – least of all for the trans-youth.
I had resigned from Twitter for many months before and after tweeting support for Maya because I knew it was not good for my sanity. I only returned because I wanted to share a free children's book during the pandemic. Immediately, activists who clearly consider themselves to be good, friendly and progressive people flocked back to my timeline, took the right to monitor my speech, accused me of hatred, called me misogynistic insults, and most importantly – like any woman who does was involved in this debate – TERF.
If you didn't already know – and why should you? – & # 39; TERF & # 39; is an acronym coined by transactivists and stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. In practice, a large and diverse cross-section of women is currently called TERF, and the vast majority have never been a radical feminist. Examples of so-called TERFs range from the mother of a gay child who feared that his child might want to escape homophobic bullying to a previously completely unfeministic older woman who vowed never to visit Marks & Spencer again because she was every man allowed who says that they identify themselves as women in the women's dressing rooms. Ironically, radical feminists aren't even trans-exclusive – they include trans men in their feminism because they were born women.
But TERFery's accusations were enough to intimidate many people, institutions, and organizations that I once admired and who crouched before the playground's tactics. "You will call us transphobic!" "They'll say I hate trans people!" What's next, they'll say you have fleas? As a biological woman, many people in positions of power really need to pair up (which is undoubtedly literally possible, the kind of people who argue that clownfish prove that humans are not a dimorphic species).
Why do I do this? Why speak? Why not research quietly and keep your head down?
Well, I have five reasons to worry about the new transactivism and decide to speak up.
First, I have a non-profit foundation that focuses on alleviating social disadvantage in Scotland, with a particular focus on women and children. My trust supports projects for female prisoners as well as for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. I also fund medical research on MS, a disease that behaves very differently between men and women. It had been clear to me for some time that the new transactivism has a significant impact on many of the causes I support (or likely, if all of its requirements are met) because it undermines the legal definition of sex and replaces it with gender.
The second reason is that I am an ex-teacher and the founder of a child welfare workshop that is interested in both education and protection. Like many others, I have deep concerns about the impact of the trans-rights movement on both.
The third is that, as a much forbidden author, I am interested in freedom of speech and have defended it publicly, even against Donald Trump.
The fourth is where things start to get really personal. I am concerned about the huge explosion among young women who want a transition and also about the increasing number of women who appear to be changing (reverting to their original gender) because they regret having taken steps in have irrevocably changed their body in some cases. and took away her fertility. Some say they chose a transition after realizing they were same-sex and that the transition was partly driven by homophobia, either in society or in their families.
Most people are probably not aware – I certainly wasn't until I started investigating this issue properly – that ten years ago the majority of people who wanted to switch to the opposite sex were male. This relationship has now reversed. In the UK, the number of girls referred for transitional treatment has increased by 4400%. Autistic girls are overrepresented in their numbers.
The same phenomenon has been observed in the United States. In 2018, the American doctor and researcher Lisa Littman set about researching this. In an interview, she said:
& # 39; Parents online described a very unusual pattern of transgender identification, in which several friends and even entire groups of friends were transgendered at the same time. I would have been careless if I hadn't seen social contagion and peer influences as possible factors. & # 39;
Littman mentioned Tumblr, Reddit, Instagram and YouTube as factors that contribute to Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, where she believes that in the area of transgender identification, "young people have created island-like echo chambers".
Her paper caused a sensation. She has been accused of bias and the spread of misinformation about transgender people, subjected to a tsunami of abuse and a concerted campaign to discredit both her and her work. The journal took the paper offline and checked it again before republishing it. However, her career has had a similar success to that of Maya Forstater. Lisa Littman had dared to question one of the central tenets of transactivism, namely that a person's gender identity, like sexual orientation, is innate. No one, the activists said, could ever be persuaded to be trans.
The argument of many current transactivists is that if you don't allow a gender-specific dysphoric teenager to pass over, they will kill themselves. In an article explaining why he quit Tavistock (an NHS gender clinic in England), psychiatrist Marcus Evans said that claims that children will kill themselves if they are not allowed to move are not essentially match solid data or studies in this area. They also do not match the cases that I have encountered as a psychotherapist for decades. & # 39;
The writings of young trans men reveal a group of particularly sensitive and clever people. The more reports I have read about gender-specific dysphoria, with its insightful descriptions of anxiety, dissociation, eating disorders, self-harm and self-hatred, the more I wondered if I would have been born 30 years later. The attraction of escaping femininity would have been enormous. As a teenager, I had severe OCD. If I had found community and sympathy online that I could not find in my immediate vicinity, I could probably have been persuaded to transform myself into the son whom my father had frankly said he would have preferred.
When I read about the theory of gender identity, I remember how spiritually genderless I felt when I was young. I remember Colette's description of himself as a & # 39; hermaphrodite & # 39; and to Simone de Beauvoir's words: & # 39; It is completely natural for the future woman to be outraged by the restrictions that her gender imposes. The real question is not why she should reject it. Rather, the problem is understanding why she accepts them. & # 39;
Since I had no realistic way to become a man in the 1980s, it had to be books and music that got me through both my mental health problems and the sexualized control and judgment that so many girls make against theirs Bodies waging war in their youth. Fortunately, I found my own sense of difference and ambivalence to be a woman, which was reflected in the work of writers and musicians who assured me that despite what a sexist world tries to throw at the female body, It's okay not to feel pink, curled, and compliant in your own head. It's okay to feel confused, dark, both sexual and non-sexual, and not sure what or who you are.
I would like to say very clearly here: I know that the transition will be a solution for some people with gender-specific dysphoria, although I am also aware through extensive research that studies have consistently shown that between 60 and 90% of gender-specific dysphoric adolescents are from their will outgrow dysphoria. I was told over and over again that I should only meet a few trans people. I have: In addition to a couple of younger people who were all adorable, I happen to know a self-described transsexual woman who is older than me and wonderful. Although she is open about her past as a gay man, it has always been difficult for me to see her as anything other than a woman, and I believe (and certainly hope) that she is completely happy to have passed over. When she was older, she went through a long and rigorous process of evaluation, psychotherapy and staged transformation. The current explosion of transactivism is pushing for the elimination of almost all robust systems that gender reassignment candidates had to go through earlier. A man who doesn't want to have surgery or take hormones can now get a gender recognition certificate and be a woman in front of the law. Many people are not aware of this.
We are experiencing the most misogynistic time I have ever experienced. In the 80s I imagined that my future daughters, should I have any, would be much better off than ever before, but between the backlash against feminism and a porn-saturated online culture, I think it's clear for girls got worse. I have never seen women as disparaged and dehumanized as they are now. From the leader of the long history of the free world of allegations of sexual assault and his proud boast of grabbing her by the pussy, to the Incel movement ("involuntarily celibate") that rages against women who don't give them sex, transactivists who explain that TERFs need to be beaten and re-educated, men across the political spectrum seem to agree: women are asking for trouble. Everywhere women are told to shut up and sit down, or else.
I have read all the arguments about femininity that does not reside in the sexual body and the claims that biological women do not share experiences, and I find them deeply hostile and regressive. It is also clear that one of the goals of denying the importance of sex is to undermine what some see as a cruel segregationist idea of women with their own biological realities or – just as menacing – as unifying realities that make them one make coherent political class. The hundreds of emails I've received over the past few days prove that this erosion affects many others as well. It is not enough for women to be trans allies. Women have to accept and admit that there is no essential difference between trans women and themselves.
But as many women have said before me, "woman" is not a costume. "Woman" is not an idea in a man's head. & # 39; woman & # 39; is not a pink brain, a preference for Jimmy Choos, or any of the other sexist ideas that are somehow touted as progressive. In addition, the "inclusive" language that women call "menstruators" and "people with vulva" appears to many women as dehumanizing and humiliating. I understand why transactivists consider this language appropriate and friendly, but for those of us who have received humiliating insults from violent men, it is not neutral, but hostile and alienating.
This brings me to the fifth reason why I am deeply concerned about the consequences of current transactivism.
I've been in public for over twenty years and have never spoken publicly about being a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault. This is not because I am ashamed that these things happened to me, but because it is traumatic to visit them again and to remember them. I also feel protected by my daughter from my first marriage. I didn't want to claim sole ownership of a story that belongs to her. However, I recently asked her how she would feel if I was publicly honest about this part of my life and she encouraged me to continue.
I am not mentioning these things now to gain sympathy, but out of solidarity with the large number of women who have a story like mine and who have been blurred as bigots because of concerns about same-sex spaces.
I managed to escape my first violent marriage with some difficulty, but now I'm married to a really good and principled man, safe and secure in a way I never expected in a million years. However, the scars caused by violence and sexual assault don't go away no matter how loved you are and how much money you make. My constant nervousness is a family joke – and even I know it's funny – but I pray that my daughters never have the same reasons to hate sudden loud noises or to find people behind me if I don't hear them get closer .
If you could get in my head and understand what I feel when I read about a trans woman who dies through the hands of a violent man, you would find solidarity and kinship. I have a visceral sense of terror in which these trans women will have spent their last few seconds on Earth because I too had known moments of blind fear when I realized that the only thing that kept me alive was shaky self-control of my attacker.
I believe that the majority of transidentified people are not only not a threat to others, but are vulnerable for all of the reasons I have mentioned. Trans people need and deserve protection. Like women, they are most likely to be killed by sexual partners. Trans women who work in the sex industry are particularly at risk, especially trans women with skin color. Like every other survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault I know, I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who have been abused by men.
I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I don't want born girls and women to be less safe. If you open the doors of bathrooms and dressing rooms to a man who believes or feels like a woman – and as I said before, gender-affirmation certificates can now be issued without surgery or hormones – then open it the door to all the men who want to get in. That is the simple truth.
On Saturday morning I read that the Scottish government is continuing its controversial gender recognition plans, which in fact means that a man only has to say that he is a woman in order to "become a woman". In order to use a very contemporary word, I was "triggered". When I was only there to give children feedback on pictures they had drawn while blocking my book, I spent much of Saturday as a reminder of a very dark place in my head of a serious sexual assault I did in my twenties suffered repeated in a loop. This attack occurred at a time and place where I was vulnerable and a man took an opportunity. I couldn't rule out these memories, and it was hard to contain my anger and disappointment at how I think my government is playing with the safety of women and girls quickly and easily.
Late Saturday night, as I flipped through the children's pictures before bed, I forgot the first rule of Twitter – never expect a nuanced conversation – and responded to what I thought was a degrading language about women. I have spoken about the importance of sex and have been paying the price since then. I was transphobic, I was a cunt, a bitch, a TERF, I deserved to cancel, hit and die. You are Voldemort, said one person and clearly felt that this was the only language I would understand.
It would be so much easier to tweet the approved hashtags – since trans rights are of course human rights and of course trans life plays a role – to scoop up the bright cookies and bask in a virtuous afterglow. There is joy, relief and security in harmony. As Simone de Beauvoir also wrote: “… without a doubt it is more convenient to endure blind servitude than to work for liberation; The dead are also better suited to the earth than the living. & # 39;
A large number of women are rightly afraid of the transactivists; I know that because so many have contacted me to tell their stories. They are afraid of doxing, losing their jobs or livelihood, and violence.
But endlessly uncomfortable, as was my constant focus on me, I refuse to bow to a movement that I believe has been shown to do harm when it comes to “women” as a political and biological class undermine and offer protection to predators like only a few before. I stand next to the brave men and women, gay, heterosexual and transgender, who work for freedom of speech and thought and for the rights and security of some of the most vulnerable in our society: young gay children, fragile teenagers, and women who are dependent on their same-sex spaces and want to keep them. Surveys show that these women are in the vast majority and only exclude those who are privileged or lucky enough never to have encountered male violence or sexual assault, and who have never bothered to find out how far they are common.
The only thing that gives me hope is that the women who can protest and organize can do so and have some really decent men and transsexuals at their side. Political parties trying to calm the loudest voices in this debate ignore women's concerns at their own risk. In Britain, women reach women across party lines, concerned about the erosion of their hard-won rights and widespread intimidation. None of the gender-critical women I spoke to hate trans people. on the other hand. Many of them have been primarily interested in this issue out of concern for trans-youth, and they are extremely sympathetic to trans-adults who just want to live their lives but face a backlash for some kind of activism they don't do not support support. The greatest irony is that trying to silence women with the word "TERF" may have driven more young women to radical feminism than the movement has done for decades.
The last thing I want to say is this. I didn't write this essay in the hope that anyone would get a violin out for me, not even a tiny one. I am extremely happy; I am a survivor, especially not a victim. I only mentioned my past because, like every other person on this planet, I have a complex background story that shapes my fears, my interests and my opinions. I never forget this inner complexity when I create a fictional character, and I certainly never forget it when it comes to trans people.
All I ask – all I want – is to extend a similar empathy and understanding to the millions of women whose only crime is to hear their concerns without receiving threats and abuse.
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