Nikki da Costa

The interview of Nikki da Costa on Radio 4 this week, giving her an unchallenged platform to attack trans people and trans rights, was reprehensible, but I will not be complaining. Before making a case against the interview, I make a case for it in order to see what I have to refute.

Da Costa argued that the law on conversion therapy should be delayed to make sure it was drafted properly. She claimed there was a risk that a therapist or parents who correctly challenged a teenager’s conviction that they were trans, who wanted to “really explore, slow down and check what’s happening”, could be at risk of accusations that they were engaging in conversion therapy, and an innocent person could be dragged through the courts.

What risks are there when a child presents as trans? The risk da Costa identifies is a risk to cis children, who are wrong to claim that they are trans. They could be gay or lesbian. Being autistic might make them unable to see they would be better off living in their birth gender. What if they “go down a medicalised pathway” and then revert? She did not say, but meant, their breasts or testicles, their voice, fertility and body hair distribution, could be irreversibly damaged.

It is hard to get cis people to admit there might be a risk to trans people too. Going through the wrong puberty, when it is theoretically avoidable, is traumatic and causes life-long avoidable problems with passing. Our acceptance should not depend on whether we pass or not, but passing makes a trans person’s life easier and gender dysphoria less. There is great anger and misery among the cis community when someone reverts, because the cis people think that proves they were never trans, but delaying transition seems unproblematic to them, however painful it is to us.

Getting them to accept that the trans child is traumatised is difficult. They care far more about the theoretical cis child in danger of unwise transition. So the question for cis people is, how can therapists appropriately “explore” the child’s needs? “Explore” is a neutral term, which they think entails challenging the child’s conviction they are trans. We know the therapist should want to “Really explore,” find what is right for the child and help them towards it, but this is threatened by the suggested prohibition of non-existent cis-to-trans conversion.

And then, generally I want journalists to bring to light allegations children might be at risk, even if against the consensus. Thalidomide was marketed for morning sickness for four years, affecting at least 10,000 children many of whom it killed, before it was withdrawn as a treatment. The trouble is that the few reverters have too great significance for them. To realise that some people are trans and transitioning benefits us is more empathy than they can manage.

As a trans person I see this interview as someone attacking trans rights and casting “transgender ideology” as a threat to children, at least needing balanced by someone in favour of trans, and ideally dismissed before it is aired. Listening to da Costa, I hear the ludicrousness of it. No-one will be “dragged through the courts” as an innocent party. The difficulty of proving conversion therapy is too great. No-one will be inhibited from exploring the child’s, or adult’s, desire to transition. But I don’t think cis people will have heard it that way.

Before complaining I want to make a case under the BBC’s own guidelines, and I don’t think it will work. I might make a case about the relative balance of opposition to protection of trans people against trans people standing up for our rights, but to do that would have to listen to the programme for an hour a day, and that is too much. The BBC publishes no record of who they interview, or about what, separate to the recordings.

It’s not balance to platform haters attacking trans, but you can’t convince the cis of that. There was terrible difficulty stopping the BBC from platforming climate change deniers, because of “balance”. After all, lots of highly paid lobbyists oppose action on climate change, as do many Times and Spectator columnists.

Da Costa went on to say Boris Johnson is a conviction politician, and the burden of doing the right thing over Brexit and Covid weighed heavily on his shoulders. Ridiculous! I cry. He has hobbled the British economy, and as he demanded “let the bodies pile high in their thousands”, 30,000 in January 2021 alone. But from the “Conservative” point of view of Nikki da Costa, he was seeking the good of the British people in abolishing regulations and going about our business unrestricted and unmasked.

The Conservative wants the sovereign individual to be free from legal restriction. Theirs is an individualist view. We on the Left see that a person is not free if they are not paid a living wage, may be sacked or evicted at whim, or are forced to risk infection by a deadly disease. It makes no practical difference whether an exporter is restricted by British law, or by French law, in exporting to France, so those in favour of private enterprise see British law should facilitate rather than inhibit the exporter and work with France to agree the rules rather than create different rules. However the radical Conservative only wants to repeal rules in British law, and apparently does not see how law may be for the common good.

In the same way da Costa’s opposition to conversion therapy law seeks freedom for the individual, rather than collective security the Left offers. For those on the Left, trans people are part of the Community, the We the People law should protect. Our wellbeing matters as much as cis people’s, or therapists’. For the Right, we do not. We can be simply portrayed as a Threat.

1 April: da Costa was on Today again, saying the same falsehoods. She says if trans conversion was illegal, therapists would be inhibited from exploring underlying issues. Rubbish. All that would be problematic would be a complete closed-minded denial that the patient was trans, or that transition might benefit them. Even then, they might not reach the discipline tribunal, let alone the criminal court, unless they attempted to change the child from being trans.

4 thoughts on “Nikki da Costa

  1. I do love this post! So measured and kind. So why am I reluctant to comment? Probably because I feel that anything I add – aside from my unconditional support – is a pale reflection of your beautifully expressed views, which are some of the best I have seen. Thank you. 🙂

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    • ❤️ Thank you.

      I was at the same time reading about the “weight of chest dysphoria” and how since surgery a man has felt “free in a way I never imagined”. It has reduced his internalised transphobia, the sneaking fear that he was “not trans enough”. But Nikki da Costa does not care about him.

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    • Fran, your thoughtful comment echoes my own responses to so many of Clare’s essays. I am rarely neutral in my emotional connections to what she writes. Clare gets me through bad days and adds colour to good days. I am more in debt to her than my mere words can convey.

      Liked by 1 person

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