Trans in 2021

In the UK in 2021, trans legal rights remain robust, though increasingly under attack. Nonbinary as well as binary trans are protected from discrimination. From the moment we decide to transition, trans women expressing ourselves female are entitled to use women’s services. In its code of practice issued in 2011, the Equality and Human Rights Commission put strong restrictions on the right to exclude someone because she is trans, including that it should be case by case- being entitled to exclude one trans woman does not mean a service can exclude all.

Some facts are relevant. Sex is real. Without sexual reproduction the species dies out. I don’t have a uterus, and have never menstruated. And, trans is real. People have transitioned for millennia over many different cultures. We are a harmless minority, and the way the Labour government chose to integrate us, by giving us a right to be treated socially in our true gender, helps us to flourish. The government followed the lead of the European Court of Human Rights.

There is no such thing as “gender ideology”, and there is no harm to women from including trans women. Attempts to claim crime statistics on women should exclude trans women are merely silly. But fearmongering and hatred are normalised, in the BBC, Guardian and New Statesman as well as the Times and Daily Mail. Now the Women and Equalities Committee of the House of Commons calls for a legal definition distinguishing sex from gender, and that has no purpose but to say that because trans people change gender and not sex, we should be excluded from “single-sex spaces”. That would turn our lives upside down.

We might still be tolerated, in practice, in women’s loos, but we would be even more likely to be misgendered and abused, and that would extend to gender nonconforming people. Whatever the law, whatever the attitude in the wider culture, we will always be able to find communities where we can be ourselves. Quakers have spoken out about our need to welcome trans people (pdf). I also have the Lovely Gathering.

Daily, we read of more hostility. JK Rowling is fatuously but angrily claimed to be “cancelled” even as yet another fantastic beasts film slouches towards us. The reporting is skewed. I am not particularly familiar with the Equal Treatment Bench Book, but it helps judges treat vulnerable people according to their human rights. A thief should be punished for their offences, taking into account all mitigating factors, and not for who they are- trans status, colour, gender. So trans people are treated as belonging to our presenting gender, so that we have less reason to believe the court is against us from the start.

The change in this revision is the belief that some witnesses might have a reasonable expectation of misgendering us. The example given in The Guardian is of a husband who assaults their wife and subsequently transitions. That is, they report the tale of the Violent Trans, even though we suffer more violence than we inflict. The Guardian report suggests the new thing is that judges should use our preferred pronouns, even though it has been like that for years. I checked the February 2021 edition, and the guidance on treating us in our true gender was there, but not the permission to misgender.

Tara Wolf‘s case showed a judge asking hostile witnesses at least to use neutral pronouns, in a case he said would not have been brought without media interest in a trans v terfs narrative. This is another example of emphasis on supposed rights of those who object to us, such as cis women sharing a building with trans women in prison.

Transphobia is organised and amplified in Britain. And we have allies. I love Tom Daley’s Christmas message. With hate against minorities managed for political ends, gay people should know that if you say nothing, they come for you next. And always the demonisation, as if quiet, gentle trans people were angry, oppressive and violent, and women were rightly frightened; as if the problem of violence against women would be solved if all the trans were excluded.

People will continue to transition. In 2022, more trans people than ever before will express themselves as their true selves, finding it just too painful not to.

Transphobia everywhere

Adam Phillips is a fascinating writer. Surely an editor should have red-lined this: “if we can’t let ourselves feel our frustration – and, surprisingly, this is a surprisingly difficult thing to do”. I have been thinking about this repetition, which however I analyse it I cannot make mean anything. Possibly the value is making the sentence memorable, about finding inconvenient emotions difficult to feel, so getting the lesson over. I know emotions I find threatening can remain unconscious, though still affecting me, and someone who did not know that might be brought to a halt by this apparent solecism, and so consider its message, and possibly admit it.

I am reading “On Wanting to Change”. As I want to change, I feel this erudite therapist might prompt me in useful directions. And then I find this sentence: “Converts are like transvestites: they disguise something the better to display it.” I could think of female impersonators, or drag queens, or even alleged fetishists who suffer no gender dysphoria at all- some category for the “transvestite”, so I could say, oh, he does not mean me- but I am not sure he would make the distinction. Would he think me an exhibitionist? I walk the streets with my real self on show, which most people have the modesty and discretion not to do.

Would he think me ridiculous or disgusting? As a therapist, he would see the full ridiculousness and surprisingness of people, and still find some motivation to spend time with them- the fees they pay, or dispassionate interest, or even perhaps a desire to make them better.

I have been paying attention, as I feel it might benefit me, and I am caught short by a reminder of my vulnerability and the contempt, distaste or political hostility some feel for people like me. This is a complete pain.

I had been thinking how I want to follow current affairs, in the hope that I might influence them, by protest, canvassing, blogging. But if I read the Guardian, or New Statesman, or listen to BBC news, I may at any time be brought up short by the Trans is Bad article, or a throwaway Trans is Bad comment. The New Statesman had no Trans is Bad article last week, which is a mercy, but I was reading Rachel Cunliffe’s views on Azeem Rafiq, nodding in agreement and seeing new angles through her eyes, when she rewrote history about JK Rowling to make that transphobic aggressor appear like a victim.

Does Cunliffe believe Rowling was a victim? Did she not read Rowling’s screed, in which she weaponised her experience of domestic violence to preach hatred of trans people? Has she just forgotten the screed itself, only remembering what haters claiming victimhood wrote about it?

Ideally I would want to read Cunliffe’s views of Azeem Rafiq, which help me understand, and might help me persuade others, without being reminded that I am a pariah simply because of being trans.

I read Rebecca Solnit, whom I admire, asking for donations to The Guardian, which I value, which has worthwhile journalism on pollution, the climate crisis, and tax havens, and thought, yeah, but it’s full of transphobia. Then I read Rebecca Solnit on Donald Trump, with a line about reading books being better. So I started reading Adam Phillips.

I could turn to facebook. There I might find encouragement and solidarity, and express it, but there I read that Richard Dawkins has tweeted that his followers should sign a transphobic hate screed. I knew Dawkins was a transphobe, and that real feminists might find him problematic, and still I find this a blow. Our enemies are so powerful, and always getting stronger!

At the recital on Saturday, the older woman sitting behind me started a conversation with me, and remarked on how weird it was that I stripped down to a short sleeved shirt in November, as if she had never heard of hot flushes.

Wherever I go, whatever I read, I will find reminders that people I admire and want to like find trans, and therefore me, repulsive, ridiculous, or threatening. I cannot escape. As far as I can tell, it is almost like being Black, in kind if not in degree. Perhaps the answer is acceptance and Love. I would become fully open to my feelings, however threatening, and admit the full horror, pain and fear I feel at the thoughtless or carefully constructed anti-trans idea. Then I would pass on. I would accept the thing I cannot change. It might be better than being tied in knots of resentment.

The World is not as it should be. How may we change it?

Justin Webb

If the BBC were defunded, as the Conservative government seeks to do, broadcasting and newsgathering in Britain would be irreparably damaged. But it is institutionally transphobic, and makes complaints against them phenomenally difficult. Complain enough, and they suggest you write to the Executive Complaints Unit.

Here is my complaint against Justin Webb, explained for the Executive Complaints Unit in full. Continue reading

Silke Steidinger’s “Exploration of gender dysphoria”

Silke Steidinger, psychotherapist, musician, and researcher on minority religious movements, “explores being human” and produced her film, “Trans-Actions: An Exploration of Gender Dysphoria” for her MA degree. She is gender nonconforming, AFAB, but apparently not trans as the person who introduced me to it claimed. That person is an anti-trans campaigner, yet she called it “a very good film” and I find it interesting.

In 2018, Steidinger produced a ninety minute film, and now only a thirty minute cut is available. She interviewed trans people, anti-trans campaigners, and medical professionals. They were,

  • Christopher Inglefield, a plastic surgeon who performs trans surgeries and cis man;
  • E-j Scott, curator of the museum of transology and trans man;
  • Susie Orbach, psychoanalyst and cis woman;
  • Emily-jo Miller, performer and trans woman;
  • psychotherapist Robert Withers, later disgraced, cis man;
  • Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, cis gay man;
  • Susan Matthews, contributor to a discredited anti-trans book and cis woman, who unfortunately spreads the myth of desistance;
  • Peter Fonagy, psychologist and cis man, and
  • James Caspian, cis man anti-trans campaigner who seeks to do worthless, unethical “research” and conspiracy-theorises about why the ethics committee prevented it.

Caspian introduces himself, then only appears once in the film, saying he is taking his former university to court. Judicial review was refused, so he went to the European Court of Human Rights in February 2021. Their target is to deal with cases within three years. (When I refer to “the film” hereafter, I mean the shorter version, as I have not seen the longer version).

Then Steidinger assembled their comments to show different ways of seeing trans. Her questions are rarely included. Sometimes she writes an afterthought on the film. She has a twitter but does not tweet. Her eponymous website is no longer available. As a psychotherapist, she offers help with gender and gender dysphoria, among many other issues, by offering a secure attachment with professional boundaries.

Why would an anti-trans campaigner and a trans woman both think a film about trans interesting or worthwhile? Perhaps she saw the ninety minute version, and perhaps it gives a very different impression. Or, on a superficial viewing both could pick out the bits they agreed with, and dismiss the rest, not knowing how someone coming new to the film might see it.

The film starts with Scott, the trans man, who says the NHS has a gender crisis, then goes on to Withers, who says trans people have psychological issues they can’t recognise. Scott is shown saying he knows no detransitioners and the panic is unfounded, then Withers tells the story of his trans patient. After nine years expressing female, the patient reverted. Being post-operative, he needed a testosterone prescription and cannot live fully as a man. He was vilified by the trans community, says Withers, and unfortunately that is likely. He would be angry about being treated, we would be frightened his case would be used to prevent our treatment. Therapist and client both thought he had been sold a surgical solution to a psychological problem, and Withers’ refusal to consider alternative explanations later led him to being sanctioned by the discipline tribunal- but few people coming new to the “debate” will know that.

Very well. There are detransitioners. For the anti-trans campaigner, that is all that needs to be said. Transition has damaged them. For me, given that retransitioners talk of the transphobia that led them to detransition, it is all more complicated than that.

The surgeon, Inglefield, repeatedly says that surgery- the removal of breasts and penises, changing the facial appearance- is the only cure, but then is shown saying “Even five years ago, individuals would have been pushed into surgery because they were told the only way to manage GD is surgery.” So he is shown apparently contradicting himself. So is Peter Tatchell: he is shown saying with gender dysphoria there is too much focus on anatomy and not enough on psychology, and then shown saying he has always opposed the designation of trans people as having a mental health issue.

Matthews is an academic in English Literature who nevertheless expresses forceful opinions that trans children aren’t really trans. In the film, she appears once, saying she was concerned about the psychology of gender clinic clinicians, “blasé to the harm” they did their patient. At this point, the hater would be cheering.

Orbach gets a lot of screen time. She says the idea that medical treatment should be for a medical disorder throws up challenges to gender treatment. She does not think you should need a psychiatric diagnosis in order to get treatment. But as a psychotherapist, she would investigate people’s search for meaning, the complexities of their situation, their ability to be certain and at the same time tolerate internal differences.

Then she says (I think) that gender dysphoric children are forced into treatment because of pressure in the culture stopping them accepting their bodies, rather than a problem with the body itself. Well, I would like to change society too, and get rid of gender stereotypes, but until we do we need physical therapy.

Fonagy is chief executive of the Anna Freud national centre for children and families, where he taught Steidinger. He says that the distinction between physical and mental is unhelpful. I am not a Cartesian dualist either. He says trans people should have an opportunity to explore, psychologically, their problem with their experience of their body, without being stigmatised as mentally ill. The stigma reduces their willingness to explore their feelings. He feels if this were done, it might produce a resolution of gender identity issues “above other approaches that are more radical”. He can only mean surgery. So, if we understand, we will cease to want to transition, or at least to transition physically.

In the middle of this, Miller is shown saying easing gender dysphoria by psychological treatment is not a viable alternative. It would only end up seeking to deter people from transition. So cisnormative people, uncomfortable with trans people, are seeking a solution which they find comfortable.

Near the end, a caption asks, “What is gender dysphoria?” Miller says, “I dunno it’s hard to describe”. She is 23, transitioned since 17, and still “hyper aware of facets that seem overly masculine”. It’s how she is perceived, but also it is in her body.

Fonagy then says we need to be more sensitive to how gender can manifest in an individual.

Steidinger hardly appears until the last segment. She strings together her interviewees’ answers. But with Scott, we hear her voice. She asks him if he has thoughts about the causes of transgender, and he finds this stigmatising, like old questions about causes of homosexuality. We seek causes for things we find unpleasant or unacceptable.

Steidinger still thinks it is an important question. Things run smoothly for cis people, for trans people there is disruption, she says. Well, that is because society others us. Scott says it is possible that there are problems with current understandings of gender, even understandings which include trans people, but that is a different question.

Steidinger says, “I identify as lesbian”. An afterthought appears written on the screen- “Well, gay really”. “And also as gender nonconforming. I wanted to be a boy until I was twelve or something” and in writing it says, “Maybe to this day at times….”

“I ask what being gay was about,” she says. Ah, there it is. It is a film made by someone forced to question herself because she has minority sexual desires, and possibly a minority gender identity. So she produces a film where authority figures speculate on causes and psychological cures for gender dysphoria separate from being trans.

I know nothing of the ninety minute cut. I too speculate about causes, and underlying psychological issues, and get more and more certain that I am deeply feminine. Transition was the only way I could permit myself to be who I am. For me to feel safe presenting male but expressing my femininity would need a different life for me, a different upbringing, and almost certainly a different world.

I hope Steidinger has not suffered abuse for her film, but probably she has. Anti-trans campaigners could probably watch the short version and go away satisfied that surgery is wrong, and possibly that post-operative trans people are damaged, pitiable, and probably dangerous. And I see a filmmaker whose gender does not fit our society, who is questioning, and who just wants a psychological solution, as I still do. Oh, I want not to be in conflict.

And the film shows various cis people claiming that gender dysphoria is a psychological problem needing psychological solutions, and two trans people insisting it isn’t. So it is the perfect introduction to the “debate”. Which do you believe?

The New Statesman and trans

Are trans people a threat to women and children? You decide: The New Statesman is even-handed on the matter. It printed a review of Shon Faye, The Transgender Issue, and Helen Joyce, Trans, and an interview with Helen Joyce, in which a man, Harry Lambert, parroted her accusations in a fawning manner. On its website but not the print edition it had an interview with Shon Faye.

The editor really should spot the signs in the Helen Joyce hagiography. There is a threat to women, Joyce and Lambert claim, and it’s a bigger fight for women than the suffragettes faced. Inclusive language for trans men and nonbinary people is “dehumanising” for cis women, who are “vulnerable”. Anyone standing up for cis women’s rights to spaces without trans women, in a completely reasonable way, is “demonised” and “vilified”, despite their heroic “suffragette” status. There is a threat: schools, hospitals and prisons adopt “self-ID” where there are no safeguards, and people simply say they are trans. This is “regressive” (a word to offend NS’s “progressive” readers) and schools are “at risk”. Trans children receiving treatment from doctors is “a massive medical scandal”. “A climate of fear” prevents cis women from standing up to the Trans Threat.

Trans people dangerous! Cis people- women and children!– at risk! The minority is demonised in the article, which Denies Attacks and Reverses Victim and Offender.

This is of course ridiculous. Self-ID in prisons? Then why are most trans women prisoners in men’s prisons? A moment’s thought would refute all this, but the emotive words threat, risk, fear, prevent that thought. And so ordinary decent NS readers are taught to fear a minority. NS is not Völkischer Beobachter, but the article is Stürmeresque.

Sophie McBain reviewed both Faye’s and Joyce’s books. Writing of Faye, she seems mostly sympathetic, but gives statistics of girls referred to the gender clinic: 40 in 2009/10, 1806 in 2017/18. “Not all of these will transition medically” she says, but in fact the proportion is tiny: 16% were referred for puberty blockers, and only 9% for cross sex hormones.

No-one is being “pushed into identifying as trans”, as the article suggests. The problem is the opposite: if a trans child manages to reach the clinic, despite all the obstacles and the years-long waiting list, they are still unlikely to get treatment. The “massive medical scandal” is trans children left untreated, not as Joyce and these articles would have you believe innocent cis children being transed just because they are gender nonconforming or gay.

Then, in the course of balance, McBain goes on to Joyce’s book, which “raises questions”. What about the detransitioners? Should self-ID get you into women’s domestic violence shelters? Should any trans women (she does not mention the hormone requirements) be in women’s sports?

McBain does not simply accept Joyce’s views. “The more conspiratorial aspects of the book are the least persuasive”, she says, of the allegation of a “well-funded, politically sophisticated group of trans activists”. Harriet Harman produced our current system of self-id, out of decency and solidarity not ideology. McBain says Joyce “raises important, complicated issues”, and suggests teens with gender dysphoria should have “emotional support and counselling” rather than puberty blockers. She is right that “true freedom comes from dismantling gender stereotypes” but not as a replacement for hormone therapy. Then she suggests that male sex offenders get into women’s prisons by self-ID.

McBain gets a lot right, but her attempt at being judicious and nuanced means she falls for some, though not all, of Joyce’s paranoid propaganda. She calls Joyce’s figures that women athletes are slower than men, the “strongest parts of Joyce’s book, grounded in rigorous research and focused on the facts”, ignoring that all women athletes have exceptional physiques from natural aptitude, and hormone rules mean that no male athlete pretends to be trans.

If I just avoid news and comment sites which publish transphobic lies and propaganda, that means avoiding of all the mainstream British sites. If I read sites which print progressive views I support, such as The Guardian or NS, I will come across disturbingly transphobic articles which make me anxious and depressed. I don’t know what to do about this. I recommend you read the Shon Faye interview. It makes some excellent points. Now I will re-watch Philosophy Tube.

7 October: the transphobe Lambert attacked the Green Party in the new issue of NS. He claimed new co-leader Carla Denyer calling the anti-trans hate group LGB All Liars a hate group would divide the party and drive away supporters. He asked her co-leader Adrian Ramsay if “spaces” should be reserved for “those born female”, clearly showing his trans-excluding ideology. Ramsay told him the law: services could exclude individual trans women on a case by case basis. Lambert then told a falsehood about the current law, claiming that services could restrict access “on the basis of sex”, by which he means cis women only. He then claims that the leadership contest revolved around trans rights because Siân Berry challenged Shahrar Ali, rather than because Ali made an attack on trans rights his whole pitch.

“Biological men” and centre-left politics

“Labour is proud to stand with the LGBT+ community,” it tweets. What does that mean in this political climate, and does anyone believe them?

The anti-trans campaigners have moved on. Trans women have been in women’s spaces and services forever, and that just wasn’t a problem. There are so few of us hardly anyone noticed, and they mostly didn’t care. But then in 2017 Theresa May proposed reforming the Gender Recognition Act, and the campaign against trans people got the billionaire rocket fuel it has now. At first, the haters pretended they had nothing against “genuine trans women”, only predatory men pretending to be trans women. One vile slogan against GRA reform was “Self-ID gives predators the green light”. This is obviously transphobic, teaching people to fear “genuine” trans women, and judge us. Is that really a trans woman, or is it a “predatory male”?

But now there is no chance of GRA reform, and the transphobes have moved on. There is still the ritual claim “I have always supported rights for trans people”, along with a demand for “biological men” to be excluded from all women’s “single sex” or “separate sex” services.

Keir Starmer’s response was to support the Equality Act. Trans women can be excluded if there is good reason to do so, and not otherwise. Trans rights are just about fine as they are now, and so are women’s rights. He might think that was safe, but being centrist- listen to both sides, do what is reasonable- is not safe. The Independent reported this in the most confrontational way possible. “Keir Starmer backs excluding trans women from some women only spaces”, as if he had come down on a side. If there was any reasonable discussion, this might be tenable. I have no wish to retraumatise a woman who has just been raped, and would stay out of some spaces if it was reasonable. But the demand is for total exclusion, which brooks no compromise.

Ideally just before Conference attention should be on Labour values and policies, on Keir Starmer and his Fabian Society pamphlet. Instead, Rosie Duffield, relentless anti-trans campaigner, is “trending”.

On The Today Programme culture warrior Justin Webb asked Ed Davey, leader of the LibDems, “Do you believe there should be places in our society where biological males can’t go?” He spent more than a third of the interview (starts at 1.51.40) putting the views of the extremist trans excluders, with a petulant sneer, as if they were only seeking what everyone would agree is right. Absolutely no trans women, not never not nohow, in any women’s service. If I wanted to try on a T-shirt before buying it I should trek to the men’s section. Not all clothes shops have a men’s section. I should be humiliated.

Poor Ed Davey tried to be consensual. “I think the trans rights issue is an issue that all parties are grappling with and we need to come to some consensus across political parties.” Webb demanded a straight answer. Attempt at nuance, with any complex issue, is portrayed as equivocation. No issue is black and white, but any admission of shades of grey is called dishonest.

So Labour needs a clear, defensible position. Trans women might be excluded from women’s spaces if we did something wrong. Karen White should not be in the general population of a women’s prison. But we should not be excluded simply because of who we are. I would treat traumatised women with compassion, but not be excluded by diktat.

This needs a soundbite. “Trans women are women. Trans women should never be excluded from a women’s service because of who they are.”

Then explain as necessary. Any person who behaves badly might be excluded from a service because of what they have done, but not because of who they are. The Equality Act has always protected trans people from the moment they decide to transition. Trans women are vulnerable. Portraying us as a threat incites violence against us.

So Rosie Duffield is trending, and the news is full of the right to “single sex services” meaning No Trans Women, and my friend who is cis, in favour of trans rights, and bi, says Labour’s tweet is “opportunistic and not-credible”. Trans people should support Labour, to get the Tories out. Labour should return the favour. If that made anti-trans campaigners leave, that would be a bonus. They already are only of use to the hard Right.

Discussing trans rights with people who don’t care

Some people do not know what LGBT stands for. Being online gives a false perspective. Being interested in trans rights, we could scroll for hours a day and still read only a tiny proportion of the insane hatred devoted to rolling back trans rights, and the resistance to it. Twitter, facebook, etc, are desperate to show us transphobia in the hope we will engage, but usually only those already invested look.

I wanted Greens to know Shahrar Ali was making his pitch to anti-trans campaigners, so shared my blog. Mad haters plunged in: one alleged that Ali was being targeted by Zionists for his support for the Palestinians. Unfortunately, I called them “mad haters”, which makes me seem angry and confrontational, not good on a Green forum. Another went to the drafter of the Labour Party Transphobes’ Declaration and passed on her scurrilous accusations against me.

By using the term “mad haters” I had a tactical loss. I defended it- they are “mad” in that they are divorced from reality, only caring about opposing trans rights and not any other party issue; and they are haters, demanding the exclusion of absolutely every trans woman from all women’s spaces. And I was still rebuked, and warned to use constructive language, by people who apparently thought claiming a Jewish conspiracy was absolutely fine. She’s not attacking Jews, she’s attacking “Zionists”. Yeah, right.

Then someone wrote, “I certainly wouldn’t be happy with a Green party that didn’t support trans rights, but it doesn’t seem to me Shahrar wouldn’t. He explicitly says he supports the Equality Act.”

I wasn’t sure about that. Was this an anti-trans campaigner who had the knack of appearing reasonable? Ali does not say he supports the Equality Act, only “all the protected characteristics”. Anti-trans campaigners say they “support trans rights”, meaning trans rights as they define them- a right not to be harassed in the street or be sacked for being trans, but not a right for trans women to use women’s loos. But if someone could not recognise a trans flag, they would not spot that nuance by themselves.

So I explained, and met another question: How is ‘sex based rights’ code for excluding trans women? I explained that too. To my slight surprise she accepted my argument, saying people should accept the “single-sex” services in the Equality Act should include trans women. Then, rather than putting an argument, she was thinking out loud as she typed, she said some women felt vulnerable and threatened by trans inclusion. Could we work together?

No, is the answer to that. They make it a zero sum game- no trans women in women’s spaces, ever. They could see what they gain by trans inclusion, and work for a range of spaces, but they would be affronted to be restricted to some out of the way loo which was for trans-excluders, with the women’s for all women. But this woman has Green sympathies- For the Common Good- and likes to think people can always work together.

And then she said, if Shahrar supports the EA, surely he supports trans women in women’s spaces? I had to explain the other code he uses, around “politically homeless” women and “sex-based rights”. She still thought there was some doubt, and a need to help both sides of the “debate” to understand each other. Only a direct question to “Shahrar” would clear it up, but he isn’t answering.

-Do you still think there is doubt?
-The vast majority would not read Shahrar’s site the way you do. And trans people need to listen to the excluders, and hear their concerns.

She is right on that. People would not read it that way, unless they are engaged with the debate. They do not read it closely, and don’t particularly think about the bits they don’t understand- of course no novelist should receive a death threat for writing a think piece, and they don’t bother asking which novelist he means.

From Sara Ahmed, I get the understanding that people do not like to believe their social group contains bad people such as sexual predators, or those who discriminate on gender, colour or sexuality. So, they find accusations of bad behaviour a threat. The accusations and the accusers threaten their comfortable illusion that everything is OK. Surely Professor Smith would not do such a horrible thing? Diversity policies are put in place as proof that the organisation acts properly on diversity, not as a template for action against discriminators.

So I asked her directly. Now I have explained the code, do you accept Ali is calling for trans exclusion? I explained the whole screed again. And I was rewarded. “I think the issue here is exactly as you say.” But then, she immediately qualified. She still wanted a straight answer from Ali to “clear things up” and could see that Ali’s site could be interpreted as innocuous.

Even LGBT+ people disagree on what letters to add to the end, or what they stand for. QIA- Allies? Asexual? Both? I have seen a strong argument that Allies are definitely not included. The mad haters have created a jargon all their own. “Sex is Real” they say, and only the trans excluders and trans people, only people who have scrolled for hours and hours, see the pure nastiness they put in that phrase. It is hard to persuade the unengaged, and has to be done with great care.

Still, it’s lovely to think of someone who gets sympathy when she whines on a mad hater group, “I can’t go out, because there are no single-sex toilets anywhere! I haven’t bought new clothes in five years because there’s only mixed sex changing rooms to try them on!” Then she tries that with unengaged people, and meets perplexity and derision. If instead she stokes paranoia- trans women are dangerous, penises in women’s loos, etc- she may put off the Left-wingers, as she is more clearly spreading hate.

The effect of transphobia

Transphobia is a true phobia, as irrational and pitiable as arachnophobia. Just as an arachnophobe’s attention is consumed by the harmless spider, just as they feel fear and sometimes abject terror, so the transphobe is obsessed by the possibility of seeing a trans woman even if none are there.

My friend was so gentle she did not want the spiders that terrified her hurt. With other phobias, the phobes see the irrationality, as does everyone else, whether they sympathise or despise. Transphobes refuse to recognise their irrationality, so must rationalise their fear. So they have to hate as well as fear: to invent some justification, however bizarre, why their fear is in some way proportionate to the tiny minority of mostly harmless trans people, and also to attempt to persuade others to fear us too.

I was going to write a post demonstrating this. So I went to collect transphobic utterances. The barrister Allison Bailey tweeted, “This is a national & international crisis”. Someone shared the tweet on facebook, apparently believing it. Someone told me on facebook all trans women are racist, because women of colour were more likely to have traditional views and be scared of trans women in women’s services. She stereotypes people based on skin colour, and calls me racist. She also said I oppressed women and girls, who would be unable to go out because of the “urinary leash”. There were no women’s loos they could use, because there might be a trans woman in there.

Another claimed women would speak out against trans inclusion but were afraid of violence or being sacked from their jobs. That could be rationalising, claiming her fear was of something real.

I had the core of a post. People I had met, semi-famous or eminent people, random people in comment sections or facebook, all saying irrational, phobic things, mixed with anger and hatred because they could not admit their fear was irrational. And then I sat without showering all morning, because considering such stuff hurts. It makes me imagine a miasma of hostility everywhere, when most people don’t care that I am trans, and many accept me.

I need to be loved, I said.
You are loved! said my Friend.

We laugh at the phobes, on our private groups. Nicola Sturgeon tweeted about how awful it was now, to be a woman in Afghanistan, and someone tweeted, “Afghan women and children are in a horrendous position, but here women and children are being called terfs”. It is ridiculous. When shared on facebook that drew eight Haha reactions. If it’s just as bad, someone said, “I’m sure there are plenty of Afghan women willing to change places with British TERFs”. I hope some people will look at that tweet and see it is ridiculous.

I’ve seen screenshots, but it appears the tweet has been deleted. The account shown, when I searched on DuckDuckGo, came up as Sugar Kane в Твиттер, but referred to Scottish issues from an anti-SNP perspective and had a lot of transphobia. I am sure you could find screenshots with a bit of searching.

Feel the fear and do it anyway. In this strange world of On-Line, passions are so high, and the most recondite interest can come to seem the most important thing in the world because you can spend hours a day scrolling through ever-new stuff. Any hashtag has mockers and doubters, who only serve to drive engagement. Facebook regularly shows me posts where people are energetically debating trans rights, and I got sucked in. So I got called a “racist”. And now I am still dwelling on that- to try and understand where it comes from, to see how important it is, to entertain and enlighten you, of course. I wish trans friends online would spend less time on transphobes.

James Esses

James Esses is no longer studying psychotherapy, and wants to sue his course provider, the Metanoia Institute. He has raised £50,000 in five days.

Esses has been fearmongering about trans children. His basic lie is that children are “transed”, that children who will not benefit from social transition or puberty blockers, or who will suffer long term damage because of such treatment, are being pushed into treatment by the uncritical adherents of what he calls “gender theory”. He claims such people “solely affirm gender dysphoric clients into their identified gender”, and want all therapists to do the same “on pain of criminal punishment”. That is a shocking allegation. Is there any evidence for it?

Compared to the monstrous “gender theory”, his claimed position is entirely reasonable. He says in his crowdfunder that he only wants “to treat clients professionally and according to their needs”. He petitioned the government to “safeguard evidence-based therapy” for gender dysphoric children, as if there were any threat to that. He claims that “Studies show that many dysphoric children will come to identify as their biological sex”. Well, it depends what you mean by dysphoric. Studies claiming high levels of “desistance” do not show that children who identify as trans and want to transition are likely to change their minds.

The government response made some worrying claims: they will “protect under-18s from irreversible decisions”. If they think that includes puberty blockers, we may have government interference in medical treatment doctors, parents and the child all believe is needed. That is the position American legislators have taken.

Turning to the Daily Mail, what did Esses do? He volunteered for Childline, but was sacked because he “use[d] the service to advance [his] personal campaigns” and gave ” the impression that Childline endorses [his] personal campaigns”.

Aged 29 he cannot have practised as a barrister for long before becoming a civil servant and then choosing psychotherapy as his third career, but may still know English law better than I do. He will know his student contract. The Mail claims he was dismissed from his course by email for bringing negative attention to Metanoia by starting the petition. This might breach his entitlement to a fair process.

His crowdfunder claims he was discriminated against because of his gender critical beliefs, but starting the petition was an action rather than a belief. He also founded the “thoughtful therapists” twitter feed, which may give the impression that he would, as a therapist, go beyond exploratory therapy to find the best way forward for a distressed child, and instead pressure them to avoid social transition. That would be conversion therapy: to rigorously refuse to countenance social transition or hormones as an appropriate course for a child, and pressure them into another course.

In the crowdfunder he says “I hold gender critical beliefs: that sex is biological and immutable”. Well, possibly. However, trans people exist and benefit from social transition, hormones and surgery. Nobody wants to “trans” someone whom it would not benefit. What would they possibly gain? Insofar as Esses denies these obvious truths, he is incapable of functioning as a psychotherapist.

The petition was based on a falsehood, that the government might “criminalise essential, explorative therapy”. There is no chance of that. Any therapist seeing a client who presents as trans will keep an open mind. Only a psychiatrist can refer a child to an endocrinologist for hormone treatment.

Consider the Royal College of Psychiatrists position statement on supporting transgender and gender-diverse people. It defines conversion therapy as “treatments for transgender people that aim to suppress or divert their gender identity – i.e. to make them cisgender – that is exclusively identified with the sex assigned to them at birth”. Clearly, exploratory therapy is not forbidden. “The College supports psychiatrists in fully exploring their patient’s gender identity (involving their families where appropriate) in a non-judgemental, supportive and ethical manner.”

Consider the New Zealand government’s draft Bill. It defines conversion practice as “performed with the intention of changing or suppressing the individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” Exploration would not be forbidden. Ideological denial that transition can ever be right for a patient would.

What of the UK Council for Psychotherapy? It says “Conversion therapy is an umbrella term for a therapeutic approach, model or individual viewpoint that demonstrates an assumption that any sexual orientation or gender identity is inherently preferable to any other, and which attempts to bring about a change of sexual orientation or gender identity, or seeks to suppress an individual’s expression of sexual orientation or gender identity on that basis.” Esses’ statements, on twitter and elsewhere, may be sufficient to show he holds such a viewpoint and therefore would be vulnerable to the discipline tribunal, as the UKCP’s ethics stand now. But there is clearly no threat to exploratory therapy.

Esses has attempted to spread fear that therapists are wrongfully transing children, and that law or ethics on conversion therapy might outlaw exploration of gender identity and dysphoria. This is clearly untrue. Childline says he was campaigning against transition rather than properly counselling callers.

I hope Esses loses his court action. However his raising £50,000 in five days shows the huge amount of money available for court action against trans rights, or institutions or law supporting trans people.