Butterfly- a view from the cocoon

The cast of Butterfly (from trailer)

I watched the first episode of the new ITV drama ‘Butterfly’ with interest and growing discomfort.

From the opening credits, where Max removes his lipstick and pink nail polish, to the firm handshakes dolled out by his bearded father, I was especially struck by the program’s blithe promotion and acceptance of gendered stereotypes.

As Max removes the trappings of femininity, the hair adornments, the nail polish, lipstick and jewellery, the camera pans back and we see his face. This powerful opening speaks volumes: remove the adornments we associate with girlhood and this boy-child is just that: a boy.  How could he be anything else?

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Max dancing (from trailer)

We learn that Max’s parents are recently separated, and that Max’s penchant for feminine things has played a large part in this split. It’s made clear that Max feels guilty about the split and desperately wants his parents back together.

In a bid to impress his dad on weekend visits, Max tries to enjoy playing football. We learn that he has also cut his hair in an attempt to please his father.  And this pretence works, up to a point.  But the moment the mask of machismo slips, dad is having none of it. When Max spins and dances in a pink top at home, it become too much for his father, who tries to stop him, first saying,” I’m warning you, Max,” and then striking him.

Dad has made rules in the past about what Max can and can’t do. “There’ll be more rules about it now,” he warns, darkly.

 

“In our house you get to do ‘girl things’ but nowhere else.”

Even his supportive mum can’t see beyond conforming to conventional sexist stereotypes of how boys and girls should behave, telling Max, “Outside you’re a boy, you do what boys do.”

 

Lily MaynardWhich brings us to the elephant in the ‘Butterfly’ house. At no point does anyone tell Max that he’s just fine as he is, that liking traditionally ‘feminine’ things doesn’t make him any less of a boy.  That it’s ok for a boy not to enjoy ‘manly’ pastimes. His grandmother dismisses his feelings as a ‘silly phase’. Grandad, at one point,  suggests the family should “all just say you’re gay and it’s no problem at all,” but we all know grandad is old and foolish and the idea that Max might not be the problem is not even considered by any other character.  No wonder he thinks he must be a girl. In Max’s world, it isn’t possible to enjoy the things he does and still be male. The message Max receives from everyone around him is that he is not a ‘proper’ boy.

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Max on the hospital trolley (from trailer)

There follows a suicide attempt, brought on by Max’s mother’s attempt to go out on a date. Rushed through the hospital, Max lies like a modern day Ophelia, hair lightly curled, impeccable and perfectly made up, on a hospital trolley.

After this, the family visit a medical health practitioner, possibly from CAMHS, who, on this very first visit, raises the subject of puberty blockers.

When Max’s dad mentions the fact that he’s heard most kids ‘grow out of it’, the idea is dismissed with the ominous prediction, “Puberty can be a ticking clock… gender dysphoria might escalate, might not.”

 

After dancing in the playground with some girls and being bullied on the way home by some boys, Max’s teenage sister tells him “ I think of you as my sister,” and he is ready to let her take him under her wing.

At the end of the first episode, Max comes downstairs with his sister, in a school skirt, make-up and a hairslide. “How do I look?” he asks his surprised family. “You look lovely,” manages his mother.

On going to school dressed like this, Max says “I don’t want to do it but I feel I have to”.

It is as if Max has realised that the only way anyone is going to let him express his personality is if he forces himself into the ‘girl’ box.

“She,” he corrects his mother when she refers to him as ‘he’.

“She,” she breathes back.

 

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A necklace similar to the one Max removes at the start of the series.

The influence of ‘Mermaids’ is apparent throughout the first episode.  In the opening sequence, Max removes a mermaid necklace and a momentary close up reveals it to be very similar to the one  on the ‘Mermaids’ logo. In a visit to an aquarium with his dad, Max imagines a beautiful mermaid swimming over to him and trying to make contact with him through the glass. In a later scene, Max’s parents visit a support group and are told  “Listen to your child.” A Mermaids poster is clearly visible in the background.

Jake Hurfurt reports in the Mail that writer Tony Marchant and actress Anna Friel, who co-produced the program and plays Max’s mum, have ‘lavished praise on Mermaids’.

It comes as no surprise that CEO Susie Green, whose son underwent ‘gender reassignment surgery’ at just sixteen, and who advocates for under-16s access to cross-sex hormones, is listed in the credits as a series consultant.

“I can’t even begin to thank Susie Green enough for all the help she gave me.” says Friel.

Screen Shot 2018-10-14 at 22.12.21This afternoon, with the first episode of Butterfly about to be released, the homepage of the Mermaids website was promising that their ‘helpline will be open until midnight on the 14th, 21st and 28th of October to coincide with the launch of new episodes.’

Today, Mermaids’ Twitter feed is full of scores of pictures of butterflies and scores of moving quotes from anonymous happy parents who have transitioned their children. Gender critical parents have made their own version of the mermaids hashtag.

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In fact, apart from the obvious idea of emerging from a cocoon, I really can’t work out why they called the program ‘Butterfly’ in the first place. “Mermaid” would be a far more appropriate title, as at times the show verges on little more than a glorified advert for the contentious and controversial charity.

For a production with a fair level budget, ‘Butterfly’ isn’t very well put together. The acting is excellent but the writing is weak, a frequent flaw of ‘message pieces’.

While questing to become compelling characters, the actors struggle with the challenge of becoming something more than mouthpieces for the message. This was nowhere more notable than in the painfully gauche scene where Max’s sister tells him he should correct people who refer to him as ‘he’ and that she thinks of him as her sister not her brother.

The editing is also somewhat haphazard. Scenes seemed mashed together, rather than paced, which leaves the viewer feeling as if they’ve just watched one long trailer.

Of course, it isn’t meant to be real.  It’s a story. It’s a fictional show. It’s prime time TV drama.  But the show pushes the sexist and homophobic narrative that a boy liking dancing, pretty things and pink is reason enough for not just concern, but medical intervention.  I wonder to what extent the self-congratulatory adult crew involved with making it have seriously thought about that.

In addition, the beautification and idealisation of attempted suicide in this show, and the way that it gets Max what he wants (his dad moves back home because of it) may give mixed messages to other confused kids.  Writer Marchant has suggested that “kids going through this, with or without the support of their parents” might watch the show and get “some sense of what we need to do, that this is ok.” 

What he doesn’t seem to be asking is how many effeminate little boys are going to watch or hear about this show and decide that they too must be ‘born in the wrong body’? How many well-meaning teachers will watch the show and wonder if little Tommy isn’t just a bit quiet and effeminate after all- perhaps he is a transgender child?!   How many parents, concerned their child might be gay or doesn’t comply with gender norms, may decide it’s because their child is really transgender?

 

How many of those little boys will end up getting ‘fixed’ like Max?

 

 

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Gender is harmful. My views are not hateful.

Yesterday I was told that my writing could be seen as hateful. The accusation stems from my belief that men cannot ‘become’ women, & that ‘woman’ is a biological descriptor. Nor do I believe a child can be born in the ‘wrong’ body.

So I’ve written something short, to lay out my views and try to explain them in a piece that should only take a few minutes to read. Hopefully you’ll make it to the end, and you’ll see that there is nothing hateful about my beliefs.

If you see hatred here, please pin point it. Call it out. Let me know where; let me know what and why. Be specific.

32455261_10157355273843332_9142684560734027776_nA girl who likes mud and short hair and hates pink is still a girl. She is strong and fierce, not broken, she does not need fixing or to change herself. If you love her, tell her that. Always.

If you feel uncomfortable that your boy child likes pink and tutus & you’ve agreed with him that that means he’s a girl, know that I will never, ever comply with this.  A boy who wants to sing and dance, to feel the breeze in long hair and a skirt flow around his knees is precious and wild. He can never be a girl, and that is fine because he is perfect as he is. Why would you ever tell him otherwise?

Your child does not need to be lied to. They need help to try to accept themselves as they are. They will find it much harder to do that if the adults that they love and trust tell them that they might be in a body that is ‘wrong’.

I have seen the effects of gender dysphoria first hand. I watched my own daughter wrestle with it, feeling that she was wrong, that to be herself she would need to make painful, unnatural changes to the unique creature that she is. It was awful. I understand that many people with gender dysphoria suffer terribly and I feel for them. Having that empathy doesn’t mean that I should be willing to lie about facts, change the meaning of the words that describe my sex, or stay silent when I see children being misled and harmed.

The same set of values that say the Munroes and Shons of this world ‘do woman’ properly,  are the same values that say short-haired, make-up free lesbians don’t ‘do woman’ properly. This is not ‘inclusive’. It is crushing. It is untrue. Sisters, if you remove your breasts it will not make you a man. You will always be one of us and not just because you understand the pain of womanhood better than most. Woman is not a feeling or a costume that can be tossed away or picked up. A man in a dress is still a man. Plastic surgery does not make him a woman.  Nothing can ever make him a woman. This may be a harsh reality, but it is still a reality.

32479856_10157355273673332_3783243456172785664_nThe restrictive gender norms and values that our society has established for men and women are based on stereotypes. Like characters in a child’s cartoon, these stereotypes are two dimensional. We are so much more complex than that. Stereotypes harm everyone. They are a web that traps and confines us, a mask forced on us that we never chose to wear.

We should strive to break them down, to leave the next generation a world where every personality is valid and every body is beautiful.

Let’s toss out the absurd rules that say there’s a right & wrong way to be a man or a woman. Women’s biology is unique to females and men’s to males. It shouldn’t define our personalities. Let’s celebrate that. Bending the meanings of words does not change reality. Woman; man – these words are biological descriptors. The rest is a huge and vast expanse of diverse forms of expression, some of which we label as masculine or feminine.

Turn your back on sexist stereotypes. They help no-one. Women shouldn’t have to perform femininity; men shouldn’t have to perform masculinity.  We are perfect as we are. We need to speak out and say this.

It is not hateful.

Don’t be afraid.

Break out of the boxes, don’t build new ones.

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The Gender Recognition Act & Fair Play for Women – Hands off my Rights!

Have you filled in the government consultation on the Gender Recognition Act? If you’re reading this after 19th October 2018, your chance to do so has passed. If you’re reading this before then, carpe diem. You still have a chance for your voice to be heard.

As Nicola Williams of Fair Play for Women says “We have one chance to stop this.” This is it.

Fair play for women

In their distinctive red T shirts, women have been campaigning all over the country.

*The quotes from ‘Fair Play’ women (presented as conversations in a cafe for the purpose of this piece) and preceded with a red asterisk * are the words of actual individual campaigners, given to me for inclusion in this article.

I salute every one of them.  Names have been changed.

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My personal views as expressed in this article are not necessarily those of ‘Fair Play for Women’.

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Over the last few weeks, the women of Fair Play for Women (FPFW) have taken to the streets of England where they’ve been talking to members of the public and trying to explain what changes to the GRA could mean for the rights of women and girls nationwide. In their distinctive red, white and black T shirts, emblazoned with the slogan ‘Hands off my Rights!’, women have been handing out leaflets and encouraging people to fill out the consultation in places as far afield as Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Cornwall. You can see details of their work at Fair Play for Women, and you can also get guidance to help filling in the consultation here. You can have a look at the resources in their excellent library here.

If you’re reading this you’re probably already familiar with the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), but it wouldn’t do any harm to give a bit of a background refresher. Firstly, it’s not to be confused with the Ghana Revenue Authority, which is the first thing that will come up if you type ‘History of the GRA’ into Google. The GRA was established in 2004 to enable trans-identified people to ‘receive legal recognition of their acquired gender’.

The government’s helpful leaflets on the proposed changes to the GRA are astoundingly biased. For those of us who have really educated ourselves about this matter and don’t support the changes, flipping through the ‘Easy Read Factsheet’ is quite a depressing experience. The assurance that there will be no changes made to the Equality Act, for example, is misleading. When a man can simply change his birth certificate to say he’s a woman, then there’s no way of telling who actually IS a woman. Making this process a matter of simply signing a form renders The Equality Act completely meaningless so far as protecting single-sex spaces is concerned.

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 18.19.38The first page of the startlingly sexist ‘Easy Read Fact Sheet’ features a picture of a pearl-clutching, be-lipsticked man, smiling widely at the camera, while a much smaller picture shows a young woman happily educating herself from a large pink booklet. It’s so easy, a woman can understand it!

Page 2 tells the reader, ‘Trans is the word for someone who has changed their gender from the one that was given them when they were born.’

My head is in a spin already. Nobody is ‘given a gender’ when they are born. Our SEX is observed and recorded. So already, in the first sentence, the ideas of sex and gender are being confused. We are already battling the word salad. Come on government, you can do better than this, surely?

The leaflet also tells the reader, “If you are married you need the permission of your spouse”. Well, it’s true that if you want to stay married (and your wife is quite happy to suddenly become a lesbian) then yes, she needs to agree to the legal change.  The current position offers a dignified way out of a marriage which has quite possibly become untenable for the other partner. But heck, this isn’t about actual women, is it? On the government leaflet Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 18.25.53this point is accompanied by a picture of a blue-haired man in a choker and a low cut top, with a smiling woman giving a thumbs-up next to him. (He is not smiling. Only actual women are expected to smile all the bloody time.) It’s easy! Smile. I mean, what reasonable woman would object to her husband suddenly ‘becoming’ a woman?

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 22.11.15Transmen, quelle surprise, are not given much thought in this document, although it does feature a couple of pictures of a fairly sullen teenage girl with short hair. I suspect she isn’t meant to be an actual female because she isn’t smiling. In one picture she wears a crop top and a tie! Gasp! Non-binary or gender fluid? You decide.

‘There will be no change to women-only spaces and services’ the helpful factsheet reassures the reader. Which brings us back to the fact that if there’s no way of telling who was born a man or a woman, women-only spaces become a bit irrelevant, don’t they?

Screen Shot 2018-10-07 at 18.53.31The government says it wants to make the process of ‘changing gender’ easier, and that the consultation is only about this.

The only thing left that currently takes any time, money or effort to change is your birth certificate. Other documents are already a done deal. If you want to make things even easier, there’s only one way forward.

Yes, that’s right. You can already change your sex on all your legal documents. You might be surprised to know that anyone can already change their sex on their driving licence and passport without undergoing any sort of process other than filling in a form. Sounds unlikely? I didn’t believe it either. It’s true. There’s a woman in one online feminist group who still has a ‘male’ driving licence after seeing if she could change it. There was no problem. To change your sex on your passport just requires a signature from a ‘reputable’ person. Note that these changes are made to your recorded SEX and are done quickly and easily.

So why the need to make things easier? The thing that surprised me most about the GRA is that a man can already change his sex on his birth certificate. You might be forgiven for thinking the consultation was to see how the public felt about that. Many of us think that the government should be saying, ‘Woah. Changing your sex on your birth certificate? No way, bro.”

Instead, what the government is thinking of doing -what they are telling us they plan on doing – is making it as easy to change your sex on your birth certificate as your passport.  Currently, if you want to change your actual birth certificate, you have to ‘live as a woman’ for 2 years, get a medical diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria’ & get a doctor to give details of any medical treatment; sign a piece of paper saying you’re not going to change your mind, and pay £140.

This is the only thing standing between us and sex self-ID.

Take away this barrier and absolutely any man can legally become a woman in a few sweeps of the pen or taps on a keyboard. This change would be totally unreasonable.

Lily MaynardMany of us are wondering how legal this process is. A man is born a man and a woman is born a woman. This is, at least for now, enshrined in law. For a legal document to be changed saying a man was born a woman is surely an illegal process. He wasn’t. A new born baby does not have a gender identity – hell, I don’t have a gender identity, but let’s not digress – a new born baby has a SEX.  Saying a man was born a woman is a downright lie. Yet this can already be done by following the process above, and this has been the case since 2004.

Some people will say,“But trans people have been able to do this since 2004, and there haven’t been any issues, so what’s the problem?” Well, firstly, make no mistake, there have been issues. The latest high profile case is that of Stephen/Karen White, a trans-identified man who was put in a women’s prison- despite a history of rape and child sexual assault– and who was charged with sexually assaulting no less than four women within a few days of arrival. This case involved perhaps the most absurd words ever spoken by a prosecutor when Charlotte Dangerfield told the court, presumably with a straight face, “Her penis was erect and sticking out of the top of her trousers.”

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly – this isn’t really even about people who call themselves transgender. It’s much bigger than that. What the government wants to bring in is ‘sex self-ID’.  And what it means is that ANY man – yes, any man, your great uncle Bert, that bloke who works in the betting shop, that creepy guy that hangs around outside the school at the end of your street – they can all just say they’re a woman, and bingo! It’s a done deal. Fill in a form and get that M changed to an F. Access to women’s spaces R Us.

Fairplay for Women has made several short videos about on the subject of sex self-ID and you can watch them here. While Dick Travers approaches the issue from a comedy angle, the first, much darker, video of the series is shot from the point of view of a woman who has suffered a lifetime of abuse at the hands of men and is now rebuilding herself.

” I owe my life to female only groups,” says her voice. ” To crisis centres and refuges where I could be safe, to other women who gave me strength to face my past: showed me I wasn’t alone; let me be angry; let me breathe. And let me say the truth. That the rapist was male. The body was male.  The weapon was male. The violence was male.  And his belief that it was his right was male too.”

I was ready to go out campaigning.

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Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 02.41.31.pngThere are several FPFW campaign groups in London and the surrounding area, so with the end of the consultation only a few weeks away I bought myself a T shirt (you can get yours here), signed up and went out leafleting with some local women.

I met them in a COSTA coffee shop, a group of seven cheerful, positive women aged between about twenty five and sixty.  I couldn’t have missed them: already wearing their ‘Hands off my Rights’ T shirts they looked a little like a patch of poppies planted in the earthy brown colours favoured by the decor of COSTA.

“COSTA coffee is TERF central these days,” joked Kath, as we shared a muffin and shared out the campaign leaflets and postcards.Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 00.28.59.pngI asked them about their experiences leafleting. I was a little nervous myself, but Kath reassured me. 

“I’ve been absolutely terrified and totally out of my comfort zone every time,” she confided, “but every time I’ve been happily surprised by the reception I’ve got from ordinary people who get it, who say ‘but what about hospital wards?’ or ‘what, no operations necessary?’ and who want to take postcards and leaflets to pass on to their friends and family.  Every time I’ve met another brave woman, I’ve felt like we are part of something really important, and that we are absolutely doing the right thing. And every time I leaflet, I have to totally talk myself into it! But I am so happy I have contributed in my small way. It has made me braver in real life too, and for that I am glad. The leaflets are clear and simple to understand, the films really hit home, and the other brave women I have met are inspiring.”

“I’ve found it incredibly heartening.” said Laura. “Nearly everyone agrees with us. It’s easy to forget that outside the twitter bubble, very few people actually agree that “transwomen are women” and even if they do, they think that transwomen are men who have actually been through the operation and are astonished to learn that most of them are just transvestites. Even those who say “yeah, people should be what they want”- when you probe a bit further and ask questions, they realise they haven’t thought it through and that yes, we do need protections for women to be properly considered.”

* “I spoke to a woman in Dartford who is a rape survivor,as am I.” added Maria.  “She was really emotional and said she was hugely grateful to us all for raising awareness as the prospect of self ID terrifies her.”

We finished our coffee and walked out onto the High Street. There was an open square near the cinema, a mostly-pedestrian crossroads, and this was where we were going to begin leafleting.  I could just hear a busker playing ‘Brown-eyed Girl’ and make out some small children dancing at the top of the street.  A woman grasping a huge bunch of giant balloons stood outside the newsagent, and Elsa and a Transformer tumbled and twisted together in the breeze. The street was filled with shoppers, couples out with kids, teens and pensioners in small groups. They all looked fairly purposeful. I swallowed and approached a woman in her 30s, proffering a leaflet. She had long brown hair and glasses, I realised I’d automatically reached for a leaflet with a photo of Helen Watts on the front, because she looked a bit like her.

“Excuse me,” I started. “Could I give you a leaflet about women’s rights?”

For a moment it seemed she wasn’t going to stop, but at the words ‘women’s rights’ she looked more interested.

“Thank you,” she replied, taking the leaflet. I watched her walk up the street, moving more slowly now, as she read the leaflet. Then she popped it in her handbag, looked back at me and smiled.

I felt ridiculously heartened by this small victory and decided to be braver next time. Next time I would try to start a conversation!

“Hello,” I tried, chirpily. “Did you know the government is considering changing the definition of woman so any man can just declare himself to be female?”

It was a bit wordy, but the couple I was talking to stopped. The man chuckled.

“No really! You Sir, if the current changes go through, you could just sign a piece of paper and get your birth certificate changed to say you’re female.”

“Nah! Is this about transgender rights?”

“It’s not really about men who believe themselves to be women,” I told them. “It’s about any man being able to make that change legally, really easily. It’s called sex self-ID… “

A few minutes later the couple walked off, having taken a leaflet and a postcard. When the woman turned back and asked for a few extra leaflets to give women at her book group. I felt absurdly proud.

The next five or six people I approached either ignored me completely or looked at me with distaste, as if I might be trying to sell them something. I felt that some of them thought I might be a bit bonkers.  I spoke to Maya about this feeling when we went for coffee afterwards. She agreed and said she’d had similar feelings herself.

*“Something I said to a lot of people” she told me, “was ‘anyone could be a woman.’ And a fair few people stopped at that, wondering what I was talking about. On the faces of those who didn’t stop, I often saw a little smirk and shake of the head which seemed to suggest they thought I was crazy; some mad woman in the street who doesn’t understand how the world works, spouting nonsense to people who have better things to do.  And the thing is,” she sighed, “they’re right; it is nonsense. But nevertheless it is something that’s happening. So although it’s a disheartening experience having so many people walk past you uninterested, that’s really balanced out by those who do stop to talk.”

So there I was, standing in the middle of the street, trying not to feel disheartened, and to get my enthusiasm back, when a tall, grey-haired man in his 60s approached me, waving a leaflet.

“Your friend just gave me this,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s very interesting. But this can’t possibly be right? ALL the major political parties support this change?”

They do,” I said. “It’s very difficult for people to speak out against it for fear of being called transphobic.”

“But women NEED single sex spaces!” he said indignantly. “Of course they do! My granddaughter…” He trailed off, looking worried.

“There’s still time to let the government know what you think,” I offered. “On the Fair Play for Women’ website there’s a booklet that can help talk you through filling in the consultation. It doesn’t take long.”

“Thank you, yes, I really think I will,” he assured me.

My confidence restored, I chatted with several other people including two older women, who were astonished and rather angry, and assured me they would fill the consultation that very afternoon.

“On our phones,” one of them offered. “Over lunch.”

“There is one more thing I’d like to ask you, darling,” her friend turned to me. “Do you know any decent Greek restaurants around here?”

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I spoke to a woman who worked for the NHS, who said she’d take some leaflets to work. She promised she’d fill in the consultation herself at lunchtime, hoping a colleague would do it with her.

I spoke to a mum with three children who took a leaflet and a postcard and said she’d fill it in once the kids were in bed. “I’ll tell my sister about that website too,” she added.

Laura seemed to be being monopolised by a large bloke so I drifted over to see what was going on.

“I don’t believe in this women’s rights stuff,” he was saying. “Women’s rights? Pah! Women should just stand up for themselves!”

“That’s what we’re doing.” pointed out Laura, reasonably.

“My Missus wouldn’t take no crap in the toilets, not off anyone, male or female. Men in women’s sports teams? Just kick ’em out. Bet you can stand up for yourself,” he added. “Big girl like you! You’ve very tall, aren’t you?”

Laura sighed. “We have to go now,” she said firmly, and we moved nearby to where Kath was talking to a young couple. Once she’d finished her conversation we decided it was time for a well-earned break, rounded up the others and headed back to COSTA.

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* As a middle of the road, middle-aged mum I don’t class myself as radical,” Sara said, sipping a cup of green tea. “The lack of public awareness of the proposed changes to the GRA and bullying and silencing of women only dawned on me a few months ago. When the penny dropped I was furious and determined to be brave and speak out! As a domestic abuse survivor, I’ve learnt the hard way what male control looks like and the need for boundaries to keep women safe. I’m confident now to assert boundaries for myself and my fellow women and girls. In joining the campaign, I’ve found a home to discuss women’s rights and make a difference. I’ve met great women from all different backgrounds but all eminently sensible and calm! The response when leafleting has been overwhelming positive, I see people of both sexes and all ages shocked and often cross when the penny also drops for them. The public don’t want these changes, the majority don’t care about gender identity, live and let, but they are cross at the government’s proposal to accept a lie and legally shift the definition of sex when we all know that biological sex can never be changed.”

* “Watching people realise what is happening makes it all real.” nodded Karla.  “You never know how anyone is going to react. Some are appalled. They can’t believe it. They don’t know why gender self-identification was ever suggested. Some look at you and say “I know what this is about and don’t want to talk”. But most are astonished. One young man, out with his very pregnant partner asked: ‘Does that mean we can choose which sex we are going to have? ‘ He was dumbfounded.’

*Ordinary people are shocked when they hear what the government are proposing,” agreed Trish.  “Most haven’t heard about the consultation and are very grateful to be informed. Many people I’ve spoken to have read a story in a newspaper which had alarmed them – the rapist in the women’s prison, Girlguiding policy, the man allowed into TopShop’s women’s changing-room – and they were angry and disbelieving that the government would support such policies.”

Had nobody disagreed with her, I asked Trish, called her names or supported the changes?

* “No,” she shook her head. “Men and women, young and old, all were equally horrified at the idea that men might be able to simply self-identify as women to become women in the eyes of the law.”

*” Most people have been really interested and supportive, but I have met some who disagreed with what we’re doing,” interjected Sonia on my left. “Three of us were leafleting near a museum when two young women approached us. They said that they’d read the leaflet and wanted to let us know that what we were doing was transphobic, and that anyway women were just as likely to assault men as men were women- which of course we know isn’t true. We said it wasn’t about transphobia, it was about men being in women’s spaces, and we asked them how they would define ‘woman’. They said being a woman wasn’t about biology.  “It’s more of a feeling,” said one, but she couldn’t be any clearer. It was surreal: they were both educators in their late twenties, both mums with toddlers.  They said what we were doing was hateful and that they were going to tell somebody in the museum to get us stopped. One of the women in our group felt really nervous about that happening, so we left.

* “But last week,” Sonia continued, “we popped into a branch of Starbucks for a hard earned cuppa after leafleting. My friend asked for ‘adult human female’ on her cup of coffee, and the woman that served us said, “I’ve seen you lot on Twitter and I’m behind you 100% and I love those stickers that are going around, too. If I didn’t have this job and my son to look after I’d be out there leafleting with you.” And that was a great feeling. So you take the good with the bad.”

We finished off our drinks and cake crumbs, went back out onto the High Street and spent a further half an hour handing out leaflets and talking to people. Some were too busy to stop, others were happy to have a chat.

One woman told me, “Oooo, I’m past all that now, love. Leave it to the younger ones I say!”

Laden down with shopping bags, another said, “My hands are full but it looks interesting! Drop it in my bag and I’ll read it later.”

“I saw something about this on Facebook,” said another. “I’m a classroom assistant and we’ve been talking about this in the staff room at school. It’s just wrong. Give me a few different postcards and I’ll take them in on Monday with some biscuits.”

“What’s this about then?” called a man passing by with his two small daughters. “I care about women’s rights! Well, I’ve got to, eh?” he grinned proudly at the little girls next to him.

I explained how single-sex spaces were under threat by the idea of sex self-ID, how there was only a short amount of time left to fill in the consultation and how the fair Play for Women website could help him fill it in.

“I’ll do it when I get in,” he promised. “My wife will have something to say about this as well. Can I take a few of those leaflets? I know she’ll want some.”

“Can I have a postcard too, daddy?” asked the eldest. I handed her one and they skipped away happily.

The street was getting quieter and a slight chill was in the air. Another group of women had been leafleting a few miles away and had arranged to meet us for a chat before we all went home. Kath came over to say she’d received a text saying they’d arrived. Back we went to COSTA for the third time that day. The other group had grabbed a set of comfy sofas at the back of the cafe, where we joined them.

I asked them their experiences leafleting.

* “It was really difficult walking up to strangers to talk to them about this.” said one.  “I’ve never done anything like this before. Although it’s a disheartening experience having so many people walk past you uninterested, that was balanced by those who did stop to talk, and I’ll definitely be going out leafleting again.”

* “For me, it was genuinely enjoyable to be actively doing something rather than feeling angry and helpless reading about all this at home.” put in a young woman called Sandra. “It felt good to be informing the- grateful- public about the consultation. It could change their lives and yet many knew nothing about it. I spoke to a teenage girl today who was really interested. She understood the issues straight away and wanted to share the info with her school. And I spoke to a man and woman with two kids who stopped to talk, thanked me for giving up time to protect the rights of their children, and took leaflets for their friends. Broadly, people were very pleasant.”

* Well, I’m angry at having to campaign with Fair Play for Women!” said another campaigner, stirring her tea crossly. “How can we be fighting for the right to exist in 2018?! Talking to shoppers was reassuring though, everyone agrees that it’s madness to deny that men are men and women women. But how many will find the time to fill in the consultation?” She shook her head. “Who is listening to them?”

Screen Shot 2018-10-09 at 13.37.23.png

If you can fill out a response to the consultation, please, please do. Time is running out.

To submit to the consultation with the help of the Fair Play for Women guidelines, click here.

If you really don’t have the time to submit a response you’ve composed yourself, Fair Play for Women have designed a simple prototype response which you can read. If you agree with the wording, you simply fill in your name, address and details and they’ll email it to the government for you. You can click here to fill in the simplified response.

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My personal views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of ‘Fair Play for Women’.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Linda Bellos and Venice Allan. A case to answer?

The crowd gathered to support Linda & Venice outside Westminster Magistrates Court.

On 26th September 2018, Venice and Linda had to present themselves at Westminster Magistrates Court in answer to a private prosecution brought by a tranactivist who felt threatened by one of 67 year old Linda’s comments at a ‘We Need to Talk’ meeting last year.

I’d arranged to meet Venice and a few other people at Starbucks on Baker Street at 8.45, which meant getting up at 7am. Not my favourite time in the morning.  It was an early start and I’m not great at early starts.

Venice Allan

Venice & her mum enjoy a pre-court coffee

It was a bright, cool morning and the coffee steamed in the sunlight. Linda arrived, with her partner and friends, looking very dapper in a pin striped suit. Everybody seemed in very high spirits, and Ruby and I sat outside with Venice and her mum while we waited for her solicitor and paralegal to arrive. Two coffees later, Venice & Linda sped off in a taxi with them and the rest of us walked the short distance to the court.

When we arrived at Westminster Magistrates Court, over half an hour early, there were already a few clusters of women and a handful of banners of support waving. I went straight through after a bag search: Venice had warned me that there might not be many seats available in the public gallery and I was keen to watch the proceedings so I could blog about them for those unable to be there. Well, ok, it wasn’t an entirely altruistic motive, I was hugely curious to hear what Guiliana had to say for himself. It’s a very strange case indeed.

Linda Bellos Venice Allan

Linda and Venice wait for a cab to take them to court.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story,  on November 8th 2017, at a ‘We Need To Talk About The GRA’ [Gender Recognition Act] event in York, organised by Venice Allan, Linda Bellos was one of the speakers.  Speaking, she says, with reference to the assault of Maria Maclachlan at Speakers’ Corner a few months beforehand, 67 year old Bellos said:

 

“‘I play football and I box, and if any one of those bastards comes near me I will take off my glasses and… clock (?) them.”

Linda is no stranger to activism. She came out as a lesbian in the early 80s, led London Lambeth Borough Council from 1986-88 and is the instigator of Black History Month in the UK.  She received an OBE in 2006 for ‘services to diversity’, having worked in various roles including co-chair of the LGBT Advisory Group to the Metropolitan Police. This article,  ‘Yes, we were bloody angry’  from 2006 chronicles some of her achievements.

A month before ‘We Need to Talk‘, in October 2017, Bellos had been uninvited by the Beard Society, a self-described gender and feminist group at Cambridge University, after telling organisers she planned to question ‘some of the trans politics’ in her talk.

The Beard Society’s decision to uninvite Bellos (undaunted, she planned to go and speak at Oxford instead) led Claire Heuchan to observe:

“It is ludicrous to claim that someone who has committed her life to liberation politics is a risk to the well being of those who listen to her perspective – and deeply insulting.  Black, female, Jewish and lesbian feminist, Bellos is not exactly a preacher of hate.”

Nonetheless, despite her stirling record of service to both the party and the community, LGBT Labour claimed that Ms Bellos’s views and perceived threats of violence were ‘deeply offensive’ and accused her of ‘clearly inciting violence against trans members and the wider trans community’. LGBT Labour complained to the Labour Party General Secretary and  North Yorkshire police interviewed Ms Bellos under caution in October 2017, but understandably took no further action.

It seemed the incident had blown over until a month ago when Giuliana Kendal, a transgender rights campaigner who I understand saw a video of the comments online, decided to bring a private prosecution (PP).

The court papers accuse Bellos of breaking Section 5 of the Public Order Act which makes it an offence to use ‘threatening or abusive words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour’  within the hearing or sight of a person ‘likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby’.

Kendal’s prosecution also summonses Venice Allan, who Facebook live-streamed the event, despite the fact that she was not interviewed by police at the time. Allan is accused of sending an offensive message ‘by means of a public electronic communication network a message or other that was grossly offensive”.

Yes, I think we read that right, in a nutshell it seems that Venice is being prosecuted because while she was live-streaming an event, somebody said something that somebody else didn’t like. Let’s get some perspective here: I know a woman who was punched in the head on a train platform by a random strange man and advised by the police not to prosecute.

Two terms of half-hearted study of 20th century ‘A’ level law several decades ago did not prepare me for understanding this. I just don’t get it. If a male transactivist DMs or @s me, I click on their Twitter profile and a video springs up of them taking it up the arse, or of a dog being beaten to death by a police officer in China (both IRL examples of my recent Twitter experience), that’s ok? But Linda’s feisty self-defence speech isn’t? Am I missing something here?

‘This is an attempt to silence women and it is outrageous… I’m a disabled pensioner, with no funds to defend myself since my partner died of cancer, being intimidated by men purporting to be women.”  Bellos told the press.

Nope, I’ve done a bit of research and I still don’t get it. Firstly, how startlingly unfair is a private prosecution (PP) system? How incredibly undemocratic, how entirely unjust the idea seems to me and surely to anyone who gives the matter more than cursory consideration. Secondly, surely it must cost somebody a fortune, whoever wins or loses?

In 2014 the Independent ran an article about the growing popularity of PPs, entitled ‘Two-tier Justice‘  wherein I discovered that The Director of Public Prosecutions (head of the CPS) can take over and stop a case if it is considered “vexatious”, “malicious” or “not in the public interest”.

Could I mount a PP against anyone who offends me, ever, as long as I have the money to follow through? It seems not.

“Prosecutors must be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against the defendant.” informs the Private Prosecution Service, adding tantalisingly, “Can you fund the private prosecution proceedings?” but their website doesn’t tell you how long that particular piece of string is.

Interestingly, I read on Wikipedia that in 2014, Westminster Magistrates was used as what one journalist described as a publicity stunt when  an ex-mormon summoned the head of the Church of the Latter Day Saints to appear on fraud charges. The leader, who resides in America, did not attend, but the guy that summoned him got over three quarters of a million visits to his website when the press broke the story.  A former crown prosecutor stated: “This is just using the law to make a show”. Obviously the courts are not keen on such behaviour.

According to EMM, a UK PP specialist, a fraud and financial crime service can “cost(s) in the region of £6000 and upwards… cases can become expensive.”

I’m both intrigued and confused, but it’s 3am and I’ve an article to finish.

 

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 01.00.56.pngBack to the tale in hand. I arrived at Westminster Magistrates and passed through the huge glass doors. The court was built in 2011 and the architect was clearly a fan of glass.  Security was understandably tight. My bag passed through an Xray machine, I passed through a metal archway and headed up several flights of stairs to find Court Nine.

There were already about a dozen women waiting outside the court room. Five or six of them were wearing “Woman= adult human female” T shirts. One was engaged in a discussion with a court clerk who was suggesting they all sat down until the court was open. She was not convinced.

“We’ll just wait right here, thank you.” she told the clerk, politely but firmly.

I lurked close to the door. It hadn’t crossed my mind spaces would be so limited.

“There’s only room for 12 people inside,” explained the clerk. “Six from each side.”

There was no sign of Giuliana, although two trans people, a man and a woman, were standing near the doors.

“Are you Venice Allan?” the clerk asked the man, who looked somewhat surprised and explained that he was not. No, nor was he Giuliana Kendal. A couple of women seemed understandably disgruntled that we wouldn’t all be able to fit inside.

“What about neutral people?” asked one. “Can we go in?”

“If there’s room,” said the clerk.

We waited.  It was ten past ten and the session should have started at ten. I felt restless.

 

Wrong side of history my arseI could see through the window that a larger crowd had gathered outside, and its colourful banners swayed as it moved.

There were representatives from Fair Play for Women, Man Friday, Get the LOut, A Woman’s Place, Lesbian Alliance, Object, Let A Woman Speak… and many supporters who had come independent of an organisation. Almost all were women.

A journalist asked me afterwards who had been present and I tried to list all the groups that had sent or expressed support. Hadn’t Liverpool Resisters sent a banner? I knew Leeds had brought their beautifully embroidered “Wrong Side of History My Arse” banner.

 

Lily Maynard Venice and Linda

Some of the banners outside the court room in support of Linda Bellos and Venice Allan

 

When I did my two terms of A level law,  fifty million years ago, we attended a case where the public gallery was an actual gallery, empty and echoing, encircling the proceedings below, with polished handrails of mahogany, wooden benches and seating for several scores of people. But of course, Westminster Magistrates Court is not a Victorian building housing a Crown Court. Once the clerk opened the door and those of us who made it inside entered the ‘public gallery’ I could see why observers were limited to twelve.

Two rows of about ten seats each, lined up cinema-style, were set behind a partially-enclosed glass screen, on the same level as the proceedings. On the other side of the screen, twelve people sat at their desks, piles of partially-confined papers and computers in front of them.  It reminded me of a 90s television studio.  Julie Bindel and Joani Walsh, who had press passes, were seated on the other side of the glass. Venice and Linda were sitting on the right. They looked calm and confident. Venice was smiling. I nearly waved. Several people were talking.

I heard a woman shrug and say to Giuliana, “Are you seeking to…” and “there’s an awful lot of material,”  but it was too noisy to make out much else. A policeman popped his head around the door and reminded us that we weren’t allowed to record the proceedings.

“And no jeering,”  he told us, good naturedly, “or I’ll have to ask you all to leave.”

We assured him we planned no jeering.

The chatter died down; District Judge Richard Blake entered the court room, a slate-haired, pleasant-faced, fatherly-looking chappie, and we all rose. And then we sat. And then started a somewhat bizarre session.

Guiliana rose early in the proceedings, to tell the judge that he was a solicitor himself but had brought along a friend to help for medical reasons.

“Well,” said Judge Blake, “he can’t address me,” but added that he was content for the friend to stay.

Kendal spoke slowly and addressed Judge Blake  with great pomp, asking him

Lily Maynard

J, after the hearing, in the offending T shirt

 “to exclude the person at the back in the public gallery who is wearing a T shirt saying ‘Adult Human Female …

…and also, the defendant, Linda Bellos is wearing a suffragette colours square. The T-shirt is a highly political emblem, it is the slogan of the organisation called Standing For Women… brazen in contempt of court…”

“You object to a T shirt?” enquired the judge, with perhaps a very slight raising of one eyebrow.

Indeed, Guiliana did, calling the T shirt ‘deeply offensive’ and the suffragette square was mentioned once more, with a suggestion that the presence of either or both items breached the Equality Act and denied Kendal ‘as a transwoman’ the protected characteristic of sex.

“Who is the person in the gallery?” asked the judge, with weary patience, and J obligingly rose so he could see her T shirt. After a moment’s perusal, the judge referenced the Sufragette movement, calling it ‘an historical cause’.

“I’m not prepared to make any rulings on these items,” he declared. “People are free to wear what they want… I’m not satisfied that amounts to an offence.”

Judge Blake urged everybody present to be ‘cautious’, observing that, “this case clearly reflects issues in the community,’ and telling Kendal, “I understand the sincerity of your application.”

Pages from my scrawled notes. Top right reads ‘I got lost!’

There followed mention of various things that half made sense when I was writing them down, but don’t make so much sense reading back my notes. Obviously accuracy is important and most legal terminology eludes me.

To tell the truth, I was tired, it was sometimes hard to hear what was being said, and it was just a little bit boring. I stared at the back of Kendal’s head and wondered what would induce someone to mount a prosecution for something like this.

 

Screen Shot 2018-09-28 at 19.57.04There are those, of course, who think the whole thing was a wonderful idea.

Oh, the hyperbole! Harrop looms, like a 21st century Dr T. J. Eckleburg, over the valley of ashes where the dark and malevolent forces of gender-critical feminism swirl and swarm! Guiliana later spoke of the ‘floodgates of hate being opened’ on 8th November, the day of the York meeting. What is with this excessive drama? Is this all we are left with when we deny biological facts?

There was some discussion over the mis-spelling of Venice’s name- Rose before Venice, Allan not Allen- and some deliberation over what did or didn’t constitute an amendment.

Guiliana had, so I understood, dismissed his legal team and was representing himself. He was, in the words of the judge, “seeking to lay a further summons under the Communications Act”. I got the impression that this wasn’t allowed because the summons wasn’t related to ‘the York event’, or possibly because it hadn’t been filed in time.  It was a little baffling. At one point Kendal told the judge, “to be honest, Sir, I’m not quite sure what happened” and at another wanted to “check we are talking about the same thing” although if I’m honest, I’m not quite sure exactly what was being referred to on either occasion. There was talk of dates, things expiring, and much subjective speculation, interspersed with frequent slights upon the character of Ms Allan.

“There is a long history of abuse, of transwomen in particular, by Ms Allan, against the community as a whole, against targeted individuals and against me in particular.”  proclaimed Kendal, referencing Allan’s responsibility for broadcasting at the York event.

“You didn’t persue section 127,” interrupted the judge, in an attempt to stay on track. This was discussed for a while. An incident was said to be out of time and another- the same one? I’m unsure- had been dropped.

“”There is a continuous history of abuse…   It was never the prosecutor’s idea to drop the abuse, the abuse is a fundamental aspect of the prosecution” said Guliana.

“But that’s what you did,” asserted the judge.

Kendal accused his previous legal team of “a conspicuous failure to follow my instructions” and at one point seemed to attempt to correct Judge Blake, telling him “my understanding of the law, Sir, is that it’s perfectly legitimate to add offences.”

The judge, with infinite composure and patience, pointed out that this further allegation didn’t arise from the York event.

Kendal then spoke of the events at Hyde Park Corner and the University Women’s Club, citing that they were arranged by Ms Allan and included ‘obscene speeches by associates of Miss Bellos’ asserting again that, ‘Miss Allan has abused transwomen.’ and claiming ‘all these matters are inextricably linked’.

He then asked to play the court a video, a request which Judge Blake refused.

Venice Allan

Venice Allan

“Ms Allan seeks to paint herself as a middle-aged mother of two…” began Giuliana, but we will never know what hyperbolic depiction was about to ensue- perhaps Venice as some modern-day Medusa with a head full of transphobic snakes?- because the judge cut him off, reminding him again that, “the York event is the legal issue.

I could see Venice smiling politely at the side of the court. I wondered how she remained so patient in the face of all this insulting rhetoric. Giuliana was now telling the judge that the prosecution had, “conclusive evidence that Ms Allan is responsible for a whole series of what can only be described as anti-trans hate meetings.”

“Excuse me, they can’t only be described as ‘anti-trans,.” Amanda Jones, Allan’s barrister, finally objected, concluding her complaint with, “This continued abuse in inappropriate.”

The gist seemed to be that Guiliana wanted to add more offences to the charges against Venice and that the court held that this wasn’t possible as it was only concerned with what happened in York, when Linda spoke her now-infamous lines. Let us remind ourselves of what was said at that meeting in York.

A few sections of Bellos’s talk are below, you can hear the full speech (she speaks from 48.40 – 55.45) here, on YouTube.

“My focus tends to be the political use of power and I have- perhaps its naive, but I have a desire to see the notion of equality in the world. I say that as a black women; I say that as a woman and having grown up with a very conscious awareness that being female put me in a lesser position than that of my brother, a male. And it’s still played out sixty-something years later.

I got a note today from a transwoman who I know, I can’t remember what she said to me but something – I said she because I’m always respectful- that she was very hurt by what I said, and I asked her a question about race. Because it seems to me that one of the cateogories that human beings- actually men-  came up with is the notion of races. The categorisation of races seems to have been created around the time of gender being created.

I must say, having borne two children I think I’m physiologically, and in many other senses, a female and a woman. But I play football and I box, and if any one of those bastards comes near me I will take off my glasses and… clock (?) them.  I take my glasses off and I can’t see a bloody thing! (laughs) That’s not the point. I’m quite prepared to threaten violence because it seems to me that politically, what they’re seeking to do is piss on all women…

What really offends me is the extent to which academia and political parties have listened to them in a way that they’re not listening to us as women….

I think the solution is to revisit the Women’s Liberation Movement. I really do see that we have spent too long- I don’t know what we’ve been doing but not very much in the name of feminsm- and I think it’s timely to bring back, the answer is to bring back feminism. To bring back a politics in which we seek… try to build, an 8th demand of the WLM… it would be useful if we took another step which is called consciousness raising. It was and remains a vital method.”

But back to the court room. Where were we? Ah yes, Amanda Jones had just complained that the continued abuse of her clients, Allan and Bellos, was inappropriate.

There was talk of summonses and photographs, statements and issues, and the phrases “these are not matters arising out of the York events” and “well out of a six month period” drifted to my ears and I scribbled them down, but mostly I wished that I had a nice, strong, hot coffee in my hand.

 “The defendant strongly objects to the additional offence which the prosecution was quite rightly advised had no realistic prospect of success.” stated Jones.

Dates were tossed around, and times and running out of time, and places and applications. Kendal said information was made available in time. The judge said it wasn’t.

“It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that this is out of time.” quipped Jones.

“I’m not persuaded it does arrive from the circumstances of York event and I refuse the application.” concluded Judge Blake.

I perked up. That sounded positive! Was it almost time for coffee?

“Where do we go from here?” asked Judge Blake.

‘Starbucks?’ I thought, hopefully.

Jones said they would be contacting the CPS and asking them to take over or discontinue the proceedings.  She talked of ‘frank disclosure about this issue’ and mentioned the idea that there was no prospect of conviction of either defendant.

“We were served yesterday and this morning with a great deal of information and are not in a position to enter pleas.”

Jones went on to note that one of the difficulties with a private prosecution is ‘there is emotional involvement on behalf of the prosecutor’ which is not an issue in a standard proceeding.  She added that she was concerned about the language being used and the importance that it should establish facts, using as an example Giuliana’s comment that ‘the defendants have opened the floodgates of hate’ and calling it ‘both hyperbolic and prejudicial’ and calling for ‘appropriate language’ to be used’.

Judge Blake said both that it was the right of the defendant in a private prosecution to invite the CPS to look at the case, and that a date needed to be fixed for the defence to make submissions.

“Shall I retire for a little while?” he asked, concluding, “It’s quite apparent that here are two factions with very different views of the world,” and pointing out that if conflict could be avoided it would be a happy day for everyone.

We came out of the courtroom onto the landing and milled around for a while. People  wanted to know what had happened, which was basically that the case was adjourned. A journalist asked J and I a few questions before I slipped down the stairs and outside.

What a sight greeted me! Well over a hundred women, and a few men, circled the front courtyard, laughing, chanting and talking; waving their hands in the air and banners by their sides. I hadn’t expected to see so many people, and it was definitely the sudden exposure to the bright midday sunlight that brought a tear to my eye. I wanted to hug every one of them.

Linda Bellos Venice AllanVenice Allan Linda Bellos

After we’d been waiting for about ten minutes, a  chant of “self defence, no offence” broke out before turning to cheers and clapping as Linda and Venice joined us. Huge smiles broke out on their faces as they hugged those who had come out to support them. One group of women broke into a chorus of “there’s only one Venice Allan” and others took photos of and with the defendants. Linda made a rousing speech, but I missed what she said. Luckily, it was recorded and you can see the video on YouTube here.

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A large group of us went to the nearby park and lay in the sun under some trees, beside the water. Somebody opened a bottle of champagne and poured Venice a glass.

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What will happen next? Your guess is as good as mine. “Only time will tell,” as my old gran used to say, sagely, when she hadn’t got the foggiest idea what was going on.

One thing’s for sure, it’s unlikely to be dull. Cheers!

Screen Shot 2018-09-30 at 01.48.39.jpgPOST SCRIPT – PRESS STATEMENT

Westminster Magistrates Court, Wednesday 26/9/18

Linda Bellos and Venice Allan made a statement to the press:

“The judge refused an application to remove a Suffragette pocket square from one of the defendants and a woman in the public gallery wearing a T-shirt that said Woman equals Adult Human Female.

“The case has been adjourned for the CPS to consider whether to take over the case and discontinue it. And the issue of whether the summons should have been issued is re-opened.

“The prosecution’s application to add additional charges to Ms Allan was refused. The judge accepted Miss Jones’ submissions that the new matters were out of time and did not arise substantially from the same facts.

“And we have reserved the option of a judicial review.“

 

 

POSTSCRIPT 3/12/18 You can read what happened next in my follow-up post, here.

 

 

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‘Gender Neutral’ Toilets? Computer says no.

Screen Shot 2018-09-18 at 19.34.37.pngIn the first few months after Twitter added the ‘poll’ option for its users back in 2015, over 1.7 billion votes were cast.  The online poll is a data gathering research tool previous generations could never have dreamed of. A poll held in August this year asking ‘Which is better, cats or dogs?’ got over 6,500 votes and came to the rather surprising conclusion that nearly three quarters of participants preferred dogs to cats.

I was so surprised by this that I checked elsewhere. Research by Sainsbury’s came up with exactly the same answer – 74%. Madness. I suspect that more research is needed. But enough of our four-legged friends. I am easily distracted from the issue in hand.

In researching my last article, Unisex Toilets and Sexual Violence in Schools,  I came across several cases where parents had been horrified when their kids were suddenly expected to use gender neutral loos in school. Some had even taken their child out of school in protest. It seemed that while there were some people- mostly men- who didn’t mind the idea of gender neutral toilets, there didn’t seem to be too many people who actually, actively wanted them.

One such is transactivist and advocate for abolition of the Obscene Publications Act, Jane Fae, who enthused in Gay Star News last year, “Typically any introduction of a gender-neutral bathroom would be met with applause.” 

Why on earth would anyone want to applaud a gender-neutral toilet? You might want to rethink that, M. Fae.  In my younger days, I nipped into the Ladies’ loos in a club or bar on numerous occasions if a guy was bothering me or seemed creepy.   If he could have followed me in, I certainly wouldn’t have been applauding. I know I’m not alone in feeling this.  There have been quite a few online polls done on the subject of how people feel about unisex toilets and the general consensus is ‘computer says no’.

Paris Lees, happy to be seen on the toilet.

Paris Lees and other high profile trans-activists have also spoken about the joy of the gender neutral loo, claiming that women’s safety is in no way compromised by the presence of be-penised persons.

“Whatever the law is, people of all genders can still be dicks to you in public places,” says Shon Faye. Of course, a logical conclusion from that argument would be, ‘do away with all laws because people will commit crimes anyway.’ Faye goes on to add that the idea that he should use the men’s toilets “seems both ludicrous and terrifying”, ignoring the obvious reason that this is because there are men in there.

If (there is) proof that gender-neutral toilets put women at risk, I’m all ears. If not, I’m rather bored by people… whipping up unnecessary panic.” said Lees in 2017, claiming that fears about gender-neutral toilets were ‘all in the mind’.

Well, Paris, a recent Freedom of Information request by the Sunday Times showed that a huge 90% of sexual assaults in changing rooms took place in ‘gender neutral’ areas. Listening now? No. I didn’t think so.

gender neutralOf 134 complaints in 2017-2018, 120 reported incidents happened in unisex changing rooms.  Not necessarily toilets per se, but areas where women are in a state of undress and that are traditionally single-sex.

Ninety percent! Women are clearly more vulnerable when men are present.

So from 3rd-5th September I ran a three-day Twitter poll of my own, which captured a modest 2,770 votes. And here’s the result.

Lily Maynard gender neutral

 

Screen Shot 2018-09-12 at 19.54.48Of course, one of the problems facing the Twitter poll is sampling frame. While in theory you have all of Twitter, it’s naturally your own- usually like-minded- followers who are most likely to see, and vote in, your poll.

I tried to partly redress this balance by asking people to retweet; wording the poll to appeal specifically to those who might actively want gender neutral bathrooms, and only asking those who favoured them to give their reasons for the preference. My poll was shared 255 times and  although I have no way of tracking who shared it with whom, I do know it also reached the trans community: for example Michelle, ‘a loveable trans woman who loves God,’-  who later that week DMd me to call me a ‘pathetic vile bigot’-  shared the poll with his followers, although with limited success.

So my poll is what it is. It’s a Twitter poll. I don’t offer it up as a highly researched, peer reviewed study, although there are people determined to find reasons to scoff at even those.  Thanks to the wonders of the internet, however, we can look at other polls with similar wording and compare results. This should give a much bigger sample, although of course it will still not be indicative of the entire population.

My father remains unimpressed, musing, “An online poll just tells you what people who like answering online polls think.” Thanks, dad.

In a recent debate prompted by a row over new ‘gender neutral’ toilets at the Barbican Centre in London, the show Loose Women discussed unisex toilets.

“A unisex toilet! The stench, the filth and all the men,” started Christine Blakely, calling the women’s toilets, “A little sanctuary for a few moments.”

“We go in there to get away from men. It’s a safe place,” said Nadia Sawalha, adding, “I don’t want to send my daughter off to the loo in a restaurant not knowing whether there’s any strange men in there or not.”

The opinions of actual women mean very little to Penis Pink News, who ran a feature criticising the show,  declaring triumphantly, ‘What about your toilets at home?’ and citing unisex toilets in small facilities like aeroplanes and cafes as already gender neutral. The absurdity of this argument, of course,  is that we know who uses our toilets at home, and the tiny, wash basin-inclusive individual toilet of your local bijou cafe is a far cry from a communal public toilet block. The article in Penis Pink News concluded with a feat of spectacular mansplaining from Benjamin Butterworth, who claimed: ‘Loose Women really doesn’t understand.”

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After the show, Loose Women ran a poll asking viewers if they would be happy to use unisex toilets. 65% replied that ‘no way!’ would they use them.

Checking with other polls and surveys, it seems that Loose Women understands the situation very well.  I’m not alone with finding unenthusiastic results. When Channel 4 unveiled its new gender neutral (GN) toilets ‘4everyone’, women were not impressed, leading the Express newspaper to run its own readers’ poll in which a whopping 92% of people replied that men and women should not be expected to share toilets. When Irish broadcaster Claire Byrne ran a similar poll, only 31% of respondents voted in favour of GN toilets.

A 2013 YouGov poll suggested that only 38% of women would feel comfortable using a unisex toilet in a public place.

When it was reported that women at the Home Office were refusing to use the new £40,000 unisex loos, This Morning ran a poll asking, ‘Are you bothered by unisex toilets?’ and 66% of 21,000 people answered ‘yes’.

Presenter Danni Levy said “We cannot get past the fact that men have a penis and they use the toilet in a different way.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-18 at 21.18.36Penis Pink News responded again, dismissing the presenters as ‘cisgender’ and quoting a random on Twitter who told the This Morning team “perhaps you all get over yourselves and grow up.” Wowzer. I bet that told them.

Outside the realms of transactivism, the lack of enthusiasm for the unisex toilet is apparent.

I think the answers are consistent enough to be very clear – we don’t want mixed sex toilets.” said  Dr Jo Meyertons, going on to add, “Only trans-id males want them, and they don’t give a damn about women or girls.”

With the exception of the YouGov poll, one thing all these polls have in common is that they ask both men and women their opinions. While many men seem embarrassed or awkward in unisex facilities (I see the poor things cringe in Pret-a-Manger as they hurriedly ‘remember’ to wash their hands when they see women are present,) it is women that have more to lose. Men are far more likely to be unconcerned by sharing facilities. One woman responding to my poll commented:

“The survey isn’t restricted to women and it should be. Because women are at risk of sexual assault in bathrooms, not men, which is the main reason we don’t want gender neutral bathrooms.”

A male respondent answered the question, ‘Who actually wants gender neutral toilets?’ with:

“If I was a woman, the answer would be ‘definitely not’. Because I have daughters and a wife the answer is ‘definitely not’. If I had nobody else to worry about, my answer would be ‘not bothered’. That’s because men don’t generally have to worry about being attacked by women.”

One thing I noticed coming up frequently among those who supported the idea of GN toilets was the hope or presumption that unisex bathrooms would include private wash basins, be pristine, spacious, well-designed and luxurious. Well, I think we’d all like pristine public toilets. This, of course, will not always be the case.

Two ideas were put forward that struck me as important. The first was that unisex toilets would make bathroom visits easier for dads out with young female children.

Interestingly that very situation arose this afternoon when I was visiting a friend whose husband was getting ready to take their eight-year-old daughter to a concert.

“What will you do if she needs the loo?” asked mum, somewhat uneasily.

“Oh, I’ll wait for her outside the Ladies,” replied dad, immediately.

While on one level this could be said to show that GN facilities are needed, on another it draws attention to how society subliminally acknowledges the predatory nature of men. It’s perfectly normal for a woman to take her eight year old son into the Ladies, but neither the child’s mum nor her dad would have been happy for their daughter to use the men’s toilet, even with her dad as protector. Dad was also aware that, even with a small child, his presence in the ladies would not be welcomed. The reason for that is core to this whole debate.

Some shopping malls and larger restaurants already provide ‘family rooms’ with space for a buggy and changing facilities, although these are often a shared space with disabled people. More of these spaces should be provided in addition to disabled toilets. By their very nature these spaces are unisex.

Likewise more public bathrooms should be available for those with larger children or adults that have special bathroom needs and their carers: the Changing Places campaign has campaigned for this with growing success. Again, by their very nature these spaces are unisex.

The above are special bathrooms, not the traditionally single-sex communal cubicle or stall toilets with a shared hand washing area that are provided by most venues. These are not the spaces that are under threat by the current trend for unisex toilets.

The other argument for unisex bathrooms is that they could result in shorter waiting times for women in crowded areas such as clubs and theatres.  Of course, while this may be true on some level, women are no longer left with a space to escape from men- whether to avoid being pestered, discuss their date with friends, fix their lippy or clean up in private after a messy period. Some might say more to the point, what about urinals? Because surely even the most easy going of us doesn’t want to walk past a row of urinating blokes with their knobs out? If we get rid of the urinals it’ll take longer for blokes to go to the loo… yada yada… no time saved at all.

Nonetheless, 5% of my respondents said they liked the idea of gender neutral toilets, and a further 11% said they weren’t bothered, so let’s have a look at some of their reasons why.

 

Reasons for wanting, or not minding, unisex public toilets

Gender neutral lily maynard

Results of my Twitter poll

If they are floor to ceiling walls/locking doors, self-contained units with sink & hand-drier, then fine…. plus noise resistant…

I personally want gender neutral ones, after having used unisex toilets, which were individual rooms like disabled toilets, in a row. A lot more private and you didn’t have to basically sit in the toilet to close the door. Also makes sense in terms of handling numbers.

Gender neutral are great when it’s a separate room with toilet and sink. Nice if you need some private time in front of the mirror/sink (e.g. to refresh armpits).

Gender neutral accessible cubicles, one user per cubicle. Everyone can use them and it evens out the queues.

I’ve just come back from Sweden and they seemed to manage fine with public unisex toilets for everyone… no mess. No drama. No stink. Individual cubicles for all though.

If its all cubicles I don’t see the harm – how many times do women use men’s toilets in pubs etc,when the ladies is full?

I like gender neutral toilets although not with urinals. The ones I’ve used have an air of civility about them which is lacking in single sex toilets. People seem to be on their best behaviour when in the company of the opposite sex.

Because I appear somewhat in the middle, and I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.

If toilets are single cubicles and secure, I’d prefer gender neutral to even up the average time spent queuing. If they’re stalls, single-sex.

All toilets should be single occupant, designed for easy access, and for both sexes.

The pub I was in suddenly had mixed loos when the gent’s malfunctioned and had to be closed. Men & women in the Ladies’… I was more apologetic than the women seemed worried. Separate cubicles, locked doors. It seemed to work.

I like them insofar it means twice the amount of toilets for me which reduces walking and waiting time. That effect only applies to old buildings though, for the future it will probably lead to less toilets and women being marginalized again (by pee on the seats etc.)

Gender neutral. No more worrying about going into the wrong bathroom accidentally, no more wasting money on two bathrooms, no more looking for the bathroom only to find there’s only a woman’s bathroom on that floor. Its just more convenient.

Personally, if I have to go, Any port in the storm will do, I’ve used public Gender Neutral Loos, they are private, and guarded. Hell, I even have one in my home. That said, I am there to focus on the task at hand.

Totally not bothered. We’ve all been using gender neutral toilets in our homes, on planes, in small restaurants and cafes, and we’ve been fine.

I’ve seen some good examples & can see the benefits for opposite sex carers including fathers of young daughters. But they must be designed as such, not cobbled together, & must guarantee privacy.

Unisex if kept clean (urinals behind privacy wall) to reduce queuing time & allow opposite sex carer/parent to accompany. Not in places where females are more vulnerable (nightclubs? schools?) unless layout rethought.

 

Reasons for wanting three types of toilet, female, male, gender neutral.

I’d prefer all three to be options or it be by the public business’ choice themselves. Gov buildings should have all three though.

Definitely single sex with a third gender neutral option for those that want it.

I’d prefer to have Male only, Female only & ‘Anyone’ options. Covers all bases…

Single sex with a third option available for those who need it.

I would like three options: male, female, anyone welcome/family friendly.

There should be three rooms: male, female, whatever.

I answered single sex but I DO think single-stall gender neutral toilets are an acceptable addition to (not replacement for) single sex bathrooms.

*****

Although I only requested that people give me reasons FOR wanting gender neutral loos, lots of those against the idea also shared their thoughts. Here are some of them.

Reasons for not wanting unisex public toilets

Gender neutral lily maynard

Results of my Twitter poll

“I could foresee many instances where I’d miss there being (only) other women in that space. Tampons, escaping men in bars among the safety of other women, etc.

I like having a girls only space.

We had gender neutral toilets in a school where I was teaching recently… some parents of girls objected so strongly they threatened to take them out of the school.

Men’s toilets stink! Yuk I would not feel comfortable using a stall next to a man having a pee or anything else!!

I’m a bloke and I pee on the seat.. I can’t see many women liking that!!

Because men get more urine on the floor than women.

Even a 10 year old girl should not have to share a toilet with strange men with the perverts out there . What about sperm on the seat ?

Men’s loos are messy and stinky, leaving aside the obvious safeguarding issues.

I don’t even like male cleaners coming in. Vital that we retain sex segregated spaces in public.

This is probably hopelessly old-fashioned, but I’m not comfortable even having men’s and women’s toilets ADJACENT to each other. Where I live, a little girl was strangled and raped in a disabled/unisex toilet in a shopping centre while her family waited for her outside.

I for one have no desire to poop with a man in the next stall over.

gender neutralMixed sex are usually gross. Pee all over floor n seat. General feelings of discomfort and unsafe with unfamiliar male persons in that space with me. I don’t feel like I have to worry about peeping Toms either.

Used gender neutral loos last week at NT property- wee on seats and floors- horrid.

Quite apart from the safety aspect, I do not want to have to deal with loos where men have pissed on the floor and the seats. I know some women can be less than hygienic in their habits, but these are rare IME.*     

* in my experience

Any space with men in it becomes “Men’s Space” so there’s no neutrality about it. Men dominate any spaces they are allowed into.

Definitely prefer single sex loos.

I think all toilets should be single sex and gender neutral – so you use the toilet for your sex regardless of what gender you identify as.

Recently an old gentleman walked into a unisex loo as I was washing my hands. The dear didn’t know where to look even though I was only washing my hands.

Single sex offers privacy, for women and men. No one wants to deal with menstruation issues next to a male, and few men are comfortable urinating in front of women. Also, men’s loos stink – urine splashed everywhere!

Last thing I want are gender neutral loos.

I had to use a ‘gender neutral’ loo once. There was nothing neutral about it. Especially not the odour. Males quite clearly dominated, and it was absolutely disgusting to use. I had to pee with my bag on my lap because there was no hook, and no way I could put it on the floor.

I’ve had two miscarriages at work. There’s a lot of blood.

The last comment, so sad, sent me in search of an article I had read about the number of women who suffer miscarriages in public. I eventually found it on the Fair Play for Women site and you can read it here.  Be warned, it is deeply moving, it made me cry.  It also made me angry that so many men would be so flippant about women’s need for single-sex spaces. The writer concludes:

“If the world outside the Ladies’ was fully accepting of women’s right to privacy & dignity, of our desire not to be stalked and groped, of our naturally unpolished looks and our hormonally-active bodies, then we wouldn’t need those safer spaces.  As it stands, though, the world demands that we hide our ‘mess’ and has given us a small room in public places, where we’re supposed to sort ourselves out.”

 

One other reply that made a huge impression on me was this:

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The use of SpyCams. Also known as Molka. Recently I was contacted by a woman via Twitter. She lives in Korea, where women are frequently filmed without their knowledge and the results posted on the internet, sometimes by boyfriends but often by strangers. The results can ruin women’s lives.

“I am now spreading the facts about Korea’s misogyny, especially about Molka, which means a spycam in Korea,” she wrote. “Could you please spread this so that this gets more attention please? I would be so thankful. Since this is a problem of Korea, not many people gives interest to this issue, but still I would like everyone to know this. Thank you so much.” She linked me to this thread on Twitter.

gender neutral toilets lily maynardIn Korea, men ‘hide cameras in their clothes or stuff’ so that they can secretly take pictures or videos of women without being noticed. The videos are uploaded to porn sites and victims have little luck getting them taken down.

Journalist Raphael Rashid tweeted in June that some South Korean women are now wearing masks to hide their faces when using public toilets, so they can’t be identified.

In Seoul, the situation has reached the point where public toilets are checked daily for these cameras. In 2017 over 6,000 cases of ‘molka’ were reported- this number, of course, does not include the women too scared to report the crime, or the probably even larger numbers who never even realise they’ve been filmed.  The checks seems to be vaguely ineffective, despite the huge numbers of women being filmed or photographed in states of undress without their consent, the authorities have not yet reported finding a hidden camera. One reason for this may be that in unisex toilets, a discretely held or placed phone may do the job.  Cameras can be hidden in baseball caps; in shoes. In August of this year, an estimated 70,000 people, mostly women, took to the streets in protest, some wearing masks, to protest being filmed by hidden cameras, some on mobile phones, some cached by men in public toilets. Many held high banners declaring, ‘My Life is Not Your Porn’. Laws against ‘Molka’ are proving inadequate. An article in the Independent earlier this year ended with the ominous prediction. ” Activists have warned the practice is reaching epidemic levels and could spread to other countries.”

If men can wander in and out of public toilets used by women, holding phones; planting cameras, taking photos and sexual assaults will all be much easier. And before you scoff at the potential for that, remember the statistics we’ve looked at already. 90% of sexual assaults in changing rooms in this country took place in ‘gender neutral’ areas.

Think it doesn’t happen here?  Here are just some of the SpyCam items available on UK Amazon and Ebay. A baseball hat with a camera in the front will cost you £55. A fake water bottle is a snip at a mere £32. You can buy a plastic coat hook with a hidden camera in it for less than £15. One UK seller among many has sold 53, has more than 10 more available and boasts 100% customer satisfaction. At the time of writing, 43 people are ‘watching’ the item on Ebay.

SpyCam molka lily maynard

So, where does all this leave us? Potential forthcoming changes to the Gender Recognition Act would make it even easier for men to access women’s spaces. Any man- ANY man- will be able to simply self-identify as a woman and have as much legal right to be in a woman’s bathroom as in the men’s.

Some might claim that if public bathrooms are changed to unisex, at least we aren’t pretending women have the right to female-bodied spaces any more. To be honest, that’s the only upside I can see.

*****

Postscript: changes to the Gender Recognition Act

Concerned about potential forthcoming changes to the Gender Recognition Act? You should be! The new system would leave itself horrendously open to abuse.  Laws that were slipped through years ago without public consultation mean that already a birth certificate is the only document that can’t be changed on a whim. Our right to women-only spaces is slipping through our fingers. To campaign for women’s rights is now widely viewed as transphobic. This has to stop.

We have just one chance to have our say in the government consultation which ends next month on 19th October 2018.  If you haven’t already, I urge you to take part.

Fair Play for Women have some excellent information on their website here, and their free online booklet can talk you through the questions in the GRA consultation, explaining just what the government are asking and what the potential changes may mean. You can also get involved in spreading the word yourself. Act now, while you can. This really could be our last chance to protect female-bodied spaces.

 

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Unisex toilets & sexual violence in schools

Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 03.12.53“If you get the toilets right, you get the teaching right.”

So said Schools’ Minister David Miliband, somewhat bizarrely in 2004. Well, are schools getting it right?

Not according to a 2010 report which suggested that one in four secondary pupils thought their school toilets were “disgusting”, 38% of secondary school girls admitted to “holding it in” to avoid going to the toilet while at school, and 27% of secondary school boys said they never use soap at school. On top of that, 36% believed the school toilets were “never clean”.

How to improve things? Roll out the unisex ‘gender neutral’ toilets!

On 22/8/18, The Scottish Sunday Herald and The Scottish Sun announced that parents, who had not been consulted or forewarned of the changes, were not happy about the new ‘gender neutral’ toilets installed in Carolside and Braidbar Primary Schools. One paper referred to the action as, ‘highly inappropriate’.

Local councilor David MacDonald observed:

“…this has left some parents worried, angry and upset, particularly parents of girls approaching and going through puberty and those who need private spaces to deal with menstruation… Boys urinate on toilet seats whether by accident or on purpose. Are girls expected to enter a cubicle and be charged with having to wipe down a toilet seat with toilet paper to get rid of the urine and then be forced to make direct skin contact with the toilet seat when they sit down? I can’t imagine how incredibly unsanitary that situation will be, not to mention absolutely disgusting.”

Chris McGovern, former TUC member & chairman of the Campaign for Real Education stated:

“Girls, in particular, are likely to feel threatened and some may simply refuse to use the toilets. The council… needs to undergo a course of detoxification in order that common sense can be restored to its thinking. In the meantime, I fear for the well-being of the children.”

Whilst this is the story currently in the public eye, the unisex toilet debate is not an entirely new one. One of the first secondary schools to establish unisex toilets was Bramhall High School in Stockport, way back in 2000. The headteacher claimed it would ‘prevent bullying, vandalism and smoking.‘  At the time the Department for Education ruled, “the time is not right for the introduction of unisex toilets in our schools”, saying they were technically illegal.

Roll on a few more years, and in 2016, over 700 parents signed a petition to protest against ‘gender neutral’ toilets opening at a London primary school, concerned that this might result in an increase of sexual assaults. In every case I have read about while researching this article, parents who object to unisex toilets say the school did not consult them before the changes were made.

Supporters of the scheme have pointed out that these are ‘only’ primary schools.   That doesn’t allow for the fact that plenty of girls start their periods while at primary school. I was eleven when I started my periods, & while I had just started at secondary, there were girls in my year who had started before me. I remember being embarrassed to unwrap a Tampax in the loos on occasion: if boys had been using the same bathrooms I would have been mortified. No: women aren’t exaggerating, men, when we say we often get blood on our fingers when we have our periods. We are changing tampons and blood -soaked pads! Sometimes the water does run red in the sinks and occasionally we do need to rinse out underwear, or pad our knickers out with paper hand towels from the communal area. No, we’re not over the moon about that either. As for the growing popularity of the Mooncup, a healthier and more environmental option to pads and tampons, what young woman is going to want to rinse her menstrual blood down the sink with a group of boys watching? That knocks that one on the head.

Establishing unisex toilets in primary schools could result, for example, in a five year old girl sharing toilet facilities with an eleven year old boy, a potentially uncomfortable and intimidating situation for both.

Whilst the schools featuring in the press this month are primary schools, there are several secondary schools which have already brought in the idea.

Lily MaynardWhile the popularity of ‘gender neutral’ toilets is growing, by law single sex toilets must be provided for children in school over the age of eight. As recently as June 2018 the Department for Education document ‘Gender separation in mixed schools’ (non-statutory guidance) stated:

“Separate toilet and washing facilities must be provided for boys and girls aged 8 years and over pursuant to Regulation 4 of the School Premises (England) Regulations 2012, which falls within the exemption provided for in Schedule 22 of the Equality Act 2010.”

As long as schools keep access to some single-sex toilets available to students, they are allowed to establish ‘gender neutral’ or unisex toilets in new-build or refurbished schools.  Sometimes they can be a cost-cutting measure: one set of toilets is cheaper to built and maintain than two and, where staff supervision is provided, a single bathroom area is easier to supervise.

It is unlawful for schools to act in a way incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. These rights include Article 8: the ‘right to respect for private and family life’ which includes a duty to protect the individual’s physical and psychological integrity.  One student complained that the ‘girls’ toilets were much further away from the main areas of the school, and less well maintained. If a menstruating girl is forced to wash blood from her hands in a communal washbasin area, in the presence of males, is her physical and psychological integrity being preserved?

Some have claimed that in 2007, government guidelines recommended that all toilets in new-build schools should be unisex.   In fact, the Department for Education and Skills document suggested that to help stop bullying, loitering and smoking in school toilets:

hand-washing facilities should be made visible and potentially unisex by being moved out of the cubicle area as a direct extension to the circulation space.”

The same guidelines advised: “sanitary products and sanitary disposal units must be provided in toilets for girls aged eight and over.”

Would a school providing unisex toilets then need to ensure that sanitary products and disposal products were available in every cubicle? It seems so.

The open spaces, clean and well stocked soap dispensers, working hand dryers,  frosted glass and background music suggested by the ‘Bog Standard’ campaign are admirable. But neither the Manchester headteacher nor the government guidelines explained exactly how the unisex aspect of these new toilets could cause an end to bullying, loitering or smoking.

An article run at the time on the BBC website ran a poll, answered by 2066 people, asking “Can unisex toilets in schools tackle bullying problems?”.  Less than one in five respondents thought it could. Nearly 70% of respondents answered ‘no’, whilst almost 12% were ‘unsure’. One young woman, a recent school leaver, commented:

“Unisex toilets aren’t that great of an idea as bullying will still go on. Even more so I think. It’s just absurd to think that this will in some way help combat the vast problem of bullying in schools.”

Lily MaynardIn 2014, The Independent ran an article entitled ‘Unisex toilets in schools should be avoided at all costs’. Rachel Roberts anticipated,  ‘a teenage pregnancy here, a sexual assault there, lots of discomfort and embarrassment for both sexes, a urine-soaked mess of raging hormones, sexual bullying and teenage tears,’ adding,I don’t believe that all the lads would welcome the shared space either, as teenage boys have their own insecurities.”

 

 

Also in 2014, children’s rights campaigner Esther Rantzen criticised Towers School and Sixth Form Centre’s plans to introduce unisex toilets.

“These children are at an age when they are extremely self-conscious and aware of their bodies and the changes they experience. It’s an extremely delicate time for them… This is one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard and I suggest the school rethinks its proposal.”

Twitter as usual, had plenty to say on the subject of this week’s announcement.

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When Chris MacGovern said he ‘feared for the well being of the children’, you could be forgiven for thinking he was indulging in a touch of hyperbole. Yet the figures surrounding sexual violence in schools are both surprising and shocking.

lily maynardIn 2017 TES revealed that in many cases schools have failed rape victims by putting them back into classrooms with their alleged attackers.

Maria Miller, chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee, reports some of the incidents that parents have told her about. One mother told how a primary school dismissed it as ‘playful activity‘ when her six-year-old daughter was raped by a classmate. The incident was not recorded centrally because the instigator was under the age of criminal responsibility.

This raises issues about the number of assaults among schoolchildren, how those that are reported are detected or recorded and what can be done about it. If some incidents of sexual assault involving young children aren’t being properly recorded, it suggests that the dark figures will be even higher.  In what universe are unisex toilets going to help address these issues?Lily Maynard

It is hardly surprising that parents are not happy about the idea.  UK government figures show that sexual violence in schools is rising and while the government report,  Sexual violence and sexual harassment between children in schools and colleges” makes plain to stress in bold font that such assaults can occur between “children of any age and sex“, it goes on to demonstrate that it is statistically girls that are at far more risk of assault.

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The Girlguiding’s Girls’ Attitudes Survey of 2017  found that  64% of girls aged 13-21 had experienced sexual violence or sexual harassment at school or college in the past year. This included 39% having their bra strap pulled by a boy and 27% having their skirts pulled up within the last week.

Let’s not digress here  into Girl Guiding’s new policy of allowing ‘transgirls’ (boys) to sleep in girls’ tents on camps and ‘transwomen’ (men) to run girls’ packs – without parents being informed.

lily maynardSexual violence in schools is nothing new, but most of us assume that growing public awareness means that girls nowadays are more likely to report it and more likely to feel they will be listened to if they do. This does not necessarily seem to be the case.

The Feminista report on sexism in schools,’It’s Just Everywhere’ shows that less than a quarter (22%) of female students at mixed-sex schools think their school takes sexism seriously enough.

78% of secondary school students are unsure, or not aware, of the existence of any policies and practices in their school related to preventing sexism. The report goes on to observe the cycle that is perpetuated when sexism and sexual harassment is not taken seriously.:

Even when an incident occurs that students clearly recognise as harmful and unwanted, students are currently unlikely to report it. They do not believe the teacher would take reports of sexism and sexual harassment seriously, and anticipate that they would be viewed as being difficult and oversensitive. Under-reporting contributes to a view among school leaders that sexism is not a problem requiring action – so the issue is not raised with students. This institutional silence on the matter fuels the perception (or recognition) among students that sexism and sexual harassment is considered to be ‘normal’ and unimportant, which in turn fuels a reluctance among students to report it.

Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 02.35.24An investigation by the Press Association in 2017 revealed that children as young as five had been excluded from school for sexual misconduct.  In 2017 the BBC revealed that over the previous three years, police in England and Wales had received reports of 2625 sexual offences, including 225 alleged rapes, taking place on school premises. Combined figures from 30 police forces showed reports of sexual offences by children under ten had more than doubled in the past year, from 204 to 456.

Yet this is clearly the tip of the iceberg: 11% of female students who have been sexually harassed in school say that one of the reasons they did not report it was they felt ashamed that it happened and were scared of the consequences of reporting it.

One female student said “I wasn’t aware that these incidents could be reported, no students have ever been told it is wrong to act in this way, not discouraged or punished for it.”

In 2017, the Women and Equalities commission reported that ‘Ofsted and the Independent Schools Inspectorate must assess schools on how well they are recording, monitoring, preventing and responding to incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence.’

Nearly three-quarters (71%) of all 16-18 year old boys and girls reported that they hear terms such as “slut” or “slag” used towards girls at schools on a regular basis.

Lily MaynardHow gender neutral toilet and hand washing areas could help to minimise abuse, whether it’s one child calling another a ‘slut’ or a serious sexual assault,  is a question which nobody seems to feel the need to answer.

“Sexual harassment occurs when sexist stereotypes flourish.” said MP Maria Miller.  “The Government has to show more urgency; there must be clear guidance for schools that leaves them in no doubt about their responsibilities to keep girls safe and tackle gender stereotypes, as well as support for those experiencing harassment and abuse.”

Interestingly, Maria Miller supports self-identification, the proposed changes to the gender recognition act (GRA) which will allow anyone to be legally recognised as either male or female just by declaring themselves to be so. It is hard to see how our responsibility as adults to ‘keep girls safe’ is compatible with these changes.

Bra-strap snapping, looking up skirts: these assaults may happen for a variety of reasons but they inevitably happen to female-bodied people. They happen because the victims are girls.

Take boring old ‘unisex’ and turn it into trendy, cutting-edge ‘gender neutral’ and you have a winning formula. Some schools are embracing the idea wholeheartedly.

“Gender-neutral toilets planned at all-girls school in case any pupils decide to transition” ran a Telegraph article in March 2018, reporting that a private all-girls school in Blackheath, London is installing gender neutral toilets.

The news report reads almost like a marketing ploy. Headmistress Carol Chandler-Thompson speaks to reporters about the super new toilets and the refurbishing work going on at the school in the ‘leafy London suburb’. While she currently has no trans-identified pupils, Ms Chandler-Thompson is confident that this situation will change, explaining,  “I fully expect I will do.”

“We are obviously a girls’ school,” she adds, “but we may have young people who are transitioning here and we would support that… We would help them see out their education, making sure they can fulfill their own potential.”

There is an ever-increasing avoidance of mentioning that it is females – girls, women, female-bodied, XX people- that are at a greater risk of violence from males- boys, men, male-bodied XY people. More and more frequently, women speaking about their biology and how it affects them are considered to be transphobic. From pussy hats to periods, we just aren’t meant to talk about the fact that it is women who are the subject rather than the object of violence, because it might make trans-identified people feel uncomfortable.

“You don’t have men and women sharing for obvious reasons. It’s a sex issue…. observed Sean Donovan, father of a child at North Cambridge Academy which installed unisex open plan toilets in 2016.

A University College of London study on sexual abuse in schools determined:

“offenders are most likely to be adolescent and adult males… girls are around twice as likely as boys to be sexually victimised… sexual abuse is more likely to occur in places where risk of detection is low… victims of adolescent abusers are generally younger than for adult abusers…”

The problem with calling a girl a boy and a girl a boy, and the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, is that worrying statistics like these get swallowed up within the ideology of magical thinking. If we cannot tell a male pupil from a female pupil because gender identity tops biology, what happens to the collection of statistics? If a transgirl assaults a transboy, is this recorded as a female on male assault? Statistics become meaningless and strategies cannot be developed to protect the children- mostly girls- who are being assaulted and raped. This is one of the reasons that Transgender Trend’s guidelines for schools are so important. The welfare and safety of every child must be considered.

If schools affirm that a boy is a girl, or that a girl is a boy, based on the say-so of the child- with or without the support of a parent- they are giving out two clear messages.

The first is that increased vulnerability to sexual harassment and assault is something that girls bring upon themselves by ‘identifying’ as female. The second is that this is something girls can attempt to opt out of by ‘identifying’ as male.

Whilst new-build toilets are long overdue in many schools, it isn’t the unisex aspect of the toilets that could prevent bullying but better supervision and design. Before we are so quick to leap on the idea of ‘gender neutral’ toilets as the way forward, perhaps we should think of the rights of girls- and boys-  to safe spaces.

How about we make a start by giving them sex-specific privacy in the school toilets?

 

 

 

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Child Transition: the Myth of Informed Consent

Screen Shot 2018-08-20 at 01.26.51.pngMagical thinking. It’s everywhere. And in no place or time is it more powerful than in childhood.

‘Childhood,’ wrote Edna St Vincent Millay, “is the kingdom where nobody dies.”

As a child, I was quite certain that I wasn’t going to die. A space ship, or a time traveller, would turn up at some point in my adulthood and I would be spared; whisked away to another universe.  I absolutely knew this was true. For years.  Childhood is not necessarily the kingdom where nobody dies, but it is the kingdom where everything is possible. Where your toys come alive when you’re not there. Where there are monsters in your wardrobe or under your bed. Where if you swallow an apple pip, a tree might grow inside you. Where if you tried hard enough, you could move things with your mind. Where if you can’t see something, it doesn’t exist. Where you definitely don’t believe in ghosts but you hope they wont haunt you for not believing in them.  Where mirrors are windows to other worlds.  Where there might actually, really be a unicorn living in the woods.  Where there is a gender fairy who pops pink or blue brains into our bodies at birth, and a girl can turn into a boy if she really, really wants to and wishes for it hard enough.

Children are experts in magical thinking. While they learn at an incredible rate, they haven’t been around very long so they only have a small frame of reference. Kids haven’t yet developed very accurate tools for differentiating between fantasy and reality.   Can a child possibly understand the physical and psychological input involved with developing and maintaining a trans identity?  Can a child really give informed consent to transition?

Gender identity problems in children are not new, but they have increased exponentially in the last decade. Traditionally 80% or more of children who believed themselves to be ‘born in the wrong body’ desisted by the end of puberty.

In 2009, the Endocrine society observed “Given the high rate of remission of GID after the onset of puberty, we recommend against a complete social role change and hormone treatment in prepubertal children with GID.”

‘Watchful waiting’ was considered to be best practice and nobody was rushing to affirm and consolidate any sort of identity in a child barely old enough to have become aware of the concept.

“Trans activists warn focusing too heavily on desistance encourages people to take gender dysphoria in children less seriously,” writes LGBTQ reporter Ana Valens in The Daily Dot.

 

HOW Many Trans Kids?

Lily MaynardGIDS (Gender Identity Development Service), which treats children under 18 in the UK, received 94 referrals of children in 2009/10. By 2016/17 this had risen to 1,986 referrals. (figures adjusted to removed 18+)

That’s not two, not ten, but TWENTY TIMES as many children referred in the space of a decade.

In Australia, Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital is struggling to cope with demand for child gender services.  From one patient in 2003, the hospital expects to see 200 children and adolescents this year.

Activists say this is because historically children have not ‘had the words’ to explain being transgender and, due to increased publicity about the condition, more kids are coming forward. They say the children that desisted in those studies desisted because they were misdiagnosed or ‘not real trans’. Others claim that there was no follow up on many of the children, but this has been shown to be untrue.

It seems hard to equate those views. There were less children coming forward a decade ago, but they were mostly misdiagnosed? Now there are twenty times as many children coming forward but they are not being misdiagnosed? It just doesn’t seem to add up.

One thing most people would agree on is that as awareness has increased, the notion of the transgender child has captured the imagination of the press, parents and gender non-conforming children everywhere.

With the advent of the ‘tranzkidz’, traditional approaches have changed. Nobody seems interested in asking where all these transgender children have sprung from.  Instead, numerous articles online and in newspapers and magazines chart the story of the girls who live as boys and the boys who live as girls. Transition is a life or death matter, we are all told, despite there being little or no evidence to support this.

Stereotypes & Sexism

lily MaynardThe sexism of the ‘born in the wrong body’ myth is gargantuan and usually entirely overlooked. That’s the fundamental premise behind the transgender child.  It seems to be less about breaking down stereotypes and freeing the spirit and more about those good old-fashioned, sexist, pink and blue boxes; selling the illusion of how elementary and desirable it might be to skip between the two to children too young to know any better. The majority of the mainstream press has bought into this idea. Journalists like Janice Turner, Andrew Gilligan and Jesse Singal, who have dared to question the current trans-narrative are called ‘transphobic’ and accused of stiring up hatred against trans people.

If we tell a child that Jack is a girl born in a boy’s body, what is the child supposed to understand by that? What does that tell the child about sexism and stereotyping?

In the words of one young person on YouTube: “My whole childhood was just basically like, you’re a boy, you can’t play with that, you’re a boy you can’t do that, you’re a boy, ner ner ner… & every night I’d go to bed and be like, ‘God, why don’t they understand that I’m not a boy?'”

WHY couldn’t he play with that? WHY couldn’t he do that? WHY aren’t we addressing the unjust and ingrained sexism in society rather than medicating & reforming young people’s minds and bodies to fit new stereotypes?

A young Australian transgender child’s parents report that she wakes up in the night with screams of,“Change my clothes, change my clothes!”  For Pete’s sake, change the child’s clothes! Let her wear what she likes!

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 14.03.46 We need to tell children that there is no right or wrong way to be a boy or a girl and that they shouldn’t be defined by their genitals. You don’t get to decide if you’re born a boy or a girl, and it should not affect the games you play, the clothes you wear or the choices you make. Telling kids that girls’ brains are one way and boys’ brains are another way is sexist. We know it to be untrue.

A great number of the human rights battles of the last century were fought in the name of equality between the sexes, and those battles should not be erased with a swish of the gender fairy’s wand.  Being a boy or a girl is a biological descriptor, not a word that describes the things you like doing or wearing. Boys and girls are biologically different, but that doesn’t mean they have pink and blue brains, or need to behave in certain ways.

On the subject of stereotypes, this is what Jazz Jennings, famous child reality show star, has to say in ‘I am Jazz‘: “For as long as I can remember, my favorite color has been pink… most of all I love mermaids.”

What seeds does this sow in the minds of children? Certainly not the idea that kids are perfect as they are. What does it mean to the girl who likes football, to the boy who likes pink tutus?  To the child that ‘doesn’t do girl right’ or to the effeminate boy? The child who already feels different to their peers may see this as a way to fit in, and a way to be special all rolled into one. If we can’t explain how a child can be transgender without recourse to stereotypes and sexist generalisations, then how can we expect a child to think there is more to it than that?

Take away the stereotypes and we are left with, ‘some kids ‘just know‘. Like I knew I was invincible? Like my five year old brother-in-law knew he could learn to fly? How about if the adults around us had been telling us yes, we were different to other kids and those beliefs were correct?

When you’re born, it’s your body that makes you a boy or a girl. If you tell a child otherwise, you are lying to them. We don’t get to choose. We just are.

Informed consent is not informed if it’s based on a lie.

 

How young is too young?

Diane Ehrensaft infamously claimed that trans babies might pull out their hairslides or make dresses of their babygros. Of course, females are not genetically pre-programmed to like things stuck in our hair, and wearing floaty robes is considered the norm for men in many parts of the world. Stereotypes yet again.

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‘All About Trans’ is an organisation set up to improve portrayal of trans people in the media.

After meetings with AAT, CBBC (the children’s branch of the BBC) has run several programs featuring trans children, including ‘I am Leo’, a series about a trans-identified child.

 

Feminist writer Helen Saxby described ‘I am Leo’ as:

“biased, misleading and even dangerous, in the sense that it presented an overwhelmingly positive view of the experience of being transgender, with little attempt to qualify this picture with correct information.”

Saxby adds,All labels carry a certain degree of restriction, whether it is ‘girl’, ‘boy’ or ‘trans’. Leo simply has a new box to be trapped in.”

Once again, a simplistic view of transition is given to children- of course it is! We are dealing with five or six year olds here. It has to be simplistic. We can’t explain the surgical side of breast removal, or breast implants, of vaginal atrophy, of leaking neo-penises… are you insane? it’s children’s television for goodness sake!

There are several organisations who receive a great deal of funding from charities like Children in Need and the National Lottery to go into schools, clubs and local libraries and innocuously suggest to kids that they may be wrong and need ‘fixing’. They claim to be helping children ‘find the words’ to explain their gender identities and encouraging diversity and acceptance. I mention some of them in But Nobody’s Encouraging Kids to be Trans.

Stephanie Davies-Arai of Transgender Trend emphasises  the importance of supporting and accepting children, “without affirming their belief that their body is ‘wrong’”, adding that,“… the blithe normalisation of childhood ‘transition’… puts children at risk of invasive and untested medical procedures which will keep them medical patients for life…  All children have the right to be taught facts based on reality, not ideology masquerading as truth.”

Children who are told they can choose their gender, or ‘become’ a boy or a girl, are not being given the whole picture about what transition entails. We recognise that they are too young to comprehend the potential side effects of the medications, or the gory reality of the medical procedures, involved in transition. But without the whole picture, you do not have informed consent.

“The younger ones can really, really want to be girls or boys,” says consultant clinical psychologist, Dr Bernadette Wren of the Tavistock Clinic, “and then they can give that up and their relationship to their bodies can settle down quite comfortably. If we can help some of those young people through adolescence, they might make a different choice (than medical transition)  later.”

When grown ups who have themselves transitioned come to your school and tell you- as is now happening in Scotland, in London, in Brighton, all over the UK-  that you can choose whether to be a boy or a girl, you’re probably going to believe them. Why wouldn’t you? We are all programmed to have a default setting to believe that what we are told is true, and this trait is at its strongest in children under seven.

So what are small children being told?

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 23.31.13
Blur – the non-binary kindergarten penguin for 3-6 year olds.

UK-based GIRES (Gender Identity Research & Education Society) enrapture 3-6 year olds with their magical gender-selecting cartoon penguin stories  designed to brainwash teach gender identity to impressionable children.

In their lesson plans for teachers they stress that “Understanding gender diversity should start at primary school level, before children’s views become influenced by the prejudices of the adults around them.”

In this story the penguin’s parents ‘didn’t immediately understand’ and were wrong to think it was a boy or a girl. In fact, it is neither. A party is thrown to celebrate its non-binary status.

Idiot parents watch in the background.

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 01.37.03.png

In another tale those silly old parents tell Polly they can’t tell if she’s a boy or a girl so whenever she’s ready she should tell them herself. She tells a friend instead, that she’s a boy.  Humbled and re-educated parents and celebratory parties abound.

This is magical thinking at its most spendid.

Under the new draft guidelines created by Education Scotland, NHS boards and the Scottish Government, from 2019, children will be told in the classroom  “Your gender is what you decide. You might be a boy or a girl.” 

There is an informative Twitter thread about the details and implications of this, here.

Lily Maynard

Rather than trying to explain the incredible complexity and long term implications of transition, every attempt is made to make it appear something simple, straightforward and special. Penguins! Parties! All your problems solved! Why so simple? Because children cannot understand the implications. And if they cannot understand the implications, they cannot consent.

Why are hundreds of thousands of pounds being given in grants to the organisations that promote this ideology? Why not spend that money on a ‘girls can play football, boys can like tutus‘ campaign?

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 01.43.51

The precious bear in Introducing Teddy makes it sound so simple when he confides,“In my heart, I’ve always known that I’m a girl Teddy, not a boy Teddy.”

In ‘George‘ a story about a boy who wants to play a female part in a play, transition is presented as a rolicking good adventure:

“Everyone thinks George is a boy, but she knows better… George and her friend come up with a plan so she can finally be who she wants to be.”

Lashings of post-op ginger beer all round, then.

“Don’t call me he, don’t call me she, please don’t assume who I must be,” waxes the eloquent Phyllis Wrothblatt in ‘All I Want to be is Me’. Despite having been scribed by a middle-aged MTF, the book is described as giving “voice to the feelings of children who don’t fit into narrow gender stereotypes, and who just want to be free to be themselves.”

Er, hang on… stop right there. That would be ALL children, wouldn’t it? No child is a stereotype. ALL children want to be free to be themselves!

A friend of mine had a sign hanging in her kitchen when our kids were little, which read “You are clever, beautiful, talented and special – just like everyone else.”

Let’s keep that in mind shall we, while we’re setting the cloth out on the altar of the gender fairy? Transition is being presented to kids as simple, as fun, an adventure and a viable option for any child who doesn’t see themselves as a stereotype. It isn’t like that.

When very, very young, both Jazz Jennings and Jackie Green told their parents that ‘God had made a mistake and I should have been a girl.’  Both children were told that an operation to make them into a girl would be possible when they were grown up.

One mother of a  trans-identified five year old says of her daughter, “He talks about ‘when I start having medicine to make me grow a willy.’”

Some might wonder how a five year old thought that such magical medicine existed. Of course, it doesn’t. A girl can’t ‘grow a willy’. Nothing can actually turn a boy into a girl, certainly not in the way that a six year old could conceive it, apart from magical thinking.

Jackie Green underwent vaginoplasty on his sixteenth birthday.

“Everyone says what is in between your legs doesn’t matter and I agree,” says Jennings, who underwent the same operation earlier this year, age seventeen.

I was going to link to some information and photographs about what ‘MTF vaginoplasty entails, but if you really want to see, you can use your Google-Fu.

The ‘gender non-conforming’ child often grows into a gay adult.

LGBT is so often referred to in one breath, as if the letters are all sides of the same dice, that it becomes hard to separate them. Gender critical people, who question the ethics of transitioning children, are often accused of being ‘anti LGBT’.  On the contrary, many of us are aware that more often than not, it is potentially gay kids who are harmed by child transition.

Lily MaynardTraditionally, ‘gender non-conforming’ kids often turn out to be gay if left alone to grow up and find their own space. But if a child who is likely to grow up to be homosexual misses out on a timely puberty, how is he supposed to have the experiences that would have naturally enabled that sense of identity to form?

The GIRES penguins demand parties and celebration; those special bathroom rules were made just for you: that interview in the paper where mummy was so proud to see your photo: who would actually want to be a stompy old lesbian when they could be a fortitudinous transboy? Who would want to be an effeminate gay boy when they could be a precious transgirl?

Although many gay people say they knew they were gay from a young age, many others don’t come to the realisation until their 20s or older.  The lesbian girl may feel different but she may not yet know why. She may assume these feelings mean she should be a boy, especially if people have come into her school and told her that is a distinct possibility.  Puberty has not struck and those feelings may not be fully formed. She feels like an outsider and transition seems like an answer: it ostensibly offers a way to belong, to conform. But of course, it doesn’t. Puberty helps us on the road to establishing who we are and is an essential – the essential- step on the road to adulthood.

The name and pronoun change consolidates this idea. The puberty blockers stop the puberty that might have resolved her issues. The block is both physical and psychological and the child is further alienated from her peers.

Koerte, Geocker et al discussed this in Dtsch Arztebl Int , in 2008.

“Multiple longitudinal studies provide evidence that gender-atypical behavior in childhood often leads to a homosexual orientation in adulthood, but only in 2.5% to 20% of cases to a persistent gender identity disorder.”

They conclude that “irreversible physical interventions are clearly not indicated until after the individual’s psychosexual development is complete.” The idea that the effects of puberty-blocking treatment are totally reversible is true, they believe,“only with respect to its physical effects, not with respect to the irreversible damage it does to the process of psychosexual development.”

“I’m actually wondering what are we trying to accomplish here?” asks Dr Eric Vilain, chief of Medical Genetics at UCLA, a pediatrician and geneticist, in a video interview“Are we trying to reduce the number of gay & lesbian adults?”

How can a child understand the implications of puberty blockers?

In 2015, Polly Carmichael of the Tavistock told the Guardian about “simplistic arguments that if you have the blocker then all the problems disappear. In our experience, all the problems do not go away.”  She adds, “The blocker is said to be completely reversible, which is disingenuous because nothing’s completely reversible.”

The use of puberty blockers to treat trans-identified (transgender) children has only been around for a decade, pioneered by Boston Children’s Hospital as recently as 2007.  By 2017, over 800 young people in the UK had been prescribed puberty blockers. These drugs block the sex hormones oestrogen and testosterone.  They stop the onset of periods and breast growth, or voice-deepening and facial hair growth. The drugs have been tested for use in halting precocious puberty, although there have been concerns about side effects of Lupron, with reports of spinal problems, osteoperosis and fibromalgia.  Depression and anxiety have also been reported by women who had been prescribed the drug as children. In America, more than 10,000 ‘adverse event’ reports have been filed with the FDA (Federal Drug Agency) , reflecting the experiences of women who’ve taken Lupron.

“The biggest problem though is that studies show that 100% of kids who go on puberty blockers do not desire to come off. They go on to cross sectional hormones where they remain infertile. Also sexual pleasure development does not occur from early pubertal blockade… These kids will become permanently damaged adults. Add in the increased cardiovascular, thromboembolic and cancer risks and you have a recipe for disaster.”

Michael K Laidlaw MD.

Used to delay puberty, ostensibly to ‘buy time’ for the trans-identified child to make its mind up about transition, puberty blockers can make medical transition easier by suppressing secondary sex characteristics and leaving the child’s body more of an androgynous medical ‘tabula rasa’. Growth spurts in height do not occur, reproductive organs do not develop and muscle mass is not gained. How exactly this is ‘reversible’ as it isn’t possible to turn back time, is debatable. Where the use of puberty blockers leaves the majority of children who would traditionally change their minds is a question which does not seem to be being asked.

“We have shifted to make the treatment available earlier and earlier. But the earlier you do it, the more you run the risk that it’s an intervention people would say yes to at a young age, but perhaps would not be so happy with when they move into their later adulthood.” 

Dr Bernadette Wren 2015.

While we occasionally read in the press about transmen who have babies, most doctors recommend a hysterectomy after 5 years on Testosterone because it can create similar effects to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) which has been linked to increased risk of  endometrial and ovarian cancer. To state the obvious, a hysterectomy results in a sterile young woman.

The puberty blockers and hormone treatments that are becoming more commonplace arrest both the physical and psychological development of a child.

“Young people with gender dysphoria constitute a singularly vulnerable population, one that experiences high rates of depression, self-harm, and even suicide. Moreover, children are not fully capable of understanding what it means to be a man or a woman.”

(Hruz, Meyer, McHugh)

The child put on puberty blockers does not go through puberty with their peers, their ‘difference’ is further accentuated and that lost experience cannot be regained. Puberty suppression has a significant negative effect on the height growth rates of both males & females, and can result in problems with bone-mineral density. Changing the normal physical development of a child in an attempt to treat a psychological condition is a serious step, and many would question the idea that it would result in a more accurate diagnosis of the child’s underlying problems.

“Whether puberty suppression is safe and effective when used for gender dysphoria remains unclear and unsupported by rigorous scientific evidence.”

(Hruz, Meyer, McHugh)

These are complex ideas which can be difficult for the adult mind to explore and consider. How a child is supposed to work through these issues is a question that should be explored more deeply, rather than being brushed under the carpet.

“Experimental medical treatments for children must be subject to especially intense scrutiny, since children cannot provide legal consent to medical treatment of any kind (parents or guardians must consent for their child to receive treatment), to say nothing of consenting to become research subjects for testing an unproven therapy.”

(Hruz, Meyer, McHugh)

Ten years after the first pioneering treatments of 2007, we now hear of cases where hormones are prescribed to children without the parents’ support or consent. In one case (in Canada) the prescribing physician actually refused to meet with the parents  of the child before prescribing testosterone.   A UK doctor who was privately prescribing hormones to children as young as twelve was recently suspended pending investigation by the General Medical Council, but is now practicing again.

Research from Bechard, Zucker et al states, “It has been our clinical impression that the psychological vulnerability of at least some of these youth has been overlooked.”

About 17% of all children suffer from a mental disorder in early childhood, defined as the period up to the age of 6 years. In their 2008 study, published in Deutches Artzeblatt, Korte, Geoker et al made two important observations about Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in children.

“GID (gender identity disorders) are often associated with emotional and behavioral problems as well as a high rate of psychiatric comorbidity.

Neurobiological genetic research has not yet convincingly shown any predominant role for genetic or hormonal factors in the etiology of GID.”

(Korte, Geoker et al)

In other words, firstly, GID is a problem of the mind, often co-existing with other problems of the mind, and secondly, there seems to be no physical cause for it. If a young person feels that they are something they are not, the problem is with the mind, not the body.

Of the twenty one 5-17 year olds who received a new diagnosis of GID in Vikram Jaswal’s clinic (up to mid-2008), all had psychopathological abnormalities that, in many cases, led to the diagnosis of additional psychiatric disorders.

It seems hard to believe that trans-identified children can fully understand the implications of transition and consent to such procedures. Not just the psychological implications of being told that they are something they are not and the effects of delayed puberty, but the physical effects of hormonal medications and intrusive surgeries.

A life with a micro-penis, or no penis, impaired sexual feeling and function, embarking on a medical pathway which will almost certainly result in sterility- how can a child consent to this?

 

Kids believe what grown ups tell them.

“Children have developed a specific bias to believe what they’re told,” says  Jaswal, of his 2010 study of 3 year olds, published in Psychological Science. “It’s sort of a short cut to keep them from having to evaluate what people say.”

Dr Vilain believes early social transitions unfairly push children to thinking they should identify as the opposite sex and that social transition can lead to unnecessary medical interventions for transgender kids.

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“I think it’s putting a lot on the shoulders of these children,” said Vilain, in 2017. “It’s putting them on a path that will have a lot of medical and surgical consequences.” 

He goes on to say that it will be “much, much harder for them (trans-identified children)  to get out of this belief,” if everyone around them has affirmed their trans identity from an early age.

It’s very important to keep in mind that according to numerous studies – and the Tavistock Clinic itself – traditionally, most trans-identified kids desist.

Being told your feelings are valid is not the same as being told they’re true. And that’s the fine line that is more and more frequently being crossed in the treatment of children who sufferer from gender dysphoria in all its forms.

That’s the fundamental premise behind the transgender child.  It isn’t about breaking down stereotypes and freeing the spirit, it is about those good old-fashioned, sexist, pink and blue boxes and selling the illusion of how elementary and desirable it might be to skip between the two.

Adult expectations

It is also significant to consider what sociologists call ‘labelling’, close neighbour of the Pygmalion effect. As social psychologist Robert Rosenthal puts it, what one person expects of another can come to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 23.48.15If a parent has fiercely and publicly fought, for example, for their child’s access to a different bathroom or a change of pronouns at school, and insisted to all around that their child was ‘born that way’ it will be especially hard for the child to step back and say they’ve changed their mind, or they were confused, or they no longer feel that way.  To renounce being trans and the special status that accompanies it, both consciously and subconsciously, will be much harder if the child feels they are contradicting or even letting down those that have supported them.

If the girl’s parents have told her yes, she’s a boy if she says so, and she then decides she is not, the child may feel she is calling her parents liars if she openly changes her mind. And remember – until recently more than one study showed that up to 80% of kids desisted.

“If a lot has been invested in living in a gender role, then, potentially, it is difficult for young people to say: ‘Well, actually I don’t feel like that any more.’” says Polly Carmichael of the Tavistock Clinic.

There are also some parents for whom the brave transgender child is a validation of their own expectations and values. Some parents may prefer a trans child to a gay one if their religion condemns homosexuality. One mother boasted that now her boychild had transitioned to a girl, she (sic) would be able to get married in their local church. In a facebook group, a parent whose child shows no inclination to take puberty blockers looks for ways to persuade them to do so. Another parent reports on her blog how her pre-teen, non-binary child cried and didn’t want her first injection, but “after some panic and more than a few tears” was persuaded otherwise.

Recently a seven-year-old boy was removed from his mother and placed in paternal custody because the judge ruled the mother had caused the boy “significant emotional harm (by pressing him) into a gender identification that had far more to do with his mother’s needs and little, if anything, to do with his own”. The mother was also told by the judge to stay away from the controversial transgender children’s charity, Mermaids.

In extreme cases, Munchausens by proxy, an illness where a parent or carer causes or excabates symptoms of illness in a child, cannot be ruled out.

I was told that my transgender feelings were permanent, immutable, physically deep-seated in my brain and could NEVER change, and that the only way I would ever find peace was to become female.writes one man of his childhood.

The Transgender Child may very well come to believe that all their value is tied up in their transgender identity. How to back down without feeling you’ve betrayed those closest to you, who have fought for you to be your ‘authentic self’?

 

Understanding consequences

Transition is not simple. While younger children can simply grow or cut their hair and change their clothes in order to ‘pass’ as a girl or a boy, there will always be awkward situations requiring a high level of cognitive dissonance or practical concerns around masquerading as the opposite sex. But the boy has been told he can become a girl, and why would he not believe that? As of next year in Scotland eight year olds will be taught  in the classroom that ‘some trans people change their bodies‘. The boy will know that is something that he might want to do someday so he looks just like a real girl. But ‘one day’ is a very long time away when you’re eight and the summer holidays last forever.

Then puberty strikes.

If the boy doesn’t want his voice to break, his Adam’s apple to develop and hair to start growing on his face; if the girl doesn’t want breasts and curvy hips to begin to show, if the outward trappings are to be maintained, then puberty blockers will be needed. At this point it may well seem like a natural progression to the child whose ‘gender identity’ has been affirmed. After all, if the girl has had it confirmed that yes, she is actually a boy, it may seem like an inevitable next step.

Can either even begin to comprehend the restrictions and consequences of being a lifelong medical patient? Of course they can’t. This is refected in UK law- which doesn’t even hold an eleven year old to be empathic enough to look after a pet properly.

How old is ‘grown up’?

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There are a variety of things that a child can do independently by law in England and Wales. A child can buy a pet unaccompanied age 12 and take up part-time work at 13.  Age 14 a child is considered to be old enough to be held responsible for their own seatbelt, and can give evidence under oath. A sixteen year old can get married or serve in the armed forces with parental permission. They can also ride a moped, play the National Lottery and consent to sex, although probably not all at the same time.

At seventeen a child can become a blood donor, and take a driving test.

A child cannot vote, buy alcohol or cigarettes, buy fireworks, place a bet in a betting shop, drive a large goods vehicle, watch an X rated movie or purchase an X rated game, have a tattoo or leave school before the age of 18.

At eighteen, we act as if a magical button is pressed and maturity is ingested along with the birthday cake.

The fastest growing group of trans-identified children is teenage girls. In fact, ROGD, or Rapid onset Gender Dysphoria, was described in The Lancet in 2017.

Gender incongruence can also emerge for the first time during pubertal development, with no history of gender-discordant behaviours or feelings reported in childhood or prepubertal adolescence.”

 

Psychotherapist Lisa Marchiano notes:

“In the past five or so years, gender dysphoria has begun presenting in a new way. Adolescents… are identifying as trans ‘out of the blue’ without any childhood history of discomfort with their sex…”

The NHS website has this to say about hormone treatments.

“Teenagers who are 17 years of age or older may be seen in an adult gender clinic. They are entitled to consent to their own treatment and follow the standard adult protocols… By this age, doctors can be much more confident in making a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and, if desired, steps can be taken towards more permanent hormone or surgical treatments to alter your child’s body further, to fit with their gender identity.”

As many studies show, however, our brains aren’t fully developed before the age of twenty five.

“We now realise that the brain doesn’t stop developing until mid-20s or even early 30s.” says Sarah Helps, consultant clinical psychologist. This is particularly important in terms of social reasoning, planning, problem solving and understanding. So the brain is reorganising itself, which then means that different thinking strategies are used as your brain becomes more like an adult brain.”

in 2013, new guidance for psychologists acknowledged that adolescence effectively runs up until the age of 25 for the purposes of treating young people.  Neuroscience shows that a young person’s cognitive development continues well into their 20s and that emotional maturity, self-image and judgement will be affected until the prefrontal cortex.

“The idea that suddenly at 18 you’re an adult just doesn’t quite ring true,” says child psychologist Laverne Antrobus, who works at London’s Tavistock Clinic. “My experience of young people is that they still need quite a considerable amount of support and help beyond that age.”

In reality, there are procedures that doctors are unlikely to recommend in certain circumstances. In my early 20s I told my doctor I didn’t want children and wished to be sterilised. He refused to consider it, which I found extremely pedantic and bombastic of him at the time. Fast forward less than a decade and I was pregnant and looking forward to being a mother. Did he have the right to deny me that procedure? Maybe, maybe not. One thing is for sure, I was well over the age of legal consent.

Consent is complex, and there is no clear cut line as to when our brains reach maturity.

Informed Consent

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 03.24.19Many surgeons in the USA are happy to operate on children despite the minimum age in the USA standing at eighteen and the legal impossibility of gaining informed consent.

Dana Beyer, a father and Executive Director of Gender Rights Maryland , advocates that children should have a full right to self determination, claiming:

“If a child grows up and decides to de-transition, then what of it? The harm done is minimal.”

A six year old, told that he can ‘become’ a girl, a nine year old whose school changes their pronouns, an eleven year old told that puberty blockers will ‘buy her time’… how can they understand the implications of this adult-sanctioned change? The little boy who wants to get rid of his willy – can he understand the implications of crafting a neo-vagina, crafted from the remains of his scrotal sac or intestines, that will need dilating for the rest of his life? The little girl who doesn’t want periods or breasts – can she understand the significance of growing facial hair that will never recede, of the medically-recommended hysterectomy ; of the promised penis that will need to be forged from the flesh of her arm or her thigh?

Every day that a girl is told she’s a boy, the idea is affirmed that she is something she is not, and each day is a further step down the transition path.  How can a child consent to procedures that will leave them unable to experience a normal puberty, when they are too young to understand what puberty is? How can they begin to understand the implications of a future as a life-long medical patient; the side effects of hormone treatments, sterility, loss of sexual function and the potential problems involved with surgery? My belief is that they can’t.

The idea that children cannot consent has not evolved to restrict them, but rather to protect them. Is it such a huge stretch of thinking to suggest that a child who can consent to medical transition can also consent to other things? Consuming alcohol? Taking drugs? Sexual intercourse? If not, why not? These waters are very muddy indeed.

Activists claim that trying to help kids feel happier in their bodies is conversion therapy, but this is a myth. Telling a boy ‘yes, you’re a girl’ so he can better fit society’s expected stereotypes of behaviour; suggesting that a girl’s body needs converting to a facsimile of a boy’s body – THAT’s conversion therapy.

Why are hundreds of thousands of pounds being given in grants to the organisations that promote this ideology? Why not spend that money on campaigns to break down gender sterotypes?

Gender is a social construct, a set of sexist and outdated stereotypes forced onto males and females by society. Most of us don’t even have a ‘gender identity’ and it is regressive to suggest to kids that they do. Personalities come in all types and both boys and girls should be allowed to play with a variety of toys independent of what they have between their legs. The ‘gender revolution’ is very far from a revolution if it can’t deal with concepts as simple as this.

Children can’t consent to transition because they can’t understand what it means to be a man or a woman. They have no grasp of the complexities of adult life in the ‘big wide world’, or of the effect transition may have on their future physical relationships and sexual feelings. They can’t understand – nor should they be expected to – the physical complexities of medical transition.

The idea that a child can consent to transition?  It’s a myth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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