From a transsexual perspective, biological reality is all too apparent. Denying the existence of male and female bodies helps nobody.
The last time I experienced direct discrimination on account of my ambivalent gender status was twelve years ago in El Salvador. I’d been offered a teaching job at one of the country’s most prestigious educational establishments, a fervently Catholic institution which paid far more than the local language schools. Part of the deal was that I had to see a psychologist, for what purpose I know not, but at that point I thought I’d better come clean and confess to my ‘deviation’. Needless to say the offer was immediately rescinded and I never heard from them again.
A lucky escape, you might think, and I’m inclined to agree. But it’s par for the course for El Salvador, a country of which I’m immensely fond but which has an appalling reputation when it comes to women and gay rights: when I interviewed the leader of the gay rights group he told me he lived in constant fear of his life. Unlike Exeter University, it’s a place where challenging norms gender and sexuality really does present huge personal risk.
Let’s fast forward to the UK in 2020 and the growing conflict between the demands of ‘trans’ people and the needs of women which is currently being fought across print and social media in a bitter and hostile fashion, with most of the abuse coming from a small, self-selected group of ‘trans-rights’ activists whose immediate response to anyone questioning their agenda is to label them as ‘transphobic’ and ‘TERFs’ (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist). It’s something of a cry-wolf syndrome; back in the nineteen-eighties the left-wing student movement – of which I was and still am a supporter – tended to label anyone who supported the Conservative Party as a ‘fascist’. There were Tories with extremely unpleasant views – t-shirts with the slogan ‘hang Mandela, for example – but they weren’t all fascists and calling them such undermined the fight against the real fascists who were marching in the streets of London calling for ‘Pakis to go home’ and beating up ‘queers’ for fun.
The same goes for ‘transphobic’. It’s become the gut response to the calls made by many women – such as Dr Eva Poen – who understand that when rights collide somebody gets hurt. And in this case it’s women and, in particular, women’s spaces and women’s safety. What angers them and me is the increased colonisation of female spaces, physically, socially and politically. It’s no longer just a question of ‘trans rights’, these are enshrined in law and, in my experience, policed reasonably effectively by the relevant authorities. Or at least were policed reasonably, from somewhere institutions such as Student Unions (such as Leicester) and local authorities (such as Sefton Council) have got it into their heads that they must, for some reason, pander to these demands even it’s at the expense of the rights of women.
So let’s get back to Dr Poen’s comments which, I reiterate, I wholeheartedly support. She says ‘only female people menstruate, only female people go through the menopause’. Only women bleed. This is, of course, a biological fact. In 1996, after several years of ‘transitioning’, I underwent surgery to ‘reconfigure’ my genitalia from something that was demonstrably and healthily male to something which from the outside vaguely resembled a vagina. From the outside. And it’s not a vagina, it’s a ‘neo vagina’. It doesn’t function like a vagina but I’ll spare you the intimate details. It serves it purpose and I’m much fonder of it than I was of its predecessor.
But I don’t menstruate. And obviously I can’t get pregnant, I’ll never suffer from cervical cancer nor any of the other diseases which affect only women. I can still, however, suffer from cancer of the prostate and am susceptible to a whole range of infirmities that women aren’t because, inside, my biology – my plumbing – is male. And if I’m ever admitted to A&E with a life-threatening condition it’s imperative that I tell this to the medical staff, because women and men’s’ bodies are, surprise, surprise, different. This is why the mantra ‘Trans-women are women’ is both tiresome and wrong. It’s not like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who clicks her heels three times and is transported back to Kansas. ‘Trans-activists’ repeat this mantra over and over again; it’s justification by insistence, the belief that if you repeat something over and over again people will come to believe it or will eventually lose the will to live, shrug their shoulders and say ‘whatever …’. You either wear them down by insistence or you bully them into submission via social media ‘pile-ons’. But it’s not going to change anything. Biology can be brutal.
I can hear the accusations of essentialism already, of reducing the human experience and the expression of what it is to be human to the function of our bodily parts. I’m obviously going to plead ‘not guilty’ but that comes with the caveat that nature and nurture are not exclusive, that the former informs the latter and vice-versa. It isn’t just about menstruation, it’s about how a society which is still patriarchal in form and function perceives and deals with menstruation. Which is not very well, and to the detriment of women. It’s about the menopause, reproductive rights and female health in general; it’s about mental as well as physical well-being. Sure, not all women menstruate and not all women can get pregnant, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of their biology; indeed, in the case of infertility it may well exacerbate it.
Biology informs lived experience, especially during the formative years of puberty and adolescence. Even if you transition, like me, at a relatively young age without the complications of marriage and children, you acquire learned behaviours which are hard to shake off. Personal safety for example, I walk alone in the city and the mountains because, when I was growing up, and didn’t face the same threats as women did, that fear wasn’t inculcated into me. Ironically, growing up with the assumption that, as a male, I was immune from sexual violence ultimately made me more vulnerable. But that’s another story.
But what about the ‘trans’ men? The much overlooked ‘transgendered men’? They still menstruate, they can still become pregnant; shouldn’t language change to acknowledge that? In a word, no. The vast majority of women continue to identify as women, and bodily functions and potentialities are an integral part of that identity. Just because a tiny minority of women who identify as men menstruate doesn’t mean that all women should surrender the language which pertains exclusively to them. On 8 March we will be celebrating women, internationally and, in many cases, patronisingly yet at the same time what it means to be a woman is being eroded and erased on all sides.
And language and space are key to this. Like Dr Poen I abhor the prefix ‘cis’, the use of which strikes me as being as misogynist as it insidious. It is, of course, utterly superfluous; the insistence that women qualify their femaleness so that people who are not women can claim some stake in the concept of ‘being a woman’ strikes me as being dystopian. Look, there are women and there are ‘transwomen’, it really is as simple as that; the former don’t need to categorise themselves just to validate the demands and desires of those who were born male but are desperate – often to the point of aggression – to be considered women.
But the colonisation continues apace. It’s not just the toilets, the conquest of which, with photos plastered over social media to prove it, are a particular source of glee for some ‘transwomen’. It’s like a notch on the bed for them, a conquest. And of course, they have, apparently, the right to be there, so that trumps the rights of women to go about their ablutions and intimate activities in comfort because toilets aren’t just for peeing, they are social sanctuaries and safe places. Take, for example, the Daily Telegraph’s David Thomas who, in his weekly column, is describing his ‘transition’ from male to female. His most recent ‘transgender diary’ entry, ‘What trans women really get up to in ladies’ loos’, describes the experience of being a male-bodied person in a female lavatory with an unbridled sense of narcissistic triumphalism. Although it physically made me want to wretch, if you can find it online I urge you to read it; as an exercise in self-delusion and fantasy-fulfilment it’s right up on the top shelf, with all the other ‘trans’ porn. Here’s a brief sample: ‘[I] realised, with a wicked thrill, that this was my first disparagingly, womanly thought about the uselessness of men’.
Hold on. Is this the same David Thomas, the founder of the men’s rights movement, who in 1992 wrote ‘Not Guilty: The Case in Defence of Men’ and complained that ‘the ones who wear trousers and stand up to piss don’t seem to count for much when it comes to be being healed’. In Thomas’ most recent piece of journalism, he reveals that due to a prostate problem he struggles to sit down to urinate. I think the irony speaks for itself.
And from the lavatory it’s just a quick hop, skip and jump to the changing room where very average male sportsmen are taking advantage of blurred rules to become champions among women. So here again I agree with Dr Poen – and Sharron Davies and Martina Navratilova amongst others – that ‘transwomen’ have no place in female sports. Not only do we have a physical advantage, it denies opportunities to girls and young women at a time when participation in physical activities is on the wane. But there they go, like bulls in the proverbial china shop, demanding access to the cubicles and showers, lashing out at those of us who raise objections and invoking the wrath of their sycophantic acolytes to censor, shut down and ‘deplatform’ us. We might earn a modicum of forgiveness through grovelling apologies – this is usually top of a list of demands that also includes re-education and the acceptance of terms like ‘womxn’.
And it’s always ‘womxn’, never ‘mxn’. Where did that come from? Best ask the Leicester University Student Union which, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to rebrand ‘International Women’s Day’ to include ‘trans women’. ‘International Womxn’s Day’, it has a ring to it! I wonder if it was penned by the Students’ Union women’s officer, Dan Orr. Yes, you read that right, Dan Orr. Or Ms Dan Orr if you’re not on informal terms. You could be generous and argue that it’s a creative gesture from young people who are trying to push the boundaries, and I’m all for that. But then you probably aren’t aware that the Leicester University Students’ Union already has separate LGBT+, trans and non-binary officers. There are no women speaking for women.
This is the new orthodoxy, and heaven help those who choose to speak against it because reprisals will come, and from every direction. One student told The Times ‘I am sure Dan Orr will try her best, but she has not grown up with the same prejudices that face girls and women [and] the stereotypes they have to deal with that are related to the female body.’ That’s more or less the gist of this article, which I write anticipating a flood of opprobrium coming my way.
I’m a bleeding heart left-of-centre liberal, I like the notion of ‘do-gooders’ and I don’t think society can ever be too tolerant. I hate the fact that I’ve had to source The Times for references, I hate that when the Guardian publishes a perfectly rational article by Suzanne Moore criticising some transgender ideology and arguing that women’s sex-based rights should be protected, she and the newspaper came immediately under fire from the usual suspects, and with typical hysterical overreaction (but maybe the transgendered Guardian employee who tweeted ‘How is this allowed to be published? I’m SCARED TO GO INTO WORK TOMORROW’ thought her hysteria was appropriately ‘womanly’. Even Exeter University Feminist Society immediately condemned Dr Poen’s comments as ‘transphobic’, considering it ‘extremely upsetting that such views are being spread by staff, contributing to an unsafe environment for trans and non-binary people’. Of course, they fully ‘expect the University to take this seriously, investigate thoroughly, and take further measures to ensure the wellbeing of communities affected’. Seriously? I’ve been ‘trans’ for over twenty-five years, as an academic, as a teacher, as an explorer; in the UK, right across Europe, Mexico and Central America. I’ve had a gun pulled on me in Honduras and been sexually assaulted in Spain. Exeter University is about the most ‘trans’-friendly’ environment I’ve ever encountered. Whether, in the light of the 2018 ‘Bracton Law Society Scandal’, the university is a safe place for women and students from non-white backgrounds is another matter but it seems to me that priorities are seriously skewed.
Look, I think the vast majority of people don’t really want to offend – witness the über-polite criticism from the female student at Leicester University – but every action has an equal and opposite reaction and I also think that in bending over backwards to show compassion to transwomen – and many of them do deserve compassion, dysphoria is a debilitating condition – they are impacting negatively on the rights of women. Something has to give and it shouldn’t be women who have to concede.
Some of this is inadvertent, some little more than a marketing ploy (vis-à-vis Arriva) but some represents not just an attack on women’s rights but a manifestation of anti-feminism and outright hatred of women. And that hatred is there, the evidence is right across social media with special abuse aimed at people like me: ‘traitors’, ‘truscum’ and ‘bootlickers’. It strikes me as both curious and counter-productive; these people who claim to be women yet seem to hate them so much. Unless, of course, they bow down and supplicate before them: ‘yes, yes, yes. Of course you are a woman. Even you with the beard and the testicles. Even you with the penis bulging from your tight skirt’ (and yes, that really did happen). But they don’t want to become women, they want to become their idealised notion of what a woman should be. And when women get arsey, they resort to bullying and abuse because some women aren’t letting them move the goalposts; for ‘transgendered’ women, being female is a whole new ball game and they’re making up the rules to suit themselves.
And what I feel equally curious is that the principal target of ‘trans activists’ is women, particularly those women who stand up for their rights in the face of some pretty spiteful name-calling and threats of physical violence (‘shut up terf’ is a frequent meme on Twitter). Yet the most serious threat to their personal safety comes from men, it’s men who beat up ‘trannies’ on the streets of the UK, it’s men who rape and murder ‘trans’ sex workers in the shanty towns of South American cities, men who get kicks out of ‘she-male’ pornography. Women represent virtually zero physical threat to transwomen, but transwomen, certainly those who retain their male genitalia will always be a danger to women. And when they’re found guilty of assaulting women, they’ll insist on their right to be housed in a female prison.
Given this, perhaps it’s no surprise that lesbians are particularly under fire from this trans-located misogyny; they are, after all, beyond the reach of men but ever-present in their sexual fantasies. Rejection cuts a deep wound in male pride. Despite their fantasies, ‘transwomen’ who are sexually-attracted to women aren’t lesbians. I’m sexually-attracted to women, I always will be but that doesn’t make me a gay woman. Despite my appearance and surgically-modified body my sexual desires haven’t changed much, they still fit the profile of a heterosexual male.
So colonising lesbian space is the ultimate goal of ‘trans activists’; when they’re excluded the first thing they do is bang on about ‘trans-rights are human rights’ – nobody’s arguing with that – and cite the 2010 Equality Act to try to force their way in, like a bunch of bent coppers with a battering ram. But space is never enough, they always want to control the bodies and because ‘transphobia’ has become the ultimate social sin, lesbians who reject a ‘woman’ because ‘she’ has a penis (i.e. he’s a heterosexual male) are immediately labelled as such and their positions in employment, academia and polite society will be undermined. Persona non grata, and all because genital preferences are ‘transphobic’ and male privilege still rules.
And even as a persona with over twenty-five years of ‘transsexual’ experience I’m still benefitting from that male experience; it’ll stay with me till the day I die. Which is one reason for wanting to show my support for Eva Poen and other women, such as Maya Forstater, who’ve been fired or facing losing their jobs for standing up for women’s rights. But I also value free speech and think it imperative to stand up to and face down bullies. Most importantly, I consider myself a feminist ally and as such I will always support women’s rights when ‘trans’ rights threaten to undermine them.
And why ‘transsexual’? It’s a term that’s fallen out of fashion and is often considered insulting, we’re all ‘transgendered’ now. And given that nobody, men or women, can physically change sex, be ‘born in the wrong body’ or, intersex excluded, be ‘assigned the wrong gender at birth’, surely I’m shooting myself in the foot with my own identity pistol?
Yes and no. I’ve done my gender-bending and I’m not going to shout my pronouns in anybody’s face. If one of my five-year old students here in Catalunya asks ets un noi o una noia? (are you a boy or a girl?) I just smile and get on with the lesson. In the same way that when I was helicoptered off a mountain by the Catalan rescue service I didn’t quibble when the medic thought I was a bloke. Did I say ‘transphobia’ was the ultimate social sin? Scratch that. ‘Misgendering’ will get you sent straight to hell, even when, as normally occurs, it’s done accidently. As I said, people are polite, they’ll generally cut you the slack you desire.
Mostly I use ‘transsexual’ to distinguish myself from the rest of the ‘trans’ brigade; they’re not my community and I want nothing to do with them. When in 1992, I set out on my ‘journey’, I just wanted to be at ease with myself, gender dysphoria was tearing me in two. Self-mutilation was an extreme response, I accept that, but it’s worked for me and I’ve no regrets. And it was always a means to an end, not an end in itself; as soon as I was sufficiently recovered from surgery I applied to study for an MSc in Latin American Politics and then jumped on a place to Mexico City. In a list of things which define me, gender is right down there at the bottom. Until recently my existence, like that of other ‘transsexuals’, has been one of ‘stealth’; we just want to get on with our personal and professional lives as functioning human beings; the ‘transition’ process, overseen and policed by medical and psychological experts (remember them?), tended to weed out the fetishists and ‘sex-pests’. With self-ID that’s changed and now, thanks to the antics and aggression of the ‘trans-rights’ movement, I find my own credibility and integrity threatened. They’re setting the clock back thirty years or more, to a time when people like me were ridiculed and held up as freaks. I’ve worked hard to get to the position I find myself in today, I’ll be damned if I let any cult undermine it.