We need to talk about transgenderism
Trans politics has engulfed our institutions, with zero debate.
When, eventually, enough time has passed for people to consider the current period with some objectivity, surely one thing that will intrigue them most is the shift that has taken place in our understanding of gender. The existence of two distinct categories, men and women, once taken for granted as biological fact, can no longer be assumed. The trend, particularly among young people, is to question whether their gender identity corresponds to their sex. Sex is now considered nothing more than an arbitrary designation, an act of violence performed at the moment of birth. Instead, in the media, in schools and universities, gender fluidity is celebrated and those bold enough to transition and make their biology conform to their new sense of themselves are applauded.
The practical impact of this new belief in gender as non-binary and fluid is felt everywhere. Schools have introduced gender-neutral uniforms and are now busy building new gender-neutral toilet facilities. Time is spent discussing which changing room boys who now identify as girls should use after PE lessons and which gender-neutral pronouns teachers should use to address pupils. At university, women’s colleges admit male students who have ‘taken steps to live in the female gender’. Male rapists who transition after sentencing can be moved to women’s prisons. The Church of England offers renaming ceremonies to parishioners unhappy with the sex they, presumably, think God allotted them at the moment of conception. Debates about how passports and the UK’s national census should accommodate gender fluidity are ongoing. Mermaids, a UK taxpayer-funded transgender charity, was, until last week, advertising ‘same day’ cross-sex hormone treatment for children.
What’s truly remarkable is that this disregard for biology and overturning of social convention is occurring with such little debate. Teenagers, swept along with the current fashion, or young adults with a history of mental illness, are not questioned but affirmed by schools and therapists. Challenging someone’s decision to change gender, advising caution and delaying hormone therapy is seen, by transgender campaigners, as an offensive denial of an individual’s right to exist. As a result, there has been little public discussion of the profound impact new attitudes towards gender are having on society more broadly, on what it might mean for the continued existence of single-sex schools and women-only spaces such as hospital wards and prisons, on whether money spent converting toilets in small schools could be better spent elsewhere. There is little discussion of what it means to be a man or a woman in today’s society.
Attempts to discuss transgender politics are closed down. Last month, feminists trying to meet to consider the government’s Gender Recognition Act, had to change venue after protests were threatened. At the meeting point to share the new location they were attacked by trans activists. Discussion was shut down with physical violence. At Cambridge University, the renowned feminist activist and founder of Black History Month, Linda Bellos, had her invitation to speak withdrawn when it came to light she planned to question ‘some of the trans politics… which seems to assert the power of those who were previously designated male to tell lesbians, and especially lesbian feminists, what to say and what to think’. Bellos had not said anything controversial. Like the feminists wanting to discuss the Gender Recognition Act, she hadn’t been given the chance. Even the prospect of raising questions was enough to have Bellos disinvited.
Elsewhere, research into the experiences of individuals who transition from one gender to another is being shut down. James Caspian, a psychotherapist who specialises in working with transgender people, hoped to study people who had undergone gender-reassignment surgery but then regretted transitioning, a group he was increasingly coming across in his work. Bath Spa University initially approved Caspian’s research but when he failed to recruit enough participants, and so broadened his proposal to include people who had transitioned to men but subsequently reverted to living as women without reversing their surgery, Bath Spa’s ethics committee rejected his proposal and he could no longer continue with his research.
‘The fundamental reason given was that it might cause criticism of the research on social media, and criticism of the research would be criticism of the university. They also added it’s better not to offend people’, Caspian has said. In other words, his research was rejected for being ‘politically incorrect’.
Ethics committees were established in the aftermath of the Second World War following the revelation that German physicians conducted medical experiments on thousands of concentration-camp prisoners without their consent. The 1948 Nuremberg Code states that, ‘the voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential’. The 1964 Declaration of Helsinki reinforced the principle that human subjects must voluntarily consent to participate in research and that potential risks should not outweigh benefits. Research ethics were concerned primarily with medical research on human subjects where harm was understood as physical. Over recent decades universities and research councils have broadened the remit of ethics committees to encompass far more than just medical research. Even studies looking at statistics about people, even statistics not gathered by the researcher themselves, are now supposed to receive ethical approval.
Over time, the definition of harm has expanded to include not just the subject being researched but the researcher and, now it seems, other members of the subject’s identity group and the institution. In this context, even asking questions can be interpreted as potentially damaging. The use of ethics committees to stop research for fear of offending groups of people or harming the reputation of a university prevents meaningful research that challenges the status quo. It’s a dishonest means of preventing research from taking place on politically sensitive topics. The use of an ethics committee to close down research on the experiences of transgender people is despicable.
The impact of currently dominant attitudes towards gender on individuals and society is profound. Yet thanks to the vocal nature of the ‘trans lobby’, and the fear many other people in public institutions have of causing offence, the impact is not being discussed or researched. Time and money is taken away from the core function of schools, hospitals and prisons. Yet such changes are being pushed through with little consensus. We need to be able to ask questions about the direction trans politics is taking society without fear of violence or intimidation.
Joanna Williams is education editor at spiked. Her new book, Women vs Feminism: Why We All Need Liberating from the Gender Wars, is out now.
Joanna is speaking at the session Do we all need liberating from the gender wars? at the Battle of Ideas festival in London on 28 October. Get tickets here.
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