Writing was never part of my life plan. I’ve joked that I chose my career in physics to avoid words. But, according to the stats, I’ve written 174,951 of them in 199 posts. To mark number 200, I’ve gone back to when this blog began: the summer of 2016.
My life was very different five years ago. Four years on from gender transition I was telling jokes about it; I started this website to record them. I recalled some vignettes from work – “controlled social observations” – for Physics World, but my exasperation with a telecoms provider who demanded to speak to Mr Hayton went straight to blog. Analysis and understanding were still to come. Indeed, I still thought that I was some kind of woman and I was convinced I had a gender identity that proved it.
But the seeds of a future political campaign had already been sown. To be precise, on 15 June 2016. An incoming Tweet suggested that I, “listen to parents.”
“The more listening we do the better, I replied. I was then directed to Transgender Trend – where I was introduced to the testimony of parents whose children had been diagnosed as transgender. It was a revelation.
I read widely that summer and I talked to other trans people. It was less political then, though the debate was heating up rapidly following proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act. Those proposals worried me, and for quite selfish reasons.
Transsexuals, it seemed to me, had a very good deal. We could transition and get on with life. Women invited us into their spaces and treated us as one of their own. But I suspected that their trust was underpinned by a perception that we were different to men, and we had been through a robust gate keeping process to prove it. I worried that the illusion would break if the government introduced Self-ID – where anyone can change their legal sex just because they want to.
At the same time, I discovered the arguments that women were making against self-ID. I found them compelling, as I did the case against gender identity. Two videos sealed it for me.
First was Rebecca Reilly-Cooper’s demolition of gender identity.
I stopped it halfway through. I knew that if I continued watching, I would need to make a choice: abandon intellectual honesty or change my way of thinking. I waited 24 hours before watching the second half, and I abandoned gender identity.
The other was the late Magdalen Berns’ take down of Stonewall UK.
She was brutal but she was right.
The proposed law might require people in official positions to take trans people at their word, but it cannot regulate social groups that create their own boundaries. Transwomen in particular may find that goodwill is replaced by suspicion should abusive men spot an opportunity to exploit women’s spaces and protections.
The debate, however, carried on like a juggernaut. There was one critical voice. Caroline Flint, Labour MP for Don Valley at the time, expressed her concerns:
I welcome the debate, because it is vital for us to consider the issue of transgender rights, but should we not also be wary of creating gender-neutral environments that may prove more of a risk to women themselves? A recent case involving my old university, the University of East Anglia, which has gender-neutral toilets, revealed that a man had been using those facilities to harass women. He was charged and convicted. How does the right hon. Lady think we can protect women from male violence in gender-neutral environments?Caroline Flint, Hansard
Flint was given short shrift by Maria Miller and John Nicolson and the debate moved on. The response on social media, however, was more mixed. It was polarised, but the toxicity lay in the future.
Much has changed since 2016, including my views about women and children. But it has been an ongoing process.
In November 2017, I wrote about the election of 19-year old Lily Madigan – a transwoman – to be a Labour Party Women’s officer.
The two sexes do have different roles in the propagation of our species and women’s officers need to empathise with the issues that females face. Society grants trans people the right to change their legal sex, but we have responsibilities in return. Those of us socialised as boys need to think carefully before taking places in schemes designed to compensate the rather different formative experience of girls.
Think carefully?? Now, I am unequivocal: it’s wrong. Transwomen have no business taking places reserved for women.
The impact on children people is my biggest concern, but it took me more than two years to start writing about them. In November 2018, I said,
The rush to diagnose and medicalise young people is serving no-one – not least the vulnerable children pushed towards treatment that may only add to their distress.
I have thought – several times indeed – that I must have written all I could possibly write about transgender issues, but there always seems to be more. The debate has moved on massively since 2016; who knows where it will be in 2026? The same could be said about my views, or anyone else’s views. Times do change and we change with them.
But one thing I am confident about – and I go back to the brief exchange of Tweets in June 2016 – we will be in a better place if we listen to parents, and listen to women, listen to transsexuals, and listen to each other.