It could be anything. A throwaway line in a press release, or a casting decision, or a packaging design that somehow made it through the focus groups. A charge of transphobia forms in an instant out of nothing, and then follows you around like a loyal, smelly dog.
But don’t panic! I am here to tell you that you can make it to the other side. It’s been a little over a year since I decided to enter into the heated debate around currently fashionable gender ideology and the same activists who smeared the former tennis player Martina Navratilova and the singer Marc Almond as transphobic have thrown everything they could at me too. And yet I have not changed my position one iota from what it was when I began.
I can summarise my position thus: women exist. They are not just an idea or a feeling. They have the right to assembly, the right to organise, the right to demand private and safe spaces free of men and the right to assert these rights without being tormented online by the first generations who didn’t go outside to play.
This is what I was able to hang onto in the worst moments: gender ideology is so incoherent that almost everything is now transphobic, including the National Health Service, dictionaries, the Venus symbol on Always sanitary products, The Vagina Monologues and Lou Reed. If they can take a transwoman to court on a charge of transphobia, if they can bully a transwoman, Debbie Hayton, for refusing to adhere to current orthodoxy, they can certainly give you a hard time for whatever transphobic thing it is you’re doing at the moment.
So here are some things to bear in mind while enjoying your turn in the stocks.
First of all, remember that the Equality Act states that you must not be discriminated against on the basis of your sex, not your gender. The singer Sam Smith may ask you to use ‘they’ and ‘them’ when speaking of him, but you are under no legal obligation to do so.
No two people seem to be able to agree on what the word ‘gender’ means, but many, myself included, feel it is the name for the stereotypes associated with either of the sex roles, male and female. Someone feeling an affinity with sex-role stereotypes is not the same as literally being that sex, and many brave transwomen are being forced to confront their dysphoria daily by fighting publicly against this concept, a concept that they feel is cruelly misleading fellow sufferers.
You will be told there is NO DEBATE. Just talk around anyone who lays that one on you. There is quite clearly a debate needed on the subject of how these ideas impact women’s rights, sports, dignity and safety.
Even Hillary Clinton, perhaps speaking with the freedom that comes after a failed presidential run, said: “I do think there is a legitimate concern about women’s lived experience and the importance of recognising that.” Direct your correspondent to the first point on the SNP’s Women’s Pledge, which states that women have “the right to discuss policies which affect them … without being abused or silenced”. No reasonable person could object to this principle, and their attitude to your asserting it will tell you how seriously to take their concerns.
Many of those writing to you will think they are behaving honourably, even as they direct the most appalling abuse at you. Don’t be intimidated. Be polite if you can, and remember that there are bad-faith actors working the controls and ensuring the temperature of the conversation is kept extremely high. Accusations of bigotry are the first stop on this journey, not the last, so get used to them.
Don’t be fooled into thinking your principles are somehow outdated. Women are just as vulnerable to male power and coercion as they were during #MeToo or, indeed, a hundred years ago. Pretending that men have suddenly decided to reform overnight — worse yet, designing policies around that pretence — could result in dreadful things, as when “Karen White”, a male sex offender, successfully identified himself into a position where he was able to sexually assault several female prisoners.
You will see some very frightening and upsetting stats about trans people and suicide, and how you are contributing to those statistics by your continued association with the writer/academic/doctor who has somehow transgressed some arbitrary rules. These statistics have very flimsy underpinnings. The “fact” that 48% of transgender teenagers have attempted suicide is based on a study involving just 27 young people, 13 of whom self-reported having attempted suicide in the past. Of course, any suicide attempt is a tragedy, but these are not the figures of a meaningful and robust study.
You will be accused of causing violence against transwomen. Murder rates will be quoted. This is deceitful hyperbole. Trans people are one of the safest demographics in the UK. The statistics quoted usually relate to poor transwomen of colour in the USA / South America, many of them driven by poverty into drugs and dangerous sex work. In a like-for-like comparison with statistics on the prospects of poor female sex workers of colour in the same geographic regions, this argument falls apart. Ask your correspondent, finally, if they have any suggestions for actually addressing how poverty and male violence impacts all sex workers, and remind them politely that male violence should never, ever be blamed on women.
There’s more, there’s so much more, and every case is unique. I can’t pretend it’s enjoyable, what you’re about to go through, but at least you will be remembered as one of first who didn’t capitulate to bullies and stood your ground, knowing you will make it easier for the next victim.
Let your principles be your compass, and you will always do the right thing.
But get some Valium.