May 30, 2022 - 7:45am

A natal female who had sex with three women using a specially-made prosthetic has been convicted of assault. Tarjit Singh, born Hannah Walters, met women via online dating, and kept clothes on during intimacy in the dark to avoid being revealed as a natal female. It was only several months into one relationship, on discovery of the prosthetic, that Singh’s natal sex was revealed.

This story reads very differently depending on where you’re standing. Is it a case of sexual assault, with a victim tricked into intimate contact she wouldn’t have accepted if she’d known the sex of the individual she was dating? Or is it evidence of our transphobic society, where stigma forced “Tarjit Singh” first to conceal “his” true self only subsequently to be punished for this with the full force of the law? 

This contest of views has been evident in another recent court case: the employment tribunal of barrister Allison Bailey. Bailey, who is a lesbian, was censured by her chambers for tweets including one about the so-called “cotton ceiling”. This reference to the “glass ceiling” was made by trans activists in reference to the difficulty of persuading same-sex attracted women to have sex with trans partners. The “cotton” in question refers to lesbians’ knickers. 

The phrase has prompted, to say the least, strong feelings among lesbians who are no more thrilled by the prospect of their knickers being forcibly breached by political activism than they would be by physical force. Reports suggest such arguments are common: a BBC article earlier this year reported that some lesbians feel pressured to consider males that identify as women as potential sexual partners. 

This view also has institutional backing: the BBC article triggered a response from the leader of trans activist juggernaut Stonewall comparing lesbian’s reluctance to include male-bodied “women” in their dating pool to “sexual racism”. Bailey’s employment tribunal turns in part on whether her chambers were justified in censuring her for responding critically to this term, and the role Stonewall played in that censure behind the scenes. 

In any case, though, it’s clear that whatever activists (or individuals) may desire, at ground level more people than not care a great deal what sex their intimate partner is. They also respond to being tricked in ways that appear distinctively sexed. A recent US case, with similarities to that of ‘Tarjit Singh’, resulted in murder — because the individual deceived was male. Ismiemen Etute, a Virginia college athlete, beat Jerry Smith to death after discovering he’d posed as “Angie Renee” online to obtain sexual contact with Etute. 

Etute was acquitted on self-defence grounds, but the sexed difference between this case and that of “Tarjit Singh” is striking. Singh’s victims were first guilted into continuing sexual contact, before eventually calling the police; Ismiemen Etute returned to the scene and beat Jerry Smith to death. Meanwhile when faced with moral pressure for sex by males identifying openly as the opposite sex, lesbians find themselves on the defensive: forced to justify why their same-sex attraction is not bigotry. 

All of this suggests that despite activist pressure, at the last count sex remains infinitely more salient, both personally and politically, than self-declared ‘gender’. Meanwhile, sexed differences have a way of percolating through whatever the avowed identities. 

Notably, and importantly, males remain more violent than females. And all the old-fashioned stereotypes about whose voice gets heard, and whose desires should gracefully concede ground, return when it comes to those lesbians now defending their right to reject sex with males. When it matters, everyone knows perfectly well who the men are.

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.