I had dinner with a friend last week, a journalist who has been brave, bold and prominent in defending the rights of so-called “terfs” – women who stick by their guns that only biological women are women. Every day she takes on the terrifyingly aggressive world of trans activism, complete with death threats, misogynistic bullying and all.
The day we met, “gender critical” philosopher and former Sussex professor Kathleen Stock had been front page news. Pictures were everywhere of her flanked by security as she made her way to speak at the Oxford Union. Protesters tried to stop her, with one trans “them” – name of Rizz Possnett – staging a “glue yourself to the floor of the chamber” stunt. Students yelled with impatience at the disruption and in the end, Stock completed her talk to a standing ovation.
My friend explained that she was now feeling optimistic and that she thought the tide was turning.
There was Stock’s eventual triumph over the anti-Stock students; so blindingly ludicrous as to hurt their cause. More important still, she felt, were Keir Starmer’s recent second thoughts on supporting gender self-ID. This policy brought a male rapist to a woman’s prison in Scotland, and proved disastrous for Nicola Sturgeon. So at least England, for the time being at least it seems, will not become a haven, like Scotland, for men who want to get into women’s changing rooms and hospital wards under the fig leaf of identifying as a woman.
I must have looked unconvinced, because she added that the trans cause had been taken up as a die-hard religion by many young people and that its tentacles had spread widely.
And therein lies the rub. It is tempting – through sheer fatigue, and, in cases like my friend’s, a kind of post-traumatic stress at the insanity and relentlessness of the battlefield over the past few years – to look on the bright side. If we say the side of reason and sanity has won out, then maybe that will become reality.
But we haven’t won. Arguing otherwise blinds us to the peril we are still in and the fight to come. What happens at Oxford University has no bearing on what has already been set in motion and will take years, and a huge cultural overhaul, to reverse. In some schools in Britain, up to one in 10 pupils now say they are trans. Girls trade tips about the best breast-binders. Many of us know parents with children who declare that they are the opposite sex, and cling angrily to what they see as the progressive politics of this. Any attempt to persuade them otherwise is met with rage.
The insanity takes more subtle forms too, such as pronoun declaration, which is now commonplace in schools and beyond. Professional emails from people in industries that have nothing to do with the semiotics of gender, from publishing to geology research centres, now declare “my pronouns are…”. It shows how mad we have become that we don’t consider Anna or Margaret from a book publishing PR department informing us in her email signature that her pronouns are “she/her” just as absurd as someone signing off that they believe there is a unicorn at the end of the garden. The religious zeal of the pro-trans gender warriors has even infected a country that ought to have other things to worry about: Israel. Abigail Shrier, the American author of the brilliant and impeccably researched book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, is in Israel now for the launch of the Hebrew edition of her book. Hundreds of teens came out to protest the book. Ayelet Covo, a 16-year-old trans activist, went straight for Shrier, telling her “you are exporting murderous bigotry. You don’t care about us!” “They” had to be dragged out, then continued shouting “their” horrendously misguided interpretation of Shrier’s book, which is very far from being “transphobic propaganda”. But neither Covo nor the the rest of Israel’s indignant LGBTQ protesters or left-wing newspaper columnists seem to have actually read it. If they had, they’d know she has gained the trust of hundreds of trans people concerned by recent trends, not to mention trans doctors and psychologists, and cares deeply about the wellbeing of young people. Her book is empirical and progressive. That Shrier’s reception in a country like Israel was so hysterical points to the incredible power of this ideology, which won’t be going anywhere soon. Its destructive power will be even more apparent when these young people grow up into adults with scrambled, unstable, attention-grabbing identities and sexualities. Some will have undergone surgery and taken hormones they will regret – for ever.
The sense that we are losing the battle for sanity goes beyond the trans wars. There is the widespread idea in the arts and higher education that Britain is a fundamentally racist state, entirely and still inescapably built on slavery. We have had to watch the changing of building names over obscure links to slavery, the removal of statues and the “decolonising” of curricula and museum exhibitions by minimising the greats in favour of obscure writers whose main claim to inclusion is their ethnicity.
Today’s climate is toxic and its effects will only be amplified in years to come. So I am not optimistic. I see the small battles won as mere blips; the culture war, I fear, we have already allowed ourselves to lose.