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Gender and Josef K.

How it feels to be accused of crimes that don’t exist

Last week a tribunal found that Roz Adams, a former employee of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, had been discriminated against for her gender critical views and belief in biological sex. Adams had been put through an extraordinary process of investigation and disciplinary hearings, documented in the judgement released on Monday.

The account of her persecution by the CEO Mridul Wadhwa and other staff members, who categorised her views as “transphobic”, makes for painful reading. The sadness women felt; reading how she had tried to defend herself against the impossible, is summarised by Judge McFatridge when he said:

It is unfortunately a classic of its kind, somewhat reminiscent of the work of Franz Kafka. The investigation should not have been launched in the first place and was clearly motivated by a strong belief amongst the senior management and some of the claimant’s colleagues that the claimant’s views were inherently hateful. The disciplinary process itself was deeply flawed. 

There are women throughout the UK who felt instant recognition of this bone-chilling concept. They have also lived the nightmare which left Roz Adams in a position at work where:

The claimant felt the carpet had been completely pulled from under her and felt that it was potentially her career over and her reputation ruined … the claimant felt utterly shaken and alone at this point.

There are women who fear this happening to them daily and there are many for whom it already has. The reference to Kafka is hauntingly accurate when used as a comparison to the accusations made against gender critical/feminist women. In Kafka’s novel The Trial, the protagonist Josef K. is launched into a nightmare world, where on his thirtieth birthday he is arrested for a crime unspecified, for which he therefore cannot prove his innocence and is subject to an unfathomable court process. Whilst Josef K. is not a particularly likeable character, unlike many of the brave and well-respected women who endure a similar fate in the current political climate, the state treatment of him is nevertheless excruciatingly unfair; he is so traumatised by the disorientating process that at the end of the novel he simply accepts the punishment of death, decreed by the mysterious Court. 

The accusations outlined in the judgment of R.D Adams v ERCC are just as elusive and cruel. We can see how Roz Adams tried to be as kind and compassionate as possible, how she attempted to explain herself, get clarification, how she trusted that the process would at least be fair. It was anything but and the trans activist male CEO, Mridul Wadhwa, driven by a very personal political agenda, was shown to have gaslit rape victims who wanted a single-sex service provision, into feelings that they were being unreasonable in requesting the same. His vindictive nature towards those who don’t share his views about gender exposed once again. The judgement notes the impact on Ms Adams:

She felt that the references all the way through the meeting to her being transphobic was not at all representative of her. It appeared that she was being shoehorned into this definition. She felt that it was like a lens was being put on everything she had ever said.

This is indeed what happens when women are first told that they are under formal investigation, for the nebulous and often largely undefined, crime of “transphobia”. Many women, and some men, have experienced that chilling and somewhat eerie gut-twisting feeling that something is coming, and they don’t know what it is or how they will fight it. Usually, it is an email summons to the office of someone with authority over your career. The email lands and the fear begins. A shiver runs through you, I can hardly explain, but you just sense that a terrible time is beginning. 

Roz Adams clearly approached the topic of gender identity in ERCC with great care and sensitivity and yet felt sure that what she was saying, advocating on behalf of service users, could and would be heard sensibly, that female victims of sexual assault by men would prefer to be counselled by a female person. What happened to her was monstrous. She is not alone.

Lisa Mackenzie of Murray of Murray, Blackburn, Mackenzie, a policy analysis group, was one such woman. Her account of what happened to her, whilst working for the Royal College of Nursing is strikingly similar:

My manager approached me when I arrived at work one morning, after I had given her a copy of an academic paper I had co-authored, about the development of public policies as they related to women’s rights. She told me I was to attend a meeting at lunchtime and that I could bring my union rep. She would not even tell me what it was about. I didn’t even know who my union rep was at that point. I felt sick to my core. And I was shaking as I was told I was about to be investigated and I did not sleep that night. Throughout the process and afterwards, I kept asking what was problematic with the paper I had written. None of my managers could give me an answer. I knew I had done nothing wrong and yet the experience of being investigated rocked my self-confidence for many months after I resigned. I felt as if someone was trying to police the inside of my head. The only consolation was that just before this happened, I had met Maya Forstater and got to know a group of feminists, who rallied to support me and remind me that I was not going mad.

Professor Jo Phoenix is an academic who was found to have been discriminated against and harassed because of her gender critical beliefs by her employer, the Open University. She had to go through a lengthy, and emotionally draining process, costing her dearly, to prove her innocence. She told me,

Vertiginous. That’s what it is like because you know that the only thing that stands between them and your job or reputation is your ability to prove an absence. The more you try, the more crazy-making it is. And is not the lies so much as the irrational illogicality you have to face.

Maya Forstater is another woman who thought it would be perfectly reasonable to express her views that biological sex was real and immutable. Her case against CGD Europe and others, her former employers, made history for women, whose gender critical views were found to be “worthy of respect in a democratic society”. She fought for us all, but it came at a cost. Maya told me:

Everything solid slips away from you when you realise you are being investigated for saying something that is so basic, so obvious and true and important. I worked in a think-tank where people argued about ideas and policies all the time. When I heard I was being investigated I thought my sensible, hard-headed colleagues would clear it all up and laugh it off in a day or two; once they understood was a live policy question in the UK, once they understood the debate, once they saw sensible people like Professor Kathleen Stock making arguments. I never imagined that they would dig into positions defending ridiculous arguments and denying my right to speak, or just cowardly turn away.

Claire an employee at a Sheffield University told me of her treatment there by Human Resources when accusations were made against her”

‘This is serious’ were the words my manager used to start the conversation where she told me I’d been accused of making transphobic comments at work. She stopped me dead when I started giving my side of the story, telling me I had to attend a meeting within a few days with HR and a union rep. I felt sick, shocked and betrayed, and I still get upset when I recall that first meeting in a tiny, windowless room, and the months that followed. I’d never been through an HR process in my life and had no idea what the steps were as they wouldn’t tell me. Once I looked it up for myself, I realised they were ignoring their own guidelines and that I had a battle on my hands. I was lucky and grateful to have the support of an incredible group of strong feminist women, and I honestly don’t know how I would have coped if it wasn’t for them.

It happens to women in groups too, and outside of an employment context. Two women told me of running a Feminist Network in their city, which was monitored by the council’s “Equality Hub” of which they were members. Accusations of transphobia were made against them and they were told there would be an investigation. There was no legitimate policy for this and no procedure was outlined. After they were told the investigation would not proceed they submitted a “Freedom of Information” request to see what exactly had happened and they saw senior council members discussing them excitedly in the most shocking of ways. One told me:

I realise now that I felt quite non-specifically unwell, and I think I was deeply shocked by the unfairness and lack of integrity and honesty at the highest level of the Council. I think it had a chilling effect on me. I certainly withdrew from interaction with the Council and felt better for it, but withdrawal from public life is not ok. This is a democracy and we should all feel we have a voice in our public organisations. 

In early 2018, whilst a teacher, I also had one of these emails. They drop into your day like an axe. It asked me to come to the Deputy Head’s office at lunchtime with no further details. I had to carry on teaching as the sense of dread built inside me. I was informed I was being formally investigated for “transphobia and man-hating” and that I would be able to attend a disciplinary hearing with my union representative. I was given no further details. The fear, the shame, the incomprehension are difficult to put into words. I stood my ground at the subsequent meeting as “evidence” was presented, one piece of which was a picture of my car and my gloves as evidence that my Twitter account belonged to me. The sense of persecution is real, and it is dizzying; I found myself having to defend my tweets objecting to porn, child abuse and femicide as though objecting to these things was “extreme”. The accusation of “transphobia” came from students and other members of staff even though there was no evidence that I had expressed any of my gender critical views inside the school. This went on for months before I was told the investigation would not proceed. My child was at the same school and picked on with students shouting, “your mum is a terf”. I had to teach one of my accusers who, in class, called me a “uterus owner”. We all slept poorly throughout the process and my confidence in my ability to do my job was rocked like no other time in my life. This icy, threatening finger of an accusation of “transphobia” is being pointed at some woman, in some office right now, and I feel desperately sorry for her because it is like fighting a particularly malevolent mist. 

The trans activist India Willoughby has suggested that Roz Adams deliberately provoked the investigation into her conduct at ERCC, that it was a political act which she somehow enjoyed. Let’s be absolutely clear, no matter how brave or outspoken you are, this process is evil and does lasting damage to women who struggle to recover for many months, even years. 

As Claire said:

The betrayal still hurts, two years later. I’m sitting here crying as I go over it again.

Women cannot speak the truth freely without punishment, because trans activists cannot bear to hear it. They want to be women, they don’t want to listen to us talk about being women, because there is a truth to our words which automatically exposes their own lie to themselves, which is that they are not, and can never become, women.  

Women are luckier than Josef K. He was utterly alone. Women, by contrast, have other women, and a growing number of men, behind them and we will not be found dead in a quarry still unsure of our crime, because there is no crime. Women will keep proving a lack of crime, keep fighting invisible ideological ghouls, until the accusations stop. 

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