Protestors at the first open meeting of Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) in Red Lion Square, London, 19 September 1977 (Photo by Malcolm Clarke/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

It is not reactionary to protect children

Progressives must police themselves

Artillery Row

As a general rule, any adult who tells a child it’s okay to keep secrets from their parents ought not to be trusted with the care of young people. Yet child transition charity Mermaids has been accused of doing just this.

From the Guardian to the Daily Telegraph, column inches have been filled with allegations and testimonies from angry parents, which have now led to an investigation by the Charity Commission. Reported safeguarding failures include that the group gave reckless advice to children about puberty blockers, and that a help centre moderator arranged to secretly post a breast-binder to a thirteen-year-old girl, in the full knowledge this was against her parents’ wishes. In response, Mermaids accused the media of making “false claims” as part of “a targeted, cynical attack”. 

Most recent in the growing list of less than edifying stories, is the resignation of Dr Jacob Breslow from the board of trustees following reports that he gave a speech to a paedophile support group. In response to this, Mermaids told news outlets, “Once notified we took swift and decisive action to investigate”. Yet Breslow’s views on paedophilia were reported by the magazine 4WPub six months before his appointment to the charity in July this year. 

Mermaids has taken a defensive stance, positioning itself as the real victim

Rather than apologising for these repeated lapses in safeguarding, Mermaids has taken a defensive stance, positioning itself as the real victim. This approach is common within the LGBT industry, where the argument that transphobia today is simply 1980’s homophobia rebooted has become a favoured method of deflecting tough questions. Last month Mermaids’ chair Belinda Bell evoked this comparison when arguing at a tribunal hearing that the LGB Alliance should not have been granted charitable status. She said that “fears that children were being ‘turned gay’ by the ‘gay lobby’ were widespread” and that this “led to Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988”. This now infamous legislation forbade local authorities from doing anything which might be perceived to “promote homosexuality”.

Section 28 was unequivocally bad. It was not passed solely because the Conservative Party was being mindlessly homophobic, though; it was also in part because child abusers and their champions had infiltrated the gay liberation movement. The argument ran that both homosexuals and paedophiles were marginalised sexual minorities. In the UK the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) was at the forefront of campaigns to normalise child abuse.

This internal battle spilled into wider public consciousness in 1983, with the publication of the book Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin. The children’s story was a photobook of a little girl with two dads, but one photo showed the child in bed with the naked adult men. In her autobiography, lesbian feminist scholar Sheila Jeffreys recalls: “We tried to get the gay men to understand that the photos of the girl in bed were disturbing to women who had suffered child sexual abuse.” Instead, the debate fractured along the tribal lines of liberals versus conservatives. When it hit the wider world, Jeffreys’ feminist analysis was drowned out.

Arguably, contemporary trends such as Drag Queen Story Hour performances have opened a parallel rift, leaving feminists standing alongside religious fundamentalists and factions on the far right. Jeering across this divide, the contemporary equivalent of the old loony left sneeringly deride their opponents as fascist sympathisers, apparently unconcerned that by default they have aligned themselves with paedophiles.

Make no mistake, the paedophiles are there — and thanks to the anonymity of the online world, they are more networked and better organised than ever before. One of the (now disbanded) PIE’s most prominent members, Tom O’Carroll, still blogs about his attraction to little boys. Luckily for O’Carroll, new forms of “queer expression” have allowed him access to mainstream content that once would’ve been deemed socially unacceptable. In 2019 he wrote an article cooing over a “hot” and “sexy” 11-year-old drag performer, adding, “kids daringly diving into drag culture right now have provoked right-wing reactionaries into paroxysms of moral outrage”. As an unabashed paedophile, O’Carroll can see what many well-meaning liberals have trained themselves to ignore. 

O’Carroll’s dismissal of people who express concerns about safeguarding failures as “reactionary” and “right-wing” is an age-worn tactic. Whilst the propensity to abuse children does not align with any political affiliation, the left’s urge to push social boundaries leaves it uniquely susceptible to destructive ideas. In the past Liberty (previously the National Council for Civil Liberties) gave PIE an affiliate membership. Today, it champions the right of trans-identified children to access puberty blockers. 

Whilst the loony left was always marginal, the contemporary woke left has marched through every institution, welcomed as standard bearers of progressive values. For senior managers and policy makers, signalling organisational support is merely a matter of adding their pronouns to email signatures. For distressed young people and children, those without power, the price has been paid with their own flesh and futures. Here’s where matters get darker still.

Leading medical bodies are abandoning child transition

Earlier this year, feminist magazine Reduxx published an investigation into the workings of international transgender body WPATH. It revealed a leading academic within the organisation was a decades-long member of a private online forum known as the Eunuch Archives, where users shared written pornographic fantasies about the castration of children. WPATH’s newly released Standards of Care (SoC) “for the Health of Transgender and Gender Diverse People” remove any reference to minimum-age limits for children to be able to access puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and sex-reassignment surgery. (As an aside, Mermaids’ chief executive Susie Green is listed as one of WPATH’s SoC authors.) More disturbingly still, physical treatments are recommended for those who identify as eunuchs, including children. Thankfully, across the world leading medical bodies are abandoning child transition — even in the US where the new transition industry is booming, the Food and Drug Administration slapped a warning on puberty blockers noting a risk of serious side-effects, including brain swelling and vision loss.

As the existence of the Eunuch Archives makes clear, not all of those promoting the use of drugs to stop the sexual maturation of pre-pubescent bodies have the best interests of children at heart. The attachment of PIE to the loony left forty years ago should’ve served as a warning both that trendy causes are not always progressive, and that those who want to abuse children will use whatever tools they can. Yet, when responsible adults insist that safeguarding matters, and that children do not have the capacity to act in accordance with their own best interests, it is still the case that they  are smeared as ignorant and phobic. 

As with its mythical namesake, at present Mermaids is transfixed by its own perfect reflection: unwilling to look away from the magic mirror and take responsibility for the wreckage it has created. Whilst the charity may still believe in its own myth, the wider world has become disenchanted.

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