I suppose I should consider myself lucky that I have been able to live 50 years without having to think too deeply about what Hannah Arendt meant by the ‘banality of evil’. About how the real danger comes not from the individuals who put into motion schemes of death and destruction, but the ordinary men and women who are daily complicit, in many little ways.
Andrew Tettenborn wrote here last month about the ‘liberal contradiction’ – the different approaches to discussion around ‘conversion therapy’ and ‘gender reassignment’; the first considered a ‘diabolical invention,’ the second something that should go ahead with relatively few controls and no specific protections for children.
He describes with delicate restraint the ‘unsavoury whiff of a disinclination to argue and a desire to suppress debate by others.’ Tettenborn rightly thinks this matters; the virus of authoritarianism is unlikely to be contained within the single topic of transgender identity. I agree with his premise and his identification of the ‘progressives’ in our society as the most enthusiastic in their desire to silence others.
But in my view the elegance and restraint of Tettenborn’s language masks the shocking speed and deadly spread of this virus and its consequences for women. This is no mere ‘whiff’ – it is a stench. Every day I am baffled that so few profess to smell it.
Perhaps I have a keener nose because I am more immersed in this debate, as a member of Fair Cop and a barrister specialising in child protection proceedings who is active on social media. My experiences since 2018 have left me in no doubt that it is women and children who will bear the worst of this ‘disinclination’ to discuss issues around ‘gender identity’.
A key component of this debate are the seeds of confusion sown by the Gender Recognition Act 2004 with its conflation of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’.
There are only two sexes: male and female. They are observed at birth in more than 99% of humans; the existence of those with ‘differences of sexual development’ do not disprove the binary as they are defined in relation to it. ‘Gender’ is how we choose to play out the attributes of our sex on a social stage; girls can like pink and boys can like football. Of course, if you are a girl who wants to play football or a boy who wants to wear a pink dress, gender can be a very cruel and confining prison and many of us are keen to reject its regressive stereotyping.
But we cannot reject our sex. We cannot ‘identify’ into or out of it. Women in particular are oppressed and harmed because of their sex. Most men are bigger, stronger and faster than most women. Sex is therefore a protected characteristic in the Equality Act 2010 and women are lawfully entitled to access to single sex spaces.
Just by repeating on various social media platforms that one paragraph – an accurate and unremarkable statement of fact – will attract an array of insults and threats of physical and sexual violence. We appear to be moving at great speed from a ‘disinclination’ to debate to an enthusiastic move to terrify people, mainly women, into silence.
The Government in 2018 called for discussion about how the Gender Recognition Act 2004 could be reformed, many claiming that the current application process for a Gender Recognition Certificate was too cumbersome and embarrassing. Instead some campaigners proposed ‘self identification,’ i.e to make the female sex something that can be claimed by any man on his assertion alone. The vast majority of trans women – I have seen claimed statistics ranging from 80-90% – make no modifications to their bodies, either medically or surgically and yet are claiming the right to enter any female space they chose on their mere assertion that they are women.
It is astonishing to me that there have to be earnest discussions about whether or not female rugby players are ‘really’ at greater risk of injury if they play against male bodies (spoiler alert: they are). It is terrifying to realise that this discussion requires sufficient bravery to weather the accusations of ‘bigotry’ and ‘hate’ that inevitably follow.
The last few weeks alone have seen a truly shocking array of nonsensical statements from organisations of global importance and individuals with power, reach and influence. Action Aid UK declared via email to its supporters that there was ‘no such thing’ as a biologically female body. A male QC appears to devote a large portion of his waking hours to promoting bizarre conspiracy theories on social media about feminists in league with right wing extremists. Any woman who challenges him – and many do – are blocked from discussion. Male members of the Green Party recorded at a local hustings were not merely unable to define ‘what is a woman’ but sounded annoyed to even be asked.
I have my own personal story to tell. On July 6th I discovered that my local police force, Wiltshire, had recorded 12 pages of my tweets on transgender topics as a ‘hate incident’. I requested that they delete this recording, pointing out that Mr Justice Knowles in Miller v The College of Policing has confirmed that this is political speech, given enhanced protection pursuant to Article 10 of the ECHR.
At the time of writing the police have refused to delete this recording, telling me it is not in the public interest to do so. I will now need to consider if I now have to apply for judicial review of my own local force.
Part of me cannot quite believe that this is happening. But for all those who wondered what they would have done during an historical period of great injustice – would you have kept your head down, would you have spoken up?
Well, now you know.
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