Why JK Rowling is right about trans killers
Profiling might not be popular but there is often a truth lurking under stereotypes
When #RIPJKRowling starting trending last week I had to look. It seems the cause of this macabre hashtag was her latest book, Troubled Blood, which was pithily summarised by Jake Kerridge in The Telegraph as “A book whose moral seems to be never trust a man in a dress.” This assessment sparked accusations of transphobia, leading to public denunciations on social media and even book burnings.
Reluctance to be smeared as prejudiced must not be allowed to obscure the facts
Nick Cohen’s excellent review in The Spectator clarified matters; the controversy was focused on a few lines, in one of which a male murderer is described as “wearing a wig at the time and all padded out in a woman’s coat.” Whilst those defending the book have been eager to point out that the passing reference is to a transvestite, and not a transgender person, there is an uncomfortable truth underlying the popular literary trope of cross-dressing killers. The fact underlying the fiction of Buffalo Bill and Norman Bates is that some men have a sexual motivation for identifying as females, a paraphilia, and for a minority of these this is connected to sexual offending.
Professor Ray Blanchard has studied male paraphilias (fetishes) for many decades. Key to his work is the concept of “autogynephilia”, a term which he coined to describe “a male’s propensity to be erotically aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman.” Crucially, this is not limited to cross-dressers or transvestites, it also includes those who identify as transgender and even the very small proportion who undertake medical intervention to more closely resemble women, so-called “Anatomic autogynephilia.”
We are told that people who identify as transgender are vulnerable, at risk of harm from the hostile world, and as such the desire not to be cruel to an apparently marginalised group is understandable. Whether this is the case would be the subject of another piece, but as with the observation that grooming gangs in areas such as Rochdale were populated by men of Pakistani origin, reluctance to be smeared as prejudiced must not be allowed to obscure the facts.
One person’s “misgendering” is another’s correctly sexing
One of my earliest memories was my mother telling me that were I to ever get lost I should look for a police officer or a woman to ask for help, but that I ought not to approach a man. I’m fairly confident she wasn’t a raging misandrist, just someone who knew enough of the world to understand that men pose more of a risk than women. And she wasn’t wrong, 2017 figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) show that 98 per cent of those convicted of sexual offences, 92 per cent of those convicted of carrying weapons and 88 per cent of those convicted of violence against the person are men. Whether the male propensity for criminality is due to the impact of a culture which teaches men to be aggressive is a moot point, and one that is largely irrelevant to victims. These statistics are of course limited in scope, relating to convictions not the wider reality, but the meta pattern that across the world men are more violent than women is inescapable. Of course there are exceptions, but when a woman beats a man it is more likely to make headlines, essentially such cases are “man bites dog.”
When those who commit crimes are seen as in some way socially disadvantaged, people become somewhat coy about telling the truth. This reluctance extends to public bodies such as the police. In June the campaign group Fair Cop reported that vital details about a cross-dressing sex offender were overlooked to avoid “a situation where members of the gay or trans communities in particular are being targeted by hurtful comments or actions as a result of this information being released.” When ordinary members of the public ignore such evidence it’s perhaps understandable, but when those we rely on to uphold the law do so their reluctance enables abusers and stymies the pursuit of justice.
This is not just a problem within the police. Two years ago The Sunday Times reported findings from the campaign group Fair Play for Women that showed nearly half of inmates in UK prisons who identified as “transgender women” have been convicted of sexual offences. Of course, it could be the case that this notoriously unscrupulous demographic were playing the system with the hope of being moved to the female estate, but a notable minority were already identifying as such at the time of committing the offence.
Director of Fair Play for Women Dr Nicola Williams told me the MoJ were reluctant to release the information:
My background is in science, and accurate data matter to me. When I first began compiling the numbers on trans identified men (or “transwomen”) in UK prisons I sent scores of requests to the MoJ. It became clear they were reluctant to release information which is in the public interest. Eventually, through persistence and hours of painstaking analysis I found the information. The numbers didn’t surprise me so much as the barriers I encountered from the MoJ.
It is also worthy of note, that The Sunday Times was reported to the Press Ombudsman for running the article with Fair Play for Women’s findings. The complaint was fully rejected by IPSO who concluded: “This research was a matter of significant public interest, particularly in the absence of official figures on the issue.”
And of course the influence of trans lobby groups like Stonewall, which counts 31 police forces, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Ministry of Justice amongst the 750 members of its “Diversity Champions” scheme, means that crimes committed by men are no longer recorded as such if offenders express a preference to be known as female. When Maria MacLachlan was assaulted by a transgender activist at Speakers’ Corner in 2018 the judge said she showed “bad grace” for failing to use her attacker’s preferred pronouns during the trial.
Official data are being corrupted because of reluctance to upset transgender identified male offenders
One person’s “misgendering” is another’s correctly sexing. As is increasingly the case, this crime, which it is fair to state was committed by a violent man, was recorded as by a woman in official statistics. Clearly, official data are being corrupted because of reluctance to upset transgender identified male offenders, even when convictions are for violent and sexual crime. This has serious ramifications not just for statisticians for but also for policy makers. For example, according to the Sexual Offences Act (2003) a person can be guilty of rape if “he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person … with his penis.” The wording is clear that this is a crime committed that can only be committed by a man using his penis. And yet a 2019 HMCPS Inspectorate review into rape cases referred to “the suspect as ‘them’ or ‘they’, because penetrative offences are gender neutral.” This linguistic shift is presumably to accommodate rapists who do not identify as male.
The truth is, changes in pronouns and personal presentation do not alter the reality that those who have been brought up as men are more likely to be violent. This is neither to stigmatise people who identify as transgender nor to demonise men, it simply is. For some, identifying as transgender is a facet of the paraphilia (fetish) and so it seems reasonable to ask whether this might be a factor in offending. There are often overlaps and connections between paraphilias, as Professor Sheila Jeffreys explains:
There is some evidence that men with paraphilias are likely to have more than one. Men who are nappy fetishists, for instance, generally prefer to pretend to be girl babies and the products to service them available online, bibs etc., are pink. In this case, transgenderism and age regression are linked.
Intersectionality is a concept coined by lawyer and scholar Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw. It is a framework beloved of social justice warriors as it seeks to explore the multiple ways in which individuals are disadvantaged by society. So, a rich white woman might be considered to have more social capital than a poor black man, despite the fact that, as a group, women experience sexism.
Arguably there is merit in looking at this theory more holistically; a transgender prostitute in the Global South might be at more risk of murder or sexual assault, though they may also be more of a risk to others around them. If we are to consider the factors which strive to keep people from fulfilling their potential, perhaps we should also be aware of what might make them more of a risk to society. This cuts in all directions: for example, blithely pretending that a single white man on holiday in the Philippines is no more of a risk to children than a Philippino tourist in the UK is naïve at best.
Ultimately, there is nothing socially just about refusing to see evidence which does not support our worldview. Profiling might not be popular but there is often a truth lurking under stereotypes. Recognising patterns helps us to make sense of the world, and when it comes to crime it can help us keep safe.
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10Subscribe