J K Rowling woke me up

J K Rowling woke me up. In my far-flung corner of rural Wales, I’d been complacent and comfortable. Raising a family, then home educating my children and getting back into work, I’d filed away women’s rights as safe and secure. I had taught my children about the suffragettes and women’s liberation, explaining how far women had come. Women had choice now. We could have a career in pretty much any area we wanted, reject marriage and motherhood if it wasn’t for us, live independently and didn’t need to rely on men anymore.

I told them women still weren’t completely equal to men. Women were the main carers, had the biggest share of domestic jobs and were paid less. We were objectified and sexualised from a young age and could be bought and sold for men’s sexual gratification. Having to tell my children these things did not make me happy but, busy and settled with my home and family, I folded the issues neatly away, rarely thinking about them. I hoped I’d taught my daughter she could do whatever she wanted and that my son would not be sexist. In the western world at least, women were mostly doing all right. And in West Wales, things were cosy.

Then on 6th June 2020, J K Rowling tweeted about Wimpund. The story rippled through social media and the news. Her comments seemed to have made people angry and I couldn’t understand why. Of course only women have periods, had everyone gone insane overnight? Even my daughter, by this time at university, said her comments were unkind. How could they be unkind? It was a statement of truth. Only females menstruate and a woman is an adult human female.

My daughter explained that it excluded transmen who did not consider themselves to be women but might have a period. But they are still females I argued. In my opinion, we had to stick to biological facts for the sake of young girls growing up understanding the workings of their bodies. Women had fought hard to be able to talk about their bodies without shame and periods were still taboo in many places. As a compromise, we agreed women and people should be used at the very least. It was not a compromise I felt especially happy with as denying biology felt uncomfortable. What shocked me the most was the awful abuse Rowling received for stating biological facts. I heard the word TERF for the first time and realised I was probably one.

A few days later, Rowling published her letter explaining her concerns. My eyes were truly opened. She talked about the Maya Forstarter case (a judge said believing in biological sex was not worthy of respect in a democratic society?!), Magdalen Berns (lesbians with penises?!), trans activists, wrong think and abuse, a 4400% increase in girls wanting to transition, detransitioners, single-sex spaces, Self-ID and woman not being ‘an idea in a man’s head’. I felt like I had fallen down a rabbit hole. In fact, I stayed down the rabbit hole for the next few months as I had to find out more and research these issues I’d known nothing about before Rowling’s tweet.

I had met transwomen before. There were a few in our nearest small town, one ran an antique shop, another taught at the secondary school. A friend’s husband had come out as a cross dresser and they’d gotten divorced. Someone I knew from home educating circles had a son with gender dysphoria who transitioned aged 12. I didn’t know any transmen. I’d heard the term transwomen are women too. I hadn’t realised anyone really believed it. I thought it was a kindness. I believed they were men who identified as women to feel better. Didn’t everyone? Weren’t we all just being polite to these people who had a condition which gave them discomfort? It seemed not.

Within a few months, I knew many more things. I found out that, in 2004, the Gender Recognition Act had been passed which allowed a person to change their birth certificate to the opposite sex and live under the legal fiction of actually being that sex with a Gender Recognition Certificate. Caring for two young children at the time, that law had completely passed me by, and many other women it seemed, as it turned out no women’s groups were consulted about the impact such a law may have on us.

I learnt about the Equality Act 2010 and the single-sex exemptions especially relevant for women and that, in some circumstances, even a transwoman with a GRC can be legally excluded. I discovered these exemptions are mostly ignored in our organisations because of the fear of being labelled transphobic. I read about Stonewall’s influence and ideological capture. I learnt that the government wanted to reform the GRA and bring in Self-ID for gaining a GRC. Any person could identify as the opposite sex without any safety measures, such as a GD diagnosis from a doctor.

This would mean that any man who identified as a woman would have access to women’s single-sex spaces, prisons, hospital wards and sports. Any man identifying as a women would have the right to a women’s place on a panel or a woman’s prize. The hard-won gains of women’s liberation seemed to be in danger. I found out that, even without legal change in the law, organisations were accepting Self-ID anyway.

Men who identified as women were already taking women’s places in politics, such as on the Green Party Women’s Committee. Male-bodied trans women were already in women’s prisons. I discovered Woman’s Place UK and Fair Play for Women who had been fighting for single-sex spaces for some time while I’d been asleep. I saw they had experienced violent protests and attacks by Trans Rights Activists at their meetings.

I found out about affirmation, puberty blockers and cross sex hormone treatments for children and the increasing numbers being referred to the Tavistock and Portman Gender Identity Clinic. I discovered that increasingly younger children are being referred, that many more teenage girls are now referred than teenage boys and that they may have Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria. I read about the influence of social media, YouTube videos and possible social contagion.

I watched Newsnight reporting concerns regarding the running of the Tavistock. I read about the lack of evidence on the safety of puberty blockers. I read that, in the US, children as young as three are socially affirmed in their ‘chosen’ gender and that parents can buy tiny ‘packers’ for toddler girls’ trousers. I saw stories of teenage girls binding their breasts and crowdfunding for ‘top surgery’ and pictures of surgeons holding up buckets of healthy breast tissue as if celebrating.

As an ex-teacher, I was horrified to learn about some of the material being taught in school; that a child can be born in the wrong body, there are a hundred different genders and gender is a rainbow spectrum with Barbie at one end and GI Joe at the other. These ideas seemed to enforce strict gender stereotypes that women have fought against for years. I found myself getting angry.

I watched Magdalen Berns videos about the cotton ceiling, lesbians accused of transphobia because they are same-sex attracted and men with beards who have no intention of taking hormones or having surgery calling themselves lesbians. I followed the LGB Alliance and their concerns that Stonewall had changed the definition of being gay or lesbian from same-sex to same-gender attracted. Having a nephew who had recently come out as gay, I sympathised with and understood their worries that this was homophobic. There were other reports of female lecturers being threatened and deplatformed at universities because they wanted to speak about women’s rights. I got angrier.

Being someone who tries to have a balanced opinion, I researched the TRA viewpoint too. I read materials from Stonewall, GIRES and Mermaids. I watched programmes about Munroe Bergdorf and Katy Montgomerie videos. I watched every programme on Channel 4 about transitioning, Stella O’Malley’s ‘Trans Kids: It’s Time to Talk’ and the Louis Theroux’s ‘Transgender Kids’ documentary.

Slowly, I formulated my viewpoint. Whilst I have full empathy for people with Gender Dysphoria and support those who need to transition as adults to feel comfortable with themselves, believing such individuals have the right to live without discrimination, I remain concerned about safeguarding children from unproven medical practices and theory, the ideological capture of our organisations, Self-ID and single-sex exemptions for women. I believe we must be able to discuss these issues in a reasonable manner without being abused as transphobic.

I’m very happy for people to be gender non-conforming and express themselves however they choose. In fact, I want to see the whole idea of gender, which to me means stereotypes, thrown into the dustbin of history. If somebody wants to live as the opposite sex without surgery and hormones, that sounds fine to me too. Medicalisation and surgery seem like a good way to make Big Pharma and plastic surgeons rich. However, I believe in the importance of biological reality over nebulous ideas of gender identity.

Now, I’ve crawled out of the rabbit hole and I’m ready to act. A few months back, I discovered Merched Cymru and joined. It helps to be part of a group that shares my concerns and anger. It helps to feel I can work with others to fight ideological capture, defend our single-sex spaces and safeguard children. I’ve been busy emailing organisations, MPs and AMs and filling in consultations. I’ve shared posts, signed petitions and supported crowdfunded judicial reviews.

Recently, there have been a few gains – Maya Forstarter won her appeal and believing sex is binary ad immutable is now considered worthy of respect which will hopefully open up debate – but there’s a long way to go. Keir Starmer recently confirmed his party will fight for Self-ID and I, like many women, feel politically homeless. Some of the links I’ve shared here are unfortunately from the Daily Mail as the left seems to have abandoned women and the fight for our rights is not reported in left-leaning news sources. And this is a fight, like that of the suffragettes. I thought women’s rights were safe and secure. I was wrong.

Thanks to J K Rowling, I’m awake now.