On Sunday morning, I took part in BBC One’s ethics debate show The Big Questions, where the topics were treatment of asylum seekers, child poverty and (the section I was booked for) the right to gender self-determination. There are a few interesting moments to pull out:
- At about 00:22:00, transwoman Rachel Hoskins gives a personal account of dysphoria, including “the real visceral thrill” of “putting [my sister’s undies] on” at four years old.
- At about 00:30:00, I give a brief account of the gender-as-class-system position and why that’s not compatible with the principle of gender self-determination.
- At about 00:38:30, a transwoman tells a story about being challenged on toilet access: “I said, ‘This is the way I’m dressed, I didn’t want to go into the gents and scare anybody in there.’”
- There didn’t appear to be any contributions from transmen.
- At 00:46:00 you can see gender in action as Nicky Campbell invites me to contribute to the debate and the man next to me (Ben Harris-Quinney) talks over me.
Watch the show on iPlayer (gender segment starts at about 00:20:00)
Online petitions: vital organ of democratic activism, or the lazy twitch of a population that thinks clicking a link amounts to political engagement? Radio Wales invited me and Harry Phibbs of Conservative Home to thrash it all out on Thursday morning.
Listen on iPlayer (at about 1:47:00)
The Woman’s Hour Power List 2016 was announced last Wednesday with Margaret Thatcher at number one – for the first time, the Power List included dead women along with living in an effort to comprehensively catalogue the female figures who’ve shaped women’s lives in the lifespan of the programme. I was on BBC Radio Wales to discuss what it says about women and power that the top seven includes four dead women and one fictional one…
Listen on iPlayer (from about 01:24:00)
In the dismal sleep-deprived afternoon of yesterday’s mourning, I appeared on Shelagh Fogarty’s LBC show, talking about why I’d chosen to address Trump’s victory in an open letter to my daughter, and what other parents should tell their children about his presidency. I didn’t mention the one piece of solid practical advice I’d urge, which is to move above sea level as quickly as you can, but I did say the election had been a “referendum on women’s role in public life”, which is quite a good line. (We lost.)
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Update, 13 October 2016 – Following the withdrawal of Kellie Maloney and protests from trans campaigners, the NSPCC has cancelled the event. According to the statement they have issued: “the trans community have raised concerns and told us that they don’t support the NSPCC hosting this discussion”. In other words, they don’t actually “dare to debate” if there is a risk that the conversation might challenge the current conventions around transgender children.
Original post continues below…
On 25 October, I’m taking part in a event for the NSPCC’s Dare to Debate series, attempting to answer the question: is society letting down transgender children? As soon as they approached me, I knew I wanted to participate. Over the last few years, I’ve dedicated a considerable proportion of my writing to gender, and in the process I’ve changed my own position substantially.
Transgender rights have been described as the “next civil rights frontier”, but within the feelgood narrative, a lot of assumptions have been left unchallenged. Is gender an inherent quality that every human possesses, or a sex-class system that we’re socialised into? Is it possible to identify a child as trans without relying on sexist stereotypes? How does the prioritising of gender identity over physical sex affect women and girls? Are trans-identified youths harmed by the way issues such as suicide are reported? All these are left woefully unscrutinised in the current orthodoxy about gender, and any opportunity to explore them is very welcome.
The other speaker will be Kellie Maloney, the boxing promoter formerly known as Frank who transitioned in 2014. Maloney’s past includes the expression of homophobic sentiments (now repudiated), and a 2005 attack on Tracey Maloney when the two were married (Maloney has attributed this in part to the strain of living with a suppressed gender identity). My participation implies no endorsement of these acts. Gendered violence, and its effects on children, is something I expect to discuss at the event. I trust the NSPCC to facilitate a full and open discussion, and am delighted to volunteer my time for this debate.
The audience will be by invitation, but I will update this post if there are plans to stream it or release a recording.
Read more about the NSPCC and support its work
Later today the campaign group Don’t Screen Us Out will deliver a petition to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt asking that he oppose the introduction NIPT – of a safe, accurate test for trisomy disorders. Their stated reason is a fear that improved detection rate for Down’s syndrome will lead to an increased abortion rate for affected pregnancies, and perhaps the elimination of Down’s syndrome altogether. This is a strange argument since it’s largely coming from families who have either chosen not to screen or chosen to have children with Down’s, and are themselves proof against their own claims.
Not at all strangely, the issue has been hijacked by anti-choice campaigners: Don’t Screen Us Out spokesperson Lynn Murray is also a longstanding member of the anti-abortion group SPUC. Following my response to Sally Phillips’ documentary A World Without Down’s Syndrome?, Sky News invited me to debate the issue with James Mildred, described as a “bioethics commentator” here but more accurately an anti-abortion activist since he’s a spokesman for the religious anti-choice group CARE. During the interview, he conceded that he was entirely opposed to termination and motivated in this by Christian beliefs.
For people like Mildred, the fact that the current testing regiment caused miscarriage in 1% of cases is irrelevant. The fact that NIPT is 99% accurate and will help families prepare for wanted babies with Down’s as well as end unwanted pregnancies does not interest them. NIPT itself is clearly better both for women and for the unborn they claim to be concerned about; the only reason to stop it is if you want is to stop women having information, because you don’t like the choices they make. Ultimately, opponents of NIPT don’t want to talk about the reality of bringing up a child with serious mental and physical disabilities, nor what happens when that child becomes an adult and still needs care. Mildred’s position isn’t just anti-woman, it’s anti-disability too.
Read more about NIPT from the NHS
One of the strangest defences of Donald Trump’s 2005 comments (which I wrote about for the New Statesman over the weekend) is the claim that this is “just banter” and “what men do”. As Deborah Cameron explains in a typically excellent post, both those things can be true without diminishing the harm and the ugliness of the things Trump was recorded discussing. I joined Stig Abell on his LBC show yesterday to talk about what this incident tells us about rape culture, and how that affects all women.
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