A shorter version of this article was published in Ceylon Today on October 5, 2021.
The death of debate
For an elderly gentleman such as my good self, naïve in the ways of the world, current controversies about transgenderism are somewhat bewildering. Why does the topic arouse such viciousness today when we are supposed to be more tolerant? Transsexualism was discussed in the mass media as long ago as the 1930s. Time magazine in 1936 devoted an article to what it called “hermaphrodites”, treating the subject with sensitivity not sensationalism.
What is causing so much conflict today is not the small number of people who were wrongly described and classified at birth, but the much larger numbers who self-identify as a different gender from the one on their birth certificate. The number of trans people in the UK has rocketed and it is unlikely that the number of what Time called “hermaphrodites” has so dramatically increased. According to the LGBT charity Stonewall, their ‘best estimate’ of the number of trans people in the UK is ‘about 600,000’. Kathleen Stock writes in her book Material Girls: “something called ‘gender identity’ gripped public consciousness, strongly influencing UK and international institutions, and causing protests and even violence.”
According to Stock, “In 2004, it was estimated there were about 2,000–5,000 trans people in the UK. Back then, the popular image of a trans person was mainly of a ‘medically transitioned’ adult trans woman, or ‘male-to-female transsexual’: an adult person of the male sex who had taken hormones over a long period of time to change many aspects of appearance, and who had also had ‘sex reassignment’ surgery to refashion natal genitalia.” That is not the case today.
I am old enough to remember the case of George Jorgenson who, in 1951, obtained special permission from the Danish Minister of Justice to undergo a series of operations in that country. On September 24, 1951, surgeons at Gentofte Hospital in Copenhagen performed an orchiectomy (remember that word) on Jorgensen, who took the name Christine. Jorgenson was 27. Glen or Glenda, a 1953 American exploitation film written by, directed by and starring Ed Wood, was based on the Jorgenson case. It is widely considered to be the worst film ever made. Johnny Depp played Wood in a biopic directed by Tim Burton.
This type of surgery had previously been performed by German doctors in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Artist Einar Wegener who, identifying as a woman called Lili Elbe, underwent a series of five experimental operations between 1930 and 1931 which led to her death soon after the final procedure.
There was a film, The Danish Girl, based on this case too, starring Eddie Redmayne as Lili. This too was considered a bit of a stinker.
Roger Moore with Christine Jorgenson
George Jamieson served in the merchant navy and claimed to have shared digs with John Prescott, who later became Tony Blair’s deputy. At the age of 25, George became April Ashley. Having saved £3,000, Ashley had a seven-hour-long sex reassignment operation on 12 May 1960, performed in Casablanca, Morocco, by Georges Burou. All her hair fell out, and she endured significant pain, but the operation was deemed successful.
Walter Carlos came to prominence with Switched-On Bach (1968), an album of music by Johann Sebastian Bach performed on a Moog synthesizer. Carlos composed the scores to two Stanley Kubrick films – A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980) – and Tron (1982) for Walt Disney Productions. Carlos discovered transgender studies in 1962. In 1967 Harry Benjamin’s book, The Transsexual Phenomenon, was published and Carlos went into counselling with Benjamin who provided hormone replacement treatment. In 1972, after reassignment surgery, Walter became Wendy. Carlos was 33 when the surgery took place.
I remember Wally Stott as the musical director of radio shows such as The Goon Show and Hancock’s Half Hour. He worked with Noel Coward, Shirley Bassey and Dusty Springfield. He worked with Scott Walker on his masterpiece Scott 4. He also provided the music for the films The Looking Glass War and When Eight Bells Toll. He stepped back from music in 1970 to undergo gender transition. Wally Stott became Angela Morley at the age of 46 after gender reassignment surgery in Casablanca in June 1970. Before the reassignment there were two marriages and two children.
James Morris served in the British Army in World War II and was a member of the 1953 British Mount Everest expedition, which made the first ascent of the mountain and was the only journalist to accompany the expedition, climbing with the team to a camp at 22,000 feet. I have read some wonderful books by Morris – The Pax Britannica trilogy and a guide to Venice. In 1949, Morris married Elizabeth Tuckniss, the daughter of a tea planter and they had five children together. Morris began transitioning to life as a woman in 1964, at the age of 38. Morris travelled to Casablanca to undergo sex reassignment surgery, performed by surgeon Georges Burou and became Jan Morris.
These cases were generally regarded with tolerance and sympathy. How did we get to this state of war? Why have the number of cases increased so much? How did we get to this “psychic epidemic”? Sometimes, a new condition is born – and sometimes it gains sudden popularity. “The history of medicine is scattered with psychosomatic diseases that appeared, spread like wildfire and then disappeared”. In Creating Hysteria: Women and Multiple Personality Disorder, published in 1999, journalist Joan Acocella described how a disease so rare that most doctors never came across it turned into an epidemic. I had dealings with the Tavistock Clinic in the 1990s when they were promoting the idea of Satanic Child Abuse. Who believes in that now?
The real problem today is that transactivists are trying to close down the debate about self-identification – people who insist that they must have access to women’s facilities even though they have not undergone chemical or surgical procedures to transition from male to female.
What Self-Identification Means
Initially I found it hilarious to see people on YouTube with stubbly chins, square jaws, big hands and feet and deep voices insisting aggressively that they be called girls. It is not so funny when the authorities give in to them. Ireland, long a bastion of puritanical Catholicism and sexual repression, delighted the world when it made same sex marriage legal and at last ended the ban on abortion. Ireland even had an openly gay mixed race prime minister. Unfortunately, the push to do what is supposedly the right thing has led to a terrible distortion.
At the recent Labour Party conference Patricia Hannah-Woods claimed they had endured transphobic abuse in a ladies toilet at the conference.
In Ireland, in 1997, a post-operative trans-sexual Lydia Foy took action against the Irish government for not allowing her to change her birth certificate. When Ireland adopted European human rights law they had to look at the issue again. The parliamentary committee only heard evidence from transactivist groups. Irish transactivists had directly lobbied individual politicians and tried to keep press coverage to a minimum. No mention was made of women’s safety or privacy at any point.
Men in Women’s Prisons
Helen Joyce, in her book Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, writes that in her country, Ireland, “Until 2019, not a single woman had ever been imprisoned for a sex crime against an adult. Since then, Irish prisons have experienced a sudden influx of ‘female’ sex offenders… As you will have guessed, the perpetrators are in fact male.”
Helen Joyce gives a number of horrific examples of the consequences of allowing self-identification. The convicted sex offender and trans woman Karen White sexually assaulted fellow inmates after being transferred to a female prison. In 2020, a prisoner Joyce calls Kandi was charged on two counts of sexual assault and four counts of threatening to murder women. Aged seventeen, he attacked a woman, trying to gouge out her eyes, ripping her eyelids and pulling out clumps of her hair. When he reached the age of 18 the police advised his mother to go into hiding. He changed his name to a female one and used the provisions of self-ID to become legally female.
Joyce describes how a trans woman called “Tara Desousa (Adam Laboucan), whose crimes included the rape of a three-month old baby so brutal that the victim required reconstructive surgery… is now held in a prison with a mother-and-baby unit.” Madeline (Matthew) Harks, who committed at least two hundred sexual crimes against at least sixty victims, including girls of four and five, was housed in a women’s prison and after that admitted to a women’s halfway house which also contained a mother-and-baby-unit – despite Harks being described by psychiatrists as having an “all-encompassing preoccupation in sexually abusing young girls.”
In England, a previously convicted pedophile, in jail on suspicion of having stabbed a neighbor, sexually assaulted several female inmates. Craig Hudson was sentenced in 2004 for murder. Over the two years of his marriage, he and several relatives tortured his wife, Rachel, to death. The autopsy found eleven fractured ribs, a detached lower lip and dozens of bruises, burns and scalds. She died of a blood clot on her brain. ‘I see a lot of people who have been beaten,’ the Home Office pathologist said. ‘I have to say, I have never seen anything like this before.’
The High Court ruled on July 2 that it is lawful for transgender women to be housed in female jails in England and Wales. A female prisoner, known as FDJ, had challenged the Ministry of Justice. She claimed she had been sexually assaulted in 2017 by a trans woman with a gender recognition certificate (GRC), who had convictions for serious sexual offences. The judge ruled (by email!) that barring all trans women from female prisons would ignore their right to live as their chosen gender. Women’s prisons can house inmates who were born male but identify as female, regardless of whether they have gone through any physical transformation or have obtained a gender recognition certificate.
Women have been censored for “saying that ‘only women get cervical cancer’; for saying that ‘we need to talk about male violence’; for placing the dictionary definition of ‘woman’ on a billboard; for quoting verbatim from the parliamentary debate in 2004 on the UK’s Gender Recognition Act; for stating the definition of rape in British law; and for saying, correctly, that the limited statistics available suggest that transwomen in the UK are more likely to commit murder than to be murdered. An Australian senator, Claire Chandler, faced a human-rights inquiry after a transactivist complained about a speech in which she argued for female-only spaces and sports. In 2019 Selina Todd, the Oxford historian of women, had to be escorted by security guards during lectures because of death threats. Meghan Murphy, who, as a feminist, opposed the establishment of transgender rights legislation, needs a police guard when she speaks publicly, and venues hosting her routinely receive bomb threats.
It is easy to agree with Helen Joyce’s assertion that “intimidation and harassment are carried out openly and proudly” by those who use the bully pulpit to propagate the notion of self-ID. JK Rowling has been subjected to horrific onslaughts because she voiced her support for a researcher who was sacked after tweeting that transgender people cannot change their biological sex. Rowling wrote, “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?” She said, “Hundreds of trans activists have threatened to beat, rape, assassinate and bomb me.” People like Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Eddie Redmayne who should be supporting her are, instead, agreeing with her critics.Rowling defended herself thus: “I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.” Joyce comments, “The idea that a children’s author known for her liberal politics and donating most of her vast fortune to charity had somehow morphed into a bigot was wildly implausible. And anyone who actually read what she said would have found only compassion and good sense.”
Kathleen Stock has been pilloried for her allegedly “trans exclusionary position.” Stock has argued that trans women who still have male genitalia should be excluded from women’s changing rooms. She has denied opposing trans rights, saying, “I gladly and vocally assert the rights of trans people to live their lives free from fear, violence, harassment or any discrimination” and “I think that discussing female rights is compatible with defending these trans rights.” In October 2021, Stock resigned from her post at Sussex University. “This has been an absolutely horrible time for me and my family. I’m putting it behind me now.”
Germaine Greer sensibly points out that by expressing her own views she is exercising “opinion not prohibition.”
Helen Joyce writes: “Your opponents’ speech reinforces injustice, and silencing them is moral, even if that takes violence or the threat of it. Control the discourse, and you control reality.”
More on these issues in my next column.