Somewhere over the Rainbow, something went terribly wrong... That is the title of my embroidery which you can see at the top of this page. Being a visual artist, I don't often explain my ideas and concepts in detail, leaving interpretations mostly up to the viewer. I found it necessary however to accompany my art with words on this occasion.
I’ve started and finished this post many times. Had friends read over and edit it, took a break to digest, then scrapped half of it. I have tried to replace anger with compassion and, finally, this is the version I feel ready to share with everybody who’d like to read it.
My hope is that this will help you, the reader, the viewer, to understand my conclusions about this subject. And I will tell you them candidly so no mistake can be made in misunderstanding or misrepresenting me.
I stumbled across the subject of gender identity ideology somewhat out of the blue about seven months ago and, after some initial research into it, I became really rather alarmed by the rise of accusations of bigotry and hatred aimed towards people who don’t buy into it.
‘It’ being the idea of a gender spectrum and sex as a social construct, rather than a biological reality. An Idea that seems to have gained a rather fanatical following and high visibility via social media over the past few years.
I had also been blissfully unaware of last year’s consultations by the English and Scottish Governments regarding the GRA (Gender Recognition Act) reform in respect of ‘self-ID’ (self identification) and the potential legal and human rights ramifications for women and girls. The implication being that if one can simply self-ID into womanhood, the single-sex protections of the 2010 equality act become completely null and void.
And so the issue has collided with my understanding of feminism and simply by being a feminist or part of certain circles, incorrect assumptions about my political beliefs are being made. With this thesis I seek to articulate my personal beliefs, so that I can defend and advocate for them.
I feel no animosity towards people who hold different beliefs to me, be they religious, gender identity ideology or any other kind of faith, and I hope you can extend the same courtesy to me.
Definitions matter. Respecting people, matters. Criticising bad ideas also matters.
To express my convictions as clearly as possible, I have made a list of key words and their definitions as I understand them to be correct and have used in this thesis.
A woman, is an adult human female. (Not an identity or feeling.)
Female is the sex of an organism that produces non-mobile ova (egg cells).
The word female comes from the Latin femella, the diminutive form of femina, meaning "woman". Barring rare medical conditions (DSD or Intersex), female humans have two X chromosomes.
Intersex is not transgender or non-binary. It is a rare medical condition. (Not an identity or a feeling.) In some current arguments Intersex conditions are being used to legitimise the idea of ‘being born in the wrong body’. However, most Intersex individuals do not wish to be included under the ‘trans-umbrella’. The aim of Intersex supporting charities is to demedicalise the condition, whereas Transgender support groups seek to gain easier and ever earlier access to medications and surgeries.
Cis [-gender] is a term invented to describe a person not struggling with their gender identity. Personally, I reject this prefix. Firstly, because I don’t have a ‘gender identity’ (as I do not believe in such a concept), and, secondly, describing me simply as a woman or female will suffice.
Sex is either of the two categories (male and female) into which humans and most other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions.
It is not ‘assigned’, but rather observed at birth or often already in utero, based on external sex characteristics. Sex (not gender identity) is a protected characteristic under the law.
Humans can not change sex. If we ignore sex, we ignore sexism. This is important, particularly for women, living in sexist societies.
Femininity & masculinity refer to traits or characteristics typically associated with being female or male, respectively. Individuals usually possess both what are considered feminine and masculine attributes to various degrees, regardless of their sex.
Gender is the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, femininity and masculinity.
Gender dysphoria (or ‘GD’) is a distressed mental state arising from a conflict between a person's perceived gender identity and the biological sex of the person.
Transwomen are biological males that choose to live as a woman, or believe they actually are women. There are similar examples in other cultures such as the fa'afafine in samoa - literally meaning ‘in the manner of’ (fa’a) ‘woman’ (fafine) - or the Hijra in south asia, as well as ‘Two Spirit’ for Indigenous North Americans, though these are seen as a third gender, rather than as literally the same as the female sex.
Transmen are biological females that choose to live as a man, or believe they actually are men. There are far fewer, in fact barely any examples at all of transmen in other cultures the world over. (Although there has been an enormous, inexplicable steep increase of young women being referred to gender clinics in the western world over the past decade.)
Non-binary is a term used by people who believe that gender is a spectrum rather than a binary, and states that they fall anywhere on this spectrum, or even ‘outside’ of the male-female dichotomy (I am still curious to know what ‘outside’ means).
Though I know some wonderful people who have come to embrace and re-define themselves by these terms and this ideology, I struggle with it for many reasons.
I struggle with this need to further categorise people into boxes: non-binary, a-gender, pan-gender, genderqueer, genderfluid, demiboy, demigirl etc. Instead of freeing us from the constrictions of socially imposed stereotypes this new system of categorising people actually imposes yet more new ones.
You are a butch girl? Must be non-binary. Feminine boy? Non-binary, or maybe trans. There appears to be no room for masculinity in women and femininity in men, and I don't find that very progressive.
How are any of these new labels any different to terms used to describe ‘character’, ‘personality’ and ‘expression’?
The proposition that people who don’t call themselves non-binary are any less on a spectrum between feminine and masculine traits seems entirely strange to me. I don’t know anybody who is a hundred percent male or female in their expression. I don’t even think its possible.
Furthermore, the idea that to be described as cis is to be treated as being privileged seems completely misplaced. Especially when talking about biological females who cannot simply identify out of oppression precisely because they are female (which is not an identity or feeling).
To hold these definitions and beliefs now often gets pejoratively called “biological essentialism”, as well as mean and hurtful.
None of the previous is intended as, or even just 'is', unkind or judgemental towards anybody, let alone mean.
The immutable biological qualities of females and males should not and do not determine or dictate whether or not you can create and design your own life as you wish. Feminists have argued this for a very long time.
But I really struggle with the increasing demands of having to validate somebody's idea of themselves, which is solely based on subjective feelings rather than objective realities.
It strikes me as a bad idea to demand others to bend or discard the facts of biological science, in favour of unjustified imposed mantras such as “transwomen are women”.
I have no issue with somebody who feels more comfortable expressing themselves as if they are the other sex (or in whatever way they please for that matter). However, I can not accept people’s unsubstantiated assertions that they are in fact the opposite sex to when they were born and deserve to be extended the same rights as if they were born as such. And I do not believe that these beliefs should override existing protections that are in place as a result of the biological realities of women, since their purpose is to relieve oppression based on women’s physicalities and reproductive functions (not identity or feelings).
Feelings don’t have human rights. Humans do.
I am also completely at a loss over Stonewall’s (the LGBTQ lobby group) updated description of transgender, seeing that, by their logic, almost anybody would fall under this category, including those that don’t identify as trans.
How is it acceptable for one group to self-identify (such as trans, non-binary, queer etc.) while also denying that right to others, when people (such as myself) do not accept the label cis?
“That includes people who do not self-identify as transgender, but who are perceived as such by others…”
How is it okay for an organisation in Stonewall’s position to categorise somebody as transgender, even if that person doesn’t do so themselves?
The whole concept of gender identity shifts the onus onto everybody else, rather than being the responsibility of the self.
One is now kindly asked to play along with the Ideology of Gender Identity in the form of an ever growing list of new pronouns, identities and the validation of nebulous ‘facts’, or else be seen and labelled as hateful and bigotted.
It is an ideology because it is rooted in faith. A faith that I do not share. Let me explain.
The Ideology of Gender Identity doctrine (as I understand it and gathered from social media and personal conversations with proponents) is as follows:
Transwomen literally are women, transmen literally are men. (They have simply been assigned the wrong sex at birth. So a transwoman’s penis is therefore a female sexual organ, and vice versa for transmen and their vaginas)
Non-binary people exist and are ‘valid’ (this is an often repeated mantra)
The dictionary definition of ‘woman’ (“an adult human female”) is ‘problematic’ and transphobic
Biology is transphobic and exclusionary
Men can get pregnant and give birth
Women can ejaculate sperm and fertilise eggs
There are no physical advantages for transwomen over cis-women in sport
Allowing people to self-ID will have no impact on women’s rights in any way. The loopholes that would be created for predatory men to take advantage of are a figment of hateful and bigoted women’s imaginations. (Men never go to great lengths to access vulnerable women and being a member of a marginalised group automatically precludes anyone in it from wanting to do harm to others)
Gender Identity is an inherent immutable quality that everybody has and only oneself can determine (unless Stonewall dictates otherwise). If one doesn’t have it, one gets assigned the label cis
Gender Identity can be fluid, meaning one day you can feel like a woman, another day like a man, and another day like neither. (None of this will create any issues for accurate data collection to tackle gender inequalities)
‘Woman’ is an identity or feeling rather than biological observable reality. ‘Man’ is an identity or feeling rather than biological observable reality. Therefore anybody should freely be able to access the services, changing rooms, toilets, sports teams, grants and shortlists, shelters and prison services that best correspond with their chosen gender, not sex. This won’t create any issues, because transpeople are literally the sex they say they are, and non-binary people can choose what suits them best
Sex is a social construct that is arbitrarily assigned at birth
Sex and gender are a spectrum
Same sex attraction is trans-exclusionary
Sexual attraction is based on socially constructed biases. Humans are attracted to genders, not to sex (alternatively, you are a vagina or penis fetishist and therefore transphobic)
Transwomen who fancy women are lesbians
Transmen who fancy men are gay
Lesbians that don’t consider transwomen with a penis as a partner, are problematic and transphobic
Misgendering is actual, literal violence
Dead-naming (using a previous name of a person who has since changed their gender and name) is actual, literal violence
Cis people have cis-privilege
Transwomen are the most marginalised of all women
Anybody who disagrees with any of these points, is a TERF - Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist
TERF’s are fascists and deserve to be hurt
TERF’s are part of (or are funded by) the alt right
TERF’s are not feminists
Women who have concerns about sharing spaces and services designed for biological females, are actually, literally transphobic, exclusionary and elitist about the label women and are only hiding behind ‘concerns’ so that people can’t see how biggoted they really are. They don’t want transwomen to be part of their exclusive club
Anybody who disagrees with any of these points is a transphobe who actually literally hates transpeople, and denies their existence
To question any of these points is actual, literal violence, as questioning would erase somebody's existence
I believe that is most of it but please correct me if I forgot something or misrepresented the doctrine in any way. This is my genuine attempt to rationalise and understand the code of belief.
I disagree with pretty much every single point of this doctrine. The conclusion of which for followers of the doctrine would be that I hate trans- and non-binary people. (I do not.)
That I am a narrow minded bigot. (I am not.)
That I am a facist; as bad as a Nazi; Tansphobic cis-scum; and deserve what’s coming my way if I don’t change my beliefs. (If twitter and other social media sites and their users are to be believed.)
Please, make your own conclusions.
But none of this will lead me to forgo and forget my human rights to assert my own personal boundaries and beliefs, without being ‘othered’ or name-called for doing so.
None of it stops me from worrying about what this entire reconstruction of words and meanings does for girls’ and women’s rights in particular.
None of it makes me worry less about the future of women's sports, because transwomen have an undeniable, proven physical advantage even after transitioning and hormone therapy. (There are obvious reasons for sex seggregation in sports, namely male physical advantage, which doesn’t go away with hormone treatment!)
None of it will stop me from worrying about the impact that normalising and validating the idea of being “born in the wrong body” has on young children and adolescents, who are being put on life-long medical paths and often rendered infertile due to puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgery due to this ideology.
And none of it will stop me from speaking out about this publicly, even though it may be detrimental to my opportunities as an artist, as well as some personal relationships.
It is not my intention to upset or limit the freedoms of friends, acquaintances or even strangers, nor do I wish to be ostracised, but I can not and will not compromise my artistic and personal integrity, in service of an oppressive and, increasingly, actually violent, dogmatic ideology.
When Ideas escalate
It’s clear that emotions run high and tribalism runs deep. And I find myself unable to go along with what now seems to be the only accepted narrative in ‘my circles’.
I find it quite concerning and, frankly, manipulative to read with increasing regularity of ‘gentle reminders’, or the insistence on ‘inclusive’ (or as I like to call it ‘reductive and dehumanising’) language.
The word women is replaced by ‘uterus-carriers’, ‘menstruators’, ‘vulva- havers’, ‘chest feeders’ and the absolute top-of-the-pops on my No Fucking Way list: ’NON-MEN’ (I wish that was a joke.)
It is uncannily reminiscent of black women’s history, when female slaves were dehumanised as ‘breeders’, or today’s billion dollar surrogate industry in India, where vulnerable women are literally used as incubators and called ‘carriers’.
I virtually never see anybody advocating for men, and transwomen by extension, to now be called ‘penis owner’, ‘people with penises’ or ‘prostate carrier’ and ‘ejaculator’ in the name of inclusion.
And here’s the rub: this entire issue is overwhelmingly asymmetric against one sex class.
A vocal British trans-rights advocate, born male, proclaimed that ‘centring’ reproductive systems (i.e. pussy hats, Big Swinging Ovaries accessories etc) at a women’s march is reductive and exclusionary (because transwomen do not have pussies or ovaries).
Women ‘centering’ and celebrating our reproductive organs is not only our right but, speaking as a woman myself, it is a way of reclaiming agency over body parts that are being legislated and shamed virtually everywhere in the world (for recent examples, see international abortion laws and Period shaming, though there are plenty more).
Meanwhile, T-shirts are being worn that say “Fuck TERFS”, “I punch TERFS” and even “KILL THE TERF”. Baseball bats and hammers adorned with the trans flag colours and signs saying “Fuck your pussy power” and “ DIE CIS SCUM” are being proudly waved around by proponents of the doctrine at those same women’s marches and pride parades.
These are predominantly groups of biological males threatening actual violence against women, with weapons.
There was even an exhibition of these paraphernalia at the San Francisco Public Library (you can check that out here).
It is unsettling to me that this has not only become acceptable but quite commonplace under the protective banner of the rainbow flag. What has gone wrong?
Lesbians are being told that - by new definitions - not considering a transwoman (who may still have a penis) as a potential partner is transphobic and exclusionary. Workshops are being run by organisations, such as Planned Parenthood, on “how to overcome the cotton ceiling”, a play on women breaking the glass ceiling, referring to the cotton of a lesbian woman’s underwear...
The “Degenerettes” have supplied me with ample inspiration for my embroidery, and their ‘activism’ seems by no means unusual anymore.
I find it disturbing and disturbed.
This is another issue I am incredibly alarmed by.
I grew up with many gay and lesbian friends, and they all had one thing in common: adolescence was a bitch.
Now, that is a statement true for most of us, particularly those that behave and present in unconventional ways but for kids that grow up to be homosexual it’s particularly tough in a world that is still quite homophobic. Most only came to terms with and started to feel more comfortable within themselves around their mid to late 20’s. Some struggled for much longer still.
Gender Identity Ideology, suggests that kids who say they are the other gender or express themselves in stereotypical ways normally ascribed to the opposite sex are probably trans. There is no acknowledgement that adolescence is an awkward and very confusing time for all, and to question who you are and where you fit in society is part and parcel of it.
But the speed with which we as a society have embraced the ‘born in the wrong body’ narrative really scares me.
I believe it is the responsibility of adults to support children through the challenges of puberty, with love, understanding, acceptance and an approach of watchful waiting.
Instead some adults are now being pressured to unquestioningly accept the idea that a gender questioning child may have been ‘born in the wrong body’. Other parents are actively facilitating the wishes of a minor, who has no way of understanding the long term implications of things like puberty blockers, cross sex hormones and surgery.
A child who isn’t yet fully sexually developed, may very well wonder about who they are. Particularly if presented with ideas that conflict with common knoweledge, such as: it is actually possible to change sex through medical and surgical intervention, and; there is actually no need to change sex because you are the gender, and by extension, the sex that you feel you are. Sex is but an illusion and all that matters is your identity.
According to peer reviewed studies, in 80% of children who meet the criteria for GDC (gender dysphoria in childhood) the GD recedes with puberty. Rather, many of these adolescents will later identify as non-heterosexual.
There will be those for whom GD persists after puberty and it is paramount to help these individuals to gain easier access to psychological assistance.
But to downplay the long term effects of those medications and surgeries on young children, as many trans activists and proponents of the doctrine are, doesn’t seem kind to me at all. Physical changes during childhood can be irreversible as it is a crucial phase of development, especially in regard of the development of sex characteristics during adolescence.
Nowadays, many kids, particularly those that feel they don’t fit in with larger society, find refuge in online forums like Tumblr, reddit and other such online communities.
The social incentive for some to adopt new identities seems understandably enticing, but can also add to the feelings of discontent as well as dysphoria, according to many accounts of young people who had been part of these online groups and eventually fell out of them.
Benjamin A Boyce has a youtube channel that is a mix of investigative journalism, cultural criticism, and interviews. He has an ongoing series of interviews in which he speaks to transpeople (young and old), de-transitioners, psychologists and sexologists about many of the above mentioned concerns. Those interviews are very respectful, inquisitive and enlightening, and I absolutely recommend them to anybody who is interested. Here is the link.
Furthermore, a fantastic summary of current evidence in the treatment of gender dysphoric children and young people can be found here .
I can see how the origins of this postmodern line of thinking arose from compassion towards people suffering from gender dysphoria who are struggling to come to terms with themselves in an environment that imposes traditional social gender roles on us from birth.
Trans and gender non-comforming individuals often face discrimination, stigmatisation and violence, and also have to deal with a myriad of other mental and physical health issues.
I genuinely feel deeply compassionate towards anybody who experiences any kind of internal struggle, and I believe that better access to, in particular, mental healthcare for people suffering from GD is paramount.
However, none of those reasons convince me to embrace the total denial of epistemological, objective scientific facts, which is a base requirement of this doctrine and a dangerous precedent.
For someone suffering severe depression who has suicidal ideation the compassionate and responsible medical response is not to facilitate their suicide. To promote such a response would be outrageous and illegal.
The same is true for other types of dysphoria such as apotemnophilia or body integrity dysphoria; a rare, infrequently studied condition in which there is a mismatch between the mental body image and the physical body (sound familiar?) characterised by an intense desire for amputation of one or more limbs, or to become blind or deaf. This fixation also often starts in early childhood or adolescence.
As a society, we try to help our fellow individuals. If their body causes them distress or they feel that they would be ‘complete’ if they were arm- or legless, we would not do that by cutting off healthy limbs or making them blind but by trying to find ways to alleviate the reasons for the dysphoria.
Similarly, for someone suffering GD who has the ideation that they must transition to resolve their anguish, I struggle to see how the compassionate and responsible response is the facilitation of the surgical removal of their healthy penis, breasts or ovaries and the ingestion of hormones (which will bring with them numerous future health problems). All without the guarantee of curing their dysphoria.
This should illicit equally as much concern as the others and yet we as a society seem to have embraced the ‘born in the wrong body’ tale fully.
Please watch this documentary and/or read this essay about body integrity dysphoria and explain to me if you can what the difference to gender dysphoria is, because I can not see it. Aside from one being fitted with a narrative and normalised in society, while the other remains ethically difficult and controversial.
A little perspective...
For those that don’t know me personally here’s a little introduction, which perhaps will help you understand why I couldn’t help but write this piece and stitch this embroidery.
While I have lived in London now for 15 years, I originally grew up in East Berlin, as it was until the wall came down in ’89 and Germany was reunified. This opened doors to six-year-little-old-me I never could have imagined, simply because I was unaware of the prison-like restrictions this wall and the communist state had inflicted on my life and that of everybody around me until that point.
The pre-school art folder I still possess is filled with red communist flags, peace doves and DDR (German Democratic Republic) flags crafted from paper cutouts, penciled illustrations and paint. Next to them, a childish drawing of three little girls holding hands: one white, one brown, one yellow; because under communism ‘everybody is equal’.
On face value, some aspects of East Germany seemed almost progressive, for women’s emancipation in particular. Retrospectively, it makes sense that neither of my grandmothers (both endured the Second World War and are still alive) nor my mother or aunties, all of whom spent their formative years trapped the wrong side of the Berlin Wall, would consider themselves a feminist, and yet I very much do.
I am from the weird in-between generation. I can still remember having to be cautious about what we would say and to whom. Even your closest friends, or so we were told, could turn out to be working for the Stasi, the East German State Security Service, which has been described as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies ever to have existed.
Everyone may have been ‘equal’ but we certainly weren’t free to think and do what we wanted.
Certain TV programs from ‘The West’ were off limits, as was anything not in the ‘communist spirit’. If you were found to be guilty of ‘wrong think’, the consequences could be grave, including prison sentences or worse.
(If you know little of East Germany, I highly recommend watching “The Lives of Others” and “Goodbye Lenin”, both incredible films that will give you a good taste of what life was like then.)
The idea of ’wrong think’ is something that has, worryingly, returned to many aspects of the political spectrum and public discourse. And its increasing prevalence scares the shit out of me, frankly.
Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.
Another important piece to my story is my father, who I have always been very close to. He is what can only be described as gender non-conforming, as you can see in the pictures below (which he has allowed me to use for the purpose of this thesis). I want to talk about him to give context to my words and how close to home this feels to me.
My dad’s un-inhibited expression has always been a source of pride but also worry for me. I am all too aware that we live in a narrow-minded world that often fervently attempts to ostracise the ‘other’. Some individuals feel it’s acceptable to physically or verbally assault people who do not conform to their idea of ‘normal’. It should go without saying: this is wrong.
I abhor it and will speak out against such prejudices on behalf of everybody that wishes to express themselves outside of our social norms.
I have defended my father and every gender-non conforming person’s right to express themselves freely without fear of violence or discrimination, and have stood up against prejudiced individuals’ ideas of how people should dress and express themselves ‘appropriately’, and I continue to do so.
WIth everything said, I am genuinely deeply worried.
I worry that we have increasingly become a society where valid concerns regarding women’s rights, children's safeguarding and freedom of speech, are being classed as hate speech to stop any debate from happening.
I worry because this notion of ‘wrong think’ and wrong speak’ feels eerily reminiscent of my east german childhood, and that’s actually quite terrifying.
I worry because we should be having nuanced and respectful discussions about how to progress and make life more equal and fair for everybody: how to create more single sex as well as mixed sex facilities and shelters; how to create new trans shortlists in addition to women’s shortlists in political parties, scholarships and the like; how to create a level playing field in sports allowing individuals of all abilities and backgrounds to compete.
How can we support gender questioning children, without neglecting our safeguarding duties and condemning them to an often irreversible medical pathway for life?
Instead, this ideology, which is predominantly rooted in Queer theory and wishful thinking, surrounded by a potent dose of misogyny, homophobia and often also ageism, leaves no room for any debate at all.
Women and transpeople are both marginalised groups within society, and we need to find solutions for both of those groups, without overriding existing rights of women.
I worry because I fear that in the current political climate, and with the rise of populism internationally, women and transpeople will both lose out big time if we continue on this path.
Which begs the question: who really benefits from an imploding liberal and feminist movement?
It isn’t us.