On August 24, the Herald reported how Rory Francis, an HIV-positive recidivist child abuser, has been released on parole having claimed the identity of a “woman”. Police reporter Anna Leask obediently relayed this story using female pronouns, almost making more of Francis’ gender “transition” than his child abuse. The usual suspects, journalists like Lizzie Marvelly, who normally rear their heads wherever gender individualism can be promoted – responded with silence.
The silence is reminiscent of that offered in March, when Dunedin transgender-identifying male Alex Aleti Seu was convicted for sexual assault, and Gavin “Laurel” Hubbard swiped Samoan-born Iunarra Sipaia’s gold medal in a women’s weightlifting tournament. It is reminiscent of the mute response to Zahra Cooper, the Kaitaia teenager who spoke out in April about recognising she is female after a course of testosterone has permanently lowered her voice. This is the same silence the liberal media offers trans-identifying Lisa Irwin, who suffered surgical genital mutilation three years ago.
Journalists need to look at these stories, and not only that – they need to examine what implications these stories of abuse have for how we approach gender individualism on the whole. Through these stories, journalists have exhibited a frightening preparedness to warp reporting on male violence; condone the moving of male sex offenders into women’s prisons; turn a blind eye to child abuse, sexual violence and medical experimentation, including on children; watch feminist progress on the battle for women’s representation in sports regress drastically; and turn material and feminist understandings of womanhood and sexism upside down.
Journalists should be concerned about gender individualism for two major and related reasons: one is the issue of medical ethics. The other is because of breaches to the rights, representation, and safety of women and children. The idea that gender should be recognised by the state as a matter of individual identity unrelated to sex, represents a serious threat to women and children and a pushback against progress made on women’s rights to date.
When children are socially transitioned at home and school through having their names and pronouns changed, it can lead to the prescription of puberty blocking drugs, followed by cross sex hormones. That process results in sterilisation in every case, by stopping normal development of the reproductive anatomy. We need to pay more attention to stories of like Zahra Cooper’s, and those of people who have been left traumatised because they cannot undo the effects of medical malpractice in the name of “gender transition”.
Children are being medicated increasingly for what is actually normal, healthy behaviour. It should disturb us to hear what doctors are saying to justify these practices: Auckland District Health Board sexual health physician Jeannie Oliphant says she does not know what gender is, she just believes it is fundamental. Oliphant medicates children on the basis of this factless fundamentalism, while there is also no evidence to suggest that it enhances quality of life, but ample evidence of increased suicidality.
Earlier this year, a young woman named Laura spoke out about gender individualism, as part of the Ask Me First campaign, after Marlborough Girls’ College changed its bathroom policies without full consultation among female students. The response from liberal media was to aggressively write off Laura’s concerns as ignorance and “bigotry”.
That is the other aspect of gender individualism that is dangerous: the total erasure of any female-identified vantage point. Any concerns girls and women might have, that motivate us to defend female representation, definitions of female anatomy, the safety of female prison inmates, women’s bathrooms, women’s sports – are void, censored and demonised. Girls and women are expected to passively comply.
Both medical experimentation and this silencing of women come with a host of attendant problems.
Globally, there are three predominant groups of people opting for gender “transition”. Adult males are one – and this group includes Rory Francis, Alex Seu, “Lisa” Irwin and Gavin Hubbard. These adults should expect to have any ideas they want the public to accept scrutinised, to ensure they are in the public interest and stand to reason. This is particularly true for biological males who want women to accept new notions about what constitutes a woman.
In childhood, it is often boys who don’t conform to masculine norms who are transitioned. That should lead journalists to ask questions about stereotyping, medical ethics, sterilisation and eugenics.
Among teenagers, it is mostly girls transitioning – like Zahra Cooper. This includes a large number of lesbian girls, and this should raise questions about female erasure, self harm, objectification, lesbian visibility and eugenics.
Many teenage girls suffer dysphoria. New Zealand girls and young women like Norma Maclean marched to parliament in March to protest rape culture, and discuss how widespread objectification, harrassment and abuse affects them.
In this context, we need to take the safety concerns of girls, like those that Laura expressed in her Ask Me First video, seriously. Journalists should also be asking the same questions about practices like breast binding, as they might about other practices that harm the female body for the sake of ideals: anorexia, unhealthy dieting, surgical genital mutilation and labiaplasty, and historic practices like foot-binding.
Not to do this is to ignore girls, women, and feminists who have fought and given their lives to produce feminist writing, analysis, and history.
I know midwives who have been evicted from midwives associations for refusing to remove references to ‘women’ from discussions about pregnancy and childbirth. A friend in Canada who works in a rape crisis centre, is no longer allowed to record the line, ‘he raped me’ when a woman calls the crisis line, without confirming with the perpetrator that he prefers male pronouns.
Journalists must consider what it would mean for women, if we erased the concept of sex from law, policy, and reporting on violence, in a world dominated by men.
Men would be fine – because this language does not challenge or change the structure of patriarchy.
So we are looking at a world where females, who are abused at a rate of one in three or more, may become be officially, legally non-existent. That is quite emboldening to men in power, especially those who benefit or profit from exploiting, abusing or medically experimenting on women and girls.
Journalists need to start looking at cases like Rory Francis, Alex Aleti Seu, Gavin “Laurel” Hubbard, Zahra Cooper, Lisa Irwin – and at Rainbow Youth’s distribution of free breast binders in schools – and ask questions in the public interest. Questions about sexism, female erasure and medical ethics. The current blind fanaticism is not good enough.