Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.
— Assata Shakur
On the evening of February 25, feminists in New Zealand celebrated a victory. A reformist campaign named Speak Up For Women has been drawing attention to the risks associated with a piece of legislation called the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration (BDMRR) bill, currently making its way through parliament. The bill would allow any man to change the sex marker on his birth certificate to “female” through a one-step administrative process. Under pressure, New Zealand’s minister of internal affairs, Tracey Martin, has finally conceded that consultation is indeed necessary before this profound change becomes law.
The fact that the government has acknowledged that consultation is needed is a positive step. At the same time, it is scary to consider what could happen through this “public consultation.” It will not be a referendum, we can anticipate that much – the dialogue will be carried out with organisations moreso than individuals. Women’s organisations will play a key role, and almost all of the most well resourced and reputed women’s organisations in New Zealand have already been captured by transgender ideology. Some organisations, like Women’s Refuge, still have a relatively weak, low-key position in favour of sex self-identification. But Refuge is state funded, and when its head office is invited to enter into dialogue with a government hellbent on passing these laws across the political spectrum, it is likely to just consolidate the organisation’s currently porous positions, and make them more rigid.
The story of Kristi Hanna, a Toronto woman who was forced to share a bedroom in a safehouse with a man who identifies as female, should be read by anyone unsure of the implications of Women’s Refuge cementing its position in favour of housing men. Hanna spent two gruelling nights awake in the double room she had been assigned, with a man who was designated the bed next to hers during her stay. Hanna was terrified, and finally escaped the Refuge to sleep on a friend’s couch. When she called the Human Rights Legal Support Centre to inquire about her rights, she was told that she could be considered the party who was acting in a “discriminatory” manner.
Feminists (particularly those who wish to make the most of this consultation process in New Zealand) need to keep a few things in mind about the nature of the transgender trend, whilst resisting its advance — four things in particular. The first is that transgenderism is not just about legislation, but culture. We are seeing the rise of an extremely dangerous ideology, which, if it continues being culturally accepted, will write itself into law anyway. The second thing to keep in mind is power: that the rise of transgender ideology is not fuelled by misconceptions and misguided good intentions, but by vested interests backed with big money. As any feminist can observe, polite persuasion does not push back power — only pressure does.
The third consideration is that the reason transgender ideology is threatening to women is because its widespread acceptance will increase the levels of state-sanctioned violence against women that we already suffer. And, lastly, we need to take seriously the way this escalation is building, culturally, through the tactic of isolating and dehumanising women who dissent. Transactivists look for female detractors, and target them through the use of slurs, threats, and harrassment. These women are often kicked out of organisations, banned from events, and isolated from their peer groups (a long list of examples can be found here.)
Women have little recourse when we suffer this backlash and try to seek accountability through the usual channels. Seeking legal advice like Hanna did, reporting social media posts (like these), and making complaints to human rights organisations, becomes very tough when these agencies are all already captured, and it is easy to ignore a woman acting alone.
This tactic of isolating and dehumanising women, in a context where state agencies have already abandoned us, makes us vulnerable to physical violence. That violence then becomes effectively state-sanctioned. Let’s take Hanna as an example: say that when she fled the safehouse she was staying in, her only option would have been to return to the man she had been trying to escape in the first place. If she did that at her peril, the state agencies that failed her would be to blame — but they would be unlikely to accept responsibility. The incident would probably be framed as collateral damage in the struggle for “trans rights.” The ultimate message this would send is that violence against women is safe to enact, because nobody will stand with the woman who is victim to it. That sets a precedent for the next incident. This is how the problem will escalate — and this tactic of shaming women and isolating us from any organised support is, to my mind, the most important one for feminists to reject.
In summary, these four considerations involve: recognising transgenderism as a problem of both culture and vested interests, not just legislation; rejecting the way that transactivists weaponise women’s isolation; and building solidarity that does not accept the stigma placed on women by transactivists. These are the understandings that separate radical feminists, who base their work on them, from reformists who tend to compromise on these points to placate liberal politicians. In New Zealand as well as abroad, it is a good time for women to decide where they stand on this divide, and act accordingly.
In New Zealand, the time is ripe because the government-led consultation on sex self-identification has every chance of simply facilitating the normalisation, and escalation, of transgender ideology. This dialogue between the state and already captured organisations is likely to further cement transgender ideology in place, wherever it has not yet fully coalesced, unless feminists think very carefully about how to make the risks of transgender ideology crystal clear.
Organisations like the National Council of Women (NCW) and The Abortion Law Reform Association New Zealand (ALRANZ) are examples of those that will freely advocate for one-step sex self-identification when consulted, without doing their own evidence gathering, impact assessment and consultation with women. ALRANZ made a submission to government last year includes the word “women” only twice, largely substituting it with phrases such as “people who use abortion services,” “pregnant people,” and “people with a uterus.” The NCW runs a Gender Equal NZ campaign that claims “gender is diverse and expansive,” and “genitals do not determine gender.” NCW programmes coordinator Sally Dickson has described women who critique gender identity ideology as “transphobic feminists.”
Women’s Refuge runs safehouses from 42 centres throughout New Zealand. I have been informed by staff that the Women’s Refuge policy of “honouring diversity,” listed on its website, is meant to imply that men who identify as female can access safehouses on a case-by-case basis, but the policy is vague and my queries sent me in circles. One member of staff at head office told me that each centre sets its own policy on allowing men into refuges on the basis of identity, and offered to consult all 42 centres on my behalf, before pulling the plug. The Christchurch Women’s Refuge told a local woman who inquired about their approach, that the policy was decided at head office. So, nothing is clear, but in any case, national policy advisor Natalie Thorburn is in support of gender identity ideology — to the point that she once suggested an organised “swarm” of my own blog because of its critical stance on transgenderism, on Facebook.
To stop this situation from worsening, the first thing feminists should consider is to recognise that what we are up against is the normalisation of a dangerous ideology, not just bad legislation. Facing this real threat will require relinquishing the tactic, often used by reformists, of endorsing the dystopian language of “trans rights” and facilitating its creep into the mainstream.
As feminist Julia Beck argues, transgenderism is “diametrically opposed” both to homosexual rights and women’s safety. It is an ideology that supports a dangerous medical experiment that threatens women, and this is the reality that critics need to expose. At a 2018 event hosted by the Lesbian Rights Alliance, radical feminist author Julia Long made this argument. She explained that even though the idea that some people are “transgender” is “a fiction,” it is “supported and maintained over and over again, including by a lot of the people who would claim to be so-called ‘gender critical’, who nonetheless insist on using terms such as ‘transwoman’, ‘transman’… ‘transphobic’.” Long added,
“I think that we have to be very precise in our language, so that if we are talking about a man who is absolutely determined… that we recognise him and grant him the status, and collude with his fantasy about being female, then we name him [according]… to what he is doing… Otherwise, every time we use these terms and collude with that, we are actually supporting the absurdity that results with a sliced-off breast in a kidney bowl, and I think that’s absolutely what we don’t want to be doing.”
Long’s reference to the kidney bowl relates to a scene that featured in a UK documentary series called Transformation Street, which she described. About 25 minutes into the first episode, the viewer sees Christopher Inglefield,
“an eminent, world-renowned plastic surgeon – or we might wish to call him different terms, such as a professional mutilator or a profit-driven mutilator… cutting into the healthy breast tissue of a young woman who believes herself to be a man. We see her surgically reduced nipples being placed to one side, to be stitched back on later on, and we hear the soft slap of a sliced off breast as it drops into a kidney bowl.”
This image relates to the issue of state-sanctioned violence that is at the heart of feminist resistance to transgenderism. In New Zealand, we already live in a country where women in financial strife can be legally prostituted for profit, and in which the courts and legal system work hard to keep rapists unreported, and mothers married to abusers (as the Backbone Collective reports). State-sanctioned violence against women is already commonplace. Transgender ideology is enabling this violence to take place in new forms, at new levels, and through new kinds of endorsement, as illustrated by Long’s example of the sliced off breast in the kidney bowl.
In the name of transgenderism, RainbowYouth, a state funded “queer” organisation, has used its drop-in centre to dispense breast binders (tight corsets that stunt breast development) to school aged girls, nevermind the health risks. The Department of Corrections has also admitted that, since January 2017, at least six assaults have been perpetrated by trans-identified prisoners in women’s prisons. The perpetrators of all of these assaults are most likely to be among the seven men who have already been moved into women’s facilities. Transgender ideology is enabling this mutilation of girls and male violence in women’s spaces to happen without consequence or accountability.
Feminists are also at risk of being targeted for state-sanctioned abuse as part of a new era of witch-hunting, in which the label “TERF” replaces “witch” to mark a woman off as ‘fair game.’ In the UK, Maria MacLachlan was attacked when trying to attend a meeting about proposed changes to the UK’s Gender Recognition Act. In New Zealand, members of parliament, particularly MP Louisa Wall and Green Party politicians, have been participating in backlash against women who try to speak out on transgenderism, including through employing the slur “TERF.” When politicians do this, they increase the likelihood of physical attacks not only occurring, but being blamed on the victims. The government also punishes feminists in other ways: in February, the Suffolk police woke 74-year-old Margaret Nelson one morning with a call to question her about statements she has written online, such as “Gender is BS. Pass it on.” If this continues, arrests will surely follow.
In this climate, regardless of whatever laws are already in place or not, women and girls have little recourse when we are coerced into mutilation, or when we are censored, assaulted, or otherwise punished for opposing transgender ideology. What this means is that every act of mutilation, censorship, assault, or punishment goes effectively unchallenged and therefore becomes a green light signal for the next. Victim-blaming and mythologising about how “TERFs” bring abuse upon themselves, facilitates this escalation and fans the fanaticism around it.
This is why the last, but not the least, of my list of points for feminists to consider is the way that transactivists pick off women and feminist activists to brand and target for abuse. When people in positions of power join in with this intimidation, as they frequently do in New Zealand (lawyer and 2018 Wellingtonian of the Year Steph Dyhrberg recently referred to a feminist group as “anti trans whores”, for instance) this prepares the ground for more state-sanctioned violence and punishment. Feminists should make clear at the outset that they will not endorse or excuse the use of these tactics against any woman.
One worrying trend, though, lies in decisions made by feminists who are more reformist than radical. These women tend to be better resourced feminists who play it safer in larger numbers, sometimes to protect high profile jobs and titles. Part of the strategy of playing it safe can involve participating in the censorship and vilification of the radicals in their midst — something that is, in reality, to nobody’s advantage but transactivists.
Several high profile feminists in the UK have used public platforms to dissociate themselves from Julia Long, quoted above. In January, Long visited the United States Congress alongside Posie Parker, to meet with members of senate. While in the corridor, they saw the Human Rights Campaign national press secretary Sarah McBride (a man) making a film promoting the Equality Act, with senator Joe Kennedy and a group of parents of “transgender children.” After they’d finished filming, McBride and another colleague went back into an empty meeting room, leaving the door half open. Long and Parker walked into the room, to ask McBride what he has to say to “mothers weeping over the fact that their teenage daughters have had their breasts sliced off.”
Law professor Rosa Freedman called this intervention an act of “violence.” In saying this, she may well be drawing a false equivalence for the sake of self-protection: Freedman has been badly harrassed by transactivists. In December, she tweeted about what has happened to her because she is a female academic critical of gender identity doctrine. She revealed that,
“I found my office door covered in urine, including some that had seeped under the door, and I spent time cleaning it up because I could not bear the smell or the shame of what had happened. Last week I discovered criminal damage explicitly encouraging me to leave the University because of my views that a woman is defined by law as biological not psychological.”
Perhaps Freedman believes that it will work in her favour to advocate for politeness and propriety among her feminist peers. But comparing the abuse and intimidation dished out at individual women by men’s rights activists, with direction actions carried out by women who question and oppose their high-powered organisations, will not help any feminist cause. Transgender ideology is an attack on women that warrants direct action, the only thing left for many women to do, in this climate of fast-moving legislation and media capture. If reformists contribute to the backlash against women who take bold actions, they will only help prepare the ground for women to be picked off and punished without recourse, which is all that is needed for this ideology to gain steam and the laws to pass eventually anyway.
Philosophy professor Kathleen Stock, too, referred to Long and Parker as “a liability,” saying, “I’d be mortified to be ambushed like that.” That is a funny line for me to read, since in New Zealand, the co-leader of the Green Party (the party behind the push for sex-self identification) refuses to meet with feminists — and when she was questioned last September at a public meeting she cried, “I’ve been ambushed! You ambushed me!” and then she left the meeting. As misogyny escalates, with governments and media fanning the flames, the threshold of what constitutes an “ambush” on the part of feminists has been set very low by liberals with the power to silence women. And that is a nice extra bit of protection for them.
Both Stock and Freedman work with the campaign A Woman’s Place UK (WPUK), which also platforms men who identify as “transwomen,” most notably Kristina Jayne Harrison and Debbie Hayton. According to Long,
“This means that men such as Hayton and Harrison are prioritised over women who refuse to collude with the pretence that they are “trans women”…
This is true in spite of the fact that Hayton has advised a teaching union on guidance on trans rights in education, and Harrison is open about playing in a women’s football team, and sees nothing wrong with that.
Both men demand that people collude with the pretence that they are some version of “woman”… Their behaviour is clearly entitled and gaslighting, yet they are consistently fawned over by “gender critical” women desperate for allies. These women consistently refer to such men as ‘she,’ and even ‘sister,’ while women who refuse to go along with it are demonised.”
Long says that both men have used the women’s toilets at WPUK events, meaning that WPUK now has to make a request at the beginning of their meetings for people to use toilets according to their “birth sex.” Long argues that,
“male domination is reproduced right in the heart of the “gender critical” movement, and [that is] why such a movement should not be mistaken for a feminist movement, and certainly not a Women’s Liberation Movement.”
In seeking to nurture relationships with liberal politicians and influencers, reformists against sex self-identification have absorbed many of the loyalties and attitudes of liberalism into their campaigning. They employ the language of transgenderism, embrace “gender critical transwomen,” shoo away radical feminists who make their objections to transgenderism clear, falsely compare their activism with “literal violence,” and then criticise these feminists for accepting conservative platforms to speak the truth from. In short, the relationship between reformists and radical feminists replicates the wider relationship between liberals and feminists, at a yet more intimate scale.
As a woman who is not a journalist or academic, this is an intimidating thing to realise. For those of us who are not salaried professionals, bold action and truth telling are the only options and the only power we have. Watching reformists demonise, and distance themselves from, women who wield this power unapologetically, just for doing so — is disheartening, to say the least.
In summary, women have a problem, and it is not just a legal problem, but a cultural and ideological one. Misogyny is on the rise, and feminists using parliamentary processes and formal channels to push it back must consider the implications of making compromises to do so. Transgender ideology is much bigger, wealthier and more dangerous and aggressive than any one piece of legislation. Critics of it need to consider confronting the nature of this ideology honestly, and warning others of its dangers truthfully also — rather than adopting its language to satisfy lawmakers. The more this ideology is accepted and normalised, the more it will facilitate state-sanctioned violence against women in prisons, clinics, schools, safehouses, and on the street, and the harder it will become to turn things around.
Most importantly, if we really want to challenge this movement, we cannot allow women to be picked off, stigmatised and isolated, just for taking action, for telling the truth without wavering, and for acting in solidarity with those who are victimised, and not those in power. That is, in short, what it means to think radically — and if feminists are going to challenge this doctrine, that is exactly what more of us will need to do.