As I wrote last week, Caroline Farrow, a British journalist, was recently investigated by Surrey police after a complaint by Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids, a well-funded charity that advocates sex-change treatments for gender-confused young people. Green has since dropped the charges and the police have said they will take no further action.
It is deeply sinister that the police are investigating law-abiding citizens, let alone a journalist, at the behest of transgender activists. But one reason we are in this situation is that many skeptics of gender ideology (journalists included) made fatal linguistic concessions early on that have skewed the debate.
Farrow’s troubles began this past September when she and Green debated Girl Guides’ transgender policies on Good Morning Britain. (Girl Guides are the British version of Girl Scouts.) In October, Farrow posted tweets stating that Green and Mermaids’ policies constitute “child abuse,” that Green had “castrated” her “son” Jackie (who was born male but had “penile inversion” surgery at the age of 16) and in doing so had “rendered” him “sterile.” Many agree with this interpretation, which is of course predicated on Jackie’s being male.
However, when Green argued that Farrow’s reference to Jackie by male pronouns constituted “misgendering,” few were willing to point out that this term is activist-invented and as meaningless to critics of gender ideology as blasphemy is to an atheist. Farrow herself posted on Twitter that she tries “really hard not to misgender people” and suggested it must have been a “Freudian slip.” But why should a journalist consciously avoid using language that is consistent with her argument?
“Presents as female” was the go-to phrase before journalists began describing the anatomy of a trans rapist with words such as “her penis.” When “transsexualism” became a surgical possibility, it was clear that a person who “changed” sex under the knife had undergone physical changes in order to resemble the opposite sex. They hadn’t literally become the opposite sex. Many people made noble efforts to accommodate transsexuals — including linguistic accommodations — for whom life was undoubtedly difficult.
When “transgenderism” first took off, many applied a similar logic. It seemed not only easier but kinder to acknowledge people who had discovered their “true gender” (whatever that meant) according to their preference. On an interpersonal level, it’s nice to be nice. But in the public square — in the realm of debate — assertiveness was and is still needed.
Put it another way. If a Christian and an atheist appeared on a public platform to debate the subject of religion, and they avoided blasphemous language (i.e., denying or disrespecting divine revelation) at all costs, how could the atheist make a convincing case? How could he be frank and forceful if offending his opponent was his primary concern?
Yet in the gender debate, as Farrow points out, the consensus on tact has obviously been exploited. A formerly “courteous” reference to a trans woman as “she” is now supposed to signify the speaker’s acceptance of “her” literal and absolute femaleness.
The terms “misgendering” (using pronouns other than those that conform to a person’s “gender identity”) and “deadnaming” (referring to a person’s birth name) — both terms appeared around 2012 — are insidiously applied so as to limit and obscure challenge. Twitter is enforcing this in its policies — as do compelled speech laws in Canada and hate-speech prohibitions in Britain, and as would the Equality Act introduced in the U.S. House and Senate, which would make it discriminatory to disregard a person’s “gender identity.”
As with any debate, activists who advocate for gender ideology should do so on its merits. But instead, many do so only in the currency of their “lived experience” and the sample size of themselves. Green, for instance, complains when critics attack her parenting or question the sex of her child. Yet she has chosen to make her parenting and her child, who is now 25 years old, the basis of her campaigning. How else can she be challenged?
Before going after Farrow, Green reported Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, a mother of four, to West Yorkshire police for six tweets that Keen-Minshull had written about her. (These charges have been dropped, but Keen-Minshull is being investigated again for comments she made about Green on YouTube.) Keen-Minshull had tweeted:
* I wish they’d expose the vile CEO of Mermaids who castrated her own son when he was still a child. Mass child abuse by Mermaids. vile.
*Mermaids? What the organization that preys on homosexual teens at pride? The one where the CEO took her 16 yr son to Thailand to be castrated?
*@SarahChampionMP have you read around this subject or taken charlatans like Mermaids at face value? The CEO chemically castrated her son…
*Mermaids is a load of invested uneducated morons. The CEO is a charlatan.
*The CEO of mermaids took her 16 year old to Thailand and got him castrated. The cult is going to end.
*the CEO of mermaids took her son to Thailand to chemically castrate him at sixteen. #awkward you knew that?
I have interviewed Farrow, Keen-Minshull, and many others like them. I’ve never once heard a gender-critical person attack the humanity of people who identify as transgender, or question their human rights. What they do attack is an ideology they consider both dangerous and wrong, and their offensive remarks are directed at the very people who are pushing those ideas on others.
As they see it, the claims of gender ideology remain largely unjustified. There is no objective, laboratory, or imaging test that can prove a transgender identity. No crystal ball to tell who a “true” transgender child is, to tell who will grow to accept his or her body by the end of adolescence (most do when left alone) and who will not. The claim that there can be “a girl’s brain in a boy’s body” is little more than a metaphor. A more accurate one would be that of a gendered soul.
Moreover, “gender dysphoria” (an official diagnosis coined in 2013) — feeling strongly at odds with one’s sex — can be influenced by many factors, including bullying, body-shaming, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, internalized homophobia, hormone exposure in utero, neurological patterns, autism, peer pressure, social contagion, a fetishization of femininity. The complexity of this physiological condition is not accounted for by the overarching narrative of transgender metaphysics. Neither does it warrant drastic interventions altering minors’ healthy genitals.
When invited back on to Good Morning Britain to discuss her tweets, Farrow stood by her language, which the hosts Piers Morgan and Susannah Reid suggested had been “disrespectful” and “hurtful” toward Susie Green. Discussing transgenderism as it relates to children, Farrow said:
The British public I believe are overwhelmingly good-natured and tolerant. And this is capitalized upon when we’re talking about this issue. . . . However, there is so much euphemism in this area. We talk about “gender-affirmation surgery” and “bottom surgery.”
I wanted to be very clear what is being advocated for children. Castration is the removal of the testes. This happens in reassignment surgery. The other thing that happens is that actually when it’s done so early, it’s recommended that this procedure needs to be repeated every ten years. It uses a section of the bowel and eventually somebody ends up needing a new bowel. This is really dangerous. . . . This is what’s being advocated for children. . . . We need to tell the truth.
It may seem polite in private life to use the preferred pronouns of transsexuals and trans-identifying adults, but, as with any debate, political activists forfeit special claims to tact. Like arguments, laws and policies consist of language. If gender critics can’t choose their words, then the activists have already won.