This is a story about politics and women. Like all mammals and most other creatures, human beings are sexually dimorphic. We come in two types, female and male. Females give birth to offspring; males provide sperm to fertilise their eggs and make reproduction possible. There are other differences. Males are typically larger, stronger and more aggressive. This caused females to be predominantly controlled by males and only in the last hundred years have females approached equal status. They can now vote, own property and theoretically at least, command similar salaries.
Male control has lessened to the point where women often choose who they will marry, or choose not to marry at all. Women may socialise with other women as well as men and are no longer required to have a chaperone. Women can access public, single sex bathroom facilities, for their convenience and safety. This single thing transformed the lives of many women from Victorian times onwards.
The rise of trans identifying men
In the last decade, in Western societies, there has been an explosion in the number of humans who claim to have been born in the ‘wrong’ body. This psychological condition is called body dysphoria and has many of the characteristics of a religious belief. It is a matter of faith, rather than science, though its adherents would argue otherwise. Until recently it mainly affected middle aged men, but latterly there has also been a steep increase in the number of teenage girls who believe that they are boys. Societies, governments and political parties are struggling to come to terms with this perplexing trend and its implications.
As with other policy areas, resolution involves discussion, debate, disagreement, compromise and often legislation. The biggest bone of contention has been how to reconcile the conflicting needs of ‘transwomen’ and natal women. Men who live as women, remain larger, stronger and more aggressive than women and these continuing differences pose the question of how the female privileges they aspire to can be accommodated without disadvantaging natal women who value the security and safety of single-sex toilets, changing rooms, refuges, prisons and sports. Allowing people with unaltered male bodies into all these places is perceived as a dangerous risk by many women, while being presented as a human rights issue by trans campaigners.
Under the radar
The swiftness of the rise in transgender politics as an issue has been accompanied by aggressive campaigning by support groups, principally Stonewall, originally a gay rights organisation, which has morphed into a single issue trans juggernaut. In response, a splinter group, LGB Alliance was set up to represent lesbians and gay men, while several of the original Stonewall founders quit.
All the major political parties have attracted the attention of trans activists, who have promoted pro trans policies, largely under the radar and smuggled them in alongside universally supported gay rights reforms, often unnoticed by their ordinary members. This softly, softly strategy was devised by global law firm Dentons.
The open party conversation over conflicting rights that might have been expected never happened. Members who attempt to raise the issue now, are told, ‘Transwomen are women’ and ‘No debate with hate’. One peer recently remarked that this is the only policy area where this has ever happened. In this respect, the Liberal Democrats are no different from the other main parties.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Devon
Alison Eden is a Liberal Democrat activist, councillor and the party’s parliamentary spokesperson for Central Devon. At the last general election, as a candidate, she led the party to one of its best results in the West Country, defying the national trend. She understands healthcare, creates patient information and is a former vice chair of an NHS ethics committee. She writes regularly for the Mid Devon Advertiser.
In 2020, one of her columns was called, ‘Clash of the Freedoms’. It was a thoughtful plea for tolerance and for vulnerable women, those who have been attacked, raped or have escaped abusive relationships, to be spared the additional trauma of accepting physically intact transwomen in their safe spaces, however ‘female’ these men feel themselves to be.
She wrote, “I think it’s unkind to expect damaged women to accept a biological man transitioning to female as being just as female as they are. And yet that’s exactly what the campaign phrase ‘transwomen are women’ requires people to accept. I think it’s equally true that for those in transition, the horror of being beaten up by brutish thugs simply for existing means their clear need is also a women’s refuge. How should we accommodate this situation?”
She continued, “There are times when personal freedoms clash and I think rather than constructing meaningless oversimplified slogans that must be endorsed or else . . .we should acknowledge these difficult issues, consider these clashing, complex freedoms and openly discuss what to do without pronouncing anybody evil, or disinviting them from public events.”
“The answer is not to label anybody who even just questions the statement ‘trans women are women’ a transphobe; and yet this is happening as I type. . . I believe in and campaign for equal rights. And I believe that we must not enslave others with our prejudices or require conformity to the assumptions of others. I want people to be free to be themselves. But with those freedoms come responsibilities and respect.”
“Why do the rights of people in transition from one sex to another trump the rights of people whose life experience leads them to seek, to need single sex, penis-free environments for the preservation of their mental health?”
“What has happened in the public space, is that anybody who, as I am, just wants to have a conversation about how awful these situations are for all concerned is instantly labelled transphobic for asking what, ‘transwomen are women’ literally means. I have several female friends in politics who are too scared of being misunderstood and cast out even to comment on this issue. That’s just awful!”
She concluded, “Society has a duty to ensure that in individual cases, where transwomen need help, that there will always be safe places and caring compromises that can be found.”
I was aware that hard-line trans activists had gained a foothold in the Liberal Democrats, but I did not appreciate that they had taken the party over. I thought that Alison’s article could serve to facilitate a debate among party members because she had expressed the dilemma so well – how to balance conflicting rights in a liberal society. I posted the article on the Liberator Facebook page with an introduction saying that I hoped this could initiate a thoughtful discussion. After all, this was a previously published column. It was already in the public domain and was considered suitable for anyone in Devon to read.
The rise and fall of Liberator
For those who do not know it, Liberator is, or used to be, an intelligent magazine, aimed at party members, where liberal politics and philosophy found a comfortable home. Perhaps naively, I did not realise that the consideration of women’s rights was now off the table in the party and between the members of the Liberator Facebook page. I had posted the article in the morning, before taking my car for an MOT. I was offline for several hours. When I checked back in the afternoon, I was surprised to see an abusive message from one of the page moderators, who informed me that he had taken the post down following complaints to party HQ. He alleged that my actions risked Liberator’s status as a party body because (in his words) it ‘blatantly broke the party’s quite hardline stance about posting discriminatory material’.
He further stated that the party debate about transphobia, “is not assisted by posts such as yours that were clearly designed to generate outrage and anger”. He went on to threaten me with permanent exclusion from the Liberator Facebook group.
He also wrote, “The party’s view is very clearly that trans rights are human rights . . . (the post was) both deliberately inflammatory and transphobic . . . For the record, I viewed it the same way: if there was a way to go about framing the debate, this was not it. . . Your post did not come across as a defence of women’s rights (and a number of people asked where your previous posts in support of that cause had been) but as a reposting of a statement of TERF ideology.”
I had been told bluntly that Alison’s article was deliberately inflammatory and transphobic, which it clearly was not and that therefore there was no way of framing the debate that I could see. Not only that, it appears that a qualification in women’s studies and a track record of posting about women’s rights is a necessary precursor to being allowed a view in the party.
Too far gone
It was at this point that I realised that the party had lost its way and had abandoned liberalism. As an active member, on and off for over fifty years, I was not prepared to quit without a fight, so in the vain hope that an appeal to reason, justice and electoral arithmetic might be worth making, I sent an email to party president, Mark Pack. I set out the saga and made a plea that the party might at least be prepared to countenance open debate and allow that women might have a point or two to make about sexism and misogyny.
Mark’s eventual reply confirmed my worst fears. He ignored the main point of my letter; the party’s capture by trans ideology and its refusal to allow women’s rights to be debated, and focused on a rebuttal of the central point of Alison’s article. He compared her views (and mine) to racism. This is part of what he wrote:
“To start with one of the issues at the heart of the article, supposing a white man was to say to you, ‘I was beaten up by a black man last year. I’m now afraid that black men might beat me up so I think that for the safety of white men, it’s best if they can’t use the same toilets as me’. Being the life-long liberal I know you are, I’m pretty sure your response wouldn’t be a version of ‘you’re right, we should find a way to have white and black people use different toilets’.
That’s why I take a rather different view from you of the newspaper article you cited, in particular the section that says: “Abused women’s fears of trans-women with willies may well be unnecessary and irrational in the circumstances but it’s real. So what to do?”
Imagine if that read, “White men’s fears of black men may well be unnecessary and irrational in the circumstances but it’s real. So what to do?” And then was followed not by an argument about how best to reduce those “unnecessary and irrational” fears but instead by an argument about how black men should be made to use other toilets.
Yet that is in effect just what the newspaper article does.
The liberal approach, in contrast, is to embrace difference. And fears of difference should never be a reason to exclude others.
Especially when the follow-up to those claimed fears is to ask for very discriminatory action. For example, our public toilets currently work on a self-i.d. basis, with public order offences to protect against those of whatever gender who cause a threat to others. This has been the case for decades, with a tiny number of issues involving trans women over all that time.
Indeed, if we were to move away from that, where would that leave transgender people who wish to leave the house? Would you welcome a situation where they are banned from using a public toilet? Or where, for example, a transgender woman who dresses in line with her female gender has to use male toilets instead, therefore being forced to out themselves in public every time they use a toilet? How would this even be policed? Would you need to show some kind of licence every time you visit a public facility or would genital inspections be enforced and, if so, who to or by?
Similar arguments apply to trans women and their use of changing rooms in shops and public sports facilities.
The net effect of such a campaign would be to effectively remove trans women from participating in our society. That would not be liberal. It would be discriminatory.”
So, to be clear, Mark’s patronising view and by implication, the party’s view is that women should just shut up if men want to use their toilets, because if they complain, they are no better than racists. The party shows every sign of supporting Stonewall’s campaign for self ID without surgery or medication and forbids debate on this. Evidence for this supposition will follow.
Many ‘transwomen’ make no attempt to mimic a female appearance, as they are keen to demonstrate on social media. They claim to own the status of woman, on demand, ‘acceptance without exception’ in the words of Stonewall’s slogan. Thus with one bound, all public toilets become unisex and far from liberating transwomen who will now be able to leave the house, the result will be a return to the times when women were housebound because of the absence of safe toilet facilities. Female members of some religions would become virtually paralysed.
To return to Alison’s story, in March 2021, she decided to ask Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader a question. The party had organised an online event for members, called ‘Ask Ed’. This was her question:
“Stonewall have argued for and campaigned to remove exemptions from the Equality Act that allows for single sex spaces. See: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/women-and-equalities-select-committee-inquiry-transgender-equality and the quote here: “A review of the Equality Act 2010 to include ‘gender identity’ rather than ‘gender reassignment’ as protected characteristic and to remove exemptions, such as access to single-sex spaces.”
Ed: Do you want to end single sex exemptions and do you believe that anybody who feels female in their heart has the right to access e.g. a female refuge regardless of physique, anatomy and appearance?”
It goes to the heart of the debate over the protection of women’s spaces as specifically provided for under current law. Of course, the question was not permitted and Alison was removed as a participant in the event by Greg Foster, the party’s Head of Membership, who stated, “You were removed from the webinar because of your disruptive behaviour in past webinars”.
Women and those who support their rights are finding life in the Liberal Democrats increasingly hostile. The words of party’s preamble, “We reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon . . . sex or sexual orientation” are beginning to seem pretty hollow.
Liberal Democrat members who share my concern can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Abusive messages will be saved and added to a dossier on misogyny in the party.