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Emily Watson: The transgender lobby should realise hard cases lead to bad law – and put women at risk


Britain is on the cusp of a re-education programme in Orwellian doublespeak. At least, this is one interpretation of Maria Miller’s exhortations on the Today Programme, when speaking about the sensitive issue of transgender discrimination.

According to the BBC, MPs are concerned that transgender people regularly face abuse and “have a long way to go to achieve equality”. The Women and Equalities Select Committee, of which Miller is Chair, has issued a report calling for “urgent reform” in public sector services, and urges the government to make some significant changes. Miller said “…half of people [in the UK] understand that gender is something that can shift over time in someone’s life…[but this] evolving feeling…is not being reflected in changing law and changing approaches to public services.”

Miller was joined by Susie Green, Chief Executive of the charity Mermaids, a support group for children and teenagers with gender dysphoria. Green spoke of her experience with her eldest child, now 22 years old, who was born male but apparently identified as female “as soon as she could make choices” i.e. when he was eighteen months old. Green’s diagnosis of “gender dysphoria” was due to her son playing with little girls and their toys before he was two years old. When he was four, he apparently said to her that “God had made a mistake and he should have been a girl.” She attributed the seven overdoses taken by her son in his teens as due to the harassment he encountered when dressing as a girl, and in no way to any psychological confusion or malaise.

Green repeated that “training is key” in changing attitudes towards transgender issues. She wants training to be carried out “at the bottom level of all public services”. Policy is being shaped by the whims of an eighteen month year old, in short, and the consequences might be unthinkable. Before the transgender lobby made it the bandwagon de jour, no parent would bat an eyelid when their toddler announced that he was a girl, or a fairy, or a dragon, or a marshmallow. It’s just what children do. But now, politically correct parents and teachers may be trained to recognise any little boy who announces their desire to wear a Snow White outfit instead of a pirate suit as “gender incongruent”, and start them off on the destructive path of identity confusion and self-mutilation.

Miller’s lobbying to change government policy – and consequently, legislation – is the perfect example of the forgotten maxim “hard cases make bad law.” The BBC reports that 650,000 people in the UK identify as “gender incongruent”. In a population of 65 million people, that’s one per cent of the population. It’s also unclear what percentage of the 650,000 suffer from a genuine genetic imbalance, and how many suffer from mental health disorders that need treatment. Former transgender Walt Heyer has explained that the root cause of his gender dysphoria was his grandmother dressing him up as a little girl at a very young age.

Why would a change in policy and legislation make a bad law? Three reasons. One, it opens the door to potential sex offences. By opening single sex facilities up to the opposite sex, women are put at risk. Women have a real fear of being sexually assaulted or raped by men, and the sensible ones avoid places or occasions where they could be in danger. Women feel able to let their guard down with other women. There is a gripping illustration of the vulnerability women can feel in P.D. James’ novel Devices and Desires. The first chapter of the novel describes the final hour of Valerie, the fourth victim of a serial killer in Norfolk known as the Whistler. Terrified at being alone on a dark road at night, with the killer on the loose, Valerie starts to panic. She suddenly sees a woman with blonde hair in a trench coat and beret appear in front of her, walking a little dog. In utter relief and thankfulness, she runs towards her:

“Valerie almost flung herself at the waiting back. And then, slowly, the woman turned. It was a second of total, paralysing horror. She saw the pale, taut face which had never been a woman’s face, the simple, inviting, almost apologetic smile, the blazing and merciless eyes.”

Fiction gives utterance to the horrific realities that are already taking place.

The second reason that this would be a bad law is because it follows that nothing can be treated as abnormal or taboo. Nothing is off the table when it comes to self-definition or self-fulfilment. Children will be taught that they can be whatever they want to be, which will inevitably lead to disappointment and disillusionment when they come face to face with the realities of adult life. For many transgender adults, this leads to suicide.

Most importantly of all, it means that society not only endorses untruths, but makes them orthodoxies. We are approaching a point where you can be sued for refusing to call someone with a penis a woman, or someone with a vagina a man, as is now the case in New York. This is eerily reminiscent of Jung Chang’s account of Mao’s China in Wild Swans, where the regime would force the people to believe absurd maxims like “capable women can make a meal without food” during the great famine of 1958-1962, and imposing mandatory loyalty dances, where people had to gyrate waving Little Red Books. “Zero tolerance” was the policy for dissenters.

Hard cases have to be treated with compassion. That is a prerequisite for any civilised society. Our MPs are right to be concerned if minority groups are facing unjust discrimination or harassment. Concern should materialise into care, which is more effective when in the hands of individuals rather than the State. But when concerns for a minority group result in endangering the vulnerable, changing the structure of society and denying scientific reality, then we’ve crossed the line from the “Big Society” to Big Brother.

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Emily Watson
Emily Watson
Emily Watson is the co-editor of Quadrapheme (, a classically proportioned arts, culture and politics blog.

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