The Usual Suspects – Hayley Cropper

Hayley’s first appearance in Corrie.

Or how a woman playing a man playing a woman softened us all up for the rise of the transgender movement. Hayley Cropper is a fictional character, but is important because she was the first transsexual character in a British soap opera. I’m going to use female pronouns for Hayley, because (a) she isn’t real and (b) she was played by a female actor, which I believe is in itself significant for the way the character was received.

The cat is a star in its own right.

Between January 1998 and January 2014, Hayley was a character in Britain’s venerable TV series Coronation Street, which has since 2010 had the distinction of having been the world’s longest running soap opera. Corrie, as it’s known, was first broadcast on 9 December 1960 and inspires tremendous loyalty among its fans, including veteran TV critic Nancy Banks-Smith. It’s estimated that around 7m people watch every episode, and when we’re not having a pandemic, it airs six times a week. Wikipedia describes its appeal as follows; “Influenced by the conventions of kitchen sink realism, Coronation Street is noted for its depiction of a down-to-earth, working-class community, combined with light-hearted humour and strong characters.” It is set in Weatherfield, a fictional town based on Salford near Manchester, and as every media studies student knows, a Manc accent is shorthand for salt of the earth reliability and no postmodern nonsense.

Even people who never watch Corrie recognise its signature tune and know about its significant characters, particularly the women. We know that redhead Elsie Tanner was “the siren of the street”. We know that Bet Lynch was a blowsily glamorous barmaid with a blonde beehive and a fondness for leopardskin print. And we know that Hayley Cropper was a gentle, loving soul who wouldn’t have hurt a fly.

Hayley, played by Julie Hesmondhalgh, first appeared in Corrie as Hayley Anne Patterson in January 1998, during the very short tenure (March 1997 to December 1998) of producer Brian Park. Park was specifically brought in to shake up the programme, which was losing viewers. He axed several of the older characters and introduced storylines gauged to appeal to younger viewers, of which the Hayley story was apparently one. I find it extraordinary that Park decided to introduce a transsexual character rather than a gay or lesbian character, given how much attention there was on the genuinely homophobic Section 28 before it was finally repealed in November 2003. (Corrie’s first gay character was Todd Grimshaw, who was introduced in 2001 and retconned as gay in October 2003.)

As Hesmondhalgh tells it (but not until Feb 2017, when the story appeared in several media outlets) the Hayley character was originally intended to be a a little (rather ill-judged) light comedy. Roy was destined to go on a series of disastrous dates, one of which would be with pre-op transsexual. Having been offered the part, Hesmondhalgh decided that Hayley shouldn’t just be a joke. Who can blame her? Actors’ careers are insecure, and doubtless she would have wanted to find a way to give the character more longevity.

Are we sure Roy is a man? That looks like a fruit-based drink.

Hayley first appears as a new hire at Firman’s Freezers and is portrayed as shy, reserved, and utterly lacking in authority or management skills (not at all masculine, you see). A female colleague takes Hayley under her wing and introduces her to Roy Cropper, who runs the local cafe, Roy’s Rolls. They find that they have a lot in common (more than Roy has bargained for, in fact) and their friendship turns to romance. The budding relationship falls apart when Hayley tells Roy that she is “female by choice, not by birth” and that she used to be Harold. Roy doesn’t cope well with this at first, and she leaves for Amsterdam where she has what at that time would have been called sex change surgery. But true love wins the day, and he goes to Amsterdam to fetch her back to Weatherfield.

When Hayley and Roy return to Weatherfield, Hayley’s boss sees a piece of official correspondence addressed to Harold – what would now be called her “deadname” – and fires her. She is reinstated after Roy throws beer over him in the pub. They don’t mess about with HR procedures in Soapland.

There were lots more soapy twists and turns, all calculated to win sympathy and to demonstrate that Hayley is just like any other woman, and wants what any other woman wants. A man who loves her just the way she is, a big white wedding, and children.

First wedding. In Roy’s Rolls.

In an episode screened on 23 April 1999, Hayley and Roy persuaded the vicar to hold a blessing ceremony for them in church, in lieu of the white wedding they couldn’t have, what with being the same sex. Mean old Les Battersby “tips off the press” so the ceremony can’t happen, as the vicar would be “for the high-jump”. Hayley mopes about in her tiara and veil, Ray mopes about in his shiny grey tailcoat. Kindly old ladies offer nostrums about meanies “disliking what they don’t understand”. A brave lady vicaress offers to “marry” them in Roy’s Rolls. Kiss, throw bouquet, dance, cake, all’s well that ends well, car with pans tied on the back, Battersby’s wife thumps him.

Proper wedding. In church.

In August 2010 they got married for real, because Hayley had been able to take advantage of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, making her legally a woman. They could, of course, have waited until 2005 and had a same-sex civil partnership, but that wouldn’t have been the same, would it? Being a completely normal average woman, Hayley wanted to marry in church, in a big white dress, with a tiara and a veil.

There were storylines about children – Hayley and Roy fostered a child, and in 2003 there was a truly bizarre story about a baby, summarised in this Manchester Evening News story from January 2019. “In 2003, the Croppers become the victim of Tracy Barlow, who drugs Roy and takes him home after taking a bet she could get the most faithful man into bed.” The Croppers buy the baby from scheming Tracy, but are forced to give it back when it turns out that the father was someone else entirely.

Hayley’s usefulness to campaigners didn’t end with her Gender Recognition Certificate and her wedding to Roy. In 2013, following Hesmondhalgh’s decision to leave the show, the programme makers decided that she should also be a spokeswoman for assisted suicide. Following a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and a bucket list storyline, Hayley drank a “cocktail of drugs” and died in Roy’s arms on 20 January 2014. 2013 was the year that male actor Laverne Cox first appeared as a trans woman in Orange Is The New Black. I do wonder if Hesmondhalgh, who became a vocal campaigner for “trans rights”, realised that being a woman playing the part of a trans woman had become unacceptable.

Transgender pressure group Press for Change (founded 1992 by Christine Burns and Stephen Whittle) apparently weren’t happy with the way the character was being portrayed, and within a couple of months of Hayley’s first appearance, they quickly recruited a “trans advisor” (Annie Wallace) to act as a script consultant. How this actually happened is a bit of a mystery – as Wallace tells it in an interview with the Manchester Evening News, he was approached by producers of the ITV show after he wrote to the Radio Times and to Hesmondhalgh as a fan of Hayley. How far in advance are soap opera storylines planned, and scripts written? It seems far more likely that Hayley was planned as a sympathetic character from the get-go.

The Hayley storyline was extraordinarily influential from the very beginning. In October 1998, MP Lynne Jones tabled an Early Day Motion praising Coronation Street’s handling of the transsexual storyline, and calling on the government to give people who have had a sex change the legal right to marry. Jones had a history of campaigning on this issue since taking up the case of a transsexual constituent shortly after the 1992 General Election when she won her seat in parliament, and set up the Parliamentary Forum on Transsexualism in 1994.

Stuart Jeffries says, in an interview with Hesmondhalgh in January 2014, “Hesmondhalgh’s portrayal of Hayley – including her trip to get gender-reassignment surgery, and her frustration that she had insufficient legal status as a transgender person and so initially couldn’t marry Roy – also helped catalyse a national debate that led to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, a law that granted transgender people full legal status in their acquired sex.”

Hesmondhalgh on Loose Women

Hesmondhalgh herself became a patron of Press for Change and of Trans Media Watch, and is still a vocal campaigner for “trans rights”. Here she is on Loose Women in November 2019. “That’s the way to change the world, be in someone’s living room, four times a week.” Earlier this year, Hesmondhalgh was interviewed by Pink News and said that she wouldn’t now accept the role, as she is a “cis woman”.

I think it is very significant that the decision was made to give the role to a woman. Hesmondhalgh is a petite 5’3″, and being female, she has female proportions, small hands and feet, and a female face. I think the programme makers back in 1998 knew that if they gave the role to a man, the audience would know that Hayley was male. This would make it almost impossible for the story to be comical, because with centuries of pantomime dames and decades of Carry On films in our DNA, the British find men in drag hilarious. A man playing the role would also give the audience the Uncanny Valley sensation, and lessen the acceptability of the character and the storyline, because back then we didn’t all know that TRANS WOMEN ARE WOMEN.

It is impossible to quantify the role of Hayley Cropper and Coronation Street in the very rapid capture of public sympathy for trans causes, the changes in legislation, and the institutional capture. What’s absolutely clear is that nothing about the character or the storylines, or the campaigning behind the scenes, or the six awards given to Hesmondhalgh to keep her in the eye even of those who didn’t watch Corrie, was accidental. It was all part of a grand longterm plan to get us to where we are today.

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The Usual Suspects – Stephen Whittle

Stephen Whittle, professor of Equalities Law in the School of Law at Manchester Metropolitan University, seems to have fingers in every single trans pie in the UK. There’s some onomastic determinism at play, as Whittle has spent a lifetime strategically whittling away at women’s rights.

There’s plenty of information out there about Professor Whittle, but everything I can find is very carefully curated; I have referred to the Wiki page for dates and facts as I’m quite sure a close eye is kept on it. Whittle doesn’t tweet while drunk, give revealing interviews, or allow family members to speak off the cuff, so there’s very little out there to tell us anything about the person behind the name.

Whittle between her older sisters.

1955: Stephanie Whittle is born in Altrincham Cottage Hospital, Manchester. Her mother already has two children and goes on to have two more. The family live in Wythenshawe, which at the time was said to be the largest council estate in Europe. Wiki serves up the usual trans childhood narrative, which is reiterated throughout Whittle’s media appearances and interviews. This interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is typical. “Christmas would come and I would be given a doll … and I wanted a cowboy suit. That was my big Christmas wish … why would you give me something that I would hate?”

Young Whittle’s mother “was concerned at how different he was from his sisters” and at the selective girls’ school which gave this clever child a scholarship, there were unrequited crushes on other girls. The extended interview in Will Self’s book Perfidious Man suggests that the experience of childhood and adolescence were troubled. “… parents were problematic. His proud, military father didn’t want to engage with such embarrassing issues, while his mother wouldn’t stop crying whenever Stephen tried to explain his predicament.”

1974: an early adopter of activism, teenage Whittle sets up the Manchester Lesbian Collective. That same year, after attending a Women’s Liberation Conference in Edinburgh, Whittle came out as a trans man. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to know more about the Manchester Lesbian Collective and that Women’s Liberation Conference, and the events that led up to that coming out?

1975: Whittle starts taking testosterone and joins the Manchester TV/TS group, now known as Northern Concord, which was set up that same year by two TIMs.

1977: Whittle goes to Sussex to study Geography. The account in Perfidious Man suggests that by 1978 there had been major body modifications including a double mastectomy and hysterectomy.

1978: Whittle gets together with Sarah Rutherford; they married in 2005. Rutherford is also employed by MMU as a senior lecturer in nursing. Yes, nursing, that profession that brings its members into constant contact with the messy reality of the sexed human body; or in Rutherford’s case, perhaps it would be more accurate to say the messy reality of the human mind, as she trained as a mental health nurse. However, Rutherford’s twitter account demonstrates that she is a fully paid-up TRA who retweets Pink News and Ruth Hunt.

1980: Whittle joins forces with one Lewen Tugwell to set up the Self Help Association for Transsexuals (SHAFT). The inadvertently comically named SHAFT (apparently Tugwell, whose name is also straight from a Carry On film, refused to believe that there was any possible reason to rethink the name) later became a registered charity called the Gender Trust. Tugwell, demonstrating exemplary humanity and empathy, had some years previously faked his own death in order to be able to live as “Judy Cousins”.

1981: Whittle graduates from Sussex with a Bachelors in Geography in 1981. There’s no detail about post-graduation working life in the otherwise extraordinarily detailed CV on the MMU web page. However, we can infer that newly graduated Whittle didn’t find it easy to settle into the world of work from a detail in an abstract from a conference in April 2015. “Throughout the 70s and 80s having lost numerous jobs because of being trans, he decided things would only change if trans people became lawyers” and to this end she decided to quality as a lawyer.

1985: Whittle starts a part-time LLB at what was then Manchester Polytechnic, now Manchester Metropolitan University.

1989: Whittle founds the UK’s FTM Network and coordinated it until November 2007. You may be able to see what’s on that FTM Network website – I can’t see anything. I assume that the next association she founded, Press For Change, took up far more time and attention, and it’s certainly been far more influential.

1990: Whittle finishes the LLB and starts teaching for the Open University at weekends. According to a 2016 interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, “he soon got a job delivering computers to the law faculty at Manchester Metropolitan University and not long after was asked to teach criminal law.” Those were the days, when a computer delivery person could identify as a law lecturer, and end up on a university’s payroll.

1992: Whittle sets up Press for Change. As The Guardian tells it “Whittle, who “transitioned” nearly 40 years ago, was one of three trans men and three trans women who did an unusual thing in 1992: they went to meet Liberal Democrat MP Alex Carlile in Westminster. The unusual element was not the meeting but the fact that they travelled together – at the time, trans people never dared to because it increased the likelihood that they would be spotted and abused. These six wanted to start a campaign group; Carlile advised them to avoid the word “transsexual”. So, in Grandma Lee’s teashop opposite Big Ben, an anodyne name, Press for Change, was chosen.” One of the trans women was Christine Burns; three of the other four activists were Mark Rees, the actress Myka Scott and the airline pilot Krystyna Sheffield. Press for Change continues to be influential, but you’d never guess it from the website, which is still advertising forthcoming events for 2012.

1997: Whittle goes to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to be recognised as the father of the four children which Rutherford had conceived via insemination with donor sperm. As reported by The Independent on 23 April 1997, this was unsuccessful, but the story is worth looking at for several reasons. First, the Labour Party angle; Whittle is quoted as having said on the BBC R4 Today programme “They (Labour) have offered a pledge to take the matter on board … I’m sure we will see some change in the law.” When journalists from The Independent followed this up, “within hours of the decision a Labour spokeswoman told The Independent: “We have no plans to change the law in this area at all.” This came as a surprise to Whittle, as the Labour Party had supported a Private Member’s Bill on the subject in 1996, and had apparently given “private” assurances that it would be sympathetic to their claims.

Also worth noting is the ECHR’s reported acknowledgment, at that time, that there was “a lack of agreement between Convention signatories” on a ruling in 1996 by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, “which equated discrimination against transsexuals with sex discrimination”. The Strasbourg court therefore “accepted the Government’s view that while transsexuals can alter documents like passports and driving licences to reflect sex changes, birth certificates record the gender at birth and cannot be altered by subsequent events.” Christine Burns, Whittle’s Press For Change co-founder, is quoted as saying “We will fight on and win one way or another – even if we take our entire lives.”

2002: Whittle discusses the Goodwin case on Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman. Also taking part in the discussion were Don Horrocks of the Evangelical Alliance, and Stephanie Harrison, a barrister (now at Garden Court Chambers with TIM Alex Sharpe. Stephanie won Liberty’s Human Rights Lawyer of the Year award in 2007, which raises the tired old question of whether women are actually human). It’s worth looking up this case (Goodwin vs UK (2002) European Court of Human Rights) ,as it kicked open the door for the Gender Recognition Act which was passed two years later. The ECHR’s U-turn from its 1997 position was apparently caused by “a clear and continuing international trend towards increased social acceptance of transsexuals and towards legal recognition of the new sexual identity of post-operative transsexuals. “Since there are no significant factors of public interest to weigh against the interest of this individual applicant in obtaining legal recognition of her gender re-assignment, the Court reaches the conclusion that the notion of fair balance inherent in the Convention now tilts decisively in favour of the applicant”.” This and other cases are discussed in the ECHR’s Factsheet on Gender Identity Issues.

Also in 2002, Whittle is featured in a Channel 4 documentary called Make Me A Man, which apparently goes into some detail about phalloplasty. (Talking about phalloplasty is a bit of a Whittle hallmark – this 2008 video made for the Council for Equality and Human Rights mentions the five operations “to create a penis and testicles, and I was over the moon. To have the bulge in my pants!” and that “My mother said “I wasn’t sure about you having all this surgery, but your trousers hang better.””)

There’s a Guardian article about Make Me A Man but rather irritatingly it doesn’t mention Whittle – but it does mention Lee Gale, still going strong as an “activist & trainer in trans equality for Gendered Intelligence” (more Usual Suspects). Whittle was also on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour in another piece called Make Me A Man. How I wish the documentary, and the Woman’s Hour piece, were still available to enjoy.

2004: On 1 July, with very little fanfare, the Gender Recognition Act is passed. And on 12 August 2004, Whittle’s daughter Eleanor (then eleven years old) spoke at a conference in Geneva, arranged by the International Service on Human Rights (which played a leading role in developing the Yogyakarta Principles – of which more later) and the International Research Centre on Social Minorities (which seems to have withered and died) on “her experiences of living in a “non-traditional family”. Eleanor’s appearance at the conference was featured in the Manchester Evening News on the following day, in an article headlined Meet my amazing family which starts Her father used to be a radical lesbian, her mother has had four children by sperm donor and they all live with two of her parents’ friends from university. Welcome to the world of 11-year-old Eleanor Whittle.

Despite the rather snide tone of the article (it refers to the Whittle family’s “unusual living arrangements back home in Heaton Mersey”, and describes Whittle’s professional trajectory thus; “Now 49, he became an academic after claiming he was forced out of a number of jobs because of his transsexuality” – a sentence which I can’t help hearing in the voice of Kenneth Williams) 2004 is the year that the Manchester Evening News decide that Whittle is a Regional Treasure and start to run regular Whittle stories.

Interestingly, Eleanor Whittle is now a Civil Service Fast Stream policy advisor. Like parent, like child. She’s also a wedding singer which seems appropriate, given her parents’ obsession with heteronormative social structures.

Whittle and Burns at Buckingham Palace

2005: In April 2005, the GRA 2004 comes into force, and Whittle is able to obtain a new birth certificate with an M on it. In the 2005 New Year’s Honours list, Whittle is awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to gender issues. Christine Burns was also awarded an OBE, allowing the Manchester Evening News to print this lovely picture of the two of them in their gender-appropriate hats. Whittle applies for a GRC in 2005, and 1 July 2005, the Manchester Evening News crows Sex-swap Stephen is married at last.

2006: This is it. This is what Whittle has been working towards all the way along. In November 2006, a group of “experts” (it’s an oddly selected group) gathered in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta to draw up the now-infamous Yogyakarta Principles or, to give the document its full title, Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law to sexual orientation and gender identity. To understand the problem created by the Yogyakarta Principles, you can’t do better than to read Sheila Jeffreys on the subject. She says “The section of the Principles which relates to gay rights is a very important and necessary development, much lauded by lesbian and gay rights activists and others in the human rights community. The problem with the Principles, however, is that they yoke together lesbian and gay rights with the right to protection and expression of something called ‘gender identity’ and call for the protection of gender rights.” The Yogyakarta Principles were a Trojan horse.

Jeffreys goes on to say “The Yogyakarta Principles do not have any force in law but they, and their notion of ‘gender’ are increasingly very influential in international law, though most feminists probably have no idea that they exist. They arise from a campaign by crossdressing men to protect and promote their masochistic sexual obsession.” Mark her words. The Yogyakarta Principles have no force in law, but they are frequently referred to as though they did, or in terms of “best practice”, and they are hugely influential.

2007: Whittle becomes president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. This profile in The Guardian is revealing. ‘He claims that the six categories that now come under the umbrella of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights have been joined by a seventh: “When the CEHR recently published its equality review, alongside it was a research project that I led into the unlawful discrimination experienced by transsexuals and transvestites.“‘ I’m not sure what those six categories would have been; there are nine protected characteristics in the 2010 Equality Act, of which “sex” and “gender reassignment” are two.

More from that Guardian piece. “This is a husband and father who went as far as the European Court of Human Rights so that his long-term partner could be impregnated through artificial insemination and his name could be on their children’s birth certificate.” That’s a deliberate lie, isn’t it? I suppose it’s no more of a lie than the lie on the birth certificate of a child whose mother knows that her husband isn’t her baby’s father, because the baby is a product of donor sperm. This is the problem with law. Experts can make the law tell us lies, and then they can bully and gaslight us by saying the lie must be the truth, because the law says so.

Then it all goes a bit quiet, presumably because Whittle has ticked off the top items on the to-do list. Whittle is legally a man, with a birth certificate with an M on it; married to a woman although not in a same-sex marriage; and the birth certificates of the children that Rutherford gave birth to and Whittle adopted bear Whittle’s name.

2018: Whittle appears on the final programme of Channel 4’s Genderquake series, optimistically called The Debate. This programme generated column inches, blog posts and youtube vids galore, as both sides absolutely hated it. Whittle seems to have hated it as much as anybody but it did result in this glorious happy snap of Whittle with daughter Eleanor and Caitlin Jenner. I defy anyone to guess which of these three individuals is actually male.

2019: Whittle proves that internalised misogyny and a desire to undermine women’s single sex spaces is undiminished in an interview for Legal Cheek. “But there’s work to be done — “we’re still on shaky ground” — he said, pointing to single-sex bathrooms and changing rooms as just two examples.”

It’s a tragedy. Imagine an alternative universe where happy butch lesbian Stephanie Whittle has used her skills, energy and campaigning nous in the service of women and girls. What might that person have been able to achieve for women in the UK?

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Why does Santa have to be Real?

At this time of year, any discussion thread on Mumsnet can be derailed by one particular highly contentious issue. The usual shibboleths – loo brushes, wearing undies under nightwear, the Gina Ford devotees vs the babywearers – are swept aside by a truly vicious polarisation over The Magic of Christmas, and in particular, The Magic of Santa.

There is no hope of neutrality. Battle lines are drawn. One camp is made up of parents – I say parents, in the spirit of Mumsnet’s “By Parents, For Parents” motto, but the truth is that it is mothers who are really invested in this – who are obsessed with ensuring that their children Believe in Santa for as long as possible. These are the parents who go to enormous lengths to provide evidence. The disappearance of the traditional sherry and mincepie is not enough – they leave out reindeer food (which disappears, of course), they create Santa footprints and reindeer hoofprints, they buy sleighbells to leave around as if dropped off an accelerating sleigh. The other camp is composed of parents who don’t go in for a full-scale “Santa is Real” campaign. They are not as coherent a group as the first, because they have different motivations for not ensuring The Magic of Santa for their children. Some of them are really po-faced about their ethical stance on not lying to children, but a majority just don’t seem to consider that planned deception on this scale is necessary for a child to have a lovely Christmas. There seems to be absolutely no common ground between the two camps, and where conflict breaks out it is to do with someone from the second camp (usually a child, inadvertently or deliberately) letting the truth slip to a child from a “Santa is Real” family.

I am firmly in the second camp. I loved Christmas as a child; the anticipation, thinking about presents (getting and giving) and the fun of smuggling presents into the house to wrap in secret, the build-up at school (I loved singing carols every day in assembly), the lights and decorations, the Christmas tree, the special food, the music, the long day spent all together with a moratorium on bad behaviour from my dad (for me, this was magic enough) and of course, the presents. My parents did fantastic stockings. They can’t have spent all that much but our stockings were crammed with lovely little bits and pieces, each item individually wrapped in special Father Christmas paper, which is of course the cheapest wrapping paper from Woolworth’s. How did my very busy, not very well-off parents manage to find all these amazing little things for the three of us without us having the slightest idea where any of them came from, wrap them, get them into stockings and then onto our beds without waking us?

Despite my parents’ adherence to the tradition of filling and delivering our stockings in total secrecy, they never pretended that Father Christmas was really real. We knew, from a very early age and without being told, that it is a lovely seasonal game that we played as a family, and A and I have continued this approach with G. We have never told him that Father Christmas doesn’t exist – but then, we never told him that Father Christmas did exist. He knows that Father Christmas is fun, a fantasy, an enjoyable conspiracy that we collude in.

My favourite thing about my childhood Christmases was going downstairs in the early morning for the first sight of the Christmas tree, which my parents put up and decorated after we went to bed on Christmas Eve. My childhood Christmas trees were the most beautiful thing in the world; the familiar decorations, all kinds and colours, and plenty of multicoloured fairy lights, each tiny coloured bulb with its little matching plastic frill. And Christmas Day was always magical. All five of us together, with the magic my parents created with the darling tree, the fantastic stockings, delicious food, lovely presents, a chilly walk in the park, Christmas music, board games, and a truce called on all the usual everyday bickering.

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The Usual Suspects – Jan Morris

“Playful and gigglesome”

Something we hear quite often about civilians in the Great Gender War is that they think all TIMs (trans identified males) are like Hayley from Coronation Street. Hayley Cropper, who started life as Harold, was a sweet, nurturing character who saw the best in everybody and would not have hurt the proverbial fly. However, the Hayley analogy is not very enlightening for those who don’t watch Coronation Street. Because every right-thinking media outlet’s remit now includes convincing everybody that TIMs are all harmless souls who just happen to have been “born in the wrong body”, the BBC have wheeled out dear old James “Jan” Morris, who is an official National Treasure and absolute Number One Transsexual for the more mature members of the chattering classes. Speaking as an MMM of the CC, I can attest that we all read Morris’s 1974 travel book Venice; we all read his memoir Conundrum, also published in 1974, about his transsexuality; some of us even ploughed through his much less digestible Pax Britannica trilogy, published in 1968, 1973 and 1978.

Who’s the nation’s favourite National Treasure? There’s only one way to find out.

I wrote this in late 2018. I’d been thinking about Morris not only because of his Queen Motherish position as The Nation’s Favourite Old Transsexual but also because of the extraordinary number of times he was heard on the BBC during the year. Is it cynical of me to think this can be explained by the BBC’s desire to appear “woke” by exploiting every possibly opportunity to portray TIMs in a positive light? It’s not a Morris Anniversary; his 90th birthday was in 2016 and was marked with an interview with Fellow National Treasure and All-Round Jolly Good Egg Michael Palin, broadcast on the BBC in October of that year.

In May 2018, The Verb with Ian MacMillan gave us “a special extended interview with the travel writer Jan Morris”. In June 2018, we were regaled with “A treat from the Bookclub archive celebrating our 20th anniversary, Jan Morris discusses her travel book Venice, first broadcast June 2008″; in the same month, Morris told us that the British Empire wasn’t all bad in Empire; an Equivocation. And in September 2018, In My Mind’s Eye was Book of the Week, so we’ve had five doses of Morris’s “thought diary”, read by Janet Suzman.

For a representative flavour of the fawning and flirtatious way the British press tend to cover Morris, you can’t do better than to read this piece from The Times in August 2018. Morris tells us that far from having had a sex change, he is in fact in the very, very privileged position of being both sexes. The interviewer, one Robbie Millen, describes Morris as “playful and gigglesome” and “very much in touch with her inner child”. (Interestingly, the British TRAs who are at the moment linking Black Lives Matter with transactivism have remained absolutely silent on Morris’s relentless championing of the British Empire, which is rehearsed yet again in this interview.)

A couple of months ago, I found a copy of the 1986 reprint of Conundrum in my local Oxfam bookshop, shelved rather archly not with biography or memoir but with feminism. When I first read it in my impressionable late adolescence, I was full of a desire to be kind and tolerant to all rare flowers, and I enjoyed the wispy whimsy of it. Re-reading it now as a bad-tempered gender-critical crone who feels acutely that the time she has left on this planet is limited, I found it infuriating and forgivable only for its brevity. It’s intensely and self-consciously Literary, and it is absolutely riddled with the worst kind of genderist thinking. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you wanted to seek out the first intimations of the Great Gender War, you could do a lot worse than to force yourself to read Conundrum. It is only 150 pages long and you can buy a copy very cheaply on

So what sort of life has he had, this 94 year male National Treasure who has believed since he was a tiny child that he is in fact female? Conundrum is quite short on your actual facts (rather telling for a harbinger of the great lie, Trans Women Are Women) but with close reading and occasional references to Wikipedia, here’s what I’ve got.

Humphry Morris (that’s what he says his parents called him; who knows where James came from?) was born in Wales in 1926, the youngest of three boys. He says himself “It is true that my mother had wished me to be a daughter.” He enjoyed an astonishingly privileged upper middle class childhood. Childhood? Let’s be honest, he enjoyed an astonishingly privileged upper middle class boyhood, and a very boyish boyhood at that. His first school was Christ Church Cathedral School in Oxford (a private boys’ school founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII from whose numbers the boy sopranos for the choir at Christ Church Cathedral are drawn) from where he went on to Lancing College, a private boys’ boarding school in Worthing on the Sussex coast. The sections of Conundrum that deal with Morris’s schooldays include plenty of (blessedly) rather fay musing about sex and gender, about the essentially feminine character of the city of Oxford, and a fairly mild account of the usual horrors of British public school, with a certain amount of euphemistically described boy-on-boy action. About Lancing, he says “If any institution could have persuaded me that maleness was preferable to femaleness, it was not Lancing College”. (Actually, on reflection, it’s a miracle that more men who went to these schools don’t decide they would rather be women.)

After school, Morris went back to Oxford as a student at Christ Church, which was, of course, a men’s college at the time. Christ Church is arguably the poshest of the Oxford colleges, and enjoys the distinction of having produced more British prime ministers than any other Oxbridge college. In keeping with what was a very manly young-manhood, just before the end of WWII Morris left university to join the 9th Queens Royal Lancers, a now-defunct regiment who enjoyed the gloriously camp nom de guerre “Delhi Spearmen”.  He tells us that the experience of living at very close quarters with 30 officers and 700 men  “… confirmed my intuition that I was fundamentally different from my male contemporaries. Though I very much enjoyed the company of girls, I certainly had no desire to sleep with them …” and his reflections on his time as a Lancer are intensely romantic. He invites his women readers to imagine being successfully disguised as a man and admitted to a “closed and idiosyncratic male society in their late teens. For this is how I conceived my condition” and tells them that “most of all you would have felt plain pleasure at having handsome and high-spirited young men all around you … this is undeniably what I felt myself.”

Morris travelled with the Lancers from Venice to Egypt, and on to Palestine where he became the regimental intelligence officer; in other words, a spy. After leaving the army and returning to London, he joined the Arab News Agency which posted him to Cairo where he worked until returning to Oxford to finish his degree. The experience of journalism in Cairo was formative, and he went back to that trade after graduating from Oxford.

Portrait of James Morris, Nepal, March 1953. Mount Everest Expedition 1953. (Photo by Alfred Gregory/Royal Geographical Society via Getty Images)

In keeping with his Boys’ Own boyhood, he seems to have been irresistibly drawn to journalism’s most macho incarnation. In 1953, writing for The Times, he accompanied Hillary and Tenzing’s team on their successful ascent of Everest, securing a scoop which allowed the news of Everest’s conquest to be reported on the morning of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, and in 1956, he reported on the Suez Crisis for the Manchester Guardian. About his life in journalism, he says “… as a wandering foreign correspondent … I was effectively my own master, I travelled how I pleased, and I wandered the world from Fiji to Dawson City.”

Somewhere between his tour with the Delhi Spearmen (is it just me or do they sound like a troupe of male strippers?) and climbing Everest, Morris married Elizabeth Tuckniss. Because Conundrum is so vague about dates, I’ve been forced to refer to Wikipedia; Morris’s wiki entry says they married in 1949. They met in London while they were both living in rented rooms in a house “almost opposite Madame Tussaud’s”, Morris taking an Arabic course in Bloomsbury and Tuckniss working as secretary to an architect. In common with anyone who feels they have found their soulmate, Morris marvels that “of all the thousands of people who might have lodged in Nottingham Place that summer, the two who found themselves next door to each other two floors up were so instantly, utterly, improbably and permanently attuned to one another …” so far, so uxorious, but wait and see how he ends the sentence; “… that we might have been brother and sister.”

My irritation with Morris’s simultaneously incredibly fay but very masculine self-obsession reached a crescendo in the sections about his marriage. How he can have had the sheer brass neck to write “… in our house there could be no dominant male or female place. If we divided our responsibilities, we did it along no lines of sex, but simply according to need or capacity” when Elizabeth bore him five children (tragically, one of their daughters died in early infancy) and, presumably, stayed at home to rear the children while he was busy being effectively his own master, travelling how he pleased and wandering the world? “We were never dependent on each other. For months at a time I would wander off across the world …” he says, conveniently airbrushing out the fact that wandering the world safe in the knowledge that a woman is keeping the home fires burning is a quintessentially male luxury. He ends that sentence with the preposterous “… and sometimes Elizabeth would travel in a different way, into preoccupations that were all her own”. But fair play to Elizabeth for having time for “preoccupations” of any sort, with four children to look after.

So how did Morris’s conviction that he was actually a woman feel, to him? He’s a far more elegant prose stylist than Shon Faye (another of my Usual Suspects) but he’s no more able than Faye to define how or why he is actually a woman, resorting to a more literary version of Faye’s “looseish constellation” formula.  Conundrum is simply stuffed with essences, with souls, with spirits; it seems to have been written in collaboration with a 1970s version of the Gender Fairy who sprinkles Gender Glitter all over some lucky children in our current decade. Morris recalls realising, aged three or four, that he “had been born into the wrong body, and should really be a girl” while sitting under his mother’s grand piano while she played Sibelius. During his time as a Christ Church chorister, he “inserted silently every night, year after year throughout my boyhood, an appeal … ‘And please God let me be a girl. Amen‘ after the Grace.

Morris includes, in Chapter 5 of Conundrum, what has become a very familiar element of the transgender script; the list of historical and exotic cultures which are, apparently, much more accepting of what we now call “gender fluidity”. “It was, I think, the 18th century which first imposed upon western civilisation rigid conceptions of maleness and femaleness, and made the idea of sexual fluidity in some way horrific.” I am pretty sure that even before the 18th century, people were pretty clear about where babies came from. Then Morris gives us his list of gender benders from exotic cultures; being a man with a good classical education, he starts with the Phrygians of Anatolia who “castrated men who felt themselves to be female” and mentions that Hippocrates “reported the existence of ‘un-men’ among the Scythians”. He then dips into Frazer’s The Golden Bough to find the Sarombavy of Madagascar, the soft-men of the Chukchee Eskimo, and Mohave Indian boys publicly initiated into girlhood. “If to modern westerners the idea of changing sex has seemed, at least until recently, monstrous, absurd or un-Godly, among simpler peoples it has more often been regarded as a process of divine omniscience, a mark of specialness. To stand astride the sexes was not a disgrace but a privilege, and it went often with supernatural powers and priestly functions.” Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. A less glittery reading of those “un-men” would be that in all cases, they are ways for very patriarchal cultures to deal with the existence of unacceptably feminine males.

One of the ways in which Morris perceived himself to be (unacceptably?) feminine was the way in which his sexual appetites were at odds with his body. He says that his  “libidinous fantasies … were concerned more with caress than with copulation” and that “though my body often yearned to give, to yield, to open itself, the machine was wrong.” But as a young man, he doesn’t hate his body; quite the reverse. The chapter of Conundrum that describes the Everest expedition is also about how much he loved being a fit healthy young man. His body was “lean and sinewy … and worked like a machine of quality …” and he compares the male physique favourable with the female. “Women, I think, never have quite this feeling about their bodies … It is a male prerogative, and contributes no doubt to the male arrogance.” But his feelings about his body change as he ages, and by his mid-thirties he begins “to detest the physique that had served me so loyally.”

The body-hatred seems to coincide with Morris starting to see Harry Benjamin at his clinic on Park Avenue whenever he went to New York. Benjamin, with Alfred Kinsey and John Money, were the founders of “transgender” medicine. He seems to have been something of a guru for Morris, who writes enthusiastically about his regular encounters with him. “Dr Benjamin, an endocrinologist … first formally recognised the existence, within the inner keep of sex, of people like me – people whose problems lay deeper than physical medicine, deeper even than curative psychiatry, and seemed beyond diagnosis or treatment.” How could anyone resist being told in “a scholarly Viennese accent” that you’re that special by a high-end doctor, in his clinic on Park Avenue? Morris certainly couldn’t. “I told him everything, and it was from him that I learnt what my future would be.”

Morris’s future was hormone treatment, which he didn’t start until 1964 because of concerns about depleting his fertility. “I honoured … an unspoken obligation to our marriage; that until my family was safely in the world, and Elizabeth fulfilled as a mother if not as a wife, I would bide my time”. During the hormone treatment period, Morris lived part-time in Oxford where he lived openly in the role of a woman” and continued to be “supposedly male” at home with Elizabeth in Wales. Living “in the role of a woman” means wearing skirts, and he “soon discovered that only the smallest display of overt femininity, a touch of make-up, a couple of bracelets, was enough to tip me over the social line, and establish me as female.” He did, however, go on using the Travellers’ Club in London, where “women were only allowed on the premises at all during a few hours of the day, and even then were hidden away as far as possible in lesser rooms or alcoves.” Remarkable, isn’t it, how even once men have decided they are women, and want to be acknowledged as women, they are unwilling to give up their male privileges?

In 1972, Morris underwent surgery in Casablanca with “Dr B”, Dr Georges Burou, a French doctor who “did not bother himself much with diagnosis or pre-treatment, and expected handsome payment in advance”. I’m afraid this episode reminded me irresistibly of the Absolutely Fabulous flashbacks in which it’s revealed that Patsy had sex change surgery in the 1960s and spent a year as a man, “until it fell off”. Wikipedia tells me that Dr B  is “widely credited with innovating modern sex reassignment surgery for trans women” but Morris, to his credit, says that “nobody in the history of human kind has changed from a true man to a true woman” even if he does then spoil it rather by adding “if we class a man or a woman purely by physical concepts.” If you want to know what Dr B’s methods of turning a penis and testicles into some sort of surgical facsimile of a vulva and vagina were, Wiki goes into plenty of detail.

Chapter 14 of Conundrum is called Concerning surgery and is worth quoting at length. “The operation called ‘sex-change’ had lately become relatively respectable. Until a few years before it had been disreputable indeed, considered by most surgeons to be a cross between a racket, an obscenity and a very expensive placebo. It was, wrote one London practitioner in the 1950s, as though when a man said he was Nelson, you were to cut his arm off to satisfy his illusion. For thirty years after the Lili Elbe case, there were few attempts to change a person’s sex, and surgeons in most countries would not contemplate such an operation. By 1951 the American George Jorgensen managed to achieve surgery in Denmark, and fellow-sufferers everywhere tried to emulate him, but the doctors reacted more forbiddingly still. They were frightened by the threat of publicity. They were repelled by the weird gallimaufry that that pestered them, along with the true trans-sexuals – exhibitionists in search of new themes, homosexuals wishing to legalise themselves, female impersonators and miscellaneous paranoiacs.”

Does that sound at all familiar?

“By 1972, when my time came, the climate of medical opinion had shifted. Thanks largely to the persuasion of Dr Benjamin in New York City, many more doctors now conceded that surgery might after all be the right approach to a problem which seemed to be becoming more common, and was plainly insoluble in absolute terms … The usual formulae of sex determination, acceptable though they might be to judges or Olympic referees, were increasingly recognised as inadequate, as the complexities of gender and identity became each year more apparent but more baffling.”

So, Humphry, or James, or Jan, or whoever you actually are, even though you are The Nation’s Favourite Transsexual, and a dear harmless old thing who wouldn’t hurt a fly, and who loves cats and babies, I’m afraid you do qualify as one of my Usual Suspects and I think you bear considerable responsibility for the Great Gender Wars of the twenty-first century.

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On making yourself believe things

When I was a young adolescent, I became obsessed with the idea that I was going to eat something that would kill me. Looking back, I wonder if this fear was planted in my mind when I read Rumer Godden’s Kingfishers Catch Fire. Godden’s heroine, a naive Englishwoman attempting to live a “simple life” in an Indian hill village, unwittingly alienates her neighbours (including those whom she employs in her home) to the extent that she finds ground glass in the food cooked for her and her daughters. After I read Kingfishers, my fear of finding glass in my food grew and grew. Almost as soon as I woke up every morning,  the idea would wake up too. I ruminated constantly about all the different ways this could happen. Was today the day I would be poisoned? Would it be my breakfast that was contaminated? The packed lunch I took to school? The dinner I shared with my family?

Every interaction with food that I was going to eat was fraught with danger. Picking blackberries, I couldn’t stop imagining ways in which the fruit could be contaminated with broken glass. If I dropped a blackberry and picked it up, could it have come into contact with a fragment of glass on the ground, which would then make its way into the container I was putting the blackberries in, and then into the blackberry crumble and onto my plate? My heart started to beat faster at the thought of the inevitable horrible death.  My fear expanded to include other sorts of ingestible death. A pie cooked in an enamel pie dish; is enamel poisonous? Could a chip of enamel come off the plate and into the pie filling? Could the metal exposed by the chipped enamel be poisonous? The otherwise blameless Mary Rodgers, author of  children’s book Freaky Friday, introduced me to botulism in the follow-up A Billion For Boris. The idea of botulism made me very apprehensive about eating anything from a tin or a jar.  Every time I ate, the clockwork in my mind would start, and my mind would click into its routine of thinking of ways in which my food could have been contaminated.

We all know that if you think about a bodily phenomenon, it gets more noticeable. If you’re aware that a particular illness has a certain symptom, you may well decide that you have that illness if you think you can detect the symptom. Similarly, if you think you have a particular illness or syndrome, everything you feel is confirmation-biased into a symptom of the ailment you believe you haveg. So for me during this time, my every bodily sensation became a symptom of poisoning. You might think that a perfectly healthy young adolescent wouldn’t have any physical sensations that could be interpreted as symptoms of poisoning, but you’d be wrong. Every borborygmus, every muscular twinge, each time I felt fuzzy or lazy or headachey, I knew, I just knew, that this was the onset of a slow, hideous death by poisoning.

If social media had existed then, I would certainly have been online looking for information, and would doubtless have found a community of people who also thought they were about to be poisoned.  As it was, I didn’t tell my parents or anyone else about my obsession with poisoning. Why didn’t I tell anyone? Because I knew, with the part of my mind that hadn’t bought into the idea of being poisoned, that the idea was ridiculous,. I also knew that my parents would, probably in most unsympathetic terms, tell me that it was a ridiculous idea. The current fashionable parenting style is to give all your children’s ideas a sympathetic hearing, even if you believe them to be ridiculous, but actually my parents’ rather more bracing attitude was helpful because it prevented the idea from getting too much of a grip.  It also prevented me from developing obsessive behaviours based on my ruminations about being poisoned. I didn’t systematically avoid certain foods, or start washing everything a dozen times, but it took an effort of will on my part not to start doing this.

I am also aware that if my parents had known what I was thinking, and had agreed with me (“yes, darling, you are at imminent risk of poisoning”) and facilitated it, it would very quickly have developed into a full-time, full-on obsession. If they had used their adult powers of persuasion, as well as the influence parents have over their children, they could have turned what was a mild obsessional phase lasting a few months into a proper, life-long delusion. It’s very clear to me how easy it is, or would be, to embed ideas in children’s minds, or to detect an embedded idea and to reify it.Reading the origin stories of young people who believe themselves to be transgender, it’s notable that just as I would constantly examine every twinge for its resemblance to symptoms of poisoning, these young people constantly examine every passing thought and emotion for its similarity to the “dysphoria” they’ve read about online.

Thinking back to my reading habits, I don’t think Kingfishers Catch Fire was the only begetter of my phobia about poisoning. I think it was the key to a lock which I’d already installed with my fascination with the section on household poisons in Mrs Beeton. Perhaps I was a rather eccentric child. I don’t know anyone else who obsessively read any of Mrs Beeton as a youngster. But no child in the UK, or in the US or Canada or Australia, can escape the installation in their mind of the lock of gender identity; social media, mainstream media, the school curriculum are all designed to embed that lock in their psyche. The miracle is that so many of them are avoiding picking up the key to that lock.

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My single wisdom tooth

King Edward VII’s wisdom tooth, extracted in 1940. Mine looked very much the same.

I only ever had one wisdom tooth, the upper right one. It erupted (that’s the technical term, which sounds rather dramatic, but its original appearance was painless) sometime after I graduated from college, and for years it just sat there without bothering me. Successive dentists said things like “did you know you only had one wisdom tooth?” and “you don’t need this single wisdom tooth, but if it’s not bothering you, we’ll leave it alone”. I only thought about my lonely single wisdom tooth when other people mentioned their excruciating wisdom tooth problems, when I would congratulate myself on my comparative lack of wisdom teeth. As well as being unproblematic, my single wisdom tooth obviously proved that I am a super-evolved human.

In the middle of an otherwise unremarkable working week, I started to get toothache in the molars in my back right jaw. At the time, I was working in Exeter and going home to Birmingham at the weekends, so I wasn’t registered with a dentist in Exeter. The pain got worse very fast and by Thursday night it was pretty much unbearable. At work on Friday morning, I called around several dentists in Exeter and couldn’t get an emergency appointment, but eventually, a kindly receptionist gave me the number for the emergency dental clinic, based in the main city hospital. I rang them and they told me that I should present myself there as soon as possible.

When I arrived at the emergency clinic, the waiting room wasn’t full; there were just a handful of Central Casting hobos of both sexes in there. Feeling significantly overdressed in my work clothes, I settled down to wait my turn. Rather to my surprise, I’d only been there for about twenty minutes when a dental nurse came into the waiting room and called me through into the surgery. It was a large room with the usual dentist’s chair in the middle, and the usual specialist storage and desks round the sides. Two assistants were sitting at the desks, apparently deeply absorbed in important dental assistant tasks. The dentist greeted me kindly and asked me to sit down in the big chair. After reclining the chair and taking a quick look into my mouth, he sat the chair back up and said to me “I think that wisdom tooth is the problem, and it isn’t any use because there isn’t a matching tooth in your lower jaw for it to bite against. I think taking it out would be a good idea. If you still have toothache after that, we’ll investigate further.” I said “great, what’s the next step?” expecting him to say “I’ll prescribe you some pain killers and you’ll make an appointment with your own dentist to have it extracted” or the like. But no! He said “the next step is that I extract it now”.

As he said that, I became aware that his two assistants had soundlessly moved from their seats on the other side of the room. They were now standing one on each side of the chair, slightly behind my eyeline, poised to grab me if I tried to get up and run. “It’s OK,” I said, “I’m not going to try and escape.” The assistants moved away slightly. The actual extraction was completely straightforward – the only slightly unnerving aspect was the noises in my head, which were like the woody creaks of self-assembly furniture being put together. I still have the tooth. It’s huge, with one big root, and an enormous cavity. No wonder it hurt so much.

One of the assistants walked me back out to reception. I said “that is such a relief!” and she said “he does a *lovely* extraction.”

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“Trans” prisoners in women’s prisons

On 3 April 2019, I wrote to Rory Stewart ( who was, at the time, Minister of State with responsibility for prisons and probation) as follows. It probably goes without saying that my view is that no man should ever, under any circumstances, be housed in the women’s estate. If a male prisoner is at risk because he wears womanface, he can be housed with other high-risk male prisoners on what I believe is called the Nonce Wing.

Dear Mr Stewart

Prison provision for male prisoners “identifying as women”

Following the much-publicised Karen White case, I was delighted to see Andrew Gilligan’s report in the Times on 2 March 2019, headlined ‘Europe’s first jail in a jail’ for trans women, and describing a unit for male prisoners who “identify as women” at HMP Downview. The report includes the following words. The Ministry of Justice said three transgender prisoners with gender recognition certificates would initially be housed in the new wing and would not have access to other offenders at the prison.”

I have recently been made aware by campaigners who mounted a demonstration at HMP Downview that the new “Trans Wing” is inside the women’s prison. Apart from sleeping and ablutions, the male prisoners are encouraged to freely associate with the female prisoners. Most of the male prisoners there have been imprisoned for sexual offences against women and children. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that these male prisoners present a risk to the female inmates. My concern is for the safety and wellbeing of these acutely vulnerable women, who are at the mercy of the provision made for them by your Ministry.

I would appreciate your thoughts on why the Ministry of Justice seems to have misled journalists and the public when they said that they would remove male prisoners who “identify as women” from the women’s estate, and house them in a specialised unit, after the Karen White scandal.

Yours sincerely

The Martian Anthropologist

On 23 May 2019 I received the following reply from one Rosaline Carew, of Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service, which is based at 14.05 Southern House, Wellesley Grove, Croydon CR0 1XN.

Dear Martian Anthropologist

MoJ ref: TO/19/287

Thank you for your email addressed to the Justice Minister, Rory Stewart regarding the Prison provision for male prisoners “identifying as women”, received by this
department on 3 April 2019. I am responding on behalf of Her Majesty’s Prisons and
Probation Service (HMPPS).

The care and management of transgender offenders is a complex and sensitive issue and it is realistic to expect that, in cases such as this, media coverage will be a simplified account of what are in fact both intricate and individualised operational decisions. We are always clear and accurate when responding to press enquires and it is important to note that this relates to the management of a very small number of individuals and it is therefore not appropriate for us to comment in detail on them in public, through the media, or otherwise.

The safety of all prisoners is our priority and we are committed to ensuring that those under our care and management are treated fairly, lawfully and decently, with their rights properly respected.

In 2016 the Ministry of Justice commissioned a review into the care and management of transgender offenders and this led to a new operational instruction, PSI 17/2016, which was fully implemented on 1 January 2017 across all men’s and women’s prisons.

The key principle underlying the instruction is that individuals should be cared for and managed in the gender with which they identify, rather than all decisions being based on their legally recognised gender (which for most transgender people is not the gender in which they identify).

While we will always apply this principle, there is no legal obligation to locate a transgender prisoner in a prison according to their self-declared gender and decisions on transferring someone to a prison which does not match their birth gender can only be made on the recommendation of a “Complex Case Board”. These boards will look at the overall management of the individual, including the most appropriate location, and any other measures which are necessary to manage any risks both to them or presented by them. External experts, such as healthcare providers or Gender Identity Clinics will be involved, and all decisions are the responsibility of a senior prison manager.

Following the Karen White case, HMPPS has been looking again at how policy is
implemented to ensure we avoid a repeat of this case. The policy is currently being reviewed to incorporate learning from the past two years and a new version will be published in the near future.

I hope you have found the response reassuring and helpful, and I am grateful to you for writing.

Yours sincerely,

Rosaline Carew


I may be being dim, but I find paragraphs 5 and 6 of this rather difficult to, as our American friends are wont to say, parse.

Para 1, fine.

Para 2, if you say so – I don’t really see how an account can be both “clear and accurate” and also “simplified”, but I’ll let this go.

Para 3, so far, so motherhood and apple pie.

Para 4, thank you, there’s some actual information.

Para 5. Now we seem to have entered the Upside Down, the realm we always end up in whenever “trans” issues are being discussed. “The key principle underlying the instruction is that individuals should be cared for and managed in the gender with which they identify, rather than all decisions being based on their legally recognised gender (which for most transgender people is not the gender in which they identify).”

I think that the second time Rosaline uses the word “gender”, as in legally recognised gender, she actually means “sex”. Let’s see how that sounds.

“The key principle … is that individuals should be … managed in the gender with which they identify, rather than all decisions being based on their legally recognised sex (which for most transgender people is not the gender in which they identify).” Setting aside the syntactical problems which Rosaline seems to have with what you can actually do with the word “gender” (apparently you can manage a prisoner in a gender) and her phrasal verb problem of whether a “trans” person identifies “with” or “in” a gender, this sentence would appear to mean that the Prison Service thinks that it is appropriate to treat a male prisoner who says he’s a woman as though he actually is a woman.

Para 6. Still in the Upside Down. “While we will always apply this principle (that is, the principle of managing a prisoner “in the gender with which they identify”, so putting a man in a women’s prison if he says he’s a woman) there is no legal obligation to locate a transgender prisoner in a prison according to their self-declared gender (so the Prison Service will always apply this principle, even though there is no legal obligation to do so) and decisions on transferring someone to a prison which does not match their birth gender (I think Rosaline means sex here) can only be made on the recommendation of a “Complex Case Board” (so the Prison Service will always apply the principle, even though they are under no legal obligation to do so, and if they want to move a man to a women’s prison they have to take it to a Complex Case Board). These boards will look at the overall management of the individual, including the most appropriate location, and any other measures which are necessary to manage any risks both to them or presented by them. External experts, such as healthcare providers or Gender Identity Clinics will be involved, and all decisions are the responsibility of a senior prison manager.”

So, to conclude.  The prison service is under no legal obligation to move men to women’s prisons, and if they want to recommend that this should happen, they have to go to all the trouble of taking this proposal to a board including external experts. Despite this, they have developed an operational instruction, PSI 17/2016, which states that a “trans” prisoner should be managed “in the gender with which they identify”. Aren’t these two co-existing truths at odds with each other? If the prison service genuinely believes that men should be managed as women if they say they are women, why should the transfer to a women’s prison be signed off by a Complex Case Board? After all, what could be less “complex” than putting a Bewdiful Laydee Lagette into a women’s prison? Is the prison service actually very well aware that allowing men into women’s prisons is incredibly risky for the female prisoners, but is so terrified of the TransBorg that they won’t say so?






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The usual suspects – Sally Hines

The usual suspects fall into several categories. Sally Hines (@sally_hines) is a very vocal supporter of trans ideology on Twitter but she isn’t a blue tick and has less than 3,000 followers. Her real influence is via her day job; Hines is Professor of Sociology and Gender Identities in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds.

Her pinned tweet is about her new book “Is Gender Fluid; A Primer For the 21st Century“. Rather worrying, the first line of the publisher’s blurb gives the distinct impression that Hines doesn’t know the difference between the concepts of “sex” and “gender”, or what actually happens when a baby is born and someone present at the birth announces what sex the new arrival is.

Hines has been at Leeds for quite some time; she got her PhD in 2004 at Leeds, in the department where she’s now a professor, for a thesis entitled “Transgender Identities, Intimate Relationships and Practices of Care“. Her PhD was supervised by Fiona Williams and Sasha Roseneil (Roseneil is now Dean of the Faculty of Social & Historical Sciences (SHS) at UCL. “Sasha’s background also includes 16 years at the University of Leeds where she established and directed the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies, now considered a world leading centre in the field.”)

Hines’s PhD was supported by an ESRC scholarship. The ESRC is the Economic and Social Research Council, one of the UK’s government-funded Research Councils which support academic research (mostly conducted by universities) in Britain.

The ESRC has continued to be very good to Hines. Not only did it fund her PhD, she’s been awarded just under £1.3m of ESRC research funding over the last ten years. Google “esrc sally hines” and up pops the following table.

Two of these projects are currently active, Living Gender in Diverse Times and Pregnant Men.

(Just a thought … I wonder how much the Living Gender project’s branding cost?)

Pregnant Men: An International Exploration of Trans Male Experiences and Practices of Reproduction “represents the first study to address the sociological and health care implications of the reproductive practices of people who become pregnant and/or give birth after transitioning from female to male.” Again, I get a definite sense that Hines doesn’t really understand the difference between sex and gender, because any mammal who’s ever been pregnant is female.

Pregnant Men employs in the role of project consultants two organisations whose names may be familiar, ‘Gendered Intelligence and Trans Bare All. Their function will be to “represent major international stakeholders. They will organise and run focus groups with the PI and UK Co-I to ensure that stakeholder impact is built into the project’s methods of data collection.” Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how much Gendered Intelligence and Trans Bare All are being paid by the British taxpayer, via the ESRC and University of Leeds, for their roles in this project? Especially given how closely linked the two organisations are, with the founder of TBA Lee Gale (@BonsaiLee) working as an “activist and trainer” for GI.

Obviously, the ESRC expect considerable “output” and “impact” for their investment, and Hines is dutifully prolific in academic publishing.

“I have published widely in the areas of transgender, gender, sexuality, intimacy, the body and feminist politics and theory. Book publications include ‘TransForming Gender: Transgender Practices of Identity, Intimacy and Care’ … I am co-editor of the Routledge Book Series ‘Advances in Critical Diversities’ … Between 2008 – 2010 I was PI on the ESRC grant ‘Gender Diversity, Recognition and Citizenship’, the findings of which are explored in my book ‘Gender Diversity, Recognition and Citizenship: Towards a Politics of Difference (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). The project led to an ESRC funded Knowledge Exchange Project ‘Recognizing Diversity?: Equalities in Principle and Practice (2009-2010). Between 2011 – 2013 I was co- grant holder of the ESRC Seminar Series ‘Critical Diversities’.”

Hines is also a prolific supervisor of PhD students, and each of her newly minted PhDs is likely to go into an academic job where they will dutifully reproduce the trans orthodoxy to undergraduate students and, in turn, to their own doctoral students.

Update on 19 Nov 2018: after her appearance on Woman’s Hour in a conversation with Dr Kathleen Stock (very ably moderated by Jane Garvie) it became painfully obvious that Hines doesn’t understand the difference between “sex” and “gender”; that she hasn’t heeded the pleas of intersex people not to be used as debating points by trans activists; and most tragically, given that she has a professorial position in a Russell Group university, that she believes that “trans women are women” is a magical incantation. Sorry, Professor Hines, my abra remains resolutely un-cadabra’d.

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I want my country back! A cautionary tale.

In 1973, someone in your family left a coat at a station. Ever since then, your family have been wearing all sorts of coats – Tyrolean Lodens, leather jackets from Milan, Fjällräven all-weather jackets – but there’s a thread of conversation about getting that coat back that makes its way into every family gathering. That coat was special, it should never have been left at the station, and some in the family long to have it back.

Eventually, the talk about the coat spurs you into action. You go into the left luggage office at the station where the coat was left, and ask the attendant behind the counter if there’s a coat there that someone left a long time ago. You’re really quite excited about getting your hands on this coat – family lore says it’s a real Burberry trenchcoat, almost new. Female members of the family rhapsodise about how the coat smelt ever so slightly of Floris Lily of the Valley, and your great-aunt is convinced there was a Liberty silk square in the pocket. The men in the family remember how incredibly weatherproof the coat was – never let in a drop, even in the worst weather.

The attendant looks at you slightly oddly, and says that yes, there is a very old coat in the storage area. He goes away and after several minutes reappears holding something beige, rather at arms’ length. He passes the crumpled bundle over to you and you shake it out. It is indeed a trenchcoat but not a Burberry, it’s a cheap imitation, the wrong shade of beige and rather grimy, and the check lining looks all wrong. When you shake it, it releases an aroma which instantly reminds you what pubs used to smell like. Stale beer, cigarette smoke, and doggy carpet, with a barely detectable base note of men’s lavatories.

With slight reluctance, you put your arms through the sleeves and shrug the coat onto your shoulders. You can see your reflection in the glass door of the left luggage office. The coat really doesn’t fit properly – the shoulders are too narrow, the arms are too short. Maybe you’re bigger than the original owner? You put your hands into the pockets to see if your great-aunt was right about the silk square. That at least would be a compensation. There’s nothing in the left-hand pocket. In the right, a couple of pieces of screwed-up paper, which turn out to be pound notes.

You turn back to the counter to tell the attendant that actually, you’re not sure that this coat is the one you had been told about. But he’s disappeared, and so has your cosy Loden, which fitted you so well; and your chic Italian leather jacket; and your Fjällräven rain jacket. You remember with a sinking heart that your car keys, your travel card, your mobile were all in the pockets of your other coats.

You look around to see if there’s anyone you can complain to, but there’s nobody in sight on the station concourse except for a man in a Telemark sweater, disappearing rapidly as he runs, two steps at a time, up the escalator. You’re left alone, with nothing in your pockets but a nasty smelly old raincoat, which you strongly suspect will not be waterproof, and two crumpled pound notes, which ceased long ago to be legal tender.

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Resigning from the Labour Party

Ian McNicol, General Secretary

Labour Central, King’s Manor

Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 6PA

Dear Ian

Thank you for your letter asking me to renew my membership of the Labour Party. As you’ll be aware, I have been a member for many years, and have held CLP roles and been an activist when other commitments permitted, but I will not renewing my membership.

To set the scene, I should tell you that I am a gender-critical feminist. In case you aren’t aware of this school of thought, we believe that the biological reality of being female or male is very real, but that “gender” is socially constructed, differs from society to society, and is the way in which women and men are socially encouraged/coerced to play their allotted roles in the society in which they live. I should also tell you that I am extremely sympathetic to people suffering gender dysphoria, and believe that they should be treated with respect and consideration, and provided with the services they need to live a happy, healthy and productive life. I reject the label “transphobe”; I have no fear of gender nonconformity.

A couple of days after I got your letter, I received an extraordinarily patronising phone call from one of your phone bank people. I’m afraid I don’t have his name, because he didn’t introduce himself, apart from telling me he was calling from the Labour Party. However, it was clear from his voice and diction that he was very much younger than I am.

In a nutshell, your phone bank person laughed at me when I said I was seriously considering not renewing my membership because of the LP’s position on “trans issues”, in particular the proposal to amend the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to allow self-identification. He followed his patronising chuckle by telling me that the Labour Party aims to be the inclusive party. When I asked him what he meant by “inclusive” in that sentence, he was quite unable to tell me. He did however refer to “trans people being under a lot of societal pressure”. I said I agreed, and I asked him to tell me how self-ID would help alleviate this “societal pressure”. Again, there was a silence, and instead of answering my question, he said something vague about people being able to live as “their true selves”.

The conversation was extremely unsatisfactory until the final exchange, when I asked him if he truly believed that it was possible for a human to change sex. His response to this was interesting; he said “well of course, no-one thinks they can change biologically from a man to a women”. I then drew the conversation to a close. Clearly there is a certain amount of confusion among your activists; they know perfectly well that there is an immutable difference between female humans and male humans, but they pretend that there isn’t, and expect the membership to join in this pretence.

Since that conversation, I have become aware of the following additional “trans” issues where I think the Labour Party is taking a stand which will inevitably damage the rights of women and girls:

  • The admission of men who “identify as” women onto All Women Shortlists, without the necessity of having a Gender Recognition Certificate.
  • The number of “trans women” who have been successful in applying to the Jo Cox Women in Leadership programme for women.
  • The Party’s continuing support of “Lily” Madigan in the role of Women’s Officer, despite his extraordinary public bullying of gender-critical feminists and other women.
  • The appointment of “Munroe Bergdorf” to an LGBT working group, which was announced at the same time as Grazia published his tone-deaf mansplanation of feminism.

I find all these developments deeply concerning. As a socialist feminist, accustomed to class analysis, it is clear to me that the root cause of women’s oppression is our sexed bodies. Allowing men, with their differently sexed bodies, to declare themselves women will make the term “women” completely meaningless, and will at a stroke remove the basis for the very few sex-based protections and concessions women have managed to win for themselves.

As I said, I am no “transphobe”; but it’s clear to me that infringing women’s hard-fought rights as a knee-jerk reaction to the demands of a tiny group of people is not the way to help people who identify as “trans”. We must, as a society, provide safe and secure “third spaces” and facilities for those people, and continue to give women and girls the security of female-only spaces and services where they are needed.

The phone bank conversation which was a perfect illustration of the way the Labour Party are treating gender-critical feminists. I was laughed at, patronised and talked down to, about the realities of being a woman, by a man who was clearly far younger than me, with far less experience of life and absolutely no experience of being female.

I have voted Labour all my life and am a fourth generation Labour voter and activist. It breaks my heart to resign from my party, and I now feel politically homeless. But your cruel, thoughtless and shabby treatment of women leaves me no other choice.

Yours sincerely


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