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

Something we hear quite often about civilians in the Great Gender War Of 2018 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.

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’s been heard on the BBC in 2018. 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 two years ago and was marked with an interview with Fellow National Treasure and All-Round Jolly Good Egg Michael Palin, broadcast on the BBC in October 2016.

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.

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 http://www.abebooks.co.uk.

So what sort of life has he had, this 92 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”.  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. 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. 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 2018.

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Is it? The Ancient Greeks would have found “love is love” a very odd idea.

People hold up a sign during Glasgow Pride.

While the English language clumsily bodges a very wide range of different emotions into the box marked LOVE, like an angry teaching assistant putting all the different coloured plasticine into the same container, the Ancient Greeks were much more discriminating. Their vocabulary for love was much wider, with several different words which can all be translated into English as “love” but which all have quite distinct meanings, perfectly recognisable to modern English speakers. I found this source listing seven types of love recognised by the Ancient Greeks very useful; in addition to the seven kinds of love in this article, other sources also list xenia, “guest-friendship” and mania, obsessive love leading to jealousy and anger.

The seven types in the article, in alphabetical order, are:

* Agape is “universal love”, akin to altruism or charity, the sentiment that encourages us to help strangers. The concept also encompasses love for the natural world.

* Eros is sexual, passionate love, named after the Greek god of sex and love. Eros’ Roman equivalent is Cupid, the annoying fat baby son of Mars and Venus, armed with a baby-sized bow with which he fires devastating arrows which cause perfectly rational people to “fall in love”. Eros is probably closest to our modern idea of romantic love.

* Ludus is playful love with no strings attached, expressed by flirting, dancing and seduction.

* Philautia is love of self, which the Greeks divided again into healthy self-love – self-esteem or confidence – or unhealthy self-love, related to hubris, which leads to arrogance, selfishness and greed.

* Philia is the sort of love you feel for your friends, founded on shared goodwill. Aristotle thought that one individual can feel goodwill for another for one of three reasons: that they are useful; that they are pleasant; and, above all, that they are good, that is, rational and virtuous. Friendships founded on goodness are associated not only with mutual benefit but also with companionship, dependability, and trust.

* Pragma is practical love, based on reason, duty or a sense of one’s best interests. A long-married couple are likely to be held together at least in part by pragma.

* Storge is familial love, the love between parents and children, or between siblings.

(Isn’t it interesting that only two of those Greek terms for love have made it into commonly-used modern English vocabulary, both as adjectives? Eros has given us “erotic”, a word horribly traduced by peep-hole brassieres and viciously misogynistic pornography, and poor old Pragma has donned her support tights and Damart vest and become pragmatic, not a word that has any connotations of love.)

Instinctively we know that these differentiations between different kinds of emotions make perfect sense. The devotion we feel for our children isn’t at all the same as the infatuation we feel for an exciting new lover, and both are different from the feelings a couple celebrating their golden wedding anniversary could be expected to have for each other.

I take issue with the slogan LOVE IS LOVE (and its simpering cousin, LOVE WINS) for two reasons.

Firstly, because it implicitly bodges all the different kinds of love together. It’s no coincidence that LOVE IS LOVE is a slogan seen at today’s Pride marches, which profess to welcome everybody from men in dog masks and fetish harnesses to conventionally-attired same sex couples accompanied by their children. I don’t for an instant imagine that most of the KoolAid swiggers waving LOVE IS LOVE banners at a Pride march near you are in fact motivated by dark reasons for wanting to elide all these different sorts of love. However, Pride has morphed right away from its origins, and I think it’s worth considering that the public face of a movement supported (and extremely generously funded by) tech billionaires might not actually be as innocent as it sounds, and that applies to its slogans too.

Secondly, I take issue with being emotionally manipulated by s slogan that seeks to make you feel like a real old misery if you stop to question it. Love is always good, right? Who could possibly object to love, in any form? This puts it into the same category as PROTECT TRANS KIDS. They are designed to evoke mindless agreement, because to disagree with or contradict the precise wording of the slogan (MAKE TRANS KIDS VULNERABLE TO HARM) just make you sound downright nasty. They are specifically tailored to make anyone who suggests applying any analysis or criticism sound like an EVIL BIGOT.

And that is one of the hallmarks of a cult. Asking any questions about it is forbidden.

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A rag, a bone and a hank of hair

The phrase “a rag, a bone and a hank of hair” has been stuck in my mind since I was a little girl in the early 1970s. I know now that it’s from Rudyard Kipling’s 1897 poem The Vampire, inspired by a painting exhibited that year by his cousin Philip Burne- Jones, son of the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones.


The poem is six unremarkably misogynistic verses about the way in which women consume men and leave them dried-out husks of their former selves. The first verse goes:

A fool there was and he made his prayer
(Even as you and I!)
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair
(We called her the woman who did not care),
But the fool he called her his lady fair
(Even as you and I!)

Whatever you might think about Kipling, he did have a way with a catchy phrase. A rag, a bone and a hank of hair is the title of a 1952 song by Eddie Hazelwood and His Carolina Woodchoppers. It won’t surprise you to learn that the song is misogynistic – it’s about how awful an ex-girlfriend of Mr Hazelwood looks, having committed the unforgivable sin of getting older. The song was covered by Nat King Cole in 1964, which I assume is how it found its way into a 1968 Monkees script, which is where I heard it.

My Californian cousin, who’s a couple of years older than me, came to stay with us in London in 1972, and introduced me to The Monkees. How I loved Davy, Pete, Mickey and Michael! There was something so delicious about the spectacle of fully grown adults larking about like children. The title sequence still lifts my spirits. 

In the 1968 episode called Some Like It Lukewarm our heroes want to enter the Rockathon band contest and discover that it is only for “mixed bands”. What on earth will they do? One of them has to dress up as a girl, and the other three decide that obviously Davy will be the luckless victim.

Cut to Davy, standing behind a screen, and saying, “Hey look, you guys, how are you going to turn me into a woman?” To which Mickey says, “After all, what is a woman but a rag, a bone and a hank of hair?”


And they pass a rag (a yellow chiffon scarf), a bone and a hank of hair (a rather tangled-looking wig) to Davy behind the screen. Davy comes out wearing a wig (a more soigné one than the hank of hair) and a dress, with the chiffon scarf at the neck, and says “So … how do I look?” To which Mickey replies “Kind of like a raggy hairy bone.” And Michael says “Or a hairy bony rag.”

Davy is concerned that he doesn’t even know how to act like a woman, but Peter has a book called “How To Act Like A Feminine Female In Three Easy Lessons“. The lessons are as follows, and Davy tries to learn them with predictably hilarious consequences and much slapstick.

Lesson One. All feminine females must learn to walk with small delicate steps.

Lesson Two. When a feminine female walks from north to south, her hips must move from east to west. A small loud bell on each direction will help to teach this technique.

davy 2

Lesson Three. The feminine female must glide like a swan when she walks with her head high, erect and motionless.

Why am I telling you this? Because the phrase “a rag, a bone, and a hank of hair” really got under my eight year old skin, and it’s been stuck there ever since. It sounds so primitive, like the ingredients for a spell, or a fetish, or something a shaman might have in his shamanic bag of tricks. The phrase’s presence under my skin was benign – why would I mind that the scriptwriter for a TV show from the late 1960s had made a joke about a woman being nothing more than a rag, a bone and a hank of hair? I didn’t take it any more seriously than Les Dawson’s jokes about his mother-in-law. None of these insults were directed at real women like me, were they?

For years, the phrase whispered itself to me regularly, usually when I saw an advertisement featuring a woman whose anatomy has been rendered impossible by airbrushing and whose eyes look dead. A rag, a bone, and a hank of hair. Not a real, live, flesh and blood woman like me and my friends and my sisters, and all the other women in the world.

And then in 2015, Bruce Jenner announced that he was actually a woman called Caitlin, ushering in a strange new world where men think they can turn into women. And what is it that they seem to think they need to do this? Why, it’s Kipling’s old three-item fetish again. I suddenly became aware that there were countless men who seemed to genuinely believe that by going behind the screen and donning the rag, the bone and the hank of hair, they could actually become women. Or rather, they didn’t actually believe it, but they wanted everybody to pretend that going behind the screen with their shaman’s fetish and then coming out again actually made them into women.

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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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