Guest blogger and barrister Robin Moira White reflects on her recent experience of contributing to a piece in Prospect magazine discussing trans rights, alongside Professor Kathleen Stock. ***********
I have been asked a few questions about the article in ‘Prospect’ magazine last week featuring answers to 7 propositions by myself and Prof (ex-Prof?) Kathleen Stock, so I thought I would write an article about writing an article (or, at least, contributing to it). I also have a few things to say about her contribution.
In the beginning…
I was contacted by respected editor and academic Alan Rusbridger, who explained to me that he had newly taken over as editor of Prospect and the idea and structure of the piece. It seemed reasonable and I believe in getting the ‘trans’ message out there in a reasonable and sensible way and this seemed like a good way to do it. Alan sent me the 7 propositions (and a deadline!) and I dropped him some text. He questioned a few things I had written in a sensible ‘justify that’ editorial sort of way and we reached a settled text and I waited for publication.
Oh, and Prospect even sent a photographer to get some snaps of me. I am much happier looking serious rather than grinning insanely, so I was happy with what appeared.
The day dawns…
I noted with interest that, although I am still waiting for my paper copy, Prof Stock was able to post a picture of the print edition at 09:13 that morning and there is mention of Sonia Sodha as being involved. I am less impressed with her journalism than with AR’s and would have been much less likely to have been involved had she approached me. Prof Stock also gushes about this being a ‘debate’ breaking the ‘no debate’ barrier when it plainly isn’t and elevates me to a QC, which I am not. So accuracy not a big thing, strange in an academic?
A later tweet from Prospect also talked about KS and I ‘coming together to discuss’ which we plainly didn’t do either. At my request, this misrepresentation was taken down.
I can’t say that I am impressed by the ‘Gender Wars’ title, which is all a bit tabloid for the space that Prospect wants to occupy. And the intro paragraph, which I did not see before publication, is hardly balanced. JK Rowling and Ngozi Adichie are named as cis women who are said to have suffered ‘vicious attacks’ but the equivalent attacks on trans people aren’t referenced.
It is also said that there are two sides of the debate and that KS and I are on ‘opposing sides’. That isn’t well thought through as on some things we agree and I certainly count myself on the ‘reasonable’ wing of trans rights and am certainly not an ‘activist’.
KS tends repeatedly not to answer the question. A judge would find her quite frustrating. On the ‘trans women are women’ question she does not express a view, descending to a discussion of semantics rather than practicality. On healthcare she similarly doesn’t get to a point, talking endlessly about suicide rather than the real healthcare challenges that trans people face. But I guess that’s outside her experience.
On single sex-spaces, KS seems to have played the game of getting into the paragraph as many words frightening to women as she can: (flashing, upskirting, fetishes, kinks, ‘sissification’, forced feminization, pornography, thrill, male violence) but then says that this is all about a ‘reasonable panic’ about males and that we should plan for the ‘worst scenario’. Does that mean that men (and presumably trans women) should only be allowed out of the house on odd-numbered days, leaving even-numbered days for women? It seems very clear that this part of the argument can only be argued on the basis of a (ridiculous) moral panic entirely unlike anyone’s real life.
On puberty blockers, we aren’t that far apart. She raises the difficulties associated with their use, which I acknowledge, but suggests no mechanism for resolving that difficulty. The only mechanism we have is properly informed consent, and I am pleased to see that she does not advocate the absolute ban that the madder wing of the gender-critical movement espouses.
We also agree on the need to collect data as part of the census but she does not engage with the obvious position that a gender question plus a gender-identity question can give that answer (where needed) without trespassing on a trans person’s life.
Where we are plainly far apart is on the reform of the Gender Recognition Act. Quite chillingly, she ends with:
‘For these reasons, I believe there should be gender recognition reform, at least at the level of clarification to maintain women’s access to female-only resources where needed, and to protect their capacity to prove sex discrimination. But the reforms in question would not be in the direction of self-ID.’
Chillingly, we are not told what protections or access she believes should be taken away from trans people, or the justification for that, and the legal basis set out before seems to be rather a muddle. (Perhaps she would find my book on trans law helpful?) She is a signatory to the hateful WHRD which proposes banning all trans women from women’s toilets for example, so perhaps she means that. We must not let such failure to be clear about the horrific nature of proposals go unremarked.
Would I do this again or engage in a ‘debate’?
I would happily write for Alan Rusbridger again although I might ask who is lurking in the background. The rights of trans people to live in peace and comfort should never be up for ‘debate’ and the vile attacks made daily by some parts of the media and particular interest groups are a stain on our society. But we will not defeat them by remaining silent.
Robin Moira White
22 December 2021