The last week has been a lesson in the difference between theory and practice. For several years now some feminists have tried to point out the risks posed by unquestioningly accepting claims about gender identity. When we pointed out that self-identification is unverifiable, and open to exploitation by sexual predators, we were shouted down and accused of transphobia. When we argued that vulnerable women prisoners should not have to share intimate spaces with men convicted of sex offences, we were told to think of the feelings of trans prisoners.
No predator would ever dishonestly claim to be transgender, ministers insisted in the Scottish Parliament just before Christmas. They refused to accept an amendment to the Gender Recognition Reform Bill that would have prevented a man charged with rape beginning the process of changing his legal sex. The legislation is currently in limbo, blocked by Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, but the worst-case scenario envisaged by opponents of the bill has been played out at the High Court in Glasgow.
Here are the uncontested facts: a man called Adam Graham raped two women, one in 2016 and the other in 2019. After he was charged, he declared that he was transgender, changed his name to Isla Bryson and arrived at the court wearing a blonde wig. At this point opinions about what Bryson was up to diverge. The court accepted his claim to have changed sex, addressed him as “Ms” and referred to him with female pronouns, even to the point of talking about “her penis”.
Last Tuesday, when he had been convicted and placed on the sex offenders’ register, Bryson was wafted off to a women’s prison. The furore that followed was so great that he was rapidly moved to a men’s prison, but this week’s events have been farcical. They are the most dramatic test so far of the theory behind “gender identity” and a huge embarrassment for liberals who have refused to listen to perfectly reasonable questions about its effect on women and girls.
The slogan “trans women are women” admits no ifs or buts. If a man identifies as a woman, even if he has taken no steps towards transitioning, we are supposed to accept that his “gender identity” trumps biological sex. But if Bryson is genuinely trans, rather than a sexual predator gaming the system, this strikes down the claim that trans women never pose a threat to women and can be safely placed in the female prison estate.
Supposedly progressive politicians floundered last week, taken aback by the strength of public opinion. They would not have been caught out if they had been braver – and prepared to listen to women who could see where this was going. Now Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, has egg on her face. On Sunday evening (29 January) her government appeared to U-turn on the issue. The Scottish justice minister, Keith Brown, announced a temporary ban affecting newly convicted trans criminals with “any history” of violence against women, or those wanting to move from a male to female prison.
Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, does not come out of any of this well either. Women in his own party such as Rosie Duffield, the MP for Canterbury, who tried to highlight the risks of uncritically accepting the most extreme demands of trans activists, have been demonised. A Starmer aide reportedly said that some of Duffield’s constituents would like her to spend “a bit more time actually in Canterbury” instead of “hanging out” with the author JK Rowling. The latter then accused Labour of letting down the MP. Duffield said being in the party was like an “abusive relationship”.
Feminists have long argued that gender ideology, far from being progressive, recycles damaging stereotypes and puts women (and especially lesbians) at risk. We were told that there could be no debate, no matter how politely conducted, about the difference between sex and gender. Last week’s dose of reality is the result – and a wake-up call for cowardly politicians.