New Zealand Herald columnist Rachel Stewart feels aggrieved and insulted. She’s been called a TERF because she has issues with potential law changes in New Zealand that will amongst other things, make it easier for people to officially change the gender in official documents and registers.
A TERF incidentally is a ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminist.’
Now, I am open to being challenged on this, but my interpretation is that a TERF is someone who believes there are only two genders (male and female) and that the gender one is assigned at birth (based on biology) is immutable. Therefore, someone who describes themselves as, say, male to female transgender (MTF) is actually still male and should be treated as such.
In reading Rachel Stewart’s column, it is clear that while she is offended by being called a TERF, she seems incapable of noticing that she is being offensive herself.
Here are a few examples:
“Parents, wanting to be best friends with their kids, are taking their son’s fixation with dolls as evidence that he’s really wanting to be female.”
Does she seriously think any parent would be stupid enough to see a boy playing with dolls and glibly conclude they are trans?
Furthermore, is she that sexist to think that a boy ‘playing with dolls’ is an indicator that he is transgender?
Here’s some more:
“a man can call himself a woman without ever medically transitioning (most never do) and insert himself in female-only spaces such as changing rooms, women’s refuges, and prisons. Women would have absolutely no legal recourse to challenge such a move.”
“I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be locked up alone in a cell all night with a hairy, muscly, sex-starved inmate of either gender – but particularly one with his full kit and caboodle intact.”
“Neither would I want my six-year-old niece to see a grown male stranger naked in the changing rooms at her local swimming centre.”
Those quotes show she has complete ignorance of transgender people and the process they go through to be able to express their genuine selves to the world. Worse still, she may well be suggesting that MTF transgender people transition simply because they want to sexually assault women in police cells or expose themselves to children in changing sheds?
Perhaps though, these quotes are simply a tactic to demonise a group of people for political reasons? After all, claims that a subset of the population is perverted and that they are a danger to children is a very powerful piece of propaganda.
Now why does that tactic seem hauntingly familiar?
Oh that’s right. It’s exactly the strategy used over the years by opponents of homosexual law reform measures in New Zealand.
To illustrate this, here are two of the nastiest comments aimed at queer people during past law reform endeavours:
“You belong in the sewers, get back to the sewers where you belong!” – Norm Jones MP (1985)
“So many of these creeps have now boldly crept out of the wardrobe and parliament is soon going to legislate… to allow sexual deviants or people with sexual alternatives to work… with immunity.” -John Banks MP (1993)
In terms of lesbian human rights, you don’t have to go back too many decades to find divorce cases where women lost custody of their children because they had come out and were viewed as ‘deviants’. If you look at the picture of Stewart (by David White) at the head of this opinion piece it is possible to come to some stereotypical conclusions about her, and indeed I have seen negative responses about how she looks and the life she leads. These kinds of cliched views of people are dangerous, and Stewart should be aware that stereotypical thinking can be applied as much to her as to others.
Further more, knowing the history of oppression that gay men and lesbians have endured, it surprises and upsets me that someone within our own LGBTQI communities can be so out of touch. Since she’s lesbian, surely Stewart has had a ‘coming out’ process where she worked through her sexuality?
Even if her coming out was easy, she must have encountered many other queer people who had a difficult time and who suffered discrimination. She must have seen the language and sickening tactics that anti-gay people have used during the aforementioned law reform measures here in New Zealand. And since she is an award-winning columnist, I assume she must also be aware of the horrible stories of persecution of LGBTQI people from all over the world that are STILL occurring. It is our own experiences and those of others which enable us to have understanding of the plight of others. Stewart’s column suggests she doesn’t have that basic empathy.
There is another issue I have with the column. Basic facts.
In the original version of her piece, she wrote that hormone blockers or testosterone were being used on trans children as young as five. This is blatantly false and has now been removed from the article according to an editor’s note at the bottom of it.
She also states that in the UK the number of kids being referred to the NHS Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) has risen by 2,500% over the past nine years. The website does indicate a rise in referrals, but I am not yet able to verify the percentage Stewart mentions.
I think she is trying to imply that the increase is due to an over-indulgence of parental concern, but she offers no evidence. Yet, simple research provides an explanation. On the GIDS website there is a quote from Dr Polly Carmichael – GIDS Service Director and Consultant Clinical Psychologist:
“There is no single explanation for the increase in referral figures, but we do know in recent years that there has been significant progress towards the acceptance and recognition of transgender and gender diverse people in our society. There is also greater knowledge about specialist gender clinics and the pathways into them, and an increased awareness of the possibilities around physical treatments for younger adolescents.”
Essentially, an improving (though still not perfect) climate for transgender people is enabling more of them to seek support.
There is another instance where Stewart betrays her complete lack of insight around transgender people. Early on in her column, while bemoaning being labelled as a TERF, she lobs out the claim that most trans people are men:
“… the current craze of people – overwhelmingly men – who say they were born into the wrong body.”
Not only is the use of “current craze” infuriatingly dismissive, but her statement that trans people are “overwhelmingly men” is also contradicted by the GIDS website which helpfully supplies some statistics.
In the 2017/18 reporting year, 2,519 people were referred to the service. Of that total, 713 were assigned male gender at birth, and 1806 were assigned female gender at birth. In other words 72% were (using Stewart’s reductionist logic and language) overwhelmingly female!
For me, the percentages of gender types seeking support or treatment are immaterial, but since Stewart has used ‘proportions’ of the population to justify her claim, she should have used accurate statistics to back it up. The current UK stats show her argument is wrong.
It is obvious to me that Stewart has prejudiced and dangerously erroneous beliefs about transgender people and the transition journey most of them go through. I could be wrong, but her column makes me think she doesn’t have transgender friends and may in fact never have met anyone who is transgender.
If I am wrong, and she does indeed know people who are trans, I cannot for the life of me understand how she could use such cruel descriptions and such flawed reasoning in her column. As a fellow human being I am deeply offended by her comments, and it doesn’t take much imagination to deduce how my transgender and transsexual friends feel about it.
If you need any further convincing about my view that she is out of touch, then this is one of her final comments:
“In the meantime, I believe all human beings – including trans people – deserve human rights and respect.”
Signs of respect would include understanding, and using, appropriate language, providing factual information and not insinuating that transgender people are ‘sex-starved perverts.
* the picture of Rachael Stewart is by David White and is used under ‘fair use’ provisions of the Copyright Act.