Welcome to Transtopia

PLEASE NOTE: My original blog was closed down without warning by wordpress. I am currently working to restore the graphics to this new site, so you may come across missing photos and art work. I can only apologise and assure you that I’m working on it. Thank you for your patience.

Hi. You’ve reached the blog of Lily Maynard. Welcome.

In late 2015, my teenage daughter Jessie declared she was transgender and the experience tugged us into a rabbit hole of Orwellian double-speak and general insanity. I read so much during that time and it was such a vast learning curve that I felt compelled to bring all the threads together in an article.  I was especially struck by the exponential surge in the number of teenage girls who were ‘identifying’ as boys, usually young lesbians and usually after lengthy sessions on social media. After Jessie desisted, I wanted to share what I’d read as well as what I’d learned and eventually I finished writing an article which contained over 100 links. Jessie added a short postscript of her own and I was delighted when 4thwavenow published it in December 2016 under the title ‘A Mum’s Voyage Through Transtopia – a tale of love and desistance’.

I’ve since re-published the article here on my own blog.

Before you ask me any questions; before you critcise or praise my stance on transitioning kids, or the appropriation of womanhood by men, please read that. It’s where it all began.

After Jessie re-realised she was a girl and things settled down at home,  I expected to put my time in Transtopia behind me and move on. Instead I became more fascinated- and angry- with the culture of misogyny and homophobia which underlies transgender theory.  For without stereotypes there can be no ‘brave transgender children’. Without the dolls and the pink tutus, a love of glitter, a gentle nature and a will to dance, what could possibly make girls of the little boys of ‘My Transgender Summer Camp’? What other than her love of Batman, karate and jumping around could make that short-haired, fierce little girl into a boy trapped in a female body? A feeling?  How does a boy feel? How does a girl feel? Without sexism, there can be no transgenderism. Without the idea that there is a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ way to be a boy or a girl there would be no need to beguile and medicate these kids in an attempt to make them ‘fit in’. Our current culture of blind affirmation is not doing anyone any favours.  It is nothing short of abusive to tell a child that they are ‘wrong’, that they have been ‘born in the wrong body’ or that medication and surgery can make them into the opposite sex.

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First Do No Harm – the ethics of transgender healthcare

The House of Lords played host to a series of short lectures on transgender healthcare on 15th May 2019. Controversy, no surprise, raised its head before the lectures began.

The event was organised by Standing for Women and sponsored by Lord Moonie, ex-Defence Minister, psychiatrist, medical expert and life peer.

Lord Moonie resigned from the Labour Party the day before the meeting. He was suspended for investigation into ‘transphobic’ Tweets, including the observation: “Trans women are and remain men. No less valid as individuals, just not women. Ever.”

 

 

 

Lord Moonie sponsored the meeting because, he says “I am concerned about the growing number of individuals, especially children, who are being diagnosed with gender dysphoria and with the treatment that is currently available to them… we are duty bound to question any new treatment protocols that do not have proven outcomes.”

 

I know his reasons, not because I have a photographic memory or psychic powers, but because those of us who attended the meeting were given a copy of ‘Duty of Care – First Do No Harm – the ethics of transgender healthcare’, a high-content, high-quality booklet produced by Standing for Women, containing some details of the lectures given by each attendee and a short introduction by Lord Moonie himself.

Here I’ve tried to capture the essence of what the speakers said that day, the response of David Bell to Lord Moonie’s suggestion that he might like to ‘add a few words’ and the discussion that ensued after the panelists had spoken. Transcripts of some of the full scripts are available here at the Transgender Trend website, and the booklet given to attendees can be purchased from Standing for Women.

Got a cup of coffee and a packet of oreos on hand? Good.

 

Surfacing from the underground at Westminster, I scuttled past the BREXIT protestors,  collected my name tag and cleared security into the Houses of Parliament. Passing through St Steven’s Hall I took a moment to catch my breath and admire the great window. Up the stairs, along the hall lined with marble statues of  dead, white men -all be-wigged and delicately shod – I finally arrived outside Committee Room, a few minutes late. Not so late as to have missed very much, but just late enough to be embarrassing.

The room was not enormous, but it was absolutely packed and somewhat stuffy. I squeezed in at the back and wrestled myself out of my coat, like a captive octopus, trying not to bump into the women on either side of me. Perching my notebook on my lap, I fumbled in my handbag for my pen.

After Lord Moonie’s introduction, the first speaker was Richard Byng.

Richard Byng

A GP, and professor in Primary Care Research at University of Plymouth, Byng specialises in ‘the development and evaluation of complex interventions for marginalised groups and those with mental health problems’.  He is concerned about the harm that may be caused to vulnerable young people via untested, inappropriate or hasty treatments. It was his first time speaking on this ‘very contentious‘ subject.

Byng regularly encounters young people who are questioning their gender. Many are dissatisfied by the failure of medicine to adequately increase beard growth or redistribute body fat or by feelings of sexual inadequacy. Some of these young people ‘don’t necessarily want to transition but feel they might be trans’. Byng is strongly aware of the polarisation of postions and perceives the basis of different opinions among doctors to be founded on three main areas of belief.

First, he told us, is the understanding of brain, body and mind and how this affects our decision making. Medicine usually sees sex as binary and fixed, but queer theory believes the individual’s views on their gender is the most important thing; that people can be ‘born in the wrong body’ and that medical intervention should follow. This, Byng believes, does not give patients the ‘inquisitive, compassionate, but neutrally framed support’ that doctors should be providing.

Secondly, Byng observed that there’s a difference between informed consent and the ‘purely consumerist’ approach of giving people whatever medicine they ask for. Options, and the uncertain risks of treatment may not always be fully discussed with young people, and this can result in harm.

Thirdly, a small group of ‘dedicated gender specialists’, doctors with limited resources, have generated a body of evidence concerning medical intervention and medical techniques. ‘This is in many ways impressive, asserted Byng, but lacks the normal requirement of evidence. There have been few trials, they are small scale, short and without follow up.

Byng quotes Oxford University’s Carl Heneghan, who says,“current evidence does not support informed decision making and safe practice.”

These three issues:  overselling of benefit, unscientific thinking and a consumerist approach, along with cultural changes, have led to the current situation.

Byng is especially concerned about the harms of applying ‘a relatively poor evidence base’ to a new and growing group of young, mainly female, individuals, many of whom present with ROGD, past trauma and/or autistic traits. He also believes that provision for 17-25 year olds under new NHS adult services will not provide enough psychological assessment. Many issues need to be considered when dealing with young people with gender dysphoria, and both transition and detransition may result in short and long term physical side effects, emotional problems and social difficulties.

Byng suggested that to ‘create the best service in the world for gender questioning individuals’ we needed to do the following.

“All medical and surgical interventions for those under 25… should be halted, except under research conditions, with randomised controls and independent monitoring. Instead we should provide compassionate, person-centred, psycho-social support.”

He also believes that such a change is unlikely in the immediate future and that harms can be lessened by the following:

Prevention: A ‘complex mix of cultural norms and personal predispositions’ result in trans feelings. Schools especially need to stop encouraging individuals to see themselves as ‘trans’ and ask why so many girls feel uncomfortable or disgusted by their bodies.

Providing accurate information:  We must stop glamourising sexual stereotypes and transition. NHS and other websites need to mention potential harms as well as benefits.

Adopting a person-centred and scientific approach, as mentioned above.

Offering  ‘neutrally framed support’ individuals to help them come to terms with their biological bodies: this includes psychological support for 17-25 year olds, acknowledgement that some people will desist or detransition and services for those that do.

Finally, Byng recommended bringing together GIDS and adult services in ‘an ongoing long-term cohort research study’.

 

Marcus Evans

Dr Evans worked in psychiatry for many years and was part of the Tavistock management group for 20 years, retiring in Easter 2018 and taking up a post as governor, before resigning over concerns about how the Trust dealt with both Dr Bell’s report (see below) and over a letter from a group of parents whose children were being treated by the GIDS service.

Dr Bell, a senior consultant and governor, had been approached by ten staff members who had ‘grave ethical concerns’ – complaining of inadequate assessments and the influences of  trans pressure lobbies – and a letter from a group of parents who felt their children were being ‘fast tracked’ to medical interventions.

The Trust, in response, asked the medical director to conduct a review. Trust management, Evans claims, dismissed and undermined these concerns and questioned the validity of Dr Bells’ report. He believes that such behaviour  ‘is often driven by a defensive wish to prevent examination of an over-valued system‘ and is especially worried as the GIDS service is treating vulnerable individuals & families.

Evans’ own research and experience, over 40 years, suggests that the positive outcomes promoted as linked with transition are not always the case. In the 80s he assessed adult parasuicides at Kings Hospital, and several had undergone GRS. Often they were unhappy with inadequate psychiatric services and ‘angry at their loss of biological sexual functioning’. He has also encountered patients with serious or long lasting mental disorders who had developed late-onset GID, undergone GRS and found it did not solve their problems. In fact, ‘self-harming and suicidal tendencies escalated’.

‘Adolescence’ he continued, ‘ is a developmental process and all individuals experiment with different identifications, including male and female ones‘ which can result in confusion, doubts and conflicts. Feelings of being ‘dislocated from one’s changing body’ are not uncommon in adolescence and it is essential to tolerate these confusions and avoid early transition. However, the gender dysphoric person and their family often put a great deal of pressure on clinical services ‘to provide the medical intervention that they believe will cure the dysphoria’ and get rid of the confusion. This is exacerbated by the long waiting lists which can be as long as two years and often leave patients arriving at the service ‘in a really bad state‘.

‘In this way, a psychological prang’ is treated as if it were a concrete problem located in the body.’

Evans referred to a case where the Chief Executive of the Tavistock told a parent that gender dysphoria was not a psychiatric condition and had to be corrected by them. The idea that it is not, Evans points out,  is often promoted by pro-trans lobbies, who suggest there isn’t any psychological disturbance underlying the patient’s thinking.

Evans also emphasised the importance of acknowledging that it is not possible for someone to ‘entirely eradicate the biological realities of natal birth’. For this reason, psychological work is extremely important.

Anonymous clinicians have claimed that this process is not followed at the Tavistock, partly due to pressure by pro-trans lobby groups. Young people, he says, should not become the symbol of a political group. Examining different points of view is difficult in the current environment, when accusations of hate speech or transphobia shut down the thoughtful inquiry that is needed ‘so we can protect children from being harmed.’

 

Michael K Laidlaw

Endocrynologist Laidlaw thanked Posie and Venice for inviting him and said it was ‘a great honour to be here’. There were, he said, three questions he wanted to address and answer.

Is a person born a man or a woman?

Neither. A person is born as a girl or a boy. Although this may seem obvious, it is important. While hearts and kidneys are born fully functioning, the testicles and ovaries are not: they await a signal from the brain. Puberty can occur around the age 0f nine and is divided into five ‘Tanner’ stages. Fertility is established around stage four, and stage five is normal adult development.

What happens to a child when normal puberty is blocked?

Problems with the pituitary gland can be treated by endocrinologists to enable normal development. The process of stopping the development of puberty can also be undertaken by endocrinologists – and gender clinics throughout the world, including the UK, are prescribing these problematic medications to children. Sexual organs are not developed at birth and stopping puberty at stage two results in sexual dysfunction.

The final stage of surgery for trans-identified youth is to have testicles or ovaries removed and this leads to complete sterility and sexual dysfunction. Given that blockers are administered to children as young as age eight, Laidlaw asks if these children really have the capacity to give informed consent and understand the consequences of these medications?

Next he asks if these medications really do help the gender confused child. Professor Michael Biggs of Oxford University found, through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Tavistock, that they do not. Unsurprising in the light that these medications are labelled with warnings to ‘monitor for development or worsening of psychiatric symptoms.’

 

 

Do we have the technology to turn a boy into a woman or a girl into a man?

Cross sex hormones are being given to youths and adults in doses 10-40 times higher than upper limit of normal range for testosterone, and double or triple normal levels for oestrogen. Risk of deadly blood clots in males is increased five times. Females have an increased risk of both breast and ovarian cancer. Both males and females are at higher risk of cardio-vascular disease. Yet the American Society of Paediatrics suggests children should receive these treatment based solely on self-identification, ignoring the ‘watchful waiting’ worldwide standard of care.

The Swedish National Council on Medical Ethics (April 2019) concluded that treatment recommendations for gender dysphoria in children and youth must be revised as soon as possible. The Swedish Paediatrics Society stated that ‘giving children the right to independently make vital decisions… is not scientifically founded and is contrary to medical practice’.

The editor in chief of the British Medical Journal came to the conclusion that current studies were not evidence based, calling puberty blocking treatments ‘a momentous step in the dark‘.  There is a lack of quality short term studies and no long term studies on the effect of these treatments for young people.

“Mary Shelley quotes Milton in the chapter of her famous novel,” concluded Laidlaw.

“Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay / To mould me Man, did I solicit thee / From darkness to promote me?”

This quote takes on a new significance when a man wants to be made woman, or a girl wants the impossibility of becoming a man.  Some suggest children should have access to medications and surgeries from any age to allow them some semblance of becoming the opposite sex and wish to pass laws to help this happen.

Laidlaw concluded, “It appears at this point in time that we are harming these vulnerable youths  in so many more ways than we are helping.”

 

Leila Leoncavallo

Leoncavallo has degrees in Psychology and Law and is founder of Fairfax Dyslexia.  She was admitted to the Virgina State Bar in 1994. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and lectures weekly at the US Supreme Court.

Beginning by thanking us all for being there to hear about the ‘importance and urgency of this issue’, Leoncavallo said she was here to represent the Kelsey Coalition and the voices of ‘powerless parents’.

Referring to the huge surge in trans-identified children, she acknowledged ‘their feelings and pain are real, they should be treated with respect and compassionate care’ going on to add that this does not need to include immediate affirmation from teachers and therapists, resulting in ‘invasive, risky and poorly researched medicalisations’.

Teachers in some US schools, she said, teach children that sex is ‘assigned to them by a doctor’ but that they can choose whether to be a girl or a boy. The same teachers are told not to notify parents when their child changes name or pronouns.

She tells us the story of parents whose 13 year old daughter was diagnosed as transgender by a ‘prestigious gender clinic’ within just a few hours. The clinician’s recommendation? Start her on testosterone that very day.

The parent of a girl who began to think she was transgender aged 15, told Leoncavallo:

‘It is difficult for us to get any help other than from those who think she should pursue medical treatment.’

Other parents, who supported their daughter in cutting her hair and choosing new clothing, told her they ‘wanted to explore where these feelings were coming from, but everyone we consulted (including the child’s school and therapist) pushed unquestioning affirmation… all encouraged our daughter to move away from the support and love of her family.’

Another mother is quoted as saying, ‘I took (my daughter) to a gender therapist and was shocked to learn there was no test, no diagnosis, no criteria beyond a child’s feelings during puberty to verify whether or not her self-diagnosis was accurate.’ When she questioned this, the child’s mother was called transphobic by the therapist. The child, who had recently lost her father, was sent to a doctor who put her on puberty blockers at a first visit and testosterone on the third.

Young adults, asserts Leoncavallo, are perhaps more vulnerable to the machinations of unscrupulous practitioners. Informed consent clinics will provide hormones to young people without medical history or mental health assessments. Often, university health plans in the US will cover both hormones and surgeries.

“… at a second visit she received a prescription for testosterone,” tells one parent of their eighteen year old daughter’s experience.

Leoncavallo tells us several more stories of young people fast tracked into hormones and surgery, including a young man with terminal cancer who was prescribed ‘feminising hormone treatments’.

In Oregon, she reminds us, fifteen years olds can receive hormones and ever surgeries without parental permission. Money is no barrier because government funded MedicAid program will cover many of these ‘treatments’.

The story that affected me the most was that of a mother who reported that her ‘sweet, loving girl changed almost overnight’ after coming out as trans age fourteen. Her daughter was diagnosed with ADHD, depression and anxiety. Age sixteen, her daughter found an endocrinologist who taught her to inject herself with testosterone. Soon after, her daughter ran away to Oregon.  The rest of her story was recorded in the booklet accompanying the talks:

“At the age of seventeen, without my consent or even knowledge, my daughter was able to change her name and gender in court, obtain testosterone treatment, a double mastectomy and a radial hysterectomy. Recently surgeons performed another irreversible and risky procedure, a radial forearm phalloplasty on my now 19 year old daughter. They removed part of her arm to surgically construct an imitation penis. My once beautiful daughter is now homeless, living in poverty, bearded, sterilised and extremely mentally ill, but not receiving any mental health services. She tells me that she is in constant pain.

“I have met this heartbroken mother.” Leoncavallo tells us. “As incredible as her story is, I can promise you that it is true. I want to show you some pictures that her mother shared with me.”

We are shown pictures of a baby, a small child and an older child, smiling happily at the camera. Then we are shown a picture of the young woman at seventeen. She is posed lying across a bed, topless. She sports a bushy beard and surgery scars from her double mastectomy. She is wearing rainbow Y-fronts.

There is not a single long-term study to support the use of these interventions, concludes Leoncavallo. We must stop this.

 

Stephanie Davies-Arai

Davies-Arai has delivered courses and workshops for parents and schools for over twenty years and is the author of Communicating with Kids. In 2015  she founded Transgender Trend who released their schools packs in 2018. Her talk was titled ‘The spread of an ideology and the targeting of children in UK schools’.

Davies-Arai asserted that the huge rise in children presenting to the Tavistock Gender Identity Development Service must be seen within the context of  “the current worldwide cultural obsession with ‘gender identity,’ driven by a global transgender activist movement.”

The groups providing transgender training to the NHS, police, prisons and teachers are not trained professionals but lobby groups, heavily funded by lottery and government grants. Groups such as Mermaids, GIRES and Gendered Intelligence wish to replace the reality of biological sex with ‘gender identity’, both legally and culturally, and advocate for the social transition of gender dysphoric children.

School children are taught, often with the aid of picture books and programs on children’s television, that sex is merely ‘assigned at birth’ and that exploration of their ‘innate gender identity’ will lead them to discover if they are really a boy or a girl.

This, says Davies-Arai, is ‘adult activism imposed on very small children’ and teachers are being led to believe they have to affirm these ideas.

 

Children are being groomed by activists on social media, where they learn the art of ‘mechanically repeating dogma’. They are told how to acquire hormones online and encouraged to use the threat of suicide to manipulate their parents. Children are being taught that if their parents disagree with this ideology they are transphobic and hateful. A child who believes themselves to be transgender is thus ‘placed outside safeguarding and outside parental protection, leaving them vulnerable to influence from external agencies’.

 

Davies-Arai pointed to the huge increase in child referrals to the Tavistock over the last decade: the increase is  1,173% in referrals of boys, and  4,415% increase in referrals of girls.

(Yes, you did read that right!)

Rapid onset of gender dysphoria (ROGD) in adolescent girls who have no history of gender dysphoria in childhood is ‘a newly-created phenomenon for this generation’ observed Davies-Arai. Historically transexuals have been predominantly autogynophilic men. Childhood-onset gender dysphoria was much rarer, and under a process of ‘watchful waiting’ only 20% of these children went on to transition. A majority grew up to be homosexual.

Yet hormones- and puberty blockers which we know ‘virtually guarantee progression to cross-sex hormones‘- are now being given to ROGD teenagers.

“Unquestioning affirmation is not a neutral act of kindness, but an intervention that actively shapes and changes a child’s development.”

Daily affirmation from adults in positions of trust reinforces a child’s idea that they are actually the opposite sex. This changes a child’s neural pathways: social transition has been shown to affect persistence rates, leading young women who desist or detransition to ask “‘why did no-one tell me I could never actually be a boy?’

When a child’s body is cast as ‘an inconvenient mistake’ it leads to the child feeling contempt for their body and this puts  children and their bodies at risk.

Davies-Arai concluded by saying she has seen at first hand how the mental health problems of our most vulnerable young people are often made worse after ‘coming out’ as trans.

“We must support children who identify as transgender in schools but we must not encourage children to understand their problems within this one prescribed conceptual framework.”

Children are being used as test subjects for ‘gender theory and queer theory’ and we need to start from a ‘basis of reality’ when dealing with children. We must protect children from lobby groups presenting ‘ideology masquerading as fact’ and ensure that young people have access to accurate information and a range of support services suited to their individual needs. This includes the 17-25 year old age group, which is particularly vulnerable and can ‘slip between the gaps between child and adult services‘. We need, concluded Davies-Arai, long term research with measured outcomes and proper follow up, and a review of the use of medication on young children.

 

“Those were very good presentations, thank you,” commented Lord Moonie. “Before I throw this open for general questions, David Bell is here and I wonder if he might like to add a few words?”

David Bell

Bell is the consultant psychiatrist who carried out the report of the gender service at the Tavistock. The report was leaked and is now in the public domain. He said that, as an employee of the Trust, he was limited in what he could say and that it was important to acknowledge that anything he did say was his own personal view and not necessarily the view of the Trust.

“Gender dysphoria,” he said “is a disturbance of state of mind arising from conflicts about gender. Transgender is a statement about a wish to change gender and an identity.” The difference is important and the complexity of the issue must not be underestimated.

The children who come to the Tavistock are ‘a disturbed population with multiple pathologies’ who may have suffered sexual abuse or been subject to homophobia. They may suffer from depression or ADHD. “Often they are children who are lost in the world.”  Peer group pressure or online influences offer them a new identity and a ‘script’ to present parents and clinicians.

The huge cuts in mental health services mean that if a clinician is able to put a child’s issues under the umbrella of ‘transgender’ the child can be sent to a specialist service. Thinking about these issues is being ‘peculiarly cast as transphobic’.

He talked about how in the past gay men were given hormones and coercive therapy in order to change their identity. People who want to think about things, he reiterated, are those who want to stop conversion therapy. It’s important that we defend the right of trans people not to be discriminated against but it should not be confused with the need to affirm identity in children.

He believes that society’s increasing  ‘idealisation of macho ideals’  feeds the misogyny that these young women experience; for some it is more about not wanting the body they have than actively desiring to be something else.

The increase in numbers of children presenting to the Tavistock represents ‘a socio-cultural phenomena which we do not understand’.

The refusal to investigate and instead to treat reflects the change from patienthood to customer and the growth of identity politics.

 

 

 

Further Discussion

Audience members, including academics and lawyers spoke of the ‘climate of intimidation’ and how there are current cases concerning free speech on this issue.

It was suggested that forthcoming cases concerning medical negligence might leave lawyers as the only ones benefiting from the current situation. It was mentioned that a group of young women in the US had wanted to take legal action concerning their treatment but had been unable to get funding. In the UK there have been cases involving out of court civil settlements. It was also suggested that undiagnosed PTSD was an issue in many cases.

“What can we do,” asked James Caspian, “when even just sitting here discussing this would have us all labelled TERFs, transphobes, bigots, right-wing fundamentalists… that’s what happens. People are intimidated… most of the people speaking here have either resigned or are self-employed.”

David Davies echoed Caspian’s concerns and said after his last meeting in the Lords he was told by somebody in the Whips office that speaking out on this subject meant he would never get promotion.

A GP said, “All my colleagues find this issue incredibly problematic… I don’t know one GP who is at ease with this approach, it’s just sort of been dumped on us.”

Since when has questioning gender roles been an issue, she asked, adding that she was deeply concerned about young lesbians. So far she had refused to prescribe hormones or blockers and wondered if she could take the issue to the GMC. Another GP spoke about bridging hormones and how the GMC website did not make it clear that GPs did not have to prescribe them.

Julia Long pointed out that children learn from what they see around them, and as long as the adults around them are conforming to gender stereotypes and acting as if those stereotypes are real, children will copy us.

Several people commented on the influence of social media and others on the problems involved with confusing the ideas of gender and sex. It was observed that some families are not comfortable with homosexuality and might prefer to have a transgender child than a gay child.

A woman spoke about bullying and harassment in elite sport, how the rules concerning testosterone suppression had been changed, and how self-id was affecting young women’s scholarship positions. Tokyo will be the first Olympics where transwomen will compete and it is up to ex-atheletes to speak up about this. Stephanie replied that in schools in the UK girls were being called bigots if they didn’t want to compete against trans-identifed boys.

Heather Brunskell-Evans made the point that “‘it isn’t about gender freedom it’s about intensifying very old fashioned (patriarchal) ideas about gender… children are being used for political ideology and this is the very thing we can’t say… that there isn’t any such thing as a transgender child.”

Posie Parker wanted to know how parliamentarians could be persuaded to listen to reasonable voices. She told how she visited her MP and told him he needed to raise questions in parliament. “You’re my hope, you’re my voice to power. What hope have we got?” she had asked him. And her MP had replied “Well, we’ve got you.”

“We’ve got to take the long term view that we can change behaviour, and change the understanding of the issue, but it’s going to take time.” replied Lord Moonie.

“A lot of people just don’t realise what is happening,” said one audience member, “and a lot of people are worried about putting their heads above the parapet, even in this place.”

Maya Forstater, who was fired from her job for her views on gender, told how she is taking her employer to court over the protected characteristic of belief. People say ‘of course we must talk about this but I’m too scared.’ This has to change.

A parent spoke of losing contact with all of her children over gender ideology and because she couldn’t believe her children were not the sex they were born. “Parents are absolutely terrified.. they can get no doctor to help them.. no therapist to help them… there’s nowhere to go.”

“It’s very difficult for a clinician… to have the freedom to do their job.  It isn’t my job to agree or disagree with the patient, it’s my job to think about the patient and open things out. We’re all complicated. It’s care that makes us behave thoughtfully and rigorously with our patients, it’s not hatred.”

“I see families torn apart by this,” added Davies-Arai, “It’s the most damaging phenomena I’ve ever seen and I’ve worked with parents for over twenty years… parents are painted as bigots and transphobes… and children are coached to do this online… parents report that it is as if their child has been taken over by a cult.”

In some states in the US, we were told, teachers are actively encouraged to report parents who do not affirm their children.

Sue Evans, who resigned from the Tavistock many years ago, raised the issue of James Caspian being closed down by a university for trying to study detransitioners. He needed, she said, to have freedom of speech to represent people who have been mistreated in the past.

David Bell pointed out that if a doctor had a patient who hated his arm, the doctor would try to reconcile that man to his healthy arm rather than remove it. Is that conversion therapy? Earlier he had told a story about helping a man who hated his ears reconcile with them and work, over a period of time, through the issues (in this case problems with his father who had similar ears) that had led him to feel that way. He pointed out the incongruence that a child who says he hates his penis is put on blockers.

Journalist and film maker Sonia Poulton observed that the media is largely complicit in promoting trans ideology. Poulton recently appeared on This Morning, ostensibly to discuss the LGBT sandwich . After digressing onto the subject of the cotton ceiling, she mentioned she was making a film about trans issues and was later approached by several interested broadcasters and streaming services. This wouldn’t have happened two years ago, she professed. Editors and journalists have been petrified about speaking out of line but behind the scenes she believes things are changing.

To much applause Stephanie Davies-Arai mentioned that the Transgender Trend schools pack had recently been voted ‘most compliant with EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission) guidance’ in an article in TES.

The panel was asked if it felt there was a gap in the market for a ‘sensible gender service’, one which took children up to their 18th birthday without medication.

A clinician who didn’t want to take children to the clinic for medication, just treat them psychologically, said they had been told ‘we wouldn’t get any customers’. The Tavistock Trust depends on the money that comes in from that clinic. If there was a clinic that gave drugs and one that didn’t, they would all go to the one that gave the drugs.

Mention was made of the ‘two year black hole’ that families faced while waiting for an appointment after a child first ‘comes out’ as transgender and how lobby groups leap in to fill that gap with affirmation. Concerns were expressed that children were being ‘funneled into a service which is a one-way conveyor belt’.

A Director of  Marketing and Communications at the Tavistock introduced herself. “It’s not a conveyor belt,’ she disagreed, advising us that the waiting list has grown, both because of the increase in referrals and also the increase in the number of appointments. She said children had between four and six assessments.

“Between three and four,” someone interrupted.

“Four to six,” she reaffirmed.

“Even twelve years ago it was three,” interjected Evans, “because I was there and I witnessed it.”

After a pause, she continued that the average number of sessions over the last five years had been seven. It takes a long time to train clinicians to do ‘incredibly difficult work’. Most of the time they worked with a dual clinician model, and “fewer than half our patients actually progress on to any kind of physical intervention of any kind”.

It was pointed out that we know younger children are less likely to receive medication, so numbers must be much higher than half for teenagers.  She replied somewhat evasively that a teenager approaching the service today would be ‘unlikely to access physical intervention’.  She described the situation in the US as ‘pretty dire and frightening’ but claimed the situation in the UK was different within the NHS, while expressing increasing concern about private practice and self-medication, a situation not helped by long waiting lists.

A woman asked if the panel had a comment on suicide risks. Her child had been suffering from anxiety and depression as well as gender dysphoria: she said her psychiatrist said her child had ‘a really high risk of suicide’ if she didn’t address the trans issue quickly and this caused her to seek private treatment.

“We literally don’t have the evidence to say either way, so they should not be saying that.”

Panel members agreed that the risk of suicide needed to be considered, although “a multi-analysis of European data shows the risk is hardly higher than any other group with recognisable mental disturbance”.

Acknowledging that good work went on at the Tavistock, it was observed, doesn’t address the fact that staff on Panorama and in Bells’ report are saying different things, nor that there have been five recent whistle blowers from the service.

When Marcus Evans was the clinical director for adolescent services, he told us, he had asked the medical director about outcomes in terms of how many kids go on to UCL and what happens after investigation. He was told they didn’t have the figures. This is a matter for concern.

We need to keep dialogue open with the Tavistock, said Byng, calling it ‘probably the best service in the world’ but adding that it needs to collect proper evidence of outcomes and increase openness.

“Medically we need to be able to speak about this. How do we make a difference? We have conversations with everyone we meet.”

 

 

“I really have to wind things up now,” said Lord Moonie, describing the presentations as ‘covering their areas admirably’ and concluding, “I believe this is a social contagion.. if you look at society over the past hundred years there have been others and they’ve all come and they’ve all gone. … the other side know this full well… we have science and reason on our side: all they have is gender.”

 

It was a relief to step out of the room and into the cool air of the carpeted hallways. Interesting as the meeting had been, three hours taking frenzied notes in a small room with no coffee is no mean feat. I was more than ready to hit the pub for a pint of soda and lime. So I did.

 

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Lesbians on Chairs – the event

I can confirm that there were lesbians and they were quite definitely sitting on chairs.

On 11th May 2019, an audience of 160 (159 women & a bloke) gathered to hear words of wisdom from five lesbians: six if you add Anne Ruzlyo, who chaired the event. Speakers were Sheila Jeffreys, Julia Beck, Lesley Woodburn, Julia Long and Dovile Lapinskaite.

‘Lesbians on Chairs’ was organised by Standing For Women and, as now is the norm for meetings where women wish to gather and discuss gender and all its affiliated oppression, the venue was kept secret until the day of the event.

Our journey there was fairly uneventful. We took the tube, and coffee was involved at both ends of the trip. As the meeting wasn’t at an ungodly hour in the morning and only a short-ish journey from chez-Maynard, there was no mad dash and, sadly, no interesting anecdotes to relate about adventures on the way.

We surfaced into the sunlight at Euston Station and  I stood on the concourse, revolving like a compass as I tried to work out which way Siri was trying to send me. As I strode off to the left, ‘it’s definitely this way’, speaking with more confidence that I felt, I hear a cry of “hey TERFs!” behind us and turned to see Natasha, for once not bearing her knitted ‘woman: adult human female’ banner.

Arriving at the Wesley Euston, for Lesbians on Chairs.

“I have no idea where I’m going,” she greeted us cheerfully, looking around her to locate the women she was meeting.

Almost immediately another group of women arrived, including speaker Julia Long, so I slipped my phone back into my pocket and followed them to the Wesley, trying casually to look as if I’d been intending to turn right all along.

The Wesley describes itself as ‘the first ethical hotel in the UK’ and is evidently ‘committed to sustainable business and social responsibility’. Modern and airy, with spacious conference rooms, clean loos and friendly staff, it deserves to flourish.

It took less than ten minutes to walk from the tube station to the hotel, where we were ushered downstairs; a gilt-framed sign directing us to the Hilda Porter conference room.  A starched, white table cloth at the back of the hall sported complimentary bottled water and for one glorious moment I mistook the Standing for Women merch stall for a coffee shop.

Ceci n’est pas un coffee shop

We had arrived fairly early so managed to get seats in the second row, close to the front. The room buzzed with chatter as women arrived and took their seats. A series of flags and banners adorned the speakers area, and the women seated there talked together, sipped at water and examined their notes.

My disappointment at the lack of coffee was short-lived, as Michèle discovered the hotel had a coffee shop upstairs. She disappeared and returned a few minutes later with a tray of steaming beverages. My coffee and I sunk down happily in our seat as the livestream was set up and the last few stragglers filed into the hall.

Anne Ruzlyo

“How fantastic to see a room full of women… and a man,” began Ruzlyo, who introduced herself as a founder member of Lesbians on Chairs. She welcomed us to the meeting, told us where the toilets and fire exits were and asked those who didn’t wish to be photographed or filmed to make themselves known.   She reminded us that the hastag for today was #lesbiansonchairs.

Claire & Martina

“Martina has joined us,” added Anne, with a straight face. We all turned- I almost believed it for a moment- to see Claire coming down the aisle with a life-sized portrait of Martina, which she carefully placed on a chair next to the speakers.

“A round of applause for Martina, there! Martina Navratilova is now a lesbian on a chair!”

And how we clapped!

Ruzlyo thanked Posie Parker and Venice Allan for supporting lesbians and putting on the event, and asked women to offer to take part in Kate’s video project, before introducing us to Tonya, who was filming for a documentary.

 

Tonya of ‘Hungry Hearts’

“I’m Tonje from Norway… it’s the same in Norway… freedom of expression is not for women… we need to make people aware of what is happening. I’m an artist, I have a lesbian performance band Hungry Hearts and we made the Vagina Anthem…”

Tonya was interrupted here by a well-deserved barrage of cheers and whoops. Have you heard the Vagina Anthem? It’s iconic. Here’s a link. Be warned, it will be stuck in your head for days.

Ruzlyo explained that speakers would have fifteen minutes each. Today I am strict!”Oooo, and we’re all going to the pub after. We’ll announce where at the end when we’re not being streamed. There’ll be a Q&A at the end,” continued Anne, as she introduced Sheila Jeffreys, the first speaker, “but any fan love should be saved until the pub afterwards or we’ll never get out of the door.”

Sheila Jeffreys

“It’s lovely to be here with all these splendid lesbians!” started Sheila, referring to the panel, and going on to say how wonderful it was to be speaking on a panel with the women who were creating the next phase of lesbian feminism.

“I can’t tell you what it means in my heart to be part of this happening again. These are the women… who are doing it right now.”

Sheila said it was her ‘sad duty‘ to give a sketch of what the lesbian community had lost since the 1970s and 80s; that the lesbian politics of the time had enabled women to come out as lesbians with confidence and pride. Lesbian feminists were fundamental to the heart of the women’s liberation movement at that time,

“The literature and the theory and the women’s centres and rape crisis centres and the battered women’s refuges.. you name it, there were lesbians initiating those things and fully involved in all of them…  There were lesbian and women-only spaces for lesbians to meet, dance,socialise, make music, art: we had lesbian tradeswomen, bands, novels, poetry, books of theory, we had philosophy. There were lesbian centres and groups all over the country. Now of course, there are trans groups all over the country… None of this included men who said they were lesbians.”

Sheila observed that these men were barely in evidence at the time and had not yet effected state capture. There were ‘a few strange cross dressers’ but she had only ever met a couple back in the 70s and 80s. Lesbians, she said, were not transgendered before the 1990s.

In the 1950s, lesbians didn’t come out. The lesbian community was underground, usually sharing its spaces with gay men, and lesbians were rejected by family, workplaces and society in general. They were often sent to mental hospitals if it was even suspected that they were women who loved women. Many lesbians engaged in butch/fem relationships “within the constraints of heterosexual forms.. to protect their safety, they lived entirely under an unrelieved hetero-patriarchal regime.”

During the 70s and 80s, this was not the case. From the late 60s onwards, the gay liberation movement meant that lesbians became more confrontational and outspoken;  the vanguard of the Women’s Liberation Movement. They rejected heterosexuality as an enforced political system designed to extract women’s labour and keep women under control. Lesbians felt able ‘to say they were not freaks and pariahs, they were the very model of a liberated woman. Free of male control, creating their own lives, choosing to reject the enfeebling effects of femininity.”

“The idea that feminists could and should choose to become lesbians was an important part of our thinking,” said Jeffreys, acknowledging that this idea sparks controversy today more than ever. “Joy was absolutely fundamental to what we were doing.”

 

“We wore challenging badges on the tube,” remembers Jeffreys, “such as ‘How Dare you Assume I’m Heterosexual’.

It’s hard to imagine, reflected Jeffreys, that back then, women were teaching in schools that heterosexuality was an institution, both political and compulsory. Now in schools, “young lesbians are being transgendered and any suggestion that this might be a problem is treated as heresy and potentially a sackable offence.”

“We said it was ok to be man-haters… We could not have been more ‘out’ in public. We were not some pale version of gay men… now prominent lesbians, and their frightened younger sisters on the verge of coming out, are afraid to use the word… they tend to hide themselves under terms such as queer, non-binary, bisexual or transgender. And in this way… we are going back to the 1950s.”

The ideas of the 70s are now forgotten and condemned, lamented Jeffreys, and women like her, who had sexual contact with men before becoming lesbian, are told by some that they have no right to call themselves lesbians. “We are straight-bians” said Sheila, with stern faux-seriousness, rolling her ‘r’ like a French school marm. “Any women not lesbians from birth, with no contact at any time with a penis anywhere near them except in the process of insemination before they were born- it is hard to get away from it, isn’t it?-  are just pretending!”

Sheila was so funny when she said this that even many of those who disagreed with her perspective couldn’t help but laugh at her tone.

 

Sheila Jeffreys & Julia Beck during Jeffreys’ speech.

Jeffreys recurred that lesbians were at the heart of creating women’s culture of the 70s and 80s.  Lesbians were writing books of poetry and novels, and these were published by women’s or lesbian presses. There were numerous theatre performances, poetry readings and cultural events, organised solely by and for women. Many spaces were ‘women only’ and there was no controversy about it. There were women’s political spaces, artistic spaces, women & lesbian conferences: woman’s discos were held practically every week night in London. Women ran bookstores and cafés. During the ‘Women’s Monthly Event’ a community centre would be taken over with rooms set aside for pool, chatting, political discussions, dancing and spaces for setting out wares for sale.

“Heterosexual women came in large numbers and because of the extraordinary erotic buzz, many of those women became lesbians- and some of them may be here today! …

The disappearance of lesbian culture took place over a several decades but caused enormous grief, says Jeffreys. The women’s presses and centres closed, the discos disappeared; the bands went mainstream. It was especially sad because “all of us believed that our culture would last forever”.

“Now there are almost no women’s spaces left and it is impossible for women to meet without the inclusion of men, some of them in dresses, some of them in trousers. No one would have imagined it would come to this in the heyday of lesbian feminism. Without our own space we cannot imagine the erotic and political joy of joining together with other women. We cannot create a lesbian perspective that allows us to see the world in a completely different way.”

Jeffreys spoke faster towards the end of her allocated time, the audience feeling both the power of the world she described and the pathos of its loss.  Yet she concluded with a message of hope that had the audience burst into a cheer.

 “The most extraordinary thing is that I’m standing here today and we’re going to create the whole thing again and it’s happening RIGHT NOW!”

 

Julia Beck

Anne introduced Beck as “a writer and organiser from Baltimore, Maryland.  She helps produce a monthly radio broadcast for Women’s Liberation Radio News. Last year she represented lesbians at Baltimore Pride and on the law and policy committee of Baltimore City’s LGBTQ commission. She’s currently at the forefront of the fight for women’s and lesbian’s rights in the USA – Julia Beck.”

Beck was met with cheers as she stood up and took the microphone and it was a minute before she could speak. “You’re a shero!” called out one woman, a cry met with whoops from another, and Beck seemed genuinely surprised at the warmth and ferocity of her reception.

Plans to march in the Baltimore Pride parade were hatched last May over dinner with lesbians in Baltimore City. “We wanted to cause a ruckus and a ruckus we did cause!” she said with a laugh. Julia says she was inspired by the actions of Charlie Montague and Renée Gerlich in New Zealand and by an anonymous woman at the 2018 Vancouver women’s march.

None of the women who marched with her that day were looking for notoriety but Beck was named on Twitter and ‘thus began my journey into the public eye.’

Julia writes about her experience here, in her article ‘How I became the most hated lesbian in Baltimore’.

Although she is a citizen, Beck prefers not to call herself an American, observing that there’s more to the Americas than the States alone. She pointed out that she, Marielle Franco and Megan Murphy and could all be called Americans but were all born in different countries. This year Beck has appeared on television and testified twice in Congress. She acknowledges that she was able to do these things not just because of her ‘absurdly true’ story but because of the privileges of race and education and the opportunities that she has been given. While education should be a human right, the US acts as if it is a privilege, and Julia describes academia as ‘the intellectual militia’.  Access to social media and other digital platforms, she affirmed, are privileges that we need to use with honesty.

We should not be surprised that ‘the legacy of feminism in the USA is riddled with racism’ and Beck reminds us that the struggle of women is ‘ongoing and global’, while we live in a dystopia where ‘men can be whatever they want and women can be whatever men want’. Paula Giddings, Beck told us, writes in her book ‘When and Where I Enter‘ that in the year Martin Luther King was assassinated media attention to the women’s movement was focused primarily on a bra-burning protest at the Miss America pageant. ‘When the media is run by white people you can probably guess what makes the news’.

“Sometimes violence is the answer. Property destruction can be a political act, so I encourage women, especially lesbians, to become more militant.” A cheer from the back of the room. “But violence against people? That’s usually not so good. Male violence is a global problem. Men are killing women, each other and the planet at a seemingly exponential rate.”

Beck observed that while in the UK we are making strides in the battle to protect women’s sex-based rights, in the US there is a lot more ground to cover, partly because the US is so vast. She believes there are as few as two or three women working offline in most major US cities.

“Everyone else is ruled by fear, plugged in to the 24 hour news cycle, filling their minds and bodies with processed garbage. We are so complacent and pacified. I am disgusted. It’s almost as is US citizens are afraid of discomfort. We are afraid to think for ourselves.”

Julia Beck speaking, on screen; Julia Long in the background

 

“When people come together they form groups, and groups equal culture. We do need to look inside ourselves to some extent: we need to know our own stories and the stories of our ancestors, these stories help us grow. When women talk to each other, especially when lesbians talk to each other and share our stories, we realise we have a lot in common.

This is how we raise consciousness. This is how we wake up.”

 

Most traditions in the States are capitalist, reflected Beck, the beauty industry promoting a world of make believe where celebrities are used to sell products to women who can never be good enough. Likewise, femininity is artificial, making women into products, marked as somehow ‘less than’ men and for the consumption of men.

“Femininity hinders our movement. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to each other to stop painting our faces and shaving our bodies. If we stop doing it then men will have nothing to mimic. Femininity is a male fantasy anyway.”

A murmur of approval ran round the room at this well-expressed and uncomfortable truth, accompanied by a small wave of slightly awkward applause, as a sizeable proportion of us were wearing make up.

Our bodies are all we have, continued Beck, our best weapons. That is why men want to control them. She called on women, especially lesbians, to learn combat sports, train their bodies for strength. Women who cannot do this should train their minds. Women need to know how to fight, and create connections and strong pockets of resistance. She compared women and lesbian communities to a germinating spore which needs protecting at the beginning.

“We need sisterhood for sure, but more than that we need sisters in war. The revolution starts with you, in your mind. No man is going to rescue you… say no. If feminism was reduced to one word it would be ‘No’.”

Beck concluded by referencing Stormé Laverie, the black butch lesbian who sparked the Stonewall rebellion, who called on her peers to ‘do something’.

“We need to do something, because it’s now or never.”

Left to right, Jeffreys, Beck, Woodburn

 

When applause for Beck had died down, Anne Ruzlyo reminded those who had bought the ‘super duper whopper ticket’ to pick up their pack, a box containing an ‘adult human female’ notebook, lanyard, stickers, pin, badges and pen.

The next speaker was Lesley Woodburn.

“You may have seen Lesley a few times just recently. Lesley is a socialist, Trade Unionist and community activist.”

You can read about why Lesley was in the news recently, here.

 

Lesley Woodburn

Lesley, who has attended many Mayday marches over the years, attended this year with a friend. On the march they carried a sign bearing the definition of woman: ‘adult human female’. The stewards on the march saw the transactivists, who Woodburn believes had just come out of the London School of Economics, heard what they said, looked at Lesley’s sign and were baffled as to why anyone might be objecting to it. Initially the transactivists were moved on by the stewards and prevented from joining the demonstration.

“I was called ‘black scum’ whilst marching. I was called ‘TERF’. We actually expected the TERF comment and the ‘transphobic’ comments, but the racist comments? I don’t think I expected that.”

Woodburn observed that the activists were very young, mostly white and seemed to be middle-class. These young people, she said, have never had to fight actual fascists.  “That’s why they can call women ‘fascists’… because they have no idea about fascism or fighting fascism.” 

There are people in this room, continued Woodburn, who fought to close down the British National Party headquarters in Welling, who demonstrated against the Poll Tax and marched against Clause 28. These young people are ‘resting in the rights which… we won for ourselves and we won for them’.

Trade unions, added Lesley, are colluding to ensure that ‘rape culture is actually enshrined in law’ and that trade union members need to call them out on it. Union members need to resist the ‘gender jail that they want to send us all to’ and bring the unions back into line; trade union bureaucrats have lost sight of the fact that people are fed up of living under austerity and holding down half a dozen jobs just to survive. People need to ask their unions what they are doing about this.

Woodburn, Jeffreys, Long and Lapinskaite

Woodburn praised the women who have fought back against the ‘gender jail’, women like Florida Macdonalds worker Yasmine Jones who was grabbed by the throat by a male customer and retaliated by beating him up; the Yeovil, UK students who smashed CCTV cameras in their school toilets and the Alaskan school girl who fought a young man who trapped her in the toilets. She mentioned the woman who was kicked out of her local pub for wearing an ‘adult human female’ T shirt, and emphasised the importance of passing on those stories.

“The only way to be resilient is the be visible as much as we can, take action as much as we can and to understand what our collective experience is and pass that on… we need to ring the alarm and ring the alarm now.”

When the applause died down, Ruzlyo reminded us that many trade union members are women and that unions are a good place to meet collectively and communicate.

“Julia Long is a lesbian,” said Anne, in introduction, “one of the old fashioned kind that doesn’t have a penis. She’s worked in education, local government, academia and the women’s sector and is currently a researcher in the field of male violence against women.”

Julia Long

Long started by saying she was ‘blown away’ by everything she had heard so far, and said she wanted to reflect on where the ‘gender critical’ movement was at the moment. Long is not a fan of the term ‘gender critical’ but acknowledges that it is hard to find an alternative. Because it is important to ‘name the reality in which we find ourselves’  lesbian feminists frequently have to use ‘the language of catastrophe and disaster’.

Long observed that while there had been a lot of talk about lesbian erasure; the demise of the lesbian feminist movement; the loss of lesbian spaces, we hadn’t spoken much about the harm being done to young lesbians and the destruction of young lesbian bodies. She wondered how we might bring a different reality into being, expressing concern that using the language of loss and erasure might have the effect of adding to that narrative. New ways of thinking and using language would be needed to do this.

“Women throughout history have this choice fall into two camps, to what extent do we want to resist patriarchy… to what extent do we want to create our own reality?” The gender critical movement uses so many euphemisms, for example saying we are ‘critical of gender identity ideology’ because we are afraid of being seen to be ‘anti transgender’.

Writing letters, academic papers, protests, talks, online discussions are all very well, but are actions taken in ‘response mode’. there is a lot to be said for trying to get men to change, but to some extent ‘what we resist persists’.  Paying huge amounts of attention to inconsequential entities – these men who are being created as celebrities- perpetuates the problem. Long suggested that a lot might be gained by reading the works of Sonia Johnson who says:

“Women have resisted patriarchy with unsurpassed cunning, craft and passion for at least five thousand years.  I don’t want to seem hasty but it seems that five thousand years is long enough to try any method, particularly one that doesn’t work.”

Sharing a phrase of her own coining, Long purports that to some extent ‘argumentation is validation’. Giving these men attention suggests that what they are saying is important; giving them our energy encourages them. Julia suggested that if we don’t want to spend our time in ‘response mode’ perhaps there are better things we can be doing with it.

“As a lesbian feminist I do not define myself in relation to men. It is not my responsibility to clear up the mess that men have made… to squander my time, my knowledge and my energy in what I increasingly believe to be a futile and pointless attempt to clear up the horrors that men have wrought, whether these be the horrors of transgenderism or any other form of male violence against women or against the planet.

What is my responsibility? As a lesbian feminist, my responsibility is to my Self… to be conscious of the significance of my Self…  we are hugely significant and it is a challenge to us to really take that on board, be conscious of it and then to act and manifest that.”

Long spoke of the work of Julia Penelope, who spoke as long ago as the early 90s of how lesbian feminists had lost the sense of their own significance. Rather than spending energy arguing with men, Long feels, lesbian feminists could be spending that energy on greater things.

“Lesbian feminism IS women’s liberation.. my challenge is… to create more space, more possibilities and more potential for myself and for other lesbian feminists: to create more lesbian feminist consciousness and lesbian feminist reality in the world.”

Long suggests that one of the ways lesbian feminists can do this is by articulating a lesbian perspective in mainstream heterosexual environments.  She reminded the audience that just because a woman is a lesbian it doesn’t necessarily mean everything she says is coming from a lesbian perspective; that many high profile lesbians support male supremacy.

‘The more we are worshiping in the cathedrals of patriarchy, the less available to us is the lesbian perspective. We need to ask unpopular questions. If you aren’t frequently being made to feel that you’ve said something unpopular, you are living a cramped and timid life.’ 

Long said she wanted to finish with a quote from Andrea Dworkin.

“Does the sun ask itself, “Am I good? Am I worthwhile? Is there enough of me?” No, it burns and it shines. Does the sun ask itself, “What does the moon think of me? How does Mars feel about me today?” No it burns, it shines. Does the sun ask itself, “Am I as big as other suns in other galaxies?” No, it burns, it shines.”

“Lesbian feminists,” Julia concluded. “Let us burn, let us shine.”

When the applause for Julia has died down, Anne tells us that the next speaker is Dovile Lapinskaite, a graduate in Politics, Philosophy and History of Art; a lesbian radical feminist activist and independent artist.

Dovile Lapinskaite

“Last but hopefully not least. Petrifying! I’m going to pick one woman and stare at her,” joked Dovile, “So don’t be scared if you encounter my deadly look.”

Dovile said she was not going to speak about lesbian erasure and bullying, as it was ever present but nothing new. She agreed with Julia that lesbians have always been the ones cleaning up the mess of patriarchy, but she saw hope in the fact that “when patriarchy dies in my consciousness, it dies everywhere… when we stop believing that we must do everything through and in relation to men and their system, we stop thinking of men’s control as a power.”

Lapinskaite said she had been involved in protests, direct actions and campaigns since her early 20s. She hoped, but doubted, that it had made much of a difference.  She did not advocate for working herself to death for a better future ‘one day’. ‘Suffering teaches suffering’, she suggested and it is important to live now and for yourself. Working with men and in men’s job results in women having a larger stake in the ‘ugly, vicious’ patriarchal system. She emphasised the importance of being involved in creating a new world, physically, socially and economically. Lapinskate has three degrees and recently enrolled on a bricklaying and carpentry course.

“With each step I feel freer and freer because I don’t need to rely on men, their services and their created system… I believe that by freeing myself and being an example I make freedom more accessible to other women. So,” she smiled at the audience and was met with applause and whoops of approval, “Let’s speak separatism!”

Dovile believes that lesbian separatism is rarely acknowledged in the mainstream history of feminism and is often spoken of disparagingly. While it doesn’t necessarily work for all lesbians, it works for her and brings her happiness.

Lesbian separatism should be about putting lesbians first, and Lapinskaite acknowledges the power of the phrase coined by Alix Dobkin who refers to herself as a ‘lesbian connector’ rather than a separatist.

In contemporary culture, lesbian energy has been exploited and is being channeled into putting others first. Lapinskaite sees LGBT politics as being primarily for the benefit of men, citing the organisation Stonewall and Diva magazine as two examples of this in action. Whilst this is nothing new- she references the AIDS crisis of the 80s, when many dying gay men were cared for by lesbian women.

“I don’t believe in T and B,” she explains, “which leaves us with L and G- and gay rights are men’s rights. They (gay men) may be oppressed but because they are males they have privilege at the expense of women. Though gay men suffer discrimination in comparison with heterosexual males, they are still way more well-off, more respected and have more opportunities than women.”

At the recent Stonewall protest a young woman she spoke to was shocked at Dovile’s assertion that she didn’t care about the other letters in the LGBTQ acronym, she cared only for the L. But why, she asked, should she feel ashamed of this when most men don’t even want to hear about female oppression, let alone about lesbians? Why should she care about men? Men, she said, should start learning how to help themselves and stop sucking lesbian energy. So, back to separatism!

“The most important fact that I’ve learned as a lesbian: I live outside their system and I have my being. Only outside can I have integrity and therefore power. We cannot have power in a male system, because in order to be in it at all we must be like them, think like them, act like them and it’s always a lose.

Separatism comes from ‘the blaze within us’. The choice to be lesbian comes from fierce love, passion, protectiveness and commitment to our own kind. Sharing knowledge and skills is essential.  Lapinskaite says she has no men in her life, they don’t really exist in her world, so they don’t distract her from creating a free and happy life for herself amongst other lesbians?

“It’s time to manage and heal our own bodies, to learn how to provide for ourselves, how to teach each other skills..  this is how I want to spend my life, my intelligence and my energy… not to sacrifice my needs, my time and my energy for someone else’s better world.”

Dovile was the last speaker and as she concluded a cheer rang out through the room and the audience rose in a standing ovation. Unfortunately I couldn’t join in as I dropped my phone and notebook on the floor due to cramp in my toes, managing only to  bump my chair into the woman sitting behind me and almost- but not quite- sloshing the remains of my cold coffee on the carpet. (I also found I had mislaid my shoes, but that’s another story…)

It was time for the Q&A session. I dashed off to the loo and made it back before I’d missed anything. I do notice at these sessions that many women get so involved in what they have to say themselves that they lose track of the question they intended to ask the panel. That doesn’t make the discussion any less interesting but it does become more of a winding road through a forest than a Q&A session.

Claire’s badges

 

A woman- who had recently been permanently banned from Twitter-  stood up and observed that many women felt they had been forced out of political parties. Is there room, she asked, for groups to form alliances and maybe form a central group, rather than wasting time arguing with trans identified men about why they aren’t lesbians?

Anne suggested telling the men to fuck off was probably the most productive thing to do. Panel members suggested that forming local groups would be a better use of energy than trying to support political parties, and emphasised the importance of being visible, even in spaces where lesbian visibility was not necessarily welcome.

Another asked how important it was to keep turning up at events and asking difficult questions. Julia said women had to make their own choices about that, but it definitely had its place.  Organisers of these events don’t want a debate, said Lesley, but being visible is important because it shows that there is indeed a debate. Sheila said that it was important to be ‘insider outsiders’.  It was observed that it was important to create spaces where young people could discuss issues and have female spaces. Young people caught up in the gender cult need to see lesbians creating institutions & creating culture. Lesbian feminists need to be at the heart of creating this revolution.

There was a brief discussion about the pros and cons of lesbian separatist communities and how difficult it was for some women to live apart from men.

“We have to be visible for the younger women- who know nothing- so that they can take on the legacy that is there.” stated Julia Beck.

A woman spoke of finding a book in her local library when she was a young teenager called ‘Am I a Lesbian?’ Finding this book was like finding a jewel, she said, and she returned to it again and again: the first book she had ever seen that was positive about the female body. In Waterstones recently she noticed that all the book were about trans: about young women who thought they were men and the story of their transition. How do we reach the young girls in that position, she asked, who need us to be positive and leave jewels out to help them? She told us that she planned to write a book of her own, and we cheered.

Creating communities and resources where there are none is so important.

Claire spoke of the importance to rape survivors of being able to name a penis as male and of the solidarity and comfort she felt with the women who looked after her after her own rape.

A woman stood up. “I’m not a lesbian” she said and in a quiet, faltering voice she spoke of her daughter who had started testosterone.

“Her voice has gone, and she… I don’t know, maybe she has a beard, because I haven’t seen her since June. And I can’t call her her real name.”

The room was silent.

“She changed her name. And someday she is going to realise there was nothing wrong with her body. And ever since an article came out and ten of thousands of people read about my personal story, my phone has been ringing non stop with broken mums from all over the country and America saying things like ‘tears are rolling down my face right now because for three years I’ve been watching this destruction of my daughter and everyone is telling me to be so proud of my son.’ I can’t ever grieve the daughter I have lost. I don’t even know what to do with that pain. It’s a sorrow and a tragedy. And that’s why I’m here. If any of you have any thoughts on what to do about this, I would love to hear it. That’s all I have to ask or say.”

I didn’t initially hear the responses from the panel because my mind was working overtime. That woman could so easily have been me, and I understood her pain, and the indescribable pain of the numerous parents who commented on my original article about a journey with a gender dysphoric child.  I chronicle the responses and experiences of parents in my articles my mother heart bleeds and ROGD. Their tales are traumatic reading. Thoughts on what to do indeed.  I have scores of unanswered emails in my inbox; DMs on Twitter. It is so hard to give advice, because every child is different and every relationship is different. Often I do reply but what can you say to give hope to these parents? I’m not a psychologist or a guru. The most important thing is to keep your relationship with your child open, have discussions if you can, and be honest. Does that help? Probably not.

I wish I had found this woman at the end of the event and told her about the gender critical parents forum. I wish I had told her about Transgender Trend. Maybe she knew about these groups already, who knows? Instead I stared into space for a minute and thought about how thankful I was that my own lesbian daughter had seen the gender cult for what it was before testosterone or surgery; that she had been young enough for me to still have had some control and influence, and how happy and confident she seems now. Selfish? Perhaps. Thoughtless. No? Thankful. Oh, yes. I don’t think anyone can begin to understand unless they’ve been through it.

Beck emphasised the importance of providing a place for these young women to come back to and to share our stories. “Turn your grief to fuel to do something about it.” Ruzlyo expressed sympathy and emphasised the importance of meeting other parents who were going through the same thing, of writing down your feelings and directing grief somewhere.

Sheila spoke of the young women who had set up Pique Resilience Project.

“This doesn’t necessarily comfort a woman who is in the situation of having lost her child right now, but I don’t think this phenomenon is going to go on very long… lots of lesbians are coming back to us. There’s not enough, I suspect, in it for them to carry on. For some of the men there is, it’s sexual excitement, they’ll go on doing it all their lives, whether we have them doing it in our toilets or in their private bedrooms, they’re gonna be doing it. But these women are realising their losses, they are coming back younger and younger, when they’ve been on these drugs for less time and with less damage done to them. What we need to be doing, apart from giving them all of our support, is what we’ve been talking about today on this panel: the community, the groups, the organisations, the places, the reservoirs of our strength as lesbians and feminists for them to come back and tie in and contact us… in the next few years they’re going to be coming back in thousands.”

The next woman to speak pointed out that being a lesbian feminist was a political act and that  being ‘politically homeless’ was a phrase that divided the personal and the political. Long and others agreed that it was quite possible to be politically active without being linked to a political party.

Maya Forstater spoke briefly about her legal crowdfunder and was met with cheers. She said that last week she had asked Julia if she could come and do a ‘commercial break’ at the meeting: “a bit of a cheeky question because I’m not a lesbian,” but that in the end promoting the crowdfunder was not necessary as she had raised her stretch target in just three days. Maya hopes to establish that gender critical beliefs are protected under the Equality Act 2010.

The next woman raised the importance of all-women quotas and how they were enshrined in law under the Equality Act. She said all the female MPs agreed with this statement, and how important it is to establish the definition of what an ‘all-women quota’ is. “Because men are not women,” she concluded.

“We need to working above ground but we also need to work underground,” said Beck. “We need cells of women. We need hackers to take down porn sites, we need women writing graffiti on the wall. We also need women to go on TV and go into the houses of power. A diversity of tactics is really what we need.”

A woman spoke of the strength she found in reading the diary of Anne Lister.  She also told a tale of a woman in the supermarket who was completely unable to accept that her long-haired, red-coat-wearing child was a boy, even asking “are you sure?” and the importance of telling children that it didn’t matter how they dressed.  Another spoke of the difficulty of finding venues where women could meet and discuss important questions such as ‘what is a woman?’ without tapping in to patriarchy.

“Posie, how long have we got left?” asked Anne. “Ten minutes? There are a lot of people who want to speak, I haven’t got time for you all, so you’ll have to have your say in the pub and keep it brief… no more hands up, too late to the party!”

One woman asked for more information about separatism and how best to reach and engage more women: and Long suggested reading Janice Raymond’s ‘Passion for Friends‘.

Jeffreys said that as a separatist she often had to listen at length to women telling her how awful men are. “I just want to say leave, leave, leave, leave now!”

The next woman called for tolerance, pointing out that there was space in the movement for everyone. “How can we connect better with each other?” asked a third. Will there be a ‘Lesbians on Chairs’ network formed? asked a fourth.

“‘Lesbians on Chairs’ is going to be a podcast and the link to that will be shared online.” Julia told us.

“I’ve only got time for one more person to speak and that’s me,” quipped Anne. “For all those nasty misogynist men on social media, there are actually a hundred and sixty people in this room – a hundred and fifty nine women and one man! Thank you all very much for coming and thank you again to Posie and Venice for organising- and to our speakers!”

Sheila, Julia B, Lesley, Julia L, Dovile – lesbians on chairs.

Two and a half hours had passed and it was time to pack away the chairs and head off to the pub.

The buzz of excited chatter on the way into the Wesley had been one of expectation. Now women were discussing the ideas and issues that had been raised, and many were ready to continue to bond and brainstorm at the pub.  We were keen to join them…  if we could just work out how to get there.  After walking around the block twice and realising we were completely lost, I succumbed and ordered an Uber. We arrived at the pub in time to beat the crowd and order half a dozen portions of sweet potato fries and onion rings which we scoffed with enthusiam.

I bought a pint for the wonderful woman who saved my blog- thanks again Lauren! – and when the fries were all gone, we moved out into the evening sunset to sit with the women who had gathered outside.

Not every women in that pub that night was a lesbian, but they were certainly in a majority. Lesbians at the bar, lesbians in the loos, lesbians outside having a cigarette, lesbians hugging and making plans for their next meet up. Lesbians leaning against the wall; lesbians on chairs. Lesbians standing up for lesbians everywhere.

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