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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’.
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. Affirming a trans-identified child- and many of these kids are LGB, autistic, have suffered trauma, abuse or loss, or have co-existing mental health issues- is to set them down a path to becoming a life-long medical patient.
This first step down this pathway begins with agreeing with a confused girl that she is a boy. 21st century kids who undergo social transition young frequently progress to puberty blockers. Children given puberty blockers almost always go one to take cross sex hormones. This combination leaves a child sterile and without sexual function.
What would have happened if I had affirmed my child when she told me she was a boy?
I would have called her by her new name and ‘he/him’ pronouns.
This would have told her that I believed she was not a girl, that I thought she had been ‘born wrong’ and needed fixing in order to be her ‘authentic’ self. It would also have affirmed her delusion, every day.
I would have paid for her to see a private therapist.
Most private therapists will tell you trans-identified children become suicidal if not transitioned. The reality is, there is no data to support the idea that they are more at risk than any other child being seen under child mental health services.
I would have accessed my child cross-sex hormones.
Don’t believe those who tell you about lengthy waiting lists. If you are broke and follow the NHS route, yes. If you’ve got a couple of hundred quid spare, you can get hormones for your child quickly and easily. Gender GP is just one of the services that has prescribed testosterone for girls as young as twelve. Before we jump to blame the parents, consider: is it any wonder parents resort to this when they’ve been told their child may kill themselves otherwise?
Girls on testosterone often develop acne and male pattern baldness. They grow beards. The beards, baldness and deepened voice are irreversible. They are also at higher risk of heart attack and other diseased and illnesses. Most doctors recommend a hysterectomy within 5 years of being on testosterone.
Top surgery would be next.
Why wouldn’t it be? By this point everyone would have been using my child’s new name and pronouns. Everyone would be agreeing with her that she was a boy. She would probably be using a binder, with all the health risks that entails. It would seem like natural progression to have an elective double mastectomy. In the USA, girls as young as 13 have undergone this procedure.
She might have chosen to go on to have phalloplasty, where the skin of the arm is stripped to form a tube of flesh that’s attached between the legs. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong with this procedure.
And there we would have it.
My dysphoric child would have been left dependent on drugs and the affirmation of others to maintain this illusion for the rest of her life. And you know what? She could still never be a man.
The conflict between Trans Rights Activists (TRAs) and ‘gender critical’ women (and men) is not two rival factions meeting for ‘turf wars’. This is not the Montagues and Capulets biting their thumbs at each other. There is no ‘wrong on both sides’.
Most people I know would be able to tell you what they want from the Gender Wars. They have clear objectives. They want women’s rights protected. They want single-sex spaces protected. They want women’s sports protected. They don’t want children beguiled and medicalised by a cult that believes that we are born with culturally gendered souls.
TRAs are a little less specific about their requirements. They like slogans like ‘No TERFs on our Turf’ and ‘Trans Rights Are Human Rights’. They talk a lot about hatred and fascists and erasure and ‘no debate’. But what do they actually want?
Trans people should and do have the same human rights as the rest of us. But when those rights are sex-based they don’t sit well with trans ideology. So ‘trans rights’ means something much more complicated than ‘the same rights as everybody else’. Nor are ‘trans rights’ a harmless demand, because they erase single-sex spaces and the protections put in place for women and girls.
ONS statistics tell us that males are responsible for 85% of violent crime and >93% of sexual violence. It is not fair or reasonable to put a man into a women’s space because he says he belongs there, whether or not we believe his intent to be nefarious. Men have most of the world. Women would just like a few spaces without them please: where we can change and shower and exercise and chat. It seems fair enough, right? Trans rights says not. That isn’t allowed. Trans ideology trumps biological reality.
Venice Allan put it very well a few years ago, when she said, “‘Trans rights’ means the right to lie about your sex. ‘Transphobia’ is the refusal to believe that lie.”
In order not to find ourselves garlanded by the yoke of TERF or transphobe, we must say we believe their ideology.
A man is a woman if he says he is. A woman is a gay man if she says she is. A lesbian can have a penis. Small children can be born in the wrong body.
If you support ‘trans rights’ you must be seen to believe all those things. And TRAs really, really don’t want to talk about this, which- I strongly suspect- is why their banners are so vaguely accusatory and their demands often violent or nebulous.
Remember why women started meeting outside in the first place? There were a few good reasons, but one of the main ones was that TRAs would call venues up and threaten them with everything from bad publicity to bombs if they hosted our meetings.
Not happy with having driven us from conference halls, pubs and students unions; emboldened by the behaviour of their American counterparts on Kellie Jay’s recent tour of America; TRAs recently turned up to hunt us down, first in Brighton, then in the middle of Hyde Park in order to bang drums, yell abuse and attack us and tell us that we are full of hatred.
This piece is going to look at some of the banners TRAs brought along to the most recent meeting in Hyde Park and try to work it out- what do they actually want?
The TRAs don’t listen to what we’re talking about, of course. If they did they’d hear women talk about experiences of sadness and joy, about families and workplaces, and how gender has affected our lives and the lives of those we love and work with. I think they really do believe that we meet to spread hatred and plot about how to erase them. I think they really do believe that we are boring old monochrome conformists, trying to clip their magical butterfly wings as they float around the altar of the gender fairy, contemplating the morning’s pronouns. How dare we not believe?
On the afternoon I took these photos, we were leaving the coffee hut when we noticed a group of masked people with banners gathered a few feet away. By the time we got back to our group they were striding across the grass purposefully, chanting loudly.
What were they chanting?
Trans liberation, no assimilation
It was hard to work out what they were saying, but I’m pretty sure it was “trans liberation, no assimilation”. All very Doctor Who.
You can hear the chant here in a short video on Twitter.
‘Trans liberation, no assimilation’. What is that even supposed to mean? What do they want liberating from? Reality? Their own bodies? What don’t they want to be assimilated into? Society? If you don’t want to be assimilated into society, you can always go and live in a cave in India. Or possibly Wales. India is a more popular destination for the discerning troglodite, I believe. The nights are usually warmer but can come with the added disadvantage of bears. But I digress.
Call me a far-right fascist if you must, but if you want healthcare, a basic education, your rubbish collected and loads of free-at-the-point-of-entry museums and art galleries then some sort of low-level assimilation is going to be inevitable. Then there are those iPhones, for example. And the Nike trainers. And the constant demands for affirmation through pronouns. You don’t want to be assimilated? Aren’t your demands all about exactly that?
“Whose streets? Our streets!” chanted the group, masked and potentially intimidating, bearing a sign that demanded their ‘cis allies’ arm them: they marched on us like… well… like a very small fascist army of angry students.
And as I’m dwelling on this, Kellie Jay arrives. I move forward to take a photo, just as a black-clad TRA runs forward and sprays her in the face and over the shoulders with a jet of water from a plastic bottle with a ‘sucky’ top.
“Just ignore them”
Sometimes a bit of light is needed. I think the situation needs a good hard looking at once in a while. You can listen to or watch the speeches here. Let’s unpack those chants and unfurl those banners! Let’s ask the million dollar question.
What do they actually WANT?
These young people have carefully painted their deepest thoughts and most passionately held desires on to banners.
Come, gather around. Let us listen.
‘Trans liberation is women’s liberation’
If you believe a woman who thinks she’s a man IS a man, then surely women’s liberation is not about her even though she ‘is trans’ because you don’t believe she’s a woman.
As not all trans-identified people are women, this would suggest that women’s liberation is primarily about men who think they’re women?
This vague, yet worthy sounding liberation is liberation from what? From gender? From stereotypes? That’s great, those are things we want too. Surely nobody likes sexism and stereotypes? Liberation from patriarchy? Bring it on!
Liberation from reality? You never see a TRA with a sign claiming that ‘trans liberation is men’s liberation’. Why not?
‘Trans liberation is the antithesis to women’s liberation because it is founded on gender stereotypes’ would be more accurate, but you’d need a bigger bit of cardboard.
The weeping rainbow
This sign is the most baffling. After some contemplation, this is what I see. Here are twin babies wearing pink & blue nappies. They wanted to play ball in the rain but their mum said ‘no’, so they took away her umbrella and pooped beside her and ran away. Maybe the mother is lying on a towel? Perhaps they are on a beach and the poor innocent darlings are being lured towards a dangerous sea as their mother weeps for the lessons they must learn alone?
Alternatively, two happy, frolicking, trans people have gorily murdered someone and the rainbow is weeping acid rain. But the trans people are immune to it. Hence the discarded umbrella.
Perhaps it’s an advert for the Globe’s next production of Hamlet?
Make her the last
This was the sign I found the most disturbing because- never mind the outlandish accusation- it seemed to be a direct incitement to violence. It was being held by a very young woman. Several women spoke to the police about it and were told different things. One told me an officer had said the sign shouldn’t be allowed but they were currently too busy to do anything about it. Another said she had been told it was fine.
A third was told bruskly by an officer, “Free speech, you can say what you want, so can they,” as if there was some kind of equity in the situation.
In the same exchange, another woman said to one of the officers, “It’s absurd, you can’t change sex,” and was told by him, in complete seriousness, “Oh they do, you know.”
Sharing the same crayons and identical clothing was an even younger person holding a sign which read “We don’t need ‘recognition’ Gender illegalism now!”
I suppose this could be interpreted as a call for the GRA to be repealed, but that seems unlikely. An advocation for self-ID maybe… but wait… whatever they want, it has to be illegal?
“Go ahead, wear what you like, mate.”
“Shut up you fucking fascist! I’ll wear what I like and don’t you dare tell me it’s ok!”
Perhaps somebody has read an article about Foucault or been rumaging through the archives of the Anarchist Library? Whatever it was that instigated this particular outburst, it isn’t quite as big and clever as the person holding the sign seems to think it is because it doesn’t make sense. What about all those hormones you want? That top surgery? The State has to give it to you but it has to be illegal as well? What kind of pampered anarchy is this?
Transphobes do not speak for lesbians
“Dykes for trans rights always”
This one I cannot understand. If a man can say he is a lesbian, if he can say his penis is a lesbian’s penis, then the word ‘lesbian’ ceases to mean anything at all. Surely if these’s one thing lesbians should be able to agree on, it’s that men can’t be lesbians? But it seems not. This person’s sign is demanding that men should be able to call themselves lesbians if they want to. So that’s nice. Very inclusive. For the men of course, not so great for actual lesbians.
Come and take it
The attempted dark glamour of the syringe and pill bottles looks a bit like something a 12 year old 80s child might have drawn in a ‘say no to drugs’ poster competition at school.
But what does it mean? Is it an invitation or a dare? Does ‘take it’ mean ‘consume it’ or ‘remove it’?
Are we partying or fighting?
My feeling is that it’s probably a challenge ‘come and take our hormones away from us if you dare’ rather than an invitation to indulge in a testosterone and oestrogen binge.
Either way, nah, you’re alright. Probably better sticking with a toke on that joint.
all TERFs are child abusers – scratch a transphobe find a racist
‘Scratch a transphobe find a racist’ seems a particularly nonsensical suggestion, but TRAs are expert cuckoos when it comes to latching on to all forms of marginalisation.
Anyone who thinks you can’t change sex and that women’s rights are worth defending is, obviously, an evil, right-wing racist who eats trans-identified babies for breakfast.
They want you to believe that people who acknowledge the reality of biology are racist child abusers. The fact that there is zero evidence for either of these claims doesn’t matter at all because reality doesn’t matter at all!
gender is a performance
But wait… which is it to be? Is gender the innermost essence of our souls, an identity at the heart of our authentic selves, a feeling that must be expressed, respected and validated if terrible consequences are not to ensue?
No. Gender is a performance. We know. That’s what we’ve been saying all along. Can we stop now, please? Why not?
TERFs off our turf – Defend trans lives
How is Hyde Park their turf? I’ve been hanging round here since I was a teenager. Some of us were at Pride marches and meetings in Hyde Park long before this lot were even a twinkle in the non-binary polyamorous milkperson’s eye. Some women present were involved in the protests of the 70s.
Guys, nobody is threatening your lives. If there are trans lives being threatened, they’re mostly those of impoverished prostituted male transexuals in South America. And yes, that’s really shit. What are you doing about it?
Be an ally. Arm trans people.
“No justice, no peace. Fight back. ACAB”
ACAB? Mate, the cops are the ones here defending your right to wave your nasty little incitement-to-violence banners in our faces. Aren’t you ashamed to be so ridiculous?
This demand does at least seem very clear. Trans people should be armed. They shouldn’t have to find weapons for themselves though. A good trans ally should aquire weapons and give them to trans people.
I don’t think it’s generally a good thing for people to be armed, trans or otherwise. We Brits tend to be a bit like that. I especially don’t think it’s a good idea for unstable people to be armed, and if your primary occupation is trying to convince people you’re the opposite sex, I sense just a tad of instability. This is not the same thing as suggesting that all trans-identified men want to go round stabbing people to death.
Last week in the States a trans-identifed young man bludgeoned his father and then stabbed him to death. Nikki Secondino, who had been taking cross-sex hormones since he was sixteen, also stabbed his sister, leaving her in a critical condition. Initially, neighbours reported, he told police that his home had been invaded and he had been sexually assaulted, before admitting to the attacks himself.
The young man is filmed being led in handcuffs past the press. He pushes out his chest and shakes his hair, a smirk plays on his lips. ‘She,’ says the press, playing into his fantasy. ‘She. The elder daughter. She stabbed her father. She confessed’.
In 2019 the Australian press announced: ‘Sydney axe attacks: Woman jailed for wounding 7-Eleven customers’. Evie Amato, a trans-identifed man, attacked three people in a garage with an axe, almost killing two of them. “She,” said the press. ‘She swung her axe,” and was ‘out of her mind’.
This week America executed a trans-identified man who stalked, raped and stabbed his ex-girlfriend to death. ‘She,’says the press. ‘She spoke quietly. Her trial’.
At the Brighton Woman’s Place meeting in 2018, TRAs held up signs saying ‘our lives are not a debate’, ‘trans rights are not a debate’, ‘ fight transphobia, fight the hate’ and ‘you’re just jealous’.
As we left the meeting they chanted ‘Non-binary people are valid!’ ‘No debate! No debate!’ ‘Fight back, fight back!’
At the 2019 meeting in Haringay, London, protestors held placards reading ‘respect trans children’ and ‘believe trans kids’. As we left the meeting they chanted the same slogans.
“Can you explain what you mean by ‘believe trans kids?” asked Venice, to which one of the protestors responded, “you’re a cunt” and another, “you’re a fascist”.
Classic examples of more vague or meaningless slogans were on display at the Women’s Liberation Conference in 2020, including the predictable ‘Trans rights now’ and ‘No TERFs on our turf’ but also the more imaginative and startlingly vague, ‘there’s no CIS in Team’ and ‘I don’t know show kindness’.
In Brighton in 2022, protest signs read ‘hate is not a protected right’ and ‘combat TERF hate’, ‘love trumps hate’ and ‘love wins’.
‘Sisters not cis-ters! Transwomen are women! Transmen are men! Non-binary people are valid!”
Do any of these slogans really mean anything?
What do they want?
They’re pissed off that they didn’t get to choose their sex (you can in a computer game, right? So it’s sooooo not fair) and because that’s impossible they want the right to lie about it, and the right to force everyone else to go along with that lie. Oh, and just to make it more interesting, we’ll add in people who are neither men nor women. It must all be validated, constantly and only a bigot would disagree.
“I demand the right to make you complicit in my pretence’.
That’s the ‘right’ in ‘trans rights’.
But let’s face it, it would look shit written on a banner.
I had to check my diary to remind myself when the last protest outside the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) had taken place. It was then I had last seen the ‘No Men in Women’s Prisons’ banner that I’d originally made for the Downview protest back in 2019.
My diary revealed that it took place in February earlier this year. It seemed more recent, I reflected, as I pulled things off shelves and out of cupboards, trying to remember where the hell I’d put the banner. I found quite a few things I didn’t know I’d lost- including a giant inflatable snowman and half a box of Hot Tamales– but by 2am I still hadn’t found it.
“I’ll sleep on it,” I thought, absent-mindedly devouring the slightly sticky Tamales, and lo and behold the magic worked and I found it within ten minutes the next morning. In one of the first places I’d looked for it. Obviously.
The banner was really creased, having crouched squashed under a pile of canvas for several months. A creased banner doesn’t photograph well, and I knew that not only would we be taking photos ourselves but press photographer Colin from CDF Images was coming down from Glasgow.
I sighed. I knew what had to be done. Luckily I was able to take a deep breath, establish myself firmly in girl mode and break out the iron. As you can see here in Colin’s photo, the banner ended up looking great.
Thank goodness for girl mode.
The protest was arranged by Keep Prisons Single Sex, for Saturday 12th November 2022 and we were meeting outside the MOJ at 12.30pm for speeches, chanting and songs. Four speakers were lined up:
Kate Coleman, founder and Director of Keep Prisons Single Sex
Joan Smith, writer and human rights activist, former chair of the Writers in Prison committee
Meeting at the Ministry
The crowd at the February protest
In February this year, at the original protest outside the MOJ, around 180 people turned up. About a third of that number gathered outside the Ministry of Justice at 12.30 on 12th November.
Sadly DJ Lippy and Aja were unable to come along, likewise a few other familiar faces had gone down with Covid or other seasonal ills. Others had transport issues and fewer people came from out of town. At the last protests, a few groups of women had come on train or by coach from Scotland and Manchester. This time most of those attending were London based, with the exception of the amazing Jen Critical, who had travelled down from the windswept North.
Some of us arrived early, bringing banners and placards and flasks of coffee, the stewards sporting yellow HiViz jackets with KPSS printed on the back.
Winter still hasn’t really arrived in London, it felt like an early autumn day, crisp and sternly sunny. As I queued for a quick coffee in the Costa outside St James Park Station I reflected on some of the more infamous men to be placed in the female estate.
We’re just going to have a look at two of them here: David Thompson (convicted 2018) and John Steven Dixon (convicted 2022) – aka Karen White and Sally Ann Dixon.
David Thompson aka Karen White
The original case that pushed the issue into the public eye was that of ‘Karen White’.
In 2018 rapist and paedophile David Thompson aka Karen White, (a man with a penis) was convicted of sexually assaulting two inmates while on remand at HMP New Hall, a women’s prison. For the few who remain unaware of this case, you can read more about it here.
The incident was not isolated: reports suggest that almost half the trans-identified men in prison have convictions for sex offences. In 2020 it was revelaed that at least seven attacks had taken place within the female estate.
Those were the ones that were reported.
In January 2022, a woman who had been sexually assaulted by White on several occassions, spoke to the Daily Mail about her experience and the incident was once again brought to public attention.
White told Cheryle Kempton he was hiding his hormone medication in order to recover his sex drive. He assaulted her on several occassions. In difference incidents, he asked her to perform a sex act, groped her breast, rubbed himself up against her, and grabbed her hand and put it on his crotch. Cheryle also told the Mail that White had tried to ‘force himself’ on another inmate but luckily another prisoner had walked in and managed to pull White off.
“All her (sic) conversations were about sex. I felt vulnerable and uncomfortable in her (sic) presence.” reported Kempton. “And we all felt like that, even the toughest of us.”
When the case was made public, government ministers rushed to assure women that changes would be made and this would not be allowed to happen in future.
So have things changed since a paedophile and serial rapist was enabled to sexually assault women while incarcerated in a women’s prison? I asked Kate Coleman of KPSS.
“After Karen White, they made it harder for non-GRC holders to get into the female estate and the policy put in place meant that initial allocation for non-GRC holders would be to the male estate.” explained Kate.
“However this year’s allocation of Sally Ann Dixon to the female estate shows that the policy can still permit a man convicted of prolific and serious child sexual offences to be held in a women’s prison, even without a GRC.”
John Stephen ‘Sally Ann’ Dixon
One might think, after the Karen White case, that ministers would be careful to ensure women in their care were kept safe but posh boys like Sunak and Lewis can be slow learners too, and it appears they have learned nothing from past mistakes.
Twice-married (to women) John Stephen Dixon was born in 1963 and began identifying as a woman in 2004. In September 2022 he was convicted of 30 sexual offences against seven children, committed between 1989-96, and he was sent to prison for twenty years. Throughout the trial, the prosecutor “referred to Dixon by the male pronoun when alluding to the sex offences — without any objection from the defence.”
“However, when Dixon was found guilty, she (sic) was sentenced as a woman and sent to a female prison.”reported the Daily Mail.
This was despite 58 year old Dixon neither being a woman nor having a Gender Recognition Certificate. Within weeks it was reported that he had been moved to a different wing after starting a sexual relationship with a vulnerable young woman who has learning difficulties. It seems that no lessons have been learned from the Karen White case. Visual and vocal protests against the placement of men- whether violent sexual predators or not- in women’s prisons are needed more than ever.
Reporting on the case was confusing to say the least. The Portsmouth News went with the rather surreal and clunky “Leigh Park woman jailed for child abuse carried out when she was a man,’ as if it had all been a rather awkward midsunderstanding for poor old Sally Ann.
Sussex World‘s headline simply stated a lie: ‘Woman jailed for sexual offences against children in Bexhill and Crawley’.
The damage done
We must not underestimate the damage done to women by journalism like this. Not just to women in prison, but to women everywhere. There is a recent trend in claims that women are frequently guilty of child sex offences and sexual assaults against men. Such offences are rare but the myth is perpetuated by reporting like this.
When it is reported that a woman has raped somebody, sexually assaulted somebody, exposed herself, or been found with child and animal porn on her computer – it will almost always turn out to be a man. It is so incredibly rare that women do these things that such reporting makes a huge change to the public perception of women’s offences.
Anyone glancing over the headlines will be furnished with a lie. A woman did not take those photos; did not abuse those children. It is also an insult to the victims, who no doubt are very aware of the sex of the person who abused them.
The clownshow better known as Sussex Police had a stern reprimand for those on Twitter who objected to Dixon being referred to as a woman on their website and in press reports. Leaping bravely to the paedophile’s defence, they tweeted more than once:
“Hi, Sussex Policedonottolerate any hateful comments towards their gender identity regardless of crimes committed. This is irrelevant to the crime that has been committed and investigated. Sussex Police”
The tweets were later deleted.
So while one might think that the arrival of the fragrant Sally Ann on the scene would have spurred people into action, we had far fewer people attend this protest than the one earlier in the year. Which leads me to wonder: has the public become jaded by all this already? Perhaps people beleive things have changed for the better since the protest in February this year? Or are we now just accepting that the placement of men in women’s prisons is ‘unfortunate but necessary’?
Have we made any steps in the right direction politically? So many questions! I asked Kate for her opinion.
“There have been 2 ministerial statements,” she told me. “The first was issued by Dominic Raab in August, after the Tory leadership contest had started. The statement said that some groups of male offenders would need ministerial sign off before an allocation to the female estate would be approved. Rishi Sunak immediately endorsed the policy stating that his government would commit to it.
Then Brandon Lewis said that male sexual offenders would not be housed in the female estate and more use would be made of separate specialist units. Now Raab is back and we assume there will be a variation of the ministerial sign off but we will need to see how it pans out. MoJ policy is still under review: I expect we willl see the release of the new version at the beginning of next year.”
Kate is cautiously optimistic that there may be a shift for the better in policy.
In October, Lewis told Conservative party delegates:
“It cannot be right that transgender prisoners, when convicted of serious sexual offences or those who have not had reassignment surgery, are housed in a general women’s estate. This will end – we have a duty of care to all those behind bars. One case of a sex attack or an inappropriate relationship formed with a female prisoner by a transgender inmate is one too many and we’ve had too many in recent years.’
Of course, it is possible to take from this that a man who has had his penis removed and who has committed a minor sexual offence will still be housed in the female estate. This is stuill unacceptable: no male prisoner should be housedf in the female estate because it is the female estate. My position- which I know is not shared by everyone – is that the GRA should be repealed and no man should be considered a woman for legal or social purposes under any circumstances. I am on the fence corncerning men working in women’s prisons. A close relative of mine taught in a women’s prison. After he died one of the women wrote in the remembrance book, “you were the first man to restore my faith in men”. Another wrote, “thank you for being such a gentle role model for the women at [name of prison]”. I believe there is a place for men teaching in women’s prisons but I know many who would disagree with me. What I would expect us all to be able to agree on is that there is no place for convicted rapists in women’s prisons.
But I digress again. Where were we? I was grabbing a quick coffee before the protest began, golden leaves shot through with autumn sunshine falling on the cold stone pavement, yada yada. It really was a beautiful autumn afternoon.
Most people had arrived by 12.30pm, placards and banners were unpacked and unfurled and the chanting started. I snapped some photos on my phone.
Some women positioned themselves outside St James Park tube station, handed out leaflets and started discussions with passers by. There were no counter-protestors, which is hardly surprising:.“Male paedophiles & rapists should be put in prison with women” is hardly a chant designed to capture the zeitgeist.
It was just after 12.30 so we began with some chanting to attract the attention of passers by and get us ready for the speeches.
“No males in female jails!”
“Keep prisons single sex!”
“No men in women’s prisons!”
“Women are not human shields!”
The first speaker was Kate Coleman of Keep Prisons Single Sex.
“Thank you for coming along to support women in prison – a group that genuinely is amongst the most vulnerable, marginalised and at risk groups in society,” began Kate.
She thanked those who had attended protests past and present and spoke about the recent case of a trans-identified man in a women’s prison who got a young woman drunk on illicit homebrew before having sex with her. He is still being housed in a women’s prison.
“If risk assessment permits this, the risk assessment is not fit for purpose.”
“The Ministry of Justice claims that men – and I will call them men, because men is who they are – are only ever housed in a woman’s prison if a thorough process of risk assessment shows that it is safe to do so. At the same time, men with intact male genitalia who have been convicted of the most serious, violent, sexual offences against women and children have passed this process and been risk assessed as ‘safe’. This is a nonsense and, frankly, an obscenity.”
Kate acknowledged that she hopes things will change for the better.
“… as dire as the situation continues to be, there is movement. Ministers now agree that the current policies are not keeping women in prison safe. They agree that something must change… There is a clear desire at the highest levels for movement in the right direction. We must keep on pushing.What we do works. We know our voice is being heard. So let’s keep it up!”
“Some say the campaign to stop men being imprisoned in women’s prisons is a distraction from the real issues of prison reform, problems like self-harm, suicide and violence, problems like mothers being separated from their children; problems like appalling living conditions; problems like the failure of prisons to reform prisoners. Given these big challenges, the argument is that to focus on a very few number of men who are imprisoned in women’s prisons is a bit of a distraction, almost irrelevant.
Well, I think it’s true is clear from those who are here today, that there are many who think it’s highly relevant.”
Garside stressed the importance of being able to define what a woman is in order to be address the issues that affect women in prison. Currently, he said, men’s prisons are single-sex institutions and women’s prisons are mixed sex. This ‘places the claims and demands of male prisoners beyond the needs of women’s prisoners’.
Women’s prisons should be single sex, not just to give women privacy and dignity but also “… to help prevent unplanned pregnancies for example, regardless of the concensual nature of the sexual activity: to protect women from sexual violence by men, or at least to reduce the risk of sexual violence by men- because let’s remember, there are also male prison officers in women’s prisons- to give women privacy and dignity in what is a very traumatic and difficult set of institutions. To ensure that women who’ve been traumatised by male violence are not re-traumatised by being asked to share their spaces with men.”
The prison system was created by men to contain “males who are violent, unruly and disruptive. They were never designed to hold women.”
He concluded with a call for the abolition of women’s prisons altogether, which I wasn’t expecting.
“There is no need actually to imprison any woman in this country. So alongside the demand of keeping prison single sex ,we also need to be clear that we shouldn’t have women in women’s prisons either. We should close them all down.”
Rebekah, speaking as a woman who has experienced the prison system as an inmate, began by pointing out some differences surrounding the reasons why men and women find themeselves in prison.
Women represent just 4-5% of the entire prison population in the UK and women are imprisoned overwhelmingly for non violent offences.
“Over half of all prosecutions are for motoring offences. TV licence evasion and shoplifting are the 2nd and 3rd most common crimes women serve custodial sentences for. Women in prison are there because they’ve committed crimes as a result of poverty, destitution and desperation. We steal to feed and clothe our children. We push TV licensing down huge lists of priorities and we are penalised incredibly harshly for it.
Women are not drawn to crime – we represent just under 15% of all arrests…the demographic of female prisoners paints a woeful picture of marginalised, vulnerable women that have been pushed past their limits. I know this because I was one of those women, and called others friends while I was housed with them.”
95% of violent crime is committed by men and 40% of their convictions for violence are for crimes against women. Rebekah spoke of the women she encountered in prison who had been convicted of murder.
” I can’t speak for every murderer in the prison system of course but every last one of those women – who again, I counted as my friends – were there because they’d killed their male abusers, after months and years of rape, torment and violence. Every. Last. One.”
Almost half of men’s violent crimes against women are sex offences.
“18% of men in prison in the UK are there for serious sex offences… of this 18% of rapists and paedophiles, guess what? Half of them say they’re women, and they’re routinely moved to the women’s estate, penis and all.”
Assaults against women by men placed in the female estate can and have happened, so why do men continue to be placed in women’s prisons by policy makers who are more scared of being branded ‘transphobic’ than perotecting the women in their care?
“WHY should a woman serving a short sentence for failure to pay parking tickets have to accept intimidation and terror as part of her already disproportionate punishment? WHY should an 18 year old girl on remand for shoplifting expect the potential for rape and assault by a man in a wig during her stint?” WHY do these questions even need to be asked?”
Asserting again that ‘men and women are different’ Rebekah conclude that women ‘are having our reputations dragged through the mire by the men who would wear our skin. These are not our crimes, and our prisons are no place for these revolting, duplicitous men. We will not stop shouting about this until every last one of these deviants is identified and returned back to the male estate where they belong.”
Joan Smith has been writing about violence against women since 1989 and finds it hard to believe that even now our criminal justice system is failing women ‘across the board’, refering to the fact that just 1.5% of rapes end in a conviction.
“We imprison women who are themselves victims of that system,” she observed, noting that “most women in prison are victims of repeated domestic and sexual violence. Over half of them have head injuries, they have traumatic brain injuries and we lock them up. And then we allow men into those prisons: the very people that they’re afraid of- the people who have abused them.”
Joan criticised the ‘be kind’ message which is directed almost entirely at women and girls, asking rhetorically, “What about women? What about being kind to women? What about being kind to women who have been raped? What about being kind to women who’ve suffered years and years of sexual and domestic abuse, and then they’re locked up and they’re told that they have to share with these violent men?”
What if, she speculates, Sarah Everard’s murderer, ex-police officer Wayne Cousins, suddenly identified as a woman and didn’t feel ‘safe’ in the male estate? Would he be put in a women’s jail?
Joan concluded, “I do think that this is part of a wider misogyny and that we have to fight both for the rights of women in prison and for the rights of women who are themselves victims of crime and they are often the same people.”
Testimonies from female prisoners
Finally, Maggie, a prison volunteer, read us out some testimonies from prisoners, women who had been affected by the placing of men in women’s prisons.
After the speeches, Jen led everyone in singing ‘Something Inside So Strong’ and “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar’ before treating us to a pre-release rendition of her new song, ‘Don’t Call Me Cis’. Many of the protestors joined in with the first songs, singing and swaying to the music.
After the songs, we wound things up. Some went to sit in nearby St James Park, others retired to a nearby pub, some headed home to walk dogs, go to work or collect children. As we pacxked up, I spoke to some of the women and asked their reasons for coming here today.
“… I couldn’t believe that society was that cruel that they would put rapists and sex offenders in with women. I’ve listened to women speak about being in prison and heard them talk about the vile things shouted at them by AGPS in their wing. I don’t think women should encounter this. If you’ve committed a crime, punishment is what happens, but you should have dignity, you should be safe and you shouldn’t feel threat in your environment. I feel really stringly about this.”
“The situation in women’s prisons is what really got me involved in all this in the first place. I don’t see how anyone with an ounce of compassion can think it’s okay for a woman prisoner- who is likely to have already been sexually abused- to be locked up with a rapist.”
“I think I’m actually quoting Kate (Coleman) if I say these are invisible women, you know we can physically see the harm that is being caused by the trans movement towards women in general, but women in jail you can’t, so I think it’s even more important to support them more than anything.”
“I’m here because women in prison are some of the most vulnerable in our society and what is happening is an outrageous injustice which everyone should be protesting.”
“When I was six I learned that men can do what they want to you and if you say no it doesn’t matter. And now I’m thirty one I refuse to stand by and let other people get raped and be told ‘deal with it’. Men shouldn’t be in women’s prisons.”
“I’ve been handing out leaflets and pretty much 99% of people I’ve handed a leaflet to have also agreed that it’s unbelievable that men are put in female prisons, whether they identify- I don’t know – as a brush? – or a woman. Many of these men are in prison because of sexual assault, rape or paedophilia… these women should not be used as human shields to indulge men’s fetishes.”
“Some of these women have had awful lives and men have done terrible things to them. And now men come into their prisons, dressing up like being a woman is some sort of game they can play, for fun and kicks. This is like some kind of sick joke, you could almost make a Black Mirror episode out of it.”
“We are supposedly a humane society so surely we have a duty to protect women in prison. What is our government thinking, I mean really what is it thinking, to be putting rapists and paedophiles in prison with women? We know they know what is happening, we know they know women are being assaulted and intimidated by these men, it’s been in all the papers so why aren’t they stopping it? Why haven’t they stopped it already?”