Invasion of the gender hackers

Trans people don’t need self-appointed champions

“Oh God,” I groaned, looking at the headline on my laptop screen. “Not again.” There before me were the words, “The end of Sir and Miss? Teachers told to drop gendered language,” followed by, “Training session funded by National Education Union advises schools and pupils to opt for gender-neutral phrases to avoid discrimination.”

The subject of the headlines was a woman called Elly Barnes, the founder and chief executive of a charity called Educate and Celebrate, which works to make schools safer and more inclusive for a gay, trans and non-binary pupils and teachers. Barnes had given a webinar, in which she informed teachers that they should be working towards a “gender-free” model, which dispensed with apparently unacceptable terms such as “boy”, “girl”, “son” and “mother”, in favour of neutral terms such as “pupil”, “child” and “parent.”

The reason I felt like banging my head on my oak-block breakfast bar was that I knew exactly who would (and duly did) cop the blame when the social media warriors and online comment-writers vent their inevitable fury: I’m talking about trans women. Or to put it more personally, people like me.

I am sick of having my identity and my truth hijacked by grandstanding virtue-signallers, land-grabbing charities, power and money-seeking diversity professionals, guilt-ridden academics and public sector managers, and narcissistic gender identity tourists. None of whom give a damn about the actual lives and needs of trans people. And all their propagandising, hectoring and bullying does nothing but harm to me, and others like me.

We trans people, for whom our gender incongruence is a fact of life, not a fashion accessory, have become media piñatas, lightning rods for public pissed-offness, the go-to port of call when seeking someone to blame for the ills of this world.

God knows, the self-elected spokespeople for the trans community, and their over-eager enablers don’t help our cause. The other trans-related media kerfuffle cluttering up the media, before President Putin blew everything else off the airwaves was the story of Lia Thomas, the 6ft 4in former member of the University of Pennsylvania’s men’s swimming team, who was now competing for the women’s team and winning every race she competed in by huge margins.

Patently that’s unfair. In virtually all sports that are dependent on human strength or speed, anyone who has acquired a post-pubescent male body will beat a natal female. To put it simply: the current English schoolboy records for every athletics distance from 100m-1,500m would comfortably beat the current women’s world records in the same distances.

I know, from personal experience, that years of oestrogen patches have made me weaker, but I am still bigger and stronger than the vast majority of my female peers. There is something deeply unsporting, and even bullying about going into a competition knowing that you have a grossly unfair advantage over your competition. It just fuels the transphobic propaganda that we are a threat to natal women.

Can’t we just gaze at our enviably long, slim, 100% cellulite-free legs and say, “That is advantage enough”?

Meanwhile, campaigners like Elly Barnes (who is, for the record, a lesbian “cis” woman, so born female) really don’t help matters by assuming the right to speak on trans women’s behalf, and doing so in a way that is calculated to infuriate a gigantic proportion of the population.

It’s not, I hasten to add, that I am against giving comfort and support to gay and trans kids. I know what it was like to go to boys’ schools at a time when no one would dare admit they were gay and the idea of being trans wasn’t even a possibility.

Anything that can be done to normalise difference, and eliminate fear and bullying from children’s lives, has my complete support. But where is the logic, let alone the political common sense in fighting for the rights and identities of minorities, while apparently trashing the identities of the overwhelming majority? And what makes people think that children or adults who identify as trans don’t believe in gender?

I would say that the exact opposite is true. No one is more acutely aware of the distinction between male and female than those of us born into the space between the two.

So, let me, unlike Elly Barnes, speak from my direct, personal, lived experience of being transgender, something which is entirely missing from all the lunatic sound and fury about trans rights. So, too, is any sense of objective truth.

On the one hand, there are those who say that gender distinctions should be obliterated, that men can have babies and that one only needs to say, “I am a woman,” to become one. And on the other are those who say that biology is the only, absolute destiny and that no one born male can ever, under any circumstances be considered female. (No one ever talks about the trans men. Oh, how I envy that blissful obscurity! But anyway…)

It is a matter of public record that I was born the son of a mother and father. I was the brother of two sisters and the husband of a wife. I was, and remain, the father of three children. To deny those facts would be a repudiation of reality. But for all my adolescent and adult life, I have also had to contend with another, female aspect to my nature, one that was – if current research is to be believed – baked-in to me before birth, as surely as my brown eyes or size ten feet.

I spent decades trying to repress, or obliterate, that female identity and be the “real man” I was raised to be. I saw that as my duty as a husband and father, for the sake of those I loved most in the world. Yet this futile effort not only drove me to the very brink of a total nervous breakdown but was entirely counter-productive. By not being authentic, I actually harmed the very people I was trying to protect, far more than being honest with myself and them would have done.

Now, several years into the process of gender transition, I am fully entitled to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate and just weeks away (as I write) from Gender Confirmation Surgery. So I’m very close to the point when I will be able to call myself a woman, and it will be a matter of legal fact. As it is, I am already Ms Diana Thomas on my passport (which gives my gender as female), my driving licence, and my NHS and tax records. My oestrogen and testosterone levels are perfectly normal for a woman my age who, like me, uses HRT patches. I haven’t been inside a Gentleman’s toilet in years and when I visit the Ladies, no one pays me the blindest bit of attention.

Going out into the world, I am greeted with all the gender-specific terms to which Elly Barnes appears to object. Where I live on the Sussex-Hampshire border, the default term of address for women (from other women as well as men), is “my love”.

At the local recycling tip last week, I got three “my loves” and a bonus “my flower” from the guys working there. In London the other day for lunch with a girlfriend at an Italian restaurant, I was addressed as both “darling” and “signorina” by the major-domo. The waiters went for “signora” and my friend and I were jointly “ladies”. Venturing into Harrods and Harvey Nicks afterwards, it was “madam” all the way.

I have never been offended by this linguistic sexism. Quite the reverse: in my early days of living as a woman, there was something thrilling and even empowering about other people’s acknowledgements of my femininity.

I remember once getting into a total tizzy trying to sort out a massive, pre-lockdown Tesco delivery. As I failed to keep pace with unloading the plastic crates piling up all around me, the kindly chap who’d lugged them all in from his van said, “Don’t you worry, my dear, we’ll sort all this out.”

Reader, I could have kissed him. For trans women, the ability to “pass”, which is to say, to be seen by the world at large as a woman, has always been of huge importance. This is largely a matter of personal safety. Not passing makes one vulnerable to misgendering, at best, and, at worst, outright abuse and even violence.

So any sign that I passed gave me the confidence I needed just to be able to step outside my front door. That confidence is still brittle. No matter how kind other people are about my appearance, I, like any transwoman, have to overcome my terror that I might still look male, before I can even start on standard, self-doubting female neuroses about my looks.

“Get over yourself,” you may say, and I agree. When the fretting stops and the just-getting-on-with-it begins, I am now at the point where I don’t really think about my gender. I just live and experience it.

That is the point gender warriors on either side don’t seem to grasp. I don’t want to be a poster-person for a genderless world. I just want to be myself, and she turns out to be an unusual – in one respect – but otherwise rather conventional middle-class countrywoman.

Don’t tell anyone, but she bakes her own bread, loves arranging the flowers she picks from her garden and, having long since established her professional credibility, the thing she craves most is love. And she hopes she’d make someone a pretty good wife.

So, yes, I’m hopelessly old-fashioned. I confess to being as baffled as most of my female friends by the whole genderfluid, genderqueer, “call-me-they” stuff. I’m not quite sure how that differs from me in my late teens and early twenties, swishing about the place wearing tons of make-up, singing “Rebel Rebel” and not being sure if I was a boy or a girl.

I have a feeling that, in the end, time tells you what you really are. The vast majority of people turn out to be straight men and women. I know; crazy, huh? I don’t see why that should be any threat to those of us who are trans, any more than we should be a threat to anyone else.

So, why not call girls “girls” and boys “boys”? Let them have mothers and fathers, and let teachers be “Sir”, “Miss”, or whatever form of address works best for them and their pupils.

Meanwhile, I’m really not that bothered what you call me. Though I draw the line at “mate”. 

Diana Thomas is a journalist, editor and author who has published 16 novels (of which three have been No.1 UK bestsellers), in more than 20 languages, under a variety of names, none of which is “Diana Thomas”

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