Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. She is co-founder of Radical.
An absence of discussion about sex — in the sense of biology, rather than shagging — is one of the many ways in which Conservative discourse remains starkly different from that of our friends on the left. It’s been hard to miss, for instance, the way in which such matters have become central to the Labour leadership contest.
Yes, this has largely consisted of the candidates attempting to ‘outwoke’ each other — rather than engaging in valuable substantive debate — but this itself exemplifies an increasingly serious societal problem we all face.
In response to Rebecca Long-Bailey’s claim that a certain set of people — best described as ‘gender critical feminists’, or GCs — have no place in the Labour movement, an impressive number of female party members have publicly asked to be expelled.
Ok, ‘gender critical feminist’ might sound like something you’d roll your eyes at, shouting at the screen, “For heaven’s sake! What are these lefties on about now?”. But the beliefs that GCs hold — that gender (as opposed to sex) is a social construct, and that one’s biological sex is not something that can be changed — were, until recently, extremely mainstream.
Indeed, I’d bet a considerable amount of money that most Conservative members and voters are actually GCs. Yet professing such beliefs has become, in many circles, social suicide; it can even get you in trouble with the law.
Check out the case, for instance, of Maya Forstater — a think tanker who was sacked for openly expressing such beliefs, and whose former employer’s decision to sack her was recently upheld by a UK court. And also two further cases — involving Harry Miller and Kate Scottow, respectively — that you might have noticed in the news last week.
Meanwhile, there are increasing instances of the ‘no-platforming’ of GC academics — women who often face physical threats, even to the extent of needing personal security guards on campus. And, meanwhile, an increasing number of ‘detransitioners’ are going public, against ongoing campaigns to keep them quiet.
These are mostly young adults who have started to realise the lifetime effects of the medicalised path they set out upon as children. They are recognising that an institutional avidity to prescribe them hormone blockers meant that their mental health concerns were left untreated, and that their confusion about their sexuality was deemed ‘fixable’.
Here, again, the strongest response has also come from the Left. There is a seriously impressive set of practical campaigners and theorists who are fighting, day in day out, on these matters — at events, in the courts, and online. And this charge has been largely been led by women, often gay women — brave, honourable people to whom we all owe a huge debt of gratitude, regardless of our own political allegiances, sex, or sexuality.
Meanwhile, people on the centre-right have largely been ducking the issue. And most men, regardless of their political persuasion, seem simply too scared to get involved. This just doesn’t seem good enough; if you’ve followed these matters properly, you’ll realise that it really isn’t.
Just before Christmas, therefore, my lawyer friend Victoria Hewson and I launched a small, non-funded campaign called ‘Radical’, aimed at fighting for truth and freedom in this arena. Although our campaign is non-party-political — and our focus so far has been on building alliances across the so-called political spectrum, alongside making the case to responsible people in government — we’d become particularly concerned by the way in which people on the ‘centre-right’ either didn’t seem interested in the topic, or didn’t want to shoulder the risks involved in speaking out. We hope to begin to rectify that.
Now, these matters are complicated and emotive, and I’m aware that I haven’t really explained, here, exactly what I’m on about. Which side is it that we’re on? You might well be wondering whether Radical is one of those nasty ‘TERF’ things, set on provoking hatred towards trans people.
Well, countering purposeful misdirection and unhelpful name-calling is half the battle, here. GCs like us (I hate labels, but have come to embrace the term out of the need for quick clarification) categorically do not hate any person, or any set of people.
Indeed, what we are fighting for is the adherence to truth that is necessary to any fight for justice and freedom. After all, without truth as a common ground, you cannot ever hope to persuade your opponents through rigorous argument. Instead, the most powerful person simply silences everyone else.
Alongside this commitment to searching out truth, Radical also standards for an appreciation of civility. To choosing to respect one other as the equals we all are, as human beings; to fighting for the right of any person to express themselves along the lines of whichever gender stereotypes they wish.
Of course trans people should be treated just the same as anyone else, all things being equal. But it is also the case that biological women need societal recognition of their right to certain single-sex spaces. And it is simply wrong to allow children to be subject to life-changing medical interventions to which they cannot in any possible sense consent. And the denial of the concept of biological truth leads only to an anti-vaxxing hellhole.
This debate, therefore, is anything but simple. It ranges from issues of free expression, to truth denial, to child abuse. It involves complex considerations of how the interests and needs of one set of people can be balanced against the interests and needs of another.
But several important concerns remain clear. And one of these is that we must begin to speak rigorously about these matters, not only because they are important, but also because such discussion is being purposefully suppressed. A powerful lobby has taken over, and is in the process of capturing our institutions — our schools, our universities, our police force, our healthcare services. It comes dressed in the language of rights; it comes with knives for our children, and refutation of the mental health concerns of our teenagers. It comes to take away our freedom, and crowd out our norms of civility and kindness.
Brave people on the Left have led the charge on this topic so far. Please, Conhomers, consider joining us in joining them against those who have hijacked this important debate. Armed with science and with compassion, we can work together on this, for the good of all.