Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. She is co-founder of Radical.
You’ve probably read about the speech Liz Truss gave last week, setting out her priorities as Minister for Women and Equalities.
Maybe not. If it weren’t for Covid-19, you definitely would have done: it was astonishing.
One justification for continuing to write and think about things aside from Covid is that other people certainly are.
In her speech, Truss made clear that she and her team are persisting with matters related to their brief, even though much has, understandably, been delayed.
This is reassuring not least because – as emphasised in previous Radical columns – there’s an alternative power-base that’s very much continuing its influential work.
This power-base is a lobby that writes sex/gender policy for public bodies; that receives funding for partisan projects at top-end universities; that threatens anyone speaking out against it, with accusations of hate crime and worse.
It’s a lobby that assumed – until Truss’s speech – that not only was it going to continue setting the agenda, and receiving state support to do so, but that the law would be changed to reflect its demands. Its proponents did not reckon on Liz Truss.
The first surprise of Truss’s speech – that the Government would seemingly not be advancing legislative change to allow trans women access to biological women’s spaces – wasn’t truly a surprise.
Indeed, it was recently reported that they’d been “indefinitely delayed”.
Truss’s reference to the “protection of single-sex spaces” as “extremely important”, implies that “indefinitely” has, on her watch, become ‘permanently’.
Truss’s following promise – to ensure “transgender adults are free to live their lives as they wish without fear of persecution, while maintaining the proper checks and balances in the system” – reflects the position held by socially-liberal opponents of self-ID, like us at Radical.
This position combines commitment to equal respect for all human beings, with recognition of important truths about sex-based difference.
These truths ground opposition to self-ID for two main reasons.
The first stems from a concern for privacy, particularly regarding personal bodily matters – and recognition that members of the two sexes have different needs, here.
The second stems from a concern for security, and particularly relates to the fact that biological women are, on average, physically smaller and weaker than men.
Neither of these reasons gives justification for hatred of anyone. Moreover, they reflect UK (and other) law, grounding the single-sex provision outlined in the Equality Act.
You might be surprised to learn this point of law about single-sex provision – as the aforementioned lobby has been working flat-out, behind the scenes, to persuade you it’s not the case.
Of course, believing, for instance, that trans women have no right to access to women’s single-sex spaces doesn’t mean trans women’s particular needs should be ignored; but, rather, that their needs don’t obliterate the needs of biological women.
We shall discuss how public policy should respond to this in further columns.
Let’s turn to the second surprise of the Truss speech – and this was a serious surprise.
First, some context. The issue that distresses me most is the harm being done to children, in the name of kindness and respect.
At Radical, we believe that if an adult wishes to seek medical intervention to make their body resemble that of a member of the opposite sex, they should be free to. But that in the case of children, these interventions are always wrong.
The number of children referred to the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) – the UK service treating under-18s who “experience difficulties in the development of their gender identity” – has famously rocketed.
GIDS medical interventions fall into two categories: a) the prescription of hormone blockers, currently from age 11; b) the prescription of cross-sex hormones, currently from age 16.
Much has been written about the life-changing physical and mental damage these interventions can cause children, and an ongoing judicial review has been brought against GIDS by a nurse, a parent, and a former patient.
Here, the organisation Transgender Trend discusses hormone blockers: they note GIDS has treated “over 1000” children with these “experimental” drugs, and summarise academic literature on side-effects, ranging from bone-thinning, to altered “reproductive and sexual development” and “development of both brain structure and function”.
For now, it’s sufficient to accept there’s too little evidence to know the long-term effects these apparently ‘reversible’ treatments can have on children.
Even if we did know, however, that would not justify their prescription. Truss stated:
“I believe strongly that adults should have the freedom to lead their lives as they see fit, but I think it’s very important that while people are still developing their decision-making capabilities that we protect them from making those irreversible decisions.”
This is a brave statement, for which Truss deserves support from all who care about the safety and wellbeing of children – and, for which she will witness the wrath of that alternative power-base.
But there is a further inherent step to take.
The problem is not just that these decisions are irreversible, or even harmful – it is that a child is incapable of making such a serious decision, in a sufficiently reliable manner.
Not only is their decision-making capacity under-developed, they are particularly susceptible to influence.
Yet, the carrying out of these treatments is dependent on the child’s belief that what they need is for their puberty to be prevented; that belief is a necessary condition for treatment.
It’s also wrong, therefore, to think that a parent could take on their child’s responsibility, here, by consenting to this treatment for them (although that’s what’s currently being taken to happen, often after the parent is subject to emotional blackmail from the power-base).
In other words, any parental consent given, in this kind of case, would be in order to meet a need for treatment that’s predicated on the belief of someone – a child – whose beliefs are inadequate for the purpose.
This analysis may seem patronising, and even invoke a need for reassessment of the age of majority, but it seems clear that the only solution is for the option of such treatment to be taken off the table.
One more thing. I saw someone Tweet in response to Truss’s speech: “But what are you suggesting we do? Send doctors to jail?”. This Tweet, however intended, is no jokey riposte.
When I spoke recently with a former GIDS employee, they told me their personal justification for having provided these services to children was that provision’s legal, and there’s demand for it.
To my mind – and seemingly Truss’s – it’s clear that this provision should be made illegal. But, until then, there are serious moral questions for all adults involved.
Children simply cannot be taken as driving this ‘demand’, and neither can their parents.
To provide these services not only causes harm, it is to be complicit in the instrumentalisation of children on the altar of an immoral political project.