From this point on most issues of this newsletter will be subscriber-only. If you sign up in the coming days for a full year I’ll send you a signed copy of my paperback! (If you’re outside the UK, we’ll have to discuss postage.) It’s due out tomorrow, May 5th, and shortly after that I’ll be emailing instructions on how my yearly subscribers can tell me their address and what they want their dedication to say.
In last week’s edition I mentioned the ferocity of gatekeeping in the media, in reference specifically to “preferred pronouns”. But the problem goes far beyond that. Stories that contradict the trans narrative—that everyone has a gender identity; that “trans children” are those who recognise it when they’re little; that gender identity is much more important and real than sex—are almost impossible to get into much of the mainstream press. The past few weeks have been pretty bad on this front, both for me and for people I know. So in this issue I thought I’d give my readers a glimpse behind the scenes, at the stories that were strangled at birth or made it out into the world only in unrecognisably altered form.
On April 11th Sex Matters published the findings of a commissioned YouGov survey of secondary-school teachers that aimed to provide the first hard numbers on the frequency of trans identification among pupils. Sky News asked to break the embargo and release a story on April 10th; we agreed. I pre-recorded an interview a few days earlier, which lasted 15 minutes. I was pleased with how it went. I had hit the main points clearly: that the number of trans-identified children is rising; that teachers want guidance on how to cope; that it’s mostly girls who are claiming trans identities; and that many schools are blatantly breaching standard safeguarding rules to accommodate children with cross-sex identities, thus putting both those children and their classmates at risk.
But all that made it into the broadcast segment and article were a couple of sentences about the rising numbers, and teachers’ desire for official materials. Both were dominated by a non-binary identified father and his eight-year-old son, who now identifies as a girl. The quote from Sex Matters gave the strong impression that we want schools to be supported in socially transitioning such kids—rather than, for example, supported in telling parents that no, little Edie will not be using the girls’ toilets, because Edie is a boy.
I have put some effort into trying to work out what happened—a journalist who wants to make a puff piece about a father who doesn’t identify as a man and the son he presents to the world as a girl doesn’t need input from either me or Sex Matters. (I’m not willing to say, even in this forum, what I think of this father and what he’s doing to his son, except that it’s despicable to use a child for YouTube views.) But after several conversations with senior Sky staff, I’ve got nowhere.
The same embargoed press release also caught the eye of a specialist online newspaper, Schools Week, and I was asked to write an op-ed. It never appeared, and I haven’t been told why, just that it won’t. It is unusual that well-written, cost-free copy of direct relevance to the core audience is commissioned by a specialist outlet and then spiked, but that’s what happened. Since it’s not going to see the light of day anywhere else, I thought I’d share it here.
Spiked piece for Schools Week
Anyone watching the news will have seen a recent blizzard of stories about sex, gender and trans identification, from the controversy over male athletes competing in female events to whether NHS “single-sex” wards actually place patients according to their stated identities rather than their sex. And anyone with children or who is working in a school is likely to have the sense that trans identities are becoming more common among young people, some of whom are identifying as members of the opposite sex and some of whom describe themselves in other terms, such as genderfluid or non-binary.
What was lacking was hard data. But a new poll of secondary-school teachers by YouGov, commissioned by Sex Matters, a human-rights organisation that campaigns for clarity about the two sexes, male and female, in law and everyday life, gives the first firm figures. The upwards trend is striking. Four-fifths of secondary-school teachers say their school has at least one pupil who identifies as trans or non-binary, and almost all of those say there are more such children than three years ago. A majority of teachers think that celebrity and internet culture play a role.
Most teachers feel confident about interacting with such children. But three-fifths want more official guidance. And worryingly, a significant minority of the respondents describe school policies that breach standard safeguarding principles.
Young people’s shifting ideas of gender and identity are usually presented as a “trans” issue. But the Sex Matters research shows that the rising number of gender-distressed kids is in fact a crisis of girlhood. Almost half (46%) of teachers with trans or non-binary pupils say that the majority are female; only 7% say the majority are male. Celebrities and social media present girls with ever more airbrushed and unattainable female bodies. Most teenagers have been exposed to pornography, which is becoming ever more violent and degrading. Sexualised bullying of girls, even sexual assault, is horrifyingly commonplace. For a rising number, it seems, the answer is to seek to opt out of their sex entirely.
The most concerning finding, however, is that some schools are excluding gender-distressed and trans-identifying children from standard safeguarding procedures. Almost a fifth of respondents say that they would not, as a matter of course, inform parents if their child adopts a cross-sex identification at school. A third say they would do so only with the child’s express permission. A fifth say that, in their school, trans-identified pupils are allowed to use facilities intended for the sex they identify with, rather than the sex they actually are.
This approach is downright dangerous. For very good reasons, school-premises rules require separate toilets and changing rooms for pupils aged eight and over. Allowing a child to use opposite-sex facilities goes against recent guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Doing so undermines privacy and dignity for other pupils, and also sets the child on a course of “social transition”. This is not a neutral accommodation, but a significant intervention, as emphasised by Dr Hillary Cass, the eminent paediatrician asked by the government to review the care of gender-distressed children.
Transparency with parents, meanwhile, is a basic safeguarding principle, to be breached only if a detailed assessment suggests it would put a child at risk. A child’s trans identification may have been triggered by a problem such as depression, anxiety or bullying that can only be managed in co-operation with parents.
Behind this mess is a big societal shift that schools have been left to handle without official guidance. Sex Matters has reviewed materials from LGBT organisations and local authorities. Much of it misrepresents school regulations, equality law – and even basic biology. When challenged in courts, local authorities have withdrawn such guidance.
To help schools treat all pupils with fairness and dignity, Sex Matters, together with Transgender Trend, has produced a guide on the Equality Act for schools in England. But as long as misleading information is allowed to keep circulating, schools, children and parents will continue to struggle.
My third recent adventure in cancellation started on April 20th, with an email from a producer at ABC, Australia’s equivalent of the BBC. Australia is now finally having the “transwomen in sports” conversation because of one brave politician, Katherine Deves (pictured above), who co-founded Save Women’s Sports and faced death threats as a result. She and her family have had to leave her home for their own safety, simply because she has insisted on pointing out the harms done by transactivism to women’s rights.
The ABC producer asked for a PDF copy of my book, which I sent, and arranged a time for a radio interview, which happened on April 25th. It was probing, with the host labouring under the misapprehension that trans people undergo some gruelling procedure that really does turn them into a close approximation of the opposite sex, if not the real thing. He seemed certain that transwomen were not only so like women that their admission into female sports was fair, but so oppressed and unhappy that their exclusion would be unacceptably mean. I explained, as I have many times, what male puberty does, reminded him that humans are mammals—and pointed out that the largest oppressed group the world has ever seen is women.
I did use the word “male” a lot, but I don’t think I actually misgendered any of the athletes I mentioned, such as Laurel Hubbard and Lia Thomas. But a few days later I woke up to an email from the producer telling me that, unfortunately, “sound issues” with the recording meant they wouldn’t be able to use it. Obviously that was nonsense—I’d happily have re-recorded, but she didn’t even bother to ask.
The final cancellation I want to tell you about is a mixture of one that happened a while ago, plus a recent one with a different target: Colette Colfer, a journalist in Ireland. She had been commissioned to write about gender-identity ideology’s religious characteristics by an editor at the Irish Times, and on Sunday 24th April she tweeted that her piece was due to appear the following day. Instead she woke up to an email telling her it had been spiked, and the commissioning editor had no idea why. She offered it instead to broadsheet.ie, where it appeared the next day.
That brought back my own experience with the Irish Times last year, shortly after my book came out. I was disappointed that it wasn’t reviewed in the nearest my home country has to a paper of record—it was picked up widely in the UK, and you might think an Irish paper would be interested that an Irishwoman had written on a live, contentious topic and got glowing endorsements, ranging from Jenni Murray to Richard Dawkins. But books and arts editors are a law unto themselves, and there are a lot of books being published all the time, so I didn’t give it further thought.
A month or two after that I got asked to do an interview for a feature for the Irish Times, which was exciting. I talked to the journalist, the piece was commissioned and written, my quotes were checked—and then…nothing. When I checked in, I was told that it had been spiked, the journalist was puzzled and that was that.
As a book author or journalist you don’t want to make waves, because commissioning editors have an awful lot of power. But a year of this sort of nonsense has shortened my fuse, and when I saw what had happened to Colette, I decided I had nothing to lose. I’m not going to get anything into the Irish Times whatever I do, so why not tell them what I think?
So I emailed the books editor. I asked why the Irish Times had ignored my book while reviewing “Please Miss” by Grace Lavery and “Sexual Revolution” by Laurie Penny, both commercial flops and critically panned (I haven’t seen positive reviews of either in any other mainstream outlet; here’s the Guardian on Penny and the Times of London on Lavery). I pointed out that Barry Pierce, who reviewed “Please Miss”, had just tweeted a death wish about Allison Bailey, the brave lesbian barrister who is taking a discrimination case in the employment tribunal against her chambers, Garden Court, and Stonewall.
I got a civil reply saying that no author has the right to a book review (which I know, obviously!) and that it wasn’t possible to tell around publication day which books would be successes (quite a self-own, I thought).
So I replied and suggested that the Irish Times try to mix it up a little. It could continue to review books like “Please Miss”, though ideally commissioning someone other than a misogynistic lesbophobe who had harassed the books editor of the Irish Sunday Independent the previous year for publishing a review of Abigail Shrier’s book, “Irreversible Damage”—Pierce had tweeted offering to send anyone who wanted to criticise that decision the editor’s personal email address. And it could also review books like mine, Shrier’s and Kathleen Stock’s, which attempt to cast light on a scandal that is harming women and children.
I haven’t had a reply and don’t expect to. But at least it eased my feelings, and might just have given a senior journalist at the paper some food for thought.
None of this is normal. I’ve been a staff journalist at a major publication since 2005 and I’ve never been treated like this on any other subject, or seen anyone else treated like this. Except when it comes to sex’n’gender, where it happens all the time. Recently I’ve been reading the substack of an American journalist, Lisa Selin Davis, which is breaking bigger and better stories on the scandal of paediatric transition than any mainstream American publication is. Lisa used to appear in all of them, but since she started writing on this topic, no one commissions her any more.
It feels as if there’s a grand global conspiracy to silence anyone who recognises that sex is real and thinks that matters. In fact, I don’t think there is one, not between outlets and not within them. I think the silencing is happening for three interlinked reasons, the balance of which varies from one radio or television station, or newspaper, to another.
The first is trouble, and the threat of it. The second is confusion. The third is a rising number of people within newsrooms with the strongest possible allegiance to transactivism.
For an example of the first, let’s return to the Irish Times. Last year it briefly broke its code of omertà on criticising gender-identity ideology with a rather good piece by three clinicians about why banning “conversion therapy” for gender identity isn’t as progressive as it sounds. That resulted in a boycott of the paper being declared by the Trans Writers’ Union—a blow I’m sure the paper can easily ignore, since, as the TWU blithely acknowledges in its announcement, none of its members ever wrote for it, or indeed even bought it.
But that boycott led to another, this time by the Irish Students’ Union, which maybe seems a bit more troublesome. The Irish Times may think that this storm in a social-media teacup might turn off the rising generation. And its future is already parlous enough: it’s an expensive publication with a pretty small home market.
Back in the glory days of journalism, before the internet became ubiquitous, a bit of aggro was exactly what editors liked. My own paper, The Economist, is very proud of having proposed same-sex marriage in 1996, far earlier than other mainstream publications. To the editor of the day, it seemed a classic liberal cause. I’ve heard since that the many letters of complaint only added to the pleasure of publishing it. Back then, editors liked controversy, reasoning that it probably drove sales—and if it didn’t, who cared? Back then, journalism was a profitable, pleasurable business.
No one feels like that now. Partly that’s because of plummeting ad revenue, as Google and Facebook cannibalise the entire news ecosystem. Partly, it’s because the social opprobrium that comes with criticism for your views is much greater, especially in graduate professions—which now include journalism. It used to be common for big outlets to hire people who had gone straight from school to work for a local paper, where they developed an eye for a story, tenacity and a sense of what resonated with readers. Now younger journalists all have degrees, and most come from well-off families and private schools.
I think the result is less a cold-blooded commercial calculation than a series of individual decisions. Each journalist, and each commissioning editor, thinks twice before prodding what they have learned is a hornets’ nest.
My second reason—confusion—is similarly diffuse and distributed. Imagine you’re a correspondent in one of the many areas touched upon by the sex/gender-identity collision—education, say, or health, sports, religion or politics. Most of what you write about has nothing to do with this, and it has never occurred to you that anyone might deny the reality and binary nature of sex. Then one day you stumble across an extraordinary story—that boys are being put in girls’ dormitories if they say they’re girls, say; or that men are able to compete in women’s events if they say they’re women.
Journalism is a game of speed and approximation. Even if you have been doing a beat for a long time, you cannot possibly be an expert on every part of it. So you use tried and tested shortcuts—talking to sources with “good names”; returning to interviewees who’ve been helpful in the past; googling to see who else has commented on the topic, or done policy or academic work on it; seeking comment from “both sides” of an argument; asking any person or organisation criticised by someone else for their response; that sort of thing. What you get may not quite be the first draft of history, but it won’t be worthless, either.
And so you set about this story in the same way. You find my book, read my CV, reckon I’d be a good person to talk to, maybe get as far as interviewing me. Of course you also reach out to other people—but to your surprise, the ones who disagree with me don’t just tell you what they think and why people like me are wrong, as has happened with literally every other story you’ve ever reported on. They tell you that they won’t talk to you at all, if you are also talking to people like me. That I’m a “literal Nazi” who “wants trans children dead”. And if you push back on that, they hang up on you.
Meanwhile, you’re googling for hard figures and solid research. But seemingly reputable sources are contradicting each other, to an extent you’ve never seen before. One organisation says that “sex” is a protected characteristic in the Equality Act, and that it means “male” and “female”; another says that, as far as single-sex spaces are concerned, the Equality Act establishes trans people’s right to use the single-sex spaces that match the “gender in which they present”.
You find Rachel Levine, America’s Assistant Secretary for Health, tweeting that “Gender-affirming care is medical care. It is mental health care. It is suicide prevention care. It improves quality of life, and it saves lives. It is based on decades of study. It is a well-established medical practice.” And a factsheet from the federal Office of Population Affairs that says: “Research demonstrates that gender-affirming care improves the mental health and overall well-being of gender diverse children and adolescents. Because gender-affirming care encompasses many facets of healthcare needs and support, it has been shown to increase positive outcomes for transgender and nonbinary children and adolescents. Gender-affirming care is patient-centered and treats individuals holistically, aligning their outward, physical traits with their gender identity.”
But you also find another official fact-sheet, this time from the Florida Department of Health. This one says: “Due to the lack of conclusive evidence, and the potential for long-term, irreversible effects, the Department’s guidelines are as follows: • Social gender transition should not be a treatment option for children or adolescents. • Anyone under 18 should not be prescribed puberty blockers or hormone therapy. • Gender reassignment surgery should not be a treatment option for children or adolescents.” You also find two evidence reviews from NICE in the UK, which conclude that the evidence base for using puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones in adolescents is very poor.
And your attempts to make sense of all this are hampered by the strange language everyone is using. You can’t remember whether a “transwoman” is someone who’s really a woman and thinks she’s a man, or really a man and thinks she’s a woman (this was the single most common question I was asked when I started to talk openly about what I was working on, back in 2018). People are talking about “trans children”, who are “really boys” even though they were “assigned female at birth”, or vice versa, like it’s somehow possible to be “born in the wrong body”. The word “intersex” is being bandied about—1.7% of the population, apparently, “as common as red hair”. You’ve never met anyone in your life who wasn’t obviously of one sex or the other, but that only makes you feel worse. What have you been missing?
It all adds up to this: a story that piqued your interest in the same way as hundreds of others, and which you approached in the same way as hundreds of others, turns out to be a scary mess. And so you trim and chop, or tell your editor that there wasn’t a story there after all—and silently vow to stay well away in future. It’s not like there isn’t plenty else to write about on the education beat, or religion, social affairs, sports or whatever.
Between them, all these individual decisions create a collective blind spot. As far as the problems that arise when gender identity is prioritised over sex are concerned, nobody in the newsroom is interested.
I think that explains most of the silencing to date. But my third reason is becoming more important, namely that by now most institutions have at least one senior employee who has socially, and perhaps medically, transitioned a child—and who is likely to spend the rest of their lives justifying that decision to themselves.
I feel deeply for these parents, and for everyone who cares for a child who says they’re trans. Their child’s declaration has brought them to a fork in the road. In one possible future they make their child furious and miserable by telling the truth: that most children who want to change sex will change their mind; that no one can actually do it; and that pretending to has such major consequences that only an adult could possibly make that choice, and only after lengthy consideration. In the other they make their child happy, at least in the short term: they change the child’s name, clothes and pronouns—and perhaps bring them to the gender clinic.
But that second option amounts to a promise to the child that parents cannot keep without involving everyone else in a pretence. If you tell your child that yes, he “really is a girl” or she “really is a boy”, you require all the rest of us to play along, not just now but always. You require the child’s school to tell the teachers and pupils that Anthony is now Adelaide and that they must never again mention the truth. Anthony has to be allowed into the girls’ toilets, changing rooms and sports teams. When the time comes Anthony will have to go on puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, and probably get surgery. All of society must be rearranged to accommodate Anthony as really, truly a girl and then a woman. Because anything else means that the parents have made a horrific mistake.
I know of several parents in influential positions in British public life who have made this choice. Each, whether or not intentionally, casts a pall of collective dishonesty over an entire organisation. Any colleague of theirs who knows about the child will feel gagged when it comes to speaking about the dangers of childhood transitioning or the overreach of trans lobby groups. If the parent is in senior management, they may be able to impose “trans-friendly” policies across the organisation, such as gender-neutral toilets or pronouns in email signatures.
Just one such person can destroy an entire media organisation’s coverage. He or she doesn’t even have to be in the newsroom. Editors-in-chief are part of a rarefied employment market, in which “top people” circulate between “top jobs”—not just in media organisations but in corporations, think-tanks, large charities and NGOs. If one runs a critical story about, say, the Gender Identity Development Service, where the NHS sees gender-distressed children, or Mermaids, the main charity promoting paediatric transition, they will quickly find out that someone on their dinner-party circuit has a child who uses the services of both—and that this person is now their lifelong enemy.
Why all this matters isn’t because I—or Colette Colfer or Lisa Selin Davis—can’t get our stories published. It’s because what we want to say, and are being stopped from saying, is that a socio-medical scandal is playing out on the bodies of children. This is the sort of journalism that ruffles feathers, that makes the libel lawyers on retainer for big media organisations nervous—and, after all that, doesn’t get you more readers. People say they want to be informed and challenged; actually, many just want to be riled up and to have their biases confirmed.
I’m sure that quite soon, maybe in just a year or two, outlets that currently shun us will be running stories we offered them years earlier. They’ll never acknowledge that they were late to the show. In the meantime, I’m really grateful to everyone who has subscribed to date, and if you haven’t, I hope you’ll consider it.
Thank you all.