It’s been a journey from sympathy to seeing exactly what is going on here and what is at stake. I am a writer and I have a tendency to really want to express myself with words, and have been writing to anyone and everyone who will listen, from my MP to Keir Starmer to the Body Shop and my local leisure centre. But at every turn, it seems that the safety of girls and women simply doesn’t matter.
I first started to wake up to the injustices being meted out by the trans rights activists when I had a short exchange on Facebook with a woman in the UK about the Women’s Equality Party. I was living abroad at the time and was curious about them, as I was about to return to the UK and was wondering about joining. I am and always have been a feminist and I align myself with second wave feminism.
There was a woman on the thread who worried that our concerns such as issues around childcare, laws regarding access to breastfeeding spaces in the workplace, all-women shortlists, access to all-female domestic violence shelters, to safe and affordable contraception for women was excluding male-bodied people who identify as women. I left the group as the arguments centred on the needs of male-bodied people rather than on what I saw as the basic requirements for women to be able to gain an equal footing in society.
Cut to years later and I am back in the UK. I am teaching part-time at a college where I have been working on and off for over 15 years. My student reports are always positive and I have never missed a class. One day I get a phone call from the HR department telling me they have had a complaint. Apparently my classes are no longer safe because I am transphobic. I ask the HR woman to elaborate.
The person who called to complain claimed to be an ex-student, although they did not leave their name so we will never know if they genuinely were a student. My crime was liking a Tweet by Kathleen Stock. I had just heard about puberty blockers and as I was writing and researching on the subject of HRT used for menopausal women for a publication, I had started wondering about the role of pharmaceutical companies in the increased prescribing of puberty blockers for children.
I asked on Twitter if anyone had been looking into the links between Big Pharma and puberty blockers. Apparently asking this question made me a transphobe and made me unsafe to be around students. I was told I could keep my job because the students ‘liked me so much’ but I was informed that if I wanted to carry on working at this college I was to delete this Tweet and to not share anything on social media linking me to the college. They could not be seen to have any contact with ‘transphobes’. Not once did this HR woman think that this call might be malicious. She said she had to assume it was one of my students because if it’s their word over mine, she had to take their word as they are the ‘victim’.
Cut to a year later. My 12-year-old daughter has gone swimming with friends at the local leisure centre. The last time we went, there was a women’s and a men’s changing area. But the centre has been ‘modernised’ and loads of council money has been spent making it ‘better,’ apparently. One of the changes the centre made was to create a ‘changing village’ where men and women, girls and boys shower and change together in one space. My daughter and her two friends (who were all 12) were approached by a grown man who started fondling them. One of the girls was grabbed and kissed. He stroked their hair and kept asking them their names.
An adult woman in the changing village with them alerted staff who had the man removed. When I took this up with the manager and asked why they no longer had separate areas for girls to shower in, I was told that it was important to make sure that ‘the non-binary people felt comfortable’. This made no sense to me. I have since been in touch with the leisure centre and all I am told is that, although the odd attack or unpleasantness might occur, they do take these seriously.They are happy to talk to people after such an occurence, but the thought of avoiding such things in the first place is a foreign concept to the people at this chain of leisure centres.
This is from their letter to me:
“As part of centre refurbishments, we often install ‘Changing Villages’ as these facilities are increasingly popular in modern leisure centres and endorsed by Sport England … Swim suits must be worn in communal areas – including any open showers.”
“GLL are very aware of the need to make public spaces safe and accessible for women and we would not install ‘Changing Villages’ in our centres if we thought these facilities were unsafe for females. We have a ‘zero tolerance’ to misbehaviour by any customers – which is why we ask for any concerns to be raised with our staff immediately so we can take prompt action. Our leisure centres are for everyone, whatever their age or background and we do not tolerate customers being intimidated when accessing their activities.”
The upshot is that three teenage girls are now too terrified to ever use a leisure centre again. They have been traumatised by this man’s groping and his display of physical strength over them when he grabbed one of the girls. My Bangladeshi neighbours will also be passing on it.
Every time I try and get an answer from this leisure centre about what provisions they are working on to make their spaces safer for girls and women, I am told it is already safe and that they need to “be inclusive.” The head of their safeguarding did not know that female-only spaces are enshrined in law in the Equality Act 2010.
I just want my daughter to be able to swim, exercise, shower and change without feeling nervous, without being watched, and without being made to feel uncomfortable. I have written to the centre several times to no avail. In my last letter, I mentioned that I had in fact been sexually abused when I was my daughter’s age, and I didn’t feel it was right that in order to have my concerns taken seriously, I was now having to reveal this incredibly personal information.
This issue is not about transpeople. It is about men accessing women’s spaces. We know there are men capitalising on these spaces for their sexual gratification. There are ample examples. Yet, somehow these are being disregarded.The Times expose on mixed-sex changing areas revealed that they are in fact a danger to girls and women.
I have been raising my daughter, as are many women, to know that it’s OK to say ‘no’, that she has bodily autonomy, and that her boundaries are real and are hers to create, and that if she feels uncomfortable it is OK to say so. I would have thought with the #MeToo movement that more people would be raising girls to not only feel OK about having boundaries, but that these should be encouraged and maintained. Yet, here we are telling girls and women that they are transphobic bigots if they raise the alarm at a man in their midst when they are changing or showering. And then we wonder why mental health problems in girls are sky-rocketing. The disconnect is astonishing.
And it’s also no wonder that more and more girls want to transition to being male. When on the one hand they are being told to allow any male-bodied person into their intimate space or else they’re a horrible bully, and on the other hand they are dealing with boys whose porn-soaked brains are telling them that being choked is both cool and sexy, it is no wonder girls want an escape route. All through my teenage years I wore boys’ clothes and kept my hair super short. I hated my body and I hated how men looked at it. I would have happily considered having my breasts cut off if this had been on offer. I am so glad it wasn’t.
I am a happy middle-aged woman who is a mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt and champion of the rights and girls to spaces where they can thrive. Despite what my teenage brain was telling me, my body has been my ally. It has shaped my life in myriad ways. A man who claims to feel like a woman has every right to become whatever he thinks a woman is. But I can guarantee that his journey will be different from mine. To claim transwomen are women is to belittle their journey as well as mine.
Most of my female friends simply don’t want to know what’s going on, and think I am catastrophising. Much like climate change, until your own house falls into the sea from coastal erosion, it’s hard to believe it’s really happening. My only ally is a friend whose daughter has started wearing a binder and is demanding a mastectomy. She gets it because it’s on her doorstep. We both feel her daughter is simply gay, and yet to admit this is to somehow let down all her gender-fluid friends. It’s a horror show.