So much of the publicity the unsuspecting general public sees is about bathrooms.   Bathroom bills, toilet troubles.  New words and phrases are bandied about as though they have always had meaning:  Gender Identity; transgender; intersex.  An abundance of “facts” are quoted by both sides in every argument and rarely investigated, proven or debunked.

I admit to being sucked into the bathroom debate early on.  Not because I have a personal objection to finding a post-operative transsexual woman washing her hands next to me in the Ladies’ toilets at the cinema.  Far from it.  My worries run much deeper than that.  I see it as the thin end of the wedge.  I’ve actually read Maria Miller’s Transgender Equality Report which is going in front of parliament this year and could well become enshrined in law.  Currently there is no law that says transsexual women can’t use the Ladies’ toilet.  Or a Ladies’ gym.  They can even be incarcerated in a women’s prison.  In order to do so unchallenged, however, they are expected to get a Gender Reassignment Certificate which costs £140 and requires the support of two medical professionals to assert that the applicant does indeed live as the sex they wish to be recognised as and has done for at least two years.  There isn’t currently a requirement for hormonal or surgical treatment, however it is presumed if not by the lawmakers and medical professionals, certainly by the majority of the general public, that those changing sex / reassigning their gender are planning to undergo genital surgery, if they haven’t already.

My realisation, from reading said report, that up to 80% of men who describe themselves as transgender have not had and have no intention of having sex reassignment surgery left me somewhat taken aback.  I know my language is hopelessly outdated but until then I would have thought men who want to present as female or dress in female clothes were called transvestites or cross-dressers.  Until recently those I had met or come across in the media were happy to call themselves men but just enjoyed wearing women’s clothes.  Why, suddenly, were they calling themselves women?  And why on earth should I be expected to share sex-segregated spaces with them?

Hence the bathroom troubles.  I observed many online arguments.  In many cases both sides had unsupportable and unforgiveable stances but what struck me was the prevalance of “facts” bandied around with no supporting evidence.  I have no grudge against transgender people but I honestly do not understand the reasoning behind seeking to enter women’s spaces which can be sex-segregated for reasons of anatomy, privacy, comfort and safety. In the case of toilets it is simple anatomy.  Men have penises, they stand to pee at urinals.  They only have a small number of stalls for defecation so their toilets can accommodate more men and the process is usually quicker.  Women sit for both bodily functions, take longer about them and need sanitary vending machines and bins to deal with menstruation.  There is no need for a male-bodied transgender person to use the Ladies’ loo other than validation of their presentation as female.  They want to go where the women go because they want to be seen to be and to feel like one of the women.  That’s fine in principle but in practice the women don’t really want them there – mainly for reasons of privacy and comfort but also because women’s toilet facilities are often woefully under-resourced and our queues are long enough without men joining in!

Looking at the arguments online, often the women cite safety “Men carry out most sexual attacks so we don’t want men in our restrooms” they say.  The transwomen then argue back “but we are at risk in the men’s room – we might get beaten up or raped so we want to come into your safe space where we are safe from the men.  We won’t hurt you, transwomen don’t do that”.  It becomes a circular argument that gets more heated.  The women assert that although they don’t think all transwomen are a threat, dangerous men could use it as an excuse to get in.  The transwomen say “no-one would go to those lengths and, anyway, if they want to attack you they could just do it now, they don’t need to pretend to be us”.  Oh, and the best one “It’s against the law to assault you in the toilets, letting us in won’t change that”.  When of course it’s against the law for men to attack transwomen in the men’s room currently but they are still running scared, or so they say.

I was in my usual state when reading up on this subject.  Baffled.  Logic seems to go out of the window in favour of feelings and confirmation bias in these online arguments.  I desperately wanted to be able to wade in and debunk both sides’ more ridiculous points.  I kept seeing the assertions that no transwomen have ever attacked a woman.  That transwomen get beaten up and raped in the men’s room all the time.  Apparently Transwomen have been going to the Ladies’ for ever and a day and no-one noticed never mind got hurt.  So I hit Google to find out for myself what actually goes on, I was searching for assaults on transwomen in toilets/bathrooms/restrooms but that’s not what I found.  I stuck to the UK and Eire initially and looked purely for local news sources – relatively unbiased reporting.

Not all of the criminals listed identify as women/are described as transgender but all went to great lengths to present as female in order to access women’s spaces with criminal intent. 

Men dressed as women committing offences in toilets UK and ROI

Serial offender changed into women’s clothes to commit multiple offences – attempted rape in public toilet.

Disguised as a woman in order to peep.  Expressed gratitude he was caught as felt his offending could have escalated.

Shouldn’t have been in Ladies – accidentally exposed himself to a child.  6 month suspended sentence “A very unsavoury offence”


Then I extended my search beyond the UK, still looking for incidences of transwomen being attacked in the men’s room:

Transgender sex offender wearing women’s clothes to watch children changing

Man dresses as a woman “I wanted to see women naked”

Man dressed as woman peeping in toilets

Woman punched in face for questioning cross-dresser’s presence in a toilet

Man in Barbie costume attacks woman in toilet

Man dresses as woman to video women in toilet

Man just wearing women’s knickers attacks girl, 8

Voyeur dresses as woman to tape women in toilet

Man in bra and wig arrested in bathroom.  Admits took a shower in girls’ locker room “for sexual gratification”

I looked and looked.  I spent hours at it, using various different search terms.  We are often told that transwomen are at “huge risk of rape, assault and murder” if they use the men’s toilets.  I persisted with this one search as it would bring up US incidents but I still couldn’t find one single report in 10 pages of Google search (Feb 2016) for “transgender woman attacked in bathroom” of a trans person attacked for using the toilet that matched their birth sex.  By contrast all of the above examples were easily found within the top results of my Google searches.

This recent incident in a unisex single cubicle at the Stonewall bar is really horrible and unfortunate.  It does show that these incidents do receive press coverage so if attacks in male toilets were as common as we are led to believe there would be more evidence online.
There were a few reports of trans people being attacked for trying to use the toilet for their chosen gender including one horrible attack on a transwoman trying to use the Ladies in a US McDonalds in 2011.  Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, beat her up outside the toilets.


Transman harassed using the men’s toilet

Transwoman punched by man for being in the ladies


Also this which I am leaving in as it is a report of a FtM transgender bullying victim reported being beaten and sexually assaulted while using the toilet of his chosen gender… i.e. biological female attacked in boys’ toilets.  He later admitted he had made it all up.

This is not intended to be the list which proves transwomen are the bogeyman.  As stated at the start, many of the attackers are not described as transgender but did dress as women in order to gain access to women’s spaces which disproves the “no-one would go to the lengths of pretending to be trans just to get access to women” narrative.  For some attackers, cross-dressing and peeping on or assaulting women in their safe spaces formed part of their criminality, however, and although rare it doesn’t seem sensible to make it any easier for people like that to carry out their crimes.

The bigger point here though, is if transwomen are currently using the men’s toilets (because they do not have the right to use the women’s unchallenged) and are at such great risk of male violence in there, where are the reports of this happening?  If it’s not happening, why do they need to use the women’s toilets at all, particularly if it causes women discomfort.  If there are no reports of attacks in the men’s, is it because they are already using the women’s unnoticed?  In which case, why do we need any changes to the laws currently in place, which give women the right to challenge men in their safe spaces?

Cartoon commissioned by Danielle Muscato, who identifies as female but presents as male so is highly unlikely to have any issues using the men’s toilets but would undoubtedly cause discomfort to women if he chose to use the women’s.

If self-determination allows anyone to claim to be trans no matter how they present so Danielle Muscato has the right to wander into the Ladies’ toilet/changing room/rape crisis centre despite the fact that he presents as male and has a male body, how are women supposed to know whether he is a threat or not?  If he can walk in unchallenged surely any man can too.  It doesn’t matter how likely that is, the fact is women spend their whole lives on the alert to stranger danger and the threat of male violence.  We are conditioned to avoid finding ourselves alone with strange men (despite the fact it is usually men we know who take advantage of our bodies when the opportunity arises, committing the majority of rapes and sexual assaults on women they already know).

Forcing us to share sex-segregated spaces with male-bodied people, no matter how they identify, puts us on the defensive, makes us uncomfortable and if, as it appears, it is purely for their personal validation rather than anatomical or safety reasons then it is not really a fair or acceptable outcome.




Woman is a feeling

Digging deeper and deeper to find out how the meaning of “woman” has changed I fell out of the bottom of the rabbit hole and found myself in a trippy cyberspace where anyone can declare themselves to be a woman.  Apparently it’s just a feeling now.

I always thought it was something you were born with.  The capacity to produce ova and bear young.  Genitalia that look like they belong to a girl, not a boy, at birth.  Yes, some babies’ genitalia are ambiguous and intersex people, as they are now known, have historically had a rough time but their existence does not disprove the fact that humans are sexually dimorphic.  Every human ever born was gestated in a female body, the (biological) mother’s egg fertilised by a sperm produced in a male body.  It takes two humans to reproduce, one male and one female and there are physical differences between the two which make this possible.

So how does an adult human male like Dave Muscato come to be accepted as a woman simply by changing his name to Danielle and insisting, loudly and vehemently, that he is female?

Danielle is an atheist, or at least he was the PR person for American Atheists.  His job was to produce material to help convince people they were wrong for believing in things that could not be proven by science.  Taking “truths” on faith alone is not enough, religious doctrine is not a force for good.  Rational thought is the only way to peace and unity.  Etc.

In late 2014 Dave “came out” as a transgender woman.  He explained to his friends and colleagues, via a friend’s blog, that he would not initially change his appearance or presentation but would expect to be known as Danielle from now on.  He expressed understanding that people may struggle to remember his new pronouns and claimed he would not take offence at genuine mistakes.  He changed his name and description on his Facebook page and, despite his assurances in his “coming out” post that he would remain an atheist activist and leave LGBT activism to the experts he has since become a vocal activist for the transgender cause.  He refuses to engage with anyone who does not freely recite the mantra “transwomen are women” and acknowledge him as female and therefore deserving of all the rights and freedoms bestowed on born females (which seems to be most importantly the right to use women’s toilets despite presenting as a man, having male anatomy and having been told by many women, and some men including some who seem to be his friends, that this will make women uncomfortable.)

Now if Tara Hudson, with her “7 inch surprise” can be female enough to go to jail with vulnerable female prisoners, and Alex Drummond, with her beard and unaltered body, can “expand the bandwidth of how to be a woman” by continuing to fix cars for a living but now wearing a skirt and full make-up, it would seem disingenuous to suggest that Danielle Muscato cannot also be a woman despite presenting his completely male body in traditional male clothes with a manly beard, hairstyle and (dare I suggest) very masculine and forthright way of arguing his points online.  I just cannot bring myself to use female pronouns for this person though, I hope he is still as forgiving as he claimed to be when he first came out.

I think what I most take exception to in Danielle’s case is the fact that, despite the atheist activism, there is an expectation on everyone around him to take, on faith, his assertion that he is female.  In fact a couple of days ago he used a discussion about religion as a trojan horse to browbeat someone on his Facebook page into admitting to being “anti-trans” because his branch of Christianity states that it is wrong to deny your biological sex.  His (ex?) friend did a beautiful take-down which sums up my thoughts on the subject rather well:

So suddenly, to admit to not having sufficient evidence to assert a definitive conclusion about something is equivalent to its denial, or equivalent to “anti”-something? That doesn’t fly anywhere else. Why here? And to demand that I conclude and believe something solely on the basis of you saying that it is so…sounds like something you think happens in churches everywhere on Sunday. This is irrational and you know it.

This is precisely why I never have come to you and just outright demand that you believe God exists, just because I said so, or even because a thousand people said so, or even because we have developed fine sounding theological theories and ideologies that say it is so. That doesn’t work.

I can find no scientific proof that gender identity is a thing.  I’ve done a fair bit of searching now and it’s just not definable.   It is a diaphanous concept which not even the hardened transgender campaigners or gender identity clinics seem able to pin down and describe in a consistent way.  It is a feeling, apparently, but not one that everyone has.  It is innate, for some whereas others only discover it later in life.  Many men who transition claim they have always known: that during childhood they played with toys designed for girls, cross dressed in secret or dreamed of growing breasts.  Their experience is akin to that of closeted homosexuals, they have lived a lie to this point and cannot keep it secret any longer.

Others state fairly clearly that the ability to label themselves transgender gives them the freedom they crave to dress or present as female despite having no desire to alter their bodies.   Claiming to actually be female seems to be expected of them and provides them with an excuse or protection of some sort which is not available to transvestites or cross-dressers as men who simply want to wear women’s clothes.

For some it manifests as gender dysphoria: an extreme distress and excruciating sensation of being in the wrong body leading to rejection of primary and secondary sex characteristics.  These are what were traditionally called transsexuals, who cannot feel at ease until they have been transformed, via hormones and surgery, into a facsimile of the opposite sex and divested themselves of as many vestiges of their original sex as possible.

I have a lot of sympathy for the gender dysphoric.  It sounds like a torturous existence and if they can gain relief from their distress by going through surgery, hormonal treatment and living as the opposite sex, whatever that entails, then I wish them well.  I also have a strong “live and let live” philosophy whereby I fully support the right of all transgender people to live free from discrimination and to have all the same rights and responsibilities as the other humans with whom they share their lives and spaces.  I have no wish to deny anyone safety, security, bodily autonomy or access to healthcare, employment etc.

I support the right of everyone to dress how they want, wear their hair how they want, choose whether or not to wear make-up or high heels.  I am not convinced that anyone’s sartorial choices change their sex though and if birth sex and gender identity are different things but transgender women are women then I really think we need some new words to use for the adult humans with the capacity to produce ova. Although for some purposes I don’t mind being lumped together with other humans who can wear frocks and sparkles without being bullied for it, I object to being categorised with adult humans with penises when the other category comprises mainly adult humans with penises.

Danielle’s story has much in common with The Emperor’s New Clothes.  I don’t believe for a second any of his acolytes really think he’s a woman.  They might believe he genuinely thinks he is and be choosing to appease him.  They might be too scared of losing face (or being blocked) to openly admit the truth but can anyone, really, take on faith that he actually became female overnight, or in fact always has been?  The Emperor is, as we say in the UK, stark bollock naked in this case.




Today, I’m Saying Goodbye to My Old Self

Curiouser and curiouser

I began my quest to find out how and why the definition of “woman” had changed after discovering a UK transgender woman had been moved to a female prison despite being legally male and in possession of a fully functioning penis.

I very quickly began to feel like I was falling down a rabbit hole into a twisted version of reality where words were losing their meaning; science could be blatantly ignored, denied or co-opted to fit the prevailing narrative, and a new type of woman was demanding to be acknowledged and muscling into areas which were previously segregated by sex for the benefit of adult human females like me.

Since I began learning about all this things have been blowing up across the pond in the US with bathroom bills, discriminatory laws etc. but I’ll look into them another time.  For now I’m still wondering about what a woman is if not an adult human female, like myself, identified as having the capacity to bear children because of my primary and secondary sexual characteristics.  This does not mean that infertile women are not women, any more than a child born without legs proves that humans are not a bipedal species.

Humans reproduce sexually. Our design to makes that reproduction straightforward. We have two sorts of human: those with the capacity to produce eggs and those with the capacity to produce sperm.  The ones who produce eggs usually have a uterus, with which to carry the baby humans, and breasts with which to feed them.  The ones who produce sperm have a penis with which to deliver it and testicles in which to store it.  They are also hairier, musclier, have deeper voices and tend to be taller and stronger (these are, of course, generalisations which are not disproven by taking a short, slender man with a high voice and standing him next to a tall, muscular woman with a deep voice).  We are hardwired to be able to spot potential mates. Even young babies can tell the difference between men and women.  Without gendered clothing, personal care products, hairstyles etc. there are clues – pheromones; body shape; face shape; bone structure; Adam’s apple; facial hair and hairline.  I could go on but you get the picture…

… or do you?  Not any more!

Meet Alex.  She is “widening the bandwidth of how to be a woman”

This is Alex Drummond. She's a 51-year-old psychotherapist and photographer from Cardiff.

Alex has transitioned to female but has eschewed hormones and surgery.  She is an advisor to Stonewall on transgender issues.

I have no issue with Alex choosing to wear make-up and jewellery.  Out of politeness I will use her pronouns of choice, although as a grammar pedant I would be far happier if English, like many other languages, had a singular neuter option because it goes against every instinct I have to call someone”she” whoprobably looks [anatomically at least] like this when not wearing a skirt:

'David' by Michelangelo JBU0001.JPG

I do wonder though, having read the interview linked below, why someone who is physically a man, in a happy relationship with a woman (with whom he probably indulges in sexual activity which, physically at least, resembles a heterosexual relationship) and who wants to wear make-up and dresses while fixing cars for a living feels he must become a woman, declare himself and his partner to be lesbians and set about changing peoples’ opinions about what women can do (fix cars in a skirt apparently) rather than simply “widening the bandwidth of how to be a man”.

I’m still baffled.  I kind of get why a transsexual, who takes hormones and has sex reassignment surgery to alter their primary and secondary sex characteristics to look and function as closely as possible to those of the opposite sex, earns the right to be considered to be the opposite sex.  But how does changing the clothes he wears make a man into a woman?  I still don’t get it.  Even if he “passes” i.e. looks identifiably female when clothed, surely he is cross-dressing or a transvestite.  I can even accept “transgender” as an umbrella term, encompassing all those things, being used to describe someone who cross-dresses.  But naked he will still be identifiably male so why can he claim to actually be female?  What has he done to earn that descriptor that I cannot shake off since being born with it?  How does his presentation when clothed make him female when he is not? If it does, what does that make me?  I don’t wear make-up and jewellery most days and I’m rarely found in a skirt (job interviews, weddings and fancy dress parties are the only times I’ve had my legs on show this year).





What is a woman?

I remember, a year or so ago, finding a mention of “cis” somewhere on the internet. Having a science background I was amused to find it being used as the opposite of “trans”as applied to transgender people.  These latin words are used in chemistry to describe molecules which are the mirror image of each other.  They have the same makeup of atoms but can behave very differently.  Cis means “on this side” whereas trans means “on the other side” or, more usually “across” or “through” e.g. transparent = see-through; trans-Siberian railway goes across or through Siberia.

Anyway, until that moment I hadn’t noticed the transgender movement.  I still had the old, probably politically incorrect, understanding of transsexual as someone who seeks to change sex by undergoing hormonal and surgical treatments.  I had little understanding of the condition but huge compassion for anyone willing to go to those lengths to feel comfortable in their body.  Transgender as a term was new to me and, I presumed, just a new term for transsexual.

At the end of the year there was a rash of news articles about a transgender woman in the UK, Tara Hudson.  She had been convicted of assault in a bar and sent to a male prison, upheld on appeal, and there was a petition to move her from to a female prison.  It talked about her 6 years of gender reconstruction surgery and quoted worrying statistics about the violence meted out to transgender prisoners; mental health issues; suicide rates and even torture.

It gained 140,000 signatures and resulted in a move to the female estate.  This was picked up by numerous papers.  Even the Daily Mail ran a fairly sympathetic story, albeit accompanied by several photos of Tara in the nude or scantily clad.  Quotes included:

“Ms Hudson’s mother Jackie Brooklyn, 48, said on Tuesday: ‘There’s nothing male about her, nobody would know the difference. She looks like a woman. She’s gorgeous.” 

I felt for her.  Poor Tara.  I wondered about how hard her life must have been, trapped in the wrong body and how tough she must have found being incarcerated with men.

Then a friend of mine pointed me to some information which was strangely missing from the news articles and petition but, I thought, of great relevance to her placing in a female prison.  Her fully functioning penis.   A link to Tara’s  ad on an adult escort site, under the pseudonym Tia Star, describing her enjoyment of her work; her willingness to indulge in a wide range of sexual activities with men and her “7 inch surprise” which she

“…don’t have any problems getting hard unlike some other ts escorts out there”.

Hang on a minute… her Mum said “There’s nothing male about her.”  Surely a 7 inch penis that she regularly uses for penetrative sex could be considered male.  Looking a little further into the press coverage, I noted that Tara is still legally male – she hadn’t applied for a Gender Recognition Certificate, hence her initial incarceration in a male jail.  I was baffled.  I felt a little discombobulated – the press and the petition made a big issue that Tara had “lived all her adult life as a woman”.  This got me wondering… how exactly do you do that?  Live your life as a woman?  I was under the impression I did that simply by being an adult human female.  I live my life and, because of my primary and secondary sex characteristics being identifiably female, I am a woman.

So what is a woman?  If someone who is legally a man, physically still a man, albeit with breast implants, and who makes a living having sex with other men, using his penis, can claim to be a woman, how does that change the definition of woman from “adult human female” and what does it change it to?  What makes Tara Hudson enough of a woman to be considered unsafe locked up with other men with penises (who cannot be trusted not to abuse, assault or rape him) yet he, with his penis, can be trusted not to abuse, assault, rape or, indeed, have consensual sex when locked up with women, with vaginas?


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Women’s troubles

I’m about to have the answer to life, the universe and everything.  I’ll be turning 42 this week and, thanks to my love of sci-fi and Douglas Adams, it’s a significant number.  I’m worried that it won’t actually be an epiphany for me because I’m more unsure of some of the fundamentals of life than at any point in my existence.  It’s the first birthday I’ll be celebrating since learning about some discomforting developments in the world.  Language is changing, feminism is fracturing and women are finding their voices are even less powerful than they used to be.

I have two young children, a boy and a girl, and I want the world they grow up in to be the best it can be for them.  I have started to question my identity as a woman and my place in the world.  Where I fit into my politics and how I can stand by my scientific knowledge and understanding in the face of confusion, obfuscation and political activism by people whose motivation I don’t understand but who are insisting I accept their truth when every bit of my being insists they can’t be right.

I’m not being set upon by a religious cult, though sometimes it feels like it.  I’m simply trying to understand what it means to be a woman in the UK in 2016 and the answers I’m uncovering are not at all what I expected to find.