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Understanding the Rise of Transgenderism in the UK

And the growing trend of feminists fighting back

Josephine Bartosch
Josephine Bartosch

This article first appeared in the German feminist magazine EMMA. It is translated and republished here with permission.


Unlike us Brits, the Germans prize blunt truths above polite lies. That’s why I was shocked to learn that in Germany the polite lie that it doesn’t matter whether one is born female or male could soon be written into law. In the UK, plans to introduce "gender self-identification" have largely been defeated thanks to a concerted push back by grassroots feminists, but the battle in the Bundestag is just beginning.

Sex, whether one is born as male or female, is arguably the most important factor in shaping our life chances. Sex determines the likelihood of whether one will be a rapist, or raped, a domestic abuser or abused, a prostitute or a punter. There are anomalies, but the pattern of male violence cannot be denied, nor can it be undone by a change in pronouns or of legal identity.

Today, in the UK as across much of the rest of the world, it is becoming increasingly hard to make the point that sex matters without falling foul of the law. Citizens are expected to agree that if someone says they are the opposite sex, they are. The passing of the Hate Crime and Public Order Bill in Scotland (due to come into effect within the month) puts feminists at risk of arrest and prosecution for stating facts such as "women don’t have penises." This is to prevent upset to "transwomen" with penises. Similar legislation has been used elsewhere in the UK to threaten women into compliance, and many are scared to speak out for fear of ending-up in court and unemployed. In a dark echo of the witch trials that swept across Europe nearly half a millennium ago, today those who work for large institutions are forced to pretend "transwomen are women" and "transmen are men" lest they be prosecuted, forced out of employment, socially ostracized or even physically attacked.

“Citizens are expected to agree that if someone says they are the opposite sex, they are.”


It was around six years ago that I first began to think through the personal, political and social ramifications of the belief that people can change sex. Over a warm British ale in a chilly pub garden, a friend asked why I had referred to Caitlyn Jenner as a woman. Without thinking, the words "because transwomen are women" fell out of my mouth. She simply asked; “if you’re a woman, and Jenner is a woman, what is it that you share?” Instead of answering I got angry with her and cried, after a while I realized it was because I had been parroting a polite lie. The blunt truth, that Jenner is male, seemed impolite.

Jenner’s transition to "Caitlyn" was announced by a photoshoot. Coated in make-up, wearing a well-coiffured wig and some uncomfortable underwear, Jenner’s "transition" was based on a pornified stereotype of what a woman is. This male idea of "being a woman" depends upon the very beauty practices that feminists have been fighting for decades, reducing the reality of being female to a fantasy in a man’s imagination. This should make every self-respecting woman angry; it is the eroticization of the tools used to oppress us. Recognition of this led lesbian feminist scholar Professor Sheila Jeffreys to brand transgenderism a “men’s sexual rights movement.”

A mere few years ago, many of the men who today call themselves "trans" would have been understood as heterosexual cross-dressers. Today, some such men are promoted by our leading LGBT organisations as "lesbian role models." Alongside these largely middle-aged males, increasing numbers of children and youth are "coming out as trans" when in earlier decades they might have been understood as same sex attracted, autistic or traumatized. The needs of these groups are quite different. To proponents of transgenderism the rise in numbers of people identifying as trans is due to greater social acceptance allowing people to become their "authentic selves" (a state which can apparently be realized by a change in clothes, taking hormones or surgery). To critics the increase is due to social contagion, internalized homophobia, and in the case of adult males, pornography. This has led to a growing problem; how to balance the right of people to identify as they wish without either impinging on the rights of the wider public.

“Nearly half of inmates in UK prisons who identified as 'transgender women' have been convicted of sexual offences.”


At around the same time as I had my personal epiphany about transgenderism, a political inquiry was underway. The UK government had consulted with transgender lobby groups with a view to altering the process by which legal gender can be changed. Just as is now proposed in Germany, the UK government seemed keen to introduce a system of gender self-identification. Maria Miller MP, who was the architect of the scheme, assumed this would be a way for her to position herself as a "compassionate" politician. Miller was made to look like a fool for failing to consider the impact of allowing men who identify as transwomen into single-sex prisons, hospital wards and changing rooms.

Our feminist foremothers fought for single-sex spaces because they understood men are far more likely to be predatory than women. Statistics back this up; 2017 figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) show that 98 percent of those convicted of sexual offences, 92 percent of those convicted of carrying weapons and 88 percent of those convicted of violence against the person to be men. Males also comprise 96 percent of the total prison population. Tellingly, nearly half of inmates in UK prisons who identified as “transgender women” have been convicted of sexual offences. This adds credence to the theory that for some identifying as female is a fetish.

Statistics show that in the UK, people who identify as transgender are more likely to commit murder than to be murdered. Yet here as elsewhere across the world the fictional ghosts of "dead trans people" haunt media reports. On social media, feminists are routinely blamed for their deaths, as if it is those who are critical of transgender ideology who are violent. This is a grotesque distortion; most "transwomen" who are murdered are in the sex trade in the global south, and they are killed by other men.

Over a decade, by stealth and without parliamentary debate, across the UK, institutions have switched to recording "gender" rather than "sex." Government-funded transgender lobby groups spread the message it is unlawful to keep spaces single-sex, disseminating "inclusion guidance" which incorrectly told employers that they must open women’s facilities to transwomen and men’s to transmen. Whilst there is no legal obligation for anyone to do this, it has created a de facto system of gender self-identification. This is uncannily similar to a strategy outlined in a report produced by LGBT pressure group IGLYO, (written with staff from the international law firm Dentons and backed of one of the world’s biggest charitable funding bodies, the Thomson Reuters Foundation), in which transgender lobbyists were advised to “Get ahead of the government agenda.”

The report, entitled "Only adults? Good practices in legal gender recognition for youth," focuses on how to change social attitudes, policy and law by looking at "best practice" across Europe. Arguably, the effects of the IGLYO are being felt everyday by children, clinicians and parents. Rates of referral to Gender Identity Development Services in the UK reflect a profound social change; in less than a decade there has been a 1460% increase in referrals of boys and a 5337% increase in girls. Most of those referred have a number of comorbidities; around 35% are estimated to be autistic and many have suffered sexual abuse or other trauma. Whistle-blowing clinicians have spoken out about the impact of transgender lobby groups on treatment, stating that fear of being branded "transphobic" has been stifling clinical curiosity about the staggering rise in referrals.

“In less than a decade there has been a 1460% increase in referrals of boys and a 5337% increase in girls [referred to gender clinics].”


Parents who try to explain to their children that they might grow out of their cross-sex identification are at risk of intervention from social services, and thanks to advice from transgender lobby groups schools frequently call children by new names and pronouns without informing their family. Parental fears are not unfounded, the IGLYO report advises “states should take action against parents who are obstructing the free development of a young trans person’s identity.”

As happened last year in Germany, the UK is currently debating the inclusion of "gender identity" alongside sexual orientation as part of a proposed ban on conversion therapy. But for many young people identifying as the opposite sex is a way to understand their feelings of same sex attraction, it is in itself "conversion therapy." The addition of "gender identity" to an otherwise uncontroversial ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual conversion therapy tallies with the strategy outlined in the IGLYO report, which advises those who promote transgender ideology to “Tie your campaign to more popular reform.”

The impact is not just on children, in the UK from crime statistics to the pay differential between the sexes, data recording the differing experiences of men and women have now been corrupted. In January, the Daily Mail, one of the UK’s leading newspapers, ran a headline: “Number of female paedophiles nearly DOUBLES in four years.” Feminists pointed out that this figure now includes men who identify as transwomen. Whilst some sections of the UK media do question the ideology of transgenderism, the style guides used by journalists and fear of legal action stop many from honest reporting.

Since the backlash against the proposal to introduce gender self-identification in the UK, an army of women have begun to wake up. Groups have begun to mobilize, some brought together through the parenting website Mumsnet, and others through social media. Much as those who campaigned for women’s rights before us, feminists have been shut out of the parliamentary process, smeared as bigoted by the liberal media, fired, threatened and dragged through the courts. Nonetheless, through direct action, public meetings and protest the voices of feminists are finally beginning to be heard.

“Feminists have been shut out of the parliamentary process, smeared as bigoted by the liberal media, fired, threatened and dragged through the courts.”


New and active women’s groups that have emerged in the past few years include We Need to Talk, Man Friday, Women’s Place UK, Standing for Women, Fair Play for Women, Get the L Out and ReSisters. There are also "gender critical" caucuses in each of the main political parties. Unlike the glossy IGYLO document, there is no well-funded lobbying strategy and these groups often disagree on how to make change and with whom to ally themselves. British, grassroots feminist organizations span the political spectrum; viewpoints range from a liberal approach to feminism to radical lesbian separatism. Despite their differences, they are united in their understanding that women need and deserve single-sex spaces and services.

Having stayed the introduction of gender self-identification, British feminists are now beginning the slow process of weeding transgender ideology out of our institutions. This has involved high profile legal cases including detransitioner Keira Bell taking on the NHS body which gave her puberty blockers as a child, and barrister Allison Bailey suing transgender lobby group Stonewall. There have already been some significant successes, in March, campaign group Fair Play for Women won a High Court challenge against the Office for National Statistics ensuring that data collected in the Census would be accurate.

Despite my German father, I am what you might refer to as an "Island Monkey" and my knowledge of politics outside of the UK is patchy, but I can tell you transgender ideology is being funded and promoted internationally. Legislation that champions transgender identities above sex is being passed from Iceland to India. If we allow this to happen unopposed, youth will continue to be medicated and sterilized, we will not be allowed to stop men from identifying into women’s spaces, no matter their motivation, and we will see an end to women’s success in sports, prizes and scholarships. Furthermore, we will lose the right to define ourselves as "adult human females." Our best weapon is the truth; deep down each of us knows that "transwomen" are men, and "transmen" are women.

I started this essay by saying how much I respect the directness of Germans. Like Martin Luther and his plain-speaking bible, the message feminists share is easily understood; we need to break sexist stereotypes, not people’s sexed bodies. Whether they stand in pulpits or march at the front of Pride marches, as women we must refuse to have our rights taken away by misogynist men in dresses.

UKGermanytransgenderLGBTtrans

Josephine Bartosch

Jo Bartosch is a widely commissioned journalist and feminist campaigner. She is director of Click Off, a campaign group formed to raise awareness about the harms of pornography.