Meeting gender critical women: number one, Suzie

‘Meeting gender critical women’ is a series of articles in which I’ll be introducing you to as many gender critical women as I can, to show that we (for I’m one too) are real people. We are reasonable women, with rational and considered views. Not the demonic, hateful, bigoted ‘TERFs’ that some claim we are. The pieces I post here will be long reads of sorts, but still fairly short because of the medium. As such, they’re a flavour of the woman and her experience, rather than the full story.

Suzie*, is the first gender critical woman I’ve managed to interview. I’ve been asking around for a while, but struggling to get people to agree or even notice my requests. I’m resigned to meeting her by Zoom because it at least allows me to make a start on this project – and has the advantage of not requiring time-consuming travel. Also, people are relaxed enough to talk to you in their pyjamas on video call. Suzie’s have robots on and she’s wearing a purple robe over them, which looks like it’s made of a satiny material. Had she not declared they were her pyjamas, I think I’d have merely clocked the ensemble as a quirky outfit – one complimented by long hair tumbling down her shoulders and an intelligent look in her eye, behind her specs.

There’s lots to Suzie’s gender critical story, including escape from a workplace which compelled staff to state their pronouns. Questioning this policy saw her dubbed a ‘transphobe’, or would have done if the forum where her criticism was invited by management hadn’t been anonymous.

For me though, the part of her story that stands out is of being cancelled by her friends. Suzie never uses that word explicitly, but I think many people who are cancelled don’t call it that. There’s even a view that being cancelled is a myth. But to see it as such is either to misunderstand, or not be honest about what it means – which is being an outcast. Cut off and thrown out of a group or community you were once part of.

Consider your friends. How did you meet them? At school or university? Through work, or a shared hobby? I met most of mine that way, but I talked online to the man who’s now my spouse for a good while before eventually meeting in real life and marrying five years later. Before the internet descended into little more than a grubby money-making exploit, it was a place where you could meet, make friends and hang out with people who loved the same things you did.

Indeed it was the place where Suzie hung out with fellow SFF (Science Fiction & Fantasy) enthusiasts. Long before Game of Thrones was on the telly, when George R R Martin’s fans were first and foremost bookworms, they’d get together in the virtual world and discuss life the universe and everything.

“For a long time it was honestly the best place on the internet! We used to have so many brilliant conversations… all across the political spectrum and it was intelligent people who [would] back up all their arguments. There were so many proper, deep conversations where I really refined my thinking on a lot of things,” Suzie explains – clearly relishing the memory of this golden age of online interaction.

Depending on what the shared interest was, you might go on to meet and bond with these people face-to-face. Cementing virtual friendships, even though your main hangout remained the virtual world.

“I met them in London, I went to a convention in America to meet them at [an event called] WorldCon… I met loads of them there. There was a couple that I met when we ended up in Iceland at the same time, in the same hotel, so we hung out. It wasn’t quite going on holiday together [but almost]. [It was] lots of people that I considered myself quite close to.”

By the time she decided to ‘come out’ as gender critical, on International Women’s Day 2020, she’d been friends with this online community for 15 years. Over time, they’d migrated away from the message board which changed once George R R Martin’s books became a popular TV series, but stayed in touch via Facebook. Which is where the friends who were once so keen on political debate, ditched and betrayed her once she revealed she could no longer go along with being ‘TRA**-lite’ and ‘telling people off for not saying ‘cis”. (**Trans rights activist).

Watercolour painting is one of Suzie’s other hobbies

“[I’d been] on side from a combination of wanting to support what I saw as the underdog, and letting questions get shut down with the ‘you wouldn’t understand because you’re cis’ mysticism. What changed my mind was a growing sense of cognitive dissonance, and seeing how ‘TERFs’ got demonised, particularly Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie whose extremely mild comment that ‘trans women are trans women’ was treated like she’d sworn allegiance to Hitler.”

One of her final straws was seeing a trailer for a documentary about how hard it is to be a woman in the outback.

“You’d expect [it] to cover things like rural doctors not wanting to provide birth control, or the difficulties of dealing with a period when you’re camping for a month, or the dangers of sexual harassment and worse. But it was about a bloke in a dress who couldn’t find size 11 heels or get his nails done.”

Such a moment is often referred to as reaching ‘peak trans’. Up until then, like Suzie, we’ve bought into what we later find to be a false narrative about trans people having higher suicide or murder rates and being the most oppressed group of all. But then the penny drops. Those pushing this line are simultaneously trying to pretend millennia of often violent, always spirit crushing, subjugation of women didn’t happen and that all women now are emancipated and treated equally with men. The fight for women’s rights is then painted as the preserve of middle class, privileged, white women trying to rain on the ‘rainbow glitter unicorn’ parade. Instead of what it truly is, which is women quite reasonably defending our rights and the rights of other women at the same time.

In my piece introducing this series, I mention a question asked by a chap called Jack Appleby. He may not be the only one who’s asked it, but let’s call it the Appleby Question for short: “What’s more likely: That a load of life-long, left-leaning, LGBT-supporting women have inexplicably and uncharacteristically all suddenly become bigots, or that one might be missing something here?”

Suzie is one such woman. Her day job amounts to disability activism, as she works on improving the online experience for disabled people. She’s also been a conservation volunteer, a planter of trees and is someone who donates to the local foodbank. Despite this, it seems groupthink is thicker than friendship and Suzie won’t be going to any more conventions or meet ups with SFF pals.

“There would be problems if I dared to show my face… I’ve had to write off that side of my community,” she says – clearly wistful and sad about it. I ask if she feels something has been taken away from her.

“Yes. Absolutely. It was 15 years of my life that I’d know these people and I’d had these long, in depth conversations about everything with them, so yeah it was an avenue of my social life that I lost completely.”

Suzie has plenty of other friends in real life and interests beyond SFF, but having been treated unfairly by people she thought she knew, and knew her, she doesn’t pretend nothing’s been lost. She’s also not immune to the bad light some are intent on casting gender critical women in. She is, however, confident she’s thought through her position and in the need for gender critical women to stand our ground.

“It’s so hard when you see all of these outraged posts on Twitter … going ‘It’s just so sad and my life is so miserable and how can you be so mean to me?’ And I’m like ‘how can I be so mean to you?’ I’m not being mean to you. It’s reality. You’re taking our stuff and we have to stop you. That’s not mean. It’s like I’m not being mean to my little nephew when I make him go to bed on time.”

Those cancelling gender critical women may think they are purging their communities or industries of supposedly bigoted influences, but the truth is they are driving away rational, intelligent and decent women. The upside is we are being driven together. In common with other women who’ve been monstered online for daring to speak up for sex-based rights, Suzie is now in touch with many others of and in the same position.

While she may have been wounded by how her former friends treated her, she remains philosophical. She sees gender critical activism as social responsibility, in the same vein as donating to the food bank or doing something for the environment – although often without the same positive response.

“There’s a lot of fear of looking like the bad guy [but] the important thing is that [the attack on women and our sex-based rights] stops. It’s not how good we look while we’re doing it.”

*Suzie isn’t her real name. Although openly gender critical socially, many workplaces, industries and public services continue to place gender identity ideology above other rights – which is one of the reasons many are afraid to speak up or only do so anonymously.