‘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.
Lexi* and I get together to chat over Zoom after a couple of weeks of emailing. She’s clearly one of the busy people, the kind my dad called human dynamos. She’s a mother of a six-year-old boy, has a husband with a job that requires him to regularly work away and she juggles working for a scientific organisation with campaign work. In between she boxes, plays tennis and goes to the cinema with her mum, among other family activities. She mentions in passing, as if it’s just one of those things you do, that she and her husband are preparing to take in a Ukrainian refugee. I consider asking how she’ll cope with what amounts to a stranger moving in, but decide to stay focused on the topic we’ve arranged to discuss: the experience of being a ‘gender critical’ woman.
Although of course aware of the inequalities women still face, it was hearing about the issue of self-identification on Mumsnet that set her on the gender critical path. She describes her train of thought on first encountering it.
“I was on [there] for the newborn baby advice and I was like what?! What do you mean?! They they don’t mean really that men can be women. They just mean that they’re pretending and that we [should] just [be] nice and kind and let them get on with it and don’t bully them… or be horrible.
“But then [I realised there were demands] that they could legally be women and have all the legal protections and access to public spaces and be treated in every respect as a woman and I was like, this is nonsense. Are you kidding me? I’ve just had a baby. He can’t have a baby. What are you talking about?!
“[Then] I thought ‘this is a conspiracy theory!’ This is just you know some women [saying it]… maybe they’re a bit hysterical, maybe they’ve misunderstood … [and] it never happens, or it’s only just one or two men who’ve done some crazy [things].”
But as she read more she realised that it wasn’t a conspiracy theory, nor just a few women who’d got the wrong end of the stick. There actually is a campaign by activists, and organisations such as Stonewall, to deny biology and instead base people’s rights on a concept called ‘gender identity’ – a supposedly innate feeling of what gender you are, with a hundred or so genders to choose from. It was hearing about a cross-dressing male banker called Philip/Pippa Bunce, who in 2018 accepted an award for being one of the ‘top 100 women in business’ that made her realise that ‘this is real and something’s got to be done.’
There’s talk, both positive and negative, about how some women have been ‘radicalised by Mumsnet’. I’ve even seen someone wearing a t-shirt with it on. What’s closer to the truth though is that many women who have children have been galvanised by motherhood itself.
It’s no surprise then that it’s when Lexi talks about the effect of gender identity ideology on children and protecting kids, including her own son, from being exposed to it that she comes across as most passionate. She tells me how her son’s school was planning to use a particular external provider for its PSHE training, one with a reputation for pushing gender identity in its materials, and how it put her on alert.
“It’s meant to be a parent-school consultation [but] it was presented as a fait accompli and I was like, ‘No, I want to see the materials’ and so I saw the materials and (she puts her head on one side and grimaces) I said, ‘Uhhh I need to see some more materials.’
“There was some particular things in there where they talked about five to six year olds [and] said that they had a sexuality. [It was] talking about children of my son’s age being sexual beings.”
She goes on to explain how she wrote to the headteacher, telling him that ‘children do not have sexuality and anyone who thinks they do shouldn’t be around children’. Her eyebrows go up, as she recounts the experience, seemingly as incredulous now as she was at the time.
“He doesn’t have a sexuality! He doesn’t have gender identity either and I will not have an external provider coming into the school presenting these concepts to my child.”
She managed, with the help of other parents who she enlisted, to get the headteacher to see the problem. As a result the whole thing was pulled, but she admits it was months of stress and a lot of work. At one point the headteacher suggested just the problematic parts could be pulled, but Lexi stood her ground and was glad to have new government guidelines on RSE (relationships and sex education) on her side.
Because I can’t recall any information coming home from school about what my stepdaughters were being taught in PSHE, I ask her how many parents she thinks have no idea what is going on. ‘Loads’ is her first response which she firms up with ‘majority, ninety per cent.’ Why does she think more parents aren’t fighting the idea of adults, with no connection to the school, coming in and telling very young children they are sexual beings or that they might have been born in the wrong body?
“[It’s] because we trust schools… We trust the local council – and the police and doctors. We think they’re doing the right thing. There’s an implicit trust. They are service providers… we consider them experts.”
Those who call gender critics ‘TERFs’, and worse, will tell you we hate children, especially ‘trans kids’. But it’s an accusation that depends on a belief in gender identity, coupled with the idea that children possess the same intellectual capacity as adults. Even taken singly these ideas seem to pose a risk to kids. Put them together and they threaten to become a wrecking ball through child safeguarding measures. The current fashion for all things gender makes those speaking up against it look like modern day Mary Whitehouses, but Lexi is no buttoned up prude. Instead I see in her a form of maternal instinct – and indeed it was just such a thing that led her to lose friends because of her gender critical stance. Her best friends from university no longer speak to her because she raised the issue with them. She’d asked the advice of one of them, a gay man, on what Pride would be like for families, as she was thinking of attending a local event with her young son.
“I’d been to Pride before, but years ago, and I understood that things had changed. I’d heard about some stuff happening in Leeds and Manchester, [that] there were these pups and this pup play fetish thing.
“I wanted to ask him about it as a gay man… [and] as an uncle. [I thought] he would understand that there are some things that kids shouldn’t see… and he said ‘just tell them not to look, there’s all kinds of things there so you just have to be open to it’.”
She got the feeling that he wanted to say it wasn’t for kids and that it wasn’t the right time to take her son but the exchange ended with her feeling that a public display of fetishes was considered more important than Pride being family-friendly. She never heard from her friend again. It was a similar story when she tried to share her experience of what kids were being taught in PSHE at school with another university friend. Christmas cards stopped coming and requests to meet up were ignored. She seems to be playing it down but admits it was painful and that she still feels it’s sad.
“University is a very important part of your life – and I had that just with them. They’re the only people who were there and I can share those memories with. [But if] after 20 years of friendship you’re not willing to have a conversation, then you’re not a friend.”
We go on to talk about how people are more willing to tell you that they think you are wrong, especially about gender issues, than they are to ask why you hold those views and we ponder if it was the same when women were campaigning for the right to vote.
In common with other gender critical women, such as Suzie (see previous interview in this series), Lexi sees the women fighting gender ideology and self-identification as this generation’s suffragettes and can’t conceive of not being involved.
“I think my husband thinks it’s optional and that I choose this. Whereas I don’t see it as a choice, because the alternative is that we can’t call ourselves women. We’re no longer a sex class on our own and we aren’t represented in law. Not fighting something that takes something away from you and redefines you, that isn’t a choice. That’s something that’s necessary.
“And I don’t care if I’m the last woman alive not using preferred pronouns. I’m not going to bow down.”
*Lexi isn’t her real name. Given she’s clearly not shy about speaking out and has agreed to have her photo in this piece I asked why not use her real name? “Because I want to protect my husband and his job,” she tells me. She adds that she feels secure in her own job but, like many gender critical women, she knows that even if we are reasonable, tell the truth and rely on science it still doesn’t mean that trans rights activists can’t or won’t try to get you fired.