Like other women, I’d been stunned and frightened when women’s voices were forcefully suppressed at the Auckland Let Women Speak rally in March 2023.
The main speaker was to be Posie Parker, (Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull) a gender critical activist who uses the Oxford dictionary definition of a woman: noun, adult human female. But that definition, ‘drives transgender ideologues and their supporters to apoplexy’, says Helen Brunskell-Evans in Transgender Body Politics. That seemed to be the case in Auckland when no women were able to speak.
Although Posie Parker was new to me, I’d been exploring the sex-gender conflicts since J.K. Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter and Hogwarts, got cancelled in 2020 after tweeting, ‘If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased’.  That tweet, sensible to some, set off a raging protest.
The flaming controversy was explored in The Witch Trials podcast. Creator and presenter, Megan Phelps-Roper uses open and spacious conversations with Rowling, supporters, critics and more to weave a compelling series. And there’s an interesting twist.
Phelps-Roper grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church, renowned for its outspoken and nasty protests about gay and lesbian people. Megan had been involved in those protests since childhood. However, she came to a more gracious understanding of the world and left the church, in part influenced by some Twitter users who offered her gentle acceptance, even as she poured scorn on them. Perhaps an advertisement for the power of gracious listening.
I kept exploring through The Tavistock podcast where journalist Polly Curtis tells the story of the NHS Gender Identity Development Service for Children and Young People (GIDS). Three things stand out. The limited research to assist clinicians, the growing trend of young women wanting to transition from female to male and the disputes between clinicians with different views about how to proceed.
Abigail Shrier points out in Irreversible Damage: Teenage Girls and the Trangender Craze, that over the last decade there has been a surge in adolescents claiming gender dysphoria and for the ‘first time in medical history, natal girls are not only present among those so identifying – they constitute the majority. It’s not unreasonable to wonder why.
Dr Lisa Littman formed the hypothesis that these unusual developments were related to peer contagion. She identified that the 65% of adolescent girls who discovered transgender identity, ‘out of the blue’ was ‘after a period of prolonged social media immersion’. Second, the prevalence of transgender identification within some of the girls’ friend groups was more than seventy times the expected rate’. Littman called this rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD).
I needed to know more so read Time to Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children. Author Hannah Barnes, a journalist on the BBC’s Newsnight, is relentless in pursuing the story. She outlines the clinic’s history, developments and changes in practice, the limited scientific research, personnel involved, reports that were written and buried, staff conflict and a range of patient experiences.
Most disturbing is how the service went from an initial commitment to mostly providing talking therapies for a small number of young people questioning their gender identity to being almost completely over-run by clients presenting with multiple issues including autism, troubled families, and abuse.
One of those young people was Keira Bell, first seen by GIDS in January 2013 when she was 15. Her issues included parental abandonment, anxiety, depression and struggling with sexual identity. After puberty blockers, testosterone and undergoing a double mastectomy Keira deeply regretted her earlier decisions.
In retrospect Keira said that ‘what she needed was therapy: someone to ask why she felt the way she did about her body and how she might reconcile being female with the need not to be stereotypically ‘feminine’; and to reassure her that her attraction to other women was not something she needed to be ashamed of’. Grown women who have gone through that process, or been alongside their teenager might well recognise this plea.
In amongst all this, GIDS staff reported that many patients were not interested in exploring their deeper issues, especially when they arrived having self-diagnosed, talking about, and sometimes modelling themselves after their favourite YouTube influencers. Some assertively expressed their belief that even to consider the idea of exploring more deeply how they felt, ‘was transphobic’.
Increasingly GIDS moved towards providing puberty blockers even although Director Polly Carmichael was asking in 2016 why no young people, ‘stop once they’re on the blocker’, wondering whether it was possible that this intervention, ‘in and of itself may have an impact and set people on a path’. A good question.
A 2011 clinical trial that showed ‘100 percent of children put on puberty blockers proceeded to cross-sex hormones’, and a follow up study in 2016 showing that, ‘when no intervention is made, roughly 70 percent of children will outgrow gender dysphoria on their own’.  Other commentators suggest the rate for outgrowing dysphoria is higher.
Barnes, along with some of the GIDs clinicians she interviewed asks was there enough clinical evidence to justify profound interventions in the lives of young people and had the work of GIDS been a serious medical scandal. The reader is left wondering the same.
In Another Unfortunate Experiment, New Zealand researchers Jan Rivers and Jill Abigail are more direct suggesting that clinicians are colluding with children and adolescents, ‘in making profound, life-altering decisions, up to and including treatments that result in sterility and loss of sexual function’. They state that using an affirmative only approach rather than watchful waiting, ‘inevitably leads to transition to a transgender identity’. This even although there is significant, ‘scientific literature that advises against medicine and surgery being the default solution to gender dysphoria’.
Alongside this I watched Dysphoric, a four part documentary series about gender identity and its effects on women and girls, especially in developing countries. One of the thoughtful and measured contributors is Dr David Bell, a consultant psychiatrist who authored what was seen as a controversial report about concerns being raised at the GIDS. Bell ‘argued that GIDS had come to adopt an “excessively affirmative attitude” to gender identity, combined with “an inability to stand up to the pressure of a highly politicised external world”’.
Eventually Professor Kathleen Stock’s book, Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism landed on my doorstep. She critiques the theory, ‘that we all have an inner feeling known as gender identity, and that this feeling is more socially significant than our biological sex’. Something that many people struggle with but are increasingly unable to speak about for fear of being shut down or labelled transphobic.
Stock works through why sex matters, gender identity and what makes a woman before concluding that we are now immersed in a fiction. She cites the 2004 British Gender Recognition Act and Gender Recognition Certificates that produce ‘a legal fiction about the possibility of sex change’. Stock also points out that significant problems emerge ‘when institutions make it a social norm that everyone immerses themselves in the fiction that certain people have changed sex, or are non-binary, on pain of social sanction if not’.
This social sanction is something Professor Stock knows a great deal about as her willingness to speak and write coherently about biological reality came at great professional cost when she was effectively hounded out of her position at the University of Sussex. She is not the only person who has lost their livelihood through questioning this new belief system and because ideologies have a habit of attaching themselves to power, will not be the last.
There were many moments in my explorations when I felt as though I was living in a shape shifting universe. There seemed to be an archetypal trickster element in the confusion of beliefs, ideologies and demands that we were expected to believe or comply with.
Interestingly, Abigail Shrier noticed something similar about the plethora of YouTube trans influencers, saying ‘they come across as the Artful Dodger, the swaggering street-smart pickpocket of Oliver Twist’. With compassion she adds, ‘Dodger’s no model citizen; then again, that isn’t entirely his fault’. Although Dodger thinks he knows what he’s doing, he’s being used by the older, cannier Fagin.
In Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality Helen Joyce tackles the older, cannier forces behind the trans movement. She highlights the wealthy individuals who are funding what she calls transactivism’s long march through institutions and ensuring rapid changes to legislation around the world with no real engagement with the democratic process.
Joyce argues that there are two ends here, ‘ensuring that male people can access female space, and removing barriers to cross-sex hormones and surgeries even in childhood’. Undaunted she continues, ’they are the desires of rich, powerful males who want to be classed as women’. Everything she has written about in Trans, says Joyce, ‘the harm to children’s bodies; the loss of women’s privacy; the destruction of women’s sports; and the perversion of language – is collateral damage’. It’s a bold claim that rang true for me.
Suddenly, I was catapulted back into the experience of watching the video of the Let Women Speak rally where no women spoke. More to the point, I felt the chilling realisation that a force greater than me was determined to silence women for having the temerity to claim our reality of being a biological woman, something no man can ever be regardless of how much money and power he applies to mission impossible.
What men can and throughout history have done, is control our bodies, our freedom, and our ability to speak. Brunskell-Evans suggests that the transgender paradigm is doing exactly this, ‘colonising women’s bodies, culture, politics and sexuality’. And that the more the ‘progressive Left’ attaches itself to the transgender empire and expects women to comply with the ideology, ‘the greater the need for women to resist such authoritarianism’.
Similar sentiments have been a rallying cry to women around the world as they dust off placards, tune up microphones and reform organisations to reflect women’s needs. Finding ways to speak, even when people shout them down.
In New Zealand that call to action has been turned into the Women’s Rights Party. Leader Jill Ovens does not expect the party to win a seat in parliament, but she and other women are raising their voices and speaking out. Kate Sheppard, the woman who would not be silenced in getting New Zealand women the vote may well be cheering them on.
My world had expanded and deepened, all because of my visceral reaction to the shutting down of women’s voices when Posie Parker came to town. I’d read seven books, trawled a multitude of websites, videos, podcasts, interviews, journal articles and opinion pieces. This was due diligence, possibly more than many people might attempt. Surely it was now time to let this go and leave it to the intellectuals, politicians, writers, and activists who are arguing the toss about it across the world. But several things kept nagging away at me.
First, the insistence from some young people that they have been born in the wrong body. I couldn’t help but wonder what that even means. For instance, what is ‘it’ that is being born in any body. How could that get so muddled to the point where a person would need to take drugs for their entire life and, for some, surgically refurbish their body to accommodate the ‘it’ that landed in the wrong place. And further, was the ability to medically intervene with chemicals and surgery pushing aside the more complicated and uncomfortable processes of exploring our inner worlds from depth psychology and spiritual perspectives.
Also concerning are the quasi-religious overtones associated with this issue where some people have ‘right thinking’, which has become part of government power and other people have been turned into heretics because they disagree. This never bodes well for any society. Not just because it is an authoritarian way to behave but because whoever is burning the books or lighting the fires around the stake today can be consumed by the flames tomorrow when political power shifts away from any influence people thought they had.
As a result, what constitutes free speech, its history, and applications and why some people are determined to shut down those they disagree with has become part of my exploring. Threaded through it all is wondering about who benefits from the huge emphasis on gender ideology in terms of money and power. It’s unlikely to be young people making difficult decisions in traumatic times but may be drug companies and surgeons driven by profit.
As if that wasn’t enough, Posie Parker returns to New Zealand in September. Best get writing then.
 Heather Brunskell-Evans, Transgender Body Politics, p36
 Hannah Barnes, Time to Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children, pxxvii
 Abigail Shrier, Irreversible Damage: Teenage Girls and the Transgender Craze, p27
 Barnes, p264
 Barnes, p109
 Barnes, p373
 Shrier, p165
 Jan Rivers & Jill Abigail, Another Unfortunate Experiment, p2
 Barnes, p181
 Kathleen Stock, Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism, p178
 Stock, p197
 Shrier, p55
 Helen Joyce, Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, p229
 Brunskell-Evans, p40