Some personal information that some readers might think matters:
I am Maria MacLachlan. I live in England. I’m a baby-boomer of mixed European parentage. I’m married to a man. I have borne and raised a son and a daughter.
My real-world experience of trans people doesn’t amount to much beyond getting robbed and assaulted by a few of them at Speakers’ Corner in September 2017, though I’ve made a few real-life trans friends as a result of that experience and a few more online. On this page I recount how my thinking about transition has changed over the years.
A word about pronouns: As this is the story of my personal journey to where I’m at now, I have decided that my use of pronouns should reflect my feelings at the time that the events I describe occurred. I use pronouns that reflect biological sex prior to transitioning and that reflect gender identity after transitioning, which is what I did until very recently.
Where it began
The first trans person I knew of was April Ashley. That was in 1970. I now know that she attracted media attention at that particular time because of the legal precedent on the status of transsexuals being set by her divorce case – Corbett vs Corbett – but my recollection is only of learning from the TV news that she’d been a man who had somehow turned into a woman.
She posed for the TV cameras looking ultra feminine in heavy make-up and sniffing a flower and I recall that, as a sporty and streetwise pubescent girl who was mortified by my developing body and somewhat disdainful of all things girly, I found the sight of April irritating and disturbing. I wasn’t, however, so contemptuous as to refer to her as “it”, as did others at my (co-ed) school the next day. That seemed a step too cruel to me.
I was still in my early teens when I read The Female Eunuch, from which I learned the meaning of the word ‘stereotype’. Germaine Greer’s words about April Ashley, resonated strongly.
It was this book that confirmed my visceral, unarticulated feminism and inspired me to become active in the Women’s Movement and well-read in feminist writings of the 1970s, now referred to as ‘second wave’ feminism.
In 1979, a multi-part documentary called, A Change of Sex aired on BBC2. It allowed viewers to follow the journey undertaken by George Roberts as he transitioned into his new identity, ‘Julia Grant’. My memory of that programme was that there was nothing remotely feminine about George either before or after transition. But because John Randall, the psychiatrist at the Charing X clinic was so vile (even though what he was saying made sense to me), I was firmly on George’s side and happy for him when he was finally allowed to go ahead with treatment. I felt no empathy with George/Julia as a woman for the same reason I felt no empathy with April Ashley as a woman. I was irritated by the importance placed on clothes and make-up which, to my mind, served to confirm that women were to be seen as frivolous and inferior to men, thus reinforcing the message I’d been bombarded with all my life, which was that the most important role of young women was to be a decorative plaything.
That said, I felt empathy for George as a human being. Here was someone so deeply unhappy with what he was that he was prepared to take massive risks in order to change himself and he was being horribly patronised by the odious Dr Randall. He “lived as a woman” – meaning he went round dressed in women’s clothes while looking very much a blokey sort of bloke. He took hormones, he had surgery. If doctors or other professionals couldn’t change the way he thought and the way he felt about himself, perhaps a “sex change”, as it was then called, was the only thing that could help him find happiness.
See a clip from A Change of Sex to get a taste of how unpleasant Randall was.
And an interesting interview with Julia from 2014, in which she talks about her extraordinary early life can be viewed here.
I was a volunteer with the Samaritans for several years. Calls from men who said they felt they’d been born in the wrong body — or words to that effect — were quite common. I now understand that some of these men were what psychologist Ray Blanchard calls ‘autogynephiliacs’. I know it is hotly disputed that there is any such thing as autogynephilia. On the basis of my experience of listening to these callers, I know it exists and I see that at least some trans folk admit to it. See, for example, Rya Jones’ video entitled, I am an autogynephile.
Of those who weren’t sex callers, those who wanted to, or were in the process of, or had completed transition, I never once felt I was listening to someone who was really a woman. As far as I was concerned, these were deeply unhappy, often very lonely and, in some cases probably mentally ill men. Of course those trans folk who weren’t unhappy and lonely wouldn’t be calling the Samaritans.
Around the turn of the century, I did a stint teaching young adults at a private language school in London. When I first started, I was confused by the look of one of the receptionists, whose light moustache and masculine clothes gave the appearance of a 15-year-old boy. I eventually got to know this individual and was shocked to hear from her that she had started transitioning because she “didn’t want to be a lesbian” and then changed her mind and stopped the hormone therapy. I can’t remember which country she said she’d been in when she started to transition but it seemed a vastly different experience to that of Julia Grant. A transgender identity casually adopted and abandoned, her story did nothing to make me feel more sympathetic to trans people but nor did I have strong feelings against. I just couldn’t understand it.
The news that a transsexual was in the Big Brother house in the UK version of the reality show aroused my curiosity enough to tune in and I was soon hooked watching the fabulous Nadia Almada. I rooted for her for the duration and voted for her to win the cash prize. I really wanted her to win and I don’t how much this was to do with wanting her to feel accepted and loved and how much it was to do with her being a great and entertaining character throughout. Nadia is one of the few male-born trans people I’ve found it difficult to think of as anything other than a woman, bless her.
Becoming more sympathetic
A major change in my feelings, as far as I had any at all, came early in 2009 when I attended an event in London and heard the personal stories of two trans people, Stephen Whittle and Rikki Arundel. My comment on it, posted in a thread on Think Humanism, survives.
I was amazed by Stephen Whittle, whom I found it impossible to imagine as ever having been a woman. Rikki Arundel, on the other hand, who had transitioned late in life, having been in a straight marriage and fathered children, was easily perceived as trans. But Rikki said something that made a lasting impression on me, which was that having lived a man’s life thus far, he didn’t feel he could call himself a woman. He could only ever be a transwoman. If only all male-born trans people would say the same, I might never have reached peak trans.
Late in 2011, I watched the TV documentary, My Transsexual Summer, which led to a further strengthening of my sympathies. I ended up making a contribution to the funding of Lewis Hancox double mastectomy. I’m not saying I regret doing this – Lewis was going to get the surgery with or without my help – but I won’t be donating to anybody else’s top surgery. By the way, at this time I was still under the mistaken impression that “transitioning” meant surgery, including genital surgery, as well as taking hormones. I thought that every male or female in the process of transitioning wanted to have genital surgery and that those who considered their transition complete, had already had it. I now know this is not the case. I don’t know what percentage of male-born transitioners have had any kind of genital surgery – “bottom surgery”, as it’s called – but I understand that it’s a minority.
In January 2013, when Suzanne Moore was criticised for making some unfortunate throwaway remark about the body-shape of Brazilian transsexuals, which she later apologised for, I felt sorry for her for making a mistake but, after her critics pointed out the unhappy lot of Brazilian transsexuals, my sympathies were more with them.
Edited to add: Five years later, Julie Burchill remembers the whole debacle here.
The tide begins to turn again
In September 2013 I attended a meeting at Soho Skeptics entitled Battle Over Gender, involving a discussion between a panel of four: Gia Milinovich, Julie Bindel, male-born Bethany Black – who presented as a butch lesbian – and female-born Adrian Dalton, who presented as a drag queen. I understood that Julie Bindel was considered to be a controversial guest and that she might provoke hostility from trans people in the audience. I was aware of her but hadn’t read much of her work at that time. But I was greatly impressed by her contribution, whereas the two trans people just confused me. On the whole, I was rather bored and left before the Q&A.
Some months after that meeting I saw Gia Milinovich getting some hate from trans people on twitter after she’d tweeted using a hashtag saying ‘no unexpected penises’ referring, so far as I recall, to wanting to enjoy a night out with women friends without fear of any of their male partners tagging along. I thought the criticisms were a ridiculous overreaction and I remember resolving to be extra careful not to say anything that would make me a target of the trans lobby, who came across as irredeemably nasty. I was getting enough crap from the various quacks I was involved in campaigning against at the time.
So I didn’t pay very much attention to the fuss about Germaine Greer in the autumn of 2015. I privately thought the proposal to no-platform her was disgusting but didn’t publicly express an opinion on it. What was the point when other people were doing so quite eloquently? Richard Dawkins is not someone I have too much time for these days (unless he’s writing about zoology and evolution, in which case I highly recommend him) but I thought the comment he expressed on twitter was spot on.
In January 2016 I commented beneath an article on Pink News, which reported some unpleasant comments about trans people made by Jeremy Clarkson and a response to someone who was complaining that Clarkson was being called a bigot “just for disagreeing.” It was the first of several comments I have made on Pink News – or ‘Prick News’ as it is commonly referred to in feminist circles – but it is the only comment I have made there on the side of trans people. I still stand by what I said in the comment but I doubt I would bother to make a similar comment there or anywhere else ever again.
A year later, in January 2017, I was astonished and thought it absolutely pathetic that there were objections by some trans folk to the pink pussy hats worn on the US Women’s March against Trump. Over the next few weeks, several things happened close together that finally ignited me.
The first was reading a report tweeted by Meghan Murphy – Vancouver Women’s Library opens amid anti-feminist backlash – and seeing the video recording of thuggish men and their handmaidens bullying feminist volunteers.
Then there was the unbelievable reaction to Jenni Murray’s article in the Sunday Times, an article I very much agreed with. As I was busy tweeting #IstandwithJenni, I became aware of a story in a local paper about a convicted rapist in which HE is referred to as SHE throughout. And, finally, the story of how a male weightlifter in New Zealand took a title and ranking away from one woman and ousted another from her place in the women’s national team. These were what sent me looking for more incidences of what I saw as insanity that was hurting women and girls, by which I mean female-born persons, as well as seeking out articles by gender critical feminists and our allies. Coming across the terf is a slur website, which contains screenshots of abuse directed at women by trans activists and allies, I was shocked, sickened and my anger was – and still is – strong enough to lift a 20-ton truck.
Unlike these men, however, I never felt remotely inclined to physically harm, kill or sexually abuse people promoting trans ideology, even though I now see them as the enemy of women. This may be something to do with the fact that, unlike them, I was socialised as a woman, whereas these hateful misogynists are not and never will be women.
A few weeks later I found myself in the somewhat surreal position of supporting gender-critical comments on twitter while challenging the transphobic sentiments being expressed elsewhere online after Zeke Smith, a participant on the American reality TV show, Survivor, was cruelly outed as transgender by someone who should have known better. The revelation came as a big surprise to other participants on the show and, it seems, most of the viewers, including me. But I was more shocked at the nasty intolerant comments about Zeke I saw on public forums and youtube in particular and I argued with them and defended Zeke whenever I saw them.
At this time I joined a number of radical feminist facebook groups which, one by one, have been forced to change their status from closed to secret, apparently after complaints by trans activist bullies. I’ve no intention of disclosing the contents of any of these groups beyond saying that although women express anger at some of the things trans activists say and do that are perceived – correctly, in my opinion – to hurt or be potentially harmful to women, I’ve never once seen the kind of violent hatred I see daily directed at gender critical women all over social media by trans people and their allies, whom I have come to think of as ‘the trans cult’. Thankfully, I have come across some cool trans people online who have helped me keep things in perspective. I can still count the number of them on two hands and I see they get a lot of hate too. They even get called ‘TERFs‘ which is, frankly, ridiculous.
Yet, although I’ve looked, I don’t see any such sustained attack on their real enemy – the right-wing and predominantly male bigots who would mock and abuse and physically assault them in the ways the trans cult say they’d like to do to us.
Finally, there was the attack on me at Speakers Corner and the reaction to it, which I blogged about here.
More than three months after the assault, it is still on my mind almost every waking minute. I have not been able to sleep unaided or take much work on because the incident has affected my concentration so badly. I am prone to anxiety attacks especially around young adults. I have children who are young adults. These are the kind of people whose company I used to enjoy. Now I avoid them.
I am still every bit as angry as I was when those people attacked me. I still don’t know why they did it, why they are so full of hate for someone they knew nothing about except that I wanted to go to a meeting to hear about some proposed legislation.
The effect of this attack on me has been compounded by the fact that it has been applauded and celebrated by hundreds of people on social media who think I deserved the attack. There are many fabricated versions of events being circulated together with video footage edited to give the impression that I provoked the attack. Some – including, purportedly, one of my assailants – have blatantly lied that I started the attack and this has given rise to a further falsehood that the police were not interested in investigating the incident. In fact, the police have always taken the incident seriously. People purporting to be feminists have been shielding the assailants and have been smearing my character. At the time of writing, only one of the three assailants has been arrested and will be charged. The other two are still to be found.
Because I was chosen pretty much at random to be the target of this assault by someone determined to “fuck some terfs up”, thousands of people who don’t know me are attributing to me views and opinions I simply don’t have. At the moment I feel I’m going to be walking round in a perpetual rage for the rest of my life. I’m a life-long humanist who once had quite a bit of faith in people’s fundamental decency. I no longer have that faith – it has been stolen from me and in that sense this has been a life-shattering event.
And that’s why I expect peak trans is where I’ll stay for the foreseeable future.