Friday, 8 August 2014

A detailed response to Sheila Jeffreys on Woman’s Hour

This represents my own evidence-backed opinion of the material Jeffreys provided on BBC Woman's Hour on 7th Aug 2014. 

Firstly two notes on language: 

1). Jeffries uses the word “transgenderism” when the descriptor "trans people" should be used. This is designed to dehumanise and harm trans people. We are trans people. She uses "transgenderism" because it makes it appear that being trans is a choice, that it is a cult, that it is not legitimate. This is the most harmful element of her work, it is also the most disingenuous. 

Once you dehumanise trans people, it becomes easier to get others to harm them. History is littered with examples of this.

2). Jeffries consistently misgenders trans people throughout,  I have not corrected this when it happens. This is not because I wish to disrespect those subject to this misgendering but because I wish to demonstrate the, in my view, abusive nature of her discourse.

1.  “the phenomenon of transgenderism which is a social construction of the 2nd half of the 20th century and which has become particularly common in the last couple of decades…”

Jeffreys starts with one of her most blatant and easily disprovable untruths; there is plenty of historical evidence that trans people have existed throughout human history and in every civilisation. Cultural historian Marjorie Garber’s well-researched book, published in 1997 called “Vested Interests” is a well-researched example of this. More recent archaeological evidence of this is the grave of a trans person discovered in Prague who was buried more than 2000 years ago.

2.  “[it] is harmful to many groups of persons"

Here Jeffreys provides no evidence for her assertion. The idea that me expressing my true gender is harming anyone else quite literally laughable, especially given the evidence I have described in section 1 above. Trans people have been around for thousands of years and I cannot find any examples of us harming anyone simply by being trans. The only harm is usually to us from transphobic bigots who have abused, harassed or attacked trans people or worked to put trans people in harm’s way.

3.  “It is based on stereotypes of how the different sexes should behave. It’s very harmful to the feminist project of getting rid of those stereotypes. And indeed it can’t exist without them.”

This is one of the most pernicious and misleading arguments. There are plenty of trans people who do not fit into stereotypes of the two genders. I know trans women who do masculine things and trans women who do feminine things, likewise trans men. I know trans women who fly aircraft, who climb mountains, who never wear skirts or makeup. I also know trans men who do ballet, who are househusbands who are artists and who work on building sites. In fact it would almost certainly be true to say that trans people breach gender stereotypes far more than cisgender people.

In this instance Jeffreys also erases non-binary
people who probably adhere less to gender stereotypes than anyone. Trans people most certainly can exist without gender stereotypes, I doubt however, whether her brand of "feminism" can exist without perpetuating myths about them.

4. “It harms, as I say in the book, the persons who transgender themselves, because the drugs are harmful to their bodies, surgeries are harmful, and they have to usually be on hormones for the rest of their lives…

Trans people can speak for themselves about whether being trans harms us thank you. In my experience and knowledge of trans people the only harm comes when we are prevented from being ourselves or from transphobic attitudes like the ones Jeffreys appears to be trying to perpetuate. As a non-medical person, she is not qualified to make judgement on whether any specific treatments are harmful. Given the desperation with which many trans people seek surgical and hormone treatment, her assertion that medical intervention is harmful is completely at variance with reality. 

5. “This is a grand experiment - we don’t know, we know what HRT does, as you mentioned in the last segment, but what doses of these hormones your whole life means, we don’t know.”

Again she takes on the role of amateur medic. She is simply not qualified to comment on issues like this. I know some trans people who have been on hormones for longer than I have been alive and they are still very well. There is simply no evidence to back up her claims on this. Indeed April Ashley is living proof that she is wrong. 

6. “Transgenderism is harmful to wives, because some therapists say they are suffering from PTSD when their husbands transgender and suddenly say “you’ve got to call me Allison or call me by a female name”, and they start wearing their wives clothes and telling their wives they’re really lesbians, and this causes and enormous amount of distress.”

This is an example of her misuse of the word “transgenderism” if you substitute “trans people” the above quote makes much less sense. The implication however that married trans women should remain in their birth gender in order to preserve their marriages and not hurt the feelings of their wives is particularly dangerous. In fact I know trans women who have transitioned and remained happily in their marriages.  Social exclusion and transphobia mean that being transgender is very stressful at the best of times, trying to suppress your gender identity is only ever going to increase that stress very significantly. If she thinks that remaining in a relationship with someone who is gradually becoming more and more stressed is going to be of benefit to the wife of a trans woman, then Jeffreys is giving the ridiculous a bad name. That is a recipe for extreme harm and psychological damage for both parties.

Of course here Jeffreys conveniently ignores trans men who transition while married and non-binary trans people also. This is typical of her transphobic “feminist” ideology, the erasure of inconvenient people.

7. “It’s very much a problem for children because we now have the problem of the transgendering of children by the medical profession at the behest of all the transgenders who say it’s important to transgender the children young.”

This is one of the most disingenuous and potentially very harmful myths she is spreading, as have a number of other TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists). There is no evidence whatsoever that trans children are being coerced at all either by the medical profession, their parents or by other trans people. The typical situation is where the child comes out and has to be extremely persistent over a long period before any parent or medical professional takes them seriously. They need to struggle against immense social and cultural pressures to be taken seriously as this report, this report, this report and many others demonstrate. Trans kids are not manipulated or forced into anything by anyone, not their parents, not their doctors, not mental health professionals and most certainly not other trans people. On the contrary trans children, just like trans adults, have to fight tooth and nail to obtain the medical care and social acceptance they need. 

Once again Jeffreys is being profoundly hypocritical because by poisoning the cultural environment against trans children with her lies she is contributing to the harm caused to them by encouraging parents and others to coerce their children into genders in which they do not belong. In my view this can only be described as child abuse by proxy. There is every possibility that, if these lies are not countered, some trans children will be harmed unnecessarily.

This is also hypocritical because, despite wringing her hands over married trans women, if she helped trans people to come out at much younger ages then fewer would come to realise they are trans after they have got married and the problem would not arise in most cases. 

If Jeffreys really were concerned about trans children she would have roundly condemned the action of TERFs who recently doxed and outed a 16 year-old trans schoolgirl who had been threatened with violence and death by right-wing "Christian" fanatics. As a result of TERF bullying of this girl she had to leave school, go into hiding and was put on suicide watch.

Ultimately the only people trying to coerce trans children to do anything they do not want to do are people like Jeffreys.

8. “So in Britain, as early as 9-years-old, children can be put on puberty delaying drugs…”

The operative part of this sentence is “can be”. If any actually have been put on hormone blockers she would have said “have” instead of “can be”.  I have never heard of anyone that young being put on blockers and if there were I’m sure Jeffreys would have told us. So a simple deconstruction of that sentence actually translates it to; “No-one as young as 9 years old has been put on blockers.” Indeed if any child aged 10 or 11 had been put on hormone blockers I’m sure she would have mentioned it.

9. “…up until the age of 16 which can be very harmful to bone mass…”

Again “can be” but isn’t. Studies have shown that it isn’t. Again a “Professor” of "gender studies" is not a medical specialist, and it shows.

10. “…which sterilise them if they then go on to sex hormones at the age of 16 because their organs do not develop and then they can be put on cross sex hormones and so on.”

Her judicial use of the word “if”, see 8. above. The link I provided in point 8 above demonstrates that this is not inevitable.  Indeed transgender adolescent girls who decide they might want to have children, if they are on blockers, have often taken the decision to halt hormone blockers for a few months in order to be able to produce gametes which can then be frozen and stored for later use. (This demonstrates that trans children are in fact in charge of their own destinies since they usually do this of their own volition to control their own fertility. They are increasingly in charge of their own destinies, and hormone blocker treatment provides this.) Once again Jeffreys deliberately ignores trans boys, many of whom do not have hysterectomies and who go on to have children later in life. In Jeffreys' universe these inconvenient people just don't exist.

In truth providing young trans people with hormone blockers represents a humane and reversible treatment. It allows them time to consider carefully want they want rather than experiencing the pain and trauma of feeling their bodies develop in a way they hate. This is one reason why so many, who do not have access to blockers, self-harm. The fact is that Jeffries and other TERFs like her, want to force children to go through puberty in a way that is traumatic and psychologically damaging to them. This is, in my view not merely damaging and inhumane but profoundly harmful now that the technology is available to relieve their stress and give them the space and time to make up their own minds. Trans children should be empowered to make their own decisions about their own lives. Here Jeffreys is effectively prepared to sacrifice children and young people’s health and wellbeing for her own discredited ideology by denying them this choice and disempowering them so cruelly. By spreading this kind of misinformation about trans children and young people she is genuinely potentially harming some of them. That is unforgivable.

11.  “And all this can happen to them just because they disobey the rules of gender.”

On the contrary, in most cases these children do not disobey the rules of gender, they follow the social and cultural conventions of their real genders. Why should trans children be any different in this respect, from cisgender children of the same gender?

12.  [regarding her book] “it’s a political critique.”

That would glorify it too much. It is a rant at best. It also includes medical information from someone who is not medically qualified and ad hominem attacks on a trans person who has described this as the equivalent of ‘slut-shaming’.  Calling it a political critique is like calling beans on toast haute cuisine. However even if we take her word for it that is is a 'political critique', with reference to Section 10 above, she is playing dirty politics with trans children's lives. In my opinion this is truly sickening.

13. “Transgenderism as an ideology is harmful to the future of women and feminism because it promotes these sex stereotypes.”

"Transgenderism" is not an ideology, we are trans people, as I have said above. Once again she has provided no evidence to support this claim. As I have also said above trans people promote sex stereotypes to much less of an extent than cisgender people. There’s nothing like repeating a lie to make it become the truth though is there? Dr Goebbels would have been proud. (No apologies for Godwin’s Law, it is entirely appropriate in this instance). She fails to mention that nearly a thousand feminists, and feminist organisations from 41 countries disagree with her assertion that trans people are a threat to feminism. 

14. “Actually I have friends who have now detransitioned, so the book is not harmful to them, and they’re actually very grateful that it exists.”

A tiny number of people have detransitioned. These are often people who have transitioned as a result of other psychological problems or personality disorders. The one I met certainly had. I have been told that the number of these people in the UK has not increased at all in the last 15 years or so, so they are extremely rare, representing less than 1% of this who do transition.  As such healthcare for trans people represents a far higher success rate than almost any other medical intervention. Of course TERFs like to focus people’s attention on these people, but to do so is particularly disingenuous since they represent such a tiny proportion of people who have sought medical transition and a decreasing one at that. 

In addition some people have detransitioned, not because they wanted to detransition but because of intense social, cultural, religious, political or economic pressure to do so. 

15. ”For instance, in Australia the law was changed last year to get transgender into sex discrimination legislation, and the definition of transgenderism includes mannerisms. Now that’s extraordinary, whether mannerisms can tell you whether a person is masculine or feminine. Two of the wives who are interviewed in my book do say that their husbands, at the time they decided they were girls, not only decided that they were barbie-doll type teenage girls, but started hair flicking. So my suggestion is that hair flicking is one of those mannerisms.”

Here her use of language is very subtle. Yes the definition “includes” mannerisms. That does not mean that mannerisms comprise the entirety of the definition of a trans person. On their own they are not enough. The fact that two interviewees in her book, subjectively described their husbands and having certain mannerisms is weak, second-hand data from an invalid sample size. This section reads in a particularly misogynistic way, as if feminine mannerisms are of little value. The obvious question to ask here is; does Jeffreys hate women?

I have also been informed that the reason why Australian law includes this provision is to stop employers discriminating against people whose mannerisms may be at variance with their birth assigned gender.

16. “There are many many forms of behavior that are actually very stereotyped. I, for example, don’t have a gender, I don’t choose to have one, I don’t like femininity or masculinity.” 

Yet another interesting piece of hypocrisy from someone who imposes her own definition of gender on trans women, describing them as ‘men’. Here she is claiming that she doesn’t have a gender. I’m quite happy to accept that she identifies as non-binary (especially since most of the non-binary people I know also identify as trans) however for her to then turn around and refuse others the right to self define represents probably the most intense hypocrisy I have ever encountered from a TERF, and believe me there is a lot of competition out there.

17. “But what happens is that a transgender activist who disagrees with my book, a man who is transgendered called Dallas Denny…”

In the very next sentence she deliberately misgenders someone, immediately after claiming her right to self definition.

18. “…says that I look just like a man, and I’m four shots of testosterone away from being one.”

So this trans woman's observations are less valid than the second-hand data from the interviews in her book referred to in 15 above…? Jeffreys here seems to be incoherent.

19. “He certainly has sex stereotypes in his mind and I don’t meet his stereotypes cause I’m a feminist who will not do femininity and he’s excited by femininity.”

So she’s the only person who is affected by sex stereotypes? No cisgender person is affected by them? This is the disingenuous message she is trying to convey; trans people are affected by sexual stereotypes but not anyone else. Drivel.

20. “I make that point because of changes in the law that recognise these men as women and allow them into female spaces. (These men) don’t change sex and they have grown up as male - they have the character traits and behaviours as male - one of which, unfortunately, is sexual violence against women.”

Here again despite her claim to be non-binary in section 16 above she still refers to trans women as men, I’m sure you are getting used to this by now. In this quotation she tries to suggest that being male is to inevitably be sexually violent. This is a typical TERF trope, the idea that all men engage in sexual violence. Some men are rapists, as are some women, but here we are talking about trans women, who are not men.  Her simplistic world also ignores the reality of women's violence against women in intimate relationships in particular.

21. “We are now discovering that there are many arrests, for instance, in America, of men wearing dresses, or female clothing, who go into toilets and engage in photographing and recording women urinating and other forms of very sexually abusive behavior, for their sexual satisfaction.”

There have been a number of allegations of this but no records of any trans women doing this. 

22. “We have also had, this year, a case of Jessica Hambrook in Toronto, who is a man, who went into women’s shelters saying he was a woman, and he was accused of raping two women and he admitted that…and more and more cases are emerging of women having to face indecent exposure or erections in changing rooms and men coming up to them saying things like “Do you come here often?”"

Update: The Hanbrook case is surrounded in all sorts of controversy, it appears that Hanbrook did not identify at all as transgender nor has he been diagnosed as transgender as the Toronto Star says. So Jeffreys is using the behaviour of a cisgender male who appears to have multiple personality disorders, as a weapon with which to hit trans people. If this is the best she can do, her claims have little credibility.

23. “Yeah we don’t assume all men are sexual fetishists but we still exclude men from women’s spaces. And transgenders are men, so why should we say that this particular group of men are going to be okay, and not involved and violent?”

She has just inferred that all men are sexual fetishists, so she is contradicting herself now, coherence is clearly not her strong suit. Using the word “transgenders” is, once again dehumanising and abusive, when she could use ‘trans people” (see also sections 20 and 16 above with regard to repeated hypocrisy). Only some trans people are men; trans men, the rest are either trans women or non-binary trans people (hypocrisy again). Once again her assertion that trans women are inherently violent is contradicted by section 22 above.

To conclude, Jeffreys' arguments, largely evidence-free (or based on flawed or incorrect evidence), simply do not stand up to cursory examination. As a "professor" in gender studies she is supposed to be one of the TERFs' best informed and most powerful advocates of their ideology. If this is the best she can do then clearly the TERFs have irredeemably lost the argument. This probably explains why the TERFs have resorted so readily to abuse, harassment, deceit, dishonesty and outright lies in their hate campaign against trans people. They have no alternative. They have no rational arguments that hold water.


Thank you, and respect, to Melissa Tang for transcribing this, dealing with material that attacks one’s right to exist, much less having to listen to it more than once is stressful in the extreme.  Much respect also to the wonderful Zowie Davey for having the courage to deal with this live on Woman’s Hour, that must also have been stressful in the extreme. This is the sort of ordeal no trans person should have to go through. Thank you Zowie for ensuring that her poisonous mendacity did not go unchallenged.


  1. Wow, well put together and argued decontruction of the TERF and Jeffreys' main arguments Natacha.
    Somebody needs to inform her that you cannot "transgender" somebody - in the same way that you cannot "gay" or "lesbian" - you either are a transgender person (or a gay, or lesbian person) or you are not.
    I find it amazing that a university will actually pay her a salary to teach such hatred against a very small minority of people with a protected characteristic. If she were to use such arguments against disabled people she would soon be laughed out of existence.
    If she defines herself as genderless, I wonder which toilets/bathrooms she chooses to use - she argues that bathrooms should be kept as rigorously female only spaces and as she self defines as not of that gender, perhaps she insists on using the disabled bathroom only - hmmmmmm.

  2. Well said, Natacha! Very well said indeed. You have shown Jeffrys and the other TERFS up for what they are - know nothings and bigots.