The editor wanted a cut. I’d written of a hypothetical transgender woman, adding the qualifying phrase “who is biologically male.” That phrase should go, the editor insisted; “trans woman” was enough. I didn’t want to give in to pressure from activists who oppose talk of biology, but there was also a more basic reason why I stuck to my guns: I’ve met people who genuinely believe that a trans woman is a woman—in the literal biological sense—who identifies as trans. For clarity and sense, therefore, the biological reference had to stay.
The activist milieu that I think of as Transworld often seems back to front and upside down, and not just in its manic policing of language. There is an ethical inversion at the heart of youth gender medicine, one that BBC journalist Hannah Barnes describes in her new Swift Press book about the failings of England’s only youth gender clinic, Time to Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children. The Tavistock is hardly the only “gender-affirming” clinic that chose to offer medicalised gender change to children before research had delivered a verdict on its safety and side-effects. Experimental treatment on minors came first, without the ethical guardrails supplied by formal research.