Inclusive Diverse Pride Flag. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The new politics of marginalised identities, now marching across the West, frequently clashes with classical liberal values like freedom of speech and association. Nowhere, however, is this clash and its consequences for civic life more obvious – and dire – than when it comes to the trans movement.

What began as an informal social and economic pressure campaign has crossed over into a formal effort by coercive state agencies to restrict freedom of expression, assembly, and conscience. In Norway, a feminist organiser named Christina Ellingsen could face up to three years in prison for tweeting that males who identify as women cannot be lesbians or mothers, because this statement violates Norway’s newly expanded hate crime laws. In Canada, a human rights tribunal entertained the complaints of a trans-identified male against religious-minority women who refused to provide intimate hair-removal services. Professors like Selina Todd and Kathleen Stock have needed security to accompany them on their own university campuses after voicing concerns about proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act. In England, police have investigated ordinary citizens for tweeting salty limericks or displaying ‘transphobic’ stickers.

In the United States, with its uniquely robust First Amendment protections, we are unlikely to see police sent to investigate violations of new identity doctrines. But here, as elsewhere, activists rely on aggressive use of private coercion to shut down dissent, targeting critics’ reputations and livelihoods. In November 2020, a prominent lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted that ‘stopping the circulation of this book and these ideas is 100% a hill I will die on’—referring to a book that questioned the sudden spike in girls identifying as transgender. Feminist groups attempting to organise in-person meetings have faced bomb threats and cancellations by venues nervous about optics and security risks. Teachers have been suspended or fired for refusing to use students’ preferred pronouns.

Then there is the soft pressure campaign underway across the West, involving the expectation that good, progressive people will not exercise certain freedoms: that lesbians will not refer to themselves as same-sex attracted, that women’s groups will make space for males, that everyone will engage in routine self-censorship, lest feelings be hurt or certain uncomfortable realities be drawn into the light. What is politically inconvenient becomes unfashionable, morally objectionable, even ‘dangerous’. Civil liberties have become distinctly uncool, panned by young activists, and more than a few grown-ups who ought to know better, as tools of marginalisation and oppression. Advocate for the right to freely speak your mind and activists will accuse you of harbouring specific heresies. In an interview with the BBC in September 2021, Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, defended his party’s decision to cast out a female member for asserting that women are adult human females: ‘Well, we absolutely believe in free speech but we also believe that we need to protect human rights and we believe in equality.’

Civil libertarians who have sat this conflict out so far may be startled to see free speech set up in opposition to human rights and equality. But when it comes to gender, an atmosphere of wartime censorship has set in. Trans activists claim these strictures save lives, but in reality it is the survival of the cause itself that requires such exceptional treatment.

So why do civil liberties violations and calls for further clampdowns follow trans activism wherever it goes?

The short answer is that the trans movement threatens civil liberties because the movement is not what it claims to be and thus is threatened by free and open enquiry. If a movement cannot withstand scrutiny, it will create and enforce taboos—and undermine civil liberties in the process. One of the trans movement’s central claims is that there is no conflict between its claims and demands and the rights of any other group. Stonewall, a leading trans rights organisation in the United Kingdom, states upfront that ‘we do not and will not acknowledge a conflict between trans rights and “sex based women’s rights”.’ Merely ‘claiming [that] there is a conflict between trans people’s human rights and those of any other group’—such as women, children, religious minorities, or lesbian and  gay people—is defined as transphobic hate speech that governments and private corporations alike should censor.

Unfortunately—for the trans movement and the rest of us—the conflict exists, whether we are free to acknowledge it or not.

To put the conflict in plain language: trans activism argues that gender identity should override sex in law and society. Trans activism redefines ‘women’ and ‘men’ from sex classes based on reproductive role into mixed-sex classes based on individuals’ inner sense of being a man, woman, both, or neither. A mixed-sex definition of ‘woman’ will put males on women’s shortlists, in women’s sports, prisons, and domestic violence refuges. Even if we were to believe that redefining women as a mixed-sex class inclusive of males who identify as women is an urgent and just cause—that is, even if we believe that the outcome should be settled in a particular way—there remains a conflict between two clashing interpretations of the law and two distinct groups of people.

Rather than acknowledge this conflict and propose a satisfactory resolution, trans activists seek to deny it altogether—largely by stripping meaning from language. This is how the ubiquitous claim that ‘trans women are women’ functions. If ‘trans women are women’, then it does not matter if ‘trans women’ outcompete female athletes in women’s sports. In fact, if ‘trans women are women’, then questioning whether Lia Thomas should compete against female athletes becomes part of a ‘long tradition of “gender policing” female athletes’. Rather than make a compelling case for why trans inclusion should trump fairness, trans activists seek to make sex—the very crux of the conflict—unspeakable. If ‘trans women are women’, then it does not matter whether or not placing trans-identified males in women’s prisons puts female prisoners at risk. ‘Trans women are women’ means no scrutiny and no debate.

We see the same approach at work when it comes to ‘gender-affirming care’ and its casualties. If activists inside and outside the medical profession want to remove barriers to pharmaceutical and surgical interventions, then the experiences of detransitioners and people who have been harmed by transition represent a serious challenge. Rather than address these concerns head on, organisations like the World Professional Association for Transgender Health seek to reframe detransition in an attempt to deny its relevance. Detransition, regret, and medical harm become ‘gender journeys’, ‘non-linear gender transitions’, or ‘gender dimensionality’—just another exciting detour on a patient’s lifelong quest of personal discovery, with no implications for clinical assessment, treatment, and accountability.

This insistence that there is no conflict lodges a falsehood in the very heart of the trans movement. When a movement is not what it pretends to be, this creates a vulnerability that activists must defend.

There is a parallel here to when individuals come out as transgender and seek to be seen by others as members of the opposite sex (or as sexless, in the case of non-binary people). When someone comes out as trans, they ask other people to overlook their sex. Ideally, they want everyone they come into contact with—family and friends, classmates and colleagues, even perfect strangers—to personally redefine sex and re-educate themselves to see trans people as they want to be seen. You will reinforce your trans friend or family member or colleague’s self-identification with your speech and actions. At a minimum, you will keep your perceptions and objections to yourself, lapsing into polite silence so as not to upset your interlocutor’s feelings. Trans activism operates with the same expectations, but on a society-wide scale, and with civil liberties as the target.

The temptation to violate civil liberties and undermine the basic principles of a free and open society will remain as long as the need for cover remains. Whenever activists attempt to smuggle undeclared goods under the guise of a civil rights movement, undressed speech becomes a threat that must be managed.

The only way out of this situation is for the trans movement to reconnect their public pronouncements with their actual agenda: they must make their case in the open and anyone must be allowed to question it.

However, there are compelling reasons to think that the trans movement would not have got this far operating in the open. The lobbying guide by IGLYO, ‘the world’s largest LGBTQI Youth and Student organisation’, even seems to acknowledge as much, urging campaigners to ‘get ahead of the government agenda and media story’, ‘tie your campaign to more popular reforms’ and ‘avoid excessive press coverage and exposure’. The guide praises Irish activists for piggybacking on marriage equality and using it to provide a ‘veil of protection’, since ‘marriage equality was strongly supported, but gender identity remained a more difficult issue to win public support for’. It then observes that: 

‘[M]any believe that public campaigning has been detrimental to progress, as much of the general public is not well informed about trans issues, and therefore misinterpretation can arise. In Ireland, activists have directly lobbied individual politicians and tried to keep press coverage to a minimum in order to avoid this issue.’

This approach has been a success for trans lobbyists in countries like Ireland, Norway, and Denmark, but it has done great damage to the fabric of civil society. If the trans movement insists on its current course—shutting down public debate, subverting open democratic processes, and punishing critics—the movement will create openings for opponents with much more objectionable agendas than recognising that sex matters and advocating caution on youth gender transition. As Jonathan Rauch warned in his 1993 book, The Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought:

‘[No] social principle in the world is more foolish and dangerous than the rapidly rising notion that hurtful words and ideas are a form of violence or torture (e.g., “harassment”) and that their perpetrators should be treated accordingly. That notion leads to the criminalization of criticism and the empowerment of authorities to regulate it. The new sensitivity is the old authoritarianism in disguise, and it is just as noxious.’

The realities the trans movement is so keen to suppress will persist—no matter how doggedly activists hound dissenters. It is time for them to return to the public sphere and play by the same rules as everyone else: no special pleading and no final say. And it is time for every institution that has enabled this movement to put an end to trans exceptionalism. Free and open societies depend on it.

    1. For a window into the way the trans ideology has affected the ex-wives of these men, who now say they are entitled to require the children they fathered to call them “Mother,” visit Lime Soda Films on YouTube, Vaishnavi Sundar’s trailer for her upcoming film, Behind the Looking Glass:
      I am one of this cohort, (“I’m 65”)
      Ute Heggen, author, In the Curated Woods, True Tales from a Grass Widow

  1. The likelihood that the mouthpieces for the trans movement and the practitioners pushing it will suddenly decide to sit at the public table is slim to none — as evidenced by the request from major medical organizations to the DOJ that dissent be reined in. I’m hoping there is historical precedent for similar events that doesn’t end in authoritarian rule, and/or that doesn’t suggest we’re in for a century of this insanity before the ship rights itself.

    1. the protection from reality people pushing gender ideology seek cant last forever. like critical race therory, gender ideology assumes without evidence that people are by default biased against another group, this time crossdressers. however, the truth is no one cares if anyone’s “trans” if they dont stomp on rights of others. ive never read of an incident of a crossdresser having any problem in mens bathroom. no one cares if cross dressers use the mens room and the idea that they do is just one more hoax men have perpetrated on women since the dawn of time.
      gender ideology erases the rights of many groups. kids have a right to go through puberty without being tricked into giving up thier right to have sexual function as adults. people with mental illness and psych issues have a right to evidence based care without this care prevented by people pushing quack care. gays have a right to sex based rights. gay kids have a right to not be lied to by homophobes who tell them their trans and push them to be sterilized simply becuase theyre gnc or have normal gay related dysphoria. parents have a right to protect kids from a harmful fraud. religious ppl have a right to not participate in a cult.
      the chickens will come home to roost for civic leaders who deny reality and rob voters of their right to vet policies. awareness of all these issues in the US is near zero which is the only way gender ideology can operate.

  2. There is far too much profit driving the transgender/transhumanist agenda for those promoting it to voluntarily stop shoving it done the public’s throat.

  3. The falsehood at the heart of “trans” is the concept that one can “change sex”.

    Destroy that narrative and the entire pack of cards will fall down.

    It has to be destroyed by the government cracking down on the little twisting here and there of existing legislation.
    In the UK, the first things that could be done to take a sledgehammer to this ideology is:
    1. REMOVE “Gender reassignment” as a Protected Characteristic in the EA 2010. If GR is a “medical condition”, its already covered under Disability PC, if as many claim it is NOT a medical condition then its covered under Belief. In both cases, the individual does NOT have any rights to opposite sex spaces/services/support at all. (Those who claim “no sex” – the females still use the female support/spaces, the male ones demand access to those spaces. Tells you everything. So STOP that and enforce it).
    2. Scrap the GRA (as long as point 1 occurs) and instead have a “Self ID” option like the Deed Poll for name change. BUT…it requires an audit trail of change of name/”gender” and this is centrally held with *anyone* able to see the certificate. Like anyone can see a Marriage, Birth, Death certificate or Decree Absolute. These are all public records.
    NO ONE can ever change their natal sex on *any* official document. This would be a LIE. Those who have done, must have then returned back to the unadulterated blatant truth. Those who have this form of “self ID” will be making a signed statement that they know their declared “gender identity” does NOT give them the right to demand anyone treat them as such in any area of life and does NOT provide the right to impose themselves into the spaces, support etc of the opposite sex to them. They also sign to acknowledge that the certificate can be seen by anyone who wants to or be asked for it in certain circumstances (job applications, medical care, DBS records etc).
    3. Laws which have any reference to sex must emphasise and enforce the facts there are only males and only females. That “gender identity” of any kind is irrelevant in law except as part of the PC of “belief” or “disability” in the EA2010. Schools, Unis should NEVER be teaching in any way at all, that one can “choose” one’s sex. The definition should be:
    Male (sex) – boy/man (sex role); Female (sex) – girl/woman (sex role).
    All terms and names associated with a specific sex and sex role should be retained by them at all times.
    4. Ensure all spaces – where required or necessary – are single sex as they have always been and ones “gender identity” does not have any relevance. Enforce these.
    This would be a start and destroying the ideology that seeks to physically and mentally harm young people into mutilating and drugging their developing bodies for a mere “whim”. It is also an ideology that seeks to control in the most authoritarian way (which is the definition of fascism) society’s ability to tell the material truth.

  4. Cross-sex ideation is an accurate term for “trans” and the psychiatric/mental health profession deserves the blame for promoting inaccuracies in their nomenclature and creating a political diagnostic category. The tails wagging the dog are the patients, who dictate to the doctors, conveniently giving surgeons lucrative careers lopping off parts of the urinary tract.
    A few of us saw this all coming, when we discovered our husbands’ cross-dressing secrets and got lectured by the professionals on this “rare” diagnosis. Becoming not so rare is their responsibility and proof of the political diagnosis, along the lines of “hysteria” from centuries past.
    Ute Heggen, author, In the Curated Woods, True Tales from a Grass Widow
    iuniverse, 2022

  5. Hold on there. If you’re asserting it’s a violation of the civil liberties to compel people to respect trans identities, would you also consider it such a violation for people with other views that involve not respecting fundamental social characteristics?

    For instance, what about sexists, who take a similarly strict approach to gender but interpret it in quite a different way? If it is to infringe someone’s civil liberties to compel them to accept someone trans in their acquired gender, is it not also to infringe someone’s civil liberties to compel them to treat women and men as having equal status when they genuinely feel they do not?

    1. No, that’s not the same. Remotely.

      Attaching any bizarre, immaterial and utterly subjective identifier to oneself is absolutely nothing like a physical characteristic.

      Please too show us where personality traits, or fundamental social characteristics, is a protected category in HR law.

  6. Brilliant article! Gets right to the heart of the matter, exposes the trans activist tyranny for what it is, and lays the futility of it bare for all to see!

    1. “Tyranny”! I love the measured, sensible tone with which those who deny the existence of trans people communicate! Tell me: are you one of tens of thousands of people whose extreme, dedicated concern for women’s rights vanishes into absolutely nothing when it comes to *actual* threats to women’s rights, such as CIS-male partner violence? Do you remain utterly silent about the defunding of women’s refuges and the shortfall in women’s healthcare spending? Or does your massive and sincere concern for women’s welfare literally only ever emerge when there are trans people to bash?

  7. Ah more Tory stuff…… Freethinker ? I think not… way too much right wing articles in the Freethinker

  8. Is this more right wing fake news ? .. shocked at the Freethinker…. will be telling everyone what I think of it…
    In February 2022, the New Statesman and The Times reported on an UnHerd piece by another Guardian journalist, Hadley Freeman, in which she suggested her paper was allowing itself to be bullied over transgender issues.[15][16] Later that year, Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic featured an UnHerd piece by Paul Kingsnorth as “Provocation of the Week”. Kingsnorth argued that “Left-modernism is now the outlook of the professional managerial classes, the top 10% or so of society, and—not coincidentally—the beneficiary class of globalisation. … Meanwhile, a national populist movement built largely around a working- and lower-middle-class reaction to this ideology is coalescing … Why would the middle classes be further to the ‘Left’ than the workers?”[17]
    In 2021, an UnHerd piece criticising the World Health Organization (WHO) for dismissing the COVID-19 lab leak theory in its investigation was marked by Facebook with a “false information” tag; Facebook apologised after UnHerd objected. Reporting the incident, the Financial Times noted that three days later the White House expressed “deep concerns” about the WHO investigation

  9. Woah, censorship here?!
    A recent comment disagreed with the premise of this article, and broached some related concerns. The comment was thoughtful, grammatical, and quite lengthy; someone spent time and effort in writing it. It concluded with a question as to the need for Freethinker to continue to exist. I wrote a comment in response.

    Five days later, I return. I find both the original comment and mine have been removed. I’m disappointed and surprised.

      1. Emma Park,
        I apologize! I feel embarrassed, although much reassured now. Thank you for your VERY prompt reply. I appreciate you and Freethinker. I had expressed similar sentiments in the comment I failed to locate earlier! Again, thank you for your helpful response.

  10. Eliza Mondegreen is the best writer on this topic that I have found, although I also like Debbie Hayton (an English trans woman who does not seek special treatment).

    Here is the “truth that dare not speak its name”: A trans woman is a man who feels like a woman, and nothing more (and vice versa for trans men). Feeling like a woman should not give him the right to enter women’s private spaces (since he is not a woman). Yes, to be polite, we should call him “she”, but that is our only obligation. Non-trans people have no obligation to swallow all the nonsensical ideas that trans people are pushing.

  11. I can not believe the writer of this article champions free speech while violating self determination which is at the very essence of free thought. The comments are equally distressing and obnoxious. There has been oppression not only of LGBTQ debate in this country for as long as it has been a country but a history of hate, torture and death to anyone who veers from the biblical definition of man and woman. To say that now, as this movement begins to gain national and international attention, that this very movement, which has faced so much repressed free speech and free thought, which has known nothing but a God-given duty of moral, descent, Christian-abiding communities to expunge them from humanity decreeing their immortal souls to the depts of eternal hell and damnation, is itself engaging in repression of free thought and free speech is ludicrous beyond all rational thought. There will be backlash as humanity adjusts to the new norm and perhaps this is what’s troubling for you, a new norm. There is a backlash of so called rational minds to fuel flames of resistance, doused with kerosene and lit by various authors of “well meaningful” books, psychological articles and podcasts to upend the progress being made. Unfortunately, this article is one of them. Change and progress is always most painful to those who cling to old dogma of the past. I suggest that each of you examine your own personal prejudices on this subject and take a compassionate look at those who for the first time are brave enough to speak out after those that have gone before them have been tortured, mutilated, imprisoned, killed or painfully silenced for as long as man has walked this earth. There lies your free thought, if you can stomach it.

  12. I just read this article for the second time. Eliza’s clarity of thought and insight are always impressive.

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