6. The Impact

6. The Impact

Chapter Contents

I now turn to the impact of the debate including addressing the consequences of transgender policy capture. Some sections of the overarching themes within this chapter were developed further and are represented in subthemes; and the discussion relating to the findings is reflected throughout the chapter. The chapter first looks at the results on silencing with the subthemes, ‘TERF/Bigot/Transphobe – “We found the witch, burn her!” and ‘defiance’.      The chapter then explores the data results in relation to the motivation for transgender ideologists to access female only spaces and the subthemes under this theme include: ‘male predators and sex-offenders’ and ‘sexual fetishes and validation’. Moving onto the most important section of the thesis, the chapter then analyses the data in relation to the MVAW sector with subthemes on ‘transgender victims’, the ‘importance of female-only spaces’, ‘Stonewall research’, the ‘EA2010 and single sex spaces’, and ‘commissioning and policy capture’. Finally, I explore the theme ‘middle ground and third space options’ and finally, I summarise the results. 

Sections of the chapter will have interwoven evidence from the perspective of the online ethnography. Table 8 below represents the main themes and subthemes organised and presented in order of chapter contents:

ThemeSubthemes
Silencing#TERF/Bigot/Transphobe – “We Found the Witch Burn her!” Defiance
Motivation for Access to Single Sex SpacesMale Predators and Sex OffendersSexual Fetish and Validation
Male Violence Against Women SectorTransgender VictimsImportance of Female-Only SpaceStonewall ResearchEquality Act and Single Sex ExemptionsCommissioning and Policy Capture
Middle Ground and Third Space Option  N/A
Table 8 Themes and Subthemes Chapter 6

Table 9 evidences the percentage data split between interviews and online ethnographic content; there was no online ethnographic data under the theme ‘Middle Ground’:

 A : S Dillon (@SuitorAnne) ~ TwitterB : Interviews
1: Middle Ground0%100%
2: Motivation for access to SSE5.72%94.28%
3: Silencing10.55%89.45%
4: The male violence against women sector14.19%85.81%
Table 9 Coding Matrix Nodes Represented in Chapter 6 (row percentage split – interviews v online ethnographic data)

Silencing

As reflected at length in chapter 3, there has been evidence of a concerted effort to silence women who question gender reform or transgender ideology more broadly (Ardehali, 2018; Bindel, 2019; Chakelian, 2017; Davidson, 2018; Doward, 2018; Dreher, 2018; Stock, 2021; The Guardian, 2018). I asked participants a range of questions relating to silencing in section 3 of the guidance interview questions (See Appendix C), to understand their experiences. Feminist participants reported their experiences as pervasive and threatening:

Yes, I have felt silenced and especially because I am a self-employed consultant…there has never been anything quite like this in terms of silencing. (P14A)

When I did speak about things…I just said that there needed to be a debate. Within a month I had resigned. Women are silenced, it is Orwellian, it is outrageous, it is fascistic, and it is deeply, deeply worrying because the repercussions are huge. (P15A)

I never had anyone say I should be burnt alive like they did over this. (P4A)

As evidenced in chapter three, online experiences of women raising their political voices often comes with a valid anxiety (Jane, 2012; p. 6; Megarry, 2014, p. 48). Feminist participants referred to the online abuse they experienced and their reticence to enter the debate for fear of further attacks (Megarry, 2014, p. 53)

Yes, I do. I have had some comments about it on twitter…I do feel silenced by it, because I know if I said exactly what I thought…if I wrote a post on it. Then there would be hell. (P5A)

Silencing and calling you names all over the internet, so your name is picked up in a google search and publicly threatening you…you are shut down…removed from discussions, blocked and also making threats towards you. It is just silencing; it is the same old silencing of women. (P10A)

Conversely pro self-ID participants reported a different experience:

No, but I am very gobby. I get very cross with people who tell me to stop talking. (P12B)

Not really, I think this is something that is probably experienced more by radical feminists because they felt really angry about the way the term TERF has been used. (P14B)

Some of the participants in the pro self-ID cohort referenced silencing in respect of the conflicting nature of the debate: 

I think that the shouting and screaming was vastly over inflated…The thing is there is power in shouting…what is that power? That is not feminism… (P9B)

Yes, I have felt silenced. I am not interested in having a big fight about it. (P11B)

The silencing of participants who work in the MVAW sector was prevalent and will be discussed in more detail later. Figure 15 below evidences the word frequency search of the top 50 words used by participants when talking about the consequences of speaking out, detailing sinister ramifications linked to losing their employment or funding for the organisations they work in. 

Figure 15 Silencing Node – Consequences of Speaking Out Word Cloud 

Feminist participants spoke about their experiences, and expressed the tangible threat to them, with some unable to raise their concerns publicly:

There are large numbers of people who wouldn’t employ me if I said that transwomen are not women or engaged in the debate around this in any public way…I have observed my friends and colleagues losing work, losing jobs, being vilified on social media. Look at what has happened to Julie Bindel. (P14A)

Once I decided to speak out people did try and silence me and there have been various attempts to do that…mainly it is she should be sacked, she is a monster, she is a TERF. (P6A)

Yes, there have been attempts to silence me, there have been several letters sent to my employer asking for me to be reprimanded or disciplined or sacked. There are still twitter accounts that tweet to my employer every day. (P8A)

The comment by P14A above evidences the impact of the tactics in silencing feminist voices in the debate, and the in the same way as the witch hunting of the 16 century, women in the 21st century watch the punishments meted out against their sisters for speaking up and in turn restrain their voices (Bardsley, 2011, p.2).

Whilst the pro self-ID participants did not experience the same level of targeted silencing tactics feminist participants reported, they did acknowledge the aggressive tactics used by transgender rights activists, with some expressing feminists as the louder voice:

That is the trouble, the trans community seem to be very aggressive (P3B)

It feels like the other side is louder. Certainly, it has more in mainstream newspapers…Sometimes it feels like there is more volume for people who think that trans is weird and creepy and deviant, then they come up with ridiculous terms like Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria and Autogynephilia, these just aren’t real. (P12B)

People were screaming hyperbole about something that wasn’t a problem. (P9B)

Participant P14B did detail a distressing experience she had after one altercation on Twitter where she expressed her views that transwomen can identify as lesbians:

They emailed my workplace to tell them I was homophobic…I only had to spend 24hrs mopping it up and I wasn’t going to lose my job, but I found it really upsetting and I am upset that it happened on both sides…supporters of trans rights are also dogpiling on people I am not ok with that…It is hideous behaviour. (P14B)

This is a common tactic used online, as referenced in chapter 3 (Suler, 2004, pp. 321-326). Although we have no reported incidents of trans rights activists or allies losing their jobs or being physically attacked, for speaking about this topic, I know from personal experience, it is upsetting and stressful. I am certain that all participants would agree with P14B that the targeting of anyone is ‘hideous behaviour’.

The data captured on silencing through ethnographic observation was largely in line with the evidence presented from feminist participants and references were made about online and offline silencing tactics:

Making people afraid of losing their jobs is a really effective way to silence critics of genderism and the erosion of female rights. (Tweet 12)

Those trying to shut us down tell themselves all sorts of stories about why it is justifiable to silence women in 2019. The truth is it’s just plain, old-fashioned misogyny. (Tweet 13)

Not that I condone physical attacks, but I have zero sympathy for Julie Bindel, on account of karma being a bitch (and she’s clearly having a grand old time misgendering her attacker and milking this thing for her TERFy hangers-on) (Tweet 14).

Tweet 14 refers to the attack on the veteran feminist campaigner Julie Bindel, mentioned in chapter 3. Bindel had been speaking at an event about MVAW, on leaving the venue she was approached by a man who identifies as a woman, he proceeded to scream at her that she was a “TERF”, “Scum” and a “Bigot”; and he attempted to physically attack her (Bindel, 2019b). These attacks on Bindel and on Maria Maclachlen, noted in chapter 3 (Bindel, 2019b; Chakelian, 2017), are the more extreme examples of the consequences of speaking out, and they follow similar tactics of male violence against female partners; patterns of behaviour aimed to make victims subservient, frightened and silent (“Understanding the Power and Control Wheel”, 1981). The theme of silencing women supported the evidence detailed in chapter 3, including in reference to online abuse being another form of MVAW (Lewis et al., 2016, p. 1463), and the name-calling in public debate confirmed the same picture.

#TERF/Bigot/Transphobe – “We Found the Witch Burn her!”

When reading the online references to women being labelled TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists), it is easy to dismiss the experience of the receiver of these misogynistic attacks (Jane, 2012; p. 6). Figure 16 represents the word frequency search on the theme, with the top 50 words evidencing the most common slur aimed at women was TERF.

Figure 16 TERF/Bigot/Transphobe Node Word Cloud

I asked all participants whether they had ever been called names during campaigning, feminist participants evidenced remarkably similar experiences to each other:

TERF, bigot, transphobe…dip shit, moron. Someone sent me a gif of a guillotine going down. (P6A)

I have been called a TERF too many times to count… Regardless of all of my record, regardless of who I am…all my jobs have been in equality. But suddenly I am a bigot! (P8A)

Yes, TERF, transphobe, transphobic bitch, transphobic fuck. Someone said, you deserve cancer you fucking transphobe…(P16A)

Participants linked the name calling to the misogynistic motivation of those who use it to silence them:

It is insulting because it is a misogynistic slur. It doesn’t have any meaning…If you talk about biology, and you ask people what they mean about being a woman without using sexist stereotypes you are immediately labelled a TERF or a bigot, there is never any answer to your question, you are immediately labelled a transphobe and not given any space to even question the mantra. (P10A)

TERF is a slur is no different to Pornhub, it just dehumanises us. (P11A)

One of the pro self-ID participants also had been called a TERF. Participant P4B supports self-ID but has spoken about the protection of single-sex spaces for MVAW, and for this belief she is on blocklists for dissenters:

…I still fairly regularly get called a TERF…I am on many, many blocklists… I am blocked out on half a thread. And sometimes I will say I can’t see something and then I get back “well that is because you are a TERF” – “TERF is as TERF does” (P4B)

The correlation of the terminology TERF with a modern-day witch was noted by feminist participants:

Whatever that word was meant to mean originally it is now the modern translation of the witch and we know what they are allowed to do to witches don’t we! (P7A)

So, it is who you associate with, we found the witch, burn her! (P8A)

It was clear that many of the feminist participants had come to expect the name calling and for some they had become so accustomed to it that it had lost its currency, this is in line with the evidence in academic research where women minimise their experiences in order to cope with the level of online vitriol aimed at them (Lewis et al., 2016, pp. 1465, 1474): 

You get used to it but that is almost worse. (P11B)

I just don’t think men can become women and I don’t have a special hatred or fear of trans people… it has lost its currency. (P1A)

I think it has lost all its meaning. I think if you believe in reality and facts, you are considered transphobic. (P4A)

Encouragingly, although some of the pro self-ID participants had used the term TERF in the past there was acceptance that the acronym was problematic:

…just because something started as an acronym it is not a defence to continue to use it when it has become an insult. It has taken people, including me, some time to actually think, ‘oh it is not a fucking slur’ to actually think, just because I am not using it that way, that doesn’t mean other people aren’t… with TERF I have seen it used in such violent and unpleasant ways, that I no longer want to be associated with people who use it. (P14B)

…I think so, at the beginning of this. I wouldn’t now because I don’t think it helps…I was very angry when it all started…just because I believe that everyone should have equality it doesn’t mean everyone else does (P3B)

As was documented in chapter 3, the website ‘TERF is a slur’ documents the violent and misogynistic ways in which the acronym is now used to silence and target the offending witch (“TERF is a slur”, 2020). The online ethnographic observations evidenced in the figure 17 screenshots below, follow the same trend:  

The above screenshots are just some of those observed from the online discourse over the data collection period and the usual rhetoric is often accompanied with threats of sexual degradation and physical violence, supporting the evidence of online harassment of women represented in the literature in chapter three (Jane, 2012; p.4). The ethnographic data captured a range of views on the acronym, and observed many who supported the feminist participants’ experiences: 

For those of you new to “TERF”. It means these women: Women who run refuges and rape crisis centres for other women. Professors. Doctors. Journalists. Trade unionists. Politicians. Writers. Artists…All women though. “TERF” really means “Women We Hate”. (Tweet 15)

How can you deny the evidence of them staring you in the face?  Only males can be Transwomen, it’s a condition of membership & males have NO automatic right to female space.  So no, female space; specifically, female rights are not a pie for males to carve up.  Btw, terf is a slur (Tweet 16)

Conversely there were Twitter users who used the slur liberally and expressed their reasons for it:

Yes, #terfs are evil. We know this and they’re getting exposed for being evil. This shows they don’t care if trans people die. They want us to die. #peakterf #Evil #bigotry #HateSpeech #hategroup #transgender #TransLivesMatter #StopTransphobia #stopkillingus (Tweet 17)

#TERFs will go to their graves protesting they never physically punched any trans people. While the policies they are complicit in enacting deny trans people healthcare, housing and employment. They’re complicit in trans people’s death. (Tweet 18)

What is a TERF? — An absolute wanker that hides behind pseudo-feminist platitudes to dehumanise, harass, and maim one of the most vulnerable groups in society. (Tweet 19)

Defiance

Despite the dangers of online and offline harassment, women still spoke up bravely against what they saw to be a direct attack on their rights. There was a tangible sense of defiance from feminist participants who had spoken publicly.

Figure 18 TERF/Bigot/Transphobe Online Ethnography Screen shot, May 2019

Feminist participants expressed they had private support because of their bravery and a rebellion akin to the previous waves of activism:

I think most people agree with us, so many people say to me privately, keep going! Sometimes I have to bring myself back to that and just think, I am not saying anything really bad, I am just talking about biology! (P6A)

I think it is a really hard time campaigning, but I imagine it is more like being an early suffragette really. (P8A)

Motivation for Access to Single Sex Spaces

The concern that sexual predators will use self-ID laws to access women-only spaces is dismissed by lobby groups (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018, p. 17). However, as evidenced in the introduction chapter, it is a valid threat, and this also emerged during the interviews, with voices from both sides of the debate expressing their views on the motivations of why men want to access MVAW spaces.

Male Predators and Sex Offenders

 As discussed in chapter five, the feminist participants were keen to point out that this debate was not about transwomen per se. The objection to the introduction of self-ID in law and policy, raised repeatedly by participants, was in direct opposition to transgender ideology (Jeffreys, 2018). Feminist participants felt the threat of male violence had been missed and ignored: 

This self ID issue is almost not about transwomen, it is about predatory men who will use whatever is available to them to access women who they think are easy targets basically. I think that is one of the things that has been disregarded as if it’s a bit of a fantasy but actually anybody that has worked in violence against women and girls’ initiatives knows that those predatory men, leave no stone unturned. (P12A)

I think it opens up those services to men who wish to exploit them for abusive purposes… because there is a significant minority of men who are abusive and however they identify and everything we know about abusers, they are devious and they exploit loopholes and they look for opportunities. Teachers, priests, they will go to extraordinary lengths to access vulnerable populations, so to an extent identifying as a woman wouldn’t be particularly challenging… (P13A)

A small collection of the pro self-ID participants asserted this concern did not prevent their support of transwomen being able to access female-only spaces. The responses were based on the notion that sexual predators will offend anyway, the problem as they see it, is the demonisation of transwomen:

…with transwomen, the connotations are coming with being sexual predators… the focus is on demonising them…predators will do anything regardless…it means that transwomen will just be reduced to their genitalia and that they are predators. (P1B)

I cannot understand why people care so much about someone else’s identity that they will make them out to be a threat… (P9B)

I guess the thing that made me get involved is when people started to use arguments around safety and I was just like, that does not bear out…if you want to make it about safety then there is no space for that argument, it just felt like scaremongering. (P13B)

The ethnographic data supported the concerns of feminist participants regarding sex offenders utilising self-ID laws to access female only spaces:

Women who fear predatory men are not being bigoted – just realistic. So, let’s stop silencing their concerns about their dignity and safety and start looking at workable solutions for inclusion. (Tweet 20)

This Predator is NOT an exception! Why don’t we hear more cases then? Because they are experts at grooming, manipulation, and silencing their victims. (Tweet 21)

@StMungos @stonewalluk You call it inclusivity. I call it enabling predatory males to gain easy access to the most vulnerable women and children in society, as evidenced by the DM article re Mark Addis. The EA 2010 allows for female-only spaces in exceptional circumstances, DV shelters being one. (Tweet 22)

Tweet numbers 21 and 22 reference the case of Mark Addis noted in the introduction chapter who, despite him being a convicted perpetrator of women, was given access to a women’s refuge (Bindel, Manning, & Powell, 2019).

Sexual Fetish and Validation

The question posed in interview, “Why do you feel that the trans lobby groups want female-only spaces like refuges to be open and accessible to self-ID transwomen?’ revealed concerns from some feminist participants with regards to sexual fetishes. Figure 19 represents the top 50 words attributed to the coding under the sexual fetish node, with references to a ‘sexual movement’ and ‘fetishes’ being prevalent.

Figure 19 Motivation for Access to Single Sex Spaces Node – Sexual fetish Word Cloud

Some feminist participants expressed their views on this:

I think that a significant % could be motivated by a sexual fetish, I think there are some stats from the lobbyists in the US that note that 70% of male to female trans are recognised as autogynephilic. (P10A)

It includes so many people, those with gender dysphoria, part time cross dressers, fetishists…I think it opens up those services to men who wish to exploit them for abusive purposes, and even if not in terms of abusing women…it is also a sort of invasion of female space and wanting to be there because you derive some pleasure from it, which is also abusive in itself. (P13A)

This theory is also one that is explored academically. Jeffreys (2018) asserts the transgender agenda is motivated by sexual fetishists via the Yogyakarta Principles (Jeffreys, 2018). Participant P4B in the pro self-ID cohort was aware of this theory and explained her disagreement with Jeffreys:

Shelia Jeffreys…I find her ideology on trans people… it is a conspiracy theory, she says the trans movement is a men’s rights movement to legalise and normalise sexual fetishism… you can’t possibly say that everyone that makes a decision and thinks about it for a long time and doesn’t take these decisions lightly…you cannot say that all of those people are somehow part of a global movement for bestiality, no age of consent, sexual fetishism. (P4B)

Sexologist, Ray Blanchard, also supports the notion proffered by some of the feminist participants regarding sexual fetishes, he states these transwomen come under the category of autogynephilia (Blanchard, 2005, P. 445). Understandably, like Jeffreys, Blanchard also has also received criticism for his autogynephilia theory. For instance, Moser (2010) argues that although autogynephilia does exist, it may not be as widespread as Blanchard purports (Moser, 2010, p. 791).

Validation was the main motivation put forward by the feminist participants for the demand to access female only spaces:

I think is that what has been impressed here is that transwomen are women and if you can see that then if you concede any ground on this then you are conceding that transwomen are indeed not women. (P14A)

It’s all about validation and feeling excluded…I think for a lot of them on an individual level, not all of them but for a sizeable and vocal minority that their narcissism… it’s about the rest of the world accepting that and the rest of the world validating that and those of us that don’t become the enemy. (P1A)

Women who have been abused will be missing out simply so we can validate one person or two people. I remember someone…was chatting about a group she was part of in the 80s were setting up the very first refuges. She was saying, we have decades of experience, we would more than happily help the trans communities set up their own refuges…but they just don’t want it, they want to use our refuges because it validates them. (P4A)

Although trans lobby groups like Stonewall would be likely to be well-funded if they campaigned for transwomen’s refuges, to do so would concede that transwomen are not women. This goes against the Yogyakarta Principles and thus the bedrock of the transgender ideologist movement as discussed in chapter two (Roberts & Stuart, 1996, p. 4; Jeffreys, 2018, p. 5). Whether or not female refuge space is the best place for transwomen to access support is a debatable topic as is evidenced in the next section.

Male Violence Against Women Sector

“If you want to know who controls you, look at who you are not allowed to criticise.” Voltaire

The following section is the crux of the thesis and provides the original contribution to the research topic. I hope the nuance that all participants provided me with reflects the need for the sector to begin having these crucial conversations. As a focal point of my research, this section was represented heavily in the ethnographic data. Table 10 below represents the percentage split between the representation of interviews and online ethnography, within the topics coded in this theme:

 A : S Dillon (@SuitorAnne) ~ TwitterB : Interviews
1: The male violence against women sector14.19%85.81%
2: EA20108.92%91.08%
3: SSE15.67%84.33%
4: Trans-inclusive women’s services20.21%79.79%
5: Transgender victims of male violence80.43%19.57%
6: Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis65.03%34.97%
Table 10 MVAW Coding Matrix query with attribute values

Transgender Victims of Male Violence

The data revealed strong feelings about allowing transwomen into female-only MVAW spaces and provided an interesting disparity in results. Pro self-ID participants expressed the greater need for transwomen to access services due to the high levels of violence against them:

…the overwhelming majority of evidence shows that trans people aren’t dangerous and are much more likely to be the victim of violent crime or sexual assault. (P12B)

It is heart breaking that the trans community in particular experience sexual violence to an even higher prevalence, so they are particularly at risk. (P13B)

Feminist participants disagreed with these claims:

…just very pragmatically they would know there are far too few people. We are talking about very small numbers. (P14A)

There are no bodies of transwomen in those figures. There is no parity of need for mixed sex space that there is for single sex spaces. (P16A)

As evidenced in the methodology chapter claimsmaking is essential in order to gain traction in social movements (Best, 2001, p. 8), and a deeper dive into the claimsmaking activities of the US transgender rights movement revealed large flaws in the way the lobby groups want the general population to believe trans people are at risk of murder (Donym, 2019). Additionally, as evidenced in chapter 2, there is a lack of research into transgender victims, but specialist LGBT+ charities are calling for specialist services for transgender victims (Brown & Herman, 2015, p. 20; Roch, Ritchie & Morton, 2010, p. 5; Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018, p. 6). The question should be posed as to whether mainstream women’s services would meet the needs of transgender victims (Browne, 2007, p. 8). However, as was evidenced through the data, validation is deemed to be of paramount importance and lobby groups purport that transwomen are isolated due to not being accepted by mainstream women’s services, which should “make room for this validation” (Roch, Ritchie & Morton, 2010, p. 30).

The ethnographic data also revealed questioning of the validity of claimsmaking activities in regard to transgender victims of violence:

I am STILL for trans rights. But that does NOT mean that I will pretend that the data is not what it is, nor that I will ignore the intellectual incoherence of the activist ideology. (Tweet 23)

I first started looking into this data when I noticed the egregious errors in the 2015 HRC document “Addressing Anti-Transgender Violence” where the dramatic “four times” claim was first made and dispersed. That there ISN’T disproportionate risk for trans folks is -good- news. (Tweet 24)

All murders are tragic, all domestic abuse and sexual violence is abhorrent, and every victim deserves support but that does not equate to the support being provided in the same spaces.

Importance of Female-Only Spaces

The importance of female-only spaces was reflected passionately by participants from both sides, which was in line with the historic movement of the MVAW sector in the second wave discussed in chapter three (Dobash & Dobash, 1983 p. 223):

I have spoken to a number of women who have said that they have been scared in services where they thought there might be male-bodied transwomen. (P2A)

We didn’t set up these rape crisis spaces and refuges and keep their location secret for nothing! It was done very carefully because of the number of men who stalk and hunt down women and murder them in great numbers every year. (P14A)

I think they are essential…the patterns of violence are embedded in our culture, female-only spaces have throughout the whole history of the feminist movement given women space outside of patriarchy… like a form of magic, it is the space in which women dare to speak their truth that outside they know will be ridiculed, laughed at and minimised, told they were lying…women-only spaces break it, it shatters that and it is why all feminist consciousness raising groups were women only. (P3A)

Many of the pro self-ID participants agreed with the importance of female-only spaces for victims of male violence:

Yes. Because everyone’s healing and trauma needs to be respected. (P10B)

I think it is appropriate to keep women who are vulnerable safe. I think there are ways of doing those exemptions carefully and thoughtfully. (P12B)

I worked in a generic homeless shelter and very occasionally we had to take a woman the refuge couldn’t take, we tried hard not to because we were a mixed sex space. (P14B)

The impact on female-only spaces for victims of male violence if self-ID was adopted in law and policy was keenly observed by feminist participants:

Disastrous, absolutely disastrous, in terms of safety, privacy, dignity and the Human Rights Act talks about the privacy and dignity of women. I have heard various stories of women leaving refuge because they have been forced to share with a man. (P15A)

They would be destroyed, women would be scared who are escaping male violence and it would happen the same as has in Vancouver for example with self ID where men are just going into women-only services, just as actual men, they don’t even need to pretend that they are women. (P2A)

If you have a door that you lock and say only people with a key can get in, then you give the key to everyone there is no point having a door, is there! (P7A)

Some of the pro-self ID participants were also supporters of single sex exemptions for MVAW spaces. Many understood the need for female victims to retain their own spaces and the impact of gender reform or trans-inclusive policies:

I think the biggest impact will be to people accessing services. Personally, I had an abusive boyfriend when I was younger and at the time, I would not have liked to have been around men like him. (P10B)

I think a lot of those women in those groups are going to feel threatened. There is potential for abuse of that space. (P3B)

The really nuanced answers came from the pro self-ID participants who had been part of the Stonewall research (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018) discussed later in the chapter, however, there were participants within the pro self-ID cohort that saw no issue with the inclusion of transwomen in female-only spaces:

I don’t see from my perspective a problem with a transwoman accessing a woman-only refuge because I see transwomen as women. I don’t think it would be traumatising to such a degree that it can’t be managed…I don’t see what the issue is. (P1B)

I can’t really see any issues with it. (P2B)

Some pro self-ID participants expressed that feminist women were the problem:

I think vulnerable women are being used as a political football, and by politics. I do not mean anything to do with what is going on with our government, I mean the politics of inclusion, acceptance, feminism! (P9B)

Well, maybe this is part of the problem because I believe we have a woman’s movement not a female movement and we have women’s services not females’ services. So, I don’t think there will be much of an impact. (P13B)

A small group of pro self-ID participants viewed the exemptions for transwomen entering refuges or providing them with their own spaces, as being akin to ‘othering’:

I feel like for trans lobby groups to support a third space would be alienating, it is unnecessarily segregationally, and you are creating more divisions than you are creating connections. You don’t want to feel ‘othered’…(P2B)

…because it is not seeing transwomen as women…I think because it is putting borders around somebody else’s identity and it is like saying ‘no blacks’… if you are not part of that group you cannot come in! Is that right? (P9B)

The solution they offered up was for women in those refuges to be ‘educated’ and ‘exposed’ into accepting transwomen as women:

…it would be about educating and challenging any assumptions about what it means for that person to be in the space…is it principle, they aren’t a woman and I am? But you can only challenge it on an individual basis…it is exposure and talking about it. (P2B)

The above description was referenced in chapter two as a solution put forward within the Transgender Equality report (House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, 2016, pp. 28-29). It is also a concept written into guidance for the MVAW sector in Scotland which states that if female residents feel uncomfortable with transwomen in the refuge they should be educated in the same way as they would for racism (Stronger Together, 2015 p.15). This is further asserted in the Stonewall research (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018, p. 14,15). Feminist participants found this extraordinarily offensive:

Women who for example used rape crisis services who wanted women-only spaces needed to go on a journey of enlightenment or re-education…When I asked if the women in the refuge had an issue with that she said ‘well if they don’t like it we treat it like racism and evict the women’… (P12A)

I just think that is an extraordinarily offensive idea because it is treating desire to be in a safe female space to be the equivalent of racism, you know there are women where there are conflicts in refuges with racism and class…we do need to make sure we challenge attitudes, but we mean other women. (P13A)

I think the arrogance is astounding really that they know better than women what women need…The idea that you are going to re-educate a Muslim woman out of her needs for single sex swimming sessions is so utterly offensive I cannot even begin to start articulating what I feel about that. (P7A)

Stonewall Research

I approached all organisations who took part in the Stonewall research, ‘Supporting Transwomen in Domestic and Sexual Violence Services’ (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018). Five professionals bravely agreed to be part of my research as pro self-ID participants. I have changed the original reference of these participants to random numbering in order to secure further anonymity. The research undertook interviews with 15 professionals from 12 national umbrella bodies and frontline services in the MVAW sector: reporting gender reform would have no impact (Stonewall & NfpSynergy, 2018, p. 8). I spent time with a third of these same participants, and the responses were more nuanced than the Stonewall report suggested:

We certainly have had an issue with a perpetrator self-IDing…where someone is manipulative, they will use the system. I did say to Stonewall there is problems with any legislation and there will be unintended consequences. (2)

We seem to have got stuck with, ‘we want in on your space’. They should want their own safe space. I do think that self-ID is not sufficient enough to give people access to refuges. I think it would potentially force us to make difficult decisions lawfully in terms of being able to…admit or refuse people into refuges. I think it would pave the way for perpetrators to pretend they are now women and have access to groups… If you think about Self-ID it is ludicrous for our sector. (3)

Whilst from a human point of view I can see why and understand that, but on a practical level when you are working in an environment that needs space for people to recover and in a world…where safety is not guaranteed for women, and so we have to create those spaces, and we have to keep them safe so practically it is not as simple as ‘it’s ok for you to self-define and that’s it’. (4)

One participant reflected her change of mind since being part of the Stonewall research:

At that time, I was still saying yes self-ID women, and we have always had transwomen using the refuge… It has occasionally been traumatising to have male-bodied people there, especially when they act in a male way. At the time I felt like I was on the right side of history, the thing that peaked me and got me following it all on social media, was the stuff about the pussy hats at the women’s march…that just got me thinking: for fuck’s sake, women have vaginas, it’s not all about you for fuck’s sake! (9)

Participants also recognised that, as with all research, the questions being asked may foster certain responses; this is relevant if it is research that is undertaken outside of the focus of their usual expertise, and not feminist-led (Stanley & Wise, 1993, p. 25):

The problem is that they were asking particular questions around, has this been a particular issue for your refuge and if people answered honestly then no it hasn’t, doesn’t mean it is not going to be! (3)

The Stonewall participants reflected on the differing needs relating to the axis of oppression for women and transwomen:

My feminism is women are discriminated against, gender is the means, sex is the basis of it, and it is completely structurally built in. As a result of that others who are feminised by society get similar treatment, but it is not the fucking same. (9)

From the experience I have had from working with trans people who experience DA they want something that is more akin to their needs and there is something about what this movement was built on. Women set up refuges built on what survivors found didn’t work…give the trans movement some space…they would probably come up with a trans service. (1)

All the Stonewall participants I interviewed worked on the frontline and had expertise in delivering services catering to transgender victims. They reflected the importance of understanding this was not without complications:

I tried to make it really clear [to Stonewall] that it is not uncomplicated, it is very complicated, and it is something that we have questioned all the time. (4)

I can be a trans-inclusive service, but I am telling you right now there will be different ways of delivering that service and probably different doors! (1)

The results observed from the interviews I undertook with the Stonewall participants offered a contradiction between their findings and mine. This could be because of the time that had passed between the research, or because my knowledge of the sector had proffered different questions (Stanley & Wise, 1993, p. 25). It could also be because these professionals were afraid to speak out against transgender ideology. What was clear was they wanted to be able to support trans clients in a safe environment, but not necessarily in the same space as women. Alongside them many participants expressed the need to have confidence about the legislation contained within the Equality Act 2010.

Equality Act 2010 and Single Sex Exemptions

The enforcing of single sex exemptions via the Equality Act 2010 (EA2010) was a contentious area for participants. Many noted that women’s services are confused about how the current guidance would be impacted if self-ID is adopted in law:

It takes understanding, knowledge and resources to police the single sex exemptions policy. The first thing to be really clear about is that the trans lobby group says, ‘oh you are accusing all transwomen of being violent’ and that isn’t the point, the point is if you cannot exclude anyone who appears to be a man then you have no way of maintaining single sex spaces. (P14A)

My concern is not about what the Act says, it is how it is being interpreted…it is about strengthening the guidance, there is something that is needed to make that very clear. (P8B)

Some pro self-ID participants had different issues with the EA2010 guidance:

The difficulty is the EA2010…is political belief, you could also argue that if their belief is accepted then so are particularly hostile transphobes. There has to be long held and sincere. Well I am sure you could find plenty of transphobes that hold a long belief that transwomen aren’t women. (P14B)

You have to think and remember that gender reassignment is the language that is from the old act… it is being trans, yeah! Ok! So, the fact that you are thinking of it as gender reassignment is missing the point. (P9B)

P9B evidences the success of transgender lobby groups in changing the language of the protected characteristic of gender reassignment to gender identity by referring to ‘the old Act’. There has only been one publication of the Equality Act, but the campaigning by lobby groups to make gender reassignment an outdated term ahead of any legal reform has widely infiltrated the understanding of the EA2010.

As referenced in chapter 2, the tactic of getting ahead of the government agenda has been revealed to be part of an international document supported by Dentons law firm, (IGLYO in partnership with Trustlaw, Dentons Europe LLP, 2019; Kirkup, 2019). This duplicitous type of lobbying has had huge ramifications across all aspects of public policy including the MVAW sector and was noted by feminist participants:

Unless service providers have got proper guidance, which allows them to use the sex exemptions in a specific way, a lot of the providers will be ignorant of how to use them. Or will feel scared. Especially because the lobby groups have been saying for a long time that you can only use them sparingly or as a very rare occasion, but in terms of the legislation it doesn’t say that at all. The proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, doesn’t mean the rarest of circumstance. It may be that it will take awful things happening for the shift to happen. (P13A)

The guidance in the EA2010 remains unclear which is problematic for those who want to protect single sex spaces and could prove difficult for services that are already trans-inclusive. As noted in chapters one and two, given that the EA2010 is based on sex not gender (Equality Act, 2010, p. 132; Komorowski, 2020), services adopting trans inclusion in female spaces could be in a position where they can have no recourse to police ‘inclusion’, for example participant P6B explained their policy of trans inclusion:

In our 12-bed refuge we would consider someone who is reassigned but if someone was self-IDing then we would say they couldn’t come in. (P6B)

The ethnographic observations evidenced concerns around the discourse of the EA2010, and there was particular criticism of the transgender lobby groups who campaigned to remove sex as a protected characteristic (Woman’s Place UK, 2018b; House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, 2015, p. 23 -24, 27, 32, 83).

Sex is a protected characteristic under law. Why is it ‘bigotry’ to want to protect women and girls? Why are you and others so afraid of this conversation you demand the police join you in silencing others? Because you know you have got no argument? (Tweet 25)

The contradictory stance of Stonewall was noted, when simultaneously stating that transwomen could already access female-only spaces, alongside campaigning to amend the EA2010:

If single sex exemptions don’t exist in law, how come @stonewalluk is lobbying to have them removed? (Tweet 26)

Funny how @stonewalluk is campaigning to get rid of the single sex exceptions in the EA 2010 and also arguing there are no single sex exceptions. They are so stupid it feels almost cruel to argue with them. Until you remember the fucking power they have (Tweet 27)

It’s clearly a deliberate policy because this lie is being repeated in all Stonewall training, including to teachers and the police. Stonewall failed to get the law change they wanted in the Trans Inquiry so now they are changing it themselves by stealth. (Tweet 28)

The findings relating to the EA2010 illuminated the issues with the current legislative guidance, and the ability to protect the single sex exemptions in female-only spaces as self-ID reform in policy forges ahead (Ludwig, 2020; Norman 2018). The results of the data point to a need for the guidance in the EA2010 to be clearer so that services catering to all victims can be assured of their practices in preventing discrimination against protected characteristics (Equality Act, 2010, p.15).

Commissioning and Policy Capture

“Your silence will not protect you.” (Audre Lorde, 1984)

Participants spoke of a push to contract trans inclusion in MVAW services from commissioners and funders. Figure 20, below, represents the top 50 words used by participants when asked about their experiences of trans-inclusive policies being forced ahead of legislative gender reform. The evidence points to trans inclusion as ‘already law’. This was an illuminating part of the research, particularly as already evidenced, many participants felt silenced and unwilling to enter the debate because of the aggressive nature of transgender ideology. It appears that the success of transgender lobbying has already changed the landscape of the MVAW sector without any debate being had.

Figure 20 MVAW Node – Policy Ahead of the Law Word Cloud

Participants in both cohorts, expressed their views on the way self-ID policy capture has impacted the MVAW sector: 

Even if the law doesn’t change in terms of policy it is already in. (P6A)

A lot of trans rights organisations are pushing ahead and they are putting into the discourse out there that anyone can self-ID as a woman. (P5B)

I think the problem is that there are services…that are already opening their services to self-ID and transwomen and the law hasn’t changed but they already are! So, it is already starting to change because of pressure. (P7B)

Participants, from both sides of the debate, spoke of their experiences of being put under pressure by funders and local authority commissioners to deliver trans-inclusive services:

I have heard that some organisations that won’t say they are trans-inclusive or make some statements are threatened with losing their funding. (P12A)

If there is a way that the state tells you that you will only be funded if you are gender neutral, then of course… (P4B)

…when we bid we were forced to making that bid trans-focused by the commissioner, we could only engage in that if we agreed with the commissioner and we actually argued very strongly for something else and they pushed the trans-inclusive service. (Unassigned – too sensitive)

Participants’ opinions of MVAW services that publicly maintain single sex exemptions was that they would be vulnerable to funding cuts:

I think those who do enforce the single sex exemptions, will even if they are not affected by funding cuts, they will be given a reputation that they are transphobic for doing so…they will be affected negatively for it. (P4A)

It will become the trendy thing and if you haven’t got that on your list of service users then the funders can’t tick a box to say they are the full gambit of the rainbow then you won’t get the funding. (P5A)

It was clear from the participants viewpoints that the MVAW sector experienced an added layer of silencing due to the funding landscape and the threat to service delivery:

Oh, I am completely silenced because I have to think about my organisation. If I didn’t work in the women’s sector or it wasn’t a risk to where I worked then it would be different, but I don’t make any public comments…the chilling effect of that is tremendous.  (P12A)

The reason why you are hearing so many MVAW agencies talk about being trans-inclusive is because nobody dares challenge it. I know that this applies across the piece in women’s orgs. It is still very difficult for women’s organisations to speak about this because of the fear of losing funding and losing services and therefore they would shut down… (P14A)

Funding will be cut if you speak out and if you don’t agree. We have seen that in Canada, women are frightened to speak out and services will be cut. (P11B)

As stated, the MVAW sector is a huge movement with several second-tier organisations providing the umbrella guidance for frontline membership organisations. The most famous of these bodies are Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis, these organisations, as previously stated, were set up in the 1970s off the back of the second wave feminist activists who fought hard to establish a movement to challenge the status quo of MVAW (Dobash & Dobash, 1983, p. 3). Their silence in the debate was felt by participants, who expressed frustration with the lack of support from the umbrella bodies for frontline services:

We are going to have to be more resilient and stronger and we need large bodies like Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid to stand the fuck up now. If not now? When? We have laid the groundwork for them. We have fought and fought and fought, we have endured violence to do so and we have had our jobs and our livelihoods threatened. Now they have the ability and the credence and the backing of so many women, it is impossible for those women to say that they are frightened…I am disgusted that those women’s groups won’t step up. (P16A)

I think unfortunately Women’s Aid haven’t got the bottle to stand up and say anything about it.…they are just floundering; they don’t know what to do. As a second-tier organisation they need to be taking the fire away from us. It would be great if they said it is ok for women to centre women. (9)

The anger at these organisations was evidenced strongly in the ethnographic data:

If ever there was a time to stand up for women, it is now. This form @rapecrisisscot is betrayal. Nothing fancy or nuanced. This says women don’t deserve a space to recover away from men. They do. Rape crisis was set up by women for women. Stoppit. (Tweet 29)

I thought @womensaid was there to help women and children get safe and recover from whatever horrors they have gone through. Shame on you for even considering it, SHAME ON YOU! (Tweet 30)

Is @womensaid more concerned about allowing a biological male, who says he’s a woman access to vulnerable women and children, than the safety and comfort of those who have already been abused? (Tweet 31)

The evidence of the parliamentary select committee referenced in the Introduction Chapter proves the wide disagreement in the MVAW sector on these issues (Women and Equalities Committee, 2019, 11:02:56). It is the clearest indication we have of Women’s Aid’s position that they refuse to define a woman as an adult human female (Women and Equalities Committee, 2019 11:14:12; 11:29:24 – 11:30:59). In addition, the campaign in Scotland by rape victims to The Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) Bill, which would enable them to ask for a female forensic examiner was opposed by Rape Crisis Scotland (HEAL, 2020). This may point to why they have remained absent from supporting women in the sector who do believe, like many of the participants I interviewed, that MVAW and sex-based oppression is based on biology. In the absence of MVAW umbrella bodies supporting the voice of frontline women’s sector organisations or survivors themselves, it appears they are out of touch and the fear and silence of frontline professionals has been emboldened by the umbrella bodies’ lack of fortitude (Women and Equalities Committee, 2019, 10:06:05 – 10:07:37). The MVAW umbrella bodies have handed the power to transgender ideologists (Women and Equalities Committee, 2019 11:04:52 – 11:05:32), and in turn they have pushed for, and in some cases enforced, trans-inclusive policies within single sex spaces, which appears to be over and above the needs and desires of female victims.

Middle Ground and Third Space Option

In finalising the results chapters, it is important to reflect on the progression of the discussion with participants. Notwithstanding the difficulty of the issues, it was clear that despite the shouts of ‘no debate’, there is one to be had. It was encouraging that participants on both sides wanted to find solutions. As evidenced previously, some pro self-ID participants felt the idea of a third space for transwomen would be akin to ‘othering’, but the majority of participants thought that this would be the best solution for victims:

I would honestly support any vulnerable group of people that need support from violent men, I would absolutely sit down and do a half day with them free of charge, to say this is how we set up our own services. You know I would support a refuge for any vulnerable person including a trans person. (P2A)

I really can’t understand why they cannot fight for their own spaces. We should campaign together for third spaces. That is a logical response…It’s not just about violence for transwomen, there is all the health stuff. It is interesting that the extreme trans lobby has chosen the path they have, rather than use the money they have so clearly got to provide services for trans people. I also think that transwomen need their own services. (P11A)

I think it would have been an obvious thing for a sensible organisation to do ages ago. But they have basically got themselves to this stage because of their black and white attitude and their relentless mantras of transwomen being women. (P6A)

Participants who worked on the frontline and had experience of supporting transwomen evidenced the differing specialist needs that should be considered and responded to: 

I would not be against trans-only space. We need that option because it is a dynamic, I think. You are a transwoman and you have been raped and abused and there is [sic] differing issues. I think trans people would benefit from their own space, not being put in with women and treated exactly the same…they have got different worries and issues, very different and they will need their own specialist support. (P10B)

I have worked with transwomen many of whom say they would rather not come to a woman’s service because they wouldn’t really understand. What they really wanted was money to train themselves to do that work because they understood their needs. It is really hard for them as well, because the debate hasn’t said, how do we open up a trans DV service…(P11B)

Summary

Faludi (1992) noted the backlash in the 1980s against the second wave resulted in an “unremitting campaign to thwart women’s progress” (Faludi, 1992, p. 492) and – from the evidence of silencing of women’s voices to the lack of trust in the motivations for those who silence them and gain access to MVAW spaces – the results of my research findings point to a new backlash against a woman’s movement whose funding and position has become so precarious they, like the women they seek to support, have become the victims of misogyny. The overall results point to a successful campaign to remove the ability for nuanced discussion; the only safe public space left is to support transgender ideologies or risk being called TERFs, bigots or transphobes. In essence, the internal factions of the MVAW movement have created a type of cancel culture where those who want to discuss gender reform and its impact on female MVAW spaces are silenced like their public sisters (Bindel, 2020c; Price, 2020, p. 1558 – 1562). It is noteworthy that cancel culture in this debate has a profound impact on the silencing of women as a collective group. The targeting of the offending witch who refuses to remain silent (Sharpe, 1997), has a profound chilling effect on the audience, which in this case is MVAW professionals themselves, they similarly witness those who support transgender ideology being applauded for ensuring anti-trans rhetoric is prevented (Bragg, 2020; Young, 2020). However, by giving feminist women a voice and a space to express their views, without fear of retribution, harassment and name calling, they were honest and unequivocally support the notion that transgender people deserve protection, they simply assert this should not be in place of women’s spaces. Moreover, the most positive aspect of my research evidenced that most pro self-ID participants agreed with the feminist participants and support women’s right to retain their own spaces.

In concluding the results chapters of this thesis, I feel it is imperative to reflect on the desire by all participants to have a meaningful conversation regarding MVAW service provision for both transgender and female victims, and I was left feeling hopeful that participants gave me their time and trust in speaking with me on this contentious topic. The fact that the feminist cohort were brave enough to speak with me, particularly as many had already experienced targeted harassment for their views, was an inspiring, personal privilege. I was also encouraged by those in the pro self-ID cohort whose views were fundamentally opposed to my own; despite knowing my stance, their willingness to have respectful discourse with me around the thornier issues of gender reform evidences that challenging debates can happen.

However, the experience of speaking to women who worked on the frontline in the MVAW sector from both sides of the debate left me with a heavy heart. Women I spoke to who work in domestic abuse services, in both cohorts, felt their voices have been silenced and they have not been supported in their desire to protect female-only spaces. They work in a well-organised movement with umbrella bodies that purport to advocate for female empowerment and freedom from power and control, both from individual male perpetrators and from the patriarchal forces of the state. Umbrella bodies have not provided an interrogative public space for women within the sector to voice concerns and be protected against the threat of funding cuts, this points to an imbalance of voices from within the confines of the MVAW movement.

The women who actually work on the frontline are not supportive of trans rights activism, it is the ones on the fringes who don’t understand. They don’t get how vulnerable women are and would be. (9)

In the next chapter I turn to the conclusions and recommendations of my research.