14 December 2021

Swimming in nonsense: where are the grown ups in the transgender debate?

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When the winner reached the side of the pool there was silence, almost as if the triumph was being determinedly ignored. A whole 48 seconds later – while the champion waited for their rivals to complete almost another two laps of the pool – the second placed swimmer reached the end to loud applause from the crowds.

Something important was happening at the University of Pennsylvania swimming trials; something that has reverberated around the world. Because this swimming competition has become less about strokes through water and more about biology, and the question of whether someone who is born a man then declares himself a woman should be treated as if the sex they were born is irrelevant.

By the time Lia Thomas was filmed beating her nearest rival by almost a minute, she had already hit times in two previous races which were almost as fast as national women’s swimming records – unheard of for a student athlete.

For most people the reason is obvious: Lia, 22, who used to be Will, is wide-shouldered, towers over her teammates and had only managed to reach the men’s B team with better times than she is now achieving as a woman. As demanded by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Lia has been on testosterone suppressants for more than a year; but she is swimming just a few seconds slower than she was as a man.

For Lia’s rivals, the rank injustice of knowing they were swimming for second place was compounded by the fact that they were expressly told not to speak to the media about their feelings. Nevertheless one competitor, anonymously, told an American sports website how furious they were knowing the competition will never be fair.

This is what the new look inclusivity looks like, and if biological women are unhappy about it, they are being told to stay silent. When the story of Lia Thomas went online, the hashtag #PennCheats was trending for two days. It is clear to anyone, including many trans people, that this is unfair.

Last month the International Olympic Committee got rid of its already minimal rules on biological males competing in sports against biological females. Incredibly, it said it was going to presume trans women did not necessarily have an advantage over natal women. Where are the grown ups? Why aren’t more people speaking up against this?

The problem is this is a new fundamentalist religion as stringent as any cult. It even has its own mantra – ‘trans women are women’ – and when they say that, they mean any man who says he identifies as a woman.

Trans rights aren’t aided one bit by marginalising women, but it feels like no leader of an international body or politician is willing to fully get to grips with this.

In Scotland, a country where the government’s maternity literature took out all mentions of the word ‘mother’, Nicola Sturgeon is planning to reform the process to identify as another gender. In principle this is a good idea; it is hard being trans and more help should be given for those who feel discriminated against. But there are equally legitimate fears that safeguards for women will disappear if anyone can call themselves a woman – and those fears are being drowned out as bigotry.

As part of the discussions about how things will change, this week it emerged Police Scotland said they were considering that rapists who identified as women should be logged as women.  ‘Police Scotland requires no evidence or certification as proof of biological sex or gender identity other than a person’s self-declaration,’ according to Detective Superintendent Fil Capaldi.

This is despite the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 referring specifically to rape as the act of penetration with a penis (although it does muddy the waters by also referring to a ‘surgically constructed penis’). Either way, you have to have a penis to rape someone, and using your penis to hurt a woman is perhaps the most male of crimes. Yet if Police Scotland have their way, suddenly rape is also going to become a feminine crime.

This will not only skew crime statistics but inevitably leads to the next question of what they will do with self-identifying trans women who have been found guilty of rape. No wonder Scotland’s former Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, is up in arms:

‘As a lawyer for 20 years and Justice Secretary for almost eight, I’ve seen some legal absurdities. But this tops it all and is dangerous. It’s physically impossible and is about dogma overriding common sense.’

This is far from just an obscure debate about semantics. A court case earlier this year, brought by a woman prisoner who said she had been sexually assaulted by a trans inmate, gave us not only a real-life example of what is happening in women’s prisons, but also some striking figures. In 2019 of 163 prisoners who identified as trans in England and Wales, half of them, 81, were sex offenders. Yet trans activists dare to call women bigots for saying that some men identify as female for nefarious reasons, and that we need safeguards. They don’t want to admit the system is ripe for being gamed because that will put a pin in their puffed-up righteousness.

Yesterday JK Rowling was once again under attack for daring to point out the sheer Orwellian nature of all of this, tweeting. ‘War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is a Woman’. Of course, she was quickly rounded on by people crying ‘bigot’, ‘transphobe’ and ‘you just want trans people dead’. The logical endpoint of such arguments is that the feelings of rapists have to be considered not only above the truth, but also above their victims.

So why is it being left to a children’s book author to point out these fundamental truths? Where is everyone else?

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Nicole Lampert is a freelance journalist.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.