Here we go again. Another woman is facing a police investigation – and potentially, a jail sentence -- because she wrote things online about sex, gender and a person who changed gender.
So far, so familiar, but this tale has a significant feature. The woman is a journalist. A British police force is investigating a journalist over words that she published.
Caroline Farrow, 44, is the subject of an investigation by Surrey Police over tweets she sent referring to the adult child of Susie Green, head of Mermaids, a charity concerned with transgender children. Farrow says the investigation arises because she 'misgendered' the child, who was born male but now identifies as female.
Farrow is a columnist and occasional TV commentator. She writes and speaks from a Catholic perspective about a number of issues including education, family policy, euthanasia and gender. Her political and religious stance makes her relatively unusual among women who question transgender orthodoxy; a significant number of 'gender critical' feminists are on the left of politics, while others profess no particular political or religious affiliations.
I point this out here because some people are keen to suggest that anyone who challenges the trans rights agenda is automatically a right-wing culture warrior possibly in league with US Christian conservatives. There will no doubt be those who cite Farrow’s faith as proof of that thesis. In fact, I’d suggest it proves the opposite: it shows you can find women (and men) who worry about gender issues right across the political and social spectrum.
Farrow told me that on Monday this week an officer from a station in Guildford had contacted her to say she would be interviewed under caution in relation to tweets she sent last year, some time after September, when she appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain with Susie Green of Mermaids, a charity.
'I am being interviewed under caution for misgendering Susie Green’s daughter. It’s all rather Orwellian and rather scary.
The thing is, I can’t even remember what I said. My tweets automatically delete after two weeks, so they are [investigating] me for tweets which have been deleted but which caused offence to Susie Green.'
She believes the force are investigating potential 'malicious communications', which would mean a possible breach of the Communications Act 2003.
Section 127 of that Act relates to the 'Improper use of public electronic communications networks' and says a person is guilty of an offence if he
'(a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or (b)causes any such message or matter to be so sent.'
A person can also offend under s127 'if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he (a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that he knows to be false, (b)causes such a message to be sent; or (c)persistently makes use of a public electronic communications network.
Someone convicted of such an offence can be fined, or jailed for up to six months.
Surrey Police confirmed that an investigation is indeed underway, and has been for some time:
'We received an allegation on 15 October 2018 in relation to a number of tweets which were posted in October 2018.
A thorough investigation is being carried out to establish whether any criminal offences have taken place.
A 44-year-old woman has been asked to attend a voluntary interview in relation to the allegation as part of our ongoing investigation.'
Farrow says the heart of this issue is 'misgendering'. She says the police told her that in her tweets, she had 'misgendered' Susie Green’s child and by doing so had potentially broken the law.
Susie Green is the CEO of Mermaids, a small but influential charity whose activities include providing a helpline for gender-variant children and their families, training courses, and 'lobbying and advocacy' on transgender issues.
Green can speak from personal experience of this issue, and has done so. One of her children is Jackie Green, once described by the BBC as the 'world's youngest transsexual'.
Jackie Green, who identifies as female, was born male and was once known as Jack. After hormone treatment in the US to prevent the onset of male puberty, Jackie Green underwent 'penile inversion' surgery in Thailand at the age of 16, the youngest person ever to undergo such a procedure. (That was around ten years ago, Thailand has since changed the law to set a minimum age of 18 for such surgery.)
Some transgender people find references to their former gender distressing. They say 'deadnaming' (using their previous name) or 'misgendering' (using the pronouns of their natal sex, not their identified gender) are upsetting. I do not know if Jackie Green takes that view.
I do know that Susie Green has made several public comments about her child’s past anatomy and gender identity, including in a 2012 BBC documentary ('Transsexual Teen, Beauty Queen') when she said this:
'Having the anatomy of a boy was a constant reminder that she still wasn’t who she wanted to be.'
The documentary also includes some footage of Susie Green discussing the detail of that inversion surgery, with what appears to be a degree of amusement. See this for the clip in question:
In 2015, Susie Green wrote a column in the Independent about her family’s experiences, which began:
“At four years old, my child told me that God had made a mistake, and that he should have been a girl.”
In summary, Susie Green has publicly stated the fact that Jackie Green was born physically male, and publicly used a male pronoun in reference to Jackie Green on at least one occasion.
Meanwhile, Caroline Farrow says she is under investigation by the police for referring to Jackie Green as Susie Green’s son.
Since the investigation is ongoing and some of the details remain unclear, I will say little about this for now, other than to repeat the core fact of the case:
A British police force is investigating a journalist because of words that she published.