Letters: the joy of a male book club

The state of our defence Sir: Your article on the etiolated state of European, including Britain’s, defence, is spot on (‘The price of peace’, 27 April). Rishi Sunak’s belated conversion to increasing defence expenditure is welcome but is, frankly, too little, too late. What it most definitively does not do is place the UK on a ‘war-footing’. By contrast, Russia is already in that state. It spends between 6 and 8 per cent of its GDP on defence. It has established strategic alliances with China, Iran and North Korea, and now much of West Africa too. We need a severe dose of realism. To begin, we must stop pretending that Ukraine

How the Jilly Cooper Book Club turned toxic

The Jilly Cooper Book Club was set up about a decade ago by two friends who’d had enough of book groups where someone would insist, ‘We really must do Dostoevsky this year.’ Members of the JCBC, in a co-founder’s words, just wanted to get together to ‘drink champagne and shriek about Jilly’. ‘Book clubs are basically Mean Girls for middle-class women’ For some time, I stalked key members on Twitter before managing to wangle an invitation. My first meeting was at a large townhouse in Clapham to discuss Rivals. There was a lot of champagne and a gaggle of smart, entertaining women. One was wearing a Vivienne Westwood corset dress;

Lionel Shriver

It rarely pays to be ahead of your time

Following the release of the Cass report deprecating NHS ‘gender-affirming care’ for minors as reliant on rubbish medical research, the number of comment pieces disparaging the cult of transgenderism has exploded. Such columns would never have been published even a couple of years ago. Finally, pushing disturbed children and adolescents into damaging and sometimes gruesome treatment in the service of adult fanaticism is starting to look, um – iffy. For outliers who’ve been frantically signalling, ‘Hey! Maybe a society that’s mutilating its own kids has lost its way!’ this watershed should constitute satisfying vindication. It does. That’s the good news. Proper manias sweep virtually everyone up in their whirlwinds, and

Rod Liddle

Why the Cass report won’t change a thing

The Liberal Democrat candidate in the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland constituency recently released a video clip of herself sitting in a car and saying just the following: ‘As a Liberal Democrat, I believe that women can have a penis.’ When I’m feeling depressed or under the weather, I play this clip to myself over and over and it never fails to put me in a better frame of mind. It is less the bovine stupidity of the message that amuses than the fact that Jemma Joy – yes, yes, I know – felt the need to recite it, as if there were people out there determined to believe that

The Spectator’s letters page is hazardous 

Question time Sir: Your leading article ‘Sense prevails’ (13 April) is a valuable précis of the Cass Review into NHS gender treatment. However, it also raises several questions. How are the actions of these individuals, groups and organisations different from those of others who have been found to have acted unprofessionally, causing harm to patients who were entitled to place trust for their health in them? Where was the ethical and executive management oversight within the NHS? What other unproven ‘treatments’ are being carried out under the ever-growing demands for more money to be allocated to the NHS? Finally, what sanctions are to be meted out – or will we

‘Now I have been made whole’: Lucy Sante’s experience of transition

Lucy Sante concludes her thoughtful and occasionally poetic memoir with the words: ‘Now I have been made whole.’ Before transitioning at the age of 66 she had lived her life as a deeply divided man. This is an affecting book that could help move the trans debate forward from its currently undignified state of abuse and polarity. Sante interweaves the story of the first 18 months of her transition with that of the first three decades of her biography. Her parents emigrated to New Jersey from Belgium, initially when she was four (there were subsequent toings and froings). She writes a lot about her identity as a working-class Walloon, an

Is sanity returning to the trans debate?

At last, Mermaids, the UK charity for, in their own words, ‘gender variant and transgender children’ is under the spotlight. Following investigations by the Telegraph and Mail newspapers, as well as demands from critics concerned about child safeguarding, the Charity Commission has launched a regulatory compliance case and have said that they have written to the organisation’s trustees. The investigations found that Mermaids has been offering breast binders to girls reportedly as young as 13, and despite children saying their parents opposed the practice. Binding can often cause breathing difficulties, back pain and broken ribs. It was also uncovered that kids have been ‘congratulated’ online for identifying as transgender by

Why are lesbians no longer welcome at Pride?

The lesbian group Get The L Out UK, founded to protest gender ideology and the pressure on same-sex attracted women to date trans women, joined Pride Cymru yesterday to make their voices heard amidst a sea of hostility. Ever since the trans movement decided that lesbians who reject sleeping with trans women are somehow morally deficient, same-sex attracted women have been harassed, defamed and abused in the name of trans equality. Get the L Out represent those old-fashioned lesbians that reject the penis and all that is attached to it. As a lesbian that came out in the Life on Mars days of the 1970s, when I was told, on

The gender debate is getting nastier

Elaine Miller is one of the grown-ups. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, with a specialism in pelvic health. She also jokes about it. Her comedy show, Viva Your Vulva: The Hole Story is currently playing at the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s a good one: the production has won awards and a five-star review. Miller is forthright – her audiences are warned about ‘strong language and swearing’ – but her performance is more than mere entertainment. In Miller’s words, The aim of the show is that the audience leave knowing what a pelvic floor is, what it does and where to take theirs if they think it

There is no transgender debate

Anyone still talking about ‘two sides in the transgender debate’ needs to look at the footage from Bristol yesterday. Actually, there was no debate. What happened was one group of people (mainly men) intimidating a second group of people (mainly women). The video is terrifying. If you couldn’t catch what was said through their masks, here is my transcript: Go, get in the sea. Die out. You’re dinosaurs. Dinosaurs. Fossils. You’re going to die out (x5). You are ancient history. You are fossils. You are dinosaurs. You have failed (x2). Your ideas have failed. Get in the sea. Get in the sea like Colston. Go home. Get in the sea. The

The NHS’s disturbing trans guidance for children

Sajid Javid spoke some sense earlier this week when he said that the word ‘woman’ should not be removed from NHS ovarian cancer guidance. The Health Secretary was responding to the revelations that the NHS website had been stripping the word ‘woman’ from its advice pages. But fine words are only a start. The Health Secretary needs to get a grip on an NHS website that seems in thrall to magical thinking on sex and gender. The problem is wider than he might realise. Quite apart from the row over the advice to women seeking advice on cervical cancer and ovarian cancer, the NHS is currently hosting a page entitled,

Starmer won’t talk about sex and gender. That’s a problem

Sir Keir Starmer doesn’t want to talk about penises. He’s going to have to do it anyway, and he’s not going to be alone. The Labour leader was interviewed by LBC’s Nick Ferrari on Monday, becoming the latest journalist to test Starmer on questions of sex and gender. Ferrari asked, can a woman have a penis? Starmer’s verbatim response, offered with a pained expression and sorrowful intonation: Nick, I’m not… I don’t think we can conduct this debate with… you know… I just… I don’t think, erm, discussing this issue in this issue helps anyone in the long run. What I want to see is a reform of the law as

The problem with the UK’s transgender clinic

This is not a good time to be a girl. Research from Steer Education last month showed that far too many girls are sad and anxious and concealing their troubles from others. In 2019, the Lancet published research showing girls’ rates of self-harm had tripled since 2000. Other studies show girls are much more likely to be depressed or anxious than boys. This might surprise. Aren’t today’s girls growing up in an age of equality, inheritors of girl power? They’re more likely than boys to go to university. They have better economic prospects than any generation of females that went before them. Empowered female role models are more visible than

How the word ‘woman’ became taboo

When I was a little girl, my mum told me that I shouldn’t use the word ‘woman’ – but rather ‘lady.’ ‘Woman’ was just too visceral to her, whereas a ‘lady’ might well be a doll. But by adolescence my shoplifted copy of The Female Eunuch and Helen Reddy bawling ‘I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman!’ had reinforced by belief that my mother was wrong. I never dreamt that the w-word would be taboo again. How could the word woman become so contentious that the stating of the dictionary definition – ‘Adult Human Female’ – could become a matter for the police? It started with Posie Parker,

Sex, trans rights and the Scottish census

It takes some doing to make a census interesting. So congratulations to the National Records of Scotland (NRS). NRS, which administers the decennial survey, is facing a judicial review over its guidance on the document. On the question of sex, it states that ‘if you are transgender the answer you give can be different from what is on your birth certificate’. That is, something other than your legal sex. Feminist group Fair Play For Women will challenge this guidance at the Court of Session on 2 February. If this sounds familiar, it’s because similar guidance for last year’s census in England and Wales was challenged at the High Court and found to

J.K. Rowling and the death of nuance

There are few good things to say about the public conversation around transgender issues, which all too often shows us — all of us — at our worst. But it also offers up a seemingly endless series of case studies illustrating wider problems with the way contemporary culture and institutions deal with difficult ideas. The latest lesson comes from Boswells School in Chelmsford, Essex. It has dropped J.K. Rowling’s name from one of its houses. Previously, she was honoured as a champion of self-discipline, regarded as a role model for children perhaps for her determination in starting her globally-successful series of books under difficult circumstances. Rowling wrote her first Harry

Most-read 2021: The Green party’s woman problem

We’re closing 2021 by republishing our ten most-read articles of the year. Here’s No. 10: Julie Bindel’s piece from March on the Green party’s muddle over trans rights: At the Green party spring conference this weekend, a motion which sought to introduce a party policy on women’s sex-based rights was defeated. A whopping 289 delegates (out of 521) voted to not include biological females in the party’s list of oppressed groups. All the motion aimed to do was simply add a paragraph to the Green party’s ‘Our Rights and Responsibilities Policy’. The motion reads: This is to include the protected characteristic of sex as currently our Record of Policy statements supports

Gender is contentious. The BBC is pretending it isn’t

The BBC has produced its annual 100 Women list, a showcase for women who have done interesting, important things. There’s a lot to like about this year’s list: half the women on it come from Afghanistan; some of them, tellingly, can’t be pictured for their own safety. Perhaps if fewer British resources had been deployed getting Pen Farthing’s dogs out of Kabul in the summer, some of those women wouldn’t live in fear for their lives. But that’s another debate. There’s something else interesting about the BBC’s 100 Women, which says something about the Corporation’s ongoing struggle for impartiality. At least two of the people on the 100 Women list

Eddie Redmayne shouldn’t regret playing a trans character

Eddie Redmayne was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in The Danish Girl, but now he is having second thoughts about the role he took on. Redmayne played the part of Lili Elbe, a Danish illustrator who is remembered as one of the first recipients of gender reassignment surgery. Highly experimental at the time, the procedure eventually led to Elbe’s death, aged only 48. Now, Redmayne has said he was wrong to play the part he did:  ‘I made that film with the best intentions, but I think it was a mistake.’  Redmayne should not worry about upsetting the trans lobby Why? Redmayne’s response was opaque:  ‘The bigger discussion about the frustrations around casting is because many

In praise of Stonewall

This morning saw a profound breakthrough in the trans debate. I say that on the basis of an interview Nancy Kelley, Stonewall’s CEO, did with the BBC’s Emma Barnett on Woman’s Hour.  What’s important is not really anything that Kelley said, though some of that was indeed interesting and I’ll come to it in a second. What matters is that the interview took place at all, since that constitutes a significant shift in the way Stonewall does its work. Stonewall’s instinct has been to largely avoid mainstream media and other political debates about its work on trans issues that is now its primary focus. Kelley has given a handful of interviews