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May 26, 2024
Pod Save the UK
What do the Trans & Non-binary community need most right now?

In This Episode

Nish and Coco are joined by Abigail Thorn (actress, writer and host of PhilosophyTube) and Freddy McConnell (writer and journalist) to examine the issues facing the trans and non-binary community in the UK today. 

 

In recent news, the current Tory government has proposed new guidelines for education in schools across England. Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said that gender identity should not be taught in schools to students of any age. Abigail and Freddy respond to these news headlines and also discuss The Cass review, a proposed new approach from the Labour Party around the Gender Recognition Act,  and which individuals need highlighting for their work on trans rights in the UK. 

 

Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.

 

Contact us via email: PSUK@reducedlistening.co.uk 

WhatsApp: 07494 933 444 (UK) or + 44 7494 933 444 (internationally)

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Guests:

 

Abigail Thorn, 

Freddy McConnell, journalist

 

Audio credits:

ITV

BBC

 

Useful links:

 

Come to see Pod Save the UK live at Edinburgh Fringe!

 

https://transsafety.network/

Transactual Briefing on the Cass Review – https://transactual.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/TransActual-Briefing-on-Cass-Review.pdf

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

[AD]

 

Nish Kumar Hello. Welcome to Pod Save the UK. This is a very special episode that we recorded on Wednesday the 22nd of May, and a great conversation about the challenges facing the transgender community at the moment in this country. It was recorded before the election announcement, and that’s why it’s been released after we had a conversation about the general election. But we’re so proud of this episode. So please, listen, enjoy.

 

Coco Khan Hi, this is Pod Save the UK.

 

Nish Kumar I’m Nish Kumar.

 

Coco Khan And I’m Coco Khan.

 

Nish Kumar This week the government says schools should stop teaching children about gender identity.

 

Coco Khan We’re joined by Freddy McConnell and Abigail Thorn.

 

Nish Kumar And we call bullshit on the claim that students are being taught about 72 genders. Last week, the government announced new draft guidance for schools in England and Wales to not teach about, like, quote, the concept of gender identity to explain what gender identity refers to. That’s the personal sense of how we define our own gender. For some of us, that corresponds to the sex assigned at birth, and for others it’s something else. So essentially, regardless of your age, whether you’re 17 or 7. The updated guidance is clear gender identity shouldn’t be taught.

 

Coco Khan The proposals came from Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, who says that schools should make it clear that gender ideology is a contested subject. That’s her phrase, is not, as the document asks, that schools do not use any materials that present those, quote, contested views as fact, and that includes the view that gender is a spectrum.

 

Nish Kumar There is an exemption for schools to continue teaching children about people who undergo gender reassignment surgery. But Keegan clarifies, that’s because gender reassignment is a protected characteristic. And I mean, the interesting thing here is around this subject, it does seem like the government is actually out of step with the country on this issue. A recent poll from YouGov suggests that 60% of Britons think that schools should teach people that people can be non-binary, or identify as agenda other than male or female.

 

Coco Khan How can it be that you can talk about people who have undergone gender reassignment surgery? As rightly you should. Yeah, but you can’t talk about any of their journey before that. And when you start thinking like that, you can’t help but think of section 28, right? Which was the conservative government policy that we grew up under. You said that, you know, the promotion of homosexuality again, quote, was was banned. It was only repealed in 2003.

 

Nish Kumar It was a policy from the Margaret Thatcher era. And the Labour MP and former guest on the show, Nadia Whitham, has criticized the government’s decision and made specific reference to this. She said The Tories claims about what children are learning are designed to fuel hysteria and build support for section 28 style policies, which is what this latest guidance seems to be harking back to. We actually have comment in from a listener, Lord Wilson, talking about the effect of section 28 on their life. And this is what law had to say. In my early to mid 30s, I was finally able to embrace my gender queerness, but I know that much pain and suffering would have been alleviated for me had I had more information available to me earlier on, and had I grown up in a culture that was more accepting. Thanks very much for sharing that, Laura. And it is heartbreaking. The idea that people were living unhappy lives for no real reason.

 

Coco Khan So one of the government’s lines that has been repeatedly rolled out after announcing the shift in the guidance is that students are being taught that there are an oddly specific number of genders, and that number, apparently is 72. Here’s the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, appearing on ITV’s Loose Women.

 

Clip You know, we’ve got lots of people talking to kids. They were talking about you can have 72 different gender identities or very young kids being exposed to things which clearly aren’t appropriate. Now, I don’t remember that being an issue when when I was younger, but clearly that is now an increasing concern.

 

Nish Kumar It’s important to note that the 72 genders is a very specific number that’s being trotted out. It’s been on the front pages of tabloids. There’s a sun headline that says children need their innocence back, not to be taught about 72 genders. There’s been op eds written about 72 genders. Andrew Pearce raised the number on Good Morning Britain. But where is the evidence that this is being taught to kids? Here is Gillian Keegan, speaking to Charlie State on BBC breakfast and trying to answer that question.

 

Clip What’s the evidence? There have been materials which I’ve seen and I’ve had. Like what? Tell me what those are. I was just about to. Charlie. I was just about to. So the evidence is think things like, you know choosing lots of different, sort of genders and, identities and saying which ones of these are gender identities, the gender, the spectrum. You know, the sort of it can be a spectrum. It’s fluid. You can have different genders on different days or different, the 72 of them, that kind of thing. Yes. There has been evidence that was taught that was taught by a teacher in a classroom. We’ve we’ve received. We’ve received evidence of with those slides to say that they’ve been taught in classrooms.

 

Nish Kumar That was absolute soup.

 

Coco Khan Yeah. No, I know.

 

Nish Kumar It was soup. She just like gender identity is gender identity is gender identity is 72 genders. I mean, the idea that that person is in charge of that thing is, frankly, deeply terrifying.

 

Coco Khan So we don’t really know where it’s come from, this evidence that she’s speaking about. And we’ve been trying to get to the bottom of it, it’s all a bit inconclusive. So the most recent possible evidence of this claim comes from a report around a school on the Isle of Man. It said that a guest speaker had been invited to the school, and when asked by a student how many genders are replied, oh, there might be as many as 72. But that initial report has turned out to be entirely false. So that is one theory.

 

Nish Kumar And there’s another alternative answer, and one that stretches all the way back to 2014, where in a diversity and inclusion effort, Facebook introduced a new system. To self-identify one’s own gender. Expanding to a total of 71 different ways of describing it. But that’s not exactly educational material that the government are claiming exists at the moment. All we can seem to see is that this number has come from a report on the Isle of Man, which is also, just to be specific, not within England and Wales, but also that report turned out to be false anyway. So it is a very, very strange thing that this figure of 72 genders just keeps on being trotted out. And when they’re asked to produce evidence, Gillian Keegan has a sort of word based nervous breakdown about it.

 

Coco Khan Yeah, and I think it’s worth mentioning that this has been going around the world. It’s featured quite heavily in your profession, Nish, the stand up comedy world.

 

Nish Kumar It has been a very strange tradition and of very, very high profile successful male comedians. I don’t know why I’m talking around the subject. Dave Chappelle of Ricky Gervais doing jokes about this community. And there’s a huge number of bad standups doing jokes about how I identify as a chair, or I identify as a monkey or whatever it is. And I really I’m struggling to understand why people in my profession are trying to drag us backwards because, you know, there was a lot of comedy, in the United Kingdom and around the world that was very regressive and trades in unpleasant stereotypes. And I thought that we were trying to push comedy in a direction that moved beyond that. And, you know, these aren’t marginalized voices. These aren’t fringe figures. These are arguably the two most successful and powerful stand ups in the world who are using the global platform given to them by their Netflix specials to target an attack, a vulnerable and marginalized community. And I can’t understand the logic of why they’re doing it. It’s been a very, very frustrating couple of years to be a comedian. I found it quite heartbreaking as someone who always viewed comedy as a way of marginalized people kicking back at their oppressors, which is not to say that there isn’t also brilliant comedy coming from that community. And, you know, Hannah Gadsby, in my mind, are just two examples of people that have talked about these issues in a much more sensitive and interesting way. But yeah, it has been kind of gutting, you know, especially as somebody who grew up as like a huge fan of Chappelle and Device to see the direction that they’ve gone in sucks.

 

Coco Khan Really like Morrissey in it.

 

Nish Kumar Oh my God, Morrissey, we don’t have time to get.

 

Coco Khan Morrissey basically don’t like things. I don’t like things because I will always let you down.

 

Nish Kumar [AD]

 

Coco Khan It’s a sad fact of the media that quite often communities that are spoken about are very rarely heard from themselves. That’s something we aim to fix on this podcast, whether we’re talking to people who have experienced the Covid inquiry or we’re talking to care leavers. To this end, we’re trying to make the world a little bit better by passing the mic to the trans community. With us today is Abigail Thorn, actor, writer and host of YouTube channel Philosophy Tube, and Freddy McConnell, a writer and journalist.

 

Nish Kumar Before we have a conversation about what we’re here to talk about, I would have just acknowledge that this is a big moment for our show because, Abigail, you are the first person who has been in Star Wars who has appeared on Pod Save the UK.

 

Abigail Thorn Oh.

 

Nish Kumar This is a huge moment for me personally. The context of the show. So you’re going to be on The Acolyte, which is coming out.

 

Abigail Thorn June 4th.

 

Nish Kumar June 4th.

 

Abigail Thorn Which is not long.

 

Nish Kumar Yeah it’s not long.

 

Abigail Thorn Yeah.

 

Nish Kumar Did you get a lightsaber?

 

Abigail Thorn I can’t tell you that. I can’t can’t. I can’t tell you anything about my character.

 

Coco Khan Really?

 

Nish Kumar You can’t say anything about it?

 

Abigail Thorn No. I’m sorry.

 

Nish Kumar Was it fun?

 

Abigail Thorn It was very, very fun. I had a great time. It was really, really good. And I was obviously.

 

Abigail Thorn Very excited.

 

Nish Kumar So you’re not NDA’d. There isn’t an NDA saying you cannot say if this was a good experience or not.

 

Abigail Thorn Yeah. I’m allowed to tell you that I had a great time and it was lovely. Leslye Headland, who made the show, was super sweet to me. And just yet, everyone who worked on it was really nice, and I had a great time.

 

Coco Khan Were you a Star Wars fan before?

 

Abigail Thorn I was, yeah, I’ve actually been, watching it since I was very, very little. So it was it was very, very exciting.

 

Nish Kumar Freddy, are you a Star Wars fan?

 

Freddy McConnell Totally. I was obsessed as a kid, and I had all the big toys, and then I sold them all at one point. So that’s got that kind of really bittersweet experience of doing that. And I wish I had kept them, like the big At-At walker. Yeah. I really, yeah, I’ve tried. My kids aren’t really quite there yet. We’ve tried The Mandalorian, but I was definitely just for for my benefit.

 

Nish Kumar  I know lots of people who’ve been watching The Mandalorian for their kids. Yeah, the kids have absolutely no interest in it whatsoever. I believe you’re the first person. If I did Star Wars. It is going to be funny. If it turns out George Monbiot was in Obi-Wan. As far as we know.  He has a keen eye.

 

Freddy McConnell He definitely. You could imagine him appearing on the hillside. Yeah.

 

Coco Khan So, turning to the subject of today’s conversation, I want to start with access to health care for the trans community. And let’s start by clarifying a term used by the NHS, which is gender dysphoria. That’s used to describe and this is the language, the sense of unease between one’s biological sex and gender identity. I know, Abigail, you’ve spoken before about that term being used to segregate care. I wondered if you could just expand on that.

 

Abigail Thorn Just so much in that NHS. Oh my God. Okay.

 

Freddy McConnell It’s hard to know where to start.

 

Abigail Thorn I’m going to get in, like, just even the way that they have reified the concept of biological sex as if like, that’s a, that’s an objective fact. That’s like discovered and not something which is assigned. Like a lot of people are still like, oh, well, you can’t change sex. We can change it. And it’s like, no, I see clearly you can, I have. But yeah, there’s just so much going on there. I’ve got to get in so much trouble for this. In my opinion gender dysphoria is a term that was invented by cis people to pathologize certain desires, pains and expressions of bodily autonomy that patriarchy finds inconvenient. This was put across in the medical literature at the time when it was coined a few years ago, when it was coined by the American Psychiatric Association out of some very limited and flawed data, the feelings that it describes, the pains and the desires and the wishes that it describes are real. However, in my opinion, I believe that putting a clinical label on it as the NHS does, but only when trans people have it, is basically a way of saying this is the thing that trans people have, and this is the thing that justifies us taking control of their bodies away from them. That’s why I think it’s, it’s a pathologizing term.

 

Freddy McConnell Yeah, it’s definitely a way of saying that we’ve the pathologized or, you know, the saying that, you know, being trans isn’t an illness, but this is it’s a stand in for that basically said, you know, not really doing what we said we’ve done. And I agree about the whole like, I understand why trans people in particular talk about sex and gender as two separate things in order to try and help cis people understand their experiences. But I actually think it’s incredibly unhelpful and inaccurate. It’s separate for trans people, apparently as a useful way of describing our experiences. But like everyone else, gets to completely kind of merge and blend and not ever separate the two.

 

Abigail Thorn You say like useful. And I think the question is in quotes useful to who? And then the answer has been it’s been very useful to the medical establishment who do not allow us to control our own bodies. But, whether it’s useful for allowing anyone cis or trans to understand themselves, I don’t think it is.

 

Nish Kumar Waiting times are a big part of access here. So you’ve both spoken, a. Out the length of time people wait for first appointment at a gender identity clinic. The NHS aims to see all non-urgent referrals from a GP within 18 weeks. But the BBC has reported that in England between 2018 and 2023, that waiting time at least doubled. Patients seen for the first time in November 2023 was said to wait an average of seven years and three months, and estimates from March of this year suggest that it would take ten years to clear the backlog.

 

Coco Khan Those numbers are really shocking.

 

Abigail Thorn That’s an underreport, I was told 26.

 

Coco Khan Really?

 

Freddy McConnell If you sort of look at it, keep on going up exponentially every time yet, and it sort of ends up in that kind of realm. I mean, it just means that you cannot get on with your life. I, you know, in very broad terms, I suppose that sometimes literal. Me. Yeah, sometimes literally, in terms of not being able to leave the house and, you know, not being able to just do daily tasks. And, I mean, I didn’t get my first job until I was on my way with my transition. And I don’t think I could have had I not been, you know, and that was the start of my career. Obviously, I’m just one person. That’s anecdotal, but it’s huge. But I think it also needs to be seen in the context of like, think politics and the conversation in this country. It’s not like you’re waiting and everyone saying, oh God, it must be so hard. And oh, we’re doing everything we can. You know, you’re waiting and you know that it’s for political reasons. And that is not only sad and very depressing, but incredibly angering. And, you know, yeah, I think that’s the most important thing to focus on.

 

Abigail Thorn The impact is Alice Lipman. The impact is Sophie Williams, Jason Putnam, Charlie Miller Zamani, Louis Daniel. The impact is a growing pile of coroners reports saying that the NHS has failed to provide gender affirming care in a timely manner, and this has contributed to the deaths of patients. And all the while, the NHS managers, who’ve been told since at least 2013, in multiple reports and consultations and reviews that they need to desegregate the system and implement an informed consent system which would save money and lives and eliminate the waiting list. All the while, the managers have deliberately chosen not to do that are not only still working free, but still being paid.

 

Coco Khan You mentioned the word desegregate there. What would that look like?

 

Abigail Thorn It would look like us getting the same healthcare that says people get the same way, that says people get it. So right now, if a cisgender woman goes through menopause and experiences anxiety and depression and goes to her doctor and says, hey, I want hormone replacement therapy, I want some estrogen, she can get it from her GP. If a trans woman experiences the same state of mind and goes to the same doctor and request the same medication, she has to go to a segregated gender identity clinic with a 10 or 26 year wait to be diagnosed with this thing, gender dysphoria, and jump through all the hoops before she can get the exact same medicine from that GP. That’s what we mean by segregation. Well, that’s what we should be eliminating.

 

Freddy McConnell On top of that, the Royal College GPS has just been advised advising GP’s to stop doing that kind of joined up care with gender identity clinics, basically saying GP’s, you don’t have to do this. You’d have to do blood tests, you’d have to prescribe hormones, you’d have to do any of that. This is not in the role of the GP. Obviously, someone has gone into that, the role of GP’s and you know, something’s happened there. Institutional capture I know is a term that’s bandied around too often at the moment, but it’s getting worse in ways I don’t think we’re even sort of reaching the media day by day.

 

Abigail Thorn I can speak to that, actually. Over just over a month ago, the Royal College of GPS hosted a conference of conversion therapists. They were warned that that was what it was, and they did it anyway, when I was investigating, why the NHS is the way it is. When they initially refused to treat me, I actually spoke to a senior member of the Royal College of GPS. They issued a statement in 2019, no updated, in which they said, as you described Friday, that it’s not within the role of the GP to assist trans patients, basically, despite the fact that, past guidance, the international best practices for treating trans patients say that we should be treated in primary care. The Royal College still maintains that. Absolutely not. They just ignore that guidance and then fact they don’t even mention it. When I spoke to a senior member of the college, he told me there was a small conservative attitude towards trans people in the college and that decisions are made on the basis of politics rather than medical evidence. His words.

 

Freddy McConnell There we go.

 

Nish Kumar And that and that’s obviously that’s being exacerbated on a week to week basis as the Conservative Party ratchets up the language here. Right. This is there is a clear line that can be drawn between, you know, Rishi Sunak’s kind of almost like weekly outburst on the subject and the treatment of people in their day to day lives. Right. Politics is not remote in this instance.

 

Freddy McConnell I don’t know at all. I mean, when Steve Barclay was health secretary, what happened? And you could see it happening a lot, you know, they went after the rainbow badge scheme in the NHS. It’s not just trans people actually within the NHS you speak to people work NHS England. You know, I’ve got friends who have have been in within that organization who have just left. It’s too much. They can’t carry on. Their work is frustrated at every turn. Yeah. It’s definitely a sort of, chilling effect on LGBTQ people in general. And our health care for sure.

 

Abigail Thorn Yeah. I think it’s partly a political thing. Partly these problems pre-date the conservative government for quite, quite a long way. And I’ve actually been present in the NHS for a long time. I mean, it’s not really that long ago that the NHS was openly practicing conversion therapy instead of as. I believe they’re doing now correctly practicing it in many cases. I think what it comes down to is that there are some people within the NHS who want to hurt us, and there are some who want to help us. What most of them actually share, though, is a belief, deep down, perhaps even so deep, they don’t realize it. But they they really do believe that they have the moral authority to decide for a trans person when, how and whether we may transition. I think a lot of them really do believe that, no, it’s morally okay for them to decide that for us. And that, I think, is the key cognitive shift that we need to be making within the NHS is to say to these senior managers, look, you should not have this authority. You should never have had this authority. The fact that you have wielded it and defended it for so long has led to deaths.

 

Coco Khan It’s really good to hear you say that. You know, this predates the conservative government. It felt like when the Scottish Government were looking at the GRA, the Gender Recognition Act and changes to that, that suddenly went into the media. And I think it was really good that you just said, no, no. Be clear here. It was crap then as well.

 

Abigail Thorn We’ve we’ve never had an NHS that allows trans people to control our own lives.

 

Freddy McConnell And what happened, you know, let, let you say, sort of 6 or 7 years ago, everything just exploded into the media. That was because of attempts to try to update the system. But when Theresa may sort of waded in quite ignorantly, not really aware of what she was getting herself into, and said, how are we going to do this going to be fine. It’s going to be no, no big deal. That’s when people kind of latched onto that and it became this, you know, incredible attack and backlash. You know, that’s what happens when you try and sort of update the system. I suppose it’s that’s really scary. And but it’s also been a perfect storm of that. Plus this kind of, you know, increasingly right wing conservative government. I think we need to be more specific about who we’re talking about. There are people in the government who don’t really care about us. And I would probably put Cenac in that camp. You know, if you look at the princess’s surveys over many years, the majority of Brits just either sort of are in favor of trans equality or like, just could not care less. Whereas people like Kenny Badenoch, are ideologically, fervently opposed to our existence and recognition in public life. And I’d say there’s evidence that this is like a lot of this is her personal campaign behind the scenes, because it comes up, just keeps popping up in different places. And I’m sure there are other ministers or people in government, involved. But the story the other day where she was saying that them cis girls in schools were getting UTIs because they’re afraid to go to the toilet. Didn’t provide any evidence for that’s just said it and it got reported like, you know, she can just say that and then, you know, inclusive stuff, all this stuff about trans people being kind of whatever, threatening. I shared that story on my Instagram, and within an hour, I had messages from two parents saying that their trans sons actually did have UTIs because they weren’t using the toilet at school. That’s the reality that I get in my inbox, and people are kind of just living with. And meanwhile she gets to go and sort of say this and get headlines and, and not have to provide any evidence that that is actually happening.

 

Nish Kumar It where we just listened to Gillian Keegan be asked about this claim about children being taught about 72 genders and being asked by the host on BBC breakfast what the evidence of that was, and there was just none. She sort of talked. She sort of repeated the words gender identity was bizarre, sort of like a performance art piece about somebody, like trying to fill the air when they don’t have anything actually to say. We also talked earlier about the government’s draft guidance for schools to avoid the discussion of gender identity. Is that the sort of logical result of this kind of the ideologues like Kemi Badenoch within the Conservative Party?

 

Freddy McConnell Yeah, they have incredibly, effectively euphemisms, all of this so that they can talk about it in ways that we recognize as very, very worrying and alarming and bigoted. But to sort of your average listener sound much more reasonable. So we’ll never talk about trans people. I don’t they don’t say the word trans, they don’t talk about adults. They just talk about children. It’s like classic fear mongering, moral panic stuff. And they also talk about gender identity, but they mean trans people. And obviously this yeah, the recent announcement has been correctly identified by many of us as section 28 all over again, where you couldn’t talk about gay people in schools and that, I mean, I don’t think people realize, that that is what is being talked about, and it is a failure of our media that they aren’t recognizing that and being more challenging on it.

 

Abigail Thorn Once you accept the premise that you can deny a certain group of people their bodily autonomy of a transition, why not abortion? Why not contraception?

 

Coco Khan Exactly.

 

Abigail Thorn Why not IVF?

 

Coco Khan Yeah.

 

Freddy McConnell This is just this incredibly personal for the thing that the guidance for schools. My, eldest child is about to go, he’s in year one, so he’s got the kind of first year of where they actually talk about sort of not sex, but bodies, you know, an incredibly age appropriate, sensitive way. And I was going to go into the school to chat about how they’re going to make sure that families like his are included because I gave birth to him. I’m trans. I’m you know, he’s only got one parent because I, we used donor sperm and it was sort of stuff. And then like the next day that news landed of like, we’re not going to teach kids about gender identity. Current guidance from the Department of Health. Says that children should not be made to feel stigmatized by their home situation, so it’s actually really inclusive at the moment. And broad, you know, for teachers to interpret as they see fit. But yeah, now I have to sort of have in the back of my mind like, oh, but, you know, we all know that the government is trying to stop schools from being able to sort of acknowledge for my six year old that his family exists and that his dad is trans, and that trans people and all of our friends, it’s like, wow, it’s really extreme. And I just yeah, it’s not often that it actually really hits home like that, I guess, because we’re, you know, privileged in various ways and we’re far along in our transition or whatever it is. But like, yeah, that’s where we are now.

 

Nish Kumar But it’s also maddening because there’s always been this constant rolling moral panic about censorious behavior in schools and students not being taught about certain bits of history because they’re going to be triggered, all of it. And I know there’s a certain futility in pointing out the hypocrisy of these people because they don’t care about being hypocritical, but it is frustrating to listen to weeks and weeks of this generation can’t take any information that we should be teaching them about everything. Oh, not this thing.

 

Abigail Thorn One thing that wasn’t around so much during section 28 is the internet.

 

Nish Kumar Yeah.

 

Abigail Thorn It’s like kids have a smartphone now. They can they can see trans people. They can read the things that we write and the see the things that we make. Like if they like Star Wars, they’re gonna see me in it. It’s like, come on. Like if you unless you got a ban that like, what are you going to do?

 

Nish Kumar Yeah, it does seem like it’s going to be quite difficult for people to like, blur you out of the.

 

Abigail Thorn You know, it would be very funny to see Kemi Badenoch and probably quite in-keeping to see Kemi Badenoch come on the television and say we must crush The Rebel Alliance. That’d be like, yeah, guy. Yeah. I’m not surprised actually. Yeah.

 

[AD]

 

Nish Kumar Labour has made their own announcements this week on the process for gender recognition. So currently, for someone to have their gender affirmed legally, a panel of doctors and lawyers is convened to approve that gender recognition certificate. The times has reported that Labour seeking simplification of the process, possibly just requiring the approval of a GP for someone’s gender to be legally reassigned. So the shadow women and equalities minister, Anneliese Dodds, said we want to see the process for gender recognition modernized while protecting single sex spaces for biological women. This means stripping out the futile and dehumanizing parts of the process for obtaining a gender recognition certificate, while retaining important safeguards. Is this the kind of action that you’re looking to a government to to do? Or is it more frustrating to hear a statement like that that is filled with sort of caveats?

 

Abigail Thorn If it’s this person doesn’t need permission to get married in the right gender, I don’t see why I should either. I certainly don’t see why I should have to accept that kind of state statement from somebody who continues to use transphobic phrases like the biological women instead of cis women. Yeah, because of course we are biological. I don’t know about you, Freddy but I’m not a robot.

 

Freddy McConnell Yeah. Absolutely.

 

Abigail Thorn I’m not a robot or an alien, though I do play an alien on TV, right?

 

Nish Kumar Hold on. Is that NDA’d?

 

Abigail Thorn No. They’re all aliens. That’s a galaxy far, far away. Like I’m allowed to say. Like.

 

Freddy McConnell Yeah. No, I definitely would rather they just shut the fuck up rather than come out with, like, half baked ilk and see, like, why are they feeling the need to say that now? It’s clearly just going to feed into and they’ll probably backtrack in terms of policy and sort of reform of the law. That’s not what trans people need. Like self ID again, obviously has been completely weaponized. Yeah, it is by itself. ID is just self-determination, which is a fundamental right. And that is what we need. We don’t need the state to be able to decide who we are. We can do that. You know, 20 plus countries now have these laws, and there’s no evidence that it has any harmful impact on anyone. Germany is going to be the latest that laws coming into effect in August this year. So no, I mean, that might sound to again, sort of untrained ear like relatively positive, but it’s noise. I’d say it’s hurtful, harmful.

 

Abigail Thorn It’s like politics of affect rather than a fact. When she uses words like protecting and like safeguarding and so on. Yeah, that’s she’s trying to get across. Is that it, or a safe pair of hands? But the thing that she’s supposedly protecting us against is entirely fantastic. As you say, there are like 20 countries that have self-id now. There’s no evidence that it causes any kind of threat to these people. Anyone who legitimizes that claim or like, publishes it in a newspaper is, as far as I’m concerned, spreading misinformation.

 

Coco Khan And that’s how I understood it. And please do correct me if I have this wrong. But like really, when talking about society, we’re just talking about admin. We’re talking about paperwork.

 

Freddy McConnell Oh yeah, like, yeah. There are so few things that are GRC, a gender recognition certificate actually impacts. Yes.

 

Coco Khan Right. Exactly. Yeah.

 

Abigail Thorn Like when was the last time you had to show your birth certificate to enter a toilet? No not.

 

Coco Khan Never. Exactly.

 

Freddy McConnell Yeah. It’s. What is it? It’s marriage.

 

Abigail Thorn Death and pensions.

 

Freddy McConnell Pensions and. Well, possibly parenthood in a very complicated.

 

Abigail Thorn Oh, yeah. Yeah. Of course, of course.

 

Freddy McConnell That’s one of the other things that they all kind of because the current government is trying to unpick. Yeah. So you know, you can change your passport, your driving license, any banks whatever it. So I mean, even the name system in this country is really interesting. You can change your name by just saying you’ve changed your name. You don’t even need a deed poll. Right. So I guess that’s fine. That’s, you know, like there are ways in which that could presumably be abused, but we don’t get rid of it. We don’t say we need to protect so-and-so group, you know? Yeah, it’s, I don’t get it because, the Conservative Party especially is meant to be in favor of, like, personal freedom and with less interference from the state. And literally, this is what they are saying.

 

Abigail Thorn Speaking of interference, it’s the same Kemi Badenoch who was caught writing secret letters to the Financial Conduct Authority asking them not to implement new trans inclusive rules, which you’re not supposed to do because that’s how it’s meant to be independent of her office.

 

Nish Kumar Sometimes I don’t know who’s more dangerous. In some ways, the kind of hardline ideologues or someone like Sunak still willing to weaponise. And like, mobilize against that community because he’s trying to he’s trying to save his own political skin. And I don’t I don’t know whether. Right. Yeah. He yeah. I don’t know who I find so more dangerous. I mean, the, the ideologues need the spineless to facilitate them. I think sometimes.

 

Freddy McConnell For sure, I just think, being aware of what is going on behind the scenes, the kind of rabid efforts to desperately pick our rights before they leave power. Yeah. At the moment, I would say, obviously they are being facilitated by people who are more in the spotlight. But these people, what they’re doing is absolutely terrifying. So I think that they are far more dangerous. And I want to, you know, we wanted to sort of bring them to the fore and say, look, these people, what are they doing? Where is the checks and bags or where is the often it’s just like the paper trail, like guidance gets updated in things like the law that, controls sort of fertility treatment gets updated in a way to exclude trans people or the birth death registration access, birth certificate, stuff that gets updated to make out of it, like just happens. Nothing. There’s no announcement. There’s no, accountability. This is happening day by day at the moment. And it is. Yeah. I think people aren’t even now aren’t aware of the extent of it.

 

Coco Khan Well, I do want to talk to you guys about the the Cass Review. It was an NHS England commissioned independent review of gender identity services for children and young people. It was commissioned in 2020 and it was released in April. So last month, some of the findings of the case review that there is no clear evidence that social transition in childhood has positive or negative mental health outcomes. It recommends a policy review into masculinized or feminizing hormones, with extreme caution for anyone from age 16 to 18, and states that clinicians can’t determine with any certainty which children and young people will go on to have an enduring trans identity. The review has not called for adolescents to have their right to their identity or autonomy removed, but Stonewall and the charity mermaids are concerned that misrepresentations or misunderstandings around the findings from the report may be used to suppress young people’s identities. Does that sound right to you?

 

Abigail Thorn No, because you used the word independent. And I think the very first thing we need to talk about when we mentioned the Cass review, is that it deliberately excluded trans people from all of its governing boards. Several members of its advisory board have since been found to be known pro conversion therapy activists, some of whom directly lobbied Kemi Badenoch against the ban, which immediately questions its independence. and some of the people on NHS England’s working Group on Gender dysphoria have now been revealed to be members of pro conversion therapy organizations, too. So the first and immediate word I would tell us there was a word independent.

 

Freddy McConnell Yeah. I mean, it’s like it sounds right in the sense that though that is what it says, but it’s not genuine. It’s, you know. Yeah, I think I was reading the trans actual briefing on it, and it sort of just pointed out that saying something is independent does not make it independent.

 

Abigail Thorn It’s quite similar to a lot of reports that we’ve seen come out under this government, like, the Wooly Report and the Sewell Report as well, and that it exists to be cited rather than actually read. They’ve already decided what they’re going to do, which is further restrict trans healthcare, and ignore all the deaths that they’ve caused and never apologize or pay for it. And this is the document that they’ve created to point to and say, hey, we’re doing what this says. And it was like independent and evidence led, despite the fact that it’s actually neither of those things.

 

Nish Kumar We should say that the review states that gender questioning and trans people were included. And the. In the facts of the review, it states that it met with over a thousand individuals and stakeholders, but prioritized two areas. So the first is people with relevant lived experience and organizations working with LGBTQ plus children and young people generally. And the second was it was clinicians and other relevant professionals. I do find the presence of like convert, like even the fact that we’re talking about conversion therapy at all, if that feels very sinister and not just sinister, but like it feels really retrograde, like it feels so strange that we’re even we’re even having to engage with the idea of I thought conversion therapy was something that if for any community, we’d left behind, you know, in the 20th century, like, it feels.

 

Abigail Thorn Oh it’s back, baby.

 

Freddy McConnell But they wouldn’t back. Yeah. It’s again, it’s just euphemism in order to hide it just so they wouldn’t call it conversion. They wouldn’t accept that characterization of it. They would say it’s talking for retreat therapy. It’s exploratory. Obviously, the problem is with all of this stuff, is it? It starts from a position of being a trans adult, being sort of a not a desirable outcome. Yeah. So it’s never it’s never neutral. They you know I’ve had therapy I had therapy was part of my appointments at the gender identity clinic. That isn’t isn’t something that doesn’t exist already. But yeah, what is being advocated for in the Cass report and a lot of other places more recently is this, yeah, this is it is conversion therapy dressed up in other kinds of language.

 

Abigail Thorn It comes down to that fundamental belief that when, how and whether somebody transition should not be up to them. I’m glad you mentioned conversion therapy, though, because there’s an ongoing effort by conversion therapists to get ahead of a ban by rebranding as exploratory therapy, right? Gender exploratory therapy, which is just conversion therapy. That’s not just my opinion. That’s also the opinion of some medical professional. Also already condemned the cast and I think very reason.

 

Freddy McConnell The specific place that trans people were not included is the review board. So that group of people that decided what was going to happen, you know, input into their final report, they she certainly did talk to lots of trans people, and I think probably mostly young people.

 

Abigail Thorn Some of whom have since come forward and condemned the report for misrepresenting their words.

 

Freddy McConnell Yeah, but it was it was the exclusion, which I think was a decision by NHS England gets them, that barred trans people from being part of the review board, but allowed people who have like stated, gender critical aka anti-trans bias views to be part of it. And I sort of still a question what Hillary Cass’s sort of personal views because, you know, she’s come out since the report was published, seemingly quite upset genuinely about what was she would call was mischaracterization. And she latched onto this idea that people are saying that 98% of studies were excluded and that absolutely was not the case. And like, okay, technically that is one criticism that has been made that is not technically true. She did find that like 98% didn’t meet the criteria for being the kind of study that is the best kind of study, but they still considered some of them. But all this other stuff about the criticism and about the lack of awareness, lack of acknowledgment of the context in which this report is existing in this country, I just find absolutely baffling. Like, is she the most naive person on planet Earth? She says that she understands the criticism because she thinks that, you know, trans people and all allies are worried about this being weaponized. About it being weaponized. It is being weaponized. It’s the purpose of. Are you talking about. Yeah, I.

 

Abigail Thorn She’s given multiple contradictory interviews since it came out. Some things we have more gender affirming care and some statements in which she appears to support conversion therapy. I think we need to understand those comments. I think we need to understand the contents of the review and also the things that the review excludes, like the fact that NHS England has been condemned multiple times over the last several years by international medical authorities for the way it treats or fails to treat trans people. I think we need to understand all of that in the context of what the Cass review is. It exists to a justify the direction of travel that the NHS has been going in for the last ten years, and secondly, to justify what they are attempting to do in future, which is further restrict trans healthcare.

 

Freddy McConnell I read a piece in the New York Times, which was a conversation with Doctor Cass. She says young people growing up now have a much more flexible view about gender. They’re not locked into gender stereotypes in the way my generation was. And she says, that’s great, and they can break it down. It only becomes a challenge if we’re medicalized it, giving an irreversible treatment for what might be just a normal range of gender expression. It’s like, I’m sorry, that’s a really weird analogy to say that young people now a free from gender stereotypes, and then to imply that that makes them more likely to be trans and to want to to conform to gender stereotypes because like what she’s saying is that if a young girl is masculine or butch, like she’s going to be more like she is going to think that she has to be a man that’s not being free from gender stereotypes. That’s the opposite. Like that’s the old view of what trans people were and trans people thought they had to be. If you were a butch woman, you would.

 

Abigail Thorn Wanted to be.

 

Freddy McConnell Absolutely.

 

Abigail Thorn Permission to transition.

 

Freddy McConnell Exactly. You couldn’t you couldn’t be a gay trans man like I am. For example. You had to sort of conform to all the gender stereotypes. So if young people understand that they’re not beholden to those anymore, wouldn’t they be less likely to decide that they’re trans, incorrectly, like they might be trans? And then we need to listen to them and then act it? I just think her her logic is just completely flawed, like internal which. Yeah, that to me, aside from all the other kind of stuff, I just thought this person is, yeah. Doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

 

Abigail Thorn Fact rather than facts. It’s about going, oh, I’m a responsible person. I, like, done the right thing. It’s definitely not her fault that all those patients died. Like, please don’t have an inquiry. Like the infected blood scandal. Like, please don’t ever do that. Like we’ve all done the responsible, like, scientific thing here. Please don’t listen to all the trans people who say that. Like we’ve been ignoring them and, like, twisting their words and stuff. Just please don’t look at that. Please continue thinking of us as, like, responsible, evidence led people.

 

Nish Kumar Do you take heart from polling data that suggests, specifically on that issue, that actually 60% of the people polled from the British public did think it was a good idea to teach children about gender identity. I know we’re in a we were in a terrible moment in terms of our cultural conversation on this issue. But do you take any heart from polling data that suggests that actually, outside of the media conversation and the political conversation, that wider society’s attitudes are changing and shifting?

 

Freddy McConnell They’ve always been quite positive. I think they’ve always been around there, and it might have been affected in recent years by the level of vitriol that we see aimed at trans people. But yeah, I still think despite all this, I think this is a an aberration. And I was it’s become a bit meaningless and a cliche now. But these people are on the wrong side of history, and it’s only a matter of time before that is born out. But it doesn’t make anything better right now and doesn’t. Excuse. Anything is happening, and I can’t see a path where we get to a system that’s like informed consent and self-determination. But I do believe that we will get there eventually because of everything that’s happening. Well, I just wish we would stop having conversations about trans people at all.

 

Abigail Thorn I think we’re a few years of having this, but I hope I’ll see it in my lifetime. I’d like to have conversations about who’s going to resign over this. I’d like to have conversations about apologies and public memorials and damages. I would like to see, public inquiries led by majority trans people investigating this. And I would like to see conversations about trans justice, actually. I would like to see the people responsible for the deaths in our community. Forced to stand up and admit that they were wrong. And that won’t ever bring back the people who died, or the tens of thousands of people who’ve been denied health care for no good reason. But I would like to see justice done. I think it’s about more than just saying. Oh, you know, 20. 20, 30, we got, like, an informed consent system. Not great. It’s like, great. That’s wonderful. And by the way, we need to be asking these people these questions. So I look forward to that.

 

Nish Kumar Between the infected blood scandal, the post office scandal, there is, sometimes I do sympathize with people that lose their faith in politics. And the because there is there’s been a corrosion of trust in institutions. And for people like me who still believe in the power of democratic institutions to affect change in a positive way. I really feel like part of rebuilding that trust is accountability.

 

Freddy McConnell To be honest. Like even sitting here talking about this sort of feels like, a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny step in the right direction because, you know, I’m I’m just like, well, that never occurred to me before that we could maybe one day call for that and demand that. And if we can be part of, like, shifting the framing of all this in people’s minds, like people who listen to this or obviously need to have a much more widely, you know, yeah, you hear on the radio people sort of saying, oh, do you ever think this could happen again in the NHS talking about the infected blood scandal? And you’re like, well, it’s happening right now, like it’s happening right now to trans people. So yeah, I absolutely do, you know. But but that’s you know, you can’t imagine a world where that is framed in that way by e.g. the BBC, but having an opportunity to do it here. You know. Yeah. I feel like hopefully this is a positive thing to have done. I mean, there are so many things that we as trans people in the trans community more broadly, have to teach wider society about gender and about equality. I, I’m really frustrated often by the fact that we don’t get a platform to do that. And we, you know, we’re treated as this other thing that is just completely sectioned off. And it’s all about our problems and it’s all about. And we have to come out and a lot of deep do a lot of debunking. Like most you know, that is mostly what we’ve done here. No offense. Yeah, but that’s just the way it’s like, you know, we have to come out and we have to correct. And we can’t ever add anything new to the conversation. And actually, there are so many things that we have to say and understand about gender, given our personal experiences and our expertise as like academics and lawyers and whatever, that could, like, massively help society more broadly. And all it is at the moment is that we’re being sort of, completely demonized. And that’s really sad for humanity. Like. Not sound too grand, but yeah, let’s.

 

Coco Khan Let’s talk about something more positive then. As you know, we have a section on this show, Heroes and Villains. Have you had a think about any heroes you’d like to highlight?

 

Abigail Thorn I would like to highlight not by name, obviously, but, all. The people who creatively misdirect hormones in order to allow trans people to have control over our own bodies. All those anonymous people who enable us to do our own thing and go our own way. Those people are my fucking heroes.

 

Freddy McConnell I would like to highlight, there’s I think their perception is that there aren’t sort of trans specific organizations out there. And, obviously there are for trans young people, but there are also two smaller organizations that I don’t think get enough attention. One is the Trans Safety Network, which is a research collective of experts that are just constantly, working away without any fanfare or attention and churning out these incredibly well researched, thorough documents. So, Trans Safety Network, you should check out if you’ve anything ever comes up in the news and you’re like, man, it sounds a bit maybe not true. You know, Google what the Trans Safe Network has said about it, and also trans actual, which are doing great work, behind the scenes. And their briefing on the Cass review, I think is the single most important document out there at the moment. If anyone wants to understand the criticisms and why the criticisms are important, and not just to kind of throwing the toys out of the pram by the trans community, in case that’s what people might think. That that document is, is essential.

 

Nish Kumar We will provide links to all of those in the show notes. He says confidently, despite not knowing how that happens.

 

Abigail Thorn Someone will.

 

Coco Khan Someone will do that.

 

Nish Kumar Someone who understands how to do this. Will have put links to all of those organizations, in the show notes. Awesome. Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate you coming on the show. It’s a subject that we agonize about whether we should talk about, because I sort of feel queasy about the fact that we’ve had this conversation to begin with, because I feel uncomfortable about the idea of bringing people onto the show and forcing you, essentially to defend your identity and who you are. And in the end. I think one of the things that pushed us over the top is this idea that this suppressing these conversations in school and suppressing those conversations no good for not good for anybody. So but really, I would have liked to talk to you about Star Wars for now.

 

Abigail Thorn If Star Wars fans were upset about me being in that? Wait till you hear the next thing.

 

Coco Khan Did you get to wear a suit?

 

Abigail Thorn A suit?

 

Coco Khan You know, the like the famous Star Wars suits?

 

Abigail Thorn I can’t tell you what. Well, actually, I’m in the trailer so you can see what I wore.

 

Coco Khan Okay.

 

Abigail Thorn I mean, I’m in the new trailer. You can see what I’m talking about.

 

Nish Kumar You talking about Star Trek?

 

Coco Khan I don’t know what I’m talking about. I think that’s the honest to God truth.

 

Freddy McConnell Right.

 

Abigail Thorn You mean the red suits with the buttons. .

 

Nish Kumar You mean? You’re talking about Star Trek? Have you just sat here thinking we’ve been talking about Star Trek?

 

Abigail Thorn Star Wars is the one with the force.

 

Coco Khan And the Yoda.

 

Abigail Thorn Yes.

 

Nish Kumar And the Yoda.

 

Abigail Thorn Yeah, yeah.

 

Coco Khan That’s what he’s called isn’t it? The Yoda. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

Abigail Thorn Right.

 

Coco Khan Anyway, cool.

 

Nish Kumar Unbelievably. That’s the end of the show. What a way to wrap up. Abigail and Freddy, Thank you so much for joining us.

 

Abigail Thorn Our pleasure

 

Freddy McConnell Thank you.

 

Nish Kumar Now, if you have any heroes that you want to shout out or any other comments you want to share or topics you want us to look into, you can send us an email. The address is PSUK@ReducedListening.co.uk. We also really love to hear your voices. So if you’re feeling brave and want to ask us a question, send us a voice note on WhatsApp. Our number is 07494 933444. Internationally, that’s +44 7494 933444.

 

Coco Khan Don’t forget to follow at Pod Save the UK on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter. You can also find us on YouTube for access to full episodes and other exclusive content. You can also drop us a review if you like.

 

Nish Kumar Pod Save The UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.

 

Coco Khan Thanks to senior producer James Tindale and digital producer Alex Bishop.

 

Nish Kumar Video editing was by Dan Hodgson and the music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.

 

Coco Khan Thanks to our engineer Alex Bennett.

 

Nish Kumar The executive producers are Anoushka Sharma, Dan Jackson and Madeleine Herringer. With additional support from Ari Shwartz.

 

Coco Khan Remember to hit subscribe for new shows on Thursdays on Amazon, Spotify or Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts.

 

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