Open letter to Nuffield Council on Bioethics

Last month I recieved an email from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, inviting me to respond to their new open call for evidence on “the care and treatment of children and adolescents in relation to their gender identity“.

Below is my intial response to the call. I am sharing it publicly for transparency, and to address the unequal power dynamic in which trans people and our families have been asked to produce evidence (without remuneration) for a project which may have an enormous impact on our lives, which we have no control over.

I argue that the design of the project is fundamentally unethical due to this power imbalance, and in the way it positions trans knowledge as equivalent to the views of those who have called for our “elimination”. I therefore call on the Nuffield Council on Bioethics to reconsider their approach to this highly sensitive project.

Dear Professor Archard,

I am writing to you in your role as Chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics working group on The care and treatment of children and adolescents in relation to their gender identity in the UK.

In this open letter, I explain my objections to the unethical design and implementation of this project, and request that you reconsider your approach. This letter is written in a personal capacity, drawing on my professional knowledge and personal experience of dysphoria and transition in my adolescence.

I am the author of numerous peer-reviewed publications on topics including trans health and ethical research methodologies, including the monograph Understanding Trans Health (Policy Press, 2018); I have also edited two books and special issues of Sexualities and the International Journal of Transgender Health. I have been asked to speak about my work at over 40 invited talks and keynotes across the world in the last 5 years alone, and have provided expert advice and consultancy to organisations such as the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the Equality Challenge Unit.

In the 2000s, I worked alongside other young trans people as an elected representative within the National Union of Students and as an activist in Trans Youth Network. I began my social transition at the age of 16 without any direct support from my family or medical practitioners: a lonely and difficult experience I believe no young person should have to go through.

I have chosen to publicly share this letter in light of the enormous power differential between your working group and the people who will be impacted by its findings; and the manner in which trans people’s needs and contributions to knowledge have been largely ignored by the working group to date.

1. Nothing About Us Without Us

The social justice principle of ‘nothing about us without us’, articulates the importance of directly involving people in debates and policymaking relevant to their lives, especially where their voices have historically been marginalized. It originated in the South African disability rights movement,[1] and parallels critiques of colonialist knowledge production.[2] It is highly relevant to trans experience,[3] especially to young trans people who are disabled, Black or people of colour, who are the most likely to encounter severe systemic barriers to support.[4]

Trans people are deeply impacted by policy, practice, and public discourse relating to matters such as gender dysphoria, incongruence and transition. However, our knowledge is often actively erased, or more simply absent from formal accounts produced by non-trans actors. This has historically resulted in significant harm being inflicted on vulnerable individuals, particularly young trans people. Established best practice for trans health research therefore requires work to be grounded, from inception to dissemination, in meaningful collaboration with community stakeholders.[5] This may entail, for example, significant trans representation on project steering groups, and co-production of research questions.

The working group for this project does not include a single openly trans person, let alone a diversity of trans experience. The very questions asked in the call for evidence demonstrate a basic lack of familiarity with trans lives and our history of exploitation by medical professionals. Trans people have been invited to give evidence for this project and to participate in your earlier exploratory meetings, but we have no actual power within your process. We are made into objects of study, not authors of our own experience.

The project is therefore missing vital expertise and context, both in the design of the call for evidence, and any subsequent analysis of responses. When the working group’s findings are reported, they will represent yet another influential intervention into public debate by non-trans individuals with no direct understanding of what it is actually like to be a young person with dysphoria and/or considering a social or medical transition.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics are reproducing, once again, the power imbalance that has dominated trans medicine for the past two centuries.[6] To paraphrase bell hooks, you are proposing to talk about us better than we can talk about ourselves, taking our pain and our stories and then telling them back to the world in a way that does not necessarily reflect our actual experiences.[7] 

I therefore urge the working group to reflect on the ethical implications of explicitly excluding trans people, and especially multiply-marginalised young trans people, from oversight of a project that may have profound consequences for our lives.

2. Moral panic, misinformation, and dangerous alliances

The project’s open call for evidence has been disseminated amidst a growing anti-trans moral panic. From 2017 we have seen the emergence of numerous new anti-trans campaign groups, bolstered by hostile commentary and misinformation in the media and on social media. This is just one part of a wider, international “anti-gender” movement, which is linked to white supremacist conspiracy theories, and threatens to undermine civil rights and access to medical services for women and LGBTIQ people.[8]

Without diverse trans leadership, I have no confidence that the working group has the necessary understanding of this context or the way in which it will inevitably shape the responses you receive.

There are important debates to be had around approaches to social support and/or medical intervention for young trans people and others exploring their gender. These cannot take place in a nuanced or fully informed manner when views informed by moral panic are given as much weight as evidence from young people themselves, their families, and the professionals who support them.

The dangerous ignorance of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in relation to these matters is exhibited in your response to an exploratory series of meetings held with numerous parties in 2019. Reported areas of agreement from participants consist of platitudes such as “the needs and well-being of young  people should always be the central focus”. [9] The Council’s press release on this topic quotes Heather Brunskell-Evans,[10] a co-founder of the Women’s Human Rights Campaign, which in 2020 called explicitly for the ‘elimination’ of ‘transgenderism’.[11] In her opposition to trans people, Brunskell-Evans has extensively promoted the work of conspiracy theorist Jennifer Bilek,[12] whose writing I believe is clearly antisemitic: she argues ‘transgender ideology’ is being institutionalised by a coalition of Jewish billionaires.[13] She co-signed an submission to the United Nations alongside groups such as the Heritage Foundation, a US thinktank whose members have openly supported conversion therapy and discrimination against LGBTIQ people.[14] 

There is no dispassionate, ethical middle ground to be found between those who wish to support young people to explore their identities and needs, and eliminationists who have openly aligned themselves with racist, homophobic, and transphobic rhetoric.

3. Coercive consultations

In written and oral evidence presented to the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee in December 2020, I observed that many trans people are exhausted from a bewildering array of consultations and calls for evidence which have taken place in the UK since 2015.

In addition to the 2020 Women and Equalities Committee inquiry on Reform of the Gender Recognition Act, these include (but are not limited to):

‘The Women and Equalities Committee Transgender Equality Inquiry (2015), an NHS England consultation on Specialist Gender Identity Services for Adults (2015), NHS England and NHS Scotland consultations on Specialised Gender Identity Services for Adults (2017), two consultations on Gender Recognition Reform in Scotland (2017-18 and 2019-20), a consultation on Reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 across the UK (2018), a Scottish Parliament inquiry into transgender healthcare provisions (2019), and an NHS England independent review of gender identity services for children and young people (2020). Additionally, over the summer of 2020 trans organisations scrambled to respond to a report in The Sunday Times that the Government intended to introduce new restrictions on trans people’s access to single-sex spaces.’[15]

Few tangible benefits have arisen from any of these. Participation is usually a highly stressful experience for individuals navigating the daily onslaught of the anti-trans moral panic, and depletes precious time and resources from poorly-funded, overstretched trans voluntary sector organisations.

Consequently, many young people and their families will feel unable or unwilling to participate in your call for evidence, especially at just two months’ notice. I have spoken personally with parents who describe the pain of explaining to their children that previous evidence they gave to authority figures has simply been ignored. You have done nothing to build trust with these families before inviting them to participate in another such process.

Simultaneously, other trans individuals and organisations feel we have little choice but to participate. Since 2017 especially, we know that if we do not, the material received in response to the consultation or call for evidence will primarily be submitted by people who hate us, including racists, misogynists, and homophobes adept at positioning their prejudices as ‘reasonable concerns’.

This was the context in which I participated in one of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ exploratory meetings in 2019. It is the context in which I will support colleagues in submitting a formal response to the current call for evidence on the care and treatment of children and adolescents in relation to their gender identity.

We respond not with hope or optimism, but in fear. This is the power you wield over us.

I therefore call on the working group to reconsider their approach to this project, and take into account the harm you have already caused. I recommend you halt the current call for evidence, and ensure the working group for the project includes individuals with relevant expertise from lived experience and knowledge of the wider political context in which you are operating.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Ruth Pearce

[1] Charlton JI (2000) Nothing about Us Without Us: Disability Oppression and Empowerment, Berkeley: University of California Press.

[2] Yarbrough D (2020) “Nothing About Us Without Us”: Reading Protests against Oppressive Knowledge Production as Guidelines for Solidarity Research, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 49(1): 58-85.

[3] Scheim AI, Apprenroth MN, Beckham SW, Goldstein Z, Grinspan MC, Keatley JG, and Radix A (2019) 
Transgender HIV research: nothing about us without us, Lancet HIV, 6(9): e566-e567.

[4] Gill-Peterson J (2018) Histories of the Transgender Child, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press;
Murray E (2019) Trans Rights and Disability: The Wrong Decisions, Available at:

[5] Adams A, Pearce R, Veale J, Radix A, Castro D, Sarkar A, and Thom KC (2017) Guidance and Ethical Considerations for Undertaking Transgender Health Research and Institutional Review Boards Adjudicating this Research, Transgender Health, 2(1): 165-175; Bauer G, Devor A, heinz m, Marshall Z, Pullen-Sansfaçon A, and Pyne J (2019) CPATH Ethical Guidelines for Research Involving Transgender People & Communities, Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health, Available at:; Vincent BW (2017) Studying trans: recommendations for ethical recruitment and collaboration with transgender participants in academic research, Psychology & Sexuality, 9(2): 102-116.

[6] Pearce R (2018) Understanding trans health: Discourse, power and possibility, Bristol: Policy Press.

[7] hooks b (1990) Marginality as a Site of Resistance, in: R Ferguson, M Gever, TT Minh-ha (eds) Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

[8] Darakchi S (2019) “The Western Feminists Want to Make Us Gay”: Nationalism, Heteronormativity, and Violence Against Women in Bulgaria in Times of “Anti-gender Campaigns”, Sexuality & Culture, 23: 1208-1229; Hemmings C (2021) Unnatural feelings: The affective life of ‘anti-gender’ mobilisations, Radical Philosophy, RP 2.09, Available at:; Horbury E and Yao C (2020) Empire and Eugenics: Trans Studies in the United Kingdom, Transgender Studies Quarterly, 7(3): 445-454; Pearce R, Erikainen S, and Vincent B (2020) TERF Wars: An introduction, The Sociological Review, 68(4): 677-698.



[11] WHRC (2020) Submission to Women and Equalities Committee on Reform of the Gender Recognition Act, Available at:

[12] An example from Twitter:

[13] Trans Safety Network, Transphobic Feminism and Far Right Activism Rapidly Converging, Available at:

[14] WOLF (2021) Submission to the United Nations Independent Experton Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity, Available at:

[15] Trans Learning Partnership (2020) Submission to Women and Equalities Committee on Reform of the Gender Recognition Act, Available at:

Pre-order: Arts, Culture and Community Development

Cover of the book Arts, Culture, and Community Development.

I’m excited to announce that I have a new essay on prefiguration in queer and feminist punk coming out this summer. It’s co-authored with Kirsty Lohman, with whom I have previously conducted research on trans music scenes, and will be published in the book Arts, Culture, and Community Development, edited by Rosie R Meade and Mae Shaw.

Prefiguration is the act of modelling the changes you want to see in the world. Kirsty and I argue this can happen when marginalised people create their own cultural spaces, and facilitate access to these spaces for others who are often denied access to artistic and political expression.

Pre-order Arts, Culture and Community Development from Policy Press

Our essay is featured alongside chapters by a range of authors from around the world, reflecting on how art and cultural practice are meaningful to community groups in Lebanon, Latin America, China, Ireland, India, and Sri Lanka as well as the UK.

GRA reform oral session

I will be giving evidence to the House of Commons Women and Equalities select committee tomorrow (Wednesday 9th December). This will be the first of several oral evidence sessions as part of their new Inquiry on the Reform of the Gender Recognition Act.

You can watch the evidence session here from 2:30pm.

In 2015, the Women and Equalities Committee held a broader Transgender Equality Inquiry. One of the recommendations that came out of this was that the Gender Recognition Act be reformed, so that changing the process by which a person can change the sex marker on their birth certificate is more straightforward and less expensive.

These proposals were provisionally adopted by both the UK Government and Scottish Government in 2017, leading to three consultations. The UK government did not actually formally announce the changes it planned to make until September 2020, and these turned out to be very minor. The Women and Equalities Committee is therefore seeking to scrutinise this process, and ask whether the changes promised by the Government actually reflect what trans people have been asking for. I have been invited to comment on this by the Committee, alongside two other experts in the field: Professors Stephen Whittle and Alex Sharpe.

Gender equality, ambivalence and Athena SWAN

This morning I was delighted to see that an article about Athena SWAN I co-authored with Charikleia Tzanakou has been pre-published online.

Entitled ‘Moderate feminism within or against the neoliberal university? The example of Athena SWAN‘, the article reflects on findings from research undertaken by Tzanakou in 2013-2017 and myself in 2017, looking at the experiences of individuals involved in Self-Assessment Teams (SATs) for the Athena SWAN gender equality scheme. It will eventually be published in a special issue of the journal on the topic of ‘moderate feminisms’.

You can read the article here (for free!) in the journal Gender, Work & Organization.

Something we thought about a great deal when writing the article was our own ambivalence regarding Athena SWAN.

On the one hand, we found that the scheme tends to play an undue burden on women, who are disproportionately represented on SATs and can face hostility from colleagues and managers for undertaking the assessment process. Some women even reported being threatened or turned down for jobs if their department, school or faculty failed to obtain an Athena SWAN award, even though this typically reflected the failings of the institution rather than the SAT. Women experiencing intersecting forms of marginalisation were particularly vulnerable, and trans people were rarely acknowledged at all. We regarded this as a consequence of the neoliberal context in which Athena SWAN operates, in which the scheme may be regarded as “just another metric”, a box-ticking exercise with a reductionist notion of womanhood.

On the other hand, several participants did argue that Athena SWAN had helped to raise awareness of gender inequalities in their institution, leading male colleagues especially to take the issue more seriously. In some cases, SATs used the scheme to push for important changes, such as better support mechanisms and financial support for new parents, more diverse and intersectional curricula, and gender neutral toilets. Of particular benefit for this purpose was the requirement for continual re-assessment every few years should institutions want to retain their Athena SWAN award, or upgrade from Bronze to Silver or from Silver to Bronze. This requirement for re-assessment gives the award “teeth”, meaning that institutions can sometimes be actually held to account for actively pursuing the action plan they have to draw up in order to obtain an award.

I also reflected on some of these negative aspects of Athena SWAN and potential benefits in a report published by the University of Warwick Centre for the Study of Women and Gender in 2017: Certifying Equality? – A critical reflection on Athena SWAN and equality accreditation.

Ultimately, Athena SWAN is not simply “good” or “bad”. It is often implemented poorly, and suffers from operating within a neoliberal environment, but has the potential to be used as a tool for real change. Multiple actors are responsible for how the scheme works in practice.

If you are a SAT member, I would urge you to see Athena SWAN not simply as a box-ticking exercise, but as a means through which universities might be required to change their practices and provide additional resources. Think about how your team might take a more intersectional approach to planning actions, and if you receive an award, use it to hold your institution to account.

If you are a Head of Department/School/Faculty or otherwise work in university management, I would urge you to remember that inequalities abound in our institutions; Athena SWAN offers a real opportunity to reflect on and address this. Identifying the problem does not necessarily reflect poorly on your institution, but failing to act certainly does.

Finally, I should note that there is currently an ongoing review of Athena SWAN, which closes on the 28th January. I encourage anyone with an interest in this topic to respond to it!

Athena SWAN Steering Group listening exercise consultation

Family Planning workshop at Trans Health Matters (23 October)

In a couple of weeks I will be attending the Trans Health Matters conference, which is held at Resource for London on Tuesday 23 October.

You can read about and book tickets for Trans Health Matters 2018 here.

Co-hosted by holistic sexual health centres cliniQ (London) and Clinic T (Brighton), this event offers an insight into cutting edge practice and research, particularly with regards to sexual and mental health.

I will be speaking at a workshop entitled Trans Family Planning: Contraception, Fertility, Pregnancy and Childbirth, alongside Kate Nambiar, Michael Toze and Francis Ray White.


Resource for London, Holloway Road

Trans people often find there is a lack of information available on their own fertility, or that they have been misinformed about the reproductive capacity of their own bodies. Similarly, trans people wishing to form families continue to face social, legal and medical barriers to parenthood. The workshop will comprise three short interventions, reflecting on current challenges and opportunities for trans reproductive autonomy, and an opportunity for attendees to reflect on how this might relate to their own work.

Kate Nambiar is a medical doctor and researcher who works at Clinic T. She will be discussing issues around contraception for trans people.

Michael Toze is a Research Fellow in the School of Health and Social Care at the University of Lincoln. He will talk about UK medical practice and law with regards to trans fertility, parenthood, and sterilisation procedures.

Francis Ray White is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Westminster, and I am a Research Fellow in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds. We will be discussing intial findings from the Trans Pregnancy Project.


Book publication and launch

Today sees the publication of my book Understanding Trans Health. I’m really happy to be finally sharing it with the world.

Yesterday I hosted a launch event at the University of Leeds. I felt really strongly that this was an opportunity not only to celebrate the book, but also to explore some of the other fantastic work happening in the field of trans health. One of the things I write about in the penultimate chapter of Understanding Trans Health is the importance of collaboration and building one another up – I wanted to help start a conversation that encompassed more than my own work, and give something back to others from whom I have learned so much.

De7WApQX0AQEM6r.jpg large

Photo by Rob Noon.

Zowie Davy and Michael Toze opened the event with a discussion of the term “gender dysphoria”. They have conducted a systematic review of literature on the topic, and found that there are huge conceptual differences in how the term is deployed and understood. This can lead to diagnostic confusion and issues with empirical claims, especially given the continued contemporaneous influence of alternative and older diagnostic languages. Davy and Toze have written an academic article based on this work which is currently under peer review; I very much recommend watching out for its publication. [Twitter thread]

Chris Dietz offered a fascinating insight into gender recognition reform in Denmark. He noted that the positive international press afforded to the country’s new gender recognition law contrasted with the views of many actual trans people in Denmark. Concerns were raised in particular about the contrast between the liberal provisions of the law, which enables a form of self-declaration, and the strict requirements of the Sexological Clinic, which has a monopoly on gender identity services. [Twitter thread]

Kate Nambiar argued for the importance of trans-led healthcare services. She touched upon the inspiring history of pioneering women doctors in the 19th century, before offering a nuanced analysis of what we do and don’t know about trans sexual health and why trans-led services offer an opportunity to address endemic issues. I was particularly inspired by the description of her work as part of the Clinic T team. While my own work has primarily explored the problems that exist within the provision of healthcare services for trans people, I feel it is deeply important to explore possible options for a better future. [Twitter thread]

My own talk offered a broad overview of my book’s central ideas and themes, as well as some illustrative examples from research participants, healthcare literatures and resources. I also touched upon what it means to become an “expert” from my own experience as a trans academic, and the sometimes severe challenges that come with this. Several attendees tweeted summaries of my talk, which I have linked below.One attendee also very kindly filmed sections of my talk, so these may be uploaded to the Internet at a later date.

Summary from @K_A_Longhurst

Summary from @Chican3ry

Summary from @LilithBrouwers

You can read more about the event on the Twitter hashtag #transhealthleeds. But ultimately, to learn more about my work, I encourage you to buy the book!

The success of Understanding Trans Health will depend in part on word of mouth, so if you find the book interesting or useful, please do write a review to share your thoughts! Similarly, if you work or study at a university, please do talk to your subject librarian to see if they can order in a copy.

As for the event, I would like to offer a huge amount of thanks to everyone who came, as well as to the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds for supporting the event, and to Sally Hines for her warm contributions as a fantastic chair.

New job at the University of Leeds

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve just begun Research Fellowship in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds. I’ll be working as part of an international team on the ESRC-sponsored projected Pregnant Men: An International Exploration of Trans Male Practices of Reproduction, which is being led by Sally Hines. This study will explore the sociological, health care and policy implications of trans men’s reproductive practices.

Some initial information on the scope and plans for this research are currently available on the project website. I’ll be writing more about the project there (and here!) as it progresses.


Gender recognition: where next?

I recently co-wrote a short report for UK Trans Info with CN Lester. Entitled ‘Gender recognition: where next?’, it reports upon the findings of a short survey about possible replacements for the Gender Recognition Act. The survey was created in response to calls for reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, in the wake of a Transgender Equality Inquiry conducted by the UK Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee.

The headlines are as follows:

  • There is strong support for some form of legal gender recognition grounded in self-declaration – comparable perhaps to creating a statutory declaration or deed poll – as opposed to the current system of applying to a ‘Gender Recognition Panel’ with huge amounts of evidence and hoping for the best.
  • We asked what respondents were not prepared to compromise on in any change of law; a considerable majority stated that they regarded non-binary recognition as a red line in any negotiation. This will no doubt be very difficult to achieve due to the lack of any precedent in law for the recognition of non-binary gender identities, but it’s vital that trans advocates make the effort to push for this over coming months, for the sake of solidarity and inclusion.

You can read the report here.

Statement of trans-inclusive feminism and womanism

Several individuals have been working hard over the past couple of weeks to put together an international statement supporting trans inclusion in the struggle for women’s rights. The publication of this statement comes as the inclusion of trans people within feminist and womanist groups is once again under question, and as trans concerns gain an increasingly public profile.

I was honoured to be asked to sign this statement. I feel it provides a timely response to the aforementioned issues, as well as a recent radical feminist statement on trans exclusion, and the forthcoming publication of Sheila Jeffreys’ new book.

I stand fully behind the statement, and am also heartened by its international scope. As I write this post, the statement has been signed by 150 individuals and 8 organizations — from 13 countries.

However, I feel it is worth noting the anglo-centric nature of the statement. That is somewhat inevitable given that this is a debate happening largely within the English-speaking world. Still, it would have been good to see signatories from the United States and United Kingdom note their country of origin; at present, I feel that signatories from outside these countries are singled out as unusual through the highlighting of their national location. I hope that this disparity and US/UK-centrism might be addressed in future efforts.

I have reproduced the statement below, and encourage others to disseminate it further.


A Statement of Trans-Inclusive Feminism and Womanism

We, the undersigned trans* and cis scholars, writers, artists, and educators, want to publicly and openly affirm our commitment to a trans*-inclusive feminism and womanism.

There has been a noticeable increase in transphobic feminist activity this summer: the forthcoming book by Sheila Jeffreys from Routledge; the hostile and threatening anonymous letter sent to Dallas Denny after she and Dr. Jamison Green wrote to Routledge regarding their concerns about that book; and the recent widely circulated statement entitled “Forbidden Discourse: The Silencing of Feminist Critique of ‘Gender,’” signed by a number of prominent, and we regret to say, misguided, feminists have been particularly noticeable.  And all this is taking place in the climate of virulent mainstream transphobia that has emerged following the coverage of Chelsea Manning’s trial and subsequent statement regarding her gender identity, and the recent murders of young trans women of color, including Islan Nettles and Domonique Newburn, the latest targets in a long history of violence against trans women of color.  Given these events, it is important that we speak out in support of feminism and womanism that support trans* people.

We are committed to recognizing and respecting the complex construction of sexual/gender identity; to recognizing trans* women as women and including them in all women’s spaces; to recognizing trans* men as men and rejecting accounts of manhood that exclude them; to recognizing the existence of genderqueer, non-binary identifying people and accepting their humanity; to rigorous, thoughtful, nuanced research and analysis of gender, sex, and sexuality that accept trans* people as authorities on their own experiences and understands that the legitimacy of their lives is not up for debate; and to fighting the twin ideologies of transphobia and patriarchy in all their guises.

Transphobic feminism ignores the identification of many trans* and genderqueer people as feminists or womanists and many cis feminists/womanists with their trans* sisters, brothers, friends, and lovers; it is feminism that has too often rejected them, and not the reverse. It ignores the historical pressures placed by the medical profession on trans* people to conform to rigid gender stereotypes in order to be “gifted” the medical aid to which they as human beings are entitled.  By positing “woman” as a coherent, stable identity whose boundaries they are authorized to police, transphobic feminists reject the insights of intersectional analysis, subordinating all other identities to womanhood and all other oppressions to patriarchy.  They are refusing to acknowledge their own power and privilege.

We recognize that transphobic feminists have used violence and threats of violence against trans* people and their partners and we condemn such behavior.  We recognize that transphobic rhetoric has deeply harmful effects on trans* people’s real lives; witness CeCe MacDonald’s imprisonment in a facility for men.  We further recognize the particular harm transphobia causes to trans* people of color when it combines with racism, and the violence it encourages.

When feminists exclude trans* women from women’s shelters, trans* women are left vulnerable to the worst kinds of violent, abusive misogyny, whether in men’s shelters, on the streets, or in abusive homes.  When feminists demand that trans* women be excluded from women’s bathrooms and that genderqueer people choose a binary-marked bathroom, they make participation in the public sphere near-impossible, collaborate with a rigidity of gender identities that feminism has historically fought against, and erect yet another barrier to employment.  When feminists teach transphobia, they drive trans* students away from education and the opportunities it provides.

We also reject the notion that trans* activists’ critiques of transphobic bigotry “silence” anybody.  Criticism is not the same as silencing. We recognize that the recent emphasis on the so-called violent rhetoric and threats that transphobic feminists claim are coming from trans* women online ignores the 40+ – year history of violent and eliminationist rhetoric directed by prominent feminists against trans* women, trans* men, and genderqueer people.  It ignores the deliberate strategy of certain well-known anti-trans* feminists of engaging in gleeful and persistent harassment, baiting, and provocation of trans* people, particularly trans* women, in the hope of inciting angry responses, which are then utilized to paint a false portrayal of trans* women as oppressors and cis feminist women as victims. It ignores the public outing of trans* women that certain transphobic feminists have engaged in regardless of the damage it does to women’s lives and the danger in which it puts them.  And it relies upon the pernicious rhetoric of collective guilt, using any example of such violent rhetoric, no matter the source — and, just as much, the justified anger of any one trans* woman — to condemn all trans* women, and to justify their continued exclusion and the continued denial of their civil rights.

Whether we are cis, trans*, binary-identified, or genderqueer, we will not let feminist or womanist discourse regress or stagnate; we will push forward in our understandings of gender, sex, and sexuality across disciplines.  While we respect the great achievements and hard battles fought by activists in the 1960s and 1970s, we know that those activists are not infallible and that progress cannot stop with them if we hope to remain intellectually honest, moral, and politically effective.  Most importantly, we recognize that theories are not more important than real people’s real lives; we reject any theory of gender, sex, or sexuality that calls on us to sacrifice the needs of any subjugated or marginalized group.  People are more important than theory.

We are committed to making our classrooms, our writing, and our research inclusive of trans* people’s lives.

Signed by:


Hailey K. Alves (blogger and transfeminist activist, Brazil)

Luma Andrade  (Federal University of Ceará, Brazil)

Leiliane Assunção (Federal University of the Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil)

Talia Bettcher (California State University, Los Angeles)

Lauren Beukes (novelist)

Lindsay Beyerstein (journalist)

Jamie “Skye” Bianco (New York University)

Hanne Blank (writer and historian)

Kate Bornstein (writer and activist)

danah boyd (Microsoft research and New York University)

Helen Boyd (author and activist)

Sarah Brown (LGBT+ Liberal Democrats)

Christine Burns (equalities consultant, blogger and campaigner)

Liliane Anderson Reis Caldeira (Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil)

Gloria Careaga (UNAM/National Autonomous University of Mexico)

Avedon Carol (activist and writer; Feminists Against Censorship)

Wendy Chapkis (University of Southern Maine) – “I don’t love the punch line ‘people are more important than theory.’  More to the point, it seems to me, is that feminist theories that fail to recognize the lived experiences and revolutionary potential of gender diversity are willfully inadequate.”

Jan Clausen (writer, MFAW faculty, Goddard College)

Darrah Cloud (playwright and screenwriter; Goddard College)

Alyson Cole (Queens College – CUNY)

Arrianna Marie Coleman (writer and activist)

Suzan Cooke (writer and photographer)

Sonia Onufer Correa  (feminist research associate at ABIA, co-chair of Sexuality Policy Watch)

Molly Crabapple (artist and writer)

Elizabeth Dearnley (University College London)

Jaqueline Gomes de Jesus (University of Brasilia, Brazil)

Sady Doyle (writer and blogger)

L. Timmel Duchamp (publisher, Aqueduct Press)

Flavia Dzodan (writer and media maker)

Reni Eddo-Lodge (writer and activist)

Finn Enke (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

Hugh English (Queens College – CUNY)

Jane Fae (writer and activist)

Roderick Ferguson (University of Minnesota)

Jill Filipovic (writer and blogger)

Rose Fox (editor and activist)

Jaclyn Friedman (author, activist, and executive director of Women, Action, & the Media)

Sasha Garwood (University College, London)

Jen Jack Gieseking (Bowdoin College)

Dominique Grisard (CUNY Graduate Center/Columbia University/University of Basel)

Deborah Gussman (Richard Stockton College of New Jersey)

Dr Sally Hines (University of Leeds)

Claire House (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Brazil)

Astrid Idlewild (editor, urban historian)

Sarah Hoem Iversen (Bergen University College, Norway)

Sarah Jaffe (columnist)

Roz Kaveney (author and critic)

Zahira Kelly (artist and writer)

Mikki Kendall (writer and occasional feminist)

Natacha Kennedy (Goldsmiths College, University of London)

Alison Kilkenny (journalist and activist)

Matthew Knip (Hunter College – CUNY)

Letícia Lanz (writer and psychoanalyst, Brazil)

April Lidinsky (Indiana University South Bend)

Erika Lin (George Mason University)

Marilee Lindemann (University of Maryland)

Heather Love (University of Pennsylvania)

Jessica W. Luther (writer and activist)

Jen Manion (Connecticut College)

Ruth McClelland-Nugent (Georgia Regents University Augusta)

Melissa McEwan (Editor-in-Chief, Shakesville)

Farah Mendlesohn (Anglia Ruskin University)

Mireille Miller-Young (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Lyndsey Moon (University of Roehampton and University of Warwick)

Surya Monro (University of Huddersfield)

Cheryl Morgan (publisher and blogger)

Kenne Mwikya (writer and activist, Nairobi)

Zenita Nicholson (Secretary on the Board of Trustees, Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination, Guyana)

Anne Ogborn (frightening sex change)

Sally Outen (performer and activist)

Ruth Pearce (University of Warwick)

Laurie Penny (journalist and activist)

Rosalind Petchesky (Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY, and Sexuality Policy Watch)

Rachel Pollack (writer, Goddard College)

Claire Bond Potter (The New School for Public Engagement)

Nina Power (University of Roehampton)

Marina Riedel (Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil)

Mark Rifkin (University of North Carolina – Greensboro)

Monica Roberts (Transgriot)

Dr. Judy Rohrer (Western Kentucky University)

Diana Salles (independent scholar)

Veronica Schanoes (Queens College – CUNY)

Sarah Schulman, in principle (College of Staten Island – CUNY)

Donald M. Scott (Queens College – CUNY)

Lynne Segal (Birkbeck, University of London)

Julia Serano (author and activist)

Carrie D. Shanafelt (Grinnell College)

Rebekah Sheldon (Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis)

Barbara Simerka (Queens College – CUNY)

Gwendolyn Ann Smith (columnist and Transgender Day of Remembrance founder)

Kari Sperring (K L Maund) (writer and historian)

Zoe Stavri (writer and activist)

Tristan Taormino (Sex Out Loud Radio, New York, NY)

Jemma Tosh (University of Chester)

Viviane V. (Federal University of Bahia, Brazil)

Catherynne M. Valente (author)

Jessica Valenti (author and columnist)

Genevieve Valentine (writer)

Barbra Wangare (S.H.E and Transitioning Africa, Kenya)

Thijs Witty (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands)


Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ (Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia)

House of Najafgarh (Najafgarh, India)

House of Kola Bhagan (Kolkatta, India)

Transgender Nation San Francisco

Press For Change does a HRC

Update: After this post was written, Press For Change began to campaign openly for a fully trans-inclusive Equality Bill. Fair play to them. I originally wrote the title of this post in anger, but now feel that PFC have demonstrated that – unlike groups such as Stonewall and the HRC – they are prepared to listen to others and revise their position.

Contrasting somewhat with the approach of the Scottish Transgender Alliance and Gender Spectrum (see previous post) is that taken by Press For Change, the UK’s most high-profile trans rights group. As an “insider” group, they’re in the privileged position of being able to prepare a briefing for the Equality Bill Select Committee.

That doesn’t guarantee that the briefing’s proposals will be taken forward by the government or even individual politicans who wish to take on the cause, but it’s one of the most influential things any part of the trans community can contribute at the moment. Unfortunately, there are a couple of serious issues with this document.

1) Press For Change speaks on the behalf of “ALL trans people”, but has not consulted widely on this issue. The text of the briefing implies that PFC has attempted to consult with “several organisations who work the transgender community” (sic) rather than the community on the whole. This is understandable given the rapid turnaround that has to be undertaken by individuals who are essentially volunteers in order to prepare this kind of document at very short notice. However, it was perfectly possible for the Scottish Transgender Alliance and Gender Spectrum to create a basic survey at short notice, which is being passed around by word of mouth. By their own admission, PFC have access to 1800 people through their mailing list: why didn’t they even ask for opinions on this vital issue? Given the circumstances, I may have considered this forgiveable, if it wasn’t for this:

2) Press For Change seem intent on pushing for the rights of transsexed people at the expense of all other trans people. This accusation is increasingly levelled at PFC by members of the trans community, and this document appears to confirm that. PFC describe themselves as “the leadership of Britain’s campaign for the social inclusion and non-discrimination of transsexual people”, and describe “trans” as shorthand for “transsexual”, making a mockery of their “ALL trans people” slogan. When criticising the government’s choice to protect individuals on the grounds of “gender reassignment” and suggest that a term such as “gender identity” be used instead (a position widely agreed upon by many trans organisations and individual activists) they then clarify this by stating:

“we feel that to ensure clarity of purpose the bill should refer to gender identity as the defining characteristic including transsexual and transgender people, with by way of the explanatory notes a clarification to refer to people intending to live, or living permanently, in their preferred gender role which is opposite to that of their natal sex”

This would mean that those trans people who are unable to transition or are discriminated against because of a non-binary identity would continue to recieve no recognition or protection: exactly the problem that providing protection on the grounds of “gender identity” is meant to overcome!

This is horribly reminiscent of the approach of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the USA. That supposed LGBT rights group received heavy criticism from those trans people it was meant to be representing after supporting a trans-exclusive version of ENDA.