The recent hounding of Kathleen Stock was supposed to be a warning to women everywhere: dare to speak out against transgender ideology and expect to be burnt at the stake. But despite the hell unleashed by trans activists at the University of Sussex, the bullying campaign against Kathleen has backfired. Those who sought to ruin her life and career, most of whom are not transgender, have been exposed as misogynistic totalitarians.
I have known Kathleen since 2018, when I discovered her research on gender identity and women’s sex-based rights. We have remained close since then, and I have looked on with horror at the abhorrent treatment she has been forced to endure in recent months.
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When I interviewed Kathleen for UnHerd this morning, she detailed the true extent of the aggressive campaign of targeted harassment she’s been forced to endure. Kathleen might be a mild-mannered, liberal academic, but she is not one to shy away from a fight. Her decision to leave Sussex after 18 years teaching there was no easy decision.
“I went to work as normal, and saw stickers all over my building about the ‘transphobic shit that comes out of Kathleen Stock’s mouth’,” Kathleen says. “That was obviously distressing but the next day it escalated.” As she walked to campus from the train station, she was confronted with a number of posters calling for her to be sacked: “Fire Kathleen Stock”, “Kathleen Stock’s A Transphobe”, “We’re Not Paying Our Fees For Transphobia With Kathleen Stock”.
“They were setting off flares… And they later took a picture of a man in a balaclava, all in black, looking just like Antifa. The imagery was obviously intimidating: holding a massive banner saying ‘Stock out’, while setting off pink and blue flares because those are the colours on the transgender flag.
“I ran back to the station, got the train home, tried to teach a class on Zoom, burst into tears and my dear students said I must be having a tough day and they let me off,” says Kathleen. “It was the beginning of the end of the campaign to intimidate me out of my job.”
The campaign to push Stock out of Sussex began after she self-published a number blog posts critical of extreme transgender ideology. Kathleen was concerned that the majority of academics, including philosophers such as herself, were reluctant to criticise campaigns to introduce self-identification for transgender people. After all, she thought, why should we just ignore material categories such as sex?
But to implement self-identification without question is to ignore a key safeguarding problem. As Kathleen puts it, “Self ID policies trade on a fantasy that suddenly putting on a dress or saying ‘I’m a woman’ will change your basic nature. But, in fact, what was there before will be there after. Humans are humans, and if you make it the case that you can self identify into a better situation than you were in — i.e. a woman’s prison as opposed to a male prison, which are usually less intense, aggressive places — then some people will do it, whether they’re trans or not.” And as both Kathleen and I keep saying, this isn’t about every trans person. It’s a safeguarding policy.
The hounding of Kathleen Stock
“These academics were not attending to the obvious consequences for women,” she says. “Yet on the other hand, there were plenty of academics who were cheerleading self-ID, ostentatiously moralising about it, and talking about Terfs and transphobia.”
Kathleen continues: “Gender identity theory is egregiously false. It is terrible, pseudo philosophy and would fail a first-year essay. As a philosopher who cares about logic and truth at a basic level, I couldn’t believe that all these academics were just waving it through.”
One aspect in particular that baffled her was the claim that a person’s belief about their psychological identity, whether they are male or female, is more important than their material sex at birth — not least due to the impact such categories have on medicine, sport, science, education and more.
“I’m a lesbian and a feminist,” states Kathleen. “I assumed that academic feminists were covering women and girls’ rights and I didn’t need to get involved. I started to see that they were not only not covering it, but they were also actively undermining women’s rights in the name of feminism, and there were all these knock-on consequences for lesbians. On all those levels, it annoyed the fuck out of me.”
Although Kathleen is understandably upset by the conduct of the small number of abusive students, she is adamant that many of them are taking a cue from the influential adults around them. “I don’t think they’ve actually read what I think. There’s a lot of enabling, or inciting, of individuals in this story,” she says.
Why I had to leave The Guardian
“Many of these academics contribute to an environment in which some pretty terrible things are happening to, for instance, children in gender identity clinics. I can see why they had a vested interest in shutting me down.”
She stresses: “I absolutely believe that trans people should be protected in law, so I’m never going to waiver from that. I just disagree about the laws that should be used.”
Like a number of other women in the public eye who have been deemed to be transphobic, Kathleen is tired of being “lumped in with holocaust deniers” as the personification of all evil.
“I’m not even a free speech absolutist,” she says. “This is preposterous framing and entirely set up by our enemies to mean that we can’t win. All we’re doing is insisting on basic obvious facts of biology and their social significance. Nearly 99% of the planet agrees with us. The most I can get out of people is a tentative ‘Well, we absolutely support Kathleen Stock’s right to say what she thinks’ but they won’t say ‘And yeah, of course we agree with her because it’s bloody obvious’.”
And this insistence on keeping silent has had a toxic impact on the transgender debate, allowing small groups of extremely vocal and aggressive activists to fill that gap. For example, Kathleen firmly believes that Stonewall is in large part responsible for the current witch hunt mentality. As someone who has experienced the ensuing vitriol first-hand, it is hard not to agree. During the past few years, its business model has prioritised promoting a very narrow conception of what they would call trans rights.
“I would say these rights don’t benefit trans people,” says Kathleen. “But they were already embedded in all these national institutions, government departments, the CPS, the EHRC, almost all of our universities, schools and local authorities. And being in one of their schemes means these institutions get a constant stream of instructions such as: ‘We would really appreciate it if you would put out a tweet lobbying for this project’. Our national institutions have almost unwittingly been instruments to be used by extremists.”
Those extremists are swift to accuse Kathleen of “weaponising her trauma” if she ever dares talk about how the attacks have affected her personally. Which they have, obviously. She insists on talking about it, though, because it’s not just affecting high-profile characters like us two. “It’s what’s happening now in every institution, not just universities, to women who feel like they’re choking,” she explains. “They cannot get their words out — or if they do, then they’re put through complaints systems, they’re socially ostracised, they are told by their bosses, ‘we’re watching your Twitter feed.’ There’s just this feeling of surveillance that is unacceptable. So that’s why we have to talk about the human cost.”
The return of lesbian pride
What was the final straw for Kathleen? She tells me it was when the Sussex branch of the University and College Union (UCU) put out a statement in support of “our trans and non-binary students” and against “institutional transphobia”.
“At that point I was just hanging on. I was teaching from home. I saw the posters. I was advised to stay at home for my own protection. The police were coming round. I’m getting security stuff delivered to my house, trying to think about the future. I thought I’d have to stay off campus for the rest of the term but at least I can teach on Zoom. I hoped they would support me.”
And then her UCU branch issued its damning statement. “It was a pompous peroration about ‘standing with our trans and non binary students against institutional transphobia’” Kathleen explains. “And all they could possibly mean by that is that I was there”.
“There’s nobody else who speaks out like I do. Plus, every second communication that comes out of the university is about trans and non-binary spaces in the library and trans or non-binary support groups and LGBT issues. There’s a staff network; there’s a Centre for Sexual Dissidence; there’s a Centre for Gender Studies.
“It’s literally saturated with positive messaging. It’s in Brighton, one of the most queer-friendly places in the world. So all they could mean by institutional transphobia is: ‘We haven’t shut that bitch up yet’. It came through on my email and it just felt like a punch in the gut.
“But this is a union! They are supposed to protect employees from their bosses and to offer solidarity with anyone who is an employee — especially in a university where they are being targeted for their academic research and their philosophical beliefs, which are also protected in law under the equality act.”
And, Kathleen tells me, this intolerance trickles all the way down from the top of UCU. As far back as 2019, for instance, Jo Grady, UCU’s general secretary, boasted of her decision to instal ‘Terf Blocker software’ on Twitter, which automatically blocks any account that has been deemed transphobic.
“Grady is not unusual in academia,” says Kathleen. “She has these relatively extreme views but they’ve become the norm and it’s all so moralised. These people are a small number of hardcore totalitarians.”
I ask Kathleen if there’s anything we can do. How can we enable students to critically examine controversial topics without being scared to speak out?
“What we can do is demand that universities reduce the influence of lobbying groups like Stonewall, and insist that senior management do not make politically loaded pronouncements in controversial areas of public dispute.”
Nobody wins the gender wars
She explains that having transgender flags on campuses, holding quasi-religious ceremonies such as Trans Day of Remembrance and so on are not neutral gestures, despite how they are presented. These are political gestures and managers should not be participating in them.
Despite all the abuse she’s received, Kathleen believes there is better news on the horizon. She has seen a tsunami of support from Government ministers, students, feminists and, of course, right-minded liberals who are now less afraid to speak out, having been inspired by Kathleen and others who have put their heads above the parapet.
“We’re obviously having some success because I see more and more people speaking out. I think as the public becomes better educated about the basic issues and our particular position, which is the opposite of how it has been represented.
“One thing that’s happened recently is that the Guardian and the BBC are no longer presenting our views as anti-trans or transphobic. And at least some of the people working there seem aware that there’s actually a proper intellectual dispute here. Beforehand, I honestly think Guardian readers hardly knew about any of the implications of self-identification. They just were being protected from that information, because it wasn’t serving the newspaper’s business model very well.”
What will Kathleen do next? “I’m not going to stop,” she tells me with defiance. “In leaving Sussex, I’ve become even more able to speak out and now I’ve got a bigger platform.”
What she does with that platform is yet to be seen. But I suspect it won’t be long until we find out.