Sunday 26 February 2017

Transplaining Spin: Fact-checking the liberal reaction to Ask Me First

The Spinoff news site has recently published two articles in response to the Family First ‘Ask Me First’ campaign.  Laura, a student, has expressed concern about Marlborough Girls College's decision to allow a male transgender student use of the female toilet facilities. Supported by her mother and the conservative lobby group Family First, she appeared recently in a Family First video speaking out against the school’s decision and the lack of consultation with students and families. Both articles strongly condemn Laura's stance, and paint her actions as a part of a bullying transphobic campaign against a powerless and vulnerable trans student. They both claim that there are no safety concerns for the female students, whereas there are major safety concerns for the trans student. 

Is it true that the safety concerns lie squarely on the side of the trans student, and that people who question this narrative are transphobic bullies? Is it true that the trans student is relatively powerless and deserves more moral consideration than students such as Laura?

The first Spinoff article, written by Television editor Alex Casey with a palpable sense of delicious moral outrage, denies the claim that there was no consultation process. She interviews transactivist Lexie Matheson, who paints a rosy picture of ‘unity’ at the school, and claims that the ‘school consulted widely, they consulted the community, they consulted the students and the student LGBT groups, I was able to talk to most kids and see the students in her classroom.’ He goes on to categorically state:

Everybody was asked first. The school was fantastic in terms of talking to the community, sending emails and newsletters out and talking to anyone with concerns. Many people did came to me with concerns about how it would affect them. The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t affect you at all.

This directly contradicts the account given by Laura and her mother. From the recent Herald article on February 22nd:

Laura's mother says the school's claims that it considered the rights of all its students before making the decision are "really incorrect".
"They have not respected the value of the girls' vulnerability. They haven't respected their thoughts on the matter. There's over 600 girls. They also have a right to have a voice.
"I think as a parent, we should've got together in the school itself before it all happened. Why didn't they ask us what we wanted to do?"
Laura adds that while she has nothing against the transgender student involved in the stoush, she takes issue with the school's lack of consideration of her views.
"[The school] never asked me my opinion. They never respected my rights. Nobody asked me first."

So which version of events is true? Were the parents and students asked about the decision to allow a male student to use the girls’ facilities? Was there a warm, loving glow of tolerance which enveloped the entire school in support of the transgender student, Stephani Rose Muollo-Gray? Were the only exceptions to this enlightened and harmonious community small pockets of close-minded fundamentalist Christian bigots, hatefully opposed to transgender bathroom rights?

If you read Muollo-Gray’s statement which accompanied his petition to allow his use of female facilities from June last year, a very different picture emerges. He states that he started off using the female toilets, but was challenged by a teacher for doing this and subsequently had a series of meetings with the principal about the issue. The principal had originally made it a condition that Muollo-Gray should use the unisex toilets provided by the school, but Muollo-Gray had no recollection of making this agreement. The statement makes it very clear that there was a lengthy process of debate and discussion, and that the school authorities were initially opposed to Muollo-Gray’s demand:

Several other meetings occurred with very little progress. They kept trying to tell me that I couldn’t use the girls’ bathrooms because it was all about everyone’s comfort and safety, as though anyone was at risk from me just trying to use the bathroom. The one idea that they kept using as an excuse as to why I could only use the few gender neutral or male bathrooms in the school was that it would make some students uncomfortable, and that they would complain and parents would become involved.

The petition gained 6,889 supporters and the story was widely reported in the local and national media. The school soon changed its policy and Muollo-Gray was allowed to use the female facilities. There is no evidence that I could find of any sort of consultation process or vote about the issue. The most plausible story is that the school changed its policy because of the media spotlight and the pressure of the lobby groups in support of Muollo-Gray.

A second claim made by both of the articles is that excluding Muollo-Gray from female facilities would compromise his safety at the school.

Lexie Matheson states: “The primary concern is safety and feeling validated and authentic in yourself. … There is new research coming out that often young transgender women often have more bladder infections than the general population because we hold on for too long. We wait until there’s nobody around and then we go to the bathroom, and that’s really unhealthy and really unsafe.” 

In the second article, Scout Barbour Evans states that: “…the Youth ’12 report – a report on the wellbeing of transgender youth in Aotearoa – has shown that 53.5% of trans youth are worried for their own safety at school. 17.6% of them are bullied at school at least weekly, and 19.8% of trans young people had attempted suicide in the last year. These are really, really alarming statistics. …everyone is focused on this theoretical, abstract debate about whether or not transgender people should be allowed to pee outside of their own homes, while our transgender rangatahi are suffering in a real, tangible way. We know from seeing the Safe Schools and marriage equality plebiscite debacle in Australia that when this sort of bullying happens by media, the overall wellbeing of our LGBTQ rangatahi goes down.”

Both Matheson and Barbour Evans speak very generally, but appear to be saying that without access to female facilities, Muollo-Gray would be at greater risk of suffering bladder infections, bullying or suicide. Again, it’s very interesting to compare these claims with Muollo-Gray’s petition statement:

That aside what I want to get across is how blatantly transphobic the school has been against me and how upsetting this whole situation has been. There is no need to worry about other students safety in this situation. It is me who has been forced to stop using certain bathrooms; interrupting my learning and my school day. This whole situation has ended in me being told I can use the gender neutral bathrooms that are available, and that the school is looking to add more. But right now there are only four, and these are at the outskirts of the school. As a girl I want to and should be able to use the girls bathrooms. Why spend money on making bathrooms for me to be segregated and out of sight of others when I can just go in the girls’ bathroom free of charge? In the end it will be taxpayers forking out for this schools transphobia.

The sentence which refers to ‘segregation’ is quite misleading, according to this article several of the previously female only facilities had been converted into unisex facilities. Yet Muollo-Gray’s explanation is still far more honest and grounded in reality than either of the hysterical Spinoff accounts. What is at stake here is hurt feelings, the inconvenience of having to walk a bit further than other students to access the toilet and the horrendous possibility that the taxpayer would have to fork out precious funds to make more unisex toilets. The most central reason is very clearly Muollo-Gray’s presumed right to feel ‘validated and authentic’. Being excluded from female only spaces is threatening to his psychological sense of ‘gender identity’.

The second Spinoff article is titled ‘Teaching love: How to support your children through questions about gender identity’. Full of love for the gender non-confriming and gender diverse children of Aoteroa, Barbour Evans’ love does not extend to embrace those unhappy with gender identity ideology:

We’ve seen “Laura” prodded into complaining by her (IMHO) overbearing, bullying mother who raised a child to believe that transgender people are subhuman in some way. We haven’t heard anything from the student herself – a teenage girl with feelings and rights who does not deserve this bullying from her peers."

I don’t know Laura or her mother, but from watching the ‘Ask Me First’ video, it certainly is not clear that either of them view transgender people as being ‘subhuman’. Laura’s mother refers to the ‘vulnerability’ of teenage girls, and insists that males and females are ‘built differently’ and therefore need private spaces. Laura talks about the ‘stressful and embarassing’ time girls go through during puberty, and their increased need for privacy. She says that younger girls with a history of abuse or trauma would be particularly sensitive and ‘triggered’ by the presence of a male inside toilet facilities. Both Laura and her mother also express concern for the precedent set by this example, as it opens up the possibility of males using ‘gender identity’ access to female spaces for exploitative or abusive purposes.

None of these concerns require adherence to religious beliefs. It may be that some fundamentalist Christian people share these concerns, but that fact in itself does not invalidate them. Transactivists such as Barbour Evans and Matheson will invariably focus upon the supposed prejudice involved with the concern about potential abuse, and will insist that there is no evidence of any trans person ever harming anyone at any time. Unfortunately they are wrong about this, and there is considerable evidence that transgender males commit violence against women at about the same frequency as the male population as a whole. Making this observation, and raising the issue of male violence and the need for female only spaces is not ‘transphobic’ any more than it is ‘man hating’.

Perhaps the most strikingly false statement is the second part of Barbour Evans quote above, the suggestion that Muollo-Gray’s voice has been completely absent from this affair. Teenage students as a rule have very little say over how their schools are run. There are token gestures such as student representatives on Boards of Trustees, but the reality for most teenage kids is that of more or less complete powerlessness. They are compelled to wear uniforms, attend classes, meet various behaviour requirements and so on. Muollo-Gray’s influence over decisions made by the Marlborough school has been massive. The petition, the media exposure and the trans lobby combined to effectively make him more powerful than the school principal.

Psychological distress is an elusive thing to measure, but in this case the apparent harms suffered by Muollo-Gray’s gender identity were counted as being far more weighty and significant by the school than any of the discomforts or fears held by students such as Laura. Questioning the liberal orthodoxies of liberal Spinoff-doctors is an unpopular activity, but there is a compelling feminist case for doing so.

[For another left/feminist take on the Ask Me First story, check out Renee Gerlich's piece]


  1. Great piece thanks. What the hell is he doing in an all girls school anyway? 'Girl' my arse. This is insufferable male entitlement.

  2. Where does it say it was an all girls school, Penelope? I missed that.

  3. Oh that wasn't clear - thanks for tip will edit, yes it is an all girls school, Marlborough Girls College.

  4. Hi - can I just check - is it correct that this is an all girls school that has enrolled a male-born boy?

  5. Yes, Marlborough Girls College in Blenheim NZ (i.e. only female students), roll about 600. Male transgender Stephani Muollo-Gray started there early 2016.

  6. these links might be helpful to those who do not fully understand the motives of males who insist on invading female spaces.. homosexual transsexuals do not do this. it is a clasic autogynephile validation manoeuvre, sexually motivated. Anne Lawrence (self-identified Agp) is well worth a read.

  7. of course autogynephilia is denied flat out by most transies.. susans place etc wont hear of it.. yet there are a billion trillion websites out there that tell us the truth.. 'shemale' porn is a top porn search term, there is an abundance of 'forced sissification porn sites, femnising porn boutiques, endless forums, reddits, tumblrs filled with perverted males masturbating over each others pantie-hose, salivating over trans-teens etc etc... i cannot for the life of me understand why people are choosing to ignore this. we need to stop and think before capitulating so easily to a fallacy and letting male entitlement run roughshod over the class of human they claim to identify with. at least until the phenomenon is much better understood.

  8. "Unfortunately they are wrong about this, and there is considerable evidence that transgender males commit violence against women at about the same frequency as the male population as a whole."

    You conflate peeping Tom's with actual trans people:
    And listen to lying conservatives: