Safeguarding children is not 'moral panic'
The Family Sex Show had been popping up on my twitter feed for a few weeks but it wasn’t until the show got ‘cancelled’ after 38000 people signed a petition that the penny dropped for me - I had heard of their ‘consultants’ The School of Sexuality Education, before.
There is a long back-story to the publication of my third book, a puberty guide for preteen girls, ‘My Period’, that is only suitable to be told over several drinks, could be wine but preferably expensive cocktails with you paying. Suffice to say that in the run up to publication there were some extended debates about ‘inclusivity’ and at one point, a ‘sensitivity’ reader was suggested, and yup, you’ve guessed correctly, it was the School of Sexuality Education, or as I affectionately termed them, The Banana Clit Brigade.
After they were put forward, I went to their website for a look around and immediately found one of their most recent blog posts, entitled, “Why is everyone being mean to JKRowling? A comprehensive guide to understanding and arguing against trans exclusive arguments”.
I highly recommend you read the whole thing but just to give you a flavour, they state, “Psychological and scientific academia has widely proved that gender, and sex, are socially constructed”, and that, “Even the link we’ve made between penis and male sex (and vagina and female sex) is constructed.” The whole article is an absolute hot-bed of inaccuracy and misinformation on everything from biology to women’s refuges to sports, but perhaps one of the most worrying statements, given that the piece is aimed at teens and young people, is that surgery to make the penis into a vagina is a '“really cool medical procedure”.
The piece is no longer on their site (the above link is to the archived version), but this group, funded by the Lottery and several others, is leading RSE workshops in schools across the UK, and according to their website have so far reached 67332 young people.
Handwritten feedback reads: “I really liked how the workshops remained inclusive and it was acknowledged that not all people with boobs / vaginas are female or that penis = male”. Inclusive this may be but it’s at the expense of hard biological fact - if you’ve got a vagina you are female and if you’ve got a penis you’re male, regardless of how you identify.
In case it goes without saying, I didn’t allow the School of Sexuality Education anywhere near my book. But they are indeed the ‘safeguarding and educational specialists’ advising the now cancelled Family Sex Show.
What is a ‘safeguarding and educational specialist’? Are there any boundaries around who may give themselves such a title? No. Could I say that I was such an expert? Absolutely. And so could you. And this is relevant, I think, because this entire situation we currently find ourselves grappling with is all about boundaries. If you visit the Family Sex Show website, you’ll see a lot of ‘pop ups’ with various slogans on them appear, including one that says, “I have a penis in my pants”, and another that reads, “You are what you say you are”. This is one of the slogans of trans activism - a movement that is built on the idea that anyone can be whatever they say are whether that’s a woman with a beard and a penis or a safeguarding and educational specialist. But when you place this completely unboundaried concept in the context of child safeguarding, it’s more worrying. It’s teaching both adults and children not to question but only to affirm what they are told.
On Sunday night I was invited to talk about the Family Sex Show on BBC Radio 5 with Stephen Nolan, alongside another invited guest Peter Tatchell. Much of the points I made were about boundaries. The name of the show, the Family Sex Show, blurs the boundaries between a very adult concept most of us have heard of, a ‘Sex Show’, and a word that doesn’t usually belong anywhere near such a concept, ‘Family’.
The Family Sex Show itself blurs the boundaries of RSE (Relationships and Sex Education), by suggesting that anyone age 5+ can attend, in spite of the fact that all RSE guidance clearly emphasises the importance of age appropriate resources and teaching. But how can you make sex education age appropriate for all ages at once?
And the Family Sex Show website itself is a tangle of blurred boundaries, for example the swiftly becoming infamous ‘Glossary’ page, which puts theatre terms like Box Office and Green Room alongside social justice terms like Decolonising and Misogynoir and then adds in the definitions of words like Kink, Cum, Dildo, Hand-Job, Horny, Kink, Pegging and Play Parties. Again, there are no boundaries here, no need for separate glossaries for these very different categories of words, and no need to worry about what age child is learning about pegging or why they might need to know.
And then there’s the page about ‘Bodies and Touch’, which takes the reader in just a few sentences from examples of touch that ‘feel nice’ like ‘fluffy slippers and hugging our best friends’ to descriptions of vulvas and penises and an encouragement to make them out of play dough, swiftly followed by a (very beautiful) video about how ‘love has no limits’ showing how all humans are just skeletons underneath and love doesn’t see race, age, disability etc. In the context of a short page about ‘bodies and touch’, though, it’s an interesting combined message: childish slippers and hugs + touching vulvas and penises + no limits, not even age. Hmmm.
Peter Tatchell, who joined me on BBC Radio 5, is very much a ‘love with no limits’ advocate. He recently wrote this blog post about ‘sex beyond labels’ arguing that, in the future, we will abandon the ‘labels’ of lesbian, gay or straight because, “the vast majority of people will be open to the possibility of both opposite-sex and same-sex desires’. As an example of how sexuality is more fluid than we maybe acknowledge, he cites the Sambia people of Papua New Guinea, where he says, “…all young men entered into a relationship with an unmarried male warrior, sometimes lasting several years, as part of their rites of passage to manhood.” What he doesn’t mention is that these ‘relationships’ begin age 9, when boys are removed from their mothers, sometimes under threat of death, beaten with sticks and nettles and forced to perform fellatio on older boys.
Tatchell has also argued for a lowering of the age of consent and in a 1998 letter to the Guardian, where he again cites the Sambia, suggested that, “not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive or harmful.”
I had a lecturer when I read English Lit at Durham in the late 1990’s who made uncannily similar arguments. He was extremely likeable, and deeply interesting and articulate. Quite convincing, too, in his suggestions that often pop into my head at the moment - put simply, “it’s all a social construct” - the age of consent, childhood, the lines between adult and child, all just made up stuff by humans that we don’t have to pay attention to if it doesn’t suit our agenda. I think he ended up in court.
Queer Theory - in which the Family Sex Show is well and truly steeped - tells us that social categories like male, female, gay, straight, are socially constructed and only serve to oppress us. You can see how, taken to its logical conclusion, this idea could be misused to argue that there are no boundaries between adult and child - in fact, it’s hard to see how it could not end up in this place. The Family Sex Show wants us to ‘bring our whole selves’ to their performance and sees no need for any age limits or boundaries. Everything - nudity, pegging, masturbating animals - is for everyone. Men can have vulvas and women penises. It’s a free for all because we are all just skeletons when you x-ray us and everything else is just a construct.
I may not be a self declared “educational and safeguarding specialist” but I have worked (when practicing as a therapist), with many young people in foster care who have experienced severe abuse and, as part of that work, been on many courses about sexual abuse and the behaviour of abusers. It’s very important that people understand that ‘grooming’ is something that happens to adults, too - it happens to everyone around the child and although the underlying motivations are abhorrent, the actual experience of being ‘groomed’ may well be very positive and fun - that’s the idea. You are being won over. You are being encouraged to trust a person implicitly. You are being encouraged to deny any doubts you may have or evidence you may see. Your boundaries are being blurred and eroded.
The Family Sex Show may not have any ill intent, but their patterns of behaviour are a very good match to grooming patterns of behaviour. Groomers will do a great job of connecting with children, and getting them on side. They will make it fun and interesting, blur the boundaries and mix the messages. They will question the norms and rules that a child has been previously taught. Grooming takes a person on a long journey to a destination where all definitions and norms are changed and replaced, wrong is right, and questions are no longer asked. Often a child will later feel that the abuse was consensual or even their idea.
At the moment, a child’s ability to understand and consent to puberty blockers as a treatment for gender dysphoria and distress is being questioned. The Cass review is looking into the care offered by the NHS for young people with GD and Sajid Javid has now called for a further review into their long term outcomes, stating that he is particularly concerned by the finding of the Cass review that some staff at the Tavistock feel ‘under pressure to adopt an unquestioning affirmative approach’. You would think that anyone interested in children’s wellbeing and safeguarding would welcome any questions asked about medical treatments for their distress, but Nancy Kelley of Stonewall has tweeted about it being a ‘conspiracy’, and a ‘moral panic’ and Ben Cohen of Pink News has suggested Javid’s authority to question, presumably fairly solid as he is the Secretary of State for Health, is a mere construct:
Both of course are of the mindset that children and young people ‘are who they say they are’, and that it is wrong, or even transphobic, for anyone to question a young person who says they feel they are in a body that doesn’t match their gender identity. Again, the assertion is that all are equals here, and of equal authority - both adult and child. There are no boundaries between the two, and the adults must listen to and affirm what the child is telling them. Children know what they want and need, and can decide what happens to their bodies.
The discussions around the Family Sex Show may initially seem a niche issue, and even mildly amusing - a woke young theatre company get panned for taking RSE a bit too far. But I think we need to see it as a reflection of the wider impact of queer theory on child protection, which is currently being largely ignored. Remember - the School of Sexuality education are running workshops in hundreds of UK schools, and were recommended as ‘sensitivity readers’ by a major publisher. Mermaids - who champion the idea of unquestioning affirmation of children - have been tweeting bizarre videos over the weekend of a man in a hot tub with a baby mask, telling viewers to put their nipples to the screen, and have also had an image on their website of a child sitting on a bed with a man dressed up as a little girl, called into question.
Everyone is scared of talking about this issue. I believe we are all being collectively groomed into ignoring the evidence of our eyes and ears, just as we were with Savile. If we raise concerns we are quickly told we are prudish, out of touch, transphobic or even hateful. But it is not prudish to see that boundaries are important when it comes to child safeguarding, or that the wrong people will benefit if these boundaries are eroded. It’s not ‘moral panic’ to care about the wellbeing and protection of children. There’s a reason why we distinguish between adults and children and don’t treat kids as capable decision makers, include them in our adult worlds or take them to sex shows. Some labels are important, and ‘child’ is one of them.
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