Joe Shute wrote:This week – as has been the case on some 50 previous occasions since he first made headlines for attempting to conduct research into people who had regretted changing their gender – James Caspian received a poignant email.
Confidentiality is paramount to Caspian, a trained psychotherapist, and so he is careful on which details he discloses. The note was written by a British woman who transitioned to a man after being sexually abused as a child. It was only much later, the correspondent informed him, that they realised it was a terrible mistake. The decision to transition was an attempt to escape the trauma of the abuse. But at the time, no professional who assisted in the process had attempted to delve into the reasons why.
His correspondent stressed there were others, too, in a similar situation whose voices needed to be heard. ‘This is a massive wheel that needs to start rolling,’ the letter said.
Next week marks 59-year-old Caspian’s latest attempt to do just that. On Tuesday, his barrister will conduct an oral hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in his latest bid to secure a judicial review into a decision by Bath Spa University to ban a proposed piece of research on people reversing their gender reassignment surgery and transition.
Caspian wanted to undertake the self-funded research exploring issues around a perceived rise in the number of people undergoing such operations, which they later revoked.
But the university rejected his proposal. Caspian had previously warned them that it might be deemed “politically incorrect” to discuss transitioning, and was subsequently told that doing so ‘carried a risk to the university’ and made it liable to attacks on social media – as well as himself.
An unassuming, intensely private man, Caspian hoped by this stage of his career to be quietly focusing on his academic research and specialist psychotherapy work.
But instead he has found himself embroiled in a long-running and very public spat. He believes his case underlines a wider point about fear over sensitivity towards trans issues stifling public debate.
The complexity of this conversation was further highlighted last week as the most senior judge in the Family Division of the High Court heard a case bought by a transgender man, identified only as TT, who has given birth to a child, referred to as YY, and wants to be referred to on the birth certificate as the father, not the mother.
The Registrar-General, though, has insisted that TT is YY’s mother. That, according to TT’s legal team, amounts to “discrimination”. Were the case to be decided in his favour, it would make the baby the first in Britain to be born without a mother.
Caspian is too keenly aware of the irascible nature of the trans lobby to comment specifically on that case. But he does say the minefield posed by identity politics has spread fear among the establishment.
“I hear many doctors, psychiatrists and clinicians very worried about what is happening and will openly say in private they can’t say anything because they might get sacked,” he says. “What is happening is policy and law is being made without due consideration of solid research and scientific reviewed evidence.”
It has been more than a year since I first met Caspian at his seaside home near Hastings in the midst of a crowd funding campaign which has since raised £23,000 towards his appeal.
Since then his beloved German shepherd, Sparky, has passed away and been replaced by another, Brodie, and he has switched allegiances from the Hastings Philharmonic Choir to the Hastings Occasional Consort with whom he sings bass.
His legal bid, however, remains in stasis. This week’s hearing marks his third attempt to secure a judicial review. While deeply frustrating, the process has hardened his ambition.
“It has made me see even more how much research is needed than I did before,” he says. “The numbers are rising and will continue as far as I can see. We need to hear from these people. That work needs to be done. It doesn’t matter who does it. It needs to be really critically examined.”
After his case came to light, several academics have spoken out in support. Last October a group of 54 academics from a range of universities (including Bath Spa) wrote a letter to the Guardian newspaper outlining their concerns over ‘the suppression of proper academic analysis and discussion of the social phenomenon of transgenderism’ including campus protests, calls for dismissal in the press, harassment and attempts to censor research and publications.
‘We maintain that it is not transphobic to investigate and analyse this area from a range of critical academic perspectives,’ the letter concluded. ‘We think this research is sorely needed and urge the government to take the lead in protecting any such research from ideologically driven attack’.
The great irony of Caspian’s story is that it would be hard to find a professional more attuned to transgender issues. A psychotherapist and trustee of the transgender charity the Beaumont Trust, Caspian had worked with transgender patients for eight years when he enrolled for the MA at Bath Spa University, which he planned to undertake in his spare time on top of his professional work.
He proposed the research following a discussion with a leading surgeon in the field called Dr Miroslav Djordjevic, who said he had recently carried out seven reversal surgeries.
Caspian had also received online approaches from young women in the US who told him they had undergone double mastectomies and been injected with male hormones, only to change their minds.
Noticing how quickly any discussion around the subject was dismissed by trans activists, he warned the university that he may face attacks on social media, but was willing to do so in order to explore the subject fully.
“It was clear something was happening in the field of transgender medicine that had not happened before and furthermore had never been researched,” he says. “We needed to know about it in order to practise ethically.”
His intention was to present the research at the European Professional Association for Transgender Health in Belgrade, but in late 2016, was informed by the university that the application had been declined.
“I was shocked but immediately knew I was in the eye of a storm,” he says. “The reason for refusing permission fed into the reason why so important to do this research. Because it was something people didn’t want to talk about.”
Caspian’s dispute with the university has raged on ever since. In a statement released to the Telegraph, Bath Spa University insisted it has carried out a full internal investigation and added that the case had been separately considered by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education which determined last October that its conclusion in respect of the research was “reasonable."
The University claims the research proposal “was not refused on the grounds of topic, but on the methodological approach” following concerns over the “anonymity of participants and the confidentiality of data”.
When the story came to light, as well as many messages of support Caspian, was subjected to online abuse by the trans lobby, with people questioning his professional qualifications. He says the criticism has since calmed down, although he admits he has largely stopped looking for it.
At the forefront of his mind remains the harrowing messages from those who have transitioned and since regretted it.
“Some of them have been very desperate,” he says. “Some have really disturbed me. I’ve been worried for their safety and urged them to contact somebody who can council them and support them emotionally.”
Caspian’s wish throughout all of this remains simple – a desire for academic rigour to examine the scale of the issue. “We need to hear from these people,” he says. “This needs to be critically examined.”
...take your common sense with you, and leave your prejudices behind...