This week on High Noon, James Esses, founder of Thoughtful Therapists, joins the podcast. A former criminal barrister from the UK pursuing a second career in therapy, Esses was unceremoniously expelled from his program for raising objections to gender ideology and concerns with encouraging troubled minors into irreversible medical “transition.”
Esses and Stepman discuss the former’s upcoming court case suing the university for discrimination and how gender ideologues have managed to so thoroughly capture gatekeeping institutions in medicine and psychology. They additionally discuss whether the discipline of psychology itself might be guilty of over-pathologizing normal human suffering, and speculate as to why the Anglosphere has proven particularly susceptible to wokeness.
High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. The podcast features interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.
Welcome to High Noon, where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. My guest this week is James Esses. He was a criminal lawyer, and it’s a bit hard to describe exactly where his path has taken him, and we’ll get into that. But he was a criminal lawyer before he chose to change careers and start studying to be a therapist and then lots of events ensued. But he is the founder of Thoughtful Therapists, and he has his own Substack. So you can find his writing there, you can find him on Twitter. James, welcome to High Noon.
Thanks for having me. Looking forward to chatting.
So the reason that it’s a little bit hard to describe your bio in a couple sentences is not only because you made the unusual choice, to begin with, to switch from a career in law to a career in therapy, but then you went to school to study for that new career and you were unceremoniously…. I guess I’ll spoil the ending. You were expelled via email. Do you want to start out by telling people why that happened or how that happened?
Yeah, no problem. I’ll try and give the abridged version, and then we can drill down into it if we need to. But yeah, so I’d been practicing as a lawyer for a number of years, but it wasn’t quite doing it for me. It wasn’t quite fulfilling in the way that I thought it might be. And I’d been volunteering as a counselor at a children’s charity for a number of years in the UK, and I thought this is what I want to spend the rest of my life doing.
So that’s why I started studying part-time towards a master’s degree in psychotherapy. At the time of my expulsion, I was just finishing my third year of a five-year degree. And I was just about set up my own private practice and start seeing paying clients privately, which was all very exciting.
While this had been going on, I was becoming more and more concerned about the political and also the medical landscape in terms of children struggling with their gender identity and suffering from gender dysphoria. I was particularly concerned with the push in the therapeutic world towards affirmation, so affirming transitioning, medical transitioning.
And I was speaking to detransitioners, young women in particular, who have suffered irreversible mental and physical harm because of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and sex reassignment surgery. And I thought, I need to speak out about this, ethically as a therapist, because we need to ensure that there’s explorative therapy open to these young people.
And there’s been bans around the world, I think including in some states in the United States, around banning conversion therapy as it’s termed, but there’s a real fear that this will end up criminalizing ethical explorative therapy for children. So I spoke out about this. I launched a petition to the UK government, asking them to safeguard therapy for children.
And basically off the back of that, yes, one day I received an email from my university course provider, telling me that I was expelled with immediate effect. And within a mere matter of minutes, they blocked me from my university email address, my university portal, and then to put the boot in, they went onto Twitter the same evening and publicized the expulsion.
What was the reason that the university gave, either in public or to you in private about…. I mean, what rule can you possibly have violated that would result in, first of all, expulsion at all, and second of all with no chance to appeal? You said they shut down your accounts immediately afterwards. I mean, what explanation did they give, if any, for those actions?
Well, the difficulty is I’ve never actually had a conversation with anyone at the university. And if they’re going to take disciplinary action, there’s various layers that you need to go through, various hearings, opportunities to put forward your side of the story, appeals. I wasn’t offered any of that.
What I received was a two-paragraph email stating that there had been some complaints made about me and what I’d been saying in this space and that I brought them into disrepute, and that was it. I never was sign-posted towards any policies. I was never provided with any evidence of what I had done wrong.
Eventually, when I got hold of the policies myself, I went through to see, well, what would be the circumstances in which immediate expulsion without appeal would be an appropriate resolution. And the types of offenses in the university’s handbook this would be suitable for include physically assaulting or sexually assaulting another student on campus or defrauding the university. So they seem to be suggesting that me speaking out about my concerns about medicalizing children is some sort of equivalent to that.
We’ve talked a lot on this podcast, for example, with Aaron Sibarium about the institutional creep of not just gender ideology, but let’s stick with gender ideology for now, since it’s most relevant, the creep of these ideologies, not just into practitioners of whether that’s psychology, psychiatry, or just the practice of medicine, but into the institutions themselves. So into places like your university, into board exam…. I don’t know exactly what the equivalent is in the UK, but into professional organizations that gatekeep with board exams, for example. Is it your contention that….
Let me ask you this, actually. Do you think that there are a bunch of other people who, maybe, in that profession, share some of your concerns, but are afraid to face the same consequences from the institutions that you did? Or do you think this really is a bottom-up thing where the vast majority of people in this field…. And we always hear about a consensus, right? That there is a bottom-up consensus among, let’s say therapists in this case, on this issue and that you were just very far outside of it.
I think it’s a combination. I would say that I’ve been contacted by many therapists, including longstanding therapists in the UK, who have said they share my concerns but are too afraid to speak out. I’ve been contacted by trainee therapists who fear that if they say something, they’ll also be chucked off their course. And I know that there’s some trainee therapists who have actually postponed their course, waiting for the outcome of my legal case, which I’m sure we can talk about a bit later.
But even in my own cohort on my own course, I have peers who agreed with me on these topics but just didn’t feel able to speak out openly and say so. So I think there is a real fear that’s put into people that if they step out of line at all, they’ll be given the boot.
But I also think that these organizations tend to model what we’re seeing in society more generally. I mean, we’ve seen a real push amongst commercial entities, amongst media organizations, political parties, to embrace gender ideology, hook, line, and sinker. And we’ve seen this through subtle changes over a long period of time with language, et cetera.
So I think there’s a lot of people nowadays who aren’t really that skilled up on exactly what all of these things mean, but they want to demonstrate that they’re a nice person, they don’t want to offend people unnecessarily, and so they go along with this, not realizing the ramifications.
So let’s talk about your legal case. So you are suing the university. On what grounds are you suing them? Is it a lack of due process that you were given? What is the basis of your lawsuit?
So I’m suing them, I’m also suing the governing therapeutic body in the UK — they’re called the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy — because it appears, from limited information I’ve received, they may have had some hand in what happened to me.
So I’m taking them both to court on the basis of discrimination, and that is discrimination against my beliefs. And those are my beliefs around sex and gender — I’m gender critical as it’s often termed nowadays — and also my beliefs around proper medical treatment for children. And there’s been a few cases in the United Kingdom in the run-up to this, which have basically set in law that gender critical beliefs are protected under the UK’s equality legislation. So that’s what I’m going to be relying upon.
Yeah, that’s interesting because, in the U.S., of course, we’re seeing something similar where people are starting to launch lawsuits under the Civil Rights Act, but not on the basis of belief because there is no equivalent statute. There’s the First Amendment, but that applies only in a government or a government-connected institution.
So why did you decide at the end of the day to start this petition, to speak out in such a public way? As you said, there were other people in your cohort who probably shared some of your concerns, maybe they shared them with you privately. Did you anticipate the level of blowback that you would get?
And what do you think now about the institutional framework of the field, given that this kind of debate, which — let’s frame it by saying that your beliefs are very, very firmly actually in the vast majority, at least in all the polls that I’ve seen of the U.S. and of the UK. First of all, why did you decide to speak out this way, and what does it mean that you are treated this way for holding beliefs that are, in fact, the dominant beliefs in society, but the minority beliefs only within this institution?
Yeah. Well, as I said, I immersed myself in the research, the studies that were going on around gender dysphoria. I was speaking as part of my volunteering counseling with young children who were saying that they felt they were trapped in the wrong bodies. I was looking at the potentially irreversible damaging impact of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones and double mastectomies and all the rest of it.
And I was looking at the data around the significant increase in the number of young people presenting with gender dysphoria, particularly adolescent girls, which was quite different to what we had seen previously. And I thought, from a therapeutic point of view, what are we doing here exactly?
And I always return back to the basic idea that gender dysphoria is a mental health condition. And so as a therapist, our duty is to treat it in the same way as we would any other mental health condition, which is listening, exploration, empathy, considering contributing factors, considering different options that a young person can go down.
But the message I was receiving time and time again, as I said, from media, politicians, from the therapeutic bodies was you should be affirming this. You shouldn’t be pathologizing being trans, is what I’ve often been told, but I thought that’s fundamentally inconsistent because we’re being told don’t pathologize being trans, but at the same time, you must make available irreversible medication, surgery to treat it. In my mind, you can’t have both those things operating at the same time.
But my primary concern has always been about children. There’s other issues that we could speak about in relation to this gender debate, whether it’s women’s spaces and women’s rights, whether it’s free speech, whether it’s impact on sporting fairness, et cetera, but for me, it’s always been around children’s wellbeing because I appreciate how vulnerable children are.
And particularly at that age, I think back to my own childhood, children can become convinced of very many things and be certain about very many things that only later in life do they realize actually they got it wrong because they haven’t had the time to explore and to develop and grow. But I feel that we’ve robbed children of the opportunity to grow and make mistakes and then move on with their lives without regrets, because we’re forcing them into taking potentially irreversible decisions at such a young age.
Yeah. It really seems like this phenomenon is focused among young girls. If you look at the numbers, there has been a much smaller increase in male to female transitioners and a much larger increase in, essentially, preteen to teenage girls transitioning.
What are some of the things you observed in working with these kids? What other features characterize, other than being female and either preteen or teen…. I mean, what sort of things…. And without being specific obviously about any individual person. But what sort of patterns did you see repeatedly among some of these kids that were questioning whether or not their biological sex was in fact for them?
Quite often deeply unhappy with themselves almost to the point of self-loathing and a real disease in themselves and in the world around them. And I think gender ideology and transitioning was sold to them as a bit of a silver bullet for that.
But as I said, I would do what I would do in speaking with any other person for any other issue, which was just around exploration, and that included getting them to visualize, okay, so let’s imagine you have this medication and surgery, would that be it? Do you think you’d just be happy with yourself and be content in the world and just love yourself for who you are at that point? And quite often they would come back to me on reflection and say, “Well, actually, no I wouldn’t because there’s other things about myself I also don’t like, other parts of my body, other ways of my being that I don’t like, that I would also want to change.”
And that would begin to get the cogs turning to the point that they would realize that this wasn’t a fix-all solution and that, even if they transitioned, they would still have many things they hated and disliked about themselves, and actually, wouldn’t get them any further on in this journey towards liking who they are.
So often in life, it is about acceptance because, in so many ways, it is luck of the draw, the circumstances and the bodies in which we’re born, but constantly selling this myth that you can be forever happy by modifying, mutilating your own body, I think is really quite dangerous.
And then also from other conversations I’ve had, plus again, looking at the research, there’s a lot of comorbidities with gender dysphoria, whether it’s previous traumatic experiences, intense bullying, autism spectrum disorder as well. There’s a huge correlation between that and even internalized homophobia.
And again, a significant proportion of individuals with gender dysphoria end up coming out as gay. And that’s why there’s this concern, particularly in the United Kingdom at the moment, that by allowing affirmation-only therapy for someone to transition, it’s basically a form of gay conversion therapy and that these young children, if were just left to be, they would come out as gay in due course and that would be what helps them to resolve this inner conflict that they’ve got going on.
Yeah. Famously for example, in Iran, if you are homosexual, the state will encourage and pay for your sex transition. It’s illegal to be homosexual, but not to transition to the opposite sex. I guess here’s maybe where I start to depart from the entire…. I don’t know. I will confess to being deeply skeptical of psychotherapy or therapy generally. Obviously, there are people who are helped by it, but the word you used before was pathologizing, right?
To some extent, I think this is an extension of other ways in which we pathologize normal human emotions or states of being as mental illnesses to treat versus…. It’s funny because I’ve come out in a similar position, and there are definitely people, for example, who want to, quote-unquote, “normalize” mental illness and want to take away the stigma instead of…. But it’s almost the opposite.
I wonder if, aside from some of the more obvious cases of mental illness, we pathologize human suffering to the point where we treat, for example, some of these feelings of discomfort, for example, with our bodies, with life. These used to be questions, for example, that religions would try to answer that — there were other answers, obviously. Stoicism was an answer for a long time for people asking these kinds of questions, like who am I, what happens after we die, and things that cause enormous amount of anxiety and suffering to us.
And I worry that we have medicalized asking those questions and searching for answers in a way that is ultimately unhelpful in the same way that it’s unhelpful to provide a medical answer to somebody who says that their body doesn’t fit them. I wonder if it’s also unhealthy to provide a medical answer to somebody who comes and says, I’m racked with anxiety, for example, because I think about, or I think about all the time the fact that the human condition comes to an end, and we don’t know what happens after that.
I think these are natural reactions to being human that often get categorized into something that’s pathological rather than something that’s normal. And then on the flip side, at least in America, we have this enormous industry around, I would say primarily a handful of conditions, gender dysphoria being one of them, but anxiety, depression. There’s an enormous amount of funding and organizations, NGOs, stuff like that around those conditions.
And at the same time, we are allowing people who obviously have, for example, serious schizophrenia or conditions that are totally, they’re out of touch with reality half the time of what’s going on around them, we allow people as a lifestyle choice to live on the street instead of committing them, which we would’ve done 30 or 40 years ago.
So I know there’s a lot that I just threw at you there, but I guess I’ll distill it down to a couple things: one, do you think there’s the possibility that we are medicalizing other natural parts, just like growing up? Disliking your body or feeling out of step with your body is probably a natural part of growing up for most people and people get over it. Are we pathologizing other aspects of what it is to be human into something that requires a treatment?
It may come as a surprise to you, given the field I wanted to enter into, but I actually agree with you completely on what you just said. And I think as a society and as healthcare professionals, we’ve prioritized comfort and happiness. Those seem to be the things that we must aim for at all times, and anything which puts somebody outside their comfort zone is unacceptable, which is why in universities now we’re seeing this cancel culture and these trigger warnings and all the rest of it: because we don’t think children and young people should be able to have to deal with forms of distress or discomfort.
And then happiness at all times. If someone says or does something that makes somebody unhappy, then that cannot be a good thing. That’s not life. I tend to be more philosophical about this myself. I think that life is probably majority struggle, and it’s about searching for the happiness where you can. But these are all normal emotions for human beings to have.
And actually, if somebody offered me the opportunity myself to live a forever happy life and that’s the sole emotion I felt, I would say no to that because that wouldn’t be real, genuine, congruent humanity. I think it’s important that we feel all types of emotion, and that tells us that we’re truly living, and that includes anxiety and stress and unhappiness and sorrow and all the rest of it.
So, I mean, in my own work, when I was practicing, it was often about getting people to a place of acceptance, actually. And whether that’s through empathetic listening or whether it’s through philosophical discussion, I think it’s often about acceptance rather than trying to force changes. And I agree with you generally around this pathologization of completely normal types of behavior.
Bringing it back to the gender issue, it felt as if, for a while, we were moving away from gender stereotypes and telling people that there’s nothing wrong with being a more masculine girl or a more feminine boy — people should be able to dress how they want and speak how they want, have whatever hobbies they want. But the types of particularly educational materials for young school kids I’m coming across nowadays, very, very concerning.
I’ve read children’s books in which it’s being suggested to young boys that if they like flowers and the color pink that they might actually be trapped in the wrong body. I mean, that is the very definition of pathologizing completely normal behavior and regressing back to really quite harmful and dangerous stereotypes.
Why are we so fragile then? What has changed in our society? Because part of this as you always hear, the kids don’t do their chores, the kids are overly sensitive, the kids are…. So there’s a generational component to this, but at the same time, it does actually, truly….
I’m actually not in the camp anymore, I used to very, very much make fun of the woke, to try to whatever. I thought a large part of it is fake. And I think for some older people, it is. It is virtue signaling, it’s fake, but the more that I interacted with or watch videos of some of these easily mockable, super, super woke young people, it seemed like it was reflecting some kind of genuine fragility, like mental fragility. Why is it that our society seems…. It seems like there are a lot more people today who have that sort of mentally fragile posture, even a genuine one than there were even, let’s say 20, 30 years ago.
I think there’s quite a few contributing factors. I read the Coddling of the American Mind, which I found particularly interesting, and I’ve listened to other speakers on this topic. And I think it can range from even the fact that, although often in many countries, the streets are never safer than they’ve been, children are spending more and more time sheltered and indoors. And actually, in certain surveys, parents disproportionately feel that there’s a risk to their children when, in reality, actually they’re much safer than they would think.
So children are being more coddled in the home, and then as soon as they’re into the educational sphere, again, there’s certain texts that are now being banned from schools and universities for fear of causing offense. Children and university students can opt out of certain lectures that might cause them some sort of distress.
If I bring it back to a therapeutic model around avoidant tendencies, if somebody has a disposition towards wanting to avoid something, if it causes them stress or anxiety, the way to treat that is with gentle but consistent exposure. It’s termed exposure therapy. The answer is not to continue to avoid it because the more you avoid it, the bigger a deal it’s going to become inside your own head.
So if somebody with agoraphobia is too scared to go outside, the answer is not to stay holed up inside the house all the time, because they’ll become so sensitized to that, that even the mere act of opening the front door and not even stepping outside could be highly debilitating for them.
So it’s about exposing people and testing their boundaries a bit and helping them to become comfortable, whereas this all-or-nothing, in or out approach for young people — which is if something causes you stress, you can just bow out and not have to confront this — I think is really quite worrying.
On the fragility point, I do slightly agree with you, but I also think that some of it comes from a place of the fact that it pays these days to be a victim. I mean, we have a lot of identity, victimhood-type politics at the moment. Certain groups of people are being pitted against one another to show that they’re the most vulnerable, the most victimized.
And a lot of these young people, they will present as quite fragile, I think when it suits them, but they can also be bloody tough to the point of almost being ruthless. I mean, I watched a video from a few days ago in which the minister for education in the United Kingdom was visiting a university campus, and he ended up having to be ushered out by security guards because of a mound of aggressive protesting trans-supporting students who were following him around, getting in his face and screaming “conservative scum” in his face.
And those were not individuals to me who were afraid or fearful or fragile. There was a real anger and confidence and power in their eyes. So I think so often these days it pays to be a victim in certain circumstances and otherwise, a lot of people and a lot of university students feel that they can treat anyone else with as much disrespect and anger as they so see fit.
You don’t think that those are connected in some way? So, I’ve had Mary Eberstadt on this show, and her book and her general thesis of what she’s written several books around that of a similar topic is that we simply don’t have the basis of identity that we used to and, more or less, that this is a problem of modernity. That there are many fewer people who are attached to a religion and, correspondingly, a church community or a religious community. And at the same time, our family structure has not only become more unstable, it’s much smaller.
So her thesis has been we learn by mimicking, and we also have answered these questions of who am I, what’s my role in the world through, essentially, institutions of religion and family, both of which have either dropped away or become much, much weaker. And that, without those structures, we do one of a couple different directions, sometimes at the same time. One is to become more fragile and to feel all the time like we are on the edge of mentally shattering. And the other one is to embrace, I guess, a new form of religion or something that makes you feel righteous, that gives you a place, a structure, a community.
So to me, I guess I don’t see those two things as necessarily at odds with each other. It makes sense to me that somebody who is so fragile as to cannot hear a word of criticism or even questioning of, for example, gender ideology, at the same time essentially goes about making a world in which he or she doesn’t have to hear that ever.
It’s as though we hand the agoraphobe the keys to shut down the entire world around them. Rather than withdraw into the house, they just have to…. We handed them the keys to say, like, whatever makes me anxious, I’m going to shut down entirely. And so I guess, I don’t know, those don’t seem as contradictory to me as you seem to think they are.
Yeah, that’s a fair point. I can see how they can coexist together. I agree with you in particular around dissolution of religion. Something’s always going to come along and fill that void, and this kind of identity politics seems to be what’s appeared. I don’t like using the term privilege because it’s been taken over, but I would say also that it’s a sign of how privileged we are generally in the Western world that we can take offense at such things. We now equate words with literal violence.
There was a period of time in which certain places were so dangerous that, actually, the fear of physical violence, gang culture, all the rest of it was front and center of people’s minds. Now we’re being told this, if you accidentally misgender someone, for example, that that is an act of literal violence against that individual. I think for us to even be in a position of making those kinds of arguments, says a lot about what a privileged position we are overall.
And certainly, there’s still countries that exist out there that still struggle with a lot more corruption and poverty and crime and all the rest of it, and gender ideology or, indeed, identity politics is not front and center of their citizens’ minds because they’ve got more important things that they need to worry about.
For us in the Western world, things have never been better. I find this particularly interesting. We’re constantly being told by the other side that things have never been worse. For example, there’s a lot of transactivist groups in the United Kingdom who are going around saying the UK government are basically enabling the torture of trans people and that we live in an institutionally transphobic society and that things have never been worse.
Well, actually, if you look back over the timeline of history, truthfully and objectively, things have never been better, and we have never been more tolerant, and we’ve never been more equal. So this narrative I think is really quite worrying.
Yeah. Why do you think the West has this self-flagellating instinct? I was thinking about this recently, watching Douglas Murray give a talk about his book, and he locates the source of wokeness in the United States, which I think is accurate. Unfortunately, and ashamedly, I think our major export is now wokeness, woke ideology, and America has enormous cultural power. Before, we were exporting Hollywood movies, and now we’re exporting culturally. Our cultural export is wokeness.
But there does seem to be an embrace of these ideas in the former Anglosphere more than say in France or Germany, and certainly not even getting to the non-Western countries. But even within the West, there seems to be a divide where the former Anglosphere countries are more susceptible to this kind of extreme instinct of self-hatred, or flagellization of the society, this extreme form of critique, self-critique.
I’m thinking now here about the immigration debates in the UK, in the mid- and late-2000s and some of the others. I had some example in Australia, but the thing that turned out to be false about the mass murder of Aboriginal children. Of course, the mistreatment of native people to Australia are very real, but the thing that everybody was freaking out about turned out to be vastly exaggerated.
Do you think there’s something about the former Anglosphere countries that…. Is this a weaponized version of our tendency to slow change and self-critique over time? Why is it that this seems so much more adopted and powerful in the U.S., the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada versus, I don’t know, Germany or France?
I mean, I think part of it is culture specific. I mean, it’s interesting, the point you make about America’s place in the world, and I would agree. It does seem as if particularly the UK takes its lead from America in a lot of ways, but actually, in some ways, the UK is far worse. One thing I’ve always noticed about Americans is still that sense of patriotism, actually. And even when I was in America myself, a few weeks ago, American flags flying high.
Obviously, there’s still a group of people trying to do America down, but most people seem to be pretty proud and pretty patriotic to be American. I find that far less in the United Kingdom. And actually, there’s a real sense of almost nervousness or embarrassment or even shame associated with patriotism.
It was one of our general elections — I can’t remember if it’s the last general election or the one before — but a Labor Party politician ended up condemning on social media and mocking the fact that some individual was flying the English flag outside of his house. And she was clearly sneering at it, looking down on it, almost as if this person was scum for having done so. I mean, she attracted a hell of a lot of criticism for that, but the fact that a leading member of a political party would make that type of comment says a lot about the state of play in the United Kingdom.
I think British people in particular are very good at this, doing themselves down, and at times extreme modesty to the point of being self-critical and self-deprecating. So I think sometimes it is culture specific, but generally, I don’t know. It’s an interesting question, why is it in some countries and not others, and particularly if you look at Germany and their history.
But I think one of the things I struggle with in this space more generally is the fact that, at one point in history, all peoples, all nationalities, all religions have done bad things and have harmed or persecuted. I can’t think of any part of the globe or any religious faith that hasn’t done that in some way to one another.
And thankfully, much of that has stopped, and thankfully we cooperate with people who are very different to us, and different religions and different nationalities and ethnicities, and by and large, I think people get along these days, which is quite a good thing. But I don’t think anyone could be free of the accusation of their ancestors having done at some point in the past, something wrong.
I don’t know why we don’t just accept that and acknowledge we live in different times now, thankfully, and put that down to history and experience and something that has taught us and that we’ve learned from as opposed to what’s happening nowadays, which is this constant need almost to rewrite history.
And we’re seeing that in the United Kingdom again. There’s been a lot of tearing down of statues of individuals whose family may have had some connection with the slave trade, however long ago. And again, what type of message is this sending? Why are we trying to rewrite history? We can’t rewrite it; it’s what’s taking place. As long as we learn and grow from it, that’s the most important thing.
But I don’t know. I mean, as I said, if you were to ask some people in the United Kingdom at the moment, they would tell you that the United Kingdom is institutionally transphobic, homophobic, racist, and all the rest of this. And if you look at the real solid facts, if you look at the legislation that we’ve got in place, if you look at the crime rates, et cetera, it’s just simply not the case.
Yeah. That’s interesting to hear a perspective on America. Of course, from my perspective, we are very self-hating, but I take your point that actually…. And this has always been weirdly a difference in America, everybody likes to fly the flag here. It may be in part because we don’t have the sort of 20th-century history of nationalism here.
Obviously, we have our own — as you say, every civilization has its own sins in the past — but the statue stuff we have here. And we’re not just tearing down the statues of the Confederacy in the South, we’re also tearing down statues of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln.
Actually, it worries me more in America, in a sense, because that’s all we have in common is a common history, language, culture. To some extent, that’s it. The UK at the end of the day, in the beginning, was a series of tribes that sometimes happily, sometimes less happily combined into the United Kingdom. America, America has always been much more of a polyglot, and we have much less to rely on, for example, what the French have, which is this perceived kinship, even after waves of immigration. And even after being relatively accepting of new people into the political unit, there’s still this idea that they’re one people.
To that extent, the U.S. has never been that, which I think has been a great advantage of ours in some ways, but in others, if we get rid of our civic religion, and if we stop flying the flag, we don’t have anything else in common, I worry about. But maybe you feel that way about the UK as well.
Well, I think there is a real risk if people go from having pride of their history and pride of their country towards dismissing and doing down, and even on some level hating their country for perceived injustices that have taken place in the past; I think that’s quite dangerous because that opens up the avenues towards real antisocial behavior.
And if somebody has real pride in their country, there’s only so far they’re going to go. But when I was watching, for example, a lot of the rioting, a lot of the Black Lives Matter rioting that took place, particularly in the States — it did spill over into the United Kingdom, but particularly in the States — I was looking at those groups of people and I was thinking those people clearly do not have any pride in the country whatsoever. And I think that’s misguided. And I mean, the violent nature of those riots was horrific to watch.
But I think a country can only be done down so much until it becomes a place where people feel that they no longer need to obey the law, for example, and that they’re entitled to do whatever they want because in their eyes they’re righting some sort of historical abstract wrong. So I think there is a real danger with that.
I think in terms of the cancel culture point more generally, I mean, you were talking about some of the statues that are now being taken down. I mean, it seems as if nobody’s really free from being canceled. And I think this is the strange thing, because perfection doesn’t exist and every single human being on earth at some point or another has done or said something that they probably shouldn’t have and that they possibly regret and that possibly even hurt or offended somebody else.
If that is the bar for being canceled, then the entire human race should be canceling itself collectively because nobody is immune from this. We are imperfect creatures, and we see this more and more now, particularly going trawling back through somebody’s social media history and picking out a comment that they made, for example, 10, 20 years ago when they were a teenager.
And now we’re canceling them in this day and age as if the person standing in front of us today is the exact same person that posted that tweet however many years ago. I think it’s really ridiculous and I think it’s holding human beings to a standard that we can never, ever reach.
I mean, maybe this is a thread in all the discussions we’ve been having for the last 40 minutes, it’s a vision of perfection that isn’t attainable. Maybe it does go back to a conflict of vision, a constrained view of what life, what humanity is actually capable of and what it can deliver in the pursuit of some kind of utopian ideal, whether that’s within the self or society, that I’m going to feel perfectly empowered, happy, strong all the time, or that my society is going to be utopian and perfect and never mistreat anybody, and nobody will be unfairly treated.
I mean, these are in some sense, just one is the larger idea of the other, this pursuit of perfection that really does seem to have a lot of negative consequences, not just the obvious historical parallels, but even internally, even for a single person, the relentless pursuit of feeling happy or perfect all the time, I really think has had some enormous negative consequences, including when you’re a 13-year-old girl and you think that, well, people, on Instagram or on TikTok or whatever, they seem like they’re perfectly happy all the time. I’m not, therefore there must be something wrong with me or my body.
I mean, it really does seem like it’s the same impulses that when I was a kid, when I was in high school in the 2000s, it was cutting or various sort of social pathologies. The difference is most of those girls who scratched their wrists a few times with a piece of wire went on to live normal lives. I don’t want to say happy lives because that contradicts my point, but normal human lives as adults. Whereas, if you are buoyed in your search for perfection by the medical institutions around you, then you do have, as you say, and as Abigail Shrier has said, irreversible consequences to your body.
Let’s wrap up with this. Is there a path to change some of these institutions? Because there are serious consequences to, for example, the medical establishment going in this direction with gender ideology. I mean, I talk to parents all the time who are now concerned about taking their kids, not just to the therapist, to the pediatrician because the pediatrician’s office will ask them, are you a boy or a girl, and they feel that that’s confusing, especially if they have a teenager who’s going through this period where this does seem like a reasonable explanation for why they feel not quite right. And so is there a path?
Obviously, you write about this, you’ve challenged folks to debate, you have your lawsuit. I mean, is there a path to actually forcing these institutions back into neutrality of some kind, or does neutrality itself, is that an illusion and there’s always been normative judgments within these institutions and simply their normative judgments have replaced ours, if that makes sense?
Well, I do believe that. I mean, in the UK, we’ve already started to see bit of a shift, and the fact that I even would categorize this as a shift is very telling. But for example, when our prime minister, Boris Johnson, a few months ago now came out in public as part of a just general interview and said that there are biological differences between men and women. And actually, it had taken him many, many months to get to the point of being able to say that because he and his advisors clearly fear the kind of backlash that might happen if he said it. And this was crowned as some sort of big achievement and big day.
Now I was appreciative that he said it, but the fact that the prime minister of our country is even called in for criticism for saying that biology and sex is real, really is a sign of the times that we’re living in. But these are all steps in the right direction towards trying to reclaim evidence, scientific-based health care, and the narrative that we’ve got in our country.
But I think it’s going to take a bit longer. The therapeutic professions in the UK seem to have been particularly ideologically captured. That’s partly emphasized by what’s happened to me, but even yesterday, I mean, I wrote an article about this, but one of the leading therapeutic bodies in the UK published an article by an academic yesterday, and this academic suggests that believing in biology is transphobic, which is quite a concerning thing to see in an article that’s meant to be talking about an academic research study that he engaged in.
And the author of this article also has previously said on social media that he believes that being right-wing is fundamentally incompatible with even being a therapist. So in his eyes, there’s something gravely wrong about being right-leaning and that that should prohibit you from even engaging in counseling or therapy in the first place. So this kind of narrative is doing the rounds in our therapeutic bodies. So I think that’s going to take a lot longer to sort out.
Also, commercial entities, I’m particularly worried about. I went to a talk given by a transactivist organization quite recently, pushing gender ideology. And they were telling their supporters that even if the politicians don’t go our way, and even if the media doesn’t go our way, actually the crucial thing that gives me hope is that all of the companies are going our way because they are the ones who set the tone for how society works generally.
And we’re seeing this time and time again, through a lot of major, major corporations, engaging in virtue signaling and all the rest of this. And I fear that even if our politicians see sense, actually these commercial entities might pave the way for things going forward.
But overall, there are some good points. There have been some successful legal challenges in the United Kingdom. The media is now more willing to cover this in a more balanced way. And as I’ve said, there’s been some political changes too. So I think the tide is beginning to turn, but it’s going to require a lot more people to speak out and stand up.
And I appreciate how difficult it is because people have a genuine fear that they are going to get canceled or attacked or have their reputation slandered, and that is a real possibility. And I always tell people that they need to prepare themselves in case that happens. But I want to get to the point of helping people to feel empowered, to speak out anyway, because there’s a hell of a lot of us out there. As you’ve said, this idea of being gender critical is probably the majority view.
So we just need to help people to feel comfortable and to know that if they do speak out and even if they get canceled, they will still have support around them. I mean, my entire life’s future has gone up in the air, but thanks to the generosity of thousands of complete strangers, I’ve been able to crowd fund this litigation and take my university to court. So there is a hell of a lot of support out there.
I think America is going to take a bit more time on this. I do worry about that. Hopefully, if we can get things sorted in the United Kingdom, then maybe we can focus our attention towards the States. But it feels so deeply embedded this kind of identity politics in what’s going on over there that I do worry. I do worry. It will certainly be very interesting to see what happens the next time your presidential election comes around. I think that will say a lot about the tone and the mood of the country.
Yeah. I guess I’m both one step more optimistic and one step more cynical in the sense that I think I’m more certain than I ever have been that in fact, there is a strong majority for at least some of the basic propositions that are unsayable in our institutions.
I’m less certain than ever that those institutions will allow democratic power to work, and by which I don’t mean that ballot boxes are going to get stuffed. I mean the kind of things that happened under the Trump presidency where the bureaucracy essentially functioned without the president and around the president’s wishes, that, what you noted, the corporate world has an enormous amount of power, and they can independently take action.
It seems like the power of democracy is quite cabined and is more cabined every day, in particular with regard to these kinds of questions, whether that’s gender ideology or some other aspect of the woke narrative that, as you say, is so deeply embedded in our institutions.
It’s funny, I think Americans are some of the least, I think, captured in many ways, in terms of the population. There’s many, many millions and millions of people in America who don’t know even that a lot of this exists, although I think that’s a smaller and smaller percentage of people. But it really has completely taken an iron grip over virtually every institution that has any relationship to power, whether it’s public or private. It’s a really interesting dynamic.
As a conservative, it’s been interesting to suddenly find, for example, some of my Marxist friends more, more convincing, not with regard to economics, but with regard to class structure. Suddenly a lot of their critiques seem more reasonable to me than they once did.
Well, this is it. As I said, when I was in the States a few weeks ago, something particularly concerned me and I found it very, very odd and says a lot about the changing nature of the culture in the States. I went to the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, which is basically there to talk about the Black Civil Rights Movement and the folks, particularly Martin Luther King, but other main players in that game. It’s a great, fascinating museum about that struggle.
And then I went to the gift shop when I was leaving, and on the shelf was a book about gender ideology aimed at school children. It was a little coloring book, and it said to children, your doctor made a guess at who you were when you were born, and they might have made a mistake. Now we could spend ages on picking how bad that wording is and how dangerous it is. But I found it very bizarre that that book was in the gift shop of that particular museum. Irrelevant, at least completely and utterly irrelevant, and yet it’s there.
So that tells me that, actually, these things are all being joined together, and I can imagine someone saying, well, if you’re against that book being in that gift shop, then you must also be against the Black Civil Rights Movement, and then it goes on from there. These things are all being joined up together and it’s kind of a pitting of ‘you’re either with us or you’re against us.’ And that really does worry me. So I think yeah, for the States, there’s been such an enmeshment of these ideologies into daily life.
Well, we’ll see whether we can save America. But thank you, James, so much for coming on High Noon. Where can people find more of your writing and where can they follow the outcome of your lawsuit and where can they help crowdfund it?
Twitter, I’m pretty active on Twitter. You can just type my name into Google and you’ll find it. I’ve got a Substack that I write on. And then equally, if you type in James Esses’ crowd fund into Google, it’ll take you to my crowd justice page and you can donate there if you so wish. And then I post all of the updates about the case there as well. I’ve got a preliminary hearing in less than two weeks, and hopefully then, the trial date will be set thereafter. And yeah, I’m very appreciative for the support that people have given me.
And I’m also happy for people to reach out to me and share their stories with me on an individual basis. I think it’s important for me to hear that, actually, and to ensure that I’m giving voice to other people’s voices that aren’t necessarily being given airtime. But yeah, I mean, to anyone watching who supported my case, thank you, and I couldn’t have done it without you.
Well, thank you very much for coming on, and thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected]. Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcast, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. Be brave, and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.