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The right prison for Adam Graham

The case of a Scottish rapist should—but probably won’t—transform the transgender debate


Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks to the press in Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 14, 2022. Russell Cheyne/PA via Associated Press

The right prison for Adam Graham

When is transphobia not transphobia? Well, we now have our answer: when the political leadership class finds it convenient for it not to be so. Today’s Exhibit A: Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister.

For those unfamiliar with Ms. Sturgeon, she is leader of the Scottish National Party, and has been the first minister of the Scottish parliament since 2014. She is a progressive’s progressive, having presided over draconian Covid measures and, more recently, driving through the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, which, among other things, makes it easier for Scottish people to change their legal gender. This last act has precipitated something of a crisis in U.K. politics, as the British government has used a provision (section 35) of the Scotland Act 1998 to block the bill from receiving royal assent and thus becoming law.

Of particular interest is the fact that members of the Scottish parliament last year defeated an amendment that would have prevented convicted sex offenders from identifying as women, although the final bill allows for the authorities to decide the matter on a case-by-case basis. Why do I say this is? Because this week, Sturgeon found herself reassuring the nation that a vicious convicted rapist, Adam Graham, will not serve his sentence in a women’s prison. Graham now goes by the name Isla Bryson and claims to be a woman. The sheer insanity of putting such a predator into a women’s prison has (thankfully) proved too much even for Ms. Sturgeon, and Graham will serve his sentence in a men’s facility.

What is so disturbing about this is how everybody, above all the British press, has colluded with Graham’s gender claims, repeatedly referring to him as her, of which Brendan O’Neill at The Spectator offers numerous egregious examples. Now, use of his new name is, to me, a matter indifferent. Adam Graham or Isla Bryson? Who really cares? A name is just a name, and wasn’t there a boy named Sue? I use “Graham” simply because I do not wish to give a vicious rapist even that level of courtesy. But the pronoun issue speaks to something much more serious: the destruction of the importance of biological sex. He’s still a man, whatever linguistic games he wishes to play and whatever inner psychological convictions he wishes to claim.

Perhaps this moment will lead Ms. Sturgeon and others to rethink their foolishness.

And now Ms. Sturgeon is in practice acknowledging that. Of course, in doing so she is not likely to revisit the gender bill. The inconsistency at its heart—that anybody can be a woman if he claims to be so, unless the chief constable of Scotland decides otherwise—reveals so much about modern identity politics, particularly in the sexual and gender realm. It is a function of the tastes of the progressive class, as Camille Paglia pointed out many years ago with reference to the PCUSA’s 1990 report on human sexuality. Allowing Adam (he/him) to become Isla (she/her) is great, but only so long as Isla is the sort of person that Ms. Sturgeon would invite to a polite Edinburgh party. When he’s a rapist, it is quite a different matter and quite inconvenient for the progressive class.

Underneath all of this, of course, is an obvious truth that nobody ever mentions. The people driving the gender chaos that we are witnessing—the politicians, the entertainment industry, the pharmaceutical companies—are not people who have generally read anything at all on gender ideology. They are simply playing to a select progressive audience. Crazy, destructive policies are being driven by people profoundly ignorant of the claims they are making. They don’t care about women—as even some of the left-wing press in the United Kingdom seem now to be recognizing somewhat. They care about votes, progressive plaudits, and destroying the reputations of any—such as J.K. Rowling—who dissent.

There may be hope. Perhaps this confrontation with reality, rather than abstractions, will be instructive. Perhaps this moment will lead Ms. Sturgeon and others to rethink their foolishness, apologize to figures such as J. K. Rowling, repent for their callous disregard for the safety and well-being of women and children, and reverse this insane path. Or perhaps gender ideology will now start to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.

The former, of course, requires a level of integrity, humility, and humanity that is typically foreign to the cynicism of most politicians. And the latter assumes that the political and medical establishment will not double down on driving this issue forward with the claim that this is merely a hiccup and not an intrinsic flaw in the ideology. I am afraid that, at least in the short term, I have little confidence that either will be the case.


Carl R. Trueman

Carl R. Trueman taught on the faculties of the Universities of Nottingham and Aberdeen before moving to the United States in 2001 to teach at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. In 2017-18 he was the William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University.  Since 2018, he has served as a professor at Grove City College. He is also a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a contributing editor at First Things. Trueman’s latest book is the bestselling The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. He is married with two adult children and is ordained in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.


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