The timeline of a blunder: How Irish politician Mick Barry got it so wrong

Click here to listen for yourself to the clip mentioned in this piece (between the 5- and 10-minute marks).

One of the big challenges faced by those of us concerned about the medicalisation of young people’s gender identities is the ignorance of politicians. Sometimes, these public figures are simply well-meaning people who don’t know the facts; sometimes, there may be something else afoot. But in all cases, it can be difficult to keep track of what’s going on, and why it matters. This article gives an account of one politician’s misunderstanding of the gender issue, and clarifies the timeline of events leading up to it.

On December 12th 2021, our director Stella O’Malley was invited to join a Twitter Space. Stella was there to defend her friend Arty Morty, who was being unfairly mobbed online. The conversation in this Twitter Space discussed autogynephilia, the erotic fixation some males have about being a woman. This paraphilia has been listed as a paraphilia in the DSM-5 for decades, yet remains an under-researched and mostly unknown phenomenon.

The women in the Twitter Space asked Stella why they should have empathy or sympathy for these people; the women believed that transwomen with erotic fixations on being women should not be allowed into women’s safe spaces such as rape crisis centres or women’s prisons. Stella replied that she was not forcing the women to have sympathy or empathy, but that she did have empathy and sympathy for them. It was not only a defence of her own position, but a defence of others’ right to take their own, different position – not usually a controversial view for anybody with a liberal and progressive outlook.

Some six months later, on May 4th 2022, Stella was asked to give a presentation about how to manage gender issues in school to the Principals and Deputy Principals of the Education and Training Boards Ireland (ETBI). Stella is an expert on mental health and regularly gives presentations in schools in Ireland, the UK and the USA. There have been no complaints about Stella’s presentation by anybody who attended the ETBI conference; it was very well-received, and there was plenty of praise for it.

Then, on Tuesday May 10th, a week after Stella’s presentation to the ETBI, a member of the Irish parliament called Mick Barry attempted to make a name for himself by starting a witch-hunt against Stella. Mick Barry, the only member of parliament for the Solidarity party, called Stella a “hugely controversial figure”, and suggested that the ETBI should not have allowed Stella to give the presentation at all.

Mick Barry is a largely unknown politician from a fringe political party in Ireland called Solidarity, which managed to secure just one seat in the current 160-seat parliament. In 1989, Dick Spring, the leader of the Labour Party, expelled Mick Barry from the Labour Party for his membership of the Trotskyite “Militant Tendency”. Since then, Mick has focused on activist activities and finally got himself elected on the back of water-charge grievances. Now he’s searching for a new issue to hang his political hat on: he tried to equally blame NATO & Russia for the Ukrainian invasion.

But Barry’s party espouses a brand of politics that died in the 70s, and until recently focused almost entirely on economic and class issues. This parliamentary question was a strange and unprecedented swerve from this radical Bolshevik party. Why were they suddenly concerned with middle-class identity politics? More to the point, it’s unclear why a party affiliated with “People Before Profit” do not seem to know – or perhaps care – about the eye-watering profits made by America-based pharmaceutical giants in association with trans medical care.

Still, with his advocacy for a bellicose Russia failing to work, Mick decided to dive into the trans issue. Using a disingenuously manipulated quote from Stella, Barry stood up in the Dáil – the principal House of the Irish Parliament – and insinuated to none other than the Prime Minister of Ireland, Micheál Martin, that Stella lacked empathy for people with gender dysphoria.

So let’s delve a little deeper into the quote in question.

The quote which Mr Barry used was taken from the open Twitter Space from six months previously, where Stella defended her right to have sympathy and empathy for people with gender dysphoria and people with autogynephilia.  In the conversation, she clearly expressed that while she herself has a great deal of empathy for these boys and men– and recognises the need to explore its causes – she believed that others were entitled to different viewpoints, and to their own opinions.

This is the relevant transcript that explains the context of Stella’s answer:

Lorelei: (7:52): So what part of our energy, what sort of energy do you want us to give to that sort of empathy, like what is the request here?

Stella: (7:56)  I don’t think you need to give any empathy at all, at all, none. Zero. I think I should. Because I’m trying to understand them.

Mick Barry cherry-picked a quote and suggested that Stella was transphobic. He omitted the key words “I think I should” making his comment at best disingenuous, and at worst devious. The intention was to make it look as though Stella was against anyone giving empathy to trans people. Stella was in fact making the opposite point.

Although that’s probably not a surprise. The fact is this: Mick didn’t listen to the clip.

So how did tricky Micky blunder so badly? Well, he was informed by a website called “Health Liberation Now”, which is run by two well-known trans activists: Ky Shevers, who self describes as “Genderweird human passing as a transmasculine butch dyke”; and Lee Leveille, who self-describes as “a Jewish, disabled, trans androgynos”. You can learn more about these bespoke self-designations here.

The writer of this piece in Health Liberation Now insinuates that this this Twitter Space provided some sort of ‘gotcha’ for Stella. In their hit-piece, they take very short clips (for example, 17 seconds) out of context, and then purposely manipulate them to suggest that she is saying something different. Listen for yourself. Then compare what you have heard to the full context, which is thankfully available freely here: the relevant section is from 5:24-10.28 of the clip.

So Mick took his information from a trans activist website about an event that happened in a Twitter Space six months before, which was wholly unrelated to ETB schools in Ireland, and said in the Irish House of Parliament (no less) that Stella was “messaging” (she was speaking) on a “gay rights advocacy group” (it wasn’t a gay rights group) which “excludes trans people” (it didn’t).

Mick Barry, with a level of arrogance matched only by his ignorance, has since made the statesmanlike decision to stand by his demonstrably incorrect statements.  

But we think Mick has picked the wrong woman. The Irish media have taken up on this story: Mark Tighe, in the Sunday Times, provided full context, giving all the elaborate details of the matter. Stella herself wrote a thoughtful article about the nature of witch-hunts driven by trolls on Twitter, sadly now pertinent to a politician’s behaviour in Dáil Éireann.

We at Genspect know that Stella has dedicated her professional career to providing and promoting optimal care for gender dysphoric and gender-questioning youth. Back in November 2018, Stella wrote and presented the highly-acclaimed Channel 4 documentary, Trans Kids: It’s time to talk.  Then, as a result of the multitude of emails and pleas for help she received after the documentary, she established the Gender Dysphoria Support Network in 2020, helping provide support to loving parents and family members of young people questioning their gender.

A year later, she founded Genspect in order to create a rational and informed organisation that would listen to trans people; listen to parents of gender-distressed children; and listen to detransitioners who regretted their medical transition. Sadly, the numbers of detransitioners are growing: a quick look through Detrans Reddit exposes harrowing stories of young people who needed help and compassion, rather than the one-size-fits-all, quick-fix pharma solution they were offered in the name of “affirmative care”. There are now 29.4k members on this Subreddit, and the experiences there echo the stories of the detransitioners that Stella platformed on the Genspect Detrans Day of Awareness Webinar. Her credentials are not in doubt: this is a woman with a profound understanding of gender dysphoria, and how difficult it can be to manage.

But Mick didn’t need to debase himself by reading inaccurate quotes from trans activists: he could have easily listened to the more than 70 hours of content available on the podcast she co-hosts with the pre-eminent therapist Sasha Ayad. Anybody listening to this podcast will soon realise that Stella holds great respect for, and considers as friends and allies, many transgender and detransitioned adults who share her concerns regarding the medicalization of children’s gender identity. This allyship is widely evidenced by Stella’s many compassionate interviews with transgender people on her podcast, here, here, here and here – and there are many more!

Stella is the executive director of Genspect, and our inclusion of clinicians, professionals, transgender people and detransitioners on the Genspect Advisory Board demonstrates her rational and person-centred approach to gender. All these resources show that Mick Barry TD had a wealth of content to choose from, had he truly wished to know Stella’s views on gender. And if he were more informed in general about mental health issues, he would know that she is the author of three best-selling books on mental health, with a fourth on the way.

Compassion and concern for those affected by gender dysphoria is the driving force of Stella’s work, as is true of our own. It is well-documented that Stella experienced intense gender-distress herself as a child: to suggest that Stella’s work is controversial, and that she lacks compassion, empathy or sympathy for those who experience gender dysphoria, is an outrageous and false claim.

And we believe Stella deserves an immediate retraction.

Politicians have not showered themselves with glory when it comes to understanding the complexity of how young people experience gender dysphoria. Now is a turning point. With many European countries (such as France, Sweden, Finland and the UK) revisiting their treatment protocols, it’s time for Irish politicians to decide where they stand.

They can stand with the people in the know, like our director, who is studying for a PhD in this subject and whose work is informed and enhanced by the many valuable insights and contributions of people who have experienced gender dysphoria. Or they can stand with people like Mick Barry, who don’t bother to check their sources. Whichever way they go, know this: the Irish public will be watching.

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