Shumirun Nessa, a British Muslim Tiktok comedian and a mother to young children, has been receiving death threats and online harassment after she criticised the American TikToker Jeffrey Marsh, who identifies as non-binary.
Marsh, who has 680,000 followers on the platform, addresses kids in several videos. In others, they speak to parents of children. In one particular video — in which Marsh does not specifically mention kids — they say: “Your parents screwed up. It’s OK to say so.”
In that video, Marsh also says: “That’s why I made a Patreon so that we could talk about it, so that we could connect in a way that has more privacy, so that we can talk to each other in a way that’s more open.” Patreon is a platform where people can pay a monthly fee to watch content.
Nessa, in her video, responded to Marsh, demanding that they “Stop telling kids to go on your Patreon and chat to you privately without their parents knowing”. Nessa made it clear that she was concerned about the particular style and content of Marsh’s videos and pointed to a tactic often used by groomers of “isolating” children from their guardians in order to render them dependent on predatory individuals.
In at least half a dozen other videos — where they don’t specify who specifically they are addressing — Marsh encourages people to go “no contact” with their families. In one, they say those who do so will “love it”. In another, they say: “If you do not have a family that loves you, I’m going to be your family.”
Yet another particularly disturbing video sees Marsh arguing against safeguarding women and girls. Just to be clear; Marsh is talking about women seeking to protect females from biological males that identify as transwomen.
“’We need to protect the women and children’ has been used against marginalised people for most of human history,” they say. “These comments upset me because it’s anti-trans, of course, but also it strikes me that it’s anti your own daughters.” Marsh then says to women that they should tell those concerned about their safety that they “don’t need protection”.
In her video, Nessa did not refer to Marsh’s trans identity and used the “they/them” pronouns that the TikTok influencer prefers. While pointing out that Marsh’s videos were troubling, she did not accuse them of being a groomer in the conventional sense of the word.
Still, she was bullied by trans rights activists into taking the video down. Nessa then shared a second video in which she tearfully revealed the threats and doxing she had received from these activists.
“I just got an email saying … they know where I live and what scares me the most is they have got my daughters’ details in the email,” Nessa said, appearing to be highly distressed, saying that her car had also been damaged. Some of those attacking her online also found old photos of Nessa without a hijab and shared those on TikTok, Nessa said, in tears.
Feminists, human rights activists, Muslims and empathetic people from other communities immediately stepped up to offer support to Nessa online, and soon #IStandWithShumirunNessa was trending.
However, the response we’ve faced – for supporting Nessa – has been astonishing, too.
Women concerned about female vulnerability to men’s violence are being accused of transphobia. Why? Because we’ve raised the issue of how isolating potentially confused and vulnerable children from their parents, and possibly encouraging them to begin a process of transitioning that may be harmful, is all dangerous. And that this behaviour could be suggestive of some form of grooming – even if not always sexual in nature.
I understand only too well what it feels like to be targeted in this way. In 2004, I wrote an article criticising transgender activists who tried to close down a rape crisis centre which wouldn’t include male-bodied transwomen as counsellors, and ever since I have been dogged by so-called progressives who consider me “transphobic”.
As a result, some university students publicly protest whenever I am due to deliver a talk on some aspect of feminism or male violence towards women. Never mind that I have spent decades supporting female victims of male violence — and continue to do so.
Even 19 years later, the bullying continues, despite the fact that in most instances I am not addressing trans issues at all. Under the guise of “protecting trans rights”, I am routinely attacked whenever I speak about the harms of prostitution, one of my areas of concern, and told that I “clearly hate trans sex workers” as though everything relates to transwomen.
This issue has come to dominate the cultural landscape in the past decade partly because well-meaning liberals have been persuaded that left-wing feminists such as myself who speak out against extreme transgender ideology are bigots and “transphobes” as opposed to women’s rights defenders.
Nessa appears to have been cowed by the mob. Indeed, bullying and harassment have become common features of this vicious row. It is not unusual in recent years to see crowds of young men in black balaclavas shouting misogynistic abuse at women speaking out against extreme transgender ideology and in favour of female-only spaces.
In a follow-up video, Nessa pleaded: “Everybody stop threatening each other, please. I don’t wanna talk about this topic any more, and hopefully you guys respect that.” This is an appalling indictment of the fear instilled in those that dare speak out, and how effective the silencing tactics of trans rights activists can be.
This is not a debate being held on an equal playing field, with a number of feminists having lost jobs, university courses, reputations and their right to free speech. I have yet to hear of a trans rights activist coming in for the same treatment.
Nevertheless, there is a clear need for nuance in this debate. It is a classic example of how two wrongs would certainly not make a right.
It is not acceptable for trans rights activists to dox a woman with young children, or any other woman, because she pointed out safeguarding issues. It is also wrong to label all trans-identifying people “groomers” and “paedophiles”. Bullying and threatening behaviour are never the answer.
There are genuine concerns about vulnerable children when it comes to certain aspects of transgender ideology, and it is perfectly reasonable for these concerns to be raised publicly. Transgender ideology is a hugely contested issue, particularly when mantras such as “trans women are women” get bandied around with little public dissent.
While I passionately support the right of any person to live outside of the sex stereotypes imposed upon them, claiming that there is no difference between women raised as girls under patriarchy and men who choose to live as women is hugely problematic. Sexism has consequences, from domestic abuse and sexual assault to unequal pay and discrimination in the workplace.
While the rights of transgender individuals must be upheld, the answer is not to shut down or silence the genuine concerns of parents, whether regarding trans individuals or the growing number of children presenting at gender clinics asking for puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.
Let me be very clear: trans people are not the problem.
The problem is a brand of extreme activism that claims to represent trans rights. In reality, this is a men’s rights movement that has grown out of the backlash against feminism, in particular, those feminists focused on eradicating male violence towards women and girls. Feminists calling to do nothing more than preserve our hard-won sex-based rights, such as women-only domestic violence shelters, changing rooms, and hospital wards are being censored as bigots and dismissed.
Nessa was not taking issue with trans ideology or with Marsh identifying as non-binary. Instead, she was raising a red flag about the inappropriateness of an adult possibly coaxing children to cut off from their parents. The successful attempts by trans rights activists to silence Nessa by accusing her of “transphobia” serve as a warning to others. But those of us concerned about danger to children must resist the demands to capitulate.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.