I am delighted to inform you that the Australian Greens are in turmoil. For the last few months, various members have been trading verbal blows and bunging around legal threats all because of — come on, what else? — serious accusations of transphobia.

To get you up to speed, City of Melbourne Councillor Rohan Leppert raised some mild concerns about Daniel Andrews’ latest edict on “conversion therapy”. In a closed Facebook group, Leppert wondered if the government’s potential criminalisation of anything less than enthusiastic embrace of transgender affirmation might have unintended or even somewhat deleterious consequences. Of course, his comments leaked and there was some predictable whingeing about the terrors of intraparty debate.

The Victorian Greens, keen to spook any other dissenters in the ranks, charged Leppert with blasphemy and apologised for the words that undoubtedly caused “deep harm to trans and gender diverse people.”

While in the naughty corner, Leppert has found the company of Linda Gale, whose election as Victorian Greens convenor has just been overturned. By a handy coincidence, some procedural irregularities with the vote were uncovered soon after the re-circulation of a 2019 policy paper in which Gale expressed horribly transphobic views.

Well, that was the cry from the Twitter activists, but reasonable people may find such an accusation hard to square with what she actually wrote.

In her paper, Gale questioned the wisdom of a proposed Greens workshop on trans-exclusionary rhetoric and its predetermined conclusions. Statements such as “There are two sexes” and “Trans women are not the same as biological women”, Gale argued, should not be the reason for a member’s expulsion or censure. The ethos of the Greens, she mistakenly thought, was one of “robust debate” and following evidence and facts.

As you can guess, comrade Gale was soon censured and no doubt many would like to do much more than expel her. Greens Senator Janet Rice huffed about Gale’s perhaps irredeemable transphobia and called on her to beg forgiveness for — ah, there’s that word again — “the harm her statements have caused.”

Deputy Mayor of Port Phillip Tim Baxter used the same talking point and then he sniffed about trans people no longer being safe in the Greens. By the sound of it, this whole affair has left the party faithful a bit dispirited and — fingers crossed — unwilling to volunteer for door-knocking duties in the upcoming November state election.

I relate this story for a couple of reasons. Before we move to a weightier topic, it’s nice to have a bit of preliminary cheer. If the Greens are busily sniping at each other, they might leave the rest of the country alone, at least for a little while.

Also, I hope it makes you as annoyed as I am about all this bluster about “harm” and “safety”. It’s high time that we got some journalistic curiosity on this matter. The preferred cliché is that any debate about trans women being women or men’s ability to give birth and whatnot is the cause of unspecified physical and psychological damage. Just once, I’d like a reporter to ask an activist or a politician to elucidate that connection a bit. I expect the answer would contain a good deal of waffle, something along the lines of follow-up questions as a form of violence. Still, it would be progress of a sort.

I remain sceptical, though, about an outbreak of common sense, as I’ve noticed a troubling irony of late in the way this “debate” has been allowed to play out. In some corners of the media, activist commentators will lament all this horrible harm, and then, in the next breath, fantasise about what they’d like to do to their transphobic enemies. And no, they don’t have a thoughtful rebuttal or a stern rebuke in mind.

Take, for example, Van Badham, who — yeah, it’s depressing — is arguably Australia’s most influential feminist. She is best known for her unreadable Guardian columns and ubiquitous presence on the ABC, where she heckles her co-panellists. Anyhow, she recently spluttered:

“Terfs, like the fascists with whom they willingly align themselves, should be shredded by all moral people at all times. Middle aged white men should be doing the heavy lifting on this issue as much as anyone else.”

This might strike you as an odd place for feminist politics to arrive in 2022: the ABC’s favourite termagant enlisting white male allies to “shred” the women with whom she disagrees. Such women, it must be reiterated, can become a target simply by making sensible demands for single-sex spaces or female-only sporting categories. Oh, and don’t dare raise an eyebrow at disfigurements to the language like “birthing parent”. That’s the worst of the lot, apparently. How all this makes one fascist-adjacent, though, is a good question for someone to ask Badham next time she’s banging on about such matters on The Drum.

I suspect, though, that such a label helps to justify one’s bloody daydreams. That certainly seems to be the case for Claire G. Coleman, an award-winning Aboriginal author and her social media fulminations against “TERFascists”. Charitable bloke that I am, I hasten to note that she also notes that murdering opponents might be a setback for the cause. That said, I’m not exactly filled with confidence by fighting words like these:

I disagree with killing anybody but when you think about it “kill all T#RFs” has the same energy as “kill all Nazis”.

Well, having thought about it, I begin to worry about where all this is going to end up. On reflection, the campaign of intimidation and death threats against Warringah candidate Katherine Deves during this year’s election should have been a turning point. The best that can be said about much of our media and activist class is that they were unbothered by such developments. The vitriol against JK Rowling, who thinks that biological sex is real and dislikes words such as “menstruators” has long been a warning, too.

All this is taking place in the midst of a rapidly changing conversation about trans rights, ethical healthcare, and much else. The closure of the Tavistock clinic in the UK has initiated overdue reconsiderations of the affirmation model of treatment. We now hear more often about the tragic lives of detransitioners, those pressured to undertake drastic surgery, but then come to regret it. The international swimming body FINA has decided, in the interest of fairness, to retain sex-based competition categories.

There is also a growing parents movement keen to excise all this radical gender theory from the children’s curriculum and return to more traditional learning areas, ones not featuring drag queens, for example.

This conversation, though, is one from which the necessary participants continue to exempt themselves, especially in Australia. As the Greens remind us, entering the debate at this late stage would still cause grievous “harm” to already marginalised people. In fact, they’re so marginalised that their defenders can publicly fantasise about assaulting and killing their interlocutors before they can even get a word in.

Still, one must always tell the truth; it’s the best form of self-defence. 

Timothy Cootes

Timothy Cootes has written for Quadrant, Quillette, and the Spectator Australia. He lives in Sydney. Follow him on Twitter @timothycootes.