I WON’T waste too many column inches stating the obvious. You don’t need me to explain why there’s a problem with having a male competitor in a women’s weightlifting competition.

This situation is obviously unfair, regardless of what criteria the International Olympic Committee has decided it will use to define “woman”. This is not comparable to a basketball player being blessed with long legs or a gymnast with short ones, so let’s not indulge those sorts of silly comparisons.

I won’t patronise you by explaining how puberty works, because you’re not an awkward pre-teen and I’m not your embarrassed mother. Even if by chance a 10-year-old boy has stumbled across this column, I doubt he would need me to explain that becoming a man involves becoming big and strong. I’m sure he would find the notion this could be reversed with medicine later on a bit silly.

The news that Laurel Hubbard is to represent New Zealand at the Tokyo Olympics has prompted a flood of debates, many of which dance absurdly around the question of whether there might be something a bit off about a 43-year-old male competing at the expense of a twenty-something female.

Feminist campaigners did, of course, warn this would happen. But the more women warn of the negative, sometimes dire, consequences of an institutional acceptance that men can be women, the more we are accused of being hysterical, absurd and – horror of horrors – unkind.

Following this week’s announcement, the “calm down, dears” narrative shifted to telling us that because this is a one-off there is no need to make a fuss. A trans athlete and researcher told Woman’s Hour we shouldn’t worry because there’s no chance Hubbard will win the gold medal. I’ve yet to hear anyone confirm what percentage of the competitors in a women’s sport would need to be male before we’d be permitted to object.

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The global headlines about Hubbard’s selection may prove to be a wake-up call for some of those who naively believed that discussion about “trans issues” could be shelved for now, to be revisited at some unspecified point in the future when the conflict will have magically resolved itself. Those who slept through the alarm about the safeguarding of trans-identifying children perhaps needed more stark, visual evidence that any of this stuff was actually happening.

One wonders how many politicians regret naively wading into the debate without really meaning to, thinking they were being compassionate and progressive by repeating the mantra “trans women are women, trans men are men”. It couldn’t possibly cause any harm, they may have thought, because it would never be taken literally.

The ideology underpinning that phrase is, of course, deeply regressive, dependant as it is on the notion that there are right and wrong healthy bodies, and right and wrong ways to be a man or a woman. Worse still, it depends on a rejection of science (reflected in the now-mainstream use of such phrases as “assigned male/female at birth”) and a belief in the concept of a male or female “essence”, or soul.

Live and let live, you might think – many people believe in more far-fetched concepts than that. And indeed they do, but how many of them insist you believe it too? If you reject these mantras, and instead state facts, you will be condemned.

It is right that attention has been paid to the appalling treatment of gender heretics like the artist Jess de Wahls, who was last week smeared as a “transphobe” by the Royal Academy and this week – following an outcry – received an apology. It’s shocking to see the lengths to which so-called progressives will go to suggest that when author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was name-checked in a tweet suggesting people would “take up machetes” in defence of trans rights, she had probably asked for it.

But the problem goes far, far deeper than these individual, failed attempts at “cancellation”. What we are seeing is the result of a process that the formidable research trio MurrayBlackburnMackenzie refer to as policy capture, “whereby decision-making on sex and gender identity issues has been directed towards the interests of a specific interest group, without due regard for other affected groups or the wider population.”

This means that while individuals can personally opt to give the whole debate a swerve, gender ideology is being embedded in our institutions.

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Any time a politician states that “trans women are women” they should be pressed on what exactly they mean. They should be asked whether they agree that a depressed, bullied or traumatised child who wishes to become the opposite sex should be told this is possible. In reality, children are being told that if they believe it enough, it is already the case. The demand of gender ideology is not that we must believe Laurel Hubbard has become a woman – it’s that Hubbard was always a woman.

Either you believe that, or you don’t. You might like to think there’s another valid option – a “moderate” stance; a “kind but honest” one – but I’m afraid there isn’t.