For Magdalen

Magdalen Berns has died today, and we are heartbroken. She was so young, and her illness was so sudden and cruel. Our condolences and sympathies to all who knew and loved her. We who hurt to lose her from afar can hardly imagine what you’re going through. 

She was remembered as a hero today in the pages of both AfterEllen and the National Review, because her refusal to repeat nonsense to save herself from hassle won her a deservedly wide range of admirers, who were united in our wish to tell her how much she meant to us while she was still with us.

One of the women who attended WoLF Fest this year, who pitched in when needed and exemplified solidarity, said when thanked for her help that she was just a woman of action. That was why she had helped. She didn’t say much else, because she was being honest, rather than modest.

Looking around our movement for the other women of action, Magdalen Berns has stood out from the day she started making her videos. She was harassed at university, by students and staff, for refusing to believe that human sex change is a real thing and saying so. She was threatened along with other women at political meetings to talk about the impact on women of the UK’s proposed Gender Recognition Act, and gender identity policy in other guises. She was beat up on the street. She was called nasty names, like “TERF,” for saying that she was a lesbian, and refusing to concede the definition of a lesbian as a same-sex attracted woman. She refused to be silent.

Magdalen wanted us all to be women of action. She wanted us all to remember that we have the absolute right, if not the duty, to say, “There’s no such thing as a lesbian with a penis.”

Magdalen could have taken her sizable wit, and her talented, educated mind, and whistled right past the problems that gender identity causes for other women. She wasn’t homeless, or in prison, she wasn’t a school girl having to worry about changing in front of boys for a mandatory gym class. She could have done what so many have, seeing the wreck of other women’s careers by mobs of nasty extremists and similarly unaffected technocrats, and done other things with her time.

Magdalen would never have ended up in prison — barring that gender extremists had succeeded in making misgendering an actual criminal offense, whereas she might have been the first one to go — but we wish we could hear what she would have had to say about Irish prison authorities putting a male sex offender in a women’s prison in Limerick, because it would have been funny, humane, infuriating, and pointed. There can be no doubt that Magdalen’s response to this story, like so many others, would be that we should all speak up and do something to try and stop it.

If we would honor her memory, it seems a fair interpretation that we should take it as a given that she would rather we do something about these violations of women’s rights than quietly grumble about them in secret. Even though she isn’t around to tell us so anymore, we can resolve to listen to what she said and commit ourselves to take action, as she did.

From the statement about her death on Twitter from ForWomenScot, the organization she co-founded:

“It is with the deepest sorrow that we announce that our friend and sister Magdalen Berns passed away this morning at 9.20. To those closest to her, Magdalen was a daughter, a sister, a partner and a friend but she was also an inspiration to so very many more.

“In her last weeks she exhorted those who remain to keep on fighting. Magdalen asked that women stand up, speak out and be brave. The greater our number, the greater our strength. She also wanted us to remember that our fight is with those who would trash our rights and not with each other.  As Nicole Jones who was Magdalen’s partner and a co-founder of our group said at the Lesbian strength march last weekend:

“’Talking to her recently this is what she emphasises: the need to speak out. The need for women to work together, to stop infighting, and move forward. There is no time for apprehension. In thread once, someone told Magdalen that they were afraid to share her videos and speak out but that they were grateful that she did. Magdalen, with all her usual tact, responded: “I’m not your fucking martyr.”’

“Magdalen started her YouTube because no-one else else was saying the simple truths she expressed  – that women had rights, that sexuality was not something that could be identified into or out of, and that these rights would not be undermined. The sheer numbers of those in agreement highlight that her instinct was not wrong. She only ever wanted to inspire other women to stand up.

“Nicole has said that Magdalen always told her that she never wanted to be put on a pedestal for her work – she simply wanted to open the door. The best way to honour her legacy is not to preserve her as a martyr, but to take up her mantle. Do as she did & use your voice. Nicole has said that Magdalen always told her that she never wanted to be put on a pedestal for her work – she simply wanted to open the door. The best way to honour her legacy is not to preserve her as a martyr, but to take up her mantle. Do as she did & use your voice.”

Or, as Magdalen said in her video about the nonsense that is nonbinary identities, and the way its promoters casually trivialize the struggles of African Americans, women, and gay people, “Are you really going to sit there and take this? … Stand up for yourselves, for f*ck’s sake!”

All of us who would honor Magdalen and carry her memory forward, let’s try to do something brave, each day that we can, to help other women. It’s what she said that she wanted.

Do something, for the love of Magdalen Berns.