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Magdalen Berns

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Magdalen Berns
Personal information
Born(1983-05-06)6 May 1983[1][2]
London, England, United Kingdom[3]
Died13 September 2019(2019-09-13) (aged 36)[4][5]
Marie Curie Hospice, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom[4]
YouTube information
Years active2016–2019
Total views4.94M[6]

Last updated: 15 May 2023
  • 2011 British Universities & Colleges Sport Boxing Championship (novice women's, 54 kg)
  • 2019 Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize (Special Award)[7]

Magdalen Berns (6 May 1983 – 13 September 2019)[4] was a British YouTuber, boxer, and software developer. Berns, a lesbian radical feminist, produced a series of YouTube vlogs in the late 2010s focusing on topics such as women's rights[2][8] and gender identity.[9][10] Berns's vlogs attracted attention from transgender rights activists, some of whom characterized her as being transphobic[11] and a TERF.[12][13][14] Berns co-founded the non-profit organisation For Women Scotland,[15][16] which campaigns against possible changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004, among other things.

Early life, education, and career[edit]

Berns was born in London[3] to Eileen Maurice "Deborah" Lavin, who helped found the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist–Leninist),[17][18] and Argentine-born Gustavo Berns.[9][19] Her parents separated after her birth and she was raised in New Cross in the London Borough of Lewisham.[19][20] In the 1990s, the family relocated to a council flat in Hampstead in the London Borough of Camden,[20] where Berns attended Hampstead School.[2] As a teenager, Berns participated in activism, including campaigning against Huntingdon Life Sciences, attending discussion meetings of, and distributing election leaflets for, the Socialist Labour Party,[2][20] and, according to the Morning Star newspaper, protesting a fur shop in Piccadilly.[9]

After leaving Hampstead School, Berns worked as a sound engineer until attending the University of Edinburgh in her thirties.[2] She initially studied engineering, receiving a Doris Gray Scholarship — an award for underprivileged women studying engineering in Scotland — from the Women's Engineering Society.[21][22] In her second year, she switched to physics, graduating in 2016.[9][8][23] She was a self-taught computer programmer,[24] and between 2013 and 2015, she participated in the Google Summer of Code project,[2][25] working on implementing the FFTW3 library for Ruby.[26][27][28] As part of the Summer of Code, she interned in the Outreach Program for Women of the GNOME Foundation,[29][30] where she worked on the Java ATK Wrapper, a module to translate Swing events for the Accessibility Toolkit,[31][32] and on implementing a caret and focus tracking device in GNOME Shell.[33]

Boxing career[edit]

Berns was active in Scottish amateur boxing. From 2009 to 2011, she was a member of the Edinburgh-based Leith Victoria amateur boxing club.[34][35] In 2009, she competed in the Scottish University Boxing Championships in the bantamweight division, losing in the final to Sinead Sheehan.[36] In 2010, she became the first Scottish boxer to win at the Haringey Box Cup.[8][37] In 2011, Berns was a member of Scotland's first female boxing squad.[37] That year, she became the first Scottish boxer to win at the Golden Girl Championship;[8][37] won the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Boxing Championship in the novice women's 54 kg class;[38] and competed in the Scottish Amateur Boxing Championships in the 51 kg (flyweight) category, losing in the senior finals to Stephanie Kernachan.[34][39][40][41][42] In the same year, she was one of four female boxers to spar with undefeated male bantamweight boxer Dave Cowan to help him prepare for an upcoming bout.[43] In 2012, Berns joined the Holyrood amateur boxing club.[44] That year, she again represented Scotland in the Golden Girl Championship.[44] Berns went on to serve as a boxing coach for the University of Edinburgh.[37] She was posthumously described by Boxing Scotland as "a pioneer for both women's boxing and university boxing in Scotland".[8][37]

Views and activism[edit]

In 2015, Berns expressed opposition to the Edinburgh University Students' Association "LGBT Liberation" group, issuing a statement of support for the decision to exclude drag acts from participating in that year's Pride Glasgow event.[45] In 2016, Berns was banned from the University of Edinburgh's Feminist Society for opposing the decriminalisation of prostitution.[45]

In April 2016, Berns began her series of "irreverent"[10] YouTube vlogs where she published her views on gender identity. Her first and subsequent vlogs criticised the idea that an unwillingness on the part of cisgender lesbians to have sex with trans women who have penises (an instance of what has been referred to by gender critical feminists as the "cotton ceiling") is due to transphobia, bigotry, or prejudice, rather than sexual orientation.[46][47][48][49][50] She was also known for arguing against gender self-identification. Speaking on the subject of sex, gender, and sexuality, Berns stated: "You don't get 'assigned' reproductive organs ... males are defined by their biological sex organs. Likewise, homosexuals are people who are attracted to the same biological sex."[5] She categorised lesbians as "women who are same-sex attracted".[49] She described trans women as "blackface actors",[51][52][53] and stated, "Trans women are men",[54] that "there is no such thing as a lesbian with a penis",[55] and that she would "rather be rude than a fucking liar".[56] She described trans activism as a "men's rights movement".[57] She was also critical of the LGBT rights charity Stonewall.[58][59][60]

In May 2016, Berns was among the signatories of an open letter to the Morning Star newspaper that lauded it for "giving a platform for a sex-class based analysis of women's position, in the face of the convergence of neoliberal individualism and alienation from class consciousness".[61] In July 2016, Berns spoke at Thinking Differently: Feminists Questioning Gender Politics, a conference in London focusing on "the implications of transgenderism for women's rights".[62] Berns addressed her experiences with no platforming as a university student.[63][64] In 2017, Berns appeared at an event in Conway Hall headlined by Julie Bindel.[2]

In 2018, Berns co-founded the Scottish campaign group For Women Scotland,[65][66] which the following year Deborah Lavin (Berns' mother) and Susan Chynoweth described as the largest women's rights group in Scotland.[9] The group, which opposes reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004,[67] and lobbies on other matters such as toilet provision in schools,[68] has been called anti-trans, which the group itself denies.[69] In April 2018, Berns was among the signatories of an open letter to The Times opposing the admission of transgender girls into the Girl Guides.[70]

In June 2019, British author J.K. Rowling was criticised for bringing more visibility to Berns by following her on Twitter.[12][54][71][72][73][74] By the autumn of 2019, Berns's vlogs[8] had amassed approximately 30,000 followers.[5][24] In June 2020, Rowling revealed that she had spoken with Berns, describing her as "an immensely brave young feminist and lesbian", and had begun receiving "low-level harassment" as a result of her association with Berns.[75][76] Berns was posthumously described by Rowling as "a great believer in the importance of biological sex [who] didn't believe lesbians should be called bigots for not dating trans women with penises."[77]


Berns's opinions attracted both criticism and acclaim. She was described as "one of the most hateful and aggressive anti-trans radical feminists on Twitter" by blogger Phaylen Fairchild;[11] as a "TERF" (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) by Vice writer Lewis Gordon;[12] and as a "transphobe" in the Trans Advocate Twitter account,[54] as well as "whorephobic" by members of the Edinburgh University Students' Association.[45][78] Writing in student newspaper The Wesleyan Argus, Connor Aberle stated that Berns's "most popular uploads simply mock videos of transgender people", describing her as part of "a group of far-left YouTubers who hate transgender people".[79] Writing in Femestella, Alysia Stevenson described Berns as "a prominent anti-trans Youtuber", accusing her of "hateful rhetoric".[58] Writing in the New York Post, Melkorka Licea described Berns as "outspoken".[80] Writing in The Orbit, Ashley Miller categorised Berns' views as "aggressively dehumanizing".[13] Transgender rights activist and philosophy professor Veronica Ivy drew criticism—and a protest letter with over 500 signatories—after defending celebrations by Berns's opponents of her impending death. Ivy said such celebrations are "ethically justified when the person dying has engaged in extreme harassment of a marginalised group".[81][82][83][84] Writing in The Social Review, Joaquina stated that Berns had suggested that "the 'trans agenda' is bankrolled by George Soros, a Jewish philanthropist" in an article concerning transphobia and antisemitism.[85]

Writing in the Morning Star, Susan Chynoweth and Deborah Lavin (Berns' mother) praised Berns' "determined defence of women's sex-based rights and the rights of lesbians to assert their sexuality in the face of relentless demands to redefine sex as gender", and said she was "one of the best-known feminist speakers of her generation".[9] National Review staff writer Madeleine Kearns called her videos a "great source of inspiration and clarity for those trying to resist gender extremism".[5] Writing in The Velvet Chronicle, Julia Diana Robertson eulogised Berns as a "rare force of nature", suggesting that "while many may never know the impact she made, the ripple effect will be felt for many years to come".[86] Journalist Meghan Murphy stated that Berns had contributed to "igniting public conversation around sex, gender, and sexuality".[87] In Der Freitag, Berns was noted as a "person who pits logical thinking, scientific definitions and dictionaries against ideological zeal and perceived reality", whose videos "will continue to help people navigate gender, feminism, and identity politics, inspire and hopefully lessen the confusion."[88] Irish comedy writer and anti-transgender activist[89][90] Graham Linehan voiced vocal support for Berns on Twitter and other platforms.[91][92][93][94] Berns's death was noted by two Members of the Scottish Parliament: Joan McAlpine MSP described her as a "clever and uncompromising" young woman,[95] while Ruth Maguire MSP described her as a "courageous young feminist, who inspired others".[96] The Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist–Leninist) stated that Berns "gained a large online following for her own forthright brand of radical feminism".[20] In October 2019, Berns was posthumously shortlisted for the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize,[97] which the organisation awards to women it deems to have "raised awareness of violence against women and children";[98] in November 2019, she received posthumously a special award from the organisation.[7]

Cancer and death[edit]

In April 2017, Berns informed her YouTube subscribers that she had been diagnosed with a brain tumour that was affecting her left frontal lobe,[99] which she later clarified to be centred in her left parietal lobe.[100] In July, she announced that she had an astrocytoma that could not be completely removed surgically.[101] The tumour evolved into glioblastoma, with which she was diagnosed in October 2018.[102][5] Berns died from brain cancer on 13 September 2019, aged 36, in a Marie Curie Hospice in Edinburgh.[4]


  1. ^ Berns, Magdalen [@MagdalenBerns] (1 April 2016). "I concur my birthday is 6 May" (Tweet). Archived from the original on 28 August 2021 – via Twitter.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Chynoweth, Susan (7 October 2019). "Magdalen Berns, vlogger who took a stand for women's rights". Camden New Journal. Archived from the original on 9 October 2019.
  3. ^ a b Berns, Magdalen [@MagdalenBerns] (14 March 2016). "Turn up! London born myself: It's much better here apart from the madness in universities" (Tweet). Archived from the original on 28 August 2021 – via Twitter.
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  10. ^ a b Maynard, Lily (27 January 2020). "A celebration of Magdalen Berns". LilyMaynard.com. Retrieved 17 February 2020.
  11. ^ a b MacGuill, Dan (27 June 2019). "Did J.K. Rowling 'confirm her stance against transgender women'?". Snopes. Retrieved 16 September 2019. The most recent piece of evidence according to Fairchild, and the one that purportedly allowed for "confirmation" of Rowling's personal views, was Rowling's having followed the Twitter account of Magdalen Berns, a YouTuber whom Fairchild characterised as having transphobic views: "Finally, we have some confirmation of Rowling's stance against the transgender community. She has followed one of the most hateful and aggressive anti-trans radical feminists on Twitter, Magdalen Berns."
  12. ^ a b c Gordon, Lewis (3 July 2019). "'Wizards Unite' turns the world into a branded 'Harry Potter' hellscape". Vice. Retrieved 17 September 2019. ...the most recent development of which is her following of the TERF Magdalen Berns on Twitter...
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  14. ^ Bindel, Julie (December 2020). "Beyond parody". The Critic. Archived from the original on 17 June 2021. ...Veronica Ivy, aka Rachel McKinnon...who celebrated the death from cancer of Magdalen Berns because she was considered to be a Terf.
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  28. ^ Deshmukh, Sameer (4 March 2016). "Ruby Association Grant 2015 final report" (PDF). Ruby.or.jp. Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 June 2021. Before starting this project, I did some research to see if any FFTW interfaces for Ruby had already been built. My search lead to the fftw library by Magdalen Berns. The biggest problem with Magdalen's library was that it did not leverage FFTW's or NMatrix's unique API, and it was also very old and not being maintained.
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  35. ^ "Boxing: Jason ready to show his true colours at Coatbridge". The Scotsman. 24 February 2011. Archived from the original on 21 August 2021. Retrieved 21 August 2021. Finally, at the Scottish Women's championships - also tomorrow - Leith Victoria flyweight Magdalena {sic} Berns will be the sole carrier of Edinburgh title hopes.
  36. ^ "Boxing: uni show turns destructive". The Scotsman. 8 December 2009. Archived from the original on 4 November 2020. Retrieved 9 October 2019. ...in the only women's final, at bantamweight, Edinburgh's Magdalene {sic} Berns was well beaten on points by the more technically accomplished Sinead Sheehan of Aberdeen.
  37. ^ a b c d e Boxing Scotland (2020). "Annual Report 2020" (PDF). BoxingScotland.org. Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 June 2021. Magdalen was a pioneer for both women's boxing and university boxing in Scotland, and she was a member of Scotland's first female boxing squad in 2011. Magdalen initially represented the University of Edinburgh while training at Leith Victoria in 2009-2011 before moving on to Holyrood Boxing Gym in 2012. She was the first Scottish boxer to compete in, and win, the Haringey Box Cup in 2010 and the Golden Girl Championship in 2011. In 2011, Magdalen also won the British Universities Boxing Championships and boxed in the finals of the Scottish elite championships. Most recently, Magdalen was a boxing coach for the University of Edinburgh.
  38. ^ Edinburgh University Sports Union [@UoESportsUnion] (18 February 2011). "BUCS Boxing GOLD: Magdalen Berns in the Boxing Women's Novice 54kg - Excellent News, well done Magdalen" (Tweet). Archived from the original on 19 June 2021 – via Twitter.
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  41. ^ "Ham, Brown power to national title for Renfrewshire Club". The Herald (via PressReader). 26 March 2011. Retrieved 9 October 2019. Stephanie Kernachan, of Newarthill, made it a west coast double by beating Magdalen Berns of Leith Victoria
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