The Dildo in the Dock: Gender Fraud and the Gayle Newland Case

Former University of Chester student, Gayle Newland, is incarcerated on the lifers' wing of a women's prison three months in to the beginning of an eight year sentence after a jury found her guilty of three counts of sexual assault by penetration; a conviction against which her legal team is in the process of appealing. The case against Gayle Newland, dubbed the "fake penis trial" by The Liverpool Echo, hit the headlines in September last year when the then 25-year-old Miss Newland appeared before Chester Crown Court accused of tricking her best friend into sex by pretending that she was a man. Given that the jury found against Miss Newland, 10/2, and that the length of her sentence has baffled hundreds of people, what are we being told about the dildo in relation to the penis in cases of gender fraud by women?

According to court reports, the jury was shown a model of the dildo Miss Newland purchased online. Subsequent to the jury's verdict, Helen Pidd, who covered the proceedings for The Guardian, wrote about how the jury had witnessed "eminent QC, Nigel Power, brandishing a lurid pink strap-on dildo" as evidence for Miss Newland's defence. Yet the term dildo, whose origin -- The Oxford English Dictionary tells us -- is unknown, doesn't appear to have been used in the court room. In press reports, both the prosecution and the defence refer to a "prosthetic penis" rather than a dildo. In one of her reports published by The Guardian while the case was still being heard, Helen Pidd describes how the jury was shown an "ultra cyberskin penis": a model which several reviewers on Amazon claim "feels just like the real deal" while others are less convinced: "not firm enough," "pungent chemically smell," "realistic to touch would be an overstatement." Writing about how she "nearly died laughing" as she followed the case, India Knight opts for a "high-end prosthetic penis" in her choice of words for The Sunday Times.

This trend of substituting the word dildo with penis continued in discussions of the Newland case in the States. American political analyst, Ana Kasparian, wondered how real Gayle Newland's strap-on might have felt as she talked about the case with Cenk Uygur, co-host and co-founder of The Young Turks, in an emission broadcast a month before Gayle Newland was sentenced. "Look, I should note that we're not that educated on the sex toy industry," Ana Kasparian said. "I mean, they're coming out with all sorts of toys that seem very real, so there's a possibility that that prosthetic penis was... good. Right? I don't know. I don't know."

While it can be argued that the small handful of American male "pundits" who took to YouTube following Miss Newland's sentencing aired largely misogynistic views, some of their remarks echo testimonies of people relaying their sexual experiences with dildos on internet message boards. In an interview on The Grime Report, Big Narstie says: "A fake cock does not feel like a real cock. It's not going to be warm, is it? It's plastic, cuz." Whereas The Hodgetwins, as if imitating a bad commercial for a cyberskin prosthetic penis, add their own fantastical imaginings to the "so real" fake.

But perhaps one of the most revealing comments regarding the dildo as penis was made during a news report on Lip TV published on 13 September 2015. "So, the woman who had sex with her used some sort of strap-on object?" co-host Mark Sovel asked, to which Elliot Hill, presenting the story, replied: "A prosthesis. A strap-on. Whatever you want to call it." Yet, in relation to the Newland case, people have not been inclined to call "it" a dildo. Gayle Newland's case has been branded the case of the fake penis: the fake cock, the prosthetic penis, the high-end prosthetic penis, the cyberskin prosthetic penis -- almost any term alluding to the flesh-and-blood male organ, which, of course, it wasn't. And the eight year sentence she received from Judge Roger Dutton, who has delivered lesser punishments to male paedophiles, sends a clear message that a woman found guilty of impersonating the penis with a dildo has committed a serious crime. The penis is male. The penis is real. You may fake your age, your bank account, your profession or your HIV status in order to get someone into bed, but you won't get off lightly if you succeed in faking the penis.

The lawyer Harriet Wistrich, writing in The Guardian on 17 September just days after Miss Newland was found guilty, suggested that, "perhaps the real crime" (in the series of UK gender fraud convictions against women) "is that both McNally and Newland used fake penises, whereas the police officers" (involved in deceiving female political activists into having sex with them) "had real ones." The dildo is displayed in the court room in a way that the penis never would be. It appears trashy and tasteless as a result. Helen Pidd is not alone in her use of the adjective "lurid" in The Guardian. Reporter Jonathan Humphries, who covered the case for The Liverpool Echo, refers to the "bizarre, lurid and occasionally comical details" which emerged from the trial (there were reports of laughter from the public gallery). "Watching professional, serious barristers and judges discussing the features of a particular brand of prosthetic, strap-on penis was a surreal experience," he wrote following the sentencing, admitting that he found himself "utterly astonished on more than one occasion."

A lesbian (mis)using a dildo to act out an alter ego is far from our understanding of hetero normative behaviour. When it comes to laying down the law, Lacan's "le nom du père" (the name of the father), "le non du père" (the 'no' of the father) and "les non-dupes errant" (the non-dupes err) apply to the paternal figure associated with the penis. The dildo, feminized by its female user, is pushed out of this symbolic order and exposed as a dangerous imposter by the penal system: a penile parody.