A Plea for Respectful Debate

You may not recognise this guy, but you may have heard of Breitbart, a right-wing news site which he runs.  This guy is Milo Yiannopoulos, a Brit of Greek extraction who recently opined that trans people are a danger to women and children and a lot more besides.  My impression is that he is an immature self-publicist who says things mostly to shock; frankly I don’t want to give him any more time than I already have.  But it is an unfortunate fact that as far as trans people go, he and Germaine Greer are in the same camp, ie promoting disrespectful rather than respectful debate.  And I want to use this post as a plea for the latter; because we really need it.

There are things I decline to discuss.  I will not debate the question of whether women are equally intelligent to men; nor whether people have a right to be gay, nor whether people of other races are equal to ‘us’.  We’ve had these debates and come to a consensus; and if anyone hasn’t caught up, the arguments are all out there.  But the same cannot be said for transgender issues; and with the best will in the world, many people are genuinely baffled by this.  What does it mean to be transgender?  What are the options?  And crucially, where does it come from?  Is it, as some have suggested, a mental health problem or does the problem merely come from the prejudice of others?  If so, where does it come from?  We need to be free to ask these questions, else how can we come to an understanding?  It’s not good enough to say, as many have, that we just need to ‘accept it.’  I can’t accept something I don’t understand – at least, not fully.

What is clear to me is that previously you were defined at birth by your biology.  If you had female organs, you were female; if you had a penis, you were male.  End of – and any thoughts or feelings you might have to the contrary, had to just get into line.  Whereas now, it’s your thoughts and feelings that define you, and the body has to come into line, even if that means lopping bits of it off.

I’m not happy with either of these scenarios.  But I’m even more unhappy with the seeming impossibility of having any respectful debate on the subject, since I am often told that merely asking these questions is tantamount to denying the trans person’s right to exist.

Please comment.  But please comment respectfully.

Kirk out


Filed under friends and family, philosophy

Off She Went with a Trumpety-Trump…

Comedians, we are told, are finding it hard to keep up with the antics of POTUS.  What with international gaffes, vitriolic press-conferences, coercive handshakes and a positive hail of presidential edicts, it’s hard to know where to look next.  I draw some comfort, in a sense, from the thought that he is royally screwing this up by approaching the Presidency as though it were like being the CEO of some multinational.  You go in there, you shake things up, you fire everyone who disagrees with you and then you run things exactly how you want them.  As someone recently commented, Trump has to stop behaving like an absolutist monarch (comparisons have been made with Louis XIV) because a democracy is not a company, nor is it an absolutist monarchy.  There are checks and balances; there’s a judiciary, there are protocols.  You can’t just steam in there and do exactly what you want, much as you would like to.

Yet no matter how much he screws up, his fans still seem to like him.  It’s utterly baffling – and the best explanation of this I have yet heard was on the radio (sorry I’m not providing references today because I simply can’t remember where I read or heard anything, but if in doubt it’s probably either radio 4 or the Guardian).  Someone on the radio said that being a Trump supporter was like being a football fan.  You support your team because you support your team – and moreover, you don’t stop supporting them just because they screw up.  They can play abysmally, they can foul up time after time, they can incur penalty after penalty – but you don’t stop supporting them because they’re your team.  You get up in the stands and you chant ‘America First!’ Saturday after Saturday.

So that’s my thought for today.  Trump is a football team – and though it pains me to say it, he could be Leicester.  He won last year against all the odds, but this year he is royally screwing it up and heading for the bottom of the league.


Kirk out


Filed under friends and family, politics, radio


File:Germaine Greer.jpg

Like many other women of my generation I owe Germaine Greer a great debt.  She put a lot of my life into context and helped me to understand my experiences.  I’m referring of course to ‘The Female Eunuch’ but also to other books, including one on female artists.  I’ve always held her in high esteem – but lately I’m starting to think she’s gone off on one – and I especially take issue with her comments on transgender women -‘Just because you lop off your d**k doesn’t make you a **** woman:


I find these comments unhelpful, to say the least – and far from a positive contribution to the debate.  But that does not mean we shouldn’t have a debate in the first place.  I would suggest that with transgender issues we are at the same stage now, as a society, as we were in the early ’70’s with homosexuality.  It is not now appropriate to ask someone why or how they came to be gay (though you could ask when they first knew) because these things are generally understood and accepted.  We are not at the same stage with transgender people.  Many in society are baffled and confused by what appears to be an explosion in transitioning: many people (myself included) have no idea why this is happening, what it means or where it comes from.  And so we need debate: because without debate or questioning, there is no understanding.  But here’s the problem: the party line on this is that we should not question, but accept, because the very act of questioning is construed by some as an attack on their right to exist.

Just the other day I got into a dialogue on Facebook about whether Germaine Greer should be allowed to address an International Women’s Day event in Brighton. http://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2017/02/08/activists-call-for-germaine-greer-appearance-at-international-womens-day-event-to-be-shelved/

There are calls for her appearance to be cancelled, which seems to indicate that remarks by a person on a previous occasion, whether or not they are likely to be repeated at the event in question, can cause people to block them.  And I have a problem with this.  Hence the dialogue on Facebook, where f-to-m trans person was arguing very forcefully that Greer should not be allowed to speak, claiming that her remarks have been the cause of suicide in children before now.  This seemed a bit of a stretch to me (not to mention being hard to prove), and so I was arguing in a very restrained way that freedom of speech is important and that I am uneasy about restricting people on the basis of previous remarks.  My arguments were met with a barrage of anger, swearing and vitriol which eventually turned personal, whereupon I commented that I had tried to argue respectfully but was now leaving.  I was then told that my attempt to be respectful had failed – presumably because the very act of questioning is in itself disrespectful.  So here’s the thing – under those rules we stand on very unequal ground, because my interlocutor made no attempt whatsoever to address me respectfully.

It’s clear to me that people should not be given a platform to spout racism, sexism or any other prejudice: in any case, we have laws about that sort of thing.  But should a person be refused a platform because they have previously (even if it was only once) stated hateful opinions?  There’s a fine line here and I’m very uneasy about this.  On the one hand, I know hate speech has an effect on people because we can clearly see the rise in hate crimes since Trump and Brexit – but should the same apply to someone who has expressed certain views on trans people but is giving a talk on a completely different topic?

To be honest I can see both arguments on both sides.  But what I don’t like is being harangued because I have the temerity to disagree with a transgender person on this.  I have every right to disagree – and every right to be accorded respect, no matter how repellent they find my views.

If you have views on this I’d like to hear them.

Kirk out


Filed under Facebook, politics

La La Land – A Love Story

I could be wrong about this, but I think the last time I watched a film more than twice in the cinema was in 1971 when I went to see ‘Love Story’ three times in the same week:


I wept buckets and thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen, though years later when I watched it again I decided it was the biggest load of tripe ever.  La La Land is a kind of love story too, though in many ways it’s not so easy to write about as its appeal is somewhat nebulous.  What is clear, however, is that my admiration is shared by millions, and it has been nominated for an unprecedented number of Oscars: 12 in total – the ceremony is on 26th Feb –


I haven’t quite seen it three times yet; I went by myself last week, tried to go with my son at the weekend and then went with OH last night.  It did not disappoint on a second viewing; and as we came out I was wondering exactly how to convey my reactions.

Firstly, it’s the kind of film you can’t imagine being made any more.  I don’t just mean a musical – there have been musicals including Mama Mia, which I walked out of after ten minutes – but a musical which is neither ironical nor cheesy.  It’s quite a feat to pull off in these cynical days; and part of its appeal is that somehow the music and dance are woven almost seamlessly into the plot.  With most musicals there’s some action; then the characters pause a little, the music gets louder and you know that here comes another set-piece dance routine.  Not so with La La Land.  For a start, one of the characters is a musician, which helps weave music into the narrative.  But the film kicks off with a line of cars outside LA, stuck in a traffic jam.  Suddenly one person gets out and starts to dance and one by one all the others join him, dancing on the car bonnets, on the road, on the roofs, on the hard shoulder – everywhere.  It sounds cheesy but it’s actually hypnotic: and I think the reason people love it so much is that it’s a happy film.  It’s happy without being cheesy and it’s innocent without being naive.  It’s not a sentimental or rose-tinted love-story but neither is it dystopian or cynical: and to my mind one of its best features was that the actors are interesting rather than beautiful.  Although the woman is glamorous (increasingly so as she becomes more successful) the camera never ogles her.  She is stylish and interesting: she is not a sex object.

The plot is somewhat thin, but it’s not about the plot; it’s about our emotional engagement with the characters and their passions.  It’s about not giving up on your dream – which is something I can totally relate to as I’ve never given up on mine.  I don’t want to tell you any more about the storyline, not because of spoilers but because it’s not really important.  What matters is your engagement, exuberance and sheer – well, happiness.  And from the first moment I was hooked.

I know just enough to be able to tell that the cinematography is stunning – but not enough to tell you exactly how: if I ever get to see it with Daniel I’ll get back to you on that.  There is not a bum note anywhere – in the settings, the music, the acting, the dancing – nowhere.  It is just about damn perfect.

Go watch.  See it at the cinema because a good film deserves that.


Kirk out

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Filed under film reviews, friends and family

Why Trump?

When I hear people expressing support for Trump – I don’t mean the rabid xenophobes, but the ordinary, otherwise relatively sane folk who think he’s ‘the best of two options’ or like him because he isn’t a politician – I feel like this.  I feel like someone whose friend has got into a relationship with an abusive partner.  I want to scream at them: ‘but can’t you see what he’s like?  Look at his previous partners!  Look at some of the things he’s said?  Why do you want to be in a relationship with him?’  And this imaginary friend says, ‘Oh, but he loves me.  He makes me feel great again.  He does just what he says he’ll do even if no-one else likes it.  He’s not a typical boyfriend.’

You can say that again.  DJT seems to know even less about the American political system than I do.  He seems to think he can run a democracy like you run a business: you steam in there, change everything, fire everyone you don’t like and issue a series of fiats.  Then when people complain you fire them.  If your fiats are against the rules, you change the rules.  There’s only one thing that matters and that is to be the boss.  No-one says NO to Donald J Trump.

Like so many abusive partners, Trump is a supreme egoist.  He cares for nothing so much as for having his own way.  And like my imaginary friend, his supporters cheer him on.  Why can’t they see it?

Kirk out


Filed under friends and family, politics

The Year of Sitting Comfortably

Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I’ll begin.

You will only recognise those words if you are a) Old Like Me or b) young and into cultural irony like my son: I continue to be amazed at how much stuff from my youth he recognises because it’s referenced in things he watches.  Anyway, are you sitting comfortably?

Then I’ll begin: because today’s post is about the lost art of storytelling – by which I mean the old oral tradition of face-to-face narration (I realise plenty of stories are being told in print or on film.  Incidentally, remind me to post a review of La La Land.  I saw it on Friday and it is beyond description, but I’ll try.)

What started me off on this was – well, first of all it was because the title came to me and secondly because there is in Loughborough library a storytelling chair.  It’s large enough for one adult and one child, and it’s decorated with ladybirds.  Lovely, I thought, just right for a parent to read to a child.  And then I discovered that it’s actually an electronic chair: you sit in it and it tells you stories – and that seemed sad to me.  It seemed alienating and distancing – and moreover, a waste of money, especially as the funds had been raised by Friends of the Library and could have been spent on an ordinary comfy chair destined for face-to-face storytelling.

One of the first TV programmes I ever watched after we got our first black-and-white set was ‘Jackanory.’  This was a storytelling programme and as with all TV programmes, sitting comfortably was a prerequisite.  Jackanory went on for years and featured famous actors and actresses reading from a book, interspersed with pictures.  It was a simple but effective format.  Nowadays we have to turn to the radio for storytelling, but once every two months I go with Ruth to a group called Telling Tales.  The Leicestershire Guild of Storytellers puts on this event in Leicester and it features a mix of traditional and modern tales from a huge variety of cultures.  Last week we had stories from India, Norway, Germany and Iran, as well as my own largely descriptive account of the garden of the vicarage where I grew up.  I love telling stories and hearing them, and it is my firm belief that we need a return to our oral traditions; to go back to face-to-face storytelling.

And poetry, of course.

Kirk out


Filed under friends and family, poems, short stories

Cancel the Helium Balloons

I came across some advice recently on a writers’ blog, about handling your first book signing.  I was briefly interested as this is likely to happen to me at some point, but I don’t know what I expected.  Hints on how to interact with readers, perhaps; how to sign a thousand books without getting cramp; how to respond to difficult questions or prolonged conversations – maybe even how to deal with critical comments.  But none of these figured at all.  Instead the points were these:

  1. get your helium balloons inflated early
  2. if you are an introvert, take breaks from people
  3. dress comfortably
  4. iron the table-cloth
  5. if you bring bags of bite-size candy to give it away, bring scissors to cut the bag.

Wow.  I confess to being a bit gob-smacked by all of this.  OK so the word ‘candy’ gives away the transatlantic location; but you could just as well be organising a birthday party or a jamboree; there’s no reference whatsoever to books or fiction or signing or interacting with readers.  And it made me very depressed.  So here are my plans:

At my first book-signing there will be no bite-sized candy to give away; instead there will be bite-sized poetry.

At my first book-signing there will be no tablecloth.  I will wear comfortable clothes but they probably won’t be ironed.

At my first book-signing there will be books and there will be live poetry.

At my book signing there will be conversation and dialogue.  There will be meetings of minds.  There will be interaction between me and my readers, whom I will be interested and happy to meet, even if they are critical.

At my first book-signing I will sign books.

And you can cancel the helium balloons.   We won’t be needing them…

Kirk out


Filed under friends and family, poems