Don’t Call Me Ishmael

The flow of trans thoughts never seems to abate, partly because the media are awash with the stuff; and the most recent addition to the maelstrom is ze.  It looks like a bad rendering of French, but it is in fact an attempt at a non-gendered pronoun.  Now in theory I’m all in favour of this; in fact I have long lamented the absence of a gender-neutral pronoun in our language.  Hitherto we have had to resort to they, which sounds a little impersonal, belonging as it also does to animals and objects.  But what I object to is the attempt to enforce its use by means of emotive bullying.  A few months ago it was reported that Oxford University Student Union required students to use it rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’, though it’s only fair to say that they subsequently denied this: however there is a lot of expectation from trans and non-binary people that everyone should remember and use the correct pronouns.

Of course as a matter of politeness people should be called what they wish: but whereas I’d be annoyed if, after repeatedly asking someone to call me Liz, they persisted with Elizabeth, I have to recognise that Liz is an understood abbreviation; it’s in common usage.  People don’t have to get their heads around it.  This is not the case with ze, and The Press Association has recognised this in their recent advice to journalists:

Then again, there was a time (and I remember it) when Ms was new and not many people understood it; but with perseverance it became accepted.  It is now rare to find a form on which Ms doesn’t appear as an option.  Mx has been proposed for those not wishing to declare their gender – or, presumably who consider themselves non-binary, but has yet to catch on.  Besides, there has to be a limit to the number of options.

The problem with this proliferation of pronouns is that a) people may struggle to remember them and b) won’t understand the need for them.  Do most people – Jo and Jane Bloggs – have a clue what non-binary is, or even know it exists?  As the Academie Francaise is continually discovering, it is pointless passing decrees on what language people should use: unless and until we have a society like in ‘1984,’ people will continue to talk about le weekend, le parking and le camping –  and until and unless people want a non-gendered pronoun they will continue to use he and she.

As I have said before, we – as a society – have had a debate about issues such as homosexuality and gender equality and on both issues we have, by and large, come to a consensus.  There will always be people who disagree, but there is now widespread acceptance of the belief that homosexuality is not a choice and should therefore be treated on a par with heterosexuality: likewise most people accept that women should be treated on a par with men.  But we haven’t yet had that debate about transgender folk, and we need to have it.  Most people are baffled and confused; they don’t understand what it is and where it comes from, let alone how to deal with it.  And issuing a series of fiats is just not helping.

Kirk out

And What Am I?

So, following on from  this post:

I want to ask the following question; who or what decides who we are?  Who or what is the ultimate arbiter of identity?  I guess in previous generations it was decided by factors such as social class, occupation, nationality and so on: Kwame Appiah gave a series of talks on this as the 2016 Reith lecturer called ‘Mistaken Identities’ in which he covered culture, nationality, colour and creed.  He could easily have covered gender as well: there’s certainly enough debate going on about this at the moment.

Although ‘debate’ is perhaps something of a misnomer for what is basically a boxing match.  On one side we have the traditionalists who think men should be men and women, women: in the same corner are the TERFs  who believe that a trans woman is not a ‘real’ woman.  And in the opposite corner stand the trans community and their supporters who maintain that a trans woman is, and always has been, a woman.

So how does this work?  In what sense is a person born with male sex and reproductive organs, who develops chest and facial hair along with other secondary sexual characteristics, a woman?  Explanations are not readily forthcoming: neither is it easy to have respectful debate, with those on one side saying often very rude and hurtful comments and those on the other stating that anyone who doesn’t accept them is effectively denying their right to exist.

But what makes a trans woman a woman?  Explanations are long on what a trans person isn’t and very short on what they is.  Basically they throw out biology and genetics as indicators of gender and seem to say ‘I am what I feel I am.’

I can’t go along with this.  Quite apart from my own issues with what gender dysphoria can do to a heterosexual marriage, I cannot simply throw out biology and agree that your gender is whatever you decide it is.  (And yes, I realise this is not done on a whim, but still…)  This makes no sense to me – and neither, I suspect, does it make sense to most people.

And there’s the rub: because what concerns me is that an orthodoxy is emerging in academic circles, where one view is being promoted and debate is not encouraged.  Some speakers (notably Germaine Greer) have been banned from campuses for expressing certain views, including anti-trans opinions:

Free speech or hate speech?  Is expressing anti-trans views to a mixed audience, as some have claimed, like shouting fire in a crowded room?

What do you think?


Kirk out





Wish I Was Here

Am I here?  Are you here?  Are any of us actually here?

No, that’s not a philosophical question about the reality of this life; it’s a comment on the fact that many of us are, for much of the time, not fully present.  We are distracted.  We are talking to someone and a text arrives.  ‘I’d better get this,’ we say.  Why?  Or we are looking at a terrific view and our first thought is to take a photo and upload it to Facebook.  Why?  What could be better than just appreciating the view?  Or we are walking to work past a magnificent magnolia tree (it’s that time of year right now!) and we don’t notice it because we’re in a hurry or thinking about that meeting or phone call or email.  It’s spring, people!  But do we notice?

I first started to change my bad habits when I lived in Madrid.  It became clear to me that I wouldn’t be there forever; so I made a conscious effort to notice things: the architecture, the sky, the light, the art; everything I came across.  There is beauty everywhere, even if you live in a dump, as the film ‘American Beauty’ shows in that scene with the carrier bag.  Carrier bags are not considered to be beautiful, but they can be: look at the picture above and try to get past your feelings of disgust at the way plastic pollutes the world.  Is it not beautiful?  It flies in the wind with its own grace.  There’s beauty in everything if you want to see it.  But in order to see it you have to stop and look.

Much has been written about the desirability of doing one thing at a time.  If I was having dinner with someone who was continually on their mobile, I’d walk out: similarly to arrive at a beautiful location and just take photos is an insult to the location.

When I began to study yoga I was introduced to the idea that happiness comes from concentration.  By concentration I don’t mean a ‘Rodin’s Thinker’ style screwing up of the attention but an unbroken flow, like when you’re completely absorbed in a book or film (or person).  This, I learned, is the reason why new things make us happy – because we focus on them completely.  They absorb us.  But that soon fades and if we’re not careful we seek the next new thing, instead of learning that it’s the focus that matters, not the thing.

So in order to be happy we merely have to be present.

Are you here?

Kirk out

The Church of the Frightened Male

Yesterday I listened to an item on PM (radio 4) about a new church initiative.  It will come as no surprise to learn that most churches are concerned about falling attendance: what did come as a surprise was to be told that attendance is now predominantly female.  This does not accord with my experience; and according to at least one survey I found, more men than women attend traditional churches:

But even if the statistic were true I would question the attitudes of CVM or Christian Vision for Men.  They claim that to many men the church has been ‘feminised’.  Doyleys were mentioned; flowers were cited as reasons why these men do not feel comfortable in the modern church.  Leaving aside the question of doyleys (and haven’t flowers always featured in churches?) the idea of ‘feminisation’ is highly questionable.  We’ve had two millennia of the church being dominated and run by men.  The God of the Bible is male.  Yet barely a quarter of a century after the first women priests, we find that some men cannot cope.

Of course I want everyone to feel comfortable in church – but every place I’ve attended has managed to make that happen without needing to establish a separate space with hog-roasts and other male-bonding exercises.  The CVM website also endorses patriarchal ideas about the man as the head of the family (‘if you get the man, you get the family’ – in other words, women and children do not make their own decisions.)  Maybe there is an argument to be had about whether men need to hang out together and do stuff without women, the same as there is about women doing stuff without men – but come on guys!  If the mere presence of a doyley can put you off going to church, you need to examine your faith.

Here’s the programme anyway – it’s about 20 minutes in:




Beware the Ideas of March

I’ve never been quite sure what an Ide is, but I am told that today is the Ides of March – or at any rate one of them: other Roman days include the Nones and Calends, and I don’t know when these are.  But! today’s post is about ideas, not Ides; the word just comes in handy for a silly pun.  And I’m afraid it’s yet more trans stuff because the Ideas just keep coming.  (See what I did there?)  Because I seem to be coming round a little bit to the TERF position (if you don’t know what that is, see this post:

As I understand it, the position of TERFs is that transgender women are not real women and that their existence ‘invades female space’.  Now I wouldn’t go that far – and especially I wouldn’t be as rude as Germaine Greer – but I know what Jenni Murray means when she talks about men retaining their privileges when they transition, in that they attained positions of power as a man which they then keep, or that like Lauren Jeska the athlete recently in the news, they win races with the physical strength they were born with as a man.

The trans position is generally that the trans person was ‘always’ a woman (or man, but I am focussing on female-to-male here).  As my previous posts have shown, I am struggling to make sense of this: I don’t believe you can simply throw out biology as a determiner of either sex or gender.  (I’ve gone into this quite recently – just scroll down a couple of posts.) It seems clear that those ‘born’ male often retain characteristics thought of as male, such as muscle bulk and a prominent jaw: in particular when they have a certain degree of physical strength, it seems unfair that they are then able to take advantage of this by competing in sports as a woman.

Why is there such an explosion in transgender stories at the moment?  Is it simply an issue of the day?  Have there always been the same number of cases?  Is it because surgery and therapy are easier to access?  Is it because society is more tolerant than before?

I remember the odd transgender story from my youth, notably Jan (formerly James) Morris – but nothing like we’ve seen in recent years.  Why is that?  It’s tempting to wonder whether some of it is due to the rise in women’s rights.  If you can live as a woman without losing caste, why not?


Kirk out


Lady of the Rings

When I was getting married, my mother-in-law to be decided to give me an engagement ring.  She meant well, but I really didn’t want an engagement ring because we’d never actually got engaged so, although I was very pleased with the plain gold wedding band, I didn’t like the engagement ring with the huge rock on it, and pretty soon I broke it.  I think it probably lasted about three weeks.  This may have been some sort of Freudian slip on my part, or it may just have been that I am about as delicate as an elephant and don’t deal very well with fragile things.  Give me something robust – something that can stand up for itself.  Give me things that will put up a fight.  I can’t be doing with the fiddly, the filigree or the frangible.  Give me solid.

So my mother-in-law, who was probably quite upset by my trashing of her family heirloom, gave me another ring – this time much smaller and neater – and I promptly bashed a hole in the middle of it.  This time it wasn’t replaced: and every time I look at it I feel a stab of guilt at my clumsiness.

When I was at school I got a name for being cack-handed.  This may or may not be connected to my left-handedness in some actions, notably writing; though I was spared the torment of previous generations forced to write with the right hand.  Later in life I developed a little more poise: yoga helped, as did an increase in self-confidence.  But it’s hard to get over your early experiences, and one day when I met those ex-classmates whose idea of me was a klutz, I instantly dropped what I was holding and crashed into the table.  This of course caused a collective rolling of the eyes – a reaction which at my school passed for an uproar.

It’s hard to get out of dynamics which have been laid down in early life.

Speaking of rings, it has come to my attention that George R R Martin (of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame) was born with only one R.  Do you think he might be trying to ape Tolkein?

I think we should be told.

Kirk out


Trans Stuff

Yesterday being International Women’s Day, I went to a women’s event at Loughborough University.  It was quite a feat getting there as there was no signage at all: fortunately a couple of security guards who (though very politely) nearly ran me over, pointed me in the right direction.  The event was called ‘From Sex to Gender: a Biological and Cultural Journey’ and as usual with these things I was seeking some kind of enlightenment.  Or explanation.  Or whatever.

Did I get it?  Well, yes and no.  Any discussion, however waffly or fruitless, can move your thought-processes along if you let it – and this was unwaffly and sort of fruitful, if you think a tomato is a fruit.  OK I’m being abstruse.  Let’s get to it: there was a talk by a Professor (male), suggesting that gender is a spectrum and quoting a book called ‘The Five Sexes’ by Anne Fausto-Sterling:

The five are, apparently, ‘perfect’ male, ‘perfect’ female, ‘masculine female’ (me, probably) ‘feminine’ male (OH, in my view) and intersex.  Fine: I don’t have a problem with the idea that most people don’t fit entirely into neat boxes labelled ‘male’ and ‘female’.

So I don’t disagree that gender – ie what you are expected to be and do as a man or woman – is socially constructed.  So far so good.  But the second half of the event was a video by a trans woman claiming that sex is also socially constructed; in other words, that we can throw out biology – chromosomes, sexual organs, hormones, etc – as a determiner of sex.  Hmm.  She claims that transgender women are not biologically male; but I’m sceptical: in trans women (including her, incidentally) you can often see features which often occur only in males, such as a pronounced jawline or a tendency to put on weight round the middle rather than around the hips.  And that’s not even to touch on ethical issues such as trans women using the strength or power they had as a male to their advantage – retaining positions of power, winning cycle races – which is what Jenni Murray was getting at in her recent remarks:

While the video was long on what gender isn’t, it was very short on what gender actually is.  The idea seemed to be that you are what you say you are, or what you feel you are – and the rest can go hang.

I don’t buy it – and neither did some other people there – but when I tried to raise the issue of what gender actually is, it wasn’t dealt with.  And the problem I’m finding is not that some people have certain ideas, but that disagreement is difficult.  There’s an orthodoxy emerging: the facilitator of the discussion, though perfectly pleasant, was not open-minded; she had a view and seemed to be trying to convey that view as correct.  The idea seems to be that the rest of us should just accept unquestioningly what trans people say; and as a sceptic I’m not prepared to accept anything without question, no matter where it comes from or who says it.

The video was called ‘No, Transgender Women are not Biologically Male’ and you can find it here:

(unfortunately it’s one of those where all the pauses have been edited out, which I find makes it almost impossible to take in.)

In short, just because you can’t be precise about sex doesn’t mean we should just throw the whole thing out.  And debate ought never to be off the table.  We must have debate.

Kirk out

Are You a Closet Christian?

It is generally assumed that if you’re a white Northern European, you are Not A Christian.  Anyone who’s educated, enlightened and forward-thinking is automatically presumed to be either atheist, sceptical or at the very least agnostic: with Richard Dawkins preaching on every (virtual) street corner, it’s not a good time to have faith.  And yet according to the Guardian last year 43% of the UK population identify as having a Christian faith

and according to a Gallup faith survey in 2014 30% of the UK’s population identified as ‘religious’.

However we unpick these figures, the trend continues to be downwards; and the assumption is still that if you have a brain you believe in science, and that if you believe in science you cannot possibly be religious.

If you do declare a faith you are likely to encounter one of two approaches: either people may edge away from you and regard you as a freak who is likely to jump on them and start speaking in tongues; or they come at you with a barrage of questions such as ‘what about homophobia in the church?  How can you believe in god when there’s so much suffering?’ or ‘look at all the terrible things done in the name of god!’  In other words, you become an apologist for religion, expected to answer for all the evil committed in the name of God, as well as being expected to have an answer to all the big questions.

As I have previously said I think ‘do you believe in God?’ is the wrong question.  I have developed an answer to this which I have outlined here:

Interestingly I’ve found it much easier since I’ve become a Quaker.  People seem to have different associations with Quakers than they do with Christians in general, so the usual response is one of interest, not fear or hostility.  But it remains difficult in certain circles to ‘come out’ as a Christian.  Tracey Ullman has perfectly captured this in a series of sketches in her latest show (it’s 16 minutes in:)

This in itself is interesting.  I don’t know whether Tracey Ullman has a faith or not, but for a mainstream comic to do such a sketch may indicate that the tide is turning, at least in favour of more tolerance.

Kirk out

Good News is No News

It has probably not escaped your attention that the news nowadays is unrelievedly gloomy.  Douglas Adams spotted this decades ago when he invented a spaceship powered by Bad News, since this travelled faster than light:

At Quaker meeting this morning a Friend spoke of rationing their intake of news: later on another Friend spoke of the wisdom of avoiding news bulletins first thing in the morning or last thing at night: because in the morning it colours your day at a time when you’re just waking up, and late at night it affects your sleep.  Midday is considered to be the best time: and whilst that doesn’t work for me as I’m otherwise engaged, I do generally allow an hour for waking before I put on the headlines.  I listen to the main news at six, though I usually find myself switching it off and turning to some joyous music on radio 2 instead – because what I hear generally causes me to feel either angry or depressed, neither of which is good for me.

Of course it’s important to keep up with what’s going on – but there’s a question as to how far the mainstream news actually informs us about real-life events.  There is a bias in everything; and as Owen Jones points out in his book ‘The Establishment’, at the moment it is a pro-business and (god help us) a relentlessly anti-Corbyn bias.  This can be seen in the BBC as well as most newspapers.

I could have a rant about political bias, but what concerns me most right now is the bias towards the negative.  As I said in the post about drama, happiness is considered dull: only misery, it seems, makes good news.  So that even when a positive item makes it onto the agenda, it is usually qualified by doubts about how long it will continue – doubts which are never expressed, say, about a war or an economic crisis.

I don’t think this is necessarily conscious and deliberate: the news outlets may even be unaware that they are doing it.  They may simply think that this is what news is: good news is no news.  But it means that our vision of the world – as we see it through these outlets – is overwhelmingly biased towards the negative; and (which should concern them more) it means that people like me are reaching more and more for the off-switch.

Kirk out.

I’ll Put a Spellchecker on You

Everyone has their favourite spellchecker moments; times when that ‘helpful’ device has come up with absurd or incomprehensible corrections.  It wouldn’t be so bad if all it did was suggest, but like an overbearing teacher, it often goes ahead and corrects without even so much as a polite ‘ahem!’ in your direction – so that the first you know of it is when the text or update or tweet has already been sent, and you’ve suggested using pizza leaflets as firefighters instead of the obvious firelighters.

Not only that, but spellchecker is unrepentantly American.  No matter how many times you tell it you’re in the UK, it insists on underlining your perfectly correct ENGLISH spellings of words just because you haven’t put a z where an s is, or because you refuse to chop the ends off perfectly good words – like dialogue because to spell it without the ue is simply WRONG!

And once you’ve dealt with spellchecker you come up against his croney.  Grammar-checker follows close behind spellchecker and underlines all your perfectly constructed sentences with a plaintive wiggly line of its own; making your prose look like it’s festooned with Christmas tinsel.

You’d think I’d have a million examples of these.  I ought to have; it’s happened often enough, but perhaps because I impatiently delete them and carry on, I’ve forgotten what they were.  But you’ll have some, I’m sure, so let me have them, please – put your favourite spellchecker howlers below and let’s have a laugh.  I know I could do with one.

Kirk out