I’ve been on a bit of a book-buying frenzy of late – it’s easy to do with Alibris (I don’t touch Amazon, as I’ve explained) being so cheap and having more or less everything you could possibly want – and the latest thing to thunk onto the doorstep is an analysis of the ‘Transgender Moment’ called When Harry Became Sally. As the long-suffering partner of a cis-man with gender dysphoria I was hungry for anything remotely fair-minded as debate is so polarised that you’re either 100% on board with trans rights or you’re a bigoted TERF.
At first glance the book might appear to come into the ‘bigoted’ category, but that would not be fair. It is written from a fairly conservative perspective but tries to be open-minded and in no way could be seen as reactionary. It’s written by an American which makes some of the content irrelevant, though not much.
So what’s the beef? I guess it’s this: that whilst people have the right to identify as whatever they wish and to live however they wish, there has been a rush of legislation and regulation (on the back of feminist, gay and disabled rights legislation) to afford transgender people rights to toilets and changing rooms, and to compete on a level playing-field with cis-girls and women in athletics and on all-women shortlists. I’m not 100% against this and neither is the author of the book, but the problem is that we haven’t had a debate about it. As I’ve said before, as a society we’ve debated feminism, we’ve thrashed out gay and lesbian rights and we’ve examined the situation of disabled people trying to gain access to buildings (disabled people are under attack from swingeing cuts to benefits now, but that’s another story) and yet we haven’t had anything resembling an open debate about what it means to be transgender, what might be the causes and what are the consequences. The gay and lesbian debate evolved during my lifetime and I watched it evolve from a criminal offence to a point where gays and lesbians can be legally married and adopt children. This occurred over three or four decades and whilst the debate wasn’t always respectful (it was sometimes horrible) it was there. It happened. With transgender rights, on the other hand, we were simply told what to think, viz:
1. that transgender rights are of the same order as gay, lesbian and disabled rights and 2. that we must enact legislation along the same lines to bolster these rights. This has been done relatively quickly but often without due consideration for those adversely affected by them. The ‘T’ has been tacked onto the end of LGB and we are told to accept this without question or risk being labelled transphobic.
I want to make one thing absolutely clear: I am 100% against any form of prejudice or abuse. There is no excuse for abusing anyone because of their presentation and I would be the first to leap in and defend someone in that situation. But the ramifications of accepting a whole slew of trans rights without question are many and complex. Whilst I would not deliberately call someone I’d just met by the wrong name or pronoun it can be difficult for some especially those for whom this is a completely new scenario. There may be problems for women and girls (some women and girls) being forced to accept trans women in toilets or changing rooms, particularly if those women and girls have been abused in the past (let me be clear, I am not accusing any trans women of abuse; I’m suggesting that the system is open to abuse by men wishing to pose as trans women.)
There are also problems with trans women who retain some of their masculine physique and strength competing with cis-women in sports; likewise people who have grown up with many of the privileges of being male do not compete on a level playing-field with others on all-women shortlists.
And I haven’t even begun to touch on what this does to partners and children (if there are any.)
So what to do? I have no idea – but I know this much. We need free and open debate on the subject because without being able to question an orthodoxy there can be no understanding – and without understanding there can be no true acceptance, only conformity. And that is not something I’m willing to accept.
So disagree with me if you will – in fact I’d welcome it – but please don’t call me a bigot. Cos I ain’t.
Happy Monday. Oh, and is it snowing where you are? I went out this afternoon in the rain and by the time I’d got to the top of the road the temperature had plummeted and there was a blizzard!