This morning I came across a quote from Carl Jung about artists:
‘The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realise its purpose through him.’
I entirely endorse this quote, except for its language which, like most things written before the 1970s, leaves out half the human race. It is a struggle when you have to continually add ‘or she’ to every sentence – though fortunately nowadays few people will try to get away with the spurious ‘oh, but he includes she’ which it patently doesn’t, or at least only when the speaker wants it to. It’s a Humpty-Dumpty word…
A propos of all this, I’ve been watching the excellent series Mrs America, now streaming on BBC iplayer, which deals with all the women involved in the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment in the US. In theory the focus is on Phyllis Schlafly, a woman who, as OH pointed out, uses far more letter ls than anyone has a right to, and on whom the character of Serena is based in The Handmaid’s Tale. Schlafly was a conservative Republican who tried to paint the ERA as a retrograde step which would compel women to be drafted (with Vietnam still going on at this point) and be injurious to housewives and mothers. She is a contradictory figure very like Thatcher, a woman who owed her position to feminism but fought against it (Thatcher did nothing for other women) and is seen here as both victim and perpetrator. I can’t help wondering if Guislaine Maxwell is something similar; horrendous as her crimes were she may also have been a victim. Not that that excuses anything she may have done.
Anyway, back to language and to an app which claims to predict the gender of the author of any piece of writing. It seems to do so fairly accurately, but there is a problem: in cases of transgender people, it describes trans women as male, and trans men as female. You may make of this what you will – OH analyses it here – and each of us will have our own view on it. The problem arises when it comes to expressing those views in public. I may think, for example (though I’m not saying I do) that it is impossible to change gender; that a trans woman remains male and a trans male, female. But to say so publicly is to invite a furious backlash – look what happened to J K Rowling. I don’t think it was helpful of her to express herself in the way she did but neither does she deserve such vilification for doing so. I have seen people on Facebook declaring that they will clear out every bit of Harry Potter from their houses, simply because the author said something that they disagree with.
There’s no debate, that’s the problem: in every public arena we are invited to line up on one side or another. Are you for trans rights or against them? Are you racist or anti-racist? Are you anti-semitic or not? Nuance is entirely lost and any attempt to bring it in is seen mostly as obfuscation – try advancing the argument that anti-zionism is not the same thing anti-semitism and you’ll find yourself on a hiding to nothing.
I don’t want to see blatantly racist people like David Starkey given a platform – what he said in the interview here was not a one-off; he had form and these views should not be legitimised. Hate speech does not come under the banner of free speech; we have laws about these things. But here’s the thing: is it hate speech to say that trans women are not women? Or is it a point of view? More importantly, is it something that ought to be debated rather than just accepted as gospel?
As I’ve said before we have had the debate about gays and lesbians, we’ve had the debate about women’s rights; we’ve had – and are still having, unbelievably – the debate about racism. But no such debate has taken place about transgender rights. The T has been tacked on the end of LGB and we are told to accept it in the same manner, without question. But the narrative of trans rights is one that affects everyone and everyone should be able to debate it – openly, respectfully and without vilification.