On the Polarisation of Debate

It’s good to have comments; they can be very stimulating and sometimes a conversation can lead into another post – like this one on the polarisation of debate around the transgender issue. This has now become a form of trench warfare with armies dug in on both sides firing guns at each other across a bleak no-man’s-land. In this environment, even sticking your head above ground can be very dangerous.

Let me say at once that it is not trans people I have a problem with. I’ve met a few and I try to be respectful of their preferred names and pronouns and to treat them the same as anyone else. But to accept a person is not the same as accepting an agenda, a bill of rights, if you will, about that person – and it’s this ‘bill of rights’ which is causing so much hassle. The debate has become polarised politically too: people on the left have lined up in favour of the whole LGBTQ (or ‘quiltbag’ if you prefer) agenda and vilify anyone who questions it is labelled transphobic. Meanwhile those of us with a problem are likely to find that our only allies are on the political right: I was offered the opportunity to give an interview to the Daily Telegraph but I declined because I don’t want to be a part of their culture wars. I don’t agree with the self-ID law recently passed in Scotland but I totally disagree with the UK government’s decision to block it, because they are doing so for all the wrong reasons.

Recently I watched a trans woman being interviewed by Owen Jones (sorry I can’t find the video). She said that it wasn’t just outright abuse which hurt her but when ‘nice, middle-class people’ started asking ‘what is a woman?’ I can understand that that might seem a tad personal but in general if we can’t even ask questions without being labelled a TERF then what hope is there? The very essence of what it means to be female is caught up in this debate, and simply repeating the mantra ‘trans women are women too’ is not going to help our understanding. The nature of femaleness is profoundly affected by this and it’s quite valid to want to debate it, particularly in Scotland where self-ID seems wide open to abuse.

I expect I’ve said this before, but we have had decades of debate on other issues, for example racism, feminism, gay rights and disability rights. Those debates are still ongoing. They haven’t always been respectful and I regret that, but we’ve had them – and out of these debates society as a whole has arrived at an agreed position, much of which has been enshrined in legislation. I realise this is a gross oversimplification but the point is that this situation arose out of debate. People were able to ask such questions as ‘are women able to do most things that men can do?’ (spoiler alert: we’re already doing them) without being vilified as a beyond-the-pale misogynist. Yes, I know we haven’t eradicated misogyny any more than racism or homophobia but these things are now publicly unacceptable – and that is a position which arose out of sustained public debate. With the trans issue, on the other hand, I feel that the T has simply been stuck on the end of LGB without any debate at all. I’m not sure I would have expressed myself the way JK Rowling did but she had a perfect right to ask the questions that she did; they are legitimate subjects for debate – but instead of having those questions answered she has been vilified and subjected to death threats. It’s quite scary.


Apart from having an effect on ‘cis’ women this agenda impacts on other groups. I don’t think most people have realised this yet, least of all Owen Jones, but if straight partners like me are being told that ‘sexuality is fluid’ what does that mean for gay rights? As far as I’m aware one of the main planks of gay rights is the belief that sexuality is not a choice. Being gay isn’t a choice; being straight isn’t a choice. Yet I have effectively been told that I can go from a straight relationship to a gay one without losing anything because I ‘fell in love with a person, not a gender.’ But what does this mean? Are gay people going to be told that they can now be in a straight relationship? How’s that going to work? These are questions that need asking. We need – please god – to have a proper debate. It is perfectly legitimate to ask questions such as ‘what is a woman?’ or ‘how do trans rights affect all-female spaces?’ It’s legitimate to be concerned about what happens when those self-identifying as female are allowed access to all-women spaces. It’s legitimate to be concerned about prisons, changing rooms and sports. But when I look around all I see are people on opposite sides slinging mud at each other. And the government isn’t helping one little bit.

Do please comment but make it respectful.

Kirk out

PS what do you think about the new colours? Are they hard to read? Is black and white better?