Gender-Critical? Moi?

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.

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