This week on the BBC, we saw a stand off by the two sides of the deepest and most harmful split I have ever seen in left politics, one that I am still waiting for many on the left to even acknowledge.
I believe that the resurgence of the establishment wing of the Labour Party re-establishes their inability to see what most people see – that we are once again faced with a Labour Party that can’t communicate with ordinary people. I also believe that the lines in the sand are not where they appear to be. All those lefty unpaid interns and academics who were brought into the limelight by Corbyn and MacDonnell a few years ago really do not count as ordinary. They were popular because they brought in ‘the new economics’ that we needed, to challenge the corporate stranglehold on our economy, but they were not ‘ordinary’ people so no, this dreadful split is not about left and right, but it IS about class.
The trendy left who had such a good time during the Corbyn movement era are every bit as off-key on this issue as the ‘centrists’ who are now in charge. It shows up painfully in the interview with Rosie Duffield and Ellie Mae O’Hagan, which many lefty commentators have automatically responded to by rushing to defend O’Hagan’s side of the debate.
Ellie Mae O’Hagan is a member of ‘CLASS’ but, as the average working class person does not get to expound their views on the telly, I think wherever she started from, she now belongs with the ‘trendy left’ rather than the working class. This would explain why she completely misses anything that could be understood by a class analysis of the point in question.
Rosie Duffield is also a maverick here. The perfect example of the misfit who by their very existence flags up hidden problems, Duffield rode to victory and became an MP (well-paid middle class professional by definition) on the wave of the Corbyn movement. When she says that before that, she was ‘just normal’ it is far more true than it is when most MPs say that. She can remember having an ordinary job that didn’t easily cover ordinary needs. I was among many who were underwhelmed by her in 2017 because she did not acknowledge the movement that carried her to victory, so one would expect to think of her as on the ‘establiishment’ side of the debate. It feels odd to be fighting her corner, but here’s the thing:
It all hinges on whether you’re willing to pretend you don’t know what the vast majority of people mean when they say ‘woman’, and if you follow the currently fashionable mantra that trans women are women (TWAW), or whether you are one of those who think sex matters, and real women – vulnerable, ordinary women, can suffer terribly if you sit in a well-protected, middle-class professional space, and pretend it doesn’t matter, that it’s all a case of applying good drawing room manners and being ‘nice’.
Duffield can see what her constituents experience, and therefore does not think that TWAW is sufficiently captivating as a progressive idea that she can forget what ordinary, unprivileged women go through when women’s spaces and services are inadequate.
Here’s the interview, with its groovy, trendy header quote and my comment and transcript below:
Let’s look at (my attempt to produce) a transcript, with some interpretations added, then I’ll say a bit more about why I think Duffield is the way she is.
The unasked and the unanswered
It’s not unusual to listen to TV interviews and hear yourself squeaking in frustration because the interviewees are not answering the questions asked but this is a particularly strange case because there is such a hammered-on script for the TWAW stance that I found I could hear the unasked questions O’Hagan was actually answering, so I am going to reproduce that conversation, and try to shine some light. At the end of this commentated transcript, I will say a bit about the situation we are in, and why mavericks like Duffield are appearing.
The video cuts in slightly oddly, but I think we can imagine how it starts. Interviewer: “… views that are expressed by Rosie that are held by many in society and yet they seem to be unacceptable to express, certainly in some forums – why?”
Ellie Mae O’Hagan: “Well the first thing to say is that the majority of women actually do support transgender rights and they do say that a trans woman is a woman and so actually it may be held by some in society but it’s not the majority view of women I think that’s the first thing to say.”
My response: The question O’Hagan actually answered was ‘do you think we should support people’s right to live and express themselves as they choose?’ O’Hagan is being extremely rude to Dufflield by assuming that Duffield’s opinion is that they should not. I suspect O’Hagan knows perfectly well that most of us, including Duffield, accept trans women as women socially, but she is stretching this to assume most of us accept them as women legally, which is what self-ID, and gender-identity theory, require, and what the ‘trans rights’ campaign is actually asking for. Duffield has not rejected trans women socially. I can’t believe that O’Hagan doesn’t know that, so why is she answering a different, unasked question? I suspect because neither published polls nor experience in the real world support the idea that a majority accept trans women as women legally. People like O’Hagan prefer to fudge the issue, and just make the social argument (which really is a ‘no brainer’ in most cases, and is covered by ‘be nice’).
The interviewer realises this, and tries to sort it out by asking: “But what about the definition of woman as by your biological sex rather than as by your preferred gender identity?”
O’Hagan answers: “You know I actually don’t know why some people are women and some people are men. No-one on this panel does and anyone who claims to know the answer to that question is a liar. All I care about is the principle of live and let live, and showing one another respect, and if a person says ‘yes I was born a man but I am a woman and this is how I live my life’, I want to respect that person as who they are because I don’t think they’re doing anything wrong and they are certainly not bothering me in any way so I think the ultimate important principle here that we should all share who want a free and accepting society is ‘live and let live’.”
My response: Although it was not asked, the question O’Hagan actually answered is ‘do you think it is dangerous to pretend we don’t know the physical difference between men and women?’ This is the key point because O’Hagan’s answer is that it is not dangerous to her. She is not a sportswoman, or a young girl in a badly managed, mixed school. She’s not likely to end up in prison, or a hostel, or insecure housing in a dodgy area, and her answer therefore is ‘I don’t care about women in those situations.’ That’s why I call her TWAW stance a luxury belief.
She has already negated her claim that she believes in ‘live and let live’ by dumping the fears of vulnerable women, in effect saying ‘live fashionably and let them take the hit’ and she has negated her claim to value ‘showing one another respect’ by telling Duffield to her face, and viewers by default, that they are liars.
Duffield then explains who the women are who are at risk: “if you are a woman who has been abused all of your life and ended up in prison you may not feel quite that liberal towards someone in a male body …. It’s usually working class women who haven’t necessarily had the best start in life or the best experience that are really worried about this, and are the ones that are having to deal with it, rather than politicians.”
O’Hagan retains her claim that “the majority of woman actually agree with me on this issue” She hasn’t answered the point at all, so I suppose we must take that as a re-iteration of ‘I don’t care about the women who are vulnerable.’ But the interviewer does stop her and press for a proper response, and Duffield manages to get in an important question – is she “talking about self-ID particularly?”
O’Hagan answers: “No, I’m talking about the broad, um, the broad principles of supporting people to change gender which they’re legally allowed to do.”
My response: so she does know she’s not really answering the issue Duffield has presented. She then busily talks over Duffield’s “so do I”, and pushes on before we get a chance to think about the difference between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, which is the smokescreen she is using. She is now answering an imaginary question along the lines of ‘why is Duffield so old fashioned, when we are so progressive?’
Then she goes on to answer a second imaginary question … “So let me finish my point. Um, I think you know, we’ve seen other issues like um, abortion for example where, er people who oppose often use the most extreme er cases to argue against in principle against what are positions we could all agree with which is people should be respected for who they are, and actually when we’re saying that a small group of people should not be allowed to live as they are because other people might be upset about it well that is the very essence of discrimination and I don’t think that most of your viewers watching this would support that.”
My response: So O’Hagan has now re-imagined Duffield’s position completely and appeals directly to the viewers not to support people ‘being upset about’ an ‘extreme example’ – that is, ‘please forget about the very real and present danger to a vulnerable woman of being confined with a male sex offender’.
Can you imagine the horror of that situation? Because it is happening now, in our prisons. In the face of that, why should we do as she says? Because in her view, recognising a male as a male makes you a liar, even if he is a violent, in tact, male. In this situation, says O’Hagan, standing by your legal right to recognise sex as reality is ‘the essence of discrimination’.
She has now turned the law, and our lived experience, completely on their heads. If I was that interviewer, I would now ask O’Hagan if her trans friends would really thank her for persistently confusing them with self-IDed male sex offenders.
Duffield is asked if she agrees. She pulls the conversation back to the real point by saying: “I fundamentally disagree that we should impose male-bodied people on single sex spaces and if that’s called discrimination I think that ‘s really unfortunate. I think we need a conversation about…”
O’Hagan interrupts: “I’m really glad you said that because I think you’ve hit on exactly what the problem is there. So instead of saying, first of all there are transgender men which don’t seem to be part of this conversation, but what you’ve said there is ‘male bodied people’ and I want the viewers at home to really think about why it might be upsetting for a transgender woman who has suffered a lot – I have a few friends who are transgender women, who have had periods of their lives where they have not been able to leave the house because they are abused in the street and where the process of changing gender has been quite distressing and difficult and to go through all of that and to have somebody in public life who is a representative of the public and has a big public platform and a lot of responsibility to call them male bodied people, I think what is being communicated there is ‘I don’t accept and respect you for who you are, I am not interested in your journey’.”
My response: This is a baffling response by O’Hagan, but one I have seen many times. Duffield is talking about male-bodied people – that is, people whose only concession to ‘transition’ has been to say ‘I am a woman’. That is self-ID, and it is what is happening in prisons, and it is why Duffield and others are objecting. These self-ID males arrive in prison with all their bits, and a history of sexual violence, and cause dread, fear and danger. It seems to me very obvious that they are the people Duffield is talking about.
But O’Hagan’s answer doesn’t address this. In effect, she says: I have friends who have transitioned, who have taken every step available to them to leave the estate of men – they’ve had surgery, they’ve taken hormones, they have no history of sexual offending, and they will be very upset when I tell them you have called them male-bodied people.’
But Duffield did not say that. It is trendy lefties like O’Hagan here who are creating the fear and hatred her friends felt in the street, by pretending they have so many ‘anti-trans’ enemies. Thankfully, the interviewer interrupts at that point and says “Rosie, is that what you mean? And does Rosie have rights that she is also trying to protect here?”
Duffield replies: “51% of the population are physically female and have the right to at least debate or talk about whether people in a male body are allowed in single sex spaces without any debate or discussion.”
I say well done Duffield. If you cut through all the crap that went before, you have the key issue there in her final statement. Women currently have legal, sex-based rights that are being infringed by people who try to claim that sex does not exist, or is not evidencable. Women who have harder lives, who live in the real world, understand the dangers. Those women could answer O’Hagan’s point about why trans men are not mentioned in the context of prisons. They are not mentioned because trans men (who are female) are not queuing up to be admitted to male prisons, because they simply and obviously would not be safe there.
Why can’t MPs and celebrities see why so many women are rebelling over ‘TWAW’?
I wrote about Duffield once before, along with J K Rowling. Do you know what those two have in common? Something that comes before the somewhat overplayed rags-to-riches stories? If you don’t, here’s the story. They both started out in a sufficiently ordinary place that they can remember being truly vulnerable.
And here’s another clue. Afshan Arad is pretty much the only member of the cast of the Harry Potter movie who chose to stick up for J K Rowling, and the reason would appear to be that Arad understands all too well the fear and the danger women encounter, when there is no getting away from a violent male.
I once had an apparently useful conversation with John MacDonnell about this. He seemed genuinely concerned but men of the left, like the privileged, protected women who reach political circles, are not in the firing line on this, and can easily disregard the fear and the danger. I’m sorry to say that he’s lost it. On seeing this interview, he immediately took to twitter to join the charge of the blind, encouraging women to address this real, legal threat to their safety by ‘being nice’.
Women who are actually using their brains responded thusly…
That era when we thought ‘the many’ would take over party politics has passed. Very few MPs, left right or centre, are going to get this. They all live in protected space. The left has deserted working class and other vulnerable women. It’s up to the rest of us – ordinary women with no special privileges, those of us who have experienced, or have been near enough to imagine, the fear and the dread of ending up in a prison or hostel, facing a violent male. We must drop party factional politics and fight this on behalf of those women who are facing that fear and dread right now.