I have two blog posts that I shut down a few years back, because members of my Labour Party Branch were in danger of dying of apoplexy. That’s a joke okay – I know people do that in Victorian novels when they get very upset but… you know, even as a child reading those novels, it struck me that getting upset does not generally kill you. Anyway, this is going to be a huge think-as-you-type piece, to see whether we’re back to the stage we can actually say what we mean, yet.
I have written about four posts in the last year or so in which I keep changing my mind about the whole pronouns thing – and this may well end up being number five, because…
There appear to be grades of ‘terfdom’. If they go from 1. ‘A bit dodgy’ to 10. ‘So outrageous even “terfs” think they’re outrageous’ , I’m probably around number six. I try to be honest and respectful – result – I annoy the gender-woo people and the outrageous number ten people. (Who are the ‘gender-woo’ people? Ask Mr Menno. I have agreed to stop calling those people ‘trans activists’ because it’s not fair on the transsexuals who don’t go around calling feminists fascists, and hounding women out of politics and jobs.)
Whilst lots of gender-woo people rage about how dreadful I am, I have several times asked people to put a sock in it on my social media pages when I felt they were being unnecessarily rude or insensitive but, a couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with someone considered more outrageous than me, and it got me thinking.
Putting aside people who are neurotically afraid of non-conformity, or who are just plain, pointlessly rude on the trans issue, I rather feel there are number tens on that scale of terfdom who are just being honest. All civilisation requires is that you address a conflict of rights in an honest attempt to find an answer that works for both groups. That’s what I’ve been doing, and I’m a pretty terrible terf, apparently. All it takes to get you to number ten ‘terfdom’ is being a bit stubborn about following the instructions re language. (I wouldn’t work with someone who was vindictive against any group of people, so it really is just about language use, especially pronouns).
So – pronouns – a personal history.
German grammar revisited
When I was a teenager, feminists were saying that people shouldn’t use honorific titles when it betrayed someone’s sex. Many had already reduced ‘Mrs’ and ‘Miss’ to ‘Ms’, on the grounds that women shouldn’t have to trumpet their marital status everywhere. Now, they were saying you should be able to write letters, apply for jobs and so on without formal language requiring you to reveal your sex. It seemed quite a sensible way of avoiding sex-discrimination at work.
I quite liked the idea and, in the early ‘70s when I started O-level German, and discovered that they have gendered nouns like the French do – La lune, le soleil – The moon’s feminine, the sun’s masculine – that felt right, but I wasn’t so sure about the tables and chairs – I was learning that gender is not sex, it’s just a category you choose. Sex though, is biology. – But the Germans have words that actually contradict sex – der Junge – the boy – is masculine but das Mädchen – the girl, is not feminine. It is ‘neuter’.
Oh, I thought (being a gender-non-conforming girl myself) that’s useful. I started a brief campaign amongst my friends to use ‘en’ instead of ‘he’ and ‘she’ so we could use pronouns without stating people’s sex. It didn’t catch on beyond my circle of friends, but I still liked the idea. I’m old enough now to know that you can’t campaign for new words to happen. Language is organic. Kids who’ve ducked the trans thing by calling themselves ‘non-binary’ have gone for ‘they’. I think it’s less efficient than my version, because it blurs singular and plural in so many contexts but that’s how language works. Either ‘they’ is a buzz word and will disappear again in a few years, or it’s here to stay. Unfortunately, it’s not really useful way ‘en’ might have been, because you have to deny your sex to use it, but there you go. Stuff happens.
Friends and informality
Lots of people were letting it all hang out in the seventies – ‘gender bending’ was popular. Not changing sex, but ‘behaving like’ the opposite sex – we have categories of dress and behaviour which we call ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ because they refer to, or imply, sex. I had gay friends who liked to use that effect by choosing dramatic female names and calling each other by female pronouns when they were out on the town. They didn’t think they’d changed sex, it was a style-game – nor did they demand that everyone did the pronoun thing – after all, it’s up to the individual what they say, isn’t it? Isn’t it?
So, I saw no reason to have a view on what those guys were doing, although it had an edge to it, if I’m honest (and being honest is what this blog post is about). Like many girls and women, I was always aware of a bit of an insult in drag, in pantomime dames, and in gay men who dressed up that way – always sequins and feathers, it seemed, and behaved like – well, drama queens. It wasn’t the clothes, or the flouncing, or the names, that carried the insult. It was the fact that thought they were impersonating women.
It wasn’t enough of a problem to really analyse, let alone complain about, back then – but now we are being compelled to accept that some males really are women if they go on like gender-benders did. And so all those undertones from those years come back to me, and I find myself offended. Yes, I have been told by a transwoman that I’m probably not a proper woman because I don’t dress or behave like he does. That was when the nature of the insult came into focus.
Miranda was way ahead of me
Have a read of Miranda’s blog…
And yes, someone did try to prosecute Yardley as a ‘transphobe’. They lost. It didn’t work. Honesty is still the best policy. Funnily enough, using a quote from Miranda Yardley was one of the things that led me to a hearing at the Labour Party HQ. Our CLP Vice-Chair thought me far too outrageous to be a Labour council candidate. HQ agreed with her, thank gods. (I’ve seen what it’s like trying to be a feminist Labour councillor in recent years. Thanks for the ban, Labour!)
Yardley offered to speak on our side of the debate when a lefty group did a programme on ‘trans’ recently. They refused. Yardley is the wrong sort of trans person. This, from an organisaton that’s been campaigning bitterly against the Labour Party’s persecution of the ‘wrong sort of Jews’ for years now (socialist Jews, according to Labour, have inappropriate views on the Israel-Palestine situation and therefore should not be tolerated).
Come to think of it, I’m not in the Labour Party any more, so I might just re -publish those two oh-so-shocking posts from way back when.
Complexes and complexity
I’ve written about this before but – once more, with brevity: I tried to bring this up in a small working group at a Labour Party ‘women’s conference’. Sitting nice and safe in a small circle, charged with discussing issues currently giving women difficulty in the party, I suggested we should discuss the sex-based rights situation. Silence. A distinct feeling that everyone was suddenly wired, and much too hot. A couple of women made odd noises in their throats. After a few seconds of this, someone started gabbling about something else. When our report-person reported to the room the topics we’d come up with, she missed that bit out.
I related the event to a psychologist friend some time afterwards. He said that’s not just unwillingness to discuss, that’s a complex. We really are making ourselves mad with all this.
Academy person and some red candles
This is about my realisation that young people need you to tell them the truth. It’s your duty. Sometimes, it’s even the duty of the grown ups to be a bit unpopular with the kids.
I came across a youngster identifying as male at the top of her voice a while back. She wasn’t dressing or behaving ‘like a boy’ (that is a sexist idea but, as we live in a sexist society, you’ll know what I mean) – in fact, she was flamboyantly (neurotically I’d say) doing the woman thing drag queens do, whilst giggling about the place with her girl friends. When a 14 -year-old does anything flamboyantly, you know they’re indulging in a bit of easy rebellion. Sometimes though, it gets so extreme you can see they’re flagging up a panic.
I required a bit of order, and said “come on people, sit down and let’s get on.” She spun round and threw at me, “I’m a ma-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-an!” I refrained from saying the first words that came to mind. (Actually, you’re a 14-year-old kid.) I said, “well, you’re still a person.”
She was as offended as if I had said thing one. I was reminded (ironically enough) of a scene in Harry Potter, when Dumbledore’s being all kind and understanding, and a ‘Slytherin’ head master comments from a painting on the wall, “Oh, stop being so patient. They don’t like it. Teenagers want to be outrageously misunderstood.”
It reminded me of a day, when I was 14, and my dad tried to take my very important red candles out of my room. I flew into a rage. The world would end if he took my very important red candles away. “Well tidy your room then,” he said. “You’ve got candles stuck to jar-lids, balanced in a mess of paper and clothes. You’re going to burn the place down.”
Outrageous! I didn’t tidy my room of course, pride prevented that, but I did start being a bit careful not to burn the house down. Not out of any new-found respect for the family home, but because at that point, to burn the house down would have proved him right, which was insufferable.
Teens get on their high horses about odd things. How else can they persuade themselves they’re special, that they are growing up, and will be able to take charge of their lives? But sometimes, you can see they’re flagging up a panic. Why are so many of our teenagers in such a state?
Well there are the obvious reasons – the rate of child-poverty in this country is criminally high, our schools are unsympathetic, tick-box machines, and we’re about to pass on a world that’s on its last gasp due to climate crisis, if it manages to get that far without us blowing it up. It does play on the kids’ nerves a bit, you know.
They are in a state about pronouns and identities because (and this is the bit many older people miss) thanks to Stonewall, Mermaids et al, this stuff has been taught in schools for more than a decade. They’re not just told about all these magical identities, and about how you might be the other sex really, they are repeatedly given the idea that they will suffer terribly if other people don’t believe them.
UCU and vulnerability
This week, a motion went to UCU Conference to quash ‘gender critical’ views. In a joint statement, Sally Hines, chair of sociology at the University of Sheffield, and Natacha Kennedy, lecturer in education at Goldsmiths, University of London, said the “pushback” by gender-critical academics “makes trans and non-binary students vulnerable.”
For me, this is the key point. As Helen Joyce put it, gender ‘self-ID’ is a misnomer. People who want society to accept that trans people really are the opposite sex, and treat them as such, are not really demanding ‘self’ identification. They are demanding that others must validate their assumed identities in order for them to be safe. They are the equivalent of medieval religious zealots, who believe heretics put others at risk by saying things that, if believed, hurl listeners into hell.
The up-coming generation in our country need to be stronger than that. They are going to inherit criminally high rates of poverty, schools run by profiteering, unsympathetic, tick-box machines, a world that’s on its last gasp due to climate crisis, which might only be avoided if we blow the place up before it burns up. The up-coming generation need to be strong enough to face all that, which means being way too strong to fall apart because someone says something they disagree with.
We might help them sort out some of those burning issues you know – there are armies of grannies out there trying – but we might also help them to understand that biology is real, and that you are unlikely to die of other people not sharing your quasi-religious beliefs.
Bearing in mind what our kids are facing, I’m with those who oppose the UCU motion, saying it is divisive and distracts the union from its core work of protecting workers’ rights. UCU executive committee member Holly Smith said trade unions were most effective when organizing on the broadest basis of common interest of the membership. That would be the way to start solving the problems of poverty, for a start. She also pointed out UCU’s failure, last year, to do the most basic job of defending a worker’s rights, when they refrained from protecting their then member Kathleen Stock at Sussex University – basically, because they thought her opinions ‘put trans people at risk’.
I really hope this is the last one on pronouns
So where does that leave us? When I had that conversation with that outrageous woman I told you about at the start of this post, I found her to be an empathetic, intelligent, honest woman. I told her about friends using preferred pronouns with friends and she said it just isn’t on. She said it’s gaslighting women. She said her regard for women who’re having a hard time over all this, and for kids who’ve been misled and confused, meant that saying anything other than the truth just was not acceptable.
Transwomen are male.
You cannot change sex.
Trans people are protected in law. People think that’s what the gender-woo people are campaigning for, when they talk about ‘trans rights’, but they’re not. They already have that. What they are campaigning for is compulsory validation – for a situation where someone can declare themselves to be something else, and if you show any signs of not believing them, you are liable to be prosecuted. That is what they are campaigning for.
You cannot accuse a woman of ‘transphobia’, because girls and women have been taught all their lives – taught as in told, but life teaches it anyway – to be wary of a male who presents as something he’s not, of a male who has oh, such good reasons for wanting to be allowed inside women’s boundaries.
There are two sexes, with a certain amount of variation in the physical characteristics of each, but a far larger, near universally common, and much more significant difference in the physical characteristics of males versus females.
All down through history as we know it, societies of all kinds, shapes and sizes have recognised that women need a ‘women’s place’ if they are to be safe from male violence and male tyranny. When I say women, I mean of course females.
Women who don’t admit to any of these things, and there are many of them – women who fiercely demand that their own rights and boundaries be destroyed for the sake of trans people, either have not lived long enough to see the danger or are in total thrall to what the feminists call MAD (male approval desire). After all, upsetting trans people is upsetting men.
You can know all these things, say all these things, and still be decent to trans people – and to everyone else.
There have always been girls who want to be boys and boys who want to be girls. Sometimes, it’s because they’re gay and haven’t realised it yet. Sometimes, it’s because they’ve realised that the style and activities that attract them have been assigned by our sexist society to the opposite sex.
In recent years, children like that have been lied to and confused by schools, the entertainment industry and twats on the internet, so that they think they are ‘the other sex really’. This is cruel and dangerous, and should stop because changing sex is not done by means of waving a wand. It’s a life-long medical process involving an as yet unknown range of health-risks and a lot of suffering and struggle.
Even worse, it’s well known by psychologists (the ones who haven’t gone down with gender-woo and lost their memories) that some children react to insufferable trauma by trying to dissociate from their own selves. This is, of course, impossible and the distress their failure to do so creates is called ‘dysphoria’. We should be calling it trauma, and dealing with it accordingly. Not to do so is even more cruel and dangerous than the example above, and is why we all have a duty to be kind, empathetic and, above all, HONEST with them.
Compelled speech is still illegal. Unfortunately, our government are now working as hard as people like that ever work to unhitch us from Human Rights law.
DO YOU REALISE WHILE THEY’VE DISTRACTED US ALL WITH THE GENDER-WOO AND FORCED WOMEN TO FIGHT FOR THEIR RIGHTS ALL OVER AGAIN THIS GOVERNMENT IS TAKING APART OUR HUMAN RIGHTS LAWS? (Just thought I’d say)
Compelled speech is still illegal, for now. It’s also impossible to comply with. It is human nature – you know, that thing about being told not to think about elephants. Maya Forstater and Allison Bailey have both been in court over people claiming to be injured by their words and in both trials, the women had to correct barristers who got pronouns wrong (right, actually, if you’re honest) because people do get it wrong sometimes, so even if they try to enforce this stuff in law, the truth WILL out.
Politeness and respect
I have always rather enjoyed telling people I don’t like polite people. This does not mean I like disrespectful people. I’m all for respect but (let’s be honest some more) when people tell you to be kind, and be polite, they don’t mean what you might think they mean. The women who diligently pretend they don’t recognise a male when he’s in women’s clothes are not really being polite, or nice, they are just desperate to be thought of as polite and nice. That’s not the same thing.
I used to get terribly steamed up as a kid, when my mum (I thought) walked all over my rights, and offered my room and my bed to guests. I feel exactly the same when I see queer theorists walking all over lesbian and gay people in order to persuade the world that sex either does not exist or does not matter. They are, in effect, telling same-sex oriented people to stop allowing their natural instincts to select by sex. As far as I can see, lesbian and gay people are the ones being ‘denied’ and, when you look at what happened at the Tavistock Gender Clinic, you could even say their existence is being threatened (the in joke amongst staff there was that if they went on as they were going, ‘there would be no gay people left.’)
I am not saying you can’t call your friends what they want to be called between yourselves. I’m not saying you can or can’t say anything – I don’t approve of compelled speech. I’m not saying you should treat anyone badly – of course you shouldn’t. There will always be people who believe daft things and in the general course of life, there’s no need to give them a hard time – but you don’t have to believe, or pretend to believe, along with them. When they demand that you do, that’s the time to stand and argue.
So I’m saying that while women are fighting for their rights, including the right to use their own preferred language to describe themselves, and while they are trying to rescue a generation of kids who’ve been dangerously misled, they can and must be allowed to speak their truth when they need to, and every decent, honest person out there should be defending them.
That applies especially to those who consider themselves to be ‘left’, or ‘socialist’, or even ‘woke’. Anyone remember what solidarity means?
I’ll wait, but in the meantime, some more honesty out there would be really useful…
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