Terrible Fish

red herring

My blog ‘About’ Page descriptor says that I intend to write about ‘books, politics and the terrible fish.’

When I was setting up the blog site, and came to the box that said something like ‘summarise what this site is about’ I gave it about ten seconds thought. For those in the dark, Sylvia Plath wrote about getting the horrors when she looked in the mirror and it reminded her of a pond, with terrifying things like old age and death floating in the deeps, threatening to come to the surface and claim her.

The image surfaced in my mind after I’d put the obvious ones ‘books’ and ‘politics’ in the ‘About’ box. Yes, I needed to cover those unexpected things that rise up and take a hold of your mind — but unlike poor old Sylvia, I have generally found that if you grab them, take a look at them in clear daylight, and compare them with other things that are going on, you can then write them into submission – so that’s what all the posts that aren’t about books and politics are. The nailing of the terrible fishes.

One of the terrible fishes that’s been dragging my blog-boat all round the bay lately is just how to get across the ubiquity and gravity of the harm identity politics is doing to a whole range of people – black people, transsexual people, women, anyone disadvantaged in the communications and influence stakes in any way at all, not to mention the destruction of the so-badly needed solidarity of the left…

So I was very taken with an analogy offered to me by a transwoman friend the other day, after discussing exactly what monster it was that Ricky Gervais had pulled out of the water.

Terrible fish

“A kipper was, historically, a herring that had been prepared, soaked in brine, then smoked over smouldering wood chips (usually oak) for several hours. However, during the first world war, the government made it legal for fish that have not been smoked to be sold as kippers. The smoking part of the process is replaced by the use of dyes in the soaking stage, drastically reducing the production time and massively increasing the profits. The correct term for these fake kippers is ‘red herrings’ (now you see where I’m heading)…”

I do indeed see. As those of us who have transsexual friends have been saying (into the wind, with little effect) for quite some time, the people who drafted the Gender Recognition Act in 2004 were a bit confused. They never really sorted out their ‘sex’ from their ‘gender’, and they didn’t really define clearly who they were talking about, so along came the queer theory club, legitimized (how? Why!) by some papers Judith Butler wrote that no-one actually understood, and then thanks to a load of US corporate funding, a vast range of very odd and very demanding people hitched a ride under ‘the trans umbrella’ and have been gaining a lot of celebrity and political support for ‘trans rights’ because everyone thinks they’re talking about the people we used to call transsexuals but, generally, that very small group of people are neither involved nor consulted in what’s going on.

In short, ‘trans rights’ is a red herring. It’s cheap, it’s easy to sell, but it’s not what people think.

The Mainstream View

What Ricky Gervais said in Super Nature that gained all those headlines is not revolutionary, nor is it strongly feminist – it’s the mainstream view. It’s what most people actually believe, and what we must return to, as the baseline from which to sort out all this mess.  It is very simple. It can be summarised as…

Don’t go around with a cock and a beard, claiming to be a woman and yelling at women if it worries them. You are not a transsexual. Away with your ‘I am because I say I am and everyone else must say so too.’

What you or I or anyone else think about transsexuals is not the issue here, I hasten to add before anyone piles in over definitions. I’m talking about the mainstream view – there are all sorts of people in the world and in a free society, people can live your way or another way or even a way you don’t approve of, and they are deserving of your support if attacked.  That is the mainstream view, even if people are not good at living up to it. You can criticize, you can debate, but you can’t suppress – not if you claim to want a free society. We could do with rediscovering what Stonewall laughably claim is one of their maxims — acceptance.

Red Herrings – a reprise

So, back to 2004. Let’s take it from there. Let’s have some politicians explaining clearly exactly who they were thinking about when they drew up that Gender Recognition Act, and what they intended it to do for whom. Come to think of it, we could do with some better rules on what we are being sold under the very imprecise name of ‘food’, too. Personally, I look forward to seeing off all that rubbish so I have more time for talking about other aspects of politics that are jangling with some urgency – not to mention the books.


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