When it comes to current events the immediate attention of most lies elsewhere.
Dwelling on it all too long, that we have the most craven self-interested government imaginable in charge for this situation, one that’s courted and grasped Russian wealth so enthusiastically that it’s reluctant to impose tougher sanctions, only promotes a sense of helplessness. This is a point on which I’ll return to.
Anyway, before Putin’s latest vainglorious display of authoritarianism, I was doing my usual, listening to music on YouTube. Discovering new music is one of the few things it’s good for these days, the others being Limmy, this fascinating channel that explores the human condition, and this fantastic dog grooming channel (I accept your judgement without any fucks given), but for some reason in the up next queue on the right side of the page a video titled “Kathleen Stock discusses gender identity with Iain Dale” appeared.
This raised many questions, primarily – why did the YouTube algorithm suggest this to me?
The only cogent theory this mediocre can muster is that it’s linked to a recent search for a song I heard on NTS radio, with the intent of finding it and adding it to a music playlist I have saved on YouTube. The tinfoil hat theory is that YouTube is pushing gender politics. Anyway, the song is 1983’s Transformation by Nona Hendryx (no relation to Jimi Hendrix). It’s a sweet synth-pop offering with a kicking funk baseline, and of greatest relevance here: lyrics which refer to people changing gender and having cosmetic surgery. The topic of gender fluidity was a burgeoning topic back then thanks to Prince’s unashamedly effeminate flourishes, garish garb and high vocal pitch and cosmetic surgery thanks to Michael Jackson’s facial features becoming more ‘defined’.
Still, that link seems a somewhat tenuous. That said, YouTube didn’t force me to watch the Kathleen Stock interview, which I began to. Curiosity, eh?
A couple of weeks later I mostly regret satiating it. And I’m questioning my sanity by trying to write on this subject, when the surrounding debate has become an intractable gristly stew of sniping, mostly between some very sad fanatics. Being a cis adult male (does anyone else loathe the term cis?), preferred pro-nouns in the workplace aside, this topic just hadn’t piqued my interest or affected me.
That’s because trans-people are a miniscule demographic, but the fervour of the trans-rights advocates on their behalf certainly doesn’t give that impression. Just an observation, but I was struck by the vast majority of the trans-activists not being trans-folk, perhaps that just proves the scarcity. I’m far more interested in hearing what actual transgender folk’s life experiences and perspectives are than what their advocates or opponents think.
Of all the viewpoints I encountered, Helen Joyce, who has written a well-received book on the subject, offered the most comprehensive and persuasive stance on each strand. It was rational, logical, balanced, and she’s done her research. She rightly stated that progress has traditionally been carried out by empowering oppressed, marginalised or minority groups, so there’s a certain prevailing inclination from many in Western culture (which, being the secular liberal sort, I share) to apply the same treatment to trans-people. This partly explains the ‘progress’ we’ve seen to date limiting discrimination against them, particularly when seeking employment, and quite right too.
That invariably leads to the question of what progress is? Egalitarianism? But part of achieving egalitarianism is determining what’s fair, and how do you determine that? These tend to be the kinds of questions that should always be asked when change is sought or considered.
I always understood the process to be this – if you want change, the onus is on you to argue for it. I may think Scottish Independence is the best way forward for Scotland, but deploying tactics that railroad, obfuscate and shame others into supporting my position likely won’t bring the sustainable change I’d like to see.
I’m sympathetic to trans-people and those who suffer from gender dysphoria, but I came away distinctly unimpressed, in fact worried for those that suffer from it, by the justifications for the use of transitioning as a blanket solution for the various kinds of gender dysphoria people experience. Everyone is different, and so every case is.
This issue is problematic for many reasons, starting with the disingenuous conflating of gender and sex as one entity when they clearly aren’t the same thing, and attempts to place the characteristic of gender above all others, including someone’s sex. The vast majority of people want clarity on the terminology and for it align with the biology, and so there is inevitably going to be some pushback and confusion when it doesn’t. Most of us have been brought up on the facts; men are men, women are women (and they’re different and that’s okay) and pro-nouns (gender) are a personal preference, which anyone with a modicum of decency will happily cater to.
But attempting to render biological facts as inconsequential is nigh on impossible without resorting to dishonesty, so it’s little wonder tactics to cancel or silence are deployed against those who dare to object against self-declared gender being placed above biological sex, and that those who do, no matter how calmly they make their point, must be Terfs arguing against trans-people and trans-rights (see JK Rowling). Not to go all Jordan “piety” Peterson on this, but I also find the attempts to control the language on this topic with definitive statements; “trans-women are women” or “only women have uteruses” and the debate’s starting point being firmly rooted in identity politics to be unhelpful and irrelevant.
Certain logistical concerns, which seem to pre-occupy most women, are problematic too. Allowing male bodied people (who self-ID as women) in women’s changing rooms, bathrooms and prisons doesn’t strike me as sensible or fair to anyone. This can be solved with pragmatic accommodations, say separate spaces or facilities, and this would help ensure the safety of trans-people. That won’t satisfy the trans-rights hardliners, whose dogma and vanity has made them too intolerant to accept a compromise, or any kind of discussion.
There are some ghastly figures on the opposite side too. Siding with Graham Linehan – writer of Father Ted (any excuse to post the above) and Black Books – on this subject would make any reasonable person feel uneasy. There’s something decidedly off-putting about him, his pious tone, a crusading, obsessive counter-balance to the other side of the divide. Part of my unease is he’s offering the trans-rights fanatics straw man takes that keeps the debate on a hysterical terrain. Here he compares performing gender reassignment operations on children and giving them puberty blockers to the Nazis experimenting on Gypsys and Jews at Auchwitz. Comparing those who opt for something, even if they are under legal age, with people who didn’t sign up to become Holocaust victims, is not clever.
I’m certainly not against hormone treatments or gender reassignment surgery, for adults. Once someone turns sixteen, in the eyes of the law they’re an adult, their body, their choice. It’s that simple. No exceptions.
But it’s on this point that the extreme wing of the trans-rights body reveals itself as completely unhinged, they’re advocating circumventing child safe-guarding to allow puberty blockers to be given to pre-pubescent kids. They’re also campaigning to remove the current legal impediments and layers of medical bureaucracy that exist in certain countries that are preventing this. There’s lots we don’t know about gender dysphoria, and more specifically what causes it, but what we do know is that giving puberty blockers to children prevents their sexual organs from developing adequately, and makes them sterile, which can lead to serious health risks, especially in girls.
This is an unspoken scandal. The practice has now been banned by a hospital in Sweden, yes, Sweden, of all places. Check out the cultish dialogue of this very creepy Australian woman trying to justify it with sweeping generalisations. People of her ilk are a danger to psychologically vulnerable children, who may not understand the consequences of taking said medication. Essentially ten to twelve year olds, at an emotionally volatile age, are making life altering decisions that most adults who transition struggle with. This becomes doubly concerning when an uncomfortably high number of kids with gender dysphoria feel suicidal, and there’s no clear data or consistent evidence that giving them puberty blockers truly alleviates their depression or anxiety about the sex of their body. Then there’s a growing number of testimonies by those who reached a mature age and felt regret, realising that what they felt at the time was ‘just a phase’ (hey, we all have them), that they’re just gay (mostly) and choose to de-transition.
The trans debate is so problematic because it introduces a conflict between two traditional characteristics of all stable western democracies, the progressive sense of fair play, which drives the push to construct as inclusive a society as possible, and creating public policy and laws based on evidence and common sense. Ideally, both elements support the same conclusion, as they did legalising homosexuality and giving women the vote.
We often conflate what’s fair with what’s right. And that’s where the moral discomfort comes in, there’s no easy or obvious solution to some of the issues surrounding how we treat trans-people and under age people who want to transition. It’s a mess because we may have to acknowledge there is no optimal solution. Just as there isn’t in the Ukraine right now.
Maybe you think I’m a transphobe for stating that (I’m too old to be arsed if you do). I’ll end with this – trans-people should have as many rights as we can possibly give them, but in a way that’s fair and not at the expense of the safety of others or themselves. That seems fair to me.