One of the issues that seems to come up frequently in regards to those whose gender does not match their assigned sex is participation in sport. Just to be clear before any discussion happens, I do not have the answers here, only questions. There was some controversy over Rachel McKinnon (who seems now to be called Veronica Ivy) winning a world championship track cycling event, because Rachel McKinnon was born a biological male and competes against biological females. She states that restricting entry on the basis of biological sex is a form of discrimination:
Speaking before the event, McKinnon told Sky News: “By preventing trans women from competing or requiring them to take medication, you’re denying their human rights.”
Dr Rachel McKinnon, who was born a biological male, says all her medical records say female, her doctor treats her as a female, and her racing licence says female, but that “people who oppose her existence still want to think of her as male.”
Does Rachel McKinnon have a right to use the women's bathroom because she says she is a woman? Does Rachel McKinnon have a right to compete in women's sport because she says she is a woman? Well, as I say, I've not got a straight answer to that question. The answer seems to have to take either one of the two lines I suggested in my previous post: either you're a woman because you say you are, which is the line taken by the judge in the Maya Forstater case, or you're a woman because you were born one, which is the line the JK Rowling took in the controversial tweet discussed.
So, what? There's a clear issue around how people's bodies can be manipulated to give them a competitive advantage, and the question is to what extent making a choice about how you compete is a manipulation of that kind. The usual form of manipulation is taking a performance-enhancing drug, which might allow harder, longer training, or give an advantage of blood oxygen, or whatever it is. Some of these manipulations are seen as fair, such as deliberately training at high altitude. Some are seen as unfair, such as flooding the body with anabolic steroids or whatever the drug of the day happens to be. This debate is a more subtle one, with a much greater potential for harm for individuals caught up in it. One need only read a few news stories about Caster Semenya to get a sense of how much bodies both matter and can't be simply and easily categorised. Her problem was an excess of testosterone that has now been legislated for - in effect, she can't compete without taking a further drug to reduce this level - in a way that some folk think is so targeted (it basically covers her events) it exists solely to 'manage' her.
What matters? It's not for me to say, but the question rests on the basic idea of whether there is something that has any kind of legitimacy that is part of a person's identity, that lines up with their biological sex. If not, then people seem to be free to self-define as whatever they want, and in which case, the old-school division of sport into men's and women's categories doesn't work, because it presupposes a simple binary choice or system of gender which has its basis, as far as I can tell, in the fact that biological sex is binary. If gender isn't the same thing as sex, why does it need to be straightforwardly bivalent? In any case, the world of sport has some thinking to do, because the answer will depend on this rather challenging philosophical question. The objection to the idea that someone who is a trans woman is in fact a woman is that you can't be(come) a woman simply by saying that you are one. The opposite line of thought, that you are those things you define yourself as being, says that it is your fundamental right to make those choices. And in this case, the world of sport hasn't really worked out what authority it looks to to answer that question.
But, again, I stress the fundamental, go-to question that I always try to hold in my mind when I'm doing moral thinking. Am I being kind? Is the competitor who objected to Rachel McKinnon taking part in women's cycling having her rights (to compete only against other people she would be happy to define as women) curtailed? Is Rachel McKinnon potentially having her rights (to compete as a woman, which she defines as) curtailed? Which right matters more? Sadly, this battleground - it really appears to be exactly that - is inhabited by a lot of people who aren't equipped to discuss the matter with the kind of subtlety and sympathy that it requires, and the forces lining up on either side of the divide are represented by the loudest, not necessarily the most thoughtful, of voices. But thoughtful, philosophically-minded folk are probably as far from the forefront of public discussion as they have ever been, which is a shame.
Here's the text of that tweet:
Dress however you please.
Call yourself whatever you like.
Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you.
Live your best life in peace and security.
But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill
The argument is over the sacking of Maya Forstater, who lost her job at the Centre for Global Development for another tweet (among others, I think) that said: What I am so surprised at is that smart people who I admire, who are absolutely pro-science in other areas, and champion human rights & womens rights are tying themselves in knots to avoid saying the truth that men cannot change into women (because that might hurt mens feelings)
To quote from thehill.com
Forstater challenged her termination in court and lost. The judge called her views “absolutist” when referring to someone “by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment,” The Guardian reported.
Several LGBTQ groups attacked Rowling for backing Forstater, including the Human Rights Campaign, which tweeted, “Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Non-binary people are non-binary. CC: JK Rowling.”
What seems to be of particular significance is that a lot of people who find themselves a part of the LGBTQ+ community feel somehow connected to the outsider-ness of the characters in Harry Potter, the fantasy, the otherness, and so JK Rowling - through the magical world that she created - is their champion. So many young people have lived their lives so far with Harry Potter and his world as a part of theirs, perhaps a really formative part of theirs, that to find its creator disagreeing with them on the subject of those whose gender doesn't match their genitals.
In the first instance, it's not entirely clear that that's what she did. Rowling seems to be saying that sex, which in this interpretation is more-or-less a function of the aforementioned genitals, is a real phenomenon distinct from anything to do with gender. The conflation of biological sex and sociological gender is old and, for some, unlikely to ever be disentangled. If I read it right, Rowling is saying that being biologically female is a necessary condition of being a woman, and that woman-ness is tied to biological femaleness. Whether that involves any of the tropes of the feminine gender is a moot point, because being a woman isn't about gender (in this interpretation).
On the other end of the scale are those who - as the Human Rights Campaign tweeted as quoted above - state simply that trans women are women (and trans men are men). That puts the definition of 'man' and 'woman' in the realm of social, not biological, matters. You choose what you are, and your biological sex is more-or-less irrelevant, except perhaps in so far as it drives a person in a particular direction with regards to their gender.
This is one of those philosophical fights that exist because the two sides don't agree on the rules. The perspective which says that a (biological) man cannot become a woman, regardless of self-declaration (and which is sometimes characterised as or possibly conflated with radical feminism, and is certainly a position expressed by many radical feminists), rests on the prior assumption that man-ness and woman-ness are biological (only). The opposing position, that a person's choice rather than their genitals determines who that person is, and in particular whether that person is a man or a woman, rests on the opposite assumption, that man-ness and woman-ness are not matters simply of biological sex.
It's instructive to listen to young people's voices in this matter. Almost without exception, the clever, caring ones, the ones who have put some thought into their position, those ones who strike you in conversation as grown up are very much in the second camp, putting people's choices at the fore. Their world is one, as far as I can tell, that is less connected to the kind of feminism I mentioned, perhaps even rejecting it as outdated. That is perhaps why JK Rowling's is such a significant contribution to the argument, because it goes against the thoughts of her audience.
I have no answers to this question, though. I am not well-informed on gender studies, or on biological sex. But I will bring up something that I encountered a long time ago. I met a man - who defined himself as such at the point I met him - who had, for some time, been trying to live as a woman. Twenty years or so ago, that was not something that was particularly the subject of public debate, not something that was in the foreground of the conscience of even young people. We were in the throes of ridding ourselves of the established racism and homophobia of our parents' generation, and their parents. In any case, this person, who might have been a bit happier had he been able to make that transition and be she instead, described being bullied, abused and attacked as a result of that set of choices. That, to me, seems to be what matters. You do what you can to be kind to people, and you try to be a positive influence on those around you. Does it truly matter whether this person I met was a man or a woman? Those are words, labels at best. What he wanted was to live as a woman, whatever that is.
Full disclosure, here: I gave up on Game of Thrones after the Red Wedding, not because I particularly supported the Starks, but because around about then there was the first resurrection, and that - for me - ruins the story, because if death is not permanent, it loses its power. That's the whole point of the resurrection story in Christianity (that, as the hymn has it, death has lost its sting) because if dying isn't the end, and indeed for the faithful (or the righteous) is actually the start of something much better than life, it should hold no fear. I fear death. I fear not being around for those who need me, failing to tie up loose ends of whatever kind (my invented stories, and of course my own story!), not being around to experience the next thing. I fear that I may face a judgement, although I do not expect it, and do not adjust my life every moment to anticipate that judgement.
So what of the Witcher? No one who has so far died seems to have been resurrected. I did wonder about one scene - you'll know which, and you'll know why, when you see it - where I thought we were about to be treated to a magical resurrection of a dead person, but as far as I can tell, dead means dead. The program has a frankly irritating habit of telling the story in chunks from different time periods (now, twenty years ago, forty years ago, who knows?) which requires the kind of concentration that I am not always willing to give to TV. But, so far and four episodes in, I will be watching the next one. What's good about it is the total abandonment of any kind of constraint on the fantasy, the slick fighting, the world-building. What's not so good about it is that it is hard, at times, to tell what in blue blazes is actually happening. Henry Cavill is suitably brooding as the Witcher, and his ridiculous bard is, at times, a helpful pointer as to what is going on, although there is that ever-so-slightly too knowing trope of 'and now, time for a bit of exposition'. What's weird about it, a bit like some recent series of Doctor Who, in fact, is that despite having all this time to expansively tell a story (the episodes are an hour each, and stand as individual stories as well as linking the long thread) it feels a bit rushed and under-developed. Game of Thrones - for the first two series, at least - did not have that issue, although its over-crowded cast needed a lot of time just to manoeuvre itself into position to get the real stories going. It'd be interesting for me to go back to the books (of the Witcher - CBA with Game of Thrones) to see if the storytelling has that same pinging-back-and-forth quality to it. In those time slip novels (Labyrinth and Sepulchre are the ones I tolerated-ish) there were just two threads, one old and one modern, which let my poor addled brain switch back and forth as it needed to. But I feel that keeping notes to understand the plot of a fantasy TV drama might just be a bit much. Best have another massive fight sequence, eh?
If only, eh? Let's have an extensive quotation from Matthew, if only to illustrate the point that goodwill - in such short supply at the moment - is the exact thing we ought to be striving for, giving and receiving:
Giving to the Needy
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standingin the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Were I to write in detail about what is going on this week in the world, I might finally go full apoplexy and end up like that fella in The Count of Monte Cristo who can only move his eyes. Let us hope that in this dark time of year, people manage to be excellent to each other, and then let us say no more on the subject.
Instead, have a bit of book IV:
“Strelley?” he asks. Then he confirms by repeating, “Strelley.”
Edward Strelley says nothing. Instead, he bows his head, and his eyes close in silent prayer.
“I had not thought to see you again,” Harper says. “But I am glad that you have come.”
Again, Strelley says nothing. Harper goes to him, and takes his hand. “You have not seen your fellow man at his best since we last spoke. Do not be disappointed. God will love them all just the same. I am sure of it.”
“The sinners? The unrepentant? The unfaithful?” Strelley’s voice is cracked and uneven.
“Yes, Edward. He loves them.”
“But He does not take them to Him in Heaven.”
“Ah, you presume. I do not pretend to know the mind of God. But if Hell is anything, it is to be apart from God. Not some fiery torture, for that is nothing compared to being without God.”
“Do you think, Edward Strelley, that God is vengeful and angry?”
Strelley lifts his eyes to Harper’s. “The God of the Old Testament is.”
“God, who sent us His son to save us from our sins? Do you think that God, who can see through the masks and the words of men, for whom a life such as ours is no more than the blink of an eyelid, do you think that such a God could abandon his flock, no matter their sins?”
“We are taught that we must avoid sin. Repent.”
Harper smiles. “That you must. But if you fail God, He will not fail you.”
Strelley’s head nods slightly.
Harper notices, and carries on, “Why did you come?”
“I must go back. To her.”
“For her sake or your own?”
“God has not spoken to me often, Sir, but He calls me. I do not spend a waking moment without her face, her voice, present to my mind. I do not sleep without dreaming of her. I would do my penance for the rest of my life, I would bear that burden. But when she asked me to come…”
For those of you thinking: I was sure he was going to announce the title at some point... The answer is, yes, I think I have it, and it's going to be the mailing list first (with a special extra 'bonus' 'gift' for those who have signed up!), then an announcement on here a bit later.
On two separate occasions recently, I have been in a suitable situation to get up and dance. On the second, on a Sunday afternoon in T'Leadmill, (yes, you read that right: Sunday afternoon! Some sort of children's and parents' rave up... Don't ask!) the correct 'song' was very much out of the question. The DJ seemed to be intent on recreating perhaps his own youth, but certainly the youths of the mid-thirties-and-up parent crowd in attendance. What a strange experience, being in the Leadmill on a Sunday afternoon. It still has that stale beer smell, although long gone is the tobacco that always went with it in my memory. Not quite Proust's Madeleines, but the same general idea, at least.
On the first of these two occasions, the promise was of rock music. Bands that I had heard of. In some cases, bands I have referred to on this very blog, or in the past, posted their videos. But the DJ did that thing... The thing where he didn't play the most obvious (and generally the best) song from that band. Except, weirdly, he did do that when it came to bands that I would refer to as 'Drop' bands. So we heard Linkin Park do Crawling, but we heard Jimmy Eat World do Sweetness. Which is simply not the correct choice when you have The Middle or Bleed American at your disposal. Even if - and I want to make this absolutely clear - more people have heard of The Middle. It doesn't actually make you less cool to play the one we all want. He even managed to play two My Chemical Romances and neither of them was Helena. Disappointing. He did select the correct Panic! record, though, which was his one seeming anomaly. They would never have made it on to the Drop playlist, and they might even have been too arch to get on the one down the hallway at Mystery Machine. But then, Mystery Machine was all about the Smiths early on, and Panic! are probably channelling them as much as anyone.
What of this vegan food? Well, since half of my household is now at least vegetarian, we thought we'd see what the restaurant at Kelham Island could do. Turns out that they can do a pretty good job, with food that doesn't need to be marked up as 'vegan'. It's just good. If the world could be persuaded to visit, things might just start to change. With another climate strike just gone, and a sense that (some? most?) politicians are taking the issue seriously, perhaps a change is going to come.
It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die
'Cause I don't know what's up there, beyond the sky
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
I'd have danced to that.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought