Quite a lot of folks get death threats on Twitter. Not least the comedian Janey Godley who seems to spend half her days blocking those brave, anonymous eedjits who threaten her and her family. Twitter seemed pretty relaxed about all that until the US President was in receipt of the same treatment. Cue immediate action and outrage from HQ.
We are living through a tragedy of manners on social media and elsewhere, as was nowhere more evident than this last political week. When Trump tested positive, all of us thought some tasteless thoughts, and most of us had the good grace not to share them. Most of us don’t want to wish ill health or death on another human being, no matter their own demonstrable lack of humanity.
The Biden campaign swiftly pulled a series of ads which had highlighted the President’s hitherto somewhat chaotic response to the pandemic. His political allies and opponents alike posted pious hopes for his recovery. When misfortune strikes, hypocrisy is usually spotted not far behind. Witness the incensed response of the Scottish Tories to Margaret Ferrier’s insanely dangerous round Britain tour. Many of whom – though not, to be fair, Douglas Ross – had found reasons to take a vow of silence when Dom Cummings had inexplicable problems with his day vision.
One publication this weekend worked themselves into a bit of a lather at the thought the SNP may have paid for counselling for their erstwhile finance secretary, though the account seemed a strangely fact free zone. Yet actually, though he displayed a very special kind of stupidity, I don’t find the notion of political parties mixing condemnation with compassion a matter for regret.
This inclination to lay about you without fear or factual basis is particularly emblematic of the trans debate. Here I use the term loosely, as people screaming “transphobic” at anyone endeavouring to have a conversation on the subject is not much of an opener for productive discourse. The most high profile victim of this treatment has been JK Rowling, who wrote about some painful personal experiences in addition to her views about why some women, most particularly previously abused ones, are nervous about possible implications of the now postponed Gender Recognition Act. And was immediately vilified for her trouble.
It was instructive to read the comments following a letter of support to her last weekend from assorted celebs. The most vicious came from people who were not themselves trans. Conversely many trans people were dismayed by the tenor of some comments. This week I had a long conversation with a trans woman I’ve known for some years. She’s an acquaintance rather than a close friend, but our paths have crossed amiably at various times.
She admitted candidly that the trans community would be very disappointed if the Scottish government ditched reform, and that she had personally found the existing route to changing her identity both cumbersome and humiliating. She also thought that mudslinging from the non trans sidelines was counter productive. And, as a supporter of independence, that it was not the issue of most concern to her at a crucial juncture in that latter campaign.
It wasn’t difficult to contrast her thoughtful responses, and her own challenging personal journey, to the sheer venom so often displayed by those who claim to be defending her rights. At the risk of suffering another bout of intemperate trolling, let me try and explain why so many women have been frightened into silence by the more vitriolic activists. And why so many, let me employ a technical term, have been so royally pissed off by them.
Many non trans women are bewildered, to put it no higher, at suddenly having to self describe as cis women. Or menstruaters. After years of having too few female loos at festivals and sports stadia, they find it odd when existing provision is further diminished to provide mixed ones. Few of them are transphobic as their traducers would have you believe – they just see a difference between biological sex and acquired gender. How to resolve that, giving proper respect to all concerned, is unlikely to follow a stairheid rammy.
And here is another thing. I can still recite the words of an anti-apartheid song we used on the marches to protest the South African regime. Whether it was first wave or second wave feminism – I’m losing count – I can’t be sure, but I was on the march for that too. So it’s just a wee thing irritating to be lectured about human rights by those who seem to think the rest of us were home painting our toenails when these battles were being waged on behalf future generations.
I’m sure some of the footsoldiers in the GRA campaign are unaware of the fact that there is an actual playbook which was put together in the States then imported into Britain, the purpose of which was to show how a campaign, which had been on the fringes of politics, could be inserted into the mainstream media and influence mainstream politics.
Now I’m not for a minute arguing that just because a policy affects a relatively small minority of the electorate it should not be pursued or publicised. Human rights should always cover all bases, all constituencies and all demographics. What I am concerned about is that this particular policy debate has been captured by a very noisy, often highly intolerant group which, for the most part, includes very few of the trans community they are allegedly supporting. And that the sheer vitriol deployed is proving an unwelcome distraction from the business of securing independence
Here is a tip from someone who has lived through many campaigns for many causes. Bad mouthing the folks whose views differ from your own is rarely a shortcut to success.
If you can’t manage a civilised conversation, then a period of haudin’ yer wheesht would be much appreciated.
First published in The National on October 4th