Labour MP Rosie Duffield cannot attend her party’s conference this year, principally owing to the abuse and threats she is receiving from transgender rights activists for stating (quite simply) that only women have a cervix; for believing that biology is real, and for suggesting that it is not appropriate for males who identify as women to enter female-only spaces such as lavatories and changing rooms. She has been branded a ‘transphobe’, ‘TERF’ (and worse), and the year-long harassment has left her “completely terrified“, even fearing for her life. “I’ll probably be killed at some point,” she told the Times last year.
The Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, has made an unprecedented intervention: “Parliamentarians, who have been elected to speak up for their constituents, should be able to attend their own party conference without fear of harm,” he said. “Too many people have been targeted for their opinion or the office they hold. In order to protect democracy, we need to ensure those participating can do so without threats of intimidation.”
And now the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has added his voice: “Absolutely everybody has the right to be safe from abuse, threat or harm. That includes @RosieDuffield1 AND the transgender community,” he tweeted. “It’s about time we looked for our shared humanity in our dealings with others, rather than the division. #disagreewell”.
Being the MP for Canterbury, Rosie Duffield has the Archbishop’s cathedra in her constituency, so Justin Welby’s intervention is, in a sense, on behalf his own MP. And he calls (quite rightly) for peace, mutual respect, and mature debate. But it’s an interesting tweet because he also calls for the abuse and threats to stop on both sides, which leaves an unfortunate inference: that believing and saying only women have a cervix is somehow abusive, threatening or harmful.
We have already seen what happens if you wear a T-shirt with the definition: ‘Woman, adult human female‘. Does the Archbishop believe this to be abusive, threatening or harmful? Does he believe that Rosie Duffield should just shut up, because what she says is ‘transphobic’, or, being perceived as such, is causing distress to transgender people?
Perhaps that isn’t what the Archbishop meant, but it is certainly a plausible reading:
And then come those who say transphobia is the far greater (or only) oppression here, and that by equating the harassment experienced by Rosie Duffield with that experienced by transgender people, the Archbishop is perpetuating evil.
But if this isn’t what he meant, why didn’t he phrase his tweet rather more carefully? Is there really a fence-sitting via media here which can satisfy anyone? What is the point of exhorting people to listen to another perspective when they refuse even to recognise the right of others to hold a view which offends against their belief, let alone to express it? What is the ‘middle path’ between factual biological sex and ideological gender dogma? Is there a ‘middle path’ between gender-critical thinking and critical-dogmatic thinking? What is the compromise between those who exhort gender-critical thinking through respectful debate, and those who believe their dogma to be critical and unquestionable and that those who disagree must be publicly humiliated, no-platformed, or summarily dismissed from their jobs?
Or is the mere framing of this question thus a cause of division, if not of abuse or harm?
Rosie Duffield is a feminist socialist politician. While ‘feminism‘ may be a broad church and variously understood, she believes in women’s rights, including the right for females to believe and express biological facts (women have a cervix) and sociological opinion (women-only spaces should exclude male bodies). And yet such views are increasingly framed as extremist, bigoted and hateful, and the Archbishop has tweeted that such extremism, bigotry and hate must cease.
It would have been helpful not to have referred to the ‘transgender community’, principally because there is not one; there is a plurality of transgender communities, who are by no means united by the dogma of ‘rights’ or the aggressive campaigning of LGBT+ lobby groups like Stonewall which have somehow come to be seen as the authoritative and official voice of the LGBT+ ‘community’. Far better to refer to ‘transgender people’ or LGB people, not least because LGB rights are increasingly being challenged, if not actively diminished, by having an intolerant ‘T’ forced down their throats. It is apparently ‘hate’ to wear an ‘LGB Alliance’ T-shirt, because to exclude ‘T’ is transphobic and bigoted. That is to say, it is now ‘extremist’ to defend the rights of lesbians, gays and bisexuals, whose rights in law are based on sexual orientation rather than gender identity.
No such distinction may now be made: LGBT+ is a ‘community’, and if you transgress community rules, you are an heretic and must be expelled. Astonishingly (truly, incredibly astonishingly) the Charity Commission is coming under pressure from Stonewall and Mermaids to de-register the LGB Alliance for their intolerance of trans people; that is to say, sexual orientation may no longer be considered separately from gender identity. Perhaps someone should tell Steve Chalke, who (presently) sides with the LGB Alliance on this distinction:
The searching questions of gender identity are not metaphysical for those who are transgender. The intersexed patently exist; hermaphrodites blow dimorphic universality and binary sex out of the water. “Male and female created he them; and blessed them“, and then He went and allowed the emergence of ambiguous genitalia, genetic idiosyncrasies, chromosomal spectrums and hormonal confusions, all of which conspire to create a myriad of variations of biological sexual urges and societal manifestations of gender dysphoria; natural physical behaviours combined with mental-health disorders. Heterosexuality may be the procreative norm, but there’s an awful lot of messy biological and societal transactions going on within and around God’s perfection.
There is clearly a deep and sincere diversity of views around LGB and T issues, and nuanced differences of opinion within and between both LGB and T communities (and sub-communities). But it isn’t ‘hate’ to detach the T from LGB in the discussion of theology, biology or sociology; nor is ‘abuse’ to seek to defend the rights of lesbians from the competing and sometimes conflicting rights of trans women. It doesn’t help to be aggressive, threatening or belligerent when discussing any of these, and the Archbishop of Canterbury is right to highlight the imperative of inclusion by virtue of common humanity. But it doesn’t help, either, to leave people with the inference that Rosie Duffield is doing anything other than being a sincere feminist socialist, defending sex equality in the pursuit of justice.
Perhaps while the Labour Party Conference is taking place this year, the Archbishop of Canterbury might host a debate in Canterbury Cathedral with Rosie Duffield on one side, and someone who believes she is part of a ‘trans-exclusionist hate group‘ on the other. If His (present) Grace isn’t free that week, His (former) Grace would be happy to deputise.