We didn’t have gender dysphoria when I was a boy. We had to make do with ordinary puberty. I’m not saying it was better in those far-off days. Only that it’s how it was. It should be possible to note that we thought ‘darkie’ was the polite way to refer to people of colour without giving offence. That’s just the way it was. Homosexuals were ‘poofs’ and social outcasts at best. Girls who became pregnant out of wedlock were sluts who shamed their families and communities while the boys who got them pregnant were just sowing their wild oats because boys will be boys. Paedophiles didn’t exist. They were prevented from existing by the simple expedient of not talking about them. Not out loud, anyway. Not in public. It maybe wasn’t OK for a child to be molested. But it wasn’t anything like as bad as the neighbours knowing that your child had been molested.
Women had bruises. That’s just the way it was. Women had bruises the same way they had tits. How women came by those bruises wasn’t any more a polite topic of conversation than teenage pregnancy or child molestation. Men didn’t beat their wives. They chastised them. It’s what men did. That’s just the way it was. It was called the ‘war of the sexes’ and they made comedy movies about it.
Children had bruises too. Especially the boys. But that was just normal. Because boys will be boys and boys are wild and being wild gets you bruised. The bruises obtained through the natural wildness of boys were generally indistinguishable from those inflicted by one or both parents. Because hitting your children was also natural. You couldn’t bring them up without knocking them down a few times. Spare the rod and what else was there? That’s just the way it was.
Grief! That’s another thing we didn’t have when I was a child. Not like we have now. What we had when there was a death was silence. Not the same silence as we had when girls were incarcerated in what were then called insane asylums because they’d got themselves pregnant (Aye! They got themselves pregnant!). Not the same silence as when a woman came into the village shop with lips so swollen she could barely speak and blackened eyes that no strategically worn headscarf could conceal. Not the silence there was when a young laddie accidentally drowned or fell from a bridge or hanged himself the day before he was due to go camping with the scouts and that nice scoutmaster who was so good with the boys. The silence we had instead of the very public exhibitions of grief we have these days was a respectful silence. Really, it was a fearful silence pretending to be respectful. Maybe a hopeful silence. If silence could banish domestic violence, teenage sexuality and child molesters maybe it would work for death as well. Although, of course, nobody actually spoke about that fear/hope. That’s just the way it was.
Before there was gender dysphoria there was ‘gender identity disorder’. Before that, there was puberty. Before that, there was just growing up. We all did it. We all went through it. All of us were alone. We had to be. Because we were different. We didn’t fit. The world was the wrong world for us. We were in the wrong family. We were in the wrong body. Each of us dealt with this in our own way – this conviction that ether the life we were in was alien to us or we were the aliens in a life that everybody else thought was normal. We were told we’d grow out of it. We knew for a certain fact that we wouldn’t. Mostly, we did. We may have been damaged in the process or we might not or the damage might be trivial but it didn’t matter because we’d learned that by not talking about it we could patch up just about any damage.
That sense of being out of place – or everything and everyone else being out of place – is experienced by every child going through puberty. It’s only a question of degree. Other than birth and death, puberty is the most dramatic and potentially traumatic transition experienced by human beings. Some would argue that menopause should be on that list and I would not be keen to dispute this. But puberty can be a nightmare – both for the person undergoing it and those around them. It is a time of confusion. It is no contradiction to say that it is also a time of great certainty. It is a time when certainties change at random. Or at least according to no discernible pattern. The certainty that we are a grotesque oddity can be as unshakeable as the certainty that we are right and it’s everybody else who has got it wrong.
Puberty is a period of tumultuous change – physical, chemical and psychological. It’s a kind of metamorphoses. Metaphorically, the child melts down into a malleable mass which in principle could become anything. In practice, of course, it can’t become just anything. In practice, there are constraints. There are things which are not a matter of choice. There are things which are very much a matter of choice. There are things that we like to think we choose but which are actually pre-determined, and things we prefer to think we have no control over although we might. Gradually or rapidly or somewhere in between, the amorphous blob of melted child takes on a form. By nature, nurture and will it is shaped into an identity. But while it is undergoing this process it can be any of myriad identities from moment to moment.
All of these transient identities have features in common. Things that are fixed. Like sex. That leaves a lot that is subject to various moulding forces – peer groups, family, educators, community, society, the physical and social environment and the mind of the individual. These forces do not necessarily work in harmony. Quite frequently, they conflict. There is a period of testing and adjusting. Like someone trying on different outfits for a special occasion we experiment with different identities. And micro-identities. Identities that differ at a more granular level. Identities which are a distinctive combination of those myriad components relative to societal norms. Sometimes relative to species norms.
I don’t remember puberty being like this at the time. It just looks like that in hindsight. I don’t recall analysing the process as it was happening. I doubt very much that I was able to analyse it in any objective way. I was far too self-obsessed. Which is another trait commonly associated with puberty. Or growing up, as it was then.
I got through it. Everybody gets through it one way or another. I’m not saying it was better then. In many ways it certainly wasn’t. But it was simpler. It was simpler because there was less choice. Life was analogue. There was not the capacity for a proliferation of identities. Micro-identities couldn’t survive in that environment. They, and much else, succumbed to compromise. That’s how we got through the growing up process. We compromised. We couldn’t have it all. So we made the best of what we could have. Some of the compromises were painful to a greater or lesser extent. Some of those compromises we would later come to regret, while also regretting not having made other compromises. That’s just the way it was.
It’s different now. We’ve gone digital. Possibilities have expanded massively. Life now has the capacity to accommodate many more identities. Even micro-identities can persist. As possibilities have expanded so have expectations. As expectations become more easily met, they become demands. Demands come to be characterised as rights – first civil, then human. Without denying that gays and blacks and vegetarians and transvestites are subject to negative discrimination by those who have not adjusted well to this world of digital diversity, we can make the general point that it is easier to have a ‘non-standard’ identity now than it was when I was a boy. A person could actually live as a gay, black, vegetarian transvestite today. Maybe even vegan! They simply couldn’t fifty or sixty years ago. Life just didn’t have the capacity for such wide-ranging configurations of identity. Whatever else this implies in terms of personal choice, it sure as hell made life simpler.
It’s different now. A good impression of how different can be gleaned from reading Stephen Paton’s column in The National. It’s a decidedly ugly wee diatribe that epitomises much of the malaise of our time.
My initial reaction to reading this diatribe was to regard the author as doctrinaire, opinionated, dogmatic, inflexible, intolerant, uncompromising, unaccommodating, demanding, inconsiderate, lacking empathy and generally just a spoilt, petulant brat. Were I as bigoted as this young man I’d have settled for that opinion and taken it away with me to have and hold in perpetuity. Being more open-minded than he is I choose to take a more reflective approach. It doesn’t change my first impression very much. But it may add a soupçon of nuance.
Stephen takes the guise of the brave defender of a victimised minority. Which is fine. It’s fine even given his evident intolerance of other defenders of other victimised minorities. I’d say the guy has tunnel-vision, but the term ‘tunnel’ suggests something wide enough for stuff to pass through. This is more like catheter-vision. Which is appropriate given the pish that he dribbles. This pose is problematic for me because, in the first place, I’m not sure who comprises this supposedly downtrodden group other than that they seem to be people who cling to the micro-identities that were filtered out of my process of growing up by a reality every bit as inflexible and uncompromising as Stephen is. Good luck to them, I say! If they are victimised, it’s not by me. Nor is it ever likely to be. I have neither the time nor the inclination to hunt them down. If they are downtrodden, I’m not the one whose heel is stamping on their face forever. I lack the patience for such a venture.
Which is not to say these people – whoever they may be – are not victimised and/or downtrodden. There are all but certainly those who do have the necessary inclination and patience. But the same is true of pretty much any group into which human beings can be divided. whatever group an individual is in they are in somebody else’s outgroup. And some individuals are prone to treating members of outgroups in an appalling manner. Reading Stephen Paton’s column I get the distinct impression he considers the entire non-Stephen Paton section of humanity as an outgroup. Which strikes me as a bit unreasonable.
We have to be reasonable. We have to compromise. Society cannot function unless we do. Society cannot function if, having made it possible for micro-identities to persist, those micro-identities are afforded the same status as biological imperatives such as sex. No group should be victimised. No group should be downtrodden. That rather goes without saying. But not every characteristic of every group can be afforded the status of a right equivalent to that afforded for cause to some other group. If every characteristic and attribute of every conceivable gender micro-identity is afforded the same status as sex then sex ceases to be a functioning category and rights specified for that category become meaningless.
It’s analogy time, kiddies! Aren’t you excited?
Some people have red hair. It goes without saying that people with red hair have the same human rights as people with other hair colours. Red-heads can no more be made slaves than blondes. But people with red hair are more vulnerable to the rays of the sun. They are more prone to certain types of cancer as a result. So society decides that red-heads should be afforded a specific right to preference for seats in the shade. Places shaded from the sun are reserved for red-heads. They have a right to those spaces.
Now along comes somebody who has merely dyed their hair red. They demand the same right as other red-heads. If we deny them this right then we are victimising red-heads. The dyed redheads effectively hijack the red-headedness of people whose birth hair colour is red.
Dying hair is expensive and troublesome. So some bright spark has the idea of simply claiming to be a red-head. If we tell this individual to fuck off – as we would tend to do being sane and sober and sensible citizens – we are denounced as oppressors of all red-heads. It’s not the presumptuous individual we’re telling to fuck off. It is all read-heads everywhere. The person being told to fuck off is the hero representing the whole red-head race – despite being blonde.
Analogy ends! Hopefully without need for further explanation. The right of red-heads to preference for seats in the shade has been ‘defended’ out of existence by those who’ve found a way to get the entitlement without the inconvenience of being a ginger.
I realise that I will now be denounced as a ‘transphobe’. I’m not uncomfortable with that. Not because I am in any sense or measure ‘transphobic’. But because the term itself has been rendered meaningless by people like Stephen Paton who apply it to anybody who isn’t uncritical enough of their views – whatever those views happen to be at any given moment. One cannot be mildly irritated by the otherly gendered. One dare not even fail to declare one’s unconditional and unquestioning support far less express total disinterest without being labelled a ‘transphobe’ by the gender identity ideologues. There’s nothing in between absolute embrace of that ideology and virulent hatred of all the otherly gendered. No grey areas. Let us not point out that this is indistinguishable from other forms of bigotry because that too will have one branded a ‘transphobe’.
If you thought the Poppy Nazis were bad then wait until you fall foul of the Gender Fascists. As you inevitably shall. It is only a matter of time before we’ll all be required to wear a rainbow insignia to prove ourselves worthy of a normal existence.
I have no desire to turn back the clock to the days of my youth. Life then was far from idyllic. I rather like a world where girls who ‘get themselves’ pregnant are given help rather than abuse. I prefer that the authorities now take domestic violence and bullying behaviour seriously. I am perfectly content that it should be at least theoretically possible for a black, gay, vegetarian transvestite to become First Minister. Although I reserve the right to criticise their performance as First Minister without being condemned as a black/gay/vegetarian/transvestite-phobe with no right of appeal.
Stephen Paton and his ilk are not making society more tolerant. They are inventing and adding new forms of intolerance. Virulent, vicious, vindictive intolerance. Paton’s article today undoubtedly has done more to provoke antipathy towards transgender people than anything Joanna Cherry has said. Or anything I’ve written here. People don’t like bullies. They don’t like being bullied. They especially don’t like being bullied by a doctrinaire, opinionated, dogmatic, inflexible, intolerant, uncompromising, unaccommodating, demanding, inconsiderate, spoilt, petulant brat.
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