There is nothing anti-trans about standing up for women's rights
I was fourteen, maybe fifteen, when we studied Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at school and while the boys in the class revelled in the infantile deliciousness of being able to say “fart” in class with impunity – as a direct quote from the play – I found myself captured by the fear that the play describes.
Fear about the brutality that human beings can inflict on each other – even those they love – when hysteria takes hold. And when logic, sense, and even lived reality is replaced with an ignorance of thought fuelled by an overwhelming pursuit of hidden agendas. All cloaked in the comfort of victimhood.
That fear has never left me. The knowledge of what damage ignorance and groupthink can do.
And I have been reminded often over the last few years – and more increasingly over the last few days – of the chilling scenes in The Crucible of the women of Salem accused of witchcraft by children with their own troubles to hide, who find retribution for their cowardice in the false accusation of others.
Children who manipulate the already judgemental, capitalise on a closeted and unnuanced environment that helps fuel oppression and accelerate rumour and embolden shallow thinking, and use it to point the finger at women. Women with no defence to a false accusation – because how do you prove a negative – who are left with no option but to either admit to sorcery they did not commit or deny it and be condemned for lying anyway. Either way, the outcome remains bleakly the same. And at the core of this outrageous spiral of injustice is the narcissism of their accusers and the seductive power of influence.
Having to prove yourself to not be one thing when there is no evidence that you ever were in the first place is a conundrum of our time. And while The Crucible was, of course, Miller’s allegory for the ‘witch hunt’ atmosphere that pervaded 1950s America around the McCarthy hearings and the wild accusations of Communism which spread like a contagion, even in the face of clear and true denials we now have women accused of transphobia for simply speaking up for material reality and for the retention of their sex-based rights.
Women [and some men] are losing their jobs, being cancelled, being attacked, censored, threatened and force-fed a lexicon of meaningless phrases as if they were fact and where failure to repeat or toe the line is met with yet more censorial reproaches. And when they ask for evidence of their bigotry, there is, of course, none forthcoming.
Welcome to Salem.
Joanna Cherry is not an “anti-trans MP”, as one newspaper dubbed her last week before correcting online to “feminist MP”. There is nothing anti-trans about having valid concerns about a man being able to self-identify as a woman. There is nothing anti-trans in saying that sex is immutable. There is nothing anti-trans in standing up for women’s rights. There is nothing anti-trans about asking questions of law and of policy and of how they might interact. There is nothing anti-trans about speaking the truth.
But there is also nothing to say that any of the above was to be a feature of the now cancelled Edinburgh Fringe ‘in-conversation’ event with Cherry because of the staff’s apparent disagreement with some of her views. Because let’s face it, nobody asked. And why let the facts get in the way of a good protest.
Cherry is a woman of many parts: a leading feminist, lesbian, independence campaigner, KC, Catholic, chair of the respected Westminster Committee on Human Rights. Attempts to paint women like her as one-dimensional, as a one issue mouthpiece, is a campaigning strategy but it just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
In point of fact, on the day that she was being denounced as a transphobe, she was meeting with the prime minister to enlist his help in offering sanctuary to 100 female judges and prosecutors in Afghanistan whose lives were in “mortal danger” from the Taliban. So, I thank God she has a platform.
The comedy venue, The Stand, that has cancelled the event with Cherry will no doubt be judged in a court of law. But for anyone to argue, as a current government minister has done, that this is not a clear case of discrimination, then we might as well return to the days of posters on the door that read, ‘No Irish, no blacks, no dogs’.
This follows on from the protest by trans activists that prevented the screening at Edinburgh University of the documentary film Adult Human Female, which examines how adherence to gender ideology has come into conflict with women’s rights.
Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf admitted in parliament that while he had not seen the content of the film, he did not believe his stance on freedom of speech came into conflict with his stance on trans rights, and he hoped the film would go ahead.
Notably, in answer to a question about women’s rights, he introduced the notion of trans rights. And for me, this gets to the core of why this issue has become so toxic, that people, even first ministers, have framed this as an issue that pitches women’s rights against trans rights – and in seeing everything through that filter, even though Yousaf admitted he didn’t know what the content of the film was he unwittingly, or otherwise, and based on that self-declared platform of ignorance, still picked a side.
I like Yousaf. He’s personable, he wants to please, and I genuinely think he would like to be a peace-maker, so I suggest to him now: let’s watch the film together in parliament, I’ll bring the popcorn. And that as we move forward, navigating a path through what has become a very torrid debate, we all try to arm ourselves with knowledge and not be distracted by the tactics of Salem.