On a recent trip to sunny Shropshire it was relaxing to leave behind the London centred, southern bubble of anxiety about tortuous sexual politics, currently flooding our cultural world, led by the National Trust, Tate Modern with its six month long ‘Queer British Art,’ the BBC disporting its TV ‘Queer season,’ which even managed to get into the trenches of World War One, no white men are spared, the perkily insistent LGBT series on Radio 4 and ‘Gay Brittania’ on 4Extra.
‘Very few people bother about those things here up here,’ said a friend laughingly. ‘Most people get on with their lives and don’t give a second thought to stuff like gender politics.’
I was about to believe him when I saw the current programme for the Birmingham Rep. A visiting National Theatre production of Jane Eyre showed meek little Jane and her cowed school friends, played by people in their thirties, standing shoulder to shoulder, apparently marching, fists raised in defiance. They looked as if they’d stomped in from Les Mis, or a Momentum rally. The programme said little Jane, ‘Asserted her right to live the way she wished.’
I suppose she did in the end, but that wasn’t really what the book was about. Another page advertised a production of Euripides’s Medea, the great tragic Greek heroine played by a man covered in red lipstick. There was also something called, ‘The Rest of Me,’ sponsored by the ‘Big Lottery Fund,’ a public body which distributes funds from the National Lottery, for ‘good causes.’ In this case the cause was spreading the word about trans-gendering in particular, ‘the way in which gender’ is, ‘questioned and violently policed.’
So that is where all the policepersons are these days, out violently policing gender. You couldn’t really say they were ‘out policing sex’ as that might suggest the bad old days of apprehending gay men in public loos. The word sex is dead in this context, replaced by the new political concept of ‘gender.’
The programme said those impertinent police interrogations include such questions as, ‘What was your original name?’ and ‘How are you going to solve the toilet situation?’
A good question perhaps, along with the situation of changing rooms, hospital wards, prisons and competitive sport. A US female boxer was recently badly flattened by a male boxer who had decided he was a woman. But you’d have to be brave to ask those practical questions because sex which used to be about pleasure is now all about conflict; not just man v woman, but well, I’m not sure, it seems almost as complicated as the Syrian civil war with angry feminists such as those led by Sandi Toksvig, founder in 2015 of the ‘Women’s Equality Party,’ frequently pitted against men who call themselves women.
There can be no public analysis of this dispute because anyone who tries to, such as Germaine Greer, who said that men calling themselves women don’t automatically become female, or Jenni Murray who said much the same, are immediately ‘no platformed,’ ‘violently policed’ one might say, and asked to shut up in case, as one transgendered protester put it to me, they, ‘create the environment in which harm can be done.’
That dispute began as far back as 1973 at the ‘West Coast Lesbian Conference,’ in LA, where a furious row broke out over a performance by a folksinger called Beth Elliott. Formerly Bill Elliott, he what was then called a transsexual. That word is no longer allowed. Try to keep up.
At that gathering, Robin Morgan, a feminist speaker, declared: ‘I will not call a male ‘she.’ Thirty-two years of suffering in this androcentric society, and of surviving, have earned me the title ‘woman.’ One walk down the street by a male transvestite, five minutes of his being hassled (which he may enjoy) and then he dares to think he understands our pain? No, in our mothers’ names and in our own, we must not call him sister.’
Such views are shared by some feminists now, but not by radical sisters who have found themselves in an acrimonious battle with Trans people and their allies. Trans women i.e. men, say that they are women because they feel female. As some put it, they have women’s brains in men’s bodies. Radical feminists reject the notion of a female brain believing that if women think and act differently from men it’s because of a social construct, a caste system, requiring them to be sexually attractive, nurturing, and deferential.
In the words of Lierre Keith, US ‘food activist’ author of, ‘Deep Green Resistance,’ and a founder of, ‘Feminists Against Pornography,’ femininity is ‘ritualized submission.’
Anyone born a man retains his privileges as a man, even if he chooses to live as a woman, and that can’t be right. It’s not just sex or rather gender which involves this kind of bitter struggle. Keith is also seen as leader in a new ‘Vegan war.’ In 2010 protesters pelted her with meat pies laced with red peppers at an Anarchist Bookfair in San Francisco. Then there is the increasingly bitter conflict between gay men and the ‘Bi-sexual’ community. A Bi person on BBC Woman’s hour this week said her community did not receive the same amount of ‘support’ as other minority groups and were always regarded with suspicion as people who engage in ‘three-somes.’
Food and sex are no longer anything to do with pleasure or relaxation, quite the opposite. At least for people in the know, they’re about marching and overthrowing the capitalist, corporate state. Axe-grinding identity politics of this kind now fills the gap once occupied by Anti-Apartheid, Vietnam, nuclear disarmament, and what used to be called in sexist times, ‘Women’s Lib.’
There was no rest from these London/BBC issues by getting sixty miles up the M6. Nowhere escapes from the new thinking on sex renamed ‘gender.’ On the way home some of my confusion about who is who and what goes where, and what is acceptable now, was confirmed by two newspaper stories on the same page.
The first one reported that Richard Broughan, a councillor from Stoke in Staffordshire had caused grave offence by passing comment on a female Elf he saw in a grotto in November 2015. He foolishly quipped: ‘I wouldn’t mind her sitting on my knee.’
Broughan who has obviously chosen to keep ‘identifying’ as a red blooded male in a way which is now quite unacceptable, obdurately remaining a bit of a cheekie chappie, was too stupid to realise or refused to accept that such behaviour is no longer allowed.
If he wanted to get involved in green issues, he was going about it the wrong way. His comment may have been reaching for the old idea of children sitting on Santa’s knee in the fairy grotto at Christmas, a practise now completely outlawed. His weak attempt at fun has also been banned, and so has he. He was immediately reported to the police. Staffordshire Police Sgt Wayne Flowers, anxiously protecting the public, told the press he’d made ‘inappropriate jokes.’
Broughan denied all charges, he hasn’t gone to prison but has been investigated for two years, and suspended from the council. To get his job back, he has to undertake, ‘additional training.’ Presumably on how to treat members of the Elf community with due respect.
That issue I could trace back to the kind of feminism which arrived here from the USA forty years ago; women, even female elves cannot be remarked on, even with a compliment as that objectifies them as sexual rather than anything else. The structure of that thinking is identical to the strictures on race, as if women are deemed to be a vulnerable minority in need of protection from dangerous, stigmatising language which might, ‘create the environment in which harm can be done.’
In the light of that now firmly entrenched ideology the feature below was very puzzling. Single mum Jenna Eastland of Co Durham, has reportedly spent thousands of pounds on make-up, fake tan and sexy outfits for her daughter Layla Thompson, stage name Layla Belle, aged seven. The little girl has been covered in make-up and applying her own mascara since she was two years old. She looks like a cross between Grayson Perry and Barbara Windsor in ‘Carry on Camping.’ The child regularly stars in beauty pageants and will represent the UK in, ‘Miss Superglobe’ in September.
We cannot speak about sex as to get it wrong will bring down a charge of sexism or homophobia as damning as the charge of racism, tantamount to the cry of ‘Heresy’ in a previous age. A mistaken joke, even by such a distinguished Nobel Laureate as Professor Tim Hunt can lead to social obloquy and international disgrace. It is apparently now against the law in the UK for a heterosexual man to compliment even a female pixie; yet tiny female children can be garishly and overtly sexually objectified.
I’ve lost the thread of it as I can no longer recognise the patterns of thought, speech and thinking that existed when I was young. Sexual politics, now a component of the race equality and possibly the Green lobby as well, have now merged one disturbed malcontented lump, chiefly united in their desire to destroy free speech in the belief that it leads to some nebulous harm that only they can see.
Some like me are staging a retreat from the scene of battle. It seems many young heterosexual men are now doing the same, ‘hiding in plain sight’ as rubbish TV crime dramas say. It has just been reported that the sales of razors has dropped by three percent this year as men start signalling their continued maleness by growing big, bushy beards. Fifty two percent of UK men are now pogonophiliacs, sporting impressive bristles if not mutton chops. Nothing like it has been seen since the mid 19th century.
Hiding behind great bushes of hair, appearing to view the world over the top of a hedge, increasingly hairy straight men obviously feel safe from scrutiny and attack. As beards are also worn by trendy gay men and non trendy devout Muslims, they allow straight white men to hold onto their male sexuality without giving offence by specifically declaring their identity.
I intend to look for the straight male behind the cloud of whiskers. When I meet a pogger we’ll smile at each other briefly, tip our caps and walk on, like characters in Orwell’s 1984, recognising that there are secret resisters out there, defying contemporary dogmatism, holding onto moral judgements, sharing the knowledge that there was once an age of freedom, a time of jokes, which can just about be remembered, and you never know, might one day return.