Christopher Smith marvels at the transforming power of self-identification
I have had mice in the vicarage. This hardly surprised me in central London, where it is commonly held that you are never more than three yards away from a rat; but, even so, I wasn’t keen on the idea of sharing my home with uninvited guests, particularly when I saw a mouse in the bedroom. So I set about getting quotations for their destruction from pest-control firms, which not only turned out to be eye-watering, but also to have no real guarantee of success.
In due course, I learned that the council would do some work at a relatively cheap rate, and early this year their chap came and told me what I think I already knew: you can kill one lot of mice, then another contingent will come and take their place. ‘Do you know what I’d do?’ he asked. I knew what was coming. ‘Get a cat.’ So I got a cat. She’s called Bella, and she came from the rescue centre in Wood Green. To date, she has brought me one dead mouse, and has made her presence felt to such an extent that no others have dared show themselves in public. For those who are interested in these details, she is a ‘domestic short-haired tabby’ – and as I write she is asleep on my bed, looking super-cute.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that the latest PC trend – declaring that you are not the sex everybody thought you were – has been extended to cats. Some daft journalist in America (and don’t think it couldn’t happen here!) has acquired some female cats after having previously had male cats; and, to save all that worry about getting the pronouns right, she has ‘decided to raise the cats to be gender neutral’. So each individual cat is not ‘she’, but ‘they’, and not ‘her’, but ‘them’. ‘I reasoned it would help me learn to use plural pronouns for my friends, neighbours and colleagues who individually go by they, their and them.’ One cannot help but wonder who these myriad ‘friends, neighbours and colleagues’ actually are, but she does feel that her grammatical inelegance is ‘the most popular solution to the question of how to identify people without requiring them to conform to the gender binary of female and male’. Interestingly and confusingly, I note that the plural pronoun governs the rest of the sentence: when one of the cats needed to go to the vet, ‘They were really sick’, rather than ‘They was really sick’. I think I would have preferred the latter, given that the verb itself is non-gender-specific, and the construction would show the whole business up for the nonsense that it is.
But this is cat life merely reflecting human life. The nonsense being projected onto those cats will not harm them – what should concern us more is the question of the damage that may be being done in the human world. There is no doubt that, according to the way we live now, the latest PC ‘thing’ is that a binary approach to people’s sex is not good. ‘Gender fluidity’ is the ‘thing’: I am whichever sex I declare myself to be, or I may be one of a vast number of ‘genders’, uncontainable by the rules of grammar or human biology. There are long lists of them on the internet – many of them, surely, put there out of mischief – but most of them implying that somehow you can be something other than male or female, or that you can switch between the two.
Now, I can see some advantages in being able to do just that. Gentlemen’s lavatories in public houses are not always charming, and may be some distance from the bar; how useful to be able to declare my gender ‘female’ for a couple of minutes and use the other facilities, if they are warmer and nearer. I’ve got a funny feeling that, in most boozers, I’d swiftly be given my marching orders by the landlord; but I noticed recently that in a new and trendy café-bar behind the National Theatre there are six cubicles (and only cubicles) with no signs telling us which to use, thus avoiding bullying us into selecting a gender according to outmoded stereotypes.
As if to prove how sensitive this all is at the moment, that hoary old feminist Germaine Greer got into terrible trouble recently when she said, ‘If you’re a 50-year-old truck driver who’s had four children with a wife and you’ve decided the whole time you’ve been a woman, I think you’re probably wrong.’ No, no, Dr Greer: if the 50-year-old truck driver says he’s a woman, who are you to argue?
There is, however, some consolation to be had in all this, which is that this kind of Political Correctness is so illogical and inconsistent that sometimes it simply can’t hold itself together. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the story of the woman who, having accepted a place at an all-female university in the United States, decided she was a man and was therefore told that, as a white male, she couldn’t stand for election as Diversity Officer. She missed a trick, really: she should have declared herself non-white and all would have been well, like the white woman who told everybody she was black, and took a post with the American National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Eventually, though, childhood photographs revealed that she was naturally blonde, pale and freckled. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go and check on the cat, who has just declared herself Bishop of Birmingham. ND