Christopher Smith looks ahead to next year’s calendar
Never mind that outdated old liturgical calendar you’ve got. Here are some dates for your next year’s diary. 20th February is the beginning of A-romantic Spectrum Awareness Week, which I gather always starts on the Sunday after St Valentine’s Day. 31st March is the International Transgender Day of Visibility, 8th May is Asexual Visibility Day, and 24th May is Pansexual Visibility Day. Then brace yourself for a busy July: the 6th is Omnisexual Visibility Day, the 14th is International Non-binary Day, and the 16th is International Drag Day. Exhausted just thinking about it? Don’t forget International Pronoun Day on 20th October.
All this broke into my consciousness as I was trying to select some Christmas poems for a young peoples’ carol service. Poetry was interrupted by wokery. I was distracted by Milton’s On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity (see below); I think it among the greatest poems in the English language, but a bit tricky for teenagers. My reverie was broken, however, by the news that dinner with Kathleen Stock was off. She was supposed to be coming to talk about her new book, but she has been cancelled.
By ‘she’s been cancelled’, I don’t just mean that she cancelled the engagement. More significantly, she has been hounded out of her job as an academic at the University of Sussex by a baying mob of people who don’t much like other people, because they think the world revolves around them. And I would have to say that my generation has colluded in that by telling them that it does. Dr Stock is a feminist, but has recently written a book called Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism. The ‘reality’ she has in mind can just about be deduced from the dust jacket. The book is ‘A timely and trenchant critique of the influential theory that we all have an inner feeling about our sex, known as a gender identity, and that this feeling is more socially significant than our biological sex’. Ah yes—our sex is determined by… our sex. Who knew?
With a certain hideous inevitability, and in spite of being fairly well supported by the university (though not by many of her colleagues), she has felt it necessary to resign, and who can blame her, given that the threat to her person was so great that she was advised by police to install CCTV at home and hire some bodyguards. That suggests to me that she had good reason to be fearful of violence and that the police should have acted under the Public Order Act 1986. Perhaps they did, but that was not their first response, which was to maintain that Dr Stock’s interlocutors had every right to express their opinions. It’s interesting to observe those times when the right to freedom of expression comes to the fore and those times when it doesn’t.
You can see why some people are convinced that we are in the midst of a ‘culture war’. J.K. Rowling can’t be invited to appear in the Harry Potter reunion film because she has made such offensive comments as ‘If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased’, and wondered out loud whether it is really appropriate to use the term ‘people who menstruate’ where we might once have said ‘women’. This provoked Daniel Radcliffe, of whom none of us would ever have heard had it not been for Miss Rowling, to recite the mantra ‘Trans women are women’, which is to say, they are not to be thought of as men identifying themselves as women, and ‘any statement to the contrary erases the identity of transgender people’.
How far we have come since the days of ‘male and female he created them’. Time for an update of Scripture, perhaps? After all, well-respected organisations like the Tolkien Society are grappling with the canon; they put out a call for papers for their Summer Seminar on the topic of ‘Tolkien and Diversity’. Sadly, it came too late for me to contribute, but I don’t think I could have done better than ‘Gondor in Transition: A Brief Introduction to Transgender Realities in The Lord of the Rings’. This is the world of ‘alterity’—which presumably means ‘being different’, so I was unsurprised to see papers entitled ‘The Invisible Other: Tolkien’s Dwarf-Women and the Feminine Lack’, and ‘Something Mighty Queer: Destabilizing Cishetero Amatonormativity in the Works of Tolkien’.
Who writes this stuff? ‘Issues of self-identification (especially important for individuals who reside at the boundary between dichotomous groups) also point to a close connection (perhaps completely subconscious) between Tolkien and Elrond Half-Elven.’ It may seem comic from the outside, but real people’s jobs are on the line, and student bodies are whipping up frenzied hatred against people who dare to question the emperor’s new dress code.
I might suggest, however, that those now condemned as ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminists’ are perhaps wanting to have their cake and eat it. It was they who sought to convince us that sex was not so much a biological given as a social construct. That’s how we’ve ended up using what was formerly a grammatical term, ‘gender’, where once we would have used ‘sex’. And if ‘gender’ is socially constructed, it can be reconstructed. Until yesterday I used one changing room; from tomorrow I will use the other.
We are, perhaps, seeing the turning of the tide. It is an argument in which we may suddenly find we have a voice. Why? Because ours is the faith of the Incarnation. It invites others to come back down to earth!
That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,
Wherewith he wont at Heav’n’s high council-table,
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside, and here with us to be,
Forsook the courts of everlasting day,
And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.