Non-responsive boilerplate wibble

Remember that dopy letter last week full of empty platitudes about being inclusive and supportive, and extra special vulnerability and respect for gender identity? The one by and for and to academics – people whose job it is (or should be) to say things clearly? Now there’s a followup article saying Y We Did It and you’ll be astonished to learn it’s the same empty platitudes all over again.

On 16 June, a letter from 34 academics to The Sunday Times argued that university policies to include trans and gender diverse people, in particular the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme, were in tension with “academic freedom of thought”. For us – as ordinary academics working in higher education – this felt like just the latest in a slew of media coverage on trans people which has ranged from the critical to the sensationalist. Setting out to write a response, we found that what we really wanted to do was something much greater: a manifesto, an affirmation of our LGBTQIA+ colleagues at all levels of higher education.

Or, maybe, not so much “much greater” as “much easier.” They set out to write a response and then realized that would require actually engaging with the arguments of the letter – and I’m guessing they didn’t want to do that because they don’t actually have any arguments in response. All they have is the same old boilerplate about being inclusive and supportive and extra special vulnerability and respect for gender identity. Non-responsive boilerplate wibble looks better in A Manifesto than it does in a response, because responses are supposed to, you know, respond.

In this new piece about Why They Did It they say it’s all gone swimmingly.

At the time of writing, our manifesto – our contribution to the debate – has attracted the signatures of more than 6,000 university staff from across the world. We have also received a vast number of personal responses expressing relief and gratitude that someone has taken a vocal stand in support of trans, gender-diverse and other queer students and colleagues, representing the views of what feels like the silent majority against the few critical voices in the media.

Relief and gratitude that someone has taken a vocal stand? Representing the views of what feels like the silent majority? There are people taking that vocal stand all over the place, complete with threats and images of guns, knives, baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire. The silent majority is far from silent.

Amid these responses, too, have been many heartbreaking stories from trans and gender-diverse people: fear of what colleagues will think of them; an ever-present question of whether their identity (reflected through their pronouns and name) will be denied; fear for their physical safety. In short, fear for whether their dignity as individual human beings will be observed and respected.

Heartbreaking? Fear of what colleagues will think of them is kind of the human condition, isn’t it? Or at least occasional anxiety about it. Very few people are completely free of worry about how well they pass as not-weird not-wrong not-freakish to the rest of the world. The nonsense about whether their fantasy “identity” (the one that negates their actual literal identity) will be denied is not worth a second of attention. Fear for their physical safety is a bad thing, for sure, but then trans activism as a movement is causing a lot of women to have that fear too. As for “fear for whether their dignity as individual human beings will be observed and respected” – again, that’s the pious empty blather again. Nobody is attacking or threatening or belittling their dignity as individual human beings. They’re entitled to as much of that as everyone else is (and no more). The issue isn’t their dignity as individual human beings, it’s their campaign to force us all to agree that they are what they are not. What about our dignity as individual human beings? Eh?

By not recognising trans people within our universities as being who they are, we deny them the dignity of their own identities.

But it’s not who they are. It’s who they say they are, which is a different thing. Consider: they could say they are Rasputin returned from the dead. They could say anything. Anyone could; we all could. Just saying isn’t magic, and we don’t have any moral obligation to agree that people are who they say they are when that saying contradicts the material reality we can detect with our eyes and ears.

Trans, gender-diverse, and other queer people are not problems to be theorised and hypothesised. They are living, breathing human beings.

Well, yes, of course they are, but the point is that the “trans” bit is something that can and should be “theorised and hypothesised” – aka analyzed and discussed and thought about and puzzled over. They don’t get to sew the trans bit onto themselves like Peter Pan sewing his soul shadow onto himself so that they can treat it as inviolate. It’s a novel idea, it’s morphing and inflating every day, and it makes large claims on us; of course we have to be able to discuss and dispute it freely.

There’s more of the same pious gibberish but I’m sick of it now. Basta.

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