The belief is a sin

Jonathan Best on the attempted (and failed) no-platforming of Jenni Murray:

On March 1st, an open letter was published on Facebook demanding that Leeds Lit Fest and The Leeds Library cancel an event with BBC Woman’s Hour broadcaster Jenni Murray on the grounds that she is ‘an active transphobe’ and guilty of ‘hate speech’. The signatories included Trans LeedsNon-Binary LeedsTrans Pride and Yorkshire Mesmac (all of whom might be expected to sign such a letter) and five of Leeds’ arts and culture organisations: Live Art BistroLeeds Queer Film FestivalAire Place StudiosOxygen Films and the artist collective Queerology.

With four decades of experience as a BBC journalist, including more than thirty years presenting Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, Murray is one of the UK’s most popular and accessible feminist voices. She’s interviewed hundreds of interesting women, from Hilary Clinton to Cher, from Shirley Williams to Bette Davis. And she’s got a new book out too  -  A History of the World in 21 Women. To their credit, Leeds Lit Fest and The Leeds Library stood firm behind their programming decision and the sold-out event went ahead as planned.

They failed, but not for want of trying. The new silencing of women is just like the old silencing of women, and these people who think they’re doing the latest most woke thing are profoundly mistaken. (I kind of hope it wakes them up at night a few years from now. I kind of hope they wake up sweating with shame and guilt, and that that happens to them repeatedly. I’m evil that way.)

Ultimately, Jenni Murray’s sin is to hold a belief;  that trans women are not women. This conflicts with a foundational principle of modern transgender ideology;  that trans women are women. To assert that a male human being who identifies as a woman is a woman is a metaphysical claim and, as such, we all have a right to examine it and choose to either accept or reject it.

We have the moral right, but in practical terms, we often don’t have the actual right in the sense of being free to do so without being shunned and silenced and even fired. This situation is both ridiculous and destructive, and I wish it would come to its natural end with more speed. Why do I think it has a natural end? Because it rests so heavily and unbudgeably on a delusion, and that makes it vulnerable.

However, within the context of today’s LGBTQ politics, Murray’s rejection of the belief that trans women are women is seen as illegitimate and amounts to a secular blasphemy. In fact, the signatories to the open letter have adopted a position not so different from the religious leaders who tried to censor Monty Python’s Life of Brian in 1979. Many Christians were deeply hurt by that film, arguing that it failed to respect their sincerely held beliefs. Similarly, some transgender people are genuinely hurt when the beliefs they hold about womanhood are not respected by other women. But just as the Bishop of Leeds cannot compel me to believe in the Resurrection, so Live Art Bistro cannot compel Jenni Murray to believe that trans women are women.

Or the rest of us, either, and the more frenzied the bullying gets, the more people back away.

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