Standing accused

Another “conflict”:

A bitter conflict is escalating in the Scottish literary scene with the Scottish Poetry Library (SPL) standing accused of “institutional transphobia” after it said that it would not support “bullying and calls for no-platforming of writers”.

But first we need to know what “transphobia” is, because people and institutions “stand accused” of it all too often not because they have shouted their hatred of trans people but because they have, for instance, said that women should not be persecuted for not ticking every box on the trans list of boxes to tick.

The issue was raised in the Scottish parliament on Tuesday, where the SNP’s Joan McAlpine said it was “worrying that women such as feminist poets in Scotland, Jenny Lindsay and Magi Gibson, have been subject to online mobs trying to stop them getting work or blocking their performances”.

The library stressed that it had spoken out to encourage freedom of expression. “We are a values-led organisation that embraces inclusivity, collaboration and a respect for pluralism – of languages, cultures and faiths … this does not mean that we are taking sides in any particular debate but we will not be passive if we are made aware of behaviours within our community that do not align with our values.”

The vagueness is a problem though. Vagueness is part of this whole mess. What is “transphobia”? Why is disagreement over definitions called a “phobia”? What is “gender identity”? Why are we being ordered to subscribe to a vague and woolly yet binding set of magical claims?

But in response, a group of trans and non-binary authors released an open letter that said the SPL’s position “may reflect serious institutional transphobia”, and had caused “extensive distress”.

See? More vague and woolly demands accompanied by passive-aggressive threats.

Reactions to SPL’s statement and the ongoing fallout have been varied. Scottish PEN said on Tuesday that it was disappointed, writing: “Free expression is complex and any policy that ignores such complexity can stifle the free expression of a range of stakeholders, most notably members of marginalised communities.”

But which “marginalised communities”? In what way are they marginalised? What about women – do we count as a marginalised community?

On Wednesday, more than 200 writers including author Lionel Shriver and comedian Graham Linehan put their names to an open letter of support for the “unequivocal stance” of the SPL: “From universities to arts organisations, libraries and government departments, the no-platforming and bullying of anyone holding views not actively endorsing extreme gender ideology is destroying our cultural life,” says the letter, although the SPL had [not] mentioned not gender. “Scotland has always been an example of progressiveness in arts, education and culture, and we are proud that the first stand against this aggressive chilling of intellectual debate and thought has been taken by Scotland’s national poetry library.”

I signed that letter too.

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