Taking back the key

Kathleen Stock has a brilliant piece about Pride Month and the way “Pride” has changed over time to appeal to straight people to the point where straight people now get to attack lesbians for not being Inklooosivv enough. She includes, with some regret, her coming-out story, because it matters for the story of straight people – men in fact – attacking lesbians with the noisy approval of men like Justin Weinberg.

I learnt early on about the special feeling of being in a room that contains only other lesbians – a space unlike any other I’d ever known, and so thrillingly transgressive and exciting when you’ve never been in such a female place, with that unique kind of ambient energy in it before. Within a couple of years I was even marching at London Pride, holding one side of a banner for a lesbian volleyball team (and I don’t even play volleyball). Look look, I’m a real lesbian now! I may or may not have thought as I filed down Oxford Street. Yes, there was a lot of comedy in my early lesbian period, and a bit of tragedy too, but there was also a steady drumbeat of relief and joy accompanying it. For the first few years, I couldn’t get over the fact I was now in that wonderful secret garden – and I marvelled constantly that nobody could ever come along to take back the key.

And then along came a whole mob of people trying to take back the key.

In 2018 – when I first felt moved to throw a couple of rather repressed blog posts out into the void, on the problems with gender identity ideologies as I then saw them – I had been out as a lesbian for 6 years. The language of these rather amateurish posts was carefully chosen – rendered garbled and inelegant, even, in a desperate attempt not to offend if possible (so for instance, I even used “women-who-are-not-transwomen” to refer to women, though I wouldn’t do that now). I was keen not to take on the issue of whether transwomen were women directly, but only to try to argue more conservatively that there were clearly different groups of people here, who might have conflicting interests in some areas.  And one of those groups was obviously lesbians.

But don’t you dare say so.

The first wave of aggression I received for these posts was in many ways the one that hurt me most, though it happened with the least general publicity, relatively speaking. It was from the philosophers, my tribe up until then – or the closest thing I had to one. The leaders of the online feminist pack quickly circled. These are people who spend half their working lives trying to develop complicated technical theories to justify whatever ethical mantras are presently socially expedient, and the other half hanging out online performing a simulacrum of goodness, or at least some degraded approximation of it.

Bolding mine, because I absolutely love that sentence. They’re also nearly all straight, she adds.

After my second or third blogpost – and recall that I was self-publishing these on Medium at the time, not yet promoted to Professor, and with no particular prior following or web presence – I received an email from Justin Weinberg, a US philosopher who ran a philosophy news website. This site was, and is, very popular with progressives in the profession internationally. Weinberg and I had never interacted before. Coldly but politely, he told me he had just commissioned a well-known transwoman philosopher to write a published response to my blog-posts, and would be putting it on his site later that day. He just wanted to let me know that this was being published – and to say that if I wanted to write a response to what was going to be written about me, he would be “open to considering it” (or something equally etiolated).

Later that day, the piece “When Tables Speak” by the famed Professor Talia Mae Bettcher of California State University appeared on his website. You can read it for yourself. If you are empathic, you can perhaps imagine how it felt for someone relatively lowdown the philosophy pecking order, in a humdrum position in a humdrum university, to be snidely dissected in public in this way by someone perceived as prestigious, in front of what felt like the eyes of the whole profession. (If you are not empathic – or if you have always wanted me to be wrong – you will no doubt conclude, as indeed many of the philosophers did, that I brought this all on myself).

I remember. I remember the rage, too. I wrote about one of Kathleen’s posts and a pseudonymous stranger turned up to try to enforce the party line; sparks flew.

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