Narrative is not existence

Nonsense from MP Angela Eagle part 2. It’s sad when people produce so much nonsense you have to address it in pieces.

Jo Grady, the union boss who was also on the panel at the fringe event, claimed people have freedom of speech, but not “freedom to offend”. The University and College Union leader said this was something she taught to her members, who include academics, lecturers and postgraduates.

She said: “Whilst it’s clear that gender-critical beliefs are protected, the form of expression isn’t. You might have freedom of speech, but you don’t have freedom to offend – particularly if that offence is enshrined within law, and I think that’s one of the things that we try and educate our members about quite a lot.”

I bet she does.

I don’t think it’s wrong to argue that legality is not the only issue. There are no laws saying you can’t go up to strangers in the street to tell them they’re ugly, for instance, but morally that’s a horrible thing to do and no one should ever do it.

But Grady wants to extend that kind of thing to cover disagreeing that people can be the opposite sex, and not just strangers in the street but anyone anywhere for any reason. A guy in a skirt is standing by the sinks staring at everyone? Never you mind, it would offend him if you told him to get out.

Dame Angela said the freedom of speech argument on trans rights seemed plausible “until you start analysing it”, adding: “To what extent does freedom of speech ever allow people to question the existence of other human beings?”

I think what the Times is trying to say there is that Dame Angela said it seems plausible to claim that people have freedom of speech to point out that people can’t change sex, until you start analysing it – at which point you should change your mind because if you point out that people can’t change sex you are questioning the existence of other human beings.

Note the switcheroo. Saying people can’t change sex is not questioning the existence of people who claim they can and do change sex. We know those people exist and we don’t question their existence. That’s a non-issue. The issue is what they say about themselves. If I say a dog is not a rabbit I’m not questioning the existence of the dog (and it works the other way around, too – if you say a rabbit is not a dog you’re still not questioning the existence of the rabbit. Or the dog. Or the person recording the whole thing.)

What Dame Angela was trying to say is that you should change your mind because if you point out that people can’t change sex you are questioning the self-description of other human beings. Not the existence, but the narrative, the story, the fantasy. Well, guess what, sometimes we do have to question the stories other people tell, including stories about themselves. Look at Trump for the most glaring example on the planet. You can’t take what he says about himself at face value, now can you. Now extrapolate from that.

Among friends and colleagues, sure, there’s an assumption that what people say about themselves is mostly true. But when the circle widens that assumption narrows very fast. With the vast majority of people we simply don’t know, and in many circumstances we should be cautious about instant belief. Trust but verify.

Women are not repeat not under any obligation whatsoever to pretend to believe men who tell us they’re women.

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