Christina Bradbury argues that speech codes prevent us from reasoning, and have got to go.
The whole transgender “debate” came up more than once over Christmas. I know it doesn’t make for pleasant discussion around the open fire after your third full roast in 24 hours, but somehow I found myself discussing it with family members and old ‘twice-a-year’ friends.
I say “debate” because whatever debate there once was (whenever or wherever that might have been), no longer exists. Not in polite society anyway, not in the media, not in medicine, not in law and certainly not in parliament.
Consider first the historic “transgender equality debate” in the UK Parliament. The “debate” consisted of a series of self-congratulatory speeches, talking about how desperately this issue needed to be addressed with each speaker doing their utmost to prove they were sat more comfortably on the bandwagon than the last.
The only voice of dissent came from Caroline Flint, who suggested that we ought to be cautious about the introduction of “gender-neutral” environments in relation to toilets, but her concerns were quickly dismissed. (Pink News also did a good job of ensuring other MPs know not to ask such unwelcome questions.)
What is especially unnerving is the unquestioning acceptance of a vocabulary and set of assumptions coming from critical theory worked up in the humanities: not medicine, not psychology, not biology. The motion’s proponent, Angela Crawley, said “the law must be updated to recognise an individual’s gender identity, which has nothing to do with their birth gender and everything to do with the gender that they believe they are”, which went entirely unchallenged. Again, from Hanna Bardell: “We should be working towards a day when all our names can be preceded by Mx…” Really, Mx Bardell? All our names? Oh, happy day!
Something similar can be seen in the Crown Prosecution Service’s recent public consultation on “the prosecution of offences involving hostility on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity”.
We find here again a total and unquestioning acceptance of a radical ideology which completely reinvents common-sense anthropology – an ideology that redefines what it means to be human, an ideology which can’t stand on its arguments, but relies on enforcement by browbeaten officials.
The CPS is now rushing to the task of shutting down all forms of ‘hatred’ of people who don’t see themselves as men or women. Predictably, ‘hate’ is never defined, and can include “insulting” words or statements, and, as usual, hatecrimes are reported on the basis of the feelings of the reporter, without evidence of intent by the accused, and with bystanders encouraged to report interactions they aren’t even involved in.
This kind of policy makes what happened in Parliament inevitable. Of course no debate happened. How could anyone, let alone an MP, be critical, when the CPS’ guidelines could classify their speeches as criminal?
Finally, towards the end of last year, the University of Sussex Students’ Union (USSU) introduced a “Gender Neutral Language Policy”, the first of its kind in a British university.
Like my other examples, this policy assumes the truth of obscure philosophical theories, and makes no concessions to protecting freedom of speech or thought. Not only does it oblige you not to use certain words, but it insists students use an officially approved, invented jargon.
If you want to be involved in the union or the student press, you must use the language they require of you. You must state your pronouns at the beginning of every meeting and you must refer to others by ‘gender neutral’ pronouns unless their preferred pronoun has explicitly been stated, and once it has, you must use it, whether that be ‘him’, ‘her’, ‘them’ or ‘per’, ‘ver’, ‘xem’.
The policy gives no description of what the price of violation will be. This is not how regulation of any kind, let alone speech, works in communities which care about the freedom of their members. A basic principle of regulation is that those regulated know what the rule is, and what the punishment for breaking it is. Otherwise, those responsible for upholding the regulation can act arbitrarily to pursue ulterior goals the community has not agreed on.
Let’s be braver, and articulate a principle which needs to be said again and again, now more than ever: it is not for an official public body to dictate what language you must use. And this principle applies more urgently, not less, when the language concerns more basic, fundamental matters. Human nature – and thereby sexual difference and its meaning – is the starting point for all political disagreement. There is nothing more fundamental.
Let’s consider a nearby, hypothetical case, where a Students’ Union polices speech to protect the special interests of a quite different group against those who dare to openly disagree with it.
Suppose that the USSU decides that out of respect for Muslim students, if and when the name of their prophet is said, the speaker must immediately follow it with “… peace be upon him”.
I suspect, or at least I hope, that most students would be up in arms about this. To refer to the Muslim prophet Mohammed in this way would be tantamount to adopting or “going along” with a religion you do not believe to be true. (I am assuming, after all, that insofar as the reader is not a Muslim, he does not believe that Mohammed was a prophet who received special divine revelation and therefore does not merit any special veneration).
As a non-Muslim, I would be dishonest if I were to use this language in reference to Mohammed. As someone who believes that men and women are either men or women, I would be dishonest if I were to use “gender neutral pronouns”.
If someone asked me politely, I would of course use a special pronoun which I would not normally use, for the sake of returning their politeness.
But I do not accept the union’s authority to tell me at all times what words I should use, for choosing my words is choosing my thoughts, and my thoughts respond to reasons and evidence, not rules and intimidation. I should not have to use ideological language whose presuppositions I reject. To force me to do so would be an attack on my conscience and my freedom to choose the kind of person I want to be and the things I believe.
I brought some of these examples up over Christmas. The reaction… disbelief. Not, “Oh gosh, how could these nutcases do such things?!” but “Are you sure this is really happening? Are you reading too much into harmless speech codes? Aren’t your concerns just a little over the top?”
And that’s part of the problem. Normal people outside of the university bubble don’t know about what’s going on, and when they hear about it, they don’t want to believe it. Very little of the above gets any mainstream attention.
There is, in fact, no debate. There can be, in principle, no debate, lest you be accused of hatecrime. And finally, those last non-conformists will slowly but surely be weeded out – given away by their refusal to use the language of their ideological opponents. What can be done? Don’t comply. Don’t go along with it. Oppose this ideology but be prepared for what’s to come.
Christina Bradbury is a part-time clicktivist and a full-time troublemaker.
The featured photo is by David Iliff and used under Creative Commons Share-Alike Generic 2.5.