A couple of days ago, a screening at Edinburgh University of Adult Human Female, a documentary which poses the feminist argument against aspects of radical trans activism had to be abandoned – for reasons of public safety – after protestors blocked people from entering the screening rooms on the basis (as I understand it) that the protestors believed the premise of the film to be transphobic.
There was a good deal of angry traffic about it on Twitter of course, but I sought out a variety of sources to try to get a handle on what had actually happened. Here’s the take from the BBC. For another angle check out The National (a pro Scottish Independence daily). Here’s what The Times said if you can get past the paywall. I’m offering these links because, significantly, The Guardian, at the time of writing, doesn’t appear to have covered it at all, and more worryingly Edinburgh University’s own student paper (helpfully called The Student Paper) made an editorial decision not to cover the story for the bewildering reason that to do so would be to platform hate. To which I did find myself thinking, regardless of the rights and wrongs of the film itself, ‘good luck with your journalistic careers’.
Whether Adult Human Female is or it isn’t transphobic, a University – supposedly a place of learning and a place for the exploration of ideas – is absolutely the last place where a screening of pretty much anything should be banned, as long as the content in question isn’t a direct incitement to violence. The idea of whether something is an incitement to hatred is harder to define. I know this because my cousin, a highly respected QC, had the job of trying to prove in court that Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, was guilty of incitement to racial hatred. I mean, how hard can that be? Well my cousin (of whom I’m very proud) knows his legal onions and there were two attempts to get a conviction, both of which failed. So even if a group of students feel a film, presenting a set of ideas, could be seen as an incitement to hatred, that doesn’t mean it is – there is a good deal of subjectivity involved, not to mention the matter of the free will of the audience – and again, a university should be somewhere where all sorts of ideas that people find challenging can be explored, free from intimidation by those who disagree. As Mrs Merton used to say, always with a mischievous smile, ‘Let’s have a heated debate!’.
But, hey, I’m a writer, and addicted to ideas so I sat down to watch Adult Human Female for myself to see whether censoring others from seeing it was in any way valid.
Well… there are some issues with it. The most immediate one is that there is some lazy visual editorialising which is completely unnecessary and which undermines the thoughtfulness of the speakers’ contributions.
There is also a tendency throughout to generalise about ‘The Trans Community’ as if it were a single homogeneous thing – an overuse of the word ‘they’ without the viewer being clear who ‘they’ refers to. I’ve known and worked with at least five people who openly identify as Trans in one form or other, and they’re all different, all individuals, just as the members of any community are. I balk at anyone lumping the Jewish community into one, and we all know the dangers of judging Muslim communities by the behaviour and beliefs of radical, fundamentalist Islamists.
I imagine that many of the speakers in the documentary would have prefaced their comments by clarifying that they are talking specifically about the more extreme end of radical trans activism – with whom there is the noisiest conflict – and indeed there are moments when this is stated explicitly, but it needs more of that. I suspect that some of that defining of terms was simply edited out, but of course I can’t be sure.
On this theme, there is a tendency to turn anecdote, or the account of something specific, into a generality. Of course there are always extreme examples of behaviour in any demographic, but one needs to be careful about citing a specific event – which may well be absolutely true – but then extrapolating that outwards, suggesting that it necessarily represents a generalised truth. There are also a few generalised statements and assumptions which desperately need a bit of statistical backup, and may have even the staunchest gender critic saying ‘hang on a minute!’
I’m not itemising examples here, as I think it’s best if people who are interested enough come to their own conclusions.
But having said all of that, on the fundamentals of the politics; of why self ID is problematic; the confusion between sex and gender; why the term ‘cis’ is problematic; why the mantra ‘trans women are women’ is problematic; the issues around gender therapy/medical interventions and young people; why the progressive left is in such a tangle over gender politics; the role of lobby groups; and a few other issues besides, I’m on board with 85% of what the speakers (predominantly from the feminist left) have to say.
So… it’s a flawed piece which suffers from a lack of editorial/journalistic rigour but there’s much in it of value, and much there which could and should be shared, communally, as a prompt for fair and open discussion – and while it’s over 90 minutes long I found it engrossing and, despite moments of superimposed editorial pettiness, the speakers are intelligent and thoughtful.
Is it an incitement to hatred? Well, there’s a good deal of annoyance, frustration and arguably a bit of anger, but that’s not the same as hate – unless you’re the sort of person who has never encountered actual hate nor looked it up in a dictionary, and you’re confusing it with disagreement. And it’s not in any way an incitement to anyone to do anything, aside from being an appeal to those holding one set of views to listen to some counter arguments.
It’s terrifically depressing that proponents of a cause that is supposed to be about breaking down binary preconceptions, by attempting to stifle the debate, create the ultimate binary dynamic.
Of course you can only have the non-binary, nuanced view of this film if you actually watch it.
So here’s the link.
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