A new novel brilliantly skewers gender theory
The world used to laugh at Bible-clutching Americans who believed fossils were embedded into rocks 10,000 years ago as a test of faith. These god-fearing hicks were fodder for documentary makers like Louis Theroux. Yet today, equally mad minority beliefs, such as the claim that sex is a spectrum, are sacrosanct. Despite being ripe for mockery, for the most part the rational majority politely nods along. No so for writer Simon Edge, whose latest book, In the Beginning, imagines a social order where geology, rather than biology, is suddenly controversial.
A pacy satire, the novel lampoons the lunacy and captures the personal devastation caused by the movement to erase biological sex. In the Beginning stands on its own, though it follows from his 2020 book The End of the World is Flat in which Edge first made the neat comparison between flat-earthers and adherents of trans ideology.
In the Beginning is a stylish retelling of the Maya Forstater tribunal, the case which ruled that the right to express gender critical beliefs, (that sex is real and that it matters), is protected under UK law. The novel proposes a parallel social order where geology, rather than biology, is controversial. In Edge’s fictitious world, voicing facts about the age of the earth is held to be offensive to native American communities who apparently believe that the Earth is 10,000 years old. Those who dispute this are smeared as “Young Earth Rejecting Fascists”, or YERFs by the self-styled defenders of these indigenous people.
The book opens with a bored student in a creative writing class. She mockingly writes an achingly right-on pastiche of an origin myth centring on a potter goddess called Ctatpeshirah. Ironically, the origin story of Ctatpeshirah becomes lost, only to resurface online as the stick with which the YERFs are beaten. There is undoubtedly a whisper here of sexologist Anne Fausto-Sterling, widely cited as one of the main academic proponents of the theory that sex is not binary. The Professor Emerita of Biology and Gender Studies has apparently since admitted that her seminal paper arguing that there are five sexes was in fact an obscure joke.
Edge maps out the consequences of such reality-defying beliefs. In the Beginning follows the story of Tara Farrier, a researcher who loses her job at an American-led think tank after making a throwaway comment about the age of the Earth. As with Forstater, the protagonist’s colleagues are offended by what to Farrier is a simple statement of fact. Consequently, she finds herself the accidental figurehead of the fight for freedom of expression. Through personal and professional trials, Farrier forges friendships with other YERFs, women who have been cast out of polite society and pilloried for questioning absurd yet fashionable “Young Earth” beliefs.
In achingly relatable scenes, Edge charts the anxiety felt by many about the generational rift that has emerged between the beliefs of parents and their offspring. With pinpoint accuracy, he punctures the arrogance and hubris of a detached laptop elite who believe their education and high-minded morals protect them from folly of nonsensical neo-religious beliefs. While the specific parallels are obvious, Edge’s keen observations about honesty, bravery and groupthink are universal and timeless.
Importantly, this book is far from gloomy or hectoring, and Edge has clearly had fun. Readers who’ve been following the twists and turns of the real-life fight against the excesses of the trans lobby will find themselves entertained on amusingly familiar ground. The book is seasoned with cheeky anagrams of characters’ names and joyfully unflattering descriptions of those who bear a striking resemblance to real people. Anyone who fails to cheer when a certain “Labour MP called Lloyd Kruger-Dunning” bursts a blood vessel after shouting abuse at a female colleague in the House of Commons’ debating chamber hasn’t been paying attention. The maddening distortions and bad faith takes of Earth News are also expertly skewered.
What Edge artfully does in In the Beginning, is to humanise the characters behind news stories of cancel culture. He presents a compelling and empathic view into the relationships between them and their internal struggles. The bitter reality of divided loyalties within families, anxiety about losing friendships, and anger at deliberate misrepresentation by a hostile press are deftly woven into the narrative. In doing so, Edge perfectly exposes the ludicrous views and hollow values held by the globe’s most educated people.
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