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Artillery Row

The meaninglessness of moderation

Compromise is not valuable in itself

This week Professor Kathleen Stock has been bigger than God and the Kardashians combined. The “no more f*cks left to give” academic has been publicly supported by the Prime Minister, featured as the main protagonist on Channel 4’s Gender Wars and defended her views on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, whilst coverage of her talk at the Oxford Union has fed a legion of hungry hacks. I like Stock, and I suspect the mild mannered philosopher, whose academic specialism is fiction, would never have imagined that she’d become famous for stating basic facts.

It is the first of these appearances that has seemingly set the nation alight. Gender Wars was an admirable attempt to sketch out the points of disagreement between the demands of trans activists and women’s rights as they currently exist. The documentary centred on a weary looking Stock who attempted to explain why telling the truth to entitled brats led to the end of her career at University of Sussex. Predictably, following the broadcast a number of the contributors who argued against Stock published a peevish open letter to let their trans and nonbinary siblings know that they would not have participated had they not been “misled and misinformed” by the production team.

On the gender critical side, Stock was joined by feminist journalist Julie Bindel and longstanding campaigner Linda Bellos, both of whom made the once unremarkable observation that women experience sexism because of our sex. On the other side were trans activists including Press for Change founder Dr Stephen Whittle and lecturers Dr Finn Mackay and Dr Gina Gwenffrewi. The character who provoked the most surprising response was Katy Jon Went, a man who identifies as a woman whilst calling for compromise between the two positions.

Went was filmed — shock horror — having a cordial chat with his friend Linda Bellos. Neither combusted. He proudly displayed a stack of books by gender critical authors which he had apparently read (though given his insistence that he isn’t a man, it seems fair to assume the message went over his head). The middle-aged man provoked a rapturous reaction following the broadcast for his belief that “moderates in both camps are the only hope for social coexistence”.

There is one side that leaves devastated families in its wake

Feminist commentators, some of whom I greatly respect, seemed to compete to praise Went’s calm approach and sage acknowledgment that the debate was “complex”. He was declared a free speech advocate and showered with adulation for his willingness to speak with ideological opponents.

Perhaps I am too deeply entrenched in the culture wars to step away and magnanimously see the bigger picture. Went’s complaints about “toxicity” and performative handwringing about “extremists on both sides” didn’t wash with me, though. There is one side that leaves devastated families in its wake, one side that argues giving untested drugs to kids is progressive, and one side that routinely tries to intimidate opponents into silence.

I was not alone in my scepticism about cheerleading for the “reasonable” trans spokesperson. A spokeswoman from the group Trans Widows told me she felt “disappointed” to see Went lauded by feminists as a defence against accusations of transphobia:

Went is on record as having been “outed” when his then wife found photographs of him cross dressing on their computer. This is an experience shared by many trans widows. How are we supposed to make our voices heard in the fight back against gender ideology when men exactly like our exes have the ears of the most well known gender critical feminists?

Ultimately, how someone wishes to dress and describe themselves is up to them. It is not the job of the state to offer a legal prop for their identity, however. It also seems only fair to acknowledge that families can be left deeply traumatised when a loved one identifies as trans. Too often the experiences of children, parents, siblings and partners are dismissed as inconvenient, messy collateral damage. As Gender Wars shows, the message of the “reasonable transexual” is more appealing.

Acknowledgment of both reality and personal liberty must be the basis from which progress is made. In the eyes of the self-styled “moderates”, this makes me one of those dreadful extremists — bathing in the tears of trans kids, using pronouns and deadnames as weapons in the (non-existent) “trans genocide” — all because to me, there is no polite middle way between shared objective reality and a subjective delusion, no matter how articulately the argument is presented. It is hard not to see the reaction of many feminists to Went as revealing: a woman would never be praised for meeting such a low bar.

Something as basic as acknowledging sex has been presented as controversial, as a complex academic topic requiring reams of unpicking, and that is pure lady testicles. Go to any farmyard, and it is quite apparent that even beasts bred for human consumption know what biological sex is. It is welcome that a debate is finally happening, and Gender Wars was a fair start. Outside of the television script, though, the burden of proof should not be on “gender critical” people to explain why reality is real. A willingness to listen by trans activists should be taken as a bare minimum. Platitudes about “compromise” must not be allowed to become the end of the start — we deserve more.

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