The headmistress of a private girl’s school in England has decreed that, in order to respect the inalienable right of her charges to be confused, or ambivalent, or self-conscious about the gender to which they were biologically assigned at birth, they should no longer be referred to as girls.
She will henceforth be calling them ‘pupils’. As a designation, this is as self-evident as ‘girls’ (or ‘boys’) has become, apparently, inadequate. Incidentally, I notice that she still calls herself ‘headmistress’, which rather undermines the gender-neutrality cause, although she may have since arranged to scratch the offensive suffix off the sign on her office door.
In this new gender-free scholastic environment, logic demands that the school in question, and indeed any school whose admissions are at present confined exclusively to one sex or the other, will now have to be redefined as co-educational. Or perhaps that should be trans-educational. Either way, to have girls’ schools in which the girls can no longer be called girls, and boys’ schools in which the boys can’t be known as boys, however noble the purpose of the prohibition, defies reason.
In fact, taking the headmistress’s edict to its logical conclusion, the entire national school system, private and public, will now have to be restructured to accommodate what she sees as the new reality of gender recognition. This perforce will have to be accompanied by a nationwide campaign to persuade a large section of the nation’s parents – the overwhelming majority, I’m guessing – to ‘buy into’ the new gender paradigm. Some have already bought in by sending girls to school in trousers and boys in dresses, having been encouraged to do so by their schools. (In each case, news reporters were invited to record the event.)
All of which leads me to wonder whether this trans-gender business is getting a bit out-of hand, perhaps even a tad silly. Readers should feel free to disagree.
My view on the matter tends, as usual, to an inherent sympathy for the ‘victims’, those assailed with doubts about their true sexual identity. In an earlier age, I was similarly simpatico with those who identified themselves as homosexual and were required to be ashamed of it. But I’m also acutely conscious that my knowledge of the subject of gender identity is as flimsy as the next man’s (or, as I ought now to say, next person’s).
I plan to find out more about the phenomenon, if that is the right word, and the extent of it, before endorsing such drastic measures as parents encouraging boys not yet in their teenage years, an acutely impressionable phase, to express their true selves by going to school dressed as girls; or girls as boys. (There was a time when girls who did this were called ‘tomboys’. Most, I might add, grew up to be ‘normal’ boy-chasing girls.)
Are such acts of parental encouragement undesirable? No.
But are they necessary? I’m not so sure.
My instinct tells me that parents can be fickle friends and unqualified advisors, especially when it comes to matters of such a fundamental nature as gender identity. My own, when I was eleven or so, kept urging me to acquire a girlfriend, their way of ascertaining whether I was ‘normal’, or in their words ‘not one of them’.
Finally, on a flippant grammatical note, I’m not yet ready to start learning an entirely new ensemble of suitably biologically oblivious pronouns. Men may not be what are laughingly called ‘real men’, but they are ‘he’ anyway. And women may be as butch as Cassidy, but are still called ‘she’.
I don’t mean to sound flip. My ignorance on the subject of gender identity is far too comprehensive to allow that. It may be a growing problem, but I doubt that it is a new one; any more than homosexuality was somehow considered, by the Victorians and many since then, as one of the ‘sins’ attendant upon an increasingly tolerant and irreligious society.
My question is whether the headmistress, along with some of the more extreme groups now emerging on this topic, are not blowing the ‘gender thing’ into a controversy out of proportion to its importance. Having said that, I suppose it has to be said that some thought the same way a few decades ago about the campaign to recognise homosexuality as a physiological fact and not a moral shortcoming.
If there are countless numbers of children suffering loss of self-esteem or confusion, and who are potentially open to ridicule or persecution, then the problem should be tackled head-on. But I remain to be convinced that it requires such extreme measures as are now being suggested by various advocates, many of them not above using children as convenient means to an end.
The more radical of these organisations are now attacking such old-fashioned causes as feminism and homosexual rights as a distraction from the ‘real’ issue: that many of us – far more than any of us have hitherto suspected – apparently have grown up confused and secretly embarrassed about our gender assignment.
What is their objective? Apparently, the creation of a proudly androgynous society, in which we are not merely permitted to express our sexual identities in appearance, or behaviour, but one in which we will actually be required to. If it be so, then so be it.
Meanwhile, my heart goes out to those with what the psychologists call gender dysphoria. My only concern is that society is being shamed on a scale of controversy unwarranted by the known facts.
More intellectual light and less political heat would be helpful to the cause – especially to those of us who will be classed as Neanderthals for even questioning it.