Individual privacy is being eroded by the politicisation of gender, sexuality and identity, writes Bill Jamieson.
Thank Heavens for royal babies. Even for those largely indifferent to monarchial affairs, news that the Duchess of Sussex – aka Meghan Markle, wife of Prince Harry, sixth in line to the throne – is expecting a baby has brought a welcome and all-too-rare break in the bleak depression that Brexit has become.
But beware. Prince Harry was reported as saying that the couple welcomed the arrival of their baby “whether it’s a boy or a girl”. But today is it so straightforward?
With the relentless in-tide of identity politics and transgender assignment, how can he have any certainty whether his offspring will really be a boy or a girl? What may be assigned to babies at birth may not be at all the gender identity the child later chooses.
Such is the new wisdom that it will be up to the child to decide later which sex it thinks it is – or wishes to be. So those waiting in due course to hear whether the new arrival is a boy or a girl may in time be disappointed.
“Gender fluid” may be the safer description at this stage, rather than any presumptive declaration that could prove false. Equally, care should be taken not to rush to embrace some speculative set of initials – LGTB, or something more inclusive in the ever-lengthening spectrum of sexual identity acronyms.
You may think the debate about gender identity is already grossly overblown, of concern only to a tiny fraction. Across most households, it is heard with utterly bemused puzzlement. We keep our heads down, stay silent and hope no-one asks us for our opinion.
It is a passing fad, a spasm of minority interest that will run its course. But there is an alternative view – that this is only the start of a profound cultural re-casting of notions of gender identification, conventional modes being abandoned in the way that a snake sheds its skin. Look at the change that has come in just 30 years – attitudes and behaviour once commonplace and which routinely featured in popular entertainment are now regarded as unacceptable, offensive and beyond the pale.
Nor should we imagine the debate over transgenderism is confined to the outer margins of social media. Earlier this week, the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour devoted the whole of its programme to a discussion of transgender politics. This featured, inter alia, the fiery debate between feminists and transgender activists. Feminists fear that the entitlement to self-identify will expose women to opportunistic assault by males and the loss of so-called ‘safe spaces’ when males, self-identifying as women without need of medical certification, can lay claim to previously female-only areas in schools, work places and rest rooms.
But there is a wider and more pervasive movement to raise the profile of the transgender phenomenon and promote gay, lesbian and transgender identities in the name of gender diversity.
The latest manifestation is list of recommendations contained in a document entitled LGBT Culture and Progression: A report on Career Progression and Culture at the BBC. This grew out of an internal census conducted earlier this year with the aim, according to the Corporation’s director of diversity, to ensure that the BBC “should act as a mirror to the UK and a voice for the UK in the world”.
The numbers revealed in this internal census were astonishing. The number of BBC staff who recorded themselves as transgender was a remarkable 417, or one in every 50 on the payroll. Is there any other organisation – in the private sector or public – where the number of transgender employees is so high? The audit had also found that LGBT staff comprised 11 per cent of the entire workforce, including 12 per cent in “leadership positions”.
As the Conservative Woman website commented, “Not only do these percentages far exceed the proportions of the general population, they are well ahead of the Corporation’s own target of eight per cent by 2020. Reason enough, one might have hoped, for that part of the Beeb’s diversity circus to fold its tents and for the money it absorbs, which is extorted from TV viewers, to be redirected into programming that licence fee-payers might actually want to watch.”
The Corporation also reports that employees who are LGBT (to be replaced by the more inclusive LGBTQ+) experience a “heteronormative (sic) culture, particularly around language in the workplace”; and that “inclusive language, particularly around non-binary gender, isn’t always used, particularly by our third-party suppliers”.
To effect cultural change, the Corporation is to introduce a “straight allies” lapel badge to promote LGBT issues, with the badge wearers likely to include “content makers and senior decision-makers”, whom the BBC will “encourage to join BBC Pride as allies”.
Is this accelerating onrush of identity politics really liberal progression by another form, or, as some believe, bullying, made respectable by lofty theorising? Equally worrying is the growing tendency of organisations, particularly in the public sector, to insist on a categorisation of people by a set of initials.
As if the ‘Big Brother’ endgame of all this is not concerning enough, just how particular and specific might this identification become? If my self-identification as “Bill” is not sufficient declaration of “who I am”, and “LGBT” does not pay sufficient respect to the new sensibilities, what about LGBTQIAGNC? Or LGBTTTQQIAA – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, 2/Two-Spirit, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual and Ally? Do keep up at the back – this baffling alphabet spaghetti gets longer by the month.
To draw a line against this is nothing to do with a rejection of male or female homosexuality, but resistance to a politicisation that is deeply divisive and corrosive of individual privacy. The way things are going, that very objection may put us “on the wrong side of history” and open to fiery denunciation on social media. But with the cultural tsunami now breaking around us, who will stand in the way of it? And in this rush to self-identification with public labels and initials, how may we be more certain, or less, of who we really are within?