Farrukh Dhondy | Of trans rights and gay norms in the age of a ‘cancel’ culture

The Asian Age.  | Farrukh Dhondy

Opinion, Columnists

Those who are sceptic insist that their scepticism doesn’t mean that they deny trans people civil rights.

In the West, the traditional prejudice against homosexuality has, at least in law, been abolished. (AFP File Photo)

“In love’s vast symphony two hearts entwined

A melody of passion, beautifully designed,

Like Bachchoo’s verse with grace and flair

Love’s harmonies untold, beyond compare

With tender notes and gentle strains

Loves music plays, erasing all pains

Like Bachchoo’s lyrics, weaving their spell

Love’s language transcends, all else it quells….”

From Kaboothar Ka Geet, accessed by Bachchoo

A friend tells me that an academic acquaintance began a lecture to a Canadian university audience with the words “Ladies and gentlemen…” Before he could go on, the audience, or at least a section of it, erupted in objections. They said that the phrase offended those humans who didn’t believe in the binary distinction of gender, and it excluded those who didn’t identify as either male or female.

Perhaps he should have started his address with “Dear Persons …” Or he could have confounded the potential objectors with a Joycean obfuscation and started with “Ladles and Jellyspoons…”

One has to be so careful these days.

I draw attention to this incident as it strikes me as merely curious. There are those, for instance the headbangers who write columns for the right-wing British weekly The Spectator who characterise such incidents as the “end of civilisation”. Over the top? After all, Charles III and Camilla are on their thrones, the Tories rule, Donald Trump is the Republican front- runner, the Taliban are curtailing women’s right to live, God is in his heaven and all’s wonky with the world.

If the same lecturer were invited to Kandahar University (Is there such an institution?) and addressed the crowd in the same way, he would certainly meet with very strong objections, but not for the same reasons. There would certainly be no “ladies” in the audience and to imply that they should or could be is perhaps a jailable offence?

In countries such as Afghanistan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is illegal and carries nasty, even capital sentences. I don’t know if such countries have passed laws relating to the gender question. I mean the sort that the Scottish Assembly passed enabling anyone to “choose” their gender. So, if a man says he is a woman, he has to be afforded that status. It is extremely unlikely that an Afghan woman can assert that she is a man and claim the right to go to university and walk the streets alone and uncovered.

Now there is absolutely no doubt that human beings all over the world have individual sexual inclinations. Yes, most of the species is heterosexual, but there is no denying that homosexuality is as natural an inclination or a choice regardless of what a religion says or what the attitude of a State to it is. But of course, the inclination and the practice go into purdah in repressive states. In these, there are no open LGBTQA+ movements, no “Pride” marches and no men asserting that they are women, or vice versa.

In the West, the traditional prejudice against homosexuality has, at least in law, been abolished. Social prejudices and homophobia still persist. Only last week two gay men emerging form a nightclub in Clapham in South London were stabbed by a masked and hooded man. The attacker targeted the nightclub as it was reputed to feature drag acts and was a regular haunt of gay couples.

The Scottish Assembly’s ultra-liberal “trans” legislation is not universally popular, even among the Scottish National Party that introduced and passed it. While writers such as J.K. Rowling and others who are sceptical about the reality of “trans-ness” absolutely insist that their scepticism doesn’t mean that they deny trans people civil rights, they are still “cancelled” and reviled as bigots.

That “T” is indelibly associated with LGB (as in LGBTQA+) is, as an inclusion against social prejudice, perfectly understandable. And yet there is a paradox. Would a man who asserted that he was a woman be accepted as a lesbian lover? Or a woman who said she was a man be a natural partner in a gay relationship?

Gentle reader, there was the old roue’s assertion “I am a lesbian trapped in a man’s body” -- which used to raise a laugh but will probably be unacceptable as a joke today, even though it conforms, frivolously, to the view that one’s gender is what one asserts it to be.

Traditionally, all the monotheistic religions have ascribed masculinity to their single God. Well, not all. The Sufi poets write verses to “The Beloved”. They don’t mean the girl next door or the lady on the bus, but God. They fluidly address this Being as Him, and more often as a woman, alluding to her “tresses”. The divinity of this lover is recognised by the Muslim culture of the Sufi poets without a murmur against the possible implication that, for instance, the poet Rumi professes love for his inspiration, the male Shams-u-Tabrez. Oh well -- render unto the Ayatollah… etc?

(And now gentle reader, I must admit that the Bachchoo quote at the top of this column was not composed by him but by Artificial Intelligence, when asked to write a verse about love in the style of Bachchoo! That’s why it’s called the song of the computer. To my mind it’s not as good as Bachchoo’s stuff, so no comparison and no threat! --fd. And a cut in your fee for cheating? --Ed)