“The lesbian raped me with their penis” and other fables for our time

Dictionary

It’s been a while since my last post. Saturday was the first day of a long weekend, here in Denmark—Whit Sunday or Pentecost weekend (in Danish, Pinse), and I enjoyed the day thoroughly. I woke up Sunday feeling a little under the weather—bad enough, in fact, that I took one of the old covid quick tests we had lying around. It was just a formality: I didn’t want to jeopardize the health of Herself’s entire maternal family, many of whom are a bit long in the tooth. The test was negative, so I was able to attend the picnic, but within a couple of hours I was a hot mess: the cold symptoms had worsened and to top it off I walked through a patch of some kind of burning plant—some Danish variant of poison ivy—that set my legs on fire. By the final hour of our hyggelige Pinse picnic I was alternatively getting shivers and sweats, coughing like a four-pack a day mineworker with tuberculosis, and being convulsed with periodic sneezing fits. My throat and chest were burning and my lower legs were afire with itchy rashes.

I’ve been pretty much flat on my back ever since with the worst little cold I’ve had in a long, long time.

It’s just a cold, but I think the severity is due to my having gone more than 2½ years without an illness of any kind. It’s as though my body just forgot how to fight these things off effectively.

Hence the long gap, for which I apologize.

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The war against reality has come to Europe.

In Norway, a feminist activist is being investigated by law enforcement and could face jail time for having asserted that… women are women:

Recently, women’s activist Christina Ellingsen was reported to the police for stating that men can not be women, girls, lesbians or mothers, and that there is no paperwork, surgery or thought patterns that can make males female. She has been in for questioning, and the prosecuting authority will consider whether to file charges.

According to the same article:

Recently, a person was sentenced to 21 days in prison and a fine of NOK 15,000 for having written e.g. “Do you really think that a single person thinks you are a woman and not an old man with strange fantasies?” in a closed Facebook group.

Meanwhile, over in the UK, there was a bit of a kerfuffle a couple of weeks ago when the BBC edited the pronouns (Danish language Berlingske link is here) in a direct quotation from a rape victim, in a story about lesbians being raped by transgender women:

The article in question reported on claims from some lesbians that they have faced accusations of transphobia and threats of violence if they admit they are not attracted to trans women.

It carried the testimony of one rape victim, but the pronouns she used in recounting the ordeal were subsequently altered for publication on the BBC website.

The passage of quotes on the site reads: ‘[They] threatened to out me as a terf and risk my job if I refused to sleep with [them]. ‘I was too young to argue and had been brainwashed by queer theory so [they were] a ‘woman’ even if every fibre of my being was screaming throughout so I agreed to go home with [them]. [They] used physical force when I changed my mind upon seeing [their] penis and raped me.’

The victim, of course, had used he, and him, and his. The BBC apparently felt this was an affront to the accused rapist and therefore changed the language within the direct quote.

At the purely editorial level—and this obviously goes beyond the merely editorial—the copybook guidelines of yore would have given the BBC an easy out: they could have simply used “sic” without offending anybody.

“He (sic) used physical force,” they could have written, for example, with a clarification in the subsequent text that the alleged rapist’s preferred pronouns were actually they/them/their.

That would have addressed their alleged editorial concerns.

But this veil of editorial protection is highly selective. Remember all the fuss over whether or not Donald Trump’s hair was natural or a toupé? The man said it was his own hair. Why was that not enough to settle the question?

Here’s how the BBC came down on that important question:

That’s deliberate mockery. And to be clear, it’s pretty good mockery. It’s funny.

I’m selecting this ridiculous example to emphasize just how silly this business has become.

On what grounds can you prosecute someone for saying that men cannot be women, or even that one particular man cannot be a woman, when you cannot also prosecute someone for asserting that someone’s hair is not their own? As absurd as it sounds, what’s the difference?

What definitions and categories can we use to differentiate between these cases?

Let’s roll it all the way back to first principles: is it the new standard that we cannot assert things about people that they themselves contend to be untrue? All things? Only some? If only some, which? And on what basis? Are some of our immutable characteristics more important than others? If so, which—and why? And who decides?

There are actually two issues that have become tangled up so badly it’s almost impossible to talk about them sensibly.

One has to do with sex and gender: what do we mean when say male, female, man, woman, boy, and girl? They’re very commonly used words and we need agreement on their meanings.

The other has to do with speech: when is it an actionable offense to express an opinion? (Note that this second issue has nothing to do with sex or gender.)

The discerning reader may notice that we have long-established precedents for both of these questions.

With respect to the first: the terms male, boy, and man have always been used to describe people with one set of biological features, while female, girl, and woman have been used to describe those with another. We also have words for those who don’t fit either category biologically, and words to refer to members of our species without respect to sex or gender: for example, a person, a human being, someone, anyone. We find such words in virtually every major language of the world. Similarly, there are different words for mother and father, brother and sister, aunt and uncle, and so on. There are even colloquialisms in most languages to describe masculine females and feminine males—because although they vary over time and geography, every culture has its own ideas as to what traits are masculine and feminine. There may be some obscure human tongue in which there are no words to distinguish people with penises (etc) from people with vaginas (etc), but one has to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of human languages from every culture and every era have in fact made those distinctions quite clearly.

With respect to the second: we have centuries of precedent in western jurisprudence to suggest that opinions are protected speech—that is, I cannot be prosecuted for calling the president of the United States “Ole Puddinhead,” or for comparing Robert Reich to Gollum, or for calling Nancy Pelosi a dessicated old alcoholic sea hag. I’m entitled to publish a book asserting that the world is flat, that Bigfoot is alive and well and running a B&B on Lake Como, or that aliens who live on Saturn’s moons are secretly controlling human civilization by means of undetectable ether rays. We are, in a word, permitted to mock, belittle, insult, and demean other people—and to assert utter nonsense. It’s not always pleasant or useful, but we can, and in a putatively self-governing society we must be able to.

Taking the issues together: people with penises who think of themselves as women, and people with vaginas who think of themselves as men—and people of any kind who wish to think of themselves as ducks, goats, reptiles, or ballpoint pens, for that matter—are absolutely entitled to their beliefs, and to state them boldly, and to lash out (in words) at anyone who contradicts them.

But what is it about such beliefs that makes it incumbent on everyone else to go along with them?

The BBC will here and there characterize people as conservative or progressive, as greedy or generous, as cruel or kindly, as powerful or impotent, clever or witless, and so on, without any concern as to whether the person in question sees him- or herself that way. Think, for example, of the many ways in which the Beeb has described various political figures over the years and ask yourself whether those figures might have objected to those characterizations.

On a more personal level: surely I could target some apparently dark-rooted blonde Norwegian woman on Facebook and accuse her of not being a real blonde: would the Norwegian authorities think to prosecute me—to jail me and fine me—for writing to her in a closed group: “Do you really think that a single person thinks you’re a blonde and not just a brunette with a hardcore peroxide habit?”

It would be mean, yes, I understand that, but given the ease with which people accuse one another online of being fascists or communists or pedophiles or racists, would it rise to the level of criminal conduct?

Look at the vitriol that was directed at Rachel Dolezal for pretending to be black. She was not biologically black, but she “identified” as black, and far from having her delusion indulged she was forced to step down as an NAACP chapter president.

Why was her “identity” subject to scrutiny, while biologically male Rachel Levine was named “Woman of the Year” by USA Today?

What’s the difference?

What principle is being applied?

What are the rules?

And why?

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