I have been trying to write about a great unpleasantness for some time: the trans debate that we don’t really have. Men go to Woman’s Place meetings. So do trans women, it’s not a separatist organisation. But for some godforsaken reason the Labour leadership hopefuls thought they might endear themselves to their lost ‘red wall’ voters by signing pledges calling Woman’s Place and LGB Alliance ‘trans-exclusionist hate groups’. I was appalled to see that the signatories included Lisa Nandy, who is bright, and Rebecca Long-Bailey, who isn’t. Anyway, having been asked not to write about this subject for months (I still have the police reports from the threats I received last time), I insisted. A glance at Twitter after my Guardian column went online suggested that either I was the saviour of all ‘natal women’ or had committed some kind of transphobic hate crime. My offence was to say that biological sex is a thing. Scientists tend to think it is. Some banana slugs change sex and chew off each other’s penises after mating. I can’t say I think that’s a bad idea.
After all the online abuse, I thought someone might ring me and see if I was OK, but they didn’t. But then I never go to the Guardian office. There had been melodrama, apparently. A trans woman who had seemingly resigned some weeks earlier resigned again. My words had made her feel unsafe, she said. More than 300 employees at the paper signed a letter condemning the decision to run my article. The fabulous Hadley Freeman defended me. The emails then came pouring in from people who wished they could say what I had said. I wished people would stop calling me brave. Columnists are meant to be made of titanium; I felt more like papier-mâché. But the orthodoxy which demands that Mary Beard must refer to an ancient statue with a little penis as ‘assigned male at birth’ is powerful. The no-platforming of feminist warriors like Kathleen Stock and Julie Bindel is abhorrent. I like freaks. I like fluidity. I just don’t like one set of rules being replaced by another. I was hurt that so many of my ‘colleagues’ denounced me, but I suppose everyone needs a hobby. I recently had a row with my teenager who shouted at me about Bernie Sanders and revolution. She is the biggest Bernie fan in the world. A competent woman clearly can’t run America. Instead we will have a gerontocracy. No country for young men. Thank God there was gin in the house. I was meant to have had a relaxing week as I was going to Amsterdam to take psilocybin truffles. I love a drug, and this is legal, OK? The retreat I stayed in was a gorgeous Dutch modernist house. People had flown from Toronto and New York for this spiritual journey. We entered the ceremonial space — ‘the sacred circle’ — and I raised a concern about what we would be listening to on our eight-hour trip. ‘Suzanne, you seem anxious,’ said the group leader. ‘I just don’t want that awful plinky-plonky massage music,’ I said. ‘I’ve got taste.’ I was told there would be a curated playlist by Imperial College. We drank the magic tea and lay on mattresses on the floor with gravity blankets and blindfolds. Nothing happened to me. After an hour and half I was vaguely tired. My guide, a lovely young Geordie, sat behind me. While other people were screaming and sobbing, I was writing him notes: ‘This music is fucking awful.’ I was brought earplugs but I could still hear it. At one point, as a dire track ended, I said: ‘Men should not be allowed to make playlists ever.’ At least some people laughed. Then I was asked if I would like to leave the sacred circle. Yes, I would. I sat by the fire reading and chatting to a doctor. I wasn’t tripping, just hungry.
By the next day I felt as if I was in New Age prison. I booked myself into an airport hotel as they are my favourites. J.G. Ballard called the Heathrow Hilton a masterpiece. He was right, and now, thanks to coronavirus, it’s Jim’s world, we just live in it. Upon my return, I argued with the Guardian again about whether in my next column I should return to the subject which has caused such a fuss. They didn’t want me to, but I did. Will I be thrown out of another sacred circle? Three in one week is good, even for me. Anyway, I am up for some mescaline in Crystal Palace and as for human sexuality, what can I say? A charming ex-war correspondent on the retreat said that if he had stared into my eyes, he would have turned to stone. So my job prospects are not entirely over just yet if you would like a statue somewhere.
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Suzanne Moore is a columnist for the Guardian.
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