I've resisted the temptation to engage with the transgender debate. So vicious, poisonous and hate-fuelled it has become, engagement is a frightening prospect. But here goes.
Transphobia is a form of bigotry that requires action. To that end, the transgender movement receives considerable amounts of government funding, as it should. But how has funding been utilised? It is claimed that in combatting trans bigotry, the powerful trans lobby is erasing women's rights. Is this true? Sadly, to even raise the question about the impact of transgender policy on women will incur the wrath of activists who insult women as 'transphobic' and 'fascist', to say nothing of threats of violence. Women are becoming increasingly vocal in response, despite the threats. How did it come to this?
We got here largely because of the incoherence of the ideology underpinning the definition-stretching of 'woman' and 'female'. The trans movement is the latest manifestation of postmodernism and cultural studies in our universities. The common core of all postmodernisms is the denial of the distinction between a reality which exists independently of us, and the socially- or culturally-constructed domain. Postmodernism effectively denies that such a distinction can ever be drawn, because all facts are socially constructed.
This is important when it comes to the vexed question of definitions. What is it to be male or female, to be a man or a woman? Are these definitions constrained by biological reality? But a proper debate has not taken place. Almost by stealth, universal, time-honoured definitions agreed by classification and consensus have been torn up, it is claimed, to accommodate an ideology which impacts women in the public sphere.
Was this attempt at redefinition necessary to protect transwoman? I don't know, perhaps. But what is clear is that it has been handled so badly that it has ended up alienating a growing number of concerned and often angry feminists, one of whom told me that her life's work, even as an academic relativist, is 'turning to dust'. What happened to critical thinking and persuasion in academic life?
Very little of intellectual coherence and its exclusive use of impenetrable language comes from postmodernism, for it is ultimately self-defeating and self-contradictory. 'Is it true that all facts are socially constructed?' If it is true, what makes it true? A cultural decision, or reality? If it is a cultural decision alone, then one is free to ignore it, because choosing to be in that cultural group is optional. But if it is true in virtue of the way the world is, then postmodernism is false. Either way, the case for the redefinition of women remains to be made.
This is tragic, especially as gender has less to do with biology and more with cultural norms. Behavioural characteristics associated with men and women are far less closely tied to biology than anatomy, and so there is a flexibility at the level of gender that is not available at the level of biology. I'd have thought that was a good thing and hugely beneficial to trans women. Instead, we are told to accept that we can define male and female, man and woman, in any way that happens to suit us, which in turn has informed public policy, without as much as a nod or a conversation in the direction of women who feel that their rights, spaces and protections have been eroded.
Public funding would have been much better spent exploring these difficult issues with sensitivity, understanding and listening to the concerns of women, most of whom are not transphobes, just bewildered. And worse, the appalling 'debate' threatens to undermine the very people the trans lobby claims to represent.
Ronnie Leighton 1922-2019
I love elderly folk. I could listen for hours to a man or woman in their 90s regale their audience with nostalgic trips to a past long gone. They are fascinating, living, oral historians.
Last week, the funeral took place in Clydebank of one such man, Ronnie Leighton. He lived for almost a century and was a fascinating, interesting and wise man who never lost is passion for life, nor his humour. He was communist to his last day and he would rightly assume that most folk were politically to the right of him. His beloved grandson, Kevin Bonavia, of whom Ronnie was immensely proud, delivered the family eulogy.
A Labour councillor in Lewisham, Kevin was never as left-wing as Ronnie would have hoped. He was adamant that the fairest and most productive society was one that had a planned system where workers controlled and organised the riots of their labour. Those were the principles he practised as a shop steward in the Clyde shipyards – the oldest member until his death – especially during the famous work-in about which Jimmy Cloughley spoke most eloquently at Ronnie's funeral. Ronnie was always proud of the fact that Jimmy Reid called him 'his favourite communist'.
Ronnie's interest in socialism was kindled by his grandfather, Tommy Leighton, a founder member of the Glasgow Communist party who sent his grandson up to Strickland Press where he bought pamphlets on socialism, which spawned a lifelong passion that he passed on to his daughters and grandson. He was an inveterate optimist despite never realising his utopian dream – that it was possible to overcome all barriers to building that ideal society.
More recently, Ronnie became a convert to Scottish independence and joined the SNP, a familiar road in recent years for the left in Scotland. This led to many, many heated arguments with his anti-nationalist grandson, but never got in the way of their love for one another. And anyway, Ronnie's conversion was never about nationalism or even pride in Scottishness. For him, independence was simply a vehicle to build a true socialist state.
Ronnie was an equally convinced atheist, so as far as he was concerned, death means he has gone – no afterlife – that's it. But according to Kevin, that conviction also meant that he lived life to the full. Ronnie was truly a bon viveur – a lover of the good life like many good communists – without losing his class consciousness. And what a life he had.
Perpetually curious about the world, he was an avid traveller, still flying to foreign climes on his own, in his late 80s. But Ronnie never lost his love of the local. He took Kevin on many bus tours and train trips around Scotland which instilled in Kevin, a Londoner, a deep appreciation of his Scottish heritage and history. In fact, for Ronnie's 90th birthday he took his grandson on a three-hour walking tour around Glasgow, including Bridgeton where he grew up and the site of the bakery where Violet – his beloved wife – worked for so many years.
A couple of years later, walking became more difficult as his knees gave in and he was often frustrated. But Ronnie had tremendous tenacity despite his health problems. He still managed to make his daily trips to the Star Bar in Glasgow's Southside for 'the cheapest three-course lunch in Britain'.
Ronnie's political passion, his love of life and his family, made him someone you could not fail to be charmed by. His family will miss his passion and inspiration. His was a life well-lived. RIP Ronnie Leighton.