PC activists need to cool it – not all dissent is ‘ignorant’

Fay Weldon caused a stir with her controversial remarks about transgender people – but the author is entitled to an opinion on the issue
(Justin Sutcliffe)

I love dear old Barry Manilow – after a 39-year relationship with another man, the curiously youthful 73-year-old crooner has finally reached for the closet door handle and stumbled into the brave new world of gender politics.

Times have changed, Barry darling. Far from “disappointing your fans” by revealing you’re gay, you’d have probably pleased them more if you’d claimed your sexual preferences, or perhaps your gender identity, were “fluid” – that’s so much more contemporary. Ask Miley Cyrus and Cara Delevingne for starters.

What a confusing world Barry Manilow has cautiously stepped into. Supposedly everyone is equal and all sexual preferences are to be respected, but as soon as one set of barriers has been torn down, another bunch of people start complaining. In 1969, the Stonewall riots on the streets of New York led to Gay Pride marches around the world to fight harassment and legal persecution and win respect. Thirty-eight years on, who would have thought that a toilet would be the new battleground in the battle for sexual freedom?

Following the brave step taken by my bank, HSBC, who jumped on the bandwagon by offering clients a whole heap of ”gender neutral” titles from Mre (mystery) to Ind (individual) – I’ll just settle for any old name as long as my account charges decrease – the Barbican Arts Centre in London have decided to get in step and offer patrons facilities “gender neutral toilets”. This means a line of cubicles, some with urinals and some with toilets.

Women have reacted furiously, saying now they are queuing longer than ever as men hog the loos, probably adjusting their makeup and remodelling their hair. It’s obvious that if everyone is going to be equal, then some people will be worse off – and those people should not be women who have heavy periods or weak bladders. And why do men need urinals anyway? Why can’t they just use the same toilets as women do?

A spokesperson at the charity Stonewall commented, “It’s encouraging that businesses want to make trans people feel safe and welcome.” Am I missing something here? The Barbican is an arts centre, not a war zone. Why should trans people need to be welcomed more than anyone else using galleries and concert halls?

At the moment, we are reminded daily that the trans community has a whole range of organisations vociferously campaigning on their behalf. In 2015, the Government agreed that driving licence holders could use the title Mx, for example. Now, Stonewall want passport holders to have the choice of labelling their sexuality ‘X’ – it’s part of their five-year plan to achieve equality for the 650,000 people they say identify themselves as transgender in the UK.

That’s fine, but sometimes those promoting gender neutrality can appear as narrow-minded as their critics. It’s as if there’s only one way of entering this brave new fluid world: it’s on their terms, or not at all, in which case you will be shunned and derided as a reactionary bigot.

Feminists of a certain age – Germaine Greer and Jenni Murray, most prominently – have dared to voice reservations about transgender people who claim to be “real” women, attracting rabid condemnation and threats of “no platforming” at universities which should be promoting free speech.

Now, they’ve been joined by Fay Weldon, who has just published a sequel to her 1983 classic novel The Life and Loves of a She Devil. Weldon told a BBC reporter she thinks some men transition to women “for the sake of fashion or the clothes”, and that it was “easier to be a woman” these days than a man.

She added that she had huge sympathy for women who transitioned to men: “They have a really hard time.” You might not agree with the writer’s comments, but she is entitled to an opinion, not to be derided outright by a leading transgender charity.

In our gender neutral, politically correct world, you are “ignorant” if you express a dissenting opinion. But isn’t this falling into the same trap as the old stereotypes, i.e. macho men who felt threatened by rabid feminists?

Golf commentator Peter Alliss is a terrific specimen; this week he claimed that “women are more delicate than men... I don’t care for macho women and they’re more prevalent today”. Goodness knows what the transgender spokespeople will make of that gaffe, but in the interests of sanity, can we live and let live?

The story of Patricia Davies gives cause for hope: she’s lived her whole life as Peter, served in the army in the Far East during World War Two, got married at 21 and remained with her wife until she died. Now 90, Patricia is wearing women’s clothes and has started hormone treatment. She says, “I feel quite relieved… Nobody seems to bat an eyelid, they accept me as I am.” At last, a lone voice of reason.


I deeply sympathise with the parents of Charlie Gard, but perhaps the kindest thing is to let him go

The parents of terminally ill baby Charlie Gard have spent precious time away from his bedside this week in the High Court, fighting the doctors at Great Ormond Street who want to turn off their child’s life support system and let him die. Charlie’s rare genetic condition is progressive and incurable and at eight months old he is now blind, deaf and has extensive brain damage, and is unable to breathe without a ventilator.

I can understand his parents’ rage and their determination to fight for their child, because my nephew was brain-damaged and trapped in a coma last year from which he never recovered. The sight of a loved one unable to respond, wired up to a battery of machinery is absolutely heartbreaking. You feel powerless.

These parents say they can’t bear to lose their son, but isn’t it kinder to accept the inevitable and allow the little boy to spend his last days quietly and calmly, rather than drag him halfway around the world to undergo what doctors call “a purely experimental process” which might only “prolong the process of dying”?

Medical experts are against the baby being moved, as is the independent guardian who has been appointed to act in his interests. Yes, parental love knows no boundaries, but in the end Mum and Dad have to think what is kindest for the child, and that means putting themselves second.

These court battles have no winners, and doctors are placed in an invidious position, particularly when - as seems to have happened in this case - trust in their ability to treat a patient is being questioned. Sometimes – as in the case of cancer patient Ashya King – parents are proved right.

Ashya was removed from hospital in the UK in 2014 when doctors had ruled him too sick to travel, secretly taken to Spain where his parents were briefly arrested, and eventually received proton therapy treatment in Prague. Three years later, Ashya is recovered and back at school. But for every story like his, there are hundreds more where, tragically, children die. I hope that trust in the doctors at Great Ormond Street is not eroded by this case.