Even yew trees are at it. It seems the ancient Fortingall Yew in Perthshire, which everyone had assumed to be male, is bearing berries and is therefore, at least in part, female. Dr Max Coleman of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, observed: ‘The rest of the tree was clearly male. One small branch in the outer part of the crown has switched and now behaves as female.’ Which makes this not just the oldest but the most socially progressive tree in Britain, the Caitlyn Jenner of topiary. Or perhaps it was just one transgressive branch making a bid for attention, having been trapped in the wrong trunk all this time.
You can’t go far this year without encountering someone in the process of transitioning between genders or who has already arrived at their gender of choice. As a woman supervising a drama group for trans actors put it on BBC Radio 4 last Sunday, ‘There’s a moment happening.’ And if you’re not easy with the whole genderqueer approach to the boys and girls question, if you’re stuck in the binary (bad) view that your gender is a matter of XX or XY chromosomes or the possession of something as obvious as a penis, well, you’re going to have to catch up fast and learn how to pronounce Mx — the non-binary alternative to Mr, Miss, Mrs or Ms. One could only applaud the blind man on last week’s radio programme for the visually impaired, In Touch, who confessed to panicking at a diversity training workshop because he wasn’t sure whether one of the contributors was male or female — the voice register was plainly male, but that was no guide. With admirable tact, he leaned over and asked what pronoun the speaker preferred; it turned out to be ‘she’.
The trend isn’t without its comic elements, as with the Guardian’s cookery writer Jack Monroe, who was presented with a ‘Woman of the Future’ award last week although she had just come out as transgender, as opposed to merely butch lesbian. ‘To reject that award would have been disingenuous,’ she wrote in the paper. ‘I am the same person I was when Sandi Toksvig gave me a Woman of the Year award in 2014. Should I reject that too?’
Mind you, Monroe has a point. She goes on to write: ‘Why do we segregate awards by gender anyway? Or children’s clothing? Aren’t we all a bit “non-binary” inside?’ You know, if the whole trans thing wasn’t so tiresomely political and self-important and focused on the physical — lopping your bits off or having prosthetic ones added at public expense, or stuffing yourself full of opposite-sex hormones — I think I’d be right with her there. Especially on the preposterous awards-for-women industry, which serves only to emphasise the extent to which the sexes aren’t level-pegging and which confers its accolades on those, like Mx Monroe or Ms Toksvig, of whom the political class approves.
My views are regressively biological; if you’ve got those two XX or XY chromosomes, you’re a girl or a boy. But when it comes to the attributes normally assigned to the opposite sex, I think many of us are a little genderfluid. Indeed lots of people have been in previous generations without going on about it. Marlene Dietrich was, you might say, genderfluid, but she’d have given the contemporary category very short shrift. Old-fashioned dandies were in touch with their feminine side, but just dressed the part.
As a student I liked exams and loathed continuous assessment. I enjoy Latin. I have rows about politics when women are meant to be consensual— I’m with Nicola Sturgeon there, who has little time for that notion. I love P.G. Wodehouse, and apparently women don’t.
My daughter is only eight but she’s pleasingly non-binary too. She did a little autobiographical note for school in which she was asked to categorise herself. She duly drew up four categories, boy, tomboy, girl, tomgirl, and put herself in the tomboy category. She doesn’t have time for what she calls girly girls, which means she’s eschewed — hurrah! — all the really toxic stuff to do with princesses, My Little Pony and the more horrible versions of the colour pink. She has to be bribed into dresses. But it doesn’t mean to say she’s what my mother would call peculiar; she has a crush on Alfred Noyes’s highwayman, as in the poem, and thinks gay marriage is funny.
The thing about the new political take on gender is that it’s nothing new. Sex has never been really binary but we’ve never been this boring about it. I’m not trans, thanks, but I don’t fancy the pink/blue dichotomy either. Just call me mauve.