What harm can it do saying that women don't have penises? Quite a lot, actually, if my experience is anything to go on. After sharing a statement with that message on Twitter, along with a screenshot from a Spectator article, the backlash was swift. Less than a month after sending that tweet, I had lost my position as president-elect of Humanist Students as well as my role as assistant editor of Durham University’s philosophy society’s undergraduate journal, Critique. I was also given the boot as co-editor-in-chief of Durham University’s online student magazine, the Bubble. All for saying something that many people would surely agree with.
The reaction against me was extreme, yet it was far from exceptional. On campus, the subject of gender is now off limits for those who fail to fall into line with the new orthodoxy: that being a man or a woman is fluid. Anyone who says otherwise is liable to find themselves hounded into silence.
It won't come as much of a surprise that the National Union of Students is leading the charge on this front. Today, the NUS announced its response to the government's consultation on changes to the Gender Recognition Act. Among the NUS's more barmy proposals was calling for an end to 'coercively assigning gender at birth'. Is it a boy? Is it a girl? In future, it seems we might have to wait to ask the child itself when it grows up.
At Durham university, as well as at other universities, it would be easy to think that the importance of never causing offence is all that matters. This remains the case even when upholding this focus gets in the way of facts, or the right of people to hold differing views on contentious subjects, such as gender. This is why my innocuous tweet resulted in such a fierce reaction. I was told that the reason for my firing from the student journal was because I had ‘belittled trans experiences’. The explanation for my removal as editor of Bubble was worse: my position at the magazine, I was told, required me to be impartial. Being impartial, however, requires having no views at all. At least when it comes to gender.
Worryingly, such views are not only confined to our universities, though. TERFs – a slur used by activists against 'trans-exclusionary radical feminists' – who resist the idea of self identification of gender, are hounded off Twitter and routinely targeted online, and in person. The government is also hardly helping matters here by refusing to accept there is even a debate to be had on this subject. When the equalities minister Penny Mordaunt announced the government's consultation on gender, she said the starting point is that 'Trans women are women'. But what about those who don't agree with that statement? In my case, I have found out the hard way: for those who fail to adhere to the new orthodoxy on transgenderism, the punishment is swift.
Angelos Sofocleous is a philosophy student at Durham university