Sir Keir Starmer doesn’t want to talk about penises. He’s going to have to do it anyway, and he’s not going to be alone. The Labour leader was interviewed by LBC’s Nick Ferrari on Monday, becoming the latest journalist to test Starmer on questions of sex and gender. Ferrari asked, can a woman have a penis?
Starmer’s verbatim response, offered with a pained expression and sorrowful intonation:
Nick, I’m not… I don’t think we can conduct this debate with… you know… I just… I don’t think, erm, discussing this issue in this issue helps anyone in the long run. What I want to see is a reform of the law as it is, but I am also an advocate of safe spaces for women. I want to have a discussion that is… Anyone who genuinely wants to find a way through this, I want to discuss that with. I do find that too many people in my view retreat or hold a position that is intolerant of others. I don’t like intolerance, I like open discussion.
Me too. Which is why I think Starmer, like other politicians, has to talk about penises.
Before I explain why, I should say I understand Starmer’s reticence. Not many people relish a public debate about genitals. In the last few years, I’ve written lots of articles that contain the word ‘penis’ and rarely felt comfortable about it. But it’s necessary, because in the end, much of the current public debate about sex, gender, law and policy comes down to penises.
Here are some facts to start us off. A person with a penis is different to a person without a penis. A person with a penis can do things that a person without a penis cannot. A person with a penis can do things to other people that a person without a penis cannot.