(Note: This is a speech I gave at the Freedom Of Speech In Comedy event in St.Peter's College Oxford, 30/11/19.)
I saw Sacha’s recent speech at the UN or whatever the hell it was.
No, I did like his speech and I think the Silicon Six thing is good coinage for what is a real problem, but I would like to add a note of my own. Because I agree with him that this is a hinge moment in history. Of course, I also want to ride on his coattails a little bit and pick up some much needed ‘man of the people’ glamour, which of late, I have somewhat mislaid.
Firstly, a little bit about myself. My name is Graham Linehan. I am a sitcom writer. I have a level of power in show business that is starkly revealed in the following anecdote. An annoying man who was somehow in my house one day, asked me what sort of thing was it that I wrote? I replied ‘Father Ted was the most famous one’ which is what I say when I don’t like someone and I want them to kiss my ass a little bit.
“Oh,” he said, “my wife loves that.” And then. “Oh no, not Father Ted. Whatsitcalled. ‘Mrs.Brown’s Boys”.
I just wanted to give you some background here, so you know to take me seriously.
And I am serious when I say that this is a hinge moment. We could go one of two ways.
Sacha was absolutely right to talk about, what was his phrase? The “greatest propaganda machine in history’ but we would be making a terrible mistake if we thought that the danger from such a device lay only ahead of us. The Internet has already given us Donald Trump as President but it hasn’t stopped there and it’s not just the Right using it to bend reality into ideological contortions.
Because I used to think that reality denial was particular to the Right. We have the examples of climate change and Holocaust denialism, and of course, Trump’s wearying assault on the truth. But as a progressive, the last few years have left me shaken, as I now know the Left is just as capable of this kind of chicanery, and the results are just as devastating to our understanding of reality, and our ability to communicate with each other.
This has left our society in a very vulnerable state, because we can no longer be sure what’s actually true and what’s just Russians screwing with us.
Not to be selfish, but it also puts me in a difficult situation. As a sitcom writer, my ‘job’ is to conjure up daft situations, absurd dialogue and ridiculous characters with weird beliefs. To create a world in which Father Dougal can say about Kurt Cobain: “Imagine blowing your head off with a shotgun. How'd he manage to survive that?”
To do this job, you have to have a nose for the ridiculous.
So what do I do about this comedy situation? A man approaches a series of working class immigrant female beauticians and demands that they provide waxing, and other beautification procedures, to his balls and penis. When they refuse on the grounds that they only provide waxing services to women, he sues them for discrimination. For by Canadian law, he is a woman, because he says so.
I admire anyone who can write comedy while that kind of dark Marx Brothers movie is playing out right in front of them. As I often say to my long-suffering wife, it’s impossible for me to write comedy when a man with a beard here in the UK—just a normal forty something bloke with a beard and eyeshadow—goes into schools, as a representative of Stonewall, and tells a bunch of puzzled kids that he’s a lesbian.
Neither of these are scenes from a sitcom. In fact, we’re being asked to take these characters and situations very seriously indeed. When Sam Smith tells us he wishes to be addressed as 'they' and 'them', we’re supposed to take this manifestly absurd request as if it was holy writ. Sam Smith, it appears, is the first narcissistic pop star we’re not allowed to make fun of.
Wittgenstein described the impossibility of compelling “involuntary mental movements”. He gives an example of a strange sounding command: “Laugh heartily at this joke!”. And the opposite command sounds equally strange: “Do not laugh at this joke!”
But we’re living in a world right now where we’re not meant to find anything humorous about the phrase “her testicles”.
But “her testicles “is correct, at least under current press guidelines. “Her testicles” is the phrase newspapers had to use when reporting the story of Jessica Yanniv and his poor unwaxed landing carriage. To say “his testicles” is wrong, it can get you cancelled. It can get you banned from social media. In fact, the Canadian feminist Meghan Murphy received a permanent ban from Twitter for referring to Yaniv with the simple words ‘that’s him’.
Here, we’re getting close to the legal concept of “compelled speech”.
Men have taken women’s words. And any resistance is met with instant cancellation. When Martina Navratilova stood up for women’s sport, I thought finally! The grown ups have arrived. We can start to have a conversation. Martina was a champion of LGBT rights as well as just being a regular champion. She was trained by a trans coach, and is, I am reliably informed, something of a lezzer. Her position was clear, compassionate and rational: trans rights are human rights, but males have a physical advantage over women, and it would be unfair to allow them to compete in women’s sport.
Everyone knows this is true. Anyone who pretends they don’t is either a desperate liar like Father Ted, or a brainless simpleton like Father Dougal.
So you would think Martina was unassailable, inviolable. But no, she was removed from the board at Athlete Ally and a free packet of aftershave that dropped out a men’s magazine by the name of Anthony Watson had the audacity to tell her “You should be ashamed of yourself.” This nobody told an LGBT hero, who was saying something that was obviously true, who had a trans coach long before people knew what dysphoria even was, that she should be ashamed of herself.
Meanwhile, Rachel McKinnon, a male who has recently changed his name to Veronica—or as I like to call him, Ron—is breaking women’s records in cycling. I think McKinnon is a conman, and a particularly brazen one at that. Some of you may know that he is a Professor of Philosophy, what you may not know is the title of one of his papers is Sure the Emperor Has No Clothes, but You Shouldn’t Say That
So why is all this happening? It’s happening because of one phrase, because of one piece of dogma, perhaps initially meant as a kindness, but which has mutated into a tribal signal and an expression of literal truth. That statement is, of course, “Trans women are women”. An ideology that came out of the whackiest corner of American academia, has, via social networks, cognitively conquered mainstream organisations all through the western world, including—sorry, Sacha— including the ADL.
You may remember someone projected the phase on the side of Westminster, but perhaps you forgot, as I did, that they actually preceded it with the words. ‘Repeat after us’.
“Repeat after us. Trans women are women”. Projected onto the seat of power in the UK.
But here’s one major problem with the phrase. Before you can redefine what the word woman means, you must receive the unanimous approval of every woman living on earth.
But the women I’ve befriended over this issue, didn’t even know there was a meeting, let alone that the matter had been decided by such sober organisations as Stonewall, Amnesty International, Girl Guiding, and the United Kingdom’s police force.
What does the phrase ‘trans women are women’ mean when you interpret it literally? Well, it means, more cheats and conmen like McKinnon and Yaniv. It means more men in women’s prisons, like Karen White who somehow managed to sexually assault four women before someone came to their senses and removed him from the female estate. It means Vancouver Rape Relief gets a dead rat nailed to their door, because they will not, because they cannot, admit men. It means confused criminal statistics, it means the weakening of safeguarding measures, it means young women are told not to express discomfort if a man enters a public toilet behind them.
And this isn’t ahead of us. We are no longer at the entrance to the Upside Down. We are in the Upside Down. The entrance is a way back. But here’s the thing: we’re in the Upside Down and being told — it’s being insisted upon — that everything is the right way up. We’re in a Carnival and being told it’s everyday life. We’re in a sitcom and being told it’s a documentary.
I agree with the commentator Douglas Murray that it is incumbent especially upon writers, of whatever tribe, to resist this assault on reality and truth, because that is what gender ideology is. But it’s not just writers who must hold the line. One of the fundamental building blocks of our language is being repurposed to benefit men. So we all need to step up.
The word women, means adult human females. Full stop.
It does not mean “adult human females and a few adult human males”.
It’s an important word to the people who own it. No-one has the right to change the meaning of that word, and the fact that it was attempted at all speaks to the contemptuous disregard Western society still has for women and their rights.
This is not progressivism. There’s nothing radical and liberal about taking the hard-won and powerful phrase “women’s rights” and neutering it. There’s nothing liberal about going along with a compelled shift in language and meaning.
If a word like “woman” can be made to mean its opposite, or otherwise lose its attachment to reality, then everything melts. There is no backdrop of reality against which the comedy writer may do his job. I wish Judith Butler had been a comedy writer, she would have done a lot less damage and I think she has a flair for it. She has after all, given us the female penis, and even we never dared to stick that in Father Ted.
So as I said, we on The Left are at a hinge moment. We can stay in the upside down, where unintelligible American chancers like Butler and McKinnon roam around creating havoc like whatever that monster was in 'Stranger Things', or we can insist on the same level of rationality from our allies that we demand from our ideological opponents.
Only then can we start to repair the damage being done to our shared reality by the conmen, fetishists and misogynists using an incoherent ideology to harass, exploit and gaslight women and set trans rights back years. Only then, will I be able to go back to being funny.
The Emperor has no clothes, and we need to start talking about it.