To placate the angry, vocal few, one sex is being written out of the lexicon. It must stop.
When designing the constitution, America’s founders feared democracy’s natural pitfall: the tyranny of the majority. They were leery of the ignorant masses and, originally, voting was largely restricted to landowners. But a competing danger — the tyranny of the minority — is arguably worse. At least when majorities tyrannise, a large number of people get what they want.
In the West’s current frenzy of inclusivity, it’s often majorities whose wishes are at risk of being ignored: most recently non-trans people, and in particular, “women”. If I can still use that word.
Last week Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals (BSUH) NHS Trust delivered another blow to this once-straightforward class of humanity.
Midwives were instructed to cease referring to “breastfeeding” and prefer “chestfeeding”. “Breast milk” was to be known as “human milk”, “breast/chestmilk”, or “milk from the feeding mother or parent”.
Indeed, the latest guidelines suggest the word “mother” is best avoided. “Birthing parent” is better. When that awful W-word can’t be avoided one must say, “woman or person”— which seems ominously to imply that there’s a difference. These changes will be implemented in the trust’s written materials — leaflets, webpages, letters, and emails. It later clarified that the new terms were to be used alongside, not instead of, traditional terms.
The updated policy was designed by a team of “gender inclusion midwives”, one of whom describes “themself” as “non-binary”.
Freddy McConnell, who lost a High Court case in 2019 over whether someone who gives birth to a child can be listed as the “father” on a birth certificate, was an advisor.
Who did not design this policy and who was not consulted?
The overwhelming majority of the people who use BSUH’s maternity services: women. This strained, clumsy, impractical lexicon is meant to cater instead to the tiny number of natal females who transition to male socially but not medically and give birth. As of 2017, the UK had two such people. To coin a phrase, the policy is not for the many, but the few. Women don’t matter; people who have renounced being women do.
The health trust is doing nothing new. The obliteration of women via the elimination of the word “women” and the insulting, dehumanising reduction of women to their biological functions or constituent parts (“people who menstruate”, “people with cervixes”) are indicators of a widespread, but frankly baffling, theatrical deference to transgenderism. We’re elevating the perceived rights of a minuscule minority above the rights of a vast majority.
So who cares if women are raped by biological men in prison, endangered in domestic violence “refuges”, distressed by “people with penises” in dressing rooms, or compelled to consign their sporting competitions to pointless farce when bruisers who “identify” as female win every contest. The interests of roughly 200,000 transgender Britons (about 0.3 per cent of the population) trump the concerns of about 34 million British women.
The columnist Janice Turner wrote a terrific essay on this subject for The Times last month. Consider this an update. Let’s start with “chestfeeding”, a contrivance that Microsoft Word underscores with a chiding red squiggle. The computer is right. Chestfeeding is not a word. That’s because human infants cannot extract nourishment from a chest. The only body part that produces milk is called a breast. For medical professionals to misidentify this aspect of the anatomy can only make patients worry about the quality of their education. By the by, the neologism “chestfeeding” is gross.
The trust’s inane linguistic makeover exemplifies not merely the tyranny of a minority but the tyranny of a minority of a minority. The trust’s verbal acrobatics are the product of a handful of trans activists, in complicity with supine authorities desperate to appear upstanding in ultra-contemporary terms. These days, that’s an all-too-common symbiosis. But these manglings of the English language are not necessarily at the behest of the majority of trans people. Trans people will, however, get the blame.
For this variety of news story does the trans cause no favours. Surely for rational people, the principal trans cause is to be treated like everyone else and be left in peace. Hear, hear. I’m all for that. But bend-over-backwards social obeisance that rides roughshod over half the human race backfires big time. It stirs hostility in compatriots who might otherwise regard transgender people with genial, live-and-let-live acceptance. Appearing patently absurd to most ordinary people, NHS sexual health advisories to “people with vaginas” and cancer charities’ appeals to “menstruators” are destined to draw popular derision. “Chestfeeding” is a gift to the trans community’s detractors. Although the lousy optics are not your average trans person’s fault, this is terrible PR.
The purpose of “inclusive” new lingo that offends most of the people to whom it applies doesn’t seem to be ingratiation. This movement to deform language in the service of a narrow political agenda clearly entails an element of proselytising, or at least of subliminal advertising. If even faintly up to date, any woman who reads a BSUH maternity leaflet that is full of bizarre avoidances of the word “woman” and “breast” knows full well which minuscule population these awful lingual contortions are meant to accommodate. The trans issue is thus put implicitly front and centre, even more so than whatever vital medical information the NHS is trying to communicate. The conspicuously weird language is intended to make the sacredness of transgenderism paramount.
I remain unconvinced that the majority of the trans community requires or wants all this elaborate pandering. Just because you’re trans doesn’t mean you’re stupid. If you’ve transitioned from female, but have kept the regulation equipment, then you know that an NHS invitation for a cervical smear still pertains to you. If you get pregnant you also know that “maternity services” pertain to you — and for the NHS to call them “perinatal services”, a BSUH rebranding sure to confound most patients, doesn’t make your circumstances any less personally complicated and emotionally fraught.
I also remain unconvinced that most transgendered people want women to be discomfited, insulted, or erased on their behalf. I refuse to believe they all yearn to relabel pregnant women as “birthing bodies” or reduce all women to mere “individuals with cervixes”, because these ungainly word games wouldn’t seem to make the real lives of trans people any better. The sole party the painful euphemisms seem palpably to benefit is the administrators who introduce them. Excited to find themselves on the ideological cutting edge, they get to feel warm and fuzzy inside.
As Turner noted, the left’s verbal assault on sex and biology lands overwhelmingly on women. But insisting that the NHS also reduce male patients to “people with prostates” would merely multiply the asininity.
These fashionable but fatuous lingual atrocities are unlikely to stick, sliding in the long run from hypermodern to passé. We’ve seen the avant-garde urge to radicalise through renaming before. The firebrands of the French Revolution contrived their own version, replacing the Gregorian calendar with the French Republican Calendar. Twelve newly christened months and 10 newly christened days of the week were cleansed of any reference to religion or royalty. But this bold exercise in equality and secularism lasted only a dozen years; it’s once more a chilly février, not Pluviôse, in Paris.
In time, we’ll probably look back on “chestfeeding” with perplexity and amusement, citing such semantic abominations as evidence of an era when certain brands of zealotry ran amok. I hope I live long enough to see the day.
Fair enough, let’s keep making an effort to bring into the fold groups who’ve been shafted or ignored in the past. But making room for minorities needn’t and shouldn’t crowd out the majority. While majorities can abuse their inherent power, they can also suffer abuse. It’s an odd argument to have to make, but majorities have rights too. When those rights are violated, the injury is to a multitude. The overwhelming preponderance of Britons wants the NHS to treat “men” and “women”. In our eagerness to include, let’s not leave most of the country out in the cold.
Lionel Shriver writing for the Sunday Times.