Under discussion: terrorism in Paris, Germaine Greer and Kate at the garage's Victoria Sponges

Recent events in Paris have led to a subdued mood in the Old Doom Bar. Even our host’s normally ebullient promotion of his Festive offer has been muted. We watched the France v England friendly in almost neutral spirit and although pleased enough by the England win took little satisfaction from its promise. Rather, we shared the inevitable tropes of sympathy, bewilderment about terrorism and hopes that all sectors of our multi-cultural society would rally behind the cause of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. This slogan seeming much more meaningful than the anodyne ‘British values’ trotted out by our leaders.

Such reflections cast a sombre light on our view of Christmas. Black Friday has little meaning in our local Spa and Asda have sworn to ignore it. The nearest John Lewis is seventy miles away. In any case, such matters as presents are more for women to decide, or so we felt.   ‘Why?’ someone asked. ‘It’s traditional’ was the basic reply.

Which observation inevitably led to the nature or nurture debate in the matter of gender stereotypes, which was resolved, without ill-feeling, as a ‘bit of both.’ During the course of our sophisticated discussion about the origins of male and female behaviours, Germaine Greer’s name came up in the context of current transgender issues and politics.

Apparently she had suggested in an interview that transgender (MTF) people were not ‘real women’. In consequence Cardiff University were under pressure from some students to withdraw her invitation to give a lecture (on an unrelated topic) due to her views being offensive to the transgender community.

So we discussed the matter – not so much as one of free speech but in terms of Prof. Greer’s quoted views. If it can be summarised, the outcome was rather like the episode in Life of Brian  wherein Stan (Eric Idle) persuades his fellow revolutionaries in the Judean People’s Front that he has the right to have babies despite not having a womb.

The absence of essential female organs and the associated effects seemed to us to justify Germaine’s view: no menstrual cycle = no claim to femaleness.

Luckily we had a well-informed district nurse in our midst. She referred us to various authoritative research studies that suggested gender identification was rooted in a complex mix of genetic markers and chromosome distribution. These formative characteristics were largely hereditable but included modifications as the foetus developed. Hence whatever the apparent genitalia, how an individual ‘felt’ in gender terms was primarily the result of their biological or physiological construct, and thus perfectly real.

In the light of this, to question the legitimacy of the transgendered seemed too simplistic. We resolved to be much nicer about Kate in the garage who had, a few years before, been known as Ken.  She was still a good mechanic and her Victoria sponges were highly regarded. As it happens no one knew if Ken had had an operation – only that he took hormones and made a decent-looking woman, even in her overalls. We didn’t care whether he or she was Kate or Ken. In either guise this was a liked and useful person in our community.

Terrorists were different. We have a number of resident foreigners around: one or two Germans, a West Indian, a Canadian and a few northerners – Scots, Welsh, Brummies and Londoners and so on. They (or indeed ‘we’) all fit in and we live our own lives as we choose. Possibly being a tourist area makes us more accepting of difference.

There was no smugness about our relative safety in such a rural setting but we decided it must be a bit tense-making to live in a big city. Apart from the absence of a high profile target, as someone summed it up, ‘They’d be easily spotted down here’.

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