‘Identity politics’ claims, on the face of it, that everyone has the right to identify as anything they want, and we all have to accept that. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Brilliant. So egalitarian. And yes, if I decide that I ‘identify’ as a Prosthetic Vogon leading a constructor fleet across the galaxy which intends to obliterate the Earth to make way for an interstellar superhighway, or that I am Superman, Napoleon or for that matter Jesus Christ, then it matters little; I’m just barking mad and decent people will humour me until I become so delusional that I need to be locked up for my own safety. I would be, in common-sense terms, a harmless lunatic.
If you’ve been anywhere near a media outlet over the last few months you won’t ave been able to avoid noticing that transgender women are getting a lot of attention. If you have seen images of Caitlyn, formerly Bruce, Jenner, and then Paris Lees, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox or Jai Dara Latto, who was crowned Miss Transgender UK 2015, you might be forgiven for being a bit confused. You might be struggling to figure out what the connection is between an ageing sports jock who looks like a man in a dress, and a glamorous woman who looks like — a glamorous woman. If you’re at all liberal or PC, you might have just accepted that these are the same, but, you know, because time and stuff.
But you’d be dead wrong. There are two completely distinct types of transgender woman and there is no connection between them at all. The conflation that is going on is wrong and potentially lethal.
This is important because one type — which comprises the overwhelming majority of trans women in the world today — is the subject of deadly and repeated violence, while the other colludes in it. Now I will show my cards here: my girlfriend is transgender. But she’s not like Jenner. And because she is — being of the other type — a potential victim of violence, I have to stand to the wire. Political Correctness is all very well until people start dying because of it; and that is what is happening. So let me explain.
I’ve spent a lot of time looking at how societies might have been structured before the development of agriculture. Clearly, we can’t directly study the human groups that existed outside Africa between 50,000 and 5,000 years ago, because they no longer exist. So I also looked at relatives of humans, particularly our closest, bonobos, Pan paniscus.
Our ancestors left very little evidence. Although they did use stone and bone, a great deal of their artefacts were made of wood or leather and were perishable. The few that we do have are somewhat mysterious.
To try to shed light on this, we reviewed a wide range of anthropological literature. We especially concentrated on extant traditional societies, of which there are a surprising number, despite the attempts by religious fundamentalists, especially the Christian and Muslim ones, to eradicate them. (As a matter of fact, Islam has been less damaging to many traditional societies than Christianity, as we see from the number of traditional groups still living, and respected, in Indonesia.)
We reviewed the mythology that was recorded soon after the invention of writing, in Sumer in the 5th Millennium BCE. We then compared this to modern mythologies which form part of traditional cultures. We also looked at similar species, and that’s where bonobos came in.