Hazel McHaffie

Political correctness

Political correctness can be a troubling cause to espouse and defend.

I’ve been involved in the world of moral issues for a long time now, as you know, so I’m used to the ‘on-the-one-hand … but-on-the-other-hand’ arguments. Even so, every now and then, I have to swallow hard to avoid saying something that might offend or hurt a person’s extra-delicate sensibilities, or bring the woke police hammering at my virtual door, but I’m left feeling guilty that I haven’t upheld the cause or rights or interests of another individual or group. Comedians these days struggle with similar discrepancies; comments and gags everyone previously took to be light-hearted fun are now analysed from the viewpoint of the person potentially being mocked or hurt. I kind of know how they feel. But I’m also alive to the pain of being humiliated in public.

So, what’s prompted me to talk about political correctness today? Well, [deep breath] of all things, the sports pages – yep, I know, not where you’ll usually see me! But let’s go back a step. Over the years I’ve actually met and got to know a number of people who’ve changed gender, and I really do care about their vulnerability and their mental health. I can’t pretend to understand their struggle, but I’ve done my best to be supportive and respectful and not to add to their burden. And indeed in one of my novels – Inside of Me – I tried to portray the issues in a favourable light. That’s my starting point. However, when it comes to sport, I have a real problem.

I’ve written about this before, but it has recently reared its head again, and I confess I feel incensed on behalf of all those girls who’ve slogged and suffered and sacrificed in order to achieve elite status in their chosen fields of sport, and all those parents and coaches who’ve shown such commitment to get them there. So when they’re faced with an uneven playing field, I want to leap to their defence. Males who have been through puberty undoubtedly have inherent advantages in terms of strength and stamina. So, how can it be fair for trans-women to compete in women’s events?

Take the American swimmer, now called Lia Thomas, who became the first openly transgender athlete to win a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 national championship in any sport after winning the women’s 500-yard freestyle race at the US NCAA Championships in Atlanta in March this year. There was none of the usual celebration when those long fingers touched the edge of the pool, however, because Lia Thomas, before beginning the process of transitioning in 2019, (incidentally still not complete) was a man called Will, ranked 554th in the world, but now, winning against female competitors. The photos look like cartoons: a tall strapping muscular winner at one end of the medals podium; towering over the three female competitors who came in 2nd, 3rd and 4th, a visible demonstration of the inequality of it all: someone with a powerful genetic and biological advantage taking trophies and titles away from women. Rather like a drugs cheat winning over clean athletes. Surely this isn’t bigotry on my part … is it? – it’s common sense!

And then there was Emily Bridges, a cyclist, who began hormone therapy in 2021, and wanted to compete as a woman in a Championship race, even though up till then she’d been competing at the highest levels as a man. Other female competitors threatened to boycott the race, and the international governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), ruled that the controversial cyclist is ineligible to take part – this time at least. Their rule book states that it must ‘guarantee fair and meaningful competition that displays and rewards the fundamental values and meaning of sport.’ Exactly so.

Sporting authorities clearly have much to grapple with, but elsewhere the reality is that competitors and clubs and colleges and organisations and celebrities all too often feel effectively gagged. They must not say or do anything that differentiates between those born with XX chromosomes and those who carry a Y one but choose to identify as female, for fear of being branded trans-phobic, politically incorrect, prejudiced. And the transitioning person does appear to hold all the trump cards – not just in terms of superior size and strength and stamina, but in terms of access. They even seem to have free run of hitherto private female spaces, even when they still have the physical anatomy of a male. Not all establishments cater for all shades of identification.

I’m very conscious that I too might be pilloried for these views, but sometimes common sense and biological fact must prevail. However, please don’t let that stop you making a comment below if you have a view on this topic. I’m all for open debate.

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