Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Clarkson, Home Ed and Gender

Once again I'm able to write a post which can appear on both blogs.  Due to that fact, it will probably manage to look off-topic on both.

Seven years ago, the then "Labour" government, which has possibly since shed its inverted commas, decided that full time responsible parenting was wrong because the parents concerned didn't deserve to have kids and would abuse them by not exposing them to bullying and the like, so it needed to be persecuted and discouraged through the Children, Schools and Families Bill.  People who aren't screwed up probably don't buy enough worthless tat made in Chinese slave labour factories or something, so clearly something had to be done to ensure that people led emptier and sadder lives.  Consequently, a lot of people who in normal circumstances would rather have shot themselves than vote Conservative found themselves forced to do so in good conscience.  Since many such people were not wealthy, this was an utterly selfless act.  They were fully aware that it would lead to them sinking into such things as utter penury, starvation, homelessness and suicide, but like most people, they recognised that sometimes you have to put your children first.

Today, those people are in the unfortunate position of having further pressure put on home ed due to excuses such as the distrust of certain madrassahs (I don't know the proper plural) and the failure of Welsh social services to do their job, which makes the whole exercise look rather pointless.

It so happens that Jeremy Clarkson has now, appropriately, also gone into reverse gear.  I hesitate to give him the publicity but since these blogs have only a very small audience, it's probably not a big issue.

Back when we were campaigning against the CSF Bill, we encountered some rather unexpected allies, one of which was the Conservative and Unionist Party and another of which was Jeremy Clarkson.  Rather surprisingly to most of us, we found that he was very supportive.  The original article is now behind a paywall, so I'll link instead to this, which is a fair summary.  I should also point out that although both I and this article are religious, most of the views expressed in it are shared by the majority of families whose children have not gone to school or been withdrawn from it even though many such families are non-religious or pagan, or of course Muslims.

Clarkson's argument here seems to be that the government have overreacted to a single serious incident.  Home ed families generally don't connect the Khyra Ishaq incident to home ed at all, except as a tasteless way of using a poor girl's tragic death as a political football to foist oppressive schooling on everyone, and his view may not have been exactly that but he was nonetheless an ally for once.  You can't stop the bad things from happening in this way and often you make things worse by interfering while not even solving the problem you are supposedly interfering to prevent.

I don't want to comment on the situation in Wales because plenty of people whose children are currently "home edded" will be able to take on the situation much more directly, and we aren't currently directly involved, and just like teachers, who are not always very involved in home ed, I run the risk of saying something ill-informed and inappropriate.

Unfortunately, Jeremy Clarkson's recent transphobic article is less wonderful.  I don't want to fuel traffic to his article so instead I shall link to the Huffington Post take on it.  Google it if you like, but bear in mind that it will make it more popular and play into his hands.  One of the issues he mentions is that of M2F pregnancy, which is naturally significant for me, apparently more so than for most other trans women.  F2M pregnancy already happens of course:

My personal view on M2F pregnancy for myself is that it would probably only happen as a result of vivisection and early on at least it would be an experiment which would risk the continued existence of the person-to-be, and therefore would probably be irresponsible.  That's my personal thought on it.  If my situation was different and M2F pregnancy was established, given the right life circumstances I wouldn't hesitate for a moment.

Note that this consideration is not about being a "special snowflake" but about how to act responsibly in these circumstances.

Leaving aside the mpreg issue, Clarkson expresses quite a common concern, which is that children who engage in gender play should not be encouraged to seek gender reassignment by their parents because it could be on a whim.  This is unfortunately seriously misinformed.  On the whole, parents know their children better than strangers and they are not about to submit them to a life-long course of powerful medication with life-threatening possible side-effects and major surgery, along with all the rest, unless they realise the situation otherwise is extremely serious and potentially lethal in itself, in the form of suicide.

There is also an irony here, in that one reason children end up getting withdrawn from school or not sent in the first place is that they face bullying and persecution for gender non-conformity there.  In other words, it's a reason for home education.  Moreover, the real situation is very often that parents only do this with a heavy heart and when it becomes clear that they were mistaken about their daughter's or son's gender identity.  For many of them it's a grieving process over the loss of the girl or boy they thought they had and it's not a case of feckless fantasising parents indulging childish whims.

This inconsistency in Mr Clarkson's views is therefore that home education is not indulging the vagaries of children or being excessively laissez faire with them, probably partly because he trusts parents' judgement on their best interests and willingness to follow those, but for some reason respecting their gender identity is, even though it can be a motive for home education in the first place.  In one area he trusts their acquaintance with their children and in the other he doesn't, even though the second is a subset of the first.  It's sometimes the same parents.

This of course reflects lack of knowledge and over-simplification, and it leads to an inconsistent belief system.  This is where I get a bit political.  People are often experts on their own lives although they sometimes lack insight.  They often imagine that they are also experts on other people's lives through a failure of empathy.  Other people's problems can seem a lot easier than one's own.  For instance, I'm pretty sure the Conservative Party is almost completely devoid of malice. They are not the nasty party.  They are, however, a misinformed party.  Since many of the people at the top of the Tories are upper class and wealthy, they tend to be confident and optimistic, and that carries them through. It's relatively easy for a Tory minister to spend a week on benefits and coast on through, not only because they already have a nice house and the like and because it's more expensive to be poor than it is to be rich, but because they are buoyed up by their past and the confidence, social capital and optimism it has engendered in them.  When they look at poor people, it then appears to them in good faith that they can in fact easily get out of their predicament.  There are of course all sorts of reasons why they can't, and these include the effects that stress, poverty and lack of perceived opportunities have on confidence and mental health.

Nor are parties traditionally associated with the downtrodden immune from this.  Exactly the same process is probably happening the other way round with these people.

Hence, leaving aside the sound-bitey and opportunistic aspects of Jeremy Clarkson's passage, I would say that it serves as an interesting illustration of a lack of joined-up thinking.  However, transphobic he absolutely is, but also we must never forget that he has also, amazingly, fought our corner in a major establishment newspaper in the past, and that because of his very inconsistency, trans children and their families may to some extent have benefitted from his views even though what he says now is ignorant and damaging.

Life's never simple is it?