In my Spectator column this week I’ve written about my trip to the Oxford Union on Tuesday to see Kathleen Stock being interviewed by the Union President in front of a packed debating chamber. Indeed, there were more people inside the chamber than there were protestors outside, which was heartening to see. Here’s how it begins:
It had been billed as the most controversial debate of the year, with even Rishi Sunak intervening to say that Kathleen Stock, who had been invited to the Oxford Union, should not be no-platformed. But if you were sitting in the Union’s debating chamber on Tuesday evening – as I was – the huge kerfuffle seemed baffling. For an hour and a half, the former philosophy professor talked almost exclusively about toilets.
To be fair, she was given little choice. It was more of an interview than a debate, in which the president of the union fired questions at her. Roughly 90 per cent of them were about women’s lavatories. In particular, he wanted to know why she objected to trans women being allowed to use “the Ladies”. Professor Stock patiently explained that trans activists don’t just want men who have fully transitioned to be able to access women’s spaces, including refuge centres, but any man who self-identifies as a woman, even a great hairy brute. She had no desire to ‘erase’ trans women, she said, or to deny them their rights – something the scores of protestors outside were accusing her of. Rather, this was a ‘safeguarding’ issue. It was about protecting women from predatory men who ‘self-ID’ to invade their spaces.
It seems extraordinary that this has become such a polarising issue, given that, according to the latest census, only 0.1 per cent of the population identify as trans women. No doubt the percentage among 18- to 24-year-olds is higher, and some of the protestors outside identified as trans, but still. Why were temperatures running so high, both in the lead-up to this event and on the night? As the mild–mannered philosopher set out her stall, the demonstrators made as much noise as they could, hoping to drown out her words. ‘Trans rights are human rights,’ they screamed, although no one, least of all the speaker, was denying that. Why has this generation of student activists chosen access to women’s toilets as the hill to die on?