‘Biology not always destiny’, says Ian McEwan after transgender row

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Following media backlash, author clarifies stance in letter saying that transgender community should be respected and celebrated

After a backlash over his remarks about transgenderism last week, award-winning author Ian McEwan has written an open letter saying biology is not always destiny and that ones right to change gender should be respected and celebrated.

In a speech to the Royal Institution on Saturday about the self, the Man Booker prize-winning writer said the self like a consumer desirable, may be plucked from the shelves of a personal identity supermarket, a ready-to-wear little black number.

For example, some men in full possession of a penis are now identifying as women and demanding entry to women-only colleges, and the right to change in womens dressing rooms, McEwan continued.

In the Q&A after the speech, a woman in the audience asked him to clarify what she called his offensive remarks. Call me old-fashioned, but I tend to think of people with penises as men, McEwan said. But I know they enter a difficult world when they become transsexuals and they tell us they are women, they become women, but its interesting when you hear the conflict between feminists now and people in this group.

McEwan said the developments in transgender rights had created a bitter conflict between transgender individuals and feminists. Spaces are put aside, women are wanting to put spaces aside like colleges or changing rooms, and find from another side a radical discussion coming their way saying men who want to feel like it can come in there too. I think its really difficult, he said.

In a letter sent to media and published in the Guardian, McEwan writes that he was surprised that a couple of sentences during a Q&A session at the end of my lecture should have caused a stir.

My subject was the literary representation of the self in the work of Montaigne, Shakespeare, Pepys, Boswell and others. In response to a question, I proposed that the possession of a penis or, more fundamentally, the inheritance of the XY chromosome, is inalienably connected to maleness. As a statement, this seems to me biologically unexceptional.

However, McEwan clarified, biology is not always destiny.

That the transgender community should want or need to abandon their birth gender or radically redefine it is their right, which should be respected and celebrated. Its an extension of freedom and the possibilities of selfhood, McEwan wrote.

Everyone should deplore the discrimination that transgender communities have suffered around the world. That the community should sometimes find itself in conflict with feminists (over changing rooms, trans beauty pageants, access to womens colleges) well, thats a conversation on which I can shed no useful light.

In relation to the backlash he had received in the media and on social media, McEwan writes that not one of the journalists, trans-activists and others who have commented on my remarks at the Royal Institution last week have troubled to complicate matters by finding out my actual views on sexual identity.

Perhaps my own opinions would have got in the way of a good story, or the opportunity to be righteous and cross – or venomous in some cases, the author writes.

Stonewall, which earlier condemned McEwans uninformed views as extremely sad, said in a new statement that although its good to see that he has acknowledged the hurt that has been done to the trans community, his comments at the lecture and statement do nothing to help their situation and in fact further isolate them and entrench transphobic attitudes.

Representatives for McEwan confirmed the authenticity of the letter and said no further comment would be made.

In November, feminist campaigner Germaine Greer said she did not accept that post-operative men were women. I dont believe a woman is a man without a cock, Greer told an audience at Cardiff University. You can beat me over the head with a baseball bat. It still wont make me change my mind. Fellow author Fay Weldon told the Sunday Times that transitioning gender was the only way men have of fighting back against the natural superiority of women is by becoming women themselves.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/06/biology-not-always-destiny-says-ian-mcewan-after-transgender-row