‘The University of Oxford is proud to announce a flagship new lecture series, The Michael Dillon LGBT+ Lectures.‘
The lecture series has been named in honour of a former student at Oxford University, Michael Dillon, the first woman in the UK known to take testosterone and live life presenting as male. They received 2,000 registrations to watch the event of the high powered panel. Big names had already been secured for future events. Panel were:
- Ben nice-but-dim Hunte, LGBT correspondent for BBC (Chair)
- Juno Roche, author and activist
- Chris Smith, former Labour MP and currently in the House of Lords
- Zing Tsjeng, executive editor at VICE UK
- CN Lester, performer and activist
- Jonathan Cooper, human rights barrister
- Justice Edwin Cameron, South African HIV activist and judge
The theme of the event was how the COVID19 pandemic had detrimentally affected LGBT+ rights. Several LGBT pressure groups, like Stonewall and the LGBT Foundation are strongly pushing the idea that the pandemic has affected the ‘community’ badly, associated with demands for further funding, but I have yet to see a convincing argument. The real victims of the pandemic are those who have had to shield for months and months and the elderly who have died, or those who can’t get access to medication – a point that Frontline AIDS makes and they also sponsored the event – this isn’t an especially LGBT specific issue. It also gave the University’s equality and diversity employees half a day’s work in organising and something to put on their CVs for when they get real jobs.
I was interested to hear how the stellar panel would spin this one.
About Michael Dillon
The principal of St Anne’s College gave an introductory speech about the life of Michael Dillon, much of which is covered here. Crucially she failed to mention that Dillon would not have been able to study medicine at Trinity College had she presented as a woman.
Also Dillon couldn’t possibly have been the first Westerner to be accepted as a novice monk, a feat not that impressive in any case as it is not the culmination of a long commitment. Sangharakshita aka Dennis Lingwood, founder of the Triratna Buddhist Order (formerly the Western Buddhist Order), claimed he was initiated in the Theravada tradition in 1950, which is 12 years prior to the claim made for Dillon.
In fact Dillon’s Wikipedia entry states that Dillon was a student of Sangharakshita, and that he ‘refused to allow Jivaka [i.e. Dillon] full ordination’ (a power that Sangharakshita would not have the benevolence to bestow in any case, since he was only a noviciate himself). In my opinion Sangharakshita likely withheld this because he hated women. The brand of Buddhism Sangharaskshita went on to develop is steeped in query theory and strict separation of the sexes at Order level and the likely reason why Dillon would have been drawn to him in the first place.
Cameron is a former pupil of Oxford and was in the closet during his time at the university. He described himself as ‘queer’ and Dillon as a ‘pathbreaker’. Over the last forty years AIDS had devastated some communities of ‘gay men, men who have sex with men, and trans people’ and continued to be so because of stigma, particularly as HIV is primarily a sexually-transmitted disease. Men in some African countries could still be criminalised or worse for engaging in sex with other men.
I didn’t hear him say anything relevant about the current pandemic had shifted things although undoubtedly many of the things he said were true.
Tsjeng is pansexual and wanted to talk about ‘fun’ and those people who are queer by affiliation, like Kylie Minogue and Lady Gaga (and herself I suspect). The queer community was suffering right now because they couldn’t go clubbing and it was likely that nightclubs would go out of business (she gave a statistic that 58% of all nightclubs will fold before the end of the year – proving that this is not LGBT specific problem). Lots of queer nightclubs had disappeared over the last 10 years and the community doesn’t receive public money although they are supposedly of cultural and historical significance.
Roche is writing a new book about his life set between two pandemics. Roche has been HIV+ since around 1990 and thus was infected when the virus was still deadly. Reflecting on the brutal symptoms people got from the first drugs which managed to control the virus from developing into full blown AIDS, it was a reminder that however awful COVID is, the outlook for those at risk of the HIV virus was so much worse, albeit much less transmittable. The stigma and the lack of empathy shown to the people infected with the disease, is also nothing like what is happening now.
Roche had been given 6 months to live and had had to visit his partner in an isolation hospital ward. Roche claimed that newspaper headlines at the time had said ‘line them up and shoot them’ and that ‘no one had really wanted to kiss him since’ except that he has been kissed. AIDS had taken away his invincibility (as if death doesn’t really exist anyway).
Roche said he was recently at a Public Health England event in which it was announced that the rates of HIV positivity had dropped in young white gay men and in the next sentence quickly spun to ‘black and brown trans women across the globe are the most likely in the world to contract HIV and the least likely to be able to access care’. So. Not in England then, but in places like South Africa and Brazil, where the general rate of AIDS infection are high across the general population. Why can’t these people ever be honest?
‘I was at an event today where we looked at the funding dedicated to women and research, and within this figure comes trans women, and out of total budget of one hundred percent obviously, less than 2.5 percent is dedicated to women’s health,’ said Roche sadly. I have no idea where this figure comes from or even if it is true, but if it is, it does not bode well for future research into women’s health if chunks of funding are directed straight back to men, a potential real threat given the narratives around Black Trans Lives Matter currently indulged by the Left. That Roche bought this to evoke sympathy for trans-identified men is typical of the self-centredness of these activists.
Roche then quoted Judith Butler that queer people were ‘disposable’.
Cooper was humbled to be on the panel and had been particularly transfixed by the talk Roche had just given – ‘she was so eloquent I wouldn’t dare to do the same’. Cooper is a human rights lawyer and viewed the AIDS and COVID pandemic via the prism of human dignity, which had been undermined, but he didn’t particularly elaborate on the specifics. ‘Why aren’t we having an approach to the pandemic that is rooted in the right to education?’ wondered Cooper. (My guess is that most people are more concerned with getting a vaccine, keeping their jobs, eating, but that’s just me.)
‘Do we suspend our human rights temporarily in order to be able to restore them, or do we go out?’ asked Cooper and went on to explain that he did not think that deliberate transmission of HIV should be criminalised, victims of deliberate and malicious infection no doubt feel differently.
Cooper felt as a gay teen in 1981 neglected to the dangers of AIDS, whereas for COVID governments had shut the world down. Cooper wanted to compare the two, but the truth is they have very little in common. One is communicable through airborne droplets, making it a highly communicable disease, the other requires intimate exchanges of bodily fluids or blood. One has an almost hundred percent mortality rate without treatment, the other carries a mortality rate of <1% and many have it completely asymptomatically.
Cooper was worried about the LGBTQI+ kids at home with families who do not understand them. Cooper said that government were planning to take away our human rights through the review of the Human Rights Act. (Is there any evidence for this?)
Smith said that LGBT+ rights was all about having the right to love who you want and be the person you want to be. Smith came out as gay at a rally because Rugby’s council leader said he would not support ‘LGBT rights’ in his council (this is a bit of history revision by Smith, adding on the T). In contrast to the others though, Smith did not talk about ‘trans rights’ and his only reference was to include the T when using the acronym.
Smith did manage to make one relevant point though, that mask wearing was a sign of respect and about protecting others, something which is obviously relevant to the AIDS epidemic. The only thing which had helped men through the AIDS crisis was solidarity and disrespect of others was the thing which had caused stigma and difficulties. Currently we could not demonstrate intimacy but this would come to pass.
Ben nice-but-dim Hunte said he knew a few people who had ‘not stopped being intimate during this pandemic, potentially illegally, but er yeah, they should’ve, they should’ve’. Hunte had a huge grin as he said it, giving the impression he thought it was funny, but then his face is predisposed to inane grinning, so who knows?
Last but not least was dippy CN Lester. Up until this point I never knew if CN Lester was a guy or girl or what. Turns out she is a what. I think. Lester said she was timing herself for five minutes, but spoke for at least ten, and spent at least one minute telling us how she had arrived at her subject. Lester is currently writing an LGBT+ history book, so she wanted to talk about that, and ‘popular untruths’ and the ‘popularity of lying’. Lester made the unoriginal observation that ‘people believe what they want to believe’, because it fits their own narrative and gave examples about 5G spreading Coronavirus and that masks don’t stop COVID spreading. Lester had observed such denial behaviours amongst her own friends and acquaintances. So what does this have to do with trans history and trans rights, asked Lester.
Well, a woman called Abigail Shrier had published a book with a well respected publisher called Irreversible Damage: Teenage Girls and the Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters which ‘puts out the message that trans people are dangerous and particularly dangerous to children and that our existence as human beings is anti-women, that there is some kind of sinister driving force behind trans people’. I bet she has not read it. For full disclosure, neither have I. The Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, however, commits to ‘correct’ pronoun use for trans-identified adults (but not children) so I suspect it does not take the line described by Lester.
Some people in the UK media who had supported the book had referred to trans people as the ‘powerful and shadowy trans cabal’. Crucially, Lester continued, the book said that trans people were ‘new and dangerous’ and a ‘threat to the world’ and that this was ‘patently and hilariously untrue’ without specifying of course the exact nature of the criticism (men in women’s prisons, toxic hormone therapies, etc). Lester said that trans people have always existed and that Michael Dillon was not the first to medically transition and that if we ‘look in the archives’ there was evidence of ‘communities’, but she didn’t expand on the exact nature of these because she had made it up.
Lester said that trans teenagers had been writing to sexological researchers since the 19th Century. Trans history was intertwined with so many other political/histories, and if that fact was more widely known then Shrier’s book would not have been written or been believed.
Trans people are struggling, pleaded Lester and she wanted us all to go away and look up the hate crime statistics compiled by GALOP which had been worsened by the pandemic (she must mean misgendering on social media, since we have all been locked up for months).
Lester finished with an un-ironic warning that educated people were spreading hate about transgender people, even ‘cis’ gay men and lesbians, whose ‘ignorance was so profound’ that ‘they do not know what they do not know’ and were happy to frame trans people as ‘sick and dangerous’ and were ‘protected from new information’. Lester wanted to champion truth.
Ben nice-but-dim Hunte added his tuppence about transphobic hate crime and that he had a big story out at midnight about government funding. Which turned out to be this non-story about anti-bullying projects being funded. Great work Ben.
Sadly there was no time for a Q&A as the webinar had been beset with serious technical difficulties, but I look forward to their ‘big names’ in 2021 (please please get Travis talk about his chicken burger attack again).
I wonder if anyone of them at any point will mention Keira Bell?
An edited version of the webinar has been posted on YouTube.
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