The exhortation is everywhere. On tee-shirts and buses, even school mottos. Build on pandemic virtues, we’re told. Talk to your neighbours, donate to the food bank, maybe volunteer a shift or two. Social media is full of pictures of kittens and trees with reminders that it’s been a rough eighteen months for pretty much everyone.
My jaw aches from grinding my teeth at this litany.
The demand is like the stranger suggesting I ‘smile, love’. Behind it comes the attack.
‘What’s wrong with you?’
And, of course, ‘te*f.’
It’s not such a big deal
Surely, some might say, kindness is just personal conduct, being extra-polite in your dealings with others. Looking out for those who need a little help. Nothing to do with politics or, heaven forbid, the cesspool of gender identity.
Yet the demand to be kind goes a lot further than mundane interactions and cute memes. It’s no coincidence that these expectations, and the incipient insults are mostly aimed at women and are inherently sexist. From clothing racks in supermarkets to Twitter threads and women’s magazines, girls must display their open-handedness and perform kindness at all times. Non-compliance is to fail at femininity. The equivalent, of course, is to feminise men who won’t play. Twitter is full of homophobic slurs against them. It’s all about sex.
Kindness is urged into our politics, our workplaces and our leadership styles. A friend advises me that ‘feminism is nothing if not kindness.’ Let people use the toilet they choose: it’s only kind. Big companies are overflowing with the stuff: Forbes, no less, asserts that kindness is key to inclusivity. We can see that ‘kindness’ has become a product to be monetised; its currency is riding high.
Shut up, terf
Kindness has been turned into a weapon, intended to enforce specific roles and silence dissent. ‘Be kind’ has become the kind way to say ‘shut up, terf’, the gagging order so familiar to anyone who dares to challenge the march of gender extremism.
Just last week Keir Starmer prissily told us that we ‘should not say’ only women have a cervix. Our speech must be managed to include people who have chosen to perform a stereotype of gender far removed from that expected of their sex. But such circumlocutions are not enough for those who find even naming a sex unacceptable.
The very word ‘woman’ has become unspeakable if we are to ‘be kind’, if we are to show sufficient ‘inclusion’.
The Lancet, arguably the most prestigious medical magazine on Earth, has decided to further nullify women’s health care by referring to ‘bodies with vaginas’. (Prostrate-havers, we note, are still ‘men’.) Macmillan, the ever-popular cancer charity and care-organisation, is eradicating ‘women’ from their literature. The American Civil Liberties Union edits the words of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, rendering her great insight on the right to abortion nearly incoherent.
The very word ‘woman’ has become unspeakable if we are to ‘be kind’, if we are to show sufficient ‘inclusion’. When we are persuaded that kindness is everything, we remove the female of our species from view.
Are we bothered?
It might be suggested that beyond a general sisterhood, there is nothing special here for lesbians and gay men. That’s remarkably short sighted for a group whose rights have been confirmed in law for such a short time. After all, if you were born when civil partnerships were introduced in the UK in December 2005, you would not yet be old enough to vote in a general election.
We, of all communities, know the life-saving value of communicating honestly and clearly about our bodies. Some of the most effective campaigns to slow the HIV epidemic in the 1980’s came not from mysterious icebergs, but from stories embedded in popular soaps, using the language and experience of the everyday. If you make ordinary words inaccessible then such campaigns become impossible.
For many lesbians and gay men, identifying and maintaining our sexual boundaries has been an important part of coming to love ourselves as we are. ‘No’ is a complete sentence, as #MeToo, feminism – and good safeguarding practice – all remind us. For many lesbians, in particular, learning that it is acceptable to refuse to have sex with men was a hard road. Consent is a necessary pre-condition of a mature, healthy sex life.
‘Be kind’ blurs that rule. If I refuse to share a changing room or a dormitory with bodies with cocks, I am at best ‘unkind’. But I am entitled to decide who is in close proximity when I strip or sleep, let alone with whom I have sex.
The unkindness, the bigotry and the power are all in the hands urging us to drop our boundaries and lower our standards of consent. That affects us all.
Language and silencing
At its most basic, we can’t discuss same-sex attraction without talking about sex. Kindness, wielded as a weapon, removes our ability to talk about ourselves and our lives. ‘Gender attraction’ becomes a route back into the closet where once again our love dare not speak its name.
Silencing by ‘kindness’ is undermining our legal position. Protection from harassment or discrimination and other rights rely on the shared, common understanding of sex and sexual orientation.
The tone-policing in the name of ‘kindness ‘has the same effect as ‘shut up, witch’.
In Wales, the government has repeatedly refused to even talk to gender critical organisations such as LGB Alliance Cymru or women’s group Merched Cymru. In producing a new LGBTQ+ Action Plan, people who want to use words like ‘homosexual’ or ‘woman’ to describe our gay lives have been shut out, in the name of kindness and inclusion.
We are not even supposed to complain. Expressing anger about oppression and privilege is deemed ‘unkind’ by groups backed by governments, corporations and large charities. The tone-policing in the name of ‘kindness ‘has the same effect as ‘shut up, witch’.
I am kind to my friends and my cat. When it comes to protecting my rights in the political domain, I will not submit to the silencing imposed by the demands for ‘kindness’. I am all grown-up now.
One more thing
That Welsh LGBTQ+ Action Plan is out for consultation. Sheridan Sinclair did an excellent article about it just last week for Lesbian and Gay News at https://bit.ly/3kDCSrD. If you would like to know more, sign up for our webinar on Saturday 2nd October via https://bit.ly/3ETx5X7.
To keep up to date with briefings and events, follow @LGBAllies_Cymru and @MerchedCymru on Twitter.