Up with allyship, down with acephobia

You can expand your vocabulary no end by reading newspapers. The other day, for example, I added two new words to my lexicon: ‘allyship’ and ‘acephobia’.

I have Exeter University to thank for this lexical enrichment, or rather reports on some astounding developments at that particular grove (grave?) of academe.

Exeter advertises itself as “probably the best university in the world”, having borrowed the line from Carlsberg, “probably the best beer in the world”. Now, Carlsberg has always been a mediocre swill, but Exeter used to be good, if not quite the best. It does belong to the Russell Group of 24 top UK universities, which used to mean high academic quality.

Well, not any longer. Last week that venerable institution demanded that its staff sign an “inclusive practitioners commitment” to demonstrate “allyship” with transgender students. (It should have been practitioners’, but you can’t expect our top universities to mind their apostrophes.)

That spelled the first addition to my vocabulary, and the second one wasn’t long in coming. For lecturers were expected to swear off not only transphobia but also “acephobia”. Meaning discrimination against asexual students.

Every Exeter academic had to undertake to be “the kind of person that LGBTQ+ people can confide in and feel safe around”. If I taught there, I’d be halfway there already because, though I doubt such people would want to confide in me, they wouldn’t have to fear for their lives in my presence.

Then again, that’s probably not what “feel safe” meant. These days simple disapproval (or even lack of enthusiastic approval) is seen as a factor jeopardising safety that’s more, shall we say, metaphysical than physical.

Actually, there wasn’t just a single pledge expected from the lecturers but six different ones, all under the same umbrella. These included a promise to “affirm trans staff and students” by using their chosen names and pronouns.

Thus, if Sean was happy to be known as such in September but decides in October he, or rather she, is actually Sian, his/her teachers are supposed to “affirm” him/her. I’m sure no slips of the tongue are allowed. For want of the right pronoun a career could be lost.

Another point is baffling. Staff were told to seek LGBTQ+ people’s contributions to their teaching subject.

If I taught, say, quantum mechanics, I might find it hard to understand how Sian, as she now is, could contribute specifically as an LGBTQ+ person. Should Sian be expected to assign gender to quarks? Anyway, I’m sure the university administration will be happy to elucidate the issue.

Then the lecturers were supposed to “educate” themselves on the irreparable damage that can be caused to LGBTQ+ people by “micro-aggressions, dog whistles and talking points”. I find the injunction against “dog whistles” especially fascinating.

Call me a snob, but I’ve always associated that activity with building sites, not university halls – and certainly not university professors. Those chaps can usually find subtler and more refined ways of expressing their appreciation of female, or in this case trans, beauty.

I can get “micro-aggression”. It’s an attitude that’s not really aggressive, but can be treated as such by someone encouraged to be extra-sensitive. But what on earth is “talking points”? Beats me.

According to the university spokesman, “This initiative is entirely voluntary”. That’s good to hear – academic freedom is in no way imperilled. Lecturers have a perfectly free choice between signing the pledge document and finding themselves at a career dead end, with the possibility of being blacklisted for life beckoning.

This isn’t just about Exeter University, as you no doubt know. Nor is it just about the UK. This sort of fascism through the back door is plaguing all – well, most – educational institutions worldwide.

Just a few days ago, I talked to an American friend (I almost qualified her as ‘conservative’, but there’s no need – I have no other kind among my friends), whose daughter teaches computer science at a top US university.

The girl was told recently that her conservative views, specifically on the subject of the heroic people of Palestine being massacred by Israelis, might cause her terminal problems with getting a tenure. Now, if an academic career can be destroyed by support of Israel, having pronoun problems with transsexuality must be grounds for summary arrest.

Since Penelope is from Exeter, I felt duty-bound to tell her about my subject today, for her to keep abreast of developments in her native city. She asked a perfectly natural question: “How many trans students does Exeter University have?”

Natural though this question is, it misses the point. Numbers should never affect a principle, and it wouldn’t matter if there weren’t a single Sian at Exeter who used to be Sean. That’s not how fascism works.

The point isn’t to protect vulnerable people from “micro-aggressions, dog whistles and talking points”, and it’s not even for them to “feel safe”. It’s for the fascists to slam their collective jackboot down, right on the face of that jumped up intellectual who won’t toe the line.

This isn’t about kindness, compassion or concern for minorities. It’s about a totalitarian exercise of naked power designed to stamp out even passive resistance.

That’s why you can be sure that before long the few recalcitrant academics would be deprived of their freedom, not just their tenure. When fascism is on the march, it never slows down – it always accelerates. A normal person can’t co-exist with it: the only choice is between fighting and fleeing.

In my youth, I first fought and, when that was no longer possible, fled. But those Exeter academics don’t have the second option: they have nowhere to run away to. The fascist rot has set in on campuses everywhere, and it’s rapidly spreading to those so far immune.

That’s what I mean when I say to the politics junkies among my friends that the deadliest problems of our civilisation have no political solution. It doesn’t really matter who wins elections in the EU, US or UK.

The sores will continue to fester no matter what, until a massive revolt breaks out, with laws falling silent and guns doing all the talking. Take it from someone who grew up in a post-revolutionary country: this is a frightening prospect.        

4 thoughts on “Up with allyship, down with acephobia”

  1. It is something-ist to point out that missing apostrophe in practitioners. Stigmeology and orthography have been proved to be just as racist as mathematics (per the California Secretary of Education). People who do not believe that spelling, grammar, and punctuation are important pieces of the communication puzzle have every right to exist – and to teach at the 24 top UK universities.

    This never-ending list of made-up phobias that the common man is supposed to take seriously is going to bring our world to a grinding halt – or at least the sane part of it. One wishes that a very rational case of catagelophobia would prevent these educators from going public with their ideas.

    I can’t help thinking that if these professors, administrators, and students were bettered educated they could never come up with such ridiculous ideas. A better understanding of history, especially that of Mao’s Red Guards, would have them condemning such behavior, not exalting it. They can’t help but eventually turn on their own kind – as anyone with an ounce of sense knows. Yet somehow the senseless are in charge today.

  2. There will be no revolt. Conservatives will grumble and do nothing. The ‘far-Right’ types will seethe, one or two might shoot up a university or a mosque. And the vast majority of the population will tow the Woke line.

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