IF YOU were a pluralist society, which kind of pluralist society would you be? Are you a melting pot or a salad bowl? It sounds like a parlour game for Guardian readers, as did the premise for Nine Truths (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week), in which three teams had to come up with a list of ineluctable verities for the modern age.
Chaired by Sima Kotecha, the participants were all of student or recent graduate age, and the ethical conundrums that they faced were not insignificant: “How to be your authentic self”; “What is identity?”; and “How do we negotiate right and wrong in a secular world?”
Unlike most parlour games, this one was conducted with admirable dignity. These were salad-bowl pluralists, not content merely to tolerate but insistent on respect for the other. It reinforced a remark made by one of the participants: that the generation of 18- to 25-year-olds is “the most moral generation” — one that engages more intensely than any other with issues such as inclusivity, the environment, and mental well-being.
Moral absolutes are more easily identifiable when you are young. But, despite the promise offered by these young people’s discussions, the concluding truths were somewhat disappointing. “Love is at the Forefront”; “Are Right and Wrong Absolute? Absolutely Not”.
The values of respect and understanding are put severely to the test by the experiences shared in File on 4: Going back (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) by “Charlie”, “Debbie”, and others. The number of people requesting gender-transition treatment in the UK has risen vertiginously in the past decade; and thus, with cruel inevitability, clinics are also now starting to see patients who wish to “detransition”. As the barely suppressed cry of “I told you so!” forms itself on sceptical lips, the phenomenon causes huge controversy and is fraught with shame and blame.
Numbers are hard to establish, but there is now a Detransitioning Advocacy Network which seeks to help those who feel that they have made a mistake. “Debbie” is one of them. Seventeen years ago, she underwent a full physical transition to a man, in the hope that she could escape not just the body but the emotional baggage that she had accumulated. She now accepts that other, less drastic forms of therapy might have been more appropriate, and wishes to reverse the operation.
As reported in this documentary, the issue appears to be almost exclusively one affecting young women; and it is argued that this represents a failure in contemporary culture to accept a particular kind of female identity.
The most significant revelation here was that clinics that deal with “body dysphoria” often do not deal at the same time with a patient’s often complex mental and emotional history. They must rely on other services for this, and there is thus an acknowledged danger in pursuing inappropriate treatments. And, for some, there is no such thing as an appropriate surgical treatment.