Ian McEwan has backtracked on his remarks about transgender identity in an open letter stressing his belief that “biology is not always destiny”.
McEwan was criticised by a LGBT charity over comments he made on the relationship between gender and biology during a speech at the Royal Institution, where McEwan was discussing representation of the self in fiction.
The Man Booker-winning author said he was “surprised” at the fierce response garnered by his comments in a response on Wednesday.
Remarking on how the literary self has evolved through history, he had 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 women’s dressing rooms.”
When an audience member asked him to clarify his remarks during a Q&A at the end of his speech, he reportedly responded: “Call me old-fashioned, but I tend to think of people with penises as men. But I know they enter a difficult world when they become transsexuals and they tell us they are women, they become women, but it’s interesting when you hear the conflict between feminists now and people in this group.“
The LGBT charity Stonewall condemned his remarks as “extremely sad” and said it was pleased McEwan had been called out on his “uninformed views”.
In an open letter distributed to media outlets and published by The Guardian, McEwan claimed activists and media outlets had not “troubled to complicate matters by finding out my actual views on sexual identity”.
Clarifying his stance, he said discrimination against the transgender community should be “deplored” and the right to transition should be celebrated.
His letter continued: “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, 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. It adds to the richness and diversity of life. It’s an extension of freedom and the possibilities of selfhood.”
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