Oxford City Council is discussing whether to drop the use of titles on forms in deference to the feelings of transgender people with the predictable “political correctness gone mad” backlash.
Now I’m not generally a great fan of political correctness – it generally has overtones of control freakery and thought policing – but I’m with the Council on this one.
The use of titles is primarily about courtesy.
Some people argue that, because the number of transgender people is fairly small, the council is pandering to the demands of minority at the expense of the majority. This is surely a bogus argument.
The fact is that there are clearly some people for whom this is a problem and even a source of distress – and causing distress is deeply discourteous. The fact that the numbers are relatively small is irrelevant. (The general estimate for the UK is around 1% of the population, which is about 600,000 (1500 in Oxford), which strikes me as quite a big number).
And what’s the cost to the majority?
Some argue that it will lead to general discourtesy because council officials will start to call people “Bob” or “Mary” instead of “Mr Brown” or “Mrs Smith”.
Personally, I can never understand the relevance of my gender and, since I am female, my marital status on being assessed for council tax or reporting an abandoned shopping trolley.
So far, nobody has publicly argued that by using titles like Colonel, Lord, Lady, Dr or Professor they expect to get deferential or preferential treatment rather than simple courtesy. But this is England and old habits die hard – I doubt whether it takes 10 days to get a Tesco trolley moved from an area of North Oxford thick with emeritus professors and retired colonels.
The answer, of course, is to make titles optional on forms (why is it always mandatory?) and let people decide for themselves.
Who knows? It might start a revolution.