Letters: beauty and desire can lie in unexpected places

Show caption Barrister Allison Bailey said she was unlawfully discriminated against at her chambers. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA Observer letters Letters: beauty and desire can lie in unexpected places An article about sexual preferences, particularly with regard to lesbians and trans women, prompted an array of responses Sun 5 Jun 2022 06.00 BST Share on Facebook

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As a transgender person who spends a lot of time seeking the opinions of other trans people and activists, I think a majority of trans people, including myself, agree that nobody should ever feel pressured into dating someone, and that having a genital preference is not transphobic (“If a lesbian only desires same-sex dates that’s not bigotry, it’s her right”, Comment). However, I do think there is room for reasonable discussion when a cisgender person declares that they simply do not find any trans people attractive.

When it’s possible for trans people to be assumed cis, to insist that you don’t find trans people attractive is to imply that it’s possible to instantly tell who is trans and who isn’t, and this is consistently proved false. It suggests there is another reason behind the declaration, whether that be a perfectly valid genital preference (with the necessary assumptions about trans people’s genitals that entails), or that they believe they are “still men” or “still women”. The notion that a trans person is “still just a woman/man” is evidently not acceptance of their identity, and transphobic.

Alex Winter

Selly Oak, Birmingham

Sonia Sodha is to be congratulated for her clear-eyed analysis of what is in some respects a complex issue but which nonetheless revolves around one simple point: do lesbian women have the right to choose other lesbian women as their preferred sexual partners?

As a lesbian in her 70s, who has been with the same partner for over 40 years, I find the debate on lesbians who wish only to have sexual relations with other biologically born women bewildering. Trans women have chosen to live as women, which is their choice, but this should not be linked to the fact that many lesbians would not consider them as potential sexual partners. From the point of view of trans women, the issue is more complex, as Sonia Soda’s article clarifies, but the question remains: why cannot lesbians be allowed to choose other lesbians?

Ellen Kelly


I am a lesbian and agree with Sodha that no one should be pressured to have sex with anyone against their wishes. I am sceptical that many people think otherwise, and find it curious that her evidence for the prominence of the view is the quote from Stonewall’s chief executive that “sexuality is personal… but if, when dating, you are writing off entire groups like people of colour or trans people, it’s worth considering how societal prejudices may have shaped your attraction”.

This is not coercive but invites people to reflect on their preferences. As Amia Srinivasan said in her essay ‘“Does anyone have the right to sex?”, sex and sexuality are inescapably political, and those with power tend to set the standards for beauty and attractiveness. What can we do about this injustice, given the wrongness of pressuring anyone to change their sexual preferences? At a societal level, the obvious answer is representation: of more types of person and more types of body as beautiful and sexually desirable. We may find beauty and desire in unexpected places, which would be a positive result for all involved.

Zoe Walker


Fuel for thought

I wonder how the pollution caused by wood burning compares with that caused by the production, distribution and consumption of fuel that might be used to provide the same heat (“Lifestyle choice or urban air polluter? Citizen scientists make case against wood burner”, News)? Most of the wood I have burned has come from trees in my garden, sawn partly by hand, split with a maul, transported in a wheelbarrow to my house and seasoned. In contrast, the heat it produces would have had to come from oil extracted underground, shipped several thousand miles, refined and driven to my house.

Maurice Waite

Appleton, Abingdon, Oxfordshire

Beware the BJP tiger

The Conservatives are riding a tiger, but it seems they are unaware of the nature of the beast, or too taken in by the scenery to care about what happens when the ride comes an end (“Tory devotion to ‘dear friend’ Modi says so much about needy post-Brexit Britain”, Comment). By the time the tiger turns on them, the rot of communal hatred will have spread too deep in the UK.

The Hindu-Muslim divide has been nurtured by politicians of all stripes but the Tories’ desperate need to cultivate the BJP has led it to turning a blind eye to the degradation of democracy in India. Just as Indians have managed to import their caste prejudices and – in some parts of the UK – gender inequality that most of India left behind in the 1940s and 50s, the diaspora will see this government’s tacit approval of the BJP’s communal politics as an invitation to replicate those divisions in this country. Divide and rule was meant to make India easier to govern. It could end up making parts of Britain a challenge to govern.

Brexit Britain needs a trade deal that is worth more than the paper it is signed on. It can sign a deal with an India that is slipping down all indices of democracy as the Modi government steps up its Hindutva agenda for the 2024 election, but it’s likely that India is going to be more inward looking, less confident and probably less prosperous. The Tories have always been the party that have claimed to “get” trade and economics. Surely they can see this?

Priyanjali Malik

London NW6

Empire state of mind

I was pleased to read that Abdulrazak Gurnah “suspects the British empire is still important and may well have played a part in the Brexit vote” (“Memory of empire had a role in Brexit, says Nobel laureate”, News). But this is barely news. “We used to run the biggest empire the world has ever seen,” boasted Boris Johnson in February 2016. “Are we really unable to do trade deals?”

Gurnah said that “there were boxes and boxes of documents, held somewhere in the country, which were the archives from various colonies”. Barely news either. The existence of “migrated files” from the colonies at Han slope Park, Buckinghamshire, was exposed nearly 10 years ago. Barely news then, except that the British are still a long way from coming to terms with their colonial past and its legacy.

Robert Gildea


Red, white and queue

Although I agree with Rachel Cooke in applauding the White and Red Rose commemorative markers on the M62, I dispute the fact that cars “whizz past” said markers (Notebook, Comment). The congestion on the M62 is routinely awful; 5mph past the markers would more often be realistic. Even the stupendous view doesn’t make up for the frustration.

Caroline Hinchliffe