This is a response to the youtube video “Transphobia in the UK” by Shaun, which can be accessed at this link.
TRIGGER WARNING: The following essay describes virulent misogyny and quotes instances of victim-shaming, harrassment and rape culture. It discusses racism, homophobia/lesbophobia, sexism, transphobia and imperialism. It contains potentially triggering mentions of different instances of violent sex-based oppression.
Your definition of gender is wrong. Biological sex is real and gender is tied to sex. Enforced gender- and sex-blindness is dangerous liberal nonsense.
Your video is full of very flawed arguments that demonstrate a shallowness of understanding of the issues and rely on racist, misogynistic and homophobic assumptions. You make a fundamental mistake in assuming that sex assigned at birth isn’t linked to gender and doesn’t matter socially. Well, actually, your fundamental mistake is male privilege, which means that you feel entitled to speak authoritatively on forms of oppression that don’t affect you in any way —except to benefit you. In this video, you try to reach the definition of gender through a process of elimination, and you constantly tack on disclaimers and walk them back when you learn that the experience of other groups (except women!) contradicts your assertions. It’s a very male way of reasoning, crossing off all the stereotypes about women that you invented, and then confidently saying, “well, it’s not this, and it’s not that, so it’s obviously whatever’s left”. Furthermore, you assume that defining gender is just as difficult for all your female viewers and that they need to be educated by you, the logical man who arrived at it by a process of deduction. Thanks, but we don’t need it.When you actually experience gender-based oppression, you don’t need to go through a convoluted (il)logical process of elimination to know what it is. We live it; it’s our every day material reality and it’s inscribed in our bodies. The objective evidence is accessible to men as well, unless you deny it through an attachment to a nonsensical liberal dogma.
Gender is an objective, material form of hierarchical class oppression based on sex assigned at birth. It is not something an individual can choose for themselves; it is given to you or rather, forced upon you by society (not by the mere assignation at birth, but by the subsequent experience of oppression). The purpose of this hierarchy is male heterosexual domination and control of the biological reproductive capacity of women.i Women have been – and still are – treated as property and subjugated and in many cases, enslaved, for the sexual and reproductive use of men since the beginning of heteronormative patriarchy.
You call it “hateful bigotry” to deny the lived reality of your trans friends while dismissing and denying the lived reality of women. As a woman, a person assigned female at birth, I have experienced gender-based oppression all my life.Therefore, I’m qualified, like all women, to say that gender is not a matter of subjective, internal identity. I have never identified as a woman. I would very much like to identify my way out of sex-based oppression and into receiving male power and privilege, but that is impossible. I was gendered by the experience of patriarchal abuse, sexual harrassment, rape, body shaming, victim-blaming, media brainwashing, and many more instances of violence and oppression, all linked to my female body. Your definition of gender as a subjective, inner identity would exclude me from the category of woman, since I don’t ‘identify’ as a woman. But I don’t need to identify as a woman, because I am a woman.
A historical example makes this obvious: the suffragettes couldn’t simply identify as male in order to obtain the vote. Was gender a different thing in the past, but is now a matter of subjective identity? Has gender got nothing to with oppression, but is rather something like hair colour or personality? When exactly did women stop being oppressed on the basis of sex? Were we never oppressed on the basis of sex? Then on what basis were the suffragettes denied political enfranchisement? And how would you account for female infanticide? Why are baby girls murdered if not on the basis of sex? Did they come out of the womb wearing a dress, or identifying as female? Any way you look at it, there is an unspoken, sexist assumption throughout your video that sex-based oppression is over, that women don’t really suffer enough — any more — to deserve special protection and recognition, that we’re pretty much equal now and should therefore get over it. You used to refute this idea when expressed overtly by anti-feminist men, and yet it underpins your argumentation from start to finish in this video.
How can you make this video without a basic understanding of radical feminist theory? You don’t have to agree with it, but you don’t even take the trouble of referencing it to disagree. To reduce gender to a subjective identity that can be changed and chosen as easily as your name disregards the work of countless women’s rights activists. Real solidarity with women would seek to support them in their work to abolish gender rather than reduce it to a meaningless label that you put on or off as it suits you.
Your video is a good example of how liberal ideology ties itself into knots to deny the simple and obvious truth that gender is a matter of oppression based on biological sex. Any attempted explanation of the liberal gender identity ideology (liberalism in general) becomes muddled and contradictory very quickly; it reads like it’s been cobbled together in an effort to be as politically correct, non-threatening and ‘inclusive’ of every possible ‘identification’ as possible (while actually being misogynist and often homophobic). This is the reason that genders proliferate: it leads to an absurd situation in which there are as many genders as there are people, and it puts the onus on everyone else to validate these identities through shaming, smears, ostracisation and violent enforcement. What does that do to feminist activism? It’s the purpose of liberalism: to muddle and confuse people about what they know to be true, to stymie real – radical – progress, and to maintain the status quo, to maintain male power. Political correctness (censorship, saying it’s oppressive to recognise reality) and identity politics are the tools of liberalism, which is why the liberal answer to racism is colour-blindness. Liberal transgender identity politics mandates gender-blindness and sex-blindness.
Liberal trans activist rhetoric has a toxic attitude that women are women because they conform to stereotypically feminine markers like long hair, makeup, heels and dresses. Your video retained this argument in your choice to include the section intended to illustrate the absurdity of people of a ‘masculine’ appearance using women’s toilets. Why include this section if you later go on to claim that gender has nothing to do with appearance? You have to resort to references to appearance and performance because on some level you are aware that the self-identification argument is false and therefore unconvincing. You centre men in your worldview; the imagined audience for this video is men— and men perceive gender primarily as an expression of stereotypes. Women – particularly feminists – are marginalised or erased in your politics, and you see no reason to listen to them, read or refer to the work they’ve done or even talk to them.
Womanhood is neither a feeling, nor a subjective, inner identityii, nor a matter of appearance or of conforming to ‘gender roles’. Victorian ladies in trousers come nowhere into it. Femininity isn’t “gender expression” (a happy positive affirming liberating completely dishonest term). It is a stereotypical marker of our inferiority that is enforced through brainwashing, psychic destruction and threats of violence; it is a prison. That is why the idea of ‘cis privilege’ is so stupid and offensive: women are not privileged to conform to the violently enforced obligation of femininity.
Gender and sex-blindness also leads to the ridiculous claim that references to sex and biology – maleness, femaleness, male bodies and female bodies – are bigotry. How are women supposed to talk about our biological reality and our oppression stemming from the fact of our biology (periods, pregnancy, reproductive rights including access to abortion and enslavement of poor women in commercial surrogacy, parts of the female anatomy, female genital mutilation, lack of access to sex-specific medical care, expectations and pressure of motherhood, etc) if you ban all references to male and female bodies? It also completely erases sexual orientation, redefining heterosexuality as inclusive of relationships between two male or two female people (where one ‘identifies’ as the other sex), or lesbianism as inclusive of relationships between a male person and a female person. Gay and lesbian people who protest strongly at this redefinition of sexual orientation are also called bigots.
Your attempts at ‘historical comparison’ are racist and homonationalistiii. They are inappropriate because they fail to take into account the difference in power between groups.
Your analogy between the exclusion of transwomen from female-only spaces and apartheid in pre-Civil Rights Act USA is completely inappropriate, offensive and racist. First, it erases Black women and disregards the existence of people in the intersection of racism and sexism. It also erases the existence of trans people of colour. The implication of such analogising – “cis women excluding trans women from female spaces is just like White people excluding Black people from public spaces” – is that all trans people are White.
Second, this analogy depends on the White liberal gospel that racial separation is always bad, racial integration is always good, and anyone who questions this point is a hateful bigot. In fact, this has long been intensely disputed among people of colour, many forcefully advocating for separation and wanting nothing to do with White people: Malcolm X is the best example, but he was far from alone in this view. Marginalised people wanting to control access to our own spaces is not the same as oppressors segregating us. I think White liberals misunderstand the problem with segregation, since they cannot imagine a space not centred around them: it’s not the denial of the exquisite pleasure of White people’s presence and company, it’s the lack of power and autonomy. As Nina Simone put it, “You don’t have to live next to me; just give me my equality.”
In this video, you conflate women loving and protecting themselves and seeking the company of each other (a space to breathe, an environment where we can be sure to be free from oppression for a while, a place in which we can organise with each other to respond to specific issues that affect us without having to justify ourselves) with hatred of everyone else. Women loving themselves and loving women is not hatred. Whether exclusion and discrimination is good or bad depends on the context: it is oppression when practised by powerful groups to shut minorities out of existence (since they control and dominate all spaces), but an essential right when practised by marginalised groups for self-protection (precisely because they are excluded from all other spaces. If you deny us exclusive spaces, in effect you deny us all spaces). We have the right to autonomy and to set our own boundaries without needing to justify them.
It’s really simple – it’s about power. To ignore this and accuse politically powerless, historically disenfranchised and marginalised people of “collective punishment” takes unbelievable amounts of chutzpah. (How do you think your demand for total inclusion affects affirmative action or quotas specially reserved for marginalised groups? Is it OK for a person who has never been oppressed on the basis of sex to take a seat reserved for victims of sex-based oppression? Is it collective punishment of all males to even have sex-based reservation?)
Your demand for male inclusion into female spaces is more analogous to White feminists claiming that women of colour are exclusionary for not letting them enter feminist groups exclusive to women of colour. Or to settlers on stolen land complaining of exclusion when an indigenous person refuses to validate their ‘right’ to steal their culture. Or to White settlers in Africa complaining about not being considered “African” by actual Africans. Or to straight “allies” dominating inclusive LGBT spaces and kicking up a fuss when not allowed into safe spaces. Or many more — real and ubiquitous — examples of privileged people misunderstanding the concept of safe spaces and boundaries as oppressive and not taking “no” for an answer.
We will not give up our right to female-only spaces. Dismissing our legitimate fears and demanding entry for males into female-only spaces (especially for sexual assault and abuse survivors) is harrassment and promotes rape culture.
The reason why safe spaces are necessary is that every other space is unsafe. We fought long and hard for the very few exclusive spaces we have. One reason is that inclusion of members of the powerful group tends to mean that those “inclusive” spaces very quickly become completely dominated by them. For example, it has been my experience and the experience of other women I know that self-proclaimed “male feminists” turn out to be rapists and abusers a terrifying amount of the time — to the point where my alarm bells ring when a man uses that label: he might as well have labelled himself a predator.
At around the 24 minute mark, you mentioned that women who ask for female-only spaces consider men to be inherentlyiv dangerous, implying that this is a controversial or offensive view. My answer to that is: yeah, so? Are you seriously claiming that women are oppressing men by seeking refuge in the exclusive company of other women from a male-dominated society that tortures us at every conceivable opportunity? There are train carriages for the exclusive use of women in my country because of the acute sexual harrassment we face, a universal experience for women while sharing spaces on public transport with men; is that oppression? I’ve heard from men far too many times: “You are misandrist/prejudiced/sexist for being afraid or cautious of men, because not all men are rapists! In fact, I have never raped anybody!” This is the same argument you use here (minus demanding a trophy for not having raped anyone), and it is dangerous sexist nonsense and an instance of rape culture and harrassment. No, women have a right to be cautious or afraid of men, and we are not bigoted for whatever implications you draw from our legitimate fears and the rational assessment of the level of danger we face. There is plenty of hard statistical evidence that men are dangerous and that women are in danger from men. I am surprised that you would make this awful argument as you have obviously seen the overwhelming evidence for this in anti-feminist male gamer groups. But I am also unsurprised because the liberal ideology of gender as identity that you espouse leads inescapably to this principle: the denial of sexist violence and the suppression of women’s rights to be afraid of men and take measures to protect themselves. #NotAllMen but #YesAllWomen.
On a related point, I noticed that you linked to Riley J. Dennis, who is rejected by a great many trans people as an good spokesperson for trans issues for doing things like lecturing lesbians on how it’s transphobic not to date or have sex with biologically male people who identify as women. This is an illustration of the how the dogma that gender is an identity – and if you don’t accept that, you are an oppressive bigot – inevitably leads to homophobia (more specifically lesbophobia) and promotes rape culture. Our bodies are the ultimate safe spaces in which we have an absolute right to exclude (or include) anyone we want to, for any reason whatsoever, without having to justify ourselves. It’s called bodily autonomy, not transphobic discrimination.
It is particularly disgusting and devoid of compassion for you to insist on the right of males to be allowed into abused women’s shelters. Abused women are some of the most vulnerable people on Earth, and they need a space free of the threat of male violence (that means free from males) for a chance to start to recover from the enormous evil that’s been done to them. Exposure to males at this time opens up wounds caused by unimaginable trauma and prevents healing. I was abused by my father and other male members of my family, and male voices – especially hostile, strident and angry ones – are triggering for my trauma. I’m not looking for complete separation from men, but I will insist on my right to some female-only spaces, especially those that claim to support abused women. The more I see of liberal trans activism, the more I see how deeply misogynistic, violent and dismissive and contemptuous of women’s pain and trauma it is. This indefensibly cruel and hateful example cropped up in my news feed recently; note how it casts doubt on women’s claims of sexual assault and refers to them as “sob stories”. Another gem of a quote: “The penis to a rape victim may no doubt be symbolic of sexual violence, but the real threat to female sexual safety is from toxic masculinity, not a biological member.” The irony levels are off the charts; there is no starker illustration of toxic masculinity, woman-hatred and rape culture than this article.
I don’t believe that entry to exclusive spaces should be legislated or criminalised, and I don’t support a Trump-style bathroom bill. I am a proponent of prison abolition and I reject statist and carceral feminism and any attempts at solving our problems through legislation or incarceration, except as a practical survival tool. (Many women who are in prison were jailed for defending themselves from their abusers. The law and the state are not on our side.) But I will assert our right to defend ourselves, both individually and collectively.
Leftist Internet communities are dominated by White males ‘whitemalesplaining’ feminism and racism to White males, sympathising with fascists and violent misogynists, and speaking over the voices of women and people of colour.
Speaking of Gamergate: The recent spate of online censorship, harrassment, banning and no-platforming of gender critical women and radical feminists by spurious accusations of transphobia is part of the very same drive that motivates anti-feminists to engage in organised, violent persecution of women in their online communities. They are both motivated by the male desire to drive women out of public space, to punish women for insisting on our right to occupy public spaces and have autonomous private spaces. There is no space as public as the Internet. If you push out radical female voices telling the truth, you’ll be left with just men and liberal ‘feminists’ who deny their own lived reality for male approval and pretend that our oppression is entirely a matter of our choice and actually makes us really happy and fulfilled. But liberal ‘feminists’ who enable these toxic narratives will soon find out that their strategy backfires and that they’re not immune to the male desire to exclude women from public spaces. No appeasing ideology or denial of objective truth when it comes to gender will lead to acceptance by men as equals.
Have you ever considered why the most popular youtubers talking about feminism and racism are all male and White? The leftist political youtube community alienates mev particularly because it’s so dominated by White men confidently making their inaccurate pronouncements on racism and sexism to an imagined White male audience with a total lack of humility and no awareness of their privilege or limitationsvi. You give more space to male Nazis than to feminist women! Nearly every popular White male leftist youtuber I watch has mentioned having sympathy for violent misogynists and fascists and some have made videos humanising them. Your admitted intention is just to change the minds of fascist- and anti-feminist-sympathising young men, not actually standing in solidarity with women and people of colour as we resist oppression and work towards our liberation from White and male supremacy. You argue that you’re performing a necessary function, to reach out to those who may fall through the rabbit hole, and thereby reduce the reach of fascism. But by giving so much airtime to right-wing racist and misogynistic views (sometimes with sympathy to its adherents or those susceptible to their propaganda), combined with radio silence on the multiple voices and views of women and people of colour – the actual victims of fascism and misogyny – you’re actually normalising right-wing ideologies and promoting a White male-centric view of the political universe. Your hubris and arrogance in speaking for us leads your audience to think that your (false and dangerous) form of ‘feminism’ and ‘anti-racism’ is the only one out there. I assumed it was unintentional, though dangerous, but in this video you really have no excuse for not even mentioning women’s critiques of gender identity, even if it’s to vehemently disagree.
A male can no more authentically identify as woman than a White person can identify as a person of colour. Consider the analogy with race frauds like Rachel Dolezal.
This race/gender comparison illuminates the nature of gender and race as historically and culturally constructed, objective forms of oppression and reveals the problem with self-identification:
Rachel Dolezal, a White woman of European ancestry, literally painted herself black, deceitfully inserted herself into Black spaces, received benefits intended exclusively for Black people to counteract historical disadvantage, and even now – after being exposed and condemned by the vast majority of the Black American community as an offensive caricature in blackface – still continues to assert that she is “transracial”. Do you believe that race is also a matter of subjective feelings, something that you can change at will, something that should be as easy to change as your name? Most people of colour are insulted and offended by the idea that a White person can choose to “identify” as a member of a racialised group, especially when it doesn’t work the other way round: you can play act our oppression, but we cannot, under any circumstances, opt in to White privilege.
My personal experience with White people has taught me that Rachel Dolezal is not the only race fraud out there; this is bizarrely common. Her case is the extreme version of the routine theft and exploitation of other cultures that White people feel entitled to engage in. It’s only because they don’t understand the lived reality of racism that they think an authentic racialised identity and experience is something they can access, which they attempt by putting on the stereotypical markers they associate with that race. The film Get Out is a brilliant illustration and critique of the creepy desire White people seem to have to inhabit the bodies of people of colour.
For a long time, due to my desire not to hurt or invalidate trans people (as well as internalised misogyny and confusion by liberal ‘feminism’), I ignored the contradictions in the gender identity ideology and refrained from raising my doubts or speaking about my lived reality of gender as oppression. However, when Rachel Dolezal identified herself as “transracial” (appropriating a real word used for children adopted by members of another race), people started asking the question “how is transracial different from transgender?” I listened to many attempts at clarifying this difference, especially from trans women of colour, such as Kat Blaque’s video on the topic—and none of them offered a coherent explanation. It is obvious to me now that there is no essential difference, and that the confusion lies in the denial of reality – material, lived reality as evidenced in the experiences of women – that is necessitated by the liberal dogma of gender-blindness. White appropriators of racialised identities disingenuously juggle different stereotypical racial markers in an effort to describe what it means to feel like a particular race, just like liberal transgender politics does with different stereotypical ideas of gender.
Rachel Dolezal’s actions are repugnant because she reduces the experience of Blackness to appearance and self-identification. How is reducing the experience of womanhood to appearance, self-identification and choice any different?
Legislation and institutional support based on the gender identity ideology is oppressive.
You claim to be shocked that anyone can question legislation and other government measures you imply are so unambiguously beneficial to trans people and harmless to everyone else. But such apparent support can be deeply rooted in the oppression of other marginalised communities. The government provision of easy access to transition in Iran, for example, is based on homophobia: it is an attempt to force gay men and women into ‘heterosexual’ and thus religiously and socially accepted relationships, a violation of bodily autonomy in a country where gay men and women are routinely executed for their sexual orientation. Nor is it entirely benevolent in the West: the homophobic and misogynist mainstream power structures in the West too sometimes embrace transition as a solution to what they see as the problem of homosexuality or refusal to conform to gender roles, particularly in children. It is not out of hatred or bigotry but real, valid concern that people oppose coercion in labelling children as trans at very early ages or irreversible surgical intervention on pre-pubescent children who experience gender dysphoria. (Gender dysphoria is not exclusively experienced by trans people; many, if not all, women have felt it at some point. It is deeply distressing to be in a female body and to live the nightmare of gender oppression inflicted on us precisely because of that body.) Recommending transition as the first line of treatment of gender dysphoria – especially in the case of children – is like recommending plastic surgery as the solution to body dysmorphia.
Please read and respond to this critique of Mermaids, the charity you have promoted in this video.
Your use of train tracks conundrum dismisses women’s legitimate fears, and ‘harm reduction’ is bad ethics.
I have to take issue with your use of the train tracks and lever conundrum. Saying that no one will be hurt by pulling the lever is dismissing women’s legitimate fears by saying that no women are in any actual danger if we lose the right to sex-segregated spaces and recognition of sex-based oppression. Your argument was just “Silly women; they’re overreacting”! You assert the urgency of protecting trans rights and completely dismiss the urgency of women’s fears as completely made up. No, we need sex-segregated spaces because we are in danger and they do help. You also demonstrate a seemingly disingenuous lack of imagination when it comes to ensuring everyone’s right to dignity and services while respecting the legitimate fears of one group – you don’t entertain the idea that we could change the configuration of toilet spaces in many ways, for example, having several separate lockable rooms rather than two sex-segregated communal spaces divided into many stalls. No, toilet configurations are fixed and unchangeable. [/sarcasm] Instead you choose to browbeat women who are afraid into giving up their right to safety by calling them bigots.
And do you really think the train tracks conundrum is intended to illustrate the obvious rightness of ‘harm reduction’ as the best ethical principle, and to validate you as the person who decides who lives or who dies solely because you have the power to do so? I’ve always supposed it intended the opposite: that the banal notion that the value of human life can be counted in numbers is wrong, that human life is sacred and precious beyond calculation, that if you murder one person because you were convinced it was the only way to save many others, you’re still a fucking murderer. Are you truly arguing for the validity of the notion of “collateral damage”? If so you are keeping company with people like Madeleine Albright who said that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children from US sanctions were “worth it” and the many rationalisers of genocidal policy who say, “If we hadn’t killed one million in the second Iraq War, Saddam would’ve killed five million!”vii
If it really does come down to numbers, and if women’s and trans people’s rights really are opposed, then the safety of women, who outnumber trans people by far, would have a higher priority than the safety of trans people, who are a small minority. Luckily, that’s bullshit. It’s not Oppression Olympics. Asking for female-only spaces isn’t oppressive to trans people, and all women and trans people have a right to safety and freedom from material oppression.
Oppression is material and the liberal strategy of focusing on the immaterial symptoms – language and subjective feelings – and banning discussion and recognition of objective reality is (deliberately) counterproductive.
I just used the term material oppression, but I should stress that this formulation is redundant. Oppression is always material, and focusing on the immaterial to the exclusion of the material is a liberal strategy to prevent radical progress. Racist, sexist or transphobic rhetoric, language and discussion (unless outright hate speech, which is characterised by power and the incitement to violence) are only symptoms of the real disease, which is material oppression resulting from the inequality of power between groups. Liberalism thinks to wipe out the disease by treating its symptoms and silencing those who point out the nature of the disease. Liberals teach that the solution of racism is not to see colour, and to police language so that someone doesn’t “sound racist”, banning people from speaking their minds and asking questions. Not only does this allow for racism to be thrive in invisibility, but also allows right-wing racists to use the argument that they are being censored by political correctness convincingly. They can frame themselves as the “straight shooters”, “truth tellers” and “iconoclasts” fighting censorship, and get elected, partly because of liberal obfuscation around oppression. If White liberals would shut up and let White people admit they do see colour and radical people of colour discuss the real nature of racism openly, half of our problems would have been solved already.
Transphobic oppression exists, but it is not a matter of hurt feelings by a woman invalidating a trans person’s gender identity (an immaterial non-entity). Trans people face severe persecution and discrimination, but the perpetrators and beneficiaries of that oppression are not “cis people” in general; it is a privileged subset of non-trans people, that is: non-trans heterosexual men. There is no such thing as “cis privilege”. “Cis people” are not a monolith, not by far: half of that class — which is not a class — is subaltern and are not perpetrators of violence and oppression against trans people.viii The reason why non-trans men commit horrific violence against trans people is because the strict enforcement of gender roles and sterotypical markers within a binary benefits them as a class. Any non-gender-conforming person, whether they identify as trans or not, is at risk of this violence.
Trans people are oppressed by brutalisation experienced at the hands of men; they are not oppressed because a woman says or thinks or implies that transwomen aren’t women by linking her experience of gender and womanhood to her female body (which is a lived reality, a fact). You say that “trans people are valid” as if any feminist denies the personhood or humanity of trans people. Nobody has a right to have their gender (and with it, their false ideology that membership of an oppressed gendered class is something you can opt in to) validated by others. Perhaps there are women who do support the material oppression of transwomen, but to say that a woman merely speaking about her experiences of oppression or her body and asking for safe spaces with other women who are victims of sex-based oppression is automatically transphobic because it doesn’t fit with your narrative of what gender is — to me, that is hateful and bigoted.
You are using intellectually dishonest tactics to smear women, some of the same tactics that you mocked and decried when used by right-wing youtubers.
It’s disturbing that you gave the title “Transphobia in the UK” to a video that completely fails to address transphobia in the UK. Transphobic violence and material oppression of trans people by men and male-dominated institutions form the vast majority of transphobic acts, and are the severest and most urgent issues for trans rights. You quickly shrank the scope of your video essay to transphobia in the British press, and then further shrank the scope to transphobia by the center-left British press, the vagueness of one article which you claimed was a nefarious plot (by… hateful bigots who have no other motivation than hatred) to hurt trans women, all of which contributes to the impression in the credulous viewer that the worst and most serious struggle against transphobia comes from the left — and from feminists! Why fail to mention the rates of murder, rape and suicide, how poverty and racism affect poor trans people of colour, the discrimination in access to basic services or even the tabloid attacks you elided in a video entitled “Transphobia in the UK”? Otherwise why not title it “Transphobia in the Guardian and Graham Linehan” (who are the only sources you actually mention by name; how unsurprising that you chose to respond to a man and ignore the existence of women in what is a women-led movement)? It seems intended to be deliberately misleading.
ETA: Having gone back and re-watched your essay, I can see that you are clearly intentionally misleading your viewers. I looked up the Guardian article that you said was so vague, and realised that you pulled a Sargon/Thunderfoot maneuver (oh, the irony), and after sarcastically saying “Let’s read some relevant sections of this article and get at those concerns”, quoted the first and third paragraphs and acted as if the second paragraph didn’t exist. Here is the second paragraph:
Writers Marina Strinkovsky and Beatrix Campbell, actors James Dreyfus and Frances Barber, and Pragna Patel, the founder of the Southall Black Sisters Centre, are among 195 people to put their names to the letter, published in the Observer. “We believe the right to discuss proposed changes to the law is fundamental in a democratic society,” they write.
Why didn’t you name the people you smeared as hateful bigots? Or read out this paragraph? I guess it wasn’t “relevant” enough, because relevance means information that doesn’t expose you as someone smearing feminists and anti-racist activists as evil transphobes motivated solely by the desire to inflict pain on trans people.
You also disregarded the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th paragraphs, which paraphrase and quote the letter, thus saving you the trouble of clicking on the link:
Earlier this year, the Mercure Hotel in Cardiff and Millwall Football Club cancelled bookings made by women’s groups who wanted to hold panel discussions about proposed changes to the law. In Bristol, a meeting was picketed by masked activists in an attempt to prevent it going ahead.
Women’s rights groups say that both online and real-world harassment of those organising, speaking and attending meetings is now routine. In one case, a woman had the details of her children’s school posted online, in an attempt at intimidation.
Last year, a 60-year-old woman was violently assaulted when she was part of a group gathered at Hyde Park Corner waiting to be directed to a meeting to discuss the GRA. There are also concerns about the intimidation and ostracising of female academics who speak out on the issue.
“Public authorities, academic institutions, unions and NGOs should be facilitating discussions and protecting the rights of people to take part in them without harassment or intimidation,” the letter states. “We find it troubling that institutions have not condemned these actions and in some cases have expressed support.”
Why didn’t you mention this? Are these examples of violence, harrassment and intimidation in order to shut down free speech in the name of trans rights completely irrelevant?
You assert with no evidence that these women (and the press covering it) are deliberately vague about exactly why they are concerned about legislation to allow males in female spaces and why they would possibly oppose a harmless process that would only, in your words, ‘streamline’ the process of changing your gender because if they were forced to come out with it, these ‘concerns’ would obviously be transphobic, hateful and bigoted. They couldn’t possibly have any legitimate concerns; it’s not like gender has anything to do with women or feminism! Why would the legal changes to the definition and assignation of gender require the input of women? [/sarcasm]
But if you’d quoted the sections detailing the examples of violent harrassment and censorship of these women by liberal trans activists for even daring to organise a conference or a meeting at which they could explicitly state their concerns (and thus fulfil your disingenuous request), then maybe your viewers would’ve exercised their empathy and thought, “Well, if I was threatened with violent assault for going to a meeting and exercising my free speech, then maybe I would be a bit scared to explicitly state my concerns too”. But that wouldn’t fit with your conclusion that feminist women who stand up for their rights are nefarious witches who meet in secret covens to discuss how to derail completely harmless ‘progress’ for no reason than out of spite and malice towards trans people, and have no legitimate fears for their own safety and the risk of losing the right to recognition of the specific form of oppression they face, i.e. sex-based oppression.
Your entire video was directed at a strawman, an invisible one at that. You spent a lot of the time criticising the vagueness of a Guardian article which alludes to “women’s concerns” without stating what they are. But you also repeatedly asserted that women who have concerns (whatever they are) are hateful bigots (while being vague and evasive yourself: who are these hateful bigots exactly and why are their ideas transphobic?). A cursory search on youtube would direct you to plenty of women talking eloquently and reasonably – and explicitly – about their concerns. Why is it that you don’t respond to their arguments, that you fail to even mention them? In your previous videos, you had no qualms about responding in-depth to (and thereby spreading) the arguments of neo-Nazis, fascists, genocidal racists and violent misogynists. Is it from a desire to no-platform those you see as “TERFs”? Are they more dangerous than the above-mentioned characters whose rhetoric you did spread, in an effort to counter them? If you complain that about the vagueness of repeating “women’s concerns” without stating those concerns outright, but then do no effort to seek them out and respond to them, you are doing a disservice to trans activism by not engaging with the best arguments by those critical of it. How about responding to the following arguments?
Trans people’s critiques of gender identity politics
1. What ‘Gender Critical’ Means to Me by Miranda Yardley. Quote:
I guess this means I see gender for what it is, as a harmful social construct, a hierarchy. I like to think I try to pick this power system apart using an analysis which is based on rationalism. I think a key point to recognise here is that many feminist ideas are congruent with a rational approach to gender, for example that as a societal construct gender is not innate, and that not only are ideas around mind/body incongruence ideologically damaging to women, they have no apparent basis in reality.
. . . I say this [that transwomen are biologically male] a lot and I go to great lengths to emphasise it is a morally neutral statement. There is an oft-quoted mantra that ‘trans women are women’ which, if you can accept what I just said, completely ignores reality and turns the definition of ‘woman’ into something that is a matter of identity rather than biology and thus reality. It is, to use another one of my favourite phrases, ‘intellectually dishonest’.
2. Twitter-thread by Kristina Harrison (a powerful example of solidarity in action, and deserves to be quoted in full):
1) I DEMAND #transrights . Instead, tragically we have trans rights conflated with a ‘right’ to minimise or obliterate the reality of biological sex instead of a fight for equality, freedom from violence & discrimination, to proper services & a real fight vs systemic transphobia
2) Instead of targeting forces reproducing/policing the gender role oppression that underpins transphobia (clue-it isn’t feminists) we’re in effect told there’s a ‘right’ to throw biological science into the trash and remove entirely from women the right to define their own sex.
3) In practice there’s also by virtue of the demonisation, harassment & marginalisation of women with a shred of independence from the priorities of this campaign, a de facto removal of a legitimate, long established right as a sex to organise their own defence against sexism.
4) History will indeed be a savage judge of those who undermine women’s rights & simultaneously, the basis for a real fight against transphobia & for equality. Tied as it is to the overthrow of gender roles, that will only be possible in voluntary unity and solidarity with women.
5) It will certainly never come from a marriage forced upon women without their consent. No, the inherent sexism of the self identity campaign is not in my name as a proud transwoman. Socialists must recognise that there are TWO oppressed groups involved here.
6) Trans peoples interests will be far better served by a debate which seeks to value BOTH groups equally without extinguishing anyone’s autonomous rights & which seeks consent for access to women’s spaces, NOT in effect telling women to shut up & submit or be abused as bigots.
7). Women & trans people could be huge & powerful mutual allies fighting our oppression but the self-ID campaign is entrenching a permanent war with women. It’s incapable of building the unity & mutual respect which underpins the lifeblood of our movement, democracy & solidarity
3. Experience: I regret transitioning, by Anonymous:
Reflecting on the difference in how I was treated when people saw me as a man, I realised other women were also held back by this. I had assumed the problem was in my body. Now I saw that it wasn’t being female that was stopping me from being myself; it was society’s perpetual oppression of women.
. . . I feel happy for those people transition has helped, but I think there should be more emphasis on counselling, and that it should be seen as the last resort. Had that been the case for me, I might not have transitioned. I was so focused on trying to change my gender, I never stopped to think about what gender meant.
Other feminist critiques of gender identity politics:
But really, my position remains: I think gender is about what we experience, gender is about how the world treats us, and I think a lot of the outrage and anger comes from the idea that in order to be inclusive, we sometimes have to deny difference. I think that because human difference for so long, in all its various forms, has been the root of so much oppression, sometimes there’s the impulse to say let’s deny the difference, as though by wishing away the difference we can then wish away the oppression.
. . . In some ways it’s like the idea of colour-blindness, which is, I think, just a really hollow idea that if we say we don’t see colour, then somehow all the oppressions will disappear. That’s not the case[.]
2. Just a selection of the excellent videos by Magdalen Berns (the last is from Dr Nicola Williams, hosted on her channel):
3. Politics and Gender blog:
5. The GenderCritical reddit page raises many important points about the harm caused by your ideology, and these legitimate critiques deserve to be heard and addressed.
Do you have any response to make to the best and most representative arguments of gender critical feminist thought, and/or an apology to all the women you smeared?
i Some clarifications on this paragraph:
I wrote that the purpose of gender oppression was male heterosexual domination of women’s reproductive capacity. This doesn’t mean that gay men are not complicit or do not benefit: for an example, many Western gay men participate in the inhumane exploitation of poor women’s bodies in the commercial surrogacy industry.
The existence of infertile women, post-menopausal women, cancer survivors who have lost their reproductive organs and other women who lack reproductive capacity doesn’t change this intentionality. Women don’t have to answer for the contradictions in patriarchal ideology resulting in the erasure of non-normative female bodies. That’s on the people who maintain patriarchy: men.Men who lose their reproductive organs, on the other hand, have historically been put into another gendered category called the eunuch or castrated male, which had much less political power than men with normative bodies, and were used, in some instances, as guards for women kept imprisoned for the sexual use of men. Again, it’s not the job of women to explain the absurdities of patriarchy.
Liberal trans discourse has an imperialistic tendency to appropriate third gender identities in non-Western cultures. Genders are culturally contained, because they are culturally constructed hierarchical divisions. They cannot be compared to or conflated with genders or gender system outside their cultural context. The hijra/kinnar in South Asia is legally recognised as a third gender in four countries and socially recognised as a eunuch, not a man or woman. See this video for a definition by a prominent hijra activist: What is a hijra?
This definition of gender is also in no way contradicted by the existence of intersex people: everyone is gendered at birth, i.e. put into a privileged or oppressed class and treated as superior or inferior according to their status. Saying that the experiences of intersex people are irrelevant to your narrative about trans women isn’t dismissive. It is actually your use of intersex people as argumentative pawns or a trump card for supporting a narrative that has nothing to do with them that’s dismissive. Many intersex people have critiqued this co-opting of intersex narratives by liberal trans activism, forcing them into categories where they don’t belong. Here is one example:
We are not happy with the recent tendency of some trans groups/people to promote transgender as an umbrella term to encompass, for example, transsexuality, transvestitism and intersex. We object to other organisations/individuals putting us in categories without consulting us, especially categories that imply that interexed people, of necessity, have gender identity issues. [. . .] We are constantly trying to get away from the idea that intersex is necessarily to do with gender identity, a notion that others (including the press/media) like to impose on us.
ii I contrast the term “subjective, inner identity” with real, social and political, self-chosen identity built around shared experiences of material oppression, a term denoting solidarity and unity, formed as a response to and used as a way to resist oppression. In that real sense, I certainly do identify as a woman. But that is a far cry from the sort of arbitrary, subjective, unquestionable claim that you are a woman because you feel like a woman. You’re not a woman because you feel like a woman (whatever that means); you’re a woman because you’re treated like a woman, and you’ll only know what it feels like to be treated like a woman if you are assigned female at birth and oppressed for your female biology.
iii You also had the nerve to compare the exclusion of males from exclusively female spaces with the exclusion of gay people from the US military by homophobic US authorities. You’re comparing “exclusion” by people oppressed on the basis of sex, who want exclusive spaces because they face constant unrelenting violence in all other spaces, with the most powerful people in the world! Your reference to the US military and its personnel presents it as a neutral, normal or even positive institution, failing to mention their primary role as the enforcers of imperialist brutality and genocide. (Look up “homonationalism”, “gay imperialism” and “pinkwashing”.) It’s not actually a human right for Western LGBT people to be able to participate in massacring Third World people alongside straight people. Equality doesn’t mean joining your oppressors in oppressing others. It means an intersectional and material analysis – and rejection – of the workings of power. Nobody is equal when some are unequal. Nobody is free when others are unfree.
iv I should clarify that no feminist thinks that men are inherently or naturally dangerous. It’s anti-feminists and male supremacists who make the argument that men are naturally… anything. Men are dangerous, that is a statistical fact. Feminists generally think that men are socially conditioned to be oppressive, sexist, and violent through male socialisation, power, privilege and the male supremacist ideology of masculinity/misogyny.
Here is one article that considers the possible causes of male violence: whether you believe in biological, psychological or power- and socialisation-based explanations, they are all equally applicable to males who identify as women as well as non-trans males. The American Psychological Association says that
The APA Task Force on Male Violence Against Women noted that violence has multiple causes, but it remains fundamentally a learned behavior that is shaped by sociocultural norms and role expectations that support female subordination and perpetuate male violence.
Another article on male violence says:
Social scientists have known for decades that trajectories toward violence begin early in a boy’s life. The Commission on Violence and Youth of the American Psychological Association confirmed in a 1994 report, titled “Reason to Hope,” that patterns of violence, once established in childhood, endure well into adulthood. The Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura wrote, “People are not born with preformed repertoires of aggressive behavior. They must learn them.”
Of course, non-gender-conforming males are highly at risk of male violence as well, but being a victim of male violence does not make you immune to being a perpetrator as well. The onus is on you and other liberal activists to show how transwomen are an exception to male-pattern violence, despite receiving male privilege and being socialised as male.
v I’ve also felt alienated by the ‘science’ community on youtube and other unisex interests which are seen as male domains. For an illustrative example, I used to watch a prominent ‘science’ youtuber and unsubscribed in disgust after he put up a video on science that featured women dancing near-nude in the background for no reason but eye-candy for straight men. When confronted with the reality that these spaces (and worse, academic and professional spaces) are not made for women, we tend to leave them. I later stumbled upon another video of his where he was complaining about the disparity between his male and female viewer numbers. “Why aren’t more women interested in science?” he lamented. “What could we possibly do to correct this disparity?” Is it any wonder we take refuge in spaces devoted to the performance of femininity and gender roles like makeup, fashion and celebrity gossip communities? The female internet and the male internet are pretty strictly demarcated, the female spaces existing only at the very margins and having little influence. We have always been inclusive of gay and gender non-conforming males in ‘our’ spaces, online and offline and still we are called bigots for pointing out when male-socialised and male privileged people engage in subconscious or overt acts of sexism, for not allowing our spaces to be colonised and dominated totally, and for re-drawing our boundaries when we need to. What motivates this but sexism?
vi You have White male privilege, which means access to White male power. That means that your voice is more powerful than ours. When you speak out about these issues (especially without even referring to the multiple voices of women and people of colour), you inevitably drown out our voices. Who better to speak for us than ourselves?
vii The train tracks conundrum, as I’ve seen it, actually continues thus: what if you’re standing on a hill above the train tracks next to a very heavy person and you see a train rushing towards five people tied to the track, and you knew that the only way to stop the train would be to push the heavy person onto the tracks in front of the train? This permutation is intended to take account of the difference in intuitive ethics when it’s a choice between killing someone directly with your hands and the psychological distance you get when you press a button or pull a lever. Pulling the lever is like drone warfare or opening a hatch to drop a bomb, which I imagine psychologically feels as if you’re not really inflicting misery and terror on human beings and more like playing a video game. The fact that it’s a lever, and the fact that only you have the power to pull it, is important here.
These kinds of context-less thought experiments are often used out of necessity to justify the unjustifiable. Think of the dilemma that so many proponents of torture whip out with glee (and which inspired a really shitty and evil TV show): what if there was a bomb somewhere that would off in the next 24 hours killing hundreds of people and the only way to get that information would be to torture someone?
viii How can people seriously argue for the validity of the notion of ‘cis privilege’? How can you not see the absurdity in stating that the 3.5 billion women in the world, the wretched of the earth, 50% of the world’s population owning 10-20% of the land, many whose lives are so little valued that their male family members will take a cow to medical care before they take a woman, who are murdered in infancy or aborted due to their sex resulting in a gender disparity and then further oppressed by kidnappings and trafficking for forced marriage, who are denied education, who suffer child marriage, who have to cook and then eat the scraps that men leave behind, who are jailed for having miscarriages and tortured by forced pregnancies, who are murdered for causing dishonour to the family from being raped, whose clitorises are removed and vulvas mutilated, who are ostracised for suffering fistula while giving birth, who are forced to live and die in period huts, who spend their entire lives pregnant or nursing, who are forced by poverty to become human incubators for rich, mostly White Western people, who are brainwashed into thinking their sexual availability and attractiveness to men determines their worth, whose bodies are literal battlegrounds, at risk of being systematically raped and forcibly impregnated by male soldiers for genocidal purposes, who are systematically underpaid, discriminated against and harrassed in the workplace, denied equal representation in all spaces of power – these women are privileged precisely because of their gender, since they’re free to conform to feminine gender expression and roles, and no one questions their identity. In fact, they are oppressing a bunch of male individuals who claim they are women on the inside. Unbelievable.