Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Culture Wars on the Left, The Gender Recognition Act, and Transphobia in the UK.

with 18 comments

Image result for helen steel anarchist book fair

Helen Steel: Attacked by Trans Activists.

For some years the left has rightly taken up LGBT issues.

But the ‘T’, transgender, side of this has become increasingly fraught and the word itself is now an invitation to argument.

For some people Transgender people are (also?) women or men.

The Gender Recognition Act has brought the issue to the fore.

The Socialist Feminist Network – a site that should be compulsory reading for those commenting on the subject – has this,

What do Socialist feminists say about gender identity ideology?

The proposed changes by the Tory government to Gender Recognition Act are a fundamental change to the legal definition of the sex categories man and woman allowing individuals to opt into their chosen gender. Women are currently protected as a sex under the equality act. If anyone of the male sex identify into this protected characteristic it renders it meaningless. Males who identify as women will have legal protection but the female sex will lose protection as a distinct category.

They go on to say,

Under the Transgender umbrella a number of self- identities exist including non-binary, bi gender, gender queer and gender fluid. If the effect of the Bill, is in practice, to give male bodied people access to female intimate space that will be an unacceptable outcome. The stereotypical criticism of women as “pearl clutchers” for expressing concern over access to toilets is a horribly sexist dismissal of the idea of the importance of safety for women and girls. There are concerns about toilets, yes, but also about male access to female sport facilities, to refuges for women fleeing violence and to the female prison estate etc.

We believe that there may be possibilities that strengthening sex discrimination law will have the effect of improving rights to express gender more freely whilst not undermining existing laws that protect women.

This is probably the most controversial section,

We do not accept that transwomen are women and trans men are men. We associate this with unscientific thinking and the demand that it is an accepted truth of progressive politics as worryingly authoritarian. The demand that the left adopts this level of irrational thinking is often associated with vicious misogynist attacks, usually against feminists, on those who will not submit to the lie. There is a worrying trend of silencing women associated with transgender activism, petitions demanding feminists lose jobs, memes suggesting that we are hateful, petty snarking etc. and this is unacceptable. We are confident that our movement will back us and provide support to us in this.

They conclude,

Repeatedly feminists refuse to acknowledge the term “cis” women to describe themselves. It is simply a descriptive word, why object so strongly?

Our view is that women’s struggle for rights are part of a wider class struggle and should be at the centre of our movement. However gender theory denies us the vocabulary to discuss our biology or be explicit that even reproductive rights are for women. This is not just a problem in Ireland; recently students at Oxford University demanded the removal of references to women’s biology from abortion rights literature on the grounds that they were “transphobic” and “cis sexist”. Not only did they demand the removal of words describing female biology but they also threatened disaffiliation from abortion campaigns.

Language determines consciousness, or to put it less strongly, the structure of language influences cognition and world view. Therefore we will not simply shrug our shoulders at attempts to re-classify the meaning of a word as fundamental as “woman”. By demanding that we drop some words that describe our reality but insisting that we utilise others that frame a new context, gender theory is seeking to determine new classifications. At a minimum the left should try to unpack these new frameworks to understand what lay behind these motivations.

We should always try to understand the relevance of seeking to reframe language both in relation to the world around us and in relation to power. To place the word “cis” in front of the word woman immediately makes the actual woman/ adult human female “other”. In this classification anyone who “self identifies” is more oppressed than a “cis woman”. It creates a hierarchy of women, soon to be manipulated into new insidious classifications such as “cis women” having “privilege” or in some way being oppressive to those who “self-identify” as non cis or part of the transgender umbrella. These kinds of mental gymnastics have resulted in the absurdity of a major British political party, the Greens, calling women “non- men”. In this post- modern construction feminists become “cis sexist” and are then the valid target of abuse, this abusive behaviour, not surprisingly, follows familiar patterns of misogyny but that now have the cover of the cis / trans binary.

This is the pit in which liberal feminism currently thrashes around, a post- modern word salad, insisting feminism must centre everyone, except ourselves. This will not do. Instead we want a socialist feminism that unapologetically centres women, particularly working class women, in our movement. We say, unapologetically, feminism is for women.

The following article appeared in the Observer this Sunday.

UK transgender rights row intensifies as book fair is cancelled. 

Accusations of ‘transphobia’ have led to bitter divisions within Labour and the Women’s Equality party, feminist and anarchist movements.

An annual book fair that has served for more than three decades as the most important meeting point for the British anarchist movement has become the latest casualty of widening splits over the issue of transgender rights.

Organisers say that they no longer have “the appetite or the energy” to stage next year’s London Anarchist Bookfair, following fraught scenes at the event last month. A group of feminists were confronted by other activists who accused them of distributing “transphobic” leaflets that promoted prejudice against transgender people.

The acrimony follows highly publicised splits in universities, women’s organisations and political parties over the issue. Lily Madigan, a 19-year-old who has just won a vote in Kent to become Labour’s first women’s officer from a transgender background, has been at the centre of a row within the party.

…….

The increasingly angry disputes follow government proposals to streamline the process for how people can change their gender, under the Gender Recognition Act (GRA). A public consultation is to be held on speeding up and demedicalising the process, with the current need to be assessed and diagnosed by clinicians seen by some as intrusive.

Choosing whether one is a man or a woman is a matter of self-identification, trans activists assert. Some opponents of the GRA have warned that this may lead to young, vulnerable people making decisions they later regret. Others have suggested that self-identifying undermines the status, rights and experience of biological women.

The rows “are going on within all sorts of social movements”, said Helen Steel, the veteran social justice campaigner known for her role in taking on McDonald’s in the 1997 “McLibel” case.

She said she had been left traumatised by her experience at the book fair, claiming she was surrounded by a “baying mob” after intervening to stop the bullying of two women who had been distributing leaflets about the GRA. (1)

“I have been aware that women have been bullied on this issue for a long time now but, until it happened to me, I was not aware of the extent of the bullying and am shocked by it,” Steel said. “I have been an environmental and social justice campaigner for most of my life. In all that time, I have never experienced such a toxic environment.”

Opponents of Steel and the other feminists assert that to have allowed the distribution of the leaflets was to create an environment in which transphobia was encouraged, discriminating against a group of people who already experience high rates of suicide, poverty and persecution.

Spiked-on-line’s  Ella Whelan had already opined, LILY MADIGAN IS NOT A WOMAN

Having a 19-year-old boy as a women’s officer is ridiculous.

Lily Madigan, a transgender teenager formerly known as Liam, has been elected as the women’s officer for the Labour Party branch in Rochester and Strood in Kent.

Madigan’s election has caused a stir — something this teen is used to doing. At 18, he hired a solicitor and threatened to sue his mixed Catholic secondary school for not allowing him to use the girls’ changing rooms or dress according to the girls’ uniform code.

……

So, here we have a trans teen who has previously been part of an effort to undermine a women’s officer’s career now being elected as a women’s officer. Understandably, some are angry about this. How can a teenager who has only recently declared himself to be a woman be eligible as a women’s officer? As Teresa Murray, vice-chairwoman of the executive committee of Rochester and Strood CLP, said: ‘Lily will have to work very hard to convince other people that her very presence there is not going to undermine them.’

The role of a women’s officer is important, feminists argue, because the lived experience a woman is something men cannot understand. Therefore, in order for women to feel politically represented, they must be represented by women. Now, some of us may disagree with this and think that it elevates the narrowness and divisiveness of identity politics over the idea of politics as a universal democratic pursuit. But it is what some people believe, and of course have a right to believe. And yet identity politics and the cult of diversity have now gone so far that women in politics are being pressured to accept a man as their ‘female representative’.

The new obsession with transgenderism is throwing up many difficult questions. What does it mean to be a woman? Is simply looking like a woman enough? And what about the rise in transgender feeling among young people? Are we comfortable with children fixating on their gender — with girls binding their breasts or boys taking drugs to prevent puberty? These are serious issues and they must be discussed openly, without fear of ostracism or demonisation. But that isn’t happening. Tragically, transgender politics has become a new dogma, promoted by almost every wing of the elite, and that is bad for young people, for women, and for freedom and critical thinking.

It is tempting to reject anything the ex-RCP says but Labour does not appear to have been thought through the difficulties this appointment raises.

But do we agree with this?

Theorising Feminist Transphobia Phil Burton

“According to Janice Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire, trans women represent patriarchal agents within the women’s movement. In plainer language, she argues they are men who have surgically altered their bodies to become simulacra of women’s bodies, but that does not make them women. The socialisation of being brought up male, along with its myriad entitlements, privileges, expectations, and complicity in the reproduction of patriarchal social relationships remains. Therefore the acceptance of trans women runs the risk of constituting an alien presence within the women’s movement”

After further analysis of this current of thought, from the marketing of femininity,  a concern “with all women’s experiences and seeks to articulate them, which includes trans women, and is characterised by inclusion and an interest in the individual” and the contrasting, “marketable commodity” of feminist transphobia, with “roots in anxiety”,  Phil concludes,

There is no reason why, for instance, the existence of trans men and trans women should reinforce the gender binary, especially when the performance and resistance of gendered practices vary as much among trans as they do among cis people. Indeed, by arguing that treatment/surgery should not take place isn’t one upholding the binarism by forcing people to inhabit the gendered bodies they received? Additionally, the existence of a gender industry no more delegitimises trans people than the gay men’s health care “industry” (or the so-called pink pound) does gay men.

Yes, both try and produce subjects of particular kinds, but all institutions and constellations of institutions do so, sometimes for profit. So what? Furthermore, some elements of second wave feminism are exclusionary of women, and there remains perspectives that criticise BDSM lesbians, butch lesbians, indulge bi-erasure and critique bisexuality, and of course, there is the small fringe of lesbian separatism. The difficulties some feminists have with trans women are inseparable from identity border wars, but simultaneously newer generations of feminists view these feuds as old hat and irrelevant to the main job of critiquing and opposing patriarchy and capitalism.

The comrades from the Socialist Feminist Network raise legitimate concerns.

Not least, for political activists,  is the following, “To place the word “cis” in front of the word woman immediately makes the actual woman/ adult human female “other”. In this classification anyone who “self identifies” is more oppressed than a “cis woman”. It creates a hierarchy of women, soon to be manipulated into new insidious classifications such as “cis women” having “privilege” or in some way being oppressive to those who “self-identify” as non cis or part of the transgender umbrella. ” And, “recently students at Oxford University demanded the removal of references to women’s biology from abortion rights literature on the grounds that they were “transphobic” and “cis sexist”.

Many will sympathise with the wish to be inclusive and to understand the point of view of trans activists and to fight against the prejudices towards them.

But Phil raises a number of straw figures to argue against, beginning with the idea that critics of trans people who wish to identify as women, be recognised as women is linked to the wilder claims of those who consider them as “patriarchal agents within the women’s movement”.

It is very far from clear what “forcing people to inhabit the gendered bodies they received” means. Perhaps it implies that we can leave our bodies for new ones.

But one thing overshadows anything else.

The hatred against so-called Terfs, (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists), extended to anybody who criticises trans-activists, is repellent just as is some of the language used by some feminists against them.

Or this litany of lies.

Related image

The more recent sight of people screaming “TERF Nazis” at radical feminists is not easy to forget or forgive.

Image result for Terfs

Biological differences between men and women exist. There is a limit to the social construction of identity, and those limits, outlined in Norman Geras in, Marx and Human Nature: Refutation of a Legend (1983), include physical differences in our “corporal organisation” which no gender reassignment can deconstruct. We can begin with reproduction and menstruation, or, the Socialist feminists call it “women’s biology”.

Kindness towards people does not include the obligation to remain silent about these issues.

 

*******

(1) Comrade Helen Steel’s statement includes this:

  • Half an hour later, I was surrounded for over an hour by a baying mob of around 30 trans activists who shouted misogynistic abuse in my face and at others, and who would not leave me alone. This included: ugly Terf, fucking Terf scum, bitch, fascist and more. That kind of behaviour should have no place in anarchism or any other progressive politics.
  • Despite that provocation, I did not at any time threaten or assault anyone. No trans activists were threatened by anyone else in my sight or hearing.
  • While I was surrounded, I saw a man’s hand moving towards my face and when it was within inches of my face I blocked it and pushed his arm away. He then started shouting that I had assaulted him and I should be thrown out.
  • Some of those in the baying mob tried to stoke anger and division by calling me a snitch, making false claims that I had filmed them assaulting a feminist at Speakers Corner and had handed that footage to the police. Footage of the incident is available and actually shows me intervening to protect the victim of the assault, not filming it. The videos embedded in this article show what actually happened, please do watch them and see the truth for yourself.

Image result for Terfs anarchist book fair

Her opponents’ views can be seen on Phil’s Blog and here: Transphobia at the London Anarchist Bookfair 2017

 

Update: This by Helen Saxby, one of the best overviews of the whole debate,  has been signaled by a feminist socialist comrade on Facebook. When Women’s Rights Are #NotaDebate

 

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Written by Andrew Coates

November 28, 2017 at 11:54 am

18 Responses

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  1. Andrew, you have said all that needs to be said about these degenerate scum bags. Helen went through hell for these people and they probably know nothing about it. I have just invented an acronym for them. SIN. Self Indulgent Narcissism! And they are therefore sinners!

    Dave Roberts

    November 28, 2017 at 12:16 pm

  2. Identity politics has always been a middle-class preoccupation and distraction from the real issues facing working people. Should sexuality or austerity be the left’s point of focus?

    WeatherEye

    November 28, 2017 at 1:39 pm

  3. This however, as the references to abortion and other personal issues, indicate, affects a much wider range of people than those who would willingly devote time to the subject.

    Andrew Coates

    November 28, 2017 at 1:51 pm

  4. Disappointing that all we get here is the transphobic perspective. Feminism is fully compatible with Trans Liberation.

    Austin America

    November 28, 2017 at 2:15 pm

  5. The argument is not against trans.

    The argument is against some of the arguments, and particularly the way they are used in violent confrontations, including against comrades like Helen Steel who are widely respected in the labour movement.

    The Socialist Feminists cited have a case, and it merits listening to.

    Andrew Coates

    November 28, 2017 at 5:12 pm

  6. Can’t help wondering what a Polynesian observing the cacophony on this might think …

    This is BS.

    Identity politics has always been a middle-class preoccupation and distraction from the real issues facing working people.

    Discrimination against gay men means we earn less so FU and your “real issues”.

    Paul Canning (@pauloCanning)

    November 28, 2017 at 8:52 pm

  7. .https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LdrC_VoVmg

    @paul canning

    Think this song says it all

    Dean

    November 29, 2017 at 2:37 am

  8. The transgender trend has a contradictory political impact. It challenges traditional anatomy-is-destiny beliefs about sex roles, generating hostility from social conservatives, and violent attacks on trans people. This seems to be why trans demands have unqualified support from almost the entire liberal left and far left. But transgender “born into the wrong body” thinking still very much relies on sex role stereotypes to define male and female. Hence the huge promotion of the trans trend by the neoliberal media, parties and public bodies, decisive for its success. It is a top-down phenomenon.

    freerlives

    November 29, 2017 at 3:43 am

  9. freerlives.

    I’m not sure what you are talking about. Can you use simple English? I recommend ” Politics and The English Language” by George Orwell, compulsory reading.

    Dave Roberts

    November 29, 2017 at 8:26 am

  10. Paul Canning.

    Are you claiming that gay men earn less because they are gay?

    Dave Roberts

    November 29, 2017 at 8:27 am

  11. O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!

    The aspect of ‘trans’ politics that seems to cause the greatest problems is the insistence that the rest of us must accept without question their own (mis-?)perceptions of themselves. A ‘trans woman’ may imagine that s/he is a woman. Others may well perceive a man in a skirt with psychological issues and a load of scar tissue where his genitals used to be. And they have as much right to have that perception than the ‘trans woman’ has to her/his own beliefs about her/himself. It’s hard to see a way of resolving that to everyone’s satisfaction.

    Francis

    November 29, 2017 at 10:43 am

  12. Francis.

    ” I can’t get no
    Satisfaction”.
    Band, year?

    Dave Roberts

    November 29, 2017 at 12:46 pm

  13. Hmm, this seems like a mighty big pile of Transphobia to me- not seeing much recognition that Trans Liberation is an important part of the broader liberation struggle…

    Austin America

    November 29, 2017 at 2:02 pm

  14. Andrew Coates

    November 29, 2017 at 2:37 pm

  15. Francis
    “And they have as much right to have that perception than the ‘trans woman’ has to her/his own beliefs about her/himself. It’s hard to see a way of resolving that to everyone’s satisfaction.”

    May be science has had the answer all along regarding XX and XY chromosomes which of course does resolve this issue.

    It safely trumps all this post-modernist mush about sex being a social construct. Gender roles on the other hand are obviously socially constructed.

    I am very worried by the mix of violence and post modernistic language

    Dave T.

    November 29, 2017 at 3:00 pm

  16. Read the link through the Tweet Dave T.

    “When I heard that Linda Bellos had been ‘uninvited’ by a student society of a Cambridge college at which she had been due to speak, I knew I couldn’t let that stand. I asked her if she would speak at a Woman’s Place UK event, extending the invitation to speak in Cambridge that she had been denied. I was honoured she agreed. We announced our intention to hold a meeting, and set about deciding a date and a securing a venue.

    ” that’s not creepy enough fake bookings were also made in the name of women without a public profile, using false email addresses. The evening before the meeting our event site received a message from a Facebook user hoping that ISIS would blow us up. It wasn’t a direct threat — we assumed this man wasn’t connected with ISIS — but it did confirm that some feel violence against women wishing to speak on gender is justified.”

    It is of burning concern.

    Andrew Coates

    November 29, 2017 at 3:02 pm

  17. Dave T.
    XX and XY reflect biological sex in 99% of cases. There are various rare abnormalities (XXY, X, etc.) which impact on those affected in specific ways. There are also other even rarer congenital conditions which can cause people to be intersex in one way or another. I don’t think that such sex chromosome abnormalities are particularly common among transgender people, though.
    Subverting gender expectations can be a lot of fun. It’s much easier if it doesn’t involve surgery or other medical intervention.

    Francis

    November 29, 2017 at 11:22 pm

  18. /Dave Roberts.

    Yes. There is some research, and it should make sense to people.


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