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The Transgender Issue. Shon Faye. A Left Review.

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The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice, Shon Faye. Allen Lane 2021.

“The demand for true trans liberation” writes Shon Faye in the Preface to The Transgender Issue, “echoes and overlaps with the demands of workers, socialists, feminists, anti-racist and queer people”. Interviewed in the bi-monthly Huck just ahead of the book’s release the author said, ” transphobia is a direct product of capitalism, racism, and state power.” At the end of a strongly argued exploration of a “century of injustice” Faye says that justice, “trans liberation” “the gleaming opulence of our freedom”, cannot be won “under capitalism”.

Chapters from Trans Lives Now, to The State are impassioned, and convincing, accounts of the difficulties faced by trans people. They face “marginalisation, prejudice and oppression”, ostracism, the “long tradition of sensationalist, degrading exhibition” and an unreformed British system “built around specialist gender clinics” for transition-related care. The bureaucratic process this requires in the UK, influenced by the background of the diagnosis of ‘gender dysphoria’, she comments, is easier to manage if you are “middle-class, educated” “with a university degree who speaks with Received Pronunciation”. Access to puberty blockers, through the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) for example, means lengthy negotiating, illustrated by the case of Henry, born female, a process fraught with difficulties. These obstacles ought to be done away with; medical discrimination and abuse must, she declares, not just end but trans healthcare should be “revolutionised urgently.”

The Transgender Issue is critical or “corporate diversity” programmes and leaving trans liberation to charities and NGOs. She talks of a “long history of state valence and suppression”. And yet, Faye asserts, some feminists, step forward Julie Bindel, talk of the Police capture by the ‘trans-Taliban.” “While te idea that a shadowy trans lobby or ‘Taliban; has achieved institutional capture of the police is a delusional conspiracy, part of the creation of a ‘folk devil’ in moral panics” she conceded that there “are legitimate criticism” to be made of a trans movement getting too close to the policing services. (Page 167). There is a history of hostility and something that she calls “whiteness and white supremacy”. On the highly emotive issue of trans people in prison, that is women’s prisons, she states that claims of trans-identity must be respected, claiming that in any case violence is endemic in gaols. In any case the “prison industrial complex” described by the American radical Angela Davis to describe her country’s system, should go, “ultimate liberation and well being of all trans people, right down to the most vulnerable, depends on moving to a world with no prisons at all.” (Page 188)

“Gender Theory”.

Faye is a partisan of the gender theory take on Simone de Beauvoir’s famous statement that one is not born a woman, one becomes one. The writer of Le Deuxième Sexe (1949), as she added later, referred to the creation of “la féminité” (femininity, womanhood), and masculinity and virility (la masculinité, la virilité). (1) “Our sex bodies never exist outside social meanings”, she continues, “The gender critical feminist idea – that there exists  an objective biological reality which is observable to everyone in the same way and distinct from that, a constructed of subjective gender stereotypes that can be easily abolished – is an oversimplification. “(Page 240) De Beauvoir’s statement points in many directions, both towards this take, to the biological foundations of sex, personal history (beautifully explored in the volume of her autobiography Memoirs of a Dutiful DaughterMémoires d’une jeune fille rangée 1958) and the social construction of our identities, sexual and social.

Is it “biological essentialism” to say that genetics exist? That there are no doubt many examples of how gender is socially defined. The odd-sounding “cis” as a prefix (Latin, “on the same side as”) in ‘cisgender” to describe males “born with a penis” who are “not transgender” is one attempt at social categorisation. Does this have such weight as to do away with biology? It does not seem likely.

The Blog Irish Marxist summarises the principal objection,

(Kathleen Stock criticises the idea…) the sexes are social constructions (and not biological constructs) such that language and the words we use don’t refer to an independent and prior reality but are ‘productive’ or ‘constitutive’ of that reality.  Marxists are conscious that there is an independent reality – we are materialists – but aware that humans are also a part of that reality and that their thoughts and actions interpret and shape that reality.

Stock is referring to Judith Butler for whom “there’s nothing ‘underneath’ or ‘before’ language that would secure linguistic reference to something ‘outside’ of it.”  For Marxists there is something ‘underneath’, ‘before’ and ‘outside’ that make their understanding of the world and political programme to change it relevant and realistic.  

Gender Critical Feminists have argued that, “Sex matters”, defended women’s spaces and opposed the Gender Recognition Act and have been sceptical, if not more, about loose legal gender self-identification. Faye asserts that the question of women’s spaces is “central to transphobic discoure” She says, TERF (Trans exclusive Radical Feminists), “no longer solely denotes women with left-wing radical feminist politics (including the revolutionary political lesbians who left their male children behind to live in all-female separatist communes). Now it is applied to any transphobic troll or bigot of almost any political persuasion..”(Page 229) The appliers are in this manner given free-rein to shout it as they will. There is no proper discussion of the hate-campaigns and harassment waged against feminists who disagree with the stand taken by Faye and her side. Instead there is a heap of media quotes from opinionated UK feminist journalists, paid to give gut-reaction pieces, and smears linking this side of feminism to the national populist and religious right.

“Transphobic Feminism”

The dominance of ‘Transphobic feminism” is we learn a “peculiarly British phenomenon”. They do things better in “other Anglophone counties”, in the US above all, where, apparently, anti-trans feminism originally came from, it has withered. “Inclusion” is now the norm amongst American feminists. The dominant liberal idea of equality of opportunity in these circles, one cannot fail to note, is one current of thought that is perfectly at home with trans-acceptance. The “colonialism of mainstream UK feminism” reflects, she suggests, the heritage of Empire and ignorance of how colonialisation imposed a “strict gender binary of men and women”. How lucky the US feminists are to have escaped the legacy of Imperialism!

“The intellectual justification for transphobia on the left” Faye concludes, “is usually framed as concerned about a mythologised ‘trans ideology’ which is individualist bourgeois and unconcerned with class struggle.” (Page 263). Yet, she continue, most trans people are working class, and “the oppression of trans people is specifically rooted in capitalism”. The best that The Transgender Issue can come up with to back this claim is that capitalist production is rooted in the “different categories of men’s work and women’s work” (such as housework, child-rearing and emotional labour)”. These are features of many modes of production that predate capitalism, aside from a few people’s ideas of a hypothetical primitive communism. A proper look at the system operating today, after, primitive accumulation, wage-labour, the private ownership of the means of production, the forms of imperialism in a globalised world, the circuits of Capital, surplus value, all the categories of Marxist theory, developed and transformed in the present (post?) ‘neo-liberal’ stage of accumulation, are beyond the book’s horizon. Explaining how the ‘trans issue’ can be worked into all this would be indeed be a valuable effort.

As with the idea floated of abolishing prisons, sometime, there is little plausible detail on the strategy of anti-capitalist trans-movement. It would not be leap to suggest that for Shon Faye class struggle appears to mean something like this:

A huge step forward for trans protest in Britain. Charlotte Powell December the 4th.

The demands set out by Transgender Action Block are:

  1. An informed consent model of care
  2. Abolition of the segregated Gender Identity Clinics
  3. No more segregated pilot schemes
  4. Resume prescription of puberty blockers to trans youth
  5. Equity of treatment in all aspects of healthcare

Trans struggle is class struggle – it is a struggle for life

One of the Transgender Action Block organisers gave a speech focusing on the class nature of medical transphobia. She described how the state demands that everyone, including cis people, operate within strictly binary categories of gender. Navigating the expensive and gatekept legal requirements of transition is labyrinthine for trans people who identify as women or men, impossible for those who identify as nonbinary. Meanwhile, accessing timely healthcare is only an option for the mostly white and middle-class trans people who are able to go through private clinics. The forces that condition trans peoples’ lives and entrap us are the same forces that maintain class oppression and capitalism. 

These are decent proposals for reforms. There is no plan to fight capitalism as system as such. For all Faye’s off-putting rhetoric, and disagreement about ‘gender’, many people can support the demands.

Fights for people’s rights have historically expanded outside of traditional definitions of ‘human rights’ such as Jacques Rancière and Claude Lefort have, in different ways, argued. The original declaration of human rights at the start of the French Revolution in 1789, the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen was answered by the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen (Déclaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne) of Olympe de Gouges. She perished on the Guillotine. Gender critical feminism has its own claims to this emancipatory tradition. It is not going to be silenced by those who try to shout it down.

*******

(1)  “On fabrique la féminité comme on fabrique d’ailleurs la masculinité, la virilité. “

This is a summary of what De Beauvoir thought about feminism:

“Dans les deux sexes se jouent les mêmes drames de la chair et de l’esprit, de la finitude et de la transcendance, les deux sont rongés par le temps, guettés par la mort, ils ont un même essentiel besoin de l’autre ; ils peuvent tirer de leur liberté la même gloire ; s’ils savaient la goûter, ils ne seraient plus tentés de se discuter de fallacieux privilèges ; et la fraternité pourrait alors naître entre eux.

In both sexes, the same dramas of flesh and spirit, of finitude and transcendence are played out, both are eaten away by time, watched over by death, they have the same essential need for the other. ; they can derive the same glory from their freedom; if they knew how to savour it, they would no longer be tempted to discuss false privileges; and solidarity could then be born between them. ” 

Written by Andrew Coates

December 8, 2021 at 2:36 pm

“Cancelled” (Channel Four), “Sacked, blacklisted, ostracised, no-platformed…”

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“Cancel culture from all sides.”

Last night outside all was darkness, wet and cold. Inside on television, Richard Bacon presented a programme on Channel Four, Cancelled, which promised to warm up the viewing public.  “Sacked, blacklisted, ostracised, no-platformed: from comedy stand-up to trans rights, and race and academia, a look at cancel culture from all sides and how it’s affecting our lives”.

There was a stab at an uproarious spoof. What could be called A Woke Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Language at a business exhibition stand offered a feast of preferred gender pronouns and an ingenious system for toilet facilities to cater for an abundant number of sexual identities. How we laughed.

Bacon,  whose pronouns are ‘he’ and ‘him’, spent time, if not more, talking about his misadventures with Charlie. Something of a right Charlie, he/him reminded those who had long forgotten that “I was publicly shamed after Blue Peter,” and  forced to hand in his Blue Peter badge. Yet pre-Twitter (1998) he had no pile-on, no “cancellation” …and, you’ve already lost interest.

This is a shame. For those who watched it the programme was not a platform for a Laurence Fox given free rein to talk about “extreme political correctness”. Nor was there too much time on a comedian we learn is called Dave Chappelle or gleeman Jimmy Carr. For a moment I thought art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon was part of that troupe.

There were some serious issues raised, though we did not get more a glimpse of what the attacks on J.K. Rowling have meant.

As in:

There was also a transgender activist who plausibly explained why people can feel angry enough about gender critical feminists to protest against them.

At the end we had a swift look at the campaign to get rid of the Blackboy Clock in Stroud, statue removing, and the renaming of university buildings. Which we’ve all heard before.

The Culture War looks like it’s not taking place:

Sadly not:

Written by Andrew Coates

December 3, 2021 at 12:29 pm

Gender ‘Debate’: J.K Rowling Receives Death Threats.

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JK Rowling's address posted on Twitter by trans activists | News | The Times

JK Rowling has accused three people who campaign on transgender matters of posting a photo of her Edinburgh address on Twitter.

BBC

The author, who has been criticised for her views on trans issues, has reported the matter to police.

Police Scotland said they had been made aware and inquiries were ongoing.

In a now deleted social media post, one of the group said the photo had been removed after they had received “threatening” messages online.

In her own Twitter thread, Rowling said the image depicted the three activists in front of her home, “carefully positioning themselves to ensure” the address was visible.

She said: “I want to say a massive thank you to everybody who reported the image to @TwitterSupport. Your kindness and decency made all the difference to my family and me.

“I implore those people who retweeted the image with the address still visible, even if they did so in condemnation of these people’s actions, to delete it.”

Rowling sparked controversy in June 2020 for posting tweets which took issue with the phrase “people who menstruate” – she objected to the avoidance of the use of the word “women”.

In a lengthy blog post, the writer of the Harry Potter books said her interest in trans issues stemmed from being a survivor of abuse and having concerns around single-sex spaces.

Critics said her views “diminished the identity” of trans people, while stars from the Harry Potter films, including Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, distanced themselves from her comments.

*****

Some people make light of people standing outside somebody’s home to protest against them.

The first thing I thought of when I saw this story a few days ago was this:

Iglesias, who has since left the leadership of Podemos and politics, was targeted by the far right. The man organising the daily protest outside his house was Miguel Ángel Frontera, an ultra right activist and a sympathiser and voter for the far-right party Vox.

Frontera even took video recordings on his mobile of the inside of the residence:

There have of course been worse cases of harassment outside people’s homes, in the Basque Country, not to mention the North of Ireland.

The principle though, of protesting against somebody at their own address, the one where they live, is a very bad one. As can be seen, it can be used by all kinds of political forces.

The opponents of Rowling respond:

Anybody who wants to read what Rowling actually thinks on the issues should begin here.

J.K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues. (2020)

(Extracts from a long piece).

This isn’t an easy piece to write, for reasons that will shortly become clear, but I know it’s time to explain myself on an issue surrounded by toxicity. I write this without any desire to add to that toxicity.

For people who don’t know: last December I tweeted my support for Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who’d lost her job for what were deemed ‘transphobic’ tweets. She took her case to an employment tribunal, asking the judge to rule on whether a philosophical belief that sex is determined by biology is protected in law. Judge Tayler ruled that it wasn’t.

My interest in trans issues pre-dated Maya’s case by almost two years, during which I followed the debate around the concept of gender identity closely. I’ve met trans people, and read sundry books, blogs and articles by trans people, gender specialists, intersex people, psychologists, safeguarding experts, social workers and doctors, and followed the discourse online and in traditional media. On one level, my interest in this issue has been professional, because I’m writing a crime series, set in the present day, and my fictional female detective is of an age to be interested in, and affected by, these issues herself, but on another, it’s intensely personal, as I’m about to explain.

……

It would be so much easier to tweet the approved hashtags – because of course trans rights are human rights and of course trans lives matter – scoop up the woke cookies and bask in a virtue-signalling afterglow. There’s joy, relief and safety in conformity. As Simone de Beauvoir also wrote, “… without a doubt it is more comfortable to endure blind bondage than to work for one’s liberation; the dead, too, are better suited to the earth than the living.”

Written by Andrew Coates

November 23, 2021 at 12:13 pm