29 Oct 2017

gender identity politics

I’m bewildered and confused by the public debate about gender identity. As a heterosexual man I have never felt troubled with my gender identity. I have my share of other personal issues, of course, as well as an awareness of being a privileged male in a patriarchal society. But gender has only become an issue in my life in the last few years: partly because of personal acquaintance with some trans gender people and partly because of the acrimonious debates in left liberal circles on the subject. I want to support feminism and at the same time I'm worried about being transphobic. But I don't want to fall in with the ideology,  as described in the blog gendercriticalgreens, that 'there is such a thing as “gender identity” entirely separate from one’s biological sex, that being a man or a woman is a feeling unrelated to biology, and that the only way to be supportive to trans people, and indeed to avoid being seen as transphobic, is to adopt this ideology.'

It seems pathetic that so much of the debate is about toilets – that is, whether men who say they are women should be allowed in women’s toilets. I feel like keeping my head down and hoping it will just go away when the TERFs and MTTs have finished arguing. The who? Here follows a summary of what I have found useful in navigating this difficult terrain.

Definitions first

Biologically, humans (along with most other life forms on the planet) come in two sexes. (A small number of people are born intersex, but this does not negate the reality of two sexes.) The defining marker is the gamete (reproductive cell) and "female" is defined as the sex that produces gametes that are fertilized by sperm. There are lots more definitions at transgender-terminology and unpopularopinion.

MtF (male-to-female) or MtT (male-to-trans)?

There is even controversy about whether men who say they are women should be labelled MtF or MtT. According to unpopularopinion it is incorrect to say MtF as a male cannot become a female. The terms MtT and FtT are better because they show that the process of transitioning never ends and is reversible and people never end up being the opposite sex.

TERF

TERF stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist and tends to be used as an insult (as described in the blog gendercriticalgreens).


The dilemma: women vs trans people

The dilemma here as I see it is that one oppressed group (women) is at loggerheads with another oppressed group (trans people). Here are two of the most helpful blogs I have found on the subject. It's pretty clear from my endorsement of the second blog that my sympathies lie with the so-called TERFs in their struggle to emancipate women and challenge sexism.

Before I get to that, this first blog, endingmaleviolence, which is from the 1990s and a bit New Age, is helpful in setting out why we have socially constructed differentiation and oppression on the basis of sex to begin with: 
People's highest priority will always be physical world, physical body, needs and desires... i.e. survival and sex. Sex is the physical world's primary desire-based commodity. Other commodities are either need-based and survival related, and therefore of higher priority than sex, or are desire based but of secondary priority compared to sex.
The vast majority of cultural differentiation between women and men (their feminine or masculine gender roles) is based on biological mating priorities. ... In every culture and race, men wanted beautiful attractive sexy women (who look like they're ready to reproduce), and women wanted wealthy men (capable of supporting the survival of themselves and any children they might bear the man).
The second blog gendercriticalgreens by @greengoude challenges the notion of gender identity. Here are edited quotes:
Gender identity as something to be chosen and celebrated is a strange one for feminists. The categories of non-binary, genderfluid, agender and a myriad of other identities seem to be expressions of dissatisfaction with “being a woman” or “being a man” in this society. Quite right too! Nobody wants to be limited by their biology, by what society imposes on us based on our biology, by socially-constructed gender roles. But to deny reality by trying to identify out of being male or female, not only won’t work, as sexism does not care how we might “identify”, but also unwittingly reinforces those gender roles. 

“transwomen are women” has no basis in fact

Male To Trans people (MTTs) have been raised as male [...s]o to assert that they are actually women ... is an extreme form of sexism and particularly galling for women themselves.  ... apart from biological sex, what is the definition of female? Is it a feeling? Is it an identity? ... Any attempt to define female other than by biology inevitably resorts to gender stereotypes, so all references by this ideology to “being female” or “feeling like a woman” are based on such socially-constructed ideas as wanting to wear feminine clothing, play with dolls, wear makeup, do “girly” things, and crucially not do “boy” things. Strangely it rarely manifests itself in a desire to do the housework or receive 14% less pay than they did as a man. It is portrayed as a rejection of gender roles, but is actually an adoption of the stereotypes associated with the opposite sex, thus reinforcing those stereotypes as belong[ing] only to one sex. [emphasis added]

Feminism, backlash and result 

Feminism ... had a large measure of success in the 70s and 80s ... Early Learning Centres promoted the de-gendering of toys, girls could wear dungarees and climb trees...  The backlash against feminism was deliberately fostered by a capitalist system which preferred to sell twice as many goods to parents, and with that backlash gender roles became tighter than ever. Society bought into the whole princess trope for girls, with sexualised clothing for younger and younger girls, while boys were pushed back into macho superhero roles and expected once again to be tough and never show emotion. ... It is no coincidence that the recent massive increase and interest in transitioning, particularly amongst young people, has occurred at a time when the tightening of gender roles has become tyrannical, and young people quite rightly want to break out of these boxes. 

MtTs get more attention than female to trans people - the irony!

The biggest increase in referrals to “Gender Identity” clinics recently is amongst girls and young women. Our attention has been taken up by MTTs who, by virtue of the male patterns of entitlement and centring themselves that they have been brought up with, have captured all the media attention.

Transphobia 

Women, lesbians and gay men are the natural allies of trans people. So what has changed? Why is there conflict between feminists and the trans community? Why is Germaine Greer, one of the founding mothers of feminism, vilified in trans circles? Why have bathrooms become the site of such vexation? Why are radical feminists such as Julie Bindel, a lesbian and campaigner for years against violence against women, no-platformed in universities, a tactic originally used against fascism? No progressive person wants to be transphobic, and many individuals and organisations have recently been seduced or coerced into adopting one particular ideology i.e. that there is such a thing as “gender identity” entirely separate from one’s biological sex, that being a man or a woman is a feeling unrelated to biology, and that the only way to be supportive to trans people, and indeed to avoid being seen as transphobic, is to adopt this ideology. It must be said loud and clear, this is not true. Trans people are many and varied and do not all agree with this way of thinking. Many MTTs and FTTs still see themselves as the sex they were born as. Many only partly transition, sometimes only socially, and change their identities over time. Many decide they have made a mistake or that transitioning has not solved the unhappiness they sought to banish, and many of these people detransition. Trans ideology would insist we accept absolutely that a MTT person is a woman. This not only conveniently absolves them of any responsibility for the maleness they grew up with and benefited from, but also begs the question: are they no longer female if they detransition? At what point does a detransitioning MTT become a man again? Detransitioners are an inconvenience to the essentialist notion of an innate gender identity which trumps biology. Unfortunately for gender ideology, they refuse to go away and, the more transitioning we see, the more they will be part of the landscape of our world. [emphasis added]

Political correctness gone mad  

I hate to sound like the Daily Mail but that is the only way to describe this: 
Supporting trans people’s right to freedom from discrimination ... results, for example, in the farcical but ultimately dangerous actions of the NHS sending out reminder notices of cervical smears to MTTs who have no cervix and not sending them to FTTs who do have a cervix.

Toilets

There is plenty more in the blog, especially about toilets. Like I said, it seems deplorable that this should come down to a debate about toilets but I can totally understand why women should want safe spaces and women-only toilets. I can remember having a similar fear as a boy in a boys-only school: I could not bear to use the toilet cubicles because of the bullying culture of boys banging on the doors, trying to look over or climb over the parapet and so on. Funnily enough it was the toilet topic that brought me to this blog by Rosemary Goude when I replied to her tweet on the gender neutral toilets.

Rosemary Goude's article is available as a pamphlet by mail-order from Jepps Books.



No comments:

Post a Comment