Three books on Transgender Politics (4 of 4) – Trans – When Ideology Meets Reality

The third book – Trans – was bought in an Oxfam bookshop in England and I wonder would I be able to buy it there again?

It is, like the first, a critique of gender identity theory, which claims that if someone identifies as a woman, they are a woman, regardless of any contrary biological facts.  It is justified because it is claimed that no one can know more or better about a person than the person themselves.  This is plausible to many, and compassion and sympathy for those minorities facing discrimination lead many to accept these claims without considering the full consequences.

The author Helen Joyce argues early in the book that this is not what gender self-identification is about – “it is a misnomer. It is actually about requiring others to identify you as a member of the sex you proclaim.”

Not to do so is to invite denunciation as transphobic, including sometimes the hyperbolic claim that that to do so makes trans people feel unsafe.  The subjectivism of ‘I am who I say I am’ is replaced by ‘you must agree with what I say and agree to the demands that I make’.  Changing objective reality is what it is about, while seeking to redefine it through declaration.

Joyce says that this leads to an Orwellian world, an accusation she notes that is “often made too lightly”, but in this case is applicable because it robs language of the words to frame opposition to gender self-identification (gender ID).  ‘Male’ and ‘female’ becomes both biology and identity; for example, it is your sex when you are born and also your identity some time before and then after you transition. But if they are the same why does any transition matter if your sex is defined by your gender identity?  What does it mean to identify as female if your biological sex is unimportant to your gender identity and thus your sex?

A potential response is that medical intervention and or outward presentation is how I would like to express my identity (and therefore my sex) and this does involve a transition.  The real problem is therefore not lack of words, although this causes multiple confusion and makes any discussion a terminological nightmare, but the closed world of pure subjectivism that demands objective validation and over-rides every negative effect of this validation.

At the end of the previous review, I argued that the differences of view demonstrate that the demands of some trans activists are not the same as, and sometimes in opposition to, those of others, especially women.

But not only that, Joyce states of these activists that “this powerful new lobby far outnumbers the trans people it claims to speak for.  And it serves their interests very poorly.”  One of the purposes of the book is to substantiate these claims and to show that “its overreach is likely to provoke a backlash that will harm ordinary trans people, who simply want safety and social acceptance.”

Joyce gives a brief history of transsexuality and why some men want to be women.  Contrary to the claim that ‘I am who I say I am’ must be automatically accepted, Joyce states that “in no field of medicine are patients’ reports the last word.”  

Certainly, if I were to go to a doctor and say that I have ‘X’ condition and she either says ‘no you don’t’, or ‘I would like to investigate first’, it would usually be a very good idea to accept this, even if only provisionally.  People routinely discount other’s claims about themselves, including about their behaviour, character, temperament and other proclaimed physical traits.  The claim that gender identity is some other physical and mental attribute immune to questioning and sacrosanct requires other’s faith in what they are being told, in other words acceptance without justification.

Joyce refers to studies in the 1970s and 1980s of people’s views of their sex as children and later as adults which showed that “in every one the majority outgrew their dysphoria, and the majority of those ‘desisters’ turned-out gay in adulthood.”  She reports that it is not possible to determine who among those expressing gender dysphoria will persist and seek assignment as the opposite sex, and who will desist, and cites ongoing research that whether highly feminine boys desist and identify as gay men, or persist as transwomen, or something else “is largely determined by their culture.”

Except when children are put on puberty blockers, which one study reported seemed to lead to every child in the study persisting and progressing to take cross-sex hormones.  This particular finding would thus appear to confirm the claims of some trans activists that transitioning treatment for gender dysphoria should be given without questioning or delay.  However, for Joyce, this result is likely only because such treatment itself “blocked the developmental process whereby gender dysphoria often resolves.”

The existence and reporting of such research reinforces Kathleen Stock’s appeal for “robust, accurate data.”  Joyce also comments, as did Stock, on what she sees as misleading clams.  So, she states, some of the statements made by activists to support medical intervention is misleading, citing the claims that forty-eight per cent of young trans people have attempted suicide.  This, she says, comes from responses “of twenty-seven British trans people in a larger survey promoted on LGBT websites.”  The number of respondents is both “tiny” and other explanations for elevated risk are more likely.  

Joyce notes that on the American left “activists had started to judge people and ideas, not according to the evidence . . . but according to a very particular notion of social justice.” And as we have seen, such an approach can mean accepting a three-year-old boy’s claim to be a girl.  Seeking simply to explore what might lie behind such a claim, and not immediately confirming it, is damned as transphobic and thus hazardous for therapists who might be faced with the choice.

Where Shon Faye records the stories of trans people transitioning Joyce records some of the stories of those who went through irreversible medical and surgical procedures that damaged their future health as well as life prospects, for example their future fertility, and who now bitterly regret what was done.

For Joyce, particular gender types that are today in many places considered perfectly ordinary – because the person is gay or does not, for example, fit some stereotypical masculinity – is now argued as evidence that the person is actually a different sex.  And this has the effect of only confirming the old stereotypical view of what it means to be a man or woman.

That gender ID is actually regressive is concealed by it being “defined as an inner knowing” and supposedly revealed by stereotyped appearances and action. “You long to hear that girls (or boys) are people with female (or male) bodies who behave however they damn well please; instead you hear that girls (or boys) are people who behave in feminine (or masculine) ways.”

Another way in which she states that the demands of this ideology have been regressive is that, despite complaining about the objectivisation of trans people by repeated prurient inquiry into their bodies, their demand for inclusivity has led to the objectification of women.  So, women become ‘people who menstruate’, ‘pregnant people’, or ‘people who bleed’, or as the Lancet recently put it ­– ‘bodies with vaginas’.  Trans women become women and women become menstruators etc.

Feminists note the absence of terms such as ‘people with sperm’ or ‘people with penises’ to refer to men.  The supposed requirement for inclusion of transmen does not seem to require the same erasure of the name for biological males. Joyce notes that while gender self-identification is a cardinal requirement of social justice for some, racial self-identification is taboo.  Lesbians who are defined by sexual orientation have this rendered meaningless by there being no meaningful definition of sex, with gender being paramount.  This leads to absurdities that they should really consider transwomen with penises as sexual partners.

The effect on women is further taken up in the argument for single-sex spaces for women on the grounds of “risk reduction, comfort and an opportunity for women to be somewhere that their needs are centred.”  So, while not all males are violent, almost all assaults on women are by men and “it is impossible for women to tell which males pose a risk”.  In some circumstances, such as prisons, self-identification is particularly dangerous as transferring to a women’s prison is especially attractive to the most dangerous men.

She notes therefore that the demands of some trans activists have a direct effect on women, including lesbians, that they do not have on men, including gay men.  It isn’t obvious to her why gay people have not reacted more than they have and gives the example of the fight to add sexual orientation to the list of protected classes in the US Civil Rights Act, to which trans activists tried to tag on gender identity.  When the latter was dropped some “furious trans activists not only withdrew support for the slimmed-down bill, but campaigned against it’, an example with relevance to Shon Faye’s assertion that the demands of trans liberation are “synonymous” with the goals of the gay rights and feminist movements.

She notes, as have others, that although trans’ campaign groups “talk is about the world’s downtrodden . . . the money comes in large part from the world’s most powerful people . . .”  Faye similarly speaks of the oppressed but also notes that the cause she supports is corrupted by corporate interests for whom a gesture to trans rights is good PR.

Joyce argues that trans activists’ influence is exercised through providing training to judges, through the charity Stonewall’s ‘diversity champions’ scheme covering 850 organisations, employing a quarter of the workforce, and guidance to the press, who then report on female paedophiles, homicidal sex-offending teenage girls, and an axe-welding woman, all of whom are male.

That the trans movement is a top-down movement and not a mass, popular one is demonstrated by Joyce’s recounting of how the Irish State brought in gender self-identification under the cover of same-sex marriage.

As Joyce notes: “there was no public consultation or information campaign about gender self-ID.  Even now, hardly anyone I talk to in Ireland knows they can change their sex more cheaply and easily than they could get a passport.  And that, it turns out, was deliberate.”

She then points out that a large international law firm working for a network of LGBT youth organisations noted that the right to change one’s legal sex without parental consent would be unpopular.  However, the firm pointed out that other unpopular trans-rights policies had become law, citing Ireland.  It therefore “recommended linking such proposals with unrelated ones that commanded broad support” as in Ireland, advising clients to stay out of the news, and informing them that “Irish transactivists had ‘directly lobbied individual politicians and tried to keep press coverage to a minimum.’”

Yet this is held up as an example to follow by Shon Faye in her book.  She endorses a letter by trans rights activists who opposed British feminists coming to Dublin to debate the issue.  This was, for these activists, an example of the arrogance of imperialism and colonialism.  Faye states that “the whiteness and unexamined colonialism of mainstream UK feminism correlate(s) directly with its tendencies towards transphobia.”

The conflation of British feminists coming to Dublin for a debate, and British colonialism/imperialism in Ireland, would be a serious minimising of the crimes of the latter, if one could take the argument at all seriously.  The misdirection seriously mistook its Irish audience, misreading a very large room.  As a letter to ‘The Irish Times’ noted, such an attitude assumed Irish women could not, after a debate, be able to make up their own minds.

Joyce argues that:

“The idea that what makes someone a man or woman is performance of, or identification with, gender is incompatible with the foundational feminist belief that women, like men, are fully human and should not be restricted by stereotypes.  Same-sex orientation cannot be defended if people are self-defined identities, rather than fleshy mortals whose sex can easily be perceived by others.  Free speech is incompatible with privileging discourse over material reality.”

Back to part 3

2 thoughts on “Three books on Transgender Politics (4 of 4) – Trans – When Ideology Meets Reality

  1. I said I would not comment on this stuff. However I read yesterday that the Scottish government have instructed all Govt Offices to make free tampons available in the gents toilets for use. I wonder who will actually use them. As far as I understand things the physical difference between men and women is that women menstruate and men don’t. As far as I know, modern science/technology has not yet been able to rectify this terrible state of being.

    There is a birth scene in the Life of Brian where after the baby is born the question is asked if the child is a boy or a girl, and the answer is given ‘it is still too early to say! What was intended to raise a laugh no longer does. It won’t be long before midwives and doctors will be banned from answering the question in case to causes offence to someone.

  2. Thank you for this excellent and informative series of reviews.

    The last four paragraphs in the present one are so acute I have read them three times already.

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