Thursday 14 August 2014

Trans "vs." feminism. (4)

I've drafted (without posting) several obstreperous rants recently on (radical) feminism "vs." trans, because this useless quarrel just keeps on going: forty years and counting. The latest incident involved the BBC current affairs programme, Newsnight, where trans activists caused a proposed segment (purportedly about Kellie Maloney) to be dropped by refusing to participate in (what seemed likely to be) a confrontation with "gender critical" feminists. As it turns out, said feminists had also refused to take part, for the understandable reason that the arguments are too hostile and are perpetuated with even more hostility on social media. Instead, people are letting their opinions be known in a more "detached" way, via undirected messages and blog posts (as indeed I'm doing here).

For instance, two days ago Julie Bindel tweeted (disingenuously):
10:17 AM: “Total censorship now. Anyone who challenges gender essentialism is accused of being a massive transphobe”;
10:26 AM: “Truth is they refuse to debate or discuss at all”;
10:32 AM: “because the radical feminist theory that gender is a social construction to oppress women & empower men is threat 2 trans theory”.

I say “disingenuously” there because Julie's tweets are (as she certainly knows) an entirely one-sided depiction of events and only make sense if you already agree with her. From a contrary position, her words might be interpreted rather differently:

Total censorship” — an unwillingness to debate on terms which regard trans as de facto gender essentialist.

Refuse to debate or discuss” — because a converse refusal to accept trans people as experts on their own lives, or their knowledge of themselves and their own sex and gender as having validity, makes meaningful discussion impossible. (And denying people the right to describe their own lives on their own terms, implying – or straight out declaring – that they're not who they say they are, does amount to “denying their right to exist”.)

Radical feminist theory ... is [a] threat [to] trans theory” — this is only true if you believe that radical feminist theory is applicable and correct in every circumstance (which is ideological fundamentalism).

In fact, trans feminists will readily (and do) concur with radical feminist theories on many (perhaps most) aspects of sex and gender (especially as regards women's oppression by the social construction of gender). But from a trans perspective, radical feminism is not a complete theory; it does not accurately account for all aspects of sex and gender. In particular, it's not the best framework for understanding trans. The bitter arguments we have arise because (some) radical feminists nevertheless insist on trying – the results of which, although logically consistent on their own terms, are not recognized by (most) trans people as an accurate portrayal of their own experiences and truths. When that happens, and when that has been explained to you repeatedly, it's time to reassess your theory. Sticking to it rigidly and claiming that everyone else is wrong (or must disprove your theory to your own satisfaction) is just intellectual arrogance.

And to what end? Radical feminism is neither a religion, nor a mathematical science. It's not suddenly rendered "false" because it fails in one (or more) instance(s). And it's not threatened by trans realities to any substantive degree. The only real conflict is over trans itself, where radical feminism is merely an unwelcome intruder.

So yes, we can discuss gender, gender essentialism, gender oppression, gender roles, gender stereotypes, gender systems, whatever you like. We'll probably agree anyway, which is always nice. But there's little point in debating matters trans any more because you don't listen and you have virtually nothing of worth to say. Consequently, I intend this to be my final post on the subject. I've wasted far too many spoons on it already.

Except that, seemingly out of nowhere, George Galloway has now sprung to mind. Well, there's a lot to respect about George, and he can be admirably principled when he chooses, but he can also be a bit of a dickhead; and didn't he call a group of righteously angry feminists a “cabal” too? Or was that his tosser of a mate, Tommy Sheridan? I forget.