Last Monday I was interviewed by Feminist Current. The podcast is on the Feminist Current website. I plan to release edited written portions of the interview on my blog, based on the notes I made in preparation for the interview.
The first thing I wanted to write about was what it means to be ‘gender critical’. My interpretation is, by it’s very nature, subjective and I suspect several gender critical transwomen will provide half a dozen definitions of what it means to them.
What I want to make clear is that, when I describe myself as being ‘gender critical’, that:
- I am in no way condemning or erasing the identities, experiences or narratives of other transwomen;
- Being gender critical is incompatible with ‘Harry Benjamin Syndrome’ theories of transsexuality. I do not believe that the brains of transsexuals are inherently different; and
- Being gender critical is not incompatible with being transsexual, on the contrary I argue it can be a part of a fulfilling and successful transition..
My intent in publishing this piece is to address a number of misunderstandings about gender critical ideas that are propagating the trans community at the moment. We cannot talk about things sensibly if we cannot agree on what they mean, and so this post is a response to misconceptions and an attempt to bring forth clarity..
Feminist Current: You identify as a gender-critical trans woman, what does that mean to you?
I guess this means I see gender for what it is, as a harmful social construct, a hierarchy. I like to think I try to pick this power system apart using an analysis which is based on rationalism. I think a key point to recognise here is that many feminist ideas are congruent with a rational approach to gender, for example that as a societal construct gender is not innate, and that not only are ideas around mind/body incongruence ideologically damaging to women, they have no apparent basis in reality.
The former point makes a moral argument, and I think it is important for everybody to acknowledge this as it raises ethical implications for those who argue the second point in the absence of credible scientific evidence.
I have similar problems with the use of intersex in debate about the meaning of trans, how it’s used to question whether human beings are sexually dimorphic: the existence of intersex does not pull the rug from underneath the carpet of sexual dimorphism.
Feminist Current: You wrote on your tumblr page: “That transwomen are biologically male is morally neutral, it’s not a value statement, it’s not saying it’s a good thing or a bad thing: it just is,” which I love because, exactly. It isn’t a insult. It isn’t anything. It’s just a fact. How do people react to you when you say this? What is the response from transactivists who disagree? And why do you think people get so angry about what is, as you say, a morally neutral statement?
I say this a lot and I go to great lengths to emphasise it is a morally neutral statement. There is an oft-quoted mantra that ‘trans women are women’ which, if you can accept what I just said, completely ignores reality and turns the definition of ‘woman’ into something that is a matter of identity rather than biology and thus reality. It is, to use another one of my favourite phrases, ‘intellectually dishonest’.
Whoever is saying those words earnestly, whether male or female, is managing to keep two contradictory ideas in their head and this is ‘cognitive dissonance’. ‘Trans women are women’ is thus a statement of faith, based on a conviction rather than a proof. It’s no secret that faith has been at the heart of many wars, and this is no different. Saying ‘trans women are men’ strikes at the heart of the magical thinking upon which such dogma has built its foundation, and so it is a threat, in much the same as radical feminist ideas are.
It is not unusual to see it stated, with great conviction, that ‘I am a woman’ or ‘I have always been a woman’ (look at Paris Lees’s feature on the Independent website with the headline ‘Kellie Maloney has always been female’) and I can understand that by challenging this and refusing to accept that assertion, it would make someone insecure.
A number of trans women profess to be atheists. I presume they feel liberated from the dogma of organised theological religion. ‘Trans women are women’ is no different from such dogma and I have heard many times the following line of argument:
Me: ‘women are entitled to their own spaces’
Trans woman: ‘yes, I completely agree, WE are’
This is, I think, a massive problem. If transition should be about anything, it should be about accepting who and what we are. Think of it like this: how liberating would it be for a human being to not have to exist with contradictory ideas in their heads?
I’ll be publishing more of my notes once the podcast is online.
A key part of my thinking is self-acceptance, in particular acceptance of our own realities. You can read more about this in Accept Yourself. If you’d like a clearer idea of some of my thinking, I have published an email exchange which sets out in Q&A form some of my own reasoning and rationalisations.
As someone who is self-critical, my views evolve and I now disavow use of the word ‘woman’ for myself and other transgender males, preferring to use the term ‘transsexual’ or ‘transsexual male’. Furthermore, for some time now I have ceased to describe myself as ‘gender critical’, as I don’t think this fits in with my beliefs. I see gender as a harmful hierarchical system of power and stereotypes, it is purely cultural so has no meaning outside of human societies. Being a critic to me implies the system can be fixed, I do not think this is the case (see for example my post on How Modern or Third Wave Feminism Benefits Men). I take an abolitionist stance on gender, I beliece it damages everyone particularly girls and women, homosexual and bisexual men and of course trans males. It always strikes me as odd that transgender individuals never argue for gender abolition, whereas I can see that it is gender that provides them with the ideas, artefacts and stereotypes they build their identities around, the problems they face while doing so are of course themselves caused by gender, which punished feminine males.