Retreating from gender-critical feminism: my reflections
Some months back, I reached out to the people who were meant to be my enemies: gender-critical feminists. I was worn down and had had enough of the media attacks and the hate, the JK Rowling furore and GRA reform, the weekly articles questioning our intentions and validity. I was worn down by Piers Morgan.
I wanted to believe it had all been a big misunderstanding. They were adults, and so was I, but barely in my case, after several months of lockdown, a really bad PhD viva, and, well, other stuff, but we all have other stuff. I reached out, first alone, absorbing hour after hour of youtube videos. Before me on the screen, August through October, I saw Maya Forstater more often than I saw my own family. I pressed so hard against the window's glass, gazing intently, that at a certain point, I found myself on the inside, looking out. I was with them. I understood, and I sympathized; who really doesn't sympathize with the original intentions of Luce Irigaray to put the female body front and centre after centuries of pathologizing by Freud, Lacan, et al? The only trouble is, gender-crits do to us what Freud did to them. They do not see transness, they see only chromosomes. And big gametes. And pathologized anomalies.
We don't exist, apparently. Ask Kathleen Stock, she can prove it, in chapters 1-3 of her new book. That's quite a theory you've got there, like David Copperfield, making the Statue of Liberty disappear.
I don't know at what point I began to inch away, quietly realizing this wasn't going to work. It's not because I'm trans. I read an essay by Graham Linehan online, connecting trans allies to paedophilia and predators, and the nastiness shakes me, not as a trans woman, just as a human being. Linehan's level of hatred, the consequences surely intended, when you smear innocent people with the language LGBT+ people know so well from the 1980s and 1990s. The words that justify lynchings, arrests, and marginalization of entire demographics, those words: grooming, predator, paedophilia. And it's not just Linehan. But at least now I'm clear: only by not existing can we get along.
Yes, I know, I was told it would be this way. Like a technically gifted mechanic (which I'm not, though would like to be), I wanted to dismantle trans discourse and re-assemble it, and that way understand how it all worked. I wanted to claw myself apart and start all over, and understand me. So here I am, more knowledgeable and certain than before of my right to exist.
Meanwhile, I continue to inch backwards, barely perceptibly, realizing this is all going horribly wrong.
Seeing the tweets of harassment aimed at Mridul Wadhwa. The campaign against Stonewall. The policy goals of every GC organization, to prohibit trans women from women-only spaces. I went onto the websites and read, from Sex Matters to the Women's Human Rights Campaign. I even bought books.
Kathleen Stock presenting herself as the reasonable, thinking-woman's GC feminist, and then producing statements like this, in a book-promoting interview:
"Of course, changing rooms, bathrooms, all the rest of it, should be single sex …If we could talk more about autogynophilia in a less toxic way, fewer men would feel they had to transition, and fewer men would feel so ashamed of it that they had to deny it existed. But I do not say this to let men off the hook for wanking in changing rooms" (7 June 2021).
Just like Freud (only much, much cruder), when he talked about women, you talk about us. It's not your lack of humanity that bothers me, it's thinking, 'Really? That's it? That's what you have for your analysis?'
The more I read, the more I'm watching a slow-moving train wreck, in which I'm implicated. So these are the reasonable ones with their reasonable concerns, and this is how they see trans women, with their analysis-as-paralysis, the uplifting discourse to strip away rights from a vulnerable minority. Then I remember again the names I had forgotten, like the lockdown had become a fugue for me, like sleeping gas under the door. Those names. That first name. Janice Raymond, her dulcet tones,
"Transsexuals are not women. They are deviant males, and their particular manifestation of gender deviancy needs its own unique context of peer support … I contend that the problem of transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence" (1979: 183, 178).
I had forgotten, or maybe I had thought them irrelevant. All these statements, which you can connect, decade by decade, from the 1970s to now, from Raymond to Jeffreys to Greer to all the Julies and Julias, Bindel, Long and Burchill. Twenty-first-century Guardian articles describing "dicks in chicks clothing" (Burchill, 2013). Twenty-first-century Guardian articles with the subheading, 'Sex-change surgery is the modern equivalent of aversion therapy for homosexuals' (Bindel, 2007). Julia Long opening a talk at Speakers' Corner by showing pictures of trans women or cross-dressers, while the audience laughs at every picture (2017). Somehow, almost like a Guardian journalist, the knowledge of these things disappeared from me last summer, but then recently re-appeared, and I wasn't like a Guardian journalist anymore.
There is only me now, a transgender woman, but then I look around and realize there are other transgender people too, and they're not going anywhere. I was never into philosophy, I always preferred politics. So stop telling me that I don't exist, ask me what I need. Stop saying that my life's not real; ask me what rights I need to function in your cisgender society. Ask me about the violence I face, the laws that might protect me and the ones that might oppress me. Ask me if I'm okay. Stop telling me. Ask me.