Politics, Science, Sex

Strange Bedfellows: The Peculiar Alliance Between Centrist Liberals and Radical Feminists

A peculiar new alliance appears to be emerging between trans-critical radical feminists and liberal centrists who are normally critical of radical feminism. Radical feminists’ insistence on the biological definition of “woman” seems to align them with the anxieties of those disturbed by activists’ redefinition of “female” and “male” from objective biological descriptors to self-reported perceptions, as well as with the concerns of non-radical feminists like Helen Joyce who has written cogently on the consequences of denying sex differences.

However, radical feminists are beholden to a gender theory of their own, and it ought to be possible to reject the claims of trans extremists without entangling ourselves in another equally dubious ideology. Trans radicalism is not a war against feminism. It is a civil war within feminism, and it is not immediately obvious which side liberals should be rooting for. There is a risk of becoming trapped in radicals’ own mode of discourse. Trans activists advance dubious claims about gender behind a shield of the interests of trans people as a group. There is a temptation to respond in kind, linking criticism of such claims with women’s wellbeing. This comes naturally to radical feminists, who consider their ideology to be synonymous with women’s interests. However, this issue can be handled with more nuance—and potentially to better effect. This division within the Left provides an opportunity to expose the flaws in this group-based mode of discourse altogether.

*     *     *

Trans-critical feminists have positioned themselves as a bulwark of respect for science within feminism, rejecting the postmodern denial of sex differences. However, while they endorse the hard distinctions of biological sex in the body, they vehemently maintain that gender has no basis in neurology. We are blank slates, they aver, and gender norms are merely fictions imposed on the female sex by males to their own advantage. Transgenderism—the belief that gender is in part prefigured by the brain and can be misaligned with the rest of the body by some form of innate miswiring—cannot therefore be accepted. This view has led Sheila Jeffreys, for example, to argue that the critical rejection of gender renders physical transition obsolete. Critical Sisters, a group which co-signed trans-critical pamphlets handed out at the 2018 London LGBT pride parade, claims that gender is a “man-made belief.” This denial of mounting scientific evidence has passed many by in the surrounding din of the trans debate.

Some people think that the psychologist and sexologist John Money’s belief that gender is completely constructed is a source of trans ideology. However, this would be to overlook the infamous case of Money’s tragic patient David Reimer. Reimer was raised as a female on the advice of Money after a botched circumcision left him without a penis and, at 22 months, had his testicles removed, a surgical procedure recommended by Money. Despite being socialised as a girl and undergoing hormone treatment, Reimer exhibited male-typical behavior and, when told that he had been born male, he elected to undergo reassignment surgery for a second time. His short and unhappy life ended in suicide at the age of 38.

Trans activists generally disagree with Money’s claims about the malleability of gender and cite Reimer’s case as evidence that gender identity is innate and immutable and not socially constructed. They claim the Reimer case decisively demonstrated that therapy can’t “cure” trans people by realigning their gender identity to their bodies, and compare Money’s rejection of innate gender to the position taken by trans-critical feminists like the Canadian feminist Meghan Murphy, who deride innate sex differences as “gender mysticism.”

On the basis of the weight of the available scientific evidence then, those who believe that innate psychological sex differences do exist and that they influence phenomena like the wage gap and asymmetric participation in fields like STEM have more to disagree about with trans-critical feminists than they do with trans activists. It is the incoherent assertion from some trans activists that biological sex does not exist which muddies the issue.

The origins of such biodenialism in trans discourse lie in radical feminism itself. Though recently trans-critical feminists have framed their focus on biology as a response to the ways trans ideology compromises women’s safety, their movement’s doctrines long predate such cases. The seminal text, Janice Raymond’s The Transexual Empire, was published in 1979 and, although this is disputed, there is reason to believe that Sheila Jeffreys’s work contributed to the cessation of public funding for trans healthcare in the 1980s. Radical feminists are motivated, not only by concern for women’s safety, but also by the need to defend their own ideology.

Gender identity as innate is contrary to radical feminist orthodoxy, which holds it to be purely a patriarchal construct used to oppress women for men’s benefit—nothing female or feminine can be in the brain, only in the body. Thus, radical feminists’ motives are more complicated than the straightforward defense of women’s safety and respect for scientific and biological reality. Their position is informed by a need to defend a blank slate conception of gender differences which is the sine qua non of their ideology. Only when these radical feminists made the whole biological female the only measure of woman, without any allowance for an internal gender identity, did trans activists have to start deconstructing “female” as a biological category and reconstituting it as a self-claimed status.

Without these blank slate commitments, however, we can maintain that “woman” means “female,” and that “female” in humans means the possession of XX chromosomes which produce female phenotypes. Nor is it necessary to insist that trans people are not “real” women or men. If gender has some origin in sexually divergent neurobiology forged by sex hormones, then irregular development in utero could theoretically result in a brain with a female profile in a male body, which could be made partly commensurate by transition. Transgenderism as practiced therefore inherently affirms that “woman” means female human and that trans women may alter their bodies to fit the female, XX chromosome phenotype. Those born intersex do not disprove that females have XX chromosomes and males XY, but when they live as one gender (as they generally do) we don’t consider them less “real” men and women than the rest of us—trans people require no more special consideration than this.

By rejecting both ideologies, we can refuse those forcing redefinitions of “female” whilst credibly denying that this is disrespectful to trans people. This approach could resolve the dispute about biological reality and the concept of womanhood (if not the thornier issue of sex segregation in intimate settings, for which birth sex is perhaps the only workable standard). But centrists and liberals who are normally sceptical of the blank slate have been curiously quick to commit to radical feminists’ idea of womanhood. This risks inadvertently entrenching blank-slatism and needlessly prolonging the argument.

*     *     *

The difficulty seeing this potential resolution may result from the entangling of “gender identity” with “gender roles” in much writing on the matter. Hence the claim from one activist in Joyce’s piece that transgenderism betrays the “fight to smash open the pink and blue boxes of gender.” But gender identity and gender roles are not the same, even though they may correlate. An internal sense of self may be difficult to describe, not least because misalignment between body and mind is perplexing to those of us who take their convergence for granted.

Many also note that Iran performs a high rate of sexual reassignment surgeries, often coerced as a “cure” for homosexuality, and imply that transgenderism generally has the same motive. But drawing comparisons between the motives of theocrats who force surgery upon others and individuals who transition by choice is dubious, to put it mildly. Only 23 percent of American trans people in a 2015 survey identified themselves as straight (i.e., attracted to the gender they were born), and femme trans men and butch trans women are a phenomenon. Clearly, people don’t transition simply to conform their bodies to their preferred gender roles.

Perhaps the clearest indication that gender dysphoria exists is the intense distress trans people report as a result of the divergence between their self-perception and the bodies into which they are born, independent of social gender norms. Trans-critical feminists’ misconstrual of gender identity as a re-statement of gender roles is the result of their blank slate dogma. Without this dogma it is easier to accept and understand the notion of an internal and innate gender identity and its potential misalignment with the body.

*     *     *

Despite these problems in trans-critical feminists’ ideology, it is right to offer them support and platforms to respond to their critics after their suppression on social media. Even by the standards of the day, they are hard done-by. Moreover, it is promising that, with Meghan Murphy’s Twitter banning, even leftists have begun taking political censorship via bogus harassment claims (and even activists’ links to social media companies) seriously. This is encouraging, if belated. The Left, normally quick to close ranks against supposed oppressors of victim groups, is divided when the legitimacy of the marginalised group is in question. This division is a great opportunity to challenge norms which claim to protect victim groups through censorship.

However, by uncritically aligning with radical feminists over an issue in which ideology disfigures and misuses biology on both sides, liberals risk entrenching the idea of online abuse as a reflection of social group oppression, reifying the basis upon which online censorship is justified rather than challenging it. Joyce’s view repeats the developing narrative that women are hardest hit. “Women experience far worse” abuse when criticising trans activism, we are told. With apparent approval, Joyce cites radical feminist Renée Gerlich who claims that trans activism is merely an “opportunity to tell women to shut up.

We should be cautious of such claims. Men are also hounded for even moderate claims on the issue—the enraged response to Jesse Singal’s thoughtful and moderate Atlantic essay offers just one such example. As is often the case, no one cares enough when men are abused online to include such cases in think-pieces, creating the false impression that only women experience abuse for the expression of heterodox opinions. It also seems plain that many—if not most—on the trans activist side of the issue are themselves cisgender women, and it does not do to simply erase them from the discussion. After all, the scholar who has most advanced scepticism of biological sex, Judith Butler, is a natal woman. Indeed, scepticism of biological sex was as likely transmitted to trans activism by its proximity to feminism as the other way around.

Furthermore, online abuse is not a one-way street. Trans activists claim to experience online abuse as often as their opponents—the publisher of DIVA magazine made just such a claim after taking a pro-trans stance on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, whilst others allege cyberstalking and public harassment. While accusations of bigotry are flung too readily these days, some of the more storied online anti-trans radical feminists indeed have an irrational hatred of transgender people (not to mention men), and some have been known to contact people’s doctors over online arguments. Extreme instances include outright assault of (natal) women who disagree with them—is this not also silencing of women? Nor is it unknown for trans-critical feminists themselves to seek to ban women from social media platforms in response to criticism and harmless ridicule.

This is not scientific; of course you could match these instances with more from radical feminists, then find more from trans activists, and so on. It could be that trans activists get less abuse than their critics—but they might get as much, or more. The most intellectually honest position to take is that we don’t know, and can’t know unless and until a proper survey is conducted. In the meantime, repeating a line from one side that they are the righteous victims being silenced by oppressors is irresponsible and unnecessary. We have happened upon a long online flame war rather late, and things are not as clear cut as they first seem. Diving into a longstanding online fracas and uncritically taking one side can make a bad situation worse. Progressives make this mistake habitually, and the rest of us should exercise restraint.

Rather than shaming Twitter for “silencing women” over the trans issue we should reject the notion that anyone’s Twitter account is the voice of a protected social group. Such claims are normally used to censor in a rightward-from-far-left direction. Meghan Murphy herself has written against free speech in instances she believes that speech reinforces women’s oppression (see my piece here for my thoughts on such claims). It appears she does agree with silencing those accused of offending the oppressed—she simply disagrees (as might be expected) that she fits that particular bill. This disagreement within the Left over definitions of victim groups and hate speech is better used as a clear demonstration of the danger in using such politically expedient notions to regulate speech at all.

Radical feminists and trans activists clash because both inhabit the same radical spaces steeped in social liberation drama, where participants self-consciously perform roles as oppressed people and compete over who is more oppressed—hence Gerlich’s indignation that a natal male might dare claim to be more oppressed than she is. It is inaccurate to see these spaces as microcosms of society, with the transgender pitted against women. Just as we can distinguish between transgender people in general and aggressively ideological trans activists, we should distinguish between women and radical feminists. Trans extremism does not stem from the mystical force of misogyny. It is the result of an ideology particular to a small group of activists pursued to its absurd end, one influenced by and not at all unlike radical feminism.

*     *     *

Responding to trans extremism through a radical feminist lens risks answering like with like, framing critique as a defence of women as group from “the new patriarchy.” This is not to say that the consequences for women as a group are not real—despite activists’ assurances, trans radicalism has compromised women’s safety in some instances. But the case for the reality of biology and need for sex segregation in prisons, shelters, and sports can be made without getting bogged down in any radical ideology. Any success in enabling an effective critique of trans radicalism which depends on framing it as necessary for women as a protected class would be a success on radical activists’ own terms, leaving them free to silence others in future on behalf of other social groups.

Attaching arguments to social groups obstructs criticism of extremist claims, which is what got us into this mess in the first place. If it is made an issue of transgender rights versus women’s rights, everyone will pick their interest group, dig in, and begin a long and bloody culture war. Better to de-escalate from social group conflict and not make hasty alliances. This is an opportunity to undermine the whole mode of discourse which attributes ideologies to social groups, and perhaps help de-escalate our never-ending culture wars more broadly.

Due to an editing error, views were erroneously attributed to Dr Jane Clare Jones in an earlier version that she does not hold. We are very sorry for the error which we have now corrected.

 

The author has a BA in History from the University of York. You can follow her on Twitter at @lottashelton. Charlotte Shelton is a pseudonym.

62 Comments

  1. Haggis says

    This article mostly uses the term “trans” people, but there are two kinds of trans: transsexual and transgender. The former prefers male-female binary (wanting to one of those), while the other wants to be nonbinary. Transsexuals occasionally argue for biological reasons for their condition (male brain in female body for instance), while transgenders want to get rid of biology entirely.

    The third feminist group are the TERFs, but none of them truly care about biology as science: they just cherrypick stuff that suits their group interests. TERFs advocate for women only, while transgenders want to be part of trans community without being actual trans, and transsexuals may not all be happy about transgender unicorns jumping their bandwagon and muddling waters.

    Judith Butler that the article mentioned is a prime example of cherrypicking theories in order to bolster ideology: in her Gender Trouble book she analyzes old freudian theories not whether they are factually correct or not but if they can support feminist cause of dismantling patriarchy. Frankly that book is just messed up. In any case, she represent a 4th type of feminist in this discussion, one that doesn’t care about her group interest as much as bringing down the white males from power. Because of that she has adopted pro transgender position because she thinks it is the best for eroding traditional gender roles and male power. Because of these feminists transgenderism has practically defeated TERFs and biology-based transsexuality. They overcame the biology issue by making identity holy: if one identifies as trans they is trans, and not accepting that is denial of their humanity. This way they simply avoid talking about biology.

    • Don Anon says

      “This article mostly uses the term “trans” people, but there are two kinds of trans: transsexual and transgender. The former prefers male-female binary (wanting to one of those), while the other wants to be nonbinary. ”

      Uh, I’m not saying there aren’t people who just want to be vaguely “nonbinary” for cool points and to uhh smash the patriarchy, but I don’t think you’ve described this distinction accurately. Plenty of so-called transsexuals call themselves transgender.

      • Haggis says

        Yes, I tried to keep it brief and simple. Technically transgender is an umbrella term that also includes transsexuals, but here I was using it to refer to transgenders who don’t want to transition the same way transsexuals typically do. Most likely many, maybe even majority, of transsexuals welcome these non-binaries to their ranks and view themselves also as transgender (which is again technically correct).

        And most transgenders are not in it for cool points but they have real mental health issues. If I had to distinguish between transsexuals and other transgenders, I’d say that transsexuals get depression because they want to transition, while transgenders want some hormones and treatments because they’re depressed. The latter has mental health issues, usually childhood bullying, eating disorders etc that they then mischaracterize or otherwise generate gender dysphoria on top of existing conditions. For transsexuals gender dysphoria is the original problem, not something generated by other issues.

        There was another Quillette article about this recently, how rapid onset gender dysphoria can be socially contagious and how sex ratio of patients has swung from roughly 50/50 to over 70% girls. I even read a book covering transgenders (not -sexuals) own experiences written by them themselves, and all of them had serious mental health issues around or before puberty and they just later “realised” that they’re non-binary, although they didn’t have gender dysphoria before teen years.

        • Dan Flehmen says

          A close friend is an adolescent psychiatrist in New York. In the last few months, nearly all her unstable female teenage patients have declared themselves to be transgender. The social contagion could not be more obvious.

    • ‘TERF’ is a derogatory label used by trans rights activists against anyone, regardless of whether they are radical or feminist or even female – who dares to question any part of trans ideology. It is even used against male-born trans people themselves. The purpose of labelling critics ‘TERFs’ is to dismiss, dehumanise and silence rather than engage with reasoned criticisms.

  2. Bubblecar says

    “On the basis of the weight of the available scientific evidence then, those who believe that innate psychological sex differences do exist and that they influence phenomena like the wage gap and asymmetric participation in fields like STEM have more to disagree about with trans-critical feminists than they do with trans activists.”

    The big difference is that trans-critical feminists are not encroaching on women’s and children’s rights in the way that trans activists are.

    Old-style radical feminists don’t seem to have much influence these days, compared with the newer brands of feminism, so the argument between scientific realists and trans-critical feminists is of little social consequence.

    The same can’t be said for the argument between trans activists and people concerned about keeping women and children safe from trans extremists.

    Having said that, there is certainly at least as much contradiction at the heart of the trans-critical feminist position as there is amongst the trans activists. The radical feminists define male-to-female trans people emphatically as MEN not just on the basis of their bodies, but on the basis of their sexuality and aggressive attitudes etc, i.e., very much cognitive factors, while at the same time insisting that such factors are a socially determined illusion etc.

    In the process, if anything, they tend to exaggerate “innate” cognitive differences between the sexes while simultaneously denying that there are any.

    • Don Anon says

      “The big difference is that trans-critical feminists are not encroaching on women’s and children’s rights in the way that trans activists are.”

      Eh, trans-critical feminists have been doing some silly things to kids and will continue to. Besides, if they don’t have a lot of influence, why ally with them and risk giving them more influence than they deserve? Let them take the brunt of the blows from trans activists, and focus on fixing the actual issues such as women’s sports and women’s bathrooms.

  3. ga gamba says

    Even stranger was when the TERFs and SWERFs formed alliances with the Evangelicals years ago.

    I suppose the Evangelicals thought they could save the radfems’ souls.

    • D.B. Cooper says

      You’re terribly insensitive, Gamba. I would expect more from a man who used to dabble, if not travel, in social dissident circles. They’re always circles, though, aren’t they? Strange, if not ironic, I think.

  4. Reluctant reactionary says

    Where is the evidence in the article of the point in the title? ie that centrists and liberals are or are at risk of taking sides in this debate. Apart from schadenfreude in the exposure of the hypocrisy of the oppression Olympics and the obvious challenge that transgenderism poses to the blank state cult, I think we would wish people well who are suffering genuine existential angst of whatever kind (who are often the least outspoken) and wish people ill who would exploit them either in rabid opposition or false support.

    • Shatterface says

      I don’t get the title.

      There’s no Peculiar Alliance Between Centrist Liberals and Radical Feminists. Approximately 99.9% of the world population (including gender critical feminists) think transgenderism is horseshit, and 0.1% are complete loonies.

      It’s like saying there is an ‘alliance’ against Scientology.

      And the article is loaded with false equivalences. The blank slate is an extreme position but it isn’t inherently ludicrous: it just doesn’t stand up to empirical tests. It’s ‘scientific’ in the sense of being falsifiable. And the proof that it is falsifiable is the proof that it is false.

      The transposition, on the other hand, doesn’t meet the standard of plausible-but-wrong. It is, in the parlance, not even wrong.

      • There are plenty of centrist liberals who have no problem with transsexualism. Even Quillette, as centrist a publication as you can find, has published transwomen like Debbie Hayton and Emma McAllister. I think the difference is that centrists and classical liberals are more likely to align themselves with the old-school transsexuals, not the new-school transgender movement.

        As Ms. Shelton pointed out, the old-school transsexuals also had a pretty falsifiable position: some people experience extreme discomfort with their biological sex, and medically transitioning is an effective way for them to relieve that discomfort and live happier lives. Whether one agrees with that position or not, it’s something that can be studied and observed.

        It’s only the new-school transgender movement that wants to do away with the category of biological sex altogether. Old-school transsexuals didn’t and don’t demand to be seen as real women, but they did demonstrate that transsexualism—whether homosexual or autogynephilic in type—is in the brain, not merely socially constructed the way that radical feminists claim.

        • Sally says

          What evidence is there that centrists prefer transsexualism to transgenderism? All I see is everyone except radical feminists and some conservatives madly virtue signalling – waving the rainbow flag and proclaiming that transgender rights are the new frontier of social justice. There’s no alliance at all.

          • Unfortunately, I don’t think any studies have been conducted about this, but I’ve followed a variety of centrists and classical liberals over the past few years. That includes people like Dave Rubin, Heather Heying, Bret Weinstein, Gad Saad, Debra Soh, Jordan Peterson, Alice Dreger, Blaire White, Andy Ngo, and various other scientists, writers, and pundits. Although they might use transgender and transsexual interchangeably—an unfortunate linguistic development—it’s pretty clear from context that they are tolerant of transsexualism but highly critical of transgenderism. After all, it’s transgenderism that demands uncritical acceptance of nonsensical nonbinary, agender, and genderqueer identities. It’s transgenderism that says biological sex isn’t real.

            Blaire White, a male-to-female transsexual commentator, has said repeatedly that she is biologically male but is more comfortable living in a feminine social role, and her medical transition helped her achieve that. Whether or not you agree that people with gender dysphoria should medically transition, Ms. White’s is a rational position that can be debated reasonably. That can’t be said for the transgender activists’ claims that biological sex is nonexistent. Similarly, Jordan Peterson became well-known after saying he would not use his students’ invented nonbinary pronouns. He has typically, to my knowledge, respected the pronouns of old-school transsexuals, but he drew a line at the linguistic contortions of zie, ver, and singular they. I realize that all of this is anecdotal, but this is what I’ve observed. Centrists appear quite tolerant of and respectful toward binary transsexuals but simultaneously dismiss the metaphysical claims of the contemporary transgender movement.

  5. Morti says

    The whole problem can be summed up as:

    First they said that boys can play with dolls and girls can play with toy cars and pistols.
    Then they said that boys can wear skirts and girls can wear suits.
    Finally they said that boys can menstruate and girls can have penises.

    What’s a boy and a girl then? Due to some kind of ridiculous synthesis of both feminist and trans views this is the problem we’re heading towards. Those words are becoming meaningless and if they do, also things like trans, cis, hetero, homo etc. inevitably become meaningless too! It’s not a result of a specific ideology or theory, but a twisted and absurd consequence. Reality can stray away really far from theory found in books.

    It’s largely an issue of what definitions of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ are to be used. Definitions are not subjects of proving or disproving. They are a result of kind of a social contract. This is why the whole culture war looks more like a holy war then like a debate. Calls for a debate are futile here, because you have to have commonly agreed vocabulary in order to have a meaningful debate in the first place. No common language and you can as well have one side speaking Hungarian and other side speaking Japanese.

    As for anti-feminists and right wingers from purely strategic point of view it seems that an alliance with trans radicals would be more desired just to shut up those authoritarian rabid man-hating feminists once and for all. Of course the need to use weird pronouns seems to be an annoying price, but those 3rd, 45th genders are extremely rare outside of campuses and more liberty with choosing your wardrobe isn’t a bad thing after all. It’s feminists to have been more virulently anti-male. Trans activists on the other hand won’t mind you being a man.

    • Dan Love says

      Morti

      I’ve had that same discussion with my significant other (a grievance-studies minor) more times than I can count. The trans-activists may be off-the-walls crazy, but radical feminists are off-the-walls crazy and seething with Mein Kampf levels of misandrist hatred.

  6. Nature cares not whether we label our sex or gender. We are who we are regardless of the label. No trans-woman needs a sanitary napkin; no trans-male a condom. But science will no doubt one day enable sex organ transplants to go with current hormone infusions.
    But this debate sounds familiar to that of the USA’s Equal Rights Amendment. Presumably, the USA already prohibits any law that goes against “equal protection under the law” per the 14th Amendment to its Constitution. Discrimination based on sex is already prohibited.
    But the ERA does create issues that confound people about trans-gender and trans-sexual citizens. Can you have both equal protection while also accepting biological differences as needing distinctions in the law or social customs, such as preferences for mothers over fathers when it comes to caring for young children, or using bathrooms, or dressing rooms, or men’s/women’s sections in stores, or all-male or all-female schools or clubs or companies or religions….?

  7. I’ll try to read this more thoroughly later – but oh dear. First of all – who is Helen Jones? Oh it’s actually Helen Joyce that’s referred to … And Jane Clare Jones view has been misunderstood/distorted. And Meghan Murphy’s name spelled incorrectly. Not impressive. These errors are distracting at best.

  8. One of the many crazy things about this debate is the extent to which there really isn’t one–any disagreement with “trans” ideology is ruthlessly suppressed with accusations of bigotry etc. And one of the favorite “etc.”s is: accusations of sexual attraction to the “transgendered.” This is a particular application of a favored view/strategy on the PC left: it’s impossible to rationally / honestly disagree with political correctness / “social justice” / identity politics / progressivism…so every disagreement must have nefarious motives of one kind or other. Consider their–entirely predictable–perverse *ad hominems* against Jesse Singal… Such attacks were used against Micheal Bailey decades ago, and they’re still a weapon of choice.

    So: many public objections to transgender ideology come from radical feminists. Is this because radical feminists object to transgender ideology more strongly than, say, ordinary centrist liberals? No. It’s because objections by radical feminists are more tolerated by the progressives who control the debate. If you merely point out that TI primarily turns on false, easily-disprovable, merely semantic shenanigans (e.g. misrepresenting the plain meaning of the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’), you’ll be dogpiled by the shrieking progressive hordes more quickly and viciously than if you argue that TI harms women (i.e.: adult female persons).

    My view is that this is because we’ve allowed the PC/progressive/etc. left to control some of the fundamental conditions/rules of the debate. Pointing out that and why a politically correct view is false is not really tolerated. The only approved way to criticize a politically correct belief is from the left, with another potentially politically correct belief. Criticisms from the right–or from no political position at all–aren’t tolerated. Radical feminists critiques are more tolerated because they, too, are on the extremist left. Ordinary (e.g. liberal) objections that reject not only TI but wide swaths of contemporary progressivism are themselves politically incorrect. Ergo they are not tolerated by the progressives who control what can be said and what ideas are impermissible and to be punished.

    The correct solution is to reject the whole defective lot of them, including their arrogation of the power to control participation in and terms of the debate.

    • Simon says

      I think that’s what he meant by “Better to de-escalate from social group conflict and not make hasty alliances. This is an opportunity to undermine the whole mode of discourse which attributes ideologies to social groups, and perhaps help de-escalate our never-ending culture wars more broadly.”

    • Dan Love says

      WS

      Good comment. The left has always been better at language manipulation than the right (cf. George Orwell’s “1984”), so controls the terms of our national conversation. Merely to disagree with a liberal/leftist is to be oppressive, for you “invalidate their humanity” or some other histrionic bs.

  9. Farris says

    “…and need for sex segregation in prisons, shelters, and sports can be made without getting bogged down in any radical ideology.” (I would add bathrooms, locker rooms and medically altering children).

    If the above issues could be addressed to the benefit of natal women and children, most in the birth gender community would have no issue with transgender politics.

  10. “This view has led Sheila Jeffreys, for example, to argue that…” And you link to a piece not by Sheila but by Janice Raymond.

    “Dr Jane Clare Jones claims that…” And you link to a piece not by Jane but by Helen Jones which, in turn doesn’t link to anything Jane actually wrote, choosing instead to attribute to her a claim she may or may not have made.

    On Twitter Jane says “the ‘assertion’ attributed to me in this article is not supported by the link given, it is not something I have ever said, and it it not a position I hold. This is extremely sloppy.”

  11. R Henry says

    Ours is a post-truth, post-objective reality era, in which Elizabeth Warren is an Indian, Islam is Pacifist, Donald Trump is a Russian double-agent, and Bruce Jenner is a woman.

    Post-Modernism rejects God, rejects fact, and rejects history. That elements of post-modern thought occasionally collide, and occasionally achieve congruence, is largely irrelevant.

  12. This is a very good article overall (though I think there are some things in it you will have to tidy up/re-work).

    I totally agree with the central point that the gender critical insistence on the blank slate theory is not evidence-based, and that the strong likelihood is that there are innate differences (in distribution of different human traits) between men and women, on average/as groups.

    (Actually I’m not entirely sure that many claiming to be gender critical entirely believe in the “blank slate” theory themselves, as some frequently claim that childhood transition amounts to “gay conversion therapy” i.e. that gender non-conforming, very often pre-gay, children are being transitioned rather than being allowed to grow up gay: but this position implicitly accepts that pre-gay boys tend to be more “feminine”, i.e. more like typical girls, and pre-gay girls more “masculine”, and that this atypicality is a feature of their homosexuality, and one presumes they consider homosexuality innate. In other words, they really do think that there is such a thing as innate femininity or “female-typicalness” which is found generally in girls, but also boys who are likely to be gay, and the converse for an innate masculinity or “male typicalness”!).

    I also agree that we can support the gender critical feminists in their fight for the preservation of the rights of female people, in terms of sex-segregation for reasons of privacy, safety etc. and in sports and other areas without agreeing with the “gender is entirely a social construct” mantra.

    I don’t think though that it is advisable to go down the line of equating being a “woman” with “having a female typical brain” and the converse for “man”. First of all, if some woman has a very untypical brain for a female, would we be saying that she is not a woman? Secondly while there is some small amount of evidence that some transgender people have brains more like the opposite sex, this seems linked to sexual orientation – transwomen attracted to men may have brains more like heterosexual women in some respects, but there is no evidence that the brains of transwomen attracted to women (the large majority) have these brain differences. Thirdly, all the brain-sex stuff is tentative anyway, and may be disproved in the future. And finally the trans lobby themselves would reject any notion that their “gender identity” needs any proven biological under-pinning – their “feeling” that they are a woman/female or a man/male is sufficient to make them so.

    So I don’t think it’s an advisable, classic liberal position to accept that transmen and transwomen are “really” men and women based on a notion that “they probably have male-typical or female typical, respectively, brains/psychology”. This does do what the gender critical feminists complain (rightly I think) about – i.e. define being a man or a woman in terms of stereotypes or at least typicality.

    Personally I think the better position is to say that if we only categorise into 2 categories, men and women, then there is no other possible definition of man and women other than to say a man is an adult human male and a woman is an adult human female, and yes, on this categorisation transwomen are men and transmen are women. BUT why must we be limited to 2 categories – can’t we say there are women, men, transwomen, transmen and non-binary people?

  13. Ray Andrews says

    It is fascinating how much time can be spent by otherwise sane people discussing the various ways that the flat earthers and the geocentrists intersect. Sometimes combining against the Patriarchal logic and Eurocentric, DWM science of the Oppressor, but mostly trying to scratch each other’s eyes out. Some few want unity in the face of the Oppressor, but some flat earthers, tolerating no impurity in their religion, yet feel free to appeal to the Oppressor’s science when confronted with the nonsense of the geocentrists. And visa versa. Both churches above agree that 2+2!=4 , because that is what the Patriarchy says it is, but is it 5 or is it 6? Or perhaps any appeal to reason at all is heretical?

    I am reminded of the reformation. The Lutherans and the Calvinists agreed that they were not Catholics, but otherwise they mostly tried to burn each other. More and more I just want to make the noise stop:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_-K66UAjbE#t=3m30s

    Why do we give nonsense the flattery of even paying it heed as tho it was worthy of engagement? These people should be quietly taken to somewhere that they will be looked after but no longer permitted to do themselves, or anyone else, harm. Ladies, gentlemen, let’s rediscover sanity.

  14. Prognoztic says

    I like in picture women are far removed from sexism. And men are only linked by it HAHAHA!!!

  15. First of all, what the hell is a liberal centrist. Are there liberal extremists? Liberals on the right?

    This article used way too many words for a simple purpose – to drive a wedge between any alliance that comes together to fight the trans agenda. Radical feminists might be off base on many things, but on their own they are of little danger to women (or men). They preach to their choir and circle jerk at their academic conferences. They would still be ignored if the battle against trans madness hadn’t made them suddenly useful to the outside world. We (the normies) need all hands on deck.

    • I think Ms. Shelton is using “liberal centrist” as an umbrella term to refer to classical liberals, libertarians, and anyone else who doesn’t count as progressive. After all, there are probably a lot of moderate Democrats who support unions and an expanded social safety net but who aren’t on board with nonbinary pronouns and transitioning children. I would count Quillette as a centrist publication, and many members of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web would qualify as classical liberals.

    • ga gamba says

      First of all, what the hell is a liberal centrist.

      I suppose it’s a concession to American politics where liberals are not centrists and, more recently. not liberal too

      Just a guess though.

    • curiositas says

      In US politics, at least, the term ‘centrist liberals’ (as used in the piece’s title) would contrast with both ‘centrist conservatives’ and ‘radical liberals’. (A ‘centrist liberal’ likely being roughly equivalent to a ‘classical liberal’.) Personally, I would not use a term like ‘radical liberals’ because the group it refers to is not really liberal in its positions — I would call that group ‘progressive’/’leftist’ or ‘radical progressive’/’radical leftist’, depending on context.

    • Dan Love says

      Benita

      I disagree. I’d rather have “gender is a spectrum” any day of the week over “math is a rape tool of the patriarchy”.

  16. Douglas Levene says

    The dispute between the radical feminists and the trans activists reminds me of nothing so much as the war in the last century between Iran and Iraq: I just want both sides to lose.

    • Dan Flehmen says

      Or the war between the Little-Endians and Big-Endians in Gulliver’s Travels.

  17. c young says

    Can you edit this stuff before you publish it ? Too many of these pieces unreadable. This one had multiple basic errors. You are only putting out a couple of pieces a day max.

  18. Mark Beal says

    The notion of a female brain in a male body and vice versa is nonsensical. The brain is a part of the body, not something that exists in the body yet is somehow separate from it (which, judging from the article, both trans-activists and radical feminists seem to believe).

    It would make more sense, though it would open up a whole other can of worms, to suggest the possibility of a male soul in a female body and vice versa, but the trans-activists can’t do that, because it would immediately expose their ideology as the quasi-mystical mumbo jumbo that it is.

    On this particular issue, radical feminists are like Doctor Frankenstein beholding their monster, yet somehow unable to comprehend that it is THEIR monster. The origins of all this lie in the notion that “male” and “female” are socially constructed categories and replacement of the notion of biological sex with gender, to the extent that most people today say “gender” even when they mean “biological sex”. If radical feminists truly want to combat transgender ideology, what they really need to do is deconstruct their own theological/theoretical framework and at the very least admit that it had very bad unintended consequences, even if they can’t bring themselves to admit that it was in many respects just plain wrong.

    I’m not holding my breath, though.

    • While it’s true that “male brain in a female body” is nonsensical, you could say that some men have more feminine personalities and that these personalities are biological, not socially constructed. Surely we’ve all met very young boys who were very sissy and young girls who were extremely tomboyish. Just like some women might naturally be taller than most men, some men might be naturally as feminine (in personality and temperament) as women. This, of course, flies in the face of radical feminism, which says that masculinity and femininity are entirely socially constructed.

      The question then becomes whether or not some men are so feminine (and some women so masculine) that medically transitioning is an effective psychological and social solution for them. Ancient cultures had a habit of assigning feminine men a feminine gender role without any surgery involved (the American Indian berdache, the South Asian hijra, the Samoan fa’fafine), but Western culture is increasingly tolerant of feminine homosexual men and masculine lesbians, so is transsexualism no longer necessary? Or is it a return to form, with egalitarian homosexuality being the historical outlier?

        • It certainly wasn’t as common. The most I’ve been able to find is the practice of sworn virginity in Albania, in which a woman would take a vow of celibacy before beginning to live and be recognized in her village as a man. This might not always have been related to transgenderism or even lesbianism, though. It was also a way for women to escape unwanted arranged marriages.

  19. Asenath Waite says

    Both those claiming that there are no innate psychological differences between the sexes and those claiming that people have hardwired, fundamental gender identities that categorize them psychologically as men or women are shown to be incorrect by science. The truth is that there are major average psychological differences between men and women, but these are by no means universal and therefore they cannot be used to define individuals as being men or women. There is not a psychological profile that applies to all women or all men, but there are psychological traits that have a strong tendency to be more common in one sex or the other.

    • curiositas says

      @Asenath Waite

      I particularly appreciated the sanity of this comment.

  20. Asenath Waite says

    It seems to me that ultimately the only significant reason people in general try to present themselves as one gender or the other is for the purpose of attracting a romantic/sexual partner. Women don’t have an innate desire to wear dresses and makeup, and men don’t have an innate desire to wear ties and do bench presses (I know the tie thing is related to military uniforms and not necessarily primarily to attract women, but it does signal masculinity to women). Women and men do usually have an innate desire to have sexual/romantic relations with people who are clearly members of the opposite sex, however. So they do their best to signal to others which sex they belong to by means of emphasizing secondary sexual characteristics of their physical bodies through exercise, etc. and by adopting the gender norms of their society with regard to clothing, etc.

    As a male, I try to present myself as the best male specimen that I am able to (with admittedly limited success). As well as I can imagine, if I were suddenly to become female, I would try to present myself as the best female specimen possible. I don’t imagine having any psychological distress at having a female body or needing to present myself in a feminine way in order to be socially attractive, it would just be the way things were.

    In this light, transgenderism doesn’t really make sense to me, as it seems to presuppose that people do have an innate desire to present themselves socially as members of a particular sex, when in reality I think people present themselves in this manner for largely practical reasons, as a means to an end (romantic relationships) rather than as an end in itself.

    Therefore I am of the opinion (though I’m open to the possibility of it being wrong) that gender dysphoria is not the result of having the mentality of a member of the opposite sex (and therefore a natural reaction to this mind/body mismatch) but rather is a separate mental disorder along the lines of schizophrenia (and as with schizophrenia it is a serious condition and those suffering from it deserve compassion). In many cases I would guess that there is also a strong sexual aspect to it (e.g. autogynephilia).

    • If you haven’t already, you should read J. Michael Bailey’s The Man Who Would Be Queen and Anne Lawrence’s Men Trapped in Men’s Bodies. They argue that the drive to transition is motivated primarily by sexual desire. Homosexual transsexuals transition because it is easier to have sex with masculine men when you’re presenting as a woman as opposed to a feminine man. After all, gay male sexual culture isn’t kind to overtly feminine men. Autogynephilic transsexuals transition to more fully embrace the image of the invented women they wish to become. I don’t think this is related to schizophrenia at all, but it does rely on the theory that human beings will take drastic actions to achieve sexual fulfillment.

      • Asenath Waite says

        @Jay

        Sounds interesting, thanks. I am somewhat autogynephilic myself, and I can definitely believe that that is the primary motivator for many, if not most, m to f transgender people. There are no lengths that men won’t go to to achieve sexual satisfaction.

        I didn’t mean to suggest that gender dysphoria is actually related to schizophrenia, just that it is also a mental disorder rather than the sufferers somehow having the “wrong” body.

        • I believe the full texts of both books can be found online if you use Google. A PDF of The Man Who Would Be Queen is even included on J. Michael Bailey’s Northwestern University faculty page. For what it’s worth, neither Dr. Bailey nor Dr. Lawrence think there’s anything wrong with transitioning in pursuit of sexual satisfaction. Dr. Lawrence, an autogynephilic transwoman herself, has even theorized that autogynephilia can develop from a fetish into a full-fledged sexual orientation, encompassing feelings of romantic love and affection, albeit directed at “the woman within” instead of a partner.

          I was talking with a libertarian transman on Twitter the other day who acknowledged that gender dysphoria was a mental illness. For him, transitioning was the best palliative treatment available. He still acknowledged that he was biologically female. This is the same mindset that Blaire White, a transwoman who does political commentary on YouTube, has regarding her transsexualism. It’s refreshing and unfortunately rare. I think if transsexuals had continued to advocate for their interests by acknowledging their mental illness and clarifying that transitioning was the best available treatment for it, they would have found more acceptance in society. People could debate whether or not transitioning really led to better life outcomes, but that’s the kind of thing that could be legitimately observed and studied.

          Instead, the transgender movement latched onto mystical and unfalsifiable claims about gender being an innate identity that fell along a wide spectrum and biological sex being nothing more than a social construction. Those are the kinds of claims that only the most progressive postmodern mind can accept. The transgender activists have effectively alienated the centrists, moderates, and libertarians who had otherwise been empathetic toward the transsexuals.

        • Stephanie says

          @Asenath, I agree very much with your first comment, but your suggestion that transgenderism has to do with attracting people of the desired sex is contradicted by the (astonishing) fact that only 23 % of trans people consider themselves straight. That means most trans people have made changes that will make it MORE difficult to attract people of their desired sex.

          What this tells me is that a maximum of 27% of trans people are truly trans. If trans people actually were normal men/women “trapped in the wrong body,” occurance of homosexuality should be similar to that in the broader population. That the great majority of trans people are still attracted to people of the opposite biological sex reflects that it is far easier for a straight man to put on a dress than it is to suck a dick.

          In light of the inability of trans people as a group to integrate in their desired gender, I tend to agree this is a variation of schizophrenia or some other delusional mental illness. When there is such broad overlap between the psychological traits of both genders, claiming to be the other gender is not reasonable. Particularly since none of us can know what it’s like to be other people: how does one know what it’s like to “feel like a girl?” We can only feel like ourselves. In light of this, gender dysphoria can be interpreted as a rejection of self, and the desire to be remade anew.

      • Sara T says

        I am mtf trans – attracted to males; what you and others refer to as a “homosexual transsexual.”

        My distress started at age 2-3 and continued until my mid-20s when I commenced transition. I have only been intimate with one person – my partner (we’ve been together for 10 years). Life has been pretty good for me for the last decade.

        You said: “Homosexual transsexuals transition because it is easier to have sex with masculine men when you’re presenting as a woman as opposed to a feminine man… They argue that the drive to transition is motivated primarily by sexual desire.”

        Transition doesn’t necessarily make sex easier. It is a long, difficult process, often uncomfortable. Proceed with caution! Trust me, I would live as a gay male if I could. There are plenty of masculine/feminine male partnerships out there. Seriously…

        Sex was not my prime motivation. I just desperately wanted to reduce bodily discomfort (what is referred to as gender dysphoria). That said, for many of us who live with protracted discomfort, transition allows us to form meaningful intimate relationships. Others are not so fortunate.

        Anyway, I find it amazing how many people want to turn what is essentially a basic desire for intimacy (i.e. meaningful intimate partnerships) into something disgusting and freakish.

        • Hello, Sara. I don’t think it’s disgusting and freakish at all. I was simply reiterating Dr. Bailey’s theory about why some MtF transsexuals transition. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking steps to become the person you want to be. I think medically transitioning is a perfectly legitimate treatment for transsexuals, and I know it’s not an option that is undertaken lightly.

          I think you might be under the impression that when I mentioned sexual motivation, I implied that sexual motivation was somehow dirty, shameful, or perverse. I don’t think that at all. As you eloquently stated, sex is an essential component to meaningful intimate relationships, and those relationships sustain us emotionally even after the initial sparks have faded. Whether or not it’s a primary or secondary motivation, I don’t think it’s a disgusting or perverse motivation. As a gay man, I know that one of the most important aspects of homosexual rights is the right to openly seek the type of romantic and sexual fulfillment that heterosexuals take for granted. I wish that same fulfillment for transsexuals too, and I’m glad that you and your partner have found it.

          • Normie says

            a few random thoughts

            1) the alliance may be an uncomfortable one, but it’s far from nonsensical, i don’t think, at least not if you view them both as a kind of mothering. in this respect the huge gender imbalance in gender criticism is revealing.

            2) the relegation of gender identity to the realm of (almost) pure social construction is a mistake, i think. gender identity, or the self’s secure sense of oneself as the sex one is is an essential part of human reproduction. it’s also a far from perfect mechanism, hence the existance of lgb and t; which, i maintain, are all disorders of gender identity.

            3) lgb and t really aren’t that different. who you want to fuck has always been the biggest marker of what gender/sex you are (jordan-young discusses this i think). it’s also possible to be very insecure in terms of gender identity and still develop a normal sexual orientation.

            4) the increase in the number of trans people reveals one thing and one thing only, there’s long been a desire for ceratin elements of society to be the opposite sex, recent medical advances are (and will continue to) facilitate that desire.

  21. Northern Observer says

    Carl Benjamin (Sargon of Akkad) and Benjamin A Boyce have some excellent you tube essays and commentaries on these battles and working towards reasonable public policy and social norms on these issues. Go check it out before the Trust and Safety Commission takes it all away.

  22. Fickle Pickle says

    Why are those on the right obsessed with this topic?
    Everyone in today’s world,is to one degree or another sexually confused and/or aberrated, with no exceptions. So too in all times past.
    How could it be otherwise because Western culture and the christian church does not have an emotional- sexual Wisdom Tradition.

    Prior to the information explosion which began in the seventies most people were completely ignorant of their sexual plumbing, let alone the all-important EMOTIONAL dimensions of our existence-being.

    Such widespread ignorant was certainly not bliss.

    One of the principal manifestations of sexual aberration are of course celibate catholic priests.

    Even worse are the supernumeraries, the elite members of the deeply misogynist outfit Opus Dei. They practice self torture on a daily basis via the use of a cilice belt, and other methods of self flagellation.

    The former pope John Paul II also practiced similar austerities too, at least occasionally. Apparently hoping that such pain inducing austerities would get him “closer to ‘god'”.

    Opus Dei is now a very powerful influence in the catholic church.and by extension the entire world via its applied politics
    Greg Burke who was recently dismissed as adviser to the current pope is a member of the Opus Dei elite. He was/is in charge of the the world wide Vatican propaganda machine. He was formerly in charge of Fox “news” in New York.
    Both JPII and Ratzinger facilitated Opus Dei’s rise to power in the catholic church. Its members fill many key positions in international financial and political circles all over the world.
    Justices Scalia, Alito and Thomas were/are either members of it or very closely associated with it.

    For a completely different assessment of the “saintly” John Paul !! and the dark politics that he empowered read the book The Power & the Glory: The Dark Heart Inside JPII’s Vatican by David Yallop.

    • Stephanie says

      Fickle Pickle, I couldn’t get through your rant about obscure religious sects, but I will answer your (possibly rhetorical) question about why the right pays so much attention to this issue.

      The right is concerned about truth and unintended consequences. What could go wrong if trans activists succeed in saying boys are girls and girls are boys? Practically, it means destroying all the protections painstakingly earned to protect women and children. As someone obsessed with religious malfeasance, you certainly understand that predators will go to great lengths to put themselves in the best situation possible to abuse their targets. Predators who’d go into the Catholic Church in previous generations can now undergo sex reassignment and have an even greater level of access to children and women. Hyper-competitive men who aren’t capable of winning against other men can get the glory they need by competing against women. The right is concerned about such unintended consequences, because the left is too idealistic for such thoughts to occur to them on their own, and too ideologically rigid to allow for consideration of the practical consequences.

  23. Jonathan says

    This is a clear-headed response to an issue that frequently makes me want to pull out my hair. I’m a transsexual who finds issues in the ideologies of both trans activists and radical feminists, for each side merely sounds like it’s preaching its own sacred, irrational gospel.

    On the point of in-utero development of transsexuality, though, I would push it a step further. Sometimes this may occur, but it is also possible that a person develops cross-sex behaviors and identification, thus changing the structure of his brain unwittingly. Regardless if it’s the chicken or the egg, however, there is clearly something unrelenting in the general trans experience that points to biology at some point.

    • Stephanie says

      Johnathan, I think that’s a great point. There must be some biological aspect to this phenomenon. If only scientists could research this without getting steamrolled. Curious: if instead of gender reassignment treatment, there had been a cure to gender dysphoria, would you have taken it?

  24. Dan Flehmen says

    No one who had ever take a course in animal behavior, behavioral endocrinology, or even Biology 101 would question the reality of neurological sex differences. Female animals show female-typical maternal, sexual and aggressive behavior, and males show male-typical behavior. It has been known for decades that hormonal events in the womb ‘organize’ the fetal brain to respond as either male or female in adulthood and that after puberty, hormones produced in the gonads and other tissues ‘activate’ sex-typical behavior. This holds true for all mammals that have been studied, and was well-documented in primates by the early 1970’s and in humans shortly thereafter. Mistiming of those fetal hormonal events are very likely the root cause of homosexuality and transgenderism in adulthood.

    Of course, people with no science background might like to think there is something that elevates humans beyond mere biology, such that we are shaped solely by culture, upbringing, or the dread patriarchy. These are the same folks who once blamed schizophrenia on ‘schizophrenogenic mothers’, or like John Money, insisted that one could raise a child to be either sex merely through parental influence. Both ideas resulted in countless human tragedies: mothers carrying the guilt for unknowingly causing their children’s mental illness, tortured adults who could not understand why they had the genitalia of one sex but the feelings of the other.

    Scientific illiteracy is terribly dangerous, as we see today in climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, and homeopathic ‘medicine’. Even radical feminists ought to take a biology course before graduating from college.

    • Stephanie says

      @Dan, I was with you until you threw “climate change deniers” in. Extremely few people think the climate never changes. The deniers charge is thrown around by people who have taken anthropogenic, catastrophic climate change as their replacement for End Times mythology. The blind acceptance of a narrative that is quite poorly-supported indicates very few have read the relevant papers or noticed the conspicuous lack of consideration of uncertainties.

  25. Defenstrator says

    An interesting article but I see little evidence of actual liberals siding with the rad fems. Quite the contrary, they seem to delight in their misery because at last they know what they have been putting everyone else through.

  26. Reading this, I couldn’t help but wonder if there’s justification in a society setting and enforcing standards of behavior. All of this…gobbledygook is practically impenetrable. I’m not sure how people uninterested in the nuances of these movements is expected to keep up with the distinctions necessary to simply talk with a member of one of them. Never mind trying to construct a society around all of this nonsense.

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