Gender Activism: A Feminist Critique

In which I answer some questions about my views on gender .

  1. How does the existence of trans women or trans lesbians erase cis lesbians?

Sexual orientation is sex based. Trans women are male, and, necessarily, campaign to make biological sex secondary to ‘gender identity’. Because of this, trans women often (admittedly with some exceptions) look like men and have male bodies. Trans activists are claiming that ‘genital preferences are transphobic’, this 1) reduces sexual orientation to a ‘preference’ (homophobia) and 2) implies that same attraction is bigoted and immoral (homophobia). In redefining ‘lesbian’ to include males, this fundamentally changes the term ‘lesbian’ from being a female homosexual to a woman-identified person who loves a woman-identified person. Trans activists haven’t given a non-circular definition of ‘woman’, instead trans activists are arguing that ‘woman is mostly a meaningless term’. Expanding the term ‘lesbian’ to include males makes ‘lesbian’ so broad as to be meaningless. This erases women, but lesbians specifically, who’s identity and sexual orientation is necessarily reliant on ‘woman’ having a clear and meaningful definition (adult human female).

Lesbians are hearing a lot of familiar homophobic comments being ‘dressed up’ in social justice language e.g. ‘how do you know if you don’t like penis if you’ve never tried it?’. Are gay men sexist for rejecting vaginas? Of course not. Are lesbians transphobic for rejecting penis’? Of course not. If you accept that some people are exclusively same sex attracted, regardless of gender identity and presentation, then what do you call them if not lesbian and gay?

2. CDC research found that within the LGBTQ community, transgender people face some of the most alarming rates of sexual violence. Why are radical feminists so afraid that the GRA would expose cis women to violence from a group which is actually more likely to be victims than perpetrators?

Trans people are disproportionately represented in the sex industry. Radical feminists reject the sex industry. Trans people also face male violence. Feminists actively organise around and campaign against male violence.

Trans is an umbrella term which encompasses a variety of gender non conforming experiences (as we are often told by activists). Transsexual identified people, who look and present like women, have been using female facilities for years. I don’t have too much of an issue with that — how could you even ‘police’ this? It would be impossible. The issue is that it is hard to differentiate between a self-identified transwoman and an opportunistic male, because “trans” is a subjective, broad and poorly-defined concept that is premised on the nebulous “gender identity”. Danielle Muscato is a “trans woman”. Danielle is male and presents in a masculine way (with a beard). Where do you draw the line? These postmodern ideas about sex and gender are relatively new and most women have not been introduced to them. An elderly woman or a mother with her children would feel vulnerable with Danielle Muscato in a changing room. But how could you tell Danielle to leave if they identify as a woman? Self-ID implies there is no criteria for being trans aside from gender identity. Our legal and social expansion of ‘woman’ will make same sex spaces defacto unworkable. This raises several questions: how can you stop male prisoners ‘identifying’ as women in order to enter female prisons, for example? There are many issues with self-ID that need to be open to respectful and considered debate.

I believe in socialism — radical democracy — and, as such, I wholly reject the harassment and violence targeted towards women who want to discuss proposed changes in law.

3. Why do rad feminists hate the word ‘cis’ so much?

Radical feminists have spent years thinking about sex and gender, understanding gender as the social and cultural expectations of women and men. This is hierarchical — women are passive, weak, the object. Men are active, strong, the subject. What is ‘gender’ if not 1) these assumed set of constructed roles 2) your personality? Trans activism reifies gender, i.e. it implicitly (and explicitly) affirms it as being natural, innate. I don’t believe in ‘gender identity’. I am a materialist — I don’t have a body, I am a body. The gender identity/body distinction is a mind/body or soul/body distinction that I reject. Were there neanderthal trans people? Or were they not intellectually developed enough to have a ‘gender identity’? At what stage of evolution did humans develop ‘gender identity’? At what stage of evolution did humans develop ‘a soul’? This is the same kind of argument to me.

There is no scientific consensus as to what causes people to be trans. As such, I reject the term ‘cis’ because it implies women somehow ‘identify’ with womanhood. Radical feminists, in rejecting gender, are mostly gender non conforming. The cis/trans distinction implies that someone who identifies as ‘non binary’ is oppressed, and the gender non conforming radical feminist is ‘the oppressor’. This is an issue of semantics rather than material reality — the only difference in the non-binary and the radical-feminist experience of gender is in self-identification. Cis/trans creates a false dichotomy and tells us nothing about sex-based oppression, or oppression generally. Though, according to trans activism, I am a-gender, or grey-gender or non-binary. The only thing stopping me from claiming those terms and adopting an ‘oppressed’ identity is my self-identification. But I am female. Respectfully, I don’t want a special status for just myself.

Cis implies that women — lesbians, call centre workers, single mothers — have an inherent ‘privilege’ over trans people. Again, let’s not forget — trans is an umbrella term. A gender non conforming male is not more ‘oppressed’ than a lesbian. The cis/trans dichotomy obscures that, and allows men to shout ‘oppressor’ at women.

4. Do you recognise that conflating transgender people with cis male sexual predators is harmful and problematic? That it’s very similar to the rhetoric used to conflate homosexuality and paedophilia in the 70s/80s? There seems to be a real fear that cis lesbians will be ‘forced’ to date trans lesbians. Where has this fear of coercion come from?

Yes, I can understand how radical feminist critiques could be read like that. I can understand how that would be hurtful.

But we aren’t conflating trans people with sexual predators. We are pointing out that statistically males are overwhelmingly more likely to commit sexual violence regardless of their gender identity. Same sex spaces exist as a risk reduction to protect women against violence. Self-ID, as I argued, makes it practically very difficult to have same sex spaces. Legally and socially understanding ‘woman’ as being contingent on nothing more than your ‘gender identity’ means it will be more difficult to challenge men entering women’s spaces.

The fear has come from the activism which calls lesbians ‘bigots’ for rejecting trans women (male people). This has been called ‘the cotton ceiling’ by activists, implying that the fight to be accepted into lesbian spaces and lesbian’s pool of sexual partners is a ‘ceiling’ to ‘smash’. This is rape culture. I would argue that in reducing lesbianism to a fetish or a kink (literally calling lesbians ‘vagina fetishists’) trans activists are themselves conflating homosexuality with disturbing sexual behaviour.