The Philosophy Wars Over Trans Lives and Truth
Today, I want to talk about the philosophy wars that are confusing the public discussion over trans issues, how it harms trans people, and the broader implications for society.
Right now, there are several different factions involved in the debate over trans issues, all with their own rationale for supporting or opposing trans rights to certain degrees. However, two of the loudest are the gender critical feminists, sometimes known as trans-exclusionary radical feminists, and the postmodern feminists. The former are staunchly against trans rights, while the latter are theoretically for them. Note that when I say ‘gender critical’, I mean the activist movement that is committed to that particular ideology, not just anyone who may be questioning certain trans issues.
What makes these two factions so important is that their views of trans people have become disproportionately influential in the general public, probably because they have the most dedicated activists. What I’m most concerned about is that, this essentially philosophical war over trans people, one that is not fought on scientific grounds but rather on philosophical grounds, is confusing the important issues, and leading to unwarranted backlash against trans people.
What may surprise many people is that, the gender criticalists and the postmodernists actually share a fundamental worldview, that is, gender is a social construct created by the patriarchy to oppress women. In turn, this is a particular expression of the general critical theory worldview: that the ideas held to be true by most people are often a social construct to serve the oppressors of society. Now, this might make sense if we were talking about laws or political systems. But to apply the idea to the realm of biological science is, I believe, basically no different from religious fundamentalism. As I previously pointed out, even if we separate gender out from genetic sex, there is still plenty of evidence that gender, defined as the social and psychological aspects, is mostly rooted in biology, and therefore not a social construct. Indeed, this biology based understanding of gender had been the basis of how many understood trans people for many decades. There is also no scientific reason as to why it should be abandoned.
For many decades, gender critical feminists, who believed that gender is a social construct, and therefore could be abolished, had been at odds with trans people, who believed that gender is innate and rooted in the biology of the brain. After all, if the gender critical feminists were right, then trans people would be basically invalid. If trans people were right, then the gender criticalist goal of abolishing gender would be impossible. This has always been the root reason of why gender critical feminism opposed trans rights. More recently, a third faction emerged, the postmodern feminists. The postmodernists hold that gender is a social construct, and the best way to essentially abolish it is to disrupt and deconstruct it. Therefore, they welcome trans people as disruptors of the gender binary. As you can see, the postmodernists’ view is much closer to the gender critical than to old-school trans people, but their different theory of how to disrupt gender has led them to support trans rights.
I believe the rise of the postmodernist narrative is not because it is valid or logical. Like everything else postmodern, it is clearly not very logical. However, it is convenient. Especially by the 2010s, feminism was enjoying a resurgence, and trans rights had become a prominent issue, because of the rise of LGBT civil rights. If there were a conflict between the two, the progressive side of politics could descend into deep crisis. The conflict could have been resolved by adopting liberal feminism, but many people on the Left refused to do that because they connect liberal feminism to capitalism, which they see as inherently evil. Instead, they adopted postmodernism, which meant that they could continue the work of social constructionist radical feminism while also supporting trans rights. Very convenient, but not scientific or even logically consistent.
Ultimately, relying on postmodern philosophical sophistry to build the New Left’s latest coalition has served to harm trans people and trans rights. People on the Right in particular love to constantly point out the multiple logical inconsistencies. There’s a glaring inconsistency between the idea of gender being a social construct, and the idea of gender identity being innate to trans individuals. There’s also the question of, if it is valid to be transgender, why is it not valid to be transracial, which would after all be no different under the postmodern worldview. All this time, our supposed community leaders have not been able to provide a response to these very valid points, as they have become beholden to the nonsense that is postmodernism. In turn, this has allowed both the anti-trans conservatives and the gender critical feminists to look more reasonable than us, which has meant increased support for their worldviews, and increased resistance to trans rights.
I believe, to get anything resolved, the most important thing is to uphold the truth. To deny fundamental facts using philosophical sophistry, like postmodernism essentially seeks to do, or to build shaky coalitions of political convenience, like so-called intersectionality seeks to do, can only create confusion. Ultimately, the truth trumps all philosophical sophistry. As trans people, we should return to the truth we have always known: that we are living proof that gender is not a social construct. The fact that so many trans people suffer from such intense gender dysphoria is the best proof that gender is biological, that it is in the brain rather than constructed by society. We need to uphold this truth, and tell it loud and clear to the world. The truth we know about ourselves will gain us respect, understanding and acceptance. Allying with one side in a philosophical war that doesn’t even authentically respect our existence will not do us any good.