Guest post: A hostile ultimatum

Originally a comment by Bjarte Foshaug at the Miscellany Room.

People have always noticed that human beings have different innate physical traits. Furthermore, the distribution of these differences is not entirely random. Some of the most obvious (let’s call them “sex differences”) seem to cluster into two sets of traits that tend to go together far more often than expected by chance. One of these sets (let’s call it the set of “male” traits) is clearly more representative of fathers than mothers while the opposite is true of the second set (let’s call it the set of “female” traits). Roughly half the people on the planet have a strong preponderance of traits from the first set, and roughly the other half have a strong preponderance of traits from the second set. But since “Person with a strong preponderance of innate physical traits from the set of traits more representative of fathers than mothers”, or vice versa, is a rather awkward and cumbersome thing to say, most of us prefer a more convenient short-hand like “man” or “woman” respectively. As we might expect when dealing with physical reality rather than pure mathematics and idealized Platonic forms, there is going to be some fuzziness around the edges, and not every person ever born is going to fit neatly under any of these labels. Luckily, this is not a problem since they’re just short-hands for sets of physical traits anyway, not cosmic revelations about who you are on the inside.

It remains a fact, however, that societies throughout history and all over the world have tended to put people with a strong preponderance of traits from the second set regardless of what you prefer to call them at a major disadvantage compared to people with a strong preponderance of traits from the first set (once again regardless of what you prefer to call them). The list is practically endless: Being granted the right to vote significantly later than the other sex (if ever), under-representation in position of power and influence, the pay gap, less chance of getting hired in the first place, objectification, getting judged by level of attractiveness or “fuckablility”, locker-room talk, “banter”, slut-shaming, cyber-bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault, groping, domestic violence, rape, hyper-skepticism towards claims of rape and abuse, victim-blaming, gaslighting, forced pregnancies, getting jailed for having a miscarriage, forced marriages, child brides, being forced to cover up, not being allowed to leave home without a guardian of the other sex, not being allowed to drive, being denied an education, being considered “impure” and having to isolate during period, female genital mutilation, acid attacks, honor killings, witch-burnings, stoning, getting burned or buried alive along their deceased husbands etc… etc…

This system of oppression has been called the “patriarchy”, and the ideological life-support system upholding the patriarchy has been given various names like “sexism”, “misogyny”, “male chauvinism” etc. The movement working to debunk sexism and abolish the patriarchy has been called “feminism”. An essential part of the feminist struggle has always been combating the sexist stereotypes that portray women as naturally inclined towards everything that tends to please men and otherwise less suited for any role that men prefer to keep for themselves.

There’s a complication, however. There are people – commonly referred to as “Trans” – who insist on being called “woman”, ”female”, “she” etc. despite having a strong preponderance of innate physical traits from our first set, which is exactly what it means to be a “man” / ”male” according to our working definition [1]. There is also a loud and outspoken group of activists – henceforth referred to as Trans Rights Activists (TRAs for short) – who may or may not be Trans themselves standing by and ready to gang up on anyone (especially if biologically female) who fails to treat the claim of these biological males as anything less than the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. In order to make sense, these people obviously have to dispute that being a “man” or “woman” has anything to do with physical traits. On the other hand, they don’t want us to stop using words like “man” and “woman” (as if they referred to something real) altogether [2] (after all, how can one claim to be a “real woman” if there are no real women?).

So while TRAs tend to reject the idea that our physical traits make us “men” and “women”, they pretty much have to insist that something else does, usually something about the person’s inner life, personality traits, way of thinking or feeling etc. Not only are “male” and “female”, “masculine” and “feminine” ways of thinking or feeling said to be a thing, but supposedly the only thing that makes a person “male” or “female”, “man” or “woman” in the first place. Thus referring to somebody as either “man” or “woman” in the lingo of these people is to make a factual claim about what’s going on inside his/her head. Exactly what’s being claimed is never made clear since all we ever get are tautologies (A woman is someone who thinks or feels in whatever way I happen to think or feel) and circular definitions (A woman is someone who identifies as someone who identifies as someone who identifies as… etc. etc. ad infinitum). In the rare event that any actual specifics are offered, the internal markers of with “womanhood” invariably turn out to be indistinguishable from the sexist stereotypes that feminist have been fighting to abolish.

Calling unrelated things by the same name (in other words, the use of homonyms) is not in itself a problem as long as nobody’s laboring under the delusion that we’re still talking about the same thing. After all, few if any real-world problem are attributable to the fact that flying mammals and clubs for hitting baseballs are both referred to as “bats” in English. Words don’t mean anything in themselves, but get their meanings from us. If somebody wants to apply the word “fish” to what the rest of us call “bird”, and vice versa, they are free to do so. But then it is either disingenuous, or stupid, or both to go on talking as if everybody else were using these words in the same way, pretend we’re still talking about the same thing, and demand to have it both ways (e.g. insisting that “birds” can still fly).

Unfortunately, the TRA use of language is very much of this latter kind. There is a reason why biological males who think or feel a certain way (let’s call them “women₂”) are so obsessed with being called the same as the people with physical traits more representative of mothers than fathers (let’s call them “women₁”): Because they want everyone to accept that they are the same. However, since they don’t in fact have innate physical traits more representative of mothers than fathers, they have to argue that something else makes them the same as women₁, or – more precisely – that something else makes women₁ the same as them, hence the strong insistence on “female” or “feminine” ways of thinking/feeling that women₁ supposedly share with them, thus making them the same “kind of people”.

From such a point of view it quickly becomes obvious that – despite the rhetoric – this is not simply about whether or not Trans women₂ have the right to define “who they are”, but whether or not they have the right to dictate who women₁ are as well (Basically saying: “Women₁ are whatever they have to be to make me one of them”). It is also obvious why the “certain way” that women₂ are supposed to think and feel is never specified. Most women₁ might not appreciate having all kinds of mental traits attributed to them (especially if said traits seem to be entirely derived from sexist stereotypes, pornography and male sexual phantasies). To keep the women₁ from protesting that this doesn’t apply to them at all and walking out in droves, better stick to tautologies and circular definitions and avoid specifics at all costs.

I am sure we are all familiar with Daniel Dennett’s concept of “deepities”, but anyway: A deepity is an ambiguous statement with two possible interpretations. One of these interpretations makes the statement true but trivial, while the other makes it profound but false. There is something similar going on in TRA discourse except that in this case the statement in question is either true but irrelevant or relevant but false depending on the interpretation. Take the following sentences:

• This toilet / sporting event / locker room / shower / domestic abuse shelter etc. is for women₁.

• Misogyny is discrimination of / hostility towards women₁.

• Feminism is a movement fighting the discrimination of women₁.

• Straight men₁ and lesbian women₁ are attracted to women₁.

• Bjarte Foshaug is a man₁.

As written, these sentences are all true (for certain values of “this” in the first example) but also irrelevant to any point that TRAs are trying to make. Substituting women₂/men₂ for women₁/men₁ respectively might make the sentences relevant to their point but also false. In good Orwellian fashion, there is usually a strong element of having it both ways by taking credit for the truth of the first interpretation and the relevancy of the second interpretation at the same time. There’s also a strong element of “word-magic” involved. Much of TRA rhetoric seems to boil down to the idea that you can take whatever’s applicable to X and make it applicable to Y by renaming Y as X (renaming fish as “bird” makes it true that haddocks and halibuts can fly etc.).

Since the existence of biological sex allows us to talk about women₁ as a group in its own right, regardless of what’s going on inside their heads, TRAs are at war with sex as a concept. At best, biological sex is said to be too complicated and messy to allow us to say anything in particular about the sex of individuals. At worst, the validity of biological sex as a category is denied altogether. In their war on biology TRAs have come up with an entire parallel vocabulary (I call it “Genderspeak”) in which every word pertaining to biological sex has a homonym (“man₂”, “girl₂”, “misogyny₂”, “feminism₂”, “lesbian₂” etc.) redefined in terms of “gender identity” or just “gender”. It has, of course, become quite common to use “gender” as a synonym for “sex” [3] (probably because the latter word has other denotations that are irrelevant in this context). It is important to note that this is not what TRAs mean by “gender”. Instead, “gender” supposedly denotes a perfectly real and vitally important [4] difference between sets of distinct and identifiable ways of thinking and feeling best left unspecified.

Let’s pause for a minute and notice the double standard: If biological sex is messy and not everybody falls neatly into either the “biological male₁” or “biological female₁” category (once again, as you’d expect when dealing with physical reality rather than pure mathematics and idealized Platonic forms), that pretty much invalidates biological sex as a category. But if the supposed “gender” differences they’re talking about are so vacuous and ill-defined that most TRAs don’t even try to come up with a non-circular definition, that apparently makes them more firmly established than the laws of thermodynamics. If defining “man” and “woman” in terms of biological differences doesn’t meet their standards of accuracy and precision (despite describing the vast majority of people on the planet well enough to be quite useful), then you definitely wouldn’t expect any the circular non-definitions in terms of thoughts and feelings to meet those very same standards. Even if there were no basis for talking about biological sexes as distinct and identifiable categories, it still wouldn’t imply that being a “man” or being a “woman” is about something other than physical traits. What it would imply is that there’s no basis for talking about “men” and “women” either. If biological sexes are not a valid concept, then neither are “men” and “women”. If physical traits don’t make us “men” and “women”, then nothing does.

According to gender ideology, however, most people’s ways of thinking or feeling really do make them either men₂ or women₂, thus establishing a “gender binary” that really does apply to the great majority of people on this planet. Besides man₂ and woman₂ there’s a vast number – or so we’re told – of other “non-binary” genders that only apply to a minority of people on the Trans spectrum. Everyone else is considered, by default, to be “Cis” (the binary opposite of “Trans”). It is important to note that “Cis woman” does not mean the same as “woman₁”. Genderspeak doesn’t have a name for women₁. “Trans women” and “Cis women” are both women₂ since thinking or feeling in a “female” or “feminine” manner (whatever that’s supposed to mean?) is the only thing that makes somebody a “woman” of any kind in the first place. Thus even the “Cis” label rests on an implicit claim about what’s going on inside other people heads. It’s just that the “Cis” people (allegedly) see themselves as the gender that society at large consider them to be while the “Trans” people do not. Suffice it to say that by those criteria I’m neither “Cis” nor a “man₂”.

Not only are TRAs themselves using every word in the Genderspeak sense, but hardly anything they have to say makes sense without presupposing (perhaps the most disingenuous part) that everybody else is doing so as well. For example, when I have to fill out one of these forms that require us to tick off a box labeled “M” or “F”, I tick the “M” box. My passport also has the same “M” in it. When I have to take a leak, I go to the “Men’s Room” etc. All of this doesn’t involve any act of “identifying as a man” on my part. It’s simply is the case that I have physical traits more representative of fathers than mothers”, which is all it means to be a man₁. Yet to TRAs that “M” is taken as an admission that I do indeed embrace the whole ideological framework of “male” vs. “female” ways of thinking and feeling and personally subscribe to the former. In other words, that I’m a (Cis) man₂ as opposed to a man₁. It’s as if you were saying something about flying mammals (bats₁) and I started accusing you of talking about clubs for hitting baseballs (bats₂), claiming baseball bats can fly etc.

On the same note, Gender-critical feminists (labeled by TRAs as “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists” – “TERFs” for short – and portrayed as a hate-group on par with violent white supremacists and neo-Nazis) don’t accept “gender” (in its Genderspeak definition) as a valid concept, and since there is no such thing as “gender” there can be no “gender binary”. Indeed, the closest we might get to an accurate representation of the gender-critical position in Genderspeak would be to say that everybody is “non-binary”, or “gender non-conforming ” [5], or even “agender”. As already mentioned, TRAs themselves are the ones who insist that there are distinct and identifiable “male” and “female” ways of thinking and feeling, thus establishing a “gender-binary” that really does apply to everyone except a minority on the Trans spectrum. Yet the gender critical feminists, who reject this whole framework, are the ones accused of “enforcing the gender binary”, “denying the existence on non-binary identities” etc.

Likewise TRAs themselves are the ones who insist that some perfectly real and vitally important mental differences make certain people “female” to the very core of their being, regardless of any physical traits, thus justifying dividing people into separate groups requiring separate vocabularies, separate dress-codes, separate toilets, separate sporting events etc. Yet gender critical feminists, who take the position that being “female” doesn’t say anything about you other than the most superficial and irrelevant physical facts, are the ones accused of “gender essentialism”.

Even the frequently repeated trope about gender being (arbitrarily) “assigned at birth” presupposes that everybody else is using words in the Genderspeak sense: When the nurse tells the expectant parents “It’s a boy”, I for one (and I strongly suspect most people) simply take it to be a mundane empirical observation regarding the child’s biological sex (meaning “It’s a boy₁”, not “It’s a boy₂”). “Gender” in the Genderspeak sense doesn’t enter into it all. According to the official TRA narrative, however, the nurse is pulling a factual claim about the child’s (future) inner life out of his/her ass and everybody else just goes along forever after. In the case of Trans people the nurse gets it wrong, and every evil ever to befall a Trans person goes back to this fatal mistake.

It really cannot be stressed enough that TRAs are in the exclusion business as much as anybody, since their definition of “woman₂” by necessity excludes anyone who fails to think or feel the right way about themselves. When they speak of “inclusion” and fighting for the liberation of “all women” (as opposed to “only ‘cis’ women”), clearly what we are meant to envision is taking the circle that already includes the ‘cis’ women and expanding it to also include the ‘Trans’ women. As always when it comes to alt-left slogans, we’re supposed to hear it, let it resonate just long enough to have some warm fuzzy gut reaction and then think about it no more. If you do think about it (and are therefore guilty of “transphobia”, “transmisogyny”, “denying the rights” of, or even advocating “violence” against Trans people), it quickly becomes obvious that redefining “woman” in terms of thoughts and feelings doesn’t simply “expand” the circle, but replaces it entirely. And this matters, since TRAs have made it abundantly clear that all of “women’s rights” are supposed to go with the name rather than the actual people. If they have their way, every right, every concession, every piece of progress that women₁ have managed to wrestle from the arms of the patriarchy throughout the ages will henceforth apply to people like them instead of the people for whom they were originally intended.

We know for a fact that the old circle included roughly half the world’s population. How many does the new one include? It’s pretty much tautologically true that it includes the tiny minority of men₁ who prefer to be called ‘woman’/’she’ since the Genderspeak definition of women₂ pretty much boils down to “whatever men₁ who prefer to be called ‘woman’/’she’ happen to be” (or at least “people who think or feel in whatever way men₁ who prefer to be called ‘woman’/’she’ happen to think or feel”). How many women₁ does that include? I very much doubt that many women₁ would say they fit the definition of women₂ if they knew exactly how this requires them to think or feel. Indeed if you look past the warm fuzzy connotations of words like “inclusivity” and focus on what’s actually being said, the new circle is almost certainly going to be orders of magnitude smaller and more “exclusionary” than the old one.

But it’s actually worse than that. As previously mentioned, the discrimination of people with innate physical traits more representative of mothers than fathers is a very real problem in itself regardless of what you prefer to call them. Also, as many others have pointed out, there is absolutely nothing women₁ can do to “identify out of” the way they’re treated, and all the inclusive pronouns in the world are never going to make an ounce of difference. And yet, if you follow TRA logic to its ultimate conclusion, nobody at all will be allowed to stand up for the rights and interests of women₁, since even acknowledging the latter as an oppressed group in its own right with its own separate issues that are not entirely reducible to those faced by men₁ who prefer to be called “woman”/”she” is exclusionary to Trans women₂ and hence a hatecrime. So the Trans lobby’s ultimatum to women₁ everywhere boils down to “Shut up and let the oppression you face go forever unaddressed and unopposed, or have your name pulled through the dirt all over the internet”. A hostile ultimatum if ever there was one.

Of course, few if any TRAs are going to come straight out and say any these things. I will inevitably be accused of attacking strawmen, misrepresenting the TRA position etc. Apparently, nobody is denying that biological sex exists, that discrimination of women₁ is a problem in its own right etc. My response is that most of the alleged “TERFs” whom they have already attacked and vilified, whom they have already tried (sometimes successfully) to get fired from their jobs, whose voices they have already tried (sometimes successfully) to silence, whose names they have already dragged through the mud all over the internet are guilty of nothing more than saying those very same things they now claim “nobody is denying”. If you look at who actually said what, it usually turns out that the only crime of the gender-critical feminists was refusing to give away all of women₁’s rights to people who are not women₁ while all the supposed instances of “transphobia”, “denying the rights/dignity/existence of Trans women”, perpetuating “violence” towards and even “murder” of Trans people etc. were put into their mouths by the TRAs themselves. In this respect, the latter are very much like the corrupt cops often portrayed in gangster movies who plant drugs or weapons on an innocent person and then go on to arrest him/her for finding what they themselves planted there in the first place.

I also happen to know for a fact that even many of the “approved” feminists (the “trans-inclusive”, “intersectional”, “feminist₂” kind) have said things that could get them labeled as TERFs and demonized any time (in fact, things for which they themselves have already demonized others as TERFs). E.g. I have personally been referred to as both “man” and “him” by “Trans allies” who, in the absence of telepathic powers, couldn’t possibly know how I think or feel about myself. I have also heard people like that talk about the “Bechdel Test” and how this or that movie only had X “women” in it, when the movie in question didn’t offer any clue about these people’s “inner sense of self”. This goes to show that even the supposedly “good” feminists are unable to consistently live up to what’s required of them: When specifically talking about Trans issues, words like “man” and “woman”, “male” and “female” refer to an inner state, but for all other purposes they still talk and act as if these words referred to something physical. Even the Trans women₂ themselves do not in fact treat biological sex as a non-issue. After all, why would anyone need any surgery or hormone treatment to make their bodies “align” with their “gender identity” if bodies are completely irrelevant to gender and no body type is any more or less “aligned” with being a “woman” than any other?

Although the TRA crusade to abolish biological sex and impose gender disproportionally hurts women₁ it doesn’t end there. Many have marveled at how quickly Gender ideology seems to have gone from utterly fringe to sacred truth across large a segment of the political left. One frequent explanation for the success of the Trans lobby is the way it has managed to attach itself to other social justice movements. One of the most disgusting examples is the appropriation of anti-racism as well as the conflation of “gender critical” and “white”, usually by people who are no less white themselves. When white people accuse other white people of “white feminism” it only ever means one thing:

“I speak for all the non-whites”

Because obviously people of color all agree with gender ideology…

Probably the most impressive feat of the Trans lobby, and possibly the main reason for the sudden spike in the popularity of Gender ideology, is the way it has managed to get itself associated with – and ultimately take over – what used to be the LGB (then the LGBT and now finally the T) movement. Who would have thought just 10 years ago that we should live to see the day when the only approved “feminist” position was that women₁ neither deserve nor need any movement to stand up for their rights or interests, or when the only approved “LGBT” position was that same-sex attraction (as opposed to attraction to anyone who thinks or feels in certain ways, uses certain pronouns etc.) is the pinnacle of bigotry and evil.

In the end, the only people to benefit from any of this are the Social Injustice Warriors (SIWs) of the far right. Discrimination of and even violence against Trans people is indeed a real problem. At least to an excellent first approximation 0 % of it is coming from feminists or even from people who have anything but contempt for feminism. The real enemy of both women₁, homosexuals and Trans people is toxic masculinity. If you fail to live up the cultural norms and expectations of what a real “man” is supposed to be like, it doesn’t mean you’re less of a man, let alone a woman. It means the cultural norms and expectations are bullshit and should be abandoned. For whatever it’s worth, every real transphobe I have personally encountered were men₁ who said things like “If I fucked someone and it turned out to be a guy, I’d fucking kill him” etc. These were not people who cared about feminism to say the least. They were raging homophobes and misogynists who were afraid of being tricked into acting “gay” and end up getting “fucked like a bitch” as only women deserve.

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[1] There are also people who insist on being called “man” despite having a strong preponderance of physical traits more representative of mothers than fathers. By and large, though, their issues are not the battle ground on which the Gender Wars are being fought.

[2] The same way most progressive, left-leaning people these days are uncomfortable with using any word to identify other people by their ethnic origin, the color of their skin etc. If that was the case they were making, they might have a legitimate point, but it’s not the point they are making.

[3] Feminists sometimes use the same word, e.g. when talking about “gender roles”. It’s important to note that this has nothing to do with the TRA concept of “gender identity”. The gender roles that feminists are talking about are imposed from the outside and part for the sexist culture that needs to be changed. Gender identity is supposed to be an expression of a person’s true self, hence questioning it in any way is the real act of oppression.

[4] So important, in fact, that “misgendering” a person is the most hateful act imaginable and comparable to actual violence.

[5] Another term that “people of gender” have reserved for themselves while everyone else – even those who reject gender as a concept – are assumed to be “gender conforming”. What does it even mean to be “gender non-conforming” if the only thing that makes someone a certain gender in the first place are the gender norms (s)he conforms to?

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