Reasonable people know better than to take all assertions on faith

Miranda Yardley wrote a piece about the problems with what she calls transgender ideology the other day. It’s a list of “some of the things the things that transgender ideology needs to do so that it may support the lives of women.”

  1. Accept that feminism and other women’s movements do not and should not centre transgender people. At the moment, trans is dominating the discussions, even causing huge ideological rifts, within feminism, yet here in the UK today’s news (22 June) reports hospital statistics showing 632 new cases of Female Genital Mutilation in the West Midlands (apparently girls “are brought to Birmingham to be cut”) from September 2014 to March 2015.

That first item on the list all by itself would do a lot to end the ideological rifts. Have you noticed how no other political movement is expected to do this – to stop talking about its own issues and talk about other people’s instead? Have you noticed that it’s only women who are told to do that? And many women nod enthusiastically and do just that.

Of course seeing it that way relies on thinking that trans women aren’t women in exactly the same way that women are women. The ideology, on the other hand, is that trans women are women in exactly the same way that women are women, and that it’s the worst possible thing not to agree. But then if trans women are women in exactly the same way that women are women, then what does it mean to say feminism should center trans women? This gets us to Miranda’s second item:

2. Accept that innate gender identity is based on ideas with such a tenuous link to observed science it is barely a conjecture. The transgender claim to womanhood (or manhood) is completely dependent on this concept of an innate gender identity, and taking this away strips the movement of its cloak of being a civil rights movement, championing the fight of an oppressed minority, and instead reveals this to be the cross-dressing wolf of men’s rights activism, huffing and puffing at feminism and women.

It also relies on self-description, in other words on bare assertion. That’s a problem. Reasonable people know better than to take all assertions on faith. Reasonable people understand that mere statements are not automatically true just because someone makes them. It’s very far from clear to me why that commonplace and very useful understanding is set aside in the case of “self-identification” by self-declared trans people, very especially trans women. (It’s funny how comparatively quiet trans men are, isn’t it? Or maybe it isn’t, maybe it’s more that it’s completely unsurprising and predictable. Women aren’t raised to think they get to demand all the oxygen in the room.) The idea is that “trans women are women,” end of – but at the same time it’s not that any random schmuck gets to say “I’m a woman” and that’s that. No no – it has to be a trans women. It would be very wrong for a cis man to say “I’m a woman.” But how do they know? How do they know which ones are just saying it and which ones are trans? Or, how do they know that all the ones saying it are in fact trans?

I can’t for the life of me figure that out, and no one has explained it to me.

These two items in conjunction are causing a lot of dissension. It would be nice if we could have reasoned discussions about them, but we can’t, at least not yet.

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