THIS IS A GUEST POST BY THE BLOGGER genderheretic.
Like many radicals, I was once a liberal. Furthermore, I was once a liberal feminist. And like many liberals, I was once completely clueless (well, even more clueless than a liberal). My introduction to feminism came in the form of a call out from some much more evolved friends of mine at the time; I had been spouting rape myths and rants filled with internalized misogyny daily on social networks for all the girls to take note of and all the boys to approve of. Of course, the feminism that was initially offered to me was that of the mainstream variety, a sterilized and largely depoliticized version of the second wave feminism that made such large strides in women’s liberation decades before I was born. You can look at the neoliberal hijacking of feminism in two ways: it can serve as an apprehensive stepping stone into feminism for women who require a more palatable and slow-paced induction into women’s lib (or equality, in this case), or as a deliberate defanging of a movement which means to threaten and dismantle the current power structures to ensure our liberation. As for the latter, the defanging comes from both the dominant male class and the subordinate female class, even those with a semblance of investment in the movement. Of course, the subordinate female class does not usually hold the necessary institutional power to have a clear affects on things, but, unfortunately, mass quantities of feminists have colluded in the watering down of women’s liberation. Whether this was done unconsciously by a class genuinely invested in the movement or deliberately by those in power, the product has been ultimately the same.
Why I’m prefacing this review with a sort of synopsis of the current state of the movement is because when we remain uncritical of new ideologies that are dominating the movement, such as the trans ideology, queer theory, neoliberalism, sex positivity, the compromising of female spaces, etc., our movement gets hijacked. The purpose of our movement gets hijacked. The beneficiaries of our movement are forced to compromise. And this is happening right now. We cannot afford this. No oppressed class can. This is why I insist that if you care about women’s liberation and have access to these things, that you try to read all the perspectives you can and remain critical. As a recent liberal feminist who used to support the inclusion of queer and trans ideology in our movement, I understand how scary questioning these things may be – women who question these ideologies are actually harassed and threatened every day. If there is such volatile cult-like dissent abound whenever someone is critical of these things, doesn’t that mean something? The same way that we began questioning the cultural narratives that told us feminism wasn’t necessary or that women are naturally inferior, we can and must also question the narratives that are continuously being normalized as part of female liberation. The narratives that tell us that we must cater to males, both dysphoric and non dysphoric, not speak of our biological and material reality, that we must make room and deny ourselves safety in order to not be ‘bigots’ in a movement we created for ourselves. It sounds all too familiar. I think it is a fair general message to feminists that we must always remain critical and never get too comfortable within our own movement: male supremacy is so insidious and so pervasive that it will find cracks to wriggle its way in through. We must always be vigilant for ourselves and our sisters. It’s the only thing we’ve got.
Sheila Jeffreys is most famous for authoring Unpacking Queer Politics, a text held in fear by liberals and proponents of queer and trans theory alike. This fear is obviously founded on the threat that is Jeffreys’ cogent analyses and arguments against their post modernist ideologies that attempt to make women’s material realities an abstract, mutable concept. Unpacking Queer Politics offered me the materials to effectively criticize the liberal brand of feminism that continues to be force fed to me and my peers. Before officially disengaging myself from liberal feminism, it had already begun to self-destruct in front of me. Within a couple of months of my initial feminist journey I quickly became sex-critical, which led to me reexamine everything, especially gender and transgenderism. At the time I didn’t know if this was an established concept anywhere, because that was the extent of gender worship and trans-domination in the movement. Whenever I brought up these critiques they were usually shooed off for being politically incorrect. Why, because I prioritize females? Yes, that is politically incorrect, in the scheme of a male dominated society where a male-centric perspective is the only acceptable one, even in a movement meant to dismantle that dynamic.
After devouring several of Jeffreys’ works, I learned of and began to anticipate the release of Gender Hurts. In the time before its release, I witnessed the exact violence and silencing from the trans community that has driven so many women to retreat. Hmm, what other political parties or groups of people would like us to retreat? Who is granted more power when we are silenced? After the release of the book, there has been a smear campaign against Sheila Jeffreys.and other radicals. Their tactics are the same as woman-hating groups like MRA’s: threats of violence, constant harassment, and even deplatforming. Who benefits when women aren’t allowed to congregate in safety, to speak of our oppression? I wonder how many of those invested in protest of the book have actually taken the time to read it? These anti-radical feminist groups function like hive-minded cults. In my experience, radical feminists have indulged in all these other ideologies, even having been advocates for these ideologies in the past, but our detractors presume to have an entire analysis of the radical feminist perspective through their own side’s smear campaigns. I’m sure that if they ever took the time to read any radical feminist gender-critical texts, the way many trans and detransitioned radicals have, they would not encounter hate speech and ‘trans extermination’, but a different, valuable perspective.
Having read some of the most provocative trans-critical radical texts such as Janice Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire and the aforementioned Unpacking Queer Politics, I was prepared to divulge into Gender Hurts with more familiarity with the colloquial and academic language commonly used in these analyses. I was pleasantly surprised that Jeffreys managed to create a very accessible structure to the book. It is a great primer for anybody wanting to explore radical feminist analysis or anybody who simply wants more well-rounded knowledge of trans ideology. I’d consider this a must-read for anyone of any level of knowledge or interest concerning the subject, but would definitely suggest this as an introduction, followed by Jeffreys’ Unpacking Queer Politics, and Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire.
Throughout Jeffreys’ critique of the practice, she provides an objective backdrop that assures we get the full grasp of the context and elements of transgenderism. She uses historical, sociological, political, scientific and anecdotal evidence to support her perspective. She illustrates the way the transgender movement and their dialogue manifested, grew, and the way it continues to evolve today. This all unfolds at a steady pace throughout the book, growing with intensity as she segues us through its beginnings, its alliance with feminism, the trans-medical complex, the specific narratives of males, females, and children who transition, the narratives of their spouses and children, the political climate and legislation surrounding transgenderism, and how the implications of that with the rights of females. The latter is a most urgent matter that, to my knowledge, is not being addressed in any feminist community outside of radical feminism. I view this being because the more popular forms of feminism are all about ideology and less about application. As Lierre Keith recently commented in an interview, activism has become sort of a group therapy session.
I have yet to see trans activists address the issue of the real life implications that gender identity laws hold for women in their various rebuttals and campaigns against us and this book. Nevertheless, the coverage Gender Hurts gives the issue of legislation and how protecting gender identity exists in direct opposition to women’s interests is extremely important. Among the online feminist activist groups that I frequent, the groups of women who are trans-allied don’t seem to be aware of the existence of this escalating battle. I suppose it’s easier to vilify us when we’re perceived as being some sort of gender-conservatives having an ideological disagreement with transgenderism rather than a concern for the safety and rights that are owed to women. Several of these developments are covered in chapter 7, “A Clash of Rights.” The UK Gender Recognition Act of 2004 ‘enables transgenders who have had neither surgical nor hormonal treatment to gain recognition in their new gender…a man may, with the aid of a certificate recognizing him as a woman, enter women-only spaces.’ Another example of these legal developments is the Australian Sex Discrimination Act Amendment 2013 which further protects people from discrimination based on their ‘gender identity’ including ‘persons neither male nor female’ ‘…this incorporation into law of such finely calibrated measures of socially constructed masculinity and femininity is a new development.’ Besides the very literal physical threat to our safe spaces (including bathrooms, shelters, prisons, and activist circles), these laws further reinforce gender, a tool of our oppression, and validate it as something to be preserved and protected.
The rampant transgendering of gender non-conforming children is another critical discussion that feminists, and anyone concerned with the welfare of children, need to have, but one that I’ve only seen the radical community take part of. Instead of any sort of questioning of the side effects of the medicalization of gender non-conformance in persons that are incapable of giving informed consent, I’ve seen blind faithful agreement and insistence that pumping children with hormone blockers that have recorded detrimental side effects serves their best interests. But, of course, these things are not discussed among those that subscribe to the trans ideology, because they would be persecuted as heretics – or worse, transphobes. Jeffreys tackles this increasingly common medical practice in an incredibly informative chapter given the apt title “Gender eugenics.” At first I found the comparison to eugenics shocking, but soon thereafter I wondered how I didn’t realize the similarities before. Imagine a world there the medical industry continued ‘treating’ gender non-conformance with sex reassignment, a world where the physical evidence of gender transgression is erased, where homosexuality is cured by transitioning. It may seem reactionary, but it is happening. There’s a reason why some of the most homophobic countries have the highest rates in sex reassignment surgeries. During the early 20th century, sexologists believed that homosexuality was caused by sex inversion, the state of reversed gender-assigned traits. This posited that lesbians were just women with ‘male souls’ and that gay males were just gender inverted to be naturally inclined to ‘female pursuits,’ which included the attraction to males. This bears a staggering resemblance to to trans theory’s idea of internal gender identity. It is paramount that we learn from history, especially the atrocities that have been committed by the medical industry to the most marginalized members of society: homosexual and gender non conforming people.
Although Jeffreys uses an objective backdrop of data and information to provide context for her analysis, she also reveals the very intimate pain that several individuals have experienced because of their experiences with transgenderism. This provides the text with something that many analyses fall short of: the voices of survivors. This book has given them a platform to tell their stories. Survivors of transgenderism who come out critical of it due to their experiences receive threats of violence and constant harassment when they try to speak on their own personal platforms. In Jeffreys’ effort to include the most marginalized voices of those most directly effected by transgenderism, she’s created something that separates this analysis from the rest. This book has been a communal effort. It is not the analysis of one woman, but an entire group of females that will not be silenced. This embodies the necessary feminist consciousness and community that is central to the movement.
We are so ravenous for any break from the exhausting modes of oppression that we are okay with resorting to these ideologies of individualism, full with instant gratification and psuedo-empowerment, devoid of self-critical analysis and class-based analysis. In this process we betray ourselves and our sisters. The overarching message is that women aren’t suppose to be critical of the developments in our movement and should defer to those born and socialized in the male class, which includes pandering to their delusions. I would even go as far as to compare it to being groomed: don’t question, just accept, just cater, don’t complain, don’t criticize. It is our female socialization happening all over again, but this time in a movement for our benefit. When we can’t even clearly identify and talk about our oppression and the sources of it, we can’t eliminate it. The dominant class has much to invest in the power structures that have maintained our oppression. Repackaging these structures into an unquestionable aspect of our liberation is destructive. But for many women, these ideologies have a shelf life as the true nature of them and their supporters unfolds before them. Gender hurts, and radical feminism provides a place to finally see our wounds with clarity, an integral part in the healing process, both personally and politically.