Updated: Jun 30, 2020
A friend and I were chatting today and she asked me if I had ever come across the writing of an academic by the name of Dr Jessica Taylor. I hadn't, but when I had a quick look, her blog entry which you can find here gave me cause to write this piece.
Why is is that some people persist in the idea that the trans gender phenomenon is inherently homophobic? Dr Taylor takes this view, so I thought I would take her main points and reply to each with the current thinking that demonstrates this view to be false, and also give you some idea why it came about and still persists to this day.
1. The concept of gender is being wrongly discussed and defined which has confused millions of people
No actually it isn't. It is being discussed differently. Comments like this merely suggest you are pandering to the lack of specific biological knowledge required to refute your comment, A point I will visit below...
2. Telling children and adults that they are born in the wrong body is abusive and biologically impossible
We know... This is an older trope that relies on a flawed view of essentialism and biological dimorphism. Trans bodies are also a biological reality..the phrase was originally a shorthand to explain how people felt some 30-40 years back. again will revisit this below.
3. You can’t challenge the gender role binary by upholding the gender role binary
Which is why we are not doing so. Yet of course the bio political power base that is the gender binary is so theocratically and scientifically entrenched, albeit erononeously, to such a degree that suggesting trans people uphold it is akin to blaming those who point out the problems with a system for causing those problems with said system ...(what I, and Dr John Corivino call the argument of the bully) This is akin to criticising someone for being obliged to live in capitalist ways when they point out the flaws of a capitalist society. An accusation of hypocrisy that ignores the all pervasiveness of the structural and historical implications of its own argument.
4. Biological sex is real, important and remains a protected characteristic in law
It is yes.
However the point that many miss and that I will now address is that sex is not binary nor mutually exclusive at the genetic, hormonal, gonadal, or genital level. Nor is the brain immune for the activity of the body since it too is an organ.
Diversity as a function of physical bodies simply does not fit into a binary mutually exclusive model. if it did intersex people could not exist and as a woman with trans history, my oestrogen patches would have had no effect. They did of course, Wirth significant increases in breast tissue meaning that my biological body, with all its complex systems, was able to respond to that particular hormone. (a binary system would not allow this) ergo .. biological sex therefore cannot be a mutually exclusive system and as a result some peoples bodies can and inevitably will exist in the middle of this over lapping potential for physicality. The sociological visible results of which are intersex and trans people. (within a westernised culture model)
5. Gender ideology has some repressive and homophobic ideas within it
This is a BIGGY. No it doesn't. The Trans gender phenomenon is not homophobic... (unless you're enforcing gender reassignment onto gay people as per Iran then of course the technological uses of its medicalisation would be) Trans people are not reinforcing the Heteronormative gender role binary.... why?
Because not all trans women fancy guys of course! Orientation is NOT a driver for transition. Many trans people transition out of heteronormativity and into queer or homosexual partnerships. A reality that is at odds with Dr Taylors universal characterisation of "the gay man" being synonymous with "the trans woman". However, there persists this narrative, and the question I asked some years ago was "where did it stem from"? The answer to that is from the work of Dr R Blanchard back1985. If you believe in Blanchard's model of (trans) causation, which states that trans women (in this case) are really men that are either effeminate homosexual males, or males that have a psychosis that objectifies women to a pathological level. (what he terms autogynephilia - liking the view of ones self as a woman) Then Dr Taylors positionality would follow from this in an entirely logical, although none the less erroneous manner. Oddly Blanchard never considered trans men. so we don't know why they get ignored in his discourse. One can only surmise, but it's a safe bet to assume Blanchard overlooked them for a specific reason and not by accident. Julia Serano suggests this omission may be a result of what she calls "effemimimania" of society and its medicalisation of trans ness that infected not just Blanchard's work but the preceding work of Roster and Allen, and John Money on intersex people between 1900 and 1974. Of course this concept of the 'wrongness, badness and illness' of trans ness then gets pulled into other critiques, such as the performative model of gender, and by extension what is meant by "performance of a gendered activity". The trap here is easy to see. Gendered roles in a performative sense mean that "acting as" a gender is "being a gender" (Broadly this is taken from the work of Judith Butler and others) Whilst this concept is valid one, and perfomativity as one model of gendered expression and "being in the world" is widely accepted, it has limits. (or perhaps merely contradictory boundaries)
If one suggests the act of sex is a "gendered activity" as some do, then consequently one would be performing gender through the use of a sexed body, and we are by virtue of the activity that we are considering circling back round to a desire and orientation model of 'performative actions' (the linguistic terms for which are of course descriptors of sexually and desire) However this has one major flaw. In defining "being" (existing) as nothing more than "doing". It then follows that we are defining that which makes a woman (or a man) as merely their relationally to others (narrowly defined in this example here as a series of sex acts) Consequent the person is therefore only categorised and known in light of their intersubjectivity and perfomativity rather than their embodied existence. It is a somewhat materialistic approach that would define the terms "woman" and "man" at worst as reified and inanimate cultural and culturally owned objects, or at best objectified cultural categories.
The catch being that the ownership of that person's objectification is in the eye of the beholder, not the beholden. (For an example of this one simply has to look at the denial of a trans persons autonomy and legitimacy in deciding what to do with their own body. Or, more simply, how historically women (or a singular person who is a woman) have been defined entirely based on the sexuality, sometimes with devastating consequence) The categorisation gets critiqued similarly, thus people (and society) start to police who belongs in which category and why. Usually on the grounds of what gentailia they have, where they decide to put them and with whom. This is exactly what Blanchard did. He equated "doing" the performance of orientation with the "being" of a cultural categorised object "a woman" and applied that to a medicalised view that comprised extant views of preferred heteronormativity) And furthermore, if one believes as Blanchard did, that trans women are really 'men" performing femininity, then it leaves the door open for a concept of androphyilic (male attracted) trans woman hood that RW Connell called "complicit subjugated masculinity" within his work on hierarchical hegemonic masculinity. (This often crops up in right wing Gay Alpha male circles...giving rise to the Twink and Sissy themes of masculinity)
The consequences of a combined belief in both Connell and Blanchard's work would be that from a metaphysical (physiological) standpoint there would be no difference between a homosexual male bottom (one who receives during sex) and a trans women who dates and has sex with guys, except for any surgical interventions. This is the point that Taylor, et al use as the core of their arguments that posit a homophobic narrative around the trans gender phenomenon. They simply see the surgical interventions as a (phenomenological) choice which is at its heart unnecessary and illogical. Knowing and the metaphysical merry-go-round As a result circular and unceasing discussion ensues all the while preventing any movement in the conversation from:
"but they aren't really men or women unless you can prove it, and how do you KNOW?"
"So how do we enable these people to live"
because the unspoken narrative is
"they just cant accept themselves as they are? (i.e. not trans cos thats not real), they're just gay or lesbian but cant accept it! We don't think they're right and we know better... why do they have to go change their bodies... that's just weird and unnatural (breaks binary model) and icky"
Phew... thats wordy! Still with me? This model twists and turns and confuses the issues, It's complexity hides its false premises that rely on an obscured and false equivocation of gender, orientation and activity. (plus ethics but lets not go there)
It does so by not allowing for the idea that women with a trans history may be attracted to and crucially, be regarded as attractive, by other women. (similarly for trans men) Unless that is, they too are trans and thus the attraction would be deemed (by the sceptics) to be "homosexual" and "male". A transgressive performance of gender, disingenuously categorised as both mysoginistic and homophobic. (gender taboo theory is useful here)
And if this were true ..(which it isnt) .and disingenuous males were pretending to be women (which they aren't) then this leads us to....
6. Issues around gender present serious dilemmas for safeguarding
No, trans women don't create safeguarding issues. This is based on the premise that 'penis equates dangerous'. and is a false representation of the reasons for domestic/sexual abuse, and as I've outlined above, transition itself. Most perpetrators of DV are men yes. Why so? I'd wager it is not because men are inherently dangerous as a result of biology, but because they are pressured into gender binary expectations that deny them the emotional range required on occasion.
People commit crimes.. not whole social groups. This point echos the historical links of homophobic arguments that equated homosexual males to peodophiles some years back. It is to be frank (technical term here) total and utter bullshit. (The paedophilic argument is still peddled by political powers in parts of the world ... yes Russia I'm looking at you)
7. Gender ideology, like any other ideology, does not have to be accepted or supported by anyone else t
This I agree with. To a point. (ideology is a word that is used a lot, with an inference toward false. All it simply means is a "set" of related ideas, like for example the laws of physics, or political afflictions)
However we do need to coherently critique arguments of causation and physiological reality with a nod to inference of most likely cause and arguments of best fit. (in other words find an explanation for the human condition and its diverse nature than is inclusive to the greatest number of its variations)
A binary model of gender, which is based on a binary model of sex simply does not do this and thus it is slowly being rejected as older outdated science, inadequate to explain the complexities of the human condition. For reference see Karl Popper and his falsifiability concept. (from the philosophy of science)
I, perhaps in opposition to some (trans) academics who study gender, welcome the spirit of gender critical theorising. Sometime uncomfortable conversations need to be had in order to move forwards. Feminist Standpoint theory is something I allude to in the conclusion of this piece, and it is very useful. However if one fails to critique ones own standpoint then one fails the test of its use. I am a woman with a trans history and therefore am very likely to be invested in disagreeing with Dr Taylor. However I cannot and indeed should not disparage the person for asking these questions of society. I will however disagree with her propositions, premises and arguments, Not because she suggests I cannot exist or that I am a danger to cis women and children, but because they fail to stand up to even the most rudimentary informed philosophical scrutiny.
Trans (and intersex) people are the grey swans that no one wanted to believe were real. Thus we have had three categories of sex and gender in the western world for years.
Man, Woman, and "wrong".
Male, female and" wrong" .
It's just that now the world is realising that those previously deemed medically, physically, or mentally wrong, never actually were.
So in summary Dr Taylor appears have fallen into a trap of many lesbian (and some bisexual) women. Those who see their world view being threatened because physiological arguments and a particular type of essentialism was historically used to deny the existence of homosexual attraction. That particular BINARY essentialism is at fault here, NOT the diverse essentialism of physiological causation of either gender identity or orientation itself.
In fairness, the historical context of the identity work necessary for a particular view of homosexual men and women to survive over the last century, Identity work that they have fought to uphold over years of oppression, is perhaps preventing them from honestly critiquing the situation in front of them. If so why? Because they in subverting an at the time widely accepted binary narrative of sex, attraction and gender, remain inherently dependent upon that which they had to subvert. A BINARY narrative. Changing this binary essentialism to something more diverse requires them to revisit some of their own core beliefs and that is a tricky proposition for anyone. (as any trans person will tell you)
To be absolutely clear here... what is at fault is not 'being lesbian or gay" or "being trans gender" What is at fault, and at issue, is the conversation of causation, critiques of scientific justification (within a context of knowledge creation) and the sociological context under which each member of the said population groups has had to operate during their own life time. The lived experience can sometimes throw up contradictory evidence. Thus if Dr Taylor is guilty of anything here it is a lack of acknowledgement to her standpoint on feminist issues and her (perhaps unknowing) dependence on the subversion of a binary model of sexual attraction, and therefore by extension its existence.
A contradictory Finish
However there is a further potential contradiction here...
Dr Taylor is either suggesting that attraction is physiologically derived ... (essentialism) by suggesting a trans women reinforce the heterosexual normative gender binary. (transitioning to become a straight women because they're are irrevocably attracted to men) This would underpin her homophobic accusation towards the trans gender phenomenon.
As said earlier, "why cant you just accept yourself as you are?" is a commonly heard retort from some homosexuals, be they men or women. Which when allied with the idea that trans has no biological underpinnings is a distinctly trans phobic inference.
Or she is denying the same physiological basis for attraction, because, like many lesbians growing up she was probably told "you can't be attracted to a woman" thats not biologically possible. "you just haven't met the right man yet"
If it's the latter then one might theorise that she would have "choosen" to act upon her orientation in opposition to "biological arguments" impressed upon her.
This then leads to a POV that (binary) biological essentialism = bad. Which would mean as a consequence someone in that position might view gender transition as a similarly derived bio political "choice".. The interplay between identity and political action is mentioned in this regard by Nicola Field in her book "over the rainbow"
This of course would, on this reading, wilfully place what she views as "men" (ergo the penis") and "mens world views" back in the sphere of women's (vaginal) spaces.
I have to say in chatting with a few lesbian women, this latter view, of actively choosing NOT to be with a man, has been intimated on a number of occasions via inferences that orientation isnt physiologically pre ordained. Oddly this view would also likely reject the idea that any man could be a thinking feeling, considerate and kind soul, because they're hard wired to be aggressive nasty brutes. A POV that is itself guilty of viewing an entire group of humanity as homogeneous, in direct contravention of the central underpinning tenets of feminist liberation which is that the category of "women" is diverse and not constrained by its (hitherto binary) conceptualised biology.
Food for thought eh? but even so the choice here,in deciding on who you want be a partner to, is in my view not "what to be". but rather "what to do about it" 'Knowledge' and 'being' are thus becoming somewhat intertwined, at this point, which is a complicated thing to untangle and so I shall leave it there and save the rest for another time. (if you're interested in this look up Hegel and his thinking on epistemic practices - and knowing, plus Rosi Braidotti's nomadic theory)
I hope this whistle stop tour of the issues at hand has been of use. There is much more to unpick. for example:
Sexuality or attraction ... is this the same as sociological arguments of orientation?
Where does the idea of a sharp biological divide and impenetrable barrier between the sexes come from ?
Gender taboo theory... this is new one to me and I'm gonna jump on this soon I promise.
Of course if we sit and think about this we know in truth it is all a subtle interplay of both the biological and sociological... nothing is a single simple one cause fits all. Why not?
Because every life course is different, and therefore what Hegel called the "epistemic practice" of knowing is different for everyone. So be wary of those who suggest that supporting trans gender rights and people is homophobic. Ask them why they think so, and understand the lesson from Plato's Socrates:
" The wisest are only so because they do not pretend to know that which they do not"
I am trans, and even I would be wary of being too certain of my own knowledge of what it is. and even if I could be 100% certain, David Hume warned long ago of the dangers that come from defining an "ought" or "ought not", directly from an "is".
Love each other and be your best self.
I added a part two for this blog retrospectively that delved a little deeper into some concepts. You can find that at this link here
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