The Political Erasure of Sex: Sex and the Census

Last night, along with Alice Sullivan, Lisa Mackenzie, and Selina Todd, I was delighted to participate in the latest WPUK webinar on the jiggery pokery that is going on with the upcoming census.

The whole webinar is now available. I appear to have lost the top of my head, but you can’t have everything…

My presentation is based on a report we’ve just released which I’ve been working on for the last many months with Lisa Mackenzie, of MurrayBlackburnMackenzie. The report is part of a larger project called ‘The Political Erasure of Sex,’ which aims to document the process of policy capture in our public institutions, and the impact it’s having on the recognition of sex in law, language, public policy, and data capture. This first report, Sex and the Census, documents how our census authorities have corrupted the collection of sex-data, due to the influence of trans stakeholders who are invested in gender identity overwriting sex. It provides a very detailed analysis of the question development process of the Office for National Statistics, and the National Records of Scotland, over recent years, and the way it has been impacted by trans ideology and the interests of trans stakeholders and respondents. It pays particular attention to the massive amount of conceptual confusion evidenced in the recent work of the census authorities, the way this leads to them corrupting the sex variable, and their apparent complete lack of awareness that women, and data users more widely, are stakeholders in the sex question on the census.

The recent work on the census, I argue, is a staggering manifestation of the impact of trans ideological framing on our public institutions, and is exemplary of how policy capture by trans rights stakeholders is undermining the political recognition of sex.

The report can be downloaded here:

For those of you interested in the presentation I gave last night, the slides are available here:

Lastly, if you prefer to read the presentation you can here.

Radical Notion Chat

Glinner very kindly asked me onto this week’s edition of ‘The Mess We’re In’ to have a chat with him, Helen and Arty, about the new magazine.

You can find the link to the whole episode, and see what Graham is up to, over at his Substack.

For more information on The Radical Notion, and to subscribe to the magazine, please visit:

Safeguarding and Mr. Blunt

This is a guest post by @hatpinwoman

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Yesterday gave us the revelation that the English MP for Reigate has been attempting, behind the scenes, to weaken and remove women’s rights and safeguards in law, through the gender recognition reform that would have seen us getting self ID. Last night, in his capacity as the Chair of APPG, he also called for Liz Truss to be removed as Minister for Women and Equalities due to her decision on GRA reform.

Given all this, we thought that a little investigation into this MP was warranted. What kind of man would think that such an undemocratic way of proceeding was acceptable?

There is a lot of information to be found about Crispin Blunt. He is an ex-army man, who resigned his commission as a Captain in 1990, having been awarded the Queen’s Medal. In the early nineties he was a representative of the Forum of Private Business.

In 1997 he became MP for Reigate, a relatively small, busy and picturesque town, about an hour from London, which used to be a bustling staging post in the days when horses were the surest means of travel. Aptly, it is also the town where anti-suffragette Etta Lemon, the founder of the Royal Society for The Protection of Birds, is buried.

According to Crispin’s voting record as analysed by the “they work for you” website, he mainly votes with the party on key issues, though he deviated from that in order to consistently vote for bills around assisted dying, that would mean a “terminally ill person could lawfully be given assistance to end their life if the consent of the High Court is obtained.”

I won’t get off topic by talking too much about that, but I will say that issues of safeguarding around things like euthanasia are very thorny and in disabled communities we are extremely divided about how a society that still tends to treat sick people as a burden would go about ending the lives of those people in an ethical way. And it makes sense to me that a man who does not understand safeguarding would be especially likely to vote for such bills, without truly reckoning with the more complicated questions that surround the issue.

In the year he became MP for Reigate there was a series of events that, later, would lead him to seek a change in the law. A local boy of 9 was repeatedly sexually molested between July and October of 1997 at a private school in the area. The games teacher, Nick Drewett, was accused and suspended from the school pending an investigation which led to a court date being set. However in 1998, before he could stand trial for six counts of indecent assault, he hung himself.

You might imagine that as a people’s representative in a friendly little town any efforts Crispin Blunt made as a result of this case might be on behalf of the child and his family. The concern might be in helping them to cope with what would have been an overwhelmingly traumatic experience. Instead his public efforts have been to use this case to try to help gain anonymity for those accused of rape and sexual offences and to cast aspersions on the accusations in question. And he has gone so far as implying, on record, that the allegations against Nick Drewett were false.

During the debate around the anonymity for arrested persons bill he spoke at some length and said:

It was also in 1999 that I introduced the Sexual Offences (Anonymity of Defendants) Bill. As I reminded the House last summer, I have some form in this area. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe referred to it, but in the context of the debate about rape anonymity, and as I will come to reflect on, we have proposals that achieve the objective that I set out in the Education Bill that is before the House. The purpose of my Bill was to protect teachers from the consequences of accusations by children who have anonymity, and from the subsequent reporting of such allegations. As some hon. Members may recall, my Bill was prompted by the suicide of a constituent, Nick Drewett, a teacher who took his own life after being accused of behaving improperly with pupils in his care. This was a tragic example of the cost of unfounded allegations. The headmaster who was accused alongside him was subsequently acquitted. My experience here is one reason why I am delighted that the coalition is bringing forward legislation to deal with the problem of false allegations against teachers.

Let’s be clear that here we have an MP arguing for the anonymity of those accused of sex offences against children because he believes, and is willing to insinuate on record, that a nine year old falsely accused a teacher. His motivation is to protect other adult men from the consequences of the accusations of children. Rather than, as many might consider to be an imperative, to protect children from certain adult men.

In another debate in Parliament about the anonymity of rape defendants he mentions the case again. This case incidentally has not been highlighted by any official body as being poorly handled by the police, nor has there ever been any suggestion that the evidence was unsound. Yet Mr.Blunt felt able to assert, again on record, that “the combination of the way in which the accusations were investigated by the police and their reporting led to his [Nick Drewett’s] death”.

He later asserts this again while talking of the “tragic case of Nick Drewett”. He baldly states that “It was the reputational damage that caused him to take his own life”.

This kind of speculation rather goes against Samaritans advice to not assume motives for suicide, ignores the possibility that being caught may have been some kind of factor in the decision to end his life, and instead paints the assumed villain of the piece as a tragic victim of circumstance.

He does assure us though, lest we worry that injustice is being done, right in front of us during this debate, that the accusations against Nick Drewett fell “very short of rape”. I’m sure to the child’s parents reading their MPs statements about this, it is of great comfort to them that he takes time to try to quantify their child’s suffering in a way he can dismiss.

In the debate for this bill he uses the popularity of Nick Drewett (700 people attended his funeral!) as some kind of argument. Only unpopular people molest children in Blunt’s worldview, I guess.

He also argues that Drewett’s case is not unusual, noting that Nick is “not alone.” He continues:

The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers has had recent experience of three members who have taken their own lives in similar circumstances. Since 1991, there have been 974 police investigations into abuse allegations made against NAS/UWT members. In 792 of them, no grounds were discovered for prosecution. Publicity in 80 per cent of those cases did serious injustice to innocent teachers.

We should say here that sexual offences tend to be hard to prosecute, and we shouldn’t leap to assuming that failure to proceed is the same as innocence, as Blunt does. We could also note that using suicide as a means manipulating political discourse is not an unfamiliar or democratically legitimate tactic.

Blunt goes on:

The Bill attempts to protect teachers from injustice that can do them permanent professional and personal damage. There is a popular view that an allegation of child abuse, unsubstantiated by investigation, is in itself sufficient cause for concern to disqualify permanently a teacher from being in charge of children. There is little awareness that teachers are liable to be the victims of false or malicious allegations. It is therefore just to take measures to ensure that teachers as well as complainants undergo investigation with their identities protected. That is what the Bill aims to achieve.

While it is of course important to investigate allegations of abuse thoroughly, what Blunt shows us here is a recognisable prioritisation of the needs of those accused of abuse over those abused. Moreover he doesn’t even stop at suggesting teachers *can* be victims of false accusations or that there have been occasions when they have been. No, he states they are liable to be victims of false or malicious accusations, which is an extraordinary claim. What epidemic of spiteful, untruthful school children claiming to have been molested does he know about that we don’t?[1]

If the suspicion is that Crispin Blunt only fails to understand the concerns of children, never fear, his support for a bill that would see the sentence of rapists cut in half if they plead guilty will disabuse you of that notion. In a country with a low conviction rate perhaps one could consider it admirable to encourage rapists to admit their crimes. Except that of course when there is such a shockingly low conviction rape, the only rapists motivated to actually take a guilty plea are going to be the ones who have no hope of being proven innocent already.

Halving their sentences, then, is just a further level of injustice.

How does Crispin Blunt relate to the gender recognition act reform discussion though? What are his connections to these ideas? What made him, fresh from trying to protect alleged rapists and child molesters everywhere, divert his attention onto this issue?

Well, as a result of leaving his wife, coming out as gay, and publicly admitting to taking poppers (…?!) he was in the papers, and pink news for a while. In one article they talk about him attending a Stonewall diversity dinner, so I would suggest a close affinity with stonewall might be his mistake here. But a man does have to eat so we won’t make too many assumptions just yet…..

…..oh no

If you go and review the Parliamentary written questions Crispin has submitted you quickly find him asking if the ministry of defence can take time during its busy schedule of, you know, fighting wars and protecting the land and stuff to “make funds available to enable cadet adult instructors to attend Stonewall train-the-trainers courses”. So clearly he is one of The Stonewall Possé. The least intrepid, but still sufficiently aggressive, gaggle this land has lately seen.

He’s also to be found asking several questions about “sex work”. He was, inevitably, against both the idea of criminalising men who buy sex and the McTaggart Nordic Model amendment.

This all brings us, of course, to self ID which in light of the last few days and his own admissions we know he is very pro. I did manage to talk to some of his constituents who made him aware, as early as 2018, of the potential conflict between Self ID and women’s rights. A possibility he outright rejected.

While we know he apparently likes to conduct most of his complete dismissal of women’s rights in private on this issue (while stroking a white cat and looking suitably sinister one hopes), he is on record a couple of times about this before this week.

In July this year, for example, he co-wrote an article with Sue Pascoe that you can read here. Apparently the reform to the GRA would be a “minor change”. (If it’s that minor Crisp, then why is it so important?).

Through this article we also find out about the new science that Blunt knows about and the rest of us don’t. Such as how there is “a durable biological element underlying gender identity”. As with seemingly all links offered on this subject by proponents of gender ideology, the truth of the matter when you click on them is much more woolly. In a situation that reminds me earwormingly of the song about the court of King Caractucus, It links to a piece about a statement about the durable biological element of underlying gender identity by the endocrine society.

I read their position statement and then got covered in cobwebs digging through their sources online. Their primary source for the claim is one entitled “Evidence Supporting the Biologic Nature of Gender Identity.”. This is a literature review of evidence that there is a biologic basis for gender identity. Before this gets too meta for words, this apparently mainly involves (1) data on gender identity in patients with disorders of sex development (DSDs, also known as differences of sex development) along with (2) neuroanatomical differences associated with gender identity.

So we already got to the part where intersex people are used in the service of this then.

The conclusions of this review are “Although the mechanisms remain to be determined, there is strong support in the literature for a biologic basis of gender identity.”

The paper that isn’t about trans people that didn’t identify the mechanisms of gender identity has definitely got to be perfect for MPs to use to justify sweeping statements in online articles. Glad that was all cleared up, then.

Blunt and Pascoe take time to “really wonder if the good people of our great nation realise they are being manipulated through fear and false information to roll-back the basic dignity, privacy and safety of trans people who are just trying to live ordinary lives.”

Us women and our hysterical concerns about male violence. Golly. What are we like!

One wonders who exactly would be making trans people unsafe, if the concerns women have about the existence of Male violence can be so easily handwaved away.

Regardless, when it comes to Crispin Blunt, I’m not sure we can really expect any better from a man who consistently manages to be on the side of a given issue that fails to protect the most vulnerable.

One only worries about what discussion our hero may turn his attention to next.


[1] In the 1990s the rate of false accusations of child abuse was considered to be around 10 percent. In line with false accusations of other crimes. Many of these false accusations however occurred during child custody battles, and most of the false accusations were made by adults. I.e we can conclude based on factual information as well as the instinctive sense of most people that when a child comes forward to say they are being hurt by an adult, in the vast majority of cases, they are telling the truth.

Nick Drewett, it should be noted, was accused by a boy and not by adults. Given what we know about false accusations then, this is not a case one would logically choose when highlighting the burning issue Blunt seems to think exists here.It should also be noted that nowhere in Crispin Blunt’s consistent speeches on this subject does he mention any awareness of crucial information like this:

Female Class Politics

Speech at Women’s Equality Party Assembly, 23 September 2020

To lay out my thoughts about women’s political representation, I want to first outline my socialist and radical feminist analysis of women’s politics. What I most want to underline is that from my perspective, feminism is a form of materialist class politics, not a form of identity politics. That is, my analysis of the position of women is rooted in understanding that female people have a particular type of body and reproductive capacity and are subject to a system of power on the basis of being female. This power structure exists because of the historical development of a hierarchical system of extraction of the reproductive and socially reproductive labour of female people, otherwise known as patriarchy. Consequently, women have a range of shared material political interests. Most obviously these pertain to issues around reproductive and sexual autonomy, and the violences women are subjected to by male power’s effort to control their bodies as a sexual and reproductive resource. This then extends to how women’s labour is devalued, invisibilised, and appropriated by the intertwined structures of patriarchy and capitalism. This includes women’s disproportionate poverty, the wage gap, maternity cover and child-care, the undervaluing and feminisation of all forms of care labour, the concentration of women in low-paid and low status occupations, and the ways all these issues disproportionately impact working class and racialised women. Lastly, this leads to the demand for a fundamental structural transformation in order to challenge extractive relations, undertake a just accounting of women’s labour, and do away with the symbolic representations and psychological conditioning that undermines women’s humanity by positioning them as a sexual, reproductive, domestic and emotional resource for males. The fundamental structure of patriarchal gender is then a matter of socialising women into the role of a service-class orientated to male needs, and socialising males into a mode of dominance and entitlement. Feminist politics which reinforces female socialisation and de-centers the needs and interests of female people is thus antithetical to challenging gender in its deepest sense.  

On the question of why women’s political representation matters, let’s focus on two key areas. The first involves the symbolic importance of women’s representation, the way it serves as a role model and opens possibilities for other women, and the fact that ‘representational justice or equality’ is an important value in and of itself. With respect to the inclusion of trans women in women’s representation, this immediately forces a confrontation with the bitterly contested ontological question of ‘what is a woman.’ As should be apparent from what I’ve just said, my answer to this question is informed by materialist class analysis. That is, women are a sex-class. This matters not only because it frames women’s class interests, but because the alternative interpretation, from our perspective, relies on essentialising gender, which we consider to be the mechanism of the oppression of women as a sex-class. At the heart of this conflict is the fundamental question of the definition of women being changed from a sex class to a gender class. Given that we think that gender is how women are oppressed on the basis of sex, we consider it regressive for women to be recognised in public life as instantiations of gender, and to be redefined on the basis of an identification with gender that not only bears little relation to our experience as female human beings, but diminishes the way patriarchal gender profoundly harms our humanity.

I think it’s worth briefly thinking this under the rubric of ‘Diversity and Inclusion.’ The aim of inclusion is actually structurally contradictory to the aim of diversity. If everyone is included inside one category, then many salient differences between groups get lost, and we undermine diversity. Much present identity politics is focused on a possibly over-stated emphasis on difference, while conversely, the relation of women and trans women is being thought under the sole political directive of inclusion, which is undermining the recognition of important political and social differences. What we should be aiming towards is a model that honours both similarity and difference. We need to recognise that female people and people who identify as women are not identical, and stop trying to erase this difference in a way which many women feel is overwriting their political existence and interests,. This will allow us stand in solidarity with each other, in areas where our political interests are aligned.

This leads to the second area where representation matters, the expression of women’s political interests. This is not simple, because under patriarchy women have the most fractured class consciousness of any oppressed group, and it is far from evident that women in positions of political authority are in the business of representing women’s interests. I would hope, however, that this is less true of the political consciousness of women inside a party set up by and for women. The question then is to what extent women and trans women share political interests. My claim here would be that trans women who respect the difference between trans women and women, and understand why women resist being redefined on the basis of gender, can stand in real and meaningful solidarity with women, although our interests still do not completely coincide. However, at present, given the effort to erase differences, redefine women by gender, and demand access to all sex-based spaces with no gatekeeping, the interests of women and those aligned with the present trans rights project, are, in fact, diametrically opposed. This was evident in Munroe Bergdoff’s much criticised injunction that women shouldn’t centre reproductive issues at the Woman’s March because it was ‘exclusionary’. It is also starkly illustrated by how often advocates of present trans rights discourse diminish the impact of male violence on women’s lives – as indeed Judith Butler did yesterday –  and the extent to which being raised in a society that sexualises women from their early teens, demands that female people have sex-based spaces to preserve their dignity and humanity, as well as their safety. This is source of great regret, as opposition to male violence is one of the places where women and trans women’s interests should most closely align. On the basis of all these factors I would argue that – especially under current circumstances – it is not appropriate for trans women to represent women politically, and I hope in time we can move towards a place where we can stand in close solidarity with each other.

TRAs, Rape-Logic, and the Economy of Entitlement

TW: Violent imagery

The last few weeks have been incredibly distressing.

When Joanne[1] Rowling released her essay there was a moment of collective, tearful hope. A woman with enough power had spoken our truth, with all the precise eloquence at her disposal, and, for one suspended second, I think we thought that they would have to hear.

It now seems evident, watching the boot come down, the steady stream of disavowal and dismissal and outright demonising denigration, that a woman’s words about her truth, no matter how eloquent or precise, cannot, still, be given any credit. Our pain, etched into our bodies, mimed over centuries, and finally wrested into speech, will never be taken as intended. As evidence of our humanity, and an explanation of how that humanity is harmed by what is done to us. We are still, only ever, an object and repository, a resource for the needs and wants of others whose humanity matters more. Our pain, like our speech, like our politics, could never be for or about ourselves, because it has never registered – and this moment is nothing but the concatenation of this denial – that we actually, in our own right, exist.

This argument is not, therefore, an appeal for empathy with the damage done to us by male power and projection, by the immemorial and immovable demand that we efface ourselves before the needs of more important others. We know our pain doesn’t count in your economy, that it only registers on your balance books as a sly deceptive weapon or a vicious wilful harm to the interests of the only kind of people given credit. That you’re so certain of the justness of your accounting, you never seem to notice, that this one obvious fact, gives the lie to the ‘validity’ of your catechism. If you really thought that they were women, their pain would be a nought to you as well.

The purpose of this exercise is for myself, and us all, I hope. The last few weeks have been more painful than I remember. After the torrent of cocks, and the exhortations to choke, and the parade of denunciations, and the trolling kids with porn, and the media spin complicity, and the ‘you’re weaponizing your trauma,’ all polished off with tech-bro corporate might coming down on us like a ten-ton digital brick, it was the implacable, imperious requisition of Allison Bailey’s words that finally broke me. Or rather, it was the attempt to justify that requisition by claiming that speaking the violent, often sexual, threats against us, was, in and of itself, an act of ‘severe’ discrimination against the people threatening us. On a quiet Wednesday afternoon, at my desk, something happened I haven’t felt for years. The back of my brain went metallic. I managed a few, incandescent tweets and then fell, quickly, into inarticulate rage. By Friday, on the phone, my ‘discourse’ consisted mostly of a series of guttural, groaning sounds. I stuck needles* in my body, and the vice receded long enough to write and speak a poem, before tightening again. Rage passed into anger passed into despair passed into heavy, body-crushing sadness. Eventually the tears pooled in the centre of my heart and the bottom of my back so strongly I could cry them out. And then I started to see, and needed to try and speak, what was happening.

What is happening is a violently enforced, three-tiered denial of our words, our right to name the reality of our experience, and the reality of the violence perpetrated against us, because of our sex. Two tiers of this denial have long been evident. Now, in this battle between our discourse and their silencing, because we have fought so fucking long and hard for our words, our speech is, finally, beginning to be heard by some, the third tier is becoming ever more obvious. It was this that tipped me off the edge and, for a couple of weeks, stole most my words. It looks, as my friend said last night when I explained it on the phone, like a near-perfect, circular, stitch up. It looks like this:

Tier One:

blackpool womanWe know this one well. This is the stealing of our language enacted by the core of trans ideology. The redefinition of the word ‘woman’ as an amorphous meaningless gender class against our consent. The removal of all words that link the word ‘woman’ to the concept of ‘female.’ The imperious imposition of the essentialist bullshit label ‘cis’ (‘IT’S LATIN!’). The dehumanising conversion of female people into fragmented body parts and functions. The command to call conspicuously male people ‘women’ even when engaged in conspicuously male behaviour, like, say, downloading child pornography or getting out their cocks at work. This all amounts, we’ve said repeatedly, to the political erasure of sex. We have said, perhaps too abstractly, we object to ‘the erasure of the axis of our oppression.’ What we mean is this: We object to male entitlement – to our bodies, to our time, to our attention, to our care, to our service, and now, above all, to our existence and the words that name it. We need to name the reality of sex, for yes, medical reasons, and sporting reasons, and because women are oppressed by conversion into sexual-reproductive resource and your idealist gender-bullshit can’t explain patriarchy in the slightest. But we need to name it most of all, because – as you never seem to grasp – gender is the system of entitlement that runs along the lines of sex. And the system that enforces that entitlement by means of threat or force. We need to name sex because we need to speak the violence males commit against us. Because our ability to speak at all depends on it. Which brings us to….

Tier Two:

In response to your demands, for our existence and its words, all we’ve said is ‘no.’ We haven’t threatened, or intimidated, or besieged, or tried to cancel. We’ve explained, millions of times, why we’re saying no, why we won’t let you take our words, because we need them. But the economy of entitlement that belies all your claims to gender non-conformity, will not respect our boundary. The boundaries here are literal, around our spaces, around the de-lineation of our words, but they are, above all, figurative. They arise from the expression of our own subjectivity. The naming of our needs and interests. They arise when we say ‘no,’ and ‘I don’t want,’ and ‘you can’t have.’ In an ethical economy it should be understood that the demand ‘I want to take’ never, between adults, has right of force over ‘I don’t want to give.’ You do not take from others what is not given freely, you don’t coerce them into giving things they do not want to give. Doing so is an act of narcissistic domination. It subordinates an-other’s needs and interests entirely to your own, and in so doing, annihilates their subjectivity. In its core, this is the logic, and the deep traumatic injury, of rape.

The narcissistic rage trans activists have unleashed on women, to try and force us to be silent and comply, is an exact exhibition of this logic. That so much of this coercive rage is sexualised, from the phallic pink and blue bats to the desire to choke us on their cocks, is far from accidental. That people have been so easily convinced that gender lives inside a tube of eyeliner, while the sexual economy of entitlement is enacted in plain sight, apparently invisible to many, is evidence of how far feminism has left to go. The women using argument and evidence to defend their ‘no’ are clearly monsters. A ‘swarm’ of uptight, cruel, castrating cunts who heartlessly refuse to meet a need so small it costs them nothing but their own existence. And everyone agrees. The litany of slurs and threats are warranted by the provocation of a ‘no.’ Just stop being such bitches. Just shut your fucking mouths and give us what we want you witches. Our desire or your existence. No contest cunts. ‘Be Kind.’

be kind

Image by Tatsuya Ishida @TatsuyaIshida9

Tier Three:

It is only inside this economy of entitlement that the indictment of ‘weaponising trauma’ makes sense. Trauma is our explanation of why we need our words and the boundaries that they draw. (Although, let’s be clear, people shouldn’t have to give reasons to justify their boundaries, and the fact we feel the need to reveal our trauma to do just that shows how fucked this situation is already.) The claim that our trauma is a weapon, is then, at base, a claim that our boundary is an act of aggression. And this claim, relies, in turn, on the belief that the needs of, and harm done to, those who seek to transgress that boundary far outweighs the needs of, and the harm done to, those who will be violated. (This is precisely how the acronym that became the slur exerts its vilifying power – what distinguishes, we might ask, ‘inclusion’ from ‘violation’ other than consent?) The people pressing, and supporting, this claim, will ground it by appeal to the specific, and extreme, vulnerability of trans people. And while that appeal is not without foundation, the willingness to uncritically accept, and endlessly disseminate, empirically sketchy and appropriative statistics – to accept then, in its fundament, the claim that the oppression of trans people neatly and completely overrides the oppression of women – is, in itself, a product of the economy of entitlement. The readiness of people, both male and female, to identify with and elevate the pain of males not being given what they say they need or want, over against the females who tell them ‘no,’ is the psychic substance that greases the wheels and gears of the whole patriarchal shitshow. And it is the psychic substance that serves to justify, exculpate, and explain away, any violence used to press male claims.

There is no logic, no quantity of need or pain, that justifies male people violating women’s boundaries, that isn’t rapey. What got to me about the response to Joanne Rowling’s words – and by extension, the words of all of us who would defend our boundary – is how audaciously and easily left-wing journalists and politicians lined up to collude with rape-logic, so immersed inside an economy of male entitlement and its narcissistic rage they likely have no fucking clue that that is what they’re doing. Women’s boundaries are not an act of aggression. Painting them as such is part of the economy of entitlement used to justify taking what has not been given freely, and to justify both the violence that is that taking, and the violence often used to enforce that taking. (This is the difference between rape and aggravated rape. Rape is violence, rape is sometimes violence enforced by violence. One of the key feminist fights was the effort to make clear that it was not the enforcing violence alone that constituted the violation). The indictment that we are ‘weaponising trauma’ is hence, both, a contestation and delegitimization of the boundary that we have re-drawn in response to the primary, trans activist requisition of our words and the spaces they inscribe (Tier 1), but is also then, a justification of any force or threat of force brought to bear to press the claim against that boundary (Tier 2). Here, the ‘weaponising trauma’ claim reveals itself as just another, subtler variation of the endless exculpations and woman-blaming bullshit used to justify the violences against us. ‘She had it coming.’ ‘She made me do it.’ ‘She was asking for it.’

cursed 1

It is here too that the contours of Tier 3 emerge. It consists of the effort to justify and/or dismiss both the violence that is the violation of our boundaries (Tier 1), and, in particular, the violence used to press the claim against, or enforce the violation of, our boundaries (Tier 2). This thought has always, in fact, been around. It often inheres in the classic patriarchal reversal underpinned by the economy of entitlement. That is, because female people having boundaries is an act of intolerable exclusion (and by extension then ‘oppression,’ or, in its current usage, ‘anything that stops me getting what I want’), then any violence used to press the claim against the boundary is, actually, just self-defence. It also turned up in another form just last night on Twitter, the wilfully circular ‘the boundaries of bigots do not need to be respected,’ which fails, of course, to recognise that ‘bigot’ in trans activist discourse means nothing but ‘a woman whose boundaries stop me getting what I want,’ viz, in fact, ‘women’s boundaries are bigotry.’ Such is the power of the economy of entitlement that someone can seriously type ‘I do not need to respect the boundaries of someone whose boundaries stop me getting what I want’ and think that it will fly.

cursed 2

Of course, the defenders of the faith won’t accept a word of this. And to return to where we started, at Tier 1, they won’t accept it because its blasphemy against the catechistic sanctity of the Trinity (‘Trans women are women, Trans men are men, Non-binary is valid, Amen’), and its disavowal of the structuring of power along the lines of sex. (Remember, always, anyone who can actually defend their faith need not be so dogged with ex-communicating heretics). Indeed, everything I have said here, because it relies on the sexual economy of entitlement, would be deemed to be hateful – although, as I’ve underlined, the transparent operation of that economy in this whole affair belies the truth of its own dogma. It is here that the denigration and dismissal of Jo Rowling’s testimony, slips into the almost non sequitur of Owen Jones’ reply. Jones’ response here depends, entirely, on ostensibly reversing the balance of power between males and females, by denying that Jo Rowling speaks as a female, and as a member of a class oppressed as female (this is the work of so much Tumblrised intersectional discourse about ‘cis’ women, ‘rich’ women, ‘white’ women, ‘cishet’ women), and denying that the vulnerability of trans people as trans, does not magically negate the fact that the ones dictating that our boundaries are bigotry and can be rightfully overridden are still male. The epithets ‘abusive,’ ‘silencing,’ ‘aggressive’ and ‘violent,’ when applied by females, to the behaviour of males trying to coerce their boundaries, is not the sneaky gambit of a ‘powerful’ majority jealously hording their piles of privilege. It is how female people name, explain, and process the violence they experience because they’re female, in a society governed by a sexual economy of entitlement.

owen

Because OJ catechistically believes that trans-ness negates maleness, he can, effectively make a claim which, without such catechistic cover, is something no self-respecting progressive would ever say, because its incel-MRA-speak. That is, that women should not name male violence, and that in doing so, they are demonising and discriminating against males. This is, as Owen is fond of reminding us, a trope picked up from the gay rights movement, and leveraged in a way that was, in truth, wrong. It is true that the association of gay men with paedophilia as an excuse to refuse them rights was reprehensible (and just to underline, the general analogy with gay rights fails because gay rights did not involve violating the boundaries of another oppressed class). It is not true, however, that no gay men are paedophiles, and that suspecting a gay man of being a paedophile is a priori an act of bigotry, if you have reason for your suspicion beyond them being gay. (Just as it’s not de facto homophobia to think there might be a safeguarding issue if a gay man dresses in fetish gear and wanks in the toilet of the national children’s charity and then puts it on the internet). Jones’ claim in that case, effectively, was that gayness negates maleness (which it does not), and similarly here, that trans-ness should provide a negating shield of perfect immunity around males who identify as women, or non-binary, or maverique, or whatever, from any indictment of conspicuous male-pattern violence. (Cue Family Guy cartoon). A society that took the sexual abuse of women and children remotely seriously would understand, off the bat, that creating a sub-class of males who are a priori immune from being suspected or indicted of male-pattern violence is a safeguarding risk the size of a fucking planet.

It is this – the ‘you’re demonising us as predators’ stitch-up gambit – that leads directly to the moment where Allison’s Bailey’s description of the contents of terfisaslur is summarily requisitioned as an act of ‘severe’ discrimination against trans people as a whole. (This is MRA logic again, where ‘NotAllMen’ becomes ‘NotAllTransWomen’ and of course, yes, but a not negligible some). There is no way a decent person of progressive persuasion can look at the contents of terfisaslur, or the memes of gun-toting anime characters emblazoned with ‘Shut The Fuck Up TERF,’ or the gratuitous phallic threats aimed at Jo Rowling, and conclude that these are not ‘abusive,’ ‘silencing,’ ‘aggressive’ and ‘violent.’ It is an epic gaslighting piss-take to tell us to choke on cocks, threaten us with rape, make T-shirts soaked with our fake blood, emblazon signs with death threats, erect guillotines with our names on, draw sketches of our hanging bodies, and openly, gleefully, fantasise about the many other ways you want to kill us, and then turn around and say by describing this violence as what it is, we are invalidating and demonising you with prejudicial malice.

The fact that much of this violence is enacted by males who are trans, does not transubstantiate it into ‘not violence’ and it doesn’t mean that people coercing female people’s boundaries with the kind of baseball-bat wielding rapey bullshit always used to coerce female boundaries are somehow, alchemically, ‘not doing male-pattern violence.’ And your catechism-that-we-don’t-believe is no defence, not a get-out clause, not some kstfu terfind of whizz-bang-magic immunising shield that will stop us naming what we see right before of our eyes. We’ve often noted, sometimes caustically, sometimes ruefully, that if people wanted to convince us that they were women, and not a threat, telling us to choke on cocks and hammering down the door with bats was probably not the way to go. We will keep our words, the boundaries that they draw, and the naming of the violence they allow, because the survival of our subjectivities and the possibility of our healing depends on it. And though we may be silenced sometimes, by your animation of our trauma, and your refusal of our power to name, all you will achieve, with your catechistic dictates, in the end, is demonstrating why we wouldn’t let you take our words from the beginning.

We say again:

No means no.

———————————————————-

[1] I hope she’s okay with this, but I’d like to ditch the JK. The occlusion of her sex is a symptom of – not a remedy for – male power.

* It has been pointed out to me for people who don’t know me, the needles in question are acupuncture ones, not the ones attached to hypodermic syringes. This shit is hardwork, but I’m not doing heroin, well, yet. (We can thank Lorelei’s boyfriend for the need for this clarification 😂).

‘Gender Recognition and the Rights of Transgender People’: A Response to The Common’s Briefing Paper

This letter is a guest post by @hatpinwoman, written in response to the House of Common’s Briefing Paper ‘Gender Recognition and the Rights of Transgender People,’ published yesterday, July 16 2020.

 

———————————————

 

To whom it may concern at the House of Commons,

I am writing to you in response to the recently published commons briefing paper entitled “Gender Recognition And The Rights of Transgender People”. It contains both crucial factual errors and statements the veracity of which have not been ascertained.

In order of appearance in the document the points that are contentious are:

i) The documents states that the term transsexual is a “predominantly historical term”. A significant minority within the transgender community continue to call themselves and consider themselves to be transsexual as they have always done. The discarding of the term seems to be extremely premature.

As an especially vulnerable group of people who have a medical diagnosis and follow a path of full or near full transition, their needs and requirements may be considered to be potentially very different to a much larger group who do not have full (or even sometimes any) medical interventions.

ii) The idea that the term acquired gender should be replaced with the term affirmed gender is surely ideological rather than a matter of the law. It is in line with the language used in current models of care which suggest affirmation rather than the more traditional watchful waiting is the correct medical response to patients presenting with dysphoria and a desire for transition.

The replacing of the watchful waiting approach is contentious among some clinicians in the field, and potentially opens the medical profession up to a situation where many patients will be harmed because gender dysphoria is not synonymous with a need to transition. There are, in fact, many reasons why a person might experience dysphoria and many outcomes for such patients. Transition being of benefit to some of them but not all.

The language of “affirmed gender” is a less robust term for the law to use when “affirmed” is so much more wishy-washy than acquired, and it also seems to endorse one specific way of responding to patients with dysphoria. This is surely beyond the remit of Parliament.

iii) The statement from a quote by Transgender Equality that “each of us is assigned a sex at birth” is completely untrue. Our sex is observed and recorded. It is not a random designation, nor is it a rough guess. For the vast majority of people sex is entirely unambiguous. This holds true in Transgender people who are not substantially more likely to have DSDs than the rest of the population. (DSDs are differences, or disorders, of sexual development. Colloquially people may use the term intersex).

We know this because the medical profession has done some research that involves karyotyping patients. Some have found a higher incidence of conditions like Klinefelters syndrome (in which sex would not be ambiguous), others have found no statistically significant difference between incidence of DSDs in trans and non trans people. The consensus thus far is that because the results were consistent enough with the rest of the population it is of limited or even no use in evaluation, diagnosis and treatment.

In outlier cases where it might be of value the largest study I can find on this, to date, states that “patients with DSDs will typically have other clinical or hormonal signs that would point to a DSD diagnosis” (Inoubli et al)

“Assigned sex at birth” is language specifically taken from a small number within the minority of those who have DSDs and it is used in the rare cases where sex does have to be assigned. It seems wrong to take useful language away from a small group of people and generalise it, in a way that makes no sense, to the rest of the population.

iv) The statement , also from transgender equality, that “Trans identity can be “non-binary” in character, located at a (fixed or variable) point along a continuum between male and female; or “non-gendered”, i.e. involving identification as neither” also raises questions about where these fixed or variable points are, how they are measured and what it means to identity as less or more male or female given that the body is clearly one or the other. It seems that Sex and Gender are conflated here which is wrong.

v) the statement “gender dysphoria is not related to sexual orientation” is a highly disputable assertion given that the vast majority of children and young people who develop dysphoria in childhood will not grow up to be trans, but to be gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Additionally current concerns raised by some clinicians at the children’s gender service, GIDS, that gay and lesbian adolescents are being inadvertently transitioned suggest that sexuality is a fundamental consideration when dealing with dysphoria.

Further, clinicians such as Kenneth Zucker, a world renowned expert, notes that “sexual orientation is associated with meaningful differences among GD adolescents and adults”

vi) The statement was made in the report that “Gender Dysphoria is not in itself a mental health condition”. This is concerning.

Gender Dysphoria still appears in DSM-5 which is the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The American Psychiatric Association, who are responsible for publishing the DSM, also state that:

“It is important to note that gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder. The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition.”

The assertion that gender dysphoria is not a mental health condition stands to undermine mental health resources for patients, push them towards the singular treatment of transition which is not always appropriate and even potentially fail to offer them treatment at all.

vii) The assertion that puberty blockers are a “physically reversible intervention” is still in contention given that we do not know the long term effects. How can one assert something is reversible if we do not know the full consequences of a treatment yet? All we can state is that puberty resumes in patients. This does not make it fully reversible unless we can ascertain that their bones, brains, pituitary gland functioning and cognitive abilities are unaffected.

viii) The section about the safeguarding of children (and young people) undergoing treatment for gender dysphoria fails to mention ongoing concerns raised by the staff of GIDS about the standard of care these children are receiving. These concerns have been detailed, for example, in The Times and by the BBC. It is not helpful for MPs to be unaware of this issue.

ix) Where it talks of conversion therapies the report says

“The NHS does “not deliver, promote or refer individuals to any form of conversion therapy.” Conversion therapy is an umbrella term used in relation to:

 …a therapeutic approach, or any model or individual viewpoint that demonstrates an assumption that any gender identity is inherently preferable to any other, and which attempts to bring about a change of gender identity, or seeks to suppress an individual’s expression of gender identity on that basis.”

 This is misleading in its glossing over of things. Conversion therapy is indeed a harmful and heinous practice. Traditionally used to attempt to convert homosexual people to being heterosexual, it was, and is, barbarous.

How this relates to gender identity is unclear. A watchful waiting approach that addresses other issues the patient is experiencing and attempts to ameloriate those is not conversion therapy. It is simply treatment.

Affirmation in a sense is the absence of treatment because it presupposes an outcome: that a patient is trans. The idea that an innate gender identity is responsible for the symptoms in all cases, rather than the symptoms being potentially a product of a variety of things is objectively incorrect.

Any patient who is not trans and is only given affirmation is at risk of medical mistreatment. A growing number of detransitioners are now coming forward to tell their stories which suggests this is precisely what is already happening.

x) When discussing the protected characteristic of Gender Reassignment in the Equality Act, the report states the following about how gender reassignment is defined.

“A notable feature of this definition is that, unlike previous equality legislation, there is no need to be undergoing a medical process of transition. That is because the phrase “proposing to undergo” has a broad meaning.

 The point at which a person is deemed to be “proposing to undergo” was explained by the Solicitor General in 2009 during the Equality Bill’s consideration in committee:

 “proposing” suggests a more definite decision point, at which the person’s protected characteristic would immediately come into being. There are a lot of ways in which that can be manifested— for instance, by making their intention known. Even if they do not take a single further step, they will be protected straight away.

 Alternatively, a person might start to dress, or behave, like someone who is changing their gender or is living in an identity of the opposite sex. That, too, would mean that they were protected.”

I cannot speak to the accuracy of this interpretation but I do wonder at it. We have already seen cases, such as Karen White and Katie Dolatowski, where individuals have been predatory and look to be using transitioning as a cover for this.

We also know, for example, from prior research that there is a “small but concerning minority” of people who will try to transition to gain access to children because they are paedophiles. (Gender Reassignment: 5 years of referrals in Oxfordshire).

The interpretation of gender reassignment as a protected characteristic as explained by the solicitor general does not incidentally or accidentally give these people the protected characteristic of gender reassignment. It seems explicitly to allow them such. A person who dresses or behaves “like someone who is changing their gender” is not someone who, in fact, is necessarily changing their gender.

xi) When discussing single sex exemptions that allow for provision of single sex services and spaces for women the report asserts

“Under the genuine occupational requirement provisions, an employer may impose a “requirement not to be a transsexual person”. The Act’s Explanatory Notes provide the following example:

 A counsellor working with victims of rape might have to be a woman and not a transsexual person, even if she has a Gender Recognition Certificate, in order to avoid causing them further distress.

 As with the Explanatory Notes’ description of the services exception (see above), legal commentators argue this example inadequately describes the duties on employers:

 There are very real concerns that such guidance is too categorical and fails to emphasize the lengths an employer …would need to go to in order to demonstrate proportionality as an adequate defence to discrimination.”

This seems to set the bar one is required to meet to offer women single sex services impossibly high. It is not enough, apparently, for common sense and humanity to women to prevail and to consequently allow them to have single sex provisions.

Instead it must be such a hoop for an employer to jump through that one wonders if they would risk doing so.

Yet, many women very much require sex based rights both because being a member of the female sex remains a distinct physical and social experience, and because the group of people most likely to be violent towards them are male.

The fact that it is even in dispute that women might automatically expect their rape service providers will be female (or as per the previous example cited that their female counselling groups will be female only) is astonishing.

No one, except the most churlish among us, would begrudge trans people specific and exclusive resources and particularly when they are at their most vulnerable. One has to wonder why it is the case that women must be expected to forego a similar level of compassion and accommodation. It is unlikely when the bar for justification of these needs is set so high that service providers will feel comfortable insisting on providing female only provisions.

Given that this is already notably the case, the interpretation of the single sex exemptions must be more concrete, more intuitive and more decent towards the female sex.

xii) With regards to the spousal veto, the women and equalities committee has, to its credit, apparently spoken to the trans community about their thoughts on this. What it doesn’t appear to have done is also spoken to the (mainly) women who will be affected by the removal of the spousal veto. This is an oversight when the veto is something that both parties have a vested interest in.

xiii) The statement made that “Some argue that biological sex differences are immutable” is somewhat confounding. This seems to imply that there is some kind of reasonable argument that they are mutable, but biological sex cannot be changed and this is surely the foundational point of understanding for this whole debate. Trans people really cannot exist within the law, or transition in any meaningful way, if biological sex is not a concrete thing. Nor can women expect single sex exemptions to have any meaning at all.

xiv) The section entitled “the self identification debate” has a good attempt at covering the issue of the ongoing disagreements between groups, but really wouldn’t inform someone outside of the debate of the tenor of behaviour women have been on the receiving end of.

I personally speak anonymously on this issue because I was threatened with violence, told I would be executed with a guillotine, socially ostracised, and my friends were told they must disown me, for raising issues on this subject. In a manner no more offensive than the one I am writing with here. I have been relatively lucky in terms of the kind of campaign of terror I have received.

The level of rape threats, death threats, letters to employers, attempts at public denigration and shaming, and the misogynistic hostility women have faced while trying to talk about changes in law that concern them, too, has been unacceptable in a democracy. It is not only trolls and internet ruffians who have engaged in this behaviour, either.

Calling women “terfs” and intimidating, maligning and dismissing them on that basis has been horrifyingly widespread. So has the constant impugning of their character to assume that their motivations must necessarily be hateful.

Thank you for your time in reading my response,

Yours sincerely,

Lorelei

 

Male Power

Now that the TechBro-mofos

Have tipped their hand,

Laid it down,

Said the quiet part out loud,

‘SHUT THOSE WITCHES UP ALREADY’

There’ll be no cyber-space or quarter given

To that pit of ‘spewing’ vipers

And their ‘hateful’ talk of boundaries,

Who refuse to bend

Or ‘educate themselves’

By reading Holy scrolls

And transcriptions of The Law

Until they see the light and

Dutifully accept

Into their hearts

The godlike eminence of male desire

And its validity

Above all else.

 

Sixty thousand women snuffed out

Of speech, while

The Struggle-Fuck goes on

Because our degradation makes them hard

 

And who are we to judge?

A chorus of pearl-clutching prudes,

Uptight cunts

Fucking with their freedom

(Their dicks must go anywhere they please)

They will judge

The justice of your case

Like some virtualised

Extraordinary rendition

And find you guilty

Of ‘severe’ offence

For speaking of the pointed knives

And wire encrusted baseball bats

They said they’d rape you with

If you did not comply

With their desire.

 

Our job, as always,

Is to serve their needs.

Their entitlement

To our flesh

Now so overweening

That, having laid the body

Of the earth to waste

With their fantasies of immortality and

Techno-domination,

They demand the very substance

Of our sex

Be placed

Under the dominion

Of their idea.

The power to name

The matter of the world

According to their will

(Or lust)

Like The Good Book

‘In the beginning.’

 

And all we said was ‘No,’

 

All we said was:

‘The matter of our bodies

Matters

And this form of your dominion

Is no different than it was before

And holds no space

For us

To actually exist

And incarnate

Beyond the dead-eyed dreams

Your minds have made of us.’

 

What happens when that flat

Reflecting surface

Of the mirror

Starts to speak? The insubordination

Is unbearable and

Must be punished.

They will say that we are ‘throwing bricks,’

Although all I will remember

Is that night when,

Surrounded by a baying crowd

Transported in an ecstasy of

Seeing us all tarred and feathered,

We boarded up the windows

So we could breathe

Enough to talk.

 

They cannot still our tongues.

They will try to take us

One by one

And make a Philomela of us each

As a warning to the others.

They will hunt down Baronesses

And dispute their right to adjudicate

The words.

They will descend in legions

And fantasise

Of stopping-up

Our mouths

And choking us to silence

With their cocks,

(Exempt of course

From any wisp of

Patriarchal power

Because they’re just so queer now)

All while dicktating that

They’re smashing up the

Status quo.

 

It takes an exemplary arrogance

After all this time

Of brandishing their weapons

And erecting

Monumental towers

To the phallus,

To use the massive edifice of

Techno-corporate

Potency

At their disposal

To try and make us mouth

The catechism

Of its denial.

 

And nothing here has changed,

 

The dirt of the earth

And the blood of bodies

Still sustains you in your fantasies

Of uploaded immortality,

A clear Platonic sky

Of neural nets

And body-denigrating domination

Over the forms of life.

And even were you able to

Use your Law to

Excise the tongue

Of every single Fury

And stop her speaking of

Your rape

And desecration,

The earth will still make manifest,

In that matter

You have denied

Intelligibility

Since the dawn of time,

With words of

Water

Wind

And fire,

Her judgement

Upon you.

The Idea of Immunity

In these anxious-making days, the thing that’s making me most anxious is the actions, or rather inactions, of our government. There are a few keys things that needed to be done to deal with the current situation. Testing. Social distancing. Protective equipment. Ventilators. Making sure people are fed and watered. And what we’ve got is an unfolding omnishambles of delay, prevarication, Brexit over breathing, and possible social Darwinianism, covered over with a load of bumf that’s somehow supposed to make us feel better about the fact that a modern technically advanced society is incapable of performing basic medical tests or getting a bunch of protective clothing from point A to point B in a vaguely timely manner.

I know in a state of crisis people want to be able to trust the people in charge. I want to be able to trust the people in charge. But being told it’s our patriotic duty to feel reassured by people who are not even remotely reassuring will do the very opposite of reassuring us. It will just make us feel more freaked out that we’re sharing a time-space continuum with people who tune in to the daily briefing and see something other than the latest instalment of ‘Blag Your Way Through a Pandemic.’ I hear the government’s latest spin is to waste a ton of time and money sending us all a letter from Boris. Unless it explains how they ‘lost’ an email from the EU, contains the blueprints of Dyson’s ventilator and a schedule for its production, or is printed on bog-roll grade paper, I wish they’d save their breath. And focus on the job in hand. Which is saving ours.

The only small comfort here is that we’re not in the States. Which is pretty cold comfort, given that some 320 million people are, and their well-being is currently in the hands of a narcissistic toddler who’s thinks his coronavirus briefings (I use that phrase advisedly) are a reality TV show that should be judged on its ratings, rather than as an exercise in informing the public how the government is going to stop them dying. That his job is to stop people dying doesn’t yet seem to have penetrated Trump’s impervious sovereign skull. And I’m less than convinced that Boris is doing anything more than merely miming understanding, prompted by the collective gasp of horror that greeted the initial ‘herd immunity’ strategy concocted by the chief sociopath-in-waiting. (Yes yes, they did their sums wrong, by mistake, even though Twitter calculated the catastrophe on the back of an envelope within hours).

That the two most dismal and recklessly dismissive strategies have come from the two most devoutly neoliberal nations isn’t, one suspects, an accident. Nor is it accidental that both countries are currently presided over by populist demagogues who have spent the last however many years convincing their people that the universal panacea for their problems is encircling the nation with actual or imagined walls. It’s been widely noted that there’s a significant overlap between the ‘it’s just the flu you bunch of panicking pussies we never closed the pubs for Fritz in the Blitz’ types, and the devotees of the Brexit/MAGA cult. In some sense this is counter-intuitive, given our tendency to think contagion in military metaphors, you’d imagine those most exercised by invading ‘foreign’ foes would be first in line to do battle with the marauding ‘Chinese virus.’ But they’re not. In fact, they were first in line to pretend the ‘Chinese virus’ is NBD, and the last on the uptake – even as our frontline defences start failing for lack of adequate protection – that it really is. So, what’s going on here?

What’s going on here, I think, has a lot to do with the fantasies of invulnerability that impel the sovereigntist imagination, and how those fantasies intertwine with ideas of immunity. The sovereign imaginary is all about inscribing space – with borders, with walls – and then keeping the outside out. It is a fortress mentality. A dream of impregnable immunity. An ideal of rugged self-sustaining individualism. Trump’s America or BoJo’s Britain have no need of foreign (muck) masks or foreign (muck) machines. We’re perfectly able to make our own tests without the help of external agencies thank you very much. (Hoho). We need no assistance from foreign bodies and no foreign bodies will breach our borders. Except, of course, they will. There’s a tragic irony that having flogged the lie that the country could be cured of its ills by expelling foreigners, the government finds itself confronted by an invading ailment that has no respect for borders, whether of the body or the body politic. We have, painfully, purified ourselves, and all to no avail. What could the sovereign fantasist do but retreat into denial?

Indeed, as we’ve seen from the endless wrangling over Brexit, trying to perfectly excise a state from its networks of inter-relation and dependency, is, basically, impossible. (Hello Irish border). Just as a body cannot be sustained without breathing in air, even when it may contain contaminants. What the virus has done is make manifest the life-sustaining necessity of our material interconnections, amplifying and dramatizing the vulnerability that haunts those relations, even in everyday circumstances. Now we have, collectively, self-isolated, trying to stop the virus being exchanged, materially, between us, it is unnerving, unheimlich, to find everything that enters from the outside turned into a potential source of danger. People are disinfecting groceries and washing bars of chocolate in the sink.

In our isolation, what becomes suddenly and starkly visible is all the life-sustaining labour that usually goes unnoticed and undervalued, much of which involves material exchange and transportation. Food distribution. Stacking shelves. Water and gas supply. Delivering post. Sewerage and rubbish collection. All the material ins and outs across the thresholds of our homes and the borders of our bodies – the mucous membranes that mark, now more than ever, our vulnerability, but keep us all alive. It’s been said, and will be said again, that we must learn our lessons here. The invisible work we hold in such low esteem is, literally, vital, and we should value it as such. The virus could enter us from animals only because we’re also animals. And like all animals, we’re materially dependent – on water, air, nutrients and the Earth.

This dependence is the last thing the sovereign fantasist wants to deal with.  Where do our basic material needs, our animal frailty, our porosity to penetration by tiny, lethal particles fit inside a dream of impregnable immunity? It makes sense that on encountering such stark evidence of our material exposure, the Trumpian or Brexiteering mind would snap shut like a trap and opt for denial. Because to plan, effectively, for what was about to happen, demands confronting the basic animal vulnerability that sovereign fantasies – and their drive towards perfect, immortal immunity – are impelled to disavow. Of course, there are obvious economic reasons why our governments held off suspending movement and material exchange until it was unavoidable, but had the danger been confronted earlier, such measures might have been more avoidable, and, moreover, delaying lockdown is really no excuse for making such a mess of your planning and procurement homework. The other thing to note here is that the economic devastation that follows from suspending material contact between people gives the lie to the individualist ideal shared by both sovereign fantasists and neoliberalism. Individual economic activity and wealth accumulation happens only inside collectives, and although our economies have taken increasing leave of material reality, it turns out that when people stop moving around and interacting with each other stuff still grinds to a shuddering halt.

It’s worth remembering here that ‘immunity’ is originally a political, rather than a biological, concept. The Latin ‘immunis’ means ‘exempt from public duties or paying taxes,’ a negation of ‘munia,’ ‘public duties or functions’ which stems from a Proto-Indo-European root *mei, ‘to change, go, move’ with a wide range of derivates which relate to the movement or exchange of goods, services and obligations between people. As well as words to do with change, such as ‘mutable’ and ‘transmute,’ *mei, is also then the root of ‘municipal,’ ‘common,’ ‘community,’ ‘commute,’ and ‘communicate.’ This is the sense in which, as Roberto Eposito suggests in Immunitas, ‘immunity’ exists in tension with ‘community.’ The immune individual is exempt from the obligations that arise from being-in-community, despite the fact that their existence still depends, necessarily, on that community. It is here, of course, that we encounter the enraging spectacle of people who exploit community need, community labour, and community infrastructure to amass great wealth – and who, under current political regimes, pay very little tax – suddenly demanding that the community bails them out when it transpires (who knew?) that without communal movement and exchange, they have no business. (Sell your island Richard. *Blank stare*)

This tension between immunitary and community ideals has something to tell us, I think, about why our government, when it belatedly decided to act, went straight from ‘nothing to see here’ to ‘herd immunity’ – neatly trying to step over the vital bit in the middle where we’re exposed to a serious material threat that has to be directly confronted to safeguard life (unless you’re, y’know, a eugenicist).  It’s because the virus is ‘novel,’ and hence, that none of us have immunity, that it’s a danger. And, as I’m arguing here, by turning everyday, life-sustaining, material contact into an intolerable risk, the virus then dramatizes and makes visible both the inherent vulnerability, and the necessity, of that contact. Of course it’s right that we hope to return to everyday interaction – which will likely depend on developing a vaccine that confers immunity without exposing the most vulnerable to the brunt of the infection – but what interests me here is how concerned our leaders are to return to this state of immunity without confronting what its disruption will have exposed. Our frontline health workers are risking their lives by subjecting themselves to godknowswhat kind of viral load, without proper protection, and without the tests they need to know whether they’re infected or not. While, instead of decisively focusing its efforts on procuring and distributing this equipment, the government is obsessing about antibody tests, and seems rather more worried about how to get us out of lockdown than dealing with the crisis we’re in right now.

What they want, of course, is to return us to a state where the vulnerability of our material interrelation falls back within normal limits and can once again be invisibilised. It’s uncomfortable to be reminded that all those people you ignored and belittled are actually ‘key workers’ far more important than anyone sitting in an office pulling in a 100K. Or that falling victim to vulnerability is an existential possibility for us all, and not some sign of moral failing. Perhaps we’ll learn from the prospect of food rotting in the fields because there’s no one – no foreigners – to pick and pack it, but the transparent urge to return to ‘business as usual’ suggests likely not. In defiance of all material facts about the course of the pandemic – already running wild because of Trump’s denial – the President’s absurd ‘back-to-business’ schedule fell, symbolically, on Easter Sunday. In Western culture, the Resurrection is the archetype of the immunitary drive, the desire for life to finally transcend the material entanglements that make us mortal. Perhaps Trump abandoning that fantasy should give us hope, perhaps someone finally made him understand his salvation story entailed mass sacrificial murder, as dreams of transcending death so often do. Immunity is never, in fact, impregnability, but rather, the toleration of vulnerability that comes from our exposure, once attenuated. As many have said, SARS-CoV-2 is a warning shot across the bows, perhaps even the final memo from the warming planet that still, somehow, sustains us. We are material, communal, animal. Our survival as a species depends on us confronting that.