‘Unreasonable Ideas’ – A Reply to Alison Phipps

Yesterday Kathleen suggested that, rather than making endless dark subtweets about what an evil toxic force we are, Alison Phipps actually tried talking to us like human beings and engage in debate about the ideas at the heart of this conflict.


Of course, that offer was refused. On the grounds that “’Reasonable debate’ cannot counter unreasonable ideas.’ Which is both convenient, and, if taken at face value, a pretty staggering statement from someone who is supposedly in the business of dealing with ideas. If taken at face value, ‘unreasonable’ here would mean something like ‘lacking in reasoned argument,’ or ‘not capable of being justified with compelling reasons.’ Maybe this is what Phipps means, but if so, she would have to, y’know, actually demonstrate that the many reasons we have given for our position are not, in fact, reasonable. Which would, indeed, be the entire point of asking her to intellectually engage with us, rather than just doing an endless ‘tut and move away’ manoeuvre. We have, over the course of the last years, written a decent pile of blog posts and essays and academic papers and twitter threads, explaining the basis of our objections to the ideology of the present form of the Trans Rights Movement, and the effect we think it will have on women and girls. We have received nothing by way of substantive critique which deals directly with those objections, even though we wrote a handy little guide basically asking for it, all of which leaves the distinct impression that advocates of the Trans Rights position don’t actually have a substantive response to our objections. If our position was actually ‘unreasonable’ in the first and most conventional sense, then engaging in reasoned debate with us would be exactly the way of demonstrating that. Of course, we’re going to conclude from Phipps’ swerve that she knows full well that she can’t answer our reasoned objections, and no surprises there – this absolute refusal to deal with the substance of the issue has been the core political tactic of the TRM from the start, and it’s because, simply, they can’t deal with reasoned objections. What they can, and have done, inveterately, instead, is weave a web of analogical relations to explain why we’re evil, why everything we say is evil, and why they don’t have to engage with us or anything we ever say because we’re SO. DAMN. EVIL.


This is actually what Phipps is saying when she calls us ‘unreasonable.’ It can’t be a (potentially) demonstrable claim about our position ‘lacking reasoned argument’ because if it were, the claim that ‘reasonable debate cannot defeat unreasonable ideas’ would make no sense. What it is, rather, I’d suggest, is a moral claim – a claim that we and our ideas are so morally delinquent that we can, and should, be excluded from the community of legitimate speaking subjects. (For a particularly piquant example of this move, here’s the bit where a bunch of our colleagues compared three lesbians to holocaust deniers and people advocating for the corrective rape of lesbians). For a group of people so profoundly concerned with questions of recognition, validation, and the harms of dehumanisation and exclusion, it is marked how absolute and implacable the TR position is when it comes to refusing anyone who questions their ideology or political agenda the merest hint of basic recognition. We are never to be taken as good actors who have genuinely motivated concerns or objections grounded in our own political analysis of the world. We will not be interpreted or understood in anything resembling our own terms, but are, instead, a venomous horde of boogeywomen summoned by the projections of our opponents. Feminism has a term for fashioning groups of people out of your own projections and flattening them into an undifferentiated dark morass that lacks individuated or interior life. We call it othering.


Bad Judgement – Part 1

So, before JK charged in to raise our spirits, I sat down, Thursday morning, and in an effort to not stick my head in the toilet, decided to go through Maya’s judgement and break down the central conceptual moves and mistakes with a fine-tooth comb. It’s an absolute mess and dissecting the full form of the mess got a little bit (ahem) out of control. Still, #IStandWithMaya, and this is a core part of my beat, so, here we go….


The judgement functions by applying what’s known as the ‘Grainger criteria’ (see Grainger plc v Nicholson, 2010) to establish whether a philosophical belief constitutes something worthy of protection. The criteria stipulates that the belief must be a) genuinely held, b) a belief and not an opinion, based on present available information c) pertain to a weighty or substantial aspect of human life and behaviour d) have a level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance and e) be worthy of respect in a democratic society as well as being not incompatible with human dignity or conflict with others’ rights. It’s important to note that what’s purportedly not under consideration here is whether the belief is true, scientific, or based on what many people consider to be a basic material fact about the world. When the case was being heard, many people asked why our political position was being defended under the rubric of ‘philosophical belief,’ to which the long and short answer is, ‘because the law has no provision for protecting people for stating material facts.’ Which is all of no small consequence, given that, at least from our perspective, the crux of this case is whether it’s permissible to state material facts if those facts cause some people emotional distress, or, in twitter rubric, it’s boils down to ‘facts vs. feelings’. Given this, whether the facts at the core of gender critical belief are, in fact, facts, is absolutely central to whether you think it’s reasonable, or reprehensible, to both hold and express them. It may be that because (allegedly) that’s not what’s under consideration here, the law is a badly made instrument for dealing with this question. Particularly when, I’d argue, the judgement only makes sense if you take the view that biological sex isn’t real, which – even though it’s purportedly outside the purview of the judgement – the judge, in fact, does.

Here we find that, just like trans activist discourse itself, the judgement is maddeningly circular. If it is the case that biological sex exists then this judgement simply falls apart in several places. Judge Tayler’s operating ontology surfaces in his refusal to recognise that for women to adequately express their political critique of trans activist demands it is necessary to point to sex and sometimes, even, to the sex of specific individuals – a refusal which effectively corresponds to an easy dismissal of the political stakes for women, and a blunt lack of respect for our specific political interests. The half-explicit denial of sex is also central to Tayler’s refusal of Maya’s claim that the GRA creates a legal fiction, a refusal that makes sense only on the basis of denying that there is any difference between legal and ontological sex. By suggesting that there is only the man-made structure of ‘legal sex,’ Tayler is effectively asserting the priority of the ideal/cultural over material/biological reality. Here, legal sex (like it’s conceptual twin ‘gender identity’) trumps/erases biological sex, and the judgement itself turns out to be a perfect performance of the core of the ideology we were seeking to show we had a lawful right to resist.


The TRA Trope Almanac



awful arguments

The argument proceeding from clownfish.

The argument proceeding from strawberries.

The argument proceeding from seahorses.

“Intersex people are as common as redheads, so sex does not exist.”

“Sex is a spectrum, so males are female.”

“Bio-essentialism!” (Is that like thinking horses and carrots exist?)


“Thinking women exist is like thinking women are livestock,” aka “Stop reducing women to their genitals!”

 “Everything is a social construct.”

 “Because women are Black, disabled, poor, gay, etc,. women do not exist.”

 “Everyone who says they are trans is trans. Except destransitioners. And evil witches. (Ask Owen Jones. He decides. With his sorting hat.).”

 “Men would never bother identifying as woman to abuse women and children.”

“Sex is assigned at birth based on arbitrary genital configurations.”

“Women can’t beat men at sports because they just aren’t trying hard enough.”

“Michael Phelps has got big feet so sport is never fair.”

“Cis women are not oppressed as such.”

‘Cis womanhood is threatened by trans women.”

“I earned my womanhood. So I’m more of a woman than you.”

 “I feel like a woman and I have biology therefore I have female biology.”

“Some women don’t have uteruses, so males can be women.”

“Mythical biological females.”

“But my gold lame pocketbook!”

“Sometimes a male brain grows a woman’s body by mistake.”

 “Women are not oppressed on the basis of their sex. They’re oppressed because they wear lipstick.”

“Sex is an outdated concept.”

“Woman is a palimpsest.”

“Woman is Frankenstein’s Monster.”

“Woman is a loose shifting constellation of biological, political and cultural phenomena that varies according to context, time and space.”

“Woman is a void to be filled by other people’s desire.”

“One is not born, but rather becomes a woman.”


Who’s Removing Whose Rights Anyway?

My god, what a shitshow.

As we all know, yesterday Labour released their new manifesto, in which they made the following pledge:


Twitter erupted, I may or may not have done a backflip, lots of people were rightly more sceptical, and then there was a great deal of anger and name-calling from those who – given how polarised this whole thing now is – we may as well just call ‘the other side.’

Since then, a great deal of smoke and obfuscation has been cast over the pledge. Firstly by Ellie Mae O’Hagan – whose loyalties in this battle are well known (oh hai Owen) – and then subsequently by Dawn Butler, who at this point I think we may as well just regard as a fully paid-up TRA.

Ellie 1

There is a lot to say about this. The first is that both the statement Ellie tweeted, and Dawn’s statement, would seem to directly contradict the pledge made in yesterday’s manifesto, and notably – how odd! – they use exactly the same language to do so. The key phrase here of course is ‘no spaces will be permitted to discriminate against trans people.’


On ‘Transcendent Truths’ and Oh-Such-Intellectual Sophistication

So, last night this thread turned up, which Lorelei pointed to, because she was, quite rightly, objecting to what she saw as the erasure of the material basis of her disability. It kind of blew my mind and infuriated me in equal measure, and I was wondering if I should get out my virtual pens and scribble all over it. I decided to, partly because what blew my mind and infuriated me might be usefully illustrative, and also, in good part because one of the awesome Scottish women told me that Harry is becoming something of an intellectual star up their way, and so, there might be some service to them in thinking through why this is such a philosophical clusterfuck.

Harry 1

Let’s start by summarising Harry’s main argument. There are two main prongs. The first relies on Harry’s creation of the character of the ‘straw tran,’ who is, basically, the character we claim could abuse self-ID procedures and declare themselves trans for nefarious purposes. As suggested by the nomenclature, Harry’s assertion is that this person could not and does not exist (Wax. My. Balls), and moreover that it shows ‘complete ignorance’ to think this person could exist, because this person does not conform to what Harry understands to be ”actual trans lives.” There is a lot of half-reasonable stuff here (I’ll get on to why only half-reasonable in a mo), about ‘performative gender’ as a “whole set of ways of being in the world over time,” and social identities as “historical being in the world,” and how such identities are not just assumed and lived on the basis of singular speech acts. All of which indubitably conveys Harry’s experience of their own transness and maybe of many of their community, and all of which has absolutely no bearing on the fact that self-ID procedures would involve only a single declarative act and that checking people are involved in a process of meaningful lived transition is precisely why we have the current gatekeeping system embedded in the GRA. So basically Harry, you’ve just produced a really decent account of why the current system is a good idea, and the only thing you’ve got to ground your claim that it’s not is the baseless assertion that there are only good actors in this situation. Which is to say, the baseless assertion that creepy as fuck predatory males do not exist and will not manifestly abuse loopholes around the safeguarding of women and girls. To which I repeat: Wax. My. Balls.


Why Feminists Are Not Nazis

So, in the light of the events in Toronto of the last few weeks, and especially the decision by Toronto City Council to review how the the library could possibly have let the evil. terven. speak, I got back into thinking about the work that analogies between gender critical feminism and Nazism are doing in this conflict.

We have to reflect on how incredible it is that a city council can vote almost unanimously to review library policies with the intent of ensuring that women speaking about their sexed-based rights  ‘doesn’t happen again,’ and that nobody even stops to interrogate the basis of why these women should be censured. And this unthinking willingness has a great deal to do with how effectively trans rights discourse has convinced many that it’s completely normal to aggressively besiege women talking about their rights in libraries on the basis that such talk is hateful, and represents a ‘literally violent’ harm to trans women. I have talked elsewhere about some of the – totally implausible – ways this claim of harm has been filled out by trans ideology. But I was today reminded that a lot of the intuitive appeal is also resting on the analogy with Nazism and other forms of far-right or nationalist thinking.

So, anyway, while the actions in Toronto raise a pretty terrifying spectre of actual democratic abnegation, I thought I’d post the text and visuals from the talk I gave in Reading earlier this year, on the subject of why accusing feminists of being Nazis is a load of propagandist, totalitarian bullshit….