Month: October 2018

A Short(ish) Note on Academic Totalitarianism

I’ve been thinking a lot about totalitarianism of late. About what I’ve started to call the ‘ontological totalitarianism’ of compelling us to believe in legal fictions, and about how that then manifests in the totalitarian political strategies of the trans rights movement. Another aspect of this general tendency is also playing out in academic discourse – and in some ways, because I’m a (mostly itinerant) academic, this is the one that really gets me where it hurts. The civic function of the academy, and especially the function of my own discipline, is to hang around in the public square and ask a ton of annoying, difficult and impertinent questions. We are supposed to be a Socratic pain the ass. We are supposed to hold public and political discourse to account. And we are supposed to stand there pulling gratuitously rude faces when people with political power spout incoherent twaddle, or when they make legislative proposals that have potentially awful consequences.

Which is all to say, I spend a lot of time on the phone at the moment ranting with my best friend about how the academy is flagrantly failing in its civic duty – at a time when the humanities are particularly under threat – and about how a whole load of people should frankly be ashamed of themselves.

One of the things that is going on here, of course, is that people are scared. All of us who have spoken out on this have received numerous messages from colleagues, offering support and agreement, and explaining at length why they feel unable to say anything. (In the case of junior academics with insecure employment, let me just say, I hear you, and neoliberal precarity is totally part of the story here). Along with many others I put my name on a letter this week protesting the harassment of academics who want to speak about, write about, or do any kind of research about the multiple theoretical and practical issues thrown up by the present dominance of transgender ideology. But that’s not what I want to talk about here. What I want to talk about here is the many many academics who are not just keeping their heads down and hoping this thought-policing will come to a blessed end soon. Rather, I want to talk about the ones who are actively supporting and enforcing it.

When I first encountered trans ideology about six years ago, it never occurred to me in a million years that the academy would just roll over for this pile of cobbled-together, anti-materialist, life-denying, patriarchal, bullying bullshit and ask it to tickle its tummy. The whole thing is a reality distortion cognitive dissonance machine. It’s an exercise in mass gaslighting that relies on a concatenation of double-thinks. And I had supposed, naively it turns out, that the people who are paid to think about things, would, y’know, think. Quite why it has prompted not inquiry, but compliance, is complex. It has, in the first instance, a lot to do with a catastrophically clay-headed application of the analysis of oppression. With the fact that people have just lapped up the cis-trans binary and the claim that women are the ‘oppressors’ of trans people, and that their political interests are, therefore, the interests of the dominant class (yeah, because radical feminists have so much institutional power, don’t they, Professors of Gender Studies?). For those of you still labouring under the illusion that the trans rights movement is simply an emissary of the oppressed, that they have no political power, that they are challenging entrenched interests, or that their agenda represents a significant challenge to the status quo, I give you Exhibit A:


International Finance, Multinational Pharmaceuticals and Spy Surveillance Central for the Revolution!

Seriously people, please.

The other major factor in why this ideology has been so easily absorbed by the academy is, however, down to the dominance of what we’ve been talking around over the last few months – the pre-eminence of what we might call a ‘discourse all the way down’ model of reality. I’m not here, intending to ally myself with the Pluckrosean faction and start banging a drum for a simple return to objectivism (because yeah, that always collapses into a ‘view from nowhere’ which is also, often, ‘a view from privilege’). However, as I’ve been trying to map out, the problem, as always, is with the way these two positions are structured in an opposition that excludes the space between. Reality is made between subjects and objects, between the subjective and the objective, between culture and nature, between ideas and material limits. It is as wrong-headed to think it’s all a matter of objective facts as it is to think it’s all a matter of discourse. But the present problem plaguing the humanities is the extreme seduction that has been performed by the idea of ‘discourse all the way down,’ and the way this is implicated in the enthusiastic adoption of the idea that there is no such thing as male and female bodies, and the further thought that anyone who thinks there is is obviously an oppressive bigot.

The extreme seductive power of this idea – as I allude to in places in this conversation – is that people get really overexcited by the thought that if oppression, and injustice, are simply ‘described into existence,’ then they can, relatively simply, be ‘described out again.’ The foundation of this thought is Foucauldian, and it rests on thinking that there is no ‘natural’ psychophysical reality, or material structures, that underpin and limit discursive possibility. As I point to in this discussion, this leads, in the case of Foucauldian feminist discussions of rape for example, to the absurd, idiotic, and frankly seizure-inducing idea that the only reason why rape is harmful is because feminists have gone around saying it’s harmful, and that if we all just shut up about it the harm would magically disappear in a great big puff of smoke. That is, for Foucault, discourse is not primarily descriptive of any reality, but is, essentially productive of that reality (again, here we find a failure to think the interaction between description and production). And this has had, more or less consciously, a powerful effect on how people think about the function of the academy. Rather than studying and describing social phenomena and producing analysis to critique, challenge and transform the world, the academy becomes only an organ for producing social reality through the production of discourse.

To many, this all has a nice liberatory patina to it. Or rather, it has nice liberatory patina to those people who didn’t, like me, feel a kind of cold ontological shock spread up their spine when they read 1984 and grasped the fundamental danger of constructing consensus reality through duplicity and coercion. To be honest, it pretty much blows my mind that in the middle of post-truth Trumpian tyranny there are still people running around inside universities who haven’t started wondering whether this ‘discourse all the way down’ business is really quite what it’s cracked up to be. And it blows my mind even further that they haven’t started to realize that claims about the limits of materiality – or the ‘2+2=4ness’ of the world – are not always oppressive cultural norms masquerading as nature in the interests of the powerful, but are actually also – sometimes – the material bulwark against the reality distortion that power puts in place.

With respect to trans politics it seems many people are still stuck at thinking that we can remake the world with nothing but our minds. We can bend ourselves into mental pretzels to argue that human sexual dimorphism is a social construct, and we can fantasize that the abolition of sex will yield the abolition of sex-based oppression. Anyone who doesn’t comply with this fantasy, who goes around doggedly insisting that sex, is, in fact, a thing, and that no amount of rhetorical jiggery-pokery and discursive control will actually make it not-a-thing, becomes, then, an emissary of oppression. And this then yields a situation in which we find certain feminist academics vociferously insisting that other feminist academics should be censured – and not even engaged with – for committing the crime of believing sexed bodies to exist, for allegedly ‘weaponising’ such bodies, and for not complying with the demand that consensus reality be refigured around the erasure of those bodies. (We’re feminists, what did you think we’d say when you tried to erase female bodies. I mean. Come the fuck on). That is, what this yields is a form of academic totalitarianism in which many academics completely forget that the university is supposed to serve society by doing discursive interrogation, and commit themselves to making it, instead, a pure instrument of discursive political control.[1]

Which is all to say, great work with the liberation guys.

Well played.


[1] To be clear, I’m not aligning myself here with the argument that has been coming out of the right for years about the inherent coerciveness of say, critiquing someone for being racist. The role this argument has played in convincing well-meaning left-leaning academics that our concerns about trans ideological totalitarianism are just free-speech arguments covering for a reassertion of power has been considerable. So, I want to say clearly, the difference here is between thinking that social phenomena like structural racism or rape culture are social constructs (which in large part they are), and thinking that sexual dimorphism is a social construct (which is isn’t). It is the case that presenting social phenomena as natural in order to make them appear to be a social inevitability is ideological and politically dubious. It doesn’t follow from that that thinking natural phenomena are natural is politically motivated and ideologically dubious. What is going on with trans ideology is the insistence that something natural be perceived as constructed, and the attempt to socially coerce that perception. That is, there is, between racism and the perception of sexual dimorphism, a meaningful difference. The analogous statement to ‘there are male and female humans’ is ‘there are black people’ (indeed, race is more socially constructed than sex, but nobody is arguing that we will overcome structural racism by pretending, and coercively insisting, that black people don’t exist – and, in fact, most left-leaning people would be horrified by that). So, I am not saying that there is something totalitarian about the attempts by academics to critique and change oppressive structures of power. I am saying there is something totalitarian in attempting to enforce compliance with a belief that something which is manifestly a thing is not, in fact, a thing. That is, this all comes back down to, at base, the point about the ontological totalitarianism of compelling belief and perception with regard to what is, in fact, a legal fiction.




Identity, Sovereignty and Narcissism

Part 1: Identity and Recognition



As many of you know, one of the things I’ve been banging on about of late, is the way the current form of trans rights politics is widely understood to be postmodernism’s (not very red-haired) step-child. As we saw in the piece on Butler, the central idea here is that post-modernism/post-structuralism is a form of ‘linguistic idealism’ that thinks everything is ‘discursively constructed,’ that there is no ‘objective’ reality, and that, therefore, in the final analysis, meaning is just whatever we happen to say it is. This kind of commitment to the infinite possibilities of social construction – and the accompanying belief that social norms are just things we plucked randomly out of our back-pocket – is what is driving the batshit idea that sexual dimorphism is something we just made up one Tuesday, probably sometime shortly before the colonization of North America. It also seems to be implicated in what we might think of as the excess of ‘subjectivism’ going on – the priority currently being placed on individual feeling or experience over consensus reality. And my claim about all of this – and this is my story and I’m sticking to it – is that this ‘discourse all the way down’ version of events is basically a butchered interpretation of deconstruction, and that what trans rights politics is doing, moreover, actually flies in the face of what deconstruction tells us about the world.


The notion of identity, and what we mean by identity, is key to this whole story. And the infinite irony of the way mangled-post-structuralism is currently washing around in the background of this debate is that if I had to sum up the core of deconstruction in one line, I’d say ‘it’s the critique of identity.’ That is, deconstruction properly interpreted is actually a really useful tool for explaining what’s so wrong with trans rights claims that ‘I AM WHAT I SAY I AM,’ and ‘I am the determinant of my identity,’ and, equally, the idea that identity is ‘a simple case of individual rights.’ Because the core deconstructive insight, as I’ve laid out before, is not that nothing means anything, or that things are just what we randomly decide they are, or that everything is simply ‘discursively constituted.’ The key deconstructive insight is that the being of things – that is, their ‘identity’ – is not just something which exists only and exclusively inside those things. It is, rather, something that exists between one thing and other things. That is, the key deconstructive insight is that identity is, in fact, a relation.

The thought that identity is an internal property of an entity is one of the oldest in the philosophical book. I could try and do a whirlwind tour here of Parmenides, and Plato, and Descartes, and the concepts of ‘essence’ and ‘substance’ in philosophical thought, but I’m going to spare us all the agony. Instead, I’m going to give you a diagram of the inside of Plato’s head and one of my favourite Derrida quotes. Like so:plato brain 2

If anyone is interested in the full philosophical argument, the first chapter of my thesis lays it out here (warning, I was trying to get a PhD, so it’s kinda dense). The short version is this: Western thought traditionally thinks the being, or identity, of things in terms of their possession of an internal, singular, simple, coherent, pure, absolute essence. ‘Identity’ derives, etymologically, from the Latin ‘identitatem’, meaning ‘sameness.’ An essence is what makes something the same as itself, and different from other things, and things are what they are because they have an essence, which, in the traditional Platonic account, consists of what is the same among all the things of that type. So, the essence of roses – or the roseness of roses – would consist of all the things that are the same amongst all instances of roses – the smell, the shape, the arrangement of the petals, the texture, etc – and it would be something that inheres, essentially, inside a rose.[1]


This all seems kind of reasonable on the face of it, but it doesn’t take that much thinking for the petals to start coming off. Firstly, we are already, from the very start, dealing with a concept, and the concept of, in this case, ‘roseness’ is manifestly not something that actually exists inside a rose. That is, from the very start, the ‘identity’ of a rose depends on a relation between the rose and the mind that grasps the rose (and note, this doesn’t mean roses don’t exist without minds… but they don’t exist as concepts, and identities are, at least in good part, concepts). Second, the formation of concepts does not involve only the recognition of what is the same inside an entity, but also, what an entity is not. That is, the formation of any concept involves a relation between identity and difference, between what is the same and different inside and what is the same and different outside, in a way that means it’s not clear that ‘identifying’ something involves only understanding what its internal or inherent sameness is. Thirdly, even more broadly, the meaning of entities, and concepts, and words in general, consists of their relation to their context – objects gain meaning thorough their position in a world of other objects, in relation to the social functions they fulfill, and words mean by virtue of the words next to them, and the specific social and emotional contexts in which they’re used. (We can, after all, say ‘fuck off’ in a way that means ‘I love you’ when we do it the right way at the right time). Lastly, and this has a lot to do with our psychic investment in identity as self-sameness (we’ll get to that in the next part) – no entity is entirely self-supporting. The relationality of meaning is also existential. All things arise out of other things, through dependence, and exist in a state of constant interaction that informs and sustains them. Or, to make an awful mess of John Donne for present purposes, ‘no rose is an island.’

So why does this all matter now? It matters now because when Western thought came to think about human subjects, and their identities, it thought them in the same way as it thought the being of objects, and concepts and words. We think ourselves as self-enclosed self-identities. And that matters in this debate, because it’s that idea that leads our friend Tom to think that the being of trans people is simply a matter of individual self-determination. That trans people have an essence that makes them what they are, that they are the only authority on that essence, and that it’s all just a ‘simple’ matter of ‘individual rights’ – an idea which would be just fine and dandy were it not for the fact that rights, like identities, are also, in fact, relations.


That identity necessarily involves relation all becomes painfully, politically obvious in how this whole thing is playing out in practice. Someone can claim that trans people have an absolute right to determine their identity, but were that actually a simple ontological truth, then we wouldn’t be in an endless, fraught spiral about pronouns and misgendering and the world’s recalcitrant refusal to offer up the correct ‘validation.’ Being what you are is not merely a matter of a feeling, or of a ‘feeling of some fundamental essence.’ It’s a matter of being recognised by other human beings as the thing that you think you are.[2] It’s a matter of social relations. And this is why we’re in this whole fucking nightmare mess. Because we have a political movement claiming, on the one hand, that this is just a matter of identity, and it doesn’t affect anyone else, and anyone who thinks otherwise is just a nasty evil bigot, while, at the same time, because identity is all about social relations, they’re throwing a ton of their political weight into trying to control people’s speech, and behaviours, to enforce the validation of those identities.

Pride Soc

The issue about the conflict over spaces, and the conflict about competing rights, is, in some sense, simply an amplification of this fundamental ontological issue. The trans rights movement is committed to claiming that trans people’s access to spaces, and trans people’s rights, has no impact on women’s spaces, or women’s rights, in just the same way as they claim that trans people are the sole and singular arbiters of their own identities, and it doesn’t affect anyone else. Were any of this actually true, this god-awful scrap wouldn’t be happening, because, despite the daily bullshit turned out by the trans rights movement, none of it is happening because a bunch of left-wing feminist women were suddenly afflicted by a plague of inexplicable hatred. The fact that it’s manifestly untrue that this doesn’t affect anyone else – and that, despite quintupling-down, the advocates of the ideology know that it’s untrue – is entirely given by the exhaustive efforts to control the ways people respond to trans people. Indeed, as we saw when we looked at Stonewall’s definition of ‘transphobia,’ it is given, most chillingly, by the effort to proscribe as an act of hatred the refusal – or to be blunt, often just the plain inability – to ‘correctly’ recognise a trans person’s identity.


It’s worth underlining here – and this matters with respect to the butchering of post-structuralism – that when I say that identity is a relation, I am not saying that something’s existence is only a matter of what we think it is, or that our concepts about the world arise in some kind of willy-nilly made-up way. What I am saying, as the ever-wise Kinesis points to above, is that concepts, and identities, arise through the interaction between us and the world. In Western thought we make an endless hash of understanding this, because our language has always already separated objects from subjects, and objects from concepts, and we’ve then spent the best part of two and a half millennia frantically trying to work out how to suture them back together. To solve the puzzle we have to start instead from understanding that everything, including ideas, are beings-in-the-world. That everything exists through with-being, or co-existence. A rose is a rose for us both because it is a rose, and because I recognise it as a rose. I recognise it as a rose because it is a rose, and it is a rose because I recognise it as one. It’s being as what it is for us arises in and through itself and its recognition, and the ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ elements of this interaction cannot be neatly disentangled when we try to explain how we know what something is, because in the interaction through which meaning arises, they are not separate.


Most of the time, apart from in philosophy departments, this doesn’t cause great conniptions. We mostly wander around correctly identifying things and getting on with whatever we’re supposed to be getting on with. But when it comes to trans politics it’s causing enormous conniptions. And it’s causing enormous conniptions because the explicit claims of trans rights politics are based on trying to deny the basic interactive being-in-the-world that is identity, and on trying to make the individual the sole and sovereign legislator of what their identity is, while at the same time – and entirely disingenuously – trying to impose rigidly prescribed ‘recognition procedures’ on everyone. As I’ve started to suggest, this is, in fact, the give-away, because the thing about being-in-the-world, and the way it usually works, is that we usually do a pretty bang-up job of identifying things, and no one has to compel us to do it right. The very fact that a political movement has had to initiate such baroque recognition procedures – and that it is attempting to enforce those recognition procedures by classing mistakes as an act of hatred – tells us something very important. And what it tells us is that they can’t just rely on us doing it right. And they can’t rely on us doing it right because, in some meaningful respect, trans-beings-in-the-world are not what they’re telling – indeed demanding – that we think they are.[3]

10- things

This is what I’m talking about when I say that the totalitarianism we see from the trans rights movement – the threats, the slurs, the bullying, the demands for validation, the lists of narcissistic diktats, the inveterate Woke Stasi bullshit policing of people’s Twitter likes and retweets – is all, at a basic ontological level, baked in. If you ground a political movement on the idea that people are actually something that they’re not – or, to be a bit more charitable, you decide, for the first time in history, that the identity of someone does not reside is any observable feature of that someone, but only in some imperceptible internal magic essence – then you will inevitably end up trying to turn that imperceptible essence into a reality by rigidly disciplining other people’s recognition procedures, and disciplining them, moreover, away from what they actually do recognise. Even if this didn’t all cash out into an fuck-off huge rights conflict over access to women’s spaces (which it inevitably does, for exactly the reason of the social recognition such access conveys), the claim that trans rights has no effect on anyone else would still, at this base ontological level, be a MASSIVE fucking lie. No purported civil rights movement has ever tried to mandate, with such coercive force, how people speak, what they can and can’t believe, and what they must pretend to perceive, all in contravention of what they actually do perceive. As Vulvamort discovered when she went back to the Hansard records of the original GRA debate in 2004, the fundamental totalitarianism inherent in prescribing in law that a male person must be recognised as female (or vice versa), was presciently foreseen by lawmakers at the time. In an effort to avoid the issue of same-sex marriage, it was an insight that they chose, pragmatically (or rather, homophobically), to hand-wave-away. And it’s that obviation that has now come back to bite us all – and the very functioning of our democracy – on the ass.


Part 2, in which I discuss the idea of identity and how it relates to notions of sovereignty,  domination, exclusion, and security… coming, erm, shortly(ish)


[1] In the original Platonic account, the story is actually a little more complicated than this. Roses are roses because they possess, or partake, of ‘roseness,’ but the fundamental being of ‘roseness’ is, for Plato, an idea. The reason for the investment in essence being a conceptual abstraction is complex, but it has a lot to do with the fact that ‘ideas’ are universal, singular, eternal, changeless, immaterial and deathless. For Plato, the realm of ideas, or forms (‘eidos’), is more real that the reality of individual objects, because the realm of forms is not subject to the multiplicity and change of the realm of material things, and we can purportedly have a type of certain universal knowledge of ideas that we can never have of brute, feckless material objects. The core of early deconstructive analysis is dedicated to showing that the Platonic schema – and other essentialist forms of philosophical thinking that follow from Plato (which is a great deal of philosophical thinking) – is entirely dependent on thinking concepts, or ‘ideality,’ around the idea of ‘sameness’ or ‘identity.’ Ideas are formed by picking out what it the same in all instances of a particular object, and the significance of this idea of ‘sameness’ or ‘identity’ is that is allows you to think that the being of things is entirely inside of them, that things are what they are because they are the same as themselves. That is, an identity is an identity because it is identical to itself. And yes, when you put it like that, it’s exactly as empty as it sounds (a woman is a woman because of woman-essence anyone?). This investment in things being self-identical – or their essence being only an internal property, is, as we’ll see in the following discussion of sovereignty, largely motivated by a psychic security-drive, or a drive to the security of universal, contextless knowledge. We like the idea of insideness, because the idea of things being dependent on outsideness, or context, introduces vulnerability, and risk.

The aim of early deconstructive analysis is to show – by examining, and examining, and then examining again – that this idea that the being of things is just an internal ideal self-sameness is bullshit, and that the being of all things relies on a relation between sameness and difference, and between the inside and the outside (which is the same idea, because in the Platonic schema, the inside is sameness and the outside is difference (that is, foreign, other, and probably scary)). The reason, fundamentally, why people ended up thinking that deconstruction is a complete destruction of meaning is because almost everyone, whether they know it or not, is basically a Platonist. People assume that meaning must work by internal essence, and so, when you tell them it doesn’t work by internal essence, what they hear is ‘there is no meaning.’ That is, the whole clusterfuck of the butchered dissemination of deconstruction – and why I maintain that the philosophical and political importance of deconstruction has still not been heard – is because it is a critique of Plato that was interpreted inside a thoroughgoing Platonism. That is, as I keep saying to these fools turning up on my blog with their fancy arguments about why women don’t exist because – the horror! – there’s some variation, or non-self-sameness, in the category ‘woman’, this is all just reverse-Platonic idiocy…That is, the point of deconstruction is not to negate Plato while still assuming that Plato was correct, and to leave us all floating around in a pile of meaningless grey-goo in which anything is just what we say it is, the point of deconstruction is to grasp the philosophical and political importance of understanding that meaning, and the being of things, is always, necessarily, a function of relationality. Or, to put it in philosophese – the identity of something is a function of the relation between identity (sameness) and non-identity (difference). Which is kind of a paradox. Hello Taoism.

[2] This issue of ‘recognition’ is actually critical in my understanding of the core problem with the current form of trans rights politics, and it’s claim that the being of a man or a woman inheres only in an internal ‘essence’ called ‘gender identity.’ It is, a priori, impossible, to grant recognition to a non-observable essence, and it is doubly absurd to claim that it is an act of hatred to not recognize that essence.  It makes as much sense as saying someone is doing something wrong and hateful by perceiving a rose as a rose when the rose, in fact, has the essence of a daisy. If identity is not essence, but relation, then the identity of trans people must necessarily reside in some form of observable performance of the gender with which they identify for their claims to recognition to even make the barest sense. I am, as I have repeatedly said, prepared – because ontologically able – to recognize that a male person can meaningfully transition so as to be read, and hence treated in significant ways, as either a woman, or a trans woman. That is, male people can transition to move through the world as social women and be recognized as such. If those male people can still be legibly read as male people performing the social role of women, then that is something that can’t, and shouldn’t, be legislated out of existence, because they are read as a male person performing the social role of a woman because they are, in fact, a male person performing the social role of women. That is, they are read as a trans woman because they are a trans woman. The demand that we all pretend that this isn’t so, and that the perception of who is a woman be socially mandated not in line with observable phenomena that can be recognized, but in line with someone’s internal, sovereign identity, is ontological absurdity of the highest order. It is, in fact, a coercive demand that we all engage in extreme ontological absurdity because the only thing that matters here is validating someone’s internal sense of identity, and the belief that some people’s feelings constitute a sovereign right to coerce everyone into believing that they are something they observably are not. To say this tears a great big fucking hole in the fabric of reality is not, in fact, hyperbolic.

[3] To underline, and to be precise, when I say trans people are not what they are demanding we think they are, I am not saying that trans people do not exist. In fact, I am saying precisely the opposite, I am saying that trans people do exist. They are trans people. That is, they are people of one sex who identify and decide to perform the social role of the other sex. As many have noted, it is not, therefore, actually us, but the trans rights movement, who, in claiming that gender identity determines sex, and that trans women are, therefore, actually female, are actually denying that trans people exist qua trans people. If trans women are, simply, unequivocally, women, in exactly the same way as female people are women, then trans women do not, in fact, exist. The claim that gender critical feminism is therefore a denial of the existence of trans people is hence fundamentally absurd. The condition of someone being a trans women is that they are male, and hence, the recogntion of sex is actually the condition of possibility of the recognition of trans people. This, in itself, points to how disingenuous the argument about ‘denying people’s right to exist’ actually is. Because what is meant by that phrase – as with what is being packed inside the definition of transphobia – is actually, ‘it is an act of hatred to not (perform the) recognition that trans people are the sex they identify as and to thereby validate their identity as what they identify as.’ That is, all these conceits are coercive mechanisms which seek to regulate what I’ve called elsewhere in this essay, ‘recognition procedures.’

My argument would be that rather than engage in this act of coerced recognition, what we should actually be doing is working towards a state in which we recognise that trans people are trans, and that that’s okay. I understand that this isn’t easy for some trans people, because dysphoria produces an intense desire to be the other sex, and an intense desire to be validated as a member of that sex. That, in fact, is what, at base, is driving this whole thing at present. However, and we’ll discuss this in more detail in the following parts, this validation can never, actually, be fully forthcoming – because you will never be entirely granted recognition as something that you are not. It is the knowledge of this – and the narcissistic structure inherent in thinking that your own need for validation must take absolute precedence over other people’s reality, and their freely given recognition – which underpins the tendency of trans activists to react with such punitive, incandescent rage when anyone withholds the demanded recognition. It is this that is producing the absurd situation in which a group of people who claim to be women are spending much of their time bullying and threatening women. And it is also very notable that the trans women who are able to honesty confront the reality that they are trans, who we most easily accept as sisters, because it is only they who are truly able to identify with us, and who don’t treat us only as frustrations of their own narcissistic need for recognition.


A Note on ‘Smashing the Binary’

“All western culture rests on the murder of the mother.”

Luce Irigaray


As many of us have observed recently, trans ideology – and its associated arguments and rhetoric – is what we might call a ‘scavenger’ or ‘magpie’ discourse. My sense is basically that it’s reverse engineered – a set of central claims fashioned to achieve political objectives, which have then been backfilled with whatever bits and bats of argument were needed to appeal to the woke, give succour to misogynists, and create the general impression that it makes some kind of sense. Although I don’t think the entire discourse is academic – we have no clear, or complete, academic genealogy for its development – it is certainly true that many of these bits and bats come from the academy. And one of the most important of these – particularly, I think, with respect to why many academics have been so mystifyingly receptive to this pile of incoherent wiffle – is the idea that trans ideology is doing the venerable, emancipatory work of ‘smashing the binary.’

What I want to do here then is think through what ‘smashing the binary’ would or should mean in its original context, and to lay out the fundamental conceptual mistake in how it’s being thought in trans ideology. My claim – surprise! – is that this conceptual mistake is so dramatic that when trans ideologues and their allies wheel out some vague-ish claim that they’re leading us to liberation by ‘undoing’ or ‘challenging’ binaries, they are, in fact, repeating exactly the problem that the original critique of ‘binaries and why they are bad’ was trying to address. What this comes down to is that people don’t understand the distinction between ‘a binary’ and ‘a difference.’ And in some sense this whole stupid clusterfuck – at least insofar as it is attractive to leftish thinking-people who should know better – rests on that confusion.

So first off, ‘binaries and why they are bad.’ As I laid out here – the critique of binaries descends from Beauvoir and Derrida, through the deconstructive strand of post-structuralist thought, and is central to French post-structural feminism. The central idea is that Western thought is structured around a series of conceptual oppositions, and that these oppositions are gendered.

They look something like this:


There are several thing to note about these binaries. The first is that they are hierarchical – the masculine term is privileged over the feminine term, that is, it is conceived as being better. The second is that they are defined by conceptual opposition – and this is where the concept of ‘othering’ comes in. The inferior terms of the binary are understood only as negations of the superior term – as things which lack the privileged qualities of the superior term (non-men anyone?). The significance of this is that the binaries inform the understanding of the people who are defined in opposition to the one who defines; a process by which the white male subject defines his others – women, and the non-white – as an inferior negation of himself. This conceptual mechanism has historically underpinned violence and exploitation aimed at people on the ‘wrong’ side of the binary. Ergo, binaries are bad.

Now we get the conceptual clanger made by intersectional feminists and adherents to trans ideology. The whole point of binaries is that they are conceptual discursive oppositions laid on top of natural differences. The effect of laying a binary on top of a difference is that it effectively denies being to, or erases, the inferior pole of the binary, because the inferior term in defined only as a negative mirror-image of the superior term, and is not granted reality, or given worth, in itself. The remedy for this, according to French feminist thought –  that is, the way you ‘deconstruct binaries’ according to the intellectual tradition that thought hardest about it – is to insist on the reality of both parts of a natural difference, and to refuse the way they are hierarchically constructed in discourse. That is, according to French feminism, what you do is to spend a lot of time thinking through what women are, and what women’s lived experience tells us, in order to challenge the construction of ‘Woman’ as simply ‘the Other of Man.’

And this is where it goes completely, utterly off the rails for the woke. Instead of granting reality to both sides of the difference, and working to move our discursive structures away from the way our culture codes those differences, trans ideology has decided to try and abolish the difference itself.  That they can’t grasp the distinction between ‘a difference’ and ‘a binary’ is demonstrated by the fact that they keep referring to the sexual difference between male and female humans – which is a difference in kind between two types of humans – as ‘a binary,’ or even worse, as the ‘gender binary.’ (*Headdesk*). What is so interesting – and distressing – about all of this, is that this act of not grasping that a difference-exists-which-is-not-a-binary, is structured by the basic patriarchal conceit which underpins the whole binary structure in the first place. That is, the inability of the patriarchal subject to relate to anything that differs from itself in without imposing its own projections onto it. As we’re all well aware from our interactions out there, what informs this inability to grant reality to a difference – and to allow that the purportedly ‘inferior’ term of a ‘binary’ might exist as its own difference – is good old fashioned patriarchal narcissism. A way of relating to anything that differs to itself only through an inverting mirror – and that cannot conceive there could be any other way of relating across difference.

For the well-meaning woke, it seems like this is all opaque. Binaries are bad, and so, the thinking goes, to abolish them we need to get rid of the difference that underpins them – a conflation which depends, as so much of the bad-thinking in this debate, on the inability to understand the distinction – and inter-relation – of nature and culture. What can’t be imagined, because the patriarchal structure of hierarchy, othering, and domination has made itself look so. damn. natural., is that there could be differences which were not made into hierarchies. And so, the story goes, if we want men and women to relate equally to each other, the only possible way could be pretending that men, or actually, really, womenare not.

This is evidently absurd – both because a) the difference between males and females is not made by discourse, and b) the way it is coded in discourse is not given by the difference, and to think it is, is to mistake narcissistic patriarchal opposition for reality. Moreover, for those driving this discourse – and who are merely leveraging the well-meaningness of the woke – the whole point of trying to abolish sexual difference is to allow the being of female people to be easily appropriated by male people. It is, in fact, the existence of sexual difference that serves as the basis for resisting the patriarchal binary, because it is the existence of sexual difference which grounds the claim that the female has its own being, outside the definition imposed upon it by patriarchal opposition.

When you abolish that difference, what actually occurs is a re-doubling of the erasure of the female effected by the binary itself, and a repetition of the appropriation that erasure has always allowed – because if there’s nothing there in the first place, how on earth could anyone be appropriating it? One thing this debate has made screamingly, terrifyingly, evident to me is the rightness of the French feminist assertion that – within the binary conceptual structure of Western thought – women do not actually exist. If we did, our being would never have been so easily handed over by nearly everyone concerned, and the appropriation we are resisting would never have been so easily caricatured as an act of illegitimate hatred.

Which is all to say, well-meaning woke, you’ve been played. And as for the rest of you misogynists….