Two main things turned up in my timeline this morning. One was the fall-out of Rachel McKinnon’s egregious and unconcealed bullying of Martina Navratilova, and the other was a Call For Papers from Brighton University that Kathleen tweeted here.
I was already planning on doing this post on Martina when the CFP popped up – because Rachel’s behaviour last night was a pretty copper-bottomed rendition of what trans activist coercion looks like, and I thought it was worth taking a look at it blow by blow. The academic CFP might, at first glance, seem a little tangential to the issue of trans inclusion in sports, but it refracted with Rachel’s behaviour in an interesting way, so, happy or unhappy accident, this is what you get guys…
The CFP sketches out the familiar claim that ‘queerness’ is ‘inclusive’ and ‘fluid’ while ‘gayness’ or ‘homosexuality’ is ‘exclusive’ and ‘oppressive,’ a dichotomy that rests on the never-fully-interrogated assumption that ‘inclusion’ is an unequivocal ‘good,’ while ‘exclusion’ is an unequivocal ‘evil.’ The parallel here to the issue of trans inclusion in sports is evident – this is precisely the moral logic that makes McKinnon come over all God’s avenging angel to one of the greatest sportswomen – and lesbian icons – of all time. And it’s exactly the logic, to draw the examples closer, which also underpins Rachel’s consistent indictment of lesbians for asserting their same-sex ‘exclusiveness.’ But what strikes me as particularly interesting about the refraction of these two moments with each other, is that the CFP belies a critical contradiction. While the discourse of ‘exclusive’ homosexuality is ‘normative’ (in queer-theory speak this is synonymous with ‘disciplinary’ and ‘oppressive’ – i.e. ‘bad’), queer perspectives, they admit, have now assumed a ‘hegemonic status.’
Quite how the people writing this thought they could parse ‘bad normativity’ from ‘good hegemony’ is anyone’s guess – if ‘normative’ or ‘hegemonic’ discourses are ‘disciplinary’ or ‘bad’ by virtue of being hegemonic, then there is no reason why ‘queer’ discourses should get a free pass. (There is a paradox in the centre of queer thought here – at the point at which queer theory becomes a form of academic normativity, it is no longer, by its own definitions, queer). Indeed, what I want to suggest here, is that Rachel’s behaviour to Martina is exactly a demonstration of the way in which the moral logic of queer ‘inclusivity’ has now become a hegemonic, punitive, and profoundly disciplinary discourse. As we have all been noting over the last months, trans and radical queer activism is animated by a deeply authoritarian and coercive political impulse which leads it to behave like the bastard child of Stalinism and the Medieval Catholic Church. It has produced a generation of aesthetically and discursively identikit activists who are utterly in thrall to their own moral righteousness, the categorical ‘evil’ of anyone who questions their sacred axioms, and their divine inquisitorial right to school and punish heretics. That is, the very fact that a mediocre philosopher and mediocre cyclist considers themselves in a position to discipline someone as widely and rightfully respected as Martina Navratilova for heresy, tells us everything we need to know about which discourse is dominant here, the hegemonic normativity of ‘queer’ inclusivity, and the fact that there is pretty much nothing ‘anti-disciplinary,’ ‘diverse,’ ‘fluid,’ ‘open,’ or strictly speaking, ‘queer,’ about trans activism. ‘In Queer Times’ we find ourselves. Indeed.
Anyway, let’s look at what happened. This is the tweet that kicked it off (which Martina has since deleted, because Rachel):
Now, I’m not going to get into a thing here about whether Martina is right to claim that this standard (having or not having a penis) should be the standard by which trans women should or should not be included in women’s sports. What those standards should be is a whole conversation, it’s not my wheelhouse, and I’m just going to say, we need to have it. What interests me, rather, is that it’s not a conversation trans activism is willing to even countenance, because trans activism is committed to the proposition that ‘trans-women-are-women-in-all-and-every-respect-and-any-attempt-to-make-any-distinctions-based-on-sex-is-an-act-of-egregious-hatred-that-must-be-pounced-on-and-disciplined-immediately.’ Ergo:
This is of course the classic form of the opening salvo, viz. ‘HERETIC’
Followed quickly by: ‘RECANT.’
Then there are a couple of quote tweets to drive the point home:
The second one, ‘we’re not misrepresenting you’ is pretty entertaining. Seeing as it was in response to the tried and trusted imputation that anyone who thinks the difference between male and female people might matter is a literal Nazi.
One imagines from this that Martina’s mentions were a shitshow at around this point, and she decides to engage directly with Rachel:
To which Rachel replies, ‘you messed up by doing a HERESY’:
There are multiple branching threads in this exchange, so I’ll try to put them together as best I can. In response to the ‘Third Reading of the Charge of Heresy’ we get this, a recanting:
Martina also replies to the original tweet telling her to recant with this:
Bonus ‘maybe you don’t realize who you’re speaking to’ self-awareness fail. (ETA: Because I did not make anywhere like a big enough deal of this. Can you imagine, IMAGINE, for a fraction of a second, being a two-bit philosopher and shit cyclist who is almost entirely famous for calling women TERFS and nefariously winning medals, bowling up to a woman who has won eighteen – eighteen – Grand Slam titles, and saying, ‘DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM???’ Like, seriously, my brain cannot even start computing the quantity of narcissistic obliviousness that requires.)
And, as if that wasn’t enough, let’s follow up the grandiose peacocking with a patronising side of that old favourite, ‘educate yourself’ (aka, ‘Read the Good Book until you understand the WORD, heathen’)
The final reply from Martina to the original tweet telling her to delete was this:
This one is a doozy, and it points to something that drive me nuts about trans activism. That is, the sheer unadulterated narcissism of its moral system. There is only their moral code, and their moral code is ALL ABOUT THEM, and gives not one flying fuck about the needs of anyone else, or about anything in a person’s character or history if it’s not ALL ABOUT THEM. Martina Navratilova is an outstanding human being – along multiple axes (not something many of us would say about Rachel McKinnon) – but she has committed a sin against the Great Church of Trans Ideology and so she gets treated with blanket contempt. The punitive moralism dripping off Rachel’s reply here makes me want to scream. Yeah, right, very fucking queer.
Following the pronouncement on Martina’s sins – and despite the fact that she has already recanted – we then get instruction on the proper way to prostrate and atone (along with the conventional ‘we’re just trying to help you do better’…could you get more dead-eyed disciplinarian, bending over you with a belt, telling you it’s for your own good??? I mean come on now Martina, Rachel’s only trying to stop you getting sent to hell, you really should be grateful):
We also get this, in which Martina tries to point out that hectoring people who are relatively sympathetic to you might not be the best way to go, and Rachel can’t hear a damn thing over the interminable drum beat of ‘ME ME ME ME ME ME ME.’ At this point, we might want to chip in with the fact that this argument is all about the possible harm – both in fairness-terms, and because of the elevated chance of injury – to women competing with trans women in sports. But as we know, only harms to trans women matter, and concerns about harms to women are a hate-crime.
Martina then goes back to the earlier tweet in which Rachel gave her some ‘educate yourself’ material, and it prompts more admonishment on correct atonement procedures (plus a nice side-swipe at an evident ally explaining why this might not be productive):
Then we get this, which carries over from the tweet yesterday telling Martina she has done something ‘very wrong’ to this morning:
Rachel responds by informing Martina that her sin has only been exacerbated because she is being supported by a whole raft of other evil sinners:
The last responses from Martina come in a thread that had developed about her coach, the trans tennis player Renee Richards. McKinnon is absolutely dismissive – because Richards doesn’t toe the trans ideological line – before heading straight back for more moralistic ‘I hope you see the error of your ways my child.’:
Martina, quite rightly, counters by pointing out that Rachel’s ‘engagement’ bears all the hallmarks of bullying – or, to be more specific, all the hallmarks of trying a heretic. Rachel, of course, is having none of this. Evidently, only one person here is being victimized:
And clearly the best way to demonstrate that is with a few more quote tweets about what a terrible creature Navratilova is, and how very dare she:
I don’t have much more to say here. It tells, I think, a pretty clear tale. I’m not doing this because I hope to make a mark on McKinnon’s narcissistic carapace. That’s an exercise in futility, as this final RT from this morning makes abundantly clear:
I guess my only hope is to appeal to my once colleagues – the people inside the academy who are still churning out this bollocks about queer fluidity and anti-normativity and inclusiveness. For the love of the goddess, open your fucking eyes. This is an unequivocally, irremediably identitarian discourse. Everything we learned about the dangers of totalization, and the inability to deal with difference, and the importance of openness. Every thing you allegedly believe about ‘bad’ normativity, and discursive discipline. Every thought that arose from the post-war ashes about how not to purify ourselves with flames. This discourse is everything you claim to oppose. It is everything that it claims that it isn’t.