Month: January 2020

‘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.