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.

harry 2

The second prong of the argument is where it gets more philosophically interesting, and also where I get FUCKING INFURIATED. This is the place where Harry tries to completely elide the difference and relation between being the member of a class on the basis of material givens, and being the member of a class on the basis of a deliberately assumed and lived social identity. Both of these things exist, and both of them are meaningful, although I think it is only correct to call the second ‘identity.’ For example, I am a member of the class of female persons, I am not a member of that class by virtue of an act of identification, I am a member of that class by virtue of the material fact that I am female. As Harry says, that can then also – but I’d add, not necessarily – be coupled with a political identification, in my case as ‘woman-identified’ or ‘feminist,’ which is a deliberate, assumed and lived identification with the political interests of female people as an oppressed class. But these are two different (although interacting) things. There are many many many female people who do not have class consciousness as female, who do not identify themselves with the political interests of female people, and who do not see the events of their lives through the lens of how power acts on female people. None of which means they are a) not members of the class of female people or b) not being affected by power because they are female. Here’s the funny thing about reality. It doesn’t just depend on your perceptions of it. And thinking that it does is called idealism.

harry 3

All of which brings me to where I get infuriated by this. There’s a lot of lip-service in this thread on how a social model of identity doesn’t imply “disregard” for the “material facts of bodies” which effectively just handwaves the fact that claiming you can identify into a social class which you don’t materially belong to is exactly disregarding the material facts of bodies (in the case of race, sex or disability), or of socio-economic reality (in the case of class). Yes of course those material facts interact with social and lived experience in complex way which means that the ‘material facts’ are not the sum total of what it means to belong to that class. But being a member of the class of females is a matter of being female, and politically identifying with the interests of females is a matter of how the world treats females because they are female. You can tell me that you identify with the political interests of women, but if you persistently refuse to understand that many woman-identified women understand that identification in terms of how power acts on them because of their material reality, then I’m afraid your identification is being conducted in complete disregard of our experience, and isn’t worth a great deal to us. It is your need, and your interests, that leads you to assert that the material basis of our political identification is nugatory, and no amount of flinging Butlerian distortions of Beauvoir at us is going to convince us that our political interests are best served by playing make believe about our femaleness.

harry 4

Of course, what we get to, under all this, is just one more iteration of the common trans trope that anyone who believes in material reality is guilty of some egregious ontological naivety that all the most erudite and oh-so-sophisticated thinkers have cleansed themselves of. This is why Harry asserts that ALL the gender critical philosophers are of the Analytic flavour, because then Harry can paint a caricature of a bunch of leaden dolts who are still committed to preposterous positivist ideas about reality actually existing. (Apologies to my esteemed colleagues…apparently you all stopped reading after Language, Truth and Logic). This pisses me right off. It pisses me off on a personal level because I’m a Continental philosopher, and I’m trained in exactly the traditions that Harry thinks supports their case, and it pisses me off especially because the fact that Harry thinks it supports their case is because Harry doesn’t understand that the deconstructive feminist strand of French thought, when properly understood, doesn’t get you to fucking idealism. It is, in fact, exactly intended as a critique of idealism.


To explain: According to Harry, Kathleen and the rest of us all think – a century after Wittgenstein no less! – that concepts or words still “refer completely and coherently to transcendent truths.” (Oh, how sweet!) That is, Harry is claiming, basically, that we are all committed to a fundamentally Platonic, or essentialist, account of meaning… In Plato’s model, words have meaning, and in fact, objects only exist, because they are what we would call ‘instantiations’ of essences. The best way to understand this is through the system that was informing Plato’s account of how all this worked, which was geometry. So for example, the ‘essence’ of a triangle, the thing that makes a triangle and triangle, and the ‘core’ of the concept which allows us to identify a triangle as a triangle, is ‘something with three sides whose angles add up to 180 degrees.’ What’s important about geometrical concepts is that they are entirely abstract, immaterial and contextless. A triangle is a triangle in any time or place, it never changes, and arguably, if you destroyed all the material instantiations of triangles on the face of the planet, the core of the being of a triangle – the idea of a triangle – would still exist. Plato basically thought that this model was how all concepts worked… up in the sky was the land of immaterial conceptual forms or ideas, and all the things down in the world were just material copies of these forms, which we’re able to identify because we also have the same form in our heads (how the form gets there is a bit of a problem, burble something about seeing it in the world of the forms before we were born and then recollecting that later so, um yeah…). Anyway, the point is this… people using this metaphysics think that things exist because they are instantiations of ‘transcendent truths’ or essences, and that concepts function by us perceiving such essences… which, in good part they don’t.

Harry 5

There is a lot of good and important philosophy which explain what is wrong with essentialist accounts of meaning – as Harry suggests, possibly the greatest of these is Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, written after Wittgenstein was doing some hammering on his sister’s roof and suddenly realised that his crystalline account of how meaning worked in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was a pile of idealist bullshit. The hammering is important. It turns up also in Heidegger. And it matters, because one of the main issues with idealist, Platonic accounts of meaning is that they fail to understand that language is not, principally, a mental picture or representation of reality. It is, rather, a tool with which we interact with the world around us. Not understanding this is why we tie ourselves into endless, and frankly fucking tedious, epistemological pretzels about how we know whether our concepts map the world accurately, and spend our stoned adolescences wondering whether we are all just solipsistic Keanu Reeves’s with our brains in a vat. Once people have grasped that they are able to successfully walk across their living room without stepping on the cat or have somehow managed to consistently avoid being hit by heavy machinery moving down the road I really do wonder why they’re still worrying about it. We are, as Harry says, beings-in-the-world. And a major part of successfully being-in-the-world is using concepts to accurately interact with and navigate material reality all the fucking time.

What really pisses me off here is that people take the critique of essentialist or idealist accounts of how meaning arises – when they read, say, Wittgenstein or Derrida – and because they are still implicitly committed to an idealist or essentialist account of how concepts work, they then conclude that concepts don’t work at all, and actually, they’re not mapping onto anything in the world, and that therefore we just make shit up willy-nilly. But concepts are like a hammer. And if there’s no nail there, you’ll learn about it fast. The reason why I think ‘female’ is a useful concept, and why I’m committed to the grave ontological naivety of thinking female people actually exist, is not, fundamentally, because I think ‘makes large gametes’ tells me something about the essence of what it means to be female. The reason why is because the concept of ‘woman’ has served reliably since at least the beginning of written records (and I’d wager long before) to meaningfully pick out and facilitate consistent and accurate interaction with a certain aspect of material existence – which also happens, in this case, to be a central part of my own material existence. If the sex-based concept of ‘woman’ didn’t map on to anything meaningful we wouldn’t have been using it for so long, and we wouldn’t still be using it in so many places in our social organization. Concepts don’t last if they don’t work. And the point here is that when we try to substitute a sex-based concept of woman for one based on gender identity, it turns out it wreaks havoc all over our social processes.

harry 6

What Harry is doing, by claiming we could only appeal to a material reality – we could only think it meaningful to refer to ‘female people’ – on the basis of a belief in ‘transcendent truth,’ is, fundamentally, to assert that things only exist or are meaningful because they have essences, and that, further, anyone who thinks things exist or are meaningful is simply not sophisticated enough to understand that essences are basically bullshit. But the correct conclusion to draw from the critique of essence is not that things don’t exist or have meaning, but that things don’t exist or have meaning by virtue of possessing essences, and in fact, they never did. What Harry completely fails to grasp is that by suggesting that female people could only exist on the basis of ‘transcendent truth’ they are still, in fact, committed to the idea that essences must be how this whole thing works, and they’re not and never were. And what Harry then further, infuriatingly, fails to grasp is that they are still, therefore, trapped inside an idealist account of meaning and existence. It is one of the great ironies of the history of philosophy that a critique that should have led to a greater understanding that we are beings-in-the-world whose concepts develop through the constant interplay between ourselves and the social and material world actually collapsed into another iteration of the thought that our concepts are just things that exist inside our heads – or that they only arise because of that mass amplification of our heads we could call ‘discourse’ or ‘history’ or ‘social construction,’ but not, you positivist fools, because of the ways our being-in-the-world is shaped and constrained by given material or psychophysical limits.

Harry 7

This defence of materiality is all, ha ha, a bit metaphysically abstract… but I do think it matters. It matters because an awful lot of what is going on in trans ideological argument is pointing at the existence of female people and trying to undermine it by making anti-essentialist arguments that posit themselves as the height of intellectual sophistication but are based on a fundamental fucking error. Mountains don’t exist because they are instantiations of a concept of ‘massive pointy lump of rock,’ and the fact that we can’t quite point to a line when a large hill becomes a small mountain doesn’t mean that ‘hill’ and ‘mountain’ are meaningless ideas. The world is not made of triangles. And it’s not made ex nihilo from our great massive Godbrains either. All material things for which we have names have edge cases and exceptions because material reality isn’t geometric ideality, and yet, somehow, the words still work. The reverse-essentialist arguments being leveraged against the class of female people could just as well be used to undermine the meaningful existence of pretty much every group of people or any object in the world. And they’re not. They’re being leveraged against us because our material existence is anathema to the fulfilment of the desires of those who want to appropriate that existence. And male people’s desire has always mattered more than the trifling matter of female people’s bodies. So, let’s just be clear about what’s going on here. This is sex-based domination. Dressed up in swaths of oh-such-sophisticated bullshit.



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….



Access to the full PowerPoint presentation here.

Good evening everyone, thank you all for coming, and thank you especially to the University of Reading for hosting this event. Under the present political circumstances I think it’s vital that we continue to model public academic discourse, and the university’s commitment to that is immeasurably important, so yes, thank you to everyone who’s worked to make this event possible.

So, following on from Holly’s paper, I’d like to bring our attention to the way this debate is being both explicitly and implicitly structured by what we might understand as ‘metaphors of sovereignty,’ or what I’m going to call here, ‘the sovereign imaginary.’ I’m using ‘imaginary’ here in the Lacanian, or more specifically, Irigarayan sense, to talk about the way discourse is underpinned by certain spatialized images or topologies which express certain metaphysical assumptions, and which therefore function to structure our thinking about certain issues. And my general claim is that a great deal of what is happening in the present conversation is being determined by a set of metaphysical assumptions embedded in a particular imaginary, or, rather, in the rejection of a particular imaginary, and that we might be able to unpick some of the bad-thinking going on here if we can unpack that a little.


So, what I want to do here is basically two things.

First, I want to trace the structure of the sovereign imaginary for you, and explore the role that it’s playing in this conversation, with particular attention to how the left- wing rejection of the sovereign imaginary is underpinning the apparently unimpeachable moral imperative of ‘inclusion,’ and how this also helps us understand the intuitive appeal of the prima facie implausible claim that the political thought of left-wing radical feminist women is now indistinguishable from that of the Pope, Conservative Evangelicals, the alt-right, the Ku Klux Klan and the Westboro Baptist Church.

Secondly, I want to explore why it is gratuitously inappropriate to posit that female people’s desire to be protected from males is an expression of the sovereign imaginary, and should be legitimately censured as such by all decent right-thinking people. As we’ll see in more depth, as well as being the animating principle of right- wing nationalism and its nostalgia for primordial ethnic purity, the sovereign imaginary is the fundamental ontological infrastructure of patriarchal masculinity. Women’s bodies are the territory on which male fantasies of purity and virginity and invasion and conquest are played out. And the meaning of those fantasies is evidently very different for the women whose bodies are marked by them, than for the males who enact them, unless, of course, you’ve forgotten that women actually exist in their own right, and have their own experiences of the world distinct from the projections of the masculine imagination.


So, as some of you know, my background is in French post-structuralist philosophy, and in particular, in the Derridean and psychoanalytic feminist strand of post- structuralist thought. As I’ve discussed in some detail on my blog, another of the tropes of the present conversation is the tendency to attribute the erasure of materiality we see in trans ideology to ‘postmodernism’ or ‘post-structuralism,’ understood as a kind of ‘discourse all the way down’ idealism. To my mind, however, post-structuralism is principally an ontological project aimed at critiquing the metaphysical structure we are discussing here today under the sign of sovereignty, although that is only one of its many possible manifestations.

In my work I have chosen to discuss this figure under the sign of sovereignty because this points us most clearly towards the intertwining of power and authority with the incision of space. Sovereignty is a spatial, or territorial, structure, and, as Wendy Brown points to here, it comes into existence only through the creation of demarcated borders, axiomatically imagined – because of the invulnerability imperative which drives sovereign logic – through the image of high, impregnable walls.

The ontology of the sovereign imaginary thus has several notable characteristics, the first of which is:

  • Boundedness – A defined or delimited spatial area in which the inside is clearly demarcated from the outside.
  • Internal self-identity. According to the ideal of the sovereign imaginary, and, to underline, we are not talking here about the composition of actual sovereign states, we’re taking about a sovereigntist or nationalist imaginary, the area inside the border is marked by a perfect and pure homogeneity. It is a realm of absolute sameness. Which therefore also implies.
  • External exclusion. In order for the inside to be perfectly self-same, everything outside, or other, must be rigorously excluded. The crucial point to grasp here then is that the sovereign imaginary is the fundamental figure of all purity logics, in which the purity of the inside can only be maintained by excluding anything other or different which might pollute or contaminate it.


Okay, so I think it’s fairly evident how this kind of spatialized purity logic is at play in the drive to sovereignty which is presently fueling the right-wing populism of both Trump and Brexit, and specifically, the tendency to respond to economic insecurity by retreating into the fantasy of absolute territorial security promised by enclosing the homeland within impregnable borders. The President of the United States has never given a cogent account of why the Great Wall of Trump will ‘Make America Great Again’, just as the Brexiteers can’t actually explain why unplugging us from our economic matrices before we’ve rebuilt our domestic economy will cure a malaise that is fundamentally economic in nature, but the whole point is that they don’t actually need to provide a cogent account of anything, because the power of their discourse relies entirely on the sovereign imaginary, and the networks of anxiety and invulnerability it mobilizes.

My own intellectual interest in the sovereign imaginary has a lot to do with how fantasies of invulnerability necessarily involve a denial of dependency and the way that leads, more or less inexorably, to acts of domination, colonization and appropriation, whether that be of ‘unconquered’ territory, or ‘unconquered’ bodies. What is primarily at play in this debate, however, is the somewhat more straightforward observation that the drive to ”keep the outside out” as Derrida would say, is often about those on the inside needing to evacuate their anxiety by xenophobically projecting it outside themselves, onto the other, as is manifestly the case with respect to Brexit and Trump. And it’s this structure – and the instinctive left- wing antipathy to this structure – which is, I’d argue, undergirding a number of crucial claims in this debate:


1. That all acts of ‘exclusion’ are always and only motivated by the projection of anxiety or fear. That such fears are necessarily irrational, and that any reasons given for exclusion are always and only a pretext for the psychological benefits accrued by the projection of fear and/or hatred, i.e. they are scapegoating. This is where the claim that any expression of women’s political interests in this conflict is in fact transphobia gets all its traction from.

2. From this, it would follow that there are never any legitimate grounds to exclude, that ‘inclusion’ is a universal moral good, and ‘exclusion’ a universal moral harm. It’s worth noting here that there moral opprobrium denoted by the word ‘TERF’ inheres entirely in the word ‘exclusionary,’ despite the fact that advocates of trans ideology will happily argue that queer, trans and people of colour have the right to exclude, an inconsistency which effectively amounts to the denial that women are oppressed qua women, more of which later.

3. The left-wing recognition that these sovereigntist mechanisms are inherent in all forms of atavistic and ethnic nationalisms, as well as all discourses of ethnic and racial purity or superiority, is, moreover, providing the intuitive infrastructure of the claim that someone like me – a Marxist, post-structuralist, radical eco-feminist – is, in fact, a white supremacist neo-Nazi.

4. And it’s this association between gender critical feminism and various iterations of right-wing ideology which is further giving credence to the claim that our speech is hate speech, that it is ‘literal violence,’ that by expressing our views we are harming trans people and inciting harm against trans people, and that, therefore, it is legitimate for our speech to be censured.


So, we’re just going to look a few examples of how this plays out in the discourse, and to be clear, as always, the principle object of my concern is the discourse as it’s being practiced out there in the public sphere, rather than in a purely academic context, so all of my examples here will be from twitter.

The first is from a human rights activist from New Zealand. At the time this was tweeted I got into an exchange with the writer, both because I was struck that she could go through this thought process as if she was having an entirely original insight, given how rhetorically well-worn these associations are, and, as we’ll see in the next part of my argument, because of all the reasons why it is inappropriate to apply this analogy to women’s exclusion of males.


 Here’s some more examples making evident the way the rejection of a sovereign logic of exclusion, boundedness, purity and corruption is underpinning the moral opprobrium being mobilized against gender critical women, and how frequently that is expressed through analogies between gender critical feminism and racism.


Further examples of the association between gender critical feminism and fascism or racism, from two people of note in this debate, the transactivist Canadian politician Morgane Oger, and the transactivist philosopher and cyclist Rachel McKinnon, as well as a tweet from the philosopher Jason Stanley linking ’hysteria’ about trans women to fascism.

I’d like to take a moment here just to underline the inaccuracy and absurdity of elements of these statements. McKinnon’s claim that gender critical women are always white is just factually untrue, and is an erasure of Black radical feminists and the women from the global South who are resisting the arrival of trans ideology in their nations. Oger, hilariously, seems to think that Nazis had some kind of leftish political aversion to being called Nazis. And Stanley gets close to implying that anyone who criticizes Judith Butler is probably a fascist, which I’m sure is news to Martha Nussbaum. We’ll come back to Stanley’s work on fascism a bit later.


A couple of really explicit invocations of the critique of sovereign purity logic from a conversation I had with Morgane Oger.

This was quite an interesting exchange… given that I wrote my PhD on sovereigntism and its connection to sexual and colonial violence, I was kind of like ‘yes Morgane, I have considered it.’


Lastly, a variety of tweets linking ‘TERF’s with Nazism, racism, white supremacy, and the Ku Klux Klan, including a number of tweets justifying violence and censuring of gender critical feminists on that basis. 


Okay, so, as I I’ve suggested here, I actually have a great deal of time for the critique of the sovereign imaginary. It was developed by French philosophers, many of them Jewish, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and it is, indeed, an incredibly useful analytic for understanding the mechanics of ethnic fascism and racial supremacy, among other things. However, as I’ve also intimated, my problem here is that applying this analytic to the position of female people in a patriarchal culture is wildly inappropriate, for several reasons I will go on to elucidate.

First off, the main reason that I, as a feminist philosopher, spent the best part of my training studying the structure of the sovereign imaginary, from its early Greek appearance in Parmenidean Being and the Platonic idea, to its rebirth in modernity in the figure of the Cartesian cogito, is because, as well as illuminating the mechanics of ethno-fascism, the sovereign imaginary is also the fundamental ontological infrastructure of patriarchal masculinity. It’s not an accident that along with ‘the metaphysics of presence,’ and ‘the economy of the same,’ one of the philosophical epithets for this ontological infrastructure is ‘phallocentrism,’ or, in Derrida’s memorable coining, ‘phallogocentrism.’ The sovereign imaginary is, I’d argue, the architecture of that impossible fantasy of narcissistic omnipotence, mastery, and impenetrable potency that psychoanalysis calls ‘the phallus’ – the figure of the phallic-ego, which, according to Lacan, is ”symbolized in dreams by a fortress.”


Okay, so, before I go on with this next part of the argument I just want to stop and do a little more unpacking of how the sovereign imaginary is structuring this conversation, and specifically, the gendering and sexualization of that structuring.

So, to return to our sovereign circle as the representation of the bounded incision of space.

First off, evidently, we are fighting about access to spaces, and we can include in this actual physical spaces, as well as virtual, social and conceptual spaces. It’s worth briefly noting here that the language we use to talk about the determination of meaning is also explicitly spatialized, we talk about de-fining, and de-lineating concepts. And it’s worth further noting that while I am a great advocate of both/and thinking, and of not thinking things that are not spatialized spatially, we are here talking about access to spaces, and that means that we are dealing with an either/or choice – either spaces and resources are provided on the basis of sex, or they are provided on the basis of gender identity…that means that in this case, rights are actually a pie, and for the trans rights movement to insist that changing the basis of the allocation of spaces has no effect on female people is, at best, extremely disingenuous.

Anyway, what I particularly want to highlight here is the extent to which the thinking of spaces, and the meaning of entering spaces, is gendered and sexualized in the sovereign imaginary. That becomes evident, for example, if we think back to a couple of the words associated with the inside of the circle of sovereignty in our earlier diagram. What this comes down to is that the sovereign imaginary thinks bodies as territory and territory as bodies, it thinks sexual penetration through the territorial metaphors of invasion and conquest, and territorial invasion through sexual metaphors. Indeed, this is not a case of merging only in ‘rhetoric and metaphor.’ Acts of invasion are almost always accompanied by rape. And the structure of the sovereign imaginary is at play in why that is the case.


So what we’re going to do now is explore how what we’ve just looked at, which I’d call ‘the metaphysics of penetration,’ plays out in the sovereign imaginary, and in particular, in its most extreme ethno-fascist iterations.

So, the first thing to understand, returning to our Lacanian idea of the phallic- ego as fortress is that patriarchal masculinity is fundamentally structured by the imperative of invulnerability as impenetrability. While, by contrast, women are constructed as penetrable, as either virgin or conquered territory. This, while we’re here, is the basis of the traditional patriarchal horror of male homosexuality, which is driven by the fear of being made woman through penetration.

This metaphoric infrastructure is what is at play in ethno-fascist invocations of foreign or racialized others as sexual threat, figured either, or both, as a threat to the body of the nation or group, or, most often, as a threat to the bodies of women as ciphers for the body of the nation or group.

We see this, for instance, in Islamophobic claims that Europe is in the grip of a Muslim rape epidemic, a trope which recurs in the thought of the Norwegian ethno- fascist mass-murderer Anders Breivik and which I’ve written about previouslyWe see it in the deployment of fears about Black men raping white women, and the horrendous role such narratives played during slavery and segregation, and we see it in Trump’s charge that Mexican immigrants are rapists and that immigration is the reason why, allegedly, “Women are [being] raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before.”

Jason Stanley, who we met earlier criticizing the ‘hysteria’ about trans women, touches on this in his recent book, How Fascism Works.

See above quote.

Clearly, Stanley understands here that fascist rhetoric functions by using the specter of rape as a threat to the purity of the nation in its psycho-ontological interrelation with patriarchal manhood, but his understanding is a little blunt, because, I’d argue, he doesn’t fully grasp the structure of the sovereign imaginary, and crucially for our argument here, how the sovereign imaginary plays out its interwoven sexual and territorial anxieties by projecting them onto the bodies of women. In fact, women – the ‘members of the chosen nation’ who will be raped by the targeted group – have been invisibilised in this citation because, notably, and this is one way of stating the crux of my argument, it’s not women who experience rape as a threat to their impenetrable manhood.


As this image makes almost comically apparent, what is going on in ethno-fascist invocations of rape is, to be blunt, masculine penetration anxiety, and note here also the colour scheme of the escalator and the cliffs, and the way it alludes to the racialised dynamics at work. I’d also like to stop here for a moment and observe that images like this are kind of indicative of why I have such a huge problem with being lectured about how unimportant genitals are, and being told that my concerns are ‘creepy.’ A vast swath of the psycho-ontological infrastructure of our culture is informed by the morphology of genitals and the resultant metaphysics of sex, and until we have taken phallocentrism apart in its deepest aspects, I reserve the right to think that genitals matter very much indeed.

Okay, so, finally, after a fair amount of backstory we get to the point, which is this. All of this projected penetration anxiety about the other as rapist, and the playing out of fantasies of absolute sovereign security on the bodies of women is all about men’s symbolic systems, and has almost nothing to do with actual women’s actual experience of sexual violation, along the entire continuum from unwanted predatory looking and touching to sexual assault. The kind of men who whip up fears about the other-as-rapist are markedly unconcerned, indeed, are usually the first to flatly deny, the existence of any kind of ‘epidemic’ of rape that does not cross racialised lines, because, for them, the crime only signifies within the sovereign imaginary. Such men are frequently extreme misogynists, evaluate women on the basis of a stark hierarchy of sexual purity and pollution, and, as in the case of Breivik, will frequently link immigration-cum-rape to feminism’s alleged emasculation of the nation and corruption of women’s sexual morals. They are, moreover, wedded to a logic of phallic sexual dominance and often, the heroism of conquest by force. It is no coincidence that the man obsessed with the Great Big Wall is also, infamously, the Pussy-Grabber-In-Chief.

All of this is a million miles away from what rape means to women and why radical feminism is so centrally concerned with the devastation of women’s lives by rape. There is nothing in male discourses about purity and pollution and conquest and invasion that expresses concern for the actual harm caused to actual women by sexual trauma, and the fact that we are damaged not by an invasion of territory but rather, by a profound assault on our humanity and personhood. We are not just bits of land on which men play out their sovereigntist fantasies and battles, we are persons, in our own right, and assaults against our personhood mean what they mean, to us. We are not worried, for example, about non-female people in rape crisis centres because we trying to recreate the primordial tribal purity of women and have, to that end, conjured a figment of invading contaminating males. We are worried about male-bodied people in rape crisis centres because they are highly likely to be a source of trauma to women who have been sexually assaulted by males. To assimilate women’s concerns about compromises to their dignity, comfort, and sexual safety to ethno-fascist discourses structured by masculinist metaphysics, is, therefore, to deny that women have their own experience of the world apart from male symbolic projections, to effectively position women as men, and hence, most fundamentally, to erase the specificity of women’s own existence. It is to insist that women, and especially feminist women, understand and experience male violence in masculine symbolic terms, when our entire political project is precisely about challenging the assumptions of the phallic construction of our social world. To wit, what rape means to feminist women is not the same as what rape means to phallocentric right-wing racist white men, and it’s actually absurd, and exhibits profound disregard for women’s experience, to suggest otherwise.


Which brings me to my second point, one which echoes the argument Holly just made.

It’s no accident that the examples we just looked at of fascist rhetoric all featured white people, and specifically, white men, using sovereign purity logic to construct non-white men as a threat. Indeed, being able to comfortably read an accusation that an other constitutes a threat as an illegitimate instance of ethno-fascist logic depends, in good part, on the accuser being a member of a dominant class attempting to vilify a member of a minority class. Notably, according to left-wing political rubric, if a member of a minority class claims that a member of a dominant class is a threat to them or is trying to dominate them, the tendency is for them to be believed.

Well, usually.

By left-wing political logic then, the entire claim that it’s ethno-fascist for feminist women to be concerned about giving trans women unilateral access to our spaces must rely on positing women unambiguously as the dominant class vis-à-vis trans women. Indeed, left wing political thinking accepts without hesitation the claim that minority classes have the right to exclude oppressor classes from their spaces and resources, in order to allow them to organise and congregate away from those who are perceived to be a source of harm.

Given that female people are an oppressed class, and that sex, along with race and class, is one of the three main axes of structural oppression, it is then, somewhat staggering that vast chunks of purportedly progressive people have been swayed by an analysis which only holds if we deny that women are oppressed qua women, and that posits, instead, that we are a dominant and privileged class, and hence, that the protection of our spaces and resources is analogous to the exclusion of racial minorities by white supremacists.

One of the main ways this has been effected, I’d argue, is by the creation of the cis/trans binary, a device which functions to posit all non-trans people, and hence, ‘cis’ women, as the de facto oppressors of trans people. This strategy has been supplemented by a massive amount of rhetoric aimed at underlining the absolute vulnerability of trans people, while simultaneously hand-waving women’s appeals to their own vulnerability and oppression as ‘weaponization’ or ‘scaremongering.’ The result of this is that spaces and resources allocated to female people to protect them from male people, or to compensate them for structural disadvantages incurred by living in a male-dominated society, have been recontextualised as egregious instances of exclusionary privilege which must rightly be taken away without due process or protest. And notably, the cis/trans binary underpinning this works according to exactly the kind of inside/outside, us and them structure characteristic of sovereign purity logic, and posits ‘cis’ women, unequivocally, as the ‘bad other’. The trans rights movement’s claim that ‘cis’ is just an innocuous Latin prefix which merely distinguishes trans from non-trans people is, hence, I’d argue, another instance of extreme disingenuity.

How we are to correctly understand the power relations between women and trans women is a complicated and difficult question. Trans women’s position vis-a-vis women is not straightforward, because they are both and at the same time a vulnerable minority, and, with respect to women, members of the oppressor class. This, to a great degree, is what is fuelling the conflict over the attempt to change definitions from sex to gender identity, because women, and especially women with a developed awareness of male dominance, strongly object to the demand that we must not perceive, and must not name, male people as male. According to the doctrine of gender identity, what I have just said is, in itself, a heresy which constitutes an act of hatred, but I would strongly assert that it is simply a fact, that moreover, in a world of male dominance it is a highly pertinent fact, and that decreeing that women may not even utter this fact is an act of mass gaslighting on a scale I would never have conceived. To wit, women are not concerned about the presence of trans women in women’s spaces because we are determined to mobilise sovereign logic against a demonised sexual minority or are obsessed with the purity of some mythical idea of ‘womanhood.’ We are concerned about the presence of trans women in women’s spaces because trans women are male, and women are oppressed by male people.

If then, as Holly suggests, we emphasise trans women vulnerability vis-à-vis the larger class of males, what we have is a rights-conflict over resources between two vulnerable groups who are both subject to patriarchal violence, and which should be adjudicated as such. If, on the other hand, we emphasise trans women status as males vis-à-vis female people, what we have is members of the dominant class attempting to colonise the resources of the subjugated class. I think there’s truth to both of these readings, but I’d like to underline here that the trans rights movement’s present strategy of trying to aggressively coerce women’s boundaries could not be a more effective method of making us incline towards the second interpretation. And what that means, effectively, is that what the trans rights movement likes to characterise as a dominant class scapegoating and violently excluding a vulnerable minority, we are experiencing as an attempt to resist an act of coercive domination by our historic oppressor. And people wonder why this debate is so toxic.


Before I go onto my final point, with respect to the degree that trans ideology’s moral calculus rests on denying that women are oppressed, I’d just like to pause to look at this exchange, which took place between myself and the Georgetown Philosophy Professor, Rebecca Kukla. The conversation ensued from my responding to a woman who was claiming that because she, as a rape survivor, doesn’t feel the need to exclude trans women from female spaces, then apparently no women should feel that need.

And I’m just going to go out on a limb and say that if you find your ideology necessitates denying that female people are oppressed qua female people, it’s anti- feminist.


What the discussion in our previous point shows then, is that the evaluation of a demand for access to spaces or resources is inflected by our understanding of the power relation between the two parties. A wealthy, largely white, sovereign nation attempting to deny asylum or immigration status to poor, non-white refugees or migrants by casting them as a sexual threat to the purity of the body politic is quite different from say, efforts by Native Americans to resist further encroachment on tribal lands. The fact that advocates of trans ideology would, correctly I think, defend the right of queer, trans, and people of colour to their own spaces, and indeed, are adamant about the necessity of excluding gender critical women from public discourse because it violates their notional ‘safe space,’ suggests that not even those who wield the charge of ‘exclusion’ as if it was an invariant mark of moral turpitude really think it is invariant. Sometimes, that is, there are reasons why excluding people is morally justified.

This becomes even more readily apparent if we attempt to entirely dispense with thinking about this issue from within the infrastructure of the sovereign imaginary. To the trans woman who suggested in the NYT that ‘womanhood’ was like a land she could immigrate to, and that anyone who would exclude her was essentially a Trumpian wall-builder, what I want to say is this. Women, are not, in fact, countries.

And neither are changing rooms, or consciousness raising classes, or rape crisis centers. What we are talking about, when we talk about women’s boundaries, is not first and foremost an incision of space, but an expression of women’s needs. We inscribe spaces and set them apart because doing so allows them to fulfil certain functions and meet certain needs. When we express concern about the presence of male people in female people’s space it is because including male people in those spaces will impact the way they meet female people’s needs. And justice, I’d argue, is a matter of recognizing and adjudicating between people’s needs, not applying some facile rubric of ‘inclusion good’ ‘exclusion bad.’

What is actually going on here, when we strip away all the sovereign metaphors, is a stand off between two groups of people and their needs. Trans women want to be included in female people’s spaces because it affirms their identity as women and gives them protection from the people who are actually a threat to them, namely men. Female people are concerned about how we may be impacted or harmed by including people who are not female in female people’s spaces. Given that trans women are male, that male people are socialized in a culture which inculcates male dominance, and that female people are oppressed by male people, we maintain that our concerns are not a confection of ethno-fascist scaremongering, that we have every right to raise them, and that full and open consideration should be given to the implications of changing all provision which has hitherto been provided to women on the basis of sex. We maintain, furthermore, that what is actually going on under all this rhetorical sovereign window-dressing, and the reason why progressive people seem suddenly so confused about whether women are an oppressed class with rights to their own resources, is, when it comes down to it, the wide-spread and age-old intuition that male people’s needs should be prioritized over female people’s. Male people have a need and are in pain, female people, as ever, are expected to bend, and accommodate, and give service to that need, even at their own expense, and those that refuse to comply are hateful and unkind, those who insist that women have their own needs, will be persistently, violently and indeed, gleefully, vilified.


Which is all to say, that what is going on here, actually, is just patriarchy as usual. Thank you.

Alice Roberts


There is a man in your mentions medusa1

Congratulating you

And calling all the women

Who disagreed with you

(For reasons you will not hear)

A pitchfork mob, while he

Conjures up

A pit of



You should know this tale.

The mouth

Ringed about with teeth

(He imagines)


In its defiance.medusa

We women who




To his demand that we

Are pliable and pretty

But still possess

The power of life,

Against his sovereign will,


He cannot stand it.


There, at the start,

Amidst the waves

Of chaostiamat__sea_goddess_by_mephmmb

The great mother Tiamat

Threatened to engulf him.

The first of the longest line,

Perseus, the hero,

Sent to slay the woman

Turned all to snakes

As punishment for




Will unsheathe his sword

And slice her head clean off.


What could he do?

He must birth himself anew hellmouth

On solid ground,

Far from the living, beating waves

The teeming nest

And the chaos

Of a chasm

He can never conquer



He cannot stand it.


We have been here contra


And will remain

Long after his

Dreaming towers


Crashing to the ground

And he learns

For the first time

Some humility,




And those women with their

Sunshine smiles

Full of eagerness

To side

With the men that call us witches?


We understand you Alice,

For once, in another life,

We too


Traitors to our sex.



The Radical Notion That Women Are People

reducing the first

So, after a summer recess of trying to forget that the world is manifoldly going to hell in a handcart, this week’s exciting ‘Back to Twitter’ experience has involved a good deal of feminists being berated for ‘reducing women to their genitals/biology/anatomy/whatever.’ This woke-approved soundbite has been around for an AGE, and my usual reaction to it is a long slow disbelieving blink. (It’s always slightly staggering when some wokebro comes along to pronounce on your ‘unstellar feminism’ based on his complete inability to grasp the relation between ‘biology’ and ‘destiny’). Anyway, I’m not about to write a thousand-odd words to clarify this for the benefit of the TRAs (it’s pretty clear the TRAs are not interested in anything being clarified) or even for their male accomplices (who evidently have no intention of relinquishing their shiny new ‘get out of misogyny free’ cards). I do, however, care about the many young women who are buying this bullshit, and I especially care about the degree to which they are buying this bullshit because of uninterrogated, internalised assumptions about the horror of being female. (Women? Being raised to devalue their femaleness? In a patriarchy? Nah mate).

The first thing to note about the way this apparently seductive soundbite works is that it relies on equivocations in the meanings of ‘defined by’ and ‘reduced to.’ And, moreover, these equivocations hinge, fundamentally, on an inability to think both the ‘female’ AND the ‘human’ bit contained in the proposition ‘women = adult human female.’

reducing a

So, let’s for a moment take out the ‘human’ bit of the meaning of woman, and just think about the meaning of ‘female.’ Female is a biological or anatomical classification. It is ‘being the member of the reproductive sex class that produces large immobile gametes,’ a classification that exists reliably across the vast majority of living species, and is accompanied by a range of secondary sexual characteristics (like seriously people, we called the whole class of animals we belong to ‘mammals’ because the females have mammary glands capable of producing milk and now you want everyone to pretend that whether female people have boobs or not is all staggeringly opaque.) Anyway, I have mostly resisted getting involved in the conversation about what ‘woman’ means because I find it all basically irrelevant to the current debate. (‘Female people exist. Existence precedes essence. Next.’ As far as I’m concerned).[1] To wit: What I’m interested in is defending the political rights of female people, and no matter how many times TRAs insist on telling us sex in unfathomably ‘complex,’ it really isn’t. Female animals make big gametes. That’s just what female means.

reducing b

The idea, therefore, that there is something ‘reductive’ about saying that female animals are female because they belong to the sex class that makes big gametes makes absolutely no sense. What must be meant, therefore, is that there is something damaging, or harmful, or morally bad, about ‘defining’ women by, or ‘reducing women’ to their anatomical reproductive function. Which of course there is. But the sense conveyed here, notably, involves bringing the ‘human’ bit of ‘adult human female’ back into play. When we say women are adult human females we are defining the female part of their being in terms of a reproductive and, when it comes down to it, animal function. We are very much not, however, ‘defining’ the entirety of the being of adult human females in terms of that function (what is conveyed by this second sense of ‘defined by’ is actually something more like ‘limiting the entire existence of women to their reproductive function,’ which would make us um, Thomas Aquinas (‘Yes Judy, I know you think we’re all mad Catholics’)). What is going on here, in the minds of the TRAs and their allies (I’m being generous here, I don’t think the TRAs actually believe half the shit they throw at the ‘let’s undermine the existence of women’ wall), is, as always, the endless inability to think sex independently of gender. This is the sense in which they are, in fact, entirely in hock to a conservative patriarchal metaphysics of gender (which they then project onto us, before merrily accusing us of being the anti-feminists). If feminists insist that women are female, then, they suppose, we must mean that women are thereby yoked to all the patriarchal bullshit about how female people should or should not behave, and we must mean that the lives of women are to be valued solely in terms of their reproductive function. While of course, because we have a sex/gender distinction, we mean nothing of the sort.

reducing c

It’s worth noting here that this abject failure to understand the difference and relation between sex and gender is a manifestation of a more general problem which permeates trans activist discourse (and maddeningly also, the minds of the third wave feminists who support them)…that is, the abject failure to adequately think the difference and relation between nature and culture, or between biology and history. This one comes up over and over. We see it especially in discussions around the origins of patriarchy, or when we try and get TRAs to produce an even barely passable account of why women are oppressed. When we make the claim that women are oppressed because of their biology, we are obviously not claiming that the patriarchal system of gender which positions women as a reproductive and sexual resource arose inevitably on the basis of that biology (Firestone was wrong on this one). Patriarchy is a socio-historical construct. Feminists are not biological determinists. But socio-historical constructs do not arise willy-nilly with no relation to material constraints. (As I say when I get exasperated, try building a house out of candy-floss and tell me how ‘arbitrary’ social constructs are.) Turning women into a resource in a manner which abnegated their humanity and freedom was not a necessary outcome of their biology – to explain that you have to explain why a certain form of masculinity is so. damn. committed. to turning its material dependencies into appropriable property. But for persons to be converted into materially appropriable resources, they have to have some quality that makes them valuable as such. Which, in women’s case, was our reproductive and sexual use to men (first and foremost, followed closely by our domestic and emotional service). That is, women’s biology is a necessary but not sufficient condition of patriarchal domination and, therefore, any undoing of patriarchy will have to reckon with women’s reproductive and sexual function and men’s long-inculcated entitlement to it. Beauvoir was right that biology is not destiny. But delivering that promise demands we challenge the entire socio-historic edifice that has constrained women’s destiny in order to appropriate their biology, and we won’t get there by playing make-believe with unicorns and piles of glitter.


The thing that really concerns me here, however, is why this little soundbite is seemingly so seductive to young women. To return to our proposition about women being ‘adult human females’ what this comes down to is an inability to think the being-together of femaleness and humanness. This is not at all surprising. Patriarchy has constructed the being of women as a kind of maternal-bovine non-being, a life made up of self-abnegating sexual-reproductive service, while dispensing all the exciting, creative, self-actualising, human-like activity to the penis people. (Note: I am not saying this is what maternity is, I am saying this is what ‘woman-as-mother’ is in the patriarchal imaginary). Given that we’re all raised inside the patriarchal imagination, it is pretty easy to see why girls and young women decide they rather fancy the ‘human-box,’ and then further conclude that the way to do this is to renounce their femaleness. Pretty much every feminist I know has walked this way. Pretty much all of us were, at some point or other, the kind of woman who considered it an unerring compliment to be told that we were ‘one of the boys.’ Pretty much all of us believed that unlike those other silly girls we were never going to be constrained by either the yoke of femininity or the obdurateness of embodiment. Until we got pregnant. Or were sexually assaulted. Or discovered that no matter how rational and male-identified we were, the penis people were still never going to take us seriously. Because we were women.

reducing d

At some point in there, it occurred to us that in trying to divest ourselves (impossibly) of our femaleness, we were simply agreeing that women were lesser humans. It occurred to us that all the patriarchal devaluation about what female people are and what female people can do, all the images, too, of motherhood as bovine-passivity rather than an active and axiomatically creative endeavour, were just so much masculinist hogwash held in place by the enormous edifice of binary hierarchy our adversaries seem so certain they’re smashing. There is no challenge to patriarchal gender in colluding with its devaluation of femaleness. There is no challenge to patriarchal metaphysics in recoiling from the body, in thinking that because it is the historic and ongoing site of our appropriation, freedom depends on dissolving into an immaterial masculinist mind. And there is no path to liberation for human females in thinking our humanity can only be won by renouncing our femaleness.

The task of feminism is to assert, and to fight for, the humanity of female people.

It is the radical notion that women are people.

Not the radical notion that if women are people, they cannot be female.

reduce 1

[1] To note, I don’t think the whole ‘what is a woman’-conversation is entirely pointless, insofar as we can sensibly discuss whether woman means only ‘adult human female’ and the extent to which that definition can be supplemented (maybe) or replaced (no) by one grounded entirely in gender. However, insofar as a great deal of my concern with this debate is about the erasure of sex, I am entirely uninterested in getting sidetracked into quibbling about what a woman is when people are outright trying to undermine the existence of female people. They exist. They have rights. Get the fuck over it.

Women and Philosophy: A Reflection on Recent Events

women and philsopohy

This is a post occasioned by Justin Weinberg’s recent post at the Daily Nous, occasioned by this post on why a trans woman philosopher feels compelled to leave the profession (tl;dr – those transphobic witches).

Given that this is an intra-professional post, I’m going to do my utmost to abide by disciplinary convention and be less biting and sweary than usual (advance apologies to those of you who come for the jokes and the cussing). I’m also going to do my utmost to be measured and calm, despite the fact that I’m actually very very angry, and the fact that I’m addressing the profession, and hence feel the need to be measured and calm about something I’m enraged about is, in fact, central to what I’m about to say.

Let’s get to it:

The letter written by the anonymous ‘t philosopher’ is principally an emotional appeal to vulnerability, an intent to share the philosopher’s “pain and anger about being forced out of a career that I once loved.” The argument is, essentially, ‘allowing these women to express their views makes me feel so intolerably bad I have to leave, recast as ‘being forced to leave’ (a.k.a “you made me do it”?).

There are several things we can say about how this appeal might be received, and how that might relate to the sex of the speaker and listeners, and how our gender conventions are informing those interpretations.

1. The first thing I want to note, is that Justin responds to this appeal as if it describes an entirely foreign vulnerability. There are several instances of this:

“But most of us are fortunate enough never to have had our toughness tested in this way.”

“For most of us, our well-being is almost never jeopardized by our work environments.”

“Most of us have not experienced what t philosopher has experienced.”

I picked Justin up for this on twitter, because, of course, as is immediately evident to anyone who is not a white man, this is not a foreign experience to some of us at all. (Note: I am not claiming that trans philosophers’ experiences of marginalization are the same as women’s, that is not something I could ever know. I am merely noting that the idea of being ignorant of what it’s like to be mentally jeopardized by our work environment is a statement that could only be made by white male (and probably straight) philosophers.) In response to my tweet Justin has clarified that that is why he wrote ‘most of us,’ and has since amended the post to reflect the recognition that the profession is 70% male and 85% white. I still, however, want to underline what is going on here. We are having a conversation about whether some women should be effectively muzzled in the profession, and the person writing the post is male, and the audience he is imaginatively addressing is also male. That is, the men are talking about whether a few women should be silenced, without acknowledging anything about how the men’s sex is affecting their understanding of the situation, and how that might be different for the women they are discussing – the women who, implicitly, are the ‘problem’ here.

2. One thing that is incredibly striking to me about this is that the men are extending a degree of concern and empathy to the experience of t philosopher that is completely foreign to how I, as a woman, have come to understand men’s reactions to women’s experience of philosophy. We work in a profession which has built an entire metaphysical edifice on devaluing the rationality of women. We come into the profession knowing that most of the men around us, more or less explicitly, think we are not in possession of the logos, and that any expression of emotion or vulnerability on our part will almost certainly be taken as evidence of our unsuitability for our chosen work. The culture at large, as is reasonably well recognised, is littered with images of ‘hysterical’ ‘angry’ ‘vengeful,’ women. Any expression of women’s needs which refuses to comply with male people’s desires or demands is frequently characterised as wanton aggression (which is highly relevant to the emotional force of the image of the TERF). And any expression of the damage that has been done to us will be used to posit us as hysterics and undermine our credibility. From this is follows that:

a) As we know how expressions of our vulnerability or anger would be taken, the very idea of our writing a post like the post written by t philosopher is inconceivable to us. The assumption that the expression of our pain might “stir some of you to greater action” rather than simply being an extreme professional liability is, in itself, a product of the system of gender as it is brought to bear on the authority and priority granted or not granted to those of certain sexed bodies. And this is one of the reasons why we maintain it is important to be able to point to sex, why the attempt to disallow the identification of sex as ‘misgendering’ is pernicious, and why us pointing to sex is not simply a wanton desire to cause harm – because yes, I am claiming that the very fact that t philosopher thought expressing her pain in this manner was a potentially effective political manoeuvre, and that people responded to it as such, is something to do with her not being female. (Kate Manne would not like this, but to those of us on this side, it seems obvious that what is going on here is, in fact, a version of ‘himpathy’ (and we should note, women extend greater sympathy to male people as well, that’s what female socialisation is for)).

b) The fact is, therefore, that those of you who are male do not know a great deal about female people’s experiences of harm in the profession, because we do not tell you, and we may, furthermore, go to some great lengths to conceal it from you. I am wrestling with myself right here and now about whether I should write a list of some of the shit I have experienced, both in academia in general and in philosophy in particular, and how I consider this to have severely impacted my progress in the profession. (I would not claim that these issues are the only reason I have decided to practice as a philosopher outside the academy, but it is one of the major strands. Maybe I should write a blog called ‘Why after 10 years of training I never even tried to enter the profession’? I wonder if you will find it ‘heartbreaking’?).

Perhaps then, against all my inculcated instincts, as an experiment, I will give you a taste.

  • A few weeks after I arrived in Stony Brook, one of my male colleagues threated to glass me for not believing in the univocity of Being (for those of you who don’t understand the gendered metaphysics going on here, I’m not going to go into a digression about sexual difference feminism, but I am going to assume many of you don’t understand, because frankly, until all of this blew up, most of you were quite happy completely ignoring what feminist women were talking about).
  • Around about the same time, one of my female colleagues – a woman who had encouraged me to apply to Stony Brook – weighted herself to the bottom of a lake, at least in good part because she had been made to feel so inadequate in a profession that she was, in fact, extremely gifted at. After her death, there was some discussion among the grad students about possible gendered aspects of what had happened, but nothing was recognised at an institutional level – and this, I should underline, was in a department I had uprooted myself to study in, because it was supposed to be one of the most hospitable places for feminist philosophers in the Anglo-American world. After this, several of the female students fell into a deep depression, and one of them, who was, to my mind, one of the most talented philosophers I’ve ever met, never made it through the program.
  • I was told at the end of my undergraduate training in Cambridge that my ‘intellectual trajectory’ was ‘unfortunate,’ and left the academy for nearly ten years, before I worked out that the reason my thought was being so utterly dismissed by the person I was meeting to discuss my academic future, was gendered.
  • I have had to deal with the fact that I could never get any funding for my work in my own country – despite having a first class degree from the best university in the UK – because I work in continental feminism, which is doubly marginalised, and, moreover, there are very few departments here that would even consider my work to qualify as ‘philosophy.’
  • I have, on several occasions, had to deal with men who feel threatened by women who refuse to conceal their intelligence, being extremely belittling and aggressive to me in professional contexts. I have experienced a fair amount of male violence in my life and have a hair trigger for men trying to dominate me. Maybe you could imagine struggling to hold onto the thread of your argument and keep your voice from breaking while your body floods with adrenalin and shame and rage because some insecure man has felt the need to put you firmly back into your place in front of a room full of your colleagues? It really is super-fun. Especially when you fail, and leave feeling like you’ve been punched in the stomach, and that everyone now thinks you’re a hysteric, and you decide that you probably don’t need to go to that reading group on that thing you’re really interested in after all.
  • And perhaps I’ll end with the fact that over the last few years I was participating in professional contexts, men with a great deal more power than me started to wave Judith Butler or trans politics in my face every time I tried to make any observation about women’s oppression, or critique any masculinist bias in something we were reading. Which was GREAT.
  • Note: I’m aware that having done what I have just done is something of a performative contradiction. What I am going to say is that I think I only feel able to do it, because – partly due to the stance I have taken on these issues, as well as several other factors – it turns out my path is to make my way in the world without needing many of your professional approval, or you giving me a job.

3. These issues surrounding the non-expression of women’s feelings also relates to the fact that we are trying very hard, in this situation, not to let anyone see how distressing this whole conflict is to us, because we have no confidence that it will not simply be weaponised against us. (Justin for example instructs us in the manner we should respond – cordially, calmly, although the whole conversation is precipitated by an extreme – and some might think, manipulative – expression of emotion which is, nonetheless, being given enormous, uncritical, weight). And this very much relates to the fact that the balance of sympathy, and the balance of the assessment of harms, as it relates to the present conflict, are extremely uneven. While Justin’s post stops short of agreeing with t philosopher that we should be unilaterally muzzled (what is the philosophical equivalent of the Scold’s Bridle I wonder?), the distribution of identification with who is being harmed and who has legitimate interests here, is entirely asymmetric.[1] (Some might think that a group of people sitting around discussing whether we should be run out of the profession was a harm in itself? But of course, we have brought it on ourselves by committing wrong-think, and, after all, we could so easily have just complied with what we consider to be our own erasure.)

Trans activists frequently assert some version of the claim that we are playing academic or intellectual games with other people’s lives, or, as in the excerpt from Talia Mae Bettcher, that the current discussion is not to be undertaken as an equivalent of “investigations into the question whether tables really exist.” I just want to stop here and ask you to really try and consider the claim that discussions about the nature of the being of women might be in some way academic or impersonal to women, and further, to consider, therefore, the basis of the claim that what is motivating us could only be animus towards trans people, as if we do not have some kind of interest or investment in the definition of the class of persons to which we belong. (This, among many reasons, is one of my objections to the label TERF, or even, in Justin’s amendment, to calling us ‘trans-exclusive.’ It centres our position on the effect it has on trans women, and hence refuses to grant recognition that we are concerned about the definition of women and the functioning of female spaces because we care about female people. That is, calling us ‘trans exclusive’ is to refuse our intent to define ourselves through the act of centering ourselves, and to define us solely on the basis of the effect we have on male-born people. It is not then, as Christa Peterson claims ‘camouflage,’ it is, rather, refusing to allow women to be reduced to agents of male service, which is, in fact, the core mechanism of patriarchy).

Anyway, the point here is that the entire conversation – at least with respect to Justin’s exhortation for empathy with t philosopher, and this is very much mirrored by the ease with which gender critical women are being publicly monstered – is being focused around trans people, and specifically trans women’s needs and feelings, while refusing to grant any recognition to the fact that women also have needs, interests and feelings here as well.[2] We are not playing games with other people’s lives. We are engaged in a debate about our own lives, a debate we consider to be of massive existential importance to us, and which is deeply and unerringly distressing – because we keep being told that we should accept our existence being redefined, and that the definition of our own existence is of far less consequence than trans women’s – that is, male-born people’s – feelings. If you are familiar with feminist analysis you should know that we consider that our culture constructs women through male people’s projections, and that one of the central practices of feminism is to define ourselves in our own terms, and to refuse male people’s definitions. If you understood feminist analysis you might also have some sense of how horrifying it is to us to watch male people colluding with each other in determining how we should be defined, and how painful it is to be confronted with such an extreme instance of the ease with which asserting our right to self-definition is cast as an act of extreme hatred (while somehow, also, just an academic game). If you understood feminist analysis then you might start to appreciate that we, too, are persons in our own right here, that we have our own interests, and that we are doing this because we care about women and girls’ needs. You might start to recognize that while we are not, in fact, disputing the existence of trans people (rather, we are precisely arguing for recognising that they are trans), the trans rights movement is actually attempting to erase female people as a political and legal class, and that there might be substantive reasons for us to oppose that which have nothing to do with malice, or heartlessness, or, least of all, intellectual entertainment. Because I can assure you, this whole situation is the very opposite of fun for us.

4. The last thing I want to point to is the relation between the way Justin erases us in the opening descriptions of how foreign the vulnerability of marginalization is ‘to most of us,’ and the way he erases us in the discussion about what we should do in response to t philosopher’s testimony. (As an aside here, apparently our dismissals were in the register of “mock[ing] what she says,” while I would rather characterise, say, Kathleen’s response, as ‘knowing what coercive control looks like and refusing to be emotionally blackmailed.’ A diagnostic protocol, which, I wager, is probably more familiar to women than men.) Anyway, the point here is that Justin characterises those of us who were inadequately moved by t philosopher’s account as saying “deal with it,” and then goes on to note “But here’s the thing: we’re the it.” Which is staggering. Because you’re not the ‘it’ Justin, we are, and we’re not you. Indeed, as your opening erasure makes more than evident, you really don’t have the first clue what being a woman in philosophy is like. To return to where we started, what then happens is Justin has a conversation about “our practices and speech” and the fact that they’re “up to us,” which is addressed, in effect, to an implicit audience of other men, without acknowledging that the ‘problem’ they are talking about is not, actually, all of us, but is, rather, a particular group of women and whether those women should be allowed to express opinions about the definition of ‘woman.’ Moreover, he doesn’t acknowledge that while this might be taking up a lot of discursive space in the philosophical world right now, if it should be decided that women should be barred from expressing opinions about the definition of ‘woman,’ it’s really no skin off Justin Weinberg’s nose, because Justin Weinberg actually has no substantive interests at stake here, other than concerns about the disciplinary practice of philosophy. All of which would be evident, if any of this conversation was ever conducted around the recognition of women’s interests in this question.

5. Further to this, I’d like to ruefully note how convenient it is that male philosophers suddenly want to take responsibility for the ‘heart-breaking’ effects of marginalization in philosophy when it turns out that the people allegedly responsible for that marginalization are a bunch of women. We have been trying, without appeals to emotion, but in the way feminists do, diligently, by accumulating arguments and data, to try and get you to pay attention to the marginalization of women in philosophy for, oh, I don’t know, the last fifty years? You were about as interested as you were in the fact that we dismantled patriarchal metaphysics around 1973. (Yes yes, carry on talking about desire as if it only exists in the masculine why don’t you? I’m sure we’ve never had any pertinent thoughts on the matter *flat stare at Lacan, Foucault and indeed, Butler*). What this comes down to is the fact that to deal with the marginalization of women in philosophy the 70% (or more) of you who are male would have had to seriously interrogate both your behaviour, and also, in many respects, your philosophical and disciplinary assumptions. And you have never shown the slightest inclination towards doing so. Now, however, you can demonstrate your exquisite concern for the suffering of the vulnerable, and it actually demands nothing of you. Because what’s being asked of you is whether some uppity women should be made to shut up.

Which, from where we’re standing, makes this whole sorry mess look pretty much the same as it ever was.

[Final caveat: I want to acknowledge that a few male philosophers have been very vocal and steadfast in their support of us, and we are profoundly appreciative of it].


[1] This asymmetry is also mirrored in Justin’s presentation of the way in which “some of the most visible philosophers challenging the self-understanding and liberties of trans persons have engaged in behaviour that can most charitably be described as juvenile.” Note that a) our position is again characterised as all about being ‘anti-trans’ rather than about the interests of women, and therefore mimics the presentation of the issue by the trans-ideological side, and b) the emphasis on who is behaving badly is uneven. Justin does go on to recognise that there has been some “hostile rhetoric” directed at “some of us,” but only after extending empathy for the trans philosopher who is forced to share professional space with her “tormenters” (because we’re not trying to make a philosophical point in women’s interests, we are just trying to cause pain because we are in some way enjoying it?). On this I just need to note that we have been described as “cockroaches” by Rachel McKinnon and a Facebook post we engaged in was described as ‘terf-infested’ by Rebecca Kukla. I’d really like the other members of the profession to tell me when we started turning a blind eye to colleagues comparing each other to vermin, as if we don’t know where that kind of rhetoric goes, and I’d challenge anyone to find anything resembling this coming from our side, such as Justin’s asymmetric emphasis might be justified. Moreover, Holly Lawford-Smith has been called “a bigoted piece of shit” and a “vile fucking human” by Keyvan Shafiei and a “cunt” by Rebecca Kukla, and again, I’d like examples of equivalent ‘violent rhetoric’ that we have used about our opponents.

At this point I’d also like to underline that at present, in the UK, two gender critical feminists have been physically attacked by trans women in the course of this conflict. In both cases the trans woman was a male under the age of 30, and the feminist was a female over the age of 50. This is male violence against women, it is being used in a political context in order to try and stop us exercising our democratic right to assemble, and I am sick to the back teeth of people making false equivalences and handwaving literal violence.

[2] This issue of the relative balance of sympathy, or whose interests are being recognised and whose are being erased, is also replicated in Jonathan Ichikawa’s recent twitter thread, especially with respect to the effort to use standpoint epistemology in order to give priority to trans women’s claims. Putting aside for a moment the infuriating spectacle of a man using an element of feminist epistemology designed to explain why we might grant authority to women’s claims in order to undermine women’s claims, the question must transparently be, why are trans women’s claims to harm and epistemic authority with respect to this question to be prioritised over female people’s? (I asked Ichikawa this question. He declined to answer, noting that on the advice of loved ones he was withdrawing from the conversation, which, in itself, is an artefact of male privilege. Note also, Ichikawa claims to specialise in rape culture, as do I. I asked him, given this area of expertise, why he was apparently tone deaf to why women might be feeling increasingly distressed and angry about a group of male people ganging up together to coerce their boundaries. No answer has been forthcoming.)

A Dialogue Between a Trans Woman and a Feminist Who Isn’t Just A Figment of The Trans Woman’s Mind

Painting by John William Waterhouse

Well now. Isn’t this nice. In the middle of a huge fight in which I spend a great deal of my time trying to persuade male people that we’re not just projections that exist in their heads, but are actually, y’know, whole real people in our own right, the trans philosopher Rachel Anne Williams has decided to resurrect an ancient philosophical device and treat us to some imaginings about us.

Let’s see what we say shall we?


If you’ve ever had the pleasure of getting into an internet debate with “gender critical” feminists when it comes to issues surrounding gender, you’d know that one of their constant demands is for trans women to define “woman”. This is their ultimate “gotcha” — their best attempt to prove that trans activists are full of bullshit.

  • Yup, that’s right, our concerns about the definition of the political category to which we belong and your attempt to erase it, must, of course, be all about you. How could we have any interest in our own self-definition that was about us and our own needs, given that we’re just some walk-on characters in the philosophical movie you are running in your mind? Nope. Of course we’re only bothered about whether women exist because we’re trying to fuck you over. Of course.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +1

Suppose you did attempt to define “woman”. It might go something like this:

Trans woman: A woman is someone with the gender identity of “woman.”

GC feminist: That’s circular! The term “woman” is in the definition itself but you haven’t defined what “woman” means!

Trans woman: Ok, well, women are those people who tend to display [certain traits].

GC feminist: Ahh! You sexist! You’re trying to say that all women act or look a certain way! You’re reducing the concept of womanhood down to a set of stereotypes.

Trans woman: Ok, well, how would you define “woman”?

GC feminist: Well, naturally, woman are adult human females.

Trans woman: But what do you mean by “female”?

GC feminist: Females are those creatures that, under normal circumstances, produce large gametes.

Trans woman: Ok, but why would you want to define woman as “adult human female” and define “female” like that? That excludes trans women.

  • We’re not trying to exclude you from the category of female. You just are excluded. Because you’re not female. It takes no effort and no desire whatsoever on our part to get to that conclusion. What, however, would take a great deal of effort and desire is performing the conceptual jiggery-pokery with the meaning of the ontological and political category we belong to in order to include you, which we’re not going to do, because it’s a harm to us, and because the only reason for doing it is to service your feelings, and mate, we’re feminists.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +2

GC feminist: Well, yes, of course — trans women are men and should be happy existing as just feminine men.

  • Yeah, some of us think you’re men, quite a number of us think you’re transwomen. What we all agree on is that you’re not female, and that you are not, therefore, straightforwardly women. It’s interesting that a bunch of people who are allegedly so committed to ‘smashing the binary’ cannot conceive of a category which exists between ‘men’ and ‘women.’ But of course you can’t, because your need is to fully appropriate our existence, and it doesn’t serve your narrative to recognise that some of us would meet you halfway if you just backed the fuck off.

If we don’t carve out a political category for women that focuses on our biological sex we will not be able to organize politically. You trans activists want to redefine what it means to be a woman in terms of some nebulous concept of “gender identity”. But I don’t have a “gender identity”. I don’t “identify” as a woman — I am a woman! Because I am female.

Trans woman: I think the problem here is you have a limited understanding of what it means to “identify” as something.

  • Oh, do we now?

For example, I identify as pansexual. But I could say, just like you do, that I don’t “identify” as pansexual, I am pansexual. Because being pansexual is an intrinsic part of who I am. But it’s both an intrinsic part of who I am and also something I identify as. So why not think gender identity is similar? You are female but you also identify as female.

  • No, I don’t. I’m a woman, and I’m woman-identified, which is a political identification. But I do not identify as female any more than I identify as having curly hair. And your need to impose an identification on me that I do not experience is all about your needs. And, while we’re here, given that I have experienced a life-time of discrimination because I’m female, you telling me that I have effectively identified into that discrimination is also politically reprehensible.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +4

They are not mutually exclusive. This is why a lot of trans activists don’t even talk in terms of gender identity. They will say “I don’t identify as a woman, I am a woman.”

  • Not in any sense that a female person is.

GC feminist: But that’s different. When you say you “identify” as a woman you can’t even explain what that means! You can’t say you “identify” is someone with large gametes because that’s ridiculous — you don’t have large gametes. If I identify as seven feet tall, that doesn’t make me seven feet tall.

Trans woman: That’s true.

  • Well Rachel, congrats, that may be the first time in this whole protracted interaction in which I’ve actually heard you say something that appears to recognise reality.
  • For that I’ll knock half a point off your narcissism score: +3.5

I do not have large gametes (nor am I seven feet tall). But since I see myself as a woman, I think that’s all the more reason to abandon your definition of womanhood in terms of gametes. I’d prefer to try and find a definition that is inclusive, or better, yet, give up on the very quest to define womanhood itself. Perhaps some things cannot be given definitions.

  • Are you fucking shitting me??? It was all going so well for a moment there, and then you went and totally trashed it with, “seeing as material reality doesn’t fulfil my own projections and needs I want you to abandon your useful objective definition of the political category to which you belong and replace it with some airy-fairy definition because ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME.”
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +8.5

GC feminist: But if we don’t ground the definition in terms of objective, biological sex, the concept of “woman” will be meaningless and just anyone will be able to identify as a woman. After all, you trans activists are constantly saying that gender cannot be reduced to any physical trait, manner of dress, or behavior. You just keep talking about some nebulous concept of “gender identity” but can’t even explain what that means! All you have are a set of circular definitions.

Trans woman: Think of gender identity like consciousness. Consciousness is experiential and has a first-person aspect. It cannot be so easily defined.

  • Yeah, except all of us experience consciousness, and we have ways of communicating different aspects of our phenomenological experience with each other. And I know you don’t understand this because you apparently live in that mirrored-hall known as your brain, but we don’t experience gender identity, and we literally have no idea what you’re talking about. What that means is that whatever the experience is that you’re calling ‘feeling like or being a woman’, isn’t an experience we share with you. We are women. And if we tell you that your experience of ‘being a woman’ is meaningless to us, then, whatever it is an experience of, it isn’t an experience of being a woman.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +9.5

GC feminist: Sure it can! To be conscious of something is to be aware of something.

  • I watched this conversation, you were having it with one or two people at the most, one of whom was a sceptic not a feminist, and none of whom were philosophers, because frankly, when you decided to throw consciousness into the mix to try and prop up your nebulous crap, we were too busy rolling our eyes. As Andy told you, if you want to change our civic infrastructure from being organised on the basis of something as objective as sex to something as wishy-washy and potentially regressive as gender identity, you better do better than ‘change all the laws on the basis of a subjective state which is only meaningful to trans people.’

Trans woman: But what does it mean to be aware of something?

GC feminist: To sense that thing.

Trans woman: But sensation and consciousness are two different things. You can put a sensor on a robot but that doesn’t make the robot conscious.

GC feminist: Ok, so conscious awareness is sensation that you experience.

Trans woman: But “experience” is just another way of saying “consciousness”.

GC feminist: Ok, I see what you’re getting at. Consciousness is a tricky concept. But that’s consciousness! Gender identity is different. Gender identity is just a bunch of nonsense. Consciousness is a mental phenomenon and mental phenomena have an irreducible quality.

Trans woman: But don’t you see? Gender identity is also a mental phenomena and it has an irreducible quality as well.

  • Wow, this GC feminist in your brain is pleasingly slow on the uptake isn’t she? I refer you to my previous point, why should we a) make laws b) change our entire understanding of our own political class, because of your phenomenological experience?

That’s what makes it so hard to define. Saying “Consciousness is about experiencing the world” is like saying “Womanhood is about identifying as a woman.”

  • Yeah, but again, this is what womanhood means to you. That’s not what it means to me. In fact, ‘womanhood’ has no meaning to me at all. I’m not a woman because I have woman-essence. I’m a woman because I’m female. That’s it.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +10.5

When I say I “identify as a woman” it’s really hard to define what that means exactly without resorting to cultural stereotypes about womanhood. It’s not about clothes. It’s not about makeup. It’s not about how I act. It’s just this feeling I have that “woman” is the right conceptual category for me to be in. Thinking of myself as a man just feels so wrong! I can’t explain it.

  • You’ve actually said something honest here. Because this is a description of dysphoria. Which is what makes you a transwoman. Let me tell you what’s happening here from my perspective; you have taken the experience of dysphoria – which I accept is a real phenomenological experience – and reified the proposed explanation, i.e. that dysphoria arises because of a mismatch between gender identity and sexed body. In order to ground the claim that you are a woman in a manner continuous with the way we are women, you then posit that we all have a gender identity, and the only difference between you and us is that our gender identity matches our body. That is, your ideology is committed to imposing an experience of gender identity onto us, in order for you to claim continuity with us, despite the fact that we keep telling you that we do not recognise this experience and consider the concept politically pernicious. But what you have told us here when trying to give an honest description of your experience explains exactly why we do not recognise your experience. Because you have dysphoria, and we do not. And not having dysphoria is not an experience of gender identitybecause experience has to have some content.

GC feminist: That’s just it! You want to replace the hard facts of biology with mere feelings! That’s hogwash! I don’t “feel” like a woman. I am a woman! Because of my biological sex. It’s not a feeling. It’s reality.

Trans woman: But are not feelings a part of reality? When I feel pain, does that pain not exist? Just because it has an experiential element doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. My feeling of pain is as real to me as anything else in this world. And my feelings about my gender are as real as anything else in this world.

  • Yes, they’re real to you. Which is not quite the same as ‘anything else in this world’ which is also real to people who are not inside you.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +11.5

GC feminist: But if we start to define womanhood in terms of wishy-washy feelings, anyone will be able to identify as a woman and the category of “woman” will start to be filled with a bunch of men who are identifying as woman for nefarious purposes in order to infiltrate female spaces and take advantage of the wishy-washy definitions of womanhood. Unless we ground the political category of womanhood in biology the doors will be open for just any ole man to “identify” as a woman, especially since you can’t even define clearly what that means! It’s not like the old days when trans women were transsexuals with gender dysphoria and medically transitioned and had surgery and took hormones and blended into society as women. Now you have all kinds of perverts and freaks who don’t even have dysphoria “identifying” as woman. Don’t you see how dangerous that is for society?

Trans woman: I think you’re confusing that fact that, in theory, any kind of person can identify as a woman with the fact that not everyone will identify as a woman, because although, yes, it is hard to define gender identity in naturalistic terms, that doesn’t mean just anyone will identify as a woman.

  • The fact that you will not for one second take seriously what women understand about the lengths male people will go in order to abuse us is just straight up contempt Rachel. Seriously. Fuck off.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +13.5

Afterall, gender identity is an intrinsic part of who you are, and is in fact ultimately grounded in the brain and the brains of people who identify as women are different from the brains of people who identify as men.

  • FEMALE BRAIN KLAXON. You’re going to need some trans brain studies that have controlled for sexual orientation and don’t show that once that’s done the only variable is the bit of the brain that deals with body imaging.

In this way gender identity is quite like consciousness. It has a personal, experiential element — there is something-it-is-like to be conscious just as there is something-it-is-like to identify as a particular gender, consciousness is mysterious and hard to define, gender identity is mysterious and hard to define, and yet we have a first-person understanding of both.

  • You do. I only have a first person understanding of consciousness. I have no first person understanding of gender identity. As I keep telling you. How come I can recognise that your experience is true to you, but my claims about my own experience don’t seem to register with you at all? I have a vague inkling there could be a structural reason for that. Now what could it be?
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +14.5

GC feminist: But how are we going to ground a political movement protecting females from the oppressive forces of patriarchy unless we have a specific set of terminology that refers specifically to our reproductive biology?

Trans woman: You can still use “female”.

  • Gee, thanks. Except actually that’s not what is happening is it? We’re being called ‘uterus havers’ and ‘bleeders’ instead.

Most people will understand the anatomy of cis females to be paradigmatic for that concept. For example, when you think of “bird” you typically think of a bird like a robin who can fly. Robins are paradigm examples of the category “bird”. The penguin is still technically a bird but less paradigmatic for the concept. Cis females are paradigm examples of the example of “female” but trans females are like penguins — they are still females but not a paradigmatic example because it’s not the first thing in people’s mind when they think of “female”.

  • What is it with you people and the terrible analogies?? Birds are an entire class of animals. There are over 10, 000 different species of birds, with vastly different body types, ranging from wrens to goddamn ostriches. Females are not a class, or a clade, or even a species. They are a sex. Which occurs across species. And is defined by their capacity to produce large gametes. And in no universe is a male actually a female because penguins are not the same as robins.

GC feminist: But the bodies of trans women are nothing like cis females! If the term is to mean anything it must be a scientific concept that refers to objective reality, namely, the objective reality of everything associated with large gametes.

  • The thing is, ‘produces large gametes’ is just what female means. And if trans women want to claim that they are female, then we’re still going to need another word for the class of humans that produces large gametes and we’re still going to insist that producing large gametes is not accidentally related to our oppression.

Trans woman: We already established that gender identity is an intrinsic feature of someone and realized in the brain.

  • I do not think you know what ‘established’ means.

Therefore, there must be brain features specific to having a gender identity of a woman that distinguish it from having the gender identity of a man.

  • There is no ‘therefore’ about it. Christ, this really is the Judith Butler school of ‘let me build a pile of tottering crap on ridiculous premises I never actually demonstrated.”

Why not include these as part of the cluster concept of “female”?

  • Because you. are. not. female.

We can recognize that large gametes are paradigmatic of the category “female” while also recognizing that trans women are also a kind of female and when we want to be specific and distinguish between the different types of bodies we can use the term “trans female”.

  • ‘We can recognise that females are paradigmatic of the category female while also recognising that males are a kind of female.’ Yeah no. We can’t

GC feminist: But why not just realize that trans women are males who identify as females? Isn’t that easier?

Trans woman: I mean, yes, in a sense, that is perfectly coherent.

  • Yeah, isn’t it?

The problem is ideologies like GC feminism are hellbent in saying that men are adult human males which would make trans women men.

  • Nope, I’d be perfectly happy with ‘males who identify as women’ and I accept ‘males who identify as women’ might be something different from just ‘men.’ It’s annoying when you have to deal with what we actually think isn’t it? So, given that you’ve admitted it’s perfectly coherent and I’m also happy with it, I think we have a solution to the whole sorry mess, transwomen are ‘males who identify as women.’ Deal?

But that’s the fundamental claim that we disagree with. I believe that trans women are women because I think whether you are a “man” or a “woman” depends on how you identify, as per my original definition.

  • No, you believe trans women are women because you want to believe you are a woman despite the fact that women keep telling you that they do not recognise your experience of ‘being a woman’ and that your making our being women dependent on an extrapolation of your own subjective experience in persistent disregard of our own experience is about the most narcissistic entitled masculine thing we could ever conceive of. For the hundredth millionth fucking time: We are not an idea in your head.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +19.5

GC feminism: You’re just going to open the doors to any pervert to wake up one day and identify as a woman and that will magically make them a woman.

Trans woman: You talk as if the process of identification is shallow when in fact to truly identify as a woman is a deep and meaningful psychological process involving a kind of commitment. It’s not the kind of thing you just wake up and do on a whim. It requires a kind of authenticity.


GC feminist: But you cannot empirically measure that authenticity. In places like the UK, they want to get rid of the gatekeeping measures in place that require you to prove you have deep-seated dysphoria and replace them with this nebulous concept of self-identification such that just anyone could self-ID as trans and then be legally granted access to female spaces. Can’t you see how dangerous that is?

Trans woman: You still have to make a sworn statement that you identify as a woman. I think you underestimate the resolve it would take to walk before a panel of legal experts and publically swear you are a different gender.

  • I think you underestimate the fact that men decide to spend their entire lives as priests or gym teachers or sports coaches so they can abuse children you fucking selfish asshole.

I just don’t think there is any evidence that predators are going to use this particular legal pathway to abuse women.

  • There is. And you know it. And every time we point to the evidence you just scream hate-crime. What you don’t, in fact, think is that women’s safety matters as much as your damn feelings. And that, dear Rachel, is because of male entitlement.

The benefits of getting rid of arduous gatekeeping outweigh the risks.

  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +119.5

There are many downsides to gatekeeping.

  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +169.5

It does not lead to the best trans healthcare, a vulnerable and marginalized population.

  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +189.5

Besides, what do you think gatekeeping is? Gatekeeping is nothing more than having a conversation with a trans person — it’s not about medical testing. The only “test” — even with gatekeeping — is relying on the self-report on the trans person, which is itself a kind of self-ID.

  • I dunno, I like to think that they used to try and weed out the people with raging NPD.

GC feminist: But women are marginalized moreso! And there are much more of them!

Trans woman: Yes, but the problem is not trans-identifying women or trans feminine people. The problem is cis men.

  • I’m so glad that you’re the expert on our problem Rachel. Because of course, heaven forfend that we would allow female people to make judgements about which male people they consider to be a problem, or – perish the thought! – believe that female people could correctly perceive gargantuan levels of mansplainy condensing narcissism in someone who does not identify as an entitled condescending mansplainer.

For all your concerns about needing precise language to organize politically, the term “cis man” is perfectly precise when it comes to pinpointing the vast bulk of the problem when it comes to dismantling the patriarchy.

  • You love, are the patriarchy on fucking crack.

This is why trans women and radical feminists ultimately have the same goal: to dismantle patriarchal structures that target women and create the conditions of liberation for all genders.

  • Yeah, you’re doing a grand job of demonstrating your commitment to it here.

Although the nature of the oppression is different in virtue of not having identical biological functions, there is still much that overlaps.

  • Until you have the first idea about the fundamental psycho-ontology of patriarchal domination – clue Rachel, look in the Hall of Mirrors – I suggest you don’t lecture me on my oppression.

Trans women are at risk of violence from cis males. We can still get assaulted, raped, and killed. We are at risk of legalized discrimination in the form of healthcare, housing, the workplace, etc. We have objectively worse mental health outcomes on account of social prejudice. We are also subject to unconscious bias and prejudice at an interpersonal level.

  • ME ME ME ME ME ME ME. Yeah, we get all that too. And we get it from you as well.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +195.5

This is why we focus on intersectional feminism.

  • No, you focus on intersectional feminism because you’ve twisted it to undermine the definition of the class of women in order to insert yourself into it.
  • Hall of Mirrors’ Tally: +205.5

The discrimination we face as women intersects with the discrimination we face for being trans, just like the discrimination black women face as women intersects with the discrimination they face for being black.


cookie monster

Although our experiences are not the same, why should we expect that all women have the same experiences? Is not our tapestry more rich when we include the voices of trans women?

  • You’re not asking to be included. You are asking to be centred. You are asking for all our language to be changed in order to obscure the ways in which we are not the same. You are asking us to give up our analysis of our own oppression so it fits your ideology, you are asking us to relinquish our rights to self-definition and self-organisation, and you are using a whole panoply of coercive methods to achieve those ends. You are, above all, exhibiting the belief that your needs and your feelings are the be all and end all of this matter, which is to say, you are exhibiting the core psychic mechanism of male dominance, with all its attendant coercions and condescentions, with its complete and unrelenting inability to recognise that we. are. our. own. people.  To be absolutely blunt Rachel (and I’ve told you this more than once already, but shockingly, you do not hear it), if you wanted to convince us you were women, this display of self-centred bullying is possibly the least effective means you could ever have come up with. Our tapestry is doing just fine without you, we have no intention of letting it become all about you, and we’re going to need you to go and make your own.

Final Hall of Mirrors’ Score: +205.5



Dearest dearest all,

This is just a brief note, to say thank you all for your notes and emails and outraged tweets… I wont lie, I feel a little sick, but I also thought it was a matter of when not if, so I’m in an odd state of very-shocked-not-really-shocked.

I’ve appealed. I wrote a damn essay in the form about the difference between directing hatred at a group and directing political critique at political behaviour. Who knows. As we know, twitter is at best a crap shoot, and the game is fucking rigged. I’ll write something more on the three times I was scalped and the bullshit involved each time shortly. In the meantime, the essay from late last summer when it first became clear that they were coming for us.

Twitter and Trans Rights Totalitarianism

Solidarity sisters!

ETA: The reason for the suspension is here

Here’s the essay-ette I wrote to twitter:

You have suspended my account. The tweet concerned was a political critique of the use of repetitive mantras in order to disseminate political ideas.  We appreciate your concern to make sure that vulnerable individuals are not targeted in a way that silences them, and to protect people from being attacked for being members of particular groups that have been historically marginalised. My tweet, however, was not addressed to an individual, but to a political organisation. I was not threatening them or attempting to incite violence against them, and I was not making any comment which was derogatory to them with respect to who they *are.* I was, rather, commenting on an aspect of their political behaviour, which, I would strongly argue, is within the purview of legitimate political critique within a democracy. As I mentioned above, the behaviour I was criticising was disseminating a political view through the use of repetitive slogans because it bears a resemblance to cult-like brain-washing techniques, and is therefore something about which we may have legitimate political concerns. I want our public discourse to consist of robust and open debate, and I am deeply worried about the way our political lives are becoming dominated by sound-bites and slogans that close down discussion and thinking. As twitter is a forum for political discussion, I hope also that the value of political critique is one you share with me. Indeed, in your guidelines you say that you are concerned to make sure that everyone can express their political ‘opinions and beliefs without barriers.’ I would hope, therefore, that you will reconsider in this case, and recognise that I was not directing hatred towards a group because of their identity, but was expressing a political opinion with respect to an aspect of a political organisation’s political behaviour.


OMG. I am flattered and that is FREAKY.


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