The Institute of Feminist Thought

Over the last few months I’ve received quite a few emails from people expressing their frustration about the lack of feminism they are receiving in their university studies, or asking me if I would be able to offer any teaching… and it got me thinking…

So, to mark International Women’s Day I’m announcing the first phase of The Institute of Feminist Thought, an online feminist school offering courses in feminist history and philosophy, which I hope will grow into a forum for all kinds of feminist thinking…

I hope as many of you as possible will join me on the journey.

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Why British Feminists Are Such a Bunch of Evil Witches

dead terfs 2

The New York Times, happily peddling hate-speech.

So, before we look at this car-crash, I just want to note that someone came up to me on Twitter on Saturday morning and told me this was in the works, and knew the person writing it. I suggested she ask the author to get in touch and talk to us before she did, which seems not unreasonable by, y’know, normal journalistic standards… I mean, it’s clearly best practice to just make up a load of old cobblers about what people believe and not even bother talking to them first right? Anyway, I’m sure Sophie Lewis was just working in the interests of getting to the bottom of this whole mess and that there’s nothing remotely ideological going on here at all.


Anyway, are we sitting comfortably my lovely crones?

Last week, two British women stormed onto Capitol Hill in Washington for the purposes of ambushing Sarah McBride, the national press secretary of the Human Rights Campaign.

Ms. McBride, a trans woman, had just been part of a meeting between the Parents for Transgender Equality National Council and members of Congress when the Britons — Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, who goes by the name Posie Parker, and Julia Long — barged in. Heckling and misgendering Ms. McBride, the two inveighed against her supposed “hatred of lesbians” and accused her of championing “the rights of men to access women in women’s prison.”

Okay, so, I don’t want to revisit this in a great deal of detail. Along with a number of others, I made my thoughts known about it last week, and as we’re all aware, the resulting fall out made it a pretty unhappy few days for most of us. I do, however, want to just note the use of overblown rhetoric here – Posie and Julia went into a room and door-stopped Sarah McBride. We might disagree about the use of the tactic, but we might also want to ask whether it merits the description ‘ambush,’ accompanied by a load of ‘barging,’ ‘heckling’ and ‘inveighing.’ Socrates made a lifetime-career out of going up to people with power and being an awkward little fucker. He was executed for his trouble by the Athenian state, and in the process, philosophy was gifted its founding story, so….

Ms. Parker, who live-streamed footage of the harassment on Facebook, contended that she had come to Washington because “this ideology” — by which she presumably meant simply being trans — “has been imported into the U.K. by America, so, to stem the flow of female erasure, we have to come to its source.”

Seriously, if the best you’ve got is to ‘presume’ that the ideology of the trans rights movement is the same thing as ‘being trans’ you really have no damn business writing an op-ed about this issue in the New York Times. To repeat, had you bothered to talk to us we would have explained that our opposition is to an ideology committed to the legal and political erasure of sex, which is not the same thing as simply ‘being trans,’ and that further, we have a significant number of trans allies who are also opposed to this ideology. But of course, you didn’t actually want to know anything about that did you?

If the idea that transphobic harassment could be “feminist” bewilders you, you are not alone. In the United States, my adoptive home, the most visible contemporary opponents of transgender rights are right-wing evangelicals, who have little good to say about feminism. In Britain, where I used to live, the situation is different.

That’s right. We’re mostly left-wing feminists, we’re academics and unionists and health workers and teachers and lawyers and fire women and programmers and artists and students and mothers and women’s sector workers and activists and pretty much all manner of other women and lesbians and gay men and concerned parents and trans people, almost none of whom are the Pope or evangelicals. IT’S WEIRD.

There, the most vocal trans-exclusionary voices are, ostensibly, “feminist” ones,

If you want to suggest we’re fake feminists, you better actually make a decent argument, and not rely on throwing shade with quotation marks and ‘ostensibly’s. I thought you were all about the sanctity of self-identification? But you’re perfectly happy to refuse recognition to the fact that this resistance is both feminist, and left-wing, because it doesn’t fit the contours of the ideological narrative you’re selling, even while pretending it’s not ideological in the least.

and anti-trans lobbying is a mainstream activity. Case in point: Ms. Parker told the podcast “Feminist Current” that she’d changed her thinking on trans women after spending time on Mumsnet, a site where parents exchange tips on toilet training and how to get their children to eat vegetables. If such a place sounds benign,

Oh seriously, fuck off with your bullshit misogynist stereotype that mothers are required by patriarchal fiat to sit around looking ‘benign’ while doing nothing more political than mushing carrots and making cupcakes. I am so sick of this endless idiotic pearl-clutching about Mumsnet. Newflash people – mothers are human beings. They’re fully sentient creatures in their own right, and the fact that the people pushing this ideology – while simultaneously putting ‘female erasure’ in quotation marks – have no damn respect for mother’s humanity and political will, or the life-making role they fulfil, is pretty much exemplary of the whole damn problem here. It is not in any way mysterious why a group of women who have pushed new humans out their vaginas, and then dealt with the social experience of mothering in this culture, would be remarkably unreceptive to an ideology claiming that their sex is politically irrelevant. It is also deeply un-mysterious why a biology-erasing thought-system shot-through with a frankly terrifying transhumanist fixation on denigrating the ‘meat-house’ of the body, would treat mothering in general, and Mumsnet in particular, with such consistent contempt. As I’ve said more than once, this is all just so much revamped techno-Platonist mind-over matter body-denigrating dependency-denying bullshit. Seriously people, you are embodied minds, born through women’s bodies, and you’re all going to die someday. For the love of the Goddess, come to fucking terms with it.

consider the words of British writer Edie Miller: “Mumsnet is to British transphobia,” she wrote “what 4Chan is to American fascism.”

So, am I going to examine what the women of Mumsnet are actually saying? No, of course not, I’m just going to wheel out a quote by another pearl-clutcher tidily stringing together the epithets ‘transphobia’ ‘4Chan’ and ‘fascism’ with no justification but hey, who cares, all I need to do is make it absolutely evident that THESE WOMEN ARE EVIL NAZI WITCHES. Babe, you’re writing for the NYT here. This is sub-basement Twitter discourse. Up. Your. Game.

The term coined to identify women like Ms. Parker and Ms. Long is TERF, which stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist.

You wanna say anything about either the history or use of this word? Would you like to say anything about the way it’s been used over the last five years to dehumanise, vilify, and socially coerce any person – woman or man, feminist or non-feminist – who asks any questions about trans ideology or its effects? You wanna try and outline what the beliefs or purported beliefs of the evil witches are, or why they should be burned, or why dehumanising and vilifying your critics without even bothering to engage with their arguments is totes how progressive social movements behave? Nah, guess not.

In Britain, TERFs are a powerful force.

This is some mad Star-Wars-come-Star-Trek shit. I swear they chose the word TERF because it has the same plosive all-caps hardness as the BORG. Makes it so much easier to dehumanise us as some kind of evil monolithic hivemind, spreading its dark powerful energy all across the galaxy.

In fact, of course, we’re just a bunch of middle-aged women and crowdfunded activists who aren’t inclined to be bullied by this juggernaut of an ideology, which, you should note Sophie, is currently being promoted by the largest LGBT charity, a host of other organizations, is being rolled out all across our schools and other public institutions, has convinced all the main political parties, is supported by big business and the spymasters general, and is presently going about using police-forces up and down the country to intimidate people who have the temerity to not comply with its precepts. So, yeah, tell me again who the ‘powerful force’ is here.

If, in the United States, the mainstream media has been alarmingly ready to hear “both sides” on the question of trans people’s right to exist, in Britain, TERFs have effectively succeeded in framing the question of trans rights entirely around their own concerns: that is, how these rights for others could contribute to “female erasure.”

This is unmitigated bullshit of epic proportions (or to be more blunt, it’s a flat-out fucking lie). I’ve been fighting this battle for over 5 years now. Until the summer of last year, we could get absolutely no traction whatsoever in the mainstream media or with any political organizations at all. When the government came to do the consultation on changes to the GRA, they didn’t speak to a single women’s organization about the impact it would have on them. That is how ‘effectively’ we ‘succeeded in framing the question of trans rights entirely around our own concerns.’ And if we have so ‘effectively’ framed the issues ‘entirely around our concerns,’ maybe you could take time to explain to me why not a single mainstream UK political party thinks our concerns are valid? Why women are being disciplined inside those political parties for expressing those concerns? Why women are being thrown out of the Girl Guides for expressing those concerns? Why women are being harassed at universities for expressing those concerns? Or why the police are visiting women and arresting them for expressing those concerns? Perhaps you could explain to me why the EHRC recently felt the need to make a statement underlining that our speech is lawful, prompted by the spectacular success of campaigns to no platform us in universities and other venues.? Do mainstream political movements who have complete control of an agenda usually require human rights bodies to intervene to make it clear that they do, in fact, have a lawful right to express their opinions? Tell me, please.

Many prominent figures in British journalism and politics have been TERFs;

Who? There is a handful of gender critical journalists at The Times, some at The Spectator, a few of the women who write for the New Statesman, and a couple of the female columnists at The Guardian. Who else? And as for prominent politicians, I’m drawing a total blank.

British TV has made a sport of endlessly hosting their lurid rudeness and styling it as courage;

‘Endlessly’ – citations please. ‘Lurid’ – ditto. ‘Sport’ – ditto ditto. This is all rhetoric and no trousers.

British newspapers seemingly never tire of broadsides against the menace of “gender ideology.” (With time, the term TERF has become a catchall for all anti-trans feminists, radical or not.)

Well, apparently our incessant ‘broadsides’ consist of two links to the same well-argued case made by a left-wing transsexual woman. Um.

The split between the American and British center-left on this issue was thrown into sharp relief last year, when The Guardian published an editorial on potential changes to a law called the Gender Recognition Act, which would allow people in Britain to self-define their gender. The editorial was headlined “Where Rights Collide,” and argued that “women’s concerns about sharing dormitories or changing rooms with ‘male-bodied’ people must be taken seriously.”

Yes, it took us an entire summer of pretty much tireless argument and campaigning to change the political climate sufficiently to make it even possible for The Guardian to publish an editorial which recognised that there is a rights-conflict here. Which is the fundamental point we have been asking to be recognised. Of course, by framing our concerns here as ‘anti-trans,’ you are doing no more that repeating exactly the gesture of refusing that recognition. So much for the debate being entirely structured around our concerns, eh?

Some of The Guardian’s United States-based journalists published a disavowal, arguing that the editorial’s points “echo the position of anti-trans legislators who have pushed overtly transphobic bathroom bills.”

Americans-read-British-politics-only-through-their-own-lens shocker.

A curious facet of the groundswell of TERFism in Britain is that, in fact, the phenomenon was born in the United States. It emerged out the shattered remnants of the 1960s New Left, a paranoid faction of American 1970s radical feminism that the historian Alice Echols termed “cultural feminism” to distinguish it, and its wounded attachment to the suffering-based femaleness it purports to celebrate, from other strands of women’s liberation.

Number one – In what universe can you give a supposed genealogy for a movement when you’ve given no clear account of what that movement is based on, what it believes, and haven’t even bothered speaking to any of its members? What you have in Britain right now is a left-wing (mostly) feminist resistance to a movement that is attempting to politically and legally erase sex and which is concerned about the conservative implications of essentialising gender, and medicalising gender non-conforming children without due oversight. Some of us are radical feminists, and some of us are other types of feminists, and some of us are not even feminists at all. You cannot trace a straight line between what is going on here now, and something that happened in the US in the 70s, without giving a detailed explanation of the intellectual continuity you are positing. Unless, the only intellectual continuity you are positing is ‘people who think that women are oppressed largely because they are female,’ which many of us think is, y’know, just ‘feminism.’ Which also brings us to…

Number two – “wounded attachment to…suffering-based femaleness.” WOW. So, you’ve been reading Wendy Brown hey? I know, isn’t it disgusting, all those women sitting around talking about being oppressed on the basis of being female and how it’s damaging to them? URGH. GROSS. Such victims. Isn’t it much nicer to talk about agency and empowerment and flowers and unicorns?? Lady, if you can’t look male dominance and the damage it does to women straight in the eye, stay away from proffering your opinion on our liberation politics eh?

The movement crossed over to Britain in the 1980s, when cultural feminism was among the lesbian-separatist elements of antinuclear protest groups who saw themselves as part of a “feminist resistance” to patriarchal science, taking a stand against nuclear weapons, test-tube babies and male-to-female transsexual surgery alike.

You wanna shit on the women of Greenham Common while you’re at it do you? Lovely.

In America, however, TERFism today is a scattered community in its death throes, mourning the loss of its last spaces, like the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which ended in 2015.

“You lost your women’s festival because you were bullied into closing it down, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. We are the forces of love and light, here to eradicate all the witches, but the witches have no cause for concern, and when they say they’re concerned it’s just proof that they’re evil witches lol.”

And so the strangely virulent form that TERFism takes in Britain today,

VIRULENT KLAXON. It’s always great when progressive people compare their critics to viruses and plagues. Because, we’re totally the Nazis in this equation.

and its influence within the British establishment,

What influence? The one that means the police keep visiting us for committing thoughtcrimes?

requires its own separate, and multipronged, explanation.

Multi-pronged? This better be good.

Ms. Parker and Ms. Long may not know it, but they’re likely influenced by the legacy of the British “Scepticism”

Well, I’m a hippy post-structuralist earth-worshipping witch, but whatever you say. It’s true that some of us are sceptics, many of us are not, and a whole bunch of the sceptics and humanists are currently blitzed on the Kool-Aid.

movement of the 1990s and early 2000s, which mobilized against the perceived spread of postmodernism in English universities as well as homeopathy and so-called “junk science.” Hence, the impulse among TERFs to proclaim their “no-nonsense” character; witness the billboard Ms. Parker paid to have put up last fall dryly defining a woman as an “adult human female.”

You can call it ‘dry,’ or you can call it ‘the first thing it says in the dictionary.’

Such a posture positions queer theory and activism as individualistic, narcissistic and thus somehow fundamentally un-British.

What the hell has scepticism got to do with thinking Queer Theory is ‘individualist’ and ‘narcissistic’? If you make ‘gender’ a defining property of individuals, destroy the analysis of gender as structural power, undermine the basis of women’s class solidarity, and then run around screaming at people for committing the sin of not respecting your sovereign identity, you might well find that people think you’re being ‘individualist’ and ‘narcissistic,’ and it might well have fuck all to do with scepticism.

It’s pretty comedy though that you present British people thinking that ‘narcissism’ and ‘individualism’ might be un-British like it’s some kind of bad thing. FWIW, you might have been in the States too long. And if you fancied following through that thought with a semblance of integrity – and factored in that we also have a pretty noble history of being really unfond of totalitarianism – you might start getting close to answering your alleged question (not that you ever wanted to).

It’s also worth noting that the obsession with supposed “biological realities” of people

Male and female people don’t stop existing because you put the word ‘supposed’ in a sentence.

like Ms. Parker are part of a long tradition of British feminism interacting with colonialism and empire.

I feel a ‘TWO-SPIRIT KLAXON’ coming on.

 Imperial Britain imposed policies to enforce heterosexuality and the gender binary,

Woah, hold up there. Britain used to be a society governed by compulsory heterosexuality. Like the vast majority of other patriarchal societies on the face of the planet. I’m sure you can make an argument that in some places colonized by Britain, there were different sexual practices… I’m not sure what the hell that has to do with the existence of male and female people, except I do, because people of your ideological disposition can’t tell the difference between sex and gender anymore, and so you think the challenge to the gender binary that all of us welcome (and which the destigmatisation of homosexuality contributes to in some significant ways), is the same thing as thinking male and female people don’t exist. Which it’s not. Also, maybe you’d also like to pay attention to the fact that many of the women you’re vilifying here are lesbians, and many others are gender non-conforming. We’re not trying to uphold the fucking gender binary you lemon. We’re trying to stop the political erasure of sex. How many damn times.

while simultaneously constructing the racial “other” as not only fundamentally different, but freighted with sexual menace;

Let’s just throw in the suggestion that we’re all racists. I mean, you’ve done ‘fascists’ and ‘homophobes’ already so you really have to go for the full trifecta of evil-imputation don’t you? I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me in a way that makes a stick of historical sense how thinking male and female people exist is an artefact of white supremacy. (The Black radfems are pretty interested in your answer as well btw). Constructing people as an ‘other’ is a primary mechanism of white supremacy, correct, but thinking male and female people exist is not a mechanism of othering. You know what is a mechanism of othering though, and, arguably, the prototypical mechanism? Refusing to grant humanity to women in their own terms, defining women through the projections and discourses of male people, and vilifying them as evil hysterical witches when they won’t play ball with those projections and start telling you to get stuffed.

With respect to the ‘sexual menace’ of non-white males. This is not women’s discourse. It is a marked feature of racist patriarchal discourses that they are obsessed with the sexual menace of non-white males to white women. (I’ve talked about this with respect to Anders Breivik here and here). This whole discourse functions through a logic of sovereignty in which racist white men tend to read the bodies of ‘their’ women as symbolic of ‘their’ territory – this, for example, is why rape is such a constant feature of territorial invasion, why ‘non-colonized’ territory is described as ‘virgin’, it’s actually at play in the whole symbolic structure of territoriality and invasion and possession which underpins the Western thinking of penetrative sex (see here and here). What has to be understood is this is part of what we would call in French feminist thought, the masculine imaginary. The white men who constructed non-white men as sexual predators were also, let’s remember, quite happily raping their own wives, and, in the context of American colonialism, the non-white women they considered their property. And they didn’t give one single thought to it because only rape committed by the ‘other’ signified any kind of injury in their discursive system (to their own property or territory) which I can assure you, was not how the women subject to their violence experienced it. Which is all to say, you cannot read feminist analyses of male violence straightforwardly through the way men have constructed rape for their own territorial purposes. Unless of course you’ve forgotten that women actually exist and have their own experience of the world. Oh, wait.

The point here is that you are conflating the feminist analysis of rape with the way rape is constructed by racist white sovereigntist men, and placing women in the position of those racist white sovereigntist men (oh hai there cis/trans binary, conveniently flipping the axis of oppression). And what you are effectively doing, therefore, is undermining the whole of the feminist analysis of male violence, which some of us might think is, y’know, not very feminist.

from there, it’s not a big leap to see sexual menace in any sort of “other,”

Trans women are male. That is not an act of ‘othering.’ It’s just a fact.

and “biological realities” as essential and immutable.

So are you going to explain to me how male people are actually female people or not? I am so beyond done with people wheeling out vague critiques of ‘essentialism’ as if the existence of anything in the world was a product of damn essences. And I’m even more done with people handwaving our concerns about the erasure of women while wheeling out vague claims of essentialism to erase women and only women, and thinking that somehow that makes them fucking feminists. (If you haven’t managed to understand that women are human yet, and that the cause of women’s liberation doesn’t reside in pretending such hateful creatures don’t really exist because you subliminally believe that if neither you nor anyone else is a woman then you might get a shot at the human-box then seriously, I get it, but I need you to keep your internalized misogyny the hell away from our politics.)

(Significantly, many Irish feminists have rejected Britain’s TERFism, citing their experience of colonialism explicitly as part of the reason.)

Oh, well that proves your intellectual gibberish must be true then doesn’t it?

But perhaps the biggest factor in the rise of TERFism has been the relative dearth of social movements in Britain over the past three decades. It’s telling that Ms. Parker thinks it was the United States that exported “political correctness” and ideas like “gender identity” to Britain; it might even be fair to say that she’s right.

In other parts of the world, including America, mass movements in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s around the effects of globalization and police brutality have produced long overdue dialogue on race, gender and class, and how they all interact. In Britain, however, the space for this sort of dialogue has been much more limited. As a result, middle- and upper-class white feminists have not received the pummeling from black and indigenous feminists that their American counterparts have, and thus, their perspectives retain a credibility and a level of influence in Britain that the Michigan Womyn’s Festival could have only dreamed of.

Um, you do realise that we’re all on the fancy new internets now and have been entirely enmeshed with American discourse for at least the last decade don’t you? How did you manage to have this idea in the middle of a paragraph in which you also mentioned ‘globalization’? Do you not remember the bit when American Intersectional Twitter killed Suffragette dead by reading it entirely through an American lens that made no sense to the political context of early twentieth century Britain? Do you not realise that our opposition to trans ideology is heavily indebted to being exposed to this Tumblrised ‘colonialism invented the gender binary’ bullshit for the last however long? Is it ever possible for you people to actually perform any fidelity to thinking or context or history and try and understand what is actually going on here, or do you always have to resort to just making shit up and patronisingly pretending that we would all stop being such evil witches if only we ‘educated ourselves’ better? We educated ourselves. And then we produced reams and reams of explanation about why we think this is ideologically, materiality, ethically, and politically flawed, none of which you have bothered to pay the scantest attention to.

Curiously, Ms. Parker and Ms. Long’s trans-Atlantic jaunt has led to a split in the ranks. Over the past few days, large segments of British TERFism have disowned both of them on social media for their Washington stunt, calling it an “ambush,” and them a “liability.” Whether Ms. Parker and Ms. Long went too far for a movement that, to date, seemingly has yet to hit a low, remains to be seen.

So, you’re not going to say anything about the political context of our movement which explains why the response to Posie and Julia’s trip was not at all curious, and was, in fact, given that we’re left wing, actually rather predictable? I’m shocked I tell you.

It is revealing, however, where Ms. Parker feels she still has friends: On her same trip to Washington, the woman claiming to be a feminist, standing up for the rights of lesbians everywhere, made sure to drop by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.

Oh, there it is, the reason, which you completely fail to link to the point above, so very inexplicably. It’s probably just as well to finish on a disingenuous note anyway, full marks at least for your consistency.

Sophie Lewis, a feminist theorist and geographer, is the author of the forthcoming “Full Surrogacy Now.”

Of course she bloody is.

On a Specious Reply

This isn’t a general essay, more the upshot of the ongoing intra-philosophical spats, so it might not be of interest to all of you..

So, anyway, someone calling themselves Dr Specious (ho ho), possibly one of our philosophical colleagues in disguise, turned up and pass-agg pointed me and Kathleen and Holly at this paper, which I haven’t yet read fully, but makes the prima facie sketchy claim that we should assign gender (do you means sex?) not on the basis of ‘facts’ but on the basis of political calculations related to oppression (there’s a lot to say about this in itself, some of which I point towards in what follows, but, yeah, you want us to utterly conflate judgements of fact and value and then rearrange reality so it’s determined by nothing but power – or the alleged critique of power – do you??? What could possibly go wrong????) Anyway, we got into a bit of a back and forth, in which my take was ‘if you wanna run around aggressively calling people bigots you should probably demonstrate that you have decently engaged with their arguments beforehand.’ I sent them a link to this, and was promptly told I didn’t deserve engagement. However, this morning this turned up, along with the proclamation that it was “mostly incoherent and hypocritical drivel.” Well now…


I started typing up a response, which, in the immemorial words of the ever lovely Arthur Chu, got ‘obnoxiously long.’ (Whyyyyy must people insist on thinking in long sequences of joined up ideas?? WE WANT BAD ANALOGIES AND SLOGANS AND WE WANT THEM NOW). Anyway, it got long, so I decided to stick it here. Take and/or make of it what you will 🙂

Numbers refer to the points above.

4. What it means is that second person pronouns are extended to you by another person. The phrase ‘my personal pronouns’ is an ontological contradiction. You do not ‘own’ the pronouns other people use to recognise you, because they are a speech act which marks another person’s recognition of you. When you claim that another person’s recognition of you is something you ‘own,’ you are making a claim to have something akin to a property right over another person’s recognition, that is, you are claiming you have the right to dispose of someone else’s recognition as you see fit, and you are further attempting to give leverage to the claim that is they who have done something wrong if they challenge this right. Other people’s recognition is not the kind of thing over which one can, or should, attempt to claim property rights. Because other people’s perceptions and judgements about what they perceive are fundamental to their own freedom of belief, and are integral to their own right to understand reality as it presents itself to them. Attempting to appropriate them, make specious property claims over them, and enforce those specious property claims through more or less explicit social sanction, up to and including shouting at strangers in public space, is a form of domination. It is also an attempt to exert pressure to undermine their own perceptions – that is, it is, precisely, gaslighting.

(If you’re interested, here is a position on this laid out by our trans allies with which I broadly agree).

9 and 13. I will deal with the nonsense name analogy in a moment. So, to deal with the other issue, yes, social pressure is how we enforce norms, correct.

Two observations:

a) I find it pretty interesting that a political movement framed in significant respect by a critique of supposed anti-normativity, and a clear exploration of the disciplinary nature of norms, and how they function to construct and enforce identity, is suddenly so very interested to defend itself in terms of ‘but social pressure is just how we enforce norms *shrug*’ To wit: radical queer and trans activism is, like, the least queer thing I have ever seen.

b) I’m not actually one of those people who thinks norms are necessarily bad (and I’m pretty suspicious of an intellectual movement that so readily tells us norms are bad when they interfere with men’s sexual gratification (Mr Foucault), but is more than happy to wheel them out to make people conform to queer normativity). Anyway, the point is, I think it’s kind of important not to either accept or reject norms on the basis of the fact that they are norms, but rather, to interrogate them carefully, in each instance, and examine what they are for, what harms they are protecting us against, or what goods they are trying to enact. That is, we don’t just get to say, ‘pronouns are a norm and there is no issue when we use social opprobrium to try and enforce them,’ without interrogating that norm.

Here there are two issues, one of which is to do with the issue of possible conflicts over the harms and goods that issue from the enforcement of that norm, and the other to do with the nature of the norm – and these are both actually interlinked.

i) As your example of the n-slur indicates, one of the issues here is a thorough conflation of judgements of value and judgements of fact. The n-slur is entirely a judgement of value, it is a word that serves no function other than derogation, and derogation that is placed evidently within a historical structure of power. It is the conceit of your political ideology that people’s judgements about the sex of another person is an analogous example, but this relies on the claim that the only reason we might want to insist that someone is the sex that we perceive them to be, rather than the gender their pronouns assert they are, is for the purposes of derogation – and this is actually the basis of the entire tottering pile of normative coercion that you have constructed to enforce your ideology. You seem to be unable to comprehend that some people care about reality because they care about reality, because we think that coercively enforcing norms that do not correspond to our perceptions of reality is the ontological heart of totalitarianism – like, Orwellian is overused, but really, this is Orwellian, to the letter. If you destroy the reality base of norms, or of any shared aspect of social life, you are saying that the only thing that should determine what we all agree to be true, is power. Maybe you want to live in that world? If you do, I can only conclude that you’re either an authoritarian, or an idiot. It is not, y’know, the case, that ‘alternative facts’ are really bad when Trump uses them and totes fine when ‘progressives’ use them,

ii) This conflict over fact and value is also related to the fact that this is basically a conflict over harms. What you will not acknowledge is that we are resisting this because we consider the erasure of sex to be a harm to women. I appreciate that people experience it as a harm when their identity is not validated through social recognition. That is why the vast vast majority of us are happy to extend that recognition on the basis of human decency, and kindness. What has happened, however, is that the trans rights movement has refused to accept the adequacy of freely offered recognition as politeness and turned ‘my pronouns’ into an enforced mandate – including people getting fired from their employment for not complying. (“You won’t be imprisoned” “You won’t be physically forced.” No, you’ll just be called a bigot, socially ostracised, no platformed, the police might be sent around to check your thoughts, and you might lose your livelihood. None of this is in any way coercive, but we are doing it to enforce norms mind.)

At the point at which people started telling us that there was no such thing as male and female biology, and that the being of a man or a woman was determined only by gender identity, you converted a norm that was functioning on the basis of politeness into an ontological judgement that many people do not accept, and then you attempted to use that as the basis by which to demand access to services etc. That is, you took something extended in kindness, turned it illegitimately into a statement of fact, and then used that to try and make rights claims to services already being used by female people, who have reasons to be concerned about the presence of male-bodied people that you are only ever capable of handwaving and dismissing (ps – if you want to talk about norms and harms, you don’t get to pretend that the harms to one group must be given unilateral precedence over those to another group). Which is all to say, you guys have seriously taken the piss. And you’ll find that people cease wanting to be polite and respectful to people who have taken that recognition and used it to try and take their rights away. Strangely.

18. ‘Some feminists believe that the performance of gender doesn’t change someone’s sex…what’s the point here?’ Are you fucking kidding me? The point is that you are trying to mandate that we all agree with an ideology that is committed to the political erasure of sex. We think that sex matters, politically, and that legally abolishing sex is very bad for women. That’s the point.

19. Your ideological movement circles insistently around the claim that all our analysis and objections are illegitimate, and that everything can just be handwaved as an expression of our hatred or phobia. What I mean by ‘this is not a pretext’ is that we want our objections and arguments to be dealt with and not consistently dismissed, and we’d like it recognised that we exist, in our own right, have our own interests, our own analysis of the world, and that it’s not ALL ABOUT YOU. (On this, and re: both the stuff on narcissism we’ll get onto in a bit, and Christa Peterson’s response to our Daily Nous piece, can you, for a second, think about the absolute narcissism of reducing a whole slew of different feminist objections to the acronym ‘TERF.’ Female people will be defined only in terms of what they will not give to male people. How very novel.)

20 a) Indeed we might. And let us also note, that you cannot get through any form of intellectual engagement, even with something as sober as the text I gave you here, without being snarky. I said this to you yesterday, and I will say it again. The aggression coming from you people is staggering, and you’re so high on your piety you are completely impervious to what a bunch of bullies you look like to many of the observers of this conflict. I do not want to be part of any form of progressivism that has pickled its brains in this much Zizek-vibe. To return to the point about ‘feminism,’ it looks like a load of cock-waving Red-Terror-romanticising masculinist bullshit to me.

b) I’ve missed some steps? Or you are just being disingenuous? One of the main justifications for controlling our speech is that we are ‘making people unsafe’ and this claim of ‘unsafety’ is frequently leveraged by the additional claim that the kind of violence that trans people are subject to is in some way produced by feminists. Where are my stats? The stats that prove that patriarchal men don’t commit violence against trans people because they have read too much feminism (or are influenced by feminism)? I think if you want to make that claim, the onus to demonstrate that it’s not the obvious bullshit it looks like is on you. I’ve explored this is detail here.

21. The name analogy. Proper names are not analogous to words referring to people’s sex. Proper names have no semantic content other than denoting the person to which they are attached (not quite true, to be more precise, they don’t have any denotive content other than picking out a particular person, proper names do of course have historical, class-based, ethnic and racialised connotations and they are sexed (clearly not before 1492, when sex was invented)). However, they do not name any specific material feature of that person’s being (other than denoting also, their sex). I cannot perceive a person’s name by looking at them. I do not walk down the street and more or less consciously perceive the names of everyone that passes me by. If someone tells me their name, there is no basis, prima facie, on which I might dispute that name, because I have no perception of my own of some material facet of their being which may contradict it. And there is no political power structure which is attached to ‘the class of people of x proper name,’ and which has led me to have a certain number of bad experiences which correlates with ‘the class of people of x proper name.’ That is, they don’t function in anything resembling the same way. Apples and oranges as we say in the trade. One more for the ‘big bag of shit analogies.’

22. ‘Conceptually identical’ means, in this context, ‘the same idea as.’ It’s incredibly opaque I know. *Flat stare*

As I’ve said, your analogy is rubbish, but even were it not, calling someone by the wrong name would be an act of impoliteness, and not an act of structural violence or oppression, unless you could demonstrate that there was an entire power structure which qualified for the description of oppression which hinged on illegitimately calling people ‘Becky’ when it was not their name. (We might wonder here whether that this choice of name is entirely accidental. It’s actually interesting right? Because no one is going to argue, given the nature of power, that calling white women ‘Becky’ is a form of oppression. Derision, maybe. Justified derision containing important political critique? In part. A more-or-less conscious way for you to slip in that endlessly-recycled imputation that only oppressive white women believe in sex? Maybe that too).

And while we’re here, what you guys really need to do, is actually work out a coherent account of why people believing something as manifestly true as the fact that mammals are sexually dimorphic is actually the basis of a historical act of structural oppression. And it needs to be an account that actually bears some relation to the historical record, doesn’t rely on ahistorical appropriative racist bullshit like ‘colonialism invented the gender binary,’ and gives a convincing explanation of why the recognition of sexual dimorphism functions in itself (i.e. that doesn’t conflate sex with its social construction through patriarchal gender) as a form of oppression, and is not merely the recognition of a material fact. I have outlined several times, that I fully accept that trans people experience discrimination as an adjunct of patriarchal gender. I have not, however, ever heard an account that convinced me that trans people are oppressed qua trans people as a class by a system that is specifically motivated by the benefit conferred to the class of non-trans people, and I have never heard a convincing account of how that mechanism might hinge specifically on the recognition of sexual dimorphism in itself.  And on that, I don’t know if you’ve clocked it, but your ideology might be uniquely distinguished by being based on dereification rather than reification. You’ve taken the normal functioning of ideology – ‘passing the constructed off as the natural’ – and flipped it, so we get ‘passing the natural off as socially constructed.’ It seems rather apt for the spirit of the age, don’t you think? We like to call it ‘the unconcealment of patriarchal ideality.’

23 and 26. I recognise trans people’ needs. That’s why I think this is a rights conflict, and I want to work out a solution which can meet trans people’s needs without violating women’s rights to comfort, dignity, safety, political representation etc. Quite what solution we could find is going to be a hard road. We won’t start walking it until we we start to recognise that both sides here are people, with needs and vulnerabilities, and start trying to thrash it out. Your move.

It may however be the case that I don’t think that someone else’s needs immediately give them license to something (didn’t we used to have some old idea about other people’s rights ending at my nose or something?). Because we don’t generally accept, say, that people have a right to sex from other people because they need or want it, do we? (Apart from the fact, of course, that your movement actually makes that argument all the time – and specifically in relation to lesbians’ self-determination, and to the question of sex by deception (apparently ‘sexual autonomy’ is not an absolute right when it interferes with trans people’s validation – are you joining the dots about why we think this might be some narcissistic rapey bullshit yet?)) In fact, in general, if we were using a consistent moral calculus, we’d recognise that the right to refuse someone something we don’t want to give generally trumps someone else’s needs. Because forcing someone to give you something when they don’t want to is, um, narcissistic domination (aka, ‘the psychic structure of rape, colonialism and material appropriation in general’.)

Anyway, it’s interesting you should bring up mirrors, because…

25. Wow. You really don’t understand the first thing about the feminist critique of psychoanalysis, object relations theory, French feminist philosophy, or the analysis of patriarchal narcissism, do you? True fact: We think primary narcissism is a retroactive patriarchal construction used by masculinist thinkers in order to obscure the mutually constitutive nature of human subjectivity. We further think that construction is used to reify narcissism as the normative model of human subjectivity, and functions to exculpate and reify the developmental, social, and ontological system which justifies male narcissism and the domination it creates. And we think that when many adults – often of the male variety – dominate other people, often in a modality of narcissistic rage, and refuse to recognise that they can’t always get what they want because other people have needs and have said no, that they actually are, indeed, having a big person’s tantrum.

If you understood this, you would understand how male narcissism connects male violence, the appropriation of women’s bodies, the domination of nature, capitalist appropriation, colonisation and the legacy of racialised violence. You would understand that the anti-sovereigntist critique you have reductively collapsed into the normative axiom of ‘inclusion’ (and then turned into another binary), is, at its root, about the critique of patriarchal narcissism, and that when you make of it another binary (WE GOOD. TERF BAAAAAD), use it to other your critics, and to attempt to coerce and appropriate, I’m inclined to think you haven’t learned a fucking thing from the Derridean strand of post-structuralism. Which is all to say, I am beyond bored of being piously lectured about being a bad feminist by people who don’t actually understand how patriarchy works. Go read some Irigaray. FFS.

28. I refer you to my previous point about your apparent non-familiarity with feminist philosophy’s elaboration of models of relational intersubjectivity, and the critique of patriarchy as fundamentally structured around the narcissistic inability to enact intersubjective recognition. The master-slave dialectic is a reifying masculinist lie, say all the witches and the mothers.

Shall we burn them for it?

Judith Butler: How To Disappear Patriarchy In Three Easy Steps


TRIGGER WARNING: Fucking Pissed Off

So, as many of you are aware, the high-priestess of genderology decided to momentarily descend from her exalted academic plinth and relay her ‘thoughts’ on the ongoing internecine shitshow that she, probably more than anyone else, has helped to create. Except of course that, with her usual intellectual integrity, the thoughts she decided to relay about said shitshow totally ignored what is really going on, in favour of pretending that this is a conflict between the wibbly-wobbly-gender-and-sex-is-fluid-rah-rah-liberation crowd, and, basically, um, the Pope. Despite being entirely predictable, this level of disingenuous erasure, is, nonetheless, pretty staggering. As Judy is actually more than well aware, this is a conflict which turns, fundamentally, on the fault-line in feminism that she, in fact, inaugurated – a fault-line between those of us who think patriarchy is a system of sex-based male dominance enacted through cultural mechanisms which we could call – if we can still stomach the word – ‘gender,’ and those who think that patriarchy is…like, seriously, what the fuck do they even think it is….some kind of free-floating cultural system that has nothing to do with actual bodies or their appropriation and domination, a randomly generated set of signs and signifying practices that shape our subjectivity, a thought which leads, in practice, to staking feminism’s whole liberation project on the epic transcendent power of some spectacularly superficial idea of gender-fucking.

promo colour

Look, I’m a feminist, and a Prince-fan. I like superficial gender-fucking as much as the next woman. (I actually think Prince’s gender-fucking wasn’t merely superficial, but that’s another story). BUT, and this in some sense points towards the heart of the problem here, superficial gender-fucking has fuck all effect on the fundamental patterns of male dominance. As someone said to me yesterday on Twitter, the wires are currently full of male people running around stanning for the absolute progressive power of gender fluidity, who seem to think they are the living breathing instantiation of ‘smash the patriarchy’ because they dare to pair some nail-varnish with their beards, all while acting like exactly the same entitled, narcissistic, dependency-denying, mind-over-matter, female-erasing assholes that they always were. If gender isn’t just a penchant for gold lamé pocketbooks and lace and is actually something to do with the psychic, material, ontological and economic structures which underpin male dominance, then, lo, it turns out you still need an analysis of male dominance if you’re going to actually do a bloody thing about it. And I’m sorry Judy, I know you were traumatized by Dworkin and MacKinnon trying to ban porn, but having an analysis of male dominance doesn’t actually make me, y’know, the fucking Pope.

Yesterday I spent the day studiously ignoring the misogynists over on Benjamin’s YouTube channel screaming all the things misogynists scream when women point – even calmly, while smiling – at male violence and say they really want it to stop. (If anyone wants to do a statistical analysis I’d be interested in the relative proportions of a) NAMALT b) You’re incapable of reason c) Stop emasculating us d) Unfuckable e) She was asking for it f) ‘We hunted the mammoth’). Meanwhile, Emily the Nazi Hunter was posing with semi-automatic machine guns and wheeling off a point-by-point plan for ‘God’s Own Avenging Angel’s TERF Apocalypse’ to a soundtrack of intersectionalibfems excitedly chanting ‘Big Dick Energy.’ (For ripping the thorough piss out of it, I salute you all). And, with the sound of men being emasculated by a razor ad still ringing in my ears, everywhere else I looked, that posturing smug Donkey Kong meme spilled like dick-waving poison out of that damn Twitch thread in which a bunch of glitter-spattered Gamergaters sat around screaming ‘FUCK YOU EAT SHIT’ at Graham in support of the great progressive cause of Suzie Green medicalising GNC kids with absolutely no oversight.

This week there’s a conference going on at Brighton University, in which a load of ‘critical thinkers’ will sit around and think very critically. Judith Butler is doing the star turn. I was supposed to go with a friend, and put on my polite academic face, and listen while she is lauded by room full of people, many of them male, who cannot get over how fucking psyched they are that ‘feminism’ no longer asks them to even acknowledge, let alone challenge, male dominance. I cannot and will not do it. At this moment the thought makes me rage. And so what I want to do, instead, is to sit here, and try and channel my rage into a (partial) excavation of how, and why, Judith Butler performed the magical and much-rewarded feat of making patriarchy – and the critique of patriarchy – vanish from feminism.

Step One: The Erasure of Sex

If Butler had a shred of honesty in her, she’d at least have the intellectual decency, while proclaiming that the current resistance to trans ideology must cease (we all know how much you abhor normative coercion Judy), to acknowledge that the root of this conflict is the effort by trans activism to ideologically mandate the political, social and legal erasure of sex. Trans ideology has thrown all manner of arguments at the task of making male and female people disappear, some of which stem directly from Butler, and most of which she alludes to in places.

  1. The instrumentalization of intersex conditions (that one turns up in Gender Trouble, and was trotted out again in the NS)
  2. The denial of the sex/gender distinction (also in Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter, and which I took apart here)…Which then leads to…
  3. The idea that because all concepts are human constructions (duh), then everything they name is likewise constructed. As we saw when I picked apart the NS piece, Butler is very fond of making some kind of claim that the determination of sex is historical or cultural, and then moving seamlessly to running sex and gender together as if they are exactly the same kind of cultural phenomenon, which they’re fucking not. ‘Mountains’ are not the same kind of thing as ‘justice,’ and not remotely the same kind of thing as ‘telling male people they mustn’t be a sissy.’ Sorry.
  4. ‘Colonialism invented the gender binary.’ Just fucking no. For all the reasons I rant about here and here.
  5. ‘Intersectionality means there’s not one experience of being a woman because different people’s experience of being a woman is differently affected by different axes of oppression, and feminism used to exclude Black women and that was bad and now it should include male people too because that’s just like including Black women.’ Where to fucking start?
  6. ‘Women can only exist if there is a magic essence of womanhood and women are all different so there is no magic essence of womanhood, and feminism has always been against essentialism so it’s feminist to think that women don’t exist even though you must also believe that trans women are women because they possess the magic essence of womanhood which is also what makes you a woman.’ FFS. Read some Heidegger. Existence precedes essence. Nothing exists because of essences, and the only thing that everyone wants to abolish because it doesn’t have an essence is fucking women.

I’ve written elsewhere, and will hopefully do so in more detail, about how a sexual difference reading of Western thought would posit, that, in fact, we live in a culture in which female people, as actually existing human beings, have, in representational terms, never existed. The whole cultural system is a hall of mirrors. An endless series of male projections onto women, in which women’s role is to reflect, to grant recognition, and to serve as an emotional, sexual and reproductive resource. I always used to read this claim of Irigaray’s as a metaphor of the structure of patriarchal male narcissism. Having now seen how easy it was to convince the whole world and his aunt that erasing female people is the path of true liberation, and the total inability of most people to even grasp what we’re screaming about – let alone consider whether we have a point – I think ‘metaphor’ is really underselling it. The point is this, gender, as a hierarchical system of male power, has always depended on refusing to recognise that there is class of human persons who have all the attributes of full human personhood and are female. To wit: “Feminism is the radical idea that women are people.” WE ARE STILL NOT REMOTELY CLOSE TO GETTING THIS.

Anyway, for all you friendly neighbourhood male-dominance-deniers out there, this is all remarkably helpful. If you don’t recognise that female people exist, and that male people exist, then you can’t, necessarily, recognise that there is a cultural power structure in which male people are the default humans, and female people are defined, appropriated, and erased by the cultural projections – and the acts of domination those projections impel and license – which flow from male people towards female people. If you can’t recognise that male and female people exist, then you can’t recognise that all these cultural tropes flying about that we call gender, have anything to do with a power relation between male and female people, with the prioritization of the needs of male people, and with the positing of women as a resource in a way that seriously fucks with their humanity. That is, if you don’t recognise that male and female people exist, there can be no male dominance, there can be no female oppression, there can, in short, be no fucking patriarchy. And there can’t be any female resistance to patriarchy either. Stunning work Judith. Let’s make you the boss of feminism. Back-slaps all round.

Step Two: Power Just Goes About Circulating

As if pretending male and female people don’t exist wasn’t enough to bang this patriarchy thing on the head, Butler has another trick up her sleeve. This comes in the form of the Foucauldian account of power, as I’ve discussed in more detail here. The basis of the feminist analysis of patriarchy is that power functions as a hierarchy, and that it functions, in my French feminist frame, through a simultaneous narcissistic gesture of refusing recognition and appropriation (because you can’t be accused of appropriating something if it isn’t even there can you???). However, for Foucault, and Butler following him, power is not a hierarchy, it doesn’t work in anyone’s particular interests, and it doesn’t have any underlying pattern or stable structure. Rather, power is something which is diffused throughout society, and which, as we will see soon, works to sculpt and structure subjectivity. Foucault himself famously wrote three volumes of the History of Sexuality without ever stopping to consider whether there might be something resembling a stable pattern about the way in which male desire (or entitlement) impacted men’s relations to other people’s bodies. Butler has never considered it (although she has denied it plenty).

Step Three: Describing is Prescribing

The first two steps remove both the material basis for there being any particular relation between the sexes and denies that there could be any stable power hierarchy. Poof goes the patriarchy. Having cleaned up that irksome mess, the third step, which also stems from Foucault – and is repeated ad infinitum by Foucauldian and queer feminists – strikes at the very core of second wave feminist analysis. It follows from the half reasonable claim that social norms function to produce subjects, and morphs pretty seamlessly into the claim that descriptions of social phenomena become normative, and hence actually work to produce the things they describe. When coupled with the belief that there is no basis for an account of ‘the kind of things that are harmful to humans’ (and certainly not one that says anything as gauche as ‘domination is harmful to humans’), you basically end up with an alleged system of critique that has no moral calculus other than ‘norms are BAD.’ (Oh hai there Queer Theory, towering over the academy, not being normative in the slightest.)

What this leads to then, as I documented with respect to Butlerian accounts of rape, is that critiques of domination come to be seen as the sites which actually produce rather than critique harms. And then a funny thing happens to feminism. Instead of spending its time critiquing male power and the damage it does to women, it then spends almost all its time critiquing feminism for harming women by describing the structures that harm them. (Super handy guys, and I’m sure nothing to do with the irresistible rise of porn-bro feminists like Noah frickin Berlatsky). The Butlerian accounts of rape are all about how rape prosecutions are terrible because they ‘reinforce the gender binary,’ and consciousness-raising about rape is terrible because it ‘creates’ victims and describing acts of mass rape is terrible because it ‘undermines women’s agency.’ And this is also how we get to one of the greatest male-violence erasing ruses of them all – the idea that there is no inherent danger posed to prostitutes by men, that prostitution is in no way positioned within an matrix of male sexual entitlement and economic power, and that the entire effort of sex-work activism should be aimed squarely at calling feminists names for creating the ‘whorephobia’ which, allegedly, represents the sum total of what makes prostitution harmful.

This, as with all third wave feminism, is just so much male-pandering bullshit. For reasons I’ve yet to get to the bottom of, I spent a good deal of time trying to work out how the modern-day intersectional catechism was in any way coherent, until I realised that the only thing that held it all together was that it all benefited men. Pole dancing. Porn. Prostitution. Carceral feminism. Trans activism. Individual empowerfulment over class analysis. Denying the existence of female people. And so, what I want to think through here, by way of wending towards the ending of my venting, is what the fuck is going on here? Why are women so eager to buy this self-annihilating male-appeasing bullshit in liberation-drag, and what has any of that got to do with Judith Butler?

As trans activism is fond of reminding us, this is, to some extent, a ‘generational’ issue – the young people ‘get it’ and the old crones like us will be left, where we belong, languishing on the wrong side of history. (Irigaray was right as usual…female genealogy is crucial). If you say something like that to an old feminist hack like me, my response will be, ‘you just haven’t fallen off the patriarchy cliff yet, and when you do, we’ll be here to catch you.’ This, we get. The fall is terrifying, and had other women not been there to catch us, maybe none of us would ever make it. But for some women, it seems, the fear of the abyss is too great to ever face. They never find out that after the fall, you learn, remarkably, to float.

lesbian phallus

Last night, Sally Hines turned up on my Butler thread to snarkily ask why I was calling Judith Butler ‘Judy,’ (*flat stare* it’s irony, remember that?). By way of reply, I dug this out…the 1993 Judy!-fanzine, full of sub-dom eroticization, and a lovely riff on the ‘Lesbian Phallus’ detailing Butler’s awesome ability to make grad students cry (“Judy is the number one dominator…the Phallus masquerading as the Phallus”). I followed a quote about how alienating Butler found lesbian feminism – all that celebrating women’s music, UGH GROSS – to a 1992 ArtForum interview. Here, we get the usual verbiage justifying the necessity of subjection (Freud! Lacan! The Law of the Father says it must be so!) and distancing herself from “naïve” “liberationist forms of thinking.” (Reckon that must be us then). It’s a painful if predictable irony that someone who so doggedly removed the material planks of the analysis of male dominance, must also insist, through psychoanalysis (and her philosophical roots in Hegel), on the psychic necessity of dominance. (There’s a lot of stuff in there about the importance of cross-gender identification, for which read ‘It’s all good ladies! Everyone can have (or not have) the phallus now!’)

read judy

What we would say, what I would always say, is that this kind of phallic-identification, this explaining away the possibility of the otherwise, this refusal to imagine there could be anything other than these mechanisms – now unsexed! – of power and subjection and dominance and submission, is, in essence, Stockholm Syndrome. The fall is terrifying. Anyone who has experienced abuse or has worked with people who have experienced abuse knows this. The mind recoils. It is easier to erase and efface and reify and excuse and normalise and explain away than to look squarely at it and see what it is. There are signs of this recoiling throughout Butler’s work. They show up particularly around male violence and above all around rape. (She never directly acknowledges it, none of her work deals with it, her intellectual mentor – Foucault – was an apologist, her most significant contribution was editing an essay that said women need to ‘change the rape script’ (because if you just stop thinking of yourself as rapeable then you totally won’t get raped)).


In the Artform interview, she flat out admits that “feminism” as “a position which asserts the systematic domination of women by men” is “very scary to me.” Let that just sink in. Then, having entirely recoiled from the recognition of patriarchy as male dominance, she goes on to outline that her opposition to ‘fixed gender positions’ is because that would mean “women’s psyches are nothing but scenes of violation.” (So, we’d better just cover that shit over then, hadn’t we?) I was also reminded here of another of her interviews, in which she says she’s “probably too frightened” to “engage” Irigaray’s texts “that closely” because they strike her as the product of “a certain heterosexual trauma.” (They strike me as the product of a woman who has an unfathomable grasp of the structure of narcissistic male dominance and is fucking done with women being erased, but hey ho). Which is all to say that, basically, the woman who has been elevated as the future of feminism – and welcomed with open arms by a bunch of men who never so much as opened as second-wave text – is a woman who is too scared to even think about rape, and has a deep visceral aversion to women who are not.

How this all relates to the current clusterfuck should be obvious. So much of what is going on in this debate – both at the level of specific concerns, and more importantly, in its core psychic structure – is about boundaries and violation. One of the reasons it is so damn hard for us to get men to listen to us – and one reason they’re all so eagerly jumping on the boundary-smashing bandwagon – is because, when we get down to it, this is about rape, and most men neither want to think about rape, or about the way their narcissism and refusal to recognise our humanity is implicated in its mechanisms. This is not a question of whether trans women are more or less likely than any other group of males to pose a threat to women. It is simply that they are male, that male people pose a threat to women, and that male people posing a threat to women is not a symptom of our hysteria. (Our hysteria was only ever produced by what we could not name, which now, under the banner of feminism, we are being told, once again, we must not name.) But more than all this, more even than the spaces, and who does or does not enter them, more than the fact that women’s boundaries are being piously derided as ‘gate-keeping,’ is the importance of the boundary set by our right to name ourselves, and our refusal to fulfil our historic role as the passive dumping ground of male projections.

I’ve been meaning to write, and will write soon, something on how the left’s current obsession with ‘inclusion’ and ‘openness’ and ‘smashing boundaries’ and ‘deterritorialization’ makes sense only as a critique of the psychic structure of dominance (like, go and tell it to Donald Trump and leave us the fuck alone). It is entirely, gratuitously, inappropriate, when turned against the boundaries of the violated, of those who are raised in a society which leads them to understand – when they are grabbed or catcalled or made to feel like meat – that that is where they are positioned. It is no wonder that a woman who cannot even bear to think about this fact, who prefers to deny the power that frames it, who prefers to think it could all be rewritten by playing games with superficial scripts, would, when addressing the mess that she has made, avert her eyes so resolutely from what this is actually about. Women’s psyches are far far more than ‘scenes of violation,’ but there can be no feminism which refuses its reality, which recoils from recognising that ‘smashing boundaries,’ when used against women as a class, is the absolute axiom of male power, and, at its core, everything happening here is as it ever was.

Disciplining Martina: Heretics and the Church of Trans Normativity

Two main things turned up in my timeline this morning. One was the fall-out of Rachel McKinnon’s egregious and unconcealed bullying of Martina Navratilova, and the other was a Call For Papers from Brighton University that Kathleen tweeted here.


I was already planning on doing this post on Martina when the CFP popped up – because Rachel’s behaviour last night was a pretty copper-bottomed rendition of what trans activist coercion looks like, and I thought it was worth taking a look at it blow by blow. The academic CFP might, at first glance, seem a little tangential to the issue of trans inclusion in sports, but it refracted with Rachel’s behaviour in an interesting way, so, happy or unhappy accident, this is what you get guys…

gayness 2

The CFP sketches out the familiar claim that ‘queerness’ is ‘inclusive’ and ‘fluid’ while ‘gayness’ or ‘homosexuality’ is ‘exclusive’ and ‘oppressive,’ a dichotomy that rests on the never-fully-interrogated assumption that ‘inclusion’ is an unequivocal ‘good,’ while ‘exclusion’ is an unequivocal ‘evil.’ The parallel here to the issue of trans inclusion in sports is evident – this is precisely the moral logic that makes McKinnon come over all God’s avenging angel to one of the greatest sportswomen – and lesbian icons – of all time. And it’s exactly the logic, to draw the examples closer, which also underpins Rachel’s consistent indictment of lesbians for asserting their same-sex ‘exclusiveness.’ But what strikes me as particularly interesting about the refraction of these two moments with each other, is that the CFP belies a critical contradiction. While the discourse of ‘exclusive’ homosexuality is ‘normative’ (in queer-theory speak this is synonymous with ‘disciplinary’ and ‘oppressive’ – i.e. ‘bad’), queer perspectives, they admit, have now assumed a ‘hegemonic status.’


Quite how the people writing this thought they could parse ‘bad normativity’ from ‘good hegemony’ is anyone’s guess – if ‘normative’ or ‘hegemonic’ discourses are ‘disciplinary’ or ‘bad’ by virtue of being hegemonic, then there is no reason why ‘queer’ discourses should get a free pass. (There is a paradox in the centre of queer thought here – at the point at which queer theory becomes a form of academic normativity, it is no longer, by its own definitions, queer). Indeed, what I want to suggest here, is that Rachel’s behaviour to Martina is exactly a demonstration of the way in which the moral logic of queer ‘inclusivity’ has now become a hegemonic, punitive, and profoundly disciplinary discourse. As we have all been noting over the last months, trans and radical queer activism is animated by a deeply authoritarian and coercive political impulse which leads it to behave like the bastard child of Stalinism and the Medieval Catholic Church. It has produced a generation of aesthetically and discursively identikit activists who are utterly in thrall to their own moral righteousness, the categorical ‘evil’ of anyone who questions their sacred axioms, and their divine inquisitorial right to school and punish heretics. That is, the very fact that a mediocre philosopher and mediocre cyclist considers themselves in a position to discipline someone as widely and rightfully respected as Martina Navratilova for heresy, tells us everything we need to know about which discourse is dominant here, the hegemonic normativity of ‘queer’ inclusivity, and the fact that there is pretty much nothing ‘anti-disciplinary,’ ‘diverse,’ ‘fluid,’ ‘open,’ or strictly speaking, ‘queer,’ about trans activism. ‘In Queer Times’ we find ourselves. Indeed.

Anyway, let’s look at what happened. This is the tweet that kicked it off (which Martina has since deleted, because Rachel):

martina original

Now, I’m not going to get into a thing here about whether Martina is right to claim that this standard (having or not having a penis) should be the standard by which trans women should or should not be included in women’s sports. What those standards should be is a whole conversation, it’s not my wheelhouse, and I’m just going to say, we need to have it. What interests me, rather, is that it’s not a conversation trans activism is willing to even countenance, because trans activism is committed to the proposition that ‘trans-women-are-women-in-all-and-every-respect-and-any-attempt-to-make-any-distinctions-based-on-sex-is-an-act-of-egregious-hatred-that-must-be-pounced-on-and-disciplined-immediately.’ Ergo:


This is of course the classic form of the opening salvo, viz. ‘HERETIC’

Followed quickly by: ‘RECANT.’


Then there are a couple of quote tweets to drive the point home:

quote tweet 1

quote tweet 2

The second one, ‘we’re not misrepresenting you’ is pretty entertaining. Seeing as it was in response to the tried and trusted imputation that anyone who thinks the difference between male and female people might matter is a literal Nazi.


One imagines from this that Martina’s mentions were a shitshow at around this point, and she decides to engage directly with Rachel:

enough already

To which Rachel replies, ‘you messed up by doing a HERESY’:

penis 1penis2

There are multiple branching threads in this exchange, so I’ll try to put them together as best I can. In response to the ‘Third Reading of the Charge of Heresy’ we get this, a recanting:

take it back

world champ

Martina also replies to the original tweet telling her to recant with this:

keep cooking.png

Bonus ‘maybe you don’t realize who you’re speaking to’ self-awareness fail. (ETA: Because I did not make anywhere like a big enough deal of this. Can you imagine, IMAGINE, for a fraction of a second, being a two-bit philosopher and shit cyclist who is almost entirely famous for calling women TERFS and nefariously winning medals, bowling up to a woman who has won eighteen – eighteen – Grand Slam titles, and saying, ‘DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM???’ Like, seriously, my brain cannot even start computing the quantity of narcissistic obliviousness that requires.)


And, as if that wasn’t enough, let’s follow up the grandiose peacocking with a patronising side of that old favourite, ‘educate yourself’ (aka, ‘Read the Good Book until you understand the WORD, heathen’)


The final reply from Martina to the original tweet telling her to delete was this:

good deeds

This one is a doozy, and it points to something that drive me nuts about trans activism. That is, the sheer unadulterated narcissism of its moral system. There is only their moral code, and their moral code is ALL ABOUT THEM, and gives not one flying fuck about the needs of anyone else, or about anything in a person’s character or history if it’s not ALL ABOUT THEM. Martina Navratilova is an outstanding human being – along multiple axes (not something many of us would say about Rachel McKinnon) – but she has committed a sin against the Great Church of Trans Ideology and so she gets treated with blanket contempt. The punitive moralism dripping off Rachel’s reply here makes me want to scream. Yeah, right, very fucking queer.

Following the pronouncement on Martina’s sins – and despite the fact that she has already recanted – we then get instruction on the proper way to prostrate and atone (along with the conventional ‘we’re just trying to help you do better’…could you get more dead-eyed disciplinarian, bending over you with a belt, telling you it’s for your own good??? I mean come on now Martina, Rachel’s only trying to stop you getting sent to hell, you really should be grateful):

do better.png

We also get this, in which Martina tries to point out that hectoring people who are relatively sympathetic to you might not be the best way to go, and Rachel can’t hear a damn thing over the interminable drum beat of ‘ME ME ME ME ME ME ME.’ At this point, we might want to chip in with the fact that this argument is all about the possible harm – both in fairness-terms, and because of the elevated chance of injury – to women competing with trans women in sports. But as we know, only harms to trans women matter, and concerns about harms to women are a hate-crime.

good fight

Martina then goes back to the earlier tweet in which Rachel gave her some ‘educate yourself’ material, and it prompts more admonishment on correct atonement procedures (plus a nice side-swipe at an evident ally explaining why this might not be  productive):

not to behave

Then we get this, which carries over from the tweet yesterday telling Martina she has done something ‘very wrong’ to this morning:


Rachel responds by informing Martina that her sin has only been exacerbated because she is being supported by a whole raft of other evil sinners:

other sinners

The last responses from Martina come in a thread that had developed about her coach, the trans tennis player Renee Richards. McKinnon is absolutely dismissive – because Richards doesn’t toe the trans ideological line – before heading straight back for more moralistic ‘I hope you see the error of your ways my child.’:


Martina, quite rightly, counters by pointing out that Rachel’s ‘engagement’ bears all the hallmarks of bullying – or, to be more specific, all the hallmarks of trying a heretic. Rachel, of course, is having none of this. Evidently, only one person here is being victimized:

last night.png

And clearly the best way to demonstrate that is with a few more quote tweets about what a terrible creature Navratilova is, and how very dare she:

morning quote 1

morning quote 2

I don’t have much more to say here. It tells, I think, a pretty clear tale. I’m not doing this because I hope to make a mark on McKinnon’s narcissistic carapace. That’s an exercise in futility, as this final RT from this morning makes abundantly clear:


I guess my only hope is to appeal to my once colleagues – the people inside the academy who are still churning out this bollocks about queer fluidity and anti-normativity and inclusiveness. For the love of the goddess, open your fucking eyes. This is an unequivocally, irremediably identitarian discourse. Everything we learned about the dangers of totalization, and the inability to deal with difference, and the importance of openness. Every thing you allegedly believe about ‘bad’ normativity, and discursive discipline. Every thought that arose from the post-war ashes about how not to purify ourselves with flames. This discourse is everything you claim to oppose. It is everything that it claims that it isn’t.



Ontological totalitarianism by numbers

1984 header-01

  1. Human beings have a right to freedom of conscience and belief.
  2. Human beings have a right to their own perceptions.
  3. Humans beings have a right to speak in a manner which expresses their own conscience, belief and perceptions – providing that speech is not an incitement to violence against another person (see 14).
  4. The only pronouns one can prescribe to oneself, ethically, are ‘I’ and ‘me.’
  5. Third person pronouns are granted to you by another person.
  6. Pronouns function as a ‘recognition procedure’ in order to instruct someone else how they are to recognise someone, often in the absence of, or in contradiction to, observable cues.
  7. Asking someone to use certain pronouns is a request that they perceive or recognise you in a certain way.
  8. Prescribing pronouns is a diktat that another person perceives or recognises you in a certain way.
  9. Prescribing pronouns and enforcing that prescription is an act of coercion which violates people’s freedom of conscience. This is ontological totalitarianism.
  10. Resisting coercion is not bullying.
  11. Ontological totalitarianism may well be bullying.
  12. Recognition must be freely given if it is to meaningfully function as validation.
  13. Coerced recognition is both a violation of people’s freedom of conscience and is functionally worthless as validation.
  14. Resisting coerced recognition is not an act of violence – literal or otherwise – nor an incitement to violence.
  15. Trans people who are visibly gender non-conforming are subject to violence as a result of the policing of patriarchal gender norms.
  16. Feminists do not police patriarchal gender norms.
  17. Violence directed at people who violate patriarchal gender norms is an artefact of patriarchy, not an artefact of feminism.
  18. Many feminists believe that sex and gender are analytically distinct, and do not believe that the performance or identification of a person’s gender changes their sex.
  19. This is a matter of our perception of reality and a matter of political conviction. It is not a pretext.
  20. Blaming feminists for patriarchal violence against gender non-conforming and trans identified people is empirically baseless political strategy which serves as an instrument of coercion.
  21. People refusing to validate your identity may be painful.
  22. Something being painful is not conceptually identical to it being a moral harm, structural violence, or an act of oppression.
  23. Not getting our needs met is sometimes painful.
  24. Sometimes our needs don’t get met because other people also have needs, beliefs, and interests.
  25. Thinking you must always have you needs met and refusing to understand why other people may not meet your needs, is narcissistic entitlement.
  26. Narcissistic entitlement is the refusal to recognise the needs and interests of other people.
  27. Narcissistic entitlement is the opposite of mutual recognition.
  28. Mutual recognition is the condition of possibility of justice.
  29. Ontological totalitarianism is a political manifestation of narcissistic entitlement.
  30. Ontological totalitarianism is antithetical to the conditions of possibility of justice.

On Patronage

So, sorry to disappoint, this isn’t a new piece. There’s plenty plugging up the pipeline, but I’ve been catching my breath this last week…

Anyway, following a conversation with some other women on twitter this morning, and various thinkings about how to sustain myself while I continue to do the work I’m doing, I’ve decided to set up a Patreon. If you’d like to support my writing, my battling on the twits, or any of the future projects I have in mind (which I point in the general direction of on the page over there), I’d be extremely grateful.

My page is here.