Home » Uncategorized » The Left and transgender: “work with trans people, not against them”?

The Left and transgender: “work with trans people, not against them”?

This is the second in a series of posts discussing why the Left does not criticise the conservative aspects of the transgender trend.

At times the far Left acknowledges that trans ideology contains conservative ideas. For example Laura Miles points out:

Many trans people have tended to take a highly essentialist view of gender identity, which treats gender as somehow natural and given — “a man’s mind in a woman’s body, “a woman’s mind in a man’s body”. A glance at a selection of trans people’s autobiographies will confirm this. Transgender is also often presented in the media in this over-simplified way… there are serious problems inherent in such an essentialist approach to gender identity.

This quote was a passing comment in an article within a theoretical journal. Such points don’t tend to get made very often, and when they do they’re not highlighted in Left newspapers. Why not?


A Left argument for setting aside conservative trans ideas

One reason, I think, is tactical. Trans people face serious daily discrimination and are attacked by the anatomy-is-destiny Right. Because they suffer from capitalism, they are driven to oppose it. You don’t deal with such a group, the argument goes, by lecturing them about their errors: that would be sectarian and/or ultraleft. (An analogy is sometimes drawn with lesbians and gays: you don’t pontificate about the bourgeois nature of the marriage institution, you support LGB people’s fight for equal rights. More generally you defend lesbian and gay rights without harping at those who adopt stereotypically feminine or masculine roles.)

Instead you start from common ground and take people forward step by step, involving them in campaigns around other social issues, giving them a working class perspective, winning them to the common struggle against the system, and slowly eroding their conservative ideas through new experiences, and sometimes comradely discussion. You say: now that you’ve broken with the most traditional stereotypes of sex, why not break with all sex stereotypes?

This seems to be the approach articulated, for example, by Socialist Alternative’s Red Flag in Australia. An article on gender and capitalism concludes with this: “We need to remove all political content from the categories of ‘men’, ‘women’, ‘gay’, ‘straight’, ‘trans’, ‘cis’ and so on. This would lay the basis for a society in which gender is either a purely personal matter, or no matter at all.”  (Red Flag 22 April 2016) In this spirit the group describes a struggle against anti-trans discrimination in the workplace: “we achieved the right for a transgender employee to dress as they chose providing they followed the company dress code. In addition, we were able to secure the right for our fellow worker to be addressed by their preferred name and without any need for gender references. Then we were able to negotiate the abolition of gender identification requirements on forms.” (Red Flag 1 Sept 2013)

This approach probably works very well with left-leaning trans individuals and perhaps many other trans individuals. They are not the problem. In their personal lives many trans people are a long way from the crass Caitlyn Jenner stereotypes, but even those who do go for extreme stereotypes are not the problem. It is a problem when trans activists go on the offensive against feminists trying to defend women’s rights, but even that, I think, is secondary.

The core problem, entirely unacknowledged by most of the Left, is the sexist propaganda around transgender that pours from the neoliberal mass media and public and private institutions, telling us that pink and blue are a natural fit for almost everyone, ensuring discontent with sex stereotypes remains chained to “gender”, and snuffing out the concept of oppressive female socialisation. The neoliberal elite are using the transgender trend as a road block. By all means swap gender, they say; be genderfluid, genderqueer, or agender if you must, but do not advance beyond this point – don’t go saying that sex stereotypes might be a problem for the mass of people, especially the mass of womankind. Don’t start defining womanhood via restrictive ideas internalised over a lifetime.

The better sections of the Left sneak a few individuals around this roadblock, but don’t confront it directly. They don’t even admit to its existence. There is no “transgender trend”, just hard-beset trans people, whom the media accommodates partially, grudgingly, under popular pressure. (So while Red Flag opposed the silencing of Germaine Greer, particularly via recourse to a university administration, they still denounced her criticisms of trans ideology.)

Of course, the Left does attack sex stereotypes and oppressive female socialisation outside the context of transgender. But for every person who reads a Left newspaper, how many thousands receive sexist-but-unchallengeable ideas via the mass media’s framing of trans? By taking a stand against this sexism the Left could have real influence far above the odd article in support of women’s liberation.


Defend trans people without taking sexist ideas on board

Challenging conservative trans ideas does not mean any reduction whatsoever in support for trans people (actual trans people, not their neoliberal propagandists) against the religious Right or discrimination or persecution in daily life. In fact this will become more important than ever after Trump’s election victory. But it does mean accepting the need to fight on two fronts at once, just as, during the Brexit campaign, the far Left has fought to expose the EU as a neoliberal austerity machine while also attacking the racist Tories and Little Englanders.

At present trans-critical feminists must choose between bitter isolation and accommodation to the Right. They deserve more. They are natural allies for the Left.

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18 Comments

  1. donesoverydone says:

    “Because they suffer from capitalism, they are driven to oppose it.” Without capitalism, transgender wouldn’t exist as we now know it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • freerlives says:

      Dead right. But for centuries capitalism has maintained sex stereotypes in the rigid anatomy-is-destiny form, which is still very much alive on the Right, in the general population, and among bigots, some of them dangerous. On the other hand neoliberal capitalism has accommodated transgender and used it to further the oppression of women. So the trans trend is politically very contradictory. For some Caityln Jenner types the celebration of stereotypes is everything. For left-leaning trans people the rebellion against tradition is uppermost. For me, the key thing is not trans individuals but the neoliberal propaganda machine.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Caitlyn Jenner is a problem, but not just because she is trans, but because she is a white rich republican one. She is no role model for the trans community and I didn’t meet one of us, who even likes her. She is a symbol of the problem that US’ society and white supremacy is. She does more harm to the trans community than helping. Real role models like Laverne Cox are mostly ignored (and she was on the titel of the Times once….)

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      • lovetruthcourage says:

        @Violent Velvet,

        1st, Bruce Jenner is a *he* not a she. He has XY chromosomes, a penis, and testicles, and he used his male sex organs to sire 6 kids! The rest is fantasy.

        2nd, L Cox is no role model. L Cox supported a man who brutally raped, murdered and burned to death, an innocent 13-yr-old girl, discarding her body like trash. His name was Luis Morales and he was a violent member of a criminal gang. L Cox threw his celebrity behind this pathetic child murderer and convinced the Silvia Rivera Law Project to do the same. Anyone who thinks L Cox is a good person knows nothing about him. Morales deserves the death penalty.

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      • @lovetruthcourage
        1) It is VioletVelvet, not ViolentVelvet (but that is my second channel btw)
        2) You are a bigot in the first place, cause you invalidate the identitiy of two persons right here, which gender is part of that. You have no right to do that. It is simple discrimination and transphobia here.
        3) But you simple can’t grasp the very very very simple concept of being trans, but people like you are easy in ignoring facts and let hate and fear speak instead. I will explain it once to you, although you could google it or better, doing research.
        XX/XY are no sex/gender markers at all. A tiny enzyme on the Y is there for getting testosterone produced,but can be effected through various mechanism to not work properly or at all. There xx-men and xy-women due to that. And there is a variaty of different chromsome-pattern that leads to the natural developement of humans as well. And than there a intersex persons as well. There is no thing like 2 sex-determining chromosome pairing. Look it up, known since almost 100 years.
        Penis/Vagina doesn’t make you a certain gender, they are just reproductive (and hence sexual) organs. Like said above, There is a big variaty in human beings as well.
        Gender is the social component. Hence the brain is developing independent from the rest of the body, it is no wonder that identity is independent from that as well. Gender evolves around the age of 3 and just getting more solid and till 6, there is nothing want can change this. Trans people just evolved a different one ‘than the body’ and trying to change it, if with OP or not. If you would wake the next morning in the wrong body. you would do that as well. The dysphoria leading out of that is catastrophal.
        Some people like just figure this out much later, due to lack of information, denial, fear or other reason. Trying to live ‘normal’, what isn’t possible. I tried it 8 years as well. It just leads to depression and in many cases suicid. And everyone deserves a valif life with his/her human rights protected.
        Btw: While there is no ‘gendered’ brain, cause every child starts with a blank one and just orientates itself on gender stereotypes, there are distinction viewed by neurologists, pointing out that gender is more of a spectrum than a binary.
        It is just that the education systems are outworn and got the most information not updated and hence wrong, especially in social, biological and language classes. (Aside from the lack of real politic/economic classes). The common mind have to research on its own if they haven’t attend university where it is taught.
        4) We actually don’t need to talk about your second passage, hence your discriminating behaviour.
        I looked up and it is more complex than your think. Crimes are crimes and punished here. But here it goes about the upholding of human rights even in prison, the lack of that shouldn’t be part of the punishment. (Besides ‘punishement’ is an unresolved topic yet)
        Cox stays back from the notion kinda now, but you can read it here, what SHE says: http://www.advocate.com/politics/transgender/2014/08/26/laverne-cox-distances-herself-controversial-trans-inmate

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      • lovetruthcourage says:

        @VV,

        I am a PhD-level scientist and have done plenty of research. What you don’t know could fill a book. I will not bother correcting the significant errors in your post. I am also not a “bigot” just because I don’t parrot back to you, the things you would prefer to hear.

        Liked by 2 people

    • freerlives says:

      PS thanks so much for reposting!

      Like

    • Dead wrong. We are among you since humanity exist. A eco-political worldview/tool has nothing do with that. Why are we more vivid and speakin for ourselves now-a-days? Because we finally can without been burned on a stake. This thanks to the period of enlightment, we still living in.
      If you are upset, be upset. But if you want to argue right, than at least do some research before you blame yourself.

      Like

      • freerlives says:

        Violet Velvet, it’s very true that Jenner is widely disliked and dismissed by trans commentators, but they always seem to be referring to Jenner’s wealth and right wing politics. What needs to be challenged is Jenner’s identification of womanhood with sexist stereotypes, and the neoliberal mass media’s uncritical support for this. This obscures the oppressive construction of womanhood through a lifetime of socialisation.

        People have been rebelling against rigid sex roles since they were first imposed, but that is different from the trans trend as currently constituted. Some research is cited elsewhere in this blog, eg on the page A top down trend.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know what you mean in the first passage, agree on this. That is practical what I mean (as well).
        I dunno if I understand the second correctly, but I want to point out that trans people are real humans, which life is on stake. For some everyday. That is no ‘trend’ you are talking about. There is nothing ‘constituted’. We are a valid like any other human and that has nothing do with ‘sexual rebellion’. Gender is not the same as sex, if that is your problem here. (We can be straight, homo, bi, pan, ace, whatever as well.) And if you mean gender roles (sex roles is not a thing), they are the expressions and hence completly independend from sex and gender.

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      • freerlives says:

        The notion of gender as something innate, distinct from anatomy and also from stereotypic social roles for females and males, was developed out of the work of certain US physicians in the 1950s. Sociologists Dwight Billings and Thomas Urban have described this process, and some of what they wrote is mentioned in this blog, on the page A top down trend.
        As I’ve said elsewhere, transgender people have the right to identify as women or men and deserve to be defended against personal threats and discrimination. Some elements of trans ideas are anti-woman and need to be challenged.

        Liked by 1 person

      • So we agree, i suppose? (A bit confused, mayb be on me, dunno)
        Gender is ‘innate’, yes. But not independent from anatomy (I will guess you mean biology here), as it is located in the brain. 😉
        We human rights like everyone else, right. But we don’t ‘decide’ wether to be man, woman or non-binary. We are just like that or do you see any cis people see ‘deciding’ this, I bet not. Gender develops in the brain around the age of 3, so simple valid. It is just in our society that it either hard to get the information of the possibiility (cisnormativity) or trouble itself figuring this out (I concluded that only at 15 for myself).
        But now I am eager to know what you mean by ‘anti-woman’. Tell me and I will tear down your arguments, promised.

        Like

      • freerlives says:

        See what I have written on the page “A top down trend”. There is a link to it on the top menu bar of my blog. It deals with the issue of where “gender” came from, as an ideological concept now used to support transgender identity. I have mentioned this twice already.
        “Anti-woman” refers to anything that oppresses women and hinders their liberation.

        Liked by 1 person

      • First, you are thrawing the word ‘trans trend’ everywhere, which is inherently wrong.
        Wether there nor here, you cleary explain why it should be ‘anti-women’ (it’s calles misogynistic, damn!). It is simple: cause it isn’t. As a trans woman I am a woman in general. There can’t be a thing about me or us that can be misogynistic. Rather we are the target as well, and especially in the form of transmisogyny. Some of us dying due to that. If you believe in the myth about trans people destroying safe places or haress people in bathrooms, you are on the wrong path. If you think, it works against feminism and equaty. you are dead wrong. Feminism, third wave, is fighting for human equaty. And trans people are part of that, we just want to live in peace and have the rights like everybody. We are not ‘destroying’ gender. We are in a time where it is revealed what variety we have, hence post-moderne, hence entlightment. We were around since ever like homos and bis as well, no trend here, just the educating one, shown to science.
        These points are sadly yet on the table, although invalid. If you are meaning anything other than these, please tell me and I answer.

        Like

  2. […] The Left and transgender: “work with trans people, not against them”? […]

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  3. […] The Left and transgender: “work with trans people, not against them”? […]

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  4. lovetruthcourage says:

    The entire transgender trend rests on sexist stereotypes about innate and mystical essences supposedly inherent to the biological sexes. Research shows that male and female brains are substantially more similar than dissimilar. There is no such thing as a “woman’s brain in a male body” or vice versa. Essentialism under a progressive veneer is still essentialism. We should be fighting for people to express themselves as they wish, with the understanding that biological sex can not be changed.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. lovetruthcourage says:

    No, people who don’t tell you what you want to hear are NOT transphobes. What I am is a professional scientist who grasps biology, genetics, chemistry, A&P, and several other subjects that you never studied. It is a fact that biological sex can not be changed. Trans are artificial imitations of the opposite sex, and not truly the opposite sex. Sorry, the truth does not fit your agenda. Essentialism has also been debunked. There are no laydee brains according to science. Disagree? Debate me on the factual content instead of calling names! Let’s go, science denier!

    Liked by 2 people

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