A happy holiday break to all – I will be away with very limited internet access until about 9 January.
Transgender campaigners and lobbyists have been delighted at the downfall of North Carolina’s governor, Pat McCrory, who was voted out at the recent US elections. He is the first sitting governor to lose an election in the state, and in 2016 he was the only sitting governor across the USA to lose his post. The same electors backed Trump and voted in a Republican senator. McCrory’s loss is widely attributed to his support for North Carolina’s HB2 law. The law includes viciously discriminatory anti-worker provisions (see here and here; I think these provisions will appeal to local small-to-medium businesses more than major corporations), and anti-gay measures, banning “any local restrictions on discrimination in public places based on sexual orientation”. But the notorious aspect of the law – the aspect that has rallied forces for and against it – relates to transgender rights, in particular the use of government-run bathrooms: it says people must use the facilities matching their sex of birth rather than the gender they now identify with. The law was used to over-ride a pro-transgender ordinance in the city of Charlotte.
Big business was prominent in the campaign against the HB2 bill. Corporations held back investment in the state, impacting on jobs: they launched what amounts to a capital strike, of the kind that has previously been used, on a larger scale, to bring uppity left wing governments into line.
Associated Press had previously reported that “over 100 top CEOs” had protested against the impending law.
The list now includes leaders of many sectors of the economy. Tourism is represented by Hilton, Marriott and Starwood hotels; AirBnB, Uber and Lyft; and American Airlines, which has a major hub in Charlotte, the state’s largest city.
Banking and finance executives include the leaders of Bank of America, Citibank, TD Bank, PayPal and others. Restaurateurs and retailers include leaders of Starbucks, Barnes & Noble and Levi Strauss. Technology leaders joined in force, including the leaders of IBM, Apple, Intel, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, eBay, Twitter, YouTube and many others.
After the election The Economist noted that corporate supporters were heavy hitters within the pro-trans alliance:
“Mr McCrory did worse than other Republicans in part because of a state law widely thought to discriminate against transgender people and others. After he signed it, some businesses reconsidered their investments, entertainers cancelled concerts and sports tournaments were moved… the economic costs, and the broad coalition that mobilised against him, seem to have convinced some Republican-leaning voters to ditch him…” (North Carolina: Not going quietly. The Economist 26 November 2016 p32)
Indeed The Economist could not help gloating over McCrory’s come-uppance after his “rash” support for the HB2 bill. Similarly, Time magazine called the governor’s downfall “a cautionary tale for other conservative legislatures that will almost certainly consider similar measures in the coming months.”
Republican candidates for the state legislature did not suffer in the same way as McCrory from the pro-trans campaign. They won both chambers. This may be due to what The Economist called “energetic gerrymandering”. (The New York Times has described NC Republicans’ “unscrupulous efforts to fence off black communities” so as to “diminish the political power of black voters”; this included “an unnecessary and harmful voter ID law and other unfair electoral restrictions”.)
Meanwhile the alt-Right Breitbart News has exploited the bathroom dispute to boost its salt-of-the-earth, anti-elite credentials, by railing against “corporate extortion” and the alliance of big business with the “radical left” and gay rights groups.
Two right wing ideologies slugging it out
The bathroom access issue has wider ramifications for Republicans, “pitting the party’s pro-business branch against social conservatives“, according to a Reuters article. To put it another way, the top layers of Republican and Democratic parties both reflect the views of the neoliberal capitalist class, which has moved on from the traditionalist, backwoods sex stereotypes where chromosomes are destiny. As discussed elsewhere on this blog, the capitalist elite finds in transgender ideology a means to help preserve women’s oppression in a changing world. And women’s oppression remains vital to its economic interests. The neoliberal elite is by far the most powerful force driving the trans trend, and now defines its fundamental nature.
The main difference between the Republican and Democrat grandees on this issue is that the Republicans have to try to accommodate the traditionalist views still cherished by the their base, and championed by the religious and alt Right. For the Right, the battle against the trans trend is part of a wider war against lesbians and gays and liberalism. But lacking elite support, the Right is almost certainly doomed to lose on the trans issue. Its only path to victory would be the nightmare scenario where it manages to take leadership of mass anger during a social crisis, deeper than anything we have yet seen, and extending far more deeply than the election of someone like Trump. Under that scenario trans people, lesbians and gays, women and organised workers would all get it in the neck.
The only way out of this morass is to start building an alliance between trans-critical feminists and Left, which can then start to rally wider layers of support for women against the trans trend, on a progressive basis.
Ms. Hungerford clearly has no time for all the silliness po-mo brings to the table.
“Post-modern neoliberalism seeks to dismiss the experience of womanhood by claiming that anyone can choose to be a woman. And, in any case, it claims that we are too diverse to be generalized about. An interesting position to take: the class “women” has no defining characteristic, and yet transwomen know exactly what being a “woman” feels like.
The maxim “trans women are women” means at least three things: first, it means that being raised as girl from birth is not an important or relevant aspect of being a “woman” because one can be a woman without it.
Secondly, it means that having a female body is not an important or relevant aspect of being a “woman” because one can be a woman without it.
And third, it means that to be a “woman” reflects an…
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Miranda Devine, a media commentator in Australia, says:
We now have a medical profession too cowardly to speak out against a trend in which parents are procuring questionable hormone therapy for their prepubescent children so they can change sexes.
She adds that physicians who are brave enough to watch and wait, to question and explore, rather than rush to endorse a child’s transition, are demonised as supporters of conversion therapy. Devine repeated her attack on childhood gender reassignment in a more recent article, where she points out that the sort of girls who used to be known as tomboys are now potential candidates for puberty blockers.
Some of her remarks in these articles could have come from a trans-critical progressive, but Devine (@mirandadevine) is explicitly and proudly on the Right. She is anti-abortion and an opponent of same-sex marriage. She rails against “permissiveness” and blames welfare for domestic violence (“end the welfare incentive for unsuitable women to keep having children to a string of feckless men”).
Her reference to tomboys is potentially misleading. She does not articulate any objection to sex role stereotypes. Her concern about the gender transitioning of children occurs within a conservative and traditionalist worldview. This comes out in her attack on Australia’s Safe Schools program.
Devine and the Safe Schools program
As discussed in a previous post, Safe Schools has a brief to make schools safe and inclusive for transgender and LGB students. “Disguised as an anti-bullying initiative,” Devine says, “the ‘Safe Schools’ program started a new sexual revolution under parents’ noses.” She and other conservatives have recently drawn blood, with the sacking of Safe Schools’ Marxist co-founder, Roz Ward (see here, here, and here).
Several things may be said about Safe Schools. Firstly, there is no question that bullying is a serious risk for LGB and transgender students, and is also suffered by other students simply because they don’t fit well with sex roles. This sort of bullying has driven some to suicide, one recent victim being Tyrone Unsworth, a feminine-oriented gay boy aged 13.
If the Safe Schools program took on sex stereotyping as such, it would not only create a safer and less stressful environment for lesbian, gay, and transgender students, it would offer wider assistance to feminine boys and masculine girls. And most subversively, it might open new possibilities to the great majority of children who have more or less accommodated to restrictive typecasts. But there is very little evidence of such a subversive approach on the Safe Schools website. Instead, discontent with stereotypes is overwhelmingly posed as the concern of a minority of students. This helps to explain why the program has wide and enthusiastic support from the neoliberal politicians of the Australian Labor Party (it is funded and championed by the Labor Government in Victoria) and from the less right wing sections of the Liberal Party.
But Devine attacks Safe Schools on different grounds: for “promoting the idea to school students that there is something wrong with the norms of heterosexuality and ‘binary’ sexes — male and female.”
Her “defence” of heterosexuality appears to be nothing but a complaint that the Safe Schools program affirms lesbian and gay identities. As for binary sexes, she does not present them as sites on which stereotypes are inscribed, through a lifetime of socialisation. She allows the reading public to understand them in traditional terms, in which chromosomes turn us naturally into feminine females and masculine males, and she approvingly quotes three doctors who declare that “human sexuality is ‘binary by design with the obvious purpose being the reproduction and flourishing of our species'”.
The impact of the Right
Does it matter that she is right wing, as long as the warnings about childhood transitioning are put out there? She is right that transgender ideology disseminated in schools will cruelly limit the life choices of young people if they end up sterilised by gender reassignment surgery and dependent on drugs for the rest of their lives. But any victories scored by the Devine and her friends against the transgender lobby will predominantly reinforce a conservative agenda, which is also an anti-woman and homophobic agenda. The anti-trans position of the Right also reinforces the storyline accepted by the great majority of leftists and liberals, which frames all opposition to transgender demands as bigotry.
By challenging the stifling consensus around transgender – extending as it does from the far Left to “moderates” in the US Republican Party – the Right may inadvertently create some space for truly oppositional arguments to be heard. That does not make them allies.