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Statement on events at Anarchist Bookfair 2017 – By Helen Steel


I was in the process of writing a longer article around the events at the Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday, but I am also trying to stay on top of the rest of my life while dealing with the horrendous bullying of people around me which is underway by some trans activists and allies. I have been traumatised by my experiences on Saturday and by events since, resulting in a lack of sleep and inability to concentrate. I wanted to complete the longer article, but as lies are being circulated by those who attacked me, I feel I have to put out a shorter statement now.

When I refer to trans activists in this statement I mean people who are activists on trans issues, I do not mean that all of them were trans, nor that they represent the views of all trans identifying people. For those who don’t know what…

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London Anarchist Bookfair — Gender Identity Watch

The organizers of the London Anarchist Bookfair released a statement announcing “the current Bookfair Collective will not be organising a Bookfair in 2018,” potentially ending the event’s 34-year run. The statement was released in response to an open letter titled, “Response to London Anarchist Bookfair 2017” which alleges the event organizers “chose to step in […]

via London Anarchist Bookfair (UK) — Gender Identity Watch

When Women’s Rights Are #NotaDebate — Not The News in Briefs

“When there is conflict between trans rights and women’s rights (such as whether toilets and changing rooms should be segregated by ‘sex’ or ‘gender’) an open debate should be encouraged to ascertain how best to accommodate the rights of both parties. This hasn’t happened, and it hasn’t happened in a big way…”

via When Women’s Rights Are #NotaDebate — Not The News in Briefs

Toxic friends: relating to trans critics on the Right

The Spectator is a right wing current affairs magazine in Britain. Recent articles on its blog include The #MeToo movement reveals feminism’s obsession with victimhood, written by one Joanna Williams, “author of the newly released Women vs Feminism“.

Other pieces on the blog have derided elements of transgender politics. Questioning gender fluidity is the new blasphemy, writes Brendan O’Neill (14 Nov 2017. See the Wikipedia entry on O’Neill for a summary of his political trajectory from left to right). He says that “the establishment”, including the Tory Government, the Anglican Church, and “the armed wing of the state”, has embraced the trans trend.

The capitulation of the establishment to the politics of transgenderism has been astonishing… An elite, eccentric idea that has its origins in the rarefied land of Gender Studies department, whose language — cis, ze, gender fluidity — is the language of academic cliques rather than of pubs or bus-stops or barbershops, is being foisted on the land by religious and political institutions now more keen to cosy up to tiny groups of influential campaigners than to connect with the concerns of ordinary people…

Anyone who claims that trans politics is edgy is kidding themselves: it is one of the most established, protected ways of thinking of our time….

His underlying explanation for the power of the trans trend, and its hold over the powers-that-be, seems to be one of moral decay, which he articulates in relation to Anglican education. The Church of England’s guidelines

instruct teachers to let kids explore gender identity ‘without…comment’… Teachers who want to keep their jobs have little choice but to accept this advice… the importing of trans thinking into schools… shows how far down the rabbit hole of relativism our society has gone.

I fear for the future if we will not even tell boys they are boys and girls they are girls. If teachers lack the authority even to say, ‘You’re a boy and should wear a boy’s uniform’. We are cultivating a new generation that will expect its every instinct to be instantly respected, and worse that the social infrastructure, from bathrooms to uniform policies, should mould themselves around their instincts.

In another article, The word ‘woman’ is being erased from public life (23 Oct 2017) O’Neill says:

Frontpage headlines [in the mass circulation gutter rag The Sun] declare, ‘MAN HAS BABY’ and ‘Baby joy of first British man to give birth’. Media outlets [in the Murdoch stable] inform us that ‘Statistics reveal men have given birth to 54 babies in Australia’ and ‘Pregnant British man gives birth to daughter’…

The British Medical Association says doctors should stop saying ‘mothers-to-be’ and instead say ‘pregnant people’…

We are living through a collapse of the most basic moral and biological categories of speech and understanding….

Toxic support

At first glance some of this material feels welcome. Finally someone is admitting that trans trend is mainly imposed from above, nourished by the establishment! But it is wrapped within a toxic package. It positions ordinary people as lowbrow traditionalists, confronted by degenerate elites and uppity kids. It demands a return to traditional roles and morals in a world going mad. The references to female erasure suggest that the writer has rummaged around in radical feminism in a search for theoretical depth. But he offers women nothing but a return to the past.

The establishment does indeed support the trans trend. But the elite is not a place where Gender Studies academics rub shoulders with Tory grandees, nor is it composed of cowards who cringe before trans lobby groups. (It is the other way around: these groups only become “influential” thanks to the support they have received from the mass-circulation media and other neoliberal institutions.)

The establishment is based around the capitalist class which finds the trans trend very useful to its own agenda. Female participation in the workforce and higher education tends to erode sexist ideology. But the capitalist class needs to shore up sexism, and women’s oppression more generally, because the bosses are addicted to women’s unpaid labour – housework, child care, aged care – and want to transfer ever more of the burden of social care from government onto “the family” ie women. For them the new cool sexism of transgender is heaven-sent. To oppose this sexism is also to oppose capitalist interests. That is something that social conservatives will never say.

Cross-spectrum “alliances”

Transgender is not the only issue that disrupts traditional left-right divisions.

The Brexiteers are led by Tory nationalists who fantasise about a return to Britain’s former “greatness”. They also want to win votes via racism and the Leave side certainly includes out and out racists and fascists. But there are also leftist Lexiteers who (like me) support Britain breaking with the EU because it is a key organising body of neoliberalism and western imperialism. Many Leave voters were motivated by hostility to the effects of EU-imposed austerity, not by racism. On the Remain side are big business, which understands that the needs of British capitalism are best served by staying in the EU, but also most left-wingers and millions of working people who support the free movement of labour across European borders.

Russia’s bestial bombing campaign in Syria was denounced by many left wingers, not just for its sheer barbarity, but because it was an attack on the Syrian revolution and the right of the Syrian people to decide their own destiny.  But supporters of US imperialism also wept crocodile tears over the Russian bombing – neocons eager for the USA itself to unleash new campaigns of mass murder in the Middle East to advance its strategic interests. And then there are many liberal and humanitarian-minded people sincerely horrified by the bombings, and who would also be horrified at the USA supporting Saudi Arabia’s monstrous bombing campaign in Yemen, but who still see the USA as a force for civilisation, democracy and women’s rights.

Leftist and right wing opponents of Russia’s role in Syria might both applaud a piece of investigative journalism that uncovered the realities of Assad’s chemical attacks, or the targeting of Russian bombs on civilian areas. The different agendas of the Left and Right only become evident when an author generalises from the immediate facts and gives them a wider political interpretation.

Differentiating from the Right

In my opinion, progressive trans-critics need to differentiate themselves from the Right, not just in the occasional throw-away line but by explicitly attacking the anti-woman and generally reactionary politics of social conservatives (not least when they try to draw on the work of trans-critical feminists).

One example of this is the issue of sex, biology and gender. Trans-critical progressives and conservatives can agree that chromosomes establish people as female or male, and that gender should not be replacing sex as a legal category. They may both point out that female biology is the basis of distinctive and rather significant experiences such as child birth and menstruation. But after that they part ways. For trans-critical progressives, biological sex is only the starting point for a lifetime of sexual discrimination and oppressive socialisation. They point out that replacing “sex” with “gender” obscures this process, and reinforces sexism, by conflating female and feminine. Conservative writers, on the other hand, generally allow their readers to ascribe a more traditional sexist meaning to the male-female division, one in which chromosomes naturally produce feminine and masculine personalities. These conservatives need to be challenged by trans-critical progressives.

As previously stated on this blog, any victories scored by social conservatives against the transgender lobby will predominantly reinforce a their own, anti-woman 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.

LBC and access to female changing rooms

LBC (a national talk and phone-in radio station in Britain) recently broadcast an exchange between presenter James O’Brien and Kellie, a listener who phoned in, covering the issue of transwomen’s access to female changing rooms in clothing stores like Topshop. The exchange was recently discussed on the genderwipesthefingerprints blog and the Fair Play for Women website, which included a link to the transcript of the exchange. The interviewer, like the interviewee, had to talk on the spot with no chance for considered replies. But the interviewer’s comments articulate a range of arguments made more generally by other left-liberals. These arguments work against women.

The far Left has by and large failed to challenge these arguments. It has been dragged right-wards by the transgender trend.

Here are some of the key points at stake, discussed in relation to extracts from the transcript.

 Women’s oppression

James: …why would you feel uncomfortable getting changed in the room next to me? Or on the other side of a curtain from me?

Kellie: Well, because you’re a man!

James: But what do you think I’m going to do?… I’m respecting your privacy… that’s why the curtains are drawn, so what are you worried about?… If I was as paranoid about this as you are, I’d probably hold it shut.

Behind the issue of transwomen’s access to women-only spaces is – only half-hidden – the sneering question of why females need male-free spaces at all. It is as if this demand could only come from mental illness, man-hating, or daintiness.

The Left has, or has had, a longstanding tradition of defending women-only spaces, for example women’s rooms on campuses. For left-liberals this has probably been a matter of supporting feminism. For Marxists it raises the need to challenge every form of oppression in order to unite the working class. You do not unite working people by papering over the particular burdens imposed on women, blacks or any oppressed group, but by explicitly recognising and fighting those forms of oppression together.

How does this apply in Topshop change rooms? The political argument is so obvious that it’s embarrassing and incredible that it has to be made. Females are conditioned over a lifetime to be unassertive, apologetic. They are stared at and judged on every detail of their appearance. An incident of ogling will call up many previous incidents over a lifetime, making the woman feel ashamed, violated, dirty. They are very much aware that rape and groping happen, and that females’ testimony still tends to be disbelieved in the event of harassment. In the context of this oppression, males’ typically superior strength and speed become significant when females face close, closed-in dealings with men who are strangers.

Obviously transwomen face their own discrimination which needs to be recognised and discussed when working out a policy on use of women-only spaces. But when a transwoman with male musculature, free from the burdens of female socialisation, appears in these spaces, the discussion also needs to include a full and explicit recognition of why women might be worried about it – of the politics of women’s oppression. This is precisely, and amazingly, what most of the Left is now refusing to do.

Stereotypes: now a minority concern

 James: …if you feel passionately that you want to do all of the things that are traditionally associated with the other gender, life is really really tough and this mission it seems to me, is… designed to make life easier for those children and I can’t understand why we’ve ended up in a place where people get cross about trying to make life easier for troubled children.

James: there’s thousands of these children now are finding the courage to come forward. I think it’s 0.1% of the general population, so you don’t need to get too worried…

We are talking, then, about a very small minority of “troubled children” who “passionately” want to go beyond chromosomal stereotypes: by implication, 99.9% of us are a snug fit with the stereotypes we were born to. This idea is precisely why the trans trend is so heavily supported by the big business media (see here and here) and capitalist governments. Even the more right wing media outlets support the trans trend, moderating their line only to stay in touch with socially conservative readers, or more rarely in the face of pressure from trans-critical feminists.

Until recently, the Left talked of sex stereotypes as an issue affecting everyone. It is still occasionally posed this way outside the context of the trans trend, eg in campaigns against stereotypic toys for kids. But by and large opposition to stereotypes are now seen as a minority issue for trans and gender fluid people. The role of other people is simply to support them. The Left has been dragged rightwards.

The inner you

 James: ….[children] want to decide for themselves, they don’t want you to decide… what they are.

James: …inside, they’re absolutely, absolutely, female… Fox Fisher who’s … an activist in this field… he was born a girl and he had explained to me in painstaking detail how he always knew he was a boy. So I just want you to tell me what you think he’s doing. Is he lying or is he… being brainwashed by someone? Or, because if you told me something about your… innermost soul and self…

This sort of gender essentialism comes from the internalisation of the sex stereotypes that we all absorb from earliest childhood onwards. As stated elsewhere on this blog, the process is so pervasive, and often so subtle, that “gender identity” seems to come from the innermost psyche. Cordelia Fine points this out in Delusions of Gender. While “millions of marketing dollars” are “spent promoting a pink, frilly world to girls”, and this permeates girls’ peer culture, it might still come as a shock to politically correct parents when their daughter demands pink frills; they begin to worry that their efforts to resist stereotypes in her upbringing were just holding back their daughter’s inner self (page 226, London : Icon, 2010. edition). Once you see femininity and masculinity as mystical essences, mysterious things-in-themselves rather than social constructs, it is a small step to believing that they pop up now and then in the wrong body.

This is alienated thinking. Marxists would normally refute such ideas but in the context of the trans trend they go quiet. This is presumably because swapping your gender identification defies biology-is-destiny sex roles, and that is progressive in itself. But the alienated concept of an inner, gender essence is now being used on a mass scale to entrench sex stereotypes in the female population at large; to tell females that love of pink frills comes naturally.

Soothing left-wing sensibilities

James: … in the context of this, these stories that we’re discussing, it means that they are children who, you know, feel, well happier and more comfortable doing the things that tradition tells us girls do. This is really I think about challenging what is a mere tradition like pink and blue… and toys and, and games and experiences that we see as being essentially masculine like playing cowboys and indians or soldiers and essentially feminine like playing dolls and hospitals. The idea is that every child should be free to do both…

Why indeed shouldn’t “every child” be freed from traditional role expectations? This sort of statement functions to reassure left wing readers and listeners about the progressiveness of transgender politics.

But it is said “in the context of… these stories that we’re discussing”. The soothing reference to “every child” is a momentary thing, it is not built on. Only transgender and gender-fluid people are presented as the agents who defy tradition. There is no message of hope, no call to action, for the millions upon millions of working class women who are expected to do housework, childcare and aged care free of charge, and who have internalised a sense of inferiority and an expectation that they should be nurturers and human relations managers in every family.

Most of the far Left strains to create the idea of a flow-on effect: the trans trend will lead over time to a more general challenge to role stereotypes. I have addressed this argument here and here. The biggest problem with this sort of argument is that it entirely ignores the huge, continuous outpouring of propaganda in the mainstream media, and its reinforcement from public and private institutions of neoliberalism, that drive home the most right wing elements of trans thinking. Indeed, the Left does little or nothing to attack these arguments or even mention that they exist.

A recent tweet on the James O’Brien interview, from @GirlScout72, said “women are sick and tired of having our views distorted and our voices shut down by the mainstream media, particularly LEFT WING journalists. Where are the male allies on the Left?” Where indeed.