The Green Party in the US state of Georgia has adopted a gender-critical position, and as a result it may be expelled from the national party. The Georgia Greens deserve full support against such a threat, and let us hope they serve as a rallying point for other progressives across the USA and elsewhere. The stand they have taken is a real step forward for the gender critical left.
The immediate issues
The Georgia Greens have outlined key events: at a state convention in February delegates “without objection” adopted an amendment to the platform of the state party, endorsing the gender critical Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights. The national party’s Lavender Caucus demanded that this endorsement be rescinded with an apology, failing which “‘the Georgia Green Party must be disaccredited and disavowed by the Green Party of the United States’”. Exchanges with national party figures followed. The Georgia Greens say:
As the conversation unfolded in national party channels the hateful rhetoric and name-calling targeting the women in the Party who were speaking up to defend the position taken by the Georgia Green Party was punctuated with threats of actual violence and doxxing. Multiple women were banned from national party social media forums for comments grounded in biological reality and their defense the rights of children to be protected from conversion therapy.
The Georgia Greens have called for “a partywide conversation on the underlying issues” and [added 27 May 20, FL:] have issued a state Dialog not expulsion.
The Lavender Green Caucus says that while the Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights is “couched in statements about protecting children and women’s rights” it is “a document intended to deny trans people their bodily autonomy and freedom of expression, against the advice of the vast majority of medical professionals and LGBT advocacy organizations.”
For example, The Declaration makes familiar villainizing arguments about puberty suppressing hormones, which allow children the option, with the consent of themselves, their parents and their doctor, to stall puberty until they are legally old enough to consent to gender confirmation. The writers of the Declaration would prefer instead to force children to undergo permanent physical changes that exacerbate their dysphoria, inflicting trauma that could last the rest of their lives…
It may seem to some with less direct experience that our language is overly hyperbolic. Some may see Georgia Green Party’s statement as innocuous or even well-intentioned. We can only assure you, as Lavender Greens, that the language used by the Georgia Green Party is both familiar and insidious. It is the same bigotry in the name of protecting children that queers have faced every step of our way toward acceptance and equality.
If the Georgia Greens are going “against the advice of the vast majority of LGBT advocacy organizations” we should note the top down, billionaire-funded nature of these bodies. Insofar as they are truly going against the advice of medical professionals we should note that medicine is not value-free and that the their opinions reflect the very broad support for gender ideology from elite institutions, the media and across the political spectrum.
There are more general points at play here and I would like to discuss two of them. One is the importance of the Georgia Greens’ action in the context of the whole, global trans debate.
The dismal terrain
To see the significance of what the Georgia Greens have done you need only cast your eye over the wretched confusion that currently prevails around gender ideology. The great bulk of the left has thrown its weight behind an attack on working women, for reasons previously discussed on this blog (here in general terms, here in terms of the far left). So small are the ranks of the gender critical left that many progressives uneasy with the new gender sexism often think they have nowhere to turn.
Another disaster is that the debate has been dominated on both sides by the political right and by elite forces. On one hand, gender ideology has been championed by the neoliberal grandees of the US Democratic National Committee, by Britain’s Conservative party, and by CEOs of major corporations and billionaire philanthropists; during the rise of gender ideology some US Republicans also helped out. Most of the liberal and far left have fallen in behind these forces. On the other side is a mix of social conservatives, right wing liberals, and the alt-right, all making slimy overtures to gender critical feminists.
Since the early 2000s corporate media outlets, liberal and conservative, have overwhelmingly endorsed gender identity theory, and have mainstreamed the trans trend (previously discussed here and here). Without this backing it would have remained a curiosity on the social margins. Today the right wing gutter tabloids still propagandise for “gender identity”, eg routinely affirming transwomen as women. They are not following their readers, nor are they adapting to new times: gender ideology still lacks popular appeal. They are driving the trans trend.
However, some of these conservative outlets, while continuing to support gender identity, object to the trend’s increasingly invasive claims and demands, and dislike its links to the left. This has created more space for right wing criticism, which on practical issues converges with the concerns of gender critical progressives, some of whom now contribute material to right wing media platforms, which gets them denounced in the no-platforming, vilifying left media.
As I have argued elsewhere, the right are neither saviours nor allies. No-one on the spectrum from bigotry to neoliberalism is a friend to women. At one end of the spectrum they glorify the family, which handcuffs women to unpaid slavery in the home; few of them genuinely support LGB people and fewer back abortion on demand. At the other end, right wing liberals attack workers, meaning they attack working women, whose sexual oppression make them a particularly vulnerable part of the working class. Right wing liberals champion the neoliberal policy era under which gender ideology took root and flourished.
To clean up this mess we need left wing bodies with significant public profiles to offer a gender critical option to ordinary progressive people. Socialist and radical feminists are doing so, but on the wider left they have few friends. Britain’s Counterfire has given some cautious support; also in Britain, there is the Communist Party-aligned Weekly Worker, eg here; the Morning Star newspaper included gender critical material until an internal coup in February this year. Beyond that there are only very small grouplets, as far as I know, most notably around the Redline blog. All this underlines the value of the stand taken by Georgia’s Greens.
Built on sand
The other general point I want to make concerns the concept underpinning gender ideology, the trans trend, and the whole case made by the Lavender Greens: gender identity theory.
This theory is central to the notion that transwomen are women, with all its practical, social implications. “Gender identity” provides the rationale for applying the concept of conversion therapy to trans people as well as same-sex-attracted people, but it also says that lesbians and gays may in fact be heteros born into the wrong body. It “explains” and labels many forms of psychological distress, especially in young people. Gender identity provides a reason for the chemical and surgical “gender affirmation” of teens, for primary school ed programs, and for organizational work with kids behind the backs of parents. Gender identity means that questioners in health and mental health, academia and political life are all bigots who should be silenced and sacked.
Incredibly, this high-stakes concept gets almost no scrutiny. Its many supporters, from Tories to Trotskyists and across the corporate media, have closed ranks around it. The main rationale is a circular argument: any questioning of gender identity is a deep violation of trans people’s gender identity, leading to suffering and suicide (as if suffering and suicide do not result from the oppression of black people, women, and other groups, without this being used as a manipulative, silencing device.)
Gender identity is said to be “known” or “felt” by individuals, when communing with their inner selves. For most adherents this is enough. In response to cries of magical thinking, some leftists have tried to ground it in the material world, with no success.
Gender ideologists deny that women are defined by female biology or socialization, since this excludes transwomen. They don’t define women in terms of stereotypes either, or so they say. If so this would leave “woman” emptied of all meaning (unless perhaps as a postmodern “floating signifier“). In practice the empty space is indeed filled with sex stereotypes. This left-endorsed sexism is precisely why the media has mainstreamed gender identity theory.
People have the right to live their personal lives by the cultural conventions of the other sex. We should support trans people against real bigots who oppose this right, as leading gender critics have done. But we can do so without swallowing a sexist redefinition of women, just as we defend Jews without endorsing Zionism or concentration camps for Palestinians.
Support the Georgia Greens
Georgia’s Greens are helping to defend women from the new cool sexism of gender ideology. They are pushing through the extraordinary confusion that currently exists around the transgender trend – a trend founded on a fantasy that is, for the main, carefully protected from scrutiny. In doing this the Georgia Greens will be subject to a great deal of grief and pressure to capitulate. They deserve all the support we can give them.
The top down nature of the trans trend, a mainstay of Freer Lives, has been rammed home in a new report from supporters of gender ideology. Only adults? Good practices in legal gender recognition for youth was put out by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Youth & Student Organisation (IGLYO)”, produced with the law firm Dentons and the Thomson Reuters Foundation. It offers tips to trans lobbyists:
In Ireland, Denmark and Norway, changes to the law on legal gender recognition were put through at the same time as other more popular reforms such as marriage equality legislation. This provided a veil of protection, particularly in Ireland, where marriage equality was strongly supported, but gender identity remained a more difficult issue to win public support for…
The most important lesson from the Irish experience is arguably that trans advocates can possibly be much more strategic by trying to pass legislation “under the radar” by latching trans rights legislation onto more popular legal reforms (e.g. marriage equality), rather taking more combative, public facing, approaches….
More interesting still:
Another technique which has been used to great effect is the limitation of press coverage and exposure. In certain countries, like the UK, information on legal gender recognition reforms has been misinterpreted in the mainstream media, and opposition has arisen as a result… Against this background, many believe that public campaigning has been detrimental to progress, as much of the general public is not well informed about trans issues, and therefore misinterpretation can arise…. In Ireland, activists have directly lobbied individual politicians and tried to keep press coverage to a minimum in order to avoid this issue.
This last technique is recommended throughout the report: “As we have seen in other countries which have more progressive legal gender recognition laws, the route that Norwegian charities and NGOs took was to advocate directly to politicians.” And: “Danish NGOs have relatively easy access to politicians” so it is “considered to be easier and more efficient to directly change the law via lobbying/ political influencing.” In passing, the report notes a march organized in France, and there is a fleeting reference to public education campaigns, but these are very much the exception and in many ways jar with the rest of the content.
The wish to avoid public debate and exposure is explained away as a means to avoid provoking hate crime and to avoid media-sown confusion between legal self-ID and chemical or surgical procedures which worry the public. But these are top-down, anti-democratic arguments. Anyone who wants to live by the cultural rules of the other sex should be free to do that without fear, but whispered deals with elites only leave the hate to fester. Popular mobilization leaves less room for both hate and confusion.
The ELR paper
The report is critically examined in a forthcoming paper: “Reform ‘under the radar’? Lessons for Scotland from development of gender self-declaration laws in Europe,” Kath Murray, Lucy Hunter Blackburn and Lisa Mackenzie, Edinburgh Law Review (ELR) May 2020. (see advance copy) The paper notes that the drive for self-ID has enjoyed success in countries where public input into the changes was minimal, but hit a barrier when faced with organized popular resistance in Britain:
…in Denmark a closed consultation took place with 28 organisations, which elicited 9 responses (we were unable to find evidence of a public consultation). Public consultations took place in Ireland and Malta but had very low response rates. In Ireland a pre-legislative consultation in 2010 secured 40 responses, while the Maltese consultation in 2014 received 26 responses. By contrast, the Scottish and Westminster consultations secured over 15,600 and 100,000 responses respectively.
Left wing gender ideologists are fond of presenting the trans trend in grass-roots, salt-of-the-earth terms. The SWP’s Laura Miles, for example, declares that the legal rights of trans people “exist on sufferance as far as the ruling class are concerned”. Look through the IGLYO report and judge for yourselves.
Impact on women ignored
The IGLYO report saw women’s concerns in purely antagonistic terms, complaining of “trans exclusionary radical feminists (‘TERFs’), a term coined by a journalist at the Guardian.” The ELR paper notes how lobbyists in countries considering self-ID avoid the issue of how it might impact on women. The Scottish Government, it says, was asked why it “did not cite international evidence to support the view that legal self-declaration was unlikely to have negative effects on single-sex services.” It “responded that its review ‘did not find any relevant research from these jurisdictions in relation to these statements’.”
Denounced on the right
Shamefully, the top down nature of the trend trend has been exposed mainly by right wingers. In his own article on the IGLYO paper (The Spectator 2 Dec 2019), James Kirkup zeroes in on gender ideology’s domination of “public bodies, politicians and officials” in Britain.
Some of the bodies that have embraced these changes with the greatest zeal are surprising: the police are not famous social liberals, but many forces are now at the vanguard here… I think we can discount the idea that this is a simple question of organisations following a changing society. Bluntly, society still doesn’t know very much about transgenderism.
Caroline ffiske writes in The Conservative Woman (“The philosophy not the party!”) 13 May 2020:
Under the Conservatives, the trans narrative corrupts the hearts of our public institutions. It is rolled out by the Department of Education, the Government Equalities Office, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Police, the Courts, the NHS, the BBC, the Office of National Statistics, the Ministry of Justice.
She describes how this plays out in each case. For example:
Perhaps secondary school will be the place for open debate? The best treatment for a bad argument is to shine the light of day and discourse upon it. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has thought of that, and it too seems to have been captured by the trans lobby. The CPS has produced guidance for schools which suggests that it is “transphobic” to challenge the narrative. The CPS treats “gender identity” as established fact. Working alongside the trans lobby groups Stonewall and Gendered Intelligence, it has produced schools guidance which says that “people are assigned a sex at birth” … According to it, children should even be careful about thinking the wrong thoughts. Transphobia includes “personal negative thoughts about trans people”….
The Equal Treatment Bench Book guide for UK judges tells them [my hyperlink, FL] that “the term ‘transgender’ is commonly associated with those people whose gender identity does not correspond to the gender assigned to them at birth”…
She calls for a groundswell of activism that stirs Conservative MPs to pluck up their courage and defy the gender ideologues. Similarly, Kirkup concludes his article with a rousing message: “no policy made in the shadows can survive in sunlight.”
Weak elites, mighty lobbyists?
These two conservative writers land telling blows against the elitism of the trans trend, but can’t explain its success. Caroline ffiske talks of public institutions being “captured” like helpless innocents. She paints Tory MPs and their leaders as cowardly, weak, bemused: passive victims of the trans lobby. “Apparently ‘Downing Street just wants the whole subject to go away’. Never was there such a naive sentiment.” James Kirkup says he is mystified: how did this lobby “achieve such stunning success, not just in the UK but elsewhere?” He says the IQYLO document “helps answer” that. It certainly exposes the secretive, manipulative tactics of the lobbyists, by why has that worked so well with politicians, on an issue that lacks electoral appeal? Reading his article we are left to imagine MPs bamboozled as the gender ideologists shove ready-made legislation before their eyes, as if to be signed by some dementing old monarch, and then watching almost from the sidelines as the trans intriguers finesse it into law.
In reality MPs, top bureaucrats and the police are as usual serving the capitalist class. If the trans lobby has had green lights all the way, it is for the same reason that every section of the corporate media has mainstreamed gender identity theory: the ruling class needs to maintain women’s oppression in a changing world, and gender ideology helps it do so. But the trans-critical right can’t let itself see any of that: the system is good, as are its lords and masters, so the attack has to be coming from dark outside forces.
The only elite opposition to the trans trend comes from parts of the conservative media which want to rein in some of the more invasive and disruptive demands of the trans lobby, as previously discussed. This allows space for criticism by people like Kirkup. But the mass-circulation tabloids which raise these concerns are still eager to spread the sexism of “gender identity”, particularly to working women, so for example the “Femail” section of the Daily Mail has just celebrated The top 10 ‘sexiest transgender women in the world’ (my emphasis). They are not reluctantly following their readership, or adapting to cultural change: as we have seen above, public support for gender ideology remains weak. They are driving the trans trend, as they have since the early 2000s.
The right are enemies
Right wing critics of gender ideology are neither saviours nor allies. No-one on the spectrum from bigotry to neoliberalism is a friend of women’s rights. At one end of the spectrum they glorify the family, which handcuffs women to unpaid slavery in the home; few of them genuinely support LGB people and fewer back abortion on demand. At the other end, right wing liberals attack workers, meaning they attack working women, whose sexual oppression make them a particularly vulnerable part of the working class. Right wing liberals champion the neoliberal policy era under which gender ideology took root and flourished.
Many leftists seize on right wing attacks to paint gender ideology as progressive. The truth is that the left have betrayed women on this issue, and when the left fails to defend an oppressed group, sections of the right may step in and do so, in their own twisted way. But their scope to do that would narrow as soon as the left threw its support behind women’s liberationists.
There is a huge, horrible inversion on this issue: the left has fervently backed a ruling class attack on working women, based on the fantasies of gender identity and a popular trans movement from below. The left must abandon its fantasies. The top down nature of the trans trend stares you in the face.