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Jennifer Bilek’s critique of the trans trend

Anyone following gender critical politics must come across Jennifer Bilek. “I write at the intersection of humanity, technology and runaway capitalism,” she says on her website, 11th hour. “I have been on the left side of politics all my life, until now, where I find myself in a political wilderness, with no political home. Beyond that, labels are no longer serving me.” Her site prominently features the hashtags #followthemoney and #itscapitalismstupid.

She has written about the trans trend in the pro-Trump, anti-abortion Federalist, and the religious and conservative Standard. In The Federalist (5 July 2018) she writes:

It’s hard to imagine a civil rights movement so indelibly tied to the capitalist marketplace that it could be used to sell fashion, makeup, hormones, surgery, cosmetology services, movies, TV series, mental health treatment, and women’s underwear, while concurrently being invested in by billionaire philanthropists, the technology and pharmaceutical industries, major corporations, and banks…

There is plenty of money flowing to transgender organizations, but even more going to normalizing transgender ideology in the culture, in language, through media, marketing, and commerce, and by billionaires’ philanthropic funding of nonprofits and other institutions.

Her rage at the impact on women is very evident. She notes, for example, that the firm TomBoyX – which sells woman’s and girls’ underwear, targeted to comfort and ease of movement for tomboy activities – has recently run an ad of a “young woman with double mastectomy scars donning their boxers under a caption that reads: ‘This canvas was given to you but you made it your own. You crafted your own story. Share it with the world. #moretome.’”

This message is a clear glorification of chosen body disfigurement posing as self-actualization and liberation, sickness as wellness, self-hatred made into empowerment, and cutting and maiming female flesh for public consumption via uber-marketing…

In all this, she says, the biomedical industry is central. In The Standard (21 August 2019) she states:

The massive medical and technological infrastructure expansion for a tiny (but growing) fraction of the population with gender dysphoria, along with the money being funneled to this project by those heavily invested in the medical and technology industries, seems to make sense only in the context of expanding markets for changing the human body. Trans activists are already clamoring for a change from “gender dysphoria” to “gender incongruence” in the next revision to the international register of mental diagnosis codes, the ICD-11. The push is on for insurance-paid hormones and surgeries for anyone who believes his or her body is in any way “incongruent” with his or her “gender identity.”

Bodily diversity appears to be the core issue, not gender dysphoria; that and unmooring people from their biology via language distortions, to normalize altering human biology.

The Christian Post (14 March 2020) quotes her as saying that “Elites in the medical industry driving this ideology seek to get businesses on board… through training and punish dissenters with financial exclusion. Most industries intersect with pharma and tech so it is difficult not to comply.”

Where is all this heading? Toward transhumanism, says Bilek.


The dark design

Transwoman Martine Rothblatt’s book, From Transgender to Transhumanism, “reads like a blueprint for the modern-day trans project to infiltrate every sector of our societies”:

This is happening at a time in our history when the escalation of robots and artificial intelligence are also surging in the marketplace with female-simulated robot sex dolls that are frighteningly close in texture and appearance to real humans acting as stand-in prostitutes in brothels, and for some men, stand-in women in relationships. Robot nannies that supposedly offer guidance and friendship for children while their parents are away, are being marketed by Mattel and other corporations as “the future of raising children.”

One problem with these arguments is that the trans trend is moving away from the medical model towards simple self-ID, which de-emphasises physical change and so offers less to big pharma and big tech. A broader problem is the deterministic nature of Bilek’s case, and the whiff of conspiracy around it: it implies that the trans trend is driven unilaterally by certain profit-hungry bosses and billionaires and their allies or lackeys within the trans lobby. For example, in The Federalist she says:

One has to wonder if the LGB civil rights banner has not just been strategic positioning for transgenderism to claim civil rights, currying popular sympathies already well cultivated for the LGB community, as a pretext to insert itself into the global marketplace, our schools, universities, courts, and medical establishments for more nefarious purposes.

The trans trend is indeed funded by billionaire philanthropists and corporations, as previously discussed on this blog. But it is not just the creature of a particular cabal of bosses, however powerful.


The mainstreaming of the trans trend

Gender ideology has been mainstreamed by the ruling class as a whole, to help it address the needs of the capitalist system as a whole – in particular, its need to keep women down.

Capitalism is addicted to women’s unpaid labour as carers and home makers. “The value of this shadow labor is staggering: $10.9 trillion, according to an analysis by Oxfam. It exceeds the combined revenue of the 50 largest companies on last year’s Fortune Global 500 list, including Walmart, Apple and Amazon.” (New York Times 5 March 2020). In cold capitalist terms, women’s unpaid labour keeps the paid workforce (including themselves) refreshed and work-ready, and rears the next generation of wage slaves. Women have long tolerated this unpaid work because they have been made to see themselves as natural nurturers, and inferior to men. The system thus has a vital interest in maintaining sexist ideas. This ongoing war against working women inevitably impacts on all women as a sex, even ruling class women who help to perpetuate the system.

But capitalism has also drawn women deeply into the paid workforce, bringing them new experiences which weaken the hold of the old stereotypes – a dilemma for the bosses. They have to deal with this dilemma in the context of political and cultural changes over which they have limited control. So for example the capitalist class has endorsed liberal feminism as a compromise that reflects women’s growing social power and political awareness without challenging sexism as such. The sexism of gender ideology is a very handy new element in this fake-progressive worldview.

It is only on this foundation that particular sections of capitalism, such as the pharmaceutical industry, derive their own benefits from gender ideology.

Bilek is right to say that transgender ideology “came out of the medical industrial complex”, but at first it was just a small oddity on its margins. The bosses only really got behind it in the early 2000s, when its value as a new form of sexism, adapted to modern times and sensibilities, became apparent for capitalism.

Before this, in the latter part of the twentieth century, gender ideology owed its expansion to postmodern academics and intellectuals. Postmodernism is essentially conservative. It arose as an attack on Marxism and liberation politics. But it does not dance to the tune of the elite, in fact it has a sneering, pseudo-radical side which rankles with bosses and politicians.

This reflects the other key factor in the rise of gender ideology. Postmodernism arose out of the ebb in class struggle that set in during the late 1970s, and the political demoralization of the workers movement and the left which followed. In this environment the old calls for “one struggle, one fight”, centred around the workers movement, fractured and decayed into identity politics; women’s liberation largely gave way to liberal feminism. This created the conditions for the new gender sexism to take hold on the left. The bosses and their corporate media had no direct involvement in this process, they simply worked with the material given them on the political terrain.


Social conservatives and capitalism

Social conservatives can be suspicious, even hostile, to big business, while not seeing the bosses as the ruling class or capitalism as the defining element of our social system. Jennifer Bilek’s choice of media platforms, and her acceptance by those platforms, shows an affinity with this sort of social conservatism, and her arguments are consistent with it, albeit at its most extreme anti-capitalist edge. But as previously discussed on Freer Lives (eg here and here) any alliance with social conservatives sets back women’s rights and plays to the case made by the pro-gender left: that attacks on the trans trend, even when posed as being anti-establishment, are always right wing.


Orban’s Hungary, liberalism, and the right wing attack on gender ideology

The Woman’s Place UK site has recently published an excellent article by socialist feminist Jayne Egerton: “There’s more than one way to ‘erase’ women – Women’s rights under attack in Victor Orban’s Hungary”. She notes the growing “anti gender” movements in central and eastern Europe:

These movements privilege biological understandings of what it means to be a man or a woman but only do so in order to insist that our biology should determine (and restrict) our lives. They want to hang on [to] the man/woman binary because they believe that gendered roles and expectations, ones which place women below men, are determined by sex.

For the Hungarian government, the field of gender studies “is seen as promoting too fluid an understanding of male and female roles in the place of a fixed social order in which women’s biological destiny is to be married mothers.” Hungary’s National Assembly recently “refused to ratify the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.” The reason:

It was claimed that the convention promoted “gender ideology” and particular issue was taken with the section that defined gender as “socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men.” Hungarian politicians object to an understanding of gender which recognises that women’s ‘role’ can change, even improve (!), as societies change…


No alliances with social conservatives

“Unless we establish very clear lines between ourselves and right wing, religious fundamentalists,” Egerton points out, “we are in danger of being swallowed up and used by the most anti-women, global forces, the canniest of which offer themselves as ‘partners’ in the fight against gender ideology”. She cites the example of “the Heritage Foundation, a hugely powerful Christian Right think tank which has platformed radical feminists.”

The Heritage Foundation has particular chutzpah. Whilst claiming to be an ally in the feminist fight to preserve female only spaces and sex-based rights, it opposes reproductive rights, lesbian and gay rights and any measures to counter discrimination against women, notably the Equal Rights Amendment. In fact, it blames feminists for the current state of affairs – though Ryan Anderson would never be rude enough to say so at their shared events. “Transgender theories are part of the feminist goal of a sexual revolution that eliminates the proprietary family and celebrates non-monogamous sexual experiences.”

When it’s not cynically partnering with (a small number) of radical feminists as ‘cover’, the Heritage Foundation enjoys the company of the Holy See, the universal government of the Catholic Church which operates from Vatican City State. The Vatican has opposed the notion of gender since the early-2000s, arguing that males and females have intrinsic attributes which aren’t shaped by social forces. Recently, they published an educational document called “Male and female he created them”.

“Woman’s Place UK,” Egerton adds, “has consistently stated an opposition to working with, or supporting the work of the religious right (and their female representatives). Not simply because it is strategically disastrous but because it is wrong in principle.”

On this basis she criticises “those gender critical feminists, albeit small in number, who are responding positively to the news from Hungary, on the basis that Orban recognises the immutability of sex. Whilst Baroness Nicholson might see no problem in adding Hungary to her list of causes for celebration, feminists shouldn’t lose sight of a much bigger picture.” (Baroness Nicholson was a Conservative MP who switched to the Liberal Democrats. The Independent says she “voted against the same-sex marriage bill in 2013” and “suggested that the introduction of same-sex marriage that year had degraded ‘the status of women and of girls… as a binary class’”.)

Jayne Egerton’s article is very welcome and very important. It follows on from WPUK’s previous statement of opposition to feminist alliances with social conservatives in the USA, as discussed earlier on Freer Lives.

But right wing opposition to gender ideology is not restricted to social conservatives.


A more subtle and refined poison

The trans lobby attacks not just traditionalism, but key liberal values: women’s rights, the well-being of children and teens, science, and free speech, including the right to hold meetings and peaceful protests, the right of clinicians to explore the symptoms and personal histories of their suffering trans patients, and the right of academics to debate touchy issues. Most liberal commentators blind themselves to these attacks on liberal values, influenced by the sexist fantasy of “gender identity” and by the support given to this fantasy by their lords and masters in the corporate media, and on the left. Right wing liberals, on the other hand, despise the left and often work for, or look to, those media bosses who don’t go all the way with the trans lobby. This frees them up to be the standard bearers for liberalism on this issue.

The social conservative bigots and right wing liberals have different agendas but have not polarized out into sharply opposing camps. Instead there is a messy mix of gender critical ideas spread across the right, in outlets including the Wall Street Journal; The Spectator; the right-of-centre, establishment Times and Sunday Times; pseudo-oppositional sites like Spiked, Areo, and Quillette, and the alt-right Breitbart News.

They all want to win gender critical women away from the left. I suspect that the liberal end of this spectrum has had most success here, since their feminist credentials are so much stronger. Lenin once described Protestantism as a more subtle and refined poison than Russian Orthodoxy; I think the same principle applies here.

It is true, of course, that right wing liberals are sincerely appalled by the trans lobby’s attacks on women (see eg this piece by Helen Joyce in Quillette) but so are social conservatives, in their own way. The question is not their moral sincerity but the politics behind their stand, and where it leads. Right wing liberals are fighting for neoliberalism, the system that has inflicted decades of misery on working people, on women even more than men. Neoliberalism is the modern form of capitalism, which needs women’s oppression as underpinning. And while some right wing liberals may react against gender ideology, or aspects of it, neoliberalism as a system has mainstreamed it, because it helps perpetuate sexism under modern social conditions. (Because women’s presence in the workforce makes them more socially aware and harder to hoodwink than the atomized, stay-at-home housewives of the past, the sexism they get fed needs to be slimier.) The left may be wretchedly wrong about gender ideology, but they are 100% correct to hate and fight neoliberalism.

Here and there a right wing liberal may take a high profile stand against gender ideology, and even come to symbolize the struggle against it – in which case they should be supported to the hilt on that specific issue. That is a world away from routinely, uncritically citing outlets or commentators who challenge gender ideology one moment and slag off the unions or the left a moment later. Uncritical support for right wing liberals is like an alliance with bigots: strategically disastrous, and wrong in principle.


[This article was updated 7 July 2020, after publication. The main change was to add “liberalism” to its title]