Brendan O’Neill is a gentlemanly class warrior for the other side. His politics float between right-of-centre liberalism and the slimy alt-right.
Progressives’ support for trans ideology gives O’Neill an easy way to take them down. All he has to do is display the extent of trans sexism. This he does in the Sp!ked piece How the trans ideology dehumanises women, which examines a recent book by transwoman Grace Lavery – Please Miss: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Penis. Lavery, he tells us, is an associate professor of English at Berkeley in California. (Before looking at Lavery’s musings and anecdotes, it should be admitted that any one of them might be passed off as satire and parody, in the proper, murky, postmodern way.)
Lavery and women
Lavery, O’Neill says, “tells his doctor he wants ‘titty skittles’ – that is, progesterone supplements to ‘enlarge one’s breasts’. Hot tip for Mr Lavery: women don’t refer to their breasts as titties.” Lavery “seems to have such a fetishised view of ‘womanhood’ – to the extent that when he first transitions he puts on a ‘slutty denim skirt’. Well, women are sluts, right?… That reductive view of women as holes that need filling? That he can have…”
Lavery writes about the ‘panic’ over trans women (ie, blokes) using women’s toilets, with gender-critical types pushing the bigoted idea that trans women are ‘erotically fixated on the idea of women urinating’. Then, literally in the next paragraph, he says: ‘[But] going to the bathroom is kind of sexy? At least, I have occasionally found it to be so.’ My man, this is why they don’t want you in their loos.
The book “has page after depressing page” on Lavery’s male member, and “an entire chapter on his ‘splooge’, as he calls it”. The “most disturbing part of the book,” O’Neill says, “is its mockery of gender-critical women”:
Lavery goes on to say that there is ‘something stranger’ underneath ‘the whole phenomenon of British gender-criticals’ – he calls it ‘the problem [of] leaky boobs and the school run, the revenge of feminist grievance against feminist pleasure’. The ‘sourness’ of these harridans who dare to say men aren’t women represents a ‘loathing of the trans woman as a figure of pleasure embodied’…
This is misogyny. On every level…. Lavery has said that ‘there is something about being treated like shit by men that feels like affirmation itself… to be the victim of honest, undisguised sexism possesses an exhilarating vitality.’
Transwomen vary. Some just want to live quiet lives by the social codes and rules for women in our society. Others are left wing activists who no doubt fight for abortion rights. But trans ideology has sex role stereotyping at its core, and this inevitably generates misogyny. Lavery is no outlier. Take for example transwoman Jacob Tobia, author of Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story, who once said “Women around the world have been treated as sexual objects. Yet if sexual objectification is so categorically awful, then why do I want it so badly?” Or American trans-identifying academic Andrea Long Chu, whose 2019 book Females calls the anus “a universal vagina through which femaleness can always be accessed.” The briefest glance through social media will confirm all this more graphically.
Against trans sexism and the right
“Freedom of speech,” Brendan O’Neill says, “must include the freedom to ridicule Islam.” That is to say, he punches down on bitterly oppressed people, and wants to knock away the beliefs that give them moral support. Like many on the right he says he is pro-worker. Meaning what? Not support for Jeremy Corbyn, who gave so much hope to working people forced to their knees by neoliberalism; he denounced Corbyn’s supporters for “mob-like authoritarianism”. True salt-of-the-earth types are found on a march of the Football Lads Alliance, “attended,” O’Neill says, “by working-class people” and “organised by working-class people” (meaning Nazi Tommy Robinson and his small-business-owning mates).
Yet it is easy to see why many gender critical feminists have been pulled toward O’Neill and his kind, as the Laverys and the left slag them off. Many GC feminists have moved right, but by no means all. As Ruth Serwotka says:
Feminism, women’s liberation and women’s rights activism, however we wish to brand it, has always been a movement for radical progress, against reaction and against the hard right. The increasing impoverishment of women and children in the UK cannot be, and is not, ignored by feminists. The loss of women’s services and the never-ending attack on occupations in the public sector, a majority held by women, cannot be ignored.
Such attacks are the very meat and bread of the anti-union Spectator, where O’Neill often writes. Those attacks are resisted by the Corbynite and far left, even as they side with trans sexism against women’s interests (why the left does this has been much discussed on Freer Lives, eg here and here).
Sailing this sea requires some tacking. There are far too few gender critical feminists to respond to all the trans sexism pouring out of the corporate and leftwing media, far too few leftists on their side. So our side needs to make use of the research undertaken by the right, and maybe some of their nice turns of phrase, when this is targeted against trans misogyny.
Yet one cannot forget three things about the right. First, they fight for the austerity policies that make working women’s lives miserable. Second, conservatives in the political establishment allied with its neoliberal wing to mainstream gender identity theory in the first place. Third, when they now oppose the consequences of that theory, they are playing a game of divide and rule. So I say, by all means quote O’Neill against trans sexism, but carefully and selectively, and always, explicitly, as an enemy.