This is a blog about the transgender phenomenon, by a socialist critic. Discussion and constructive criticism are welcome.
Transgender individuals are trying to live a life that feels better for them, in the process defying the idea that we are naturally feminine or masculine based on our biology. As a result trans people risk harassment, bashings and sometimes murder by backwoods haters. Their rights are supported by the Left, most feminists, and most lesbians and gays. The Christian Right has rallied against them, as part of a wider campaign against anyone outside traditional, biology-based, heterosexual identities.
Yet everyone else seems to be on board. Trans rights are promoted by governments, CEOs, public authorities, Facebook, and the mass media, including the right wing Murdoch empire. They are championed by an extraordinarily wide coalition stretching from the far Left to sections of the US Republican Party. Support from the elite and the Right is based on the potential of the trans trend to further their own interests. For while it challenges biology-based sex stereotypes, the trans trend does not challenge sex stereotypes as such – in fact transgender thinking is founded on sex role typecasting, for when someone transitions from one gender to the other, they have nothing but stereotypes to define them in their new status. This makes the trans phenomenon a very useful way for the elite to maintain conservative ideas in a changing world. As Marx said, the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class, and it is the elite’s way of looking at the trans issue that prevails. And while people who transition are reacting against biology-based stereotypes, they do so in an atmosphere of continuing glowing endorsement of trans identity in the corporate mass media. The problems are these:
- mass media massively ramps up the sex stereotyping aspect of the trans trend, turning it at times into a carnival-like celebration
- critics who try to point this out have at times been silenced by trans activists, supported by the corporate media; the concept of ‘hater’ has been degraded by trans activists and supporters, used to create a mood of fear that silences progressive-minded critics
- trans activists make certain demands that reinforce women’s oppression
- media and public institutions present transgender identity as the definitive or only alternative to mainstream traditional sex roles, concealing the option of simply living a freer life without reference to gender
- instead of social change to push back stereotypes, trans ideology calls for personal change: the foot must change, not the shoe; instead of pointing out that something deeply wrong in society must change, it calls only for acceptance of diversity
- children and teens discontented with traditional gender roles are being told that trans identity is the only alternative: a high-stakes alternative leading toward surgery, infertility and a lifetime on costly drugs
- there are also questions to be asked as to whether the transgender trend is being used at times to channel young people away from gay or lesbian identities.
There is a different way to oppose biology-based stereotypes of the girly-girl and red-meat guy: to let males as males and females as females throw off stereotypes and live freer lives just as they are. I think most trans people would have no problem with this; they might even see it as vaguely allied to their own approach. It was once a commonplace among leftists and feminists. Yet we rarely hear of this approach, for it is not what the elite want people to hear. The Left does not challenge them, for it has surrendered a great deal of ground on this issue.
A trend that goes far beyond transgender people themselves
Transgender people defy the most traditional sex stereotypes that people born with a female body are naturally feminine, people born with a male body are naturally masculine, and anything else is unnatural and unhealthy. This means that transgender people face widespread social ostracism, run the risk of violent attacks, and face political attacks from the religious Right and the so-called alt Right. Transgender people deserve support in confronting all these forms of discrimination. Transgender people themselves can reasonably expect to lead that process themselves, or at least to be at the front and centre of any discussions. At the same time, they have huge support from liberals and leftists.
This blog is centred on different concerns:
1 that some ideas associated with transgender identity are politically conservative and work against women’s liberation
2 crucially, that the neoliberal elite disseminates the most conservative elements of this thinking, via the mass media and public and private institutions, to help maintain women’s oppression
3 that this process is not being challenged by liberals and leftists who normally defend women’s rights.
Because of this, discussions around transgender identity are not simply about defending a minority’s rights. The issue impacts directly on the whole population, particularly women.
Transgender people vary in their political views. Many will probably oppose a lot of the arguments made in this blog, such as its rejection of the notion of innate gender identity. In response I ask such people to consider how female-socialised women are impacted by transgender messages, and to oppose people like Caitlyn Jenner not just on the basis of wealth and Republicanism, but on the basis of sex role stereotyping of womanhood. But at its core this is a battle not with transgender people but against the neoliberal elite. Some feminists are engaged in this battle. The Left should be too.
About the blog
The Pages of the blog contain opinion statements on what I see as the main points at stake. Each statement will probably be revised quite often, in response to constructive criticism or new facts or ideas.
Comment on my posts is very welcome, and so is discussion and debate between readers. However I reserve the right not to publish abuse or empty attacks.
I am an independent socialist in Victoria Australia, who tweets as @svyazhsk. I have set this blog up out of deep concern that the Left has failed to defend the politics of women’s liberation in the context of the transgender trend.
For the record, I am a hetero male who believes that women are oppressed by capitalism, not by men. Capitalism cannot let go of women’s second class status because it relies on women to perform unpaid labour in the home. Individual men and women become the agents of women’s oppression. It is in the interests of all working people to remove women’s oppression, along with the whole system of capitalism.