Instead of using a trans-inclusive definition of gender discrimination, conservatives and TERFs want to base claims of discrimination on assigned sex at birth, rather than gender identity or presentation. They call this “sex-based rights.”
The problem with this argument is that transphobia is a form of sex discrimination. By telling members of one assigned sex that they may not be referred to by pronouns that align with their gender identity, wear the clothing that suits their gender presentation, or that they cannot get treatment or surgeries that help alleviate gender dysphoria, they are practising sex-based discrimination. I’m not the only one to use this argument—the United States Supreme Court, not known for its progressivism, ruled in Bostock that homophobic and transphobic discrimination in the workplace were unconstitutional, since they targeted people for discrimination based on sex assigned at birth.
It is more accurate to call “sex-based rights” sex-based restrictions. Just as digital rights management is designed to restrict how people use and distribute computer files, the principle of sex-based rights is designed to restrict the range of gender expressions and identities based on one’s assigned sex. Supporters of DRM say they want to protect and empower copyright holders (typically large corporations). And supporters of sex-based restrictions say they want to protect and empower women.
But sex-based restrictions don’t empower or protect women. Instead, they are sumptuary laws harking back to the Victorian era. Or in contemporary society, the laws in theocratic Middle Eastern states like Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. These restrictions also reinforce the anti-feminist idea that one’s assigned sex at birth defines one’s moral character. That if you were assigned male, you are automatically a rapist and pervert, and if you were assigned female, you are a delicate flower in need of protecting. These are patriarchal stereotypes that merely reinforce the idea that men and women will never be equal.
Some feminists—the ones who believe in inculcating gender equity in future generations—focus on cultivating gentleness and compassion in men, and assertiveness and strength in women. Supporters of sex-based restrictions do not do that. Instead, they reinforce the idea men are strong, dominating and predatory, and women are delicate, weak and nurturing. This isn’t feminism. In fact, it’s quite the opposite—it is merely the inverse of patriarchal “values.”
Homophobia and transphobia are sexism. Neither should be welcome in a tolerant society.
- (Come to think about it, the constant use of “sex” feels very old-fashioned, too—feminist activists started shifting towards “gender” fifty years ago. I prefer this not just for political reasons—“sex” is too easily confused with sexual intercourse.) ↩
…it is racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and ableism that are distractions from the class struggle, not the drive to eliminate these prejudices. By dismissing—or in some cases, upholding—these hostilities, you make it possible for the ruling classes to drive women, queer people, immigrants and disabled people from socialism. “They’re no better than the conservatives, since they’ll also ban me from transitioning or marrying my partner.” “They’re no better than the current leaders, since they won’t care if I’m going to be killed by the police because they see members of my race as dangerous.” “I can’t get involved with this movement because they’re going to ban abortion and weaken domestic-violence laws.” The message, whether tacit or explicit, is that some proletarians (men, ethnic or racial majorities, straight and cis people) are worth more than others. And when it’s explicit, when you actively express racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia or any other non-class prejudice, you are just as divisive as the “Lean In” feminists or those who focus on racial injustice without considering socioeconomic inequality. Any movement that dehumanises me, that says I don’t deserve basic rights, that claims I’m inferior—why would I join your stupid revolution? It would be all the same to me, just as it would be all the same for a poor or working-class person in a society that has eliminated all non-class discrimination.
If you want to get rid of identity politics, then don’t excuse or perpetuate the social divisions that give rise to it.
The UK has gained the epithet ‘TERF Island’ for good reason: the Conservative government and its supposed opposition have launched a sustained attack on trans people’s right to self-determination since Boris Johnson took control of Downing St, and Rishi Sunak is probably even worse than his predecessors, including Liz Truss, whose premiership had the lifespan of a mayfly. I focus on the Tories here for expedience, but Labour are no improvement: the pusillanimous Blairite Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has simply parroted the Tories’ views with slightly less vitriol.
As nauseating and pervasive as it is, however, transphobia is only one of the prejudices the Tories have expressed and encouraged over the thirteen miserable years they have been in power, either on their own or in coalition. Disabled people, working-class people and job-seekers, and migrants have also been persecuted, vilified and dehumanised by the Tory regime.
Both woke and anti-woke activists are tiresome scolds who need to shut the fuck up and stop treating people as census designations rather than complex human beings. All they see is categories: Black, White, Male, Female, Gay, Straight, Trans, Non-Trans.
- I am fed up with the woke movement. But I hate the anti-woke movement even more, and I think a lot of “wokism” is a reaction against the rise of far-right movements in America, Britain, Europe, and elsewhere.
- Why do I hate these movements? Because both sides focus on what people are, rather than who they are.
- Sexists (which includes homophobes and transphobes, not just misogynists) and racists treat their targets as something, rather than somebody. Race is a what; cultural expression is a who. Sex is a what; gender is a who. If you fixate on race and sex, rather than culture or gender, you are likely to make hasty generalisations that flatten the complexity of human experience. I don’t trust anyone who calls himself a “feminist” and uses sex as a way to define the righteous and the damned, and I don’t trust anyone who calls himself an “antiracist” and uses race as a dividing line between the sinners and the saints.
- TERFs are not feminists by any reasonable definition. They are reactionary fascist-adjacent ideologues who are just as sexist as their conservative counterparts. Their mentality is “penis = evil,” which is just the inverse version of “vagina = irrational hysteric.” Ironically, some woke activists end up sounding like TERFs, though their focus seems to be more on skin colour.
- You can be antiracist or culturally inclusive without making excuses for oppressive behaviour by marginalised groups. I abhor Islamophobia, but I’m not going to defend Islamism or any other form of religious extremism. Islamists, along with other religious fundamentalists, deserve to be marginalised because their views are incompatible with a functioning civil society. This is why I have no patience for leftists who go out of their way to defend right-wing fundamentalist states like Iran. They’ll rightly criticise evangelical Christian nutjobs but give a free pass to their Islamic fundamentalist counterparts who ban women from being educated or cut people’s heads off for being gay. Just because Muslims, whether liberal, moderate, or extreme, are a minority in Europe and the Americas doesn’t mean that fundamentalist Middle Eastern or African governments are beyond criticism.
- Sometimes I want to read criticisms of the woke movement, but these criticisms tend to come alongside a heaping dose of racism and sexism, including hostility toward LGBTQ people, a dismissiveness toward people who have real grievances about racial discrimination, and other forms of intolerance. All I can think about is “they are so obsessed with what I am that I don’t think they’d even see me as a who, and they hate me just for that.”
- When I read woke writing, I come across essentialist bullshit about how if you’re straight, white, male, American, Christian, British, European, or non-trans, you’re the devil. Bullshit. This is the right’s hateful rhetoric inverted as a form of purported self-protection. And all I can think about is “they are so obsessed with what I am that I don’t think they’d see me as a who if I belonged to a ‘privileged’ demographic. And because I’m ‘multiply marginalised,’ they love me just for that.”
- It is virtually impossible for me to read anything in the media about racism or sexism without my skin crawling.
- Classism is a common feature in both woke and anti-woke discourses. A lot of it looks like elites playing off each other, though I don’t mean that in a class-reductionist way.
- Claiming that any group of people, including white people, are inherently evil because of their ancestry or skin colour is counterproductive, essentialist garbage that should be wiped out of any social justice movement.
- If I excluded everybody but LGBTQ+ non-white people (I hate the expression “people of colour” and will not use it here) from my social circles, I wouldn’t have many people to talk to. Some of the most virulent prejudice I have experienced has come from members of my “own” race, including relatives.
- Both woke and anti-woke activists make me feel like a what, rather than a who. The problem is that I’m the right what for the woke movement and the wrong what for the anti-woke movement. Either way, I’m something rather than somebody.
- If I hate something or someone, it’s because of who they are, not what they are. Donald Trump is odious because of his beliefs, not because he’s a white man. Candace Owens is also repugnant, though she’s a black woman. When woke activists say “listen to black women,” do they also mean Candace Owens, or do they mean only those who are ideologically similar to them? When anti-woke activists say that they should be listened to, do they include members of the “wrong” demographics who agree with them, like Caitlyn Jenner or Blaire White?
- I’m a grudging supporter of affirmative action because of my who-not-what orientation. Although I hate the idea of ranking people based on what they are, I also acknowledge that historical injustices should be combated.
- Fighting racism and sexism is important. But that fight should be focused on humanising people, rather than using demographic categories as a sign of virtue.
- I feel I have to be woke to protect myself. But at the same time, I’m sacrificing a lot of my authenticity. I can’t say what I want to say without being told that I’m making excuses for bad actors, even though I have the same goals—that people are treated fairly and kindly. That’s why I’m blogging about this stuff anonymously.
- If you focus too much on what people are, rather than who people are, I have little respect for you or your movement.
I want to see a fairer, more equitable world. But I want to do that without all the bullshit I see from the woke movement, or the reactionary racism and sexism that have arisen both as a cause and as a consequence of it. I want to be somebody, not something. Is that too much to ask?
(I’ll talk more specifically about sexism and racism later, but this is a good overview of how I feel.)