Birth wars: the politics of childbirth

Originally published by Glosswitch at the New Statesman

To be of woman born is a universal experience, yet women themselves remain a diffuse, fractured group. “What is a woman, anyway?” is still considered a deep, meaningful question to ask. The polite answer is, of course, “whatever anyone wants it to be”. More than that would close off the vessel, seal the hole, glue back together the broken shell. There’s a sense in which women are simply not meant to be whole. We need to be in pieces so that men can survive intact.

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Why I Won’t Accept The Politics Of Gender Identity

Originally published by The Morning Star

THE concept of gender identity is being enshrined into law in several countries now, giving new legal protections to transgender people on the basis of their identities.

In the United States, the Obama administration recently signed a declaration that all public schools in the country must recognise the gender identity of their students.

Canada has recently announced new legal protections for transgender people. In Britain, there is interest growing in allowing people to legally define their own gender.

As a person on the political left and as a member of the LGBT community, I am expected to applaud these changes to legislation, but instead I am critical.

This is because the concept of gender identity is poorly defined, and the politics of transgenderism is harmful to women and girls and rooted in individualism rather than collective action.

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Is “Trans” predicative?

Originally posted at The Big Board

I think the term “woman” is, or should be, predicative. Yes, there is a bit of vagueness to “woman” if you want to split hairs. But I think it’s pretty clear that folk-prototypes across a lot of cultures are in close agreement about who women are. The sophistry of genderists thrives in this narrow band of vagueness, but I can’t see how a boy born with a wang and nads who made a career of doing male stuff in the Olympics is going to be able to break through that vagueness barrier and be near the core concept of “woman” just because of what he thinks or what he wants to do.

The whole point is that “trans” is attributive and not predicative in the senses logicians use those terms. X is a trans woman does not simply imply that X is a woman by logical structure. “Trans women are women” is not axiomatic the way some think it is. “Trans” is not a clear subset of “women”, and may not be a subset of women at all. I think it isn’t.

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The pronominal is political

Originally posted at language: a feminist guide

Feminists objected to the use of ‘he’ to refer to people in general, which made women as a class invisible. The new politics of gender identity, by contrast, is concerned with the way pronouns are used in reference to specific individuals. As the writer I quoted earlier explains, pronouns are ‘a big deal’ because

They’re the definitive way we acknowledge and respect a person’s gender in everyday conversation.

The principle that underlies this assertion is that individuals have a right to be referred to with the pronouns which, in their own view, most appropriately reflect their gender identity. It should not be assumed that everyone is either ‘he’ or ‘she’: individuals who identify as trans, non-binary, agender or genderqueer may prefer an alternative, epicene form. ‘They’ is one of the available options, but sources which aim to document non-traditional pronoun use exhaustively, like this tumblr, list scores of other possibilities.

The acceptance of this principle has produced a new form of linguistic etiquette: announcing one’s ‘preferred pronouns’ and taking steps to ascertain the preferred pronouns of others. Some universities now invite students to register their pronouns: at Harvard around half the student body so far have availed themselves of this option (though only about 50 students out of 10,000 have specified a pronoun other than ‘he’ or ‘she’). And the New York City Human Rights Commission recently issued legal guidance which made clear that an employer or landlord who failed to use an employee or tenant’s preferred name, title and pronouns would be guilty of unlawful discrimination.

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Gender MadLibs: Decoding Transspeak

Originally posted at

When words mean two or more things, or when they mean something other than what they seem, this means trouble. This kind of double-speak is indispensible to any totalitarian movement. The transgender movement is no exception.

The word “woman” itself is Orwellian in a patriarchy. It can refer to someone who is biologically female, or someone who has a “feminine” persona (as defined by their society), or both at once. It can mean different things on different days, depending on the whims of the speaker.

This is why children have a hard time understanding what it means to be a boy or girl, and think that biological femalehood is equated with social femalehood. It’s why they have this idea of a girl with a penis or a boy with a vagina. “Boy” and “girl” can mean anything people want them to mean, and, in the case of transactivists and conservatives, both at once.

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Thoughts of a person, with breasts

Originally posted at Glosswatch

Jaqueline Rose recently wrote 15,000 breathless, muddled words on transness for the LRB. “Transsexual people are brilliant at telling their stories,” she declared. They are interesting, you see, unlike cis women, those dullards, unquestioning conscripts to the gender regime who see themselves as “normal” because they lack the trans person’s unique ability to inhabit a liminal space:

The ‘cis’ – i.e. non-trans – woman or man is a decoy, the outcome of multiple repressions whose unlived stories surface nightly in our dreams. From the Latin root meaning ‘on this side of’ as opposed to ‘across from’, ‘cis’ is generally conflated with normativity, implying ‘comfortable in your skin’, as if that were the beginning and end of the matter.

Who, exactly, we may therefore ask – trans or non-trans – is fooling whom? Who do you think you are? – the question anyone hostile to transsexual people should surely be asking themselves. So-called normality can be the cover for a multitude of ‘sins’.

Cis woman, as far as Rose is concerned, restricts herself to a surface-only existence. She is Woolf’s looking glass, now providing an outline to be filled with someone else’s deep, meaningful knowledge of what it is to truly live as neither one thing nor another. The patriarchal insistence that women do not have souls gets an update; cis woman does not know her own soul, but that is her fault. She condemns herself to inauthenticity through her own lack of curiosity, content to remain tits and ass, “the cover for a multitude of ‘sins’.”

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