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Day by day the list of alleged transphobics and TERFs grows. The outspoken Bindle and Burchill fell foul long ago, followed more recently by Rupert Read of the Green party and Germaine Geer herself. Then 130 trans activists and ‘allies’ signed an open letter to defend the growing list of supposed ‘bigots’ and their treatment in universities. Predictably, many of them, including Mary Beard and Peter Tatchell, were immediately smeared.
For those fighting the corner, the push for transgender rights is a simple progression from the gay and civil rights movements. A black and white issue of injustice to be address with the same fevered morally certainty as the social justice battles fought and won last century. A familiar narrative of a sexual minority fighting cultural oppression is evoked, and anyone who questions the new orthodoxy must be bigoted, dangerous, or just plain stupid.
Since first writing on the issue, I’ve been accused of ignorance as many times as bigotry and hatred. But I’m acutely aware of the intractable complexity of these questions, and my aim here and elsewhere has not to directly address the live interdisciplinary debate surrounding the nature of gender: how sex, gender and sexual orientation interact? Whether gender is a completely fluid concept, or if its tied in some way to our biological bodies? I don’t know, no one does for certain: scientist, journalists or trans-activists.
Just like homosexuals, transgender people have always existed in human society – in Southeast Asia and Thailand so-called ‘ladyboys’ have been celebrated for centuries – and they must be respected and recognized like any other group. But unlike homosexuality, transgenderism as we see it today in the West was only made possible with modern surgery and hormone therapy.
This is not just a question of society finally stepping back and letting men and women love who they want to love, but a question of how far society should step up to surgically alter physical bodies, and if such treatment is beneficial for the afflicted? “Debates over the latest scientific research are of little interest to me: what matters is [their] the happiness,” wrote Owen Jones this week. But to disregard the facts, is to flagrantly disregard their wellbeing, Owen.
This is an idiosyncratic issue, fraught with additional layers of complexity and the trans-lobby’s inability to respect it as such shows where the ignorance really lies. See, there is two positions you must consider after accepting people can transition their gender, and there are inherent contradictions within both from the feminist perspective. What the trans-lobby can’t appreciate, is that whatever position one assumes, by their own terms, you view will offend somebody.
You may well conclude that post-op transsexuals have a right to be treated as women, without question. Yet by taking this route, you end up pedaling the sort of gender-essentialism that trans-activists claim to stand against by attributing gender identity to anatomy and hormones. That offends them. Alternatively, you might conclude that anatomy is indeed irrelevant, and men should have a right to be treated as women because they feel like women; they have a ‘female brain’ trapped inside a male body, as some have put it. But there is tension here too.
The new orthodoxy dictated by today’s trans-lobby goes well beyond the once popular feminists critiques of essentialism advanced by Jane Flax and Nancy Fraser. As Rupert Read of the Green Party recently wrote, “to be a critic of gender essentialism is one thing; to seek to dissolve the category of ‘woman’ altogether, in favor of a sort of ‘opt-in’ version of what it is to be a woman, quite another.”
The competing theory used to explain the existence of large numbers of people (mostly white men) believing they have the wrong body, is that they suffer from something called gender dysphoria syndrome (defined here by the NHS), or Body Integrity Identity Disorder – the same condition those convinced they shouldn’t have certain limbs have, and a similar idea that is used to explain why anorexics are so certain they are overweight.
The evidence advanced by the trans-lobby against the ‘transphobes’ who consider these theories are brain scans purporting to confirm the presence of a ‘female brain’ in trans women. Many feminists consider it a cornerstone of their worldview that women are socialized into being. They are not cognitively distinct from men, and there is no such thing a ‘female brain.’ The belief that men and women are cognitively distinct, and that there is indeed a ‘female brain,’ is a common reason for rejecting feminism. So it should be striking to see trans-lobby feminists asserting how cognitively distinct men and women must be like this.
Back to Mr. Read. He’s a philosopher, Green party candidate and radical feminist who last week got labeled bigoted for merely positing the above conundrum on Twitter. “Feminists have a right to point out that there can in some cases be a prima facie tension between the desire to become a woman and the full recognition of… [natural born] women,” he wrote.
It’s a polarizing debate within feminism; “[Surgical] transgenderism has robbed Women and Girls of the language we need to describe our oppression. Cisgender is a myth that supports male supremacy,” argues one radical feminist. “Despite declaring themselves “radical”, the feminists who sign up to the transphobic, whorephobic, anti porn kind of feminism are basically reactionaries,” asserted a trans-lobby blogger.
But many ordinary women, too, have raised objections of this sort with the trans-lobby. Such women claim they are ‘offended’ by the presence of people with male anatomy in their ‘safe spaces’ who can now tell them who qualifies as a woman. Trans women, after all, will never experience periods, pregnancy, childbirth, the menopause or know what it is like to be brought up gendered female.
Yet to even discuss such concerns today, or question the now dominant “sort of ‘opt-in’ version of what it is to be a woman” that has rapidly established itself in recent years is now widely considered quite un-PC or even hate-speech, depending on context. Feminists ‘guilty’ of voicing these concerns have long been labeled trans-exclusionary-radical-feminists, or TERFs, and outcast by the intersectional majority on the left. Their articles have been repeatedly removed from the Guardian and Observer and the NUS women’s campaign is visceral in its opposition.
The words “Julie Bindel is vile” are enshrined in the NUS manifesto, descent on the matter is met with ‘zero tolerance’ in ‘safe spaces’ and TERFs and transphobes are routinely no-platformed in student unions. The trans-lobby in effect controls the discussion of gender issues on British campuses; where millennial students have taken identity politics and PC culture to its greatest realization.
“And, more important (because more pressing),” continues Read, “it is just plain wrong for any victim-group to use its victim-status as a tool with which to beat other victims of oppression. Whenever a trans-activist bullies a Feminist (or of course, equally, vice versa), Feminism dies a little.” But such internal bickering now defines intersectional feminism on campuses (and increasingly the media).
This story captures the incongruity of it all; a female student e-mailed Julie Bindel after being kicked out of her universities’ Feminist society, by male members, for sharing an article by the trasphobic Bindel on rape – incidentally nothing to do with transgenderism. Men, pleading special privileges for other anatomical men, above those of natural-born women, in Feminist society of all places, barred her. This is the in vogue brand of intersectionality and identity politics on campuses at its most extreme and self-defeating: each overlapping group employing competing victim stories to fight each other, rather than their oppression.
Yesterday’s heroes are todays villains, and “declaring oneself “trans,” “genderqueer,” “pangender,” or any of the other rapidly multiplying alternative sexes has become the last frontier of self-engrossed agitation available to students,” wrote Heather Mac Donald when reporting on the invention of ‘Queer Agriculture’ theory in American collages. There are all of a sudden 72 gender options on facebook, 99.7% of us are required to identify as “cis-gender” and gender identity generally has become an utter “minefield” for normal people, as Damian Thompson wrote last week.
The obsessive and ritualistic use of these many new categories and labels has spread quickly out from academia. “The cause of trans rights has been appropriated by the internet’s language police,” Thompson continues, “who lurk in the slip roads of the digital highway, looking for any excuse to let off their sirens… they find trans-related arguments irresistible because it’s so easy to catch people out.” It’s now so easy to be labeled a bigot on the matter, and harder than ever to tell where the line is between supposed bigotry and political correctness.
Is someone one who remains agnostic on the academic debate a bigot? Is it bigoted to believe we should continue to encourage trans people to challenge the contours of their naturally assigned gender, before considering serious surgery on healthy bodies, to paraphrase Bindel? Is it bigoted to sympathies with the women who see a clash of interest between the trans-lobby and their conception of feminism as advancing the rights of natural born women, and not want to offend such women?
The weight of the evidence and popular support indicates that surgery is helpful for the wellbeing of the afflicted in many individual cases. But sceptics point to studies purporting to show that 70-80 percent of children who report having transgender feelings come to lose such feelings and high levels of suicide after surgery.
There is selective use of evidence on both sides, but it seems absurd to me to assume everyone who questions the new orthodoxy is guilty of ‘hate speech’ in the way that terms such as trasphobic imply. The inherent complexity and lack of academic consensus on the topic means there is inevitably a diversity of views on gender. Whether they’re right or wrong, most people interested in a diversity of theories on transgenderism are not inciting violence and seem to me not driven by hate, but by genuine human concern.
“The women’s movement may have been in hiding through the ‘ladette’ years, but in 2013 it has come back with a vengeance. Introducing the new feminists taking the struggle to the web,” read the Guardian little more than a year ago.
Intersectional, ‘fourth wave’ feminism has indeed been on the rise in viral form. Feminism is louder, more visible and more unchallenged in the mainstream than ever before – so what have they struggled for, and what have they achieved?
The latest (almost) great victory was the apparent crushing of page three. It is typical of the big feminist issues of the decade. There is a hash-tag, a facebook page, a t-shirt to wear (and be photographed in) and a catchy slogan.
Page Three became a flash point in the culture wars, a lone hangover from another era, a remnant of the lecherous 70s. It was met by the very modern culture of hash tag activism – vanities masquerading as philanthropy on the global stage that is the Internet.
Another popular Internet trolling campaign gathering momentum and celebrity endorsement at exactly the same time is Free-The-Nipple. A campaign to end the ‘discriminatory’ banning on female nips on facebook and instagram, because breasts ‘aren’t sex organs.’
For what it’s worth, I don’t believe the pages of our largest selling national paper to be a suitable place to gawk at tits, but neither then, are the world’s largest photo sharing websites, frequented by children.
Such petty, contradictory, self-defeating ends are becoming common. One-week feminism was complaining about people ‘violating’ women by taking pictures of them eating on the Tube for a comedy facebook page, and the next, they were snapping photos of men sitting in certain positions on transport.
The ‘man spreading’ campaign became another big issue. Apparently, making men sit a little more delicately while gaining some extra bum space for sisters on the bus is a valiant feminist battle worth fighting today.
There’s been a dumbing down, hasn’t there? Fourth wave feminists are inspired by Beyoncé and tales from Jezebel.com and Everyday Sexism.com – rather than the writing of Catharine Mackinnon, Germaine Geer or Emily Pankhurst. You need a good victim story and lots of likes, not bravery and a social conscience, to be a good fourth wave feminist.
There’s so much momentum but so little direction. It’s largely true, that last century the right won the economic argument and the left won the social one. Feminism succeeded magnificently, was venerated, hero worship, and now a new generation of girls online want the badge. Feminism is in vogue, but the hordes of new activists are just floundering. They’re hungry for a target and anything they can call a victory.
Like the gay and civil rights movements, and other great societal shifts, female emancipation has been a process, a dialectical action and reaction – great things have been achieved, and there is much to fight for. But posting about the horrors of FGM, forced marriage and ‘honor’ violence just doesn’t garner likes quite like hounding scientists about their t-shirt or how some guys chose to sit.
Feminists must be brave again and pick battles on principles, not for one-upmanship or maximising retweets. Their support is unbridled, but so little of substance is being achieved. Online, and maybe on balance, Feminism is begging to look petty, somewhat intolerant as a movement.
I wrote a little feature for toast,
The Gentrification of Trailer Park Living
Half of young people now living at home with parents, are posh caravans the answer?
Recently the Guardian revealed how 48% of Europe’s 18 to 30 year olds are now living at home with their parents. To plenty of young adults currently wondering how to find a little independence and a place of their own, these figures came as no surprise.
We’re the first generation in living memory to be told to expect a lower standard of living than our parents and our student debt is among the highest in the developed world. The little social housing left is reserved for people really in need, property prices are record high, banks aren’t leading, the energy markets are crooked and well paid jobs are few and far between.
But here’s the good news. If like so many, your only options are staying with mum and dad, or sleeping in a caravan…. the caravan is actually looking like an increasingly appealing and acceptable choice.
Across American and via the Internet come the euphemistically named ‘tiny houses people.’ Hipster trailer park heroes seems more accurate to me. They’re currently trying, and succeeding, in making trailer park living not only comfortable, acceptable and civilised but trendy, eco-friendly and somewhat luxurious.
The idea of ‘returning’ to homes of less that 1000 squire feet has been in revival since the 1970s, but the recent resurgence and branding of the ‘movement’ only gathered pace in the US after the financial crash of 2007. It’s an architectural and social movement driven by some inventive craftsmen and designers and epitomised on a selection of popular blogs, and it’s even about to get it’s first TV show.
By drawing on knowledge from house boating, traditional cabins and caravanning, tiny house people have been creating some functional and impressive little buildings – comparatively affordable, hi-tech, efficient or even self-sufficient units. Look at these things; some are like ultimate little hideouts designed for urban free-living, rammed full of gadgets, space saving mind fucks and creature comforts.
Admittedly life in a house the size of a traditional caravan or shipping container isn’t for everyone. Plainly many 21st century adults simply wouldn’t fit. But even if you’re modestly sized like myself, a certain lifestyle adjustment is required for life in a tiny house. The philosophy and ethos promoted by the movement is a necessary precursor – a simple, slimed down life style. Such a life style is innately eco-friendly and very, very economical.
Unlike traditional travellers who’s choice to live in caravans is due to cultural heritage, tiny house people willingly select this mode of living. But like traditional travellers, it’s often because they favor simplicity and freedom, freedom from the alienation and debilitating restrains imposed by modern consumerism and home ownership.
Despite this, rightly or wrongly, the ‘tiny houses’ identity has been so rigorously marketed by the ‘tiny house people’ because they’re keen to emerge as distinct. They want to distance themselves from the sigma and prejudice that those living in more tradition caravans are so often subjected to.
Tiny house people in the US are twice as likely to have a collage degree and don’t earn any less than your average American [Link]. They’re not people who would otherwise be out on the street, they’re people who no longer want to play the increasingly demanding game of bills, council tax and mortgage/rent. Some try to pass off their tiny houses as alternative studio-flat on wheels, but lets be frank, they’re just spectacular bourgeois caravans. They’re so affordable because just like caravans and “RVs” they don’t require building permits and the majority are readily portable.
Such is the ‘cost of living crisis’ rent controls and regulating energy markets are now being seriously discussed in parliament. The acute housing shortage has made even finding a house difficult and property prices are eye watering, especially in the south. And if you are lucky enough to get a mortgage off the banks, you’ll be paying it back for a debilitating and depressing amount of time.
Apparently the recover has begun, and unsurprisingly it’s the property market that’s excelling itself, with no less that 6% growth. But that’s largely because the UK’s property market is little more than a monopoly board for foreign investors. Wages remain stagnant and a booming property market only benefits the people who already own the country. Our parents and grandparents made a killing on property, but entering that property market is a dream for half of young people today.
Is an incongruous idea – That some of the many young middle class adults unable to purchase property today could now adopt a mode of living once associated with poverty. Well, not really. Technology, the climate and our unbalanced society have change sufficiently to make the idea quite plausible.
The remaining questions are obviously land, and regulation? Once you’ve got yourself a cozy little house, where do you park it? Well, tiny house people gentrified the caravans so they’ve also gentrified caravan parks. ‘Tiny house villages’ are now a thing – private, exclusive, comparatively affordable little communities. It’s only a matter of time until the UK gets its first village.
‘Owning an expensive pair of headphones may make you look like a DJ, but they don’t miraculous make you into a DJ.’
If you’ve left the house this decade you might have noticed the rise in teenagers and students cat-walking across Britain’s high streets, campuses and public transport in huge and often flamboyant headphones. Massive over-ear headphones have become the essential fashion accessory of our generation, making them big, big business.
Dr Dre just sold Beats to Apple, apparently making him the, “first billionaire in hip-hop.” Most of annalists ranting about the eye watering sale price of beats put the franchises’ success down to some crafty and underhand advertised. Free pairs were sent to athletes at the Olympics [LINK] and everyone from Wayne Rooney to Justin Bieber was pictured wearing them. Whatever you’re opinion of such figure, I think it’s safe to say they’re not the sorts of people you should be taking advice of musical nature from.
The most annoying thing about the headphone craze is that loads of people now seem to believe that parading massive expensive headphones is actually a marker of anyone who knows about good music. Fortunately this isn’t the case. Today, more than ever, they’re just fashion accessories. Owning an expensive pair of headphones may make you look like a DJ, but they don’t miraculous make you into a DJ.
From the small time promoter who spent half his loan on a pair of Sennheisers, to the fifteen year old sporting a fake pair of Beats his mum got him at market so he would be down with the latest playground craze, my worry is the same. Headpones are now seldom worn for their sonic virtues but as lavish bits of jewellery and little more.
Despite this, last week I got in on the act and purchased my first pair of half-decent headphones. They’re great. I can really appreciate how they transform a mundane walk to the shops by encasing your ears in a bubble of crisp sound, allowing you to shut off from your awful surroundings and enjoy whatever new-fangled music you happen to think is cool at the time.
Their virtues aside, I still think it’s pretty clear that this trend is getting out of hand. It’s begging to remind me of when people first went mad for mobile phones in the late 90s; some people went as far as to wear them around their neck as some sort of technological medallion worth upwards of £150.
I frequently seen people wearing them perched on the back of their heads like some sort of halo or Indian headdress, and there’s a few of my friends who I literally can’t remember last seeing without their treasured headphones chained around their neck.
Its great that more people are enjoying good sound quality – but those who adorn themselves with the flashiest pair they could find on amazon like the Mr. T of Music taste just to impress passersby, are completely missing the point. And if they also happen to also be one of the millions who also stroll around all day staring into a smart phone, their technology addiction is probably becoming debilitatingly anti-social.