The Strawtran

Opinion

As part of the Government’s disappointing response to the GRA consultation, Liz Truss said:-

The Equality Act 2010 clearly protects transgender people from discrimination. The same act allows service providers to restrict access to single sex spaces on the basis of biological sex if there is a clear justification.

This is nothing that trans people haven’t been saying all along. It’s certainly something that I said here back in May, and that wasn’t the first time I said it, nor was I the first person to say it.

What this statement really says is that we were right all along. But rather than admit that — which would make their years-long hate campaign look rather unjustified — TERFs have instead decided to declare victory over a “threat” that was never real to begin with.

And TERF rhetoric is absolutely full of this — statements that nobody actually disagrees with, that they nonetheless claim they’re brave and persecuted by those nasty transes for making.

As a matter of pedantry, it’s not really correct to call the attitudes and beliefs TERFs ascribe to trans people a “straw man”. A straw man is an argument that is superficially similar to the one an opponent is making, but differs in significant ways. By contrast, the attitudes and beliefs that TERFs claim trans people hold are not similar to our actual attitudes and beliefs, but rather completely made up. The correct term for that is not a “straw man”, but a ‘lie’.

Nevertheless, it seems prudent to have a term to distinguish it from all their other lies, so I will call it a ‘strawtran’.

Sex is real.

Let’s start there. Sex must be real because ‘cis’, ‘trans’, ‘non-binary’, ‘agender’ and associated terms describe modalities of relationship between sex and gender. If sex isn’t real, then those terms are meaningless. No trans person is claiming that sex isn’t real.

Trans people will frequently contend that sex is not the be-all and end-all. That other factors besides sex have meaning. We will say that sex is not always the appropriate framing to a given context. We will say that sex is more complex than what’s written in high school textbooks. But we will not say that sex isn’t real. That would be ridiculous.

Despite what transphobic bigots like JK Rowling say, nobody is actually being challenged for saying “sex is real”. But they say it precisely to make us look ridiculous.

For that matter, nobody is denying biology, either, which is to say that nobody is denying the facts of biology, but rather questioning the presumptive corollaries that are taken for granted.

Presumptions that, I might add, are rooted in systems of patriarchal oppression. Many of the pernicious myths about the “nature” of men and women spring from a desire for control that is particularly misogynistic. When the accusations of TERFs and the desperate excuses of MRAs identically appeal to some mythical “hard-wired” impulse, well, it’s not looking good for the TERFs.

Gender is a social construct.

But the conclusions TERFs draw from that statement suggest a massive misunderstanding of what social constructionism is. TERFs tend to use the idea that gender is a social construct as a trojan horse for a belief that it’s “not real” or “just stereotypes”.

This is not only a misunderstanding of what a social construct is, but the same misunderstanding employed by far-right cranks like Dinesh D’Souza and Ian Miles Cheong.

In fact, what it means to say that gender is a social construct is that it is collectively negotiated. Because everyone is situated within gender, nobody can see it from an outside (i.e. objective) perspective, and therefore our shared understanding of it can only be generated by “comparing notes” (as it were) on different situated positions within it.

I’ll grant that such an approach is vulnerable to stereotypes given that some people’s notes will be given more credence and prominence than others, but it is the work of postmodernist and post-colonialist thinkers (whom TERFs so readily dismiss) to account for (if not dismantle) the power structures that create that distortion. Moreover, the TERF position that social constructs are vulnerable to power dynamics so we should just use prevailing assumptions instead is quite literally replacing the problem with the same problem!

So TERFs saying that trans people “just want to reinforce gender stereotypes” is a complete misrepresentation.

But more than that, the principal purpose of GRA reform is to eliminate the deeply stereotyped gatekeeping process to legal recognition. To claim from one side of the mouth that trans people just support stereotypes while claiming from the other that you oppose their proposals to remove stereotypes from the process is naked hypocrisy.

You’re just a misogynist.

I have to confess, I find this one weird. It’s based on the idea that it is completely unbelievable for the problem trans people have with a transphobe to be all of that transphobia. I’m not really sure where to begin with that.

It’s certainly a tack that Joanna Cherry MP, who is a transphobe, has taken when trying to dismiss criticisms of her transphobia and threatening to sue people who make such criticisms.

It’s also a strategy that has been used to dismiss criticisms of aforementioned transphobic danger to children JK Rowling. “They wouldn’t go after her if she wasn’t a woman,” TERFs assure themselves, conveniently forgetting that Rowling’s ascent to de facto monarch of the TERFs was afforded by Graham Linehan’s well-deserved ban from Twitter and subsequent spiral into obscurity.

It is certainly true that a lot of (but by no means all) TERFs are women, but that alone doesn’t a women’s movement make. It’s easily explained by the fact that men don’t need to make excuses for their bigotry, which is really all that separates TERFs from other transphobes.

I don’t doubt that there is a sexist construction that requires women to express their bigotry in more indirect ways than men. But is it really a shame that women’s bigotry is not as accepted as men’s, given that we are, y’know, talking about bigotry?

But a majority of women, and, importantly, more women than men support self-identification for trans people. By contrast, 33% of men oppose it, compared to just 21% of women. It is difficult to claim that disagreeing with a position that is held by significantly more men than women is somehow misogynistic, but TERFs continue to do so.

People who menstruate.

Another misrepresentation of our views that came out of the whole debacle involves the use of inclusive language when talking about menstruation.

TERFs will pretend that we prefer inclusive language because trans women are sad that we can’t menstruate and that brings our womanhood into question.

In fact, the reason for using inclusive language such as “people who menstruate” is because some people who do menstruate — trans men and AFAB non-binary people — are not women.

Not only is this a misrepresentation of what trans people say and think, it’s also worth noting here that TERFs’ chief objection to this is the acknowledgement that trans people exist. It’s unclear at this time how pretending trans people aren’t real contributes to their stated goals of “safeguarding” and “sex-based rights”.

And this is actually, ridiculously, one of the “rights” TERFs claim are under threat. They think that someone else voluntarily being inclusive is somehow an infringement of their right not to be inclusive. Remember that when we talk about TERFs accusing us of being intolerant of “difference of opinion”.

Recruiting kids.

It is widely agreed in the trans community that the identity of being transgender is a conclusion that one must come to by oneself.

It makes sense if you think about it even medium-hard. Of course people who have endured the trauma of years or decades having their gender dictated to them would want to avoid doing the same to other people. To suggest otherwise is grossly offensive.

Not that that stops TERFs, who make up wild conspiracy theories about people being told they’re trans just because they like to play with Barbies or climb trees.

This categorically does not happen. Nobody is told they are trans. The absolute most we advocate is supporting people when they figure it out for themselves.

One caveat to this is that just because gender non-conforming preferences and behaviours do not necessarily indicate a person being trans, it is still true that trans people may have gender non-conforming preferences and behaviours. That seems pretty obvious if you think about it for like half a second, but TERFs do pretend that any trans person describing an experience of gender non-conformity is somehow issuing a dictate that such an experience automatically makes one trans.

It’s worth noting the parallels between this and the homophobic “recruitment” narratives of the 80s and 90s, but what makes this truly egregious is that it is not just a lie TERFs tell other people about me; it is a lie TERFs try to tell me about me. I have been told, to my face, that I support people being coercively “transed”. As if they get to just declare what I think.

Sexualising kids

Of course, you can’t talk about supporting trans children without some gammon bulldozing in and wailing “stop sexualising kids!”

The false premise at the core of this statement is that to be trans is to be sexualised. That the sexualisation of trans adults is no problem.

Turns out, the massive sex pests that Gender Critical “feminists” like to pal about with not only think that it is acceptable and even appropriate to sexualise trans adults, they also bizarrely hold the demonstrably batshit belief (and this is where it is relevant to this post) that trans people and allies also think so.

Maybe don’t sexualise trans people (including kids) at all! Maybe, I dunno, objectification is bad? Ask your friends who pretend to be feminists. The fact that our cohort includes minors makes it significantly harder for you to masturbate to us (though, I’m guessing, not impossible)? Maybe that’s not actually an argument against trans autonomy.

If doctors don’t know a patient is trans, bad things will happen.

This has a four-part response.

  1. I sure hope what my doctor knows about me is more than just my gender.
  2. Related to that, I’ve never seen anybody advocating keeping their trans status a secret from their doctor. This is the part where TERFs lie. It’s something trans people don’t think, but transphobes pretend we do. But what your doctor knows about you is privileged information. Doctors deal with privileged information every day. The point is that there are things about you that only your doctor needs to know, and being transgender may be one of those things. That’s why medical confidentiality exists.
  3. The idea that birth certificates or other non-medical documentation should necessarily reflect that medical information is therefore a breach of medical confidentiality. For some reason transphobes think that everyone has a right to know what our doctors know, because they assume, with zero justification, that the right to medical confidentiality should be suspended for trans people. Almost like they’re fascists or something.
  4. In any case, the assumption that trans people will present symptoms according to their birth sex is an assumption that has literally already killed people, because it’s false. Trans women have died because they presented female symptoms of heart disease, and doctors dismissed it because they falsely assumed that those symptoms couldn’t mean what they did in trans women.

Born in the wrong body.

On a related note, trans people have been criticising the “born in the wrong body” narrative for years. I myself have only used the term “born in the wrong body” on Twitter twice — once as a rejection of the term and once as a joke.

I do think “born in the wrong body” has some utility as a simplification for people who either don’t or can’t understand the more complex nuances of trans existence, but the critical thing is that ‘wrong’ is judged against a certain set of beliefs, values and standards, and that set is most certainly not my own.

TERFs of course refuse to acknowledge anything we say, and act like a consensus that kids shouldn’t be told they’re “in the wrong body” is somehow a victory over our “ideology” — despite it being something we’ve pretty consistently been saying for years.

And TERFs say, “oh, now you agree with something JK Rowling said a couple of months ago”. The problem, as with “sex is real”, was never what she said; it was pretending that what she said was in any way disagreeing with us. It was a lie about our beliefs intended to direct hatred against us.

Because it doesn’t matter what we say. All that matters is what TERFs can pretend we think to make us look ridiculous.

What about gender-non-conforming 80s pop stars?

Again, the only people who have ever suggested there is a conflict between one person being cis but gender-non-conforming (GNC) and another person being trans are transphobes themselves.

They make this weird assumption that GNC and trans people cannot both exist, and then, rather than challenging us to rebut that assumption, weirdly demand that we defend it.

I don’t know how to explain to you that it is not for us to defend your assumptions, but if you’re genuinely serious about “reasonable debate”, you might want to look into that.

Additionally, if you’re going to pin your arguments on gender non-conforming pop stars, I see that and raise you:-

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

David Bowie, Changes

If you won’t have sex with me you’re transphobic.

I have to admit I was initially taken in by this one, because even I fell into the rhetorical trap of TERFs shifting the frame of reference, but I realised that it stands that the following two statements are not mutually exclusive:-

  • It is NOT transphobic to not want to have sex with me.
  • It IS transphobic to rule out having sex with an unspecified trans person.

Because TERFs don’t see trans people as people, it follows that they see trans people as interchangeable. If trans people are interchangeable, there can be no distinction between the personal and the categorical, which is the conflation the fascist shits are using here.

If you don’t want to have sex with me, I am positively delighted, but if you then extend that to all trans people, then however much you may pretend otherwise, it is no longer about me, is it?

This is a tactic that they use for their violence-inciting rhetoric that trans people are rapists — they seek to convince you that speaking up for a group is in fact an expression of selfish desire. Thinking that trans people as a category should not be sexually excluded does not imply that I think I personally am entitled to sex, but TERFs pretend it does, because, and I cannot be clear enough about this, they want violence against trans people.

Difference of opinion.

The disagreements between TERFs and trans people are often classified as a “difference of opinion” by both TERFs themselves and by people who falsely consider themselves enlightened by adopting a middle position.

Let’s be clear: there is no room for “difference of opinion” on what we think and believe. We are the sole authority on that. If you say we believe something we don’t, you are wrong. If you maliciously say we believe something we don’t, you are lying.

I can’t quite believe this needs to be said, but this is what it comes down to. Trans people are chastised for not being interested in “reasonable debate”. But of course we aren’t when so-called “reasonable” debate means an expectation that we treat a difference of opinion and a lie as equivalent.