Peter Tatchell

From Peter Tatchell’s address for the Transgender Day of Remembrance:

In the 1970s, feminists of the day like Germaine Greer, their battle cry was “biology is not destiny”. That biology should never dictate a woman’s place, aspirations or achievements in life. What a tragedy now for those same feminists to say that biology is destiny, they say that if you are born a man or a woman, that’s the way you are, forever. Now one of the great things of the trans movement is to challenge that orthodoxy, to recognise that gender and gender identity is about much more: it’s about psychology, and feelings.

It’s about mental state, you can’t simply reduce it to genitals, and that’s a new understanding which I’m really sad to see so many traditional feminists, and some of the new ones, don’t seem to understand. They’ve gone back on their liberating ideas of the 1970s and reverted to a biological determinism in the twenty-first century. That is really sad.

Even sadder is the hostile attitudes of some feminists towards trans people and those who are gender fluid, as shown by Sheila Jeffreys and Linda Bellos in York. I’m astounded: Linda Bellos, this great black lesbian activist pioneer, threatening violence against trans people. She said “if they come near me, I’ll sock ’em”, waving her fist. She was prepared to threaten violence to “defend women’s rights against trans women”. That is shocking, to have such an extreme, bigoted and negative attitude towards trans people. There is a faction of feminism now lobbying against the much needed changes in the Gender Recognition Act. In the name of defending women’s rights, they are prepared to trample trans rights. That is wrong. We should stand together in solidarity, recognising that all of us, whatever our experience of discrimination, marginalisation and violence, have a common interest to support each other, because divided we are weak, united we are strong.

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He is right about the most important thing, and wrong that these feminists are saying “biology is destiny”. Rather, they are saying sexism hurts women, in which they include trans men but not trans women. That is true. In the world without patriarchy, sexism would cease, and that would benefit just about everyone. Tatchell is right that they are prepared to trample trans rights, and that we oppressed peoples should stand together in solidarity: trans people aware of the oppression of people with non-European heritage, gay people aware of the oppression of women, educated white women however aware of everyday sexism, misogyny and harassment also aware of the oppression of trans people. Almost everyone has some privilege: I have not yet mentioned disabled people.

Tatchell is right that gender is about emotions and psychology, and that trans people are oppressed. From whatever motive, no feminist should add to our oppression. There are better ways to protect women than to attack trans women.

He does not mention here that trans people subvert patriarchy by existing.

Peter Tatchell was accused of transphobia after signing this letter to the Observer. “No platforming” used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists… But today it is being used to prevent the expression of feminist arguments critical of… some demands made by trans activists. To me, provoking a crowd to hostility by mocking trans women is not OK, and Germaine Greer should know better; but preventing her from speaking about unrelated topics is counter-productive. The letter goes further, saying she should be able to oppose our demands. I don’t know what he thinks about that now, whether he has changed his views since 2015, but he opposes Linda Bellos’ threats of violence. He could be consistent, supporting criticism but not hostility. To me as a trans woman, the two can seem difficult to distinguish in practice.

Yet I am glad he was accepted as a speaker, and glad he said what he said. He seeks the unity of the oppressed, and so do I.

2 thoughts on “Peter Tatchell

    • Of course you don’t. And of course we suffer discrimination for it. What the radical feminists say is that we are still Oppressors, and “living as” a woman is not enough to get into women’s spaces. I don’t think they are right, but it is a different argument from “biology is destiny”. They say biology does not make us, or them, masculine or feminine; patriarchy makes them the only real victims.

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