The campaign to exclude trans women from women’s spaces works like a conspiracy theory. Though their falsehoods are continually discredited, it makes no impression on them. They ascribe huge importance to the threat they imagine comes from trans people, which is entirely imaginary.
How awful it must be, to look up at the vapour trails from jet planes and imagine “chemtrails” are poisoning us! Claiming that trans women make feminism impossible is a similarly horrific and imaginary threat. One prolific content-provider, behind the activity of a number of alleged organisations, has claimed that trans rights and surrogacy are the two greatest threats to women’s human rights in the world. The claim is that, rather than an anomaly, a tiny minority who can be easily accommodated, that trans women demand the redefinition of what it means to be a woman and so make organising on the basis of sex impossible. Or they believe that any advance in trans people’s rights will unleash a horde of predatory men into women’s spaces. These fears have no basis in reality, but how awful to believe such things!
Like any conspiracy theory, the false fears have the effect of giving anti-trans campaigners a belief that they are valiant for truth, but turning their energies and activism from their real concerns in the real world to worthless efforts which do no good and some harm. Conspiracy theorists present themselves as sceptics, probing the commonly told stories, seeking the truth. Their arguments leap from the undeniable to the unbelievable.
I have read a long explanation of why astronomy shows the universe is only about 6000 years old, apparently written with some knowledge of physics, and another of how the World Trade Centre could only have been demolished as it was by explosives placed within it, apparently with some knowledge of architectural engineering, and similarly long, detailed and passionate arguments that trans women are a threat. I can refute the third, because I know the truth, but rely on engineers and physicists to refute the first two, because I do not have the specialised technical knowledge. However, I know enough to recognise they are ridiculous. The conspiracists, however, have a blind spot to their own conspiracy theory, letting go of all their critical faculties when considering it. As David Baddiel said, conspiracy theories are a way idiots can imagine they are intellectuals. They take in all this detail, and regurgitate it, and the simple refutations of their gibberish only makes them more convinced.
Just as Andrew Wakefield panders to anti-vaxxers, and makes money out of them, so Robert Withers panders to the anti-trans campaigners, giving their ridiculous views a scientific veneer. Anyone with any understanding can see through Withers’ witterings, but the conspiracy theorists are victims of their own confirmation bias. Like other conspiracists, they accept their falsehoods without criticism, and demand impossible standards of proof of any refutation. The amount of detail they produce further insulates them from correction.
Like other conspiracy theories, anti-trans campaigners develop a fanatical obsession. People with a grip on reality tell them they are wrong, and this sets up painful dissonance in them. So they return to anti-trans sites, which become as addictive as flat-Earth sites are to their adherents, because they reassure them they are right after all. In the worst cases they are unable to read anything telling the truth about trans.
They give far too great importance to their campaign. If Donald Trump was indeed battling deep state paedophiles, that would be extremely important and I would want to support him, and if there was such a dreadful threat to women as the anti-trans campaigners pretend I would support them too. So, the Labour Women’s Declaration, issued just before the election, just caused trouble for the Labour Party. I was out canvassing, trying to get votes for Labour, but the haters were banding together and attacking from within.
Conspiracy theories such as the anti-trans campaign have some resemblance to religious cults. Potential supporters are recruited by love-bombing, the campaigners seek to isolate them from other friends and support networks, and then the recruiters get them to say ridiculous things, in order to break their bonds to real life further.