Heron Greenesmith, Esq, senior research analyst at Political Research Associates, has produced a webinar on arguing with anti-trans feminists, which is now on Vimeo, and other writings worth a look. The whole is worth watching, but if you don’t have ninety minutes, here are the main points, sometimes with my own gloss:
The Left works with an abundance mindset, that there is enough for everyone if it is fairly shared, and from a belief in interconnectedness, that unless everyone is included everyone’s inclusion is threatened. The Right works from a scarcity mindset, promoting competition for scarce resources, and a smaller circle of empathy or moral concern, supporting the rights of an in-group against the rest. The Right is happy to amplify any oppressed voice which speaks out against other oppressed groups, and so pays for anti-trans campaigners, who have adopted that scarcity and in-group mindset.
The anti-trans piling of detail follows the tactic of the Gish Gallop, named after the creationist Duane Gish, who often spouted lots of ridiculous arguments in one paragraph, so that the opponent either wastes time refuting them or lets them pass. RationalWiki really wants to counter such things.
Trans excluders use scare tactics around bathrooms and talks of “erasing women and girls”. These tactics are effective, particularly in radicalising groups where beliefs are not subject to challenge. In response we can respond with empathy, particularly when the excluder may mean well, humour, logic, data, or just ignore them when they are finally closed minded. We need to persuade the people in the middle, not every single trans excluder.
Some of their talking points can be disrupted:
“Biology isn’t bigotry,” they say, but in fact biology based bigotry is the basis of white nationalism. Human gender and sexuality are complex.
Point out that they are talking of comfort, rather than safety. Trans people suffer violence. Someone might be uncomfortable seeing a trans person, but is not really in danger. Women’s spaces were never actually safe for many women- women of colour, disabled, low income, nonbinary. Safety is aspirational. There may be actual ways to increase safety in a space.
Trans excluders claim trans people recruit children, just as homophobes claim gay men recruit children. This pretends we have more power than we have. The Patriarchy is the enemy, not trans people. The Patriarchy pressures people to conform to gender roles. Trans people, including children, feel safer to be visible than we did before.
Trans excluders use apparently innocuous slogans, such as “Woman: adult human female”. This is the same tactic as “Blue Lives Matter” or Ronald Reagan’s “Make America Great Again”. I see that and I feel personally slighted, and under threat. It is violence, designed to make trans people afraid to walk in the street or be ourselves on line. It is violent to deny words are hateful when the trans excluder intends hate.
They say we need to prioritise real women. “Real” is harmful. It reinforces hierarchies, a tool of the Right, rather than inclusion. Lots of women are on the fringes- intersex, nonbinary, gender non-conforming. Many women do not menstruate. When we prioritise the most marginalised, everyone benefits. (See John Rawls’s “Relative Least Advantaged Person”).
Excluders say cis women deserve their own “sex-based” spaces. Spaces can exclude some women. It is scary to feel vulnerable, but it is the Patriarchy, not trans people, who make spaces scary. Trans women face violence.
Excluders say trans women should not compete in women’s sports. But the Olympics has included trans women since 2004, and the US National College Athletics Association since 2011. Our participation is governed by strict rules on testosterone levels, and we do not dominate. Go on, name that cyclist. Rachel McKinnon. Heron spoke to a man who said there were trans women in tennis, but could not name one, not even Renee Richards. And even if trans women did dominate, would that not be worth it, to make trans women safe in society? The US Women’s National Basketball Association welcomes trans women, but includes none yet.
Excluders say “Why can’t we be butches any more?” It’s the Patriarchy that says women can’t be butch. JK Rowling said “I too might have tried to transition. The allure of escaping womanhood would have been huge.” It is the Patriarchy, and rape culture, that makes female adolescence so difficult, not trans people. Reifying the gender binary makes that problem worse. Butch gender is misunderstood by the Right and the Patriarchy: it’s the same problem trans people endure.
Rowling said her gender was not affirmed. It should have been.
Anti-trans campaigners harp on about penises, falsely claiming fewer trans women seek medical treatment than actually do. Penises, and men, are not the problem. It’s the Patriarchy, the Right, the scarcity mindset and the limited circle of empathy. Trans excluders are not true feminists.