“Trans ideology,” words, and reality

Is there any such thing as “transgender ideology”?

Trans people exist. Brave souls have always found ways to transition, authorities have often condemned it, trans people terrified to transition have led stunted lives. Now, perhaps 50,000 people in Britain are transitioning, about 0.1% of the population. I have no idea why I wanted to transition, just that it was the most important thing in the world for me.

I have no choice about being trans. I have wished I was not trans, but that would mean I did not exist and a different human- perhaps a cis man, perhaps a cis woman- existed in my place. It would be harder to cut my trans out of me than for Shylock to take Antonio’s flesh without blood.

Society faces the issue of how to respond to this reality, and one such response is denial. Being trans, say the transphobes, is “only” a feeling, as opposed to the physical reality of being a [cis] woman. But, I am not a Cartesian dualist, imagining I am a mind or soul in a body, so my being trans is in my physical self just as a cis woman’s being female is in hers. Unless you believe something like a “mind”, or “consciousness”, is in some way separate from neurons and dendrites, being trans is a physical condition.

This is not an ideology. It is a fact.

Many attacks on “transgender ideology” attack words we have used to try to explain ourselves. Few people now say “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body”- this is my body. Yet transphobes used the phrase “My body is me” to try to attack trans people.

Other attacks relate to words we use. I am a woman.

Words are imprecise attempts to divide one reality into discrete units, in order to communicate. What matters is that we communicate, that the listener understands what the speaker means, not that words have rigid definitions. In practice, rigid definitions make words even less able to relate to strange, fluid reality, which is always changing, which we can never completely understand.

I read that “Stonewall defines homosexuality as orientation towards someone of the same gender”. This is misleading. Stonewall does not use “Homosexual” and related words except when quoting others. Stonewall defines “gay” as man attracted to men, and as a generic term for gay sexuality, so some women attracted to women say they are gay. That is, its definitions are descriptive, attempting to capture what people actually use the words for, rather than prescriptive, attempting to restrict use to one “correct” use.

Quite possibly, a gay cis man might be attracted to a trans man. Should he lose his “gay card”? Most people would be happy enough for him to continue to describe himself as gay. Some weird pedants who insist that “words mean what they choose them to mean”, and that they must be master of this, might insist that he was now straight, or heterosexual, or at least bi. Pedants have their obsessions. It’s better to ignore them.

Or, a cis lesbian might say “I could never be attracted to a trans woman because I am attracted to my sex, and to women’s genitals”. They really do say things like that! It’s an attempt to deny the word “lesbian” to trans women, or even the word “woman”. I have no objection to a cis lesbian saying she is not attracted to me. It’s transphobic to say she could never be attracted to a trans woman. Even if it is true, why say it except to be mean to trans women?

Stonewall works for the interests of queer people in a heteronormative society, which assumes people are straight. That means it needs flexibility of language. LGB All Liars works to forbid trans women from using the words “lesbian” or even “woman” to define ourselves, as a means of reducing trans acceptance, and to exclude trans women from women’s spaces. That requires an ideology: the false idea that trans people as a group are in some way a risk to women’s spaces. They want to upend our lives and roll back the shaky progress to trans acceptance so far.

Trans excluders might want a rigid definition of transition before they might tolerate trans women. They might say we are not proper trans before we have had a genital operation. These definitions are created in order to exclude, so tend to get stricter over time.

I read it is “dangerous” to say men and women are defined by our feelings rather than our biology. That is, the word “woman” cannot include a “trans woman”, or there is some danger to someone. This is a conservative idea, that people should be distrusted unless they conform to strict rules. Trans women should stay out of women’s spaces, say the conservatives, just in case one of them has some immoral purpose in being there. The progressive, by contrast, say people should be free to express ourselves as we like, and any conflicts should be resolved in good-will rather than by rigid rules. Rigid rules do not fit reality, which is constantly changing, or human beings, who are infinitely varied. So, trans-exclusion is an inherently conservative ideology.

7 thoughts on ““Trans ideology,” words, and reality

  1. Clare, thank you again for your unerring eye and your ability to jolt me. This line did it this time: trans people terrified to transition have led stunted lives … as sad to say this is one of my abiding torments. Is the world a slightly sadder place for my hesitancy, for me embracing what seem to me to be internalised transphobic thoughts, for my acceptance of a multitude of constraints. And not yet knowing what it feels like to live a fuller life.

    Thank you for pushing the boundaries of your own life and being a powerful advocate to others, like me who presently may lack your courage and vision.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What stunts these lives? The transphobia of society: the willingness to indulge disgust for someone, for no other reason that they are trans. It is not your fault. We “internalise” transphobia, but I would not blame any trans person for that: it is a defence against others’ hate. The world is a slightly sadder place, but not for any fault of yours. The hesitancy can be reasonable in the circumstances. Love.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally agree that there is not a trans ideology, and that there is, indeed, a trans-exclusionary ideology. What the trans-exclusionists are calling trans-ideology is just a reaction and defense against their ideology. When I had just begun my transition, I was “uninvited” from a Christmas party after coming out to the hosts (I thought it only fair that I let them know). Their reason was that, although they respected my “lifestyle choice,” I would not be welcome to exercise that choice at their party, as it would be upsetting to everyone else in attendance. I didn’t mind so much that they didn’t want me there, but I was livid at their calling my transition a “lifestyle choice.” I don’t hear that term used much anymore, as it has been, I believe, replaced by trans-ideology – which is no more valid than is lifestyle choice.

    Is there even a Gay Lifestyle? Maybe there was when everyone was forced to stay in their closets. Of course, living a certain lifestyle that is so apart from the norm could be but a bigger closet in which to live. Whether it be sex or gender, though, I don’t think of any of it as a lifestyle, per se; certainly, not an ideology. Nor can the intersectionality of gender and sex be either. There is a seemingly infinite number of combinations when considering the two spectra together. If two people find a mutual attraction, does it require a label? I think the semantics game is just a distraction. Who, or how, someone loves is nobody else’s business. I don’t think it’s the result of anyone’s ideology, either.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. In my mind the trans ‘umbrella, is just a joke now, you can just about call yourself anything and class yourself as trans. Ultimately, this has the effect of diluting ,genuine ‘trans womens’ rights, that have been hard fought for over the years. I think the word trans has been hijacked by the so called ideologists. I can fully understand how the general population are totally bemused at present!

    Liked by 2 people

    • The question is, can people be trusted? What would anyone gain by “pretending to be trans”? Your “genuine trans women’s rights” are a concession to someone after proof, but I was a trans woman before I saw the psychiatrist, leave alone the surgeon, and I had to explore whether I could transition before I committed to it. There I am in 1998 going to the Bridgewater Hall expressing myself female, to see what it felt like in wider society. I want people to find that as tolerable as someone who is willing to answer the prurient question about the operation, and can answer “yes”. Because generally people can be trusted, and the fact that I was in a Karl Lagerfeld skirt suit did not mean I was any less trustworthy. You only have to guard against fake trans women if presenting other than the sex assigned at birth is in some way suspect. Deal with the ones who do bad things. Tolerate the ones who don’t do bad things. AMABs expressing female, by itself, is not a bad thing.

      Liked by 2 people

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