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An Open Letter to the "Gender Critical" Left
Young people are growing into a politics that is radical and trans inclusive. If we're not responding to the changing dimensions of the working class, then who are we?
I know it seems like you’re doing well right now. In outlets from The Morning Star to TheTelegraph to TheDaily Stormer, the news is dominated by your talking points. Queer rights campaigners Stonewall UK are on the rocks, according to The Times, over ‘warnings that private and public organisations in Scotland are at risk of breaching equality laws’ around transgender rights in the workplace. Some would argue that protecting trans people at work discriminates against women, a logic that sounds eerily familiar. The Equality and Human Rights Commission, who thoroughly proved their usefulness in smearing Jeremy Corbyn as an antisemite, have pulled out of Stonewall UK’s diversity scheme citing ‘value for money.’ According to an opinion poll conducted by YouGov last year, nearly half of the UK public can’t accept that a trans person is the gender they say they are—and many of the rest are simply too confused to have an opinion. Your hard work seems to be paying off. It looks, at the moment, like you’re coming out on top.
But I don’t buy it. I mean, after all, we’re communists and socialists—people’s protections at work being removed is not a victory for our side. And surely cheering on the machine that helped block an electoral route to even the most anodyne socialism would be an act of self-sabotage. But there you are, celebrating with a gun pointed at your foot. So, I don’t think you’re doing well at all.
Look—I’m not here to litigate the question of whether trans people are who and what they say they are. You know the arguments—and you know that I think you’re wrong. If you spent more time with trans friends, family and comrades I’m pretty sure you would also change your tune, because the question isn’t complicated: people I know and love are hurting really bad. Everybody’s got to chip in and help. If I had to explain our politics to a kid, that’s how I would put it. Well, people I know and love are hurting really bad and as far as I’m concerned there is no socialism for us but not for those other people. There’s another word for that and I don’t think you would identify with it.
Listen—I don’t want to have to think about gender and pronouns and all that stuff. It doesn’t come naturally to me, all this talk about identity. I just want everybody to be ok—to have food, shelter, opportunities for a beautiful and dignified life and acceptance that nobody has exactly the same definition of what a beautiful and dignified life is. But when I listen to the people I know and love who are hurting, they tell me that tacit support and meme-friendly platitudes aren’t enough. They need explicit support; they need solidarity. And you can’t talk explicitly about something that everyday language doesn’t have words for. This is why we need to think and talk differently. (As revolutionaries, I’m sure you’ve encountered this dilemma while talking to people steeped in the assumptions of the political mainstream.) Trans comrades need us to attack the old orthodoxies of gender in the same way that communism demands we attack the orthodoxies of capitalism. As communists, we already understand the need to abolish the categories of capital that “naturalise” the status quo. Well, our trans comrades are pointing out that the categories of gender are not “natural” just as the value form is not “natural.”
That’s why when I hear you talk about “freedom of speech” as a justification for calling into question trans people’s legitimacy, I know you’re wrong. And it isn’t us being divisive. If you’re using the issue of free speech to disguise bigotry the way the right does then your comrades 100% have the right to attack you and your message. Organisations have the right to ignore and uninvite you. That isn’t being “cancelled.” Freedom of speech doesn’t entitle you to a platform everywhere—I don’t expect The Morning Star or Challenge to platform Flat-Earthers. If this principle of entitlement did exist in practice, would it not extend to EVERYONE EVERYWHERE ALL OF THE TIME? Of course if your opinion is hateful, uninformed or just plain wrong then why should anyone care about it or waste their energy defending it? ‘I hate what fascists say but I would die defending their right to say it’? Come on. No.
There are common sense limits to free speech. You’re not “free” to shout ‘FIRE!’ in a crowded theatre when there isn’t actually a fire. You’re not “free” to perjure yourself in court or give false testimony. Transphobes claim there’s ‘nothing to see here’ while trans people suffer disproportionately from violence, unemployment and a lack of protection of their basic legal rights. But more than a matter of free speech, it’s a matter of simple decency: you wouldn’t walk down the street shouting insults and obscenities in the face of strangers even though I guess technically it isn’t illegal and might even be tempting depending on the neighbourhood. Do you need to be told not to do that? Is it a matter that we should be debating? I sure hope not.
I’m speaking to you as a comrade, as someone who shares your view on almost everything but this. And credit where it’s due: you’ve done a lot of work to get us here, to this point where other forms of bigotry are no longer a matter for debate. You’ve struggled and sacrificed. You’ve seen friends and loved ones die in the struggle. And you’ve seen how easy it is for the clock to get rolled back on hard-won victories. And I know you’re scared. It must feel like something essential is being taken away from you when people you previously recognised as men are now declaring that they are in fact women. You’re scared of this new force that says the very categories of gender need to be challenged. So much of your struggle has been about fighting from that strategic position—the battlefield of gendered oppression. You’ve built a fighting force out of the historic horrors of misogyny. No one wants to take that away from you. We’re simply asking you to see how the battleground has been extended and to recognise that you’re pointing your guns in the wrong direction.
“Women” as a category is not inimical to the category “trans”. Women are oppressed in ways that are distinct from that of men; this includes trans women—though trans women face forms of oppression distinct from other women. Most trans people (like most people) are part of the working class, part of ‘the 99%’. They face the same struggle for jobs and public services that other workers do but with the added indignity of systemic transphobia. The argument that acknowledging trans women as women diverts resources for “real” women is the same argument that right-wingers make about minorities taking away jobs and public services from “the white working class.” It creates a false division and a distraction from the real issues. And the response should be the same: why are jobs and public services so scarce and degraded? Who is benefitting from this erosion of the social fabric? They are the enemy—not two (among many) marginalised groups forced to compete for a tiny sliver of the same pie. Our struggles are ultimately the same struggle because our enemy is ultimately the same enemy.
I’ve heard you defend sex essentialism with the phrase ‘facts are facts’. Well, the fact is that you’re on the wrong side of history, demonstrably so given the actual existence of trans and intersex people. Even though you appear to be winning right now because the forces of reaction are on your side, the conversation is leaving you behind. Just like we don’t “debate” whether Irish people have ‘a touch of the tar,’ or the divine right of kings, one day the issue of trans liberation will be settled in favour of the people currently getting the shit end of the stick.
You’re doing the left absolutely no favours by refusing to recognise this. Since the rise of movements backing Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, young people on both sides of the Atlantic have reinvigorated the fight for socialism. And with the kneecapping of those movements by class enemies within their respective parties, a veritable tidal wave of people now call themselves communists. These mostly young people are growing into a politics that is radical and trans inclusive because they haven’t imbibed gender orthodoxies like you or I would have. The left needs to court them, not alienate them. We need to get them on board as part of a movement with a proper systematic critique of capitalism—not just shitposting in some online culture war (fun as that is). But if you think they’re going to join a party or a union where the legitimacy of their own existence or that of their friends and loved ones is a subject for debate then we’ve lost before we’ve even begun. If we’re not responding to the changing dimensions of the working class, then who are we?
No political party has the right position on this. And that critical lack of organised and unequivocal support is effectively a barrier to trans, non-binary and intersex people joining our organisations. What a missed opportunity! If you could find no political home, would you be quiet about it? That may be why you feel like this subject is taking up so much airtime. But this is how women have made the progress (such as it is) that they’ve made so far. Hopefully you can see that the issue of trans liberation isn’t any more likely to go away than feminism is. And just as feminists demand more than mere tolerance, it isn’t enough to say ‘we welcome trans people’ without actually offering them anything of substance—or worse yet, claiming to be trans-inclusive while also defending so-called “women-only spaces.” Claiming you support trans liberation while also saying you respect “women-only spaces” is the modern-day “separate but equal.” It’s anachronistic and in practice it amounts unwaveringly to exclusion and oppression.
Think about it. We know you don’t really want to be on the same side as the bad faith actors crying over “free speech” like Jordan Peterson and those losers at Spiked. So come on over as soon as you can. We’ll be waiting for you when you get here.