This letter we reproduce immediately below was originally published in Volume 8 Number 24 of the Irish Marxist Review (http://www.irishmarxistreview.net/index.php/imr/issue/view/24), a publication of the Socialist Workers Network (previously Irish SWP).
It was written by SWN and People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA) member Orla Ní Chomhraí – the PBPA is the SWN’s electoral front – in response to an article by two leading members of the PBPA, Stephanie Hanlon and Adrienne Wallace, “Socialism and the fight against Transphobia”. Their piece had appeared as a lead article in Vol. 8 Number 23 of the Irish Marxist Review, published in early 2019. (See http://www.irishmarxistreview.net/index.php/imr/issue/view/23)
Reply to Hanlon and Wallace
Hanlon and Wallace (IMR, Issue Number 23) claim that “The trans community have wrongly been accused of reinforcing. . . rigid gender roles” and that the “the trans community reshapes and challenges our perceptions of gender and sex, rather than as some would claim, reinforcing it”. I think the facts do not support this view.
If you see press interviews with people who are transgender, or their families, the appeal to sexist stereotypes to bolster their claims normally features prominently. A liking for pink, long hair, dolls, makeup and dresses is often seen as evidence that a biological male is really a woman ‘on the inside’. Sometimes the references are not just about superficial tastes, but also about personality traits, with submissiveness and nurturing being seen as a female traits, and confidence and aggression being seen as male traits.
For example prominent trans advocate and leader of Mermaids (UK), Suzy Green, said this about their biologically male child: “what cuddly toys she had she would nurture and treat like babies, not at all like a boy… Initially her dad just said: ‘I’m not having this’ and when she was aged about four he insisted we have a go at trying to stop her having anything girly. She had a few dolls which were put away” (Source – edited to include working link – https://archive.is/20190624122440/https://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/health/from-jack-to-jackie-why-i-had-sex-change-at-16-1-4018711#selection-1018.0-1018.3 )
But, the main problem is not that some individual trans people, or their advocates, might express some sexist ideas. The internalising of sexist ideas in our current social environment is to be expected. The most worrying issue is that institutions and the press are promoting these sexist ideas, and undermining women’s rights, under the banner of being trans inclusive.
Miranda Yardley, a gender-critical transexual, has examined how cultural stereotypes seem to be important in labelling children transgender. They point out that this attitude is not just to be seen in newspapers and parenting websites, but can be promoted by key institutions. They quote a section of the (British)National Heath Service Choices website to illustrate this point (this is a story by a mother about their biologically male child who now is seen as a girl): “When my child Nick was about two, I realised that he wasn’t playing with toys that I expected a boy to play with. He was interested in dolls and girly dressing-up”: http://mirandayardley.com/en/common-threads-and-narratives-of-transgender-children-and-what-this-means-for-our-lesbian-and-gay-populations/
Other professional bodies have also promoted sexist ideas under the trans inclusive banner. New guidelines from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy in the UK (since withdrawn due to public criticism) promoted a version of womanhood and manhood that would not be out of place in any conservative handbook:
“It is important not to assume being a woman necessarily involves being able to bear children, or having XX sex chromosomes or breasts. . . being a woman in a British cultural context often means adhering to social norms of femininity, such as being nurturing, caring, social, emotional, vulnerable and concerned with appearance.”
And it claimed being a man in Britain: “often means adhering to social norms of masculinity, such as being competitive, ambitious, independent, rational, tough, sexual, confident, dominant, taking risks and caring about their work”. (quoted in https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/women-are-emotional-except-in-the-aggressive-north-says-therapists-body-3vs6jk0d6 and https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/09/02/transgender-politics-world-say-thing-true/ )
Police training in the UK, given by Mermaids, includes a “Gender Spectrum” slide with a picture of GI Joe on one side (meant to represent the most male) and Barbie on the other (representing the most female). The slide can be seen here (https://twitter.com/kiritunks/status/987686293785096193?s=19).
Possibly partly as a result of this sort of training, police in the UK have been making politicised comments and statements on the trans issue (promoting gender ideology, and taking the dominant transactivist side on political issues) and engaging in political thought-policing (e.g. see case of a man questioned by police for liking a tweet, and told to check his thinking (https://twitter.com/HarryTheOwl/status/1088144870991114241?s=19). This is not the only such case.)
It is the promotion of unscientific and sexist thinking at an institutional level which has caused a lot of the controversy in the UK. I think this is the most likely factor to cause future conflict in Ireland, especially if gender ideology is taught in schools. The left, especially the Marxist left, should not support sexist and unscientific teachings, or the targetting of teachers (or others) in the workplace for not agreeing with these ideas (as has happened elsewhere https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/teacher-roy-wilkes-wins-fight-over-transphobic-comments-5c0m0g2nd and http://www.oldandnewproject.net/Essays/StoptheHarassment )
As a potential taster of what might come here, in the UK Children are being taught the concept of pink (female) and blue (male) brains in schools (see slide which is used here https://www.transgendertrend.com/cps-schools-project-the-erasure-of-sex-and-the-silencing-of-girls ). This concept is reminiscent of anti-suffragist ideology from the early 20th century.
One teacher described her experiences of having to teach lessons on this subject: “I was given 3 lessons on Transgender issues to include as part of the syllabus. The content of these lessons made me feel very uneasy. The three lessons I was asked to deliver were like something from the ’50s in terms of gender stereotypes. Slick animations showed diagrams of boys with mainly blue brains and girls with mainly pink brains. . .” (Quoted in https://www.transgendertrend.com/teaching-transgender-doctrine-in-schools-a-bizarre-educational-experiment )
In the US a girl was told, as part of a sex-ed programme in school, that: “if she was into fishing and wearing athletic gear, or playing basketball, that those were boy things. And that would mean that she was a boy inside” (https://web.archive.org/web/20180320031947/http:/q13fox.com/2018/03/19/sequim-school-district-halts-sexual-health-education-courses-for-now/).
Official, County Council-approved, handbooks used in UK schools suggests girls be encouraged to move on to another sport if they object to a male taking part in their (female sex-segreggated) sport. Biological males (from about teens upwards) have a major physical advantage over females in sport, which is why sports are sex segreggated. Self-identity does not alter this material fact.
Some of these approved school handbooks also suggest that if girls have an issue with changing in front of biological males (in the girls changing rooms) alternative arrangements can be made for the girls. It suggests objectors can be told: “although the individual in question may have the body of a boy, they are in every other respect a girl” e.g. page 30, East Sussex County Council, Trans Inclusion Schools Toolkit).
So basically, trans inclusion can mean move over for the boys, girls. How revolutionary. Marxists should be aware that individualistic liberalism (which self-identity politics is par excellence) sometimes benefits the dominant group (in this case biological males). This is what is regularly seen with transactivism, and why so many feminists are speaking out.
For anyone who thinks lreland will be immune to this sort of teaching in schools, there is pressure here to introduce teacher training and school lessons promoting gender ideology ( See Catherine Cross et al, “Exploring Gender Identity and Gender Norms in Primary Schools” (https://ulir.ul.ie/bitstream/handle/10344/6889/Neary_2018_Exploring.pdf?sequence=2). Some of the suggestions from the parents are quite sensible, some not, but the first few pages of definitions are a hint at the post-modernist anti-materialist thinking some people and groups would like to see promoted as fact in schools. Secularists should not support the promotion of unscientific ideologies, or faith-based ones, as fact in schools).
On the issue of male violence and sex-segregated spaces, the authors of the IMR piece (Hanlon and Wallace) imply that concerns over male violence towards women is coming from an ideological position of thinking males have an innate drive to dominate and hurt women. Many gender-critical people do not think male violence is an innate but a learned socialised behaviour. They think not allowing women to set boundaries in terms of privacy, safety and sexual partners (see Cotton Ceiling rhetoric) will feed into this problem.
But, regardless of what one’s position is on the cause of male violence, the figures speak for themselves. Almost all sexual offences are perpetrated by males, and most of the violent crime in society is also perpetuated by males. This is the reality we have to deal with. Refusing to allow women and girls to have some sex-segregated spaces where women are vulnerable (e.g. changing rooms, shelters and prisons) will put women at greater risk of violence (e.g. “Almost 90% of reported sexual assaults, harassment and voyeurism in swimming pool and sports-centre changing rooms happen in unisex facilities, which make up less than half the total.” https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/unisex-changing-rooms-put-women-in-danger-8lwbp8kgk ).
If any man can self identify as a woman (a position the authors support), and potentially gain access to female spaces, abusive men will take advantage of this. This has happened elsewhere, and there is no logical reason to think Ireland will be an exception to this.
Some transadvocates may feel the increased exposure of women to voyeurism and male violence is acceptable collateral damage in the advancement of their cause, but many women do not hold this view. These women are not suffering from a phobia, or bigotry, but from a rational position of concern for women. I think it is high time for the left to listen to them.
Orla Ní Chomhraí
Post-script from Orla.
The editor of the journal, John Molyneux, who himself had fallen foul of transactivists in 2013 for saying “Put simply, women are able to bear children and men are not” (https://isj.org.uk/sexuality-and-social-constructionism-a-reply-to-colin-wilson) now converted to the cause and wrote a disapproving Editorial Response to my letter, which was printed in the same edition. This can be accessed through following the links here: http://www.irishmarxistreview.net/index.php/imr/article/view/334.
Other than what felt like a character assassination of myself, his main points were that: I was exaggerating the reliance of Gender Ideologists/Trans Rights Activists on sexist stereotypes for their arguments (!); being gender-critical was similar to being racist (potentially on a slippery slope to Tommy Robinson!); and he sneered at the idea that men might abuse self-id laws to abuse women.
This exchange in the Irish Marxist Review had followed on from another in Socialist Review. Here is a link to a letter I (Orla) wrote in reply to an article by Laura Miles (http://socialistreview.org.uk/444/trans-debates-ireland) attempting to correct what I felt was misleading information on Ireland, and a reply to this by John Molyneux, Stephanie Hanlon and Adrienne Wallace (http://socialistreview.org.uk/445/irish-movement-supports-trans-rights).
Their comments on Ireland are interesting in light of the recent report by an international trans rights group, and associates, on lobbying, which admitted to lack of popular support for their cause in Ireland, and a conscious avoidance of drawing the attention of the Irish public to law changes: “In Ireland, Denmark and Norway changes to the law on legal gender recognition were put through at the same time as other more popular reforms such as marriage equality legislation. This provided a veil of protection, particularly in Ireland, where marriage equality was strongly supported, but gender identity remained a more difficult issue to win public support. . . In Ireland activists had directly lobbied individual politicians and tried to keep press coverage to a minimum.” The full report can be downloaded here: https://www.iglyo.com/only-adults/.