Tuesday, 19 August 2014
Why arguing with TERFs is pointless.
It appears that some online TERFs (Trans Exclusionary "Radical Feminists")have been inferring that I am an “essentialist”. This is a common accusation thrown at many trans people and one that is not merely false but an example of the ‘white-is-black-and-black-is-white” strategy of TERF propaganda. In fact it is the TERFs who are the essentialists, the TERFs who indulge in essentialism. Indeed TERFism is essentialism, a profound essentialism at the core of their ideology, not a peripheral add-on. No wonder they are trying to accuse trans people of essentialism, it is a classic “look over there” tactic.
Of course anyone who has read anything I have written, especially my most recent paper published by the British Psychological Society will realise that not only am I not an essentialist but that I am actively anti-essentialist, having produced a theoretical paper dismantling some neurologists’ and psychologists obsession with a mythical “comorbidity” between trans people and people on the autistic spectrum, by elaborating the concept of Cultural Cisgenderism. Indeed in that piece I am effectively attacking the work of Simon Baron-Cohen, the arch essentialist whose book “The Essential Difference” is, in my view, profoundly anti-feminist.
It is common for TERFs to try and pin the label “essentialist” onto trans people who perceive themselves to have been born this way, or to have an essential self as women, men or non-binary people. This, however is the purest form of dishonesty. Actually the overwhelming majority of people in society subscribe to essentialist beliefs, it is one of society’s prime ideologies. This includes the overwhelming majority of cisgender people. So it is no wonder that some trans people subscribe to this ideology also; not all trans people have done a masters in Gender Studies. The setting of different standards for trans people compared with cis people can however be characterised as pure, straightforward, unadulterated transphobia. In fact, the percentage of trans people who subscribe to the ideology of essentialism is almost certainly very much lower than the percentage of cisgender people who are essentialists.
Of course there is one group who are essentialists who pretend to be social constructivists; speaking the language on the latter while adhering to the beliefs of the former; and that is TERFs. I can think of no other group that does this; an interesting phenomenon for the advanced TERFologist to study.
As I have said before the TERF strategy of arguing black is white is part of their usual flailing around since arguments which have been discredited since the 1970s. As the Transadvocate has thoroughly demonstrated during TERF week, TERFism is a violent essentialist ideology that recruits a variety of dishonest tactics to attack, threaten, abuse, harass, misrepresent and harm trans people. They have resorted to these since the 1970s because their arguments have been comprehensively discredited.
While we are here one thing I have always noticed, since being on social media is that the most sure-fire way of knowing that you are winning an argument is when the other side starts putting words into your mouth. I have had this with Tories, with Kippers, with Separatists, with neocons, with racists, with homophobes and of course with TERFs; it is always the signifier that they have lost and need to start telling me what I haven’t said but would have liked me to have said.
This is just one of the many reasons why arguing, or trying to reason, with TERFs is pointless. This is why, incidentally, Paris Lees' and other trans people's refusal to debate with TERFs is both brave and sensible. We know from experience that trans people who refuse to engage in "debate" with TERFs are harassed, threatened and abused by TERFs. This does not mean TERF disingenuousness and misinformation about trans people in mainstream media, such as this, should not be countered. We should however ignore the irrelevant blogs by TERFs, which make not difference to public opinion.
TERFs need to learn that these sort of tactics, which they have engaged in for 45 years, have profoundly weakened their, already unconvincing, case, TERFs also need to learn, as do some in the media, that my identity is not up for debate. Period.