Compassion as cover: How transgender allies dodge debate

Trans activists need to stop labeling good-faith disagreements as “mean” or as an attack.

Since publishing my first essay challenging the ideology of the transgender movement four years ago, I have often found myself in settings where liberal allies of that movement try to divert a difficult discussion by claiming the moral high ground of compassion. With each of these encounters, I become increasingly frustrated at this “compassion-as-cover” dodge that seems designed to give liberals a way to avoid accountability.

The conversations unfold pretty much the same way each time: I’m told that radical feminists’ involvement in an organizing project can be a threat to transgender people, even if the program has nothing to do with transgender issues. Sometimes this comes with the accusation that I am transphobic and bigoted, or at the very least unconcerned about transgender people.

I point out that in my writing I have never attacked individuals or expressed fear or hatred of people who identify as transgender. When I ask my critics to point to any statement that is bigoted, I’m told that simply raising questions and offering challenges could be taken as a threat to the legitimacy of transgender identities. When I ask how articulating a feminist critique of patriarchy is threatening, my liberal friends often try to end the conversation with some version of, “You want to have an intellectual debate and I am just trying to be compassionate to transgender people who feel vulnerable.”

I agree, of course, that vulnerable people shouldn’t be attacked, but this response begs my question: Why is a good-faith disagreement being labeled an attack? Hateful, irrational attacks should be rejected, but why should one side in a political debate be able to declare a serious challenge illegitimate without responding?

When the transgender movement makes public policy proposals that impose costs on others (on girls and women, in the case of transgender demands for access to single-sex facilities and programs), there obviously has to be space in public for debate of those proposals. But my concern here — out of my sense of compassion — is that when radical feminism is framed as opposition to transgender people, a key feature of the feminist position gets lost in the noise: Radical feminism offers not just a challenge to the current ideology of the transgender movement but an alternative analysis that we believe can better serve some, if not most, transgender-identified people.

Radical feminism offers a more liberating alternative for people who identify as transgender by identifying patriarchal society and institutionalized male dominance as the source of impediments to real freedom for individuals to be themselves. Patriarchy forces people into rigid, repressive, and reactionary gender norms that have nothing to do with biological sex categories. Radical feminist resistance to patriarchy has long challenged those norms, and the energy of collective resistance is productive not only politically but also personally.

I’m not arguing that every person who experiences some form of gender dysphoria can resolve that distress through political analysis and organizing. We know very little about the etiology of transgenderism, and so it’s not surprising that there’s no one-size-fits-all response. But the radical feminists I have met in 30 years of work against men’s violence and sexual exploitation are among the most compassionate I’ve known in my life, people for whom the struggle for justice is as much about sharing the pain in our daily lives as about political principles. Some of these radical feminists also are parents, trying to responsibly raise children who identify as transgender.

A person can be concerned about, and supportive of, individuals struggling with gender dysphoria while still rejecting public policy demands of the transgender movement that are anti-feminist. Everyone I work with in radical feminist movements fits that description. Those activists are, for example, worried about the physical and psychological consequences of puberty-suppressing drugs for children who identify as transgender. That’s not surprising, since radical feminists typically support an ecological approach to social problems rather than reflexively embracing the dominant culture’s preference for technological and medicalized “solutions.” Whatever one’s view, it’s hard to see how those concerns are the product of bigotry or lacking in compassion.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with my analysis of the transgender movement or my position on public policy. But I think it’s disingenuous of those who disagree to dodge the debate by claiming to be more compassionate, just as it’s intellectually dishonest to try to undermine discussion with terms such as TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) and politically cowardly to try to silence radical feminists.

I’m not naïvely asking “can’t we all just get along?” I am eager to hear from people who disagree with my position with substantive arguments. I am just tired of being told that asking legitimate questions about a complex phenomenon such as transgenderism — questions that many progressive people ponder privately but are afraid to ask in the current political climate — makes radical feminists mean-spirited and lacking empathy.

Robert Jensen, an emeritus professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, is the author of The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men. He can be reached at [email protected] or online at robertwjensen.org.

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  • “Radical feminism offers a more liberating alternative for people who identify as transgender…. Patriarchy forces people into rigid, repressive, and reactionary gender norms that have nothing to do with biological sex categories.”

    Hmmm. Way back when, that’s what I thought might be the motivation for transgender. But so far I’ve yet to know one single man or boy who goes transgender because his male role is too narrow and constrictive. If that were true, these men would be pro-feminists, and would never even dream of entering women’s spaces, let alone aggressively insisting that they actually are women. No, these males don’t want to expand the contours of male identity–they never did, nor has it ever been their intent. On the contrary, they are out to bring down women, not boost them up, and their point of entry is consensus liberal sympathy for an overly propagandized oppression status. All the spotlight is on their woes, not on their cut-throat role to thwart women’s independence.

    As was on powerful display this weekend when just one of the measly members of this treacherous pact was able to take down at least three gender critical blogs–without any warning, and on a totally bogus rule re-worded just a few days before in an obviously collusive maneuver by WordPress.

    And men are not gendered. We may have roles cast upon us by men higher in the hierarchy, but this is not gender, because this is just an aspect of male identity and is part of the power of male identity. The gendering of women strips women of both power and of female identity. (there’s only one gender)

    • Joanna

      And maybe many of the men who declare themselves women simply felt inadequate as men (for all kinds of reasons)? I certainly don’t think that all of them want to bring down women.

    • acommentator

      “And men are not gendered. We may have roles cast upon us by men higher in the hierarchy, but this is not gender, because this is just an aspect of male identity and is part of the power of male identity. The gendering of women strips women of both power and of female identity. (there’s only one gender)”

      Of course men are gendered. I think this definition, pulled off a two second internet, search sums it up nicely: “the state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones).”

      Gender is the constellation of factors that go into the sex roles that are assigned to men and women. IMO, it is not a product of patriarchy (though patriarchy influences its content) but is a product of heterosexuality. Heterosexuality leads to a tendency to differentiate between men and women. The expression of that is gender.

  • SkyLark Phillips

    “I agree, of course, that vulnerable people shouldn’t be attacked, but this response begs my question: Why is a good-faith disagreement being labeled an attack?”

    Millionaires and billionaires like Bruce, “Caitlyn”, Jenner, James, “Jennifer”, Pritzker, Martine Rothblatt, etc. aren’t oppressed. They made a boat load of money before leaving the wife and kids behind to pursue their dream of being a “lady”. Poor transwomen of color, especially poor transwomen of color who work as prostitutes are vulnerable. The people who run trans and queer controlled LGBTQIAWTF+++ organizations don’t really care about these transwomen. Notice when they pull out their sob stories about transwomen being killed (it happens), they never say who is doing the killing. Who is committing acts of violence against transwomen? No female has ever killed a transwoman. Male on male violence can be deadly, and this is what is killing transwomen. Instead of addressing male violence, trans activists expect the female sex to open the door to all women’s spaces (restrooms, locker rooms, women’s homeless shelters, etc.) to any male claiming “gender identity”. In essence, women are supposed to put our bodies on the line to protect transwomen (males) from male violence. This is not acceptable.

    Reality check: No female has ever killed a transwoman. Transwomen (biological males) have been convicted of killing a lot of women. So, what does this tell us about who is really the most vulnerable.

    • «No female has ever killed a transwoman. Transwomen (biological males) have been convicted of killing a lot of women.» Do you have a source, or details?

      • SkyLark Phillips

        @Stephen Williams, “No female has ever killed a transwoman. Transwomen (biological males) have been convicted of killing a lot of women. Do you have a source, or details?”

        Yes, Stephen, the information is out there.

        Just look at crime data and court records. No female has ever killed a transwoman. Transwomen who are, in fact, males have been CONVICTED of killing a lot of women. In 2017 in Washington State, transwoman serial killer Douglas, “Donna”, Perry was convicted of killing three women. Perry also served time on federal weapons charges because he was in possession of 49 firearms and 20,000 rounds of ammunition. In an affidavit from a detective, a cellmate of Perry said Perry admitted to killing these women because they could breed and have children and he couldn’t.

        http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2017/jul/24/transgender-serial-killer-donna-perry-sentenced-to/

        Transwoman Robert, “Michelle”, Kosilek is serving life for killing his wife by first strangling her with a rope, and then using a piano wire to nearly decapitate her. Kosilek is mentioned in this video along with male rapists and killers who think they are “women”.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzwMJAFWLtQ

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAFcYTwn33A

        Katheena Soneeya (born Kenneth Hunt) murdered two women and is serving a life sentence in Massachusetts.

        Transwomen currently on trial for murdering women.

        Just in the bay area alone, one transwoman, Dana Rivers, is on trial for a brutal triple homicide of a lesbian couple and their son. And, a former queer student activist, Pablo Gomez Jr., is on trial for murdering one woman and attempted murder of another woman. Pablo Gomez Jr. uses “they” pronouns. That is one transwoman and a queer student activist on trial for killing three women and attempted murder of another woman.

        https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2018/03/07/transgender-activist-trial-oakland-triple-murder/

        http://www.dailycal.org/2018/11/17/pablo-gomez-scheduled-to-re-appear-in-court-on-feb-8/

  • Jen Miller

    “Don’t be so mean!” This gets used as an evasion tactic by people who know exactly what they are doing – but it also gets used by basically well meaning people who are confused and fearful of doing the “wrong” thing. In particular, heterosexuals who feel bad about being unkind to gays in the past and see this as their redemption moment, not necessarily seeing how new gender politics harm homosexuals and lesbians in particular. The challenge is to reach out meaningfully to this group, and increasingly I think that won’t happen successfully online. It’s in real life conversations that small progress gets made there.

    • SkyLark Phillips

      “In particular, heterosexuals who feel bad about being unkind to gays in the past and see this as their redemption moment, not necessarily seeing how new gender politics harm homosexuals and lesbians in particular. ”

      Sexual orientation is not the same as transgender. Transgender being the best colonizers on the planet, latched onto the LGB and transformed it into entirely trans and queer controlled LGBTQ organizations. Every year they add another special letter, LGBTQIAWTF++. The majority of transwomen are heterosexual or bisexual males with fully intact male genitalia. Way back in the day, queer meant gay man or lesbian, but now queer can mean a straight man with a diaper fetish. Or, a non-binary, gender fluid, pansexual (bisexual) man into BDSM. Queer can be whatever people want it to be.

      I’m a lesbian, and I know that I’m just as likely to be killed by a transwoman as a redneck. If a transwoman pulls a Dana Rivers on me, it’s not even going to make the news at trans and queer controlled LGBTQIAWTF++.

  • therealcie

    I once asked someone who slings the term “TERF” around frequently why they didn’t just refer to people they deemed transphobic as transphobes rather than using TERF. She went into a long diatribe about how “when TERFs say things we’re more likely to drink the kool-aid, so it’s worse to be a TERF than just a transphobe.”
    You really can’t even argue with a statement that bereft of logic.

    • corvid

      If by “we’re more likely to drink the kool-aid” she means “we’re more likely to be convinced by arguments grounded in facts and reality,” she may be onto something.

  • acommentator

    “At the end of the day there is no debate to be had about whether men are women. They’re not and never will be.”

    At least, not under the currently generally understood definitions of “men” and “women.” But. A major part of this trans project is to change the definition of men and women. Change the concept, really. Relegating what we now think of as men and women into subcategories, ones having as little importance as possible.

    I hate to sound like I need a tin foil hat, but the object is to eventually make it impossible to even think about men and women the way we do today.

  • martindufresne

    Thank you for writng this, Robert. I hope this will start a honest conversation among pro-feminists about what seems the most virulent antifeminist drive in decades. We also experience similar pressures at TRADFEM, a radfem translation collective, active since 2014.

    Do you find it significant that this pressure comes from *liberal allies* of the transgender movement, as you point out, rather than from feminists we support and who guide our work, despite their being eager for a ceasefire, or from transactivists themselves, who prove much more blunt in attempts to shame and silence us?

    To offer feedback on your essay, which I have been circulating in our network, I hesitate about the words “transgender people” and especially “children who identify as transgender”. Don’t these labels tend to essentialize their situation, to risk congealing/biologizing it as a scientific fact (despite the extremely vague definition of this word), when testimonies of desisters and detransitioners certainly describe processes of flux rather than some fixed “identity”?

    I am especially thinking of the situations of children and youths. Would you find it disrespetful (or indeed more respectful) to call many of them “children who resist gender stereotypes” – or at least question them and try to live differently – rather than “transgender” or “youths who *identify* as transgender”, which is the label too often applied to them by transactivists? Some do, of course, and we need to acknowledge their self-image, but many others seem to me to refuse to “Be a Man/Woman” rather than assume some undefined “Transness”.

    I feel that calling them “transgender” at the outset seems to beg the issue of their own questioning and choices.

    • Topazthecat

      The entire foundation of transgender and gender dysphoria is based on the same common gender myths of the entire very artificially gender divided, stereotyped,sexist male dominated society,that the sexes are naturally fundamentally that different which most people are taught to believe and which is a vicious cycle because all of this reinforces these gender myths, gender conditioning and gender stereotypes that creates most of these artificial differences in the first place!

  • wasnamesareirrelevant

    And are still male.

  • One to Nothing

    Agree 100%. There are plenty of incompetent, immature people—of varied age—with unwarranted power.

    I’m thinking of exchanges like this one I saw recently: a tweet about femicide gets a response that discounts misogyny and biology because “if people knew those ones they think are boys are really girls they’d get killed too.” OP unpacks this, explaining the issues and inhumanity of the statement, and the respondent (who earlier denied the scourge of femicide by changing the subject) writes “you’re not very good at critical thinking lol.” Again and again, an outlandish, unsupported statement, and when challenged, a personal insult in response. The nature of social media, I suppose.

    In the many, many discussions I have witnessed about identification, the question has often been asked, “what is a woman”? And there is never an answer. Those who insist “TWAW” simply keep repeating, insisting, demanding, “TWAW,” without any apparent interest in or ability to say what/who it is they are identifying as. “Because I said so.”

    The immaturity and incapacity in such exchanges—whatever the age.

  • Thanks.

  • shy virago

    And- it’s anti-feminist! We are here to help each other survive – not to take care of men.

  • Woman XX

    lol I was at that moment from the first moment one of these pricks was flashing his erection around in front of my kids.

  • Jules Sylver

    …”liberal allies of that movement try to divert a difficult discussion by claiming the moral high ground of compassion”

    One of the last conversations I had on this topic was with a family member, who told me, with great emphasis, while placing her hand on her heart, that she felt she needed to “respect” what someone else said about themselves. This, from the same person who had just made fun of a young nursing student who came with great devotion to take care of our father, because she was not familiar the name Dostoyevsky.