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January 13, 2013


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Surely it's possible to be in favour of absolute flexibility in social roles, including gender roles, while opposing gender reassignment and trans identification. I mean, it's arguable that the thought "I'm not a man, I'm a trans woman" actually reproduces the fixity of gender roles which we'd want to challenge.


Phil I disagree deeply. Gender identity and gender roles are different things; many trans and cis (not trans) people subvert gender roles, while others fit within them (either by choice or because they are constrained by their social environment). Also because we haven't managed to move beyond a highly gendered society I don't see why transgender people have an additional duty to subverting gender roles by foregoing a social and medical transition which would massively improve their quality of life (to the extent where some trans people commit suicide if they can't access treatment).

I think it's also worth noting that many of the people who criticised Moore (for the original error and her responses) are very well aware of this understanding of politics. Many are involved in many kinds of activism: traditional politics, socialism, feminism, rights for disabled people, etc.

PS It is preferred that "transsexual" and "transgender" are used as adjectives - the idea is that this is one part of a person, rather than all their defining features (similarly "gay" and "female" should be adjectives).


People clearly have a right to whatever gender identity they choose. It's a subset of their overall right to do what they want with their own lives and their own bodies.

I'm not sure that Suzanne Moore's original piece was all that offensive - she made the fairly uncontroversial point that women suffer from being compared to certain ideal body types. Had she said "six-foot blond supermodel" instead of "Brazilian transsexual", nobody would have cared in the slightest. In either case the point would be to draw attention to the fact that ideal body shapes are not achievable for most and thus serve as a means of oppression.

A lot hinges on what you think she was doing by using that example, but I'd have thought she was entitled to the benefit of the doubt. Having said that, she wasn't given the benefit of the doubt and subsequently went on to say some pretty dubious things, so she probably deserves some of the opprobrium she's getting.

What people seem to be forgetting is that stuff like this is actually complicated. When Suzanne Moore thinks about body image and the use of surgery to "correct" it, she's probably thinking of women being pressured into boob jobs or facelifts or what-have-you, and is in this case rightly scornful of the idea that a) your life will be made better by having a body that accords with some ideal image and b) surgery will give you that body and you will thus become happier. Feminists have put a fair bit of effort into saying this over the years. The case of transgender surgery doesn't fit neatly within that world-view, because it requires one to have a concept of "sometimes surgery to change your bodily appearance is good, necessary and life-affirming" which dilutes the "don't let anyone tell you your body is wrong" message a bit. Clearly there must be a path through this particular minefield, but it's not going to be easy to find and it's going to take a few more explosions like this before we find it. A bit more patience while it gets worked out wouldn't go amiss.


Chris, your view seems to be that politics is fundamentally about the Right, whereas one could say that it is also, significantly, about the Good. A democracy is a commerce of opinion about what constitutes the good life. In a democracy public life is political life. Art is political, fashion is political, architecture is political - which isn't to say that all these things are about justice, but that all these things embody and enact certain values, that is, certain conceptions of good, and are thus thrown into the mix. To call transphobia 'nastiness' is an emotivist's way out of a political encounter. Transphobics are expressing their sense of the good; transsexuals are a threat to what they stand for. To think that it's just a matter of being courteous to transsexuals is to abdicate, in the name of the right, your democratic license to freely imagine, and persuade others of, a good life. In a democracy politics is not only about justice, it is about what kinds of lives we think are worth living.


Marx gives absolutely no reason why specialisation (and thus division) of labour would not be an equally pressing force in a communist society.

Unless he though it would just be so efficient that workers could piss about being amateur brain surgeons and North Sea fishermen and productivity would still be adequate.


P.S. Didn't Marx advocate the labour theory of value as a fairly central plank of his thinking?

And isn't that one of the world's most patently obvious pile of bollocks?

If you would be interested, a post explaining either why it isn't, or how a rational Marxist deals with it if it is, would be much appreciated.

Kitty Plato

I agree about the difficulties surrounding good and bad surgery. We woud not advocate a person of colour bleaching their skin so why are we happy for a transgender person to undergo surgery

if mind and body are not aligned then why is there no debate around re--aligning the brain's perception to the body rather than vice versa. This sounds reactionary but is in fact Logically the same argument.

I have yet to see any debate around notions of a third way which ttakes us beyond simple bi-gender dichotomies and moves the discussion forward


And regarding the "I just don't understand women" thing, Jean Hannah Edelstein had some excellent suggestions on this a while back: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/05/stephen-hawking-top-5-tips-women


Kitty Plato, the problem is that talking therapy doesn't on the whole work for trans people.

Not all trans people have surgery (either they don't want it or other reasons) so it's not just about that, or hormones, although for many trans people they are a life-saver. Even if we consider a situation where trans people can't (aren't allowed, etc) medical treatment as part of their transition, they'll still want to use pronouns and other social aspects that fit with their gender identity. If we're going to deny them of that too, then basically what you're advocating is the trans equivalent of "gay cure" therapy, which has been shown to be dangerous and ineffective.

Further to your comment about the bi-gender dichotomy (also known as the gender binary), many people actively live outside (or between) this binary. And even those who are comfortable in a binary identity can see the world in a non-binary way. This isn't new, although it is rare.


@ Andrew.
1. It wasn't just Marx who believed in the LTV. So did all classical economists. Belief in the LTV doesn't discredit Smith. Why should it discredit Marx?
2. The LTV is actually pretty successful empirically. See eg:
3. You don't need to believe in the LTV to believe that profits derive from exploitation. This is the gist of Okishio's fundamental Marxian theorem, and Roemer's game-theoretic approach.


@ David. Good point. I am assuming that politics is about the right, not the good. But herein lies a paradox. Prioritizing the right over the good is conventional liberalism; it's pure Rawls. And yet here we have a Marxist asserting it.
Although Marxism is often associated, for historical reasons, with totalitarianism, it is, I'd contend, not only consistent with freedom but perhaps even necessary for it. (I might post on this sometime).


@ Chris. I'm wondering. Mill's liberalism appears centred on the good and the pursuit of happiness, but he has a sort of modernist fear of the masses (and a fear of the proto-modernists who would wish to organise the masses), and so to safeguard the good he falls back on a dichotomy of the public and the private. This is a dichotomy Wittgenstein did a lot to undermine. Maybe liberalism becomes complacent about the good because it is presupposes this dichotomy. If we throw out this dichotomy, then maybe there can be a liberalism of the good, that is, a liberalism which is all for the melting pot of democratic life. But maybe this melting pot (a free market of the good) requires Marxist underpinnings.


Kitty Plato: "I have yet to see any debate around notions of a third way which ttakes us beyond simple bi-gender dichotomies and moves the discussion forward "

At the risk of appearing naive, can we not simply abandon all dichotomies? The root of the problem here is that some feminists see transgenderism as a threat to their preferred dichotomy, whilst other feminists see the fact that it's the very notion of dichotomies between different 'types' of people that is the root of oppression, not just of women and trans people but of everyone who suffers from some form of oppression.

My own preference would be to start from a simple hardline liberal position that everyone has a right to a life lived according to their own tastes and preferences and, whilst they do not have a right to expect everyone to approve of their choices, they do have a right to be allowed to make them and to expect others to treat them fairly in situations where those choices are not relevant (that is, I should not be able to choose between two job candidates on the basis that one is trans, even if I don't approve of transsexuality, because it's simply not relevant in that scenario).

This does raise a question about whether it makes sense to call oneself a "feminist" if one's real concern is the abolition of *all* oppression. Clearly Moore and Burchill seem to believe, to a greater or lesser extent, that being a "feminist" does not necessarily imply any concern with the oppression or otherwise of transsexuals and, in Burchill's case, may actively be opposed to doing anything about that oppression except reinforcing it. So, we might say that people who become feminists in order to fight oppression in all its forms are at risk of having their efforts subverted, and will have to either confront and defeat Burchill's position or start calling themselves something else.


"the personal is political."

It isn't you know. What's political is still the same old boring stuff it always was. Forget the 1970s mumbo-jumbo.


@Phill, have you read anything from transsexuals on this issue? Everything I've read from authors with that condition insists that it is an essentially physical problem, and complains about Doctor's requiring "full time adoption of their chosen gender roles" a requirement which is essentially meaningless since those roles are disputable social constructs.

It seems to me that trannsexuality as constructed by the medical community can reify the gender roles in the way that you say, but that as lived by actual trans men and women, it does not.


The underlying assumption here would seem to be that transsexuals who want to be Beautiful Women rather than Blokes are, or will become, bad women.

By wanting a pretty Dress and smooth legs etc they are letting the side down. Is this not one of the problems with some feminists?

Why would it be bad for say Women pilots or Marines to some times wear a nice dress and get chatted up by men in appropriate social situations such as an off duty party? Do we want to emancipate people or just hate on Men? You can fly a Jet and wear a dress and want to be flirtatious. I just think it is a case of a self identified Feminist not thinking it out clearly. Or maybe having a confused idea about what Feminism entails.

I would also argue that Female porn stars in the USA who are millionaires from their porno work are not oppressed by any one, they are Capitalist success stories, as a result of exploiting the Freedoms that exist in a Liberal society. And so for example anti porn Laws and anti Prostitution Laws should be abolished. Why deny Men or Women or Tranies the right to exercise Economic Liberty?

I am confident JS Mill would not fall into this error.

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