You’re a progressive, a queer ally, hater of transphobia. But you can’t stomach Yaniv, clearly a paedophilic creep and out of order to make use of a human rights tribunal to get vulnerable women to touch his genitals.
You’re also furious at the right and the “TERFs” saying “I told you so!”. You know that he’s not a real transwoman, he’s a troll, he’s trivialising the true violent transphobia which happens everyday, to real transwomen.
You see that everyone from Stonewall to Mermaids supports gender self-ID, and that GRA reform which supports this is ‘a step forward’ for trans people. But this is the moment where we have to take a really hard look at gender self-ID. Self-ID places the bar for being a real transgender person at the level of simply declaring that you are. Any further stipulations, like needing to ‘live as’ the opposite sex for a period of time or be diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria, is evil gate-keeping. It places elitist, expensive, prejudiced demands on trans individuals, supposedly.
I cannot see how you can possibly get away from that the fact that if you support gender self-ID, Jonathan Yaniv is a real transwoman. Answers on a postcard etc etc
Maybe this case has got you wondering how gung-ho you actually are the on self-ID thing then. Maybe a few things should be there? But, what things? Living as the other sex has been rejected because it takes time and trans people don’t have time. A diagnosis of mental illness has been rejected because it’s argued to be grossly offensive to assume that being transgender is a mental illness. Something needs to stop people like Yaniv but still be a very low accessible bar for everyone else. What about not having a history of sexual assault? Well, if transgenderism is a natural state that some humans happen to be in, like being blonde or gay or short-tempered, then it’s hard to hash out why exactly committing sexual abuse would be, by nature, fundamentally incompatible with being trans. Anything else?
Perhaps there’s a similar case we can look at, a broad, political, societal category which is based purely and fundamentally on people’s reports about themselves and their inner lives? And we all have to trust them, and allow them to have their own meanings for the words they are using? Well, actually, I can’t think of a single one. Not a single condition which is solely based on a feeling inside. Being gay means that you date and are aroused only by members of the same sex as you. Being severely depressed, often by virtue of being a diagnosis at all, affects your day-to-day functioning. Even those with mental disorder who are nevertheless exceptionally high-functioning are no doubt displaying some very different behaviours in the privacy of their homes when they’re at the end of their tether. When we listen to reports of suffering from those with trauma, we don’t tend to believe that there is literally nothing else in the world, no way that this trauma may have manifested, which would also point to its truth. We see the pain of trauma manifest in self-harm, self-destructive behaviour, damaging attitudes. When we share stories of trauma, we use words and concepts for which everyone has the same meaning and understands in the same way. Even with something as serious as trauma, there is conceptual wiggle-room for the possibility that somebody is not reporting truthfully about themselves, whereas men identifying as trans are granted the last, irrefutable, legal last word. Normally, we don’t even let people say that they’re kind because they ‘feel like they’re kind’ if they actually kick puppies every day.
The notion that there is this wide, shared, natural state which is purely feeling is completely new. And this is why gender critical feminists call trans politics the new Cartesian dualism, because Descartes’ view of the soul was that it was there but completely separate, undetectable and therefore arguably superfluous. You just have to believe in it.
All of our notions and concepts are rooted in and fundamentally understood by how they are physically manifested in the real world. How would we be able to converse and theorise about the concept of ‘race’ if it meant very different things to each person who used it? What if it became bigoted to understand it as relating to black people, in the world, or the instances of racial hate in the world, and should instead be understood as just a feature of some people’s inner lives? What about ‘class’? Why are we allowing this to happen with the concept of ‘gender’? Gender is in the world.
Back to Yaniv. He, like everyone else, has been subjected to the institution of gender. This is the crux of the crossfire between transactivism and gender critical feminism. We will not let go of gender being real, being in the world, being done to people, and that it is not just feelings being reported. The institution of gender is the collection of bigoted and harmful stereotypes which individuals are coerced into accepting through the process of socialisation, and the specific stereotypes you have pressed onto you depends on your sex. Women are told they need to be beautiful and that their work is not worth as much as men’s. Look at how commercial adverts attack their self esteem and how the workplace consistently pays them less for the same work. Men are told that the female body exists for them to dominate and violate sexually. Look at the constant catcalling of women in the street, and the choking of them in porn.
The theory of gender identity, based solely on feeling and with no solid concept of gender in its physical form of sex-based socialisation, has no political space for any of this. It can’t explain it. It can’t explain why all the people with penises are paid more and why all the people with vulvas are treated like sex objects – all without anyone knowing their individual identities. And yet, isn’t it exactly an explanation of this sort which we rely on when we express that we don’t think women should be forced to touch male genitals? She can’t help sexism, the patriarchy, the institution of gender? What men have been taught to do, to see her as, to help themselves to? The physical consequences of sex, indifferent to anyone’s inner life.
In the Guardian, Mahdawi argues that it’s not a hate crime for “women to feel uncomfortable waxing male genitalia”, writing that “If those women had refused to wax Yaniv’s legs because they had a problem with her being trans then she would have been absolutely right to take action. However, surely things are more nuanced when it comes to handling genitalia? Surely a woman shouldn’t be forced to wax testicles if that makes them feel uncomfortable?”
That’s all very well. So well, in fact, that that’s been our point all along. We too do not believe that “male genitalia” is a meaningless term and instead means specific anatomy with links to a specific sociological way of life – manhood. As, similarly, we assume that Mahdawi must in order to use the term in such a way. Yet, up to now, we have been told profusely that the concepts of “male” and “male genitalia” are all in the head, the identity, the feelings. Suddenly, we are allowed to have it back as something real and external, but it took a pretty extreme case to get there. In this context, Mahdawi does not mean vulvas by “male genitalia”. In other contexts, I have seen “clitoris” mean a dick. In the context of Yaniv contacting these women, he referred to his periods and used a picture of a pregnant woman, and these things actually meant “dick”. Trans politics, in its support for the complete separation of sex and gender, is ideologically incapable of stopping this kind of nonsense.
We don’t want to remove transwomen from prisons, homeless shelters, women’s refuges, women-only shortlists and girl scouts groups because they’re trans. We want to preserve safety in these areas because these issues also relate to male genitalia. They’re to do with the physical reality of men. The trauma which the physical and male reality of men triggers in raped and abused women, the vulnerability of female prisoners which they take advantage of, the little girls camping who don’t feel safe or comfortable changing in front a strange man.
Suddenly, we realise that we know exactly what we mean by ‘male genitalia’ and why a woman might feel uncomfortable with a man in her home – however he identifies. When we work backwards from this, we find that trans politics is never there to catch us.