Feminism and transgender: Why is there a debate?

At the author’s request this article has been removed from the site.  Socialist Resistance has made a statement about it: Socialist Resistance, feminism and trans inclusion.

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29 Comments on Feminism and transgender: Why is there a debate?

  1. The responsibility for commissioning and posting the now deleted article is mine. This is, to my knowledge, the first time this organisation has received a request to remove an article because its writer had received such sustained hostile commentary on this site and on social media. It is also the first time it has apologised for publishing a minority viewpoint. In both Socialist Resistance and the Fourth International it has been our practice to carry all sides in a debate.

    What this episode seems to demonstrate is that there is a strand of opinion which considers that the views of some feminists are so beyond the pale that not only are we obliged to apologise for listening to what they have to say, we are so unwilling to engage with it them we shouldn’t carry their point of view in our media. The assumption seems to be that we should accept the prevailing majority view without an exploration of what dissenters are saying.

    I still think it was right to put that side of the argument, though I had not anticipated the level and type of comment that we received. It was unprecedented in the history of the site and we do not have the resources to monitor that volume of input with the level of detail that was required which meant that some statements were carried which should not have been. There were also problems with the process of publication which meant that the original plan for two opposing points of view to sit beside each other did not happen.

    Its writer Victoria probably had a clearer premonition than most of us of the degree of hostility she would receive, and I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to her for agreeing to write on the subject. If readers of this site are seriously saying that we should not take into account the views of people like her when forming our own opinions I think it is a sharp break from our normal practice. This is not a subject which has been extensively covered in our press and when it was last written about the response was low key.


    It has been alarming to watch how dissenting voices have simply been shouted down with insults. The echo chamber of Facebook makes that sort of thing incredibly easy and it’s a forum which tends to favour abusive, ill thought out polemics at an abysmal political level. What has happened here is that a feminist has been driven out of a public discussion by socialists. That is not something to be proud of.

    Liam Mac Uaid

    • I’m extremely shocked on how over the top this has become. Female voices are constantly being silenced and intimidated. It’s clever the tactics really, feminists are the last people that want to be viewed as bigots so you create the fear of being called a bigot and you shut any opposing view down. Not only that but if, like SR, accept to even publish it, despite all the warning that is not the website’s view, and you are threaten until you cave in. It’s natural to fear to be on the wrong side of the battle but I refused to accept a view out of fear instead of listening and understanding, especially in a subject so complex as this. Female women deserve to identify themselves, to name their oppression and to discuss their realities and it’s absurd that trans women that speak so much about self identification, don’t allow this to happen.

      • They’re not on a side, and they removed it by request of the writer. Most feminists who I know aren’t bigots but most that follow trans exclusionary ideology certainly and repeatedly fill those roles.

        • And the writer removed it because SR decided to write an extremely disrespectful piece.. and they wrote a disrespectful piece because of the amount of backlash of activists that will scream transphobia to not allow divergent opinions. It’s Kate Smirthwaite all over again: of course nobody wanted to go to her gig, it has nothing to do with the propaganda that she is a demon and anyone going to her gig will be called a bigot.

          And you just demonstrated my point, most feminists are not bigots because they accept whatever you think is right for them to accept, but those who do not accept any theory and wants to discuss things in dept and struggle to understand where female stand in this whole new theory that was decided for them then they are labelled and excluded (which is quite ironic really)

    • Thank you for your response Liam. I am disappointed that Victoria was thrown under the bus by the site. She said nothing offensive, whatsoever and certain editors seemed to have caved to bullying. You are right to try to show more than one side of a debate, fairly. I appreciate your efforts and think that the only apology needed, in this situation, is to Victoria.

  2. I did not write a single comment on the original article, or even look at the comments. I couldn’t possibly comment on the comments that led to this editorial decision. My comment relates only to the original article.

    I would suggest that next time you want to approach such a controversial topic, you should frame it as an email exchange between two people of different viewpoints on the debate, rather than two separate articles.

  3. “It has been alarming to watch how dissenting voices have simply been shouted down with insults. The echo chamber of Facebook makes that sort of thing incredibly easy and it’s a forum which tends to favour abusive, ill thought out polemics at an abysmal political level. What has happened here is that a feminist has been driven out of a public discussion by socialists. That is not something to be proud of. ”

    So why was the “offending” article taken down?

  4. I am glad you have said what you have said here, but if that’s the way you feel, why were you not willing to publish this piece without warnings or apologies? You did not have to endorse it: I’m sure you run many pieces that don’t reflect the official position of SR. You could have run it simply as a statement of the author’s political position. You were targeted by people who know their tactics have worked many times before to silence those who they have deemed enemies of the people (yes, it is Stalinism). The only way to render those tactics ineffective is not to give in to them. Publish and be damned.

  5. I disagree with Victoria Smith on a number of points in the article she wrote, but none the less I think she has been treated disgustingly by Socialist Resistance and many *men* (and yes, I mean *men*, before any *men* start insisting that I mean trans women, I don’t mean trans women, I mean *MEN*) who consider themselves to be on the left.

    The original article that she wrote is available on her blog at http://glosswatch.com/2015/03/29/on-sex-gender-and-socialist-resistance/
    together with a commentary about why she withdrew it.

  6. Duncan Chapel // 29th March 2015 at 10:21 pm // Reply

    Thanks for taking the article down. I have added a link to the statement by Socialist Resistance too. It is at http://socialistresistance.org/7318/socialist-resistance-feminism-and-trans-inclusion

    Some readers might think, from the form of words about a ‘minority viewpoint’, that the author of that article was a member of a minority viewpoint within Socialist Resistance. That is not the case. Indeed, the author has written elsewhere that she is not sure she is a socialist.

  7. What kind of socialism disallows analysis of material oppression based of a particular social group, in this case a very large one? Capitalism could not even exist without the colonization of women’s bodies, for sex, reproduction, labor, and emotional service. There are multiple axes of oppression, but this is a major, ancient, far-reaching one, and banning discussion of it is McCarthyist, or worse, Stalinist. Silencing women is an old story. Pusillanimous move, SR.

    • Duncan Chapel // 30th March 2015 at 1:03 pm // Reply

      Hi Max. It obviously was not disallowed (other than by the author, who asked for it to be taken down). It happened. Around 6,000 people read the article and around 125 commented on it. Some people were angry and upset. There was a petition against the post, and I think the objection of some signatories is not that the article attempts a materialist analysis but that it is transphobic. The petition has a bit of detail about that, at ipetitions.com/petition/against-socialist-resistances-hosting-of/

      • Like you said, it was a material analysis. There was nothing transphobic mentioned at all. It simply discussed the oppression women face on the basis of their biological sex. Unless, you’re saying that that in itself is transphobic. Which is ludicrous.

      • OK. Try inserting “disavows” for “disallows” in Max Dashu’s comment, and your concerns are met. The writer asked to have the piece removed when SR disavowed any relationship to her analysis and inserted a “trigger warning”.

      • What, exactly, was transphobic about Victoria’s piece?

        • Well, that is a matter of opinion. The women who wrote the petition give their opinion at http://ipetitions.com/petition/against-socialist-resistances-hosting-of/

          • Judith Green // 4th April 2015 at 9:21 am //

            That petition was incapable even of identifying the article by its title. I’m interested in the opinion of signatories of the letter such as yourself: presumably you have an idea of what was transphobic about the post if you signed the petition? Perhaps you would like to articulate your opinion, rather than use the women who wrote the petition was your shield.

            It’s clearly the case from the piece that Victoria Smith was taking on some frequently seen ideological positions in transgender political activism and theory rather than making demands on individual trans women (as you claimed in your previous reply to me).

            Instance one: Victoria Smith does not discuss at all the private notions of individual trans people about the inherency of gender. Everyone (trans or not) in a sexist society is subject to the dominant ideology that gender is inherent, and there’s little point castigating individuals going about their everyday lives. What Victoria Smith addresses is the political ideology advocated by many trans activists, illustrated in this piece by Fred McConnell, that gender is innate – and argues otherwise.

            Instance two: Victoria Smith sets out objections to the frequently articulated political priorities of much transgender political activism, which seems more concerned with demonising gender critical/atheist/abolitionist feminists than in developing a politics that takes on male violence politically. She is concerned with the implications of this, in particular the tendency to blame women for male violence, and to suggest that women being more accommodating is a viable political solution to male violence. It takes a particularly bad faith reading of her argument to conclude, as you did in your previous reply stating what you found revolting in her piece, that she is advocating individual trans women confront individual violent men. What she did advocate is that women speaking in defence of their boundaries is not de facto transphobic.

    • Judith Green // 4th April 2015 at 10:52 am // Reply

      How great to see Max Dashu show up on this comment thread. For those that don’t know, Max is a woman engaged in more than forty years of intellectual enquiry into non-patriarchal societies – engaging with her could add so much to discussions about how we understand the origins of women’s oppression. Join her 130,000+ followers at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Suppressed-Histories-Archives/333661528320?fref=ts

      What a shame that the occasion of Max commenting is SRs inability to host a discussion about sex and gender.

  8. disgraceful. you should be willing to stand by your contributors and contributors should have the guts and information to justify their stance. this is a vicious, nasty debate and no woman should have to feel bad about the discomfiting issues surrounding it. I support trans women, but I don’t support the wholesale denial of the pertinence of female biology to womens oppression, womens lived reality, and the silencing or shouting down of reasonable questions and objections by women to the violation of hard-won boundaries.

  9. Agree with Taly where she writes “I refuse to accept a view out of fear instead of listening and understanding, especially in a subject so complex as this.” This subject is complex and feminist ideas around sex and gender have emerged out of decades of struggle against women’s oppression. There are diverse and opposing views on gender politics. These views should not be suppressed. How can we hope to understand and move forward on theories of gender and gender oppression if we are censoring the views of feminists that we don’t agree with?

  10. Pete J. Newbon // 30th March 2015 at 11:38 am // Reply

    I’m writing in solidarity with Victoria Smith, a feminist journalist who I hold in very high regard, both for her intellectual insight, and for her political and moral courage.

    The editorial conduct of Socialist Resistance has been shabby and craven.

    Victoria has reposted her original piece on her own blog, where she gives her account of the deplorable treatment she received. I urge all to read it carefully and to circulate it: http://glosswatch.com/2015/03/29/on-sex-gender-and-socialist-resistance/

    Socialist Resistance have not removed the article – they have taken it down at the request of the author. This is an important distinction, and not one to be distorted by misogynist apparatchiks. As Victoria states, her reasons for asking for this retraction had nothing to do with her own views on the content of her excellent essay – and everything to do with the biased and cowardly treatment she received by SR. Victoria rightly perceived that SR could no longer offer her piece the fair and balanced platform it deserved, and which they had initially promised.

    Doubtless there will be many mendacious enough to claim that Victoria withdrew her article because she recanted her original thesis; or that Socialist Resistance withdrew it because they deemed it ‘beyond the pale’. Let it be absolutely clear that neither of these claims have any truth whatsoever.

    SR have handled this situation with appalling clumsiness in their pusillanimous desire to be seen as ‘right on’ (rather than honest). SR should have published both articles at the same time. Having stated that they had no editorial bias in this matter, they should not have then inserted a ‘trigger’ warning, prefixed to Victoria’s piece. Most of all, they should not have inserted a pathetic caveat stating that, in fact, SR takes a diametrically opposing view to Smith in this matter – especially not having offered her a disinterested and fair platform. This is shameful behaviour. This is abject cowardice.

    Apparently I had been mistaken in my assumption that your journal was for intelligent, thoughtful adults. But no; it appears to be written for simpering children, who need to be warned that an article they haven’t yet begun to peruse might ‘trigger’ their delicate sensibilities. Apparently Ms. Smith has caused ‘offence’ and ‘distress’ to some.

    My understanding was that this is a ‘socialist’ publication. Or at least you claim to be both ‘socialist’ and ‘feminist’ – the latter claim now looks patently ridiculous. Presumably you envisage some form of revolutionary event that will overthrow the current capitalist basis of society? I’m assuming this might involve breaking some of the laws currently on the statute books? It might even involve the raising of voices, engagement in heated debate – perhaps (depending on your brand of Marxism) it might even involve violent upheaval?
    Or do you think you’re going to censor your way to utopia?
    Are you going to seize control of the means of production with anodyne platitudes?
    I take it you plan to overthrow the capitalist establishment, all the while taking ever so much care not to ‘trigger’ anyone at all?
    The revolution will involve no ‘offence’ and no ‘distress’.
    Good luck with that, Comrades.
    To say I’m demoralised to see the Left kowtowing to this level of censoriousness (masquerading as ‘social justice’) is to put it mildly.

    This incident is yet another instance of craven and bullying tactics by those too cowardly to stand by their ideological assertions on a fair and level playing field. Repeated invitations to transactivists to debate on an equal platform with gender-critical feminists have been extended, only to be met with caviling evasion. A pertinent case in point: following the announcement by former sportsperson Frank Maloney that he was transitioning to become Kellie Maloney, the transgender activists Paris Lees and Fred McConnell were invited to take part in a debate on BBC2’s News Night. When it was revealed that they would be in debate with the transsexual gender-critical Miranda Yardley, they both, curiously, cancelled their appearances, on the pretext that they would not debate the existence of transpeople:
    Is anyone so facile to believe that a gender-critical transwoman had, in all seriousness, offered to debate her own right to exist?
    This is just moral and political cowardice.

    All the while, pressure is being placed upon institutions and organisations to censor and no-platform the voices of feminists who build upon the work of the second wave: Julie Bindel, Germaine Greer, Sheila Jeffreys, Caroline Criado-Perez, Chris Hedges etc etc. (http://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/2015/feb/14/letters-censorship).
    The space for feminists to discuss the reality of their oppression is all the while shrinking.
    And now it seems Socialist Resistance is joining the proud ranks of those who can be cowed into retracting the platform they offer to gender-critical feminists. Bravo, comrades.

    I have no doubt that on any other issue, Socialist Resistance would have supported a dialectic, materialist, historical analysis – be it for class, for ethnicity – perhaps even for sexuality. But – as with so many on the Left – when it comes to matters relating to female oppression, women just don’t merit a rigorous class analysis. Instead, you’re perfectly happy to stand in support – even in collusion with a half-baked, neo-liberal, nihilistically postmodern, narcissistic identitarianism, which works to relativise the category of woman, and the reality of female oppression.

    Let’s face it, for most men – for most men on the Left as well – women just aren’t real people. Here, in your spineless dishonesty, you would rather be perceived as ‘right on’ than intellectually and politically consistent. You would rather silence the voices of women defending their hard-won rights, than hurt the sensibilities, or disillusion the fantasies of those born male and raised with male privilege.

    Bravo, comrades. Bravo.

    What is the point of a journal embracing a socialist, materialist, class-based politics, if it will not allow the fifty-one percent of the population oppressed by patriarchal capitalism to apply these tools to describe their own oppression? What is the point of you?

  11. Please do not paint this as people/men vs feminists. The people who were against this article (and please note they did not remove it, silence it or anything or that nature) are feminists. The people who tend to have an issue with GW’s work are not random dudes who, for some reason, are oddly pro-trans*folks rights.

    • Duncan, screaming TERF is a way of disallowing female speech, and so is your editors adding trigger warnings on that pulled piece. (That is why the author wanted her article taken down). I saw the petition you mention several days ago, and it fundamentally misrepresents what Smith was saying. It is not “transphobic” to talk about the material oppression of women by sex, nor does doing so rule out recognition of oppressed genders such as trans women and trans men. A person would not know from your editorial statement, nor from many of the comments, that there is no one radical feminist position on trans, or on gender abolition (something i don’t think is possible, or even desirable: i just want to do away with male supremacy). It’s past time to recognize that current the witch hunt for “TERFs” (complete with proposed dartboard targets by queers in Leeds) is itself a form of bigotry against a marginalized group of women, many of them lifelong gender resisters. And that it is being unleashed on radical feminists (regardless of how they relate to trans people, and some of them trans people themselves!) simply for daring to assert that sex oppression matters, and cannot be elided by personal gender identification. Everything counts, all axes of oppression. But the current climate in the left has become pretty vicious toward women who speak up is pretty horrifying, and i am disappointed to see your publication participate in it. Dialogue on these issues is going on, but apparently this is not the place to do it.

      • Duncan Chapel // 2nd April 2015 at 12:13 pm // Reply

        Hi Max.

        Firstly, may I apologise for answering your questions? One the one hand, you have posted direct questions to me, and I think it’s easy and polite to answer them. On the other hand, I observe that most of the comments on this post and our other posts on trans issues are by women and trans activists. I think that is a good thing, and that men’s voices should not drown out those of others. So, I just want to answer your questions to me rather than being an ongoing participant in this discussion. I should also clarify my role.

        I think we agree on more than you would imagine. I don’t see anyone in our meetings or on our website screaming TERF, and I would not support it. I don’t think that’s an acronym that’s being useful helpfully. On this site, it’s used mostly in comments by supporters of the gender-critical position: so it’s more than a witch-hunt term since it is also used as a straw doll in rhetoric. It’s being used both by feminists and against feminists for more than one reason. That is pretty complex, and that is also one of the reasons I don’t advocate using the term. That said, the term is being used not only to amalgamate different views into one, but also because trans exclusion is a part of the real experience of the movement. I feel that people in the discussion could find other terms and phrases to describe these different positions, rather than use a label which has a partisan point of view embedded in it.

        I agree that it’s not transphobic to talk about women as an oppressed sex: I don’t think anyone on this site has said that it is. I also agree that, while you can pick up from the articles and posts on this site that there are more than two views, it was a weakness of both the original article (which contrasted the feminist view with the “trans politics” view, as if these were binaries) and many of the comments that the discussion focussed on whether, and in what context, Smith’s article belongs on this site. Indeed, the discussion on sex and gender was buried by that.

        I apologise if you think that we were horrifyingly vicious. Here is my opinion: – We intended in good faith to bring a debate to our readers. We didn’t consult enough with anyone, at any stage. We all ended up in maelstrom, and it was hard for our executive committee to find a way forward (all the harder for them, since they had not been involved in publishing the article: they were just handed an omelette and asked to turn it back into eggs). We are unhappy with ourselves, but I don’t think anyone is, or should be, blaming Victoria Smith even if they strongly disagree with her. She gave an honest account of her views, and she wrote engagingly, promptly. In the statement, SR tries to give an account of our view on what happened, and in our conference perspective resolution we outlined our views on feminisms and opposition to trans exclusion.

        I should also just clarify my role. I am commenting here as an individual. I’m not a spokesperson of SR, or a member of its leadership or editorial board. I have not been involved in the process around the article, and have no special insight into it. So, thanks for the questions but please understand that the insight in my answers is limited.

        • Judith Green // 2nd April 2015 at 11:13 pm // Reply

          You publicly campaigned for the withdrawal of the article that you called ‘revolting’. I think Socialist Resistance had an opportunity to host a discussion that is very necessary and very difficult. Unfortunately, and partly through your actions Duncan, Socialist Resistance has blown that opportunity.

          • I don’t see how we could have hosted such a discussion positively without agreeing first and taking the time to discuss and prepare for the reaction. In my opinion, we’ve lost friends, good will, and trust. Although I am not in the best position to make such a judgement, I feel that SR was neither in the position to anticipate that article’s publication nor to withstand the pressures it would create. I don’t think we lost a really-existing opportunity to host that discussion. It simply was not the right time for us to do it. I have extreme sympathy for Victoria Smith in this process. She sincerely believes that SR reneged on a collective decision to publish her article, but the statement from SR explains that there was inadequate collective functioning. We saw it after it was online.

            I’m not well-connected to the players in this drama, let alone influential on them. I learned about these developments when after they appeared on social media. They happened without my involvement: The idea of the discussion, commissioning the article, posting it, Evie’s reply, the US women who co-created the petition, 125 comments, the choices by our leadership and editor, and so on.

            Indeed, I was revolted by the article’s final paragraphs because of their misrepresentation of “trans politics” and the suggestion that trans women should confront men rather than use women’s toilets. I was stunned that we had published it and convinced by the US petition to say that it was a deep mistake. But I don’t have much of an audience. Just two of my comrades signed the petition. Honestly, I don’t think either did so because of me.

            The discussion over the petition was primarily a discussion between women who were more familiar than SR members with the debate over trans liberation and feminism. We were not able to moderate the discussion well when it overgrew the boundaries of appropriate discussion. We need to prepare ourselves before we can meaningfully contribute to this discussion, let alone host it. We must certainly admire the courage of our comrades who made the discussion happen. Nevertheless, my assessment is the unprepared attempt was predestined to be blown.

        • I don’t think the problem “a weakness of the article,” but rather a failure to understand what it was saying. It was refreshing to see Liam mac Uaid recognize the problem. What is at issue is recognition of the right of *every* oppressed group to define themselves, and who their peers are, who they see as their allies, and to organize themselves to fight that oppression. That applies to women born and raised into the crushing socialization of femininity, the material conditions of same, and it applies to trans people. But in these times of backlash, we see a growing refusal to recognize the oppression of women by sex, and an insistence on forcing everything under the template of “gender.” But that elides the specific way that female bodies are colonized under patriarchy, and the material reasons for that colonization. In fact we can say that the gender binary grows out of the desire to enforce patriarchy, and not the other way around. It has a material basis, one that socialists and marxists should recognize, after all this time, all the work done by Maria Mies, Claudia Jones, and countless others. That is not to deny gender-based oppression of trans or queer people; only to say that it is not the same thing. Certainly both sex and gender oppression are mediated by racial caste, class, immigration status, settler state opprssion, a myriad factors. But the silencing of discussion of patterns when it comes to female sex is something that has arisen in the conjunction of the anti-feminist backlash with the rise of queer theory. That is what Victoria Smith was addressing, and why her article is one voice among many being raised now to protest the vilifications and stereotyping and no-platforming attempts — might as well say the *exclusion* of veteran feminist voices from self-defined progressive platforms. Regardless of what they are actually saying. And that is unacceptable.

  12. The implication here is that Victoria asked for her article to be removed because of the criticism, when actually she asked for it to be removed because Socialist Resistance wanted to preface it with a trigger warning. The idea that people require a trigger warning before they read anything that conflicts with their own world view is preposterous, and I completely understand why Victoria didn’t want her work on here with such a caveat attached to it. It’s a pity this statement wasn’t added before Victoria removed the article; it feels like too little too late now.

  13. Parentofastransteen // 30th March 2015 at 2:45 pm // Reply

    I’m a mother of a trans teen. I’ve been supporting my child during what has been a very difficult time for him. Once he is ready to face the world with his identity I will fight his corner in schools and amongst family and friends and try my best to minimise the pain and hurt that he will no doubt experience as he enters in adulthood.

    Because of my experience as a parent of trans child, I want to understand more about the politics of sex, gender and trans activism. I want to be able to discuss these issues with my child. But there are some political views that I can’t even hint at because he has learnt through the internet that those who hold such ideas are an enemy and that such ideas aren’t even worthy of discussion. I come from a political background that is more disposed towards some of the ideas ideas put forward by feminists like VS on this question. I am now beginning to rethink these issues and look at alternative theories and viewpoints.

    However, because of the toxic nature of the “debate” between some feminists and trans activists, I am unable to be open with my child about where I may stand on this issue, even in the sense of this is where I’m coming from, but not necessarily where I’ll end up. The last thing I want is to alienate him or for him to see his parents as enemy, at a time when family support is crucial for his psychological well-being. I’m all to the aware of the statistics on trans youth. I find it very sad that I am unable discuss these issues in an honest way with my child.

    ?The demonisation of some positions within certain strands of feminism is leading to self-censorship. This is a very unhealthy development.

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