The gender debate continued – transphobia

Marianne Elliot, who describers herself as a ‘feminist trail-lover’, sparked more gender debate on Twitter yesterday.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about transphobia, and the way that fear can be created & exploited for the purpose of oppression.

I recently went to the Museum of African American History and the Holocaust museum in DC. Both tell this story.

I think the fear is very real for many people. In the same way that many Americans were genuinely afraid that desegregation would lead to white women being raped by black men, I think many cis-women are genuinely afraid of transwomen.

That fear is built on a foundation of intentional misinformation driven by hatred, then spread through fear and ignorance. When we’re afraid, we lose our capacity to be rational and all we want is to be kept safe.

We know this pattern. It lead to the Holocaust. And Apartheid.

Cis-women have a good reasons to be afraid. We have many centuries of experience of being violently harmed by cis-men. We’ve also had to fight, long and hard, for everything from spaces safe from violence to medical recognition of and respect for the way our bodies actually work.

This is group generalisation. It would be better to to refer to some cis-women, and some cis-men. and to point out that many cis-men have also been the victims of violence. In wars they can be significant victims.

I have no problem understanding how those experiences make some cis-women susceptible to fear transwomen. But I also believe that fear is the result of an intentional misdirection.

I don’t know if I’m expressing this very well, but I think the point I want to make is that the work of undoing the harm done by hatred-fueled misinformation about transwomen may fall on cis-women who see it for what it is.

We may be the only ones who can fully understand the experiences that lead to the genuine though profoundly misplaced fears of other cis-women, and therefore the only ones who can engage empathetically with those fears to help dispel them.


I thought carefully about those examples, and anticipated that response. But my view is that the same strategy is being employed, for the same purpose. Misinformation motivated by hatred, used to create genuine fear, for the purpose of dehumanising a group of people.

It’s a strategy that works because fear is powerful, and because many of us have good reason to be afraid. If the comparison to fears about desegregation makes people uncomfortable, I’d argue that’s a discomfort worth sitting with for a while.

Comparing women, who might have been raped, or suffered csa, to the apartheid south africa as a rhetorical device

1) completely fails to understand how power relationships work between males and female

2) is hyperbolic

3) is massively unhelpful


The fact that this person can go down this train of thought, as if she is having a new and original thought, is actually staggering to me. But it’s a pretty good instance of the blunt analogy that makes the idea we’re genocidal lunatics so intuitively appealing to left/liberals.

The basic model is right, lots of violence in the world has been created by the fact that humans have an implacable fondness for projecting their fear onto others and then being horrendously fucking violent to them.

But then there is the fact that sometimes one group of people is scared of another group of people because those people *are* actually doing something violent and dominating to them.

Reading the situation right is always about seeing the power relationships, and the direction of domination, correctly.

Here we might also remember that there is no historical instance in which female people, as a class, othered male people, as a class, in order to make them the object of mass violence.

Because women have never had the power to do that, and really, it’s never been our style.

This is what pisses me right off about this. This whole analogy depends on analogising women, with men. And it depends specifically, on analogising left-wing feminist women, with right-wing racist patriarchal men.

And it depends on making that analogy stick, despite the fact, as this particular person almost lets herself remember, that women are, overwhelmingly, the objects, not the subjects of violence. That they have good reason to want to protect themselves from the the class of people who are, overwhelmingly, the subjects of violence. And that when we do so, we are not projecting and we are not fear-mongering. We are not spreading baseless hatred to illegitimately other another group of people so that we can dominate or exploit or colonise or scapegoat them.

We are women. We are an oppressed class of people who are naming our reality. And you – progressives – are refusing to grant us witness.

An exchange between Jones and Elliot followed:

Marianne Elliot: I don’t want to refuse the reality of women’s oppression by men. That is my personal experience as well. But I want to name that, and then ask whether the threat is trans-women or a culture that continues to enable violence against women (including trans-women). I say the latter.

Dr Jane Clare Jones: The threat is male people. We have no reason to believe that male people stop committing male pattern violence when they identify as women, and we actually have enough evidence to falsify the claim that they don’t – although we don’t have good enough data. We should probably get good enough data before we experiment with women’s safety don’t you think? The point is this. Women, under these circumstances, have good reason to say ‘no.’

Many many women are saying no. You are supporting an political movement that is attempting to demonise women, and to use that demonisation to mobilise pressure, violence and threats to intimidate and coerce women who are saying no.

That is, to underline, you are supporting a movement that is using violence to coerce women who are saying no. What does that sound like to you?

Marianne Elliot: I agree that we need data before we experiment with women’s safety, and I include trans-women in that. We need to find a non-coercive way forward that protects all women, including trans-women.

Dr Jane Clare Jones: Sure we do. But asking for data will get you called a transphobe lickity-split.

No one on my side wishes harm on trans women. It’s pure propaganda. We do, however, think they are male, and we think that matters, and we want this whole thing done properly. If the data shows that they exhibit male pattern violence, then we have every right to not want to grant them access to our intimate spaces in large numbers under any form of self-ID arrangement. Most of us think the solution in third spaces. ideally I think, organised by gender, so that women can make the choice if they want to use a sex segregated or a gender segregated space. But you cannot remove sex-segregated space from women without their consent, and over against their explicit protest, and claim that is just. It’s not going to go anywhere good, and it will create an incredible amount of resentment which will do nothing for the possibility of harmonious co-existence between women and trans women.

Marianne Elliot: Thanks for taking the time to engage. And without calling me awful names as most of the people who came over here after you RT’d me did. I appreciate that.

Dr Jane Clare Jones: Name calling won’t move us forward.

But I had a look. I don’t see a lot of name-calling to be honest. I see pretty trenchant criticism. Women are very very angry, for good reason. And they are particularly angry with other women who are complicit in propagating the discourse you were rehearsing in that thread.

I hope you will chew over what I’ve said. Good night (well, here anyway).

Marianne Elliot: I’ll definitely chew. Chewing is what I do.

This is a complex issue that looks like continuing for some time.

I’m concerned to see statements like “the threat is male people”. Certainly some male people constitute the biggest threat through violence. But dumping on all ‘male people’ is unfair on the many men who oppose and despise violence.

And I think grouping all males as one threat is counter productive to addressing male violence, because it alienates the  males who aren’t violent and oppose violence – which I think is probably a large majority of males.

Perhaps a solution here is for men who oppose violence to take a much stronger and more prominent role in opposing violence.