There was an article in New Yorker this week--- Michelle Goldberg's "What Is A Woman? The Dispute Between Radical Feminism and Transgenderism" in the 4 August 14 issue ---that's drawn fire in the gender wars. My friend Ms. Flox at Slantist.com posted a harsh attack on the Goldberg article ("A Pity Party for the Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists", 28 July 14), and there are other attacks at, say, Autostraddle.
I can't have any sympathy for radfem types. I'm a mere Person of Penis, and as a straight male I'm on their enemies list. I'd have no place in their world. Yet I can't accept so many of the basic tenets of transgender theory. I'll only get in trouble over this, but I have a very hard time with the current efforts to decouple gender and sex and to downplay biology and anatomy. It's not difficult for me to accept trans-folk as a belonging to their own category, but I'm not sure that I'd accept the assertion that one can be a "real" man or "real" woman completely without regard to anatomy. When I read trans-folk (almost always MTF, for whatever reason) describe themselves as "neurologically female" but "anatomically male", there's the idea that the flesh means nothing. The claim that their brains are actually more like biologically female brains has the feel of an afterthought. There's only nebulous and uncertain evidence for that, and their appeals to neuroscience have a tacked-on air. And I suppose it all seems so...unnecessary...outside of the cult of "authenticity" in any case, the obsession with being "real".
Ms. Flox and other critics of the New Yorker article went straight to a claim that the radfem assertion that trans-folk aren't "real" women or "real" men is somehow directly tied to the appalling statistics about violence against trans-folk. But those two issues are completely severable. You can certainly argue that trans-folk should have full social and legal rights and be free of bigoted violence without accepting the idea that structural anatomy has no part in defining what's "real". Whether or not "some women have penises" is true should have no effect on legal or social rights. Those rights come as part of being human in society. Being someone who wishes to live as another gender or present themselves with the markers of another gender doesn't--- shouldn't ---affect those rights. That's completely severable from the issue of what or who is "real".
I'll admit that I enjoy reading about the blood feud between radfems and Asterisk Thieves because it has that wonderfully insane, hermetic, ranting air that intra-Left feuds had in the 1930s or late 1960s. It reminds me as well of polemics during the early Reformation, and there's nothing as hilarious as watching fanatics rave and rant and attack one another over issues that no one from outside could possibly care less about. I'm certainly no fan of either group--- strident, righteous people always leave me cold.
It does seem to me that the people like my friend Ms. Flox who attacked the New Yorker article are fighting the wrong war. If the issue is violence against trans-folk, the fight over whether trans-folk are "real" men or women isn't especially relevant. The fight is against the people who commit the violence and against the unwillingness of police and prosecutors to punish the violence. It doesn't matter at all whether "some women have penises" or which pronouns someone prefers--- focus on stopping physical attacks, on securing job protections.
As for the rest of it...well...I'll just laugh at the polemics and throw up my hands over the self-righteousness. I don't grasp the cult of authenticity and being "real". I don't grasp the part of the Asterisk Thieves' ideology that tries to make trans-ness not about sex or attack those who shape their own gender presentation because it's part of their sex lives. I'm not sure why being a "real" whatever matters, since adopting a persona and playing it out seems just as good. If people agree to respond to the created persona, how is that not as good as being "real"? Why isn't being trans as a category something acceptable all on its own, as a third category? But, well...I'm Evil. And male and straight and older. Which is only another way of being Evil, no?