The Absurdity of British Transphobia

When the fight for women's spaces becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Whenever a marginalized group starts to have their calls for equality heeded, backlash is bound to ensue–that’s what’s currently happening with the trans acceptance movement in the UK as British intelligentsia continues to undermine its demands for proper recognition. Some have dubbed this ‘trans-exclusionary radical feminism’–though the description is accurate, it glosses over century-old disputes on the very identity of feminism beyond the ultimate quest for gender equality, which British feminists have decidedly fallen on the conservative side of.

For much of feminism’s lifetime, the fight had been centered on eradicating all forms of male privilege to give power back to women–it is then no surprise that suffrage was one of the first steps undertaken on that path.

What sets feminism apart from other egalitarian frameworks is its emphasis on seeking justice for an oppressed class —in this case women— naturally begetting the need to define who that class is. Much like the dispute over how many angels can sit atop the head of a pin, British feminism has yet to square a consensus on what womanhood is, often resigning themselves to an essentialist view of gender. That definition, assigns womanhood a metaphysical value by dubbing it a birthright, barring entry to protest misogyny any individual who was not born with the right genitalia–it’s why so much of British transphobic rhetoric is ladened with invasive talk of private parts, even though it slots firmly under the domain of intimate knowledge and isn’t meant for complete strangers to keep prodding over.

Vacuous concerns about one’s assigned-gender-at-birth aside, talking about British transphobia would not be complete without the culture of hatred it has bred against trans people in and outside the UK–op-eds about trans women encroaching on “real” women’s spaces and trans men betraying the holy sanctum of femininity by moving over to the dark side are par for the course. At its best, it is a sociologically-poor assessment of gender relations by grounding fluid concepts in rigid physical manifestations of them — that being menstruation, child-bearing, and so on — and at its worst, it sounds like incel ideology repackaged for women, only with a valence of pseudo-academic authority behind.

To dub the cabal of UK transphobes clandestine versions of Jordan Peterson for the ideologically feeble would do little to mischaracterize the movement–it is taking a surface-level interpretation of women’s struggle, and making it sound like maintaining a monopoly on being oppressed is the only way to build effectual feminist coalitions. So much of UK transphobia is rooted in the idea that men are inherently uncompromising, and should therefore be denied access to women’s spaces at all costs–sidestepping the obvious issue of gender essentialism in that principle, it posits a theory of strife for equality that is defined by conflict rather than cooperation. Even if the lot of British transphobes were to deny trans women their womanhood, they should at least be courteous as to charitably interpret their vying for inclusion without assuming selfishness–if it is the case that women’s very few spaces have been historically undermined by cis men, it is also the case that cross-gender solidarity did more to further feminism’s bottom-line than British radical feminists would like to give it credit for.

But aside from entertaining the central thesis of British transphobia, it bears emphasizing that it is wrong–what one’s chromosomes are, much less what lies between their legs, isn’t what gender maketh. The more people have distanced themselves from nature and ameliorated their living conditions through technology, the less they’re compelled to fulfill the cultural ordonnances of Christian hegemony under which gender roles follow a strict pattern of biological predetermination. Following that principle, if the enhancement of the human body and psyche through modern technology is to be denied, it makes just as much sense to reject the boons of modern medicine since they’ve made us mere shells of our erstwhile selves–what cis women and men are today, are nothing alike their counterparts even a few centuries ago.

Though less liable we are to pick up any evolutionary cues from our last few thousand years on Earth, the accumulation of medical know-how has made it a moral minefield to even attempt to reach back into our primitive selves–part of leading the charge to improve our living standards has been the abandonment of the idea that humans are made perfect with a form to be eternally preserved, and it’d be a folly to act against the medical consensus by denying trans people that courtesy.

That trans people have gained further visibility in the media isn’t to be taken as proof that their numbers have artificially inflated–it’s more so that the technocultural circumstances for being trans had not been adequately fulfilled in the past, that our only historical exposure to the concept is via third genders, or the odd personality who most historians kept retconning as cisgender through oblivion. What’s different now, is that the statistical potential of the trans demographic is starting to flesh out–it’s not rapid-onset gender dysphoria as some have erroneously theorized.

Much like incels have resorted to phrenology — and other antiquated forms of faulty science — to explain their woes, the modern transphobic movement in the UK is resting its entire case on shaky conceptions of what men and women are, such that their theses keep getting serially debunked just through mere exposure to people who they once thought simply could not exist, much to their avail.

As important as it is to highlight the astroturfed nature of British transphobia — with staples like Graham Linehan and Julie Bindel regularly on the forefront of controversy — it is the simple fact that if these views were not agreeable with the British public in the first place, they’d not be so easy to voice. Why transphobic rhetoric in the UK still gets traction has much to do with residual contempt for the queer community over recent-won concessions, compounded with the cultural baggage of Christianity and a reticence by Britain’s dysfunctional politics to straighten their tone on the issue–it is unclear when a national narrative of trans acceptance will start to take hold, but it is a travesty that after decades of public discourse, it seems to be far from settled.