“Transwomen are Real Women”
That was one of the formulations inscribed on a home-made placard at a recent demonstration in Scotland, carried by someone who looked the part of a student - though whether a real student or not I don’t know. Maybe they were just performing being a student and maybe that’s all there is to being a real student.
I guess that anyone with a positive IQ encountering that placard might be tempted to ask, “And, Pray, What is a Real Woman?” and I’ll briefly ask it later.
But first I want to ask something else. In an ideal world, would transwomen be indistinguishable from other women? Well, undoubtedly and for a long time now there have been Dr Frankenstein doctors who like to experiment on men and see how far they can make them indistinguishable from real women. In the 1930s the soon-to-become-an-enthusiastic-Nazi Dr Warnekros experimented on Lili Elbe/Elvenes (“The Danish Girl”) and carried on experimenting until he killed him or her.
This may be one reason why trans activists now reckon that saying you are a woman is enough to make you one (cue undergraduate buzzword essays with “Judith Butler” and “performativity” cut and pasted). There aren’t actually that many people who want to submit to the surgeon’s knife and it’s very helpful that theorists have come along to tell you, don’t worry, there is an easier alternative: feeling or thinking it so makes it so. Except in cases like feeling happy or thinking about the past that was once reckoned a kind of delusion which required urgent attention. Even thinking it’s time to get up does not ensure that you get up.
Unfortunately, the criterion that thinking it so makes it so does have the consequence that those half-hearted transwomen who try to cash it in are easily distinguishable from real women. They have the wrong anatomy and, often enough, along with that the wrong attitudes and demeanour as if they were men with a rather large sense of entitlement to go with the rather large penis which in Scottish law courts is standardly - and once again only yesterday - referred to as “her penis” in the course of rape cases.
A 24 January 2023 Glasgow case delivered Guilty verdicts on two separate charges brought against someone calling themself "Isla Bryson" who committed the offences when claiming to be a man but who now is rather conveniently claiming to be a transwoman - dressed in pink, nail extensions, blonde wig - and having been sentenced was indeed sent off to the Nirvana of a women’s prison accompanied by the pink suitcase brought to court in expectation of just that custodial sentence.
[Since I wrote the first draft of this Ms Sturgeon has intervened to get Bryson transferred to a men's prison; clearly, she saw that otherwise the publicity fallout would just be too awful to contemplate. The best comment has come from the rapist’s former wife who “fell out of bed laughing” when she saw her ex-husband’s get up and dismissed it as a “scam” at the same time expressing sympathy for real transgender people].
But perhaps the premiss of my thinking so far is wrong. Maybe transwomen don’t want to be indistinguishable from real women. After all, how could you then continue to demonstrate privilege and entitlement or at least draw attention to yourself? Maybe the message on the placard missed something.
Transactivists lost my support a few years ago when I looked at a photograph of Rachel McKinnon beaming on the podium as the winner of a women’s cycle race. The photograph was everywhere because the transwoman had won and the other women had come in second and third. I looked again and mentally labelled the photograph Me Tarzan, You Jane. McKinnon was smiling, having put women in their place. Had she been indistinguishable from real women there would have been no cause for the photograph which taken alone without knowledge of any backstory is enough to show that she is very much distinguishable. Take a look.
So “Transwomen are Real Women” might not be quite what it seems. Maybe it unpacks as “I am a transwoman and you will kindly treat me as I demand to be treated or else”. At the same demonstration, another placard featured a careful drawing of a guillotine and the accompanying message that this was the way to deal with TERFS - women who for some reason (only very strange people do reasons nowadays; everyone else does rights) don’t buy into trans ideology. The word “decapitate” appeared on the placard. You can easily find a photograph on the internet and with any luck you will be able to see the person holding it.
That takes me to another point. At some early stage, I was foolish enough to feel - until Rachel MacKinnon came along - that maybe transactivists were the articulate voice of some kind of progressive movement which I should support. I was a bit doubtful, especially about the idea of self-identification written about in a longer piece on this blog posted 24 January 2023 but dating from 2016. But transactivists don’t head a progressive movement; they lead something much more like an Alt Right movement in the delusional American mode. It’s blindingly clear that there are no coherent arguments to support their maximalist self-identification demands and so they have fairly consistently fallen back on bullying and intimidation of which the guillotine placard is just someone’s (some man’s?) fantasy version. (OK, there is always some nutter at any demonstration. But then it’s a bad idea to take a beaming selfie in front of their placard because it tends to make you look, er, complicit).
More significant than the guillotine placard are the cases like that of Professor Kathleen Stock, hounded from her post at the University of Sussex by middle-class NIMBY students [I just loved the placard reading “No TERFS on Our Turf”] supported by an intellectually compromised faculty and colluded in by a weak and muddled administration. The publicity alone means that Sussex will become a magnet for those who think universities should be more like theological seminaries upholding Truth, Donald Trump-style.
In all of this, women who transition to men are absent. Maybe they aren’t into asserting their privilege. Much of the time, transgender women themselves appear to be absent from all the publicity-seeking. For all I know - and I am only guessing - many of them may not be at all preoccupied with gaining access to women’s sports, rape crisis centres, not to mention the harem of women’s prisons. And even if they would like some of those things - toilets most obviously - they do see that there are problems which may or may not be easily solved. (The Toilet Question is really quite easy to solve and should be). But with friends like transgender activists, who needs enemies?
“What is a Real Woman?” Can transgender activists answer that without going round in circles? They can’t give an anatomical answer and have to give a social construct/performative answer. But that can only turn into a list of gender stereotypes associated with anatomical females who identify/perform themselves as women by wearing pink and nail extensions and so on indefinitely. Are we really meant to be convinced that to be a real woman you just have to buy a pair of high heels like, er, anatomical women often do? (And do I hear cries of "Cultural Appropriation"? In this case.No, I don't).
What might make a performance the performance of a real woman as opposed to an unreal or delusional one? “Real” only has purchase if it contrasts with something else which is fake or pretend. as it was with those English con men who once toured the French Riviera claiming to be English aristocrats. At one time, the transgender activist case was based on a psychiatric category called gender dysphoria. That has been abandoned for various reasons including the consequential thought that if it’s some kind of mental disorder then it needs to be taken seriously, not indulged or accommodated at the expense of women's safety.
The anxiety which fuels feminist opposition to self-identification is very much grounded in the sense that some who claim to be transgender women just aren’t; they are faking it or pretending or have read that it’s trending and thus liable to change their minds very quickly and go back to being what they were before when it no longer produces Likes online.
And transgender activists need quite separate explanations; why are they in such thrall (like Oath Keepers and Proud Boys) to half-baked and delusional ideas trickled down, I suspect, from the writings of obscurantist professors? Their ideas don't come from transgender people, do they?