Spiked on line 22nd October 2001
Gender ideology is not about liberation – it is about coercion and control.
Transgenderism has emerged as one of the most influential ideologies of our time. It is shaping people’s behaviour and thought in pursuit of a specific political objective – the erosion of the significance of biological sex. And it is undermining long-held cultural assumptions about what it means to be a man or a woman.
Above all, it is an intolerant, coercive force – and it has been thoroughly embraced by political and cultural elites in both the UK and the US.
In the UK recently we have seen Labour Party leader Keir Starmer criticise one of his MPs for daring to say that ‘only women have a cervix’. And we have also seen Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer condemn a gay- and lesbian-rights group for criticising trans ideas, calling it a ‘hate group’.
Even members of the Conservative Party are now exponents of the trans ideology. Indeed, the prime minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, used her sole appearance at the Conservative Party conference to urge her fellow Tories to fight for the rights of trans people – a thinly veiled rebuke to those in the party who are concerned about gender self-identification. It is clear that transgenderism is the new orthodoxy among members of the political class.
For our cultural elites, transgenderism vies with environmentalism as the cause of the 21st century. As sociologist Michael Biggs notes, the ‘transgender movement has transformed cultural norms and social institutions at breathtaking speed’.
The ease and alacrity with which trans identity has been promoted, and conventional distinctions between men and women have been eroded, have surprised even trans activists. An American law professor sympathetic to transgenderism wrote of the ‘stunning speed’ with which ‘non-binary gender identities have gone from obscurity to prominence in American public life’, citing as proof the growing acceptance of ‘gender-neutral pronouns such as “they, them, and theirs”‘, ‘all-gender’ restrooms, and the ‘increasing number of US jurisdictions… recognising a third-gender category’ (1).
The UK and parts of northern Europe have proven no less hospitable to transgenderism – they, too, have welcomed the dramatic conceptual revision of the relationship between men and women. Gender self-identification has now seemingly trumped long-standing conventions. A biological male can now identify as a female in order to gain access to women’s toilets, refuges or prisons. Even hitherto girls-only institutions, such as the Girl Guides, are now open to boys who identify as female. In the National Health Service, transgender patients can choose to be treated in either male or female wards.
Little wonder that in many areas of life now, the boundary between man and woman appears increasingly illegitimate. To the extent it still exists at all, it is presented as artificial, even oppressive. And those who choose to transgress it are celebrated by the media as brave and inspirational role models.
Transgenderism is making itself at home in the most unlikely of places. Rejecting long-held scientific assumptions, both Nature and Scientific American ‘have denied that there are clear criteria for classifying humans as male and female’ (2). The British Medical Association has also fallen in line. In its guide to ‘inclusive language’, it advises its members to use the term ‘pregnant people’ instead of ‘pregnant women’. Just recently the prestigious medical journal, the Lancet, decided to call women ‘bodies with vaginas’. It seems that, even in the scientific, medical domain, biological reality is being sacrificed at the altar of transgender ideology. Remarkably, transgenderism has also been embraced by big business. An advert for British bank HSBC announces that ‘Gender’s just too fluid for borders’. According to HSBC’s accompanying promotional material, its customers can now choose from 10 gender titles, including ‘Ind’, ‘Misc’ and ‘Sai’.
HSBC’s willingness to transform language may look like a harmless exercise in linguistic sensitivity towards people who wish to be known as Mx or Ser. But it is one of many attempts to impose a vocabulary that not only challenges age-old linguistic norms but also the sentiments that lie behind them. As George Orwell warned, taking control of language and redefining the meaning of words is the first step taken by those seeking to control people’s thoughts.
Civil liberties at risk
This obsession with words is hardly surprising. Ideologies that seek to shape people’s behaviour in pursuit of a political objective are inexorably drawn towards the policing of language. As laughable as some of the new vocabulary and pronouns may be, advocates of transgenderism are deadly serious – they want everyone to view social reality as they do, through the prism of transgenderism.
In many parts of North America, the policing of gender-related language is backed up by formal and informal sanctions. Directives issued in 2015 by New York City’s Commission on Human Rights state that employers and landlords who intentionally use the wrong pronouns with their non-binary employees or tenants can face fines of up to $250,000. In 2018, California governor Jerry Brown endorsed a bill that promised to penalise healthcare professionals who ‘wilfully and repeatedly’ declined to use a patient’s preferred pronouns. A tribunal in Canada recently ruled that refusing to use someone’s correct pronouns violates their human rights. As the head of the tribunal put it, ‘especially for trans, non-binary, or other non-cisgender people, using the correct pronouns validates and affirms they are a person equally deserving of respect and dignity’.
In effect, the tribunal’s ruling turns the individual’s demand to have his or her chosen identity validated and recognised by others into a sacred legal norm. This calls into question both freedom of expression and freedom of thought. It implicitly demands that people should accept the world not as they see it – comprised of males and females – but as trans ideologues see it – comprised of self-identifying, gender-fluid individuals. This is an attempt to control the way people think. As Orwell put it in Nineteen Eighty-Four: ‘The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.’ Trans activists have won sympathy and support by claiming that their oppression is similar to the historical oppression of black people. The cause of trans rights is therefore presented as a civil-rights cause. Yet one of the distinctive features of trans activism is that, while it insists on civil rights for those it claims to represent, it has no inhibitions about curtailing the civil rights of opponents – especially their freedom of speech.
Indeed, transgenderism provides the now paradigmatic argument for denigrating free speech. It claims that those who voice criticism of transgenderism, or fail to use trans vocabulary, call into question trans identity. In doing so, they therefore inflict psychological pain and trauma on trans people. This conviction that any deviation from trans ideology inflicts harm on trans people lies behind the bizarre walkout this week at Netflix over Dave Chappelle’s latest comedy special, in which he makes jokes about trans people. By presenting criticism as a cause of victimisation and mental ill-health, trans activists are able to silence their opponents.
For instance, few academics at Sussex University have been prepared publicly to defend their colleague, Professor Kathleen Stock, while trans activists have been vilifying, intimidating and attacking her merely for voicing criticism of trans ideas. Although many academics will not admit it, they are scared of challenging transgenderism. This formidable capacity to silence critics is one of the most disturbing aspects of transgenderism.
An attack on moral judgement
Transgenderism is not content with merely abolishing the distinction between man and woman. It also aims to discredit any form of thinking that involves drawing binary distinctions between things.
Few have realised how dangerous this is. The act of drawing binary distinctions, of discriminating between different categories of phenomena, is central to moral thought and the formation of moral judgements. It allows us to distinguish between good and evil or right and wrong. Therefore the attempt to devalue the drawing of binary distinctions is not only an attack on reason, it is also an attack on our ability to exercise moral judgement.
This challenge to thinking in distinct, binary categories has, of course, been particularly aggressive in relation to identity and gender. Advocates of transgenderism claim that binary gender and identity categories violate and harm those who do not identify themselves in binary terms.
Moreover, the attack on binary categories often calls into question normality itself. ‘In modern society, there is a huge misconception as to what is normal and abnormal’, writes one blogger. ‘The fact that there are two such categories, normal and abnormal, is just a reaffirmation of this misconception.’ One psychotherapist even challenges the validity of using normal and abnormal to refer to people’s mental and emotional states. ‘It is a real question as to whether those words can be sensibly used at all’, he writes, ‘given their tremendous baggage and built-in biases and the general confusion they create’.
Transgenderism also insists that the very idea of normality, indeed of normativity, represents a threat to trans identity. This attack on normality imperils communal life. If society is deprived of the idea of normal and abnormal, it loses the capacity to draw a line between desirable and undesirable forms of behaviour.
As I argue in Why Borders Matter, the crusade against binary thinking is principally driven by the desire to abolish moral judgement. Unfortunately, non-judgementalism already enjoys widespread institutional support in Western societies. Indeed, transgenderism’s rapid ascent rests precisely on the pre-existing prevalence of non-judgementalism in high places.
Giving children an identity crisis
Numerous critics of transgenderism have rightly raised concerns about its deleterious impact on the status and rights of women. But this pales into insignificance compared to its impact on children.
The presence of transgenderism in education effectively estranges children from the norms and values of their community. It challenges their own and their community’s understanding of what is normal and abnormal. This morally disarms them and leads to them feeling confused about their place in the world. For transgenderism that is not a problem. Rather, it is an opportunity for the indoctrination of young minds, a chance to tell children that gender is a choice, and that there is no biological justification for sex-based identities. Right from their earliest years, then, children are estranged from the cultural traditions, norms and legacies of their communities. And as a result, they are plunged into an identity crisis.
Transgenderism is frequently portrayed as edgy and cool. But there is nothing cool about messing up children’s lives and diminishing their capacity to make the transition to adulthood. It is a corrosive worldview that threatens the healthy development of younger generations.
That so many institutions have fallen under the spell of transgenderism is a sign that Western society is in serious trouble. So many people who are genuinely repulsed by this ideology remain silent and fear calling it out. This highlights the challenge transgenderism poses to those committed to defending a free and tolerant society.
So be warned. Unless checked, the authoritarian impulse driving transgenderism will become even more unrestrained – it is not a transient phenomenon that will soon fade away. And the absence of any serious opposition to it will only encourage its advance, especially given the backing it receives from big business and elite foundations and trusts.
This is serious. When so many citizens allow the evidence of their own eyes and ears to be negated by trans dogma, democracy itself is in peril. We face a choice – to acquiesce to transgenderism or to exercise our own moral judgement and challenge it head on. We must do the latter. Society’s future depends on it.
(1) ‘They, them and theirs’, by JA Clarke, Harvard Law Review, No894, 2019, p.57.
(2) Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, by Helen Joyce, Oneworld Publications, 2021, p57