Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 21, 2020

Transgender people and the Harper’s Open Letter

Filed under: Black Lives Matter,Harper's Open Letter,transgender — louisproyect @ 8:43 pm

A number of critiques of the Harper’s cancel culture open letter have referred to the presence of transphobic signers such as JK Rowling, the British author of the Harry Potter novels. Less well-known is Atlantic contributor Jesse Singal, who is into “concern-trolling” against trans kids. In other words, seeing teens as not having the capacity to decide whether they can make the right decision about transitioning. Of course, when 40 percent of them attempt suicide out of misery, maybe there should be some leeway. Another is Katie Herzog, a freelance writer who was focused on “detransitioners”, those small number of people who regretted their decision and then began identifying with their birth sex again. All three have been “cancelled” for their positions but none has suffered any professional consequences.

Five days after my critique of the open letter appeared on CounterPunch, which had virtually nothing to say about transgender, an article by Robert Jensen appeared there as well. Jensen, a professor emeritus from U. of Texas best known for his articles on foreign policy, defended the open letter and particularly the grievances of people like JK Rowling who have been supposedly victimized for their opinions on transgender issues. A local radical bookstore in Austin cut all ties with him and other speaking engagements have been canceled. In the past, I haven’t gainsaid such actions since they are a democratic right. No matter how much Max Blumenthal complained about bookstores canceling a reading because of his support for Assad, this was not “McCarthyism”. McCarthyism would be, for example, Hollywood screenwriters or professors being fired for signing a petition for the Popular Front in Spain.

Jensen has been writing such articles over the years for CounterPunch and other magazines. In 2014, he wrote one that labeled transitioning medical procedures such as surgery and hormones as contrary to ecological principles as if someone desperately trying to change their sexual identity had something in common with climate change. You might get the idea from such a claim that Jensen has his head up his ass. If you look at his newest article, that take will be reinforced. He writes:

One of the basic points that radical feminists—along with many other writers—have made is that biological sex categories are real and exist outside of any particular cultural understanding of those categories.

If you click the “radical feminist” link, you’ll arrive at an article in Spiked Online titled “The trans ideology is a threat to womanhood” by Meghan Murphy. I guess you can tell from the title that this is openly transphobic. In November 2018, Murphy got booted from Twitter after referring to a trans woman as “him”. She had consistently been using the wrong pronoun and using pre-transition names for transgendered people. I haven’t been following the JK Rowling controversies but I doubt that there’s much difference between her and Murphy.

As for “other writers”, that link takes you to the Wall Street Journal article titled “The Dangerous Denial of Sex”, an opinion piece by Colin M. Wright and Emma N. Hilton. The brunt of the article is to establish that there are two biological categories for sex and that is anti-scientific to accept a transgender person on their own terms. Of course, it wasn’t too long ago when psychologists and scientists held the same rigid views on heterosexuality as a norm.

I come to these discussions not as a theorist but as someone who developed an appreciation for transgender issues as a film critic. Although I never got around to reviewing “A Fantastic Woman”, this great 2017 Chilean film tells the story of a transgender female whose older male companion dies unexpectedly. Excluded from his funeral and left without any support that a married woman might benefit from, the titular character asserts her rights both as the man’s significant other and as a human being deserving respect in her own right”. The film is available on Amazon Prime. More recently, I saw “The Garden We Left Behind” that, like the Chilean film, stars a transgender actor. My review begins:

For most people on the left who are supportive of transgender rights, including me, there’s still little understanding of the realities of transgender life. Having gay friends and comrades is ubiquitous but unless you count a transgender person as part of your social circle, your knowledge tends to be based on what you’ve read about the well-known such as Chelsea Manning. To get that understanding, there’s no better place to start than Flavio Alves’s “The Garden Left Behind” that will be available as VOD on December 13th (Amazon Prime, iTunes, etc).

It stars Carlie Guevara as Tina Carrera, a transgender, 20-something, undocumented Mexican immigrant living and working as a gypsy cab driver in Queens, a far cry from the superheroes, mafia gangsters, ingenues, and cops that you can see in the typical Hollywood movie. Even though Tina’s grandmother Eliana accepts her without qualifications, she still calls her Antonio, a function more of long-time family ties than prejudice.

Unfortunately, the film is not yet available on VOD.

Finally, there is “Changing the Game”, a documentary about transgender teens competing in various sports and putting up with the resistance from parents who feel that they are cheating. This is one of the major issues facing such kids today. My review began:

Like Flavio Alves’s narrative film about a transgender female, “Changing the Game” is a much-needed documentary that will open your minds to one of the most despised minorities in the USA. In this film, we meet a trans male and two trans females who are high school students competing in wrestling and track respectively. As you may know, this has become a major controversy lately as parents of cisgender athletes demand their expulsion from competitions. Mack (born Mackenzie) has been forced to compete with cisfemales even though his deepest desire is to wrestle other boys. That mattered much more to him than becoming the 110-pound class Texas state champion in 2017 and 2018. What makes this film so great in addition to the utter honesty and magnetic personalities of its principals is the support they get from their parents or, in Mack’s case, the grandparents who adopted him after his mom could not provide adequate financial support. They are quintessential Red State personalities but utterly on his side. The grandmother is a cop and the grandfather is a good old boy in bib overalls but don’t let their appearance fool you. Every word out their mouth spells compassion in capital letters.

Like “The Garden We Left Behind”, the film is not yet available on VOD. Keep on the lookout for them.

Most of the articles on the left written about transgendered people involve a lot of theorizing about gender, the biology of sex, psychoanalysis, etc., with references to Judith Butler and a lot of professors writing for specialized journals. I can recommend Richard Seymour’s article in Salvage titled “None Shall Pass: Trans and the Rewriting of the Body” that is roughly divided into two parts. The first part I found most useful since it answers people like Robert Jensen. The second part was an attempt to apply Lacanian psychoanalytic theory to transgender people, which was above my pay grade, I’m afraid. But this snippet from the first part should motivate you to look at the article:

For many who style themselves as ‘trans-critical’, however, being trans is either a delusion or a pretence. “The physical transformations created by hormones and surgery,” Sheila Jeffreys, asserts in Gender Hurts, “do not change the biological sex of the persons upon whom they are visited.”
Jeffreys makes no attempt to argue for this point, but in the past she would not have been expected to, as the state would have agreed with it on the grounds that ‘natural’ sex was the only legitimate basis for heterosexual marriage. Jacqueline Rose recounts the case of April Ashley at length for the London Review of Books, in which the judge made exactly this distinction, claiming that Ashley’s vagina was simply not big enough to accommodate a penis. Anne Fausto-Sterling, in Sexing The Body, describes a similar case in which a marriage between a man and “a woman born without a vagina” was annulled on the grounds that the artificial vagina was only two inches deep, and sex of this kind was a “quasi-natural connexion” to reduce a man to. It is notable that this unexpected convergence of heterosexist, patriarchal reaction with the politics of a militant lesbian feminist takes place around the ‘naturalness’ of the body.

Needless to say, these issues will remain with us for the foreseeable future since the Republican Party will exploit transphobia to win votes for a losing cause.

It is not only the Republican Party that is transphobic. The Socialist Workers Party, a group I belonged to for 11 years, has the same reactionary politics as Robert Jensen. In a recent issue of the Militant newspaper, you can read this assessment of the Supreme Court ruling on a LBGT case:

The decision as issued strengthens the hand of those transgender campaigners who argue that sex is a subjective feeling, not an objective fact, and seek to pillory and threaten anyone who says otherwise. It deals a counterrevolutionary blow to the fight for women’s emancipation.

It also weakens the overall fight to end discrimination against gays and lesbians.

None of these fucking stupid articles take into account the massive sympathy that is developing for the right of people to adopt a sexual identity that allows them a certain amount of gratification as opposed to the daily torture that leads so many of them to suicide. I’ve been retired from Columbia University for nearly a decade but stop occasionally for yearly “international luncheons” in which employees bring meals from their home countries. Yeah, Columbia is big on diversity. Get used to it, Walter Benn Michaels.

When I stop in to take a pee, I get satisfaction out of seeing a sign on the door asking people to use the bathroom whose gender they identify with. As you might expect, an Ivy school is going to be ahead of the curve on something like this. But what if you were a transgender female with a factory job? What would it be like to be forced to use the men’s room because you still had a penis? In most cases, you might get a punch in the mouth. Even worse, if you walk down the wrong street, you might get killed. A March 28th article in the Daily News was titled “Transgender woman fatally stabbed in the neck in Harlem; friend believes she was killed over a wig” Can you believe that? Killed over a wig?

Some commentators took issue with the Harper’s Open Letter showing up during a massive movement against killer-cops. As good liberals, they probably support it but for the kind of support that really matters, you have to appreciate the massive outpouring for Black transgender people at a BLM protest in Brooklyn shown in the video above. It took place on June 14th, the day before Jensen’s wretched article appeared. The NY Times reported:

One speaker at the rally was Melania Brown, sister of Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman who was found dead in 2019 in a cell at Rikers Island.

“Black trans lives matter! My sister’s life mattered!” Brown said in her speech. “If one goes down, we all go down — and I’m not going nowhere.”

Black transgender people not only bear a disproportionate burden of police violence but also face high rates of violence and harassment on the street. The American Medical Association said last fall that killings of transgender women of color in the United States amounted to an epidemic.

Two more black transgender women nationwide were killed in less than 24 hours while the event was coming together. Dominique Fells, 27, known as Rem’Mie, was found with stab wounds in Philadelphia on June 8, Rolling Stone reported. A day later, Riah Milton, 25, was found shot multiple times in Liberty Township, Ohio.

None of these realities impinge on the articles written by the Open Letter signers, Robert Jensen or any other transphobic leftists. From now until a socialist revolution triumphs in the USA, you can bet that transgender people will be on its side. Just as long, of course, if our movement has the wisdom and the courage to stand up for their rights.

50 Comments »

  1. i don’t grasp how transexuality as a whole can be a threat to “natural” gender identification. Only a relatively small–and AFAIK pretty well defined–group are involved in the first place, and if the transitioning procedure enables them to lead happy and productive lives, why should eg Rowlings’ obviously hyperneurotic animusbe attended to? Please excuse me for believing that who pees in your bathroom is a matter of very little significance if minimal proprieties are attended to. Hooray for Chelsea Manning.

    Unless “God!!” of course–and if you’re a Godbotherer of any faith, IMO, your medieval superstitions are your problem and you’ll damn well keep them to yourself.

    Frankly, I’ve always thought that Hairy Pipsqueak or whatever the hell Rowlings’s overrated fantasy series is called is even creepier than The Wizard of Oz”–and that’s saying something. Something’s very wrong there.

    I also think the sports issue is a red herring that would pretty well go away if parents in capitalist society–i.e., those with the means and leisure to be soccer moms or whatever dads–were not first and foremost class warriors out to destroy all competitors by fair means or foul.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 21, 2020 @ 10:04 pm

  2. Here! Here! The last two sentences say it all.

    Comment by Michael D Yates — July 21, 2020 @ 11:08 pm

  3. I thought “Biology is not destiny” was a principle of the feminist movement.

    Thanks for the film reviews, Louis.

    Comment by jonna — July 22, 2020 @ 3:22 am

  4. This is right on. The fierce organizer, Sylvia Rivera, of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) was jeered while on stage at gay pride in NYC in 1973, but then told the crowd “Y’all better quiet down”. You can watch her powerful speech on Youtube. A socialist movement worth it’s salt has to find solidarity with trans liberation.

    Comment by Aaron — July 22, 2020 @ 4:32 am

  5. One of the things I’ve most admired about this blog is the stance that is often taken against ‘de-platforming’. The best side of the Trotskyist tradition – for open and robust debate, and engaging in difficult topics with integrity and good faith. Sadly the stance taken on both the Harper’s letter and the transgender issue does not share these features. I’m based in New Zealand – it may be that the ‘culture wars’ are running so hot even leading lights like Proyect get blinded, I dunno. But it sure seems clear to me that women speaking out against sharing their private spaces with penises, or getting sporting medals taken off them by males who trans identify, are not guilty of ‘transphobia’: its’s a case of conflicting rights. Marxists of all people should be able to engage with the issues without resorting to smear tactics. I’m proud to know many staunch gender critical feminists here in NZ and abroad. They are all motivated by feminist politics, not prejudice – we’re starting to see more and more younger women (often lesbians, some who used to trans identify) question the ideology of gender. It’s clear to me that Rowling too is motivated by these concerns, and not ‘hatred’. Maybe try reading her article?

    Comment by timleadbeater — July 22, 2020 @ 4:52 am

  6. But it sure seems clear to me that women speaking out against sharing their private spaces with penises,

    —-

    What a crude way of stating your opposition to transgender identity. Disgusting.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 22, 2020 @ 11:53 am

  7. “What a crude way of stating your opposition to transgender identity. Disgusting.”

    This is exactly what you do not understand about this issue. No one, not JK Rowling, not Jesse Singal, is “transphobic”. They are defending the rights of women, that are being eradicated.

    You are woefully ignorant on this topic. You should stick to reviewing movies that no one sees.

    Comment by Sara Prosser — July 22, 2020 @ 11:58 am

  8. As if “Sara” ever ran into someone with a penis in a woman’s restroom. A search on “her” email address turns up zero references. What’s your real name, you half-assed troll? Marvin? Lester?

    Comment by louisproyect — July 22, 2020 @ 12:10 pm

  9. (I assumed I would received some demented email from you, so I set up an auto responder that would return an error message to you.)

    How typical of you. Accuse everyone of being a “troll” who calls you out. You managed to work both Assad and the SWP into this gibberish — that must be second-nature for you by now.

    Comment by Sara Prosser — July 22, 2020 @ 12:32 pm

  10. Why would I be interested in sending an email to you? You are obviously someone obsessed with me and clearly in need of a psychotherapist. It would be like trying to engage with someone on a subway platform who kept yelling out to himself, “Go away, Satan”. Btw, it was a mistake to use a legitimate ip address in your first comment and then to switch to a “high risk” proxy on a subsequent one. I am sure you know with your obsession neurosis that proxy addresses are a no-no here. Bye-bye, Melvin or Sara or whatever you are.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 22, 2020 @ 12:42 pm

  11. So you want to police speech, but you also want to “defund the police” right? Hope you don’t say the wrong thing and get your blog taken down by the hosting provider in this brave new world.

    Comment by Tanaka Ueno — July 22, 2020 @ 1:02 pm

  12. Tim Leadbeater: Surely one doesn’t get a platform simply by existing. That happens only on Hyde Park Corner, with the assumption that you can say whatever you like because nobody who speaks there is going to be taken seriously.

    Consider the American political system, where money is considered free speech, so that by rights billionaires are entitled to more of it than the rest of us. Having a platform is a benefit very unequally endowed in our society here and probably also in NZ.

    In fact, as I think Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, all the signatories to the Harper’s letter are powerful people in their professions who are not seriously threatened with deplatforming. Greenwald stated as I recall that these bozos are not defending free speech but their own right not to be sharply criticized because they are who they are and should be exempt from serious or passionate opposition.

    I once had a tenured professor tell me in all seriousness that graduate students had no right to contest the decisions of University faculty committees because all their deliberations were secret and no outsider could possibly know what was discussed. Please let that sink in for a moment. This is IMO the attitude behind the Harper’s letter.

    (The prof. who said this, BTW, while professing to be a social democrat, was a great admirer of Arthur Jensen and AFAIK a closet racist. He once told me that any grad. student of his who described himself as an “intellectual” would never proceed to the doctorate–he personally would see to that. This is an example of what the Harper’s signatories are defending–sounds like deplatforming to me.)

    It’s true that 500 members of the big U.S. academic linguists’ association signed a letter demanding that Steven Pinker–an odious little twit if you ask me BTW, buddy of Epstein, etc. etc., and certainly full of shit as demonstrated recently in a piece on Jacobin–be removed from his honorary fellowship in the society. This failed, and even if it had succeeded, PInker would have remained securely established in his emeritus career and the affections of our beloved Bill Gates and other wonderful advanced thinkers. AFAIK, he would have remained a society member.

    Pinker would by no means have been “deplatformed” or thrust into penury. He would have endured a form of public censure. That is sharp criticism, not deplatforming–and it didn’t happen Where is the actual harm?

    By the logic of The Letter, the impeachment of Trump was a violation of his right to free speech. it’s no accident that The Letter appeared at roughly the same time when this would-be Caudillo was ranting vehemently against “cancel culture” at Mount Rushmore–his actual words.

    Long story short, the Harper’s letter and its various disgusting sequelae are not as I see it defending ‘free speech” but laying the groundwork for a purge of the left from the academy and any other place where left thinking may recently have won a platform. I suspect That is why The Letter is so vague when one actually reads it. if by some fluke the November election actually occurs and the Biden-Emanuel regime is able to take power, I’m inclined to believe that this purge will be at the top of their actual agenda no matter what insincere BS they’ve been feeding AOC, Warren, Sanders, and the great American passive-aggressive centrist chump-at-large.

    In fact I think the Biden regime may recycle Hanging Chad (“Dingleberry”) Wolf’s BORTAC prototype death squads under the rubric of police reform. How do you defund SWAT teams and cancel the issuance of military hardware to local police? Simple–you create federalized paramiitary SWAT teams at the local level under another name. You can then cut out the budget lines for all of that local police “aid” and claim a progressive victory while Vigorously Defending our Precious Right of Free Speech.

    It would be magic–the Harper’s signatories might tut-tut a bit, as their predecessors did at McCarthy, but, except probably for Chomsky, they would all secretly be on board with the new agenda just as their predecessors almost without exception were with “anticommunism.”

    Some free speech if you ask me.

    An interesting footnote–somebody suggested inviting Greenwald to sign the letter, but the invitation was canceled. Too funny.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 22, 2020 @ 4:33 pm

  13. “women speaking out against sharing their private spaces with penises”

    Let’s deal with the equivocation going on here first: public bathrooms are NOT “their private spaces.” Now, the hidden assumptions:

    1) Does “timleadbeater” believe that anybody with a penis, when inside a public restroom, instinctually yanks it out and waves it around for all to marvel at? Like, do they do that in men’s bathrooms he frequents? Or maybe he’s a she. In that case, I’ll be honest: I’ve been to thousands of public bathrooms on three continents and have never ever seen any such behavior. Do women in public restrooms expose themselves to each other? Where does that phrase above come from?

    2) Since that is clearly absurd, then: The general presence of a penis in any area, even when kept inside one’s pants or underpants and covered by other layers of cloth, must be the problem. In this case, women walking around in public spaces of any kind — street sidewalks, inside buildings, inside an elevator, going up or down an escalator, passing by a colleague at work in a corridor, in a workplace meeting — should be equally outraged at not being protected from such horrid and abusive cases of being forced to “share spaces with penises”?

    3) Farther afield, there is a hint of a more sinister bogeyman: The phrase assumes, through a couple of mediations and jumps, that the trans person is a leering pervert, or worse a closet rapist, out on the prowl. Sick. Demented. Dangerous.

    Comment by Reza — July 23, 2020 @ 12:15 am

  14. There was a case here in NZ a few years ago at a girls High school, where they allowed a trans identifying male student to wear a girls uniform and attend the school. The school made provisions for the new student with several unisex stalls around the school. Similar provisions are now fairly common – they retain female only spaces for changing rooms and toilets, and also provide for the needs of trans people. Most likely this kid was no danger to anyone. He should be able to wear what he likes and change his name, good luck to him. The problem is this sort of provision is never enough – the issue that is most important is not safety, comfort or privacy, it is *validation*. There was a petition with vocal TRA and mainstream political support, and the school caved. No one asked the girls what they thought, and the few who did were attacked as backward Christian fundamentalists. They were teenage girls who wanted penis free spaces to use. How “disgusting”, how “crude”.

    Anyone curious to see just how MASSIVELY wrong Louis has got this issue should go and check out Jesse Singal, referenced at the start of this pile of horseshit. He has written a series of highly intelligent and nuanced articles on the issue of trans children and medicalisation. The biggest demographic now is young girls. I guess if you are really clever and read Lacan, there is no big problem with breast binding and pills that lead to sterility and sexual dysfunction. For the rest of us plebs who cannot see the emperor’s new clothes, this all looks fucking horrific.

    Jane Clare Jones has a fantastic piece on the misogynistic reaction to Rowling:

    https://janeclarejones.com/2020/07/22/tras-rape-logic-and-the-economy-of-entitlement/?fbclid=IwAR11dAzcx4yW4TY0m4zkEpseh-W9xBfCgb5HJU35uc85mVUaxkf1zLYpAl0

    Comment by timleadbeater — July 23, 2020 @ 5:54 am

  15. “Fucking horrific” is perhaps the best description of this madness I have ever heard. Surely the entirety of non academic and “radical” working population the world over agrees. Thank you.

    Comment by Tanaka Ueno — July 23, 2020 @ 6:38 am

  16. Tim, I can’t waste time answering your transphobic bullshit. If others have an appetite for reading Jesse Singal and Jane Clare Jones, let them go ahead. I’ll stick with Richard Seymour, a highly respected Marxist thinker. This is the unrepentant Marxist blog, after all.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 23, 2020 @ 11:34 am

  17. The famous sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld first used the Latin term ‘trans’ in 1910, as part of his neologism ‘transvestite’, giving ‘trans’ the meaning of ‘opposite’ (ie someone who dresses as the ‘opposite’ sex). As a matter of precision, and not – I hope – pedantry, it should be noted that this meaning, which we inherited from Hirschfeld, for the Latin word ‘trans’ is mistaken.

    The dictionary in fact doesn’t list ‘opposite’ among the acceptable meanings of ‘trans’. It defines ‘trans’ actually as; ‘over’ (in German that would be ‘über’, so eg ‘translation’ = Übersetzung), ‘on the other side of [something]’, ‘through’, ‘across’, ‘beyond’.

    We don’t think of any of those correct meanings when using ‘trans’ in context of ‘transgender people’ (‘trans*’, ‘transwoman’ etc.). If there’s any meaning to our use of ‘trans’ in that context, it’s still Hirschfeld’s wrong definition of ‘trans’ as ‘opposite’. I myself am willing to follow Hirschfeld’s redefinition and pretend that ‘trans’ means ‘opposite’, if it is the consensus. Unfortunately the issue goes much deeper than just whether this particular consensus exists or is a desirable one (eg perhaps now even the conceptual self-designation of ‘opposite’ would be felt as problematic).

    Lacking a consensus at all (on such a basic meaning of a word or employment of a concept) in one case, then can be reproduced in the entire language or all meaning. I wanted to preface my comment with the remark that I don’t have any “special authority” (or as Louis would say, that it’s “above my pay grade”), but when authority no longer means a defined certainty but instead means arbitrariness, then I don’t want it, nor can such authority expect to be followed.

    Comment by Noa — July 23, 2020 @ 3:08 pm

  18. ‘trans’ means (as #17 points out) ‘across’ generally, ‘beyond’ or ‘through’, depending on the morphological context.

    It is what in linguistics they call a “bound morpheme” (meaning, it is usually attached to something and does not appear alone), usually a root word, like “circum” (which means ‘around’): Ex: circumference (distance around), circumlocution (to go around something in speech), circumstance (conditions surrounding something). Examples of ‘trans’ in bound form: transcontinental (across continent), transform (the form goes across or beyond, to something else), transportation (to carry across to somewhere else), etc.

    ‘trans’ became a “free morpheme” over time, in the context of discussions of ‘transsexuality’, a term which subsequently was shortened to ‘trans’ and became synonymous with ‘transsexual’.

    Comment by Reza — July 23, 2020 @ 4:16 pm

  19. The phrase “trans women are women” trips easily of the tongue, but it seems to me that if we are to make any progress on this issue we need to define our terms. What is a “woman”? What is a “trans woman”?

    Comment by John Wake — July 23, 2020 @ 9:37 pm

  20. I was . . . really surprised (not in a good way, though) to find CounterPunch had published Jensen’s article last week. What with his apparent interest in “open debate”, I wrote to ask him if he wasn’t taking a class-reductionist approach to transitioning in his article, and he immediately sent me back a nice bit of pablum basically not answering my question but merely re-stating what he’d written (along with lots of links to his blog and other anti-trans stuff). I thanked him for his non-answer and asked him how merely having the genetic ability to make eggs, something post-menopausal women don’t have (not to mention, I imagine, some women simply born without this ability), qualifies a woman as a woman (and able to access women’s spaces). Haven’t heard back yet . . . .

    Comment by Todd — July 23, 2020 @ 10:15 pm

  21. Reza: re “trans.” Thank you!! The matter can be simplified for the non-linguist by substituting the English “cross” as in “cross-dresser” for “transvestite” or, more rarely. “cross-sexual” for “transsexual.” I’m sure the bloody-minded will be able to pitch some sort of how-dare-you etymological shit-fit about that–no doubt Hirschfeld’s penis is wrapped up in it somehow (eek!)–but whatever part of speech “trans” may be in Latin, it usually has some sense of crossing a boundary or barrier. Example: gallia transalpina (“transalpine Gaul”), meaning “that part of Gaul which lies across the Alps [from Italy].” Surely Hirschfeld, with his old-fashioned German education, would have known this.
    .

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 24, 2020 @ 1:55 am

  22. “whatever part of speech “trans” may be in Latin”

    Based on its function, it should be the equivalent of a preposition in English.

    If word-curious like me, here’s a list of the Greek and Latin root words that appear in (more than 70% of) English words: https://www.learnthat.org/pages/view/roots.html#v

    Comment by Reza — July 24, 2020 @ 3:10 am

  23. Unfortunately there is a lot of personal invectiveness in this debate.
    It goes without saying that every person should have the right to live and identify as they want.
    It’s called respect and basic human rights.
    As for myself I think the debate around transgender issues often gets clouded when people confuse, or don’t define properly, the difference between ‘sex’, which is based on biology and reproductive organs/processes, and ‘gender’ which is about identity and social understanding/norms.
    In terms of cultures around discussions and the left, I found this article an interesting read.
    View at Medium.com

    Comment by Pier — July 24, 2020 @ 4:02 am

  24. Farans’ simplification (namely of “cross”, which derives from the Latin ‘crux’, eg a praying Christian ‘crosses herself’) is inaccurate for ‘trans’. But leaving aside the difference between ‘across’ (which is an acceptable meaning of ‘trans’) and ‘cross’, the general (novel) attempt to see ‘trans’ as a derivative of a verb or activity (eg crossing ‘over’ a barrier) perhaps hints at an allegory, but so far that hasn’t been articulated and basically is left to anyone’s imagination.

    Comment by Noa — July 24, 2020 @ 6:52 am

  25. “No matter how much Max Blumenthal complained about bookstores canceling a reading because of his support for Assad”

    It is morbidly funny that “leftists” were clamouring for Politics and Prose to cancel Max Blumenthal’s book event due to his “support for Assad” (he doesn’t support Assad, by the way), yet were quite happy to allow P&P to host an event with Nikki Haley – the Trump admin official who was DIRECTLY involved in the catastrophic US-backed Saudi war on Yemen – without a word of protest.

    Comment by Ted Maul — July 24, 2020 @ 7:35 am

  26. “Noa.” What a load of sophomoric twaddle. Are you sure your mother has given you permission to stay up so late? I do not “see ‘trans’ as a derivative of a verb or activity” nor do I “hint at an allegory.” Both assertions are gibberish.

    You fail to distinguish consistently between the etymologies of words and their actual meanings. This is a fundamental error.

    Cuiusvis hominis est errare, nullius nisi insipientis in errore perseverare

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 24, 2020 @ 8:37 am

  27. I don’t understand your objection Farans. You wrote that ‘trans’ “usually has some sense of crossing a boundary or barrier”. This is an activity (‘crossing’), and could be taken by some (I’m not saying by you personally – glad to hear that you don’t) as an allegory (like, traversing society’s boundary or something), which would be quite arbitrary. And it would be quite novel (btw, the term ‘crossdresser’ is of relative recent date, in the 1920s, so after Hirschfeld introduced his conception of ‘trans’). When you assert that Hirschfeld (“with his old-fashioned German education”) surely would have known the example of gallia transalpina (“transalpine Gaul”), meaning “that part of Gaul which lies across the Alps [from Italy].” – that may be the case, but it’s irrelevant, because – to repeat – he gave ‘trans’ the erroneous meaning of ‘opposite’ (‘entgegengesetzt’).

    Comment by Noa — July 24, 2020 @ 9:29 am

  28. he doesn’t support Assad, by the way

    I wonder if you can explain how he quit a newspaper because of its pro-Assad bias and then turned around to write the same kind of garbage that the newspaper was writing. He didn’t even bother to explain so maybe you can do it for him. Was it the promise of Russian pay-offs? Who the fuck knows? This would be the first time a reporter prostituted himself.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 24, 2020 @ 11:58 am

  29. “I wonder if you can explain how he quit a newspaper because of its pro-Assad bias and then turned around to write the same kind of garbage that the newspaper was writing.”

    Al-Akhbar was not “pro-Assad”, as Blumenthal mistakenly thought at the time; they just criticised the mainstream narrative on Syria, which Blumenthal would later go on to do. Blumenthal does not deny that Syria is an authoritarian police state, just as the anti-war movement in 2003 never denied the repressive nature of the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein. In both cases, the point is to challenge the dubious narratives that are being pushed to support Western governments hell-bent on regime change.

    “He didn’t even bother to explain so maybe you can do it for him.”

    I won’t, because, in fact, he already has explained his change in position, in the following podcast:
    https://podur.org/2019/05/03/the-ossington-circle-episode-31-the-management-of-savagery-with-max-blumenthal/

    Comment by Ted Maul — July 24, 2020 @ 12:20 pm

  30. He explained THREE years after he began pumping out pro-Assad propaganda. What took him so long? And why didn’t he use a high-profile venue like Alternet to account for his Road to Damascus conversion instead of some obscure podcast? The answer is obvious. He is a snake.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 24, 2020 @ 1:35 pm

  31. In Britain, there has been an attempt to use a false accusation of “transphobia” to attack a veteran left-wing member of the Labour Party, with a view to stop her being re-elected to the National Executive Committee.

    It seems to me that certain people who supposedly advocate “trans rights” are actually using the issue to push an anti-feminist agenda.

    I was shocked to read about the bullying of Helen Steel at the Anarchist Book Fair in London in 2017, referred to in the article mentioned above (“Women’s rights in the far left — are feminists actually neo-fascists?”). Steel has been an activist since the 1980s, and was a co-defendant in the “McLibel” trial, when she and Dave Morris took on the might of McDonald’s. I am sure the so-called “activists” who bullied her would not have had the guts to stand up to a giant multinational corporation like she did, in one of the longest libel trials in history, in which the two comrades stood by their claims about McDonalds, and defended themselves in court.

    Comment by John Wake — July 24, 2020 @ 11:33 pm

  32. Noa. Of course you don’t understand what I wrote. You should learn to read–and after that, as Trotsky said, learn to think. Good luck with that.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 24, 2020 @ 11:46 pm

  33. Who the fuck knows what went on with Helen Steel. Back when I was in the SWP, we used to call these atrocity tales. All I know is that a man in a dress is going to get the shit kicked out of him in a men’s room. None of you “radical” transphobes ever engage with that.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 25, 2020 @ 12:24 am

  34. Dear Louis, you seem to imply that I am a transphobe. I am not a transphobe.

    The situation in Britain is different from that in the USA. In Britain, the government was proposing to introduce “self-identification”, which in itself would do nothing to stop a man in a dress being assaulted in a men’s toilet.

    If the proposed “self-identification” legislation was enacted, then any man could claim to be a woman merely by filling in a form. He would not have to live as a woman, or outwardly give any sign that he identified as a woman. However, he would be allowed access to refuges for female victims of domestic violence, and to female prisons.

    The Labour Party has already adopted self-declaration internally, so the post of women’s officer of a local Constituency Labour Party could be held by someone with no lived experience of the condition of the female gender.

    Would it be in order for a White person who declared that they were Black to hold a position in a body that was supposed to represent the interests of Black people?

    There has been massive over-reaction on this issue in Britain by certain people. It is very difficult for people to have rational discussions on the implications of the proposed Gender Recognition Act.

    It is a disgrace that veteran socialist feminists and also gay rights advocates in Britain have been falsely called “transphobes”.

    I notice that in some of the accounts of alleged gender dysphoria amongst children in Britain the parents hold rigid reactionary views on what it is to be a “boy” or a “girl”.

    Playing with dolls does not make you a “girl” and climbing trees does not make you a “boy”, but this is the kind of silliness that is being promoted in some quarters in Britain.

    Comment by John Wake — July 25, 2020 @ 2:15 am

  35. Is there something wrong with you? I fucking referred to transgender women getting beaten up and killed and you fucking ignored me. You’re like an eel covered in vaseline.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 25, 2020 @ 2:23 am

  36. Farans draws the distinction between the etymology and actual meaning of the word ‘trans’. This is not a point against anything I wrote. The “actual” meaning of the Latin word ‘trans’ in a Latin-English/German dictionary is still the same as it was in Hirschfeld’s time (1910), unless you think Latin changed during the 20th century. Farans might try to diminish that by calling that its mere “etymological meaning”, but it is its correct and only meaning. Hirschfeld’s meaning of ‘trans’ (as ‘opposite’) was different and wrong – this is the claim I made, and which Farans doesn’t dispute. The meaning today, if there is to be any, in the domain we’re discussing, is that which Hirschfeld introduced. Again, I’m willing to accept this novel meaning (of ‘opposite’) in this domain, on condition that it’s the firmly established consensus, despite knowing that it is wrong. Sensing that Hirschfeld’s “authority” probably doesn’t count much in activists’ eyes, I doubt it’s possible to settle on any defined meaning of the key word ‘trans’ in this domain (indeed the very necessity for even any meaning is probably rejected, here, as well as of other words). I insist on distinguishing meaning from nonsense.

    Comment by Noa — July 25, 2020 @ 6:12 am

  37. Transgender people are currently allowed by law in Britain to use the toilets they choose to use. They currently have other legal protections too.

    The feminists and gay rights activists and their sympathisers in Britain who find self-declaration problematic are not arguing for a change to the current legal position; they do not want to remove any rights.

    They are opposed to a proposed change in the law, whereby a man could self-declare that he is of the female gender without actually living as a woman, and thereby be legally recognised as female.

    They are concerned about homophobia and misogyny masquerading as concern for the rights of transgender people.

    A number of transgender people in Britain express these concerns too.

    Opposing the enshrining of self-declaration in law does not equal being transphobic.

    Comment by John Wake — July 25, 2020 @ 3:07 pm

  38. They are concerned about homophobia and misogyny masquerading as concern for the rights of transgender people.

    —-

    Maybe you can cite some instances of when this has taken place.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 25, 2020 @ 3:11 pm

  39. “Maybe you can cite some instances of when this has taken place.”

    The people you’re attacking have cited numerous instances, at great length.

    “I’ll stick with Richard Seymour, a highly respected Marxist thinker.”

    It’s funny you refer to Richard Seymour to bolster yourself. Like you, he is also not a Marxist. What is it about the SWP that attracts these people?

    Do you think he ever refers to you when defending an argument (something you never do—defend an argument, that is). Do you think he ever writes “If others have an appetite for reading Jesse Singal and Jane Clare Jones, let them go ahead. I’ll stick with Louis Proyect”. I wonder.

    Comment by Urnot — July 25, 2020 @ 4:03 pm

  40. Trans men have more to fear from other trans men than from non-trans men. Did you read the NY Post article you supplied the link to? I suspect you didn’t.

    <<>>

    Comment by Urnot — July 25, 2020 @ 4:45 pm

  41. Oops! Can’t use brackets!

    “Friend Lavonia Brooks said the victim, nicknamed “Lexi,” was a prostitute who may have been attacked by another transgender streetwalker.
    “Earlier in the night, Lexi ripped a wig off another transgender woman, Brooks explained.
    ““What happened last night was uncalled for,” Brooks said. “It was all over a wig, a fucking wig.”

    Comment by Urnot — July 25, 2020 @ 4:46 pm

  42. You fucking schmuck. I’ve heard Sean Hannity denounce BLM because of “black-on-black” crime. You are using the same shitty argument.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 25, 2020 @ 5:04 pm

  43. “Trans men have more to fear from other trans men than from non-trans men” writes Urnot. If you actually believe what you have written, Urnot, then it seems to me that you have allowed your hatred/fear of transgender people to not only blind you to the very real suffering experienced by some people in this world, but also to make yourself look rather silly. People with your attitude act to make the world a worse place in which to live for all of us.

    Comment by John Wake — July 25, 2020 @ 8:46 pm

  44. Terms like ‘gender’ and (psychological) ‘identity’ are of more recent origin, and also have no definite meaning. Robert J. Stoller, perhaps the greatest popularizer (following John Money) of the concept of ‘gender’, in the preface to his Sex and Gender: The Development of Masculinity and Femininity (1968) himself even admits to “side-stepping a serious attempt to define gender and gender identity”;

    While the work of our research team has been associated with the term gender identity, we are not militantly fixed either on copyrighting the term or on defending the concept as one of the splendors of the scientific world. […] With gender difficult to define and identity still a challenge to theoreticians, we need hardly insist on the holiness of the term “gender identity.”

    Stoller also quotes a colleague, who “concluded after a review of the literature that the term identity has little use other than as fancy dress in which to disguise vagueness, ambiguitv, tautologies, lack of clinical data, and poverty of explanation.”

    So let’s not succumb to authoritative (because repeated) use of terms that are self-avowedly undefined.

    Comment by Noa — July 26, 2020 @ 12:12 pm

  45. “You fucking schmuck. I’ve heard Sean Hannity denounce BLM because of “black-on-black” crime. You are using the same shitty argument.”

    You expressed horror at the idea that this man was killed for a wig. I thought you should know who did the killing. What sort of structural policy would you put in place to prevent this, considering that “sex work” is a sacrosanct notion now.

    Comment by Urnot — July 26, 2020 @ 4:01 pm

  46. John Woke (if that is your real name), I neither fear nor hate trans people, but I can understand why you would say I do, when trying to elevate yourself.

    Comment by Urnot — July 26, 2020 @ 4:04 pm

  47. You expressed horror at the idea that this man was killed for a wig.

    No, I expressed horror over your lame attempt to discredit transgender people. Fox News constantly brings up gang violence in the Black community to divert attention from killer cops.

    Comment by louisproyect — July 26, 2020 @ 4:17 pm

  48. Urnot: My surname is Wake, not Woke. Piss off.

    Comment by John Wake — July 26, 2020 @ 4:55 pm

  49. Outrageous that transgendered get punched in men’s bathrooms. They should be protected by other men, instead of pushed in with women…

    Comment by mike — July 29, 2020 @ 1:56 am


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