February 11, 2014

How post-structuralist feminism has become a weapon used to invalidate transgender

I have spent some time over at tumblr, lately, mostly discussing the lives of female to male crossdreamers and girlfags. Sometimes it feels like being back in the school yard, with bullies honing in on you from all directions. This is probably because so many of the participants are very young and have still not developed the necessary empathy and patience needed to treat others with respect.
Using the fetish theory of modern feminists, lesbians
are invalidating the lives of FTM girlfags and crossdreamers,
arguing that these persons have no male identity.

There are some patterns here, the most important being the use of modern "post-structuralist" feminist theory to invalidate girlfags in particular and trans people in general.

Lesbians attack girlfags for "fetishizing" gay men. Since most of my readers do not spend much time on tumblr, I will republish a couple of my entries here.

The following is a response to impostoradult, who gives a very good presentation of post-modern accounts of sex and gender in her response to my blog post om sex, gender, mind and body. You do not have to read the original posts to make sense of this one.

Dear impostoradult,

I have actually no problem in accepting most of what you write here, both as regards post-modernism and your understanding of understanding in itself.

I guess I am more of a 'philosophical hermeneutics' kind of person myself, but the basics remain the same: Our life word, the sum of our experiences, put limits to what it is possible to think.

And yes, categories like gay, girlfag and crossdreamer only exist in our mind. You will not find them 'out there', in the 'real world'. However, our sense of self and our bodies are anchored in the real world, so we do have some access to "the world in itself", if no through language.

My admittedly popularized and simplified presentation in this blog post was aimed at those that systematically use parts of post-modern theory to invalidate the experience and identity of girlfags, crossdreamers and other gender variant people. And in this respect reminding people of their animal nature makes very much sense.

The current atracks on girlfags and crossdreamers, reducing them to unreal 'fetishes' and body-less 'semiotics' have their roots in the thinking of the post-structuralist philosopher Judith Butler and her fans. Having read all the books written by the lady, I can confidently say that this is a woman who have left the physical world behind and is now living in a mirage of literary references.

Not all post-modernists or post-structuralists think like this. Michel Foucault did not, but many of the thinkers dominating women studies and queer studies most certainly do. You are right in the sense that they do not deny the existence of a real, physical, world "out there". They do not deny the fact that I have a body, but since their method stops them form saying anything meaningful about this body this makes no difference in practical terms.

I like to think of post-structuralism as a step by step retreat from any hope of understanding the world in itself. It started with Kant, who realized that we have no access to the world in itself ("Das Ding an sich"). That is: we have only access to the world as it represents itself to us in our minds. This led to the philosophy of phenomenology, which also collapsed, as the new dogma stated that the phenomena as they appear to us can only be understood via language and symbols (semiotics).

This is where post-structuralism is now, trapped in never-ending self-referring systems of words and symbols. The next step should have been some kind of Zen Buddhism, but I am afraid few of these thinkers have the religious heart needed for that kind of enlightenment.

All of this would have been fine, if these thinkers really accepted the limitations of their own method. If you have a tool for analyzing language and symbols, stick to analyzing texts. In practice, however, far too often these thinkers make statements about the world in itself.

To give an example. They move from the position that cultural gender is socially constructed to arguing that even sex (the body) is socially constructed. Yes, our interpretations of the physical body is interpreted through language. It has to be. But they go further. They now dismiss any argument to the effect that physiology, genes and hormones have an effect on gender development. Sex is nothing but a social construct.

(My cat smiles when I  tell him this. He knows better.)

David had, as you probably know, his penis damaged after birth. Dr. Money decided it was best to raise him as a girl. David developed severe gender dysphoria, being convinced that he was in fact a boy, regardless of what his parents and his doctors told him. Intense conditioning and deliberate 'social construction' did not work. His sense of being male did not abate.

Butler's anaylysis of the medical brutality is brilliant, but her treatment of David is horrible. She pretends to respect what he says, while at the same time losing herself in endless unintelligible paragraphs aimed at undermining the same man's sense of self. In parts of the text she even uses the female pronoun when referring to him.

Why? Because accepting David's identity would open up for the possibility that sex is more than a social construct, that the body and its animalistic instincts and drivers may contribute to our feeling of being a man or a woman.

The political effects of this way of thinking is found in the transphobia of many radical feminists. Since gender is totally socially constructed, only persons raised as women can be women. Female to male trans men must therefore be traitors seeking male privilege, while male to female trans women have to be perverted men invading women's spaces. Currently rad femme bloggers like GallusMag and Dirt are combining the philosophy of Butler with the sexist theories of Ray Blanchard in order to persecute trans women. This is post-structuralism reduced to fascism.

The reason they are able to combine post-structuralism and the psychology of fetishes in this way is also found in Butler and her admirers.

Butler's main challenge is to explain why (given the enormous social pressure young girls and boys are put under to force them to adapt to the gender stereotypes) homosexuals and transgender people exist in the first place. Her solution to this problem is to make use of Freud, another thinker who ultimately left the body behind.

And this is where the fetishes enter the scene. She does not use the term fetish herself, but her she makes use of the same line of reasoning as Freud. Childhood experiences and imprints creates constellations of desires that makes the child go off course, so to speak.

Young people schooled in gender theory have now been given the ultimate weapon to invalidate gender variant people: The combination of social construction and psychologically constructed sexual preferences: fetishes. The gilfags and the crossdreamers are nothing but fetishists! There is no inner sex identity! Their sense of self is nothing but a mirage.

Anyone who have read [Michel] Foucault will understand what is happening. The Powers that Be, the dominant world view, the Patriarchy is now using post-structuralist radical feminism to keep those who threaten the status quo under control. And the social system does not give a damn about logical coherence.

This is why I this week had to wrestle with a lesbian who, full of indignation, reduced all girlfags to fetishists, not realizing that by the same logic she is one too.

The recent tumblr truscum debate, where FTM trans men try desperately to take over the 'transgender' term in order to cast out the crossdressers is another example. They are basically gender essentialists, [gender as an inborn phenomenon] and therefore Butler's opponents, but that does not stop them from using post-structuralist theory when it suits them. They, the truscum, are real men. The crossdressers and the crossdreamers are delusional fetishists.

On the male to female side I find both conservative 'classical transsexuals' and 'forced feminization fetishists' actively using post-structuralist thinking to dismiss the identity of those in the gender twilight zone.

The classical transsexual believe they are the only 'real women' around, while all those icky crossdressers and crossdreamers are fetishists. The forced feminization enthusiasts use the theory to calm any fear they might have of being transsexual. In this way they all help uphold the gender binary. The price is paid by all those who do not fit into this perfect scheme of things.

I am not a naive essentialist. I do not think there is a 'woman chip' in a woman's brain that contains everything from a desire to bake cakes to a fascination for Gucci handbags. While a lot of intersexed boys raised as girls have suffered from gender dysphoria, others seem to have adapted well to the lives of women.

If anything this tells me that our sex identity is the result of the interaction of an insane number of biological, psychological and cultural factors. But right now very few are looking at the whole picture, which is why both the social sciences and the natural sciences so easily can be used to invalidate the lives of the marginalized.

Ultimately we will never get to the objective truth of what shapes sex identity and gender. But by using our sense of self as a starting point and engaging in a discussion with both the social sciences and the natural sciences we may develop a kind of triangulation that makes sense to more of us.

I want us to look at biology and neurophysiology, and even those naive and sexist evolutionary psychologist, not because they are right, but because they at least try to understand the other side of our being. They are as caught up in the mental maps and the language games of our culture as everybody else, I know, but we have to start somewhere. Post-structuralist philosophy is an excellent tool for analyzing language, but is useless in the meeting with hormones and synapses. We need both approaches.

For an excellent review of the post-structuralist invalidation of trans, read Julia Serano's book Excluded.


  1. Jack

    Everyone has an agenda to push and while the radical feminists want to believe that gender is only a social construct in order to encourage women to be as socially powerful as men, they ignore any evidence that gender is likely both social and biological in nature. In their mind, David Reimer should have accepted his womanhood simply because he had been raised a girl - period.

    Conversely, classic transsexuals do not accept this type of thinking since they were raised as boys and yet persisted in their thinking they were girls. For them they were always women waiting for a correction.

    Somebody is wrong here and it is both. Gender is rooted in both nature and nurture but to what degree we cannot be sure. Likely it varies from person to person.

    How odd then that both would conveniently subscribe to the illegitimacy of pretenders and fetishists to discredit transgender people who fall somewhere in the gender spectrum.

    It shows the fallacy of logic and how opposites can make for strange bedfellows when it suits them.

    its obvious to me that gender politics cannot be allowed to enter into the serious research that must take place in order to understand the origin of gender dysphoria but people being what they are, it will be an unavoidable fact of life.

  2. "its obvious to me that gender politics cannot be allowed to enter into the serious research that must take place in order to understand the origin of gender dysphoria but people being what they are, it will be an unavoidable fact of life."

    I agree, but how do we ensure that this happens? Scientists are also children of their time and they bring their preconceptions with them when they define their research questions. And the research questions put a limit to what it is possible to find.

    The most obvious example of this for me is the division of transsexual women into "primary" and "secondary", feminine or masculine, "homosexual" or "non-homsexual". Researchers have wasted more than 30 years on studying something that is of little relevance to a real understanding trans identities.

    For all I know, my own approach to trans and crossdreaming could stop other interesting aspects from appearing.

  3. You are right.

    Divisions, categorizations and classifications bring no additional answers.

    For example, while the work of Blanchard and Anne Lawrence acknowledges the need for transsexual surgeries, the proposal that this need is rooted in either paraphilia or homosexuality is not an explanation but merely a behavioral observation. This is not science.

    Paraphilias themselves are not understood either.

    So you cannot ensure that politically motivated conjecture will not happen but as time goes on, hope that new theories will replace old ones until some truth is eventually uncovered.

    I cannot worry about what I cannot change in humanity but can only do my small part to dispel incorrect notions and obvious fallacies in logic.

  4. Utter word salad. A wilful misrepresentation of all that is "other" (i.e. not in accord with your thinking). Sorry Jack but your posts have become progressive worse as you fumble inevitably towards a trans-female identity.

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  7. You don't know what you're talking about... perhaps with respect to self-proclaimed post-structuralists, but not with respect to the philosophy.

    This comes down to the difference between structuralism, and post-structuralism. What is the difference?

    Well, for this, we have to go back to Plato, the Arch Idealist, and progenitor of essentialist thinkers. "Thing in itself" is a literal translation of phrases that were latinized into "essentia", such as "oneself as oneself", "the what it is", "the what it is to be", and are all referring to what it means for something to have being, to exist. For Plato, this was the forms, which is of course the essence in things. These are eternal, changeless, and static in their being, the world of becoming, change, impermanence is rendered an illusion, or shadows on a cave wall.

    Kant's disagreement with Plato surrounds his theory of knowledge, not his theory of forms. Plato's theory was that we already knew the forms, and that through contemplation, and processes of reasoning we could uncover this knowledge of the forms. The true nature of things, things in themselves, or their essences. The word "noumena" means "something that is thought", and is derived from the world "nous", meaning "intuition", or "knowledge". Kant, argues against a transcendental intuition, or the ability to know the noumena in this way, but he still accepts essentialism, or the existence of "things in themselves", which is why he classifies himself as a transcendental idealist, but an epistemological empiricist. Plato wasn't, sense information was useless for discovering the true nature of things, he was an epistemological rationalist.

    What are essences? For both Plato and Aristotle, they were correct definitions, or logos. Words define, in a metaphysical sense, the essential natures of things.

    Kant denies this, but he doesn't deny that essences exist, which are the eternal, unchanging permanent causes of the impermanent constantly changing objects of perception. Why? Because he believed in an eternal afterlife, and God as the cause of the world, and all things.

    Coming to structuralism. What is it? It is the idea that language is a relationship between signifier, and signified. That all words, reference something external, and in the world. It is Platonic noumenalism, by definition. When I say "red", I refer to a common essential feature of the world in things. Logically, if two things are the same, then there aren't two things, there is one thing (Leibniz's law). So there is one essence that is "redness", and all red things are imperfect, approximations, that do not themselves really exist, in that we don't refer to there distinctness, we refer to their single essential nature.

    Post-structuralism denies this. It is fundamentally based on a rejection of essentialism, or this noumenal, unchanging eternal world of being, and forms. Making unreal the world of change, impermanence, becoming. Replacing this eternal reality of forms with the void, or abyss. Making the world of appearances, change, becoming what is real. Definitions, essences, to be what is unreal. This is metaphysical materialism, and empiricism, the complete rejection of idealism. This is the core of post-structuralism. It's essence, as it were.

  8. Continued

    It is the opposite of a rejection of the body, but an acceptance of everybody, as distinct, and individual, and not reducible to essential common natures. If post-structuralist shy away from delineating the natural world, it is because they understand that language isn't up to the task, is built of heuristics, and generalities that in no way come close to capturing the overwhelming diversity of the natural world, but worse than this even -- that definitions are prejudices, that pigeonhole, stereotype, and categorize in meaningful ways for our own purposes, and do not actual describe the world, which is meaningless, void of meaning besides this meaning with respect our our lives and purposes.

    Now, you can say that people use these ideas to somehow invalidate people's identities, but it is said that Hitler used evolution to justify the holocaust, ergo evolution must be wrong...

    Putting aside the half-hearted reductio, I am sympathetic to consequentialist arguments, but I don't think that invalidating idealistic identities about partaking in a shared essential nature with some category, in a noumenal way is as terrible as negating, and falsifying all individuality, and character, in the place of anthropocentric prejudices, heuristics, and generalities.

  9. @Elsa

    I do not think we disagree as regards what post-structuralist philosophy sets out to be. There is nothing in what you say that comes in conflict with my description. (And yes, I am talking about post-structuralism, not structuralism!)

    My point is simply that bigotry has harnessed post-structuralist feminist philosophy for its own purpose, and that the people doing so probably do not understand what they are doing, most likely because they believe that they truly have understood "The System".

    They have fallen into the same trap as the marxist-leninists of the cold war era, and have turned a tool for liberation into a tool of oppression.

    That does not mean that I think post-structuralism is useless or that all post-structuralists are bullies. Far from it! I am using post-structuralist philosophy myself to deconstruct the post-structuralist.

    That being said, we do probably disagree as regards one issue. To me it is clear that post-structuralism is useless as a tool for understanding biology or natural systems.

    If all you can understand is language, language is all you can say anything about. It seems to me this is your departure as well.

    This means that the whole discourse: philosophical, ethical, social, cultural becomes a discourse about language and symbols.

    So it doesn't matter if the post-structuralists accept the existence of the body. They have no way of understanding how it influences language and are therefore forced to ignore it.

    You may think that this would lead to some kind of humility as regards the use of the theory, but it does not.

    Any homosexual or transsexual who argues that "I was born this way!" will be ignored at best, or -- more likely -- ridiculed for being a naive essentialist, even if they are not.

    The tragedy of this philosophical lock-in is that nature has been left to the natural scientists, leaving us with two intellectual silos that rarely communicate.

    Well, my life is short. I cannot wait for philosophy to resolve all these dilemmas (which are probably unsolvable, anyway). Natural science is now the only discourse (apart from art) that tries to say anything sensible about the non-linguistic part of life (which, let's admit it, includes most of it). That is why I also discuss the science of sex and gender in this blog.

  10. Again, you paint this in an opposite sense. Idealism is the rationalism, idealism is what is devourced from materialism and empiricism.

    Post-structuralism is counter-intuitive, because idealism appeals to our common sense, which as Einstein pointed out, is a collection of prejudices.

    Also, post-structuralism gets bogged down, in my view by an overblown attempt at self awareness. It isn't as if we can't use heuristics, prejudices, and generalities to bundle information just like idealists do, but then we have to wonder what the personal, psychological, and political significance of grouping is. Why did I bundle things in this way?

    This is where post-structuralism seems abstract, and all about the language, because it attempts to deconstruct the language to find this out.

    Idealism is easier, and just says "there is no such significance, I'm capturing the true essential nature of things", not getting stuck in this recursivity.

    Worse than this, many post-structuralists seem to, after deciding some rational, or justification for thinking or behaving in some way, think that it is appropriate to generalize their conclusion to a demographic of people, which they definitely should no better than doing. Everyone is different.

    It is my belief that post-structuralist philosophy ought to promote a completely differential ontology, of the uniqueness, and individuality of all things, doing aware with preconception and prejudice, thinking that we can know things about someone or thing from a top down hierarchical fashion. Actually knowing individuals, rather than reducing them to stereotypes, so as we can say that we know everyone, or everything.

    This doesn't mean that we shouldn't make use of heuristics, and categories (we can't help it, there are real physical limits on our ability to discern (which itself is not a generality, no more than saying that all men are mortal, which is open ended to the extent of their discerning abilities, understanding that everyone is different)), we can't help it -- and it is probably true that we can't be constantly stuck in recursively chasing down the reasons why we have bundled things just so, leading into linguistic, psychological and political analyses at every turn.

    It is however worse, to not be aware that these are where the origins of categorizes lie, and not with the things themselves. Because for me, this is inherently a liberating philosophy, one that embraces deviance, change, becoming, individuality, and uniqueness. We are freed from the shackles of definitions metaphysically dictating the natures of our very souls, without any wiggle room at all. To think otherwise is inherently oppressive, isn't understanding that categories are for our purposes, and are cognitive shortcuts, and not things that we cannot deviate from without being sick, insane, or evil. It forces open mindedness, and acceptance of difference, and uniqueness as the foundation of our thought -- and not the oppression of idealism.

  11. To be clear and explicit, I don't mean to be inflammatory, and at the heart of my reactionary remarks is the idea that idealism is someone more inline with, focused on, or congenial to the sciences -- which to me seems flat out on its face ridiculous. Idealism by its very nature denies the reality of the material, observable universe, and believes that reality is arrived at through thought, or language rather than actually looking at the bloody world.

    To do science is to implicitly, performatively accept materialism and empiricism.

    Even Kant denied the reality of the material world, and although he also denied that knowledge of the forms was possible, he did some through rationalist, and not scientific arguments, that only get off the ground after assuming that the world is unreal, and that forms exist. His argument against Plato still rest on rationalism, rather than empiricism, because empiricism isn't up to the task.

    This is the nature of the gulf between idealists and materialists, and to paint idealists as in a better position to do science seems ridiculous to me.

  12. My take on psychology from an engineering background (and after taking a couple of psychology courses in college) is that it is manipulating statistics to come to whatever your conclusion fits your needs. You're better off finding what feels right for you and ignoring the rest.

  13. I think an ideology that is dismissive of both scientific evidence and subjective feelings is liable to be dangerous. Of course there are biases in interpreting evidence, but it is better to strive to minimise these than to reject evidence in favour of dense sophistry.

    Philosophy can question assumptions usefully. But to move from questioning to dismissing should require more than just philosophical rationalism (with the occasional carefully selected real world illustration). In practice the methodology is often ‘this is considered state of the art wisdom so we should accept it even if we can’t really fully understand it, let alone counter all the counter-arguments’.

    The first sentences I read by Julia Serano (in Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation) were ‘If one more person tells me that “all gender is performance” I think I am going to strangle them. What’s most annoying about that sound-bite is how it is often recited in a somewhat snooty “I-took-a-gender-studies-class-and-you-didn’t” sort of way.’ This really impressed me. It takes someone of Serano’s confidence to stand up the post-structuralists’ sense of superiority.

    It is very hard to know whether there is such a quality as inherent sex identity, but studying empirical research and, most of all, listening with an open mind to people describing their personal experience seems to me a better methodology than closing the book on account of fashions in philosophy.

    Debbie xx

  14. @Deborah Kate

    I read your recent thread on Crossdream life. It was poignant, moving. I too have been brought to tears attempting to express my own inner feelings, and sense of self.

    The first time I was brought to tears by the realization of my inner self it was the first time I had been brought to tears about anything in many years, and when it started I couldn't stop. I cried for two days straight. I felt ninety years old, and was shaking by the end of it, and contemplated suicide because I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to stop. It was terrifying at the time, an emotional breakdown, but also a liberation and catharsis I can appreciate now as an emotional re-awakening. It is easier for me to feel now than it was before I accepted myself.

    My posts may seem strident, and reactionary, but this is because my philosophy of liberation, what I use to understand my inner experiences as true and real, what I use to define my femaleness is being called oppressive, and dismissive of just that which I hold dear.

    I suppose that I shouldn't just turn things around, and call the antithetical position dismissive and oppressive, otherwise I see that I'm just perpetuating that same feeling in others. Deflecting the feeling back on to those that accuse me. That isn't my intention.

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  16. @Anonymous,

    Please rephrase your objection in a more constructive, meaningful and respectful manner!

  17. @Elsa,

    Thank you very much for your supportive comments.

    I think the sharing of personal experiences and mutual support is much more important than philosophical debate.

    Debbie xx

  18. I love the reference to philosophical hermaneutics because it is the root of an open and honest debate. When one applies hermaneutics consistently it ensures that the belief system of the person interpreting his/hers/others life is from a principled position. The application of sound hermaneutics also gives you, the writer, the ability to always keep one foot firmly planted on the ground (metaphorically I mean in reality). Too much of the topic of transgender studies is unstructured opinion that fishes for and uses studies aimed at a particular desired outcome and opinion polls, it is helpful to know what other's opinions are but little more than an intellectual curiosity.

    Great article in the end, it's bookmarked and a keeper for sure!

    Jessie @ http://www.androgylicious.com


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