Intersex and trans activists and their allies contend that the right to “recognition everywhere as a person before the law,” protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, means that no one should be required to live with a gender marker that doesn’t fit them. As long as people are required to present official documents bearing a gender marker, states should not only allow people to change from “F” to “M” and vice versa; they should also provide them with an “X” or equivalent option. Otherwise, the binary nature of the documents will inevitably exclude people who are non-binary, whether they are also intersex or not.
Thirty years ago, the philosopher Judith Butler*, now 64, published a book that revolutionized popular attitudes on gender. Gender Trouble, the work she is perhaps best known for, introduced ideas of gender as performance. It asked how we define “the category of women” and, as a consequence, who it is that feminism purports to fight for. Today, it is a foundational text on any gender studies reading list, and its arguments have long crossed over from the academy to popular culture.
In the three decades since Gender Trouble was published, the world has changed beyond recognition. In 2014, TIME declared a “Transgender Tipping Point”. Butler herself has moved on from that earlier work, writing widely on culture and politics. But disagreements over biological essentialism remain, as evidenced by the tensions over trans rights within the feminist movement.
How does Butler, who is Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature at Berkeley, see this debate today? And does she see a way to break the impasse? Butler recently exchanged emails with the New Statesman about this issue. The exchange has been edited.
Five people who stayed close talk about navigating a seismic shift in their relationship, plus their partners on how it was for them
In recent years, transgender people have become more understood and accepted into some communities. Because of this, pronouns are often included in introductions by trans people. Whether it is a name tag with their pronouns, included in their social media bio or a verbal introduction, trans people are typically expected to inform everyone of their pronouns, and assume everyone else’s.
Obviously, it goes without saying that being femme is a valid identity, and there is every empowerment in expressing one’s identity as one wishes. However, when every trans woman is portrayed as femme and glamourous, even if that beauty is stripped back from them in the case of Sophia in Orange is the New Black, it creates the expectation that all trans women must adhere to the notion that to be a woman is to be femme. Yes, there are plenty of trans women who eschew notions of impossibly high beauty standards, but their representation in the media are few and far between.
Whittome’s accusation came on the day the government had promised to announce the results of the Gender Recognition Act consultation – a promise that has now been broken.
The 2018 consultation asked the public for their views on potential changes to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) – the 2004 law that transgender men and women use to gain legal recognition of their gender.
Several successive Tory equalities ministers have promised to publish the results of the GRA consultation and the government’s plan for modernising the law, but have instead repeatedly delayed.
Over at twitter Citizen Sterling writes:
Trans people have spent years warning everyone about the poorly concealed homophobia baked into the “gender critical” TERF movement. Hate groups don’t stop at hating just one group. People who want to debate human rights will always need targets.
You need both biological and cultural perspectives to understand what makes transgender people trans. Some anti-trans activists deliberately try to ignore this fact is in their quest to invalidate transgender people. Here’s why they do this.
For as long as the human species has existed, so have trans people. They make up only a small fraction of the population – and yet the discourse around them has become increasingly hostile, vastly overshadowing the small number of individuals at its centre. Why, in the past few years, have the rights of this extremely marginalised group become something everyone feels they need to have an opinion about?
But why is trans-exclusive radical feminism so successful? Why is it being accepted within the liberal mainstream, when they are making the same transphobic arguments as right-wing conservatives? The history behind their rhetoric has roots in two trends in Western countries: scientific racism and white women’s tears.
The TERF movement is entwined with racism; the biggest purveyors of trans exclusion are white women, and the people who suffer most from transphobic violence are Black women