Guest Post: Derrick Jensen Responds to John Stoltenberg

About a year ago, pro-feminist author John Stoltenberg wrote a very disturbing article entitled “Andrea Dworkin Was Not Transphobic” for the website Feminist Times. In response, I wrote an open letter, which you can read here. His response is in the comments.

When I received this response from Stoltenberg – a man who has been undeniably influential to me and my pro-feminist development – I shared it with my mentor and friend Derrick Jensen, who was equally upset. Derrick is one of the foremost radical environmentalists in the world today and perhaps, along with Lierre Keith, the greatest single influence on my worldview and life. His response to Stoltenberg is absolutely spot-on, and he’s graciously granted me permission to host it here.

Derrick Jensen responds to John Stoltenberg

I’d like to thank you both for the above exchange, which is both illuminating and disturbing.

As a fellow writer, I understand that publishers come up with article titles. Sometimes they don’t ask my approval on them, and sometimes they do. And as a writer I know that when I find a title harmful I demand it be changed. So it was illuminating, disturbing, and unfortunately not surprising to learn that you approved the title “Andrea was not transphobic.”

By now you must be aware that the phrase “transphobe” is routinely used as a rhetorical cudgel to browbeat many women into silence and submission, women who want nothing more, in many cases, than to be allowed to use the bathroom or locker room or shelter free from the presence of biological males. By denying that Andrea Dworkin was a “transphobe” you were by contrast lending credence to the notion that these other woman are in fact “transphobes.”

I’ll spell it out. The women I know who have been called “transphobic”—and who have been threatened with rape, other forms of torture, and murder by many of the very same biological males who are labeling these women as “transphobic”—are not, in fact, “transphobic” in that none of them wish to exploit or wish any harm on people who identify as transgender. They don’t want for them to be murdered. They don’t want for them to be imprisoned. They don’t for them to be raped. They don’t want for them kicked out of their homes. They don’t want for them to be harmed in any way. They don’t want for them to be exploited. They don’t perceive them as inferior. They don’t care with whom they sleep. They don’t care what they wear. They don’t care how they organize. They don’t care how much money they make. They have no desire to control the lives of these others.

They just disagree that those biological males who identify as “transgender” are women, and they mainly want to be left alone. And for that they are labeled as “transphobic.”

Disagreement is not hate speech, and disagreement doesn’t imply “phobia.” Any hatreds being manifested here are by those who threaten rape and murder when women do not submit. But that’s a story we’ve all heard before.

I’m not suggesting that transphobic violence doesn’t occur, but those who perpetrate it are a whole different set, a whole different politics, and a whole different sex.

As support for your statement that Dworkin was not “transphobic,” you mention the fact that in an anti-pornography ordinance, Dworkin and MacKinnon included the following sentence, “The use of men, children, or transsexuals in the place of women…is also pornography.” The fact that you use this statement to support the notion that she was not a “transphobe” implies that those who are labeled as “transphobes” would believe something different. But none of the women I know who have been labeled as “transphobic” would disagree with that statement. Pornography is pornography. I’m sure that Dworkin and MacKinnon and many others would agree that pigs or donkeys or horses being used “in the place of women is still pornography.” So you’re creating a false dichotomy. And further, the fact that she included “transsexuals” in the list in no way implies that she would believe that women should be forced against their will to accept biological males into their bathrooms and locker rooms and shelters. And that is what women are being called “transphobic” for: not for believing that the legal definition of what is called pornography shouldn’t include “transsexuals” (or “transgenders,” for that matter). For crying out loud, it was an ordinance, a legal document, and if they didn’t include transsexuals, that would leave a loophole big enough for the owners of “Chicks with Dicks” (pornographers’ term, not mine) to drive a truckload of money through.

You argue there that Dworkin wasn’t a “transphobe” because she mentioned “transsexual” as a category of people who could also be used in pornography. I’ve above addressed the point that she was drafting an ordinance, and needed to be inclusive for at the very least legal reasons (and please recognize that legal language doesn’t always translate to reality: legally, corporations are defined as persons, which I think most sane people understand as both nonsensical and deeply harmful). But you seem to be making an additional point as well. You wrote that, “Her acknowledging that a person could be subordinated like a woman [which is not actually what she said, but we’ll leave that aside] without having been assigned female at birth is consistent with her view that the category ‘woman’ is not tethered to female biology but originates instead in the male supremacist quest for identity through domination, disidentification, despisal, derogation, destruction, and death.” First, I’m afraid I must correct your language, which has, your protestations that you “eschew” queer theory aside, an explicit alignment with a body-denying inaccuracy derived from postmodernism and queer/trans theory, which is the notion that someone can be “assigned female at birth.” That’s complete nonsense, and you know it (or should, and if you don’t know it, you shouldn’t be writing about males or females). No one is “assigned female at birth.” Female is a real, physical state, whether we’re talking about female mice or orcas or human beings, or marijuana plants, for that matter. To use the postmodern/queer/trans language of saying that one is “assigned female at birth” makes as much sense as to say that one was “assigned human at birth” or “assigned mammal at birth.” One can be recognized as female. But one is not “assigned” female. I hope you were merely being careless, and not intentional. If you were careless, you, as a writer, should know better. And if you do know better but wrote it anyway, then you are committing the worst sin a writer can commit: propagating untruths—that is, lying—for ideological reasons.

Once one is born male or female, of course one is then molded into social roles after that. No one here is denying that.

But the real point seems to be that you are suggesting that Andrea Dworkin’s inclusion of “transsexual” as a category of people who can be forced into subordination “like a woman” (as you put it, not her) means somehow that they must be accepted by women as “women” (because, once again, that is the crux of this whole “transphobia” discussion, and why so many women are called “transphobes”: because they do not believe that “transwomen” are women who were wrongly “assigned male at birth” or who were “subordinated” into becoming women). But the quote you attempted to use to support this in no way supports this. Dworkin’s and MacKinnon’s list also includes the categories “men” and “children.” Are you going to suggest they meant by this that “men” and “children” are “women”? Why did you only pick “transsexual” from that list? Is it because the inclusion of “men” and “children” would make clear that your argument made no sense? One could far more easily argue that by including “transsexual” as a separate category who can be subordinated “like a woman,” as you say, she was clearly differentiating “transsexuals” from women. Otherwise she wouldn’t have included the separate category. She didn’t, for example, separate women with blonde hair from women with brunette hair, or women from China from women from Germany. Those are all categories of women, not other categories whose members can still be subordinated “like a woman.” So if the quote you give makes any relevant point at all (and I’m not sure it does), it makes precisely the opposite point of the one you are torturing it into meaning.

I’ll say it clearly: the fact that one has been subordinated “like a woman” does not in fact mean that one is a woman. I’m embarrassed to even have to write this, but it is too often forgotten. This is true of all forms of subordination. Does the enslavement of a prostituted woman from Eastern Europe mean that because she was enslaved she is now also black, as in those forced into chattel slavery and brought to the US from Africa? Of course not. She is subordinated. They are subordinated. It doesn’t mean their experiences are the same. Likewise a biological male who is treated “like a woman” is not then a woman. That should be obvious. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “He beat him like a rented mule.” Not even the most dedicated postmodernist or queer or trans theorist would parse that to mean that the person who was beaten actually is a rented mule, or even that he was beaten in the same places as a mule would be beaten, or that this means the other mules have to accept him into their herd, or in fact that he has anything in common with a rented mule other than that he was beaten like one. Yet that’s what you’ve done.

And even your own language suggests you understand that those who are not women are in fact not women. You wrote that those other than a woman could be “could be subordinated like a woman.” But if you say something is “like” something else, you are by definition saying that it is not the thing. You don’t say, “This is like a summer day,” in the middle of July. You say that if it’s hot in November. And even then we understand it’s only like it because of temperature, not length, or the sounds of insects, or by any other measure. And the next time you’re eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, try telling the person next to you, “This tastes just like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” and see what kind of look you get. Or think about your own example: you would never say, “That Belgian woman was subordinated just like a woman,” or “That brunette woman was subordinated just like a woman.” Yet you would say that, “This German man was subordinated just like a woman.”

Also, let’s say that some biological male has been subordinated “like a woman.” As I just said, that doesn’t mean he is now a woman. It just means he has been subordinated “like a woman” (and I need to say, for the record, that a woman’s experience is much more than merely being subordinated: to believe that subordination equals womanhood would be deeply objectifying and insulting to women). And the real point is that it doesn’t mean that he is now no threat to women. Indeed, most abusers were themselves abused—that is, they were, using this formulation, treated “like a woman.” That is one way masculinity perpetuates itself. You should know this. This is all just Abuse 101. To take a fatal example, look at the childhood of almost any serial sex killer, and you will find that he was horribly abused. His father (sometimes mother, but most often father) subordinated him “like a woman.” Does that make him a woman? No. Does that make him not a danger to women? No. Do all abused males end up abusing women? No. Do some? Yes.

The real point here, having to do with “transphobia,” is that a biological male having himself been subordinated “like a woman” by biological males does not mean that he is not a threat to biological females—or, to use your language, to those “assigned female at birth,” or, to use the everyday language of common sense rather than the language of postmodernism/queer/trans theory, to “women.” It is not up to women to allow biological males into their most vulnerable spaces simply because those biological males have themselves been subordinated “like a woman” or for any reason other than that the women choose to. No means no, remember? And it is not up to women to allow any particular biological male into their political organizations because the biological male declares he is a woman or because the biological male has been subordinated “like a woman” or because the biological male perceives himself as having been wrongly “assigned male” or for any reason other than that the women choose to.

I would say the same thing about any other oppressed group: it is not required that Mexican-Americans allow those who are not Mexican-American into their organizations; it is not required that American Indian nations allow non-Indians into their sacred spaces; it is not required that those who identify as transgender allow me into their private meetings; and it is not required that organizations of gay males allow me in either. Once again, no means no.

It is up to men who care about women to differentiate themselves from other biological males. And one way to do so is not by claiming to be women, and another way is not by labeling those who wish to be left alone as “transphobes.”

As writers, nearly the only thing we have to work with is words. Words matter. And the title was both harmful and propagandistic. It was propagandistic in that it was inaccurate in order to serve ideological purposes. It also answers the wrong question. “Was Andrea Dworkin transphobic?” is the wrong question for the reasons given above: the women who are often labeled as such are not in fact “phobic” in that I’ve yet to hear of a single assault or death threat or rape threat by a “radical feminist” against a person who identifies as “transgender.” I’ve seen hundreds the other way, by people who identify as “transgender” against those they label “transphobe.” In fact the only slur I’ve seen in this discussion came from your title, with the slur “transphobe.” And that is a slur directed at women.

A much more important and relevant question is “Were Andrea Dworkin alive today, would she be labeled a ‘transphobe’”?

It’s an easy question to answer. We can do it with some other questions.

Would she believe that women living in a rape culture, including those who have themselves been raped, should be forced to accept biological males—men, including those who have been, to use your term, “subordinated like a woman,” and including those who believe (or in some cases simply state) they were wrongly “assigned male at birth”—into vulnerable spaces like bathrooms and locker rooms and shelters?

If the answer is no, then she would be labeled as “transphobic.” Neither this nor any of the other questions and responses are hyperbolic. They have all happened to people (both women and men) I know.

To be even more clear about this one. The biological males who say they want to go into women’s restrooms because they’re afraid of being assaulted aren’t afraid of women: they’re afraid of biological males. Would Andrea Dworkin suggest that in order to alleviate the very real and understandable fears of these biological males of being assaulted by other biological males in restrooms, that women then be subjected to this same fear?

If the answer is no, then she would be labeled as “transphobic.”

To be even more clear: given how hard women in the UK and US struggled for the rights to sex-segregated bathrooms, in order to be able to experience a more robust and less terrorized public life (because it greatly reduced the risk of sexual assault in public restrooms), would Andrea Dworkin be willing to force women to accept biological males into their restrooms?

If the answer is no, then she would be labeled as “transphobic.”

And one more time. Right now women in many parts of India are struggling for these very same rights that in the U.S. are being eroded: they want segregated public restrooms because that will enable them to attend school. Read that sentence again: girls are afraid to go to school for fear they will be raped when they go to the bathroom. Would Andrea Dworkin be unwilling to support these women and girls in this struggle?

If the answer is no, then she would be labeled as “transphobic.”

Would she believe that women living in a rape culture, including those who have themselves been raped, should be forced to accept biological males into groups advocating for the rights of women?

If the answer is no, then she would be labeled as “transphobic.”

Would she believe that women who call a rape crisis hot line after having been sexually assaulted by a biological male should be forced to take the chance that the counselor with whom she speaks is a biological male?

If the answer is no, then she would be labeled as “transphobic.”

Would she believe that women should be forced to compete with biological males in sex-segregated sports? Would she believe that Title IX should be eroded?

If the answer is no, then she would be labeled as “transphobic.”

Would she condemn women for speaking of safe access to abortion as a women’s issue?

If the answer is no, then she would be labeled as “transphobic.”

Women who say no to men in this culture run the risk of facing severe consequences for doing so. These consequences can include domination (as in forcing women to accept unwanted males in their spaces), disidentification (as in suggesting that one is not in fact a “female” but was “assigned female,” meaning that female-ness itself, and not just femininity, is a social construct), despisal (as in labeling those who wish to be left alone as “transphobes”), derogation (as in labeling those who wish to be left alone as “transphobes”) destruction, and death (as in the rape and death threats suffered by those who are labeled “transphobes”).

I seem to recall somewhere some woman or another writing some books about these processes of how this whole culture (and especially men as a collective in this culture) terrorize or manipulate or coerce or mindfuck women into saying yes. But just right now I can’t quite remember her name. . . .

Were Andrea Dworkin alive today, would she be labeled as “transphobic”?

But really, that’s not the question either. She’s dead. She can’t argue her case. So I don’t really see the point of doing an extremely superficial exegesis to figure out whether she would or wouldn’t be “transphobic,” Or, for that matter, whether she would or wouldn’t be “labeled as ‘transphobic.’” It smacks too much of those Biblical exegeses that took up so much ink in the early 19th Century trying to argue that Jesus would or wouldn’t have supported slavery.

It’s your essay, John. Not hers. Claim it. Claim whatever position you have. She’s just a dead writer, as you and I will each be some day. She’s not Jesus, and even if she were, we should still be thinking and speaking for ourselves.

And that’s the real point. Do you believe that women living in a rape culture, including those who have themselves been raped, should be forced to accept biological males into vulnerable spaces like bathrooms, locker rooms, and shelters?

Do you believe that women living in a rape culture, including those who have themselves been raped, should be forced to accept biological males into groups advocating for the rights of women?

Do you believe that women should be disallowed from saying no?

Those aren’t rhetorical questions.

And now we’re almost to the real question. As you know, the word “transphobe” is used as a rhetorical cudgel to browbeat women into silence and submission. Even if you disagree with these women, you have to agree that it is used as a way to silence women. You even acknowledged in your response that women are threatened with rape and murder on this issue (although you demurred from using the R or M words). So you know the terror to which women are subjected on this issue. And there is another form of silencing: you know that women (and men) are often deplatformed from speaking at universities on the mere accusation of “transphobe.” You know that. That is silencing. And either intentionally or carelessly you, a man, used your former intimacy with Andrea Dworkin, and even worse, her name and reputation, to legitimize a tool—the word transphobe as applied to women who do not wish to be forced to share their vulnerable spaces with biological males—that is used to silence women. What do you think she would have thought about that?

Comments

  1. The Conversations Project (http://radfem.transadvocate.com/about) is a multicomponent project that developed from an extensive conversation I have been having with Cristan Williams, managing editor of the Transadvocate.

    Andrea Dworkin, my life partner for 31 years, repudiated sex essentialism, meaning that she did not believe there are innate characteristics that define us. Instead, she believed, we are “a multisexed species.” (My memoir-essay about what this meant in our relationship can be read here: http://www.feministtimes.com/%E2%80%AA%E2%80%8Egenderweek-…/)

    Since Andrea’s death in 2005, I have become increasingly concerned that the radical feminism I first learned from her was being misappropriated in the name of “real womanhood” in ways that not only shun and derogate trans women but also betray the fundamental radical feminist insight I learned from Andrea that male supremacy is premised on the lethal fiction of “real manhood.”

    So I was very grateful when Cristan Williams invited me in February 2015 to join her in a conversation. One email led to another and before long we were writing back and forth in what became a wide-ranging, nearly book-length conversation about “the radical inclusivity of radical feminism,” a conviction that both Cristan and I deeply share.

    I have found this conversation to be not only an extraordinary opportunity to listen and learn from her but also—in ways I could never have anticipated—a person-to-person exchange in which I could say things I have been thinking that were not sayable anywhere else. (You can read my first installment here: http://radfem.transadvocate.com/the-sexgender-binary-essent…. At the end is a place to leave a reply.)

    As The Conversations Project now launches into the world, I could not be more proud and pleased that the amazing exchange between Cristan and me can begin to be overheard in a way that will catalyze more and more important and deep conversations.

    If you wish to subscribe to The Conversations Project to be notified as subsequent installments appear, you can do so here: http://radfem.transadvocate.com/#sub

    • Peggy Luhrs says:

      This idealized view of male fellowship exposes the essentially homosexual character of male society. Men use women’s bodies to form alliances or bonds with each other. Men use women’s bodies to achieve recognizable power which will certify male identity in the eyes of other men. Men use women’s bodies to enable them to engage in civil and peaceable social transactions with each other. We think that we live in a heterosexual society because most men are fixated on women as sexual objects; but, in fact, we live in a homosexual society because all credible transactions of power, authority, and authenticity take place among men; all transactions based on equity and individuality take place among men. Men are real; therefore, all real relationship is between men; all real communication is between men; all real reciprocity is between men; all real mutuality is between men. Heterosexuality, which can be defined as the sexual dominance of men over women, is like an acorn–from it grows the mighty oak of the male homosexual society, a society of men, by men, and for men, a society in which the positivity of male community is realized through the negation of the female, through the annihilation of women’s flesh and will. —This seems to me the point at which Andrea, were she alive today with the knowledge of attacks against women and women’s spaces by transwomen, would have begun her critique of the trans cult which spends so much of its time attacking radical feminists. She would get that this is another way of male bonding, that the men saying they are women here are saying also don’t look at the men who want to kill us look at the radical feminists who challenge our stated identity. Blame them take your anger out on them do it to them. She would I believe have understood that this is patriarchy 2.0 and continued her incredible radical feminist critique of it.

      • Would she?

        In her _Woman-Hating_, Dworkin made a pretty full-throated defense of trans identity, including their right to transition genders. Let me quote the passage at length.

        “Transsexuality is currently considered a gender disorder, that is, a person learns a gender role which contradicts his/her visible sex. It is a “disease” with a cure: a sex-change operation will change the person’s visible sex and make it consonant with the person’s felt identity.
        Since we know very little about sex identity, and since psychiatrists are committed to the propagation of the cultural structure as it is, it would be premature and not very intelligent to accept the psychiatric judgement that transsexuality is caused by a faulty socialization. More probably, transsexuality is caused by a faulty society. Transsexuality can be defined as one particular formation of our general multisexuality which is unable to achieve its natural development because of extremely adverse social conditions.
        There is no doubt that in the culture of male-female discreteness, transsexuality is a disaster for the individual transsexual. Every transsexual, white, black, man, woman, rich, poor, is in a state of primary emergency as a transsexual. There are 3 crucial points here.
        One, every transsexual has the right to survival on his/her own terms. That means every transsexual is entitled to a sex-change operation, and it should be provided by the community as one of its functions. This is an emergency measure for an emergency condition.
        Two, by changing our premises about men and women, role-playing and polarity, the social situation of transsexuals will be transformed, and transsexuals will be integrated into community, no longer persecuted and despised.
        Three, community built on androgynous identity will mean the end of transsexuality as we know it. Either the transsexual will be able to expand his/her sexuality into a fluid androgyny, or, as roles disppear, the phenomenon of transsexuality will disappear and that energy will be transformed into new modes of sexual identity and behavior.”

        How is it possible to say that Dworkin did not mean this? Stoltenberg’s desire to ensure his partner’s thoughts be properly represented is entirely legitimate.

        (Would she have problems with abusive trans people? Sure. Dworkin had problems with abusive people regardless of their gender identity.)

      • What is the urge that leads men to drive by and drop the most basic facts as though they were revolutionary? Do you really think any of the women in this discussion don’t know that passage exists?

        For the record, Dworkin also wrote in Woman Hating that “The incest taboo does the worst work of the culture … The destruction of the incest taboo is essential to the development of cooperative human community based on the free-flow of natural androgynous eroticism.” But I don’t see anyone using that to argue that she would support incest. You’re displaying an ignorance of the time and place in which those words were written. Dworkin’s later work with Craft and others demonstrates that she clearly held positions that would get her labelled a “TERF” today, threatened with rape and death like all the other women who say no.

        The point here, though, isn’t to provide an exegesis of Dworkin’s ideology, which no man ought to do. The point is to defend her legacy from cynical misuse by a man who doesn’t want the whole story to come out.

      • “What is the urge that leads men to drive by and drop the most basic facts as though they were revolutionary?”

        If the facts are being ignored, sometimes they need to be dropped. Dworkin explicitly wrote in a pro-trans way early in her career: This cannot be ignored, or explained away. Considering this a mistake on her part would be perfectly fine–few are the people whose heroes are perfect–but assuming that she did not mean what she clearly said is not fine.

      • Except literally no one is ignoring these facts. What we have is reason, both explicitly in her interactions with Craft, as well as other interactions she had with feminists of her time, showing that she moved away from her endorsement of transgender ideology, just as she moved away from much of the rest she endorsed in those books.

      • I would be interested to read this. Cites, please?

  2. Right out of the men’s rights playbook comes a project intent on using a woman’s work to beat other women over the head. You should be ashamed of yourselves but this is male supremacy in action.

    • Me, I feel almost speechless. So thank you, House Mouse Queen, for saying something. Yes, it’s a blatantly shameless project; but even more shameless is to come here to announce this misogynist collaboration, to advertise male supremacy in action, all “proud and pleased.”

      Incredible.

    • How is it improper for Stoltenberg to ensure that his partner’s thoughts be accurately represented after her death?

      • It’s “accurately representing” a woman’s thoughts to meet the release of her correspondences with threats of legal sanction?

      • If people are–worst-case scenario–blatantly lying about what your partner wrote and said and thought, and you have evidence of their wrongness, why not?

      • He is not “presenting evidence of wrongness.” He is using poor context to justify his own positions, dressing them up in the guise of Dworkin, and actively attempting to shut down women who present an alternative view. It’s Stoltenberg who is “blatantly lying” about the situation here.

      • “It’s Stoltenberg who is “blatantly lying” about the situation here.”

        If Dworkin wrote something subsequently that clearly constituted a renunciation of her earlier pro-trans writings, that would indeed be news. As I said elsewhere, I’d appreciate cites.

      • Here is a quote from Craft’s article:

        “The transsexual intelligentia may fancy themselves to be agent provocateurs, subverting nature’s implacable authority and radical transformers concerning sex, gender, body modification, and identity. (*FOOTNOTE: Changing Sex + Other Crimes of Passion, Max Wolf Valerio) However, transexuals are more Uncle Toms of sexuality, devout in old-fashioned sexual stereotypes and taking a conservative position on nearly everything, including sexual relationships, sacrificing even sexual pleasure to be women. (*FOOTNOTE: What Wild ECSTASY pg. 100) Money, ever the moral entrepreneur, aids the individual transsexual in mutilating his body to fit into sexist, restrictive gender dichotomies — for a tidy sum, of course — succeeding only in reinforcing preexisting inequalities.

        “Money wants to cut and apply chemicals. He want to genetically engineer, manipulate and mutilate. His methods are anti-Nature. When he performs sex change operations (read: surgical mutilations), he is hardly on the ‘cutting’ edge of finding the cause and effect of why people are sexually maladjusted and don’t feel at home in their bodies in this culture. Ironically, he is even further away from bringing about change and hope that people will ever again really be able to be at home in their own bodies.”

        Dworkin not only helped Craft write this article, proofreading it and offering suggestions on both theory and style, but also went out of her way to get the piece published in Psychology today. This was in 1989, I believe.

      • Thank you for providing a source.

        Is there anything that Dworkin wrote?

      • No, although she is also thanked by Raymond in the notes of The Transsexual Empire. Either way, the point is not to provide some sort of exegesis of Dworkin’s beliefs on the matter. The point is to say that what Stoltenberg is doing is digusting, regardless of her position.

      • “she is also thanked by Raymond in the notes of The Transsexual Empire”

        Thanked for what?

        “The point is to say that what Stoltenberg is doing is digusting, regardless of her position.”

        It would only be disgusting if he was misrepresenting her opinions on transgendered people. In that we do have explicit evidence that she saw no contradiction inherent between her own radical feminism and transgendered people at the time she wrote _Woman-Hating_, and we apparently do not have clear evidence that she changed her mind subsequently, Stoltenberg’s actions appear to be justified. Why would he not contradict people who are misrepresenting his partner’s thought on an issue? Why should he not?

      • Thanked for “providing help” with the section on lesbians.

        I’m not sure why you think intentionally going to bat for a friend’s article repudiating trans ideology, as well as providing editing for it herself, is not “clear evidence.” As I said in my article, it seems like you have two choices: Dworkin was a coward who supported trans ideology, but worked to get material she considered hateful and bigoted published solely to appease her friends, or she *at the very least* was undecided on the issue at that time.

        More importantly, the issue I have is that Stoltenberg is using Andrea’s name and thought to defend an ideology she – again, at the very least – was not concerned with. I live with Lierre Keith, if you know her. We’ve had private conversations about a bunch of subjects, including things she hasn’t necessarily broadcast because they aren’t central to her position. It would be *odious* of me to, after she passed, latch onto those ideologies and support them by referencing her. This is a classic case of a man – again, again again, at the very least – speaking over a woman and using her as a battering ram against other women he doesn’t like. Men shouldn’t be performing exegeses on dead women’s thought anyway. But he’s going a step further and actively promoting her as a reason to embrace an ideology that *he* cares about.

      • “I’m not sure why you think intentionally going to bat for a friend’s article repudiating trans ideology, as well as providing editing for it herself, is not “clear evidence.””

        Do we know what she edited?

        It’s not wrong to ask for clarification about something, especially if this contrasts with other things she wrote herself in her own name and is in conflict with testimony about how she lived her life.

        “It would be *odious* of me to, after she passed, latch onto those ideologies and support them by referencing her.”

        Even if other people were attributing things to her that she never said or believed?

        I only hope that I’ll be survived by people who care more for me.

      • Again, it seems like you’re implying incredible moral cowardice on Dworkin’s part such that she would edit and attempt to publish an article she found odious and hateful.

        I reject that anything is “in conflict with testimony about how she lived her life.” Other than a passage or two in her first book (where incest was also spoken of approvingly, for Christ’s sake) it seems she didn’t spend much time on the matter.

        Also, you’re factually wrong here. This conflict did not start because anyone claimed Dworkin to be critical of trans ideology. It started with John using female pronouns for a man, which landed him in hot water with some radical feminists. *HE* then took the first step of publishing “Andrea Was Not a Transphobe,” the first statement on either side attempting to attribute any position to her on the issue. Women pushed back from there, showing good reason for rejecting his characterization of her views. To claim Stoltenberg is fighting against others’ attribution is simply false. He is the one who attributed – women are simply pointing out why it’s bullshit. Our position is not that Dworkin was or wasn’t this or that, only that her views were clearly complex enough to warrant far more respect than what Stoltenberg is giving them.

  3. My name is Jake and I’d like to begin by saying that I’ve found this debate to be very interesting and intellectually stimulating. As a result, I feel compelled to weigh in and offer an opinion. Firstly, I’d like to point out that when we limit an issue to a black/white interpretation we automatically do ourselves an injustice by virtue of rendering ourselves blind to every possible side of the argument at hand.

    I’d first like to take issue with the definition of “female”. If we attempt to use the chromosomal argument, we run into our first problem: whilst the majority of the population are born with either an XX or XY chromosomal configuration that is not true of all humans. Some are born with an XO, XXX, XXY, or XYY configuration which medical science has come to label as ‘intersexed’. Other intersexed conditions relate more to the size, shape, arrangements, and/or functioning of an individual’s genitals.

    It’s important to note at this juncture that medical science also has a history of surgical intervention with such babies, in which doctors arbitrarily enforce the binary gender norm by assigning such babies an incontrovertible sex – male or female. As the Intersex Society of North America states “nature doesn’t decide where the category of “male” ends and the category of “intersex” begins, or where the category of “intersex” ends and the category of “female” begins. Humans decide.” (Emphasis in the original.)

    In addition, it’s not only intersexed babies that have been subject to such assignments. There is plenty of evidence to show that babies who have suffered genital accidents (usually male babies) were also sometimes then reassigned as female simply because it was believed that their lack of remaining male genitalia made such a decision logical. Going on what I understand the current bathroom debate to be about should these women, who were assigned as and raised their entire lives as female, now be required to use male facilities simply because they were originally born with male genitalia?

    Secondly, what everyone seems to have forgotten (whether deliberately or otherwise) is this: if the argument about excluding transwomen from public restrooms, refuges, and other traditionally female-specific spaces is purely about providing biological women safe spaces I think you’re wasting your time. This argument ignores the fact that women are also perpetrators of violence. Women bash, rape, assault, stalk, harass, and murder other women – these crimes are not the sole providence of biological men. To ignore this fact (or more disturbingly, to reduce it to a numbers game in which you simply argue that there are more victims of male violence than female violence) renders invisible and voiceless the many women who have been the victims of such female violence. It’s also a practice in the perpetuation of sexism and heterosexism. To put it bluntly, the only way to ensure you are in a safe space is to live alone and never leave the house.

    I’d next like to tackle the definition of transphobia. To take a literal approach, it means fear of transpeople (whether you call them transgender or transsexual is neither here nor there in this argument). Therefore, if you wish to exclude transwomen from public female bathrooms because you fear that their presence increases the risk of a biological woman suffering some form of violence than you are literally in fear of transpeople. I don’t know how much clearer it can be.

    In addition, if you insist on forcing people to use bathroom facilities consistent with their birth sex I assume you understand that you will be sharing your female bathrooms with transmen who, quite frankly, you will not actually be able to distinguish from ‘biological’ men. (I’m not sure how this is supposed to make victims of male violence feel safer.) Furthermore, for the sake of any intersexed folk out there, can you please advise which bathroom they are to use. I hope you can agree that this particular argument can get pretty darn silly pretty quickly.

    Face it, we can argue till we’re blue in the face over Andrea’s position on transgenderism, just as we can argue ad infinitum over whether John has a ‘right’ to speak about the meaning of her work. This, to me, is no different than the arguments I see people pulling out of religious texts to justify one position or another. If you’re dedicated enough, you’ll find some sentence or passage somewhere that you can argue supports your position. This is not the real issue though – the real issue is how do we, as the human race, find a way to move forward and construct a reality that does not oppress or abuse anyone.

    Finally, to forestall (hopefully) any arguments that I am just a mere male who is swooping in and disrespecting women I offer the following: I was born female. I lived as a woman for 36 years. I own and have read every single one of Andrea’s books. I also have a degree in women’s studies and have spent much time devouring the works of radical feminists and queer theorists alike. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, nor do I believe that any one theoretical position will resolve our problems. Yes, we can scrape the bottom of any barrel and find a toxic/abusive/violent example. However, I would like it noted that as a woman, I was a victim of violence at the hands of biological males AND biological females. I can tell you from personal experience what it feels like to be a woman in a space filled with biological women only to come face-to-face with an abuser. Let’s not lose ourselves in the ‘black and white’ argument jungle for in there we will find no answers and no winners.

    • I don’t understand why you’re bringing up intersex people. The vast majority of trans folks are not intersex. If someone has XXY chromosomes or ambiguous genitalia or other intersex conditions, then that has bearing on their situation. It doesn’t have bearing on the situation of someone with a penis, testicles, prostate, and XY chromosomes claiming to be female.

      The idea that intersex people disprove the sex binary is a classic example of the continuum fallacy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuum_fallacy. The fact that two terms are not completely distinct does not render them meaningless. Right now, having recently shaved but with some stubble, people would probably disagree with whether or not I’m “bearded.” But that doesn’t mean George R. R. Martin can claim to be clean-shaven on the grounds that the two categories aren’t completely distinct.

      As for your other point, over 90% of violent crimes and up to 98% of sexually violent crimes are committed by people with penises. It is literally the greatest common denominator between violent offenders and the single most accurate predictor for violent behavior.

      I’m not a woman, so I’d be sharing my bathrooms with males – including, yes, males who have adopted the stereotypes associated with females. That doesn’t bother me, because I’m not a homophobe or a fetishist.

      • Hi lonesomeyogurt, thank you for your response. I raised the example of intersexed people because it perfectly illustrates the point that when it comes to ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ there is no black and white. As the quote from the Intersex Society of North America stated, nature does not provide us with distinct sexes, we, as humans, create and impose those distinctions. By turning such a continuum into the binary construct of male/female you are creating something which does not naturally exist – you are creating a binary sex/gender system. To borrow from Andrea, your argument to the contrary is akin to arguing that the earth is flat my friend.

        To further quote Andrea, I offer the following: “The given reality is, of course, that there are two sexes, male and female; that these two sexes are opposite from each other, polar…Truth, on the other hand, is not nearly so accessible as reality. In my view, truth is absolute in that it does exist and it can be found… I have made this distinction between truth and reality in order to enable me to say something very simple: that while the system of gender polarity is real, it is not true. It is not true that there are two sexes which are discrete and opposite, which are polar.” (Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourses on Sexual Politics, Dworkin: 1975/76 – emphasis in the original.)

        Indeed, if you want more proof as to the constructed nature of a binary gender system I suggest you look further afield than Western culture. There you will find many examples in which cultures support and recognise three or more genders. For example: the Hijras of India, the Fa’afafine of Polynesia, the Kathoeys of Thailand, the Two-Spirit peoples of indigenous North American cultures, the Zanith of Oman, the Palao’ana of Micronesia, the Fakaleiti of Tonga, the Mahu Wahine of Hawaii, the Mahu Vahine of Tahiti, the Whakawahine of New Zealand, the Akava’ine of the Cook Islands, the Waria of Indonesia, the Bugis culture of Sulawesi, the Ashtime of Southern Ethiopia, the Mashoga of Kenya, the Mangaiko of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Muxe of Southern Mexico.

        You say that women are most at risk of violence from “people with penises”, and you seem to be using this fact as the reason why transwomen should be denied access to female public restrooms and other associated spaces. Has your research not revealed that a woman is MOST at risk of violence perpetrated by ‘people with penises’ in her own home? This necessarily implies that those she most needs to view as potential perpetrators are: her partner, son, brother, father, uncle, etc., NOT, as you would have us believe, some unknown transwoman. To be blunt, if you want to base this solely on statistics, your mother for example has a greater risk of being abused by your father at home than by an unknown transwoman in a public place.

        I have to say though that I consider problematic any argument that attempts to reduce any form of violence to a numbers game. As I have stated before, such arguments only succeed in marginalising and rendering invisible innocent people. Such arguments also tend to imply that unless a victim fits neatly into ‘X’ category their experiences are not as valid. My general reply to such arguments is this: “please tell me how high the body count has to be for these ‘others’ before you are willing to grant them equal acknowledgement”. I hope you can see, even fleetingly, how grotesque such a conversation is.

        If you are going to limit your concern for women’s safety to only those who suffer violence at the hands of ‘people with penises’ – as your current argument implies – just have the courage to say so outright. And if this is truly the case, could you please explain why women who are victims of female violence are not afforded the same recognition by you? If, however, you do personally afford them such acknowledgement but simply choose not to voice this publicly for the sake of winning a political argument or furthering a political agenda I have to wonder how this cannot be considered to be evidence of homophobia and transphobia on your part.

        Frankly I’m stunned that in their fight against oppression, some radical feminists seem to think that they have the right to oppress others by virtue of denying them the right to self-determination. By seeking to silence and speak on behalf of these others, by attempting to determine their identity by enforcing your own beliefs and definitions onto them is nothing more than another form of abuse. I would also like to point out that the political ideologies underpinning such oppression and abuse are no different to the segregationist and racist ideologies of apartheid South Africa, pre-civil rights America, and Nazi Germany, to name but a few.

        I get the sense though that there’s more going on here than a simple disagreement – more than a feeling that ‘my theory is right and yours is wrong’. It forces me to ask the question: have some radical feminists entered into some form of co-dependent relationship with the very patriarchal constructs they have for so long sought to eliminate? Nature has amply provided us with evidence that the two-sex system is just a fiction, and queer theory has shown us how we can live an alternative to the current binary gender system. Why then are some radical feminists clinging so hard to that very system? Is it out of fear that if that system is found to be so easily disproved that their current identity and purpose will be thrown into question or worse, rendered irrelevant? Or is it because those who are fighting to protect such ideologies actually have some vested interest in their ongoing maintenance?

      • Male and female do objectively exist – that’s what sexual dimorphism is. Nature may not provide us with two neat and tidy categories stamped on each forehead at birth, but it does provide us with DNA that produces one of two body types in over 99% of births. You’re committing the classic continuum fallacy here – the fact that sex is not completely black and white in every case does not mean it ceases to have meaning. Biracial people exist, after all, but that doesn’t mean I could claim to be black, right?

        I’m well aware of various third gender constructs in other cultures. But every one of these cultures still recognized the idea of male and female as distinct physical states. Also, many of the examples you give come from virulently patriarchal and homophobic cultures, so I don’t think they’re a particularly persuasive piece of evidence.

        Of course my mother is more likely to be battered by my father than a stranger in a bathroom. I’m also more likely to be murdered by a relative than in a random mass shooting, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider laws against carrying AK-47s in public. I have no idea how you could argue against the “numbers game” and then say that certain laws don’t need to exist because more violence occurs in other ways. Isn’t that just a numbers game?

        My concern is for the abolition of male power. Of course I care if women are abused or harmed by other women, or if men are abused and harmed by women. But there is currently no global system of power that exists to subjugate men to women, and women aren’t responsible for 98%+ of sex crimes. Acknowledging the obvious link between male humans and violent behavior isn’t disregarding anyone else, it’s just being honest.

        The idea that disagreeing with someone’s claim about themselves is “abuse” is just silly. You certainly don’t think that it’s abuse to disagree with someone who claims they’re black but have white skin, or someone who claims they’re poor but has a million bucks in the bank. Why are women the only ones who have to bend over backwards to validate men’s delusions?

        Anyway, no, nature hasn’t shown us that sex is a “fiction,” and queer theory hasn’t given women the tools to overthrow male rule. And radical feminists don’t cling to patriarchy – they just realize that you can’t defeat it unless you’re honest about what it is. Pretending that women aren’t oppressed on the basis of sex doesn’t make that fact disappear, it just makes us unable to do anything about it.

      • And you know, even if sex was a fiction, that wouldn’t change the fact that placement into the dominant and subjugated class is still based on genitals. You could have a million sexes (you don’t, but you could) and the humans who have the sex that gives them a vulva would still be oppressed by the humans whose sex gives them penises. So I have no idea what this “sex is a fiction” argument is even supposed to prove. Melanin absolutely exists on a spectrum; there isn’t a binary there. But that doesn’t mean skin color is an identity, or that it doesn’t matter politically.

      • Lonesomeyogurt, I agree that ‘male’ and ‘female’ exist – they are discrete categories that have been socially constructed. The fact that some cultures that recognise more than two genders also happen to be “virulently patriarchal and homophobic” does not negate the fact that they also prove that a binary gender system is nothing more than a social construct.

        However, you make two statements in your latest post that I believe eloquently illustrate my overall argument: 1) “you certainly don’t think that it’s abuse to disagree with someone who claims they’re black but have white skin”; and 2) “biracial people exist, after all, but that doesn’t mean I could claim to be black, right?”

        Yes, I do think it’s abuse because I believe that I don’t have the right to determine someone else’s identity for them. As you so rightly state, melanin does exist on a spectrum (as does sex). The range of skin tones in this world is vast. If you took a DNA test you would likely find that a dizzying array of ancestors, all of which have had different skin tones, have added to the unique mix which is now you. The creation of distinct racial categories such as ‘black’ and ‘white’ is a fallacy because nature does not provide us with a purely black or white human. Therefore, if you wanted to claim to be ‘black’ you absolutely could – whether or not anyone else agrees with you is irrelevant. It is, after all, your identity to define, not mine and not anyone else’s. (As to your money example I would argue that examples such as this are all relative – if I have a million dollars in the bank and I compare myself to a billionaire than yes, I’m likely to consider myself to be ‘poor’ by comparison.)

        I think however, we have finally come to the crux of our problem. You and I are never going to agree simply because we choose to interpret the same data in two very different ways. I see a continuum of sexes based on the existence of configurations other than XX and XY. To me, the percentages in each category are irrelevant. You, however, seem to view these ‘others’ as mere pesky outliers. You acknowledge that they exist, but you relegate them to a shelf because their numbers are few.

        And if this was just a theoretical debate that would be fine. Debating alternate views is one of the best ways to grow and learn. It’s when we use our theories to enact laws that oppress and marginalise others just because we don’t agree with their life choices that it becomes an issue. At this point I have to wonder how much of the ‘bathroom issue’ (and the laws that have recently been enacted by some states in the USA as a result) is merely cultural and/or racial. I’m not aware of any other Western country that has implemented such laws – if anyone else is I’d be interested in learning which ones. Therefore, I can’t quite bring myself to believe that it’s merely a coincidence that a country that has as poor a human rights record as the US does has chosen to go down this path. Further, given how neo-Nazi-esque these laws seem to be, I’d also be interested in knowing if there are any radical feminists who support this ideology who identify with a racial category other than ‘white’.

      • If you believe that telling someone with fair skin and European ancestry they aren’t black is violence, then you and I have such fundamentally different understandings of class, power, and violence itself that I can’t see how any conversation could be fruitful. Race, class, and gender are externally imposed social categories. It is very possible to believe something about them that is wrong, and it is not violence to disagree with someone’s self-conception. We do not choose our race, or gender, or class, or height, or sex, or anything else. To believe so is liberal idealism and I want nothing to do with it.

        I’m not an individualist – I’m a political radical, who analyzes social dynamics in terms of class struggle. I believe our understanding of power dynamics in society should be based on the relationships between groups of people, not individuals. I am perfectly capable of recognizing that women sometimes harm other women, and even men, without thinking that our approach to patriarchy should ignore the vast majority of violence being done by males. I can also recognize that people sometimes bite dogs, but that doesn’t mean I think we should have a species-neutral approach to preventing maulings.

        I’m incredibly offended and confused that you would call women’s desire to be safe from male violence “Nazi-esque.” If you really look at the Nazi regime and decide that its defining factor was giving females too much control over their spaces, then either your sense of morality or history is sorely lacking. And while there are probably no radical feminists who “identify with a racial category other than white,” because radical feminists are not foolish enough to think of race as an identity, there are definitely many, many radical feminists of color. I know several myself – whereas the spoiled dudes who demand women cater to their dicks seem to be largely middle-class and white.

      • I shall assume you simply misread and/or misunderstood my questions in the final paragraph of my last post and didn’t deliberately choose to misquote me in order to simply win an argument or cast a slur on my name. Nonetheless, I believe that we have finally found a point that we can agree on – pursuit of this conversation is, unfortunately, likely to be fruitless. You say that my argument is “liberal idealism and you want nothing to do with it.” I think that probably sums things up quite nicely – I doubt you’d want anything to do with any opinion that does not mirror your own. Whilst ever you stubbornly inhabit that ground my friend you will remain stuck in the world you wish so desperately to change. Either way, I bear you no ill will and wish you good luck and good fortune in the future. It would be nice (albeit probably idealistic) to think that we could, at some future point, re-engage – if not on this issue, than on some other topic, since I have found our debate to be quite interesting.

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  1. […] that expose his opportunism and fictions. In fact, Derrick Jensen called him out but good in this response he did on Gender […]

  2. […] Source: Guest Post: Derrick Jensen Responds to John Stoltenberg […]

  3. […] already tried that once. So did Derrick Jensen. Both times, we were met with the same smug, dismissive schtick that has come to define how […]

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