If you google ‘why is the UK media so anti-trans?’ around 8 big think pieces pop up with more or less that same title. I’m not sure any of them have quite pinned it down yet, as it’s still one of the first questions we get asked by trans people in the United States. To be honest, a better question might be: why wouldn’t the UK media be so anti-trans? Or, to put it another way, who exactly invented the current concept of gender and enforced it across the world? (It’s the British Empire btw). Shout out to Sophie Lewis, who clocked this back in February 2019.
We are going to make a distinction here: when we say Britain, we are talking about the British colonial project of its empire. When we say England, we are talking about a country which is the centre of the British colonial project. Britain as a country does not exist, and we do not wish to flatten the experiences of Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh people or assume the trans experience for people in those places.
The UK, the former seat of a vast colonial power which enforced anti-homosexuality laws, erased non-western gender expressions, and exported binary gender across the world, isn’t just going to sit back and let all that hard work go to waste as trannies invade water aerobics classes from Saffron Walden to Tunbridge Wells. It seems odd to us that people are shocked about the transphobia saturating England. It reeks of British Superiority to have any idea that things really should be better than they actually are, and better than who, exactly? This notion draws from an idea of British civility and common sense as defined by the ruling class, which are in themselves one of the main causes of England’s rampant transphobia. Being trans is an affront to agreed social decency. Gender transgression is a crime. More than that, it’s impolite.
We see in other writings that sceptics and Mumsnet are pointed to as roots of the TERF chokehold, these ideologies in turn originating from eugenics and white-supremacist science invented by the British ruling class and maintained by the middle class. We cannot talk about the presence of TERFs without talking about the English class system. The Karens of Mumsnet are a gender in themselves: a gender of whiteness, a gender of the absurd and rigid English class system. Transphobia is a sense-making process of gender for and by the upper middle classes. Transphobia, posing as feminism filtered through family values, is a perfect potion to split solidarity between the middle and working classes and push social conservatism.
While it does seem bizarre that the TERFs are still banging on about trans women during a global pandemic, this actually makes a lot of sense given their class position: it’s not like they’ve got anything more pressing to get on with. They will be working from home in their secure housing, either with salaried positions, or gleefully churning up outrage to get a few more extra freelance writing gigs, live-tweeting bigotry in the corner of a ZOOM conference call. Meanwhile many trans people are quarantined with unsupportive families, our surgeries cancelled and medications delayed.
England never got round to guillotining our aristocracy (they just married into the merchant class), and then Tony Blair tried to pretend everyone became middle class in 1997 (we didn’t). Every now and then, a survey will claim that there’s 7 classes now (and 100 genders!!!!! froths at mouth). I’m not sure how useful this is as a model, but it does explain the tendency of the English class system to link taste and morality to class. We are going to try and stick to a Marxist understanding of class because we want to flex on new knowledge gained from our trans discord das capital reading group (nearly finished chapter 1, comrades!). In England, as in the world, there is the working class who exchange their labour for a wage, the middle class who have claim to the means of production (ownership, being a landlord, employing other people, generational wealth etc.) and the ruling class controlling it all (those fuckers). England does a great job at both obscuring the material conditions of class and enforcing it through a complex matrix of codes and rituals which often masquerade as cultures, a situation which partly arises out of the bourgeois obsession to simulate the culture of the landed gentry. Safe to say, though, that the majority of people in England are working class because that’s, um, how capitalism works. If anything the ‘true’ middle class has shrunk and might better be defined as ‘class traitors’. There is, however, a certain truth to ‘social capital’ in the UK, in that ‘social capital’ has far less to do with intelligence and is rather just another vague asset that is difficult to obtain. Nowhere is this more apparent than in journalism.
The media landscape in England is an historic ally of the ruling class, mainly because almost all of the successful papers were founded by capitalists in the 1800s (the Guardian was founded by cotton merchants, the Times was set up by a coal merchant). Many self-styled left-wing UK commentators and journalists came up in the 80s and 90s during the time of Thatcher, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the birth of neoliberalism. They survived this era through their complicity in the destruction of the left wing of the Labour party: both in the media praise for the formation of the centrist Social Democratic Party formed to split votes from the ‘too left’ Michael Foot Labour party, and participation in the witchhunt and subsequent expulsion of the trotskyist Militant Tendency which had been a player in both the miner’s strike solidarity movement and the anti-poll tax movement. These voices gain authenticity by reminiscing about that one time they went to an Anti Nazi League demo, and that time they were working-class in 1972 when university was free and the dole was abundant. The ‘feminist’ voices from this era who now peddle transphobia in the press were given their platforms because they posed no real threat to the media-owning class. They are a safe, centrist, middle-class parody of leftism for faux-left liberal papers. Those feminists who did work in some ways against the state (e.g. Julie Bindel's campaigns to free survivors of domestic violence from prison) often found themselves naturally allied with right wing anti-government forces, and are now given platforms to spew conservative morals posing as feminism (e.g. Julie Bindel's pro-prison, anti sex work and anti trans stances) by more classically right wing papers.
Those who struggled up under neoliberalism entered journalism as it is more precarious, less well paid and yet harder to get into. They enter in an era after the Leveson Inquiry and ‘journalist’ being synonymous with scum. They enter, nonetheless, either through family connection, hacking away for years with rent paid by daddy, or if from more humble beginnings - adopting the voice of the middle classes to then in turn become a proxy of this class, even with a paltry paycheck: through those aforementioned trappings of prestige, faux-intellect, civility and honour which cloud the material base of English class and make it so hard for outsiders to decipher.
All the people who wrote articles about why UK media is transphobic are likely middle class - because pretty much everyone in UK media is at a minimum middle class - which is why the class dynamic of transphobia doesn’t always get the investigation it needs. The middle classes absorb transphobic ‘common sense’ as much as men absorb how to hate women, although we don’t question how men know how to hate women, and we still seem to question how the middle class can hate trans people. There are attempts to seperate transphobia from other bigotries, as if it doesn't stem from the same source as homophobia, or racism - an ownership by a group of people over specific bodies and what they are allowed to do. As Juliet Jacques pointed out in her article on the subject, transphobia is an acceptably genteel form of bigotry. In fact the very idea and image of both transphobia and transness have been gentrified.
Transness has gone from something written about ludely in the Sun, to the Trans Tipping Point, to a backlash. For what is visibility except the process of being recognised by power, categorised, and what then? Sometimes power doesn’t like what it sees. Power is struggling with the decision to assimilate or exterminate trans people, and it’s easy enough to guess which trans people will get which option. The ‘trans voices’ that have any illusion of power fit easily within the UK media landscape. They too are from a specific class, white, professional and with the right kind of flexible moderate politics (if they want to keep their jobs), a few ‘exceptional' people of colour sprinkled in. This is largely applicable to any member of an oppressed group chosen to be a representative by those in power, and we can see how it does not really protect them. Trans people in media are exceptionalised either as tragic voiceless victims (suicide stats) as reactionary figureheads, or as platitude spouting celebrities platformed to solidify ideas of what a trans person is (trans influencers who rarely talk about material conditions beyond pronouns). Visibility was an experiment to see if trans people would be useful to capital, and now that we're out there are many who'd rather we go back into the shadows or die. They will point to the seemingly sudden burst of inclusion as evidence that we're taking over, and that we really need to be taken down a peg or two. It is useful to develop an equilibrium which keeps trans people floating in the privileged/abject contradiction space, because we are both neutralised by the threat of death and utilised as a sign to point towards the progressive nature of our democracy. It’s also useful, in an uncertain industry leaning towards content generation, to generate outrage as a valuable commodity. Hence, as outlined in CN Lester’s Trans Like Me, we get a weekly trans panic followed by flippantly framed and piecemeal trans visibility, followed by more trans panic, hence, sabotage Labour so the Guardian et al get to be the #resistance during another Tory government. Terfdom is championed by the same liberal centrist white feminists who, in the States, would be Team Warren, saying trans rights, saying Bernie Sanders yells, saying healthcare for some. This is why it is necessary to understand how transphobia has become such a widespread accepted bigotry, because the very same tactics can easily be used in other places too.
The UK media made us famous, then started the pile on - just like they do with all their once favoured celebrities. There is, it must be said, a predictable English bitterness to it all: a small mindedness that the media tries to keep us in, a sense of resentment that leads to calling the cops on joggers. This snideness is aspirational. It's allying yourself with the winning team.
The trans backlash doubles as a useful slander against feminism. It’s an attack on and an erasure of trans-inclusive grassroots feminist organisations like Sisters Uncut and Women’s Strike who fight for material demands such as expanding the domestic violence support and women’s shelters that TERF organisations try to block trans women from using. The TERFs are fighting a turf war to grab back the label of feminism from those working class, black, brown, trans, queer, disabled and migrant women doing the actual work: those who see the feminism in worker’s rights and the fight against austerity, those who talk about issues that affect women worst but also the not-women of the working class too. The repeat platforming of TERFs is just the governement, the capitalists they serve, and the far-right funders getting a group of white middle-class academic cis women to do their dirty work for them in exchange for a few scraps from the table in the form of tenures, columns, slots on Question Time, roles on the boards of charitable trusts. The dirty work of gender policing, but also the dirty work of suppressing and containing feminism in the hands of a toxic few lest it slip out and contaminate the proles.
It’s hardly the first time this class of white women have sold out their movement in order to block the rights of a more marginalised group. It's much more helpful to recognise this transphobia as systemic and something we've seen before, than as a weird conspiracy - a freaky side effect of Mumsnet use, something that’s been put in the water supplies of the Home Counties. When we analyse the material conditions which caused this it all makes a lot of sense, and part of terfery’s aim is to confuse us to the point where we fall into their logic (again a very English cultural thing that far predates ‘fake news’ - this is the colonial project that invented The White Man’s Burden, remember). It’s senseless to see transphobia as the sole preserve of ‘TERFs’, which is what TERFs want - in order to maintain branding - and what the mostly men in power want - to avoid accountability. To imagine that a niche offshoot of second wave radical feminists invented the idea of the predatory man in a dress ignores how deeply ingrained this trope is in English society, which is how TERFs were able to exploit people’s fears to gain traction. They adapted a classic and ran with it.
Everyone is transphobic, as they are racist and so on, because they are conditioned to be so - people think that trans people (especially trans women) are a bit freaky and weird. It's no deeper than that, but TERFs have to pretend it is in order to form a politics around it, and they are given a platform to do so in order to make other transphobes feel justified in their squicky feelings. Middle-class people can't admit to base desires and feelings, far less the sickness of bigotry running through the heart of English culture, so they have to tie their bigotry to rationality.
Tbh being trans is a bit weird - we both had to admit that and then get over it in order to discover our identities. Transness is an otherness in our capitalist society, but we don’t get to really talk about that from any kind of public platform. We are trapped arguing in the middle class logic of the media for a validity that some of us don’t even subscribe to, so that we can convince the general public that TERFs, chasers and parents shouldn’t be allowed to kill us. They will never let us have a real voice on their contemporary freak shows. At least as the bearded lady we got some respect. There's no rehabilitation for this media and we should divest, as many trans people have done already. Divest, not just as a simplistic boycott of the Guardian but as a complete rejection of its logic. If this seems difficult or unappealing, I posit that our inclusion was never real to begin with and the trans people we really need to hear from were never given a seat at the table.
The noise from the press is made to isolate trans people, to make us feel like deviants and freaks because when many of us are first coming to terms with our transness that's already how we feel. It's also made to confuse cis people as to what a trans person actually is, convince them that they could never be trans, and generate hostility. This content is churned out to stop us coming out, and if we are out it wants to make us die: either from suicide, from poverty or from transphobic violence. It is cynical and purposeful. But if we are brave enough to seek out small pockets of community, we can find so much support and solidarity from our siblings. The NHS wait feels insurmountable and gatekeeping doctors scare many trans people even off the list, but amongst our community medication is shared, and self medding tips given. Many trans people in the UK know far more about which t blockers work how, and what amount of estrogen you want to take than our doctors do. It feels hard, but it can allow a certain level of self sustainability and autonomy to grow which is best practise for a trans liberation that cannot rely on any state or corporation to save us. The media is one small part of a greater system that runs from denying trans people the right to self identify to a broken healthcare system that drives us to self-med. End the media, end the system itself.
It’s a weird trans day of visibility when the country is in lockdown. What’s gender when there’s no-one to perceive you? If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to clock it, does it pass? This situation feels a lot like pre-coming out, whatever coming out means. There’s a secret in you, but nobody can see it. Dysphoria is a social condition. Dysphoria is an invention by the cis to make us feel weird, even the name is all sciencey. Our internal knowledge of ourselves butt up against how others perceive us and we’re suddenly pathologised, and then dysphoria takes over our sense of self. But now, what’s outside anyway? And what’s trans liberation in the age of the lockdown? And why are we still dysphoric lol?
The virus has laid bare the reality of living under capitalism, and which kind of people are important. For some of us who are white and able-bodied and middle-class, this may be the first time this has been revealed. On this day of visibility we want to go beyond platitudes, because most of us are indoors anyway. We want to make our struggles visible. Many of us are trapped in housing situations where we are being misgendered and erased. Many of us have lost our long-awaited spots for life-changing gender affirming surgery and have no idea when we’ll be able to get them. Many of us don’t know where our next dose of hormones will be coming from. Many of us have lost work, are worried about paying the rent, are immunocompromised, are still having to work when we really shouldn’t.
Trans healthcare was one of the first things to be deemed non-essential by the UK government. This situation can drive us to despair, to suicidality. These are the things that need to be visible because if you’re cis you need to support us, especially right now. And we need to support each other.
In this strange moment, we’ve got a chance to breathe and to work out what being trans is. Maybe being trans isn’t just a fight for visibility, for pronouns, as important as all those things are. Maybe we need to go beyond a fuzzy undefined acceptance. Maybe we need to acknowledge that being trans is a political position, is a mitzvah, is a responsibility to change the world. It’s a lot of work, but it's a definition much more preferable to pathology, and much more expansive than everyone is valid.
We have been blessed by our transness to see the inequality in our system, to trace its cracks and see where the light shines through. Transness is mutual care, is fostering economies of exchange and love. Transness is working for the end of all systems of oppression. Transness is working for the end of capitalism. Transness is the key to the liberation of all. All of us should practice our transness, should start to dismantle the weird gender roles that have been mapped on to us, should fight for liberation.
Support trans people affected by coronavirus
The guardian would be shit even without the transphobia - it is the main source of toxic neoliberal centrist propaganda in England. It relentlessly sabotaged the possibility of a labour government that could have at least lessened some of the hardships inflicted on trans people, migrants, disabled people and benefits users by Tory austerity. Many of its articles are indistinguishable in ideology from the Sun or Telegraph.
We don't want an empty apology or inclusion in its pages - we have seen what it does with attempts to engage in the open letter signed by over 100 published next to thoughtless individual hate screeds in a 'both sides' piece.
There's an underlying assumption (from the guardian's demographic of a particular section of the cis, white middle and upper classes) that, we'd expect this from the Telegraph, we'd definitely expect this from the Sun, but how could the lovely guardian betray us? This is the insidious function of the guardian and why we must in particular resist its grasps at maintaining relevancy.
People who may read the Sun are tbh much less invested in building an identity around a newspaper, and can consume the information more critically than self described guardian readers. The assumption is the inverse, because of elitism and snobbery.
The guardian doesn't make legitimate profits and is propped up by wealthy patrons despite its claims of 'independence'. It retains reach by getting engagement on its online platform, by us sharing it even in outrage. It would be nothing without its readership, and it is good to question the intentions of those who think it is worthwhile existing at all. We can't fix a broken system, because it isn't broken - just like the capitalist model it is invested in, the guardian is working just as it wants to.
I think about death a lot. Well, I think about the end of suffering a lot and death is the easiest thing I can conceptualise about that. I'd like to say that the end of structural discrimination and social dysphoria would be easier to imagine but to be honest they're not, so instead I think about death.
Trauma is material. It collects in our bodies and binds itself to our nerves and stuffs up our synapses. Then you get stuffed up and what can you do? The system is working very well because it kills us silently. We internalise the shame. We internalise the hurt. We become overwhelmed and we need to rest but we're not allowed to so instead we think about death.
How can we be surprised that us trans girls have a suicide culture? You have infected us with suicidality. The rate of trans people attempting suicide is 41%, which jumps to 55% if you've lost a job due to bias (check), 61% if you're the victim of a physical assult (check), and 64% if you're the victim of sexual assault (check). You are killing us daily and telling us it's our own fault. You are making sure we are traumatised enough.
I want to make it clear that what happens to us is a refined, careful and clinical process to ensure the murder of trans femmes through the mechanics of suicide. Who taught these men the same script? Who taught my employers? My doctors? My apparent lovers? How did everyone know who to hurt and how?
Before the transition was the dysphoria and the disassociation. The disassociation wasn't easier, but I was much much angrier then and I was frozen and people thought I was a man. It's normal for men to feel nothing. With the understanding of myself, then the hormones, the dysphoria lifted and the social punishment began, with such a fervour that I couldn't have believed before.
I know I'm happy. I was a happy kid. I'm a happy adult. I love my partner and they love me. I love my friends. I love my sisters. I love how my body is changing. I love being alive. But the daily pressure, the struggle, is so wearing that I often think of death as a way to calm down because it is a space where I feel in control. And I don't think that's normal.
I sometimes wonder if it's the hormones rewriting my brain chemistry, making me feel way more than I can handle. It's a weird syncretic thing, transitioning. Where do my feelings start and the hormones end? This ambiguity is very beautiful and should be seen as such. My changes are beautiful and should be seen as such. They should not be used as weapons against me.
I don't believe in passing. I don't believe in gender. I reject, in my heart, the confines that cisness has put on me. But I want them very badly, because it will make me safe and because I want people to see that I'm beautiful. I cannot imagine a crueller thing, to take that simple desire and to kill me with it.
We only survive through each other’s love and care (I love all my sisters and siblings). We only survive because we know we are right and they are wrong. We must survive and we must end this violence, this system of colonial capitalism that feeds itself on the bodies of trans women and femmes. One group among many. I insist that we survive. I say that in our survival we thrive and your system is coming to an end.
In a 2017 model and ‘activor-activist’ Rain Dove gave a TED talk called ‘Gender Capitalism’. A Gender Capitalist, they explain, is anyone who identifies as whatever gender is most advantageous to them at the time. They ‘capitalise’ on different ‘opportunities given to people based on their perceived sex or gender’. In their (at the time pronouns weren’t important to Dove, for pronouns are just noises and what Dove listens for in those noises is POSITIVITY) life it’s been, among the more interesting things (which turned out to be largely falsified in a classic youtuber cry-confession masquerading as #radicalhonesty), working as a model for both menswear and womenswear campaigns. Dove gives the bizarre example of the sinking of the Titanic: pass as a man and join the ship as a deckhand to make $$$, when the ship starts sinking whip your tits out and get on a lifeboat.
Everyone should be a gender capitalist, and everyone can be a gender capitalist because Dove is ‘not talking trans...plastic surgery or anything weird like that’. Cis people should be trans, but do it better. do it so well that it’s not a trans thing, it's a capitalist thing, which is fine. Dove identifies as a gender capitalist first, and non-binary second - only one of these labels is present on their public social media profiles.
Jill Soloway was a cis-het passing woman who made a TV show about a trans parent (geddit) and cast an abusive, cis het man in the role. Jill is non-binary and queer, by their own words, partly because they ‘want to be not cis’. Jill writes in their own memoir of the way they asked actor Trace Lysette, a trans woman and former sex worker, not to come forward with abuse claims against Jeffrey Tambor because it would ruin their TV show. This very cissy behaviour doesn’t make them cis, but it might make them a Gender Capitalist.
Let’s pause for a hot sec (don’t worry we’ll get back to the narrative soon) and acknowledge that gender is only truly accessible for white people. Race, and the huge variety of different racialised bodies that white colonialism has defined and created, is in itself an unchosen imposed gender position. We could go into the traumatic histories of the creation of those genders but LET’S NOT in this small hot-take but, for some more specific examples for the yts at the back: Black womanhood is gendered as masculine/non-feminine, Jewish and Arab and South Asian masculinity is gendered as feminine/non-masculine and implicitly homosexual, and so on and so on. Whiteness is the abstract which can invent gender, articulate it, and grant genders onto others. Plz read this take thru that lense and don’t be a white supremicist thnx appreciate ur time bbz. Back 2 scheduled programming.
I’ve been a gender capitalist. I’m just not very good at it. At work, in my Front of House role, I ‘pretend’ to be non-binary and use they/them pronouns, when I’ve been getting closer to non-binary transmasc and they/he. I do this because the cis people at work don’t take non-binary that seriously, they don’t really know what it means, it doesn’t feel that deep. Their idea of non-binary on someone like me (white, thin, not visibly disabled, young) is kind of ‘woman+’ and tied to aesthetics. That’s fucked up, and I don’t support it, but I pass as a certain idea of non-binary because it is advantageous to me at certain moments where I don’t want to explain how I really feel. I’ve also wondered about how being transmasc will affect my access to womens spaces, I’m worried about being cast out on a technicality and being stranded unable and ugh unwilling to access men’s spaces (the toilets smell innit). When people know I’m transmasc, they greet me with a handshake and tbh its weird, and when people greet Hava they hug her which is also weird, (and possibly a product of white women feeling an entitlement to welcome graciously into womanhood bodies they could read as non-white, whereas i get to be whateeeever i wanttttt). No one hugs me anymore. I have many non-binary feelings but don’t exclusively identify that way partly because I do not like the aesthetic, and what (cis) people will associate with me if I take on this label. I feel the same way about masculinity. None of them quite fit so I pick the least worst, I try to compromise, which is necessary given my position of exchanging my labour for a wage. Although to be honest, being trans hasn't been the worst thing for my career, even if it’s probably been the worst thing for my life. I'm currently on transition leave, which should be a standard but feels like a privilege, and sometimes I even worry that I'm not trans and am doing it for the time off work, because transness should feel like suffering. Simultaneously, if someone I work with 'pretended' to be trans to get this leave I'd be like GET IN SON.
Cis people also have wierd gender feelings. People often say ‘everyone is non-binary’ and they’re not rlly wrong, but they probably mean everyone feels wierd under gender, because gender is wierd! Everyone is non-binary, but high profile non-binary people who say that everyone is non-binary will probably not appreciate their gigs being taken by cis-passing people who feel a bit wierd. How much of this is - we all feel that way - and how much is it capitalism desperately trying to absorb gender variance after trying to crush it for hundreds of years?
The way Rain Dove allegedly hoaxed a kind of trans suffering (getting attacked in a toilet) to a largely cis audience of online followers makes me think that, despite their supposed questioning of labels, they still felt pressure to perform a kind of ‘non-binary-ness’ and gender fluidity as validated by the cis. This is not the first reported ‘hoax’ of trans-ness that mixes rightly questioning a public figure’s privilege with policing their identity. The way transness is seen by cis society means that any time a trans person is perceived to be lying about anything, their transness is also cast in to question. Laura Albert writing under the alter-ego ‘JT Leroy’ to express gender feelings is quite a trans mood, just not the kind of trans the cis had thought. Recently a Goldsmiths tutor was accused of ‘pretending to be non-binary’ which is wierd considering the cis think that all non-binary people are pretending to be non-binary. The reaction highlighted the kind of coming out story we expect from non-binary trans people, the way it is policed, the behaviour expected, the desexualisation of perceived non-binaryness and how unthinkingly people turn to vitriol when this path is not followed. It shows an expectation of the correct way to be non-binary, which is now a gender capitalist way.
Bit wierd to assume that anyone who id’s (even for a while/even for a weekend/even for instagram) as trans is cis, and I think shows a lack of understanding of what transness is and how it functions, something we are all suffering from at the moment. It expects a performance of authenticity that derives both from a history of cis gatekeepers (and an unquestioning naturalisation of their rules), as well as (more recently) the way neoliberal capitalism expects us to perform our selfhoods. The division of the economic sphere and the home sphere (public/private) allowed for the possibility of different states of being, whereas neoliberalism has collapsed these boundaries into a marketplace where selfhood must never slip lest it lose its stock value.
What makes a ‘real’ non-binary person? We are told it’s not dysphoria and it’s not medicalisation, which it isn’t. But that messaging, a legit response to boot-licking transmedicalist ideology, has been warped in to non-binary = non-medicalised/non-dysphoric, which is not very helpful to non-binary people with dysphoria who want to access medical help, who are often forced in to binary modes of transition to access HRT and surgeries (like Maz!). If everyone is non-binary like some trans celebs have said, that means that we are claiming the binary doesn't fit anyone - which means that everyone is trans. But everyone's material experience of that will be different, and that can be uncomfortable to sit with.
Being trans doesn’t make you a good person, and it doesn’t automatically make you an expert on gender - not even your own. There are all sorts of wacky feelings tied up within it that can manifest in potentially icky ways. Coming out is messy and difficult, and one’s gender can never be sealed in a vacuum away from any other part of a person’s being or their context. A person's transness will be affected by the way they start and this will in turn affect how they transition or how they are not able to transition. An academic trans person’s transness will be shaped by their position as an academic (hey paul remember me?). An overacheiver’s transness will be defined by their overachieving. An opportunist’s transness will be defined by their opportunism. A white person's transness will be very different from a person of colour's transness. A posh person's transness will be very different from a working class person’s. Transness doesn't erase existing privileges.
A lot of us transes don't really know what we are up to lol. We are all, in a way, doing gender capitalism, finding the least worst option in a broken system. I don’t know why I have this feeling, and I don’t really think I can separate it from capitalist control. Everyone’s grasping to find some kind of gender euphoria, everyone is trying very hard to be our gender, are any of us really that cis?
I imagine we see transness as a feeling, but why couldn't transness also be an action? And if we start policing people’s transness, where does that lead? And why would we start doing transness as a performance/any more than gender is already performed? Why does anyone do anything under capitalism? For money, power, glory babe.
There’s an overdue outrage bubbling at the monetising of the trans experience, which has been allowed to be misdirected away from the people considered to be ‘really trans’ who exploit their transness for money: when Jacob Tobia et al do an Uber sponsored post or when 2 trans chancers start an instagram account and then open a patreon ;). The right lube is a gender capitalist project, as much as we resist it and as much as everything is. Cis people follow us and benefit from our thoughts, probably take them in to their own marketplace of ideas and profit from them much more than we ever could. It's understandable, then, why trans people would want to jump over this gatekeeping and sell their own ideas directly to the source.The world is burning but hey, Jacob Tobia’s memoir is being turned into a limited series! I can’t wait to watch it, that is if I’m still alive.
There was a tweet circulating online that companies should hire trans people because we don't have any family to go to for holidays so we will always be available to work. I don't think this tweet is far from the truth. Trans people are still so vulnerable and cut off from traditional support systems that we are a perfect candidate for new virulent forms of capitalism. We do not need time off to see family, the legend goes, we need a constant stream of money to buy our hormones while we wait 5 years for the GIC, and/or perhaps a constant stream of money to buy ‘gender-neutral’ or ‘affirming’ products increasingly aimed at us under the impression that we are desperate for any validation we can get. We are so used to being disrespected that companies think they can do the work of treating us with the same contempt they treat everyone else and be met with gratitude.
Non-binary identity in particular is undergoing a targeted assault by capitalism to neutralise its threat and assimilate it. At some point capitalism decided that non-medicalised non-binary bodies are no longer radical, and now any attempts to be radical through that identity falls short. Aesthetic tells of non-binary transness is reflected back to us in fashion ads and on buses. And it's the Gender Capitalists who have done that deal with capitalism, and made a decision on behalf of all to become the new favoured group to save capitalism from itself and open up a whole new endless market. Capitalism wants to forge a non-binary gender role as demanding and constricting as male and female. More gender = more capitalism.
The Gender Capitalist claims identities which pre-existed itself and shrinks them down and categorises them. Everything's been eaten by something positioning itself as the centre and then works outwards. It breaks up solidarity and erodes knowledge of gender’s complex multiple histories. This is not what non-binary transness was meant to do, its function was (or should have been) to exist as another umbrella term: for the Fairies, queens, he-shes, butches, genderqueerness the older identities, ones erased by a consolidation of selfhoods into a more easily consumable category. And to move away from Western-centric identities, colonial capitalism has already erased indigenous genders by genociding indigenous cultures and forcing assimilation on the survivors. It’s been said before, but these pre-existing indigenous genders have often been used as examples of ‘authentic’ non-binary experience and have been claimed as a sort of heritage by non-indigenous people so that they can validate their identity in to a capitalist model. But how can we separate contemporary transness from its formulation under capitalism, why do we assume it can somehow free us from our context?
Marsha P Johnson was a transvestite and challenged the binary through personal identity, sure, but also with ACTION (like housing+feeding+clothing trans kids in the STAR home at 213 E. 2nd Street, paying the rent through street-based sex work, and of course fighting cops). The self is radical, but when we say that it suggests that we don't have to do anything else. When the self is radical it should be continued til the point of realising that the self can only be emancipated when everyone else is.
If queerness is anything it's a refusal to be identified by power. Queerness is an action, not an identification. This neoliberal classification of queerness as a fixed identity is a hostile takeover of queerness that we must resist, and the call is coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE. Queerness can joyfully hold two contrary things at once, and of course capitalism would want to steal this handy skill. Queerness opens up and breaks language, of course capitalism would want to be able to do this as artfully as a queer performance poet. Capitalism is killing us, some of us, but it is much easier to assimilate than to exterminate. Currently, power seeks to do both - we must examine closely who gets to assimilate (predominantly white people and upper class people), and examine how this assimilation is not the same as safety or the full realisation of the self.
What's the difference between the Gender Capitalist activist and the actual activist? Well you probs haven't actually heard of the activist, at least while they're alive (cus when ppl die anything is up for grabs). Many of us know STAR, Marsha, Sylvie, Stormé DeLarverie or at least a celeb-a-fied memory of them, but many of their comrades are still living and still doing the work. Their names don't jump to the tongue, the names of trans celebrities do. Less famous or non-famous queers strive their best to follow the tactics of people like Rain Dove and end up replicating toxic individualist behaviour under the guise of being the next Marsha or Sylvie. And it's not really fair to expect the work of activism to be done by a few chosen creatives and celebrities: many do not define as activists, many dispute this label - but they have definitely benefited from this tag and the fame they've been given at the expense of activists. Such people are unable to even use their platform to promote activism, because they have been purposefully exceptionalised and extracted from their communities and now do not live in the same world as the activists. Activism, like it's always been, is applying consistent pressure to the system to change it for the benefit of everyone. The Gender Capitalist's activism is fronted by themselves and for their own profit and clout. It has no discernible aim or demand as its primary focus, except often visibility and superficial change, and individuals imperceptibly changing their minds. This is not those people's fault, it is how these things work. It's not just true of trans politics, we've seen it with feminism - and these are not unrelated. The gender binary was created to make an unwaged/low-waged group of people (usually women), and now that this has somewhat fractured it makes sense to absorb gender variance in to new forms of economic labour and of market value. If capitalism can have women workers and women exploiters, why not invite trans men and women to this binary of oppression? Why not have non-binary workers and non-binary exploiters? Why not non-binary consumers? They would be missing out on a section of the workforce and a whole new market, and if they did not make steps to assimilate this section it could be a big problem further down the line.
Most white women in power were just good gender capitalists in the 80s and 90s. A lot of TERF logic is just anger at being overlooked by a better capitalist model. Resentment is one of the main tools capitalism uses to disrupt solidarity which is why you find most TERF arguments coming from privileged white cis women in academies, not working class cis women who r often like lol join the club sis. The TERF war is a turf war, their logic is one of suffering and they need to suffer so that they don't feel as if they are the ones who are tyrants, which they are. So, to maintain their delusion, they need capitalism to sustain a supply of correctly oppressed bodies (yt cis women) and a supply of correctly oppressive bodies (cis men), who can go through the motions of oppression. They require the contradiction that, for everything they gain, their goal is still as distant as it ever was. This delusion is needed in order to sustain their newly minted privilege, and to feel less than zero empathy for others oppressed by the same system. That's why TERFs always side with their oppressor, (many TERF organisations are funded by right wing Christian fundamentalists, many TERFs ally themselves with fascists) because they wrongly fear that in not doing so they would lose everything. It's bad for TERFs to have full gender liberation because the emancipation of all women would destroy their victim status, and emancipation of all men would destroy their enemy. It's also bad for Gender Capitalists to have gender liberation, because gender liberation would render gender variance common and accessible to all. It's bad for capitalism to have full gender liberation because who would have babies, who would be paid less, who would be easily expendable (obviously racialized people as ever lol - Hava xx)? TERFs position themselves as gender experts, and gender capitalists are also pushed in to this role, so both would suffer from everyone owning and knowing their own genders. We live in stasis of pitched battles, one against the other, which is used as a distraction to mask a necro-economic state of perpetual crises moving further towards absolute collapse. True solidarity means working against your own immediate best interests for the emancipation of all.
We need not fret 2 hard: many a Gender Capitalist does not actually like capitalism and probably truly believes they are working against it: that what they are doing is the most they can do because they have been fed a messaging of despair, still in survival mode despite how glamorous their life looks. It's no surprise that among the most famous gender capitalists, many are not white, many are trans femme, and some seem to be from working class backgrounds. They are not able to just walk away the way, for example, Shon Faye has said she could afford to do. They are unable to access a life outside of the gender that capitalism is creating for them. They are objectified to the point where their identity is the only thing they have and is completely tied up in a market value they have no control over. Their images are used to prop up a system they do not wish to partake in, are pointed to as evidence that things are getting better. Some non-binary influencers, when they get a chance, say good stuff which is then sanitised and picked apart for soundbites. Many had better politics when they enjoyed less of the perks of capitalism. Many are pushed into the position of delivering uncontroversial platitudes about gender for product sponsorships which are designed to get more reach than anything else they do. Many are getting fed up with visibility.
Visibility often provokes hostility, because it puts trans people out in public. And people see a famous tran on a magazine cover or at an awards show and they think, ‘what are those lot still complaining about? They’ve got everything they wanted, they’re in Vogue!’. This is the more insidious function of visibility, because it makes people think that by hating trans people they are hating someone more privileged than them. This can also point to why black and brown trans people are often put in this space instead of white trans people, to serve a double purpose in devaluing valid critiques of the inherent racism of both capitalism and the West. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that most ppl with the non-binary aesthetic are white and AFAB which is a positionality that grants certain genderqueer presentation a level of safety in the cis world we live in. It’s also interesting that most non-binary trans celebs are people of colour. Mid-career gender capitalists may be safe on stage, they may be safe on screen and on the page, but many are still unsafe on the streets - and what happens when the assimilation process has sated itself and the chosen few trans people aren’t needed anymore? Non-white trans celebs can’t truly assimilate: they are being used as disposable tools in a last ditch attempt to save late capitalism. And what are they saving late capitalism from? A mutation in to fascism, which is an easy fit for those that benefit from the current system, but a disaster for everyone else.
Just as capitalism wants us for its saviour, there are those on the left that want trans people to be the new class of oppressed people to lead the revolution. This is not only an unfair expectation but an unrealistic one. We can't base a struggle solely on a category that sits above class, race and a host of other intersecting oppressions (spoiler alert it's still gotta b the proletariat). We can't expect every black trans femme to be Marsha P Johnson, and hold certain trans people to higher standards than, for example, a rich white afab enby. We need to find the differences between those trans people who are scabs and those who are just trying to live: people's actions in relation to intent, and their proximity to money and power.
Phrasing floats through the internet claiming our trans elders as martyrs to the cause by people who are martyring their identities for late capitalism. This is no fair exchange, if only because it is too late to save capitalism - it has been too late for decades. The capitalists are using us: we are the multicultural metropoles that ruined the Labour party, we are the threat to family values that are always returned to as long as capitalism shudders along in its failing death rattle. They will never accept us, and we should not want them to. We don’t want to be the saviours of a dying system built on the death of most of the world. We cannot allow the capitalists to decide the logic of transness, to dictate to us our languages and our ways of being. We can’t let them in on our secret so that some of us can get/stay middle class or even better, rich and famous.
‘Abolishing’ or ‘expanding’ gender is a much easier thing to do under capitalism than ending race or ending class itself. For capitalism to undo racialised violence is for it to admit that it is a fundamentally evil system built by genocide and slavery, which continues. For class to end capitalism must also stop functioning. Gender could have been over in the industrial revolution, but it was useful to keep enforcing. Maybe it won’t be useful to them in the same way anymore, maybe it’s more an aesthetic tell than a social role, as our social spaces and lives are increasingly destroyed by work and consumption. Gender is continuingly being revised to serve a system which thrives by pretending the way things are now are the way things have always been, simultaneously that the way things are now are better than they have ever been, simultaneously that things now are worse than ever before. Abolishing gender without abolishing Capitalism would be, err, not very fun babes.
Transness offers a far-reaching solidarity. Trans is a feeling of not being at home in your assigned gender, and why would anyone feel at home in our current western capitalist binary construction of gender? The gender I have moved to doesn’t really feel like home either, but wtf is home in a time of crisis. I don’t own my home, and I don’t own my gender either. Who does?
Gender Nihilism (https://libcom.org/library/gender-nihilism-anti-manifesto)
Trans Visibility Won’t Save us (https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/alexverman/trans-visibility-wont-save-us?ref=bfnsplash)
Wages for transition (https://medium.com/@harrygiles/wages-for-transition-dce2b246b9b7)
Black on both sides, C Riley Snorton (book)
Females, Andrea Long Chu (book)
Wanted to link to an article that since been deleted about settler colonialism and gender in the US, here is a podcast with the author, Chat starts at 04.30 (https://revolutionaryleftradio.libsyn.com/settler-colonialism-and-decolonization-a-communist-perspective)