Still waiting for that bus (to fall under)

In October of last year, I wrote that metaphorically, I’m waiting for a bus to fall under. I made a few assertions that I honestly believe, but which have got other people – particularly women – in trouble when expressed.

By rights, at least by the standards of a lot of the discourse I’ve seen over the past couple of years, someone should have called me a transphobe, but nobody has. It’s not like I went out of my way to be inconspicuous either.

While I may have avoided inflammatory rhetoric, or strong claims that I’m not sure I can commit to, or statements that serve as answers to questions that I think are malformed, the post from last October was shared on social media by “known TERFs”. I saw the traffic come in, and yes, some of it may have been channeled via social media “bubbles”, but there was enough traffic from either open circulation or sources that have been ideologically policed, for me to be able to suspect an impending “TERFening”. And yet it didn’t occur.

I’m not actually intending to make a habit of harping on about transgender politics in future. This isn’t my gig. I’m not a stakeholder and I have other things I do want to write about. I’ve only got involved this far in because I think some of the elements that are pathological within trans-activism are generalizable, present in other forms of activism, and it’s these generalizable problems that I’m particularly interested in. While I’ll address these problems again in future, I can’t and won’t guarantee that it’ll be in reference to trans activism.

I’m nobody’s soldier in this, and all the blame here is my own, just so you know where to lay it.

However, because I didn’t get any tar, nor so much as a single feather the last time around, and because I want to be quite clear about where I stand for anyone who harbors any suspicions, I feel I should re-iterate. Allow me to repeat, re-phrase and add a few assertions more bluntly this time around:

  • Having an interest in dolls or the colour pink does not make a child a girl. Boys can and do like these things on occasion too, and would more often, only they’re discouraged from doing so.
  • It’s not bigotry for people to refuse to have sex with someone else, irrespective of whether or not that someone else is a member of an oppressed group. Sexual intercourse is not a part of the commons to be dolled out via social justice campaigns.
  • Nobody is obliged to find penises sexually attractive. Nobody.
  • “Women have a right to abortions” is a legitimate political statement.
  • The concept of the “cotton ceiling” may not have originally been intended as rape-cultured, but it’s at least acquired that status.
  • Telling women on social media to suck your cock because they disagree with you makes you a misogynist.
  • Without assuming gender essentialism, “cis” doesn’t mean anything.
  • Sexual discrimination, as distinct from gender discrimination, exists and is enforced by implicit and explicit gender roles, sexist laws and institutional biases.
  • Intersex people exist.
  • The violent individuals who bash trans people in public toilets are far more likely to be men who don’t read Germaine Greer or Julie Bindel than women who do. They’re far more likely to be men who are far more likely to pay attention to the likes of Jeremy Clarkson and Sam Newman (i.e. not feminists).
  • Whatever their mistakes, laying blame upon radical feminists for the actions of violent men they have no influence over is disingenuous at best.

Each of the above statements has met at least two of three selection criteria to be listed, the first two criteria being necessary, and the third optional; I actually believe the statement; I have seen people castigated by purportedly liberal-left or radical-left individuals for expressing the statement , and that I have seen a good number of my reflexively GLBT-supporting friends essentially making the same statement themselves.

If the above really does make me a transphobe, and you happen to be one of my lefty friends reading it, the odds are that you’re a transphobe too and I’ve seen you being it. Congratulations. Although I suspect the odds are that you’re less likely to be called on it if you’re a man, you never know. I’ll leave you to ponder what you’ve done wrong, because obviously I’m not going to be able to enlighten you, what with thinking all of the above is just lemon-peachy.

Trans acquaintances reading this will likely already know about this far better than I could articulate, possibly having been told that they’re self-loathing transphobes for expressing similarly verboten sentiments. (From where I’m sitting, this kind of condemnation looks an awful lot like calling vanilla-gendered men “misandrist beta cuck mangina” just because they happen to believe in enthusiastic consent, personal boundaries and so-on.)

As for those who I’m not acquainted with, I suspect either you’ve got enough here to judge me by, or you’re not inclined to judge. If you are inclined to judge, but can’t find anything objectionable, I’m sure you can copy and paste something from somewhere that makes you feel suitably righteous. Either way, it’s your call, and I can leave things at this point knowing that I’ve been forthright and open.

If it comes to it, please be decent to one another in the comments. I’ve seen this stuff get nasty before. Now if you’ll excuse me, a bus has got me to catch.

~ Bruce

Waiting for a bus (to be thrown under)

Okay, so I do have a low profile in the remnants of the Oz blogosphere these days, and I’ve got a block list on Facebook that’s over a hundred-and-fifty-strong. Still, it’s not as if a few people of (largely self-constructed) virtuous standing don’t know who I am, or how to find me.

And it’s not as if I haven’t made comments that should rile these people. Yet, I’ve been left alone. People haven’t got the message that I’m persona non grata. Allow me to make a few more inflammatory comments that I regard as true, in one convenient place so as to incriminate myself. As I’m not trying to convince anyone, but rather trying to get them to condemn me, I’m not going to put too much effort into justifying myself.

***

Not all oppression is based on identity. Do you think the oppression suffered by pigs entails their identity as porcine? An organism doesn’t need to be self-regarding in order to be oppressed – it doesn’t require an ego, just nerve endings and oppressive surroundings. Oppression can be and often is arbitrary and indifferent to people’s inner states. Sure, the likes of fascists can and do attempt to author the identities of the people they oppress, and it’s even possible to harmfully foist an identity on another inadvertently, but while often relevant, identity isn’t a necessary criteria of oppression. The humans who oppress pigs aren’t trying to get the pigs to identify as tasty, they’re just trying to eat them, and indifferently going about a lot of cruelty in the process.

Women have a right to abortions. Among atheists who still read anything I publish, and wonky sorts from the Australian blogosphere of ten years ago, this statement probably reads as a repudiation of right-wing misogyny and/or religious fundamentalism. But if you think this is all a-okay, and that’s all there is to it, then congratulations, you’re probably a bigot like me too. The transgression here is that the statement says “women”. If you don’t make like Planned Parenthood and erase the mention of “women” from your references to abortion, then you’re probably a “TERF”.

Oppressed people can still be bad people, and their oppression doesn’t justify it. There are a hundred and one reasons why this is true; even in Nazi concentration camps, some Jews turned on their fellow oppressed, and collaborated with the guards; some politically motivated workers treat other workers like useful idiots, while yet other oppressed workers willfully scab off of the labour of the rest of their class. Some folks go further. Some canny members of oppressed classes realize that Good Sheltered People have a propensity to downplay the bad behaviour of members of oppressed classes, and exploit this failing to help prey on their own. Keep your eye out for this latter variety when dealing with spokespersons who provide a few too many bromides for their benefactors, but little in the way of benefit for the groups they’re speaking for; they’re a dime a dozen at some arts festivals.

And then there’s vengeance; a fantasy in the hearts of some that after liberation, a whole new category of oppressed people will be manufactured for the delectation of hungry sadists, often involving walls folks will be up against after a good scapegoating, Animal Farm style.

If your purported sympathies for trans women go so far as to be even equivocal in your condemnation of the concept of the “cotton ceiling”, then you’re fundamentally not competent to protect anyone from rape culture; trans or otherwise. I’ll just let you Google “cotton ceiling” (warning: probably NSFW).

Everyday Feminism is a pseudo-leftist publication. Really, the tip-off for anyone politically-minded, over 40, and hailing from countries further left than the US, should be terms like “social entrepreneur”. The editorial direction is also loose to the point of being unprincipled, and enables some of the worst navel-gazing solipsism to ever be dressed up as social justice activism. And how do you work against rape culture while also trying to create an accepting and nurturing climate for apaths and cluster-B personalities, un-partitioned, in the very same sphere?

The Huffington Post can climb into the same bin, on account of its habit of not paying interns and writers. Sharing “progressive” articles from these sites is like sharing “science” articles from The Mind Unleashed.

Solidarity matters. Apparently solidarity entails telling people to suppress their interests to better serve the alliance. Call me odd, but I don’t think you have to break solidarity in order to combat things like racism and sexism within the left. Rather, combatting things like racism and sexism in the left actually buttresses solidarity, because racism and sexism are some of the most effective means of divide and conquer tactics ever deployed against oppressed populations.

If you’re a Vegan because of the way the dairy industry handles bobby calves, but you embrace the sex industry despite its involvement in human trafficking, you’ve got one hell of a blind spot. I can’t believe how often I’ve seen Vegans failing to generalize this kind of analysis, all while managing to be condescending to people who do. (Disclosure: I don’t eat meat or dairy).

“Not In My Name” is a shitty slogan used by self-absorbed people. I thought the purpose of opposing things like offshore detention was the welfare of refugees, not the status of sheltered white people’s reputations. The self-focus is caustic to solidarity, if not annoyingly vain, and centers discussion away from the purported cause. Apparently holding this view about the phrase makes you a right-wing hawk, so be careful not to sympathize too much, here.

Pole Dancing Doesn’t Seem Very Feminist. Just because it’s athletic, and  you have a right to it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cater to the male gaze by design. Maybe feminists will devise a new form that’s more feminist, and it may even turn out to be an erotic performance of sorts, but it won’t be without the kind of subversion that does away with catering to the male gaze (and a whole lot less “#SundayBumday”). Call me an obtuse “whorephobe”, but I can’t help but think that a pole dance, or any expressive dance that aims to be feminist, would not render women as objects, but instead express their subjectivity in some manner.

Validation isn’t respect. How many women have failed in their attempts to leave an abusive relationship, at least in-part because their partner has psychologically whittled them down to the point of becoming dependent on a drip-fed supply of validation? If something is truly liberatory, in respect of validation, then it’ll let you validate yourself. It won’t get you hooked on affirmations, click-bait memes, shallow compliments, crappy products, feel-good subscriptions, quick-fix “self-help” gimmickry, and the phony respect people get out of things like “#SundayBumday”.

A lot of the affirmation given by, and on occasion expected from “good allies”, is validation dressed up as respect. Be wary of it.

“Brand-conscious narcissism” is a thing. This is a part of the supererogated “identifying” that’s a problem for the left, above and beyond the whole becoming-yourself egoist shtick better suited to fans of Nietzsche and Ayn Rand; it’s great for selling values in the marketplace. Selling them after watering them down, that is, and packaging them with other superfluous, or even pathological commodities. “Here, buy some pole wear and show everyone just how validated you are on #SundayBumday by thinly veiling your sphincter for the boys on Instagram. #SexPositive #Feminist”. If you want to see where the narcissism comes into it, just point out to these people – especially the guys on the sidelines – that “sex-positivity” is just a brand, whereby people get to perform the ordinary as if worthy of attention and praise.

People like sex.  Look at the human population of Earth. Yes, some folks are sexually repressed, and that’s bad, but it’s telling just how often you run into the slur of “sex-negative” being fired off at people who aren’t at all ashamed of their sexuality. If you’re a narcissist surrounded by people who like to fuck and are unashamed of it, and you need to stand out, then you need to brand yourself better; you’ll need to identify; “Sex Positive!” Never mind the similarities to calling women “prude” for not fucking you.

The commodification and debasement of left-wing values doesn’t require a conspiracy of capitalists, although people in advertising very well do take advantage (e.g. Greenwashing, Whole Foods, etc.) All it requires is the appearance of a progressivism desirable to people with egos, money and a willingness to publicly identify with the product, and the market will do the rest. Resemblance to actual left-wing values is only necessary in as far as required to sell shit, and beyond that, is purely coincidental.

There aren’t “boy brains” and “girl brains”. There isn’t a sex-based preference for blue or pink. That’s neurosexism. More on that here. (Warning: Watching the linked video may make you a “TERF”).

If your feminism “will be intersectional or it will be bullshit”, and you haven’t read Crenshaw and/or Dorothy E. Smith, then you’ve admitted your feminism is bullshit (and probably culturally appropriated). I’m just going to leave this one here for the irony. No analysis. Sorry (not sorry). Google is your friend.

***

Normally I wouldn’t be so ‘splainy, but for quite some time now I’ve been waiting for the bus I’m supposed to have been thrown under and it still hasn’t arrived. I belong under that bus. I’ve said The Things.

So go ahead and call me a “TERF” or a “whorephobe” or a “shitlord”, just don’t address me personally if that’s your take; I don’t owe you that. Shun me if that’s the case. Add me to your block-lists. Unfriend or unfollow me on social media. Dis-approve of my person. Don’t put me on your Christmas list. I’m not “woke” or “with it” or one of the cool kids, and I don’t care to be. I will insist though, if you’re going to consider me at all, that you give me the same degree of smear you’d give to women for writing what I have. I’m rather over this particular form of special treatment I seem to be getting.

If on the other hand, you think any of what I’ve written above is even defensible, but you still treat claims of “TERF” status, “whorephobia” and crypto-right-wingedness as self-evident, semantically obvious and unchallengeably evil, well, you may want to consider the possibility of contradictions in your political view, or that there are definitions of “TERF”, “whorephobe” and “right-wing” in circulation that  you don’t actually agree with. I’ll leave dealing with that up to you.

Honestly though, I have no idea just how representative these people are. I don’t know how they poll in their constituent groups; I don’t know how common their views are, statistically speaking. They could be a loud minority within their respective populations, or they could very well be the majority. I’ve seen dissenters within these groups get abused and dehumanized on the basis of having said some pretty anodyne stuff, but I don’t know what proportion of their community these dissenters make up. Maybe the dissenters are a silent majority.

My beef is with the people adopting these contortions and absurdities, whatever their number, not with their communities as a whole. If you don’t like that, well, you don’t like it. I’m not here to be liked, I’m not obliged to be, and I’d rather that we not waste each other’s time pretending otherwise. Now please do throw me under that bus.

~ Bruce

“The Left”, Capitalists and Identity Politics

I’m not entirely sure where to start on this one. I’ve got all the parts, but they are many, the order in which they should be arranged is largely dependent on what I’m responding to, and what I’m responding to seems muddled and riddled with contradiction. I’m pretty sure that after assembly, I’ll have bits left over ala post-Ikea nightmare.

Bringing the summary to the introduction, I’d say something along the lines that the left has been entered through sheer declaration, by folks who seem too at-ease with the profit motive, and too unfamiliar with history of arguments and political camps within the left.

I’m not entirely averse to profit myself I’ll confess, especially when the alternative is loss and potential subsequent malnourishment and homelessness. I’m not overly happy with the system, but I’ll comply with the economic coercion – I can’t deny being complicit in that respect.

This isn’t about ideological purity so much as it’s broadly about the nature and purpose of left-wing politics in light of newer ideological developments. I’m not so sure where I fall into the scheme of things myself anymore, although I do still cast a wide net when defining “The Left”. My definitions, while still showing some resemblance to the “New Left” of the 20th century, may also seem at least a little obscure. People may wish to exclude me from the Truest of True Lefts, and I’m not sure I’d have a problem with that. This isn’t a pissing competition.

Before I directly address what I’m actually responding to, as a form of confession and calibration, I’ll disclose a few potentially contentious assumptions, positions and attitudes relating to the topic in general. I can be dismissed up-front on that basis, if you so please.

This will be wordy. The funnier bits are towards the end.

***

A Few Assumptions About The Left

Technology: In some cases technology is essential to left-wing progress, while in other areas merely beneficial. There’s no point in simply changing people’s values if after such alteration, they still don’t have the material means to bring about subsequent social change. In other instances, people may have the means, but not the inclination to alter their values and practices, technology sometimes offering an lazy way to get things done; green electricity is easier for a lot of people to live with, than no electricity. I’m not about to stop blogging to go live in some candle-lit Luddite commune. Some folks would shit-can me out of the Left as a liberal-technocrat for this reasoning, if not the conclusion. Maybe they’re right.

The Market: Along the lines of a lot of the “New Left”, I’m a mixed-economy advocate. I don’t seek the absolute abolishment of the market in my lifetime. I don’t even see the mixed-economy as a political compromise – I see it as an improvement over the traditional socialist state-controlled means of production, albeit as a solution that may not always be optimal in the future. Swinging back the other way, again, I’m agnostic about the future possibility/practicality of abolishing of the market – it’s all a bit Star Trek to me, and at any rate, it’s something for future generations to decide upon without my ignorant input or intercession.

Late Capitalism: I can’t even get on board with Late Capitalism as an idea, other than as the idea of an era that can only ever be described after its passing. Serious devotees of the concept of Late Capitalism come across as fundamentalists to me, parsing the contradictions and catastrophes in capitalist economies into fateful signs of Revolution, all much the same way that devotees of Harold Camping would look for omens of The Rapture. Too often this comes bundled with fantasies about people being lined up against the wall and the like, which echos the kind of violent fantasy that has vengeance and hellfire awaiting unbelievers following the final return of Jesus – I really don’t like this kind of vindictiveness.

Even when people describe Late Capitalism more casually, without the secular Rapture and the lining-up of enemies before firing squads, it still comes across as unwarranted triumphalism flirting with disappointment. So un-restrained capitalism is dying, and you’re gloating about it? What happens if it doesn’t die? What happens if it’s always dysfunctional, but still long lived? What if it reaches a compromise that forestalls revolution permanently, while not substantially resolving oppressions? What then?

History as a Force: In much the same way that the belief in Late Capitalism is akin to belief in the Rapture, the idea of history as a force functions too much like a God hypothesis for my liking. If Late Capitalism heralds The Rapture, then History as a Force delivers the end-times, hellfire and damnation. ‘Nuff said. Well, almost. There’s this too.

Queer Politics and Change: You only need to look at the history of Cuba to see how queer folk can be thrown under the bus by revolutionaries. Too often in history, things like homosexuality has been viewed by left-wing agitators as bourgeois excess – a perspective bringing with it all the deprivations, violence and human rights abuses you’d expect to follow. That being said, queer activism (not queer qua queer) can be regressive, reactionary, and utterly capitalistic. You only need to look at the unpaid labour used by a number of popular clickbait sites sporting a leftish veneer; they earn a wad by establishing a marketable, commodified version of progressivism, all while queer writers and interns can expect to be left with nothing more than “exposure” and “experience” – things which do sweet fuck all to help vulnerable people counter the risks of homelessness, or any number of the other problems GLBTIQ folk are more likely to encounter. I’m gob-smacked every time a purported GLBTIQ activist on the one hand makes the entirely reasonable objection that too much emphasis is placed on the relatively cute issue of marriage equality, at the expense of issues like homelessness among gay and gender non-conforming youth – all before then going on to laud clickbait slave-drivers as Good Allies.

I don’t have a stake in it, but cripes, the contradiction seems pathological, and I’m not looking forward to a day when queer writers end up blowing the whistle on the editorial policies of outlets like The Huffington Post and Everyday Feminism – not because I don’t like whistle-blowers, and not because I hold high expectations of these media outlets (I don’t), but because if it happens, it’s going to be a fucking sad story to have to read.

Liberal versus Radical Critiques (of Gender and Sex Work): I’ve never really seen liberalism and radicalism as entirely distinct – probably because they’re not. While the camps who overtly identify as either can and often have become incredibly polarized, the history of the ideas don’t seem nearly as divorced. Resultantly, at least because it seems that way to me, you can expect that I have some potentially weird and impolitic views on gender and sex work that could alienate me from, well, everyone.

While I view gender identity as non-intrinsic, and not by itself a valid basis for welfare concerns, I view identity politics as generally being somewhat inevitable; people are going to have identities, so unless you live in a box, you’re going to run up against them at some point. Any comprehensive system of civics has to allow for this, but this doesn’t mean that identity is all their is, or that all identities need to be cared about or even tolerated. Steve who identifies as “Steve: Crusher of Fags” can get in the fucking sea.

I don’t have a problem calling sex work, “sex work”, which isn’t saying much because I don’t have a problem calling scabs “workers”, or slave-work, “work”. I find the idea that “sex work” is liberating, incredibly sad, and even if actually liberating for some (e.g. sheltered but horny ex-Baptists), that doesn’t negate its status an imposture for others (e.g. trafficked sex slaves). Remember when women who said they didn’t have a problem with harassment from Skeptic Bros, and that other women just needed to shut up, harden up, get some perspective, don’t feed the trolls, and so-on, were criticized for being dismissive of the concerns of women who did have a problem with harassment? A lot of the people I saw fight that particular fight – ostensibly in defense of friends, allies and otherwise useful people – have since abandoned this logic in order to dismiss women’s concerns about sex trafficking, on the grounds that such concerns are disparaging towards the sex workers who apparently feel perfectly fine. The sheer hypocrisy would be more galling if it weren’t so mind-numbingly muddle-headed.

Still, I don’t care so much if the state can superficially be described as analogous to a pimp, if the substantive result is that less women are raped, assaulted and trafficked, and I’m sceptical of whether or not it’s empirically true that the Nordic model actually achieves what it sets out to, at least not on a meaningful multilateral level. But I’m not going to fall into the dangerous and disingenuous practice of dismissing feminists as “sex negative” for their being concerned about the sex industry status quo. The status quo is an ethical ruin. The status quo is objectification, rape, assault, trafficking, addiction, engineered dependency, abduction, extortion, blackmail and all the affiliated evils of organized crime. If the Nordic model doesn’t in actual-fact work, it still doesn’t follow that there isn’t still a massive problem to be addressed, nor does it follow automatically that other solutions do work.

Pretending that sex work is actually all hunky-dory isn’t going to solve a fucking thing, other than the PR issues faced by Johns, brothels and pimps. And god, watching wealthy “feminists” who’ve never been economically coerced into anything in their lives, not just adopt pole dancing, but the attitude that they’re “honoring” sex workers of yore with their performances – that’s just patently absurd. You wouldn’t “honor” a native American like that, buy donning a feather bonnet for Halloween.

Now, colour me a mansplaining whorephobe, if you will. I surrender on that front; white flag; no contest.

***

After Such A Long Rant, What The Fuck Is All This About?

So yes, I identify as being of the left. Does this actually make me of the left? No. Self-identification is insufficient, even if what is sufficient is unclear. Even if you adopt the provisional charity of taking people at face value for certain purposes, identity is still insufficient when it comes to the matter of the actual fact. It’s one thing to unquestioningly accept a person’s identity for the purposes of naming their coffee, and another proposition to accept it for the purposes of banking.  And how many racist whitebros on the Internet have identified as “non-racist” as if it mattered? In – suff – i – cient.

According to the criteria of a number of the old left, I’m not of the left at all. I’m not even going to contest that. I’m not sure I can honestly reject their criteria. Wanting to and identifying don’t even enter into it.

Now I’ve focused on my own perspective far too much already, and there’s been a lot of words typed only for their importance to be downplayed, except that downplaying personal perspective and identity as demarcation criteria is to quite some extent, the point. This brings me to what I’m responding to.

Apropos of nothing, a bunch of personalities of an at-least vaguely social-justice flavour, have recently released an open letter identifying themselves as “The Left”. Not “leftish”, not “left-wing” nor “of The Left”; we’re talking capital-T, capital-L, “The Left”. And they’re making demands!

These aren’t simply personalities who’ve collaborated with the market because they have no choice here either. We’re talking about people who’ve embraced it and to varying extents, thrived. I’m not at all happy – fucking livid, actually – with the abuse and threats thrown at Brianna Wu, but c’mon, adding a treatment of social issues to private-sector commercial game design is left-wing? The objection my incredulity is based upon doesn’t make Brianna Wu an evil person, nor Giant Spacekat a Bad Thing, it’s just that it’s all a bit hard to swallow having a commercial game designer, and others of a similarly capitalist background, asserting themselves as if they could ever actually self-appoint anything tantamount to delegate status among the left. It’d be incredibly fucking bold just for unelected trade unionists to do that, but representatives of business?

I mean, my own leftism is up for questioning, but this?

There are a hundred names on that list, and the ones who stand out at a glance to me are people who’ve I’ve seen treated poorly by Internet knuckle-draggers, and who’ve at least earned a modicum of respect from me on account of standing up to said knuckle-draggers. Only, this current act of supreme bumbledom is really wearing that wafer of respect down an incredibly thin slice.

As Meghan Murphy points out, scathingly, it’s quite a galling proposition for the left to be told it needs to include capitalists for when the revolution comes. The left will need them for that push up the hill, apparently. What self-importance. (My own concerns about Late Capitalism, History as a Force and violent ideations come into play here – revolution may not come at a discreet moment, and please, leave the fantasist analogies about charging up hills to re-enactment societies, thanks.)

Beyond the less-than-astute appropriation of Firestone’s rhetoric which Murphy also acidly notes – rhetoric taken from a movement with a basic premise inimical to the project of the authors of the open letter – the project falls apart at the first demand.

***

Identity

“1) We call upon progressives to acknowledge that all politics are identity politics.”

Aside from failing to even clearly define the terms of the demand, the demand is followed with further declarations likely to induce a “huh?” from the open letter’s intended audience; the rest of the left.

Evidence of the allegedly identarian nature of politics is loosely detailed through a roll-call of obviously bad things;

“That sexism and racism exist cannot seriously be in doubt for any progressive person in the year 2016. Everyone has an identity; every identity is political, whether because it is marginalized or because it benefits from the marginalization of others. It is not “enlightening” or fresh or radical to ignore identity-based oppressions, or minimize them, or demand marginalized people stop talking about them. Oppression is not a “debate” or a “discussion.” It’s a fact.”

Look, I’ve already ceded that identity is a thing, that with other premises can constitute the basis of a social justice concern, and that this kind of conflict is inevitable. If some faction wants to ban books authored by marginalized groups, purely on the basis that the identity of these marginalized group members are gaining expression, then you’ve probably got a good case for a social justice campaign. There are obviously other examples. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m not sure the left – the actual left being addressed – have a problem realizing this.

However… People’s interests don’t always entail identity to a substantive degree, or at all. People are so much more than identities, and framing the discussion as being about the marginalization of identities, rather than the marginalization of people who happen to have identities that may or may not be involved in the marginalization, is something to be incredibly wary of. Some people are simply marginalized for having wombs – their sex – gender identity never coming into it. Some people are oppressed or simply exterminated because of their locale of birth, irrespective of whether or not they actually identify with that locale.

Back to that first demand though. Even the basic logic is invalid, by affirming the consequent – while all identities may be political, it doesn’t follow that all politics must therefore be identity-based or involve identity. All cats are mammals; Fido the dog is a mammal; Fido the dog is a cat? Bad logic right there.

This is also to say nothing of an implicit, yet glaring contradiction; if all politics are identity politics, then why use the phrase “identity-based oppressions”? To distinguish these oppressions from the non-identity-based oppressions that supposedly don’t even exist?

But the real fuck-up in terms of silly-arguments in this case, its magnum bogus, is this implication that rejecting identity politics is tantamount to rejecting the existence of the problems of racism, of misogyny and of the whole fucking mixed-bag o’ evil. I mean really, literally, what we have here is a bunch of people with a substantial representation of capitalist interest, who seem to think they need to write an open letter to the left of all people, to inform that very left that oppression is a fact.

What do they think the left has been focused on up until now? Organizing bathroom snorkeling trips? Yelling poetry at rocks? Trying to beat custard at chess?

It’s as much of a concession as I can make to observe that yes, some right-wing trolls, pundits and know-nothings have thrown the term “identity politics” around in the motivated defense of racism and sexism and everything else nasty under the sun, and that not all terms thusly appropriated by the right can be salvaged. But “identity politics” has been a term in left-wing critique for much longer than I’ve been on the planet, and it’s not clear that despite ample talent in this area, the right have debased it beyond repair.

And “identity politics” is only one in a long list of terms used by the left to critique the itself from within, that’s then been appropriated by the right to be thrown around with thoughtless abandon, triumph and perversion. It’s been happening observably in real-time over the last year or so with the right-wing appropriation of the term “regressive left” – a term originally meant to be used against actual relativists, enablers and authoritarians – the own-goal contingent of the left – not against the feminists and mere critics that chauvinists have recently used the term to flog.

***

The authors of the open letter purport to be critiquing the left from within themselves, so they may wish to reconsider these kinds of issues with a little more seriousness, and a lot less self-importance. What if their own language was co-opted and semantically mutated by the right, before being re-purposed as a stick to beat the left with? What if this was already happening via capitalists in the new media?

And how many years will it be before another hundred people calling themselves “The Left” come along to demand that the left cease, desist and acquiesce to a grab-bag of demands, because self-regard, myopia, and a poor grasp of political history and logic, leads this bright one-hundred to over-emphasize the observation that right-wingers can use the same words as older generations of leftists? Call me a fool, but I think it’d be a good habit, that if instead of taking the right’s use of these terms at face value, and blithely acting as if lefties mean the same thing, some folks just familiarized themselves with a bit of left-wing political history. This way they may even manage to not fuck up their Firestone references too.

~ Bruce

“Vanilla-gendered”

I’m not going to claim any kind of ownership of the term, as it’s sort of evolved out of a discussion where the component terms were uttered by someone other than myself. I put forward a notion, briefly, which appeared to resonate, so I’m fleshing it out here without the flippancy.

Some folks don’t like being referred to as “cis-gendered”, and also aren’t particularly inclined to want to identify as anything, gender-wise. Gender labels come with gender expectations, and these constitute impostures of one form or another.

The objection is more than simply wanting not to be pigeon-holed (as the trope goes), or otherwise classified without consultation for the purposes of political engagement. “Cis-gendered” does come with more connotations than just “not-trans”, and these connotations don’t always gel well with what purportedly “cis” people actually think about gender, or with how they experience it.

The definition of “cis-gendered” that asserts that “cis” is simply not “trans”, doesn’t often stay simple for very long under any degree of scrutiny. Further discussion will often end up with the explanation being delivered that while trans-gender folks have an internal experience of gender identity that doesn’t line up with their physical sex, the internal experience of gender identity experienced by “cis-gendered” people does. This presupposes at least two things that are contentious; that you can just assume that “cis-gendered” people have an internal, intrinsic experience of gender identity at all, and that this gender identity can line-up with their physical sex.

The first of these two assumptions will present itself as a problem to you if you try to reconcile it with the convention of not telling people what their internal experience of gender is like. While this convention shouldn’t be a hard and fast rule, and while there certainly should be discussion of what gender is, and is like, generally, it’s another prospect entirely to address an individual directly to declare to them what their personal experience of gender is. I’ll leave the discussion of the epistemology of this kind of thing aside – but given the pretty standard objections to calling people things they don’t self-identify as, there’s potentially quite a few people flinging “cis” around who’ve adopted an inconsistent standard somewhere along the line. (And don’t get me started on the self-identified “cis-men” who’ve broken their own “shut-up and listen” rule to tell “cis-women” what’s what).

This however, isn’t necessarily the biggest, or at least, deepest-rooted problem.

The second of the two assumptions – that internal experiences of gender can line up with biological sex at all – raises questions. Particularly, by what criteria does a person measure how gender lines up with sex? Where do these criteria come from and are they arbitrary? Are they reasonable? Are they sexist and are they harmful? To the point; how does one assume that gender can line up with sex without also assuming gender essentialism?

This is to say nothing of who and what powers are deciding upon these criteria – media concerns and other vested interests come to mind. If gender is innate, and personal and important for some people, do they really want to have a taxonomy imposed upon them by clickbait media outlets or the sex industry?

(I’m not going to go into DiQuinzio’s 1993 criticism of how non-intersectionalist feminism uses essentialism to exclude transgender women – I’ll spare both you and I that – other than to say that it makes pop-intersectionalist forays into essentialism seem ironic).

I’ve not seen anyone answer this. Maybe someone has, and maybe I’ve missed an implication in the bits and pieces of theory I’ve skimmed over. It all seems like warring essentialisms to me (pop-intersectionalism included).

At any rate, here’s why this pans out as a problem; the people in my circles who’ve been objecting to the label “cis-gendered”, who are happy to say they’re aren’t trans, don’t exhibit an affinity for any brand of gender essentialism – broadly they’re either explicitly against essentialist gender politics, or they express sentiments in that direction. Without forethought, and without serious modification of the connotations of the term, expecting people to happily accept that they are “cis” is also to expect them to implicitly accept the term’s inherent gender essentialism.

In practice, what I’m seeing is people who’d either never admit to being gender essentialist, or who’ve never shown any visible signs of giving the problems of essentialism a single thought, expecting anti-essentialists to adopt an ill-defined form of gender essentialism, all without further discussion. This is, in addition to a bunch of other things, incredibly absurd.

“I don’t even know if I accept the idea, but you must!”

I really didn’t have a problem with the term and used it amply myself until this particular penny dropped, and it’s not as if I’ve ever really given a shit about whether or not it’s a slur (one of the perks of male privilege, I guess). It’s just that I can’t affirm the assumptions it comes bundled with. I’d be lying if I did. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this last respect.

Maybe folks should just learn to love gender essentialism, or at least accept it as inevitable. Maybe this can all be settled. I doubt it, but if it can it won’t be before a lot of open, intelligent and honest discussion. Until then we could insist that people use “not-trans-gendered” instead, but to the credit of “cis-gendered”, “not-trans-gendered” is as clunky and unusable as all fuck. Go down that road and you may as well demand people only address you when they have a mouth full of marbles.

Enter “vanilla-gendered”; so bland you can’t fucking taste it. Not a default; just tasteless.

If ever there’s a t-shirt of “this is what vanilla-gender looks like”, the text will be in the same colour as the shirt. It’s not meant to stand out.

Identifying as “agendered”? Too outré. Identifying? Missing the point.

Vanilla-gendered people won’t put “vanilla-gendered” on their profiles except when being ironic, and then only as a response to questions or assertions they’d rather not have been bothered with in the first place. It’s gender ambiguity, but not in a David Bowie kind of way because that stuff’s exhausting to pull off – it’s more of a “you can’t tell because I’m hiding behind the curtains doing something else I actually care about” kind of ambiguity.

But most importantly, “vanilla-gendered” doesn’t assume the need for essential gender criteria. “My what lines up with my biological sex?”

Zero. Gender. Expectations.

I’m not going to aspire to identify as either “vanilla” or “cis”, but if there has to be one or the other, it’ll be the former – I’d prefer to be called that, if either. I have to say though, I’m growing increasingly inclined towards avoiding conversations where I’d have to choose at all.

Increasingly. Fucking. Tedious.

~ Bruce