Friday 22 September 2023

Winding Back Trans Liberation

What a thoroughly depressing set of statistics. Thursday saw the publication of the annual British Social Attitudes survey, which for the last 40 years has provided robust opinion data based on in-depth interviews with a large random but representative sample. One of the trends it has picked up over the decades is the increasing liberalisation of social attitudes. Acceptance has increased on sex before marriage, family forms that don't conform to the nuclear ideal, minority ethnicities, same sex relationships, and abortion. As you might expect if you've followed discussions of values and age on this place and round and about, the younger one is the more likely you are to accept the social liberal consensus of mutual tolerance and respect, and hostility to overt manifestations of sexism, racism, and homophobia. Unfortunately, increasing acceptance does not apply to everyone.

As the survey reports, positive attitudes towards transgender people have gone into reverse. Following a preamble that described what is meant by trans, the sample were asked two questions.

1. How would you describe yourself ... as very prejudiced against people who are transgender, a little prejudiced, or, not prejudiced at all?

2. How much do you agree or disagree that a person who is transgender should be able to have the sex recorded on their birth certificate changed if they want?

In 2019, 82% said they were "not prejudiced" against trans people - the same as it was when the question was first asked in 2016. However, in 2022 this had fallen to 64%. On changing the sex recorded on the birth certificate, in 2016 58% agreed that trans people should be able to do this. In 2019 it had slid slightly to 53%, but last year it had collapsed down to 30%. In general, women were more accepting than men (71% vs 53% on 'no prejudice', 33% vs 27% on birth certificates). In age terms, no prejudice was relatively close for all the under-64 cohorts (65% for those on the cusp of retirement, 69% for 18-24 year olds). There were greater gaps on changing birth certificates. 26% in the older working age cohort agreed, vs 43% for the youngest.

The report's conclusion argues that the moral evolution of British society is more complex than a simple extension of liberal attitudes, as the attitude to trans people demonstrates. Perhaps for the simple theory of change offered by the BSA. They suggest liberalisation is driven by more education, "societal practice", and changing individual behaviour through encountering people from diverse backgrounds in everyday life. The difficulty here is this does not explain why trans people and trans liberation has suffered a significant reverse. When there are more trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people out and visible than at any other time in modern history, you might expect the everyday contact argument to reinforce a trend toward liberalisation. Indeed, the greater levels of acceptance among younger cohorts goes part of the way to explain age discrepancies, seeing as younger trans people are more likely to have understanding and supportive peers. However, we don't need to scratch our collective heads to explain its reversal.

For the best part of the last decade, trans panic has engulfed pretty much all of centre right politics, their media, and not a few figures among the centrist establishment. What was once the pet hatred of a pathetic minority has been relentlessly mainstreamed. Arguments fielded by so-called feminists and progressives have been taken on wholesale, to the point where so-called "gender critical" concerns are indistinguishable from "traditionalist" right wing attitudes toward gender. For both sex and gender are immutable, and their alliance rests on a cast iron agreement that polices women and men according to conservative ideas of femininity and masculinity. GC doesn't stand for gender critical.  The more appropriate label is Gender Cops. These views have been used to justify a barrage of hate, and it has been utterly relentless. The right wing press dredge up any story it can, and the Tories feed off it with their entirely conscious anti-woke strategy. And Labour have cowardly stood aside and let this happen. Under the guise of not wanting to get involved in "culture war issues", like with so many other things Keir Starmer has completely capitulated to right wing framing, which has given the anti-trans brigade in the PLP carte blanche to either join in the carnival of reaction, or purse their lips together for enough dog whistles that does not leave their loyalties in any doubt. The result has been making trans people's lives a misery, transforming one of our most vulnerable communities into a political football, and causing untold amounts of completely unnecessary anxiety as hate crimes against trans people keeps edging upward. This is costing lives.

It also demonstrates something about the background trends in popular culture. It's long been my argument that the march of social liberalism isn't about "enlightenment" or woke educational institutions, it's a direct consequence of the labour process dominant across all the advanced (post)industrial economies: immaterial labour. With most of the work force employed by the so-called service sector, the character of work is defined by the production of intangibles: knowledge, services, experiences, care, identities, relationships. These are harnessed by capital for the usual purposes of surplus extraction, but the consequences at the level of everyday "spontaneous" consciousness is an orientation toward sociability, networking, and tolerance. When work is about building and producing relationships between human beings, it's not surprising there's a strong tendency toward the acceptance of difference (but this isn't to say everything is a bed of roses, it comes with its species of alienation too which, interestingly, anti-trans discourse feeds off). Therefore, as Britain and other advanced countries have outsourced their industrial bases and/or largely liquidated the manual working class, those who have entered the work force in the 1990s and after were more likely to experience work as a "socialised" immaterial labourer than those who went before, which also helps explain the values divergence across age groups. These are the attitudinal imprints of class cohorts, the moral sediment bedded down by their experience of a world transitioned away from manufacturing and the cultural dominance of the (masculine) industrial worker.

This is a strong trend. There is a real momentum and direction to greater tolerance, but what the war against trans people tells us - not too different from the permanent campaign against refugees - is that where a designated out-group is small, they can be isolated further by a press-led campaign that crosses party lines, where prominent voices in defence are ostracised and the costs for their speaking out are increased. This atmosphere with its constant recurrence of confected outrage, and the conscious building of an attention economy that awards provocateurs, in short when a significant section of the political and media establish a united front and hammer it endlessly public opinion can be moved against the cultural flow. This is why transphobia and the fight against it is an acid test for the left. The attacks on trans people is an attack on the rest of us. They are refining new bigoted technologies of divide and rule, of establishing and cementing new scapegoats. A point so obvious that it shouldn't really need saying, but here we are. The collective effort of the establishment at demonising and traducing trans people has placed them and their community on the front lines of 21st century class struggles. It's a wedge wielded by elites to maintain elite rule and roll back real progress. If they are able to affect a permanent change of attitude backed by the sorts of legislation the Tories keep toying with, who are they going to come for next?

Image Credit


Dipper (this/that) said...

oooh Phil! Climate change and now Trans rights. You are truly spoiling us.

I'm a man, I'm a woman, I'm a man. Did I actually change sex twice in the space of that sentence?

If a woman goes to work in trousers and doesn't wear make-up, is she living as a man?

Anonymous said...

Old Trot and Dipper in defence of the Gender Cops, in 3... 2... 1...

(Unless they got in while I was typing this)

Anonymous said...

Your analysis touches on the political void that has opened wide in the last 3 years, but I don't think that you've accounted for all its effects.

For the last 3 years, the country has been very visibly shorn of the illusion of a functioning democracy. Everything outside the extremely narrow centre-right window acceptable to capital has been efficiently and ruthlessly killed off, in full public view of everyone. Whilst it's easy to be thankful to the Tories for their great efforts in gutting the far right's political entities, the sucking void is a lot wider on the left; and on this blog we know that it's towards the left where the interests of most citizens really lie.

All of which is to say that in the last 3 years the country has been without political hope. And under these conditions, the "average" person gets a lot nastier.

Enlightened thinking of all kinds is a hell of a lot easier when all your basic needs are met. The poorer that people become, the more hopelessly disenfranchised, the more of them will grasp at any ideology that appears to offer some achievable program for changing things. When the people who are actually responsible for their problems seem to be out of reach behind walls of impregnable steel (even if those walls are actually papier mache, very cleverly painted to look like steel), then a lot of people will settle for targets that they can see are within reach of their fists; even where it would be obvious, to someone less intellectually malnourished, that this behaviour is self-destructive scapegoating which only helps their oppressors. The "all of our problems exist because we've abandoned traditional peasant behaviours!" cry of the Gender Cops is one narrative that is a very powerful siren call under these conditions. Just look at Afghanistan for an example of what it can do, when it's got a large enough pool of the suicidally stupid to work with.

But for the UK, where it's going next hinges on the result of the next election. A hung parliament or a precipitously thin majority for Labour - a result that can't be mistaken for anything but an outright rejection of both the Tories and Starmerite Labour - would reintroduce political hope. Pretty much any other outcome will push us further into the nosedive. In the latter case, if Charlie wants to still have a country to be king of, then at some point he'll have to find the balls to step in.

Even though it's difficult to consider Craig Murray as anything but an exposed Russian asset these days, he can still write things that are worth reading on topics where Putin doesn't have a clearly definable interest. And he's written a short and pointed piece about this one:

Anonymous said...

Addendum to the mention of Charlie in my last comment.

His days look to be numbered as well, if he's not careful. Plutocratic capital doesn't like the monarchy - because it's a centre of power which is not for sale. They didn't dare move against Liz, but I think that they think that they can take Charlie. They will want to replace him, of course, with entities who are even less accountable. The US model suits them much better.

I reckon that from the very moment that Liz was cold, the dark money sluices began opening into anti-monarchy channels on social media. Perhaps even to some places in the MSM.

Anonymous said...

The polling question , " How would you describe yourself...etc" is simply a joke in terms of responsible polling principles. The question might as well be , " how much of a bigot are you in relation to transgender people ?" The heavily weighted word usage is simply seeking to secure a desired result , ie a contextless favourable attitude to trans people as a blanket statement. The second poll question at least explores public attitudes to a specific issue , ie, changing of birth certificate data. But the preceding loaded question has already set the agenda , ie, just how prejudiced or bigoted are you ?

Phil wants to blame a massive MSM campaign of 'transphobic' scare stories alone for the massive change in public attitudes on the trans issue - but perhaps it is more a case of the ever greater MSM exposure of the real world problems and current legal and operational consequences of trans practice in our institutions and treatment of , particularly, young 'trans' identifying children that has produced this massive change in public attitudes (VERY dramatically in Scotland over prison policy). For instance, the general public are now much more aware of the problems arising from over-casual proscribing of puberty blocking drugs to very young people (the Tavistock Clinic scandal). The public is more aware of the problems created by the sending of males (often with rape convictions) into female prisons , just because they suddenly declare themselves as 'women' . And huge number of women are suddenly becoming aware of the danger to their previous hard-won ,'safe spaces', whether public toilets, changing rooms, or women's refuges, etc, etc, of open access being granted to any male who decides to identify as a 'woman'. And of course the ability to changes ones birth certificate away from the biological reality of sex - to one of 'internal feelings', is already falsely skewing the crime figures - adding the crimes committed by Trans women to those of biological females.

The Left Liberal 'Left' has granted the neoliberal Right a gigantic ideological gift (to pose as defenders of women's rights) with their acceptance of the non materialist, non scientific, nonsense that is Trans ideology. This may play well as a posture for university lecturers - but out in the real world extreme trans ideology is increasingly viewed as the viewpoint of crazy people - and a fundamental attack on women's rights and safety. And by 'woman' I mean an adult human female .

Anonymous said...

What is it about Britain that seems to make it so disposed towards transphobia? In, say, the US, it seems to be almost exclusively a right wing phenomenon, whereas here it has such broad support that trans people have taken to calling us "TERF Island".

Anonymous said...

If I eat nothing but fish and drill a hole in my head , and self identify as a dolphin, does this make me a dolphin , just as validly as any aquatic mammalian with dolphin characteristics ? I suggest not, and that I might be in need of both medical help and psychiatric help. A bit of lipstick and a dress , or even radical mutilation of sex organs, plus hormones to promote breasts does not turn a male into a woman , only into a role playing woman. That the general public can increasingly grasp this is certainly due to wider exposure of the issue by the msm, but that doesn't mean that the public are wrong to increasingly think the trans issue is not only about the liberation of a tiny social grouping , but increasingly is a highly organised assault on women's hard won rights and safety. And a vicious attack on lesbian rights to be attracted to their own sex, without being bullied into accepting that they are really men (and should accept males purporting to be women as sexual partners as of right).

David Parry said...

Anmonymous @16:10

Fear-mongering, bigoted claptrap that's been debunked a million times before. I will briefly mention, though, that segregation of public toilets did not come about through feminist campaigning, but is a product of Victorian patriarchy, with its 'separate spheres' ideology.

Robert said...

A trans woman isn't a real woman. No periods, no possibility of pregnancy, no menopause, male chromosomes in every cell. They're a man suffering from a mental illness called gender identity disorder or gender dysphoria. I don't wish any harm to transgender people but a man can't transform into a woman unless you're engaging in magical thinking. Also women are entitled to same sex safe space in public toilets etc.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous" is indignant about "responsible polling principles", but doesn't otherwise seem to feel much responsibility towards intellectual honesty. At least they could scarcely be clearer about their own ideological position and emotional involvement. It's TERF bingo in that comment.

> the general public are now much more aware ... huge number (sic) of women are suddenly becoming aware ... out in the real world trans ideology is increasingly viewed as the viewpoint of crazy people ...

Anonymous sure has an enviable ability to know what large numbers of strangers actually think! Why do we even need studies and polls...? We could just ask this person.

(I jest, of course. Anonymous is only projecting their own opinion onto "the silent majority", as everyone who feels vilified by modern "woke" politics is very fond of defending their threatened ego by doing.)

> the ability to changes ones birth certificate away from the biological reality of sex - to one of 'internal feelings', is already falsely skewing the crime figures - adding the crimes committed by Trans women to those of biological females

Skewing the crime figures, is it...? And there was I thinking that trans people were a small percentage of the population, and therefore - in the absence of transness itself actually being criminalised - presumably also a vanishingly small percentage of criminals. So which is it? Are trans people a tiny minority that only "crazy people" would pander to, or are they such a burgeoning menace that they skew the crime figures?

Anon's spluttering denunciation of "trans ideology" - I assume that they mean "recognition of the existence of trans people" - as "non scientific" is also worthy of note, as a blazing tell that Anon doesn't themselves actually understand any of the science involved. It's amusingly underlined by their apparent belief that "internal feelings" are "non materialist". If internal feelings aren't produced by processes which are every bit as material as the expression of chromosomes, then where does Anon think that they come from...?

Phil said...

I see the bigoted and prejudiced arguments fielded here are qualitatively no different to misogynistic, racist, and homophobic prejudices. They rest on caricatures, myths, and utter crudities. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

All you knights in shining armour who don't normally show an interest in the rights of women never reflect on how women are more supportive of trans rights than men. Second, that FTM is more common than MTF. An interesting, not to mention sexist oversight none of you above have even considered. According to the gender cops and their traditional Tory approach to sex identity, this overlooks "biological" women and, in those terms, smacks of the usual invisiblising of women by reactionaries. And third, look at the people you're lining up with. All the very worst people in the Parliamentary Labour Party. The Conservative Party. The far right. Professional misogynists like Andrew Tate and Jordan Peterson. Donald Trump. You are supporting a far right campaign designed to cause division. If you can't see this you have no business considering yourselves progressive, let alone socialist.

Phil said...

In addition, as I've said before I will not allow this blog be used as a platform for the stupidities of the anti-trans movement. Either read up on what trans-supportive feminists and trans people themselves say or take your ignorant crowing elsewhere. Any more comments attacking trans people will be treated like sexist, racist, and homophobic comments. I.e. Blocked.

Trans people are not your football.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

Hi Phil, I was going to say that some of the above anonymous comments prove the points you were making in the article. I am fascinated by how angry and vicious some men get about the issue. They suddenly imagine themselves as championing women's rights - even if it is only to have their own changing rooms, toilets and prisons. Bizarre.

The emergence of gender 'fluidity' in recent years is portrayed as a response to propaganda and opportunism. Apparently it never existed before - a bit like homosexuality in the minds of many pre 1960s. In fact, many of the arguments are exactly the same. People are being 'corrupted' and 'groomed' to take advantage, while others are using it as an opportunity to manipulate or to give themselves access to potential victims.

we've heard all this before - including the biological argument. As if we are defined by our physique, and our minds are inflexible and classifiable into strict groups. Its the argument of those who long for a heirarchical rigidity where people know their place and behave according to the rules and norms set by those at the top. Rules which are designed to maintain the structure and the positions of everyone in it. Welcome to the new feudalism.

Phil said...

In response to Dipper who repeats the same old rubbish, transphobes don't get to parade their prejudices here. That includes you.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous at 20:15

Less entrenched partisanality.

It's a double-edged sword. We would not want to be as far gone into bipolar tribalism as the USA. It's almost unquestionably the clearest and most present security risk to that country.

And that's about the best praise which I can give to the pathetic leftist transphobes which we have here. At least the right-wingers have the excuse that the entire purpose of their political ideology is to construct a static pyramid of oppression, which uses any available powerless minority as a pressure valve for the bottom tier.

It's not difficult at all to guess at what our leftist transphobes are thinking. As we've seen previously in commenters on this blog, they'll articulate it clearly enough themselves when given sufficient rope - with a flimsy fig leaf of attempted covering for the baseness of the underlying moral reasoning, of course. For all those over 40 years of age - which I'd guess further are the majority of them - it goes like this:

"Trans women make me uncomfortable, because they don't fit in with the model of femininity that I was indoctrinated to use when I was younger, and what I learned when I was younger is 'how the world is'. Ergo, because they make me uncomfortable, and I'm a 'normal' person, " - (these characters seem at least able to recognise their own mental mediocrity; I'll give them that) - "trans women must also make most people uncomfortable. Therefore, the way to get the most people on my side (and in support of my political program) is to pander to that discomfort, and throw trans people under the bus. So that's what we should be doing.

...Hmmm, that doesn't sound like an argument that will appeal to broad leftist sensibilities - even right-wingers never openly admit that they want to throw people under a bus...! What to do...

Fortunately, the simplified version of biology and sexual dimorphism that I learned in middle school gives me a way to justify it, by claiming that the acceptance of trans people is 'unscientific'. And the people who understand enough actual science to realise that I'm talking out of my arse will find it difficult to explain to a 'normal' person exactly why and how that I am talking out of my arse, because 'normal' people only understand as much science as I do, or less. Phew, good save! And if that's not enough, I can always bluster about trans women oppressing 'real' women merely by being allowed to exist. Now let's get down to that throwing-under-the-bus thing."

Anonymous said...

@Zoltan Jorovic at 11:16

Very well said!

Jenny said...

Most people are probably acquainted with one or two trans people, but don’t know they are. Given the level of transphobia in the msm and on social media few trans people will be open about their status, so a small minority almost vanishes. Much easier to be bigoted about people you never knowingly meet.

Anonymous said...

The comments section here seems to have been suddenly invaded by Daily Mail readers.

Phil said...

I'm not going to publish your piece Ken because, as I have said, this place is not here to indulge the panic and targeting of trans people.

But I will say the argument you've fielded from Deborah Soh is preposterous. Gametes are one or the other therefore sex is one or the other is pseudo-scientific hogwash. Intersex people exist, which can be expressed outwardly by ambiguous genitalia, or "inwardly" in terms of non-congruence of chromosomal sex and outward appearance. See how cultural factors, not medical need has historically informed "corrective surgery" on intersex infants by Western medicine.

But this whole argument that tries to invalidate trans people because of "science" is an absurdity. We're not dealing with cells but power relationships and patriarchy That is the properly materialist starting point.

Mark James said...

Sorry Phil you are so wrong here. It is difficult to have a debate around this online. It all seems to degenerate so quickly.
One of the things that is interesting is why is the UK left so ahem, Terfy, compared to the US left?
I find some of the explanations quite intriguing.
Finally on company: well er Lexit?