A woman is not born, she is made – Simone de Beauvoir
Sex is a biological term and hence the words: Male, Female
Gender is a social construct and hence the terms: Man, Woman
This dialogue is a response to recent debates on transgender at International Women’s Day in 2021. The debate spilled over to local community radio after I broadcast some of the speeches and this resulted in my leaving the station after ten years of doing the Paradigm Shift (4ZzZ fm 102.1 – Fridays at noon).
In response to my broadcast on 12th March 2021 station management made a public apology to the transgender community and gave an undertaking to do better in future. There has been little public discussion of the underlying issues raised in the broadcast. I think at least one speech that riled some at the station deserves further discussion. The Station Manager told me that the speech by Anna was ‘transphobic‘. In her speech, Anna claimed that Terfs are the modern Witches
Firstly what does transphobic mean? Literally, from the Latin, it means ‘fear of the other side‘. But it appears to have become to mean far more than that in its current usage.
Here is a dialogue about Anna’s speech and the subject generally. Later in correspondence with management, another speech by Brian Sullivan was labelled ‘trans exclusionary’.
Analysis of speeches given on International Women’s Day 2021 in Brisbane.
This dialogue is a product of discussions since I was ‘sacked’ from 4ZZZ for broadcasting speeches on IWD’21.
[NB: Remi and Cassidy are machine generated voices from dialogue I have just completed from those discussions. Remi is a 30 something woman and Cassidy is a 60 something woman. Both have non-normative sexual orientation or in a word, Queer.]
Image: Special Branch dragging a woman from the steps of parliament during Reproductive Rights Struggle in Brisbane in 1980.
Remi: “I’ve had a listen to both speeches.
Cassidy: It seems many have taken umbrage to the speeches
Remi: Well, I think Brian’s speech is terrific. At one point it seemed like he was making fun of “woke” people but when he explained it turned out what he was saying was really good. And that he might have even taken on board what some woke people were saying, as evidenced by the use of the term “virtue signalling“.
Cassidy: hmmm I didn’t really understand what he meant? In my day, virtue signalling was called radical chic. It was a right wing slur. I could not hear anything in Brian’s speech that even mentioned trans people.
Remi: I typed out notes about Anna’s speech as I went through. Here they are
“anti sex work, anti porn – controversial” and “hypersexualisation of girls”
Cassidy: Why is sex work controversial?
Remi: This is a large debate in feminist circles but i’m going to only briefly touch on it because anna doesn’t revisit it. essentially i think that porn that depicts women as submissive – which is most porn – is wrong and sexist. porn that celebrates a loving and equal sex act – well that’s just a good time that doesn’t hurt anyone. it’s not the sex that’s to blame, it’s the unequal power relationship.
Cassidy: I think you are simplifying things about porn. Maybe I’m missing something (some recent developments?) but I thought the distinction between porn and erotica had been clear for a long time.
“Porn that celebrates a loving and equal sex act – well that’s just a good time that doesn’t hurt anyone” is not porn, surely?
Remi: conflating female genital mutilation with trans people’s own decisions about their bodies – fgm is forced, whereas some trans people choose to change their genitals
Cassidy: True, but a transgender woman whom I podcast on paradigm shift says that the medical establishment forces trans people into unnecessary surgery and ‘big pharm’ sees it as an opportunity to prescribe dangerous and unnecessary drugs.
Remi: Yes but modern surgery is a far cry from a rusty razor blade in an African village.
Back to my notes Anna doesn’t want to de-gender spaces – we’ve discussed that
Cassidy: Ok, sex and gender are different things.
Remi: “trans women who have committed sexual violence against other women being in women’s prisons… controversial”. i’d like to dig more deeply into what she means by that. is it that common that trans women rape women and then end up in prison?? is women’s prison a safe space free of violent criminals? what happens to women who rape other women (happens in lesbian relationships) – what prison do they go to? seems to be some idea that cis men are pretending to be trans women to get into women’s prison and getting away with it – is that likely? Wouldn’t prison officers be finding out if people had lived as trans women before they put them in a woman’s jail? I would say that it is more common that trans women end up in men’s prison.
Cassidy: I don’t know about a women’s prison, but anyone can get bashed and raped in a men’s prison. I was in Stuart Creek in Townsville in 1980, I was beaten up by a deranged prisoner and nearly shot by a prison guard trying to intervene. The superintendent called me out next day insisting I break a hunger strike because of appalling conditions in the jail. I refused and was put in solitary for the rest of my sentence.
Remi: Anna Says that men’s violence against women could be resolved by having separate women’s spaces .. definitely an argument for benefits of women being able to organise separately. does having trans women enter these spaces undermine this? when i was at UQ women’s room these cis men tried to come in saying that they were trans women, but they were obviously just dickheads and we told them to fuck off. I think it’s easy enough to tell the difference. what is chance that real misogynist would genuinely make effort to infiltrate women’s space by consistently dressing as a woman, then run back to report to his men’s rights activists friends? wouldn’t a man like that think it too shameful to dress and act as a woman in any way that wasn’t a horrible parody?
Cassidy: True but remember it was Anna McCormack that set up the Women’s Rights room at UQ. In 1976-77 Anna McCormack was the first paid women’s rights organiser in a student union in Australia. Probably in any union.
Remi: And who is downplaying rape and domestic violence – is it the gender identity people that she doesn’t like, or is it misogynists? I feel like the other feminists that she’s referring to take those issues very seriously and are making some headway – eg, the slutwalk rallies that were happening a few years ago, and the #metoo movement
Cassidy: I agree but transgender people have for some reason become the major focus of women’s rights debate when there is a serious epidemic of harassment and domestic violence Australia-wide. People who wish to change their gender is a very small number of people facing abuse.
Remi: I think misgendering someone is only treated as unforgivable if it’s done deliberately and consistently. my experience is that there’s room for error amongst trans people. this one is about intent.
Remi: “Safety, dignity, fairness and privacy are being eroded by gender identity ideology” – what is this about? is this about letting trans women into women’s spaces?
Cassidy: I think so, one of the women who spoke at IWD was concerned about interference with women’s activities like women’s sport.
Remi: refers to genderism which I had to google. so that’s the gender essentialist view of gender and sex being inextricably intertwined and immutable. which of course is that conflict at the heart of radical feminism because they fought to break out of gender roles and said “women could be anything”
Cassidy: I think trans women will be challenged later in life by real medical issues that are confined to men. Like prostate enlargement and urinary troubles. Their treating physician will have to prescribe remedies as if they are biological males not women. There is also the issue of baldness which affects mainly men.
Remi: 3:01 – is she saying that considering women as people, as opposed to as women renders them “subhuman” is part of being human having a gender identity – interesting question with relevance for radical feminists and trans rights activists.
Cassidy: I’m not sure; we are all human regardless of sexual orientation or race or class.
Remi: i don’t think trans people are saying that cis women aren’t allowed to identify as women. trans people’s whole deal is that people should be allowed to identify with the gender that most resonates with them
Cassidy: i don’t think anyone should be discriminated against (except the Southern Lebanese Army)*
Remi: who is saying that it’s not the right time to defend women’s sex-based rights – is that the liberal party? it’s certainly not other feminists. here’s a sample of what i consider women’s issues: unequal pay, access to reproductive freedom, safety to walk at night… are trans people against any of these things? i would think trans women would want all of these things for themselves, especially safety when so many trans women are bashed
Cassidy: all these issues were canvassed at rallies on IWD
Remi: Anna says “gender ideology has to be tackled if any other women’s issue is to be tackled”.
so she feels like people can’t organise to fight for women’s rights if… what exactly? is moving away from gender essentialism preventing people from fighting for reproductive rights? equal pay? surely an issue like equal pay would benefit from an ideology that challenges the idea that people fit neatly into biological sex categories and so can be treated differently.
Cassidy: I don’t agree with Anna on this but the reality is that IWD in Brisbane has been reduced to a rabble of less than 60 people whereas only three years ago it attracted thousands of supporters from the broader community. No one will touch it now, not the unions, not the Labor party, nor the Greens.
Remi: wants to define women as “adult human females”.
it’s interesting that she says that we can’t fight men’s violence against women without that. I would say that men’s violence extends beyond just women, and into all of the categories of people who don’t fit neatly into the “man box”. that is: women, queers (both men and women), straight men who are seen as not masculine enough (cucks), and trans people especially trans women. my whole understanding of men’s violence is that it’s related to the power dynamics of gender, and a world view that puts one particular form of masculinity at the pinnacle.
it’s interesting that she’s now bringing up the same issues that i consider the key women’s issues. she’s now onto “pay inequity”.
so anna mccormack has this idea that we’re not allowed to mention women. it seems that she has extrapolated that from the widening of the category of who can be a woman, but if that is where she is getting that idea then i think she is incorrect. the woman category has widened in two ways: the definition of women has widened (women can do anything) and the definition of who can be a woman has widened (anyone who genuinely feels in their heart that they are a woman). but I don’t think people are yet getting rid of the idea of women.
so now she’s confirmed that she thinks “a woman is anyone who feels like it”.
look these debates aren’t settled, but i don’t think trans people approach their gender identities lightly. i don’t think inviting trans women into women’s spaces undermines any of the organising that goes on there. if a trans women wanted to fight violence against women, I don’t see how that undermines that campaign. i know Brisbane Rape and Incest Survivors Support Centre asked my friend who is a trans man to stop working there after his transition, but if a trans woman wanted to be in that space then i can’t see how that would be a problem? i don’t think a trans woman is embracing toxic masculinity.
There’s a lot there, but it seems that the key point is that Anna thinks that the changing of the definition of women prevents women from being able to organise politically. I would disagree with that assessment, as evidenced by the great political organisation that is still happening. Perhaps the answer is to still have women’s only spaces in special circumstances – such as domestic violence shelters, or especially for political organising – but to welcome trans women to them.
Often when people are really upset about something it’s less to do with the facts of it and more to do with identity. I wonder if there’s been some way that Anna McCormack’s core identity as a woman or as a feminist has been challenged. I think both the old and new groups are saying “a real feminist believes this…”
From my conversation with you, I think that you want to think of a way to keep including the amazing feminists that came before the current generation as well as having a space for new feminists and new ideas. Given what’s happened so far it would be a difficult undertaking to resolve this huge rift, but I do believe that it would be worthwhile.
Cassidy: I agree. Perhaps at its core people are trying to change the meaning of words to be more inclusive. Gender studies people like to talk about the idea that gender is socially constructed, and I guess those kinds of discussions should include the fact that human languages have had words for genders for millennia. When people are outraged by the words “woman – adult human female”, it is because they want to challenge the meanings of these words.
I hope my thoughts help you in your ongoing efforts to approach the topic from both sides, and can help resolve your issues with 4ZZZ.”
14 April 2021
Please note that *Prime Minister Howard allowed members of the Southern Lebanese Army to migrate to Australia despite them being guilty of war crimes against Palestinians and Lebanese people during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon.