Transphobia and Civilization

Seeing as the human rights of transgender people has come to dominate the news, both in the mainstream press and that of communities where trans people have a significant presence such as the Pagan community, I felt a need to nail my colours to the mast, so to speak.

Here is a quote from my book, Reclaiming Civilization (Moon Books, 2017) in which I attempt to explain one of the sources of transphobia: a deep sense of threat sensed by those who uphold, and/or aim to personally embody, a model of a fully civilized person which for convenience’s sake we can call The Patriarchal Man. Here’s part of the argument.

Another similar (though not precisely identical) model of the civilized person endorsed by the West, for which the civilizing forces also punish non-conformity, is the able-bodied, wealthy, sexually straight, Caucasian, adult male. Let’s call him The Patriarchal Man. If my thesis about civilization is correct, we should see the civilizing forces move to punish people who renounce or who refuse to defer to that model. In the example of transgender women, that’s exactly what we see. At the time I write these words, various American states have recently passed laws to prevent transgender persons from using the bathroom that fits with their gender identity. The stated reason for these laws is to prevent men from posing as women, entering women’s bathrooms, and assaulting them. Again: if my thesis is correct, then another, perhaps deeper reason for these laws is to punish people for deliberately rejecting the mantle of the patriarchal man. For a person born a man, and thus born in a position to assume the benefits and privileges of the patriarchy, yet instead who undergoes the chemical and surgical and social process to become a woman, appears in the eyes of the patriarchal man as evidence that there might be something wrong with the image of the patriarchal man. Never mind that the trans-woman gives up all the benefits of manhood in exchange for nearly none of the benefits of womanhood: this ‘evidence’ must be suppressed. So the law is summoned to compel trans-people to use a different bathroom, and face extraordinary personal and public humiliation for doing so, or alternatively face fines of up to $10,000, felony charges, and possible jail time. Those who feel personally disgusted by the transgressors might take it upon themselves to punish the transgressors outside the law, for instance by killing them. An advocacy group for trans-people in America published evidence that the murder rate for transgendered women reached an historic high in 2015; and double the rate of the previous year.

This text appears on pages 137-138, in case you want to look it up. (And please pardon the soft-sell pitch for my book, right there.)

This is obviously not the only possible source of trans phobia. Maybe the presence of a trans person is also felt as a threat to those who uphold and/or aim to personally embody different models of the civilized person– a practitioner of a religious tradition that believes in a strict kind of gender essentialism, perhaps?

But in general, it’s clear to me, and the argument in my book makes it clear, that it’s ethically wrong to uphold or embody a model of the civilized person which cannot be fully upheld or embodied unless others are made to suffer. I hope that proposition is helpful in everybody’s conversations.

I suspect some readers will dismiss this blog post as an exercise in ‘virtue signalling’: to those people I’d like to say, I literally wrote the book on the meaning of the word Virtue (there, another soft-sell) and so I can tell you it has nothing to do with signalling. Anyway, I don’t expect anyone to throw me a parade here. To quote the philosopher Cornell West, I’m just trying to live a life of integrity.

So, there you have it. It’s likely I will say no more about this; it seems to me that in the matter of the human rights of trans persons, we should listen to trans persons themselves, more than we listen to able-bodied, middle-class, sexually straight, Caucasian, adult men like me.

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