Who’d You Just Cite?

If you’ve ever delved into the depths of online trans discourse, you’d be surprised to see the types of people that anti-trans devotees will cite. It ranges anywhere from blatant misogynists to ardently pro-trans people, but the actual positions of the author needn’t matter: only the arguments they are making. I suspect this is because they have a paucity of actually coherent theorists who are adept enough at writing that they can get published in journals and publishing outlets, so they have to go (cherry)picking for arguments.

Misogynists, Reactionaries and Anti-Feminists

Leonard Sax

Unfortunately, too often are intersex people wielded as weapons in the ‘trans debate’. While their existence is important to the discussion of the ontology and metaphysics of sex, discourse about trans rights has too often erased the lived experiences of intersex people. Often people cite the figure that ‘intersex people are about 2% of the population’. This was first reported in Blackless et. al’s seminal study on the topic, demonstrating that around 2 in 100 individuals deviate from the “Platonic ideal” of sex by virtue of their sexed chromosomes, their gonadal structure, hormone levels or internal and external genitalia. In an article published two years later, Leonard Sax made his name in the “gender critical” community by providing a critique of Blackless et. al’s research. In it, he claims that Anne Fausto-Sterling (who is the main subject of the critique for the use of the Blackless et. al research in her book Sexing the Body) systematically overestimated the frequency of intersex people in the population to bolster her ideological commitment to … who knows, really? I don’t think it’s worth responding to his article in depth here since it’s so insultingly bad, but I’ve covered the basics on Twitter in the past.

Little do most anti-trans feminists know, but Sax is just as, if not more, ideologically committed to a particular worldview on sex and gender. He is described as a “conservative psychologist” and is infamous in feminist circles for insisting that sex differences are innate, inborn.

Let’s review his ‘accomplishments’:

  • He argues that differences are ‘hardwired’ so that we are obliged to teach girls and boys in same-sex schools.
  • He believes that ‘gender’ is not a construct created by patriarchy, but that it is ‘built in’ before birth and cites the neuromyths to defend his thesis. Notice the misinterpretation of Butler’s thesis & conflation of Butler with Cordelia Fine. For a response to some of the “points” within, see Rippon’s article here.
  • He’s positioned as an anti-feminist author, being cited as an “ex-feminist read” and situating himself in contrast to a feminist perspective on popular literature.
  • He has also positioned himself against the well-supported APA guidelines on masculinity; in an article for the conservative pro-birth and homophobic “Institute for Family Studies”, he criticizes the aforementioned guidelines, a criticism that was readily picked up by MRA organizations like the “National Parents Organization” and right-wing websites like “Intellectual Takeout“.
  • Sax has been mentioned, criticized and been put under the microscope for his aforementioned book “Why Gender Matters”, as he is part of the scientific milieu who is religiously devoted to creating sex differences.
  • Indeed, Leonard Sax is often a direct target of some of neuroscientists like Cordelia Fine (pages XVII, 112, 162, 168, 191) and Lise Eliot.

The academic and social spheres he’s situated himself within aren’t exactly “feminist” ones either:

Ray Blanchard and co(ult)

One of the most common theories that TECFs latch onto as to the aetiology of trans people’s existence (besides the incoherent it’s just dislike of gender roles) is Blanchard’s “autogynephilia” thesis. I won’t go over the details here, but I’ve critiqued the theory at length (in fact, it’s why I started this blog!) here.

Unsurprisingly, along with the blantant lesbophobia of his actual work, the anti-feminist viewpoints necessary to endorse the ‘theory’ of autogynephilia, he’s also a blatant homophobe and misogynist in real life. In an interview he had with Vice, he stated that he would have promoted the long-critiqued homophobic and misogynistic paradigm of sexual intercourse such that only sex for reproduction is considered ‘normal’:

I would say if one could start from scratch, ignore all the history of removing homosexuality from the DSM, normal sexuality is whatever is related to reproduction.

He even believes that gay people are “abnormal”:

It has been 40 years since homosexuality was removed as a mental illness from the DSM. But given a clean slate, Blanchard said he would still classify homosexual sex as abnormal.

Even more, he promotes not-so-subtly lesbophobic and misogynistic opinions about lesbian couples:

I think there are some glaring differences between acceptance of transsexualism and acceptance of homosexuality. Let’s say that a friend comes to you and says she’s a lesbian, you aren’t seeing your friend performing cunnilingus on her girlfriend. All this requires is acceptance of what you don’t have to see.

Beyond that, Blanchard’s model of treatment for trans people is blatantly anti-feminist, misogynistic and reproduces the patriarchy. For instance, Blanchard promotes the view that gender is innate and built into people’s brains at birth. As such, his thesis is that ‘feminine homosexual men’ are sometimes born with ‘female brains‘ so that they ‘become transsexuals’ and feel the need to transition.

More recently, Holly Lawford-Smith cited Anne Lawrence’s profoundly non-scientific book on autogynephilia to attempt to demean particular types of trans women. (Hopefully) unbeknownst to Lawford-Smith, but Lawrence is a sexual predator who wouldn’t know how to form a scientific hypothesis if it hit her in the head. Her website and half-cobbled theories (a result of her education at a quack school) have caused material harm to numerous trans people.

Another member of the tiny Blanchardian cult is James Cantor, who thinks that pedophilia is built into the brain and that we should add a “P” to LGBT;

He even goes as far as to position his belief against that of “nonbinary feminism”

He believes that pedophilia is a ‘sexual orientation‘, and fascinatingly the profoundly non-feminist belief that gender dysphoria is biological. He even defends child sex dolls

And has used that as a way to move towards the legalization of child porn.

He has gotten acceptance among the so-called “gender critical feminists” because he’s willing to espouse anti-trans talking points. And it’s not a one-way street: he promotes anti-trans feminists too:

But in another move, will criticize them for “tell[ing] … us what we can/can’t do with our bodies”;

He has even gotten into tangles with anti-trans feminists over what constitutes feminism and about specifics of feminist theory:

I also personally suspect he is a pedophile himself;


Feminist Scientists

Cordelia Fine

One of my favorite authors these days is Cordelia Fine. She has written devastating critiques of the idea of the ‘male’ and ‘female’ brain, the naturalization of gender roles and the myths surrounding testosterone. Strangely, ‘gender critical feminists’ (or more accurately TECFs) cite Cordelia Fine as if she supports their project. Obviously Cordelia Fine is a welcome antidote to the essentialism of conservatives, but the claim that her project somehow refutes trans people is quite strange.

The few times that Cordelia Fine talks about trans people in her research or in interviews, she is decidedly not antagonistic, and if anything, is affirming and supportive. In a discussion with the “Parenting Science Gang”, she states:

Cultural evolutionary scientists definitely regard the prestige or status of an individual as important, but also I think group identification.

There are studies showing that even preschool kids already are more drawn to activities and objects modelled by children of the same gender (also the case for trans kids

In contrast, TECFs deny the existence of trans kids;


Even more, the few times that she talks about trans people in her books, she uses their existence to bolster her thesis. Chapter 1 of Delusions of Gender begins:

The more I was treated as a woman, the more woman I became. I adapted willy-nilly. If I was assumed to be incompetent at reversing cars, or opening bottles, oddly incompetent I found myself becoming. If a case was thought too heavy for me, inexplicably I found it so myself.
-Jan Morris, a male-to-female transsexual describing her posttransition experiences in her autobiography, Conundrum (1987)

Chapter 5 starts with:

In her book Scientists Anonymous, Patricia Fara describes how, around the turn of the nineteenth century, botanist Jeanne Baret and mathematician Sophie Germain were obliged to present themselves as men to carry out their research.1 Unlike Baret, today’s female biologists do not have to pretend to be men to carry out fieldwork. Nor do contemporary female mathematicians need to employ Germain’s subterfuge, studying by correspondence under cover of a male identity. Yet even today, the evidence suggests that it would be a shrewd career move for a woman to disguise herself as a man. People who have transformed their identity in this way-namely, female-to-male transsexuals-report decidedly beneficial consequences in the workplace. Ben Barres is a professor of neurobiology at Stanford University, and a femaleto-male transsexual. In an article in Nature he recalls that “[s]hortly after I changed sex, a faculty member was heard to say ‘Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but then his work is much better than his sister’s.'” Similar stories cropped up in a recent interview study of twenty-nine female-to-male transsexuals. Kirsten Schilt, a Research Fellow at Houston’s Rice University, interviewed the men about their work experiences both before and after their transition from women to men. Her study reveals that many immediately enjoyed greater recognition and respect. Thomas, an attorney, related how a colleague praised the boss for getting rid of Susan, whom he regarded as incompetent. He then added that the “new guy,” Thomas, was “just delightful”-not realizing, of course, that Thomas and Susan were one and the same. Roger, in retail, found that now that he is a man people bypass his female boss and beeline straight to him with their questions. Paul, continuing his work in secondary education, suddenly found himself being continually called upon in meetings to offer his newly valuable opinions. And several blue-collar workers reported that work is a great deal easier since transition.

Rebecca Jordan-Young

Another member of the Neurogenderings network of feminist scholars that TECFs love to cite is Rebecca Jordan-Young and her 2010 book Brain Storm. She is, however, decidedly not a part of their academic milieu.

Jordan-Young talks sparingly about trans people in her aformentioned magnum opus; she focuses more on intersex individuals/individuals with diversities of sex development. As such, her discussion of trans biology is replete (?) of …

On page 38, she notes:

While cohort studies begin with information about exposures, casecontrol studies begin from the opposite direction, grouping people according to outcomes and then looking for information on exposures. (In epidemiology the outcome of interest is usually, but not always, a disease; increasingly one sees studies of “positive” conditions like resistance to disease.) For case-control studies, scientists must have fairly distinct groups to compare, and in brain organization research this means scientists begin with people they consider to be sexually different from the majority—including gay men, lesbians, and sometimes bisexuals, as well as transsexual or transgender people. Some investigators approach the difference among these various sexual minorities as a matter of degree, and others treat them as categorically distinct, but virtually all studies consider bisexuals, gay men or lesbians, and transgender people to have at least partial “cross-sex” psychosexual differentiation, a result that would presumably follow prenatal exposure to “cross-sex” hormones. (I don’t mean to endorse this notion. In Chapter 7 in particular, I’ll show that it is a troubled proposition that creates a lot of tension within brain organization studies. My point here is simply to explain that it is a core assumption of brain organization research.)

On page 90, she states:

Two small studies have suggested that left-handedness may be increased in individuals with CAH, but most studies (including all of the larger studies) have found no effect on handedness or other aspects of cognitive lateralization. Core gender identity is usually not affected by CAH. There are higher rates of both gender dissatisfaction and/or ambivalence, as well as transgender/transsexuality in genetic females with CAH, compared with the general population, but most women with CAH have typical gender identity.

On page 93, she notes:

This article was the first in a stream of investigations into a possible relationship between biochemical responses to hormone injections (the LH surge response or the positive estrogen feedback effect) and male and female homosexuality and transsexuality. These studies are variously referred to as testing “neuroendocrine function,” “LH surge,” “gonadostat,” or “response to estrogen challenge.” Unlike the “Pepsi Challenge” commercials that were made around the same time as these studies, featuring blinded taste tests between Coke and Pepsi, there were no clear winners in the “Estrogen Challenge” tests. They turned out to not differentiate very well between homosexual and heterosexual men, or conventionally gendered versus transsexual people.

On page 101:

Other traits studied in sexual minorities do not follow these same patterns. For example, consider digit-length ratios, which have now been extensively examined in both men and women. The relative length of the second to the fourth fingers (known as the 2D:4D ratio) tends to be roughly equal in women, but lower in men, reflecting a longer “ring” finger than index finger. There have been seven studies comparing 2D:4D in gay and straight men, and the findings are all over the map. Three studies find higher (feminized) ratios in gay men (McFadden 2002; Lippa 2003; Collaer, Reimers, and Manning 2007), but two other studies found gay men to have lower (hypermasculinized) ratios (Robinson and Manning 2000; Rahman and Wilson 2003) and two found no difference in digit ratios between gay and straight men (Williams et al. 2000; Voracek, Manning, and Ponocny 2005). Among women, two studies found lesbians to have “masculinized” digit ratios (Rahman and Wilson 2003; and Williams et al. 2000), but one small study (Anders and Hampson 2005) and the two largest studies (Lippa 2003; Collaer, Reimers, and Manning 2007) found no difference compared with heterosexual women. Only one study has reported a link between 2D:4D and gender identity, and this found a “feminized” pattern in male-to-female transsexuals, but no difference between female-to-male transsexuals and other genetic females (Schneider, Pickel, and Stalla 2006). In sum, if there is any link between digit ratio and sexual orientation or gender identity, it appears to be very small, and to be limited to (genetic) men. The evidence is similarly mixed for other indicators.

On page 104:

Though no studies have examined the brains of lesbians, one study has
now looked at the brains of male-to-female transsexuals (Zhou et al. 1995; Kruijver et al. 2000). The study, by Dick Swaab’s lab at the Netherlands Brain Institute and conducted in conjunction with Louis Gooren, a renowned clinician-researcher who works with transsexuals, concerns yet another portion of the hypothalamus, the central subdivision of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc). In an initial report, Jiang-Ning Zhou and colleagues simultaneously reported a difference in the volume of the BSTc between nontranssexual men and women, and between transsexual and nontranssexual men. The study is particularly interesting because the scientists had sought to identify “a brain structure that was sexually dimorphic but was not influenced by sexual orientation, as male-to-female transsexuals may be ‘oriented’ to either sex with respect to sexual behavior” (Zhou et al. 1995, 68). (Most other brain organization researchers, especially in the early years, have missed this point about the variability of sexual orientation among transsexuals.) When Zhou and colleagues found that the six transsexuals they studied had, on average, a smaller BSTc volume than other genetic males, they concluded that they had found “a female brain structure in genetically male transsexuals,” which they said supported “the hypothesis that gender identity develops as a result of an interaction between the developing brain and sex hormones” (68). Swaab’s team later refined the analysis, determining that the volume differences they observed reflect a difference in cell number (Kruijver et al. 2000). They also ruled out a relationship between cell number and (male) sexual orientation, because nontranssexual men, regardless of sexual orientation, had almost twice as many of a specific kind of neuron (somatostatin neurons) as women in this brain area, and the number in male-tofemale transsexuals was similar to that of the women.13 (It’s worth emphasizing that the second paper is an elaboration, rather than a new study, because 26 of the 34 subjects in the main analysis were the same as those studied by Zhou et al. (1995). Thus, the finding of a relationship between the BSTc and gender identity has been extended but not replicated.)

On page 261:

Here is the promised return to Hausman’s reflections on the David Reimer story. Though Hausman raises the issue of the natural attitude about gender, she didn’t quite draw the conclusion that the reason David Reimer’s sex reassignment didn’t “take” was that it was recognized as “not the real thing.” Yet all accounts point to a myriad of ways that the natural attitude was ruptured in this case: no one actually believed that the child “was” a girl—they believed (or rather, hoped) that he might be made into a girl. In fact, they believed that, as unlikely as it might be, it was his
only chance of survival. In Colapinto’s fuller account (2001), it is obvious that parents, the broader family, clinicians, and teachers—among whom the child’s original male sex was an open secret—colluded in the heavyhanded enforcement of femininity. The fact that Money recruited transsexual women to try to convince the child to have vaginal construction may well have underscored for Reimer that what was under way was, in fact, a reconstruction of gender, a replacement rather than “the original.”

On page 265:

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people (those with minority sexual orientations) are mostly not transgender (people who don’t identify with their “birth sex” or the gender in which they were reared), but LGBT communities overlap and have entangled histories. It is tempting to think that the distinction between gender and sexuality has influenced the history and politics of LGBT people, but the influence has been at least as strong in the other direction: political aspirations and intragroup struggles have shaped the very contours of gender and sexuality as these categories became conceptually distinct in the twentieth century. Anthropologist David Valentine (2007) has documented how gay and lesbian activists actively distinguished themselves from “gender deviants” (transsexuals, transvestites, and even such nondiagnosed but socially disdained groups as “fairies” and “bulldaggers”) in order to win social respectability and escape from the stigma of mental illness. This was not simply a cynical political strategy, of course, but fit well with some gay men’s and lesbians’ fundamental sense of being typical men or women in terms of gender.

By now, the copious number of tangential quotes should make the point clear by now: Jordan-Young is far from clearly antagonistic towards trans people. She is amenable to using trans-affirming language, cites a trans-affirming ethnography and refers to trans people as their actual gender where relevant.

Even more, her underlying schema of sex, gender and sexuality that she outlines in chapters 1, 6, 7, 9 is a delightful turn away from the typical TECF analysis. I recommend reading her book in full here.

Daphna Joel

The thorny issue of “brain sex” has centered an empirical conflict within the “transgender debate”; where some (bad) transfeminists promote the idea that our brains have ‘sexes’ that legitimizes trans existence, in contrast to some (also bad in other ways) ‘gender critical’ feminists who insist that brains are not ‘sexed’. To support this assertion, TECFs will cite Daphna Joel’s pioneering word on the brain mosaic, However, they tend to forget anything about her other work: namely the work she does on transgender people. Let’s review.

The first paper that she published on the topic was her 2014 paper Queering gender: studying gender identity in ‘normative’ individualsIn it, she and her colleagues study the formation of gender identity in ‘normative’ (or cis) individuals: specifically how the typical ideas we have about the demarcation between ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ don’t hold up. This article and her later work has become the basis for my article ‘Daphna Joel and the Limits of the Cis-Trans Binary’. In contrast to anti-trans feminists, Joel doesn’t demean or degrade trans lives by prima facie rejecting gender identity, she problematizes the notions we have about the relationality between cis and trans people.

She extends upon these foundations in her 2018 article An Exploration of the Relations Between Self-Reported Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in an Online Sample of Cisgender Individuals and her 2019 article Self-Reported Gender Identity and Sexuality in an Online Sample of Cisgender, Transgender, and Gender-Diverse Individuals: An Exploratory Study. She then uses this body of research in the synthesis article from a set of feminist scientists ‘The Future of Sex and Gender in Psychology: Five Challenges to the Gender Binary‘, where she presents her research (both in neuroscience and in gender identity) as a challenge to the gender binary.

‘Second Wave’ Feminists

Margaret Atwood

If you’ve ever tried to explain why supporting trans people is not inherently anti-feminist (or is in fact a pro-feminist position), then you’re bound to have seen the pejorative “handmaiden” thrown around. Cis women allies of trans people & cis feminists are accused of being “handmaidens” to the patriarchy because they support trans people, which purportedly reproduces gender roles, or something. The term “handmaiden” has been in use in feminist circles for quite a while, but it was reinvigorated and popularized by Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which described a ‘dystopian society‘ where women are organized hierarchically based on their reproductive ability (sound familiar?). The book and its themes are often used as a weapon against trans advocates:

Despite the fact that Margaret Atwood is explicitly supportive of trans people:

In a January 2018 interview with The Guardian, she responded to the question of her status as a feminist with:

It is always – ‘What do you mean by the word?’ For instance, some feminists have historically been against lipstick and letting transgender women into women’s washrooms. Those are not positions I have agreed with.

Later in March that year, she distinguished herself from TECFs by saying:

Tell me what you mean. I don’t sign blank cheques. Do you mean that I’m a 1972 feminist who felt that women were betraying their gender to have sex with men? I’m not that kind of feminist. And I’m not the kind that thinks that trans women are not women. So you tell me what you mean and I’ll tell you if I am one.

And in an April interview with TeenVogue the year before, she explained how trans people were actually built in to the TV/cinema adaptation of her book:

TeenVogue: There’s a foreshadowing scene early on where Ofglen asks Offred if she’d mind walking along the river on the way back home from their errands. Ofglen wants to see the Wall, where the authorities display those who have been executed. When they arrive at the Wall, Ofglen is drawn to the hanging corpse of someone who was LGBTQ. Can you talk about that scene and how you think it fits in with current events and contemporary culture?

MA: Absolutely. Gender treachery. That’s what they’re getting Ofglen for in the TV series. And there are people writing this stuff, now! Now they’re doing it! It’s about transgender people mostly, and they don’t exactly call it treachery, but they’re having none of it. You saw what the Trump administration did [to repeal trans people’s protections]. And if you want a take on why people get so popped up about it, it’s because it challenges their roles. So if there’s somebody who can change from being a man to a woman or a woman to a man, what does that make them? From whence derives their authority? When things are so wobbly, it makes them very insecure.

And indeed, the way that TECF discourse functions ends up reproducing the hierarchy and social network aspects of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Judith Butler

I know this is a strange choice to include on a list of theorists/people that ‘gender critical’ and trans-antagonistic feminists would cite, but it’s sadly become (or rather became) a part of reality. Back before Judith Butler started doing interviews on how she supports trans people, she was occasionally cited by anti-trans feminists who believed that the observation that gender is a construct somehow inherently leads to the conclusion that trans people are invalid.

Because the internet was not preserved very well and is nearly impossible to search, we don’t have good records of when anti-trans feminists used to do this besides some attestations. For example, Cristan Williams wrote:

I suspect TERFs began to truly hate me when I published this article. Until this article, it wasn’t uncommon for TERFs to use Butler’s Gender Trouble to support their animus.

in reference to Butler’s interview with Williams.

Another trans individual said:

Maybe I greatly overestimate the proportion of TERFs who rely on a perversion of postmodern theories of gender, but I have had multiple TERFs quote Butler at me in a social constructionist context. My impression is that some of them interpret the theory of performative gender in such a shallow way as to suggest that when trans women are feminine, they are deliberately “putting on a performance” to trick cis women into accepting them into women’s spaces and that this reading of performativity exhibits trans women’s artificiality and intrinsic deceitfulness.

Edit: Oh! And I remember what gave me the strongest impression. When that ex-TERF did an AMA a few months ago, she and I talked briefly via PM about our mutual love for Butler in particular, and she mentioned that most of her friends while she was a TERF considered postmodern philosophers to be On Their Side, as it were.

There have been several other references to trans antagonistic feminists citing Butler in their anti-trans fury from veterans in the ‘debate’, but this has long since passed because of the aforementioned interviews.

We should note that despite the fact that these interpretations happened before Butler came out and cleared them up, they are very literally gross misinterpretations of even Butler’s original book Gender Trouble. Her theory of performativity does not entail any commitment to an anti-trans theory of gender and several other aspects of the theory directly contradict anti-trans views such as:

  • Butler’s claim that the sex/gender distinction isn’t very coherent since sex is gendered and ends up being discursively constructed as well.
  • Butler’s claim that we cannot abolish gender norms; instead we ought to destabilize and denaturalize them to emphasize that they are inherently artifactual.

Martha Nussbaum

Strangely, in the anti-trans feminist’s quest to find theorists to devalidate trans people, after realizing Judith Butler isn’t a transphobe, they turn right to another one of their arch-nemeses: Martha Nussbaum. Martha Nussbaum wrote a polemic of Judith Butler’s research in 1999 called The Professor of Parody, which has quickly become a favorite among anyone who derives pleasure from attributing any pro-trans views to “postmodernism” or “queer theory”, including and especially TECFs. Despite the fact that this article is a caricature of Butler’s views that was written when Butler was only a nascent philosopher, it has become a classic against anyone unwilling to read the original text and judge for themselves.

Ironically, the author of the very text, Martha Nussbaum, has written in favor of some very non-‘gender-critical-anti-trans-radical-feminist’ points of view: namely her academic defense of sex work. Because “radical feminism” has become almost synonymous with anti-porn and anti-“prostitution” feminism, it would be hard to present a defense of Nussbaum as a radical feminist professor rather than an unwilling ally against the devil of “Kweer Theory”. She is best-known as a ‘liberal feminist’ (or fun feminist in the TECF vocabulary) and as one of the main feminist critics of feminist philosophy as a distinct entity.

Beyond her detailed defense of ‘taking money for bodily services‘ that would incense anti-trans feminists, she has also come out in favor of trans rights, at least subliminally. In her recent bookMonarchy of Fear‘, she said:

“African-Americans were being lynched in the south. Communists were losing their jobs. Women were just barely beginning to enter prestigious universities and the work force … sexual harassment was a ubiquitous offense … Jews could not win partnerships in major law firms. Gays and lesbians, criminals under law, were almost always in the closet. People with disabilities had no rights to public space and public education. Transgender was a category that had … no name.

In a 2017 response, she noted:

I do agree strongly that an active citizenry is crucial, and that women’s solidarity is also very important as one part of active citizenship. However, I think that consumer movements are often more important than protest marches, and that they are one tool that concerned women and men can use and have used in the US to good effect. The baneful anti-transgender law in North Carolina was derailed largely through industrial boycotts spurred on by consumers, and there are many other similar examples. We need to be active on many fronts, not disdaining the market!

And in a 2017 interview, she stated:

Another example is bullying and harassment of gay, lesbian, and transgender children in schools. Their emotional life is warped in a very fundamental way when their peers and teachers do not show respect for them. Schools have improved a lot, but there is still a huge amount of work to be done.   Disability is a similar issue: individuals are emotionally crushed by insult and stigma. So let’s get rid of that behavior.  I do not think that it is too intrusive to ask all public school teachers to treat all their students with respect and to enforce norms of respect in the classroom.  I realize some Americans think this is intrusive, but then they used to think that racial integration was too intrusive.  In short: law protects our equal dignity and emotional health in many fundamental ways, and it should do this job better.

In sum, anti-trans feminists have made strange bedfellows in their attempt to construct a programme of critiques against the myriad of pro-trans writers.

Andrea Dworkin

Among the lengthy list of radical feminists that TECFs have appropriated is the most prominent of them all: Andrea Dworkin.

She has been cited as “the radical, visionary feminist we need in our terrible times” by Julie Bindel, cited to bolster anti-trans arguments, called a ‘hero’ by anti-trans feminists, and is cited in about just every way.

Despite this, she is less-known as being supportive of trans people, to the extent where people are surprised when it quotes from her are presented.

Her partner John Stoltenberg wrote an article (originally titled “Andrea Dworkin on Living Beyond Gender”) about how Andrea Dworkin was, in fact, inclusive of trans people. As noted in my article on radical feminism, she (and a number of other ‘second wave’ feminists) had an alternative conceptualization of the relation of sex (class[es]) and gender that demonstrated their incoherence.


Anti-trans feminists have an unpopular position: they try to position themself on the left while simultaneously taking reactionary positions. As such, they have cobbled together an incoherent set of positions from varying authors: those who agree with them on a select number of issues, but broadly disagree elsewhere. Whether it is feminists who are not anti-trans or right-wing anti-feminists, the contradiction of their citations echoes loudly to anyone educated in their sources. Beyond people like Andrea Dworkin and Leonard Sax, they have cited numerous other figures like Kimberle Crenshaw, Angela Davis, and others who disagree with their positions. It’s difficult to fit all of these into a single article, so I leave with a single conclusion: once we remove the reactionaries and pro-trans feminists from the list, there isn’t an academic basis for the anti-trans feminist point of view. There’s, of course, a right-wing anti-feminist position they can take (and that we’ve slowly started to see appeals to), but it is a contradiction to consider oneself ‘on the left’ and simultaneously oppose trans rights.


Radical Feminist Conceptualizations of Sex-Gender

Radical Feminism

Catherine MacKinnon

MacKinnon rejected the sex/gender distinction, referring to Ortner’s critique Is Male to Female as Nature Is to Culture?:

Much has been made of a supposed distinction between sex and gender. Sex is thought to be the more biological, gender the more social; the relation of each to sexuality varies. I see sexuality as fundamental to gender and as fundamentally social. Biology becomes the social meaning of biology within the system of sex inequality much as race becomes ethnicity within a system of racial inequality. Both are social and political in a system that does not rest independently on biological differences in any respect. In this light, the sex/gender distinction looks like a nature/culture distinction in the sense criticized by Sherry Ortner in “Is Female to Male as Nature Is to Culture?” Feminist Studies 8 (Fall 1982). I use sex and gender relatively interchangeably.

In her view, it isn’t precultural bodies that produce gendered distinctions via some mechanism of reproductive roles or bodily features. While important in determining the phylogeny of the regulatory apparatus of sexuality, they are instead postcultural justifications for the system of sexuality that produces sexual difference itself. By individuals’ roles in sexual intercourse (taking from Dworkin’s Intercourse), MacKinnon elaborates the way that it is social concepts of sexuality that themselves produce female subjects:

To make a theory feminist, it is not enough that it be authored by a biological female, nor that it describe female sexuality as different from (if equal to) male sexuality, or as if sexuality in women ineluctably exists in some realm beyond, beneath, above,
behind-in any event, fundamentally untouched and unmoved by an unequal social order. A theory of sexuality becomes feminist methodologically, meaning feminist in the post-marxist sense, to the extent it treats sexuality as a social construct of male power: defined by men, forced on women, and constitutive of the meaning of gender.

and further:

Sexuality, in feminist light, is not a discrete sphere of interaction or feeling or sensation or behavior in which preexisting social divisions may or may not be played out. It is a pervasive dimension of social life, one that permeates the whole, a dimension along which gender occurs and through which gender is socially constituted; it is a dimension along which other social divisions, like race and class, partly play themselves out

and finally:

This approach identifies not just a sexuality that is shaped under conditions of gender inequality but reveals this sexuality itself to be the dynamic of the inequality of the sexes. It is to argue that the excitement at reduction of a person to a thing, to less than a human being, as socially defined, is its fundamental motive force. It is to argue that sexual difference is a function of sexual dominance. It is to argue a sexual theory of the distribution of social power by gender, in which this sexuality that is sexuality is substantially what makes the gender division be what it is, which is male dominant, wherever it is, which is nearly everywhere.

In the same way that (cis) women’s sexualities are regulated, trans (women’s) sexualities are rendered unintelligible, either by casting any sexual feelings as some form of ‘autogynephilia’ or by reducing sexual expression to ‘male sexuality’. Even more, MacKinnon’s analysis of the pornography industry can be extended with an analysis of the regulatory discourses that produce the transsexual subject. In porn, the oft-recognized fetishization that ‘consumers’ have for the trans body itself is reminiscent of the way that black bodies and disabled bodies are considered within the pornographic sphere. Within MacKinnon’s framework, it would be ludicrous to ignore the harm done to trans subjectivity by trans pornography as an act of violence, exactly why she specifically included transsexuals as a class of individuals able to bring a class-action lawsuit against pornographers for the harm done against them as a sex class.


Dworkin, in contrast, took a much more traditional analytical route in analyzing sexual difference. In her magnum opus Woman Hating, Dworkin analyzed the way sexual difference as a continuum is reduced to a cultural dichotomy between male and female. She incorporated the psycho-sociological analyses of Money’s six aspects of sex (genetic, hormonal, gonadal, internal, external and psychosexual), her contemporaries’ developments in the analysis of intersex bodies and the crosscultural ways sexual differences are represented to present sexual difference not as opposition, but as a spectrum upon which individuals vary in their location. For her, the idea of polarized ‘men’ and ‘women’ were simply caricatured fictions by which androgynous individuality is transformed into oppressive norms:

The discovery is, of course, that “man” and “woman” are fictions, caricatures, cultural constructs. As models they are reductive, totalitarian, inappropriate to human becoming. As roles they are static, demeaning to the female, dead-ended for male and female both. Culture as we know it legislates those fictive roles as normalcy.

While one might interpret this as simply the ‘gender role’ vs ‘sex’ disjunction feminists have made over the years, Dworkin suggests something much more radical. She argues that gender roles arises from the idea of sex as binary & fixed so that feminists are required to challenge this ideal:

There are, after all, men and women. They are different, demonstrably so. We are each of one sex or the other. If there are two discrete biological sexes, then it is not hard to argue that there are two discrete modes of human behavior, sex-related, sex-determined. One might argue for a liberalization of sex-based roles, but one cannot justifiably argue for their total redefinition

But just like feminist scientists in the 21st century, Dworkin draws upon a compendium of research demonstrating the opposite: that sex as a binary is a fiction:

… research … provide[s] basic information which challenges the notion that there are two discrete biological sexes. That information threatens to transform the traditional biology of sex difference into the radical biology of sex similarity. That is not to say that there is one sex, but that there are many. The evidence which is germane here is simple. The words “male” and “female, ” “man” and “woman, ” are used only because as yet there are no others.

We can presume then that there is a great deal about human sexuality to be discovered, and that our notion of two discrete biological sexes cannot remain intact. We can presume then that we will discover cross-sexed phenomena in proportion to our ability to see them. In addition, we can account for the relative rarity of hermaphrodites in the general population, for the consistency o f male-female somatotypes that we do find, and for the relative rarity of cross-sexed characteristics in the general population (though they occur with more frequency than we are now willing to imagine) by recognizing that there is a process of cultural selection which, for people, supersedes natural selection in
importance. Cultural selection, as opposed to natural selection, does not necessarily serve to improve the species or to ensure survival. It does necessarily serve to uphold cultural norms and to ensure that deviant somatotypes and cross-sexed characteristics are systematically bred out of the population.

I highly recommend read the entire chapter Sexuality in Woman Hatingthen comparing it to Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body and then comparing those to Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution’s Rainbow.


Continuing upon Dworkin’s cogent analysis, John Stoltenberg (himself Dworkin’s lifelong partner) analyzed the fiction of ‘sex’ and the multisexed nature of humanity in his book Refusing to Be a Man. Stoltenberg was moved by Dworkin’s analysis of sex-gender, and elaborated upon the specifics of the ideology of male sexuality & the male sex itself. For Stoltenberg, the male sex is an ideologically constructed fiction used to maintain dominance of men over women (sex classes):

The idea of the male sex is like the idea of an Aryan race. The Nazis believed in the idea of an Aryan race—they believed that the Aryan race really exists, physically, in nature—and they put a great deal of effort into making it real. The Nazis believed that from the blond hair and blue eyes occurring naturally in the human species, they could construe the existence of a separate race—a distinct category of human beings that was unambiguously rooted in the natural order of things. But traits do not a race make; traits only make traits

His distinction between bodily features, which may be precultural [or perhaps the body is itself constructed as Butler suggests], and the categories that traits are socially transformed into grounds his analysis of sex as an oppressive dichotomy:

Penises and ejaculate and prostate glands occur in nature, but the notion that these anatomical traits comprise a sex—a discrete class, separate and distinct, metaphysically divisible from some other sex, the “other sex” —is simply that: a notion, an idea. The penises exist; the male sex does not. The male sex is socially constructed. It is a political entity that flourishes only through acts of force and sexual terrorism. Apart from the global inferiorization and subordination of those who are defined as “nonmale,” the idea of personal membership in the male sex class would have no recognizable meaning. It would make no sense. No one could be a member of it and no one would think they should be a member of it. There would be no male sex to belong to. That doesn’t mean there wouldn’t still be penises and ejaculate and prostate glands and such. It simply means that the center of our selfhood would not be required to reside inside an utterly fictitious category—a category that only seems real to the extent that those outside it are put down

He shares MacKinnon’s view that it is not sexuality that is gendered but that sexuality produces gender.


Marilyn Frye’s analysis of sex classes was far and few in her work, but perhaps her most relevant discussion of sex-gender was in her work Sexism. Frye takes perhaps the more traditional view of sex-gender in that sex is made culturally relevant via social processes that themselves constitute patriarchy. She discusses the instances where male dominance is produced in a sexless, genderless sphere of existence as a means of elucidating how reality itself becomes sexed/gendered. But as for Dworkin and Stoltenberg, sexual reality is not dichotomous nor sharp and opposing: it is instead variation ‘along the physical dimensions we think of as associated with maleness and femaleness’:

The pressure on each of us to guess or determine the sex of everybody else both generates and is exhibited in a great pressure on each of us to inform everybody all the time of our sex. For, if you strip humans of most of their cultural trappings, it is not always easy to tell without close inspection which are female, which are male. The tangible and visible physical differences between the sexes are not particularly sharp or numerous. Individual variation along the physical dimensions we think of as associated with maleness and femaleness are great, and the differences between the sexes could easily be obscured by bodily decoration, hair removal and the like.

Frye analyzes the way that we are obligated to announce and assert our sex(es) in a way that itself constitutes sexual dimorphism, in contrast to the ‘biological spectrum between two not-so-sharply defined poles’. The exemplaries of this analysis are intersex individuals, whose biological reality does not fit into the regulatory ideals that define sexual reality. Social processes reinforce preexisting differential averages to (re)produce, exaggerate and dichotomize sexual difference like genital reformation, dietary and exercise regimens and so on: 

The intense demand for marking and for asserting what sex each person is adds up to a strenuous requirement that there be two distinct and sharply dimorphic sexes. But, in reality, there are not. There are people who fit on a biological spectrum between two not-so-sharply defined poles. In about 5 percent of live births, possibly more, the babies are in some degree not perfect exemplars of male and female. There are individuals with chromosomal patterns other than XX and XY and individuals whose external genitalia at birth exhibit some degree of ambiguity. There are people who are chromosomally “normal” who are the far ends of normal spectra of secondary sex characteristics-height, musculature, hairiness, body density, distribution of fat, breast size, etc.-whose overall appearance fits the norm of people whose chromosomal sex is the opposite of theirs.

These variations not withstanding, persons (mainly men, of course) with the power to do so actually construct a world in which men are men and women are women and there is nothing in between and nothing ambiguous; they do it by chemically and/or surgically altering people whose bodies are indeterminate or ambiguous with respect to sex. Newborns with “imperfectly formed” genitals are immediately “corrected” by chemical or surgical means, children and adolescents are given hormone “therapies” if their bodies seem not to be developing according to what physicians and others declare to be the norm for what has been declared to be that individual’s sex. Persons with authority recommend and supply cosmetics and cosmetic regimens, diets, exercises, and all manner clothing to revise or disguise the too-hairy lip, the too-large breast, the too-slender stature, the too-large feet, the too-great or too-slight stature. Individuals whose bodies do not fit the picture of exactly two sharply dimorphic sexes are often quite willing to be altered or veiled for the obvious reason that the world punishes them severely for their failure to be the “facts” which would verify the doctrine of two sexes. The demand that the world be a world in which there are exactly two sexes is inexorable, and we are all compelled to answer to it empathetically, unconditionally, repetitiously and unambiguously.

For Frye, the fact that we do not mistake men for women and vice versa (very often at least!) is not because of naturally inborn and biological distinctions, but because of cultural processes that demand ambiguous individuals (perhaps Dworkin’s androgyny) not only signal their ‘true’ sex with cultural markers like clothing, jewelry and hairstyles, but physically alter, modify and mutilate their bodies in accordance with these sexual ideals. Feminism is thought of as a project to blur sexual difference, to break down that of which sexed ontology, sexed reality is even thought of. The liberal feminist’s reactionary defense of a dimorphically sexed society, for Frye, is not grounded in any theoretical or conceptual devotion, but rather in the very physical and ‘behavioral patterns’ that produce sexual difference.