Soon after reading Helen Joyce’s TRANS, I decided to amuse myself a bit by looking through reviews in publications and websites across the Culture spectrum. I found it amusing because it was an exercise in how bias shapes narratives. Those on the left denounced TRANS and its author, calling it poorly researched and full of holes. Those on the other side called it groundbreaking and a true assessment of trans activity. What is unamusing is the seriousness and urgency of the issue that TRANS tackles. At its core, the issue that TRANS explores is how gender self-identification redefined gender as something innate and personal. A feeling that cannot be questioned but only believed and not dependent on biological sex. Even when it is innate and based on feelings, it must not only be accepted by all but redefine how a major section of society lives their lives.
This is not a book that disputes the lived experiences of transgender persons. What TRANS does is question the push by transactivists to not only lower the bar for transgenderism to self-identification but also delegitimize the supremacy of biological sex to the point that anyone who points out the disconnection is labelled a heretic and a human rights abuser (I am ignoring all those fanciful terms used in such occasions). The pivotal premise of TRANS is that the current trend anchored on the push described above is harmful to biological women. TRANS explores how transwomen have, while insisting that innate feeling is sufficient to identify with a new gender, also forced biological women to see transwomen as women in all circumstances. How this impacts women’s spaces, prison facilities and sports are areas where the gender self-identification ideology clashes with the reality of everyday living.
Reading TRANS, I get the impression that the author’s passionate exploration of the topic is solely because women are gravely impacted by the gender self-identification ideology. The fact is that the impact is more far-reaching. The “I feel, therefore I am” form of liberation was always going to lead to this logjam with devastating consequences for reality. Feelings can never be enough to determine societal norms. It can be used for religious creeds but those are never imposed on non-adherents. Redefining what constitutes womanhood based on such broad criteria was always going to be problematic. Pronouns are being muddled up arbitrarily, dissenting voices are being silenced with vehemence and women’s sports are suddenly an all-comers affair. TRANS highlights the danger to women and children but it looks like the danger will be all-encompassing as long as “I feel, therefore I am” remains a leading mantra of post-modern liberation.