The problem with Owen Jones

I have a bone to pick with Owen Jones. In a recent article on online abuse, he wrote:

When I experienced this abuse in the past, I felt aggrieved, in the middle of a twitter storm, under attack, you name it. But here’s an important perspective and context to consider. The majority of trans people have contemplated suicide. A large majority suffer mental distress in a society absolutely riddled with transphobia. When prominent media commentators who describe themselves as progressive refuse to accept their right to exist, who intentionally and gratuitously misgender them, who joke about them looking like Pete Burns (as one of my trans women friends has been mocked by some of the detractors I’m referring to in this piece) — well, is anger understandable, even if the abuse is unsavoury? I put the abuse I’ve received in that context. They can’t do that, because they fundamentally oppose trans rights and portray supporters of trans rights as misogynists.

There are a few issues with this passage, not least the victim blaming. If women who reject and criticise trans ideology get “unsavoury” abuse, surely they deserve it? Play nice and you will be fine, right? What’s more, he relies on misrepresentations to support his claims. Women don’t refuse to accept the right of trans people to exist. We know they exist. What we refuse to accept is a narrative that insists that men can become women and vice versa, especially in the absence of coherent and objective definitions. Neither do we oppose trans rights. What we oppose is trans rights that come at the expense of women’s rights. This is something men on the left cannot accept: women should just put up and shut up. Which is why such men are rightly called misogynists. Owen is displaying either ignorance or disingenuity in his arguments, and it is tiresome to have to repeatedly defend ourselves against red herrings. But here goes anyway.

It is not transphobic, hateful or violent to state that humans can’t change sex. It is biologically impossible for someone born male to become female. I would argue that it is our duty to make this very clear so that people who are considering having surgery or taking hormones do so with full awareness. Some of these changes will be irreversible and all carry risks, as well as requiring a lifetime of follow ups. We need to listen to those who regret having surgery as well as those who benefited from it.

It is not transphobic, hateful or violent for women to defend our rights and point out that we are oppressed on the basis of our female biology. We view gender as a hierarchy that naturalises our subordination and men’s dominance, often through violent means. This is borne out by statistics: male violence against women is described as a pandemic by the UN. In this context, we have a right to male-free safe spaces and to demand that laws and policies not be based on self-declaration, since this would be wide open to abuse and put women at risk. As has happened in Target stores on several occasions (the last case involving voyeurism by a “transgender woman”), at the University of Toronto, and at shelters for women, for example. We argue that there is no such thing as female essence or female brain not because we want to deny others rights, but because such claims have been used throughout history to deny us rights. For women to fully participate in public life, it is necessary to acknowledge the nature of our oppression and the barriers that block our path to liberation. The “we just want to pee” argument masks what is at stake for women. The case of India, where communal bathrooms are common, shows the risks when women don’t have access to safe toilets: kidnapping and assaults occur regularly.

It is not transphobic, hateful or violent for lesbians to have boundaries that exclude MTTs (male-to-trans or “transwomen”). In fact, MTTs have no right to call themselves lesbians: lesbians are female homosexuals and MTTs are male. It is lesbophobic for male individuals to appropriate our orientation and to deny us our spaces and marches. Attempts to shame and coerce lesbians into having relationships with males is typical of rape culture and is conceptually indistinguishable from corrective rape. “I’m a lesbian trapped in a man’s body” used to be a “joke” but is now wholly supported by an ideology that dismisses same-sex attraction as bigoted.

It is not transphobic, hateful or violent to argue for caution in the case of dysphoric children. Gender dysphoria has many causes and transitioning is not the right treatment in many cases. The high level of desistance attests to this. Detransitioners have important stories to tell and deserve to be heard, too. Trauma, abuse and homophobia all play a part in dysphoria, and less radical procedures can greatly help in these cases. We also need to ask questions about social contagion, porn culture and misogyny when large numbers of girls suddenly claim to be trans. For their part, autistic children are overrepresented, which raises questions about the nature of their vulnerability and the need to protect them against harm. Overall, as things stand, guidelines for treatment are based on the experience of men who transitioned late in life. We need to hear from those who manage(d) their dysphoria without transitioning so that children get the best possible treatment and support.

It is not transphobic, hateful or violent to refuse to adopt a language, including pronouns, that validates a misogynistic and homophobic ideology. Women are referred to as non-men or more recently as non-prostate owners. Lesbians are cisbians and are getting banned from Facebook for using the word dyke. A vagina is a front hole, while a neo-vagina becomes a true vagina. The language deliberately erases women, lesbians and female biology, and allows further oppression to take place. On the other hand, the terminology referring to men and male biology is never questioned or redefined.

There is no doubt that trans people face discrimination and violence, and deserve legal protections. (As do women incidentally.) But this doesn’t give trans activists carte blanche to deny others their rights and to abuse, threaten and smear those who disagree with their ideology. In any case, Owen can’t have it both ways. If anger and “unsavoury” abuse are understandable, then women who receive death and rape threats as well as all other forms of misogynistic abuse would be well within their rights to retaliate in kind. This doesn’t happen however because such abuse is never acceptable.  For Owen to state otherwise, supporting his position with misrepresentations, only puts the spotlight back on the left’s acceptance of misogyny and its inability/unwillingness to tackle it.


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