In the last couple of years there has been a retreat on the question of the rights of transsexuals in the labour movement in Britain, and mockery and contempt for trans people has become a real problem even among a layer of putative left activists. Somewhat strangely, a key inspirer of this has been Joanne (“JK”) Rowling, the celebrity author of Harry Potter children’s books and sometime novelist, and an ideologue of the Labour right. Rowling, a long time Blairite, was an outspoken opponent of the left in the recent witchhunts and Blairite/Zionist destabilisation campaign that brought down Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, yet remarkably she has gained kudos among some of the left for a campaign against transsexuals that bears considerable resemblance to her pro-Zionist activities. She tends to fictionalise her obsessions: during the Corbyn period she wrote a novel called Lethal White about an imaginary anti-Semitic anti-Zionist. Her latest rendering, Troubled Blood, is about a transvestite serial killer, again crudely serving a political agenda.
She has been particularly outspoken in her attacks on the policy the Labour Party adopted under Corbyn, for extending anti-discrimination protections under Equalities legislation to change the ‘protected characteristic’ of ‘gender reassignment’ in the current legislation to ‘gender identity’. Where previously a medical ‘diagnosis’ of ‘gender dysphoria’, if not actual surgery, was required for such recognition (implying that transsexuality is some kind of sickness) now ‘self-identification’ would be all that is required. This change would remove the legal justification, which exists in current law, for the exclusion of transsexuals from some ‘single sex services’, for instance in refuges and prisons.
In the past two years there had been a ‘consultation’ on the table from the Tory government, as part of their previous efforts, begun under David Cameron, to show that they are ‘enlightened’ and ‘modern’, to amend Equalities and Gender Recognition laws in a similar way, that would allow transsexuals who have not yet gone through the protracted and often painful process of gender-reassignment, including that involving surgery, to be recognised legally as being of their changed gender/sex on the basis of self-identification. However, under Johnson the Tories have predictably retreated from these promises and Johnson’s government now echoes the transphobes in all parties who demand the exclusion of trans women from ‘women’s spaces’ in the name of supposedly protecting women against predatory male sex offenders who decide to ‘identify’ as women.
What is more odd is that her arguments have been accepted by quite a few on the left and have become a source of significant divisions among those who are otherwise opponents of the Labour right, its pro-NATO militarism, pro-Zionism and neoliberalism. In Labour there are groups like Women’s Place, and the LGB Alliance (with the ‘T’ – for ‘Trans’ – conspicuously missing) which contain left-wing people who have historically fought hard against Blairism. It is a tragic regression that such people find common cause with the likes of Rowling.
The origins of Rowling’s school of thought are in one of the most egregious and bigoted strands of the neoliberal politics that dominated Labour during the Blair period, epitomised by Julie Bindel. Whose tirades against transsexuals accompanied her campaign, along with Harriet Harman, and the crooked neocon Denis MacShane, for the hypocritically-disguised ‘feminist’ ‘Swedish’ position on sex work. This put a ‘feminist’ gloss on the project of Moral Majority religious bigots, defining sex work as ‘violence against women’ and trying to deprive sex workers of income by criminalising their clients, pretending to be acting for the benefit of the sex workers (by trying to starve them). Bindel saw her campaigns against sex workers, and transsexuals, as complementary.
This is one of many strands of what Blair’s government stood for that has long been in deep disrepute, but this transphobic trend seems to have revived as a result of the adaptation of part of the left to right-wing populism and its ‘working class’ pretentions – to Trump and Brexit. Though the positions of individuals may vary considerably on such things, there does seem to be considerable overlap between those on the left who backed Brexit and showed softness on Trump, and those echoing JK Rowling’s bigotry today.
Popular Fronts with Trump and Farage
Thus, George Galloway and his new Workers Party of Britain boast about their backwardness on this: not only did Galloway notoriously ally himself with Nigel Farage and call for votes to the Brexit Party in the 2019 General Election. His bloc partners in founding the new ‘Workers Party’, the Mao-Stalinist Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), led now by Joti Brar, with its roots in the ‘radical’ fringe of Maoism in India via the Indian Workers Association (GB), proclaimed at the time Donald Trump was elected president in 2016:
“Coming as it does on the heels of the Brexit vote in June, Trump’s victory is another blow at the imperialist system and the so-called liberal order. As such, it should be greeted with enthusiasm by the revolutionary proletariat and progressive humanity everywhere.”https://archive.cpgb-ml.org/index.php?secName=proletarian&subName=display&art=1247
This bizarre variant of Stalinist Popular-Front politics should cause the left to rub their eyes in disbelief. Instead of a Popular Front seeking a bloc with the liberal bourgeoisie against fascism, as was the norm in the 1930s (except for the period of the Stalin-Hitler pact, to which this bears some resemblance), we now see a Popular Front with part of the ‘radical’ neoliberal right against the liberal bourgeoisie in the name of opposing neoliberalism. This phantasm has its own roots, which are not the subject of this article, but it does have relevance, as Trump’s position on transsexuals is finding an echo among some on the left. And the kind of adaptation Galloway is now known for has a broader influence also including on some who were involved with the Corbyn movement.
On August 17, a US Federal Judge temporarily stayed the Trump administration’s overturn of the Obama administration’s definition of sex/gender. Forbes (17 Aug) reported:
“The Trump administration policy rescinds the Obama administration’s 2016 gender discrimination rule which redefined sex discrimination to include termination of pregnancy and gender identity, which it defined as ‘one’s internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female.’
Trump’s policy returns to the government’s previous interpretation of sex discrimination according to ‘the plain meaning of the word ,<<sex>> as male or female and as determined by biology.’”https://www.forbes.com/sites/elanagross/2020/08/17/federal-judge-temporarily-blocks-trump-administrations-rollback-of-obama-era-transgender-health-care-protections/#5bb3be4f60d6
We hear similar things on some of the left, including from Galloway:
“I stand with JK Rowling. People can wear what they like – even their dead mother’s clothes – and identify as Moon-landing astronauts if they like, and I will do my best to accommodate them. But not to the extent of signing in my blood that they actually ARE what they identify as. … the ‘self-identifying woman’s’ freedoms are impinging on the freedoms of girls and women to their own spaces, privacy and self-expression.”https://www.rt.com/op-ed/500868-galloway-psycho-jk-rowling-hitchcock/)
So here we see a rather strange confluence between the “socially conservative, but economically radical”, Galloway, and a brand of feminism in the left and labour movement, that for all the rhetoric against ‘identity politics’ that we see from some of those denouncing the ‘delusion’ of transsexuals about having changed their gender/sex, exhibit a prime characteristic of identity politics – smears that anyone who does not share their particular form of chauvinist hostility to another group, is hostile to the group they identify with.
Transphobic Identity Politics: A Threat to Gays Also
Thus Trans-Exclusionist Feminists frequently accuse those who do not share their exclusionism, whether male or female, of ‘misogyny’ (hatred of women). It only takes a moment’s thought to deduce that there is no logical reason to believe that those who defend the rights of transsexuals should have any reason whatsoever to hate women. It is just as intellectually lazy and insulting as the canard that those who are critical of the oppressive behaviour and activities of Zionist Jews towards Palestinians, hate Jewish people in general.
A classic manifestation of identity politics, apart from clear cases of outright separatism by an oppressed stratum under capitalism (which is generally mistaken and counterproductive), is when strata that are not oppressed, accuse members of a stratum that does suffer oppression, of bigotry simply for demanding basic rights. So it is when Zionist Jews smear their Palestinian victims (and their sympathisers) as ‘anti-Semites’ for demanding their rights. So it is when the small, vulnerable minority of transsexuals (and their sympathisers), demanding equal treatment to members of the sex they have transitioned to, are smeared as sexual predators and misogynists.
The counter-argument from transphobes is that transsexuality is itself a form of ‘identity politics’, that the very idea that anyone’s psyche can be at odds with their original biology is a ‘delusion’ which should not be ‘indulged’, that such people are in effect mentally ill, and should be treated as such, or as in some other way as deviant. Such people can never be fully accepted as female, or male, no matter what they do, is the logic of this argument which is heard regularly from those on the left who have capitulated in this way.
This argument is bigoted and inhuman, and in its logic threatens homosexuals as well as transsexuals. For if biology is paramount, if the psyche counts for nothing and no one can ever have a sex-related psychological makeup that is at odds with their strict biology, then how can homosexuality be a sexual orientation at all? The biological function of sex, by the same logic (applied consistently) as the transphobes use, is reproduction, and therefore ‘sexual’ activities between those of the same sex are not really sexual. By this reasoning they can only be acts that signify a mental delusion, as with the ‘delusions’ of transsexuals, that need ‘treatment’, that even should be ‘cured’. Medical orthodoxy used to say this about gays, as recently as the 1980s. When this is said about transsexuals it can just as easily be said about homosexuals. And it will: if the left retreats on trans rights in this manner it will open the way for further retreats on gay rights.
The current anti-trans regression on the left needs to be rejected, on the grounds Lenin laid out in What Is To Be Done, as early as 1903, that the job of would-be socialists and communists is to act as the “tribune of the oppressed, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression … no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects”. That unifying of the oppressed behind the banner of the working class as the universal emancipator, is the real negation of identity politics.