The End of Traditional Civil Rights?

by Daniel A. Kaufman

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I’m concerned that we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of civil rights, as traditionally understood.  The fight for civil rights was born with the original women’s movement of the late 19th century** and may very well may die with the contemporary gender-identity movement that has engulfed both feminist and gay and lesbian activism.  If allowed to continue and become even more generalized (and I don’t see why it wouldn’t, given its current trajectory), this “identificationism” will absorb the black, Latino, and other racial and ethnic justice movements as well.  What a bitter irony it is that after surviving more than a century under the relentless assault of the forces of reaction, the fight for civil rights may very well end in the name of progressivism.

In my essay “Self-Made,” I described identificationism (though I didn’t name it such) as a simultaneously anxious and hubristic deformation of the modern conception of the self, whose origins lie in the philosophies of Descartes, Locke, and Kant. (1) The reasonable version of this conception entails a rejection of the pre-modern idea that a person is defined entirely in terms of his or her position in a social framework that is governed by a normatively thick conception of natural law, in favor of the notion that (to a substantial degree) who we are is a matter of our internal consciousness and thus, is determined by us.  It was an idea whose ultimate aim was to ground the moral and political autonomy of the individual necessary for life in a modern, democratic polis.

What the reasonable version of this conception never entailed, however (substance dualism and noumenal selves aside), was a complete rejection of material or social reality, but this is precisely what contemporary identificationism does, maintaining that the individual is entirely self-made; that who and what I am is a matter of my own consciousness and will alone, irrespective of nature or social consensus.  The result is an incoherent, unstable ground, on which identity and civil rights as traditionally understood can no longer be sustained.

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Until about five minutes ago, everyone knew what a lesbian is, namely a homosexual woman. According to contemporary gender identity theory, however, a woman is anyone who identifies as such, even if the person in question has a complete complement of male reproductive organs, the result being that ‘woman’ becomes a sexually heterogeneous category and same-sex attraction becomes same-gender attraction.

The gay and lesbian civil rights movement was all about promoting the moral and legal prerogatives of those with same-sex attractions, pursuing same-sex relationships.  The battles were hard fought, with incremental victories scored across the 1970’s, ‘80s, and ‘90’s, but in the United States, in 2015, the motherlode of all victories was won with the legalization of same-sex marriage, across all fifty states.  It was a watershed moment for American civil rights, akin to women attaining the right to vote and the desegregation of American schools.

But it all was to be reversed, in the historical equivalent of a split-second.  Not legally – at least, not yet, though that would seem to be coming – but morally, socially, and politically.  For to assert one’s right to be exclusively same-sex attracted and to pursue exclusively same-sex relationships, today, is alleged by identificationists as being, at best, a kind of genital-fetishism and at worst, outright bigotry.  After all, since (according to them) ‘man’ and ‘woman’ denote genders, not sexes, and since genders are sexually heterogeneous, not sexually homogenous, to be a lesbian or gay man is to be same-gender attracted, not same-sex attracted.  This is how we wind up with the strange spectacle of people with a complete set of male reproductive organs claiming to be lesbians and the shameful move on the part of gender-identity activists to publicly excoriate homosexuals for not wanting to have sex or romantic relationships with people of the opposite sex, something that used to be the exclusive province of religious fundamentalists and other assorted social conservatives and reactionaries. (Why sex preferences are bigoted but gender preferences are not is never explained.)

You might think this little more than a weird fight, at the farthest reaches of radical politics, but you’d be wrong.  All of the major feminist and gay rights organizations have jumped on the identificationist bandwagon with aplomb, apparently oblivious to the fact that it entails the wholesale erasure of heterosexuality and homosexuality, as human phenomena.  And it is worldwide.  Consider, for example, the announcement for next year’s Lesbian Lives conference, at the University of Brighton, which indicates that:

The Lesbian Lives Conference is open to all genders and any political and sexual orientations. There is an ethos of welcome and accessibility. We particularly want to extend a welcome to bi and trans communities. The Lesbian Lives Conference has considered and signed a comprehensive statement of support for ‘Feminists Fighting Transphobia’ (2)

The statement laments those feminists who believe that women have been oppressed as a sex and that the feminist movement should remain a sex-focused one and brands them as bigots, akin to racists:

There has been a noticeable increase in transphobic feminist activity this summer: the forthcoming book by Sheila Jeffreys from Routledge; the hostile and threatening anonymous letter sent to Dallas Denny after she and Dr. Jamison Green wrote to Routledge regarding their concerns about that book; and the recent widely circulated statement entitled “Forbidden Discourse: The Silencing of Feminist Critique of ‘Gender,’” signed by a number of prominent, and we regret to say, misguided, feminists have been particularly noticeable. And all this is taking place in the climate of virulent mainstream transphobia that has emerged following the coverage of Chelsea Manning’s trial and subsequent statement regarding her gender identity, and the recent murders of young trans women of color, including Islan Nettles and Domonique Newburn, the latest targets in a long history of violence against trans women of color. (3)

You might wonder why any of this need be a problem, insofar as we retain the notion of sex, alongside gender.  Let identificationists have their genders and their hetero- and homo-genderalism, you might say, and we’ll keep our sexes and sexual orientations.  The problem with such a live-and-let-live strategy is twofold.  As just indicated, all of the major feminist and gay rights organizations have joined the identificationist parade and are actively engaged in trying to stamp out any continued commitment to sex-based identity and activism. Of even greater concern, however, is the fact that the concept of biological sex itself has come under identificationist attack, with gender theorists and activists claiming that it too is “socially constructed” (hence all the talk one hears about sexes being “assigned” at birth, “girl-penises,” sex not being bimodal and the like).  Most worrisome is the fact that it’s not just gender theorists and activists talking this way, but members of the scientific and medical establishments as well, and though at this point it is not entirely clear whether the latter, as a whole, will go over the identificationist cliff – we still have “women’s clinics” staffed by women’s doctors (i.e. gynecologists and obstetricians), and medical researchers still do sex-based clinical research, in light of the many, substantial physiological differences between males and females that entail any number of different medical needs – but the indicators are not hopeful, in the face of the intense pressure being applied by contemporary identificationists.

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What is happening to contemporary feminism and gay and lesbian activism should not be underestimated, but understood as a sign of things to come.  After all, unlike a person’s sex, one’s ethnic identity is obviously, demonstrably socially constructed, and race, (beyond the human) is an outright fiction constructed out of superficial differences in material appearances, like skin color or eye shape, so it’s hard to see how ethnically and racially grounded civil rights efforts will be able to resist the logic of self-madeness. (4)  Rachel Dolezal’s efforts to “self-identify” as black may have backfired, but I would suggest that this is only because she came to the identificationist party a bit too early.  (5) Another such effort, five or ten years from now, done offensively, rather than defensively, in the manner of contemporary gender activism (i.e. by way of accusing critics of bigotry and “violence” and demanding their silencing and worse), might very well succeed, and if it does, it will be the last nail in the coffin of the traditional conception of civil rights.

That conception was always about making the case against justifying social, political, and economic subordination on the ground of acknowledged material realities.  The material fact that black people look different from white people was used to justify the belief that they, as a group, suffer a diminished humanity, which provided the grounds for their exploitation and enslavement.  The material fact that women bear children and men do not was used to justify the belief that they, as a group, suffer diminished rationality and lack emotional discipline, which provided the grounds for men’s control of their reproductive cycles and ultimately, their lives.  The material fact that gay men and lesbians’ natural sexuality was opposite that of the majority of people was used to justify the view that they, as a group, were a threat to society, which provided the grounds for criminalizing their romantic lives.

In short, the material realities of certain groups of people – skin color, sex, sexual orientation – were used as a way of denying the members of those groups the rights and prerogatives that are the principle fruit of the Enlightenment and of modernity, and the relevant civil rights movements arose around those material groupings, in order to make the case that such material realities are fully consistent with our equal moral dignity and worth and with our having an equal place in the modern polis.  They did not deny that the relevant material realities exist, but rather, that they have any legitimate moral or political valence in a modern, democratic society.

Identificationism presents itself under a progressive banner, but is essentially a form of hyper-individualism and is thus an extreme variety of liberal, rather than progressive politics. If one follows the logic of contemporary gender-identificationism, according to which there literally are scores upon scores of self-identified genders, then there really aren’t any men or women or anything else, but only self-defined individuals. (6) Apply this logic to race or ethnicity and one gets the same result, and it becomes hard to see what a civil rights movement, as traditionally conceived, would be about. I think it’s fair to say that taken to its logical conclusion and stripped of all of its civil rights trappings, contemporary identificationism is essentially a form of liberal utopianism, for it denies that material realities place us into groups, the rights and prerogatives of which may need to be fought for in civil and political society, and insists instead that the only groups to which we belong are those of our choosing and that the only realities impinging upon those choices are those existing within the consciousness of each individual.  Ultimately, this is a rejection of the very basis on which the need for civil rights movements rests, with the only remaining “cause” being that of getting people to accept other peoples’ self-identifications.  Now, perhaps we have reached the point at which we no longer need the traditional civil rights movements.  Perhaps, we have reached the point that Martin Luther King hoped we would one day reach, at which every individual is judged solely on the basis of the content of his or her character, rather than on his unchosen, material condition, but it seems to me that before we jettison the traditional conception of civil rights, we should probably have a serious, public conversation about whether that is, in fact the case.

**A reader pointed out to me that this claim may be untrue.  Given the ambiguity of the term ‘movement’ and given that talking of civil rights as a movement is often commonly associated with black civil rights, I think it’s fair to say that for the US, the fight for female and black civil rights represent the country’s earliest organized civil rights efforts, whichever was first.

Notes

  1. https://theelectricagora.com/2017/05/25/self-made/
  2. https://www.facebook.com/LLConference2019/posts/325104074886414?__tn__=K-R
  3. https://feministsfightingtransphobia.wordpress.com/the-statement/
  4. https://www.philosophersmag.com/footnotes-to-plato/124-on-human-races

https://philpapers.org/archive/PIGWAW/

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rachel_Dolezal
  2. https://nonbinary.wiki/wiki/List_of_nonbinary_identities

https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/cchr/downloads/pdf/publications/GenderID_Card2015.pdf

http://genderfluidsupport.tumblr.com/gender

https://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2014/02/heres-a-list-of-58-gender-options-for-facebook-users/

110 Comments »

  1. Yes, I’m sure the burgeoning far right movements around the world will rejoice at the chance to judge every individual ‘solely on the basis of the content of his or her character, rather than on his unchosen, material condition’. [Not.]
    Thank you. I wish I could have written this.

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  2. The theft of language is also a theft of rights. Without the legal right to assert and explain the oppression of women and girls on the basis of our biological difference to males, then there can be no grounds or justification for legal protections based on sex either. That’s the end game. TRAs accuse gc lesbians of ‘punching down’ in the full knowledge that self-id harms the most disadvantaged and most abused. It especially harms those million of women at the bottom of the socio-economic pile because it forces some tectonic like guilt trip on the whole of fucking humanity for not using ‘inclusive’ language. Meanwhile, almost 900 women a week day in childbirth due to conditions that are wholly preventable.

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  3. The trans line currently is very clear: The man- and womanhood of transpeople is not a whit less real than the man- and womanhood of cispeople, and for this claim to make any sense at all, man- and womanhood must have just one cause. More than one cause would justify different treatment and different facilities, and the trans lobby has made it abundantly clear that this is nothing but transphobic bigotry. Therefore, there must be only one cause of man- and womanhood, and it cannot be physiological sex for fairly obvious reasons. It can only be the ipse dixit of ‘gender identity’. ‘Gender identity’ must replace sex for transpeople to attain what they claim justice demands, but, as many people have pointed out (especially Lesbians), once you replace sex with ‘gender identity’, the concept of sexual orientation makes no sense because the idea that self-identification is the source of visceral, sexual attraction is just absurd.

    So, the LGBT Alliance rests upon premisses that cancel each other out. Again, this seems glaringly obvious to me, and, again, that may be because my irrational hatred has so warped my mind that I shall never exit my cave of bigotry to experience the pellucid sunlight that is Queer Theory. Maybe. But if that is not the case, and the contradiction is as glaring as I argue it to be, then why do many gay activists insist vehemently upon an alliance that cancels out the gay identity? I would suggest that for the gay activist, what’s even more important than the assertion of the gay identity is the demolition of concepts that make heterosexuality normative. The gays’ arch nemesis, heterosexism, must be destroyed utterly, and it can be destroyed only if it is no longer normative for anything. It cannot be normative for relationships, and it cannot even be normative for determining man- and womanhood. All arguments for physiological sex as the determinant of man- and womanhood are premised upon reproductive complementarity, and you just can’t get more heterosexist than that. Thus, in order to finally free society from the oppression that is heterosexism root and branch, man- and womanhood must be divorced completely from reproductive complementarity and be predicated simply upon an individual’s say so. But, again, once you do that, then sexual orientation makes no sense as an identity.

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    • Either this is a parody, or you should consult a therapist.

      The complexity of the rhetoric doesn’t hide the extreme oversimplification of the issues involved (from an equally extreme Idealist perspective).

      The lack of understanding of the highly nuanced and subtle relations between the sexes; between the genders; between lovers and loved ones – is frankly pathetic.

      Get your nose out of your theory-book and go live a live.

      Have sex with whomever you choose, as long as they’re consenting. Who cares? Only puritans and identity theorists, apparently.

      Menken was right: “A Puritan is someone who worries that somewhere someone is having fun.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Also – I am not a “cis” anything. You have no right to label me against my self-identification, which I adopt in compliance with basic biology (sex) and the commonly understood roles of the social context in which I share and participate (gender). Should I object to the social role, Iwill let it be known, without any help from your religious utopianism. And don’t tell me who I should have sex with – stay out of my bedroom!

        If we had long ago agreed that the only people who should be interested in our bedrooms were the consenting adults therein, these issues would never have come up.

        The more I think of it, the more it’s obvious that how little distance there is between you and the Fundamentalists you rail against (and who rail against you). And between the two of you, stand the liberals trying to protect your rights. What ingratitude you show!

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      • I’m inclined to agree with ejwinner here.

        Yes, I see excesses on the left. But I think the reaction is over wrought. I grew up in a world where there were more left wing crazies than right wing crazies. But, for most of my life, the right wing crazies have dominated the madness. If there’s to be a resurgence of the left, we should not be surprised that it comes with an increase in the number of left wing crazies. But for now, the right still dominate the world of crazies.

        If some male wants to feel female, then good for him (or good for her). But maybe I want to feel that he is male. If it’s okay for him to go by his feelings, then it should be okay for me to go by my feelings. That’s the core contradiction that I see coming from the left wing crazies.

        Isn’t this mostly just teenage rebellion? Maybe we should not be too hasty in hitting the panic button.

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          • This video may change your mind.

            I agree with some of the concerns of Michele Moore. And I think she may be right, that this is some kind of social infection — in other words, a fad. But I’m not ready to panic. You can’t stop these fads. It’s best to let them run out, and wait for common sense to return.

            Liked by 1 person

          • I think this comment might be in the wrong place but its meant to be come after Dan’s comment.

            Double Wow on calling parents who mutilate their children as simple making ‘mistakes’. Is the same view to be taken on Female genital multilation as well? I’d like to hear what the rationale is as to when its ok to harm children and when its not.

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          • Dan K.,

            Thanks for the link to the video. It raises a lot of issues about treatment of children who identify, for good or bad reasons, as trans. Issues that are worth studying in more detail to be sure. There may be some kind of mass social contagion at work here as the speaker suggests.

            The question of adults who self-identify as trans is different. They have every right in the world to guide their lives by mass social contagion: that may not be wise, but few of us live wisely.

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          • Paul S. Rhodes,
            On re-reading and noting Dan’s comment, I may have mistaken a critique for a defense. If so, I apologize. The “you” of my replies is really a generic trans-activist.

            I was responding especially to: “I would suggest that for the gay activist, what’s even more important than the assertion of the gay identity is the demolition of concepts that make heterosexuality normative. The gays’ arch nemesis, heterosexism, must be destroyed utterly, and it can be destroyed only if it is no longer normative for anything.” I’ve know, and still know, a number of gay men and lesbians who would never say any such thing.

            “But, again, once you do that, then sexual orientation makes no sense as an identity.” If you offer this as part of the self-contradictory nature of trans-ID activists, then you’re right to do so; unfortunately, the problem is, my sense is that they would say exactly that and be fine with it. Which would not be fair to many gay men and women.

            Right now many gays/lesbians are accommodating trans extremism; so it has been the feminists who have felt the brunt of trans-extremist ridicule. But if trans-extremists are serious in their desire for a thoroughly amorphous sexual playing field, then the gays and lesbians will surely find themselves targets of bullying as well.

            Again, my apologies if I misunderstood you on initial reading.

            Dan,
            I agree with Neil to a large extent – this is a kind of fad; just as much of the Counter-Culture of the ’60s resolved itself as a set of fads. What didn’t resolve itself that way mutated into something far worse. LSD disappeared, but a drug-culture remained – it just wasn’t about ‘expanding consciousness anymore. The tragic thing about the current instance is that there is pressure to embody certain trans-extremist ideas into law in some quarters, apparently. That will have deleterious effects. However, it will also mean a serious backlash, eventually. Cultural Revolutions don’t end well politically.

            Liked by 2 people

        • Surrendering to peer pressure in order to participate in the subculture of a small minority, expressing typical confusions about sexual desires as opposed to expected behaviors, is no symptom of psychological problems; but discussing the matter with someone outside the (reinforcing bubble of) the peer group might be helpful.

          Notably she ends by asking – demanding – that trans activists stop bullying “lesbians who do not want anything male in their sex lives.”

          The elevated rhetoric doesn’t change reality. There are xx and xy chromosomes. There are penises and there are vaginas. There is copulation between men and women, men and men, women and women. There are sex toys. There is a sperm and there is an egg, and there is conception. If the fetus is brought to term, a child is born. He or she will need to struggle through the same growing pains, confusions, and resolutions that have been our human experience since there were naked apes that could have been called human, had there been anyone there to give them name.

          You want something that doesn’t exist, that likely won’t ever exist. I’ve already seen it – I read The Dialectic of Sex, and I suggest you do as well. The world you dream of depends on a technology without workers; on an economy without exchange of wealth; on a culture cleansed of all tradition and all biases and – more importantly – on all signifiers of difference. Which necessarily presumes a dictatorship of an elite engaging in a cleansing cultural revolution.

          They tried that in China. Didn’t work.

          At any rate, there is still a People’s Republic. But they seemed to have realized that such a world of which they dream, let alone anything like the world you dream, is not going to come about by mere changes of language; nor by brow-beating others with your theories; nor by tiny cadres of confused young people who – as young people always have – mistake a hoped-for solution of their confusions as some grandiose world saving apotheosis of self-evolution.

          You’re stuck on the same planet as I am. Eventually you’ll grow old, enough that it will either no longer matter to you, or it will no longer matter to anyone you would like to have sex with.

          There are necessary inclusions (which we call rights) to allow everyone their day in court; their opportunity to realize their potential; their enjoyment of life. There are privileges that are useful, that we allow with proper training and observance of needed regulations.

          Then there is the demand to be someone or something special, and to be allowed to disrupt the rights and enjoyments of others, not because these others are threatening, but because their rights and their privileges, their achievements and their enjoyments are perceived as threats merely by existing. That’s dangerous – that’s what links the radical trans activism Dan complains of, and which you seem to espouse, with the Fundamentalist puritans – and with the Maoists of the Cultural Revolution as well.

          Two people – what ever their gender, whatever their sex – consenting to engage in copulation does not threaten me, so I pay it no mind. If you feel threatened and need to know precisely what make and model each one of them is – then yeah, I would suggest a therapist.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Isn’t the analogy of the current SJW’s with the Chinese cultural revolution a bit exaggerated?

            Estimates for deaths from the Chinese cultural revolution run from 400,000 to 10,000,000. It was a major crime against humanity, while as far as I know, the current twitter mobs haven’t killed anyone so far.

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    • No, you make a mistake here. Your thinking the male and female biology category is for reproduction is heterosexist itself. As homosexuals, reproduction in our sexual attraction is irrelevant. Also, sexual orientation is not an identity. It is a sexual orientation. There is no gay and lesbian ‘identity’ separated from homosexuality as that is homophoic itself and not homosexuality.
      Again, the view that male and female biological categorisation is based on reproduction is heterosexist itself and is a religious view.. For homosexual people this is irrelevant in our attraction. It is relevant to our physcial and mental health, as males and female show different symptoms in for example, heart attacks amd s the sex you have is very important for that.
      My suggestion is that the gender identitarians create their own gender identity based orientations as redefining homosexuality goes against the civil rights of homosexuals and is thus illegal. And after all, they reject biological sex, so they cannot make a claim to sex based orientations. It is one of the many paradoxes found in transgender ideology.
      A 2018 Canadian university study found the vast majority of people is attracted based on biological sex, including trans/queer people themselves. When a small group of gender identitarians reject biological sex, they can create their own gender identity based orientations. That is how democracy works.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree that reproduction is irrelevant to gay and lesbian sexuality. But it is not irrelevant to the male and female sexes. It is how our species reproduces. Nonetheless, that has no bearing on peoples’ sexual orientations or whether they should be able to pursue relationships according to them with the full backing of the law, which they should.

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        • You are correct. Reproduction is relevant to the male and female sexes. But to make the argument that the sexed body is heternormative is a stretch, and quite insulting to homosexuals :). I better should have said that the reproduction argument is often used against homosexuals..Also this: completely deconstructing the sexed body does not solve heteronormativity, as bodies will still be capable of reproducing. It is not a solution. And after all, plenty of trans people claim to be heterosexual. So many use the heteronormative concept of sexuality.

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          • But to define sexes by reference to reproductive complementarity implies that the purpose of the sexes is heterosexual, does it not? If that’s case, then the reproductive definition of sex makes heterosexuality the norm and homosexuality a deviance from that norm. Thus, the reproductive definition is homophobic, but without such a definition, sex makes no sense, and neither does homosexuality.

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      • Hey, let’s play Name Your Favorite Internal Contradiction of the Transgender Movement! I’ll start. Mine is the push for ‘gender confirmation surgery’ which presumes a body type for men and women while denying that there is a body type for men and women.

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  4. Good piece. When civil rights are being erased we land in fascism. It is already happening. The identity ploitics has destroyed LGBT already. No LGBT org accepts anylonger homosexuality is same sex only based. The betrayal by the se orgs is profound. I expect, as a growing number of people and scientists are becoming aware what identity poitics and identification really means as in effects and consequences, most people will reject it. It will receive the treatment religions get. Im glad to see a man write about what this does to women’s and homosexual’s rights. I also think gay men need to get on board and start talking about it. Too many are silent.

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  5. What an excellent essay. It’s good to see something of some academic weight being written on this issue instead of the typical bromides that you see elsewhere. The identitarian attitude to sexual attraction is worthy of a Monty Python sketch, apparently even trans-lesbians don’t want to have sex with other trans-lesbians, and yet this is never mentioned. I think the enormous asymmetry between trans-men and trans-women needs to be talked about also. There is a reason we don’t see these issues affect men as they do women. Why do trans-men not make the same demands as trans-women?

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  6. * “the concept of biological sex”: I can see right on this article the way you adopt a social construction of biological sex based on organs o chromosomes. Research is needed but some recent papers shows that the brain structure of transgender people are like that of their desired gender. So, why the biological “objective” reality of organs is more important than the biological “objective” reality of brain structure? By any means, the brain is more relevant on issues of identity than chromosomes. Humans are different to other species, we may ponder diferent aspects of our biological identity differently.
    But even that is not important, that humans use the concept of sex doesn’t mean that we have to match the biological definition of sex. For example, we in society and law use the concept of adult and maturity and has nothing to do with the biological definition of maturity. We can let researchers use whatever definition of sex they want in the field of biology and we in society use the one we want.

    * The other problem in this article is that you continue to assume that people just decide to be of the other sex, and because of that you conclude that is an arbitrary choice.

    * “but is essentially a form of hyper-individualism and is thus an extreme variety of liberal, rather than progressive politics”. This point as the next one shows an old version of the progressive movement. Of course is progressive to defend that any people can make the sexual choices they want, that’s not corrosive individualism. There are many old progressives that were against LGBT, but guess what, history moves. We are not XIX century progressives.

    * “it becomes hard to see what a civil rights movement, as traditionally conceived, would be about” Why the “traditionally conceived” civil rights movement can’t be reformed or adapted to times? Do you really think for a second -like Fukuyama- that we reached “the end of history” in civil matters and no further discussion is required?

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  7. Your essay reminded me of the old Steven Colbert bit about how he doesn’t see race (“People tell me I’m white and I believe them because I like Mitt Romney”). But even that method of identity acquisition seems more plausible that the one you’re criticizing. Really, at this point I’m just trying to understand the opposing position; I’m nowhere near ready to consider its implications for civil rights.

    You write: “According to contemporary gender identity theory [CGIT]. . . a woman is anyone who identifies as such…”. But what does that mean? Specifically, is there any reason to identify one way rather than another (from your essay I got the sense that, according to CGIT, there isn’t — that it’s a wholly arbitrary choice). But then what’s the point? According to CGIT, what information would I be conveying if I identified as a woman, or a man, or as anything else for that matter? What hangs on how people self-identify? I’m starting to suspect that the CGIT position is better suited to gender eliminativism than to gender subjectivism. But I could be missing something.

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    • I agree with you that the way self-identification as a woman/man is articulated is incoherent. Without a prior definition of ‘woman’ to say that one identifies as one is meaningless and to simply insist that one *is* one is question-begging. But my aim in the article was not to criticize the concept, as a concept, but rather to inquire into the effects of self-identification on the traditional idea of civil rights.

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    • I’ve seen this argument doing the rounds recently. It’s interesting that we can supposedly tell men and women apart from their ‘brain structures’, yet at the same time we are not allowed to discuss any differences in cognitive abilities based on these structures. This seems to be a typical problem for the whole identity crowd, they resort biological essentialism when their social constrctivist ideas fail, and vice versa. What is it? Do we have gender fluidity so there is more than just men and women, or is there a binary determined by some biological features? Also, how does this biology explain detransitioners?

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    • Good point. Though I’m inclined to think CGIT theorists rest their eliminativist or subjectivist claims on an extreme form of metaphysical anti-realism (the kind Nicholas Wolterstorff takes down in “Are Concept-Users World-Makers?”). The eliminativism or subjectivism is just a consequence of that endorsement.

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  8. I don’t know if the end of the civil rights struggle is near, but is it possible that the seeds of its decay have been sown many years ago – and not by the militant trans-community?

    It’s remarkable how much rhetoric used by the more radical segments of various movements is recycled by the militant trans-community.

    We had homophobia, then islamophobia. Now we have transphobia.
    We had “unconscious bias” towards certain ethnicities, now we have transwomen explaining that lesbians who are not attracted to people with a penis have unconscious biases too (“cissexism” or whatever).
    The use of the word “hate” to silence others and explain phenomena that actually are a bit more complicated. Now people who are even mildly critical of the militant trans-community are accused of trans-hate.
    The idea that the personal, lived experiences of a group trump everything said by people who don’t belong to the group.
    The idea that practically every social custom is in fact an insidious trick of the hetero- and cis-normative patriarchy to oppress everybody else.
    Check your privilege!
    The whole self-identification thing.

    When the militant trans-community started its struggle, it had all the rhetorical weapons it could wish for. Aren’t these rhetorical weapons proof that the civil rights movement was in trouble years before transpeople made their voices heard?

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    • Bunsen Burner,
      My point wasn’t that brain differences *should* be the criteria to define sex (just a few recent papers are starting to show those things). My point was that the article just assumes that organs and chromosomes are the only criteria that defines biological sex, Why is that? The author admits that other criteria (the brain is just an example, maybe in the future another candidate appears) may be valid? Let’s use the (now old) example of the definition of planet, we were certain that we have 9 planets in this Solar System, why the author is so certain that chromosomes is the ultimate way to define the “biological” sex?
      But, I repeat, that is not important. Anyone with basic education in philosophy knows that you can’t get an ought from an is. Let’s assume God (or whatever) tell us that the real biological definition of sex is Y chromosomes. That only solves the problem inside the field of biology. You need an extra argument to say that society and law should use that definition as the main relevant. We can be consequentialists and decide to choose whatever definition of is better for maximizing the capacity of flourishing of most people. So, if to call man a person who feels as a women can generate psychological scars for life, why is so important to do that? Just for strict adherence to scientific definitions and “objective” evidence isn’t enough to justify choosing things that can be cruel.
      I put the example of maturity. Biology have good definition of biological maturity in humans, and the fact that the law (and morals) regards a different one is not an impediment to the advancement of science. Why sex should be a case in which the society just take the definition from biology and not be like the concept of maturity? At least an explicit argument is required to do that.

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      • First of all, whatever definition is chosen, it should not be antagonistic to biology. Even maturity is defined to be consistent with biology. We don’t insist on babies making adult decisions do we? However, you seem to have forgotten that these are not arbitrary, purely academic decisions. They come with a raft of legal and social consequences that many seem to conveniently ignore. So a man wants to say they are a woman. Fine. They choose to wear feminine clothes and put on makeup. Fine. They start insisting that they be treated legally as a woman – that they should have access to female sex-segregated areas, such as changing rooms, showers, women prisons. Not fine.

        ‘So, if to call man a person who feels as a women can generate psychological scars for life, why is so important to do that’

        If this comes into conflict with the safety and freedom of society’s women then tough. They’ll just have to be less precious about it. In the UK a tran-woman put in a female prison raped and abused the women there. Why do her psychological scars override their very real physical ones? In fact even if I was a consequentialist, I don’t believe that letting people have the legal position of anything the just ‘feel’ like helps to maximise their flourishing. We have quite a literature now on detransitioning, showing that some counselling and psychological help would have been much better than a just ‘go ahead and do it’ approach.

        Finally, I’d like to know how far you are willing to go with your reasoning. Surely you understand your argument doesn’t just apply to sex. Let people be any race they want too. Better than generating pscholical scars, right? Let them be any age they want to be too. I can now take my wife to court for having sex with a minor, right? Do you think we will soon see demonstrations supporting the rights of Furries?

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        • I’m not so sure I agree %100 with your police work there, Bun.

          What sort of metric (consequentialist or otherwise) uses one anecdote to make a totalizing rule? It won’t take long to find examples of transgender being victimized by male inmates or guards, so what then? If we look at the statistics, we’d even see that transgender inmates are at greater risk of assault than other inmates. Why we’re not supposed to take this into consideration is a mystery. So a transgender inmate sexually assaulted female inmates. If a transgender inmate has a known history of assaulting women this should weigh against housing them with women. Regardless of their gender identity, an inmate should be housed in a way that minimizes harm to both them and others. This is inevitably difficult in practice and our sidelines political squabbles won’t help that conversation at all.

          Maybe we can move to the really difficult conversations now, like how to address polarization, climate change, criminal justice reform, immigration reform, voter rights, dark money, etc. etc. etc. With all the crap weighing down on us right now, when someone tries to convince me that I should be deeply concerned about transgender people, I just see keys jangling in front of my face.

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          • I’m sorry you feel that way, Zac. It is a sufficiently important issue for sufficiently many traditional feminists and gay activists whom I take seriously and whose concerns I respect that I thought it important to write about.

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          • “I’m sorry you feel that way, Zac. It is a sufficiently important issue for sufficiently many traditional feminists and gay activists whom I take seriously and whose concerns I respect that I thought it important to write about.”

            Well, I don’t share your concern that any of the examples you forwarded pose a threat to civil rights, and I’m skeptical of so-called radfem

            My guess is that civil rights will more readily be curtailed by people over-reacting to and misinterpreting them and, altogether, focusing on them in a way that distorts our political lens. Obviously I’m happy to engage in discussion about transgender athletes in women’s sports or weird readings of queer theory and so on. I do it. But when these crowd our political conversations and reiterate fast-food culture-war arguments that end up in free-associative axe-grinding about a transgender rapist, I think it’s playing into what’s worst in our political moment right now. I understand you feel that you’re throwing water on that tendency right now, but I don’t sense that in the comments or anywhere else that these debates pop up. We don’t end up talking about the prevalence of this kind of prison assault, whether against transgender people or otherwise, often committed by prison guards. And we certainly don’t address the concern that we incarcerate such a ridiculous amount of our population. We fall into knee-jerk appraisals of salacious anecdotes and spit them out as a homily neatly fit into the culture war.

            So OK, if the lesbians allow a transwoman into their conference, I’ll be there. If someone posts youtube video with some specious arguments, I’ll be there. If a woman inmate (trans or otherwise) is raped, I’ll be there. If a female athlete wants to talk about transgender competitors, I’ll be there. If sparrow falls, I’ll be there. But I’ll probably be more there in some places than others, and I’m unlikely to bite if someone tries to convince me that transgender activists are a clear and present danger to the fabric of our society.

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          • But when these crowd our political conversations

            = = =

            They certainly don’t “crowd out” political conversations here. You can count the number of essays on the subject on 1 hand.

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          • I’m talking about the broader cultural conversation. Although as far as the content of some the essays here goes, obviously I disagree with the priorities and assumptions on call. I am Temerity itself, I guess.

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          • First of all, my point was that it is not obvious that even if you accept consequentialism that Yupanqi’s argument follows. As for my ‘anecdote’ (a major news story here in the UK), Professor Stock has documented many cases like this going back many years.

            However, the statistics of trans abuse do not tell us anything about the risks posed to women prisoners by allowing men into their prisons. The history of assault argument also plays no part here. We can’t tell that just because a prisoner has not assaulted someone in the past, that they never will, especially when placed in a situation that makes that assault easier to accomplish.

            ‘Maybe we can move to the really difficult conversations now, like how to address polarization, climate change, criminal justice reform, immigration reform, voter rights…’

            Unlike women’s issues you mean? Because women’s safety is somehow a lesser problem? It is really funny how chauvinistic trans discussion quickly become. Women’s concerns end up being quickly dismissed (usually be men) in a way that would not be tolerated in any other type of discussion.

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          • Bunsen Burner

            “whatever definition is chosen, it should not be antagonistic to biology”
            You again ignore my comments that the biological definition of sex is not static, just like the one in planet. My example (not a proposal) of the brain definition of sex in humans is consistent with trans-gender. But even let’s assume again that God settles the issue in favor of chromosomic definition, again you can get an ought from an is, you failed to prove me why a definition in society can’t be antagonistic to biology. In biology we explain agency in terms of biological responses, in society and law we choose something antagonistic: free-will.

            “So a man wants to say they are a woman” and ” the just ‘feel’ like”
            I really don’t know the policy in the UK where you seem to live, but here you need a psychiatrist to diagnose you with gender dysphoria to change your sex. I don’t agree that just any one changes his ID according to his mood, but after a time in which a professional of mental health certifies his condition.

            The prision example
            As already Zac said, that’s anecdotal, you can’t deny a right because a stric minority of a group did something. And also because we can have a discussion about prision policies and another one (the main here) about regular civil life. I do worry about victims of rape, rape in prisions is a real problem, but not only trans-people are causing it. I hate what you would call biological-women over biological-women rape in female prisions. Why is the transgender case differente? Do you have scientific conclusive literature that proves that because of them being transgender that rape happened? I’m happy to read it.

            “Surely you understand your argument doesn’t just apply to sex. Let people be any race they want too.”
            My argument does apply to sex, that’s becaus you continue to feed the straw men of “just choose”. There is no psychiatric literature about people whose race identity cause him/her a serious impairment, and I dont agree with people changing their race status just in case. The author of the article is speculating ” Another such effort, five or ten years from now (…) might very well succeed”. What are the grounds for this? The false idea of “identificationism”. He thinks like you that transgender are just boring people that one day the idea of changing sex comes to their mind, and to “prove” that that lie also apply to race he mentions the case of Dolezal, a ridiculous person, as an example. No, it is not part of the proposals of most activists to defend an “identificationism” in race. And if I’m wrong, please give me a list of major organizations who explicitly endorse trans-racialism.

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          • Bunsen,

            Still not impressed. Still a mystery why your hackles aren’t raised for the abuse of transwomen in prison, by all accounts a much more likely occurrence. Why not? Presumably who’s getting raped shouldn’t matter. Presumably it’s the rape that’s driving us here and not the group identity of the perpetrator with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, secret sauce on a sesame-seed bun (Culture War [tm]). It’s also unclear why an inmate’s prior history is irrelevant to how they’re housed. So you say that they HAVE never assaulted someone doesn’t mean they WILL never assault someone. Thanks, Hume! I assume (because of selectively adopted radfem philosophy and such) this inductive warning has instilled a similar enthusiasm in you to keep male guards out of female prisons, an issue you’ve surely taken up before and will many times in future. But once we leave our study and have to engage in everyday life, we might find that a wise person proportions their beliefs to the evidence. Should transwomen, regardless of their history, be treated as sexual threats? I don’t see why.

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          • “People here are arguing in good faith. I think the snark towards Bunsen is undeserved. And for the record , I categorically oppose males being incarcerated with females.”

            So long as Bunsen is accusing me of chauvinism, it feels like fair game to question his commitments. What’s good for the goose being what’s good for … well, all the other geese here. You share at least one of his commitments, as you say, so it might feel more like I’m crossing lines that he hasn’t, but I’m not so sure. It’s a question of putting pressure on our intuitions, on what we think is worth caring about, why and how much.

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          • Look, Zac and Yupanqi_87, if you are against sex segregation, just say so and explain why you think its a good thing. All your talk about my ‘anecdote’ can be used as an argument to get rid of all women only spaces too. After all the majority of men are not rapists. I have friends whose daughters play football on the weekend. They worry that the Gender Reassignment Act will mean that men can use the same changing rooms and showers as their children. I have friends at Universities who oversee sholarships for women. The don’t know what to do if a transwoman applies. They don’t see why someone who has lived most their life as a man should be able to apply for a scholarship created to help young women gain access to tertiary education. If you think the consequences to women of removing sex segration are irrelevant then be honest aboout it and say so. But you can’t carry on pretending that our sex segregated spaces will continue to work as intended as long we just pretend that someone who for all intents and purposes looks like a man, is a woman.

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          • ‘… that lie also apply to race he mentions the case of Dolezal, a ridiculous person, as an example’

            I love how without any sense of irony, you show the same contempt for Dolezal, as would have been shown to transpeople a few decades ago.

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          • It seems to me that Zac and others are objecting to a few anecdotes used to justify trans profiling. They might argue that this is exactly how racial profiling is done, and that’s just racist. This implies, obviously, that gender and racial profiling are more or less the same kind of bigotry. Okay, if that’s the case, then the following conversation might very well happen:

            Person: So, yeah, let’s see the new Star Wars.

            Person 2: Great, but we should leave now. It’s Friday, there’ll be a big line.

            Person: Oh, right. Okay, just let me get changed, and then we can go.

            Person 2: Great.

            Person: Er, yeah. Just let me get changed, and I’ll be ready in about two minutes.

            Person 2: No problem.

            Person: Um, I said that I’m going to change. That means I’m going to change clothes.

            Person 2: Yeah, no problem. I understood.

            Person: Well, I thought it was understood that you should wait outside while I, you know, change.

            Person 2: No, I don’t want to be in the cold tonight longer than I have to.

            Person: It’s only the hallway!

            Person 2: They don’t heat the hallway. University has a bigger endowment than most developing countries, and they don’t heat the hallway.

            Person: You have your fucking pea coat on.

            Person 2: Why so testy? And, wow, we gotta go. Are you gonna change or not?

            Person: Yes, after you step outside, close the door behind you, so I can have my, you know, privacy while I, you know, UNDRESS.

            Person 2: Oh, is that what this is about?

            Person: Ding, ding, ding!

            Person 2: Oh, my apologies. I am so very sorry. I’ll wait outside. I had no idea you were such a devout Christian.

            Person: Excuse me?

            Person 2: You believe nudity is something shameful or that it will cause me to look at you with uncontrollable lust. That’s the Supernatural Christian belief in Original Sin, committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I would have never known, especially since I only got a B in our evolutionary biology class. You got an A. Geez, you think you know people.

            Person: I’m an atheist!

            Person 2: Yeah, that’s what I thought.

            Person: Don’t you see the big poster of Sam Harris right above my bed?

            Person 2: Well, yes, maybe you’re just a right-wing Christian double agent sent here to spy on our safe spaces.

            Person: Seriously?!

            Person 2: Yeah, seriously. I really resent that you would profile me as someone who would go all psychopathically horny at the sight of you undressing merely based upon my perceived gender. You’re all in favor of racial profiling, too, right?

            Person: What the fuck?

            Person 2: Stop and frisk?

            Person: You gotta be–

            Person 2: Black lives matter, you know.

            Person: What does that have to do–

            Person 2: Intersectionality. Everything goes together. Gender profiling is racial profiling, and racial profiling is racism. You voted for Trump, right?

            Person: I DID NOT VOTE FOR TRUMP!

            Person 2: I don’t believe you.

            Person: Oh Mother of, er…

            Person 2: Mother of God? Come on, just say it. The closet is a lonely, stifling place. Even for a bigoted Trumpkin like you.

            Person: You know what? Fine. I’ll just go like this. Okay, let’s just forget this surreal—

            Person 2: You think I want to be seen now with a Trump Voter out in public?

            Person: You can’t be serious.

            Person 2: You’ve got be prepared to pay the price for your beliefs. Didn’t they teach you that in Sunday School?

            Person: THAT’S IT! FUCK YOU. I AM NOT A CHRISTIAN! I DID NOT VOTE FOR TRUMP!! I AM NOT A RACIST!! I DO NOT BELIEVE IN RACIAL PROFILING! STOP AND FRISK WAS A FLAGRANT VIOLATION OF OUR FOURTH AMENDMENT RIGHTS, AND I AM A RED DIAPER BABY. I NEVER WENT TO SUNDAY SCHOOL. MY PARENTS RAISED ME TO BE A MARXIST WHO REGARDS RELIGION AS AN OPIATE THAT DISTRACTS THE MASSES FROM GAINING CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS REQUISITE FOR REVOLUTIONARY CRITICAL MASS! I HAVE NEVER BEEN NOR AM I NOW A MEMBER OF THE REACTIONARY CHRISTIAN IDEOLOGY.

            Person 2: Then prove it. Get naked in front of me now!

            Person: GET OUT OF MY ROOM RIGHT THE FUCK NOW!

            Person 2: (in a mocking sing song voice) You voted for Trump!

            Person: GET OUT! NOW!

            Person 2: (still sing song) Putin is your secret boyfriend!

            Person: OUT! OUT! DAMN YOU! GET OUT OF MY ROOM NOW!

            Person 2: Well, we wouldn’t get tickets anyway. See ya. (exits)

            Person: Oh, Jesus Christ.

            Person 2: (offstage) I heard that!

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          • “Look, Zac and Yupanqi_87, if you are against sex segregation, just say so and explain why you think its a good thing. All your talk about my ‘anecdote’ can be used as an argument to get rid of all women only spaces too.”

            I’m not an all-or-nothing thinker, so no, I don’t take issue with sex segregation. A rule with ambiguous boundary cases is still a rule, and most rules that are worth a damn will have to face these cases regardless and make difficult judgments. We can try all we like to mark clear lines in the sand, but as in sports, for instance, you’ll still have Dutee Chands. It just so happens in the cases in question, I’m more open to discretion and weighing out the options in a more context-responsive way. I’d rather determine a given transwoman’s actual threat-level based on the evidence of her character and history than label her a likely rapist by virtue of being born male. And I would also take into account dangers posed to her by a given population as well. Why shouldn’t we? I’m open to treating it as a conversation rather than a Culture War polemic demanding full-throated verdicts. In the absence of a family public bathroom, does a father take his daughter in the women’s or the men’s bathroom? I can see people’s reservations either way, and I can see circumstances dictating different choices. I’d probably veer towards taking her to the men’s, but if she revolted, perhaps I’d give in. Awkward. Chancy. Welcome to life.

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          • This is very reasonable, Zac. And your last question is interesting, as I ran into it any number of times. And as you indicate, I erred on the side of taking her into the men’s room.

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          • Thanks, Paul, but I would gladly step outside while someone changed if they asked me to. Whew! Happy we cleared that up!

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          • “Yes. You have to admit it was pretty funny, and unfortunately believable, when one considers some of the less reasonable corners of the interwebs.”

            I laughed inwardly, but more in a “Really, dude?” sort of way. He made it a little too easy for me. In high school I was in theater. It was a single-sex dressing room for plays. If people wanted to change privately in a bathroom, they could. People figured things out. *dusts off hands*

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          • Zac, you are constantly evading answering any of the issues I brought up. A male bodied transwoman is not an edge case. My friends want to know what to do when one of them want to use the shared dressing room and shower that their daughter’s football team uses. What should happen here? Lets assume the transwoman has a GRA certificate, but has had no cosmetic surgery. This has nothing to do with threat levels.

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          • Bunsen,

            I don’t see how I’m evading the issue. The OVERALL issue is sex segregation. You asked my position on that and I gave it. My entree into the conversation was the prison rape example, which is why I’ve focused on it. You’ve never responded to my question about how to ensure the safety of transwomen, so why is the responsibility not to evade questions a one-way street? As for your question about showers, there could be various ways to tackle it. We could move towards having a universal shower option like Berkeley, though I could see that being cost-prohibitive. Perhaps the article linked below seems to get at more a practical option directed at pushing towards more private showers at schools. This is already being adopted, not on account of trans students, but on account of the wider student body’s preferences:

            https://www.omaha.com/news/education/as-schools-install-more-private-stalls-popularity-of-open-showers/article_fccc3dc7-cd93-5b79-98d7-4e64b5f2cc0c.html

            I don’t know what other kind of options people would fashion, but I’m open to the process. Like I said of my own experience of uni-sex changing rooms, kids are capable of working this stuff out if we give them the opportunity. If a problem arises, you address it. Otherwise, I’d rather them go about dealing with the process of maturation themselves and not baby them with over-protective measures. That said, we can bat around sub-issues ’til the cows come home, but the ultimate question, I think, is about rules of social etiquette and our attitudes to these rules. I’ve already given you my position on that.

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          • ok, I guess I have to take your non answer as an answer in itself. I’m not prepared to keep flogging this issue any more. I’ve tried to provide real world cases that go beyond platitudes such as ‘the kids will sort it out’. This is no longer a theoretical issue that can be hand waved away.

            ‘You’ve never responded to my question about how to ensure the safety of transwomen,’

            How about by not compromising on the safety of women?

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          • “ok, I guess I have to take your non answer as an answer in itself. I’m not prepared to keep flogging this issue any more. I’ve tried to provide real world cases that go beyond platitudes such as ‘the kids will sort it out’. This is no longer a theoretical issue that can be hand waved away.”

            I don’t see how you can accuse me of evasion and hand-waving with a post like this. I suggested a universal showers option and a private showers option (the latter of which appears to be a popular choice). You haven’t addressed either of these at all. You also don’t have any real response to the claim that kids have the capacity to be more mature than you seem to think, let alone to the moral argument that we should encourage the development of these capacities. Your contempt is utterly without foundation.

            “How about by not compromising on the safety of women?”

            So how would we do that without compromising the safety of transwomen as well? You are bafflingly reluctant to address that.

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  9. Race isn’t a fiction. There are IQ differences between races. There are physical differences, too. Why deny this? Differences between men and women are real, also. Why pretend they’re not? Being PC opened the door for the progressive madness you describe & Marxism won’t even admit the science to the assertions above. It’s taboo. Pretending we’re blank slates, claiming we can be who we choose to be, puts a heavy load on people’s shoulders for when they fail they blame themselves for not believing or trying hard enough.

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  10. The rising power of the progressive movement is evidence against your case. Those elected to the House of Representatives last month are the most diverse and progressive batch of representatives elected in my life time. What you decry as the potential end of group based civil rights I see as respecting people’s individuality enough to create a big enough tent to win elections. I see it as the end of bickering about who belongs in which group to present a united front against the conservatives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Like I said, perhaps we no longer need the traditional civil rights movements. But it seems to me we ought to have a public conversation about that, before we simply assume that it is so.

      We will see about how these progressives do. But I am not at all convinced that this identity politics is a winning one, nationally.

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    • ‘The rising power of the progressive movement…’

      Are you having a laugh? Where in the world do you see a progress movement, let alone one that is rising in power?

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  11. Really thought provoking essay. Identificationism is contributing to the end of the traditional civil rights movements, as you clearly bring out. I hadn’t seen the point that way before, but once pointed out, seems true.

    There are other reasons as well why the traditional civil rights movements are ending. For example, immigration in the last 50 years, the progress women and other minorities have made with women CEOs, black millionares, etc. Society a hundred years ago was much more bifurcated (women couldn’t vote, or work as much) or segregated (blacks as such had to be in different areas). But we have had a black (or mixed) president, a lot of sports and culture is influenced by blacks, women are being in more prominent positions, many immigrants do achieve the American dream economically, etc. Not downplaying that much more needs to happen. But not clear there is as clear a correspondence as there used to be between some identities (women, racial minorities) and material realities. As an immigrant from India in the last 30 years, it seems possible that some aspects of the American dream were more available to me than to many whites. This throws a wrench into how civil rights movements are pitched. At the very least, they will have to be updated or reconceptualized in light of the changes in the last 50 years.

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  12. The Lesbian Lives statement is requiring that the conference be inclusive of transwomen, setting itself ideologically against radical feminists critical of the latter. Following its references and reading up on the radfems in question, I can’t say I see this as obviously self-destructive. If the choice is between following Sheila Jeffreys and allowing transwomen into the conference, my guess is that the latter is a likelier path to greater civil rights. Jeffreys is as chock-a-block with kooky radicalism as anyone you’ve ever criticized on this site and her hostility to transwomen is notably malignant. Likewise the radfems in question, who don’t seem to give us a very good picture of so-called traditional civil rights either. I’ll take Eddie Izzard in my coalition before them.

    As for the Riley Dennis clips, I disagree with her, but I’m not exactly rattled. It would be easier for her maybe if it was just transphobia not to be romantically attracted to transpeople. It would be a nice, neat formula. But I seriously doubt that’s the case. So long as it’s fine for a transperson to care about the status of their sexual organs (for some to the extent of getting surgery), it’s fair for the rest of us to care about them in ourselves and our partners. This isn’t to reduce anyone to an organ, but to acknowledge that these organs often number among a suite of features that play into our attraction to another person. If the wider culture was more open to transpeople, perhaps more cis might be open to trans partners. That very qualified reading of her statements might hold. I don’t see any reason why this could ever potentially be the case for most people, though. In this vein, her brushing off the comparison to the failure of gay conversion therapy doesn’t really get her very far. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a transperson trying to find a partner. It’s gotta be terrible. I’m sure the urge is overwhelming to move beyond requests for consideration and to accuse people of simply being dupes of poor acculturation. But I don’t think it’ll work.

    And I doubt that either of these mean the death of traditional civil rights. I have a strong impression that we could suss out more strident, far-out positions among the far-left back in the late sixties, and we could make similar hay out of their factional squabbles. We could find stuff more corrosive to civil rights even. However, those who took the Nixon-Agnew line focusing on radicals to the exclusion of addressing what radicalized them were soundly in the wrong.

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    • My point simply was that a lesbian conference that includes people of all sexes and sexual orientations isn’t a lesbian conference. That should be obvious, I think, unless one has so mangled the language that the words don’t mean anything anymore.

      As for the death of civil rights, my case isn’t built around the radicalism of identificatonism. Rather, it’s on the idea that identificationism, with its rejection of material realities and the groupings they entail, is simply inconsistent with the traditional conception of civil rights.

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  13. There is an enormous amount to respond to here. As in all Daniel Kaufman essays there is a lot to think about here and though the subject matter may be dense and,. in this case, the most controversial I suspect thus far, there is always utmost rigor and clarity, features missing from much philosophy.

    The essay concerns sex and sexuality of which gender, however broadly or narrowly construed is but now part. Now there are two aspects of sexuality that make it a minefield or the hottest button, pick your metaphor, one aspect is that everybody feels sexual or has felt sexually, that is it is egalitarian to the extent that it affects the behavior of everyone in some form or another, at least if they are adults. the vast majority of the planet exhibits some kind of mating behavior or behaviors that are similar to mating behavior, involving at least one of the same organs but divorced from strict reproduction. The second quality, after its universality is its utmost sensitivity. No matter how insensitive or jaded a person or a group things they are, or cosmopolitan, or sophisticate or advanced, there is always Thomas Nagel’s point that “We will never reach a point at which nothing that anyone does disgusts anyone else. We can expect to remain in a sexual world deeply divided by various lines of imaginative incomprehension and disapproval.”

    What this means. among other things, is that like minded individuals will form groups and legislate, petition and pronounce and preach upon the version of sexuality they deem best or preferable for all parties involved. this could consist of everything from advocating for a traditional two sex so-called “binary” model or advocating the destruction of the same. For me the problems Kaufman is pointing to, and even given for the sake of argument that he might be correct that it is an emergency status vis a vis the ethics of childhood, are problems emanating form the dual nature of sex itself: that is the same site and occasion for extremes of tragedy and joy and for different reasons for different parties. We live in a pluralistic world. It was only inevitable that a libertarian approach was doomed to be discarded in favor of this or that group trying to enforce their particular version of sexuality .Perhaps only the awareness of what I have said here could be a solution. That is, we might have to become as a society more and not less relativistic about sexuality (though not completely relativistic). Only then will we stop treating it like a religious faith and more like an important but not only important aspect of human life.

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    • But to be anything about sexuality, one must first have some notion of what it means, and if ‘sex’ is to be defined as ‘gender identity’, as the trans lobby demands, then ‘sex’ can mean nothing because ‘gender identity’ means nothing.

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    • You think that as a society we will remove all forms of sex segregation? That would be pretty awful for women don’t you think? Female sports will disappear. Mixed prisons might be all right for men, but they are definitely not a good thing for women. There are important consequences here.

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      • It would be awful for those women for whom sex segregation is a positive or necessary feature of society, or those who wish to be free from the potential of predation of various kinds, or many other reasons. I think societies do what reflects the fashions of the moment and especially the dominant fashions of a moment. I really have no idea what will happen or what is inevitable. I only note as I did about the dual nature of sexuality that it is tragic and contradictory on the one hand and joyful on the other. What seems clear is that whatever is done will be enforced on everybody, probably with little discussion – by fiat – and as for the results there will be a division as to the reactions. It would be nice for society to be organized around objective ethics in something like a comprehensive sense, I actually think that is possible or doable but I also think there has never been any society so constructed in existence and thus it is unlikely and ours is no better, progressive coalitions or not. Your’e likely to get more consensus around global warming or climate change in the future than what is a right or wrong understanding of one’s sexuality.

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        • One could argue that “marriage equality” has already doomed sex segregation. “Marriage equality” is, after all, premised upon the notion that there are no important differences between opposite- and same-sex couples, and this means that there are no important sexual differences at all. If sexual differences are not important, then how can any sex segregation be justified?

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          • People are forever trying to make claims for marriage equality that it destroys or undermines this or that traditional understanding of what a marriage is. I actually disagree with this because it simply says that there is a way of enshrining the extraordinary specialness of a sexual relationship in law and that this need not only apply to men and women but single sex pairings. THAT is actually the meaning of marriage equality. It has nothing to say about how one is to understand either sex or gender. Indeed you can be adamantly for marriage equality while the same time believing is something like the objective truth of a binary gender system,. SO no I don’t accept a conservative slippery slope argument. Also, marriage equality has among its defenders a wide breadth of public opinion inclined liberals, conservatives, the religious and the secular.

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          • Believing in the ‘objective truth of the gender binary’ is simply saying that the sexes are fundamentally different, but, again, this contradicts the premise of ‘marriage equality’, namely that there are no important differences between same- and opposite-sex couples, which means, and I have no idea how you can get around this, that there are no fundamental differences between the sexes.

            It is really hard to understand how sexual segregation of restrooms and locker rooms squares with the re-definition of marriage as the union of two people. The premise of such sexual segregation is that women should not undress or do private stuff in the presence of strange men and vice versa, but that in turn makes the heterosexist assumption that women are not attracted to women and men are not attracted to men. The de-sexing of marriage changes all this. Now the notion that sexual difference is the normative determinant of physical attraction no longer holds, and if it no longer holds, then there can be no justification for sexual segregation in public restrooms and locker rooms. In other words, if we are to respect the wishes of heterosexuals not to undress in the presence of members of the opposite sex who are not their spouses or significant others, then the dictates of marriage equality demand that we do exactly the same with gays and lesbians who may have qualms about undressing in front of members of the same sex who are not their spouses or significant others. And that means that we have to get rid of sexually segregated rest rooms and locker rooms and replace them all with individual stalls and dressing cabins.

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  14. Identity speak, and ideological possession through identity theory, is a real problem in university and college contexts today and there is some mass contagion happening through popular culture and social media. Minority rights have been weaponized for use in re-distribution hierarchies and contests for jobs, social offices or other goods. Minority rights don’t reverse history or turn war’s losers into winners after all, they limit majority power and its effects across a life not meeting contingent norms and societal culture. I have taught social and political philosophy at a small Canadian university (UPEI) for 25 years and have witnessed a paradigm shift from doing philosophy behind Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance and universalistic search for reflective equilibrium beyond our contigent identities to a kind of neo-anti-philosophy where rational argument is transmuted into identity-centered fallacies and impoverished logic, and a passionate jargon of identity speak replaces the practical machinery of argument. The generation of Rawls and Nozick and Rorty did not do philosophy by talking about themselves and their lives endlessly and kept what was private in their lives out of their professional arguments as far as they could. Informality, The autobiographization of philosophy will not succeed in killing the profession, but this culture war within the academy is happening when universities are going through an automation crisis combined with cancer-like out of control growth at the administrative level in servicing the new type of student: the blank identity slate, the identity in search of another identity to add to his or her growing baggage and emotional life. THis is an all out value war in the academy, and either phony education will triumph or some common sense will restore our rational practices to a healthy state again. This is a toxic climate change inducing movement in the academy at large, and it will eventually self-destruct, as predicted by Dostoevsky in his psychologically adept novel of politics, Demons. So you are positioned as an exorcist for these demons of the academy, not to protect the pure religion of rationalistic philosophy from its rabid rejecters, but rather to clear the air and give us fresh air again. Ideological possession is a real problem in the arts, it would make being a professional biologist impossible so it won’t take root there or undermine careful scientific education. But it can and has already contaminated the picture of higher education’s future, we need discursive hygiene teachers like Brian Leiter or others to make the world safe again for trans-skepticism. Great essay, should be expanded into a greater book, and published online for free.

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  15. I am not trying to get around anything. Here is my line of reasoning. Some people are attracted to persons who are biologically of the same sex, moreover they have a need to form a life partnership with them, including shared living arrangements. Formerly only males and females could do this with one another. Single sex couples, seeing this, claim this an injustice and a form of discrimination. Thus they want all the entitlements that heterosexual gender binary married people have always had. Now one thing you hadn’t considered is that maybe males are attracted to other males and females are attracted to other females at least partly, maybe a big part precisely because of those physical characteristics: if this is true that totally demolishes your claim that marriage equality is indifferent to traditional biological categories or is in some sense destructive of them. In some cases of gay marriage it is the man wants someone who is biologically male; the female wants someone biologically female and this matters. Still others think genatalia totally unimportant and want to marry the other person for spiritual reasons. The thing of it is, we can’t know fully the final reasons. The reasons vary. What marriage equality wants is a bigger tent of reasons to marry. What we do know is the desire for long term partnership and ostensibly, love. The literature i have read concerning defending gay marriage never states whether gender or biology matters or not and remains neutral on the subject. It is those who are against gay marriage and marriage equality for whom biology and gender are important criteria – it is they who could be accused of being inhumane in their reductionism, saying in effect, “love? We don’t care about that. It has to be a man and a woman who marry.” Now advocates of marriage equality are not saying the opposite to this. They are not saying marriage is only about the spiritual and the body does not matter. What they are saying is that the physical body is not defensible grounds for discrimination, that is, disallowing gay marriage. And that is all they say. It strikes me as a kind of conservative propaganda or rhetorical slight of hand to impugn further motives to marriage equality than these. And i say this as somebody who is critical of marriage altogether. But if we are going to have it, why restrict to only one part of the adult population?

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    • You wrote: “Now one thing you hadn’t considered is that maybe males are attracted to other males and females are attracted to other females at least partly, maybe a big part precisely because of those physical characteristics…” Well, I actually had considered that very thing, and in the post to which you responded I actually wrote in the second paragraph that sexual segregation of intimate facilities is premised upon the normativity of heterosexual attraction, which ‘marriage equality’ renders unconstitutional now. If we are to consider homosexual attraction to be just as normal as heterosexual attraction, and the logic of ‘marriage equality’ requires that we do, then we may not segregate intimate facilities any more on the assumption that heterosexual attraction is the norm and homosexual attraction is not. Thus, ‘marriage equality’, as I initially claimed, dooms segregation by sex.

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      • It’s very simple. “Marriage equality” does away with heterosexism, and the sexual segregation of intimate facilities assumes it. If you are for the former, logic dictates that you must oppose the latter.

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      • Paul S. Rhodes,

        You’re using the word “normal” in two different ways.

        “Normal” in psychology means “sane”, “not mentally ill”. In that sense, being gay is normal: it’s not a mental illness.
        Thus, gay marriage is normal: not pathological or mentally sick.

        However, “normal” also means what most people do. Most people are not gay, most people are heterosexual and thus, segregation of dressing rooms is suited to the sexuality of most people, that is, heterosexual people who feel more comfortable undressing in the presence of people of their own sex.

        Obviously, that may be uncomfortable for gay people. In fact, bathrooms and dressing rooms tend to be uncomfortable places since you never know whether the guy urinating in the next urinal or showering besides you is gay and looking at your penis or not.

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        • Most marriages are heterosexual. So, by your logic we should define marriage heterosexually. You could answer, I suppose, that the two cases are not similar. The recognition of same-sex ‘marriage’ harms no one, and so it does not matter if the heterosexist standard is torn down, but in the matter of segregation of intimate facilities and the protection of privacy in them, heterosexism should prevail because the utilitarian maxim of doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people kicks in, and the greatest number of people are clearly heterosexual. But the whole point of ‘marriage equality’ is to make same-sex relationships completely equal with opposite-sex ones. That won’t work if heterosexism is still the standard governing quotidian life. Yes, homosexuals can have their relationships recognized, but they must hide or at least downplay their identities when in the locker room? How does that work? Heterosexuals can have their sexual privacy respected simply because they’re in the majority whereas homosexuals can have no sexual privacy in intimate facilities because they are in the minority? But I thought that the rights of the minority are supposed to be protected in a liberal democracy.

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          • Because locker rooms are places to change clothes and to shower in, not places to mate. I have no problem, in any case, with homosexual declaring their sexual identity in locker rooms or anywhere else.

            However, locker rooms are not discotheques. Most or at least many people go to discotheques to mate and so if you go to one, you should expect people of any sexual orientations to come on to you. (I’m 72 and no one is likely to come on to me these days.) In a locker room, on the other hand, approaching others with sexual intent is not appropriate behavior, but if people want to identify themselves as gay or as not gay in a locker room, fine.

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          • Okay, so, if it is inappropriate to come on to people in a locker room, then why have sexual segregation at all? If homosexuals can learn to control themselves, then heterosexuals can as well, eh? Again, sexual segregation is based squarely upon heterosexism, which violate the principles of equality, upon which ‘marriage equality’ is premised.

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          • Ending sexual segregation might be a long-term goal, but in the short-term it would be disastrous.

            For complex cultural reasons homosexuals not only can learn to control themselves, but also have learned in general to control themselves. Heterosexual males often do not control themselves in the presence of women and it will take a major cultural change to teach them to do that.

            I have no idea how long that cultural change will take. Before that change takes place, to allow heterosexual males into women’s locker rooms will be to expose women to male sexual violence, aggression and harassment.

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          • No cultural change will happen that will make men control themselves in the presence of naked women simply because the impulse to procreate is instinctual. We’re sexually dimorphic species for pete’s sake. “Marriage equality” is premised upon a demonstrably false anthropology.

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          • Agree on the sexual dimorphism. Don’t agree that this has anything to do with the prerogative of adult citizens to make civil marriage contracts.

            As for sex segregation in changing rooms, I agree with you that this demand for “Scientific evidence of danger!” is either disingenuous or foolish. The person who wants privacy while changing is not the one with the epistemic burden.

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          • Well, we’re never gonna agree, but at the risk of repeating myself, recognition of same-sex relationships as “marriages” entails more than letting same-sex couples make civil ‘marriage’ contracts. It also entails, as I have contended before, the notion that sexual differences do not matter, and that they do not matter was certainly implied by the constant analogy between the non-recognition of same-sex “marriage” and the anti-miscegenation laws. That analogy works only if sexual discrimination is just as bad and irrational as racial discrimination, and, well, if it is, then just as there can be no justification for racial segregation, there can be no justification for sexual segregation.

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          • Obergefell explicitly cites Loving as a precedent. How can a “marriage equality” case cite Loving as a precedent WITHOUT assuming sexual discrimination = racial discrimination? Furthermore, the ‘marriage equality’ cases before Obergefell went out of their way to say that there is no difference between having a mother and a father and two father or two mothers. What could that mean other than the declaration that sexual differences do not matter?!

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          • I think sexual differences can matter in one regard/arena and not in another. From the standpoint of civil marriage contracts, I don’t think they should matter legally. I also don’t think they should matter, legally in the area of adoption.

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          • If sexual difference should not matter legally, then how can there be sexual segregation of restrooms, locker rooms in Public Schools? How can there be sexual segregation in dorm room assignments at Public Universities? How can there be sexually segregated prisons if sexual difference should not matter legally?

            Furthermore, for sexual difference not to matter with regard to civil ‘marriage’, you have to de-sex its incidents. For instance, the presumption of paternity must be changed to the presumption of parentage, and for this nonsense to apply to same-sex male couples, surrogacy must be as anonymous as sperm donation, which is not only impossible for really obvious reasons but is also outrageously misogynistic. I am being elliptical for the sake of brevity, but I’ll flesh this out if you wish. Also, one must de-sex marital consummation. England tried to come up with a definition of consummation that would apply equally to same- and opposite-sex couples and failed. It can’t be done, and, again, if you want to know why, I am more than happy to tell you, but, be warned, the details get sorta gory. Without a notion of consummation, ‘marriage’ ceases to be a sexual or physically intimate relationship, and if it is not that, then adultery no longer makes any sense, and so ‘marriage’ ceases to be be a way for the state to encourage, at least, sexual fidelity. “Marriage” simply becomes a partnership entered into for the sake of certain financial benefits, and it is entirely unclear why the state should single out dyadic relationships for special benefits and not grant threesomes, foursomes, etc. the same benefits. Same-sex “marriage” is a demonstrable absurdity.

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          • I live in Chile where there has never been any legal racial segregation (de facto segregation is another question) and the arguments in favor of gay marriage here have nothing to do with racial segregation of any kind.

            Generally, those in favor of gay marriage (me for instance) say that gays have a right to have their relationships recognized by the same rites and ceremonies as heterosexuals and that gays marrying harms no one and may even have positive results since many sociologists say that a society made up of stable families (be they composed of heterosexuals or gays) is more stable.

            So if you look around the world, you’ll see that in many countries, where there never have been any issues about racial segregation, people are in favor of gay marriage for diverse reasons.

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          • The analogy to racial segregation used in the U.S. only re-inforces the notion that ‘marriage equality’ rests on the assumption that sexual differences do not matter but is not necessary to realize that this assumption is the premise of ‘marriage equality’.

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          • Sexual differences do not matter when it comes to marriage. They do matter when it comes to locker rooms and to sports. Dan K. said that above at 5:21 PM, and I entirely agree with him.

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          • Marriage, before it was absurdly re-defined, was the only public institution for which sexual difference had been essential. Thus, to say that sexual difference does not matter for the sake of marriage is to say that sexual difference has no public relevance whatsoever. The idea of keeping the sexes apart in intimate spaces stems from the notion that a man and a woman should not see each other naked unless in an acknowledged intimate relationship. Well, “marriage equality” says that that acknowledged intimate relationship must be re-defined to include same-sex couples. Thus, the reason that underwrote sexual segregation has been overruled. Sexual segregation is heterosexist bigotry and as such is irreconcilable with the logic that underpins “marriage equality”.

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  16. Disregard the first paragraph of my last post, please. I obviously grossly misread what you had written. Sorry.

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