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I’ve “done the work”, thanks

Sometimes, condescension can seem almost as bad as cancellation

Artillery Row

I recently read Andrea Long Chu’s Females in full. Believe me, I didn’t particularly want to, but having already seen certain quotes from it, I thought it could be relevant to a book I’m writing. Thankfully it was; otherwise the grim experience might have been for nothing. Females is neither long nor intellectually challenging, but god, it is painful.

I wonder if Kenny Farquharson, author of the recent Times piece How the trans row will end in compromise, has read Females, too. If so, he’d have learned, as I did, that female is apparently “any psychic operation in which the self is sacrificed to make room for the desires of another”:

These desires may be real or imagined, concentrated or diffuse — a boyfriend’s sexual needs, a set of cultural expectations, a literal pregnancy — but in all cases, the self is hollowed out, made into an incubator for an alien force. To be female is to let someone else do your desiring for you, at your own expense.

Perhaps this is what Farquharson means when he pontificates on the need for “womanhood in all its glory” to be “capacious enough, generous enough, diverse enough, to accommodate and perhaps even to welcome a small number of people who did not start life’s journey as women”? Or maybe he’s not thinking of Long Chu at all. After all, there’s nothing in Farquharson’s piece about femaleness being distilled “to its barest essentials — an open mouth, an expectant asshole, blank, blank eyes”. Farquharson doesn’t actually say what he thinks a woman is, but you get the impression that what he’s picturing is a bit more “Hayley from Coronation Street” than Long Chu’s bimbos (“wilting faces, trembling legs, eyes rolled back into heads”).

Actually listening to what well-known, widely platformed, Pulitzer Prize-winning trans activists say about women is not considered to be the job of men, who presumably have more important things to do. For instance, in another Times piece, Stuart Heritage’s The Woke Handbook for Boomers, Heritage declares that “a woke feminist will educate herself on trans people, so that their feminism can become more inclusive”. Does this mean Heritage has educated himself? Seemingly not, since he goes on to mock women who apparently think “men have gender realignment surgery to better assault women in toilets”, advising these women to “you know, stop being the gender police and just let people get on with their lives without making a whole big thing of it, you absolute weirdo”.

It’s pretty obvious from this that Heritage has not felt the slightest inclination to learn about male people who wish to use women’s toilets, the majority of whom do not feel the need to have surgery beforehand. Then again, it’s not his responsibility, is it? It’s that of feminists, who — due to being better informed than the men — will reach different conclusions, only to be called “absolute weirdos” or accused of “extremism” and “social conservatism” for their trouble (yeah, why do we hate Hayley so much?).

There are some who think the term “mansplaining” is overused — to the extent that it just now means “men explaining stuff in a way that is annoying” — but here, both Farquharson and Heritage provide perfect examples. The women they’re criticising have thought through these issues. Being women, and hence socialised to be more “capacious” and “generous” than men, we tend to approach them from a more inclusive, open-minded angle to start with (it’s not our sex who tend to have social media histories of sharing offensive “tranny” jokes). We know we’re not trusted to have an opinion on a topic unless we’re deemed to have “done the work”. Unlike men, we can’t wing it by writing some waffly article in which we position ourselves as the voice of reason.

Have you quite finished, Kenny? Only I’m not sure you’ve been patronising enough

One of the things I find most depressing about “the gender debate” is the way in which certain men will decide to tell you, a woman who is taking the profoundly gender non-conforming step of saying “no”, that some poor people don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Well, quite, yet here these men are, insisting that you get back in the box marked “capacious, generous, inclusive, passive, selfless, silent”. It’s not as though you haven’t spent years in there already. These men never seem to have noticed all the times you’ve been kind and conciliatory in ways they’ve never had to. To them, that’s not a gender norm; that’s just you not being an evil witch. To them, gender norms are dress codes and pronouns. It’s not all the shitwork that goes on in the background without their noticing or appreciating it (at least not until there’s some malfunction in the smooth delivery of female-coded goods and services).

Having “done the work” and “educated myself”, I don’t find it logically or morally tenable to lump a distressed teenage female who wants to bind her breasts into the same category as Long Chu, who glibly tells us “sissy porn did make me trans”; or as Julia Serano, who complains about “cissexual women” who “sadly take their female identities and anatomies for granted” and “perpetually seek to cast themselves as victims”. It would be grossly irresponsible to see the difference between these two things and not say anything about it. Men like Farquharson and Heritage don’t have to see it, however. They just get to judge the women who do.

Compromise, notes Farquharson, is “untidy, perhaps. Complicated, certainly. Welcome to 2023”. Have you quite finished, Kenny? Only I’m not sure you’ve been patronising enough. Please, a little more. In the meantime, there are women sticking their necks out — and reading, as opposed to burning, books which we know will offend us — who could teach you so much more about real complexity.

It’s easy to pretend trans people are one homogenous group. It’s easy to pretend that as long as there are “safeguards” over gender transition, it doesn’t really matter that this still redefines half the human race. Pretending hard things are easy doesn’t make you a nuanced, generous thinker — quite the opposite. It just makes you a man who doesn’t have to bother.

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