Artillery Row

Male transgenderism is sexism on steroids

Why is it that Eddie Izzard strutting in heels is perceived as more progressive than us boring old vulva-owners in our flat shoes?

Sun Ra, the visionary and eccentric American composer, declared himself to be from Saturn. He was actually born in Alabama, but his claim to be an intergalactic traveller didn’t hurt anyone. Arguably such recreations are personal and sometimes, as was the case for Sun Ra, also political. It would’ve been quite clear to anyone that met Sun Ra that he was an earthling like the rest of us, and that his identity was inspired by his commitment to the black power movement.

It’s difficult to feel quite so magnanimous about comedian Eddie Izzard’s most recent announcement about his identity. On last Thursday’s Sky Arts programme Portrait Artist Of The Year the 58 year old comedian declared: “I’m genderfluid, I just want to be based in girl mode from now on.” Izzard then asked to be known as “she” or “her.”

Males become uberwomen when they play with the tools used to subjugate actual women

Izzard has long been a cross-dresser, and famously used to reject the idea that clothes ought to be gendered quipping, “they’re not women’s clothes, they’re mine.” But on Thursday the aging comedian appeared wearing a frock, some perky plastic boobs and pointy lace-up boots; apparently this was evidence of living in “girl mode.” As is now the form, Izzard was applauded for donning a “woman costume” and requesting female pronouns.

The idea of cultural appropriation, that is to say when someone from a privileged group adopts the attributes of a subordinated one, is beloved by the bien pensant. Guardian columns on the ethics of white people with dreadlocks are shared by those desperate to display their right-on credentials. And yet, curiously, when men appropriate the clothes that women are culturally expected to wear, they are celebrated as brave.

There is no fanfare for the women, in particular those of a certain age, who ditch hair dyes, make-up and heels. Arguably women who don’t care to sport the uncomfortable trappings of femininity could be deemed “non-binary” and yet they remain resolutely unfashionable. It seems men are able to break gender stereotypes by embracing them, the likes of Eddie Izzard strutting in heels are just so much more progressive than boring old vulva-owners in flat shoes.

Imagine, if you will, a world in which Katie Price was lauded as a liberal icon for having a boob job. Clearly, to undergo painful and unnecessary surgery Price must suffer from some form of body dysmorphia, and yet this marks her out for sneering ridicule by the very same voices that celebrated Caitlyn (nee Bruce) Jenner for having silicone implants. The new set of rules to accommodate men who identify as transgender are based on some fairly ancient misogynist tropes; males become uberwomen when they play with the tools used to subjugate actual women.

The reality of being a woman is reduced to a cutesy fantasy that can be slipped into like a bubble bath

Sun Ra did not adopt a new set of pronouns, nor were people who reminded him of his terrestrial origins at risk of arrest under hate crime legislation. It might seem mean-spirited not to use the preferred pronouns of someone who identifies as transgender, but it should be remembered pronouns do not refer to masculine or feminine behaviour, they demark sex. And furthermore, they are chosen by the person referring to the subject. Such linguistic choices are no longer a matter of free expression; the threat of legal action and social sanction are used to compel speech. Nonetheless, we are expected to believe that it is the gender fascists who are on the right-side of history.

Sun Ra chose an identity that was to him a logical extension of a political struggle, Izzard’s seems to be a stiletto-clad step towards reifying sexist stereotypes. The equation of femaleness with “girl mode” is revealing; the reality of being a woman is reduced to a cutesy fantasy that can be slipped into like a foaming bubble bath replete with flake. It is, as one might expect from a clueless man, a pornified and juvenile fantasy.

As a diminutive woman with a high-pitched voice, I would be taken more seriously if I had a “man mode.” Were changing “sex” as simple as new clothes and pronouns I would switch into “man mode” in order to walk home alone at night, my “man mode” would kick in every time I needed to assert myself. Indeed, with “man mode” deployed my right to express potentially offensive views in articles like this would be respected without the snide insinuation that I am cruel; an accusation frequently levelled at women who dare not to publicly care.

To most observers, probably even some of those who have publicly heaped him with praise, Izzard is a man with a fetish. Fetishes are compulsive, and they escalate; it is not unusual for men who get sexual gratification from cross-dressing to in due course declare themselves “transgender women.” Sexual arousal at the thought of oneself as a woman is what sexologist Professor Ray Blanchard calls “autogynephilia”, a term which he coined to describe “a male’s propensity to be erotically aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman.”

In itself, there is nothing inherently wrong with having a fetish, whether one’s kicks are from wearing a gimp mask or a pair of lace-up high heels. If it doesn’t hurt anyone else, who cares? The problem is when others are made unwilling bit players in the psychodrama of the individual with a fetish.

Men like Izzard are no more female than Sun Ra was from Saturn

With exquisite concision, feminist scholar Professor Sheila Jeffreys dubbed transgenderism a “men’s sexual rights movement.” She posits that it is women’s subordinate social status that some men with masochistic tendencies find arousing. Far from being a progressive step toward breaking down sexist stereotypes, the thrill men gain from identifying as the other sex, whether by being in “girl mode” or having surgery, depends upon men maintaining their dominant status in society. In essence, male transgenderism is invested in the erotization of women’s subordinate social position; it is sexism on steroids.

Today, the law and civil society facilitate the delusions of fetishists, punishing those who refuse to accept a sexual performance as evidence of an individual’s true and authentic self. But ultimately men like Izzard are no more female than Sun Ra was from Saturn.

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