Manipulating Language: VENUS VALLEY reads Helen Joyce's "Trans"
Queer Philosophers' Forum, pt. 5
Welcome to a hard, sobering chapter. If you've just got here, this is a chapter-by-chapter release of my LGBTQIA+ philosophy book - for you, my queerly beloved readers, to debate, discuss, question, contribute, so the finished book speaks for us all. I'm breaking the flow of my chapter order, to respond to a book that does the exact opposite - and make it a lesson in the abuse and manipulation of language: Helen Joyce's Trans - When Ideology Meets Reality. Come down this rabbit hole, gentles and lady-men, with Venus Valley: Queer Philosophers' Forum.
First, you might want to read part 1 by clicking HERE, & part 2 by clicking HERE, of VENUS VALLEY Goes To Greece, to see the previous chapters where some of the roots of my quest into queer theory are planted in Ancient Greek faith and folklore. The misuse that was was made, by other Ancient Greeks, of their teachers' "love of wisdom" (PHILO-SOPHIA) was in the religious and political techniques of sophistry and rhetoric - switching sides in arguments, winning both just by talented talking. The ideas live on in today's phrases sophistication - style over substance - and rhetorical questions - asking for answers you already know, to make a point. You don't have to prove your point, they taught; you just have to persuade your audience.
In Trans, Joyce tries to look like she's comparing and contrasting the two sides in the "trans debate"; but firstly, there's no "debate" that transgender and nonbinary identities exist; secondly, Joyce chooses her ground early, right from the title page. The very words "When Ideology Meets Reality", say it all: that gender identity is an "ideology", and that it's in conflict with reality.
Ideology - this is a philosophy blog, let's talk philosophy terms - is behaviour approved by groups of believers, that bonds you to them, proves you belong. A mild version, would be churches welcoming members who show their faith in the bible, by being baptised or taking communion. A more dangerous kind, is political extremists willing to kill or be killed for the cause.
Does this sound like it belongs in a book about trans people?
Let's try the second part of the subtitle: Are trans people in or out of touch with reality?
Joyce calls trans identity a belief, behaviour, decision, declaration, fantasy, fetish, or other language implying being transgender is a claim we freely choose to make, for our own profit, privilege or pleasure, almost 900 times in 300 pages. By contrast, she refers to our being coerced or manipulated into it; suffering broken physical or mental health, til we're convinced we have to convert, to be happy and healed; or other language implying it's neither reality, nor free will, almost 150 times in the same space.
Which is it, Ms. Joyce?
Institutions she mentions, such as Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute of Sexual Science ; WPATH; American Academy of Pediatrics; U.N. Women; MedicineNet; GLAAD; Mermaids; IOC; Equality Illinois Education Project; International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy; and books like Lili Elbe's Man Into Woman ; Harry Benjamin's The Transexual Phenomenon; Ann Fausto-Sterling's Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality; Diane Ehrensaft's The Gender Creative Child; Joy Ladin's Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders; and Mx. Amanda Jette Knox's Love Lives Here; affirm trans people. Joyce negates them all, saying: "Maverick clinicians ... Varying degrees of compassion and logical coherence ... Stories to fit what they currently believe ... Decisions were made ad hoc ... Judge people and ideas not according to the evidence... Identities that are entirely subjective... Thrown around without context... Presented anecdotes, appealed to emotion... mixed and matched the two interpretations...".
Meanwhile, she cites institutions like Detransition Advocacy Network, Ray Blanchard's Clarke Institute of Psychiatry; JAMA Internal Medicine; and books like Joanne Meyerowitz's How Sex Changed: A History of Transexuality in the United States; Michael Bailey's The Man Who Would Be Queen; Christine Benvenuto's Sex Changes: A Memoir of Gender, Marriage and Moving On; Marilyn Frye's The Politics of Reality; and Sarah Pedersen's The Politicization of Mumsnet; that negate trans people. And she affirms them, in terms like: "This explains... Puzzle was now solved... They had always understood ... To get at the truth ... Debunks them all using evidence... It had become clear... The best attested findings... it was a truth revealed... the findings remained unchanged... tell the story clearly... the pattern she found... made a convincing case... evidence so painstakingly gathered... report what the document actually said...".
She takes this so far, that she even says a study showing the majority of gender diverse youth persisting to grow into happy, healthy transgender or nonbinary adults, sounds suspicious, because "we know for a fact" that most gender diverse kids are unhappy and unhealthy until they eventually "grow out of it" and grow up into gay adults. (Bisexual or asexual outcomes are dismissed completely, comparing them to teenage eating disorders).
It's the old trick of showing one side as unfounded subjective feelings, the other as well-founded objective facts.
To be transgender or nonbinary isn't seen by her as proper psychology, but as postmodern philosophy - Judith Butler, Christopher Isherwood, Rene Descartes, Jacques Derrida, Simone De Beauvoir, and Carl Jung - ALL OF WHOM I STRONGLY ENCOURAGE YOU TO READ - whose ideas influenced and inspired the way we define "identity", especially by deconstructing the idea it's binary - are name-dropped by Joyce as if she's trying to say reading philosophy is the OPPOSITE of facing reality.
But any one sided view, of feelings or facts, betrays bias at best, bigotry at worst. And always confuses or contradicts itself eventually!
The biggest contradictions of Joyce's thinking, are firstly, the idea that allowing trans people to self-identify into a class whose rights are protected, steps over other protected classes, like gay rights, or religious rights. It doesn't occur to her that sexuality and religion are identities we've no way of proving, beyond individuals' rights to say they are who they say they are, based on personal faith and feelings. Secondly, rejecting trans women if they don't match standards of womanhood, not only perpetuates the stereotypes behind the standards, but also harms cisgender women who don't match up to them.
More than 40% of gender-questioning or gender-nonconforming kids & youth who aren't supported, attempt or idealise suicide. In the book, they're briefly mentioned only to be written off as the narcissistic abuser's trick "give me what I want or I'll kill myself". Meanwhile, less than 1% of those who are supported, later feel enough pain & regret to want to stop or go back. Entire chapters are devoted to portraying them as isolated, alienated masses in the shadows of trans activism. As a former LGBTQ+ Equalities Officer with the Labour Party, and co-founder of my hometown's Pride, the exact OPPOSITE is my experience of both groups. Surely the book's focus being opposite to statistics, counters Joyce's claim she focused on facts?
Cultures through world history who define or demonstrate sex and gender differently - Muxes of Oaxaca, Mexico; Fa'afafine of Samoa; Hijra of India; Native American Two-Spirits; Albanian Sworn Virgins - are dismissed as "not knowing how reproduction works". Asking if figures like Joan of Arc, riding to war in man's armour, or Louisa May Alcott, "wishing she was born a son", might not be 100% cisgender or heterosexual, is discounted as "erasing women". The Matrix sci-fi film series about split reality, made by transgender sisters out of their experience of gender dysphoria, is discredited as media manipulating people's perceptions. Genetic conditions that can hormonally interfere in pregnancy and puberty to create androgyny, despite being more common than red hair and green eyes, are, apparently, meaningless mutations. (As former section head at a biochemistry lab specialising in health effects of hormone imbalance, I have thoughts about the last one... but this is a philosophy blog, so let's move on!).
Links between gender nonconformity and autism are further proof, apparently, that gender identity occurs in minds detached from reality.
Most of my notes in the margin for the things I've mentioned, were "that's just stupid"; to say that about autistic people, made me scribble "I feel sick". I could devote an entire chapter to this sentence alone, but I'd only want to do that after I knew a heck of a lot more about queer neurodivergence, from queer neurodivergent people themselves.
(If that's you, feel free to contact me through whatever social media platform you found this on!)
Transgender and nonbinary healthcare being easy access, and super expensive, in USA, is taken as proof people are pushed into it for others' profit. Which ignores two things: First, isn't the real scandal WHY IS HEALTHCARE SO EXPENSIVE AT ALL?! Second, why then is the "social contagion" of "rapid onset gender dysphoria" just as rife in UK, where transgender and nonbinary healthcare is free in theory, but incredibly hard to get to in practice?
Instead she veers into it being a deliberate agenda, ticking favourite boxes of online conspiracy theorists - "Big Pharma"; "shadow politics"; George Soros.
Taking words women like Posie Parker, J.K. Rowling, Maya Forstater and Martina Navratilova give their millions of online followers, and devoting pages to them in a bestselling book, isn't the way to prove her point that these women are being "cancelled"/"censored"/"silenced". Nor is praising conservative right wing groups, from Republican politicians to evangelical Christians, who oppose gay marriage and abortion access, and have the support of self-proclaimed fascists and white supremacists, for being the only ones who take their side, helping make the point Joyce tries to make.
Martina Navratilova, particularly, opposes trans inclusion in sport with the same language once used against her when she came out as a lesbian... and against black women before that.
A bit of history Joyce conveniently ignores, might help. Black slave women were recorded in medical research as "adult female", as the word "woman" implied society status they didn't have; when Votes For Women rose in USA, those involved made clear to black women, the word didn't include them. Later, lesbians were told they hadn't lived experiences that defined women's identities, as wives and mothers; they were ruining feminism by turning it into a gay rights movement; women didn't feel safe around them in bathrooms... Sound familiar?
Joyce may be right that there's still some debate to be had about safety and fairness when it comes to trans people in professional sports, or in the prison system. I agree that there's still some debate to be had about the changing meanings of words like femininity and feminism, for everyone who describes themselves with those words to speak their mind. But let debates be free of strawmanning - holding up an absurdly exaggerated version of your opponent, so it's easier to knock down (like a straw man) - and sealioning - constantly asking why you should accept the answers your opponent gives to your questions, in infinite circles (from a story about sea lions following someone home to ask why she doesn't want them to follow her home).
What's going on here all the way through - to bring this back to a philosophy lesson - is emotive language and value judgement. When we describe things by describing emotions - like "That's embarrassing" or "this is exciting", we're not just saying "I'm embarrassed", or "I'm excited"; we're judging the value of the thing itself, based on emotion. I'm not saying our feelings aren't facts - they're our reactions to our reality; but sometimes we need to remember we're dealing with and defining two things - the fact and the feeling, the reaction and the reality. Sometimes we feel humble, because the thing itself is great - like climbing a mountain. Sometimes we feel great, because the thing itself is humble - like stroking a kitten. And sometimes, when conspiracy theorists like Joyce go to nonsensical lengths, we need to remind them of the old reply:
Just because you're confused, doesn't mean someone set out to confuse you!
For a list of things to read & watch that brought me to the opposite side of this than Joyce's, click HERE;
To join the Venus Valley group on bookface where we debate, discuss, question, contribute, so your voice is heard alongside others, click HERE;
To donate to support the production and promotion of this blog as a fully fledged book, so our voices are heard louder and clearer, click HERE.
About the Creator
Mx. Stevie (or Stephen) Cole
Attracted to magic both practical & impractical
Writer of short stories and philosophical musings
You have potential. Keep practicing and don’t give up!
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
I love to see a fellow philosopher sharing their work here on Vocal! I like the examination series and tone of your approach; I too am VERY critical of ideology. In fact, I'd go so far to say that philosophy and ideology are at complete odds with one another, total opposites, so I appreciate your breakdown of what they are: brainwashing cancer cults. Spread and spread and spread. Looking forward to your next installment! Great work!
Wonderful work! Thanks so much.
Incredible ❤️❗Congratulations on your Top Story✨🎉💖💯
Excellent work, congratulations on your Top Story
Another great chapter. And Helen Joyce is full of s...ophistry--& that's about as nicely as I can put it.