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Rejecting reactionary ‘Feminism’

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As transgender and nonbinary people and their struggles have become prominent in the mainstream consciousness, the workers’ movement has increasingly had to grapple with its preconceptions of sex and gender.

How should workers and communist parties engage with transgender issues and what do they mean for the struggles of cisgender working-class women?

One attempt to answer this question that has arisen in the communist movement claims that “gender ideology” aims to encroach on women’s “sex-based” rights, meaning rights that cisgender women are entitled to, but not transgender women.

This line of thinking endangers the lives of transgender and nonbinary people, and if communists continue to hold to it, they risk making the same errors that were made during the first decades of the gay liberation movement.

In doing so, they would discredit the commitment of communists to social progress in the eyes of progressive forces in society that we seek to work with for a better future.

It is hoped that communists can achieve unity and be a progressive force on this question, as communists should be.

Let us first discuss the meaning of “gender ideology.”

One definition of ‘ideology’ is, ‘a set of ideas’ ‘Gender ideology’ can be defined as a set of ideas about gender.

In this sense, ‘gender ideology’ has existed since the dawn of the human species, and is embodied now in the form of the patriarchy with its preconceived notions of ‘manhood’ and ‘womanhood.’

But this is not the way that conservatives and misguided comrades use the term “gender ideology.”

When they use the term, they are referring to the natural progression of scientific research that has led to questioning of the equivalence of sex and gender.

Scientific inquiry has found that since various cultures have different customs, beliefs, or ‘ideologies’ regarding gender, gender itself is relative and socially constructed.

Science has shown that gender, while  related to sex, is superstructural; that is, while originating in the social relations between sexes, it has become something new, something that changes based on the relations of society itself.

In fact, we can see that in almost all cultures, whether repressed or celebrated, genders that don’t correspond with an individual’s sex have arisen.

To deny the legitimacy of this phenomenon would not only be unscientific, but would also uphold ideologies about gender that were forced on Indigenous peoples by colonial powers as a tool for imperialist domination, particularly by the British Empire.

The comrades that have come out against “gender ideology” would contend that this analysis is not materialist. In doing so they conflate materialism with purely physical phenomena, which in this case would be biological sex.

Dialectical materialism says that materialism does not stop here. What is found in biological organisational forms (sex) can be elevated to a higher form of organisation, the social form (gender).

We do not baulk at the fact that matter follows new laws of development when it reaches the level of chemical organisation. Neither should we reject the new laws that apply to gender as a higher level of organisation than sex.

Today, we see a vast number of attacks on transgender and nonbinary people, particularly in the UK and the US.

Access to gender-affirming medical and psychological care for children and adults is being attacked in legislative bodies and courts, creating barriers to medical transition.

Self-identification has not been achieved in very many places at all, so there are barriers to social and legal transition. All the while these arguments contribute to a culture that is severely detrimental to the psychological and economic well-being of transgender and nonbinary people.

A study from the Williams Institute at the UCLA Law School found that transgender and nonbinary people were over four times as likely to have experienced homelessness.

In the US, transgender and nonbinary Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed. When denied access to gender-affirming care and a safe community to transition in, 40 per cent of transgender and nonbinary people attempt suicide – a number that falls to nearly the same level as cisgender people when those barriers are not present.

Concerning the question of transgender rights infringing upon cisgender women’s ‘sex-based rights’ we must ask, do we need sex-based rights, or do we need rights for all women, cisgender and transgender, and a united struggle to achieve those rights?

We have not seen swathes of men claiming to be women so that they can abuse women in bathrooms and changing rooms. Transgender women who enter women’s spaces are more likely to be victims of assault than perpetrators.

On the flip side, excluding transgender women from women’s shelters leaves them in acute danger of being abused or murdered.

Excluding them from women’s wards in hospitals makes seeking necessary medical attention a traumatic experience that, tragically, many avoid as they would rather suffer than be degraded.

When we look beyond transgender women, as proponents of ‘sex-based’ rights frequently do not do, we see that many of these issues are mirrored in the experiences of transgender men and nonbinary people.

The vast majority of feminists see the transgender liberation movement as consistent with the principles of the women’s movement.

As we fight against the policies of conservative and reactionary forces that tie women to their sex, pushing for women to be seen as tools for reproduction and homemaking to be commanded by their husbands due to cisgender women carrying children, giving birth, and breastfeeding, the women’s movement has, by and large, embraced the shared struggle that transgender and nonbinary people experience in being tied to their sex.

It should come as no surprise then that transgender people of all kinds have been at the front of many women’s liberation movements. It’s a natural progression.

Communists must not fall for the positions regarding transgender people that have been proffered by the conservative and reactionary forces who aim to use biological essentialism regarding transgender and nonbinary people as an effort to revive it for use against women and the women’s movement.

We must instead fight the ‘gender ideology’ espoused by the right, by embracing the transgender, nonbinary, and women’s liberation movements simultaneously.

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