Anyone new to the transgender revolution could be forgiven for thinking that what they are witnessing is remarkable in its speed and coverage. Seems like only yesterday that no one had heard of the word cis, let alone accoutrements such as chest binders, but now almost everyone is au fait with the lingo and demands of this group.
As well, numerous progressive western democracies are currently wrestling with trans rights in sport, spaces, legislation and speech. None more so than New Zealand, often described as a social laboratory for the speed with which new ideas can become embedded into the culture.
For example, while self-sex ID is still under discussion in the United Kingdom, prompting considerable pushback from politicians, it will be formally enshrined in law here in June. Gender ideology is also part of the education curriculum guidelines, accepted within government departments and gender is a key category in the collection of census and pay data.
So perhaps it is appropriate that it is a New Zealand academic and specialist in social movements and collective protest at Oxford university, Prof Michael Biggs, who has examined this movement closely. His research finds that the foundation for transactivism was laid 50 years ago.
In 2020 Biggs was a key witness in the case against the Tavistock Gender Identity Developmnent Service in Britain. The clinic has since been ordered to close and now faces legal action over claims children were misdiagnosed and rushed into transitioning.
The former Wellingtonian likes to say he has followed the career path of John Money, the New Zealand psychologist/sexologist since they both studied at Victoria University and later, attended Harvard. He is only half joking when he says he is trying to remedy the damage done by Money. Money is infamous for encouraging the parents of a twin boy, who suffered a botched circumcision in 1966, to bring the boy up as a girl. That boy committed suicide at 38, while his brother died of a drug overdose. The parents blamed Money’s methodology for the death of both sons.
But the first person to be celebrated for undergoing sex reassignment surgery was a GI-turned-actress, Christine Jorgensen, in the 1950s. The story goes that in February 1953, when Jorgenson returned to New York from Denmark where she had surgery, the media was waiting for her at the airport, largely ignoring the Danish royal family, also on the flight.
In the ensuing years Jorgenson used her public status to become an advocate for trans people. Others, mainly adult males, followed the trail she blazed.
Nevertheless a few feminists like professor emerita of women’s studies and medical ethics at Massachusetts University, Janice Raymond, sounded an alarm. In 1979 Raymond wrote The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male arguing that “All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves.” Raymond saw transsexualism as the creation of medical men like John Money and Harry Benjamin.
While the key demands of transgender activists were articulated in the 1970s, says Biggs, to become effective, they had to piggyback on feminist and gay rights advances as well as 90s postmodernism and queer theory espoused by philosophers like Judith Butler who contends that sex itself is a social construct. Finally, digital technology with its virtual worlds and online networks accelerated its spread..
Although Biggs agrees with feminists who say gender ideology harms women and girls, he also observes that feminism facilitated this ideology. In his paper How Feminism Paved the Way for Transgenderism Biggs asks why this men’s right’s movement – as radical feminists have called it – has largely been championed by women. His examples of women in the media, politicians and political parties pushing transgender doctrines are all British but the same can be said of North America and Australasia. In all these countries women are more vocal than men in their support of transgenderism.
In Biggs’ view, the answer lies in the faulty foundational premise of mainstream feminism that claims the differences between men and women are due solely to socialisation, not biology. If that is true, why are humans the only mammals where evolution did not produce behavioural sex differences? And why are some sex differences such as male violence uniform across cultures?
The socialisation argument was useful to challenge male and female roles in an era when these roles were more rigidly enforced. But if sex segregation is based solely on socialisation, it is much harder to argue for the exclusion of transwomen from women’s spaces. How can they be socialised into a gender they do not identify with? This is especially true of children identifying as the opposite sex.
Only biological differences justify the exclusion of males (however they identify) from women’s refuges, prisons, toilets and changing areas.
Writes Biggs: “By denying biological differences they (70s feminists) inadvertently eroded the distinction between male and female, which now licences a social movement that undermines the interests of women and girls.”
If ever there was a demonstration of the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, this issue is it. The good intentions of the second wave feminists paved the way for transgenderism and a new form of misogyny, while the good intentions of third wave feminists gave it a jolly good push along the road.
Biology tripped up both. Biology matters when it comes to sex segregation. And biology does not support the transactivist’s claim that people can change sex or that some people are trapped in the wrong body. No objective physical test exists for gender identity.
Although the sinister hand of big pharma peddling puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgery is seen by some as behind the trans agenda, Biggs demurs. There’s really not enough money in it. The numbers are relatively small and the drugs are relatively cheap outside the United States.
It is more likely that women, being generally more agreeable than men, are more willing to embrace transgenderism in the interests of diversity, inclusion and equality. Since the infrastructure for the promotion of women, gays, lesbians and non-whites is already present in many institutions, it is easy to add transgender to the list of groups (race, culture, sexual identity) requiring special protection.
Whereas once adult males made up the majority of gender transitioners, recently the numbers of young girls identifying as trans has spiked in many countries. Who wouldn’t want to be a boy in a misogynistic world, say some.
Once again Biggs singles out biology as the culprit. Puberty is generally worse for girls than boys. The physical changes are greater (menstruation), sexual attention is amplified and social media supercharges typical female on female competitiveness. Girls can feel bullied and excluded by other girls.
Biggs is fortunate that his employer, Oxford University, allows him to speak on this issue. Elsewhere British and American academics have been subjected to formal disciplinary proceedings and informal harassment for less. There is a sense in which transgenderism is regarded as sacred. “Misgendering someone is blasphemous, a bit like -,” he searches for a suitable comparison, “- like urinating on the Koran.”
In part, he says the ferocity of the pushback reflects the fact that trans ideology is built on a foundation “no more solid than sand, or marshland.” Their claims that sex is a spectrum, that people can change sex and that it is possible to be trapped in the wrong body have no basis in science.
While Britain has experienced significant pushback against transactivism from new organizations such as Sex Matters and the LGB Alliance, Biggs doesn’t expect other nations to follow suit any time soon. In fact he points out that American-based NGOs are spreading the word worldwide, requiring adherence to the ideology if funds are to be released.
Not until more young people detransition (revert back to their birth sex) will the movement collapse, says Biggs. However the spectre of thousands of lawsuits following their detransing has been overstated.
“Those young people have been so damaged by this process, it’s unlikely they’ll want to put themselves through another five years in a courtroom. Most will just want to get on with their life.”