Discover more from gender:hacked by Eliza Mondegreen
This is what 'no debate' looks like
So there was supposed to be a talk on campus about sex vs. gender identity on Tuesday. I was naïve: I thought it would happen. Activists shut it down.
I arrived early, before most of the protesters. At 12:30, the counterprotest seemed to me a rather sad little event. A few activists scattered flyers and slung slogans, their voices tight and nervous. “Like it or not, McGill University is actively contributing to the genocide of trans people across the world…” one flyer read, not at all portentously.
“Dear cis ‘feminists’ at the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism and Law Faculty… when the LGB Alliance is done ‘carefully debating’ trans rights, abortion is next. TRANS LEGAL PROTECTIONS ARE NOT UP FOR DEBATE. TERFS are NOT welcome at McGill.”
I read that there’s “no conflict” between “trans rights” and the rights of any other group. In other words, you know you’ve got a TERF on your hands if they claim there’s a conflict:
“As anti-trans violence becomes increasingly prevalent across the world, and legal gender recognition is threatened in the UK, in the US, and here in Quebec itself, every extra minute of airtime given to an anti-trans activist may result in further rollback. Every such minute will contribute to the premature deaths of trans people worldwide. Now is the time to say ‘no’ to this continued, systemic elimination of trans voices and lives.”
But just as I was stuffing the flyers into my backpack, feeling a little pity for the poor turnout, a surge of protesters arrived and the energy turned menacing all at once. The mob blocked access to the lecture hall. A friend and I tried to get to the doors and were pushed around as though lives depended on turning us back. We just wanted to hear a human-rights lawyer talk about a conflict in human-rights law.
It’s surreal, honestly, to be pushed and shoved and grabbed by people who are screaming about "nonviolence.” We were TERFs, transphobes, and (curiously) ‘scabs.’ A wild-eyed young man screamed: “I’M NOT GOING TO BE ERASED BY YOU PEOPLE.” We had no place at McGill. We were pinned in the middle of a raging crowd and screamed at to "GET OUT,” while prevented from going anywhere at all. At least twice, activists pointed out that we needed to be allowed to “get out.” I kept looking around for anyone not participating, anyone who looked uncomfortable with the way this peaceful protest had gone. But all the activists were chanting or shouting or screaming. The jumpy activists I’d observed a few minutes ago had transformed themselves into a mob, with the license of mobs. There's no reaching people in that state, which is why it felt like anything could happen, especially after they'd already manhandled us.
The activists particularly harassed two women, pushing one to the ground, and blasting them with bullhorns. At one point, the activists jeered: “Why are you even staying?” One of the women responded, very bravely, I could just hear her over the noise: “We don’t want to surrender to that kind of bullying.” And the activist shouted back: “What bullying? This isn’t bullying!” (I think I know what comes next: “I’ll show you bullying!” I’m just freestyling, but I think I’ve heard that one before…)
These activists don’t see themselves and so they’re capable of anything. They identify so completely as victims that they believe their blows can never land.
When the four of us went outside to get away from the crush, a ‘trans lesbian’ followed. He said he knew all about people like us because he used to be a neo-Nazi himself. This comment didn’t strike me quite as intended. I thought: Yes, I totally believe one kind of extremist can become another kind of extremist.
"This is what it's going to be like in this country for people like you," he warned. But people like whom? All he knew about us was that we wanted to attend a talk that he didn't want us to attend.
Meanwhile, back inside, the activists pushed through the doors, interrupting the talk, unplugging the projector, and throwing flour on the speaker, Professor Robert Wintemute.
A reporter from the Montreal Gazette interviewed one of the women who’d come to hear the talk. But the activists didn’t like that either. One girl—nonbinary, no doubt—came out and squawked “BOOOOOOOORRRRRRRRIIIINNNNNNNGGGGG! BOOOOOOOORRRRRRRRIIIINNNNNNNGGGGG!” to drown out the woman’s words.
I admit I find that fascinating. Trans activists never can decide: are we hateful bigots or just uncool? Are we witches or just hags? Genocidaires or just bores?
What’s going on inside the mind of someone who cries “STOP TRANS GENOCIDE!” one moment and “BOOOOOOOORRRRRRRRIIIINNNNNNNGGGGG!” the next?
I have no idea what went wrong with campus security. They were outside. The police were outside, too. Inside, it was completely chaotic and it would have only taken one person slightly more unhinged than the rest to send it to a very bad place. And now the activists will be emboldened. They won because they stopped anyone from saying anything they didn’t want anybody else to hear. And they won because Canadian media won’t cover the way it went down. The CBC attached the subhead “Advocates say debating trans women's rights is harmful to all women” to its piece about activists shutting down free inquiry on campus. “It's very much a debunkable thing,” one activist said. But who cares about debunking when you can just shut it all down? Who needs to formulate an argument when you can mobilize a mob?
In an interview with the CBC, Professor Wintemute said:
… he has a 37 years' experience defending LGB human rights and he would never associate with any group that "promotes hate." He said he came to McGill to promote the message that women have human rights too, but they feel intimidated by the trans rights movement.
"So I have to thank the protesters for giving me first-hand experience of that intimidation… Probably the majority of women in this country disagree with some of transgender demands but they refuse to say so because they will be seen as intolerant."
Apparently, just pointing this out makes me a TERF (it turns out I didn’t need to put in all those hours of hard work!) but there's a conflict here. We need to talk about it. We don't have any better way of resolving conflicts than talking.
Civil libertarians who have sat this conflict out so far may be startled to see free speech set up in opposition to human rights and equality. But when it comes to gender, an atmosphere of wartime censorship has set in. Trans activists claim these strictures save lives, but in reality it is the survival of the cause itself that requires such exceptional treatment.
So why do civil liberties violations and calls for further clampdowns follow trans activism wherever it goes?
The short answer is that the trans movement threatens civil liberties because the movement is not what it claims to be and thus is threatened by free and open enquiry. If a movement cannot withstand scrutiny, it will create and enforce taboos—and undermine civil liberties in the process. One of the trans movement’s central claims is that there is no conflict between its claims and demands and the rights of any other group. Stonewall, a leading trans rights organisation in the United Kingdom, states upfront that ‘we do not and will not acknowledge a conflict between trans rights and “sex based women’s rights”.’ Merely ‘claiming [that] there is a conflict between trans people’s human rights and those of any other group’—such as women, children, religious minorities, or lesbian and gay people—is defined as transphobic hate speech that governments and private corporations alike should censor.
Unfortunately—for the trans movement and the rest of us—the conflict exists, whether we are free to acknowledge it or not.
To put the conflict in plain language: trans activism argues that gender identity should override sex in law and society. Trans activism redefines ‘women’ and ‘men’ from sex classes based on reproductive role into mixed-sex classes based on individuals’ inner sense of being a man, woman, both, or neither. A mixed-sex definition of ‘woman’ will put males on women’s shortlists, in women’s sports, prisons, and domestic violence refuges. Even if we were to believe that redefining women as a mixed-sex class inclusive of males who identify as women is an urgent and just cause—that is, even if we believe that the outcome should be settled in a particular way—there remains a conflict between two clashing interpretations of the law and two distinct groups of people.
Rather than acknowledge this conflict and propose a satisfactory resolution, trans activists seek to deny it altogether—largely by stripping meaning from language. This is how the ubiquitous claim that ‘trans women are women’ functions. If ‘trans women are women’, then it does not matter if ‘trans women’ outcompete female athletes in women’s sports. In fact, if ‘trans women are women’, then questioning whether Lia Thomas should compete against female athletes becomes part of a ‘long tradition of “gender policing” female athletes’. Rather than make a compelling case for why trans inclusion should trump fairness, trans activists seek to make sex—the very crux of the conflict—unspeakable. If ‘trans women are women’, then it does not matter whether or not placing trans-identified males in women’s prisons puts female prisoners at risk. ‘Trans women are women’ means no scrutiny and no debate.
I walked home running through Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer in my head:
“There is also this: when we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse.”
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