How Much Was Covered In The Series?
Firstly, I just want to say that, if you’ve read the book, you’ll know that I picked information and arguments out of reading order. That is, Joyce’s book is a list of chapters that can mostly be read out of order, but her original list isn’t how I organized my posts. There was a great deal of jumping around.
Secondly, I did skip a few sections, including the entirety of a chapter that contained nothing new or useful. For those are currently reading or plan to read the book, it would be chapter 12.
I had gone into this book expecting a great deal more. I knew that Joyce was gender-critical, but I expected stronger argumentation or attempts at finding examples of what Joyce was concerned about. As it stands, the book isn’t bad, but it can come off as polemic.
The minimal citations hurt the book’s credibility. There were times that I wanted to know where Joyce was getting some information and I had to do my own research because she didn’t give a citation in the references at the end or just in passing (“Study X titled Y from Z”). You would think you were reading a US high school student’s essay if you took a look at the number of references.
Does this mean that Joyce is wrong on the details? Not for the most part, I think. Most of her history probably comes from How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States, which is a book that does have an extensive reference list.
I think Joyce has the history, harms, and ideological tenets mostly correct, but there’s a weakness in her arguments about the science, which is less forgivable when you realize this book didn’t come out in 2001, but in 2021. I’m not arguing her representations of the science are wrong, just that her arguments don’t really make you believe she’s considered the opposition’s arguments and evidence.
There’s also a very culture-warry practice in this book where Joyce fires arguments she doesn’t even necessarily care about. This results in sections that are too big to ignore, but too small to fully flesh out the argument with the amount of evidence needed to really justify it, and perfect for inciting long arguments between people who agree with her and those who find the arguments as presented in the book lacking. The best example of this is the part where she accuses rich, white, male billionaires of controlling the TRM.
This book has obviously been reviewed by others, you can find a pretty good list on Wikipedia. There are multiple people who praise it for being an excellent analysis of the TRM, but a few acknowledge, like I do, that it has its shortcomings.
Jesse Singal ultimately agrees with me that the book is short on citations and on considerations for the arguments the opposition has made. Gaby Hinsliff doesn’t find it bad, but criticizes Joyce for making arguments without spending enough time on developing them further. She suggests Kathleen Stock’s Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism.
For the people who criticize more strongly, you can check out this review by a law professor who also suggests Material Girls to be a better book, though ultimately rejects them both.
Lastly, I want to highlight some important responses which I think greatly added to the discussion across the 3 places I posted. I encourage you to check them out, though the last two link to a website which takes a certain amount of cavalierness to engage with.
There was a thread about the social pressure on men to transition.
@gattsuru had an informative comment regarding puberty blocker clinical trials and the Canadian trans kid case mentioned in part 3.
Lastly, I just want to mention that I’m going to update all posts so that you can find all discussion threads from the links at the top.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed!
Last time, we discussed what harms Joyce thinks transgender people (especially trans women) cause to women and how GII harms kids as a whole.
This time, we’ll go over Joyce’s explanation of how transgenderism became so widespread as an idea, some more issues with the movement as a whole, and how some cis women are fighting back.
When Joyce opens a chapter with the title “Transactivism’s long march through the institutions”, one wonders how broadly she considers this phenomenon. But that’s for another time.
Anyways, Joyce takes on an idea that supposedly exists in the people she portrays as clueless. Namely, that the trans rights movement (TRM) is just like those that came before. She argues that the movement has claimed the original civil rights movement, the women’s vote movement, and same-sex marriage movement as its ancestors. However, the TRM is different from the others in some specific ways.
Firstly, Joyce claims that the TRM is asking for something very different. Whereas MLK or Susan B Anthony fought to extend rights previously held by a smaller group to more people, the TRM is asking people to change what defines gender and sex. That is, the TRM is about getting people to treat trans people as the sex they claim to be, not the sex they were at birth. This is not, Joyce argues, a human right, but a demand for everyone else to lose their rights to single-sex spaces, services, and activities, along with a requirement that you agree with their definition of what a man or woman is.
I’ll admit to not knowing enough history, but would you not have seen similar arguments about the others? For example, the CRM would have been cast as a demand for people to lose their rights to a single-race space or service. The women’s vote movement would have been a demand that men lose the right to make decisions for their families as was “natural”. Or same-sex marriage as a demand that straight people lose their right to an important and exclusive social technology.
Secondly, Joyce argues that unlike the other three, the TRM is not trying to win hearts and minds. Joyce characterizes the first three movements as follows.
the movements…had to be built from the ground up. Campaigners gave speeches and held rallies to raise awareness and win supporters. Solid majorities had to favour the social and legal shifts these groups demanded before politicians and judges implemented them.
In contrast, Joyce says, the TRM has often flown beneath notice and this is an explicitly known strategy. From the mouth of Masen Davis in 2013 speaking at the Transgender Law Center:
we have largely achieved our successes by flying under the radar…We do a lot really quietly. We have made some of our biggest gains that nobody has noticed. We are very quiet and thoughtful about what we do, because we want to make sure we have the win more than we want to have the publicity.
Which successes he’s talking about, or how widespread this practice is, Joyce doesn’t elaborate on or substantiate. It may be that only the TLC is doing this, but I think even a conservative guess would say they aren’t exceptions.
Joyce refers to polls done in the UK to illustrate how attitudes among the people differ greatly from what GII endorses. She cites a Populus poll from 2018 and notes that it found only 15% of British adults said you should be able to get a legal sex change without a doctor’s sign-off. That number did not change in 2020 when YouGov did a similar poll. There is, she writes, a widespread belief that trans people should be free to describe as they wish, but not to take it as correct for legal forms and documents without additional evidence.
Here, Joyce gets a bit conspiratorial. She starts by noting that movements with support from the wealthy can have much stronger impact compared to ones without that may have broader appeal, then name-drops three individuals she argues are responsible for providing resources and support to do lectures, education projects, studies, etc.
The first is Jennifer Pritzker, a trans woman billionaire. Her personal foundation has made millions of dollars in donations to left-wing and pro-trans movements.
The second is Jon Stryker, a billionaire who has funded LGBT campaign group IGLA and Transgender Europe, a different group that promotes national self-ID laws. His foundation has also given millions to queer-studies programs and American trans-rights groups.
The third is George Soros (come back, I promise you, it’s not what you think!). Soros is cited as giving millions to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, but also funding via OSF (Open Society Foundations) a 2014 guide to campaigning for national self-Id laws.
You may be wondering what the problem is. Any movement or political group has wealthy backers. Joyce answers by noting what all three have in common – being rich, white American males. This, she says, explains the difference in rhetoric and difference in policies. The TRM talks about helping the poor homeless trans people who do sex work to survive, don’t get health care, and are harassed by the police. But they push for something only comfortable men would pursue with the focus on allowing self-ID as the arbiter of legal and social sex status.
Oh, and I would be remiss to not mention that she spends a few paragraphs talking about the danger of the transgender medical industry. In particular, there are tens of thousands of dollars to be made for each surgery performed, and this creates in aggregate a very powerful incentive to keep people undergoing surgeries and other treatments. I find this to be a bizarre case to make – Joyce is not interested in going the angle of “capitalists made transgenderism a thing to make money”, so why even bring this up?
Why the focus on allowing children to gain access to hormones to undergo surgery earlier as well? After all, if this is about men wanting to transition, why do they care about children?
Joyce says they don’t and offers the following example as proof.
In the late 1960s, some European liberals thought that breaking down sexual taboos was a task that had to be started young. In German kindergartens run along radical left lines, teachers encouraged children to fondle them, view pornography and simulate sexual intercourse. Contemporaneous accounts show that parents often felt qualms, which they suppressed because of what they had been told about how children should naturally behave. What happened was child-abuse, though motivated by political conviction rather than sexual desire. But it did not take long before paedophiles saw their chance.
The leaders of the sexual revolution were men whose aims were to legalise homosexuality – and, in some cases, to smash the heterosexual family unit. Few if any wanted to endanger children; they simply did not give children enough thought.
This is a whole scandal in retrospect by itself, and Joyce details how from the 70s to the 90s, pedophiles and their advocacy groups were on good terms with left-wing parties in an “enemy of my enemy” situation. Their enemies were “Conservatives, Catholics, evangelicals and fascists” who had spoken up about opposing gay and pedophile activists. This made it nigh impossible to speak out about how strongly the pedophiles were within left-wing organization. It only changed once a woman named Eileen Fairweather published works uncovering pedophile rings in schools and children’s homes in Britain.
Now, let me be clear about this – Joyce is not arguing that trans activists and pedophiles are analogous, but that there were some gay and trans activists after the 1960s who were indifferent or just naïve about the need to keep pedophiles from children. And it is the same kind of indifference to child welfare that, according to her, leads the modern TRM to support child transition as well as ignore how its own movement can be hijacked by pedophiles.
The Successes of the TRM
Joyce at long last gives a list of how far the TRM has come in society, in her view at least. This won’t be new if you’re familiar enough with how far social progressive ideas have spread across Western ruling institutions.
The ACLU and Human Rights Council (HRC) are influential and notable organizations that support gender self-ID as a widespread standard and celebrate such victories as another notch in the fight for civil rights
Supposedly, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the Independent Press Standards Organization (UK’s journalism watchdog) have put out guidelines for journalists that discourage mentioning a trans person’s biological sex or pre-transition name
The Equal Treatment Bench Book (an important book for British judges) presents deadnaming as disrespectful and uses non-legal terminology like “gender assigned at birth”
The Corporate Equality Index (created by the HRC) encourages companies to advocate publicly for gender self-ID
The above is not comprehensive of her example, but it’s fair to say that Joyce would agree with a summarization along the lines of “TRM has put continuous pressure upon every family of institutions that have power over the public and found success by doing so and they will not stop any time soon”.
Gender Critic Harry Potter Vs. TRA Voldemort
The last chapter of Joyce’s book heaps praise upon British women who are said to be fighting back. You’ll recognize some names if you follow this particular culture war.
Joyce’s “protagonist” is Maya Forstater, a woman who lost her job at a think-tank because she believed that male/female were distinct and immutable categories and publicly declared this. She sued the think-tank in 2021 and argued in court that her views were a protected belief.
Forstater is portrayed as being the modern-day John Scopes, a teacher from a century ago who was charged with a misdemeanour for teaching evolutionary theory in Tennessee. Indeed, Joyce explicitly mocks some of the questions posed. Assuming they’re correct, my favorite is “Could [you] name any philosophers who agree with [you]?” She ultimately lost the case, the judge ruling that her belief was not worthy of respect in a democratic society.
Of course, you all know where I’m going with this. J. K. Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter series and its amazing lore where wizards historically shit their pants like degenerates, defended Forstater publicly after she was fired. She would later insist that the U.N was being silly when they used phrases like “people who menstruate” over “women”.
Quite frankly, more has been written about Rowling and her transgenderism-related controversies than anyone would want to read in a lifetime. If you want to read about this, I suggest reading the original Harry Potter series instead. It’s much more fun and you can join the massive fanfiction community afterwards.
The overall idea is that people like Rowling and Forstater are the public figures and “heads” of this rejection. The former is especially important because barring physical violence, no one can really prevent her from speaking. She has no economic woes and can easily finance websites, lectures, political action, etc. Indeed, Rowling has even gone as far as to open a crisis center for women under her definition of them.
In any case, the first real setback dealt to the TRAs came in 2018. Joyce characterizes the run-up to this year as beginning in 2015, when the Conservatives won. During the same year, there was a parliamentary inquiry into trans equality, where apparently any and all TRAs were invited, but no one who was skeptical or in outright denial of the idea.
The inquiry came back with some predictable recommendations. First was legal gender self-ID, but another was to remove an exception to the Equality Act that allowed providers to have different facilities for the sexes. This collected dust, but a few MPs kept pushing for self-ID. The whole thing came to the public in 2017 (keep in mind this is when Brexit was happening, which is why that dominated minds both in and out of the UK and this issue did not).
The backlash, however, was not as expected, nor the agitators. Women’s groups began admitting they had believed GII wouldn’t affect them or their single-sex spaces. They began to shout for the importance of sex-based definitions, particularly of women and the spaces they held. Pressure to cancel their events grew and there were even some intimidation tactics used. One woman was even assaulted by a trans person who was counter-protesting. Parents began to get worried as well, and one organization focused on protecting children convinced many school councils to change their guidance on what bathroom a trans child should use. In a notable case, there were even some gay people working to convince the pro-trans side to wind back their support for gender self-ID.
All of this ended in two things.
The pro-trans side didn’t get what they wanted as Conservatives realized that gender self-ID was immensely unpopular.
The LGB alliance was born, and the exclusion of T is both obvious and intentional.
At the time Joyce published her book, there were multiple challenges being made by women’s groups to oppose self-ID in various ways, such as attempting to prevent the census takers from redefining sex away from biology (this succeeded).
That’s it for this post. Next time, we’ll wrap up this series and talk about a few lingering topics, along with some stuff that I found too boring or out of place for any of these posts. I hope you enjoyed!
Last time, we discussed what Joyce thinks are the causes of transgenderism, how they render many or even most trans people as not really trans in the first place, and what gender-identity ideology (GII) says in the first place.
This time, we’ll go over what Joyce sees as the harms of transgenderism.
Think Of The Kids!
Joyce starts by reminding us that there is a fairly high desistance rate among cross-sex identifying kids and this was known since the 70s and 80s. But this is obviously an inconvenient fact for GII, Joyce asserts, so it gets ignored.
I don’t think this is a good start, I think the modern argument TRAs would offer are that you should not stand in your child’s way of deciding their identity, even if they would desist later. Jesse Singal’s famous (or infamous) 2018 Atlantic article highlights the alarming rhetoric aimed at parents skeptical of transition (“Would you rather have a live daughter or a dead son?”), but I don’t know of cases where desistance has been ignored. I do, however, see serious debate between pro-trans and anti-trans advocates on how many desist in the first place.
Anyways, let’s jump to the 1990s. Clinicians at the time began to wonder what could be done to help the kids who would not desist. It was not clear how to identify them, and if you simply waited until they were older, then you ran into a big problem.
Puberty has strong and lasting effects determined by your sex (really, hormones) that cannot be fully undone by surgery. A trans woman who undergoes male puberty is going to have a deeper voice, certain facial features, and larger body (notably hands and feet). Trans men don’t have as many visible leftovers if they transition (barring breasts). But going through this was obviously discomforting to these kids, so why not try to delay puberty and see who desisted?
Thus, Amsterdam clinicians decided to start injecting small groups of kids with puberty blockers. This was predicted to be a free lunch – the kids who desisted would be taken off the blockers and develop as normal, the ones who persisted could grow up until they were 16 and old enough to consent to the irreversible stuff.
Joyce details a catastrophe as the outcome.
Of the seventy children enrolled in a study between 2000 and 2007, every single one progressed to cross-sex hormones. Almost all had surgery at age eighteen…These children were all highly gender-dysphoric, and had not desisted by the start of puberty.
Joyce admits that it was possible the clinic somehow picked out only persisters, but she is highly skeptical of this. If every other study Joyce cited found major desistance, then the more likely explanation was that puberty blockers had disrupted the body’s process for resolving dysphoria.
But the results were taken up with gusto by others, and Canadian and American clinics began prescribing these blockers not long after. UK’s Tavistock was initially cautious, but began routine assignment in 2014 after, according to Joyce, they were pressed by activists.
All this might have been more acceptable if the criteria for assignment were strict, but Joyce says they’ve been assigned more and more to kids with less severe dysphoria and even those who aren’t transgender, but non-binary or gender-fluid.
I’m not sure how to verify the numbers exactly (even Joyce admits we don’t have clear counts). The number is clearly greatly increasing, but it’s not clear if this just reflects that the right number of kids are getting them, or too many are. I will say that she’s correct on the broadening of who can get blockers. The Mayo Clinic, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, and Cleveland Clinic all say that you don’t have be trans, but just questioning your gender to get it.
But is the broadening of the accepted reasons really a problem? Assume for a moment that puberty blockers worked as advertised (no interference with normal desistance processes). Is there something inherently wrong with offering kids who are experiencing discomfort with their gender puberty blockers? One might argue that categories like non-binary or genderqueer don’t exist and are artificially created for ideological reasons, but if they do, I’m not sure what the issue is.
For Joyce, however, the problem goes beyond just kids on the verge of puberty. Pro-trans messaging has come to include the idea that kids from a very early age can indicate their gender. Diane Ehrensaft, Director of Mental Health and founding member of the Child and Adolescent Gender Center, is quoted as saying that kids as young as three years old can indicate their knowledge of their gender.
This is an inversion of John Money’s ideas, though no less highly unconventional. Where Money had argued that gender was malleable in the first 2.5 years of life and then unchangeable, the modern GII argument seems to be that gender is known from birth.
Both, however, would argue for social transition at an early age. This is unacceptable to Joyce because these are always presented as reversible (both transition and blockers), but part of what she calls the “cascade of interventions”. It does not appear that kids tend to desist even if you just socially transition them. The age at which interventions are happening is lowering as well, with some kids getting cross-sex hormones and even surgery before 16.
If you want to see how nasty activists of any sort can get if you question their views, Joyce points to a controversial figure in this discussion space, the man named Ken Zucker. Zucker is one of the biggest names in gender medicine and has seen at least 1500 gender dysphoric kids. He edits Archives of Sexual Behavior but is known for authoring studies which showed the high desistance rates among kids. Zucker even introduced puberty blockers alongside someone else into Canada in 1999.
I won’t detail the entire controversy, Singal has also covered that here here. Joyce, for her part, argues that the campaign to get Zucker taken down was very much to send a message to anyone else who tried arguing like he did.
Medical Issues With Puberty Blockers
Not only is there a dearth of reliable evidence that kids benefit from taking puberty blockers, Joyce argues that there are other side effects that complicate the matter.
Only your natal hormones can make your ovaries/testicles mature.
There is anecdotal evidence that your sex life may be less-than-fully realized.
Puberty, even if partial, is what makes your penis or vagina develop into an adult’s, blocking it can keep your genitalia child-like, leaving not enough skin to do standard reassignment surgery.
Eggs and sperm cannot be frozen for later if they are never active to start with, and they only activate in puberty.
Trans men and women suffer from higher rates of diseases (not the same ones for both).
The drugs themselves are another issue. Joyce claims that they’ve never been put under clinical trials and aren’t even made for that purpose according to the manufacturers. They’re meant for treating adults for hormone-related conditions or to chemically castrate sex offenders. There are concerns that they may cause a significant IQ drop and prevent calcium from being laid down in bones.
From a cursory glance, I think Joyce is correct. Google Scholar doesn’t list too many studies that actually look at the issue, I only found one meta-review, published in 2020. There was also a piece from 2019 in the BMJ that discussed possible issues with even trying to study it from an ethical perspective. Wikipedia lists some adverse effects.
Progress Is A Circle
But there is another effect in promoting transgenderism, and gender-diversity to a lesser extent, in children – the reinforcement of gender stereotypes. Joyce picks Introducing Teddy: A Gentle Story About Gender and Friendship as her example of this, where the titular Teddy becomes a girl by turning his bow tie into a hair bow.
Such stories of children for children are increasing common, and they do not endorse any explanation of a child’s alienation from their sex other than a discordant gender identity. Joyce argues for familiar explanations: homosexuality or seeking (parental) approval.
Thus, it is damning to Joyce that so many pro-trans or trans-inclusive arguments and lessons to children just enforce gender stereotypes that are the product of the culture. Why are these people acting as if these stereotypes were instead naturally implanted into people?
Parents V. The World
Even more damning is how this divides parents from children. Obviously, transphobic parents would always have a problem with any suggestion of a trans child. But with an increasingly harsh attitude towards anyone who questions their child’s identity or the idea of teaching these ideas to children, there are now stories about kids cutting contact and leaving their homes.
There is evidence to support this indirectly, at least one school district in the US said that its staff were not permitted to reveal a trans kid’s status to their parents. This was picked up last year by right-wing media, which is presumably why the district removed the document from their site.
Schools are not the only intervening institution; the government is in on it as well. Joyce refers to a 2019 British Columbia court case involving a 14-year-old trans boy named Max and his father.
In 2016, aged twelve, she was referred to the school counsellor. Unbeknownst to her parents at the time, she mentioned feeling a commonality with the transboy protagonist of a film she had seen online. The counsellor concluded that Max was trans, arranged for a change of name and pronouns in school records, and referred Max to a psychologist, who recommended testosterone and made a further referral to a paediatric endocrinologist.
A consent form was sent to the Jacksons; the father refused to sign…But under British Columbia’s Infants Act, a child of any age has the right to medical treatment that is opposed by parents if the doctor thinks it is in the child’s best interests, and that the child is ‘mature enough’ to decide. In 2019, the supreme court of British Columbia ruled that Max could consent to medical transition independently of the father’s wishes (his ex-wife was no longer opposed). His refusal to refer to his child as a boy, and continued opposition to transition, were ruled ‘family violence’, and he was banned from speaking to the press.
Tangentially, I will note my confusion over this case. The Guardian reported the following:
“I will be stranded between looking and sounding feminine and looking and sounding masculine. I would feel like a freak,” the teenager wrote in an affidavit which was read out in court on Tuesday.
But I don’t know what would cause this. This may just be a teenager not able to speak clearly, but w/o drugs or surgery, how would you be stuck in such a manner? I would understand if Max was upset about looking/sounding feminine while trying to be masculine, but the wording is…odd.
A Threat To (Cis) Women
The elephant in the room for who stands to lose, according to Joyce, is cis women. They stand to lose many things they had once relied upon, not the least of which include single-sex spaces.
You may remember the name Jessica Yaniv if you’re more online. Yaniv is a trans women and trans activist who, in 2018, began asking wax salons if they would wax her genitals. The reporting I find from this time suggests that Yaniv hadn’t had surgery, meaning she still had her penis and testicles. This doesn’t work for Brazilian waxing; testicles are simply too sensitive to some of the techniques. When she was refused, she brought anti-discrimination cases in British Columbia against the women who refused.
Joyce says it was unclear which way the case would be decided. In the end, however, the court ruled that Yaniv was in the wrong and described her as a vexatious litigant who was acting in bad faith and motivated by money over actual discrimination.
Sounds like a victory for cis women, right? No, unfortunately. The court did not decide against Yaniv on the basis of the defendants having a religious right to refuse service, but on the basis that she had made self-admitted racist remarks against them. The defendants were South and East Asian women, you see.
What I don’t quite understand is where Joyce actually falls on this idea of religious freedom to not accept the tenets of GII. Does she greatly support religious freedom in all cases, or just strategically in this one because it happens to support her view that trans women are a threat to cis women?
The more classic problem, of course, is the bathroom question – is it okay to ban trans women from women’s restrooms? Here, I’ll point to there being no evidence that it’s problematic, but this may be because the culture hasn’t really caught up yet. I don’t think we can really extrapolate from the present to the near future.
Joyce, however, goes a different route – crime statistics.
The little evidence that exists shows that at least some of the males who identify as women are very dangerous indeed. Of the 125 transgender prisoners known to be in English prisons in late 2017, sixty were transwomen who had committed sexual offences, a share far higher than in the general male prison population, let alone in the female one.
So either transwomen are more likely than other males to be sexual predators, or – more probable in my view – gender self-identification provides sexual predators with a marvellous loophole. Whichever is true, allowing males to self-identify into women’s spaces makes women less safe.
Of course, prisoners are perhaps not representative of the overall trans population. But I would agree that self-ID is a dangerous thing and shouldn't be the basis by which we decided transgenderism. I would say that it specifically applies to spaces like women's restrooms, but I don't know of any practical way to allow for people to critically evaluate whether someone is trans that also accommodates self-ID.
There’s then a really uncharitable attempt at showing TRA hypocrisy.
Arguing that vulnerable males must be allowed to identify out of male spaces because males are so dangerous undermines any argument that males should be admitted to female spaces on demand.
Obviously, she and her opponents disagree on many things. But it’s not a contradiction if your opponents believe that sex is malleable like gender to also believe that trans women and women should therefore be kept in the same space, segregated away from cis men.
There are more arguments Joyce makes for the preservation of single-sex (basically only women’s) and the dangers of allowing trans women to enter those spaces, but they’re not very interesting or worth expounding on. If you understand the argument that males tend to be more violent, especially sexually, towards females, you’ve read about a dozen or so pages in this book already.
Mods are mean and limit me to 20k characters, check the comments for the rest of this post.
That's all for this part. Next time, we'll go over some more modern history and how some cis women are fighting back against this. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed!
Welcome back. Previously, we discussed a selective version of transgender medical history. I say selective because Joyce picked out the parts she wanted and wasn’t interested in a long drawn-out section in her book about that. She does, however, cite the book How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States for much of the history she does reference, and I heartily recommend that book if you want something that looks more at the history of the topic in the US.
With that said, let’s get into Joyce’s depiction of the causes and rationalization of transgenderism. I apologize to everyone for when I said that we’d discuss the harms that Joyce has noted, I want to do this first.
“Mommy, I’m a girl.”
Joyce brings us into the life of Richard Green, an American doctor/lawyer who spent many years in gender medicine. In the 1960s, he grew curious about whether the men who said they were really women and aware of this were always this way. In other words, were they little boys insisting they were girls, who would go on to be transsexuals? Note that at the time, gender clinics did not see children as patients.
Anyways, Green did a landmark 15-year study whose results were published in 1987 under the title The ‘Sissy Boy Syndrome’ and the Development of Homosexuality. The title, as you might imagine, gave away the conclusion. Joyce details the results as follows.
Green turned to the gold standard for investigating the origins of a condition: a prospective study, which follows people who seem likely to develop it to see what happens...He recruited around sixty ‘sissy boys’ and a similar number of ‘controls’: ordinarily masculine boys matched for age and socio-economic situation. He interviewed them and their parents every year or two. Of the forty-four in the first group whom he managed to stay in touch with, eighteen were unambiguously homosexual as young adults, fourteen fantasised about or engaged in homosexual activity with some frequency, and just twelve were exclusively, or nearly exclusively, heterosexual. Just one said he felt like a woman.
Of course, one study by itself is not particularly telling. Joyce argues that many studies have come forth since then, and all confirm what Green was saying. She cites a study from a Toronto clinic in March 2021 that followed 139 boys from 1975 to 2009 which found nearly 90% of dysphoric boys desisted. 82 of these boys ended up biphilic or androphilic.
“Ah,” you might reply, “but the ones who are most likely to be trans must feel it the strongest!” No, Joyce argues. We don’t know what makes someone a “persister” (opposite of desister), and the strength of the feeling isn’t necessarily a good indicator. As evidence, she points to Todd, the only one who persisted in Green’s study. By 17, Todd seemed to be settled into his desire to be a woman, but he didn’t stick out as unusually effeminate or dysphoric.
Joyce portrays Green as someone trying hard to get the parents of the boys to accept their sons as who they were and failed ultimately. The boys knew they were embarrassing to their parents, and some parents tried to remove the “sissiness” from their children.
This was not the only study at the time which suggested this. A survey of 21 male-to-female trans women found that 17 were transsexuals and previously regarded themselves as gay men.
So what did the two groups in the survey have in common? Joyce’s answer is androphilia. She cites the work of Paul Vasey, a Canadian psychologist and professor. According to him, your culture determined whether highly feminine boy would grow up to be a gay man, a trans woman, or some other cultural equivalent. Vasey points to the fa’afafine, a “third gender” in Samoan culture. These boys were not regarded as men or women, but still as undoubtedly male. He also references similar groups like the Zapotec muxes in Mexico.
Androphilic males were not, however, the only ones to go to these clinics, and the question would now concern why.
An “Aha” Moment
Picture a man. Married, having kids, in a conventionally masculine job with conventionally masculine pastime interests. Why would such a man go to a gender clinic?
This was the puzzle for Ray Blanchard, a famous (or infamous) name in the history of transgenderism in the West. You have likely heard the term “Blanchard’s typology” in other discussions about trans topics, but if you have not or don’t know it that well, keep reading.
Blanchard is a clinical psychologist who was working in a Toronto institute in the 1980s. When he came across such patients, he started working out a categorization, eventually settling on two broad groups.
Group 1 was androphilic males, a minority of the relevant people. They were Green’s “persisters” and highly feminine in presentation and interests.
Group 2 was varied and far more interesting. Many were like the man I asked you to picture above. Others reported imagining themselves as women with their wives penetrating them or as a woman in a lesbian relationship with their wives. Some were bisexual or asexual.
The sole cross-sex behavior that many reported was “erotic transvestism”. This is not that uncommon of a fetish in heterosexual men, a Swedish study found that nearly 3% of males experienced sexual arousal in response to cross-dressing. But this wasn’t enough for Blanchard. What was the link between wearing a woman’s clothing to help with masturbating and wanting to be a woman?
And then he met Philip.
Philip was a 38-year-old with severe gender dysphoria. He reported sexual experiences with women, but he also said that he imagined himself as a woman as well. His sexual fantasies involved imagining himself as a woman, with emphasis on his breasts, vagina, and soft skin. Sometimes, Joyce reports, Philip imagined himself being penetrated vaginally by a man.
The kicker? Philip said he never cross-dressed after childhood because he got nothing from it.
For Blanchard, this was the moment it made sense. The clothing was not these men were obsessing over. Instead, the clothes were how they brought life to themselves in female form.
Autogynephilia, meaning love for oneself as a woman. This was the term Blanchard settled on to describe these people.
Joyce emphasizes to us that Blanchard never intended to raise obstacles in the way of transitioning, only to understand and help his patients. Not all were entirely okay with transitioning, recognizing the harm it might cause their families or careers. She describes the generally high levels of gate-keeping at the time around physical transitioning as follows.
When patients were eventually seen, the personal crises that led to referral were past. And central to assessment was ensuring that they fully understood the goal of castration and bodily remodelling. They had to confront a tough question: was their desire to transition strong enough?... At [Blanchard’s institute], four-fifths of patients abandoned the idea of transition before surgery. Some did not show up for the initial assessment. Others never returned, perhaps having concluded that living with gender dysphoria was preferable to proceeding. Even after that, referral for surgery depended on the ‘real-life test’: changing name, pronouns and clothing, and maintaining a cross-sex presentation for two years.
I had heard stories in passing from trans people complaining about how doctors required humiliating and absurd demonstrations of transgenderism before allowing physical transition, and I would have to agree after reading this. I think only the most determined could reasonably conceive of going forward with this. Those who went the full course, however, did generally report being happier after the surgery.
There is still, however, one more piece to the puzzle of explaining this.
Those who follow transgender news may recall a particular case from 2021: Bell v. Tavistock.
The plaintiff was Keira Bell, a former patient at Tavistock (a gender clinic in the UK). Bell had previously come out as a trans man and received puberty blockers from the clinic before eventually getting a double mastectomy. Eventually, she regretted her choice and went back to identifying as a woman (though it doesn’t seem like she got more surgery – I don’t even know if you could).
I won’t go deep into the story of Bell at this time, that’s probably for another post. But for Joyce, Bell was the case that forced gender clinicians to start examining what the hell was going on with gender-dysphoric minors. In 1989, Tavistock clinic opened and had two referrals, both young boys. In 2020, there were over 2300 referrals, with nearly 75% being girls (most of them being teenagers). This is a pattern, Joyce says, that is replicated worldwide. I can’t find any sources to confirm this, but I’ve heard Destiny argue the same (that trans men are more commonplace than trans women), and he seems like he has a pretty good grasp of trans issues and facts.
In any case, Joyce attempts to diagnose why there has been such a large growth in girls choosing to come out as boys, or even just describing themselves with terms like gender-fluid, non-binary, etc.
Her answer? Sexuality, modern feminism, and social contagion.
After his initial study of his male patients, Blanchard turned his attention eventually to his minority of female patients. All of them were homosexual and masculine in presentation/interests. A rare few were autoandrophiles. Note that Blanchard did not describe them that way, I’m using the term because it fits what he seems to be getting at, but his term was “autohomoerotics”.
Joyce starts with the story of Margaret Bulkley. Bulkley was an Irish woman born in 1789 who took the name of her dead uncle to train as a doctor. She was ultimately forced by circumstance to live the fake identity permanently.
This story it not, by itself, that important, but the reaction to how it has been portrayed is telling for Joyce. She compares the responses to two biographies: * Dr James Barry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time* and The Cape Doctor. The first was published in 2016 and was well-received, the second in 2019 and trashed in some places as “transphobic”. Joyce thus places the moment when gender identity eclipsed biological sex amongst intellectuals somewhere between the two publication dates.
Personally, I think this is shoddy argumentation. Joyce is pointing to reviews by randoms online for a book that was probably only of interest to a small number of people and claims that this is how you know when this happened for intellectuals at large. I think this would be better proof of gender identity reaching far enough into the public that such reviews would be posted.
If anything, I would place gender identity as already having taken over biological sex amongst intellectuals prior to 2016, but probably not too long before that. The Great Awokening was just a few years prior and Obergefell was decided in 2015. However, it’s worth acknowledging that many ideas that became publicly acceptable in the middle of the 2010s had long-since been brewing and arguably dominating academic circles for much longer. CRT was a product of the 1980s, it just didn’t get attention until a few years ago when its tenets entered the Overton Window.
Going past this, Joyce argues that the reception to the second biography and subsequent transgendering of Bulkley illustrate the issue of modern feminism. Where previously a woman challenged the oppression of her sex, a trans man simply opted out while leaving that oppression untouched. Women in the past had lived as men for multiple reasons, but their reasons were typically not that they had been born in the wrong bodies. Economics, sexuality, and even desires for personal freedom all intermingled into why a woman might defend her decision to live as a man.
In 2015, Lisa Littman, an American physician and public health specialist, began to notice teenagers in her community announcing their transgender status in quick succession. When it hit six (all from the same group), Littman grew suspicious. The research did not suggest clusters at all. So she embarked upon a terrible quest to gaze into the abyss that would surely see her crack in the face of a cold and uncaring universe - going to Tumblr and Reddit.
What she found was teenagers giving idiotic advice and telling each other to stop listening to parents and doctors. Littman quickly decided to start gathering survey data and published it in 2018, which Joyce details below.
Most of the 256 parents who completed Littman’s anonymised ninety-question survey reported that their children had announced they were trans after spending more time online, after several friends had done so, or both. Almost two-thirds of these parents’ children had previously been diagnosed with at least one psychiatric or developmental condition; many had self-harmed.
Littman came up with another term you’ve probably heard of to describe this: rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD).
Still, the causal chain lacked explanation. Why was having trans friends or spending time online making kids identify as trans?
Susan Bradley, formerly head of Toronto’s first paediatric gender clinic, argues that it has to do with autism and low self-esteem. For the first, she said that young people with autism or related disorders reject nuance and prefer rigid thinking. If they feel discomfort, they might conclude misclassification.
Where the online component comes in is what we might call the WebMD Effect. A child finding discomfort in their gender would search up symptoms, be told by other people or by the webpages of institutions that they are trans, and less-than-critically accept this.
The internet component has seen a great deal of discussion in recent years, reasonably so if this idea only came out in 2018. Joyce relates stories about girls who are anxious or lonely and perhaps have unpleasant experiences where their female status plays a role – sexualized harassment, rejection by a crush, etc. They turn to social media for explanations and get told they are trans and that they are valid. A powerful feeling of acceptance drowns out any skepticism in the mind. Tumblr gets some blame for this; Joyce implies that its culture made being white/straight/cis or any combination of those factors a sign of evil. Being non-straight gives social status, and what teenager (let alone teenage girls) can resist that?
Joyce has given us three reasons she thinks explains many, perhaps most, trans cases. But do you notice something about all three? Let’s recap these motivations:
Androphilia – love of men.
Autogynephilia – love for oneself as a woman
Social Contagion – being influenced by people online or by peers
Perhaps some of you have caught on, but if not, let me now reveal something. Recall that I discussed the case of George Jorgensen in the previous post, a man who went to Europe to physically transition in 1950. Did you at all wonder what his motivation was?
Take it away, Joyce.
As a boy, George had seemed quite ordinary. But inwardly, he was miserable, hating masculine clothes and games, and developing crushes on other boys. As an adult, he had homosexual experiences, which he regarded as immoral. He longed to ‘relate to men as a woman, not another man’, he wrote later.
And no, Joyce is most certainly not arguing that he is trans on the basis of that last line. No, Jorgensen was just another historical example of a man who was androphilic. A gay man who, unable to accept that he was gay, decided to become a woman so he didn’t violate his own morality.
Joyce’s chosen motivations are highly insulting, I imagine, to many trans people. If you are a man, you are either a homosexual in denial or someone with a fetish. If you are a young woman in 2023, you are likely being swayed by peers or social media. Some of these trans men and women are genuinely trans, but many would probably not get approval in Joyce’s eyes as truly being transgender.
To her credit, Joyce does not blame those who choose to come out as trans, depicting them as victims of the societies around them. Society and government did not allow gay men to exist in public, while pro-trans feminism actively turned women from a sex-based category to a gender-identity category. What was once a communal definition turned into one that placed highest validation of whatever an individual desired.
The Red Pill
Please see the comments for this part, the mods are mean 'cause they won't let me have more than 20k characters in my body.
That’s all for this post. Next time, we’ll get into some of the impacts Joyce attributes to the version of pro-trans ideology that has come to define what it means in 2023 to be supportive, I promise. I hope you enjoyed!
I had said in my last post that I wished to review a book that promised to be more red meat for the people here. But I had not expected to be posting this so soon, I thought I might find my book of choice boring enough to last me a month. Instead, I found myself engaged so deeply that I binged the entire work in a few days.
Helen Joyce is an Irish journalist and executive editor for “events business” at the Economist. She’s currently on sabbatical to do some work for Sex Matters, a UK non-profit that advises the public on the importance of biological sex as a category when making policy. In July of 2021, she published Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality. It purports to be a general book about the history of transgenderism, trans activism, and the issues that trans women pose to cis women.
It is the first one that we will focus on this post.
The Girl From Denmark
For Joyce, the story begins with Einar Wegener. Wegener was a Danish man born in 1882. He was an artist and married to Gerda Wegener. As the story goes, Gerda was convinced by Anna Larssen to have Einar take Larssen’s place for some modeling because the latter was running late. Wegener’s modeling for his wife was kept a secret for years. “Hardly anyone knew that Gerda’s sultry, sloe-eyed model was her cross-dressing husband,” Joyce writes. Eventually, the couple moved to Paris, but Einar was not the only person involved now. A new figure, named Lili, began to introduce herself as Gerda’s sister.
It was, you may have guessed, Einar. Over time, he seems to have grown weaker compared to the “woman in this body”, suggesting a battle in the mind over which identity was the real one. Doctors at the time diagnosed him as mad or homosexual. But this did nothing to resolve the conflict, and Einar was determined to either make Lili a reality or simply end his own persona.
In 1930, that opportunity would come at the hands of the Institute of Sexual Science in Berlin and its founder Magnus Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld believed that people were all bisexual, but not in the sense that they were attracted to both, rather that they were both. This was naturally attractive to the ailing model because it allowed for the possibility that you could move from one sex to the other with enough work. He was willing to operate on Einar.
The surgeries were grueling and saw the removal of testicles and penis, then insertion of ovaries, and finally the construction of a “natural outlet”. This last part is not necessarily clear as the Nazis burned the institute’s records in 1933, leaving only Lili's memoir Man Into Woman. it would probably have been a neovagina or attempted womb transplant.
In any case, Einar ceased to exist in the operating room, and Lili was manifested into reality. Things could not have been better after the surgery, it seemed. The King of Denmark gave Lili a new passport that defined her sex as female and annulled her marriage to Gerda. She went on to get engaged to an art dealer.
Sadly, Lili would die before the marriage in September 1931 due to heart failure. But she wrote that she had found her 14 months of life as Lili to be a “whole and happy human life”.
Joyce commends Hirschfeld for his forward-thinking nature and willingness to support franchising women and supported decriminalizing homosexual relationships between men (he was himself gay), but excoriates his views on what it means to be a female. She suggests that his views had a conspicuously shaped hole named Charles Darwin. For Joyce, Darwin had conclusively demonstrated that there was no meaningful definition of sex apart from that about reproduction. She accuses believers in Hirschfeld’s model as being sexist and simply accommodating the existence of women scientists, poets and leaders by claiming they were simply being less womanly.
Lili does not get off scott-free either, Joyce relates passages from her memoir that suggest some unconscious sexism in her mind. Lili believed her validation as a woman would come about by having a child. She self-described as the character opposite to Einar: thoughtless to his thoughtfulness, illogical to his ingenuity, superficial to his sagacity. The last fulfilment of being a real woman, according to Lili, was to have a “sterner being, the husband” to protect her in life.
Lili's importance to this topic will become clear eventually, I promise.
“What American Woman Wouldn’t Be Happy?”
Following this lengthy account come yet another, this time about Christine Jorgensen, formerly known as George Jorgensen. Jorgensen was a 26-year-old New Yorker who went to Europe in 1950 to get treatment for “men like him”. The 1930s and 40s had seen the rise of synthetic sex hormones and antibiotics, with some doctors now claiming it was possible to move males to the female end of the spectrum. Jorgensen would return in 1952 having undergone castration, penectomy, and plastic surgery for his external female genitalia.
Crucially, however, the doctors who treated him did not regard themselves as making him the opposite sex. They saw him as a man so beset by “transvestism” as to be unable to live without presenting as a woman. Christine was the one who claimed to be a woman to the media (the title of this section is a paraphrasing of what she told reporters). The media that covered the story, and their readers, ate it up. They praised the results and cast no doubt on Jorgensen’s claims about what sex was or about her own intersex condition.
But for all the many requests that the doctors who did the operation received, all were turned down. Instead, Joyce argues, an enterprising fraud and German endocrinologist would take up this task. That man’s name? Harry Benjamin.
To be clear, I don’t see any evidence that Benjamin didn’t believe what he said, and Joyce doesn’t directly argue this either. But the references to his quack background seem chosen to imply as much.
In any case, Benjamin was an outspoken advocate for using hormones and surgery to treat “transsexualists” as opposed to most doctors of the time who would have use electric shocks or mega-doses of the original sex’s hormones to “cure” the desire. In 1963, he took on a patient named Rita Erickson and transitioned her into Reed Erickson. Erickson was grateful and funded him for several research symposia. Erickson also went on to fund the Erickson Educational Foundation, which primarily focused on funding studies into transsexualism, as well as the Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic.
In the following decade, other major medical centers would open up programs of a similar sort. Thus began a slow but continuous effort by doctors and researchers who would go on to be authorities and gatekeepers. They did their best to accommodate their patients. In 1979, they would all get together and found their own professional association, the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association.
Or, as you may know it after 2006, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.
Putting Your Money Where Your Benjamin Is
The history of transgenderism cannot be explained without talking about the man who coined the term “gender”. John Money was a Harvard psychologist from New Zealand who popularized the sex-gender distinction that people use even to this day.
Briefly, Money is the reason we talk about gender at all and make the distinction between sex and gender. For him, a woman or man was defined by taking on certain roles, which they were socialized (taught by others) into accepting. But some people were atypical for their sex and took on the roles of the other sex more easily/naturally. In other words, gender was what your roles were, and sex was your body.
Joyce describes their meeting as a moment when the stars aligned. You had Benjamin on one hand who believed that sex was a spectrum and people could move between the two ends, and Money on the other who believed that men and women were defined by what roles they took on, not by their bodies. Combined in a manner akin to Dragon Ball Z’s Fusion Dance, they created a powerful new theory of what caused cross-sex identification, what it meant, and what to do about it.
This can be found in Bejamin’s work The Transsexual Phenomenon. In it, he gave Hirschfeld’s depiction of a sex spectrum and described transsexuals as people suffering from a mind-body mismatch. He would also nod to Money’s ideas about “gender feeling” (a collection of feelings, attitudes, and desires). If this feeling was settled and mismatched to the body, then the body had to give.
We will discuss Money, his work, and his impact in a later post.
Handling Edge Cases
I mentioned previously that Lili Elbe had been granted a new passport by the Kingdom of Denmark that stated her sex as female. But, as Helen Joyce asks, what did this really mean to the people who made such decisions?
She relates the case of Corbett v. Corbett as a telling example in far more detail than really necessary. Arthur Corbett wanted his marriage to April Ashley annulled on the grounds that she was a trans woman. Corbett did not look totally good in this case, to be clear, as he was someone who broke up his previous marriage because he was obsessed with Ashley and only demanded an annulment when she started asking for the deeds to their house. The judge in that case delivered the following remarks (somewhat paraphrased) to a devastated Ashley.
Intercourse using the completely artificially constructed cavity could never constitute true intercourse…the respondent is not, and was not, a woman at the date of the ceremony of marriage, but was, at all times, a male.
Joyce characterizes the response by officials and governments in the first half of the 20th century as trying to resolve some small number of anomalous cases with varying amounts of compassion and logic. The British government of Ashley’s time (the 1960s) believed that no operation could change sex, so even if the NHS would perform sex-change operations, it would not allow the recipient to go about being treated as a woman by the government.
But why said governments went about it how they did is an important question, and Joyce attributes this to two factors: the rise of bureaucracy and the shift in what defined womanhood.
Firstly, there was always a legal significance to being a man or woman: voting, inheriting, or even controlling money was dependent upon this. But no laws defined sex because it seemed pointless. Everyone could just see and make an accurate assessment, and the few who cross-dressed or passed as the other sex could be seen by their naked body.
This obviously changed with Lili Elbe, who would not appear male under nudity. But the less obvious influence was the rise of government documentation that listed sex. If you showed these, they would count as proof that you were a man or woman. To someone who was trans, these documents were sought after as another bit of proof to help get society to validate the new identity. Persuading bureaucrats was now a useful goal.
Secondly, what it meant to have womanhood, or be a woman, changed significantly between Jorgensen’s return in 1952 and her death in 1989. For doctors, journalists, and lawyers who were involved with this topic, it was no longer about having a body that could under normal circumstances get pregnant. Now it was about being able to “receive” in heterosexual sex and an inner sense of being “female”.
At first glance, this does not sound too bad, but without reference to reproduction, Joyce argues that being a woman became more individualistic over communal. Reproductive service was about your role in your species, sexual service was about your role to your husband.
This, she argues, was the birth of “gender identity”.
The Role Of Leftist Thought
Joyce, surprisingly enough, does not really delve deeply into the role played by broader left-wing ideology in supporting and even promoting transgenderism. She does spend some effort to address what she calls “social justice” or “applied postmodernism” (AP). As she tells it, AP rejects objectivity, logic, and reason. Here, language prescribes instead of describes, meaning oppression springs from discourse. The focus on letting individuals reign supreme in defining themselves fits mind-body dualism perfectly, since it means being a man or woman can never be gatekept.
But to convince others of this, you have to deny the objectivity of sex and instead insist that gender identities are the real thing. Judith Butler, described as the most influential gender theorist, has argued that sex and gender are not distinct and are both socially constructed. Tellingly, Butler defines transness as the mismatch between what society tells you to act as and what you know about yourself (notice the framing of society oppressing individual expression). Doctors, she argues, engage in performance when they register a baby’s sex, changing social reality by their very words.
Joyce discusses the terms AFAB/AMAB (assigned female at birth, assigned male at birth) and argues that they deny any argument that man/woman might be gender and male/female can be kept for sex. Instead, she argues, TRA ideology takes these terms to mean you are female or male should you define yourself that way.
This was a bold claim to me. I had even recently argued, among other things, that I did not know how many TRAs (trans rights activists) believed that a trans person was by nature the sex they identified as. Joyce would tell me that my definition of “sex” includes immutability, and I think that it a good definition of my position. I do not think we should define sex as anything other than what your natal body’s reproductive pathways are, but I remain open to arguments to the contrary.
With that said, I think Joyce has pointed to a gap in my own thinking. I had assumed that when terms like AFAB and AMAB are used, TRAs understood sex mostly as I did. But if they follow ideas like Butler’s, then sex and gender are both malleable to the extent that yes, TRAs would tell you they are actually the same in terms of body as people of the sex they identify as.
As for how widespread this idea is, I’ve found the following.
Here are 3 studies published in 2017 and 2018 that use male/female as one would traditionally use man/woman.
Wikipedia defines trans women as having a “female gender identity”.
A 700 person Twitter poll from 2018 where about 50% said that trans women are female.
There is more, of course, but I think these at least suggest the idea sex and gender are to some people mutable. I’m still not clear on how prevalent this view of sex is, but I think it is at least not insignificant.
I’m a bit frustrated that Joyce doesn’t go further into the role of left-wing thought in the intellectual and ideological support for transgenderism. I think it would be worthwhile to discuss what drove, and arguable drives, left-wing support for glorifying all forms of individual expression. I myself covered one such motivation here.
That’s all for this post. Next time, we’ll go over the harm Joyce attributes to the version of pro-trans ideology that has come to define what it means in 2023 to be supportive, and maybe some other stuff as well. I hope you enjoyed!
Part 8 - Discussion and Conclusion (You are here)
Making sense of Gottfried
When I started this series, I said that I wanted to understand what fascism actually means beyond shallow political jabs at one’s enemies. I was concerned that Gottfried might be another Jonah Goldberg, a conservative trying to throw the charge back at the people who originally levied it.
To my surprise, however, Gottfried was not that shallow, and seemed to be earnest in discussing the topic at hand. This is obvious just from the topics he selected. While it’s true that he ultimately rejects many of the claims more mainstream and often silly takes public intellectuals, even some historians, give, he isn’t interested in just saying “no u” at every stage. Well, he kind of is, but he’s not being annoying about it.
In every chapter of this book, there’s an argument being made that is typically historically contextualized and with multiple believers in those viewpoints being cited. Gottfried doesn’t appear to be citing random people or those who aren’t even engaging with the subject seriously, he’s bringing up people who intentionally chose to speak about these things from their standpoint as public thinkers and intellectuals.
The contextualization is inherently necessary, Gottfried needs it when he’s trying to explain how the meaning of the term has changed and how its use has evolved. That he also wants to refute these people is a different thread running through this book.
We need to consider how correct Gottfried is. He’s gone over a seemingly-disconnected list of debates regarding fascism as an idea, citing many people while not being necessarily kinder/harsher to people on/against his side. But he might still be incorrect in one or more areas, perhaps even his whole thesis.
A good place to start might be chapter 3, which covers the Frankfurt School. As Gottfried tells it, the Frankfurt School was supported by the OSS in WW2 and post-WW2 so that the US government could understand what led the Nazis to power. The FS members all being Marxist, they argued that many seemingly normal (or within the Overton Window) behaviors were symptoms of being fascist/authoritarian/right-wing. Their influence is said to have created the modern understanding of what is or is not fascist, with Germany bearing the brunt of their attempts to assert their ideology as reality.
But there is some reason to be skeptical here. For one thing, understanding how the Nazis came to power was a broad project involving countless WW2 and post-WW2 researchers, political scientists, psychologists, and others. This chapter has been discussed prior to my own posts on themotte, with some pointing out that people of different ideologies all tried to understand the Nazi and totalitarian phenomenon and Gottfried doesn’t really demonstrate that an enduring legacy of the FS was its work on fascism. Consider, for example, this article from 2016 by Vox.
This study of authoritarianism began shortly after World War II, as political scientists and psychologists in the US and Europe tried to figure out how the Nazis had managed to win such wide public support for such an extreme and hateful ideology.
That was a worthy field of study, but the early work wasn't particularly rigorous by today's standards. The critical theorist Theodor Adorno, for instance, developed what he called the "F-scale," which sought to measure "fascist" tendencies. The test wasn't accurate. Sophisticated respondents would quickly discover what the "right" answers were and game the test. And there was no proof that the personality type it purportedly measured actually supported fascism.
More than that, this early research seemed to assume that a certain subset of people were inherently evil or dangerous — an idea that Hetherington and Weiler say is simplistic and wrong, and that they resist in their work. (They acknowledge the label "authoritarians" doesn't do much to dispel this, but their efforts to replace it with a less pejorative-sounding term were unsuccessful.)
If, as Gottfried seems to argue, it was the FS that created the modern academic view of fascism as a lurking threat, then Vox’s description of the F-scale and Adorno is evidence against this field’s mainstream position being part of the FS legacy. To be clear, there are still problems with how these researchers are doing what they do, but that’s irrelevant to whether Gottfried accurately depicted the influence of the FS.
A defense of the book despite possible inaccuracies about the FS is that Gottfried might be like Wikipedia – excellent at history that isn’t highly salient to modern politics. Maybe he’s entirely correct in how he describes the inevitable failure of fascist internationalism or the various types of fascist utopias. But I had a moment where I seriously pondered if this was correct. In chapter 7, Gottfried writes the following.
Ever since the defeat of Nazi Germany, and even during the struggle against Soviet communism, what were once deemed leftist ideas have been in the ascendant, and Americans and western Europeans have constructed parliamentary polarities on the basis of this given. Only the German government has been totally honest about this process. Chancellor Merkel’s chief advisor, Volker Kauder has indicated that after the horrors of the Nazi experience, Germany refuses to have a Right.5 Its parties must all come out of the Left or else out of a center that presumably tends in a leftist direction. To whatever extent the present Christian Democrats are “Christian,” Kauder explains, they are committed to social change of a non-rightist type.
When you go to the citation, it links to this article. Maybe Gottfried just has a better understanding of Kauder, the CDU, and Germany than I do (very likely), but I don’t see how you can interpret what Kauder said in the way Gottfried does. Kauder doesn’t seem to reference the Nazis at all, nor does he argue that all parties should only come out of the left. He does argue that “Bible faithful Christians” should not fragment the party and should work within it instead, but that’s about it.
I’m hesitant to argue that my reading is correct (I’m using Google Translate to read it and I have a superficial understanding of Germany), but if I am, then Gottfried at best is not always citing what he means to, and at worse, is using his own beliefs to convince himself of the strength of a citation.
Lingering points of confusion
Perhaps I’ll fully realize what all the points are that I found confusing in this book, but for now, I have just two.
The first is about the odd placement of Gottfried’s grappling with Roger Griffin. Griffin is a famed historian of fascism, having written several books and articles on the topic. I’m not entirely sure what his position on this is, but I’d hazard a guess and say that he doesn’t agree with Gottfried that it is something uniquely confined to the interwar era or WW2. But even if he did, it’s really odd that you don’t really see him cite or reference the man in the main book at all, only in an appendix and on the topic of modernism of all things.
The second has to do with why Gottfried exactly rejects Stanley Payne. Payne assigns the fascists to the revolutionary right, says that they cobbled together their ideology, and says they aren’t like the traditional right or even authoritarian nationalist parties. As far as I can tell, Gottfried would broadly agree with most of these. But he says the following about one of Payne’s books.
Payne reconstructs a fascist world view that looks like a grab bag of ideas borrowed from different sources. In Fascism: Comparison and Definition, the readers are given characteristics that Payne deemed common to fascist movements everywhere: they are all marked by a “permanent nationalistic one-party authoritarianism,” “the search for a synthetic ethnicist ideology,” a charismatic leader, a corporatist political economy, and “a philosophical principle of voluntarist activism unbounded by any philosophical determinism.
I can see why he would call it a grab bag, but what I don’t grasp is what the more serious distinctions between Payne and Gottfried’s positions are because this book doesn’t seem to explain it more explicitly. To the extent that Stanley Payne is more mainstream, it seems like a depiction of fascism that is mostly accurate and not confined to a specific period as Gottfried would argue. But he barely gets much attention, only a bit more than Griffin.
I had a great deal of fun reading this book. Gottfried writes in a way designed to illustrate what he thinks are the differences in views of fascism, which makes for a more engaging reading than simply stating his case without consideration for what other scholars think. At least, it does if you’re interested in getting some kind of map of the field/topic itself.
I lack the ability, of course, to critically look at depth into the sources he’s citing. I have neither time nor intellectual framework to really even do that. If you want to see someone more scholarly tackle the subject, I’ve found a startlingly barren field of reviews for this book. There’s only one that I can find, but it’s a short one.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested. At the very least, it does provide a more coherent argument for why you might be skeptical of the Frankfurt School and Marxist ideologies in general (read chapter 3 if you just want this). At least two people (1, 2) seem to agree with me that it’s much more convincing than hearing someone rant about Jewish Marxists more angrily.
As for me, I don’t think I’m going to jump into further books just yet, or perhaps never again. My interest in this subject has waned a bit, and I plan to start reading and eventually reviewing another book, one that should be more proverbial red meat for some of you.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed!
Part 7 – A Vanished Revolutionary Right and Addendum – Fascism and Modernization (You are here)
The final chapter of this book is short. It starts with a summation of his views, but dedicates a great deal of words to criticizing a whole host of people who Gottfried seems to dislike.
We’ll start with mainstream US Republicans. In particular, Gottfried argues that Republicans claim to be on the right, but they “privilege in their discourse” things like human rights and equality. There’s no move to destroy the welfare state from Republicans, who are more than willing to preserve/expand these programs for themselves. It’s not even necessarily right-wing to dismantle the welfare state, Gottfried argues. As for talk about “traditional values”, Gottfried credits the fascists as at the very least honest about how they were constantly redefining their movement compared to American Republicans.
Gottfried details similar circumstances in Canada and Western Europe, but he describes Germany as unique being honest about a refusal to allow a genuine right-wing movement. Some, like sociologist Niklas Luhmann, have argued that insofar as there is a “right”, it should be Burkean in nature and defend the status quo, while the “left” should pursue emancipation even for those that don’t necessarily want it.
As for the left, Gottfried accuses them of trying to pigeonhole anti-Enligtenment thinkers into being the logical forefathers of the fascist and Nazi movements. He points to Zeev Sternhell, a historian of fascism as clear example of this. Sternhell’s book Les anti-Lumières du XVllle siècle à la guerre froide supposedly makes many errors, like trying to associate all Enlightenment critics into the same house or doing the same with Nazism and far less destructive forms like Mussolini’s Italy or Salazars’ Portugal.
But Gottfried isn’t content to leave it at this, and instead accuses Sternhell of hypocrisy. Why? Because Sternhell is a Jew and self-described “super-Zionist”. When it comes to Israel, he believes that Jews have the right to control their own fates and future. But he gets angry at people like Joseph de Maistre for saying the following.
There is no man as such; I have only encountered Frenchmen, Italians and Russians and from reading Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, I now know that Persians exist. As for mankind, I have yet to find such a thing.
Sternhell, Gottfried argues, essentially proves the truth in the Enlightenment’s critics’ philosophy – that things which are concrete, particularistic, and communal are what shape human identities.
There’s one additional part to this book, which is about fascism and how it relates to modernization.
For Roger Griffin (a famous historian of fascism), modernity is the “localized emergence in…Europe of the reflexive mode of historical consciousness” that started in the late 18th century that ultimately legitimated the French revolutionaries and their fundamentalist war against tradition to replace it with something new. He notes here that there are two different definitions of modernism: one is about the artistic/philosophical movement, the other about “pedestrian” modernity that its critics (called modernists) would complain about. The latter are the people being discussed.
In any case, there was not really an alternative society modernists could point to, and they weren’t eager to retreat to the past either. Griffin argued that these people arose to combat the threat of nihilism as Western myths of progress lost credibility and modernity entered a period of liminality. The most prominent modernists were on the far left, but Gottfried argues that this is natural – modernism was overall optimistic about the future. That said, you could find a strain of modernism that led inexorably to the right – the literary modernists.
That said, Gottfried criticizes Griffin for trying to attempt, among other things, to convince the reader that right-wing sensibilities in reactionary modernism might jump out from 1945 into the present. For Gottfried, this is silly and assumes that fascism came to power due to no small influence by reactionary modernist artists and others like them.
There is more to this section, namely about to whether the Nazis were really traditionalists following their forefathers, but it’s largely uninteresting. Briefly, Gottfried reviews the work of historian Rainer Zitelmann. Gottfried commends him for his accurate depiction of the Nazis as “radically antitraditional” and trying to jump to the future but criticizes him over some arguments where he’s at pain to explain reality away.
To summarize, modern US Republicans are not as right-wing in the historical sense, having adopted important left-wing ideas and words into their minds. The left is politically motivated to inaccurately cast thinkers who rejected the Enlightenment as straight-line ancestors of the fascists and Nazis, with some people hypocritical as they reserve exceptions for particular groups to decide their own fates at the group level. There was absolutely a strain of modernist thinking that led to the right, found particularly among literary modernists, but the idea that their influence in the past or even in the present leads to fascism is entirely misguided.
That’s all for this book. I’ll have a follow-up post where I discuss my own thoughts, as I need time to reflect on everything as a whole.
Part 6 – The Search for a Fascist Utopia (You are here)
This chapter begins with Gottfried introducing us to Karl Mannheim, writer of Ideology and Utopia. The work looks at distinguishing between the two terms in the title. To do this, Mannheim looks at the visions given in the latter half of the second millennium by various European groups.
…Mannheim explores are the apocalyptic expectations of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Protestant radicals, the hope for an Age of Reason embraced by the eighteenth-century liberal bourgeois, the harmonious hierarchical society evoked by German and French conservatives in the early nineteenth century and thought to be “realizable” in a postrevolutionary future, and the Marxist view of a socialist world order.
Of particular interest to Mannheim was a vision he called the “romantic-conservative counterutopia”. This was a defensive vision to be used as an intellectual/theoretical counter by conservatives who thought their order was under attack. In this vision, the present was a utopia and the past was where it came from. Thus, liberals were fools for trying to create false realities, history was the supreme teacher, and governments that relied on artificial constitutions were to be mocked.
The key concept to be taken from this “counterutopia” is the focus on “becoming”. Mannheim describes it as such.
“There is a wonderful sense we have,” says [Friedrich] Stahl, “that something truly exists. This is your father, your friend, through whom you have arrived at this position in life. Why am I this? Why am I exactly what I am? And the apparently incomprehensible nature of this situation can only be grasped by recognizing that our being cannot be reduced to thought, that it is not logically necessary but has its source in a higher, free power.”
The tie-in to fascism should be obvious to an attentive reader, since Gottfried has spent many words now describing it as a force created in response to socialism/communism. For Ernst Nolte, there is a direct line from German thinkers in the 1840s who were reacting to the Left Hegelians and the fascists of the 20th century, as both glorified irrationality and authority’s mystical sense in response to their opponents who used reason as the basis for political reform.
Where the fascists and conservative differed is the temporal circumstances they were in. The fascists were acting in a world where bourgeois societies were well-established. They were revolting against the status quo, not defending it. Even their conception of a “people” was one used by the leftists in Mannheim’s studies. The old right did not believe in the population being a “mystical source of spiritual energy that informed the nation.” Instead, the people were those subjects who obeyed authority.
Is there anything there?
That said, we do need to ask if fascism actually had a vision of the future. Was there some vision that radically departed from both the past and the contemporary left?
Gottfried points to people like Jose Antonio and Ledesma Ramos as people who did just that. They looked towards Catholic social teachings, indicating corporatist organization and communal participation. How this would come about wasn’t ever fully worked out, but for these and other Falangist architectural heroes, national syndicalism was the solution.
Gottfried gives three alternatives the fascists may have embraced. The first is the about biological struggle between races and ethnicities, known by its association with the Nazis. There is a non-violent form found in the 19th-century writings of Count Gobineau and Heinrich Gumplowicz which just asserts that history never ends but amounted to ethnic struggle with transient victories providing interruptions.
The second comes from Gentile’s work. History in this view is an unending process in which every individual’s ethical will is part of a multitude that is “actuated by the state as the ‘means’ through which individuals could rise above their particularities and become part of a spiritual whole.” World history, in this sense, is a world court.
The third is about selectively reclaiming the past. All fascist movements did this, Gottfried explains, but some more than others. The Latin manifestations were bigger on this, attempting to update history for counterrevolutionary purposes. In all movement, however, you would find themes of decadence and renewal. History never tended towards a universal society of equals, but arresting deterioration was entirely possible.
Why studying fascism matter
This section is an abrupt turn because it feels out of place with the parts about fascist utopias, but Gottfried turns to the question of why studying fascism (and not “fascism” as any particular side might define it) matters.
Put simply, studying fascism would indicate how far most modern political parties are from the term. Fascism belongs to the right, but most definitely not the same way that the GOP or Germany’s Christian Democrats do. Fascism wasn’t the only “Right” of its time, nor did all fascists fight for Hitler (some understandably fought against him when he invaded their countries).
Gottfried doesn’t believe you could make Nazi ideology ever workable in the West – there’s simply too much ethnic mixing. Insofar as you could call this an “ideology of diversity”, an alternative to that ideology may not exist.
Then there’s an pivot, one that goes after people who might argue that fascism is left-wing because the modern US right uses anti-state and individual rights rhetoric.
This brings the reader back to the question of how fascists could be on the Right, and even on the far Right, if the Right is now identified, at least in the United States, with individual self-fulfillment.
I don’t think “individual self-fulfillment” is how we identify the right in the US or even how some might self-identify that way, there’s a substantial religious population who would not agree with such a term. But assuming this is an accurate definition, Gottfried answers this question with the following.
The right and left are contextually defined, so just because the fascists fought one enemy with one set of ideals doesn’t mean the current American right has to fight that same enemy. To the modern US right, the state must be opposed because it doesn’t support right-wing policies.
There’s nothing inherently right-wing about individual rights. European conservatives typically identify individualism as a left-wing idea. In America, the left has used the language of individual rights as a weapon found in the Bill of Rights and that traditionalists don’t want used against them. Thus, they defend what they don’t believe.
Appealing to constitutionally guaranteed individual rights is not something that belongs to the historic right. Rather, this may indicate the limited range of options for critics of the modern administrative state.
Fascism, Gottfried argues, never had a chance for being an overpowering historical force. It simply did not build mass movements large enough except in unevenly modernized countries (excluding the Nazi regime). They might have survived a bit longer than most if all things went well, but their failure indicates how difficult a right-wing movement would find it to oppose the “ascendancy of the modern left”.
To summarize, Fascism offered distinct utopian visions even if it did not believe in a universal one. This was in reaction to and used the terminology of those offered by the socialists and Marxists. A few alternative visions existed, with a major one being national syndicalism. Fascism is an undoubtedly right-wing phenomenon which modern right-wingers cannot wholly break association from. That said, Nazism would never work in the modern West, and fascism stood very little chance of winning to the extent that socialism/communism/Marxism did.
I hope you enjoyed! Next time, we’ll go over Chapter 7 – A Vanished Revolutionary Right.