Why does supporting trans liberation attack rather than defend gender roles and stereotypes? As Marxists we must provide a materialist understanding of trans people to understand how to fight against our patriarchal society.
Trans liberation as class struggle
First, we should examine what the conditions of trans people are today. In 2013 the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) published a report claiming that 81 per cent of trans people have thought about or attempted suicide before transitioning. In addition to this, we see that health services for trans people are completely inadequate. Trans people often wait for months to even get in front of an endocrinologist.
This situation seems to be arguably as bad or worse in the north, with an average waiting time of 166 weeks in Belfast. As a result of these dire circumstances, many trans people opt for self-medicating by buying hormones on line without any medical supervision or even regulation from questionable web sites. Given that the price of drugs on line is so high, a significant number of working-class trans people simply go without, and are unable to transition because of the sheer cost.
Thus there are a significant number of the trans population who are not visible as trans people. This had led to the myth that trans people are middle and upper-class college kids who spent too much time on Tumblr and then decided that they are non-binary. In actuality, trans people, just like all people, exist as marginalised members of the working class, as well as people like Caitlyn Jenner, who will vote, act and do whatever it takes to defend their own class position. We must conclude that transgender liberation is a class issue, just as much as combating imperialism and patriarchy are.
Don’t trans rights neglect biological sex as a materialist reality?
We must understand that there is no such thing as a woman’s brain, a man’s body, nor any essential characteristics of gender. Misogyny has developed historically as a means to divide labour and subjugate women and those perceived to be women to the will of patriarchy. Gender is an extremely nebulous term, and it is difficult to come up with any specific definitions as to what it relies upon.
If it is simply about giving birth or having a penis, then is an infertile man or an intersex woman not a man or a woman? Or is this about the perception of one’s masculinity or femininity? I think it is also unreasonable to claim that a woman is simply an adult human female, because this leaves out trans women who were assigned male at birth but experience misogyny just as much as cis women do.
In fact transmisogyny affects cis people just as much as trans people. A cis woman in Florida was not seen as female enough and was sent to an all-male prison for ten hours. I would argue that the most useful definition of gender is one that gives priority to the safety of women, trans and cis. Given that trans women experience violence at the hands of patriarchy, surely this is enough reason for them to be able to use women’s spaces.
Women-only spaces are specifically for women because they need to have a space to protect themselves from men in our patriarchal society.
The withering away of gender
I am both a Marxist and a trans woman. My life experience has led me to consider the following metaphor: If we must use the dictatorship of the proletariat to overcome the class antagonism, in order to build a stateless society, surely the same could apply to gender?
There is a specific reason people identify as trans and not as non-binary. Our gender society still has specific social markers and habits that cause one set of expressions to be gendered as feminine and others as masculine. However, I believe as a Marxist and feminist that the end goal of our politics ought to be the creation of a stateless, classless and perhaps genderless society.
Yet, just as we critique the anarchists for misunderstanding how class relations operate and the need for a workers’ state, I feel that there are often socialists who expect trans people to reject gender roles but not allow us to identify and enjoy the dignity of the gender we identify as.
Therefore I want to propose the withering away of gender, along with the withering away of the state. I only mean as a philosophical metaphor, rather than a new theory of gender that we must follow. Having said that, just as with class antagonism, once we have overcome gender by allowing all people to take control of their bodies and identities at the expense of our patriarchal capitalist society, the need for a distinction between genders will become purely academic.
While I am a gender abolitionist, I see this withering away of gender being fulfilled by the reconfigurations of the economic conditions that prevent trans people from self-actualising
Economic conditions prevent us from transitioning or cause people to scapegoat us and allow us to be the victims of discrimination, ostracisation, and violence.