I was thinking the other day about a class I taught some years ago, in which, as part of the curriculum, I was to cover Aristotle’s Nichomean Ethics. Part of Aristotle’s aim, in this text, is to provide a formula for how to “live the best life” (a rather arrogant endeavor, if you ask me), and so I started teaching the text by asking my students, freshmen, Millenials, what it meant to “live a good life”: What does a good life look like? What does a good life entail? How can we define this?
My students were, as so many of their generation, reticent to answer any of these questions, for to do so would be to take a position and possibly “invalidate” the perspective of another classmate. Each pupil had been raised in a culture of such impossible relativism that each believed to take a stance, to offer forth a perspective, a theory, was to ERASE the stances or theories or perspectives of classmates who might disagree.
In order to provoke them, to get them to say something, to say anything, I asked, “If someone chose to live their life in a dark basement, pissing in a bucket, eating Cheetos and watching pornography until the day they died, would that constitute a ‘good life’?”
Again, they were reluctant to answer, but finally a few brave souls chimed in with responses like, “If they enjoyed doing that, then I guess it’s a good life.” And, “I can’t judge. I wouldn’t want to live that way, but if they wanted to live like that, who am I to say?”
I pressed them further still, “But is that a good way to spend one’s brief tenure on the earth?”
Again, they could not answer. Everything is subjective, they argued.
I was younger then, and my exposure to their generation had been limited. I left class that day feeling a bit sad. Sure, “live and let live” is a fine and noble adage. And okay, so they couldn’t form convictions around an unlikely hypothetical scenario, but what does it mean for us a society when we are afraid to hold a conviction, to take a position, because we have come to believe that to articulate an informed perspective is to ERASE the perspective of someone who might disagree?
Indeed, among the trans/queer lot, a common refrain when someone (usually a woman, usually a feminist) disagrees with gender-worship dogma, is that she is “erasing” the identity of trans/queer people, or that she is “denying the existence” of trans/queer people, or, at its most hyperbolic, “you don’t want trans/queer people to exist.” And so it follows that if we believe the imperative that language has the capacity to literally eradicate people then dissent, of course, will come to be seen as dangerous. And when we deem the language of dissent, rational critique and disagreement, as “life threatening” then we open the door for verbal opposition to be met with violent opposition; we invite barbarism.
To disagree with another human being is not an attempt at “erasure” nor is it denial of the other person’s existence. Nor is ideological, philosophical conflict – when manifest in language alone – violence. (And yes, I realize that when writ into law, language can have a sort of “erasing” impact on groups of people, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I am talking about public discourse in what is left – if anything – of the “marketplace of ideas.”)
Increasingly, we live in a world of “you may say” and “you may not say.” The arbiters of what may be said and what may not be said are always the same people — extremist men, whether they are extremist for religion or gender, it matters not. And whatever methods employed by the extremists, whether they take to doxxing lesbians on the internet or, tragically, senselessly, take guns to a satirical newspaper office in Paris, the motivation is always the same – control of society and its commodities: ideas, industry, land, language, women.
What I say on this blog is deeply unpopular. I know this because I am of the world. I know this because I see the comments people offer. Nevertheless, in expressing my perspective – however “off trend” it may be – I am not inflicting violence on anyone, nor am I invalidating individuals lived realities. My ability to exercise free speech, despite what males (even those who feel like women) will have you believe, does not ERASE anyone.
But if we’re going to talk about erasure, let’s talk for a moment about the lesbian community which has been positively decimated by gender-extremism, an ideology that insists female is merely a feeling, that women-only spaces are bigoted, and that gender non-conforming women are really “trans men.” Let’s talk about the disappearance of lesbian spaces – bars, bookstores, publications. Let’s talk about how formerly lesbian sites, like Autostraddle, have become forums for males to deride lesbians who wish to date other lesbians.
If we’re going to talk about the damage language alone can inflict, let’s talk about the crazy-making gender-speak that forbids women from recognizing that penis is male, that insists we not acknowledge shared female experience, that rebrands feminism as a porn-positive, men-centric movement that means “whatever anyone says it means.”
When we embrace absolute subjectivity – i.e. no one must hold a conviction for fear it will hurt feelings/”erase” someone, when we equate the language of dissent with violence, critical thinking becomes impossible as we defer, mutely, to the language authorities (males).
Last week, in the wake of the Ohio teenager’s death, exploited and shamefully glorified by so many on the left, I read a few Twitter feeds that touched upon the tragedy. One Tweet, from a trans activist accused of harassing the teen’s parents, read, “I don’t hate women. I am a woman.”
The reason this tweet stood out so singularly to me is that it illustrated a few things about where we are as a culture. 1) Male says he’s woman, so he’s a woman (language means what males say it means) 2) We believe that women are incapable of hating women because man who identifies as woman says so. (Zero critical thinking involved here.)
I want to speak, for a moment, to the latter observation, because I encounter this a lot in conversations about trans/queer politics – “how can gender theory be misogynist if so many women are on board with it?” The thing is, women can be misogynists. Women can hate women – indeed they often do. One of the most effective ways to uphold patriarchy is to see to it that women hate women, and that women hate themselves. Calling yourself a woman or actually being a woman does not free you from misogynist tendencies – whether you are female or a male who identifies as female, you have been steeped in woman-hating since birth, you can pretend you are free of it, but you cannot, simply by virtue of being woman or “feeling like a woman” absolve yourself of it. And trans/queer theory is not “pro-woman” simply because many women support it. Women have always embraced male-championed causes, male made theories, usually at our own expense. We often, as women, participate in our own erasure.
For example, this week, Autostraddle published this really revoltingly patronizing piece about Gender Studies – to educate their lady readers, I guess. The article was the same shit we’ve seen ad nauseum from so-called “lesbian” publications: “we’re all special unicorns, blah, blah, blah, some men are ladies, blah, some ladies are men, blah.” Boring. Over it. But since this is a post about the notion of “erasure” and “thought policing,” I wanted to point out a couple of excerpts from the article – which was, in fact, written by a female:
Sex is based on the body, but biology is a branch of science and science is also a social construct and really what I’m saying is that your sex is essentially a label a very educated person slapped on you at birth using as many contextual clues as they could garner at the time about your DNA. Sex is not immutable or unchangeable or somehow “intrinsically” defined by our bodies; it’s more that science and medicine have put words in place to define sex and thrust it upon us – and that they’re often inadequate at capturing the full spectrum of diversity swimming around in the big ol’ sea . . .
This is the kind of bullshit, circuitous, narcissist-logic, swamp of nothingness fuckery being sold to women on behalf of males who would prefer we not acknowledge reality. The attempt to convince women – or anyone for that matter – that science is a “construct,” in the same way gender is a “construct,” in a world where most are bat-shit insane idiots because we are no longer allowed to express a rational thought, is dangerous. And how is this any different than the crazy people who run around denying evolution? Or climate change deniers? The incentive for Creationists to deny evolution, and for those who deny climate change is the same as the incentive for the trans/queer/gender worship lot who claim science is merely a construct: the scientific principles inconvenience them, hurt their feels.
“But if Jesus didn’t live with dinosaurs then . . . then . . . then FUCK YOU EVOLUTION ISN’T REAL!”
“But if my gas chugging SUV that I really, really like is bad for the environment then . . . then . . . then FUCK YOU CLIMATE CHANGE ISN’T REAL!”
“But if my penis isn’t part of female anatomy and I really, really would like to be a girl then . . . then . . . then FUCK YOU BIOLOGY IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT!”
Gender Studies is anti-intellectualism dressed up in academese for the benefit of males. Period.
And yes, science and medicine have put “words in place” to define things. Scientists and doctors use words particular to their disciplines, they have language that means specific things like “molecule” and “cancer” and “female” and thank fucking god for that. A doctor’s job is not to acknowledge every special nuance of your unicorn self. A scientist’s job is not to placate your fragile feelings.
Reflected in the Autostraddle is also the way in which trans/queer/gender-speak has reframed true feminism – now considered “radical” – to be “trans-exclusionary” (i.e. does not prioritize males/make religion of gender). Radical Feminists – referred to in the modern gestalt by the pejorative “TERF” – are those who are concerned with the welfare of women and girls, who are interested in the liberation of women, the end of gender, and the dismantling of patriarchy. Trans/queer/gender studies speak has appropriated the word so that it means, “don’t be mean to males”; trans/queer/gender studies has taken the tools of the oppressor – gender roles, pornography, prostitution and called them “empowering.” Trans/queer/gender studies folk work tirelessly to ensure women cannot speak truthfully about their lived realities, for fear it might alienate males.
From the Autostraddle article:
[Constructivism] has been used – or, should I say, misused – in order to invalidate trans experiences. TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) have wielded constructivism theory in order to say that all gender – and thus, the transgender experience – isn’t real.
This is laughable hyperbole.
Radical Feminists, according to this writer, according to most contemporary leftists, are villainous women who have made it their mission to drive a group of people into extinction. Radical Feminists, by virtue of their very existence, obliterate the lived reality of others. This is a silencing technique: if you disagree, then you are erasing me. If you disagree with me, then I no longer exist.
If you need an entire department in a university to assure you that you can dress however you want, be known by whatever name you prefer, fuck whomever you like then okay. Fine.
If you need new words to define how you “present,” or who you want to sleep with, great. Invent the words.
If, in order to be happy, you need to take synthetic hormones and have elective surgeries. Fine. Rock on with your bad self.
But let’s be honest – women knowing penis is male is not violence. Radical Feminists do not “erase” the lives of males. Female is a biological reality, and not a “hunch.” Gender is an invention. Rational debate and dissent is not “hate speech.” Because an opinion or perspective may inconvenience us, or hurt our feelings, as individuals, as groups of people, does not mean said opinion/perspective is inherently “evil.”
As women, especially, we need to speak up, unapologetically. We need to keep our critical thinking skills sharp, we must refuse to accept the mass belligerence of gender/queer/trans theory as gospel, we need to know our convictions, and to be comfortable with our right to dissent. If we become too complacent, if we allow males to continue to redefine language (and with it, our reality), if we allow people to tell us that sane, founded disagreement is “hate speech,” or if we allow ourselves to believe that our perspectives, rooted in lived experience, are forms of violence, then we are, in fact, at risk of erasure. And our erasure will not be caused by language itself, but by our own inability to recognize that the language is being used against us.