This is one of my favorite essays ever. I first read it when it was published in Harper’s Magazine,
November 30, 1999 2002. I’m sharing the whole thing below because everyone should read it; if I get a copyright cease-and-desist, I’ll remove it. –NP
February 28, 2019
In July of 2018, Arcadia, a cafe in Urbana, announced on Facebook an “Art Salon” at which my new film would be screened. The next day, Professor Mimi Thi Nguyen commented on Arcadia’s event page: “She’s a transphobe. I will never attend your events now.”
My crime was, months earlier, sharing on Facebook the following lyric: “If a person has a penis he’s a man.” At various times I have also shared such contentious views as, “women don’t have penises,” “sex is not gender,” “woman means adult human female,” and “everyone is free to identify however they wish, but not to force me to identify them the same way.” Nonetheless, “If a person has a penis he’s a man” is continually quoted as my greatest hit of so-called ‘hate speech.’ It is also a fact.
When asked by other commenters why my stating biological facts was ‘transphobic’ and grounds for no-platforming, Ms. Nguyen replied “I’m the chair of Gender and Women’s Studies. I know what I’m talking about.” Speaking not merely as an individual, but in her capacity as a UIUC faculty member, Ms. Nguyen threatened a local business and libeled a community member and encouraged others to join in.
Arcadia promptly cancelled the event.
That October, my film, Seder-Masochism, screened to enthusiastic audiences at the Vancouver International Film Festival. In attendance were film scholars Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, frequent speakers at past Ebertfests, who loved the film and emailed Ebertfest director Nate Kohn to recommend it. Kohn replied they already knew about Seder-Masochism, and it was at the top of their list. Which makes sense, since it’s by an Urbana filmmaker (me) whose last film was a star at the festival (Sita Sings the Blues) and contains my late father’s voice, which is known to much of the festival’s audience (Hiram Paley used to be Mayor of Urbana, as well as a math professor at the U of I). Later that Fall, I turned down an invitation to judge a major film festival in Buenos Aires, because its dates overlapped with Ebertfest. Since Seder-Masochism was “at the top of (their) list,” I didn’t want to miss it. In January, I emailed Nate Kohn and Chaz Ebert to ask if in fact Seder-Masochism would screen. For over a week, they didn’t respond. That same week, I was attacked by a Twitter mob accusing me of ‘hate speech,’ once again for having said “If a person has a penis he’s a man.” Then all trace of my film was removed from the website of a women’s film festival in Belgium, after they were bullied by a Belgian transactivist. Still awaiting a response, at the end of January I emailed Ebertfest again. They replied: “Sorry, we don’t have room for it.” (Update 3-28-2019: Chaz Ebert confirms Ebertfest’s decisions had nothing to do with my no-platforming in Urbana and Beligium, and they were unaware of any controversy. ) I’m not entitled to be at any film festival, and the decisions of Ebertfest – a special event of the University of Illinois College of Media – are made behind closed doors, preventing any hope of accountability. But going from the top of Ebertfest’s list to “sorry there’s no room” in the midst of libel campaigns is consistent with the blacklisting and no-platforming of feminists at universities nationally and internationally. From the banishing of noted feminist speakers like Sheila Jeffreys and Julie Bindel; to the suppression of ‘politically incorrect’ research at Bath Spa University and Brown University; to secret blacklists of female academics uncovered at Goldsmiths University, the speech-suppressing behavior at the University of Illinois is consistent with unsavory developments around the world.
In 2017, the U of I adopted “Guiding Principles” on Freedom of Speech and Civic Engagement. I list some ways they are failing to uphold these principles:
- “We have a duty to vigorously and even-handedly protect community members against conduct that falls outside the First Amendment – including true threats, pervasive harassment, incitement to imminent lawless action, and libel…” Ms. Nguyen’s accusation, “she is a transphobe,” is libel. I do not fear or hate trans people. Although it shouldn’t be anyone’s business, I have had trans friends and lovers, and stood for the human rights of trans people, since before Ms. Nguyen entered college.
- ”We will create conditions for a safe and robust exchange of viewpoints.” This has not happened at the U of I. While one-sided policies of “preferred pronouns” dominate, no voice is given to those who use English sex-based pronouns over newly imposed “gender identity” rules.
- “In all matters involving freedom of speech, the University of Illinois system will endeavor to maintain a high level of transparency.” I am confident anti-feminist blacklisting occurs here, as it does on many other campuses. Blacklisting is by its nature non-transparent and unaccountable, but its effects are devastating.
- “We will not condone shouting down or physically obstructing or threatening a speaker or the speaker’s audience.” Does this include on Social Media? Because Facebook is where Ms. Nguyen did just that, and got my event shut down.
- “We must always strive to be valued local partners, learning from and collaborating with the communities that are home to our universities and programs.” Bullying a local venue into shutting down a screening by a local artist achieves the opposite of that mission.
- “We owe our students opportunities for substantive civic engagement so that they graduate not only prepared for personal success but also knowing what is expected of them as productive global citizens.” Certainly the University has already failed its students and faculty by refusing any open discussion of genderist ideology and policies. This failure to foster free speech has spilled beyond campus and into the surrounding cities of Urbana-Champaign, harming the community.
Many local residents were looking forward to the event at Arcadia. Due to the bullying by Ms. Nguyen, representing the University of Illinois, and her associates, the event was cancelled. Many more locals hoped Seder-Masochism would screen at Ebertfest this year. Now, they will not see it.
Many in this college town are afraid to voice support for me, or express any gender-critical thought, for fear of being branded “transphobic.” Academics who even question ‘gender identity’ have been disciplined or denounced in open letters; those who express fully gender critical views have lost their jobs. Between that and the imposition of ‘preferred pronouns,’ requiring the speaker to suppress their correct recognition of biological sex in favor of compelled speech – that is, lying – University employees, their spouses, and friends, feel compelled to keep quiet.
So, instead of the “opportunities for substantive civic engagement” promised in the University’s Principles, the University instead fosters a climate of fear and silence in the wider community.
Beyond this harm to our community, I have been harmed personally as well. I can’t calculate the cost this has had on my professional reputation, career, and livelihood. I have certainly suffered psychological harm: being falsely accused and shut down in my hometown, with no accountability for the accusers, evokes a despair I had previously only read about in books like “The Crucible” and histories of witch trials.
The University needs to protect speech.
I acknowledge the University is in a bind. Recent State interpretations of Title IX have – perhaps unwittingly – redefined ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity.’ As long as Title IX fails to uphold its original purpose – protections based on sex – and instead protects incoherent, ill-defined, and fundamentally sexist concepts of ‘gender identity,’ it is at odds with the First Amendment – and with itself.
The University’s Student Affairs web page states:
“We will continue to protect and treat all students according to their gender identities and gender expressions, honoring chosen names, pronouns, and restroom access, as is current campus policy.”
‘Preferred pronouns’ are compelled speech, forcing the speaker to contradict their own recognition of another’s sex. This compulsion violates the First Amendment. But ‘preferred pronouns’ also violate Title IX itself, insofar as it still protects sex. Although trans activists vehemently deny this, there is ample evidence that some trans-identified males are autogynephiles – that is, fetishists who are sexually aroused by imagining themselves as women. Being forced to call such men “she” is forced participation in sexual activity without consent. That is just one way privileging ‘gender identity’ over sex is institutionalized sexual coercion.
‘Sex’ and ‘gender identity’ are fundamentally mutually exclusive; you cannot protect one without delegitimizing the other. The University considers failure to use ‘preferred pronouns’ harassment against the individual who imposes them. But ‘preferred pronouns’ themselves are harassment, including sexual harassment, against individuals compelled to use them.
My plea to the University is to reaffirm its commitment to Free Speech and acknowledge the untenable and inconsistent demands added to Title IX by the redefinition of sex. It is tragic that the former integrity of Title IX, which has been instrumental in providing sex-based protections and opportunities for women and girls, is now in opposition to the First Amendment. Free Speech is important. Sex-based protections are important. Redefining ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity’ is an assault on both.
On an immediate and practical level, the University should:
Assure the right of all employees and students to use whatever pronouns they see fit;
Assure the right of all students and employees to question and discuss current “gender identity” politics without fear of libel or punishment, and;
Host meaningful discussion on this subject. Feminist Journalist Meghan Murphy is available to debate anyone on the topic, “Does Trans Activism Negatively Impact Women’s Rights?” The University would do well to host such a debate here.
Finally, having lost two screening opportunities in my hometown because of the University’s negligence, I would like the University to sponsor a screening of my film Seder-Masochism for the community.
Last week I posted on fecebook “If a person has a penis he’s a man,” which led to my widespread denunciation as a “transphobe.” I’ve written about this before, and anyone paying attention should know better, but I nonetheless commented this:
No matter how many times I state that I have trans friends, was standing up for trans people before the current crop of MRA “transactivists” was even born, and continue to defend the human rights of trans people, people accuse me of the opposite. I tire of defending myself, and it makes no difference anyway. I hated seeing the trans movement get taken over by misogynistic men’s rights activists; I hate seeing the misogyny of the “left” growing. I am witnessing a new, deeper, “postmodern” colonization of women. I bear no ill will towards trans people and like and love several; my concern is for WOMEN, especially those who aren’t white liberal middle-or-upper class, and especially lesbians. When an aggressive white male comes here and declares “I’m a dyke!”, and other liberal men gather round to support him, I see this colonization in action.
Do stick around, it takes a while to see, but I promise you I didn’t get to this place out of ill will. It’s so easy to just say “trans women are women!” and not deal with anyone’s hate. I’m resisting for a reason.
What do I mean by colonization? I mean the literal occupation of women’s spaces – rape shelters, prisons, locker rooms, bathrooms, swimming holes, and women-only events that women have fought very hard for. By men. Physically. But a huge component of this colonization is mental, existing in the realm of ideas and “identity”. What is a woman?
A sex without a people for a people without a sex
In American Liberal thought, colonization is bad. But immigration is good. And taking in refugees is doubleplusgood. This is why Americans backed the Zionist colonization of Palestine. Israelis weren’t regarded as colonizers; they were refugees! And Palestine wasn’t even inhabited, not really. It was a land without a people for a people without a land. The only reason you could possibly object was if you were ANTISEMITIC. Even if you were Jewish yourself, you self-hating Jew!
Taking in trans “refugees from masculinity” is also doubleplusgood. This is why Liberals back the modern transactivist colonization of womanhood. “Transwomen,” who I will henceforth refer to as trans-identified males, or TiMs, aren’t regarded as colonizers; they’re refugees! And womanhood isn’t even inhabited, not really. Womanhood is a “land without a people,” because women aren’t viewed as people. We’re an open space for men to define.
What is the difference between a refugee and a colonist?
A colonist has guns and the backing of another state.
Unlike yesterday’s transsexuals – those “refugees from masculinity” – today’s TiMs have penises and the backing of Liberal Patriarchy.
My trans pals of the 90’s didn’t have today’s backing of Patriarchy. It was riskier to be trans then, even among Liberals. They more resembled refugees, and I welcomed them. They also either didn’t insist they were women, or if they did insist they were women, they ‘disarmed’, if you will, by actually going through genital surgery. Today’s TiMs proudly keep their penises and testicles and demand to have them acknowledged as “female body parts”.
Obviously, times have changed.
Men’s Rights Activists eventually figured out they could eliminate the middleman – transsexuals – and colonize women themselves. This fits nicely with regular old run-of-the-mill male dominance. Heterosexual men “identify” as lesbians, and patriarchal Liberals enforce women’s compliance. Women are not to resist or even question this program. To write, “if a person has a penis he’s a man” is an act of resistance so powerful, it will get you widely denounced and blacklisted.
You know what else would get you denounced and blacklisted in recent decades? Questioning or criticizing the State of Israel. The thought-terminating memes, the refusal to discuss, the disproportionate outrage are all familiar to my anti-Zionist activist friends.
Under the spell of American Zionism, no right-thinking Liberal believed atrocities were happening in and on behalf of Israel. No matter how much evidence activists produced, Zionist Liberals always downplayed it, or ignored it, or justified it because whatever the Palestinians were doing was surely so much worse. Likewise, no matter how much evidence feminists produce, of death threats and rape threats, of actual physical violence, of blacklisting and purging and no-platforming, we are dismissed as “transphobic.” Even when the people presenting the evidence are trans, such as Miranda Yardley and Jenn Smith.
Simultaneous marginalization and support
Of course no males would be “refugees” if they had a home in the male sex class. But it’s in Patriarchy’s interest to simultaneously marginalize and support trans people, just like it’s in Europe’s and America’s interest to simultaneously marginalize and support Jews. The marginalization drives the pressure of expansion. When people are secure in their homelands, they don’t emigrate. It’s the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free that up and move to a new land. Without antisemitism, the “west” would have no colony in the Middle East. Without patriarchal gender enforcement, TiMs wouldn’t be spearheading the further colonization of women. So men simultaneously threaten TiMs, and demand the protection of TiMs as “the most oppressed.” That male-imposed marginalization is what drives the whole project.
Trans people themselves are a tiny fraction of the population. So why are language, laws and institutions being changed just for them? Because it’s not just for them, it’s for all men. TiMs are the “settlers” of the latest patriarchal colonization project.
Both Zionism and transactivism have a religious component. In Zionism it’s the Torah/Old Testament, which simply states that God gave the land to the Jews, His chosen people. In transactivism it’s gender identity, as summarized by Miranda Yardley:
- We all have a ‘gender identity’ which is innate. This ‘gender identity’ can be at odds with the physical embodiment of our sex;
- This ‘gender identity’ has more weighting to our sex than the physical embodiment of our sex; and so it follows that
- ‘Trans women are women and trans men are men’.
…for transgender individuals, personality determines sex.
Philosophical analysis aside, the reality is that the concept of gender identity collapses into the statement ‘trans women are women’, and this is the foundation of most of their other claims to rights, spaces and validity. It is also the single most defended claim in transgender ideology, so much so that no debate is allowed.
I support freedom of religion, and everyone is free to believe whatever they want. I oppose forcing everyone else to believe what you believe. Everyone is welcome to their “gender identity.” If a male believes he is a female, that’s fine with me. If I have to believe he’s female, that crosses the line.
I oppose gaslighting. I oppose requiring others to deny the evidence of their own eyes and identify someone else as a sex they are not. Not because trans-identified males don’t “deserve” to be called women. But because they aren’t women. “Woman” is not a club or a prize or a reward. It’s a sex.
But it’s treated like a club and a prize and a reward. And like anything of value intrepid males “discover,” it is being colonized.
Women are not a land without a people. Women have always been people, even if men don’t acknowledge that. The trans colonization project is essentially misogynist, and is popular among male Liberals for this reason.
Why do I care?
Believe me, if I could not care about modern transactivism, I would. I think it’s my Muse’s doing, because my film Seder-Masochism is about the same story: the colonization of women.
God used to be female. All of Her attributes were taken over by the male God. Creation, fertility, vegetation, the bringing forth of food, life and death – all that was once the Goddess’s is now God’s. It’s like the male God put on Her clothes, and then “identified” as Her, and there’s no Goddess any more.
Our connection to ancient goddess worship is completely broken. There’s some art, and some ruins, and some echoes in myths and fairy tales, but we have no idea how these religions were really practiced. Modern western goddess-worship is re-built, re-invented, and re-imagined; it is immature, instead of building on thousands of years of tradition.
The establishment of YHWH as the One, Male God effectively erased the Goddess, and most don’t even know enough to grieve. We sense there’s something missing, but most can’t even name it.
Gods and Goddesses are fictional, of course. What’s happening now is a continuation of the erasure of the Goddess: the erasure of womanhood itself. The erasure of biological reality isn’t only of concern to biological women, but to everyone who values science and some relationship to reality beyond individual “identity.”
Woman means adult human female.
Womanhood is a biological reality. That’s it. It’s not an identity, a prize, an “exclusive club”, or a land to be conquered. The more men regard womanhood as any of those things, the more inclined they are to colonize. Patriarchy regards women as property already, with disastrous consequences.
I am a reluctant feminist. I don’t particularly enjoy being a woman. I don’t “identify as a woman.” I AM a woman. It’s not a choice, it’s biology. It’s not a special club I’m trying to keep men out of.
Biology is the beginning and end of “womanhood,” the alpha and the omega. If I wear pants, I’m a woman. If I wear a dress, I’m a woman. If my hair is long or short, I’m a woman. If I take testosterone, I’m a woman. If I cut off my breasts (don’t think I haven’t thought about it, I have fibrocystic breast disease and they can be very painful) I’m a woman. If I identify as a man, I’m a woman.
And if a person has a penis he’s a man.
If you think that’s “hate speech,” the colonist is you.
Greetings from 2017, when we’re having Peak Trans. In 5-8 years this will be over. A generation of children currently being treated with hormones and surgery for being “born in the wrong body” will be suing their doctors and parents. People will no longer say that a penis is female if the penis-haver “identifies as a woman”. The current trend of allowing male athletes to compete “as women” as long as they’re taking estrogen will be history (to refresh: male-to-trans runners, weightlifters, volleyball players, etc. are currently thrashing female opponents because women’s sports organizations are unwilling to appear “bigoted.”)
My (former?) friends are sharing memes (will they still call them “memes” 5-8 years in the future?) that compare males’ demands to access female bathrooms to the Civil Rights Movement, and women who say no to them as white racists. Liberals are insisting that sex – biology – is a social construct, that humans aren’t sexually dimorphic because of the existence of intersex people and clownfish. They pass along sciency-sounding science-denial articles that use the same rhetoric as “creation science.” They denounce “creation science” because it is a tool of the Right, and they fear the Right. Their science denial is of the Left, and they deny it’s science denial. Science denial denial.
My (former?) friends support changing the legal definition of sex from biology to “identity.” If a man says they “feel like a woman,” and someone like me asks, “what does that mean? How do you ‘feel like a woman’? Is ‘woman’ a feeling?” they rush to support the male and condemn me.
I have recently come out as one of those witches who refuses to say males are female; who believes females need sex-segregated spaces like women’s shelters and prisons; who believes women are entitled to say “no” to males for any reason. I have been banned from Facebook* twice and my reddit* account has been suspended permanently. Friends have sent me messages saying they can’t associate with me any longer because I’m so “hurtful” and “ignorant.” I just lost a $2,000 speaking gig with no explanation; since women like me are regularly “no-platformed” as “TERF”s, I assume it’s because of my recently exposed politics.
So right now we’re in the midst of a kind of Liberal mass hysteria. There have been crazes like this in the past: actual witch hunts, McCarthyism, the lobotomy fad of the mid-20th century, the “false memories” of the 1980’s. It could be worse; maybe it will still get worse. But like other trendy hysterias, this will pass.
And when it does, what will you, my (former?) friends, be saying about it?
“Oh that, that time was so weird!” you’ll say, perhaps with an eyeroll or giggle.
Or, “I always knew it was wrong.” You’ll think you were the one who stood up for sanity back then. You’ll forget that you were in fact declaring you were on “the right side of history,” virtue-signaling with your civil-rights-appropriating memes, while shunning and condemning women like me. You will forget.
You will forget that you said “sex is a spectrum, we don’t understand biology.” You’ll forget you vehemently argued that “female brains” can be trapped in male bodies, “it’s SCIENCE!!!” You’ll forget you said “assigned male at birth” as if sex is assigned by transphobic doctors and not observed by anyone with eyes and a brain. You’ll forget that every time someone pointed this out you said “intersex and clownfish!!!” as though they disproved reality, because of some creationist-style sciency-science-denial that supported your politics.
You won’t be that dumb in the future. But right now, you are.
You didn’t know, you weren’t paying attention, it wasn’t your thing, you have to pick your battles. While women like me were screaming about the transing of children and the male pattern violence of males, you “didn’t know.” It was convenient not to know. Meanwhile you got head-pats and excitement in the “movement” (what movement? Against Trump? Why does opposing Trump mean you can’t think critically?) for repeating thought-terminating, loaded language like “trans women are women” and “assigned male at birth” and “cis”.
What will you blame, future? You will probably minimize the problem. It was just women, after all, they’re a minority, right? And so many women are white and middle-to-upper class, they did fine, it didn’t hurt them. OK, some kids got transed and regretted it, we went too far there, we meant well, why are you making such a big deal? It wasn’t that many, they were almost all homosexual anyway. It’s history, it’s over, we know better now.
Oh, Future, we’ll be lucky if you can read this. We’ll be lucky if you’re even there to ignore me.
*Facebook and reddit are social media sites. Will there be social media in the future? Will there even be electricity in the future? Since we’re on the brink of ecological and social collapse, I realize you might not even be able to read this. But if society and the planet are still holding together enough that you can: PAY ATTENTION.
A few years ago, when I shared this article about Caitlyn Jenner and another one about Rachel Dolezal, many angry liberal friends called me “transphobic,” and told me to “educate myself.” They apparently didn’t know I had spent many years deeply involved in various queer scenes in San Francisco, and had trans friends, and was gender dysphoric myself (it resolved in my mid-20’s, which is not unusual.) Since I couldn’t “educate myself” much more on trans people and queer theory, I considered what I really hadn’t educated myself about: radical feminism. Like everyone else, I had been denouncing “TERF“s without reading anything they’d written. So I started reading, and quickly realized I was a gender-critical radical feminist. (If you’re wondering why, I suggest you “educate yourself” about radical feminism. This video is a good place to start.)
Saying you’re a gender-critical radical feminist in public is like saying, “I’m a witch! Burn me!” So I spent about a year and a half in seething, cowed silence. But finally, on February 25, 2017, I “came out.”
In late February I noticed my liberal friends were sharing this “meme”:
So I posted this on Facebook (which I now call fecebook):
You can try to read all 1000+ comments here, although fecebook organizes them so poorly they’re hard to navigate.
Now it gets rather convoluted. Some of the comments have been documented anonymously here, along with annotation. I am “user J.”