discovering gender dysphoria is sort of like getting a load of salt rubbed into a wound you’ve had since birth without realizing it. it hurts like hell and yet for the first time something actually does, instead of just sort of rebounding off the painful and tired banalities of your existence with the dull clank that everything else does from a death in the family to a stubbed toe. finally more like an “oh FUCK” than an “oh fuck” if that makes any sense.
at times shatteringly brilliant, at others confusing, obscure, and disappointing.
i liked Blade Runner 2049 for the most part but it seemed there was a pervasive misogyny to the whole thing that was very poorly justified. i could be misreading it but several scenes featuring violence against women were extremely difficult for me to watch and one of them left me hyperventilating and feeling nauseous. it seemed like all the women existed either to die to prove how evil their murderers are or to advance the plot for the white male protagonists while being perfectly self-effacing. the resistance leader might be an exception though.
of course my trans headcanon machine kicked into full gear with the whole “everyone secretly wishes they were a girl” thing among the revolutionaries even though it seemed completely unintentional. oh and also “that’s not a name, it’s a serial number” is painfully close to the connection i have with my birthname, which for me at this point is a label for a legal abstraction that doesn’t exist as a body and persists in this role solely because the state demands a consistent means of control. it might as well be a serial number.
it is almost unquestionably the most beautiful movie i’ve ever seen, and the philosophy is still interesting for the most part, but i can’t help but wonder whether the questions about what makes an identity, what makes you real, what does it mean to be authentic, can you convince yourself you’re real when society tells you you aren’t, what is a soul, etc, could’ve been better handled by a trans person or someone else for whom these questions aren’t allowed to be airy meditations on existentialism but questions for which wrong answers can and do get you killed.
this isn’t to say the director and writers have no understanding of or right to speak on these issues, just that at times it felt a little distant and a little impersonal and a little hypothetical and i fear it risks becoming another depoliticized cult adventure flick with a cool plot twist because of this. it can be so hard for people in dominant positions of power to understand that it often has to be blatant and carefully spelled out. (i’m mostly looking at men when i say this, particularly men in SF/F fandom) the film is dealing with questions faced by large groups of real people on a daily basis, yet what we have in the replicants of “2049” seems to be white, cis people but with trans people’s problems.
one can imagine a voight-kampff test for transness, (probably administered by TERFs to unusually tall women at feminist gatherings) and i wonder whether the movie might have had more to say about our current cultural-political atmosphere if it were more direct about the consequences of treating some people as less authentically human because they lack intrinsic characteristics. for blade runner the essential characteristic is a soul, which apparently derives from a womb. however this definition (and perhaps the entire concept) is shown to be total bullshit when Joe (don’t you dare deadname him goddamn it) starts acting like a fucking human being merely because he thinks he has a soul.
whether or not i’m “really trans” in a transcendent (no pun), platonic, essential sense is not something i agonize over much these days, and i often question whether it is a useful question to ask in the first place. i had a problem, and i eventually solved it in part by believing i was trans and acting on that belief, and it’s working out pretty well. identity is at least as much what you do as what you “are.” how many cis people do you know who defy gender stereotypes? how many non-replicants do you know that despite their obvious humanity don’t fucking act like human beings? (hint: we call these people “normal” and “republicans” respectively) if acting like a goddamn human being is proof enough that you are, should we care if you’re a replicant? if changing your name and clothing and pumping those hormones is going to make your life livable, should we really care whether or not you have a specific gender identity in your DNA? i don’t think so, and i think Joe would agree.
here’s a list of what i read tonight while i was supposed to be studying, and a few thoughts of my own, because i want to have something to show for this for once.
the question posed by all this thinking is essentially, why does transphobia seem to be such a great litmus test for “Left Conservatism”? is being trans and defending trans rights inherently reactionary? (well, no.) did trans people exist before postmodernist theory? (yes) did being non-binary exist before tumblr? (of course) are people still different without the false consciousness of identity? (yes again) is it because i’m trans but otherwise hold a lot of social power over others, so i notice transphobia and not other vectors of oppression? why does transphobia overlap with theory-hatred so strongly in this sphere? why do all these people hate judith butler?
the following writers are crudely labelled pro- and anti- “identity politics” to make the discussion afterwards simpler.
“Left Conservatism: A Workshop”
“Journey back into the vampires’ castle: Mark Fisher remembered, 1968-2017”
“All hail the vampire-archy: what Mark Fisher gets wrong in ‘Exiting the vampire castle'”
“Postscript on identity, intersectionality”
“Deleuzeans of grandeur”
“INTERSECTIONAL? OR SECTARIAN?”
“WHERE HAVE ALL THE ARGUMENTS GONE? Notes on the smugification of intellectual life”
“Bela Lugosi’s dead: A Reply to Mark Fisher”
“Against Vampire Slaying: Reflections on Identity Politics, the Left and Monstrosity”
“‘American Thought’: from theoretical barbarism to intellectual decadence”
(here’s where it gets interesting to me, if you’ve made it this far. trigger warning for rape and transphobia)
“Telling rape victims how they *must* process their rape is inherently anti-feminist”
ok. yes, the authors are mostly men, yes, they’re mostly white. however the exceptions here still fit at least one different pattern (transphobia) even when the author is a woman or a person of color, as happens occasionally. there are probably others too but i’m most experienced at recognizing transphobic rhetoric and philosophy. i’ll get to that at the end. the charnel house pieces are all your sort of typical brocialist-lite, chapo trap house type leftists. you know the brand. identity politics is ruining the left, they’re just painting over neoliberalism with a gloss of “intersectionality,” they’re fostering division within the working class when what we need is unity, they hate white men instead of capitalism, they’re never satisfied with how radical someone is, they’re infatuated with postmodernism whatever. if you don’t know me, i’m solidly on the pro-“IDPOL” side of things in these debates, if you can call them debates. i don’t actually have a problem with these people a priori, (they’re still comrades after all) and i do get a kick out of chapo excoriating reactionary youtubers and recipients of wing nut welfare in particular. but i think most of their arguments against “intersectionality” are bad, and in particular very repetitive. some of the pro-“IDPOL” writers above (sam kriss, at least) share variations of the following critique; my critique.
the standard criticism rests largely on so-called IDPOL leftists hating the metanarrative of traditional marxism and traditional marxist leftists (the effective philosophy, and white men, respectively) while eschewing them in favor of bourgeois individualism, the false consciousness of identity, and neoliberal guilt-and-shame tactics that divert attention from structural problems transcending the individual. it doesn’t quite divide along the theory-anti-theory line that we find when discussing politics with liberals, but it’s close in a lot of ways. there are the familiar shibboleths — judith butler is incomprehensible/secretly a neoliberal, poststructuralism is elitist/”common people” can’t understand it therefore it’s anti-leftist, etc. these are people who like their marx and think that nobody else has read it, and that leftist theory largely took a turn for the worse in the post-war era. they mostly think they’ve taken the “off-ramp from philosophy” offered by marx, and are confused that others haven’t.
the problem i have with this is that the most radical people i know personally would all probably be considered “IDPOL leftists” by this crowd, and none of the criticisms of us are accurate, at least from my perspective. the object of their critique is a straw leftist akin to the pink-haired feminist of 4chan reactionaries. i’m anti-capitalist. i base my criticisms first on structural factors and materialism. i don’t think that “diversity” or “inclusion” are inherently revolutionary (a hollowed-out caricature of intersectionality, to be sure). i don’t think “identity” transcends economic class (just look at the vitriol for caitlyn jenner among radical trans women). if the proletariat rose up tomorrow, i wouldn’t criticize it for being started by white men if those white men actually understood what they were doing and understood that the oppression faced by these “identity”-based minorities was legitimate even if our methods aren’t. the last part of that is a position that the above authors do not reject, as far as i can tell. the oppression is a legitimate social ill, it’s our ostensibly counter-revolutionary methods of callouts and such that are the problem for them. it is only communism that would entirely satisfy my political goals, and nothing less. this isn’t to say i’m completely anti-reform though, even as these writers accuse us of being against “slow boring of hard boards”-type change because it’s executed primarily by white dudes and doesn’t go far enough or whatever.
the pattern of transphobia i alluded to in the first paragraph is the part i can’t crack. it’s the one constant between all of these writers on the other side of the IDPOL problem, chapo trap house not included (they’re better on this than they have a right to be and i don’t get it). the last link is essentially the typical TERF complaint that trans women want into “women born women”-only safe spaces because women are raped by men and trans women are “socialized male” and (shocker) some of us have penises so we must secretly be men, or at least our inclusion would lead to admitting men pretending to be trans women. angela nagle (author of “kill all normies”) thinks the tumblr left has overrun real praxis with a proliferation of ridiculous non-binary identities, adolph reed wonders why trans women are so upset about being excluded because TERFs (real women) are scared of including us so they must have a point, jokes about trans women getting angry about conflating gender and genitalia abound. surprise surprise, the anti-intersectionality crowd is not very intersectional.
i already asked all the questions about transphobia at the top, but after about three hours today and countless more in the past, i still don’t get it. why are so many otherwise radical people of different genders and races and ethnicities almost universally transphobic?