A couple of weeks ago we sailed past the 2nd anniversary of the publication of the truly, deeply, terrible Edie Miller article, on why the British media is so transphobic. It would have been a fine thing indeed to leave that anniversary unmarked. After all, there’s no reason why Miller’s woeful writings should be remembered when far superior works are forgotten.
Miller’s work, however, reappeared this week, because some people found a tweet praising it, made in June, by Glenn Greenwald, and gave it a few quote-tweets. If you’re not sure who Glenn Greenwald is then this diagram may help.
Whatever the reason, I’ve written about Miller’s article before and I’ve no intention of revisiting it, or even re-reading it, but the central straw of her argument – that those who are now, in her eyes, transphobes also supported the same “brand” of science that debunks horoscopes and homeopathy – perhaps deserves revisiting.
It’s not like there aren’t certain parallels between astrology and gender politics. Take the oft repeated claim that everyone has a gender identity, it maps neatly on to the claim that everyone has a star sign. This is, of course, true. If you divide the calendar into 12 and assign signs based on a date of birth then it becomes impossible not to have a star sign. In fact, you might have many. There have been different versions of astrology throughout history, and if someone’s made up a whole new one in their bedroom this afternoon then you still have a sign in it, whether you want to or not.
In the same way, if you start with gender identities that are identical to biological sexes, and then add extra ones, it becomes impossible not to have a gender identity, even if all you have is one of the boring ones, that maps exactly on to a sex.
In both cases what you’ve added is something with no material component, but which may have psychological value to some, and is clearly very important to some.
What’s strange is that, even for sceptics, there’s a certain mental pressure to treat the completely made-up thing as more important than the physically real thing.
“Not me,” I can hear you saying, from your throne of debunking-brand-science, “I’m all rational and shit.” Well, good for you, but let me ask you this…can somebody change star sign?
A quick Google search didn’t turn up anybody who was a Leo, trapped in the body of an Aries. Nobody, it seems, is desperate to live their life as a fire sign, despite being born into a water sign.
Why not? It’s not as if astrology is a precise science. Indeed, because the direction of the Earth’s axis of rotation turns in a 26,000 year long cycle, called precession, the constellations are constantly slipping against the calendar seasons. If some ancient wise-man said, a thousand years ago, that being born on March 1st made you Pisces then it doesn’t hold for the rest of time, unless you’re intent on ignoring the only part of your doctrine that has any basis in material reality.
(You could also wonder why people who would shrink in horror at the though of using a 20 year old TV, or a smartphone from a decade ago, have such reverence for pseudoscience, based on its vintage)
On the other side of the coin, the Gender Recognition Act, in its own words, changes sex to match the applicants gender and, according to legal blogger Adam Wagner, does so without creating a legal fiction.
If the acquired gender is the male gender, the person’s sex becomes that of a man and, if it is the female gender, the person’s sex becomes that of a womanGender Recognition Act (2004), Section 9
If the law can change reality then why doesn’t the act change a person’s gender (the made-up component) to match their sex (the real, measurable component)? See, even if you’re a cynic, that question sounds a bit mad.
It’s almost as if the human psyche has some inbuilt tendency to treat the fantastic as more meaningful than the mundane, the invented as more important than the observable, the imaginary as unquestionable.
We even have a word for it, religion.
Of course, “religion” conjures up images of strangely dressed men, telling us what we’re allowed to think, which doesn’t really apply to astrology these days, but it’s worth remembering that there are some religious sects that have been so totally erased from history that we only know what they believed by the writings of those faithful to orthodoxy, refuting those beliefs. The deleted writings remain only as relief cast of the arguments against them.
It’s possible, then, we’ll only be remembered if Edie Miller’s text, and those like it, are remembered, and even then we’ll only be as the inverse of her barely-coherent position. I’ve got to say, I hope that’s not what the stars hold for me.