Fringe benefits

Every group has its wild outer fringes; those who subscribe to the central doctrines of the group as a whole, but add their own madness on top. Christians have young-Earth creationists, who assert that the Bible is word-for-word literal truth, and deriving from there that the Earth was created in its current form, and with all of its life as it is now, fairly recently.

These days a tiny minority of Christians are young-Earth creationists. Subscribing to that view means arguing that evolution, geology, cosmology, physics and countless other scientific disciplines are wrong, which is an increasingly hard position to defend. They do still turn up every so often, mainly in America, demanding that children are taught their latest mishmash of pseudoscience.

The Earth, pictured in 4005BC

No matter how vocal they are, it would be unfair to treat the Young-Earthers as representative of all of Christianity. Indeed, the Vatican itself, having been on the wrong side of both heliocentrism and evolution, was so keen to salvage its reputation that Pope Pius XII had announced that the Big Bang theory was correct well before there was anything like scientific consensus that this was the case.

Christianity, of course, has had a couple of thousand years to pull together its central doctrines and define itself, and it’s something that most Westerners have a reasonable familiarity with. This means that when we see the Westboro Baptist Church protesting, saying that dead US soldiers are God’s punishment for America endorsing homosexuality, we know that they’re the fringe and not the main body.

What happens, though, when we’re dealing with a much newer group, which doesn’t have such a codified dogma and is more of a mystery to the general public?

I was lucky enough, a couple of weeks ago, to have a civilised debate with someone on the other side of the trans issue to myself. They are not a vocal trans-rights activist, but a firm believer in the mantra that transwomen are women (which, at least, we can all agree is core ideology, even if it’s considerably less likely that we’d all be able to agree what it means).

What I discovered, over 2 hours of discussion, is that they held many views that would see them denounced as a TERF, if they were to express them in public. They believe that sex is real, that self-ID alone is not sufficient to grant someone access to female spaces, and a host of other little heresies.

I was reminded of that conversation this morning, when I read Nicky Clark’s thoughts on the trans debate.

What really rang a bell was this tweet.

No trans woman I know claims to be biologically female, is the key sentence here. While this may be true, it’s also true that many transwomen do claim to be biologically female, including some very high-profile figures.

What happened in my real-life discussion was that, several times, the person I was talking to made similar sweeping claims, such as, Nobody is saying that sex isn’t real. Presented with contrary evidence, those views were then ascribed to a fringe group, “Nutters”.

As gender ideology is, currently, a religion without a church, nobody is really sure which prayers they should be chanting or which hymns to sing. Instead, every person is free to adhere to whatever parts of scripture speak to them, and assume that any views they can’t condone, or haven’t seen personally, are fringe views.

This creates a problem and an opportunity.

The problem is that while the majority are always quick to claim that the fringe don’t represent them, the fringe never have a problem claiming that they represent the majority. Christianity’s young-Earthers and gay-bashers are always willing to portray any dismissal of their views as a dismissal of all of Christianity. Similarly, there’s no demand made on behalf of trans rights that those doing the demanding won’t claim it’s transphobic to refuse.

This means that the “Nutter” edge of the trans rights movement does most of the deciding who is transphobic. Here, for example, is another vocal transwoman being rounded on by her own side, for suggesting that it’s too much to ask people to re-learn what kind of genitals they’re attracted to.

Gender critical people on Twitter are fond of sharing #PeakTrans moments, when people who were previously supportive of, or neutral to, trans rights finally encounter a bridge too far for them.

However, being able to ascribe these moments to the fringes of the movement negates this effect. The lunatic fringe, which should be damaging the TRA cause, protects the core ideology, because they carry the can for outlandish ideas, the unreasonable demands and the abuse and threats.

The opportunity is that there is a body of people who, if asked, would say that they support trans rights, but who also support positions that are core to the gender critical side; that sex is real and immutable, that self ID may not be the answer to everything, that women should still exist as their own class.

If these people get lambasted for saying that transwomen are women, or for defending high profile figures, like Eddie Izzard, from ‘misgendering’, and get worse treatment still, from our own fringe, then they feel attacked.

It then comes down to us calling them handmaids and idiots, for not being 100% gender critical, while the other side called them TERFs, for not being behind 100% of gender ideology. They’re being forced to pick a side, and if they already see themselves as a trans ally, and presumably had their own reasons for being so, and believe that the rhetoric against them from that side is just a fringe, then they’re likely to stick with that side.

We have the opportunity to gain allies amongst people who are, perhaps, 60/40 on the GC side, but see themselves as being on the TR side. Not by yelling about them about how wrong they are about the 40%, but by being supportive when they speak about the 60%.

Ultimately, settling the disputed ground between what transwomen want, and what women are willing to give, will come down to a numbers game, through voting, through polling, through protesting, fundraising, lobbying and grass-roots support, and it would be terrible to lose the numbers game because we made the mistake of demanding total ideological purity. Let the other side follow that path.

We’ve all come to hate the phrase Just be kind, but maybe, when we’re talking about those stranded in no-man’s land, shelled from both sides, there is, after all, some value to it.

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