|Fallon Fox, born a man, competes against women in
Mixed Martial Arts, and does pretty well...
The transsexual phenomenon is not entirely new, but it is taking on a new form and become a cause celebre with astonishing speed. From a common-sense point of view it seems sheer lunacy: people can now simply claim to be the sex opposite to that indicated by their biology, and have this assertion officially recognised, with or without any medical diagnosis or intervention (not that either would make any real difference).
The radicals who have promoted the social acceptance of transsexuality in this sense have followed the strategy used in a number of other successful campaigns to change attitudes. In the cases of contraception, abortion, IVF, euthanasia, and drug use the appeal is made to a victim group disadvantaged by a old law or attitude, and opponents of change are accused of lacking compassion. Drug users are perhaps the least sympathetic of the proposed victim groups, which is why the legalisation of drugs has been a harder struggle, but the efforts by the liberal media to portray them as charming and harmless are all the more evident.
The other obstacle to the success of the strategy is the existence of a rival group of victims. These are most obviously identifiable in the case of abortion, which is why liberals can't stand depictions of the 'clumps of cells' removed in abortion as they really are: looking like babies. The narrative of people being victimised by an archaic law or attitude is thrown into doubt when it turns out that the proposed new practice simply victimises another set of people. The debate then has to focus on which set of victims has priority.
I'm focusing here on the structure of the arguments, not on their soundness. In the real world, there are real victims and real oppressors. Presenting people as such, however, does not make them so.
Considering this victim/ oppressor narrative is a very crude way of looking at the debates. In reality pro-lifers, for example, argue that women who are pressured into abortion, or who are hoodwinked into thinking of it as having no psychological consequences, are also victims. But the media like dealing with these simple narratives, and their opponents, to be successful, have to find a way to derail the narrative decisively. They need to be able to show, with a simple word or image or heart-felt example, that the victim vs. heartless oppressor story is the wrong way around. That Robin Hood is robbing the poor to keep himself rich, say. Pro-lifers haven't managed this yet, though attitude trends suggest they may be making progress.
The most spectacular example of a derailment, of a victim/ oppressor story being turned around, is is with paedophilia: or, as some of its proponents like to call it, 'intergenerational sex'. Right into the 1990s attempts were being made to establish it as a story about harmless paedophiles being oppressed by outmoded laws and attitudes. The most harmful thing to do to children was to tell them (or agree with them) that sexual contact with adults was wrong, we were told. It was the children's stories which turned it around. It was impossible, in the end, to brush aside their testimony.
A good example of a contested narrative is prostitution. Are those who use prostitutes victims or oppressors? Amnesty International has decided that they are victims: they should be able to exploit the desperation of women forced into prostitution to their heart's content. Most feminists take the opposite view: men who pay for consensual sex with professional sex workers should be hounded. I've been surprised at the strength of the pro-prostitution narrative, which has led to a degree of civil war among progressives, but I don't think it can last. The awfulness of the reality of decriminalised prostitution in Germany throws a bucket of cold water over the idea that clients are (when subjected to penalties) the victims.
The lack of a rival group of victims makes IVF and contraception particularly hard to oppose. On the other hand, the establishment of the disabled as a rival victim group in the case of euthanasia has seriously complicated efforts to promote it.
In the case of the debate about transsexualism, the liberal promoters of the idea naturally depict the transsexuals as victims and anyone not playing along with it as heartless oppressors. The victimisation consists of not allowing the transsexuals to do what they want to do. The problem the liberals face in this case is a ready-made rival group of victims: women, many of whom have no desire to share their changing facilities, loos, and competitive sports with people who are biologically male. Liberals have found themselves attacking these women in most extreme terms, but these victims are not going to go away, and unlike unborn babies, they can speak for themselves.
We live in interesting times, as the saying is. I wouldn't like to bet on it, but it may be that the liberals have bitten off more than they can chew with this one. Screaming 'bigot', at seventeen-year-old girls who don't want to shower in front of a biological male, is only going to get you so far.
(For a taste of the debate about what Americans so charminly call 'rest rooms', search for 'lila perry' on Twitter. To see the gloves really come off, search for 'terf'. It stands for 'trans excluding radical feminist'.)