Gender Essay


Everyone is at war with their gender 
For some, it’s a guerrilla warfare 
For others, nuclear weapons at dawn 

Mao Tse-tung wrote about two different types of conflict: 
First, contradictions between the people and the enemy. These are resolved by war. Whether it’s fought with bullets or words, the object is to defeat the enemy.  
Second, contradictions among the people. The object here is not to defeat the enemy, because there is no enemy. We are on the same side, but we have different ideas. The object is to engage in comradely debate, resolve differences fairly, and reach a higher level of truth and unity. 

It’s dangerous to mistake your enemy for a friend 
It’s also dangerous to mistake your friend for an enemy 
Contradictions among the people, if handled badly, can turn a friend into an enemy 

The gender wars are about a contradiction among the people, not a contradiction between the people and the enemy. That’s not to say that there are no actual enemies involved in the debate – all kinds of fascists and neoliberals are jumping into the fray – but there is also a solid core of progressive, revolutionary minded people on both sides of this contradiction. 

The science is complicated, and getting more complicated every day. We’re going through big changes in our understanding of sex and sexuality, of what it means to be human, of how much comes from our biology and how much comes from the world around us. 

And what a fucked up world it is. Millions of children starve to death every year. Imperialist armies ravage cities and whole populations. Hundreds of millions live in squatter settlements without adequate sewage or clean water. Hundreds of millions spend most of their waking hours in sweatshops with conditions that belong in a Dickens novel. We’re all living under the looming shadows of nuclear annihilation, climate change holocaust, and runaway technology. Corporations rule the planet – and they’re all psychopaths.  

This global cruelty bleeds into our ideas about human nature and into our habits of thinking. It doesn’t just condition us to be meaner, it structures us. It divides us against each other by nation, by race, by class… by sex.

I know many people in the trans community are coming from places of trauma and anguish. I know this is also true of many women, true of many gay people, and I know all these categories overlap. Every side of the gender debate has freedom fighters who have been assaulted and traumatized. 

In a way, this doesn’t make a difference: what’s true is true regardless of how people feel about it. But it does – or should – make a difference in how we struggle around these questions. We should be very careful about labelling people as the enemy, simply because they disagree with us. This does not mean we shouldn’t struggle against transphobic and misogynistic ideas, but it means we should be very careful about making the leap from “what you just said is transphobic (or misogynistic)” to “and you are an enemy of the people.” 

I know I am writing from a place of relative privilege: a cis, white, male, heterosexual, maybe not young and beautiful, and definitely not rich, but living in a powerful imperialist country and benefitting from its plunder of the earth. As a poet and a writer, how do I take sides with the oppressed people of the world? I think it must be by listening, looking, learning, and then speaking the truth exactly as I see it. And then… take my lumps, listen more, study more, learn from it, and do it again. 

We live in scary times. The world is crashing around us. Fascism is rising. The planet is melting. We have to make revolutionary changes in the way the world works – or else it will stop working altogether. There are real enemies in this world. They don’t rule the system – the system rules them – but they are on top, and they will do anything to stay on top. We don’t have a chance unless we unite to tear down this capitalist system and build a new world based on cooperation and kindness.

I don’t pretend that what I have to say here is the last word, or that it is free from unconscious sexist, homophobic, transphobic or any other oppressive attitudes. This has been a learning process for me, but it’s a process that I take very seriously. Feel free to criticise. 

Both fascism and neoliberalism are like cockroaches: they are afraid of the light. Science, when it is not corrupted by corporate investment or tribal loyalty, is a bringer of light. Science is not a democracy: it’s not about majority rule, but the scientific method relies on and in fact is not even possible without open democratic debate. Science relies on testing ideas through experience, but also on retesting those ideas over and over again. Experiments must be replicated by different people in different situations. Then the results of those experiments – and the conclusions drawn from them – must be debated widely and freely, and then ploughed back into more experiments. 

Whatever you might think about what follows, my main point is this: the extreme antagonism, name calling, and especially, the attempts to crush debate in these “gender wars” are not just sectarian and divisive: they are a total gift to the rising forces of fascism that threaten to destroy us. 

We are on the side of human liberation 
We welcome debate 
You have a right to be wrong 
You have a right to make mistakes 
We each have an obligation to be brave 
To speak our mind 
To dare to go against the tide 
It’s how we learn from each other 
It’s how we become strong 
It’s how we become kind 

Chapter One –>

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