Tasmanian Times


The moral high ground of compassion

Feminist Current / NOVEMBER 19, 2018

Since publishing my first essay challenging the ideology of the transgender movement four years ago, I have often found myself in settings where liberal allies of that movement try to divert a difficult discussion by claiming the moral high ground of compassion. With each of these encounters, I become increasingly frustrated at this “compassion-as-cover” dodge that seems designed to give liberals a way to avoid accountability.

The conversations unfold pretty much the same way each time: I’m told that radical feminists’ involvement in an organizing project can be a threat to transgender people, even if the program has nothing to do with transgender issues. Sometimes this comes with the accusation that I am transphobic and bigoted, or at the very least unconcerned about transgender people.

I point out that in my writing I have never attacked individuals or expressed fear or hatred of people who identify as transgender. When I ask my critics to point to any statement that is bigoted, I’m told that simply raising questions and offering challenges could be taken as a threat to the legitimacy of transgender identities. When I ask how articulating a feminist critique of patriarchy is threatening, my liberal friends often try to end the conversation with some version of, “You want to have an intellectual debate and I am just trying to be compassionate to transgender people who feel vulnerable.”

I agree, of course, that vulnerable people shouldn’t be attacked, but this response begs my question: Why is a good-faith disagreement being labeled an attack? Hateful, irrational attacks should be rejected, but why should one side in a political debate be able to declare a serious challenge illegitimate without responding?

When the transgender movement makes public policy proposals that impose costs on others (on girls and women, in the case of transgender demands for access to single-sex facilities and programs), there obviously has to be space in public for debate of those proposals. But my concern here — out of my sense of compassion — is that when radical feminism is framed as opposition to transgender people, a key feature of the feminist position gets lost in the noise: Radical feminism offers not just a challenge to the current ideology of the transgender movement but an alternative analysis that we believe can better serve some, if not most, transgender-identified people.

Radical feminism offers a more liberating alternative for people who identify as transgender by identifying patriarchal society and institutionalized male dominance as the source of impediments to real freedom for individuals to be themselves. Patriarchy forces people into rigid, repressive, and reactionary gender norms that have nothing to do with biological sex categories. Radical feminist resistance to patriarchy has long challenged those norms, and the energy of collective resistance is productive not only politically but also personally.

I’m not arguing that every person who experiences some form of gender dysphoria can resolve that distress through political analysis and organizing. We know very little about the etiology of transgenderism, and so it’s not surprising that there’s no one-size-fits-all response. But the radical feminists I have met in 30 years of work against men’s violence and sexual exploitation are among the most compassionate I’ve known in my life, people for whom the struggle for justice is as much about sharing the pain in our daily lives as about political principles. Some of these radical feminists also are parents, trying to responsibly raise children who identify as transgender.

A person can be concerned about, and supportive of, individuals struggling with gender dysphoria while still rejecting public policy demands of the transgender movement that are anti-feminist. Everyone I work with in radical feminist movements fits that description. Those activists are, for example, worried about the physical and psychological consequences of puberty-suppressing drugs for children who identify as transgender. That’s not surprising, since radical feminists typically support an ecological approach to social problems rather than reflexively embracing the dominant culture’s preference for technological and medicalized “solutions.” Whatever one’s view, it’s hard to see how those concerns are the product of bigotry or lacking in compassion.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with my analysis of the transgender movement or my position on public policy. But I think it’s disingenuous of those who disagree to dodge the debate by claiming to be more compassionate, just as it’s intellectually dishonest to try to undermine discussion with terms such as TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) and politically cowardly to try to silence radical feminists.

I’m not naïvely asking “can’t we all just get along?” I am eager to hear from people who disagree with my position with substantive arguments. I am just tired of being told that asking legitimate questions about a complex phenomenon such as transgenderism — questions that many progressive people ponder privately but are afraid to ask in the current political climate — makes radical feminists mean-spirited and lacking empathy.

Robert Jensen is an emeritus professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, is the author of The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men. He can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu or online at http://robertwjensen.org/.

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Christopher Eastman-Nagle

    November 23, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    Isla refers here to a ‘transgender’ advocate talking about ‘non binary’ sexual ‘identification’.

    This is a testament to the consciousness manipulative propaganda power of language. By using these forms of words, we unconsciously copy them into our imaginative repertoire and perversely adopt their assumptions, further empowering the prime user .. in this case the transgen lobby.

    In one of his fables, ‘The Fox with no Tail’, Aesop tells of a fox who, having lost his tail, then goes around to the entire fox community and tries to persuade them that not having a tail ought to be a mainstream fox ‘identity’. The tailless fox would talk about ‘taillessness’ as an equal state of grace to ‘the tailed’, in a ‘docktered’ world where less is more.

    As time goes by the ‘Docktered’ fox becomes more assertive and accuses any fox that doesn’t accept the ‘docktered identity paradigm’ of being a ‘bigoted’ and ‘prejudiced’ ‘dockterphobe’ who is ‘discriminating’ against them. ‘Tailled’ foxes that have the temerity to suggest that sensitive ‘dockterees’ are missing something are ‘villifying’ them .. the poor things.

    ‘Tailed’ ‘recidivists’ are not merely ‘insensitive’, ‘arrogant’, ‘repressive’ and ‘authoritarian’, but are blind to the self-evident truths to be found in books on ‘Dockterism’ and the overwhelming ‘scientific ‘proofs’ of tailless states of being to be found in ‘Dockterological Studies’ departments all over the world. Leading ‘Doctorologists’ have concluded that .. blah, blah, blah.

    If one controls the language, one doesn’t so much control the debate as shut it down.

    ‘Transgenderism’ is a made up ‘ism’ covering a minuscule condition of having ambiguous genitalia caused by genetic damage. The rest is ‘gender dysphoria’ which at best is a domineering sexual fantasy, and at worst a psycho-pathology. We are a sexually binary species. Anything else is a genetic and/or psychiatric mistake. Sex is not determined by a person’s ‘feelings’ no matter how ’empathetic’ and ‘compassionate’ we are. ‘Sexuality’ is no different from any other psychological/cultural construct. It is not some bloated sexistential state of grace.

    That is pure bluff, crib and fudge .. accompanied by a lot of ideological slip, slide, weave & duck.

  2. Christopher Eastman-Nagle

    November 22, 2018 at 9:49 pm

    Words like ’empathy’ and ‘compassion’ have been systematically turned into hegemonically self inflating ideological cliches designed to prompt conditioned responses. They have been turned into excuses for abandoning critical judgement and rational policy making in favour of ‘feelings’, sectional interest special pleading and adolescent narcissism; into intimidatory moral bluffing; into an intellectually blunted obscurantism that can no longer differentiate these terms from indulgence that undermines and destroys the very people it is supposed to help… and they melt ordinarily intelligent people into gullible ideological suckers who’d believe anything if their ‘poor thing’ ideological buttons get pressed.

    I agree wholeheartedly with everything Jensen says, but he pulls too many punches because he feels the need to keep his ideologically ‘sensitive’ and ‘progressive’ (whatever that word means these days) credentials intact. He should not feel the need to do that with unconscionable opportunists who unashamedly use the language of decency as political cover and a platform to bully their way to get what they want.

    What those people need is very blunt and unadorned bluff calling of their phony agenda, ideological gamesmanship and grotesque values, by critics who are as morally self assured as they are. Nobody ever won a fight by pussyfooting.

    And right now, it is the transgens who understand that better than anyone else.

  3. Isla MacGregor

    November 22, 2018 at 8:41 pm

    UTAS Dr Meredith Nash refused to chair Robert Jensen’s talk at UTAS on World Environment Day last year:

    ‘Dr Meredith Nash, Deputy Director of the Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of Tasmania withdrew from chairing the UTas World Environment Day Forum on 5 June 2017.

    Speaking at the forum was Robert Jensen, Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas, Austin. Professor Jensen was in Australia to speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival and to launch his latest book, The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men. The forum was presented by the University of Tasmania in partnership with Spinifex Press, Nordic Model Australia Coalition (NorMAC) and the Institute for the Study of Social Change.

    Professor Jensen’s talk, titled ‘Male Supremacy, Human Supremacy and the Fate of the Ecosphere’ posed the question – ‘On World Environment Day, can critical feminist and ecological analyses help us see another path to save our planet?’.

    Two hours before the forum commenced, a communications officer from the University of Tasmania Institute for the Study of Social Change notified the NorMAC organisers that Dr Nash had withdrawn from chairing the forum.

    Saffire Grant, a student member of the UTas Women’s Collective, had allegedly made a complaint to Dr Nash about Professor Jensen’s views on transgender people, saying they amounted to hate speech.

    When interviewed for this article, Ms Grant did not deny making the complaint. She was reluctant to discuss the matter with someone who did not identify as transgender or non-binary, and asked that questions be forwarded by email.

    At the time of writing, Ms Grant had not responded to the queries submitted as she requested.

    Dr Nash chose to remove herself from participation in the forum on the basis of Ms Grant’s complaint. The university did not provide a substitute staff member to welcome Professor Jensen at the forum – a serious failure to observe the courtesy normally afforded visiting academics.

    Attempts to contact and interview Dr Meredith Nash for this article were unsuccessful, however the communications office at the Institute for the Study of Social Change confirmed the complaint and Dr Nash’s response.’

    more: https://tasmaniantimes.com/2018/08/silencing-and-censorship-in-the-trans-rights-debate1-d1/

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