Philosophy tube (henceforth referred to as Abigail or Abigail Thorn), a popular leftist YouTuber of which I am a fan, came out on Saturday evening to fans in a video on her YouTube channel. She makes videos about philosophy but looks at it through a more left-wing lens, and also in response to news events at the time and events in her life. Prior to her transition, she also focused a lot on trans rights, and the opposition to them that has emerged in popular media, among public figures like JK Rowling, and Jordan Peterson – the clinical psychologist who came to infamy following his very public opposition to Canada’s Bill C 16, a law designed to protect trans people from discrimination. In fact, in her recent coming out video, she talks at length about this, mentioning that ‘things are [very] bad for trans people in the UK right now… But even after a century of feminism, the Government still dictates what we can do with our own bodies’.
She is part of a larger community of leftist YouTubers called BreadTube, including ContraPoints, another trans woman who talks about similar issues, and she represents the growing appetite among young people, on both sides of the Atlantic, for the ‘great redistribution of power’ she discusses in her public coming out video. A redistribution of power that transcends the acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people and people of colour, and to include those who actually work, as opposed to those who own capital assets.
Trans rights always have been a touchy subject in the UK. It is one of the few issues that we lag behind the United States on. The Tavistock clinic puberty blockers case is one of the most recent and high-profile cases of trans rights actually going backward in the UK, as young trans people are now unable to access reversible puberty-blocking drugs, and people like JK Rowling are gaining widespread public recognition for their transphobia, with her gaining a Russell prize from the BBC for her transphobic essay, for its ‘bravery’.
We are past the debate of whether or not sex and gender are separate concepts: they are. Sex being the biology, the chromosomes, the parts, with gender being the social aspect. How people conduct themselves, how they look, and how they identify determine gender, and how we interact with that needs to be accepted, rather than defensiveness or hostility. Many people, like JK Rowling, use ‘sex is real’ as a dog whistle to imply that transgender people aren’t. With this, I don’t think anyone denies the biology as the strawman implies. I don’t know any serious trans person who denies that they have the chromosomes of the gender they were assigned at birth, but ultimately these social norms of gender have existed for thousands of years before we discovered chromosomal sex in 1905. Transphobes like Rowling bombard us with ‘concerns’ that allowing trans women to go about at trans women might result in people pretending to be trans in order to assault people, and other concerns that might at first appear rational, but are insane. The idea that a creepy man might fake being trans in order to get into women’s bathrooms undetected is berserk when you think about it. If someone’s going to do that: go into women’s spaces to sexually assault women, why would they bother pretending to be trans? It’s a level down solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist.
It’s a bit like adoption; if someone adopts a child, they are called their parent. People don’t go around telling adoptive parents that they’re not really the parent of that child because they are not biologically related to them, because that would be absurd. Adoptive parents assume the social role of being parents; they take care of and responsibility for their child, and thus are considered to be parents. Of course, when children need healthcare to detect serious hereditary diseases, the distinction between biological and adoptive parents needs to be made, but we don’t refuse to call adoptive parents ‘parents’ because of there not being a biological link.
We also, however, must talk about nonbinary people, because gender isn’t a binary, it’s a spectrum. You might think that this isn’t the case, but you’ve probably already seen the gender spectrum in action. You might have seen women who present as less feminine or men who present as less masculine than others. With these two examples, we can’t necessarily say that they are just as masculine or feminine as the more masculine or feminine people who present as the same gender, and thus they are at a different place along that spectrum. So, if the spectrum exists, then the space in the middle is the ‘it’s complicated’ space of non-binary. NB people don’t see themselves as being one or the other, and NB as a label encompasses a bunch of different gender identities that refer to specific gender expressions along the spectrum. Generally (though not always), NB people prefer to be referred to with they/them pronouns, and while using singular they might sound weird at first, it eventually just becomes natural.
It is clear that trans people are the genders they identify as. They take the hormones of their target gender, they take on the general appearance of their target gender, and they assume many of the social elements of their gender. They are the gender they identify as, and if you are still not on board with this, you have got to realise that generally, when people identify as a gender, go about as that gender, they are that gender.
Things, though, may get much worse. With people like Boris Johnson in power, and the Conservative Party waging a Culture war against seemingly any social progress of this nature, as a response to the Black Lives Matter protests last year – with statues seemingly being prioritised over people’s lives, we need to ensure we don’t go backward. This is ultimately about more than trans rights. It’s about the power shift that Abigail talked about in her video. It’s about countering the prevailing wind of backward progress with a force of solidarity against the current entrenched power structures. It’s about building a society that doesn’t just tolerate but accepts and gives equal rights to all people and reacts with compassion rather than defensiveness.