LITURGY OF THE POWERS by Carl R. Trueman for First Things
The trans revolution reached new heights of absurdity last week when the BBC asked Anneliese Dodds, the Labour party’s shadow secretary for women and equalities, to define “woman.” Dodds proved singularly incapable of doing so; after saying that “it does depend what the context is,” she equivocated for several minutes and refused to give a direct answer. Her party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, later came to the rescue, telling Pink News that “trans women are women.” That is not, of course, an argument. In fact, by using the term “woman” without offering a definition, Starmer merely begs the question. But arguments and definitions are somewhat passé in our current political climate. Uncritical and obsequious recitation of the liturgical response that the progressive lobby demands is the order of the day. That not even all trans people buy into this mantra is never mentioned. They have, to use trendy progressive jargon, been made “invisible” by the political powers that be.
Dodds made a pitiful spectacle; she is an ironic victim of the anti-culture of endless inclusion that is now consuming the West. To be qualified for a job, one must have a basic understanding of the specific task at hand. The car mechanic needs to know what a car is; the brain surgeon needs to be able to recognize the brain. A politician tasked with safeguarding women’s rights should therefore know what a woman is and be able to articulate that understanding in public statements. “What is a woman?” hardly seems an unexpected or unfair question to ask the shadow secretary for women. And yet she fluffed it.
The rationale for the transgender movement is couched in arcane and rebarbative prose. But its underlying dynamic is nonetheless straightforward. It is based upon negations—denials and repudiations of traditional categories. Such categories, the gender theorists claim, create the illusion of an authority grounded in nature, posit ideological forms as the truth, and thus marginalize and exclude any who do not fit. By this logic, any definition of “woman” (or anything else, for that matter) sets up conceptual boundaries that inevitably exclude some people and establish new structures of power. That is why gender theory has moved beyond Judith Butler—she still acknowledges an underlying binary male-female conception based on biology, which feminists from Shulamith Firestone to Donna Haraway to Sophie Lewis have identified as tyrannical and alienating. A philosophy built on negations is a philosophy that can never build up—it can only tear down.