I. ANTI-JEWISH RACISM AND TRANSPHOBIA IN LIBERATORY IMAGINATIONS
“Racism and patriarchal discourses/practices are similar, in that both forms of signification serve to naturalise certain ascriptive differences: racism constructs human variation as codifying inherent and immutable difference, represents it as ‘racial’ and maps this imputed difference on to social collectivities; patriarchal moves invoke sex as a pre-given ‘fact’ that represents men and women as ‘naturally’ different, such that women’s subordinate position is legitimised as deriving from innate differences between men and women. Both sets of signification figure the body as a bearer of immutable difference whether or not this putative difference is represented as biological or cultural.” (Brah, 1996: 156-157)
A dominant tendency of the academic and activist Left, and a marginal and mostly activist current of so-called ‘gender critical’ feminists, who nonetheless have remarkable mainstream appeal and audience, house in their ideological midst, the reactionary myths of (respectively) ‘the Zionist lobby’ and ‘the trans lobby’ as invisible and excessively powerful, omnipresent and destructive threats of the Other to the Self. The presence of anti-Jewish racism and transphobia in these leftist milieux have been made ideologically possible by the reification of the ideas of ‘race’ and ‘sex’ in their anti-racist and feminist imaginations. When ‘race’ and ‘sex’ are considered material rather than ideological constructs shaped by and shaping a material reality, and when ‘race’ and ‘sex’ are mobilised as objects of opposition and subjects to mobilise from, the goal of human liberation is self-defeated because inadvertent legitimation is provided to the political Right. As Judith Butler (2021a) warns, the sex/gender dichotomy gives credence to a global anti-gender movement that “insists that sex is biological and real, or that sex is divinely ordained, and that gender is a destructive fiction, taking down both “man” and “civilization””.
The ability of the Left to see the crucial similarity between the ideas of ‘race’ and ‘sex’ has been hindered by the legacy in feminist thought of the sex/gender dichotomy. As I will go on to show, this dichotomy provides the basis for transphobia on the Left. The sex/gender dichotomy originated from efforts to critique the idea of biology-as-destiny and to distinguish between racism and sexism, as Brah (1996: 157-158) elaborates:
“It was argued that, whereas racism inscribed inequality through a mobilisation of biological notions of ‘races’ when none existed except as social categories, sexism utilised the already existing biological sexual differences as the basis for institutionalising unequal treatment of the sexes. Butler (1990), among others, takes issue with the sex/gender distinction. She asks whether ostensibly natural facts of sex might not also be historically produced discursive formations, so that, if the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps the construct labelled sex is as much a cultural construction as gender. […] For Butler, gender is not merely a cultural inscription of meaning on a pre-given sex, it is also the very means by which sexes themselves are established as ‘prediscursive’, prior to culture, as a politically neutral surface on which culture adds. On this view, ‘sex’ is no less a cultural construction than ‘race’ or ‘gender’ is. As such, any distinction between them is essentially a matter of the particular signifier of ‘difference’ that each of the constructs mobilises, the historically specific cultural meanings that are brought into play by each narration, and their differing effects for different categories of people.” (Brah, 1996: 157-158)
The early challenge to the sex/gender dichotomy in feminist work was important because it recognised the problematic slippage into essentialism, that is, into giving one part of sex/gender an inner nature. An equivalent dichotomy of race/ethnicity would raise a similar problem, when, in fact, both are socially constructed and co-constructed. The basic argument made by Butler is that sex is gendered. In other words, sex is neither crudely material (a fixed and innate fact delivered by Mother nature) nor a free-floating idea (disconnected from our bodies and wider reality): from the moment we are assigned a sex, we are gendered. Hence, the sex/gender dichotomy of ‘sex is nature’ and ‘gender is cultural construction’ is a false one. “Can”, Butler (1990: 6-7) asks, “we refer to a “given” sex or a “given” gender without first inquiring into how sex and/or gender is given, through what means?”; what’s more, “[a]re the ostensibly natural facts of sex discursively produced by various scientific discourses in the service of other political and social interests?” Sex does not escape gender in a world of capitalist social relations intersecting with powerful patriarchal ideas, as such, we must enquire and ascertain, “on the basis of” our “real life-process”, “the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process” (Marx, 1965: 14). Along these lines, Butler (1993: 1-2) states that ‘sex’ should be understood as an ideal construct that has been “forcibly materialized” across time, through an ongoing process in which “norms materialize” ‘sex’.
Two conclusions can be made here. One, the previous effort made by some feminists to differentiate the idea of ‘race’ and the material fact of ‘sex’ was erroneous. Two, in a contemporary moment when the limited rights of trans people are under attack, from across the political spectrum, the sex/gender dichotomy has become a powerful component of transphobia in the claim that ‘sex is real’ and ‘gender is fiction’. The emergence of ‘gender critical’ feminist organisation against trans rights is a failure to see that the rise of transgender visibility and rights opens up the vista of humanity, with new openings and possibilities for what it means to be a ‘woman’, a ‘man’ and a human being. As Butler (2021a) remarks, we ought to feel “joyous to see what trans men are doing with the category of “men””. Some feminists, however, view transgenderism as a threat to their very being, and have bunkered down and started a culture war in defence of ‘womanhood’.
The dichotomy of sex as natural and gender as cultural construction reifies, fixes and fetishizes ‘sex’ as having an inner and outer nature. The belief here, in rudimentary terms, is that a person with a vagina and breasts is innately different from a person with a penis; that all people with vaginas and breasts are intrinsically the same; that sex reassignment is a fakery, since those born as male or female will always remain so, regardless of medical intervention. Following this logic would be the claim that a person with dark toned skin is inherently different from a person with light toned skin, and so on. Reducing people to their anatomical and somatic differences is a denial of their universalism and potential to connect, their human agency, and their intersectional relationship to capitalist social relations. Moreover, reducing people to their anatomical and somatic differences overlooks the fact that it is through ever-changing and contradictory material reality and social relations that human agencies construct and shape the significations of difference which divide an otherwise universal collective of human beings and their common real-life experiences.
In her essay “Gender Critical = Gender Conservative”, Sara Ahmed (2021) reiterates that the categories which are mobilised to define and organise us by others and ourselves are “not neutral” but rather are “implicated in the worlds we are questioning”. She quotes Ann Oakley, who states, “the distinction between sex and gender does not call into question how society constructs the natural body itself”. Ahmed (2021) elucidates on how the reification and political mobilisation of ‘sex’ by ‘gender critical’ feminists is an exclusionary act:
“Sex is real. Sex is material. Sex is immutable. Sex is biology. Sex is objective. Sex is science. With these assertation about what sex is, come counter-implications about what gender is not. Gender is not real. Gender is immaterial. Gender is subjective. Gender is stereotypes. Gender is ideology.”
In the sex/gender dichotomy, the Other of ‘sex’ – ‘gender’ – has become a fantasized conspiracy of an ominous male takeover. To illustrate this, Ahmed (2021) uses the example of the group LGB Alliance who regard the recognition of ‘gender’ by Stonewall as proof of a conspiracy to derecognise and eliminate sex and same-sex attraction, and, with this, force women who are lesbians into sex with trans women (who are actually men). The turf war of women’s toilets is another case in point, where it is imagined that the trans Other, the dangerous man-in-disguise, is taking over and threatening women’s being and existence.
The parallel between racism and transphobia is striking here, as Sara Franklin (cited in Ahmed, 2021) demonstrates, in a comparison between Brexiteers seeking to enforce and defend the racialised boundary of the nation-state and ‘gender critical’ feminists urging the enforcement and defence of the boundary of the women’s toilet:
“Promising to protect the sanctity of the female toilet as the guarantor of gendered justice is, like the Brexiteer’s promise to save the United Kingdom from economic ruin, a symptom of reactionary panic and confusion. It is not a remotely credible promise, but an embittered form of nostalgia driven by myopic indignation. Like the Brexit leaders who promised to ‘take back control’ of the nation’s borders, feminism’s Brexiteers promising to rescue true womanhood are using gender as a proxy for a past they imagine they have lost, an identity they feel is threatened, and a battle in which they see themselves as both victims and as visionaries.”
The transphobia of ‘gender critical’ feminists, like the racism of Brexiteers, is based on the idea that the Other is a threat and harm to the Self through the crossing of a border and the invasion of one’s place. This imagined offensive is seen to bring destruction and loss to an idealised past. Both time and space are thought to be under attack. By making trans women an enemy of feminism, ‘gender critical’ feminists fuel the gender conservative view that anyone who does not plainly present as a man or a woman is “dangerous”, which, as Ahmed (2021) reminds us, is a patriarchal world view underpinning the “demand that people clearly be men or women”. From the stance that sex is material and unchangeable, comes the requirement that “bodies line up” (Ahmed, 2021). The ideological notion that an aspect of one-Self is, by nature, essentially different from an-Other human being is the slippery ground for those who see themselves on the political Left crisscrossing with the political Right. Hence Butler’s (2021b) statement, when discussing the contemporary fascist and authoritarian anti-gender movement, “it makes no sense for “gender critical” feminists to ally with reactionary powers in targeting trans, non-binary and genderqueer people.” Butler might also have reflected here on their previous suggestion of a necessary alliance of the global Left with Hamas and Hezbollah (see Bassi, 2010).
When the anti-racist imagination challenges racism through the language of ‘race’ and when ‘gender critical’ feminists challenge sexism through the language of ‘sex’, neither contestation investigates how the ideas of ‘race’ and ‘sex’ (over time and space) have come to fuse and intersect with capitalism and class in the exploitation and oppression of people designated the harmful ‘race’ and the wrong ‘sex’. Further still, when a progressive politics has cultural essentialism in its vista and dystopia, it perpetuates a standoff between victim and villain: because the ideological process of giving the Jewish Other and the trans Other an inner nature is a dialectical process that gives the Self an inner nature too. In other words, the Other is required to sustain the politics of the Self: identity politics needs the impure villain to sustain the purity of victimhood. The hidden but everywhere ‘Zionist lobby’ and ‘trans lobby’ are the ideal imaginary villains: the ultra-white, uber-racist Jews and the ultra-male-in-disguise trans women. Jews are seen to be complicit in a pervasive and entrenched, global and globalising Zionist network of world destructive power. Trans women are viewed as patriarchal power writ large, who are out to destroy sex-based rights and invade women’s spaces and bodies. Both anti-Jewish racism on the Left and transphobia in ‘gender critical’ feminism grossly exaggerate and distort reality, rather than assess empirical reality. Both reactionary ideologies also offer a get out clause: the option of becoming the good Jew, who publicly denounces Israel and Zionism, and the good trans person, who sees their error and de-transitions and/or seeks to limit trans rights as separate from women’s rights; these people are platformed as representatives and applauded. The rest, the majority, are the bad Jews and the bad trans people, who are delegitimised when they call out antisemitism and transphobia and are instead accused of being the manufacturers of their own apparent oppression for sinister ends. What’s more, as I will now go on to explain, anti-Jewish racism and transphobia in the leftist milieux also have in common a potential, as ideologies, to fuse.
II. THE PAST AND PRESENT FUSION OF ANTI-JEWISH RACISM AND TRANSPHOBIA
“Given the amazing profusion – perhaps even con-fusion – in studies of racism which remain oblivious to the centrality of gender and sexuality in the constitution of racism, it is necessary to reiterate explicitly that racism is always a gendered and sexualised phenomenon. First, the idea of ‘race’ is essentially an essentialist narrative of sexualised difference. It is an allegory of centring Western dynastic genealogies of the ‘ascent’ and ‘descent’ of ‘Man’. That is, it is a trope for the ‘Western’ heterosexual economy of desire. Discourses of ‘racial difference’ are saturated with metaphors of origin, common ancestry, blood, kith and kin. The figure of the woman is a constitutive moment in the racialised desire for economic and political control.” (Brah, 1996: 156)
From the racialisation of masculine black women vis-à-vis feminine white women in the slave economy of the Americas, to the racialisation of effeminate Bengali men vis-à-vis masculine white men in colonial India (Brah, 1996), racist ideology has always been fused with the ideas of ‘sex’, ‘gender’ and sexuality. Indeed, the association of racism with sexuality was a central aspect of the early alliance between racism and respectability, with anthropologists claiming that black people had uncontrollable sexual urges and Hitler writing in Mein Kampf of the “Jewish boys lurking at street corners, directing flourishing traffic in prostitution and white slavery” (Mosse, 1985: xiv). Racism as an ideology was able to legitimate societal norms of normality and abnormality, thus it helped to cast out, as abnormal and unrespectable, the so-called Jews and blacks, along with the homosexuals, the insane and the perpetual criminals (ibid). Indeed, the French novelist Marcel Proust, Mosse (1985: xiv) notes, labelled Jews and homosexuals together, the “accursed race”. More specifically, early racism offered a response to the anxieties stemming from the age of modernity’s rapid change, including its industrialisation and urbanisation. Appeals to nature “served to reinforce human control over a world forever on the brink of chaos” (Mosse, 1985: xix). The racialised and sexualised Others of the Jews and the homosexuals, who were seen to congregate in the big cities, represented the perceived severance and degeneration of humans from nature. As Mosse (1985: xx) remarks of the fascist reaction against everyday urban life in Germany’s Weimer Republic: “National Socialism, Hitler maintained, had put an end to Jewish cultural predominance by saving art from its embrace by homosexuals and “manly women” […]”.
The historical intersection of transphobia and anti-Jewish racism, documented by Joni Alizah Cohen (2018), was a response to the gay and trans liberation movement of Weimar Germany, including the founding in 1919 of the Institute of Sexual Science in Berlin by the Jewish Marxist campaigner and scientist Magnus Hirschfield. Notably, Hirschfield led the world’s first advocacy group for gay and trans people, while opposing the eugenic science of sexology that influenced the sexual and gender politics of National Socialism. Cohen (2018) states:
“Eugenic sexology understood homosexuality essentially through the lens of gender, specifically as the corruption of the male body and psyche by femininity. […] Transness is here understood as a dysgenic biological defect that must be eliminated for the health of the species. […] For his crime of arguing against this strand of eugenic science it is not surprising that Hitler is reported to have named Magnus Hirschfeld “The most dangerous Jew in Germany” […] The Institute was seen by the Nazis as a hub for Jewish Marxist intellectuals and their nefarious plans to undermine the purity of Aryan racial biology and culture.”
The National Socialist cultural and biological war against the Jews operated through the ideas of ‘racial’ purity and a natural equilibrium of ‘sex / gender’ and sexuality. As Cohen (2018) further remarks:
“There is a deep anxiety expressed in Nazi and far-right thinking which is constantly concerned about the biological undermining of the white race yes, but also the white male, and his hormone balance, his testosterone level. […] We know this in our understanding of Nazi race theory, but what has been neglected is the centrality of endocrinological purity and security to Nazi ideology. In this sense, endocrinological purity is the gender/sex corollary of the Nazi eugenic project of racial purity. […] Just as the “rootless cosmopolitan” Jew represents abstraction by being rooted in no Nation, trans people demonstrate a rootless cosmopolitanism of gender/sex – with disregard for rootedness of sex and the allegiances of gender. She is a product of a culture so abstracted and so sick, in their eyes, that it actively encourages the corruption of the purity of biological sex and the destruction of gender roles so essential in the battle for racial primary. For Nazism, the idea that Aryan men of good stock would be actively disavowing masculinity, virility and fertility – and doing so with hormonal and surgical intervention into biological sex – is too much to bear. As such, trans women, and indeed trans people in general (though the majority of the bile is directed at those assigned male at birth), are added to the list of abstractions to be eradicated in the actualization of the National Socialist project.”
It is the Jew, however, who is viewed as inventing transgenderism as one of its weapons to jeopardise the purity and supremacy of the Aryan race (Cohen, 2018).
Greenesmith and Lorber (2021: 40) warn against “an age of conspiracy theories”, in which the white nationalist movement in the United States is intersecting with the ‘gender critical’ feminist movement in targeting trans and Jewish Others. In a far Right narrative of ‘white genocide’, Jews are identified as secretly plotting to destroy the ‘white race’ through various means, including liberalising societal attitudes on trans rights. The Jewish-themed show Transparent and high-profile activists like Jennifer Pritzker and Jazz Jennings are held up as proof of a Jewish-backed trans movement which is leading the ‘white genocide’ movement: destroying the reproductive basis of men, women and the nuclear family. This narrative particularly focuses on the supposed Jewish attack on the sexuality of children, echoing the antisemitic discourse of blood libels: the Jewish ritualistic murder of non-Jewish children for their blood. Indeed, Greenesmith and Lorber (2021: 41) note, research on anti-trans rhetoric in the United Kingdon is obsessed with the idea of “a “children’s blood cult,” “children sacrificed to appease [the] trans lobby,” and an “international, all powerful, wealthy, and totally out-of-control trans lobby””.
The idea that Jews are behind the destruction of sex by nebulous gender identity is illustrated in the work of the anti-trans feminist Jennifer Bilek (Greenesmith and Lorber, 2021). Bilek is an independent journalist and blogger who claims that especially rich and powerful Jews are behind a capitalist transhumanism project to profit from the destruction of the natural essence of human beings by science and technology (Peterson, 2021; Rabinowitz, 2022). Specifically, Bilek (2018, 2022) argues that the trans agenda, which preys and experiments on the most vulnerable, children, is part of this wider transhumanism project funded by the billionaire Jews, Jennifer Pritzker, Penny Pritzker, J. B. Pritzker, George Soros, and Martine Rothblatt, and mega-rich gay men, like Tim Gill and John Stryker. In the American conservative The Federalist magazine, Bilek (2018) states:
“Bodily diversity appears to be the core issue, not gender dysphoria; that and unmooring people from their biology via language distortions, to normalize altering human biology. Institutionalizing transgender ideology does just this. This ideology is being promoted as a civil rights issue by wealthy, white, men with enormous influence who stand to personally benefit from their political activities.”
Bilek (2022) goes on to warn, in an article in the American right-wing and Jewish Tablet magazine (titled “The Billionaire Family Pushing Synthetic Sex Identities”):
“the Pritzker cousins and others may well be on their way to engineering a new way to be human. But what could possibly explain the abrupt drive of wealthy elites to deconstruct who and what we are and to manipulate children’s sex characteristics in clinics now spanning the globe while claiming new rights for those being deconstructed? Perhaps it is profit. Perhaps it is the pleasure of seeing one’s own personal pleasures writ large.”
There is no actual thing as transgender, Bilek (2021a) asserts, in an interview with the UK-based ‘gender critical’ feminist advocacy group Women’s Declaration International, rather, transgenderism is a corporate fiction which has been invented to sell disembodiment. The contemporary moment of transgenderism, she explains, follows a trajectory that began with the severance of humans from nature; what’s left is the final domain for capitalist colonisation: the body and its roots, sex. Transgenderism, Bilek (2021a) reveals, is the invention of wealthy white men who have fetishes and want to normalise their fetishes. In another interview, with the radical feminist and ‘gender critical’ Object UK, Bilek (2021b) distils the trans agenda down to excessively rich and powerful men with autogynephilia, like “the dude” Jennifer Pritzker, who desire to claim female biology as their own. The transgender industry, she concludes, is a massive medical-industrial complex connected to big Pharma and big Fertility: trans is commerce (Bilek, 2021a). The interviewer of Women’s Declaration International commends Bilek for her exceptional bravery, while the interviewer of Object UK praises her as the pioneer who has single-handedly uncovered the money behind the gender identity industry and revolutionised how gender identity is seen, by proving that the trans movement is in no way grassroots or human rights based. Whilst Bilek describes her political history as longstanding on the Left, on the trans issue, she openly acknowledges her “incredible allies” and friends on the political Right (Bilek 2021b). The interviewer of Object UK defends this Left-Right alliance as part of a wider ‘gender critical’ feminist strategy: on this issue, “we work with the Right because the Left won’t have us, and it’s too important to let it go” (cited in Bilek, 2021b).
In sum, currents of the leftist and feminist milieux accommodate and promote a transphobic, homophobic and antisemitic reactionary anti-capitalism, in which capital is personified as the Jewish and gay male Other who has excessive power and unnatural sexual fetishes for female biology, and (with this perverse sexual drive and power) is colonising and profiting from the violation and destruction of the female ‘sex’ through transgenderism. This conspiratorial anti-capitalism crisscrosses and parallels historical and contemporary racist and fascist ideas of the sexually deviant and harmful Jews and homosexuals, who together represent the degeneration of ‘race’ and the divorce of humans from nature, including the pulling apart of women and men from the natural order of sex.
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