Camille Paglia Credit: Michael Lionstar via New York Times
Camille Paglia is at it again: trend iconoclasm. In a recent email interview with Jonathan Last of The Weekly Standard, the libertarian (“pro-sex”, “Amazonian”) feminist describes herself as transgender, but goes on to criticise the current campaign for transgender rights.
Mr Last begins by asking why there hasn’t been a showdown between feminism and transgenderism. On the contrary, he notes, La Leche League International has “bowed completely to the transgender project.” He says:
Their central text is (for now) The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, but they've officially changed their stance to include men and fathers who breastfeed. The actual wording of their policy is wonderful: “It is now recognized that some men are able to breastfeed.” Left unsaid is the corollary that some women are biologically unable to breastfeed. Though this would go against the League's founding principles, one supposes. What does one make of all of this?
Paglia replies that there have been very public clashes in Britain involving Germaine Greer (who denies that men who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery are actually “women”) and Australian feminist Sheila Jeffreys (who identifies transsexualism with misogyny and describes it as a form of “mutilation”). Paglia goes on to say:
Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave, which I think has been produced by far more complicated psychological and sociological factors than current gender discourse allows. Furthermore, I condemn the escalating prescription of puberty blockers (whose long-term effects are unknown) for children. I regard this practice as a criminal violation of human rights.
It is certainly ironic how liberals who posture as defenders of science when it comes to global warming (a sentimental myth unsupported by evidence) flee all reference to biology when it comes to gender. Biology has been programmatically excluded from women's studies and gender studies programs for almost 50 years now. Thus very few current gender studies professors and theorists, here and abroad, are intellectually or scientifically prepared to teach their subjects.
The cold biological truth is that sex changes are impossible. Every single cell of the human body remains coded with one's birth gender for life. Intersex ambiguities can occur, but they are developmental anomalies that represent a tiny proportion of all human births.
In a democracy, everyone, no matter how nonconformist or eccentric, should be free from harassment and abuse. But at the same time, no one deserves special rights, protections, or privileges on the basis of their eccentricity. The categories “trans-man” and “trans-woman” are highly accurate and deserving of respect. But like Germaine Greer and Sheila Jeffreys, I reject state-sponsored coercion to call someone a “woman” or a “man” simply on the basis of his or her subjective feeling about it. We may well take the path of good will and defer to courtesy on such occasions, but it is our choice alone.
Her final jibe at La Leche and motherhood is better left unquoted. It merely suggests that not everyone who appreciates her realism about sex and gender will agree with her for long about the ways she applies them.