Guest Post: Derrick Jensen Responds to John Stoltenberg

8 Feb

“And one more time. Right now women in many parts of India are struggling for these very same rights that in the U.S. are being eroded: they want segregated public restrooms because that will enable them to attend school. Read that sentence again: girls are afraid to go to school for fear they will be raped when they go to the bathroom. Would Andrea Dworkin be unwilling to support these women and girls in this struggle?

If the answer is no, then she would be labeled as “transphobic.”

About a year ago, pro-feminist author John Stoltenberg wrote a very disturbing article entitled “Andrea Dworkin Was Not Transphobic” for the website Feminist Times. In response, I wrote an open letter, which you can read here. His response is in the comments.

When I received this response from Stoltenberg – a man who has been undeniably influential to me and my pro-feminist development – I shared it with my mentor and friend Derrick Jensen, who was equally upset. Derrick is one of the foremost radical environmentalists in the world today and perhaps, along with Lierre Keith, the greatest single influence on my worldview and life. His response to Stoltenberg is absolutely spot-on, and he’s graciously granted me permission to host it here.

Derrick Jensen responds to John Stoltenberg

I’d like to thank you both for the above exchange, which is both illuminating and disturbing.

As a fellow writer, I understand…

View original post 3,362 more words

20 Responses to “Guest Post: Derrick Jensen Responds to John Stoltenberg”

  1. morag99 2015/02/10 at 6:39 pm #

    Hi Miep. Ah, it’s quieter over here than it is over there! Well, I wanted to leave you a comment, and hear (if you have some time) what you think of this.

    You see, I haven’t yet read Dworkin’s Woman Hating, so I found a PDF online, and have been reading parts of the chapter, “Androgyny, Fucking, and Community” where she makes the statement (on page 183): “We are, clearly, a multi-sexed species which has its sexuality spread along a vast fluid continuum where the elements called male and female are not discrete.”

    Have you read the book, or this chapter, or the context of this particular passage?

    Because, by golly, it does sound — in its own way — a little queer-theoriy-ish, a tad Butler-eqse: i.e., the idea that biology itself is a social construction. I mean, it does seem that she is not talking, here, about the violent imposition of sex-roles or stereotypes on female bodies, but about biological sex per se. Just like John is insisting. Oh, dear.

    What do you think?

    Anyway, a book written by a radical feminist in 1974 has very little to do with the argument raging right now over whether male transgenderists have the right to silence us, and run rough-shod all over women and our right to define our bodies, spaces and liberation on our own terms. Nonetheless … as a point of fact, it does appear that Dworkin, in 1974, was seriously questioning the discreteness of the male and female sexes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Miep 2015/02/10 at 7:14 pm #

      Hi Morag! Yes, he is technically correct, but I question the relevance. Many radfems, including some very active gender abolitionists, originally sympathized with male transgenders. I think we expected it to be a pretty isolated thing involving confused homosexual men. During Dworkin’s time the phenomenon of men insisting they should be seen as lesbians and having no intention of undergoing genital surgery was unheard of, far as I know. So it’s really kind of pointless to address what she thought back then when she did not live long enough for her views to evolve one way or the other. I don’t like the way she’s being posthumously used to support the transgender cause, it’s an obvious attempt to create a wedge issue.

      Liked by 2 people

      • morag99 2015/02/10 at 7:37 pm #

        Thanks for your thoughts. I too, question the relevance. It’s an entirely different situation — a different world, actually, in so many ways — now. Patriarchy is always evolving, always undoing the work of feminists.

        Still, I’m kind of surprised. She wasn’t speaking only about transsexuality, for which she gives a social constructionist, rather than biological, explanation (transgenderists understand this is what she was saying in 1974 — that transsexuality would disappear along with the “polarity” — and therefore still consider her “transphobic”). She was giving serious consideration to sex, itself, being a social construction. I don’t suppose should could have anticipated that the concept of immutable sex would be replaced by gender essentialism.

        Good grief, I am so sick of gender-related terms and language being used to obscure the main issue: that women are oppressed as female people. I have been trying lately to purge from my vocabulary all talk of “gender.” Not only because it’s purposely, or accidentally, conflated with “sex,” but because it’s almost always trap of one kind or another. Better to speak of sex, and what is projected and enacted upon females because of their sex.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Miep 2015/02/10 at 7:24 pm #

      What is also historically relevant is that genital surgery was originally considered a last-ditch treatment for intractable body dysphoria, and that now we’ve gotten to the point where some members of the transgender community refer to people diagnosed with such as “truscum.” This is a paradigm shift huge enough to take one’s breath away, we are obviously dealing with an entirely new phenomenon, and a fairly recently developing one.


      • morag99 2015/02/10 at 7:41 pm #

        Yes, yes. These newly-named “truscum” (genderists have an ugly name for everyone they have to silence) were, I assume, the people Dworkin (and other radical feminists) empathized with.

        Liked by 1 person

      • gorgon 2015/03/01 at 3:11 pm #

        actually, historically genital surgery was originally a ‘treatment’ give to GAY people to ‘cure’ them by giving their minds–which were clearly resisting unto death the change over to heterosexuality–the ‘correct’ (according to heterosexuality and gender norms) body.

        It’s a fact. Originally these surgeries were given in a barbaric attempt to “cure” gay people of their horrible “gayness.”

        That’s the history that trans people DO NOT want to acknowledge. and that is why trans surgery is so popular in Iran.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Maureen 2015/02/12 at 11:43 am #

    I hope you don’t mind my barging in here, but I have also been thinking about this question. I don’t think this was all that unusual a thing for radical feminists to say in the 1970’s. Monique Wittig, for example, made the same claim arguing that there are as many sexes as there are individuals. And Wittig was clearly what we now call a radical feminist. She understood sex as a class hierarchy with women as the subordinated sex class and argued for the abolition of the categories man and woman. But I don’t think they were talking about “sex” as we now use the word, i.e. to contrast biological sex from sex roles, or what we now call gender. I believe this was related to the notion of androgyny and androgynous identity — the idea that if there were no rigid sex roles, everyone would have a combination of “female” and “male” traits, and we would all have our own combination of these traits and, thus, our own individual sex or at least a wide variety of sexes. Dworkin said that a “community built on androgynous identity will mean the end of transsexuality as we know it. Either the transsexual will be able to expand his/her sexuality into a fluid androgyny, or, as roles disappear, the phenomenon of transsexuality will disappear and that energy will be transformed into new modes of sexual identity and behavior.” I think that the “fluid androgyny” she talks about is what she meant by a continuum of sex. It was something you could expand into. It had nothing to do with your biology. I believe it was really about “sexual identity and behavior” rather than biological sex and that that is why she speaks of the “elements that we call male and female” not being discrete, rather than saying that the biological categories of male and female are not discrete. She also refers to sexuality as though it is interchangeable with sex, and we, of course, don’t use these terms interchangeably anymore. So it can be challenging to parse (at least for me) It is interesting to note though, that in the comments to the Feminist Times article, John Stoltenberg said that Andrea abandoned the idea of androgyny shortly after the publication of Woman Hating and he writes that “Reading that essay now, it’s clear why the word “androgyny” no longer worked for her as a concept or strategy: She had begun advocating the political project of ending the hierarchical sex-class system altogether.” I realize that I am just speculating here, but I believe that if she abandoned the concept of androgyny, then she must also have abandoned the notion that we are a “multi-sex species” as I think they were inextricably linked. I’m also old enough to remember the feminism of the 70s. (Perhaps you are, too; I don’t know.) But I think it would have been viewed as simply bizarre at the time for someone to say that biological sex exists on a continuum. I mean I find it bizarre now, but if I had heard this in the 70s, I would have found it even more bizarre. But the idea of androgyny appealed to a lot of people then, or at least to a lot of feminists and gay men, as I recall. But as both of you have indicated, times change, theories evolve. Radical feminists no longer speak of androgyny, but of gender abolition.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Miep 2015/02/12 at 12:20 pm #

      Yes, that makes sense, thanks.


    • morag99 2015/02/12 at 8:29 pm #

      I agree with all of this, Maureen. Someone else made a similar comment over there about feminist theories of sex/gender being in their infancy at that time.

      But now Stoltenberg is back on Jonah’s blog talking about “sex essentialism” in metaphysical terms. I replied that “metaphysical sex” is exactly what feminists reject (and what transgenderists embrace). We’ll see how much more confusing and obscure can get …

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maureen 2015/02/13 at 12:59 am #

        Yeah, more than anything what I am seeing is that he is utterly confused about what radical feminists believe and doesn’t seem to want to be bothered to learn about it. So much easier to create a straw woman and knock it down.

        Liked by 2 people

      • morag99 2015/02/13 at 1:56 am #

        Yes, Maureen, he’s utterly confused. But he’s not confused about who he supports: male transgenderists. Well, this is hardly a revelation.

        Still. Something really brought this home for me, in a slap-in-the-face kind of way … tonight, I came across a fairly recent article by trans MRA, Cristian Williams, about how radical feminists are “heteronormative” and support patriarchy. The title of the article is — get this — “Sex Essentialism.”

        I skimmed it over and, in it, Williams misrepresents, berates, and ridicules Sheila Jeffreys, Gallus, and (mainly) Germaine Greer as TERFs and “biological essentialists,” and he contrasts these evil women with Andrea Dworkin, who, apparently, was an acceptable woman/feminist in his estimation.

        Anyway, the upshot is that Williams boasted (elsewhere) that John Stoltenberg “favourited” his rubbish “Sex Essentialism” article and also tweeted it. John endorsed and advertised Williams’ misogynist rantings and ravings. So, while Mr. Stoltenberg’s recent writings on “sex essentialism” may be incomprehensible, willy-nilly and nonsensical, he’s VERY clear about supporting men who write hate propaganda against us. Meanwhile, he’s patting himself on the back for having learned to be “brave” from Andrea.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Maureen 2015/02/13 at 4:39 am #

          Oh Jeez, and he’s still calling himself a radical feminist on his twitter bio. I’m glad you found this. He couldn’t be much clearer than that. Yes, he is a transgenderist/queer theorist, but as long as he keeps calling himself a radical feminist he will be held up by the transgender/queer theory brigade as an example of a radfem who is not a TERF. They always like to say there are radfems out there who support transgenderism. I’ve never met one. I’ve never seen a blog post or comment by one. I’m pretty sure they don’t exist. But, of course, Stoltenberg is now trying to make it appear that Andrea Dworkin was one of those “good” radfems. If I had lots of time, I’d like to write an article called “The reinvention of dead feminists.” I have seen Andrea Dworkin, Audre Lorde and Monique Wittig all referred to as queer theorists or queer women by various misogynists on the internet.. The attitude seems to be, “Hey, there all dead, so let’s just make up stuff about what they believed. They can’ stop us and it helps our cause.”

          Okay, as much as I am enjoying this conversation, I am leaving the country tomorrow and still haven’t packed or done anything else to get ready. So I will have to check out of this conversation, at least for a while, but I will keep reading.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Miep 2015/02/13 at 5:15 am #

            Maureen: I quite like “The Reinvention Of Dead Feminists!”

            Meanwhile, safe travels. <3


      • morag99 2015/02/13 at 11:15 am #

        I also wish you safe and happy travels, Maureen. Look forward to hearing from you again!


    • gorgon 2015/03/01 at 3:12 pm #

      yes, maureen, I came to say just what you said, but now I don’t have to! You said it well.


  3. Miep 2015/02/13 at 2:17 am #

    I very much appreciate y’all commenting here. fwiw, I’m nowhere near as tolerant about commenters as Jonah is. He’s a good guy, he’s doing his thing, I’m doing my thing. It’s okay to play things differently. He’s nice, I’m merciless. Carry on :-)


    • morag99 2015/02/13 at 2:26 am #

      Just to clarify, Miep: are you referring to commenters on his blog that you would never allow to comment on your own blog?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Miep 2015/02/13 at 3:03 am #

        I am saying that I have .0003% patience with trolling. I equally have zero patience with crap arguments I’ve read dozens of times before, ad hominems, and whining. I have occasionally posted spam comments when they are unusually entertaining.

        Otherwise, this is my house, these are my friends, no one is automatically entitled to a voice here. I am like a good newspaper 50 years ago, they didn’t print most letters either. Add something helpful or fuck off.

        Please let me know if this did not adequately answer your question, dear Morag.

        Liked by 1 person

      • morag99 2015/02/13 at 3:22 am #

        Gotcha. There is just no value in hearing the same shit again and again. Mercilessness is the way to go!

        I suppose our comments, here, have attracted the trolls and you’re now being bombarded with their nonsense, crap “arguments.” How nice for us (though, unfortunately, not for you) that we don’t have to see them.

        Thank you, Miep.


        • Miep 2015/02/13 at 3:51 am #

          Oddly enough, I rarely get trolled. That could change, but it wouldn’t last for long.


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