Transgender issues and capitalism
There’s an issue causing much aggravation in the UK, the ‘issue’ of transgender people. You will find it in parliament and being talked about in all corners of the country. So, what do transgender people and their supporters argue? Many put a soft-left liberal case against discrimination and for tolerance but there is also a ‘gender socialist’ theory, based on a part of Marx’s analysis of society. This part of Marx’s theory to is found in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, where Marx divided society into two parts, the base and superstructure; the base is the economic mode of production that creates and informs the superstructure of a society, while the latter is the social, legal and political apparatus that reinforces the mode of production while also influencing it; the base makes and changes the superstructure but the superstructure can also react on the base.
Analysis of prior modes of production and the many superstructural features arising from them implies that Marx’s theory was correct: settled agriculture created patriarchy, feudalism created the divine right of kings and capitalism created individualism. None of those societies existed in isolation from one another, and every mode of production so far has retained elements of the society that it displaced. These may be primarily cosmetic features, such as the UK’s constitutional monarchy, or they may be more deeply systemic, such as patriarchy. Capitalism too has incorporated superstructural features from prior societies, and just like all prior societies, it may be incapable of ending these features, indeed it may intensify them. Patriarchy has retained its power under capitalism with 88 percent of billionaires being men and 19 CEOs being men for every 1 woman; this isn’t said to beg for female representation under capitalism but rather to show that capitalism perpetuates male-dominated societies just as the systems before it did.
Patriarchy is not the only legacy that capitalism retains. Gender is one such legacy, an ancient and foundational idea which we’ve built cultural concepts on and around. Placing these concepts on top of sex started before we can even remember. And capitalist institutions continue this extended delusion because they significantly rely on, and so encourage, gender’s continued existence for the sake of economic sustainability. Under capitalism, gender is informed by the roles we undertake to produce the next generation of workers, this is called reproductive labour. These roles can be anything from the actual act of reproduction to childcare and education; femininity under capitalism has historically been defined by the performance of the role of the primary caregiver to children, while masculinity has been defined by performing the role of both provider and protector. Capitalist gender lazily assigns people these gender roles in part due to its own apathy towards ending these prejudices but also to make working-class people enforce their own oppression under the threat of being considered unfeminine or unmasculine and thus being rejected by the mainstream culture of capitalist society. The effect of this is two-fold, to provide identity and to create the next generation of workers for the capitalist machine. Gender forces an identity on every person, which it attempts to justify by basing itself upon biological sex while imposing cultural roles and expectations that have nothing to do with genitals, chromosomes or anything remotely biological. Gender is based rather loosely on semi-plausible and simplified abstractions, i.e, men are the providers because they are stronger and women stay at home because they are less strong. This is inaccurate for several reasons: some women are stronger than some men, not all work is based on strength especially in the modern world, there’s no evidence that women are naturally more able than men to raise children but rather that they’re schooled into parenthood, and many more beyond those. Most gender roles are learned, forced onto young children so that they’re efficient at producing and being members of the workforce. It would be more logical, efficient and empathetic to the human race as a whole to liberate ourselves from these roles and simply fulfil the roles which we wish to.
Transgender people revolt
Many binary transgender people (those who transition from male to female or vice versa) often seem to not challenge capitalist gender at all but rather perform its stereotypical features aggressively to make themselves the gender they identify as. While on the surface this seems correct, trans people don’t perform gender stereotypes to become the gender they identify as (no trans man believes that trousers make them a boy); rather they perform the stereotypes in order to be seen by capitalist society as the gender they identify as and to protect themselves from the discrimination and violence they might face if they don’t fully ‘pass’ (succeed in being perceived) as that gender. A person who is willing to cross the lines of socially-conditioned gender, regardless of reproductive ability and conditioning into parenthood, is revolting against ideas of womanhood and manhood as defined by involvement in reproductive labour; the transgender person undertakes the same act of revolt as the lesbians and gays of the 1960s who refused to participate in traditional reproductive labour and the women’s liberation movements who refused to define themselves by their ability to reproduce.
But capitalism, as always, sets people against each other rather than acts for the good of humanity. We can see the backlash against the increased awareness of socially-constructed gender through the October 2021 BBC article ‘We’re being pressured into sex by some trans women’ by Catherine Lowbridge. This article was an attack on trans women, claiming that the alleged actions of a few trans women could be seen as representative of all trans women, based on a study conducted by a dubious group with only 80 online participants (Get the L out, Lesbians at Ground Zero), providing merely anecdotal evidence and including the opinions of Lily Cade, an accused rapist, who would go on to use the attention she got from the article to publish a manifesto calling for the lynching of trans women (www.them.us/story/lily-cade-violence-terfs-bbc). In the article (which the BBC has since changed) the writer cited Lily Cade without mentioning that she is an accused rapist (despite being told this by a transgender activist), skims over the unreliable nature of the study and claims not to have talked to a transgender person for an alternative viewpoint. This biased piece of propaganda from the BBC betrays the prejudice in capitalist society against those who attempt to change its superstructure in this way and the fear that this may disrupt and change capitalism.
Every socialist who understands the composition of society should expose and oppose such prejudice, armed with the knowledge that changing just the superstructure would merely be soft-left liberalism, and that changing just the base, without disrupting prior ways of thinking, would not work; a socialist society with a capitalist mindset would collapse in on itself. Socialists are liberationists, liberationists from capitalist ideas of race, gender and sexuality because liberation is incompatible with capitalism as a system and, of course, liberationists should be socialists, to free themselves from wage slavery, gender prejudices and state power.