By Alona Ferber
22 September 2020
Thirty years ago, the philosopher Judith Butler*, now 64, published a book that revolutionised popular attitudes on gender. Gender Trouble, the work she is perhaps best known for, introduced ideas of gender as performance. It asked how we define “the category of women” and, as a consequence, who it is that feminism purports to fight for. Today, it is a foundational text on any gender studies reading list, and its arguments have long crossed over from the academy to popular culture.
In the three decades since Gender Trouble was published, the world has changed beyond recognition. In 2014, TIME declared a “Transgender Tipping Point”. Butler herself has moved on from that earlier work, writing widely on culture and politics. But disagreements over biological essentialism remain, as evidenced by the tensions over trans rights within the feminist movement.
How does Butler, who is Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature at Berkeley, see this debate today? And does she see a way to break the impasse? Butler recently exchanged emails with the New Statesman about this issue. The exchange has been edited.
Alona Ferber: In Gender Trouble, you wrote that “contemporary feminist debates over the meanings of gender lead time and again to a certain sense of trouble, as if the indeterminacy of gender might eventually culminate in the failure of feminism”. How far do ideas you explored in that book 30 years ago help explain how the trans rights debate has moved into mainstream culture and politics?
Judith Butler: I want to first question whether trans-exclusionary feminists are really the same as mainstream feminists. If you are right to identify the one with the other, then a feminist position opposing transphobia is a marginal position. I think this may be wrong. My wager is that most feminists support trans rights and oppose all forms of transphobia. So I find it worrisome that suddenly the trans-exclusionary radical feminist position is understood as commonly accepted or even mainstream. I think it is actually a fringe movement that is seeking to speak in the name of the mainstream, and that our responsibility is to refuse to let that happen.
AF: One example of mainstream public discourse on this issue in the UK is the argument about allowing people to self-identify in terms of their gender. In an open letter she published in June, JK Rowling articulated the concern that this would “throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman”, potentially putting women at risk of violence.
JB: If we look closely at the example that you characterise as “mainstream” we can see that a domain of fantasy is at work, one which reflects more about the feminist who has such a fear than any actually existing situation in trans life. The feminist who holds such a view presumes that the penis does define the person, and that anyone with a penis would identify as a woman for the purposes of entering such changing rooms and posing a threat to the women inside. It assumes that the penis is the threat, or that any person who has a penis who identifies as a woman is engaging in a base, deceitful, and harmful form of disguise. This is a rich fantasy, and one that comes from powerful fears, but it does not describe a social reality. Trans women are often discriminated against in men’s bathrooms, and their modes of self-identification are ways of describing a lived reality, one that cannot be captured or regulated by the fantasies brought to bear upon them. The fact that such fantasies pass as public argument is itself cause for worry.
AF: I want to challenge you on the term “terf”, or trans-exclusionary radical feminist, which some people see as a slur.
JB: I am not aware that terf is used as a slur. I wonder what name self-declared feminists who wish to exclude trans women from women’s spaces would be called? If they do favour exclusion, why not call them exclusionary? If they understand themselves as belonging to that strain of radical feminism that opposes gender reassignment, why not call them radical feminists? My only regret is that there was a movement of radical sexual freedom that once travelled under the name of radical feminism, but it has sadly morphed into a campaign to pathologise trans and gender non-conforming peoples. My sense is that we have to renew the feminist commitment to gender equality and gender freedom in order to affirm the complexity of gendered lives as they are currently being lived.
The Justice Department today announced a federal criminal complaint charging Michael Robert Solomon, 30, and Benjamin Ryan Teeter, 22, with conspiring and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization (Hamas).
Solomon and Teeter, who were taken into custody yesterday evening, made their initial appearances earlier today before Magistrate Judge Tony N. Leung in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The defendants were ordered to remain in custody pending a formal detention hearing, which is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.
“This case can only be understood as a disturbing example of the old adage, ‘The enemy of your enemy is your friend,’” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers for the National Security Division. “As alleged in the complaint, these defendants sought to use violence against the police, other government officials and government property as part of their desire to overthrow the government. While planning these activities, the defendants met individuals whom they believed to be members of the foreign terrorist group Hamas. Thinking that they shared the same desire to harm the United States, they sought to join forces and provide support, including in the form of weapons accessories, to Hamas. They failed. No matter what witch’s brew of ideological motivations inspire those who seek to engage in terrorist activity and harm our country and our fellow citizens, the National Security Division is committed to identifying and holding them accountable. I want to thank the agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this case and ensuring that these defendants could not carry out their deadly plans.”
“Michael Solomon and Benjamin Teeter proclaim themselves to be members of the Boogaloo Bois, a group that espouses a violent ideology and an objective to overthrow the government. The defendants believed their anti-U.S. government views aligned with those of Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization, and actively developed plans to carry out violence in Minnesota and elsewhere,” said U.S. Attorney Erica H. MacDonald. “Whenever extremist ideologies, regardless of their roots, move into the realm of violence, the FBI and its Joint Terrorism Task Force stands at the ready to prevent potentially deadly and destructive plots.”
“The FBI is committed to stopping acts of violence against law enforcement officers or anyone else in our communities. According to the criminal complaint, the defendants in this case were willing to work with Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization, in order to get money for potential acts of violence here in the U.S.,” said Jill Sanborn, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. “The FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office demonstrated that we will continue working with our law enforcement partners to detect and stop such activity and protect public safety.”
According to the allegations in the criminal complaint and law enforcement affidavit, in late May of 2020, the FBI initiated an investigation into Solomon and Teeter, two members of the “Boogaloo Bois,” and a sub-group called the “Boojahideen.” The Boogaloo Bois are a loosely- connected group of individuals who espouse violent anti-government sentiments. The term “Boogaloo” itself references a supposedly impending second civil war in the United States and is associated with violent uprisings against the government.
According to the allegations in the criminal complaint and law enforcement affidavit, during the civil unrest in the Twin Cities following the death of George Floyd, according to a witness, Solomon was openly carrying firearms in a residential neighborhood in Minneapolis. Solomon and Teeter interacted with the witness over the course of several days. The witness told FBI agents that Solomon and Teeter possessed firearms and substantial quantities of ammunition and that Solomon, Teeter, and other members of the Boogaloo Bois and Boojahideen discussed committing acts of violence against police officers and other targets in furtherance of the Boojahideen’s stated goal of overthrowing the government and replacing its police forces.
According to the allegations in the criminal complaint and law enforcement affidavit, in early June, the FBI received information about Solomon, Teeter, and other members of the Boogaloo Bois and the Boojahideen through a confidential human source (“CHS”), whom the defendants believed to be a member of Hamas. In audio-recorded conversations, Solomon and Teeter expressed that Hamas shares anti-U.S. government views that align with their own views. Solomon and Teeter also expressed their desire to employ themselves as “mercenaries” for Hamas as a means to generate cash for the Boogaloo Bois/Boojahideen movement, including funding for recruitment and purchasing land for a training compound.
According to the allegations in the criminal complaint and law enforcement affidavit, Solomon and Teeter shared with the CHS, and another individual whom they believed to be a more senior member of Hamas (and who was actually an undercover employee of the FBI), their ideas about destroying government monuments, raiding the headquarters of a white supremacist organization in North Carolina, and targeting politicians and members of the media.
Solomon and Teeter also expressed their ability to manufacture unmarked parts for guns and create unregistered and untraceable weapons, including suppressors. On July 30, Solomon and Teeter delivered to the individual they believed to be a senior member of Hamas five suppressors and expressed their desire to manufacture additional suppressors and fully-automatic weapons for Hamas. Solomon and Teeter later negotiated with the individual a price of $1,800 for five additional suppressors. Solomon and Teeter also delivered to the individual a “drop in auto sear” (“DIAS”), a part designed and intended for use in converting a weapon to shoot automatically. Solomon and Teeter believed the suppressors and the DIAS would be used by Hamas overseas to attack Israeli and U.S soldiers.
This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew R. Winter, and Trial Attorneys George Kraehe and Phil Viti of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.
This case falls with the purview of the Attorney General’s Task Force to Combat Violent Anti-Government Extremism. Launched in June 2020, the Task Force is dedicated to supporting the investigation and prosecution of any person or group who commits violence in the name of an anarchist ideology.
The charges contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Michael Robert Solomon, 30
New Brighton, Minn.
Benjamin Ryan Teeter, 22
By Brooke Sopelsa
Sept. 4, 2020
“All female athletes want is a fair shot at competition,” a young woman can be heard saying over a video of several athletes preparing to run a race. “But what if that shot was taken away by a competitor who claims to be a girl but was born a boy?”
That controversial digital ad — which then shows a teen boy outrunning his female competitors and shrugging at them with indifference afterwards — is one of three released this week by the American Principles Project, a Virginia-based conservative think tank, and its PAC. The group issued a statement Thursday saying the political ads are part of a $4 million effort to “target persuadable Democrats and independent voters in key swing states.”
Half of the campaign budget will be spent in Michigan, a state Trump won in 2016 but now lags in the polls, and the American Principles Project confirmed it will release ads in Wisconsin “in the coming weeks.” The group said it hopes the Michigan ads draw attention to the support of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., “for policies which would allow biological males to compete in women’s sports and push children into dangerous, life-altering sex-change” procedures.
The two other ads feature Kevin Whitt, a man who says he lived as a woman for 17 years before deciding to detransition. Whitt warns viewers that “treatments to change the gender of a minor are very dangerous and irreversible.”
The Biden and Peters campaigns did not immediately respond to a requests for comment.
National LGBTQ advocacy groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, were quick to denounce the campaign.
“These ads perpetuate dangerous stereotypes, traffic in misinformation, and put the lives of transgender people at risk,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement. “Sites and social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook should decline to run them and send a message loud and clear that those who would use their platforms to peddle hate and lies will not be tolerated or validated.”
The Human Rights Campaign also called for social media companies to take down the digital ads, saying they are blatant lies from an “outdated playbook.”
The murder of transwomen doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Transwomen are just among the most vulnerable of women in a growing climate of violence perpetrated by men who have come to realize they are not the masters of the universe the way they fantasize they are.
The killings of Vanessa Guillén, Oluwatoyin Salau, Nina Pop, and many more are part of a global problem.
August 28, 2020
The killing of 20-year-old Vanessa Guillén, a Mexican-American Army specialist who disappeared from Fort Hood, Texas on April 22, whose remains were found more than two months later on June 30, has spurred conversations about violence against women in the military. Hundreds of women, in what has been called the “military’s #MeToo moment,” have shared stories about sexual harassment and assault, illustrating a culture of violence within the ranks of the U.S. military.
Before her disappearance, Guillén told her family that she had been sexually harassed. News of her experience with sexual harassment spurred other women service members to share their own stories under the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen. After her remains were found, a criminal complaint released by the Department of Justice alleges that fellow soldier Aaron Robinson murdered Guillén at Fort Hood, dismembering and burying her body with the help of his girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar. On July 1, Robinson died by suicide. Aguilar has been charged with tampering with documents or proceedings and has pleaded not guilty.
As Vanessa Guillen’s murder, horrific in its own right, has helped uncover a pattern of violence within the military, it also reveals a larger global epidemic of violence against cis and transgender women. Femicide, generally understood to mean the murder of women for being women, a term often applied abroad, is a global issue that significantly impacts Black, Indigenous, poor, and migrant women. It’s oftentimes thought of as violence relegated to peripheries, border cities like Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, or endemic to regions like Latin America or Africa. The truth is that femicide is an ever-present and growing crisis in the United States.
There are various types of femicide, and it can be hard to collect data on these killings because some countries don’t collect information that could categorize them as so, according to the World Health Organization. Compounding that difficulty is that various places define the word differently — for some, femicide means the killing of women because they are a woman, while for others it’s any murder of a woman. Some countries, like Mexico, have passed laws against femicide, giving a legal meaning to the term: the murder of a woman can be classified as a femicide if her killing was motivated by gender. The U.S. hasn’t adopted a standardized definition for the term but the federal government tracks domestic violence killings. The Violence Against Women Act passed in 1994 recognizes domestic violence as a national crime.
While there’s no consensus on what qualifies as femicide, this kind of violence has been on the rise globally. In Latin America, El Salvador and Honduras are consistently among the countries with the highest femicide rates globally, while Mexico saw a 145% jump in femicide cases between 2015 and 2019. Last year, South Africa declared femicide a national crisis when nearly 3,000 women were murdered between 2018 and 2019.
These numbers are shocking, but often ignored are the rising rates of femicide in the United States.
From Gay City News: https://www.gaycitynews.com/transgender-woman-found-dead-at-orchard-beach/
By Matt Tracy
September 1, 2020
A 23-year-old woman that police say was found dead at Orchard Beach in the Bronx on the morning on August 31 was transgender, according to news reports as well as to the confused manner in which the NYPD described its discovery of the death.
Police found the woman unconscious and unresponsive in the sand near Orchard Beach Road and Park Drive at approximately 6:09 a.m. EMS responders arrived shortly thereafter and pronounced the individual dead.
There are very few additional details surrounding the circumstances of the victim’s death. An investigation is underway and the NYPD is awaiting a cause of death from the medical examiner.
Investigation underway as officials await cause of death from medical examiner
Police identified the individual as a woman but appeared to deadname her with a male first name in an email. However, a spokesperson representing the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner subsequently told Gay City News that the individual was known as Ellie Williams. In a GoFundMe apparently posted by the victim in July, they identified as Elie Che and described themselves as a “Black trans woman.” An individual who said they were a friend of the victim contacted Gay City News to say they victim used the pronoun they/ them.
The victim resided in Manhattan, according to the NYPD. The police did not immediately respond to an email seeking clarification about the individual’s gender identity, but NBC New York reported that the person was a transgender woman.
Out gay Bronx City Councilmember Ritchie Torres, who is well on his way to Congress after winning his Democratic primary in June, responded to the news with a call to action to stand up for trans individuals.
“We continue to live in a society that brutally devalues trans lives, often with murderous consequences,” Torres said in a tweet. “All of us must do our part in fighting institutional transphobia.”
The case marks yet another violent death of a transgender woman just over a month after Tiffany Harris, a Black trans woman, was fatally stabbed inside an apartment building at 2575 Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. In another case stemming from March, a 33-year-old trans woman named Lexi was stabbed to death in East Harlem. Two transgender women from New York City were killed in April when they were visiting Puerto Rico.
At least 26 known transgender, gender non-conforming or non-binary individuals have suffered violent deaths so far this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. There were 27 such deaths in all of last year.