“I probably was designated as the first Terf,” Janice Raymond tells me from her home in Massachusetts. A renowned academic and feminist campaigner, her highly controversial classic, The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male, turned her into a pariah among trans activists when it was published in 1979.
“I wanted to highlight the fact that transsexualism was not a feminist-friendly issue but rather reinforces sex role stereotypes even as it claims to be progressive,” she says. “I wanted to insert a critical voice into the discussion.” She certainly achieved that — and more. In the four decades since its publication, many modern activists, albeit grossly unjustly, still view her as a bigoted monster.
Raymond was studying medical ethics when she wrote Empire, and much of her research focused on the use of technologies that were destructive to women’s bodies and minds, in particular modification technologies such as psychosurgery (formerly called lobotomy) and electroshock therapy. “My early research and activism led me to question the medical consequences of the bodily mutilations inherent in transsexual surgery and the detrimental effects of taking life-long hormones. I was a radical feminist, but feminists were not paying much attention to the emergence of transsexualism as an issue that presented a regressive challenge to women and to feminism.”
More than four decades later, Raymond’s life continues to be dogged by allegations that she is motivated by a desire to harm trans people — and her latest book will add only fuel to an already raging inferno. In Doublethink: A Feminist Challenge to Transgenderism, Raymond forensically explores how the ideology has captured much of society.
What motivated her to return to the gender swamp?
“Before I began writing Doublethink, I thought long and hard, knowing that the swarm of trans detractors would gleefully sting me again, only this time it would be more venomous. But I felt that since 1994, when The Transsexual Empire was reprinted and I wrote a new preface for it, I hadn’t really written anything that addressed the takeover of transgenderism and especially the rise in young women who were declaring themselves male. I wrote this book to dispel the myths of transgenderism and to take on the consequences of a runaway ideology whose reach is influencing medical care, legislation, government policies, women’s sports, childhood and university education.”
Raymond traces the progress of trans ideology over the past five decades. She looks at the shift from transsexualism to transgenderism, with a particular focus on the increasing numbers of young women who transition but later desist.
The huge rise in girls and young women who declare themselves male contrasts sharply with the picture in the Seventies, when the vast majority of those seeking sex change treatment were adult men. “Reasons why women transition are radically different from those of the men,” Raymond tells me. “A substantial number of female survivors of transgenderism report that they shifted identities from female to male because of the misogyny they had experienced.”
But, she explains, a significant portion of women who have transitioned were reluctant, because of external negativity, to admit they are actually lesbians, or did but were uncomfortable with their identity: “A number of the women also cited the social pressure to transition in a society where becoming a self-declared man is often more accepted than being a natal woman, especially a lesbian.”
Nowhere in Doublethink does Raymond claim that trans misogynists represent the views of all trans people. As she is at pains to point out, a number of trans-identified persons and their allies have criticised the misogyny in their own communities. However, the increasing number of cyber and physical attacks by trans activists on women and lesbians, and the evolving trans ideology that supports these attacks, has come to define the movement’s political goals.
“In an age when falsehoods are commonly taken as truth, the ‘doublethink’ of a transgender movement that is able to define men as women, women as men, dissent as heresy, science as sham, and critics as fascists has become widely accepted,” she tells me. “The current rise of treating young children with puberty blockers and hormones is a widespread scandal that has been named a medical experiment on children.”
In an effort to cover this up, Raymond explains, activists have framed rapid transgender treatment for children as emergency health care. “Labelling the campaign as a health issue and an emergency was a clever strategy that promoted peoples’ sympathy and support and generated the increased establishment of gender identity clinics also called gender health centres.
“The suicide threat has also been influential in compelling parents to accept rapid gender affirmation for their children. Parents who question these treatments are often subjected to emotional blackmail when cruelly asked, ‘Do you want a live son or a dead daughter?’”
Raymond has long been accused of trying to shut down “medically necessary healthcare” for trans people, which is a very clever ruse by trans activists to frame surgery and hormones as medical as opposed to cosmetic treatment. Her book recounts harrowing stories from young women who were groomed into transitioning, partly by being told that if they didn’t, they would kill themselves.
The use of disingenuous tactics is, of course, nothing new. “In the US, most influential were the strategic early alliances trans activists made with the mainstream corporate LGB organisations such as the Human Rights Campaign,” Raymond says. “When the T was forcibly married to these organisations without any discussion involving many lesbians and gays, it helped to push the legal envelope in various countries to achieve legal changes benefiting trans priorities, such allowing young children to change their ‘gender’ without parental approval.”
Doublethink aims to cover the full force of the transgender juggernaut. But Raymond is at pains to emphasise that her new book also “exposes the violence against women in LGBT affinity groups where young women have been subjected to rape and other forms of sexual abuse and silenced for speaking out about it”. This violence is also being ignored and silenced by mainstream LGBT organisations that “keep track of only the violence experienced by men who identify as women”.
To illustrate this, she points to the growing number of trans activists who also campaign for the decriminalisation of prostitution and the sex industry. “There are many alliances between activists who are pro-prostitution and those who are pro-transgender. By demeaning feminists who oppose the sex trade as ‘Swerfs’ [sex worker exclusionary radical feminists], a term that derives from the branding of gender critical women as Terfs, trans activists and pro-sex work advocates have joined at the hip.”
Yet in the face of such hate-filled opposition, Raymond remains hopeful. Her book largely focuses on the ‘survivor movement’. The detransitioners, the young lesbians who have been there, done that and had the double mastectomies, are the truth tellers. They are given a voice, and what important voices they are.
I first met Raymond in the Nineties when our work to combat the global sex trade and other forms of violence against women and girls collided. In the decades since, I have seen her enter the lion’s den countless times, refusing to back down amid hostility from men’s rights activists.
But this is a battle, as many of us have come to learn, that takes its toll; for the simple reason that transgenderism has persuaded vast swathes of well-meaning liberals into thinking that trans activists are following in the footsteps of the lesbians and gay men who fought for liberation in Seventies and Eighties. Doublethink, perhaps even more than its predecessor The Transsexual Empire, could well be the perfect tool to help those deluded individuals finally see the light.
Doublethink: A Feminist Challenge to Transgenderism is published by Spinifex Press.