SMF: We Must Swing Back With Eyes Open – Regarding Recent Accusations Of “Transphobia”

On May 9th, the overwhelming victim-provided stockpile of evidence against rapist McKinley Forbes was publicly brought to light by a statement from Red Guards Austin (RGA), a local communist organization. This evidence has, since that time, been independently verified by leadership in the Stonewall Militant Front (SMF), the Revolutionary Student Front (RSF), and local cadre from the American Party of Labor. Following this, opportunists were quick to defend the rapist while dressing it up as “anti-transphobia.” The Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) scrambled to spam the internet with lies regarding the SMF-led confrontation, as well as McKinley’s involvement with the PSL in Austin.

Alongside this, but oftentimes overlapping, was controversy regarding the RGA statement pertaining to McKinley Forbes’ crimes, and our choice to share it unapologetically. This was primarily regarding: the release of McKinley Forbes’ legal name/“dead name” (a name used by a trans person before coming out), Caleb, and, the use of the name “Caleb” and he/him pronouns to refer to McKinley throughout the section that talks about her crimes against the victim.

These aspects of the statement were used to bring claims of “transphobia”, “transmisogyny,” and “TERFism (trans exclusive radical feminism)” against RGA and other organizations. These came down especially hard on SMF (despite the fact we did not play a part in writing the statement), most likely due to our particular history, having been founded as a transgender-specific organization called the Revolutionary Alliance of Trans People Against Capitalism (RATPAC). In light of this, we felt it necessary to clarify our position on these aspects of RGA’s statement, the accusations of anti-transness, and our unapologetic sharing of it:

We fully reaffirm our lack of apology in standing by the statement, including these aspects of it, and there is no substance to the claims that these represent anti-trans attitudes.

We recognize that there are opportunists who are seeking to muster up anything they can (including bogus charges of anti-transness) to defend the rapist. We also recognize that there are also online performers who do not put politics into action, but instead seek to build up a personal online popularity by signaling their hollow politics to an internet audience. These two groups are ultimately self-serving and are not worth the attention they demand from others. However, we also know that separate from these two, there are those seeking to engage in good-faith and dealing with genuine confusion who desire clarity. For people in this group especially, we want to explain our position and why claims of anti-transness don’t hold up to reality.

On the release of McKinley Forbes’ legal name, Caleb:

We stand by the decision to release the rapist’s legal name, the name that she used socially before coming out as a woman and arriving in our city. There is no doubt that for many trans people, revealing or using the name associated with them before they came out can not only cause great emotional distress, but also put them in very real physical danger. Trans people broadly deserve the psychological comfort and physical safety offered by not having their dead name used casually, especially in the face of so much anti-trans violence.

However, we aspire to practice proletarian feminism, a feminism that understands that the struggle to end patriarchal oppression must be tied in to the revolutionary struggle against capitalism. For us, in an instance of such vile sexual violence, comfort and physical safety are no longer a factor of consideration to be made towards the the rapist. Instead, any of these that were offered to McKinley Forbes are now trumped by the right of every one of her potential victims to know all possible aliases she has ever gone by, may use again, or may be identified by in the future.

On the use of “Caleb” and he/him pronouns throughout the section relaying her crimes against the victim:

We stand by the decision to use the name “Caleb” and he/him pronouns throughout the section overviewing the time of Forbes’ crimes against the victim. This choice reflects the identity, presentation, and social position that Forbes both accepted and made use of in relation to the victim and to capitalist law enforcement as well. It is an accurate representation of who she was at that time and her relationship to patriarchy.

This was met with claims of transphobia, however these claims are only backed up by meaningless and metaphysical slogans. These ideas are not rooted in reality, nor any useful conception of gender for those seeking to fight patriarchal oppression, which can only be done by destroying capitalism. For example:

“Someone coming out as a woman means that they were never a man.”
“Trans women are women, which means that they never could have any access to ‘male privilege.’”

We stand against these notions and we find no comfort in them, especially because of the deep harm that these ideas help perpetuate towards trans people, and all those under the thumb of capitalism’s patriarchal oppression.

While it’s understandable that at first glance, some people may find these assertions reassuring, they actually represent reactionary and patriarchal ideas about gender. It’s patriarchal thinking with a bad paint-job meant to fool those trying to escape it.

We stand against gender essentialism and biological determinism. This means we are wholly opposed to the idea of an innate set of traits that define men and women. We are also against the notion of gender being determined by supernatural/unscientific or biological forces that impose a gender identity, and gendered traits, upon people outside of their social existence (i.e. their specific historical, political-economic, and cultural context that they are living in). We are against these notions because they act as ideological underpinnings for patriarchy under capitalism.

We say that a person’s gender is contingent on their current identity. However, we also maintain that how we conceive of ourselves does not directly determine how patriarchal society at large will treat us. Instead, the way we’re treated is determined by how we are perceived as we move through patriarchal society, and this perception informs what particular expectations, roles, and economic tasks will be put upon us and enforced for the benefit of the capitalist ruling class. We stand by these assertions put forward by the SMF founding statements (here and here), which outline a scientific framework by which we can understand the various forms of patriarchal violence and oppression under capitalism.

It is because we wholeheartedly stand against patriarchal essentialism and determinism that we say these claims of anti-transness are unfounded. These ideas are part of driving so much violence towards trans people, and we should view notions like “trans women never could have been men” for what they are: nonsensical and harmful.

This claim implies that, even at a time when— 1) a person doesn’t identify as a woman, or 2) present themselves as a woman, or 3) deal with being forced into the roles/traits established by patriarchy for women…—at that time, this person was a woman anyway. Saying this indicates a belief that (rather than being something socially formed and developed), the “real gender” was always just waiting beneath the surface… inscribed on her soul? Written in her biology somewhere?

This is what some people want to say about Forbes, upholding the patriarchal idea that she had a permanent “woman”-gender on her soul or in her biology. Some may try to defend this by saying that Forbes’ previous gender identity as a man before coming out was the result of anti-transness, a context of patriarchal violence, and coercion. Some say that because of this, her previous gender shouldn’t be considered her “genuine” gender at the time. However, violence, coercion, and all the ideas that uphold anti-trans attitudes are a part of forming every single person’s gender identity under capitalism, period. This is not unique to trans people, nor does it only apply to the gender identity of trans people before coming out. It is the social context which informs every single person’s gender identity and expression. We would never say this changes someone else’s gender, yet this is what some want to say about Forbes’ previous identity and expression as Caleb. Gender assignment (at birth, and as we move through society) is an inseparable part of overseeing a violent patriarchal system on behalf of the ruling class in their drive to maximize profit. It touches the lives of every person under capitalism.

Most of us already know that this does grave harm. But if we opt for imagining Forbes’ gender as something with a permanent and hardwired essence (rather than something that is socially formed and developed) we would be saying that the superstitions that uphold gender assignment and enforcement are actually correct on some level.

Capitalist society tells us that there is some kind of spiritual magic or deep-seated physical reality that determines our “real” gender. We are told that there is something totally untouched and untouchable by human society. We are told that this thing, whatever it is, has determined our gendered traits, roles, and relationships to each other, long before we entered society at all. Many trans people seek comfort from ideas like this; it’s easier to believe that our genders are reasonable and meaningful when we can say that we have always been our gender, that it was a mistake for us to be called anything else. However, by saying, “all trans women were always (essentially) women, and never could have been men,” we are turning back to patriarchal notions about gender in an attempt to find affirmation. We don’t have to find comfort in having permanent genders to recognize our identities are reasonable and meaningful. We should reject the notion of an inherent or permanent gender, period. We should position ourselves as fighters in the struggle to win trans people a world of lasting respect. By giving a single inch to the idea that there is something unscientific/supernatural or biological that determines someone’s gender outside of their social existence, we are feeding ammo to the enemy. When we accept these ideas, we actually allow ourselves to be dragged back into patriarchal thinking in an attempt to make things better. What kind of “feminism” is this? Not one for laboring trans people and women, that’s for sure. It’s a feminism for the ruling class.

In conclusion

It is because of our strong political commitment to the emancipation of women and a genuine liberation for trans people that we cannot allow any room for these incorrect ideas to spread. This is especially true when they are dressed up as being “for us”. We know that the ideas we are expressing may at first sound similar to arguments made by people who aim to attack transness and discredit our identities. This is not what we aim to do. However, we do desire to deeply understand how gender works under capitalism. This is because our true aim is to overthrow the ruling class that perpetuates and profits from our misery.

We do not uphold essentialist ideas of gender, that there is anything deep down inside of any one of us that makes someone “really a woman, man, etc” but we do believe that there is something deep and crucial within each individual’s mind that plays a large role in influencing their gender practice (a term that we mean to include not just what gender a person identifies as and what pronouns they ask others to use for them, but also how they navigate the many, various realms of the social world when it comes to what gender presentation they perform in each place, time and context/circumstance). We do not believe that there is such a thing as inherent “woman-ness” or “man-ness”, but we do believe that there is an undeniable aspect of each individual’s psychological makeup that strongly influences all their gender practice.

The pain that trans people feel—the self doubt, the self loathing, the internalized patriarchal ideas; the despair we feel at the magnitude of our alienation; the constant suggestion that we do not understand ourselves correctly, the idea that we are irrational or unable to perceive the world correctly, the assertion that we are psychologically unsound—these are things that will constantly be dished out under capitalism in order to maintain the patriarchal gender roles that have continued to sustain capitalist society.

The greatest solution that we as trans people can seek is to directly take up the class struggle.

“It is only through this process [of class struggle] that we are able to find purpose, reaffirm our dignity, and combat feelings of helplessness and self-loathing.”

— “Stumble, Fall, Stand Tall: Summation of the Revolutionary Student Front’s Revolutionary Mental Health Program”, Revolutionary Student Front

Anything short of it only stands to, at best, soften the blows. We need to start swinging back. Class society is at the root of all the patriarchal social forces that antagonistically confront us as gender-nonconforming people, because of this society’s complete dependence on the oppression of women. This means that the greatest solution for the dysphoria and pain we feel in this world can be addressed by directly taking up the struggle towards its ultimate destruction. The most fulfilling, dignified action we can take is to fight to overthrow the irredeemably chauvinist capitalist ruling class, and create a new world utterly without patriarchal oppression.

With this in mind we reiterate that we see the decisions made by RGA to be scientifically correct. This is no attack on the validity of her identity as a woman now, because despite what capitalism says, we don’t need some mystical pseudoscientific “forever-gender” for our genders to be reasonable and meaningful.

Accurately communicating this information about the rapist at the time, who was a man named Caleb, drives home the reality of what was offered to and accepted by Forbes in relationship to her victim and to the following police investigation. In regards to the relationship Forbes had to the victim and to the police force, it is important to relay these facts as they objectively existed, not as some may wish to imagine them through meaningless and patriarchal gender superstitions.

NOTE: Of course, in a context where patriarchal superstition violently governs gender, we would never make a habit of retrospectively outing everyday trans people to refer to them before coming out (given the real deadly consequences this can have for many) in the name of scientific accuracy. However, in the instance of relaying an account of rape, scientific accuracy is absolutely something we should seek to uphold.


C. Kistler

Also editor of Nouvelle Turquie.