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Gender studies and sexualised threats

Students of Gender Studies at the London School of Economics are taught to view sexualised threats against women in public life (if dressed up in the language of “queer”) as something to applaud.

“If TERFs think trans* is an endemic threat to feminism, let us be the threat to feminism…

Picture this: I hold a knife to your throat and spit my transness into your ear. Does that turn you on? Are you scared? I sure fucking hope so.”

Matt Thompson, LSE GENDER STUDIES MSc STUDENT

This violent fantasy—laced with sexual menace—was written by a student taking the MSc in Gender (Sexuality) at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Matt is an autistic genderfuck who loves cats, running, books, and plants. They are an MSc Gender (Sexuality) student at the London School of Economics and Political Science researching trans*, crip, queer, monstrous and neurodivergent embodiment and epistemology. They hope to pursue a PhD in Gender Studies
The author identifies as “genderfuck” (a form of non-binary).

The quote comes at the end of his paper entitled “Trans* Endemics: Embodying Viral and Monstrous Threat in Times of Pandemic”, presented at a conference (held in April 2021) for the course on Transnational Sexual Politics, taught by Dr Jacob Breslow and Professor Clare Hemmings. The session was called “No Time, No TERFs, No Norms”.

The paper contributes 30% towards the final mark for the course. Apparently no one in the class found the paper unacceptable, because it was posted with other papers on the conference website. It was praised by two students as “insightful and provocative”, and “poignant, funny and enraging”. Indeed, the author was rewarded with an invitation to present the same paper at another conference in the Department of Gender Studies, organised by doctoral students (held in June 2021).

The paper is worth reading (or listening to) in full to appreciate what passes for graduate-level work in Gender Studies at the LSE.* The paper is a mash-up of postmodern bullshit—far beyond the wildest imaginings of Alan Sokal or Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay, and Helen Pluckrose—and incel resentment. The author decries the “imagined trans* threat” promulgated by “TERFs” like Janice Raymond and JK Rowling. To refute this perceived threat, he promises to “take my knife to your throat” and declares “I am the butcher”.

The author’s chief inspiration is Andrea Long Chu, a sissy-porn enthusiast who defines femaleness as “an open mouth, an expectant asshole, blank, blank eyes”. 

If any students taking the course disagreed with such a definition, how openly could they express their views in class? The fact that one student is threatening to knife anyone who challenges him hardly fosters an atmosphere of open discussion, in which diverse perspectives on sex and gender can be freely debated. The Department proudly quotes a former student saying that “LSE Gender was a safe space for me to share my inner voices”, but evidently safety is promised only to those who adhere to one particular version of transgender ideology.

The session description says:

Engaging with trans as a site of collective affinity, these student scholars take a stand for solidarity to say: No TERFs on our turf!

LSE GENDER STUDIES DEPARTMENT

The same monotonous ideology is articulated by other papers at the conference. One asks rhetorically “Is Letting Trans Children Die ‘Common Sense’?” According to the abstract, suppressing puberty with Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone agonist (GnRHa) “has saved and continues to save lives”. Although the full paper is not available, it clearly does not engage with—let alone attempt to refute—clinicians and academics who have emphasised the paucity of scientific evidence in favour of this experimental treatment or with detransitioners who regret being subjected to it. The author argues that

“medical and TERF discourses on pathologisation of trans children reveals that they are similarly using childhood protection as a façade to generate moral panic founded on racist, colonial and essentialist understandings of gender.”

ALICE LESSA, LSE GENDER STUDIES MSC STUDENT

The use of GnRHa to suppress puberty in gender-nonconforming children was invented by Dutch clinicians in the 1990s, and so the association of this experimental treatment with anti-colonialism and anti-racism is absurd. The author has been taught to recite slogans rather than analyse evidence.

These conference papers illuminate the decision of the Department of Gender Studies to denounce (in June 2021) the Gender Critical Research Network established at the Open University. (The statement was later removed from the Department’s website, without explanation.) The Department accused “those espousing gender critical perspectives’ of “routinely make transphobic, discriminatory, inaccurate, and harmful claims about trans people specifically, and gender more broadly”. “Providing an institutional platform for this network is an explicit endorsement of their derogatory positions, and it creates a learning environment that is openly hostile to the urgent projects of equity, diversity, and inclusion at OU [Open University]”.

Rather than castigating academics at other universities, LSE’s Department of Gender Studies should look urgently at its own learning environment, and ask why it promotes fantasies of butchering gender-critical feminists.

* Michael Biggs: This should not be taken as representative of the university; as external examiner for the LSE’s MSc in Sociology and MSc in Political Sociology, I can vouch for the high quality of work submitted for those programmes.