Cambridge Uni presents a ‘TERF Grammar Book’

About this event

‘Sex is Real,’ and other Gender Critical Non Sequiturs: A TERF Grammar Book

Dr Jacob Breslow, Assistant Professor of Gender and Sexuality, Department of Gender Studies, London School of Economics 

How are those of us invested in transfeminist gender studies meant to respond to the influx of gender critical activists when their discursive retorts increasingly follow the grammatical pattern of the non sequitur? A non sequitur is a bewildering statement that does not logically follow from a previous statement or question. Here, Dr Breslow will theorise it as an intentionally disruptive grammatical and political tactic. When gender critical activists claim, for example, that they are allegedly being ‘harassed’ or ‘discriminated against’ simply because they have said that ‘sex is real’, this discursive sleight of hand operates as a non sequitur. Not only is it said without the speaker acknowledging their own histories of transphobic speech and actions beyond this claim, or without regard for the multiple transfeminist genealogies of thought that have given meaning to ’sex’; but it also bears no relation to what is at stake in forging a transfeminist future or present. In line with the logics of the non sequitur, this response breaks from the pertinent questions at hand. Despite this, the tactical deployment of the non sequitur is prolific in public discourse on transness and is being mobilised to dramatically shape the contours of sex/gender. What, then, does the use of the non sequitur do to the public imagination of transness and how does it fuel the increasingly tumultuous contemporary political landscape we find ourselves in? What might a transfeminist challenge to this manifestation of gender critical grammar look like? In asking these questions, this paper builds on Dr Breslow’s ongoing transfeminist research on the grammar of gender critical activisms, and it argues that the non sequitur has become ubiquitous within, indeed often constitutive of, contemporary anti-trans discourse and far-right anti-gender strategies more broadly.

From the Eventrbrite blurb

Some info about Breslow

Live tweeting of Cambridge Uni’s TERF grammar book webinar to commence … so far a disappointing number of people have bothered to add pronouns to their profiles.

Welcomes from the host. Introduces Breslow who is from LSE. Broad interests – trans feminism, colonialism (i.e. not broad interests at all). Current study is American social justice with BLM and trans feminine studies thrown in.

Also displacement of unwanted sexuality. Also written about #metoo. Of course.

Breslow starting talk. Slide about TERF Grammar Book. Part of wider project. Has done research on ‘trans childhood’.

Now thinking about TERF/anti-trans movt. more broadly. Increasingly urgent to push back against them. Breslow is moving away from childhood trans studies to focus on more urgent problem of terfs closing down trans’ peoples’ rights. He, himself, is experiencing persecution from terfs.

Doing a lot thinking about the rhetorical tools terfs use, i.e. patterns of speech. Understanding this will help ‘trans feminine futures’. GC tactics aim to wear down the opposition. Terfs continue to insist that sex is real.

Background context: TERF wars co authored by Ben Vincent – the 2017 GRA reform kickstarted anti-trans organisations, which have had a disproportionately loud voice. Fake concern about self-ID opening up the floodgates to womens’ spaces. Runs counter to the evidence all across the world!

These orgs are also campaigning against children getting puberty blockers and stopping conversion therapy. Also want to defund Stonewall and stop trans people performing in sport and prisoners go to what prisons they want.

Focussing on Kathleen Stock and Jo Phoenix as examples of bad faith actors. Common argument to all is using the slogan ‘sex is real’. Using some tweets to demonstrate this.

Brief aside: Prof Alice Sullivan gives credence to Brendan O’Neal, editor of Spiked – longstanding pattern is GCs are linked to right wing and anti-semitic persons. Even Judith Butler said so.

‘Cancel culture’ is supposed to be on the left and is regarded as anti-intellectual. ‘Sex is real’ is supposedly an intellectual phrase. Stock voluntarily left her post yet she is described as a victim of a witch hunt and she got loads of interviews, despite being transphobic.

Jo Phoenix on the other hand managed to raise 100k in a few weeks.

The non-sequitur

In what way is the slogan (sex is real) a non-sequitur? Turns to dictionary definition (Merriam Webster)

Likes this definition because it reflects the repeated refrain. Repeated so often it becomes meaningless (yet also claimed it becomes a truth).

Once you think about it you realise it is not a true statement.

Rest of today’s talk to focus on the second part of the definition – that it does not follow logically.

Breslow now turning to Stock’s book Material Girls. Complains that it is not peer reviewed. Stock has misread Butler’s work. Reads out quote from Stock about Butler – in which she says if sex isn’t real, then climate change, molecules, etc, is not real.

Trans studies is wholly absent from the book. Stock does not consider the role sex plays in creating gender. Stock does not consider all the amazing trans scholars there are.

Material Girls is itself a non-sequitur because it doesn’t consider any of the wealth of trans studies. ‘Sex is real’ is often to show innocence and proof of not being transphobic. For example, Stock has hidden behind this.

Stock’s claim that she just wants people to acknowledge ‘sex is real’ is a veil for an attack on trans people. Breslow trying to argue there are racial implications in this book. Stock also argues that ‘transing’ of children is homophobic – this is also wrong.

Littman’s study on Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria was ‘dubiously produced’ says Breslow. Says Stock uses such ‘dubious sources’. Such positions as ‘ROGD’ are not innocent of transphobia and are anti-trans sentiments. Text of Material Girls argues for denying healthcare to children and for the notion that TW are sexual predators.

It also challenges the notion that trans people have rights to protection in law. Sex has nothing to do with these issues, says Breslow.

Part 2: Transfeminism & Prison Abolition

Trans sexual offender is central figure of terfism – hence his focus on Phoenix who is a criminologist.

As Breslow wrote this paper, the recent HoL debate occurred. Shouldn’t have been up for debate in the first place. Also bots created a hashtag. ‘Sex is real’ is totally disconnected from feminist prison abolitionist movements.

Spectre of TW entering prison and abusing women is very prevalent, but not true. Phoenix says sex is central and only indicator of whether someone will be violent.

Breslow describes men abusing self-ID as ‘fantasy’. Phoenix did a post ‘What do we stand for?’ on 1 Jan. She argued that criminologists should recognise sex and that statistics prove that males are the main offenders – statistics have proved over a long period of time.

Breslow thinks that this demonstrates that Phoenix says that males are automatically criminal and says that Phoenix has described women’s crimes as ‘cultural’. Phoenix said that statistics show that many trans-identified males are sexual offenders.

Breslow says that Phoenix hasn’t recognised all the literature which takes gender into consideration.

Phoenix has not considered that other people than ‘cis women’ face unfair legal system.

Breslow says TW has to engage in survival strategies and thus are more likely to be arrested under sexual offences than cis men. WPUK’s meeting – A Woman’s Place is not in Prison – Phoenix gave a talk. She began to make an abolitionist argument, but for females, not for males.

Breslow says that Phoenix is arguing for prison for males and TW only, but not for women. Breslow is an abolitionist. Believes that Phoenix’s argument is a not a logical argument nor a feminist one.

Conclusion: How to respond?

The slogan is being deployed because the Equality Act mentions sex and the Forstater decision said that GC beliefs needed to be respected. Breslow claims he doesn’t have a bias against people with GC views, but because they are anti-trans.

‘Sex is real’ is trans antagonism, and then the perps claim victimhood. Urgent tactic of response, don’t engage with the response ‘sex is real’ for starters. Refocus on politics of trans femininity, prison abolition and health care.

End of talk. Host has blown smoke up his arse.

Now Q&A.

As per usual everyone is stunned into silence. Someone telling him now he has done ‘hard work’.

Grateful that prison abolition has been bought up. How do you navigate that prison abolitionist lit is mainly US but terf grammar is mainly British? Also ‘sex is real’ is almost cultic chant. How is it shifting debates? Is it about force of repetition?

Breslow: Both super important questions. US has highest incarceration rate and central part of the culture, therefore more scholarship. Claims there is a longstanding abolitionist movt in UK. Recommends Sister Uncut if people are interested in it. They are trans inclusive.

On the chant of ‘sex is real’. Repetition used as if it is evidence of truth. Massive amount of scholarship which proves that puberty blockers are safe and works. Breslow says to people when they come to him with ‘valid concerns’ – you must read up all the research that proves it’s all okay.

UCL just decided to not use Stonewall any further – Breslow feels that they didn’t take in account any trans schlorship. There is a fantasy of competition of rights (between women and men).

Question from chat: (chat hidden from general participants) about sports.

Breslow: TSQ (Transgender Studies Quarterly) doing a special on this, but not particularly his area. People only raise concerns when it involves TW and they only complain or campaign about that one thing and they don’t have any interest in sport otherwise.

One more question to be allowed -given to one of their students.

Please go into more detail on GC movt and the alt right.

Breslow says Trans Safety Network is looking at bots. Butler’s piece in Guardian was a great documentation of it. Repeats claim about the GC movement being anti-semitic.

Stock was bought into University of Austin, which is an uncredited university which is being funded by the far right. Breslow is able to send more links after webinar.

Host says that the webinar now has to close and that it is important the institute of gender studies should cover this topic.

Aw, people are clapping. What morons.


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