Burying the Hatchet in the ‘Great Transgender Debate’


Enough. I want to move on.

Regular followers of this blog probably know I’ve been engaged in an extended debate around transgender issues with socialist friends and acquaintances, people with whom I share a mutual history of support and work with the U.S. Socialist Workers Party (SWP). By extension, my conflict has gone beyond these individuals to the SWP itself given its stance on transgender issues. I covered all this in a previous post, so I won’t repeat too much here.

I can’t know the heart of every individual I’ve debated, but the problem is not animus or prejudice against transgender people. Everyone and the party support fundamental democratic rights for transgender people to be free from discrimination in housing, employment, etc. The disagreement is around issues of gender identity, science and related matters. I don’t think I’m misrepresenting them in saying they believe that transgender individuals declaring themselves “women” threaten or undermine the historic advances made by women against oppression under capitalism. (See links below for more.)

Their position is based on historic principles that I agree with totally — but for just this one exception. And it’s a big one, but I’m moving on.

The situation has left me feeling alienated from the individuals or comrades I’ve been arguing with, and by extension from the SWP itself. At one point recently I unfriended about 10 people on Facebook. Never done that before! I just didn’t want to engage any longer. And I’ve also wondered if I can maintain my relationship with the party.

This has been deeply troubling since my association with the SWP began shortly after the 1972 presidential election — practically my whole political life.

This week I found myself forced to make a decision about my political priorities. I was contacted by the party and asked to pledge support to a campaign raising funds to expand the reach of the SWP’s newspaper, The Militant, and its publishing house, Pathfinder Press. I’ve contributed to these fund campaigns for years.

I told the caller I hadn’t decided a pledge yet. My first thought after the call was no, I won’t contribute this time. A short while later I changed my mind thinking instead that I’ll pledge a token $10 contribution — kind of keep the door open. The next day, I came full circle and decided I will once again give the party my full enthusiastic support.

…if capitalism has lost its progressive character and become reactionary, has ceased to grow and expand and develop the productive forces of the people, upon which all human welfare is based; if it has entered into its period of decline and decay—then the optimistic defenders of capitalism are in the wrong.

– James P. Cannon, former SWP National Secretary

My support for transgender people is very personal. I’m not transgender, but I’m gay and have been involved in the LGBT community and politics since I first came out at Kent State University in 1975 — 46 years ago this month. October 17, 1975, to be exact. Trans people are my brothers and sisters; they’re family. To attack them is to attack me.

But my support for the SWP runs deep too. Indeed, I believe the very survival of humanity and the planet depends on abolishing capitalism and building socialism. This may strike some as hyperbolical, but I mean this literally. The problems facing working people in the U.S. and the world today are immense and getting worse: poor wages, declining working conditions, racism, attacks on democratic rights, climate change, the pandemic, inadequate healthcare, lead-poisoned water, poverty, hunger, gun violence, police brutality, and more. Politics and social relations are becoming increasingly toxic. Science, reason and civility are being scorned. Governance by Democrats and Republicans has become tribal, corrosive and dysfunctional. Bourgeois capitalist society is rotting.

In the present society people are haunted by insecurity. Their mental health is undermined by fear for their future and the future of their children. They are never free from fear that if some thing happens, if they have a sickness or an accident for which they are not responsible, the punishment will be visited upon their children: that their children will be deprived of an education and proper food and clothing.

– James P. Cannon

My support of transgender people will not waiver and I will continue to defend fundamental democratic rights and dignity under our current system. But I have concluded we’ll ultimately be in a better position to resolve the matter under socialism, free from the distortion of human relations caused by class oppression. There we can find a way fully to encompasses the rights and dignity of cisgender women and transgender women alike. I do believe it will be possible.

If humanity doesn’t survive, the transgender question will be moot.

The socialist society based on human solidarity will have no use for such unscientific and degrading inhuman notions as the idea that one man is superior to another…

– James P. Cannon

In conclusion, I am ending this fight. I no longer seek or expect to change minds, and I certainly have no sway with the party. I’ve clarified my primary concern, which is the advancement of the struggle for socialism. Things will be very different then. Just the process of achieving socialism will transform people in ways that seem impossible now. History has shown this. Once there, this will become a new discussion.

There can be no doubt whatever that the new society will have a different morality. It will be a social morality based on human solidarity, having no need of lies, deception, demagogy, and hypocrisy. Those who cannot conceive of any human relationship without the “getting ahead” philosophy of capitalism say socialism would not “work” because people would have no incentives. They really have a low opinion of the human race. Incentives will not be lacking. But they will be different.

– James P. Cannon

As for the folks I unfriended on Facebook, I regret that impulsive move. I won’t presume to intrude now after having been so rude, but if any see this and wish to reestablish contact their Friend Request will be accepted.


October 22, 2021 – When posting yesterday I tried to keep this as brief as possible and not get bogged down in a long and complex reiteration. Looking at my post again this morning I need to circle back here for one critical clarification. It’s important.

I emphasized my support for transgender people, obviously, and said I will continue advocating for their rights and dignity under our current system. What I didn’t say is that my support has  limits. The SWP and its supporters are correct to emphasize the vital importance of the women’s movement and its historic achievements. These conquests benefit all working people and are essential prerequisites to further progress. 

In a growing effort to be inclusive of transgender women, there’s a very disturbing trend among liberals to eliminate the words “woman” or “women” in places that are not only absurd but dangerous politically. We’re seeing phrases like “vulva owners” or “people with vaginas.” This is one place I absolutely draw the line. It is not acceptable. I’ve written on this twice: For the Record: On ‘Bodies With Vaginas’ and On Waking to Woke Madness

Further Reading

• In the heat of my argument with fellow socialists, I posted Bone of Contention: Socialists & the LGBT Community.

• Click here for all my posts in this blog (Just Sayin’ 3.0) regarding transgender issues.

• Click here for two posts on my other blog, A Quick Thought.

The Militant: Don’t say ‘mother’! Speech code is blow to fight for women’s rights

The Militant: A working-class road to expand rights for all the oppressed

The Militant: Women’s rights at stake in fight over men in female spa area

The Militant: Va. teacher fired for view on sex vs gender back on job

The quotes from James P. Cannon are from a series of lectures contained in America’s Road to Socialism available at Amazon or Pathfinder Press.

Title image is the Pathfinder Mural that was painted in the 1980s on the side of the former Pathfinder Press building, located prominently by the Hudson River in New York City. It was a collective work of artists from around the world depicting revolutionary working-class leaders including Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Sojourner Truth, Stephen Biko, Harriet Tubman, Mother Jones, Eugene V. Debs and countless others.

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One thought on “Burying the Hatchet in the ‘Great Transgender Debate’

  1. A magnificent job of summing things up. I agree with everything you’ve written here, especially the part about becoming comfortable with the fact that party supporters and the party itself is committed to defending the dignity and democratic rights of everyone, including those who identify as Transgender. It’s also true that the struggle for socialism and then the struggle to build socialism will change many things. That point is not always emphasized, so thank-you for that.

    I too have struggled with the right balance, as I have posted and engaged on this issue that, at first glance, may seem excessive to some. But then again, humanity will never be free without the fight for the liberation of women, which, IMO, Transgender IDEOLOGY threatens.

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