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The Transcult: II
Extending a feminist revolt against biology
This is the twenty-eighth piece in Lorenzo Warby’s series of essays on the strange and disorienting times in which we live. The publication schedule is available here. I recommend visiting my pinned post and exploring the rest of Lorenzo’s series if you haven’t already.
This article can be adumbrated thusly: feminism is not solely responsible for the Transcult: large and complex things don’t have monocausal explanations. However, academic feminism played a major role in rejecting evolution, upon which the transcult depends.
This piece is the second of two on transactivism. If you haven’t already, please read the first.
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One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. (On ne naît pas femme: on le devient.)
Feminism is a key inflection point in the rise of Post-Enlightenment Progressivism (“wokery”). It pioneered revolts against the constraints of biology, setting up a culture of required affirmations and not noticings that colonised the academy more widely.
Academic feminism was a key bridgehead for the demand that students write or say things they don’t believe to get good marks. This emerged as a consequence of prioritising activism over academic rigour and open enquiry. It exemplifies the extent to which activist scholarship is degraded scholarship.
Many of the recent updates of Marxism’s dialectical oppressor-oppressed template come from Feminism, such as privilege analysis (pdf), intersectionality (pdf) and Queer Theory. This has expanded the range of things that—across much of academe—students have to profess, at the risk of losing marks (or worse).
On trans identities
Trans has been—until recent social contagion effects—an order of magnitude less common phenomenon across human cultures than same-sex orientation. It is much less likely to have some strong evolutionary cause.
Nevertheless, men castrating themselves to take on a feminine identity has a long history, including the galli of the Roman world and the hijra of South Asia. Relatedly, so has dressing as the opposite sex so as to take on either a social or economic role associated with it, or one that stands “between” a given society’s conventional sex roles.
In that sense, trans is a clearly a human thing, with a history. What does not have history is the Transcult’s defining claim that doing any of the above somehow reveals, or manifests, your being a woman. Remember, sex is biology; sex roles are the behavioural manifestation of sex; gender is the cultural manifestation of sex. As with everything social, gender is emergent from biology.
Given how biologically expensive human children are, all human societies are organised around the basic pattern of transferring risks away from child-rearing and resources to child-rearing.
When most people live a subsistence or near-subsistence life, who can or can’t get pregnant—and the implications of pregnancy, lactation and child-rearing—are fundamental structural realities. The level of unreality required to claim that castration turned men into women could not be indulged.
But we no longer live in subsistence societies. Vast resources are expended to surround people in chosen comfort.
This includes the chosen comfort of being morally and intellectual righteous thanks to what you believe. A whole media and online IT landscape of prestige opinions and luxury beliefs caters to opinion-based piety display. That media and online landscape is full of required affirmations and not noticings.
Developed democracies, especially in the Anglosphere, are subject to a social justice status-and-social-leverage strategy that seeks ever-better ways to establish normative dominance and access to resources. It creates righteous identities that then claim righteous authority over fellow citizens, and enables spiteful sneering at—and casting out of—those who notice wrongly.
In societies structured for chosen comfort—including cognitive comfort—this strategy is aided by defining constraints as oppression.
Trans fits right in
The emergence of the Transcult—focussing on a tiny minority whose “gendered psyches” are in revolt against the constraints of their biology—make a great deal of sense in this social environment. In many senses, trans is made for it.
First, full adoption of a trans identity means expensive surgeries and a lifetime of hormonal treatment. The Transcult is the first “civil rights” cause that can be systematically monetised. This is something that status-and-social-leverage strategy—aka NPC progressives—repeatedly refuse to grapple with in order to maintain righteous identities and authority.
The Transcult is consumerist civil rights: instead of choose your own perfume it’s mould your own body. This comports with blank-slate conceptions: we become people who create ourselves through our choices. This delegitimises any constraint we did not choose. Hence, desire is equated with need.
Secondly, the Transcult leverages off widespread acceptance that the historic treatment of homosexuals was oppressive and illegitimate. This retrospective goodwill is harnessed to a belief that Trans is more of the same. So, of course, everyone should agree to the full Trans agenda.
Post-Enlightenment Progressivism more widely exploits the moral capital of civil rights movements, but pushes very different ideas and employs very different strategies. Instead of persuasion and democratic bargaining, the non-electoral politics of institutional capture is pursued, coupled with online mobbing based on abusive sneering and moral intimidation.
This concentration on institutional capture and elite networking is why identity politics has not produced anything like the public persuasion captured in Martin Luther King’s iconic “I have a dream” speech. Remember, this was delivered to an audience of perhaps 250,000 people.
Thirdly, legal—even social—equality for homosexuals having been achieved, the gay-rights section of the non-profit activist economy was at a bit of a loose end. Trans is a means of maintaining relevance and keeping donations flowing. Stonewall in the UK and HRC in the US both exemplify this pattern.
The politics of a transformational future is catnip for the non-profit advocacy economy. It elevates language and intention over outcomes. As with much of the welfare state, it is better for non-profits to be judged on intentions and activity than by outcomes. The culture of piety display—of morally performative words and actions creating righteous identities—fits right in.
Fourthly, the Transcult provides government bureaucracies with a whole set of competence-not-required moral projects to be getting on with, such as changing official language from sex to chosen gender identities. Even better, it can be used to expand the social-imperial state’s authority by undermining and even replacing parental authority. This is precisely how it is being used.
Fifthly, it substitutes simplistic bromides for competence among therapists and counsellors. Rather than going through months of painstaking work teasing out the complexities of what are often a set of co-morbidities, it’s easier to go down the path of affirmation. Such chosen—or even legislatively forced—abdication of professional responsibility is supported by destructive piety display.
As reputation is crucial for building and maintaining institutions, this systematic pollution of reputational mechanisms via bullshit Theory is socially destructive. Indeed, if it leads to cascading failure across complex systems, it is potentially catastrophic.
Sixthly, it has become an acceptable vehicle for rejecting homosexuality in oneself or one’s child: one can trans the gay away, something the Iranian regime pioneered. Longitudinal evidence suggests that the majority of children who experience body dysphoria will settle into their biological sex if left alone. The majority will also turn out to be homosexual.
The current enthusiasm for affirmation not only transes the gay away: it sterilises gay kids. Far from being an affirmation of the social legitimacy of homosexuality, the Transcult is a horrifying, mutilating denial of it.
Seventhly, it is a useful weapon against feminism, particularly as revenge for feminist attacks on (male) freedom of association.
As both Queer Theory (everything sex, sexuality or gender related is performative) and Gender Identity Theory (gender is performative, so people can have right brains in wrong bodies) are biology-denying, unscientific nonsense, anyone with an inconvenient respect for scientific accuracy is now “gender critical”. Gender-critical feminists are particularly targeted: they are the dreaded TERFs.
Reality is rejected and discourse substituted for it. This elevates personal perspectives and individual faith in a transformational future. Claims that there is no problem of obesity—just one of fat-phobia—are a grotesque manifestation of rejecting structural constraints.
While it is unfair to pin all this on feminism (as Matt Walsh, among others, is wont to do), it is true that gender-critical feminists of the radical/women’s studies varieties are in part dealing with the consequences of their own feminism and feminism more widely.
Their feminism led the charge in defining biological constraints as oppression, using Theory to wish those constraints away. Their feminism relentlessly valorised their own group without acknowledging downsides. Feminism tout court led a charge against male freedom of association.
The more radical the feminism, the more it tends to be an exercise in narcissistic self-valorisation. Like most of the politics of the transformational future, its adherents are seen as too wonderful to be constrained and too morally grand to accept constraints.
There is cognitive self-indulgence and ego-inflation in all this.
The Transcult takes these patterns and dials them up to 11. Now it is men in dresses attacking female freedom of association. This also means gender-critical feminists find their attempts to defend freedom of association does not resonate with those men whose freedom of association they undermined historically.
The idea that women should be protected from forced association—but men have no right to object to forced association—is obviously contradictory and a bit of a hard sell. Mind you, with enough own-group-valorising narcissism, it can seem just fine.
Once you begin the revolt against biology—against constraining structures in the name of transformational politics—the dialectical steam-roller flattening all constraint as oppression just keeps rolling. Gender-critical feminists now find their attempts to stop the dialectical steam roller at the biological reality of sex now turns them into supporters of an oppressive status quo—into “bigots”.
When an imagined future is your benchmark, no appeal to constraining structure is likely to have resonance. You can always be one-upped by those imagining ever-less constraint, so ever-less oppression.
That feminism so often turns what men achieve into female benchmarks—hence, talk of “the motherhood penalty”—also leans into the Transcult. In seeking to match male patterns, women become ersatz men deformed by the possibility of pregnancy. Transwomen embody this conception more perfectly than biological women ever could. They are men; they can’t get pregnant—but wish to present as women and be affirmed as women.
Imperious demands for affirmation manifests in the demand to control how other people speak of them. This again follows in feminist footsteps, where to criticise men is feminism; to criticise women is misogyny, and with demands to believe all women.
The Transcult and feminism also share a politics of resentment. Feminists often resent men for their power and for being unburdened by the possibility of pregnancy. Transcultists often resent women for having the full biology of their sex. This explains the Transcult’s bitterness towards women—particularly liberal-progressive women—who stand up against it.
Gender-critical feminists are learning—with vicious attacks on their moral character and intense shaming and shunning—that they do not belong to the solidarity sex. They experience most directly how social media scales up: social media turns propriety into penalty—into normative-dominance—thereby creating a new gossip trap.
Folk who claim evolution only applies from the neck down (we are all blank slates so all sex differences come from socialisation) arguing against folk who claim evolution only applies from the neck up (we have gendered psyches with which our bodies need to be restructured to agree) are engaged in a mutual madness dance. It’s a clash between incompatible strategies of required affirmations and not noticings.
However, the Transcult requires far more not noticing, so provides more opportunity to signal loyalty to shared righteous identities and righteous authority. It has a powerful in-group-signalling advantage, as discussed in my previous essay—provided no serious reality-test gets in the way. It’s a very modern madness: past societies had too many reality-tests to go there.
The socially-focused emotional connectivity, heightened negative emotions, and hormonal flux of adolescent girls makes them prime vectors for social contagion. This is amplified by puberty arriving at younger and younger ages, which means more girls have less emotional capacity to deal with pubertal transformations. Social media magnifies this effect. Boys and young men, meanwhile, are more likely to find that Instagram and TikTok do not compete with the latest computer game.
All this manifests in an intensely sexualised culture, a highly masculinised sexual culture, because sex is now separated from commitment.
The opportunity to opt out of pervasive sexualisation gives “being trans”, or “being non-binary” a powerful allure. No wonder identification as trans has gone up exponentially among teenage girls—dramatically reversing a long-established pattern of more male outliers, so more male-to-female transkids. “Non-binary” identities are even more popular again.
There are loads of reasons young girls want to run away from being sexualised as a girl, especially a “white” “cis” “heteronormative” one. They can flee into a new identity that claims to solve all their problems, one that offers a (spurious) sense of community, and which lifts their standing among various sacred identity statuses to the very top.
That Queer Theory is explicitly hostile to childhood innocence—seeking to replace it with initiation—creates layers of sick irony. The claim that children are able to make informed and intelligent choices about their gender identity now provides a refuge for teenage girls from Queer Theory’s intense childhood sexualisation.
Rinse and repeat
The Transcult provides a striking historical irony—as biological men mobilise female-typical status plays—to trash women’s rights (with the enthusiastic support of many young women).
This demonstration that women are not the solidarity sex has happened before. Christian women seeking salvation provided support for trashing women’s legal rights and professional opportunities in the C4th and C5th Roman Empire.
Christianity did do something big for women: it feminised sexuality. It imposed an ethic of chastity on men. No sex outside marriage meant no sex without commitment.
Christianity also sanctified the Roman synthesis of single-spouse marriage, no kin groups, law as human, no cousin (consanguineous) marriage, female consent for marriage, testamentary rights. On the way through, however, posh women lost professional opportunities and access to abortion, contraception and divorce: a mutually-reinforcing set of restrictions.
Meanwhile, the Sexual Revolution emerged as women gained unilateral control over their fertility, enhancing the separation of sex from commitment. The result was to masculinise sexuality. The norms and opportunities of sex shifted from commitment-being-required (the ethic of no sex outside marriage) to sex as independent acts of cathartic pleasure.
This led to a collapse of the historic convergence between women and the Church and started an ongoing repaganisation of Western societies. This is something that Post-Enlightenment Progressivism (“wokery”) both exemplifies and resists.
In some ways Post-Enlightenment Progressivism resists repaganisation, because it’s a Christian heresy and shares with Christianity a valorisation of the weak and the marginal. The default Roman pagan position was to respect beauty, strength, and success as signs of overall superiority.
In other ways, Post-Enlightenment Progressivism promotes repaganisation—it promotes an immanent (this world), not a transcendental (next world)—sacredness. The hormonal and surgical mutilations of the Transcult are sacrificial markers of sacredness grounded in this world, not eternity. Relatedly, a highly competitive, masculinised, dating-apps sexual culture produces a classically pagan contempt for losers: think much-derided incels.
One thing to not notice is how the conception of a gendered psyche egregiously stereotypes what it is to be female or male to a degree that would make a nineteenth century patriarch blush. A tomboy is not a girl, but a boy struggling to realise their inner nature. How do we know? Because they like boy things more than girl things? And what are boy things?
Let the stereotypes be unleashed! Let the imaginings of what it is to be a woman or a man dominate all.
Feminism’s goal of liberating women and girls from constraining stereotypes is overturned in a trice. It floats off on a sea of surgical interventions and hormones for life.
The Transcult both feeds off feminism and negates it, just as Post-Enlightenment Progressivism feeds off Christianity and Western civilisation and negates both.
The Transcult is also a manifestation of the normative flux created by the completion of a civilisational cycle that began with the Christianisation of the Roman Empire in the fourth and fifth centuries and ended with the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.
My next essay examines the normative flux created by the end of this civilisational cycle and the pitfalls and possibilities it creates.
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Helen Joyce, Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality, OneWorld, 2021.
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Manvir Singh, Richard Wrangham & Luke Glowacki, ‘Self-Interest and the Design of Rules,’ Human Nature, August 2017.
Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke, ‘Moral Grandstanding,’ Philosophy & Public Affairs, 2016, 44, no. 3, 197-217.
Daniel Williams, ‘The marketplace of rationalizations,’ Economics & Philosophy (2022), 1–25.