How Queer Theory Became University Policy

queer theory, postmodernism, Judith Butler, transgender activism, transgender, gender, feminism, Gendered Intelligence, universities

The establishment of an official doctrine on gender identity is an unprecedented threat to academic freedom. Sex and gender should be subjects for debate.

My university has recently established an official doctrine on gender, promulgated by its Equality and Diversity Unit. The University of Oxford declares that sex is not determined at conception but rather ‘assigned’ at birth, presumably on the whim of the midwife or obstetrician. Sex must be replaced for all practical purposes by an individual’s sense of gender identity, which may be chosen from a lengthy menu including nonbinary and genderqueer.

Oxford is not peculiar, for the same doctrine is being instituted across British universities. This doctrine is derived from queer theory, an outgrowth of postmodernism. To understand how this esoteric discourse became the new orthodoxy, we need to follow the work of Gendered Intelligence, the charitable interest company that translates queer theory into public policy. Its chief executive is Jay Stewart MBE, a transman with a doctorate in Visual Cultures from Goldsmiths, University of London. The company started with a grant of £50,000 from the Equality and Human Rights Commission [1]. Now most of its revenue comes from selling training to the public sector, boosted by a gift of £116,000 from BBC Children in Need.

‘Queer theory was the roadmap to my own self-understanding’, declares Stewart [2]. The theory’s high priestess, Judith Butler, argues that ‘the body is not a “being,” but a variable boundary, a surface whose permeability is politically regulated, a signifying practice within a cultural field of gender hierarchy and compulsory heterosexuality’ [3]. The upshot is that gender identity bears no relationship to biology. According to Gendered Intelligence, ‘A woman is still a woman, even if she enjoys getting blow jobs. Thus Stewart was the prime mover in persuading the prison service to prioritise gender identity over sex [4]. The policy recently enabled a convicted rapist to be incarcerated in a women’s prison, simply because he called himself a woman; he then sexually assaulted other inmates.

Like other variants of postmodernism, queer theory has been ensconced for decades in academic disciplines studying culture. Now, however, the theory is being established as official doctrine by universities. Policy goes far beyond what is required by the Equality Act, which rightly forbids discrimination on the grounds of gender reassignment. Indeed, the doctrine clearly contravenes the law in one respect. The Act also protects sexual orientation, but if gender identity supersedes sex, then heterosexuality and homosexuality disappear. Any male can declare himself to be a lesbian, like a bad joke from the 1970s updated for our ultrawoke era. The Edinburgh University Student Association’s LGBT+ Convenor, Ada Wells, demanded that the University expel any lesbian who refused males identifying as ‘gender neutral’ (such as Wells) as potential sexual partners.

Like other variants of postmodernism, queer theory has been ensconced for decades in academic disciplines studying culture. Now, however, the theory is being established as official doctrine by universities.”

Gendered Intelligence plays a key role in training academic staff and administrators. Its course on ‘Trans Awareness’ has been repeated in dozens of universities. Merton College at Oxford, for example, paid the company to train ‘key staff members from the Lodge, Academic Office, Warden’s Office, Finance and Domestic Bursaries, Library, Welfare Team, Development Office, and HR, along with a number of Governing Body Fellows’. The Oxford University Student Union now wants to mandate this training for all staff in welfare roles, to be repeated every two years [5]. The impetus comes not only from students but also from the Equality Challenge Unit, the quango charged with administering diversity to British higher education. The Athena SWAN Charter, originally designed to advance the careers of women in science, is now used as leverage to enforce gender doctrine.

Students who question their own identity are directed to Gendered Intelligence, which also trains university counsellors. When an undergraduate—previously diagnosed with depression—at the Royal Central School for Speech and Drama decided that she was a man, the School paid for mentoring by Gendered Intelligence. (A professor at the School is a trustee of the company and Stewart’s partner.) The mentor researched surgeons who offered elective mastectomy. ‘Surgery will affect sex in many ways’, advises Gendered Intelligence, ‘but the most noticeable effect is a boost in body confidence.’ If gender identity is uncorrelated with sex and is fluid and changing, how then can that identity require irreversible bodily transformations? Logical contradiction is no embarrassment to postmodernism. When a lesbian takes testosterone and amputates her breasts in order to play the part of a man, this is celebrated by queer theory for deconstructing compulsory heterosexuality.

When an undergraduate—previously diagnosed with depression—at the Royal Central School for Speech and Drama decided that she was a man, the School paid for mentoring by Gendered Intelligence…The mentor researched surgeons who offered elective mastectomy.”

The establishment of an official doctrine on gender identity is an unprecedented threat to academic freedom. Sex and gender should be subjects for robust research and vigorous debate. Instead, scholars who query the new orthodoxy of queer theory are subjected to vicious harassment and intimidation. Almost all are women, and many incline towards radical feminism. The culprits are ultrawoke students—most do not identify as transgender but style themselves as ‘allies’—and some feminist academics. They can claim, however, that their aggression is licensed by university policy. After all, universities have granted one particular group extraordinary power to control intellectual discourse. ‘If a trans person informs a staff member that a word or phrasing is inappropriate or offensive,’ warns University College London, ‘then that staff member should take their word for it, and adjust their phraseology accordingly.’

Welcome to the 21st century university, where sex has disappeared, homosexuality is exclusionary, and orthodoxy is enforced in the name of diversity.

Michael Biggs
Associate Professor of Sociology and Fellow of St Cross College
University of Oxford 

[1] Equality and Human Rights Commission, response to Freedom of Information request (FOI 1247 Biggs), 2 October 2018

[2] Jay Stewart, ‘Gendered Intelligence’, Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows, ed. Christine Burns, Cornerstone, 2018, pp. 277–91, at p. 278

[3] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Routledge, 1990, p. 139

[4] Stewart advised the Ministry of Justice’s review which created the new policy and now serves on the Prison Service’s Transgender Advisory Board which implements it

[5] Oxford Student Union LGBTQ+ Campaign, 2018 Report on Transgender Experience and Transphobia at the University of Oxford, p. 32. The report literally recommends ‘bi-annual’ training but presumably biennial was intended

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