Julian Vigo interviews joey brite, who discusses her controversial essay “The Four Horsemen of the Gender-Critical Apocalypse,” the trouble with “true trans,” and how her lifetime in lesbian community and culture has influenced her radical consciousness.
The following is a transcript of Vigo’s interview with brite, with the talk itself originally posted to Savage Minds on April 26, 2021, transcribed here for Uncommon Ground Media by Donovan Cleckley. Originally created in commemoration of International Women’s Day 2020, the illustration accompanying this transcript comes from Stella Perrett. It can be seen in her self-published book of selected cartoons titled 2020: The Year We Were All Cancelled, reviewed by Cleckley.
Bottom line: These identities are fictions. Gender-criticals cannot be so desperate for allies that we prop up icons who represent everything we oppose, from exterior looks at the extremes of gender ideology to cheerleading for Pornhub. We cannot ignore it any longer. We are in a fight for our credibility and our humanity. It’s that simple. We talk a lot about ‘grooming’ in feminism, but we’ve been grooming ourselves to accept ‘trans’ allies who say what we want to hear, and it needs to stop. It’s time to think critically, put the four horsemen out to pasture, and live up to what we know is true.
– joey brite, “The Four Horsemen of the Gender-Critical Apocalypse,” Uncommon Ground Media (October 2, 2020)
VIGO: Welcome to Savage Minds. I’m your host Julian Vigo. Today’s guest is joey brite, a second-waver of the American feminist movement who came out as a lesbian in 1971 at the age of 16. Very gender-nonconforming and the rebel child in a small family and the second daughter of an immigrant Latina mother, brite grew up loving the cinema and large photo-format magazines like Look. Influenced by Gordon Parks and Diane Arbus, photography and advertising would inform her approach to many things as an adult.
Active in community organizing and event production for years, brite used these skills in the growingly visible lesbian community during the 1970s, up until that community disappeared through the infiltration of Big Pharma and the social contagion of the gender ideology movement. Brite tells me that it has become her mission to create a platform for other rebels to share their voices and also give active pushback to the medicalization of youth utilizing the basic American tradition of peaceful protest.
Brite is a house painter, and she says that she really believes that excelling in a skilled labor trade helps hone an appreciation for understanding civic responsibility and building grassroots networks. I welcome joey brite to Savage Minds.
VIGO: I’m so happy to have you on the show, after seeing so many of your actions and reading your wonderful article last fall. In fact, I’d like to lead with that, if I might. You wrote a piece for Uncommon Ground Media entitled “The Four Horsemen of the Gender-Critical Apocalypse,” wherein you criticize this concept of the “true trans” person that has been embraced by many both on the “pro-trans” side of the debate and on the gender-critical side paradoxically. This piece caused some waves amongst quite a few feminists. You go after Blaire White, Scott Newgent, Fionne Orlander, and Buck Angel, and you write:
I know it’s risky but feel the time is right to call this critical moment out for what it is. We’ve all been groomed and we need to recognize that. So to make my point really clear, I’ve chosen to compare these individuals to the prominent familiar dolls found in our very gendered pop culture.
I was a bit taken aback when I read about your having been attacked. I didn’t see the attacks firsthand, because some of the women making the criticisms of you blocked me sometime ago. But I heard about it, and I have to say I wasn’t surprised. Because, when I heard the names of the people attacking you, these were the same women who had attacked me: a group of what I think to be bourgeois feminists, who feel themselves to be sort of the self-appointed Grand Poobahs of the feminist movement. They never bothered to ask us plebs if we wanted to vote for them, however.
So I was speaking recently to Joti Brar from the Workers Party of Britain earlier this week, and she poignantly critiques the way that feminism has been hijacked by these bourgeois types, who, if you have noticed on social media, have created a closed circle around themselves. They block any disagreement, including by women and lesbians with whom they don’t agree. They don’t discuss class; they tokenize women of color, using them like in a phrase, the same way the transgender activists do, but these women of color are always absent ironically; and, then, they tend to go after women like you who won’t compromise on the fact of sex, who don’t exceptionalize the trans folks who are “nice.”
Many people have friends who identify as “trans.” I believe that transgender is a medical fiction. We don’t have any evidence of a “transgender brain.” There has been nothing confirmed by science, neurology, none of it, to show that any of the bunk that has been claimed over the recent years is true. I know that you are also of the ilk of more radical readings of this nonsense, and you call it out, and you have been punished by many of the women who have punished me and punished many others.
Can you talk about your article, what people objected to, and how you defend it?
BRITE: Well, thank you for having me on the show, first off, and I didn’t know it was going to turn into a comedy bit, Julian, really, I’ve had to hold back here. The whole thing about why I even chose to do it is that it was an idea while I was in the midst of the throes of the last few months of what had been over a year at that point planning for this conference of Can I Get a Witness? and creating that. And I had been talking to people all over the world. Once COVID hit, I realized this was not a conference that was going to happen in one physical location, in the San Francisco Bay Area, but rather it was going to become worldwide now, so that really opened it up.
I started speaking to people, asking them, looking at Twitter. I am assuming that is where you were talking about being blocked, because you are very active on Twitter. But, between Twitter and Instagram and Facebook, it’s how I got a lot of people, moving around and making phone calls. During the conversations I was having with people, some of them would say: “For your guests, you should invite Scott Newgent.” And I didn’t know who Scott Newgent even was. This was early on, like March. COVID hit, I was running a movie theater, I was out of work, that was it, and I was full-time now going to be trying to do this thing. I kind of wrote the name down and set it aside and then someone else: “You should talk to Scott Newgent.” I put it aside, again.
All of a sudden, in May, I happen to be looking at Jennifer Bilek’s page on Facebook, and I saw somebody yelling at her, as much as you can see somebody yelling on Facebook, and I saw this tiny little image and thought: Well, who’s this guy? And I looked, and I just simply wrote something like “Oh, this is ‘mansplaining,’” or somebody doing some yelling and all that. Then I looked at my notes and looked at Scott, and I was just like: “Oh, my god.” It reminded me of why my lesbian community in the San Francisco Bay Area—when I say community, I am talking about culture—became completely decimated. It became this way in large part because of a very influential character who would come in and out of town by the name of Susan, also known as Buck Angel. That was one of the sort of bad memories I had of watching younger lesbians, a little younger than myself and my own age, who became enraptured with this idea of this sort of celebrity, if you will.
That was already in my past, and when I started examining who this Scott Newgent person was, I started looking at her Twitter feed and what she was doing on Facebook. She had lots of fights with people, and I thought: These are testosterone rages. And that’s something that I had been sort of watching for years, having witnessed firsthand much of my community start taking unregulated testosterone. These were women just desperate to grow little mustaches and beards and try to have that more square jaw and all that—and, of course, get a double mastectomy. It was like walking ghosts, in a way. San Francisco became a town that was just filled with predominantly white former lesbians.
With Scott Newgent, I saw her and went: “Oh, no. This is absolutely bizarre.” Then I started reading more about her life, and I sort of tucked that aside. And, of course, I didn’t want to invite her to be a guest in Can I Get a Witness?, even though it was always designed to have a much larger landscape of different people that had different experiences dealing with this industry of gender ideology. There were people that had been “cancelled,” fired, physically attacked, and threatened. I ended up having like twenty-seven guests at this point. It was a wide range, and I did not want to have somebody whom I feel is a huge hypocrite. And, in the back of that, I must say that something that set Scott aside for me, in a very different way, is the fact that this was not a young teenager who got wrapped up on Tumblr. This was somebody whom I also saw admit that she didn’t suffer for a long time actually in a way that I had. I was a tomboy. I was somebody who grew into my lesbianism.
I came out in 1971, I was sixteen years old, and, by the time I did move to the San Francisco Bay Area, being one of those second-wavers, there was a thriving culture. And yet I kept feeling that I was different, being one of those who believed that I was “trapped in the wrong body,” going through all kinds of social things around that. I wanted to find what I thought would be a butch lesbian therapist who would see me and, although the word “affirmation” was not used then, would say: “Oh, yeah. You’re a good candidate.” And I would move toward what was “transsexualism.” That’s what I knew at the time. And thank goodness she told me what she did, which was:
You are a lovely butch woman. You are not a man. You are never going to be a man. You’re going to hurt your body. And I want to help you. I’d like to help you figure out how you fall in love with yourself, feeling good being in the body that you’re in.
This was back in the early 80s, so you can imagine. I know the time that Buck started experimenting with testosterone and all that was later on, but I did know somebody else personally, a woman named Jamie, who became Jamison Green. I don’t know if you’re familiar with her. Green was one of the first, really, to make this “transformation,” if you will, very smart, and had the finances in the beginning. I don’t know all the particulars of that. But she ended up writing a book called Becoming a Visible Man, and I thought: Well, that’s honest. That’s exactly what it is.
Anyway, so, skip to the future, Scott Newgent became one of those people that I scooted to the side, and I was growing the roster and creating more of what this conference was going to look like in this new medium for me. I had not been doing webinars and conferences like this; everything that I had in mind was very old school, producing actual conferences and all that. While that was going on, I had collected a lot of other names from people, and Scott really was an influence, along with Blaire White, because I started writing about him. I saw these women who call themselves “gender-critical,” who say they are critical of gender, “gender abolitionists,” who would constantly post videos by Blaire White.
One of the things that got me was a woman on a gender-critical women’s page on Facebook, and it must have been the umpteenth one, and she posted this video of Blaire White. Her posting of it said: “This is so important. I wish more men would listen to her.” And I just lost it. I went over the edge, and wrote some more about White, who actually doesn’t offend me as much, because I guess he reminds me a lot of gay men I used to hang out with years and years ago. But while they had done a very “good job” with their secondary sex characteristics, they always knew they were men, and they never tried to pretend really anything else. The role-playing that happened in private relationships, I didn’t care about that. Both lesbians and gay men did things like that; it wasn’t a big deal. But this was something different. I knew that, because I had sort of been watching what I call “the TransBorg,” since the mid-80s, and watching the loss of my culture and my community, all along the West Coast, by the way.
I had been working on those two people, Newgent and White, and then I started writing about Buck, because she, in particular, had affected so many women in San Francisco. And then, one day, out of the blue, it was on July 3, and I happened to go on to Twitter, and I saw that Scott had launched a crowdfunder. She wanted to go on a tour, with her “trans people,” and do this whole thing with the kids, which really got me, because another project I had in the back of my mind was to go after gender clinics and protest in front of them. I knew that they were growing. I knew that they were on the rise. And to see that this woman, who, at age 41 or 42, as a mother, and that was really the thing that tipped me over the edge with Scott. Because, no matter what we want in our lives, or what we think about ourselves, or what we would like to be or do, the idea of willingly undergoing one of the most dangerous, life-threatening operations that anybody could possibly think of doing, while you are a responsible adult for three lives, was abhorrent to me.
So I had the three of them: Buck Angel, Blaire White, and now Scott Newgent with this crowdfunder. And I just thought: She’s a grifter. Aside from anything else I thought about her, I thought she was a grifter. That was, I think, maybe the third crowdfunding attempt I had seen from her. I know she had more than one up. That was July 3rd, a Friday, the next day was Saturday, July 4th. I had been seeing Fionne Orlander, on and off, over Twitter, and just saw how there were a number of these so-called “gender-critical” women, again, really circling the wagons around him. I just thought this was somebody’s “pet trans,” as one could say. And, wouldn’t you know, the very day after I noticed Newgent’s crowdfunder, Orlander launched one for his facial feminization surgery. I began looking at those four, what the similarities were, what the attraction was for certain women who felt like they had to hang on to some kind of idea.
At that point, in May, Jennifer Bilek had already written a wonderful article called “Deconstructing the ‘Good Transwomen.’” And, about a week later, Julia Long wrote the article “A Meaningful Transition?.” What Julia did was that she brought up the same players that Jennifer had, namely Debbie Hayton and Kristina Harrison, two men, who were invited to speak by Woman’s Place UK. Those two same people came up in Julia’s article, but what Julia did that was different than what Jennifer had written about is, because Julia is a Brit, she has access to seeing things on the BBC. And she had a little BBC biography where they did an intimate portrait going into Hayton’s home. I had read both Jennifer’s and Julia’s, which were brilliant, and, when I got to Julia’s, she really dissected what had happened with Woman’s Place UK and she called out Julie Bindel. I was really surprised; I didn’t know that had happened. The hypocrisy of the whole thing. There are two things that I really hate: liars and hypocrites. And, of course, I have done both in my life, as we are all human, but, to consistently do that, use that as one’s thing twenty-four-seven. That is why I never underwent the experimental testosterone, which was peddled to lesbians on the streets, along with my other more “masculinized,” gender-nonconforming lesbian friends. The idea of this trickery, if I had done that, down the line, I would have been disgusted with myself, trying to control everybody around me to go on that sort of ride.
VIGO: Can you backtrack and explain what Bindel had done?
BRITE: If I am correct in what Julia had described, Julie Bindel was involved in inviting both Debbie Hayton and Kristina Harrison. There were going to be three speakers, I believe, and I think this was in late-2018. The thing about “A Meaningful Transition?” that is so wonderful in how Julia weaves it is that, yes, she brings up these two men that are pretending to be women, particularly with Debbie Hayton who has admitted his autogynephilia. There were three places for women to speak about this gender ideology movement and what was going on. Julia Bindel, I believe, was apparently in charge of who those three people would be, and it was herself and those two men. That was the thing I recalled, and I had already been reading Julia’s work for a while, and, again, that was another sort of nail in the coffin.
While I had already been writing this article, with more stuff coming out, by Fionne’s crowdfunder that happened, with such a huge amount of money being £25,500, to literally have his face ripped open. Then, to see the very first tweet I saw was a woman who I will never understand, and I will never rip her to pieces for the incredible work that she has done: Kathleen Stock. But she came out with: “I’ll donate, Fionne.” I was lying in bed when I saw this Twitter feed, and I had to jump out of bed and throw up in my mouth a little. It’s amazing because so many women had reached out to me and told me the same. That was the “peak trans” moment for them was Kathleen Stock literally saying that in public. Women I had talked with absolutely just felt betrayed and shocked.
VIGO: I saw people talking about it, and some of the backtalk about it was that she is free to do with her money what she wants, which, in a capitalist world, is absolutely true. She and others are free to do that. And Bindel’s double-take of calling “trans women” women, when it suits her, and then running stories about how a man in a dress attacked her also feeds the fire—and it’s another own goal.
As you have, I have spoken to many women, from the straight-talking feminism to the “nice” feminism, and I can’t help but agree with your side of that arc. Because it is, first of all, very confusing for those watching this think it is crazy, as most know that men cannot be women. There’s this theatre going on where some of the “trans-friendly” folks are pretending that some men are really women, but they don’t even believe it. Then, we’ve got the gender-critical feminists, a group that ranges from the left to the more conservative sides of the spectrum, and women are looking to Bindel and Stock, and many others. Bindel’s work on trafficking, prostitution, and surrogacy is brilliant stuff. No one can fault her for what she has done in those fields. But it does send a wave of uncertainty amongst women who have been on the ground with this who are wondering why one is playing both sides of the fence here.
There is a severity here, where we have women fighting women on, first, “political purity,” that is, how far to the left one is really, and the women in the UK getting arrested, like Posie Parker, getting their doors knocked down by the police. These are lower-middle-class and working-class women, by and large. Posie has put her neck out there. But very few of what Joti Brar calls the bourgeois feminists, who have taken over feminism, and I think it applies to some of the women who have attacked you, are putting their necks out there.
These women are not putting their necks out there. They are not doing activism. They tend to do very safe speaking gigs, publishing in right-wing media, meanwhile they run around telling Julia Long that she is collaborating with the right-wing in the U.S., which was totally unfounded. And so there seems to be this very strange spiral, where they do whatever the hell they want, they collaborate with the right, they go and talk with Tory leaders to speak in Parliament. But, when it suits them, they finger-point at the likes of you and others who are working across the aisle. Because this is not a left versus right issue. Those who have been on the ground know it is the right that is publishing articles, that the right will speak out, while the left is cowering.
What do you think is driving this puritanism, not just on Twitter, but on social media primarily, to shut down the likes of you? I read your article. It was excellent. You go after the contradiction within their position, which is that we cannot claim transgender ideology is harmful to women, but these others, “she/her/hers,” need to be protected from those “mean” lesbians over there. There is another problem happening among bourgeois feminists, namely the homophobia directed at women, even if some of them are gay themselves, because they are safely gay. It is very easy to have a permanent position at a university that is virtually untouchable and critique working-class feminists who will not kowtow to this. In a sense, the capitulation to saying “preferred pronouns” and calling somebody a “trans woman,” this complete fiction, has to end, but they, the bourgeois feminists, do not want to end it. They think they’re being smart, that they have a strategy.
BRITE: I’ll tell you, Julian, the day it came out was very interesting, because Uncommon Ground comes out of the UK, hours ahead of the United States. The editor-in-chief, Dan Fisher, who has been a really great ally on these stories, didn’t, for some reason, get in a very last tweet, that was sort of the boom-pop-pow of my whole story. It was one of the many tweets Buck later deleted where she was yelling at a woman who had been raped, where it had been posted on Pornhub. The image of it did not show up till about twenty-four hours after the article came out. But, when that image came out, I had people text me privately to say not to look at Twitter, with other people saying not to look at Facebook.
On the Standing for Women Facebook page, Posie Parker, whom I call Kellie-Jay, posted something about how “the mean girls” are after joey, and she wrote “Bravo.” And then she privately wrote to me, and we had a very nice exchange. You ask me why I think a lot of this is going on, and I think it is about class. I am not somebody who has a PhD. Like many women whom I know, I am an autodidact; I can speak two languages. That is that. I am not somebody who has a position somewhere. I worked in retail and ran a movie theatre for years, as I said. I have been a house painter for much of my career.
I have noticed when I have had conversations with women who are with degrees and whatnot, that there have been very few who have really treated me equally. Julia Long is one of those few women. I know that Kellie-Jay does not come from a bourgeois background. You bring that term up, and it is interesting, because it is not used as much in America. But I always say that, when just about anything happens, whether it is a large community of women speaking, or when it is in your own town when you are trying to do something for girls, if the issue of class is not dealt with on a core level within that group of women, even when we are working with men, if that issue is not dealt with, that is something that will ultimately cause a crash.
I know that we often talk about racism, and of course racism is rampant in the United States and within organizations as well. If we talk about the -isms, all of these things are horrific, but class, I feel, separates us way more than race does. Race is used as a political tool by the government and various factions, but, when it comes down to it, when you have women, I have found class seems to hit all the time. I have had it used directly against me when I have disagreed, with them laughing and saying that I have always been more radical. What they want to say is that I have always been on the fringes.
That is what I feel like I have experienced most of my life as a lesbian growing into an activist, growing into somebody who has produced events and concerts and thing, working with people who have been in poverty. Class comes up, like any ugly thing, every time. There is a certain group of the “big girls.” Now, I feel like there are a number of other people who have come in, very few men, who, at first, seemed to be great allies, but even those who were rising their heads above the parapet, their shelf life is done. We, as women, really need to look at what we are doing to advance anything. As long as we stay within the same paradigms, as long as we do not deal with these very core issues with each other, these things are going to repeat themselves over and over again. America is too large of a country, it seems, to gather the spirits together, meaning living women, our beings, here.
VIGO: There has been a lot of discontent amongst most feminists whom I’ve spoken to, at the very least, who find themselves sidelined by the women in this movement, as you’ve mentioned, with PhDs. Full disclosure, I have one myself, but I’ll be honest: I’ve seen it. And I was kicked out of a group for mentioning the fact that I found the approach to women who disagree with her elitist. I don’t think it’s fair that this person came on the scene three years ago, not even. There are women who have been working on this for longer than I have, and I’ve been on this for nine years.
I said that I didn’t think this was a good approach, to slander women and to make up that they were taking money from the Heritage Foundation, to say things like: “It’s a ‘bad look.’” A “bad look” for whom? If you spend all of your waking hours complaining about these women, no one thinks you’re collaborating, that you’re on the same team, so it shouldn’t be a “bad look” for you. Maybe, if your estimation is true, it is a “bad look” for them. But, if you spend your waking hours bashing them, no one really allies the two of you. And this kind of non sequitur would just swim about the Twittersphere, and I found it really devastating, because women do gravitate toward some of the bigger names. Some of the women have even taken on the Twitter names themselves of some of their icons.
We saw it with J.K. Rowling, who’s a person who certainly would suffer far less economically, reputationally. Even though she’s taken a bashing, all of us know she’s going to be vindicated, and I think she knows it, too. The difference is that when you’ve got people who have been on the scene for a few seconds, or some of these women who were on it, then they apologized and disappeared for years, and came back on after I got involved. I don’t think that a lot of women appreciate the refereeing. No one elected these women to, as I referenced before, be the Grand Poobahs. They are not. We are not in The Flintstones’s lodge. Who elected these women to be judge, jury, and executioner?
This causes problems not only within what is called the “gender-critical movement” but also amongst women, because women and men know that any of the people you mentioned in your article—Fionne is not a woman, Scott is not a man. Let’s even skip to someone you didn’t mention, who’s got a serious problem, historically: Pat Califia, who comes from your neck of the woods, who has been involved in pedophilia. She transitioned in the 90s, sort of, yes and no, but, long story short, this person identifies as “transgender.” Now, Califia is another inconvenient truth for this movement, but you can’t state it. So we are doing ourselves, in a sense, no favors to say we are “gender-critical,” as you mention, on the one hand, and then, on the other hand, write out a check for someone’s facial feminization surgery. No offense to these men who feel like they are in the “wrong” face, but tell that to my face. I had skin cancer a few years ago on my nose, the only part of my face I actually like. We all have problems, no?
BRITE: You know, what’s interesting, in what you bring up, is that these “academics” aren’t the ones who are joining me in this mission to go after clinics either. For some reason, they seem to not really have the time, or that’s not their focus, or, as one said to me: “That’s not really my wheelhouse.” And I asked: “What is your wheelhouse? I don’t understand.” Because, the idea these days of protesting in the United States, after what we experienced as a country last year in 2020 with lockdown, with the race riots and this and that. Then, everybody, all of a sudden, started waking up to realize Black Lives Matter got captured by the trans lobbyists years ago now.
The idea of doing any kind of civil disobedience in this country is arguably dangerous, and it takes guts to want to even do that. I don’t see the people that are these academics really taking that plunge. I don’t see them doing what we see in the UK, like with Kellie-Jay announcing at the end of May, Speakers’ Corner is going to come up again. This idea of changing minds literally on the street corner or in front of a clinic or in front of a psychotherapy office, where I know psychotherapists are streaming young people into the arms of clinicians. That, to me, is the most basic thing we can do to raise our voices and make the time to do that. That’s just always been part of my organizing, and it’s not something that I find a lot of people who have spent years in schooling doing.
In this country, I think that there’s a divide between the people who have gone through all this education and those who have not. The schools got shut down for some time, and some ended up working at other jobs, even going into construction. So, with COVID, there has been some shift.
It is interesting you say you have been involved for nine years. When I see women talking about how long they have been at this, and they just can’t believe how exhausted they are, and they can’t believe this and that. And I have to laugh, because it has been almost forty years for me. Again, to watch your entire culture get decimated, if I didn’t have another culture, helping to promote female jazz instrumentalists, I think I would have gone literally insane.
Every store that I have gone into, the entire time I worked at the movie theatre, I was trolled several times. One of the executive directors of a film festival, the world’s oldest and longest running film festival, literally tried to have me fired from my job claiming I was a “transphobe.” I never had any interactions with her and never had done anything else. Somebody found, or she herself did, that my personal Twitter feed, which had absolutely nothing to do with the good job I was doing managing this theatre, was trying to get me fired. So I have since been fired from a different job. I know that many of us are self-employed, many of us are older that are doing the things that we’re doing. And it’s sad that’s where a lot of us have to be in order to really deal with this fight on the ground. Some of those who are living in their lofty offices in universities, being paid just for thinking and tweeting and all that, what a luxury that would be. Meanwhile, I’m still painting houses.
VIGO: This is a problem. This is why Joti Brar’s interview the other day is so important, I think, for these women to listen to. I am not trying to demonize them; I hate this whole “You’ve got privilege” discourse. I posted an article yesterday from Inside Higher Education, I believe, where it’s showing the effect of lockdown on academics who don’t have the luxury of tenured positions. I was an adjunct academic in New York; I paid my rent and barely ate. Junior doctors in the UK are barely surviving as well, especially in cities like London.
But I think it’s really important when you’ve got academics who were on the scene for not even six months when this happened in January of 2019 writing “Parker and Long are a liability; I’d be mortified to be ambushed like that,” and then saying that their “jaunt” is “setting back a productive conversation”—this is delusional. I’ll tell you that much. Because I’ve spoken to women who not only disagree with her but also have yet to see her at a protest. She’s not getting arrested—and saying things like “I fundamentally disagree with their actions and cozying up to the conservative right in harassing a trans woman.” No. Transgenderism is a fiction.
I have to wonder why people are not able to see very glaringly the disconnect of some of these women who are harassing working-class women for doing political activism. Here I am going to segue to an interview I had with Harry Belafonte, who said very clearly that he and Dr. King would go and meet with the Ku Klux Klan, because they knew the only way to create dialogue was to “cozy up to,” as was written about Parker and Long, the conservative right. You have to build bridges by sitting with people; you have to build bridges by discussing.
I want to get back to what you said just now about jazz music and your time working at a movie theatre, because, when I was looking at your bio, which I read out before you came on, like you, I am a huge fan of cinema. It was my escape from crazy parents. I think I escaped even into some bad musicals. Anyone who says Easter Parade is a great movie is lying, but I watched it, if we’re supposed to believe that Fred Astaire is a desirable hunk. And I would say that your influences of Gordon Parks and Diane Arbus are right-on. Your love of large-format magazines like Look, brilliant. Look was one of the first magazines that covered the story of Emmett Till: “The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi.” It was images and jazz also that pushed people to see the injustice.
Ironically, “Die in a fire” and threats to rape women, I just saw one yesterday of a long tweet video of a guy threatening to kill us, I am sure Twitter won’t get around to taking it down. But jazz did. And, as you know, “Strange Fruit” was one of those songs that was not only one of Billie Holiday’s best-known songs, but it broke that terrain where white people, all over the country, had to come to grips with this “strange fruit” hanging. We see where social revolution through photography and music happened. I was, my whole life, brought up on music; it was jazz, because I grew up in New Orleans from the age of ten, and it was Indian raga music, because my father’s Indian.
How have photography and jazz fit into your life and how have you been affected from the gender movement over this?
BRITE: The whole thing really was having grown up a tomboy and a gender-nonconforming kid and always looking to film and escaping that way. Where a lot of my friends were huge readers, so many people I know lived in their rooms or in the libraries, I was more into not just watching movies but also reading about them. And I grew up around the Los Angeles area as well, so I was one of those kids that wanted so badly to work in the Hollywood industry somehow. My parents were just not educated in that way to be able to encourage me around any of that.
But the idea of photographs, as you said, the fashion, the way that Gordon Parks took these incredible photos of fashion, sort of juxtaposed with Diane Arbus and the ordinary, the black and white shots of inner city people, those are things that have informed me always. As I said, for years, I have been an event producer, and I started to work in jazz primarily with helping local performers. And this is around the San Francisco Bay Area, which has a pretty large jazz community, nothing like New York, but still a large community. With the advent of the Internet and social media and these tools, visual tools and also tools of connecting people, I, with a love of film, the digitization of cameras democratized access to imagery, to the little people’s lives, to working-class lives.
I do love jazz, and I began to help really out of feeling and necessity for some jazz instrumentalists who were right here in my area, who were very good, but who were not being asked, not being platformed, and not being included in the number of places, the cafés and nightclubs, where people would pay money to go see jazz. I had decided that one person in particular, a woman who is a jazz harpist, had a lot going against her. I began to realize that, for women in jazz, they were mostly supposed to sing or play the piano. But if a woman got on a horn or played the drums or did anything loud, she was not being hired. So, in 2015, while also looking at these issues around gender, I ended up holding a petition against one of the world’s largest jazz festivals, the Monterey Jazz Festival here in Monterey, California. I started looking at the years and years of the festival and, since the year they began to what was 2015 or 2016, I saw that, over a number of years, even in one decade, there were hundreds and hundreds of male musicians. But there were really a handful of women, and most of them were vocalists, because that was the acceptable thing—and it still is that way.
There’s a wonderful musician in the Bay Area. Her name is Destiny Muhammad. She and her husband had been plugging away. He was working as her manager for a long time. She moved from that Celtic harp world into jazz, much as Alice Coltrane had done, much as Dorothy Ashby had done. She was saying that she was not able to get gigs here and there, and I said: “Let’s see if I can help you out.” What I did, immediately, was to find an image that a local photographer had taken of her at a concert, and it was a color image, and I turned it to black and white. And I showed it to Destiny and her husband Chris, and said I would like to see if we can brand you. Now, they had their own branding and had a lot of other things going on. But I felt like, from my eye, that Look magazine eye, seeing the images of Gordon Parks on fashion and everything, I saw this beautiful woman, who was also not young, but not terribly old, a Black woman with long dreads, who sang sometimes as well. She was playing jazz and was using the harp. And, when I went out to try and get some gigs for her, I had people say: “She plays a harp? That’s not jazz.”
Like with a lot of things, I just felt more encouraged and ended up creating a jazz channel called Behind the Curtain TV. And I just started shooting, working with her and some other local female jazz instrumentalists and vocalists as well, putting up videos and doing this sort of guerilla-style video work. I never connected the video camera to the sound board; I would move around, like with a guitarist, moving along with the man or woman playing the instrument and pull out for a long shot. So I have about three hundred and fifty videos over a number of years that I began doing this sort of promotion.
I ended up doing my own protest, handing out leaflets, right outside the gates of the Monterey Jazz Festival, telling them that what they had just paid for, or what they were about to go in and pay for, that there were only two women who were jazz instrumentalists while maybe three female vocalists over an entire weekend. We’re talking that, every year, the Monterey Festival, on average, for three days of music, would post about or platform like a hundred men on instruments and just a handful of women would be showcased. I went up against it. I met somebody locally who was a trumpet player, somebody who had played with Laura Nyro, her and her partner, years before. She had a band, and she was going to be doing a rally in front of the San Francisco Jazz Center. And it was Wynton Marsalis who was coming with the Lincoln Jazz Center and the Lincoln Jazz Orchestra, which has had the same, I believe, nineteen men for over twenty-something years. He’s never hired a female jazz instrumentalist. In 2014, it had already been like twenty-five years that it had been going on.
What we have seen across the country in the music world, like in every aspect of our lives, about seventy-five percent, at that point, had switched over in the orchestra world to blind auditions. And that’s what this woman here, Ellen Seeling, really opened my eyes to in the jazz world, what was going on. I had started working with Destiny, but I worked with a lot of men who are in the jazz world. I saw this discrepancy on such an enormous level that, for me, it was like: Get up a petition. So I put something on Change.org. I went there by myself; I had never been. And I handed out flyers and everything, and went into the festival and got to experience it, which I had done for several years, except for lockdown. But, when you’ve been an activist at all, first stepping into any world, whether you are looking at it for women or girls or children, once you stick your neck out and start talking to people, most people do not understand that things are going on. Of course, that is what we are finding now with pediatric gender clinics. It’s amazing to have one-on-one conversations with people who are willing to listen, who do want to understand.
VIGO: In your article, you had said that it is all fine that people gather around to denounce childhood transition, but they, too, are part of the problem, because we can’t just say it’s harmful until eighteen, but from eighteen on it’s okay. The ideology is still there, we’re all swimming in it.
There is this idea that for a woman to have access to the Monterey Jazz Festival might involve her pulling a Billy Tipton. For our listeners, Tipton was a jazz musician who has been “nominated” as a transgender-identified female, she cross-dressed, she got married, adopted, I believe, two children with her wife. It’s all documented in Marjorie Garber’s wonderful book Vested Interests. And, upon her death, lo and behold, the family found out that this father and husband was a woman. It was the coroner who had the due diligence to tell them. Now, this is one of the many dead lesbians who’s been “transgendered” after death, this postmodern “trans” phenomenon. I don’t think that there’s a bridge long enough to meet two sides of this debate, joey, where there are people saying it has always been, and they throw out some Egyptian goddess from five thousand years ago, and then Tipton and Jan Morris. All these people say “trans” has always existed.
The other day on Twitter somebody said something about the stage performance and how men have been serious about becoming women on stage. But there is a reason for that. Women have been exiled from all social life until a drop of a second in human history. If we were to look at the last hundred years as anything within human history, and we go back to the evolution of humans, this was a second. Women have been around a second having some sort of agency, including the “agency” to leave the house and get trampled by horses, under the actions of feminists in the UK, including the “privilege” to be raped by men because women walk in the park at night.
The problem is that, on the one hand, we have a super misogynistic movement that is being pushed by the “wokest” of dudes with uneven haircuts and blue hair. On the other side, we have women, like us, asking: “What planet are you on?” You cannot just suspend science when it suits you, because all these people on the other side know what COVID is and mask up. Why do I know this? Because this whole ideology is drilled and fomented by the upper-middle class, the elite people with PhDs, people in high positions. They drill this outward, the media as well, because they’re all patting each other’s backs and writing each other’s checks. We’re getting it twenty-four-seven. Like I said recently, you would almost think the majority of the population was trans, and that COVID and trans were almost similar in importance. Because, if I were a Martian landing on earth, that’s what I would take away from our media. We have got this notion from these people that science is everything, except when it comes to women’s bodies. Then, we hear “you bigot, how dare you.” It’s amazing, the kind of suspense of rational thought that goes on.
Back to the earlier discussion, why is it that lesbians seem to be so hated by bourgeois feminists, who can’t seem to square the fact that working-class women should be emanating the messages, not us. Those of us with higher education degrees, in a large part, we’re responsible for what’s happened. I raise my hand; I taught queer theory. I taught queer theory at New York University. I taught queer theory at the New School for Social Research. I taught cinema and queerness at Hunter College, for instance. Did I do it in this madness of today? No. I did it in the early days of queer theory, when it was about homosexuality. Nitrate Kisses, I taught that, for goodness sake, and Barbara Hammer was certainly not saying she was a man because she shaved her head.
At the same time, I think those of us coming from higher education need to “STFU” and listen to women on the ground and participate, just like Harry Belafonte went and participated in marches and sat down at tables with the Ku Klux Klan.
Why is it that, in the UK, a society that’s renowned for not dealing with its class issues, still perpetuating this, but amongst feminists?
BRITE: That is such a golden question.
I cannot believe you brought up one of my favorite musicians with Billy Tipton, because I’ve been struggling with an article that I’m writing about this horrific film that I happened to be able to preview called No Ordinary Man. I don’t know if you happened to even see that, but they have transed Billy Tipton’s life with all of these women who think that they’re men. That’s a whole other story, but it is interesting, because I was just working on a piece about that. Again, it is not just class. I have been reading about the relationships between children and the friendships they have.
There’s a book called Best Friends, Worst Enemies, and it’s sort of an everyday look into the lives of children, but the thing about women and girls and this circling around the wagons that we tend to do when it comes to certain pet projects or people, I think that, as women, we are more prone, in general, to want to protect people and things. It goes back to something you said earlier. And I think that Joti brought this up, the whole thing about how we’re supposed to be nice and kind and this and that. Truly, women are geared up to protect, to defend, and we will do it, because we are also taught to have so much self-hatred, and do it to our own detriment. We continue to do that in many ways. Women will compartmentalize and not think of the hypocrisy that they’re espousing while they’re in their situations.
It’s interesting this thing about class, because we talk about Kellie-Jay in the UK, and you are much more familiar with the UK, but what’s happened here, in this so-called “women’s movement,” because there is so much in it that doesn’t reflect who I am. But there is somebody whom I have so much admiration for, and she’s probably the most dangerous American woman today is Beth Stelzer with Save Women’s Sports. There is a working-class woman, a mother, someone who’s a wife, who just came into this madness quite by accident. She had powerlifting as a hobby. She’s very working-class, and I love that. There are others in this country. We shall see in the next year or two how this will shake out.
It’s in the Western world, right? This idea of somebody like Harry Belafonte doing what he did, I think that is more in the past, that there were people who were willing to have that kind of celebrity to understand where they had come from and be able to use their platform. Audrey Hepburn did that. There’s a new documentary out on her, that is wonderful, showing how she used her platform, even years after she had dropped out of the movie industry, and still could raise lots and lots of money with UNICEF, just with her presence.
In the UK, they have their royals, in the US we have our celebrities, and, no matter how people are intellectual here, they still love the people that love the camera, and the camera loves them. And they want those people to succeed and here, we will, in this country, vote for those people in positions they have absolutely no business being in—or do they? In my own state of California, when I saw that Arnold Schwarzenegger was going to be running, I used to tell everybody that he was going to be our governor, and they would laugh at me. When I saw that Donald Trump threw his hat in, I said: “That’s it. We’re done.” People said to me that it was ridiculous, that there’s no way. And, now, in the state of California, and maybe we can talk about this after it happens, I can tell you who my next governor is going to be, because they do not announce without knowing that there are millions and millions of dollars behind Bruce Jenner becoming the next governor of California. That is what I am looking at, in a state where the insurance commissioner got into political bed with a woman with a tiny little organization in San Diego called Trans Family Services. And they got into political bed together, she has transed her own child, and Ricardo Lara sneaks right before 2021 comes around and eliminates the age limit on girls to have their breasts removed for insurance to pay for it. Things like that, all the dots are connected.
VIGO: It’s interesting that you’re pointing to so many activists doing things. I’ve interviewed Beth. I think we need to also discuss something that the bourgeois feminists refuse. I’m thinking, again, back to the incident that made me wake up about the class divide within feminism: the Parker and Long incident in Washington D.C. in January 2019. I have real issues with women who own homes, who have academic titles, and who run around saying: “Well, if we carried on with the Julia Long strategy saying ‘He’s a man,’ if that had worked, then we wouldn’t be in this mess, now would we?” Well, actually, I have to remind them those are the strategies that do work, because it was because of those women’s actions that American women saw it. Right after that happened, Andrew Sullivan wrote about it. Sullivan is someone who can reach both sides of the political aisle, because he is a white gay male who’s conservative. And that sparked fire under many in the US. I think it is really shocking that many don’t understand what activism looks like. Here we have, now, so many women on the ground from the UK, Australia, New Zealand—I interviewed Renée Gerlich recently, wonderful activism. She’s been on it for years, not just around this issue, but women’s rights.
I am not imputing all feminists at elite institutions, because there are many women with PhDs, not just Julia Long, within institutions working on working-class issues. I interviewed Selina Todd, who has an excellent book on working-class women that is so important. But why are so many women making this a class segregation issue, because it is a form of class apartheid when we have people saying that we are going to smash up some women reputationally because they spoke, and they make it look like we are associated with them—they want to have their cake and to eat it, too. We cannot say that they have nothing to do with us, because we know better, but at the same time, when these women speak, we say these women reflect badly on us, even if going out of our way to say we have nothing to do with them.
How can this rift be solved?
BRITE: If you’re talking about, again, the idea that this is between women, honestly I just sort of stick my feet in there every once in a while, but I personally have become so pained, feeling frustrated, working just with women, just with this idea of “the women’s movement.” What I’ve done personally, this thing about the clinics and finally getting these protests really off the ground, is I’m talking to parents, talking to people who are Christian and Catholic. I am an atheist, and I let them know right off that I am a homosexual. The parents are the ones that are really feeling the pain of this the most, first affected by what is going on with their kids, and being blindsided by this stuff. I am having these Zoom sessions with parents and other people that aren’t parents, who feel very strongly about this issue. Here I am just hoping that I am helping them to understand what our rights are as Americans for civil disobedience, what it means to actually do one of the oldest traditions that we have, which is peaceful protesting. Conversations happen. Dialogues happen.
In the middle of talking about how to protest and how to protect yourself during a protest, talking about very nasty situations, real danger, all of a sudden somebody might say: “Can I ask a question?” And it has nothing to do with protest, and it ends up being a man or a woman asking a question about feminism or the women’s movement or some historical thing. Those kinds of basic conversations, I am getting so much more enjoyment out of things that are more elementary where my political thought has been or my history around that. I am getting much more satisfaction knowing that is something I am doing that is literally moving to action on the streets than sitting around in a nonprofit, as I have done before, trying to scramble out through the classes, through the -isms, through the infighting, and through the “mean girl” stuff that can go on, talking about organizing among women.
I think there’s just such an amount of self-hatred, that I think when women see another woman who’s doing something, and maybe they would like to do it, but it’s too scary, or a woman who’s written a book, and somebody else just always wanted to get published, they’re envious. All of those little things that people talk about, it’s been extremely hard as a woman who hasn’t been recognized as a woman, and a lot of my life it’s been very sad. But, being in the trades, and working for the many years that I have in the painting trades, it is a very different culture. We know that men talking amongst themselves is very different. Are men prone to gossip? Yes. Are they prone to jealousy and all the other feelings? Absolutely. But there is something in our socialization, that no matter how much “feminism,” no matter how “woke” we are in our “feminism,” no matter what we’ve done, there is a certain point with a certain crowd, there is this tendency to rip each other apart. It happens in most marginalized groups, different groups, whether it is through skin color, ethnicity, or religion. But, amongst women, I find it has been the most powerful thing I have experienced in my life, women getting together and creating projects and doing things well, but, over time, also the most painful and hurtful thing I have seen that women can do.
On class, honestly, I don’t know what else to say, except that, the older that I get, the more I want to look for where I feel that I have the most impact, what I can do with any skills that I have, any advantage that I have in terms of being able to speak. I used to perform music. I was one of those kids that was terrified of getting in front of the microphone. And, now, it has been many years. That’s what happens when you go to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in the early years and you have two thousand women, all of a sudden, when you’re used to playing for no more than forty in a coffee house. I don’t think there is any one answer to it, and when I saw what Julia and Kellie-Jay did in that building to that man, I will tell you that, although I am not a patriotic person, as an American, as a long-time feminist, I saw that and was so pleased. Again, that was a radical act.
As Jennifer Bilek says: “We are in the eleventh hour.” I don’t know why women think we should just have conferences patting each other on the backs, or doing so on social media, talking about how beautiful somebody is, this constant need for praise. I don’t want to be at those parties. If there is somebody who is a celebrity, then I would want to have a conversation with that person and learn what I can.
You’d brought it up earlier in the conversation why I don’t believe, ever, anybody who wants to live in that fiction, and maybe did it a very long time ago, that they have any place standing at a microphone or writing articles, going against the medicalization of children. I’m focused on the pediatric gender clinics at this point. When people throw at me that they have a right to do this and that, I say that I never said they didn’t have rights. That is not what I am arguing.
Jennifer Bilek wrote this follow-up article after mine: “The Grooming of the Gender-Critical Movement.” She called it grooming, and that’s what it is. The disconnect there is confusing not just to children, although I think they are the most trapped by this, because they are the most influenced, especially with the Internet now, but everybody gets confused. That is seen with some of these conversations with people who have asked me if I want “trans people” to come and join us. I said: “As long as I am doing the protests the way that I am, I am choosing not to have that be something that I want the optics to be.” Some people have already criticized me about that. That’s fine.
There are other people who are conducting protests in ways that I never would. That doesn’t mean that it’s all wrong, and I would never say that they don’t have a right to. That’s not the issue to me. It has to do with being responsible and safe. And, in the long run, what’s the message? If you have somebody, like a Fionne Orlander, who would be standing in front and protesting at a clinic, that is a disconnect to me that, at this point, I cannot reconcile. I really can’t. I think it’s sending a mixed message that’s very dangerous, because it’s making an exception. Again, “Do as I say, not as I do” is the message going out, and “Do as I say, not as I do” is not going to work. Like Jennifer said, it’s like having somebody who’s twenty-four-seven drinking, and they get invited to show up and talk about the dangers of alcoholism.
Donovan Cleckley holds a BA in English and Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Montevallo and an MA in English from Tulane University. His research focuses on the relationship between women’s rights and gay rights, literature and sexual politics, and the social and political implications of transgenderism as an ideology, an industry, and an institution. Learn more about his work at https://donovancleckley.com.