Why the gender wars become so extreme

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There were two protests in Bristol on Sunday afternoon (19 June). The first of these was led by platinum-haired mob instigator Posie Parker (real name Kelly-Jay Keene-Minshall), who has established herself as one of the UK’s most savvy and provocative gender-critical activists. The second was a counter-protest led by trans activists, including a group called Bristol Against Hate.

The clash between the two factions ended, as always, in a massacre. One masked man was photographed holding a sign saying “Turfs can suck my dick” (“Turfs” are radical feminists). Videos have been circulating online of two demonstrators with a hoarse voice screaming at the top of their lungs that Parker and her allies should “go to sea” and are going to “go extinct” and order women to “go home and look after your children” . . Gender-critical protesters were trapped in a pub surrounded by an angry mob, many wearing intimidating black uniforms with face masks and dark glasses. The police eventually escorted Parker and the other women out of the building for their own protection.

This weekend’s scenes are typical of events where physical intimidation and vandalism against gender-critical groups is now commonplace. There have been many similar incidents in recent years in other British cities, including women’s rights protests in London, Brighton, Edinburgh and Manchester. Wherever gender-critical women congregate, they are followed by menacing mobs.

The easy way out for the bewildered fence sitters is to call for more light, less heat, and more reconciliation efforts in this most bitter of culture wars. “Both Sides” will point to the fact that while trans activists sometimes misbehave, gender-critical activists can also be seriously obnoxious online, and that’s true (although my mentions on Twitter won’t thank me for acknowledging this point). And from this they conclude that all these wranglings could be resolved if only everyone calmed down.

But what this analysis misses is what happens at the extreme end of trans activism, when unpleasant behavior turns into something more pathological. “Both Sides” would do well to read 2008 commentary Ann Lawrence, American psychologist and trans woman, who noted the intensity of vitriol directed at gender-critical people, especially women, and set out to investigate its cause.

Lawrence identifies a small subgroup within the transgender population—all born males, most of whom transitioned as adults—who can be so enraged by the people they come into conflict with that they feel threaten their sense of self (including gender critical activists) that they begin “a disproportionate, obsessive pursuit of revenge that aims to destroy both the crime and the perpetrator.”

It is an anger that goes far beyond the usual political differences, and Lawrence argues that it is best explained as the result of distress and dysfunction so severe that “personality disorders” come into play. She quotes the psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut describing the psychiatric phenomenon of narcissistic rage (which, of course, is not limited to any one population): “[There is a] the need for vengeance, for righting injustice, for making amends by any means, as well as a deep-seated, unrelenting compulsion to achieve all these goals … A complete disregard for reasonable limits and an unbounded desire to make amends and revenge. … The fanaticism of the thirst for revenge and the endless need to settle scores after a misdemeanor.

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“Both Sides” does not encounter this subgroup, nor does the vast majority of transgender people who are just as confused and dismayed as anyone else after seeing videos of angry balaclava-clad figures shouting obscenities at middle-aged women. But you won’t be able to understand the events of this weekend – or even the gender wars more broadly – if you refuse to acknowledge the small but devastating role of, as Lawrence calls it, “narcissistic rage.”

[See also: Feminism has been reduced to the transgender debate]

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