Excerpt on “tolerance” from Janice Raymond’s “The Transsexual Empire”

pronouns-coverThis book will, no doubt, be dismissed by many transsexuals and transsexual advocates as intolerant. Tolerance, however, can easily become repressive, as Marcuse has pointed out. It is often a variation on the “poverty of liberalism,” functioning as sympathy for the oppressed. I strongly believe that one of the tasks of those who would be truly open and sensitive to transsexualism is to take stands that are informed, honest, and sensitive to all the issues involved. Obviously, those who take a critical position will be subjected to accusations of dogmatism and intolerance, when in fact those who are unwilling to take a stand are exercising the dogmatism of openness at any cost. This time, the cost of openness is the solidification of the medical empire and the multiplying of medical victims.

Those who advocate tolerance of medicalized transsexualism are expressing a false sympathy which, in both the immediate and ultimate context, can only facilitate and fortify the possession of women by men. Such sympathetic tolerance will only strengthen a society in which sex roles are the norm, and where deep existential choices become subject to medicalization. When tolerance serves mainly to protect the fabric by which a sexist society is held together, then it neutralizes values. It is important to help break the concreteness of oppression by showing its theoretical inconsistencies and by stretching minds to think about solutions that only appear to be sensitive and sympathetic.

Tolerance also fosters a laissez-faire attitude to problems –“different strokes for different folks.” Social control flourishes under this ideological umbrella, whether it is called “free choices,” “radical solutions,” and/or “liberating boundaries.” Furthermore, tolerance is essentially a passive position. Marcuse, in his essay “Repressive Tolerance,” has written:

The political locus of tolerance has changed: while it is more or less quietly and constitutionally withdrawn from the opposition, it is made compulsory behavior with respect to established policies. Tolerance is turned from an active into a passive state, from practice to non-practice…. It is the people who tolerate the government, which, in turn tolerates opposition within the framework determined by the constituted authorities.23

Many feminists are opposed to transsexualism. Yet that opposition, having moved outside the limits of tolerance set up by the medical authorities, will often be decried as intolerant. What is happening here is a fundamental reversal. “Tolerance toward that which is radically evil now appears as good because it serves the cohesion of the whole on the road to affluence or more affluence.”24 It is not only tolerance in the service of medical affluence that we witness in the transsexual situation, but tolerance in the service of medical control – specifically the control of women.


  1. Herbert Marcuse, “Repressive Tolerance,” in Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore, Jr., and Herbert Marcuse, A Critique of Pure Tolerance (Boston: Beacon Press, 1965), pp. 82-83.
  2. Ibid., p. 83.

Janice G. Raymond. The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. New York: Teachers College Press, 1994. Reissue, with a new introduction, of the 1979 edition published by Beacon Press, Boston.


One thought on “Excerpt on “tolerance” from Janice Raymond’s “The Transsexual Empire”

  1. Just goes to show how Raymond is very similar to right-wing fundamentalists, who also decry “excessive tolerance”. Except in their case, they are lately mostly concentrated on intolerance of Islam, where there is at least a sizeable element of actual “radical evil”. Applying this label to consensual medical treatment of a small number of individuals, even were the treatment misguided, is simply laughable, and was so when the book was written.

    This entire movement is just a cheerleading squad for the fundies, ever extolling their virtues (whether of Paul McHuh and of Lord Tebbitt), ever serving their aims.


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