Judith Butler artfully dismantles trans-exclusionary feminism and JK Rowling. Hang this in the Louvre immediately

Judith Butler poses for a photo at the Jewish Museum in Berlin

The philosopher and feminist Judith Butler has skewered the tenets underpinning trans-exclusionary feminism in an email exchange so magnificent it should be printed out and framed.

In an interview with the New Statesman, Butler – a leading feminist and intellectual whose work on gender, sexuality and philosophy spans several decades – makes it crystal clear that she is absolutely, 100 per cent not here for the kind of feminists that exclude trans women.

Despite the interviewer’s best efforts to paint trans-exclusionary feminists – sometimes called “gender critical” feminists – as mainstream and popular, Butler is very clear that this is a “fringe movement”.

“I want to first question whether trans-exclusionary feminists are really the same as mainstream feminists,” Judith Butler begins by saying. “If you are right to identify the one with the other, then a feminist position opposing transphobia is a marginal position. I think this may be wrong. My wager is that most feminists support trans rights and oppose all forms of transphobia.”

The 64-year-old, who is perhaps best known for her seminal 1990 book Gender Trouble, is then asked about the “mainstream public discourse” of whether trans people should be allowed to legally self-declare their gender, rather than having to get a medical diagnosis from a doctor (this possibility was removed yesterday when equalities chief Liz Truss declined to demedicalise the Gender Recognition Act).

Referencing JK Rowling, the interviewer cites the view that allowing trans people to self-declare their legal gender will mean “putting women at risk of violence”.

“If we look closely at the example that you characterise as ‘mainstream’ we can see that a domain of fantasy is at work, one which reflects more about the feminist who has such a fear than any actually existing situation in trans life,” Butler says.

“The feminist who holds such a view presumes that the penis does define the person, and that anyone with a penis would identify as a woman for the purposes of entering such changing rooms and posing a threat to the women inside. It assumes that the penis is the threat, or that any person who has a penis who identifies as a woman is engaging in a base, deceitful, and harmful form of disguise.

“This is a rich fantasy, and one that comes from powerful fears, but it does not describe a social reality. Trans women are often discriminated against in men’s bathrooms, and their modes of self-identification are ways of describing a lived reality, one that cannot be captured or regulated by the fantasies brought to bear upon them.

“The fact that such fantasies pass as public argument is itself cause for worry.”

Asked again about JK Rowling, Judith Butler says that while she is obviously “against online abuse of all kinds” including the “violent or abusive language used online against people like JK Rowling”, she also obviously disagrees with JK Rowling’s views on trans people.

And, she adds, “I confess to being perplexed by the fact that you point out the abuse levelled against JK Rowling, but you do not cite the abuse against trans people and their allies that happens online and in person.”

“If we are going to object to harassment and threats, as we surely should, we should also make sure we have a large picture of where that is happening, who is most profoundly affected, and whether it is tolerated by those who should be opposing it. It won’t do to say that threats against some people are tolerable but against others are intolerable.”

Butler also points to the fact that by engaging in a fight against “gender ideology” and promoting biological essentialism, trans-exclusionary feminists are sharing a position with Donald Trump.

“It is painful to see that Trump’s position that gender should be defined by biological sex, and that the evangelical and right-wing Catholic effort to purge ‘gender’ from education and public policy accords with the trans-exclusionary radical feminists’ return to biological essentialism,” Butler says.

“It is a sad day when some feminists promote the anti-gender ideology position of the most reactionary forces in our society.”

Butler also pushes back at the “debate” around trans lives. “Let us be clear that the debate here is not between feminists and trans activists,” she says. “There are trans-affirmative feminists, and many trans people are also committed feminists.”

“One clear problem is the framing that acts as if the debate is between feminists and trans people. It is not. One reason to militate against this framing is because trans activism is linked to queer activism and to feminist legacies that remain very alive today.

“Feminism has always been committed to the proposition that the social meanings of what it is to be a man or a woman are not yet settled. “