Archive for the ‘anti-transgender feminism’ Category
Lu’s Pharmacy rejects transgender customerA Vancouver transgender activist says that the pharmacy owned by the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective has refused to fill her prescription. Jamie Lee Hamilton told the Georgia Straight on July 14 that Lu’s: A Pharmacy for Women denied her service because she wasn’t born female.
“I’m a member of the Downtown Eastside, a long-time resident,” Hamilton said. “I should be able to access my community pharmacy.”
According to Hamilton, the collective’s executive director, Caryn Duncan, explained that the pharmacy won’t serve male-to-female transgender people. Hamilton said she told Duncan that this policy is discriminatory. “She then said, ‘No, you have to be born female,’ ” Hamilton claimed.
In a July 15 phone interview with the Straight, Duncan said she told Hamilton that the collective is committed to its original vision for the pharmacy and its other services, which is to work with “women born women”. Duncan said that the organization has specialized in meeting the health needs of these women for more than 40 years.
“It is how we would like to continue to approach the work that we are providing women,” Duncan said.
She added that she isn’t sure that she would describe what happened as “refusing her service”, and claimed that Hamilton tried to force her way inside. Duncan also said she feels “very overwhelmed” by the pressure she’s received to provide service to transgender women.
“I have felt that people are employing intimidation tactics, and it’s hurtful to me personally,” she said. “As I said to Jamie Lee Hamilton, we want to help women here. We want to focus on the work that we do that’s very important to us and to the women who want to use our services. That’s where I want to put my energy.”
I need to find a linkable source, but reportedly, Duncan threatened to call the police on Jamie Lee Hamilton, while at the same time saying that protest tactics are intimidation and hurtful to her personally. That’s nice to know, Ms. Duncan, but somehow I think the pain of being criticized for an exclusionary policy quite measures up to the experience of being excluded.
I would further add that the intimidation tactic of threatening trans women with police (and the potential for arrest and being locked up with cis men) pretty much outweighs the pain of being told “Hey, you’re being transphobic.”
Video of the protest, with Ms. Duncan talking about how they discussed the decision to exclude trans women for years, and claims that it comes down strictly to reproductive health. Plus neglecting to mention how trans women were excluded from the decision-making process.
Queen Emily posted about Lu’s Pharmacy, a pharmacy that’s only for cis women (or the trans misogynist dogwhistle, “women born womeny”) on Feministe:
Did you know there’s a women-only pharmacist in Vancouver? It opened yesterday. Only, “women’s only,” doesn’t mean all women. A number of bloggers have been posting about how this new pharmacy has from its birth held onto some old prejudices – excluding trans women from access to its services.
What the pharamacy is supposed to do is this:
Caryn Duncan, executive director of Vancouver Women’s Health Collective, said a lot of women told her they do not go to pharmacies in the troubled neighbourhood [Vancouver's Downtown Eastside] because many of them focus on dispensing methadone to heroin addicts.
“Women felt, ‘I want a woman pharmacist. I want to know that when I walk in the door, I’m going to be getting sound women-centred care from a pharmacist. I can talk to her about emergency contraception or a vaginal infection, something that is very personal and intimate,’” said Duncan
Ok, that sounds alright to me. So why exclude trans women? We don’t have personal and intimate needs? WE don’t need protection?
More at Feministe, of course.
Helen G posted more at Bird of Paradox:
Vancouver Women’s Health Collective has just opened a new pharmacy called Lu’s: A Pharmacy for Women which claims to offer a “full-service pharmacy” as well as “advice on your medication and your healthcare”. (Via VWHC website – Lu’s Services)The website continues:
By opening a women’s pharmacy, the VWHC is once again providing health care services to women along with health information and our continued advocacy work, from a model that is informed by a feminist perspective. We know that women are still underserved by the current health care model, and we know that certain women face considerable barriers to accessing quality health care, which include poverty, addiction, racism, and sexism, among others. We see Lu’s: A Pharmacy for Women as a unique opportunity to organize in a new way, by bringing together health care professionals both traditional and holistic (in the form of pharmacists, doctors, and holistic practitioners), volunteers, community activists, and community members in one space.
(Via VWHC website – A Brief History of Lu’s: A Pharmacy for Women)
Which all sounds great. A much-needed resource offering access to “quality health care, which include poverty, addiction, racism, and sexism, among others”. A laudable aim, unquestionably.
However, according to The Vancouver Courier (link here):
Starting Tuesday, any woman who was born a woman can visit the pharmacy to have prescriptions filled.
It’s unclear where the phrase “any woman who was born a woman” has come from – The Vancouver Courier is the only source I have seen which uses the term explicitly; note that the VWHC website (link here) refers simply to “women”. Not “womyn born womyn”, and not “self identified women”; just “women”. The contact page of the VWHC website (link here) states that “our Centre is a space for women only”.
However, history has shown us many times that the default meaning of “women” is, in reality, “cis women”, so the use of “women” is a cause for concern if trans women are likely to be excluded.
Today, some women (both cis and trans) protested the pharmacy, and a trans woman was going to attempt to fill a prescription at Lu’s Pharmacy, but apparently it was more important to keep trans women out of this space than it was to attempt to serve the any women at all.
Transgender protesters bring positive message to Lu’s: A Pharmacy for WomenApproximately two dozen transgender women and their supporters held a protest this morning (July 11) outside Lu’s: A Pharmacy for Women.
Earlier this week, the Georgia Straight reported that the Vancouver Women’s Health Collective, which owns Lu’s, will not allow transgender women to be served. The executive director, Caryn Duncan, said at the time that Lu’s would be for “women born women”.
The protest leader, Elizabeth Marston, urged members of the crowd to stick “prescriptions for change” on the window of the pharmacy, which was closed. They included words like “inclusion”, “equality”, “love”, and “diversity”.
“Some of the most vulnerable women in this neighbourhood have been discriminated against and are going to be discriminated against by the policy of Lu’s,” Marston said. “The women who need health care the most are often the ones that are in the most vulnerable situations and often, thanks to transphobia, that’s trans women.”
Jamie Lee Hamilton told the Straight that she planned to bring her prescription into the pharmacy this morning. However, she couldn’t do this because it was closed.
“I guess they realize it was maybe too much of a political event and they didn’t want to be seen in that light,” Hamilton said. “I guess I’ll just have to come back on Monday with my prescription quietly.”
She added that if Lu’s doesn’t fill the prescription, she will file a complaint with the Pivot Legal Society and with the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia.
However, she added that this issue could only way to know this would be if somebody filed a complaint.
Also, Holly pointed out on Feministe that the pharmacy’s intentions are more problematic than initially thought:
A couple of the linked blogs also pointed out something that bears repeating: this pharmacy has also established itself as wanting to help “women” without “women” having to encounter drug addicts or sex workers. In other words, women with chemical dependencies and women who do sex work are not “women” of the kind that the pharmacy wants to serve either — despite the obvious and pressing needs of those women, in this area of Vancouver. They want to be a pharmacy for “nice women” — no druggies, no trannies, no hookers. That’s a great mission statement right there — provide for “women” with one hand, and hold a big fat “NOT YOU, YOU’RE NOT THE RIGHT KIND OF WOMEN” sign in the other. There are all sorts of reasons that we “wrong women” ought to be banding together to oppose this kind of patronizing, essentialist, racist, classist, sex-worker-bashing, transphobic bullshit.
This article in The Province provides more details (emphasis mine):
A pharmacy focused solely on women’s needs is scheduled to open in the Downtown Eastside next month.
Lu’s: A Pharmacy for Women will serve female clients uncomfortable at the existing 19 licensed pharmacies in the Downtown Eastside. Those small pharmacies provide daily methadone to 1,400 heroin addicts, of whom about 500 are female.
The implication is subtle, and it’s difficult to tell if the problem is that some women are comfortable around drug users and want a space away from all of them, or if the problem is that women who are drug users and need methadone are uncomfortable at those 19 licensed pharmacies. So I guess the question is: Does Lu’s provide daily methadone?
This part as well:
There are several women-based Downtown Eastside non-profits offering a range of services, including shelter beds and outreach and sex-worker support — but no pharmacy.
The largest of the women’s groups is the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, while the United Church operates a women-only drop-in facility and Bridge Housing Society runs a women’s-only shelter that is much prized by marginalized women in the community. There are also three agencies offering help specifically for sex workers.
Duncan supports diversity of services in the Downtown Eastside because of the nature of the community. She said some marginalized women who are not sex workers will not use services that may imply they are in the sex industry.
Again, kind of ambiguously worded. Is this pharmacy’s services available to sex workers, or is the point of the pharmacy to provide women who aren’t sex workers a place to go where they can make use of certain services without the implication that they’re sex workers. I mean, I think it’s important for women (trans and cis) to be able to access needed services without being judged for seeking them, but at the same time I get a very strong “but sex workers already have services here” sense from this passage.
This strikes me as another instance in which trans women’s needs and safety are sacrificed for the comfort of cis women. That somehow, being trans means our own experiences of misogyny and sexism are not really as important, just as when we’re raped it’s not as bad as when cis women are raped – seriously, an allegedly feminist website aimed at helping rape survivors spends that many links defending their decision to exclude a trans woman, and crowing about their supposed victory for women-only space, and I’ve had one VRR volunteer have the gall to claim to my [internet] face that she was a trans ally, and that excluding trans women was necessary for the safety and comfort of cis women in the shelter. And Lu’s pharmacy is trying to build their policy on this foundation.
If you’re going to comment about how trans women’s health needs are from outer space, I’ll either delete the comment or replace it with pictures of pandas (taking a page from Queen Emily). If you really believe trans women’s needs are so strange as to require special training beyond “treat them with the same dignity you accord cis women, and don’t deny their womanhood” then you need to do some research.
Kristen J. adds more context on Feministe:
I think article helps to explain part of what is going on here. Its class warfare of the ugliest and hateful-est kind. Gentrification driven by the 2010 Olympics. Good times, good times.
Gudbuytjane added this in the comments, and if you want to participate in activism about this, you need to read it:
I’d really like the AROOO digression to stop here, though.
Thank you, Lisa!
The Vancouver Sun has an article on their website about the protest (note: the comments section is pretty gross, as one might expect with a mainstream daily). There was quite a lot of mainstream media present, but I haven’t seen much of the other coverage yet. I’ll add links when I find them.
Allison Hamilton, a 39 year-old transgendered woman, said there are different “views” held by women in the collective.
Mental note: Remember, mainstream reporters are going to struggle with nuanced concepts of gender and disagreements within feminism, and probably quote you in a way that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. *facepalm* Ohwell, the reporter seemed nice and was trying to understand, but I think this is maybe the advanced class and he needed 101. I will email him a follow-up to explain some concepts more clearly, in case he writes more on the protests.
An important part of this discussion is the intersection of class, poverty, and race as well as being trans. Part of what the failure on the part of the pharmacy is not just denying services to trans women, but that they have come into the neighbourhood from outside and told residents how things are going to be. I worked in the DTES for many years in community-led job training, and it is important to remember not just that this is Canada’s poorest postal code, but that (I would imagine) most of us don’t live there.
The DTES is often overrun with well-paid ‘poverty advocates’ creating a seemingly endless stream of studies on poverty in the neighbourhood, while successful (for residents) programs and initiatives lose funding because they don’t meet the funding bodies’ requirements for “success.” Government promises for public housing have been broken (the Woodward’s building betrayal a prime example. It had been bought by the city for social housing, but is now a condo development with no social housing units at all), and police and private security routinely harrass people in the neighbourhood. Residents are thus rightly suspicious of government/academic/activist ’solutions’ coming from outside.
So I’d suggest we keep that in mind, otherwise we risk being another group of middle class people from outside the neighbourhood (and in relation to the DTES, if you have access to the internet, etc., it’s probably accurate to call yourself middle class) who are using the DTES as a place to debate with other middle class people not from the neighbourhood while ignoring the voices of those who live there.
I was impressed that this is understood by the Femininjas (who organized the protest, and did an awesome job of it. I was glad to meet y’all yesterday!). They are actively working at ensuring inclusion of residents to drive the protests, and finding offline ways to communicate the issue.
Keep in mind that while this is part of the debate of a larger-reaching concept – the inclusion of trans women in cis women’s spaces – the lived reality of a community of people who are often used as statistics or anecdotes to further external agendas. The primary purpose of this protest and in seeking inclusion at the pharmacy should be to improve the lives and experiences of the residents.
Also important to remember, especially as the DTES has such a high percentage of residents who are of First Nations ancestry, is that Vancouver as a whole is on unceded Coast Salish territory, so show respect (i.e. if you’re one of those white folks who like to tell First Nations people how you feel like you’re two-spirited or that you really relate to their spirituality you’ll probably sound like a colonizing asshole, just saying)
Short version: Keep the signal boosted about this, but remember to show respect and acknowledge than many of the women directly affected won’t be reading your blog, internet forum, etc. Keep in mind that compared to residents of the DTES we are very privileged in that we can have this conversation in comment boxes.
With a bridge on my back points out:
Yes. I cant also help but note that the legacy of violence against indigenous people in the area seems to not even have been noted by most of the outsiders debating this issue. Where does Lu’s ‘nice cis women’ policy fit within the context of this kind of violence towards indigenous women, cis or trans?
From the linked article:
We are writing to you today to demand a full public Inquiry into the ongoing issue of murdered and missing women from aboriginal communities, in particular surrounding the murdered women in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and the missing and murdered women who have disappeared along the “Highway of Tears” in northern British Columbia.
The aboriginal community and the community at large has heard many public statements from Attorney General Wally Oppal and spokespeople for him concerning the potential for a public Inquiry into the murdered and missing women of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. On multiple occasions, he or his spokespeople have suggested that those concerned with this issue must wait for the criminal trial of Robert Pickton to finish before the government is able to publicly inquire into the lack of response of police to missing person reports in that neighbourhood.
The first and only expected trial of Robert Pickton is now complete. We understand that the matter is now under appeal and is expected to be heard in March at the B.C. Court of Appeal. We understand further that, following this hearing and the judgment of the Court, it is quite likely that the matter will be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. The case, at any of these levels, may be sent back for trial again, and that trial may be appealed again. Given the frailty of human memories, the loss or destruction of relevant evidence with time, and the retirement or death of key witnesses, both of our organizations share an equal concern about this approach taken by the Provincial government. It is inappropriate to ask the aboriginal community to wait for years to have these matters publicly discussed and rectified based solely on government speculation that a public Inquiry could affect issues on appeal or at a second trial.
And I do think someone (gudbuytjane?) did bring up that a lot of indigenous people live in the area, and the ways organizations that set up in DTES help or fail to to help them, but I don’t recall correctly. I didn’t point it out, and very little of the discussion has so far.
It does strike me that Lu’s: A Pharmacy For Women’s policy doesn’t really discuss in much depth the kinds of oppression that play out in DTES against women marginalized in other ways. They exclude trans women, and talk about women who don’t want to be associated with sex workers or drug users, but how does race fit into their policies? Indigenous women in BC face formidable barriers to receiving respectful, timely, and effective health care. Vancouver Women’s Health Collective (the organization behind Lu’s Pharmacy) acknowledges these difficulties, but do they create an atmosphere in which indigenous women feel welcomed?
And I can’t make assumptions here, but I know, when I read about any particular group of women not being served well in any context, my immediate first thought is “I wonder whether they bother with trans women?” I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask “if they’re this quick to take a prejudiced view of trans women, how do they deal with race?” And what about indigenous trans women? Denied care for being trans in addition to the aforementioned barriers?
And another guest post:
On April 6th, an Opinion Editorial I was invited to write for the Georgia Straight’s online edition was published.
I chose as my theme the fact that as a transsexual I have fewer rights than a cisgendered person.
In the article, I mentioned Kimberly Nixon’s encounter with Vancouver Rape Relief (a little background here: and here: ) I spoke of how the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to uphold Rape Relief’s right to discriminate means that transsexuals de-facto do not have the same rights a cispeople in British Columbia and that any organisation can use the same arguments Rape Relief used to legally discriminate.
Several days later, on Friday April 10th, Daisy Kler speaking for Vancouver Rape Relief posted a comment in response:
Commentary “Jessica Cooper: As a transsexual person, I have no rights”
I would like to correct the inaccurate account and portrayal of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter. First Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter was one of the first equality seeking groups that argued to the BC government that transsexuals be included in the human rights code.
Second, Ms Cooper’s assertion that because of the decision made by the Canadian courts in favor of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter that “, my brothers, sisters and I can be kicked out of any public space, we can be fired simply for the crime of being ourselves, we can be evicted without recourse and we can be reviled, harassed and physically attacked merely for daring to use a public washroom” is untrue and inaccurate in terms of existing human rights law. While I can empathize with her frustration about society’s prejudices they are not the result of the case brought against us or our actions. The decision that came down meant that women’s groups such as Vancouver Rape Relief and indeed groups of transsexual and transgendered persons have the legal right to determine their own membership. In addition we believe it is important for raped and battered women to have the choice of a women-only peer group for support. Here is a more accurate description of the decision made in this case:
“The Human Rights Tribunal had previously ruled that Rape Relief’s decision to allow into the training program only women who had been born and raised as girls and women was rationally connected to Rape Relief’s work of counseling women victims of sexual assault and fighting male violence and women’s inequality. The Tribunal also held that that Rape Relief’s decision was made in good faith.”
Summary of Decision: Provided by: Gwendoline Allison, Bull, Housser & Tupper LLP and Professor Christine Boyle, University of British Columbia School of Law.
Both the writer and the Georgia Straight should be more careful in checking the accuracy of comments. This would not be hard to do since we have always been clear and transparent in our case and a timeline of the case, court transcripts and a summary of the decision can all be found on our website
Inaccurate and misleading comments undermine the important work we do.
Vancouver Rape Relief shelters houses over 100 women each year along with 70-80 of the battered women’s children. Each year the 24-hour rape crisis line receives new calls from 1,300-1,400 women dealing with rape, sexual assault, incest, battering and sexual harassment.
Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter
In my reply to her, I chided her on her cisprivilege and commented that she had made my point better than I did; here was a ciswoman freely admitting that Rape relief feels entirely justified in discriminating, and even throwing in the “women born women” codewords so beloved of the Radical Feminists.
Fast forward to Friday the 17th and another fail. This time Shiella Ballentyne wrote:
In response to Jessica Cooper’s article: “As a Transsexual I have no rights”
I was very sorry to read of the prejudices and lack of rights Ms. Cooper and all transsexuals must endure. It was a brave and candid article. I greatly appreciate Ms. Cooper sharing her experiences in this way. I am concerned, however, that Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter was referred to out of context and I would like to offer readers another point of view.
Vancouver Rape Relief is an all-female space for women who have experienced male violence. This does not mean the organization is anti-men or anti-transsexual, it just fills a need for women seeking relief who feel they would heal best and are most comfortable in a women-only environment. Vancouver Rape Relief works with many other organizations and supports the objectives of shelters and crisis centres that do not have an all-female policy.
I would urge everyone to read up on Ms. Nixon’s case (the Vancouver Rape Relief website is a good start:
) before passing judgment against Vancouver Rape Relief. Equality for everyone, no matter your gender, is in everyone’s best interest. We’re all in this together!
Note that Sheila quotes the very same page Dasiy did, Rape Relief’s slanted page celebrating their victory in Court. Note also the very condescending cisprivileged way she oh-so-graciously is “ very sorry to read of the prejudices and lack of rights” I must endure, then she goes right ahead and heaps on more!
I’m sorry Daisy and Shiela, we’re not in this together. Each of you gleefully rubbed into my face the fact that you do not consider me to be a woman. Each of you used Radical Feminist codewords designed to exclude, other and belittle my existence. Each of you, in attempting to spin Rape Relief as the “good guys” ended up proving my point; cispeople have more rights than transpeople, and that cispeople get to define my gender to suit themselves.
The fail, it burns!
This post is directed at Amananta, but what I have to say in it is more universally applicable to anti-trans feminists.
If you were ever really a supporter of trans people, you wouldn’t have found it so easy to back off that support and change your tune. You wouldn’t have quietly withdrawn your public support for your partner after you couldn’t use your appeal to estrogen to justify that your transphobic actions weren’t really transphobic.
But then you come trolling around my blog under a pseudonym to tell us all how trans women are really acting from male privilege, that we were ever “really cis men” before transitioning:
So basically, you aren’t going to answer her question, which is, why do transactivists focus almost soley on trying to force their way into women-born-women-only spaces, and claim born women should have no right to any space of their own, instead of actually combatting real oppression?
Oh wait, that’s right, you’re the oppressed ones, after getting the benefits of maleness you’re whole lives until you transition, and then want all the energy of women to be focused on your needs. Just like when you were men.
I really wish I could say that this was quite a change from your attempts at peacemaking, but truthfully, your “Radical Feminism and the Transgendered” post was pretty offensive:
I’ve seen a lot of transphobia (prejudice, misunderstanding and delberate hurtfulness directed towards transsexuals and transgendered people) flagrantly displayed by some radical feminists. I’ve also seen some distinctly anti-feminist opinions held by transfolk. Both of these attitudes are counterproductive, hurtful, and divisive. Neither of them make much sense. I don’t even think they are topics worthy enough of serious discussion to have people spend the amount of time and energy on them that they do, and maybe the time and energy I am putting into this post is also part of that wasted energy.
In this paragraph, you establish that you consider the rabidly anti-trans actions taken by feminists since the early 1970s to be rhetorically equal to trans people’s reactions to that violence. To being forced out of feminist spaces, to being denigrated as “surgically/chemically altered men,” to being equated with serial killers and rapists, to Janice Raymond’s call to commit cultural genocide upon trans people, to being described as “Frankenstein’s monsters” by Mary Daly. That trans people’s reactions to all of this hate speech, to all of these exclusive actions, are somehow on the same ideological ground as the insistence that trans people should not exist.
You then say that these reactions make no sense, that they’re not worthy of discussion, and that any energy devoted to that discussion is wasted energy. And please forget that trans women have been a part of feminism since the second wave, please pretend that we’ve never contributed. Please pretend that our participation was not forcibly and violently ended whenever possible – no, act like trans people are being divisive for criticizing this history and demanding accountability from feminism. That trans women are the unreasonable ones for wanting full participation in the women’s movement.
Why do I say these topics are a waste of the energy spent on them? I guess I just have to start off playing hardball here. Dear sisters in radical feminism – there is a tiny percentage of the population that feels they were not born into the right body and wishes to change their gender presentation. They are not your enemy; they are not the founders of the patriarchy; they are not the masses of men who are beating and raping women; they are not, as a group, supportive of violence against women or unequal pay or the anti-abortion movement. Dear transpeople – radical feminist groups that do not let MTFs into women only meetings or gatherings are not the defining issue of your oppression. I have yet to see any radical feminist say it is okay for you to be discriminated against in jobs and housing and beaten to death by roving packs of homophobic/transphobic men.
The first two-thirds of your paragraph is okay. But then we get to the second half – at which point you start explaining – as a cissexual woman – what should and should not be important to trans women. You completely dismiss any responsibility that feminism as a movement has helped perpetrate and reinforce the notions that trans women are really cis men and that trans men are really cis women, and how that is the foundation of violence against trans people – trans women especially, trans women of color, especially.
You also completely elide the fact that “women-only space” that excludes trans women count domestic violence and rape shelters among their number, and that these are a refuge from male violence. While cis feminists themselves may not directly engage in violence (please ignore the fact that cissexual feminists sent death threats to Olivia Records when they were demanding Sandy Stone leave), the fact that these spaces are set up to actively exclude trans women means that we’re that much more vulnerable to violence from men – in other words, your “women-only spaces” that exclude trans women are reinforcing that violence.
Also, by setting up women-only spaces to exclude trans women, you are declaring who is a woman and who is not a woman, and every space that’s set up to exclude trans women reinforces the core trans misogynistic notion that “trans women are not real women.”
Finally, it is not your place as a member of the oppressor class (cissexual people) to tell the oppressed class (trans people) what our priorities are supposed to be. If you were really a supporter of trans people as you claim at the time you wrote this, you wouldn’t be lecturing trans women on what causes we’re supposed to care about.
I’m skipping the next few paragraphs, as I believe they are genuinely supportive of your wife in specific and trans people in general. And, really, you should’ve stopped there, because:
But in other ways, many transgendered people fall prey to patriarchal ideas and attitudes, just as many non-transgendered people do. FTMs in particular seem so anxious to identify themselves as men that they sometimes throw out sexist stereotypes or behave in a very anti-feminist way, perhaps in order to prove they are “one of the boys”. I have seen the very good point made that of course FTMs have “gender dysphoria” – and so do almost all other women, because our culture, as a whole, hates and reviles women and femininity. What woman doesn’t hate being female for at least part of her life? Where is the line between really feeling you should have been born a man and wishing you had the privileges accorded to men in our society?
First of all, no, cissexual women do not have “gender dysphoria” and it’s both trivializing and tokenizing toward trans people to claim that discomfort with being a woman in a patriarchal society is the same thing as living with being trans – that is, with the fact that you know your physical sex isn’t right.
The line between feeling you should have been born a man and wishing you had the privileges accorded to men is a strong, bright line for trans people. Trans men aren’t doing it for the privilege, they do it because they know they’re male down to their bones, and their bodies clash with that expectation so thoroughly that the best answer is to transition. I, as a woman, wish every day that I had the privileges accorded to men, but living as a man was not something I could do and maintain a healthy life.
And yes, some trans men are sexist, and they should be called out on their sexism because sexism is wrong, and their being trans men shouldn’t reflect onto that at all.
I have seen many MTFs get extremely excited about getting to be “real women” who can – go SHOPPING! and wear frilly things! And heels! Until I sometimes wonder if to them, being feminine is nothing more than a fashion statement. I have known FTMs who explain that they knew they were really boys because they wanted short hair as children, hated Barbie dolls, and were very athletic. These kind of statements reveal that they don’t think girls or women who behave in this way are “real women”, and you can’t really get much more anti-feminist than that.
Oh, man, I thought that the previous paragraph was offensively tokenizing, but this, oh my god. These statements don’t reveal anything of the sort. You’re cherry-picking a few statements and behavior, taking them completely out of context, and then using them as evidence that trans women apparently view being women as some kind of shallow, superficial, artificial exercise – and I think that has more to do with how society views femininity than how trans women view womanhood.
It’s like this: Pre-transition life is like a prison. You’re expected to live according to your sex assigned at birth, even though every part of you knows this is wrong. Transitioning means so many things on so many levels, and that includes being able to do things appropriate to your proper sex without being labeled as a freak (although the labeling still happens). Trans women who are excited about shopping for clothes and shoes aren’t excited because this is the breadth and depth of the experience of “womanhood” to trans women, but because it is one of many things that we can finally do as women.
But to know that, you’d have to listen to trans people, rather than impose your own assumptions on us.
I do think it is a real problem that the only way little boys are allowed to express the softer and gentler sides of themselves is if they are seen as “not real men”. And it is definitely a problem that little girls are supposed to be shy and retiring and obsessed with their looks or “something is wrong with them.” I do not think these things alone are at the root of transgenderism. But I think in some cases, these cultural attitudes have pushed people into surgery and other medical treatments because behaviors outside of the strictly gender normative are seen as, literally “sick”. I have had some transpeople become very upset with me for daring to say these things, and while it is not my desire to hurt them by reiterating this, I have to call it as I see it.
And this goes back to the incorrect idea that trans people transition because we think that some things are only for men to do and some things are only for women, “thus, if I want to wear dresses, I have to be a woman.” While I appreciate your concern that people are pushed into surgery, I find it a grotesquely inaccurate distortion of the truth: That the WPATH (formerly HBIGDA) Standards of Care are intended to convince trans people that we don’t want to transition. How ignorant do you have to be to insist that people are being pushed into transitioning by cultural attitudes? Have you taken a look around lately? Society hates trans people.
You do hurt people by saying this, because you are saying something that is demonstrably false. You’re making unfounded assumptions based in your own cissexual privilege, and then asserting them as if they’re true, without (as privilege allows) even backing these statements up. You may call it as you see it, but you’re seeing things that aren’t there.
But the fact remains that it *is* easier to get along in life if one appears to be what others expect. In this regard, FTMs have a bit of an easier life, as the taking of testosterone makes them indistinguishable from men born men in a fairly brief amount of time, at least in public settings, or while clothed. Their masculine behavior will then pass unnoticed by society unless they wish to make an issue of having been born female. MTFs face a different set of variables, however. Depending on several appearance factors, some MTFs can be taken as a woman by most people without comment, but some will never succesfully “pass” as female, but will be seen as “a man in a dress.” While feminism has made some avenues open to women which were never open before, such as the freedom to wear either pants or a skirt/dress, men as a group have clung to the idea of dresses as women’s clothing and go out of their way to torment any fellow male who dares break the masculine code of dress and behavior. When an MTF, or for that matter, any crossdressing man, hippie boy, or goth boy, goes out wearing a skirt, s/he is exposed to, at best, whispered mockery and ridicule. At worst, men will beat him/her to death for breaking the male code of behavior. Male privilege comes with a high price, and those who visibly reject this code, even with something as petty as changing one’s clothes, sometimes pay that price with their lives.
This paragraph is problematic for a couple of reasons:
- You assume that trans men have an easy time passing. While it is true that testosterone over time does masculinize trans men rather effectively, a large number of trans men do not in fact pass perfectly well.
- You talk about “passing as female” when trans women are female. I think what you mean is “passing as cissexual.” Because trans women who fail to pass as cissexual are incorrectly gendered as men – that is to say, it’s the people who insist they’re men, not the trans woman’s fault for not looking female enough.
This is mostly plain old cissexism at work here, which is ignorant, but forgivable.
Which brings me to male privilege.
Many MTFs I know minimize the effect male privilege has on their behavior. I suppose it is like the proverbial fish who asks “what is water?” – being the benficiary of male privilege during one’s formative years, even if one begins to question one’s identity as a man, confers benefits upon one that are invisible to the recipient (although obvious to women, who do not receive these benefits.) Since MTFs do not want to be male, they would like to imagine they can just toss male prvilege away along with their unwanted boy’s clothing. The human mind does not work in this way, however.
Because growing up as a trans girl is exactly the same thing as growing up as a cis boy, right? Because when you know you’re a girl, even though the world insists you’re a boy, you’re totally socializing in exactly the same way as the cis boys are. You can’t possibly be picking up gendered messages intended for girls and absorbing them. And of course this in no way affects how trans girls interact with male privilege, right?
It’s cissexist supremacy that claims that trans people’s lives are identical to cis people’s lives pre-transition, that our state of mind and how it affects us in no way affects how we interact with the world or how the world interacts with us. So, before you start lecturing on how the human mind works, you could at least try to understand how trans women’s minds work throughout our lives.
Discussion by cissexual women of trans women’s “male privilege” is a silencing tactic, used to tell us that behavior that would be completely acceptable from a cis woman is unacceptable and essentially male from a trans woman. By explaining to trans women what our lives are really like, and how we really experienced male privilege, you’re doing the same thing that men do to women:
Men explain things to me, and to other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men. Every woman knows what I mean. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.
This syndrome is something nearly every woman faces every day, within herself too, a belief in her superfluity, an invitation to silence, one from which a fairly nice career as a writer (with a lot of research and facts correctly deployed) has not entirely freed me. After all, there was a moment there when I was willing to believe Mr. Very Important and his overweening confidence over my more shaky certainty.
You’re exercising your cissexual privilege to shut trans women up. I’m not arguing that trans women have never received any male privilege, here. What I am arguing is that your assumptions about what that means are wrong, that you’re using this assumption of male privilege as a way to explain that trans women are essentially not really women, and carry an indelible mark of Cain that can and should be used against us when we start saying or doing inconvenient things – like, for example, protesting discrimination and segregation directed against trans women.
It is ironic that those resorting to violent, invasive tactics in order to enter the Michigan Women’s Music Festivial, for example, with the excuse that they are NOT men and should be accepted as women, are resorting to an ingrained male privilege which tells them they have a right to go anywhere they want to go. Also ironic in their insistence that they are no different from women born women is their seeming inability to understand, or their willingness to brush aside as insignificant, women’s very real fears of rape, from which follows the concept of a safe space for women being male-free. Thus the “cutting edge” protest method some have developed, that of passing succesfully as female until they get to the shower area and then showing everyone they have penises in a sort of “Neener, neener, I have a penis and you didn’t guess but I’m showing it to you now so you’re a hypocrite ha-ha-ha you’re wrong about transwomen!” sort of gesture really only proves the point that they DON’T belong in a women’s only safe place, as they have no clue how frightening it is for a vulnerable naked women to suddenly be confronted by an angry naked man.
The story about trans women exposing penises in the showers has been debunked many times:
Tony entered the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in 1999 and took a shower inside, inadverdantly exposing his transplanted forearm, which was made to appear like a penis. This is considered to be the origin of the myth that “men walked around the festival exposing themselves (which has no concrete eyewitness reports besides Tony’s story itself).
In other words, the tactics you’re saying trans women used in the Festival never happened. But, there’s so much more buried here:
- You’re saying that trans women represent a threat of rape by being present at MichFest. How is it not trans misogynistic to insist that trans women are potential rapists?
- You’re saying that trans women should be ashamed of our anatomy, even though the only control we can exert over it is via hormones and surgery, since we can’t will our penises away. You’re saying that it must be hidden at all times. The truth is that a trans woman who reveals her penis is not putting cis women at risk for seeing it, but herself at risk because people who see her as “not a real woman” may commit violence upon her.
- You’re coopting survivor voices to justify continued exclusion and ejection of trans women from women-only spaces.
- Aside from the debunked rumor about trans women flashing penises in the shower, what “violent, invasive” tactics have been deployed to protest MichFest?
- Earlier in this post, you asserted that trans women are at great danger from male violence. Now you justify excluding trans women from MichFest because the women there need to be free from male violence. How can you not see that trans women may need this space as much as cis women?
- You’re assuming that the default is that trans women shouldn’t be allowed in. MWMF is for all women, which means that trans women are automatically included. It was an act of violence to expel Nancy Burkholder, and maintaining the policy in the years since has been continued justification of that violence against a woman.
- Penis or no, trans women are not “men” ever. Saying so is the core of transphobia – that trans people’s genders are not valid.
Transwomen – if you are serious about transitioning and serious about feeling like a woman, you have to stop insisting that female fear of men is sexist or unreasonable. Every time you do this it just proves the point of why women do need some women born women only space – so they don’t have to deal with you, as a newcomer to living as a woman, to tell us how we are doing it all wrong. Every time you think or say something along these lines, you are acting on male privilege, whether you like that idea or not. Question – if you are transgendered and pre-op or non-op, would you feel safe in a prison with men? Of course you wouldn’t – and for the exact same reason, in general women are not going to feel safe if you invade a space where they are naked and vulnerable. You can be as unhappy about that as you like – trust me, I am unhappy about it too – but until the epidemic of male violence against women ends, this is how it is going to be. You cannot blame feminists for this – they did not invent an irrational prejudice against men as violent rapists – the high number of men who are violent rapists is what is responsible for this very realistic fear.
Now this is where Amananta’s putting trans women in our place – we’re “newcomers to living as women” and thus need to understand that our presence, as a minority of women around women is exactly like putting a trans woman in a prison full of cis men (and yay, comparing trans women to violent criminals who are cis men – you go, Amananta!). She throws in the “shut up” bit by invoking male privilege yet again.
And here, she flips things – at the beginning of her post, she tells trans women that cis women are not responsible for the violence inflicted by cis men on trans women, to show that cis feminists are not enemies to trans women. Here, she basically says that trans women are responsible for the violence inflcited on cis women by cis men, and that to keep cis women safe from male violence at MichFest, trans women must be excluded. She says that “until the epidemic of male violence against women ends, this is how it is going to be.” What that means is that trans women are scapegoats for cis feminists – that cis feminists attack trans women as substitutes for cis men. Trans women are safer targets to attack than cis men, being as we’re oppressed in relation to cis women. Heart even says this on her own blog:
When a radical feminist female uses insulting words in the direction
of transwomen, she understand this to be no different from using
insulting words in the direction of males. It might be rude, crude,
and socially unacceptable, it might be insulting, but it isn’t hate
speech. It’s not discriminatory. Because given power differentials as
they exist between males and females, females aren’t situated socially
so as to be able to discriminate against males, or to be bigoted
towards males or to be phobic against males. To the contrary, our
experience as females is that males *are* to be feared because they
hurt females and to say so, and behave accordingly, is not “phobic,”
it is based on female reality.
Also the way Amananta excuses prejudice against trans women by talking about how a prejudice against men as violent rapists is rational, due to the number of men who violently rape.
Hey, Amananta, can you point to the apparently extensive pattern of trans women who rape cis women?
Finally I want to tackle what I think is the most hidden issue in all of this but perhaps the root of it all – the question of “who defines womanhood”? I have seen the very good point raised that women ave never been allowed to define what makes a woman. Men have defined womanhood for us for centuries. When I see transgendered women questioning the refusal of some to refer to them as women, there is again an unexamined male privilege in their questioning at the same time as that there are some very good points. The unexamined privilege comes from them setting up patriarchal societal objections to accepting transpersons as they wish to be accepted and smashing those admittedly unfounded ideas, thus concluding that radical feminists are wrong to ever exclude them from anything at all.
This is a vacuous question – the answer is “no one defines womanhood.” There is no single, universal, experience of womanhood. The idea that trans women are demanding to define womanhood for all women is as ridiculous as the assertion that cis women get to decide whether trans women are really women. It doesn’t work that way. You and every other radical feminist in the world can line up and tell me I’m a man, but that doesn’t erase the sexual harassment I’ve experienced, the misogyny, the violence I’ve risked and experienced. It doesn’t erase the boss who offered to give me rides home in exchange for blow jobs, and it doesn’t erase the fear of rape and violence I felt when a man followed me across three bus transfers and right off the bus at the same stop. Do those experiences define womanhood? I don’t think they do – they don’t define the men and women I’ve dated, who have all accepted my womanhood, they don’t cover the fact that 99% of the people around me do use feminine pronouns. They certainly don’t cover my own self-perception, which has been unassailable for my entire life.
You’re trying to encapsulate “womanhood” into this commodity that can be defined or withdrawn by individual people, and it’s not. No one can define what it’s like to be a man or a woman for another person. Not Heart or Lucky and their appropriative lists of oppressions, no one.
The real unexamined privilege in your question is cissexual privilege: The idea that cis people have the authority and right to gender trans people incorrectly based on standards that don’t apply to cis people.
To demand full acceptance into a group which has little power to define its own boundaries is invasive and insensitive. Furthermore, if you are a transgendered woman, no matter how badly you may want it, unless you were incredibly lucky you were not raised as a girl in this society. There are some experiences you will never have, and there are some things that will never quite match up between your experiences and those of girls who were raised as girls. I understand well this is a sore point for many transwomen, who feel they have missed out greatly on something very special, and maybe they have – but the fact remains that they did not have these experiences and many of the bonds between women who are born women are based on the assumption of shared experiences.
Trans women are women, just as cis women are. It’s not a matter of demanding acceptance. Acceptance should be a given. It’s demanding that you stop excluding and ejecting us for arbitrary and unfalsifiable reasons.
For example, you raise the point that trans women aren’t raised as girls, and you tell us that this is why we should be excluded from women-only spaces and not complain about it. I want to ask you: Do you not see how abusive, how violent, how alienating it would be for a girl to be raised as a boy no matter how much she protests? And would this woman be welcomed into women-only spaces, knowing she had endured such an abusive upbringing?
That’s what trans women grow up with – it’s abusive, violent, and alienating. And now, this abuse, violence, and alienation that was forced upon us as we grew up is used as a reason to justify further abuse, violence, and alienation from a movement that is allegedly for all women, but is really only for some women. Not only do you deny that trans women are women, but you hold the violence inflicted upon us against our will as something we must be held responsible for.
And when confronted with the extensive and fundamental transphobia of your statements, do you – as a self-proclaimed ally to trans people say “Oh, hell, I screwed up?” No, you blame trans people for getting rightfully angry with you:
The content of this post removed because I have been silenced by transgender activists who ignore everything else I write in order to take what I have written here, twist it out of context and proportion, and make me out to be some horrible transphobe who dehumanizes all transpersons everywhere and abuses my supposed privilege over transpersons. In fact, the only links my blog gets anymore is from angry transactivists vilifying me. Everything I write about women’s rights? Completely ignored. The irony seems to escape you all.
Yes, you were silenced. You were unable to voice your opinions without being criticized, and that is exactly the same thing as being censored out of having a voice, which is why you took your blog down, never to post to it again, right? How trans people actually set up a rule on the entire internet that “Amananta is not allowed to speak on trans topics,” and it is now a physical law of nature.
Spare me your bullshit about being silenced. No one silenced you – you even dropped a trolling comment in my blog, as linked above. This “I was silenced!” rhetoric is just more privileged whining about how people won’t let you say bigoted things in peace.
I also like the false opposition set up throughout the original post, where trans activists were set up as being solely interested in trans rights and needs, while feminists were set up as being properly concerned about women’s rights. This is simply not true. A large number of trans women and men identify as feminists and are in fact actively focused on feminist issues. A large number of feminists understand that women’s issues apply to both cis and trans women. There is no divide. Both trans people and women experience gender-based oppression, and if feminism is really about ending gender-based oppression, then feminists would see that it’s just as important to fight transphobia as it is to fight misogyny
Of course, most transphobic and anti-pornography radical feminists seem to understand intersectionality about as well as they understand trans people – which is not very much at all. So, getting the above across seems about as easy and likely as communicating that racism, immigration, disability rights, poverty, and more are themselves feminist issues because women experience all of those things.
Note: Some of the concepts described in this post were inspired by Cedar’s Beyond Inclusion zine.
[ETA: Re-arranged a bit and changed some language per discussion in comments with Zoe Brain.]
Heya everybody, GallingGalla here, she of the recently-nuked blog. Yeah, I was just getting so weary of constantly battling cis feminists defining their theories all over my body. But, there’s one subject that I felt like I need to speak out on, and I am honored that Lisa invited me to write a guest post about this subject here.
Anyway, from Wikipedia, kapo:
The German word also means “foreman” and “non-commissioned officer“, and is derived from French for “Corporal” (fr:Caporal) or the Italian word capo‘. Kapos received more privileges than normal prisoners, towards whom they were often brutal. They were often convicts who were offered this work in exchange for a reduced sentence or parole, however they were usually murdered and replaced with a new batch of prisoners at regular intervals.
Evangelina Carters is a therapist and an HBS woman who offers this handy classification guide to help us distinguish between the rare flawless gem that is the “true transsexual” and the rest of us, shall I say, “damaged goods”. Please go read it. I’m not going to fisk this in detail, because, really, my stomach has limits.
I think that this piece is rather well representative of the attitudes of HBS women. It is clear that she writes it from the perspective of a white, middle-class, heteronormative woman who views the world through a cis lens. In and of itself, writing from that perspective certainly won’t make you any friends outside of that narrow little world, but I don’t think you’ll be sent to the lake of fire, either. However, saying that yours is the only valid perspective, and using that perspective and your privileges to split yourself off from the community that you are part of while actively enabling those who are oppressing that same community is, in my mind, a moral outrage. And that is exactly what Ms. Carters, and many HBS women, are doing.
HBS women define an extremely narrow life trajectory that they think is the only legitimate one for trans* women to follow (I say “woman” because, like many other transmisogynist women, HBS women all but erase the existence of trans men): that of the woman who senses her target gender at an early age; who transitions fully, with the proper hormones and proper surgery, as soon as possible; who is heterosexual upon transition; who is completely and totally stealth; who absolutely will not associate, in any way, with any element of the LGBTQ community. (You’ll note that she calls trans women who do not fit that exact trajectory “transgender men”.) Those who follow that narrow trajectory account for only a very small part of the trans* / genderqueer / gender-variant population.
HBS women then proceed to argue that cis society (including, notably, anti-trans radical feminists and white, middle-class feminists in general) grant them special privileges to them and only them while at the same time they pull rank with that same cis society in oppressing those trans* / gq / gv people that are not part of their special club.
Carters uses gender-essentialist language that is ludicrous on its face:
True transsexuals have a greater number of sex markers congruent with the sex of their brain: hands tend to be smaller, feet smaller, noses smaller, physical frame smaller, and generally slightly wider hips than normal for a male. Often the effect of puberty was not as dramatic as in normal males, though not in all cases. This physicality also explained the marked difference in ages that the affected people became aware that they had something different about them.
This has to be one of the finest examples of just-so “science” that I’ve seen in a long time. Talk about warping inventing reality to fit your pet theory. Carters could teach anti-trans radical feminists a thing or two.
HBS women are:
(1) trying to carve out a chunk of special cis/heteronormative-society-granted privilege for themselves while actively and knowingly participating in the continued oppression of the vast majority of trans* / gq / gv people;
(2) making hateful statements that are very similar to those made by anti-trans radical feminists, and therefore directly participating with them in the oppression of trans* / gq / gv people, including enabling their murders. Both anti-trans radical feminists and HBS women are using cis men as their proxies to commit acts of violence that they are too embarrassed or too ‘pure-wymynly-non-violent’ or too properly ladylike to commit. This may not be their (anti-trans radical feminists and HBS women) conscious intent, but that is the *effect*;
(3) engaging in blatant classism (including statements to the effect that trans women who are so poor that they are living on the street “just aren’t committed enough, they can scrape up the money somehow”);
(4) engaging in blatant racism; they know or *should know* how race and class are tied together. Here’s a very ugly example of simultaneous racism and transmisogyny – HBS-er Cathryn Platine write regarding Autumn Sandeen, a blogger at Pam’s House Blend:
When trans identified people approach women’s space as trans, they are confirming the accusations of the radical separatists, they are essentially trying to colonize or invade women’s space. This would seem to be a no brainer to me, but is a rather simple concept that immediately raises the back hairs of the transgendered crowd. It apparently is so threatening a concept that Pam Spaulding’s of Pam’s House Blend Blog house tranny, Autumn Sandeen, branded it hate speech! Sandeen is someone who is actually trying to raise money to go to the Democratic Convention for the specific purpose of causing a bathroom incident! Holy crap Batman. If this isn’t a perfect example of someone who claims womanhood on the one hand and denies it on the other trying to invade women’s space, I have no idea what would. It would seem self evident to me that if you are not woman identified you do not belong in women’s space.
(“House tranny” references the term “House Negro“.)
(5) engaging in blatant ableism, by stating that every trans* / gq / gv person except themselves, is mentally ill / “paraphilic” / “fetishistic”;
(6) are in general creating yet another structure of privilege and therefore actively reinforcing kyriarchy;
(6a) as part of that, are silencing trans men and those on the f-to-* spectrum.
HBS women are doing this for privileges that are illusory. Calling yourself an “HBS woman” will not protect you from losing your job when you are outed. Spitting in the faces of other trans* / gq / gv people will not protect you from being beaten up in the women’s bathroom by Alix Dobkin’s friends who just clocked you, or from being arrested, abused, and possibly raped by those transphobic cops. And splitting yourself from the rest of your community will not stop the ever-present, low-level, subconscious fear of being clocked, outed, scanned, questioned, doubted, delegitimized, silenced, erased. HBS women are part of the trans* / gq / gv community whether they like it or not.
Zoe Brain has a more nuanced and complex take on HBS and the question of transsexual / intersex. Please read the entire article. I will say, however, that I am uncomfortable with these two paragraphs, as there seem to be some mixed messages and I will admit that I was triggered by the third sentence in the first paragraph below, and I’m having trouble fitting it into the context of the rest of the article:
I place zero weight on my own self-perceptions, that I’m just a woman with an interesting medical history . Likewise my own desires as to what “should be”. For if I had my druthers, there would be a nice neat binary, with HBS men and women easily and clearly distinguished from a variety of self-advertising publicity-seeking “TG Pride” paraphiliacs and fetishists.
For that matter, I would like to be either regarded as Intersexed or Transsexual(ie only neurally Intersexed), and not something in-between, with characteristics of both. Still, if I’m going to dream, let’s go back to conception and give me 46xx chromosomes and a standard factory model female body, one that matches my brain.
It is time to call out HBS women who actively participate in the oppression of trans* / genderqueer / gender variant people for what they are: Kyriarchists. Kapos.
And it is time for the trans* / gq / gv community to stop tolerating their behavior.
[ETA: I neglected to link to Zoe Brain's post, and also, as requested in her comment, I extended the quotation from her article.]
(false consciousness edition, co-written with Lisa)
I had a half-written post about de-humanisation, but a lot of people have covered this rather well, so I think I’ll hold it back for another time. It’ll come in handy again, believe. Like most of these tropes, most of the examples I’ll use are about trans women, I really should write some more FtM specific ones.
What I want to talk about this time is how trans people are positioned outside of discourse, and our thoughts, motivations and desires are ventriloquised by an array of “experts,” including feminists and queer theorists of all stripes.
One of the comments I made on Laura’s thread on the F Word blog was that trans women are continually posited as naïve in feminist arguments, as though we couldn’t have possibly read any feminist theory, understood it, and still find it problematic to describe our experience. Or heaven forbid, be a trans academic or writer like Susan Stryker, Jay Prosser, Viviane Namaste, Julia Serano or Sandy Stone.
So you have, apparently, on the one side feminist theorists, bloggers etc, armed with a sophisticated array of theory. “Gender is not real,” social construction, all the fruits of the 40 year feminist push towards de-naturalising gender. Many of which, from French feminism to Judith Butler, is heavily influenced by the various anti-humanist currents of structuralist, post-structuralism, Marxism, psychoanalysis etc. And even online “rad-fems” are aware that to be essentialist is indeed A Very Bad Thing, though some seem to be not entirely sure why.
And then, on the other, you have these poor deluded trannies, who actually think gender is real. So real, in fact, that they have to do something about changing their bodies. And that right there lies the crux of the “reifying gender” argument, that by changing gendered bodies you are making something that is not real solid.
What twaddle. And what a fracking useless application of social constructionist theory.
A social constructionist/performative idea of gender can just as easily assume that as gender is constructed through the re-iteration of behaviours and the already-gendered body matter, trans people’s gender is as socially constructed as anyone else’s. And hence EXACTLY as real. And EXACTLY as fake.
And indeed, that’d be the way a whole swathe of queer theory reads transness (which is problematic in another way – read Viviane Namaste for a postcolonial trans feminist critique of Judith Butler for not paying sufficient attention to the specific contexts of trans subjectivities).
But this “gender is not real” thing is almost always used to ONLY illuminate the falseness of trans genders. And considering the notion that we are “really” a man or woman despite appearances tends to feed into transphobic discourse, legislation and eventually violence, I think it is worthy of refuting those non-trans normative biases and presumptions.
See some feminist and queer theorists approach trans women by applying different rules—a cis woman’s identification as woman is unquestionable, but a trans woman’s identification as woman is incomprehensible because gender doesn’t exist.
It is apparently not possible to identify as a woman, to live as a woman, if you’re transgendered and meet the feminist standard of anti-humanist anti-essentialist social constructionism.
Because the double-bind here is, either you meet societal expectations of a feminine gender presentation, in order to pass on a day-to-day basis without the massive amounts of harassment from the general public a non-passing trans person. In which case you’re a misogynistic man just acting out the dictates of the Patriarchy onto the entire female gender. There we go, polluting the ontology again.
Or, you do not have a traditionally feminine gender presentation, or you’re too loud, too “aggressive,” in which case, well, evidence that you’re really a man. The defense rests, your Honour.
Now imagine, if you are in fact, a cis feminist, a woman whose gender presentation matches her documents, well, how radical is your departure from gender categories? How much are you reifying gender, every single day, without every realising it?
It’s all very well to say “fuck gender,” but what do your documents say? Do you have to travel looking one way and having your documents say another? Because driver’s licenses and passports and 50 other million things have genders on them, and that tiny little M or F makes a massive amount of difference when your documents don’t match up. And most governments make it difficult, expensive, and sometimes totally impossible to change that marker.
This is all part of the social construction of gender–not just the performative, or the Butlerian “gender all the way down” notion of the sexed body–cis people benefit from the freedom of not being considered potential criminals, frauds or even terror suspects (US Homeland Security memo about “cross-dressing terrorists”) by institutions in countless ways. And then there’s Social Security “no-matches” that can out trans people to employers, and very little anti-discrimination legislation etc etc.
Of course, many of these people (eg Sheila Jeffreys, J Michael Bailey, Catherine Millot etc etc) will explicitly say that you cannot believe anything trans people say about our experiences, anyway.
Others say things like “I’m not aware of my gender, why should you be aware of yours?” but resist any explanation that dissonance or lack of dissonance could play any role there – and the fact is, everyone is aware of their gender, it’s just that cis people don’t have to acknowledge that awareness despite the fact that it shapes so much of what they do. For example, a man who insists that he doesn’t really think of himself in terms of masculinity will then turn around and do a great many gendered-masculine things. This of course betrays the fact that he thoroughly considers himself to be not only masculine, but a man.
This notion of an ontology of gender—a category of being “male” or “female”—is one that cis people buy into as much as trans people. The difference is, our identification is constituted from the start as illegitimate.
For instanct, trans women are told—and notice how this work in conjunction with its opposite, transness as “deception”—you cannot be a woman, you can only approximate it. And badly.
And so, the goalposts constantly shift- the fact is that trans people can and do answer questions about being trans. Deciding that “woman trapped in a man’s body” is an unacceptable narrative, but not seeing any other narrative as legitimate, either. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve said “it just felt wrong to be male” only to have someone say, “well everyone struggles with that. Nobody really feels they properly fit their gender.” Yes, well there is a difference between gender roles/stereotypes and the gender itself, and the conflation is irritating. And since we don’t always cooperate, they shift the goalposts a bit and ask again – often stating the answer is something they can’t identify with, thus it’s wrong.
And of course there’s the unending stream of strawmen, false dilemmas, question begging, catch-22s, double-binds. Logic must be sacrificed to
explain away the existence of a trans person who can speak for herself and himself and refuses to accept definitions imposed on them. People are threatened by the simple assertion of personhood, of agency. Of saying, these theories you apply to me, they do not work. They’re not true, and I refuse to accept them.
Like I said in my open letter, every conversation about trans people must automatically centre on the reactions of cis people. The limitations of their imaginations must axiomatically be the limits on our behavior.
You see, my body, my choice only applies to some people, some bodies, some choices.
Transitioning is metaphorically killing our mothers as Germaine Greer put it in The Whole Woman. Or the notion that trans women are most “naturally suited” for prostitution or perverts transitioning to get ourselves of proposed by J Michael Bailey in The Man Who Would Be Queen.
And thus, since our experience has been precluded from the start from the field of discourse, trans people are hopeless dupes of the medical
profession, who provide us with placebo treatments because we won’t
allow them to cure the root cause of our desires – whatever that root
cause may be. We’re cajoled, tricked, and coerced to seek surgery, we
never independently come to the conclusion that we want to change our
sex before we even hear it’s possible. And we are, after all, still the proud recipients of all that Patriarchal privilege.
Why would you need to hear from trans people—or heaven forbid read some theory by trans people—when you already know better than we do, our own histories, motivations, and desires? I mean, honestly.
Moving on steadily. Hope you’re all enjoying these posts, though it feels a bit weird to not have an accompanying rabbit picture. Here’s another one that gets regular thrown at trans people, particularly by radical feminists.
Basically, it’s the notion that, by medically transitioning, we reify gender—which is something that feminism is supposed to be destroying.
This is a particularly stupid line of argument, that it nevertheless has had enough traction to convince enough people it’s worthy of repeating. And repeating. Usually, it’s tied to an argument that trans people have the most retrogressive of personal presentations.
1. to convert into or regard as a concrete thing: to reify a concept.
2. To regard or treat (an abstraction) as if it had concrete or material existence.
Ok, got that? Trans people (and ONLY trans people) treat an abstract concept—gender—as though it were real. This was an idea promoted, for instance, in Lacanian psychoanalyst Catherine Millot’s Horsexe, where she says:
“The male [sic] transsexual, who claims to have a woman’s soul in a man’s body, and who often demands correction of this ‘error’ through surgery, is perhaps the only believer in a monolithic sexual identity free of doubts and questions”
Those poor dupes, they actually believe in gender.
Everybody else presumably, particularly any kind of cis feminist, has a suitably ironic take on gender. Which is why you’d fight so hard to stop people from changing it. Cos it doesn’t exist. Except it kinda does, enough for you to deny mine.
Generally, my response to the reifying trope is, of course, “as opposed to practically everybody else?”
Why is this critique not applied more strongly to gender normative straight people, or Lacanian academics or crunchy radical feminists for that matter, all of whom gain more and risk less from their gender presentations?
Trans people who identify as male or female do reify categories of gender, in so far as we fit one category or another.
However, depending on our appearance, we do not necessarily fit easily in them, and even if we do, we can be instantly removed from said category as soon as we’re outed. Suddenly, we’re de-gendered, “really” a man or woman.
I mean, it’s all so fracking seamless, like suddenly every Patriarchy-loving person around us goes “phew, they’re not gender non-normative, they’re actually the other gender. And that reconfirms the binary.” Seriously, what? People, liberal feminist people, got really really mad at me transitioning when they were ok with gender non-normativity.
And remember the legal problems I pointed to with transitioning—the law treats gender as though it were real, and guess what? We often have a precarious legal standing. Who’s reifying what, exactly?
Cis people reify gender categories even more strongly. Because, beginning in a category, and not only staying in it but actively defending its boundaries against trans people is fucking reifying it.
I mean, you’re treating the abstract concept of gender as real, as something worth defending against intrusion or defection (ie the “butch flight” idea).
Tell me again how if you draw a boundary against transitioning or even genderqueer states you’re not reifying a category yourself? You’re strengthening the category boundaries. There’s nothing very unusual about that, but it’s patently ludicrous that this critique be only and ever applied to trans* people.
Trans people who transition break the notion that gender is a once-and-forever deal, and this problematises gender categories–and through what grounds they might be constructed–far more than any radical feminist throwing-off-the-shackles-of-Patriarchy dissension.
And that doesn’t mean that our genders are somehow less real than cis genders, because even if you hold to some social constructivist position (which is where this idea stems from), a construct still exists. It’s not something that only those poor deluded trans people believe in.
Yes, many of us identify as a gender, and modify our bodies to fit that. So what? If that reifies gender, then cis people reify it more.
This is one that’s particularly directed at trans women, but occasionally at trans men too. Simply put, it is the notion that before, during and after transition we are privileged members of the patriarchy.
The notion that trans people are the worst examples or supporters of the Patriarchy is a common one in radical feminist thought–notably Janice Raymond’s notorious The Transsexual Empire, Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman, and any number of works by Sheila Jeffreys. The ludicrous premise of recent “science fiction” film The Gendercator was that trans people had collaborated with the Christian Right to force transition on everyone, so that an absolute gender binary would be upheld.
This is, however, complete twaddle. Trans people on the whole are no more in favour of the binary than anyone else, and since it is fracking impossible to just snap your fingers and change gender categories legally (or you know, fall into the Spring of Drowned Girl), we often inhabit a precarious legal space in-between genders–and therefore have very good reason to argue for the abolition of gendered categories.
Transgendered people are discriminated against legally, economically, and socially. Let’s break it down:
I can’t overstate this enough, because it is so frequently elided in studies of transgendered people. We are disproportionately, constantly, the victims of violence.
Viviane Namaste in Invisible Lives found that 1 in two trans people had been the subject of violence in the past year, compared with 1 in 7 gays and lesbians. Violence is most likely to occur, unsurprisingly, against the most vulnerable people–sex workers, women of colour. Some trans women are both, and it adds up to a particularly volatile cocktail in a world that, frankly, hates us.
Oh, and I shouldn’t forget the violence against proto trans youth. Bullying at school, often sanctioned by teachers, for being “gay,” “too feminine,” “a man,” whatever. And often hostile home environments, where our gender expression is “cause” to beat us, be a man, be normal, and so on.
The point is, trans bodies are the subject of violence because of our genders. This is a patriarchal privilege how?
Murky legal status
Trans people have an often murky legal status, which can vary from state to state, nation to nation. Different places have different standards for allowing us to change our gender—for instance in Australia where I live in, you’re required to have genital surgery if you’re a trans woman (an expensive surgery that requires an 18 month waiting period supervised by a psychiatrist…), in the UK the standards are less onerous and require a Gender Recognition Certificate, in some states in the United States like Texas a trans person can never legally change their gender.
But this does not mean that we get patriarchal privileges, even if for trans women we continue to be legally seen as male.
What this means is that our identities are often not accepted, and so we are placed in the wrong gender category, which is not just upsetting, but it is often dangerous. As Viviane Namaste shows, trans people are systematic erased by institutions.
Now as we all know, ID like driver’s licenses and passports have genders on them. For trans people, there can be a massive difference between our paperwork and how we are presenting, which places us in an extremely vulnerable situation. You’re open to discrimination—this is not a very friendly world to trans people—and charges of identity theft, fraud and even target as potential terrorists (because we’re “disguised.” Flying is particularly difficult for trans people after 9/11).
Ok, so imagine what happens when you get pulled over by the cops and your driver’s license has the wrong gender. You get the phenomenon of “driving while trans,” where some transphobic cop decides to pull you in for driving without a license. Or, a friend of mine found herself having to convince her bank that she wasn’t committing fraud when she tried to change the name on her bank account.
In the US, Social Security sends a “no-match” to employers, which can out stealth trans people. And since there’s very little legal protection stopping employers from discriminating against trans people, said employer is generally free to fire you for being trans. Which leads me to…
Trans people are disproportionately unemployed, and comparatively poor as a group. The myth of the trans woman who transitions late in life after she’s got all that fat Patriarchal money, power and privilege is just that, a myth.
“A study in the San Francisco Bay Area conducted in 2006 of 194 transgender individuals found a 35% unemployment rate, with 59% earning less than $15,300 annually.”
According to this report from the Williams Institute,
13%-56% of transgender people had been fired
13%-47% had been denied employment
22%-31% had been harassed, either verbally or physically, in the workplace
So poverty, and employment based discrimination is a patriarchal privilege? Shiny.
Anti Discrimination Laws
In most places, transgendered people are not covered by anti-discrimination laws—this is what the big ENDA mess was about in the US, where gay and lesbian organisations discarded trans rights from an anti-discrimination law.
Trans people are not covered by sex discrimination laws, or sexual orientation laws. Sexual discrimination laws are about legal sex, not gender identity.
Sexual orientation laws are about being (or being perceived to be) gay, lesbian or bisexual. Neither of these address the specific discrimination people face for being transgendered.
It’s really difficult to tell, but an extremely large number of trans people are homeless at some point in their lives – the trans group blog post above suggests the majority, but stats are unreliable. A January 2007 report from the (American) Gay and Lesbian Taskforce suggests that one in five transgendered people are homeless. The reason for this is twofold – the aforementioned discrimination for employment, and often unfriendly or abusive home environments.
Trans youth are particularly affected by the latter, and this is doubly compounded by the often gendered nature of homeless shelters.
It is true that some trans people are able to get married, and hence get some of the privileges thereof. However, as with everything else, this is patchy and who you can marry and the legality of your marriage varies wildly from place to place, and depends on your surgical status.
But, even if you can get married, the United States has a policy that specifically excludes marriages where one partner from being able to immigrate to the country. The apparent privilege of sometimes being able to be married is able to be disregarded at any moment.
Now, I could just go on and on about this, but I think the point should be clear enough. Trans people are systematically disempowered, on macro and micro levels. Why on earth does any of this sound like we’re getting monthly muffin baskets from the Patriarchy?
Nix Williams, polymath and genius, has written and recorded a song about a particular divisive argument in feminism.
Go listen now.
Drakyn posted recently about Heart’s/womensspace’s snipe at the Transgender Day of Remembrance:
“My gut, experience, knowledge tell me that the group of persons which will receive the absolute least sympathy and concern is female persons. We are trafficked, prostituted, enslaved, raped, all of the time by all sorts of men, ho hum, no big deal. But if it’s a boy or a transgender person, suddenly that’s a whole nother level.”
As I said in Drakyn’s discussion:
There are some lines cis women shouldn’t cross. You can participate in the Day of Remembrance, or you can ignore it, but don’t you dare begrudge it.
We have the Transgender Day of Remembrance is because it is a whole ‘nother level when a trans person is killed. A level down. As in trans panic defense actually working, as in massive victim blaming, as in society seeing trans lives as disposable. As in the murders being a matter of brutal overkill. I am not sure what world Heart lives on, but it’s not one where trans lives are valued over cis women’s lives.
Unfortunately, Heart sees everything trans women gain as something stolen from her – from all cis women. She accuses us of appropriating and colonizing womanhood, but she uses both words inappropriately. Talking about colonization the way she does is appropriation: If trans women aren’t marching on Women’s Country, with guns, sabers, diseased blankets and a mandatory religion, using “colonization” in this context is naked appropriation. You don’t colonize by becoming, you colonize by dominating, disenfranchising, othering, enslaving, and murdering.
While I wouldn’t accuse Heart of trying to colonize trans women experiences (she wants to deny that our experiences are valid, not claim them for her own – she only appropriates cis women experiences), she does try to dominate, disenfranchize, and other trans women whenever possible. She aggressively shouts us down when we claim to have experiences in common with cis women. She tells us that we’re not allowed to use goddess symbolism, she insists (sometimes) that we are men, or acting as men, or acting on male privilege. Further, she cheers on regular posters who make even more outrageous and transphobic statements, while claiming all along that she doesn’t believe or think those things because she never said them.
But she whines that trans people dare to remember our dead.