Archive for the ‘anti-transgender feminism’ Category
Sheila Jeffreys talks about how sex change is urged by gender bias. Looking at her take on lesbianism, it’s certainly clear that her political views couldn’t possibly blind her to the realities of trans people’s lives:
We do think… that all feminists can and should be lesbians. Our definition of a political lesbian is a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men. It does not mean compulsory sexual activity with women.
One of the refrains I read from radical feminists is that trans women are “not men” and are thus women by default just because that’s how the patriarchy works. I disagree with this perspective, but I find it illuminating that one can also find the view that “lesbian” can mean “a woman who does not fuck men,” rather than defined as women who are attracted to and form relationships with women.
In other words, this is a hypocritical stance, never mind what this practice has done to the lesbian community. But, that’s not the point right now, and I’m really writing this post to talk about Sheila Jeffreys’ complaints about why trans people transition for the wrong reasons.
CHIEF Justice Alastair Nicholson has done good work during his 16 years at the Family Court. The recent report on the serious problem of violence from male partners in child custody cases should cement his reputation as a judge who respects the human rights of women and children. But his decision last week to allow a 13-year-old girl to begin a sex change process breaks this tradition. Make no mistake: the decision violates the rights of this child.
The decision means that the girl named “Alex” will embark on a course of female hormone treatment to suppress menstruation, which can be expected to lead to male hormones at 16, and surgery when she reaches 18. The decision abrogates the child’s right to change her mind. And it removes her chance to grow up in a healthy female body and develop her identity long before an age when she’d be considered old enough to drive or drink alcohol.
She’s talking about Alex, a 13-year old who had to go through the Australian court system to receive treatments to stave off puberty long enough to give him a chance to live as a boy and ensure that this was the right course. Actual testosterone wouldn’t be administered until he was 16. Judge Nicholson approved the treatment for Alex, it did not mandate the treatment. First of all, if Alex did change his mind between 13 and 16, he could and have a normal puberty. If he changes his mind between 16 and 18, he could just stop testosterone and live a normal life. Surgery’s really the only irreversible step, but by then Alex would have five years to change his mind, and he’s still not required by the court to have surgery if he doesn’t want it.
The other thing here is that Sheila denies that trans people are often aware of our identities well before puberty. Alex’s wishes and identity here aren’t important to Ms. Jeffreys, however. Just her ability to have access to hormone replacement therapy. The phrase “healthy female body” is also standard transphobic panicmongering, as it introduces the idea that trans people seek to mutilate completely healthy bodies without bothering to acknowledge why we seek surgery, or even considering the dehumanizing language that “mutilate healthy bodies” entails. Once we have surgery, we’re mutilated, unhealthy creatures.
There are a number of cases in which men, for instance, have come to regret reassignment surgery later in life, and become reconciled to being heterosexual or gay men. But they cannot reclaim their penises and testes. Treating this child as a boy with all the authority of medicine at 13 won’t permit her to keep her options open. Male hormone treatment at 16 will narrow her options further, since it will begin irreversible physical changes and make it harder to change her mind. Both the female and male hormones may adversely affect her health.
Now Sheila descends into hyperbole. There are men who have sought hormones and surgery who made a mistake and later regretted it. “A number of cases” is an exaggeration, however, especially compared to the number of trans women who are happy with transition and surgical results. However, pointing out that the majority of men and women who undergo voluntary mastectomies or vaginoplasties are happy with the results would undermine Ms. Jeffreys’ crusade. She also erases those who successfully transition in their teens.
The medical profession’s belief in the efficacy of female hormones delivered as hormone replacement therapy, for instance, has been seriously undermined. Treatment with male hormones, which has to continue for life, has risks of liver damage and the shortening of her life.
This is more panicmongering. It is true that there are risks to hormone replacement therapy, which is why it’s standard practice now to conduct HRT under an endocrinologist’s supervision, or at least a GP who specializes in dealing with HRT. It’s normal to require blood tests and liver panel tests every three months, as well as to educate the patient as to the signs of harmful side effects, such as liver damage or (for estrogen) deep vein thrombosis. Because of the relatively high doses, they have to be and usually are monitored.
This decision was reached through an inquisitorial, rather than adversarial, process. Only those elements of the medical profession who support the idea of hormonal and surgical treatment for “gender identity disorder” (GID) were called by the court. They were relied on in reaching its decision as if they speak the “truth”. In fact, they should be seen as products of their time and the ideological biases of male dominance.
Indeed, their “truth” should be regarded as political opinion. They rely on the notion that there can be a “female” mind in a male’s body and vice versa. Their solution is to use chemicals, amputations, castrations and sterilisations to make the bodies of GID patients fit with their interpretation of what’s happening in the patient’s mind.
Sheila seems to believe that there’s a large body of medical evidence that contradicts the existence and treatment of gender identity disorder/transsexualism. Or rather, she believes her politics trump medical professionals who specialize in treating GID. That the idea of a female mind in a male’s body just isn’t real, solely because her theory says it can’t happen. Of course, her theory hasn’t been tested, simply asserted. It’s a theory based on the politics of destroying gender – and thus the patriarchy – and not on any scientific basis. It also erases the lived experiences and realities that trans people have to navigate on a daily basis. What we say about ourselves – what Alex says about himself is not to be considered, because it contradicts the theory.
Gender identity clinics can only diagnose the condition using the understandings of gender that exist at this time and place in history. Feminists like myself envisage a time beyond gender when there is no correct way to behave according to body shape. In such a world, it would not be possible to conceive of a gender identity clinic. The idea of GID is a living fossil that is, an idea from the time when there was considered to be a correct behaviour for particular body types.
Those with penises were supposed to play with particular toys and show “masculinity” such as desires to play aggressive team games and show little emotion. Those with vaginas were supposed to show “femininity” such as desires to be self-denying, do unpaid housework and wear high-heeled shoes. Gender identity clinics enforce correct gender behaviour through retraining, or through hormones and surgery. In this way, the medical profession can be seen to perform a political function as an arm of male dominance.
And here she establishes her theory: That GID diagnosis and treatment is based on the idea that there are correct ways to behave based on physical sex, and that those who do not fit the male norm must switch to female, and those who do not fit the female norm must switch to male. She’s just erased feminine gay men, drag queens, male transvestites, and butch lesbians in two paragraphs. People who – assuming they’re not taking on those identities to deal with transsexualism – violate those gender norms she’s talking about. This is because no one ever went to a doctor and said “I played with dolls as a boy, and I like to wear dresses, and I think this means I should be a woman.” If Sheila Jeffreys were to familiarize herself with the work of Harry Benjamin, she might discover there’s more going on here than her theory that transsexualism is about conforming to stereotypical gender roles and nothing more.
To be fair, it is true that medical professionals who specialize in gender have (and probably still do) focus on trans people’s ability to adopt stereotypical traits of femininity or masculinity to judge whether they’re really transsexual, but this is a problem with the system, not with the existence of transsexual people. This was a self-reinforcing process because the requirements for getting treatment were both strict and available to transsexual people seeking to transition. Since it was necessary to present one’s self as stereotypically masculine or (especially) feminine to get treatment, transsexual people did this. But that doesn’t mean that this was who we really were, it’s just what we had to do to get medical support for transitioning.
But this information is inconvenient to Sheila Jeffreys, who sees transsexualism as an enemy to be destroyed, not a real problem that we must accommodate.
The reasons why adult women seek reassignment surgery stem from the inequality of women, from male violence and from lesbian oppression. Women who have been abused in childhood seek reassignment so that they can escape the bodies in which they were abused and gain the status of the perpetrator in order to feel safe. Some want to gain privileges they perceive to be open to men. And many feel unable to love women in the bodies of women because of societal repression and hatred of lesbians.
Feminists seek to transform society so that male violence against women and girls will end and so that women may have equal rights and love women while remaining in their healthy female bodies.
But women who seek reassignment believe that a physical solution will solve their individual problems.
Rather, it compounds the damage. The Family Court should not be recommending this solution for a child.
She then goes on to make an assertion about trans men – that they seek SRS because women are not treated equally in society, that it’s all about escaping abuse and gaining status, becoming the oppressor. Again, she refuses to acknowledge trans men’s voices when they tell us who they are and why they transitioned, she has to frame transitioning in terms of patriarchal oppression.
This article compounds the damage – the damage that radical feminism inflicts on trans people every chance it gets. It erases us as individual human beings with a condition that requires treatment in order for us to live and thrive, and replaces us with ciphers that ape the “wrong” gendered behaviors and seek to transition to legitimately access those behaviors. It especially erases trans men and replaces them with women who can’t stand to be oppressed in patriarchal society.
Sheila Jeffreys should refrain from writing about trans people until she bothers to learn about us and engage us as people, not as tokens for her political prejudices.
Okay, it’s not news that the woman who runs one of the most transphobic and transmisogynistic, tightly moderated blogs in the blogosphere is running for president. She’s known for triggering drama across multiple blogs at a time, taking passive aggressive swipes at other bloggers without ever directly engaging them, and claiming the experiences of all women as her own. That is, Heart, aka Womensspace, aka Cheryl Seelhoff.
I could mine Heart’s blog for months and never reach the bottom, and I very well may do so - especially the recent ENDA, Bailey, and Kimberly Nixon discussions – soon.
I had a hard time picking one today. I’d grabbed all the low-hanging “Questioning Transgender” fruit in previous sweeps, leaving only a few articles that touch on anything I haven’t covered before. Trans-Race is one of the few I haven’t touched that attacks transgender people directly, and is a topic I’ve skirted a few times – the comparison of transitioning into the other sex to “blackface.”
This is actually a fairly common comparison, made as if it were completely reasonable and acknowledges all possible realities surrounding race and gender, but it’s really just an offensive form of appropriation. I’ve linked to Queen Emily’s Race and Transness article before, which covers the topic fairly thoroughly (and is why I’ve held off on this for the past two weeks).
Angelita Manzano’s article immediately begins with an imposed fallacy, a false argument she applies to trans people:
The claim is often made that claiming there is a category called “woman” is a way of reinscribing sexist categories, and we should be trying to get rid of sexist categories, so let’s just deny “woman” exists. I’m saying that claiming that there is no difference between someone born with a vagina and raised as a girl, and someone born with a penis and raised as a boy (that the latter may simply choose to belong to the category of woman) is analogous to saying that there is no difference between someone born and raised Black and someone born and raised white–that the latter may simply choose to belong to the category of Black.
She implies right off the bat that trans women claim there is no difference between a trans woman and a cis women, and immediately makes a racial comparison. The problems with this paragraph are:
- Saying that claiming a trans woman can really be a woman is like claiming that a white person can “simply choose” to become a black person. She’s implying, as so many radical feminists like to do when discussing trans people, that the decision to transition is a matter of “simply choosing.”
- That there’s no difference between using hormones and surgery to change sex and living full time in the social role of “woman” and the simple act of asserting that one is now a black person.
- That manhood and womanhood derive from the penis and the vagina, respectively, and have nothing to do with how you’re socialized, how you’re treated, how you’re expected to act, and so on.
Accepting any of these require denying the lived realities trans people experience as well as what it takes to change sex. It also conveniently ignores the realities of gender and race by conflating them into basically the same thing, and tries to make the idea of changing sex sound like a frivolous decision.
It’s necessary for her to establish the idea that race and gender can be conflated like this so she can write the following paragraph without immediately losing her (presumably unfavorable-toward-trans people) audience. The entire second paragraph is about how it’s not possible to destroy racism by simply switching to a different race – for her, as a woman of color, to make herself more white. Now, this is not not unreasonable: You don’t destroy racism by acting more like the people with the racial privilege. Condoleeza Rice and Michelle Malkin make that much clear. Of course, this has nothing to do with why trans people choose to transition, but as we can see, Angelita believes it does, having absorbed the transphobic radical feminist teachings rather well:
Similarly, we can say there’s no such thing as gender, and in a certain sense, that is true–gender is not a biological fact. However, if we deny that there is such a thing as “woman” (that we can just choose to live whatever gender we want) that means that there is no such thing as “man”–i.e., there is no class of people (men) that have unequal power and privilege over another group of people (women). In other words, by denying the reality of women and men, you deny the reality of patriarchy. So if I chose to live my life as a man that would do nothing to destroy the system of male supremacy. And destroying male supremacy is what I think feminism is about: we must get rid of patriarchy in order to get rid of gender roles.
Now she brings it around, equating trans people’s approach to gender with white people who claim to be color-blind with regards to race. This paragraph is ridiculous. The existence of men and women as discrete categories is a reality that trans people have to negotiate constantly. We can’t deny the existence of men and women because this is central to what we have to live with. Transitioning isn’t about denying anything, about supporting or ignoring the patriarchy. It is not a political act – it is an act of survival.
She also criticizes transition because it won’t destroy the patriarchy. But, really, who seriously claims it would? Does open heart surgery threaten the patriarchy? How about insulin injections? Maybe taking antibiotics to cure strep throat? Hormones and surgery are medical treatments for trans people. Transitioning has nothing to do with politics by itself. It may inform trans people’s politics (and it really should – transition moves one down the social ladder several steps just for being trans), but it is not defined by or as politics.
This is emblematic of the peculiar radical feminist view that “the personal is political” means that everything personal must be interpreted as a political act, whether you engage in BDSM, are a sex worker, choose to marry a man instead of pretending to be a politically caricatured lesbian. This makes it remarkably easy to identify “enemies” and ostracize and slander them. When you’re reducing a person’s most fundamental decisions and perceptions of herself to whether her identity is congruent with your politics, you’ve ceased to see her as a valid human being, and instead look upon her as a token for your own goals.
In a lot of ways, radical feminism (as seen online) is defined more by what radical feminists hate than what radical feminists support.
Anyway, back to the male privilege argument:
When I say that there is such a thing as “Black,” I’m not reinscribing categories but simply admitting the truth about the world we live in today. When I say that there is such a thing as “woman,” I’m not “reinscribing” categories–I am simply admitting the truth about the world we live in today. And as much as I would like to someday live in a world where someone with a penis would not have power over me, that’s not the world that I live in today. Denying this truth, denying that someone born with penis and raised a boy has greater access to power and privilege than I do, does nothing to get rid of male dominance.
The overall tone of the article is meant to imply, “Once a ______, always a _______.” So, if you’re born white, raised white, and try to claim you’re black, you’ll still received white privilege from society, even if you personally do your best to not exert that white privilege. Everyone still sees you as white, they treat you as white. You have an easier time getting good jobs, getting into good schools, and so on. She wants this to be extended to trans women: Once a man, always a man. Even if you look like a woman, smell like a woman, dress like a woman, act like a woman, sound like a woman, have an F on your driver’s license and a surgically constructed vagina, you’re still receiving male privilege. The superficial change of claiming an identity on a whim is just like the profound change of altering your body. That if you ever received male privilege, it taints your life forever after. That it is in fact a personal failing that earns you condemnation, and forever bars you from acceptance.
It also serves as the source of many offensive stereotypes about trans women – that we “take up too much social space,” for example, and that we only want into women’s spaces because “women aren’t allowed to say no to men.” In short, the original sin of male privilege serves as a convenient lever to discredit everything about trans woman identities.
I’ve also found it difficult to ever have dialogue with transphobic feminists about male privilege. Any actual discussion will put chinks in the idea that trans women benefit from uncomplicated male privilege, either during the period of our lives when we were seen as male, or during our entire lives because we are allegedly unable to relinquish it. Actually talking to a trans woman and finding out that, “Yes, men treat me like I’m ignorant and talk over me all the time too” makes it difficult to hold the line on this particular point. As with every other stereotype perpetuated by transphobic radical feminists, this must be asserted over and over again to maintain the illusion of trans women as ultra-feminine, socially domineering, men in dresses without any ability to connect or relate to womanhood. We’re too loud, too male, to be accepted. This is, of course, a caricature, a cartoon figure intended to serve as a bogeywoman to keep us out of woman-only spaces.
Comparing gender to race in this context is simply another way to establish that caricature, to link the idea of “trans woman” to “caricature,” in this case, to the idea of white people claiming to be people of color. Many radical feminists go all the way and directly compare transitioning to blackface.
And finally, part 2 kicks off with a deconstruction of Charlotte Croson’s assertions about BDSM and transgender political/personal beliefs. This part of the article includes Structure/Content sections for both BDSM and transgender categories, and continues to spackle the idea that both are bad politics over a shaky foundation built on bigotry and bad assumptions. Additional discussion of part one can be found here.
S/M – Structure
The S/M view of sexuality is structured along deeply traditional lines. First, in the view of S/M advocates, sexuality is simply a matter of individual desire and practice. Where desire springs from is never examined, exactly – it just is, and practice follows from that. In this construction there is no room to question whether sexuality and desire are constructed, or how they are constructed, and by and for whom. Sexuality and desire can remain innate qualities or attributes of the person engaging in them. As a result, despite claims that sexuality is being deconstructed, current practices of sexuality are largely seen as transhistorical, beyond construction and question. They simply “are” what sexuality is and efforts to change what is are resisted. What S/M advocates have done is move essentialism from the physical body to the self – to one’s (presumably unconstructed) sexual identity and the practice that springs from it.
Second, the S/M construction is deeply gendered, maintaining the binary top/down nature of both sexuality and gender. In S/M sex, there are still only two sexual roles, separate and distinct from each other (although one may theoretically switch back and forth). And these roles are limited to top and bottom, dominant and subordinate. It is the same patriarchal template: innate, binary and top down. Having used the same template, it is no surprise that S/M sexuality exactly reproduces the content and norms of both male-dominant sexuality and gender.
The bad assumptions here are:
- “Where desire springs from is never examined” – This is just wrong. Most of the people I know who practice BDSM do examine it, just as many of the gay, lesbian, and bisexual people examine their sexuality. When your desires are not the assumed norm, you question them and try to find a context for them. What Ms. Croson really means is that they didn’t come up with answers she liked – that they’re comfortable with their sexuality. Since this is politically wrong, or rather, shows they’re comfortable with “patriarchal sex,” it must be condemned. Apparently being a lesbian means having sexual freedom – but only if you adhere to the Party’s accepted doctrine, comrade.
- “…despite claims that sexuality is being deconstructed.” – This is just another assertion that everything personal must be political, that by engaging in sex practices, we must obviously be making a political statement. This objection has more to do with the accuser than the accused, and you won’t find many serious BDSMers who give serious thought to the idea that they’re doing it to deconstruct anything. It also assumes that there’s an imperative to deconstruct anything when you do anything.
- “What S/M advocates have done is move essentialism from the physical body to the self . . .” – “Essentialism” is apparently the radical feminist equivalent of Satanism, something that must be repudiated at all costs, after being imposed upon whatever target is convenient. I suppose this ties back to the idea that political lesbianism – that every woman can be a lesbian if she so chooses. If every woman can choose to love women instead of men, then of course every woman can choose to ignore their desire to engage in BDSM – and in fact, BDSM desires, like lesbianism, is just a wardrobe you can choose to wear or not, as you desire. Aside from the fact that political lesbianism is appropriation and colonization of lesbian culture, it’s also convenient rhetoric when you encounter kinks you want to stamp out.
- “. . . the S/M construction is deeply gendered, maintaining the binary top/down nature of both sexuality in gender . . . it is no surprise that S/M sexuality exactly reproduces . . . male-dominant sexuality and gender.” – The implication being that there’s something essentially male about dominance and essentially female about submission in sexuality, and that taking on these roles – even if both participants are women – is just the same as men and women having vanilla sex. This is a rhetorical bait and switch, a false analogy. It denies the existence of female dommes and male subs and resorts to that hated essentialism in order to demonize the alleged essentialism of BDSM practices.
After building this castle on the sand, she proceeds to fill it with more detailed assumptions, or the “content” portion of this attempt to deconstruct BDSM. She begins by reiterating the false analogy that because vanilla heterosexual sex assumes that the male is dominant and the female is passive, that the male acts and the female is acted upon, that the male fucks and the female is fucked. That power imbalance in sex is patriarchal, and that through this patriarchal sexuality, women are subordinated to men. So what she is saying is that when a leatherdyke binds her femme sub, that she is reinforcing the idea that women are subservient to men. She goes on to say that S/M embraces this dynamic, rather than transgressing it. She says that according to pro-BDSM views that allowing female dominance makes it transgressive – which again falls into the fallacy that everything you do must be interpreted in terms of how much you think it transgresses heteronormativity as well as how much you think it really transgresses heteronormativity.
There’s something really wrong with her analysis, but I want to quote this paragraph that lays it out exactly:
The roles in S/M, top and bottom, exactly track the content of patriarchal sexuality: there is a sexual subject who acts on a sexual object. To borrow from Catharine MacKinnon: “Man fucks woman. Subject verb object,”(3) becomes “Top fucks bottom. Subject verb object.” There simply is no difference in content between patriarchal roles and S/M roles, or between S/M sexuality and patriarchal sexuality. What is sexy about S/M is the supposed complementary/oppositional roles and the eroticization of dominance and subordination. If force is not used, it is acted out in “play” scenes. If there is no “natural” complementarity of male dominance and female submission, it is created through role-playing. Prison scenes, rape scenes, master-slave scenes, teacher-student scenes – in each of these the disparity of power is consciously, specifically, the erotic thrill of it. So too with the designation of “tops” and “bottoms,” butch and femme roles, as used in, appropriated by, S/M – where “natural” sex role dominance is not present, dominance is created. The purpose of the scenes and roles is exactly to replicate the top-bottom dominance sexuality, the erotic kick of power disparity, that is the sine qua non of patriarchal sexuality.
Her implication is that being a sub, being a slave, being a bottom, whatever you want to call it, is completely passive. That basically, all you do is lay there while your top whips you, drips hot candle wax on you, ties you up in restraints, and so on. The top gives and the bottom receives. That the dynamic goes exactly one way. That the top has power and the bottom does not. That the dynamic is identical to the stereotypical heterosexual missionary sex act where the man plunges in and the woman just lays there and takes it. Healthy BDSM relationships just don’t work that way. They have to be highly interactive, with communication and power going both ways. The top has the power to do whatever she wants within the bottom’s boundaries, and the bottom has the power to stop it at any time. Trust is the primary facet of a strong relationship between a top and a bottom, and Ms. Croson does not even acknowledge this. She can’t afford to, since she wants her readers to view BDSM as abusive heterosexual practices taken to an extreme. The top as an angry, controlling wifebeater, the bottom as a submissive victim who can’t even bring herself to leave her abuser.
This is echoed in the beliefs, when inclusion of BDSM practitioners at MWMF was being debated, and some women believed that allowing them on the land would give the subs a chance to escape these obviously abusive relationships. Some suggested setting up workshops to help them get away – of course, none wanted to get away because they love their kinks and have too strong a sense of themselves to allow others to talk them out of it.
After this, she moves to the castle in the swamp – transgender.
Transgender – Structure
The transgender movement’s view of gender is also structured along deeply traditional lines. First, in the view of transgender advocates, gender is simply a matter of individual identity. Where identity springs from is never examined, exactly–it just “is”–and, again, practice follows from identity. Gender remains an innate quality or attribute of the person expressing it. Given this, in transgender movement politics there is no room to question where gender and gender identity come from or whether and how they are constructed and by whom. As a result, the current practice of gender is seen as transhistorical, beyond construction and question. It simply “is” what gender is. What transgender advocates have done is move essentialism from the physical body to the self–to one’s (presumably unconstructed) gender identity.
Second, despite claims of multiple genders, “male” attributes remain male, even if practiced by a physically female body. As do “female” attributes, even if practiced by a physically male body. It is the same patriarchal template: innate, binary, essential and essential to identity. Having used the same template, it is no surprise that transgender exactly reproduces the content and norms of patriarchal gender.
She repeats the same arguments about transgender as she does about BDSM – which is expected, because she wants both equated as the same kinds of “wrong things” in feminist eyes. She again asserts that “where identity springs from is never examined.” What she really means is “Whenever trans people explain their identities, their sense of self, and why they transition, we ignore them and impose our narratives upon their lives. Those invented narratives never examine where identity springs from.” As I mention before, if you differ from the expected norm, you’re almost forced to examine it. I spent years when most kids think about G.I. Joe or Barbies trying to deconstruct what the hell “being a girl” meant vs. “being a boy.” I tried to see myself as a person with both a male and female spirit before I was eight years old. I tried to examine the possibilities that I was just a transvestite, or gay. I questioned constantly how I could know I was a girl when my body said I was a boy. I examined my identity, my sense of self, every way I could think of. I tried to suppress the idea entirely. I never really got to the bottom of it all, but I searched every nook, cranny, and crevice I could find that might give me some hint. I just don’t see how you can grow up with the sense of being one gender, your body being the other sex, and dealing with the messages society sends boys and girls while trying to sort them all out without some serious examinations of what’s going on.
Her argument seems to imply that trans people decide one day that we want to transition, that we’d be more comfortable as the other sex, or life would be easier because we can’t handle being gay – this isn’t much of a stretch, because other articles on Questioning Transgender explicitly lay this out. In her lack of understanding – and her lack of willingness to understand – transgender lives, Ms. Croson imposes patriarchy upon who and what we are.
Her second paragraph borders on nonsense – she wants to get her essentialism jab in, mainly. She seems to be claiming that transgender asserts that female actions are female, even when practiced by someone with a male body, and vice versa. Again, speaking from my own experience, I don’t really view actions as masculine or feminine, but society does – society tells us that wearing makeup and dresses is feminine, and being aggressive and playing sports is masculine. Not trans people. Trans people simply have to live in this world where society already has existing definitions of masculinity and femininity. We’re not reinforcing gender roles by transitioning. We’re trying to live our lives by transitioning. Trans women do not adopt exclusively feminine gendered traits when transitioning, and trans men do not adopt exclusively masculine gendered traits. This would be easy to establish if Ms. Croson tried to learn anything at all about transgender people, rather than impose her own restrictive worldview on us.
Moving on to content, she again makes the claim that the “transgender movement” is to support and practice what it deems to be “transgressive” genders based on one’s personal gender identification. I can’t speak for everyone, but whenever someone says near me “is it a man or a woman?” I don’t think “wow, I really transgressed his gender world and turned it upside down.” I look for easy exits and potential witnesses in case he decides I have to die to prove he’s straight. This is because – as I mentioned in the part 1 – whether or not I want to be transgressive is beside the point. Transitioning from male to female or female to male is transgressive, and society’s constructed in such a way as to punish these transgressions. Transitioning as a political goal to “transgress” or “freak the mundanes” is a really poor reason. Criticizing it because we don’t transgress is like criticizing lesbians because they don’t look for enough boyfriends – it’s not even relevant to what we’re doing. The same applies to telling us that we should want to transgress – that instead of becoming women, we should live as feminine males. This assumes that we don’t engage in any self-examination and maybe never considered that we could try that and found it completely lacking.
The content section attacks transsexualism and transitioning for not violating gender norms, for being satisfied with moving from male to female and female to male. It’s rather thoroughly mired in the feminist theory about how gender is constructed is completely 100% accurate and cannot be contradicted. In this, it’s more like a belief than a theory. There’s no need to offer proofs or examine data, it’s just asserted to be the truth and we’re supposed to accept it as dogma. It’s a way that feminism has deconstructed sexism, but it’s never succeeded in truly deconstructing transgender. When faced with people who fail to fit the “theory,” many adherents choose to attack those people as aberrations rather than acknowledge that real and lived experiences should take primacy over theory of what those experiences should be.
Further, gender hierarchy remains intact. Transgender politics does nothing to disrupt the positions of women and men in the gender hierarchy. The transgender ideology of gender identity helps to maintain the lines of male power by accepting prescriptive gender definitions of what it is to be a man (or a woman) and then acting on those definitions. Accordingly, those males not manly enough to be men simply become and are made into women, either in body or in identity or both. All those who have fallen from patriarchal grace simply “are” women because it is precisely this fall from “real manhood” that marks them as women– as lesser than men. Transgender movement ideology simply participates in making “not men” real in the world as women. This, obviously, does nothing to change what it means to be a woman under conditions of male dominance–not a man and also lesser than a man. Further, transgender politics makes “staying a woman” always a choice. Thus, in many ways it renders women’s choices to oppose gender hierarchy as women and on behalf of women incomprehensible.
I picked this paragraph out because she resorts to a couple of favorite offensive generalizations about trans women: “those males not manly enough to be men are simply become and are made into women,” and “Transgender movement ideology simply participates in making ‘not men’ real in the world as women.”
The problem with the first assertion is the idea that there’s social pressure on feminine men to become women. This is entirely opposite from the truth, of course. Social pressure is on feminine men to become more manly, and those who do not go along are punished harshly. This also implies that the main population from which trans women come is feminine men. This is not true – men, no matter how feminine, know they are men. Go find the most flaming gay man you can find, and ask him if he’d consider becoming a woman – odds are he’ll say “hell no.” Finally, this erases the fact that trans women usually grow up with a certain experience – the persistent sense that the body is the wrong sex, that one is a girl and not a boy. It just pretends that trans women are just like feminine men, and are thus “failed men” who couldn’t hack it as men. This is actually contrary to a lot of late transitioners who have families and careers, who are succeeding rather well (outwardly, at least) at being men, when they’re simply coping or being forced to cope rather than transition earlier.
The second assertion is frustrating because it goes back to the idea that trans women are “not men” and all “not men” are categorized as “women.” This is really a categorization of trans women as “not women,” or a statement that our gender is invalid because we were born with male bodies. It erases our experiences as women – not appearing to society or viewing ourselves as not-men, but appearing to society and viewing ourselves as women. We get the same sexism any other woman gets. We’re not in some limbo state where we’re gendered “female” by default. When someone does perceive that we’re trans, we’re not shuffled into the category of “woman,” but into the category of “freak,” “pervert,” we’re thirdgendered as other, we’re not seen as valid women. I would call Ms. Croson’s analysis here thoroughly wrong. She views the experience of being transsexual through the lens of cissexual privilege, which allows her to make any assumptions she wishes about our motivations, our history, our truthfulness, our narratives, and not give any weight to what we say or do.
However, while men can always become “not men” women cannot ever leave behind our status as women and become “real” men. One can not help but think of Brandon Teena–for women, the inter-gender terrorism never stops, regardless of what identity one claims or feels. This is a central issue transgender politics often misses. FTMs remain women and, as such, targets of male violence. One could say Brandon was murdered because she transgressed gender boundaries. And it would be accurate. But it is also at least as accurate to say that what Brandon didn’t have was access to male power. She was, as a woman, presumptively a target of gender violence, with or without any transgender identity she may have had. It was no accident or fortuitous occurrence or mistake that Brandon was raped before she was murdered. But it is this gendered violence the transgender movement elides by casting Brandon solely in a transgendered identity and the violence against her as being against “him” and simply motivated by hatred of “his” transgender identity. Clearly, Brandon was attacked as an act of preserving male power: she was a woman who acted “like” a man. To the extent that that was a transgender identity (and we just don’t know that it was for Brandon) she was murdered because she was transgender. But one can’t elide the fact that Brandon was, in fact, in the world, ultimately gendered woman–a target for male violence, tellingly, the gendered crime of rape.
This one comes with some pretty heavy assumptions as well: That trans men suffer more from male violence than trans women, and that the violence he suffered was because he was a woman who didn’t know his place as a woman. First, Ms. Croson deliberately uses feminine pronouns because she knows just how deeply offensive it is to do this to trans people – it’s like calling a cis woman a “cunt,” a “whore,” or a “slut.” A way to demean the target utterly. She also assumes that Brandon was attacked because he was discovered to be a woman, but not because he was trans. This is typical for radical feminists, who deny and ignore intersectionality – that Brandon was raped and murdered because he was a female-bodied person who presented as and was accepted as a man before the “truth” was discovered. In other words, what happened to him is not unlike what happened to Gwen Araujo,. Ms. Croson would never acknowledge that, however, because Gwen was a trans woman (and thus born male, and thus not subject to male violence), and because it would require her to acknowledge that trans men and trans women both suffer violent, vicious, bloody hate crimes for being trans men and trans women.
Her clear implication in the above paragraph is that trans men suffer far more male violence than trans women, but looking at Remembering Our Dead, it’s pretty clear that a large number of trans women are murdered every year. The fact is that being trans all too often means getting murdered by someone who objects to who we are. It’s also fine to portray trans women especially as deserving victims of violence, as shown in the the NCIS episode, “Dead Man Talking.” In this episode, one of the characters unknowingly goes on a date with a trans woman to get some information. While she’s in the restroom, the guy gets a call telling him that she’s trans. When she returns, he draws his gun – not before he finds out she’s trans, but after. She is shot and killed by his superior. The outcome? Said character is teased for kissing a man. Jimmy Kimmel casually jokes about murdering a trans woman with an axe after discovering she’s trans and doesn’t even get a slap on the wrist from his producer or the network. Since Ms. Croson must present men as the oppressors and women as the oppressed, trans men must be presented as the only real victims of male violence.
Of course, this is all evidence that society doesn’t like it when we change sex, which is true. She denies that the violence has anything to do with being trans, which is completely false – if Brandon Teena had been Teena Brandon all along, and didn’t date any girls, odds are he wouldn’t have been raped and murdered for his transgression.
Now we get some more gender essentialism from Charlotte:
The attacks by parts of the transgender movement on women-only spaces like Festival exhibit the transgender movement’s unstated assumption of the intractability of male power and female powerlessness. Camp Trans attacks Festival because Festival is women-only space. Because women have less power than men. Because it’s easy and safe to attack women. It’s an interesting sort of “horizontal” hostility – with women, once again, on the receiving end but with transgendered politics supplying the rationale. By their efforts to be admitted to womyn-only spaces, they implicitly recognize both their own powerlessness and the power of men to make them so. They are assuming that their lack of male gender conformity “makes” them women in some immutable and intractable way, and thus powerless in the face of male power. What does it mean when a group of people perfectly positioned, in whose interest it undoubtedly is, to attack and deconstruct what it means to be a man in patriarchy, accept their status as “not-men” as a gender identity and call that identity “woman?”
The transgender movement’s push to deconstruct woman and appropriate the identity woman says something about male power. It says male power and the class men is too powerful, and perhaps too important, to deconstruct. Deconstructing men and masculinity is mostly left to gay men–who aren’t, for the most part, interested in deconstructing it, either. Instead they seem mostly interested in getting and keeping male power for themselves. And they’re willing to sacrifice “femme men” and women to male power to get it for themselves. So, while the class of men may be expanded to include butch gay men, it’s not deconstructed so long as the price of admission is being a “real man”–i.e., always on top.
She interprets the fact that trans women would like to be included in women-only spaces as “the unstated assumption of the intractability of male power and female powerlessness,” or rather, “that women aren’t allowed to say no to men.” It couldn’t possibly be that we legitimately see ourselves as women, that our gender as women is valid, and that we identify with women – it must be that we wish to violate space set aside for women because that’s what men do. She makes it clear we can’t have a valid gender as women. She mischaracterizes Camp Trans as attacking women-only space, rather than challenging the discrimination the policy enshrines. She then refers to this as “horizontal hostility” with women on the receiving end, never mind that while you can find reams of articles and piles of books written by cis women about how trans women are evil and horrible men who are out to destroy womanhood, you won’t find many writings by trans women attacking cis women as a monolithic group. There is no trans version of Janice Raymond writing “The Cissexual Empire.” These “feminists” are constantly on the offensive toward trans women – referring to us as “men,” claiming that hormone therapy and surgery “rapes women’s bodies,” calling the hormones and surgery “mutilation,” accusing us of being patriarchal agents provocateur out to destroy feminism from within. Deriding us for benefiting form male privilege, calling us “Frankenstein’s monster.” There is so much anti-trans woman hate speech enshrined in feminist writings it alternately depresses and angers me to think about it, but we’re the ones engaging in horizontal hostility toward them?
She goes on to say that we’re perfectly positioned to deconstruct and appropriate the “identity woman” and that this is an expression of male power – in other words, she’s making the assertion that the fact that we seek to become women proves that we’re really men, and that by transitioning, we’re saying that the “class men” is too important to deconstruct. Notice how she also conveniently forgets about trans men now that she no longer has to prop Brandon Teena’s death as evidence of male oppression against women. It’s all about how the trans women are oppressing the powerless women of MWMF.
The other thing prevalent in these paragraphs is how no one’s putting enough effort into deconstructing gender. Although, she really does put most of the onus for deconstructing gender onto trans women, none at all onto trans men, and complains a bit about how gay men don’t bother either. She’s continuing to assert that deconstructing gender is more important than living one’s life. Personally, that’s not a sacrifice I think is worth making for her revolution. I don’t want to live a joyless life with suicidal end as the inevitable end just to satisfy someone else’s political mandates. Why must my life bend to her politics? Why can’t her politics acknowledge that people like me exist? Hate.
She goes on to talk about the powerlessness of women as a class, and how deconstructing “woman” is no help to how helpless women are. Remember when she complained that the responses to her arguments are that she denies women agency? Well, here she is, denying women any agency. Powerless? Women aren’t powerless. Women can have white privilege, cissexual privilege, able-bodied privilege, economic privilege, heterosexual privilege, and so on. When white middle-class women assert that women are powerless as a class, they’re asserting all of these privileges at once to ignore that these privileges even exist.
Her final paragraph opens with “In transgender politics, the purpose of transgender identity is to allow people to live out their ‘true’ gender identity. But the idea and practice of transgender identity participates in keeping the lines of masculinity and male power clear.” First, she’s refuting the “Against politics, not people” lie that Questioning Transgender Politics operates under by immediately conflating the imaginary politics with the very real issue that trans people transition as a survival move. She then goes on to say that trans people are thus limited in political action to our transition and nothing else. We can’t fight or deconstruct sexism because according to her, our very existence legitimizes sexism. Never mind that if trans people are accepted as having valid gender identities, that does call the whole structure into question. If a person seen as a woman today can be seen as a man next year, be treated as a man, and receive a man’s privileges and opportunities, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean the man became a different person in that year, it means he changed how the world sees him. It clearly shows just how artificial sexism really is.
She says that “male power doesn’t care about who the women are; just who the real men are” and that those who do not qualify as real men get to become women, thus negating the need to examine what defines men. This just goes back to the idea that trans women are “failed men” rather than something else – a category that Charlotte Croson has no room for, nor does she want to make room for us. Her transmisogyny just plain rejects the idea that anyone born with a male body could really truly honestly become a woman, actually be a woman. That there’s anything about us that demands womanhood. She wants to reduce our lives to how we relate to manhood, not how we relate to womanhood. This refusal to accept the reality of our lived experiences is only superficially tied into the idea that we should deconstruct manhood, that we are simply men becoming not-men (and thus defaulting to womanhood), that we’re trying to transgress gender and failing, is simply a need to justify why “those icky trannies can’t join our party.”
She goes on to again erase the idea that trans people suffer violence for being transgendered. I’m sure that’s a comfort to Gwen, whose murderer screamed “I’m not gay!” as he bludgeoned her to death. She also reasserts that trans men cannot ever cross the line and be treated as men in the same way as trans women cross the line and are treated as women. Given that she bases this entirely on Brandon Teena’s murder, and doesn’t actually refer to any other trans men, who assimilate as men, and are treated as men, her conclusion is kind of suspect. Similarly, she doesn’t acknowledge the sheer amount of misogynistic vitriol directed at trans women from every part of society – how our lives are disposable, how we’re steroetyped as everything from evil seductive deceivers to murderers to junkie prostitutes to pathetic men who could never be taken as a real woman. She ignores how thoroughly trans women are objectified in the media and how we’re often reduced to nothing more than the shape of our genitals. She’s erasing the real oppression trans men and women experience, as well as the acceptance we do receive when we’re treated as men and women.
She finally reaches her conclusion. She criticizes Camp Trans (finally remembering again that she was writing this about how awful Camp Trans is for criticizing MWMF, not how all trannie women in the entire world hate cis women) for not getting their idea of gender from feminism, as if the only valid source of gender discussion is feminism. To be honest, I would say that some feminists have taken an imperialistic approach to gender – they treat gender and discussion of what gender means as their property, something they are unquestionably correct about. Any challenge to their dogma is relentlessly attacked as patriarchal. They’re unwilling to listen to those who experience gender in a way that no one else does, because our understanding of gender is threatening to their beliefs about it. I would go so far as to say that they’re appropriating and colonizing transgender experiences by recasting them in the ways that Charlotte portrays them in her article.
She goes on to say:
In a culture that is still male-dominant, patriarchal, and white, the idea of women determining women is radical. And I’m using the term women to mean women who were born as women and raised as girls. I focus more on the “raised as girls” part because to me that feels like one of the most profound experiences of how I got to be a woman…. People don’t have gender dysphoria because they feel like they’re the other gender. All women, I think, go through gender dysphoria…. They can tell you the moment they realized that having to put on a bra changed their lives dramatically. And in my culture that meant wearing a girdle at age eleven, so that my butt wouldn’t shake and my tits wouldn’t move, so that men wouldn’t look at me. It was my responsibility to make sure that grown men didn’t look at me at age eleven! That is a particular experience of being a woman in Mississippi culture, and I feel that kind of experience needs to be interrogated, and it does get interrogated at Michigan. Because it isn’t recognized that there is that complexity of the gender of being a woman.
First, she establishes that she wants to be able to tell trans women that we’re not women, by implying that all cis women are united in this. It is probably the most substantial argument that she offers against the idea that trans women can be women. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that unilateral. When I’m in public, I’m seen as a woman, as are most trans women. We just are. Heck, we’re often seen as cis women. If we live 24 hours a day as women, we’re seen as women, and we see ourselves as women, a social consensus builds up that we are women. It’s unavoidable. Of course, we are sometimes read as trans. Reading Ms. Croson, it seems she would think that we’d immediately be accepted as men and extended male privilege. What actually happens is – contempt, condescension, invasive questions, slurs, and even violence. Being accepted as women is a matter of life or death for trans women once we’ve transitioned. In saying that she wants to vote all trans women out of “class woman,” she’s basically wishing that we’d just die. Maybe not so substantial after all.
She then talks about being raised as girls because this is the linchpin of the “you can’t be real women” argument from MWMF, and presents a smokescreen over the idea that there’s anything bigoted or discriminatory about the policy. This erases the idea that different women have different upbringings based on race, class, disability, and so on, and doesn’t even begin to examine the kind of childhoods that trans people have. If the cis women at MWMF were willing to discuss these things with trans women, we could probably find common ground, even if not identical childhoods. This is really just an excuse to essentialize womanhood.
She also makes the claim that “people don’t have gender dysphoria because they feel like they’re the other gender.” I assume she’s missing a word and is trying to say that’s not the only reason people ahve gender dysphoria. If she said what she literally means, then she’s wrong – people do have gender dysphoria, or however you want to define it, because they feel like they’re the other gender. There’s probably more than a million trans people in America alone, and we go to the doctors, they don’t diagnose us and convince us this is what we need. She then tries to conflate dissatisfaction with how girls are treated with gender dysphoria – again, she’s trying to appropriate transgender for herself and redefine it. There’s a difference between being unhappy with how you’re treated because of your gender, and being unhappy because your gender does not match your sex. I’ve experienced both, and they’re not even remotely the same.
As for her example about her upbringing, I would not deny that this needs interrogating and unpacking. I remember when my parents first told me (at 18) that I was required to start wearing a bra, and I didn’t care for it much myself…oh, wait, I wasn’t supposed to have that experience, because you only get it if you were born female. But seriously, while I agree with her that it’s good to talk about that stuff, I don’t believe for a second that the entire festival is given over to that. It’s large enough to absorb a few hundred trans women, and that kind of discussion won’t go away.
When gender is reduced to personal identity, gender as hierarchy recedes into the background. The reality and complexity of what it means to be in the class woman in the gender hierarchy we live in is lost.
This is just an assertion. First, she assumes that because gender identity is something trans people have to live with, that this reduces gender to personal identity. I’m not sure how she reaches this conclusion if it isn’t by magic, because there’s really nothing to support it. If trans people really did reduce gender to “identity,” and erased the reality and complexity of it, we wouldn’t ever need to transition, because we could just assert ourselves as men and women, and that would be it. It’s not that simply, and she erases the reality and complexity of trans people’s lives by making such an assertion.
For the S/M movement, choosing gender and alliance with the transgender movement has given S/M something that it didn’t publicly have or acknowledge previously. It allows gender and the role it plays in S/M to come out of the closet. Now, gender is a sex toy. Gender is revealed as a constitutive part of the erotic dynamic of S/M. Dominance is eroticized, yes, but gender dominance specifically is eroticized. So the assertions that gender somehow is not involved, or is transcended, in S/M is revealed as a lie. Pat Califia, a founder of the lesbian S/M movement, now identifies as transgendered and is transitioning to become male. It is telling that in describing her motivations for seeking a sex-change, Califia states: “I want people to call me sir who are not my property.”(8) Ironically, Riki Wilchins also acknowledges the link between gender and sexuality when she describes “an erotic economy based on difference that actually requires a gender regime in the first place….”(9) This from someone who isn’t unhappy with the gendered alternatives. One must assume that Wilchins means the sexual alternatives, as well. One wonders how much more explicit the link between gender hierarchy and the eroticization of dominance and subordination needs to get before the lie that S/M is feminist is finally exposed.
Her first couple sentences are odd – it almost sounds like she believes that the transgender movement gave BDSM practitioners the ability to acknowledge gender and gender roles. Almost like she’s saying that the transgender movement contaminated BDSM with more freedom of gender expression or something. I imagine that BDSM has played games with gender expression for a bit longer than Camp Trans has been around, though. I mean, forced feminization is one of the stereotypes. I don’t think they needed validation for that.
I also like how she implies that Patrick Califia transitioned because he was into BDSM, and not because he had, you know, a legitimately male gender. She also asserts that since gender dominance is eroticized in BDSM, that it doesn’t really transcend gender. Of course, this is a null argument because I doubt BDSM practitioners actually claim this. Also, I think that it’d be pretty easy to create a laundry list of things that are eroticized in BDSM in addition to gender dominance, and that these only really show what people get off on, not what power structures they’re supporting.
The comment about Riki Wilchins acknowledging the link between gender and sexuality doesn’t make sense. Sex, itself, is largely defined by humans in terms of the genders of the participants. This is a huge part of society. To deny that gender and sex have any relationship is to deny the existence of sexual orientation and, again, a laundry list of kinks.
In both the S/M and transgender movements gender and sexuality are viewed solely as matters of personal choice, predilection and identity. The highest value is that one be allowed to practice them without restriction as to time, place or political analysis. Both the S/M and transgender movements are firmly rooted in liberal ideals of individualism, personal identity, and personal choice antithetical to class analysis and critiques of gendered power. By adopting this ideology of personal choice as the highest freedom, both the S/M and transgender movements obscure the feminist critique of gendered power relations–gendered power relations which are constitutive of their practices and ideologies. These movements analytically locate sexuality and gender outside of male power, outside of the gender hierarchy where women live, and refuse to acknowledge how deeply implicated they are in the creation and maintenance of that very hierarchy. Male power and its construction of both sexuality and gender as tools of women’s oppression has disappeared from critique and analysis. These movements simply fail to transgress sexuality and gender as they are currently constructed. Not only do they fail to transgress gender, their stated goal, they reinforce sexual and gender hierarchy at every turn. Thus, in a feminist analysis, the goals of these movements are antithetical to feminist goals and the transgender and S/M movements and ideologies are in opposition to feminism.
I like how she starts off by claiming that “gender and sexuality are viewed solely as matters of personal choice,” while still acknowledging predilection and identity. She both implies that this is something we can and do actively choose to be, and implies that our identities aren’t valid – but since this entire article is about asserting these things, it’s not surprising.
She goes on to say that trans and BDSM “movements” are rooted in liberal ideas that are antithetical to class analysis and critiques of gendered power. She’s never really given a good reason as to how being trans or into BDSM makes one incapable of these analyses and critiques, just a raft of assumptions about what being trans or into BDSM means, and how those assumptions mean these things. She wants to firmly establish that transgender and BDSM are both about male power, and about female subordination, and how we fail to transgress sexuality and gender, and how this unwillingness to suppress who we are – something Charlotte Croson most certainly does not ask of herself – makes us patriarchal enemies to feminism.
This entire article is focused primarily on establishing trans people and people who practice BDSM as enemies, as hostiles that must be kept away at all costs. She doesn’t want dialogue or equality, she wants it clear that we’re inferior to the ideologically pure feminist cis women and shouldn’t be allowed nearby. Just as with other bigoted writings, she feels free to make any assertions she sees fit, twist the truth wherever needed, and outright lie as the situation demands. This is because the goal – expunging trans women and women who practice BDSM from MWMF and feminism in general – is far more important than the truth about trans women and women who practice MWMF. Where our lives, our experiences, our truths are inconvenient, they must be aggressively erased, replaced, and attacked. Her ideology simply cannot withstand honest and open contact with the enemy.
I will admit that the arguments made in this article are more sophisticated than those in the other articles I’ve critiqued. She did try to phrase things in ways that are less dismissable, even while making the same points that Karla Mantilla made. Unfortunately, her arguments really are the same, just dressed more attractively. Her attempt to conflate BDSM with trans people was interesting too, as it allows her to present not just the hostile trannies, but their allies on the inside, the hostile leatherdykes. Now, I don’t actually know if Camp Trans and the BDSM attendees have any alliance, although I wouldn’t be surprised. Both are aggressively demonized, and the only difference is that they actually let the BDSM women inside.
Also, given the choice between politics that mandate that some people be crushed under ideological needs and the freedom to live my life as I see fit, I will take the latter every day. Whatever Charlotte Croson’s so-called “feminism” is, it’s not feminism. It’s not about equality. It’s about hate and bigotry. You can’t tear down the master’s house with the master’s tools, Charlotte. Try not to sound so McCarthyesque when talking about trans or BDSM in the future? Try some basic human respect next time.
Going back to the “Questioning Transgender Politics” well, I find Sex, Lies, and Feminism. This particular article is useful, because it shows one of the transmisogynistic “WBW policy” supporters comparing the inclusion of BDSM practitioners with the exclusion of trans women, allowing for some contrasting oppression . . . which turns out to be exactly the same.
First, I want to say that I’m not a supporter of MichFest, and I wish that anyone who is a trans woman or who considers herself an ally to trans women would stop going. I know that there was a boycott, and that it ended in 2005, but I am uncomfortable with the idea of allies who willingly give money to someone who makes it clear she does not see trans women as “real women.” I also feel that the policy sets an example that legitimizes the creation of DV and rape shelters, lesbian spaces, and other women’s spaces as “WBW-only,” or as I shall refer to it, “stop contaminating our womanly purity with your presence, you dirty trannie” policies, or “trans-exclusive” for short. The idea that all the women at MWMF bond primarily over having been raised as girls is suspicious, simply because that is the most convenient way to define trans women out of the festival. From talking to women who have attended the festival, they talk more generally of just being around women and not having to deal with the stuff women have to deal with every day, and that’s not dependent on growing up female.
Charlotte Croson starts with an argument depressingly familiar to those of us who have been watching the ENDA debacle:
The debate about sado-masochistic practice (S/M) at Festival has been a recurring issue. It has a new urgency in light of right wing attacks on Festival over the past year. These attacks are ostensibly aimed at sexual practices “harmful to children.” S/M sex has been – and is – displayed as exhibit number one. In truth the attacks are aimed at all women: the tactic being to make all lesbian sexuality no different from S/M, drawing no distinction between S/M and lesbian sex in any non-hierarchical form. For the Festival community, the attacks have again brought into sharp focus fundamental questions about women’s political and social community: who defines the interests of our community? Is it in our interests as women who love women to embrace, or at least leave unchallenged, S/M and Camp Trans/transgender politics? Independent of those attacks, what should we make of S/M and transgender politics(1): are they otherwise compatible with our community’s interests?
She talks about right wing attacks on the festival, and how they’re focusing on BDSM to represent lesbian sexuality. She then questions whether BDSM practice should be part of the community, whether they should be thrown under the bus because they serve as a weak point for the right wing to attack. She is discussing the supposed necessity of capitulating to hostile politics to increase lesbian acceptance. Or, as Alix Dobkin said in The Emperor’s New Gender, “isn’t being/creating our own individual version of a woman what lesbians have always been about?”
Okay, I couldn’t help myself. But seriously, should the lesbian community exclude those who make the easiest targets? Or should the lesbian community close ranks and protect all all lesbians? Believe me, I know which lesbian community I’d prefer to be in. However, this paragraph sets the tone for her essay: Lesbians are under siege!
Given that the women who engage in BDSM have been subjected to similar (but lesser) discrimination that trans women have, you’d think that maybe she’d talk about how trans women also give the lesbian community a bad name, somehow. This could not be further from the truth: She conflates Camp Trans with the right wing.
Defining our own interests is of paramount political importance for us, both as lesbians and as women. It is equally important that our community have safe space in which to engage in that process of definition. As if the right wing attacks weren’t enough of a challenge to that safe space, there is also Camp Trans – literally right across the road. From there Camp Trans activists, like the right wing activists, have attempted to define our interests as women as a function of how they define themselves. Perhaps more egregiously, Camp Trans also defines us as women in reference to how they define themselves as transgendered. In both cases, Festival space – safe space for women – has been disrupted by these external pressures.
I’m not sure what she means by “Camp Trans also defines us as women in reference to how they define themselves as transgendered,” but I have to assume this is based in the usual “What I believe about trans people is 1000% more valid than what they say about themselves” rhetoric that comes from radical feminists and “political lesbians.” Her linking of Camp Trans to the right wing is deliberate – she wants her readers to think of homophobes, misogynists, fundamentalist christians and their ilk when they think of trans women. She wants trans women defined as the outsider, the enemy, not someone who can (and does) share common cause with women and feminism, and many of whom are lesbians ourselves.
Her next paragraph makes it clear that she does not consider Camp Trans and the BDSM movement as having any stake in women’s interests, or rather that trying to define ourselves (in terms of our identity or our kinks) as being a part of women’s interests is unacceptable. She defines sexuality and gender identity as tools of male dominance, which then allows her to say that trans women and the lesbians who practice BDSM have a stake in male dominance. This is pretty convenient, as it allows her to shortcut any real analysis or need to understand either group.
Her next paragraph is ironically titled “Myth and Tactics.” This is appropriate, since it’s filled with myth about trans women and BDSM. She complains that there’s opposition to discussing these two groups in anything but positive terms. This is just a rephrase of the right wing’s political correctness argument, or “You won’t let me be mean to you!” This is ironic, because she’s trying to conflate trans women with the right wing, and using right wing tactics to do so – but then, bigoted language is never imaginative. It always takes the same forms. She earnestly writes that the only reason anyone might criticize negative views of trans women and BDSM is to silence any opposition. I mean, it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with objecting to lies about who we are and what we do, right? We’re just being too mean to them for not allowing them to openly speak their hatred and disgust. Of course, this assumes we actually have the power to do so. Spend one hour reading the MWMF forum and you will see just how little cis women are silenced when they express their anti-trans or anti-BDSM bigotry. Of course, one of those is easier to find than the other, but both have a history.
And that’s really the core of it – we object to them being mean to us, and that’s bad, and our objections are somehow mean to them – meaning that we don’t have the right to be angry about being misrepresented, demonized, slandered, and libeled. We don’t have the right to stand up and demand that we be treated with respect. Claiming our rights – our human rights – to be treated with respect is a “silencing” tactic.
She spends the rest of the paragraph establishing her version of the BDSM and Camp Trans positions on separatism, lesbian separatism, etc, criticising the form that the arguments allegedly take, and dismissing the validity of those arguments – for example, she claims that Camp Trans activists accuse trans-exclusive policy supporters of gender essentialism and gender fascism. In doing so, she brings them into her article without any context, and presents them as if they are self-evidently spurious. Having once pointed out gender essentialism on the MWMF forum, I am compelled to point out that it was in response to another poster claiming that she felt “male energy” coming from a supposed trans woman who had entered the Festival. Personally, I believe that if you’re going to insist that gender is a social construct, that you shouldn’t be using language like “male energy” to describe anything. Male energy itself implies that there’s something innate and essential about being male, and also that that there probably is “female energy” – something innate and essential about being female. Of course, arguments against trans women being women are rooted in essentialism, which is why transmisogynistic feminists spend so much time defending their interpretation – they know they’re on shaky ground when they both claim that gender is a social construct and that it is impossible for someone to be born in one sex but be comfortable and happy in the other. In other words, the cis ladies doth protest too much, methinks.
She goes on to discuss “Minorities and Rights.” She writes:
In the last several years self-identified “sex-positive” and “gender-queer” activists have formed an alliance. The alliance is not all that surprising, given the correspondence of gender ideology between the two. Each group claims to be a minority within women’s community that is discriminated against by the larger body of women/lesbians. S/M practitioners place themselves as a “sexual minority” within the presumptively “normal” lesbian sexuality of Festival. Transgender activists claim they are “gender” minorities within the presumptively “gender normal” women who attend Festival. Collectively they argue that they are deprived of the “right” to practice their sexuality and gender and that the reason they are not welcome at Festival is their transgressive views about sexuality and gender.
She doesn’t want to admit or fails to realize that there’s so many reasons for minorities to form coalitions, not the least of which is common experiences. For example, when two groups that overlap (yes, some trans people are into BDSM, some are lesbians, etc) and have a common problem, it is beneficial to ally to deal with that problem. In this case, both groups are relentlessly mischaracterized, dehumanized, and discriminated against by certain factions in Feminism – like the more extreme radical feminists who believe that all porn is rape and trans women rape women’s bodies by taking hormones. No, it couldn’t be that we have bigots like Charlotte Croson breathing down all our necks, it has to be because we share some kind of mythical gender ideology.
I also like how she implies that BSDM practitioners and trans women aren’t minorities, all the while arguing that it is right and natural to discriminate against and exclude us from the rest of women’s culture. A dictionary I checked has this to say:
Main Entry: mi·nor·i·ty
1 a: the period before attainment of majority b: the state of being a legal minor
2: the smaller in number of two groups constituting a whole; specifically : a group having less than the number of votes necessary for control
3 a: a part of a population differing from others in some characteristics and often subjected to differential treatment b: a member of a minority group
I do believe that trans women and BDSM practitioners are outnumbered by cis women and women who do not practice BDSM in the lesbian community. I also believe, based on this article that both qualify as “a part of a population differing from others . . . and often subjected to differential treatment.” For example, having a policy that specifically exists to target trans women, or campaigning to exclude BDSM practitioners. Defining trans women and BDSM practitioners out of minority status is a rhetorical convenience for someone who is in the majority – is privileged – in both respects. It allows her to set the terms of her distaste while simultaneously claiming that this dispute is on even ground, rather than her trying to wield oppressive power against two groups whom she despises.
She goes on to say that ”
The minority and rights-based rhetoric these movements employ is politically powerful. “The idea of sexual minorities has become a powerful one because ‘minorities’ can lay claim to ‘rights.’”
This reminds me of right wing rhetoric about how the homosexual agenda is about getting “special rights.” That is, a kind of rights that apparently the majority doesn’t get. The flaw in this argument is, of course, that the rights minorities seek are to put them on as close to equal footing with the majority as possible. ENDA, for example, doesn’t provide rights to GLBT people that straight people don’t get just because they’re straight – the right to not be fired over who you’re attracted to or your gender identity is something that’s automatic for heteronormative people (except when they present too far outside gender norms, like women not wearing makeup). So, the right to not be fired for not being heteronormative just extends that right to actually lose your job when you suck at it instead of because your boss doesn’t like who you prefer to fuck. Similarly, trans women aren’t seeking a special right in entering MWMF or other trans-exclusive spaces – we seek a right that cis women already receive automatically. As for BDSM, Trinity discusses whether BDSM is oppressed at Let Them Eat Pro-SM Feminist Safe Spaces.
She goes on to say that simply by virtue of being minorities, trans women and BDSM practitioners recast lesbian women who fit into neither group as fitting into patriarchal norms. In other words, her theory – as a feminist – is more important than our lived realities and experiences. And one thing I’ve learned from those feminists who hate us is that their theory must always trump the lives that appear to contradict it. She concludes that “rights rhetoric” is used to emotionally blackmail cis women into supporting these distasteful not-minority minorities, and that when they oppose us, they’re unfairly cast as oppressors.
This is one of the linchpins of bigoted feminism in general – the basic premise that women can never be the oppressor. That because women are oppressed by men, that it is impossible for women to oppress anyone else, that they don’t have the power. Earlier, she complains that pro-trans people and pro-BDSM people criticize Feminist arguments against both groups as “saying that women lack agency.” Of course, the idea that women can’t oppress is saying that – it’s saying that women are too weak to do anything. If you can’t oppress a group with less social capital than your own, what can you do? To be honest, the idea that these cis vanilla women are not oppressing BDSM practitioners or trans women is ludicrous, and smacks of newspeak. They’re trying to redefine the language – the meanings of the words used – to say that what they do is not oppression, while at the same time practicing oppression. They may as well place a sign reading “Freedom is Slavery” and “We have always been at war with Camp Transia” over the entrance gate to MWMF, given how thoroughly they practice this redefinition.
In her next paragraph, she claims that the implied gender and sexual normativity simply doesn’t exist in the lesbian community. Now, to be honest, this implication she’s drawing is based on her own prejudices and issues. She doesn’t realize that acknowledging that trans people and BDSM practitioners are distinct subgroups within the lesbian community does not force anyone to also assume that anyone who’s not trans is also not gender variant – I don’t believe most butch lesbians identify as gender variant so much as they enjoy taking on masculinity, but still see themselves as women. It does not assume that anyone who is not into BDSM is pure vanilla. There’s so many different ways for lesbians to have sex (this link includes NSFW Language) that it’s just plain ludicrous to believe that BDSM practitioners want to define a false dichotomy where you have them and you have lesbians who do it missionary style. But again, the truth here is inconvenient. In order to keep casting Camp Trans and BDSM as enemies, she has to keep piling specious claim upon specious claim, to show how our simple desire to be treated as equals means that we want to redefine and destroy lesbian culture.
She wants her readers to believe that granting that trans women and BDSM practitioners are a minority turns the rest of lesbian culture into one big homogenous block defined as oppressors. Now, I’m sympathetic. As a white person, in the past, I hated it when someone told me that I was racist or that all white people were racist. My conception of myself as a person was that I wasn’t prejudiced and I didn’t do these things. Of course, I was wrong, and I lost one of my best friends because I treated him like crap without really realizing it. I was practicing white supremacy around him, and it really hurt to admit that this was my doing. But the fact is, I had to come to terms with that, to own my own shit and realize that “Yes, I am carrying around internalized white privilege” and to question it and work on it. So I can understand not wanting to be labeled as an oppressor. Ms. Croson actually defines this label further: “. . . [BDSM practioners and trans people] create women solely as oppressors . . .” This is because it is not enough to say that we define women with an unwanted label, but that we erase everything else about these women and simply see them as oppressors. She uses this argument to justify the claim that we do not examine male dominance (although she believes both groups partake fully in male dominance) in relation to women, as well as the minority groups of women who are trans or into BDSM.
The problem with not allowing yourself to be defined as an oppressor is pretty simple: It excuses you from owning your shit. It’s like white people who claim to be “colorblind,” thus denying the reality of race relations and pretending they aren’t racist. It’s a luxury the privileged have – to ignore their own status as oppressors. The cis women who want trans-exclusive space have the luxury – with their cissexual privilege – of denying that there’s any oppression going on here, because it costs them absolutely nothing to do so. On the other hand, I can’t deny the oppression I experience, I can’t afford to. I can’t look at the MWMF trans-exclusive policy and how it’s echoed throughout lesbian and feminist culture, and say “Well, that has no effect on me” because it is aimed directly at me. I don’t have the luxury of believing cis women who not only say that they’re not transphobic, but deny transphobia even exists. Women who openly practice BDSM are in a similar position. They can be ostracized for their “patriarchal sex practices” and do not have the luxury of pretending that all of the lesbian community accepts them, or at least treats them fairly. Lesbians who don’t practice BDSM can believe that, because again it doesn’t cost them anything to deny their own agency and complicity in this oppression.
Next, Ms. Croson discusses “transgression.” One of the red herrings that comes up in discussions about trans people is that transphobic radical feminists will start attacking imaginary transgender political stances. One of those is the idea that trans people run around claiming to transgress gender, that we’re gender rebels out to smash the gender binary. They then criticize us for not actually doing this. It’s immaterial that we don’t run around claiming this, we’re judged for not doing so because, well, radical feminism would like to destroy the gender binary, and they see us as reinforcing it.
She talks about how it’s transgressive for women to choose our own sexuality, to choose sexual roles denied by patriarchal norms. And I do think that the willingness to accept yourself as anywhere on the queer spectrum is transgressive. Modern society hates gay men, hates lesbians, hates bisexuals, really truly for sure hates transgender and transsexual people. When someone who appears to be a man goes through all that effort to become a woman, society punishes us harshly – we lose friends, family, jobs. We sometimes get pushed to the point where we have to engage in survival sex work just to pay the bills and keep the hormones flowing. A trans person is more likely to be murdered than anyone else in America. This is because to society, we are transgressive. The fact that a trans man can grow a beard and be accepted as a man if his trans status isn’t known is just plain outside what many people are willing to accept as valid. But because most of us go from man to woman or woman to man, we’re accused of reinforcing the gender binary, of not transgressing the norms, etc. etc.
The other problem with this is that it conflates our desire to live our lives with political goals. Real lesbians do not declare themselves lesbian to transgress heteronormative society. Real lesbians declare themselves lesbians because we want to live our lives and not suppress who we are. This does affect our politics, but our politics do not drive this. People who practice BDSM do not practice BDSM as a political statement. They do this because that is the kind of sex they enjoy. We do not choose these things to transgress, but society punishes us for doing so because they are transgressions.
The criticism that our personal actions are not political enough, or are the wrong kind of politics, is just a way to demonize our politics. To claim that we’re invested in patriarchy, that we enforce heteronormativity. I do admit, saying that we reinforce patriarchy and heteronormativity simply by virtue of being different from that normative state and claiming minority status is one I don’t see often. “You’re so different you make us look normal!” Yeah, thank you Charlotte for telling us we’re freaks because we’re not like you.
I will continue discussion of this article in a second post.
I nipped over to Questioning Transgender’s bibliography page, and found a link to an article titled “Building Bridges,” by Jenny Roberts, who is on the transfeminine spectrum, but clearly states “As to M to F transsexuals, we can never be real women.” This article is hosted on the Vancouver Rape Relief website, along with their other transphobic articles.
Of course, there’s nothing that keeps trans people from also being transphobic. Going back to The Unapologetic Mexican’s glossary, I find The White Lens, which describes how people can see the world through the lens of white privilege, even if they’re not white themselves. Similarly, trans people can see the world through the lens of cisgender privilege, even though they’re not cisgender themselves. This is even easier for trans people to do, as we’re extended cisgender privilege until we out ourselves as transgender. If people realize we don’t fit quite as well into our gender as one would expect, they might assume that we’re gay or lesbian, but they’re not usually going to expect that we want to change our bodies to match the other sex. The defining element of cisgender privilege is the belief that trans people’s genders are not as valid as cis people’s genders – or “you can never be a real (wo)man.” Trans people can hold this belief – the first trans woman I met, right before I transitioned, held that belief. I believed it for several years. Jenny Roberts clearly believes it. I’ve had trans women tell me that keeping trans women out of women-only spaces is not in fact discrimination.
In addition, for white trans people, there’s usually a serious lack of understanding of what it means to be a minority, and beginning transition puts you into minority status. As Monica Roberts points out:
The other insane thing in the transgender community is turning a blind eye to people who sell us out. To my white transgender brothers and sisters, frankly you are newbies at operating in the political world as a minority. You not only needed people of color involved in your organzations from the outset because we have intimate knowledge of the coalition politics necessary to operate in this environment, we’re used to it. Transsexuality cuts across all cultural, racial, economic and demographic lines and the leadership in the community needs to reflect that reality.
You can no longer think and act the way you did when you were part of the majority group. You have to have morally principled leaders as the heads of your organizations. Selling out cannot be tolerated or rewarded. If these sellouts prioritize their personal ambitions over advancing the group as a whole and are going to act as facilitators in concert with our oppressors to divide and conquer us and cripple our community, then they need to be isolated and expunged from further political activity on behalf of that group they have betrayed.
She’s talking about political activism, but since Jenny Roberts is trying to engage in political activism, I believe it’s relevant. Specifically, Jenny doesn’t get that you don’t earn respect by selling yourself or your sisters out, that you don’t get anything in return when you barter away a piece of yourself. That voluntarily tokenizing yourself as a model minority for a group that hates you only marginalizes you further.
You can read the entire letter here.
It may be a women’s hostel, a rape-crisis centre or women-only social space. But, increasingly, women’s groups all over the country are experiencing a difficult conflict: whether or not to admit M to F transsexuals. Understandably, many lesbians have reservations and some are totally opposed. It is, after all, an ex-man, insisting that she is a woman, who is demanding equal treatment. Quite naturally, there are fears about the dynamics of the group, about the vulnerability of some members and perhaps, if we are honest, a feeling that the transsexual is an alien being whose presence is simply not appropriate — or comfortable.
Notice that she immediately defines three types of spaces a trans woman might not be welcome in. One of those spaces is a rape-crisis center. She is saying that because trans women are “ex-men” (thus validating the beliefs that transphobies hold about us – that we really were men who wanted to become women), that we’re “an alien being whose presence is simply not appropriate.” Now, I can just imagine a trans woman who is a victim of rape or domestic violence, who needs protection, a safe space, needs to recover, being told that she’s too alien to be allowed into these shelters. Seriously, I can’t imagine calling any human being “too alien” based on any traits not under their control. Just how badly does Jenny Roberts regard trans women that she can say we’re not deserving of needed protection, that our safety is not as important as others? She might argue that she was only describing how the women at these places might view trans women, but I think it’s telling that she lays it on the table without hesitation.
The problem here is that she’s not trying to build a bridge. She’s trying to burn one, or perhaps just build a wall. She’s saying “We can’t expect inclusion because we’re too weird and unsettling for real women,” which means she’s already surrendered her gender’s validity without a fight.
She talks about how trans women will feel upset and rejected if not allowed into these places, and says:
Inevitably, dispute and upset follows. Some of the women feel threatened, and differences and divisions often occur over what should be done. Meanwhile, the rejection leads the transsexual’s insecurity and battered self-value and she often responds in the only way she knows — with male aggression and anger. The resulting conflict damages us all — transsexuals and born-women alike — and it particularly upsets those of us who understand what it means to live among other women and share a community.
She correctly points out that the rejection will lead to trans women suffering insecurity and battered self-value – which isn’t surprising. I mean, if you’re told you can’t come in because you’re a second-class woman, not the equal of any real woman, you’re not going to feel too chipper about it. This is doubly true if you’ve suffered domestic violence and need protection because your spouse might decide to beat you up some more, or maybe even kill you, or if you’ve suffered rape. Imagine telling a rape victim that she can’t seek rape counselling because she’s black, or lesbian, or because she has a disability, and these traits unsettle the other women at the shelter? Jenny then goes on to assert that trans women respond to these insults in the only way available to us – with male aggression and anger. Okay, so what is male aggression and anger in this case? It’s a stereotype, like the offensive statement that “trans women take up too much social space.” Our anger is labeled as male because we were born male. It’s almost like the Original Sin. She then finishes with a statement that this male anger upsets the rest of us who know how to live among other women. There we go – she really believes that she has a higher consciousness, a higher sense of awareness, a greater connection to women, because she’s willing to throw all the other trans women under the bus?
She continues with an explanation that, as I quote at the start of the article, “Well, let’s be clear on one thing from the start. As to M to F transsexuals, we can never be real women.” She goes on to explain that we all grow up with male privilege (original sin again!) and can never shed it. That we’ve been taught to demand what we want and compete for it. And she manages to slip in the stereotype that trans women see womanhood as a superficial thing, with hormones, dresses, and makeup. She’s in full-blown sellout mode here, and has internalized one of the central radical feminist attitudes about trans women: That we grow up immersed in uncomplicated male privilege. That our lives before transition are, internally and externally, completely identical to those of cis men.
I’ll acknowledge that trans women have experienced male privilege. But, and this is huge, most of us grow up absorbing mixed signals. We perceive ourselves as girls, but we have boys’ bodies and are treated as boys. Many of us are feminine, and the world is not kind to those seen as feminine boys. So, we grow up, seeing ourselves as girls, seeing what’s expected of girls, absorbing that, seeing what’s expected of boys, and trying to mask ourselves with that. We can’t help the absorbing, nor do I think would we want to. We have to do the masking, it’s a matter of survival. I know that I was aware of male privilege – I could see how other girls were treated, how boys were treated, and how I was treated. I didn’t know it was called male privilege, and I probably didn’t spot every instance. I know that getting bullied from kindergarten through the 12th grade, that being mocked for being gay, that hating every minute of being seen as a boy, did not give me the kind of upbringing one would expect a cisgender boy to experience. But further, that statement underlies the assumption that genitals trumps everything – that every male-bodied child grows up the same, that every female-bodied child grows up the same, and that other factors don’t matter. That class, race and other factors don’t have any effect – or if they do acknowledge that other factors are important, growing up trans is still dismissed as “growing up with uncomplicated male privilege.”
This also ties into another problem. An assertive cis woman is self-confident; an assertive trans woman is exercising male privilege. An angry cis woman is angry; an angry trans woman is giving into male anger. A cis woman who enters a woman-only space is where she belongs; a trans woman who enters a woman-only space is an alien ex-man invading a space he doesn’t belong in. What is this? Other. Other. Other. Our experience among the male-bodied has – as Jennifer Roberts explained – othered us permanently. Rendered us less than human:
But, however understandable it may be, demanding equal treatment is not acceptable or productive. However strongly we may identify as women, as transsexuals we need to acknowledge that we are different. We don’t know what it’s like to grow up as a girl in a male-dominated society, we’ll never experience women’s puberty and menopause, we can’t conjure up the social experience of growing up female, or know what it’s like to bleed. Of course we approximate the physical shape and we may well consider that, inside, we are all the same as born-women fell. But, demonstrably — and however much you may wish otherwise — we cannot be the same. If we can learn to respect difference openly, then we can embrace the solution that it offers.
We are supposed to accept second-class treatment because of our trans status. What kind of language is that? She says we cannot be the same, but that’s not a problem. Black women are not all like white women, who are not all like chican@ women, who are not all like lesbian women (and many lesbians are black, white, chican@), and many women – lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual, black, chican@, white, asian – are trans. We have so many intersections that make us different from each other before you take individuality into account. Take any two white women – they aren’t going to be the same. Any two black women? Not the same. Any two lesbians? Not the same. Any two trans women? Not the same. We’re all different, and when you pick an arbitrary difference and say that it is not acceptable or productive to demand equal treatment because of that difference, you are practicing discrimination, prejudice, bigotry, transphobia, transmisogyny, racism, homophobia, ableism, classism, sexism. I do not care if you belong to the minority you are deriding – being a trans woman does not mean anything you say cannot be transmisogynistic or transphobic. Being a woman doesn’t mean you can’t be sexist against women and misogynistic. Being a black man does not mean you cannot be racist against black people. You can’t claim minority status to excuse you from bigotry against your own minority. Own your shit, Jennifer Roberts.
She includes some advice on how to learn how to be a woman, you see…because trans women need special tutors and mentors to show us everything about being a woman. We can’t be trusted to get there without a cis woman to guide us. Now… I’ve learned a lot about womanhood from other women, but not once did I learn anything from a woman who paternalistically tried to tell me that I wasn’t being feminine enough – except, maybe, that some people are quick to spout self-serving criticisms to discredit you.
She closes with two paragraphs, starting with “Being accepted into the lesbian community is a gift that can only be given by others.” Now, for a cis woman, the only requirement for getting into the lesbian community is for her to say she’s a lesbian. Thanks to lesbian feminism, she might not even need to be an actual lesbian to get in on this, she can take the identity for political reasons, and for many women (including many lesbians), this is acceptable. Personally, as a lesbian, I find it pretty awful that heterosexual women are willing to claim the lesbian identity on the basis of refusing to sleep with men, rather than desiring to sleep with women. However, they get a free pass into lesbian country because they were born with a vagina. Now, trans women on the other hand, are supposed to earn our way into the lesbian community? Seriously? Even when we’re legitimately attracted to other women?
The basis for this need to earn welcome? Demanding equal treatment is not fair. We’re too mean, too demanding. Wanting to be treated like human beings – like women – is too much to ask of cis women, of lesbians. We have to work twice as hard to prove ourselves half as good.
Jenny goes on to say that this gift is a gift we earn “by respecting difference.” When she says that, she means respecting cis women’s differences, as cis women are not obligated at all to respect our differences. If we say that we’re women, and we deserve respect, then we “do not deserve acceptance.” That there is no excuse for “arrogant, confrontational behavior,” that we are damaging the community. That asking to be treated as equals undermines the efforts “the rest of us are making.”
Respect cannot be bought through a sex-change operation. It has to be earned. And if trans-women can both give and earn respect then our world and yours can be just fine.
I keep misreading that second sentence as “And if trans-women can give up respect, then our world and yours can be just fine.” She frames the situation as if both sides are equal – equal power, equal social standing, equal validity, but this is obviously not the case. Trans women do not have the power in this exchange – she advises that we give up what little we might have and allow others to define us to earn respect – but you do not earn respect by bartering away your identity. We do not have equal social standing – if we did, we’d be recognized as women without question, just as cis women are. Equal validity? That reduces our own sense of identity, our gender, to a matter of opinion. We believe we’re women, and the transphobic lesbian and feminist women believe we’re not. If we allow the debate to be held on those terms, we will never be regarded as women. When it comes to our identities, our genders, there can be no compromise. We must have self-determination, or we have nothing.
Jennifer Roberts bartered away her self-determination, identity, and gender in exchange for having a voice to barter away her sisters’ self-determination, identity, and gender. It seems to me that she got a bum deal. I won’t have any part of it.
Back to the “Questioning Transgender” well, finally. In the essay The Emperor’s New Gender, Alix Dobkin attempts to address the phenomenon of increasing number of trans men transitioning out of the dyke community. She frames this as concern that maybe these men are transitioning because society makes them uncomfortable as women, and doesn’t even attempt to acknowledge what trans men might have to say about themselves. This essay is also unusual for transphobic feminists because it not only acknowledges trans men, but it focuses on them. Specifically, it focuses on the fear that transitioning is siphoning butch lesbians away from the lesbian community – the same fear that Catherine Crouch expresses in Gendercator.
Now, I’ll say right up front that I know that not everyone who starts transition finishes, or wants to finish. This happens with men who start to transition to womanhood and women who start to transition to manhood. In both cases, they find that they don’t want this, and they stop the hormones, and go back to their lives as well as they are able. What this says to me is that people who think they might be transsexual and try it, who find it’s not what they really want, don’t go through it. There are exceptions, but they’re really not any kind of majority, or even common. This tells me that we don’t have large numbers of women tricked into becoming men, despite the fears expressed by Alix Dobkin, Catherine Crouch, and others. It’s just a superficial examination that appears to confirm their beliefs, and they never really have to subject those fears to any kind of critical analysis.
Ms. Dobkin begins with this paragraph, intending her audience to read it as the attitudes trans people exude when faced with transphobia:
You know that glazed look certain born-again Christians get in their eyes when they’re not listening? Or how voices of loud mouthed Republican politicians and TV pundits get even louder to out shout the opposition? To foreclose debate defends the fainthearted against attack, even when no attack is intended. Beloved tactic of cowards and bullies everywhere, shutting down discussion stymies challenges to the firmly held, vulnerable doctrine of the True Believer. Thus does insecurity unite with bluster to frustrate education’s advance.
I can almost see the seed of a criticism here: That trans people aren’t nice enough, not receptive enough, to listen to transphobic discourse and give it a fair hearing. This is a fairly standard pattern, and you see white people do it to people of color and men do it to women all the time: They see themselves as reasonable and logical, and their arguments as fair and balanced. When you tell them what their opinions are, they accuse you of being emotional, of not being rational, of being too mean, and thus not worth listening to. Our viewpoints on our own lives are not welcomed – we’re supposed to listen respectfully as transphobes tell us that they don’t consider our gender to be valid, that our life experience is a lie, and that they will never accept us as we are, but instead impose their own prejudices upon us. This is cisgender privilege, which is not much different from any other kind of privilege.
Anyway, Dobkin goes on to describe how when she played in Europe, she encountered anti-Semitism, and that she chose to ease that anti-Semitism by announcing that she doesn’t believe in God, that she does not support Israel’s every action, and that she does not blame them for the Holocaust. She apparently considered it reasonable that she had to do these things to be accepted. Personally, I wonder why it’s necessary for her at all to repudiate the Jewish faith, indicate her willingness to criticize Israel, or assure anyone that she doesn’t blame them for the Holocaust. Whether or not she truly is not religious is beside the point, she was expected to participate in her own erasure – she was expected to apologize for being a member of a minority that was subjected to genocide. Apparently, if she didn’t do this, much of her audience would simply walk out when she identified herself as Jewish. Now, when she thinks of this experience, how her identity was marginalized to make others comfortable, does she equate her own experience to that which trans people experience? No, she relates the insensitive audience members who walked out on her to trans people who are faced with transphobia:
I hadn’t thought about that old story for many years until Elana Dykewomon told me of a similar experience at a reading only weeks ago of San Francisco Jewish Lesbian writers. When she spoke the name of her new poem (Butch resisting the pressure to change gender) a group of transgendered individuals and their supporters got to their feet and left the theater. Had they stayed they might have learned what this award winning writer and long time survivor of Lesbian community struggles (since before some of them were born) had to say, proving that closed minds are not limited to anti-Semites.
Like my Swiss departees, this bunch also refused to listen. Too bad, they lose.
Transgender people equated to anti-Semites. That’s pretty amazing, it’s a hugely volatile connection to make. She has to know what she was doing with this. She doesn’t acknowledge the idea that the poem itself is probably deeply offensive to trans people, and the title alone implies that transitioning is something you do because you’re pressured into it, rather than something you do after fighting it for years. It robs trans men of their agency and invalidates their identities. While “Elana Dykewomon” herself may have been pressured to transition, I suspect it’s more likely that she saw other former butch lesbians choose to transition, and questioned why she also didn’t want to. Now, this is a valid question, and hearing someone explain her own explorations of her self, to determine that “No, I don’t want to do this,” would be interesting. Hearing about cis people who actually go through this thought process is pretty rare. But if she titles it something that implies everyone does it because of peer pressure? I suspect that the examination’s not likely to be that deep or interesting, and is likely to carry some pretty offensive stereotypes about trans people. This doesn’t even address the weight of transphobic commentary those trans people and their allies likely heard within the GLB community over and over again. That this was probably not an isolated incident. Of course, Elana wouldn’t know that due to her cis privilege. She only sees that they left rather than listen to her poem. She doesn’t see that they’ve heard it all before, over and over again, at tedious length, and if they told her, she would deny it.
Privileged people close ranks when that privilege is pointed out. They look for other explanations to rationalize bigoted actions as something reasonable, and when they do, they’re satisfied with their own explanations The Unapologetic Mexican describes these behaviors as they relate to race, but I’ve seen them play out the same way in terms of sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and classism.
WHITE: Being WHITE means you get to make the rules. It means you get to decide how to frame everything (like the Left complains about the Right doing), it means you get to define morality, history, and the feelings and experience of every other type of peoples. Being WHITE means (as “truthmachine” makes clear) that discussing Race, Racism, Racists, or the finer points of such (as in how it affects others or how you are perceived) is a luxury. Being WHITE means you can claim to be COLORBLIND. Being WHITE means it is your job to work your White Magic on the world and shape it as you will.
Or I could reframe it to be explicit:
CISGENDERED: Being CISGENDERED means you get to make the rules. It means you get to decide how to frame everything, it means you get to define morality, history, and the feelings and experience of every type of transgender person. Being CISGENDERED means that discussing transphobia, transmisogyny, transphobes, or the finer points of such (as in how it affects others or how you are perceived) is a luxury.
For Elana, seeing how transphobia affected those people who walked out on her was a luxury. She didn’t have to notice, and obviously didn’t care to – or if she did, she agreed with it. She could afford to do this, because despite her melodramatically named poem, there was no risk to her for being cisgendered and choosing not to transition. Because of this, she had the luxury of framing those trans people’s reactions on her terms – that they were close-minded, that they can’t stand to hear criticism, that they’re just too mean – rather than understanding why they walked out.
She goes on to point out how Jim Fouratt (who said some extremely transphobic things of his own) was criticizing GenderPAC for its activism, and noted that she agreed with Jim that “once again, men are defining who and what women are.” This is her main transmisogynistic comment in the article, implying that trans women are not women.
She then goes on to say that this is her opinion, and she’s entitled to it without being called a Nazi, fascist, and the like, when stepping over the gender party line, implying that 1) there is a party line, and 2) that invalidating other people’s identities is just a matter of opinion. This is a hugely privileged statement to make – she has the luxury to state this thought without any need to examine what’s so wrong with it. And she’s wrong – she’s not entitled to speaking her opinion without criticism, especially when she’s outright wrong.
People with privilege like to cloak their bigotry as a matter of opinion. “It’s just my opinion that homosexuality is immoral,” or “it’s just my opinion that women should stay at home to do housework, and that it’s selfish of them to seek their own careers.” This is a defensive reaction – an attempt to claim unassailable ground for an untenable position. It’s a bit pre-emptive, too, as Alix plans to make a few more directly offensive statements before getting to the trans men she’s waiting to pity.
1) transgender issues present complex and difficult terrain loaded with quicksand and stumbling blocks which I approach respectfully and with an open mind.
2) Over the past decade I’ve accumulated masses of information and engaged in much study, reflection, thoughtful discussion and process with a variety of people representing diverse perspectives.
3) In conversations with transgendered individuals and their supporters, some of whom I like and some not, I am aware of their pain and try not to add to it.
4) Everyone needs a community where they feel respected and safe.
5) There is more to learn.
She’s already negated 1, when she equated transgender people to anti-Semites. I realize that this is an analogy, and that analogies don’t have to have rhetorically equal comparisons, but how you use an analogy can and do set up associations. If I compare someone breaking a rule on a message forum to someone committing murder, I could make a valid analogy, as both involve breaking a communal stricture. However, this would immediately polarize the discussion because the person in question who broke the rule will probably feel that I just compared him to a murderer. In a similar fashion, Ms. Dobkin abuses her analogy to connect trans (oppressed) people in one anecdote to racist (privileged) people in another anecdote. This is automatically disrespectful. She does it again when she refers to men defining who and what women are, implying that trans women’s identities should not be respected, and should in fact be repudiated. This is neither respectful nor openminded.
Number 2 is just vague. She’s accumulated masses of information etc. etc., but as far as I know, that information came from Janice Raymond (transsexuality must be morally mandated out of existence), Germaine Greer (whatever else it is gender reassignment is an exorcism of the mother), Mary Daly (is an example of male surgical siring which invades the female world with substitutes), and others like them who write sensationalized transphobic – transmisogynistic – screeds that don’t require reference to any actual trans people. She could have talked to trans people, but in my experience, transphobes dismiss, belittle, ignore, and erase trans experiences, and substitute them with comfortable (for them) lies which they can attack as strawtrans people.
Number 3 ties back to 1 – she’s lying. This article is itself an attempt to add to our pain. Numbers 4 and 5 are just affirmations – and I really wish she’d taken 5 to heart before writing this essay, and actually tried to approach the subject with an open mind, and a perspective that actually is informed by trans people’s views. But she didn’t, and we’re stuck with this.
She then asks if “young butch lesbians who are considering changing genders” (already she gets it wrong – no one changes gender. They change sex, or at least as much of sex as possible) would be willing to have “thoughtful, open discussion without personal attacks and hurt feelings.” This is such a horribly privileged statement. She’s asking, “This part of you that you’ve probably wrestled with your entire life, do you mind if I consider it up for debate? Are you willing to barter away a part of yourself to make me comfortable?” She’s not respecting them – she’s already asking if they’re willing to acknowledge that their gender, their lived experiences, their realities, might possibly be invalid and debate that point with someone for whom this discussion is a luxury.
She then drops back into transmisogyny, cheerlessly dispensing stereotypes of trans women across the page before describing the numbers of trans men present at the 1999 “Creating Change” conference as “unsettling,” their transition as “flight from womanhood,” and gay men and lesbians as “oddly invisible.” Yes, absolutely, when I approach someone “respectfully and with an open mind,” the first thing I do is describe their existence as unsettling and imply their major decisions indicate cowardice. Don’t we all?
She goes on to quote Germaine Greer (which reassures every one of us that she wants to be respectful and open-minded toward trans people, because Germaine Greer never tried to harm a trans person’s career out of pure spite or anything. Anyway, she uses this Greer quote to ask why trans men aren’t all about “being/creating their own version of a woman,” because that’s what lesbians do. She asks “why would a lesbian embodying infinite female potential ever think she needs to be – or actually could be – a man?” This is a completely ignorant question about trans people, and indicates that my earlier statement about her ignoring, dismissing, and erasing what trans people say about them is dead on. It also shows she’s more interesting in imposing her definitions on the trans men she wants to have a “thoughtful open discussion” with her. Obviously, she wants that discussion on her terms, where she gets to define who trans men are and what their motives are for transitioning.
She goes on to imply that this generation is “groomed” to “change gender” because it’s informed by deconstructionist queer studies. Of course, if she ever read deconstructionist queer studies, she’d realize that going from woman to man or man to woman isn’t really the kind of stuff they talk about. As radical feminists are quick to remind us, you don’t deconstruct gender by moving from one box to the other, and it’s silly to think that any queer deconstructionists didn’t know this.
The Germaine Greer quote she uses is: “Born women are all too aware of a disharmony between who they are and what their gender role requires of them.” She refers back to this in the next paragraph when she says:
Hey, why not jump at the chance to escape “gender distress” – the universal female condition forever afflicting “the second sex?” How instantly gratifying, how perfectly consumer friendly. This postmodern all-American quick fix comes complete with academic sanction.
I have read many radical feminists online who assert this, that women live with a disharmony between who they are and what their gender role requires of them, and they conflate this with the dissonance a trans person experiences when hir brain expects hir body to be a different sex. Trans people’s discomfort with their body’s sex is not driven by dissatisfaction with the gender roles expected of us – that puts the cart before the horse. We identify with a particular gender role because we are that gender – trans men don’t transition because they can’t stand the expectations of womanhood (although those expectations are frustrating for them. Trans women don’t transition because we can’t stand the expectations of manhood (although those expectations are frustrating for us). It’s deeper, more fundamental than that. To us, our bodies are wrong and the only way to resolve that wrongness is to bring our bodies as close to the proper sex as we can. To reduce trans men’s experiences to “they don’t like doing what women are expected to do” is deeply insulting and somehow ignores (while simultaneously pointing it out) that women don’t have to adhere to those roles in modern society. But that’s what Ms. Dobkin gets when she builds her ideas of what trans people are from those who hate trans people deeply.
In today’s “LGBT” hierarchy the last may indeed be first, but beneath the surface of lock-step acceptance lies an unspoken universe of discomfort. Doubts and qualms fill the closets of newly silent Lesbians and gay men now afraid of being labeled “bigoted.” Rather than injure feelings or appear oppressive toward a sexual minority, many remain silent, unwilling to deviate “…from the politically correct gender rhetoric (which) subjects one to being called and dismissed as transphobic,” as long time gay activist and independent thinker, Jim Fouratt, writes.
I like how she implies here that the transgender community is in the process of taking over the GLBT community. I mean, read this, and keeping in mind that history shows a different power dynamic. Trans people have been hounded out of the gay rights movement after kicking it off in the first place, we’ve fought for inclusion in the GLB (now GLBT) movement in the 90s, and 2000s, only to be repeatedly thrown off the bus when seen as politically expedient. I don’t see any lesbians and gay men now afraid of being labeled “bigoted.” The Jim Fouratts, Alix Dobkins, Norah Vincents, John Aravoses and Chris Crains are willing to step front and center and recite their litany of contempt for our bodies and our lives over and over again, to describe us in dehumanizing terms and silence us by saying that we’re oversensitive, that we’re too mean, that we call them terrible names – because being called a bigot is sure a hell of a lot worse than being told that everything about you is false.
Alix goes on to say “young butch dykes walking the FTM path look, and despite vocal alteration, sound quite like the young butch dykes many of us have known for decades,” but she doesn’t realize that perhaps this is because many of those young butch dykes were trans men all along, and that they may have tried to cope with being trans men through denial, as many other trans people – as many gay, lesbian, and bisexual people – do. That the trans men were always their alongside them, but perhaps their voices were silenced by the loud transphobic voices that have been echoing throughout the lesbian community for years – the same voices that ejected Beth Elliot from the Daughters of Bilitis, that forced Sandy Stone out of Olivia Records, that published The Transsexual Empire. Sure, these were aimed at trans women, but if everyone around you is demeaning and degrading transsexual people, is it going to be as easy to seek transition as otherwise?
I suspect that an increasing acceptance of trans people in GLBTQ spaces led to the greater numbers of transitioning men, not pressure, not fads. Not a dissatisfaction with what society expected of women. Maybe if Alix Dobkin had bothered to listen to trans men, she wouldn’t have felt the need to write this essay.
Ms. Dobkin closes with an affirmation of how gays and lesbians struggled to name and be themselves, and then derides trans men’s struggle to be and name themselves by characterizing – again – their transition as “flight from womanhood.” She would rather that these trans men deny who they are – deny their gender – and remain lesbians in an extremely conservative demand that the gay and lesbian communities not change, not accept change. Not embrace these people who are able to embrace who they truly are. She wants to define who they are for them, rather than allow them the freedom of self-determination.
She closes with another smarmy attempt to reduce this issue to a matter of debate or opinion, as a controversy (and thus setting up trans men’s gender as a matter of debate, opinion, and controversy):
But while we’re at it, let’s also honour our identity and history. And our women. Then maybe our girls won’t be so eager to run. So let’s put away the knives. Can we talk?
I don’t know about you guys, but when someone asks me to surrender my sense of self, I’m not putting any knives away. Sorry, Ms. Dobkin. You’re a bigot, a transphobe, and a transmisogynist, or you were when you wrote this. Maybe you’ve learned something since then, but if not, well, maybe you can learn to see the cisgendered privilege you carry and wish to use to oppress those of us – men and women – who are different from you and justifiably proud of who we are. Maybe someday. If the GLBT community is supposed to celebrate diversity, trying to shove trans men back into a comfortable-for-you box because you find them “unsettling” is counter to that.
In addition to killing the gender program at John Hopkins and writing transmisogynistic screeds, McHugh considers himself the originator of the “two types” theory – that is, homosexual transsexuals and autogynephile transsexuals – that Bailey, Blanchard, and Lawrence have attempted to popularize.
Monica reports that Dr. McHugh was the primary advisor to the Vatican regarding its stance on transsexual and intersexed people – a stance that is actively harmful, given the Catholic Church’s influence in much of the world.
It’s deadly that so much policy surrounding trans people is influenced by virulent transphobic and transmisogynistic people who use their positions to legitimize and reinforce the kind of bigotry that makes it okay to see us as subhuman, or to value our lives less.
Monica also points out that some of the Catholic membership is not so impressed with this bigotry.
Read her article on this – Hell, read her whole blog. She’s one of the best bloggers on trans issues I’ve read.
Actually, I think it was more of a drive-by. Belledame of Fetch Me My Axe linked to a trans-friendly feminism proposal on another blog last week, and just in the past couple days, a transphobic feminist dropped in to put trannies back in our place.
Responding to Kim’s proposal:
For 30+ years, I’ve heard men saying that women refusing to take care of them, accept their excuses, let them in wherever they want to go HURTS the men. So, when you use the word “hurt”, I want a definition.
Hurt like sexist laws shorten the lifespans of women? Or hurt like my feelings of abandonment come up?
It is possible to COMPLETELY support the human rights of transfolk and choose to not include them in your own particular self-definition. And if your organization/gathering is based on your own particular self-definition, one you’ve arrived at despite being the member of a group targeted for serious oppression for millenia, then your decision has a right to stand on its own. It’s about self-definition and empowerment for groups who are not running the show.
So, when I say my self-definition as a Jew for a gathering on the meaning and culture of what it means to be a Jew in an oppressively Christian culture does not include someone raised fundamentalist Baptist but now converted to Judaism, is that hurtful? Forcing my labels onto you, or resisting your labels being forced onto me?
Some of us NEED space where our own self-definition (as members of a group targeted for hostility and projection of others definition of us) is dominant. The fact that this is perceived as a threat, as “painful”, as not “nurturing” enough simply REEKS of how women are supposed to sacrifice self for the needs of others.
We’re not in the way of your liberation or self-definition. We just want some room to create our own spaces sometimes. We really don’t believe you’re exactly the same as us, and honestly, neither do you — you make a giant production of how special you are. You play the victim card every chance you get. Some of you claim you are MORE oppressed than other women.
But we DO get to make up our own minds, and our own definitions of who we are. I categorically reject the accusation that this action by a target group is “hurtful”.
Belledame answered this person with another post.
I also like her assumption that only trans feelings are hurt when we’re not accepted. I mean, I only like it as far as I like any easily refuted argument. Less work for me. Mainly, though, I just marvel at the sheer gall of trying to put trans people in our place. It’s almost like trans hatred is socially acceptable, or something.
And here we are with my arduously written part two of That’s Not Even Wrong. When I said “the other half” of the document in reference to trans men, I was being more than a bit facetious. Ms. Mantilla spends all of one paragraph acknowledging trans man crimes before snapping back to how oppressive and evil transgender
people politics are.
I’ll just quote the paragraph as a whole:
the problem of ftms
Again, the politics of identity avoids taking responsibility for choices and their political implications. For a woman to “feel” more like a man, to want to be a man, is profoundly political. To ignore that men and masculinity have been oppressors of women and to pretend that wanting not to just identify with the oppressors, but actually become like them is, if not anti-feminist, then at least oblivious to feminism. To identify as a man in a woman’s body as an essential identity means never having to face or be accountable for taking on the privileges and sometimes oppressive behaviors of men. The ftm just “is” a man, so if he swaggers, doesn’t do the dishes, and is silent and uncommunicative with partners, oh well, he just “is” that way. And anyone suggesting that there is something wrong with masculinity in general, and especially with women trying to take on oppressive characteristics of masculinity or be actual men, rather than taking on a political position, is considered to be discriminatory against an identity.
I don’t think her heart is in it, really. She really wants trans men to be bad, horrible people, but the worst she can do is deny their identities (because that’s the basic premise here) and accuse them of being stereotypically insensitive men, or perhaps looking for an excuse to be stereotypically insensitive men. I’m actually surprised she didn’t explicitly go for the “dupes of the patriarchy” angle that Janice Raymond went for.
She starts with the idea that a trans man’s very existence combined with his decision to transition is profoundly political. Again, since we’re dealing with a medical condition, she wants trans men to subordinate their identities, their happiness, and their will to live under her political desires.
Then we get the stereotypes. Oh my gawd. Swaggers, doesn’t do the dishes, is uncommunicative… I’m surprised she left out “leaves dirty socks on the floor.” Because god knows, being a man is about being a swaggering, lazy jerk. She also says that trans men are oblivious to feminism. I’m not sure how this works out – I mean, I wouldn’t assume that all trans men are feminists, but I know (online) a few feminists who have transitioned and appear to do just fine as feminist men. They’re not inherently oblivious or anti-feminist at all.
The problem is, again, that Ms. Mantilla isn’t willing to accept that transsexualism is part of who you are, not something you just decide to do one day. It affects you for your entire life, including the period before transition. She wants to reduce it down to a vain, superficial, selfish decision rather than deal with the vastly more complex issues that trans people have to negotiate. This attitude does highlight the lie that the motto, “Against Politics, Not People” is.
In all honesty, this paragraph looks like an afterthought – just a note added to acknowledge that more trans men are visible than ever before, and dismiss them before getting back to the real business of grinding those evil rapist trans women into the dirt. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, trans men tend to be marginalized and forgotten whenever discussions of trans people are brought up – they’re just not as sensationalized and stereotyped as trans women. On the other hand, they only got one paragraph of Ms. Mantilla’s bitterness, for which I envy them greatly.
Her closing comment boils down to “Men bad. Girl pretty,” with apologies to Joss Whedon. She wants to lead us to the conclusion that because trans men move from female-bodied people seen as women to becoming men, that they seek to become the oppressor instead of fighting the oppression – that they’re just giving up and joining men. She further reiterates the fallacy that it’s impossible to challenge trans people on their identities to cloak the fact that she’s saying transphobic, deeply bigoted things about people who really have never harmed her and present no threat to her or women as a group. Of course, she would never acknowledge the fact that she’s not even addressing trans identities, but rather strawtrans men whose motivations are political, and who just don’t exist in the real world.
I want to get back to the idea introduced earlier that trans men and trans women are completely unalike and exist for different reasons – this is based in the idea that the sense of being male or female that trans people are hyper aware of (due to the body and brain not agreeing) doesn’t exist, and that our sense of gender comes entirely from socialization. I don’t know what causes transsexualism going in either direction, but from conversations with trans men, their experiences growing up, coming out, and transitioning parallel mine – that is, we have the sense of body and brain not being in agreement – a sense which I know does exist, because I had to live with it for nearly 20 years. When they say “this is what life was like for me as a child,” it makes sense to me. Based on that (which I admit is not a scientific study, but can we trust people to honestly describe their lives?), the idea that we’re two separate kinds of entity strikes me as a red herring – a distraction. We’re men and women, just like the rest of the human race.
If Ms. Mantilla ever wants to have a real dialogue with trans people – men or women – she’ll have to take some time to sit down, shut up, and listen to what we have to say about ourselves. If she wants us to continue to call her out on her transphobia and visible bigotry, then she’ll continue as she has in this essay, and impose her own beliefs and lies on our lives and bodies.
I know which one I’m betting on.
The biggest challenge: Patriarchy. Finally, the last part of the article. Now we get to see more trans woman-bashing, just like the rest of the article.
First paragraph, she implies that acceptance of trans women as women (that is, as equals) is too hard, because it gets in the way of important stuff, like ending war, hate crimes, trafficking women, and domestic violence. Now, I certainly am all for fighting all of these things, but I don’t understand why I – and men and women like me – must sacrifice our lives, our happiness in order to accomplish these things. I don’t understand how accepting us as human beings and respecting who we are is such an onerous burden that she must compare such a thing to “the roots of most human misery and injustice.” I can just see it now, “I’m sorry miss, we can’t let you into MichFest. We have world hunger to fight, and letting you in might distract our important work.”
Her next paragraph descends back into the deeply offensive – first, she mandates roles for trans men (they must face what is wrong with masculinity as the root of human misery) and trans women (we must overturn patriarchy and move away from the enormous destruction wrought by men). Now, these tasks are things we’re supposed to do without transitioning. In other words, we have a moral obligation to resist our transness and focus ourselves on causes that other people define for us. Again, we have parallels with fundamentalist christianity and arguments about how homosexuals can just choose not to be gay and instead be “good christians,” as if they’re obligated to be good christians, and as if being gay and being a good christian is mutually exclusive.
But that’s not the best part:
Are intersexed and other trans people about overturning power structures, or do they just want to be free to do their own thing and get their piece of the pie?
Now Ms. Mantilla brings intersexed people into it. She has intersexed people (and there are numerous intersex conditions), trans men, and trans women all in it together, trying to capitalize on our medical conditions to get ours and to hell with the rest of the world. Now, I find everything she says about trans people pretty offensive, because she ignores what we have to say about ourselves and substitutes her own imposed narratives on us so she has strawtrans people to attack. Being trans isn’t something that a doctor can look at and say “Yes, you’re trans.” It’s a brain thing, and thus largely not visible in that sense. But intersexed people do have visibly, physically different bodies. They’re usually born visibly intersexed, which has for a long time been considered a medical emergency. Usually, when a visible intersexed infant is born, they get a surgeon in ASAP to modify the baby to appear to be clearly male or female, and then raise the child as male or female – that is to say, they have a gender arbitrarily opposed upon them at birth – and many (I’m not sure how many) find themselves deeply uncomfortable in the gender chosen for them, gendered against their will in a way that no cis woman has ever been. She’s saying that people with a visible condition at birth are selfish if that condition does not lead them to fiery revolution against the patriarchy.
I don’t excuse her for how she talks about trans men and trans women, but the intersexed thing really nails it. She really does not care about the people she’s demonizing in this article. This is nothing but an attack – just blind bigotry.
Apparently, this was too outrageous for even her, because she rushes back to slamming trans women – she says that our desire to be included in woman-only spaces is conservative, and thus works against the liberation of women from patriarchy. She doesn’t really explain how this is the case, she just asserts it. She just says we’re the biggest threat to women’s spaces without really qualifying it. Maybe she realized she was beating the “ZOMG rapist!” drum a bit too loudly. Of course, throughout this article, she’s been fairly vague with the occasional punctuation of “but they were in the showers, flashing their penises! So they don’t care about women, they might even rape us.”
I don’t believe she’s demonstrated the possibility of any harm. Given that trans women do attend MWMF and no actual harm has materialized, I don’t believe she ever will. In that case, she and other radical feminists will have to rely upon increasingly alarmist rhetoric to hold the fort against the siege by women who would just like to be welcomed among other women, as women.
She then comes back to trans men, apparently bolstered by one more swing at trans women. Now, trans men are a butch lesbian fad (who hasn’t heard that one before?). Since she can’t really bring herself to be fully vicious (just mostly vicious) to trans men, she instead implores all people to give up masculinity for humanity. A bit melodramatic, but I have no doubt she believes she’s approaching trans men with an offer to coalition, if only you’d just be women again (as opposed to trans women, whom she believes can never stop being men).
She finishes up with the assertion that accepting transgender
people politics into feminism would imperil everything she holds dear, and reiterates that transgender politics are oppressive and conservative, and makes it clear yet again that she really doesn’t want to let us live our lives, she wants to define our lives for us in oppressive ways. She closes the paragraph and the article with another scare tactic by implying that accepting trans people steal lesbian energy.