Archive for the ‘feminism’ Category
Parts of this post are crossposted with a recent entry over on my own blog The Nuclear Unicorn.
Times are very hard, to be sure, and as I am now working in the fundraising department of a radical transgender rights oriented organisation I’m seeing yet another dimension to the endless Great Recession unfolding before me. Simultaneously, what I am constantly astonished by is how we, in some of the most economically disadvantaged communities, always manage to find a penny here and a penny there to help their sisters, brothers, and siblings in need. We’re out there looking out for each other and that never fails to give me hope.
It sounds a tad bit cheesy, yes, but for all of my snarky sarcasm and the like, I’ve always put a lot of stock in that gift from Pandora’s Box. It’s a precious resource in the trans community. So, what am I waxing all poetic about and what not? Well, I’m trying to fundraise for a charity near and dear to my heart– so much so that I’m actually working for them. The Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a legal aid organisation for low income trans people of colour, has radical aims that dovetail with the themes I often speak of on my blog and Questioning Transphobia. My work for them is a pretty big part of why I’ve been a tadbit too busy to write these days. But it is the Goddess’s work and it feels decidedly good.
Lisa’s talked a fair bit about us in some of her elucidating articles, and the other organisations she mentions here, like the Audre Lorde Project, are our close partners in social justice activism (we even share a building with them!)
I’ve been busily helping with the organising and the fundraising that an event like this requires but for the moment I’ve been given a pet project and if any of my readers are interested in doing a spot of good then you can hop on over to Indie GoGo and check out our online fundraiser for the month of June, leading up to a gala for the community on the 29th (see below for more info on that!). Please feel free to contribute, but if you don’t want to or are unable to, then I encourage you to pass the link along to any friends, colleagues, allies, and so on who may be interested. With initiatives like this every dollar helps, every bit of awareness helps.
My work here has been, in no small measure, interesting and a crash course in many things. But it has, above all, been a beautiful insight into the community that my sisters, brothers, and siblings have forged and of which I am proud to be a part. I’m not the kind of woman who is easily persuaded into advocacy and I would have never offered my blog as a place to help our fundraising efforts if I couldn’t say the word “our” with confidence apropos SRLP; if I didn’t feel a sense of ownership, a sense of community, I’d have never mentioned my blog to my colleagues. But I did so eagerly because SRLP isn’t just where I work. It’s a workplace where I can be out as a trans woman without the slightest second thought, and it’s a place where all of the markers of isolating distinction and discrimination do not count against you; a place where I could seek support from everyone on staff when I experienced a transphobic incident a couple of weeks ago.
In sum, I do believe in SRLP and what they do; they practise what they preach and I love them to bits. They are that rarest of organisations that will make my usually cold onyx heart melt and go all mooshy.
This is one of only a few nonprofit organisations that reflects the radical vision I have; radically gender equal and positive, feminist/anti-patriarchal, and as much as possible a non-hierarchical organisation that constantly militates against forces compelling them to sell out. As much as possible, I can say with confidence having seen things from the inside, we really do try to ensure that the trans community has ownership of this non profit and that we are never beholden to the powerful or the “great and good.” Small donations from (yes I’m using the PBS phrase here) people like you make that radical goal possible.
From me and everyone at SRLP, thank you very much in advance.
Also, for those of you in New York, here’s more information about the SRLP Gala– all are welcome, no one is turned away for inability to pay.
One of the rather fun things about being trans is that you live in a world where doctors poke and prod you hoping to find deep answers about why you exist- deep, award-winning, and powerful answers that will at last enable them to explain what the hell is up with us; because it’s not like we’re authorities on our own lives or anything.
To set the snark aside, I’m of course talking about the endless quest to find an etiology- or medical explanation of origin- for trans existence, a recent example of which can be found here. It is a particularly transfixing matter that seems to occupy the place of El Dorado or the Fountain of Youth in the eyes of our medical masters. A Lost Ark of the Covenant with which to at last claim final dominion over us. The ultimate Holy Grail being a “trans test” whereby folks in white coats will be able to objectively prove that someone is trans.
Yet like all the foregoing it is a myth, a legend. There is not likely to be any one coherent, purely biological/neurological explanation for our existence. The drive to research the matter is not inherently evil, mind, but the resources being dedicated to it come into question when studies of this sort appear to be to the exclusion of more directly beneficial research, like longitudinal studies on the long-term effects of hormone treatment on trans people.
Recent studies have been justified by asserting that they will benefit young trans people with early identification of trans-ness. But let us be as honest and realistic as possible for a moment, shall we? What would make things easier on young trans kids is not an MRI scan or some kind of trans test. It would be a world where having a trans child would not be a terrible thing, where bullying of children who defied gender norms would be frowned upon and actively discouraged, where parents raised their children to accept a multitude of gendered possibilities. A “trans test” would not even be a stopgap measure to help young trans people.
When I first came out to my father I naively waved studies in his face that spoke of this thing called “Gender Identity Disorder.” But his first reaction to me was not to say that my gender was valid. It was to say that since it was a ‘disorder’ there must be a ‘cure’- you know, one to make me into a boy again, like he wanted.
Transgender does not need a medical etiology in order to be accepted morally. The entire issue is a massive red herring that deflects a necessary moral and philosophical argument into whether or not we objectively exist by the standards of a game we are rigged to lose. We are already on the backfoot because we live in a world where our voices do not count, we merely concede more ground when we suggest that narrow, incomplete studies that reveal- at best- a small piece of the puzzle should speak for us.
The critical moral argument that we must never lose sight of is whether it is okay to discriminate against someone because there isn’t a biological explanation for their existence. For most any situation, the answer is a resounding “no” among decent people. We do not say that people of faith bring discrimination upon themselves because they ‘chose’ to be a part of a given religion, and when people do say this, they are rightly derided for being assholes. We do not get sidetracked into asinine arguments about how some people are born Jewish and have Jew brains and, y’know, they just can’t help it and that’s why we should be ‘tolerant.’
No, actually. You should avoid bigotry because it’s simply the right thing to do.
On top of everything else, this vexatious quest betrays another deeply rooted assumption about gender in our society that plainly reveals our position as The Other. Where are the studies that inquire why cis people are cis? Or why heterosexual people are het? Because this is the presumed, normal default of society it goes unmarked and unquestioned (although scientific forays into “male” and “female” brains are nothing new and I will revisit this shortly). Whatever the intentions of these scientists, some of whom I will even be generous enough to admit may want to do the right thing by trans folk, they are participating in a discourse that holds that we are invalid until proven to have a Cause that can be established scientifically and thus set in stone.
The reason that this is dangerous and more than simply a fool’s errand is nicely illustrated by one of the trans community’s leading scientific antagonists, Northwestern University psychologist J. Michael Bailey. The attendant quest to trans etiology is, of course, the crusade to find a ‘gay gene.’ Bailey has argued that if such knowledge is used to find and abort ‘gay foetuses’ it would be morally acceptable and a matter of “parental rights.” What would my father have done with me had a doctor told him I was trans while I was still in the womb? That grim scenario aside, however, it is also absurd simply because we have no way of pinning down a single neurological, genetic, or other physiological ‘sign’ of queerness and/or trans-ness. The number of false positives would be astonishing, I expect.
At the heart of this issue, however, is that simple question: do we choose to be trans or not? My answer is: the question is bollocks and so is your face. It is an overly simplistic binary question that does not account for the following realities:
- Social construction of gender shaping how we all- cis and trans- learn about what is feminine, masculine, etc.
- The fact that biological inclinations will differ from person to person and perhaps take wildly different forms in two trans people.
- The agency of a trans person who shapes various aspects of their gender consciously, even if the “decision” to be trans, full stop, was not fully theirs. Some of us have seemingly natural preferences for things, some of us have red lines we will not cross, and some of us change things about ourselves all the time. Is there an etiology that can account for the wild number of variables in that equation? Unlikely.
- The fact that there are several million different ways to be a man or a woman. Some trans women are very feminine, others are less so, others are outright butches. I myself am somewhat femme but lean heavily towards the Hillary Clinton end of the spectrum. Is there an etiology for that level of specificity about these things that comprise my gender and the genders of countless trans folk?
What it comes down to is that ‘research’ on trans origins is basically asking you to see only two types of people in the world: Men and Women. You are very subtly and tacitly asked to see these groups as wildly different from one another, but also to see men as being all exactly the same and women as being all exactly the same, and that “gender” only means your body. When you take a long step back from that to behold the riotous cacophony of beautiful gendered diversity in our world, the findings of these small scale studies on trans etiology begin to seem a lot less far reaching than they otherwise might.
What’s more, we are not going to be loved by people who presently hate us if, suddenly, a study came out tomorrow with The Ultimate Biological Explanation for Transness. The murders would not stop, the discrimination would not stop, the hate would not stop, the cultural exclusion and medical colonisation would not stop. We would be filed in a few cis scientists’ “Hmm, that’s interesting” cabinet and locked away while the beat goes murderously on. Proving ourselves biologically is not salvation, it’s a titanic straw man.
I know this: my growth into womanhood was necessitated by a powerful understanding that if I did not come out, death- literal or waking- awaited me. I was being compelled powerfully to live a lie not of my choosing. Accepting myself as a woman, as a person of trans experience, has had profoundly positive effects on my life. It would be a colossal misreading of my difficult and painful experience to say that I “woke up one day and decided to be trans” as some transphobes might have it. But that is not the only alternative to saying that I was ineluctably and unproblematically “born this way” with some purely biological cause that was not in some way socially and personally mediated.
I say this because this is true of absolutely everybody. Not just trans people. That is one of the critical distinctions to understand here that separates what I’m saying from the rest of the pack. Everyone’s gender is constructed, no one is born a man or a woman. The subtle implication of a lot of trans research is that there aremale brains and female brains when reality proves to be far, far more confounding on that score than not. When we think we’ve found the key to gendered brain difference, we get tripped up. “Women have a bigger corpus callosum than men! Wait, no do they don’t. Wait, yes they do! Sometimes! Behold my small data set!” That particular merry-go-round was critiqued with true scientific precision by biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling in her 2000 book Sexing the Body, which also provides a good deal of data to buttress my points here more generally.
I do not have a female brain so much as I have a Quinnae brain, a lovely grey mattered lump of brainy loveliness shaped by my unique experiences, learning, and an ongoing dynamic life that alters those meandering curves with each passing day. There may be something biological that made my coming out all but inevitable, but a good deal of the shape my womanhood took had nothing to do with the brain I had when my mum bore me.
I should not need a certificate, or a study to tell people that I am who I say I am in terms of my gender. Transphobic people will not stop once an etiology is discovered. Let me make something abundantly clear:
The search for biological explanations is perfectly fine in and of itself. It is not fine for that to act as a substitute for real moral and political discussion. This research is an academic curiosity. It must never be the fulcrum upon which our rights and dignity as human beings rest.
In any moral, just world, the question of our humanity would be settled by the mere reality of our humanity, our existence as human beings. Whatever we “choose” or “don’t choose” is irrelevant to the moral and political questions about our rights. Such debates are really slam dunk arguments that get mired in false concern about scientific relevance that really has no bearing on how most people live their lives. For me, I have found who I am. Nothing will dissuade me from that. I do not, personally, care about the nature versus nurture question apropos which made me trans. If there is an answer it is “both/and with a lot of beautifully messy complications.”
But I am who I am, and I thankfully never needed a peer-reviewed study to tell me so.
Dear Auntie Kate, (can I call you that?)
I have had more than a few reservations about your gender theory for quite a while now but have held my tongue for a variety of reasons. Yet as I read through your latest op-ed in Out magazine, The Trouble With Tranny, I was profoundly troubled. I came to a point where I realised I just couldn’t stay silent any more because of the venues in which you’re promoting a certain kind of theory that is, perhaps despite your good intentions, very transphobic. If I haven’t already lost you, allow me to explain.
You begin the article with fond reminiscences about your time with Doris Fish, a prominent drag queen, whose views regarding trans women you characterise in the following way:
“I was afraid of her raw sexuality, but bowled over by her courage. Doris was amused by my quest to become a real woman.” (Emphasis mine)
“Like me in the late ’80s in San Francisco, the majority of MTF transsexuals just wanted to live their lives as closely as possible to whatever their notion was of “a real woman.” They considered drag queens beneath them. The drag queens were amused by the MTFs pursuing the dream of real woman.”
Let me be the first to say that the disparaging of crossdressers and drag queens on the part of transsexual people is, yes, quite morally wrong and represents internalised transphobia. It evokes that hierarchy of legitimacy that too many people of all backgrounds buy into in order to buttress their stability and position in a world that is built on domination. Yes, it’s wrong. I am not more legitimate than a crossdresser, no DQs do not make me “look bad” and I call out any person who claims such. The problem lies with a society that will not learn about us and lumps us all together as one blob of freakish bad, and not with any individual member of our diverse community.
All of this said, I get the distinct sense that you feel more ‘enlightened’ and ‘evolved’ now and agree with Doris Fish in her ‘amusement.’
Auntie Katie, let me reveal to you a bit of truth here. Willing to listen? Good:
I did not transition to be a “real woman”- that’s a useless concept, and a fairly sexist/transphobic one. I transitioned to be a woman, my kind of woman, the kind of woman I want to be, and that involves expressing myself as I am, as a whole person, in ways that break gender stereotypes as much as ‘caters’ to them. I’m not alone in this. A lot of trans women out there feel exactly the same way, and as we’ve unlearned our internalised transphobia and misogyny we are becoming all the more proud to be unique types of women, not archetypes of women. This leads rather nicely into my next point to you. You say the following:
“Years earlier, when I went through my gender change from male to female, I glided through life under the commonly accepted assumption: I was finally a real woman! That worked for me until I ran into a group of politically smart lesbians who told me that I wasn’t allowed to co-opt the word “woman.” Woman was not a family word that included me. My answer to this exclusion was to call myself a gender outlaw: I wasn’t a man, I wasn’t a woman.”
Here you’re making exactly the same, utterly fallacious mistake that too many “meanies” (as you might call them) make. Your experience was thus and so, therefore we all must be such.
Here is a bit more truth- I know, work with, and study the work of politically smart cis lesbians and queer women who would utterly balk at the idea that a trans woman “co-opts” the term “woman.” They are increasingly part of mainstream feminism, from the street to academe, they and their trans sisters would without a moment’s hesitation label such thinking outdated and transphobic. Why? Because how exactly are you going to break apart patriarchal gender norms if you cede “man” and “woman” to biologically essentialist definitions? If you say it’s not possible for someone assigned male at birth to truly be a woman, you’re not being a gender outlaw, you’re being gender riot police. I don’t think you’d look very good in a black helmet and gas mask, Kate, so I invite you to reconsider your stance on these issues for the benefit of us all.
Because right now, you’re not helping by delegitimising people’s identities. By making womanhood more diverse, trans women are also in the vanguard of disrupting normative notions of womanhood and in case you were not aware, Kate, feminists do internalise gender norms as well; it’s what makes it so easy to take biological-essentialism for granted, as you yourself appear to do.
In looking out at the vast, expansive canon of gender studies literature, and in light of even the most superficial analysis of its myriad failings it is easy to feel dispirited by what it has to offer trans people. It is all too easy to understand the instinct to abandon both queer and gender studies as a privileged exercise in neo-pathology, the postmodern turn of the same ideologies that guided the hegemonic psychiatrists of decades past. One could find yet more examples, of course.
Judith Lorber, someone readers of my blog may remember my past disagreements with, had this to say in 1994 about trans people: “[trans folk do not challenge the gender order because] their goal is to be feminine women and masculine men” (Lorber 1994: 20). Yet again we find the tireless obsession with attributing a politics to identity in the simplest possible terms, yet again we find the clutching of pearls with regard to the innate, literal body politic of trans people. It might perhaps be too obvious to tell Professor Lorber that for all of her elegant theorising about the socially constructed nature of gender she cannot bring herself to describe trans people by their proper pronouns (for example calling Renee Richards “he” and Billy Tipton “she”) nor to belabour the questionable hypocrisy of being unable to break out of the role of arbiter even as she derides the imposition of gender schema upon people.
However, to simply shine more light on the white cis women of gender academia and call them to the carpet for their tacit transphobia does a disservice to the armies of trans folk that have devoted their not inconsiderable intellectual, emotional, and spiritual energy to challenging these things since before I even drew breath.
In the long march into academia one naturally becomes intimately acquainted with the geeky and esoteric minutiae of whatever discipline one has chosen for their career. Over the last two years I’ve found myself up to my eyeballs in gender studies text and find it utterly fascinating. I’m often seen scurrying to and fro with a book or two tucked under my arm and my desk is covered in all manner of books appertaining to my passions. But importantly, when you are trans-anything and delving into the wild and woolly world of gender studies you have to be ready for the fact that there will be lots and lots of highly credentialed, intellectual academics theorising about you who do not know what the hell they’re talking about.
This occupational hazard is, to put it bluntly, both annoying and the reason I’m doing the sociology of gender in the first place. The only way this is going to be truly fixed is when we start writing the theory and we start conducting the research, casting our eyes not just on this wild and strange tribe of “transgender” but also on cis people whose views are far more powerful in shaping how our fractioned community is gendered and understood. What I’m looking at today is a particular strain of thought that is increasingly common in Third Wave feminist theorising; it is ostensibly trans positive but ends up being highly fetishising, stereotypical, and ultimately transphobic. It stands in contrast to that Janice Raymond school of theorising that constructs us purely in terms of an outsider, an enemy who constitutes a patriarchal invasion-cum-Body Snatchers. This vision instead sees us (or some of us) as ‘useful’- we have utility in the quest of certain cis feminists to smash the gender binary. Yet what unites both of these seemingly oppositional philosophies is that they are theories formed by cis people about us, relative to their gender ideology, and that construct us as ‘other.’
There are a few strains of thought in this new feminist theory that merit deconstruction and they will likely be familiar to most readers in one way or another:
So I’ve followed some links around and I noticed that on some sites with an extensive list of feminist sites covering all sorts of issues, that trans bloggers are conspicuously absent. I mean, group blogs with trans bloggers are present, but I don’t see any actual trans bloggers linked directly.
I’ve also noticed that often when Questioning Transphobia itself is blogrolled, that it is frequently categorized as LGBT, which is interesting because I’ve been blogging far more from a feminist perspective than LGBT rights perspective (although these frequently intersect), and I kind of wonder how this is decided. I mean, a blog managed by three trans women, initially devoted to deconstructing the persistent transphobia in second wave feminism, and I think more responsive and attentive to feminist issues in general vs. the mainstream LGBT movement and we’re still categorized as outside feminism.
This bothers me, because it feels like a quiet form of exclusion. Like we’re not always good enough to link – but if we are, do we actually have a feminist perspective? And I mean this isn’t about defining one’s self as a feminist, because I do see other (cis) women (cis women of color, mostly) who do not define themselves as feminist linked as feminist. Whether or not I define myself as feminist seems less important to me than the issues that are centered – and here, my focus has often (although not always) been on how feminism fails and refuses to accommodate trans women.
This probably seems like a minor, almost symbolic thing to many of you, but it strikes me as indicative of how we’re viewed. It’s sort of disturbing to me, and distances me further from an identification as a “feminist,” although I’m certainly in a lot of good company at this point.
Edit: That last is not a jab, but praise for other women I know who do not define themselves as feminists, but do the social justice so well.
First, Brownfemipower needs help. Her latest laptop’s keyboard is broken, and is the latest in a string of computer breakdowns (including one that caught fire). She’s asking for help to get a new, functional, computer that she can use as a media activist, writer, and blogger. If you can donate, and you want to see BFP stay online,
Every person who donates will receive a gift!
For those who donate between:
$5-25: You will get a personalized thank you note from yours truly!
$26-50: You will get the personalized thank you note and a newly published zine!
$51-100: You will get the personalized thank you note, and two newly published zines!
Over $100: You will get the personalized thank you note, two newly published zines, and a surprise gift (I will tell you once you order–I only have certain quantities of each, so I don’t want to list them online!).
The bad news: Because this computer breaking down has taken me by surprise, I am only in the planning stages for the zines. So it will be up to two months before those of you who order zines will get them. So that you know what stage I am at making the zines, I will be documenting the process I go through to make them here on the blog. This has the added bonus of hopefully helping other people–so many people I know have expressed interest in making zines, but have also expressed not having any damn clue how to.
So, that’s what is where things stand right now. I hope that you are excited–I sure am. I’m a bit apprehensive as I know it will be a lot of work–but I also am really excited for the motivation to get these new zines out! I love zine making, and I’m really excited to get back to the drawing board again–see how things flow out of the mind this time.
Please donate and/or spread the word–and THANK YOU so much for your continuous support!
I strongly suggest following the links and reading the whole thing.
Briefly, like a loose leaf lightly touching a windshield before moving on, I thought about Feminism. Now a mother. Never again like before. Never just I. My life just took the most radical turn. That morning I had made myself chocolate chip pancakes. Six hours later, I was a mother. Everything had changed in the blink of an eye. And in that change, I came to a realization that there were two kinds of feminism. The Feminism of issues and the feminism of our lives.I realized the Feminism that is perpetuated in mainstream and mainstream-like media is not the feminism of our lives. It is the feminism of commerce. It is the feminism that picks and chooses the winners and losers, the visible and invisible, and accessible and ignored. It chooses what will sell and what sells focuses on status climbing, material wealth, and westernized independence. Things that bring pleasure, not transformation.
The Feminism that has stepped on the backs of women of color and ignored the backs of trans and disabled women is the Feminism that camouflages itself with diverse panels and collectives but neglects to modernize its definition of social liberation in the era of digital media. It is the feminist theories stuck in the academy with no implored action. It is the round table discussions reserved for annual conferences that result in no true connection or building blocks.
This is the Feminism that has the time and luxury to ask leisure questions such as, “Why don’t you identify as feminist?” and “Where are all the women of color bloggers?” The same Feminism that circulates the energy over the same privileged circle of the educated, the employed, or as I call it, “the Sames;” the ones who stand an inch into the outskirts, banging on the “equality” door but who also ignore the women whose heads are in toilets cleaning their bathrooms or nannying their children.
This is the Feminism of fruitless banter and recycled conversations. The space to bring these issues up could be a hopeful sign of progress, however, the repetition of those conversations and the predictable accusations and defenses serve no other purpose than keeping the pendulum swinging in balance. Aka, the status quo.
This is the same Feminism that haunts the academy and academic support offices such as Women’s Centers and elite conference gatherings. The conversation of the privileged becomes priority over decision-making. Consciousness-raising is imperative for transformation, but it cannot begin and end with questions. There must be forward motion, however slight.
Simply putting 50% of women into anything male dominated may alter the demographic, but that’s not necessarily transformative. Putting a woman’s face where a man’s once was, without any sort of critical change, is not equality but appeasement. And before Linda Hirshman takes that quote of mine again out of context, let me explain further.
The purpose of feminism is to end itself. Andrea Dworkin called it one day without rape. Others have other land posts measuring feminism’s victory. The purpose of feminism is to one day find ourselves where we don’t need to fight for human rights through the lens of women’s oppression. Note: I didn’t write that the purpose is to bring down the man. The purpose is not to have a female president. The purpose is to transform the infrastructure that holds kyriarchy in its place. Replacing men with women – of any race, ethnicity, creed, or ability – who refuse to acknowledge the insidious and mutating face of gender oppression is not forward stepping. It’s a perpetuation of history.
And so the question comes: how invested are you in the liberation of women?
Because if you agree that the liberation of all women carries more weight than the identification as a liberal feminist, the feuds over whether feminism is dead becomes irrelevant. The uproar should be about dying women, not a dying Feminism.
You really should read her full post.
I did respond to her statement about trans women being ignored by feminism in the comments on her post, but I do believe in what she’s saying overall. I want to have more to say about this, but right now I just want to get the word out there.
Mandy Van Deven wrote an article for Briar Patch, called From invisibility to stability: Transgender organizing For the masses. The article itself is about transgender invisibility in the past, and the increasing visibility of trans activism in the present. It’s also a bit of a proscriptive piece, criticizing trans activism for focusing on middle class needs and pointing at the needs of trans people who live at or below the poverty line, and who are working class.
This, unsurprisingly, comes off as lecturing trans people that we’re “doing it wrong.” Van Deven discusses what she considers to be middle class trans activism and how it fails to include trans people. Unfortunately, she includes no links, no names, no descriptions of any organizations. She doesn’t, for example, mention NCTE’s recent focus on Amanda Simpson. After all, Amanda Simpson’s appointment isn’t going to create more jobs for unemployed trans women who find themselves in a position to engage in survival sex work, and perhaps become infected with HIV. Obviously, Amanda Simpson’s appointment isn’t a solution, it’s simply a step.
From reading Mandy’s post, you get the impression that trans visibility is something that’s just happening because cis people are talking about us. She references The L Word and the film Transamerica, positioning these as middle-class exposure for trans people, and says that previously, discussions about trans people occurred primarily in queer and women’s studies in academia.
She goes on to inform us:
Similar to queer activism, transgender rights organizing appears to be gaining ground in major metropolitan areas including Washington, D.C., and Toronto. Legal victories for public bathroom access in New York City and anti-discrimination laws in Maine, as well as the election of a transgender mayor in Silverton, Oregon, are certainly cause for celebration. However, the focus on battles that require class privilege means that other battles that would make a significant impact on the majority of poor transgender people have scarcely begun. Would-be transgender activists must often favour their own material conditions above collective advocacy in order to simply survive – a position working-class feminists and feminists of colour have been arguing for decades regarding their place in the movement for women’s liberation. Given this reality, organizing around transgender issues should be viewed through an economic lens in addition to one of gender.
This is pretty patronizing, and it ignores the work done by such groups as the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the Audre Lorde Project, and the DC Trans Coalition, just to name three. Looking over their recent news, I see stuff like:
After years of widespread community pressure to end discrimination against transgender people trying to access public benefits in NYC, we are thrilled to announce that the Human Resources Administration (HRA) has adopted new procedures for working with transgender and gender nonconforming clients! To learn more about the procedures, please see our fact sheet.
SRLP Comments on Proposed Changes to DC’s Anti-Discrimination Law The DC Office of Human Rights is attempting to make an exception to anti-discrimiantion law for the Department of Corrections. The DC Trans Coalition is organizing around this issue, more can be learned at their website, here or www.dctc.squarespace.com
The Administration for Children’s Services changes their policy for transgender youth in foster care New York – On June 20th, 2008 The Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) Commissioner John Mattingly signed a new non-discrimination policy that specifically prohibits ACS staff and contract agencies from discriminating on the basis of gender identity.
The Audre Lorde Project:
The TransJustice Community School is for People of Color who identify as Trans and Gender Non Conformingfor example people of color who identify as trans, gender non-conforming, gender variant, gender deviant, butch lesbians, drag queens, bi-gendered, Two-Spirit, drag kings, femme queens, A.G., gender queer, non-gendered, andro, crossdressers, gender-benders, and more.
The TransJustice Community School aims to strengthen our community and ourselves and build participants confidence and self-esteem. The TransJustice Community School will focus on building the leadership of Trans and Gender Non Conforming People of Color, while participating in a larger multi-racial, multi-gender community that fights injustice facing those who are most historically targeted in the U.S. Through discussions and panels, workshops, visiting other groups and experience participants will:
- Learn how to and teach others to be self-advocates regarding Know Your Rights as it relates to: HRA, Housing Authorities, the Police System, and Health Care.
- Learn how to do public speaking related to ALP/TransJustice and the Welfare Justice Campaign.
- Learn how to identify and share crisis and sustainable living resources related to: health care, housing, legal issues, counseling and other common issues in our community.
- Learn how to facilitate meetings and how to make decisions and plan in a group setting.
- Learn what goes into planning, executing and evaluating parts of a campaign.
- Learn from experienced community members lessons on personal and community based survival.
And the DC Trans Coalition:
Today, DCTC wrote to Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier with a series of questions regarding implementation of MPD’s general order on interactions with trans people, our ongoing concerns over police training, and MPD’s failure to report on hate crimes based on gender identity and gender expression.
As we’re all aware, MPD officers have often been found completely ignoring the general order, and some have even admitted to us that they didn’t know it exists. In addition, it has recently come out that MPD training programs on trans issues are inadequate, and that MPD completely ignored its obligation to report hate crimes against trans people for the last three years. This letter is an important step in keeping MPD accountable to its own policies and DC law.
We will definitely keep you updated on their response, and let you know how you can get involved to hold the police accountable.
So clearly, there is activism, and there are conversations. I am not saying it is perfect, and that there are no trans activists or organizations who focus primarily on middle class concerns, but I would argue that Van Deven’s decision to present the situation as if there is no organizing and activism going along these lines was a mistake. I would also argue that a better article would have directed attention to these and other organizations that do focus on concerns outside the mainstream middle class focus that consumes everything from feminism to popular media.
It’s also problematic that Van Deven proposes that trans visibility is coming via popular culture, and not via the efforts of trans activists of every social class. Trans visibility has been a matter of years – decades, even. After all, Christine Jorgensen was in the news in the early 1950s, although perhaps not in ways that any of us would enjoy now. The problematic nature of trans women’s visibility has always been silencing to trans women – in that our visibility is primarily due to cis people talking about us. Whether they’re writing sensationalist articles with lurid statements such as “used to be a man” or movies about a fictional trans woman’s life that still involves casting a cis woman for the role, and using appliances to make her “look masculine.” Felicity Huffman’s portrayal in Transamerica is not an empowering one for trans women of any social class. It’s about trans women as seen through a cis woman’s eyes. This “middle class visibility” is another way in which trans women are silenced.
I have not seen the L Word, but I have not heard many good things about the portrayal of Max from trans men. To my eye, it seems to reinforce the idea that trans men are some kind of ultra lesbian, or “special decaf men” who, because they were female assigned at birth, are seen as more evolved or interesting than cis men, and still have a place in women’s spaces and communities.
This visibility of trans people in the media, in Ugly Betty, The L Word, Transamerica, and the like, is visibility on cis people’s terms, and erases trans people’s lives. It’s not a matter of victory for middle class trans people, it’s giving us images of trans people that simply aren’t us.
And what about the activism that has been going on for the past two decades? The work to join with the LGB (now LGBT) movement, the work to get included in ENDA (and the rocky road that’s been), the work of academics like Vivian Namaste’s Invisible Lives? Films like Southern Comfort? What about Candis Cayne’s and Isis King’s actual appearances in the media? What does all this mean?
And since when have conversations about trans people been restricted to women’s and queer studies departments in academia? Do these conversations only count when cis people are having them? What about the conversations that trans people have been having among ourselves for decades? We’re not an undiscovered country waiting for the great cis hope to discover us, and thus bring us into being. We have our own lives, agendas, needs, and politics, and we’ve been having them for a long time. When you talk about invisibility, it’s not that we failed to advocate for ourselves, among ourselves. It’s not that we were silent, willingly hiding behind closed doors. It’s that we live in a society with institutionalized transphobia, with hundreds of millions of cis people, many of whom do not care for what we need, but are in an appallingly large number of cases hostile and opposed to our needs, who actively and willfully silence us by speaking for us and over us, insisting that we exist according to their terms and definitions, and do not deserve the power to define ourselves.
And that’s just the matter of visibility.
When Van Deven says this:
The topics that get the most attention from transgender advocates and activists, therefore, are often those of primary interest to middle- and upper-class transgender folks. This is particularly the case in the U.S., where health care disparities are so pronounced: advocating for insurance companies to cover sex reassignment surgery will no doubt benefit transgender people with enough class privilege to actually have health insurance, but what about the need for basic medical care that low-income transgender people are unable to afford?
She’s not strictly talking about what gets the most attention from transgender advocates and activists, but rather what gets the most attention from the media. I can count on the fingers on one hand the number of times I’ve seen the DC Trans Coalition’s work make it into mainstream media, but I cannot count on all of my digits the number of times that sex reassignment surgery has been discussed (from a cis perspective) in the media.
And I’m also troubled here by the implicit separation of sex reassignment surgery from health care. Sex reassignment surgery is health care. It’s something a significant number of trans people need, but will likely never have access to. It’s not the only health care they need, nor is it always the most important, but it is not unimportant. I say this as a trans woman who is unemployed, who has very little spare money under most circumstances, who has spent the past twenty years advocating for universal health care in the United States. All too often I see transition-related medical care relegated as secondary to real concerns, as optional, as elective, as unimportant. It is hard for me to read this paragraph and not hear that familiar song again.
And then there’s this paragraph:
Creative solutions can be implemented to solve the problems that are inherent in the current systems that serve low-income people. Transgender-only housing units or floors in existing facilities can be established with private, lockable restroom facilities and staff who are trained in transgender sensitivity. Exclusions of transition-related and gender-specific health care can be removed from the policies of medical facilities and health insurance companies. Governments can invest in transgender-specific workforce development and public assistance programs. Laws and policies that prohibit employment discrimination and workplace harassment can be amended to include transgender and gender non-conforming people. Although transgender organizing is newly emerging, the movement need not make the same mistakes as its well-meaning predecessors by ignoring the class-based needs of the majority of its members.
What bothers me about this suggested solution is that it reinforces the idea that trans people must be kept away from cis people. I’m not saying that there would be no purpose for areas set aside for trans people, and for safety some trans people may need them, but I believe it’s important to work on educating people about the need to house trans people where they need and want to be housed. Trans women are women, and trans men are men. The solution to forcing trans women into men’s shelters (and wearing men’s clothes while there) isn’t to create a separate area where trans people are allowed to exist, but to integrate trans women with cis women, and provide the necessary education so that workers and clients don’t mess up. A solution provides mandatory separation does not fix the current problem, nor do I think would it encourage cis people to treat us with more respect.
As for making those mistakes, I will say that a significant number of trans activists are aware of feminism’s mistakes, given that many of said mistakes were directed at trans people with as much heat and hostility as could be mustered. We’re no strangers to this.
What would I have preferred to see in Briar Patch? I would have preferred to see a trans person writing about these matters. If not that, then I would have preferred to see Mandy Van Deven refer to actual trans people, actual trans activist organizations, and actual history, find out what trans people need and want, and cite those trans people. Find the copious writings in academia, the media, on the web. Look for what trans people are talking about, and point back to it. Use your cis privilege and voice to illuminate what trans people are doing and what trans people need. Don’t use it to lecture trans people on how we’re doing activism wrong. As it turns out, there’s a lot of trans activism going on, at all economic levels. It is true that there is trans activism that is as problematic and exclusive as a lot of feminist activism has been – focused on the needs of white, middle-class, heterosexual people at the expensive of trans people of color, of queer trans people, of working class trans people and trans people living in poverty. it’s all there, just as it is in feminism. But that’s not an excuse to minimize and erase the work that is being done. To insert your voice and presence over other trans people to lecture trans people on “how it’s done” and how we’re “doing it wrong” and “missing the point.”
I’ve seen this a bunch of times recently in the various threads trying to make sense of the various trans/feminist blog thrashes. “What is this cis term? It seems so academic.” etc
Well, the thing is. It’s not. I’ve seen it used by Julia Serano, and Riki Wilchins, and not much else. I suspect that the academic usage will grow given the influence of Serano in trans communities, but the point is – it’s not a bloody academic term. As the wikipedia article states, correctly as far as I know, “cis” emerged as a primarily internet usage amongst activists in the mid 90s, a full decade before it appeared in academia. Even now this is overwhelmingly the truth.
So why this perception that cis (and I prefer cissexual than cisgender, given that it places the institutional dimensions of cis privilege with regard to legal sex front and center, rather than those related to gender presentation) is an arcane, academic term? More importantly, what is this resistance to the term, especially in threads specifically demarcated as not 101–and to just fucking googling it–doing?
Now obviously, cissexual isn’t a common, everyday term. But neither are other terms commonly used in feminist discussions online, like essentialism and heteronormativity. None of these are very difficult to make sense of, to read around, or to just fucking google it. For those unaware, Julia Serano in Whipping Girl describes cissexuals as “people who are not transsexual and who have only ever experienced their subconscious and physical sexes as being aligned” (p. 12), and cissexism as “the belief that transsexuals’ identified genders are inferior to, or less authentic than, those of cissexuals.”
More commonly, cissexual just means people who are not transsexual, and cis means people who are not trans. It’s terribly complex, you know.
But see, ignorance is a tool of the powerful (just ask Dubya). It takes no work to remain ignorant, to restate the dominant positions of the day as “common sense”–you know, the kind of common sense that is being placed in position to the inscrutably academic trans people. So, the point is not that it’s very difficult to understand, but that there’s an active resistance to having trans knowledge be allowed as legitimate. “Academic” is a way of dismissing us for evolving a vocabulary of our own that doesn’t Other and objectify us like cis-normative (ooh I invented a word, how academic) feminist writings do.
In short, Buffy, it’s about power. The inequity involved in people saying things like “I’m not cis, I’m a woman” whilst firmly denying trans women the woman part of the equation should be obvious. Until we live in a world where trans women are accepted as women whose identifications, histories and bodies are as legitimate as their sisters, there will be a need for the term cis. Because when you use “women” and “trans women” you know what you’re saying? That trans women aren’t women, that we’re a separate group. And that’s just not acceptable, and it doesn’t take a PhD to work that one out.
So hey cis readers, the next time you want to de-rail a thread about trans rights, you know actual rights for actual people, just click here instead.
I just wanted to have a brief rant about summat, even though I’m snowed under by work.
This comment thread at Feministing? Is the kind of stupid that burns. The OP’s fine, but ffs. This is the kind of thread that reminds me of why Feministing is not a safe space for trans people.
Cis people, here is a hint. “Men in women’s bathrooms” is conservative code for trans women having the utter GALL to want to have a pee without being in fear of being arrested or assaulted. Because it happens. A lot. And a whole bunch of you good nice feminist allies appear to be under the impression that cis women can’t harm trans women. Ha. Don’t make me laugh.. bitterly. And as the Feministing thread shows clearly, the concern for trans women’s welfare–that is, the actual people being targetted by groups like Focus on the Family–is practically non-existent. An entire thread of cis women’s navel gazing about whether or not they feel comfortable with trans people in the bathroom is just bloody presumptous. Your right to comfort does not pre-empt the right of an entire community to go to the toilet. And your rights to womanhood and not to be raped or assaulted do not precede mine, not when women like me have higher rates of these things. No.
So yes, “men in women’s bathrooms” can and could be applied to some trans men and even non-normatively gendered cis women, but mostly? Trans women. We’re bloody scary you know. Buffalo Bill scary. So who knows what could happen if you let these people forget to live in fear for a second.
The people going on about seeing penises, or the mere presence of a penis–presumably magically sensed through the uterus–threatening them are just fecking pathetic. Women like me are in there doing what everybody else does. And amazingy, no-0ne sees our penises, because there’s bloody stall walls. Believe me, you wouldn’t know. Some of the time, you don’t know.
See, the thing is? We’re ALREADY in the women’s toilets, because shockingly, like other people, we occasionally need to go to the toilet. And yet, somehow, the world has not ended, and rapists have not all decided hey transitioning, there’s an ace way to get through the UNLOCKED women’s door. All trans bathroom rights do is allow us to go about our business as women like everyone else.
You know, that little figure with the dress is not a magic talisman, it will not protect you from rape…. and neither will scapegoating trans women, or premising our rights on our passability as cis.
Red herring, look it up.