Archive for February, 2008
Elizabeth McClung has posted an entry on Screw Bronze that everyone should read. It might be easy to brush what she says off, but every single person in the world who does not already have a disability is one accident or diagnosis away from having a disability.
Sanesha Stewart was a woman of color, so naturally the press portrays her as a prostitute (even if her neighbors do not). Naturally the press portrays her as a “man who dressed like a woman” (even though she’s not a man). Naturally, the press focuses on her height and the specific kinds of clothes she chose to wore (because she supposedly didn’t look like a woman, even though she was one, because her appearance is somehow relevant to the fact that she was stabbed to death). Naturally, the press gives her birth name because that’s totally relevant to the fact that she was murdered. And, naturally, the press implies that she was asking for it for daring to be trans and tricking a man into having sex with her – because, of course, no one would choose to have sex with a trans woman voluntarily, right? Because no one in the history of ever has knowingly had sex with a trans woman, killed her, and then used the deception excuse to get a lighter sentence, because people are stupid enough to believe that it’s okay to murder someone for violating gender boundaries?
Megan’s linked several articles in her post, check them all out. Imagine the response if a cis woman’s murder were filled with detailed discussion of her appearance and how it obviously contributed to her murder, as if her murderer’s reactions were instinctive and perhaps understandable? Imagine if a cis woman’s murder was presented as she deceived a man into thinking she was more attractive than she really was, and upon discovering that it was all makeup, plastic surgery, and a corset, he savagely stabbed her to death? What if she’d legally changed her name – would the press be sure to dig up her birthname for added sensationalism? Referred to her legal name as a “nickname?” What would be the response if news stories so thoroughly delegitimized and sensationalized a white cis woman’s identity while reporting her murder?
Gorgonqueen linked to Dented Blue Mercedes, and I found a post that discusses how trans people are not allowed to leave our past behind. Mercedes discusses the idea of deep stealth, where you can supposedly bury yourself and never ever be treated differently from a cis person of the same sex, and the reality of that assumption.
I’m posting this because I posted in regards to both issues and that blog in a previous entry. I’m still unhappy with the gross misrepresentation of my blog and views that have been posted on Enough Non-Sense, however.
Link via Stassa.
Cicely has posted this explanation of her change of mind about whether it’s right to exclude trans women from women-only spaces (or create cis women-only spaces) on the MWMF forum. She also gave me permission to repost it here:
I used to support WBW space at michfest on the grounds of shared girlhood – i.e. this being space for people like myself who have been perceived and acted upon in the world as female from birth and throughout our lives up to and including the present. In fact when I left these boards approximately two years ago in disgust at the way trans women were spoken to and about by some, I wrote to the effect that I didn’t want to be associated with a women’s event that provided a haven or pulpit for these excesses, but also that I would support the right of WBW to claim the space for as long as it was wanted.I’ve felt obliged since then to take a very close look at the origins of my thoughts and feelings on this issue and that’s where I’d like to begin to explain why I’ve changed my mind. This is my own personal journey which may or may not resonate with anyone else here. I’m hoping it will.
It was very easy for me to buy into the WBW concept based on the understanding that trans women were not like me. I was a self-identified lesbian by the time I was eleven years old in 1965 and in my early twenties during the 1970’s I became an active feminist. From that time I spent many years socialising mostly with other lesbians who were feminists, and huge amounts of time and energy discovering, noticing, analysing, talking about and protesting male socialised and politicised behaviours including male egocentricity, male entitlement, male centredness (male is normal, female is default), male on female aggression and violence and so on. I read studies and watched documentaries – such as the one that demonstrated how teen-aged males, when given a written test which they failed, typically came up with external reasons or excuses for their failure (the neighbours had the music up loud so I couldn’t study properly; it was a trick question) while teen-aged girls typically took personal responsibility for their failure.
It made sense to me, with what I’d learned and experienced, that someone who’d been perceived and acted upon in the world as male from birth could have very little to no conception of the accumulated effects of sexism and misogyny on women like me. It starts early, some say from the very moment of birth, if not sooner. Male socialisation also starts early. And then, for trans women who’d transitioned later in life, what about the advantages and privileges they’d had access to in things like skills training, education, good jobs, good income etc, while they’d been perceived as male? It all adds up to a very different experience of the world, and that’s before even considering the fact that apparently some trans women aren’t very successful at looking or sounding like cisexual women, and some either can’t afford to or choose not to have SRS, so that they are literally women with penises. Overall, I thought these could be very big gaps to bridge. I felt it was more than reasonable that WBW, feminists – and lesbians in particular (because I’ve always regarded michfest as a primarily lesbian event) – should have a space in which they didn’t even have to think about these issues, let alone confront them, because they were not about them and not about their lives.
You’ll notice I’ve written ‘them’ and ‘their’ lives, not ‘me’ and ‘my’ life. The reason for this is that my support for WBW space had always been support for other cisexual women’s desire for it. I have personally never felt okay about excluding trans women from any women’s space I happen to be in and the reason for that is probably that if it’s a social space, she’s likely to be a lesbian. Where else is she to go? I don’t think it’s up to me, and neither do I feel any desire to put limits on where a lesbian trans woman can seek community, friendship, sex or love. My approach would be to take individual trans women as I find them in person, as I do all women. However, despite the fact that I’d never had a personal commitment to or a need for WBW space, I didn’t feel that I could speak for all women. I picked a side in the broader debate around michfest because I felt I had to, and then that the right thing to do was to support the group I was part of. (Of course, I was referencing my own supporting and one-sided beliefs, so that was pretty easy. My original question, once I started asking myself questions, wasn’t even ‘are these differences real or the whole story?’ – it was, ‘what should we do about the differences?’) When I think about it though, I was inconsistent. I now understand that I hadn’t thought about the issue very deeply or broadly or from any different perspective because, frankly, I hadn’t needed to. (This is the most basic cisexual privilege.)
When I was considering going to michfest and first came to these boards I was thinking about the festival as the oft-quoted ‘one week in the woods’. I could support that for those who wanted it or felt they needed it, especially as most other women’s festivals in the US, as I learned, do welcome trans women. On the other hand, the Lesbian Space Project in Sydney which collapsed after a decade of bitter and polarising debate was about purchasing a building for a permanent space excluding trans women. While I wasn’t in Sydney participating in the debate, I was always opposed to that idea. Clearly though, there’s a relationship between the two. Thinking through that connection over time I came to the conclusion that the problem is the WBW space concept itself. (Also, I no longer use ‘WBW’ at all. Where appropriate I refer to myself as a cisexual woman, meaning that there is no dissonance between my mind map of the sex of my body and my actual body sex. I understand that not all trans women or trans men experience their transexuality in the same way, but many do describe it as this kind of dissonance, and I take them at their word.)
Obviously the transexual female experience is not the same as the cisexual one (though the differences are not as clear-cut as I once believed), but the questions I eventually asked myself included these:
Is total exclusion of trans women from a festival celebrating the diversity of women an appropriate way to deal with the differences between cisexual and transexual women? After all, we accommodate every single one of our other differences, including those that impact dramatically and permanently on our life paths and often make it difficult for us to understand each other – differences like race, class or ability – all of which involve privilege or lack thereof.
When a trans woman is experiencing life as we do 24/7, what is the purpose of focusing on her often difficult and painful history to the point of actually using it to make her unwelcome anywhere among us today?
Is the acknowledgement of cisexual female experience necessarily diminished because trans women, overwhelmingly outnumbered, are in our company? (Is the acknowledgement of lesbian experience diminished because a minority of heterosexual women attend michfest?)
How does it make feminist sense that a cisexual, heterosexual, Christian Fundamentalist woman would be welcome at michfest, even though she’s unlikely to want to come, while a lesbian trans woman who is a feminist and does want to come, is not? (I’ve seen this written on these boards – and also that transphobic women are welcome which, of course, is self-evident.)
How can an otherwise self-proclaimed trans-allied cisexual woman’s support of the boundary at michfest be explained in isolation from support of WBW spaces, temporary or permanent, elsewhere in the world? I doubt that she would deny that ‘right’ to cisexual women who cannot, for whatever reason, attend michfest. It follows that WBW spaces would ideally be available to all cisexual women, wherever they live and whatever their circumstances. All cisexual women should be able to ‘get away’ from trans women.
How can a group of people so large that it’s made up of approximately 50% of the world’s population be considered an ‘affinity group’? I’m inclined to suggest that WBW spaces be welcoming only to women with an openly stated and personal investment in them. Now *that* would be an identifiable affinity group, but it would sell fewer tickets! Michfest thrives on attendance by women who don’t or won’t make a stand one way or the other, women who are blindly or otherwise exercising their cisexual privilege not to have to.
By the time I arrived at the michfest boards (late in 2004 I think), I had not read ‘The Transexual Empire’, had rarely if ever heard the feminist argument that transexuality is about nothing but gender roles – and further that the right and feminist thing to do from that position is be a different kind of man or woman in the body one is born with, thereby challenging patriarchal gender roles – and hadn’t expected to see women of michfest making that argument as dogmatically as some do. I’ve never agreed with it and it’s not my intention to engage with it in this thread. I’m addressing myself here to women who consider themselves trans allies, who are not in the habit of ascribing meanings and motivations of transexuality to trans women that stand in opposition to trans women’s understandings of their own lives and experience, but who have reasons similar to my own as outlined above (either for themselves or in support of others) for supporting the boundary at michfest. I appreciate that there are trans women as well as cis women who support the boundary for reasons of respecting difference, and in fact the support of a few trans women on these boards helped validate my own position at the time.
So, what happened?
At the time I left these boards someone had posted a link to ‘Alas, a blog’, which I clicked on and discovered the blogosphere. I hadn’t known of its existence before then. Over the past two years I’ve had the opportunity via the blogosphere to hear the voices of many, many people, quite a number of whom are trans women. I realised that in real life I have met exactly three trans women who I knew were trans, and spoken to none of them in any depth about their lives. On one occasion, which is now over a decade ago, I took my prejudices along with me, and when she and I (both of us lesbians and feminists) had a small political disagreement I privately considered that she had argued in a ‘male’ fashion, that she probably learned to believe in the rightness of her opinions as a male, and finally, that she’d got her university degree while she was a he, and possibly with a level of encouragement often reserved for the males in a family. I didn’t deny her current womanhood or her lesbianism, but I did consider her to be something I most definitely was not i.e. an ex man. My almost automatic response to the situation, because of my beliefs, was to silently ‘other’ and dismiss her, rather than just agree to disagree. I didn’t think I was wrong to do that at the time. It made sense to me. It doesn’t anymore.
I no longer assume that trans children – female or male – receive gendered messages from society in an uncomplicated fashion. I no longer assume that a trans woman who transitions later in life was not a trans child. I no longer assume that because a trans girl or trans woman’s femaleness was/is not visible (and so also not ‘official’), it was/is not a female experience of the world. I no longer assume it’s appropriate to think of trans women generally as ex men, regardless of the lives they lived while being perceived as someone they were not. I no longer assume that every trans woman has benefitted in any meaningful way from having had a male body.
I have not seen evidence of specifically male ways of thinking and/or communicating among the many thoughtful, sensitive, articulate and feminist trans women I’ve had the pleasure of reading and learning from over the past two years. That has proven to be a nonsense.
The ultimate question about the michfest boundary is whether it’s intended to be inclusive of cisexual women or exclusive of trans women. The answer very much depends on where you’re standing. I’ve come to believe that the intention is different for different women who support the boundary, but that in practice it’s certainly exclusive of trans women and as such, discriminatory.
It’s my opinion that if you accept that trans women are women, it’s not good enough to say trans women are too different, they make you uncomfortable, so you don’t want them in any particular women’s space. Anti-discrimination legislation isn’t designed to pander to people’s feelings of comfort. It’s designed precisely to challenge and even override them when they deny other people their equal rights. Asking or expecting individual trans women or all trans women as a group to agree to participate in discrimination against themselves (or agree that what they experience as discrimination actually isn’t), is not a reasonable request, and one which can never in practice be satisfied. Either this conflict will go on indefinitely, or it will be resolved by removal of the boundary.
I live in hope that the festival will go on, and become welcoming of trans women.