This is one that’s particularly directed at trans women, but occasionally at trans men too. Simply put, it is the notion that before, during and after transition we are privileged members of the patriarchy.
The notion that trans people are the worst examples or supporters of the Patriarchy is a common one in radical feminist thought–notably Janice Raymond’s notorious The Transsexual Empire, Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman, and any number of works by Sheila Jeffreys. The ludicrous premise of recent “science fiction” film The Gendercator was that trans people had collaborated with the Christian Right to force transition on everyone, so that an absolute gender binary would be upheld.
This is, however, complete twaddle. Trans people on the whole are no more in favour of the binary than anyone else, and since it is fracking impossible to just snap your fingers and change gender categories legally (or you know, fall into the Spring of Drowned Girl), we often inhabit a precarious legal space in-between genders–and therefore have very good reason to argue for the abolition of gendered categories.
Transgendered people are discriminated against legally, economically, and socially. Let’s break it down:
I can’t overstate this enough, because it is so frequently elided in studies of transgendered people. We are disproportionately, constantly, the victims of violence.
Viviane Namaste in Invisible Lives found that 1 in two trans people had been the subject of violence in the past year, compared with 1 in 7 gays and lesbians. Violence is most likely to occur, unsurprisingly, against the most vulnerable people–sex workers, women of colour. Some trans women are both, and it adds up to a particularly volatile cocktail in a world that, frankly, hates us.
Oh, and I shouldn’t forget the violence against proto trans youth. Bullying at school, often sanctioned by teachers, for being “gay,” “too feminine,” “a man,” whatever. And often hostile home environments, where our gender expression is “cause” to beat us, be a man, be normal, and so on.
The point is, trans bodies are the subject of violence because of our genders. This is a patriarchal privilege how?
Murky legal status
Trans people have an often murky legal status, which can vary from state to state, nation to nation. Different places have different standards for allowing us to change our gender—for instance in Australia where I live in, you’re required to have genital surgery if you’re a trans woman (an expensive surgery that requires an 18 month waiting period supervised by a psychiatrist…), in the UK the standards are less onerous and require a Gender Recognition Certificate, in some states in the United States like Texas a trans person can never legally change their gender.
But this does not mean that we get patriarchal privileges, even if for trans women we continue to be legally seen as male.
What this means is that our identities are often not accepted, and so we are placed in the wrong gender category, which is not just upsetting, but it is often dangerous. As Viviane Namaste shows, trans people are systematic erased by institutions.
Now as we all know, ID like driver’s licenses and passports have genders on them. For trans people, there can be a massive difference between our paperwork and how we are presenting, which places us in an extremely vulnerable situation. You’re open to discrimination—this is not a very friendly world to trans people—and charges of identity theft, fraud and even target as potential terrorists (because we’re “disguised.” Flying is particularly difficult for trans people after 9/11).
Ok, so imagine what happens when you get pulled over by the cops and your driver’s license has the wrong gender. You get the phenomenon of “driving while trans,” where some transphobic cop decides to pull you in for driving without a license. Or, a friend of mine found herself having to convince her bank that she wasn’t committing fraud when she tried to change the name on her bank account.
In the US, Social Security sends a “no-match” to employers, which can out stealth trans people. And since there’s very little legal protection stopping employers from discriminating against trans people, said employer is generally free to fire you for being trans. Which leads me to…
Trans people are disproportionately unemployed, and comparatively poor as a group. The myth of the trans woman who transitions late in life after she’s got all that fat Patriarchal money, power and privilege is just that, a myth.
“A study in the San Francisco Bay Area conducted in 2006 of 194 transgender individuals found a 35% unemployment rate, with 59% earning less than $15,300 annually.”
According to this report from the Williams Institute,
13%-56% of transgender people had been fired
13%-47% had been denied employment
22%-31% had been harassed, either verbally or physically, in the workplace
So poverty, and employment based discrimination is a patriarchal privilege? Shiny.
Anti Discrimination Laws
In most places, transgendered people are not covered by anti-discrimination laws—this is what the big ENDA mess was about in the US, where gay and lesbian organisations discarded trans rights from an anti-discrimination law.
Trans people are not covered by sex discrimination laws, or sexual orientation laws. Sexual discrimination laws are about legal sex, not gender identity.
Sexual orientation laws are about being (or being perceived to be) gay, lesbian or bisexual. Neither of these address the specific discrimination people face for being transgendered.
It’s really difficult to tell, but an extremely large number of trans people are homeless at some point in their lives – the trans group blog post above suggests the majority, but stats are unreliable. A January 2007 report from the (American) Gay and Lesbian Taskforce suggests that one in five transgendered people are homeless. The reason for this is twofold – the aforementioned discrimination for employment, and often unfriendly or abusive home environments.
Trans youth are particularly affected by the latter, and this is doubly compounded by the often gendered nature of homeless shelters.
It is true that some trans people are able to get married, and hence get some of the privileges thereof. However, as with everything else, this is patchy and who you can marry and the legality of your marriage varies wildly from place to place, and depends on your surgical status.
But, even if you can get married, the United States has a policy that specifically excludes marriages where one partner from being able to immigrate to the country. The apparent privilege of sometimes being able to be married is able to be disregarded at any moment.
Now, I could just go on and on about this, but I think the point should be clear enough. Trans people are systematically disempowered, on macro and micro levels. Why on earth does any of this sound like we’re getting monthly muffin baskets from the Patriarchy?