This post is directed at Amananta, but what I have to say in it is more universally applicable to anti-trans feminists.
If you were ever really a supporter of trans people, you wouldn’t have found it so easy to back off that support and change your tune. You wouldn’t have quietly withdrawn your public support for your partner after you couldn’t use your appeal to estrogen to justify that your transphobic actions weren’t really transphobic.
But then you come trolling around my blog under a pseudonym to tell us all how trans women are really acting from male privilege, that we were ever “really cis men” before transitioning:
So basically, you aren’t going to answer her question, which is, why do transactivists focus almost soley on trying to force their way into women-born-women-only spaces, and claim born women should have no right to any space of their own, instead of actually combatting real oppression?
Oh wait, that’s right, you’re the oppressed ones, after getting the benefits of maleness you’re whole lives until you transition, and then want all the energy of women to be focused on your needs. Just like when you were men.
I really wish I could say that this was quite a change from your attempts at peacemaking, but truthfully, your “Radical Feminism and the Transgendered” post was pretty offensive:
I’ve seen a lot of transphobia (prejudice, misunderstanding and delberate hurtfulness directed towards transsexuals and transgendered people) flagrantly displayed by some radical feminists. I’ve also seen some distinctly anti-feminist opinions held by transfolk. Both of these attitudes are counterproductive, hurtful, and divisive. Neither of them make much sense. I don’t even think they are topics worthy enough of serious discussion to have people spend the amount of time and energy on them that they do, and maybe the time and energy I am putting into this post is also part of that wasted energy.
In this paragraph, you establish that you consider the rabidly anti-trans actions taken by feminists since the early 1970s to be rhetorically equal to trans people’s reactions to that violence. To being forced out of feminist spaces, to being denigrated as “surgically/chemically altered men,” to being equated with serial killers and rapists, to Janice Raymond’s call to commit cultural genocide upon trans people, to being described as “Frankenstein’s monsters” by Mary Daly. That trans people’s reactions to all of this hate speech, to all of these exclusive actions, are somehow on the same ideological ground as the insistence that trans people should not exist.
You then say that these reactions make no sense, that they’re not worthy of discussion, and that any energy devoted to that discussion is wasted energy. And please forget that trans women have been a part of feminism since the second wave, please pretend that we’ve never contributed. Please pretend that our participation was not forcibly and violently ended whenever possible – no, act like trans people are being divisive for criticizing this history and demanding accountability from feminism. That trans women are the unreasonable ones for wanting full participation in the women’s movement.
Why do I say these topics are a waste of the energy spent on them? I guess I just have to start off playing hardball here. Dear sisters in radical feminism – there is a tiny percentage of the population that feels they were not born into the right body and wishes to change their gender presentation. They are not your enemy; they are not the founders of the patriarchy; they are not the masses of men who are beating and raping women; they are not, as a group, supportive of violence against women or unequal pay or the anti-abortion movement. Dear transpeople – radical feminist groups that do not let MTFs into women only meetings or gatherings are not the defining issue of your oppression. I have yet to see any radical feminist say it is okay for you to be discriminated against in jobs and housing and beaten to death by roving packs of homophobic/transphobic men.
The first two-thirds of your paragraph is okay. But then we get to the second half – at which point you start explaining – as a cissexual woman – what should and should not be important to trans women. You completely dismiss any responsibility that feminism as a movement has helped perpetrate and reinforce the notions that trans women are really cis men and that trans men are really cis women, and how that is the foundation of violence against trans people – trans women especially, trans women of color, especially.
You also completely elide the fact that “women-only space” that excludes trans women count domestic violence and rape shelters among their number, and that these are a refuge from male violence. While cis feminists themselves may not directly engage in violence (please ignore the fact that cissexual feminists sent death threats to Olivia Records when they were demanding Sandy Stone leave), the fact that these spaces are set up to actively exclude trans women means that we’re that much more vulnerable to violence from men – in other words, your “women-only spaces” that exclude trans women are reinforcing that violence.
Also, by setting up women-only spaces to exclude trans women, you are declaring who is a woman and who is not a woman, and every space that’s set up to exclude trans women reinforces the core trans misogynistic notion that “trans women are not real women.”
Finally, it is not your place as a member of the oppressor class (cissexual people) to tell the oppressed class (trans people) what our priorities are supposed to be. If you were really a supporter of trans people as you claim at the time you wrote this, you wouldn’t be lecturing trans women on what causes we’re supposed to care about.
I’m skipping the next few paragraphs, as I believe they are genuinely supportive of your wife in specific and trans people in general. And, really, you should’ve stopped there, because:
But in other ways, many transgendered people fall prey to patriarchal ideas and attitudes, just as many non-transgendered people do. FTMs in particular seem so anxious to identify themselves as men that they sometimes throw out sexist stereotypes or behave in a very anti-feminist way, perhaps in order to prove they are “one of the boys”. I have seen the very good point made that of course FTMs have “gender dysphoria” – and so do almost all other women, because our culture, as a whole, hates and reviles women and femininity. What woman doesn’t hate being female for at least part of her life? Where is the line between really feeling you should have been born a man and wishing you had the privileges accorded to men in our society?
First of all, no, cissexual women do not have “gender dysphoria” and it’s both trivializing and tokenizing toward trans people to claim that discomfort with being a woman in a patriarchal society is the same thing as living with being trans – that is, with the fact that you know your physical sex isn’t right.
The line between feeling you should have been born a man and wishing you had the privileges accorded to men is a strong, bright line for trans people. Trans men aren’t doing it for the privilege, they do it because they know they’re male down to their bones, and their bodies clash with that expectation so thoroughly that the best answer is to transition. I, as a woman, wish every day that I had the privileges accorded to men, but living as a man was not something I could do and maintain a healthy life.
And yes, some trans men are sexist, and they should be called out on their sexism because sexism is wrong, and their being trans men shouldn’t reflect onto that at all.
I have seen many MTFs get extremely excited about getting to be “real women” who can – go SHOPPING! and wear frilly things! And heels! Until I sometimes wonder if to them, being feminine is nothing more than a fashion statement. I have known FTMs who explain that they knew they were really boys because they wanted short hair as children, hated Barbie dolls, and were very athletic. These kind of statements reveal that they don’t think girls or women who behave in this way are “real women”, and you can’t really get much more anti-feminist than that.
Oh, man, I thought that the previous paragraph was offensively tokenizing, but this, oh my god. These statements don’t reveal anything of the sort. You’re cherry-picking a few statements and behavior, taking them completely out of context, and then using them as evidence that trans women apparently view being women as some kind of shallow, superficial, artificial exercise – and I think that has more to do with how society views femininity than how trans women view womanhood.
It’s like this: Pre-transition life is like a prison. You’re expected to live according to your sex assigned at birth, even though every part of you knows this is wrong. Transitioning means so many things on so many levels, and that includes being able to do things appropriate to your proper sex without being labeled as a freak (although the labeling still happens). Trans women who are excited about shopping for clothes and shoes aren’t excited because this is the breadth and depth of the experience of “womanhood” to trans women, but because it is one of many things that we can finally do as women.
But to know that, you’d have to listen to trans people, rather than impose your own assumptions on us.
I do think it is a real problem that the only way little boys are allowed to express the softer and gentler sides of themselves is if they are seen as “not real men”. And it is definitely a problem that little girls are supposed to be shy and retiring and obsessed with their looks or “something is wrong with them.” I do not think these things alone are at the root of transgenderism. But I think in some cases, these cultural attitudes have pushed people into surgery and other medical treatments because behaviors outside of the strictly gender normative are seen as, literally “sick”. I have had some transpeople become very upset with me for daring to say these things, and while it is not my desire to hurt them by reiterating this, I have to call it as I see it.
And this goes back to the incorrect idea that trans people transition because we think that some things are only for men to do and some things are only for women, “thus, if I want to wear dresses, I have to be a woman.” While I appreciate your concern that people are pushed into surgery, I find it a grotesquely inaccurate distortion of the truth: That the WPATH (formerly HBIGDA) Standards of Care are intended to convince trans people that we don’t want to transition. How ignorant do you have to be to insist that people are being pushed into transitioning by cultural attitudes? Have you taken a look around lately? Society hates trans people.
You do hurt people by saying this, because you are saying something that is demonstrably false. You’re making unfounded assumptions based in your own cissexual privilege, and then asserting them as if they’re true, without (as privilege allows) even backing these statements up. You may call it as you see it, but you’re seeing things that aren’t there.
But the fact remains that it *is* easier to get along in life if one appears to be what others expect. In this regard, FTMs have a bit of an easier life, as the taking of testosterone makes them indistinguishable from men born men in a fairly brief amount of time, at least in public settings, or while clothed. Their masculine behavior will then pass unnoticed by society unless they wish to make an issue of having been born female. MTFs face a different set of variables, however. Depending on several appearance factors, some MTFs can be taken as a woman by most people without comment, but some will never succesfully “pass” as female, but will be seen as “a man in a dress.” While feminism has made some avenues open to women which were never open before, such as the freedom to wear either pants or a skirt/dress, men as a group have clung to the idea of dresses as women’s clothing and go out of their way to torment any fellow male who dares break the masculine code of dress and behavior. When an MTF, or for that matter, any crossdressing man, hippie boy, or goth boy, goes out wearing a skirt, s/he is exposed to, at best, whispered mockery and ridicule. At worst, men will beat him/her to death for breaking the male code of behavior. Male privilege comes with a high price, and those who visibly reject this code, even with something as petty as changing one’s clothes, sometimes pay that price with their lives.
This paragraph is problematic for a couple of reasons:
- You assume that trans men have an easy time passing. While it is true that testosterone over time does masculinize trans men rather effectively, a large number of trans men do not in fact pass perfectly well.
- You talk about “passing as female” when trans women are female. I think what you mean is “passing as cissexual.” Because trans women who fail to pass as cissexual are incorrectly gendered as men – that is to say, it’s the people who insist they’re men, not the trans woman’s fault for not looking female enough.
This is mostly plain old cissexism at work here, which is ignorant, but forgivable.
Which brings me to male privilege.
Many MTFs I know minimize the effect male privilege has on their behavior. I suppose it is like the proverbial fish who asks “what is water?” – being the benficiary of male privilege during one’s formative years, even if one begins to question one’s identity as a man, confers benefits upon one that are invisible to the recipient (although obvious to women, who do not receive these benefits.) Since MTFs do not want to be male, they would like to imagine they can just toss male prvilege away along with their unwanted boy’s clothing. The human mind does not work in this way, however.
Because growing up as a trans girl is exactly the same thing as growing up as a cis boy, right? Because when you know you’re a girl, even though the world insists you’re a boy, you’re totally socializing in exactly the same way as the cis boys are. You can’t possibly be picking up gendered messages intended for girls and absorbing them. And of course this in no way affects how trans girls interact with male privilege, right?
It’s cissexist supremacy that claims that trans people’s lives are identical to cis people’s lives pre-transition, that our state of mind and how it affects us in no way affects how we interact with the world or how the world interacts with us. So, before you start lecturing on how the human mind works, you could at least try to understand how trans women’s minds work throughout our lives.
Discussion by cissexual women of trans women’s “male privilege” is a silencing tactic, used to tell us that behavior that would be completely acceptable from a cis woman is unacceptable and essentially male from a trans woman. By explaining to trans women what our lives are really like, and how we really experienced male privilege, you’re doing the same thing that men do to women:
Men explain things to me, and to other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men. Every woman knows what I mean. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.
This syndrome is something nearly every woman faces every day, within herself too, a belief in her superfluity, an invitation to silence, one from which a fairly nice career as a writer (with a lot of research and facts correctly deployed) has not entirely freed me. After all, there was a moment there when I was willing to believe Mr. Very Important and his overweening confidence over my more shaky certainty.
You’re exercising your cissexual privilege to shut trans women up. I’m not arguing that trans women have never received any male privilege, here. What I am arguing is that your assumptions about what that means are wrong, that you’re using this assumption of male privilege as a way to explain that trans women are essentially not really women, and carry an indelible mark of Cain that can and should be used against us when we start saying or doing inconvenient things – like, for example, protesting discrimination and segregation directed against trans women.
It is ironic that those resorting to violent, invasive tactics in order to enter the Michigan Women’s Music Festivial, for example, with the excuse that they are NOT men and should be accepted as women, are resorting to an ingrained male privilege which tells them they have a right to go anywhere they want to go. Also ironic in their insistence that they are no different from women born women is their seeming inability to understand, or their willingness to brush aside as insignificant, women’s very real fears of rape, from which follows the concept of a safe space for women being male-free. Thus the “cutting edge” protest method some have developed, that of passing succesfully as female until they get to the shower area and then showing everyone they have penises in a sort of “Neener, neener, I have a penis and you didn’t guess but I’m showing it to you now so you’re a hypocrite ha-ha-ha you’re wrong about transwomen!” sort of gesture really only proves the point that they DON’T belong in a women’s only safe place, as they have no clue how frightening it is for a vulnerable naked women to suddenly be confronted by an angry naked man.
The story about trans women exposing penises in the showers has been debunked many times:
Tony entered the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in 1999 and took a shower inside, inadverdantly exposing his transplanted forearm, which was made to appear like a penis. This is considered to be the origin of the myth that “men walked around the festival exposing themselves (which has no concrete eyewitness reports besides Tony’s story itself).
In other words, the tactics you’re saying trans women used in the Festival never happened. But, there’s so much more buried here:
- You’re saying that trans women represent a threat of rape by being present at MichFest. How is it not trans misogynistic to insist that trans women are potential rapists?
- You’re saying that trans women should be ashamed of our anatomy, even though the only control we can exert over it is via hormones and surgery, since we can’t will our penises away. You’re saying that it must be hidden at all times. The truth is that a trans woman who reveals her penis is not putting cis women at risk for seeing it, but herself at risk because people who see her as “not a real woman” may commit violence upon her.
- You’re coopting survivor voices to justify continued exclusion and ejection of trans women from women-only spaces.
- Aside from the debunked rumor about trans women flashing penises in the shower, what “violent, invasive” tactics have been deployed to protest MichFest?
- Earlier in this post, you asserted that trans women are at great danger from male violence. Now you justify excluding trans women from MichFest because the women there need to be free from male violence. How can you not see that trans women may need this space as much as cis women?
- You’re assuming that the default is that trans women shouldn’t be allowed in. MWMF is for all women, which means that trans women are automatically included. It was an act of violence to expel Nancy Burkholder, and maintaining the policy in the years since has been continued justification of that violence against a woman.
- Penis or no, trans women are not “men” ever. Saying so is the core of transphobia – that trans people’s genders are not valid.
Transwomen – if you are serious about transitioning and serious about feeling like a woman, you have to stop insisting that female fear of men is sexist or unreasonable. Every time you do this it just proves the point of why women do need some women born women only space – so they don’t have to deal with you, as a newcomer to living as a woman, to tell us how we are doing it all wrong. Every time you think or say something along these lines, you are acting on male privilege, whether you like that idea or not. Question – if you are transgendered and pre-op or non-op, would you feel safe in a prison with men? Of course you wouldn’t – and for the exact same reason, in general women are not going to feel safe if you invade a space where they are naked and vulnerable. You can be as unhappy about that as you like – trust me, I am unhappy about it too – but until the epidemic of male violence against women ends, this is how it is going to be. You cannot blame feminists for this – they did not invent an irrational prejudice against men as violent rapists – the high number of men who are violent rapists is what is responsible for this very realistic fear.
Now this is where Amananta’s putting trans women in our place – we’re “newcomers to living as women” and thus need to understand that our presence, as a minority of women around women is exactly like putting a trans woman in a prison full of cis men (and yay, comparing trans women to violent criminals who are cis men – you go, Amananta!). She throws in the “shut up” bit by invoking male privilege yet again.
And here, she flips things – at the beginning of her post, she tells trans women that cis women are not responsible for the violence inflicted by cis men on trans women, to show that cis feminists are not enemies to trans women. Here, she basically says that trans women are responsible for the violence inflcited on cis women by cis men, and that to keep cis women safe from male violence at MichFest, trans women must be excluded. She says that “until the epidemic of male violence against women ends, this is how it is going to be.” What that means is that trans women are scapegoats for cis feminists – that cis feminists attack trans women as substitutes for cis men. Trans women are safer targets to attack than cis men, being as we’re oppressed in relation to cis women. Heart even says this on her own blog:
When a radical feminist female uses insulting words in the direction
of transwomen, she understand this to be no different from using
insulting words in the direction of males. It might be rude, crude,
and socially unacceptable, it might be insulting, but it isn’t hate
speech. It’s not discriminatory. Because given power differentials as
they exist between males and females, females aren’t situated socially
so as to be able to discriminate against males, or to be bigoted
towards males or to be phobic against males. To the contrary, our
experience as females is that males *are* to be feared because they
hurt females and to say so, and behave accordingly, is not “phobic,”
it is based on female reality.
Also the way Amananta excuses prejudice against trans women by talking about how a prejudice against men as violent rapists is rational, due to the number of men who violently rape.
Hey, Amananta, can you point to the apparently extensive pattern of trans women who rape cis women?
Finally I want to tackle what I think is the most hidden issue in all of this but perhaps the root of it all – the question of “who defines womanhood”? I have seen the very good point raised that women ave never been allowed to define what makes a woman. Men have defined womanhood for us for centuries. When I see transgendered women questioning the refusal of some to refer to them as women, there is again an unexamined male privilege in their questioning at the same time as that there are some very good points. The unexamined privilege comes from them setting up patriarchal societal objections to accepting transpersons as they wish to be accepted and smashing those admittedly unfounded ideas, thus concluding that radical feminists are wrong to ever exclude them from anything at all.
This is a vacuous question – the answer is “no one defines womanhood.” There is no single, universal, experience of womanhood. The idea that trans women are demanding to define womanhood for all women is as ridiculous as the assertion that cis women get to decide whether trans women are really women. It doesn’t work that way. You and every other radical feminist in the world can line up and tell me I’m a man, but that doesn’t erase the sexual harassment I’ve experienced, the misogyny, the violence I’ve risked and experienced. It doesn’t erase the boss who offered to give me rides home in exchange for blow jobs, and it doesn’t erase the fear of rape and violence I felt when a man followed me across three bus transfers and right off the bus at the same stop. Do those experiences define womanhood? I don’t think they do – they don’t define the men and women I’ve dated, who have all accepted my womanhood, they don’t cover the fact that 99% of the people around me do use feminine pronouns. They certainly don’t cover my own self-perception, which has been unassailable for my entire life.
You’re trying to encapsulate “womanhood” into this commodity that can be defined or withdrawn by individual people, and it’s not. No one can define what it’s like to be a man or a woman for another person. Not Heart or Lucky and their appropriative lists of oppressions, no one.
The real unexamined privilege in your question is cissexual privilege: The idea that cis people have the authority and right to gender trans people incorrectly based on standards that don’t apply to cis people.
To demand full acceptance into a group which has little power to define its own boundaries is invasive and insensitive. Furthermore, if you are a transgendered woman, no matter how badly you may want it, unless you were incredibly lucky you were not raised as a girl in this society. There are some experiences you will never have, and there are some things that will never quite match up between your experiences and those of girls who were raised as girls. I understand well this is a sore point for many transwomen, who feel they have missed out greatly on something very special, and maybe they have – but the fact remains that they did not have these experiences and many of the bonds between women who are born women are based on the assumption of shared experiences.
Trans women are women, just as cis women are. It’s not a matter of demanding acceptance. Acceptance should be a given. It’s demanding that you stop excluding and ejecting us for arbitrary and unfalsifiable reasons.
For example, you raise the point that trans women aren’t raised as girls, and you tell us that this is why we should be excluded from women-only spaces and not complain about it. I want to ask you: Do you not see how abusive, how violent, how alienating it would be for a girl to be raised as a boy no matter how much she protests? And would this woman be welcomed into women-only spaces, knowing she had endured such an abusive upbringing?
That’s what trans women grow up with – it’s abusive, violent, and alienating. And now, this abuse, violence, and alienation that was forced upon us as we grew up is used as a reason to justify further abuse, violence, and alienation from a movement that is allegedly for all women, but is really only for some women. Not only do you deny that trans women are women, but you hold the violence inflicted upon us against our will as something we must be held responsible for.
And when confronted with the extensive and fundamental transphobia of your statements, do you – as a self-proclaimed ally to trans people say “Oh, hell, I screwed up?” No, you blame trans people for getting rightfully angry with you:
The content of this post removed because I have been silenced by transgender activists who ignore everything else I write in order to take what I have written here, twist it out of context and proportion, and make me out to be some horrible transphobe who dehumanizes all transpersons everywhere and abuses my supposed privilege over transpersons. In fact, the only links my blog gets anymore is from angry transactivists vilifying me. Everything I write about women’s rights? Completely ignored. The irony seems to escape you all.
Yes, you were silenced. You were unable to voice your opinions without being criticized, and that is exactly the same thing as being censored out of having a voice, which is why you took your blog down, never to post to it again, right? How trans people actually set up a rule on the entire internet that “Amananta is not allowed to speak on trans topics,” and it is now a physical law of nature.
Spare me your bullshit about being silenced. No one silenced you – you even dropped a trolling comment in my blog, as linked above. This “I was silenced!” rhetoric is just more privileged whining about how people won’t let you say bigoted things in peace.
I also like the false opposition set up throughout the original post, where trans activists were set up as being solely interested in trans rights and needs, while feminists were set up as being properly concerned about women’s rights. This is simply not true. A large number of trans women and men identify as feminists and are in fact actively focused on feminist issues. A large number of feminists understand that women’s issues apply to both cis and trans women. There is no divide. Both trans people and women experience gender-based oppression, and if feminism is really about ending gender-based oppression, then feminists would see that it’s just as important to fight transphobia as it is to fight misogyny
Of course, most transphobic and anti-pornography radical feminists seem to understand intersectionality about as well as they understand trans people – which is not very much at all. So, getting the above across seems about as easy and likely as communicating that racism, immigration, disability rights, poverty, and more are themselves feminist issues because women experience all of those things.
Note: Some of the concepts described in this post were inspired by Cedar’s Beyond Inclusion zine.