Since I just posted my own response to Amananta’s post, I am also re-posting (with Rebecca’s permission) Rebecca’s fisking of the same post. Comments are closed on this post, please take discussion here.
“I’m not transphobic, but…”
Mar 25th, 2008 by Rebecca
While browsing a few blogs to put off writing my essay, I stumbled across an old post from Amaranta, professing to be about finding a middle ground between cultural feminists and transwomen. The entire post, however, drips with cissexual privilege and ignorance about transpeople, our lives and our experiences. It proves that even dating a tranperson doesn’t ensure that you have the vaguest clue about trans issues. Considering that it’s still getting linked and the author made later posts along similar lines, I felt this deserved to be called out in detail as an example of the sort of crap that we seem to sometimes get from people who think they’re allies. It also fits into the theme of the last couple of weeks, with the first trans-related blogwar of ‘08.
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?
I wish I had the privileges accorded to men in our society. Discomfort with living as a woman in a patriarchal society is perfectly obvious, but it takes a cissexual person to be able to conflate the degrees to which that discomfort is felt to that extent. There’s this fantasy that certain cissexual people seem to hold that transmen are all about “gee, I’d dig some of that male privilege”. It’s the difference between City Hill and Mount Kosciusko, and it takes a lot of of privilege to be able to not have to see that gap.
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.
Of course these attitudes are superficially anti-feminist, but how about taking the time to think about why people might hold those attitudes? In the first case, those transwomen have been either unable to or severely judged for doing things that would be considered completely unremarkable for cissexual men or women of their age for decades, and now they’re able to. In the second case, trying to explain being trans to people who are utterly obtuse is a bitch, the sort of example given above is a really easy (if superficial) way to sort of get across things to a lot of people in this society. No one’s pretending it’s the most accurate one. Many transpeople have written about what transpeoples experience of their bodies is like in much greater depth: Lisa Harney in particular has written about this at length. But hey, ignorant assumptions are more fun, yeah?
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.
Most transpeople I’ve ever known would wholeheartedly agree that these gendered expectations are horrendous. However, beyond that, this is pushing another myth about transpeople which is just crap. Being gender variant may be hard in this society, but it’s nothing like the sort of garbage one takes for being trans. Whereas many progressives today are pretty down with most forms of gender variance, transpeople still have to deal with deep-seated ignorance from all sides – this post being one such example. I was with a friend on the weekend whose partner is a transman, and she recounted him being asked about “butch flight” stuff and responding along the lines of “you think I’d go through all of this because you think being butch is so hard? are you high?” I think that was an apt response.
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.
I think it’s interesting that this one gets raised so often by transphobic feminists when they can rarely actually name these benefits that apply to young transwomen. Just because it may be a privilege that generally gets applied to young men doesn’t mean that it’s something we receive. To use one example, it’s often said that transwomen gained benefits in school because they got more attention for being seen as boys. However, this really isn’t a lot of use when you’re getting bullied so badly that you can’t study, or ultimately – as happened in mine and many others lives – attend school at all. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, per se, but it’s a hell of a lot more complicated (at least in regard to young transwomen) than a lot of cissexual folk make out.
The human mind does not work in this way, however. 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.
Really? It’s funny that I haven’t actually seen this been argued. As a white woman, I have no right to be in WoC space. As a generally able-bodied woman, I have no right to be in disabled space. As a woman, however, I do have the right to be in women’s space, and I’m going to cry foul when I’m discriminated against on that account. And while I could distinctly care less about Michfest, these things have consequences – and this sort of ideology has driven the exclusion of transwomen from rape crisis centres and domestic violence and homeless shelters, things which I actually do care about.
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.
I’m not brushing aside anyone’s fear of rape, as I have this same fear. What transwomen have been suggesting is that, considering there are somewhere close to oh, about zero incidents of transwomen actually raping other women (Julia Serano had some stats on this in Whipping Girl), this fear might be better directed at actual men instead of fearing other women for no good reason.
It’s spectacular that she uses the widely debunked myth about transwomen running around Michfest with their schlongs out to justify this: perhaps, y’know, if you’re going to argue this stuff, it might be worth actually finding out that the person concerned was a transman, one perfectly entitled to be there according to the festival’s “WBW” policy. It’s about here that the ignorance gets breathtaking: I don’t know about you, but I think I’d be pretty fucking terrified to be confronted by an angry naked man too. But no, we’re Other, we must think well…they’re not sure, but it must be bad.
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.
I don’t think you’d see many transwomen arguing that female fear of men is sexist or unreasonable. It’s something I share. What I and others are confronting is the idea that classing women as men and then trying to use this as an excuse for trans exclusion is at all justified. It’s also wrongheaded in other ways – as the Michfest example above with transmen. Somehow, I think it likely that the average person who is afraid of men would be rather less afraid of running into me in a women’s space than, say, Jamison Green.
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.
This is entirely true, but transwomen are not the rapists. Men are. The ability of a few hateful people to paste over that gap is what you’re being called on. Mere fear of the Other – whether that be black women, disabled women, lesbian women, or in this case, trans women – is not a justification for discrimination.
But there is a lack of examination of the fact that women have never been allowed to define womanhood for themselves. It has always been about how well they fit into the tiny box allotted to them in patriarchal society. Men have defined various things in the past as unfeminine, including athleticism, wearing pants, even obtaining an education. Americans in general do not accept these things as “mannish” or “unwomanly” today. But there are other patriarchal standards and stereotypes of woman which feminists and women in general struggle with. To demand full acceptance into a group which has little power to define its own boundaries is invasive and insensitive.
She’s conflating two different things here: the expectations placed upon women in this society, and the actual membership of Class Woman. Yes, men have defined many things in the past as unfeminine and inflicted a bucketload of patriarchal standards on women, and a hell of a lot of transwomen, myself included, believe in fighting that just as much as Amaranta. However – Class Woman? The notion that men have imposed criteria for the membership of Class Woman on women is nonsense, and indeed, where this has come up – women from less privileged groups being declared to be UnWoman – just as is the case here, women have been just as complicit as men. Privileged women have always had the ability to try and boot less privileged women out of Class Woman, and it’s hardly unsurprising to see it happened again.
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.
Again, we see the assumption that cissexual people are a homogenous group, and transwomen are The Other. Amaranta has had experiences as a woman that I’ve never had. The things is that I’ve had experiences as a woman that she’s never had, too. The same could, I’m sure, be said for practically every other woman in the world. There are few experiences that all of us will have, and very few that will “match up” between women everywhere. Many of the bonds between women – not just cissexual women – are based on the assumption of shared experiences. I’ve been in some pretty powerful consciousness-raising groups precisely because we do have shared experiences – and many of them, too.
So what is the answer? Well, it is becoming more common for many women’s groups to accept transwomen, and I think this is a good thing. At the same time I have no problem for women who wish to maintain a women born women only space, and my corrolary suggestion is that if transwomen feel very slighted by this, they are equally welcome to form transwomen only groups to discuss experiences they have which women who have always been accepted as women would not ever have experienced.
The concept of safe spaces has never meant a place where the privileged can exclude the oppressed. We don’t have “white people spaces”. We don’t have (deliberately) “able-bodied spaces”. We don’t have “straight spaces”. This is precisely what transpeople are objecting to: you’re asking us to swallow our oppressors using the idea of “safe space” to further oppress us. I will always consider minority groups to have the right to form safe spaces – and to scream blue bloody murder when they’re expelled from privileged spaces.
The MWMF does not control or influence this patriarchal world that discriminates against transpeople in housing, religion, and in which they are at a high risk of violence, and protesting it gains you nothing of benefit, it merely fuels the flames between the feminist and transgendered movement and reveals the transwomen who take part in it as being exactly what they protest they are not.
Except that it does. Michfest and its organisers are the locus over the movement in North America to kick transwomen out of women’s spaces, and have been responsible for fuelling transphobia for years. Though Michfest is about the last place on earth I’d want to be, its policies have ramifications in homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centres and other services that transwomen rely on as women. It is perhaps the most significant example in the US, at least, of an ideology that lies right at the heart of the oppression of my community, and by god, I will stand up and oppose that.
Please – a little respect, a little listening. I don’t think this train is completely derailed as of yet. Divisiness hurts both of these movements, whereas together we can make a powerful indictment of the strict gender roles imposed on us by society.
Oh, fuck off. Agreeing to respect my basic humanity isn’t a fun compromise, and forgive me for regarding anyone with as much transphobia as Amaranta – let alone those she’s trying to defend – with a great deal of cynicism. I’ll have your “fabulous conversations about gender and society” when you stop treating me and my ilk as a gigantic dancing Other on wheels.