Archive for the ‘feminism’ tag
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.
This is a crosspost from my blogthing.
When one reaches a certain point in transition and begins to delve into this riotously diverse, loose aggregate we call the “trans community” and its close cousins to whom we are the red-headed step sister (yes, quite the odd family, no?), one inevitably hits the wall of language.
What do you call yourself? To what group do you belong? How should you be addressed? How does this relate to how you address others? What language is hurtful and undermines you? On and on the questions and contemporaneous realisations go. Words, wonderful words, surround, bind, and penetrate you. At the end of the day again and again we are learning, re-learning, and un-learning language. Trans people are, along with certain other loose confederations of humanity, perhaps more deeply attuned to the vicissitudes of linguistic power and how language does power than your average bear.
And why is that? Because there is one realisation along with all the other usual ones (i.e. why it hurts when, as a trans man, someone calls you ‘she’ or a ‘woman’) that demonstrates language’s power.
The words we have often obviate any meaningful way of discussing our experiences.
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:
I was not so happy as I looked in the pictures on my parents’ walls. It was something that resonated with me as I read a beautiful, radical poem by Jo Carillo ‘And When You Leave, Take Your Pictures With You’ which used as a leitmotif pictures of Latinas working under the sun that might hang in the livingroom of a blanquita radfem. Like so many things in the anthology- This Bridge Called My Back- that poem is immortalised in, it made me think, not just about its own very important subject which is, alas, an all too salient issue even today… but about the pictures that were once on my wall too.
They were windows into a very particular past, a past that is assuredly a minefield on multiple levels. Much has been said, including on the pages of Questioning Transphobia itself, about those pictures. How they can oppress, or how they can liberate. It vexed me because as a budding sociologist I’m easily entranced by questions of meaning, and constantly working upon my mind was a need to decipher the meanings of those pictures in my own life. Not just the meanings of the photographs themselves, but what they represented.
And to begin the, perhaps necessary, use of ten guinea words in this piece; what the past those pictures evoked could say about my subjectivity.
What it means to be trans is one of those existential questions that excites and puzzles as surely as other such questions about the categories of human existence, the lines drawn in flesh that mark us off as one thing or the other. In the more evolved discourses of identity politics and its modern intersectional incarnations, there is an understanding that being trans carries with it a certain experience, a certain perspective on the world that only trans people have.
Certainly the vagaries of this can be disputed but one question that I’ve had and felt very troubled in answering is this one: Is my lived experience as someone who was forced to be male part of my subjectivity?
Let me be clearer still: I was never a man, no, but I lived as a male per the directions and encouragement of every social actor in my life up until the age of 21. In moving through the world in that utterly ill fitting skin, that imposed disguise whose existence tantilised the very edges of my conscious mind, I still ended up seeing things a certain way and being made to undertake certain actions, think certain thoughts. Such for me provides rich perspective, and informs my participation in discourses on misogyny. But can I talk about what that meant for me and what it felt like? What the specific experience was for me as a young trans girl- a woman forced in very deep ways to put on what society deemed a male persona? Can I say that this taught me something about male privilege or provided me with some perspective on what being a young man might be like?
Not without siring a world of trouble, that much is for sure.
So yesterday, the Bush administration yesterday granted sweeping new protections to health workers who refuse to provide care that violates their personal beliefs. Jill at Feministe has pointed out that while this undoubtedly chiefly aimed at women’s reproductive freedoms, this is actually not about abortion–which depressingly already has this exception–but easy access to contraception.
One point I want to make about that, which I’ve stolen from Lee Edelman’s No Future, is that America is being organised around the figure of The Child. Not actual children, let alone the adults those children grow into, but a rhetorical child who must be protected at all costs–from the corrupting influence of gay marriages, porn on the internet etc and who must always be allowed to exist.
The rights of the Child, who is figured as a full person and not as a body of cells or ffs an egg and a sperm, supercedes the rights of adult women to have control over their bodies. Never mind that people (and I want to make the point that it’s not just women, eg some trans men use birth control too. Seriously, pay attention cis feminists and stop making the normative assumption that reproductive health equals het cis woman) use the pill primarily for other health reasons–to regulate their periods, to moderate PMS and PMDD etc etc. And needless to say, The Child does not grow up to be queer, or trans, or sexually active outside the sanctity of marriage. And The Child is clearly normatively white.
But whilst it is clearly aimed at heterosexual cis women, it will have a massive impact on other groups–especially trans men and women.
From the Washington Post:
“The far-reaching regulation cuts off federal funding for any state or local government, hospital, health plan, clinic or other entity that does not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other employees who refuse to participate in care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable.”
Ok, let that sink in a bit. Care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable. Now, where is that going to leave trans people? Sex workers? People they think are drug users (a highly racialized image after all)? People with disabilities?
Like queerness, being trans has been framed by many on the Religious Right as a moral issue. To be trans is to be, by definition, immoral. By situating health care as a “conscience” issue, this law allows transphobic health care workers–not just doctors, but pharmacists, emergency medics etc etc–full license to indulge their bigotry and to not treat us. So, even if you can get through the knife lined obstacle course that is the gatekeeper process and get through to a hormone prescription, the bloody pharmacist might not even give them to you.
We all know health care for trans people is already shitty, let alone giving health care providers carte blanche to treat us worse. Remember Tyra Hunter, who died because firefighters decided not to perform emergency resuscitation on her when they discovered she was trans, and then a doctor at Washington General decided not to treat her. Because she was trans, because she was a woman of color, because she was not a person, she was an “it.” And, because some people consider that our existence is immoral and must be squashed out.
This is a nightmare of a ruling that potentially allows any person in the health-care business to rule that treating trans people goes against their conscience, and when something serious is occuring, you don’t have the time to shop around for someone who will treat you.
And the intersection between transness and race here will be even more deadly. Medicine has a long history of being used against people of color in the US, and this gives health care people legal protections to further that. As Kristin “the mean one on Feministe” just said to me, making the horrid implications of this explicitly clear:
“I didn’t quite make the connection as to why doctors would want to refuse anyone treatment in the context of a miscarriage at first. It just clicked. Why would they want to do that other than to refuse treatment to people they judge to be the “cause” of the miscarriage? You know, people like, say, possible drug users. Or people otherwise marked as “unworthy” of care. Say, homeless people, immigrants… Fuck. I mean, why else would anyone demand that kind of “right”? Fuck fuck fuck… I think this is going to be even more evil in practice than it looks on the surface. If that kind of “protection” becomes a fucking protocol, oh my god… If this becomes widespread… Organized against a specific group, that’s genocidal.”
via bastard.logic (and copied entirely):
October 22, 2008 · No Comments
Esha Momeni, women’s rights advocate and a member of the Campaign from California was arrested on Wednesday October 15, 2008, while on a visit to Tehran. Momeni who is a photographer and graduate student was arrested in an unusual and illegal manner after being pulled over on Moddaress highway, by individuals who identified themselves as under cover traffic police on the pretense that she had unlawfully passed another vehicle while driving. Esha was arrested and taken to Section 209 of Evin Prison, managed by the Intelligence and Security Ministry.
Prior to her transfer to Evin, security officials searched her home and seized property, including her computer and films which were part of her thesis project. The security officials had an arrest warrant and court permission to search the home and seize property.
While Esha’s friends and colleagues were insistent about announcing the news of her arrest immediately, based on requests from her family this news was announced with delay. Security forces had promised Esha’s family that she would be released quickly if news of her arrest was not published.
Esha’s parents went to the Revolutionary Courts today, on the fifth day of her arrest, to follow up on the case of their daughter. Court officials told the Momeni family that they should not come to the courts again, and that their questions will not be answered until the investigation of Esha’s case comes to a close.
Esha Momeni is a graduate student at the School of Communications, Media and Arts at California State University, Northridge. Esha had come to Iran two months ago to visit with her family and to work on her Masters thesis project, focused on the Iranian women’s movement. To this end, she had conducted video interviews with members of the One Million Signatures Campaign in Tehran.
Women’s rights activists object to the unusual manner in which Esha was arrested, as well as the irresponsible treatment of her family members by security forces. Further they strongly object to the unjustified and unwarranted arrest of this women’s rights defender.
A weblog in support of Esha pressing for her release has been established, which includes interviews with her professors… . The weblog as well as the site of the Campaign, Change for Equality, will continue to provide news on developments about Esha’s case. Take a look at the blog For Esha.
Take action now–please write to the following contacts:
- [express] concern at the arrest of Esha Momeni, and [urge] on the authorities to treat her humanely in detention, and protect her from torture or other ill-treatment;
- [ask] the authorities to ensure that while in detention she is granted immediate and regular access to her family, a lawyer of her choice, and any medical treatment she may require;
- [express] concern that her arrest was apparently in connection with her peaceful activities in support of equal rights for women in Iran and in the context of her graduate research;
- [urge] the authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally if she is not to be charged with a recognizably criminal offence and brought to trial promptly and fairly
h/t Vanessa @ Feministing (via Feminist Daily News); more from CNN, DKos, Melissa Wall, and David Blumenkrantz. Also see this article on the 0ne Million Signatures Campaign, written by Momeni in 2007.
Previous Change for Equality PSAs:
If you haven’t done so already, be sure to add your name.
I talk a lot about how feminism fails trans women here, but trans women aren’t the first, or only, group of women that North American feminism has failed. Renee at Womanist Musings writes about how white feminism ignores racism, or even claims that women of color addressing racism is akin to siding with men against women. Or more generally, how second wave feminism fails to address intersectionality when race is involved.
I often engage in conversations with white women in which I accuse them of not owning their race privilege. Quite often the response is, why are you blaming us, and not white males. I believe that this is an important issue to discuss because despite the sisterhood claims of feminism, there actually exists a lot of animosity between WOC and white women.
White women and black men, both focus on the marginalizatio0n that they face from over privileged white men. Though WOC will acknowledge that there is definitely an issue with how the white male body is encoded with power; they are not our sole oppressors. Unlike white women, white men do not have a history offering friendship that ends in betrayal. The relationship between white men and WOC is quite clear…adversarial. Telling us to focus on white men instead of deconstructing their own unearned privileges is an attempt to deflect responsibility.
Feminism has a history of betraying WOC. As it has been noted on this blog and many others, when it came to activism, white women of middle/upper class standing have repeatedly made the movement about their needs and their desires, while at the same time trying to assert a common sisterhood with WOC. When there is filing, coffee making and general menial tasks to be done, then and only then, do WOC matter in any significant way. As we look at who are considered the heroes of second wave feminism the disparity between white women and WOC speaks volumes. Despite the consciousness raising and the ideology of the personal is political, the personal is only validated when it is the experience of white women. White bodies, and white experiences have been utilized to create the monolithic woman.
The rest of the post here.
As a white woman, words like this make me bitter and angry – not at women like Renee who are speaking the truth, but at the white women who have come before and betrayed women of color. As a trans woman, I certainly sympathize with the experience of repeated betrayals from white cis feminism, as well as dealing with feminists who insist upon attacking me while refusing to deconstruct – or even acknowledge – their own privilege.
And feminists – feminism, as a movement – need to acknowledge these betrayals, need to be held accountable for them. White feminists, as a group need to acknowledge our white privilege and check it, not use it against women of color. WoC live with the intersection of racism and sexism and have no choice but to experience both. Demanding that they privilege one over the other (sex over race, race over sex) is demanding that they pretend that some of their oppression doesn’t exist – and never mind the impossibility of separating the two. White society is not sexist against Black women, Latina women, or Asian women in the same way as it is against white women. This also plays out for Black and Latina trans women, who- for example – are described by J Michael Bailey as “especially suited to prostitution.”
Also, check the comments at Renee’s for a privileged white feminist trying to reenact exactly what Renee’s post is about.
Edit: Also read this followup post.
Gauge at Radical Masculinity has posted about Camp Trans 2008:
Considering that Camp Trans was in early August, this post is really late. Anyway, this past Camp was my third. Camp was really stressful for me this year, because I was pretty involved in getting things to happen, both before and during Camp. But it was still an amazing, wonderful, intense, and healing space for me.
A lot was accomplished at Camp this year. Walking the line of Festies, the vast majority of Michfest attendees are now either pro-inclusion or really don’t care. There were only a few anti-inclusion people that I talked to, and they weren’t angry or anything – they just politely said they didn’t want to talk about it, so we didn’t. That was the Monday, which is the start of that big event across the road from us (MWMF, of courses).
For thematic reasons, and because I missed it before, Drakyn at Monster’s Creed also posted a report:
As I said before, CT was awesome.
Michfest is no longer it’s main thing, though certainly its still important to CT. The “WBW”(such a BS phrase) policy is pretty much unenforced and it seems like the majority of festies either don’t care if trans* women are there or want trans* women there. In fact, some festies who left early left their wristbands with CT for trans* women to get in and another festy donated money for tickets for trans* women. I missed the days we walked the line, but I heard that reception was mixed which is pretty normal. Though there were some folks that didn’t talk to any negative people at all.
The mtf-spectrum folks who went to fest all had a good time, they even hosted a workshop on ENDA. One woman I talked to said that one festie she had spoken with in the line recognized her and came over and said hi and was very glad that she had made it into fest.
Also, I really like that the expectation that only cis women attend is continually breaking down. Per Gauge:
The exciting news that we found out later in the week was that a Festie had donated enough money on Monday, earmarked for the purpose of sending two trans women onto the land. Between that, another earmarked donation, and several trans women purchasing their own wristbands, quite a few trans women went on the land this year, enough to run a workshop on Sunday, the last day of Fest, on the land.
And per Drakyn:
Michfest is no longer it’s main thing, though certainly its still important to CT. The “WBW”(such a BS phrase) policy is pretty much unenforced and it seems like the majority of festies either don’t care if trans* women are there or want trans* women there. In fact, some festies who left early left their wristbands with CT for trans* women to get in and another festy donated money for tickets for trans* women.
Not only are Festies welcoming trans women, they’re actively supporting our going onto the Land in this way.
I can’t believe I forgot to link this when I read it. I’m going to blame a silly digression on Julia’s LJ for forgetting. Helen G has quoted a particularly relevant section in her post about the article about cissexism and sexism and how it affects trans women, which makes the above digression particularly ridiculous.
I don’t have any particular sections to quote from the article – please read the whole thing (or at least Helen G’s excerpt).
Back in Mid-March I posted an answer to one of Debi’s posts in which she asks why radfems are constantly criticized or attacked by other women – those she might see as allies. I responded, describing many of the tactics I’ve seen radfems used against other women – sex workers, sex positive, feminists who generally disagree with radfem positions on pornography (not always for it, but perhaps not enthusiastically for a heavy focus on stopping it vs. other topics), women of color, trans women, and women with disabilities.
I’m glad she is rethinking her stances regarding dealing with women who don’t agree with radfem views. I’m not at all taking credit for this – it’s about those who blogged in her defense against Dr. Crippen and on the topic of medical rape, something I missed due to not really paying attention to blogs in general.
My intent was not with the first post to call Debi out as transphobic, but to call out radfems in general on how many of them treat women outside the radfem circle. I am still unhappy that after she said she would have preferred if I’d come to her blog to discuss her post that she said “allowing a trans woman to comment is exactly like allowing a man to comment,” effectively shutting down those attempts to discuss her post.
So, I have reservations on the trans front. As a woman whose existence as a woman is constantly questioned and threatened by those who know my trans status, it’s hard to lose those reservations when I’m still not sure if my womanhood is seen as legitimate.
On the other hand, it is fair to acknowledge that Debi changed her mind on stuff I called her out on four months ago (even though my words did not change her mind). That she’s willing to talk to women (and acknowledge them as feminists) even when they disagree with her on matters such as sex work.