Archive for the ‘MWMF’ tag
So I was reading and having some conversations about exclusion of trans women from women-only spaces, and I ended up doing some research on how inclusive domestic violence and rape shelters really are. I didn’t find the overall numbers that I wanted, and a large number of shelters just don’t say whether they’re inclusive on their webpages, but I found this report written in 2002. It’s a fairly long read, with 196 pages, but I recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the topic.
The report itself is titled Re/Defining Gender and Sex: Educating for Trans, Transsexual, and Intersex Access and Inclusion to Sexual Assault Centres and Transition Houses by Caroline White, and includes such information as the fact that 45 of 62 surveyed shelters in the Vancouver BC area in 2000 were trans inclusive with no conditions. Of the remaining 17, several conditionally allowed trans women.
The Feministe link above links to Emi Koyama’s article on the unspoken racism in the trans inclusion debate, which makes the point that the idea that all women share similar experiences being born female and raised as girls erases the different experiences that women of color have while growing up and living in a white supremacist society. For example, how beauty standards are defined in relation to white women and how that impacts women of color. It centers the “common experience” of being born female, raised a girl, and lived her entire life a woman” on the experiences of white, middle-class women.
The report I linked above also discusses the unspoken racism in the trans inclusion debate, with a bit more force:
“…one of the biggest implications that we have seen… is women’s reluctance to include trans women in [women-only] spaces and racism, and white supremacy; the connection between those things… There was this time when I was at this conferance and… there was a trans woman in the room for awhile and finally she had to leave and somebody said “I just want to say I feel unsafe because there’s a penis in the room, and I just want to know how in a women’s only space, how we’re supposed to talk about that, blah, blah, blah…..” And so it made an opportunity to talk with this woman, which I was able to say just a little in that group, and then also meet with her and talk with her more at length about the problems of locating sexual violence in an organ such as a penis, and talking about white skin as an organ that represents lynching and systematic oppression of people of color and all kinds of violences; I mean if we’re going to be locating violence and oppression in an organ, none of the white women in that space seemed to have any problem with their white skin showing in that space, and the trans person that was there, it was really speculation on this person’s part that there was a penis in the room.
It was just absurd… the way that she was bringing that question to the group and what she was able to bring, the power behind it was that she was a survivor of sexual abuse. And so being able to really look at this piece of – white women in particular’s – just incredible resistance to including trans folks and trans women in women-only spaces I think, really reflects an investment in the binaries between men and women, and that we maintain sexism as the primary oppression that can exist in the world so then white women remain not responsible for their participation in creating, and implementing, and designing, and sustaining, and benefiting from white supremacy and racism, and imperialism.
By centering the question of whether cis women’s safety and comfort is threatened by the presence of trans women (and thus the presumed presence of past or present penises), the questions of racism, classism and ableism are simply elided.
Emi Koyama points this out as well:
Even the argument that “the presence of a penis would trigger the women” is flawed because it neglects the fact that white skin is just as much a reminder of violence as a penis. The racist history of lesbian-feminism has taught us that any white woman making these excuses for one oppression have made and will make the same excuse for other oppressions such as racism, classism, and ableism.
But for some reason, when I re-read that yesterday, it didn’t resonate so strongly as it did when I read the longer passage above.
The report continues with some discussion of woman-to-woman abuse:
One of the big problems that I’ve got with trans exclusion is that the kinds of things that you need in order to keep a shelter safe when you let trans people in and the implications that has for the so-called problem of “men masquerading as trans people in order to gain access to shelters and whatever” – not that that has ever happened once and people raise that anyway – that…should be no less terrifying than the idea of a lesbian batterer gaining access to a shelter by masquerading as a survivor, it should be. And, in fact, what it tells us is that we still don’t take seriously the idea that women are powerful! No one has …as a movement, we’ve not internalized that we are powerful; if we believed that we were powerful andthat we learned the lessons that lesbians can batter each other, we would be afraid of the power of a lesbian batterer gaining access to our shelter or our other programs, and we would take serious steps…
Both quotes are taken from interviews with women who worked in shelters at the time.
The comments also address how the question of safety in this context obscures women’s agency and autonomy:
So [safety] can trump anything, and just looked at, what does that mean? What does it mean to say that’s the most important thing? And where has survivor’s safety eclipsed survivor agency, of autonomy? And why have we chosen – Barbara Hart puts out this elegant little model that all our work should be judged against the measurement of “does it promote safety and autonomy for survivors and accountability for perpetrators of domestic violence,” which we find to be a very helpful thing to look at. But one thing we’ve noticed is that in the movement, we’ve really prioritized safety over autonomy; that safety is just it, and actually being agents, being able to think critically about our choices and be responsible for how we’re moving in the world and do that in a way where we’re seen, and we’re actually making choices in our own best interest, and all those things, that that’s really not been prioritized.
Or as Xana at Feministing put it:
As Caroline White, the report’s author writes,
Space does not become “safe” simply by virtue of it being “women’s space.” “Trans” 101 education exposes the fiction of women’s space as safe space, as well as the associated costs of maintaining the fiction. In doing so, it challenges women’s organizations to, as Diana expressed, take seriously the power, autonomy, and agency of women, and to take seriously racism, heterosexism and other forms of oppression as violence. Practically, Connie suggests that instead of working for a safe space, maybe feminists should be asking, “‘what can we do to make this space workable for us who are here today,’ or a ‘safer space’ or ‘intentional space,’ or make a space ‘thoughtful about oppression and violence.’”
All of these quotes come from chapter 3, the Trans 101 subsection, starting on page 97. I highly recommend reading this chapter if no other part of the report.
And finally, part 2 kicks off with a deconstruction of Charlotte Croson’s assertions about BDSM and transgender political/personal beliefs. This part of the article includes Structure/Content sections for both BDSM and transgender categories, and continues to spackle the idea that both are bad politics over a shaky foundation built on bigotry and bad assumptions. Additional discussion of part one can be found here.
S/M – Structure
The S/M view of sexuality is structured along deeply traditional lines. First, in the view of S/M advocates, sexuality is simply a matter of individual desire and practice. Where desire springs from is never examined, exactly – it just is, and practice follows from that. In this construction there is no room to question whether sexuality and desire are constructed, or how they are constructed, and by and for whom. Sexuality and desire can remain innate qualities or attributes of the person engaging in them. As a result, despite claims that sexuality is being deconstructed, current practices of sexuality are largely seen as transhistorical, beyond construction and question. They simply “are” what sexuality is and efforts to change what is are resisted. What S/M advocates have done is move essentialism from the physical body to the self – to one’s (presumably unconstructed) sexual identity and the practice that springs from it.
Second, the S/M construction is deeply gendered, maintaining the binary top/down nature of both sexuality and gender. In S/M sex, there are still only two sexual roles, separate and distinct from each other (although one may theoretically switch back and forth). And these roles are limited to top and bottom, dominant and subordinate. It is the same patriarchal template: innate, binary and top down. Having used the same template, it is no surprise that S/M sexuality exactly reproduces the content and norms of both male-dominant sexuality and gender.
The bad assumptions here are:
- “Where desire springs from is never examined” – This is just wrong. Most of the people I know who practice BDSM do examine it, just as many of the gay, lesbian, and bisexual people examine their sexuality. When your desires are not the assumed norm, you question them and try to find a context for them. What Ms. Croson really means is that they didn’t come up with answers she liked – that they’re comfortable with their sexuality. Since this is politically wrong, or rather, shows they’re comfortable with “patriarchal sex,” it must be condemned. Apparently being a lesbian means having sexual freedom – but only if you adhere to the Party’s accepted doctrine, comrade.
- “…despite claims that sexuality is being deconstructed.” – This is just another assertion that everything personal must be political, that by engaging in sex practices, we must obviously be making a political statement. This objection has more to do with the accuser than the accused, and you won’t find many serious BDSMers who give serious thought to the idea that they’re doing it to deconstruct anything. It also assumes that there’s an imperative to deconstruct anything when you do anything.
- “What S/M advocates have done is move essentialism from the physical body to the self . . .” – “Essentialism” is apparently the radical feminist equivalent of Satanism, something that must be repudiated at all costs, after being imposed upon whatever target is convenient. I suppose this ties back to the idea that political lesbianism – that every woman can be a lesbian if she so chooses. If every woman can choose to love women instead of men, then of course every woman can choose to ignore their desire to engage in BDSM – and in fact, BDSM desires, like lesbianism, is just a wardrobe you can choose to wear or not, as you desire. Aside from the fact that political lesbianism is appropriation and colonization of lesbian culture, it’s also convenient rhetoric when you encounter kinks you want to stamp out.
- “. . . the S/M construction is deeply gendered, maintaining the binary top/down nature of both sexuality in gender . . . it is no surprise that S/M sexuality exactly reproduces . . . male-dominant sexuality and gender.” – The implication being that there’s something essentially male about dominance and essentially female about submission in sexuality, and that taking on these roles – even if both participants are women – is just the same as men and women having vanilla sex. This is a rhetorical bait and switch, a false analogy. It denies the existence of female dommes and male subs and resorts to that hated essentialism in order to demonize the alleged essentialism of BDSM practices.
After building this castle on the sand, she proceeds to fill it with more detailed assumptions, or the “content” portion of this attempt to deconstruct BDSM. She begins by reiterating the false analogy that because vanilla heterosexual sex assumes that the male is dominant and the female is passive, that the male acts and the female is acted upon, that the male fucks and the female is fucked. That power imbalance in sex is patriarchal, and that through this patriarchal sexuality, women are subordinated to men. So what she is saying is that when a leatherdyke binds her femme sub, that she is reinforcing the idea that women are subservient to men. She goes on to say that S/M embraces this dynamic, rather than transgressing it. She says that according to pro-BDSM views that allowing female dominance makes it transgressive – which again falls into the fallacy that everything you do must be interpreted in terms of how much you think it transgresses heteronormativity as well as how much you think it really transgresses heteronormativity.
There’s something really wrong with her analysis, but I want to quote this paragraph that lays it out exactly:
The roles in S/M, top and bottom, exactly track the content of patriarchal sexuality: there is a sexual subject who acts on a sexual object. To borrow from Catharine MacKinnon: “Man fucks woman. Subject verb object,”(3) becomes “Top fucks bottom. Subject verb object.” There simply is no difference in content between patriarchal roles and S/M roles, or between S/M sexuality and patriarchal sexuality. What is sexy about S/M is the supposed complementary/oppositional roles and the eroticization of dominance and subordination. If force is not used, it is acted out in “play” scenes. If there is no “natural” complementarity of male dominance and female submission, it is created through role-playing. Prison scenes, rape scenes, master-slave scenes, teacher-student scenes – in each of these the disparity of power is consciously, specifically, the erotic thrill of it. So too with the designation of “tops” and “bottoms,” butch and femme roles, as used in, appropriated by, S/M – where “natural” sex role dominance is not present, dominance is created. The purpose of the scenes and roles is exactly to replicate the top-bottom dominance sexuality, the erotic kick of power disparity, that is the sine qua non of patriarchal sexuality.
Her implication is that being a sub, being a slave, being a bottom, whatever you want to call it, is completely passive. That basically, all you do is lay there while your top whips you, drips hot candle wax on you, ties you up in restraints, and so on. The top gives and the bottom receives. That the dynamic goes exactly one way. That the top has power and the bottom does not. That the dynamic is identical to the stereotypical heterosexual missionary sex act where the man plunges in and the woman just lays there and takes it. Healthy BDSM relationships just don’t work that way. They have to be highly interactive, with communication and power going both ways. The top has the power to do whatever she wants within the bottom’s boundaries, and the bottom has the power to stop it at any time. Trust is the primary facet of a strong relationship between a top and a bottom, and Ms. Croson does not even acknowledge this. She can’t afford to, since she wants her readers to view BDSM as abusive heterosexual practices taken to an extreme. The top as an angry, controlling wifebeater, the bottom as a submissive victim who can’t even bring herself to leave her abuser.
This is echoed in the beliefs, when inclusion of BDSM practitioners at MWMF was being debated, and some women believed that allowing them on the land would give the subs a chance to escape these obviously abusive relationships. Some suggested setting up workshops to help them get away – of course, none wanted to get away because they love their kinks and have too strong a sense of themselves to allow others to talk them out of it.
After this, she moves to the castle in the swamp – transgender.
Transgender – Structure
The transgender movement’s view of gender is also structured along deeply traditional lines. First, in the view of transgender advocates, gender is simply a matter of individual identity. Where identity springs from is never examined, exactly–it just “is”–and, again, practice follows from identity. Gender remains an innate quality or attribute of the person expressing it. Given this, in transgender movement politics there is no room to question where gender and gender identity come from or whether and how they are constructed and by whom. As a result, the current practice of gender is seen as transhistorical, beyond construction and question. It simply “is” what gender is. What transgender advocates have done is move essentialism from the physical body to the self–to one’s (presumably unconstructed) gender identity.
Second, despite claims of multiple genders, “male” attributes remain male, even if practiced by a physically female body. As do “female” attributes, even if practiced by a physically male body. It is the same patriarchal template: innate, binary, essential and essential to identity. Having used the same template, it is no surprise that transgender exactly reproduces the content and norms of patriarchal gender.
She repeats the same arguments about transgender as she does about BDSM – which is expected, because she wants both equated as the same kinds of “wrong things” in feminist eyes. She again asserts that “where identity springs from is never examined.” What she really means is “Whenever trans people explain their identities, their sense of self, and why they transition, we ignore them and impose our narratives upon their lives. Those invented narratives never examine where identity springs from.” As I mention before, if you differ from the expected norm, you’re almost forced to examine it. I spent years when most kids think about G.I. Joe or Barbies trying to deconstruct what the hell “being a girl” meant vs. “being a boy.” I tried to see myself as a person with both a male and female spirit before I was eight years old. I tried to examine the possibilities that I was just a transvestite, or gay. I questioned constantly how I could know I was a girl when my body said I was a boy. I examined my identity, my sense of self, every way I could think of. I tried to suppress the idea entirely. I never really got to the bottom of it all, but I searched every nook, cranny, and crevice I could find that might give me some hint. I just don’t see how you can grow up with the sense of being one gender, your body being the other sex, and dealing with the messages society sends boys and girls while trying to sort them all out without some serious examinations of what’s going on.
Her argument seems to imply that trans people decide one day that we want to transition, that we’d be more comfortable as the other sex, or life would be easier because we can’t handle being gay – this isn’t much of a stretch, because other articles on Questioning Transgender explicitly lay this out. In her lack of understanding – and her lack of willingness to understand – transgender lives, Ms. Croson imposes patriarchy upon who and what we are.
Her second paragraph borders on nonsense – she wants to get her essentialism jab in, mainly. She seems to be claiming that transgender asserts that female actions are female, even when practiced by someone with a male body, and vice versa. Again, speaking from my own experience, I don’t really view actions as masculine or feminine, but society does – society tells us that wearing makeup and dresses is feminine, and being aggressive and playing sports is masculine. Not trans people. Trans people simply have to live in this world where society already has existing definitions of masculinity and femininity. We’re not reinforcing gender roles by transitioning. We’re trying to live our lives by transitioning. Trans women do not adopt exclusively feminine gendered traits when transitioning, and trans men do not adopt exclusively masculine gendered traits. This would be easy to establish if Ms. Croson tried to learn anything at all about transgender people, rather than impose her own restrictive worldview on us.
Moving on to content, she again makes the claim that the “transgender movement” is to support and practice what it deems to be “transgressive” genders based on one’s personal gender identification. I can’t speak for everyone, but whenever someone says near me “is it a man or a woman?” I don’t think “wow, I really transgressed his gender world and turned it upside down.” I look for easy exits and potential witnesses in case he decides I have to die to prove he’s straight. This is because – as I mentioned in the part 1 – whether or not I want to be transgressive is beside the point. Transitioning from male to female or female to male is transgressive, and society’s constructed in such a way as to punish these transgressions. Transitioning as a political goal to “transgress” or “freak the mundanes” is a really poor reason. Criticizing it because we don’t transgress is like criticizing lesbians because they don’t look for enough boyfriends – it’s not even relevant to what we’re doing. The same applies to telling us that we should want to transgress – that instead of becoming women, we should live as feminine males. This assumes that we don’t engage in any self-examination and maybe never considered that we could try that and found it completely lacking.
The content section attacks transsexualism and transitioning for not violating gender norms, for being satisfied with moving from male to female and female to male. It’s rather thoroughly mired in the feminist theory about how gender is constructed is completely 100% accurate and cannot be contradicted. In this, it’s more like a belief than a theory. There’s no need to offer proofs or examine data, it’s just asserted to be the truth and we’re supposed to accept it as dogma. It’s a way that feminism has deconstructed sexism, but it’s never succeeded in truly deconstructing transgender. When faced with people who fail to fit the “theory,” many adherents choose to attack those people as aberrations rather than acknowledge that real and lived experiences should take primacy over theory of what those experiences should be.
Further, gender hierarchy remains intact. Transgender politics does nothing to disrupt the positions of women and men in the gender hierarchy. The transgender ideology of gender identity helps to maintain the lines of male power by accepting prescriptive gender definitions of what it is to be a man (or a woman) and then acting on those definitions. Accordingly, those males not manly enough to be men simply become and are made into women, either in body or in identity or both. All those who have fallen from patriarchal grace simply “are” women because it is precisely this fall from “real manhood” that marks them as women– as lesser than men. Transgender movement ideology simply participates in making “not men” real in the world as women. This, obviously, does nothing to change what it means to be a woman under conditions of male dominance–not a man and also lesser than a man. Further, transgender politics makes “staying a woman” always a choice. Thus, in many ways it renders women’s choices to oppose gender hierarchy as women and on behalf of women incomprehensible.
I picked this paragraph out because she resorts to a couple of favorite offensive generalizations about trans women: “those males not manly enough to be men are simply become and are made into women,” and “Transgender movement ideology simply participates in making ‘not men’ real in the world as women.”
The problem with the first assertion is the idea that there’s social pressure on feminine men to become women. This is entirely opposite from the truth, of course. Social pressure is on feminine men to become more manly, and those who do not go along are punished harshly. This also implies that the main population from which trans women come is feminine men. This is not true – men, no matter how feminine, know they are men. Go find the most flaming gay man you can find, and ask him if he’d consider becoming a woman – odds are he’ll say “hell no.” Finally, this erases the fact that trans women usually grow up with a certain experience – the persistent sense that the body is the wrong sex, that one is a girl and not a boy. It just pretends that trans women are just like feminine men, and are thus “failed men” who couldn’t hack it as men. This is actually contrary to a lot of late transitioners who have families and careers, who are succeeding rather well (outwardly, at least) at being men, when they’re simply coping or being forced to cope rather than transition earlier.
The second assertion is frustrating because it goes back to the idea that trans women are “not men” and all “not men” are categorized as “women.” This is really a categorization of trans women as “not women,” or a statement that our gender is invalid because we were born with male bodies. It erases our experiences as women – not appearing to society or viewing ourselves as not-men, but appearing to society and viewing ourselves as women. We get the same sexism any other woman gets. We’re not in some limbo state where we’re gendered “female” by default. When someone does perceive that we’re trans, we’re not shuffled into the category of “woman,” but into the category of “freak,” “pervert,” we’re thirdgendered as other, we’re not seen as valid women. I would call Ms. Croson’s analysis here thoroughly wrong. She views the experience of being transsexual through the lens of cissexual privilege, which allows her to make any assumptions she wishes about our motivations, our history, our truthfulness, our narratives, and not give any weight to what we say or do.
However, while men can always become “not men” women cannot ever leave behind our status as women and become “real” men. One can not help but think of Brandon Teena–for women, the inter-gender terrorism never stops, regardless of what identity one claims or feels. This is a central issue transgender politics often misses. FTMs remain women and, as such, targets of male violence. One could say Brandon was murdered because she transgressed gender boundaries. And it would be accurate. But it is also at least as accurate to say that what Brandon didn’t have was access to male power. She was, as a woman, presumptively a target of gender violence, with or without any transgender identity she may have had. It was no accident or fortuitous occurrence or mistake that Brandon was raped before she was murdered. But it is this gendered violence the transgender movement elides by casting Brandon solely in a transgendered identity and the violence against her as being against “him” and simply motivated by hatred of “his” transgender identity. Clearly, Brandon was attacked as an act of preserving male power: she was a woman who acted “like” a man. To the extent that that was a transgender identity (and we just don’t know that it was for Brandon) she was murdered because she was transgender. But one can’t elide the fact that Brandon was, in fact, in the world, ultimately gendered woman–a target for male violence, tellingly, the gendered crime of rape.
This one comes with some pretty heavy assumptions as well: That trans men suffer more from male violence than trans women, and that the violence he suffered was because he was a woman who didn’t know his place as a woman. First, Ms. Croson deliberately uses feminine pronouns because she knows just how deeply offensive it is to do this to trans people – it’s like calling a cis woman a “cunt,” a “whore,” or a “slut.” A way to demean the target utterly. She also assumes that Brandon was attacked because he was discovered to be a woman, but not because he was trans. This is typical for radical feminists, who deny and ignore intersectionality – that Brandon was raped and murdered because he was a female-bodied person who presented as and was accepted as a man before the “truth” was discovered. In other words, what happened to him is not unlike what happened to Gwen Araujo,. Ms. Croson would never acknowledge that, however, because Gwen was a trans woman (and thus born male, and thus not subject to male violence), and because it would require her to acknowledge that trans men and trans women both suffer violent, vicious, bloody hate crimes for being trans men and trans women.
Her clear implication in the above paragraph is that trans men suffer far more male violence than trans women, but looking at Remembering Our Dead, it’s pretty clear that a large number of trans women are murdered every year. The fact is that being trans all too often means getting murdered by someone who objects to who we are. It’s also fine to portray trans women especially as deserving victims of violence, as shown in the the NCIS episode, “Dead Man Talking.” In this episode, one of the characters unknowingly goes on a date with a trans woman to get some information. While she’s in the restroom, the guy gets a call telling him that she’s trans. When she returns, he draws his gun – not before he finds out she’s trans, but after. She is shot and killed by his superior. The outcome? Said character is teased for kissing a man. Jimmy Kimmel casually jokes about murdering a trans woman with an axe after discovering she’s trans and doesn’t even get a slap on the wrist from his producer or the network. Since Ms. Croson must present men as the oppressors and women as the oppressed, trans men must be presented as the only real victims of male violence.
Of course, this is all evidence that society doesn’t like it when we change sex, which is true. She denies that the violence has anything to do with being trans, which is completely false – if Brandon Teena had been Teena Brandon all along, and didn’t date any girls, odds are he wouldn’t have been raped and murdered for his transgression.
Now we get some more gender essentialism from Charlotte:
The attacks by parts of the transgender movement on women-only spaces like Festival exhibit the transgender movement’s unstated assumption of the intractability of male power and female powerlessness. Camp Trans attacks Festival because Festival is women-only space. Because women have less power than men. Because it’s easy and safe to attack women. It’s an interesting sort of “horizontal” hostility – with women, once again, on the receiving end but with transgendered politics supplying the rationale. By their efforts to be admitted to womyn-only spaces, they implicitly recognize both their own powerlessness and the power of men to make them so. They are assuming that their lack of male gender conformity “makes” them women in some immutable and intractable way, and thus powerless in the face of male power. What does it mean when a group of people perfectly positioned, in whose interest it undoubtedly is, to attack and deconstruct what it means to be a man in patriarchy, accept their status as “not-men” as a gender identity and call that identity “woman?”
The transgender movement’s push to deconstruct woman and appropriate the identity woman says something about male power. It says male power and the class men is too powerful, and perhaps too important, to deconstruct. Deconstructing men and masculinity is mostly left to gay men–who aren’t, for the most part, interested in deconstructing it, either. Instead they seem mostly interested in getting and keeping male power for themselves. And they’re willing to sacrifice “femme men” and women to male power to get it for themselves. So, while the class of men may be expanded to include butch gay men, it’s not deconstructed so long as the price of admission is being a “real man”–i.e., always on top.
She interprets the fact that trans women would like to be included in women-only spaces as “the unstated assumption of the intractability of male power and female powerlessness,” or rather, “that women aren’t allowed to say no to men.” It couldn’t possibly be that we legitimately see ourselves as women, that our gender as women is valid, and that we identify with women – it must be that we wish to violate space set aside for women because that’s what men do. She makes it clear we can’t have a valid gender as women. She mischaracterizes Camp Trans as attacking women-only space, rather than challenging the discrimination the policy enshrines. She then refers to this as “horizontal hostility” with women on the receiving end, never mind that while you can find reams of articles and piles of books written by cis women about how trans women are evil and horrible men who are out to destroy womanhood, you won’t find many writings by trans women attacking cis women as a monolithic group. There is no trans version of Janice Raymond writing “The Cissexual Empire.” These “feminists” are constantly on the offensive toward trans women – referring to us as “men,” claiming that hormone therapy and surgery “rapes women’s bodies,” calling the hormones and surgery “mutilation,” accusing us of being patriarchal agents provocateur out to destroy feminism from within. Deriding us for benefiting form male privilege, calling us “Frankenstein’s monster.” There is so much anti-trans woman hate speech enshrined in feminist writings it alternately depresses and angers me to think about it, but we’re the ones engaging in horizontal hostility toward them?
She goes on to say that we’re perfectly positioned to deconstruct and appropriate the “identity woman” and that this is an expression of male power – in other words, she’s making the assertion that the fact that we seek to become women proves that we’re really men, and that by transitioning, we’re saying that the “class men” is too important to deconstruct. Notice how she also conveniently forgets about trans men now that she no longer has to prop Brandon Teena’s death as evidence of male oppression against women. It’s all about how the trans women are oppressing the powerless women of MWMF.
The other thing prevalent in these paragraphs is how no one’s putting enough effort into deconstructing gender. Although, she really does put most of the onus for deconstructing gender onto trans women, none at all onto trans men, and complains a bit about how gay men don’t bother either. She’s continuing to assert that deconstructing gender is more important than living one’s life. Personally, that’s not a sacrifice I think is worth making for her revolution. I don’t want to live a joyless life with suicidal end as the inevitable end just to satisfy someone else’s political mandates. Why must my life bend to her politics? Why can’t her politics acknowledge that people like me exist? Hate.
She goes on to talk about the powerlessness of women as a class, and how deconstructing “woman” is no help to how helpless women are. Remember when she complained that the responses to her arguments are that she denies women agency? Well, here she is, denying women any agency. Powerless? Women aren’t powerless. Women can have white privilege, cissexual privilege, able-bodied privilege, economic privilege, heterosexual privilege, and so on. When white middle-class women assert that women are powerless as a class, they’re asserting all of these privileges at once to ignore that these privileges even exist.
Her final paragraph opens with “In transgender politics, the purpose of transgender identity is to allow people to live out their ‘true’ gender identity. But the idea and practice of transgender identity participates in keeping the lines of masculinity and male power clear.” First, she’s refuting the “Against politics, not people” lie that Questioning Transgender Politics operates under by immediately conflating the imaginary politics with the very real issue that trans people transition as a survival move. She then goes on to say that trans people are thus limited in political action to our transition and nothing else. We can’t fight or deconstruct sexism because according to her, our very existence legitimizes sexism. Never mind that if trans people are accepted as having valid gender identities, that does call the whole structure into question. If a person seen as a woman today can be seen as a man next year, be treated as a man, and receive a man’s privileges and opportunities, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean the man became a different person in that year, it means he changed how the world sees him. It clearly shows just how artificial sexism really is.
She says that “male power doesn’t care about who the women are; just who the real men are” and that those who do not qualify as real men get to become women, thus negating the need to examine what defines men. This just goes back to the idea that trans women are “failed men” rather than something else – a category that Charlotte Croson has no room for, nor does she want to make room for us. Her transmisogyny just plain rejects the idea that anyone born with a male body could really truly honestly become a woman, actually be a woman. That there’s anything about us that demands womanhood. She wants to reduce our lives to how we relate to manhood, not how we relate to womanhood. This refusal to accept the reality of our lived experiences is only superficially tied into the idea that we should deconstruct manhood, that we are simply men becoming not-men (and thus defaulting to womanhood), that we’re trying to transgress gender and failing, is simply a need to justify why “those icky trannies can’t join our party.”
She goes on to again erase the idea that trans people suffer violence for being transgendered. I’m sure that’s a comfort to Gwen, whose murderer screamed “I’m not gay!” as he bludgeoned her to death. She also reasserts that trans men cannot ever cross the line and be treated as men in the same way as trans women cross the line and are treated as women. Given that she bases this entirely on Brandon Teena’s murder, and doesn’t actually refer to any other trans men, who assimilate as men, and are treated as men, her conclusion is kind of suspect. Similarly, she doesn’t acknowledge the sheer amount of misogynistic vitriol directed at trans women from every part of society – how our lives are disposable, how we’re steroetyped as everything from evil seductive deceivers to murderers to junkie prostitutes to pathetic men who could never be taken as a real woman. She ignores how thoroughly trans women are objectified in the media and how we’re often reduced to nothing more than the shape of our genitals. She’s erasing the real oppression trans men and women experience, as well as the acceptance we do receive when we’re treated as men and women.
She finally reaches her conclusion. She criticizes Camp Trans (finally remembering again that she was writing this about how awful Camp Trans is for criticizing MWMF, not how all trannie women in the entire world hate cis women) for not getting their idea of gender from feminism, as if the only valid source of gender discussion is feminism. To be honest, I would say that some feminists have taken an imperialistic approach to gender – they treat gender and discussion of what gender means as their property, something they are unquestionably correct about. Any challenge to their dogma is relentlessly attacked as patriarchal. They’re unwilling to listen to those who experience gender in a way that no one else does, because our understanding of gender is threatening to their beliefs about it. I would go so far as to say that they’re appropriating and colonizing transgender experiences by recasting them in the ways that Charlotte portrays them in her article.
She goes on to say:
In a culture that is still male-dominant, patriarchal, and white, the idea of women determining women is radical. And I’m using the term women to mean women who were born as women and raised as girls. I focus more on the “raised as girls” part because to me that feels like one of the most profound experiences of how I got to be a woman…. People don’t have gender dysphoria because they feel like they’re the other gender. All women, I think, go through gender dysphoria…. They can tell you the moment they realized that having to put on a bra changed their lives dramatically. And in my culture that meant wearing a girdle at age eleven, so that my butt wouldn’t shake and my tits wouldn’t move, so that men wouldn’t look at me. It was my responsibility to make sure that grown men didn’t look at me at age eleven! That is a particular experience of being a woman in Mississippi culture, and I feel that kind of experience needs to be interrogated, and it does get interrogated at Michigan. Because it isn’t recognized that there is that complexity of the gender of being a woman.
First, she establishes that she wants to be able to tell trans women that we’re not women, by implying that all cis women are united in this. It is probably the most substantial argument that she offers against the idea that trans women can be women. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that unilateral. When I’m in public, I’m seen as a woman, as are most trans women. We just are. Heck, we’re often seen as cis women. If we live 24 hours a day as women, we’re seen as women, and we see ourselves as women, a social consensus builds up that we are women. It’s unavoidable. Of course, we are sometimes read as trans. Reading Ms. Croson, it seems she would think that we’d immediately be accepted as men and extended male privilege. What actually happens is – contempt, condescension, invasive questions, slurs, and even violence. Being accepted as women is a matter of life or death for trans women once we’ve transitioned. In saying that she wants to vote all trans women out of “class woman,” she’s basically wishing that we’d just die. Maybe not so substantial after all.
She then talks about being raised as girls because this is the linchpin of the “you can’t be real women” argument from MWMF, and presents a smokescreen over the idea that there’s anything bigoted or discriminatory about the policy. This erases the idea that different women have different upbringings based on race, class, disability, and so on, and doesn’t even begin to examine the kind of childhoods that trans people have. If the cis women at MWMF were willing to discuss these things with trans women, we could probably find common ground, even if not identical childhoods. This is really just an excuse to essentialize womanhood.
She also makes the claim that “people don’t have gender dysphoria because they feel like they’re the other gender.” I assume she’s missing a word and is trying to say that’s not the only reason people ahve gender dysphoria. If she said what she literally means, then she’s wrong – people do have gender dysphoria, or however you want to define it, because they feel like they’re the other gender. There’s probably more than a million trans people in America alone, and we go to the doctors, they don’t diagnose us and convince us this is what we need. She then tries to conflate dissatisfaction with how girls are treated with gender dysphoria – again, she’s trying to appropriate transgender for herself and redefine it. There’s a difference between being unhappy with how you’re treated because of your gender, and being unhappy because your gender does not match your sex. I’ve experienced both, and they’re not even remotely the same.
As for her example about her upbringing, I would not deny that this needs interrogating and unpacking. I remember when my parents first told me (at 18) that I was required to start wearing a bra, and I didn’t care for it much myself…oh, wait, I wasn’t supposed to have that experience, because you only get it if you were born female. But seriously, while I agree with her that it’s good to talk about that stuff, I don’t believe for a second that the entire festival is given over to that. It’s large enough to absorb a few hundred trans women, and that kind of discussion won’t go away.
When gender is reduced to personal identity, gender as hierarchy recedes into the background. The reality and complexity of what it means to be in the class woman in the gender hierarchy we live in is lost.
This is just an assertion. First, she assumes that because gender identity is something trans people have to live with, that this reduces gender to personal identity. I’m not sure how she reaches this conclusion if it isn’t by magic, because there’s really nothing to support it. If trans people really did reduce gender to “identity,” and erased the reality and complexity of it, we wouldn’t ever need to transition, because we could just assert ourselves as men and women, and that would be it. It’s not that simply, and she erases the reality and complexity of trans people’s lives by making such an assertion.
For the S/M movement, choosing gender and alliance with the transgender movement has given S/M something that it didn’t publicly have or acknowledge previously. It allows gender and the role it plays in S/M to come out of the closet. Now, gender is a sex toy. Gender is revealed as a constitutive part of the erotic dynamic of S/M. Dominance is eroticized, yes, but gender dominance specifically is eroticized. So the assertions that gender somehow is not involved, or is transcended, in S/M is revealed as a lie. Pat Califia, a founder of the lesbian S/M movement, now identifies as transgendered and is transitioning to become male. It is telling that in describing her motivations for seeking a sex-change, Califia states: “I want people to call me sir who are not my property.”(8) Ironically, Riki Wilchins also acknowledges the link between gender and sexuality when she describes “an erotic economy based on difference that actually requires a gender regime in the first place….”(9) This from someone who isn’t unhappy with the gendered alternatives. One must assume that Wilchins means the sexual alternatives, as well. One wonders how much more explicit the link between gender hierarchy and the eroticization of dominance and subordination needs to get before the lie that S/M is feminist is finally exposed.
Her first couple sentences are odd – it almost sounds like she believes that the transgender movement gave BDSM practitioners the ability to acknowledge gender and gender roles. Almost like she’s saying that the transgender movement contaminated BDSM with more freedom of gender expression or something. I imagine that BDSM has played games with gender expression for a bit longer than Camp Trans has been around, though. I mean, forced feminization is one of the stereotypes. I don’t think they needed validation for that.
I also like how she implies that Patrick Califia transitioned because he was into BDSM, and not because he had, you know, a legitimately male gender. She also asserts that since gender dominance is eroticized in BDSM, that it doesn’t really transcend gender. Of course, this is a null argument because I doubt BDSM practitioners actually claim this. Also, I think that it’d be pretty easy to create a laundry list of things that are eroticized in BDSM in addition to gender dominance, and that these only really show what people get off on, not what power structures they’re supporting.
The comment about Riki Wilchins acknowledging the link between gender and sexuality doesn’t make sense. Sex, itself, is largely defined by humans in terms of the genders of the participants. This is a huge part of society. To deny that gender and sex have any relationship is to deny the existence of sexual orientation and, again, a laundry list of kinks.
In both the S/M and transgender movements gender and sexuality are viewed solely as matters of personal choice, predilection and identity. The highest value is that one be allowed to practice them without restriction as to time, place or political analysis. Both the S/M and transgender movements are firmly rooted in liberal ideals of individualism, personal identity, and personal choice antithetical to class analysis and critiques of gendered power. By adopting this ideology of personal choice as the highest freedom, both the S/M and transgender movements obscure the feminist critique of gendered power relations–gendered power relations which are constitutive of their practices and ideologies. These movements analytically locate sexuality and gender outside of male power, outside of the gender hierarchy where women live, and refuse to acknowledge how deeply implicated they are in the creation and maintenance of that very hierarchy. Male power and its construction of both sexuality and gender as tools of women’s oppression has disappeared from critique and analysis. These movements simply fail to transgress sexuality and gender as they are currently constructed. Not only do they fail to transgress gender, their stated goal, they reinforce sexual and gender hierarchy at every turn. Thus, in a feminist analysis, the goals of these movements are antithetical to feminist goals and the transgender and S/M movements and ideologies are in opposition to feminism.
I like how she starts off by claiming that “gender and sexuality are viewed solely as matters of personal choice,” while still acknowledging predilection and identity. She both implies that this is something we can and do actively choose to be, and implies that our identities aren’t valid – but since this entire article is about asserting these things, it’s not surprising.
She goes on to say that trans and BDSM “movements” are rooted in liberal ideas that are antithetical to class analysis and critiques of gendered power. She’s never really given a good reason as to how being trans or into BDSM makes one incapable of these analyses and critiques, just a raft of assumptions about what being trans or into BDSM means, and how those assumptions mean these things. She wants to firmly establish that transgender and BDSM are both about male power, and about female subordination, and how we fail to transgress sexuality and gender, and how this unwillingness to suppress who we are – something Charlotte Croson most certainly does not ask of herself – makes us patriarchal enemies to feminism.
This entire article is focused primarily on establishing trans people and people who practice BDSM as enemies, as hostiles that must be kept away at all costs. She doesn’t want dialogue or equality, she wants it clear that we’re inferior to the ideologically pure feminist cis women and shouldn’t be allowed nearby. Just as with other bigoted writings, she feels free to make any assertions she sees fit, twist the truth wherever needed, and outright lie as the situation demands. This is because the goal – expunging trans women and women who practice BDSM from MWMF and feminism in general – is far more important than the truth about trans women and women who practice MWMF. Where our lives, our experiences, our truths are inconvenient, they must be aggressively erased, replaced, and attacked. Her ideology simply cannot withstand honest and open contact with the enemy.
I will admit that the arguments made in this article are more sophisticated than those in the other articles I’ve critiqued. She did try to phrase things in ways that are less dismissable, even while making the same points that Karla Mantilla made. Unfortunately, her arguments really are the same, just dressed more attractively. Her attempt to conflate BDSM with trans people was interesting too, as it allows her to present not just the hostile trannies, but their allies on the inside, the hostile leatherdykes. Now, I don’t actually know if Camp Trans and the BDSM attendees have any alliance, although I wouldn’t be surprised. Both are aggressively demonized, and the only difference is that they actually let the BDSM women inside.
Also, given the choice between politics that mandate that some people be crushed under ideological needs and the freedom to live my life as I see fit, I will take the latter every day. Whatever Charlotte Croson’s so-called “feminism” is, it’s not feminism. It’s not about equality. It’s about hate and bigotry. You can’t tear down the master’s house with the master’s tools, Charlotte. Try not to sound so McCarthyesque when talking about trans or BDSM in the future? Try some basic human respect next time.
Going back to the “Questioning Transgender Politics” well, I find Sex, Lies, and Feminism. This particular article is useful, because it shows one of the transmisogynistic “WBW policy” supporters comparing the inclusion of BDSM practitioners with the exclusion of trans women, allowing for some contrasting oppression . . . which turns out to be exactly the same.
First, I want to say that I’m not a supporter of MichFest, and I wish that anyone who is a trans woman or who considers herself an ally to trans women would stop going. I know that there was a boycott, and that it ended in 2005, but I am uncomfortable with the idea of allies who willingly give money to someone who makes it clear she does not see trans women as “real women.” I also feel that the policy sets an example that legitimizes the creation of DV and rape shelters, lesbian spaces, and other women’s spaces as “WBW-only,” or as I shall refer to it, “stop contaminating our womanly purity with your presence, you dirty trannie” policies, or “trans-exclusive” for short. The idea that all the women at MWMF bond primarily over having been raised as girls is suspicious, simply because that is the most convenient way to define trans women out of the festival. From talking to women who have attended the festival, they talk more generally of just being around women and not having to deal with the stuff women have to deal with every day, and that’s not dependent on growing up female.
Charlotte Croson starts with an argument depressingly familiar to those of us who have been watching the ENDA debacle:
The debate about sado-masochistic practice (S/M) at Festival has been a recurring issue. It has a new urgency in light of right wing attacks on Festival over the past year. These attacks are ostensibly aimed at sexual practices “harmful to children.” S/M sex has been – and is – displayed as exhibit number one. In truth the attacks are aimed at all women: the tactic being to make all lesbian sexuality no different from S/M, drawing no distinction between S/M and lesbian sex in any non-hierarchical form. For the Festival community, the attacks have again brought into sharp focus fundamental questions about women’s political and social community: who defines the interests of our community? Is it in our interests as women who love women to embrace, or at least leave unchallenged, S/M and Camp Trans/transgender politics? Independent of those attacks, what should we make of S/M and transgender politics(1): are they otherwise compatible with our community’s interests?
She talks about right wing attacks on the festival, and how they’re focusing on BDSM to represent lesbian sexuality. She then questions whether BDSM practice should be part of the community, whether they should be thrown under the bus because they serve as a weak point for the right wing to attack. She is discussing the supposed necessity of capitulating to hostile politics to increase lesbian acceptance. Or, as Alix Dobkin said in The Emperor’s New Gender, “isn’t being/creating our own individual version of a woman what lesbians have always been about?”
Okay, I couldn’t help myself. But seriously, should the lesbian community exclude those who make the easiest targets? Or should the lesbian community close ranks and protect all all lesbians? Believe me, I know which lesbian community I’d prefer to be in. However, this paragraph sets the tone for her essay: Lesbians are under siege!
Given that the women who engage in BDSM have been subjected to similar (but lesser) discrimination that trans women have, you’d think that maybe she’d talk about how trans women also give the lesbian community a bad name, somehow. This could not be further from the truth: She conflates Camp Trans with the right wing.
Defining our own interests is of paramount political importance for us, both as lesbians and as women. It is equally important that our community have safe space in which to engage in that process of definition. As if the right wing attacks weren’t enough of a challenge to that safe space, there is also Camp Trans – literally right across the road. From there Camp Trans activists, like the right wing activists, have attempted to define our interests as women as a function of how they define themselves. Perhaps more egregiously, Camp Trans also defines us as women in reference to how they define themselves as transgendered. In both cases, Festival space – safe space for women – has been disrupted by these external pressures.
I’m not sure what she means by “Camp Trans also defines us as women in reference to how they define themselves as transgendered,” but I have to assume this is based in the usual “What I believe about trans people is 1000% more valid than what they say about themselves” rhetoric that comes from radical feminists and “political lesbians.” Her linking of Camp Trans to the right wing is deliberate – she wants her readers to think of homophobes, misogynists, fundamentalist christians and their ilk when they think of trans women. She wants trans women defined as the outsider, the enemy, not someone who can (and does) share common cause with women and feminism, and many of whom are lesbians ourselves.
Her next paragraph makes it clear that she does not consider Camp Trans and the BDSM movement as having any stake in women’s interests, or rather that trying to define ourselves (in terms of our identity or our kinks) as being a part of women’s interests is unacceptable. She defines sexuality and gender identity as tools of male dominance, which then allows her to say that trans women and the lesbians who practice BDSM have a stake in male dominance. This is pretty convenient, as it allows her to shortcut any real analysis or need to understand either group.
Her next paragraph is ironically titled “Myth and Tactics.” This is appropriate, since it’s filled with myth about trans women and BDSM. She complains that there’s opposition to discussing these two groups in anything but positive terms. This is just a rephrase of the right wing’s political correctness argument, or “You won’t let me be mean to you!” This is ironic, because she’s trying to conflate trans women with the right wing, and using right wing tactics to do so – but then, bigoted language is never imaginative. It always takes the same forms. She earnestly writes that the only reason anyone might criticize negative views of trans women and BDSM is to silence any opposition. I mean, it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with objecting to lies about who we are and what we do, right? We’re just being too mean to them for not allowing them to openly speak their hatred and disgust. Of course, this assumes we actually have the power to do so. Spend one hour reading the MWMF forum and you will see just how little cis women are silenced when they express their anti-trans or anti-BDSM bigotry. Of course, one of those is easier to find than the other, but both have a history.
And that’s really the core of it – we object to them being mean to us, and that’s bad, and our objections are somehow mean to them – meaning that we don’t have the right to be angry about being misrepresented, demonized, slandered, and libeled. We don’t have the right to stand up and demand that we be treated with respect. Claiming our rights – our human rights – to be treated with respect is a “silencing” tactic.
She spends the rest of the paragraph establishing her version of the BDSM and Camp Trans positions on separatism, lesbian separatism, etc, criticising the form that the arguments allegedly take, and dismissing the validity of those arguments – for example, she claims that Camp Trans activists accuse trans-exclusive policy supporters of gender essentialism and gender fascism. In doing so, she brings them into her article without any context, and presents them as if they are self-evidently spurious. Having once pointed out gender essentialism on the MWMF forum, I am compelled to point out that it was in response to another poster claiming that she felt “male energy” coming from a supposed trans woman who had entered the Festival. Personally, I believe that if you’re going to insist that gender is a social construct, that you shouldn’t be using language like “male energy” to describe anything. Male energy itself implies that there’s something innate and essential about being male, and also that that there probably is “female energy” – something innate and essential about being female. Of course, arguments against trans women being women are rooted in essentialism, which is why transmisogynistic feminists spend so much time defending their interpretation – they know they’re on shaky ground when they both claim that gender is a social construct and that it is impossible for someone to be born in one sex but be comfortable and happy in the other. In other words, the cis ladies doth protest too much, methinks.
She goes on to discuss “Minorities and Rights.” She writes:
In the last several years self-identified “sex-positive” and “gender-queer” activists have formed an alliance. The alliance is not all that surprising, given the correspondence of gender ideology between the two. Each group claims to be a minority within women’s community that is discriminated against by the larger body of women/lesbians. S/M practitioners place themselves as a “sexual minority” within the presumptively “normal” lesbian sexuality of Festival. Transgender activists claim they are “gender” minorities within the presumptively “gender normal” women who attend Festival. Collectively they argue that they are deprived of the “right” to practice their sexuality and gender and that the reason they are not welcome at Festival is their transgressive views about sexuality and gender.
She doesn’t want to admit or fails to realize that there’s so many reasons for minorities to form coalitions, not the least of which is common experiences. For example, when two groups that overlap (yes, some trans people are into BDSM, some are lesbians, etc) and have a common problem, it is beneficial to ally to deal with that problem. In this case, both groups are relentlessly mischaracterized, dehumanized, and discriminated against by certain factions in Feminism – like the more extreme radical feminists who believe that all porn is rape and trans women rape women’s bodies by taking hormones. No, it couldn’t be that we have bigots like Charlotte Croson breathing down all our necks, it has to be because we share some kind of mythical gender ideology.
I also like how she implies that BSDM practitioners and trans women aren’t minorities, all the while arguing that it is right and natural to discriminate against and exclude us from the rest of women’s culture. A dictionary I checked has this to say:
Main Entry: mi·nor·i·ty
1 a: the period before attainment of majority b: the state of being a legal minor
2: the smaller in number of two groups constituting a whole; specifically : a group having less than the number of votes necessary for control
3 a: a part of a population differing from others in some characteristics and often subjected to differential treatment b: a member of a minority group
I do believe that trans women and BDSM practitioners are outnumbered by cis women and women who do not practice BDSM in the lesbian community. I also believe, based on this article that both qualify as “a part of a population differing from others . . . and often subjected to differential treatment.” For example, having a policy that specifically exists to target trans women, or campaigning to exclude BDSM practitioners. Defining trans women and BDSM practitioners out of minority status is a rhetorical convenience for someone who is in the majority – is privileged – in both respects. It allows her to set the terms of her distaste while simultaneously claiming that this dispute is on even ground, rather than her trying to wield oppressive power against two groups whom she despises.
She goes on to say that ”
The minority and rights-based rhetoric these movements employ is politically powerful. “The idea of sexual minorities has become a powerful one because ‘minorities’ can lay claim to ‘rights.’”
This reminds me of right wing rhetoric about how the homosexual agenda is about getting “special rights.” That is, a kind of rights that apparently the majority doesn’t get. The flaw in this argument is, of course, that the rights minorities seek are to put them on as close to equal footing with the majority as possible. ENDA, for example, doesn’t provide rights to GLBT people that straight people don’t get just because they’re straight – the right to not be fired over who you’re attracted to or your gender identity is something that’s automatic for heteronormative people (except when they present too far outside gender norms, like women not wearing makeup). So, the right to not be fired for not being heteronormative just extends that right to actually lose your job when you suck at it instead of because your boss doesn’t like who you prefer to fuck. Similarly, trans women aren’t seeking a special right in entering MWMF or other trans-exclusive spaces – we seek a right that cis women already receive automatically. As for BDSM, Trinity discusses whether BDSM is oppressed at Let Them Eat Pro-SM Feminist Safe Spaces.
She goes on to say that simply by virtue of being minorities, trans women and BDSM practitioners recast lesbian women who fit into neither group as fitting into patriarchal norms. In other words, her theory – as a feminist – is more important than our lived realities and experiences. And one thing I’ve learned from those feminists who hate us is that their theory must always trump the lives that appear to contradict it. She concludes that “rights rhetoric” is used to emotionally blackmail cis women into supporting these distasteful not-minority minorities, and that when they oppose us, they’re unfairly cast as oppressors.
This is one of the linchpins of bigoted feminism in general – the basic premise that women can never be the oppressor. That because women are oppressed by men, that it is impossible for women to oppress anyone else, that they don’t have the power. Earlier, she complains that pro-trans people and pro-BDSM people criticize Feminist arguments against both groups as “saying that women lack agency.” Of course, the idea that women can’t oppress is saying that – it’s saying that women are too weak to do anything. If you can’t oppress a group with less social capital than your own, what can you do? To be honest, the idea that these cis vanilla women are not oppressing BDSM practitioners or trans women is ludicrous, and smacks of newspeak. They’re trying to redefine the language – the meanings of the words used – to say that what they do is not oppression, while at the same time practicing oppression. They may as well place a sign reading “Freedom is Slavery” and “We have always been at war with Camp Transia” over the entrance gate to MWMF, given how thoroughly they practice this redefinition.
In her next paragraph, she claims that the implied gender and sexual normativity simply doesn’t exist in the lesbian community. Now, to be honest, this implication she’s drawing is based on her own prejudices and issues. She doesn’t realize that acknowledging that trans people and BDSM practitioners are distinct subgroups within the lesbian community does not force anyone to also assume that anyone who’s not trans is also not gender variant – I don’t believe most butch lesbians identify as gender variant so much as they enjoy taking on masculinity, but still see themselves as women. It does not assume that anyone who is not into BDSM is pure vanilla. There’s so many different ways for lesbians to have sex (this link includes NSFW Language) that it’s just plain ludicrous to believe that BDSM practitioners want to define a false dichotomy where you have them and you have lesbians who do it missionary style. But again, the truth here is inconvenient. In order to keep casting Camp Trans and BDSM as enemies, she has to keep piling specious claim upon specious claim, to show how our simple desire to be treated as equals means that we want to redefine and destroy lesbian culture.
She wants her readers to believe that granting that trans women and BDSM practitioners are a minority turns the rest of lesbian culture into one big homogenous block defined as oppressors. Now, I’m sympathetic. As a white person, in the past, I hated it when someone told me that I was racist or that all white people were racist. My conception of myself as a person was that I wasn’t prejudiced and I didn’t do these things. Of course, I was wrong, and I lost one of my best friends because I treated him like crap without really realizing it. I was practicing white supremacy around him, and it really hurt to admit that this was my doing. But the fact is, I had to come to terms with that, to own my own shit and realize that “Yes, I am carrying around internalized white privilege” and to question it and work on it. So I can understand not wanting to be labeled as an oppressor. Ms. Croson actually defines this label further: “. . . [BDSM practioners and trans people] create women solely as oppressors . . .” This is because it is not enough to say that we define women with an unwanted label, but that we erase everything else about these women and simply see them as oppressors. She uses this argument to justify the claim that we do not examine male dominance (although she believes both groups partake fully in male dominance) in relation to women, as well as the minority groups of women who are trans or into BDSM.
The problem with not allowing yourself to be defined as an oppressor is pretty simple: It excuses you from owning your shit. It’s like white people who claim to be “colorblind,” thus denying the reality of race relations and pretending they aren’t racist. It’s a luxury the privileged have – to ignore their own status as oppressors. The cis women who want trans-exclusive space have the luxury – with their cissexual privilege – of denying that there’s any oppression going on here, because it costs them absolutely nothing to do so. On the other hand, I can’t deny the oppression I experience, I can’t afford to. I can’t look at the MWMF trans-exclusive policy and how it’s echoed throughout lesbian and feminist culture, and say “Well, that has no effect on me” because it is aimed directly at me. I don’t have the luxury of believing cis women who not only say that they’re not transphobic, but deny transphobia even exists. Women who openly practice BDSM are in a similar position. They can be ostracized for their “patriarchal sex practices” and do not have the luxury of pretending that all of the lesbian community accepts them, or at least treats them fairly. Lesbians who don’t practice BDSM can believe that, because again it doesn’t cost them anything to deny their own agency and complicity in this oppression.
Next, Ms. Croson discusses “transgression.” One of the red herrings that comes up in discussions about trans people is that transphobic radical feminists will start attacking imaginary transgender political stances. One of those is the idea that trans people run around claiming to transgress gender, that we’re gender rebels out to smash the gender binary. They then criticize us for not actually doing this. It’s immaterial that we don’t run around claiming this, we’re judged for not doing so because, well, radical feminism would like to destroy the gender binary, and they see us as reinforcing it.
She talks about how it’s transgressive for women to choose our own sexuality, to choose sexual roles denied by patriarchal norms. And I do think that the willingness to accept yourself as anywhere on the queer spectrum is transgressive. Modern society hates gay men, hates lesbians, hates bisexuals, really truly for sure hates transgender and transsexual people. When someone who appears to be a man goes through all that effort to become a woman, society punishes us harshly – we lose friends, family, jobs. We sometimes get pushed to the point where we have to engage in survival sex work just to pay the bills and keep the hormones flowing. A trans person is more likely to be murdered than anyone else in America. This is because to society, we are transgressive. The fact that a trans man can grow a beard and be accepted as a man if his trans status isn’t known is just plain outside what many people are willing to accept as valid. But because most of us go from man to woman or woman to man, we’re accused of reinforcing the gender binary, of not transgressing the norms, etc. etc.
The other problem with this is that it conflates our desire to live our lives with political goals. Real lesbians do not declare themselves lesbian to transgress heteronormative society. Real lesbians declare themselves lesbians because we want to live our lives and not suppress who we are. This does affect our politics, but our politics do not drive this. People who practice BDSM do not practice BDSM as a political statement. They do this because that is the kind of sex they enjoy. We do not choose these things to transgress, but society punishes us for doing so because they are transgressions.
The criticism that our personal actions are not political enough, or are the wrong kind of politics, is just a way to demonize our politics. To claim that we’re invested in patriarchy, that we enforce heteronormativity. I do admit, saying that we reinforce patriarchy and heteronormativity simply by virtue of being different from that normative state and claiming minority status is one I don’t see often. “You’re so different you make us look normal!” Yeah, thank you Charlotte for telling us we’re freaks because we’re not like you.
I will continue discussion of this article in a second post.