Archive for the ‘radical feminism’ tag
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:
In response to Stonewall’s decision to put Julie Bindel on the short list for “journalist of the year” to celebrate her transphobic reporting over the years, someone formed a Facebook protest group.
Julie Bindel has already joined to express her concern over this protest:
I joined the group to monitor the level of bullying and harassment aimed at me.
Another radical lesbian feminist, Kate Cook, dropped in to express her opinion of trans people protesting Julie’s placement on this short list:
Radical feminism is a freedom movement and not (as some posting hear appear to think) something which wants to harm anyone. Radical feminism is the cradle of progress in work against violence against women and children, around the world. We know that rape is common, that child abusers are dangerous, that domestic abusers kill women and that stalkers are also husbands and boyfriends (plus much more) all because of radical feminism.
This feminism is also the home of lesbian feedom fighting and was the birthplace of all of the later ideas about women’s space and all women’s right to choose (life, sex, partners,or even death). It spawned the radical ideas that women are human and that lesbians might even be human too.
So, when you are all yelling that Ms Bindel is a transphobic I am tempted to ask what you have done for freedom; or whether you consider yourselves to be anti-women or anti-lesbian.
For freedom fighting lesbian feminists, you may appear pretty phobic too.
My issue is with the labelling here. It appears that you do not see yourselves as lesbophobic, and at least some of you don’t want to be anti radical feminist. So, how is it that you holding a different view from Julie is not “phobic” and yet her radical feminist argument with the trans position, is?
I don’t see that my radical feminist lesbian position is any less a part of Stonewall than this protecting trans (from debate, discussion and dangerous lesbians) position.
This is the reaction to protesting Ms. Bindel’s nomination for a “journalist of the year” award: harassment, bullying, anti-woman, anti-lesbian, lesbophobic. That somehow, protesting Ms. Bindel’s bigotry is exactly the same as the bigotry itself. She also ignores the fact that many of those protesting (myself included) are lesbian women – or is she claiming that “lesbian” and “woman” belongs only to cis lesbians and trans women are somehow interlopers?
But, really, why would trans people want to protest Ms. Bindel’s eligibility for such a reward?
I look back on them with affection and, yes, nostalgia. At least those women were women, and hadn’t gone to gender reassignment clinics to have their breasts sliced off and a penis made out of their beer bellies. Their attitude was, we’re comfortable in our own skin, let’s be women but subvert what that means. Could we really have imagined back then that unpicking constructions of gender would result in Kwik-Fit sex changes on offer to all and sundry?
Twenty years ago, when I worked on an advice line for lesbians, I would take call after call from self-hating, suicidal women who had experienced horrific homophobia. Thanks to feminism and gay liberation, that situation has altered radically. What a disgrace, therefore, that our legacy amounts to this: if you are unhappy with the constraints of your gender, don’t challenge them. If you are tired of being stared at for snogging your same-sex partner in the street, have a sex change. Where are those who go berserk about the ethics of genetic engineering yet seem not to worry about major, irreversible surgery on healthy bodies? Also, those who “transition” seem to become stereotypical in their appearance – fuck-me shoes and birds’-nest hair for the boys; beards, muscles and tattoos for the girls. Think about a world inhabited just by transsexuals. It would look like the set of Grease.
To go back to my five men and a toilet, I don’t have a problem with men disposing of their genitals, but it does not make them women, in the same way that shoving a bit of vacuum hose down your 501s does not make you a man.
Or maybe this:
Having looked into the medical research on transsexualism, she claims there is a lack of science behind the diagnosis, no satisfactory research into the outcomes for patients and individual stories of post-operative regret.
I’m curious what science she looked into. Lynn Conway records the stories of many trans women who profess no regret, after all. Maybe she looked into the highly flawed study that Paul McHugh had done to justify closing the Johns Hopkins gender clinic?
In fact, I’m curious where she gets her science at all, if she’s asserting – contrary to medical science for the past 40 years – that transition is good for no one. It seems to me that she’s discarding the accounts of many transsexual men and women who themselves state that they are happy to have transitioned – but as can be seen above, she seems to think that transsexual voices are inherently dangerous.
During the debate I argued that sex change surgery is modern-day aversion therapy treatment for homosexuals. The highest number of sex change operations take place in Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death. Sex change surgery, therefore, renders gays and lesbians “heterosexual”.
It was one of the most challenging and stimulating debates I have taken part in. Not because the panel or the audience conceded much to my arguments, but because I was given a platform for my opinions, which are so often censored by those accusing me of bigotry and ignorance.
I was outvoted at the end of the debate, but I felt I had done my job. All I intended to do was to ask the questions, “Are we right to support sex change surgery, and is it right to apply a surgical solution to what I believe is a psychological problem?” After the debate I spoke to several transsexual men and women, and gained much insight from them. I did not change my mind, and I doubt if any of them did either, but this much-needed debate has been a long time coming.
She completely erases bisexual and pansexual trans people, as well as lesbian trans women and gay trans men in one swift stroke: “sex change surgery is modern-day aversion therapy treatment for homosexuals.” A shock to me, speaking as a trans lesbian. I like that in the very next paragraph after making this ignorant assertion that “sex change is all about becoming heterosexual” she then complains that she’s accused of bigotry and ignorance, because this is obviously as bad as her saying that she doesn’t want transsexual people to exist, right? She seems to believe that transsexual people can somehow be cured, even though scientifically, this has been determined to fail – the only treatment that works for transsexual people is hormones and surgery. If Julie had done a tenth of the reading into the actual scientific literature that she wants us to believe she did, she’d be aware of this. I suspect her science goes as far as The Transsexual Empire, whatever tripe Sheila Jeffreys wrote wherever, and Pantomime Dames, and no further. That is, completely unscientific, unfalsifiable claims about transsexual people made by people with a political and bigoted agenda, and not by anyone who was actually interested in determining anything true about transsexual men and women.
Now, the quotes from Facebook: Transsexual voices raised in protest to an LGB-oriented organization honoring someone who has made it clear she wants to expunge transsexuality from the world, that her own conclusions about what drives transsexual people to transition are correct, and that they conflict with her politics – and therefore, in a fight between the needs of real people and Ms. Bindel’s politics, the real people should step aside. That Ms. Bindel wants transsexual people to not exist.
And when we protest that? We become anti-woman, anti-lesbian, lesbophobic. We’re bullying and harassing. It’s almost as if they see our voices as inherently violent. As Amanda Baggs wrote recently,
I was talking to a friend recently, who was confused about why it was that people encouraged her to become more assertive, and yet became angry when she actually was more assertive and it conflicted with their wishes.
Which reminded me both of a lot of my own experiences, and of one of my favorite passages from the first Harry Potter book:
(Harry Potter quote at Ballastexistenz)
Anyway, what I said in response was that people seemed to be a lot like water. Water spreads out to take up whatever space the container it is in allows it to take. People, also, seem to spread out in a similar way in terms of what actions they view as okay for them to be doing. And they rarely notice all the space they are taking up, until some person or event makes it clear to them. It just feels ‘natural’ to take up as much space as they’re allowed.
So Ron Weasley sees Neville being bullied by Draco Malfoy. And he sees this isn’t good for Neville, so he encourages Neville to stand up for himself and stop being a doormat.
At that point in time, though, Ron is not even imagining all the things he himself does, that Neville might object to. The space that all his actions take up, and their effect on Neville, and Neville’s possible opinions of them, are totally invisible to him. So he is not even thinking about that when he tells Neville to grow some backbone and stand up to people more. He is thinking only of the actions of other people. He is outside of those actions, and therefore more readily able to see their effects on other people. It’s much harder to see those effects of your own actions.
So Ron is used to taking up a certain amount of space with his actions, and to Neville not resisting in any way. When Neville does resist, and relates it back to Ron’s encouragement to assert himself, Ron is totally surprised and not at all pleased. Aside from the urgency of Ron’s actions at that point in time, Neville is now forcing him not to take up all the space he’s accustomed to taking up.
What she’s talking about is how people with privilege are used to taking up space, and that marginalized people are expected to not impinge upon that space. Instead, we’re supposed to remain quiet even while we’re under discussion. And that when we do impinge upon that space, displace that water, the simple act of using our voices becomes a violent attack. It’s perfectly reasonable for Ms. Bindel to say that transsexual people shouldn’t be allowed to transition – to do something that is essentially liberating for us – but for us to say “No, you’re wrong” is harassment and bullying. It’s misogyny and homophobia.
As Amanda says later in her post:
Unfortunately, our society has tended to equate terms like racism with Nazis or KKK members, and therefore people equate it with “calling people a monster”. But it has nothing to do with being a monster. It has to do with being a member of a society that (yes, still) puts some people at an unfair advantage because of the color of their skin, the shape of their body, or the country many of their ancestors come from. And being immersed in that as someone with that advantage is like being a fish in water, you don’t notice it all around you, and you don’t notice when you’re acting on things you ought not to be acting on.
Like the time I explained, politely I thought, to a parent, that describing a developmentally disabled child as not becoming a real adult contributed to widespread harm of disabled people. I explained about the ‘eternal child’ stereotype, and the problems it has caused for many disabled people: Being denied the right to marry, live on our own, have and choose our own sexual relationships, hold jobs, etc. Even being forcibly sterilized. The idea that we don’t become adults has serious consequences, and I pointed out that broadcasting that idea all over the place, even with good intentions, still contributes to the stereotype, and to the harm it causes.
At that point, I was told that the parent in question was only honestly expressing her feelings, which she had a total right to do. In other words, she had a total right to take up that space at the great expense of other people. Her emotions were more important than other people’s uteruses. And if she didn’t intend to contribute to all that negative stuff, then she wasn’t contributing at all to it, right? And I was calling her a monster who didn’t care about people, right?
Well, no. I wasn’t. I even wrote a post trying to explain that I wasn’t making people into good guys and bad guys. And even that I’d been on the other side of this one, I’d been told that it was wrong to say things like this about one of my brothers. Things I’d been taught were okay to say, and never questioned. And that when someone did tell me it was wrong to say it, I listened and I stopped saying it. I pointed out that there are ways to discuss these feelings without condoning them. All the person had to do was explain why, while these were feelings, they weren’t the reality, and treating them as the reality could cause real harm to some people. Or else they could refrain from discussing it altogether.
Oh, as for Stonewall UK’s position on this deep insult to the trans community:
Thank you for your email.
Julie Bindel was shortlisted for a Stonewall award in recognition of her journalism during the last 12 months which often brings a lesbian perspective into the mainstream press.
The awards nominating panel are not endorsing everything she has ever written. A nomination in any category does not mean that the awards panel agree with all of someone’s opinions. Stonewall recognises that some people may disagree with shortlisted nominees.
This is a form letter sent to many of those who contacted them with concerns about Stonewall possibly rewarding a woman who describes surgeries trans people undergo to improve our quality of life as mutilation. Clearly, it shows that Stonewall UK is completely unconcerned with the trans community, including that portion of the trans community that is gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
I also want to point out how Stonewall erases the fact that trans people were directly involved with the Stonewall Riot, completely appropriating the event and eliding critical participants.
Edit to add: Remember, protesting that Julie Bindel might receive a reward is exactly like silencing her:
Rally with other radicals to support radical lesbian feminism in our national press – JB is our only out and open journo writing regularly in our national broadsheet ‘The Guardian’. Rally to support her nomination as ‘Journalist of the Year’. Join us outside the V&A on Thursday 6th November at 6.30pm to shout 3 cheers for Julie Bindel and her work. More power to her. Say no to silencing – make your voice heard at this important rally. Bring banners, noise makers, loud voices, choirs, radical cheerleaders, friends.
This post is directed at Amananta, but what I have to say in it is more universally applicable to anti-trans feminists.
If you were ever really a supporter of trans people, you wouldn’t have found it so easy to back off that support and change your tune. You wouldn’t have quietly withdrawn your public support for your partner after you couldn’t use your appeal to estrogen to justify that your transphobic actions weren’t really transphobic.
But then you come trolling around my blog under a pseudonym to tell us all how trans women are really acting from male privilege, that we were ever “really cis men” before transitioning:
So basically, you aren’t going to answer her question, which is, why do transactivists focus almost soley on trying to force their way into women-born-women-only spaces, and claim born women should have no right to any space of their own, instead of actually combatting real oppression?
Oh wait, that’s right, you’re the oppressed ones, after getting the benefits of maleness you’re whole lives until you transition, and then want all the energy of women to be focused on your needs. Just like when you were men.
I really wish I could say that this was quite a change from your attempts at peacemaking, but truthfully, your “Radical Feminism and the Transgendered” post was pretty offensive:
I’ve seen a lot of transphobia (prejudice, misunderstanding and delberate hurtfulness directed towards transsexuals and transgendered people) flagrantly displayed by some radical feminists. I’ve also seen some distinctly anti-feminist opinions held by transfolk. Both of these attitudes are counterproductive, hurtful, and divisive. Neither of them make much sense. I don’t even think they are topics worthy enough of serious discussion to have people spend the amount of time and energy on them that they do, and maybe the time and energy I am putting into this post is also part of that wasted energy.
In this paragraph, you establish that you consider the rabidly anti-trans actions taken by feminists since the early 1970s to be rhetorically equal to trans people’s reactions to that violence. To being forced out of feminist spaces, to being denigrated as “surgically/chemically altered men,” to being equated with serial killers and rapists, to Janice Raymond’s call to commit cultural genocide upon trans people, to being described as “Frankenstein’s monsters” by Mary Daly. That trans people’s reactions to all of this hate speech, to all of these exclusive actions, are somehow on the same ideological ground as the insistence that trans people should not exist.
You then say that these reactions make no sense, that they’re not worthy of discussion, and that any energy devoted to that discussion is wasted energy. And please forget that trans women have been a part of feminism since the second wave, please pretend that we’ve never contributed. Please pretend that our participation was not forcibly and violently ended whenever possible – no, act like trans people are being divisive for criticizing this history and demanding accountability from feminism. That trans women are the unreasonable ones for wanting full participation in the women’s movement.
Why do I say these topics are a waste of the energy spent on them? I guess I just have to start off playing hardball here. Dear sisters in radical feminism – there is a tiny percentage of the population that feels they were not born into the right body and wishes to change their gender presentation. They are not your enemy; they are not the founders of the patriarchy; they are not the masses of men who are beating and raping women; they are not, as a group, supportive of violence against women or unequal pay or the anti-abortion movement. Dear transpeople – radical feminist groups that do not let MTFs into women only meetings or gatherings are not the defining issue of your oppression. I have yet to see any radical feminist say it is okay for you to be discriminated against in jobs and housing and beaten to death by roving packs of homophobic/transphobic men.
The first two-thirds of your paragraph is okay. But then we get to the second half – at which point you start explaining – as a cissexual woman – what should and should not be important to trans women. You completely dismiss any responsibility that feminism as a movement has helped perpetrate and reinforce the notions that trans women are really cis men and that trans men are really cis women, and how that is the foundation of violence against trans people – trans women especially, trans women of color, especially.
You also completely elide the fact that “women-only space” that excludes trans women count domestic violence and rape shelters among their number, and that these are a refuge from male violence. While cis feminists themselves may not directly engage in violence (please ignore the fact that cissexual feminists sent death threats to Olivia Records when they were demanding Sandy Stone leave), the fact that these spaces are set up to actively exclude trans women means that we’re that much more vulnerable to violence from men – in other words, your “women-only spaces” that exclude trans women are reinforcing that violence.
Also, by setting up women-only spaces to exclude trans women, you are declaring who is a woman and who is not a woman, and every space that’s set up to exclude trans women reinforces the core trans misogynistic notion that “trans women are not real women.”
Finally, it is not your place as a member of the oppressor class (cissexual people) to tell the oppressed class (trans people) what our priorities are supposed to be. If you were really a supporter of trans people as you claim at the time you wrote this, you wouldn’t be lecturing trans women on what causes we’re supposed to care about.
I’m skipping the next few paragraphs, as I believe they are genuinely supportive of your wife in specific and trans people in general. And, really, you should’ve stopped there, because:
But in other ways, many transgendered people fall prey to patriarchal ideas and attitudes, just as many non-transgendered people do. FTMs in particular seem so anxious to identify themselves as men that they sometimes throw out sexist stereotypes or behave in a very anti-feminist way, perhaps in order to prove they are “one of the boys”. I have seen the very good point made that of course FTMs have “gender dysphoria” – and so do almost all other women, because our culture, as a whole, hates and reviles women and femininity. What woman doesn’t hate being female for at least part of her life? Where is the line between really feeling you should have been born a man and wishing you had the privileges accorded to men in our society?
First of all, no, cissexual women do not have “gender dysphoria” and it’s both trivializing and tokenizing toward trans people to claim that discomfort with being a woman in a patriarchal society is the same thing as living with being trans – that is, with the fact that you know your physical sex isn’t right.
The line between feeling you should have been born a man and wishing you had the privileges accorded to men is a strong, bright line for trans people. Trans men aren’t doing it for the privilege, they do it because they know they’re male down to their bones, and their bodies clash with that expectation so thoroughly that the best answer is to transition. I, as a woman, wish every day that I had the privileges accorded to men, but living as a man was not something I could do and maintain a healthy life.
And yes, some trans men are sexist, and they should be called out on their sexism because sexism is wrong, and their being trans men shouldn’t reflect onto that at all.
I have seen many MTFs get extremely excited about getting to be “real women” who can – go SHOPPING! and wear frilly things! And heels! Until I sometimes wonder if to them, being feminine is nothing more than a fashion statement. I have known FTMs who explain that they knew they were really boys because they wanted short hair as children, hated Barbie dolls, and were very athletic. These kind of statements reveal that they don’t think girls or women who behave in this way are “real women”, and you can’t really get much more anti-feminist than that.
Oh, man, I thought that the previous paragraph was offensively tokenizing, but this, oh my god. These statements don’t reveal anything of the sort. You’re cherry-picking a few statements and behavior, taking them completely out of context, and then using them as evidence that trans women apparently view being women as some kind of shallow, superficial, artificial exercise – and I think that has more to do with how society views femininity than how trans women view womanhood.
It’s like this: Pre-transition life is like a prison. You’re expected to live according to your sex assigned at birth, even though every part of you knows this is wrong. Transitioning means so many things on so many levels, and that includes being able to do things appropriate to your proper sex without being labeled as a freak (although the labeling still happens). Trans women who are excited about shopping for clothes and shoes aren’t excited because this is the breadth and depth of the experience of “womanhood” to trans women, but because it is one of many things that we can finally do as women.
But to know that, you’d have to listen to trans people, rather than impose your own assumptions on us.
I do think it is a real problem that the only way little boys are allowed to express the softer and gentler sides of themselves is if they are seen as “not real men”. And it is definitely a problem that little girls are supposed to be shy and retiring and obsessed with their looks or “something is wrong with them.” I do not think these things alone are at the root of transgenderism. But I think in some cases, these cultural attitudes have pushed people into surgery and other medical treatments because behaviors outside of the strictly gender normative are seen as, literally “sick”. I have had some transpeople become very upset with me for daring to say these things, and while it is not my desire to hurt them by reiterating this, I have to call it as I see it.
And this goes back to the incorrect idea that trans people transition because we think that some things are only for men to do and some things are only for women, “thus, if I want to wear dresses, I have to be a woman.” While I appreciate your concern that people are pushed into surgery, I find it a grotesquely inaccurate distortion of the truth: That the WPATH (formerly HBIGDA) Standards of Care are intended to convince trans people that we don’t want to transition. How ignorant do you have to be to insist that people are being pushed into transitioning by cultural attitudes? Have you taken a look around lately? Society hates trans people.
You do hurt people by saying this, because you are saying something that is demonstrably false. You’re making unfounded assumptions based in your own cissexual privilege, and then asserting them as if they’re true, without (as privilege allows) even backing these statements up. You may call it as you see it, but you’re seeing things that aren’t there.
But the fact remains that it *is* easier to get along in life if one appears to be what others expect. In this regard, FTMs have a bit of an easier life, as the taking of testosterone makes them indistinguishable from men born men in a fairly brief amount of time, at least in public settings, or while clothed. Their masculine behavior will then pass unnoticed by society unless they wish to make an issue of having been born female. MTFs face a different set of variables, however. Depending on several appearance factors, some MTFs can be taken as a woman by most people without comment, but some will never succesfully “pass” as female, but will be seen as “a man in a dress.” While feminism has made some avenues open to women which were never open before, such as the freedom to wear either pants or a skirt/dress, men as a group have clung to the idea of dresses as women’s clothing and go out of their way to torment any fellow male who dares break the masculine code of dress and behavior. When an MTF, or for that matter, any crossdressing man, hippie boy, or goth boy, goes out wearing a skirt, s/he is exposed to, at best, whispered mockery and ridicule. At worst, men will beat him/her to death for breaking the male code of behavior. Male privilege comes with a high price, and those who visibly reject this code, even with something as petty as changing one’s clothes, sometimes pay that price with their lives.
This paragraph is problematic for a couple of reasons:
- You assume that trans men have an easy time passing. While it is true that testosterone over time does masculinize trans men rather effectively, a large number of trans men do not in fact pass perfectly well.
- You talk about “passing as female” when trans women are female. I think what you mean is “passing as cissexual.” Because trans women who fail to pass as cissexual are incorrectly gendered as men – that is to say, it’s the people who insist they’re men, not the trans woman’s fault for not looking female enough.
This is mostly plain old cissexism at work here, which is ignorant, but forgivable.
Which brings me to male privilege.
Many MTFs I know minimize the effect male privilege has on their behavior. I suppose it is like the proverbial fish who asks “what is water?” – being the benficiary of male privilege during one’s formative years, even if one begins to question one’s identity as a man, confers benefits upon one that are invisible to the recipient (although obvious to women, who do not receive these benefits.) Since MTFs do not want to be male, they would like to imagine they can just toss male prvilege away along with their unwanted boy’s clothing. The human mind does not work in this way, however.
Because growing up as a trans girl is exactly the same thing as growing up as a cis boy, right? Because when you know you’re a girl, even though the world insists you’re a boy, you’re totally socializing in exactly the same way as the cis boys are. You can’t possibly be picking up gendered messages intended for girls and absorbing them. And of course this in no way affects how trans girls interact with male privilege, right?
It’s cissexist supremacy that claims that trans people’s lives are identical to cis people’s lives pre-transition, that our state of mind and how it affects us in no way affects how we interact with the world or how the world interacts with us. So, before you start lecturing on how the human mind works, you could at least try to understand how trans women’s minds work throughout our lives.
Discussion by cissexual women of trans women’s “male privilege” is a silencing tactic, used to tell us that behavior that would be completely acceptable from a cis woman is unacceptable and essentially male from a trans woman. By explaining to trans women what our lives are really like, and how we really experienced male privilege, you’re doing the same thing that men do to women:
Men explain things to me, and to other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men. Every woman knows what I mean. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.
This syndrome is something nearly every woman faces every day, within herself too, a belief in her superfluity, an invitation to silence, one from which a fairly nice career as a writer (with a lot of research and facts correctly deployed) has not entirely freed me. After all, there was a moment there when I was willing to believe Mr. Very Important and his overweening confidence over my more shaky certainty.
You’re exercising your cissexual privilege to shut trans women up. I’m not arguing that trans women have never received any male privilege, here. What I am arguing is that your assumptions about what that means are wrong, that you’re using this assumption of male privilege as a way to explain that trans women are essentially not really women, and carry an indelible mark of Cain that can and should be used against us when we start saying or doing inconvenient things – like, for example, protesting discrimination and segregation directed against trans women.
It is ironic that those resorting to violent, invasive tactics in order to enter the Michigan Women’s Music Festivial, for example, with the excuse that they are NOT men and should be accepted as women, are resorting to an ingrained male privilege which tells them they have a right to go anywhere they want to go. Also ironic in their insistence that they are no different from women born women is their seeming inability to understand, or their willingness to brush aside as insignificant, women’s very real fears of rape, from which follows the concept of a safe space for women being male-free. Thus the “cutting edge” protest method some have developed, that of passing succesfully as female until they get to the shower area and then showing everyone they have penises in a sort of “Neener, neener, I have a penis and you didn’t guess but I’m showing it to you now so you’re a hypocrite ha-ha-ha you’re wrong about transwomen!” sort of gesture really only proves the point that they DON’T belong in a women’s only safe place, as they have no clue how frightening it is for a vulnerable naked women to suddenly be confronted by an angry naked man.
The story about trans women exposing penises in the showers has been debunked many times:
Tony entered the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in 1999 and took a shower inside, inadverdantly exposing his transplanted forearm, which was made to appear like a penis. This is considered to be the origin of the myth that “men walked around the festival exposing themselves (which has no concrete eyewitness reports besides Tony’s story itself).
In other words, the tactics you’re saying trans women used in the Festival never happened. But, there’s so much more buried here:
- You’re saying that trans women represent a threat of rape by being present at MichFest. How is it not trans misogynistic to insist that trans women are potential rapists?
- You’re saying that trans women should be ashamed of our anatomy, even though the only control we can exert over it is via hormones and surgery, since we can’t will our penises away. You’re saying that it must be hidden at all times. The truth is that a trans woman who reveals her penis is not putting cis women at risk for seeing it, but herself at risk because people who see her as “not a real woman” may commit violence upon her.
- You’re coopting survivor voices to justify continued exclusion and ejection of trans women from women-only spaces.
- Aside from the debunked rumor about trans women flashing penises in the shower, what “violent, invasive” tactics have been deployed to protest MichFest?
- Earlier in this post, you asserted that trans women are at great danger from male violence. Now you justify excluding trans women from MichFest because the women there need to be free from male violence. How can you not see that trans women may need this space as much as cis women?
- You’re assuming that the default is that trans women shouldn’t be allowed in. MWMF is for all women, which means that trans women are automatically included. It was an act of violence to expel Nancy Burkholder, and maintaining the policy in the years since has been continued justification of that violence against a woman.
- Penis or no, trans women are not “men” ever. Saying so is the core of transphobia – that trans people’s genders are not valid.
Transwomen – if you are serious about transitioning and serious about feeling like a woman, you have to stop insisting that female fear of men is sexist or unreasonable. Every time you do this it just proves the point of why women do need some women born women only space – so they don’t have to deal with you, as a newcomer to living as a woman, to tell us how we are doing it all wrong. Every time you think or say something along these lines, you are acting on male privilege, whether you like that idea or not. Question – if you are transgendered and pre-op or non-op, would you feel safe in a prison with men? Of course you wouldn’t – and for the exact same reason, in general women are not going to feel safe if you invade a space where they are naked and vulnerable. You can be as unhappy about that as you like – trust me, I am unhappy about it too – but until the epidemic of male violence against women ends, this is how it is going to be. You cannot blame feminists for this – they did not invent an irrational prejudice against men as violent rapists – the high number of men who are violent rapists is what is responsible for this very realistic fear.
Now this is where Amananta’s putting trans women in our place – we’re “newcomers to living as women” and thus need to understand that our presence, as a minority of women around women is exactly like putting a trans woman in a prison full of cis men (and yay, comparing trans women to violent criminals who are cis men – you go, Amananta!). She throws in the “shut up” bit by invoking male privilege yet again.
And here, she flips things – at the beginning of her post, she tells trans women that cis women are not responsible for the violence inflicted by cis men on trans women, to show that cis feminists are not enemies to trans women. Here, she basically says that trans women are responsible for the violence inflcited on cis women by cis men, and that to keep cis women safe from male violence at MichFest, trans women must be excluded. She says that “until the epidemic of male violence against women ends, this is how it is going to be.” What that means is that trans women are scapegoats for cis feminists – that cis feminists attack trans women as substitutes for cis men. Trans women are safer targets to attack than cis men, being as we’re oppressed in relation to cis women. Heart even says this on her own blog:
When a radical feminist female uses insulting words in the direction
of transwomen, she understand this to be no different from using
insulting words in the direction of males. It might be rude, crude,
and socially unacceptable, it might be insulting, but it isn’t hate
speech. It’s not discriminatory. Because given power differentials as
they exist between males and females, females aren’t situated socially
so as to be able to discriminate against males, or to be bigoted
towards males or to be phobic against males. To the contrary, our
experience as females is that males *are* to be feared because they
hurt females and to say so, and behave accordingly, is not “phobic,”
it is based on female reality.
Also the way Amananta excuses prejudice against trans women by talking about how a prejudice against men as violent rapists is rational, due to the number of men who violently rape.
Hey, Amananta, can you point to the apparently extensive pattern of trans women who rape cis women?
Finally I want to tackle what I think is the most hidden issue in all of this but perhaps the root of it all – the question of “who defines womanhood”? I have seen the very good point raised that women ave never been allowed to define what makes a woman. Men have defined womanhood for us for centuries. When I see transgendered women questioning the refusal of some to refer to them as women, there is again an unexamined male privilege in their questioning at the same time as that there are some very good points. The unexamined privilege comes from them setting up patriarchal societal objections to accepting transpersons as they wish to be accepted and smashing those admittedly unfounded ideas, thus concluding that radical feminists are wrong to ever exclude them from anything at all.
This is a vacuous question – the answer is “no one defines womanhood.” There is no single, universal, experience of womanhood. The idea that trans women are demanding to define womanhood for all women is as ridiculous as the assertion that cis women get to decide whether trans women are really women. It doesn’t work that way. You and every other radical feminist in the world can line up and tell me I’m a man, but that doesn’t erase the sexual harassment I’ve experienced, the misogyny, the violence I’ve risked and experienced. It doesn’t erase the boss who offered to give me rides home in exchange for blow jobs, and it doesn’t erase the fear of rape and violence I felt when a man followed me across three bus transfers and right off the bus at the same stop. Do those experiences define womanhood? I don’t think they do – they don’t define the men and women I’ve dated, who have all accepted my womanhood, they don’t cover the fact that 99% of the people around me do use feminine pronouns. They certainly don’t cover my own self-perception, which has been unassailable for my entire life.
You’re trying to encapsulate “womanhood” into this commodity that can be defined or withdrawn by individual people, and it’s not. No one can define what it’s like to be a man or a woman for another person. Not Heart or Lucky and their appropriative lists of oppressions, no one.
The real unexamined privilege in your question is cissexual privilege: The idea that cis people have the authority and right to gender trans people incorrectly based on standards that don’t apply to cis people.
To demand full acceptance into a group which has little power to define its own boundaries is invasive and insensitive. Furthermore, if you are a transgendered woman, no matter how badly you may want it, unless you were incredibly lucky you were not raised as a girl in this society. There are some experiences you will never have, and there are some things that will never quite match up between your experiences and those of girls who were raised as girls. I understand well this is a sore point for many transwomen, who feel they have missed out greatly on something very special, and maybe they have – but the fact remains that they did not have these experiences and many of the bonds between women who are born women are based on the assumption of shared experiences.
Trans women are women, just as cis women are. It’s not a matter of demanding acceptance. Acceptance should be a given. It’s demanding that you stop excluding and ejecting us for arbitrary and unfalsifiable reasons.
For example, you raise the point that trans women aren’t raised as girls, and you tell us that this is why we should be excluded from women-only spaces and not complain about it. I want to ask you: Do you not see how abusive, how violent, how alienating it would be for a girl to be raised as a boy no matter how much she protests? And would this woman be welcomed into women-only spaces, knowing she had endured such an abusive upbringing?
That’s what trans women grow up with – it’s abusive, violent, and alienating. And now, this abuse, violence, and alienation that was forced upon us as we grew up is used as a reason to justify further abuse, violence, and alienation from a movement that is allegedly for all women, but is really only for some women. Not only do you deny that trans women are women, but you hold the violence inflicted upon us against our will as something we must be held responsible for.
And when confronted with the extensive and fundamental transphobia of your statements, do you – as a self-proclaimed ally to trans people say “Oh, hell, I screwed up?” No, you blame trans people for getting rightfully angry with you:
The content of this post removed because I have been silenced by transgender activists who ignore everything else I write in order to take what I have written here, twist it out of context and proportion, and make me out to be some horrible transphobe who dehumanizes all transpersons everywhere and abuses my supposed privilege over transpersons. In fact, the only links my blog gets anymore is from angry transactivists vilifying me. Everything I write about women’s rights? Completely ignored. The irony seems to escape you all.
Yes, you were silenced. You were unable to voice your opinions without being criticized, and that is exactly the same thing as being censored out of having a voice, which is why you took your blog down, never to post to it again, right? How trans people actually set up a rule on the entire internet that “Amananta is not allowed to speak on trans topics,” and it is now a physical law of nature.
Spare me your bullshit about being silenced. No one silenced you – you even dropped a trolling comment in my blog, as linked above. This “I was silenced!” rhetoric is just more privileged whining about how people won’t let you say bigoted things in peace.
I also like the false opposition set up throughout the original post, where trans activists were set up as being solely interested in trans rights and needs, while feminists were set up as being properly concerned about women’s rights. This is simply not true. A large number of trans women and men identify as feminists and are in fact actively focused on feminist issues. A large number of feminists understand that women’s issues apply to both cis and trans women. There is no divide. Both trans people and women experience gender-based oppression, and if feminism is really about ending gender-based oppression, then feminists would see that it’s just as important to fight transphobia as it is to fight misogyny
Of course, most transphobic and anti-pornography radical feminists seem to understand intersectionality about as well as they understand trans people – which is not very much at all. So, getting the above across seems about as easy and likely as communicating that racism, immigration, disability rights, poverty, and more are themselves feminist issues because women experience all of those things.
Note: Some of the concepts described in this post were inspired by Cedar’s Beyond Inclusion zine.
Justice Walks has decided that she’s going to set the agenda for trans activism:
I was informed recently that the Masons do “panty checks” to be sure that prospective members actually occupy male bodies before they are invited into the fold.
Where, oh, where are all of the trans-advocates picketing, suing, and protesting this blatant “phobia” against transmen? Why is it that male members of Elks clubs and Freemason clubs all over the country aren’t being decried as “transphobic” when they take steps to ensure that their membership is comprised only of people in male bodies, regardless of what they may believe themselves to be in their heads?
Because, of course, Justice Walks gets to tell trans people what we’re supposed to prioritize. What causes we’re supposed to champion. Isn’t that how it works? Privileged people tell the oppressed what they’re supposed to do?
Oh, wait, that’s oppression. Justice Walks isn’t just setting an agenda for trans people, she’s making an excuse to say more bigoted things to and about trans people, and give us marching orders:
The next time some pro-genital-mutilation trans-advocate comes at me whining about that rape crisis center in Vancouver or the Michigan Women’s Music Festival, I’m going to demand proof that they are just as vehemently opposed to the “discriminatory” practices of the Masons, the Elks, and other such fraternities – collegiate, social, or professional – that require prospective members to disrobe or otherwise offer proof of their biological sex.
I can almost hear the crickets and see the tumbleweed now.
I like this idea that Justice Walks thinks her opinions about trans people are actually informed and not, say, ignorant. Surely she understands that body shaming comments like “pro-genital-mutilation” are downright oppressive. That she’s willing to claim that trans people’s genitals are not just invalid, but completely ruined. Just how much stigma can you load down on one group of people, anyway?
I don’t think that any fraternity that excludes trans men is cool for doing so, or that such behavior should be encouraged. My position has always been that trans men should be unreservedly accepted as men and trans women should be unreservedly accepted as women, and that is in all areas. And if trans men are fighting for access, I will gladly assist them in their efforts to gain access.
However, I find it deeply insulting and misogynist that Justice Walks thinks that membership in a fraternity – a social club – is somehow equivalent to women being excluded and ejected from domestic violence and rape shelters. Women go to DV and rape shelters because they’ve survived violence or rape, not because they want to socialize and network. Women go to these places for safety from those who harmed them, as well as recovery from that harm. Excluding a woman from such a space puts her at potentially deadly risk. How is this the same as being excluded from a social club?
I’m also puzzled at the idea that activism against the segregation of trans women at MichFest (which is allegedly open to all women but is really open to some women, who are apparently more equal than others) as well as work to make more DV and rape shelters accessible to trans women should be subordinated to trans men’s needs. Seriously, is Justice Walks really asking “What about the menz?”
Cis privilege does not grant you the right to to tell trans people what our priorities should be and demand that we take up the causes you believe we should take up, just for you to consider our positions to be consistent and valid. Whether or not trans people engage in protests and activism to open Freemasonry to trans men (can anyone confirm this rumor?) has absolutely no bearing on whether trans people have the right to engage in protests and activism against segregation elsewhere. Cis privilege may make you think you have that right, but that’s the nature of privilege – it actually makes you believe you’re better than people who aren’t like you for purely arbitrary reasons.
It’s up to trans people to decide where to devote our energies – whether it’s to employment and housing non-discrimination, improved access to health care, increased education for the general public, keeping hate groups from taking our civil rights away, or protesting to gain access to areas that exclude us for arbitrary and prejudiced reasons. It’s our movement, and I think we’re grown-up enough to know what we’re doing with it, whether the needs addressed are specific to trans men or trans women, or the needs are applicable to all trans people. We definitely don’t need any cissexist radical feminists who don’t even understand who we are let alone why we do what we do to set us straight.
So, V at Resisterance decided to tell us how Debi was a bad person back when we didn’t get along anyway, and responded to the discussion in that post. Trinity continued her responses (with more discussion in the comments).
I’m trying to cut down on directly addressing individuals for what they’re saying and simply address the societal systems they exploit when they say such things, but it’s clear that V really doesn’t understand what cissexual privilege is, and the way she trivializes being trans is so deeply offensive that I felt it necessary to respond to her hateful words against my life.
My problem with V isn’t that she points out that violence is done to women. I agree with her, and I think that we should be shouting from the rooftops that this violence is constantly happening. We should grab society and shake it until it finally reacts and agrees, “Yes, this should stop.”
My problem is that she uses this to establish a hierarchy of oppressions:
“How many more trans women must die violent, needless deaths while we wait for those who should be our natural allies – non-trans women – to join us in speaking out and taking a stand against it? How long are we expected to wait?”
I think that its quite sick to say something like that among feminists who have spent lifetimes beaten and raped by male violence. It shows a total lack of empathy or understanding of what women go through in terms of male violence.
And from Shut Up, Sit Down, linked below:
femicide – its cis privilege!
1 in 3 raped in her lifetime – cis privilege!
average of 2 women murdered a week in the uk by current or past ‘partners’ – cis privilege!
less than 6% chance of seeing your rapist found guilty, even if you by some miracle get him arrested and in court in the first place – cis privilege!
birth rape – cis privilege!
a childhood of being forced into femininity – cis privilege!
having the nerve to resist it – cis privilege!
gee im so glad i have all this cis privilege.
Because to V, apparently, recognition of the brutal, misogynist and transphobic violence directed at trans women somehow takes away from the misogynist violence directed at both cis and trans women. V clearly doesn’t believe that trans women are included in the latter, but she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
In fact, V says that any oppression she experiences means she doesn’t count as cis. Heck, she claims she can actually renounce it by “resisting femininity,” (with apologies to Anji for multiple pingbacks to this one post) as if cis privilege is all about your gender presentation:
lisa – its been pointed out to you before that many radical feminists do in fact make a real effort to resist femininity for political reasons. i wonder how come you can define us all as ‘cis’ when you dont know that that is true. how can we be cis simply because we are not trans? how come you dont recognise that there are in fact other ways to resist or not conform to gender rules that do not come under trans? why this need to force people into boxes that only you are allowed to label?
At it’s most basic, cissexual privilege is having a body that society expects you to have – if you present as a woman, your body is female. If you present as a man, your body is male. There’s no confusion, no change that someone will decide that you’re really the other sex because your genitals don’t meet their satisfaction, that no one will murder you. V’s not renouncing that. I’ll admit that she’s complicating the idea of her own cisgender privilege, but the idea of “cisgender” is more fluid, with softer boundaries and related to more liminal categories that neither qualify as cisgender nor transgender, and I will never label anyone cisgender because to do so implies that I know anything about how they relate to their gender.
But I know this – resisting femininity doesn’t give up cissexual privilege. You’re not going to be refused life-saving medical care because you have breasts and a penis, or because you’re a man with a vagina. No one will justify killing you by calling you “it” and saying that you were really a man who tricked him into thinking you were a woman (whether or not the story is true). No one will let someone off with voluntary manslaughter for using that story to excuse killing you.
And it’s not just murder. Trans women are violently attacked and raped at least as cis women are just for being women, but this is compounded with being trans. As I point out above, trans women are seen as safer targets. Further, the police are not friends. Until recently, just being a trans woman of color in Washington DC (and not just Washington DC) was considered “probable cause” to suspect that woman of being a sex worker. That is profiling based on the intersection of race, gender, and trans status.
So with that out of the way, V says this:
In answer to your question about my cis-ness. I live with a male partner, I have two children. I’m very much female, but I dont wear skirts, makeup, heeled shoes, all that jazz. I do dye my hair pink sometimes, does that qualify as cis privilege? Im just so lucky to be born female and low class! gasp! Where may I spend this cis-currency?
I laugh at your fucking clueless stuff about cis privilege because it’s so bloody academic. You want a bio? Nows as good a time as any.
Cis privilege? Whatever. To me you just look like another bunch of rich girls who never had anything that urgent to live through, who had the luxury of identity problems while people like me were trying to stay alive in whatever way we could. Sob story? Whatever. Thats where I come from, its just the way it was, I can keep it hidden but I cant change it. I was never comfortable as me, either, but I didnt have luxury time to sit around whining about it, there were bigger more immediate issues to deal with.
You have your identity crisis and your anxieties, fine. I get that and I wish it wasnt so bad for you. But you arent the only ones, and frankly, id have begged to have such problems. So stop fucking shaking your labels around like they mean anything more than they do, we dont live in Disneyworld where dreams are all that matters. Youre stuck on creating labels for dreams that havent even been imagined properly yet, while Im stuck trying to deal with a few decades immersed in the dirt and violence of the most neglected and hated parts of a rich and judgmental society. Theres no reason we cant fumble on along next to each other without even acknowledging each other, because we dont share the same existence at all.
I trimmed out her life story. If you want to read it, the link’s at the beginning of this post.
But just for my own experiences: I grew up in an abusive working class household. I was constantly bullied and beaten in school for being too feminine, I was in an abusive relationship for five years. I am not a rich girl indulging in the luxury of “identity problems” (whatever that’s supposed to mean – I’ve never had trouble with my identity). Being trans was an immediate issue, just as being abused as a child, just as surviving domestic violence, just as making enough money to eat and pay rent. It is so self-indulgent and ignorant to assume that because you do not understand trans women that you think we’re all wealthy gender dilettantes.
V, nothing – not one thing – you mention above has anything to do with your cissexual privilege. It’s like white privilege – you cannot simply decide you’re not white one day and poof, it’s gone. No matter what you do, it’s still there. Resist it, try to pretend it doesn’t exist, try to throw up smoke screens about all of the intersections that affect your life – you’re still cissexual. You’re still a woman with a female body. Unless you decide to transition, this is how you’ll remain.
Your male partner? Trans women can have male partners. I’ve had male partners. Your kids? Trans women can have kids (although not by pregnancy – there’s a bit of privilege for you, the privilege of biological motherhood). Dye your hair pink? I’ve dyed my hair pink. You were born lower class? I was born lower class. Academic? Radical feminism is bloody academic. Cis privilege isn’t academic. It’s what you’re born with and live with, and experience every day as easily as you breathe.
Trans and cis are labels, yes, but so are woman and feminist and lower class and white and black. But labels aren’t without meaning. They’re inscribed with meaning. If labels had no meaning there’d never be a point to using them. My labels – trans and cis – that I use to differentiate between women like me and women like you – are valuable and useful labels. My labels are not based on dreams but my day to day lived realities. That you trivialize being “trans” as “living in Disneyworld” and as “dreams that havent even been imagined properly yet” and insist that somehow you are “stuck trying to deal with a few decades immersed in the dirt and violence of the most neglected and hated parts of a rich and judgmental society” and I have rainbows and skittles? That you think “we dont share the same existence at all?”
That you can trivialize my life so thoroughly that you can say without an ounce of irony or self-reflection, “id have begged to have such problems?”
You wish you could experience the luxury of being trans? You wish you could have your marriage voided based on your chromosomes? You wish you could be denied custody of your children because your birth sex does not match your current sex? You wish that you could be placed in the wrong prison for your sex because the courts and police see you as the wrong sex? You wish that you could lose your job, your family, your friends, and end up doing survival sex work? You wish that your right to use the proper restroom be contested with lies, slander, and libel? You wish that the civil rights movement that supposedly works for your rights constantly uses you as a token to buy more rights for the rest of the movement?
You wish for this?
If I could, I’d give it to you. Just for a week, a month, a year.
But, seriously, what you wrote about? What’s happened to you? Many (not all) of those things have happened to me, and I’ve had to deal with some stuff you haven’t. Our lives are not exactly alike, but we have a lot more in common than you think, and more than you’d expect comes from both of us being women. I empathize with many of your experiences, because I’ve lived them. In addition to being trans.
Now please go read some Audre Lorde.
Edited to correct my mislabeling of V’s partner.
Just for the record, the definitive post on transgenderism and radical feminism was written some time ago, and it is Radical feminism and the Transgendered, or, how to write a post that will infuriate everyone.
This one isn’t too bad either.
Why is this my last post on such a contested subject, you might ask? Because there’s nothing new to be said, I reply. These arguments are like cold sores; they break out periodically, they’re painful, inflammatory, unpleasant, and unsightly, and just when we think they’re gone forever they raise their ugly heads again. Contrary to what some might think, like most radical feminists I’ve heard all the arguments of trans advocates over the years, and I’m not convinced by them. It seems to me that the most vociferous trans advocates must have heard all MY arguments and are not convinced by them either. So be it.
Does this look like Amy decided to take down the website as I challenged in my previous post? No. Not because she still owns the domain, but because it’s five months after my first post.
I was looking for information on why Questioning Transgender was taken down, and I thought it was possible that Amy might mention it on her blog. Imagine my surprise* when I came across this gem posted on August 6th, some five months after Amy’s last post on trans ever:
Oh, and also, if a woman calling another woman a “shithead” is misogynist, is it misogynist for a man to call a woman a “transphobe”? If calling someone a “retard” is ableist, is it also ableist to call a person or their ideas “lame”? Not to put too fine a point on it, but is stuff only misogynist/racist/ableist/classist/wrong/bad/and horrible** when people you disagree with do it?
Because I was pretty amused when I noticed that the people who were so righteous in calling out the theft of ideas (or whatever) by Amanda Marcotte were many of the same people who, a year before, bordered on abusive in dismissing accusations of a similar of theft of ideas — in that case because the accuser was a widely hated radical feminist “transphobe” and the plagiarizer (or whatever) was a celebrated blogging transperson.
Now of course, both of the posts I linked here go over just what happened with regard to appropriation, but to make what kind of appropriation and theft of ideas that little light was accused of:
Ravenm: I disagree that feminist writers benefit from owning certain words, metaphors, etc.
Ravenm, I don’t think that feminist writers benefit from owning certain words, metaphors, etc., either. I think feminist writers, as I’ve said more than once, whenever possible, ought to acknowledge one another’s work which is similarly themed, not only out of writerly courtesy but for the sake of promoting the work of other feminist writers, so that it never is erased. We’re stronger together than we are alone. In other words, out of solidarity.
While I don’t think that certain words and metaphors belong to feminists, I do think that some belong to females (goddess imagery) and ought not be appropriated by those who are factually male.
I disagree that Little Light’s goal on her blog or in her poem was to colonize women.
I don’t know that this was little light’s goal? I doubt it was her intention. I think the effect of those who are factually male invoking female/goddess imagery is to colonize females.
little light evokes goddesses from her culture (which was, I might add, colonized), and she’s colonizing womanhood. Heart, a white middle-class woman who is currently running for president, is claiming ownership of every goddess on Earth in this comment. She refers to womanhood as being colonized, appropriating all of the violence and erasure that white Europeans committed – destroying and assimilating entire cultures, establishing the people of those cultures as second-class citizens in relation to whites. Yes, trans women identifying as women is exactly the same thing as committing cultural genocide. You go, Heart.
And no, little light is not doing the same thing that A. did when she wrote her article for alter.net. Not even if you compare her piece to Robin Morgan’s poem, “I am a monster, and I am proud.” The only way you could conclude that little light got her inspiration from Robin Morgan would be if you thought that any reference to a goddess anywhere is a reference to every goddess everywhere – or rather, an extremely thin case for plagiarism and why the hell is this even coming up again? Is Amy just starved for drama?
Then there was this post on August 26th, expanded from a comment at m Andrea’s:
To straight and/or sex-role-conforming people, it makes sense that sex-role nonconforming people would want to conform to the sex role within which they “fit” the best, even if it’s not the one that matches their genitals. So because gender conformity is privileged, it becomes easier to move through the world as a “man” than as a butch lesbian, or as a transwoman rather than a “failed man.” But easier is not the same thing as feminist, or revolutionary.
Here, Amy is saying that it is easier to transition, to become a woman, than it is to live as a feminine man, because gender conformity is privileged. I want to point out why this is all kinds of wrong:
Living as a “failed man” (whatever the hell that means): Going on with life as you were living it before. Cost? Can keep family, friends, job, not pay for expensive procedures, not pay for hormones, not buy a new wardrobe, not change name, not change all legal documentation, being miserable
Transitioning to woman: Two years of electrolysis (one hour a week, say $80/hour) = $8,320. Hormones for the rest of your life: Price varies, but say $50-$100/month or more pre-surgery, and probably half that after. Assuming the ability to get surgery in two years (not always likely), that’s $1,200 – $2,400. Surgery itself ranges from $15,000 to $30,000, depending upon surgeon. Facial feminization surgery for those who need or want it, can cost another $15,000 to $30,000. So, at a minimum, that’s ~$40,000-$70,000, not counting the cost of a new wardrobe.
But of course, the costs aren’t just monetary – there’s health risks associated with taking hormones, especially the high pre-surgery doses. Deep vein thrombosis is a possible (but not frequent) risk, as is increased chance of heart attack or stroke. After surgery, the hormones are required for the rest of your life because without them, you get osteoporosis. Coming out can cost you your family, your friends, and often your job. Obviously, these costs are subjective and variable, depending upon how important each of these is to you and how likely they are to stick around or not fire you. Still, the social cost of transitioning should not be discounted. Further, once you have transitioned, you’re now in a population that’s ~ 10 times more likely to be murdered, you’ll have a harder time finding a job, people will generally treat you poorly just because you’re a trans person.
Now, in what world, I ask, does that mean that being a “failed man” is harder for anyone (or perceived as harder) than being trans? The entire statement is absurd on the face of it. Why would anyone voluntarily go through this just to fit in better? Isn’t it possible there might be deeper reasons?
Well, not to anti-trans radical feminists like Amy. She’s built up her own trans mythology that she works from, one that has nothing to do with what real trans people experience. One in which it’s somehow harder to not spend tens of thousands of dollars and risk crippling your social life and relationship to your family, one in which you permanently place yourself in the category of second-class citizen than to do those things.
But it gets better:
For those of you who like your intersectionality of oppressions, I am unable to see compulsory femininity, fat hatred (as evidenced by weight loss surgery), and transgenderism as separate phenomena, because as a sex-role nonconforming fat lesbian female, I am oppressed by all three. I and others who defy sex role conditioning WHILE claiming the bodies we were born with, those of us who resist femininity and masculinity, refuse, as feminists, to see our bodies as wrong.
Yes, Amy is oppressed by trans people. And she falls back on the nonsensical “bodies we were born with” argument (hint: Amy, no, your cissexist assumption that altered bodies are less valuable than unaltered bodies is oppressing trans people). She’s also trying to claim that those who resist femininity and masculinity are somehow connected to being transgender, as if masculinity and femininity have anything to do with being male or female. This is biological essentialism – she’s equating the act of physically changing your sex with being masculine or feminine. I’m also trying to understand why she thinks sex changes are oppressive in a way that six billion men and women who also fit into the gender binary without changing their sex are not. I suspect this has nothing to do with oppression and everything to do with Amy thinking that what trans people do are somehow her business. Boundaries, Amy, learn them, love them, honor them.
Oppression is not the same thing as feeling uncomfortable or disliking something about yourself or your life. Being born with a penis is not evidence of sexist oppression. Being ridiculed or beaten for wearing makeup when you have a penis IS evidence of sexist oppression — but men, as the sex class in power, are the ones who created and police those boundaries***, and as such, are the only ones who have the power to change them. To say, “We, as women, as feminists, should collectively resist the binary model because it is the BASIS for the sexist oppression we all suffer” is a direct challenge to patriarchy. To say, “Oh, well, do whatever makes you happy” is privileged apolitical middle-class white liberal spooge and leads us down the garden path to pomo meaninglessness. Some things resist oppression, some things don’t. That’s just the way it is, however much we may be attached to our particular collusions, and whatever our individual decisions about our individual lives may be. Are there benefits and rewards for collusion? Sure, and most of us reap some of them, some of the time. But that in no way makes collusion a feminist act.
I’m not sure why she’s talking about feeling uncomfortable or disliking something about yourself or your life as being oppression. In the context of trans people (since she mentions the penis immediately), I’ve never seen a trans person claim that being trans is inherently a matter of being oppressed. That’s because it’s not – on the other hand, the way society treats trans people is oppressive. Everything from constant dehumanizing language all the way to violent murder with few consequences.
As for collusion, I would say that demonizing trans people and misrepresenting our lives, motives, beliefs, and the personal and real costs of our transitions is very effectively colluding with the Patriarchy.
I wonder if Amy thinks that trans women collude in our own murders?
And I still don’t know why Questioning Transgender has been taken down.
* No, not really.
I admit it, I suck at linking other people about stuff that I’m reading and find interesting – I’m going to try to correct that in the near future, but I’m regretting not pointing to Renegade Evolution‘s recent stint on Feministe, discussing sex worker activism.
I also recently wrote a post about how anti-pornography radical feminists approach the topic of sex work and the women who work in it. Little did I expect that we’d get a sterling, explosive example of what I was talking about:
The short summary: Heart makes a post about prostitution and the sex trade shortly after Ren starts her series of posts on Feministe. Ren, Hexy, and others attempt to engage Heart in good faith and clarify their positions.
And it all goes downhill at high speed. Heart doesn’t approve all comments, edits some she does approve, apparently some of her readers have access to the comments still in moderation. Heart responds to some of the comments still in moderation, implying arguments and wording that aren’t actually present (you can see several of the comments-in-moderation-limbo quoted at Ren’s post above).
Apparently, women’s space really means space for women who agree with Heart. This isn’t news, of course, and isn’t the real reason I started this post. The real reason is what I read at Hexpletive:
Right here in this thread we’ve got Ren defending a pornmaker/star/prostituted woman, Nina Hartley, who is an icon, who publicly rejects the use of condoms in het porn because it’s “boring” and inefficient. (Hartley is also a nurse!) When I challenge what that models to basically the entire porn-watching population (who begin at a young age these days), Ren’s answer is that she wrote a blog post once about what bad sex ed porn is, like that’s some answer. I don’t care how many condoms get handed out in the Third World somewhere (as someone commented proudly in a post I haven’t approved yet), what about fracking highly privileged sex workers married to publishers of Hustler’s fetish porn modeling random, highly dangerous, het sex practices with many partners, without condoms? How is handing out condoms in Chile addressing the tremendous harm that particular modeling does, in terms not only of what is imitated by young people, but what is demanded (and taken) from prostituted women by johns? Hell, Nina Hartley does it without condoms, everybody in porn does it without condoms, why shouldn’t he be able to go without condoms?
Or as Hexy says in her response:
Heart, I’m completely stunned that you just posted that. Are you honestly saying that you think Nina Hartley not using condoms in a commercial pornography context is more important than the fact that women are DYING because they can’t get their hands on a life saving piece of latex? You honestly feel that the message sent to Western porn consumers by Nina Hartley’s work is more deserving of attention than impoverished third world sex workers not being able to access the condoms they have demanded from international health support services?
Heart’s arguing about privilege in her response, and I think it helps to point out how she owns her own land, that she’s able to run for president (even if not with any chance of winning), that she’s white, able-bodied, heterosexual (on her third husband, even), and has been able to raise her children in a relatively safe environment. She’s a privileged middle-class white woman.
And she’s arguing that it’s more important to her that middle-class white people don’t get a bad example from pornography (who learns safe sex from normal pornography?) than it is that women of color who are living in poverty around the world have access to condoms so that when they do end up in sex work, they dramatically reduce their risk of contracting STDs – like, say, AIDS.
This really pissed me off when I read it, and I had lots of angry words that, sadly, I haven’t held onto through the intermittent internet outages I’ve been experiencing over the past few days. However, that’s okay, because this morning, I got to see something new. Apparently, Heart is telepathic – as seen in this comment posted to Saorla (without approving Saorla’s own comment):
I will not be approving any of your comments until you e-mail me and give me more information about yourself. I went to your blog and see that you say you have been in Cambodia two years. You appear to be a man. Your blogroll is a virtual who’s who of pro-porn pro-prostitution people. My guess is you’re a john, a “punter,” a “sex tourist”, prostituting Cambodian people yourself and here to defend it.
I’m getting better and better at recognizing people like you. The day is going to come when I spam you before I read 10 words you have written. How dare you comment here as some sort of expert on Cambodian prostituted women, when what the truth most likely is, you prostitute them yourself.
Don’t comment here again until you e-mail me and tell me precisely who you are in ways I can substantiate independently because I’ll tell you what, there are many sick people on the internet, many of them prostitute women and I won’t have them commenting to this thread.
Saorla reports in a post on her blog:
EDIT: Heart has removed her comment. She apologised for jumping to conclusions. She has not apologised for slandering me.
This is really outrageous – someone who claims to be so sensitive to slights against women, who will complain at length about boycotting musicians who attend MichFest for supporting its transphobic policy can’t even muster a public apology for the woman she wrongly accused of every sin against women that Heart could think of. Oh, sure, apologize for making the mistake, but not for the accusations.
This entire mess is positively Orwellian.
I don’t*. Oh, sure, I remember the post she made which was immediately overrun with anti-trans radical feminists riding their hobby horses. But the conversation got sucked into the “justify yourself, you subhuman freak” Bermuda Triangle:
One of the standard complaints of feminism, quite rightly, is that men demand access to women’s time. They demand that women clean up after them, bring them cups of coffee, do the xeroxing and so on. In more patriarchal societies, women are supposed to take responsibility for men’s uncontrollable sexuality through various sorts of ‘modesty’; in less patriarchal, but still sexist ones, women are supposed to decorate themselves for men, rather than for themselves. Straight men have privilege and one of the ways that they exercise it is by making uncompensated demands on women’s time.
(One of the mistakes of a particular kind of feminism was to assume that pleasing men and placating sexism was the only reason why a woman might wear cosmetics – certainly, though, I have known women who were perfectly prepared to wear slap to go out clubbing but who objected to being expected to wear it at work.)
My point is that the demand that transpeople constantly justify ourselves, constantly live with other people’s issues, is a similar exercise of privilege, in this case cis-gendered privilege, They are claiming the right to make us spend time we often don’t have on going over and over the same arguments time after time.
Anyway, Cedar – whose blog you absolutely must read – goes back to the root, as it were. Ze talks about the transmisogyny in Maia’s post that mostly went unexamined because of the energy-sucking vortex mentioned above. It didn’t go unnoticed, but it was rapidly swept aside, thanks to the usual antics of Stormcloud, Polly, Rich, m Andrea, and others.
As Cedar says:
Radfem recants transphobia, transphobic radfems plus one very confused and hateful person come in and attack, all the comments are about arguing with them and the legitimacy of trans people, period, and the OP never gets questioned for her remaining transphobia. (ok, she does once)
But Maia is still being really transphobic! She still sets up good transwoman [sic] bad transwoman, she still uses “woman” in opposition to “transwoman” [sic] as if we weren’t women who are trans but some other gender, she still frames woman only space as us/them, she still claims that [cis women] “we” get to “draw the line” about who enters, to “keep out the dangerous elements”, says this is SO HARD, fails to ask how other __ only spaces keep themselves safe, still engages with the notion of the over-privileged trans woman without interrogating the difference between entitlement and external privilege–and in particular says that the trans women who are most vocal about protesting our exclusion “give transfolk a bad name”, and on and on. I am especially fond of She said very little – she was attending a workshop / discussion about what it means to be a woman, and she was there to listen, not to speak.
Why doesn’t she get called on it? Because the first commenter is a class-a-asshat, that’s why.
No, that’s not why. It’s because the first commenter is a class-a-asshat, and Maia let him post, and keep posting–even after he claimed that he’d been raped by a comment.
And this actually ties back into Queen Emily’s open letter:
I have complained numerous times that the feminist blogosphere, such as it is, has one main conversation about trans people, one that is returned to again and again and again – the political implications of our transitioning. Click here if you want yet another example of pointless bloody “analysis.”
I don’t CARE about whatever horrible thing some feminist has said anymore. I care that these discussions centre on cis concerns, even (maybe especially) allies respond mostly to the slurs, but rarely address the real issues.
Now, if you want to have those conversations, here’s an idea. Subject yourself to the same kind of analysis. Honestly interrogate if and how you might have more or less privilege than trans people. And no, for the millionth time, trans women are not the fucking Patriarchy.
It’s about how any conversation about trans people gets derailed into this eternal, endless, cis-centric argument (it doesn’t even qualify as debate) about whether trans people can justify our existence. And, I admit that I often get sucked into those conversations, and use up energy I could better spend writing posts here. But, while I admit my responsibility in participating in those trainwrecks, the fact is that in each case, someone owns and manages the blog on which said trainwrecks happen. Someone approves comments that goes into moderation, someone has the power to step in and say “this talk isn’t welcome here” or even – at the least – call it out. Trans identities are not a topic over which reasonable people should be able to disagree. The debate over whether trans women should be allowed into women-only spaces is not a debate, it’s not a controversy, it’s not a point of ideological difference. It’s the institutionalized exclusion of one group of women from women as a whole. It’s saying that cis women’s needs, cis women’s experiences, cis women’s privilege are more important than trans women’s needs, experiences, and oppression under every circumstance.
And feminists who consider themselves allies, who understand that trans women are women and there shouldn’t even be a question as to whether we are women, who allow this pretense of a debate to go unchallenged, who say that this is simply a matter of opinion and not everyone needs to agree, continue to contribute to that institutionalized transmisogyny that has been a part of feminism ever since Beth Elliott was expelled from the Daughters of Bilitis. It has been 36 years since that happened.
Allies – real allies – aren’t simply accepting of trans people, don’t just accept that trans women are women. They hold others accountable for their statements about trans women. They don’t place cis women’s comfort over trans women’s safety or hold trans women accountable for cis women’s safety. How did Cedar put this? Oh, yes:
what they can do is make it seem like it is “so hard” and “a huge issue” when it’s just not. It’s not hard, in fact it’s a non-issue if you’re willing to treat it like one.
And while the last three links are aimed at one person, that’s only because she’s the most readily available example, not because she’s the only one. This post is not specifically about her, but about the transmisogyny she fails to acknowledge – and this disclaimer is not about excusing her own accountability. Is it really so hard? Is it really easier to coopt survivor voices as a shield against trans women? Or is it just more comfortable?
So, is it really so hard, when this happens – when anyone starts arguing that trans women aren’t women, or that trans women have to justify ourselves to be accepted – why don’t these conversations get smacked down? Why are they left to trans people and allies to refute over and over and over again until everyone’s exhausted or burned out or in too much pain from seeing this same argument play out over and over again? Why do cis feminists not take action to move beyond this conversation? Letting it happen makes cis women the center of all discussions about trans women, and this should never happen.
* Clarification: She did recant her transphobia, and take several positive steps. Cedar calls her out on several points where she still needs work.
This essay starts from the assertion that trans and cis women are equal in their determination of feminism, yet trans women’s agency is systemically marginalized within it. It critiques cissexual feminist entrenched positions about the relations between trans women, male privilege, and women’s space, showing how taking trans women’s perspectives and herstories seriously dramatically alter the terms of debate, providing new insights and making room for a new generation of feminists.
One excerpt (follow the link above for the rest):
When I listen to people ‘debating’ ‘letting’ trans women, trans men, and/or trans people as a whole into women-only [sic] spaces such as the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (Michfest) and domestic violence shelters, the experience is profoundly frustrating, even when it’s my allies I’m listening to. It’s the wrong structure, the wrong conversation, and the wrong participants. When a cissexual1 woman or a trans male spectrum person says “all woman-identified women/all trans people should be allowed into women’s space [sic],” I feel almost as disempowered and silenced as when they say that we shouldn’t. Though well intentioned, they represent independent moral/political judgments and statements of principle—not the voices of trans women.2 Do their statements correspond to the wishes, needs, and priorities of trans women? Do they empower trans women’s voices, or contribute to their erasure? More to the point, do cis women (let alone trans male spectrum people) legitimately have that power, to decide whether or not trans women should be allowed into “their” spaces?
Inclusion is important, and I’m happy for every voice that demands it. But the fundamental problem is not the exclusion itself. Trans women are regularly the targets of [cis] feminist misogyny (Serano 2007, 16-7; Califia 2003, 86-119) and misogyny against us is frequently tolerated in “women’s,” “women & trans,” and “queer/trans” space (Serano 2007, 352); even in so-called transfeminist work, anti- trans woman sentiment may be seen as a legitimate expression of diversity within the transfeminist movement, and not inherently anti-feminist (ex. Scott-Dixon, ed. 2006, 154-160; 170-181.) Even the term “transfeminism” itself frequently marginalizes and erases trans woman feminists.3 The problem is that even when trans women’s participation is allowed or encouraged, our concerns, comfort, and safety are almost universally secondary.
Let’s make the record clear: there is virtually no women’s space extant today. Michfest is not women’s space, nor would it be even if trans women were allowed—it’s cis, white, middle class, able women’s space. When one group controls a space or institution, when only its members’ voices, concerns, and perspectives are relevant to the determination and organization of that space—that is to say, when that group ‘owns’ the space—it is their space, regardless of who else may enter. So when allies to trans women demand our inclusion without simultaneously demanding that that space be accountable to us—including that trans & cis women be equally in charge of what constitutes women’s space and feminism—they are not demanding fundamental change, only a softer supremacy.
To get a copy of the essay, Cedar asks for a donation of $5 plus postage:
So, now that you’ve read pieces of the essay, I hope you’ll feel moved to donate, and I’ll send you the whole shebang in the mail. Yes, the USPS, I’d much prefer to keep it offline. I’m asking for $5 plus postage, roughly, but it’s also pay-what-you-can.
Remember to read the other excerpts in the original post. The section on male privilege, especially.
On multiple occasions, when sucked into one of those soul-destroying conversations with anti-trans radical feminists about whether trans people actually have the right to alter our bodies, I’ve read a variation of this argument:
I get worried when academics and activists spend so much time discussing performativity, the possibility of multiple genders, and ways transgendering and crossdressing (before you get all up in arms–Im not equating these two) challenge gender studies and how we can create art and literature exploring genderbending, etc. etc. etc. What ever happened to the radical stuff–analyzing gender as an inequality? What ever happened to changing social structures such that people can be happy and healthy in the bodies they’re born with? What ever happened to the dreams feminists had of one day no longer having gender and its shackles?
It just seems to me that at base, trans is about not getting rid of gender. It seems to be about maintaining masculinity and femininity, when you cut to the chase. While I’m no authority on the issue, I have yet to see trans organizations or really any trans theorists and activists calling for an abolition of gender itself. I hope I’m wrong.
This is a perfect example of what I mentioned in my I Blame the Porno-iarchy post about how some feminists talk about utopian goals and neglect practical solutions. Or more specifically, how they tend to impose utopian goals on those whom the goals would affect most.
But this goes beyond that – beyond the insistence that since feminism supposedly has this goal to end gender, that all trans people everywhere must also want the same thing. That trans people must somehow fit into feminist theories about what gender is and why it exists. Per these theories, womanhood doesn’t really exist, therefore making it impossible for trans women (but not cis women) to be women. Cis women get to exist because they were born female. The reason that gender doesn’t exist is because it’s a social construct.
Social constructs include, but are not limited to: laws, governments, national borders, police powers, marriage, religion, families, property, citizenship, loyalty, love, money, cities, states, and nations. Few would argue that any of these things do not exist – people may question the basis of their existence, but the fact is that existing as a concept does not make these things imaginary, for good or ill. Similarly, gender is not imaginary. Gender is real, and part of our everyday life, again for good or ill.
This is also an incredibly patronizing attitude: The assumption that there is something inherently more valuable about not wanting to change your body than there is about wanting to change your body. That trans people would welcome a world where transitioning would never happen. That if we change our bodies, they are somehow no longer the bodies we are born with.
When they tell me these things, I feel like they’re trying to show me the true light of civilization, that perhaps they believe that transitioning is a prison that trans people are forced into. That society’s demands require us to transition, because we don’t behave like the sex we’re born into. And that when the glorious revolution comes and destroys the binary, then these demands would no longer exist, and we could exist as we truly should be, free to express ourselves without kowtowing to the oppressive medical profession.
Or in other words: This utopia that radical feminists describe to me is one in which people like me shouldn’t exist, that being trans is the result of living in an immature society. That my ability to transition, to stop living as a male, stop being seen as a boy, and start living as a woman, was anything but personal liberation for me.
Regardless of what newspapers constantly print about wheelies or people with illness or disability, I am not “Wheelchair bound”, nor am I “bound by my disease” or “bound by disability.” And I am NOT “House bound.” I say that because today, while I went down to the video store on the off chance they had released Supernatural Season 3 early (they do sometimes if it is a long weekend). The person denied that and wondered why I didn’t call and then said, “Oh….that’s right, you like to go outside.” Spoken to me as if I was some rare and unusual form of human or odd for a person with a disability.
I’ve seen multiple people with disabilities make the same point, and I have to wonder why cis people seem to see trans people as trapped by gender in a similar fashion.
But this is a cis privileged perspective: We’re asked to participate in a revolution that would (so they believe) erase us. We’re asked to put our lives on the line for a utopian ideal that is not going to come to pass. We’re blamed for reifying the gender binary despite the fact that there are six billion men and women who reify the gender binary without the need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on hormones, surgery, electrolysis, etc. It’s a cis privileged perspective that by stepping outside of cisnormative society and crossing that line – going from man to woman or woman to man – that we’re reinforcing cisnormative society.
It’s also a cis privileged position because it places “no one ever transitions” as the ideal state for society. That this ideal society is one in which “everyone is cissexual.” It erases people who are different from the norm, treats them as part of the norm, and expects them to comply. I find the idea of such a society highly oppressive.
I also wish that feminists who talk about the social construction of gender would spend some time examining the social construction of sex. And yes, it is socially constructed even if you remove trans people from the equation. Decades of surgery inflicted upon intersex infants should make this clear.
Edit: Right after completing this post, I followed a trackback to Coilhouse, and found a discussion relevant to this post.
Edited to remove a problematic comparison