Archive for the ‘transphobia’ tag
Dear Auntie Kate, (can I call you that?)
I have had more than a few reservations about your gender theory for quite a while now but have held my tongue for a variety of reasons. Yet as I read through your latest op-ed in Out magazine, The Trouble With Tranny, I was profoundly troubled. I came to a point where I realised I just couldn’t stay silent any more because of the venues in which you’re promoting a certain kind of theory that is, perhaps despite your good intentions, very transphobic. If I haven’t already lost you, allow me to explain.
You begin the article with fond reminiscences about your time with Doris Fish, a prominent drag queen, whose views regarding trans women you characterise in the following way:
“I was afraid of her raw sexuality, but bowled over by her courage. Doris was amused by my quest to become a real woman.” (Emphasis mine)
“Like me in the late ’80s in San Francisco, the majority of MTF transsexuals just wanted to live their lives as closely as possible to whatever their notion was of “a real woman.” They considered drag queens beneath them. The drag queens were amused by the MTFs pursuing the dream of real woman.”
Let me be the first to say that the disparaging of crossdressers and drag queens on the part of transsexual people is, yes, quite morally wrong and represents internalised transphobia. It evokes that hierarchy of legitimacy that too many people of all backgrounds buy into in order to buttress their stability and position in a world that is built on domination. Yes, it’s wrong. I am not more legitimate than a crossdresser, no DQs do not make me “look bad” and I call out any person who claims such. The problem lies with a society that will not learn about us and lumps us all together as one blob of freakish bad, and not with any individual member of our diverse community.
All of this said, I get the distinct sense that you feel more ‘enlightened’ and ‘evolved’ now and agree with Doris Fish in her ‘amusement.’
Auntie Katie, let me reveal to you a bit of truth here. Willing to listen? Good:
I did not transition to be a “real woman”- that’s a useless concept, and a fairly sexist/transphobic one. I transitioned to be a woman, my kind of woman, the kind of woman I want to be, and that involves expressing myself as I am, as a whole person, in ways that break gender stereotypes as much as ‘caters’ to them. I’m not alone in this. A lot of trans women out there feel exactly the same way, and as we’ve unlearned our internalised transphobia and misogyny we are becoming all the more proud to be unique types of women, not archetypes of women. This leads rather nicely into my next point to you. You say the following:
“Years earlier, when I went through my gender change from male to female, I glided through life under the commonly accepted assumption: I was finally a real woman! That worked for me until I ran into a group of politically smart lesbians who told me that I wasn’t allowed to co-opt the word “woman.” Woman was not a family word that included me. My answer to this exclusion was to call myself a gender outlaw: I wasn’t a man, I wasn’t a woman.”
Here you’re making exactly the same, utterly fallacious mistake that too many “meanies” (as you might call them) make. Your experience was thus and so, therefore we all must be such.
Here is a bit more truth- I know, work with, and study the work of politically smart cis lesbians and queer women who would utterly balk at the idea that a trans woman “co-opts” the term “woman.” They are increasingly part of mainstream feminism, from the street to academe, they and their trans sisters would without a moment’s hesitation label such thinking outdated and transphobic. Why? Because how exactly are you going to break apart patriarchal gender norms if you cede “man” and “woman” to biologically essentialist definitions? If you say it’s not possible for someone assigned male at birth to truly be a woman, you’re not being a gender outlaw, you’re being gender riot police. I don’t think you’d look very good in a black helmet and gas mask, Kate, so I invite you to reconsider your stance on these issues for the benefit of us all.
Because right now, you’re not helping by delegitimising people’s identities. By making womanhood more diverse, trans women are also in the vanguard of disrupting normative notions of womanhood and in case you were not aware, Kate, feminists do internalise gender norms as well; it’s what makes it so easy to take biological-essentialism for granted, as you yourself appear to do.
This is a crosspost from my blogthing.
When one reaches a certain point in transition and begins to delve into this riotously diverse, loose aggregate we call the “trans community” and its close cousins to whom we are the red-headed step sister (yes, quite the odd family, no?), one inevitably hits the wall of language.
What do you call yourself? To what group do you belong? How should you be addressed? How does this relate to how you address others? What language is hurtful and undermines you? On and on the questions and contemporaneous realisations go. Words, wonderful words, surround, bind, and penetrate you. At the end of the day again and again we are learning, re-learning, and un-learning language. Trans people are, along with certain other loose confederations of humanity, perhaps more deeply attuned to the vicissitudes of linguistic power and how language does power than your average bear.
And why is that? Because there is one realisation along with all the other usual ones (i.e. why it hurts when, as a trans man, someone calls you ‘she’ or a ‘woman’) that demonstrates language’s power.
The words we have often obviate any meaningful way of discussing our experiences.
In the long march into academia one naturally becomes intimately acquainted with the geeky and esoteric minutiae of whatever discipline one has chosen for their career. Over the last two years I’ve found myself up to my eyeballs in gender studies text and find it utterly fascinating. I’m often seen scurrying to and fro with a book or two tucked under my arm and my desk is covered in all manner of books appertaining to my passions. But importantly, when you are trans-anything and delving into the wild and woolly world of gender studies you have to be ready for the fact that there will be lots and lots of highly credentialed, intellectual academics theorising about you who do not know what the hell they’re talking about.
This occupational hazard is, to put it bluntly, both annoying and the reason I’m doing the sociology of gender in the first place. The only way this is going to be truly fixed is when we start writing the theory and we start conducting the research, casting our eyes not just on this wild and strange tribe of “transgender” but also on cis people whose views are far more powerful in shaping how our fractioned community is gendered and understood. What I’m looking at today is a particular strain of thought that is increasingly common in Third Wave feminist theorising; it is ostensibly trans positive but ends up being highly fetishising, stereotypical, and ultimately transphobic. It stands in contrast to that Janice Raymond school of theorising that constructs us purely in terms of an outsider, an enemy who constitutes a patriarchal invasion-cum-Body Snatchers. This vision instead sees us (or some of us) as ‘useful’- we have utility in the quest of certain cis feminists to smash the gender binary. Yet what unites both of these seemingly oppositional philosophies is that they are theories formed by cis people about us, relative to their gender ideology, and that construct us as ‘other.’
There are a few strains of thought in this new feminist theory that merit deconstruction and they will likely be familiar to most readers in one way or another:
I was not so happy as I looked in the pictures on my parents’ walls. It was something that resonated with me as I read a beautiful, radical poem by Jo Carillo ‘And When You Leave, Take Your Pictures With You’ which used as a leitmotif pictures of Latinas working under the sun that might hang in the livingroom of a blanquita radfem. Like so many things in the anthology- This Bridge Called My Back- that poem is immortalised in, it made me think, not just about its own very important subject which is, alas, an all too salient issue even today… but about the pictures that were once on my wall too.
They were windows into a very particular past, a past that is assuredly a minefield on multiple levels. Much has been said, including on the pages of Questioning Transphobia itself, about those pictures. How they can oppress, or how they can liberate. It vexed me because as a budding sociologist I’m easily entranced by questions of meaning, and constantly working upon my mind was a need to decipher the meanings of those pictures in my own life. Not just the meanings of the photographs themselves, but what they represented.
And to begin the, perhaps necessary, use of ten guinea words in this piece; what the past those pictures evoked could say about my subjectivity.
What it means to be trans is one of those existential questions that excites and puzzles as surely as other such questions about the categories of human existence, the lines drawn in flesh that mark us off as one thing or the other. In the more evolved discourses of identity politics and its modern intersectional incarnations, there is an understanding that being trans carries with it a certain experience, a certain perspective on the world that only trans people have.
Certainly the vagaries of this can be disputed but one question that I’ve had and felt very troubled in answering is this one: Is my lived experience as someone who was forced to be male part of my subjectivity?
Let me be clearer still: I was never a man, no, but I lived as a male per the directions and encouragement of every social actor in my life up until the age of 21. In moving through the world in that utterly ill fitting skin, that imposed disguise whose existence tantilised the very edges of my conscious mind, I still ended up seeing things a certain way and being made to undertake certain actions, think certain thoughts. Such for me provides rich perspective, and informs my participation in discourses on misogyny. But can I talk about what that meant for me and what it felt like? What the specific experience was for me as a young trans girl- a woman forced in very deep ways to put on what society deemed a male persona? Can I say that this taught me something about male privilege or provided me with some perspective on what being a young man might be like?
Not without siring a world of trouble, that much is for sure.
“it seems to basically say “oppressed/marginalised people can be treated as property” (to be “borrowed”, something must be “owned”), and simultaneously that an explanation of difference is something that the “normal” have a right to demand at will from the “different” (a term commonly used in the autistic liberation movement is “self-narrating zoo exhibit”)”
Right from that start, this demand is built into the transition process. Just to get your hands on hormones, you need to assemble an autobiography convincing enough to get a psychiatrist to diagnose you and pass a referral on. There’s the endless barrage of questions from family, friends, partners. Why are you doing this? Have you always felt this way? etc etc. For no-op/no-hormone people, I imagine that why aren’t you going the medical route gets pretty old too (you are, of course, damned either way, such is the way of normative power).
Occasionally, this is actually helpful. When you repeat a narrative, you can solidify it (although, also raise the possibility of its failure), and that can be good in clarifying the bodily feelings of gender dysphoria into language. And as Helen points out, inevitably some kind of narrative is necessary to negotiate Planet Cis.
But see, it’s the demand that sucks, the necessity of it. Some people I want to understand (eg my girlfriend, it helps for her to understand what it’s like to live in my skin), but most people? Shit, do they actually really listen, anyway? I’m sick of conversations that go:
Them: So you’re gay?
Me: Not the way you mean. I’m a trans woman, which is about gender not sexuality. I have a girlfriend, which makes me a lesbian I suppose.
Them: Ohhhhhhh now I get it.
Them: So you’re a gay man?
Or the assumption that because I’m a trans academic, I write queer theory. Actually, for the record, I write about religion in culture, my blogging sometimes feels like this bizarro alternate universe. I’m trans, sure, and a feminist, but trans stuff I’m rarely interested in for its own sake. It’s only the utter shiteness of cis-authored theory about trans people that makes me want to pick up a pen on that score.
So the notion that all trans people can talk about with any authority is being trans really pisses me, and that conversations about transness become axiomatically centred on cis concerns about our bodies pisses me off even further. Trans 101 seems to turn into… trans 101.. and then… trans 101. There’s always another person, ignorant of their own privilege, demanding I explain myself. Wanting this zoo exhibit to narrate their own lives, only using cis language to make the story fit cis assumptions, and it never bloody fits.
I’m honestly really not sure how to get out of this roundabout, though. Like Helen says, it’s necessary for us to be understood, because–and this is as depressingly cynical thought as I’ve had–if you are different, you have to prove your humanity to those in power. It cannot be taken for granted, and given the virulence of transphobia when combined with racism, hatred of sex workers, ableism etc this work is probably necessary to some degree.
For me, it’s impossible to stop talking about it, because unless I suddenly get whacked by the 24/7 Stealth Fairy the demand is unlikely to go away any time soon. And even then, there’s always shrinks, endocrinologists and surgeons for awhile. But I’m burnt out on it, and I honestly cannot fathom why someone would actually want to participate in something that makes that conversation occur even more..
So yesterday, the Bush administration yesterday granted sweeping new protections to health workers who refuse to provide care that violates their personal beliefs. Jill at Feministe has pointed out that while this undoubtedly chiefly aimed at women’s reproductive freedoms, this is actually not about abortion–which depressingly already has this exception–but easy access to contraception.
One point I want to make about that, which I’ve stolen from Lee Edelman’s No Future, is that America is being organised around the figure of The Child. Not actual children, let alone the adults those children grow into, but a rhetorical child who must be protected at all costs–from the corrupting influence of gay marriages, porn on the internet etc and who must always be allowed to exist.
The rights of the Child, who is figured as a full person and not as a body of cells or ffs an egg and a sperm, supercedes the rights of adult women to have control over their bodies. Never mind that people (and I want to make the point that it’s not just women, eg some trans men use birth control too. Seriously, pay attention cis feminists and stop making the normative assumption that reproductive health equals het cis woman) use the pill primarily for other health reasons–to regulate their periods, to moderate PMS and PMDD etc etc. And needless to say, The Child does not grow up to be queer, or trans, or sexually active outside the sanctity of marriage. And The Child is clearly normatively white.
But whilst it is clearly aimed at heterosexual cis women, it will have a massive impact on other groups–especially trans men and women.
From the Washington Post:
“The far-reaching regulation cuts off federal funding for any state or local government, hospital, health plan, clinic or other entity that does not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other employees who refuse to participate in care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable.”
Ok, let that sink in a bit. Care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable. Now, where is that going to leave trans people? Sex workers? People they think are drug users (a highly racialized image after all)? People with disabilities?
Like queerness, being trans has been framed by many on the Religious Right as a moral issue. To be trans is to be, by definition, immoral. By situating health care as a “conscience” issue, this law allows transphobic health care workers–not just doctors, but pharmacists, emergency medics etc etc–full license to indulge their bigotry and to not treat us. So, even if you can get through the knife lined obstacle course that is the gatekeeper process and get through to a hormone prescription, the bloody pharmacist might not even give them to you.
We all know health care for trans people is already shitty, let alone giving health care providers carte blanche to treat us worse. Remember Tyra Hunter, who died because firefighters decided not to perform emergency resuscitation on her when they discovered she was trans, and then a doctor at Washington General decided not to treat her. Because she was trans, because she was a woman of color, because she was not a person, she was an “it.” And, because some people consider that our existence is immoral and must be squashed out.
This is a nightmare of a ruling that potentially allows any person in the health-care business to rule that treating trans people goes against their conscience, and when something serious is occuring, you don’t have the time to shop around for someone who will treat you.
And the intersection between transness and race here will be even more deadly. Medicine has a long history of being used against people of color in the US, and this gives health care people legal protections to further that. As Kristin “the mean one on Feministe” just said to me, making the horrid implications of this explicitly clear:
“I didn’t quite make the connection as to why doctors would want to refuse anyone treatment in the context of a miscarriage at first. It just clicked. Why would they want to do that other than to refuse treatment to people they judge to be the “cause” of the miscarriage? You know, people like, say, possible drug users. Or people otherwise marked as “unworthy” of care. Say, homeless people, immigrants… Fuck. I mean, why else would anyone demand that kind of “right”? Fuck fuck fuck… I think this is going to be even more evil in practice than it looks on the surface. If that kind of “protection” becomes a fucking protocol, oh my god… If this becomes widespread… Organized against a specific group, that’s genocidal.”
AURORA | A week after Aimee Wilcoxson was found dead in her north Aurora home, her friends say they still have questions about the transgender woman’s death.
“None of it makes sense to us,” said Imani Latif, executive director of It Takes A Village, the nonprofit organization where Wilcoxson worked.
More than 30 friends of Wilcoxson gathered Wednesday night near It Takes a Village at East Colfax Avenue and Lima Street to remember the woman who they say loved to laugh, loved Madonna and who advocated for other transgender women who, like her, had been diagnosed with HIV.
Wilcoxson, 34, had been living as a woman for more than 10 years, friends say.
Police found Wilcoxson dead in her home in the 1600 block of Lima Street on Nov. 3.
Police aren’t releasing many details about the case, but said investigators believe Wilcoxson took her own life.
“Detectives feel that all the evidence in the case points to a suicide,” said Aurora police spokesman Detective Bob Friel.
Friel said police are waiting for a toxicology exam from the Adams County Coroner’s office, which could take up to six weeks to complete.
The coroner’s office has ruled the cause of death “undetermined” and is waiting on toxicology results, said Adams County Coroner Jim Hibbard.
But Wilcoxson’s friends say she was a happy person with a lot to look forward to and wouldn’t have killed herself. They say she was murdered.
“We think there was foul play,” Latif said.
Latif said one of Wilcoxson’s neighbors found her dead in her bed Nov. 3. The neighbor said there was broken furniture in the home and that there was blood on the mattress where Wilcoxson lay, Latif said.
Friel said police can’t comment specifically about those claims and reiterated that evidence in the case points to a suicide.
Latif said investigators told Wilcoxson’s friends that the blood was from Wilcoxson’s body decomposing and that she likely overdosed on pills.
But Latif argues that there wasn’t enough time for the body to decompose — friends spoke to her Sunday and her body was found Monday. And, she said, Wilcoxson had been followed home before and complained about “tweakers” hanging out around her home, Latif said.
Wilcoxson’s friends say they believe she was beaten to death, though they don’t know by who or why.
Hibbard, the Adams County coroner, said there were no obvious signs of trauma to Wilcoxson’s body and that if anyone knows more about her death, they need to contact police.
Latif said Wilcoxson also wasn’t the type to kill herself.
She said Wilcoxson was diagnosed with terminal cancer early this year and that one of the things that bothered her most was that she wouldn’t be alive to see Madonna play at the Pepsi Center this month.
When doctors told her she had been misdiagnosed, the Madonna concert was one of the things Wilcoxson was looking forward to most, Latif said.
“We know that if she was going to commit suicide, she wouldn’t have done it a week before the Madonna concert,” she said.
I’m sucking on adding commentary, but I wanted to point people to this story.
So, Christine Burns was annoyed with the number of responses to her rather controversial podcast interview with Julie Bindel. She ultimately locked comments, the last comment being rather inflammatory toward trans women:
I’m a woman with a trans history, and whilst I do not agree with many of Bindels views, this is one which I do agree with her. Why does it have to be about the transwomen Kate P? In a rape counselling situation, the most important woman is the one who has been raped, surely??. Is this not just typical male privilege to make it ‘all about teh transwoman’??? In such a sensitive situation, how will she feel about a transwoman trying to counsel her, especially if that transwoman does not even pass, or has no experience of being raped, being born and raised as a female.
Apparently, according to Jane, a trans woman either can’t be raped, or she’s unaware that Kimberly Nixon – who rightfully sued Vancouver Rape Relief for discrimination – is a rape survivor, which is why she wanted to work as a rape counselor. Apparently, Jane is also unaware that Ms. Nixon did work as a rape counselor elsewhere, and the primary reason she applied to VRR was because the shelter that she visited didn’t allow survivors they’d served to volunteer until 12 months had passed.
But that’s beside the point – Jane is trying to shift the discussion from “trans women are denied access to women’s services” to “how can trans women be so selfish and have so much male privilege to think they should have access to women’s services?!?” Of course, it’s a pretty standard silencing tactic among anti-trans radical feminists (and others, let’s be honest) to accuse trans women of exercising male privilege. Please ignore the fact that trans women are women and do not benefit from male privilege due to being women. She’s not talking about privilege here, but the idea that trans women act from a sense of male entitlement. Of course, the entitlement in question is “a woman is asking for access to women-only space,” and how is a woman asking for access to women-only space any sign of male entitlement? It’s not, this is a catch-22. Trans women either acquiesce to active exclusion wielded against us (go read Beyond Inclusion by Cedar Troost right now) and we’re excluded, or we assert that as women we belong, and we’re accused of using non-existent male privilege to gain access.
Jane also throws in a particularly vile comment about how trans women who don’t pass shouldn’t be allowed near cis women as a rape counselor. What she means is “trans women who really look like men,” which is another form of looksism, or the idea that a woman’s value is directly related to her appearance. To Jane, a trans woman who doesn’t look feminine enough is not valuable, and definitely shouldn’t be allowed near cis women.
Jane also throws in the canard about “not being born and raised female.” This is simply a matter of holding trans women’s history against us – that something we have no control over, that we were raised in a coercive system that demanded an attempt to make boys out of us (and failed to do so, ultimately) is an ineradicable original sin, staining our lives forever. Jane seems fascinated with holding every trait that’s not under our control against us – our appearance, our upbringing, how we may have been treated pre-transition.
Also, if a rape survivor doesn’t want to deal with a counselor for any reason, there’s usually other counselors available. The hypothetical woman who’d be triggered by dealing with a trans woman (or who is simply transphobic) can simply deal with a cis woman.
What utter nonsense Helen G! Both LGB(T) and Feminism movements are broad, you don’t really expect them to always be agreeable of inclusive of trans surely? I’ve met a lot of transpeople over the years that are equally homophobic and some are mysogynist – so I don’t get the point here? And, Feminism is a movement that women have had to create themselves, to break down the patriarchy and the abuse that has been laid to them by men, yet, transpeople think they can just storm right in and force Feminists and women to just accept them and not challenge how trans issues affect them?? Sounds like male privilege again as its mostly vocal transwomen doing this!
What Helen G said is actually true – feminism did spend a lot of effort expelling trans women starting in 1973 (with the expulsion of Beth Elliott/Mustang Sally from the Daughters of Bilitis San Francisco chapter), followed up by Robin Morgan demanding a vote to see whether Beth Elliott would be allowed to remain and perform at a festival later, followed by trans women being expelled from collectives and other feminist spaces, followed by a boycott against Olivia Records (complete with death threats against Sandy Stone) until Sandy Stone left Olivia, with The Transsexual Empire. And of course, there’s Mary Daly’s writings comparing trans women to Frankenstein’s Monster, Sheila Jeffreys’ writings demonizing trans women, Germaine Greer’s Pantomime Dames in The Whole Woman describing trans women as equivalent to serial killers and rapists. There was the expulsion of Nancy Burkholder from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, followed by a redefinition of the term “womyn-born womyn” to mean “a woman born female, raised as a girl” to explicitly exclude trans women from the festival land, that remained in place until 2006 or 2007, with various degrees of enforcement. At this point it’s mostly a guideline, which means trans women can enter, but should be aware that Lisa Vogel does not approve.
But all this history means that trans women have been excluded from feminism. Our activism, our work as feminists is erased, and we’re told that cis women have done all the real work in feminism, and despite the fact that we’re women too, we have to work twice as hard to get half the recognition for our own efforts in feminism, and that’s in addition to being told that we’re bad feminists (and not really women anyway) if we ever ever ever put trans issues ahead of what feminists consider to be real feminist issues.
This is echoed in the gay rights movement. In the early 70s, after Stonewall (in which trans women started the riot), groups like Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries were consistently marginalized. Further, trans rights were constantly used as bargaining chips, left off of civil rights legislation in exchange for getting more votes for gay and lesbian rights. When trans people finally received acknowledgement that we were essentially dealing with very similar or often the same oppression as gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, our needs were still being sidelined by organizations such as HRC and other mainstream gay rights groups. We’ve been told that we have to pay our dues and earn our place at the table, even though we were there from the beginning, have been doing activism all along. That since the T was only added since the 90s, we only started doing work since the 90s. I guess this is slightly better than what we hear from feminists, which is that trans women have done nothing at all for feminism (despite the fact that we’ve been in the women’s liberation movement and feminism for the past forty years).
Jane also repeats the standard anti-trans radical feminist line that trans issues affect cis women negatively, and that trans people have to somehow address how our very existence enigmatically harms cissexual women before we can be taken seriously. This is just another indelible Mark of Cain, like male privilege or “not passing” above.
Oh, and Christine? I understand why you locked your comment thread, but locking it on that note? After endorsing Julie Bindel? Seriously?
I thought Jane might be a sockpuppet, but Ashley/Profgreen vouched for Jane’s existence.
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.
Sylvia Rivera in Genderqueer: Voices from Beyond the Binary:
“And after all these years, the trans community is still at the back of the bus. I despise that. I’m hurt and get depressed a lot about it. But I will not give up because I won’t give the mainstream gay organizations the satisfaction of keeping us down. If we give up, they win. And we can’t allow them to win. The reason we, right now, as a trans community, don’t have the rights they have is that we allowed them to speak for us for so many damn years, and we bought everything they said to us: “Oh, let us pass our bill, then we’ll come for you.”
Yeah, come for me. Thirty-two years later and they’re still coming for me. And what have we got? Here, where it all started, trans people have got nothing. We can no longer let people like the Empire State Pride Agenda, the HRC in Washington, speak for us. And it really hurts me that some gay people don’t even know what we gave for their movement”
With thanks to andrajames on livejournal for posting this.