Embedded Reporter: The Acceptability of Transphobia in Radfem Communities Remains Under Hot Debate at I Blame the Patriarchy

At I Blame the Patriarchy, the debate over bathroom libel rages on. I rarely post there, but some mad little hamster in my brain jumped on the wheel this time and squeaked out, “These ridiculous claims cannot stand! Bring it on!”

A commenter named lesbot asks:

How could any radfem care more about “gender” than sex and more about an xy’s comfort in a women’s bathroom than about protecting xx’s, including xx children, from rape?

Twisty replies, “Gender, incidentally, is one of the top 3 most pressing issues in all of Savage Death Islandism. Cultural narratives surrounding gender are the primary underlying motivation for rape as well as for lawmakers’ steaming craps.”

She also asks, “Why the fervent defense of these so-called ladies’ rooms? The only thing keeping pervs and rapists out of them is — du dum — NOTHING! It’s not like there’s an anti-y-chromosome force field surrounding them.”

These are both good points, but I can’t get over the incoherence of the bathroom libel to begin with.

Does anyone have evidence of trans women attacking cis women in bathrooms, ever? Or is evidence too sciencey and thus patriarchal?

If the fear of trans women in ladies restrooms is about actual fear of rape and not, say, freaking out because trans people are icky, then examples should be easy at hand.

And they should even, preferably, exceed the number of examples of trans men and women experiencing violence at the hands of cis women and cis men when attempting to use either fucking bathroom.

Another commenter, yttik asks, “Does anybody hear the double standard going on? Women better make room for transwomen in the potty or else you’re a bunch of anti-science bigots who hate dogs. And if we don’t happily share the potty, what will we do? Cast a jaded look at somebody? Not smile and be welcoming? Meanwhile, why are transwomen afraid to use the mens room? Because they might be assaulted, raped, murdered, etc. Are we addressing the fact that men can be flippin violent and transphobic bastards? Nope, we’re hating on women who might not be passing out warm inclusive hugs to transwomen in public restrooms.”

But trans women DO encounter violence in women’s restrooms, as per my links above. They may be assaulted. They may be arrested. More commonly, they are harassed. Under threat of arrest or harassment, they may be forced to use men’s restrooms (again, see above links) where the chances of violence probably do rise, due to the incongruity between gender presentation and using the bathroom.

“What will we do?” yttik asks, referring to transphobic cis women as if they are passive and powerless. Well, there are a number of tactics, aren’t there? Using the force of law to pressure trans women into situations where they are more likely to be violently attacked is not doing nothing; it is actively increasing the likelihood of violence. Using the force of law to subject trans women to police brutality from men is not doing nothing. Harassment, verbal or sexual, is not doing nothing, and yes, it does come from cis women:

I’ll also state for the record that I have also been sexually assaulted in a public toilet – in this case it was a woman’s toilet and a cis woman apparently felt that grabbing my tits while I was washing my hands was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

Over on Twisty’s blog, a lot of people are frustrated that the debate continues. Twisty has tried to end it (although she sparked it back up again by bringing it up in her next post). Both sides seem to find the argument exhausting. “Oh fuck,” says commenter nails, “the Debate That Shall Not Be Named is back on. I’ll just kick back and witness the bannage I guess.” Other commenters insinuate that Twisty will only allow comments that aren’t transphobic–which, well, I wouldn’t object to that, but it’s manifestly not what she’s doing.

I sympathize with the fact that people want the debate to “be over.” For pro-trans people, it’s tiring having to defend their humanity, or the humanity of their friends and loved ones, or even just the humanity of other humans. For anti-trans people, well, it’s always kind of tiring when people refuse to just accept your bigotry, isn’t it? Cognitive dissonance is painful.

But no, the debate isn’t going to “be over,” not while the transphobia remains in that space, just the same as the debates about whether sexism is okay or racism is okay aren’t going to vanish just because sexists and racists want them to.

And isn’t it tiring that the debate centers around bathrooms when there are theoretically more important issues in trans people’s lives, such as, you know, the incredibly high murder rate? But the bathroom debate is important. First of all, being able to pee is a human need. As someone who has panic attacks when entering situations where I’m likely to be harassed, I can’t even imagine the panic that must accompany some trans public whenever they go out in public, knowing that if they have to use the bathroom, they could be subjected to harassment and violence.

Also, the bathroom issue–like gay marriage–has become symbolic, an imperfect but important barometer for anti-trans sentiment.

Commenter smaller: “Jill raised the “potty issue” most likely because that is the biggest fixation for bigots who can’t wrap their heads around transpeople’s basic humanity. Sure, it’s a very real and pressing issue for transpeople in everyday life -do they walk into the bathroom that’s “right” for their genetics, or the one that’s “right” for their gender presentation, and risk being thrown out, arrested, beaten, killed or raped depending on how the people around them judge what sex they ought to be, no matter which choice they make?”

“Speaking of which,” smaller adds, “talk to some of your really dykey lesbian friends some time and ask them how often they’ve been kicked out of bars or public places because a homophobic woman complains about “the man in the bathroom”- but it’s seized upon to a ridiculous degree by people who want to belittle the issues surrounding trans-ness.”

“I’ve peed in a lot of bathrooms labeled ‘men,’” says commenter Nails. “When the other one is busy- especially in single stall bathrooms- I don’t see much of a point behind waiting.”

And I’m betting many of the transphobic commenters at I Blame the Patriarchy have done the same thing. It’s not the bathroom that’s a big deal. It’s the symbol they make of it. They’ve made it into the center of debate because they think it’s more important to symbolically reject trans women than it is to let real human beings pursue basic needs without the fear of violence.

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15 Responses to Embedded Reporter: The Acceptability of Transphobia in Radfem Communities Remains Under Hot Debate at I Blame the Patriarchy

  1. 1
    lovepeaceohana says:

    It’s not the bathroom that’s a big deal. It’s the symbol they make of it.

    This seems a particularly obvious, important point to me, as someone who’s witnessed clearly-feminine woman-identified persons voluntarily entering and using the “men’s room” when the line for the women’s room is too long. Like Nails’ quote – especially the part about single-stall bathrooms, it just blows my mind that anyone bothers to police those.

  2. 2
    vesta44 says:

    Personally, I don’t care which bathroom anyone uses. Most bathrooms that have more than one toilet have stalls with doors, so privacy of a sort is assured, no matter who you are. When I’m using a bathroom in public, I’m not in there to see who else is in there, I’m in there to do my business and get the hell out so I can continue with whatever else I’m doing. I don’t care if there’s another woman in there, a man, a trans woman or a trans man. They’re not in there to see what I’m doing either, they’re in there to get their business done and get the hell out so they can continue with their shopping/etc. I don’t know what the big deal is about public bathrooms and who can use them, in most instances, it’s not like you’re ever going to see most of those people ever again (that you happen to run into in public bathrooms).

  3. 3
    Grace Annam says:

    but some mad little hamster in my brain jumped on the wheel this time and squeaked out

    Thanks for the mental image, Mandolin. :)

    I sympathize with the fact that people want the debate to “be over.” For pro-trans people, it’s tiring having to defend their humanity, or the humanity of their friends and loved ones, or even just the humanity of other humans. For anti-trans people, well, it’s always kind of tiring when people refuse to just accept your bigotry, isn’t it?

    Neatly put.

    vesta44, I appreciate your utilitarian view of bathrooms, which is the view all of us should have.

    I want to point out a problematical phrasing.

    I don’t care if there’s another woman in there, a man, a trans woman or a trans man.

    This construction implies four discrete categories, and that the categories “woman” and “trans woman” are distinct, and likewise with “man” and “trans man”.

    Just wanted to bring it to your attention.

    Grace

  4. 4
    vesta44 says:

    Grace – I see how the phrasing is problematical. I couldn’t think of another way to phrase it that would get across what I meant.

  5. 5
    Mandolin says:

    Vesta, not to hammer in the point (which obviously you get), but just in case it’s ever helpful in the future, here are a couple ideas:

    I don’t care if there’s a cis woman in there, a cis man, a trans woman or a trans man. (ALT, and possibly better in this situation: I don’t care if there’s a cis woman or a trans woman, a cis man or a trans man in there.)

    or

    I don’t care who’s in there, man or woman, cis or trans.

  6. 6
    vesta44 says:

    Mandolin – Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind for future reference.

  7. 7
    Femmeguy says:

    Augh, potty panic. We are having to deal with that up here in Canada from radical right-wing fundamentalists in a swivet over Bill C-389, which is not about bathrooms but about banning discrimination based on gender identity and expression in federal areas of jurisdiction and in hate crimes law.

    It was especially intense just before the vote on the bill in the House of Commons (equivalent to the US House of Representatives, more or less) in early February. (It passed with the support of most of the opposition and the opposition of most of the governing Conservative Party.)

    One hateful little character named Charles McVety even compared trans women wanting to use washrooms unharassed to former Colonel Russell Williams, who stalked, broke in on, and sexually assaulted women and girls and murdered two of them. (His apparent interest in keeping their undergarments as trophies was noted with full transmisogynist hoopla in the mainstream media, as if the titillating notion that he might be a crossdresser!! was more shocking than the fact that he, you know, murdered two women.)

    So you see where people trying to invoke Potty Panic are willing to go, and you see the sort of people that they’re allied with.

  8. 8
    Mandolin says:

    Just FTR, I’m apparently not a feminist.

    Also, some of the responding commenters seem to have seen red somewhere early in my comments because they decided to explain to me why it’s okay to have trans women in bathrooms because that’s apparently not something I spent a large number of words arguing.

    Eh. Not worth the time.

  9. 9
    Mandolin says:

    Oh. Sorry, was irritated with the comments over there.

    Also, Twisty seems to have made trans 101 part of the required feminism 101 and says she won’t be entertaining stupid-ass transphobic shit on the blog anymore. Which is a win, I think.

  10. 10
    Myca says:

    says she won’t be entertaining stupid-ass transphobic shit on the blog anymore.

    Well thank fucking god. That’s awesome.

    —Myca

  11. 11
    Chris Clarke says:

    My guess is that at least some of Twisty’s most transphobic commenters are old enough to remember that invoking the specter of unisex bathrooms was the main propaganda tactic used by the movement to oppose the (US) Equal Rights Amendment back in the 1970s. Whether they recognize the parallels between Schlafly’s arguments and their own I do not know.

  12. 12
    Skyborne says:

    I am relieved whenever a major feminist blog of any sort comes out against transphobic nonsense, even if it’s one whose style I don’t care for. But IBTP has certainly still got a reputation as a trans-hostile place, and many of the posters who were making it that way are still posting, although Jill apparently promises some sort of action at some point presumably. Who knows.

    It has unfortunately been my experience that directing people to “do their own fucking research on their own fucking time” regarding transgender issues, as Jill directs, often leads to those people coming back with some seriously weird shit. For example, if you google, say, ‘transgender faq’ you get stuff from mid-1990s newsgroups that just isn’t very good. Even if you google ‘transgender feminism’ some of the stuff that comes up is transphobic. It might have been a good idea to toss in a link to Questioning Transphobia, or to put Julia Serano on the reading list, even if they don’t agree regarding lipstick or whatever. Because there is sure more than enough second-wave transphobia still on said list to give people the wrong idea.

    Or maybe not. Again, they clearly do things their own way there, and it’s not a way I really understand.

  13. 13
    Schala says:

    But no, the debate isn’t going to “be over,” not while the transphobia remains in that space, just the same as the debates about whether sexism is okay or racism is okay aren’t going to vanish just because sexists and racists want them to.

    Many of those opponents won’t accept this as relevant, because they say, trans women are not on a more oppressed level than cis women – nope, they’re much above, since they’re “really men”, men have male privilege, and so trans women oppress cis women.

    They’ll minimize all trans-related discrimination and violence and call it regular old misogyny.

    Apparently, if someone can tell you’re a trans woman and calls you a man – they’re wanting to give you privilege, and say “Cool, you’re a dude, so much better than women! Here let’s give you more cookies” instead of, like, denying their stated identity, as a malevolent act.

    The saying goes that trans women who want to go into women’s space, are invaders. And the “defenders” of WBW-only space are only protecting their boundaries against colonizers, the way POCs would protect theirs against white people.

    Besides calling their argument BS (which doesn’t work ever), what can be done about their argument that trans women oppress cis women, and that cis privilege is a “patriarchal male invention to hurt women”?

  14. 14
    Mandolin says:

    Continuing to argue against it and changing your commenting policy seem like good moves. I’ve seen radfems change their minds on the issue.

    Also, I strongly suspect there is an age/generational component to the obstinateness of these arguments. IME, younger radfems (and/or younger feminists informed in part by radical feminism) are much more convinceable.

    I mean, same basic methods one uses to reinforce anti-sexism or anti-racism or anti-Christian-supremacy or whatever. There are plenty of sexists, racists, and Christian supremacists who stick their fingers in their ears and go “la-la-la” just as there are plenty of transphobes, some radfems and some not.

  15. 15
    Treefinger says:

    But IBTP has certainly still got a reputation as a trans-hostile place, and many of the posters who were making it that way are still posting

    It has this because it’s a radfem blog (of the anti-porn, prostitution, femininity et al sort), and trans-inclusive spaces tend to also be sex-positive. Her blog attracted these people because they share the same values (often termed second wave) in every other respect. I think Twisty will keep most of the commenters around simply because this is the only thing they really Don’t Get and she values their input on other topics- with the exception of the real haters, like m Andrea, who was being simply vile on the biggest post on the subject.

    I often feel kind of between the two camps as a trans person (who also uses porn, did some light sex work and is into BDSM) who does not like sex-positive bloggers or identify with the sex-pos movement (mainly because even though they try to include everyone, they fuck up all the time and end up reinforcing the same oppressive structures. Susie Bright’s commentary on anorexia was antithetical to my experience, Annie Sprinkle crows about her achievement of making the first ftm porn even though it’s riddled with transphobic bullshit, etc.). I have always liked Twisty’s blog because it makes no bones about identifying the latter stuff as products of the patriarchy that the world would be a better place without, but does not advocate censorship and has a “do it if you want, but don’t kid yourself that it’s all rainbows and sunshine” attitude to them. The fact that she’s come out strongly on the trans issue makes me feel even more grateful for her writing.

    On the issue of toilets: we need single stall, gender-neutral, fully accessible toilets for everyone as soon as possible. In the meantime, cis folks need to accept that trans women are about as much threat to their safety in public toilets as hand-dryers.