A recent, much-disparaged thread on I Blame The Patriarchy turned into a reprise of feminist arguments over transsexuality. Because the thread is on the long side, it has the benefit of providing several examples of feminist anti-trans arguments, as well as (thankfully) many feminist rebuttals.
I think the anti-trans arguments are wrong in every case. In most cases, I think they’re also bigoted and hateful. Let’s take a tour.
Argument #1: The argument from freeform, irrational hatred of transsexuals.
Luckynkl provided such an exaggerated example of drooling, bile-soaked hate that if I hadn’t known her for years, I would suspect she’s a sock puppet intended to discredit feminism. Here’s a couple of examples, drawn from a dozen or more similar statements:
You want to know how men can hurt women? **chuckle** You’re joking, right? Oh wait. I’m supposed to believe men in drag are women. And if you put on a werewolf mask, will you also expect me to believe you’re a werewolf? […]
This is about what all this nonsense amounts to. In short, trans are nutjobs. The bathroom is about the last place I want to be alone with a male nutjob. These unfortunate, but seriously disturbed individuals belong on the 5th floor in a straight jacket. Not in a women’s bathroom.
In Lucky’s view, all transsexuals are “male nutjobs,” and they belong in an asylum.1
In this case, the important part of Lucky’s argument isn’t the argument itself (which is based on the nonsensical notion that people who are apt to break the law by being violent against women in public bathrooms, will be stopped by the sign on the ladies’ room door). Lucky’s real argument here isn’t what she says. It’s her derisive, sneering tone: the point is to let trans women know that they are “men” (in Lucky’s view, men are evil) and that they are semi-human objects of contempt.
The most reasonable reply to Lucky’s argument is (to quote Brownfemipower): Fuck you. Lucky’s a bigot and an asshole; the difference between Lucky and a Klanswoman is only in which oppressed minority her hate is focused on. (I should note that although Lucky was the most extreme, several feminists joined her in her hate-fest.)
In an excellent post at Desperate Kingdoms, Winter writes:
I did not come to feminism for hatred; I did not come to feminism in order to use my power and privilege as a white, middle-class, cisgendered2 woman to oppress a group of people more oppressed than myself; I did not come to feminism in order to set up new hierarchies or take up the role of oppressor. I came to feminism because I believed, and continue to believe, that as part of anti-oppression activism, feminist theories and philosophies can offer ways of being, thinking and relating which could make life better for all of us, whether we identify as men, women, or something else altogether.
Argument #2: The argument from essentialism.
SaltyC: “Knowing that someone is a woman does not tell me anything about her fate, but it does tell me she knows what I know about what it’s like to bleed.”
Luckynkl: “Sex is static. It cannot be changed. Men cannot be frogs, they cannot be giraffes, they cannot be trees, they cannot be rocks, and they cannot be women. Get over it.”
Maribelle: “Case in point: my friend’s two year old daughter was so cute the other day my ovaries started to throb…. Face it—women are inexplicable. We are born, not made. We are created. We cannot be made by human hands, sculpted from the rib of Adam. We are something else again.”
All of these arguments are based on the idea that there is an essential, universal “womanhood” which “women born women” have access to, but trans women do not.
This argument assumes that our essence is determined by what’s between our legs at birth. In this view, our abilities and potential is determined not by our individual talents, desires and actions, but by which box the doctor checked off on the form a few minutes after we came screaming into the world (“we are born, not made”). Women are the class that feels longing when faced with a cute two-year-old; men are the class that, I dunno, feels a longing for power tools or something.
Haven’t we heard this before? This is the conservative, anti-feminist vision of gender that feminism has been fighting against for centuries. Feminism was born to fight against this vision; to fight against the harm done to women and men who are shoehorned into these obsolete, confining gender roles; and to fight against the warped culture created when people are taught that gender roles must be respected.
That some feminists are willing to throw core elements of feminism overboard in order to exclude transsexuals speaks volumes.
Note that essentialism isn’t limited to just biological essentialism. There is also “experience essentialism”; in this case, certain experiences are said to define womanhood, always in a post hoc manner designed to exclude some unwanted class of women.
As Brownfemipower points out, making “womanhood” an exclusive space in order to keep out unwanted, marginalized groups is not something new, or something that has been done exclusively to transsexuals. Throughout history, the experiences of relatively empowered women has been positioned as the norm; the experiences of other women is then positioned as non-representative of “womanhood.” This has happened (and is still happening) to women of color, to lesbians3, to Jewish women, and it is currently happening to trans women.
To my eyes, a lot of the “womanhood is our exclusive domain” arguments strongly resemble anti-same-sex-marriage arguments. “Womanhood,” like “marriage,” is described as if its implications and social meaning has never changed in thousands of years; this false description of unchanging history is then used to argue that all change must therefore be not only bad, but a threat to those who are currently married and/or women. Consider this quote from Magickitty, arguing against accepting trans women as women:
Why should a newcomer to my knitting group insist that I re-define the meaning of my group? This person has never been to my knitting group before, which I’ve had for thousands of years. This person shares no history with the other members of my group, and yet demands full status in the circle. I am sympathetic; this person had always wanted to knit (since birth, even) but only recently learned, this person is oppressed within their own world because they are a knitter, and this person strongly identifies with my group. But why would this newcomer want to claim equal status when they’ve only been knitting for a short time, and why would they want to insist that knitting includes crochet, when in all the thousands of years of the circle, we’ve only ever knitted?
And to be really crude… the newcomer knits English. My group knits Continental. The finished product may look exactly identical, but… well, you know.
The above quote could be used, without any alteration, to argue against same-sex marriage. It’s the same argument.
Argument #3: The argument that the word “transphobia” is a form of censorship.
Sly Civilian quotes this comment, left by Heart at BFP’s place:
Here, my experience, again, is, if someone offers a differing view of transgender issues than the one you hold, bfp, then that person gets immediately labeled “transphobic.” At that point, the discussion really ends. There’s nothing more to be said.
(By the way, Heart’s description of how BFP acts is unfair; there are myriad examples of BFP disagreeing with people about transgender issues without immediately labeling them transphobic.)
Conservatives frequently use this exact argument to try and put discussions of racism, sexism and homophobia out of bounds.4 The idea is that because these concepts make (some) people in the majority culture so uncomfortable that they hesitate to speak, these concepts should therefore not be included in our discussions.
The emptiness of Heart’s argument is, I think, obvious. Transphobia does not become an illegitimate concept to discuss merely because discussing transphobia makes some cisgendered5 people uncomfortable.6
It’s true, of course, that someone could be accused of being transphobic when they’re not. This is obviously hurtful when it happens, but not nearly as hurtful — or harmful — as refusing to talk about transphobia at all! The need for transsexual and transgendered people to be able to talk about how bigotry harms them outweighs whatever “need” cisgendered people have to not be pushed outside their comfort zone.
Argument #4: Transsexuals are dupes of the medical establishment.
Over at Little Light’s blog, in comments, Ravenmn writes:
One of the more sensible arguments that some radfems make against transgenders is the idea that you are choosing to mutilate and drug your body, therefore are some kind of dupe of the medical establishment.
(Ravenmn wasn’t endorsing that argument, only referencing it.) Nanette responded:
I, of course, am not attempting to answer for anyone who is transgender and has had surgery or anything, but I am not sure I would consider that a sensible argument, unless they are just anti medical or surgical intervention for anything, as a general practice. If not, (or even if so) then someone’s personal medical decisions are none of their business, any more than it’s anyone else’s business if you get your tonsils out, have an abortion (that’s also one of the arguments anti abortion people use), have moles cut off, have cochlear implants (some in the non hearing community oppose that, as well), and so on.
The only way they can make that argument, in my view, is if they feel the same sense of ownership over the bodies of transfolk as the right wingers and others feel they have over women. Funny how sometimes the language, actions and tools of oppression or marginalization take such familiar and similar forms, across beliefs, political views and boundaries.
I agree with Nanette, but I’d add that it’s true, historically, that the medical establishment has used access to medical treatments (like prescription hormones and surgery) as a means of forcing transsexuals to endorse and live by traditional gender roles. As far as I can tell, this has become less true in recent years, to a great extent because many transsexuals have actively resisted the conservative status quo of the old medical establishment.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the “dupes of the medical establishment” analysis ignores the fact that not all transsexuals and transgendered people seek medical help to transition. There are a wide variety of trans narratives: One persistent flaw of the anti-trans critiques is that they frequently are framed as if male-to-female surgical transsexuals who describe themselves as “women trapped in male bodies” are the be-all and end-all of transsexual and transgendered experience.
Which brings us to the next anti-trans argument….
Argument #5: Transsexuality implicitly endorses essentialism and traditional gender roles.
In the I Blame The Patriarchy thread, Edith (of the blog Because Sometimes Feminists Aren’t Nice) wrote:
Radical feminists are also against oppression and against gender roles, but they simply do not see being transgender as a good way to fight gender roles — rather, they see transgender as a way of ENFORCING gender roles. […]
If gender is inborn, something neurologically wired, then being “born” in the wrong body makes sense. But actually, radfems tend to believe that gender is socialized and therefore, no one is “born” in the wrong body. […] In this way, I personally think that the more modern, “biological” view of transgender is the more essentialist.
I agree with Edith that the “female brain trapped in a male body” — or the “male brain trapped in a female body” — view of transsexuality is essentialist. But it’s hardly as if “X brain trapped in Y body” narratives are a fair way to describe all of transsexual and transgendered thought! There’s no doubt that some individual transsexuals — like some individual cisgenders — have essentialist views. But to take disagreements with how some transsexuals view gender as a criticism of the entire idea of transsexuality is unwarranted.
In a sense, those transsexuals who move from one sex to the other “entrench the system” of gender as a binary, because they are willing to dress and be identified in society as one gender and not the other. But all of us go along with the gender-binary system in some ways, whether its women who shave their legs or faces, men who avoid wearing dresses and gowns, or any of a thousand ways people adapt to the gendered society we live in.
It’s simply unfair to single out transsexuals for criticism on this score. (I discuss this in more detail in this post). To (once again) quote from Winter’s excellent post:
Moreover, why are transgendered and transsexual women scapegoated and made responsible for upholding gender roles and the patriarchy when every single one of us upholds gender roles every day of our lives? I uphold gender roles every time I call myself a “woman,” every time I answer to my gendered first name, or use my patronymic surname, every time I buy an item of clothing classed as female in a shop for women, every time I use the toilet with that symbol on the door which is supposed to denote womanhood. We are all of us thoroughly gendered under the current conditions. If gender eventually disappears, it will go in its own time; we cannot just get rid of it and we certainly can’t get rid of it by denying other people their rights to their own gendered embodiments.
There have been a lot of excellent responses to the thread at Twisty’s; some are direct rebuttals, others are just thoughts brought to the fore by the current mess. Some of the posts I especially enjoyed: Little Light, the entire discussion at Women of Color Blog, The Silver Oak Leaf, Angry Brown Butch, and Tiny Cat Pants.
- Spotted Elephant has a good post decrying anti-disabled rhetoric used by some folks on both sides of this debate. [↩]
- Cisgendered is a term meaning, roughly, “not transsgendered or transsexual.” [↩]
- Remember when Betty Friedan argued against “The Lavender Menace”? [↩]
- One prominent anti-gay-marriage blog, Family Scholars Blog, in effect banned all discussion of homophobia from its comments. Later on they banned comments altogether, which was probably a mercy for all concerned. [↩]
- Cisgendered is a term meaning, roughly, “not transsgendered or transsexual.” [↩]
- I think a lot of what I wrote about how white people react when criticized for racism also applies to many cisgendered feminists criticized for transphobia. [↩]
I don’t find your opinions offensive, bean. To be clear, what I find offensive in debates around this issue is the absolutism (and the nasty stuff, obviousy). Where there is no certainty I think room should or could be made in feminism for alternative (and similtaneous) possibilities. I think this could make feminism stronger, and you did say yourself that you didn’t think feminism would lose anything if some essentialist beliefs were somehow proven to be true. I think I could also adapt to the alternative if I absolutely had to. Feminism wouldn’t lose anything if it were somehow proven that, although it’s still not a conscious choice, or something that can be changed at will, it’s impossible for sexual orientation or transexuality to be in any way biologically determined. (Though queer and transgender rights could well be drastically set back if it happened anytime soon.) I suspect I might be more deeply shocked by the revelation that undermined my belief than you would be by the one that undermined yours though. Is that fair to say? The reason I say it is because my belief is almost as old as I am – it preceded any feminist or otherwise political awareness and feels very much part of me. Yours, as you’ve written, is informed by your adult reading of particular feminists.
Anyway, if these alternative possibilities were to both be seriously embraced, and no longer a source of conflict between feminists with regard to shared feminist goals, couldn’t we all still pursue our different ‘proofs’ and it wouldn’t matter? Maybe I’m dreaming. Sometimes I do miss very obvious things, so I wouldn’t be surprised.
And did the percentage drop when the twins were not identical, but remain higher than that of the background population? I think, regardless of whether the identical twin percentage is 52% or 30%, the fact that the more genetic or otherwise biological material is shared, the higher the percentage of concordance is the significant finding. Along with the fact that in the twin studies I referenced the results did not change significantly whether the twins were raised together or apart.
The other side to this is the question of ‘how’ homosexuality is socially constructed. What, exactly, might the process look like that often takes place very early in life, has such a powerful effect against all the social constructionist forces lined up in opposition that it triumphs, and yet is never remembered?
I feel that I’m derailing this already very long thread, so unless anyone really wants to respond to this further here, I’m happy to stop at this point on the innateness or no issue.
I don’t know what to offer up for a spin-off thread, Charles. It’s 2.30am and my brain is fried….
i’ve heard this argument before, and i’m not sure i understand it. many species have two versions of its members, one male and one female. and as far as i can tell, this schema evolved because it offers a better chance to perpetuate the species. based on the number of species that follow this template, it seems to work quite well.
while there may be individuals of species that don’t fall into either group, those individuals usually do not exhibit reproductive functionality. so as far as i can tell, the development of a two-sexed schema occurred for reproduction purposes. so in the context of what i see as the purpose, sex is static, even though individuals may exhibit natural biological variations in their physical expression of sex.
in most species, i see sex as static, in that there are males and females, and one of each is needed to reproduce. that doesn’t change as far as i can tell. i am, however, open to visit alternate perspectives.
I think talking about how and why the language doesn’t work around transitioning might be useful. Almost everyone seems to agree that it doesn’t, and the language problems do seem to make talking directly about why people transition really hard and prone to blow ups.
I don’t feel really qualified to speak on this subject, so I’ll mostly pull some quotes from various posters on this thread to start things, if that is okay.
I really need to get some work done today, so I’ll probably do this late tonight.
cicely, would you like me to start a new thread on the possibility for coexistence between essentialist narratives and anti-essentialist theory for you and bean to continue that discussion? I could pretty much just push bean’s comment 409 and your comment 415 into a new post.
Oops, or cicely’s 415 and beans 417. cross posted.
I do have the study, but it is only available online behind a subscription. I can send it to anyone interested.
“cicely, would you like me to start a new thread on the possibility for coexistence between essentialist narratives and anti-essentialist theory for you and bean to continue that discussion?”
I’d be into reading that (and potentially participating depending on time and level of introspection at the time).
>Because that’s the definition that was created by feminists long before transgender activists decided that “gender” meant something completely different.>
Whoa. So, okay, this is about “we got here first”?
You know what, I read more or less the last hundred or so comments, and I have to say: nope. Still not buying. There is absolutely no reason why this should ever have to be so fucking convoluted. My point, which is the same as about fifty squillion other peoples’ her, still remains:
-right now-, the vast majority of us do -not- live in this wonderful feminist genderless-but-still-sexed, not-at-all-essentialist-or-binary, also not-at-all-Maolike-androgynous society. Further, I am not at all reassured by the cisgendered feminists currently arguing against transgendered…(yeah, that works just about as well as “arguing against homosexuality,” yes indeed it does) that they’re gonna be leading us to the Promised Land anytime in the next millenium based on what I’ve seen and heard from them thus far; nor for that matter do I have any great feeling that I’d -like- whatever world it was. Because since clearly the queer world(s) in the little pockets of subculture that I know, the ones where
no. In the “real world,” then, where papers are needed and bigots often enforce proper gender roles with fists and bricks and broken glass and bullets, NOT just on cisgendered women, either:
we live in a world where anyone derivating from the heteropatriarchalblahblah -whatever- norm gets the shit end of the stick. Yes? We’re all clear on that? Okay!
So why the -fuck- do you give a rat’s ass how anyone ELSE deals with this, hm? Is there someone going around telling you so sorry, but you aren’t a proper woman and must surgically transition? Is it anyone who’s transgendered, for heaven’s sake? No? Then it’s -none of your business.- It isn’t a THEORY. It’s peoples’ LIVES. They have enough of a time just trying to -live- them without supposed allies trying to get them to, as someone else put it, justify their existence.
Put up or shut up. If your papers match your birth sex, if you walk into the ladies’ room, if you ever don’t argue with people who question “say, what are you anyway?” (or if it never gets questioned at all), if you walk into the ladies’ room without worrying about getting beaten up: you have -no place- telling anyone else how to try to live in her skin.
And even if none of that’s true, and you really truly do -somehow- have some magic get-out-of-gender-normativity-free-card, guess what? You still don’t get it.
Once more, with feeling,
“My body belongs to me.” Yes? No? Perhaps?
If “no” or “perhaps,” and you are a feminist, we really do need to sit down and have a nice long chat, because frankly from my POV that really kind of fucks up much of the whole point of y’know, reproductive rights (hey, in that case there’s even an argument that there’s more than one body there), not being property of anyone else, the right to say “no” to unwanted sex or touching…among many other things.
If yes? Then, someone else’s decision to decorate her body in a way you disapprove of, have sex in a way you disapprove of, or for fuck’s sake something as large-scale as surgical alteration, is any of your business, HOW?
And, before you start on yet another dancing-on-pinheads deconstruction of the multiple meanings of “gender” and if this and if that and if my aunt had testicles she’d HAVE to be my uncle except oops maybe not because we’re not essentialists after all no really…
maybe consider this: what you have to lose in this ever-so-engaging little debate versus what an actual transgendered person does.
It’s not equivalent, really.
shit, cut myself off, there, in the middle
>Because since clearly the queer world(s) in the little pockets of subculture that I know, the ones where bearded transbois in kilts and fishnets get fucked by cute femmey lesbians who like to pack their strap-ons in public all the time, and gold-painted twinkies make out with a pair of butch daddies, one of whom is a dyke and the other nobody knows for sure, and MTF dommes languidly get fisted by their bottoms while watching the completely angrodynous het couple clad head to toe in vinyl 69…
clearly that is -nothing at all- like the world in which we, the Anti-Patriarchs, want to live in; it’s not good enough, and also, ew, icky, to at least half of that. Betcha.
and clearly even if we do want it, the fact that some of those people have gotten genital surgery or hormone therapy (albeit you probably couldn’t guess which ones on the first four tries) is somehow delaying the Revolution.
makes perfect sense, really.
I’d also like to add that it really disturbs me how many people are willing to put their theories and philosophies above people’s actual lives . . . because it’s kind of obvious that it’s not equivalent, if you think about it for 10 seconds.
I’m not trans. I’ve never heard the little voice telling me I’m male, nor have I heard one telling me I’m not. I’ve never had to question.
I support trans rights because of my empathy. Because I think that transfolk have got a raw-as-fuck deal, and it’s a moral imperative to listen to them and do what we can to see to it that their deal is a little less raw.
Really, it’s the same reason I support feminism.
It seems to me that the fact that the language we have for discussing this is inadequate is part of the problem. Example – for me, I don’t think of MTF transpeople as female, but I don’t think of them as male either, I think of them as something else, some other gender that we don’t seem to have a name for yet. Same thing in reverse for FTM. I think part of the problem those of us who are basically well-meaning and who want to have a real discussion are having is that the linguistic framework we’re working with is not well suited to the discussion. (Sorry to get all Foucault on you, but it seems to be unavoidable).
Charles – since you’re going to start one or two new threads anyway, maybe that would be a useful topc to pursue – what can we all do to make the language more clear, to create a linguistic framework adequate for the conversation we’re trying to have? For me I’d particularly like to hear from people who are trans about what they would like the language to look like.
nexyjo and littlelight – I’d love to hear more from both of you about how you feel about how the language we all use at the moment frames the issues, how it works for you and how it doesn’t. For example, nexyjo said something about not feeling like a woman post-transition even though many other MTF trans people do. How would you define your current gender identity? Or are you not defining it because we don’t seem to have any words that really fit?
I’m not sure if that made sense, I’ll try to clarify if it didn’t. That’s the point I was trying to make earlier, really – our ability to have this conversation is hampered by not having the linguistic tools we need.
Also, what belledame said. There seems to be lack of acknowledgement from some feminists that for trans people this isn’t just an academic discussion, it’s something that has an actual impact on their lives. In some ways reading this discussion reminds me of what often happens in threads about rape. You always get a few men coming in wanting to have coldly impersonal theoretical discussions that refuse to take women’s lived experiences into account, which tends to result in feminists saying to hell with the theory, we’re talking about people’s lives here (which is an entirely appropriate reaction, BTW). A similar dynamic seems to be coming into play here, and I think it’s really important to recognise that for trans people this isn’t just theory, and expecting them to act as if it is isn’t a reasonable expectation.
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I created a new post, basically promoting BritGirlSF’s last comment to start things off.
I hope that is okay with everyone.
Her next to last comment, comment 425, that is….
Furry Cat Herder wrote:
” say “I didn’t transition to be a woman” are women who are born that way, and trans kids who are so feminine before they do anything that they do … nothing”
I feel this comment ignores the effects of socialization or the ways in which people strive to meet others’ expectations. It suggests that people who have attempted to internalize social expectations contrary to their personal inclinations are less ‘genuine’ than people who expressed personal inclinations more immediately. Surely we wouldn’t apply this to women who have a feminist revelation late in life which allows them to reevaluate their committment to femininity? Are they less feminists than people who never adopted feminine practices in the first place?
In re: theory:
I think it’s important to create narrative space for experiences that fall outside the spaces that traditional narratives provide. We experience our lives in concrete terms, but we also create narratives about them. Those narratives influence how new situations are perceived. For instance, within a culture that has a narrative that allows for spirit possession, certain symptoms are going to be interpreted as spirit possession, whereas a culture, like ours, that has a narrative that more strongly enforces a biological interpretation of illness may label teh same symptoms schizophrenia. This influences the lived experience of the disease for both the person experiencing it and the other people around her.
One of my untransitioned transwoman friends seems to have difficulty with people. I think part of it is that they don’t know how to react to her gender formation. Consequently, they mistrust her. I believe that activism can help her. I also believe that creating narrative space — academically through theory, and on a more gutteral level through literature and media representation – would give people a context for perceiving her, a mental boxthat would make them more comfortable.
So, sure, theory is an imperfect tool. And it must serve greater masters, such as not taking precedence over people’s immedaite lives. An incorrect or injust theory must be reformed or abandoned. But while the theoretical level of discourse can be frustrating, I don’t think it’s irrelevant.
Joanna Russ wrote The Female Man. It reached a certain number of people. It broke ground in a unprecedented, frame-breaking way. Ursula K. LeGuin wrote The Left Hand of Darkness. It did not break ground as radically. It brought feminist ideas in a more digestible, comfortable format. It reached more people. But can you have a Left Hand of Darkness without a The Female Man?
I think both levels of discourse are valuable. I think they may be practiced by different people, but I think that’s okay too.
bean – I’ll just repeat what I think is significant and then ask you a question.
What words would you use to say that these things *don’t* indicate that there is at least a biological component in the creation of homosexuality?
Thanks for asking, Charles and, yes, I would be interested in furthering discussion on that subject.
In a nutshell, Mandolin.
I think the comparison doesn’t work because we aren’t talking about two people who were seen as girls growing up — one who rejected feminine indoctrination for whatever reason and one who embraced it without question. We’re comparing someone who rejected the feminine indoctrination and someone who was never subjected to it because they were thought to be a boy.
I don’t deny that it can be traumatic for a boy who has some self-concept that they are a girl, or will become a girl, or really wants to be a girl to be treated like they are really a boy. I think this article by Riki Wilchins needs to be carefully read by any feminist who thinks growing up as a pre-transsexual child is a bed of roses. But it’s a different experience and one that I’ve come to respect over the years. More importantly, it’s one that I’ve learned needs to be respected for many of these discussions to work. And that “respected” needs to go both ways. My experience is that the feminist side of that sort of discussion ignores how a boy could feel disconnected from his perceived peer group and how that feels growing up, and the trans side ignores the difference between being forced to do something and desiring to do that same thing and how that feels growing up.
As regards your friend, yes, it can also be hard being an adult and having people not understand you because ones internal concept of gender doesn’t match the packaging. I’m unsure how activism can benefit her, though. There isn’t a lot of tolerance for “growing into being a woman” in the trans community. It’s the old joke — what’s the difference between a terrorist and a transsexual? You can negotiate with a terrorist.
Perhaps if more feminists with a trans history worked on getting other trans women to understand that most women don’t experience being raised from girlhood to adult womanhood as a secret desire, but as an inescapable reality, there’d be a greater appreciation of growing up as someone seen to be female every day. I’ve watched feminist trans women try and be shouted down by their peers. Maybe some day one will be successful. Not exactly holding my breath, though.
Could you please start a “pro-theoretical discussions” version of the “Language” thread? The “Language” thread is showing all the signs of turning into another “Your theory sucks” “Well, your language sucks” smackdown.
Maybe if there could be one of each both threads would merrily hum along and people could visit each and see where they are going without the derailment?
“There isn’t a lot of tolerance for “growing into being a woman” in the trans community. ”
Really? I’ve heard a lot of discussion around this, from my place at the periphery.
I think the formation you’re using postulates masculinity as a default behavior rather than a learned behavior. It’s not that transwomen who presented masculine behaviors were somehow blank slates, allowed to manifest whatever behavior they wanted. They experienced being raised from boyhood to manhood as an “inescapable reality.” That some have adopted the trappings of masculinity as a way to negotiate their lives does not negate their feelings of being female, any more than the ways in which I adopt the trappings of femininity to survive negate my status as a feminist.
Ok, bean – I see I’ve been missing your point that you don’t believe *any* sexual orientation is biologically determined – in which case the identical twin/non-identical twin/non-twin sibling/background (whew) population studies could possibly be tests for biological determination of sexual orientation perse. i.e. if one accepted the results as evidence of even a biological component, homosexuality would be the exception that proved the rule. That still leaves room for the sexual orientation continuum as per the Kinsey scale as well.
So, if essentialism is defined as this ( I think quoted somewhere in this thread, or somewhere else I’ve been recently – apologies that I can’t attribute it to anyone)
that’s me – and your social constructivism is
This means that you are imagining a world I can’t imagine (perhaps because of my own now quite long life experience as a lesbian in this world) in which very basic sexual attraction and desire itself (whether acted upon or not) can be (and is) determined by social, ideological or intellectual forces. You’re saying this is happening now, and if we change the motivations behind those forces, we’ll free people up to choose sexual partners by different and broader criteria. That doesn’t sound like a bad idea, I must admit.
I think there’s a question of pace involved here. What might evolve isn’t here yet, which you do acknowledge. How much change at this deep level is even possible – who knows? We’re intellectual, but we’re intellectual *animals*, and part of nature too. I think if social contructivists didn’t all too often sound like they’re being dismissive of peoples actual lived realities in this world as it has been and is now, and seem to be talking in imperatives to speed up their aims, maybe, and if essentialists, like me, well, I should only speak for myself – if I could resist reacting, and allow myself to be exploratory in terms of other peoples lives, now and in the future, the issue might not need to be so loaded. We all want to know where the limits of change are, but we don’t have those answers yet.
Mandolin writes, starting with a quote from me:
I’ve not seen any — what I see is an insistance that a person is retroactively a “woman” the instant they declare that to be so, even if it means that they were a woman while looking for all to see like a teenaged boy earning their Eagle Scout, then going of to Vietnam and flying jet planes, dropping napalm on women and children.
It’s the retroactiveness of “womanhood”, as well as the “instantly really a woman, the same as every other woman” that I’m talking about. I personally think that is one of the top three sources of conflict, in the running with “Womanhood is femininty, manhood is masculinity” (I’ve had trans activists tell me precisely that) and “Don’t you dare talk about theory because your theory is oppressing me!”
FCH, you’ve already demonstrated in this thread that there’s a significant disjoint between “what you see” and what people write. I don’t doubt that some transsexuals do endorse a retroactive concept of “womanhood” (Lynn did a varient on that, the “retroactively never male” thing) or “instantly a woman, the same as any other woman.”
But your claim that you’ve “not seen any” is not even remotely plausible; there are multiple examples in this thread of trans women who clearly weren’t arguing for retrospective womanhood, nor for “instantly, same as.” If you haven’t seen that, then I think you’ve got severe blinders on.
For the most part, your critique of how transwomen desribe themselves seems rooted in how people talked about transsexuality in the 70s and 80s. If you’re aware of any significant changes since then — or even of what folks here on this thread have been writing — it hasn’t come through in your writing on this blog.
Well … I don’t claim to have read every word, but I’m not seeing some great uprising of people claiming they weren’t “women” the instant they decided they are women. There are enough instances of people insisting that people who CURRENTLY function socially as men are actually “women” that I might just be missing whatever it is you’re seeing.
Oh, and another thing (“… your mother dressees you funny!” — sorry, had to.)
I don’t think describing “Gender, as a system of oppression based on sex” is a bad thing, even if it sounds all 70’s and 80’s. I don’t think the changes that happened with “Gender” in the 90’s and beyond are a good thing for women, a good thing for “trans people”, or a good thing for the relationships between feminists and trans people. I think it beats the snot out of “Gender is a little birdy, chirping in my ear” or “Gender is whatever I say it is, and you’re a big meanie if you disagree.”
Hi Furry Cat Herder,
“It’s the retroactiveness of “womanhood”, as well as the “instantly really a woman, the same as every other woman” that I’m talking about. ”
I do feel I’ve seen this presented, though not necessarily here. Some transpeople seem to ignore the role of socialization in gender (which, hey, I think we have a blatant example of upthread by jotier or whatever). That’s pretty irritating.
At the same time, I would be uncomfortable saying that transpeople are not “women” and that they were not in some senses feminine in their pasts, and that they are “unlike all other women” now.
Personally, I’d cast my guess that the truth is somewhere in between – particularly once the categories of “woman” “all women” “feminine” etc. are dissected rather than reified.
(When I hear you critiquing the idea that transpeople are “instantly women the same as all other women,” I hear you endorsing the opposite of that statement. That’s probably not your intention, but my misreading. I apologize.)
I think that trans people of all sorts are subject to being gendered — treated as a member of a class — the same as everyone else. I don’t think anyone is a man or a woman until they are seen that way. Ironically, that seems to work for people who never change their social gender as well, which gives it a certain desirable consistency. It does imply that there is no such thing as a “non-transitioned trans woman”.
At any rate, I was hoping Charles or someone would start a new topic that could focus on THEORY without the derailment that comes from “Your theory is mean!”, but it appears no one is up to the task. Given that this topic is getting long in the tooth, I’d like to stop responding until someone starts the next potential trainwreck thread.
You see Amp, if you read later threads there is dicussion where the trans movement has annexed the liveds of people who have no trans identity at all. What you’ve seen in me is that anger and the anger of someone who is conflated with fathers and husbands.
I think I have a lot to say and after looking at these threads, I really like the way Charles asks question. I don’t know who he is.
I think a very large amount could be unearthed and from my standpoint, I have finally to see “the glue of patriarchy” what holds it together.
The nuclear force is identity and patriarch object reality. Look at hearts board and what happening there. For years Heart has been screaming that men have defined woman. When heart has the opportunity to pick the definitions, she picks EXACTLY the ones used in patriarchy. She isn’t arguing radical feminism. She actually doing IP, identity politics. Think about that in terms of the Glue of Patriarchy and I think you’ll see what I’m saying makes predictive sense.
Amp, I’d like to be interview by Charles (whoever …whatever… he is.)
I am transgender.
I make my own definitions about myself. No one makes them for me.
People can call me a “third” sex if they like. I don’t care.
I have certainly faced discrimination, hatred, prejudice and ridicule.
It’s not a big deal. Living the trans life is hard…but NOT living the
trans life if unbearable.
I am not assuming I am a gender born woman simple because I call
myself one, I am just unassuming the gender to which I was born.
I will face whatever it takes to make my own decision. I will live my
life with the outward appearance and behavorial characteristics of
a woman, no matter which “group” of people decides to call me names.
If some woman is so ignorant that she assumes I have some
bizarre agenda in my choice of bathrooms, she is only showing her total
lack of the principals which she claims are lacking in the way the
world deals with her own gender. Namely, discrimination, hatred and lack of understanding.
There is a document in the country in which I was born, called the Bill of Rights.
I do not take it as some antiquated jabber, but instead, I take it literally.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
No amount of hatred or prejudice, name calling or insults, will ever change my mind. Straights, gays, lesbians, women, men, bisexuals…whatever the group, their input on my lack of the right to pursue happiness means nothing to me. Absolutely nothing.
It’s an odd world when the so-called discriminated against find someone to whom they can turn their discrimination guns on. Odd indeed.
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If you are born as a male you are not subjected to the usual female conditioning or stereotyping. I think this goes a long ways towards trying to understand why feminists react in ways that are unfriendly to transgendered women, and in many ways perplexing, given their supposed commitment to equlity. I recall reading about a man (a professor) who eventually underwent gender reassignment and upon being interviewed, said that the one thing that really struck him was the degree to which men talked right past or over him because he was now a she. Same guy, same brain, but way different perception: It’s not all about what’s going on in your head. The “born female” experience is different. I don’t think it’s a crime to point that out.
How long is long enough to experience this conditioning and steriotyping. If a M2F has been living as a women for 20 years is that not enough to understand the hurt and frustration? Do you think that after 16 this conditioning and steriotyping stops and so a M2F does not experience this?
Do you really think that you know what I experience everyday and that it is not what you experience. Are you that sure that I would’nt want to fight against this as much as you do? Are you sure that I would not be a good addition to your club?
I like you; you have a good mind and you listen, I wish you could drop your filters just a bit more and try a little bit harder to understand women like me.
This is an incredibly belated response to a pretty dead line of comments, but hey, maybe I’ll get a response since I’m genuinely interested…
I have to say that I enjoyed your post, and really, I agree with your fundamental analysis that a lot of these arguments are based in transphobia and hold trans-people responsible for trying to survive in a medicalized, essentialist world/discourse, which is complete BS.
But the one complication that you didn’t address, and I always have a hard time getting around, is how the discourse of transsexuality revolves around the experiences of MTF trans people and how that can ultimately reinforce patriarchy. There’s two things going on here:
1) Our understanding of transsexuality/transgender identity is overwhelmingly shaped by the stories/experiences of MTF transpeople. The “X trapped in a Y” body is story that we hear from many MTF transpeople, but the stories of FTM transpeople are often very different. In addition, this story is relentlessly shaped by an androcentric medical establishment which forces/coerces this story through the process of medical gatekeeping. Basically, my point is that our entire narrative of transsexuality is shaped by and ultimately collaborates in patriarchy. Is that the fault of transpeople? Hell no. But it’s still problematic, which ties into my second issue…
2) We can’t ignore the fact that when we talk about transpeople, we are overwhelmingly talking about people identified as men at birth becoming women. What if we were looking at a process of race-switching, and it was overwhlemingly white people “becoming” people of color. Can you see how that might wig people out a bit? And feel a bit like another way that group was capitalizing on their own privilege? This dynamic isn’t unique to transpeople- we criticize middle-class white women for capitalizing on their race and class privilege to “cancel” out their gender disadvantage all the time (or we should anyways).
I guess the point I’m making here is that, while I think you’re right that the discourse around this issue endorses and enables transphobia (and that is unacceptable), what do we do with the real issues of the discourse of transsexuality being complicit in patriarchy?
How do we address that without endorsing a transphobic discourse?
(I don’t have an answer for this or anything, but I am very interested to hear the thoughts of others…)
As a female to male transsexual with a slight background in philosophy, I tend to take a hedonistic viewpoint of the gender spectrum. Do what you like, or what is easy. This idea of philosophical purity, pure rational thought, tends to distort facts. just because I fully intend to be as physically female as possible doesn’t mean I support societal gender roles. And just because there is a possibility that people are born genders doesn’t exclude the possibility that a lot associated with femininity are social memes. I have personality traits that are on both sides of the social gender construct and consider myself female. In fact, most of my traits are traditionally considered masculine, and these traits probably came from the four very masculine females in my family. Another short comment I wish to make is a surface criticism of the Patriarchy (the common hard-feminist understanding), the keeping of societal norms involved many people, not just males.
Thank you very much for posting this.
I think that the main problem people have with transsexuals stems from the fact that they are first considering said transsexuals by their so-called ‘birth sex’. Viewing a transsexual in this manner makes it difficult to actually understand who the core person really is within that transsexual’s body. One would be sadly mistaken to assume that ‘birth sex’ always defines gender. A female-to-male transsexual who is supposedly ‘born male’ according to their sex feels as a woman does, and wants to live as a woman does. Saying that such a person is male is an absolutely horrible tragedy, and a wonderfully horrific example of closed-mindedness and bigotry.
So, you want to know who I am? I’m Samantha.
And am I transsexual, myself?
I’m a girl – I always have been, and always will be.
“Transsexual”, I should add, seems to be a seriously misunderstood word. It is not referring to a male or female who wants to “become the opposite sex”. It is referring to a male or female who identifies AS – not with – the opposite gender. A transsexual is not, for instance, a male ‘changing into’ a female. A transsexual has, in most cases, always identified as the opposite gender, even in their early years, and even when they didn’t understand why they felt the way they did. So is a ‘born-male transsexual’ a “male changing into a female” ? No; such a person is nothing more, and nothing less than female.
And honestly, if you cannot understand that, then you are one who is far more ‘gender-confused’ than anyone in the trans-community, because you clearly don’t know what *gender* really is.
And, if you’ve taken the time to actually read this whole thing, then I must say thank you. <3
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As a transguy I really enjoyed this post. I am going to speak at a Feminist Conference in Melbourne at the end of this month and I was wondering whether I can quote some of this post? I will be speaking on behalf of an organisation called Still Fierce!
Blair, I’m totally flattered that you want to quote this post. Please feel free to quote whatever you’d like. :-)
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