Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Own Political Struggle with Transgenderism


[the image above is a pro-transgender feminist symbol from here, and I have added that networking site, anarkismo.net, to my important webpages to me list on the right side of this blog]

[Revised on 27 August 2009, adding bits about John and Julian Lennon, and clarifying a few point.]

There was another post made here a couple of weeks or so ago that a good friend noted was potentially transphobic, or, at least, not very welcoming of trans visitors to this blog. I agreed with her and pulled the post. I revised it so much it became something else. What follows is that something else. (I sometimes use the word "they" or "them" as synonymous with "she/he/neither" and "her/him/neither", respectively.)

I haven't dealt much with trans politics here, and I'd like to explain why, and what my own conclusions are about my politics, and my understandings of gender based on certain feminist writings, campaigns, and analyses as they meet up with my own experiences.

First, though, I'll remind the returning reader, or let the new-comers know, that had I been born at a time such that I'd be in my early twenties now, instead of, well, older, I'd likely be trans-identified. That is because in the community in which I live, radical feminism as a political movement is practically non-existent, while queer politics and, even more so, dominant gender politics are very popular. Of course only dominant gender politics is socially valued generally. No matter how much of a queer presence there is in a city or town, it remains unsafe for all queer people to be out, due to a combination of racism, homophobia, and misogyny.

In a conversation with one of the most diligently anti-racist white people I know, we discussed our own experiences of growing up as it pertained to gender identity and "fitting in" as a gendered person. Neither of us really felt like the gender we were assigned and raised to be, but were aware there was apparently only one other option. (Not all societies are like this, of course. But the ones I have been part of are.) Both of us, to varying degrees and in different ways, identified somewhat with the gender we were seen as not being.

For me, I was very girl- and woman-centered in my ways of being in the world from an early age. Woman and girl did not mean "other" in my mind, heart, and spirit; boys and men did seem, at least at times, both foreign and scary; this was especially true for me when it came to dealing with non-Jewish white heterosexual men. For the transperson I was speaking with, also Jewish and queer, they grew up to feel quite a bit of alienation from the gender assigned to them at birth, and, for a time at least, began requesting to be referred to in the pronouns of the non-assigned gender. In this person's case, they did not take hormones or pursue surgery to "be" another gender. They understood, and perhaps still understand, their gender to be fluid, flexible, and simply beyond what the dominant white society has said "exists".

When in my early twenties, I read Andrea Dworkin's book Woman Hating, and related strongly to all she said about dual gender: that woman and man, while real is not true. It was also the first book I read that actively and compassionately supported transgendered people as an oppressed group inside the patriarchal dual gender system.

My questions, concerns, and experiences led me more into radical feminism. And it, in its many forms and colors, was flourishing at the time. There I found out much more than I had been able to articulate about society, power, gender, and race. Woman and man were not just positioned as opposites, polar opposites, but also "in opposition" with men being greatly opposed to womanhood, in various ways, all the while needing womanhood in order to be alive and survive. With race also always present as a political reality, gender was deeply raced and race was deeply gendered. This has become clearer to me over the years, but it was no mystery why African American and white Jewish women were seen as "too masculine", stereotyped as they were as being the heads of households, "the ones who wear the pants* in the family", whether or not a husband or boyfriend lived there as well. (*Trousers, for those in the UK.)

Many theories have surfaced, mostly white supremacist psychological ones, to explain why men hate women so much: why rape by men against women is rampant, why men beating the shit out of women they say they love is commonplace, why poverty and famine overwhelmingly has the face of children and women of color.

One theory was that men resented how dependent they had been on a woman when little, which of course presumed either no man around or not enough of a man-parent presence. It also presumed that one's early dependence on a mother should, for some strange reason, manifest as misogyny later in life. My problem with the theory was that it was based in misogyny; it didn't explain misogyny. Why children grow up to hate women is not because women take care of them. Actually, to the degree women are able to do this well, they tend to be loved by their children. (I know: what a strange theory!) It's the absent or neglectful parent who tends to be hated and shunned, and that parent is disproportionately a man. John Lennon, to take one famous family example, hated his father for abandoning him and his mother, Julia, who died when he was a teenager; John loved his mother deeply and wrote a beautiful song about her. Julian Lennon has hated (and forgiven) his father, John, for abandoning him and his mother, Cynthia. We can hope that if Julian becomes a parent, he'll be a far more present and attentive parent than his dad was with him.

I was raised by a few people; all were family members. Those who cared for me I cared about strongly; those who didn't care for me well I had mixed feelings for, including hatred, at times. To all the Men's Rights Psycho-babblists out there: I wasn't raised by any feminist women. In fact, no woman over my age in my family of origin would identify as a feminist or womanist. Their own political views ran along and off a spectrum called conservative to liberal. The same was true for the men: conservative to liberal, in the meanings whites tend to apply to those terms. The only "woefully inadequate" parent I had was one of the women. I hated her at times for being so callous and self-absorbed. I also felt great compassion for her, for, against many odds, she struggled mightily and successfully to stay in this world.

I loved my father; he was a good role model for me in terms of how to be a person, not "a man". Many of the women were good role models for me as well, and I loved them too. They were individual people, not just "the wife of" or "the mother of". None of them would have ever considered going by the prefix "Ms." And none of them ever bought one issue of Ms. magazine or any other that went against the status quo's standards for what women are supposed to be.

The first "Ms."'s I met were teachers in high school. One was married to a man and one was not. I found this very cool. I tend to dislike double standards and different levels of social-political status being based on completely irrelevant and impersonal facts about someone. For example, a man's name did not change dramatically when he married a woman, but hers did, both at the beginning and the end: Miss to Mrs., Maiden name to Married name, even to the point of (gag) becoming "Mrs. John Smith". Whose interests are served by coming up with THAT custom? Invisibilising women's identities, or eclipsing them with men's lives, was imagined (by men) to be a good thing when I was growing up, but it never seemed like a good thing to me or to this person I was having the conversation with. Back to white music for a moment: how many people know the name of the person who was instrumental in getting Beach Boy Brian Wilson back into his creative self so he could complete the legendary unfinished album smile? Answer: Melanie Ledbetter, the woman he was wed to in 1995.

Along with the eclipsing of identity, being a woman raised as a girl also brought with it the vulnerability to men's violence, particularly and especially violence that men made into or about sex.

What's a person in a heterosexual world to do who doesn't want to be "the eclipsed" and "the beaten-up one" and also doesn't want to be the eclipser and the batterer?

The feminism I came to know well was committed to exposing the degrees to which gender and race was fused to power imbalances, structural, systemic power imbalances. The radical feminism I came to trust helped me see just how bound masculinity was to being anti-feminine and pro-whiteman, and how much femininity was bound to worshipping masculinity while not emulating it. Some of its founders and more prominent activists were Flo Kennedy, Alice Walker, Andrea Dworkin, Audre Lorde, Catharine MacKinnon, and bell hooks.

For me, gender was primarily a socially constructed hierarchy. It wasn't "natural" or "how things are just because". I, for one, didn't comply with its demands for conformity nor obey its mandate to hold masculinity as inherently more valuable and honorable than femininity. I also knew there were human qualities that were neither and there were people who were neither.

The trans person and I were two of those people, but had been assigned a gender at birth, and visually appeared enough like that supposedly true gender to "pass" as it.

Most of my learning about transgenderism was not very sophisticated or filled with wisdom. Not surpisingly, it also was not introduced to me by trans people. This meant I had a skewed to messed up view of what transgenderism was or is. What I've learned from my conversation partner, and other trans people, was that it isn't one thing, but it isn't everything either. It's a cluster of experiences that meet or clash with social expectations, just as being gay is.

As I understand transgenderism now, it is the lived experience of not belonging to oneself or the status quo in a profoundly significant way. It is the sense of something being really off about one's experience of self, and what the world tells you you are, with regard to gender.

Now of course this is true for many people, especially women raised as girls. As noted, some of the women in my family figured out how to work around the expectations and demands, to create social space where they could be more or less themselves, to the degree any oppressed people can be themselves.

But I have come to see that there is a difference, a genuine, felt difference between women raised as girls who feel like they don't belong to patriarchy, or don't wish to satisfy the ridiculous demands of heteropatriarchy, and socially named girls and boys who are transgendered. The matter of intersexuality has still not "come out of the closet" as far as I can tell. And that's due entirely to the oppressive gender system which says "you are either this, or you are that, and you can't be anything else." Trans people, gender variant people, and intersex people are living proof that hierarchical gender dualism is a political idea, not a natural truth.

Where things got confusing for me was when media started portraying transgendered people as "people who want to be the other sex". Studies showed lots of African American girls knew white girls were valued more, and much has been written about how oppressed people try and assimilate into the oppressor class. I, for one, didn't want to be "the other sex"; I wanted the falsehood of that two-gender hierarchy exposed at the roots, challenged through organised radical activism, so that the violence that inheres in it could end, and people could be freer to be themselves.

When I mistakenly learned that transgendered folks want to be the other sex, this notion too reinforced rather than challenged the basic premise of their being only two sexes. The transgender people I know want to be themselves, whether that fits one of two gender categories or not.

Feminism encouraged women to love their bodies however they were shaped, however big or small, however tall or short. ALL women's bodies are beautiful was a message I got from feminism in the 1980s. Let no man or men tell women which ones are beautiful and which are not. And fuck the focus on beauty anyway.

White men, throughout history, could be fat or thin, ugly or attractive, big or small, and still be categorised as "men"; they could still have social status, standing, position, privilege, and prestige. They could be a CEO or principal or dean at a school. Men of varying sizes and shapes, and with many different physical features could be and were president of the U.S. Almost all of them white. But they had to be men. When and if socially and politically powerful and influential people are women, they are seen as being masculinised by wanting to do what only white men have given other white men permission to do. To simply run for president means Hillary Clinton is, somehow, more man-like than if she were perfectly content being an apolitical, soft-spoken First Lady. And God forbid if Michelle Obama says anything deemed "out of line": this both masculinises her and effeminises her husband. Never in the social world does a man "being more like a woman" mean he has a superior status, greater privileges, and a more dominant social position.

Since I am not transgender, the internal personal project (and external political battle) of striving to make my physical, social, sexual, and psychic selves find some form of harmony or unity is not my primary struggle. I cannot make my sexuality fit with society's. That's true. I cannot find representation of myself in media. That's true. My politics, my values, my core beliefs about justice and the world are not reflected back to me by the status quo or the visible social order. My politics, values, and core beliefs, instead, are stigmatised as worthless, stupid, insane, ridiculous, and man-hating, just because I don't worship the heterosexual cock over everything else.

I know some transgendered folks for whom the struggle mentioned above is not their central concern either. But society-at-large will make that the most significant aspect of their being, if it is disclosed. Similarly, in a conservative to liberal society, me being gay and pro-radical feminist makes me seem and feel like an outcast, a heretic, albeit sometimes a "tolerated" heretical outcast. (And in racist heteropatriarchal societies, there are far worse things to be, according to white masculinist men, such as a trans or non-trans woman of any color, or a trans or non-trans man of color.)

Radically pulling up and throwing out the oppressive, anti-woman two-gender hierarchy of the dominant West was a key project of the feminism I came to value and trust. No "trim, trim here" "trim, trim there" approach was sufficient. Getting those roots exposed and torn apart was necessary. As with Kansas's Dorothy needing to kill the Witch of the East in order to get her broomstick and have her wishes fulfilled, so too must patriarchy die for women to be free. "Ding dong, the Dickdom is dead" is a song I look forward to singing. Mulching is a good thing. ("Compost CRAP" is a bumper sticker I've been wanting to mass produce for a long time.)

And media was portraying trangendered people (often called transsexuals) as wanting to be part of that hierarchical two-gender system; as spending lots of money to be part of that system--going "so far" as to have ones breasts and genitals surgically removed or altered. In this, those few transgendered people who do try surgical approaches to finding that harmony of being are both like and not like non-trans women and men who do the same thing, to feel more like the gender they supposedly are. If a man gets his penis enlarged, it is because he has heard the patriarchal rumor that big dicks are more valued than small ones. That this is true symbolically far more than it is physically is not mentioned by the pornographised media. If women raised as girls get their breasts enlarged, it is because they know they will either feel more feminine with the implants, be more attractive to others, often men, and be paid more to do certain kinds of work (often by pimps). These are somewhat different motivations for physically altering oneself surgically than those of most of the transgendered people I know. For example, an MtF trans person is likely to lose family members, status, work, and privileges, not gain them. And s/he is not likely to be accepted as "a woman" by masculinist men. An FtM trans person is not really ever going to be accepted as "a man" by masculinist non-trans men.

The issue that I've heard a lot of discussion about is this: do feminist non-trans women accept transgendered MtF people as women? (In fact, I hear that question infintitely more than the one about whether masculinist non-trans men accept MtF or FtM trans people as human beings.)

From what I can tell non-trans feminists are not unified on this matter. As a pro-feminist man raised as a boy, I have to wrestle with where I stand on the matter of transgenderism as it relates to the struggle of all women to be free of men, of all women to be women defined not by patriarchy, but by themselves.

All of us who participate in the practice of making ourselves into more heteropatriarchally acceptable gendered people ought to be aware of why we do so, if we have the time and energy to spend trying to figure that out. Most people, feminist and anti-feminist, trans and non-trans, mainstream or outcast, do participate actively in maintaining the dual gender system in some ways, as I see it. Just as people of all races participate in white supremacy. But only some benefit materially and socially from this participation. And some of us become very ill or are killed in the process of trying to be part of it.

Lesbians, gay men, trans people, and "out" radical feminists are among the populations of people whose ways of being and belief systems make them particular targets for men's misogynistic violence.

The reason I focus so much energy doing and promoting anti-misogyny work, rather than on pro-trans and pro-gay work, is partly because I'm not trans; I'm also not in solidarity with the woman-hating values and practices of many of my gay brothers; I find a heterosexist politic centered around appeasing and pleasing the heterosexual cock abhorrent, and despise the fact that heterosexual white men's values rule the world currently. I despise it because it harms so many people, non-human beings, and the Earth with such callousness and force. But I also focus on supporting radical feminism because I see misogyny and male supremacy as core underlying reasons that transphobia and homophobia exist. Oh, and I love and respect women raised as girls, as individuals and as a particular class of oppressed people, perhaps more than any other group of people, principally because of how courageously and creatively they figure out how to survive in a world that hates them so much, while still managing, somehow, not to be like virulently masculinist men.

20 comments:

- said...

You're really kind of missing a big point here. Not all trans people are a third gender. I am a transsexual woman. I am a female who happened to have been assigned male at birth. That doesn't neccesarily have anything to do with my gender. There are, for example, very butch/masculine trans women. Yes many folks are third of neutral or thirty seventh tendered. I, on the other hand, am a pretty feminine gender conforming woman.

Also, if you claim to do work against misogyny but separate trans women from other women, you are being exclusionary and oppressive. If you're working to liberate women, but not trans women, then you are only trying to liberate some (relatively more privileged) women.

Julian Real said...

Hi - said...

I hope I didn't indicate, in any way at all, that I think there's "a third gender". I don't have any idea of how many sexes or genders there are! I sure wouldn't presume there are three. What the dominant patriarchy I live in tells me is "there are only two: woman and man". I take issue with that, as do many non-trans and trans folks, because it collapses humanity into two tiny categories, much to the detriment of women. Much to the detriment of many people, some of whom are women.

I'm hearing you about "sex assignment" not necessarily having to do with one's gender identity. Thanks for clarifying that.

I've known folks with AIS, folks who are intersex--one of whom identifies as a "hermaphrodyke", and folks who are gender variant in many different ways. I usually see intersexuality as a somewhat different matter than genderism, although, as I listen to intersex people speak of their own struggles for validation and visibility, those two issues often end up being intimately related, if only due to the dominant society's imperatives of equating "sex" with "gender" together. My friend in Sweden reminds me that there, the term "gender" isn't used as it is in the U.S. It's a much more formal, academic term, not used outside the academy, for example. But here we are. (And of course I don't know where you are located geographically.)

I may be exclusionary and oppressive in the ways I speak, or do not speak, about transwomen here. I expect, given my lack of awareness of trans experience, and lack of focus on trans issues generally, that what I say here will likely be exclusionary and oppressive to trans people, although it isn't an objective of mine to do so.

I'm still figuring stuff out for myself, and shared part of my process, but I don't think I ever said "trans people are a third gender", or, for that matter, than any trans person is "a third gender", unless they identify themselves as such.

As I read your comment, I hear you saying loud and clear: work that addresses the oppression of [cis]women, but not transwomen, is exclusionary and invisiblising and oppressive to transwomen.

As an outsider, as a man, I believe trans women experience harmful things non-trans women don't experience, and vice versa, and sometimes what is experienced is intricately linked to transphobia, homophobia, and misogyny, also racism, classism, and Western cultural and political imperialism.

This is also to say, I think the oppression of what has been termed ciswomen is not identical to the oppression of transwomen, and my focus, admittedly, is on the oppression of ciswomen. And it's been and remains problematic for me to not be clear about that in my writings, and to do otherwise.

I continue to struggle with how to deal with this in my writing and in my own areas of activism beyond writing. I own completely that I'm not an activist on trans issues. That doesn't mean I want to behave oppressively towards trans folks, or make transgendered people's experience seem "not important". I'm into the Earth being healthy, non-human animals being free from Western human constraints and torture, but don't tend to write much about those issues either. And we might agree: the Earth and non-human animals are going to have an especially difficult time calling me out here on how and the degrees to which I exclude and ignore them.

Do you think a good solution would be to always refer to women as ciswomen, if and when I am using the term "women" to mean those humans who are not men, are not girls or boys, are not intersex, are not transwomen, and are not transmen?

I'll continue to seek guidance and learning on this matter. And I won't put the burden on you to educate me. And, of course, you are welcome to post concerns and objections, and anything else, here.

Anonymous said...

Julian, this is all kinds of messed up.

Who asked you to differentiate between trans and cis women? What purpose is it serving?

Also, some cis / trans / "women raised as girls" 101: Going through this assumes all "women raised as girls" have some commonality of experience, which just isn't the case. There are all kinds of women and all kinds of experiences that lead people to adulthood. Also you're talk of breast implants and the like is so condescending.

Julian Real said...

Hi Anonymous:

You ask:
"Who asked you to differentiate between trans and cis women? What purpose is it serving?"

I was not asked to; I was made to by a very oppressive society that forces human beings into two camps, one (men) oppressing the other (women). I believe you know this far more intensely than I do: those of us who are neither, who don't quite fit, who are sort of part of one and sort of part of the other, or who do fit from the perspective of others, but not from the experience in our beings, are termed various things, most of them not pleasant. Who is it serving? I appreciate the question.

I am responding to the political reality that is before me. And if I say there's no difference, is there none? For whom? For the trans-bashers? For the fathers who rape their young and not so young daughters BECAUSE they see them as girls, and grotesquely abuse them in ways that boys cannot be abused?

Every piece of writing in books by trans and cis people distinguishes between transgendered and cisgendered, in various ways. If I'm hearing you right, and I'm not saying I am, shall I pretend social distinction "cis" and "trans" (however it is termed) doesn't exist in social reality?

If I only speak of "women" and just go with the assumption that that includes cis- and trans-women unproblematically, does that mean the problems that exist disappear?

In all honesty, I'm not sure I'm understanding your question.

You wrote:
Going through this assumes all "women raised as girls" have some commonality of experience, which just isn't the case. There are all kinds of women and all kinds of experiences that lead people to adulthood.

All the women I know who were raised as girls have the commonality of experience of not being raised as boys, and of learning, in various ways, with various means off oppressive "learning" that males are better than females, and that boys and men are superior to or more privileged and entitled than girls and women (not necessarily in that language). That's quite a commonality of experience, no? They may not have learned it at home, or in their own society, but all the girls and boys I know learned and are still learning it, from the dominant society we live in, from media, culture, custom, code, and from law. We, in the dominant West, all learned it growing up, regardless of what gender we were or are.

Julian Real said...

Second part of the response that begins just above this one:

None of the feminist ciswomen I know have any problem understanding they are part of an oppressed group on the basis of gender. And that's never the only form of oppression they face. That they face various oppressions doesn't make gender oppression disappear or turn it into something else: male supremacy is real, and it is aggressively and destructively real against their minds and bodies, in many different ways. I believe those treated by the most dominant as women, men, Brown, Black, and white, do share gendered experience and raced experience--various combinations of privilege and punishment--but not all experience. Among my friends, every person has their own story to tell. But their stories don't amount to each of them having their own gender or race.

You add:
Also you're talk of breast implants and the like is so condescending.

I expect many people will agree with this, and maybe you and they are right about that. I've noted closely how Robert Jensen's work is responded to by radical feminists, liberal feminists, and antifeminists. Some find his work condescending to women. Soemtimes I agree. Others do not. I sometimes agree with them as well. I expect some people will find my work condescending, and Lorde knows I am capable of being condescending.

Admittedly, speaking about a group you are not is a tricky matter. But I'd hate to think empathy and hard listening results in nothing other than the scratching of my head in confusion. And here, in this exchange with you, I am scratching my head some. I don't get all of what you're saying to me. You are welcome to share more if you wish. And there's a point where I won't discuss it further. Again, I've made clear what my focus is, in the follow up post to this one.

I won't be silent about subjugation and harm of all the people I love and respect who are called "women" (if not some term far more pejorative) by men. I strive to speak about women's experience to men, knowing full well I won't be speaking about EVERY woman's experience, nor about the totality of any single woman's experience. I will continue to speak out, hopefully in ways that aren't patronising, condescending, or disrespectful. And I'm likely to fail, quite possibly often. Hopefully not too often.

I listen to all the women in my life, very carefully. And not every person is in my life, which means I will, necessarily, be grossly insensitive to many people's experiences. And, I'm going to keep doing my work and support you doing yours. And maybe we will meet one day and discuss things on a much deeper level.

Radicalyffe said...

Hi Julian,

I've not seen your blog before, but I found this post (and the responses to it) quite interesting.

So, on the topic of the gender binary.
15% of trans-identified people identify as something other than male or female (according to a survey conducted by trans-health.org).

So, yeah, a lot of folk ID as one gender or another, but there's also a not insignificant number of us that ID as outside of the current gender binary.

The only issue that I would take with your responses to '-', is this:

"I believe trans women experience harmful things non-trans women don't experience, and vice versa,"

Trans women certainly experience many harmful and oppressive things that only a few ciswomen will experience, but I have yet to see anyone provide me with an example of some kind of harmful thing that can happen to a non-trans person, that cannot happen to trans people.

I think that all political struggles that centre on gender need to take into account the existence and experience of transgendered people.

For example, trans men are more likely to have been sexually assaulted than a cis woman, during his lifetime, and a trans woman even more likely than a trans man, to have experienced sexual assault. That is evidence that sexual assault is frequently used to put people 'in their place' is it not? So its useful knowledge from the perspective of feminist and queer theory, but also in terms of resourcing programs for sexual assault survivors. That is, if your rape crisis centre has never had a trans person walk through their doors, they are doing something horribly neglectful to the local trans community.
Any anti-sexual violence campaign that ignores trans people is ignoring a demographic that is actually more likely than ciswomen to experience that kind of oppression.

(Also, that is *never* evidence that there are no trans people in the area. The medical school at our local university told their students this year that trans men are so rare there was probably none here in Australia. A trans ally pointed out that they personally knew THREE who were enrolled at that university.)

The other thing I would like to point out, since your coming at this from a radical feminist perspective, is that most trans people do not transition because of gender dysphoria. Everyone in our society experiences discomfort with their assigned gender role at some point, but only a small percentage go on to transition in some way. When people transition it is usually because of *body* dysphoria. A very strong sense that their body needs to change is usually the core of a gender/sex transition.

Best of luck with your ongoing quest to learn more about gender and oppression. Its a delight to read the ruminations of cisgendered men on these topics.

I suggest reading a good primer on transgendered politics, such as 'Sex Changes' by Patrick Califia. Its a very interesting read, and would probably be quite illuminating for you. Also 'Transgender Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue' by Leslie Feinberg is fantastic too.

By liberating transgendered people from the gender binary, society also liberates men and women from the unreasonable expectations of the gender binary, which is really kind of what feminism is trying to do right? I don't see a conflict between pro-trans and pro-woman work, and I'm sure that at some point in the future you will be armed with enough knowledge to agree, and feel comfortable advocating for transgendered people the same way you advocate for ciswomen.

Julian Real said...

Hi Radicalyffe,

This'll be a multi-part answer.

Re:
15% of trans-identified people identify as something other than male or female (according to a survey conducted by trans-health.org)

That doesn't surprise me. And I know of many non-trans men who identify as something other than man or woman, male or female. And I call out the cismale-men's asses for it, if they think they can call themselves "a lesbian" for example, and expect me to respect that as "their subjective experience" when they carry so many fucking male privileges, including the one to believe a man has a right to call himself whatever he wants--including terms that women have come up with to name themselves, and have it be respected as structurally real. I can seek to understand his experience, but not to promote it. I'm talking here about this one white dude who went around calling himself a lesbian. Of course lesbians called out his ass right and left. He finally "got it" about what was really misogynistic and anti-lesbian about doing so. I also encouraged him to dig a little more deeply into his awareness of his male-manhood, and to own privileges he was scarcely aware he had.

Julian Real said...

Re:
So, yeah, a lot of folk ID as one gender or another, but there's also a not insignificant number of us that ID as outside of the current gender binary.

Yes. And I think that for cisgendered and transgendered people to break down the gender binary as false, as limited, as "not the whole story" is useful, but to do so without naming and challenging male supremacy and white supremacy as real social forces, as key oppressive realities harming cis and transwomen of all colors and cis and transmen of color, is, for me--in my somewhat narrowly focused political work--off topic.

As you may have read, I could identify as trans. A trans-identified acquaintance (let's call them "T.J.") I know and I share many of the same experiences of self; we have curiously similar histories of disidentification with the gender we were assigned to as children, and have had periods of intense questioning about our bodies and what should be done about them, to make them appear more the way we feel. (Note my own levels of alienation from my body in even writing about it that way.) As white Westerners, we also find the patriarchal, white supremacist gender binary extraordinarily rigid and stupid, but T.J. wouldn't identify the gender binary necessarily as patriarchal or white supremacist. I can't conceive of how the gender binary I grew up with is neither.

T.J., when young, was perceived to be a girl and treated as such by adults. And T.J. identifies as trans. I do not. And I don't in large part because women have made me much more aware of the fact that I am socially read as a male-man, am treated as one, have the privileges of one, and am structurally located and positioned as one.

My subjective sense of "not belonging" and of some probably relatively minor level of body dysmorphia does not position me differently, and that doesn't mean that's the case with trans-identified folks. Obviously, I am not someone who is trans-identified, which alone makes me insensitive to what trans folks experience. The acquaintance and I find a lot of common ground in our experiences and feelings about ourselves, but not exactly, hence s/he identifies as trans. What I'm saying here I'm saying about me. This person didn't find feminism. I did find it. And I think that finding feminism, radical feminism, for me, helped me make sense of my own feelings and experiences in a way that wasn't the case for T.J.

Julian Real said...

Re:
The only issue that I would take with your responses to '-', is this:

"I believe trans women experience harmful things non-trans women don't experience, and vice versa,"

Trans women certainly experience many harmful and oppressive things that only a few ciswomen will experience, but I have yet to see anyone provide me with an example of some kind of harmful thing that can happen to a non-trans person, that cannot happen to trans people.


I believe cisgendered girls and women are treated in ways that are particular to them being cisgendered. But I'm not going to argue this point or say more about it here.

Re:
I think that all political struggles that centre on gender need to take into account the existence and experience of transgendered people.

I respect that position. And I'd say my work doesn't center on gender; it centers on male and white supremacy and on gynocide and genocide; it centers on what I know from the women I know about how women are harmed by men in male supremacist institutions. It would be inaccurate to say my work centers on gender.

The part of your comment about who is more likely to be raped I find too disturbing and upsetting to respond to at this time, and so I'm not going to.

Julian Real said...

Re:
The other thing I would like to point out, since your coming at this from a radical feminist perspective, is that most trans people do not transition because of gender dysphoria. Everyone in our society experiences discomfort with their assigned gender role at some point, but only a small percentage go on to transition in some way. When people transition it is usually because of *body* dysphoria. A very strong sense that their body needs to change is usually the core of a gender/sex transition.

I appreciate you clarifying that and sharing it with me.

Re:
I suggest reading a good primer on transgendered politics, such as 'Sex Changes' by Patrick Califia. Its a very interesting read, and would probably be quite illuminating for you. Also 'Transgender Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue' by Leslie Feinberg is fantastic too.

I despise some of the behaviors and sexual politics of Patrick Califia, and plan never to read his work. I think he's a misogynist. And I could be wrong. But this is likely the last time P.C.'s name will appear on my blog. And future references to him will not be posted.

I am aware of Leslie Feinberg's work, and appreciate the contribution Leslie has made to the discussions on gender. I also just appreciate Leslie being Leslie! But, again, "gender" isn't the focus of my work. Misogyny and racism is. I have read the Canadian book on trans/feminisms.

Re:
By liberating transgendered people from the gender binary, society also liberates men and women from the unreasonable expectations of the gender binary, which is really kind of what feminism is trying to do right?

Not as I see it, no. It's not "the gender binary" that I see women needing to be freed from. It's male supremacy, patriarchy. I cannot presume whether or not there will or won't be women after patriarchy, but I can challenge the systems, values, and denial that says patriarchy and white supremacy don't exist (even while gynocidal atrocity is all around) and aren't worth fighting against. I believe that they must be fought. I'm not much engaged with the struggle to end "the gender binary", even while I have a strong critique of it. I'm certainly not concerned with liberating cismen, unless we're talking about liberating cismen from poverty, homophobia, and racism. I don't, for one instant, believe cismen are oppressed by gender and radically disagree with those who say we are.

This is partly to say, I don't think men are in need of "liberation": I think men are in need of giving up power, of renouncing privileges and entitlements, and of getting off the goddamned stage, of giving up the mic, of keeping it in their trousers, of stopping the practices of objectifying women and treating women as things for men to use and abuse. I think men, structurally and collectively, need to get the fuck out of the way so radical feminists, trans and cis, especially but not only those of color, can do something better with this world. I don't really give a fuck about men's lack of liberation in a society which so benefits men at women's expense.

Re:
I don't see a conflict between pro-trans and pro-woman work, and I'm sure that at some point in the future you will be armed with enough knowledge to agree, and feel comfortable advocating for transgendered people the same way you advocate for ciswomen.

I truly appreciate that comment. I'm a'workin' on it, and my work is never done. But while I'm learning, I gotta keep on with the work that I feel most able and equipped to do. There will, necessarily be giant gaps in my work, but I think that's true of everyone's political work, no?

Thanks again for your comment here, and much good luck to you, both personally and politically.

Anonymous said...

I believe cisgendered girls and women are treated in ways that are particular to them being cisgendered. But I'm not going to argue this point or say more about it here.

This is rooted in the idea that, since they've got vaginas, cis women can be violated in that way that is Unique, and therefore More Violating. It's also rooted in the idea that vaginas aren't to be spoken of in polite company. (You tell me if that helps or hurts the effort to make women human beings.)

Which puts cis women, again, in the place of being defined by penises; since they can be violated in a certain place by them, they are pushed into a different status. Not a better status, mind you -- they are considered more vulnerable, weaker, specifically because they had the misfortune to have another hole. You're essentially saying that trans women have it easier due to biological configuration; if you don't want to understand why it's not true, look at the numbers. We're more likely to be raped, and we're more likely to commit suicide, by fairly large amounts. You may not understand it; but the evidence is pretty much incontrovertible.

I understand you find this topic sacred. I find none sacred; some are unpleasant, some are pleasant. Some, from both types, are necessary.

This is unpleasant but necessary, Julian; not unpacking this baggage because you find the topic of vaginas sacred is a mistake.

Julian Real said...

Hi Anonymous of Oct. 16,

Having a vagina was not the difference I was referring to.

What I was referring to was the difference of growing as a girl/being raised as a girl, and then being a woman/being perceived and treated as a woman, and how that is a unique experience relative to not being raised as a girl and then being a woman.

So where you went with what I said wasn't at all in my mind when I wrote that, and I'm happy to be able to clarify that now.

I am quite aware there are people of many genders with vaginas, btw, so that is not a "distinguisher" for me between girl-raised women and trans people who have been raised as one gender and experience themselves as not that who later identify as transwomen. Some AIS folks are "male", chromosonally, for example, or intersex, and may or may not have vaginas.

And nothing I said was alluding to penises or phallocentric understandings of womanness or sex.

Anonymous said...

All I know is that when I meet FTM-- transmen, they are polite, well mannered, and many were once a part of lesbian communities. Because they were raised as women, they have actually learned feminist manners.

MTF - transwomen, on the other hand are not accustomed to transitioning into second class citizenship, seem mystified as to why they aren't getting top gigs since they got them as a male concert pianist (true story), and are aggressive and obnoxious when they come into lesbian groups.

To this tells me one thing, women who become men become new and improved, since they really have been treated as second class citizens, and MTF act entitled, and aggressive, and do a lot to try to invade lesbian/women's lands, they ban lesbians from performing at "queer" music festivals, and they have successfully led protests to ban lesbian made movies at gay and lesbian film festivals nationwide.

That speaks volumes. People who were once men still act like men even after all the body operations and drugs, because men can't change on the inside. They will always remain that oppressor mentality no matter what they do, and they have no clue that that is how women born women see and experience them. It's a real issue for the future of lesbian only space. Patriarchy will do anything, and I mean anything to colonize and sexualize women born women.

Julian Real said...

I'll put my answer into a new post, Anonymous, because it got rather long!!! Thanks again for sharing what you do. It should appear as the October 17, 2009 posting on this blog.

WRH said...

I'm a gay transguy, feminist and Wellesley College graduate and I'm going to have to agree with this "most trans people do not transition because of gender dysphoria. Everyone in our society experiences discomfort with their assigned gender role at some point, but only a small percentage go on to transition in some way. When people transition it is usually because of *body* dysphoria. A very strong sense that their body needs to change is usually the core of a gender/sex transition."
I have a few videos up on Youtube on these topics that you might find enlightening or at least interesting.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzyR7k3GCOw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a376toDtZ6k
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iOLFrSeTes

Julian Real said...

(This'll be a two-part response.)

Hi WRH,

Thanks so much for your comment, for introducing yourself, and for sharing what you are sharing via vlogging. I have to imagine your vlog vids are helping a lot of folks, nontrans and trans. I've got more in the way of a response below, but first...

Here are your links HTML coded, for anyone else stopping by to read this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzyR7k3GCOw

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a376toDtZ6k

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iOLFrSeTes

I have watched all three, and two more by you about having sex with a gay transman. I also watched some of another vlog vid on intersexuality issues/news.

Rock on for pointing out that intersex surgery to make a baby into a girl" DOESN'T make a baby into a girl child.

What I realised most from watching your vlog posts is how much my blog isn't really about "gender" issues, per se, at least--to unfortunately use an academic reference--in the ways that "Gender Studies", "Men's Studies", and "Queer Studies" programs, for example, tend to frame up what gender is, and what the issues are.

I'm happy to have these links available for anyone who may benefit from seeing them. And I'm so glad your life is feeling more like the life you want to be living, with more emotional and mental health, strength, and stability.

I was particularly moved by the middle vlog post, and am so glad you took the risk to put out there what was obviously a tough day, a tough time, that was entirely due to access to testosterone and how it wearing off can make you feel.

Seeing aspects of your life discussed in this way made me more emotionally conscious of certain things that weren't exactly as clear before.

A friend of mine, a girl-raised woman, was involved for years, in a primary relationship with someone who was in the middle and end stages of the surgical parts of their transitioning. (I like that you note how there isn't "one way" to transition, and that the idea of "stopping midway through" is really not understanding of what transitioning is. I feel you explained that really well in the first vlog vid.

Their journey was MtF surgical transition, and a gender transition from being an uncomfortable man to being a transwoman who is much, much more at peace within herself now.

Julian Real said...

I noticed, while watching and taking in what you were expressing, how really alone I feel with my own sense of what being gay is and means, and how it expresses itself. This isn't really a gender issue for me, however.

It has to do with gay self-expression and existence, and it has to do with being profeminist. Both, for me, are social-political issues, and an issue of my place in queer/non-het communities. Because the way so many queer folks, genderqueer, trans, nontrans, lesbian, gay, intersex, bi, and pansexual, describe women and women's bodies is REALLY not okay with me.

I find that so often women's bodies are talked about in terms of their parts; in terms of their sexuality being public or something that exists "for" others in a displayed way; in terms that reduce women to sex-things. And I just hate that about nonqueer and queer cultures. I can't make a home in a community that refers to women in derogatory and objectifying ways.

And also I can't find a home in a social environment that so hypersexualises men and especially "masculinist/patriarchally masculine" was of being male and/or men. I find masculinism to be a really unattractive social-political reality, both nonerotic for me, and socially oppressive to women and many people who are not male and/or boy-raised men.

There are plenty of things I would LOVE to sit down and discuss with you about our worlds. They seem close enough, in terms of race and culture that I think we would, in many ways, be talking about the same culture and our struggles with it.

But what is also problematic for me are conversations about gender that pretend gender exists separately from male supremacy, and from white supremacy. For me, gender doesn't. At all. This is not to say your videos should be different than they are. Your voice is yours, your story is yours, and I fully support you telling it as you wish to. You story is the gift, and it shouldn't have to be like someone else's for it to matter. For me, getting to know some of the specifics of YOUR story was what was most compelling to me. Not so much as "a primer on gay transmen stuff" because I know how different that is for people.

So, maybe we could discuss some of these issues here? On a separate thread? Any ideas? I'm open to hearing what might work well for you, be of interest to you, etc.

These are some things that are also of interest to me to discuss:

I would talk about how our whiteness impacts all of what we deal with, how white privileges make our journeys easier. I'd be interested to know what your own experiences are with socially transitioning to being identified as a [white] gay man has meant--what you've noticed about heteromale supremacy during this journey that is your life.

So that' MY agenda, and it may not fit with your own and your work to promote understanding about trans issues for FtM white gay transmen.

Let me know your feelings and thoughts, okay? Either here, in a comment, or by emailing me at the address in the top right corner section of this blog.

Hexydezimal said...

I can fully understand that you're in a learning process, Julian, but damn! You are on the right track. I personally thought this was very well-written for somebody not in the know, and the nitpicks have been mentioned already. If you'd like to chat with one of us and ask questions, I'm always up for a good chat.

Julian Real said...

Hey Hexidezimal,

I so appreciate you stopping by and writing that comment to me!

I've been journeying a lot since then, and have come out as transgender and, specifically, intergender, since then.

Please also see any of the following linked-to posts. I welcome you to write something for me to post separately, as a place for an on-going discussion with you. Or please post comments to any/all of these posts and I'll respond to those. Whatever works best for you.

Here's a sampling of what's come "out" (winkwink) since:

http://radicalprofeminist.blogspot.com/2010/07/hi-my-name-is-julian-real-and-im.html

http://radicalprofeminist.blogspot.com/2010/11/and-intergender-transgender-sit-down.html

http://radicalprofeminist.blogspot.com/2010/11/part-2-sara-and-julian-discuss.html

http://radicalprofeminist.blogspot.com/2010/11/all-queers-are-white-male-supremacist.html

http://radicalprofeminist.blogspot.com/2010/11/first-guest-post-from-cerien-when.html

random said...

Hello Julian,

The moment you include transgendered males they will demand that their interests be centered and then you will not be for born women at all.

Not to mention, I'm sure you're aware that the radfem community is opposed to transgendered males othering us by referring to us as cis and insisting on robbing us of the right to call ourselves women without any qualifiers, unlike themselves.

I personally think that if transgendered males want to be called women, want to be seen as women, want to have themselves surgically altered so that they function the way the patriarchy demands that women function (ie cutting a hole into a man and calling it a vagina and thus calling him a woman because he now has a neovagina and is thus a fuck object, like a woman) its their problem... but any rights they want they need to fight for AGAINST THE PATRIARCHY the same way we did.

I don't think that us born women are wrong to say that transgendered males are still male and are abusing their male privilege by erasing our oppression and calling us "privileged" for being born women under patriarchy. its seriously fucked up and any man/woman who seeks to appease these men is no ally of of women.


I refuse to call myself "cis" because they HAVE to call themselves trans. Its completely unfair to other my femaleness and my oppression as such because you (transgendered males) have coveted my identity/body/femaleness as a man.