Part 1: Glee
Part 2: Rocky Horror
Part 3: Transsexuals, Transgender, and Radical Feminism
Part 4: Racist Patriarchy, Post-Modernism, Genderism, and Bigotry
(Note: This post was greatly revised on 3 & 4 Nov. 2010 ECD. Please also note: "CRAP" is an acronym which stands for corporate racist atrocious patriarchy, or the dominant kyriarchically combined and interwoven systems of oppression, domination, and subordination in the West.)
From Rocky Horror, perhaps more than from any other single media event, I learned about what the dominant het society considered "kinky" sexuality. Rocky Horror was subverting white conservative Christian values--as that group described them. It is said that pornography flourishes in part because the Christian Church has so effectively shamed us all into seeking blatant expressions of sexuality--of sexuality as liberation. What is ignored by such sweeping statements is how much conservative Christianity and pornography need each other to thrive in contemporary society. Rather than being in opposition, they might better be understood to be playing "Good Cop, Bad, Cop" with regard to policing human sexuality. These two groups--both extremely rich and powerful, share many values and disagree on very little--except who should have access to the sexuality each group holds up as "good". This was first brought to my attention in Susan Griffin's book Pornography and Silence: Culture's Revenge Against Nature. For a her discussion of the themes in her book, please see *here*. From that discussion, the opening passage:
One is used to thinking of pornography as part of a larger movement toward sexual liberation. In the idea of the pornographic image we imagine a revolution against silence. We imagine that Eros will be set free first in the mind and then in the body by this revelation of a secret part of the human soul. And the pornographer comes to us, thus, through history, portrayed as not only a "libertine," a man who will brave injunctions and do as he would, but also a champion of political liberty. For within our idea of freedom of speech we would include freedom of speech about the whole life of the body and even the darkest parts of the mind.And yet, though in history the movement to restore Eros to our idea of human nature and the movement for political liberation are parts of the same vision, we must now make a distinction between the libertine's idea of liberty, "to do as one likes," and a vision of human "liberation." In the name of political freedom, we would not argue for the censorship of pornography. For political freedom itself belongs to human liberation, and is a necessary part of it. But if we are to move toward human liberation, we must begin to see that pornography and the small idea of "liberty" are opposed to that liberation.These pages will argue that pornography is an expression not of human erotic feeling and desire, and not of a love of life of the body, but of a fear of bodily knowledge, and a desire to silence Eros. This is a notion foreign to a mind trained in this culture. We have even been used to calling pornographic art "erotic." Yet in order to see our lives more clearly within this culture, we must question the meaning we give to certain words and phrases, and to the images we accept as part of the life of our minds. We must, for example, look again at the idea of "human" liberation. For when we do, we will see two histories of the meaning of this word, one which includes the lives of women, and even embodies itself in a struggle for female emancipation, and another, which opposes itself to women, and to "the other" (men and women of other "races," "the Jew"), and imagines that liberation means the mastery of these others. -- Susan Griffin (1981)To each group, the other appears to threaten the ethics of the other: from a liberal and libertarian viewpoint, the Church is seen as a prudish sexual censor and grand shamer; from the Church's viewpoint, the pornographers are seen as obscenely exposing women, displaying their nakedness and their graphic sexuality for all men to see, and for being immoral in promoting behaviors the Church considers taboo or private. Meanwhile each unapologetically upholds patriarchal values which harm women as a class of human beings. In the U.S., and beyond, the conservative Christian Church publicly supports het male supremacist sexuality, and pornographers and pimps uphold white het male supremacist sexuality. Each of these groups implicitly or explicitly, privately or publicly, extols in practice the "virtues" of molestation and rape as a practice of terrorism, violation, and control by men of children and women (the Church), and social, sexual, and economic exploitation, domination, and control by white het men of all other groups, especially women (the pornographers).
Into this illusory opposition of values we have a film and a phenomenon that showed up just before either of those institutions became more powerful than anyone could have imagined in the early to mid 1970.
Rocky Horror is a fanciful, parodic story about a world or realm in which "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll" all collide to produce some strange situations and characters. How does Rocky Horror differ, in core values, from white-majority Woodstock/hippy culture? Weren't The Kinks and Mick Jagger promoting more or less the same values, but in popular music, not cinema? How does the film and phenomenon differ from what is now mainstream pornography? Does Rocky Horror have something genuinely liberatory to offer, or does it promote patriarchal values all over again, just as the Church and pornographers historically and presently do?
We might note a possibly stereotypical perception of the 1960s as being anti-establishment, engaging in various forms of revolutionary class resistance against the status quo's most powerful controlling class of people who were, themselves, waging war against everyone who wasn't rich, white, het, or male.
The challenges which extend into the 1970s take on white supremacy and anti-Black racism through the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, the efforts of Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism and Black Power, social justice programs created by the Black Panthers, and finally Radical Feminism as formed and expressed by such crucial activists and writers as Angela Davis, Florynce Kennedy, June Jordan, Alice Walker, and Audre Lorde, Cheryl Clarke, and Barbara Smith, to name but a few key spokespeople.
Capitalism's consumer culture was also under fire, as evidenced in the lyrics and message of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones. Capitalism itself, along with militarism and racism, were identified by Martin Luther King, Jr. as the "giant triplets":
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. -- The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.The white-majority hippies rejected militarism and consumerism in favor of valuing peace and love, concern with ecology, getting stoned, and stealing from the rich to get by, never quite getting how their predominantly middle class parents' raising of them and support for them allowed them to rebel exactly as they did. We might note that the hippies, generally, of the late '60s and early '70s became nothing beyond capitalists in the U.S. I observe many white ex-hippies to at least remain anti-racist, anti-war, and pro-feminist in principle; sometimes also in action. Although few are radicals opposing the patriarchal, capitalist, racist, military industrial complex.
As noted, a Women's Liberation Movement emerged through the sharing of experience and strategising, resisting, and campaigning of women of color and white women. Audre Lorde, perhaps more than any other theorist, put forth a single, profound womanifesto in support of the erotic and women's liberation and against pornography and male dominance, titled "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power." From that speech, the following passage:
We have been taught to suspect this resource, vilified, abused, and devalued within western society. On the one hand, the superficially erotic has been encouraged as a sign of female inferiority; on the other hand, women have been made to suffer and to feel both contemptible and suspect by virtue of its existence. -- Audre LordeIn Rocky Horror, a not-so-sweet transvestite named Frank-N-Furter has slaves and engages in brutal murder against those he may have once called friends. A hippy or a revolutionary, he isn't. He's much more of a narcissistic sociopath. He's a man who is bisexual, libertarian, and liberal. He manipulates and coerces people to behave as he wishes for them to behave, and, as many dominated and oppressed people do, they seek liberation from him--from his tyrannical abuses.
With the revolutionary American Indian Movement, Black Power and the Black Panthers, and Women's and Gay Liberation, and anti-Vietnam War Movements in full swing through the mid-1970s, we are also introduced to a new complex of values and practices that try to present themselves as "counter-cultural" but, when examined more closely, only appear to support the fundaments of a violent WHM supremacist society. We can observe an increasingly liberal cultural politics that show up in various white- and/or male-dominated cultures in the 1970s. "Sex" has become commodified and fetishised, with plenty of help from the 1950s forward in the form of Hugh Hefner's fluffy form of class-privileged WHM supremacy called Playboy magazine and mansion. Add to this Bob Guccione's class-elite "pet project" Penthouse, which attempted to occupy the top floor of the Playboy empire.
The commercialisation and commodification of WHM supremacist sex shows up in opposition to the Women's Movement, through the increasing social enforcement and enabling of activities such as shaving armpits (and legs, if a woman), grooming one's hair, wearing polyester clothes, high heels, and make-up; sexual compulsions such as voyeurism and exhibitionism: sex-as-performance not sex-as-communion; coercion and force, whipping and enslaving as something "sexy"; and other incorrectly termed "eroticised" violence and standard stereotypes that comprise aesthetic and political elements of Rocky Horror as well as dominant society.
In addition to all of that, we can also note the introduction into popular culture, via the media, of the reality of transsexuality. I remember at that time in our history the term was generally confused with transvestitism and bisexuality--with the help of The Kinks song and Rocky Horror. The RHPS, specifically, did nothing to untangle the three terms. They seemed virtually synonymous or overlapping. Into the dominant media also came a couple of stories of two transgender people who had complete sexual reassignment surgery. The only one I remember was Richard Raskind becoming Renee Richards, later regretting the notoriety but not the surgery. Renee Richards, before and after Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) was a tennis player. One controversy surrounding her life had to do with whether or not she should play professional tennis as a woman tennis player after transitioning surgically. She was allowed to play as a female athlete but only by bringing a lawsuit against the USTA (United States Tennis Association). Similarly, this year, Lana Lawless, a self-identified transgender woman, is suing the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) for defining "woman" as someone who was FAAB (female-assigned at birth). From one typically "neutral" media source, *here*, is this:
In an unexpected twist, Renee Richard[s], in an interview in the New York Times article, is ambivalent about whether or not she supports Lawless’ goal of playing in LPGA events. Richards believes that “physically strong” transgender women have an advantage over other women competitors and seems to think that decisions about whether or not transgender women should play should be made on a case by case basis. This reservation mirrors the IOC and IAAF policies on the participation of intersex women that were in effect when Caster Semenya’s eligibility to compete as a woman was challenged in the 2009 World Championships and then affirmed this fall. We have seen what a mess the “case by case” policy can be.From Wikipedia, we have this discussion of the terms transsexual and transgender:
Transsexualism is often included within the broader term transgender, which is generally considered an umbrella term for people who do not conform to typical accepted gender roles, for example cross-dressers, drag queens, and people who identify as genderqueer. Some transsexuals object to this inclusion.
Anthropologist David Valentine contextualizes the objection to including transsexuals in his book "Transgender, an Ethnography of a Category."  He writes that transgender is a term coined and used by activists to include many people who do not necessarily identify with the term. He observes that many current health clinics and services set up to serve gender variant communities employ the term, but that most of the service-seekers do not identify with the term. The rejection of this political category, first coined by self-identified activist Leslie Feinberg, illustrates the difference between a self-identifier and categories imposed by observers to understand other people.
Historically the reason that transsexuals rejected associations with the transgender or broader LGBT community is largely that the medical community in the 1950s through the late 1980s encouraged (and in many ways required) this rejection of such a grouping in order to be a 'good transsexual' who would thus be allowed to access medical and surgical care. The animosity that is present today is no longer fed by this same kind of pressure from the medical community.
However, where some of the beliefs of modern day transsexual people that they are not transgender, is reflective of this historical division (Denny 176), other transsexual people state that someone choosing to retain their former physical sex (no SRS) is very different from someone who needs to be of "the other sex", that the groups have different issues and concerns and are not doing the same things. The latter view is rather contested, with opponents pointing out that merely having or not having some medical procedures hardly can have such far-reaching consequences as to put those who have them and those who have not into such distinctive categories. Notably Harry Benjamin's original definition of transsexualism does not require that they need to have had SRS.
TerminologyThe word "transsexual" is most often used as an adjective rather than a noun – a "transexual person" rather than simply "a transexual". Transsexual people prefer to be referred to by the gender pronouns and terms associated with their target gender. For example, a transsexual man is a person who was assigned the female sex at birth on the basis of his genitals, but despite that assignment identifies as a man and is transitioning or has transitioned to a male gender role and has or will have a masculine body. Transsexual people are sometimes referred to with "assigned-to-target" sex terms such as "female-to-male" for a transsexual man or "male-to-female" for a transsexual woman. These terms may be abbreviated as "M2F", "F2M", "MTF", "F to M", etc. These terms are particularly helpful in preventing confusion, because to some people the term "transsexual woman" is a female transitioning to become a male, and to others a male transitioning to become a female. When the terms trans man and trans woman are used though, it is typical for them to be used to refer to the gender that the person identifies with, regardless of their appearance or state of transition.
Although some do identify as part of the LGBT community, others do not. Transsexual people often feel that gender identity and sexual orientation are not associated. Transsexual men and women are of various sexual orientations just as non-transsexual (some times referred to as cisgender) people are, and they will almost always use terms for their sexual orientation that relate to the sex with which they identify. For example, someone born biologically male who identifies as a woman, and who is attracted solely to men, will commonly identify as heterosexual. Likewise, someone who was born biologically female, identifies as a man, and prefers male partners, will identify as gay, not heterosexual. Transsexual people, like other people, can also be bisexual or asexual as well.
Also from Wikipedia is this dizzying description of how terms are used. I don't agree with much of what follows, for the record, as someone who is intergender and not intersex.We can note how "experts" are usually medical doctors some of whom are psychiatrists. This is problematic for many reasons.
The transgender community typically use the short form "trans", or simply "T" as a substitution for the full word "transsexual", e.g. TS, trans guy, trans dyke, T-folk, trans folk. Terms like as tranny, or trans are considered by some to be derogatory, but others use them, arguing that they are diminishing the power of the term as an insult (in the same way that gay and African-American communities have embraced terms or phrases that were originally derogatorives.) Others feel that the terms are problematic because they do not differentiate between transsexual people, and other people categorised as transgender.
Some transsexual people may prefer transgender over transsexual, because this minority sees the issue to be about gender rather than sex, and to those unfamiliar with transsexuality. This subset of transsexual people make a parallel with intergender, who think of themselves as between the genders rather than between sexes. Some transsexual people think of transsexualism as a subset of intersex. "Intersex" usually refers to people whose genitals are not typically male nor female. Transsexualism, in this view, simply becomes a form of being neurologically intersex that was mistakenly categorized outside of the rubric of intersex because of the historical lack of proof for a specific etiology. (See below for hypotheses on the possible causes of transsexualism.)
The term "gender dysphoria" and "gender identity disorder" were not used until the 1970s when Laub and Fisk published several works on transsexualism using these terms. "Transsexualism" was replaced in the DSM-IV by "gender identity disorder in adolescents and adults".
Mass media-covered stories and websites which purport to offer up objective information fail miserably at accomplishing this. We can note how one of the objectives in dominant media is to pit marginalised people against one another, somehow always managing to note the ways in which "those people just can't agree on anything" unlike, supposedly, the non-transgender, heterosexual women and men who never disagree about anything having to do with gender or sexuality--like say, monogamy, sex before marriage, pornography use, prostitution, and reproductive rights. Identifying disagreements among marginalised people, by dominant media, is one way to re-establish the appearance of "togetherness" of unmarginalised groups.
Over the decades we have seen several stories of transgender transformation and the exclusion of transgender people in dominant society's lucrative sports programs. I add to these stories the one that got tons of media attention. This concerned the professional and personal life of the intersex Black South African track and field athlete, Caster Semenya, who was harshly targeted for profoundly invasive investigation. Each of these stories has had several social-political functions.
Think for a moment about how "the story of the kidnapped class-privileged blond white girl" keeps repeating in dominant cultural media. What's the function of that narrative, lived out against white girls? It's a story about how FAAB white and usually blond girls are targeted for capture and terrorism, rape and murder, often starting at a young age; it's a story about "stranger danger" thus perpetuating a conveniently patriarchy-protecting mythology that the most harmful men to girls are strangers, not the men most known by them. It's simultaneously a narrative about the value of whiteness. This is how dominant narratives work: they often promote lies, distortions, and stereotypes, while also bringing awareness to things that are truly important or significant to know about. What these narratives are never designed to do, however, is subvert the most dominant and entrenched systems of power. They don't and can't function to flush CRAP down the toilet. They only mix it up a bit here and there, making us all think "the times they are a'changing" and that "we've come a long way, baby", or not, as the case may be.
The media stories of two white transsexual or transgender athletes, and one Black intersex athlete (who is already oppressed profoundly by race and gender in her own country) are designed to re-establish social norms in which there are, naturally, two opposite sexes, unequal, with men dominating women in every way conceivable and inconceivable. If an athlete can be found to be "male" or, well, "not female", then they don't belong with women because women are inferior to men, supposedly, and placing these people in the category "woman athlete" will be unfair to the FAAB women athletes.
The arguments are specious and spurious: because clearly there are women who are stronger than men within one sport. If a woman athlete has too many muscles, ought she be considered "a man" and be removed from competition? We have seen, in women's professional tennis, how one generation of athletes has completely overpowered the earlier generation. The Williams sisters, Lindsey Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo, and many others have been determined to be representatives of something new called "big babe tennis"; that is a term coined by tennis commentator Mary Carillo--who I do adore, but I do cringe when I hear that term, although I get that she is feminist and doesn't mean it to be condescending or belittling. But what were Martina Navartilova and Steffi Graf? Little babes playing tennis? I don't think so. With Martina N. and Amelie M. in particular, because both were more or less out as lesbian while they played professionally, they have been cast in the light by some heteropatriarchs as "possibly being too manly" for women's tennis.
In some of these cases, the race-, gender-, and sexual-dominants are left to wonder what to do with these "other" people. Shall we include them? Shall we not? What should we allow them to call themselves? Are they capable of even knowing what they are? This sort of condescension and patronising tone is either explicit or implicit in most dominant media discussions of gender and sexual non-conforming people. That being intersex is exactly as natural as non-intersexuality, and ought not a be a parent's call to rush their child into genital and urology surgery is rarely considered by most non-intersex people, for example. The general hope is that the surgeries can be done early enough so the child won't know what happened. Because we are supposed to believe, against great evidence, that surgical trauma to the genitals will not be noticed by a young child or impact their sexual life later. Grrrrr.
At the same time, the unnaturalness and political function of categories such as [non-trans] "woman" and "man", and identities of heterosexuality are not to be discussed from any radical critical perspectives. If this is done, it won't generally rouse the interest of dominant media the way the stories about those "other" people do. The function of CRAP's corporate mass media stories of sexually- and gender-variant people is to exploit them for the entertainment and confusion of the masses of social dominants, keeping the social dominants believing they are, if not expressly superior, at least not as unfortunate as those sexually and gender-beleaguered people. Sympathy oozes like pus for the poor things that we are.
Carrying us back to the 1970s, emerging from within the Civil Rights Movement, hippy/anti-establishment/drug culture, and the anti-War movement was the realisation that any activism and "culture" led by men would mean women would be dominated and expected to always be submissive second-class citizens relative to the men of their own ethnic, cultural, or political group. Regardless of how "radical" they were when attempting to weaken white supremacy or the military industrial complex, if men ruled the social change and justice movements, male supremacy thrived and patriarchy was reinforced.
Out of these experiences women of all colors and classes began their own movement to protest and resist white male supremacy and heteropatriarchal imperatives. The compulsory political nature of heterosexuality was questioned; the meaning and function of womanhood-in-patriarchy was interrogated to the roots. There was a fundamentally new political philosophy that emerged from this crucible of cross-cultural examination and analysis, in part from thousands of women comparing their own formerly "anecdotal" stories. The stories weren't anecdotes only, it was discovered; when layered together, patterns and practices of interpersonal violence emerged as endemic and prolific, and systems of institutionalised white, het, and male supremacist power were exposed as unjust and inhumane.
Class, race, and sexuality were now interrogated through the feminist analysis of gendered oppression--sex-based subordination. By the late 1970s, Women, Race, and Class by Angela Davis, the essays and speeches by Audre Lorde (later collected and published as the book Sister Outsider), and work by other writers like Andrea Dworkin, Alice Walker, and Mary Daly registered deeply with various populations of women, interrogating all aspects of institutional, social, and personal life including sadomasochism, pornography, media, literature, history, battery, rape, and abortion, and, obviously, the intersections of sexuality, race, gender, and class. Ntozake Shange's play "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf" was a hit, moving from California to off-Broadway, to Broadway and a Tony nomination.
Harmful expressions of systematised power-over-others were now challenged not just as needing to end because they hurt and killed men of color; not just because many young white middle class men were going into war and not coming out alive; but because this form of hostile and hierarchical power was expressed in the construction and maintenance of a dual gender system that created and maintained "woman" as a political category that exists to co-maintain "man" as the supreme and most normal and evolved form of being human. The violence was misogynistic, even if the men perpetrating it were targeting other men--men were made to feel inferior in a gendered way if the violence from men was sexual or if the men were humiliated. Degradation is stigmatised as non-white, non-rich, and female.
Women sought an entirely different framework for understanding womankind as not only human but divine, and female experiences as truthful within abusive, belittling patriarchal denials of such truths. A line from Shange's play reads: "I found God in myself/and I loved her/I loved her fiercely." Concurrently, "woman" was understood to be a social construction, not something one is "naturally". And if "woman" is a political category that exists in subordinated opposition to "man", then the only radical program for ending this tyranny is to destroy the systems and disempower the institutions that enforce and maintain these two falsely naturalised genders. "Women" will be free when male supremacy-defined "woman" no longer exists. So too will patriarchal manhood have to go. That some antifeminist men have taken this to mean that radical feminists want to kill all men is about as absurd and paranoid a conclusion as I can imagine. Their proof is that a few women wrote "not nice" things about men's existence. As if the multi-billion dollar advertising and pornography industries don't say "not nice" things about women, and particularly feminists, each and every day.
That patriarchal manhood is thriving and radical feminism has been declining significantly over the last few decades ought to be somewhat of a clue as to who, in fact, in practice, and in reality (and not in theory alone), has the institutionally protected, sanctioned oppressive political power to destroy who. Never (ever) in the last 500 plus years of WHM supremacist human history has it been otherwise. WHM destroy everyone and everything else, for 500 years and counting. Do the math, class-privilege white het men; you're supposed to be so naturally very good at math. And please stop your whining and whimpering as if you're actually being threatened by anyone. You're not. Unless you threaten each other. THAT'S something you might wish to focus on because THAT'S the only form of "misandry" that actually exists--WHM men's hatred for and against other groups of men and themselves.
In my own history, I remember the misogyny and heterosexism viscerally as well as emotionally. If one is empathic and male, one may feel deeply what is happening to female human beings in ones own life. I saw how men in my family subtly humiliated or held down women. I knew that being called "sissy", being told I threw a softball "like a girl", and other misogynistic expressions of derision against me were supposed to make me bond with boys in the project of putting down girls. I didn't have all the terms in place, but the woman- and girl-hating that was normal and seemingly "natural" was ever-present and threatened not only females but anyone deemed not sufficiently male, according to male supremacist rules and regulations.
I knew I didn't "fit" into this system. I knew it distorted and dehumanised everyone while benefiting men at women's expense. Men oppressed women. Or MacKinnon succinctly put it: man fucks woman; subject, verb, object. That was the dynamic. Masculinity was to be valued over femininity. Dominance and submission were meant to be naturalised, but radical feminists declared it entirely political, social, changeable. But the change would have to be radical and revolutionary to be effective--that much was very clear. Liberal reforms and modifications here and there, while necessary as part of the process, and usually supported by radicals, were only ever understood to try and make life a bit more bearable for some women without liberating all women. The Women's Liberation Movement sought, in its vision and practice, to resist and dismantle patriarchy and replace it with socially organised and valued humane being. "Gender" as it was constructed by CRAP, would need to be completely composted so people who valued compassion, care, respect, and regard could resume healthy life with, not on, Earth.
So when the first "transgender" (a term not yet arrived at and chosen by our community) people made news, one senses that this could possibly challenge CRAP liberally, but would not necessarily be part of the deeper political project to end patriarchal gender dualism. While I knew I didn't fit, didn't identify with boys, cast my lot with girls, and embraced feminism from my teen years forward, I also knew creating more genders inside the dominant system wasn't going to work to effect social change. More recently I've been reminded by a radical feminist colleague that me taking the identity of a third gender wouldn't make the hierarchical arrangement of men against women disappear or even be threatened. CRAP was crafty enough to withstand many challenges, especially those that were transgressive without being transformative. Rocky Horror was transgressive, and entirely in line with most of WHM supremacy's mandates. So too is contemporary Queer culture and the politics of the agendas of Queer Studies programs.
So I'll focus, for at least a moment, on what is now called the Queer Community, which has always been far more multifaceted than Pride Parades might indicate but as internally conflicted as dominant media alludes--but not more conflicted that dominant groups.
As a young gay male, I learned that there once was a Gay Liberation Front--a group who, more or less, were allies of radical feminist lesbian women in the project of taking apart all expressions of racist heteropatriarchal gender wherein domination and submission was normalised, naturalised, and sexualised. Audre Lorde's essay describing the links between slavery and sadism in Against Sadomasochism: A Radical Feminist Analysis was very powerful for me to read, as was her essay "Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power", linked to above. No one who reads these writings can claim radical feminism was anti-sex, unless you want to pretend Audre Lorde wasn't a radical feminist. I read the work of Chrystos and many radical lesbian feminist women--there was nothing anti-sex about their work, only anti-racism and anti-heterosexism. To be against CRAP-sex wasn't to be anti-sex; it was to be anti-CRAP. To be against rape isn't to be against sex, it is to be against sex-as-violence for women, and violence-as-sex for men.
Through all those writings and many conversations with women, as well as self-interrogation into my own desires and feelings, turning over any intrapsychic and interpersonal stones I could find, I realised that "desire" and "identity" are and have been socially-politically constructed to reflect back to ourselves and reinforce in society the very values the dominant society impelled and, often enough, made compelling by selling the values and practices to use as "transgressive" and "liberatory". So pornography, bdsm, and prostitution have been promoted inside and outside queer communities, and moreso by het men, as forms of freedom. This is liberalism, libertarianism, and conservatism bound together in leather and lace with chains and rope. This proclamation within het and queer society is anti-liberation, anti-radical, pro-status quo, and counter-revolutionary. To not understand that is to (willfully or not) deny the primary political function of prostitution, bondage, domination, sadism, masochism, and pornography as industries, institutions, systems, interpersonal practices, and social and personal values.
The radical feminist project I was part of understood that no feeling, no idea, no concept was beyond radical scrutiny. And if one was feminist, the questions that had to be asked were, among others: "How does my feeling this way reinforce racist patriarchy?" "Do my desires lead me away from or towards the radical feminist project to dismantle racist patriarchy? There weren't "protected" identities. Just as Blackness was deeply interrogated and analysed in terms of its construction in relation to whiteness, so too womanhood was interrogated and analysed. bell hooks and Catharine MacKinnon's work through the 1980s and 1990s proved especially helpful to me.
For example, hooks noted how feminist theory if presented primarily from a white perspective and experience, would necessarily marginalise most women, who, after all, are not white. She also sought to re-establish an intersectional analysis of the major forces which seek women's destruction--capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy. White class-privileged feminists were often concerned only with patriarchy, as if they weren't located structurally and politically by race and class against women of color and poor women. MacKinnon noted how Carol Gilligan's feminist analysis of moral development in males vs. females, while important and astonishing in its valuation of women's ways of being, neglected a very significant and critical question: how does growing up in a male supremacist society in which force is implied or overtly present when girls act unfeminine contribute to women valuing relationship, concern, compassion, regard for others, and a willingness to put others before oneself? Among other challengers, hooks' and MacKinnon's challenges to Gilligan and other white feminists was to ask a deeper set of questions and expand the view of systems of misogynistic harm. Similarly, Audre Lorde challenged the racist euro-centrism of Gyn/Ecology by Mary Daly.
We can note how these radical theory- and practice-building feminists have challenged one another, but have not trashed "radical feminism" generally. I've always been wary of any group or individual who criticises "radical feminism" or "radical feminists" as if they are monolithic in ideology and approach to social change. To target "radical feminists" is, in and of itself, a pro-patriarchal move which, intentionally or not, aligns anti-radical feminists with pro-patriarchal activists.
Challenges within radical feminism was being done in the name of strengthening sisterhood and solidarity, not tearing it apart. One factor that has continued to rend sisterhood has been white women's refusal to deal with how their own race privilege (and overt racism). This willful refusal has prevented them from seeing the condition of women across race and region unless white women remained front and center and unraced--if "patriarchy" could be seen as the only oppressor of women (white, class-privileged), then all was good for very privileged women's "radical" theories and practices--except, of course, that patriarchal men were always around to bash all women, radical or not, feminist or not, in every way.
An assumption was made that lives on until this day that white women can call themselves "women" [unraced] and examine only the work and lives of other white women and believe they have a deep comprehension of how and in what ways women are oppressed by men. For women of color who were and remain oppressed by the racist patriarchal behaviors of three groups of people, not one (men of their own ethnic group), such analysis remains woefully inadequate to understand and organise resistance to CRAP. How does patriarchy construct conditions whereby white women oppress women of color, and what are the activist remedies? White women's analysis had no answer because it didn't and doesn't want to ask the question. Women of color were and are oppressed by men of color, by white men, and by white women, despite white women's claims to be allies in the sisterly struggle.
What is often overlooked in mainstream/malestream overviews of the U.S. feminism of the 1970s and 1980s is exactly how racist patriarchy responded to women seeking such radical social change. One book that details this, however, is Susan Faludi's Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. What could CRAP's power-brokers do to divert and destroy radical feminist action?
One thing they did was come out with study after study demonstrating how justice and social equality for women would be "unhealthy" for women. I remember this with regard to sports. It was honestly assumed, for a very long time, that white women weren't capable of certain forms of athletic endeavor. I remember watching the first ever Women's Marathon in the Summer Olympics, and how it amazed men that the women didn't just fall down dead. What has since been learned is that the longer a competitive race is, in miles or kilometers, the more likely it is a woman will win it. Women can run greater distances than men. The Olympic Committee won't likely allow a 100 mile race because it doesn't want the whole world witnessing women beating men in athletic competition. This is but one way organisations, institutions, and stereotypes conbine to reinforce white male supremacy, or CRAP. (We'll see if the women who win these races in the future are diagnosed as somehow really being men.)
The value and a crucial part of the project of radical social transformation, as I saw it, was in being deeply challenged--because CRAP goes deep into our psyches and bodies. The value of radical feminism compared to liberal versions, was in having oppressive if hidden or denied dimensions of one's being, history, or work always on the table for discussion, scrutiny, interrogation, and examination. Lesbianism, for example, underwent seemingly ceaseless interrogations. Lorde's descriptions of her life as a gay girl in the '50s was different than colleague Adrienne Rich's discussion of lesbian as resistance to patriarchy and the embracing of loving women both interpersonally and socially. To this day there is debate--not put to rest five and a half years after her death--about whether or not Andrea Dworkin was a lesbian. Her being lesbian-identified wasn't sufficient to silence the lesbian scrutinisers.
It is said by some white class-privileged trans activists that they are the only group that undergoes such stringent interrogation as to the political meaning of their identity. Obviously anyone who says this cannot possibly have been part of lesbian-feminist community over the last forty years!
There is a kind of joke among some lesbians and gay men. It's more of an observation, with a bit too much truth in it to write off as only stereotypical. It goes like this: if a man sleeps with any man even once, or dreams of doing so, he will likely be regarded in gay male circles as "closeted and gay". If a lesbian woman sleeps with a man or dreams of doing so even once, she is regarded as "not a lesbian". The intra-queer experience I've had is that gay men want everyone on board who is male, while lesbians want only those who commit to only being with women on board.
I've often been told by many friends that the level of self-interrogation and questioning of others' behavior I engage in is way beyond what they are comfortable doing to themselves or experiencing me doing to myself and others. The keyword there is "comfortable" because it is privileged people, usually, who don't want to ask the really wrenching questions that cut to the gut of one's political and emotional being. This isn't to say that many, many queer people don't do an awful lot of soul-searching or go through many kind of emotional hells in the process of coming out. It is to note that a difference among liberals and radicals, generally, is the degree to which one is willing to ask: "To what degree is what I'm feeling a construction of racist heteropatriarchy or in service to it?"
I've repeatedly interrogated what "gay" and "intergender" means to me, given that while I'm a "male"-bodied adult who is attracted to some men--men who aren't invested in their hetero/sexism or racism, I'm far more likely to find communion emotionally and intellectually with women. I've had close connection with lesbian women, but have never, ever felt "heterosexual" (or, bisexual) due to the ways we engaged. I don't know what it is to sexually "be heterosexual" and the more I hear about how so many het men are sexual, the more alienated from them I feel. I can't imagine being heterosexual even socially because, as I see it and hear about it, it requires daily betrayal of women in order to bond with men, or at least with male supremacist ways of being.
In Western corporate racist patriarchy, to be radically feminist, as I understand it, is to always be willing to monitor one's CRAP (not carbon) footprint.
Unfortunately, what happened with most gay men after the mid-1970s is a classic tale of choosing the liberal trajectory over the radical one. Lesbian feminists were soon betrayed as gay men decided to take the CRAPpier political stance that "we're men too!" as opposed to the more pro-feminist stance that "There's nothing inferior about being a woman or woman-like." I hope you can appreciate how each of those positions places one on a very different social-personal-political trajectory.
Over the last thirty years, I've witnessed men and male supremacy win time and time again (hand-in-hand, fist-in-fist with white supremacy and corporate capitalist values), always to the detriment to women. What's happened are several things, including the devastatingly popular CRAP-loaded pseudo-sciences of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. Both have been adequately critiqued to the point that anyone who gives credence to either of them ought to be laughed off the academic stage--or wherever such nonsense is being promoted. It's like living in a time where one is actually asked to treat "Creationism" as just as valid a theory as "Evolution". One wants to just tip one's head a bit, narrow the eyelids and ask, "REALLY?! You REALLY want me to do that? Are you mad??"
Admittedly, as the Religious Right states, "evolution" is just a theory like "creationism" so why shouldn't both be discussed equally in grade schools. I leave it to you to find the best answer to that question. Well, actually, I'll offer up one: because "Creationism" is quite obviously part of a larger very contemporary political project to completely re-naturalise and God-ordain CRAP. That's what's wrong with it. Creationism is one of many buttressing blocks intended to make CRAP-crumbling less possible.
Just because two theories are both theories doesn't make them equally valid or useful, depending on what your values and projects are, of course. We tend to choose the theories that allow us to stay in denial about things we'd rather not look at too closely, especially things that threaten our well-being and identity. When privileged and entitled, we also tend to choose theories that allow us to hold onto at least some of those privileges and entitlements.
A few weeks ago a het white guy who used to be a close friend noted to me how his two children--one boy and one girl--demonstrated very different temperaments, and that the girl's was very clearly "more feminine" than the boy's. He WAS interested in trucks and she WAS interested in dolls, and he and his female partner had made sure all toys, including more gender-neutral ones, were available to each of them to play with--they didn't just let the boy open the new truck present and the girl open the new doll present when their birthdays or other gift-giving holidays rolled around. Similarly, two newer parents have alerted me to the fact that while they are opposed to "gendering" their children, they have noticed that while their boy hits things, the girl baby taps or delicately touches those same things. What these liberal to progressive people are putting forth is an old idea--one that leaves a larger CRAP print: "See, girls ARE different from boys!" "Some of this IS natural!"
When I reminded these earnest and well-meaning parents that my brother was into hitting and I was into lighting touching things, or that I preferred dolls to trucks--if forced to choose among such limited options for play-objects--they will note, "Yes, well it has been shown that there's far more variance among girls and among boys than between boys and girls." But this is their afterthought. This is their attempt to backpedal and correct the heterosexism of what they'd just been trying to make into Truthful Reality, as opposed to a point of view on experiences that grab their attention. Because, honestly, one of the things I want to say when progressive parents--or very conservative ones--tell me how innate these gender differences seem to be, is "So what? What does that have to do with the project of ending rape?!" It's kind of like when whites obnoxiously argue to me that "Those Native Americans weren't all just peaceful and living harmoniously on the Earth, you know!" There's a CRAP-loaded message in there they don't really want to say out loud. And that is this: "So Europeans coming here and committing genocide was just another example of people being destructive to each other. See, human nature dictates that people are going to be violent sometimes."
The illogic and immorality of these sorts of arguments is depressing. To respond, "How does the fact that some American Indians engaged in battles that weren't genocidal lead you to conclude that European men murdering approximately ten times the number of Indians across North America, as Jews killed by Nazis in the early 1940s, was just a natural expression of human nature?" CRAP is always there in our arguments about "human nature", ready and waiting to re-establish itself. Always. Like a bad cold or bedbugs. So I recommend we collectively watch for it, everywhere. And then, maybe, we'll begin to notice how insidious it is and what we need to do to arrive at a place where rape and genocide no longer happens.
Which brings me back to contemporary Queer Culture/Society, as I experience it. For it is a complex, multi-dimensional reality, with contrasting and competing theories about "us". Some of us promote the idea of "a gay gene" (why doesn't anyone speak of "a lesbian gene"--oh, right, because "gay" means "gay and lesbian"). There's also a theory that "gay marriage" (again, a sexist and also white term) will liberate us. It won't in any radical sense. It will be a liberal reform, and it may well be a necessary one for many queer people. Just as passing the E.R.A. might be important for many women, in their lived lives.
But if we're going to claim to be "radicals" then we have got to be open to interrogating our own theories and beliefs--and feelings and desires and identities.
What has happened in the last thirty years, since the 1980s, is liberalism has beat the shit out of radicalism--and beat the CRAP more deeply into liberalism. So liberalism rules which means CRAP is stronger for the victory. It means heterosexism in queer relationships need not be critiqued any more especially if it turns us on or makes a great fashion statement. It means bdsm, pornography, and prostitution are all good and fine just as long as we're all engaged in these practices consensually. As if that's ever been the case and ever can be the case. As if we don't need to interrogate what "consent" means in CRAP!
The parts of CRAP that are often skipped over by progressive or radical white males isn't only the racism or the patriarchal components. (The white guys on the Left do tend to get the "capitalism" part, however.) It's the "A" for "Atrocious". CRAP requires atrocities to exist: incest and rape must happen; sexual slavery (not just wage slavery) and genocide must happen, right now, as I type this. You can't maintain a corporate racist patriarchy without keeping rape and genocide firmly in place as experienced realities as as terrifying inevitabilities. Radical feminists who hold to a radically anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anti-misogynist perspective, want these "inevitabilities" to end. That's the whole point of the political work. Not only rape and genocide, but poverty, heterosexism, and ecocide too. That's what makes a movement radical not liberal: working to uproot those very entrenched and entwined systems of hierarchical power, professed as natural, God-ordained, or "evolutionarily necessary".
In Part 4, I'll examine one or more very contentious issues from liberal and radical viewpoints. (Depending on stamina, primarily.) The realities available to be examined and analysed are many, and among them are these: bdsm, prostitution, "gay marriage", and transgender identity. The point won't be to deny the existence of transgender people; to dismiss "gay marriage" as one of several possible agendas for what might be termed Queer Liberation; to shame or put down women in prostitution who makes that choice to earn money rather than starve; or to deny that bdsm is a genuinely desired sexual phenomenon. The point, as with interrogating manhood, womanhood, gayness, lesbianism, and heterosexuality, is to search for signs of CRAP in the theories being promoted to support each social reality as "good" or "profeminist" or "necessary". To those antifeminists out there, who don't give a shit whether or not their pro-CRAP agenda serves to end rape and genocide, and heterosexism, racism, classism, and ecocide, I can only say: welcome to the majority of CRAP-protectors and apologists. You're in some pretty foul company. Are you sure you want to be bumping elbows with the likes of Larry Flynt, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump? If your answer is "Yes", then we really don't have much to discuss. We can just agree to disagree on what's important to focus on, and you can have the rest of your life to promote systems of exploitation and harm that really do maim and kill people you'll probably be too privileged to know about, let alone see traumatised or dead.
There are too many stereotypes about transgender people to name here. But here's one: transgender people want to invade women's space. Note the statement isn't "some transgender people want to". The bigotry comes in when the allusion is made to it being kind of a collective project or mission, like Catholic Christians wanting to convert the masses so they all go to mass. So I'll relay my own experience, which is, obviously, quite limited and not at all "scientific" (thank gawd). Among the transgender people I know, there are radical and liberal perspectives on what being transgender is, as well as on race and sexuality. What's often missing, in my experience, is any critique of capitalism at all. Most, if not all of the trans people I have ever met in my life did not seek to go from being M2F or F2M; most were and remain genderqueer or intergender. Many trans people, like non-trans people, want to fit into society sufficiently to not be incessantly targeted and harassed, or beaten and raped.
I remember speaking with some white young women once. One was bisexual and the other was lesbian at the time we spoke. (She later married a man.) I asked them how they cope with what they have to put on each day--what clothes to wear, whether or not to wear make-up, etc. What they told me was incredibly painful to hear. Each day the wake up they have to figure out how to dress in such a way as to not be targeted and harassed for being "a dyke", while also not femme-ing it up to the point of being grossly objectified by het men all day. How fucked up is that social reality--that het men determine so much about women's lives? To negotiate social presentation so that you're both not beaten as too unfeminine, or not groped for being too feminine! It's disgusting to me that those two women have to live in that kind of anti-lesbian and sexually predatory WHM supremacist world.
I know that het men also negotiate these things, but not with the same kind of terror breathing down their necks and trying to peak up or down their clothes. I know that gay males make all kinds of choices about how "out" to be in any given social situation. We may "queen it up" one minute, and "butch it down" the next.
It is exactly this kind of hostile WHM supremacist CRAPpy environment in which every trans person I know--of whatever gender or sexual orientation, must also negotiate. And of course, given all the other stresses on us--illness, not earning enough money, not having enough to eat, surviving daily racism or misogyny, figuring out how to stop a corporation from dumping more toxic sewage or nuclear waste in one's regional backyard, doing laundry, cooking, taking care of kids or elderly or disabled family members, being disabled, being triggered and dissociated throughout most days--is it any wonder that when there's a choice that can be made to be LESS noticed, we might make it? So what I also see among the feminist and genderqueer trans people I know is that choices are made to get through a day with as little ostracism and hatred directed at one as possible. This will mean that many trans people, just like most non-trans people, will choose to look like one of the two available, socially acceptable genders. If non-trans women and men do it, why shouldn't trans people do it too?
There's also a form of bigotry about trans people who can present socially and pass as non-trans women being predators who all want to rush into the Michigan Womyn's Music Fest and flash their dicks--if they have them.
The list goes on and on. And what is also true is most non-trans women I know who are radical feminist lesbians, who have gone to places like the MWMF, who do seek healing or celebratory or just plain "safe" community with non-trans women, is that there have been individual or small groups of trans women who demand access and accommodation. And to not get how that demand or repeated request may be experienced by non-trans women (who have endured and dealt with about one thousand too many people with male privileges demanding or requesting this or that and something else from them, from girlhood to grave) their whole lives as "a violation" or "obnoxious" or "outrageous" or "aggressive and threatening" is to lose all empathy with the condition of non-trans women globally.
Non-trans women who are radical feminist lesbians are a very, very tiny percent of the world's population--and is significantly tinier now than thirty years ago. So why that one group of women/wimmin is expected to accommodate or legally forced to give access to anyone else is a bit beyond me. Because we all know the stats on rape survivors and incest survivors. And to be really obtuse about how someone who was MAAB, raised as a boy (regardless of what the internal experience was), to be treated as a boy, to be treated as a young man, perhaps, is to acquire male privilege. And as an intergender Jewish gay male, I can see male privilege (and white privilege) a mile away--sometimes even my own! (And it always gets uglier the closer up it is.)
When it's coming at me from others who structurally oppress me, my guard and defences are often up by the time it shows up in human form. Because white het men across class, specifically, have asked an awful lot of me over the years, including to suck them off, meet them in motel rooms, and to take very careful care of their feelings while they express to me or do things that are overtly heterosexist, misogynistic, and anti-gay. So when white het men have various bizarre expectations that my job in life is to take care of them emotionally--or in other ways, while their girlfriend is away, well... some expletives will fly.
It is a reality in the lives of non-trans radical lesbian feminists I know that expectations, repeated requests, hostile demands, or threatening lawsuits have been leveled against the radical lesbian feminists to coerce or force the FAAB women to take care of the trans people in some way, to service them, to attend to their needs, etc.
If the individual or group has had male privileges simply due to structural political location while being raised or, through a process of transitioning, acquires male privileges, you'd have to be really insensitive or feel very entitled to expect that radical feminists and lesbian separatists should feel or be obligated to meet your needs or wishes. After all, the non-trans lesbian feminists are only about one in a hundred thousand per capita--if that. Yet I see "radical feminism" bashing going on among some trans activist websites as if radical feminists ruled the world. And I see some of what I sometimes experience as anti-trans bigotry by some radical feminist lesbian writers on their websites. I also think the word "bigotry" needs to be radically examined. I don't think vehement disregard and disrespect for those who oppress you is "a social problem" akin to the hatred and disdain shown by oppressors to the oppressed, for example.
I would hope that there could be more understanding among us in queer and pro/feminist circles to appreciate each other's feelings as full human beings while also agreeing to disagree, and not demean, degrade, bully, threaten, or sue one another to force some of us to accommodate to the wishes of others. (I still believe that the women of FACT suing radical antipornography feminists was a serious and unconscionable betrayal in U.S. feminist herstory. As if the pornographers didn't have the millions to pay lawyers to win that case!)
I know this raises a very contentious point: what constitutes "cisgender privilege" when the non-trans person is a radical lesbian feminist? I don't see RLFs positioned "above" trans people in any social hierarchy. Trans people, generally, if inadequately, have more mass media time and more social standing in academic and non-academic settings, including in my experience of Queer community. This isn't to say Queer community isn't anti-trans in many ways. Clearly it is. It is to say that Queer communities I'm aware of are struggling with their anti-trans views and feelings in ways they are not in struggle with their hostility to and stereotyping of radical feminism and lesbian separatism. It is to say that misogyny in Queer communities is back in a variety of forms, and is no longer even seen as something to challenge, by many Queer activists and allies.
I'm recommending that we all be open to scrutinising the terms and practices we employ. That we struggle to be challenged by the radical pro/feminists among us who have an agenda to end CRAP, not only to make due within it. I'm suggesting that to dismiss non-condescending, non-bigoted interrogation as only bigotry or as necessarily reflecting some level of bigotry that warrant a "speak to the hand" response, is to rule out respectful engagement. With no communication--safe, respectful, engaged communication--there cannot be any mending or healing among us. I have made the decision many times to agree to disagree with someone and to go on being civil--even friendly. I've also had to end or avoid starting friendships over someone's willful racism, heterosexism, trans-bigotry, antifeminism, and/or misogyny.
The kind of challenges I value aren't the most comfortable ones, and the most comfortable ones aren't usually all that challenging. And I know that each of us has their own levels of defence when it comes to being challenged. But the questions or observations presented by people I structurally oppress, calling out my unowned privileges or entitlements, is an invitation to me to deepen my humanity; it is an act of love for humanity to challenge one another rather than enable each other's silence.
Sometimes, due to one or both of us being triggered, the messages may be delivered in abrupt and painful ways. But it is incumbent on me by the radical profeminist values I live by (or try to most of the time), that if I occupy any place of structural social privilege over and against the person who feels harmed or diminished by me, I must strive to be present, respectful, not postured defensively and aggressively, and to carefully listen to what is being brought to me. As I have been told over and over again by queer, heterosexual, and lesbian feminists, that's what being a responible ally means: you don't say "I won't listen to you" in conversation. Hopefully we are all working in many ways to accomplish our political goals: to end the systematic, institutionalised atrocities that destroy us slowly or swiftly.