|This image of mostly thin and young people is from here. Note who takes up the most space! Note the pink line going up between the legs of the woman on the far left indicating that she, maybe, is "not open to communicating". Yeah, about that. And the big white guy's "manhood" is riding a little high, isn't it, if that's what his cupped hands are supposed to be protecting?|
This isn't exactly "part 1" of a conversation Sara and I are having. We began it *here on this A.R.P. blogpost dated November 1, 2010, called "Transgender, Transsexuals, Radical Feminism: Part 4", in the comments section*.
So please refer back to that conversation for the origins of what follows below. Thanks! :)
I've tried to make the conversation understandable in terms of "who says what". Generally, Sara's comments are in italics and mine are not. But there are a few exceptions and those are noted with some (hopefully!) clarifying information.
Before we get going here, I want to expressly thank Sara for being willing to engage with me here on my blog on these issues. THANK YOU, SARA!!!!
Hi again, Sara. Here are my responses to your latest comments.
Sara wrote: "In other words, trans women are just like black women,
JR wrote: Some trans women are Black women. They're not "like" Black women."
Sara responded: I meant positioned hierarchically like black women vis-a-vis white women. Black women being oppressed by race. Trans women being oppressed by trans status.
Sara also wrote: "a different kind of childhood from mainstream white women, neither better or worse. Most were raised as weird children"
JR responded: What does that mean? (I'm not sure I want to know.) That sounds pretty damned racist and misogynistic to me."
Sara responded to that, writing: The first part is saying that black women have different kinds of childhood than white women, just different, neither better or worse.
I follow you now, but kind of disagree. Here's what I disagree with. I don't believe "Black women" is one group of human beings who share a kind of childhood. I accept that it is inevitable, in the U.S., that any Black or African American woman will experience racist misogyny and misogynist racism in ways that aren't systematically visited upon whites and men. But that's not at all the same thing as saying that "Black women have different kinds of childhoods than white women". Some Black women are viewed as white when among whites, or can pass sometimes, for example, or are more employable in certain job sectors because they are lighter-skinned, or speak a certain way, or have more european facial features. Halle Berry is one example of someone who has been paid more than many other Black women actors because of her skin tone and facial features being "more pleasing" to white audiences. Some Black women can never pass as white. So those are really different social experiences, as I see it and hear about it from Black women.
Light-skinned Black women and darker-skinned Black women may share the experience of knowing that darker skin means you may get treated more like dirt by whites and within African American society than if you have lighter skin. The biography of Audre Lorde, Warrior Poet, by Alexis De Veaux discusses this in some depth, in painful detail, and how Audre's mother communicated to her that dark skin = untrustworthiness or being of lesser value, and how Audre, the darkest of her sibling sisters, internalised that as a message about her own value and worth in her mother's eyes. Sidney Poitier grew up in the Bahamas in an environment in which he'd never heard of Black people being called the n word. That's quite a different kind of childhood to have than one in which you are taught "when whites use the n word, that refers to you" from as soon as you are old enough to know or feel it as the insult and form of derision it is. Also, Black means different things. Indigenous people in Australia are called Black in Australia. But they aren't of African descent. And the experiences, varied as they are, among Aboriginal Australians, isn't just like that of Audre Lorde or Sidney Poitier, if we're speaking of raced experience in white supremacist countries.
If you're saying that Black people, and in this case women, in a white male supremacist environment/culture/nation experience oppression from more oppressor groups than do white women, I'd agree with you, with all other things being similar--such as era, age, class, sexuality, ability, and so on.
Sara also wrote: The second part is saying that trans women are raised as weird children. Many are considered rejects by mainstream society long before they transition. And rarely for stuff like liking pink or wearing dresses, it can be simply for stuff like having feminine body language by default.
I think saying anyone is raised as a "weird child" is a bit insulting, to be honest. Many children--period--are considered rejects by mainstream society: most children of color, especially if dark and raised in cultures of color; all FAAB girls; all intersex children; all overtly non-het children; all gender non-conforming children. And among all those groups, and in more than I can list, there are some who are transgender or intergender, and some who are not. The identification of only trans children as "weird" or "considered rejects" by dominant society is simply inaccurate and overgeneralised. Plenty of us who are trans/intergender didn't know what we were when we were growing up. We might have thought we were just "different" or maybe we didn't feel all that different in our earlier childhoods. There's no one experience, in childhood, of being trans or intergender, and the way some trans activists talk, there's this one kind of experience that all trans and intergender people share--of "knowing" that we weren't meant to be either girls or boys, or that our psyches didn't fit with our bodies, and so on. And I think that's a really gross stereotype about us, to be honest. A lot of us grow up thinking we're queer/lesbian/gay. And we go with that for a while because trans and intergender experience isn't even identified as what one can feel or be. And "what we are" and how we understand ourselves is a very social/interactive process, not a fixed biological one, in my view.
I know, for a fact, that some lesbian feminists and myself--a radical profeminist--would likely have identified as transgender early in our twenties if we grew up in some of the queer communities that exist now, that promote and welcome transgender experience while also denigrating and insulting radical lesbian feminist experience. The queer community I've known most intimately purges the radical non-trans lesbian feminists while embracing the liberal feminist or non-feminist transgender people. I think they'd also likely purge any radical feminist trans person too. So, for me, this is part of the larger conversation about who defines as what, and why. Are the women who would have identified as trans now, but don't, because they came into radical non-trans lesbian feminist identity first, mean they are or are not transgender? I've only recently even found out there WAS such a thing as "being intergender". I'd say I always was intergender, but I've only recently begun to identify as that. So what was I before I identified as intergender? Cis gender? I don't think so. This is very complicated stuff, and I see too many trans activists trying to pass off one way of experiencing being transgender or intergender--if and when that even gets mentioned, which it usually doesn't--as like every other trans/intergender person, and I think that's a kind of gross stereotyping and bigotry, or false unification around "what we present to the dominant society" that exists within our community that needs to be called out, interrogated, discussed, and hopefully resolved to some degree.
Part of feminine body language is learned, and part of it is innate. It can still be learned to be more "in line" with how others are...but only if you're aware of it. Balancing hips instead of shoulders while walking is considered feminine. Exaggerating this for effect is learned, but the basic way isn't for the most.
I respect your opinion, Sara, as yours. But I simply do not agree that there is such a thing as "feminine body language" that is innate. At all. If we look at female children and girls across era and culture there is no aspect of "femininity" that shows up everywhere. Not one bodily characteristic, expressive aspect, or way of being. There's not even any agreement about what "feminine body language" is, cross-culturally and across era. In most societies where there is a hierarchical gender binary, it is usually, but not always the case that there are things called "feminine" and "masculine". Again, people tend to get really sloppy about this stuff. So while I'm eager to learn more about what you experienced as a child, and what you experience now, I'm not supporting any notion of something called "innate femininity". I don't see it. To even "mark" something as "feminine" is to engage in a very social-political act. There's nothing "inborn" about ascribing meaning and value to sets of behaviors, or to clustering them into one thing called "being feminine". That's all socially done, in the view of the blog.
To take your example of balancing hips instead of shoulders while walking. That's so culturally specific as to not be terribly meaningful to me as a distinguisher. How does one learn to walk if one is going to be carrying gallons of water on one's head, for miles? How does one learn to walk if one is expected to not walk very much at all? If one's feet are pressed into shoes that wreck healthy posture? Clearly there's nothing at all natural about high heeled shoes--and clearly no humans benefit physiologically from wearing them--they fuck up body alignment and shorten the achilles tendon if worn a lot over time. And, yes, some people feel better or taller or more attractive or sexier in them. But there's nothing innate about that. And how we learn to move in our bodies hasn't been shown to be "biological sex" specific, and maybe your childhood and mine would bear that out!
In my youth, I was considered feminine mainly for this (body language in general), and I wasn't aware of it. And nobody would tell me what exactly gave them this 'vibe'. Maybe even they weren't aware of it, but just picked up on it subconsciously. If anything, this contributed to being excluded from mainstream male groups, all of them. Being asexual made it physically impossible to be entitled for sex (I didn't want any).
We share some experiences here, Sara. I was made fun of, ostracised, bullied, and excluded from mainstream male-boy groups for being too feminine, or, for not being masculine enough--or both. Also for playing with girls. Only when I was around eighteen or nineteen did a woman who was part of my extended family tell me that I walked too much "like a woman" and she recommended I stop doing that. I soon ended our friendship and stopped hanging out with her as I found her to be hurtfully heterosexist. And I didn't "correct" the way I walked, either. I don't think I was walking in either a feminine or masculine way, "innately". I believe I was walking the way my body felt most comfortable walking, and that society then imposed a value, a judgment, a deeply gendered and heterosexist one, on that way of walking. It has no innate "sexuality" or "gender" or "sex", in my view. All of that is layered on and imposed by oppressive heteropatriarchal societies and their foot soldiers.
And, as we're both asexual, I'd like to clarify something. Being asexual doesn't mean you or I were not entitled to be aggressors sexually. It didn't mean we were not encouraged to act out rapist behaviors. It didn't mean we weren't socially expected to "make the first move" when with girls. I'd argue we shared that socialisation, even if it didn't feel like anything we wanted to do. Entitlements and privileges don't have to be acted out for us to have them. They are given to us socially, interpersonally. And what we do with them is another thing entirely. That's how I see it, anyway. I see children-socially-identified-as-boys, as a class, being given privileges and entitlements that children-identified-as-girls don't get, as a class of human beings structurally and systemically oppressed by the boys--and by men too, or, at the very least, by male supremacist assumptions and values, even if a girl-child lives only among patriarchally-raised women, for example.
So I'm challenging you big time on this one point. You say, "Being asexual made it physically impossible to be entitled for sex (I didn't want any)."
I say in response to that the following: many boys don't want to be or feel like being aggressors against girls. Many older male-boys don't want to be sexually violating to female-girls. But those of us who are male and identified as boys as children, and as teens, are socially entitled to be aggressors nonetheless. Not wanting to be has very little to do with it. And it may have been impossible for you to act out sexually, but for many asexual kids, especially those of us who were sexually abused and assaulted in childhood, we DID act out sexually, even though we were asexual. And we acted out in some male supremacist, privileged, and entitled ways. How we "act out" has a whole lot to do with how we are socialised to behave, sexually and otherwise. I hear that for you, "being sexual" as that is commonly understood, was not an option for you. And I'm glad you were able to honor that in yourself. Most of us are not.
Most of us have sexual behaviors thrust upon us, and we are sexually active in compulsory ways, whether we desire to be or not. Most of what I've done "sexually" was not what I'd want to do now; now, I feel personally (not socially) "entitled" to not have sex with anyone. Even now, today, I AM socially entitled to rape, to abuse, to act out in male supremacist ways. I CAN access pornography--images of raped and pimped women and men. I can voyeur. I can stare at men I think are physically attractive. I choose not to. But if I were heterosexual and seen as a male-man, I could stare at women on the street and be patted on the back for doing so, by male-men who share publicly valuing behaving in male supremacist ways, homosocially and heterosexually, regardless of what they wish to do privately. If you are socially positioned and seen and treated as a male-man, you are also socially-politically "entitled" to do whatever you want that isn't overtly criminal. And you can do the criminal stuff if it's private. That you choose not to--for any reason, including because you are asexual--doesn't mean your entitlements disappear. And it doesn't mean our socialisation to behave as oppressive male-men goes away or takes no root in us. That's how I see it, anyway. That's my experience of people raised to be males, boys, and men. [Added 1/30/2016: ...regardless of the subjective experience of our being. I'm making a distinction between 'how we are supposed to and raised to behave' (colonially, patriarchally, heterosexistly), and 'how we experience ourselves', often with distress, in relation to those expectations and entitlements.]
JR wrote: "The issue is women feeling safe, not some people being "worse". I'm not making the case that some people are better, only that some people in some situations behave oppressively and in ways that make oppressed people feel unsafe."
Sara responds: I'm not sure what they would be basing their feeling unsafe on, except personal dating experience (which is always anecdotal). Trans women are such a small group. Let alone American trans women interested in going to 400$/ticket 1-week female-only music festivals held by people who hold anti-trans-women opinions (it's like gay people wanting to go to a Republican party to me).
LOL. Well, shockingly, there are large numbers of white class-privileged gay men who want to be Republicans! And I don't know how many transgender women want to attend the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, and it is really more an issue of how male privilege and entitlements get acted out beyond that one event. As you note, that event can be and will be attended only by those with some forms of privilege--financial, partly. But some forms of able-bodiedness also. And, in conversations with non-trans lesbian women, this is what I've heard: it only takes a few experiences of someone with male privileges bullying or harassing or dominating their way into a space to make many, many, many non-trans lesbian women feel VERY uncomfortable with that person being there at all. Most lesbian women I know have stories of het men and gay men being dicks, being pricks, being male supremacist jerks. Being misogynistic. Being sexist. Being racist if white. Being classist if not poor. Being ableist if not disabled. And so on.
How many male supremacists does it take to make a group of women feel unsafe? That's not a joke question.
And speaking only for myself and my sense of safety when among male-men, I can feel unsafe in a group if one man is staring at me in creepy ways. Or if one man touches me without my permission. That can happen anywhere--at a party, at a gathering, at an event, at a concert, in a grocery store, etc. It CERTAINLY isn't limited to personal dating experience "which is always anecdotal" according to you. I want to call you out on that, btw.
Nothing about dating is *only* anecdotal: dating experience is one of many common sites of heteropatriarchal and white male supremacist values and practices being acted out oppressively. Battery and rape are epidemic among teen girls who date boys. Those aren't only "anecdotes"--they are stats and they are real human beings being negatively impacted, traumatised, violated, hurt, and oppressed by male supremacists or by male-boys who believe they ought to behave that way in order to be "real men" even if privately, when alone, they are disgusted with behaving that way. These are lived experiences of something that happens to people systemically and systematically, not individualistically or anecdotally only. They are part and parcel of what else happens to people when *not dating*--when walking or rolling down a sidewalk, when going to work, when being at home not dating anyone but witnessing one's father consume pornography and then look at his daughter as if she is a sexxx-thing for him to salivate over. [Added 1/30/2016: Donald Trump admits he'd date his daughter if she were not his daughter. I wonder how safe that makes her feel.]
Also, those I've seen and talked to online (on MWMF forums) seem to base their concept of "male energy" around traits considered masculine, like assertiveness, aggressiveness, competitiveness. Stuff those women seem to have in spades, but who complain about "former-men" having. A double-standard if I ever saw one.
So are you saying women don't have a right to name what they experience in political terms? Are you saying people of color have no right or responsibility to name and call out "white privileged behavior"? Because if that's where you're going, you'll get no support from me on that point. I believe women can and do often know when someone is behaving in a sexist/misogynistic way, in ways that are aggressive or violating or abusive WITH THE INTENT OR EFFECT OF BEING OPPRESSIVE OR DANGEROUS to those women who identify the behavior. And I see it as woefully apolitical, anti-radical, and anti-feminist to try and deny any woman or any women the right and responsibility to identify that CRAP when it is happening. Even at MWMF. Even in any bar or club. Even in any home or out-of-home workplace.
Here's an example of why I don't think what those women are describing is a double standard. I can, on occasion--(or more than on occasion)--interrupt people when they are talking. I often feel inclined to do this. It's part of my regional-cultural heritage, and both women and men in my cultural experience do it, routinely and regularly. Now, if I'm doing that to a woman who is outside my culture, who doesn't experience "people interrupting each other" as normal and ungendered behavior, and she does perceive me to be male, and she does feel like I'm interrupting her a lot, and she does feel silenced or demeaned by me repeatedly doing that, then who is to say whether or not I'm being a male supremacist when I do that? Me or her? I'd say her. Always her. I can weigh in and explain whatever I want, but the bottom line is that if she subjectively feels silenced, then my behavior is oppressive, even if I go to people in my own culture and do exactly the same thing and they don't experience it as oppressive because they are interrupting me just as much.
So, if men MAAB people, or people with male privileges--who acquired them because they were once viewed socially as male-boys or male-men*, act out those behaviors around people who are female-girls or female-women, and, in the case you cited, those women experience that behavior as male supremacist and oppressive along gendered lines, then their subjective experience has to matter, doesn't it? It has to matter as much as the other person's experience, doesn't it? If not, we're then in the position of allowing only one group of people to name reality. And if the only group that gets to name reality is people who have had male privileges at some point in their lives, then that's patriarchy all over again. [*Added 1/30/2016: including those of us who are intersex, gender non-conforming, transgender, intergender, and agender. And, significantly, this dynamic can also play out in only FAAB spaces, among people who are and always were recognised and identified as girls-then-women. I state that based on what several lesbian feminists have described about predatory lesbians in clubs and bars--that it can be triggering of past patriarchal abuses and violations.]
If you're too submissive and shy, well you're just making a caricature of women for the patriarchy (can't be born with those traits). If you're too assertive and dominant, you're really a man. No middle ground. Dominant women don't exist either according to them.
That's not my experience of it at all. I may meet a female-woman who is "butch" and in her "butchness" she does not demonstrate to me a high level of "feminine" qualities or characteristics. First of all, male-men will be quick, often enough, to call her horrid names just because she's not behaving they way THEY think women should behave. Second, her butchness is NOT the same thing as how male-MEN act out male supremacist values and practices, because it is NOT MEN acting them out. [Added 1/30/2016: and because not being feminine enough for heterosexist het men, or for dominant misogynoirist society, is so often and wrongly assumed to be acting 'masculine' as if the absence of one must result in the manifestation of the other.] The example of me interrupting applies here, I think. Women may or may not experience each other as being "oppressive" if the other person is a woman. When the other person is a man, they may experience the seemingly "same" behavior as oppressive and it may cause them to feel unsafe or upset.
What men do can be triggering to women who have had it done traumatically by men in the past. That's social-psychological reality. I react differently, in many instances, to what male-men do than to what female-women do. And the people may be doing "the same" thing, more or less. But because it is coming from a male-man, my body registers it as different. And THAT subjective experience matters and can't be written off as "acting on a double standard". That's how I feel. Now, if men only experience women interrupting them as "women being a b word" but don't hardly notice if men interrupt them, then THAT ought to be called out as sexist, because they are making a negative judgment only about a group they structurally oppress. Position matters, Sara. If a rich white man looks at a poor white man in a certain way, that poor white man may experience that has deeply insulting and degrading. If two blocks later that same poor man encounters another poor man who looks at him similarly, he may not register it as insulting at all, because political-social-economic-sexual location and structural position matters. It is part of why we experience what we do and cannot and ought not be discounted or put down.
I don't hear non-trans lesbian feminists saying that aggression among women is great and it only sucks when men do it. I hear women critique all kinds of aggressive behaviors across gender and sexuality. BUT, it may also be the case that when those problematic behaviors are coming from someone who has been socialised to have male privilege and male supremacist entitlements (whether or not they wanted them), and are aimed at female-women, those women rightfully call it out as problematic and oppressive. And there's nothing wrong with doing so, necessarily. That's how I feel. And I'm open to discussion on this.
The people making and going to such events or women-only facilities feel entitled to enter same. They don't beg or think thrice about doing so. Why should a trans woman not feel like they have the right to access public bathrooms, or shelters when needed? They do need to pee and have their safety from DV. They don't go to say "aha, see I'm here, like you".
This is bringing in something entirely different than an event that people are invited into and can live without attending, such as MWMF. [Added 1/30/2016: Which occurred on private land and was not open to the general public.] Public restrooms and social services are entirely different spheres of political-social existence. So I'm not going to lump them in with "who gets to go to Michigan once a year". And, again, far too much attention is spent focusing on events that, disproportionately to those seeking social services, privileged people get to go to. And that the most non-privileged people generally don't go to. I want to focus more on the experiences of the less-privileged. And so I'm glad you're bringing up rest rooms, as that's something that impacts everyone who is able to leave their primary abode and enter social/public urban and suburban spaces, and many rural ones as well.
I'm going to close this post/response, and pick up those issues in a separate post/response.
Thanks for engaging with me on this stuff, Sara. I appreciate your willingness to do so. :)