Monday, November 1, 2010

Transsexuals, Transgender, and Radical Feminism: Part 4: Racist Patriarchy, Post-Modernism, Genderism, and Bigotry

image is from here

Series links:
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 was revised a bit on 5 Nov. 2010. As is sometimes the case with analytic posts I've written, I can't help but go back into them and try and clarify points. I've revised this piece several times over the course of the last many hours. So if you subscribe to my posts, please make sure the version you read is being read online, here at my blog. Thank you. And please don't copy and paste the text of this post, but instead send anyone you wish the link (or URL/website address) to what's written here. I take responsibility for what's here, not for some earlier version that existed for a few minutes a few hours ago that I found to be intellectually or politically sloppy in some regard. That said, I make no promises that what follows isn't also intellectually or politically sloppy! ;)

As has been discussed here in several posts, "genderism" can be understood to be the political system of maintaining a dual gender system arranged hierarchically always with men, boys, and males over women, girls, and females, respectively. The masculine--as a set of attitudes and behaviors--is always understood to be superior to the feminine. If men are feminine, or if women are effeminate, they are valued less because of it--or, in the case of women, they are valued more as objects for subjugation, using structures of force or coercion or compulsory strictures on movement, choice, and status.

At issue since the misuse of post-modern philosophies designed to examine art, literature, and other cultural phenomena, is how faux post-modernism, here referred to as fopomo, has been applied to radical struggles for liberation from class-based oppression. One mistaken application of fopomo implicitly shows up when the question is asked, "What is 'woman'"? I'm going to offer an answer to that question for the purposes of this blog. But first I'd like to first summarise the modernist view, the elite view, the dominator view, from which postmodernism arose expressly to challenge. I'd also like to summarise fopomo arguments that conflict with the challenges of radical feminism which is neither modern or postmodern in the ways that disproportionately well-privileged white men use those terms academically and sloppily. But I'm not likely to succeed at that in one blog post. So, I'll give some background and go from there.

The "modernist" view is this: things are a certain way. Truth is knowable, and it is known by listening to the right people. Social reality has one narrative--the narrative of the masters. The Southwest African proverb reads in three languages as follows:

Gnatola ma no kpon sia, eyenabe adelan to kpo mi sena. (Ewe-mina)
A moins ce que le lion ait son propre narrateur, 
le chasseur aura toujours la belle part de l'histoire. (French)
Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, 
the hunter will always have the best part of the story. (English
Ewe-mina (Benin, Ghana, and Togo) Proverb  [source: here]

In what some white Europeans and other Westerners, disproportionately male and academic, call "The Modern Era", we have the dominant/hunter narrative always being truer than any other story. When women say "We are being systematically raped by men" men respond "That's not true; that's an exaggeration; that's bigotry; what about how you injure men!?" The dominant voice is always in control even when it fears it is not. The dominant voice currently, globally, is Western, Northern, white, male, heterosexual, often academic, and class-privileged.

I remember being in a class when in undergraduate school and some dickwad of a white het male teacher told us how absurd it was for women to want to be 'equal' to men. He said, more or less, "Do women want to be physically the same as men? To do all of what men do?" He was trying to reinforce the naturalness and inevitability of male supremacy and a belief that there are two genders and they are, fundamentally "not alike". He was reinforcing the idea that the two recognised genders in contemporary Western civilisation are different in the ways we observe as "true" because, well, they just are--it's true because he and his army of institutions--including the army--say it's true. That's a modernist perspective. There's one true reality, see, and whoever challenges it must be delusional.

There's ONE TRUE REALITY: like, say, that "The Earth is flat". So all you folks going around noting that there's a slight curve to the horizon and perhaps that means something--fogetaboutit. "The Earth is the center of the universe", and to propose that we are but one tiny speck inside a vast and incomprehensible whole is nonsense. "Men are superior to women." "Whiteness is greatness." Western Civilisation is the grandest accomplishment of all of humanity." You get the idea. Proclamations by the privileged "rule". All others must serve that view.

Postmodernism, aka post-structuralism, offers a scathing critique of that viewpoint, in part by noting that it is, after all, one viewpoint among others. And who gets to say which viewpoint is the ABSOLUTELY TRUTHFUL ONE? Well, in the modern era, it is white heterosexual men with class-privilege. Or men. Or whites. Or heterosexuals. Or the rich. But the absolute truth cannot, will not be assumed to exist in the voice of, say, Audre Lorde. She cannot speak truth to power and have it be powerful, if modernists have anything to say about it--and they do--perpetually, pompously, and presumptuously, they do.

Post-modernism and post-structuralism, sometimes also and incorrectly called "deconstructionism" were created as systems of critique designed to take the power to name reality out of the hands of the few, and hand it over to the many. Jacques Derrida was an anti-racist white Jew born in Algeria. If you know anything at all about the history of Algeria, and the history of Jews in Europe, he'd have to be an Aryan-adoring fool to be otherwise. He hated the educational system of France, where he was raised. He found it to be grossly authoritarian. He sought to subvert it by showing that the text always has "an agenda"--a political agenda.

The fact that Derrida wrote in ways that are incomprehensible to most people on Earth--even if we limit that to French speakers--means that he was perpetuating some of what he was critiquing--a kind of elitism and privileging of a way of discussing reality. It might be truer to say that "his followers" have been perpetuating the elitism and privileging of that white man's views. Because incomprehensible speech, when spoken by academically trained white men, is seen as "amazing" and "awesome". But when incomprehensible speech is uttered by poor Black people, it is seen by those same arbiters of value as "stupid and ignorant". I have scratched my head often at how many people devote their lives to understanding what Derrida was saying, but won't give Dworkin or Lorde's work the time of day. I don't get many "takers" when I ask "What is the meaning and political implication of the way Audre Lorde is using the term "erotic" in her speech, The Uses of the Erotic: the Erotic as Power? How does that single essay radically alter conceptions about sex and politics in ways that are useful to the struggle to end patriarchal atrocities against women?

Volumes could be written answering that question, but likely won't be because of several things. One is that she was a Black lesbian feminist. So three strikes, she's out--or rather "in" to a space where she cannot be heard. Another is that the cultural movements which seem to embrace her don't really want to know very much about what she was saying. Queer political philosophers won't pick up the question posed about her essay, for example. They won't discuss her work in the book Against Sadomasochism. Why? Because they'd rather just pretend she only spoke about the importance of not being silent--removed from the context in which that speech was delivered, btw. This is comparable to reducing the political speech of Martin Luther King, Jr., to "I have a dream" that one day "little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. We needn't even note that the rest of his work, particularly his more radical work in his last two years of life, gets routinely ignored by the pro-capitalist, pro-militarist, pro-racist status quo. We can also note how the rest of the damn sentence is also ignored. Here's the whole of that sentence from his speech:
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
Audre Lorde and Andrea Dworkin, two of my sheroes, had a lot to say about how we go about challenging systems of oppressive power, entrenched, institutionally protected power. They spoke at the same conference in 1978, Dworkin about pornography, and Lorde about the Erotic as Power. Does anyone realise they were fighting the same fight against white het male supremacy? Not the queer folks I know. The queer folks I know, not to mention the non-queer folks, dismiss Dworkin as a lunatic while embracing Lorde without understanding what she was speaking about which was largely in sync with what Dworkin was speaking about, although Lorde explored areas of social engagement and personal expression that Dworkin did not.

What we are left with is a Queer Politic that is, in its most dominant form, pro-WHM supremacist while it pretends not to be. There are other voices too. I've read excellent radical queer theory that clearly sees capitalism, white supremacy, male supremacy, and heterosexism as "the problem". But much of what has happened in the so-called "Third Wave" of feminism and within Queer Studies as long as that academic field has existed, is hostile to radical lesbian feminism. Very hostile to it, in fact.

This hostility is one backdrop for what we encounter when we discuss issues like prostitution, bdsm, and transgender politics.

Liberalism and fopomo now reigns as the dominant lenses through which we assess the value and problems of each reality. And let's get this out of the way: to discuss prostitution, bdsm, and transgender politics, to critique them, is not, de facto, putting down women in systems of sexual exploitation, putting down people who sometimes enjoy pain and humiliation as part of their private sexual practice, and who identify as transgender. But part of the WHM supremacist modernist view that now infects dominant Queer Theory is that only the Queer Theorists get to decide what is TRUE. And to argue against that truth is to be found to be a bigot, a hater, and intolerant, as if "tolerance" ever got us anywhere when fighting for our lives against oppressors!

Bigotry shows up many places. So does ignorance, prejudicial viewpoints, bias, and hate. To suggest that radical lesbian feminists cannot be bigoted, to use that term liberally, is silly, to me. To suggest that radical lesbian feminists cannot be wrong is also silly. And, to demonise the group, for example as "anti-sex", anti-choice", and anti-trans" is to set up parameters wherein the groups members cannot speak and actually be respectfully heard and engaged with as peers and political allies.

Bigotry is also found among transgender people, prostitutes, and folks into bdsm. And one of the most prevailing forms of bigotry I see among those groups of people is anti-woman bias and hate, and anti-feminist agendas that are so woefully liberal--individualistic, opposed to understanding oppression as a class issue, and only concerned with being transgressive, not radically politically transformative.

The question emerges: "If I view so-and-so as an anti-sex bigot, why should I respect their views on sexuality?" The answer is "Because you proclaim to be part of a movement that cares about gender justice and sexual liberation, that's why."

As an intergender gay male, trans people, lesbians, and other queer folks are "my people"--not in the possessive sense. Other queer folks don't belong to me. But we are, for better and for worse, "a family" of sorts. Any time someone says something bigoted about members of my family, I object. I object to the anti-trans bigotry I see on some radical feminist blogs. I think it's disgusting, personally. And, it's also not for me to tell any woman how to thing or what to believe. But, if asked, I'll openly say, "I think the way you talk about trans people is truly reprehensible and, not unimportantly, profoundly anti-feminist."

I have no trouble calling out the anti-feminism among trans and non-trans queer people. But depending on where the individuals with whom I engage are located, structurally-politically, it may not be appropriate for me to speak out in certain ways. Because I carry lots of privilege, by education, by language, by region, by race, and by gender as perceived and recognised by the establishment.

How do I feel about anti-transgender bigotry in and among my political peers? It really upsets me and kind of makes me feel sick, the way any bigotry makes me feel if it is truly unchecked. I mean I get that at times we have bigoted ways of thinking and speaking that "leak out". And if they "leak out" against the people who are harmed by those words, that, in my view, is an oppressive interpersonal act. If those words "leak out" in print, and that print circulates, that is beyond an oppressive interpersonal act. It's a socially oppressive act.

So, I won't usually engage with people who are overtly bigoted about trans people who are seen as anti-feminist, or radical lesbian feminists who are seen as anti-trans. This blog has a comments policy and when I state that I won't allow anti-trans and anti-feminist bigotry here, I mean it.

When I did my first and only post about being intergender, the first comment I got went unpublished. But here it is:
So your a Transsexual who's in deep denial of being a transsexual. So you had to come up with a name to try and pass yourself off as an intersex wannabe by calling yourself an intergender.

That I had to laugh after reading this because this proves how many transsexuals will try so hard to pass themselves off as an intersex person by claiming to be intersex and claiming to be intergender. When in reality, their is no such thing as Intergender.

You are either a transsexual or an intersex person. So that would make you trans, because you don't have the Genetics, DNA, Chromosomes, physical and biological features of an intersex person or intersex condition.

So for me, I think your a Transsexual who is in deep denial and has some serious issues.
The comment, to me, was too bigoted and absurd to even engage with intellectually, or emotionally. Why is the term "transsexual" even being resurrected at this point in time? It's not the term of choice and it's not the term that indicates much awareness of what transgender experience is.

Intersex experience is its own--it is not the same or synonymous with trans- or intergender experience, necessarily. An intersex person could be someone who is FAAB but is seen to have too large a clitoris, so it is (in my view criminally) operated on surgically, to make it "look" like the way the butcher-surgeon thinks clitorises should look. (For whom? To whom?)

I go back and forth with whether or not it is more accurate a conception to place transgender experience as one of several possibilities of being intergender, or whether being intergender is a form of being transgender. If the latter, that is basically what I hear the critic above demanding of me: that I not futz around with new lingo and try and pass myself off as something new--never mind that the term goes back at least a dozen years in queer/non-heteronormative culture. What's the writer's objective in wanting me to name myself transsexual?

I've written here on this blog about my own struggles with transgender politics, with wondering if I am transgender, and related matters. I support intersex people's resistance to intrusive, violating, and sexually dangerous surgery. I support transgender people being treated as the full human beings we/they are. I don't believe transgender people choose transgender surgeries in order to invade and violate women's spaces. My sense is that after so much struggle, effort, angst, and social condemnation, the desire to belong to a gendered group that isn't quite so marginalised or seen as "freakish" is intense. I can well understand why any transgender person would want to be called "man" or "woman" rather than just be determined, in our society, to be neither. Personhood isn't ascribed to people who are "not one or the other" in my experience. I base this partly on seeing how upset society was with someone who, in fact, didn't have a gender or any primary or secondary sexual characteristics or anatomical features. It was as if this person didn't exist until they decided what they were. They maintained they were neither. The audience squirmed and struggled.

We live in a society which rigidly enforces being one of two oppositional things. Those who are multi-racial, for example, have spoken about the difficulty of holding in value all aspects of their heritage. What is also the case is that it is white supremacy that accomplishes this and if we are to be free, on the class-level, of this racist enforcement of there being only two categories: "white" and "non-white", we have to eradicate white supremacy. Any other project leaves the primary problem in place.

Also, I have no investment in naming myself in ways that are obstructive to the radical feminist project of ending patriarchal abuses and atrocities. If feminist lesbian women consider me to be a "man" even though I don't identify as one, that's their right and political obligation as far as I'm concerned. For me to claim my right to be named "intergender" ought to trump their right to name me according to their own political experience of me, is to play a male supremacy card I don't wish to deal out to any woman. This position of mine may be met with consternation by some trans activists.

The whole issue of who gets to name who is contentious. Here's a recent blog post about an incident between transgender activists and radical lesbian feminists that has circulated in the blogosphere. I got a link to it and decided not to post it, as I saw it as participating in a kind of horizontal/lateral hostility. But I can see how, from some vantagepoints, it's an issue of exposing and challenging male supremacist entitlements and power.

I confess that I probably don't spend enough time reading other blogs, but there are only so many hours in a day and night! So I'm not sure where this conversation has gone online. My understanding is some of what's written here is misleading in a misogynistic, anti-feminist, and lesbophobic way and that some of what the author experienced was classic anti-trans bigotry from a non-trans man. I'm not really in a position to make any determinations on this, but I'm certainly open to discussing the extent to which bigotry, misogyny, and male supremacist entitlements shape the dynamics and fuel the actions described. Here's a source blog for this incident:

http://transmeditations.wordpress.com/2010/10/23/blog-27-bob-jensen-lierre-keith-et-al-the-rabid-transphobic-hate-mongering-of-the-anti-pornography-movement/

I welcome engagement here on these issues and these incidents with the author. I will make a commitment to not engage disrespectfully or in ways that are named by the author as transphobic or trans-bigoted. Similarly, I welcome conversation with radical lesbian feminists here on this issue also but not if disgustingly anti-trans terms are going to be offered up as "legitimate language".

I'll leave that issue for now. On to bdsm and prostitution.

What is entirely liberal to me (meaning, pro-status quo, pro-WHM supremacist, and thereby misogynistic, racist, and heterosexist) is how matters of class become matters of individual expression absent from class experience and systems of oppression. I'm not sure how that happens, personally: everything I think and feel, desire and do, is bound up with class-based systems of oppression, atrocity, and harm. I can either be in struggle to resist those feelings, thoughts, desires, and actions, or I can choose not be. If what I'm wanting to do is pro-status quo, is pro-WHM supremacist, and I elect to be irresponsible with and unaccountable to that fact, I am ceasing to be an ally in the struggle when I do that. And if I do that enough times, I welcome radical feminists to call my ass out on it and will publish their critiques here and hopefully engage responsibly with them.

BDSM is a practice of sexualising dominance and submission. Given how sexualised each is in patriarchal societies, it is no wonder that people find ourselves turned on by one or both. How we come to eroticise justice and equality has been the radical feminist and radical profeminist project.The levels of hostility towards radical feminists and radical feminism generally, among practitioners of BDSM demonstrates to me what the harm of it is, beyond anyone being harmed in the acts. The harm is that it creates anti-feminism, and pro-patriarchal alliances with men and women who are male supremacist, ideologically and politically.

Prostitution is not, fundamentally, an issue of individual agency. It is, fundamentally, an issue of men's entitlement to have access to a class of people who are targeted as both fuckable and rapable. Prostitution is not people buying and selling sex in a 'fair trade' way. It is gendered, classed, raced people some of whom have the purchasing power, the power to enslave other classes of people without that power. People of color cannot enslave whites, for example. The poor cannot traffic the rich. And women cannot mass rape men. To pretend WHM supremacy isn't part of any expression or manifestion of prostitution is, to me, to be in denial. And the people who pay the price for that denial are women and girls, disproportionately and globally.

So, here we are, left with this question to answer in more detail: "What is a 'woman'?"

Usually if not always, transgender activists argue that radical lesbian feminists are re-biologising and "essentialising" gender by stating that only FAAB (female assigned at birth) women are "women". Radical lesbians feminists, generally if not entirely, argue that transgender activists are re-biologising and "essentialising" gender by claiming that one can, biologically, be "a woman trapped in a man's body" (or vice versa). I can see how each position is arrived at, quite frankly, and have observed some mixed or inconsistent messages from either political group on the matter.

But what I most deeply understand "woman" to be is this: an idea. it's an idea that was created by men--who also created the idea of "man who is not woman". It's a political idea that is made socially real through force, through atrocity, through male supremacist oppression rendered natural and holy by far too many men, including that dickwad of a WHM teacher I once had. Now, because something is an idea obviously doesn't mean it "doesn't exist only as an idea". A house with indoor plumbing is an idea. A theatre with seats that lean back is an idea. Some ideas become reality and some wither away in the minds of their thinkers.

But here's an idea called "woman" that has been experienced only by one group of people and not anyone else. The group experience, I'd argue, is the experience of most women. I'm not sure anything can be said to be absolute here, in part because any conception of gender is bound to have exceptions. But sometimes exceptions prove the rule.

So here we go--with an attempt an a non-biologically deterministic and non-essentialising definition of "woman":

A woman, in patriarchal contexts, is a person, a human being, who is an adult but who, when a child, was identified--correctly or not--as being "female". "Female" is another term, a social one that may be culturally specific. In most industrialised countries I'm aware of, being identified as "female" appears to mean that you have, for example: a vulva, vagina, uterus, and ovaries, and the genetic make-up such that when you reach adolescence you will likely develop fatty tissue in your breasts--never as much as pornographers dream about--and begin a process wherein the lining of your uterus is shed with blood approximately once every full moon. To define female only in terms of anatomy is convenient and sometimes necessary, but for the purposes of this discussion is inadequate and, well, wrong.

To be labeled as female means that your body has been politically marked, usually by being inspected by someone socially empowered to name reality. The female body--defined as such rightly or wrongly by one of patriarchy's "inspector generals" is a body that is understood to be designed for men's sexual violence and, also, for "fucking"--for being penetrated, with force if and when necessary or desired by men. I have reported here on a man who sexually assaulted his one day old female baby. One day old. He treated her the way females identified as girls and women are supposed to be treated in patriarchal societies: as things which exist to satisfy men's sexual desires, however constructed those desires are, and however atrocious the acts are that express the desires.

There are other dimensions to the markings of the female, of course: you are supposed to bear and raise children; you are supposed to care for males; you are supposed to regard yourself always in relation to the men who are in your life, never as a separate person with a kind of social autonomy many men get to have. To have your body marked as "for rape", "for penetrative sex", for "being pregnant", and for "bearing and raising children" is not only a biologically deterministic viewpoint, although often enough men do make this claim. It is, practically, a political viewpoint--an assignation of meaning onto some bodies of some human beings. All this designation isn't "a given" based on the anatomy. We could, for example, live in a society in which only men's bodies were marked as "for penetrative sex into their body cavities". We could but we don't. And because the feminist project is to abolish patriarchal atrocities, should feminists ever "win" the war waged against them, it is unlikely we will see this come to pass, although of course many men assume such ridiculous things because men assume women atop a gender hierarchy will behave exactly as badly as men do, as a class, if not always individually.

All the women in my family over four generations have been expected and coerced into taking care of and being accommodating to men in ways the men do not take care of or become accommodating to the women. There are no exceptions I'm aware of in my own family. Not one.

To then extent you are socially presented by your care-givers and others as "female", you are marked as a target in this way. There are other dimensions to being labeled female in male supremacist societies, but I'm going to start here. FAAB people are, in English, said to be born "girls" from infancy (or pre-birth) through male supremacist "age of consent". at which time she may be considered to be "a woman".

"Woman" is identified in a variety of ways but is sometimes seen as "one who has been fucked by a man", or penetrated in the genitals by the sexual aggressor. "Woman" might also be the designation given to girls who start menstruating, who have a bat mitzvah, who get married to a man, or who don't have male privileges, social entitlements, and structural power. There are cultural signifiers, not essentially biological ones.

Someone who is CAIS, for example, may be designated "female" at birth, may be raised as a girl, treated as such, and then treated both as a girl and as a woman by men when she reaches adulthood. Genetically, she may have XY chromosomes. Essentialists argue that means she was "incorrectly" identified at birth. I'd say how she was identified, if treated socially the way "FAAB" people are treated, is irrelevant to some degree. It may become highly relevant for her when she finds this out. But socially, she has been marked and treated accordingly--as a person who will grow up to be a woman not a man.

"Man" of course, is defined in many ways, cross-culturally. As "a person who is courageous" for example. The term "man up" means "become more of a man by being more aggressive and assertive". I was called "sissy" because, while MAAB, boyhood and manhood have to be proved. One doesn't keep the status and entitlements and privileges necessarily. But, regardless of how ostracised I was, in misogynistic/heterosexist ways, I was afforded many male privileges and entitlements. Regardless of what I choose to identify as when an adult, or even a teenager, I have been marked and treated a certain way, and may still be, if I don't pass as a woman as patriarchal men define the term. At its heart, "manhood" is a way of being human that demands access to non-men perpetually. It is the way of being human that asserts it has a right to require "the other sex" to be accommodating to "him". Women do not have this power of entitled gendered access to men--including through violence deemed "natural" when men do the violence to women (or girls).

Into this horrendous political reality we have a group of people some of whom are wanting to designate themselves as "women" when they weren't FAAB and weren't raised as girls. Many, if not all, radical feminists object to this assumption that because you wish to call yourself woman, you get to, when you have had or still express sexist or misogynistic male entitlements. It is seen and experienced as an expression of male supremacist entitlement to have access to women--including to the designation, and to make women accommodate to them. This argument has merit, for me, as someone who is intergender.

Were I to show up at Michigan Womyn's Music Festival--or into any woman's restroom, and declare, "No worries, women. I'm one of you" would be a gross misuse of my male privileges, regardless of what I looked like. To believe you are ENTITLED to be able to name yourself as you subjectively wish to, is, at heart, a male supremacist belief if you have had male privileges and have been structurally located as a boy or a man in your life at some point. It can also be a white supremacist one, but I'll stick with gender (theoretically) unintersected by race and ethnicity in this post (a very "white" thing to do, admittedly). Among the privileged, it is an unearned entitlement to demand that "we be named as we name ourselves" without respect to how privileges and entitlements are, structurally and socially, acted out and used to maintain class-based oppression such as the gender system currently dominant in the West. Were I, as an intergender male, to demand resources allocated for women, from women doing work to assist women's survival from men's terrorism and violations, that, too, would be male supremacist of me to do. The very act, the assertion of rights of access, to demand accommodation, is to prove the radical feminist point of view that such people doing the demanding are behaving like men.

In pornography, in prostitution, and among trafficked human beings, those used only as fuckable, genitally penetrable things are politically female--girl or woman depending on age and other signifiers. In pornography, gender variance doesn't erase male supremacist imperatives and fundamental beliefs played out against the bodies of some for the pleasure of others. For example, in she-male pornography, "she" is only a "she" to a point, because "she" will not be only able to be penetrated. "She" will also be able to penetrate someone, genitally. To the extent the pornography highlights "her" doing that--penetrating someone else genitally--"she" ceases to be a woman. Does this mean that a woman with a strap-on is only "a man" in pornography and in life? Only if she is not targeted socially as "penetrable" and "not for men to have entitled access to" and "not someone who must accommodate and attend to men's needs, wishes, fantasies, and desires for her personhood to be violated and subjugated.

"She-males" are understood wrongly by men to be transgender. "She-males" are a category of human beings designated as such by pornography-pimps, for profit. The individuals who comprise this pornographic category are usually people, often gay men, who, in order to make themselves more marketable to these pornographer-pimps, undergo some breast implantation and wear objectifying and feminising make-up. This is a very different social-political reality than people who identify as and experience themselves to be transgender. The context is which "She-male" pornography performers (or trafficked humans) make choices is far more like women in pornography getting breast implants in order to be more marketable.

To be transgender is an experience of deeply distressing dissonance--intellectual, emotional, psychic, and social. I believe that being marginalised and ostracised for not claiming either gender can be simultaneously desirable, necessary, and costly. As an intergender person, I understand the places of privilege and loss of privilege such naming accomplishes. In the dominant society I might be regarded as a freak. In some feminist circles--small ones, to be sure, I may be asked to own up to nonetheless having male privilege and entitlements--including the very white class-privileged male entitlement to name myself as I wish, rather than endure the naming a dominant society imposes on me. The ability to believe one has the right to name oneself outside of how dominant society names you is a very class-privileged and often also white attribute.

From a this radical profeminist's perspective, the experience of being transgender and non-transgender, of being intergender or not, and of being "a gender" at all is politically constructed through various forces, most notably male supremacy/patriarchy. To shift focus off of this construction in one's activist or academic work is to render radical feminism increasingly marginal, extraneous, and "politically incorrect" or "just plain wrong". And it is generally seen as useless or harmful in the eyes of most social dominants. Any attempts to re-biologise gender, when viewed from this vantage point, functions to strengthen male supremacy and patriarchal atrocities against women and girls, and babies who are one day old and marked (and therefore treated) as "female".

In reality, away from the blogosphere, the people I know who are trans are feminist. All of them. And they don't assume gender is biological; they understand that given gender dualism-as-hierarchy, some of us will feel strongly that we don't fit into either category, or feel we have been assigned to the wrong category. Most transgender people I know also get that anyone and everyone, trans or not, will need to do certain things to make our ways through this life in CRAP--we necessarily do accommodate CRAP's mandates and imperatives in various ways, including the requirement to be "one gender or the other".

Some trans people, as well as some genderqueer people, as well as some lesbian feminists, give up the precariousness and/or privileges of being seen as someone who neatly fits into the categories "woman" and "man". To be an out and proud butch woman, lesbian or not, is to place oneself against the grain of misogynist/heterosexist patriarchy. To be lesbian at all and, lesbian or not, to not present oneself as existing for men's sexual pleasure, use, and abuse is to buck the system. Anyone who bucks the gender system becomes more targetable for dominant men's sexual violence--the policing of gender in terroristic action. This is done against enough of those who disregard or reject the "rules of gender" to create a climate of terror which is often denied by those of us being terrorised. But the policing happens to some of us, regardless of what levels of denial we live with to get through each day not consumed with fear. Most non-transgender people acquiesce and assimilate into the dominant social model of gender--and often the dominant social model is regionally and ethnically specific.

How manhood is demonstrated in major cities is often very different than how it is expressed in rural areas, for example. The rich may express it differently than the poor, if only because the rich have the means to do so that the poor do not. The same is the case with womanhood. I've lived in suburban areas where no white woman would leave the house without first painting her face. And I've lived in poorer areas where most white women don't wear much make-up at all. Many women who are farmers, for example, don't spend time in the morning putting on eye-liner and lipstick, because her day's activities don't require it. (In some urban environments, to not wear make-up as a woman is seen as not being fully dressed for work.) The men around non-femme womem might wish she would femme herself up, but she's got work to do that makes such effeminacy impractical to the point of not being a priority.

A stereotype of transgender people is that we/they always choose the most masculinist or effeminate ways to present ourselves as gendered people. I find that among the trans population, there is a greater percentage of us who challenge dominant, compulsory gendered presentations. The only other group I know of that challenges those codes of conduct and presentation are radical feminists. I don't know the political objectives of a large number of trans activists, other than to fight for basic civil and human rights. In this, many trans activists' agendas are similar to many gay male activists' agendas: figure out how to survive the hostilities directed at one's own political group, reduce discrimination and violence against us, while establishing footholds of respect and dignity in media and society at large.

While the trans people I know personally are all feminist, I don't assume that's the case with transgender people generally. (Similarly, most FAAB women I know are feminists, but I don't assume most women prioritise the political project of ending patriarchy.) The radical feminists I know are working to end patriarchy or are working to resist its political mandates. Unlike with trans and gay males, there is virtually no possibility of being regarded with respect or getting a foothold in dominant media that establishes one's group as having dignity and worth. In the U.S., it is about as likely you'll be regarded as intellectually and politically credible if you're radical feminist as you would be if you declared yourself a marxist-leninist.

Radicalism has been dying in this country, and in many others, for the better part of the last two decades, if not longer. Fopomo theories promoted in the Academy, promoting anti-feminist Queer Theory as an advancement over radical feminist theory, is one of many reasons for this. I personally find most queer theory deeply hostile to and bigoted about radical feminists and radical feminism.

Feminism is now deeply factioned and fractured socially. Most feminists I know find places of agreement and disagreement that makes alliance-building difficult. Whether the problem to be addressed among feminists is white supremacist privileges and entitlements, classism, how best to resist patriarchal imperatives, taking a liberal or radical stance on various issues, or whether or not to be lesbian and why, I find that feminist unity is at an all time low in the West. Sisterhood is almost non-existent, relative to what I experienced thirty years ago. Any ideologies that promote gender-as-natural and biological are seen by many radical feminists and myself as exacerbating the problems, making radical activism aimed at ending rape and other manifestations of misogyny more difficult and imperiled.

There was, for a time and is still, a very small group of radical lesbian feminists who put forth the idea that gender is natural and social, both. I can't emphasise enough that while some RLFs have done this, it is an extremely tiny minority of radical feminist women, and not a group that has ever posed any threat to patriarchal men or to patriarchy as a system of oppressive power. That some patriarchal men cannot seem to stop themselves from quoting or misquoting some of those women, declaring them "very powerful and very dangerous" only shows that any perceived threat to male supremacy (especially WHM supremacy) will be over-reacted to with delusion-fueled aggression and with systematic, unrelenting demonstrations of misogyny. (Go to YahooAnswers to witness one cyberspace where these guys cannot seem to stop themselves from asking and answering exactly the same questions the same ways over and over again--demonising radical feminists as if this group actually had institutional power and structural and financial support.) We may note that misogyny, in very racist and less racist forms, was and remains the only form of gendered hatred that is, in fact, a social problem. "Misandry" is an illusion, a made up social problem by men who feel threatened by things that are not threatening.

When, in the last forty years, there has been any effort to promote a belief in natural female superiority, it is radical feminists more than anyone else who has challenged this belief.

Some of these female gender biologisers have argued that female superiority is the reason for male supremacy, and men win because men, by and large, men are physically stronger than women in most societies and so can use physical force or the threat of it to get their way. This way of thinking about gender was rejected by many radical feminists as pro-patriarchal and theoretically dangerous. How ironic that misogynist men demonise the very people who refuse to tolerate a view of humanity in which females are naturally superior. Here is Andrea Dworkin's speech to women on this subject. I'll leave you with that.

"Biological Superiority: The World's Most Dangerous and Deadly Idea (1977)"

I welcome constructive, caring discussion and feedback that is both pro-feminist and not trans-bigoted.

15 comments:

Sara said...

"The very act, the assertion of rights of access, to demand accommodation, is to prove the radical feminist point of view that such people doing the demanding are behaving like men."

Asserting one's right to name oneself, like black people, gay people and female people, is acting like men? I don't think any act is "male", or you're assigning value (positive or negative) to things that in itself are value-neutral (like assertiveness).

If I want to be called a woman, because that's how I identify as, live everyday and will for the foreseeable future (until I die), much like any FAAB could correct someone misgendering them.

By the way, the comment you quoted above about intersex and intergender, is by a certain Nick K D Chaleunphone, known also as Komododragon (a handle). He's trolled any and all forums and blogs having to do with feminism or trans stuff that even mentions intersex at all. He's well known by many around the blogosphere.

I had an IM conversation with him 2 or 3 years ago, brickwall mentality. He's impermeable to arguments, logic or reason.

The theory as to why he acts this way is that he hates trans people and is afraid to be thought of as trans when he reveals his intersex status (Kallman syndrome). He thinks trans people deserve the scorn they get, but that he doesn't, because his is an accident of birth, while trans people choose it.

Julian Real said...

Hi Sara,

Asserting one's right to name oneself, like black people, gay people and female people, is acting like men?

No. A person who women do not feel safe with for gendered reasons, specifically because someone is demonstrating male supremacist and male domineering and male oppressive behavior is the situation I'm speaking of.

This might apply to someone among only trans women who the trans women don't feel at all safe with because said person is behaving in really male privileged/supremacist ways.

I don't think any act is "male", or you're assigning value (positive or negative) to things that in itself are value-neutral (like assertiveness).

I'm not talking about assertiveness, Sara. I'm talking about imposing oneself on a group of people with the assumption and entitlement that one, absolutely, has the right to do so. That's what I'm referring to and that's a far cry from assertiveness.

If I want to be called a woman, because that's how I identify as, live everyday and will for the foreseeable future (until I die), much like any FAAB could correct someone misgendering them.

If you identify as a woman I'll refer to you with female pronouns if that's what you'd like. It's not for me to tell any woman what she is.

By the way, the comment you quoted above about intersex and intergender, is [...]

What are the ethics of outing someone by name and particular intersex "condition" without their permission, Sara?

Seems an unethical thing to do, to me.

Sara said...

He doesn't make a secret of it, he posts it on just about every blog he posts on, I mean, troll on.

His only contribution is to dismiss trans women as not "really" being women (He went on mAndrea's blog if you're interested, I contributed later on that thread). And yeah, he'll resort to his DNA, body etc argument, all the time. He'll also say the presence of GID in the DSM is proof-enough that it's a choice (or a psychiatric disorder, not inborn), and nothing biological like for him.

His style is very recognizeable because he repeats himself, times and times again, within the same sentence or paragraph.

While it might have correct orthograph, grammar and syntax, it lacks coherence.

I've never seen or read someone else with his literary style.

Julian Real said...

Hi Sara,

You appear to be trolling here, regarding that intersex person who you wish to diss. I won't accept any more comments from you unless you refrain from mentioning that person again.

Do you have anything else to contribute to this discussion other than dissing this one person *who isn't at all the focus of this post's discussion*?

Do you see it as acceptable for an oppressed group to organise a gathering that is exclusive? Do you think it is ethically appropriate for a group of trans people, for example, to not allow someone they experience as non-trans to not be part of their gathering if the non-trans person demonstrates transphobic and trans-bigoted behavior--as experienced by the group, even if the individual says that's not what's going on?

Do you believe a group of people oppressed by ethnicity have the right to determine who attends their gatherings? Do you believe that a particular group of oppressed who are socialised to be accommodating to everyone else has the right to not be accommodating, when they gather as a group--especially to those who behave aggressively, or in a way that is experienced by many in the group as threatening?

Or do you think the group has to, without question, accept the person into their gathering, the person who they do not feel safe with and feel oppressed by?

Sara said...

[quote]Do you think it is ethically appropriate for a group of trans people, for example, to not allow someone they experience as non-trans to not be part of their gathering if the non-trans person demonstrates transphobic and trans-bigoted behavior--as experienced by the group, even if the individual says that's not what's going on?[/blockquote]

The behavior itself would be demonstrative enough. Similar to MWMF participants thinking that the behavior of some was unacceptable (some who are non-trans women), it would be a subset of the group, or a small portion of the group.

Not to consider that MWMF invited self-trans-masculine groups to perform on their scenes (ie guys who identified as women before, maybe long ago, but who clearly identified as men and male nowadays, not at all covertly)).

Trans men are more or else welcome, because people "on the land" consider it an experience for "people born as women" (which includes trans men).

People complain about mostly "male energy", apparently attributed to trans women. But also present in masculine butch women, in the exact same quality (ie its just as "male"). The Y chromosome composition and even the "raised as male" thinking doesn't MAKE people inherently worst, or even different, to other FAAB (who have extremely different childhoods - depending on culture, place of birth, parental attitude and more).

In other words, trans women are just like black women, a different kind of childhood from mainstream white women, neither better or worse. Most were raised as weird children who either don't want to or can't conform to the male norm, at teenage years (when parents most worry about their children), regardless of being naturally masculine or not.

Julian Real said...

Hi Sara,

For those who don't know, MWMF means the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.

The behavior itself would be demonstrative enough. Similar to MWMF participants thinking that the behavior of some was unacceptable (some who are non-trans women), it would be a subset of the group, or a small portion of the group.

No, that's not the same. You repeatedly keep ignoring the issue--that the person or people excluded are not politically structured in the same location, socially, as those who the gathering was designed to support. Those who seek to exclude are politically located beneath those they seek to exclude, structurally speaking and evidenced in behavior.

Not to consider that MWMF invited self-trans-masculine groups to perform on their scenes (ie guys who identified as women before, maybe long ago, but who clearly identified as men and male nowadays, not at all covertly).

The issue is who is politically obligated to accommodate whom, Sara. And my ethic is that oppressed people don't have to include people they don't feel safe with, especially if those they don't feel safe with structurally or behaviorally oppress them.

Trans men are more or else welcome, because people "on the land" consider it an experience for "people born as women" (which includes trans men).

The truth about MWMF is that there's no way to know who was FAAB and who wasn't, unless the person gets naked while there or is known by participants to not be FAAB. So intersex women, trans men, and trans women have likely attended.

People complain about mostly "male energy", apparently attributed to trans women. But also present in masculine butch women, in the exact same quality (ie its just as "male").

I disagree with you. I think the behavior and manner and attitudes being expressed arise out of the socialisation of boys, not of girls. It's not a chromosome issue at all. It's an issue of who gets to feel entitled to be accommodated socially and who doesn't. Generally speaking, within the same ethnic and cultural groups, men do feel entitled to take up space and demand access and accommodation. Women don't.

The Y chromosome composition and even the "raised as male" thinking doesn't MAKE people inherently worst,

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.

or even different, to other FAAB (who have extremely different childhoods - depending on culture, place of birth, parental attitude and more).

I agree that women don't share a single experience, culturally. I agree that some women don't feel safe around other women. Some trans people don't feel safe around other trans people. Some gay males don't feel safe around other gay males. And the issue here is whether a group that seeks to meet has the right to exclude people who they don't feel safe around. I believe they do.

In other words, trans women are just like black women,

Some trans women are Black women. They're not "like" Black women.

a different kind of childhood from mainstream white women, neither better or worse. Most were raised as weird children

What does that mean? (I'm not sure I want to know.) That sounds pretty damned racist and misogynistic to me.

who either don't want to or can't conform to the male norm, at teenage years (when parents most worry about their children), regardless of being naturally masculine or not.

Your point is confusing here, to me. Most human beings, trans or not, intergender or not, intersex or not, male or female, do not conform adequately to the dominant male norm. And many of us couldn't conform or wouldn't conform, for various reasons.

But what does that have to do with the issue at hand?

Julian Real said...

As I understand it, Western women are a political group, not a biological one, who are generally socialised from birth--if assigned female at birth ("correctly" or not), to accommodate other people at the expense of themselves and their own care. They comprise a culturally and ethnically diverse group who are violated, dominated, and otherwise mistreated and oppressed by men due to gender (at least). Under white het male supremacy, Western women are stigmatised as "wh*res" and as care-givers, in ways that men are not, from birth to death.

And if some people within that political group want to gather, as women, as butch wimmin, as radical lesbian feminists, as lesbian separatists, as Black queer women, as Latina activists, and don't want to include people who are not part of their political group, I'm all for it as long as they aren't being racist, heterosexist, ableist, ageist, or classist.

And, honestly, even if they are, it's not for any male-bodied person (such as myself) or any person with institutionalised male privileges to tell them what to do.

I'm delineating an ethic here on this blog. The ethic is one that supports oppressed groups meeting and gathering in places and in ways that allow them to bond and feel safe doing so.

Sara said...

I'll cut this in 2 parts, it's too lengthy.

"In other words, trans women are just like black women,

Some trans women are Black women. They're not "like" Black women."

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.

"a different kind of childhood from mainstream white women, neither better or worse. Most were raised as weird children

What does that mean? (I'm not sure I want to know.) That sounds pretty damned racist and misogynistic to me."

The first part is saying that black women have different kinds of childhood than white women, just different, neither better or worse.

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.

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.

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).

"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."

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).

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.

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.

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".

Sara said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sara said...

Part3

"The truth about MWMF is that there's no way to know who was FAAB and who wasn't, unless the person gets naked while there or is known by participants to not be FAAB. So intersex women, trans men, and trans women have likely attended."

Yeah, they first vocally expelled trans women they knew were trans. But eventually got against doing pantie-checks and adopted a DADT policy instead, still telling potential trans women going there that doing so was disrespecting the policy and they should feel ashamed for that.

I've never been there myself and have no intention to go, either. My only take in the debate is to be against injustice.

It's a bit hypocritical to say "for all women" and then define women as "not trans-women" (or like they say: FAAB).

You might have heard of the Vancouver Rape Relief vs Kimberly Nixon court stuff that went on until 2007? Their argument is about FAAB, again - but the way they "spotted" this particular one was through looks, and they brought arguments against "masculine looks" (defacto also excluding butch women), wether it be clothes or just "your face looks too masculine".

I agree they only should hire women, but not their reasoning that reeks of lookism. And they never proved their point about the need of FAAB-only. They only asserted it was so.

One wonders how they deal with not triggering victims of female-female rape. Since the concept of triggering was central to their court plea.

Sara said...

Part4 (larger comments apparently don't like firefox)

"No, that's not the same. You repeatedly keep ignoring the issue--that the person or people excluded are not politically structured in the same location, socially, as those who the gathering was designed to support. Those who seek to exclude are politically located beneath those they seek to exclude, structurally speaking and evidenced in behavior."

You might not agree, but it's evident that women in general are located structurally above trans women in general. Like white women are located above black women, or Jewish women.

The incredibly high suicide rate speaks for itself (50% attempt and about 20% overall succeed). But there's also housing, employment and hospital discrimination, simply for being trans women.

Being left to die on the pavement after you got hit by a car, is not a privilege. Nor is it one to have the paramedics laugh at you instead of helping you. This really happened to a trans woman, a couple years back.

I almost didn't get my last job. They figured I was trans if only for the name mismatch (legal and current usage) and the head woman in HR thought it might be better for me not to get hired, for my sake. The formator and the scheduling guy thought I would do fine, and I got hired. The people who worked there were generally not mainstream (videogame testing needs hardcore gamers, of which there are few), so I didn't get harassed or anything.

Not hiring me "for my own sake" wouldn't have been much help even had there been discrimination and harassment. I need income like everyone else.

Julian Real said...

Hi Sara,

Thanks for sharing and explaining things more. I appreciate it and feel a lot clearer on what you're saying.

And, sorry for Firefox being such a pain! I've heard this from other commenters too. (You'd think they could solve that problem!!!)

I'll respond to each of your points but just wanted to say thanks right now and also to apologise for all the grief the comment posting process gave you. :)

Julian Real said...

Hi Sara,

I'm going to respond in separate posts, as the responses are getting so long that I'd rather allow the conversation to have a bit more visibility than it is likely to have being buried in a comments section. So look for posts containing your replies with my responses to them, and please respond more if you wish to. I might title them "Sara and Julian Discuss Trans/Feminist Issues" or something like that.

artemix said...

Two points about the Michigan Women's Music festival: their policy is women born women so they do not include transmen. 2 If they made a transinclusive policy, they would set themselves up for allowing men in and then it would not be the MWMF but every other music festival. I'm glad to find an intergendered person who has a real grasp of radical feminism and respect for different spaces. The MWMF policy is about that singular event, those attending have varying feelings and understandings about transgendered people. There clearly needs to be a lot more dialogue about both radical feminism and transgender and thanks to this blog for facilitating that.
Baubau

Julian Real said...

Hi Baubau,

I am militantly supportive of womyn-only, Lesbian-only, and woman-only spaces, as the organisers, all members of at least one oppressed class, define the terms.

Any trans person or man who attempts to gain unwelcomed entry into womyn-only, Lesbian-only, or woman-only spaces ought to be suspect as far as I'm concerned.