Friday, December 3, 2010

Sara and Julian Discuss Trans/Feminist Issues, part 3: Transsexual, Intergender, and Transgender Definitions; Hormones and Biology; and Racist-Misogynist Lies about Second Wave Feminists

photo of Flo Kennedy's autobiography is from here
image of 1984 collection of second wave writings is from here

JR wrote: "I think saying anyone is raised as a "weird child" is a bit insulting, to be honest. "

Sara responded: I meant that they could be rejected by their family as well, for not conforming to behaviors requested of them. Much like Autistic and Asperger syndrome children are often considered "problem-children" that some parents lobby to have instutionalized or normalized at all costs (The Judge Rotenberg Center in the US is notable for its abuse, and yet the demand makes it remain open even after having been in courts for two decades about child abuse - contingent electric shock and starvation to make them obey, for example).

If trans children were considered okay, then Kenneth J Zucker would be unemployed. He uses behavioral modification to "make people not-trans", or more accurately, more gender-conforming.


Isn't that what the medical establishment and the psychiatric establishment exist to do, both to trans people and non-trans people: to get us all to be more gender conforming? If a psychiatrist and a surgeon require that someone "live as a woman" for a year, for example, before surgery is done, what does "living as a woman" mean if not conforming to heteropatriarchal standards of what a woman is? Can someone live as a butch lesbian for a year and be considered an appropriate candidate for surgery? This is a question about how oppressive those institutions are, not an indictment of anyone who wants the surgery. I think, or hope, I've already been clear that most people who obtain gender surgery are not trans people, by a long-shot. And I think targeting trans people for obtaining surgery--those very few transsexuals who can afford to do so--is misguided to some extent, depending on what the critique of the surgical procedures are. In my experience as an intergender person, I find it VERY difficult to find anyone in the medial world who even wants to understand what being intergender might mean, let alone respect it as a viable way of being. I'm wondering what your own experiences were with this.

Sara also responded with this:
Stuff like removing all feminine things, prevent the color pink from being drawn/worn, encouraging stereotypically masculine things, restricting drawings to male characters, for a "feminine" boy child. Parents wouldn't give him business if they weren't distressed by their feminine boy, or very masculine girl (the threshold is different for girls, you must be extreme to be considered more than a tomboy). Their children are probably not transsexual, or “pre-transsexual”, just simply gender-nonconforming.


I advocate for children being accepted as they are, biologically and emotionally. And wish that children were not "gendered" at all, as the West defines and enforces that process.

Part 3

Sara wrote: I'm not sure an Haitian person, raised in Haiti, would feel rejected by their own society (person of color in a culture of color). I also doubt all girls and women feel they are rejects of society. Or maybe its just all those I know, who seem to like being female and also what it entails in society, without having Stockholm syndrome or something like that. Not necessarily liking ALL that it entails...but I know of no people who think life is ONLY positive.

I wasn't talking about how children feel about being Black, or female-assigned at birth, or being girls. I was speaking about how society disenfranchises or oppresses or subordinates or stigmatises all those groups of children, and adults too. This isn't to say that any given person feels negatively about being whatever they are. Sorry for any confusion about that point.

JR wrote: "The identification of only trans children as "weird" or "considered rejects" by dominant society is simply inaccurate and overgeneralised."

Sara responded: I didn't say they were the only ones. I named Autistics and Aspies above (I'm Aspie myself). There's probably many more groups who feel they are alien, and who are treated as such also.


I hope your Asperger's doesn't hinder you too much. I've known a few folks with it and know it varies considerably from person to person, but I hope for you it hasn't caused you too much grief, particularly from others who love to bully those of us who are "different" as children. I hear you on there being lots of groups of folks who are stigmatised or put down in various ways, for various reasons.

Part 4

JR wrote: "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."

Sara responded: Transsexual people know, for sure. They might not know its THAT in childhood, but they know something serious is amiss, and often to do with genitals. It has little to nothing to do with how they are treated socially, gender roles or gender expression. I knew my genitals were wrong for certain, when I was 8. I didn't know why or how I knew it, I just did. I hadn't seen female genitals by then, and even now (at 28) I haven't seen more than surgical result pictures. I've never seen a FAAB vulva.


I get this sense too from the transsexual people I know and am only beginning to realise that "transsexual" isn't "the old passe term" for being transgender. For the purposes of our conversation, Sara, and for the readers too, I'd like for us to agree on what some of these terms mean, between us; I get that beyond the two of us other people may use the terms differently. So, let me know if this works for you. I identify as intergender, as you know. For me this means not really ever feeling like a boy or a girl or identifying, internally, as a boy or a girl; it also means, for me, that I never really understood why any children were or are asked and forced to be boys or girls; I only saw heteropatriarchy as a brutish, cruel, tyrannical system of harm and control, of enforced domination and submission, weaving together misogyny, homophobia, lesbophobia, and inter- and trans-gender phobia into an ugly oppressive society that combines in horrendous ways with racism, heterosexism, and capitalism.

As I understand you and the terms you are using, am I right to conclude that you identify as transsexual, more than as transgender. Would it be fair to say this: we're both transgender, but under that umbrella term, there are some folks with your experience, and some with mine, and some with other experiences too, such as being asexual, genderqueer, Two-Spirit, agendered, gender non-conforming, "socially/problematically" butch if female-girls or female-women (a problem for society, primarily, and secondarily for the individuals because they feel the rejection and shaming from society), feminine if male-boys and male-men (same as before, with the primary problem being society's, not the individual's)?

I would say there are elements of also being transsexual that are part of my experience. For me and for some other pro-radical feminist people I know who are gay or lesbian-identified, we agree amongst ourselves that were we raised now, in this social-political climate, we'd likely find ourselves identifying as transgender and/or transsexual, and possibly pursuing some forms of transsexual processes of transformation, such as by taking hormones and seeking surgery. Personally, I feel grateful I can up during a time when gender was so thoroughly critiqued as political, not as essentially biological. I find the medical establishment and the psychiatric community woefully ignorant on this perspective, and generally unwilling to recognise it as valid because they won't make money from us challenging heteropatriarchy to the roots, and demanding all institutions rid themselves of it.

That said, I think as individuals we must each find our own ways, hopefully with support and in some kind of caring community. And for some of us, some hormone treatments and surgical procedures may be what we need to feel a bit more like ourselves. But I think it is difficult if not impossible to know how "social" those feelings are, including what we feel about our own bodies. For example, because "breasts" and "penises" and "vaginas" are both physical features of human beings and also symbolic as well, we may be feeling alienated from the social meaning of our genitals/sex organs, in some cases. I don't get the sense that's the case with you, given how you felt at age eight. But for those of us who were sexually abused as children, there can be profound "dis-identification" with the parts of our bodies that were involved in the abuse. We can shut down or shut off those parts of us, hold trauma there, etc.

In my case there's little doubt that my non-identification with manhood has partly to do with seeing how boys-who-wanted-to-be-men behaved, and how some men behaved who valued being men, and knowing full well that's not for me. But, it is also the case that I never, ever felt heterosexual or "like a boy" in any significant, meaningful way. I mean I knew I was assigned to be a boy, and was treated like a boy in some ways, and was abused for being a not-masculine-enough boy. So in my own case I think I was intergender and non-het from the start, basically. And I suspect that may be true of a lot of folks, but many get coerced into believing they "are" girls or "are" boys, without really questioning what those terms mean. I think lots of people in my own family just grew up as the gender they were assigned, without question. And for the girls, that meant having babies early in life. And for the boys, that meant impregnating young women early in life, and not bothering to be that responsible about it, leaving the pregnant young women to bear the brunt of responsibility for the pregnancy and birthing and child-rearing. I think heteropatriarchal expectations and enforced ways of being were "acted out", basically. Rampant sexual abuse in my family also meant that there were other reasons for acting out sexually.

Part 5

JR wrote: "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 someone 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."

Sara responded: That's more in line with transgender identity. Something that has less to do with changing the body, but I can't theorize much on the causes or effects, only that they are probably different at least severely in degree (maybe not in kind), to what causes transsexual people to know their body itself is wrong.


Do you personally feel like your own transsexuality was or is "biological"--do you feel you were born transsexual?

Sara wrote: Intergender, if your sidebar definition is accurate, is explained by agender (no identity) and bigender (both) terms in the LGBTQIA community - especially the asexual (AVEN) and online trans communities, that I know of.

I think that's pretty much the case for the intergender people I know--one person feels like both genders, and I don't really feel like either one. But this gets complicated because of what "gender" is--it's a hierarchical dualism/binary in the dominant West. And if I grew up in a culture with eleven genders or sexualities, what would I be then? How would my experience be different? I can't say. I can only know how I am based on living in the society I've lived in. And I conclude that the amount of terrorism, sadism, violation, intimidation, coercion, manipulation, dishonesty, and inhumanity bound to "gender" as it is enforced in the West cannot be "irrelevant" in how any of us feel about ourselves with regard to gender and sex, at least. (But also with regard to race, ethnicity, and class, which are also so bound to gender and sex.)

Sara wrote: I know that testosterone was poisonous to my body, and that estrogen isn't. And I know that from experience. All testosterone did was make me suicidally depressed, and full of acne for over 8 years (until I cut the testosterone from my life). It didn't give me muscles, a libido, or a masculine-looking frame. It didn't make me hairy either, or make me feel aggressive. I was asexual until I started estrogen (at 24). Now I have what I'd say is a normal-low level of libido.

As someone who is asexual/low in "libido" I'd say that "being sexual" isn't a natural thing, exactly. I'm not sure how we'd know what non-patriarchal normal levels are. (I think all we have in the dominant West are patriarchally determined normal levels and seemingly abnormal levels), but I follow what I think you're saying. I think I am fairly low in testosterone, relative to many males I know. And I know some women who are high in testosterone. And that plays out in our bodies and psyches in various ways. I'm a bit unclear about the sources of your testosterone--don't most us--our bodies--produce all of the so-called sex hormones: androgen, testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen? Isn't it the case that it's the levels that vary, unless something happens to us in utero or after that results in us not producing some of those hormones? Such as when a FAAB woman gets a hysterectomy, which can throw off her hormone levels quite a bit? Or, if a male-bodied adult gets a vasectomy? Are you saying that until you had your own bodily production of testosterone shut down/shut off, that life was a particular kind of hell that ended when it got cut off and when you began to get externally introduced "female" hormones? That they all exist in most people leads many of us to wonder why they are called "female" and "male" at all. Having estrogen and progesterone is something that "normal" male-men have, right? Again, it's all determined to be "normal" or not based on amounts, levels, etc. Is that your sense too?

Part 6

"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."


I found out about trans stuff online at 22, where radical feminist stuff wasn't even mentioned for the most. Only Janice Raymond and Sheila Jeffreys would get passing mention if the topic was on that or the history of the trans movement. I never got into LGBT communities, even if I knew they existed, and lived in Montreal most of my life (2 million people city).

What I hear you saying is that you've had little to no exposure to radical feminism. Sara, my life would not be what it is without radical feminism. I don't know how people who question gender get to understanding it without exposure to various radical feminist writers and theorists. Have you read Sister Outsider?

This raises a question that I'm not sure you can answer; in other words I may be asking a question that is simply too hypothetical, and, as a rule, I don't like hypotheticals even though I do get sloppy and use them from time to time. But, what the hell, I'll ask it, and you can let me know if you can't or don't wish to answer it. What I'm wondering is if you had come of age, so to speak, during the period when I did, when there was tons of radical feminist material around, challenging every aspect of gendered being, allowing all kinds of questions to be asked and answered about how patriarchy, racism, capitalism, homophobia, misogyny, heterosexism, and more, shape us into "binarily" gendered beings, and shape us through force, aggression, shame, violation, emotional neglect, and sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse through religious miseducation or molestation and rape by priests and preachers.

We were a generation--or two or more generations--that got to interrogate this stuff thorougly, if never completely--such as deep awareness of how incest impacts a person. For anyone I knew who had been sexually abused, including through "normal" socialisation into heteropatriarchy, radical feminism was invaluable--water in the dessert of male supremacist ignorance and arrogance. It was enormously helpful to me that I grew up in such a time. And, I'll add, I read only a tiny bit of Mary Daly, no Sheila Jeffreys AT ALL (until about four years ago), and no Janice Raymond AT ALL. No Robin Morgan. No Germaine Greer. No Susan Brownmiller. White women didn't equal "radical feminism" for me.

For me the 1970s second wavers were folks like Florynce Kennedy, Pat Parker, Pauli Murray, Alice Walker, Andrea Dworkin, Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, Gloria Anzaldúa, Chrystos, and Nawal El Saadawi. That's why it pisses me off when folks refer to "second wavers" as only Daly, Jeffreys, and Raymond. Those three women share many values, but they don't represent all of second wave radical feminism by a long-shot. They don't represent second wave radical lesbian feminism either. They are three voices among a chorus of other voices. And there were additional voices coming from slightly other perspectives, such as Angela Davis from a more anti-capitalist/class-critical direction than many white middle class feminists.

Daly and Jeffreys have done amazingly important work, invaluable work in analysing many aspects of patriarchal atrocity and oppression, but their work has been cut up into pieces, butchered, and misused by anti-feminists, some trans and some non-trans, some men and some women, to make it seem like all second wavers were anti-transgender, forgetting to note what Dworkin, another white lesbian radical feminist, said in Woman Hating on the subject. Have you read Woman Hating? In the preface she states that revolutionary feminism has its sheroes, and two of them are Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, neither of whom were activists in the 1970s. What is called "the Second Wave" is a generally racist and inaccurate term for a political analysis that is not stagnant and has been around for decades, at least. It lives on until this day, largely by-passing the liberalism and individualism of much of so-called "Third Wave" writings. Different approaches in feminism have usually co-existed; they don't follow each other in a linear fashion; the feminisms that flourished in the 1970s continue on to this very day; RAWA was formed in the 1970s and is still going strong, for example.

Why do you think there's so much systematically sloppy, overtly inaccurate, and blatantly racist and misogynistic re-telling of "what second wavers believed"? Have you read Backlash by Susan Faludi, cover to cover? If you do, you will understand the forces at work to effectively silence and blatantly distort the work of any radical feminist. Who benefits when the work Cheryl Clarke, Cherríe Moraga, Hattie Gossett, Susan Yung, Ana Oliveira, Rosie Alvarez, Mitsuye Yamada, Merle Woo, Alma Gomez, Jewelle Gomez, Leota Lone Dog, June Jordan, Ntozake Shange, Norma Ramos, Adrienne Rich, Marilyn Frye, bell hooks and so many other U.S. and non-U.S. women of color and white women are erased from the ethnically rich herstory of second wave radical feminism?

JR wrote: "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."

Sara responded: Much (but not all, for sure) writing from the radfem point of view is filled with snark and derision towards men, either through nature (inherently) or nurture (raised that way). You might pardon half the LGBT community, and a good portion of the trans community, of being wary of being considered unchangeably evil (can't change either your status at birth, or your childhood – at best you must prove, time and time again, your harmlessness and your lack of evil intent, a guilty until proven innocent).


This commentary to me demonstrates how little you know about radical feminism and second wave feminism. You just demonstrated how much you've bought what dominant culture says about it, including dominant queer culture. And it's just as stereotypical and biased as what you believe "second wavers" think about men and trans people. And about as wrong, too. It's really sad to see this sort of stereotyping going on, to be honest. Can you tell me who you've read of the authors I've named here in this post? What books? What poems? What plays? What novels? What essays? On what are you basing your really harsh judgments? The derision of people who also never read those many, many authors, or bothered to understood what they were reading when they did pick up a book?

Sara wrote: Liberal feminists were reluctant to accept trans people at first, but not totally closed to it, unlike much of the 1970s 2nd wave feminists (who were mainstream, not fringe, then).

I'm gonna ask once more, and I'd seriously appreciate an answer: who are you referring to when you write "1970s 2nd wave feminists"? Which ones? What are their names, please? What are the books you are referring to, please?

Sara wrote: The POV of liberal feminists seem to be mostly of unconditional acceptance of trans people, with some dissenting. The POV of radical feminists seem to be the reverse of that - most opposed to acceptance, with some dissenting (many in numbers, but a fraction of the movement).


What you're saying makes little to no sense of my own readings of international radical feminists like Malalai Joya and RAWA, Yanar Mohammed, Patricia Hill Collins, Catharine MacKinnon, Vandana Shiva, and Ruchira Gupta. At all. I don't know where you're getting these ideas from, but I do want to know where you read them or encountered them so we can, together, trace the lies back to their sources. This experience of hearing your really biased and incredibly narrow views of second wavers and radical feminists is like what I encounter when I speak with male-men who only know about feminism by having "consumed" what pornographer-pimps have said about them. It's very discouraging indeed. Very sad. Very disheartening. To see political views relegated to one decade, when they don't exist there alone, is also terribly sad and discouraging. It tells me a lot about how little most non-queer and queer folks know about the brilliant herstory of feminism--not just from what you say here, Sara, but from what I hear that sounds so much like this, from so many other pro-neoliberal queer folks, who don't care, it appears anyway, to question what is profoundly racist, genocidal, ecocidal, heterosexist, and misogynistic (gynocidal) about neoliberalism. A politic that ignores the world in which women live, struggle, resist, rebel, and die is a doomed one, in the view of this blog and blogger.

I need to stop writing for right now so I can regain my inspiration for this conversation. I seek connection with you, and mutual understanding, not alienation and insult. Please regard what I say about second wave feminism and feminists with an open heart and an open mind. I will work very hard to hear and listen to you with a similarly open mind and open heart. I'm going to post this and await your responses. It seems we both move into other terrain from this point on, so this seems like a good pausing point anyway. But honestly, my heart is heavy with grief right now.

I will post responses to your other comments, however. If many of them are organised around a theme or two, I'll likely make that into a separate post, as I have this one.

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