Friday, January 14, 2011

A Personal-Political Trans/Profeminist Discussion between Lucien and Julian, Part 1: Male Privilege, Gender, and Sex

This is the only book I know of , that is almost entirely North American in focus and perspective--and largely white, dealing with transsexual and feminist issues. Image of cover is from here
NOTE: This was minimally revised on 17 Jan. 2011 ECD, to correct typos (thank you L!!), and also in the bigotry section. I want to thank L and ll for their on-going intellectual and political challenges to my thinking and ways of expressing myself generally, and especially in text.

Another minimal revision, a grammatical correction, was made by me on 22 August 2012. 

If anyone knows of other profeminist males who are engaging in discussions of trans politics and radical feminist politics, and related issues and conflicts, please send me information about them, if they're public or published somewhere.

I have seen a fair amount online, on blogs and on YouTube, regarding the issue of how feminism does and doesn't relate to transsexuality and transgender identity and realities. Here is one issue: how M2F transsexuals are understood, by those of us who are trans and intergender (only a few of whom are M2F transsexuals who opt to have surgery or otherwise "transition"), as well as those of us who are womanist, feminist, and profeminist, to be part of the struggle to emancipate women from gender tyranny (male supremacy, patriarchy)? Are transsexuals of any gender part of that struggle, or are we understood to be part of patriarchal, male supremacist, gender tyrannical oppression of women by men and males. Of course the same question must be asked of every group of people, not just those who are deeply and perhaps inexplicably not-at-home in the sexed bodies they were born and raised in.

I have seen cisgender radical lesbian feminists across race called hideously misogynistic names and spoken to as if they ought to be treated with condescension and contempt, nothing more, by cis men, by trans people, and by cis women; by queer activists and anti-queer activists; by liberals and conservatives, progressives and radicals. I have seen transsexuals and some transgender people been spoken about in disgustingly bigoted, vitriolic ways, as if "trans people" are one thing only, and that one thing is negative, dangerous, invasive, sick, twisted, perverted, sadomasochistic, and mean-spirited too.

This is done by all segments of society, including some cisgender radical lesbian feminists. I don't know of any transsexual radical feminists except one. I've contacted her and so far she has refused to engage with me here on this blog. I don't know why and won't presume an answer. She may well just be busy with her life.

I'll note the obvious: neither transsexuals of any gender, nor radical lesbian feminists are groups of people with any significant structural, institutional power. To pretend the main enemy of anyone, of any group, is either of those populations is to be woefully ignorant of who is in control in the U.S., and beyond, and also who is most harmed. Wherever we go, it seems, both groups are denigrated and despised by some people--of whatever political affiliation. And neither group has any humane, complex representation on dominant media.

Admittedly, in the last ten years, I've seen more humane stories about transsexuals (meaning, a few)--such as on Oprah, who has tended to tell stories only of middle class people, and none at all featuring radical lesbian feminists. Not one. I've seen some movies about transsexuals and none at all about radical lesbian feminists. In queer cultures, I see space being made, slowly, sometimes ineffectively, for transsexuals and transgender people; I see none at all being made for radical lesbian feminists. On the academic front, liberalism, across social science disciplines, has maintained its rule over and against radical perspectives. This is certainly the case in Women's, Queer, Sexuality, and Men's Studies, most of the time, if not all of the time. I know there are still some professors willing to teach the writings of radical lesbian feminists, but usually the rest of the contexts and settings are so hostile to these views that they are not taken especially seriously, or are mocked outright.

As a radical pro-feminist intergender person who may also be transsexual, and as a human being who opposes bigotry* in any form, I have personally called out cis men and cis women across race for being trans-bigoted in their views and discussions about trans people. I have also called out many queer and a few trans people for being anti-feminist, anti-radical, sexist, and misogynistic. I have lost some good friends due to this.

In recent years I have not been in "mixed" social spaces to witness how ugly this bigotry can get in person, although I have seen some of this in the past--how radical lesbian feminists or transsexuals are assumed to be only negative, only bad, only threatening, only bigoted. As noted though, most of what I've observed, I've observed online. This obviously leaves out most of what radical lesbian feminists and transsexuals experience, as most of life, for most of us, is not lived online.

I'm willing to bet that for most transsexual people, feminist or not, and for most radical feminists, lesbian, cisgender, or not, "the enemy" isn't the other group. I say this based on who rules. I say this based on the fact that it is men, cisgender men, who are the primary population of people who physically and sexually assault transsexuals and feminists. Usually het men. This doesn't mean, however, that people in either group aren't deeply hurt or disrespected by people in each group, by gay males, and by het cisgender women. There are plenty of people dishing out the disrespect and denigration. But only one group truly benefits, materially:  cisgender het men.

*Bigotry: the social reduction, degradation, and dehumanisation of a distinct population of people--or of a diverse population of people assumed to be distinct--to one thing that is socially negative. Examples: Nazis thinking Jews are a scourge on the planet; male supremacist men thinking women exist primarily for the kinds of sex male supremacist men want to have with women, and often force women to have; or men thinking all women are wh*res, or that all women are b*tches; Corporate Christian Conservative U.S. whites thinking immigrant Mexicans, or Chican@ people, are lazy, while also usurping white people's jobs (jobs few to no U.S. white person would be willing do) and are here "illegally" as "aliens"; heterosexuals thinking homosexuality in women or men is sick, perverted, wrong, bad, evil, and synonymous with being a child molester. Class-privileged white U.S.ers thinking the world belongs to them--that the Earth, and its diverse non-human life, and the seas and the sky and the land, and people of color and Indigenous people all exist to serve or sacrifice themselves for the betterment of wealthy white U.S.ers, as wealthy white U.S.ers define "betterment". Rich capitalists thinking poor people are poor because they are lazy or aren't willing to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. (Not realising that rich people only sell poor people shitty shoes without bootstraps.)
                                                                                           
I don't hold a primarily liberal or individualistic view of "bigotry" or "hatred" or "discrimination". I don't think whites and people of color can be racist in the ways whites can be racist; whites only are members of the ruling racist class. I don't think women can be misogynistic or sexist in the ways men can be each of those things. Why? Because people atop any social-political hierarchy have structural, systemic, institutional, locational advantages and privileges, entitlements and access to forms of power that people on the bottom of any social-political hierarchy do not have. Cisgender men are the ruling class of gendered people; and cisgender women are not and ought not be regarded as such by anyone, including by transsexual, transgender, intersex, and intergender people, in my view. And surely this most-marginalised and most-opppressed position is not ever held by cisgender men! Heteropatriarchally speaking, it is entirely politically correct to target cisgender women as the most powerfully gendered people on Earth. Similarly, trans people (transsexuals especially) are not ever the most powerful or privileged gendered people on Earth, by a long-shot.                                                                                                                        
One scenario, too commonly played out in reality--in men's very non-theoretical war against women--for understanding this matter of location is this: if an upper middle class married het white man rapes a poor white single woman in the course of him procuring her in a system of prostitution, she is limited in what she can do to "get back at him". If she outs him as a procurer, as a cheater on his wife, or if she simply files charges of rape, he can do many things to shut her up, including killing her, and no one will bother to find out the truth, because her life is not seen as valuable as his, and her words are not seen as truth-bearing as his. Or she can be cross-examined in a courtroom--should a case get that far--and her testimony, unlike his, will be determined to be unreliable for any number of reasons, but among them are these: she's single and a woman; she's leveling negative charges at a man who has class privilege over her; she's a prostitute and he's a procurer--she's seen as something negative; his behavior may be viewed negatively by his wife and some other people, but he, as a procurer, is not seen to BE something negative the way she is. 

That said, I'm not much of a fan of bigoted ways of viewing and treating people, which may shock some as I'm typically accused--by white het men--of holding white het men in a very bigoted light. I'd say that far too many white het men do not stop the world from experiencing enough U.S., UK, European, and Australian WHM as bigots, racists, rapists, and sexual, economic, and cultural predators. That doesn't mean I believe "that's what all white het men are", or "that's all that white het men are." I believe neither. I believe WHM are precisely as human as any other demographic. But far more privileged and entitled than most of us. Being privileged and entitled isn't a condemnation of someone's soul; it's an observation of someone's political-structural social location. There's nothing bigoted about noting that whites, men, and heterosexuals have privileges that people of color, women, and lesbians and gay men don't have, respectively.

I stand with Andrea Dworkin in opposing the perception of men as inherently inferior, evil, or dangerous. I also stand with her in opposing men's perception and treatment of women as wh*res, b*tches, or any other kind of socially inferior being.

While I am generally opposed to white people being viewed as inherently or "innately" or "naturally" evil beings, I don't tell people of color whose lives and ways of being have been directly threatened by whites for hundreds of years how to talk about or feel about whites. The same is the case with how women view and feel about men. I do view whiteness and manhood as social-political-cultural realities or "phenomena", to get all academic for a moment, but not at all as biological categories. Terming men biologically inferior or superior seems preposterous to me, but again, if women who've been threatened and terrorised by men their whole lives, of any part of their lives, wish to hold men in a negative view, that's a form of survival I'm not taking issue with; I will continue to take serious issue with men viewing any groups of women (or all women) negatively, as women do not threaten men's lives structurally or institutionally, as a class of people, nor, usually, even individually. That occasionally one woman takes out an abusive man only demonstrates to me that not enough women know effective self-defence.

In this world we have a group that has only emerged on the social scene as a recognised group, if largely misunderstood and stigmatised, since the 1980s, and especially since the 1990s and within the last decade, at least in the U.S. That group is transsexuals and transgender people. The former group (transsexual people) pre-exists the latter one (transgender people), if going by terms used. Personally, I first heard the term "transsexual" in the 1970s. I first heard the term "transgender" in the 1990s. I first heard of the term "intergender" within the last year, although it has been around for at least a dozen years. (Clearly I don't get all the memos.)

The white Western male supremacist history of misperception and mistreatment of transsexuals is loaded up with the violence of heterosexism, racism, misogyny, corporate Christian condemnation, and other dominant perspectives that are bigoted and inhumane. But so, too, is the history of misperception and mistreatment of cis women and girls.

This post will begin an in-depth discussion (and possibly sometimes a debate) of why it may be that these two groups are in struggle against racist, heterosexist, classist, patriarchal imperialism, while some in each group sometimes view one another as significant and profoundly bigoted enemies.

The two participants in the discussion are Julian and Lucien. Julian--that'd be me--is the blogger here. Lucien is someone who is transsexual, had sex re-assignment surgery, legally went from female to male, and then came into radical feminist readings and understandings of gender, realised s/he was not "a man in a woman's body", and has had some reconstructive surgery to attempt to get back a body that somewhat resembles the one she had prior to initial sex re-assignment surgery. She also stopped taking "male" hormones. Julian is and always has been "male-bodied". He has never had any sex-related surgery on his body but once thought about transitioning surgically and hormonally to become a transsexual woman. He found radical feminist theory, practice, and activism prior to the era of sex-reassignment surgery being available to people wealthy enough to afford it. He is thankful he did, as he suspects he might have a story similar to Lucien's if he did not.

Julian (to Lucien): What do you understand to be the most significant tensions or points of anger or disagreement between  some cisgender radical lesbian feminists, mostly but not all white, and some transgender non- or anti-feminist transmen and transwomen?

Lucien: Having traveled around a bit in both camps, so to speak, I understand the tensions this way. I see a minority of cisgender women taking serious issue with any theory or practice that reinforces the idea that womanhood is innate, biological, and able to be "created by doctors" by introducing hormones and surgical procedures to a formerly male-bodied, male privileged person. The idea that one can be male-bodied, be gender dysphoric, and, after surgery, or even before it, be "a woman", is absurd to some cisgender radical lesbian feminists I know. I can appreciate their viewpoint but wouldn't call the people "absurd", if referring to the people who have that experience of gender dysphoria. But I think we've had way too little conversation and interrogation, among ourselves, in queer community, and between cisgender radical feminists and transgender people considering sex-reassignment surgery, about what it means to even say "I'm a woman in a man's body" or "I'm a man in a woman's body". These are social issues, political issues, but dominant media repeatedly reinforces the idea that those are reasonable, logical, biological, and not-at-all-political statements, and experiences. As someone who has been through hell with this, I'll say that the issues as far as I'm concerned, are social and political, and also economic, and we ought to be discussing them in those terms, not as biological or "innate" asocial realities.

Julian: So do I. I have struggled with this a lot. Both internally and in conversation with other people, including other intergender people, some trans-identified people, and some transsexual people who are currently in transition through the use of hormones. I accept that many people go to doctors, psychiatrists, and other mental and physical health care workers and professionals to get relief from conditions that are, at their base, social and political. Most diseases that plague U.S. Americans, for example, are stress and diet related, are related to pollutants and poisons in our water systems and land, and all of that is political, not "biological" primarily. That doctors only treat heart disease, cardiovascular disease, cancers, and obesity as personal life-style issues, as genetic disorders, and matters of heredity, not oppression, means that we are, as a society, restricted in how we think about those conditions ourselves. It's no different for me with transsexuality and any "condition" of gender or sexuality.

Lucien: What I have little patience for is the view by some mostly white radical lesbian feminists is that transsexual people, no matter what they have done or haven't done by way of transitioning, are fucked up, dangerous, woman-invading perps, and that's all they are and so you better watch out for them.

Julian: I find that view so disturbing, especially coming from a population of people who have every opportunity, as women, to understand, full well, the dangers of viewing human beings as two- or even one-dimensional. But I do get that some cisgender radical lesbian feminists have experienced male transsexuals and transwomen who will not and do not own their male privileges, even if those privileges were acquired earlier in their lives, primarily. And, as noted in the intro before our conversation began, I don't make it a point to tell women what to feel and think about people with male privileges. What I have called women out for is assuming that "trans" means any one thing; that "trans" means "transsexuals" and that "transsexual" means M2F post-op people. I try and correct some basic ignorance displayed by cisgender people about some transsexual and transgender experiences. But, the bigotry is gross to me, and usually misogynistic and racist too. I'd like us to pause discussion about race, if that's okay with you.

Lucien: There's a lot to discuss. I'm fine with waiting on bringing in how race and racism plays out in these conflicts including in my own life, personally. A key point of contention--I've talked about with lots of other trans and non-trans folks about this--is this: "What is male privilege, and do transwomen have it?" Obviously, most people with male privilege deny they have it--it's like white privilege--the people structurally and interpersonally oppressed by it experience it all the time, while the carriers of the privileges and entitlements don't realise they even have them, let alone that they are acting them out against people they socially oppress. I'm curious to know how you understand your own male privileges, given that you once contemplated sex re-assignment surgery. Do you feel that if you'd gone through with the surgery you would be someone without male privileges?

Julian: I can't really know what I'd feel if I'd gone through with the surgery. And in my case it was never THAT seriously considered. I'd say it was desired for a period of time; I didn't feel like a man; I didn't experience myself as a boy-like-most-boys. I didn't experience myself as a girl, exactly, but I did identify more with girls in many ways throughout my childhood and into adolescence. But to answer your question, what I learned through my closest relationships--friendships--with women is that I always have male privileges and entitlements, and I always will, no matter if I have sex-reassignment surgery. I'll lose some structural ones if I have that surgery, however. And being a queer kid, I didn't get het male privileges that I see het men acting out.

Lucien: Such as what? What do you see in het men, regarding privileges and entitlements, that you don't see in yourself?

Julian: Primarily an assumption about what women are, and what women are for--an assumption that women are "for" anything at all. No matter how pro-feminist or anti-sexist some het guys are, there seems to be welded into their psyches--by social conditioning, not because of "physiological brain differences"--this idea that "women are for men"--sometimes for men to use, sometimes for men to look at and "appreciate the beauty of", or to have take care of men emotionally in ways they wouldn't expect het male friends to do. I see het men voyeuristically look at women, sexually objectify women, and tell me that they are appreciating the beauty of women. When I comment that the women they find beautiful are often the women that Hollywood or Madison Avenue or corporate pimps have told them het men are supposed to find beautiful, only a small number of them take seriously that their sexual aesthetics and practices are that shaped by society; they want to believe their sexual orientation, such as to objectifying white, thin, larger-breasted, curvier, long-haired women who shave their armpits and legs and wear some make-up is "entirely natural" and uniquely their own. I point out, again and again, how absurd it is to assume men being attracted to anyone with shaved legs or anyone with shaved armpits could be at all "natural", but they sometimes come up with some pretty strange reasoning about how that could be.

So one area that I have privileges and entitlements is that I share with het men is to assume that women will be  available to me in some instances, at least some of the time, to process emotions, to process my life. I do that work mostly with women, and always have. But I generally make sure that those relationships are ones where women are at least equally comfortable and able to process their own emotions, their own lives, with me. In most of my friendships I try and give more to women than I take, emotionally. But I know that due to my ignorance, my privileges, my entitlements, I can and do trigger women with all that in ways that women don't usually trigger me. And if women do trigger me, it's because of my past, my childhood stuff, mostly. With the women I know, they are always having to contend with the traumas and assaults that come with living in a male supremacist world. And many women have experienced abuse of various kinds from gay males, not just het males.

And I grew up attracted to some girls when I was a boy, but never attracted to girls "as a het boy". I didn't find girls to be "other" than me, and my attraction to boys was strong and didn't necessarily feel like I was attracted to "people like me". And mostly my feelings for girls were in the category of desiring or appreciating friendship.

Lucien: Are you saying you felt more like a girl when attracted to girls, as well as more like a girl when attracted to boys?

Julien: Not exactly, no. I felt more like an androgyne. I felt more like I was some sort of intersexed androgyne, who was attracted to boys as "other" than me. And who was attracted to girls also as "not-like-me" but not as different from me as most boys seemed to be. I didn't get het boy culture at all and still kind of don't get it: physical aggression, physical and sexual competitiveness--using and abusing women to prove one's hetero-masculinity, and huge investment in ego-protection were things I saw playing out among boys and since then among men, and I kind of scratch my head wondering what the fuck is wrong with these people?! I also grew up with the shame that is typical of non-heterosexual males, and non-het females too, although most heterosexual females I knew were also deeply shamed about so much of their sexuality, or made to feel shame through sexual trauma and abuse. As I was also, only by het-identified males.

I wanted some "nicer" het boys to penetrate me sexually, not in my butt, and not with their fingers. I imagined them having penis-to-vagina intercourse with me when I was a teenager. I never imagined anal intercourse--and it's not that it wasn't discussed or shown in films I had access to. I knew what it was and that some men liked it. I just didn't imagine it, either penetrating someone that way or being penetrated that way. I have always strongly related to heterosexual women who have been pressured by boyfriends or husbands who consume pornography, who beg women to have anal intercourse--with the woman to be penetrated, not the man--and I've known more than one woman who was anally raped by her husband, because she repeatedly said "No", and one time the husband decided "No" was not to be respected or was to be overridden by his own selfish desires and wants.

I kind of despise a lot of the ways het men treat het women. I get why some women--very few, though--truly distrust and dislike men.

Lucien: Do you not find in yourself any male supremacist practices, sexually speaking?

Julian: I used to like looking at some pornography, although if I told you what it was we might debate whether or not it was pornography. It'd be more accurate to say I used to really like looking at images of naked men, but not men being used as wh*res, which is what pornography-for-men is, whether gay or straight. The magazine was Playgirl, and the years I looked at it were in the 1980s but through the '80s the presentations of men changed drastically. The best example I can give of this shift may be seen in two very white male supremacist allegedly homo-erotic or male-fetishistic films. I'd call both films mythically man-objectifying in ways that appears to appeal mostly to gay men. And both are deeply sado-masochistic, in my view. And therefore both are very anti-erotic, to me. The names of them are...

Sebastiane:


and 300:


I consider what happened to the portraits of men in dominant society to be a form of transgendering of adult males--from slender, sensual Davids to T-overloaded, muscle-bound Goliaths. Not that the slim dudes from the 1970s were any less misogynistic.

I also used to objectify men sexually, including fetishising their body parts--their penises especially, but I also found certain parts of men's anatomy really sexy, like the area between the navel and the pubic hair, on thin or slim men, that is. I've never been attracted to heavy or muscular men, but I've never found heavy or muscular women unattractive as so many het men do. I've never understood what isn't attractive about women of any size or age. But my sense of what's attractive about women isn't so splintered as it is with how I view men. I see women more holistically, as complex people, as individuals. I find too many het men just see women as "women", like this one thing with one kind of mind and, preferably, one kind of body too. I'm kind of disgusted with the way het men think about and treat het women a lot of the time--have I said that already?

Lucien: I think that's clear! lol

Julian: But I have kind of viewed men similarly, so I share that aspect of male sexuality with many het men. Do you feel you're someone who has gotten to experience the world as a woman and as a man, or as neither? Or... well, how do you understand your own gendered experience and journey?

Lucien: That's so complicated. I'm probably going to have to answer only part of that for right now.

Julian: That's cool.

Lucien: I grew up as a girl, as sort of a tomboy-ish girl. I wasn't into frilly shit. I wasn't into dolls. I liked physical exertion, running, climbing. I loved to climb trees. I wanted to fly. I loved swinging high on swingsets and jumping off at peak height and flying and dropping down and rolling on the ground. I saw girls' lives as so constricted and boys' lives as so free. Boys could be out late. Boys could do riskier things and not get into trouble. Girls always had to be polite and accommodating. Boys could be rude as hell and lots of times adults would seem to smile a "boys will be boys" kind of smirk, but an approving smirk, really. I just hated the vision of "my life as a girl". I found it so oppressive to think about, but way before I had a word like "oppressive" in my vocabulary; but it was in my consciousness, and in my body. I refused to wear dresses and skirts. Refused.

Julian: I long to be able to wear skirts--long one's, not short ones--and have only been in one place that was safe enough for me to do so. But I get why you'd refuse to. Totally. This is so fascinating to me because I saw boys as so restricted, emotionally--so dull, emotionally. And girls got to have emotional lives, and talk about fantasies of relationship. Boys seemed so boring to me. But I also saw, for sure, how girls were restricted and  oppressed. I saw this, knew it, by age nine. Again, like you, I didn't have a word like "oppression" available to me, but I knew it was a social, not an individual problem, like racism and racist bigotry.

Lucien: I saw boys as adventurous, or at least as being able to be adventurous, whether or not they were or wanted to be. I mean some boys were not into being adventurers. They didn't go out much. Or some just did their adventuring online, or by playing video games at home. But to go outside and do stuff, that just wasn't encouraged in my culture, among girls. It was allowed or accepted as "what boys do", though. And that seems like it went across cultures. It seemed to be true whether you lived rurally or in suburban or urban environments.

Julian: I can see that. I had a similar cultural experience, even if I perceived aspects of it differently; I was one of those male kids who didn't desire to be adventurous, who staying inside a lot more than most boys I knew did. I get what was restrictive to you, and what is restrictive, period, about being a girl in most societies. And then there's the whole issue of girls being socially devalued in most societies. Considered inferior to boys.

Lucien: Yeah, there's that all right. It's incomprehensibly vile. I get it in societies where boys are expected to be wage earners, and to have only girl children is to be in more and more poverty. But that's not the case in the industrialised West, for the most part. Well, it kind of is, actually, still the case that in many communities boys are expected to earn money at ages when girls are not. But that's an imposition, often, of capitalism from the white cultures onto cultures that were here before white invasion and colonisation; before the slavery and the genocides. [Pauses. Looks sad. Moves on.]

While I never identified as a boy, I wanted to be able to be like a boy in the sense of doing what boys were allowed to do. I was called a tomboy by some. I was called a d*ke too when I got to be a bit older. By boys. And some girls. But mostly by boys who wanted to hook up with me, who I didn't want to engage that way at all. I never wanted to be treated like a girl, sexually. I wanted boys to treat me as "one of them". I saw how my father treated my mother--assuming he could approach her and grab her and fondle her--as if she belonged to him and was his sexual plaything. It repulsed me and made me furious with him. That he had lots of porn didn't help. I knew he was only thinking of her the way he thought about the women in the magazines--as being laid out for him. He had really fucked up but very normal ideas about how men are supposed to treat women.

Julian: Something I hope we can talk about more is the effect of encountering pornography when young, because that, almost as much as being sexually abused in childhood, has effected every girl I know in really profound ways, in terms of how they conceive of gender and sex--in traumatic ways. It's effected boys too, but not in ways that seem to be as traumatic--if they discovered it, that is.

Lucien: Yeah, it sure did a number on me. It made it clear to me what men thought of women, or what too many men thought of women, including my dad and my brothers. I'm the youngest.

Julian: Me too. And my brother had pornography that he had no shame about possessing. Sorry for interrupting.

Lucien: We're good. Just don't keep doing it. [Wink.] [Pause.] I couldn't really process what being exposed to my dad's porn collection did to me. It messed me up for sure. And through all of this socialisation--seeing the lot for girls and women, and the lot for boys and men, it seemed to me to be a better lot for the guys. I think that given my own non-identification with girly things, and my interest in doing what boys stereotypically liked to do, I began to associate more and more with boys and men. And then came the assault.

Julian: Yikes. How old were you? Was it someone in your family?

Lucien: It was dear ol' dad. I was was eleven. His pornography included pictures and stories about adolescent girls, teenage girls. I read some of them. They were so fucked up but I responded to some of them, just never imagining my father in the role of predator. Mom was thin, and kind of young-looking. But when she got pregnant with what would have been my little sister, he turned to me, who was beginning to get curves but was still slim; I was still a thin girl-child like some of the images that he jerked off to. And I fit into those incest stories that he read.

Julian: I'm sorry. [Pause.] How did you get through that?

Lucien: I dissociated. I became him, kind of. I left my body and moved into his. I denied being abused. I believed I was in charge, which was a helluva lot easier to do while imagining being him. And at the same time I despised him and simultaneously wanted to be him, so I didn't have to be me or my mom.

Julian: I'm glad you survived, however you did it.

Lucien: You're trauma--what was that?

Julian: There were a few incidents of sexual abuse but only one that I consider very traumatic. They all effected me negatively, and in some ways the earlier abuses got me practiced at believing my body didn't belong to me. I was assaulted at twelve by a man not well-known to me, but not a stranger either. I survived it by dissociating and just kind of leaving. I didn't know what he was capable of. When someone turns you into a thing to use--when he did that to me, I didn't know what else he could do. I was terrified and petrified. [Pause.] I didn't think I identified with him at all, until I realised that a relationship with a younger guy I had many years later re-enacted some of the stuff the abuser did to me, except I made sure it was far more consensual. I mean I didn't trap and terrorise the guy; I just asked him if he'd like to do stuff and he seemed to want to.

Lucien: I don't know that we can assume you were behaving like your assaulter. You may have just been behaving the way you learned males get to behave, right? And, do you KNOW if he wanted to be sexual with you, or was that just your assumption?

Julian: Yeah, I guess you're right--I wasn't behaving like the assaulter. Actually I was behaving a lot more like the guy who engaged me sexually when I was eleven and he was about twice my age. That's probably what I was acting out. To answer your question, at the time I thought he wanted to--the acts were discussed and consented to, but given that I later realised I was acting something out, and that I was doing most of the initiating, I did check in with him--this is years later, by the way--like twenty years later. I told him I believe I abused him, and that I figured out that I was acting out, using him, obsessed with him in some fucked up ways, and that I wanted to know if he felt used or abused. I asked him to tell me, as honestly as he could, how he felt about what happened between us.

Lucien: What did he say?

Julian: He said he felt it was abuse, but that I wasn't being abusive.

Lucien: It really kills me how much we have been taught not to blame the abuser. We say we were abused, but we talk about it like it was some magical event that came from no one and did something bad to us. This kills me, because when not even the victim wants to say "Hey you did this to me", then we're just spitting out generations of self-indulged abusive assholes who don't take responsibility for their actions. But I'm curious to know what he said he meant by that?

Julian: He said that while he understands that what happened was abusive to him, he didn't experience me as someone who didn't truly care about him and his feelings. He made a distinction I'm not sure what to do with--that while he knew it was abuse, he didn't feel I was an abuser. I was relieved to hear that, but also really sad--I had abused him. I was his abuser, whether he felt that way or not. I'm in agreement with you--we are a society in which we must not name our abusers as such--and so we contort reality in all kinds of ways--including by blaming our mothers for our fathers' abuses; and to blame women for men who rape. But I kind of got what he was saying or why he was making that distinction; I spent a lot of time talking with him about stuff, all kinds of stuff. He didn't have anyone else to talk to so openly. I'm glad he registered that I genuinely cared about him, because I did. But I also used him in ways that were abusive to his being. He surely didn't need me to be sexual with him. It would have been so much better for him had I kept a boundary there, to be friends and not be sexual, which is, in this case, also to say: sexually exploitive and abusive.

And I know it is typical, or not uncommon, for older males to befriend younger ones with the intention of getting sex from them. So there was that. But I never felt like I would want him to do anything he didn't want to do. Even though I had read some radical feminist stuff, there was this other layer of crap in me--unprocessed, about the assault and the abuse, and I acted it out without really bringing the analysis I had about what men do to women, to bear on what I was doing on him. Until later. A radical lesbian feminist friend at the time was very alarmed and very upset that I had had that "relationship" with the seventeen year old. She was very clear it was abuse. She told me so. And so I ended it. But not with the deepest levels of understanding about what I'd done. Intellectually getting it and emotionally getting it are two different things for me.

Lucien: I get how this stuff happens for kids--how kids are led into scenarios and we have no idea what's in the minds of the perpetrators, who have elaborate shit all planned out. I'm glad your friend called you out and that you stopped. And I'm wondering, does he think about his own willingness to be sexual with you? Did he think he was gay or bi? Is he?

Julian: Well, he was probably bi-curious, but I told him that I think I choreographed that, sort of coaxing his curiosity out of him. I said that given our age difference I had so much more control and power over him, even though I was in love with him and felt powerless in many ways. But in addition to my friend calling my ass out on that, I've since called myself out on that--on the whole "my attraction to someone made me powerless to control myself" bullshit. My attraction made me predatory, to be honest, not at all "powerless". He would have been better of if I'd actually been powerless. He was seventeen and was already sexually active with girls. I was ten years older, 27. So that's a pretty significant age difference, and he was also vulnerable because he had an alcoholic dad who was kind of "not there" emotionally, even if he was there, in a stupor, downstairs.

Lucien: You were involved with him abusively in his own home?!

Julian: Yeah, but not while his parents were home. Only while they were out.

Lucien: I'm glad he could tell you he knows it was abusive.

Julian: Me too. My fear was that he'd feel like he had to take care of me, emotionally. Or that he'd be concerned with making me angry for telling me that. I was really clear from the start of that conversation, though--that I welcomed him sharing any feelings he wanted to, especially feelings of anger or upset or rage.

Lucien: I wish my father admitted what he did.

Julian: That's the whole thing. I wished the guys who had abused me had just been honest with me, later, about what they did and why. That's what I needed from them to move on from parts of it. But none of them were able to be honest. The abuser is still around and, somewhat bizarrely, I still have contact with him. I've tried to approach the subject of the past with him, but he doesn't "go there". The assaulter died before I could confront him. And he was too far gone to admit anything at all. He molested so many kids. He just needed to die.

Lucien: How did he die?

Julian: I don't know. I think he served time in prison, though. Or maybe that's just my fantasy of what happened to him. I know I saw his obituary though, and felt something relax in me. I have a huge critique of the prison industrial complex, of the racism and classism of it, and the misogyny too. And I'm just not sure what else to do about predators of children, or serial rapists. I don't know how kids and women get to feel at all safe with their predators being out and around. It really took the assaulter's death for me to relax, to know, no matter what, I'd never run into him.

Lucien: I'm glad he's dead. I don't know what can be done to make children or women feel safe if we do away with the prison system; we can start by not locking up people for drug offences, and for being Brown and Black, and poor and female. [Pause.] So, to get back to something--you got to experience yourself "being a stereotypical het guy" in the way you preyed on the seventeen year old.

Julian: Yeah, and that was the end of me seeking out sexual contact with younger males. It wasn't the end of objectifying men, including young men, including teenage males, but it was the end of me having sexual-physical contact with them. I began to work really hard on changing my sexual behavior and thoughts. Radical feminist friends were so instrumental with this process. None of the men--gay or het--would have challenged me on the stuff the radical feminist women did. I began to see how objectification and entitlement was really core to the whole problem, and how I had to stop myself from advancing any initial interest in objectifying someone. I had to tell myself, a lot, over and over--"You're not entitled to objectify him." Lots of guys told me it was "natural"--gay guys, I mean. As I said, I got no support from any men to stop objectifying anyone at all. It was only from reading radical feminist stuff, and from my women friends that I eventually "got it", viscerally, emotionally, as well as intellectually, about the harm of all of that to others.

Lucien: How has that effected your sexual life?

Julian: At this point I'm mostly asexual. I've opted out of the whole male supremacist sex thing. It's just bad news for me and it's impossible to know how many men I've made uncomfortable by objectifying them, like at the gym. I quit my gym membership years ago because there was so much overt objectification and some sex in the steam room too. It was like a bad gay porn movie. I realised the whole culture supports this--het male culture and gay male culture. And it is also kind of triggering for me too--being objectified, and being part of that scene where people are mostly things.

Lucien: When did you come out as gay? Or did you?

Julian: Yeah, I did, in my mid-twenties. I was never het-identified. Ever. And by the time I hit my mid-twenties, I'd already been exposed to lots of radical feminist writings and they were incredibly helpful to me, because the authors wrote in depth about sexual trauma, abuse, sexual identity, and how all of that is socially constructed and maintained. So coming out as gay was mostly a political choice to allign with lesbians and gay men, even though I still didn't feel like a man. Even though I was acting like one, sexually, with that seventeen year old. Believe me, he didn't register me as any androgyne or intersex person. He knew it was a male adult with him, approaching him, spending all kinds of time with him. That's the thing that annoys me about male people denying their male privileges. We try and get away with defining ourselves based on our own internal subjective experience, but anyone who is male or white also has to own or be responsible for how we are experienced by others. So that's one major point of contention I have with the privileging of the subjective-sense-of-self that is part of so much of queer political identities.

Lucien: Are you saying we're not who we think we are?

Julian: I'm saying part of who we are is who we experience ourselves to be; and part of who we are is how others experience us--whether or not that "fits" with our own identity or not. That's, to me, a radical feminist insight, not a male or white supremacist one. I am, partly, how others experience me, which is why I won't ask anyone to change the pronouns they use for me--if they experience me as male, they should call me "he" because that's what we've got in English. I don't call myself a man, but I am always clear with folks when I have this conversation--about privileges and such: if I'm following a woman on a street at night, she's not going to register me, in her body, especially if she's a survivor of sexual assault or abuse, as "an androgyne" or as "intersex", so whatever I FEEL like, or what is true in my mind, isn't the only reality. And to privilege my subjective sense of self over hers, is male supremacist, in my view. This is a key point of tension, getting back to the earlier part of this conversation--males or people who have had male privileges, and who still have them, not owning how they are acted out or experienced by cisgender women. And calling any cisgender woman "transphobic" for naming them as male supremacist is truly anti-feminist and misogynistic, to me. Women naming male supremacy isn't "transphobic" if the person is exhibiting male supremacist behavior or if they are acting on male supremacist entitlements and privileges. And, if males or people with male privileges are socialised to not own them, to not be responsible with and for them, and especially if a person with them doesn't even identify as male, or as a man, well... you can see how there's gonna be conflict if a cisgender woman names a trans person's male supremacist CRAP as such.

Lucien: I can see how this gets us into the thick of some of the controversies between some radlesfems and some trans folks.

Julian: The whole liberal, individualistic politics of the Third Wave, and of Queer politics generally, is that "what I feel" matters most of all--but only when the "I" is male or was male. Isn't that also the politics of perpetration? I only raped someone or abused them if I feel like I did? That politic or ethic wears thin pretty fast. And it can be VERY triggering for survivors of sexual abuse if the perps were boys or men, which in most cases they are. For anyone who was ever male, who was ever a boy, who was ever a man, whether or not they experienced themselves subjectively that way, to claim "they're not holding male privilege" is to rob other people--cisgender women, trans women, and anyone else--of their own subjectivity, of their own reality of that person. Getting back to the somewhat hypothetical woman on the street, in front of me. When that has happened, I've made a practice of always crossing the street and not coming up behind a woman, because I know how triggering it can be, and how unsafe it can feel, to have a male person approach you suddenly from behind. And my subjective sense of self isn't the point at that social-political moment; her subjective experience is the point; it trumps my "rights", in my profeminist view. I get how if a male doesn't give a shit about her--which many men choose not to do--that the guys'll argue all kinds of male supremacist bullshit like "It's a free world!" And "Why should I have to cross the street for her?!" And my answer to them is, "You don't, asshole! That's the fucking point. You don't have to care about her at all and you arguing for not caring about how she's feeling only proves to me what a male supremacist dick you are invested in being!"

Lucien: So what about transsexual women who were raised to be boys, and who may have been men at some point, denying male privileges if they've gone through sex re-assignment surgery?

Julian: I'd say if a cis woman, or anyone else, really, experiences someone as behaving like a men, as having male privilege, then that has to matter as much as the trans woman's own subjective feelings. The feelings and experiences of cis women should never be discounted, or made irrelevant, or be shamed out of cis women, in my view--particularly by calling a cis woman "transphobic" for calling out someone's patriarchal privileges. I don't privilege trans women's experience over non-trans women's experience. But I don't discount trans experience either and render it invisible, or shame it, or shame trans people. Where do you stand on this stuff, Lucien?

Lucien: Well, obviously I've gotten to experience the world in a variety of ways. I did kind of get away with being perceived and treated as a guy after I had top surgery and had been on hormones for a few months. It took a while. I moved to a new place after being on T for months. My face changed; my body changed; my demeanor changed. I'd learned from my prick of a father how to be "a man!" And I practiced being "a man" a lot. I wanted distance from the victimy-girl self. I wanted to experience myself as powerful and not as "rape-material". But here's the thing--very few post-op transsexuals get that experience. Most post-op trans folks are targeted for rape or harassment by cis het men. And I felt vulnerable to that targeting while I was transitioning. There was a point where it felt like, "okay, now I can walk around and have most people not question what gender I am, or wonder if I'm 'something else'."

Julian: But, just like with me, one can be targeted for abuse and still be abusive.

Lucien: Yeah. I saw some of that. Some F2M folks I know did become more predatory after transitioning, because they felt that was a more effective way to get by as a "real man"--without radical feminism, I just don't see much hope for rooting out male supremacist behaviors, socially. Some of the transmen really overcompensated and became like goddamned frat boys. I called out some transmen on that shit. They got it, but I don't really know how much they changed their behavior because I began to hang out mostly with pro-feminist guys and feminist women, trans and not. To live in this world without any feminist analysis of patriarchal behavior inevitably means you're either going to behave in male-oppressive ways, or be victimised or targeted for abuse. Queer community has so much abuse in it, and not just from childhood. I mean obviously het culture is literally the breeding ground for all of this--most of us learn predation and perpetration from het men, after all. But radical feminist analysis and theory, however transphobic some of it may be, needs to be learned and practiced.

Julian: What was your own experience of being a transman, and how did cis women respond differently to you, if they hadn't known you prior to transitioning--or even if they had?

Lucien: The responses and reactions were all over the place, really. Even within my own family the reactions were all over the place. My father--you can imagine--was pissed. I once joked with him in a not ha-ha way, straight to his goddamned face, post-op, "So I guess now YOU better watch out while you're sleeping, huh?"

Julian: Holy shit. You did that?!

Lucien: Hell yes I did!

Julian: That's so awesome. What did he say... or do?

Lucien: He gave me a look I'll never forget. It was the only time I saw a combination of rage and self-contempt in his eyes. It was so strange. It's like the fucking perp met the human my father once was before he became such a predator. He actually kind of accepted me then, and started calling me "he" and shit.

Julian: Why do you think that is?

Lucien: Because he knew power had shifted between us, I think. He knew I'd never be his little girl, for him to molest, to incest, to rape, again. Ever.

Julian: So what about now? Now that you've sort of transitioned back?

Lucien: That's it's own story. But the bottom line is that I won't be with him alone, and try not to be with him at all. Because I realised that if it took me "becoming a man" in his eyes for him to accept me as someone who shouldn't be violated, as someone who should be respected as human, then he wasn't worth my time or energy. And my mom will never have the opportunity to be seen that way by him. Nor will any of the girls and women in his fucking porn collection. So fuck him. He's basically out of my life.

Julian: Makes sense to me. Wow. [Pause.] Hey, Lucien, can I fix us some dinner or something?

Lucien: Sure thing. I gotta eat or I'm gonna start having metabolism problems. Hormones really messed me up in some ways.

Julian: I'll get to cooking. Let's continue this soon, though, okay?

Lucien: Sure thing. Just not any more tonight.

Julian. Definitely. Let's watch some non-dramatic movie after dinner.

Lucien: You got it.

[End of Part 1] [For Part 2, please see *here*]

5 comments:

Cerien said...

Good discussion. You need to do more interviews, Julian. They're always valuable.

Exactly. Exactly. Transfolk are not my enemies anymore than animals, or Hispanics, or any other oppressed group is.

I've observed this feeling of tension between radical feminists and transfolk as if they're competing with one another. It's not a new concept (competition between social justice causes); it was played out between the Black rights/women's rights movements, the animal rights/immigrant rights movements, etc. Still disturbing. The paucity of airtime given to anyone without lots and lots of money doesn't help.

I don't tell people of color whose lives and ways of being have been directly threatened by whites for hundreds of years how to talk about or feel about whites.

Fuck yes!

I don't tell radfems how to feel about transfolk because they've generally been shut up and shut out whenever they want to think about, discuss, or even to stay away from them. I wouldn't presume to judge rescued farm animals for not trusting humans. And, to echo you - I don't understand how attacking radical feminists for their distrust of, or even prejudice against, transsexuals is going to get transsexuals any kind of progress. You're delusional if you think radfems are controlling the world.

Radical feminists rank way, way, way down on the scale of "strategic value."

Lucien: It really kills me how much we have been taught not to blame the abuser. We say we were abused, but we talk about it like it was some magical event that came from no one and did something bad to us.

Part of this is definitely that the abuser won't allow it. It's damn near taboo for someone to cut ties with their abuser, and you just can't go around saying, "This person abused me" unless you want them to come back to you and maybe really fuck you up.

Abusers don't take well to being identified as abusers which, you know, makes sense in a sick way. One of the best ways I know to figure out if someone is an abuser is to suggest something to them. If their immediate reaction is over-the-top outrage - i.e. How dare you, I would never hit so-and-so, I do not abuse my [victim] - they're abusive as hell. So basically, if the person reacts in a way that makes you feel threatened, not necessarily physically, they are abusive.

Julian: so whatever I FEEL like, or what is true in my mind, isn't the only reality.

That's an excellent point. The socioeconomically advantaged use that belief, that the rest of reality lines up with their own experience, to oppress and dismiss those who are hurt by the same system that they've benefited from.

Lucien: Some of the transmen really overcompensated and became like goddamned frat boys. I called out some transmen on that shit.

My roommate, who passed full-time as a street kid and was very active in the bar scene, confirms this. A lot of transmen do become hyperaggressive, which is also a big threat to their safety. The transmen also took being "called out" much, much better than the MTFs, or so I'm told.

Cerien said...

Good discussion. You need to do more interviews, Julian. They're always valuable.

Exactly. Exactly. Transfolk are not my enemies anymore than animals, or Hispanics, or any other oppressed group is.

I've observed this feeling of tension between radical feminists and transfolk as if they're competing with one another. It's not a new concept (competition between social justice causes); it was played out between the Black rights/women's rights movements, the animal rights/immigrant rights movements, etc. Still disturbing. The paucity of airtime given to anyone without lots and lots of money doesn't help.

I don't tell people of color whose lives and ways of being have been directly threatened by whites for hundreds of years how to talk about or feel about whites.

Fuck yes!

I don't tell radfems how to feel about transfolk because they've generally been shut up and shut out whenever they want to think about, discuss, or even to stay away from them. I wouldn't presume to judge rescued farm animals for not trusting humans. And, to echo you - I don't understand how attacking radical feminists for their distrust of, or even prejudice against, transsexuals is going to get transsexuals any kind of progress. You're delusional if you think radfems are controlling the world.

Radical feminists rank way, way, way down on the scale of "strategic value."

Lucien: It really kills me how much we have been taught not to blame the abuser. We say we were abused, but we talk about it like it was some magical event that came from no one and did something bad to us.

Part of this is definitely that the abuser won't allow it. It's damn near taboo for someone to cut ties with their abuser, and you just can't go around saying, "This person abused me" unless you want them to come back to you and maybe really fuck you up.

Abusers don't take well to being identified as abusers which, you know, makes sense in a sick way. One of the best ways I know to figure out if someone is an abuser is to suggest something to them. If their immediate reaction is over-the-top outrage - i.e. How dare you, I would never hit so-and-so, I do not abuse my [victim] - they're abusive as hell. So basically, if the person reacts in a way that makes you feel threatened, not necessarily physically, they are abusive.

Julian: so whatever I FEEL like, or what is true in my mind, isn't the only reality.

That's an excellent point. The socioeconomically advantaged use that belief, that the rest of reality lines up with their own experience, to oppress and dismiss those who are hurt by the same system that they've benefited from.

Lucien: Some of the transmen really overcompensated and became like goddamned frat boys. I called out some transmen on that shit.

My roommate, who passed full-time as a street kid and was very active in the bar scene, confirms this. A lot of transmen do become hyperaggressive, which is also a big threat to their safety. The transmen also took being "called out" much, much better than the MTFs, or so I'm told.

Eagerly awaiting the second installment.

[Pardon the double post; I don't know if the first went through.]

Julian Real said...

Thanks for your comment, Cerien!

I suspect that the "strategic value" as you express, to people putting down radical lesbian feminism, and to an individual distancing oneself from radical feminism generally, is to be more publicly aligned with pro-patriarchal values and practices, and male supremacist individuals and groups. It is to show how misogyny and anti-feminism aren't taboo in any offline social circle. And a dozen or two radical feminist blogs don't count as an offline "social circle".

There are very few spaces where radical feminism gets respect and regard. The radical feminist blogosphere is the only [cyber]space out there that is reasonably and relatively protected from gross written assaults and threats that are anti-radical lesbian feminist. Or, I should say, from those assaults and threats being published on-site. Most radical feminists I know have had their lives threatened online at least, if not also offline.

And the herstorically inaccurate assumption perception that radical lesbian feminism is white-only, and therefore it's just fine for het, gay, and transmen of color, along with het, gay, and trans white men to disregard and disrespect it, wears thin really quickly, imo.

Evoking Audre Lorde as a s/hero and then seeking to ignore everything she said and wrote about [bd]sm, pornography, eroticism, sexual exploitation and abuse, and about misogyny, including racist-misogyny, including anti-lesbian misogyny, including anti-feminist misogyny, is about as respectful to her memory and responsibly engaged with her work as invoking the memory and efforts of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as being a leader who ought to be most accurately remembered and honored for promoting children across color holding hands.

Radical lesbian feminists, have as a decades-old group across class, region, age, and race, stood firmly against the politics of transgression, liberalism, white conservatism, and rugged individualism; against sexual exploitation and economic injustice; against all forms of rape and rapist mentalities and institutions; against whites' and males' subjectivity and subjective "Truths" ruling the land; against the misogyny in the medical establishment, media, and in Academia; against the public and private use of misogyny to promote anti-feminism; against the individual and social use of anti-feminism to promote misogyny; against genocide, gynocide, and ecocide.

To put the decidedly unnarrow Radical Lesbian Feminism project and effort down in bigoted, grossly and often willfully misrepresentational ways, as one thing only (such as "anti-gay male", "transphobic" or "man-hating"; or "prudish" or "Right-wing"; or "racist" or "classist") is to practice the tactics of racist heteropatriarchal oppression, to explicitly use the Master's tools, albeit often from a very marginalised position structurally, and rarely in an effort to work towards our collective liberation from CRAP.

twentyfourhourtruce said...

This discussion was very interesting and painfully honest.

And to privilege my subjective sense of self over hers, is male supremacist, in my view.

Nicely stated, Julian.

It really kills me how much we have been taught not to blame the abuser.

And nowadays there's such an emphasis on forgiveness, it enrages me.

Very interesting article here about radical feminist and queer (in the academic sense) approaches to gender:

Talking about Gender

Julian Real said...

Welcome, twentyfourhourtruce,

I LOVE your screenname, and the reference.

Thanks so much for your comment and for providing the link. I'm glad it's attached to this blog post. :)