Saturday, January 29, 2011

Questioning Science at Questioning Transphobia: an engaging discussion

image is from here

[6 Feb. 2011 NOTE: I misunderstood who the author is of the post linked to below. Apologies both to Lisa and the actual author, Quinnae Moongazer. I've made the corrections in my response as it now appears below.]

At Questioning Transphobia, there is a very thoughtful post which I've responded to. My comment is so damned long, however, that I'm not sure it will even be accepted by the system that accepts comments for submission. (I know some commenters here are very frustrated with Blogger for not being able to easily submit comments, especially lengthy ones. As am I.)

Below is a link to that post. I recommend reading it and the twenty or so comments following it. You may get there by clicking on the title of the post just below. As I don't copy and paste it here, all that follows is the link to it and my response. I have typo corrected and otherwise revised my response since submitting it to the discussion at the Questioning Transphobia blog.

Raiders of the Lost Etiology


Hi Quinnae. Thanks for this post! I have responses to you and a few commenters above as well. This make be a multi-post comment.

I'll first out myself as white, class-privileged, gay, male, Western, Jewish, intergender, and disabled. I'll also state general agreement and support for your post, an the comment of GallingGalla.

Some of what I am reading above is deeply troubling to me, however. I find it problematic, racist, and overly steeped in unquestioned Western argumentation.

I'll begin with this passage from Em:
I do believe however that there is a blindingly obvious form of absolute biological proof of trans people though – and that is the existence of trans people, all over the world, and in all different cultures, with all different tones of skin colour, socioeconomic brackets, religions and speaking all sorts of different languages (these things have all been proposed by people opposed to biological proof of gay, ADHD, Dyslexia, trans, etc.)

As Quinnae notes above, there are plenty of scientists always at the ready to naturalise, biologise, or "evolutionise" things like global warming, white supremacy, male supremacy, and heterosexism, and the existence of "gender". Trans experience isn't global, Em. It doesn't show up in all societies. To say this is to be grossly racist, to me.

Male supremacy is global while not universal, as is white supremacist racism, as are the environmental and economic effects of corporate capitalism. This observation ought not be made into an argument that such phenomena are natural, biological, or inevitable, imo.

To make this claim--that being trans is biological-not-social--is to practice a kind of Anglo-English-Western imperialism of language overlaid onto other cultures--typical of Westerners and whites, in my experience. We view "gender"--our contemporary very historically, culturally, and regionally specific forms of it--as "universal" because we only see what we want to see.

Many cisgender people do this and now some transgender people do this, and in neither case is it unoppressive or respectful of the incredible diversity of Indigenous (and non-Indigenous) social experience, worldview, and values.

Two-Spirited being is not, as I understand it from Two-Spirit people, reducible or appropriately translated to being  "trans"; not is it ("it" being "not one thing") an expression of "genderedness" alone; nor is it a form of "bisexuality".

That Two-Spirited Being is considered by non-Indigenous peoples and specifically Western whites to be all of those, or some of those, only means white Westerners cannot conceive of gender and sex in ways that we don't regard as existent.

Being Two-Spirited and the ways that "Gender" and "Sexuality" express themselves--as whites define and defend those terms, as well as Two-Spirited reasons for being, are quite diverse, not universal, and don't break down into being "cis" and "trans", "het" and "not het", or "man" and "woman". The whole worldview into which Two-Spirited being exists is outside the dominant paradigms of white het male supremacist civilisation.

Some cultures and societies--and whole vast civilisations that still exist and have been around for tens of thousands of years--haven't had or don't have any understanding of "gender" the way English-speaking Westerners do. Even in Sweden, "Gender" is generally an academic concept more than a social reality. So being "transgender" as opposed to "transsexual"--a distinction made in our community, is not even possible in many parts of the world.

As many trans people have expressed to me and elsewhere: "I don't know what I would be or what I'd consider myself to be if I didn't grow up where and when I did. I don't know how I'd understand my feelings and experiences, or what conclusions I'd come to about their cause and remedy."

Being "trans" is a culturally relative experience, which in no way makes it illegitimate or deserving of hatred, discrimination, or violence. It is as legitimate as being Black. And being "Black" is not a biological condition. It is a cultural and political one.

Using "biology" as a means of achieving "realness" is, as Quinnae says, typically eugenic approach to solidifying identity and appeasing anxieties. As a Jew, who has noted our passing through another International [Nazi] Holocaust Remembrance Day, I strongly oppose all attempts to "legitimise" ourselves using the Western scientific method.

And as someone who is pro-Indigenist and anti-racist, I morally object to irresponsibly or sloppily applying our terms onto other people and societies we know little to nothing about.

Does this seem to be a reasonable objection and political position, Em?

Proving through science that ADHD and depression is "real"--as in measurable through blood tests and brain scans and treatable by psychopharmacology; or that autism is "diagnosable" early in life; or that "sexual orientation" can be detected in utero, fails (miserably and dangerously) to produce any explanations for the values embedded in the Western scientific project, which, from the start and through to this day are gynocidal and genocidal. Any "orientation" is, it seems to me, necessarily social, relative, and anti-biological, as that term "biological" is tossed about. This applies to sex, gender, ethnicity, culture, class, and race. Cardiovascular disease, many cancers, and diabetes are "real" and are medically diagnosable. They are also, very clearly, consequences and conditions of living in dominant Western civilisation or other societies profoundly effected by it. We can trace the emergence of these illnesses and diseases to the emergence of the influence of the dominant civilisation that produces them. So, in this sense: is diabetes *primarily* a biological condition, or a cultural and social one?

For much more on the unowned and hypocritical racist values in white Western science and philosophy, please read the relevant chapters of Yurugu by Dr. Marimba Ani. See also the collected work of Dr. Vandana Shiva for the dangers of not keeping in check one's own worldviews and assumptions about human and social nature.

Quinnae wrote:
Everyone’s gender is constructed, no one is born a man or a woman.

This statement, when made--word for word--by cisgender radical lesbian feminists, is called "grossly transphobic", "bigoted", and "oppressive". Does that mean it is, intrinsically? I'd say it is a well-reasoned/intuited/felt observation about ourselves in patriarchal society.

Meanwhile, ALL the trans people I know offline make no claims whatsoever about trans experience being asocial or ahistorical. We accept that it is what it is in the era and region it shows up in. Our understandings of it are shaped by our concepts--which are highly relative--by our worldviews, by our assumptions about what 'biology' is, by what 'nature' is, etc.

Keep in mind, Em, that to Western scientists, "chi" energy or life-force is non-existent. It is not scientifically measurable. So, then, does it exist? Even Western medicines like homeopathy have no explanation or "proven validity" in the U.S. medical world. Does that mean homeopathy is ineffective in ending ear infections in infants and young children?

Lisa wrote:
Where are the studies that inquire why cis people are cis?

There are many hundreds of years of very pro-patriarchal Western "scientific" studies and philosophical positions arguing everything from the fact that there is only one sex: male (and that females are 'inverted' males)--see "Making Sex" by Thomas Laqueur. There are thousands of studies demonstrating that there are only two sexes: male and female, with males being naturally dominant and superior and making an argument for surgical interventions against the bodies of intersex babies, children, and adolescents.

Those of us who are intersex question how even terming ourselves "intersex" reinforces the scientific argument for surgical interventions. I fully accept that some of us are intersex. But those of us who are intersex (and intergender, transsexual, and transgender) are named this within a context of a sex-gender hierarchy posing dangerously as an apolitical binary.

How dominant society understands, names, and "treats" intersex people's bodies is profoundly social and political. So it is with transsexual people. And everyone else too.

There are scientists who have been making the case, for a very long time, that men's rape of women is inevitable. Some allegedly moral religious "scholars" and leaders note that manhood and maleness are more divine than womanhood and femaleness.

Most scientific studies try and make a case for white het male supremacy being existent naturally; such studies make claims of being entirely objective and without political bias.

Scientific arguments are put forth that heterosexuality is natural and biological, as well as G-d-approved. They have cropped up especially since various forms of Lesbian and Gay Liberation movements have come on the scene.

Why do we wish to grasp so tightly to The Master's Tools? This is answered, in part, by what aaskew is addressing above.

But clinging to science for personal self-validation, esteem, is accomplished--if in fact it is accomplished--undermines social justice movements for liberation from the tyranny of social hierarchies posing as biological binaries. It is a bit like believing in homo/hetero-sexuality being "natural": we utterly dismiss and invisibilise all of the women who have chosen to be lesbian when we try and make the case for a "gay gene". We do this generally in ways that deny and invisibilise patriarchy as a force constructing and policing our identities.

And, you have to dismiss a whole lot of social/cultural/historical experience to arrive at such a conclusion (that "sex" or "gender" is primarily or only natural).

We reinforce very dangerous premises to feel this temporary peace-of-mind that would best be arrived at on a collective level through other, more political and communal means.

Those tools are harming whole groups of people, even while they may serve the most privileged among the marginalised. Are we to be accountable to those of us who are harmed and destroyed by these "studies" and this "science", or aren't we?

Shall only the most privileged among those of us who are genderqueer get to decide to what extent appropriating the dominant discources and scientific studies is harmful and destructive? Ought not those Two-Spirit and other Indigenous People worldwide get to weigh in? How about poor queer people of color in the Global East and South?

I am concerned that the lens is narrowed down, above, to assume that whites and Westerners know much about anything at all. I think we know very little that is of value, actually. Ours is an anti-sustainable, death-worshipping, rape-glorifying, genocide-celebrating civilisation, after all.

Are our dominant society's tools to be accepted to allow a few of us feel better, when it means the political philosophies and arguments underlying gynocide, genocide, and ecocide must be bolstered? What is the primary moral principle in that strategy for achieving "wholeness"? Whose "wholeness" gets privileged here? The Earth's? Indigenous People's? Cisgender women and girls? Or a few class-, education-, region-, and race-privileged trans people?

I am calling out to the commenters, here and elsewhere across the blogosphere, for a more responsible trans-affirming ethic and political practice.

2 comments:

Lisa Harney said...

I'm still digesting your post, but:

Just for clarity, my co-blogger Quinnae Moongazer wrote the post.

I have some more specific responses percolating, but one that stood out:

The thing about gender being a social construct is not itself grossly transphobic (although I do not fully agree with it). It is the conclusion that "because gender is a social construct, then trans people are all fakers, and I will instead create my own insulting theories about why trans people transition" that makes this argument transphobic.

Thanks for the long post - generally, long comments are welcome at QT, although I appreciate paragraph breaks (but you have those in spades).

Julian Real said...

Hi Lisa,

Apologies both to you and to Quinnae Moongazer. I am not familiar with that format of having the author's name in tiny print at the end, rather than at the beginning of a post. My bad. But I'll make a note at the top of the post, correcting that error.

Anyway, I truly hope that some trans people who may be feminist or at least aren't anti-feminist and some non-trans pro-radical feminist people can actually have a co-respectful conversation here. I'll note that in my own experience the two groups are not mutually exclusive.