Saturday, February 12, 2011

Toward An Ethic and Practice of Responsible Trans Identities and Radical Trans Politics. Featuring Dean Spade on Vimeo

Dean Spade: Trickle-Up Social Justice from BCRW Videos on Vimeo.

A lot of us who are trans are feeling and being silenced in trans community and beyond it for our views about what it means to be trans and for proposing political agendas that aren't centered on promoting the rights only of the most privileged members of our communities.

Some trans people are not allowed to have a voice online or offline (well, unless we have our own blogs or forums); or when we speak our voices are silenced or conversation is shut down immediately; or when our voices are not silenced they are simply written off as "transphobic" as if we aren't trans and don't know when we're promoting responsible and ethical behavior in our own community. The charge that too many of the most vocal trans voices and perspectives (which are not necessarily representative of trans people generally) are misogynistic and antifeminist seems to have about as much clout and impact as when feminists tell men they are being sexist.

See, for more:

I'd argue there's a lot of transphobia, racism, and misogyny in the voices and positions promoted by our most elite and privileged trans spokespeople. Far too many trans people who do have a voice online are afraid to call out the privilege and the bigotry for fear of being rejected by the community as transphobes, or whatever other terms are useful in silencing people with radical points of view. What that means, of course, is that those people who are most negatively effected and oppressed by such views--namely, trans people of color across gender, and women across race--are put, yet again, in the position to speak up against this institutionalised oppressive bigotry. The burden for speaking out will usually fall to those who are most harmed and whose energy is often needed to survive day to day, finding ways and means for such survival.

I'd argue one appropriate use of privilege is to speak out in support of and in alliance with the most marginalised, oppressed people in any given community. White conservative to liberal class-privileged, education-privileged, profession-privileged, region-privileged M2F and F2M trans spokespeople are not in any alliance with any radical activists, feminist or otherwise. Nor do they appear to believe in being fully accountable to radical feminists. They appear to hold great disdain for radical feminists, in fact. in this contempt, they are very much like patriarchal men with a glaring exemption: patriarchal het men will beat the shit out of any visibly trans or queer person, and any woman, if they have the opportunity to do so and the reasonable assurance they won't be arrested for it.

I ought not have to warn you to sit down before reading what comes next: het communities, queer communities, and trans communities are usually and generally very racist, misogynistic places. They are not more or less racist and misogynistic than any other community. They also tend to be very conservative to liberal places, politically. Not more or less conservative or liberal than any other places, with the possible exception of places that pride themselves on being ultra-conservative, such as militantly conservative and extremist, terroristic, and fascistic corporate Christian communities.

For the purposes of this post's clarity, and to save my fingers from typing terms like "women raised as girls", I'm going to use the spellings "womyn" and "wimmin" to refer to radical women of color, lesbian women of color, and radical feminist women of any color who are not transgender or transsexual. (Womyn is singular. Wimmin is plural.) These terms are used here also to mean "politically aware women", "women who are conscious of patriarchy and white supremacy as forces of misogynist destruction and oppression"; and women who are not trans. For examples of this usage, please see here (and see the film too, if you haven't yet!! It's awesome):


On this blog, I generally use the term "trans" to mean either someone who is transsexual, transgender, or intergender, and also for anyone who does not identify as a man or as a woman. It ought not be assumed that when I use the term trans it means only the following: F2M post-op transsexuals; M2F post-op transsexuals; or F2M and M2F-identified people. It should go without say, but does not go without saying it over and over again, that most trans people are none of the above. Most of us are not "post-op" for one thing. Most of us are non-op and regardless of what our wishes are for surgeries, and what our values are regarding the medical industrial complex, we do not have access to that particularly racist, misogynistic, and anti-trans institution's practices. An institution which promotes "us" as only M2F and F2M is oppressive to us. A corporate media empire that does the same is also deeply oppressive to us.

Some conservative to liberal trans people and their supporters have tried to make a case that I do not believe trans people are oppressed at all, or that we are not discriminated against. I think we are, but not in the ways spoken of by the most elite and privileged spokespeople in our community. I think, as I've noted elsewhere on this blog, that many trans people are oppressed for the same reasons wimmin are oppressed: because they are not men, and because womanhood is socially despised and denigrated, and also assaulted and dominated by men. As Cerien has made clear in an upcoming post, "cisgender" is a very problematic (erroneous, unethical, and oppressive) term, as it assumes most trans people are identifiable as such, and have chosen to have surgery. Again, most of us have not.

I'll focus on four trans people I know of, for the moment. These people are not all white, are not predominantly middle class or wealthier, and are not F2M or M2F post-op transsexuals. We are, however, all of us, transgender/intergender. We support radical social change, not organised around the viewpoints and perspectives of the most privileged people in any community. We are activists. We do not support conservative and liberal agendas for making room in racist, capitalist patriarchies for "us". We support the dismantling and radical transformation of all institutions and industries that harm people globally, not just "us". We do this with careful attention to the needs of our people. We do this without promoting bigotry against our people. And, we recognise that most of "our people" are completely indistinguishable from "non-trans people".

Most trans people are visually and otherwise indistinguishable from non-trans people. What that means for a term like "cisgender" is that most trans people ARE cisgender. And many "cisgender" people do not have "cisgender privileges". Just ask genderqueer people, butch women, femme men, and many other people who are assumed to be "doing it wrong" when it comes to "being a gendered person".

This is one white elephant in our room that once named, seems to cause the most conservative and liberal trans spokespeople to start running away or verbally throwing stones at those who name it. Speaking now for myself, but with awareness that I am far from alone, I do not support transsexual M2F people publicly and politically identifying as women-with-rights-and-privileges that wimmin don't have. For anyone out there quoting me, make sure you get that sentence exactly right. Because you're likely to assume it is saying a lot that it isn't. If you're not sure what it is and isn't saying, please ask.

As for F2M people, I encourage that population to be fully accountable to all radical wimmin, including, especially, radical lesbian feminist wimmin. That most non-trans men will not accept you doesn't mean that you have a right to expect wimmin to do so.

The call for "acceptance" and "inclusion" and "accommodation" by trans people ought not be aimed disproportionately at wimmin, or be directed at wimmin at all; to place this expectation and demand on wimmin is to practice a very conservative form of patriarchal politics and ethics.

In trans community, offline and online, in the West, I've seen little to no recognition of patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy as forces used to destroy women. I've seen little to no recognition of these ideologies-in-practice, in society, posing as "what society naturally is". One exceptional person well worth noting: Dean Space, whose excellent radical analysis is available to be both seen and heard on Vimeo, *here*

Something missing in trans community, as far as I can tell, is an open discussion about our responsibilities to wimmin. Yes, to wimmin. Because our oppression, like gay men's, like lesbian wimmin's, like many people of color across gender, is rooted in patriarchal misogyny. That's not the only root, but it is surely one of the thicker ones. And to advocate for it, acquiesce to it, or pretend it isn't a problem for us, is just plain unethical, wrong, and dangerous.

I'd like to put forth the position that "women" are not an oppressor class vis a vis trans people. Men are. And those few trans activists, mostly M2F people with male privileges--not at all representative of trans community, not *at all* representative of pro-feminist trans activists (see Dean Spade on Vimeo), or, well, my blog--are not speaking for me or any trans people I know, ALL of whom are feminist/profeminist and not insistent or demanding that trans people should ***have the right of access*** to womyn/wimmin-only spaces.

I am calling out the classist, racist, and very patriarchal male privileges of some M2F trans people thinking that those very few privileged trans people's views should trump, be statused and esteemed, above wimmin's views and experiences of womanhood AND trans politics. If wimmin find our political projects to be misogynistic, we owe it to wimmin to listen carefully and respectfully, not jump to some conclusion that their very objection makes them transphobic. This is what is currently done, generally, and it is anti-trans and anti-womyn both. It means we create a very privileged wall around ourselves wherein we decide what Truth is, we decide what is misogyny, we decide what is transphobia, as if we don't, each of us, struggle with all those things quite often, if not all the time. How it is we think a few very privileged people would be the wisest among us to name what is oppressive in our community is a feat of mental magic that is as remarkable as it is disturbing.

A topic for us to discuss is "responsible identity in trans community". I think there are a lot of us who choose, basically, to identify as "transgender" or "intergender" and who leave it at that, never claiming "to be a man" or "to be a woman". That's what Dean Spade does; born female-assigned-at-birth, he presents as trans, dressing in more stereotypically "men's" clothes, for comfort--emotional and otherwise. I find that a far more ethically pro-womyn and pro-feminist position than simply reinforcing the binary/hierarchy with notions that people can ONLY be one or the other, and so, then, it would follow that ALL trans people ARE one or the other. Many trans people I know (for political reasons or for other reasons) reject that imperative from the elitist spokespeople who grapped the mic and won't let us speak about our own experiences and ways of understanding ourselves.

This politic of promoting the existence of only men or women, fitting trans people into one or the other group, is utterly oppressive to intersex people and intergender people. Also oppressive to intersex people is a politic that promotes surgery and body modification as a solution to our structural problems. Eradicating the gender binary/hierarchy ought to be our aim; not simply fitting ourselves into an oppressive gender regime. I accept that almost all people, het or not, queer or not, trans or not, intersex or not, will necessarily accommodate the dominant system in some ways. We have few options for rejecting those values and demands entirely. But that form of survival-accommodation need not comprise the core of our political will and movement.

Trans experience is very diverse. On this blog I have called out some women and men for promoting ideas that being "trans" means being M2F post-op and misogynistic, for example.  But given who controls the stage of trans discourse, who handles the mic, it is no wonder that so many wimmin do come to the conclusion that "trans" means only that. It is also many wimmin's experience that some trans people--the ones identifiable as such--are misogynists and anti-feminist. As are, of course, most people generally. I don't assume that trans people will be or even should be less misogynistic than, say, people who aren't trans. I would like to think that gay and lesbian people are less homophobic and lesbophobic that het people, but that's not an assumption that tends to match up well with reality. So it goes for trans folks. And anyone else who is socially despised or grossly misunderstood.

This is all partly to say that, yes, of course trans people, when socially identifiable as such, are discriminated against and oppressed. But the question is this: what are we oppressed FOR and AS? We are oppressed FOR not being enough of what white het male supremacist people and their values and institutions tell us we should be, and we are discriminated against if and when we appear to be trans, gay, lesbian, or, often enough, too feminine or a womyn. We're not discriminated against or oppressed for other reasons, AS trans people, if we're identifiable socially as trans people. And, another point I've made on this blog is that most trans people who ARE visibly trans, are not read as "trans" as much as we're read as genderqueer or as women, or as men who are trying to pretend to be women. Gay men in drag are beaten not for being gay, exactly, but for being men who are appearing to be a woman. The beating and harassment is directed at men who appear to value looking like what stereotypical "women" look like. Most men's drag (whether the men are het, bi, or gay) is about as accurate a depiction of what wimmin look like a white minstrel show performers' depictions and impersonations of Black people. Drag is a profoundly racist, classist, misogynistic practice.  But don't tell that to gay men who value it or you'll be called homophobic. Never mind that it's grossly racist and misogynistic. White boys will do what white boys want to do, whatever age they are.

So it goes with the white, elitist, privileged, academic pseudo-spokespeople for the trans community. They not only don't give a shit about supporting radical feminism, lesbian feminism, or any other progressive to radical social change movements and practices. They actively oppose feminism, anti-racism, and anti-capitalist efforts and campaigns. They are socially conservative, appearing at times to be liberal. This only demonstrates that the line between patriarchal white conservatism and patriarchal white liberalism is far thinner than either group wants to admit.

Being trans doesn't usually mean we dress in any kind of non-traditional drag. It doesn't usually mean we seek out hormones or surgery. It doesn't have to mean we support the gender hierarchy posing as a binary. It ought not mean we support CRAP. And I welcome effective organisation of our voices of radical dissent, into books, into videos, and into the dominant media and medical establishment, if possible. It's well past time to take the mic out of the hands of the most conservative and liberal members of our community; they do not speak for all of us. And their virulent misogyny and anti-feminism needs to be called out, not from the audience but from the stage.

No comments: