Friday, December 3, 2010

Sara and Julian Discuss Trans/Feminist Issues, part 4: The Gender Binary, Medicine, Media, Capitalism, and other CRAP

image of three actors from Modern Family is from here
JR wrote:
"So, for me, this is part of the larger conversation about who defines as what, and why. Are the women who would have identified as trans now, but don't, because they came into radical non-trans lesbian feminist identity first, mean they are or are not transgender?"

Sara responded:
Technically, a butch woman, or basically anyone who has a presentation or behavior considered non-normative for their sex assigned at birth, is considered transgender. Wether they identify as such is something else.

Okay. I'm willing to go with that definition for the purposes of our conversation. And what that tells me is that there's virulent anti-feminist misogyny in transgender community, because that population of non-transsexual women: butch, lesbian, and gender non-conforming, are profoundly marginalised and stigmatised and silenced right now UNLESS they cater to a very individualistic and anti-radical ethic of "social change" and "accommodation and inclusivity of unexamined racist patriarchal practices" as the predominant value. I've been seeing this play out for decades, Sara: queer pro-"transgression" politic has been promoted by the least marginalised, most privileged queer people as a kind of "liberation", regardless of how regressive and anti-progressive it is, politically.

JR wrote:
"I've only recently even found out there WAS such a thing as "being intergender". I'd say I always was intergender, but I've only recently begun to identify as that. So what was I before I identified as intergender? Cis gender? I don't think so."

It depends if you give power to name yourself, or to society to do so. I say naming yourself retroactively isn't harmful. I could say I was always female. What does it hurt anyone? I'm not identifying that way for purposes of fraud or deceit, so no one.

I'm in agreement with retroactively naming ourselves. I think it is appropriate and accurate to say "I was always intergender", at least as soon as I socially registered what the politics of gender were. And I registered that consciously by the age of nine.

But, I'd like to add that I think it is a mistake to believe society doesn't also always name us, label us, and put us in boxes that are not easily escaped. As has been noted on some progressive blogs, the privileged believe we can name ourselves and ignore how society labels us, or, at least, "empower" ourselves to not pay attention to that labeling. Less privileged people do not have such an easy time of that, and if you know anyone who is not white, who is female, and who is poor, and ask them how successfully they can name themselves and cast off society's labels, I think you'll find that the less privileges we have, structurally, the more difficult it is to even find validation for who we know ourselves to be. That's why it is usually class-privileged, race-privileged, education-privileged, profession-privileged people who get to say "I am transsexual [or transgender] and I want you to call me by [this or that] pronoun." The Black non-transsexual women I know can't even get dominant society to acknowledge they are human, let alone consider calling them by a pronoun or name they prefer. The politics of accommodation and inclusivity needs to be carefully examined, as I see it, Sara. Because the politics are loaded up with white and male supremacist assumptions about who gets to be human and who doesn't.

I think our community has largely been negligent in addressing this issue. I'd be interested to know what you think about this.

JR wrote:
"This is very complicated stuff, and I see too many trans activists trying to pass off one way of experiencing being transgender or intergender--if and when that even gets mentioned, which it usually doesn't--as like every other trans/intergender person, and I think that's a kind of gross stereotyping and bigotry, or false unification around "what we present to the dominant society" that exists within our community that needs to be called out, interrogated, discussed, and hopefully resolved to some degree."

Sara responded:
I haven't seen this that much. Transsexual people are presented as THE standard, by the medico-legal establishment, not by transsexual people themselves. The experience of being transgender is widely acknowledged as varying extremely. Even the experience of being transsexual is presented this way more and more now, supplanting the medico-legal narrative that used to be necessary to secure treatment at clinics (pretend you're uber 1950s feminine straight, or you don't get hormones or surgery).

I agree with you about a very narrow segment of M2F transsexuals being presented by media to the general public as "the face" of transgender experience. From Renee Richards to the few guests on talk shows, we only get presented as being pro-femme, pro-heteropatriarchal M2F folks who want and say they need complete sex re-assignment surgery, but that's not the case with most transgender people I know. And the 1950s feminine straight model you mention being promoted by the medico-legal institutions are white and middle class without exception. I'm glad to know, from your experience, that the medical professionals are a bit less heteropatriarchal, but from what I can see, we still have a very long way to go!

JR wrote:

"I respect your opinion, Sara, as yours. But I simply do not agree that there is such a thing as "feminine body language" that is innate. At all. If we look at female children and girls across era and culture there is no aspect of "femininity" that shows up everywhere. Not one bodily characteristic, expressive aspect, or way of being. There's not even any agreement about what "feminine body language" is, cross-culturally and across era."

Sara responded:
Something becomes feminine because female people, on average, do it. So yes, it will vary across culture with "what's in" and "what's out". Wearing Victorian-style dresses is not too in right now, but it was 150 years ago. It was a sign of feminity then.

As for bodily characteristics? Well, in Haiti, women are considered more feminine if they have a plump derriere. In the US, not so much. Yet it's a norm of feminity for each of those cultures, independantly. Men used to have long hair, or at worst, simulate their having long hair, using wigs.

In the U.S., Black women's buttocks are highly fetishised and objectified! What do you mean "not so much"?! "Baby's Got Back" by Sir Mix-A-Lot was but one popular example of how "thing-ified" Black women are in the U.S. in media. Do you see how violently Black women are abused in pornography, and how women across race are abused anally, raped repeatedly, in pornography and prostitution? Haiti is a culture that has been repeated ravaged by white het male supremacist imperialism and colonialism. It was a country liberated by slaves, after all. How do you conclude the values there are or can be entirely free of white Western cultural values?

Some of your other examples, especially things like wigs and dresses, have nothing whatsoever to do with "nature" as Victorian dresses and wigs don't occur in nature and there's no way we're biologically wired to "respond" erotically to things like dresses and wigs. Would you agree with that? I'm concerned that you're conflating biology and culture as somehow tied to each other in a "natural" way. There's little to no indication that's the case, and in fact there's tons of evidence that Western heteropatriarchal culture overrides (and demolishes) nature and other cultures at every turn. Many Indigenous and non-Indigenous societies have had nothing like what Western Civilisation has presented as "naturally occurring sex differences". Shaved legs and shaved armpits for women? What's "natural" about that? Nothing at all. It's entirely cultural and politically "designed" to make female human beings appear to be "opposite" to hairy male human beings, who, after all, are not always hairy.

Sara wrote:
Milton Diamond's theory of sex identity says that someone will identify like peers of the sex they feel they belong to. They will generally self-normalize, based on their sense of who they are the most like, in terms of something I couldn't even name – but rarely having to do with clothes or manners.

But always having to do with politics, Sara. I see it, anyway. Because cultural norms and social peer pressure are both expressions of any given dominant society's sexual (and racial) politics. Even when the politics are egalitarian and communal not domineering and authoritarian.

Sara wrote:
For example, if everyone dressed androgynously, I could still recognize my membership in the category female, without being told so (it would just happen later than it does for children now). Both parents and children are insecure about being viewed (or their children being viewed) as the other sex, starting at a certain age.

Only in societies that have a rigid gender binary. If the gender binary is at all natural (as you argue), why do you suppose is it that less industrialised societies have made more room for a third gender than have post-industrial ones?

Sara wrote:
That's why toddler and small child clothes are all so dichotomous (all pink and glittery, or all blue and with 0 frills), just go see a store for small children and see the colors. Now go see an adult women clothes store, and notice it's not so pink anymore – people then got secondary sex characteristics vouching for their sex.

Sara, I'm really perplexed by this. You seem to be discounting racist patriarchal capitalism as not having any influence on us at all. Children are made to wear pink and blue in societies where pink is associated with being a girl and blue with being a boy. That's far from universal, and it's a relatively recent occurrence in human cultural history. Capitalism sells binary bigotry. Capitalism sells the objectification and commodification of children, including of how children are gendered and raced. That's what advertising is in the business of doing, as well as selling us cardiovascular disease and diabetes-inducing edibles in place of healthy food and pornography in place of sex. CRAP profits mightily from doing it so well.

A great blog that exposes this CRAP regularly is "Sociological Images". Check it out, if you haven't yet, for an over-abundance of examples of exactly how racist heteropatriarchal capitalism does this. You seem to be putting forth a very social-psychological theory of why it is parents and children are insecure about children's "gender". One approach to answering that question would be to look to see who profits most from there being this kind of gendering of children at all. Commercial industries profit. Corporate pimps profit. Traffickers and slavers profit. To pretend that our very dominant society's pink-is-for-girls/blue-is-for-boys anti-ethic would exist beyond misogynistic-racist-heterosexist capitalism is untenable, to me. That's why so many radical queers are anti-capitalist. Are you familiar with BashBack? Let me know what you think of their work, if you don't mind.

If we weren't sold the gender binary, we wouldn't be buying it. Do you agree? The medical and psychiatric and pharmaceutical establishments also profits mightily from this fucked up notion of a rigid gender binary that is a hierarchy. That's why "androgyny" isn't marketed or promoted in pornography. Because industries need there to be something oppositional to package, to sell, to partly disguise the fact that it takes a great deal of brutality to produce a culture like the dominant one we live in. Have you read this book, which gets at aspects of this?

He's someone who has been listening to radical feminists. And we are better off for it. Derrick Jensen is another person who has benefitted personally and politically from studying radical feminists. His work is terribly important. Do you know him? I recommend reading A Language Older Than Words, The Culture of Make-Believe, and Endgame, volume one and volume two. I don't see how we can be responsible to one another, globally, if we refuse to engage with the world of suffering and survival. Queer politics is often very myopic, very self-concerned. And self-regard is an important value, to be sure. But political activism requires coalition work. And those of us who are white and Global Northern/Western are morally obligated to know how our actions and inactions are impacting people in the Global South and East. I don't see liberals being willing to really engage with radical activists the world over. Why do you think that is? I think it's to protect our political position and status, our privileges, our entitlements, and our quality of life, built on the death and destruction of everyone and everything else.

Radical feminists have been "unpacking" this stuff for decades. If they are stigmatised as only being "unfriendly" or "unwelcoming" how are we to make use of their theories and insights? Do we hold male-men who are theorists to a standard of having to be accepting, accommodating, and friendly? Was Marx a friendly guy? Are pro-corporate capitalist theorists accommodating and accepting of genderqueer realities and people? Not the last time I checked.

Why do you believe there so little education in or ranks about what these radical feminists have been discussing for at least forty years? The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde gets deeply into the medical-industrial politics of manufacturing fake breasts. Why aren't we discussing that, do you think? Whose interests are served by promoting the idea that manufactured, mass-produced, bought-and-sold chest implants are authentically human? Lorde rejected the offer, the pressure to be fitted for a fake breast after having a mastectomy. Why should society refuse to deal with the reality that some women have one or no breasts due to cancer, among other things.

Sara wrote:
“In most societies where there is a hierarchical gender binary, it is usually, but not always the case that there are things called "feminine" and "masculine". Again, people tend to get really sloppy about this stuff. “

I think it's more intra-hierarchical than inter-hierarchical. That is, women have a hierarchy, men have a hierarchy. Those at the top of both hierarchies are considered the most attractive. Ordinary men are considered the least attractive.

I think there might be men vs women hierarchies in certain countries, maybe most, but I think Canada and the liberal non-religious US have mostly stabilized it to be more or less equivalent (even if not ideal). As in, having advantages and disadvantages on both sides that end up having value that's not completely out of whack with each other – though there are still many things to fix, there happens to be some on the men's side, too.

I feel right now like we are living in very different worlds. And maybe we are. In this country, unattractive older men are frequently paired up with media-appealing younger women. Take, for example, a current hit show, Modern Family. Do you see anything grossly racist, ageist, misogynistic, white male supremacist, and heterosexist about the image that opens this post? The woman on the left is the central man-figure's spouse. She's at least half his age. She's Latina. He's VERY white and not "attractive" as Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and pornographers define such things. Why do young women end up with men like HIM so often in dominant media productions? This is a fictional narrative after all. Do you think there's anything natural about that occurring? Surely he's not a good catch due to his gene pool.

How about all the women and girls Jack Nicholson gets to "date"? That's just Hollywood. How about the fact that unattractive men get to rent and purchase women and girls they "select" from around the world? How egalitarian is that? How does that reality, of 12 million sexual slaves, bring us even remotely close to anything humane or just in society? Do you see these as social problems that need to be addressed through sustained activism? What does your queer society offer as a way to end rape, trafficking, and slavery?

JR wrote:
“So while I'm eager to learn more about what you experienced as a child, and what you experience now, I'm not supporting any notion of something called "innate femininity". I don't see it. To even "mark" something as "feminine" is to engage in a very social-political act. There's nothing "inborn" about ascribing meaning and value to sets of behaviors, or to clustering them into one thing called "being feminine". That's all socially done, in the view of the blog. “

Sara responded:
It has to do with behaviors women already do, and an ideal that society as a whole (meaning men and women) set as 'better'. Same for masculine and men. Except that once something becomes acceptable for women, it becomes no way to prove one's masculinity, it becomes neutral. If the social climate had changed to set skirts, dresses and heels as unisex, the way it set shirts, pants and suits as unisex, people would have less ways to prove their membership into either sex (which makes people insecure). People in general don't wear gender-norm clothing just to be accepted as normal, they do so to be accepted as their sex, too.

I just feel like your analysis really leaves out so much, Sara. Like endemic rape, for example. Like sexual slavery, trafficking, and prostitution, all of which require these social standards to thrive. I feel like you're focusing in on one small aspect of gender at the exclusion of all the atrocities, almost pretending the atrocities don't exist. Do you know First Nations women who are being pimped right now on Vancouver streets? Does their experience register for you as human and worth paying attention to? What about the fact that one in three American Indian women will be raped in her lifetime, usually by a white man? What about battery of women by men? What about street harassment? What about marital rape and date rape?

To tune those realities out is to be left with the kind of analysis you offer here. That's how I see it. We can respectfully disagree, I guess, but I can't neglect to mention that there's a lot of social reality you're ignoring to come up with the theories you are proposing here.

Why Isn't Anderson Cooper REALLY Keeping Them Honest?? Because U.S. Billionaires With Corporate Welfare Protections and UNTAXED Foreign Bank Accounts and Other Billionaire Corporate Pimps Control The Media

image is from here
To Anderson Cooper,

I see you as one of very few voices in media who might be willing to tell the truth to the U.S. American people. I hope you have the integrity and corporate backing to do that, but I doubt you have the latter even if you do have the former.

Why don't you keep them honest and keep us informed about how the richest U.S. citizens are protected from paying their fair share of taxes? Why don't you report on how corporate loopholes still exist, how foreign bank accounts exist, and how much U.S.-earned money is siphoned off and stashed there by the richest U.S. Americans? And how that money only goes to the families of the wealthiest citizens due to corrupt inheritance laws--it doesn't go into the economy generally.

Why don't you report on how the discussion about the rich only wanting what is "fair for all Americans" is a sick joke? Why don't you, someone with professional and economic clout, call out the richest of the rich on the fact that they don't and never had paid all they should for the money they earn, and how funds siphoned off into foreign bank accounts--notably in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, are not being re-invested to make this economy "strong-like-bull", as the most rich, their politicians, and their media shills report?

Why did you allow a segment of non-news reporting, a pseudo-debate between a white Conservative woman and a Black Liberal man to go unchallenged in follow-up reports? Why don't you stop wasting media time with such spectacular nonsense and instead hold uber-wealthy white men accountable to their repeated self-serving media lies about what it will take to balance the budget and end the federal deficit and national debt?

Why don't you note that if the U.S. had simply not engaged in two utterly corrupt wars for the better part of a decade--those in Iraq where there were no weapons of mass destruction, and in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden doesn't live, we would have a very different economic reality now? I hear tell that Karzai and his cronies are not responsible people. Why, then, does the U.S. government do business with him? How fucked up is that? What sort of waste of tax payers' dollars is that?

Why don't you spend a week, or two weeks, or three weeks, of programming on AC360 and in CNN special reports, interviewing no one else but Malalai Joya and RAWA, Yanar Mohammed of Women's Freedom in Iraq, Dr. Vandana Shiva of Navdanya, Ruchira Gupta of Apne Aap, and one of your own CNN Heroes, Anuradha Koirala of Maiti Nepal, about the bloody dots that your program thus far refuses to connect? Is it really beyond your scope to note the many connections between Western conglomerated media and how it silences women like those named above, U.S. militarism and its corruption, ecocidal environmental practices like those of BP and ExxonMobil, the exploitation of the Global South by the Global North, and sexual trafficking and slavery? Does the U.S. public have a right to hear from these women or not? Are you worried about allowing that depth of keeping the U.S. government and military honest on your program? Would you be fired the next day if you allowed those two women to speak honestly?

Why don't you do a series of reports on how the economic system is set up to protect the interests of the wealthy and punish and destroy the poor, in part by making poor youth vulnerable to being trafficked, pimped, and repeatedly raped for the pleasure and profit of very rich white men, primarily, not, as your reports indicate, for the profit going to street criminals and street pimps?

Why don't you note that if major corporations, alone, paid what they should, we wouldn't need to tax the working poor, the working class, or the middle class at all? Why don't you note how much of all the wealth, all the income made in the last ten years went to the top one percent of the richest people in the U.S.? Why don't you note, for example, that at least 80+% of ALL income was earned by the top few percent of people in this country and that should tax breaks happen for those earning less than $250,000/year and people earning $500,000 or more a year have to pay more, that will not hurt our economy or the rich AT ALL. Why don't you call it out that when the rich speak of doing what's fair, that there's nothing fair, moral, decent, or humane about what they do? They work a system organised by them and for them. Wall Street and the Rich are protected by a DADT foreign banking and corporate headquartering system that is about as dishonest, immoral, and corrupt as it gets. The IRS has a flimsy DADT policy with those uber-rich U.S. Americans and we all know it. Where's the economic "fairness" in the top five percent of U.S. Americans HOARDING the money people make in this country?

I await your reporting during your five hours of programming a week, on these and related issues. And stop wasting our time with ridiculist-worthy nonsense like this pseudo-debate "TAX CUT SHOWDOWN: GOP, Dems battle over Bush-era tax rates". A waste of media space NON-Discussion with Cornell Belcher and Dana Loesch. Anderson, why didn't you call out Ms. Loesch for being a racist/classist media shill for super-rich white boys (and a few white girls too)? Why did you even allow her onto your program? So we could watch the fireworks in this completely uninformative "debate"? Shame on you for allowing that anti-journalistic CRAP to air.
image from Dec. 1, 2010 AC360 program, is from here

Please, Anderson, at the very least, connect the economic, social, and political dots between these two stories:
December 1st, 2010
02:37 PM ET
Hoyer to allow vote Thursday on middle class tax cuts

By: CNN Congressional Producers Deirdre Walsh and Evan Glass

Washington (CNN) – On the same day Congressional and White House negotiators met to broker a compromise on how to deal with the Bush-era tax cuts that are expiring at the end of the year, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced that House Democrats would push ahead on a vote Thursday to permanently extend tax breaks just for those making $250,000 a year or less. Republicans argue tax cuts should be extended for everyone, including the wealthy.

Hoyer said the House bill would include permanent extensions of income tax rates for the middle class, plus tax breaks for married couples, the child tax credit, and the earned income tax credit.

The Maryland Democrat insisted that there was common ground between Republicans and Democrats on ensuring there are no tax increases for people making $250,000 or less and cited several polls showing the American public supports this approach. "We have agreement on that. There is not agreement on other aspects of issue, as you all know. But it is a shame that what we have agreement on is being held hostage by that on which we do not have agreement."

Hoyer maintained that moving forward with just a vote on the so-called middle class tax cuts would not interfere with the negotiations on the broader tax cuts, telling reporters Wednesday he spoke with the House Democratic negotiator in the talks, Maryland Democratic Rep Chris Van Hollen. "He and I both agree that this matter moving forward should not undermine negotiations on a compromise," Hoyer said.

Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNN the vote was always part of the Democrats' plans and was intended to press the importance of their policy stand.

"To show our position very clearly that Democrats support tax cuts for the middle class. We think it is fairer thing to do and is necessary at this time in our economy," Pelosi said.

Hoyer emphasized that Democrats are following through on a commitment to avoid tax increases on the middle class. Republicans, he said, are the ones who decided in 2001 to let the tax cuts expire this year. "It is an effort to show, as we said before the election, that we were going to make sure the middle income working men and women of America did not have the consequences of the Republican sunset."

House GOP Whip Eric Cantor said in a statement the Democrats' plan is a "non-starter, and is completely contrary to the discussions that we had with the President yesterday at the White House. This is nothing more than political chicanery and undermines the President's ongoing discussions and efforts on tax rates."

Cantor said the tax cuts should be extended for everyone.

"We call on Speaker Pelosi and President Obama to stop the gimmicks and allow all members of the House – Republican and Democrat – to vote on legislation that would prevent tax increases for every American, "he said.

(Julian's note to Eric Cantor: why don't you own your own constituency's chicanery and gimmicks, such as corporate welfare loopholes and allowing foreign bank accounts to be untouched by the IRS? Whip those forms of corruption, why don't ya?)

*          *          *

CNN Producer's Notebook: Surviving slavery

Posted: December 2nd, 2010 05:10 PM ET

Alexandra Poolos
AC360° Editorial Producer

Editor's Note: For more on this story, don't miss a special "AC360°" series, "American Slaves: Hiding in Plain Sight," tonight at 10 ET on CNN.

(CNN) - It all started with a random phone call early last summer.

Bridgette Carr, a leading attorney on trafficking cases, and I had worked together previously, and I wanted to see whether she was working on any interesting cases. Experts like Carr say that there are more slaves now than ever before. Worldwide, currently there are an estimated 12.3 million people enslaved. But last year, across the globe, only some 49,000 were rescued.

Carr hesitated for a moment on the phone before describing a case that involved dozens of young girls enslaved in Newark hair braiding salons that had taken three years to prosecute. Like many attorneys and activists who work with slavery victims, Carr is extremely protective of her clients. But she felt it was important to see how interested they might be in talking with AC360°.

Related: Held as slaves, now free

The response was startling. Two of the girls, who chose not to reveal their real names, said they wanted to talk, as long as we could protect their identities and locations. The young women were very clear about their reasons for talking: Both felt it was important for Americans to know that slavery is happening in front of their very eyes.

“I just want to help other people who might be in the same situation as I was,” “Jacqueline” told me over the phone, describing the years of abuse, back-breaking work in salons, withheld meals and loss of hope that she would ever be free. “What happened to me years ago still hurts me in so many ways…but slavery is around us. And you have to recognize it. When you see a little girl doing something and they are too young for it, [you] should do something. I think of all the people who asked me how young I was, and they just believed me. They could have done something. They could have saved me.”

“Nicole” echoed the same disbelief that after years of braiding hair everyday, no one went to the authorities or questioned their made up stories of not being underage. She said that everyday she hoped a customer or one of the many owners, who had unwittingly hired them not realizing their wages were being confiscated, would notice something was wrong. “At first when the police got us, I realized that we weren’t the first,” Nicole said. “It felt like this was hidden to people in the U.S. We were there for so long. It [took] forever for us to be rescued.”

Despite their conviction that Americans should hear their stories, both girls were frightened to talk to us. The head trafficker had been sentenced to 27 years in prison, but still Nicole and Jacqueline didn’t want their locations disclosed. The closer we got to the taping date, the more anxious they became. At one point, both pulled out, saying that they would only do the interview if their faces were concealed. “I have had victims’ cars bombed for this kind of stuff,” Carr told me over the phone.

Eventually, Nicole agreed to take the risk and appear on-camera. Jacqueline felt the danger was too high. When we met both of the young women, however, they told their stories bravely and eloquently. “The traffickers, they took my childhood from me, my teen-hood. They took it from me,” Nicole said. “They took everything away from me.”

In the process of reporting, another victim named Zena came forward. She took us on a tour of the Newark neighborhood, showing us the apartments were she had been enslaved and the salons where she had worked seven days a week, sometimes 14 hours a day. “Sometimes I cry,” she said. “It's not - it was not easy living in this house. I was just stuck, and I was in prison.”

The most inspiring part of these interviews was the resilience and courage each of the survivors showed. All three of the girls have moved on with their lives - securing jobs and making plans for college.

Despite the fact that all three lived a nightmare for years, each is determined not to allow the traffickers to steal their dreams. “I have found my dreams again,” Jacqueline told us. “I just want to help other people who might be in the same situation as I was. I realize now I can do something with my life. I am smart. All the years that she took from me, I am getting them back. I have told my story before, and each time it makes me stronger. I know that every obstacle that comes my way, I know I can overcome them.”

And readers of this blog, please write in at the Live Blog for Anderson's program, and let him know which rich pimps he could be reporting on if he's truly interested in keeping them honest.

Here's your chance to talk directly to AC360° during the program. Send instant feedback and sound off on tonight's headlines. Read and react to what viewers have to say, right here, right now.
JOIN AC360° LIVE BLOG: 10p-11p ET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

Part 4

JR wrote: "Plenty of us who are trans/intergender didn't know what we were when we were growing up. We might have thought we were just "different" or maybe we didn't feel all that different in our earlier childhoods. There's no one experience, in childhood, of being trans or intergender, and the way some trans activists talk, there's this one kind of experience that all trans and intergender people share--of "knowing" that we weren't meant to be either girls or boys, or that our psyches didn't fit with our bodies, and so on. And I think that's a really gross stereotype about us, to be honest."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 5

JR wrote: "A lot of us grow up thinking we're queer/lesbian/gay. And we go with that for a while because trans and intergender experience isn't even identified as someone one can feel or be. And "what we are" and how we understand ourselves is a very social/interactive process, not a fixed biological one, in my view."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 6

"I know, for a fact, that some lesbian feminists and myself--a radical profeminist--would likely have identified as transgender early in our twenties if we grew up in some of the queer communities that exist now, that promote and welcome transgender experience while also denigrating and insulting radical lesbian feminist experience."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JR wrote: "The queer community I've known most intimately purges the radical non-trans lesbian feminists while embracing the liberal feminist or non-feminist transgender people."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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