Monday, January 31, 2011

Questioning M2F Entitlements that Women Raised as Girls Don't Have: More on Trans Political Agendas, Practices, and the Challenges of Radical Feminism (or Radical Pro-Feminism)

image is from here
NOTE: on 9 Feb. 2011, I changed the title of this post to remove the term "cisgender women" and replace it with "women raised as girls". I did this in response to one of the comments posted below.

In the last few months, I have posted probably two dozen times about issues in trans and radical feminist politics. And, to date, almost no one has been willing to engage with these issues in responsible, respectful ways.

I understand why any of us who are queer/genderqueer/trans/intergender/GNC would want to lay claim to 'being one gender', if that gender is not the one someone was raised as but didn't experience oneself as being, when the defining feature of our outsiderhood is that we've had a mixed gender experience.

I don't understand the politics of fighting for trans-visibility while also demanding to be termed in ways that renounce or refuse to acknowledge being transgender or transsexual as anything other that conservatively assimilationist. I also want to point out that working to be termed "women" or "men", if M2F or F2M erases or invalidates the experiences of women who were girls as a distinct social-political experience, and, for that matter, the experience of men raised as boys. It also makes a very transphobic assumption that most trans people are living lives that are not what is termed "cisgender". Lest we forget, most trans people have bodies that are not surgically altered, that appear gender ambiguous; as the gender they are socially perceived to be; as the gender which has or doesn't have male privileges and entitlements embedded in it.

Someone whose name I don't have permission to use wrote to me recently pointing out a few other issues with the concept of "cisgender". I have slightly modified some of the points raised to me in that email and I thank them for writing.

"Cisgender privilege" is specifically defined in a way that excludes anyone who does not want to transition, or transition completely. If you do not hate the way your primary and secondary genitalia is formed or appears, or if you do not strongly dis-identify with your genitals--enough to get drugs or surgery to change them--then apparently you're cisgendered and carry all the privileges the term is designed to confer. (This is how the term has been described by some trans activists and trans spokespeople.)

So the idea that someone is "privileged" specifically for not wanting to get drugs or surgery on or to reshape their genitalia, when most people can't afford to do so, is oxymoronic.

If you are genderqueer but do not want to alter yourself surgically or with hormones, does that mean:

a. you're comfortable with the way you are perceived?
b. you are judgmental and dismissive of the people who are different than you?

Don't both "a" and "b" both have to be true for cisgender privilege to exist? In my experience, genderqueer people are unlikely to find those both to be true of them as individuals.

While I understand anyone not wanting to so consistently be living along the outer margins of status quo society (often in only some regards), to do so by denying one's acquired, practiced, and structurally well-protected privileges is, to my view, status quo political behaviour that reeks of white and male supremacy. When a few vocal white M2F pseudo-spokespeople for "trans experience" do it, I certainly experience it as male supremacist. As a person in trans/intergender community, does my subjectivity and perspective on this matter as much as the white class-privileged M2F person who claims to not be male supremacist? You'd think, because I am male, that it would.

"You call me what I demand to be called, or else you will be stigmatised and marked as a bigot and hater" is not a politic or a practice that is enforceable or practical for most oppressed people to employ. Why, then, do M2F transsexuals get to employ it as if it is an entitlement and a right? How many women of color, trans or not, get to be termed what they most wish to be called? How many men of color, trans or not, have that luxury?

A queer white, ethnicity-, class-, ability-, and profession-privileged person named Noah has showed up here accusing me--a gay, Jewish, disabled, non-profession-statused, transgender/intergender person, of being "transphobic", as if me advocating a responsible radically pro-feminist trans politic is anti-trans!

A very anti-radical, anti-feminist race-privileged, class-privileged transsexual person named Sara has come here and made individualistic arguments that show no regard or respect for the anti-patriarchal efforts of women to remove all man-infestations of anti-lesbian white male supremacy from the Earth. Sara basically denies there is such a thing as "patriarchy".

A non-transgender person, a Latina woman vlogger who calls herself Divinity, who works in close alliance with a well-known white misogynist/anti-feminist non-trans man/troll has expressed gross disregard and disrespect for the radical feminist of color politic and ethic of naming white male privilege where and when it rears its entitled head.

I have posted thoughtful responses to each of these people. Only Sara has been willing to engage respectfully, if not responsibly. Noah has presented gross condescension as "respectful engagement". Divinity has not engaged with me at all.

I have noted several instances where male supremacist and other oppressor privileges are present in some arguments put forth by a few trans people. What I see online, argued determinedly and systematically by a very few transsexual and transgender people, is not what I see or experience offline.

What trans people I know off-line request is to be respected as people, to be shown basic human regard, to be treated with consideration, to not be assumed to be anti-feminist, and to be termed "transgender", understanding gender to be socially constructed. Their stance with regard to radical feminism--white and of color; lesbian and not--does not resemble or support the views expressed by people like Divinity, Sara, and Noah.

For a few very privileged M2F transsexual people (claiming status as spokespeople for all trans people) to demand use of arguments or terms that obfuscate or evade responsibility and accountability for the political privileges one carries is just plain ol' status quo oppressor behavior. (Including statements like this one: "Any critique of trans experience is regarded as transphobic." This would mean that trans people questioning our own experiences, and interrogating the meanings of our emotions and feelings, is "transphobic", which of course is horseshit. It would also mean that lesbian feminists with totally legitimate political critiques, such as Carolyn Gage's analysis of the life of Tenna Brandon, is transphobic and not useful to our experience and political agendas. I think work such as that must be engaged with. Pun intended.)

I will expect those few transsexual cyber-"activists" who pose as pseudo-spokespeople and non-trans Internet trolls who claim to speak for all trans people, or who claim to "represent", legally and otherwise, ALL trans people, to do one of two things:

1. To disrespectfully and/or unintelligently and/or anti-radically and/or anti-feministly respond to what is in this post because they have the privilege and entitlement to be disrespectful without being accountable.

2. To ignore and disregard anyone with whom they disagree because they have the status and power to not need to engage with people with fewer privileges who are charging the male-privileged pseudo-spokespeople with defending and upholding male supremacy.

For me, queer politicals as it manifests interpersonally and socially fails to even achieve being "progressive" in the ways it supports lack of insight and analysis into what "gender" means and is, politically, in Western or Western-colonised societies. Traversing a hierarchy by changing external gender cues (and I'm understanding this is done for some people to feel less internal disonnance), is to privilege the capacity to do so (a privilege not available to most people) while also acting on the entitlement to deny privileges one either believes they never had (M2F), or to deny the threat to women and girls of privileges and entitlements one moves into (F2M).

Poor people who become rich acquire privileges while also carrying a legacy of having been poor. Rich people who become poor, if raised rich, do not lose their class privileges in so many regards.

Many class-privileged people I know, when in college, claim to be "poor". This term is used so often as to de-politicise the social meaning and global experience of poverty. I've always called out people who do this: not having money readily available isn't "poverty" if one is raised with class-privilege. It is a temporary loss of some of the abilities one has with money in the bank.

While gender privilege acquisition, or loss, is not the same as wealth acquisition or loss, what remains constant-while-not static is the effect of one's upbringing on how one engages with the world.

There is a pretense and claim of "never having been a boy" that a few very vocal, very cyber-dominant F2M pseudo-spokespeople make. This must be called out in all cases: the issue is not whether one "was a boy"; the issue is whether one was raised with male privileges, whether they were consciously and willfully acquired and acted out, or not. As a child who never felt like a boy, who didn't identify with boys, who didn't like or gravitate towards "boy-behavior", and who was bullied and ostracised throughout my social childhood for playing with and befriending girls-as-political peers, for doing "girly" things, for "throwing like a girl", for refusing to play boy team sports, I nonetheless acquired plenty of male privileges and entitlements--far more than any F2M across a similar period of one's life.

The proof (for me) of the unacknowledged male privileges, entitlements, dominance, supremacy, and power is that when this charge is made by a few M2F transsexual people--of never having or not having male privileges and entitlements--it can be dismissed by those few M2F pseudo-spokespeople by consistently calling the exposer of this political truth "grossly insensitive" or "being a bigot". Where else does this happen?

Anyone hear of these terms: "femi-nazi" and "misandrist"?

I personally-politically find the appropriation of the term "feminazi" to be anti-Semitic but it too, as I know you all too well know m Andrea, is another linguistic device loaded with political meaning, used against women who resist and challenge men's domination and rule. I ought not and will not tell you what terms to use to describe yourself online. I'm only noting that I find the term anti-Semitic, particularly when used by non-Jewish people. (And, m Andrea, I don't know whether or not you are Jewish.)

But what I'm addressing also applies to the terms: "femi-fascist", "misandrist", and "misandry". They are over-used enough, deliberately and systematically, in radio and other media, and often online, in certain very privileged circles, so that hopefully a few people who are men or who are defenders of men will also believe the terms refer to something that is socially and structurally existent (even though it isn't). Misogyny is structurally/socially existent. Male supremacy is also. White supremacy and dominance and rule of the wealthy is also.

In conclusion, for this post, I'll note that there are rather glaring political problems with the terminology constructed within some trans circles to marginalise and portray girls who grow up to be women as "oppressors" of trans people, or as having privileges trans people do not. Again, most trans people are not surgically or hormonally transitioning and are in the same perceived category as any woman or girl, or any female person who is genderqueer but not trans. There is also a glaring level of unacknowledged privilege among the few M2F and other transgender and transsexual people who are claiming that girls and women raised as girls have more privileges than they do. Among those privileges is the power to name reality and to socially name, with authority, "who one's oppressor is".

Our collective social justice and political liberation struggles are not served by refusing to own or discuss when and where white and male privileges are present but denied.

I welcome respectful discussion on these and related issues.