Sunday, June 19, 2011

Who's Got (More) Power? Radical Lesbian Feminists or Liberal Trans Activists (I'd say "Neither")

image of transgender visibility symbol is from here
[Revised later in the day after the initial posting on 19 June 2011.]

20 June 2011 update: 
I wrote to Lisa Harney at Questioning Transphobia, asking her if she'd also be willing to talk about some of this post.

Here's that comment, which has yet to be received and responded to.

Your comment is awaiting moderation.
Hi Lisa,
I’ve been trying to reach out and get some constructive discussion going around trans and radical feminist issues and tensions, to try and resolve some of the divides.
Are you open to doing that? Here’s my latest post on thee subject, and if you wish to, I welcome you to email me or post a comment to my site letting me know of your interest in discussing stuff further.

I found a post by a trans and radical feminist blogger named Joelle Ruby Ryan and posted a comment. Her post illustrates tensions between Radical Lesbian Feminists and Liberal Trans Activists. My understanding is that Joelle is a Radical Feminist Queer Trans Woman-identified writer and professor, and so I've welcomed her to discuss the issues that exist between the two groups--both of whom are relatively small and each of which is greatly marginalised from mainstream society.

*Here's a link* to her post, which identifies Sheila Jeffreys as a dangerous hate-monger.  This post is not about Sheila Jeffreys. This post's concerns extend beyond Sheila, to those tensions between the two non-unified groups. While you'd never know this from reading MRA sites, neither radical feminist nor trans ideology is readily identifiable as "one viewpoint". To call each "one ideology" is already getting oneself into trouble, drifting rather dramatically from social-political reality almost always misperceived as simpler than it is.

For those new to the views presented by this blogger, I identify Liberal politics as effectively (if not always intentionally) genocidal and gynocidal. While I find Sheila Jeffeys' views to be 'her own', I'll acknowledge they are not outside the current discourses found among some white radical feminists. So, to all of us I ask this preliminary ethical question: What's worse? Promoting bigotry or actually committing mass oppression, terrorism, and murder? I know there's an argument that Sheila's promotion of transphobic bigotry leads to all many other forms of violence, but that's a bit unsubstantiated--we cannot know the extent to which her own views, those that are bigoted and those that critical, lead others to commit systematic violence against trans people. We can, quite effectively, track how Liberalism-in-action directs societies to be systemically gynocidal and genocidal. I have attempted to do so here, across many posts from many activists and sources internationally.

This is a point of contention, for me, with Liberalism. There is a propensity for Liberal activists to view all forms of inhumane violence equally. But in reality it is rarely done. People across political locations tend to downplay the horror and terror of their own violence against others; trans activists participate in this process of minimisation when they discursively or verbally assault Radical Lesbian Feminists: they typically identify how they've been harmed but don't as readily identify how they've been harmful to others. Meanwhile, those same people across political locations, and others such as US Conservatives, will typically amplify the effects of violence "done to us".

The US government will proclaim what happened on Sept. 11, 2001 as the most violent action to occur in human history--or, at least, in US history. Focusing on what's gone on within the US alone, we may note that seeing the attacks on "9/11" quite effectively forgets and disappears extreme violence such as the US patriots' and government's genocide against Indigenous North Americans; white colonialists' slavery and the whole of the Maafa; the trafficking of raped girls and women; the rape of girls and women who are not trafficked; domestic terrorism of women in heterosexual marriages and other primary heterosexual relationships; and so many other forms of gross violence--all considered either non-existent (though denial and delusion), natural (by essentialising many expressions of the culturally, historically, regionally relative human "nature" of "Man"), or normal (read: acceptable, god-ordained, and inevitable).

On the subject of denial and its relationship to dominance, we can note that it takes a lot of privilege to pretend that Liberalism isn't misogyny, transphobia, racism, genocide, and other mass atrocity; you have to believe in Liberalism's stated benign-to-benevolent objectives and ignore that it has never met and cannot meet any of them because it has no means and methods by which to do so. Instead, it makes promises it cannot keep and allows and encourages all manner of horror to play out unimpeded, with lip service paid to the wrongs it protects.

Aside from dedgurl, Dean Spade, and Joelle Ryan, all the trans people I know personally of are Liberal to Progressive. At least one of the trans visitors to this blog, Sara, is a social-political Conservative. The Conservative-to-Liberal position on the unceasingly misogynist gender hierarchy is that it is a matter or condition of difference, unbridled from something Radicals call "male supremacy".

Justice, for Liberals, is achieved only theoretically, when, at some future time, non-trans women and men along with all trans people are all equal to one another in rights and entitlements. We must ignore the fact that even if this were to occur among all the white and class-privileged folks who gain maginalised access to the media microphone most of the time, it still wouldn't be true due to continuing systems of inequality known as racism, heterosexism, and classism. The Conservative position is that gender is natural through and through--completely free of human encumbrances like "ideology". Conservatism holds that pesky anti-patriarchal laws which try and regulate what men do are not only unnatural, but against a white male sky-god's right, good, and wise plan for us. Needless to say, I disagree with both the Liberal and the Conservative positions.

In Dean Spade's views, I find Liberalism embedded in the practice, not Radicalism, with regard to gender. And that's assuming a definition of Radical that I uphold and promote. I'm not meaning to say that Dean or anyone else has to adopt my definitions. I use the definitions I have here to make my posts more comprehensible and consistent with one another. I've spent a few posts identifying what I mean by Radicalism and Radical Profeminism. I welcome visitors to read those posts. Two of them* are "What Does Radical Mean Here" and "On Radical Identities and the Consciousness of some White Bloggers".

I hear Dean promoting the need to end gender but not by doing what Radical Feminists argue must happen for gender to end: removing all manifestations of male supremacy from all social and psychic worlds. I am not familiar with Joelle's views and values enough to come to any conclusion about where she stands on "gender". I don't presume she is an adherent of Spade's views. Due to how she identifies, I suspect her view is a more complex and nuanced viewpoint than any standard Liberal or Radical politic.

One problem with the presentation of women's identity within some trans communities is that it effectively distances womanness--the social-political condition, not the essentialised bodies--with having been raised, in fact and in reality, as a girl while also being socially perceived as a girl, from birth onward, across culture and region. I note this general, lived reality without declaring that it is absolutely universal. For many women if not all women, oppression based on gender is a cumulative experience of domination, degradation, and disregard, not one of choosing one identity among other options. It is a very serious matter of what happens to one's socially targeted body from birth to death. "Women", in this view, are forcibly made far more than they are freely willed into existence. To the extent they are willed at all, it is men's, not women's wills at the helm.

Much of Queer and Trans political viewpoints posit gender as Difference (not Dominance) and as Chosen Identity (not Forced Condition). Women's identity as "women", from a Radical viewpoint, is a response to the oppression. There is something comparable at work, but not identical, with many racial identities.

Blackness is not a born or freely chosen condition or identity. I take this perspective from Black activists: It is a culturally varied condition that is taken up collectively as an identity for the purposes of survival. This is the case within Aboriginal society as well as African American society. Raced force culminates in identities, not the other way around. The identities may well live out that force in many ways but the force must be institutionally or systemically in place before the identities come into existence.

Seen this way, race and gender as differing identities are responses to a virulently and viciously enforced patriarchal white supremacy or an otherwise raced male supremacy (such as in Japan) that insists on maintaining a political force cloaked as the identity: "Whiteness" in the US, Germany, and South Africa; allegedly supreme or inferiorised race among other nation-states.

Blackness is not only that, however. For it is always the case that anyone with any identity, occupying any political/structural position, is fully human and therefore not describable by identity. The conceit of whites and men is that they often enough discursively and institutionally disappear their race and gender by claiming to represent humanity as a whole. (This can only be done if the force of white and male supremacy is already firmly embedded in the institutions and systems within any given society.) In doing so they highlight other raced conditions and gender identities as somehow other than what they are.We end up with identities fused to power, privilege, and entitlement, capable of making statements like, "Feminists keep viewing me as a man; I'm a Human!" Or, "Black people want me to take responsibility for the unjust ways of my whiteness, but all I am is human." This ability to dislocate oneself from time, place, history, culture, socially organised force reeks with entitlement. What woman of any color has the capability of doing so? Even if she attempts to declare herself "just human" separate from her foremothers and other women contemporarily terrorised and dominated by men, there will be men to remind her exactly what social position they want for her to occupy. This is how oppressive power works: If social dominants want you to be somewhere, you are there. If social subordinates want dominants to not be dominant, well, keep hoping for things to change.

The theoretical and experiential parallels and intersections between race and gender have been most acutely and analytically identified by women of color who are theorists, activists, and citizens of countries ruled by others who refuse to place them in the most privileged position. For example, the Black women I know, most of whom are not rich or middle class, describe lives narrowed and obstructed with encounters with several social-political-economic hierarchies. These happen in various environments and social forms, from economic exclusion to interpersonal insult to institutional discrimination. The limitations of freely lived life are structural not personal. Shifting identity doesn't bring meaningful liberation. Effective liberation is understood to be collective not individualistic. Opposing this liberation are the members of many political groups, including white men, white women, and men of color.

Indigenism, as I understand it in limited ways, rises as a spiritual, social, cultural philosophy, or Ways, that is in response to (murderously anti-Indigenist) CRAP. Identifying as "Indian" in North America, or here or elsewhere as "Native", or "Aboriginal" or Indigenous", is always contingent on there being a colonising, often imperialistic, always pro-industrialising oppressive invading and occupying force, known colloquially in my part of the world as "Western Civilisation".

To see gender or race only as difference and identity is to ignore the political forces keeping each a very vicious hierarchy intended to do harm to those who are not ever on top. Many Radical Feminists I know object to any politic which, along with traditional white male supremacist ideologies, seeks to obscure or invisibilise the male supremacist political force that constructs and gives social meaning and manifestation to "gender".

At issue is not only whether and to what degrees Sheila Jeffreys promotes bigotry about and hatred towards trans-identifiable people. I want to distinguish between people who are identified as trans (whether or not they are) and the rest of us who are trans-identified (whether or not we are ever targeted as such by non-trans people). We ought not forget that most trans people aren't socially perceived as being trans; most trans people have what a few academic trans people call "cis gender privilege". I maintain that this form of privilege isn't socially clarifying or politically useful to the collectivist struggle if most trans people have it, and many non-trans women do not. I've yet to hear any trans activists discuss this problem with the term. I accept that on a more individualistic level, the concept has deeply meaningful resonance.

Also at issue is the matter of anti-feminism and anti-Radicalism among Liberals--trans and non-trans people. Part of this shows up as an over-valuation of the power of  Radical Lesbian Feminists. As we can see with politically Conservative MRAs and other Conservative anti-feminists, a key argument put forth by enemies of Women's Liberation is that feminists simultaneously want and already have too much power. I've seen similarly racist and patriarchal self-serving attempts to discredit, disregard, and degrade Radical Feminism--Lesbian and not; Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian and white--by ascribing to it forms and manifestations of power, relative to racist heteropatriarchal power, that it has never had--and still doesn't have. In particular, I note how white Lesbians and Black women across sexuality are assumed to be far more dangerous-to-society than they have yet to demonstrate; they occupy no such places to substantively change the political configuration of the societies in which they currently live.

Within this dynamic emerges another: positioning non-trans women in a gender hierarchy as "the oppressor". Lost in such discourse and efforts at divisiveness, in such presentations of reality, is the role non-trans men play in determining the rest of our lives, not absolutely or in an essentialist way, but in a profoundly politically significant and substantive way. Again, there is a history that is alive and well, which targets women as The Problem population, ignoring or staying in denial about what non-trans men do to everyone--including to other non-trans men and to trans people across gender. MRAs are simplistically fond of calling feminists "fascists" and "man-haters", while ignoring the many actual ways men are fascistic trans-haters, woman-haters, and man-haters.

When I visit many Liberal to Conservative (racist and heteropatriarchal) trans blogs, I see few to no discussions of how men oppress anyone who is gendered to be "not a man who was raised as a boy". At these same blogs I see Radical Lesbian Feminism, and Radical Feminism generally, targeted as THE ideological and practiced form of anti-trans intellectual and political activity. Whose interests are served by rendering invisible the harm men do and by over-stating the power of R.L.F? I'd argue any politic that does this disappearing act of racist and patriarchal abuses, while also unfairly targeting R.L.F. is anti-woman and anti-trans, which is also to say effectively murderously misogynistic and racist, while also lethally (not just theoretically and discursively) transphobic. This means that whatever Sheila Jeffreys writes, it is structurally, positionally impotent relative to what Liberals and Conservatives do--including what Liberal and Conservative trans activists and writers do.

I welcome Radical trans writers and activists like Dean Spade and Joelle Ryan to call this out and hold Conservative and Liberal trans allies to account. Without Radical trans activists and bloggers doing so, we are left with trans bloggers calling Radical Lesbian Feminists "transphobic" while R.L.F.s remain the only activists seeking to end the systems that make transphobia socially/structurally possible. This is beyond ironic. It's misogynist.

I'll add this question: does being transphobic have more sting and stigma than being misogynistic and racist? From my views on Liberal feminist blogs, it appears to be the case. I've seen many white, class-privileged Feminist bloggers who are not trans or queer, be far more careful to not be transphobic and wedded to cis gender privileges (as a few white trans spokespeople very narrowly, define it in ways perilously steeped in classism), while those same bloggers remain unresponsive, unaccountable, and otherwise dehumanising to Radical Lesbian Feminists of all colors. This leads me to highlight that inside many Queer communities, anti-Radical Lesbian politics and practices, both Feminist and Separatist, have intensified precisely while Conservative to Liberal Trans politics have begun to take root. The connections between the two phenomena ought to be carefully examined by anyone who is pro-trans, pro-woman, and pro-Lesbian. Lesbophobia ought not disappear as a potent charge as long as transphobia and "misandry" carry stigma and sting.

In my experience, Liberalism isn't seriously called out (or even understood) by anyone other than Radicals. Conservatives don't like it, but they need it desperately as their conjoined nemesis; both Liberalism and Conservatism share more in common than the issues that make it appear they are oppositional political philosophies-in-action.

What I hear Radical Lesbian Feminists calling out about trans politics is its Liberalism and Conservatism. This is as valid a critique as the R.L.F. critiques of Gay politics, Liberal Lesbian politics, and heterosexual politics. Many trans people have brought me this argument: why do Radical Lesbian Feminists target trans people for a form of personal-political interrogation that is not leveled at anyone else. My response is that R.L.F. critiques have been and are brought to bear on everyone, of every sexual and gender expression and politic, including on its own. To not know this is to demonstrate significant ignorance about the history of Radical Lesbian Feminism.

In queer community, particularly but not only over the last twenty years, I've seen a whiddling down of R.L.F. philosophies, with very sharp intellectual knives held steady in the hands of het men, het women, gay men, bi men and women, and more recently by Conservative and Liberal trans activists. These critiques are not intended to make R.L.F. more effective; they are intended to render R.L.F. non-existent. These Conservative and Liberal challenges are predictably pro-status quo.

Academic Liberal post-modern philosophies are used to keep the institutional powers of the status quo in place, even while socially activist Radical post-modern philosophies were designed to expose and challenge the hypocrisies and horrors of that same status quo. In queer community now, Liberalism and Conservatism reigns supreme. Radical trans viewpoints are refused and refuted as being transphobic.

This doesn't mean LGBTIA communities ought to be regarded as more dangerous--or, even, just as dangerous--as het male-dominated communities. Queer communities of all colors are never atop a social hierarchy of gendered and raced sexuality. Neither are Radical Feminist philosophies rising out of communities of all colors and sexualities. It is this last point that I hope was made clear in my response to Joelle Ruby Ryan.

Here's that response:

  1. Hi Joelle,
    I am a transgender, gay, pro-feminist male. White too. I believe I have written to you inviting you to engage in mutually respectful discussion on many of these issues. But maybe I thought of it and didn’t follow through! Entirely possible. :P Anyway, I hope you will engage in mutually respectful discussion with me at my blog and here at your own, on trans and radical feminist issues, especially where they intersect. For now, do you really believe that Sheila Jeffreys ought not speak at any college? (Most have stated policies similar to that at Wheelock, don’t they? Maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe it’s regional, with more progressive values showing up in the statements of intent in colleges in the US Northeast.) In my experience, colleges are not places of radical activism, by and large; they are places of liberal discourse, rarely practicing any radical activism on any issues at all. (As you may know better than I do, they are not in the business of promoting social change which threatens their own foundational values and practices.)

    Part of my experience is that when very marginalised groups of activists are routinely targeted from many angles, from disparate political groups, they can become kind of rigid and defensive, but not the kind of rigid that is fascistic or structurally domineering. I get that you’re not applying the term to radical feminists. But I just want to state here that I think applying it to radical lesbian feminists who are not trans is a misuse of the term. Perhaps we agree on this point: non-trans radical lesbian feminists have no state power from which to exercise methods of social control. They have no police force, no military, no law-makers, no courts in which people are sentenced to years in hellish prisons. They have no educators either in K through 12 or in university, in leadership within the state proper. Do you support people ascribing such power–fascistic power–to some truly marginalised people who get some books published and rarely gather at conferences? I realise you are not calling that power of being published “fascistic”. I hear you stating that you won’t tolerate hate speech from Christo-fascists or from radical lesbian feminists. But are you aware of how often the writings of radical lesbian feminists are called “censorial” and “fascist” by many people across many political locations?

    I’m wanting to bridge some divides with you. Are you open to discussion with me? I’m happy to mutually set some ground-rules that would make the environment safer or more constructive for us in discussion.
*For more, please see this recent post titled, "Who Will Transgender and Transsexual Activists Support in Men's War Against Women?"