Thursday, October 15, 2015

10-15-2015 Entry: Feminist Transphobia *Edited 10/16/2015*


Hello my darlings! I hope you are doing well. I am, for no particularly explainable reason, in a really chipper mood today! Perhaps it is because it is still early and I haven’t yet had to deal with work. Only time will tell, but that’s not why I’m writing today.

Today, I’d like to discuss some topics related to feminism, trans activism and feminist transphobia. I will try to be as inclusive as possible in this discussion but please forgive me if my perspective is offered frequently from and upon the subject of trans women and the issues that they face with parts of the feminist movement. I know that trans men are also pretty affected by some of these things and gender non-conforming and/or non-binary individuals are also an important part of the equation. (*post edit, I’m thinking I might try to tackle each of these perspectives in their own entries)

So, to begin, I want to give a bit of back story on why I’m talking about this. My wife has been listening to some podcasts for quite some time now and has been insisting again and again that I listen to them as well. I, ever the rebellious spirit, resisted the temptation almost on principle (what that principle was, god only knows). The only thing I knew about these podcasts was that there were two women chatting about random subjects. The few times my wife forced me to listen to the podcasts I found them to be somewhat interesting although not intriguing enough to devote any real time to listening to them on my own. I am, after all, a rather busy lady what with fulltime work, fulltime grad school, the unforgivable amount of homework I’m sorry to say I’ve fallen behind on, this blog, the occasional volunteer email, and, let’s face it, a strong World of Warcraft addiction. As such, I never really figured I would listen to these podcasts, despite my wife’s enthusiasm about them. I kept them in the back of my mind thinking, “I’ll listen to them eventually, when I find the time for it.”

Well, finding the time for it came sooner than expected. Yesterday I found myself with about two hours and absolutely nothing to do. I certainly could and should have been doing homework but as fate would have it I didn’t adequately anticipate this two hour lull and left my textbooks and laptop at home. All I had to keep me busy or occupied while I waited for the time to pass was my phone (with a dying battery) and my car. I know, you are thinking, “Holy first world problems batman!”

I spent the first thirty minutes or so at a nearby diner dinking around on the internet and Facebook. It wasn’t long before that activity was boring, so I tried to decide what to do. I had to pick my wife up about 2 miles away in like an hour and a half, my phone was losing battery power faster than I could tolerate, and the diner I was in felt like the arctic circle (a lovely new addition to my life thanks to HRT; I never used to get cold, but now I’m cold a lot of the time, so I can only think HRT is behind the change).

I decided that the need to seek warmth was too important to ignore, so I left the diner, walked to my car and got into its toasty interior. After basking in the warmth for a minute or two I found myself in the same predicament, yet again. What to do? I decided to drive over to the pickup spot and figure out something to do there. I had an audiobook I could listen to, so I turned that on as I drove and proceeded to listen to it for about twenty minutes.

Again, this quickly became boring and was making me unacceptably sleepy so I shut the book off and let out a sigh. I still had about an hour. Should I take a nap? (I’m sure you are wondering the same thing as you read this boring story, but it gets better, I promise).

Wait! An idea! What about those podcasts she is always trying to get us to listen to? I texted my wife and begrudgingly asked where to find the podcasts, knowing that she was on the other side feeling all proud about herself that she’d finally whittled away my resistance (I can be rather stubborn when I don’t want to do something, after all).

She replied and told me where to go. I went to the website and started browsing the podcasts from the last month or so. Most of them didn’t really tickle my fancy until I came across a Feminist Transphobia podcast done last month. Okay, now that’s a subject I would be interested in listening to.

I know, you are shocked and amazed! Emma, transwoman extraordinaire, transgender mystique theorist, feminist, and trans activist was interested in feminist transphobia? You don’t say!

So, I fired the podcast up. My baby (aka my car) knew exactly what I needed from her and started playing the podcast via the Bluetooth through the car speakers. I reclined my seat and sat back as I listened to these two familiar female voices I’d heard echo through my house countless times before, chatting about feminist transphobia. If you have an hour, I strongly recommend you go and listen to it yourself at:


I listened to it and found it interesting, but more than anything it got me thinking about a lot of things. Feminist transphobia is nothing new, this isn’t the first time I’ve been exposed to it (generally or personally), and I’ve even discussed it before, but there was something about this podcast that gave birth to some new ideas and thoughts.

Let’s start by defining feminist transphobia. According to Radical Women, (a 2nd wave feminist organization) feminist transphobes are feminists who:

 “pathologize transgenderism for a variety of reasons. They characterize being transgender in various ways: as an extremely kinky sexual practice or a mental illness such as body dysmorphic disorder …[and]  who see the phenomenon as an effort by men to turn themselves into women in order to infiltrate ‘women’-only spaces.”

Obviously, you can see why one such as myself would find this viewpoint a bit disturbing, but despite the disturbance it creates in me I find it intriguing. Ever the academic and researcher I wanted to dissect this, examine it piece by piece, and see if I couldn’t figure out what would drive a person to hold such a belief.

The obvious first component to feminist transphobia is the transphobia portion. This is not unique to feminists. This is not even unique to women, or men, or governments, or religions or society. Transphobia is something that spans the globe. It transcends the barriers of culture, religion, language, borders, and time (history). Transphobia is a byproduct of the transgender mystique.

According to the mystique, there are only two acceptable or “real” genders and anyone who does not conform to those acceptable/real genders, their roles, or their expectations immediately takes on an “other” social status. This “otherness” begins to determine for the individual how they will be perceived by others and the assumptions these others make about who the individual must be. “Otherness” becomes the defining characteristic and eventually erodes away at any other characteristics that might have been seen, perceived, or believed had “normalcy” been present. You might be a good, stable, successful person while you presented as a penis wielding male or a vagina containing female, but contradict those expectations and your otherness dictates that you MUST be something other than those previous qualities (i.e. you become: bad, unstable, mentally-ill, and damaged) because to be “other” means to be lesser. Others are lesser, and therefore are permitted to be defined by those who are not “other” or who are superior because of their lack of “otherness.” Normalcy supersedes otherness.

It is no wonder, then, that under such a system of pervasive cultural and societal underpinnings about the nature of gender, that even feminism, a movement that rails against gender norms/expectations, would be influenced by transphobia. Now, it’s important to note that not all feminism is transphobic. Many feminists, especially the younger generations of feminists, see transphobia as out of place in feminism. Only certain parts of the feminist movement (and certain individuals with loud voices and large audiences) display transphobia… but why?

Sure, transphobia and the transgender mystique pervade society at all levels, but that doesn’t paint the whole picture. Why would a group of people who denounce the patriarchal system’s oppression of women (based simply on the fact that they are women), then turn their backs on a group of people suffering similar (if not greater) oppression from the same system?

I believe it is because transphobia is just one of the many oppressive love-children of the patriarchal system of oppression. The gender binary itself is the foundation upon which all gender or sex based power disparities are built. The inherent and exclusive existence of two sexes is the foundation upon which men have traditionally oppressed women. If you are not man, you must be woman (and therefore lesser).

Betty Friedan helped start the 2nd wave of feminism by her discussions in the Feminine Mystique which outlined how the societally approved and upheld sacredness or “mystique” of femininity was used as a tool to oppress, manipulate, and ultimately take advantage of women. Being a woman meant that you were supposed to be: wife, mother, homemaker, sex-kitten (inside marriage), obedient and of inferior faculties. Being a woman also meant you were not supposed to be ambitious, intelligent, critical, hardworking, single, sexually promiscuous (outside of marriage) childless or a career woman. If you contradicted what you were supposed to be then you were seen as unfit, untamed, a sexual deviant, mentally-ill, sick, broken, or confused (why do those terms sound so familiar, I wonder?)

So, we begin to see why a person who might be labeled (although labeling does little to get at the root of the issue) a TERF, or Trans-exclusionary Radical Feminist seems to be a walking contradiction. They detest the patriarchy and its use of gender norms/expectations and sexism to oppress and take advantage of women. Yet, they turn to transgender individuals and say you can’t be what you say you are, because gender norms/expectation and cissexism dictate that your just a man (or woman) putting on a costume. You don’t conform to OUR beliefs about the nature of gender (more on this in a bit) so you must therefore be a sexual deviant, mentally ill, or simply a bad person trying to infiltrate the *sacred feminine* realm.

Let’s take a moment and allow that to sink in a bit. I think Jackie Chan can best encompass my reaction:

https://imgflip.com/s/meme/Jackie-Chan-WTF.jpg

So, let’s get this logic straight:

 Patriarchy uses the sacredness of femininity as a means of creating a divide between the sexes.

 This divide dictates what each side is and isn’t, and the dos and don’ts for each of them.

The feminine side do’s/don’ts are inherently oppressive while the male side do’s/don’ts are inherently empowering (over others).

Patriarchy is therefore bad.


Okay, that makes sense. Good so far...

Trans-exclusionary Radical Feminism uses the sacred feminine as a means of creating a divide between “real women” and trans women.

This divide dictates what each side is and isn’t, and the dos and don’ts for each of them

The trans side do’s/don’t are inherently oppressive while the “real” side do’s/don’ts are inherently empowering (over others).

Trans exclusion/transphobia is therefore… good??

https://imgflip.com/s/meme/Jackie-Chan-WTF.jpg

Okay, setting the contradiction aside (even if we have to walk awhile to get around it) it’s important to examine this thought process; to dissect and deconstruct it. In order to do that, we have to get into the mind of a so-called TERF (I know some find this word potentially offensive but please bear with me as I’m using it academically, not as a slur). Each person is different and not everyone who might be considered as fitting under this label will come to the same conclusion the same way.

Personal experiences of any individual are going to strongly influence their perceptions. Negative experiences with trans identifying individuals may also strongly influence their perceptions (as the podcast discussed, one of the loudest voices in TERF’dom was harassed and threatened by a trans woman). The inability to see the reflection of oneself in others will also play a key role. Let’s go to the land of make believe for a minute and see how a person might hypothetically reach the above logical fallacy.

The following is all just conjecture in order to display and deconstruct some relatively common themes in TERF’dom:

There is a cisgender female, she feels very passionately about the oppressions she sees around her from the patriarchal system. Perhaps she, herself, has even been a victim of some terrible oppression or discrimination. We will not say that she was sexually assaulted because that would only propagate an unfair stereotype of “man-hating” feminists, but perhaps she was discriminated against at home, in school, at work, or in public because of her sex (perhaps she witnessed this tragic event in another person’s life; maybe a relative or close friend). The only way she has found to reconcile this event or these events in her (or another’s) life has been to really identify with and embrace her power as a woman. She knows who she is, what she is worth, and cannot be held down. No man will ever tell her who she is or what she can/can’t do/be/have. She firmly believes the patriarchy is oppressive and must be fought against.

We won’t delve into her sexuality but will just assume she is single. She goes to feminist rallies, events, and groups that only allow cisgender women in. Together they bond, they identify with the passionate feelings they have, and they work together to protest the patriarchy in various ways (writing, speaking, art, music, sex, etc.). She feels safe there. She feels empowered there. It is sacred there. No men, no patriarchy, no problems.

Then, a trans woman tries to get into the rallies, events, and groups. Maybe this transwoman doesn’t “pass” very well and still has some obvious male physical features. Maybe they even still have a penis. Our friend feels very uncomfortable about this. She hears this person claim they are a woman but it feels like a deception to her. She looks at the masculine features, maybe even listens to the masculine voice, and part of her thinks, “it’s just a man in a dress and makeup.”

Seeing this person as a man triggers all of her passionate feelings/beliefs about the patriarchy and she starts to see this person through the lens of the privileges and characteristics of a typical man. She doesn’t know this person but begins to make broad assumptions about their character. She, and perhaps some others experiencing similar discomfort tell this trans woman that they aren’t allowed in because they aren’t really a woman. The trans woman, feeling attacked and delegitimized like so many times before begins to protest and argue with them. Things turn nasty, maybe there is even some physical violence that ensues as the trans woman fights for acceptance. Maybe the trans woman, feeling attacked, harassed, and vulnerable pulls to her male upbringing and says something truly male-privileged and threatens to rape the women (i.e. the story in the podcast about a trans woman threatening to rape a feminist). The trans woman doesn’t actually want to do that but has been the victim of so much abuse and intolerance that she doesn’t know any other way to resolve the conflict than to resort to old power plays, as bad as they are. (don't mistake me, threating to rape anyone is never okay; I'm simply trying to illustrate how a person in a heightened defensive state might say something they don't really mean or wouldn't normally ever say)

This just solidifies our friend’s initial thoughts that this trans woman is really just a man, and she begins to think up reasons why this person wanted in to begin with. She reasons: They must be mentally ill to think they are a woman when they are so clearly male; or they must be some sort of sexual deviant or pervert for wanting to be a woman when they are really just a man; or it’s just another man trying to assert power over women by claiming to be one to infiltrate their sacred place; he’s just as oppressive as the rest. Maybe she thinks all of those things, maybe she thinks none of them, but either way the damage is done.

One negative experience precipitated by preconceived beliefs and emotions about the patriarchy and all of a sudden our friend begins a narrative in her mind. Perhaps she finds common ground with the others who struggled with the trans woman and they all reinforce our friend’s narrative. They talk about it, they write about it, they use it as an example, and before you know it you have a group of Trans-exclusionary Radical Feminists creating a movement, finding like-minded people, and solidifying their stance.

Is this what actually happened? Probably not, but can you see how easy it is for something like this to happen? Can you see how the situation with the allegedly stalking trans woman who threatened to rape the outspoken feminist in the podcast might have been similar to this?

One misunderstanding, one poor use of judgement, one altercation, one threat and suddenly the very oppression our friend was fighting against comes round full circle and she starts propagating it in a new way. Which brings me to the point of this entry/response to Stuff Mom Never Told You’s podcast about feminist transphobia.

Feminist transphobia and Trans-exclusive Radical Feminists are both a result of the (patriarchal) system of power disparities as outlined by the transgender mystique. They are born out of a resistance to existing power disparities but are actually created in circular fashion by those same exact power disparities.

Let’s break that down into more digestible terms. In the social pyramid of power game, white, cisgender, heterosexual men are at the top. Near them, albeit below them, are white, cisgender, heterosexual females. Next to those white, cis, hetero women we actually, these days, find gay men, particularly gay white men. That’s a new development but they often have about as much social power as white, cis, hetero females do. In some ways they may actually still be above them because of male privilege.

Below that tier we begin to see the different minority groups, each with the men slightly higher up the pyramid than their respective women. At the very bottom of the pyramid, however, we see a hodgepodge of those who do not fit the white-picket-fence fantasy of white, heteronormative culture. We have those who are handicap, those with visible physical impairments/abnormalities, those with invisible impairments, those who have mental illnesses, criminals, gang members, sex workers, the homeless, LGB people of color or low socioeconomic standing, and you guessed it, transgender folks (among many others).

We could split hairs and figure out which of those has more power than others, but for simplicity let’s just assume they all have relatively similar social power. If they are white, they probably have a bit more. If they are affluent or educated, they will also have more, but on a whole, they are far from the top of the pyramid.

(*Please note, I’m not suggesting this system is good or right, but simply that it exists*)

In this system of power disparities men rule the roost so to speak, especially white, cis, hetero men. They utilize their privilege and power to gain advantage over others, and often times at the expense of others (oppression, colonialism, cronyism, etc.). They set the rules of the game and those rules are always stacked in their favor, intentionally or not. For a VERY long time they used that rule setting power (via religion, government, laws, science, psychology, social expectations, etc.) to systematically oppress and take advantage of women. They denied them education, freedom, artistic expression, money, land, the power to vote or even choose their mate, and so much more. This still happens today, although to a lesser degree.

This oppression was ingrained in the cultural and societal psyche of women. It was passed down from generation to generation for centuries. Women were only finally able to loosen its crippling grasp over the last 200 years or so, but they still aren’t completely free of it. Our society (especially America) is still very patriarchal in how it is run. The pyramid still stands and the white man is still on top.

More than that, however, the psychological effects of the patriarchal oppression of women are still in the collective psyche of women, especially TERF’s. What I mean by that is our society is still so ingrained with the normalcy of power disparities and social privilege’s inherent power to dictate to others what and who they are, that even when a group (like feminists) fights against that system, they can often end up perpetuating it.

TERF’s have simply taken the patriarchal place of men and put transwomen in their previous place of lower power. They believe they have the social power and privilege to dictate to another person who they are, just like the patriarchy does, because of their placement on the pyramid. They have divided “them” and “us” into arbitrary categories based solely on genitalia and made one of them greater than the other, just like patriarchy did with women.

I see it as no wonder that TERF’s exist at all. Trans-exclusive Radical feminism is a naturally occurring inverse of true misogyny. They are the yin to the yang, thus completing the circle of patriarchal power disparities and reversing them at the first opportunity.

Think of it this way. Patriarchy has indoctrinated our society with the belief that power disparities are not only naturally occurring but essential to the functioning of society. It’s the way things are supposed to be. Everyone cannot be equal, because if we are all equal then who gets to be in charge? If someone is in charge don’t they deserve more than those who are not in charge? What about those who contribute less than we want them too or don’t fit into or measure up to our expectations, shouldn’t they get less? And so the spiral begins.

I believe that TERF’s are a product of that indoctrination. They see it as them fighting the secret invasion of patriarchy into their sacred realm of femininity, but in actuality they are cashing in on their opportunity to be the powerful ones by isolating and excluding a group of people far less privileged than them. They are so damaged by this indoctrination of power disparities that they cannot even see their dysfunction. They bar the entry of trans women on the grounds that their gender is completely determined by sex organs, yet rail against a cultural system that separates people into power-imbalanced groups based solely on sex organs.

This isn’t about whether or not a trans woman is a real woman or not (because by their own admission TERF’s assert that gender is a social construction, so male and female don’t really even exist in any solid or permanent state), this is about asserting power over those they deem lesser than themselves.

What, in your estimation, could be more patriarchal than to assert power over those you deem lesser than yourself simply because of their sex organs?


Utilizing the *sacred feminine* as a means of exclusion of others is criminally reminiscent of the patriarchy using the *sacred feminine* as a means of excluding women from full and meaningful personhood.


And if gender is a social construction, as they frequently claim it is, then how does a *sacred feminine* even exist under such a system? Do they think that because it is "their" social construction that it means it's more real or valid than any other social construction? Are they the exception to the rule about not dictating to another what they can and can't be based on sex?


Additionally, what about non-binary individuals? What about those who are both male and female? what about those who have no gender or those who identify as androgynous? What about those born with no or ambiguous genitalia? Where do they fit in this heavily policed *sacred feminine* realm where only feminist women with biologically developed vaginas can inhabit?


They frequently argue that trans men are simply women misguided by the patriarchy into believing they could become men, so are they allowed in? They were assigned female at birth and likely have a vagina, but does that make up for the fact that they may be living a life filled with male privilege? Or have they lost their sacred femininity, never to be reclaimed again?


The point is, TERF'dom is an ideological stance perpetuated by intolerance and blinded by zealotry. It's a binary creation and is therefore forever trapped by the limitations of a binary. Their entire argument is built upon a faulty assumption that there are only two "real" genders, despite any of their claims that gender is a social construction.


Trans individuals do not hurt feminism. If anything, the trans revolution and the chipping away at the binary infrastructure of our culture will only aid in the feminist movement. Feminism is the first step to tearing down the pyramid of social power disparities, but it won't be until we overthrow the binary altogether that the pyramid will come down for good.


 No one deserves more because of their sex, orientation, gender, ethnicity, or any other arbitrary category the transgender mystique/patriarchy tries to divide us with.


So, to any TERF's out there, I want you to realize that exclusion is the dark heart of the patriarchy, and only inclusion will truly undo the patriarchy's power.

-Emma

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