Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Feminist update: The transgender wars wage on!

Left: from by way of lovely Lisa!

Yes, fight fans, it has not abated since I had my last big thread during the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival in August of last year. A few stand-offs, a few truces, but recently--a brand new conflagration.

The problem with cataloging blogwars is: who started it? In this case, I suppose we could accurately say the whole thing started back in... ohhh, I don't know. Long time ago.

This round appears to have been started by a thoughtful post at Maia's blog, titled Transphobia and Radical Feminism - A challenge:

I found that transgenderism / transsexualism is not the weird fetish of disturbed freaks, but a genuine - and very difficult - lived reality. I looked at some of the statistics for mental health and suicide rates among transpeople - both those who transition and those who do not. I read the blogs of transfolk, mainly transwomen - some who are out in real life, some who are not. I looked into medical evidence about the causes of transgenderism and found that there is no certainty about the true cause - whether it is physical / biological or whether it is mental / emotional / social or whether the individual cause varies from person to person. Sometimes intersex biology is relevant, sometimes not. From all this I learned that gender identity is a real phenomenon, even if we do not all consciously experience it; and I learned that gender dysphoria (where gender identify does not match biological sex attributes) is a real phenomenon, even if few of us are unfortunate enough to experience it.

What I found is that the definition of class Woman is not a simple matter, and I am not the person who can define what a woman is.

Radical feminists - especially those who are separatists or who advocate (as I do) the need for woman-only space - often struggle with this. We often act as though we know exactly what a woman is, and that a transwoman is not a woman. Even if we recognise that the question is not straightforward, we still struggle with the inclusion of transwomen in women-only spaces.

Sometimes our exclusion is expressed by straightforwardly characterising transwomen as men, so that it is then self-evident that they should be excluded from woman-only spaces. This really isn’t a very profound analysis.
I agree, it isn't.

My own process mirrors Maia's in many ways. My deepest, sincerest compliments on her honesty and willingness to ask the hard questions:
I do get that this is hard. I get that - especially for women who have been traumatised by men, women who have good reason to fear men, women who do in fact (as I once did) view transwomen as just men in drag - this is very hard indeed. Doing the right thing is often hard. It is still the right thing.

I keep making a connection in my mind with people who have suffered in war or conflict who are then asked to make peace with those whom they identify as their (former) enemies. We can understand if a person who suffered and was traumatised by long years in a prison camp, a rape camp, a concentration camp, if this person cannot forgive the group of people responsible for the suffering, is intensely distrustful and triggered by the mere presence of a person who looks like those people or shares their nationality… We understand, but understanding is not the same as condoning the organisation of, say, racist mental health spaces from which even innocent members of that group or nation are excluded - even members who were themselves traumatised, who fled as refugees, who reject their birth nationality and claim citizenship in their place of asylum…

I understand that this is hard. We want to protect those among us who have been hurt, who are still hurting. The question is not whether we want to protect women who are asking for safety. The question is whether we can actually achieve that by the exclusion of transwomen, and whether it is even acceptable to offer such protection when it comes at the expense of transwomen, by perpetuating the poorly analysed othering of transwomen, by ignoring the hurts and the violence that transwomen experience precisely because of their (desire to have) membership of class Woman. I don’t think so.

There is one more argument for trans-exclusion that I want to cover. It is touched upon in the Ogyn quote about “females who were raised as girls.” The idea is that transwomen, because they were raised as boys, cannot understand female oppression, that they have absorbed a degree of male entitlement that is impossible to reconcile with radical feminist women-only spaces. This is a big fat stereotype. If you tell a radical, young, woman-loving transwoman of colour that she is too dangerous and privileged to be allowed into your radfem women-only space then she will, if she is strong enough, laugh in your face. Rightly so.
The quandary for radical feminists: Are transwomen (people assigned "male" status at birth, but now identify as women) "really" women? Should feminists treat them as ex-oppressors or comrades-in-arms?

And why are transmen (people assigned "female" status at birth, but now identify as men) totally INVISIBLE in this conversation? What is to be gained by simply ignoring them, as many of the anti-trans radical feminists do?

Why such acrimony, viciousness and rancor from radical feminists? All out of proportion to events, IMHO.

And now, we bring you the greatest hits of this round. First, at Questioning Transphobia, we have the hoopla over the word CISSEXUAL, a handy-dandy word in these discussions. CISSEXUAL simply means "not transsexual." However, some trans activists have defined the word as: one who's genitalia "match" their social gender. Some feminists become rabid at such descriptions, since they have been mistaken for men or have been very butch; they feel this term erases them. A better description would be: one who's genitalia "match" the gender they feel themselves to be.

Is there such a thing as "cissexual privilege"?

There is also hoopla over the term transphobia--just as back in the day, there was consternation over the term homophobia. Some of you may remember the righteously indignant bleatings of various right wingnuts: "Phobia? I ain't skeered of no fucking fags!" Rush Limbaugh was one of the main wingnuts offering this line back in the early 90s.

At one point, I jumped in the fray. (Eh, I've done better.) You don't have to read all 120 posts, but keep in mind, I am UNBANNED by the end! (((bows)))

Belle sums up admirably:
well, it interests me, because it's coming up at the same time that the argument is supposedly y'know that they're going for this expansive sisterly communion, radical feminism (by the lights of people like this) is all about Class Woman, all 3+ billion of us, you know, we are strong, we are powerful...which is why the stakes are so high, because it's a -universal- movement, not just another little political faction or clique.

AND at the same time, there is an insistence that the -real- danger that transfolk pose to the women-only space is that they threaten the "safe space."


This is, in fact, what's on the table; this is what's being so passionately defended when the author (and others) start talking about "radfemphobia" as a counter to the term "transphobia" (which is simultaneously being rejected and mocked as invalid).

“I want the ability to be with like-minded individuals and only like-minded individuals.”

The response:

Here’s a question: why? And, what do you mean by that exactly?

Because that’s very telling, to me. You’re not even really interested in mystical sisterly communion, much less political effectiveness, so much as being around people who you don’t have to argue with. Like, at all.

“Birds in their little nests agree…”

I hate to be the one to break this to you, but: even if you do manage to purge your community of all dissenters on transpeople (much less the transpeople themselves), sex work/prostitution, femme accoutrements, BDSM, and so on and so forth, there’s -still- going to be something that’ll tear you apart. Does. Hell, I can see it happening from here. Yeah, it happens to everyone, we all have fights, often over stupid shit, but y’all…I gotta tell you, from where I'm sitting? you really put the “fun” back in “dysfunctional.” This goes a good way toward explaining why.

It’s, like, a -betrayal,- isn’t it, when your “sister” suddenly turns out to be, -not- an extension of yourself, but -a completely whole other person-. -Different.- This isn’t what you signed up for! You came for the merge! This was supposed to fix everything! Why, it makes you feel so, so…*alone*. Again. And terrified.

Welcome to life.

Welcome to adulthood.
And featured below, more links to more arguments, and replies to arguments, and offshoots and derails of even more arguments, from Jack and Witchy Woo. Priceless! A must-read.

Witchy, of course, has edited all 'unpleasant' and non-adoring remarks from her blog, like the good Stalinist censor she is. So, for the whole exchange, check out Jack:

Recent blogwar in a nutshell.
Terrible people are TERRIBLE people
You are, actually, like the right wing.
[Opens up dictionary] *Ahem*
No, you're wrong. Sorry if that deeply troubles you.

Yes, it certainly does trouble them. They go on and on and on, then forbid arguments in response. (Because of course, they can't reply, or they wouldn't be afraid to allow an open discussion.)

Stay tuned, fight fans... I'm sure this won't be the last installment!

Listening to: Talking Heads - The Girls Want to Be with the Girls
via FoxyTunes


belledame222 said...

hahaha wrt music choice

Daisy said...

Girls don't want to play like that,
Just want to talk to the boys.
Just want to do what is in their hearts,
And the girls want to be with the girls.

And the boys say, what do you mean?
And the boys say, what do you mean?
Well there's just no love,
And there's boys and girls.
And the girls want to be with the girls,
And the girls want to be with the girls.

Girls want things that make common sense,
The best for all concerned.
Don't want to have to go out of their way,
And the girls want to be with the girls.

And the boys say, what do you mean?
And the boys say, what do you mean?
Well there's just no love,
And there's boys and girls.
And the girls want to be with the girls,
And the girls want to be with the girls.

Girls are getting into abstract analysis,
They want to make intuitive leap.
They're making plans that have far reaching effects.
And the girls want to be with the girls.

The girls want to be with the girls.
That's where they go.

(David Byrne)

Nick Kiddle said...

And why are transmen (people assigned "female" status at birth, but now identify as men) totally INVISIBLE in this conversation? What is to be gained by simply ignoring them, as many of the anti-trans radical feminists do?

Well, you know, we're just "confused girls" deserving of sympathy, when we're not traitors to our sisters, anyway we can wait until they've chased off all the trans women and then they'll work out just what we are.

Every time they talk about who is woman enough for their space, I want to go barge in and show them some male privilege, then if they complain tell them I did the bleeding'n'breeding or whatever makes a woman in their rhetoric so stfu. I know it would be counterproductive if I tried it, but sometimes it's so tempting...

Renegade Evolution said...

that was a thing of beauty, daisy. well done.

the fruitfemme said...

Oh I do enjoy your blog, Daisy.

John Powers said...

I really enjoy your blog too! Feminist discussions are important to insensitive guys like me, but the irony is I'm too sensitive to frequent the places where such discussions happen.

I love that you've been working hard on the many questions that transgender people bring for so long. Most questions are hard and so require time to work out. Your pointing to blog wars also says something about the commitment it takes to deal with hard questions.

I deplore online bullying, threats and violence. But I also am uncomfortable sometimes with pleas for niceness that would undermine vigorous argument. So your willingness to roll up your sleeves and argue is an inspiration.

Gender is a difficult subject and so is sexuality. It's great your blog is so far ranging because it allows guys like me an entry into a world of important human questions. My life has been enriched by being involved with male forums which include transgender men.

Anonymous said...

Hi- found this blog via your comments on Polly Styrene's rantfest about trans activist privilege on her blog...

I really love the way you think and ask the difficult questions, over and over to deafening silence when necessary...sometimes the crickets are the only ones who are forthcoming in their responses, but they certainly can speak volumes, no?

Anyway, great commentary and well appreciated.


Daisy said...

Thanks yall, and welcome Tina! Stick around! :)

white rabbit said...

The Delete My Comment thing...

I gotta have it :D

Okay I just did ;)

sarah said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed

reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.