Transphobia to the left of me, Anti-feminism to the right…

For all my talk about not tarring and feathering those feminists (you know, the ones not like us), I must confess that there is one type of feminist that constantly gets under my skin. The transphobic one. Ye gods I wish I could go to all those who think that transgendered people don’t deserve a place in feminism because they aren’t “real women” (whatever that means) and say to them, “You! Out of my feminism!” I guess a part of it is because in order to believe what they do about the transgendered population, they must first believe in gender essentialism — an ideal not compatible with liberation, as one poster on the feminist LJ pointed out.

But are my exclusionary tactics any different than those who try to tar “radical” feminists with the same brush? Who cry to their critics, “I’m not that kind of feminist, don’t blame me!”? I’m not sure. The so-called “radical” feminists’ biggest problem is that the media has chosen them to caricature, while the transphobic feminists try to exclude transwomen (and transmen) in a very real way. Of course, I have said in the past that not all feminists hold 100% feminist values. I know that, despite my best efforts, I still hold some anti-feminist values.

But is there a line to be drawn? When does an “anti-feminist value” grow so large that it taints the entirety of a person’s, or group’s, feminism? Feminists for Life, if they ever indeed were feminist to begin with, crossed that line with their hate propaganda.

So where does that leave feminists like Charlotte Croson, whose article Sex, Lies and Feminism had so many ignorant assumptions about the transgendered community (as well as the BDSM community) that I couldn’t even finish reading the article? Or this so-called feminist group, FIASCO (Feminists Involved Against Sex Change Operations), whose spokesperson posted Women’s space colonized, a treatise on how transsexuals are “violating” women’s spaces in order to look at them sexually. No joke. I’d wonder how she’d feel about me, a bisexual woman-born-woman, going into bathrooms. I might, — gasp! — be there to “[undress] the innocent women with [my] eyes and [lust] after their bodies to be [mine]“, too!

It’s one thing to not understand transgendered issues (Emma, piny, and I had a long conversation on that in a feministe thread), and quite another to espouse the kind of exclusionist hatred found in the two articles linked above. Is it enough for me to say that women like that aren’t “real” feminists? Probably not. But, their feminism is so tainted by gender essentialism and transphobia (as if it’s somehow more acceptable than sexism, homophobia, racisim, or what-have-you) that I’m also loathe to include their narrow ideals in what I see is a plural movement focused on equality.

Feminism is about equality for all, not equality for some. It’s not just about the middle-aged, upper class, white, straight, [fill-in-the-majority here] women. It’s about the young and the old, the middle class and the poor, the black, the Asian, the Latino, the gay, bi, and trans. It’s about us, and them, and so much more. How can you, or I, be a feminist and then stand up and say, “But I don’t like you so you’re not allowed in the club!”?

Yet, if there’s no line to be drawn, then what happens when simple critique just doesn’t cut it? This isn’t the feminist not understanding why a woman would want to be a stay-at-home mom, this is the feminist who marches up to those women and lectures them on how useless they are for their choice. What, if any, amount of hurt should we be allowed to heap on others and still adhere enough to our goals to be called feminist?

And, after all this, I still don’t know. I know that hatred is not right. I know that it’s not useful. But I also know that it is so hard for me not to hate those who seek to hurt others.

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This entry was posted in Feminism, Gender Caste, Gender issues, Queer Issues, The Evil -ism's. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Transphobia to the left of me, Anti-feminism to the right…

  1. Darth Sidhe says:

    A quick brain fart: I’ve always meant to do some deep thinking on the question of whether the motivations behind transsexuality are inherently sexist. Of course, this is based on my thought that transsexuality is motivated by a combination of believing that one’s thought patterns and behaviours are more appropriate to the opposite gender, as well as a desire to be treated as the gender one beieves one belongs to.

    That kind of thinking ruffles my feathers because it attaches behaviours and thoughts to genitals — if you think and act this way, you must have an innie or an outie, or vice versa, which has caused me SO MUCH DIFFICULTY in my life; why must the fact that I have certain reproductive organs dictate every part of my life? — and also because it promotes a gender binary when . However, I do have limited perspectives on this, having only known three postoperative transsexual people, and none of them have I had the opportunity to know very well.

    I realize it would be rude for me to go up to a transsexual person and grill them about their decision to transition, but at the same time, this standard of politeness means that I must remain ignorant until I get to know someone well enough that such a conversation wouldn’t be unseemly intimate.

    Oh, and you flaked out on me this weekend. :P

  2. tekanji says:

    Of course, this is based on my thought that transsexuality is motivated by a combination of believing that one’s thought patterns and behaviours are more appropriate to the opposite gender, as well as a desire to be treated as the gender one beieves one belongs to.

    From what I’ve seen (and I haven’t grilled any transsexuals on this, either), a lot of that kind of gender essentialism is pushed by the medical sector – telling transsexuals that if they don’t act like the gender they want to be (ie. girls must be femme, boys must be macho) then they’re just “faking” it. I think that a lot of the gender essentialism that comes from within the transgendered community is based on the gender cultism of society at large.

    I also think one of the distinct differences that some people don’t get, especially many of the professionals responsible for “okaying” hormone treatment and SRS, is that there’s a difference between sex, gender, and gender caste. Transsexuals have a different gender pattern than their expressed sex, which has nothing to do with “manly” or “womanly” behaviours.

    The best I can offer you for education on the issue (since I agree that standard of politeness means not pressing intimate issues with people) is to visit a couple links I have here. Specifically transsexuality.org, eminism.org, and the transfeminism LJ community.

    And I didn’t flake out :P I thought you said that you would call me at 7 with info on stuff to do. Since I never recieved a call, I assumed you got busy or couldn’t find anything fun. And it was pretty late (and I was pretty drunk…) by the time I realized that you hadn’t called yet.

  3. Darth Sidhe says:

    Oh, and hatred may not be right, but it can definitely be useful as motivation. Just don’t let it be your only motivation, and don’t let it turn you into something less than human.

  4. funnie says:

    Writing an article about trans politics is in NO way comparable to marching up to anyone and calling them useless, much less is espousing radical feminist politics comparable calling women who are stay at home mothers useless. The fact that you think it IS similar calls into very serious question your perspective that radical feminists just have themselves a little PR problem, whereas transsexuals are under a “very real” threat from women who seek out space for women.

    Feminism is not about equality for all. Feminism is a women’s liberation movement. In the course of achieving freedom for women, sexual violence, homophobia, racism, classism and other problems must and should be addressed. So for men, however that group is categorized (persons born male, persons raised male, and/or persons who live as men), there is a nice collateral benefit to feminism. But feminism is not about freeing men, however they’re defined; if it were, it could not exist: women being in charge of whether men are enslaved or set free would put women in an oppressive, not oppressed, position as compared to men. And that’s simply false.

    Calling radical feminist theory and work on gender “transphobia” really misses the mark, just as it erases feminism entirely by turning women into the oppressor class. I hope you do make it through Ms. Croson’s article at some point; in the meantime, the fact that you can’t and/or won’t give it an even chance sounds like there’s more than just “media” resistance to hearing women speak unapologetically.

  5. tekanji says:

    Writing an article about trans politics is in NO way comparable to marching up to anyone and calling them useless, much less is espousing radical feminist politics comparable calling women who are stay at home mothers useless.

    Well, writing an article that supports the decision to keep transwomen out of a feminist women’s festival because transwomen aren’t women (which is said in the article: From there Camp Trans activists… have attempted to define our interests as women as a function of how they define themselves.) is, in my opinion, excluding transgendered people in a very real way.

    You don’t seem to be understanding the general thrust of my article; this isn’t about 1:1 corrrelations, this is about attitudes. My example of a feminist “[marching] up to those women and [lecturing] them on how useless they are for their choice” was meant to illustrate how I feel transphobic feminists treat the transgendered community. My point was to give an easy-to-understand example of how hurtful it is to berate someone because they don’t fit into one’s narrow ideal of what a “woman” should be.

    And I’m not sure where you’re pulling the correlation between radical feminist politics and my afforementioned example. The whole reason I used the radical feminist example is because they are the most commonly maligned feminist group by anti-feminists, non-feminists, and even some feminists. I was trying to say that I don’t think that that’s comparable to me being upset with the kind of crap that transphobic feminists try to pass off as feminist.

    Feminism is not about equality for all. Feminism is a women’s liberation movement.

    Maybe your feminism isn’t, but my breed of third-wave feminism sure is. Feminism is about struggling against the patriarchy. Accepting that, while the patriarchy doesn’t affect us all equally, it does affect us all. I’m not saying that women need to “free” men or some similar thing, and I don’t know where you got that from, but rather that feminists have a responsibility to not use the same tools of the patriarchy that oppressed us to oppress others. In this particular case, it is my belief that the transphobic feminists are using their woman-born-woman status to oppress the transgendered (transwomen specifically in the examples I cite) by trying to exclude them from the feminist movement.

    Calling radical feminist theory and work on gender “transphobia” really misses the mark, just as it erases feminism entirely by turning women into the oppressor class.

    Are Croson’s theories part of radical feminism, or is this in reaction to my use of it above? I have limited contact with feminist theory – most of my knowledge comes from real life experience – so I honestly don’t know.

    And insinuating that transwomen aren’t women is transphobic, insofar as it is a “refusal to accept a person’s new gender identity”. So, while I may be missing some point about radical feminism, I was specifically referencing feminism that was transphobic. If radical feminism refuses to acknowledge that transwomen are women, then I’d put them in the transphobic group because that is one of the most basic definitions of transphobia.

    I hope you do make it through Ms. Croson’s article at some point; in the meantime, the fact that you can’t and/or won’t give it an even chance sounds like there’s more than just “media” resistance to hearing women speak unapologetically.

    I got halfway through until I couldn’t take her ignorance on both trans issues and BDSM issues anymore. From the comments of others who managed to get all the way through (see the feministe thread I referenced), it doesn’t get any better. And she has every right to “speak unapologetically”, just as I have the right to state that think that she should do it from a position of knowledge rather than ignorance.

  6. funnie says:

    it is my belief that the transphobic feminists are using their woman-born-woman status to oppress the transgendered (transwomen specifically in the examples I cite) by trying to exclude them from the feminist movement.

    You know what? I shouldn’t have commented on your blog. I’ve never read it before, and probably won’t read it again – I just saw the trackback notice on the margin of Feministe, and clicked because seeing “transphobia” and “feminist” linked together drives me crazy.

    I don’t know a thing about you, or vice versa. And arguing with you about your beliefs is not a good use of my time.

    I just hate to see my point of view maligned, called transphobic, called essentialist. It is none of neither. But if we want to start throwing words at each other, here are a couple:

    It is misogyny to call women names because they want some space in the world where they can spend time free from the influence of persons who have spent their formative years being trained as men are (for two decades at least in the case of most MTFs).

    It is sexist to expect female persons, women who have been socialized and raised to be feminine and accommodating, to take on board the problems patriarchy causes for male-born people, to accept the definitions and cultural appropriation from a dominant group – the sex trained to feel entitled to whatever space in the world women take up.

    It is beyond ludicrous to call a colonized group exclusionary against members of the class who conquered it. White third-wave feminists recognize (or at least pay lip service to recognizing) exactly how ludicrous that is, when it comes to other minority groups…right up until the minority is women. Then there’s an urge to criticize their own group members for not being accommodating enough, for not building enough bridges, for not being unprejudiced enough. As if women could get equality if they’d just learn to act right.

    I spent some time there myself, and continue to struggle against the urge to make sure all my people are perfect so we can get our freedom. But it really, really, really doesn’t work that way.

  7. funnie says:

    That first paragraph was supposed to be a quotation, but I apparently formatted it incorrectly.

  8. funnie says:

    hah, “none of neither”. I should have written the post in Word and pasted.
    The lack of wrapping makes it very hard to edit.

  9. tekanji says:

    I formated the quotation for you.

    I just saw the trackback notice on the margin of Feministe, and clicked because seeing “transphobia” and “feminist” linked together drives me crazy.

    Well, I’m sorry, but when feminists are being transphobic what do you expect me to say? It’s no different then when feminists are being racist, or ablist, or heterosexist.

    I just hate to see my point of view maligned, called transphobic, called essentialist.

    Well, if you don’t want to be called transphobic or essentialist, then maybe you should get educated on the transgendered population. Your entire reply has been made up of ignorant, and incorrect, assumptions about transwomen.

    You have no problem calling me sexist for preaching inclusion for the transgendered and then turning right around and justifying the oppression of the transwomen because you want to punish them for having been born male.

    Frankly, you have the right to practice whatever kind of feminism you want to. But I have the right to speak up when I believe that the feminist ideal of equality is not being upheld. And, when it comes down to it, I don’t believe that we can ever achieve equality if we’re willing to use the tools of the oppressor against any other minority.

  10. piny says:

    >>Of course, this is based on my thought that transsexuality is motivated by a combination of believing that one’s thought patterns and behaviours are more appropriate to the opposite gender, as well as a desire to be treated as the gender one beieves one belongs to.>>

    The former is not why people transition. If it were, there would be no trannyfags, no trykes, no “butch” transwomen, and no “femme” transmen.
    Most transpeople need to work to attain the cues of the gender they transition into; this is why there are “passing tips.” Most of us are in fact _not_ terribly gender incongruent prior to transition, although many are.

    As tekanji pointed out, there is a great deal of pressure on transpeople to assume the cues and roles of the gender they transition to–for a great many years, it was a requirement for approval for surgery and hormones. While it is no longer official, I would be extremely naive to pretend that the doctors who treat us do not bring their own prejudices into work. I have heard a lot of stories of subtle and overt disrespect towards transpeople who are very clear about transition but totally disinterested in butching or femmeing it up.

    This motivation is also problematic because it pretends that there’s no gender-role pressure around, y’know, not being a transsexual. That intial transgression would be virtually impossible for anyone who truly believed that men must be one way and woman must be another. Our culture does not merely separate people into two dichotomous genders. It separates them _at birth_ and then insists that they stay that way.

    Of course transpeople can be sexist and heavily invested in gender roles–just like non-transpeople. But there are too many transpeople who are proudly gendervariant to make that a workable rationale for transition.

    Finally, it’s ludicrous to pretend that Croson is merely talking about women’s space. She’s talking about everything and anything pertaining to women. Her argument rests on her assertion that transwomen don’t experience sexism directly, and that transmen don’t attain privilege. This denies the reality of trans lives, and is therefore transphobic. Also, the question of whether or not we belong in our post-transition gender is inextricable from the question of whether or not we deserve basic civil rights. _All_ of the cases involving anti-trans discrimination and anti-trans violence turn on a definition of “woman” and “man” that excludes or includes transpeople. It’s not a theoretical question or a limited one, and Croson’s answer supports transphobia in practice.

  11. jessica says:

    In response to Darth Sidhe: “I’ve always meant to do some deep thinking on the question of whether the motivations behind transsexuality are inherently sexist. Of course, this is based on my thought that transsexuality is motivated by a combination of believing that one’s thought patterns and behaviours are more appropriate to the opposite gender, as well as a desire to be treated as the gender one beieves[sic] one belongs to. That kind of thinking ruffles my feathers because it attaches behaviors and thoughts to genitals — if you think and act this way, you must have an innie or an outie, or vice versa, which has caused me SO MUCH DIFFICULTY in my life; why must the fact that I have certain reproductive organs dictate every part of my life? — and also because it promotes a gender binary when . However, I do have limited perspectives on this”

    It is a superficial excuse to claim ignorance of transpeoples’ motivations when theorizing about them, since the internet provides such a wealth of information written and published by transpeople about their motivations, their feelings, and their quite often lack of adherence to gender/sex/sexual/cultural stereotypes. Their core issues are neither social, political, or cultural. They are physiological, with a physiological solution. Their social expressions range the gamut potential and possibility, and therefore do not attach a specific set of thoughts or behaviors to genitals.

    For example, you might read the political writings of Andrea James and others at http://www.tsroadmap.com. Her positions, her inclusion by Eve Ensler as a Vagina Warrior, and more may open your eyes about such concepts.

    If feminism, or some other term that describes sexual equality for everyone, doesn’t include everyone and instead devolves into “man hating” and stridently defensive claims for “social space”, it devolves into just another form of polluted hatred, easily identified with and comparable to other hate politics. They are all social failures. Hatred, in any form, is usually anti-social, socially dysfunctional, and apparent for its social insecurity. Our self-confidence as women, our power, independence, and emancipation as women, succeeds best when we declare and inclusive, encompassing, and affiliating conception of ourselves and our sociocultural relationships and perspectives. Feminism fails when it creates enemies instead of allies and when it fails to identify opportunities to create them.

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  16. Magpie says:

    I keep seeing this and it always bothers me – funnie mentions it, but doesn’t emphasize it as much I believe it should be: I think everyone here is well aware of the cultural messages and forces of socialization at work in patriarchy. The result of these is constant internalized thoughts and behaviors in those assigned the role of “women” on the basis of their sex organs from the very moment of birth. I know this is my biggest issue as woman; the awareness of how much of my present self and behavior is socially constructed. I believe this is where the battle starts. You cannot fight if you never see why you need to. Understanding this, how can we fail to acknowledge the very real differences between the experiences, and subsequently behaviors and issues of those who have gone through this constant, insiduous influence in the construction of identity and those who have not? Those who have faced different messages and different problems in the construction of their identities?

    Let us say we all live in the same town, Springfield. Some of us have lived there sinced birth. Obviously, our experiences growing up will be different from those of people who grew up elsewhere. We will know inhabitants of the town in different ways. We will know it’s history from having lived it. This is not say that the experiences of those who grew up in different places are less! They are just not the same as ours. And everyone living there now has a stake in what happens to the town. What affects it affects all of us. But should those born in the town not have their school reunions as a space for them only? This is how I think of it.

    Of course transgender people experience oppression from the patriarchy, same as women do. Some of it works in the same way and for the same reasons. Some of it does not. I do not believe it is unfair or discriminatory to say that there are different aspects to the same struggle. We should fight on the same side because we have the same enemy, but it only weakens us, only weakens the diversity of our understanding to pretend it is the same.

  17. lyssa says:

    but it only weakens us, only weakens the diversity of our understanding to pretend it is the same.

    This is a good point. If this happened, my experience as a woman of trans experience would be erased. But excluding me from women’s groups erases my experiences of being a woman with a body that is functionally identical to many women’s bodies. That is the magic of transition- and why I transitioned in the first place. In other words, I did it so I can feel “inside” my body, connected to it, if you will. And like you, I have to deal with the social consequences of being a woman.
    This is where our experiences are similar, or as similar as two women’s experiences can be. And this is where we can benefit by sharing space. Like you, I was assigned the role “woman.” Unlike you, I was assigned later in life. Is that difference enough to tell me that I’m not a woman? Or less of a woman? Or perhaps that I am woman enough to be a peer for some things and not others. I think it’s fair to say that I don’t belong in a group that focusses on childbirth or menstruation. But I also think that I can listen to women’s music, work side by side with women in a “women only space” and benefit by doing so. I think that the women who I’d be working with would benefit as well.

    Insisting on “women’s space” at the expense of my identity and the realities of my life as a woman is not okay. Calling me names to defend a non trans woman’s space is not okay. Separate space should not happen without informed analysis. After all, prejudice and transphobia will never be solved by exclusion. The only way for transphobic individuals who exclude “improper” women to overcome their prejudice is interaction. It will make some women uncomfortable at first, but will benefit ALL women in the long run.

    And isn’t that what feminism is all about?

  18. Magpie says:

    From the point where one begins to think of oneself and present as a woman forward, the experiences will be increasingly similar or the same.

    However, I personally am very concerned with the crippling effects of the feminine role. Which those born with a particular set of genitals are forced into (the degree of force used and the success thereof varying across cases.) Specifically, those gendered behaviors which are taught to women, given as the only option for women, and which frequently correspond with the behaviors of those who are easier targets for victimization. Those attitudes toward self, which lead to all the words in defense of ourselves never spoken – because those who patriarchy favors do not even have to explicity put us in our place; we do not even think to speak, we suppress ourselves (for fear and shame and many other reasons), and many of us have never even seen any other way that things can be. Do you see what I’m getting at? How deep seated this is? How it reaches into our very minds, so that we have to fight to own our own thoughts?

    I wonder if I can even communicate how violated as a person I have felt after realizing that was done to me? I’m not saying there is no such experience from the perspective of one who indentifies oneself as a woman while the world sees a man. But I do not think the experience is the same. I do not see that one who has not had that done to them can feel it in the same way. Of course, I cannot feel your experience either. I do not say this to preclude empathy as tool of understanding, or to deny anyone’s experiences as a woman. I am saying to a substantial degree those who were not born women never lived as a GIRL. Think about all the things that word means in our society, and I think the gist of it becomes clear.

    I would never support such hurtful behavior and biased attitudes as you describe in any context. But I think that unfortunate, but true, difference, should be acknowledged. To set it aside — and it seems to sometimes it is set aside, and lightly, as if it were unimportant — is troubling to me. It is not an essential difference. It is a constructed one. It is a terrible thing, but in this world what controls the construction of identity is essentialist. And that is harmful to all of us. No one should ignore the scars that that construction inflict, and every kind of woman is harmed by it – but some in different ways than others. So there is a tricky balancing act. Not to value one over the other because of the particular type of harm done to each, but also to allow space for each to come to its own understanding, and at the same time make space for all to negotiate and work together.

  19. lyssa says:

    From the point where one begins to think of oneself and present as a woman forward, the experiences will be increasingly similar or the same.

    Well put. I like that you put the focus on temporality. Right now, I am more properly a “teenage girl” than a woman.

    However, I personally am very concerned with the crippling effects of the feminine role.

    Same here. We share those effects. Only I lack the years of experience in dealing with it that you do, and I lack the support of other women in doing so. That is why shared space is so important.

    I wonder if I can even communicate how violated as a person I have felt after realizing that was done to me?

    With me, you don’t have to. It is an experience that we share, along with many others. The details are no doubt different, but I’ll bet that you heard many of the same things that I’m hearing now. Of course, you’ll never know how similar they are if I am ghettoized to “trans only” space.
    My girlhood/adolescence is happening right now and I am still struggling to find my voice, so I can empathize.

    I am saying to a substantial degree those who were not born women never lived as a GIRL

    True and untrue. We just do ours later and largely without social support by mainstream women. We DO have an adolescence, and we grapple with many of the same issues, as well as a few of our own. As a girl “just like you?” No. As an adolescent woman coming to terms with being a woman? Yes.

    I think focussing on our commonalities will get us much further than focusing on our differences. We don’t have to ignore them, but we do have to work extra hard not to let them divide us. This is what fails when we are excluded. Plus, we fail to learn from each other.

    My experience with other nontrans women has generally been very positive. One of the things that was most suprising, though, is that I had something to contribute as a woman to the groups of women that I hung around with, and talked about serious things with. Rape, menopause, HRT to name a few. So I must caution against making the same mistake that I did- thinking that my experiences precluded me from relating to women on OUR issues because our experiences are “diffrerent.”

    So there is a tricky balancing act.

    Yes, it is. You made it a lot easier with your post. I think your commentary is sensitive and well thought out. Thanks for making it safe for me to reply.

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