Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Trans activism online

I've just deleted a post I wrote yesterday because it was snarky. I hope no one read it because, well, because it was just snarky.

It was born out of concerns for what seems to be a huge chasm amongst feminists. I have no idea whether or not this is also happening offline, as I rarely encounter feminism offline unless I make the effort to go to a feminist meeting. I rant in pubs, but that's just ranting.

I am hugely concerned that women are being divided into two camps - pro trans and anti trans. This is ridiculous and totally missing the mark. Many feminists believe that the pressure of gender assignment has negative effects on every individual. I do not believe that one is born 'feeling' like a gender that jars with their body. Perhaps, as someone at the F Word posted, this makes me arrogant. But if I 'felt like a man', then there would be nothing to stop me living as one, except for societal prejudice against effeminate men or extremely 'butch' lesbians with realistic strap-ons. That is not something unchangeable. In fact, societal attitudes are the very things that need to change.

The thing is, I don't know what feeling like a man would be because I'm not one, and just because I'm an entitled, selfish, lazy, egocentric person, who isn't good at expressing their feelings, can parallel park, hates shopping and only has eyes for everyone with a pulse doesn't mean I have to rethink my body. Even in some sexual fantasies of mine I have a penis. It still doesn't mean I need to change my outer shell. It just means I have fantasies that involve me with a dick.

I am worried that the feminist movement is becoming preoccupied with trans politics, and the trans activists themselves do not seem to be reciprocating the support for women born women that they want us to provide for them. This is probably only on the internet, but I haven't seen many trans women who are concerned with women as a group - only trans gender issues.

Feminism should of course take all gender issues very seriously, and they do, but there are other things we are fighting for and against, too. If 'ciswomen' and trans women are to be allies, then it can not all be about trans issues. There needs to be some give and take and understanding of the needs of all women.

At the moment, all I am seeing is women being divided. There are those who think that the suffering of men who believe/ed themselves to be in the wrong body, should be discussed over and above other feminist issues that some trans women do not seem as bothered by. Abortion rights for example. Yes, trans women are subject to oppression and they have exactly the same resources to combat this as women have always had. (Ie not much! Make do!)

I am totally not of the opinion that trans people have it worse than women born women. Different issues - not worse.

I also find it interesting that the all the trans women I have read online support the sex industry. (Please, if a trans woman thinks the sex industry is harmful to women, let me know. I would appreciate your input.) I worry that some men transition to a female body in order to partake in the sex object role, which they may see as more powerful than their previous incarnation as a male - particularly if sex was a very big part of their lives and as a male they felt disempowered by it.

I just thought I'm going to get some angry comments about that last bit but I'll leave it there anyway. For now.

I hope women can make peace. Sometimes it seems as if women enjoy sparring. Well, we are all human beings, and we seem to make a mess of most things.

Focus people. It's not all about the male born.

17 Comments:

Blogger Anji said...

Anyone using Google Reader will still have the post in their feeds, just to let you know. No post disappears in the world of Google.

6:23 PM  
Blogger jo22 said...

That's ok. Much like in real life, you can't erase something you said if someone heard it.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Debi Crow said...

I don't think for a minute that any feminist thinks it's "all about the male born" as you put it. I also think your worries are unfounded. Feminists should be concerned with the issues that trans women have to deal with because trans women are women, just like you and me. They do, in effect, have a double-wammy of oppression because they are women, and all women are oppressed I'm sure you would agree, and they are trans, so they face tremendous prejudice because of that fact, aside from the oppression they experience as women.

You're right, there has been a flurry of posts on feminist blogs recently concerning trans issues, possibly as a result of the murder of Angie Zapata. And you have probably noticed that bloggers such as myself have started to talk about the subject more, and one of the writers for the F Word is a trans woman etc - the way I see it that can only be a good thing, and I hope it continues. Trans women are a tiny minority, but they are a minority which is taken even less seriously than women are as a group. A trans woman, if for example she is a victim of domestic violence, has just as much right to have somewhere safe to go as other women do, and sticking with the example of women's shelters, it is unrealistic to expect trans people to set up their own shelters and resources because there simply aren't enough of them to be able to do that, so they *have* to be let into "our" women's shelters. If we turn them away, we are sending them back to their abusers to face more violence and possibly death.

Trans issues are feminist issues. The only way anyone can say the issues a trans woman faces are nothing to do with feminism is if they have the mindset that trans women are actually men. So, as trans issues are feminist issues, it is only right that feminists talk about them, aswell as all the other feminist issues (which also effect trans women!)

The divide you mention. I don't really see it as anything to worry about, to be honest. It is manufactured by people who don't seem so interested in actually living and doing feminism, as defining boundaries and deciding what feminism is and isn't. The "divide" is irrelevant. What matters is women's lives.

8:47 AM  
Anonymous polly styrene said...

Cheers Jo. The point being of course that it's not just non trans women who feel alienated by some of the attitudes being displayed at the moment, it's a lot of transwomen as well. Who don't necessarily believe in gender either. But they don't exist according to some people.

Basically, some folks have an agenda. And it's likely to destroy absolutely any possibility of a constructive dialogue over the real issues, (because there are very real issues) because that agenda is to just bully into silence everyone who doesn't agree with them.

And unsurprisingly, some of us take exception to that. Because we have minds of our own. And we're not about to shup up - sawry.

For what it's worth, I do think there's a fair amount of (genuine) transphobia about in some quarters. However that is sometimes because the only transwomen that some people 'encounter' is the online bullies and they then draw the erroneous conclusion that all transwomen are arseholes. Which isn't true.

Oh and there's currently no provision in most places for men fleeing domestic violence either....And some men (particularly gay men) do experience domestic violence. The solution to a problem isn't to remove everyone else's safe space. People aren't thinking properly about the real issues again. A transwoman - even one who's had legal gender reassignment isn't necessarily someone who's had full sex reassignment surgery. A transwoman can be a biological male - ie have a penis.

I'm going to keep on saying it. Because it's true.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous mangetout said...

The double-wammy myth.

Either they pass as women and get the same garden-variety sexism/oppression (from men) that other garden-variety women face, or they don't pass as women and get the hostile treatment (from men) as either trans or (perceived as) gay men.

Nice try to make them 'more special women' though. Excellent typographical footwork.

I do love it when feminists fall all over themselves to make the male-born, and all their problems, the focus of feminism. But Debi Crow goes one step futher, elect transwomen as the leaders of the feminist movement, because we silly women just don't know what real oppression is.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Nick Kiddle said...

The thing is, I don't know what feeling like a man would be because I'm not one,

How do you know this? Could it be in any way similar to the way trans women know that *they* are not men?

3:46 PM  
Anonymous witchy-woo said...

Refuges are houses of multiple occupation - i.e. communal facilities. So if we were to accept transwomen into refuges that would render the service unuseable for those FAB women fleeing dv and abuse whose culture/religion precludes them from sharing living space with males they're not related to. Effectively, we would be putting the needs of transwomen first and those FAB women (who almost always arrive with children) would have nowhere to go other than back to the abuse and possibly death.

That doesn't sit well with me at all.

I agree that transwomen need specialist recovery services but not at the expense of FAB women. I disagree that it's unrealistic for transwomen to set up their own services if the demand is there. Existing agencies would be only too happy to lend support and expertise if approached.

For the record: I am not anti-trans - nor am I "transphobic". I have beliefs about the siting of gender in patriarchal oppression but these do not translate into prejudice against individuals. We all do what we need to to survive. I will, however, defend the absolute requirement to services and spaces for FAB women only because they are important too.

7:08 PM  
Blogger the bewilderness said...

"The only way anyone can say the issues a trans woman faces are nothing to do with feminism is if they have the mindset that trans women are actually men."

Hello? That would be the point to the division then wouldn't it?

When Trans activists who have not had SRS, nor hormone therapy, but merely declare that if they self identify as women from time to time they must be treated as such, not by men, but by other women, there are some women who are going to say no.

11:45 PM  
Blogger Purtek said...

Okay, I understand that the point of your post is mainly the concept of "unity", and I don't want to be particularly snarky here, but the whole thing is based on a faulty premise that *only* considers this from a non-trans perspective. This, in particular:

But if I 'felt like a man', then there would be nothing to stop me living as one, except for societal prejudice against effeminate men or extremely 'butch' lesbians with realistic strap-ons.

Seriously? You don't imagine that, no matter how well you were to "pass", you would face some prejudice if someone found out that you were born female, "faking" maleness? I would suggest that some reading on the specific kinds of violence faced by trans* men and women alike might reveal otherwise.

Not to mention the assumption that this "extremely 'butch'" individual would be lesbian? Never heard of trans* men and women who are also gay or lesbian?

I think Debi's right - what matters is lives, this isn't about theory. I also think that talking "unity" while not bothering to really do the reading on what's being discussed ensures that all the unifying work has to be done by people who are not you. It sounds an awful lot like saying "we could all get along great if you would all see things my way".

11:56 PM  
Blogger jo22 said...

The thing is, I don't know what feeling like a man would be because I'm not one,

'How do you know this? Could it be in any way similar to the way trans women know that *they* are not men?'

Well, perhaps I am a man then. I tried telling a hairdresser as much once in order to get a half-price hair cut. Did it work? It did not!

8:29 AM  
Blogger jo22 said...

On a more serious note, I can't see how discussing theory comes at the expense of people's lives. And I'm with Witchy here:

'I disagree that it's unrealistic for transwomen to set up their own services if the demand is there. Existing agencies would be only too happy to lend support and expertise if approached.'

8:41 AM  
Blogger jo22 said...

'Seriously? You don't imagine that, no matter how well you were to "pass", you would face some prejudice if someone found out that you were born female, "faking" maleness? I would suggest that some reading on the specific kinds of violence faced by trans* men and women alike might reveal otherwise.'

Sorry, you're right there. I read about how Norah Vincent lived as a man for a year and ended up having a nervous breakdown due to the pressures of it, so that, with the addition of potential violence, would indeed make it very hard to live as a man. I'm not sure what the short-term solutions are (safe spaces for trans people and a better understanding of issues they face?) but the long-term one it seems to me, might be something along the lines of abolishing gender roles. Have any feminists thought of that yet, huh?

11:25 AM  
Blogger Lisa Harney said...

Who don't necessarily believe in gender either.

It is in fact you (and not just you) who continues to shift any kind of trans discussion over to gender. Whenever anyone - anyone - points out how it's not about gender, you make irrelevant comments about changing the marker on birth certificates and ID cards, or choosing traditionally female names.

I just hope that any trans women who see you as a friend will see what you're really saying before you hurt them.

6:23 AM  
Blogger jo22 said...

'Whenever anyone - anyone - points out how it's not about gender, you make irrelevant comments about changing the marker on birth certificates and ID cards, or choosing traditionally female names.'


Where'd I do that?

3:03 PM  
Blogger MgS said...

I do not believe that one is born 'feeling' like a gender that jars with their body.

Ummm...I hate to point this out, but it is amazingly common among transsexuals to have an awareness of 'wrong body' among the first memories, and long before any real gender or sexual awareness is recognizable.

This tends to cause some feminists a great deal of difficulty because it asserts an essentialism about gender identity that is deeply unsettling (especially for those whose beliefs derive from Butler and others like her).

The thing is, I don't know what feeling like a man would be because I'm not one

Fair enough, but in that statement you've hit upon the crux of the problem. The transsexual claims 'but I've always felt like I should have been the other sex'. Just as you cannot claim to know what it is to be a man, I would argue that in fact you cannot claim to either know OR refute the validity of the transsexual claim.

I worry that some men transition to a female body in order to partake in the sex object role, which they may see as more powerful than their previous incarnation as a male - particularly if sex was a very big part of their lives and as a male they felt disempowered by it.

That's a valid enough worry on the surface. (and, a quick study of the WPATH Standards of Care shows that such motivations should not be a primary driver in transition decisions) I can only speak for my experience - transition is not about sexual identity. It is far more about the social identity and a sense of personal balance. It is most emphatically not about sex itself.

I most explicitly would argue that I am not transitioning to fulfil some kind of sexual identity issues or desires.

If you want an idea why things get so heated between some feminists and transwomen, it's often got more to do with a natural reaction on both sides.

Some branches of feminist theory (e.g. Butler) deny the validity of the transsexual narrative. How far do you think any conversation is going to go when one side essentially says to the other 'you have no validity'?

As an aside, I do count myself as a feminist - although I do not subscribe to any one particular branch of feminism's dogma; and for obvious reasons reject reasoning that declares the narrative of others 'invalid' for largely political reasons.

2:16 AM  
Blogger Arantxa said...

I also get the impression that some people enjoy the sparring.

8:13 AM  
Blogger jo22 said...

There's only one way to find out.

FIGHT!

3:46 PM  

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