As a relative newcomer to the cut and thrust of gender politics, I’m continually surprised and stimulated by the variety of contrasting opinion – and heated debate – within a continually-evolving political sphere. Thanks to the proliferation of social media it’s becoming ever-easier to stay current with and engage in such debate, and this post by a wp blogger I follow – and whose often insightful opinions I respect – caught my eye. In so many ways it is indicative of a direction in which feminist thought – and politics in general – is heading….
It in its turn was inspired by a recent post on wp blog, Pretendbians documenting a Twitter spat between presidential hopeful – and feminist icon – Roseanne Barr and Trans-activist Jennifer McCreath.
Maybe it’s an age thing, but…
Based on my – admittedly limited – knowlege, I find an internal logic in the 2nd wave feminist response to the whole transgender phenomenon that’s somewhat lacking in the currently-fashionable ‘inclusive’ 3rd wave model o’Rourke is espousing. Both models argue for acceptance of non-conformist identities but their terms are markedly different. This is perhaps over-simplifying but it seems to come down to that all-important distinction between sex and gender. Biologically, a Transwoman is male (or conceivably intersexed) and no amount of hormone therapy or surgery will alter that; the reverse being the case for Transmen. That biological males might exhibit tendencies towards thought patterns and behaviours (including conventions of dress) traditionally regarded as female, and vice-versa for females, is scarcely surprising but in itself proves little, save for the harmful limitations of tradition. The distinction, then, between the 2nd and 3rd waves is the difference between wishing to consign a gender dimorphism harmful to both sexes to the dustbin of history; and merely tinkering with it in order to accomodate a feeling of dislocation that a (vocal) minority cannot resolve for themselves: Mohammed refuses to go to the mountain; rather, the mountain must come to him.
And what makes him a ‘him’ – or her a ‘her’ – is a matter of some dispute, too. Again, it seems to devolve down to the distinction between sex and gender; whether one’s true identity is rooted in biology, or conventions of appearance, behaviour and dress seemingly arbitrarily – though in fact, most calculatedly – assigned to the former. Traditional representations of sex/gender adhere to a bipolar model – at least within the Abrahamic triparte – but ironically, it’s biology that illuminates the inadequacy of such a rigid distinction.
The existence of – various – intersexed identities argues for a fluid, non-binary conception of sex; but actually bears little if at all on gender. Gender, by contrast can bear especially harmfully on – some – intersexed people by pressuring them – or indeed, their parents during their pre-adolescent period – to select the sex identity they most closely resemble, and apply gender-based standards of dress, behaviour and – thru cosmetic surgery – appearance. If the erasure of Trans identities is a matter of dispute (see below) then the erasure of intersexed ones is surely not. The shortcomings of such choices can become painfully apparent come puberty when hormonal fluctuations kick in and trigger secondary sexual characteristics and urges. If the effects of native hormones remain imperfectly-understood , then the use of synthesized steroids has long been a bone of contention; whether one is discussing the use of The Pill (in it’s multivarious forms), synthetic insulin and thyroxin or androgens employed by sportsmen and women for competitive-advantage. The side effects of these include psychological as well as physical symptoms and include mood and cognitive changes. The cost of a ‘sex-change’ (gender-reassignment is the currently-popular term) over a lifetime can be high in itself, and that’s far from the only issue confronting Trans folk.
For affirmation of their preferred identity they rely on a combination of stereotypically ‘feminine/’masculine’ attire, learned ‘feminine’/’masculine’ behavioural posturing in line with the bipolar model, and positive affirmation on the part of society. The tension that quickly emerges – and this is most dramatically apparent within a vocal minority of radicalMtF trans activists – is between the (often) decades of ‘masculine’ privilege and acting-out, and an attempt to ape traditional ‘femininity’.
Acting either a ‘masculine’ or a ‘feminine’ identity – never mind cack-handedly juggling both – only serves to obscure and stifle the emergence of an authentic, fully human one.
In attempting to articulate my concerns with regard to ‘acting’ and ‘affirmation’ it’s becoming apparent to me why the appending of ‘T’ onto the long-established ‘LGB’ has long seemed to be a bad fit. Whilst abortive attempts to conform to normative models has long proved harmful to both Gay/Lesbian people and ‘gender-deviants’ (and I’m positing deviant as a non-pejorative term, hence the quotes) society is not being required to affirm any person’s ‘gay/lesbian-ness’, merely (!) accept their equal status as citizens and human beings. Gay/Lesbian-ness requires no remote affirmation – it is a state of being that, whether inherent or chosen, is possessed of its own integrity; is whole and complete. In this respect it is of a piece with sex and markedly distinct from gender. Bi-sexuality is slightly problematic, insofar as it is viewed with scepticism by certain elements within both the Gay/lesbian and straight camps – personally I view sexuality in terms of a continuum, regarding myself as tending towards straight but having engaged in sexual relations with men on occasion with no apparent identity-conflict or permanent ego-damage; at least on occasions when relations have been consentual.
It’s interesting that a common trope amongst – particularly, some – MtFs is that a ‘cis-normative’ society seeks to ‘erase’ trans-identities – interesting because it’s a modified appropriation of a 2nd wave feminist argument that Trans culture seeks to ‘erase’ female identities. Trans faves (not!) Janice Raymond and Germaine Greer are the main – or at least, the best-known exponents of this, and whilst their views remain contentious, I’d urge readers to peruse The Transsexual Empire, and Pantomime Dames (yeah, I know!) if you haven’t already, just to understand where they’re coming from.
Raymond and Greer do understand the difference between biologically-based sex and socially-constructed gender, and expound upon the shortcomings inherent in the latter which are catastrophic for the lives and identities of not only women but menand ‘Trans’ too. They perceive exponents of the – medicalized; implicitly and explicitly patriarchy-approved – Transgender model as conflating feminine with female (i.e. gender with sex); identifying as female and being female (and thus remodelling themselves and acting ‘feminine’ to prove the point). Significantly, many Trans – and especially MtF activists – conflate such reasoned criticism with bullying and hatred (conspicuous only in their general absence from Feminist writing). As a man I don’t read Feminism as Trans-phobic any more than I read it as misandric: they know well enough to be able to love the sinner whilst despising their sins. Contrastingly, too many Trans activists preach sisterhood with feminists only to respond with textbook misogyny (and homophobia, and ‘cis’-phobia) (edit: just re-read the post and realize I ommitted to mention racism, which, whilst not directly relavent here is nonetheless further indicative of Reid‘s character and stance: that Mohammed/mountain thing again…) when their contentious appropriations of Feminism are challenged (and see also McCreath, above – penis–washroom–vagina–mouth–marriage 2.15).
Misogyny is misogyny, whosoever espouses it; and Trans-activists are right to suggest that it impacts on them as much as on born-women. The fundamental flaw in the Transgender model is that, whilst it does provide an effective Band-Aid for the wounds (inflicted by gender dimorphism, not feminism) on some people, it also perpetuates said dimorphism by depending on it for – temporary – effectiveness. In doing so, it seals the perpetuity of misogny, Trans or otherwise. It confines us to our separate washrooms, for fear of the potential – and all too often real – consequences.
There’s a subtle but important distinction to be made, then, between men/MtFs who claim the sovereignty of hallowed female space (including washrooms) for their own and those who advocate for shared facilities as a matter of course: it’s the difference between advocating that everyone deserves to feel comfortable in their own skin (the latter position) and ‘just because I don’t feel comfortable in mine, no one can’ (the former). It’s actually a pretty good metaphor for the condition of women and men under a patriarchal political climate.
More to come on this later…