You can't smash patriarchy with transphobia

It is time to end the tolerance of transphobia in radical feminist circles, argues Ray Filar

Ray Filar, 3 September 2011

"One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman"
Simone de Beauvoir

People chat a lot of shit about radical feminism, mostly because they don't know what it is. Unsurprisingly, it regularly makes the top five on well-known television programme, Most Widely Misrepresented Ideologies (a show I would be happy to create and host, if there are any BBC commissioners reading this). It's a shocking, challenging kind of feminism and deliberately so.

Transphobia is the great shame of modern radical feminism

if-i-had-a-hammer-id-smash-patriarchy.pngCommon to all strands of radical feminism is the belief that we live in a patriarchy, a male supremacist society in which a primary oppression is of women by men. What distinguishes radical feminism - what gives it its strength, its passion, its edge - is the further claim that more than women's full participation in the system devised by men is needed for liberation. Radical feminists argue that what we need is a fundamental restructuring of society from thought upwards. If I had a hammer, I'd smash patriarchy; you know the drill.

As we are often brought up to think that women and men are equal and that everything is now lovely gender-wise; it can be difficult to engage with women writers who take a sledgehammer to the shaky foundations our lives are built on. But nobody said creating a feminist society was going to be easy and why should it be? The harassment, distortion and denigration that radical feminist writers and activists face is partially a consequence of misogyny, but it is also a knee-jerk defensive reaction to the potency of their ideas.

Maintaining such a rigorous opposition to patriarchy and its effects has, on occasion, led in the wrong direction. Transphobia is the great shame of modern radical feminism. Thirty two years since Janice Raymond's transphobic diatribe The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male was published, we are still struggling to clear our heads. Her book functions as the beginning of a sub-genre which incorrectly uses the label radical feminism as cover for outright hatred.

Lack of interaction between cis and trans feminists is a crucial part of the problem and is, to my mind, a major factor which leads initially reasonable enquiry in the direction of hate

Raymond's book created a furore, the fallout of which has been pretty extreme. Like the bits of PVA glue you can spend increasingly frantic hours trying to get off your post-primary school art class hands, we are still, almost unbelievably, arguing about whether exclusion of trans women can be justifiable, and whether transphobia is even a thing. (Hint: no, yes).

Some of the more successful activist events in London have repeatedly come in for their fair share of criticism on this score. Every year, the women-only march Reclaim the Night London is questioned on its attitude towards trans women. As one of the members of this year's steering committee, I'm pleased to say that it will now be made clear on our website that Reclaim the Night welcomes all kinds of women, whether trans, cis, disabled, of colour, lesbian, able-bodied, white, bisexual, Muslim, Jewish, straight or otherwise.

Space invaders against transphobia.jpgBut the discussion is far from over, and it is a small and rather pathetic step for a group which officially acknowledges that trans women are just as welcome as cis women, but doesn't really want to say so openly. We still have to appease the transphobes. Their voice is small, but by god it is vocal. The committee that finally agreed to welcome trans women on our website, (but not our flyer, oddly) was split down the middle; a small minority expressed opinions that would make even David Starkey blush.

I can understand what leads some cis radical feminists to transphobia. Part of what sustains it is confused ignorance stemming from the uncritical acceptance of writers like Raymond, Sheila Jeffreys, Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel, who have each attempted to normalise transphobia as a part of radical feminist criticism. Part of it is lack of awareness that this is even an issue. Partly it is a lack of interaction between cis and trans feminists. And part of it is plain old hate. Disturbing blogs such as RadFemHub provide plenty of the latter.

This is not the first case of a dominant feminist majority oppressing a feminist minority. I guess we can't run away with the idea that ticking the box marked 'feminist' automatically makes you aware of all your privileges and immune from acting on them

Even though they've been rebutted again and again, the same befuddled transphobes keep bouncing back. With good reason, some might say. The questions trans issues raise are hugely relevant for feminism, particularly radical feminism. Gender and sex are, if you like your understatements massive, quite complex. What does it really mean to 'feel like' a woman? Or a man, for that matter? How exactly could I have the sense that my real and perceived gender identities are at odds? Is the perspective that we have gender identities which aren't socially constructed one that is always at odds with feminism?

Lack of interaction between cis and trans feminists is a crucial part of the problem and is, to my mind, a major factor which leads initially reasonable enquiry in the direction of hate. Cis women who have rarely if ever been involved in activism alongside trans women may well begin to believe in Raymond's rabid pictures of infiltrators, rapists, colonisers and whatever else. Maybe it isn't surprising that when someone like Bindel, whose journalism is otherwise pretty on the money, writes, "transsexual surgery becomes modern-day aversion therapy for gays and lesbians", or "'transsexuality'...arises from the strong stereotyping of girls and boys into strict gender roles", some radical feminists just accept it. There are so few prominent radical feminist figures with powerful public voices that it can be tempting to sympathise with Bindel's narrative, in which she is the beleaguered defender of radical feminist thought against a censorious smear campaign.

Copper transgender symbol.jpgBut it is simply not true that such transphobic sentiments have much to do with radical feminism. There's an eye-jiggling contradiction in these beliefs. If we, as radical feminists, are for the idea that biology is not destiny, we cannot simultaneously hold the opinion that, "a trans-sexual 'woman' will always be a biological male" (or vice versa). To deny that sex-reassignment surgery works backhandedly reaffirms the gender essentialism that we were at the beginning setting out to oppose. Yes, there's a bitter irony in that.

It is strange that the same feminists who abhor the use of the free speech defence as justification for pornography will sometimes utilise it in defence of transphobia. I have seen it argued that calling out someone as a transphobe is used as a bullying shut down of fair radical feminist criticism. That's bullshit and it needs to be recognised as such. Asking questions about sex and gender doesn't justify demonising a class of people or denying their existence. The two are quite clearly different. That some radical feminists have been transphobes doesn't make transphobia intrinsic to radical feminism, and to say so betrays a complete misunderstanding of what radical feminism is.

Let us not forget that this is not the first case of a dominant feminist majority oppressing a feminist minority. I guess we can't run away with the idea that ticking the box marked 'feminist' automatically makes you aware of all your privileges and immune from acting on them. We shouldn't pretend that white feminists didn't openly discriminate against feminists of colour at the outset of the women's rights movement, that the actions of women of colour were not overlooked, and that feminism isn't still dominated by white women today.

Radical feminist transphobes might be surprised to learn that trans writers and activists are, and have been for a long time, taking on these important questions about gender and sex. The difference is that trans writers are doing so in a way that usually manages not to stigmatise a group of people who are also dealing with the fall out from patriarchy. My favourite trans feminist writer, Patrick Califia, puts it beautifully when he says, "There are many levels of gender dysphoria, many aberrant accommodations other than a sex change. Feminism, for example."

Image of poster - "SPACE INVADERS AGAINST TRANSPHOBIA" - taken by Flickr user James Cridland. Picture of a transgender symbol in copper taken by .

Comments From You

Gabrielle // Posted 04 September 2011 at 20:03

"To deny that sex-reassignment surgery works backhandedly reaffirms the gender essentialism that we were at the beginning setting out to oppose."

What do you mean here by "works"? Do you mean that it is an effective clinical treatment for the psychological stress that certain individuals experience, or that it makes a person a "real man" or a "real woman"? If you mean the former than I heartily agree with you. If you mean the latter then I think that you have fallen into the same trap of biological essentialism.

Quiet Riot Girl // Posted 04 September 2011 at 22:36

'It is strange that the same feminists who abhor the use of the free speech defence as justification for pornography will sometimes utilise it in defence of transphobia.'

That is true. But maybe that is something all feminists should think about. Because if you believe in free speech, how can you argue against people's right to make porn (as I do -the literary kind). And if you believe that some opinions and prejudices should not be *allowed* to exist, how can you say you believe in free speech?

Your article really highlights for me how all forms of feminism rely on a use of censorship.

But I believe in free speech and in the concept that I have the right to make porn and support trans people and also to say I don't believe patriarchy exists.

Oh, and I got called a 'man' on radfemHUB but then I got called a man on Feministe too, and on Cath Elliot's blog etc etc.

Roz Kaveney // Posted 04 September 2011 at 23:05

This admirable piece is almost too measured and rational to give a real sense of some of the material which is out there in the wilder reaches of the radical feminist web. Some of the transphobic material almost passes belief in its vitriol: trans women are regularly accused of rape by deception if lesbian, or blamed for their own murders if straight, while the decisions of trans men are routinely disrespected as failures of feminist consciousness. In a particularly disgusting but regularly recurring trope, the physical appearance of trans people is mocked, with particular and routine reference to post-surgical genital configuration. The use of 'women's space' by trans women is condemned and it is clear that this primarily means toilets and changing rooms; some radical feminists are prepared to argue that trans women should use male facilities and that fears that this would lead to assault and murder are either unjustified or tough luck.

Janice Raymond wanted transexuality 'morally mandated out of existence'. The new generation of her acolytes are unpleasantly obsessed with ways in which the physical existence of individual trans people can be made unpleasant, or if possible brought to an end.

I have not specifically attributed these opinions because I don't want them given the oxygen of publicity - also because I hope that their holders may one day be horribly embarrassed by the things they have said.

Butch Cassidyke // Posted 05 September 2011 at 03:06

«I'm pleased to say that it will now be made clear on our website that Reclaim the Night welcomes all kinds of women, whether trans, cis, disabled, of colour, lesbian, able-bodied, white, bisexual, Muslim, Jewish, straight or otherwise. »

This looks great!

I agree that the lack of interaction between cis and trans feminist is often the major problem to transphobia (though, I guess for some people the matter is not just ignorance), and this is why I think the exclusion of trans women is the most important problem w/o transphobia in feminism because, well, you can't have much space to build bridges when you can't come in the same spaces.

So, well...

«it is a small and rather pathetic step for a group which officially acknowledges that trans women are just as welcome as cis women, but doesn't really want to say so openly. We still have to appease the transphobes.»

I'm not sure it's such a small step, actually.

Lemon Dibblecats // Posted 05 September 2011 at 09:12

This is a very informative article, thank you. As a young cis-feminist, I must admit I have run aground trying to explain why the acceptance of a fundamental difference in gender is NOT the same as accepting that 'men are better than women' - the difference does not have to be 'graded'. (I once encountered the horrifying notion that transmen are 'betraying the cause' by 'fooling themselves into supporting the patriarchy' and found myself stunned at the callousness.) You explained the conundrum beautifully, especially with:

To deny that sex-reassignment surgery works backhandedly reaffirms the gender essentialism that we were at the beginning setting out to oppose.

Yes. Just yes. I will have to link to this blog in the future.

Hannah // Posted 05 September 2011 at 13:56

As a significant other of a trans-vestite, with my own TVchix page (look for lilkit), it is interesting that the interest 'feminism' is most certainly a minority interest on that particular site. However there is also a distinct lack of presence from trans-sexuals, and those who identify with a form of gender dysmorphia also seem to be a minority presence. This suggests a very divided trans-scene, and this has been my experience.

Much of the trans scene can appear distinctly oversexualised- and there are elements of the scene i do find aborrent as a biological woman (there is often on overfocus on female sexual submissiveness/general feminine passiveness)- who is judged on that biology every day. However, i feel the scene is in its infancy, and bio-women do need to open up lines of communication with T-girls of all types- to foster a rounder understanding of the female experience and hopefully move towards more rounded feminine experiences and understanding.

My partner identifies with two genders, and we both have benefited from his/her dualisitc perspective- i am happier being a woman for knowing him/her, and he/she is happier with him/herself for having a partner who listens and understands. We both have benefited from each others experiences, and i have not found his gender identity a threat to my feminism (or femine-ism!), nor has s/he found my feminism a threat to her/him (main threat seems to be from tortured language!).

To conclude this rather rushed point - it strikes me feminism and the trans movement would benefit from closer relations, there are problems on both sides, but nothing that we cant overcome.


Ray Filar // Posted 05 September 2011 at 17:14

@Gabrielle
"What do you mean here by "works"? Do you mean that it is an effective clinical treatment for the psychological stress that certain individuals experience, or that it makes a person a "real man" or a "real woman"? If you mean the former than I heartily agree with you. If you mean the latter then I think that you have fallen into the same trap of biological essentialism."

I think I mean both. But only because I tend to think there isn't much more, if anything, to being a 'real' man or woman than identifying or living or feeling like a member of that gender. Obviously being perceived as a member of a gender and socialised as such is a major problem for feminist analyses of gender, but self-identification is crucial. I reckon maybe I think that gender should be a sort of opt-in/opt-out thing - does that make any sense?


And thank you all for comments.

Zoe // Posted 06 September 2011 at 14:47

"Some of the transphobic material almost passes belief in its vitriol"

It's getting worse than that though. They're targeting individuals for attack.

See http://gendertrender.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/who-are-the-males-who-sneak-into-michigan-womens-music-festival/

"I’m going to continue to profile these men so that a list can be compiled before next year’s festival. I will add names and pictures to this post as they come in. Perhaps a separate website can be created to track the trespassers and identify them. Perhaps photos of the trespassers can be posted around the festival next year so the men can be escorted off the festival grounds. Perhaps next year womyn can photograph all the trespassers during festival so we can compile a complete list of predatory males."

Couple this with the naked threats of violence from the same group:
"..they’re the ones who kept taking about violence and murder. But really, they should be careful about giving some angry women those ideas. "

Becky // Posted 06 September 2011 at 18:19

A true radical feminist would not be transphobic.

Bree // Posted 07 September 2011 at 05:05

Some history on the 'space invaders' image:
The actual image which was used to make the little poster in the flickr photo was created by Rosa Antifa Vienna (RAW), founded in the summer of 1995 by young anti-fascists. There's a whole lotta space invader protesting goin' on there. Check it out:
http://www.raw.at/materialien/index.htm

Sally // Posted 07 September 2011 at 10:57

@ Gabrielle - I really like your point. I don't believe that there are many trans people who consider that the surgery truly 'reifies' our identified genders - and, a lot of the time, we get people foussing on surgical issues and saying things like, "No matter what you do to your body, you'll never be a real woman/man". My point of view is that I am a woman, despite having been assigned male at birth, and regardless of what my body looks like. Many trans people never have surgery, and their identities aren't compromised as a result - others do, and, as you mention, this is often to do with feeling less gender dysphoric, or more comfortable with our bodies, or better accepted by society, or less at risk.

@ Hannah - I agree that there's no single, integrated trans scene. Certainly, my experience of trans community has been of a group of activists defined by our feminist politics. It is, unfortunately, a failing of this particular community (the part of it that I inhabit) that TV-identified people seem to be so under-represented within it. I believe that it is important to establish more of an integrated community of people who fall under the trans umbrella - our experiences of ourselves may be different, but we suffer many of the same oppressions. For the same reason, I support the idea of a wider LGBTQ* community.

For future reference, many people find the term "biological women" problematic (as with any attempt to define a woman in biological terms). Generally preferred expressions include "female-assigned at birth" or "cis women".

AndreaRules // Posted 07 September 2011 at 22:13

The planning committee for Reclaim the Night is supposed to be confidential, discussions are a matter for the minutes of the group, not for public consumption. It is highly disrespectful of the author to discuss confidential matters from the group in this public forum.
Not least because the decision about what text will appear on the website has not even been fully finalised and agreed.
Can The F Word clarify whether it has any policy about checking that individual authors contributing have secured permission to quote others, quote confidential discusssions, quote the internal matters of activist groups etc?

Jess McCabe // Posted 08 September 2011 at 16:31

@AndreaRules I considered the issue, however decided that, given no individuals are 'named and shamed', on balance it was/is in the public interest to have this debate aired in public for once.

Lucy // Posted 08 September 2011 at 16:58

@AndreaRules,

While I understand a concern about the confidentiality of discussions, quite frankly your comment comes off as seemingly being about wanting to suppress the knowledge of transmisogyny among the London RTN planning committee. Especially when you also suggest that again transmisogyny might win the day and trans women might again not be told that they are welcome (in word if not in attitude). As Ray Filar says in the OP and as many previous posts here have revealed, London RTN has been playing both sides of transmisogyny for years so the idea that somehow it is a secret that the planning committee is split about the issue of openly including trans women is frankly laughable. That has been obvious from previous years.

AndreaRules // Posted 08 September 2011 at 18:20

Reclaim the Night London has always clarified and confirmed that all women against male violence against women are welcome on the march, including trans women. This has been publicly stated on NUS and other Trade Union materials and briefings and in articles here on The F Word I seem to recall. Trans women have attended the march in London since it began and are more than welcome to do so. It has been agreed by all in the RTN group that this will be clarified on the RTN website, though the exact wording is yet to be agreed.
While there have been infrequent discussions about this stance generally in LFN, it has never been opposed by anywhere near a majority, in fact the majority are in favour; as am I personally. It is completely unfair, and simplistic, to represent all those on the RTN planning committee as transphobic. This is far from the case.
And again, I feel it is unethical to share details of confidential discussions from a private group, not because I'm saying it is any great secret that this issue is a contentious one in LFN, as it is in numerous feminist and women's groups (yet no other groups seem to get the vitriol that RTN does - though many women's groups have no public policy at all on the inclusion of trans women), but because the women in that group deserve and expect a safe space to have discussions, learn from one another and make progress and decisions in a way the whole group is comfortable with; they don't expect to have the minutes of their meetings made public and their discussions made public at any time.
The assertion that this debate should be aired in public "for once" is laughable as this debate has run and run in public since RTN began and any quick search will find countless articles (including outright lies) attacking RTN and the women who organise it. Many of which come from those who are opposed to any form of women-only organising, regardless of whether that includes trans women or not.

Ray Filar // Posted 08 September 2011 at 19:57

@andrearules

This article obviously does not represent everyone on the RTN committee as transphobic. I say very clearly that it is the perspective of a minority.

And again, I'm not sure confidentiality should expand to covering up prejudice.

Jude Nonesuch // Posted 08 September 2011 at 23:39

The problem I always seem to run into with radical feminism is that it's just not what you'd expect from what its name is; it's not the result of applying radical thought to the problems/questions/insights raised by feminism. I think we can agree `radical feminism' does quite specifically refer to a particular strand of feminist thought, and while firstly I'm sure this is at least fairly heterogeneous and secondly may well be consistently misrepresented, it also seems to me that the outcome of applying radical thought (- it must be said I have a fairly definite interpretation of `radical' in mind - as in, refusing and challenging all possible presumptions, presuppositions or prejudices) to notions of gender, feminism etc. would not result in that particular strand of thought.
To move further on from that, I feel that, since «radical feminism» is not the actual radical form of feminism, then it's neither providing the role that more `liberal' forms of feminism provide by `winning people over to the cause', and making people actually think that there's something worth considering in feminism, nor is it `telling it like it actually is' by actually getting to the heart of all the problems and challenges involved in gender and society. I would be interested to hear a response or commentary on this, if my point is in any way coherent at all!

Elise // Posted 10 September 2011 at 12:23

@Jude: I identify as a (beginning) radical feminist, and I think you misunderstand what it is, if you truly believe that it's not radical. Wanting to redefine the whole of society is not radical enough for you? Please elaborate on what you mean exactly.
I agree with the point of the article though: There is not enough communication between transwomen and radfems, and the hate goes both ways. I think that the radical feminist community raises some good points on this issue sometimes but I am truly ashamed of all the transhate in our movement.

Lucy // Posted 10 September 2011 at 16:31

@AndreaRules,

You said: 'Reclaim the Night London has always clarified and confirmed that all women against male violence against women are welcome on the march, including trans women.'

This is misleading. RTN London continues to mask the inclusion of trans women as women in its own materials as various posts here, including the OP, have repeatedly pointed out.

You said: 'It is completely unfair, and simplistic, to represent all those on the RTN planning committee as transphobic.'

I apologise if my phrasing of 'transmisogyny [not transphobia] among the London RTN planning committee' was unclear to you but I was not claiming everyone on the committee was transmisogynistic, only that the committee is perpetrating transmisogyny regardless of the beliefs of its members.

As to why RTN London gets such attention, I would suggest it's because all the other RTNs I know about are upfront in their materials about trans women being included while RTN London continues to play the game of letting transmisogynist feminists believe that they are not based on their public material. Also, RTN London is so large and, well, in London, which obviously means it gets more attention. So it's a combination of people being struck by an obvious hypocritical strategy on including all women while mostly pandering to transmisogynists and size and location of the event.

@Elise,

You said: 'There is not enough communication between transwomen and radfems, and the hate goes both ways.'

This is a dangerously false equivalency. It suggests that trans women (not the space) start off hating radfems when it has been my experience that many trans women start off open to radical feminism only to run up against its history of transphobia and transmisogyny usually also accompanied by running into present-day radfems who continue this hate, especially online. That trans women thus reject radical feminism because of the continuing hate-on for their very existence is understandable. Their feelings about radical feminism is in reaction to the hate expressed by transmisogynist, transphobic radfems, past and present, for trans people, especially trans women. So, no, the hate does not simply go 'both ways' and suggesting it does is providing continued cover and support for hateful radfems.

Butch Cassidyke // Posted 11 September 2011 at 02:59

@Lucy:
"You said: 'There is not enough communication between transwomen and radfems, and the hate goes both ways.'

This is a dangerously false equivalency."

Plus, I have the impression that it's not just trans women and one side and radical feminists on the other one. The problem with transphobia among feminism (not just radical) is that I have often seen it instrumentalised by "third parties" to discredit (not just radical) feminism.

E.g. when you have some guys who suddenly discover they are trans-friendly and will be full of compassion for trans women because they are rejected by feminists "just like men are", poor little boys. Except transphobia is a real oppression (from the dominant on the oppressed) and misandry is not (in real life, women don't dominate men). (When it comes from gay men, these guys will often denounce the transphobia or lack of policy of lesbian spaces, but will stranlegy be much less interested in including trans men in the gay clubs they frequent)

Or when you have a conflict between trans women and some cis feminists about a women-only space, and some people "support" trans women by... attacking the concept of women-only space, neglecting that if there is a conflict it's generally because trans women feel the need to be included in this space, not because they want it to disappear.

I am not saying that the initial problem isn't the transphobia of some (radical) feminists, but sometimes I feel like that some people enjoy to worsen the discord because, let's face it, they don't want (radical) feminist trans women.

Lucy // Posted 12 September 2011 at 01:42

@Butch_Cassidyke,

Yes, that has been my experience as well. Too many people who 'support' trans women do so at the cost of not supporting feminism. This makes things very difficult for feminist trans women because in those situations they lack actual support from far too many feminists and others.

makomk // Posted 12 September 2011 at 22:21

Butch Cassidyke: one big issue with that is that there are some glaringly obvious gender-related problems that trans women and cis men do have in common. In particular, when we as a society stand back and let boys enforce our gender roles on other boys using violence, there's no way of stopping trans girls receiving this exact same violence. There's no label etched on kids' foreheads from birth distinguishing the trans girls from the cis boys, despite how much psychiatrists would like one. (In fact, one of the better blog posts I've read about how masculinity is enforced through violence is by a trans blogger, and I don't think she really intended it to be about that at all.)

Also, take a look at what makes that blog so effective and emotional: at it's core, it's about the horror of a girl being on the receiving end of the kind of violence that's seen as OK when it happens to boys, and that we allowed to happen in the first place because we could pretend she was a boy. If that blog post had been about a boy, it just wouldn't have the same effect; that just seems normal, acceptable, a sign of unmanliness if you complain about it...

That's not the only reason issues that affect cis men are trans issues too. For example, the police and rape support groups and damn near all feminists systematically ignore and trivialise the rape of cis men. Note the cis qualifier there; from what I can tell trans men who've been raped can often get the rape taken seriously, but at the cost of knowing that the only reason for this is that they're not really perceived as male. (This idea is so influential that when the last Labour government included wording to the Equality Act making it very difficult for trans women to access rape counselling, they justified it in Parliment based on the importance of giving trans men who'd been raped access to those largely women-only services.)

katyjay // Posted 14 September 2011 at 19:07

Interesting article. Obviously, I agree with the author that transphobia, or discrimination/hate of any kind, has no place in a feminist movement, or in any movement for justice. I hope it won't be seen as off-topic if I use this as an opportunity to ask a question about radical feminism and trans issues that I've been pondering for a while.

Suppose one took the following position (which I associate with radical feminism): inequality is integral to the concept of gender - the very ideas of 'man/masculine' and 'woman/feminine' are constructed in terms of domination. Therefore, feminists (i.e. anyone who seeks to eradicate gender inequality) should criticize and reject gender as a social category system. The aim should be a society in which gender concepts are not applied to people, although it is recognized that different people have different sex-characteristics and perhaps some resultant different needs, e.g. the need for pregnancy related services or screening for prostate cancer (the concepts 'male' and 'female' might still be used as shorthand for describing differences, provided that it was recognized that this is not a mutually exclusive and exhaustive binary, i.e. that intersex people are not discounted). Sex characteristics would only be referred to when they were actually relevant, e.g. there would be no gendered pronouns, etc. If I try to see how trans people would be situated in this 'post-gender' society, I think it would look something like this. Some people would feel a need to alter their physical sexual characteristics. Medical science would help them to achieve this as much as possible. In general, people would be perceived as simply *people* not men/males/women/females, with sex characteristics only being considered when they were very strictly relevant. Hence, there (probably?) wouldn't be any possibility for people to relate to someone as though they had different sex characteristics than the ones they actually have, or relate to them differently subsequent to their changing their sex characteristics, because no-one would relate to *anyone* "on the basis of", so to speak, their sex characteristics, whether those characteristics were actual, desired, present since birth or acquired during adulthood.

My question is, does this position - which, as I say, I associate with radical feminism - fail to accommodate the experience of trans people? (For the record, I'm not entirely sure yet if I endorse the position described here, though I am certainly sympathetic to it, but obviously I don't aim to start a conversation about the merits of the position in itself.) A feminist academic I talked to about this once was of the opinion that it failed to do justice to the claims of trans people in a way that was somehow politically problematic, although she couldn't say exactly why. Since I don't know very much about trans issues, I'm hoping that someone who knows more than I do (perhaps Ray?) might be able to give me their opinion on whether this position is insufficiently sensitive to the experiences of trans people. Obviously, I'm not looking to hear that 'all trans people will agree with you' (because that would be absurd!) but if this position would be considered offensive, disrespectful, or ignorant from a trans perspective then I'd really like to know that, and ideally understand why.

Apologies for the long post, hope someone can shed some light on this for me.

Lucy // Posted 14 September 2011 at 23:40

@makomk,

I would not say that issues that affect cis men are trans issues. I would say there are often intersections because of the way that male, man, and masculinity is enforced and constructed as the binary opposite of female, woman, and femininity. This is something that transphobic (radical) feminists do as well, which is why they tend to hate on cis men and trans women together. Much as transphobic feminists claim to want to end the false gender binary they reinforce it constantly so that they can only serve the right women and not accidentally help things get better for men and those they claim are men. They want sexism ended as long as it is only sexism that hurts (the right) women. The problem of men is not their concern and their rage against men leads them to want men to suffer from misogyny and patriarchy which I see as short-sighted in the extreme. [I mention 'the right women' because I can't help but notice their feminism of purity casts into the patriarchal pit women who are sex workers, who enjoy kink, who don't have sex in the 'right' ways, etc. These women are not good enough to be saved. See Mary Daly's fantasy gathering of the 'right' women punishing the 'wrong' women and men in 'Gyn/Ecology' for a vivid example.]

So,while I think ending transphobia, of destroying the false gender binary, will help cis men and women as well as trans people, cis men's issues are not trans issues. Saying that they are does a disservice to cis men and trans people. Cis men and trans people are different. They suffer different problems.

Also, I just wanted to point out the idea that cis men can't access rape crisis centres that were created for women by feminists because men in positions of authority refused to do such things is a failure of men not of feminism. If men wanted rape crisis centres created, they would have created them. They didn't. Blaming feminists for that failure is unfair and wrong.

makomk // Posted 22 September 2011 at 00:17

Hmmmm. For some reason my e-mail notificiations of new comments showed up several days late...

katyjay: you might be overthinking things. The big problem with radical feminism is that as far as I can tell no radical feminists actually reject gender. Indeed, they seem to have a more rigid and strictly-enforced gender binary than society at large, and it's more closely tied to binary sexes than gender is in general society too. Sure, their stated end goal is to get rid of gender, but they determine who gets a say in how this should be done and what it means based on a ridgidly-enforced and very transphobic definition of gender. If someone ever does come up with an attempt to get rid of gender that does actually try and get rid of gender, your question might be an interesting one, but I'm not holding my breath given the past failures.

Lucy: under some circumstances, the distinction between a trans issue and one affecting cis men is retrospective and artificial at best. Unless you can propose an 100% reliable way of telling at the time whether a 3 or 4 year old kid with an "M" stamped on their birth certificate who's being bullied for not following male gender roles will grow up to be a trans women (making the bullying a trans issue) or a cis man (making it not a trans issue and therefore less politically important) or will have some non-binary gender (trans issue, not politically important)? It'd be a first if you could...

(This is somewhat off-topic, but the problem with rape counselling centers for men isn't just that no-one's tried to set them up, it's that feminist lobbyist groups have been lobbying actively lobbying the Government to fund women-only services and not fund those that serve men too. In fact, it's hard to get funding in general because not only are male rape victims not seen as real victims, they're also portrayed as stealing funds and attention from "real", female victims of rape. Few people want to donate money to a cause if they'll be perceived to be attacking rape victims by doing so; I'm not sure I'd dare donate to a service for male rape victims if I had the cash to do so...)

Old Music // Posted 25 September 2011 at 00:44

@Makomk

"The big problem with radical feminism is that as far as I can tell no radical feminists actually reject gender. Indeed, they seem to have a more rigid and strictly-enforced gender binary than society at large, and it's more closely tied to binary sexes than gender is in general society too."

You are entirely mistaken here, and you are conflating biological sex and gender. Radical feminists reject gender, but recognise that women exist as a political category.

If you are assigned female at birth (and some intersex individuals will fall into this category too, as it is based on the outward appearance of a newborn's genitals) then your life will take a very different route to that of an individual assigned male at birth.

The problem comes when queer/trans theory wants to deny the significance of this assignment at birth, in favour of an individualist self-identification, which is supposed to trump the live experience of being assigned to the categories male or female at birth.

I think what you are mistakenly identifying as "strictly-enforced gender binary" is radical feminism's insistence that being female assigned at birth is real and really matters (yes, gender is a social construct, but so's money, and nobody can deny the impact of that on an individual's life course). We reject 'gender neutral' terminology that effectively hides the structural inequality women face for being women, and also effectively hides the inherent privileges that are assigned to male assigned at birth individuals.

Recognising that inequality is gendered, that violence and oppression are gendered is not enforcing gender, it is speaking out about the lived reality of human beings.

...

As to your claims re resources for male rape victims, the charity Survivors (http://www.survivorsuk.org/) has been in existence for over 20 years, and gets lottery funding (and I, as a radical feminist, wholly support this organisation's existence and its funding).

Your statement that you wouldn't "dare donate to a service for male rape victims if [you] had the cash to do so" is bizarre; do you believe the world is run by a secret cabal of radical feminists who are monitoring your bank account!?

All services are suffering cuts, and to criticise those providing services for women just for trying to stay in existence is a cheap trick.

Helen // Posted 27 September 2011 at 16:57

The rad fem rejection of gender is contradictory as the position towards trans people* shows us(*remember trans men exist also). We see the strict enforcement of the binary gender when it come to us trans folk in contradiction to the rad fem expectations towards the CIS gendered world.

But really we (trans people) give the rad fems far too much exposure for a minority position. The majority have no problem with us as woman/men with transsexual histories or transgender histories, we should remember to acknowledge the support of the majority not focus on the derision of the minority.

Lucy // Posted 28 September 2011 at 00:01

@Old Music,

You said:
'The problem comes when queer/trans theory wants to deny the significance of this assignment at birth, in favour of an individualist self-identification, which is supposed to trump the live experience of being assigned to the categories male or female at birth.'

That's obnoxious and anti-feminist. My life, my experiences, are not a theory. The life of other trans people are not a theory. What we have said and continue to say even as people like you and transphobic feminists ignore us, is that what we were assigned at birth is not some deep, unfalsifiable truth about our life. It is an experience which affects us all in different ways. Trans people have had (and presumably will continue to have) discussions about how this idea that gender assignment 'programmes' us as men or women denies our lived experience and treats us as non-thinking people who have no inner lives, no perspective on our experiences, as well as suggesting that gender-normalisation has a laser-like focus on people.

I heard and learned messages about gender standards for girls/women and boys/men. Society did not insulate me from one while telling me the other. Don't tell me which ones I and other trans people internalised. Don't tell me how being assigned a gender at birth is a 'live experience' that can not be trumped while ignoring that I and other trans people lived that painful experience and know it better than you do. I can point you to trans men who did not understand their childhood experiences as including sexism or misogyny because they weren't girls. I can point you to trans women who understood their childhood experiences as sexism and misogyny because they were girls (little light springs to mind). That cis feminists seem unable to comprehend this and continue to create and adhere to theories that erase trans experiences, trans lives, as valid is a continuing failure of feminism. It's transphobia. It's transmisogyny.

'We reject 'gender neutral' terminology that effectively hides the structural inequality women face for being women, and also effectively hides the inherent privileges that are assigned to male assigned at birth individuals.'

That's an interesting sleight of hand there. You make trans men invisible. You don't talk about how (trans) men face structural inequality for being considered (cis) women even as you tar trans women as having 'inherent' privilege. Privilege is not inherent. Privilege is socially constructed. Transmisogyny is real. Transmisogyny refutes the idea that trans women have an 'inherent privilege' unless we're now defining privilege as having higher rates of sexual assault and rape than cis women, having higher rates of being murdered than cis women, making even less money than cis women (because of lack of employment), being more likely to be homeless at some point in their lives than cis women... Do I really need to go on? Those are all the consequences of transmisogyny. What you've said is the same bullshit that transphobic radical feminists continue to push as they continue to deny that trans women are women. Privilege is not inherent. It is constructed all the time. If privilege is inherent, transmisogyny would not exist. And yet it does.

I have no idea how this transphobia and transmisogyny was allowed into this discussion. I see that the f word is still struggling with preventing it from fouling the site. Let me know when it will no longer be allowed.

makomk // Posted 29 September 2011 at 01:42

@Old Music:
That's exactly what I meant when I talked about a "rigid and strictly-enforced gender binary" that's "closely tied to binary sexes". You take the assigned, binary sex of everyone at birth and tie it to an equally binary notion of gender in which a single M or F written on someone's birth certificate at birth defines them totally, dictates that they must have a particular set of gendered experiences with society and a particular set of gendered attitutes and so on and so forth - and then you treat them differently based on this binary, transphobic notion of gender that's linked to binary sexes.

The reason I talk about gender is because there's nothing inherent about having one letter rather than another stamped on your birth certificate that affects your chances of being raped, or whether someone wants to employ you, or whether you get catcalled on the street, or anything else - the potential rapist or employer has no way to know what was written on the person's birth certificate at birth. It's all social, all based on indirect clues, all about gender.

Ray Filar // Posted 29 September 2011 at 12:44

@katyjay
I think your question is a really interesting one that I've thought about a lot too. Marge Piercy's 'Woman on the Edge of Time' is one of my favourite fictionalisations of a similar post-gender world, if you haven't read it.

I'm not sure I'm entirely qualified to answer your question, and don't want to speak in place of people who identify as trans. I'll say what I think in the hope that others will step in.

My understanding is that there are lots of trans people with varied experiences, just as cis people experience their genders in varied ways. Someone like Kate Bornstein would maybe say that trans experiences do not necessarily presume an internal gender identity at odds with a social gender assignment, but I think this would be disputed by Julia Serano, or Lucy commenting above. (Lucy, sorry if this mischaracterizes your position)

On a philosophical level, I think that your question does get very much to the heart of what ideological differences there are between radical feminists and trans theorists. In the past I've read radical feminism as laying out a project for eventual gender transcendence through the elimination of gender in a manner like you said, whereas I've read trans theory and heard of trans experiences as instead proliferating genders and gendered behaviors by detaching them from socially sexed bodies... I guess the contention at the heart of it is, as you say radical feminism: gender is intrinsically hierarchical vs. trans theory: gender is a central and valuable experience in our lives.

I have to admit that theoretically I am in greater sympathy with the idea of ending or eliminating gender entirely, but on a realistic level I think that any behavior will be interpreted as gendered, and that therefore the best way to approach gender elimination is for it not to matter who is performing what behaviors, to embrace the validity of the gender experiences of trans and queer and cis people, whilst as feminists we fight to end the intersectional oppressions of the class politically marked as 'women', whether trans or cis.

Does that make any sense as a working theory?

zohra moosa // Posted 01 October 2011 at 12:41

@Lucy

You are correct - it was a mistake to publish @Old Music's comment.

I am a cis woman and I was moderating the thread. I did not recognize, because of my cis privilege, that the comment was cis centric, reinforcing cis privilege and transphobic.

I apologize to everyone on the site, and this thread in particular, for my mistake and for undermining TFW's efforts to create a safer space for trans women on the site.

Thank you for calling me out.

Old Music // Posted 01 October 2011 at 18:54

Well, I guess my last two comments aren't going to get published then!

Thanks Zohra, for confirming my fear that, as far as the F-Word is concerned, 'transphobia' is now disagreeing with anything a trans woman says (could you be any more servile in your comment?), and that the F-Word effectively operates complete censorship around trans issues.

Lucy // Posted 01 October 2011 at 19:06

@Ray Filar,

'Someone like Kate Bornstein would maybe say that trans experiences do not necessarily presume an internal gender identity at odds with a social gender assignment, but I think this would be disputed by Julia Serano, or Lucy commenting above. (Lucy, sorry if this mischaracterizes your position)'

Before I reply to that, I should make clear that I agree with an academic friend of mine that Kate Bornstein is essentially a piss-take artist who seems to be favoured by cis people for that very reason. That said, it is possible. I think of the man who was elected mayor of a town in Oregon who is a man although he has changed his body configuration so that it makes him appear to be a woman (thanks to the default biological essentialism of gender assignment). On the other hand, I also would caution against an over-deterministic use of the cis/trans binary when the point is that the binary should not exist.

I also wanted to point out that while the trans theorists you have read may posit trans existence as opposing radical feminist theory as far as eliminating gender, that is not a monolithic opinion among trans people. I have been in more than one discussion among trans people where the positions of destroying gender and proliferating many genders were fiercely contested. There was also the point made that by proliferating self-determined gender that gender might well be effectively destroyed. Whether or not that is true, it certainly provides more of a roadmap to the end of the false gender binary and gender oppression than radical feminist theorists I've read who are heavy on utopian visions of a post-gender world but very low on a roadmap of how to actually get there.

In any event, ending gender oppression is something I hope we can all agree on.

@zohra moosa,

Thank you for your gracious reply.

zohra moosa // Posted 02 October 2011 at 16:47

@Old Music

Your last two comments are not being posted because they are not in line with our commenting policy, as explained in the space above the 'Your Comment' box, which includes TFW's guidelines on what we consider transphobic.

Helen G // Posted 02 October 2011 at 22:32

If I understand correctly, then Lucy is suggesting that a multiplicity of genders may offer a way to ending gendered oppression. But if we accept that transphobia is an intense dislike, a hatred, of TS/TG people for perpetuating gendered constructs, then introducing a theoretically infinite number of genders (presumably in addition to the existing binary) - then gender still exists. So does transphobia. And (cis)sexism. It doesn't do away with gender.

Conversely, is it realistic, pragmatic, to think that gender can ever be dismantled (thereby ending gendered oppression, (cis)sexism and transphobia)?

It's a fascinating topic for discussion, but does it offer an immediate (or attainable) solution to the problem of transphobia within some radical feminist groups, as well as in wider society? Could it not also be argued that it's actually "playing the game" by allowing a ciscentric agenda to set the rules of engagement? If some radical feminists have a problem with TS/TG people, no matter what gender, then that's their problem. Surely the answer is for those radical feminists to deal with it? Why should the onus be on TS/TG people to find a solution for them? But as long as the ideas of people like Janice Raymond are still given credence ("the problem with transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence") then it won't matter what theories TS/TG people come up with, the fundamentalist radfem interpretation is still presumably that we should be rounded up and either put up against a wall and shot, or somehow spirited away to a place where we are out of sight and out of mind.

Until or unless those apparently extremist viewpoints are de-fanged in some way acceptable to all, then whether TS/TG people see themselves as either of two genders or two billion is surely irrelevant: we are trans and that is always going to be the root of the problem as far as some radical feminists are concerned.

Please don't misunderstand me; I'm not arguing in favour of maintaining a binary gendered system - in fact I find the idea of there being as many genders as there are human beings very appealing.

In the context of the post, it's an interesting diversion into the idea of a possible solution, but it doesn't seem to offer a direct, short-term answer to the problem of dismantling transphobia amongst some radical feminists. Perhaps there is no such solution.

In any event, from where I'm sitting, transphobia and patriarchy both perpetuate gendered oppression and from that point of view alone, I wonder how any woman who subscribes to any feminist ideology can be simultaneously against one form of gendered oppression and in favour of the other. There must be times when the resulting cognitive dissonance seems unbearable.

Lucy // Posted 06 October 2011 at 05:10

@Helen,

I'm not suggesting that, merely reporting what I have seen in discussions about the issue. Regardless of my feelings on the issue, the point is that you are correct that it is not a short-term solution to transphobia and transmisogyny. I think the answer, as far as radical feminism, is to have people like Ray Filar and other radical feminists denying that radical feminism requires or even gives comfort to transphobia and transmisogyny and to call out other radical feminists for supporting it. I try to oppose transphobia and transmisogyny in feminism more generally by being trans and a feminist.

@Old Music,

I always thought one of the more useful things that we learned from feminism's classism, racism, ableism, transphobia/transmisogyny, etc was that the people who best understand and are most able to identify these intersecting oppressions are the people who experience them. But then I almost constantly see feminists doing their best to show that we've learned nothing. Which probably explains why I know so many women and other people who do experience the intersection of sexism and misogyny with other oppressions who have stopped being feminists because they can't stand the way feminism is only constructed as being relevant for some people. Also, as a point of fact, I'm not a trans woman, although I am trans and am almost always treated as a trans woman.

Cenoaur // Posted 13 October 2011 at 11:52

I think there are some concerns that the "Space Invaders Against Transphobia" sticker is transphobic, in a social darwinism please-don't-hurt-your-repro-organs sort-of-way. Was the purpose of including it as an example of transphobia? Like the Hammer ad above? Or did The f Word view it as transinclusive?

Jess McCabe // Posted 13 October 2011 at 12:05

@Cenoaur I didn't see/understand it as problematic? And I don't really understand what you mean by it being "transphobic, in a social darwinism please-don't-hurt-your-repro-organs sort-of-way"? I didn't get any of that from the image, and I don't really understand what you're talking about?! Sorry for ignorance, but: confusion.

Lucy // Posted 13 October 2011 at 16:04

@Cenoaur,

I am also confused about what you're talking about. Could you explain more?

Sharon // Posted 27 December 2011 at 17:13

For those of us who completed our hormonal and surgical correction and moved on in life, the controversy over the validity of our existence is a laughable artifact from a distant, misbegotten past.

Yes, I am a woman of history, born transsexual, who was fortunate enough to have fixed all that and taken my place in life -- the place of my design and choice: like most of is, it is a sublime mix of family, friends, and community.

And isn't that what feminism is all about, self-determination? We are a tiny minority that somehow wound up as emblematic scapegoats for activists unfamiliar with both biology and medicine.

Our site, TS-Si.org, has been targeted by such people in the past who launched sterile and preconceived notions without any real knowledge of exactly who they were criticizing.

Sharon Gaughan

Lisa // Posted 27 December 2011 at 19:37

As a heterosexual Transsexual woman I find myself frustrated by this whole debate. Please don't take this personally if you are trying to foster some type of unity it is directed at those who viciously attack women like myself. So I wasn't raised female does that mean I didn't experience being raised male much like any of my natal sisters would have if they had been put in the same situation? The accusations of my or any other transsexual raping natal females simply by entering female space is pretty offensive to me. Would any of you also accuse me of aidding and abetting women in the rape of men by helping them into male dominated trades while I was forced to meet societal expectations that were in conflict with my female identity and caused me great personal pain? I live in America and I can't even begin to tell you all the physical and mental carnage that has been thrust upon women who simply want to be accepted by the likes of Janice Raymond and Julie Bindel. No matter how wortless they view Sex reasignment surgery it is a lifesaver for those of us who need it and their words have helped to create an America where it is near impossible to get insurance that covers SRS. It is their words that religious conservatives use to try and deny us basic human rights with. It is their thoughts and words that strangers who beat and murder us use as jusification for doing so. It was the same type of thinking my mother used when I told her I had been sexually molested by a medical professional and she mockenly said well now you know what it feels like to be a woman. It is their words that others used to justify forcing me into using an open men's shower area at a homeless shelter even though I had been on hormones for three years and had B cup breasts and even though there was a private shower area that I could have easily and should have been allowed to use. I had to sneak in at near closing times and fear I would be discovered and perhaps raped, beaten or worse that took place less than six months after I'd been molested. I don't want any other human being to have to go through what I've been through does that mean I can't be a radical feminist because I support the humane treatment of more than just women? Am I to radical because I was born with female identity and worthless to me male reproductive organs? Am I to Radical for all of you if I told you that given the opportunity to have female reproductive organs implanted within me I'd do it in less than a second? Am I to Radical for you if I said missed girlhood means nothing to me compared to the missed opportunity to have a life forming in my belly and the opportunity to be a mother? Just for clarification and just so you know I am way to radical to ever desire to be the nineteen fifties housewife.

Amy Dentata // Posted 20 August 2012 at 22:54

The even worse irony is that the points raised by those marginalized within radical feminism (trans people, PoC, the disabled, and so on), are the very things that could strengthen it and eradicate a lot of unchecked, false assumptions underlying current theory.

Trans identity as a whole is more complicated than gender, it's more complicated than the binary. It's often not even about identity. Many trans people don't strongly identify with any gender, and still experience dysphoria. Some strongly identify with a different gender but don't experience dysphoria. This is more than identity. It's bodies, it's neurology, it's spectrums, it's respecting the personal experience of others.

The fight to "abolish gender" completely has several problems. The things we give a gender to aren't inherently gendered, including the things that are socially constructed. People do have innate preferences alongside socialized behavior, and those innate preferences can be for things we strongly gender. Gender needs to be broken apart, depressurized, analyzed, atomized away from the binary. But the building blocks it is extrapolated from are tied in some ways to innate traits. Nobody knows what is "really" innate and what is socialized, but some people come to an understanding on a personal level.

TL;DR, as I've said many times: "Pizza is a social construct. My taste for it is not."

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About the author

Ray Filar

Ray Filar is a feminist writer. You could follow her on twitter at @rayfilar, if you like your regular doses of gender-oriented anger in easily digestible chunks

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