A trans man on feminism and bodily autonomy

// 17 September 2012

Tags: , , , ,

This is a guest post by Gethin Jones.

Transgender symbolI’ve been a feminist since I first heard of the Suffragettes. As a teenager I remember reading the biography of Emmeline Pankhurst and feeling appalled when my grandmother mentioned earning less than her male colleagues before the 1970 Equal Pay Act. To me, “feminism” and “egalitarianism” have always been synonymous words: why would anyone aware of one form of prejudice wish to perpetuate another? That’s why I was shocked when I learnt of a certain brand of transphobic feminism, of which some followers own blogs for the purpose of defaming trans people. They tend to mostly deride trans women, but a few defamatory statements are made against trans men too.

As a trans man, they accuse me of being a misogynist, having transitioned to gain male privilege and of being a “lesbian in denial” (unlikely, considering my bisexuality). Allegations of transitioning for the purpose of gaining privilege irritate me, considering the cisgender privilege I’ve lost through doing so. But mostly, accusations of misogyny irk me because I make a conscious effort to be mindful of sexism and to call others out if they use misogynistic language (e.g. “you throw like a girl”). When trans men are arbitrarily accused of misogyny, it boils down to the erroneous idea that all men are misogynists. It ignores the reality that one can be male-identified, yet strongly support equal opportunities for all and vehemently oppose all forms of discrimination. Secondly, it ignores the fact that some of the earliest feminist philosophers were men.

The reasoning behind transphobic feminism seems to be that trans people “reinforce the gender binary“. As Sheila Jeffreys put it “The idea of [transsexualism] is a living fossil, that is, an idea from the time when there was considered to be a correct behaviour for particular body types”. In other words, Jeffreys theorises that we flip to the other sex due to some minor difficulties conforming to gendered stereotypes. Yet, of all trans people I’ve surveyed, not one has cited gendered behaviour as their motivation for transitioning (many trans people reject the gender binary altogether). Instead, most trans people cite body dysphoria, a condition for which there are known biological causes, the symptoms of which can be alleviated through altering the body.

Besides, as Julia Serano points out, accusing others of reinforcing binaries involves hypocrisy. By critiquing men/women for being traditionally masculine/feminine, we create yet another gender binary: a one where subversive gender expressions are considered “good” and traditional ones “bad”. Ergo, the binary hasn’t been smashed at all – merely flipped over.

Another puzzling notion is the idea that transphobic feminists should work to ban transsexualism. Sheila Jeffreys argues that trans people shouldn’t have the legal right to transition, but as Roz Kaveney makes clear, what Jeffreys proposes has negative implications for all women. If we remove a transsexual’s right to bodily autonomy, what is to stop us doing the same to women seeking abortions? Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects bodily autonomy – a right that must be universally extended, not taken away from certain people because we disapprove of their private decisions. When we feminists stoop to the level of policing each others’ bodies and/or gender expressions, we become just as oppressive as the patriarchy we’re supposed to be fighting.

Comments From You

Laura Duggan // Posted 17 September 2012 at 6:36 pm

Great post. I think alot of the gender binary arguements get fueled by a few vocal mysogynistic trans people. Trans people get enough shit as it is we as feminist need to not let the few we disagree with cloud our vision. Are we any different to the MRA who typecast us in that case?

Any way those who would self describe as trans is a huge group, with many definitions of what to idenity as trans is. Perhaps that is what part of the issue is? Our own sense of what it is to be us can feel questioned? I guess as long as we see the issue with ourselves from the point of cis privilage (all over that with my use of we denoting the audience I assume is just like me :P) we can keep ourselves in check. If I can define what woman is for me why the hell shouldnt everyone else.

If total nonsense blame my typing of this on a phone, really hard to edit and double check with it.

LauraB // Posted 19 September 2012 at 10:18 am

Hi Gethin. I’m really sorry that people purporting to be feminists have shown you such massive prejudice. I read some of those radfem hateblogs recently and they’re internally incoherent and even as a cis feminist woman I felt personally offended by a lot of what I read. In particular, complaints that trans women silence the narrative of cis women by denying that womanhood is to do with reproduction. Wtf? Since when am I defined by having a womb? Let me decide what defines me, please.

The ‘gender is a construct’ argument can’t reasonably be used as an argument against trans people, because surely it’s an argument that we should have right to define ourselves in whatever way we see fitting, free from any external dictate.

And if some misogynist trans men exist how does it follow that all trans men are misogynists? That is just lazy, non-logic. It makes as much sense as saying, ‘I once met a blonde girl who liked wearing pink so all blonde girls must like wearing pink’ or ‘that flower is a tulip so all flowers are tulips’. Plain nonsense.

MrHan // Posted 6 May 2013 at 2:50 pm

Thank goodness I’m not the only transgendered person to be accused of misogyny, sexism, discrimination and offensiveness.

I honestly and personally believe, think and feel that nobody is upset about whether someone has a phallus or a uterus; Instead, focusing on these issues are a distraction from individuals needing to get through some issues.

Recently I was labelled the above, by a very isolated and sheltered self-confessed bookworm. She was friends with a woman I was sexually involved with who had a boyfriend (very confusing). It is my belief that it was not my sexual comments that made her uncomfortable, it was the highlighting of her friend not sharing the same values of what constitutes a romantic relationship; IE: My friend is a cheater, how could she do this to me!

The being transgendered, the being misogynist, sexist – all of it is a great way for people not have to talk about ‘values’. If we always talk about labels and label one another, we never have to look each other deeper than ‘What’ we are, rather than what we want to achieve, how we want to get there, and why we think it’s important to us.

Thank you for your blog, and for allowing comments.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds