Combatting “Combatting Ignorance” Part 3 (of 4): Cis Denial, Self-Knowledge, and Sexist Epistemology
February 24, 2010
This is the third in a
three four part series. See the first and second posts. I’ll link to the fourth here once it’s up.
My three part series just became a four part series, as I realized the issues raised in part two weren’t fully addressed, and raised other issues.
My primary contention in part two was that cis people know a lot more about trans people, our identities, and how we should be referred to than they think they do. I frame the significance of this point primarily in terms of accountability–that cis people who have enough privilege to not be in danger of being labeled systemically ignorant (a thread from part one) are let off the hook far too easily.
But there’s another point of significance for that same data: if cis people don’t know how much they know, could we call that lack of knowledge ignorance? What kinds of lack of knowledge count as ignorance (and what don’t), and what aspects of transphobia get erased as a consequence? What else do cis people not know that doesn’t count under the logic of ignorance?
The kind of lack of knowledge I’m alluding to in part two is not a lack of knowledge about trans people, our lives, our experiences, our issues, or the proper terminology–knowledge cis people have far more of than they’re willing to admit–but a lack of self knowledge.
Framed this way–as cis people’s inability to understand the way that they themselves think–part two brings a whole host of “ignorances” into view.
For me, the most infamous example of cis people failing to understand the way they themselves think is in the realm of what constitutes sex. If you ask a cis person to define what “biological” sex is, nine times out of ten they’ll cite genitalia or chromosomes. But this doesn’t conform to their actual behavior in daily life, at all. If cis people *actually* believed this, they’d be unable to tell what sex someone was unless they undressed or had a blood test. Quite the contrary, even transphobic, coercive sex attribution in everyday life is based on readily identifiable criteria completely different from those most frequently cited by cis people–namely, a person’s voice and face; body contours having a much smaller (but still appreciable) role.
Kessler and McKenna are invaluable here:
Physical genitals belong only to physical (genderless) bodies and consequently are not part of the social world. Attributed genitals are constructed out of our ways of envisioning gender and always exist in everyday interactions. Males have cultural penises and females have no cultural penises, even cardboard drawings wearing plastic pants. How else are we to understand the participants in the overlay study who claimed that the way to change a clothed male figure into a female was to “remove the penis,” or the child who sees a picture of a person in a suit and tie and says: “It’s a man because he has a pee-pee.”
Furthermore, in their overlay study, in which male and female gender cues are added to otherwise gender neutral drawings of bodies (e.g. penis/vagina, body and/or facial hair, breasts/flat chest, wide/narrow hips, and hair length) K&M found that while the presence of a penis created near consensus in terms of gender attribution (96%), the presence of a vagina did not–more than one third of the naked figures with vaginas were seen as male by study participants (151). Yet I think you’d have a hard time finding a cis person who was aware of thinking that penis = male, but vagina != female. (This also has obvious implications for the different stakes that trans men and women have in getting naked; see 152.)
So, my point is, you have a bunch of cis people walking around attributing gender to other people and completely unaware of the process by which they actually do so, instead living in a fable that serves little purpose other than to undermine trans people’s understandings of ourselves as male, female, or otherwise. While cissexualist definitions of sex conveniently justify the oppression of trans people, they have remarkably poor descriptive power.
To take it to a (strange) personal anecdote, this summer in New York I was harassed by this guy yelling “that is a MAN” at me, at the top of his lungs. He seemed to be trying to impress his friends, but–interestingly–he got more disapproval than praise from them, and the way the situation played out several of them decided I was cis. That night or the following evening–I can’t remember which–the same guy rode a small bicycle up to me and the person I was visiting, and continued to harass me, though with less certainty. My friend talked back to him for me, and in the ensuing interchange, he was too distracted by the tasks of riding a bicycle and responding to her challenges to use the wrong pronoun–he used “her,” at the same time that he was calling me a man.
This also plays into another way that cis people fail to understand themselves–the belief that as soon as a trans person is read, the reader will then treat that person as a member of hir birth sex. This is perhaps most apparent in sexualized harassment of trans women–no one would come up to me and grab my breasts if he was actually treating me as a man, but this has happened to me on multiple occasions, including once where a straight cis guy then managed to use male pronouns about me and hit on me. Tranny-alert.com’s sexualizing, objectifying discourse was directed at trans women for a reason. J Michael Bailey refers to trans women as men, yet sexualizes and objectifies us. Gender clinicians that have no respect for our identities will still dissect our presentation, appearance, and attractiveness in excruciating detail–and not do the same thing to trans men. While the fact that trans men’s incomes increase only very slightly as a result of transition is often explained as trans men being treated as women (and trans women having economic privilege), in the context of trans women’s incomes dropping by a third at transition, one has to consider it a matter of intersectionality and the interactions between trans status and male/female gender/sex, where we are treated as the sex we present as.
There is a level of cisnormativity below which one’s presentation as a woman or man becomes unrecognizable, and one is treated as one’s birth sex, albeit a potentially gender variant one. But what I see in my own life as someone who’s sufficiently cisnormative to be recognizable is that when I’m read or outed, sexism against me intensifies, instead of being ameliorated.
So why have so many cis feminists written books that depend for their coherence on the notion that they treat trans women as men?
My last example here is the listing of “sex” on drivers’ licenses and other forms of identification. If you asked the DMV why that category was on your DL, or the State Department why it was on your passport, I’m pretty sure you’d just get blank stares, and almost positive that they would position the policy as having nothing to do with trans people, that its unfortunate consequences for trans people are necessary but completely accidental. My guess is that there, and particularly among cis (or even trans!) laypeople, the common assumption would be that the use was driven by complete ignorance of the existence of trans people.
But consider why identification exists–to prevent people from impersonating someone else, faking an identity–and the links to transphobia become immediately obvious. The sex designation on ID wouldn’t exist if those giving the ID didn’t think it was important to prevent fraudulent claims to maleness or femaleness, a concern which is only relevant if they think that there are people who will attempt to fraudulently claim sexed identities–trans people. Now, granted, it also makes sense in the context of fearing someone crossdressing only for the purpose of committing a crime and not because of any internal sense of hir gender, but even that acknowledges that the *actual* reason for this practice is to protect against a trans and/or gender transgressive menace. I find it highly doubtful that many cis people would understand that as the motivation behind their drivers’ licenses having a “sex” category. In fact, the practice of including a sex on ID is justified by the supposed naturalness and immutability of sex–that is, the non-existence of the same trans people that the practice is designed to “protect” cissexuality from. In the process of producing government identification, trans people are first raised as a spectre to be warded against, and then immediately erased and denied.
What does it mean that cis people are that clueless about the motivations of their own actions, the motivations of the institutions to which they belong or on which they depend? Isn’t it kind of troubling to think of cis people as being fundamentally not-self-aware, or to think that trans people might better understand what a cis person is thinking than that cis person hirself?
This is a kind of ignorance that I find deeply unsettling, yet it’s not legible as ignorance, because it’s fundamentally about self-knowledge. And here’s where we get to sexist epistemology: the kinds of knowledge that to lack is called “ignorance” are more likely to be coded masculine–terminology, politics, etc–and are all public sphere, whereas cis people’s lack of knowledge coded feminine and private sphere–self-knowledge–is not. Thus, “ignorance”‘s epistemology–theory of knowledge–values masculine knowledge over feminine knowledge.
Self-knowledge cannot be taught in trans 101 workshops, nor can one ever completely deny accountability for a lack of it. It’s a much more arduous process to obtain self knowledge than to learn the “right terminology,” and the process is fundamentally one that has to be self-driven. In some ways, this understanding of what knowledge cis people lack is deeply dispiriting–while it takes the onus off trans people to educate cis people, it also implies that much of what cis people need to learn we *can’t* teach them or pressure them to learn, that they can only learn through a painful process of introspection few are motivated enough to attempt, and which it’s incredibly difficult (impossible?) to hold individuals accountable for whether or not they do. It’s also dispiriting in that if ending transphobia depends on skills that are devalued as feminine and are deliberately undermined by capitalism and advertising, it makes the project that much more daunting.
But I think it’s the reality we have to live with, and strategize in.
Part 4: Transphobia as Authoritative Knowledge Claims
January 5, 2010
So, I’m a little late to the party because I don’t keep up with celebrity news/gossip/whatever, or Miley Cyrus’s new music, but while procrastinating on my work I ran across yet another criticism of Miley Cyrus’s growing sexualization that made me think.
While she’s being compared to Britney and Lohan etc for going from innocent to sexual, it feels like it’s a more common thing than that–Alyson Hannigan goes from a desexualized Willow in seasons 1 & 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to American Pie , and Sarah Michelle Gellar goes from sexual-but-innocent Buffy to Cruel Intentions, and even more extreme, Billie Piper goes from Rose on Doctor Who to Secret Diary of a Callgirl…It seems like all the young women I know from “light” (as opposed to dark) TV shows go on to play their polar opposite immediately.
It seems like the discourse is all about Miley and whether she’s being inappropriate, liberated, or victimized, when it ought to be clear that there’s a larger pattern at work. … Wouldn’t it be more productive to think about the fetishization of ‘corrupting the virgin’? Miley’s kind of just a cog in the wheel, and it doesn’t really matter whether she’s doing it for herself or doing it because that’s what the biz wants. Whether she’s breaking free of a restrictive role or being forced into one (or both), our culture seems to have a fascination with this moment both positive and negative, that makes it impossible to see outside these polarized terms… It seems more productive to ask what cultural anxieties get played out in the endless analysis of her actions, to reflect upon the trope of “soiling the unsoiled” what the fetishization of this moment says about gender and sexuality with respect to the viewer. Aren’t these three responses–the protectionism of “she’s being exploited by the media!,” the slut-shaming (and protectionism) of “she’s being inappropriate, trashy, & a bad role-model!,” and the bribe of sexual power (that doesn’t live up to the hype) to women who sexualize themselves implicit in the presumption that she is claiming her sexual power–standard actions of Patriarchy? Don’t they all share in objectification by mass consumption of (obsession with) sexualized images (either erotically or to protest them)?
This round of criticism seems *especially* weird in that it misses the mark so badly. Her roundly condemned “pole dancing” is actually done within an explicit critique of how women’s dress is hyperscrutinized. She (sort of kind of I guess a little) pole danced performing her song “Party in the USA” at the Teen Choice Awards back in August. But these are the lyrics she sings as she gets to the pole & drops her hips and soon afterwards:
Get to the club in my taxi cab
Everybody’s looking at me now [the line on which she drops her hips]
Like “Who’s that chick that’s rockin’ kicks
She gotta be from out of town.”
So hard with my girls not around me
It’s definitely not a Nashville party
‘Cause all I see are stilettos
I guess I never got the memo
And she gets off the ice cream pole cart when she gets her confidence back because the song she likes comes on, she stops feeling so self-conscious and like she’s the subject of intense scrutiny. That is to say, being at the pole and hypersexualized is being portrayed as a position of weakness and vulnerability, not power–even though there were a bunch of men dancing below her (a clear critique of the previously mentioned ‘promise of sexual power’). Similarly, during the bridge section of the music video, she appears to be trapped on a swing in a birdcage–a pre-existing metaphor for being simultaneously trapped by and admired through through beauty and dress standards–and she is trapped there by women more scantily clad and thinner than her/the rest of the characters in the video (though they do join her in the confident section afterwards, Miley gets, literally, on solid ground, and when she’s still in the swing, the camera angle de-emphasizes the vulnerability/hypervisibility/precariousness of that position). And sure, you could say, it’s a mixed message–it’s weakness and vulnerability in the moment doing something she wants to be doing, that ought to be fun and then becomes fun, and her dress and movements are still sexualized during the part where she is feeling confident as well (but both less and differently so, sharper and with more implied confidence)–but that’s precisely the point. The song works because it captures both her confidence in and enjoyment of her own dress and sexualization, and the ways it can facilitate her marginalization and makes her hypervisible.
Way to miss the point, protectionists. Apart from some weird and off-putting nationalistic messages, it’s actually a pretty smart video/performance.
EDIT: Title change for clarity.
EDIT2: Lyrics correction. Teach me to use a lyrics site without double checking it.
April 23, 2009
I am *so* glad that the jury understood that killing trans women is wrong, that killing individual trans women to threaten/do violence to the entire community is wrong, is *worse* than a non-bias murder, not more-acceptable.
That it took the jury only two hours makes my relief even greater. For once, it wasn’t (that) hard for people to acknowledge that we deserve to live our lives–that Angie Zapata deserved to live her life–to refute the message that crime was intended to send. In that this action holds Andrade in-some-way-accountable, in that it affirms Angie’s humanity after it had been so brutally stripped from her, and after the defense attorneys continued to deny it to her–I am clichéing with joy over the ruling. To be honest I didn’t really have that much faith in cis humanity. Well done.
What I’m iffy about is the repetition that this is “justice.” That ‘punishment’ and ‘retribution’ posthumously help Angie Zapata.
In the framework of the criminal legal system–and that’s the only framework we’ve got right now–this is ‘best’ outcome we can get, this is what “justice” is, what “justice” for Angie Zapata is. But I can’t help but have misgivings about a “solution” that supports the PIC (prison industrial complex), that rallies support among trans and queer people for an institution that routinely victimizes us, an institution we should be critiquing and finding alternatives for.
I mean, think if one of the components of his sentence was to have to apologize in person, individually, to all of her family, all of her friends, and (not individually, but a large number of small groups) the whole community affected state-/nation-/world-wide, and have to listen to everything they/we have to say. What if one of the components of his sentence was to help erect a building that would be a center for trans people, or to toil at making a monument for her–rather than building Wal-Mart’s (that victimize the poor, and trans folks are disproportionately poor), operating a call center for the GOP (ditto), and making military supplies (supporting the military’s trans exclusion, hypermasculinity-which-breeds-trans-misogyny, sexism, rape, violence, killing untold numbers of brown people all over the world, and supporting US imperialism)? What if we had a vision of justice that didn’t include getting excited about raping people you think ‘deserve’ it? A vision that doesn’t support the very institutionalized violence that victimizes trans people–particularly but not only trans women, particularly but not only of color?
What kind of “justice” furthers the very violence it attempts to punish?
EDIT: Also, WTF is this, Lurleen & Mirelle? …Thank you to the rest of the commenters for not taking the derail bait, (I mean, really, how bald can you really be about it?) but I think I’d’ve moderated that out.
EDIT #2: Apparently this was a person’s signature rather than the comment itself; my WTF was about suddenly-making-it-about-marriage.
April 3, 2009
We all have the capacity for violence. Rape, and promoting rape, is not limited to cis straight men, to white men, to men of color, to men you don’t know, to men at all, to cis people, to straight people, to people who aren’t survivors, to people who aren’t your close friends, to people who don’t speak out against rape, to people who don’t volunteer on rape-crisis hotlines (that really sucked, by the way), or even to people who don’t write forwards to anti-rape anthologies, or who haven’t written songs against date rape and dedicated them to Sarah Palin.
Those last two categories are pretty specific, huh?
In case you’re wondering, I’m talking about this (trigger warning):
If it’s hard to see, here’s a basic rundown: a Katy Perry lookalike comes onstage to lip sync “I Kissed a Girl.” A few people make brief passes at her, then Margaret Cho, wearing a purple strap-on, and Amanda Palmer come up from opposite sides of the stage and trap “Perry” between them. Cho takes “Perry’s” hand, puts it on her strap-on, and *holds it there* while Perry looks anxious and uncomfortable and tries to remove her hand. Then Palmer touches her belly, “Perry” momentarily looks more uncomfortable, and then suddenly “gives in” and starts acting enthusiastic, making out with Palmer and pushing her butt back towards Cho. (You can see her facial expressions better in this video if it’s hard to see clearly.)
Just in case it wasn’t clear that this was a revenge fantasy rather than just a “oh she really wanted it it’s ok” fantasy (still rape promotion, but still)–A curtain goes up, and when it comes down, Cho is dressed as a minister/pastor/whatever, and “Perry” and Palmer are in wedding dresses… and “Perry” is bound hand and foot, with duct tape over her mouth. She tries to hobble away, and Palmer stops her, making an expression of overdone, false-looking bliss with a sinister undertone. (This part is somewhat more easily visible here) A “Fuck Prop 8” banner goes up and the crowd cheers.
There’s really not a lot more to say. I understand being angry about “I Kissed a Girl”–I’m none too pleased about it myself. (Not knowing my name, fine, I can work with that, but I’m your “experimental game”? … Excuse me?) The song is exploitative/exoticizing/fetishizing/objectifying whatever other words you want to use. Basically it’s gross, keep your hands off my sexuality. But resorting to dramatizing sexual violence as a revenge strategy? (Hell, revenge at all?) Not cool. And it’s not as though Cho could ever objectify or fetishize anyone. Nor Amanda Palmer.
At Women & Children First, one of two Chicago stops of the YMY! tour, there was a comment exhorting [straight/bi] men to stand up and say they’re not rapists, because otherwise all the women would assume they were. But standing up and speaking out doesn’t make you an ally/not a rapist. Not raping people makes you not a rapist. If you don’t think of yourself as a potential perpetrator of violence and consider carefully how to exist in the world as nonviolently as you can, you will perpetrate it. Violence, including but in no way limited to sexual violence, is the norm in this society, not the exception–though often it’s not quite as blatant as Cho and Palmer just put on display for us, or quite as clearly intentional.
X-posted to the Yes Means Yes! blog
As with my post about the Standards of Care, I find myself not wanting to wade into the fray about Bailey/Blanchard/Lawrence or ‘autogynephilia’. It’s petty, it’s the same damn thing everybody’s always talking about, we all go around in circles and fume and we don’t go anywhere.
Part of my reluctance comes from the fact that so much of the response against it has been couched in sex-negative terms that end up as apology for cissexual supremacy and gender coercion. Why the hell should we care *why* people transition? If it makes you happier, *go do it*. Controlling your own body and sex and gender isn’t a privilege granted to the worthy or the people who’ve got the “right reasons”, it’s a fundamental right. Really, if we say that sexual motivations for things aren’t bad or invalid, then why is the two-type theory a problem? (Note: that link? Super problematic.)
I’m also aware that it, as a theory, had a huge negative impact on my mental health for a long time, and that that it is used to justify the Standards of Care, their attendant abuse, and the denial of basic medical care, and insurance coverage of such through the guise of gatekeeping, which is itself through the guise of ‘making the right diagnosis,’ and that Bailey’s two-type theory even contributed to a young woman getting kicked out of her parents’ house at transition. But y’all already know that it’s pernicious.
How do we talk about the two-type theory in a way that doesn’t succumb to its terms? The argument demands we either accept medicalization and gender coercion in this case, or sex-negativity and the validity of gender coercion in other circumstances. We have to challenge the frame–as the sex-positive argument attempts to do. But the sex-positive argument (that sexual motivations are ok) fails to address the underlying misogyny of the theory, which is so fundamental to why it continues to hold power over us–and moreover, how the two-type theory is part of an attack on female sexual subjectivity (trans or cis).
So, let’s define our terms. I’m mostly focusing on “autogynephilia” in this post, rather than the “classic transsexual”/”homosexual transsexual”-by-which-we-mean-straight-trans-women, because in the theory, though straight trans women are pathologized, they are positioned as more ‘real’ and legit than queer ones:
The mantra of some male-to-female transsexuals is that they are simply “women trapped in men’s bodies.” This assertion has some truth for homosexual transsexuals, who are extremely and recognizably feminine (and like most women, attracted to men), but for autogynephilic transsexuals it is not true in any meaningful sense.
It’s important to note that, according to Bailey et al, “male” bisexuality does not exist, and “women” are inherently bisexual. Really, I’m not making this up, you can really be that stupid and get published. Moreover, according to the two-type theory, trans women are men, and thus inherently “gay” or “straight” (see prev. link). (God, the quotation marks hurt my ears, but not using them hurts more) Their contention is that ‘autogynephilic’ transsexuals will have sex/one night stands with men to confirm their identities as women, but not because they’re really attracted to them. The two-type theory depends on this, because otherwise one could do things a different way around–e.g. transition partially out of autogynephilia and partially to have sex with [cis] men. It’s necessary to hold the two concepts apart.
There’s so much I have to come back and critique, but I need to get all my terms out first. Sorry.
Madeline H. Wyndzen has a good essay describing some tensions (‘slippages’ if you’re being a pretentious philosopher) in the definition of “autogynephilia”. On the one hand, Ray Blanchard defines it as “a man’s [sic] paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself [sic] as a woman.” Wyndzen calls this definition “autogynephilia as a phenomenon,” in contrast to “autogynephilia as a theoretical construct” (a phrase she’s misusing, but whatev):
“Autogynephilia” can be thought of as a “theoretical construct”, which is just a fancy way of saying it’s an “idea that has meaning from its role in an overarching model of how something works.” In this case, the theory is Blanchard’s mis-directed sex-drive model of transsexuality. According to Blanchard there are two ‘legitimate’ sex drives: heterosexuality and homosexuality. A deviance in each causes gender dysphoria, and in extreme cases ultimately causes transsexuality. The deviant form of heterosexuality is called “autogynephilia.”
… J. Michael Bailey not only endorses Ray Blanchard’s theory, but he takes it to an extreme of simplicity. Whereas Blanchard’s model suggests the following three step sequence:
Mis-Directed Heterosexuality (Autogynephilia) -> Gender Dysphoria -> Transsexuality
Bailey suggests only the following two steps:
Mis-Directed Heterosexuality (Autogynephilia) -> Transsexuality
Bailey ignores how uncomfortable we feel being perceived as members of our biological sex (i.e., gender dysphoria). Instead, he turns all of our gendered feelings into something directly caused by (if not simply equivalent to) our sexuality.
Basically, the difference is this: in def’n #1, ‘autogynephilia’ is a bad kind of sexual desire and in #2 it’s the more pathological one of two kinds of sexual desire that cause transsexuality. The problem here is that Bailey et al try to prove #2 simply by asserting the existence of #1–as Wyndzen quotes Bailey:
Even if autogynephilic transsexuals exist, aren’t they rare?
No. Every indication is that autogynephilia is a common motivation for male-to-female transsexualism.
In a recent review by Anne Lawrence of 11 studies with requisite data, the median percentage of transsexuals who acknowledged a history of sexual arousal to cross-dressing (a hallmark sign of autogynephilia) was 37%. In her large survey of SRS patients of Dr. Toby Meltzer, Lawrence found that 86% of respondents had had at least occasional autogynephilic arousal …
[EDIT ADDITION 9:30pm]–Note that there’s no attempt to check and see the rates of such arousal in other gender categories, e.g. cis men, cis women, trans men. He’s not even bothering to argue that “autogynephilia” is more common in trans women than others (or that “autogynephilic” fantasies are distinct from fantasies that cis women have)–only that it exists. I’d respond that correlation doesn’t imply causation, but he doesn’t even establish correlation.
So, according to both Blanchard and Bailey, autogynephilia’s a paraphilia. What’s a paraphilia?
Paraphilias are defined by DSM-IV-TR as sexual disorders characterized by “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviors generally involving (1) nonhuman objects, (2) the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner, or (3) children or other nonconsenting persons that occur over a period of 6 months” (Criterion A), which “cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning” (Criterion B). DSM-IV-TR describes 8 specific disorders of this type (exhibitionism, fetishism, frotteurism, pedophilia, sexual masochism, sexual sadism, voyeurism, and transvestic fetishism) along with a ninth residual category, paraphilia not otherwise specified (NOS). (link)(emphasis mine)
This is where I hit paydirt.
So, getting sexual pleasure out of the idea I’m female. How is this a paraphilia? The nonconsenting/not-of-age criterion is out. So either 1)a woman is a nonhuman object, or 2)being female & sexual = suffering and humiliation. Blanchard defines 4 “types” of autogynephilia (what the hell is it with these people and their categorizations? Numerology?)
but noted that “All four types of autogynephilia tend to occur in combination with other types rather than alone.” 
- Transvestic autogynephilia: arousal to the act or fantasy of wearing women’s clothing
- Behavioral autogynephilia: arousal to the act or fantasy of doing something regarded as feminine
- Physiologic autogynephilia: arousal to fantasies of female-specific body functions
- Anatomic autogynephilia: arousal to the fantasy of having a woman’s body, or parts of one.
The first could go either way–whether you’re talking about the clothing or the wearing of such. The second isn’t about an object, so my only option is to conclude that it’s paraphilic because doing feminine things is suffering and humiliation. The third can *kind of* go either way, but mostly seems like female-body-as-object, and the fourth seems pretty clear: female body parts are non-human objects.
Basically: labeling “autogynephilia” paraphilic and pathological depends on the objectification and subordination of women. There’s really not a way around it.
The two-type theory tries to account for bi/pan/queer trans women by claiming that when we have sex with men, the
“effective erotic stimulus in these interactions, however, is not the male physique of the partner, as it is in true homosexual attraction, but rather the thought of being a woman, which is symbolized in the fantasy of being penetrated by a man. For these persons, the male sexual partner serves…to intensify the fantasy of being a woman.”(link)
I’m a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer nerd. I fantasize about having sex with Angel, I’m really not ashamed of this fact, he’s fucking hot and his relationship with Buffy, no matter how fucked up, has a lot of emotional/sexual charge. But what I want to know is–why should anyone care about whether I’m fantasizing about Angel fucking me or fantasizing about the sensations my body would experience in that encounter? Isn’t it kind of a duh thing for being-Buffy to be an integral part of a fantasy made hot not only by Angel’s body but by their relationship? (She’s the protagonist–the viewer is supposed to envision hirself as Buffy, and if the person doing the fantasizing isn’t a cis woman, then that envisioning is a ‘fantasy of being a woman’.*) Furthermore, who in the hell decided these were discrete categories, ones that one had either one or the other of, not only within a single fantasy, but over a lifetime? Moreover, what do these categories represent?
Part of what makes BTVS so rad is that it does a good job articulating [white] [able] [cis] [thin] female sexuality/sexual subjectivity–and a sexual fantasy is a fundamentally selfish thing, fundamentally a matter of sexual agency and desire. It exists for your own pleasure, not for anyone else’s (though of course it can be acted upon to bring someone else pleasure). So for true sexual subjectivity, one has to be able to be as self-centered as one pleases in a fantasy. But what the two-type theory does is say that some fantasies–those that cater to [cis] men’s desires and center/glorify cis male bodies–are legit, and other fantasies–those that are irreducibly about female desire and embodiment and sexual subjectivity, those that derive pleasure from one’s own body, those that don’t center cis men–are pathologized. If your fantasy centers deriving pleasure from your cunt–whether or not your bits are currently recognized as such–then it’s fucked up, and if it centers a cis male body deriving pleasure from your cunt, it’s legit.
To be incredibly blunt–according to the two-type theory, female genitals are a hole for a man to stick a dick into, not a source of pleasure. “Real” women aren’t focused on getting off or getting laid, they’re pleasing men and cementing relationships. Have we heard this somewhere before?
‘Autoandrophilia’ isn’t a paraphilia not because it doesn’t happen, but because (according to teh Patriarchy) being male isn’t suffering or humiliation, and a penis isn’t a non-human object–one should derive pleasure from it. If an ‘autoandrophilic transsexual’ were to have sex with a woman to confirm his maleness, rather than out of attraction to her, it would be ok in the medicalized discourse–because using and objectifying women is what he’s supposed to do–his having sex for his own purposes isn’t seen as problematic. Not only is male sexual subjectivity perfectly licit, but it’s still licit when it crosses over into oppressive behavior.
Furthermore, focusing on another woman’s body is insufficient–that desire may or may not be licit, but according to the two-type theory that means your sexual desires as a whole are pathological and bad. Only devoting all your energy to men is acceptable. Erotic attraction to women implies–is synonymous with–self-centered desire (which apparently only men are supposed to have). This categorization/equivalence again positions women as objects to be taken and used, legitimating (actual) men treating female partners as means and not as ends. It assumes that women aren’t even capable of eliciting–let alone worth–service, sexual devotion, or an other-centered desire to please. It’s telling that while Janice Raymond and other cissexualist-feminists (who think of [cis] women as valuable sexual partners that everyone’s trying to get into bed with) assume that queer trans women transition in order to “gain access to women,” the concept of a trans woman transitioning out of desire for dykes (in a non girl-on-girl-pr0n kind of way) never occurs to the authors of this two-type schema. Men–particularly cis straight men–are valuable sexual partners one might transition in order to have access to, whereas lesbians are pretty worthless–my fantasies about Willow and Tara couldn’t possibly have the same motivational force as my fantasies about Angel or Riley or Spike. (We also have a devaluing of homosexuality going on here, such that while someone might transition ‘to be straight’ they’d never transition ‘to be queer’)* And while my assumed motivation for fantasizing about being Willow or Tara and having sex with the other–to confirm my own femaleness–is unremarkable and assumed in the BBL typology (why else would I be fantasizing about them?), ‘using’ men for such confirmation (objectifying them) is unacceptable and pathological. (I’m not endorsing this possibility, just talking about the implications of their blind spot.) A real woman’s purpose is to serve men, subordinate and objectified.
Female sexual subjectivity? Not allowed. By making a focus on one’s own body & sex illegitimate, the two-type theory seeks to control and subjugate all women’s sexuality. Focusing this pathologizing discourse on trans women–who cis people are very willing to believe are pathological–allows misogynistic social scientists to get these ideas circulating in public discourse without triggering feminist response or critique, allows them to get people to internalize sexist beliefs without necessarily even being aware they’re doing it. We as a community cannot afford to address autogynephilia solely as a transphobic (and sex-negative) theory, because its power and its goals are rooted in misogyny.
ETA: a number of small edits about 9:30pm on 3/31, both content and syntax. Significant additions are marked with a * or an  lead off to a paragraph.
February 28, 2009
So, what’s one of the first things out of people’s mouth’s about trans people? We’re so rare, no one’s ever met us before, etc. The psychiatric community has, for the most part, invested heavily in this idea that we’re incredibly rare.
To wit, the most recent “official” statistics to come out about prevalence of transsexual folks were: 1/11,900 [folks assigned male at birth] and 1/30,400 [folks assigned female at birth]. Lynn Conway critiques the study and not only finds it to be off by a factor of 10 or more, but that the numbers are being used disingenuously.
I want to engage in a much less rigorous exercise. I would think that a public high school in a small city, in a county-wide system where private schooling is rare, would constitute a comparatively random sampling of the population. I happened to grow up in such a school! We had about 500 people per class year at the start of freshman year, dwindling to 400 by graduation. In my year, there was actually a trans man who came out while still in school, and unfortunately ended up having to drop out because of transphobia. I ran into him later, and he mentioned two guys who were in school at the same time we were, but had only later transitioned. On the internets, I ran into an aquaintance of mine from high school, a year or two older than me, who was in transition, though she’s still having to live as a guy for legal reasons. AND, my sister’s ex, younger than me, also attended our high school during my tenure there. So, that leaves us with three boys and three girls out of 7 class years. (500*7)/6=1 out of 583–that I know of. If my class year were representative, that would mean 1/250–that I know of. Notably, Lynn Conway’s estimates (for trans women) are 1/250-1/500. (I seriously did not plan this conjuncture. And, actually, Conway’s numbers predict fewer people to have actually transitioned than that, but whatever.)
I’m not in good communication with people from high school. It’s entirely possible that double, triple, even ten times that number have transitioned already, and I’ve heard nothing of it. Furthermore, the age range we’re talking about here is 23-29. The likelihood that someone who will eventually transition has already done so isn’t anywhere in the vicinity of 100%, whatever that likelihood is. So, if my high school were representative of the US, then 1/583 is almost certainly lower than reality. Furthermore, my high school is in North Carolina–while it was known to be a comparatively queer friendly high school for North Carolina, I’d wager that disproportionately many attendees are/were repressing their transness.
How many trans folks would these “official” numbers predict?
(.51/30,400 + .49/11,900)*7*500=0.203 According to the APA, there shouldn’t have been any of us there, one of us is bucking the curve–let alone six. Hell, according to their math, there shouldn’t have been that many in the county, of which we were less than 10%.
The ratio: 6/0.203=29.6
So, my lower bound is 29.6 times higher than their estimate–not their lower bound, their estimate.
30 times, y’all.
(the use of three significant digits is actually kind of a jab at the people Conway is critiquing.)
This isn’t a rigorous test, at all. AT ALL. We’re talking seriously small numbers here. But while I don’t know statistics well enough to know the potential for this result to be caused by chance, and probably queer kids did disproportionately head to my high school, but by no means did everyone who applied get in… come on. Off by a factor of 3, yeah whatever, off by a factor of 30? When there are numerous reasons to think that my number is too low? It doesn’t make any sense.
(There’s also the matter of there not being 3 times as many girls as boys, hmm, wait, maybe their figure is caused by trans misogynistic pathologizing! no wai!)
Conway gives a lot of other examples as to why this is number is bonkers, go read it if you like, but bewarned that she uses “male” to refer to trans women and female to refer to men (that is, she uses them to mean MAAB/FAAB), that she’s way fucked up about trans folks who don’t get SRS even though she includes them/us, uses MTF/FTM as if they were completely unproblematic terms, and doesn’t gloss why her data on trans male transitions is scanty (which is at least in part about the data not being there because these things mostly get studied because of trans misogyny, but also likely her having some blinders on.).
So, one has to wonder: why? They’re scientists, they’re not stupid. They might be blinded by cissexual supremacy, they might have ulterior motives, but it needs explaining. Conway does some of that, but I want to take it to a higher level of analysis(or abstraction if you want to be negative about it).
Perhaps most importantly, it is the strong self-interest of psychiatrists to have their patients believe that transsexualism is incredibly rare, for then takes years of expensive counseling for the psychiatrist to be convinced that a patient is a “true transsexual” who needs SRS. Psychiatrists can reinforce a very “conservative, non-permissive” approach to treating transsexualism IF they can continue to assure society that “true transsexualism is incredibly rare”, and that most people who seek “sex changes” are mentally ill and in need of “shrinking” by psychiatrists to cure them of their “delusions”.
She also argues that the idea that TSness is 2-6 times less common than muscular dystrophy, rather than 10 times as common, & twice as common as MS, justifies the medical community ignoring it. I’m uncomfortable with the pathologizing of transsexuality, but it is true that transphobia (directly, and also indirectly, through capitalism) is really the only reason so little research that’s actually beneficial to us is being done–numbers like that cut right through the ‘oh but there are too few and you could never find them or do a rigorous double blind study’ routine.
BUT, both the chronic illness argument, and the quote she’s critiquing, AND any biologically-determinative argument about the cause of transsexuality (which is not the same as arguing that there are biological factors influencing one’s self-determination) justify ignoring the existence of trans people when we theorize reality.
All children in the US are forced into a gender and sex designation without their consent–some even before birth. It’s required by the US government. Almost all, but not all (yay!) parents compound this, sending their kid the message that ze *is* a girl or that ze *is* a boy & there are no other possibilities, that it’s not something they get to choose or change, and on top of that comes with intense coercive gender role training. Parents frequently don’t have much choice in the matter–go look at the children’s toys at your local Mega Death Mart–how many *aren’t* very strongly gendered? how many books for kids don’t train them into sexism? And schools? Good luck marching to the beat of your own gendered drummer.
Those of us who are trans can remember some of this pretty intensely as trauma, but the dominant discourse has been to say that that trauma is something about us–when, in fact, that trauma is only caused by being coerced into a sex we didn’t want to be in. And, yes, that word choice is very intentional. Running with the metaphor for a moment, let’s take a yes means yes approach, an explicit verbal consent approach to sex/gender, and let the damn kids choose it themselves. Looking at it this way, we can understand that cissexualizing infants is wrong, and potentially traumatic even to those who grow up not contesting that assignment. The absence of “no” is not consent.
Without that most basic form of gender coercion, the others (e.g. gender roles, The Gender BinaryTM) lose one of their most potent methods of cultural reproduction (that is, passing their social code from one generation to the next). Without that basic form of gender coercion, people will still use medical technologies to alter their bodies in gendered ways, but the separation between those that are “valid” and “real” versus those that are “invalid” and “fake,” the distinction between cis and trans, disappears. Without it, one might still have a dissonant reaction to one’s genitals/physical characteristics, but the difference is that it would be ‘incorrect’ or ‘unexpected’ rather than ‘wrong’–perhaps a source of confusion, but not shame, guilt, inferiority, or falseness.
Anyways, the point is, if the potential for a kid to say ‘no’ is so tiny as to be inconsequential, it’s easy to erase the coercion that happens to the kids who don’t say no. It justifies the ongoing violence and exclusion. It justifies theories of humanity/gender/whatever and social policies/politics that depend on our nonexistence for their coherence. It justifies policies and actions that “aren’t about us” and “aren’t transphobic” when it’s “just a coincidence” that they have disastrous effects on us. It justifies cis people not taking the time to educate themselves about transphobia and their concomitant expectation that their ignorance be treated as innocent/natural, it justifies the absence of trans people from spaces we might benefit from without institutional transphobia, it justifies our absence in decision-making-processes that affect us. It naturalizes evidence of our systematic economic marginalization. It justifies the continued practice of cis people claiming power within the trans community, and
barring trans people from claiming power trans people’s lack of power within cis communities. It justifies lack of resources. It justifies single-gender bathrooms, prisons, etc, and the policing of such. It justifies well-we-should-have-our-rights-NOW,stop-trans-jacking, etc etc
I really need to write a post about how last year’s ENDA debacle serves to justify the “inclusive” bill, which in fact enshrines certain kinds of anti-trans-discrimination as normal and good, not discrimination.
January 8, 2009
I know I’ve been gone a long time, and I promised I’d post more in December. Oops. I suppose that was before the drama that made me go hide, though.
Anyways, here I’m continuing a post I made almost two months ago, “Tranny” and Subversivism: Re-reclaiming “Tranny” (or not) part 1.
In the first post, I mostly talked about the function of the so-called reclaimed usage of “tranny.” In this one I want to talk about the original. Well, not exactly the original–un-reclaimed, yes, but I want to get at the center by looking at the edges.
When you look directly at a slur, used at its intended target, its derogatory meaning isn’t that clear, unless you know it from other contexts. “Faggot” refers to a gay man, the n-word refers to a black person. But “faggot” means a lot more than ‘man attracted to men’–otherwise, it wouldn’t get applied to straight men. It takes concepts associated with a referent, and applies them to a different referent; to be specific, calling a man a fag is more about aberration, effeminacy, affront-to-god, promiscuity, & perversion than about him being “gay” or “bi” or “homosexual” in any objective sense. That is, an epithet becomes an insult by way of the concepts it invokes, not just who it’s about. In this way, “fag” has been reclaimed not by changing the referent, not by it meaning “gay” in some objective, neutral way, but by changing the valuation placed on the concepts–sexually liberated, gender variant, anti-assimilationist, & non-conformist, to use the language we might use.
To translate that into academic jargon:
The history of the term ‘queer is most symptomatic of this. From homophobic epithet designating and reinforcing the other’s social abjection to self-declared maker of community pride, ‘queer’ was reclaimed precisely according to the transformative mechanisms of camp in which what has been devalued in the original becomes overvalued in the repetition.
Prosser, Jay. “Judith Butler: Queer Feminism, Transgender, and the Transubstantiation of Sex,” in Stryker & Whittle, eds. The Transgender Studies Reader. Routledge, 2006. 260. Also in Prosser, Jay. Second Skins: Body Narratives of Transsexuality.
Regardless of what you think about the word “overvalued”, the point is that language reclamation has to take the concepts a term starts with and either directly contradict them, or revalue/reinterpret them in a positive way. Any concepts left unaddressed will just bleed through into the new version. Certainly, it loses its power to heal and protect without that, given that there will still be people using it in its un-reclaimed form, drawing on those derogatory concepts through the word.
So, the question becomes, does the “reclaimed” use of “tranny” do this? If we were to want to *actually* reclaim “tranny”, how would a real reclamation differ from what’s happening now? What concepts would we have to contend with and confront?
Clearly, porn is a big one here. In that context, “tranny” refers to a trans woman, but as someone who isn’t a woman, or isn’t a “real” woman. As someone–or, something–that exists solely for straight cis men’s pleasure. As far as Craigslist is concerned, too. (What, you want a relationship? Sorry, head over to casual encounters, plz) That porn–and discourse that draws on that image of what a trans woman is–is incredibly objectifying and ungendering. And I mean objectifying in the sense of makes-you-feel-like-an-object.
But pr0n isn’t the only context the word is used in, even in its un-“reclaimed” form. Lucy of Catspaw writes:
Michael Seltzman wrote at the Huffington Post a column titled “Sarah Palin Naked” which starts off just as sexist and misogynistic as it sounds. In talking about wanting to have sex with Sarah Palin, because obviously that’s an appropriate thing for political discourse, he offers the following:
My wife is cool with this if I promise to “first wipe off Palin’s tranny makeup.” I married well.
Haha. I’m laughing so hard. A real comedian there, his wife. Transphobia is so funny. Especially when it’s also expressing lookism at the same time. Because I find it hard to believe that she’s complimenting Palin on her gender presentation. Instead, it’s fairly clear she expressing the stereotypical view that transwomen use makeup poorly. She’s calling into question Palin’s womanhood.
Down the same alley, we have a cis woman describing her five worst mistakes with makeup in a post called “The Nights I Looked Like a Tranny; My 5 Biggest Makeup Regrets. What’s even better? When a trans woman calls her out and tells her not to use “tranny”, another cis woman jumps in with the you-don’t-understand trope mentioned last time, using the fact that some trans people think the word tranny is ok to excuse blatant trans misogyny:
I also know transgendered people who DON’T take offense to it. As distasteful as it might be to you, it’s become a part of slang like “retarded,” or “gay.” Preaching really won’t change anything, because although it’s understood that the word might be deemed offensive by SOME, when used in certain contexts it’s clearly not meant to be negative.
Clearly not meant to be negative. Really.
Calling a cis woman trans is a pretty wide-ranging insult, turns out. Apparently, being transsexual means being ugly, slutty/a sex worker, and a bad dancer: “The only thing that’s certain is that Britney looked kinda Tranny, danced slower than the other dancers, and didn’t wear much. “That ain’t no comeback,” commented one friend of Jewcy. Well said.” See here also.
Another trait that get you labeled ‘tranny’ or trans (particularly with the s-word): being too aggressive/assertive– (Ann Coulter comes to mind, and Debbie Schlussel uses the s-word this way against WNBA players (in addition to appearance stuff discussed below).
But this is the article that takes the cake. (warning: potentially rage/depression inducing.) Apparently both Alyson Hannigan and Sarah Michelle Gellar–Willow and Buffy, respectively, if you’re getting rusty with your Joss Whedon fandom–are trans. I wish. There’s also the usual trans-women-can’t-walk-in-high-heels/are over-dramatic bullshit. But what’s worse? Resisting sexual assault? You’re trans. Like anal sex? You’re trans.
If you reach for “her” you-know-what and “she” snatches your hand away, it’s probably because “her” package isn’t what you’d expect a lady to have “down there.” If they prefer backdoor sex after a bit of fellatio, as Sarah Michelle Gellar reportedly does, that’s another tip that your “girlfriend” might be a boyfriend.
Trans misogynistic stigma–which the article uses “tranny” to invoke (in reference to Hannigan)–is used to regulate female sexuality, on both sides of the prude/slut dichotomy. Later, the article claims that trans women are obsessed with hard cock & sex-right-now, again regulating (cis and trans) female sexuality. It’s also central to regulating appearance–your breasts can’t be too big or too small, your shoulders too wide, your feet too big, etc. (Hey trans misogynistic cis womyn: what’s that about how no one is free while others are oppressed?) The article abounds with speculation about which cis female celebs are “really” trans, so you can be sure not to sleep with one of us, zomg. Again, tranny = filthy perversion you can’t even touch–“If all else fails, tell “her” that “she” looks like your Uncle Marty or ask “her” if “she” forgot to shave. Tell “her” this even if “her” skin is the smoothest, sleekest, most satiny epidermis you’ve ever laid eyes (but never hands!) on, and “her” complexion puts even Marilyn Monroe’s to shame. “She” may scratch your eyes out, but, otherwise, “she’s” sure to leave you the hell alone.”
So, from all these references that aren’t really about trans women, we can gather the following picture of what “tranny” is supposed to represent: sexually polluted, perverted/slutty/sex-obsessed/promiscuous, ugly, bitchy, really-male, exist only for sex, fake, doing femininity wrong/badly/not feminine enough/hyperfeminine.
What, pray tell, does the “gender neutral” “reclaimed” version of “tranny” do to reclaim or reject these concepts? It gets some of them, ok. But it doesn’t hit the most common theme running throughout its use against cis women–doing femininity badly. It doesn’t even come close. For trans men, there’s some work on claiming being sexually desirable, but much of this work explicitly excludes trans women. What does this idea of “tranny” do to this idea that we are cis straight men’s sexual objects, to do with as they please and then throw away? What does this idea of “tranny” do about the conception of us as a sexual threat, as ritually impure and literally untouchable? It’s not just because we’re “freaks” (a concept it does reclaim, to its credit). The ‘reclaimed’ version, situated in anti-assimilationism, rejects the idea that we should have to be “real” men or women, which is good, and important, and a valuable thing to reclaim out of this word. But it leaves women open to trans panic, and by not specifically taking on hatred of femininity, it fails to serve us there, either–we’re still ‘fake’, because our femininity is still suspect, and our masculinity is “real” because masculinity is always real.
The “reclaimed” version of “tranny” only deals with transphobia as it affects trans men and FAAB genderqueers, and leaves the rest of us out in the cold. Many of the pejorative meanings laden in the first version of the term are still there, lurking, and when we hear the “reclaimed” version, we still hear those meanings because no one’s bothered to purge them. We’re still subject to those meanings, and we either have to kill the word or adopt it as a shield.
If you want to reclaim “tranny”–and I think that’s a valid position for trans female and/or feminine spectrum people to take–you have to contend with how the word actually acts, not just as a generic trans signifier. So if you try to reclaim “tranny” from its current “reclaimers” as well as the dominant culture, do it right this time. And tell me how you want to use it to reclaim it this way.
November 11, 2008
That’s right, I’m not upset about prop 8. Consider this a calling out, if you need to.
It’s not that I’m happy about it–I’m not–or that I don’t think it’s a bad thing–it is–or something that will have (at least in the short term) a lot of bad consequences for a lot of people–it will–or a setback to the “LGBT” (by which we mean CLGB) movement–it is.
It’s that last one, see.
I’m sick of the politics of racism and exclusion, the politics of classism and transphobia, the politics of privilege. I’m sick of the politics that lead to racist violence of any kind, but against black queer people? Fuck you and you privilege too.
I’m sick of the politics of a movement that lead to two white gay men trapping me against a wall and punching me in the face for being a trans woman*. I’m sick of the politics that told them they would get away with it, right in front of a gay bar, at a trans event with approximately twenty witnesses. By the way, while people did intervene on my behalf, and the perpetrators were clearly surprised by that fact and, ultimately, they *did* get away with it. I’m sick of the politics that told the bartenders & bouncer that they could pretend they didn’t see it, despite clear evidence to the contrary, so that they could avoid any accountability. Which they did. I’m sick of the organizers of the event getting praised for how much they did about it–putting out a statement a full three weeks after I’d asked them to, only in response to a bunch of cis people asking them on my behalf, only one week before the next dance, and deciding to do what they thought best without any real attempt to collaborate with me or my advocates to form a game plan. I’m sick of the politics that sets the bar so low for accountability, trans misogyny, and anti-violence work that that’s admirable. I’m sick of it.
Because these people, these events aren’t isolated. They don’t happen outside culture, they don’t happen outside politics, they aren’t random or uncaused. When a white gay male politician cut trans people from the ENDA bill, HRC didn’t hold him accountable, HRC looked the other way and even aided him covertly; ultimately he succeeded in getting us out, this year anyway. A prominent cis gay journalist justified kicking a masculine lesbian [of color] out of a women’s restroom, and referred to an abstracted trans woman as “a man who wants to cut off his penis, surgically construct a vagina, and become a woman”–…and, what happened, precisely? I mean, I know a lot of people hate on Avarosis, but the fact is that he’s still given a community platform when we know he’s going to use it for transphobic ends, without any accountability…and we’ve never seen this before.
So, what I mean is–in that kind of a climate, how could they not have expected to get away with it? Every indication they had said that there would be some protests and maybe they’d have to say they were sorry at the worst, but that in the end they’d walk away unharmed, their violence and/or negligence done with no need for punishment, restitution, or further scrutiny. And certainly, no one’s denouncing the organizers for, say, not having a plan in place to deal with potential violence before it happened, or claiming the party to be “For trans men and trans women and their chasers, queers and allies, movers and/or shakers”–with no consciousness of how that might impact trans women. No one’s denouncing the other attendees for not stopping to ask why a trans woman(ish person)* in a miniskirt and fishnets was talking to the cops–for not realizing that that ain’t happening if things are ok.
I’m sick of the politics of a movement where, when I speak of the attack to cis people, particularly white but also POC, they’re *shocked*, when I tell it to white trans people & trans male spectrum POC, they’re (generally) not shocked but they are surprised, and when I tell it to trans women of color they say ‘OMG ME TOO.’ OK, this is hardly a scientific survey, and it’s definitely an oversimplification. But there’s only been one group of people, about six people, I’ve met who expected it, who, when I told them, they told me stories about the (raced) trans misogyny they’ve experienced from the hands and mouths of cis gay men–to the point of saying that gay men were “the worst” and that where they got trans misogynistically harassed the most was in Boystown (a predominantly white, upscale, cis, gay neighborhood–which has the vast majority of Chicago’s queer resources) by gay men. (They didn’t mention racial dimensions, whether because I’m a white stranger (likely) or because they don’t analyze it that way or some other reason.)
I’m white. I’m not trying to claim that somehow my white privilege hasn’t been playing out here, or to subtly identify myself as not-white or less-white. What I mean is that I can’t stand the ways in which white queers and cis queers, and particularly white cis queers, maintain a silencing denial about violence that is, frankly, endemic. Violence which they make possible through subtle means, like, say, putting all the LGBT resources in an expensive, white, cis part of town. No one should be able to say “me too” to that violence, but no one should have to be so excited about being able to talk about it, either.
Your “shock” is silencing. It says “your reality is strange and foreign. your experiences must be exceptions, isolated, one time experiences. your experiences aren’t something we could expect given other circumstances.” It tells us that we’ll be supported if we talk about violence coming from the “right people” but if it’s coming from the “wrong people,” then either you won’t believe us, or you will but you’ll be too caught up in your own shit to be supportive, and in either case you won’t understand yourself as complicit. Your shock makes my experience strange so you don’t have to interrogate your normal. Your shock says “violence happens out there, not here.” Maintaining the safety of your space requires my silence.
To return to the present moment–
I know, Truth Wins Out and PFAW put out statements condemning the blaming-of-black-people, and HRC, well, they linked it on their blog. Both statements put the racist violence out in the open and condemn it. The PFAW statement is actually quite good, and brings up the need for white LGBT activists to 1)do outreach to black communities, neither writing them off nor taking them for granted, and 2)to work for black folk as well, on issues like the minimum wage. But it doesn’t draw attention to the larger historical context of white queer betrayal of queers of color, and in particular trans women of color, or the history of the white CLGB movement’s use of racism and transphobia to achieve its ends, and the potential impact therein. The interplay between white and cis supremacy orchestrated by HRC in the formation of NCTE, for example:
Being that we were only a few months from the 2002 midterm elections, and the ALC was happening in late September, one of the provisos for our invite was that we keep it secret until after the event concluded.
The meeting concludes on a high note, we go back to Marietta to do the post mortem debriefing, cross check our notes, and we go back to Louisville to begin working on the most important Transgender 101 presentation in U.S. history.
But that Power Point presentation Dawn and I created for that Transgender 101 session is still on my computer because a Caucasian transgender leader leaked the details to her paymasters at HRC.
Once my tears dried, I began to get angry as I began to piece together the details of what happened and who leaked the info that killed the transgender community’s best chance to wean itself from dependence on the gay community and HRC’s control.
A few weeks later I got my answer. The Caucasian transleader who leaked the details of that meeting to HRC announces the formation of NCTE.
I say that this is an interplay of white and cis supremacy, rather than just white trans racism, because HRC was so clearly playing white trans people and black trans people against each other through, basically, bribery, to maintain its power. I’m angry at the person-who-Roberts-doesn’t-name-so-I-won’t-either’s racist and short sighted betrayal, a betrayal of every fucking one of us, the kind of betrayal that makes me shake if I let myself feel it, but it’s still only a result, and only one result, of HRC’s divide and conquer strategies.
This post is getting kind of long and convoluted for the thread of my argument, but it’s this: winning on 8, with the same strategies, with the same people, without both outreach and accountability to POC, would have been a hollow victory, and I’m so over our strategy of pursuing a specific goal at all costs, what Tobi callswinning to lose. The whole post is worth reading, but I’m just going to pick out an out-of-context tidbit:
Word came down from above that we were not allowed to use the words “bisexual” or “transgender,” or even the term “same-sex marriage.” The focus groups had shown that swing voters respond better to phrases like “gays and lesbians” and “gay marriage.”
As huge as they were, I didn’t feel that the potential short term gains were not [sic] worth the long term implications of perpetuating biphobia and transphobia. Indeed, I saw concrete results of that strategy just a couple years later. We were preparing to get gender identity non-discrimination, but were aware of a well organized opposition. Calling out to our base – the no on 36 voters – we found a disappointingly small proportion were supportive of and aware of the issue. I can’t help but see the connection between the decision not to mention trans people in previous LGBT campaigns, and the lack of awareness our electoral base had of trans people’s mere existence.
Losing on prop 8 denies real rights to real people, and keeps the political debate at an unacceptably low bar. But ultimately, I have to wonder if success might have denied more rights than a loss in the long run, compared to alternative strategies of the sort proposed by Beyond Marriage. As Nancy D. Polikoff writes in the Utne Reader,
The most contested issue in contemporary family policy is whether married-couple families should have “special rights” not available to other family forms. Excluded families include unmarried couples of any sexual orientation, single-parent households, extended-family units, and any other constellation of individuals who form relationships of emotional and economic interdependence that do not conform to the one-size-fits-all marriage model. No other Western country, including those that allow same-sex couples to marry, creates the rigid dividing line between the law for the married and the law for the unmarried that exists in the United States.
I propose family law reform that would recognize all families’ worth. Marriage as a family form is not more important or more valuable than other forms of family, so the law should not give it more value. Couples should have the choice to marry based on the spiritual, cultural, or religious meaning of marriage in their lives; they should never have to marry to reap specific and unique legal benefits. I support the right to marry for same-sex couples as a matter of civil rights law. But I oppose discrimination against couples who do not marry, and I advocate solutions to the needs all families have for economic well-being, legal recognition, emotional peace of mind, and community respect.
I’m sick of politics about marriage that ignore the neo-liberal capitalist domination inherent in US marriage law–
from the historic Massachusetts marriage decision, Hillary Goodridge, et al. v. Department of Health:
Without question, civil marriage enhances the “welfare of the community.” It is a “social institution of the
highest importance.” French v. McAnarney, supra. Civil marriage anchors an ordered society by
encouraging stable relationships over transient ones. It is central to the way the Commonwealth identifies
individuals, provides for the orderly distribution of property, ensures that children and adults are cared for
and supported whenever possible from private rather than public funds, and tracks important
epidemiological and demographic data.
Tangible as well as intangible benefits flow from marriage. The marriage license grants valuable property
rights to those who meet the entry requirements, and who agree to what might otherwise be a burdensome
degree of government regulation of their activities.…ejecting claim for equitable distribution of property
where plaintiff cohabited with but did not marry defendant);…(government interest in promoting marriage would be “subverted” by recognition of “a
right to recover for loss of consortium by a person who has not accepted the correlative responsibilities of
Marriage is not always good for people. It is not always chosen freely. It is not always being prohibited, or discouraged–frequently it’s a government attack on women of color:
Healthy Marriages Grand Rapids received $990,000 from the federal government in 2003 to “facilitate the understanding that healthy marriages between parents is [sic] critical to the financial well-being of children, …increase the number of prepared marriages among low-income adults, and decrease the divorce rate among low-income adults.” The program coordinates local public media campaigns plugging marriage as well as relationship counseling classes, many offered by faith-based providers.
It is precisely this emphasis on marriage as a cure for economic woes that worries many welfare recipients and advocates. According to Liz Accles at the Welfare Made a Difference National Campaign, “Marriage promotion is problematic for many reasons. It is discriminatory. It values certain families over others. It intrudes on privacy rights. The coercive nature of this is lost on a lot of people because they don’t realize how deeply in poverty people are living.” Accles says that adequate educational opportunities, subsidized child care, and real job skills and opportunities are the answer to the financial concerns of women on welfare. She joins many domestic violence counselors in saying that marriage education funded by government coffers and administered via faith-based providers and welfare case workers is at best a waste of taxpayer money, and at worst pushes women deeper into abusive relationships that may end in injury or death.
In Allentown, Pa., a program called the Family Formation and Development Project offers a 12-week marriage education course for low-income, unmarried couples with children. Employment services are offered as part of the program, but only to fathers. In its application for federal funding, the program set a goal of 90% of the participating fathers finding employment. No such goal was set for the mothers. According to Jennifer Brown, legal director at the women’s legal rights organization Legal Momentum, which filed a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services, “What we fear is that this kind of sex stereotyped programming–jobs for fathers, not for mothers–will be part of marriage promotion programs funded by the government.”
Experts at Legal Momentum are concerned that the administration is diverting scarce funds from proven and effective anti-poverty programs and funneling the money into untested marriage-promotion programs. They say there is little information about what is happening on the ground, making it difficult to determine what activities have been implemented.
Feminist economists point out that the mid-1990s welfare reform law served larger economic interests by moving women out of the home and into the work force at a time when the economy was booming and there was a need for low-paid service workers. Now that the economy is in a recession, the government has adopted a more aggressive policy of marriage promotion, to pull women out of the work force and back into the home. According to Avis Jones-DeWeever, Poverty and Welfare Study director at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “We are talking about putting $1.5 billion into telling women to find their knight in shining armor and then everything will be okay.” (link)
And people wonder why black folks might not all be in lockstep in support of (gay) marriage. Maybe because it’s a racist agenda in the first place.
Marriage discourse that focuses on the lionization of marriage in a climate where the federal government is trying to force poor (black) women into abusive marriages and out of the workforce, discourse that legitimizes the denial of economic benefits to unmarried poor women and women fleeing domestic violence is absolutely unacceptable. I think it’s possible to organize coalitions around marriage (around what Tobi calls relationship recognition, but the point is the white CLGB community isn’t doing it, because it would implicate them in racist and classist oppression.
Tobi writes about how the (now-overturned) California marriage system potentially victimizes queer survivors of domestic violence/IPV:
It’s widely reported that the recent marriage decision in California does not create a residency requirement to get married. That means that someone could travel to California, get married, and go home. However, California DOES have a residency requirement for divorce. That’s where the trouble is.
If you’re home state doesn’t recognize your new marriage, then chances are they won’t allow you to get divorced there. …”States with civil unions or comprehensive domestic partnerships… also may allow married same-sex couples to divorce, but each of those states …has a one-year residency requirement.”
So what happens if you don’t live in one of those states and you and you’re partner are ready to leave your California-made marriage? Without moving to one of those states and waiting a year to gain residency — YOU CAN”T GET DIVORCED.
This has some obvious and serious legal repurcussions. And recognizing that abuse does indeed exist in queer communities, one can imagine the difficulties of not being allowed to divorce your abusive partner. Not being allowed to dissalow your abusive partner hospital visitation, medical power of attorney, or other such benefits of marriage.
While I’m sure this was an oversight, it clearly demonstrates a lack of forethought on the part of those drafting the bill–and “lack of forethought” is not uncaused, natural, or blameless. Do you think that, say, INCITE would make that mistake? What does it say about white CLGB marriage politics that this went unnoticed?
Earlier, Tobi wrote about the transphobic limitations of Oregon’s Domestic Partnership law:
the domestic partnerships are only for “same-sex” couples only. Why? There are a number of bi and straight “opposite-sex” couples who would rather avoid marriage — either for financial, political, or ideological reasons — why deny them the opportunity to get a domestic partnership. Especially the many straight queerspawn who do not want to be married while their parents cannot. Now they have to choose between taking marriage while their parents are relegated to a separate and unequal institution, or having no relationship recognition while their parents get a domestic partnership.
Then there’s the whole other issue of creating a new government institution that is based on people’s gender. That means that there is one more place where the rights you can have will depend on your ability to prove that you are the gender that you say you are. And that puts transpeople in a vulnerable place. If your someone can “disprove” your gender, then they could annul your domestic partnership. And while that would also end up “proving” that you’re eligible for a marriage, it very well may be too late. A transperson would just be out of luck if their partner “disproved” their gender in order to annul their domestic partnership as a tactic in a custody battle. Of course, all of these things could happen to a transperson in a marriage. But why do we have to include all of the issues of institutionalized transphobia in the relationship recognition system that we wrote?
We should remember that this bill doesn’t hurt “opposite-sex” couples and it doesn’t take away any rights from transpeople, but there’s absolutely no reason to leave them out….I and several other activists pointed this out to Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) two years ago, just before the last bill failed. We were told that this problem would be fixed next time, but aparently nobody took notes. By the time it was discovered this time around (i.e. I pointed it out, again), the bill language had been written
At one level, it’s an oversight. But again, if they’d been on it with their coalitional politics, it wouldn’t’ve happened. It didn’t slip past Tobi, it wouldn’t’ve slipped past me. It leaves open possibilities for transphobic discrimination that could easily have been closed, completely pointlessly.
I hope my point is clear: fixing relationship recognition is incredibly important, but this isn’t the way to do it, and if a setback were to cause us to change course, rather than dive headfirst into the same goddamn wall one more time, then I’m not shedding too many tears. This fight wasn’t about getting rid of discrimination–it was about getting one group of people into the privileged class.
Marriage rights are frequently equated to employment non discrimination. The irony is, of course, that there is a lot of similarity–last year’s defeat of ENDA was, paradoxically, a win for the queer community, or at least the trans community–a federal trans exclusive ENDA would have eviscerated the efforts of localities to institute trans inclusive ones, and thus passing ENDA would have enabled anti-trans discrimination. As bad as prop 8 is, killing it could have left a lot of people out in the cold, and shut the door–now, at least, there’s a chance that when we open that door and come inside, it will be all of us. As I’ve mentioned above, the tactics in use haven’t merely been about only helping middle-class white CLGB folks–they’ve done so by standing on others’ shoulders. It has to stop.
May it stop here.
There was going to be another part of this post, about how we need to get some perspective, about just how big Obama’s win is, how it’s far larger than just the Obama presidency but has implications for the structure of our “democracy” and the role of the Democratic Party; it has implications for who will be nominated in the future and how campaigns will be waged; it has implications for the possibility of the return of intelligent public political discourse which, in all reality, is a far greater necessity for overturning hetero/cis supremacy than defeating prop 8. And, frankly, I think to be focusing on a decision primarily involving white CLBG folks in one state instead of a 1)monumental and historic moment in black history, and 2)potential freedom from the political nightmare of the past 8 years, especially the unmitigated emphasis on wars, wars, and more wars killing almost 100,000 innocent brown people and reinstating known war criminals as the new Afghani puppet government1 and facilitating Wahhabist takeovers of Islamic countries–I think it’s more than a bit racist to be saying that we’re upset about the election.
1: I know, Obama’s in favor of redoubleing the war in Afghanistan, but I think that a potential for change is possible under Obama that would never have been possible under Bush McCain or Palin. (in part due to the whole “intelligent discourse” thing, and, judging from the way he ran his campaign, a much more open and inclusive process and one less prone to the abuses of power so endemic under Bush, e.g. the fake news reports and spying and misuse of security forces…) Maybe I’m overly optimistic, who knows. Regardless, Obama is *less* militaristic than B/C/P have been and would be.
EDIT: In case I’m wrong, sign sign this petition against Larry Summers.
*At the time, I was not ID’ing as a trans woman, though obviously I was seen as such by my assailants (though they’d use different words…), and was generally positioned as such by others in ways that weren’t super cool. But, you know, as of yesterday, I am publicly ID’ing as a woman as well as trans & gender fluid/genderqueer/gender variant. (it was more a matter of realizing my identity had already shifted back than that it changed yesterday, but whatev.)
EDIT: Tobi made a related, simultaneous-ish post: If Not Marriage for All How About Marriage for None?
FURTHER EDIT: Looks like Dean Spade was thinking the same thing at the same time, too.
November 3, 2008
“A [woman’s] penis is a weapon. A sword. A knife. Dominance and sexism incarnate.”
Yes–a weapon against her. A weapon threatening her life, a weapon demanding her submission to both male and cissexual supremacy. Rather than symbolizing her power over [cis] women, it symbolizes her powerlessness within a transphobic/gender coercive society, the patriarchal order’s unjust demands on her person.
When her penis symbolizes maleness-as-violence it symbolizes the violence of making her male. The violence done to her at birth, classified then mutilitated against her will, the violence enacted to put her back in that classification–her penis symbolizes her vulnerability to violence, discrimination, rape, and murder.
Before transition, her penis, symbolizing patriarchial violence and sexism, symbolizes her body as dangerous and unsafe, threatening to women–including her. It symbolizes the isolation she faces as someone unable to be with her own kind, that she & her emotions and her inner truth are inferior because they don’t match up to the prescribed ideal…her penis symbolizes her Otherness, her danger to others and to herself, her inability to access community and support, her toxicity to the people she loves, the impossibility of ever joining the real and the human on her terms–it Others her not only through difference but also as a threat. It tells her to feel shame & self-loathing because she is threat and violence, the very violence enacted upon her–that is, her own body symbolizes her as the criminal causing her victimization, her own body tells her she is not merely ‘asking for it’ but doing it herself. And by supposedly symbolizing her invulnerability, it is the cited reason she should be left vulnerable to the very violence that organ makes her vulnerable to–it is both the reason to attack and the reason that attack is unimportant. Her penis symbolizes her lack of importance, her lack of humanity, symbolizes the justness of the violence done to her–rather than symbolizing her worth and superiority, her penis symbolizes her worthlessness and inferiority. Her penis symbolizes not pleasure or power but pain and powerlessness. Her penis is trauma, not because of anything inherent but because of trans misogyny.
In that her penis symbolizes male supremacy, it symbolizes her inferiority as a woman, as someone who wants to be a woman. Her penis is made to symbolize her insanity, her instability, hysteria, and weakness. Her penis symbolizes her forced receptivity to social control by a cis male order, symbolizes her lack of control over her own body and its sexuality–the control wrested from her.
it symbolizes her objectification
her fetishiziation, her inhumanity, cis male control over her sexuality
–and through the Standards of Care it symbolizes cis male authority, dominance, and control over her body
it symbolizes institutional abuse and violence
it symbolizes infantilization and lack of authority; it symbolizes her as so dangerous she needs protection from herself.
it symbolizes the necessity to protect her–from herself, from her danger to herself and others
Her body symbolizes patriarchial violence–against her. That everpresent symbol cannot be erased or ignored except by surgery, it is inescapable, that trauma is re-presented every day, sometimes at the level of consciousness, sometimes not.
Her penis symbolizes Patriarchy, it symbolizes her inability to remove Patriarchy from her body and her life, it symbolizes her subordination, misogyny, it symbolizes her inability to escape subordination and misogyny, it symbolizes the naturalness of her subordination and the justness of misogyny against her.
Her penis is symbolized as ugly and incongrous, her penis symbolizes her as freak and outcast. She is taught shame and self-loathing over both the genitals she has and the ones she wants.
Just as it symbolizes her forced receptivity, it symbolizes her inability to receive, to receive love and pleasure and support,
it symbolizes normative masculinity’s emotional numbness
it symbolizes her Otherness, the impenetrability and incomprehensibility of her emotions
it symbolizes her sexlessness,
her alienation from biology and reproduction,
her alienation from the Real
it symbolizes her alienation from truth and meaning
her “phallus” reflects her unintelligibility, her meaninglessness
her isolation from meaning, representation, knowledge
–her phallus represents her lack of the Phallus
it symbolizes the demand that she be hard and unyielding
and by contrast her longing to open and release; it symbolizes the impossibility of being fully open with others
it symbolizes the trauma that makes her unable to feel
it symbolizes her unreliability, her manipulation, her insanity, and her deception
it symbolizes her truth as deception
it symbolizes her oppression as truth and as Truth.
“dick” and “prick” and “schmuck” to her symbolize only violence, there is not the support given to cis men of their penises as good and natural, as creating life not just destroying it
they symbolize her body’s inherent shamefulness
they make her body an object of contempt
her body becomes ans argument for her dismissal, her irrelevance, her ejection and exclusion
it symbolizes her forced isolation
as “unemotional” and “unfeeling”
as a threat held at bay
as unnatural and inhuman
–in short, as monster.
EDIT 7-27-2009/RE-EDITED 1-27-2010:: This piece got linked to at Susan’s place, and without the context of the rest of this blog, almost all of the commenters misinterpreted what I mean by “symbolize.”
Hint: remember the phrase, “not because of anything inherent but because of trans misogyny.” As in, I wouldn’t characterize this as satire, though irony… kind of fits. There is an irony I’m pointing out, and I’m not actually this much of an essentialist…
September 14, 2008
Misogyny Not Otherwise Specified. Misogyny targets all women, cis and trans. When it’s specifically about trans women, we call it trans misogyny in order to draw attention to the aspects that are specific to us/them. But just as, in our society, “woman” by itself is almost always interpreted “cis woman”, “misogyny” is presumed to be separate from “trans misogyny”, as something 1)specifically targeting cis women, and 2)of which trans misogyny is not a part. Since women are presumed to be cis until proven otherwise, misogyny that targets cis women also targets trans women, with a very few exceptions. And, in fact, even when they/we are known to be trans, they/we’re generally still treated with said misogyny, in addition to any transphobic elements that may compound it. The “Not Otherwise Specified” is in order to 1)decenter cissexuality within discourse about misogyny, and 2)specify that it isn’t trans misogyny without implying that it doesn’t also target trans women.
Trans Woman Ejection:
I use this phrase in contrast to phrases such as ‘trans exclusion’ and ‘trans woman exclusion.’
The “woman” word is important because it specifies that trans women (and other trans folks who have transitioned out of a male social positioning) are the ones being excluded. Sometimes trans men are being excluded, but frequently they’re being included; and while there is also a use for spaces of ‘people who aren’t cis men,’ many women’s spaces need to remain women’s spaces. (When I write about spaces as resources not about who’s really a woman, I will put a link here)
The “ejection” word is in order to draw attention to the fact that we/they are and have been part of women’s culture, the women’s movement, feminism, and women-only spaces–only to be kicked out of what is our/their culture, movement, and space just as much as it is any other woman’s. Sandy Stone was already an accepted member of the Olivia collective when cis women outside the collective threatened to boycott the only woman run, the only record company that produced lesbian and woman-centered content (and also sent death threats to other members of the collective—she was not “excluded” or “kept out”, she was removed, kicked out of her own collective, a collective that supported her. Other acts that seek to deny trans women access to their own culture and movement are not merely preventing them from entering from somewhere else, but are kicking them out.