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May 07 2012

The “Gender Atheist” vs. The Transgender Atheist

The morning of my birthday, April 5th, began as always. I recognized waking reality, assessed the relative pain in my back and neck, stretched, and paused to stare blankly out the window for a moment or two before fumbling for my glasses and, per my ritual, reaching to the coffee table by my bed for my laptop to check my e-mail, facebook, twitter, and the blog’s moderation queue. That morning’s twitter, though, was not like most morning twitters.

That morning, I was greeted by tweets from Cathy Brennan.

Brennan, in case the name isn’t met by you with immediate, horrified recognition and a shiver down your spine (as thunder claps and the horses whinny), is one of the most vocal, adamant and bitter of the transphobic wing of radical feminism. She has effectively devoted the entirety of her “career” to her obsessive hatred of us and her inability to reconcile her worldview with the fact that we exist and are, well… human. One of the most odious of her actions, and the one that most succinctly sums up what she’s all about, was co-spearheading an initiative to lobby the UN for removing gender identity and gender expression from their 2011 LGBTQ human rights declaration.

She failed. I hope that stings her.

Anyway, despite attempting to lay low and avoid blipping on their radar for as long I possibly could, I eventually came to the attention of Brennan and her acolytes after deciding to weigh in on the “Cotton Ceiling” debate (a controversy surrounding trans women’s efforts to challenge the perception of us within queer womens’ communities as, despite nominal acceptance, being inherently undesirable, unattractive, unfuckable and, sexually speaking, men. As in somehow sleeping with a trans woman suddenly invalidates one’s status as lesbian. Ugh. I suppose that makes all the hordes of men who are into “shemale” porn gay? They can join in your big gay parties now? At least be logically consistent). And so a few days later, April 5th, she decided to confront me directly.

The nature of Cathy’s attack was to go after my identification as atheist. According to Cathy, who rather pretentiously self-identifies as a “gender atheist”, it was ideologically impossible for me to be atheist at the same time as believing in the validity of a gender identity that’s independent of outward biology or socialization. She linked this rather silly, misinformed and ignorant article (which leads with the laughable claim that “we have no more evidence for gender identity than we do for God”…actually, we have PLENTY of evidence for gender identity, and it’s growing all the time), and made some weird pithy remarks like “sex is science, gender is fashion” that I suppose ring profound within her mind (a place I don’t wish to conceive). Apparently, to Brennan, ignorant, misinformed and ludicrously biased as she is, there is no POSSIBLE explanation for the existence of a non-genitally-or-socially-determined gender identity other than metaphysical claims.

I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be that unimaginative.

While it’s true that many people, trans or otherwise, look to metaphysical explanations for gender variance, this has little bearing on the actual merit of gender identity as a concept. For instance, many people imagine a situation of a literally misembodied soul. But more often than not, as I’ve explained a few times, such concepts are extended only as simplified metaphors for helping cis people understand what transgenderism is and feels like, NOT intended to be accurate or conclusive descriptions of our actual positions, or intended to be taken as such. And really, that’s what metaphysical or mythical concepts function best as: metaphors and simplifications for complex concepts.

In terms of trans people who do themselves adhere to such metaphysical explanations, it’s not at all difficult to simply regard this as more or less the same kind of thing as an atheist trans person offering the “trapped in the wrong body” metaphor to a cis person in order to help them grasp the basics, just as a self-reflexive version of that. When initially confronting a dissonance between gender identity and morphological and/or assigned sex, NO ONE is going to already have a full, detailed, complex, nuanced grasp on the issues. We don’t magically inherit the entirety of the trans-feminist discourse and all its attendant concepts and terminologies immediately upon voicing ourselves as trans (which is part of why I find it so exasperating when cis people say it’s too complicated for them to grasp: we learned to grasp it, so can you). During those initial stages of trying to figure out what the hell it is we’re experiencing, we don’t have a very sophisticated toolbox, so we articulate those concepts (within and to ourselves) however we can, with whatever tools we do have available. If the only tools we have on hand that can really speak to this are ideas of souls, spirits, energies, auras and reincarnations, that’s what we’re going to use to assemble some understanding of ourselves which we can build upon later.

Some of us don’t quite get around to building those conceptions into something more sophisticated and scientifically sound, but that’s okay. It doesn’t suddenly mean our experience of gender is invalid or wrong or not “real”, only that we’ve adopted somewhat clunky means of articulating it. This is a process that is old as human beings themselves. Before we had sophisticated, scientific concepts to explain the sun, the stars, the moon, the orbits of the Earth and planets and so on, we relied on myths of Apollo, Diana, the firmament, the heavens and a punctured black curtain. Gradually, over time, we built upon this understanding and arrived at a scientific and more accurate understanding of what was going on (astronomy and astrophysics). Gender identity is no different.

Saying that because some trans people lean upon metaphysical explanations for their identities, or one’s own inability to comprehend explanations beyond metaphysics, somehow justifies saying you don’t believe in the existence of gender identity is like saying the fact that some people still believe in the Biblical genesis, and that you don’t have a full grasp of astronomy, justifies you saying you don’t believe in the sun.

(you’re not the only one who can reference Stephin Merritt lyrics, Cathy. And I’m much more clever about it.)

Trans people, our lived experiences, our brains, our gender identities… they’re facts. We’re here. We’re not going away. They’re facts as certain as the sun itself. What explanations exist or do not yet exist for gender identity has no bearing on its existence. Its existence is a given. I, at the very least, know it’s there, with exactly as much certainty as knowing I exist at all.

Calling oneself a “gender atheist” is an insult to atheism. Atheism is predicated on refusing to believe in a concept for which no adequate evidence has yet been presented. It is NOT about stubbornly refusing to accept something that has been conclusively established as a fact (in this case, a fact of human experience and nature). It’s an insult to atheism in the same way that “climate skeptic” is an insult to skeptics. Anthropogenic climate change is a conclusively established fact. Therefore rejecting it is not skepticism, in the valid and “good science” sense of the word, it’s instead a demonstration of heavy bias, which is the very antithesis of skepticism.

By extension, stubbornly refusing to accept the existence of gender identity, despite the overwhelming evidence that it is an entirely legitimate aspect of human experience that even has fairly evident neurobiological foundations, is not by any means a valid, skeptical, rational approach to the question. It instead demonstrates heavy bias. The inability to accept a reality, instead clinging defiantly to an increasingly outdated, archaic, discredited theoretical construct that was only considered an adequate explanation for those real world phenomena when we hadn’t yet found any answers.

You know who else clings to outdated, archaic, discredited theoretical constructs, developed prior to conclusive scientific evidence, despite ever-increasing contradictory evidence, because they just plain can’t accept the uncomfortable implications of being wrong?

Theists.

I don’t fear Cathy Brennan. She doesn’t even anger me anymore. I find her funny. The reason for that is because she no longer feels like much of a threat. She failed in her UN petition. In the short-term, yes, she has the capacity to hurt people, and cause real, actual damage to the lives of real trans people. And she won’t hesitate to cause that harm. She’s definitely a vicious, ruthless, dangerous monster of a person. But…

In the long-term, she’s losing. And in all her increasing venom, what I see is not a threat, but instead the sad, desperate awareness of that fact burgeoning within her. She’s losing, and bit by bit, she’s realizing it. Almost NOTHING is as dangerous as a cornered bigot when they know they’re losing. But the danger doesn’t last.

Some day, Cathy Brennan is going to be consigned to the dustbin of history, along with all the other hateful bigots who opposed the progress of human rights. Meanwhile, those of us who fought (perhaps especially in this crucial moment, here and now) on behalf of trans rights, on behalf of an inclusive feminism, on behalf of the rights and dignity and validity of all iterations of human identity, we’re going to be remembered with gratitude, respect and love. Every single new generation of gender variant people (and there will ALWAYS be new generations of us, because we are an irrepressible FACT of humanity) whose lives are rendered easier, gentler, richer and kinder by the actions we take here and now are going to remember us and what we did, and sacrificed, on their behalf.

Brennan? At best, if she’s remembered at all, it will be as that vicious, petty transphobe who tried and failed to stop the UN from advancing human rights.

We win slowly, and at the cost of a lot of pain, with lives lost along the way. But we win.

100 comments

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  1. 1
    carlie

    Has she ever looked at developmental biology at all? I’m a Scientist™. And an atheist. And I’ve learned enough to know that sex, gender, and body forms are all things that are influenced by hordes of developmental factors including but not limited to genes, epigenetics, hormones, and lots of other things. Large numbers of events have to happen in a very particular way in order for a body to match up exactly with gender in the manner proscribed by rigid societal norms, and there are innumerable variants on it. Her saying that there are no variations is about as stupid as saying that there are only four hair colors with nothing else possible.

    1. 1.1
      Natalie Reed

      I doubt she’s ever looked at anything beyond radical feminist theory.

      Funny thing is she’s a lesbian. I wonder what she’d say to the people who insist sexual orientation is merely a social-construct? What she’d say to someone purporting to be a “sexuality atheist” who says that her orientation is just an illusion that’s hurting the cause of gender equity?

      1. VeritasKnight

        Cognitive dissonance is a powerful tool for idiocy.

      2. Jadehawk

        I suspect she’d agree with them. she was trying to get me to uncover my “inner lesbian”, as if that were a choice for me to make.

        1. Jadehawk

          oops, hit reply too soon. wanted to add that she probably does at least accept political lesbianism as valid, given the weird comments about “inner lesbians”. either that, or she thinks everyone is a little bit bi, so every woman can become a lesbian if she wanted to.

          1. Natalie Reed

            Wow. So to her absolutely every aspect of a human being is simply a political decision to make, that should be in accordance with HER ideology and principles? And here I thought her disconnection from reality was limited to her views on transgenderism… :P

          2. Marja Erwin

            I don’t think Cathy Brennan is a political lesbian. She writes about her attraction to other non-trans womyn as a biological fact, not a political choice, and not something appropriate for political critique and/or defense. If she were a political lesbian then she might write up a political defense of why she is attracted to some womyn and not others: “it’s about solidarity with others who suffered through girlhood!” “it’s about the very very slight risk of pregnancy due to non-penetrative sex with pre/can’t/non-op women, and, um, not pressuring anyone to be post-op!”

            [In reply to Jadehawk]

          3. EEB

            UGH I get so frustrated by this debate, and I say that as a radical lesbian feminist. Like being a vegan (or an atheist, for that matter), I spend most of my time trying to tell people WE’RE NOT ALL LIKE THAT than I do actually fighting for my cause. I mean, I do agree with the base theory of radical feminism and find that’s where I most fit, politically, but I’m exhausted by the stupidity of those on “my side”.

            And I say this as someone who “chose” lesbianism. I mean, I’m really not all that sexually attracted to anyone and I would consider myself asexual. But my strongest emotional ties are with women, that’s where I direct my energy, and I would rather have relationships with women than men. I think heterosexual relationships are a landmine (even my parent’s very egalitarian relationship is fraught with patriarchal tension, especially from people on the outside). GLBT rights are also something that I’m passionate about. So in a sense, I “chose” to be a lesbian, but I was already attracted to and loved women. Maybe someone would consider me bisexual? Or that as an asexual I can’t really be a lesbian? Truly, I don’t give a shit; this is how I identify, this is how I live my life, on my terms.

            So I can understand when radical lesbian feminists urge women to consider giving up relationships with men that tend to prop up the patriarchy. But I also understand that some women simply aren’t attracted to other women, at all, or have strong ties to men they care about. And that’s obviously fine, too. I have the right to identify how I want, and other people do as well. It’s the hight of arrogance to tell another person who they are or who they should love.

            I think sexual identity is more complex than people want to make it, and I don’t believe in reductionist, pre-determined gender and sexual orientation. I think some people do choose lesbianism, for personal and political reasons, just like some women choose heterosexuality for the same.

            My 2p. This woman pushes all my buttons and I just wanna yell, “GET OFF MY SIDE, YOU’RE MAKING US LOOK AWFUL.” I’m considering getting a twitter account just to do so. :)

          4. Jadehawk

            marja, I didn’t say Brennan was a political lesbian, but rather that I think she probably accepts that view; why else link an admitted straight woman to a lesbian separatist site while telling her to uncover her “inner dyke”?

  2. 2
    Dalillama

    In many cases, I really have to perceive cis people who keep on with this kind of tabula rasa bullshit as not just not being ignorant but actively refusing to learn. I mean, I’m a cis person and it took me all of a few seconds to start to grasp the fundamentals of trans identities in general and trans feminism in particular once I was exposed to the concepts. Obviously I was and am missing a great deal of the detail, and there are large portions of trans experiences are ones that I can only understand at a remove, but the basic idea that gender is internal and identifiable based on self reporting is pretty simple.

    1. 2.1
      Natalie Reed

      Yeah, exactly. Like I was saying in this morning’s article, there’s really no excuse for a cis person to not be able to understand this stuff. After all, while trans people have the advantage of being able to much more directly understand what gender identity is because for us it is rendered in stark contrast to our assigned sex rather than just blending into the overall mish-mash of gender and sex, we still, all of us, learned the terms and concepts of transgenderism, trans-feminism, queer theory, etc. We didn’t just magically inherit it as soon as we voiced ourselves as trans. Almost EVERYTHING I articulate on this blog comes from a process of deliberate, ongoing thought, discussion, research, reading and learning, it doesn’t emanate from some magical fountain inside myself, and I’m not in any way more special than anyone else. If you and I can learn and understand this stuff, so can anyone.

      1. Emily

        I don’t know what you’re talking about, I got all that stuff downloaded into my brain at the Secret Vault of Tranny Wisdom.

        …I wasn’t supposed to tell them that, was I?

        1. Natalie Reed

          SILENCE, YOU FOOL! You’ll ruin everything!

          1. Emily

            O_O I said nothing! *covers mouth*

      2. EEB

        It has to be deliberate. You see it all the time with anti-feminist men and women, from the anti-science crowd, from racists. People don’t want to learn and the cover their ears and go “LA LA LA LA LA” when folks bring up something that contradicts their core beliefs. It’s astonishing that she accuses you of being anti-science when she’s the one ignoring the core values of rational thought (and, I would say, atheism): considering new evidence and admitting when you’re wrong.

        I freely admit that as a cis chick I get stuff wrong. Sometimes I don’t understand what you write about, or what my genderqueer friends are talking about, and honestly, sometimes stuff rubs me the wrong way when it hits smack against beliefs I’ve held since childhood. So I shut up and listen, I go read and look shit up, and I welcome new information and the chance to correct false beliefs.

        I mean, isn’t that what rational thought is all about?

  3. 3
    Brittany

    “When prejudices are dying, the last holdouts become more and more angry.”

    Bishop John Shelby Spong

  4. 4
    Megan

    “Gender atheist?” If that’s how she describes herself, I wonder how she reconciles that with all the ridiculous gendered woo that infuses radical/cultural feminist theory. A vicious, dangerous monster of a person indeed. I am so glad that I’ll never see your moderation queue for this article!

    1. 4.1
      rowenaravenclaw

      I’ve definitely seen her promote woo shit with regard to natural birth.

  5. 5
    Nomen Nescio

    if “gender is fashion”, does that make Brennan the fashion police?

    1. 5.1
      Xanthë, Amy of my threads

      +1

      I’d think of Bug as more of a ‘fashion fascist’, if anything.

  6. 6
    Sas

    “sex is science, gender is fashion”

    In addition to be wrong on its snooty face, this treats fashion as stupid, frivolous artifice and ignores that fashion, like all art, can be profound, powerful, and have intense positive and negative effects on people’s lives (I imagine butch lesbians would have something to say about the powerful effect of fashion). It also ignores that the world’s problems are not going to suddenly be solved if everyone is forced to do the gender equivalent of wearing grey sweats and t-shirts at all times, and that doing so would make most people of both sexes pretty unhappy.

    1. 6.1
      Natalie Reed

      You know I instantly fall in love with anyone who defends the legitimacy of fashion as an art-form, semiotic language and form of expression, right? <3

      1. Sas

        I didn’t know, but now that I do, I’m high-fiving myself. :D

      2. ik

        Be assured the feeling is mutual. Very frustrated at how men have extremely limited set of things they can say without breaking norms. (I LIKE not breaking norms, and I’m fairly good at not doing it.)

        My view of gender is a bit more complicated than the standard; I think that there are at least four variables and Brennan is telling people that only the most physical and most mental of the four exist.

    2. 6.2
      Eva

      I don’t think she meant fashion as in clothes.

      1. Xanthë, Amy of my threads

        That broader definition of fashion as a manifestation of culture doesn’t help her. I wonder if there was ever a human culture, anywhere in the world at any time to the present, that didn’t have cultural practices that differentiated or delineated between men and women. A null hypothesis would suggest if there were no reality to the idea of gender there ought to be gender equal societies… so where are they?

        1. BecomingJulie

          A null hypothesis would suggest if there were no reality to the idea of gender there ought to be gender equal societies… so where are they?

          Crushed long ago beneath the weight of patriarchal christian missionaries?

          1. Eva

            I remember picking up this book http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Becoming_Julia when I was still in denial, someone in school asked me if I wanted to be a woman… I … said no… :(

        2. Eva

          I wasn’t defending her position, I was clarifying it… As a trans person that would be very silly and a little suspect … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ol5Dfs7jqFI

        3. ik

          I dunno. Patriarchy seems to be too widespread and seems to have appeared in too many places.

      2. Sas

        Maybe. But in this case, like many other transphobic radfems, she is perfectly willing to employ equivocation whenever possible, so there’s no way to tell WHAT meaning of a word she was using. I read that big dustup over on Queer Feminism and there was so much bait-n-switch it was ridiculous.

        Plus I suspect she uses “fashion” as a transphobic dig, implying that old bullshit that trans women think womanhood is just about clothes.

      3. Natalie Reed

        I don’t think anyone thought she did.

  7. 7
    urmensch

    As a gay man who doesn’t personally know any trans people I had to turn to the internet for first-hand accounts, which is how I found your site.

    I was really surprised to discover the rabid hatred against trans people from gay people especially. Perhaps it is because I am an old punk who was never really a part of the urban gay scene; I was just never exposed to it.

    It is so jarring to me as I have no problem with the idea of gender dissonance. I really don’t see how the denial of trans people’s own experience of themselves is any different to theists denying atheists really exist, or insisting that we gay people are somehow ‘choosing’ who to feel sexually attracted to.
    It also reminds me of how some scientists doubted the reality of the self-reports of synesthetes.
    I did notice in the article linked to by Cathy that the person claiming that belief in gender identity was mapped in areas in the brain didn’t cite her source but even so the analogy to belief in God didn’t make sense. I didn’t even understand what that was supposed to illustrate. Does the person think that anything that maps to areas of the brain can be discounted out of hand? Or is it only beliefs? If my brain lights up on seeing someone, which leads me to believe they are actually standing in front of me does that mean they aren’t?
    Bizarre ‘logic’.

    1. 7.1
      Louis

      Well said. It’s sometimes difficult to understand someone else’s experiences, but it’s not hard at all to accept that they experience what they say they do.

    2. 7.2
      Ma Nonny

      The part about brain mapping from that article bothered me too: “In fact, we have no more evidence for “gender identity” than we do for “god.” How do I know this? … because brain studies have shown both that belief in “gender identity” and belief in the existence of “god” map to specific parts and activities of the human brain. Therefore, believing in “gender identity” is pretty much exactly like believing in “god.” And that’s perfectly fine if you want to believe in those things, and many nice people do, but it doesn’t mean that “gender identity” is any more real in a factual way than “god” is.”

      I would never deny if someone self-reported that they “feel” god(s). It has been shown that a part of the brain may be responsible for religious/spiritual feelings, so who am I to say someone is NOT experiencing something they report? This does not make the external existence of god(s) real, however. But, gender identity is BY DEFINITION a self-reported measure. Therefore, you cannot say gender identity does not exist – how people feel about themselves is not up for consensus debate. It is when you claim that something exists *outside* of yourself, like god(s) or the sun or invisible dragons in your garage, that you need evidence to support this or people may not believe you. How you feel about those things (real or not), however, cannot be validated by anyone but you.

      The “logic” (and false comparisons) in that article made my brain cry.

      1. Natalie Reed

        Yeah, the thing is, claiming that brain mapping thing means gender identity isn’t “real” would be like claiming the same maps mean people don’t actually believe in God, or don’t experience a belief in God, which would be ridiculous. People DO experience God, and experience faith in him, and experience the belief, and even experience various “divine” feelings. An atheist can’t reasonably deny any of that. What atheism reasonably denies is that those feelings and experiences have their origin in an objective, external entity (God). But since no one is claiming gender identity is connected to anything objective or external, and instead gender identity is by definition a subjective experience of self, the whole analogy is completely absurd.

        1. Ma Nonny

          I think that’s exactly what I was trying to say, but with a better analogy. :)

          1. Jen

            Yep. Nothing really to add to what you have already said, except *pain* is bound to map to a certain area in the brain, right? Does she think pain isn’t real?

  8. 8
    Eva

    Gender Atheist??
    Save me Entomology man http://xkcd.com/1012/

    Can someone please ask her to start calling herself a Gender Skeptic, it makes us all look bad when we fight a super villan with a crappy name.

    My parents recently told me that they don’t believe in transgender or gender dysphoria… this is after refusing to research it or meet with others with it.

    Cathy’s attitude reminds me of my parent’s. They are fundementalist christians. They don’t want to believe their “son” is actually their daughter… and so they come up with all sorts of mad explanations of why I feel the need to go through HRT and SRS.
    They hate it when I try to counter their arguments with scientific evidence because their worldview is entirely based on feelings.

    We need to take a page from the books of the Evolutionary Biologists. We need to refuse to debate with people who do not accept science.
    Argue with an idiot and she will bring you down to her level and beat you with experience.

    1. 8.1
      Natalie Reed

      Gender Skeptic would be only marginally better. Would still be just as stupid as “Climate Skeptic”.

    2. 8.2
      Sinead

      I f#<king love that xkcd panel.

    3. 8.3
      ik

      And then of course there are Gender Abolitionists. They make me really mad.

  9. 9
    John Horstman

    Cathy Brennan sounds like an idiot. Whether biologically-based or socially constructed, gender and gender identity are still real, and have obvious and measurable impacts on people’s lives. We couldn’t have ‘feminism’ at all without having some concept of ‘fem’. Dose she just open her mouth and vomit words without concern for thought or meaning? Saying she doesn’t believe in gender isn’t like saying she doesn’t believe in god, it’s like saying she doesn’t believe Christianity exists.

    That said, I still fail to see how saying that gender identity is the result of the interplay of cultural and sometimes* biological/physical structures means that gender can’t be entirely a social construct. In my usage/understanding, gender is the primary social construct through which bodies are mediated and understood. Dragging physical characteristics into a definition of gender seems exactly counter to the trans project – it re-essentializes gender as a result of the physical body, albeit with different standards than genital appearance, which may exclude and delegitimize the lived experience of a different group of people who claim a given gender identity. I’m missing something here.

    *Maybe even most of the time – again, unless there is evidence that every person who identifies as ‘woman’ shares a given physical trait (research I’ve never seen, though that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been done), you can’t validly claim that gender identity is always/necessarily dependent upon biological structures, unless, of course, you want to restrict the operational definition of ‘gender identity’ to something that IS necessarily dependent upon particular biological structures. If you do this, you might get push-back from people who claim a gender identity but lack the given structures, as with older essentialist conceptualizations of gender and all trans people, since gender was defined as necessitating given external genital structures or gonads, and the validity of trans identities was denied entirely.

    1. 9.1
      ik

      -
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      Just because something is an identity doesn’t mean its automatically valid. Obviously one should not reflexively medicalize, contradict, or ignore lived experience. For example, most skeptical people have no trouble invalidating the “trans-ethnic” and “otherkin” (i.e. trans-species, either to real animals or fictional specific or general characters.)

      Anybody could lie; saying that they were trans, and transition, and build a whole lifestyle. This of course sacrifices privileges, although I hear that trans chasers engage in this dishonesty. Also, somebody might have heard of transgenderism but not of genderqueerness or not be willing to accept it, and interpret vague gender variant feelings as something specific. Self-reported does not make something real. Self-reports are an imperfect observation of a human’s state of mind, which is not the same as physiological brain makeup.

  10. 10
    Zinnia Jones

    It was at least somewhat reassuring to find out that any random jackass can submit anything they want to the UN – she didn’t need any particular privileged status to do so, which makes me comfortable relegating her to the general pile of cranks. Conversely, if anyone wants to inform them of actual, serious issues concerning trans women, feel free to write to them!

    1. 10.1
      hall_of_rage

      Hey, I’m a fan of yours ever since your “stop appropriating Jesus” video. Nice to see you here.

      1. Natalie Reed

        Nice to see you here

        Hee-hee… I know something you don’t know… :D

        1. Xanthë, Amy of my threads

          Ooh, tantalising

  11. 11
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    *hugs Natalie*

    I’m sorry that… unpleasant woman… has you in her sights.

  12. 12
    hall_of_rage

    Well I can’t look at the sun directly, so I don’t believe in it. All that light and heat is a human-made construct!!

  13. 13
    Erin W

    It’s amazing she can hold onto such rigid gender essentialism whilst decrying the idea of gender identity. It’s like a fish not realising water exists because they’re always swimming in it.

    As VeritasKnight said above, cognitive dissonance is a powerful thing.

  14. 14
    kristawolffe

    Happy (belated) birthday!. I’m on a tablet with a keyboard, so my spelling is t terrible, as this thing is not quite working yet. I’m a newly identified trans woman (maybe girl) and you have brought such comfort to me as I can not even describe. Thank you for writing what you write. You have made this journey of mine so much less harsh and anxious. I have nothing of merit to add to this discussion, but I *will* add my thanks for this post and all of the rest!

  15. 15
    Eristae

    I feel like these “gender atheists” should be required to define gender/man/woman/etc before they start going off about how gender isn’t real.

    I mean, as an actual atheist (without THEISM), I lack the belief in supernatural consciousnesses known as “gods.”

    Gender “atheists” (groan) would lack belief in . . . what? XX who want to call themselves “he”? XY who like to wear dresses? People whose brains are telling them that their body doesn’t match up with the functioning of said brain? When a person with an XY genotype gets gender reassignment surgery, wears make up, puts on a dress, and uses the “she” pronoun, what exactly do these “gender atheists” feel have been violated? Some kind of intrinsic state of gender that they feel doesn’t exist? Mandated gender roles that they feel shouldn’t be followed? What exactly is their problem? I’m asking not because I object to whatever it is, but because I have absolutely no idea what the problem is. I don’t think I understand their position, or, if I do, then I find it to be incredibly internally inconsistent (gender isn’t real, but you are required to follow society’s gender roles as they are dictated to you or you are a bad person?!).

    1. 15.1
      Natalie Reed

      I think basically the idea is

      “Gender isn’t real. So changing your body to match your ‘gender identity’ supports the notion that it is. The best option is that we all express gender exactly the same way, in the manner that just HAPPENS to sync up with what feels most comfortable and “natural” FOR ME, so that we aren’t lending credence to the idea that it exists.”

      1. WMDKitty -- Survivor

        That makes no freakin’ sense at all! I’m not, like, a genius or anything, but even I know that gender is, at least in part, an inherent characteristic of the brain. (It’s also a whole spectrum of identities, but I won’t get into that.)

        If, for the sake of argument, gender doesn’t exist, then why should it matter how any one individual, with any combination of chromosomes, chooses to identify hirself?

        1. Dagda

          @ WMDKitty
          Petpeeve of mine
          Gender is not an inherent characteristic of a brain (Brains don’t have a gender) but of a person.
          Still the notion that gender does not exist is ridiculous

          1. WMDKitty -- Survivor

            Eh, I know my words are sometimes awkward, but, um, I think we’re on the same page with this one: Gender exists.

          2. Dagda

            :)

          3. ik

            Thou art physics. And yes, there are gender elements in the brain. They are pretty non-clean-cut but modern science has revealed physiological brain differences that agree with gender identity, not with biological sex.

      2. EEB

        Yes, exactly!

        By not taking on the trappings and attitudes of tradiontal femininity, women get shit. I’ve no doubt that protesting these behaviors and not conforming has caused her serious grief. (As many girls know, stop shaving your legs and suddenly you’re the equivelent of a baby-killer and shouldn’t be allowed in public.) But instead of doing the empathic, human thing and stepping outside herself to relate her experience to what trans and genderqueer folks go through (which, I’ve seen, is the not-shaving drama–for a quick example–times 1000), she decides that her experience is the be-all, end-all, and everything would just be hunky dory if society conformed to her.

        Christ on a cracker. I just cannot understand how someone can be that selfish, and worse, not even realize it.

    2. 15.2
      Eristae

      Ah I see. Well, that’s inherently contradictory, too. If we accept their assertion that gender isn’t real, then it can’t be expressed. It’s like I can’t express the texture of a unicorn’s horn. I could make something up, tell a fictional story, but if someone else described the unicorn’s horn differently, that would be just as valid. If I got in a twit about it, then I would be an idiot. This of course wouldn’t stop us (we get into fights all the time about the expression of fictional entities; see: Twilight), but that wouldn’t change the fact that the underlying issue of discussion isn’t a matter of fact. However much one might dislike the concept of sparkly vampires, denying human rights to authors who write about sparkly vampires is horrible.

      Furthermore, we change our bodies all the time. The most dramatic personal change I’ve had that was purely for my personal well being was braces and a fake tooth; these were entirely cosmetic (I didn’t have trouble eating or talking), extremely painful, terribly expensive, and I don’t regret them one bit. And my bad teeth didn’t cause me anywhere near as much suffering as gender dysphoria causes trans people. And many people alter their bodies in all kinds of ways (earlobe stretching, tattoos, breast implants or reductions, ear piercings, surgical sterilizations, blah blah blah), and I would bet a good chunk of money that these rad feminists don’t oppose all THOSE alterations. So PSH on them.

      1. Eristae

        I’m actually going to expand on this for a second. Let’s say that the people of our society dressed up as vampires. Some dressed up as Old-school Vampires (OV) and some dressed up as Twilight Vampires(OV). Now, I’m a TV. You’re a OV. I don’t believe that vampires are real, but when you try to dress up as an TV, I get really mad.

        Does this make sense? No.

        Now please excuse me as I go fall asleep due to my medication

    3. 15.3
      Marja Erwin

      If you want to understand what they’re saying:

      1. Put a pillow on your desk so your head won’t hurt.

      2. Read http://sexnotgender. wordpress.com/2012/04/05/sex-and-gender-causation-break-the-cycle/ [remove the space to fix the link]

      Is that false division? Or the excluded middle? Or something new?

      1. Eristae

        You know, I read things like that and, as a biologist, I writhe a little bit.

        For example, there is an inclination to say that XX = female and XY = male, even if one is willing to say that XX can be a man and XY can be a woman. One could argue that one’s sex doesn’t equal one’s gender (and thus we can have a male woman or a female man).

        But then we get into shit like complete androgen insensitivity disorder (a generally female phenotype and a male genotype), Turner syndrome (only one X chromosome, female phenotype), Klinefelter syndrome (XXY genotype, male phenotype), XX male syndrome (XX genotype, but the Y chromosome crossed over with the X chromosome–which doesn’t usually happen–so that the X chromosome has the “male” determining genes on it), and we are faced with the fact that we can’t even define sex very well, to say nothing of trying to relate sex to gender.

        In other words, the author doesn’t know what the fuck they are talking about. I mean, take the whole statement that “The bodies of gender non-compliant females have remained reproductively female no matter how convincingly or consistently they may have appeared otherwise.” Well, what about individuals who were assigned to be female at birth (like people with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome) and are not reproductively female? people with complete ALS have breasts, vaginas . . . and testicles instead of ovaries, but these testicles don’t make sperm. So what are such people, who are not reproductively male or female?

        What these people don’t seem to understand or care about is that their arguments are insulting, marginalizing, and cruel not just to trans people, but to all the other people who mother nature has deigned not to put into the rad fem’s neat little boxes of “male” and “female.” GRRR.

      2. Eristae

        Also, I posted a pissy response on the website that basically said what I just posted.

      3. BrianXc

        Honestly… Maybe it’s my ADHD showing, butt it looked like gibberish to me. Real Chewbacca defense stuff.

  16. 16
    J. Goard

    What an awful, awful woman. Unbelievable that anyone could write some of the things she does to another human being.

    Very thoughtful post, Natalie (as usual), and yet a crucial point seems to have been overlooked.

    There seems to be a relationship between loonies like Brennan on the one hand and very many self-identified mainstream liberal feminists on the other, which is rather comparable to the relationship between fundamentalist and liberal Christians — namely that the former more consistently follow the logic of their alleged beliefs, while the latter have to become expert at juggling a bunch of contradictions.

    Given the reality of transgender people, with all the accumulated evidence, it’s simply absurd to also maintain that gender has no biological foundation in the majority of hetero cis males and females, or that all of the most socially significant statistical gender differences are socially malleable without limit (or at least, without devastating psychological consequences).

    If social engineers were to, say, attempt to make most women adopt the dating and sexual and physical and social behaviors that most appeal to the average male, or vice-versa, the result would be a lesser but more widespread version of the damage that is currently inflicted primarily on trans people. It’s pretty clear that this is what so freaks out people like Brennan: the reality of trans people gives unmistakable evidence that what her purist fantasies would inflict upon the entire population is actually inhuman brutality.

    Part of the problem, though, is that good liberal society is still so full of accomodationists who are so afraid of what “evolutionary psychology” has to say about sex and gender, and continue to pay lip service to irrational purist ideologies that logically lead to transphobia.

    1. 16.1
      hall_of_rage

      Halfway there. Trans people in expressing themselves have repeatedly demonstrated that we can’t ascribe all gender variance to social construction. And the purist mentality is certainly frustrating. But evolutionary psychology is basically a way of telling stories that sound scientific. Because the *actual* science of evolutionary psychology has really boring claims, or claims that are uncertain at best. I don’t think we have anything to be afraid of if the next century figures out a good science of gender, we just have to be afraid of the legitimacy granted to idiots like Richard Dawkins.

      By the way, what are “mainstream liberal feminists” in your view? Since I’m a liberal feminist, but a trans feminist ally, I don’ find a lot of contradictions of theory to juggle. But I’m not sure there even is a mainstream feminism, is there?

    2. 16.2
      amhovgaard

      Some of the differences between men & women WRT dating & sexual behavior have a lot to do with biology/anatomy (things like genitals & sheer physical size/muscle strength)- there’s no need to postulate evolved behavioral tendencies: men are more than twice as likely to be able to reach orgasm with a casual opposite-sex partner (a stranger) than women are, and much less at risk for violence from such a partner. Simple risk/benefit analysis suggests that women should be less eager to engage in casual sex.

    3. 16.3
      Jadehawk

      Most of what’s described as “feminine” has at some point been described as “masculine”, so it’s really obvious that a lot of gender-expression is socially constructed (and we’re not talking about gender-expression anyway, but rather gender-identity; two entirely separate issues). besides, every time social engineers” try to force a group of people to conform to anything at all, it ends up in psychological damage; because variation between individuals is always greater than any between-group variations.

      But that’s a strawman of feminism anyway. Liberal feminists aren’t the ones forcing women who don’t like hookups to have hookups. and they aren’t “afraid” of EP, they’ve just read a lot of it that was complete BS along the lines of “black women are naturally uglier”, “atheists are evolutionarily more advanced”, and “because women fear stranger-rape more than acquaintance-rape, stranger-rape must have been more common in the past than acquaintance-rape”

      There’s decent EP to be had, but it’s less sensationalist/specific than that kind of kyriarchy-justifying junk.

  17. 17
    Sarah

    Thank for the link to Sex not Gender. To the extent that I can parse it, reading Hungerford’s piece does help me to “understand what they’re saying”.

    If I am understanding her correctly, she seems to believe that the idea of gender identity threatens feminism, and since feminism is an absolute, gender identity must be rejected. But the threat to feminism that she perceives in gender identity is entirely a product of her own misconception that feminism is built on sex and couldn’t exist without sex.

    Ultimately, no matter how scrupulously one tries to reconstruct her argument for her, the effort seems pointless, because the rest of her piece reveals that what’s actually primary is hate, and the argument was constructed only to rationalize the hate.

    Sad that anyone needs to waste time and energy opposing such a deeply flawed misconception, but as long as the idea continues to attract new adherents, then I suppose it remains important to answer it.

    Or, maybe not. Maybe further development of trans feminism reinvigorates feminism, and allows every worried soul to relax and relinquish hate when they see that their cause is not undermined by trans ideas, but strengthened and renewed by them.

    1. 17.1
      Natalie Reed

      Or, maybe not. Maybe further development of trans feminism reinvigorates feminism, and allows every worried soul to relax and relinquish hate when they see that their cause is not undermined by trans ideas, but strengthened and renewed by them.

      Yep. 4th wave.

    2. 17.2
      Sinead

      The disgusting thing about her, in particular, is that she never offers an acceptable solution.

      I spent a lot of my mental energy trying to ignore the physical side of why I needed to transition. I had been presenting as a feminine person without hormones long before I actually started. I really wish sometimes that whatever compels me to physically transition were not a part of my life. It’s been there since my earliest memories.

      As far as being pronoun-ed…that’s the difficult part, because I do feel more solidarity with “women” and referring to me with “she, her, hers” doesn’t “essentialize” my gender identity…it really is an existential identity. I mean, seriously, for people who so adamantly insist that we are the ones guilty of “essentialism” they don’t seem to have the slightest understanding of existentialism, or even phenomenology. I consider my articulation of my gender identity as approximate to Heidegger’s “dasein.”

  18. 18
    Vicki

    But she believes in sex. Does that make her a sex theist? Man, I’d hate to find out I have the same religion as her.

  19. 19
    Sinead

    Race is a social construct.

    Class is a social construct.

    But “gender” is the only social construct that gets denied as having a substantial existence as an epiphenomenon.

    And I say “gender” in quotes because, they (radfems) obviously use a different definition than I do.

    1. 19.1
      EEB

      And I say “gender” in quotes because, they (radfems) obviously use a different definition than I do.

      Yeah. And depending on the radfem, you’ll get a different definition. Even the same person, at times, seems to define it differnetly from post to post or chapter to chapter; whatever suits her needs at the given moment. Words have to mean something, damnit, or conversation and debate becomes meaningless and impossible!

      (And I say this as a radical feminist.)

      1. Sarah

        So I’m confused: what makes some feminism radical? Are there certain key ideas that distinguish radical feminist thought from, well, would it be conventional feminism?

        1. Natalie Reed

          Radical feminism is generally held as a specific branch (primarily associated with second wave principles) that, yes, is united by certain key concepts. Or at least this is how I use the term (not, for instance, to simply mean “feminism that is more radical than other feminism”… my own feminism is highly radical, but it’s NOT radical-feminism, it’s a specific under-construction variation of trans-feminism). A few basics are adherence to a social-constructivist view of gender, an idea that gender roles are patriarchal constructs, a sort of femmephobic bias towards viewing masculine-coded gender expression as more “natural” and feminine-coded gender expressions as the patriarchal constructs, and perhaps most importantly the idea, either explicit or implicit, that gender/sex is the primary axis of oppression and social inequality in our society, and that all other oppressions are secondary to or consequential of gender-based oppression. And by extension, that eliminating patriarchy would lead to significant gains in seemingly unrelated social justice issues. There’s other stuff to it as well.

          I don’t, however, profess to be an expert on radical feminism and this definition could easily be way off, as I’m not myself a radical feminist (as said), and my experiences with them have mostly been very, very negative and therefore biased, derived as they are from my conflicts with them around the fact that radical feminism is the branch most strongly associated with transphobia and trans-exclusion.

          1. Sarah

            Awesome, thanks for the primer!

          2. EEB

            Mmmm…I do disagree with your definition, somewhat. For some radfems, some or all of that is a part of their philosophy, but they aren’t all essential to the theory.

            perhaps most importantly the idea, either explicit or implicit, that gender/sex is the primary axis of oppression and social inequality in our society, and that all other oppressions are secondary to or consequential of gender-based oppression. And by extension, that eliminating patriarchy would lead to significant gains in seemingly unrelated social justice issues.

            However, that, I would say, is dead on. In my understanding, that’s radical (radical meaning root) feminist theory in a nutshell. I would quibble with “secondary to” but strongly agree with “consequential of” and I believe that all social justice issues are interwined, and, therefore, by adressing the patriarchal oppression you are adressing all oppression.

            Though, in my opinion, we need to listen to the people within different groups and not discount their experience or knowledge, and strategies for navigating oppression might look different for different people. This is where radical feminists get in trouble: they get too caught up in their own lives, discount other people, and believe they know best and that they can fix everything if everyone just does it their (white, cis) way.

            The transphobia that is so deeply intertwined with radical feminism is truly awful and unfortunate. I can totally understand your desire to stay away from it, and I’m sorry you’ve had such negative experience. There are certain “classic” authors I can’t get through on account of their horrifying transphobia (I despise Germaine Greer with a burning passion; she makes me sick, and I don’t know why someone who clearly hates most women is considered a feminist icon). Trying to wade through radical feminist literature would be like walking through a landmine…I imagine it’s similar to how I felt as passionate lesbian Christian teen, reading theology and getting shat on by people speaking for a God who was supposed to deeply love me.

        2. EEB

          The “radical” in radical feminism doesn’t mean extreme; it’s the mathmatical definition, meaing root.

          Radical feminist theory, at it’s most basic, says that at the root of oppression is the patriarchy. Though a lot of people see it as only addressing the concerns of white, middle class cis women (with good reason), radical feminism has always adressed many types of oppression: gender, race, sexual orientation, class, etc. While it’s easy to see that the oppression of women is caused by patriarchal ideals, it’s extended beyond that. For example, the patriarchy is at the root of the hatred of gay people: gay men are demonized because they are thought to be feminine (and there’s nothing worse than being a woman), lesbians are hated for not building their lives around men.

          1. EEB

            Oh, for fuck’s sake. I am really failing at commenting today. Somehow this got posted, but I’m long winded and was no where near finished. The longer reply is below. I wish I could delete this! Sorry, sorry, sorry. I’m not trying to spam your blog, Natalie, promise! :)

          2. Natalie Reed

            Relax! It’s not a big deal. :)

          3. WMDKitty -- Survivor

            You’re not the first to have comment-fail. I’m currently turning it into an art-form. (And really shouldn’t comment after about 3:00 AM Pacific time)

        3. Marja Erwin

          I tend to use radical feminism, or radical feminisms, pretty loosely. Because it’s hard to draw a line between anarchafeminism, [other] socialist feminism and [other] radical feminism.

          I am feeling sick right now so I’m a bit foggy-headed. Sorry if this is confusing.

          Not that many feminist radicals would argue that sex-class oppression was the only significant oppression. I mean, sure, Shulamith Firestone, who wrote as a specifically socialist feminist, argued that economic oppression and racial oppression were rooted in sex-class oppression, and that sexual oppression was more significant. But the main view seems to have been that sex-class oppression is significant enough, and independent enough, that it’s important to work against sex-class oppression instead of only working against economic oppression and/or racial oppression and assuming that work against economic oppression will also end sexual oppression.

          I would say the biggest differences between these radical feminisms [plural] and liberal feminism are that:

          Liberal feminists usually accepted the division between the personal and the political, while radical feminists challenged that, arguing that [sometimes] the personal is political. Structures, social norms, social values, marriage laws rooted in coverture/slavery, etc. are political matters.

          Radical feminists usually thought liberal feminist ideas of equality-as-nondiscrimination didn’t go far enough. Douglas, in ‘Love & Politics,’ quotes Dworkin: “We believe that to be equal where there is not universal justice, or where there is not universal freedom is, quite simply, to be the same as the oppressor.” And her argument either assumes that equality-as-nondiscrimination only scratches the surface of one axis of oppression, or that it simply fails to address other axes of oppression. I don’t have the full essay but I think Dworkin assumes both.

          1. EEB

            Also I would add that liberal feminism seeks to work within the system (protesting, changing laws, electing women) to address sexism, while radical feminists believe that nothing short of a revolution will stop patriarchal oppression. The government was designed by (white, wealthy, cis, heterosexual) men, is run primarily by similar men and women who play the game, and many radfems believe there is no possible way that such a system could ever be fixed; the game is rigged. What this means in practical terms differs wildly according to who you talk to or read.

            IMHO, nothing brings this home like the current drama with reproductive rights in the US. Even the tiniest of concessions (the right to bodily autonomy) is being taken away, sometimes violently. Until women (all women) are considered full human beings, we’re always at the mercy of some court, or ballet box, or legislative body. (Of course, this goes for people of all oppressed groups. I’m just using this as an example.)

        4. EEB

          The radical in radical feminism doesn’t mean extreme. It’s used in the mathmatical sense, meaning: root. At it’s most basic, radical feminist theory says that oppression is caused, at the root, by the patriarchy.

          While radical feminism has the reputation (deserved, unfortuantely) of only addressing the concerns of white, middle class cis women, it does address other forms of oppression. Most radical feminists maintain that the patriarchy is at the base of all oppressive systems: racism, classism, cissexism, heterosexism, ableism, etc. Quick example: patriarchal ideals are at the root of opposition to the gay community because gay men are despised for being percieved to be like women (and nothing is worse than being a woman), while lesbians are hated for not fullfilling their role of taking care of men and children and proping up the system. I’m being very simplistic, of course; many many books, blogs, websites, academia, etc. are devoted to fleshing out this theory and how it relates to different people and issues, and it’s been developing for 50 years, so.

          Unfortunately, radfem theory can be a minefield. Some radfems are disgustingly transphobic, many can be racist, and many tend to overlook things that don’t fit in with their percieved view of the world. People can become too devoted to their worldview to see real people who don’t fit their preconcieved notions (a danger with any philosophy, I think). However, to paint all of radical feminism with this brush is unfair. Many of us work to expand our understanding, and in recent years, radfem theory has grown to encompass people and situations that have traditionally been excluded.

          There’s a lot of work to do, and many people are understandably weary of radfems and radical feminist theory. Maybe I’m like a Catholic, clinging to a broken system and trying to fix it from inside rather than leaving for something more reasonable and moral. I don’t know; I ask myself that a lot. But for right now, radfem theory is the best I have found to explain the world in a way that rings true for me, and gives me the best foundation for my activism. But, who knows, I may find something better later. I’m open to being wrong. :)

          Also: though it is not a necessary part of radical feminism, most radfems are anti-porn (though many, if not most, are now opposed to censorship), anti-legalized prostitution (NOT against rights for sex workers or against decriminalization of sex work; that’s an importnat distinction), and critical of the trappings of heterosexual femininity (which can mean things like shaving, make-up, heels, and cosmetic surgery, to giving up your life for husband/family, to certain sexual practices). But this varies.

        5. Sarah

          Wow, thanks for all the discussion. When I was just a young transling, an ex beat me black and blue with her copy Transsexual Empire, and the trauma left me with a deep and abiding fear of feminism, but from what you all have said, I think that subsequent life experience has led me to many of the same essential conclusions regarding patriarchy that put the radical in radical feminism.

          1. Marja Erwin

            Ugh. I don’t know which annoys me more about *The Transsexual Empire:* the gratuitous insults, the way the author keeps contradicting her core argument if she can fit in another anti-trans accusation, the way her core argument uses victim-blaming [the gatekeepers rob us of our integrity, so we have no integrity and can't be trusted], or chapter four.

            I would suggest reading *Whipping Girl* by Julia Serano, if you haven’t already.

          2. Sarah

            Yes! Whipping Girl healed my wounds and gave me courage when I needed it. No other book has ever done so much for me.

  20. 20
    Emily

    Sorry, I’m behind on your blog, but I’ve waiting for your thoughts on ‘soul’ in the discursivity of transgender identification. You know the bit I did on this theme in Japanese manga, and my own personal essay I want to write about how, for a long time, I convinced myself I was a woman ‘in a past life’ and my inclinations were somehow ontological residue in a pantemporal way.

    Now, the inherent dangers of reducing gender dysphoria to soft metaphysics is dangerous — essentialism, clumsy narratives, unwillingness to get medical help because it is a ‘spiritual’ problem, and so forth.

    But I do have sympathy for why *soul* remains a part of the language of trans identification, at least for the preliminary attempts at self-recognition. As you have pointed out quite brilliantly, Nat — seriously, your trans criticism of Don Quixote will be the stuff of epic — I have always maintained that, like it or not, trans assertion is a small ‘r’ romanticism: we, despite the overwhelming insistence of the percussive viciousness of society, assert a personal Truth against the status quo. Knowledge and awareness of this ‘truth’ s based, well, on an inner voice, an intimate knowledge that is more forceful and more insistent than the wall of pressures around us. RadFems and Christian conservatives both gleefully dismiss, alike, this awareness as a ‘feeling’ or ‘whim’ — something imagined, insubstantial, open to revision, prone to correction, and entirely lacking in authenticity.

    And being trans *IS* about authenticity. We use this kind of language in casual discussions all the time: my true self, my authentic self, my real being . . . which we very well can demarcate from the false mimesis, lies, shells, mirages, hallucinations of ‘that other person’. That we CAN’T just ‘undo’ our dysphoria, or beat it down with negative responses or coax it away with positive rewards, emphasises the intensity of the personal reality, the epiphenomenal space of saying “I am x.”

    Sure, this may have a neurowhatever cause. But as I wrote earlier, about the DSM, the zone of trans expression arises within a psychical spaces: we negotiate the dysphoria through the cognitive domain of sensation, intuition, self-examination, emotion, and so forth. It doesn’t surprise me that, when trying to find a locatable way of addressing that ‘Person’, the one we love and hate in the horrendous struggle of gender dysphoria . . . as we try desperately to recover Who Should have Been from the position of Who is Not . . . the abyss between who we play and who we dream . . . terms like ‘soul’ inscribe the preciousness of this urge toward self-acceptance. Soul speaks to something that, well, transcends in an internal way the morass of negation, from within and without, that says, “Oh, fuck off – GO AWAY, EMILY. You are NOT real!” ‘Soul’ restores a power of integrity that works against what is called a ‘perversion’, a ‘sickness’ or an ‘illusion’. It’s a contrary working of language to reclaim the precious from the mire.

    I was a Wiccan in my early 20s. This faith system did me a tremendous service in helping me to unpack the Irish Catholic training — including the massive smack down at age 12 when I confessed my gender dysphoria to a priest — that had infected my thinking to very base impressions. Wicca suggested that ‘God’ could be a woman. And if I was able to believe that — or at least envision it — then it was much, much easier to imagine that *I* was a woman. And not just imagine it. KNOW IT. That had been my great impasse: to accept that Emily was the reality, and that boyname was not. To undo this paradox required a finer tuner of my language, and therefore an increased perspicacity for self-description.

  21. 21
    StarStuff, a soulless cunt

    I thought only strawfeminists said the things that Cathy Brennan says. Turns out I was wrong.

    D:

  22. 22
    Dyssonance

    I had the interesting expereince of meeting Brennan at Creating Change, where she basically sat around bitching about how the space is completely infested with men, and there’s no longer space for lesbians there.

    She does hold, fundamentally, that any woman who sleeps with a trans person is not a lesbian, as lesbians are attracted solely to females.

    Elizabeth Hungerford wrote the Sex matters piece that was quoted off and on, and that Cathy still references. I did a critique of it that demonstrated many of the flaws in simple logic, and noted that if you want brain mapped evidence, all you need to do is look up the work of Dick Swaab.

    Cathy has, for at least four years, been making veiled statements that are inherently transphobic in many places, and she’s one of a newly rising breed of faux radfem’s that missed out on the less than pleasant war that raged in 06 on feminist sites over trans women’s inclusion.

    Since I’ve been engaging in a series of posts which I intend to act as takedowns of her seemingly more palatable stuff (she is very good at dogwhistling) and then also the stuff that she’s been posting around the internet, she’s recently decided to block me from her twitter account (@bugbrennan). She’s quick to create websites — her latest creation I am aware of is a “radfem meme” site that makes plain her open antipathy.

    I will note that she is fully aware her action are based in bullying, and that she is engaged in trolling — she admits it in her tumblr blog, which she started when she found out how popular it was among trans people (a twitter post of hers made this clear).

    Her sentiments towards transmen are predictable: traitors, or pawns, unworthy of even mention, and she blames trans women for making it seem like it is attractive to butch lesbians.

    I call her a faux radfem because she does not follow current radical feminist traditions, and indeed, she is giving some of the most incredible people on the trans side of things a headache because trans folk pick up ont he identification of radfem and stereotype it based on her, thus creating more challenges for the actual radfem allies.

    She, however, calls them libfems, and that helps to demark her Daly Era based feminism (rigid and antiquated) as conservative feminism, cmplete with the almost word for word parallels and identical concepts, the sole exception being that she generally feels that lesbians should basically live separate from the patriarchal world.

    I have, of late, decidedly hit some nerves with her. Intentionally so, be that a good or bad thing, and there is some level of malice aforethought in it — my job on adaily basis is to provide salve and aid to those who have suffered from such attacks, and I see all too often the direct and immediate impact emotionally and health wise that her words can have.

    I stumbled across your post via google, btw. Well done.

    Toni D’orsay — Dyssonance

    1. 22.1
      Natalie Reed

      I’m pretty sure rad-fem memes is a direct response to this post. You’ll notice most of them are based on pulling a quote from here, then putting some ridiculous “counter-argument” underneath. Like “trans people are facts” followed by “they just don’t prove any theory”. No, Cathy, but they certainly DISPROVE yours, and a huge, huge part of the idea here is that theories should never ever be given more importance than actual lives, people and facts. That particular pic makes a pretty clear indication that she DOES, in fact, think theory is more important than people or truth. Or “I know I’m trans with as much certainty as that I exist” followed by “this is the same thing the godbags say!”. If the godbags were saying “I know I believe in God with as much as certainty as that I exist”, I wouldn’t argue against that claim. As in, my point about the problem with theism not being claims of a belief but claiming an objective force lies outside the belief, while gender identity IS the subjective self-identification itself. She just doesn’t fucking get it. Her bias is so thick you can’t possibly punch anything through.

      I also feel like using Einstein as the meme basis is a bit hilarious and does a lot to discredit her. Turning to anti-intellectualism is a pretty sure sign someone knows they’re losing the argument. “Don’t try to discredit my position with all your fancy-schmantzy THINKING, Einstein!”

    2. 22.2
      ik

      wow. the radfem memes are pretty horrible. Not to mention that they seem to have no knowledge of Internet memes and are using all of the pictures wrong, where they should be making their own picture for the topic.

      I can imagine seeing trans-ness as problematic. They seem to totally reject it. It never crossed their mind.
      At least when I heard that transgenderism existed I was like “Ok, that’s weird but I already know homosexuality exists. I guess gender and sex are complicated and occur in different ways once every hundred/thousand/ten thousand people”

      Radical feminism has always seemed full of irrationality to me. The thing about all oppression flowing from misogyny. The revolution thing, without ever hearing about stuff that scares me OR seeing anything vaguely like a plan that doesn’t involve convincing a majority of women to agree with them.

    3. 22.3
      Tigger_the_Wing

      Her sentiments towards transmen are predictable: traitors, or pawns, unworthy of even mention, and she blames trans women for making it seem like it is attractive to butch lesbians.

      I’ve read about this attitude before. It completely ignores the possibility, let alone the existence, of gay transmen. Wow.

  23. 23
    Dyssonance

    You know, that would make one hell of a meme, lol — “Don’t try to discredit my position with all your fancy-schmantzy THINKING!”

    1. 23.1
      ik

      Could have something to do with Einstein’s reputation as womanizer? But I don’t think so.

      My rule for judgement is that I am skeptical of all self-identification, but I NEVER reject it out of hand.

  24. 24
    devinharr

    How did I JUST discover your blog??!

    You are amazing. Thank you for being so fucking well-spoken and accurate!!

  25. 25
    tnt666

    Indeed, as a gender atheists we do not say that gender concepts do not exist, as religions and systems of faith, they very much exist, they’re based on perception, not on science. There is no real science behind gender dysphoria. The DSM have been trying to deal with gender issin a manner so as to not hurt people’s feelings (always feelings, sigh) but in a decade, we won’t even be talking about the non-scientific DSMs anymore. Mental health professionals all over the place are disavowing it. In a world with advancing biological sciences, there is no need to get hung on unverifiable non biological perceptions.
    All my life I’ve felt like a black person, feeling it does not make it so, at best it just makes me a wigga.

    It is extremely important to distinguish between gender and sex. For many years scientists have let this slide, but we are getting back on track. Sex is a biological fact, gender is a psychological state of mind. One does not fix a psychological state of mind by mutilating one’s biology. One does not manufacture a fuck-hole and then try to pass as female. One may change one’s gender, one does not change one’s sex. There is no gender binary, there is a sexual binary. Sexism does not address gender, sexism addresses being female. This is not a common oppression to females and trans.

    Trans people need specific trans-safe spaces. Trans people do not have to trample on female safe spaces.
    Bathrooms are not separated on the basis of psychological perceptions, bathrooms are separated on the basis of having a penis. People with penises tend to be dirty toilet users and do not need to undress to pee, hence male bathrooms… so females don’t need to be in vicinity of dicks if they don’t feel comfortable with that sexual body part in a stranger context, and to retain some semblance of clean toilet seats. Sex is where it’s at, gender is trend… today’s trans want to conform to today’s women’s (mostly made by males) fashion trends, but a few centuries ago, those trends were opposite… it just doesn’t add up.

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