Blogathon: 6th Hour

I just got back from tracking down a pack of cigarettes, and I am totally, completely soaking wet.

It is a very, very rainy day here in Vancouver.

One thing I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately is sex workers’ rights and sex worker feminism. Given how both trans women and sex workers are often denigrated and attacked by precisely the same branches of feminism (the ones that often believe protecting women’s choices and autonomy takes a back seat to conforming one’s life to a particular political agenda, and that somehow a person themselves can be anti-feminist in nature, simply for attempting to survive… and that happily push the boot even harder against the necks of oppressed groups if those groups don’t fit into a particularly narrow vision of feminism. And that is barely even the tip of the iceberg in terms of the issues and motivations involved), it seems only natural for trans women and sex workers to cooperate. This is added to by how much overlap there is between our communities… the number of trans people who are sex workers or former sex workers, and the number of sex workers and former sex workers who are trans. [Read more...]

Blogathon: 5th Hour

A little something worth knowing about…

Earlier this week, Cathy Brennan, the consistently irritating little embodiment of hate-mongering radical-feminism, outed a teenage trans kid to his high school in retaliation for what Brennan characterized as threatening remarks.

This is the e-mail she sent:

Good morning –

My name is Cathy Brennan, and I am a lesbian feminist activist in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A. Recently, a student at your school, Rufus Ulrik (formerly Cara), has been emailing me and contacting me via social media. This student seems disturbed. I do not want any contact with this student., as she has made numerous disturbing comments about women and rape on Tumblr, a social media website. See [link removed] and [also removed]

Can you assist me please? I will be in the U.K. in July. You may also reach me at this email address. I am truly disturbed that someone this young would act this violently.

I am also reporting this user to Tumblr for abuse by copy of this email. They are user http://evenweirdosneedtoreblog.tumblr.com/

Thank you,

Cathy Brennan

There is absolutely no justification for. None. No “feminist” justifications, no “on his behalf” justifications, no “I felt threatened” justifications. Absolutely none.

This is shameless and monstrous. [Read more...]

Common Ground

I’ve been talking an awful lot about the tension between trans-feminism and certain branches of radical feminism lately. Now I’m going to talk about it some more! It seems like a topic that demands attention at the moment, given the conferences being organized, or attempted to be, in Portland and London, and Sheila Jeffreys upcoming hate screed (available soon from Rutledge University Press!).

There’s a flip side to this all that I don’t think does get talked about enough, though. Which is that periodically, beneath their burning, biased, clearly irrational hatred and fear, the transphobes organizing themselves into these “radical” cliques occasionally touch on points that do deserve to be addressed. The truth is that the trans community, and certainly it’s main stream, often do espouse anti-feminist principles, and suggest creepy, essentialist things.

We need to talk about that. Dividing ourselves into strict camps, circling wagons, and refusing to ever perceive any fault amongst our own is not going to help move anything forward. How can we ask cisgender feminists to examine their own statements, beliefs and assumptions, and hold the hateful, oppressive voices of their community accountable, if we’re not willing to do the same? [Read more...]

Fourth Wave: Part Three

In the first two parts of this series, I talked a bit about some of the things that has been holding feminism back from being able to speak to the fact of gender variance. In part one, I mentioned the way that a considerable amount of feminist theory, radical feminism in particular, based itself on a binary dialectic, with a male oppressor class and a female slave class. Not unlike how marxism reduced all oppressions and social ills to consequences of the tension between the bourgois (property owners) and proletariat (workers), and envisioned a world where everything would just be dandy if we could get rid of private property, considerable swathes of feminism imagined a world where patriarchy was the defining oppression, all others simply consequences of it, and everything, perhaps, would be just dandy if we could just get rid of gender.

Obviously, such a utopian vision reads a lot more like a nightmarish, brutal dystopia to me. The world they propose creating in their Rad-Fem 2012 conferences, a world where gender transition is outlawed and called a “human rights violation”, is a world I would fight as hard as possible to prevent being realized.

And in part two I talked a bit about the degree to which much of feminism, again radical feminism in particular, has staked far far far too much on an absolutist, social-constructivist view of gender. This is a vision fundamentally at odds with the evidence, and if feminism as a whole can’t learn to resolve the “nature vs. nurture” debate (a debate trans-feminism got over years ago) then it’s going to doom itself to becoming discredited and irrelevent. Which isn’t good for anyone, given the degree to which we all depend on the sustained presence of a strong feminist movement.

But these problems don’t simply create an inability for feminism to address the needs of people who don’t fit into a cissexist, binary vision of gender and sex. They’ve furthermore steered feminism into a dead-end alley, careening at top speed towards a great big brick wall marked “intersectionality”. [Read more...]

Is He Checking Me Out, Or Just Staring At The Freak? Self-Consciousness And Self-Oppression

Is my shadow showing? Am I wearing too much concealer? It’s not caking, is it? Does this top make my shoulders look broad? Oh fuck, I need to pluck the little hairs on my collarbone. Fuck fuck I shouldn’t have left the house without checking that. I’m such an idiot. My voice just dropped, didn’t it? My Adam’s apple is protruding when I swallow, isn’t it? God everyone can tell. Shit. I shouldn’t be out with another trans person. They’re all staring. I shouldn’t be ashamed of this. I’m so fucking stupid and pathetic for being ashamed of this. I just wish I looked like her. Or her. Or any of them. Anyone but me.

Hi! Welcome to the wonderful world of a trans woman’s interior dialogue!

It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to anyone that trans women lug around a huge and cripplingly heavy amount of self-consciousness. If you find yourself surprised by this, I appreciate your extremely high opinion of us, but you should probably learn a bit more about how human beings tend to feel about things. What often seems lacking, though, is much critical engagement with this fact. It seems to just be taken as a given “well, yeah, of course” without much stepping back to think about what it might actually mean.

Common exchange-

Me: “Ugh. I totally feel shitty about [insert aspect of my body here] today!”

Well-Meaning Friend (Usually Cis): “That’s not personal, that’s just what all women feel!”

No. I know what you’re trying to do, I know you’re trying to reassure me that there’s nothing uniquely wrong with me in feeling bad or self-conscious about my body, and that’s true, such feelings aren’t even remotely unique to me or to trans women, and I also know you want to couple that reassurance to validation of my gender. That’s cool. But I don’t think it’s fair to assume that how self-consciousness operates in a trans woman is simply the same thing that cis women experience. [Read more...]

Mandated Femininity

Apologies for lateness again. I made a super last minute decision to ditch the half-finished post I was working on and write on this topic instead. Also apologies for any typos or sloppiness. This was written in one-sitting one-draft. I’ll come back in and clean it up later, but right now I just want to put it up. Enjoy!

Cultural representations of trans women are painfully rare. Cultural representations of butch, or simply less-than-femme trans women, are functionally non-existent.

While cis people like Chloe Sevigny and Germaine Greer do continue to openly denigrate the “exaggerated femininity” or “gross caricature” presentation that “so many” trans women possess, and use that to mock us as nothing more than men playing dress up, a presentation that falls short of expected feminine norms will be used to outright strip a trans woman of even the claim to a “false” womanhood. You’re not even trying, dude.

Gatekeeping structures continue to break down piece by piece in certain locales and medical communities, but in others it continues to be demanded that you meet expectations of presenting as female as the practitioner understands it, rather than as the patient herself understands it. The consequences can be an obligation to play along with imposed standards of proper feminine womanhood until such a time as all needed or desired treatments have been accessed and put behind you. Then, and only then, do they get to wear jeans and sneakers.

While in some queer or feminist trans communities, spaces and dialogues, femininity has ceased to be considered a requisite aspect of a trans woman’s expression and presentation, and the dotey housewife image of what a proper trans woman is to be lingers mostly in older generations or transsexual separatist / HBS communities, for many more individuals, often living in isolation, one of the only ways to assert one’s womanhood and have it be perceived by others is through claiming totemic representations of it through that which is most aggressively culturally coded as feminine, girly, for her.

And, of course, trans women’s gender presentations are consistently scrutinized under a microscope by a cissexist gaze that constantly seeks to place us where they want us, somewhere as non-threatening as possible, and held to hopelessly strict standards of what is proper or “correct” for a woman to wear or do that would never, ever be applied to a cis woman. Not without being met with ridicule.

Tell me the last time you ever saw the validity of a cis woman’s gender called into question on the basis of dressing too casually or imperfectly feminine.

Where I’m going with this is that feminist and trans-feminist movements aside, and even leaving general cultural progress out of it, femininity and femme presentations continue to be aggressively mandated to trans women. We have an intensely narrow range of behaviours and presentations that are available to us that even have a chance of being read within the wider culture as valid. Granted, under many circumstances, that range narrows into non-existence through the catch-22 of overlapping “too feminine”/”improperly feminine” and “not feminine enough” criticisms, but as a general rule? The trans woman that is to be acceptable, palatable, comprehensible, and representable to cis perceptions and standards must be femme. Full stop. [Read more...]

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. [Read more...]

Fourth Wave: Part Two

The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views. Which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.

- The Fourth Doctor

There are so many theories.

The theories of the sexologists. Theories of the Christian right. Of the psychiatrists and psychologists. Of the academics and philosophers, even literary theorists. Of the average person watching a documentary, “here’s what I think it is…”. Of the people punching into google questions about what kinds of chromosomes or “chemicals” we have. People (without any education in biology or genetics, but who happened to catch some TV show somewhere about intersexuality) suggesting chimerism in the brain. And feminists’ theories too, of course. [Read more...]