The Radical History Of Transgenderism

Nearing her death in 2002, Sylvia Rivera, no less outspoken and uncompromising in her old age, expressed a wish to see the current generation of queer activism “destroy” the Human Rights Campaign, which she had come to regard as highly emblematic of the kind of exploitation and backstabbing of trans people by the wider queer community that she had experienced and fought against her whole life (such as jumping on stage to condemn Jean O’Leary’s hateful comments about the trans women and drag queens in the audience at a Stonewall rally in 1973, pointing out how the event they were supposedly commemorating was largely the actions of trans women and drag queens).

Rivera had been on the very front lines of the Gay Lib movement, and queer-rights activism, from the very beginning. And over and over again, she saw herself and other trans women used, exploited, dismissed, whisked out of the public eye whenever it was necessary to keep up appearances, and erased, with our rights being repeatedly used as bargaining chips to be compromised on behalf of less “extreme” requests of the queer community. The life and activism of Sylvia Rivera paints an intensely tragic (and damning) portrait of this history of betrayal. She gave herself utterly to the cause of queer rights, only to be silenced and pushed aside whenever the discussion turned to her own liberation.

And one of the organizations she saw as being unforgivably complicit in that history of betrayal was the HRC.

By now, you’ve undoubtedly seen or at least heard of Lana Wachowski’s speech given upon acceptance of a “visibility award” from the HRC. No mention was made in her speech of the problematic history of the HRC’s treatment of trans rights. That’s fine, though… I’m not interested in judging Lana. But in the day and weeks that followed, her speech received an almost unprecedented level of public and mainstream press, praise and acclaim. It was widely regarded as beautiful, moving, inspiring, and so on. Lana has since become a more positively regarded media figure than she was before. The mainstream reaction was unabashedly positive. It did a great deal for both her, and more so for the HRC itself.

Still, however, in that wave of attention there was virtually no discussion of the complex relationship between the HRC and trans rights, historically or otherwise.

How trans people, and being trans, are seen in the mainstream cultural imagination is changing. It’s changing a whole lot, and it’s changing very very rapidly. To be completely honest, this can be really really scary to be even peripherally caught up in. Lana’s speech would not have been received the way it was even just three years ago.

Similarly, the transitions and disclosures of other public figures like Janet Mock, Laura Jane Grace, Chaz Bono and Mina Caputo have been much more beneficial for their overall careers and the positivity with which they’re generally regarded, whereas the opposite would likely have been the case just a decade ago or less. This is a pivotal moment in the history of trans rights and trans visibility.

The things about it that are scary are too numerous to really get into. Some of them are even personal, involving my own small roles in this moment (which is more often about other people and other stories than myself and my own). But a singular aspect that concerns me is what the nature of this visibility will end up leading us towards. What will fighting for trans rights and awareness become?

I’m not wholly cynical about any of it. But to see the trans community, as imagined in the mainstream, cozy alongside the HRC, nonetheless fills me with a great deal of unease.

Much has been written about how the gay rights movement gradually shifted its direction and aesthetic. Where once it was an intensely radical movement, the overall signifiers of gay male identity became increasingly consumerist, classist and assimilationist (while underlying issues of racism, misogyny, able-ism and body-shaming all continued more or less unchecked). Being out as gay shifted from a radical act of empowerment to a chic and urbane style, defined by the right kind of well appointed loft, the right kind of gym-toned body under the right kind of tight Armani t-shirt, the right kind of fish with the right kind of wine, and the right kind of sexy designer underwear to go off before having the right kind of sex. And the actual activism of gay rights imploded to two singular issues: DADT and same-sex marriage, both of which were questions of participation in kyrarchial systems. Things like “Will & Grace” and “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy” ended up being the kinds of public visibility that were regarded as successes for Gay Liberation.

The question that sneaks around in the back of my head is how long until we end up with a trans equivelant of “Will & Grace”, some empty PrettyWittyPeople sitcom, or a trans equivelant of Queer Eye (we already briefly had TransForm Me, with Jamie Clayton and Laverne Cox, but it didn’t achieve a comparable level of mainstream visibility), wherein trans “empowerment” is hooked directly to mainstream consumerism and purchasing the “right” look. There’s already so much horrible, toxic commodification of female beauty and uncritical acceptance of a universalized way a woman “should” look extant in The Trans Community under the concept of passing that such a TV show could easily be embraced by us, and easily lead us right into selling ourselves to mainstream acceptability at the cost of everything honest, radical and powerful about us; at the cost of genuine empowerment; at the cost of all of us being permitted into acceptance, rather than just the ones that are useful to the system as-it-is. At the cost of ending up being as far from the genuine fight for queer rights as are the HRC.

Right now it’s Transgender Awareness Week. I have lots of doubts and worries about this idea, but I’m also hopeful that it will end up being more of a positive a force than otherwise. At the very least, I’m much more comfortable with drawing awareness to the needs and concerns and lives of trans people who are alive than the deeply problematic and exploitative “memorializing” of dead trans women of colour by white trans people for the sake of their own PR that is Transgender Day of Remembrance. However, I worry about every other week becoming implicitly cis awareness week. I worry about people not taking into consideration that every week is “trans awareness week” for those of us who are, you know, actually trans. I worry about people using it as an opportunity for temporary involvement which they then use to absolve themselves from feeling any need to give a shit about us during the other 51 weeks of the year. And I worry about it being commercialized, a way to buy away your guilt about transphobia and cissexism (especially if such commercialization were to become linked to TDoR).

I worry that eventually, people are going to start selling “Trans For A Day!” t-shirts. Available in either pink or baby blue. As this rapid, scary, strange transformation going on in mainstream visibility and conditional acceptance of trans people continues, I more and more come to regard such crass exploitation, simplification and commercialization of the question of trans rights and trans oppression as an inevitability. Effectively, the Transgender Day of Remembrance dance party writ large, across our culture as a whole.

(yes, TDoR dance parties actual happen; usually thrown by white trans guys)

Where are we heading? How is this all going to play out? And what would Sylvia Rivera say about it?

Something that keeps me from being wholly cynical and resigned in the face of our increasing public visibility occurring alongside some disturbingly ahistorical attitudes, some dodgy alliances with organizations who haven’t the most sterling records in their treatment of trans rights, and numerous (perhaps superficial) resemblances to the push for mainstream gay acceptability that precipitated the “de-fanging” of the gay rights movement, is the fact that trans people have never really been all that comparable to gay men and lesbians in terms of our socio-cultural position, and how we’re perceived. Our implications have always been different. People’s reactions and perceptions have always been different. Our oppression has always been different. And most important to this, what I’m dealing with right now, is that our needs have always been different; more immediate and, arguably, more inherently radical.

While it’s undeniable that the present (though shifting) understanding of trans rights as a relatively minor “fringe” issue, and more extreme/radical than the issue of LGB rights, is connected to our having been betrayed and tossed out of Gay Lib back in the 70s, and therefore missing the boat on that ride into mainstream acceptance. But that’s not the only thing going on. For instance, a large part of the motives for our erasure and dismissal by Gay Lib was the fact that we were already seen as “too extreme” to be accepted, and as somehow damaging the otherwise marketable image of benign, harmless same-sex love. There were other things going on at the time too, like the intense transphobia being pushed by second wave feminists like Janice Raymond, which didn’t sit well with feminist lesbians, but the main issue was that transsexuality and transgenderism were already perceived as too weird, too disgusting, too scary, too threatening to mainstream sensibilities, too threatening to the established orders of gender and patriarchy and all that, too radical, to be included in the package Gay Lib was trying to sell. We were the “extreme” element that could be compromised and thrown aside in negotiations with straight politicians to demonstrate that the gay and lesbian activists were reasonable, and could understand their “concerns” about such… “intense elements” of the community.

In short, we were already “too radical” before we were kicked out of the movement. A movement we were, true to our radical nature, instrumental in bringing about.

As I alluded to earlier, drag queens, cross-dressers and trans women (the distinctions were considerably less clear-cut back in the 60s) were key players in the Stonewall riots. Reportedly, the very first act of civil disobedience after police stormed the Stonewall was the trans women and drag queens refusing to go to the bathroom to have their genitalia inspected (anyone found to be a “man dressed as a woman” would be arrested… and such people were in fact often the primary targets of police raids on gay bars at the time, given that you couldn’t arrest someone simply for them seeming to be the kind of person who intended to have gay sex that night). It’s also well established that Stonewall primarily catered to the most marginalized and down-and-out members of the queer community: trans women, sex workers and queer people of colour, as well as various street kids. It was a bit of a different crowd than in most raids, people with less to lose, and less easy to threaten.

The trans role in the Stonewall riots gets consistently erased, and Stonewall has long since become, in the public imagination, a “gay riot” that had nothing to do with trans women at all. It tends to be a sore spot for me. I don’t know exactly why, but I really do get angry about this. We were there. We were both the primary victims and primary agitators. And yet we’ve been wholly swept aside, as history has been written by those privileged to do so. Most galling of all is how many organizations naming themselves after Stonewall in some manner have ended up ignoring the needs of trans people, downplaying the role of the “T” in “LGBT”, outright excluding trans people, or even adopting overtly cissexist or transphobic positions and policies.

But at least Stonewall does, after a fashion, get remembered. The Compton’s Cafeteria riot in San Francisco’s tenderloin, which preceded the Stonewall riots by three years, tends to get ignored in the wider narrative of LGBT history, which I can’t see as unconnected to the fact that it was more or less wholly an action of trans women, where there’s really no way to realistically imagine it as having been a “gay & lesbian” thing rather than a trans thing (not that that stops would-be LGBT historians, particularly in San Francisco, from trying). This riot was, however, vitally important in establishing the movement for gay rights in San Francisco… a movement which, again, ultimately came to erase trans people’s contributions, ignore trans people’s needs, and push trans people out of visibility. Today, the gay Castro is gentrified as fuck. Trans women still remain in the considerably less posh Tenderloin, many still homeless, still poor, still at risk, still doing sex work for survival.

This is not simply some historical pattern from the 60s. Trans people (quite often women) playing key roles in radical activism is an ongoing thing. Those roles being erased, overlooked, or devalued is likewise ongoing. For instance, a small group of four trans women anarchists played an extremely key role in Occupy Wall Street, such as establishing the online infrastructure (including the “official” twitter account) through which protestors could efficiently and democratically organize. The inherently democratic, anarchic “no leaders, no idols” approach of OWS partially enabled the contributions of those trans women to go unacknowledged, as well as for trans and other gender-related concerns to end up relatively low on the list of Occupy’s priorities (as publicly perceived, anyway), and I wouldn’t want to jump to the conclusion that any of those women are necessarily clamoring for individual recognition of their contributions (in fact, I’m pretty sure excessive individual recognition would contradict most of the values Occupy stands for)… but recognition of the fact that trans women can and very frequently do play important roles in contemporary radical activism is something I believe needs to happen. For everyone’s sake.

Another example of trans people playing incredibly important roles in radical political activism only to have such contributions erased would be the complicated issues surrounding Private First Class Bradley (possibly Breanna) Manning, the whistleblower who leaked evidence of war crimes to wikileaks, and is now on trial for treason. There is considerable evidence that Manning was, at the very least, struggling with gender identity and leaning towards the pursuit of transition, but nonetheless has been appropriated as a “gay man”, and is widely referred to as such in the media. It’s incredibly rare that ANY story concerning Manning even acknowledges that there were any questions surrounding their gender identification whatsoever. Even Manning’s supporters, who parade them as a hero, refuse to acknowledge the question of their gender. Personally, given the historical context of erasure of trans activism I’m referring to in this post, I’m inclined not to trust the hyper-skepticism about Manning, and agree with the belief that it’s extremely like they are, indeed, transgender. And extremely unlikely they’re not.

My point is that radical, aggressive, political agitation has always been a part of transgender history, however much that history gets overlooked by the mainstream queer narratives. We were always at the front lines, pushing back against oppressive, heterosexist cis-patriarchy. That part of who and what we are, and what we represent, has always been ignored or directly erased. And cis queers (as well as many other groups) have always benefited from our actions, while rarely ever sticking their own necks out on our behalf. I don’t consider any of our politically radical history to be coincidental. Rather, I consider this to be reflective of other inherent aspects of who and what we are, and what it fundamentally means to be trans.

There’s an old saying I’ve been fond of for a long time. “Revolution is always impossible until it is inevitable”. I forget who said it originally. The basic idea is that as long as people are given the option of sticking with the status quo, as long as that remains, more or less, a choice, they’ll take it. Offer them bread and circuses, and they’ll take the bread and circuses. There’s some really cool stuff that deals with it in a much more complex and interesting way called Social Justification Theory. To offer an embarrassingly simplistic summary: It’s always more cognitively “easy” for someone to internally justify a social system to themselves, even if their marginalized within it, as long as the psychological threat to their sense of self worth (or immediate threats to their safety and health, or that of their family) don’t outweigh the psychological risk and cognitive dissonance of having to reject the social system they live within (which is a much bigger than it seems).

Trans people never exactly had that choice. We’ve always, by way of either what we are or our unavoidable needs, been forced into the position of being at odds with the system in which we exist. In other words, for us, revolution was inevitable; even if only the personal revolution of “transition” itself. Trans people, especially trans women, have always been fundamentally a threat to the assumptions on which patriarchy has been built, so our very existence was always a sort of revolutionary or radical thing. We could never vocalize that existence without it being potentially taken as politically aggressive. Likewise any attempt to insist upon, or force, recognition. Likewise any gesture of visibility, intentional or accidental.

This is not to say that no trans people have ever tried to support or justify the systems in which they live. I’m repeatedly saddened and disgusted by the numerous anti-feminist, misogynistic, patriarchal, racist, able-ist, conservative and otherwise kyrarchial beliefs I encounter amongst trans people, as well as the abundant internalized transphobia and cissexism, and the whole mess of problems we call trans-fundamentalism and transnormativity. And yeah, some trans people bend over backwards in an attempt to convince themselves that they do indeed fit into the system and the system is just: HBSers being a pretty tragicomic example. But no matter what she believes, an HBSer woman will continue being seen as a threat to cis-patriarchy, and will continue being treated as such… not in any significant way at all differently than the other trans women she so viciously contrasts herself to.

Our existence has always been oppositional to the system, and in almost all cases, the various actions that comprise and define a trans life as apart from a cisgender life are all, however small or personal, however necessary and beyond our real control, radical actions. We don’t choose to be trans, it’s simply something that just sort of happens to some people… but it pretty much always ends up putting us in the position of needing to choose self-determination, autonomy, and personal agency over the social values and systems around us… indeed usually in opposition to them. The implicit codes of patriarchal culture often suggest that “becoming” trans, “becoming” a woman, is the absolute most shameful, abhorrent and incomprehensible thing that a man (or someone so designated) can ever do. We do it anyway, (in so far as “becoming” is really what it is at all… which is a simplification at best, an inaccurate and erasing generalized assumption at worst), we do it because we have to, because it’s… just what happens. It can be simple and it can be intensely complex, it can be a linear and singular process or it can play out in an entirely different kind of narrative, it can be personal and it can be social, it can be “elective” or a deeply felt need, it can be one choice or a series of differing choices, it can be fluid or stable, it can be liberating or terrifying… there are no universals. But it’s certainly radical.

Patriarchy has always responded in kind. Even where trans people are recipients of numerous other privileges, those privileges are always going to be limited by the fact of hir “trans-ness”, and operate differently (sometimes only conditionally). And where trans people are not the recipients of general privilege, and instead stand at an intersectional point of oppression, all those oppressions are magnified and delivered exponentially. Suicide, violence, poverty, homelessness, addiction, survival-sex-work, sexual assault, harassment, discrimination in housing and employment… none of these things are uncommon for trans women, and are entirely too common for trans women of colour, trans women with disabilities and trans youth.

This makes it all the more of a situation where playing along with the system as it is has never really been much of an option for trans people. The rioters at Compton’s Cafetaria and at Stonewall were faced with a kind of marginalization that would be unimaginable to most gay or lesbian people running any agencies or organizations or charities named in Stonewall’s memory (though still quite comprehensible to many trans WoC, homeless trans youth, trans sex workers, and others… others typically excluded from consideration by the organizations bearing that name). They were in a situation of absolute, suffocating desperation, anger, poverty, terror and hunger. They had almost nothing to lose. But they had their anger, and they had their pride.

Funny how little currency that word has left for us… pride.

I’d like to think that it’s those subtle and essential, unavoidably radical and revolutionary, bits of what being trans means that are going to stick around and matter. Societal privilege, media attention, being welcomed into capitalism and the military-industrial complex and consumerism and television and marriage and politics and all of that stuff can be handed out to us, sure (though almost certainly conditionally, and to only a selected few considered the “good kind” of trans people). It seems that ball is already rolling, and there’s no way to stop it. Soon enough there will be a variation of transgenderism that is acceptable in mainstream media culture. But what I hope is that those subtle bits I mentioned will end up smuggled along with it.

I hope that we really are as much of a threat to patriarchy as their fear, revulsion and hatred always suggested. And I hope that in trying to play the okey-doke assimilation game with us the way they played it with gay men, they’ll end up inviting in a lot more trouble than they imagined.

I hope that we will always be what we’ve always been.

At the very least, I hope we don’t forget what, and where, we’ve been as we try to figure out where we’re heading, and why.

And I hope Sylvia Rivera will be proud of us when we get there.





  1. cami says

    yes, yes and yes.
    One thing that I get frustrated by is how quickly and easily radical voices get shut down in almost any discourse. For example,when I recently tried to express my opinions about how distasteful the appropriation of the lived experiences of poor, trans women of color by white, middle-class trans folks is, the local group of HBSer’s lashed out with personal attacks on my character and accusations about my lack of mental healthyness. It happens to me every November. But although I get frustrated, I have yet to be defeated. Personally, I’m not going to stop being radical and I’m not going to stop speaking my mind, regardless of how much the local trans organizations try to shame me. And when I read an essay like this one, it serves as a strong reminder of why being radical is so necessary.

  2. Sarah says

    Already, it feels like any inherent radicalism has been greatly diminished. It would be beautiful if an infiltration of trans radicalism overturned patriarchy, but instead, what appears to be happening is that as we gain acceptance, and the choice to claim a trans identity gets easier and easier to make, we stand to win a place in a society that understands and accepts us a little better than it did before, but it will still remain, at it’s core, dominating and patriarchal, and we will, ourselves, be the ones who concede the most.

  3. Pen says

    My point is that radical, aggressive, political agitation has always been a part of transgender history, however much that history gets overlooked by the mainstream queer narratives.

    I realise I’m taking your ‘always’ more literally than you meant and out of context, but when/where would you say transgender history starts? I know there have been a lot of different third gender constructs in various societies. Some, like the hijra, have some things in common with today’s transgender people, but other things not so much. I didn’t know about transgender women at Stonewall,nor can I really trace the history of transgender people in western culture, other than say women cross-dressing. But it seems to me many of them were passing as men for reasons that were related to occupying male spaces, without necessarily any inner sense of being male.

    If we accept that being transgender is biological (I’m using that word loosely, so I hope you understand what I mean) then there have been transgender people as long as there have been humans, back to the prehistoric era. But with or without expressions that are visible in the culture?

    • says

      In this particular instance, I’m referring only to the modern construct of “transgender”, as it falls into the modern politics of “LGBT”/”straight”, not the broader or global history, and not related to comparable non-binary gender concepts that predate the 20th century (like hjira, galli priestesses, kathoey, two-spirit, etc).

  4. Juli Richmond says

    I tend to agree … I was always outspoken and aware.. of lots of social and environmental issues …. Ever since I was old enough to understand them .
    Even as a young child I would call out against moral social injustices.
    Which often rubbed people the wrong way … But I felt so compelled from my heart to say the causes that called out to my heart .
    I tend to think we as trans woman having had male privilege teaches us that we can speak up . Some trans woman have no problem exerting that energy .
    I am fairly early in transition and I am constantly re evaluating my thoughts on things ..and the position I feel I should take .
    I am in complete understanding that we have always had to stand up for ourselves … Before during or after transition..

    Our voices are often ignored not included or considered …
    Since most of CIS society can’t wrap their heads around where we are coming from a lot of the time ….
    From something as getting a girly answer from a little boy … It often confuses them or they dismiss or ignore the answer …and that just continues on in life … So after awhile of being misunderstood we get mad and learn how to use our voice and speak up … And then that kind of conditioning gets instilled in us …not such a bad trait … But I think that is why trans folks tend to be on the forefront of liberation, equaliy and justice.

  5. says

    I’m kind of curious if, when this seemingly inevitable mainstream acceptance of a media-friendly version of trans people actually happens, the dominant narrative will actually shift to include trans women and men as real women and men (after all traces of the old gender have been medically removed, obvs) or if it will merely adopt that attitude so common in mainstream liberal discourse that we aren’t really women and men, but we believe we are so we should still get treated with dignity and respect to some extent.

    • natashayar-routh says

      My bet would be on the mainstream liberal attitude. We will get some limited rights and for the most part be treated with a certain amount of tolerance and respect but acknowledge our genders as real no. At best a sort of ‘Queer as Folk’ or ‘The L Word’ level os acceptance. For those of us who don’t conform to the gender binary will still find ourselves out in the cold.

  6. Aran says

    For instance, a small group of four trans women anarchists played an extremely key role in Occupy Wall Street, such as establishing the online infrastructure (including the “official” twitter account) through which protestors could efficiently and democratically organize.

    Wow, I didn’t know that!

    There’s an old saying I’ve been fond of for a long time. “Revolution is always impossible until it is inevitable”. I forget who said it originally.

    I like this saying. Looked it up on Wikiquote; apparently it is attributed to Leon Trotsky.

  7. says

    Oh, btw, “The Distant Panic”, in my blogroll, is written by Sadie Vashti, one of the trans women who was deeply involved in the Occupy movement. I’ve strongly disagreed with her on some issues, like whether or not Americans should vote, but I respect her and her politics quite a bit, and a lot of her writing is very much worth reading.

    • Bia says

      I think your link is broken or she changed domains, or changed her blog. The website now just has generic discussions of mental health and illness. Sadie is the blogger that moved to Amsterdam some time back isn’t she? Unless I’m thinking of someone else. Either way I don’t think that blog is what it used to be.

  8. gordonmacginitie says

    I just now read an article that much improved my acceptance of Transgender: “Do No Harm” on MATTER. “”

  9. Kaz says

    Interesting perspective.

    We all operate from the veiwpoint of our own oppression, and inherently see our own oppression as the most important, extreme and under-appreciated.

    I find it curious that you seem to see trans women as a bigger threat to patriarchy than trans men. I also think the contributions and participation of trans men in the trans movement and community are often as marginalized and unacknowledged and frankly unwelcome as you claim trans woemn are in the lgb movement.

    In 1993 I was at the March on Washington Transgender conference and spoke as an FTM. My comments were met with mostly silence and incomprehension. A significant number of participants had not even been aware that guys like me existed.

    I too believe that trans people have often been the lesbian and gay movement’s skeleton in the closet. I can also remember when some trans people didn’t to be part of the lesbian and gay movement.

    Ultimately the lesbian, gay, bi and trans struggles are linked because our oppressions are linked. We all threaten the artificial gender binary, necessary for upholding sexism.

    • says

      Yes, I do believe trans women are a bigger threat to patriarchy than trans men. Trans women not only challenge assumed binaries, but also the assumed supremacy and preferability of maleness and masculinity.

      I find there’s plenty of evidence in regards to this to be found in the disproportionate retribution and hate directed at trans women and AMAB trans.

      • Kaz says

        Thank you for your honesty. However, I can likewise say transmen threaten the superiority of masculinity and maleness. When I got outed on my job, a traditionally male occupation, the good old boys freaked. Some ‘guy’ who they had totally accepted as one of them turned to be a what????

        As for the who is more oppressed than whom, that is a losing argument. And no way to be inclusive or build a movement.

        • Sinéad says

          I don’t think this has anything to do with oppression olympics, at all.

          Consider that cismen are still questionably accepted in traditional ciswomen’s occupations. The idea of a cisman as a child care provider is looked upon with suspicion of pedophilia. Even when I was growing up in the 80s, a cismale nurse was a cause for questioning his sexual orientation and worthiness as a “man.”

          That’s just the counterpart to your getting access to traditional cismen’s occupations. How would a ciswoman been treated in your occupation?

          Do trans men undermine traditional cismen’s superiority, without a doubt, but to deny the very real disproportianate verbal and physical violence against trans women is dishonest.

          • Kaz says


            This so reminds me of arguments I heard back in the 1970’s when lesbians were demanding a place in the Gay Liberation Movement. Many gay men claimed lesbian concerns weren’t as immediate or important. Lesbians weren’t subject to the same level of vitriol and discrimination as gay men, etc.

            Those attitudes played no small part in the rise of lesbian feminism. Strange how everything old is new again.

            As I stated initially, we all view the world through the prism of our own oppression. And there is more than enough oppression to go around.

            btw, After being outed in my trade, my career path ended and several ciswomen were promoted ahead of me, and yes they were treated poorly. I have since changed careers.

            I am not dening the reality of sexism, please, I spent my first thiry years trying to live as a girl/woman in this society. I am challenging you and your sisters to not to deny sexism either.

          • says

            Oppression Olympics, to me, is an ugly term that is only ever used by those trying to silence the disadvantaged, avoid looking at intersectionality, or avoid acknowledging their own relative privilege. When someone starts making accusations of “Oppression Olympics”, I take it sort of like I take people who bring up “Political Correctness”, or “common sense”: a sign that the person isn’t engaging the discussion in good faith, is a bit of a jerk, and is trying to lean on pithy rhetoric to avoid looking at the issue itself.

      • Kaz says

        Just one more comment on the “disproporional retribution and hate directed at tran women and AMAB trans.”

        The sad reality is that women, trans and cys are battered, beaten, raped and murdered at an alarming rate. Tens of thousands of cys women are murdered every year in this country (U.S.) because of their gender. I don’t think violence against cys women is even seen as a hate crime, just an inevitable fact of life.

        Any violence against anyone on account of their gender or gender expression is horrible, unexcusable and a crime against humanity.

        • Sinéad says

          In reply to above, I don’t think you’re getting what I’m saying…by comparing your situation. You want to cry about how being outed ruined your career…then cry me a river.

          Have you been called a pervert? Have you been physically assaulted by a gang of men calling you a faggot? Have you had “complaints” against you by “concerned parents” that your mere presence was threatening to them?

          You wave the flag of oppression olympics and whine about losing a job, I didn,t even want to bring up MY oppressions. I mentioned the disproportionate acceptance of cis men in traditional cis women’s occupations because fighting sexism goes both ways. No one should be considered a pervert or pedophile based on their sex or gender identification. And that is of a much lower magnitude than what I face as a non “passing” trans woman.

          You have access to male privilege and then bring up lesbian feminism as a reaction to being snubbed by gay cis men, as if to say that we as women are similarly oppressing you.

          Seriously, I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt before but you’re just coming off as a cynical jerk who didn’t get to play the reindeer games.

          I have white privilege and I sure try to watch myself when I assert it above the voices of POC. You should similarly learn to keep your male privilege in check, but I won’t speak for Natalie, I am only speaking to how YOU are speakng to me. I don’t care how many years of living “female socialization” you were forced to live before transitioning, you’re asserting that by extention my years of living in antagonism of the “male socialization” forced upon me has similarly privileged me. I won’t stand to have some red herring thrown in my face.

          The fact is anyone, ANYONE, whether they are a cis hetero white male or not, who does something that challenges traditional gender roles should be applauded because every little battle is just as important. That doesn’t mean positive will win out, it doesn’t mean giving a cookie to every do gooder, it means, this is a fucking revolution and every act in defiance is a bullet in our arsenal.

          • Kaz says

            I think mtfs or trans women/AMAB people often assume the ftm transition is the mirror opposite of their own experience. That we are ships in the night, heading to and from opposite ports. That concept, whether conscious or not is buying into the gender binary.

            Sinead had “male priviledge” and lost it. Therefore I got it?!??? Male priviledge comes in a bottle of testosterone?

            I told a bit of the story about being outed on a job, not as a war story, but to illustrate that a “guy with a pussy” is also a threat to the concept of male/masculine superiority. For what is a man except a dick? Unless its a bottle of testosterone.

            Sinead does very clearly illustrate my other point, that when people feel their oppression is diminished, dismissed or considered less than… They get very angry.

            The question is; does this forum want to remain girls, or grrrls only, not boys allowed, or are you willing to grow?

          • Jade says

            FYI, many, it not most, trans women and other CAMAB trans people do not like the term MTF because many of us reject the idea that we were ever male. You deserve the benefit of the doubt because maybe you didn’t know that, but you should probably try to avoid other words for people when those people have already established the words that they prefer for themselves.

            Re: Male privilege. You’re right in that you don’t have cis privilege, and any trans person is a threat to patriarchal power structures, which was exemplified by your story of being outed. However, your story also seems to suggest you were largely accepted at your “traditionally male occupation” prior to being outed, and you can correct me on that if I’m wrong, but if true that sounds an awful lot like male privilege to me. And losing your conditional perceived-as-cis privilege also doesn’t strip you of male privilege any more than being outed striped you of any other intersecting dimensions of privilege and oppression that you might experience. The fact is, all other things being equal, a trans man is way less likely to be assaulted, murdered, or raped (or targeted by the police, or accused of being a pervert, or have people assume you’re a sex worker, etc.) than a trans woman, and if that isn’t a form of privilege I don’t know what is. Call it trans male privilege or something if you feel it’s fundamentally different and not just the intersection between male privilege and trans oppression, but refusing to acknowledge it exists just makes it seem like you don’t really have any interest in examining the sexist patriarchal power structures that provide you with that privilege.

          • says

            Male privilege doesn’t come in testosterone. It comes in being perceived as male.

            Come on, Kaz.

            Regardless, it’s a point of fucking statistical, objective FACT that trans women are victims of harassment, abuse, violence and discrimination to a far greater extent than trans men. It’s not “Oppression Olympics” or “grrrls only” to accept that fact and look into what it means and suggests about our society, about gender, and about gender-based oppression.

            You can ignore your relative privilege, and ignore intersectionality, if you want, but don’t expect trans women and other DMAB trans to happily support you in that, or to accede to or participate in that ignorance.

            Also: this isn’t a forum. It’s a blog.

            My blog, specifically.

            Go somewhere else if you’re looking for a forum where you get to voice your (kinda messed up) perspective without being challenged and taken to task for it.

  10. Bia says

    This is the sad truth of social justice, and really any politically charged group, we need acceptance. If you’re a minority in whatever sense of the word, you can’t hope to dismantle or overthrow an institution of oppression alone. You need allies but it’s paradoxically impossible get support when you’re thought of as radical. Radical ideas are easily dismissed by even reasonable and well meaning people because it means giving up the comfort that conformity gives.

    I want to believe in the common decency and intelligence of humanity but I have to hold on to that view despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In reality most people are cowards and disproportionately inclined to follow the herd or reinforce social attitudes that benefit them. Add to that the fact that many more are just blind or apathetic and it starts to make sense why social change is so difficult.

    We need radicals to take up the charge, but we will inevitably have to betray them to ensure victory for the ideology.

    • says

      this is a really flawed argument that has been made, and disproven, time and time again. the mainstream lgb movement used that logic against the acceptance of trans* people in the first place. this is the logic used by every group that has used revolutions to put themselves in power and then go on to perpetuate the same exact injustices. we need allies, yes. the term radical means, to get at the root. it is not a synonym for “extreme.” radicalism doesn’t preclude allies. but we need to think about who we’re fighting for, what we’re fighting for, who we’re including and most importantly who we’ve left out. if you think you need to “betray radicals” for the “victory of the ideology”, you will only end up shooting us all in the foot.

      • Bia says

        I wish this was just a cynical conclusion Amelia but we see this happening now even. In fact Natalie discusses some of this in her article.

        I’m not arguing that we not fight for what we believe in, far from it. I’m merely being honest about it. There’s always a certain amount of appropriation and negotiation that goes on between a group with power and a group that is powerless by comparison.

        I am curious though, if I referred to your reply as pedantic would you think I was talking about a necklace?

  11. im says

    Ummm. I am afraid that there is a risk of falling into a wierd radical/left-wing form of the usually right-wing narrative of romanticizing the past. I think that this is a REALLY, REALLY big risk.

  12. cristanwilliams says

    Great post!

    Another thing that’s been suppressed is the fact that a NY trans girl (Lee Brewster) funded the first gathering of “homophile organizations” back in 1968. She also funded the Mattachine Society. A transman funded the One organization.

    Consider this account of the experience of one of the instigators of the Stonewall riot:

    “In the beginning, we were the vanguard of the gay movement…We were very well respected for the first four years”

    – Sylvia Rivera

    And then consider this from Benjamin Shepard’s “Sylvia and Sylvia’s Children: The Battle for a Queer Public Space,” That’s Revolting!:

    Women in the GLF were uncomfortable referring to Rivera—who insisted in using women’s bathrooms, even in City hall—as “she.” Pressure mounted. The year 1973 witnessed clash that would take Rivera out of the movement for the next two decades. Her lifelong friend and fellow Stonewall Veteran Bob Kohler recalled, “Sylvia left the movement because after the first three or four years, she was denied a right to speak.” It was during the Pride rally in Washington Square Park after the Christopher Street Liberation Day March.

    To the dismay of Lesbian Feminist Liberation drag queens were scheduled to perform. As they passed out flyers outlining their opposition to the “female impersonators,” Rivera wrestled for the microphone held by emcee Vitto Russo, before getting hit with it herself. Rivera explained, “I had to battle my way up on stage, and literally get beaten up and punched around by people I thought were my comrades, to get to that microphone. I got to the microphone and I said my piece.” Rivera complained that the middle-class crowd cared little to nothing about the continued harassment and arrests of street drag queens. Bleeding, Rivera sang, “You Gotta Have Friends,” screamed “Revolution Now!” and led the crowd in a chant of “Give me a G, Give me an A, Give me a Y…What does it spell?” Barely audible, her voice breaking, “GAY POWER,” she groaned.

    • says

      Lee Brewster,it should be said, ALSO jumped on stage with Rivera at that rally I was mentioning, to shout down the woman claiming that the trans women and drag queens in the audience were “mocking and belittling women”.

  13. benjaminsa says

    Main stream culture distorts and mangles almost everything to do with sex and gender. It hasn’t even straight male gender right yet, the idea it would get anywhere close with Transgenderism is insane. The root problems for all of this are much broader and deeper. I think it will be wonderful if there will be some ‘variation of transgenderism that is acceptable in mainstream media culture’, as you put it, at minimum it will reduce discrimination, even if it is maddeningly infuriating and simplistic.

  14. Sinéad says

    As someone who is not a mainstream person, I shudder at what would be the unquestionably acceptable version of a trans woman in mainstream culture.

    • says

      “Unsubscribe”? Do you mean from this particular comment thread? I’m not entirely sure. My dashboard does indicate you’ve subscribed, which means you’ll be notified when new comments come in. I’m not personally sure how to unsubscribe from that, since most people don’t bother asking for the e-mail notifications in the first place. But I can ask our tech guy at FTB about that and get back to you. In the meantime, however, you can just, like, delete the e-mail notifications and not bother checking in or replying if you don’t want to.

      All that said, it’s not likely that much more discussion will even take place in this comment thread. If you bow out, it will likely die out in a couple days anyway and you won’t really have to worry about it.

      You could also set your own e-mail filters up to keep things out.

      AND, have you checked the e-mails you’ve gotten from WordPress for an unsubscribe button? There probably is one.

      I have no idea what gave you the impression this was a forum in the first place, or why you asked for special e-mail notifications if you were only going to vocally ask to be removed from them as soon as you were challenged on your (obviously not universally appreciable) positions? You weren’t FORCED to get said notifications, nor is it even the default setting. You had to specifically and intentionally ask for them. I mean, there is a certain degree of responsibility you have for your own online life.

      If you mean “how do I unsubscribe from this blog?”, that’s between you and whatever RSS thing you used to “subscribe” in the first place. In other words, if you don’t like this blog, you can stop reading it. I don’t, personally, run any kind of “subscription” service.

    • says

      Actually, I just found a button through which I could delete your subscription.

      Next time, don’t specially ask for e-mail notifications if you’re going to be this particular and selfish about what discussions and spaces you consider worthy of your presence.

  15. Fey Trickster says

    Guess I’m a bit late in posting this comment, but whatevs. A lot of the concerns posted here are concerns I’ve felt too. I already feel like the assimilation juggernaut is rolling; it’s just too hard to see clearly yet. Non-binary identities aren’t really making it into the news bits I stumble across or search out (one is either gender ambiguous or binary identified); the ‘standard trans narrative’ rolls merrily along, and most concerning to me, there have been two recent ‘victories’ of transgender women being able to participate in beauty pagents of all things (why not sports?). I do feel that one some level we’re ‘too hot to handle’, particularly for those who don’t fit the ‘standard trans narrative’ and so that might provide us some radical potential, but… I don’t know. I feel like the middle-class whitewashing binary-exclusive view is a shadow that has already dangerously blocked off a lot of the radical light, even we can’t tell we’re in the twilight yet.

  16. nathanaelnerode says

    On the big issue (sigh) I’m not at all sure whether it’s possible to eliminate kyriarchy. I’ve seen people *flock* to hierarchies at the age of *six*, even hierarchies created by *accident*. It seems to be some horrible instinct we inherited in our genes; it’s notable that nearly all social mammals have these hierarchy structures.

    Perhaps there’s some way to make the rulership less arbitrary, less based on stupid things and more meritocratic, less universalizing and more particularized and local. At this point, I’ve given up on the elimination of kyriarchy, though.

    • says

      As in all cases, we don’t seek to eliminate our fucked up human instincts. We seek to cope with them, develop systems for overcoming them or redirecting them in positive ways, and minimize their harm as much as we possibly can.


  1. […] At Freethoughtblogs: I worry that eventually, people are going to start selling “Trans For A Day!” t-shirts. Available in either pink or baby blue. As this rapid, scary, strange transformation going on in mainstream visibility and conditional acceptance of trans people continues, I more and more come to regard such crass exploitation, simplification and commercialization of the question of trans rights and trans oppression as an inevitability. Effectively, the Transgender Day of Remembrance dance party writ large, across our culture as a whole. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *