Fourth Wave: Part Five

Recently, I was reading a little post over on Lousy Canuck in which Jason referred to the Fourth Wave concept. He made the assertion that, in his perspective, Fourth Wave is where we, as feminists, now are. Something about this didn’t sit well with me at all.

I don’t claim the right to define what feminism, or trans-feminism, or fourth-wave, or anything, is “supposed” to mean to anyone else. Even whatever ideas I myself present are no longer my own the second I click the publish button. At that point, those ideas belong to whomever may find them, to interpret in whatever ways they find useful. It’s only in allowing things that kind of breathing room to be interpreted and reinterpreted, collectively or individually, that they have the power to move conversations forward, or create new meaningful conversations. However, I feel like the idea of fourth wave as “where we are now”, and the way that feels not-quite-right to me, itself offers an opening for important conversations.

Fourth wave is, for me and for many of my colleagues, very fundamentally a work-in-progress. Something we’re trying to arrive at. It’s also, almost by definition, not where we, as vague or precise a “we” as you’d like, have just naturally ended up. The whole concept of a “fourth wave” is necessitated precisely because feminism has hit certain very difficult, very stubborn stumbling blocks. It’s necessitated because we’re not moving past certain things simply as part of the natural evolution of feminism thought. It’s necessitated because we need to make a very decisive and intentional split with certain concepts that are holding feminism back. If fourth wave were simply where feminism arrived of its own accord, there would be no real need for any such concept or action in the first place. [Read more…]

Fourth Wave: Part Four

One of the most lovely aspects of the internet, one of those that has most consistently lived up to the somewhat utopian visions the medium’s emergence promised, has been its capacity to offer a highly democratic, highly populist form of media, information exchange, communication and community.

In a recent “tranchat” (a twitter-based discussion that occurs each Sunday), the topic came up of the tension in feminism between theory or academia, and “real life” issues, everyday praxis, the street level experiences that feminism suggests the capacity to speak to, of, about. It occurred to me, though, that this tension seems much less prevalent and noticeable concerning trans-feminism. Trans-feminism has, thus far, not been a product of academia, nor is it even really practiced there… at least not in any form even remotely resembling the trans-feminism which I’m involved in and accustomed to. Trans voices are not exactly welcomed and embraced within academia, and the experiences of trans people in that milieu, students and faculty alike, are markedly different than those expressing or embodying other queer identities (totes not in a good way, either). Rather than us being the speakers in academia, we are the objects of study. Rather than theorists, we’re something the theorists struggle to explain.

Like other activist movements built from minorities (or ideological minorities) that had previously been scattered, isolated from one another in circumstantial diaspora, with very little access to information, community, publication, media, connection or infrastructure with which to organize, trans-feminism has been overwhelmingly a product of the internet. The internet in general has had an immense influence on trans people and our capacity to even exist, turning what had once been something often impossibly remote and difficult to understand, with intense limitations on who could or could not access the resources to make into a reality, into something that is far far more of a genuine, tangible possibility for those who need it. But beyond simply making our lives so much more livable, and our needs so much more attainable, and our identities and experiences so much more comprehensible, it is has also given us the capacity to find one another, communicate, and organize.

This was the spirit and media in which trans-feminism was born… isolated individuals who had been intensely marginalized from the dominant media and narratives reaching out to one another through the means that were available. It has not been something handed down from “community leaders” to “the people”, but instead something that emerged collectively. In this sense, it feels like those theory / praxis, academia / “real life” tensions aren’t as important for us. Or at least, that we have the opportunity to avoid them becoming important or meaningful. If we do this right, those tensions shouldn’t have to exist, shouldn’t have to feel at all relevant or worth talking about. If we do this right, we will always be a discourse that emerged from and between the people it speaks of, not ever having to position academics, theorists, experts or leaders to speak on our behalf. It’s a pretty awesome thing. [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…]

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…]

Fourth Wave: Part One

“If feminism is the radical idea that women are people, then trans-feminism is the radical idea that women come in different containers”

I mentioned in my links yesterday a somewhat disposable exchange that occurred on the Ms. Magazine blog regarding the “conundrum” of how trans-feminism is to fit into the future of feminism. While in and of itself, this exchange isn’t particularly interesting, and is rather just yet another iteration of the increasingly tired (in a “oh come on are we really still asking this? This should not be any kind of deal” kind of way) validation of feminism’s cis-supremacist fringe, I find that there’s one little beautiful and highly radical question hiding in there beneath the vapidity. One that is likely just an accident on the original author’s part but that nonetheless coalesces several threads of thought that have been tangled up in my brain these past couple months. Coalesces into something rather important to ask:

Perhaps the future of feminism is trans-feminism? [Read more…]

Acknowledgments, Thanks Yous, and Goodbyes

This isn’t the final post either – N.

UPDATE: also, goddamnit, I am so so sorry, but I don’t think final post is going to be finished by midnight. Not unless I rush through it, and I really don’t want to fuck it up. -sigh- Tomorrow morning then, everyone. Goodnight.


Adding to an already weird week and a delayed conclusion here, I got ALL kinds of messed up sick yesterday (was barely able to eat solid food), and didn’t get much writing done. So I wasn’t able to finish up the posts I’d had planned for Saturday. One of those just went up (“How Do I Know If I’m Trans?”), but the other two aren’t quite ready, yet. They’re the second part to the “Privileges and Decoys” two-parter I started earlier this week, and a long-delayed conclusion to (and sort of refinement of) the Fourth Wave series.
If I have time, I’ll try to put those up today, but I’m not sure that’s very likely? I want to make sure I get the Final Post finished, and I don’t want it to look sloppy and rushed in parts.

(It’ll be finished tonight, hopefully before midnight)

If I can’t get the two Series-Concluding ones up today, though, I’ll make sure to have them accessible to you at some later time. This blog itself is going to stay active for a couple more weeks anyway, so people have time to read the newer posts, save things, read the archives, whatever. So maybe I’ll just pop them up later? But still, today is the SNR “Finale”, and I’ll be saying goodybe to this as my “priority” project. I know I’ve been slacking on it like crazy, but still… the idea that this was what I was “supposed” to be working on, even when I felt not really invested in it, was still acting like a bit of a weight on my shoulders and holding me back from getting properly invested in the other projects I’ve been wanting to do.

Like, every time I felt enthusiastic and ready to get some work done on something, this little voice in my head kept telling me that I should put that energy here instead. And that would end up being demoralizing, and making me feel bad about how little I’d been doing, and I’d feel like I’d let you all down and stuff… and then, yeah, no more enthusiasm.

So I have to move on. I’m sorry!

Before I do, I want to thank and acknowledge everyone who’s helped me out…

First of all, I owe a debt to Rebecca Watson and Amy Roth, through whom I first started blogging when they asked me to join Skepchick, and to Ed Brayton, PZ Myers and Freethought Blogs in general, who were kind enough to take me on and give me this space after I left Skepchick and Queereka. In particular, Ian Cromwell and Greg Laden were an enormous help in finding myself a home here.

I am, of course, leaving here on good terms, having been more than happy to have been a part of this particular corner of the web. It was a joy and pleasure to know my colleagues here. Greta Christina, Miri, Stephanie Zvan, Jason Thibeault, Brianne Bilyeau, Jenn McCreight, Dana Hunter… they’ve all been great to work with and chat with and everything. Zinnia Jones also deserves a special shout-out in that she helped me out a bunch way back when I was first starting out, and first trying to cope with the general weirdness of being a transgender “internet celebrity” (however minor) and being as such in the atheist/skeptic blogosphere in particular.

I’ve also had some amazing trans-feminist colleagues and friends who have informed my work to a tremendous degree, and who helped my thoughts and ideas grow as I worked here. SO MUCH of “my” posts and the concepts I’ve developed here can ONLY honestly be described as collaborative and born out of discourse with all these awesome people I’ve known. Erica Inchoate and Monika London were great close collaborators and friends who had at least some role in almost everything I did here. Conversations with Wm-Caylee Hogg, Ariel Silvera, Imogen Binnie, Ami Angelwings, Christianne Benedict, Lisa Milibank, Susan Derson, Nicholas Kiddle, Jen Richards, Emily Aviva Kapor, Savannah ‘Lefty T Girl’, Sarah Brown, JTR, Amy Winter, Mym, Toranse, Zoe Brain, Roz Kevany, Sadie Vashti, Andy Semler, Lydia Neon, Katherine Lorraine, Xanthe, Patience Newbury and Emily Aiofe Somers also all lent a great deal to various ideas I developed or wrote about, and sometimes just acted as inspirations or reminded me what (and who) I was fighting for. In that regard, I’d also love to thank Janet Mock, who is an amazing, awe-inspiring and consistently just-plain-inspiring woman, who in addition to all her great advocacy work is also someone who know that this is something we need to work together on, and who believes in the work of her sisters and takes time to let us know that she does.

There are tons and tons and tons more badass trans people I’ve gotten to know through my work here, or through the internet trans-feminist discourse in general who I’d LOVE to give shout-outs to as well, but there’s so many of you! So I mostly tried to restrict the above to people who’ve directly impacted my work here in some way. It’s not a “favourite people” list (there’s a couple with whom I’m no longer on good terms), it’s just a people to whom I owe a debt for this blog list.

Of course it wasn’t JUST trans people who were important to the growth and development of my ideas, my writing and my activism. I also have been blessed to know lots of amazing cis allies who’ve been wonderful to have around: Elizabeth ‘Quirk’ Goodman, Carolyn Hogg, Aiofe O’Rierdan, Hannah Wright, Sarah Moglia, ‘Jadehawk’, Maggie Mayhem, April Gardner, Angela Wells, Jessica Luther, Grace from ‘Are Women Human?’, ‘Feminist Whore’, Sophie Hirschfeld, Emily Dietle, Heina Dadabhoy, Liz Henry… these people are all great. And I’d like to thank Gail Simone for being an amazing writer and advocate for diversity in comics (and advocate in general!), for taking the time and energy to genuinely invest herself in making sure she really understands the kinds of experiences and lives she writes about, and for being so kind and generous, and listening to, this particular silly fan-girl and the details of my silly life.

And there are also lots of trans-feminists who I haven’t really had the privilege of knowing, or sometimes just not knowing terribly well, but who nonetheless have inspired or affected me and my work in some regard: Reina July, Drew DeVeaux, Monica Roberts, Julia Serano, Annika, Morgan M. Page, Morgan McCormick, and Paris Lees come to mind, but there are definitely many, many more.

Also a thank you to Autumn Sandeen for the consistent support and promotion of my work!

I also, of course, owe a great deal to the ENTIRE tradition of feminism, trans-feminism, and queer advocacy that preceded me. So I’d also like to thank everyone still fighting that fight.

I’d like to thank the people who’ve brought me out to conventions and conferences, and had me around to give talks or panels, and helped get me around town or offered me a place to sleep or just helped out with travel expenses and things… Chana Messinger, Ania Bula, Kate Donovan, Andrew Tripp, Seanna Watson, Teresa Jusino, Angela Wang, Jules Klassen, Bill Ligertwood, Fred Bremmer… there’s some people who’s names I’ve forgotten, but you’re all great. Thank you!

My fans and readers and supporters and commenters and followers have also been fantastic. Truly, I appreciate you all, and your comments and insights and criticisms and support have been invaluable in helping me grow along with this project, and keep me going. I absolutely wish I could name all of you, but of course I can’t. There’s just waayyy too many of you! Yes, there are a whole bunch of you in particular who do come to mind and stand out and who’ve been particularly awesome to know, but I feel it would be unfair to name just a few of you while leaving others unnamed. I’m sorry! But if you have the feeling that you’re one of the people I’d like to thank, you can probably feel pretty confident that that’s the case!

And enormous thank yous to everyone who ever donated to the tip jar to help keep me going with my various financial needs and housing problems and stuff over the past several months. In particular I’d like to thank the amazing generosity of Natasha Routh, Jeroen Kleijer, Jake Hamby, Elena Ginzburg, Joshua Woodbury and Katie Jerpseth. You’re all fantastic and have my gratitude. There are many, many, many more of you I’d like to thank, and I sincerely hope I finally find some time to send out individual thank yous to all of you. You’re all awesome and I wish I could better convey my gratitude.

(the Tip Jar will stay open for a little while longer, as I still haven’t gotten that whole medical benefits situation sorted out and could use the help. Any little “going away” donations or that, or just to help me land on my feet and keep me going for awhile as I get my new situation sorted out would be enormously appreciated, of course. I’d also like to point out this extremely deserving fundraiser as well, for a trans woman very much in need. Trigger warning for trans-misogynistic violence and medical abuse for that link, though).

And a thank you to Abbie Spracklin for taking me out for food, or lending me a bit of money, and things like that when I needed it. Likewise a thank you to Branwen and Mikayla for the help with housing these past few months.

A HUGE thank you to my long-suffering mom, who has consistently been amazingly supportive and understanding, even in spite of her daughter wasting her life and her potential yelling about stuff on the internet.

There are so so so so many more of you I’d like to thank, but I’m worried that if I try to be any more comprehensive, I’ll never get around to actually finishing that last post!

So.. if you feel left out, please remember that chances are pretty good I do remember you, do appreciate you, and do wish you the best. 🙂

Oh, and a very special thank you to Cathy Brennan, for that hilarious and flattering “meme” of me.



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…]

The Comparison Of BIID and GID

I’m sorry, but I’m afraid it has to be another repost today. I’m dealing with some more nastiness right now that hit a bit too close to home. Just couldn’t finish the piece I was working on (“Is Gender Identity Disorder A Disorder?”). I know, I like repetition in titles. It’s a Gertrude Stein “after the flowers of friendship faded friendship faded” kind of thing. Will post it tomorrow, along with part two of my series on fourth wave feminism. This one is originally from Queereka.

A few days ago, Christina Stephens, a friend and partner of JT Eberhard posted a fantastic and fascinating piece on Body Identity Integrity Disorder over at Eberhard’s blog, WWJTD.

BIID, while one of those things that is widely “known of” (in the pub quiz night “ever heard of those people who voluntarily choose to have their limbs amputated” kind of way) is certainly not widely understood. Christina’s article was a wonderfully non-judgmental and well-researched look at the phenomenon. It basically stems from an incongruity between one’s internal “body map”, or the way that the mind or self “expects” the body to be, and the body’s actual physical configuration. This can create a profound sense of alienation, disquiet or disgust associated with a given limb, extremity, sensory ability or virtually any aspect of the body.

As is fairly common to these discussion, Christina referenced comparisons between BIID and GID, Gender Identity Disorder, the underlying condition that drives transsexuality. GID is also a disconnect between internal “body map” and the actual configuration of the physical body, in this case along the lines of gender. It creates a similar sense of alienation, disgust and so on. Specifically, Christina noted a similarity between the types of argument used against an individual with BIID’s right to elect for surgery to ease the incongruity between body and internal self, and noted how many of the same ethical justifications we’ve ultimately formulated for gender transition are applicable to “voluntary’ amputations or other procedures available to individuals with BIID.

These comparisons, however, have a tendency to put me very much on guard. In the comments, I expressed my discomfort with the comparison, with which I have a long and troubled history. I may, however, have jumped the gun a bit and reacted emotionally before giving it full consideration. [Read more…]

More Than Bodies

There’s a lot that’s frustrating about the way the discourse on transgenderism and transsexuality is framed in our deeply cisnormative culture. So much that it sometimes feels impossible to ever really get through it. I often feel neck deep in this, all these little problems, misconceptions, ways of structuring the conversation, unsubstantiated and unexamined assumptions, foundations of positioning not-quite-so-unbiased perspectives as “objective”, “neutral”, “common sense”, the “natural” jump-off point for chatting about who and what and why we are and mean.

And I can’t possibly cover it all. Lord knows I’ve been trying, but I can’t. There’s just too much to unpack. Is GID really a disorder? A disorder of what? Before / after pictures. “Real” names. “Passing” (and what, “failing”?). Detransitions. Regret. Gatekeeping. Autonomy. The endless questions. The questions as the assertion of the power dynamic. The Other. The self-consciousness. Self-consciousness as an extension of oppression. Morphological privileges. “Male” bodies and “female” bodies, cells, tissues (bullshit).”Fascinating”. “Disgusting”. “Special”. “Unnatural”. Is biology destiny? Is neurobiology destiny? Is destiny biology? Born this way! Social constructs! Stochastic gendering! “Objective” genders? “Biological realities”? “Appropriation”? “Invasion”? “Comfort levels”? “Labels”? “Buying into stereotypes”? Self-definition. Erasure. Ridicule. Violence. One in twelve. One in eight. One in five, one in five. 44%, 96%, 0.3%. Who is feminism “for”? Second wave, third wave, fourth wave. Bois and grrls. Please Select Sex: M/F. Is being trans an identity, a condition, a burden, a blessing? Cissexism, cisnormativity, cissupremacy. “But, like, how do you know?” Our “responsibilities”! Our sexualities! Our sexual responsibilities! Our “faith” in gender. Our “rebellion” from gender. Our “sins” and “arrogance” and “delusion” and “self-hatred” and whatever you need to think to not think about us. Our marking as “trans”, ever transitional, ever in movement, across, never at home. Exiles.

Almost every day I pick something (or two things) from the list, and do my best to work through it, get to its bones, figure out what’s going on there and what it suggests and what could be suggested instead. But every now and then… what and who am I doing this for? Why? [Read more…]

Born This Way (Reprise): The New Essentialism

Okay… this is long…

So let’s start with me making some, perhaps entirely groundless, assumptions that we’re already on the same page about some stuff.

Like how the debate between a bio-essentialist “evolved behaviours” view of gender and sex, and the social-constructivist “blank slate” view of gender and sex, is a harmful false dichotomy, that presents a lose-lose choice for anyone who needs or wants actual, lived transgender experiences, in all their diversity, actually accounted for in whatever theoretical framework of gender and sex they sign on for. Or at least wants them accounted for without a lot of bizarre mental gymnastics and convoluted, flimsy theories.

Okay. Agree? Cool.

And how there’s more than one kind of gender-essentialism. There’s the obvious binary, bio-essentialist view, where most or all observed behavioural differences between men and women are “evolved”, and the definition of the terms “man” and “woman” is based on a simplistic “biological” distinction (penises and motive gametes and XY = male, vaginas and ova and XX = female, and everything else is either a disorder, or simply “cosmetic” and not “biological” or ‘scientific”), but a gender-essentialism is any theoretical framework that ultimately boils down to saying men are men and manhood is an inherent, essential quality of such people, and women are women and womhood is an inherent, essential quality of that category of people, and there are other kinds of gender-essentialisms.

For instance, you can have an essentialist version of the “social construct” view. And this actually pops up a lot in some of the justifications some cis feminists provide for trans-exclusionist policies or attitudes. This is where you state that socialization is the root cause of maleness or femaleness, but it nonetheless defines you, and “man” or “woman” is still an inherent, essential quality of the person, that isn’t fluid or contextual, and cannot be transcended or complicated. In this view, if you were raised and socialized as a man, that is what you are, and what you always will be, all other considerations not being relevant.

There are also theological or spiritual essentialisms, like where an Abrahamic God ordered the world into a division of gender and sex, ordains certain roles and behaviours for those sexes, and being a man or a woman is an immutable aspect of yourself that was God’s will, and any beliefs, identities or behaviours contradicting this divine order are simply mortal folly. Or where men and women are respectively two different aspects of a cosmic “balance” of complimentary “energies”, fitting into a cosmic order of other “opposites” like sun and moon, reason and emotion, order and chaos, light and darkness, aggression and passivity, science and art, Apollo and Diana, etc. Or where men and women exude male or female “energies” or “auras”, and only one or the other is capable of performing certain kinds of magic.

And lots of other gender-essentialisms. Gender-essentialism isn’t just an overly rigid, biological view in which gender is a behavioural consequence of (binary, dimorphic) sex. Gender-essentialism is any view based on the idea that being a “man” or a “woman” is an innate, inherent, essential trait of a person. Gender-essentialism needn’t even be necessarily binary.

Okay. Agree? Cool!

So… the framework of “gender identity”, where the quality of being a man or a woman is based on subjective experience of your body and sex, subjective experience of gender roles, and how you identify within them, is the best approach, and totally better than all these other frameworks, right?

Agree? Actually… not okay. Not cool. [Read more…]