Yes, the Right to Vote

Over on Pharyngula, PZ has a post up unequivocally supporting trans* persons equality with any other human where rights are concerned. As PZ and many, many others have put it: Trans rights are human rights.

In the thread, helpfully titled, “Arguments are closed, I’m not going to argue with anyone about trans rights”, someone showed up who wanted to argue about trans rights. You’ve really got to hand it to some folks, y’know? And on the one hand, this person (so far) doesn’t seem remotely as bad as some others who have commented on Pharyngula opposing trans* persons human rights. On the other, did they even read the post title?

I mean, seriously.

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Six Dead Women, One Dead Trans Person

In the aftermath of the Elliot Rodger murder spree in Isla Vista, California, many people wanted to attribute his violence to mental illness. In fact, we had no evidence1 that Rodger had any mental illness known to cause violent behavior, much less that a specific illness did cause that behavior in Rodger’s particular case. On the contrary, we had plenty of evidence that Rodger’s violence was motivated in significant parts by racism and sexism, sexism directed outward at others and racism internalized, contributing, by turns, to an entitlement he articulated to be as a result of being half white and feelings that his failures were due in part to being the child of one Asian-American parent.

We know this because he ranted about it. He ranted about race, he ranted about gender, he ranted about sexual interactions, and he ranted about heterosexual norms and expectations. And he did so in both written form and a video created not long before his murders and death. His words alone are sufficient evidence to believe that sexism and racism played very significant contributing roles in causing his violent behavior. But some people, attempting to stamp down the crazy-blaming arguments that Rodger must have been mentally ill and that this mental illness must have caused his murders, cited things that weren’t actually true. In one particular case, cm’s changeable monicker moved – nobly! – to correct one particular mistake (made by ck):

 ck @#596:

[…] the six dead women in this story did absolutely nothing wrong, and realistically couldn’t have done anything that would’ve deserved this. Maybe I’m missing something, but I think that the only thing we can do for these women now is to try to find some way to prevent this from happening again.

I can’t let this pass without noting that four of the ‘six dead women’ were, in fact, men.
(This lack of attention to, you know, facts drives me up the wall. I’m sorry, but there it is.)

This (however well intentioned, and of course I think it was well intentioned), contributed to anger I had already been feeling over the relentless certainty that cis* people seem to feel every time there’s one of these mass murders that we can be sure of the genders of the persons involved. In fact, we can’t. The media will inevitably erase trans* victims in the future as they have for as long as media have existed in the past. I was more than merely frustrated with this cissexist certainty that no one shot by a mass murderer could possibly be trans and that everyone killed must have a straightforward and easily understandable relationship to society’s gender categories that will inevitably be accurately and completely reflected in their government-issued IDs (a certainty that I in no way mean to imply was merely cm’s, no it also manifested in ck’s and nearly every other person writing about Isla Vista at the time). And so in response I wrote:

Yes. Facts. It’s a fact that four of the ‘six dead women’ were reportedly men.

And, again, I’m not pissed off at cm’s changeable monicker so much as I’m pissed off at the relentless confidence that we just fucking know no trannies were killed. It’s just so easy to be sure that the victims, no matter how many, will all belong to one or at most two genders. Couldn’t possibly be any other way.

I’m fucking tired of it. Mostly I’m just fucking tired of people not seeing that **you can’t end misogyny without substantially taking on and eroding trans* oppression**.

How, precisely, will misogyny end if there are still only 2 permitted genders?

How will you police the boundary of woman without sneering at women who don’t know their place?

What will you do when no woman is murdered unless and until she violates some gender taboo?

Be content? Really?

Fuck every single comment in any of those Isla Vista threads that pretended for half a second that we “know” the genders of the victims – any or all. No matter what help they did or didn’t provide on this or that sub-issue, every single comment that took that shit for granted is part of the fucking problem.

If you can’t give a shit about the trannies, at least give a shit about the excuses trans* hatred gives to murderers of cis women.

How’s that for a feminist manifesta?

So, what makes me bring this up now? Because my magical powers of prophecy have been validated, again. In the Dayton mass shooting the killer was said to have killed his sister. This was widely, widely reported. But it turns out that he didn’t. Instead he killed his trans sibling who was not a sister, and was very probably a brother given his preference for masculine pronouns. And yet the media reported otherwise anyway, erasing the true nature of Dayton’s loss. Splinter News was responsible for first reporting this:

Accounts from friends and social media profiles belonging to a victim in last weekend’s shooting in Dayton, OH, whose name was previously reported as [X X], indicate that [X] was a transgender man who went by Jordan Cofer and used he/him pronouns.

It’s entirely understandable that the reporting was wrong. Cofer’s legal name was given out by police, and the police gendered Cofer in a manner congruent with Cofer’s legal sex as recorded on government ID. Moreover, Cofer had feared mistreatment by family and discrimination at school, and thus was mostly closeted in relation to those groups of people, people that reporters would seek out first for information on a shooting victim. But the fact that this is understandable doesn’t undercut my point. The fact that it’s easy to see how mass media would get this shit wrong, especially in the reporting frenzies that are guaranteed after a mass shooting, means that we should be more skeptical of media reported genders (and, frankly, races).

In this case, (at least according to Splinter) an account linked to Cofer tweeted his brother, his murderer, hours before the shooting rampage and Cofer’s death. This means that his murderous brother had at least some info related to his masculine identity before the killing. We don’t know, and Splinter specifically does not suggest that we have, enough information to say that this even might plausibly have been a hate crime, much less that Cofer’s murderer was definitely motivated by anti-trans* bias. But we do know that Cofer was scared of the reactions his family might have to his masculine identity, name, and expression. Therefore, when we who know that this type of protective response to cissexist family (a closeting, a closing off of information about one’s trans* identity and experience) is common, and when we know records kept by the government are done so in a manner that invisibilizes trans* experience, and, finally, when we know that media will rely on these two sources of information about gender first and foremost, we can only conclude that accepting media accounts of victims’ genders uncritically inevitably leads to permitting cissexism to erase the lives a murderer has ended.

As Splinter says:

People can debate about whether the fact of his gender identity is newsworthy. What is clear, though, is that his friends are free to remember him as they knew him.

The trans community also has a right to account for its dead. [emphasis mine]

Although we don’t know that Cofer was murdered because he was trans*, we do know that some trans* people are. Continuing to treat as reliable media reporting of the genders of persons who cannot speak for themselves means that some murderers will gain accomplices in both the media and its consumers – that means you – in accomplishing the ultimate goal of violent cissexism: the erasure of trans* existence. When a murderer kills a trans* person and the media reports that trans* person’s gender as if it were certain and simple and cis, the media does not merely allow this act of violent erasure. No, the media in reporting erroneous gender actively completes the violence to a trans* life begun by that murderer.

Unless you own a newspaper or TV station or other outlet, you can’t control whether the media you consume participates in violent anti-trans* hatred in this way. But you can actively resist the cissexist certainty that no victim could possibly be trans*, that we must assume cisgender even in the face of certain knowledge that the media can make gender errors and does make gender errors all the time.

Don’t participate in the erasure of Jordan Cofer. Don’t participate in media cissexism. Don’t make the violent erasure of trans* lives any easier than it already is.

 


1: At the time – remember we’re speaking about what happened “in the aftermath”. I also know of no information now, but I haven’t done research on Elliot Rodger to see if anything has changed since then… it’s really not relevant to the point I’m making.

 

Explaining Horizontal and Intra-Community Hostility: Aoife Helps Out

Aoife O’Riordan who writes (or wrote, last post was in 2017) the blog formerly hosted here on FtB Consider the Tea Cozy once wrote a bit about anti-bi-woman sentiment in lesbian communities. She doesn’t gives us much about causes, but she does identify a problem similar to that experienced by trans* women in queer women’s communities (especially but not only those that label themselves lesbian communities). This should be no surprise, since she’s actually attempting to use the experience of cis bi-women to educate other cis people about the experiences of trans* people who share their communities.

There’s lots of lesbians, you see, who won’t date or sleep with bi women. Even if there’s mutual attraction, they don’t want to go there, simply ’cause we fancy men as well. Girl meets girl, girl fancies girl, girl finds out girl also fancies guys, girl backs away in disgust. While it’s absolutely their right to reject whoever they like for any reason the like (of course!), it still sucks to hear. And the fact that it’s a pattern familiar to almost every bi woman I’ve talked about is, y’know, a problem. This doesn’t mean that every lesbian in the world has to date the first bi woman who fancies her, regardless of whether the attraction’s mutual! It just means that a lot of bi women (and hopefully loads of lesbians too) would like it if the lesbians who do feel that way took some time to think about whether their feelings might be based on prejudices and stereotypes. That’s all.

But this anti-bi-woman prejudice, where it exists, isn’t explainable as a reaction to some genital configuration because it is just as prevalent when lesbians interact with cis bi-women as it might be when lesbians interact with trans* bi-women (though in practice it appears to be dramatically more prevalent, because sexual orientation tends to take a back seat to biological sex – past or present – in discussions of cis* lesbians interacting with trans* folk).

We have to draw on other knowledge to help us explain this intra-community split. Fortunately, I’ve written about this before on a Pharyngula thread:

[After WW2 and the Holocaust,] people wanted an ethical system that said, “Never again” and meant it. Clearly the deontology of divine command didn’t do it. You couldn’t count on contractarianism to make a government respect its citizens. So, what then?

The infinite, the universal, the transcendent is what. If we can’t give human beings an infinite, transcendent value, then there will always be the possibility that some community or nation will believe that mass killings are desirable based on comparing the value of those human beings (to the nation considering the killing, not to those people themselves) to the value the society places on its own goals.

Infinite worth was the way out of the despair of WW2. Existentialism spread like wildfire. Good stuff, in its way. It gave us terms & concepts like “devalue”.

If you see yourself as horribly devalued, however, and you latch onto infinite value ethics as your level to try and achieve your safety, a couple things [might] happen. First, you try to universalize: you want to get every woman on your side, the struggle is that important. Thus, “we’re all in it together”, thus “we’re all exactly the same in the way that matters most”, thus, “those sufficiently different from me that I truly can’t imagine myself ‘the same as’ cannot be in my category”, thus “those falsely claiming to be in my category are jeopardizing my movement and thus my safety,” thus “it is appropriate to label their destabilization of this category upon which I rely for my ultimate safety ‘an attack’ ”.

[This particular chain of ethical reasoning] also shows how the same women can claim to be anti-racist (“we’re all in this together, of course I care about women of color”) but end up pursuing an agenda that has nothing to do with ending racism (“The real oppression is sexism, it’s universal to every society.  So when we get rid of the real oppression, *THEY* won’t need racism to divide us and racism along with all those other subsidiary oppressions will pass away” – AKA “there will be no racism after the revolution, so don’t worry your nappy little head about white supremacy”). [original comment lightly edited for our purposes – cd]

Keep in mind that these aren’t thoughts that necessarily flow from existentialist ethics. Indeed de Beauvoir’s graph on ethics and morality was called, “Pour une morale de l’ambiguïté” (in english traditionally rendered: “The Ethics of Ambiguity”), and the intolerance of destabilized categories of essence is directly contrary to de Beauvoir’s concept of self-directed, self-determined essences. Nonetheless, these ethical statements about the negative value of subdividing the category of woman are descended directly from de Beauvoir’s leading-edge, second-wave existentialist feminism. This is, in fact, one of the reasons why I find exclusionary feminisms so incomprehensible at times. They clearly attempt to preserve quite a lot of de Beauvoir and other early second-wave feminisms, and yet they fully reject aspects of those feminisms that were fundamental to their cohesion and their ethics. In the language of de Beauvoir, they have embraced facticity and rejected transcendence.

Nevertheless, while hollow-boned, feather-winged flyers were not inevitable once early archosaurs evolved, and while hollow bones and other aspects of modern birds would be in conflict with the mode of existence that made early archosaurs what they were, looking backward we can say that birds’ descent from those early archosaurs is a historical fact. Likewise, it is a historical fact that these ambiguity-rejecting, fear-based feminisms descended from de Beauvoir’s feminism (albeit with admixtures from independent sources).

It can be very difficult to understand how trans* exclusive feminists who appear to cling to the second wave can simultaneously reject so much of the second wave’s fundamental insights. But this is not because the development of these feminisms and their ambiguity-rejecting ethics is inherently incomprehensible. Rather, the difficulty in understanding comes from attempting to derive these feminisms based solely on prior feminist categories. In fact, other sources of fear or love, other priorities and values, even other meta-ethics from entirely outside feminism are constantly mixing with our existing feminisms. At times, they enrich our work and make it more effective, as with Kimberlé Crenshaw and the development of intersectionality. At other times they mix poorly. But on its own, bringing into feminism other aspects of women’s experiences, knowledge, and thought is not a bad thing. Indeed it’s a good thing. We wouldn’t have feminism at all if we weren’t allowed to bring those things into a feminism that did not yet include them. How else would we have gotten a feminist labor movement? How else would we have gotten a feminist movement for a more ethical judaism?

So let’s understand that this fear of the other, this fear of destabilized categories, when brought into an early existentialist feminism that offers hope of a universal, stable category of woman, a category that can then be called upon for universal action, can seem wise. It does not instantly negate the opposition to sexism that is the organizing principle of all feminisms. But if you hold existentialist feminism to the light in just the wrong way, it seems as if our fears as women of sexist domination absolutely demands easy categorization, eradication of ambiguity, an undivided unity of interest.

It is tragic, but even the existentialism that so many thought offered a way to guarantee that we fallible humans would live up to our own mutual promise, “Never again,” cannot prevent dehumanization. It cannot prevent violence. It cannot prevent – and it has not prevented – genocide.

The cry for easy categorization, for undivided unities in the face of violence is a cry of fear. It guides us towards liberation no more reliably than any other fearful response. But it is comprehensible, and it should not on its own negate efforts to feel and to offer sympathy across the boundaries of rigid categorization those crying out in fear construct. Indeed better understanding and sympathy for the fear can often be useful in opposing the ossification of these new and contested constructions.

 

 

The Cotton Ceiling: The best argument yet that TERFs aren’t feminists?

If you’ve been reading my work for any amount of time, well, I’m very, very sorry. But more relevantly to this post, I want you to remind yourself that I’ve long been critical of the argument that TERFs are not feminists. This strikes me as odd. After all, many of the same people who make this argument for excluding TERFs from the feminist club also argue that trans* women must be women, in fact are by definition women, otherwise they wouldn’t be trans* women, they’d be trans*-something-else. By similar logic, it seems nonsensical to take the group of Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists and then argue that they aren’t feminists. If this is simply a descriptive label and not an epithet, as many people including myself contend, then by definition TERFs are feminists. They would have to be or they’d be TER-something-else. TERSE, I guess. (And Lawd, Lawd, the idea that they might be “TERSE” seems self-refuting, doesn’t it?) So I’m not going to argue that TERFs and their fellow travelers who bring up the cotton ceiling workshop again and again to this day are not feminists in the literal sense. Rather, I just want to show why I think that the people who make this argument are functionally feminism-illiterate. They might very well be feminists according to some particular definition you articulate, but that doesn’t mean that they’re informed feminists or that they have a competent understanding of feminist basics, or that what they’re doing actually advances feminism in any way.

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Ed Brayton & I Created Overlapping Posts: “The real racists”, then and now.

I hadn’t read Ed Brayton yesterday when I created my discussion of the Trumpian defense of cissexism. However, as it turns out, he also posted something addressing the same phenomenon. He chose to emphasize the history of the argument, rather than how it comes about and what it says about popular understandings of practical ethics, meta ethics, and oppression. Nonetheless, it’s very relevant:

We hear a lot of racists claim that they aren’t racist, the real racists are the ones who accuse them of racism. One might thing this is a new argument, but George Wallace, who might as well have worn a white sheet and hood to the governor’s office in Alabama every day, made this exact same argument, word for word, in 1968.

[See Brayton’s post for a video of Wallace’s argument in Wallace’s own words.]

While the trans-hostile version of this isn’t that trans* people are the real anti-trans*ists, it’s quite close. The essence of the trans-hostile claim is that trans* people are killing gender liberation, and that anti-trans feminism is the only method of achieving gender liberation. Thus anti-trans feminists are the real pro-trans feminists, and pro-trans* activists (feminist or not) are actually anti-woman and anti-feminist.

But “the people who identify racism and racists are the real racists” argument has strong components of “Black people aren’t necessarily anti-Black, but they’re anti-white and their activism is also wrong in ways which make racial liberation impossible, while the the KKK and the CCCs and more generally the white anti-Black public figures who are commonly called racists have the only real solutions to racism. Thus George Wallace is the true hero of the anti-racism movement and the people who are given credit for fighting racism are actually retrenching it.”

Understood this way, the TERF statements and these statements made by George Wallace and his defenders in the 1960s are near-exact analogs. I’d like to think that we’d learned our lessons from past struggles, but not only have we not learned to recognize these cissexist arguments in the TERF context, too many of us still buy into the original racist form of the argument a hundred years after it was first made and more than 50 years after it was first widely criticized in mainstream media.


As an addition, I thought I would point out that George Wallace of the 1960s deserves all the scorn he gets, but not everyone remembers that after an attempted assassination that resulted in an irremediable spinal injury, Wallace became quite a different person. (It’s not clear how much of that would never have happened without the assassination attempt, but since it’s frequently mentioned by others I figure it’s worthy of mention here for context that is at least possibly explanatory.) While I don’t think he ever became anti-racist in the sense we would want to see from someone today, he did turn his back on his statement, “Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever.” As wikipedia reports:

In the late 1970s, Wallace announced that he was a born-again Christian and apologized to black civil rights leaders for his past actions as a segregationist. He said that while he had once sought power and glory, he realized he needed to seek love and forgiveness. In 1979, Wallace said of his stand in the schoolhouse door: “I was wrong. Those days are over, and they ought to be over.” He publicly asked for forgiveness from black people.

During Wallace’s final term as governor (1983–1987) he made a record number of black appointments to state positions, including, for the first time, two black people as members in the same cabinet. [footnote numbering removed by me – cd]

I like noting this part of Wallace’s story where it’s possible to do without minimizing the harms of racism, because it illustrates a capacity for human growth and betterment that is fundamental to the choices we make to educate others about oppression. People really can and do get over prior prejudices. They can and do change policy stances. They can and do identify and fix faults in themselves. While some people may, empirically, be beyond hope, we can’t know which people those are until they have died. As long as folks are alive, and as long as you can do so while still caring for yourself, efforts to educate even the George Wallaces among us just might be worth it.

 

The Trumpian Defense of Cissexism

Lately we’ve been seeing a lot of assertions that lefties who support trans* advocacy are engaged in some outrageous, anti-free speech labeling of persons and actions as cissexist or transphobic. The argument goes something like this,

It has become impossible in some quarters to have an honest conversation about what is, and is not, a reasonable demand because anyone who questions any demand is simply branded as a transphobic bigot.

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Useless Vanity. Or Not.

Over on the PZ post “Let’s Smoke Out Some More TERFs” a discussion developed in which Susan Stryker & Sandy Stone were mentioned. In that thread, I mentioned being one person of, I am sure, many who were forced independently to coin “transfeminism” when the “trans-” prefix trend was emerging. From people like Sandy Stone and Sylvia Rivera who were adult activists while I was too young to control my bladder to youngsters like, well, me, a lot of work had been done incorporating feminism into trans* activism by the 1990s. However, it was always in a haphazard, highly individualized way. There wasn’t a broader and explicit call to make our trans* activism feminist or our feminism trans* inclusive. The movements were largely separate, both nominally and functionally, even if philosophically they were closely related in myriad ways.

In response to this observation that I was doing transfeminism before there was a word (or at least a publicly recognized word) for transfeminism, HJ Hornbeck asked if I was involved in the early transfeminist movement, even if neither I nor anyone else could ever be called a single originator or even indispensable to the movement. In response, I wrote a small personal history that after some thinking I decided I might want to be able to find again. So, I’m preserving it here in its own post even though both of my readers have probably already seen it on Pharyngula. Call it an exercise in personal vanity. Or call it oral history of an interesting time of transition. Call it whatever you like, but if you haven’t read it, here it is.

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Your Moment of Zenlike

Over on a post of PZ’s, zenlike has a particularly insightful comment. The OP is criticizing some bullshit commentary on Fox News about how trans folk are destroying the entire species of Homo sapiens:

We’re not talking about people who want to simply do a bit of reform here and there, add a new category. They want, they must, in fact, destroy whatever is in order to replace it with what they think should be.

[T]he trans people have taken it one step further because by abandoning gender altogether, not simply re-writing it, they’re basically trying to use social engineering to create a new species.

[presented out of order, because I think it’s easier to follow the logic that way – cd]

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