I am thankful

Yesterday, while USians were curled up at home feeling thankful and/or gluttonous, feminists around the world were celebrating a different day: the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Few noticed in the US, I’m sure, because of their own major holiday, but there were things to note. In the coverage of the protests by Agence France-Presse, reporters noted that many demonstrations sang A Rapist In Your Path, a song written & first performed in Santiago, Chile.

One might think that Chileans would be particularly proud that a local protest song has become a worldwide dance anthem, translated into dozens if not hundreds of languages on its way to being performed on every continent. (Except Antarctica?) And likely many are, considering how many showed up to those protests, but the government in Santiago is not among the fans: they used water cannon on the dancers. Yes, in another spectacular example of Unclear on the Concept, feminists protesting violence against women were met with violence against women.

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Gender Reveals … A Big Fucking Fire!

From Agence France Presse, though you could probably find it yourself on Twitter:

“CAL FIRE Law Enforcement has determined the El Dorado Fire, burning near Oak Glen in San Bernardino County, was caused by a smoke generating pyrotechnic device, used during a gender reveal party,” Cal Fire said on Twitter.

This is the 2nd time that I know of that a major fire resulted from someone setting off fireworks to announce that their baby or fetus has genitals.


Despite the insistence of cis folks that trans people are obsessed with gender, I have often said that cis people are the more obsessed with gender, and this is exactly what I mean right here. Not only is there a weird fucking certainty that if  your fetus possesses a vulva that it will grow up to be a human that loves nail polish and Jennifer Lopez movies, but also that your fetus’ future taste in cinema features is a good enough reason to risk burning down thousands of acres, a bunch of buildings, who knows how many animals, and maybe a few people as well.

I honestly don’t know how cis folk convince themselves that it’s trans people that have a gender problem.


Google Doodle: Marsha Johnson

This pride month, Google has been using their doodles to honor QTs of color, and today is Marsha P. Johnson. I’m very happy about the doodle, which is quite attractive, and has a whimsical flair that I imagine is appropriate, though I never did meet her:

A colorful illustration of Marsha P Johnson, Stonewall veteran and co-founder (with Sylvia Rivera) of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, the best named and best acronymed group of people in the ever.

There’s also a wonderful effort, reported by CNN, to replace a local statue of Christopher Columbus with one of Johnson in her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey:

In Elizabeth, New Jersey, there’s another push to keep Johnson’s memory alive.
A 19-year-old woman has created a petition — which in less than two weeks has garnered more than 40,000 signatures — to replace a statue of Christopher Columbus in the city with one of Johnson.
The creator, Celine Da Silva, told CNN she thinks an honor for the activist in her hometown is long overdue.
“Being that this is her hometown, I think that we should be celebrating her and honoring her here,” Da Silva told CNN. “And I think that the LGBT and queer community should be able to learn more about historic figures from their own community.”
Da Silva and her boyfriend have plans to bring up their demand to the city council next month. They say they hope a new monument for Johnson will be the first of many steps to create a more inclusive Elizabeth and one that celebrates minorities and LGBT figures like Johnson.
Marsha P. Johnson, a black transgender woman, was a central figure in the gay liberation movement
The late activist’s family, who still live in the New Jersey city today, say the movement to honor Johnson in her hometown gives them hope.

What I’m less happy about is the deadnaming by certain articles engendered by this doodle. For Rolling Stone, they feature Johnson’s deadname prominently, at the opening of their second paragraph:

Google has unveiled a new logo illustration (“Google Doodle”) for Marsha P. Johnson, the pioneering LGBTQ rights activist and self-identified drag queen who was a pivotal figure in the original Gay Liberation Front and the Stonewall Riots.
Born [Deadname]., on August 24th, 1945, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Johnson moved to New York City’s Greenwich Village upon graduating from high school, where she adopted her drag queen persona and legally changed her name to Marsha P. Johnson. (The “P.” stood for “pay it no mind,” a phrase she allegedly used to describe her gender.)

I don’t speak for Johnson, but this trend (followed in other articles as well) doesn’t sit well with me. Regardless how Johnson described herself in life, we do know for sure that she legally changed her name (EDIT: it turns out that we don’t know this for sure), and I would think that it’s well known by know that this is disrespectful where legal name changes have happened and even in cases where a legal change hasn’t happened but the expressed wish of the individual is clear and/or context makes it clear that using a former name is no longer appropriate.

So I’m glad for Google, but I’m disappointed in how this is being covered in the press today.

Do better, writers. Do better.

ETA: In a comment by a casual reader (yes, that’s the name of the commenter, not my description) down below, there’s a link to the wikipedia talk page for the article about Marsha P Johnson. The people engaged in that discussion know a fuck of a lot more than I do about Johnson and claim that Johnson did not legally change names. Though they don’t cite sources for good information on some of their claims there, they aren’t hesitant to single out a couple of sources of bad information. They also sound quite certain about the no-legal-name-change thing, although I noted that there seems to be some equivocation going on between some people saying that there was no legal name change and others stating that Johnson’s birth certificate was not changed.

As someone who knows exactly how hard that is to do, especially when you no longer live in the state where you were born (although anywhere in New Jersey was at least physically closer to NYC than Sacramento or really any California court was to me when I was changing my ID), I’m not as worried about BirthCert gender/name as I am about something like a driver’s license or state ID card which would have been in Johnson’s power to change in the 90s, and I am even more concerned about the name actually used with the friends that Johnson most trusted and loved. From those best friends, from those most supportive family members, did Johnson want to be called only Marsha P Johnson? Did it change day to day? Month to month? For me that matters.

However, it also makes Rolling Stone’s choice more understandable. I still wish that they wouldn’t have done it. I simply don’t see the benefit unless this was how Johnson wanted to be addressed in the media, by and to people who would never meet Johnson in person. But in light of the uncertainty, my disappointment in Rolling Stone is lessened.

Do Not Try To Understand Me

Empathy is at the core of justice. Without an ability to place oneself in another’s situation, it would be hard for us to criminalize many activities that we now do. Pyramid schemes, for example. The create the appearance of opportunity and the appearance of voluntary participation in the enterprise in pursuit of opportunity. But the opportunity is not, in fact, present. A justice without empathy would lead us to tolerate pyramid schemes (far more than we do). It is this exact sort of justice without empathy, without the ability of the men responsible for enforcing law and creating justice to imagine themselves in the situation of the victim, that is responsible for millennia of rape going unpunished and often unrecognized. Indeed it is only as women have taken a greater and greater role in enforcing law and creating justice that these rapes become cognizable by a system of justice, punishable by a system of laws.

Empathy is both necessary and good.

Understanding, however, is not necessary and it is too often not even good.

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Gender Neutrality is Wrong … Sometimes

Okay, so this is a quick note for those folks who aren’t completely turned off by pedantry and appreciate thinking more deeply about gender. If you ain’t both, this probably isn’t for you.

When “gender neutral” was first used in the context of trans* advocacy, access to bathrooms was probably a driving motivator of the language. In this sense, “gender neutral” is reasonable: the bathrooms themselves might easily have little to nothing to do with gender, including (importantly) things that humans tend to project gender on to even when they are not in any way associated with any particular human. So “Gender neutral” began largely communicating the idea of having no gendered connotations whatsoever – the sense we’ll use for the rest of this brief note. Bathrooms in the home are generally gender neutral in this sense, though we could certainly make a bathroom communicate femininity or masculinity by decorating it in particular ways. Still, when one tenant moved out, presumably those gender signifiers would also go: so, at least intellectually, we can separate the gender neutral bathroom from the gendered decor.

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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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