that female athlete doesn’t look feminine enough

So one of the things I have said about my activism in the past is that my job is to work myself out of a job. I want to end domestic & sexual violence generally, fully fund services for all victims who have been (and will be) harmed before we finally do away with D/SV, and along the way to end heterosexist barriers to sex and gender variant victims ability to access relevant services. I want many other things, too, but these are at the core of my activist career, if I can be said to have had one.

I have always maintained that as the world changes, I’ll be the wrong person to talk to about next steps, because I won’t have lived my life where that next step is the biggest problem. i won’t have felt the lack of that next step so acutely. I won’t be able to speak from personal experience about how that next step would have changed my life for the better b/c we’ve already taken so many steps that it’s hard for me to imagine **only** lacking that next step.

And in many ways, I’ve been successful. Where once I was a voice in the wilderness talking about the interrelation between cissexism, heterosexism, and sexism, and how the first two play a role in how even straight, cis women are treated by our governments and our service providers, now many people are talking about these things, often with a specificity that makes them far more expert in their area than I could ever be.

But in some ways, I have been frighteningly unsuccessful. While I primarily discussed access to gender segregated services for victims of trauma, harassment, and stalking, as early as 1998 I was asked a question about trans athletes in women’s sport. Not an expert in sports (my close friends will recognize this as hilarious overstatement of the scope of my knowledge), I fell back on how I had seen cissexism and heterosexism used to exclude even straight, cis women from the services with which I was more familiar.

It is inevitable, I told the audience in approximately these words, that efforts to exclude trans people from any social pursuit will end up harming cis women. The reason is that people will look for hints that reveal a participant to be the stereotype of the deceptive transsexual who lies about her past to conceal the tenuous validity of her womanhood. This presupposes, however, that trans people can get away with passing as non-trans at least for a time. Clues revealing secret transness, then, must be subtle, and because they must be subtle, they can be found in any number of women. As a result, the desire to communicate cisgender and cissexual state of being will result in women voluntarily curtailing any social expressions deemed too masculine. Women who do exceed the boundaries of feminine behavior and presentation will initially receive the worst consequences of gender policing that nominally targets trans people, but as the outliers are pressured to conform, the boundaries of femininity collapse. As a result, freedom for all women is eventually constricted. And though trans people will suffer from gender policing, and out trans people will be the individuals who suffer more than any other individuals, because the group of cis women is so much larger than the group of trans persons, when considering all suffering in total, cis women will surely suffer more than trans people from any increased gender policing of social activities. 

Thus, I argued, even if you hate trans people, you should advocate against gender policing that targets trans persons. The investigation and accusation and prosecution process will never harm only trans people.

Well, if all y’all cis people had listened to me 24 years ago, we could have saved ourselves a world of hurt. Unfortunately some of you are bigoted Mormons who just can’t comprehend the benefits of gender liberation. Or, perhaps, they embrace sexism, so the incidental sexism of cissexist persecutions seem a feature not a bug.

From the Deseret News:

After one competitor “outclassed” the rest of the field in a girls’ state-level competition last year, the parents of the competitors who placed second and third lodged a complaint with the Utah High School Activities Association calling into question the winner’s gender.

Entirely unsurprising. Utah is one of the states that has legislated a system ostensibly banning k-12 trans students from participating in school sport save in categories open to their assigned gender at birth. What it actually does, however, is allow any random person to trigger a state investigation into the most private aspects of a child’s life. In the particular case here, the complaint was considered resolved through a thorough check of multiple records going back a decade or more, but more intrusive investigations, including medical ones, apparently are authorized by statute and cannot be said to be ruled out in the future.

And, of course, what’s compounding the horror here is that the excessive masculinity triggering the investigation wasn’t a tracheal prominence or tiny boobs. What triggered the investigation here was athletic excellence itself.

Given that the ostensible rationale for passing laws regulating trans children’s participation in school sports was to ensure that girls have a chance to experience being celebrated for their excellence, this punishment of excellence would seem to be proof that such laws not only fail to support and celebrate athletic girls, but rather punish them for their greatest successes, encouraging them to fail.

One might hope that this would cause some second thoughts, perhaps an effort to repeal this repellent and sexist regime. One would, of course, be mistaken. This is Utah, after all. Read and then weep over this most telling part of the Deseret News article:

Spatafore [David Spatafore, the UHSAA’s legislative representative] said the association has received other complaints, some that said “that female athlete doesn’t look feminine enough.”

The association took “every one of those complaints seriously. We followed up on all of those complaints with the school and the school system,” he said during an update on HB11, a ban on transgender girls from participating in female school sports, which was passed during the final hours of 2022 General Session.

And we come full circle. What I predicted 24 years ago has come to pass. Girls looking insufficiently feminine is now a complaint that the government takes “seriously”, and that the government then investigates.

I understand that women’s and girls’ athletic achievements are not sufficiently celebrated. And I understand that there’s fear that permitting trans children to participate in gender segregated sports in the manner that is most healthy for them, even if that means participating in sports originally conceived as being only for students of a different assigned sex at birth will inevitably mean a few celebrated wins for trans athletes that might otherwise have been wins for cis girls or cis women.

But giving the government the power to investigate deficient femininity, or to treat a woman or girl as an object of suspicion for her athletic excellence itself, does nothing to support cis girls or celebrate their achievements.

If you can’t oppose such laws because of their cissexism alone, oppose them for their sexist, for the power they give governments to crack down on anyone who violates gender norms even in so innocuous a manner as being a girl winning a medal in girls’ sports.

 

 

 

Guy Fawkes: Good Activists and Social Change

So the first official entry in our Guy Fawkes series is from a great thread on Pharyngula about Beyoncé’s feminism. The whole thread is worth your time, but let’s pick up where beloved commenter chimera mentions

One of my favorite philosophers said something on the radio the other day that struck me. He said his favorite black civil rights leaders of the 60s were The Black Panthers because they had no pretension of being “good” (read: appropriate, upstanding, notable, conforming, respectable, moral, role model for your kids, and all that….). And that a person doesn’t have to be “good” (in that sense) to call for political change.

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Privilege, Deference, and Moral Certainty

GG has been discussing in other threads the concept of epistemic deference, focused on epistemic deference of members of empowered majorities with respect to members of disempowered minorities. As it happens, I’ve lectured on just this topic at Portland State University, the University of Vermont, and a couple other places. (University of Minnesota I think… but I’m not entirely sure, and it would have been my visit to the Minneapolis campus, if you’re wondering PZ: I’ve never been to Morris). I even spoke to it when speaking to a North American conference of human rights officials and boards. So I’ve been thinking about this problem for a LONG time. More than 20 years, certainly. As a result, I have at hand things I’ve written right here on FtB available to quote.

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kathleenzielinski’s “gay rights movement”

So, over on Pharyngula kathleenzielinski has been having a bit of a say. I will likely go into other things said by kathleenzielinski (and issues that they raise or raised) later. But for now, I want to talk about the Great kathleenzielinski Gay Rights Movement, which, she would like you to know, is much, much better than that icky trans rights movement to which she would like to compare her GRM:

I will say this: The gay rights movement moved as quickly as it did because we took the time to win over our opposition using their own language. Conservative arguments were made in favor of gay marriage and legal equality. Some of us even quoted the Bible. We didn’t demonize people whose real fault was that they didn’t understand us. We won them over.

The trans rights movement is, if we are to believe kathleenzielinski, both moving much more slowly than her cherished GRM and is also much less friendly and compassionate to the bigots who oppose trans rights than the gays were to the bigots who opposed gay rights.

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Ignoring abuse to focus on lexicography

Okay, this is turning into a thing.

So in the thread created to talk about the phenomenon where people announce on the internet that they’re too afraid to discuss issues central to (or sometimes merely implicating) trans persons’ human rights before immediately launching a conversation about their concerns about granting trans persons equal human rights, one new commenter, GG, decided to change the subject. Although I feel vexed that what I wrote seemed to be ignored in favor of the commenter’s preferred conversation, the comment and request for response were both respectful and, as it turns out, the issues that GG unknowingly raised are actually significant. So I decided to respond, but I’m not going to allow that thread to be derailed so I have created this new post to discuss what GG brought up. Let’s start with GG’s comment, which itself begins with a quote from a BBC news article:  

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Pervert Puns for Justice

On my last post reader lumipuma was surprised to hear I had conceived of my blog’s title as a pun, and wrote this comment:

This blog’s name is a pun? Now I’m slightly perplexed on why you’d want to pervert justice, in addition to just wanting pervert justice.

I had always assumed the verb/noun pun was apparent, but as it is not, Lumipuma deserves a serious answer to what is a serious question.

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Anti-Trans Activism is Anti-Feminst and Anti-Woman

So let’s start with saying straight up that I know nothing about Ireland. Never lived there, never visited there, and I’m pretty much less confident in my knowledge of what constitutes Irish experience than I am that Ireland’s plants are purple. But what happened in Ireland during the RepealThe8th movement to overturn Ireland’s lethal ban on abortion is important for everyone to know. So I’m gonna reprint the shit outta the words of someone who does know something about all this, The Slothmare Before Christmas, AKA @CaseyExplosion on Twitter.

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Rewatching Juno: Page’s Story Is One of the Most Important of 2020

As soon as I can find time today or tomorrow, I’ll be rewatching Juno & posting some more thoughts on the Elliot Page news from yesterday. But why am I rewatching Juno at all? Well the answer bears on another question raised in the comments to yesterday’s post by sonofrojblake:

He was in Inception and X-men. It baffles me a bit why this story leaves those off the headline almost everywhere I’ve seen it.

The Umbrella Academy reference is understandable as it is Page’s most recent (and still Netflix-current) work. But why Juno, instead of a much more well known film (or at least one higher-grossing)?

The answer, I believe, can be found in the fact that is that it is the best and best-known pro-choice film for at least a generation. Over the last decade trans persons’ struggle against invisibility and for access to services has gained the attention of abortion providers and others responsible for family planning & reproductive health services as well as organizations that advocate for reproductive rights. This attention is not insignificant. In 2018 during the campaign to repeal Ireland’s constitutional Amendment 8 which banned nearly all abortion in the country, one excuse for some feminists to oppose the movement fighting for the repeal of A8  was that the movement was too supportive of trans persons and the ballot language was written in a way that included trans persons. Fascist fuckfaces argued with apparent seriousness that granting equal abortion rights to trans persons with vaginas and uteruses who might get pregnant would be to permit the proverbial and unacceptable camel’s toe into the tent.

Despite well-publicized pregnancies of a few trans men, and the obvious biological fact that merely coming out as non-binary or trans masculine does not give a body the means to automatically shut that whole thing down, there are people who struggle with the idea that we might want reproductive rights for everyone, even when inconvenient for pithy rhetoric. These people aren’t necessary bad people because they haven’t necessarily consciously thought through what it means to privilege rhetoric over human lives, nor have they necessarily thought about trans people enough to even realize that this is what they’re doing. But when the lead actor in such a tremendously important movie exploring the complicated nature of, the interpersonal and social limitations on, and vital importance of reproductive self-determination comes out as something other than a woman it becomes impossible for honest persons to see Juno as applicable only to women.

Juno will not lose its resonance for cis women. Juno will not become unimportant to cis feminists or cis reproductive rights advocates. It can be and is still a powerful movie addressing issues with which many (if not most) cis women who have sex (or experience sexual assaults) involving sperm will struggle. A cis women doesn’t even need to become pregnant to experience these issues. She need only believe that she is pregnant or has a high chance of being pregnant. A late period, a false test, a test that appears false because of a spontaneous abortion which will never be known, any of those things can be enough.

But without changing anything in the movie itself, trans and non-binary persons capable of getting pregnant (or who believe they are capable of getting pregnant – infertility isn’t announced at birth) can now point to the movie Juno and say, “These are our issues too,” with new credibility. With a credibility, frankly, that can’t be denied by any honest person.

I’m happy for Page, really I am. But I didn’t write about Page’s coming out because this is some random celebrity who happens to share some experiences in common with me.

I wrote about, and will continue to write about, Elliot Page’s experience of trans life because the importance of a specific piece of Page’s work to feminism is now presenting a moment of choice to every feminist who has found Juno valuable in the past. Umbrella Academy can help identify who Page is to those who aren’t automatically familiar, but this isn’t a moment about an actor, and that’s why Inception and X-Men: Last Stand are irrelevant to the story.

This is a moment when feminists have the opportunity to become transfeminists, when feminists can decide again whether they seek reproductive privileges for some or reproductive rights for all.

It presents a moment when feminists may ask each other, “If we fight for abortion access only for those whose gender is acceptable, what, in the end, do we stand to win?”

That question is truly dangerous for those who believe that feminism is compatible with demanding conformance to a broader stereotype, or one’s choice of a few new stereotypes. Elliot Page’s announcement has the power to force a fundamental moment of dawning awareness, a moment in which one can hear one’s own brain sound a feminist :click:, a moment in which those of us feminists who reluctantly support (or fight against) trans inclusion finally understand that to do so means that they have, all unknowing, continued to believe that some stereotypes are acceptable, and that all rights are ultimately conditional on good gender.

What will we, as feminists, choose next when we hear that click?

That feminists now face such decisions is the real news, the important news, in Page’s Instagram announcement. And after 25 years of fighting for feminism-informed trans-advocacy and trans advocacy-informed feminism, I can’t tell you how exciting this moment has become.

Let’s see some change.

 

Transfeminism and its origins: a personal retrospective.

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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