December 7, 2009

Personal Statement Update (The Short Version)

Posted in Gender issues, Public discourse, Women's issues tagged , at 9:58 am by Maggie Clark

I think I’ve perfectly come to an understanding with myself about gender now.

I know I absolutely refuse any “inner gender” label. I know some (not all! not even close to all!) trans persons would insist that I am female (unless I instead defined myself as gender male), because their own perception of inner gender is something that they have felt “from birth,” despite the social and sex-based cues that told them they belonged to a different gender-sex.

I have not felt female “from birth.” In fact, I don’t “feel” female now. I don’t “feel” present in myself at all in a gendered way. The sex-based cues, which cause such immense problems for my ability to identify whether a personal feeling is “legitimate” or based on where I am in my cycle (seriously — I ALWAYS cry two days before my period, and it’s invariably about something that seemed slight beforehand), are a constant threat to my sense of self-identity. Similarly, the social cues, which have led counsellors to call me “broken” or “damaged” when I say my number one desire is not procreation but adoption, and my father to call me a “failure of the genetic code” for being queer and also for desiring to adopt, are another immensely sore point for me.

I know some trans persons feel that my self-identity — as genderless, as human-first — is an implicit attack on their own self-identities. It is not. I wholeheartedly respect and would NEVER challenge the noumenological identity of another human being. You are what you identify yourself as, and you will NEVER see me refute the gender label you give yourself.

I furthermore acknowledge that gender-normativity is an incredible BENEFIT in the gender-binary system we all presently occupy. And I know that in many occasions, I DO pass as gender-normative. So do many other queer persons. So do many transgendered persons. So do many straight, non-trans persons. But the problem with our gender-binary system — the problem shared by trans persons, queer persons, and women (and some men) alike — is that the MOMENT one of us doesn’t “pass” as gender-normative (as in, not fitting the gender archetype prescribed to our perceived sex), we are all at greater risk of violence and discrimination.

This is especially relevant when we look at cases like Jorge Steven López Mercado, a self-identified gay (NOT trans) man dismembered and decapitated and partially charred and abandoned on the side of the road.

I absolutely do not reference his name to politicize his death for my uses. I am very saddened, though not surprised, that his name, and his brutal death, have been applied in this manner already. I instead reference him to point out that whatever he identified as has NOTHING to do with why he died. Because it truly doesn’t matter what nuanced term a victim uses for him or herself. It matters A WHOLE LOT, however, what term the perpetrator ascribes to the victim. Because in any sensible universe, there would be only one term, for everyone: HUMAN. In reality, however, there are more. And therein lies the problem.

In this way, I am firmly of the belief that the violent bigoted see no difference between trans and gay — that they think of trans women as gay men who are trying to “trick” them into being gay as well, by making them fall for “men” dressed like women. The thought experiment I like to use here is of the father who beats his child for playing with dresses and make-up: This action has NO relation to the outcome of the child. The child might end up identifying as gay. The child might end up identifying as transgender. The child might end up as a cross-dressing straight man (a VERY strong portion of the cross-dressing population!). The child might end up as none of these at all! You just don’t know. The ONLY thing this scenario says for certain is that the FATHER has no tolerance for non-gender-normativity. And in his limited experience with non-gender-normativity, he’s more likely than anything to perceive this action as “gay” (in the effeminate sense), and respond with that notion in mind.

What does this have to do with real world outcomes? Everything. It means EVERYONE who might ever have reason not to pass as gender-normative — either by being a born-woman who doesn’t conform to physical or social expectations for her gendered sex, or by being a born-man who doesn’t conform to physical or social expectations for his gendered sex, or by being a trans woman or trans man confronting similar, oppositional expectations due to his her/his gendered sex — is at risk in our system. It means that the targeted or otherwise violent deaths of queer men and women need to be taken very seriously by society. It means that the targeted or otherwise violent deaths of women, period, need to be taken very seriously by society. It means that the targeted or otherwise violent deaths of trans persons need to be taken very seriously by society. And it means that the exploitation and silencing of lived experience from all three groups needs to be taken very, very seriously as well.

But all of this needs to be done for one very crucial, rarely disseminated, wholly universalizing reason: Because the noumenological truth of our self-identities is OURS ALONE. Just as I have absolutely no right to tell a trans person what gender they identify as, no one can tell me I identify as “female” just because society sets out specific gender-female expectations for the sex I was born into, and I don’t identify instead as “male”.

Which means I have every fucking right to say I don’t have an inner gender identity. I furthermore have every fucking right to say I don’t feel “present” within myself at all in that regard.

And it means I can say this about myself without that determination EVER threatening another person’s equal right to whatever inner identity they recognize for themselves.

This is NOT transphobic. This is NOT cissexist. This is the nature of a system where all individuals should be equal, with equal rights and privileges, and equal assurances to the right of self-determination. It is, moreover, the nature of a system where all individuals are, in reality, only equal when they present as gender-normative; and where a slew of variations on our rights and privileges emerges when we, as individuals, cease to perform to that gender-normative standard.

This is what I’ve learned about myself, and the gender-binary we operate in, over the past few weeks. I welcome all comment, from everyone, about their own thoughts about such matters.

All the best, you wonderful human people you!

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57 Comments »

  1. thebeardedlady said,

    I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said here. And the logical conclusion of what you say is that you don’t have any ‘cis’ privilege – because without an inner gender you can’t have a ‘cis’ gender.

    I believe that gender is an illusion – it’s not in our biology, it’s all in our heads – because that’s where society has put it. Unfortunately, if your identity is based on gender (e.g. transgender), then people like me who believe there’s no such thing as gender probably sound like we are trying to invalidate someone’s self identity. There is definitely a conflict of interests there, isn’t there?

  2. Michelle said,

    I think what you are expressing is consistent with the idea that gender identity exists along a spectrum of experiences. What you describe of yourself as being “without gender” (agendered, perhaps) is similar in many ways to the concept of being asexual.

    I don’t read your position as transphobic (or hostile, come to that), it’s fundamentally consistent with a whole range of narratives – ranging from those of cisgender people to transsexuals. Although those of us who fall outside the man/woman normative that pervades our society are uniquely conscious of gendered experience in life, our narratives are not inconsistent with those rare cisgender folk who have examined their own gender identity and relationships.

  3. Lucy said,

    Of course asserting one’s own truth about oneself is not any-phobic or any-ist. It is only if that assertion implicitly or explicitly claims truths about other people that the -isms/-phobias can come into play.

    Yes, most people do seem to attack and murder trans people because of homophobia based on their own statements. Of course we also can’t ignore the issues of gender, race, class, and work either as these also play parts. Transphobia usually comes about afterwards, in the media reports that degender or misgender the victim, in police reports that do the same, and in the court room if there’s a trial. However, not always.

    Robert Ead died from ovarian cancer because over a dozen physicians refused to treat him before it became terminal. Trans men have been physically assaulted by women outside of a lesbian event as the women shouted “Are you a guy or a girl?”. Those are transphobic, not homophobic, instances. As trans people become more well-publicised and well known to the public as not being super-gay or super-lesbian this is only likely to increase.

    Of course the other point is that trans people are more likely to die for gender non-normativity because trans people are inherently non-normative as far as socially-dictated gender goes by definition. Thus, it is not incorrect to refer to transphobic violence because of its effect. In fact, it’s possible for an act to be both transphobic and homophobic depending on how you look at it. A similar situation would be the way in which lots more women were killed as witches than men. While they may have been killed because of religious reasons, it was misogyny in its effect.

    Finally, defining a trans woman who dresses as a woman or a trans man who dresses as a man as gender non-normative is not really factual. That’s pretty gender normative. It is only gender non-normative in a society where one’s genitals (or one’s genitals at birth, as people who’ve had GRS/SRS/wev have found out) are supposed to determine gender.

    • maggieclark said,

      Hi Lucy,

      Thank you so much for commenting. I really appreciated your thoughtful words, and also being linked to the story of Robert Ead — there aren’t words to describe something that horrible. I hope to all hell he is the last to die so senselessly for the bigotry of American medical professionals under the Hippocratic oath. Now, I could very easily reference hundreds from the literally millions upon millions of cases where women are similarly denied necessary treatment and coverage (to say nothing of the missing 100,000,000 women, all who should be alive right now — and who would be, if women’s existence, let alone access to medical treatment, were considered important enough the world over). I say this because the numbers-to-numbers game is the common counterargument: to point out that for every one case used to show that trans persons are treated worse by society, and therefore suffer from a privilege women have over them, there are literally billions of women with marginalized access to health care on account of their gender.

      This is, however, an argument used to then accuse trans activists of selfishness, of unrecognized male privilege, of working in opposition to the aims of feminism through the invisibilizing of lived female experiences. This is therefore not the sort of argument I want to make (though I have to admit, it is tempting when cases of appropriated death stories like Mercado’s come along). The fact of the matter is, 100,000,000 missing lives is horrible, just horrible. And 100,000,001 is just as inexcusable. Every life matters. And when every life doesn’t actually matter in reality — when gender oppression marginalizes and invisibilizes, I want to be able to find allies to fight this horrible, horrible reality. I want to be able to find a queer community, and a trans community, and a feminist community willing to stand up and say NOT ONE MORE.

      Instead we are quarreling and attributing blame internally, and defining our hierarchy of pain and suffering by ignoring the pain and suffering of other groups within the whole sphere of non-gender-normativity (which, yes, encompasses born-women quite inclusively). On FactCheckMe’s blog, instances of trans discrimination regularly arose that completely omitted any thought about what the risk factors for born-women would be in those same scenarios — and without those factors being articulated in these scenarios, how on earth are feminists to know trans activists consider their own threat-perception before they argue that born-women are privileged over trans women? (Another point at which the tired argument about trans activists invisibilizing born-women gender issues emerges.)

      To this end you write: ‘Trans men have been physically assaulted by women outside of a lesbian event as the women shouted “Are you a guy or a girl?”.’ I know many a stand off between trans activists and radical feminists emerges because of cases like this, which I have absolutely no doubt are ubiquitous, and awful to experience. Are they transphobic? God yes. Are they examples of privilege? Radical feminism says “no.” I agree. Privilege requires the power to oppress. Gender oppression arises from holding gendered power when one discriminates. Women do not have gendered power. In fact, it’s because we don’t have this power, and have worked so hard to create women-only spaces to protect us from male bullying and abuse, that some of us are not comfortable having people born into male privilege automatically accepted as informed feminists, and introduced as having an equal right to those hard-won sanctuaries. It’s also why some of us are horrible and abusive without anywhere near as much rationalization for our behaviour — many of us are just knee-jerk afraid of being attacked. And fear informs a hell of a lot of discriminatory violence, it’s true; and it’s just as true that fear is no excuse for the horrible things some born-women, and some trans-women, and some born-men, and some trans-men do.

      But the more accurate comparison would likely emerge in the sphere of racism (a sphere for which, full disclosure, I hope I am considered an ally, because as a white person I can and should never ever be considered more): Are there going to be Asian persons perpetuating black stereotypes and hurling abusive epithets? Absolutely. Are there going to be persons from India and Pakistan proudly proclaiming how much they “hate brown people”? Yes (I have witnessed this). Are there going to be Aboriginal North Americans telling native-born North Americans of all other ethnicities to get the hell out? Yes again. And these are horrible, horrible things for people to do — just inexcusable. But the Korean storekeeper who refuses to ride in a taxi cab owned by a black man isn’t exercising privilege over the black man — “only” discrimination. Nor is the Aboriginal who goes into a government building employing persons originally from India and upbraids them for invading her space. (Yes, I’ve witnessed this too.) Neither has the power to change those damaging stereotypes that have caused such tensions between marginalized groups. That’s white privilege. That’s my privilege.

      Now, this seems to be where a lot of trans activists and liberal feminists get in a tangle, so I wanted to be clear on our terms here. You seem like someone who uses yours very precisely, and again, I really appreciated your comments. So let me be clear in turn: Transphobia exists. Transphobia is perpetuated by born and trans men and women alike (I’ve already seen cases where transgendered persons who eschewed surgery were attacked by a few seriously disturbed fellow trans persons). And there is indeed gendered privilege here, too; and it lies with those who have the power to oppress on the basis of gender. Those would be the people who, aided by some unavoidable biological facts, reinforce male gender-normative society. Those would be gender-normative men.

      And the sad consequence of the radical feminist / trans activist tangle in this regard is that, as trans activists insist that women are oppressors despite the aforementioned, it kicks into high gear radical feminist suspicions about why many trans activists make this claim so vehemently — and the most prominent suspicion here is that because trans women were born into male privilege (whether they wanted it or not!) they fall into the same traps that afflict other members of the male privilege camp (namely, born-men) when arguing about privilege. These include an invisibilizing of female lived experience (and I say “female” in an expressly universalizing context, because ideally trans women should be experiencing what women already do when they transition — and it ain’t pretty, lemme tell ya!) by presenting abuses visited upon trans women as unique within the non-gender-normativity paradigm. I’ve already mentioned many above — again, not to argue them: just to point out that I’m familiar with the usual divisive rhetoric employed in this debate.

      So I’ve made it fairly clear, I hope, what I don’t agree with, and don’t like to see.

      Here’s what I guess I’d like to see instead:

      1) I’d like to see trans activists and radical feminists (and liberal feminists!) have meaningful exchanges as proper allies against gender normativity. To that end, I guess I’d like to see the advantages of gender conformity, which manifest as much in queer persons who pass as straight, and born-women who pass a particular social standard for femininity, and trans women who pass the same, discussed in a way that recognizes the lived experiences of all women under gender oppression.

      2) I’d like to see the death and suffering of so very many people for gendered reasons not be used as so much cannon fodder for trans and queer and feminist debates. I am sick of the death counts and the entrenchment, the “owning” of other people’s pain for personal gain. A death is a death is a death. An abuse is an abuse is an abuse. And all who are most vulnerable to these need to be in strong alliances.

      We have, after all, so much to talk about. So much of what is right and necessary for each group — the right for one woman to pee, and for another to feel safe while peeing; the right for one woman to pursue the body modification surgeries she feels she needs, and for another to be surrounded by a culture that does not pressure her into getting surgeries to feel like “more of a woman”; the right for everyone to self-identify, and be respected for that self-identity, without anyone saying otherwise; the right for a woman to feel safe in refusing sex, and the right of another woman to make the choice whether to share the history of her body; and the right for all of us to express our lived experiences, without suppression of those basic facts from among our own — is discursively at odds with what is right and necessary for each other group. This doesn’t mean it is practically at odds: but it does mean we are a far cry away from answers to many of the questions that presently get us so embroiled in such costly internal argumentation.

      With that in mind, I’d like to end with two questions. One is about the media, because you say the media reports “degender or misgender” the victim. I have to confess I have no idea what “degender” means in this context, but I am familiar with a common complaint posed — namely, that many articles about trans persons write that the person “went by the name X,” as if it were an alias. Is this what you’re referring to? Because I have a background in journalism, and I’m familiar with the kinds of problems posed in the interest of fact-checking, which is seen as the most primary requirement of good journalism. I know, for instance, that with the strong prominence of straight, born-men in the cross-dressing scene, and equal prominence of non-conformity among many trans women (with respect to gendered appearance), it is absolutely not possible to identify on sight a victim as trans or born-X. However, these stories have to get filed pretty quickly (if they didn’t, I have no doubt we’d be hearing complaints about these tragedies being “suppressed”), so one goes with gender on the official ID. Or are we talking about articles that list a person’s prior name alongside their transitioned name? It’s a common enough practice with women who’ve taken another name on marriage to note their surname at birth. This is so news of their death can be disseminated to as many people as would have known them at all points of their lives as possible. And as for the “went by the name X”s, again, this comes down to the conflict between ID (which by nature can be fact-checked) and community convention. The same occurs with many homeless persons, for exactly the same reasons.

      This is not at all to discount that it must feel like an attack on one’s very identity to see someone’s death notice written in a gender the victim would not recognize as their own. But it is to point out that though the system affects trans persons very notably with its policies, these policies are not targeting trans persons. So if these are the issues to which you’re referring, and you want the system changed to one that does not affect trans persons so very notably with its policies, it might be useful to keep in mind why the system operates the way it does — and the very real, very important matter of fact-checking that plays into the decisions the reporters, editors, and copy-editors make in these regards. If there is a better system for this, journalism papers would absolutely kill for insight on it. I for one would absolutely love to see more constructive discourse to this very end.

      And… question two! I’ve written a lot, and it could probably have been a lot shorter. Apologies, then, for how long-winded this is. But after (hopefully) outlining my desires for the development of thoughtful, inclusive discourse between trans activists and feminists on issues where we should absolutely be natural allies (i.e. gender oppression), I have to ask, what are yours? To what end did you write, and what would you like to see change in the way trans activists and feminists deliberate over issues of mutual concern?

      Thanks again, so much, for responding — and heck, at this point, just for reading!

      All the best,

      Maggie

      • Lucy said,

        Hope you don’t expect a short reply to a long one. I agree that it is pointless to get into a numbers war. Trans people are far fewer in number so any time you talk about other numbers versus ours, trans numbers will get swamped. Obviously one should instead be looking at percentage numbers if one is going to do a proper comparison (which is complicated because of problems of accounting for such a hidden minority population). I also think that the tactic of wanting to not compare apples and apples comes into play when transphobic people decide that we should be talking about lack of access to health care for people who are not otherwise in similar circumstances as the trans person in question instead of those who are. It’s interesting how these people reach to prove that trans people are somehow better off as they neglect to consider that there are almost definitely trans people in those worse circumstances as well. I find it a disingenuous tactic, a reach in to the oppression olympics bag, and am glad you’re not participating in it. Because, of course, it’s no more selfish to work for better treatment of trans people than to work for better treatment of any other marginalised group.

        I’m somewhat boggled at the idea that you do not consider it a privilege to be confident enough to physically assault someone in public. To me that is a striking example of the arrogance of privilege, the belief that one can undertake something in public because you believe society will back you up. I understand that radical feminists don’t get the idea that women can oppress. That’s one of the reasons womanism exists, after all. White women were unable to believe that they were oppressing people, especially women, of colour to the point where women of colour renounced the word “feminism” as being forever tainted by racism. Looking at a more relevant example, would you consider someone having the influence to get people’s health care removed from health insurance, to influence public policy on how people were treated, or rather ignored, by their government, to insure no public funds went to research treatment for those people as privilege? I would. That would be the power Janice Raymond had after she was established as an expert on transsexuality when she lobbied various governmental and other bodies.

        Continuing the theme of gendered power, it is not men who typically eject trans women from toilets. Claiming women don’t have power when they have the power to call the police and expect the police to back them up is factually incorrect. The problem is that traditional radical feminist theory is overly simplistic when it comes to gender and sexism. It does not take into account lived realities. It becomes a bigger problem when the theory is used to somehow “prove” trans people’s life experiences are false. Radical feminist theory is correct when it comes to traditional sexism. However, it fails miserably in accounting for oppositional sexism, and in fact even helps uphold it. Claiming that there is only traditional sexism is where radical feminists erase trans people’s lived experiences. If trans people claim that only oppositional sexism matters then they would be guilty of erasing the experiences of traditional sexism. But, claiming that there is both traditional sexism and oppositional sexism erases no one’s experiences and accounts for reality better than only talking about one or the other.

        I’m amused by how you offer how journalism isn’t targeting trans people for harm. Even if I allow that to be true (and I suspect you’ve never read newspapers like the NY Post or The Daily Mail if you believe it is), that’s not the point. The point is the effect. Queer people were for a long time denied announcements for the commitments in newspapers because only straight people could get legally married. Newspapers weren’t targeting queer people, it was just the way that they worked. I’ll also note that there are journalistic style guides that clearly address how to deal with trans people. The fact that they are often not followed says that this is not excusable due to ignorance or haste. Just like practices that harm women, no matter what their rationale, must change so must practices that harm trans people.

        Secondly, I’m tired of the idea that I have to choose between being a trans activist or a feminist. I’m both. The idea that I can’t be a feminist because I also care about trans issues is reminiscent of the situation mentioned above where women of colour who said that racism was a women’s issue were accused of being divisive and not properly devoted to real women’s issues. I’m not a fan of liberal feminism with its emphasis on equality under the law while leaving the gender binary intact nor am I a fan of radical feminism which is overly wedded to theory over lives. I find it funny that my feminist activism is suspect to/erased by some because of my trans status. That I’m told I can be a feminist *ally* as though I don’t experience sexism, as though I don’t have the fear of men’s violence. Actually, my fear of men’s violence is trebled by being a woman, by being trans, and by being queer. Any one of the three could incite a man to violence. This is why I’m involved in Take Back the Night, for instance. As for why I wrote here, I wrote because I thought you needed to hear from a feminist who was a trans woman who agreed with your aims. I always say I likely would have stayed a radical feminist if I hadn’t found out that I wasn’t qualified.

      • maggieclark said,

        Nope, didn’t expect a short response. I also expected that a few things would be overlooked no matter how clearly I spelled them out, because the nature of trans/feminist discourse up to this point has been such that it makes it VERY hard to assume someone doesn’t mean one thing, when so many people do when they say the same,. So I’m going to stress a few things here:

        I’m amused by how you offer how journalism isn’t targeting trans people for harm. Even if I allow that to be true (and I suspect you’ve never read newspapers like the NY Post or The Daily Mail if you believe it is), that’s not the point. The point is the effect.

        That’s exactly what I said. We are very much in agreement on this score. The system is bad because it makes one group feel very marginalized and invisibilized, despite policy not targeting it. The issue I have is one of constructive action: and you can’t have constructive action without addressing WHY the system is bad. As you note, there are indeed journalistic style guide entries for trans people. That’s not the issue. The issue is IDENTIFYING someone in a way that can be fact-checked as a trans person, so those style guide notes can then be used. So we’re on the same page here; I just strongly feel it’s important to know why something is done, so we can effectively address how to fix it.

        I’m somewhat boggled at the idea that you do not consider it a privilege to be confident enough to physically assault someone in public. To me that is a striking example of the arrogance of privilege, the belief that one can undertake something in public because you believe society will back you up.

        Okay, we’re working on different definitions of privilege, then. You know who expects to be able to take away my right to abortion? Other women. Other women know they can count on male leaders in government and the community to back them up, because male dominant society benefits when women don’t have control over their bodies. Other women use this “privilege” to attack pregnant women entering abortion clinics. Other women also perpetuate violence against bi/impartial members of the queer community, calling us traitors, belittling our self-identification, and often shunning us. They feel safe doing this because they operate in a gender binary, where it follows that there must be a binary of sexual orientations as well.

        Women are not all nice people. Some of us, rather than wanting to remove privilege from society, just want in on the action. And when we hurt fellow women, we do so with the expectation that society will back us up. This happens to trans women just as it does to born-women and to queer persons. Your definition of privilege needs to account for all these cases before it can say that women use their own, gendered privilege to hurt trans women any more than they hurt born-women and/or queer persons. Because they don’t: they lean on male privilege to hurt us all.

        Secondly, I’m tired of the idea that I have to choose between being a trans activist or a feminist. I’m both. The idea that I can’t be a feminist because I also care about trans issues is reminiscent of the situation mentioned above where women of colour who said that racism was a women’s issue were accused of being divisive and not properly devoted to real women’s issues.

        This is the ugly consequence of these conversations, isn’t it? I have to say I was a little horrified when I saw you write this line: Obviously one should instead be looking at percentage numbers if one is going to do a proper comparison (which is complicated because of problems of accounting for such a hidden minority population). I don’t think there’s anything “obvious” about it at all — I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that we should be spending so much time deciding who has it worse when a death is a death is a death, and an abuse is an abuse is an abuse. But this is precisely the kind of argument that makes it hard for many people in feminism to determine if a trans activist is really interested in women’s issues, because this hierarchy of pain and suffering is so bizarre. As a queer person, I’ve NEVER seen a similarly hierarchical conversation emerge between queer activism and feminism (the two really did merge without a hiccough), so it’s been really curious to see this kind of conversation unfold between trans activists and radical feminism. Of course, that begs the question: Which came first? Did trans activists start focusing solely on trans examples, and trans perspectives, to the exclusion of universal lived experience for women in their conversations as a result of feeling isolated from radical feminism, or were they the reason trans activists felt isolated from radical feminism in the first place? I wouldn’t answer that question even if I knew how: The point, for me, is how on earth to start improving things.

        I think “feminist” is a sphere one works within under many capacities. Male feminist. Queer feminist. Trans feminist. I also think that there are some necessary subordinations in there: If I were a man, I could be a feminist, but my masculine identity would have to commit to allying with those aims. In many spheres of feminism, that would never even be raised as a question, because the two might not be in direct conflict (i.e. I might be a non-gender-normative man chafing at gender norms, period). But when they are in conflict, that’s when the matter of “alliance” comes in. As a queer feminist, my queerness has to commit to allying with feminist aims as well, and porn is a great example here: Porn for me is not by men or for men, and therefore not propagating male expectations and stereotypes, to say nothing of widespread exploitation. So I have two choices here: I can stick by my queer desires for porn for me, or I can recognize that since the greater system of porn hurts so many women on this planet, it would be un-feminist to bolster any argument that would allow men to say “Yeah, but my porn is different too.” So I made a choice. It’s not one that forwards my queer identity well, but it’s one that allies me to feminism under this issue. That’s kind of the point. Because trans activism and feminism may not ever be on the same page for all issues. They are, after all, different disciplines, just as queer issues and feminism are often distinct. Are there overlaps? Absolutely. But in those overlaps individuals need to make a decision: which comes first for them? The desire to forward trans issues even if they marginalize or invisibilize born-women’s issues (in which case, you’re speaking as a trans activist), or the desire to protect and empower all women, and so look at situations from all angles therein (in which case, you’re speaking as a feminist). The very choice that has to be made there — the same as I make when I put aside queer difference — that is being an ally. It’s all about making the choice.

        And I think you’re absolutely right: when a trans woman recognizes that what she’s experiencing is SEXISM, because hey! she’s read by society as a woman now! she’s absolutely experiencing the same issues as any other feminist, it must be frustrating to be told she still has to make a choice with regards to being feminist. But our conversation, and the truly vicious conversations that surround this conversation elsewhere on the internet, point to a pretty ugly truth: Trans activists do not always recognize what they’re experiencing as sexism (or homophobia). They experience it, and it’s horrible, and they group it into transphobia (which, I need to stress here, is not by any stretch made up solely of these mis-attributed experiences). Then they attack women for perpetuating this sexism. Then they attack women for having their own privilege, when in fact women lean against male privilege all the time to attack other women. That’s part of the lived experience of womanhood: Women are not always allies. They are CERTAINLY not always feminists. This is by no means unique to actions toward trans women, or queer women, or non-gender-normative women in general, and radical feminists chafe at the trans activist assumption that it is. Meanwhile, in conversation some trans activists will time and again insist upon a hierarchy of suffering. And they will look at a situation only from how a trans woman would feel within it. They will pointedly ignore any consideration for a born-women’s own safety. In the famed bathroom example, radical feminists and trans activists will then bicker back and forth about their respective parties’ stake in the situation, without ever acknowledging how the other must feel. This is what creates divisions. This is what kills our ability to go forward.

        And yes, personally, I am pretty stymied, at the end of the day, by how much some trans activists push the fact that trans women are full, equal women, and then ignore what is universal to women’s lived experience, calling it cis privilege instead. Just as with the journalism example, this gets to the heart of the problem: If we don’t identify what’s causing certain outcomes, and if we don’t seek to understand the actual motivations therein, we don’t stand a chance in hell of being able to fix the problem. Trans activists can call it cis privilege all they like when a woman reads a person entering her bathroom as male, and runs for a cop to protect her space, but it won’t change the fact that the woman in question fears male intervention in her safe spaces, and reads the trans woman as a male. Yes, absolutely, all trans women deserve a place to pee. And all women deserve to feel safe. And personally, I doubt the problem will ever be solved until unisex bathrooms can be safely considered the norm. But to do that, the incidence of bathroom assaults, which happen all the time to women, need to be cut down quite drastically. So if we can champion unisex bathrooms and fight public assaults together, I’d say we have an excellent chance of creating a society where everyone feels safe to pee in public restrooms. If, however, we continue to demand that each threatened woman be treated as the sole legitimately threatened person in these scenarios, how on earth can we ever go forward?

        You write: “As for why I wrote here, I wrote because I thought you needed to hear from a feminist who was a trans woman who agreed with your aims.” Again, I really appreciate your comments to date; I hope I’ve clarified mine.

        All the best,

        Maggie

      • maggieclark said,

        *And I should probably own up right now to the proposed bathroom solution not being very religion-friendly; as a secular humanist, I sometimes forget many women are completely brought up in an environment where under no circumstances would it be okay to use a unisex bathroom. I tend to find that kind of religion a part of gender binary society, and therefore something I can’t really endorse as a feminist; but also, as a feminist, I need to recognize the lived experiences of women already raised under such beliefs: their expectation of safety, and the fears they may have for their safety, are just as important and worthy of consideration in answering the bathroom question.

      • Lucy said,

        I’d say the answer for journalism is the same answer for all queer people: education. Journalists need to be educated on these things. And, again, you make it out as though journalists are mostly accidentally doing this. I disagree. Even in cases where the family has told them a person’s name, a person’s identity, they have continued with their transphobic mis-reporting.

        Okay, then under the definition of privilege you use, trans women do not have male privilege. I’m glad we agree on that. Because, the usual charge against trans women is that we have the arrogance of male privilege thanks to being perceived that way by others and retain it even once society begins treating us as women/less-than-men/not-men/however-you-want-to-see-it where we can’t actually expect to be backed up by men (unless you have the bizarre belief that men actually support trans women, people they (incorrectly) see as lopping off their penises, I suppose). I was trying to account for that situation, but if you say it’s not privilege, unlike other radical feminists, I’m happy to go with your definition. I do have to wonder how far this goes, though. So Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher didn’t have power over the marginalised women she hurt with her government because she was a woman who had to rely on men backing her up? How is that different than a man in the same position? (Which is to say, I think that the theory fails when it deals with women in positions of actual authority within patriarchy.)

        You were “horrified” when I pointed out that a minority group talks about how you have to look at rates of incidence to see how that minority is affected by violence rather than just considering gross numbers? So it horrifies you when working class women point out that they suffer violence at a higher rate than middle or owning class women? Really? Wow. And, discussing how rates differ isn’t usually engaging in Oppression Olympics, it’s about seeing how oppression works differently on different women. It’s about seeing how we can’t treat women as a monolithic group but have to be sensitive that solutions need to be centred on the differing lived experiences of women even while recognising the commonality that comes because they are all women (and, yes, this is difficult to do, which is why I suspect so many people want to either ignore the differences and only deal with the concerns of some women who are posited as representing all of Class Woman).

        And, I’m sorry, but again you don’t seem to know your feminist history. Or, if you do, you have a very different reading from mine when it comes to queer women and feminism if you think the two merged “without a hiccough” and don’t still have tensions. Do you know about the Lavender Menace? Of the “zap” at Second Conference to Unite Women? Of the RadicaLesbians? Do you know why lesbian-feminism was started? Do you know what “bi invisibility”, what biphobia, are?

        I would suggest that trans women started putting forward trans perspectives because radical feminism was busy erasing, ignoring, or attacking them. Again, as I said in my previous comment, I strongly suspect you don’t know the history of radical feminism wrt trans women. You really should educate yourself on this sort of thing first. It is hard to have a conversation when one party is unaware of how what she supports has acted towards the other party in the past. You can’t improve the present without addressing the past.

        I am very insulted by your assertion that I am unable to distinguish between the sexism, homophobia, and transphobia I face. I am aware of the differences, thank you. I know that when I get talked over, for instance, that’s sexism. When I get shouted at by some bloke while holding my fiancée’s hand, that’s homophobia (or lesbophobia, if you prefer). When I get told that my going to the women’s toilet is an issue because I’m trans, that’s transphobia. I even know that it’s transmisogyny when a feminist explains my lived experiences of transphobia and sexism are explained to me as though I’m incapable of distinguishing between them without help. Do some trans people call things transphobic that aren’t? Yeah, probably. Just like some women call things sexist that aren’t. Some people with disabilities call things ableist that aren’t, etc, etc. Anyway, just as some radical feminists seem unable to understand that women are not the Most Oppressed Evar, yes, some trans people do not understand that the same is not true for trans people, either (I also notice that in both instances those who engage in this behaviour the most tend to be the most relatively privileged within the group; it’s like they’re trying to erase the privileges they do have). And, yes, there are trans people who are activists who are not feminists (though some of them used to be, much like womanists). However, I am a feminist, I am a trans woman, and I know just how shitty the history of activism for both has been at times. I’m not here to answer for the crimes of trans activists any more than you’re here to answer for the crimes of radical feminism.

        I admit that I tend to only talk about cissexual, not cisgender, privileges because I’m a transsexual woman and can more easily see how oppositional sexism works against those of us who dare to violate the sex/gender binary even though at this point I generally don’t suffer from it as obviously now that I am seen as fitting safely within its bounds again. More often these days I’m more likely to run into heterosexism as people hear me say “fiancée” as “fiancé” or am affectionate with her in public. The funny thing about the bathroom panic situation is that it almost inevitably catches queer, non-gender normative women. As has been pointed out endlessly, to my knowledge there has never been an incident of a man dressed as a woman assaulting a woman in the women’s bathroom although there have been incidents of men dressed as men assaulting women in the women’s bathroom (And, this is without getting into the issue of women assaulting women in the bathroom). To me this says that we have to educate women against the idea that they are any more safe from men’s violence in the bathroom than anywhere else even while we try to work towards stopping these assaults that occur at a vulnerable moment. However, asserting that I can’t use the women’s bathroom (as some do though you don’t seem to be doing this) until there are no more assaults or until there are unisex bathrooms is not the answer. “Trans people got to pee!” as the saying goes. While I personally tried to avoid public toilets when I was not certain I passed, I couldn’t always avoid using them. So I went to the women’s toilets (to a remarkable lack of comment; trans people judge themselves more harshly on appearance than the public I think) once I realised that I was getting funny looks for being in the men’s toilets (and, yes, I did feel uncomfortable and unsafe in them). So, it’s not as if trans people are unaware of the issue of comfort. But I also think the answer is education, not exclusion.

      • maggieclark said,

        I’d say the answer for journalism is the same answer for all queer people: education. Journalists need to be educated on these things.

        Educated on what things? The style guides exist. It’s not what the family uses, it’s what’s listed as official ID. If the problem is with the process involved in changing one’s ID (which I have no doubt it is) then more also needs to be done about that. I don’t disagree that journalists get a lot wrong. I don’t disagree that not all journalists are created equal, and many are hugely ignorant in trans issues. But when you say they “need to be educated on these things” in response to my question about the real logistics of alternative fact-checking, I find that a weak answer. Which is perhaps fair: I don’t expect everyone to have THE answer to all the trans/feminist problems on hand. So in short, yes, we can agree that everyone should be better educated about gender issues. I hope we can also agree that the problems with the media also rely on a system of authoritative fact-checking that necessitates a change in how we re-issue ID as well.

        Okay, then under the definition of privilege you use, trans women do not have male privilege.

        I’m a little confused by the leap here, so I’m going to parse it out:

        You wrote about born women hurling abuse at trans women as an example of cis privilege.
        I pointed out that women hurl abuse at each other, and that it is the lived experience of women to face women who are not feminist allies.
        You write that I must be agreeing trans women do not have male privilege.

        I honestly don’t feel equipped to confirm or deny that. Here’s why: It’s a fact that trans women are born into the expectations and privileges of a socially-identified male norm. It’s equally a fact that the way society treats men and women differently starts very, very young. By the time a trans woman articulates her identity, and can start changing the way society regards her, gender-wise, a great deal of male privilege training is already in place. The question becomes, does that male privilege carry over? A lot of radical feminists say it does, and that it manifests specifically when trans women regard as unique, trans-targeted violence that which is actually a part of the universal female experience — namely, that her privilege in not experiencing it before is informing her reaction to it now — and also when they answer feminist issues with the kinds of counters we’re familiar with from MRAs, suggesting that feminism wasn’t a part of their lives until it served their needs. I thought writing this out would give me an answer: it doesn’t. I have no idea.

        You were “horrified” when I pointed out that a minority group talks about how you have to look at rates of incidence to see how that minority is affected by violence rather than just considering gross numbers? So it horrifies you when working class women point out that they suffer violence at a higher rate than middle or owning class women? Really? Wow.

        Sigh. I specifically deleted in that post a line that would essentially point out that even by a rate of incidence born-women would likely “win” a numbers game. I deleted it because I don’t like the *legitimacy* of different groups’ issues being measured by back-and-forth numbers games — no more than I enjoy reading the media cover religious wars in death counts that clearly highlight cultural divisions. A death is a death is a death. Absolutely, when we’re talking about spending models it’s important to figure out where the aid is most needed, and it’s good to have a “tally” when going for legislative changes. But when we’re talking about the *legitimacy* of different groups being marginalized by numbers, I sure as hell don’t like that ugly back-and-forth conversation between radical feminists and trans feminists. I think it demeans the value of all human life. A person killed for gender difference matters — they shouldn’t be a political pawn in turf wars between gender oppression groups. That’s what I was getting at. That’s why I was horrified by “obviously”. That’s why I omitted a comment that would have further embroiled us in that nasty back-and-forth.

        However, I am seeing an absolute down-turn in the way our conversation is heading — with a lot of bad-faith comments, and a lot of accusations, and a general decline into the kind of rhetoric that fuels division elsewhere. It’s really easy to spot when one of the participants fails to respond to all the subjects the other participant has responded to. My thorough response to your concern about the term “allies”, for instance, has intriguingly gone unacknowledged in your own response. This, I notice, tends to happen when one party / both parties become more interested in being right, personally, than fully coming to a mutual understanding on all points raised. In an honest discourse, we wouldn’t be latching on to whatever seems easiest to refute. So I’m starting to worry about the direction of this discussion, and the trust relationship therein. I’m hoping we can earn each other’s good faith again soon.

        I would suggest that trans women started putting forward trans perspectives because radical feminism was busy erasing, ignoring, or attacking them. Again, as I said in my previous comment, I strongly suspect you don’t know the history of radical feminism wrt trans women. You really should educate yourself on this sort of thing first. It is hard to have a conversation when one party is unaware of how what she supports has acted towards the other party in the past. You can’t improve the present without addressing the past.

        Yeah, well, you’re wrong. I do know my history. I know the nasty, brutish ways both trans activists and radical feminists, and even liberal feminists have behaved throughout all of this. Your presumptions are interestingly entrenched, however, in a very different perception of the history of feminism than the one I own — and I’ll point out how this may be colouring your misinterpretation of my background here.

        But first I feel the need to respond to the next chronological point in your response, because it’s clear this upset you:

        Trans activists do not always recognize what they’re experiencing as sexism (or homophobia). They experience it, and it’s horrible, and they group it into transphobia (which, I need to stress here, is not by any stretch made up solely of these mis-attributed experiences). Then they attack women for perpetuating this sexism. Then they attack women for having their own privilege, when in fact women lean against male privilege all the time to attack other women. That’s part of the lived experience of womanhood: Women are not always allies.

        Your response:

        I am very insulted by your assertion that I am unable to distinguish between the sexism, homophobia, and transphobia I face. I am aware of the differences, thank you. I know that when I get talked over, for instance, that’s sexism. When I get shouted at by some bloke while holding my fiancée’s hand, that’s homophobia (or lesbophobia, if you prefer). When I get told that my going to the women’s toilet is an issue because I’m trans, that’s transphobia.

        Maybe my phrasing was off, but we’d been talking so much about how trans activism presents various scenarios (and the issue of Mercado came especially into the fore in my original post) that I honestly didn’t think you’d take that as me telling you how you feel, and what you understand. I am sorry for the harm I caused with that phrasing. It is, however, an absolute given that many many many trans activists appropriate universally female experiences and hand them back to women as crimes perpetrated through born-women privilege against them. That’s what I was referring to. That was all. Apologies again.

        Anyway, back to my background, which you challenge as wanting. I first and foremost have to point out that I brought bi-phobia into this conversation first, so I find it disingenuous for you to ask me if I know what it is. You do, however, give some leave here, when you write:

        And, I’m sorry, but again you don’t seem to know your feminist history. Or, if you do, you have a very different reading from mine when it comes to queer women and feminism if you think the two merged “without a hiccough” and don’t still have tensions.

        Because it’s true, our readings are different. I detest the wave theory of feminism, and all the entrenchments it yields in the rise of feminism as something very recent. Certainly, feminism has undergone very important movements in the last 100 years. But First, Second, and Third Wave feminism, with all the embedded discourses that have yielded spades of labellism I also don’t enjoy, gives the impression that feminism itself is only 100 years old. It isn’t. Neither is queerness. And feminism has seen very long, very fruitful periods of social deviation and empowerment fall hand in hand with queer expression therein. But this isn’t the first time we’ve been talking different chronological languages: Just as you inferred me to be referring to a more recent entry of transgenderism into feminism, when I was talking about THE theoretical, social-contract entrance point, here to you’re talking about feminism in the short and contemporary term. The same term embroiled with such a vicious back-and-forth rhetoric between over-labelled sub-groups as to give me cause to restructure this blog in the first place, and seek out people interested in answering real world questions without playing into divisive, counterproductive, silencing discourse. I probably should create a post to this end, to explain that in the future. For now, that’s fair: we’ll talk solely within the immediate, the present, and the ugly short-term history of trans feminist discourse.

        And… on a final note: We clearly disagree on what is exclusionary and what isn’t. As you note in your other response, which I’m eager to get to, neither of us can know for certain what the outcome of a trans-centred centre would be. But if education is your goal — and it’s a good one! — then my question to you would be: How do you feel that education is best achieved?

      • Lucy said,

        No, I don’t have the answers about journalism. I’m more involved with violence against women on the organising of the populace side (see earlier comment about Take Back The Night). (As a side note, I know you’re not a fan of “cis privilege” but I have to point out the fact that if I die in a newsworthy manner I will be reported as a man while you will be reported as a woman because of this whole overreliance on official IDs for identifying people’s gender. Being correctly as a woman in death may not be the world’s greatest privilege, but it nonetheless exists. And, it’s also part of why I want the gender binary gone. Seriously, why does my ID list my sex/gender?)

        I “leaped” to believing you didn’t believe trans women have male privilege because in your response you said this: “Other women know they can count on male leaders in government and the community to back them up, because male dominant society benefits when women don’t have control over their bodies.” Male dominant society also benefits when rigid categories of sex are enforced (aka oppositional sexism). Women beating up trans men know that society will approve of their behaviour and back them up because it helps enforce oppositional sexism. Privilege is a complicated issue, yes. The usual radical feminist response to the issue of trans women and male privilege involves going from the definition of privilege that we’ve been using, being unjustly favoured by a society which backs up that favour, to one where we try to get into someone’s head and figure out if their current behaviour comes from apparently having a position that society used to favour. That’s tricky and unsurprisingly makes a lot of assumptions of how privilege is internalised (many trans people point out that trans people usually internalise societal attitudes towards their actual, not apparent,gender) and how one deals with experiencing a privilege one does not want. My answer is that there can’t be a universal statement that will cover the variety of ways that this plays out for individuals. I know I’ve been a feminist since before I knew what the term meant (Thanks, Mom!). Also, I think it’s fair to say that most women wouldn’t be feminists (and they aren’t, actually, when we look at the numbers) if it didn’t serve their needs. Trans women are only noticeable since some don’t know just how bad sexism is until they transition. I actually have heard similar stories of conversion from various women, so it’s not like it’s uncommon.

        Yeah, it’s good you deleted that line. It’s a shame you had to bring it up now, since the numbers seem to disagree with you. Yes, I’m sickened at the way that numbers are slung about to “prove” who has it worst. In this way, I don’t like them. However, they do serve a purpose, as I believe I said, in that differences in women also result in differences in how they are affected by things like violence. Generally speaking, women who are marginalised seem more likely to experience violence, even death and also experience it in a way that non-marginalised women do not. If we’re looking at dealing with violence, we have to recognise those differences to be able to effectively address ending the violence. One-size-does-not-fit-all.

        I apologise for not addressing your point about “allies”. I honestly missed it when scrolling back and forth between your comment and my reply. Let me address it now. First off, I despise the term “ally” because it is too often used by people who claim it and use it as a shield against criticism when they act against the people they are supposedly allies of. That said, I need to address this:

        “The desire to forward trans issues even if they marginalize or invisibilize born-women’s issues (in which case, you’re speaking as a trans activist), or the desire to protect and empower all women, and so look at situations from all angles therein (in which case, you’re speaking as a feminist).

        To me this sums up the problem with a feminism that does not recognise intersectionalism. Because only in a feminism that refuses to recognise that trans women are women and are thus part of “all women” would that choice be necessary. Thus the history of the failure of feminism is summed up as various women find themselves given this choice and told that they are not part of “all women”. To me it is a false choice. If I am advancing the issues of one group at the cost of another, I’m failing in both and am doing it wrong. If a framework requires me to prioritise one group over another, that framework needs changing. If it requires me to deny my identity, it needs trashing.

        You mention being a good ally to feminism by refusing to view queer women’s porn even though it doesn’t hurt women because otherwise men would claim their porn is similar. First off, I find the conflation of feminism with straight, anti-porn feminists odd. Second, the idea that one group of women has to pay a price for the good of other women is inherently offensive to me. Porn is perhaps minor, but this is the same logic that is used to exclude trans women from women’s spaces and services even feminism itself, a far less minor issue. And, yes, I do work for women’s reproductive rights, just as lesbians have always worked for reproductive rights. To me, I don’t have a problem wanting to work for something that doesn’t necessarily benefit me but does benefit other women. I do have a problem being told I have to, as I said elsewhere, “take one for the team”.

        Trans women can’t “appropriate universally female experiences”. They may misinterpret their experience, but since they’re women they’re no more appropriating experiences than any woman is. Oh, wait, this is that whole, “trans women have boy parts so they’re not female and thus can’t talk about their experiences as different if `real women` have similar experiences” argument isn’t it? I hope I’m misunderstanding you, because that really is offensive. Also, I am very leery of the idea that there are that many universal experiences. Our world is far too complex to allow much universalisation. See all previous comments on intersectionalism.

        Yes, feminism goes back very far into the past. As does queerness (including trans). And, yes, there have been periods when feminism and queer expression (and trans existence) have existed without conflict. But, I’m sorry, the scope of time we’re talking about does not alter the fact that it is factually inaccurate to say that queer activism and feminism merged “without a hiccough”. That did not happen. The fact that I can point to any historical example where the two were separate and one had to fight to get accepted into the other is enough to deny that. Yes, I do think they are compatible, which I guess is your greater point, but I admit I get really twitchy when people rewrite history to erase conflict.

        I feel education is best achieved person to person, sharing lived experience. It looks a lot like the consciousness-raising of early feminism.

      • maggieclark said,

        Hi Lucy,

        Okay, one response to an immediate question of offense, and then I’m going to summarize what a night’s reprieve from this has led me to conclude we agree/disagree about, and where individual investments lie, and what we’re still pressing on going forward. I’m going to do that simply because I don’t like the style of argument, and the sloppy use of language, I let slide in my comments yesterday, and I feel the result is a lot more tension and opposition than makes sense between us. Please do clarify/correct where you see things having resolved differently.

        But first, the offense: You ask me if my line “appropriate universally female experiences” is a nod to an argument I honestly don’t even fully understand (“trans women have boy parts so they’re not female and thus can’t talk about their experiences as different if `real women` have similar experiences”). To answer, I’m going to repeat the full sentence I wrote originally:

        It is, however, an absolute given that many many many trans activists appropriate universally female experiences and hand them back to women as crimes perpetrated through born-women privilege against them. That’s what I was referring to.

        I’m emphasizing the part that didn’t emerge in your rephrasing of the question. Just as it goes without saying that feminists and women are not one and the same group, it should go without saying that trans activists, as a discursive body and as a lobbyist body, are not one and the same group as trans women. Women — all women — can and do misinterpret actions. The difference is that trans activists absolutely claim some universal women’s experiences as distinct to trans women in their discourse and lobbying, and then blame non-trans women (is that a better phrase, by the way? it occurs to me it might be) for perpetuating this “different” experience set in the first place. This is also why I find your referenced argument so difficult to understand: You say the implicit argument is that trans women aren’t women, and that because they’re not women they have to… accept that their experiences are just part of women’s lived experience? That’s what the “thus” in your line seems to imply, anyway. So… no? That’s not at all my argument. I was talking about trans activism. I said exactly as much.

        That said, a starting list:

        1) Our definition of privilege

        This started off different, then you confirmed that we must be working with the same definition so long as the extension of my definition (“Gender oppression arises from holding gendered power when one discriminates. … [It lies] with those who have the power to oppress on the basis of gender. … Those would be gender-normative men.”) meant I agreed trans women don’t have residual male privilege. I said I honestly have no idea if they do or not: upbringing says one thing, and I have no idea how much life experience being identified as a woman it would take to dispel that. I do absolutely agree, though, that trans women sure as hell aren’t given any new privilege the moment they start living their actual identity. So I thought we were in agreement on that score… until you asserted that I have cis privilege. On this it shouldn’t surprise you: I disagree, both on the “cis” score and on the “privilege” score. Yes, I absolutely benefit from gender normativity (so long as I don’t look or act too queer, and so long as I behave exactly as fits my gender female social expectations), but it’s absolutely matched by other queer persons who pass, and trans persons who pass, and straight, non-trans women who pass. If any of us look the part of gender-normative society, we’re okay. If any of us don’t, we get hurt. And our knowledge of this possibility, as vulnerable groups to gender oppression, informs all our actions and our attitudes in a way distinct from those who need never fear reprisal for such difference.

        Also, talking about gender/identity conflation as the root of cis privilege with a woman who has periods? Not an easy argument: it is all too commonplace for people to question how I feel about something due to my biological facts. That’s hugely delegitimizing, and hugely based on other people confusing my body for me. This is absolutely not to say that a trans woman getting her identity confused with her body isn’t awful: of course it is. And I definitely can relate. Being subordinated to one’s sex-based truths is awful, awful, awful.

        Which I guess leads me to #2

        2) Trans women

        This is its own category, because you seem to grossly misinterpret what I recognize as trans, and… funny feeling here: An argument wherein one party thinks the other party doesn’t respect her gender identity doesn’t have a chance in hell of ending fruitfully. I get this feeling especially when you say “Even if you want to reject trans women as women based on birth genital assessment” Honestly, I expected that from Ruth, but I don’t know what on earth gave you that impression. Maybe the misreading of trans activist with trans woman at some points? Maybe just the history of this discourse? In any case, I’ll say the obvious again: You are what you identify as. I don’t need or want to look in your pants/skirt for proof. I don’t think trans women are gay men in drag, or straight men making a mockery of women, or whatever other nonsense seems to be introduced in a bad-faith sense here. I respect your choices. I respect your experience. I appreciate your comments here. And I hope to all heck that clarifies things, because I’m frankly surprised I have to repeat myself at all on those scores.

        I repeat. There are varying opinions. If you want to know what they are, you can go find them. As you said, I came here to talk about the aims we share. I do not share the aim of educating you on the variants of trans thought, especially given that you deny you have any privilege even as you express it in expecting someone to educate you.

        Actually, no, now I’m not surprised at all. When the hell did I say I expected you to educate me? I clarified why I asked the question I did, and then said it was perfectly fine by me if you didn’t want to answer it. Where the hell is the expectation there?

        I am really not okay with these bad-faith readings. Comments like Ruth’s I’ll allow, because I don’t like censorship when I can help it, but I refuse to engage in full discourse with someone who pointedly makes a habit of it. Again, for the most part I’ve really enjoyed your comments, Lucy (and I don’t just mean where we agree, but also where you point things out in ways that recognize and directly respond to my actual comments: there have been many such instances to date), so I’m going to assume I haven’t made myself as clear as I need to, to merit good-faith readings from you just yet.

        3) The queer umbrella

        Anyway, yes, the inclusion of trans within queer as theoretical construct does complicate explaining what trans is, but the political benefits matter far more (though there is always an ongoing debate about this). Queer is more political than theoretical construct (as is transgender, for that matter).

        Here, for instance, I definitely see the fruits of our best conversations to date. I think this is really interesting — the notion that any political benefits can arise from an unclear initial identity presentation.

        I know we disagree on the benefit that could be derived from a trans centre, but you in particular expressed doubt that the queer community would still support the group, and work on collective goals, if trans had its own banner. Why would you assume that? With the history of thick integration between women’s and queer centre events, what leads to your suspicion that things would not be anywhere near as hospitable with a trans centre around?

        Although, you know, as I write this in the light of “the next day” I see what you were saying about this reading like one group telling another group what they should do. It does smack awfully of what. So I’m going to one hundred percent cede this point. But when it comes to women’s centres, the government should absolutely not be dictating who has to be allowed in every event. A responsible community should also work it out for itself, on the basis of its own needs. But they should have the flexibility to do just that.

        4) Women’s centres and inclusivity/exclusivity

        If a centre wants to, say, serve only straight women, as long as it’s honest and upfront about it and doesn’t take government money, they obviously can. And, I’ll be down there picketing along with other queer women. Because I think that a centre that privileges the privileged at the cost of the disadvantaged is wasting precious resources.

        I agree with you on this up to a point. I do not agree on your definition of disadvantaged, especially in light of TBL’s original example. Older Muslim immigrant women in Britain? Advantaged, really? I think you’re referring more to the fear of educated middle-to-upper-class white women getting to be cozy at the cost of trans inclusivity (I might be wrong!), but that’s not what the example illustrated — and you did pull us back to that example once already. Is there fear of a slippery slope argument arising from this? You know what? I agree: there is a fear. Which is why, again, I fully reverse my stance on a feminist-promoted trans centre (if trans persons want it, of course, that would be something different), but only so long as the government doesn’t impede on the key community discourse that will then have to go into making the community as inclusive as possible.

        5) Feminist/queer paradigms

        This is all my fault. I referred to things in my writing that were only fully realized in my head, and assumed you (and others) would understand when I was referring to social contract theory, or retaliating to my tremendous issues with feminist wave theory. I absolutely need to do clarifying posts on both; but in the meantime, I absolute need to commit to talking about the contemporary discourse, much as it includes using terms loaded with a history I dislike.

        I greatly dislike the venomous substance of most debate between liberal, radical, and trans feminists over intersectionality. Everything from the way we debate, to what arguments we’re using as sticking points, really upset me. And sometimes I think we’re so stuck in the chicken-and-egg present that we’re too busy reacting to the last invisibilizing or marginalizing remark we’ve received to step out and ask ourselves “If we could do this over again, how would we do it differently? What’s the place we want to be at? And how do we get there?”

        Ideally, that is what I want to do with this blog — and by no means solely by talking about conflicts that have arisen around trans issues. Like I mentioned, there are other very huge problems in the feminist and queer umbrella frameworks. I’d like to get to them sometime too.

        In practice, yesterday was a good example for me of how easy it is to get stuck in the mud. I don’t like it. I don’t like how I argued, and I don’t like all of what I argued. So I’m going to keep trying, and keep conversing with those who wish to step out of the usual fray as well. And in that realm, again, I very much appreciate our conversation to date — the good and the bad alike.

        Dinner for me now. Much appreciation for your comments to date.

        Best,

        Maggie

      • Lucy said,

        Okay, if you’re going to say that universal women’s experiences are being appropriated, I’m going to have to ask just what these universal experiences are and who the “many many many” trans activists are and where they’re doing the appropriating. Because, that’s a broad claim to make and sounds an awful like a rhetorical move, especially with the use of “many many many” to describe the number of people doing this.

        1) Privilege
        If you believe in transphobia, you have to believe in cis privilege. An oppression (transphobia) does not exist if there isn’t a corresponding privilege (cis privilege). So, really, if you deny there’s cis privilege, you’re denying there’s transphobia. Because the insistence that transphobia is just sexism or just homophobia or just gender non-conformity or that it’s even some combination of the three or something else again denies all the trans people who also experience those oppressions, have considered the matter, and still say that it’s not. And, they do say that it’s not. Heck, I’ve said that it’s not. Yes, they oppressions can be similar but similarity does not make them the same oppressions. I have to admit I don’t know what you’re talking about with “gender/identity conflation” because I don’t remember and can’t find me saying that, so I can’t address that point.

        2) Trans Women
        My statement of “Even if you…” was allowing for those reading our comments here who do believe that (and thus don’t agree with you). I’m sorry that it was poorly phrased and led you to think it was directed at you personally. And, yes, we have not yet conversed enough for me to trust you yet, especially given that you say things that are commonly used to deny my reality. I’m willing to discuss, but you have to understand it can be difficult given how burned trans people have been before in engaging with people saying pretty much what you’ve been saying.

        3) The Queer Umbrella

        I say that queer people would not necessarily support trans people if trans people were a separated consituency because I see how many problems trans people have in getting support from the rest of the queer community now when we supposedly belong to it. Others disagree with me. This is by no means a settled issue. More realistically, there’s the issue of finite resources. Trans people are a tiny minority, a minority within a minority when it comes to being in the queer community. Some places might be able to support a queer centre and a trans centre, but many would not. Further, funds at some places are allocated on the basis of the size of the population served which could result in a trans centre with wholly inadequate resources. Thus, I think the compromise of being within the queer community is the way to go. Yes, a community should be able to determine how its events run, but my problem is that the way many communities run often excludes those with the least voice. Thus why trans people can be excluded from a number of things with no significant repercussions.

        4) Women’s centres and inclusivity/exclusivity

        I assume you’ve read my reply about the specific centre mentioned by TBL. Other than that, we really seem to be agreeing here.

        5) Feminist/queer paradigms

        Sorry, I’m just lacking knowledge of social contract theory, and I’m not committed to wave theory. I also dislike that we’re often reacting more to the past than the present in these things, but I believe we can only get past this problem by acknowledging that it happens and that it’s something to be honest about. I read back and see me reacting to things you didn’t say but that are like things others have said and am not happy. It gets in the way. Hopefully we can move beyond that. Because, yes, there are other things to talk about. Honestly, being trans is something that’s more obvious online than offline. Offline my concerns are mainly those of a queer woman.

        Anyway, thanks for your comments as well. Hopefully, we can continue this in a way that’s useful to us both and does not end up becoming evidence elsewhere of how terrible trans women or radical feminists are but evidence of how people who might fundamentally disagree on some issues can nonetheless have a fruitful conversation.

      • maggieclark said,

        Hi Lucy,

        Thank you for your thoughtful reply. In keeping with your comments in 5) and 2), I absolutely agree there’s a shit-pile of animosity for feminists/trans activists to muck through before we can get any forward momentum. I really appreciate your patience, especially with things that resonated so immediately with arguments others have likely used to discount things like your inner identity and personal motivations for transition. Certainly there is plenty of room for us to still work at improving lines of trust and good faith; I hope my comments going forward continue to pursue and improve upon that aim.

        That said, in writing out a response to two very powerful comments of yours, I realized I had far too much material to fit as a simple reply here. For this reason, I wrote out that response in a full post, here, which I think gets back more to the overarching thesis of my last few posts here. I absolutely recognize that this post does not answer all the questions you outlined here — most specifically, it neglects the first, about universal women’s experiences — and I promise to get to that later. Unfortunately, I have to leave for a while; I’ll try to get back to it later.

        All the best,

        Maggie

      • maggieclark said,

        Hi Lucy,

        Getting back now to the question of “universal women’s experiences.” Sorry for the delay!

        It is the universal lived experience of women not to expect other women to be allies.

        For reasons of failing to live up to expectations of gender normativity (which, as I outline in my most recent post, isn’t “normative” at all), or performing so well as to be a threat to women who aren’t as gender normative; or even because women feel powerless to take out their frustration with emergent discrimination in the male dominant gender binary against men, women hurt other women.

        This is an ugly truth that makes women the world over never automatic allies. The women who perpetuate clitorectomies because the same was done to them. The women who abuse their children because they think their husbands/partners favour the girl child (not even in a sexual sense!) over them. The girls at school, and women at the workplace, who cut down other girls and women for not being “woman enough,” or perhaps for being so “woman” as to be seen as a threat. The women of orthodox religious backgrounds, who having been raised under strong male hierarchies condemn other women as sluts and whores (and queer persons as deviants and perverts) for their independence, and seek to punish women in our welfare state by denying medical coverage for sex-related treatment (everything from vaccines to contraceptives to abortion) or simply by championing tax benefits to traditional families over single mothers, who then live in poverty.

        All of these actions, and more, stem from the male dominant gender binary, which privileges (with an expectation set, but not a set of guarantees) those women who perform female gender normativity as best fits the dictates of their communities. Women understand this, and feminists work to educate women in this regard, ostensibly so we can fight it.

        What SOME trans activists do, and as even you did earlier in this thread, is to use examples of women saying and doing not very nice things to one another, and identifying these as signs that women are treating trans persons differently. “Are you a boy or a girl” isn’t much different than being told you’re “not a real woman” because you don’t act or present a certain way — and women deal with the latter from other women all the time. This is the universal lived experience of being a woman: out of fear that they’ll lose the expectation set of benefits gained through gender normativity, some women attack one another, vying for “top spot” and pushing others horribly aside.

        Even feminists do this, as I’m sure you’ve experienced when you chance upon a forum where sex female women insist that trans women are men (and in fearing further male oppression therein, react in such a way as to perpetuate the gender binary). Were trans women born into a system of male privilege? Yes. Does that male privilege imbue trans women with an expectation set that exists after self-identification and transition? I don’t know. But I do know that if trans women expect that women are somehow always nice to each other, despite being universally forced to fight for the expectation (not the guarantee!) of good treatment under a male dominant gender binary, the reality is going to be horrible, just horrible, when it sinks in.

        We all suffer under gender normative male oppression. As I outline in my most recent post / response to you, it’s really only when we recognize this that our cause has any chance of forward momentum.

        All the best,

        Maggie

  4. thebeardedlady said,

    Just on your last comment – I’ve also been pondering the question of religion. I work in a women’s centre at the heart of one of Britain’s biggest Asian communities. Everyone I work with identifies as a Muslim. These are women who express a severe lack of comfort in being around men. Women who will not speak if a man is present. I have been in several situations where I have been out with a group of women and Asian men have instructed the women to go home, because we were all out en masse.

    I raised the question with some colleagues today about what would we do if a trans woman wanted to access the women’s centre. They immediately re-framed it as a question of how we protect the born women. It was clear that if we were legally obliged to grant access to a trans woman, this would make it impossible for the majority of other women to continue using the centre. It would more or less mean the end of our ability to work with these women at all.

    On the basis of the discussions I’ve had over the last few weeks, I believe most trans activists would argue that not allowing a trans woman to use a women-only space would be transphobic and discriminatory. And most of the feminists – including myself – would argue that it is sexist and misogynistic to demand access for trans women at the very real expense of other women, putting them in danger and isolation. There are very, very few resources for women in this area – particularly for Asian women, many of whom do not speak English and for whom this centre is a literal lifeline.

    So, for me, these debates are not only very interesting, but very serious. I would hope that trans women can get access to services when they need them. However, I don’t think that these should be born-women’s services, because of the detrimental effect this has on born-women.

    I am leaning very much towards the idea that trans women need to establish their own services and support for themselves. I am sure that this is happening – but as a feminist, I mainly hear about trans women trying to access women-only spaces. It’s not that I think trans women shouldn’t have the support that they need, just that I don’t think it should come at the expense of other women’s lives.

    So, following from this, I am feeling that maybe the answer is that as long as trans women keep petitioning feminists for access to feminist and women-only spaces, they are setting up women as the enemy, because we are forced to keep saying no to these demands. And we are setting trans activists up as the enemy, because they keep telling us to take actions that we know are going to hurt other women.

    If trans women established their own resources, centres, services etc., and allowed born-women to keep their women-only spaces uncontested, I think that we would quickly see where our needs and services could overlap. I appreciate that it must be painful to self-identify as a woman and to be told that you are not welcome in women-space. However, backing off from those spaces, and creating your own without taking from us, is what it will take to get feminists’ trust.

    • maggieclark said,

      So, following from this, I am feeling that maybe the answer is that as long as trans women keep petitioning feminists for access to feminist and women-only spaces, they are setting up women as the enemy, because we are forced to keep saying no to these demands. And we are setting trans activists up as the enemy, because they keep telling us to take actions that we know are going to hurt other women.

      I think you’ve nailed the problem square on the head here. I also live in a community with a strong Muslim immigrant population, which creates huge challenges for female inclusivity. I have a male acquaintance who was horribly abused by his mother and then an ex girlfriend, and from this background is now reacting to a perceived lack of resources for his needs in a way that I worry will find him in MRA territory down the line. In one of the more difficult conversations I had with him, he told me he felt the Women’s Centre at our university should have more resources for men, and stop having events that excluded them. So began the explanation of safe spaces for women, and religious outreach therein. “What about the Muslim men?” he asked. “Where are they supposed to go?”

      The difference is (as you know) that no one is stopping them from creating a space. Spaces where men dominate discourse are everywhere. But my foremothers fought long and hard for our spaces, and we still have to protect and preserve them from attitudes like his. And as you amply pointed out, this isn’t just a whim: this is serious. This is the difference between being able to reach whole communities of women, or having them shut out from key resources needed to defend against gender oppression. So it alarms me that women are made to apologize for our “privilege” of having such spaces. These weren’t handed to us. They’re never handed to us. The stigma alone imbued in going to one of these places is still out of this world for young women. And men always want in. They are always a hairs-breadth away from taking these spaces away.

      Another point of confusion, when it comes to resource allocation, also arises for me in the readiness with which “transgender” entered the queer umbrella. All the trans activists I’ve met are steadfastly against terming transgender a sexual orientation. They point out sexual orientation as the number one red herring of transphobia (i.e. thinking a trans woman is just a gay man taken to the extreme), and then add the term “lesbian” or “heterosexual” or “gay” to their self-identities depending on how their sexual orientations relate to their self-identified genders. So why are trans activists adhering so strenuously to the queer umbrella (as a distinct “T” in LGBTTQQ), while at the same time insisting that people are transphobic for assuming their identity relates more to a queer sexual orientation than a distinct gender class? Am I the only one confused by this mis-match of community labelling and stated, activist aims?

      On my campus the women’s centre and the queer centre are right next door to each other, and collaborate wonderfully on community projects and resource initiatives. If the trans community were to create their own centre and resources, I could easily see these services transforming into a holy triad of oppression-fighters. Keeping in mind feminism’s need to serve all marginalized women, I think you’re right, TBL — there really isn’t any other way about it. Trans persons need their own spaces and their own resources, which we can then bring together for distinct projects to work towards common goals. Thanks for responding!

      • Lucy said,

        I would suggest your problem stems from your lack of knowledge of queer history. Trans people didn’t “enter” the queer movement. They helped found it. Until they started getting ejected from it.

        You also lack a knowledge of feminist history since you seem to assume that trans women are only recently in feminism as well. Also not true. Again, they were there until they started getting ejected from it.

        I’m thus trying to understand that you speak in ignorance when you tell trans people what we need to do and don’t understand the irony involved in saying we need to make trans-only things because we’re not part of feminism and not queer. Also, funny thing, trans people, like pretty much every other marginalised group, have created our own resources. But the idea that this somehow lets others thus be able to exclude trans people is an example of bigotry at its finest. Do we exclude women of colour from women’s centres or queer centres because there are organisations for women of colour?

        As far as the example of serving Muslim women, I’m curious if this also means that lesbian or other queer women are not allowed to be served there as well or even volunteer because of Muslim beliefs about queer people. Also, if the organisation actually had trans women and Muslim women within it already, a solution could be found by discussion. You know, the way that feminism is supposed to work – women talking to women. The idea that the way to serve one marginalised group of women is to exclude another marginalised group of women is not feminism, it’s simply bigotry dressed up in pretty clothes. And, again, it is transphobia that posits trans women as -really- men. It has worked in other situations, if the issue has come up, to do something as simple as explain that trans women are not men. This is really feminism and trans 101 stuff here.

      • maggieclark said,

        Well, I have to rewrite this comment, due to accidentally clicking the wrong button somewhere, so apologies for the terseness that may invariably follow in trying to write something out a second time.

        You have many, many red herrings afoot in your comment. I also, most certainly hope that your response here isn’t in lieu of a response to my direct response to you, because I look forward to your comments there.

        1) I never commented on the time-line of trans entry into the queer umbrella. I only commented on the readiness with which trans persons aligned themselves with this umbrella term, when trans activists steadfastly describe trans identity as a gender identity, not a sexual orientation a) by using other queer terms to supplement their identities (i.e. lesbian trans woman), and b) typifying the mis-attribution of sexual orientation to trans identity as trans phobia. Perhaps I should have considered that by not referring to any concrete time-line it would be inferred as a contemporary time-line; I’ll keep that in mind for the future: in the realm of theory, I regularly refer to the moment at which numerous social contracts were made, as if they all actually happened at a set, recent time, when clearly they did not. I am very much of the school of argument that also believes you should assume the best intentions of those with whom you’re conversing, but I fully appreciate that the nature of this online discourse yields suspicion far more readily. I’ll be sure to spell out quite clearly in the future when I’m referring to theoretical social contracts vs. real world chronologies.

        2) Ditto with feminism. You presume something which is absolutely not my argument, nor within what I have written. What you fail to do, meanwhile, is comment on the underlying issue, which I have outlined quite clearly above, and also in the original comment. Especially when we’re talking about how best to teach acceptance on a wide scale, it becomes really difficult, from an identity perspective, to align trans activist desires for trans identity not be confused with sexual orientation with the fact that trans activists choose to be equally present alongside L, G, B, other T, Q, and Q — all terms with sexual orientation sewn in. I would thoroughly appreciate any insight you might have on this surface distinction — are there factions within trans activism, as there are in feminism, working to such diametrically opposing aims that these juxtapositions emerge? How should they be reconciled in the teaching of trans identity to those religious groups we’ll get to in a moment?

        3) Where do you get “trans-only”? I didn’t say that. If a trans centre were to be built on the same premises as a women’s centre and a queer centre, it would likely follow the same mandate — namely, it would be trans centred. That’s all! If those building the centre would prefer it to be trans only, well, that’s their call. But the women’s centre and queer centre aren’t anything-only (the mandates are even male inclusive in theoretical scope for most of them), so it’s disingenuous to talk about exclusion as if the building of centres is like building walls. They’re just X-centred. And as I said explicitly in my comment, they’re differently centred so they can more effectively come together on issues that resonate with all three, without excluding huge factions therein. Because, yes, trans issues are a part of women’s issues. And vice versa. And queer issues are a part of women’s issues. And vice versa. And trans issues are a part of queer issues. And vice versa.

        4) I absolutely do not doubt that trans persons have created their own resources — that’s why we have a trans vigil distinct from queer vigils and women’s vigils. But this is precisely my point: Is that not stronger, in the eyes of trans activists, than having trans deaths lumped in with plain old born-women deaths during women’s week? It must be, because while full integration into women’s centres is seen as imperative, it’s seen as equally important for trans persons to have their own vigil outside of women’s week. I do not say this to condemn either action, because clearly these are the consequences of a discourse about trans feminism that has been going on long before I was born, but I DO say it to point out the conflict at work here, in both demanding equally, full inclusion in one while very firmly asserting the distinction of the other. Just as trans activists firmly assert that trans identity is not about sexual orientation, and yet equally firmly hold high the LGBTTQQ banner. These are strange collisions, with hugely relevant implications for the way the movement represents itself and its aims. Which is why I thoroughly appreciate your comments here: I would very much like to understand what those coherent, overarching, non-conflicting aims really are.

        4) But the idea that this somehow lets others thus be able to exclude trans people is an example of bigotry at its finest. Do we exclude women of colour from women’s centres or queer centres because there are organisations for women of colour?

        Again, you’re drawing from the erroneous notion that I wrote about exclusion, which I’ve already addressed, but I also really feel the need to point out the gross abuse of intersectional discourse here: we’re talking about gender oppression, which is so diverse a category as to include gender oppression through queer identity, gender identity, and sex reality. We’re not talking about racial oppression. We’re also not talking about class oppression, in case the next straw man was going to include refusing homeless women access to the centre. We’re talking about GENDER. Which has enough cross-sectionality sewn in to keep us at these discussions for years.

        But to answer your implicit question here, which is, I think, “At what point WOULD you check your bigotry in excluding people from your spaces?” I need look no further than your disingenuous reading of the Muslim question, where you write:

        I’m curious if this also means that lesbian or other queer women are not allowed to be served there as well or even volunteer because of Muslim beliefs about queer people.

        I say “disingenuous” because I have to believe you are just choosing to ignore the fact that many Muslim women are taught that Muslin men are to be obeyed without question in order to make your argument. Many Muslim women would disapprove of queer identity, absolutely, but their actions around queer persons would not be based on fear of men (and for any Muslim persons who might be reading, yes, I understand that one of these orthodox fears is passive — couched in the virtue of modesty and fear of consequences for immodesty). Queer women absolutely do not provoke this kind of oppressive fear. We can’t. We’re only women.

        To that end, I find it funny that you write: Also, if the organisation actually had trans women and Muslim women within it already, a solution could be found by discussion. You know, the way that feminism is supposed to work – women talking to women. My women’s centre has both trans women and Muslim women regularly participating in different events. A solution WAS found. The trans women did not partake in multicultural women’s only discussion groups. Why? Because they recognized that feminism needs to find ways to include all women, and that this was the best way to achieve that end.

        Which brings me back to the implicit question I think your straw man was asking, namely: “”At what point WOULD you check your bigotry in excluding people from your spaces?” It’s really interesting that you ask what would happen if ever being queer would keep another woman from feeling comfortable talking about her issues. Because like the trans women in my community, who recognized that feminism is about more than just them, I too recognize that feminism is about more than just me.

        If a group of marginalized people in my community needed a safe space to articulate their issues and seek women’s resources, and they couldn’t feel comfortable meeting to talk about these issues in a place with me in it, I simply wouldn’t attend those meetings. That seems like a no-brainer. What isn’t such a no-brainer is why the hell other people think feminism should serve them and only them.

        Anyway, looking forward to your comments on the other response. Hope this clears up those bad-faith presumptions that I realize are only natural in a debate that’s been utterly combative the entire time I’ve seen it online.

        Best,

        Maggie

      • Lucy said,

        I think I made a reasonable conclusion when you agreed with someone who said:

        I raised the question with some colleagues today about what would we do if a trans woman wanted to access the women’s centre. They immediately re-framed it as a question of how we protect the born women. It was clear that if we were legally obliged to grant access to a trans woman, this would make it impossible for the majority of other women to continue using the centre.

        To which you replied, in part:

        This is the difference between being able to reach whole communities of women, or having them shut out from key resources needed to defend against gender oppression. So it alarms me that women are made to apologize for our “privilege” of having such spaces. These weren’t handed to us. They’re never handed to us. The stigma alone imbued in going to one of these places is still out of this world for young women. And men always want in.

        See, that has a familiar sound to it. The one where trans women are positioned as -really men-, where we’re told we didn’t build these spaces so they don’t serve us, where we have to endure violence for the benefit of the greater good. So I guess I should instead take it that we’re now talking about making utilitarian decisions where some women are served at the cost of other women?

        Anyway:

        1) I really don’t understand what you’re saying here. Trans people are part of the queer umbrella for the historical reasons I mentioned, for the fact that society sees us as queer (see people’s arguments about how transphobia is actually homophobia), for the fact that many queer issues have to do with non-conformity of gender expression, for the fact that a number of us are queer, as well as for the simple fact that a larger group has more political power for all their issues. Queer is not only about sexual orientation, and if you think it is, then you are using a more limited definition than most people.

        2) Trans people are people, not some alien life form, so of course there are diverging opinions on how to handle trans issues. You’re perfectly capable of educating yourself on these issues as I’ve done as their are blogs, communities, even books. Just as we expect people to do feminism 101 before getting involved in more advanced topics, I expect the same of you when you start wanting to debate trans issues.

        3) The idea that there needs to be a trans centre implictly argues for trans-only. I also think it’s unrealistic to expect trans people to have the resources to start such things when we face resistance even getting our issues recognised as real. To be able to start centres there needs to be support from a broad community. Did you ever stop to wonder why people like lesbians, gay men, and bi men and women banded together in queer politics when they have diverging aims and only appear similar from society’s myopic view? Do you not wonder why the umbrella does seem ever-increasing? Anyway, I’m of the view that, yes, building a trans centre would mean that the queer centre would stop addressing trans issues. You may disagree, but neither of us can be sure who is right.

        4) As far as things like death vigils, I expect that there will be vigils for the death of trans people and that women’s week vigils for the deaths of women will include trans women as it includes all other women. Trans women are both trans and women. Thus, they should be remembered in trans vigils and in women’s vigils. Simple intersectionalism. Marginalised people should be able to recognise their marginalised status even as they should be included with the non-marginalised. Explain to me this conflict you see, because I don’t see it.

        4) It is not disingenuous to say ask about queer women in Muslim women’s presence. If you haven’t yet encountered the fear of queer people that religious straight people can have, then I consider you more fortunate than I. Queer women are not only women. We’re queer. That can and does scare straight people. If I were being disingenuous, I would have asked if trans men would be served since they are usually considered “born-women”.

        I was not talking about your women’s centre. I was talking about the women’s centre mentioned by the person you were agreeing with as I didn’t even know about your women’s centre. If your women’s centre has worked it out, that’s good. But, the women’s centre talked about by thebeardedlady is talking about taking universal action to privilege some women over another, all apparently without including trans women (and Muslim women?) in the discussion.

        To me the headdesky brainer is when trans women, a marginalised group of women, are posited as effectively selfish bitches for expecting to be included in feminism. Because, I know I don’t expect feminism to only be about me, but I darn well expect feminism to include me. Feminism for too long has been only about serving the “right kind” of woman, which has historically meant ((and here come some terms I’m sure you’ll not like) white, middle class, cissexual, middle-aged, childless, TAB, college-educated, non-fat, straight women. This is changing, thankfully, but it still is a problem and is usually seen when a group is told they need to more or less “take one for the team” and that feminism will get to them eventually (or not).

        I really do suggest you learn the history of this debate, because there have been bad faith presumptions for longer than its been going on online.

      • maggieclark said,

        See, that has a familiar sound to it. The one where trans women are positioned as -really men-, where we’re told we didn’t build these spaces so they don’t serve us, where we have to endure violence for the benefit of the greater good. So I guess I should instead take it that we’re now talking about making utilitarian decisions where some women are served at the cost of other women?

        Yes, I can understand how you read what you did the way you did. The key word in the quotation of mine — which I quoted myself to stress its presence! — was “privilege”, because TBL and I have been engaged in a long discourse about the misuse of that word by trans activists on another blog. So that referent should have been very clear to her, but I understand that it wouldn’t be clear to everyone. Privilege comes from benefits given for no merit save being born into the right X (class, colour, gender, etc). Trans activists have called born-women privileged for having such spaces to turn to. It’s on the cis privilege list! And this is wrong, wrong, wrong, because those spaces absolutely were not handed to us without merit, but earned — and I would be surprised if you disagreed. But inasmuch as those spaces aren’t open to trans women as well? In this case, too, I find the cis privilege checklist wrong, wrong, wrong, because they are. By their very mandates, they are. And that can be a problem if systems of governance (themselves a part of our gender binary, male oppressive society) enforce inclusivity to its fullest, such that solutions can’t be reached on community levels with the flexibility needed to support all constituents therein.

        1) I really don’t understand what you’re saying here. Trans people are part of the queer umbrella for the historical reasons I mentioned, for the fact that society sees us as queer (see people’s arguments about how transphobia is actually homophobia), for the fact that many queer issues have to do with non-conformity of gender expression, for the fact that a number of us are queer, as well as for the simple fact that a larger group has more political power for all their issues. Queer is not only about sexual orientation, and if you think it is, then you are using a more limited definition than most people.

        “Because of history” and “because society sees us as queer” are weak answers in the context of the question I asked — namely “How should they be reconciled in the teaching of trans identity?” The political benefit absolutely makes sense, but non-conformity of gender expression has as much to do with feminism as it does with queer identity — more when I encounter trans persons steadfastly insisting the majority of trans women are heterosexual — especially as other labels in the umbrella are only adopted by trans persons (lesbian trans woman, gay trans man, bi trans person, queer trans person, questioning trans person) but that same fluidity is seen nowhere else. Unless we bring intersex into the equation, of course… in which case, I do see what you’re getting at with the big tent approach to queer (though I’ll note some issues with that approach below). In the meantime, though, by that logic, radical feminists should be petitioning to join the LGBTTIQQ community. That’s a really funny way of reversing the question, actually: I’ll have to think on that.

        Trans people are people, not some alien life form, so of course there are diverging opinions on how to handle trans issues. You’re perfectly capable of educating yourself on these issues as I’ve done as their are blogs, communities, even books. Just as we expect people to do feminism 101 before getting involved in more advanced topics, I expect the same of you when you start wanting to debate trans issues.

        I asked for your phrasing on the debate that might be responsible for those distinctions. You came to my blog and said explicitly that you posted because you thought I might benefit from hearing a trans person who “shares my views.” I asked for your insight in that context, not to trump trans 101. I haven’t encountered any such divide in my readings of trans theory as would explain the rift in question, and those readings are decidedly beyond 101. If you would prefer not to answer, that’s fine. I only asked because you presented yourself as someone commenting to provide personal insight.

        3) The idea that there needs to be a trans centre implictly argues for trans-only.

        On this we disagree. You cede the point yourself later on, when you say that neither of us knows for certain what would happen. Such is the nature of speculation.

        Did you ever stop to wonder why people like lesbians, gay men, and bi men and women banded together in queer politics when they have diverging aims and only appear similar from society’s myopic view?

        Again, I agree that the political argument is a sound one. I can appreciate the fear of losing that political voice if trans issues were taken out of the umbrella. But there’s a point all causes reach when they include so many people that they can’t effectively address the needs of everyone in the community. I don’t think feminism does much good for trans persons in its present form. Do you? And at the same time that feminism provides lousy means to trans activist ends, it also presently provides lousy means to born-women ends. This might be one of those discourses we can hash out back and forth forever without ever agreeing on, because we’re operating solely in the realm of “what ifs” and potentially useless insurance policies.

        Trans women are both trans and women. Thus, they should be remembered in trans vigils and in women’s vigils. Simple intersectionalism.

        We agree. Trans issues are not entirely the same as women’s issues. There are distinct oppositions at work, just as there are distinct overlaps. You also summarize your point quite succinctly a couple lines down. I think we’re again dealing with different definitions of inclusivity vs. exclusivity, though. For me a woman’s centre is a place where my issues can be aired, and I can find resources and support for women’s issues. I don’t have any right to impose those issues on another woman, though; and I don’t have any right to make another woman feel unsafe. And yes, a lot of those religious feelings of non-safety are absolutely derived from ignorance, and a profoundly institutionalized fear of men. I can only imagine how infuriating it must be to stand aside in a woman’s space for women who don’t even acknowledge your womanhood. But you also talk about the need for education — well, that’s where it starts. By having people in the room. Listening to their stories instead of dictating feminism. And a really good women’s centre? Absolutely would have that conversation between other members — the staff, the transgendered, the regulars. But not between those just trying to find a safe entry point into the whole system. They may be discriminatory solely due to upbringing. They may be discriminatory because of more severe lived experiences. But they sure as hell will stay that way if we don’t provide a way in.

        4) It is not disingenuous to say ask about queer women in Muslim women’s presence. If you haven’t yet encountered the fear of queer people that religious straight people can have, then I consider you more fortunate than I. Queer women are not only women. We’re queer. That can and does scare straight people. If I were being disingenuous, I would have asked if trans men would be served since they are usually considered “born-women”.

        The fear that religious straight people have is that gays are going to turn them gay — by their proximity, their touch, a look, whatever. It’s right on par with the fear-turned-to-violence that oppressive males have when they see a woman they want and fearing rejection seek to rape them instead, then blame those women for the rape, for the “power” they had over men that made them do it. The symptom no more gives women power than it does queer people. It’s absurd to argue otherwise.

        Also, I wasn’t raising my women’s centre as anything more than anecdote — sorry if it came off as legitimate argument. It certainly felt to me like a good segue into my own response to that question. The case TBL was talking about was about someone else taking away the right for a community group to reflect the needs of its own constituency — as a government imposed mandate on trans presence in those particularly vulnerable Muslim spaces absolutely would. I thought that was fairly clear in her comment. If that’s really what we’re haggling over, and what launched us into this volley of discourse, then I’d hazard to say we’re probably very much on the same side here: Individual women’s groups need to have the flexibility to reflect the needs of their communities as they see fit.

        Actually, in closing, it’s clear to me that we do in fact seem to agree with or at least resonate on a lot. I probably jumped the gun on my anxiety in the last comment about the tone of this discourse derailing too much. I’m sorry for that. My tone has been unacceptably erratic. I actually should be studying for an exam right now, but it’s immensely difficult when engaged in conversation that feels by far more alive than any coursework. I really appreciate your comments; I’ve greatly appreciated your insights; and I certainly hope you always feel welcome to comment here.

        All the best,

        Maggie

      • Lucy said,

        Wait, you think these women only resources like rape centres are open to trans women? Have you heard of Vancouver Rape Relief? Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival? Have you missed all the conversations where the centres justify, like you apparently did, excluding trans women because they didn’t help build them (which is funny as I doubt most women who use them helped build them)? Sure, more of them are open than used to be, but ignoring the fact that trans women know from long experience the phrase “women only” means “no trans women” is disingenuous. I look at the example of the London Feminist Network which privately says that “women only” includes trans women but refuses to clarify this publicly as they apparently play both sides (especially given their support of Julie Bindel, a noted transphobe). Not being openly trans women-inclusive is being trans women-exclusive by default. It’s strange when you talk about knowing the history of the terrible treatment of trans women that you can yet assert that we’re uncomplicatedly included as women in these things even as thebeardedlady’s comment belies this. So, yes, it is a privilege to assume that “women only” includes you.

        1) Ah, I see, you’re looking from an idealistic perspective while I’m looking at the pragmatic. I would also say that the acceptance of the non-conformance of gender expression has to do with feminism in that feminism gave ideological permission, even an imperative, to a population that had not previously been reached. It’s not like feminism invented what queer and trans people had been doing for a much longer time, though looking at the interplay between them would be fascinating. I am unsure how the fact that gender identity and sexual orientation are separate has anything to do with feminism. Anyway, yes, the inclusion of trans within queer as theoretical construct does complicate explaining what trans is, but the political benefits matter far more (though there is always an ongoing debate about this). Queer is more political than theoretical construct (as is transgender, for that matter). I think radical feminism may not be very welcome in queer space given the history of transphobia by radical feminists and the view that lesbian identity has been appropriated as “political lesbianism” even as “sexual lesbians” were referred to in insulting terms.

        2) I repeat. There are varying opinions. If you want to know what they are, you can go find them. As you said, I came here to talk about the aims we share. I do not share the aim of educating you on the variants of trans thought, especially given that you deny you have any privilege even as you express it in expecting someone to educate you. I will talk about what I think about what aims we share, but I will not go beyond them. So, as far as teaching trans identity to other people, my thoughts are that it’s best accomplished by people who are willing to actually listen to trans people and not trying to deny trans experiences and redefine them as something else.

        3) I agree that some feminisms provide lousy means to the ends of getting trans people recognised as who they are because they are actively hostile to doing so or are playing a numbers game or are unwilling to address the idea that some women have privilege over another because of being considered women. However, as a feminist, I’m obviously not giving up on feminism. I practice an intersectional form which is more difficult to deal with but fits more with my experiences.

        We agree. Trans issues are not entirely the same as women’s issues. There are distinct oppositions at work, just as there are distinct overlaps.

        4) *headdesk* Trans women are women. Their issues are ipso facto “women’s issues”. Even if you want to reject trans women as women based on birth genital assessment (which I don’t), you then have to accept trans men as women in which case, trans issues are still “women’s issues”. The idea that there are “women” and there are “trans women” and they have separate issues is bullshit. See all previous comments on womanism for a parallel. Yes, trans women have specific issues that not all women do, as is true for any marginalised group of women. Your interpretation of intersectionalism is bizarre in that you use it to mean that because trans women experience more than one type of oppression they are therefore not women. I am not unaware or insensitive to issues of comfort for other women, but as I have said, I am not willing to give up my access for theirs anymore than they should have to give up theirs for me. It is one thing to insure that women can access women’s services, it’s another to cater to prejudice such that other women are harmed. These situations need to be worked out. The universal is that all women need to be able to access appropriate women’s resources (eg, a pregnant woman and maternity care, a raped trans woman and a rape crisis centre). Frankly, I’m tired of hearing so much concern about other women’s prejudices at the price of trans women. Oftentimes I have to wonder if these women are even consulted before actions are taken for “their good” (which would obviously be paternalism).

        The fear that religious straight people have is that gays are going to turn them gay — by their proximity, their touch, a look, whatever. It’s right on par with the fear-turned-to-violence that oppressive males have when they see a woman they want and fearing rejection seek to rape them instead, then blame those women for the rape, for the “power” they had over men that made them do it. The symptom no more gives women power than it does queer people. It’s absurd to argue otherwise.

        4) Hey, you got my point! The point is that straight women do have power/privilege over queer women. I will go along with the idea that community groups need flexibility to serve their populace as long as they don’t start excluding women if their remit is to serve women (and certainly if you take government funds, you have to play by government rules). If a centre wants to, say, serve only straight women, as long as it’s honest and upfront about it and doesn’t take government money, they obviously can. And, I’ll be down there picketing along with other queer women. Because I think that a centre that privileges the privileged at the cost of the disadvantaged is wasting precious resources.

      • polly said,

        Lucy, Muslim women are disproportionately users of domestic violence services in the area in which I live, and I suspect throughout the country. Usually because cultural factors mean they do not have friends/relatives they can turn to. Many are unable for religious and cultural reasons to be alone with male people they are not related to. Male in this case is defined as biologically male.

        However if you are happy for Muslim women to die because you are unwilling to use separate services, so be it. Because that’s what we’re talking about. Make no mistake. Personally, as a lesbian I’d have no objection to women having separate spaces from me if that’s necessary to keep them alive.

        And like TBL I’m now leaving this conversation out of respect for Maggie becuase I don’t want to turn her blog into a battleground.

  5. thebeardedlady said,

    Sorry, seem to have dropped my comment in a weird place! feel free to rearrange!

  6. Ruth Moss said,

    First things first. Really? “Born-women”? Your absolute refusal to use the word “cis” makes you look like the usual Transphobic Internet Radfem™ who is just “opening up discourse” as a way to piss off trans women so you can say “look! Look! Trans women are so mean!” and possibly even come out with some crap about “stealing female energy” or something.

    Even aside from any Simone de Beauvoir stuff about “one is not born woman one becomes one”, the idea is a nonsense to basic biology. I have a child. And thank heavens that child wasn’t “born a woman” but was born a baby. Gestating and giving birth to a woman (i.e. an adult) would have been impossibly painful.

    I mean, geez, even the “I’m not cis!” Special Snowflake types use FAAB women (female assigned at birth) when they want to distinguish from trans women.

    I asked for your insight in that context, not to trump trans 101.

    Yeah, how dare a trans woman come to your blog and inform you patiently, calmly, intelligently and politely that you might know less than you think you do? Why, she should have been quieter, more deferential, how dare she get even the slightest bit angry! Oh wait, isn’t that what those with privilege always say to marginalised people? “Shut up and sit down”? Or, “I’m trying to listen, but you’re so angry and hysterical”? No, couldn’t be that, because that would imply you had cis privilege, and you absolutely don’t.

    No, not at all. In fact, young adult university educated white western cis women (and possibly TAB and child-free also, given you don’t mention being PWD or a parent) are amongst the most oppressed groups in the world.

    Yeah, I’m being sarcastic. Because I’m just not convinced anyone with “FAB Matters” on their blog roll or who uses a phrase like “born woman” where every other even half decent intersectional feminist in the blogosphere would use the phrase “cis woman” is worth entering into a debate with. It’s a shame, because you did initially look a little different than the other Internet Radfems, but… I suppose it’s a case of “move along now, nothing to see here”. Sad.

    • maggieclark said,

      Hi Ruth,

      Short comment, because I have an exam in a few hours. I’m posting your comment with all its venom and ad hominem attacks (my blog roll? really? I’m adding and reading everything right now. reading genderbitch too! nice selective reading there). And this: “‘I asked for your insight in that context, not to trump trans 101.’ / Yeah, how dare a trans woman come to your blog and inform you patiently, calmly, intelligently and politely that you might know less than you think you do?” wholly misreads the substance of that comment. On purpose. Just as your other comments have wholly misrepresented the substance of my other responses, and the nature of who demanded what in the course of the conversation. On purpose.

      You’re trying to get a rise out of me, and while that kind of “conversation” flies pretty much everywhere else between trans activists and rad fems, and rad fems and liberal fems, and… well, everyone, I guess, I’m not biting. You can fling your angry comments that have no relation to what I’ve written. I’m just not engaging after this note with that kind of comment.

      If you’d read any of the original comment, you’d know I don’t use “cis” because the term is deficient: it presumes a trans person can know my inner gender identity any more than I can know theirs. Inner gender identity is a noumenological truth, and I own mine, and you own yours. The language is deficient with born-woman, too, yes. That’s part of the reason I welcome conversations. Real conversations, where people aren’t just trying to provoke; where people aren’t misrepresenting each other on the tired foundations of how other people have hurt each other elsewhere.

      If you’d like to have a real conversation, about something I haven’t already resolved with Lucy, you’re more than welcome. If you just came here to vent, well. You vented. Congrats.

      • Lucy said,

        I haven’t commented on your rejection of “cis” before, but since the subject has been brought up… I understand you may reject “cis” as a label but the way you speak about it, I think you don’t get its point. First off, there’s cisgender and cissexual though “cis” is often used as shorthand to either mean both or mean the one that applies to the reader. These do mean just what they sound like, not-transgender and not-transsexual. I generally only talk about cissexual because I’m transsexual and thus can more easily see what it means for people to have cissexual privilege. However, I can easily think of one cisgender privilege: the privilege of not having your gender identity the subject of debate and rejection. Which, yes, sounds a lot like heterosexual privilege regarding non-straight identities or male privilege regarding women. But, as you pointed out in another comment, gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing let alone societally assigned gender.

        Anyway, cissexual privilege does exist, and you have it. Unless you’re transsexual, of course. Then you might benefit from cissexual privilege when passed as cissexual but otherwise not. By no means have I made a cissexual privilege list, but on quick personal reflection, they have to do with having no problems with the conflation of sex and gender, congruence between societal gender assignment and primary and secondary sexual characteristics, and acceptance (even if contested) of bodily autonomy for oneself over those characteristics.

        And, yes, I do find the term “born-women” insulting. As Ruth rightly noted, no one is born a woman, one becomes one, one is treated as one. “Born-women” is a term that only highlights why the term cissexual was created, because what you are doing is defining an exclusion of transsexual women with it. I like the term cissexual because it openly acknowledges that it is in opposition to transsexual in a way that “born-women” and the like refuse to do even as they result in head-scratchiness and bizarre images of birth (Athena, who’s despised by some theologically-minded radical feminists, would be the only example of a “born-woman” I can think of). (On a side note, I’m also amused that the trans-created term “female assigned at birth” is being used by someone to deny trans people and ignorantly claims the term was invented by an online radical feminist. Sometimes transphobia can be funny.)

      • maggieclark said,

        By all means, Lucy, lay out a definition of “cis” that isn’t predicated on your presumption of my inner identity. If you can do it, I’ll use it.

        As I said to Ruth, I find huge problems with both terms: I think the language is deficient here. Female-assigned at birth seems to come pretty close, in its literal sense, to an accurate representation of me — “female” being a sex/biochemical term — but of course, as you’ve mentioned, it’s been tied up in a HUGE history of vitriol between rad fems and trans activists, and that’s a history I’d like to avoid if I can. Born-woman was meant to be less triggering in that regard, but again, it ain’t perfect. I know trans persons wouldn’t be triggered at all by “cis”, but again, that term presumes my inner gender identity by definition. And that just doesn’t fly with my inner identity. Therein lies the challenge.

      • Lucy said,

        That’s a more interesting way to reject the label, I admit. But, seriously, it’s pretty simple. If you’re not trans, you’re cis. The label exists not so much to talk about your personal identity as to allow people to talk about how you benefit from the societal advantages and privileges of not being trans. It’s also about rebalancing the situation of trans people being othered while everyone else is painted as the norm. It’s why the terms “straight” and “heterosexual” were created, for instance. Why TAB exists.

        Do you think people should be able to reject being labelled “straight”/”heterosexual” because it presumes to know their sexuality?

      • thebeardedlady said,

        Yes, of course. Why should anyone’s self-identification be dependent on controlling someone else’s self-identification? I can be straight or queer without insisting that someone else calls themselves straight or queer. You can be trans without needing me to call myself ‘cis’. I’m not cis, because I have no gender-based privilege.

      • maggieclark said,

        Hah! You beat me to it.

        This is as good a time as any to thank you very much, TBL, for also partaking so long and so deeply in this conversation — and on the back of a very serious real world question, as opposed to the infuriating hypotheticals we were just wrangling with on that other woman’s blog a few days back.

        Anyway, I’m a bit flummoxed with myself and my comments here, but that’s part of the process. Still learning, still adapting, still trying to find a way of out entrenched argumentation if ever it were possible.

        I’ve greatly appreciated your input along the way!

        Best,

        Maggie

      • thebeardedlady said,

        I’ve been reading with interest, Maggie. I feel that you are excellent at encouraging a calmer and more positive debate. Your comments are very thoughtful.

        I have big issues with all of the discussions around trans activism and feminism I’ve participated in. I have been very angry about some of it. I appreciate your calmness and your seeking for harmony. However, I don’t disapprove of getting angry – it’s a great asset for a woman to have this inner fire! We need it.

      • Lucy said,

        Cool, so I take it when queer people complain about the privileges of straight/heterosexual people, you tell them that they can’t be sure because the people may not identify as straight/heterosexual and thus they can’t talk about people having privilege until they know if those people agree with the label? And they can’t go by people being married and talking about how God hates queers because that doesn’t mean they identify as straight/heterosexual.

        (To be less sarcastic, it is a mark of privilege to be able to reject a label. See men = people, humanity = mankind, etc, etc.)

      • maggieclark said,

        Define “be able”? Because this refutation of “cis” as my own gender identity absolutely outcasts me, silences me, and has certainly lost me friends. In short, it’s contested all the time. That’s a far cry from being able to say another person’s identity doesn’t exist, and having everyone in the system agree with me in a heartbeat. That’s privilege! My refusing cis as a personal label doesn’t say another person isn’t trans: It just says I am not cis. Just as I said in my original post.

        You also make a huge logical misstep with the first paragraph: Namely, that automatically assuming someone is straight is the same thing as not identifying them as straight when they attack you for being queer. Not at all the same.

        I don’t identify as cis, because my inner gender is not female. It is also not male. I don’t recognize an inner gender at all. I have my physical manifestations of gender, and I have the social perception of gender with which I’m recognized by others. In short, I “pass” as having a social gender that matches my sex. I have all the benefits of gender normativity, until I do something or say something or express my sexuality in such a way as to break that gender normativity. I have said as much very clearly in the original post.

        Similarly, I regard everyone as having an identity that is their own, noumenological truth. I don’t insist that other people term themselves as straight simply because I term myself queer. But if they tell me queer doesn’t exist, or doesn’t deserve to exist, then yes, I would call straight privilege. At that point, they’ve acted in a way that denies my existence, my identity. I might also challenge their own sexuality, mind you, but that’s more just because it’s so easy to upset people who hate queer people that much. But someone refusing to identify as straight? That doesn’t threaten my queer identity at all. (And I know someone like that, actually, who neither uses straight nor queer.) I have difficulty seeing how clearly identifying my inner gender as non-existent threatens the noumenological truth of other people’s inner genders.

        Of course, you can tell me it “implicitly” attacks your identity, even if I absolutely respect and do not question your own inner truth, but I’ve heard that argument before. It’s the same argument that says the sanctity of marriage would be implicitly or explicitly attacked by gay weddings, or interracial unions. The same argument that women leading congregations or workplaces or households would be attacking the masculine identity of congregation members, coworkers, or male family members. It’s not an argument, in other words, that holds up very well.

        People deserve to be measured by their actions, and their treatment of other people. Someone can tell me that I’m white, because, hey! That’s right out there in the open. But cis and trans aren’t about what’s out in the open: they’re about something beyond the body, beyond the social gendering — something at the core of who we are. And nobody sees that core for me but me. And nobody sees that core for you but you. And for that reason, unless someone tells me my core doesn’t exist, or doesn’t deserve to exist, it is none of my damn business how they identify themselves.

        Best,

        Maggie

      • maggieclark said,

        Do you think people should be able to reject being labelled “straight”/”heterosexual” because it presumes to know their sexuality?

        Yes! Absolutely! I would never presume to know another person’s sexual orientation, because hot damn, that’s a pretty fluid line in the sand as well. I would never in a million years say someone else needs to identify as “straight” just because I identify queer. Would you?

        That said, you write:

        If you’re not trans, you’re cis.

        But in your first comment you wrote:

        These do mean just what they sound like, not-transgender and not-transsexual.

        These, to me, don’t mesh. Is there one you agree with more than the other?

      • Lucy said,

        I guess the problem I have is when people reject being straight or heterosexual so they can reject benefiting from straight/heterosexual privilege. Because, we agree that it exists right? And it exists regardless of whether the people who benefit from it identify as such or not. If you’re a woman and you are only involved sexually and romantically with men and have no interest in another gender, then you’re straight/heterosexual as far as privilege goes. In fact, one of the usual arguments about and with bi/pan people is how much or even whether they benefit from straight privilege in straight-appearing relationships. Short version: If we only allow the labeling of people who benefit from privilege with whether they identify with it, then we lose the power to talk about the privilege. If there are no straight people, how can we maintain there is straight privilege?

        I’m sorry. I don’t see how they don’t mesh. Could you explain how you see them as conflicting?

      • Ruth Moss said,

        Yes, I was a little sarcastic, because I was not convinced you started this conversation in good faith. But supposing I’m wrong and that you did, I do apologise. I’ve just seen these conversations – as this one is doing – turn nasty, end up with the usual transmisogynistic radfems coming along and saying things like “you’re letting Muslim women die!” and the like.

        As for having FAB Matters on your blogroll, yes, I noticed the other blogs, but to be honest, to those feminists who don’t deny that trans women are women, end of, FAB Matters is considered a hate speech site. It would be as if you went to someone’s blogroll and saw they had the BNP on there, and then they said “but I’ve got the Liberal Democrats on it!” – you’d still not be impressed, and you’d certainly take any conversations on race that they started with a pinch of salt.

        Anyway. That aside, here’s the thing.

        At the end of the day, you either see trans women as women, or you don’t. The feminists and womanists you’ll find on the internet who are having important conversations about kyriarchy and intersectionality do. Simple as. End of. The majority of the radical feminists – most, but not all that you find on the internet, don’t. They either believe trans women are “really” men, or very occasionally will think they are very clever by coming up with a “solution” that trans women should be some kind of third gender or whatever.

        And these conversations go on and on for different rounds, as you’ve noticed, and the thing is, there is no way of resolving it. You have to choose.

        Personally, I’ve always felt a bit like the radfems who deny that trans women are women and should not be allowed access to the same services cis women do, hold the Copernican worldview, and that’s why they’re always tying themselves up in knots; more and more concentric circles of arguments that just don’t quite cut it. Thank heavens that Galileo came along and put all that straight. When you stop denying that trans women are women, it makes a lot more sense. Trans women’s issues are feminist issues because trans women are women. Very simple, really!

        And starting a conversation here – being honest – probably isn’t the best way of helping you decide whether or not you want to be counted with the transmisogynistic and transphobic radfems, or not. Because the thing is, you can’t sit on the fence.

        It’s a bit like the Anglican church trying not to have to choose whether to “allow” gay bishops. You either believe homosexuality is a sin, or you don’t. You simply cannot sit on the fence on that one! So you writing this post feels a bit like a bishop saying “I’m not sure if homosexuality is a sin or not, I kind of think it is, and I don’t know how to reconcile it with my reading of scripture, and I certainly won’t use words like ‘straight’, I’ll use ‘normal’ instead, but still, I’m not 100% sure” and then letting those who believe it is, and those who know it isn’t, fight it out amongst each other in comments. And with an opening salvo like that, who do you think is going to “win you over”?

        Far better for you to go away and do a hell of a lot of reading about it. Because, if you really, genuinely want to have a real conversation, the best thing to do is to have that conversation with yourself.

      • maggieclark said,

        Hi Ruth,

        Thank you for responding in the way that you did. I still don’t entirely know what to respond to in your post, though, because it’s entirely predicated on the assumption that the issue here is whether or not trans women are women, which has to be the hugest straw man, out of the blue contention yet. You write here: “So you writing this post feels a bit like a bishop saying “I’m not sure if homosexuality is a sin or not, I kind of think it is, and I don’t know how to reconcile it with my reading of scripture, and I certainly won’t use words like ’straight’, I’ll use ‘normal’ instead, but still, I’m not 100% sure” and then letting those who believe it is, and those who know it isn’t, fight it out amongst each other in comments. And with an opening salvo like that, who do you think is going to “win you over”?”

        How on earth does that relate at all to what’s been written here — the continued emphasis in the post and comments on the fact that all persons’ personal truths are their own and incontestable? Of course trans women are women — that’s precisely why this discourse is happening. Because the heart of feminism is discourse, and ALL women are a part of that discourse. Talking about lived experiences, measuring those lived experiences against each other, and refuting claims from some women that would keep other women oppress: that’s what feminists do! To say that trans women’s issues should not be discussed the way we discuss varying groups with different lived experiences within feminism, not the least being queer women, is setting a standard for trans women that they are somehow different than other women. That, I think, is when a lot of rad fems get their hackles raised. That, I think, leads to more extreme reactions on everyone’s part.

        You talk about polarization in the women’s centre question: The problem here is that both sides tackled the problem from non-exclusive sides. As a queer woman, I told Lucy straight up that if my being in a room would keep other marginalized women from being comfortable speaking, and thus acquiring the vital resources a women’s centre offers, I would leave that particular meeting in a heartbeat. I would hope, in time, that these women’s engagement with the women’s centre would bring them to the realization that there’s no reason not to feel safe around me, but I still wouldn’t think twice about extricating myself in the meantime. TBL wrote from a fear that the government would require trans women to be included in every single event in the community. Lucy similarly said a community should be discussing things itself, but of course she balks at the notion of a trans centre because she sees that as exclusivity. As a queer woman who knows that queerness doesn’t take away from being a woman, I disagree, because I know the LGBTT/IQQ centre and women’s centre enhance each other immensely in practice. But as Lucy and I spoke, I agreed the creation of a trans centre is absolutely not central to the issue here. The issue is whether or not women’s centres get to decide, collectively, what is best for their communities. And from my experience, “best” is inclusivity, such that one person not attending all events allows a great many people to access the services who otherwise wouldn’t. These are the kinds of discussions women already have about a lot of different women within feminism. Trans women are no different: they need to be talked about in the same light.

        And just as I pointed out to Lucy, just as I pointed out in the original post, not defining myself as one thing doesn’t deny that others define themselves as something else. If you’re suggesting that my noumenological truth needs to be what someone else tells me it is, or else I’m transphobic, we’re not going to agree. I think Lucy was surprised to hear that I equally wouldn’t demand other people to identify as straight, just because I identify as queer, but that’s precisely the same argument, and it’s a no-brainer for a hell of a lot of women. No woman should have to take anyone else’s gendered label: every woman has an equal right to self-identification. I really don’t know how to put it more clearly than that: I would never ever deny someone else’s identity; but as women, we all are part of the same, level playing field that is feminist discourse, and it’s important we stay that way.

        All the best,

        Maggie

      • Michelle said,

        The problem with the “transwomen aren’t really women” argument is not just that it ‘takes someone’s identity away’, but it in fact makes the error of reducing gender to biology.

        Not only does this erase the gender narrative of transwomen, but it ultimately erases the gender narrative of all women. Would you really want to step back to the post-Roman Empire dark ages where women’s voices were seldom, if ever heard?

        Erasure is a very dangerous line of argument, because that brush can be applied more broadly than just the specific topic.

        Lastly, just because someone tries to erase my narrative as a woman doesn’t mean that the narrative goes away. (Trust me, I tried to erase myself – it didn’t work so well!)

      • maggieclark said,

        I agree wholeheartedly, Michelle. To what in particular is your comment responding?

        (Also, I just discovered you did, in fact, respond to my last comment on your entry: Very intrigued by your engagement with Butler’s work, though I’ll have to post-pone thoughtful questions until later this afternoon. Thanks for the reply!)

        All the best!

        Maggie

      • Michelle said,

        I was responding to the predication you identified in Ruth’s commentary (comment #29) – I was just adding a few points beyond what you had stated.

      • maggieclark said,

        Ah! There we go — thanks for clarifying. That’s the one down-side to this blog format (which I otherwise find quite clean and easy to navigate): it’s sometimes hard to tell which comments are responding to which others!

      • Ruth Moss said,

        Sorry, for some reason the link to Woman’s essay “a radfem on transgendered issues” didn’t work; you can find it here:

        http://birdofparadox.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/a-radfem-on-transgendered-issues_-message-received-c2ab-femmessay.pdf

        and also her other essay here:

        http://birdofparadox.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/is_cis_a_dis.pdf

        You’ll also find quite a few excellent links down the left hand side of this blog, from cis women and trans women; look under “food for thought”.

    • polly said,

      As a not cis special snowflake type AFAIK I invented FAB as an alternative to cis. Because I was born a baby, not a woman.

      • polly said,

        And I’m still only a woman in the ‘adult female human being’ sense. Because you can stuff gender up yer jumper.

      • polly said,

        But if Lucy can tell me when it was ‘trans created’…..

      • Lucy said,

        You invented the acronym or the phrase or both? Where and when? Because AKAIK, you didn’t, and yes, I am willing to be proven wrong on this. Pardon my skepticism, but it just seems unlikely that an acronym/phrase invented by a radical feminist would have been picked up within the trans community.

  7. thebeardedlady said,

    Hi, just wanted to come back in specifically on the point I raised about my women’s centre. It is not possible for trans women to be served in the same centre as ours. Not right now, anyway. It would make it impossible for the vast majority of our users to come to the centre. They would be afraid and intimidated, and no amount of talking is going to change that in the short term.

    I am personally not religious, and I understand that the religious view is unsympathetic to most. However, this is the worldview that the women at my centre are indoctrinated in. They are women who do not raise their eyes in the presence of men. They are some of the most vulnerable women I have ever worked with. We are not talking about protecting the white, middle class, educated feminists (that seem to be accused of so much – let me add that this model does not describe me, either), but about protecting extremely vulnerable women and girls who have NOWHERE else to turn.

    So, I feel very antagonistic towards any argument that says trans women should have access to MY centre. Other places have different circumstances and constituents and they have to decide for themselves. But I find it really hard to understand why it’s not obvious to anyone reading this that it would be anti-women and misogynist to fight for trans inclusion in this case.

    One thing that would be really educational and promote inclusion would be if there was a centre for trans people in the area. We would be able to arrange shared projects and communications. We could do this at no risk to our existing women. I don’t understand why this is not considered a reasonable option?

    I appreciate that people are saying there ARE trans resources. All I ever hear about is trans women trying to access existing resources. Perhaps this is partly where the problem arises – the debates I have had have very much focused around trans women wanting ‘in’ to fab women’s spaces.

    • Lucy said,

      thebeardedlady,

      So, your centre has asked its clientele about this? While informing them that trans women are women not men? I guess as long as you accept that it is anti-women and misogynistic to exclude trans women, y’all can do what you like. Own your privilege and all that. You are choosing one group of women at the cost of another. And, maybe that has to be done at times, as liberal feminists certainly argue, but own that your actions will hurt women.

      Also, there are trans resources because we need them given a society hostile to trans people, including feminism (I know feminists don’t like seeing themselves as part of the problem, but it’s true). As I believe I also said, this does not let feminists off the hook when purporting to be about women but only being about “the right women” (I’m also thinking of how women who are sex workers, for instance, are told feminism is not about them). And there are only “fab women’s spaces” because trans women were excluded, privileging some women over other women. Trans women want in for the same reason that any women want in – they need/want the use of women’s resources to deal with living in a patriarchal society. This really isn’t rocket science.

      • thebeardedlady said,

        Dear Lucy,

        We certainly don’t inform the women at our centre that trans women are not women but men. I really have no idea why you would think that we do.

        I think trans women have many different issues to fab women, and that the inclusion of trans women is nearly always at the expense of fab women. I would like to see a situation where trans women provide resources for themselves in such a way that fab women can support them, and hopefully collaborate with them where issues overlap. I believe that insisting on trans women’s inclusion in fab women’s spaces is divisive and causes a great deal of worry and fear amongst fab women. I appreciate that this must feel hurtful, but I don’t believe it is transphobic.

        Not all fab women are welcome in every women’s centre, either. It’s very hard to keep hearing these demands to be let in when I feel I’ve explained just how harmful such access would be. It shocks me to hear trans women dismiss the needs and suffering of fab women so readily, insisting that their needs must always be met, no matter what harm it causes. I’m not trying to be confrontational here, but I just can’t understand why it’s not possible to take a step back and think about how to meet trans needs without hurting fab women. Isn’t it possible to ask other women for support and to share knowledge, rather than demanding access? Sometimes it will be possible for the same service to include trans and fab women. Other times it won’t be. My women’s centre is an example of somewhere where it isn’t possible at the present time.

      • Lucy said,

        Okay, I have to reply to myself because I can’t reply to thebeardedlady. Odd.

        thebeardedlady,

        First, you read that wrong but it may be telling that you think I’m telling you that you’re misinforming cis women about trans women when I ask if you bothered to actually talk to your clientele about this issue. I’ll also take your silence on this question as a “No” because that would be par for the course.

        I think trans women have many different issues to fab women, and that the inclusion of trans women is nearly always at the expense of fab women.

        And I think cis/fab/whatever-you-call-yourself women don’t actually know this because they’re not trans women and don’t bother to actually work with trans women to find out the reality.

        I believe that insisting on black women’s inclusion in white women’s spaces is divisive and causes a great deal of worry and fear amongst white women. I appreciate that this must feel hurtful, but I don’t believe it is racist.

        Hope you don’t mind the edits, but I just wanted to remind you that we’ve heard this whole routine before. You, as a cis/fab/WBW/”real”/whatever woman don’t know what is and isn’t transphobic because you’re not trans. I appreciate that you don’t think of yourself as a bigot, but it doesn’t change that you can’t determine that.

        I’m not dismissing the needs of other women, but I do think that you need to own that you readily dismiss the needs and suffering of trans women very readily. I asked you if you had even bothered to actually talk to your clientele, let alone Muslin trans women, about the situation to see if there was a better solution. That you take this as my dismissing the needs of the clientele speaks volumes.

  8. thebeardedlady said,

    Lucy,

    Your edits bother me greatly. How could they not? They are rude and disingenuous and frankly offensive and oppressive, both to me and the women I work with. I don’t think they serve to make the point you clearly think they do.

    You’re right, though, that I didn’t answer your question about talking to the women who use the women’s centre. I tried several times to phrase my answer in a way that wouldn’t come over as offensive, because the overwhelming reaction is so negative. The short answer is yes, of course. Why on earth wouldn’t we? It’s THEIR centre, for them. Their reactions to the question have been varied, but there is no support whatsoever so far for the inclusion of trans women in our services. Quite the opposite. As I said earlier, the inclusion of trans women would mean the exclusion of the vast majority of the women we serve.

    Having clarified that point, I’m out of this. I respect Maggie a lot and I’m not going to let this discussion degenerate into an argument between you and me.

    • thebeardedlady said,

      OK, feeling much calmer now, I will attempt to explain why I think your analogy is so misguided and offensive.

      Firstly, you selected only one line from my whole response – your ‘edits’ included cutting out all the parts of my comment which say we need to find ways to support trans women. In fact, in practically all of my comments here I’ve talked about the need to find a way for fab women to support trans women. Why ignore that? We could be talking about that.

      Secondly, you are talking about a situation in which nearly every single person is Black or Asian. Can you please stop re-framing and representing this situation as one of ‘white, middle class, thin, educated feminists’ cosying up and protecting their ‘own’. I’ve pointed out before that this is not what we are talking about. To allow access to a trans woman would mean excluding and isolating vulnerable, poor, elderly, abused, traumatised, enslaved and trafficked immigrant women.

      Thirdly, you are mistaken to assume that in your scenario, trans women are the Women of Colour. In fact, it would be the reverse. The equivalent situation is actually a white woman trying to access a WoC women’s centre, demanding that she has access because she considers herself in need of it, perhaps identifies as a WoC, and WoC turning her away because to allow her in would be threatening and cause fear and trauma to the women they serve, who have good reason to be fearful of white people given their history of oppression.

      Women have good reason to fear males and male-bodied people, even when their self identity is ‘woman’. And, whilst you personally may not be a threat to fab women, plenty of males are. It is one of the most angering things about this discussion that some trans women, even those who identify as feminists, fail to appreciate the real and deep-seated threat from males that women experience all their lives. To call it ‘bigoted’ or ‘transphobia’ is to dismiss women’s lived experience and silence their voices.

      As far as trans women and fab women having different issues, it’s clear that they do. Fab women have issues with reproductive health, pregnancy, mothering, abortion, menopause that are irrelevant to trans women. Trans women have issues with their health, such as SRS, that are irrelevant to fab women. Trans women have years of male privilege behind them and fab women have years of male oppression behind them. It is reasonable to suggest that, whilst they share some things in common (e.g. years of oppression ahead of them) and could work together on some things, a lot of the time their needs will be completely different. You can call that transphobic if you want – but when you call me transphobic and a bigot for expressing such aspects of the situation, what I hear is you trying to silence me.

      • Lucy said,

        I have edited out all your things about finding support for trans women because so far these have consisted of your thoughts about what trans women need and should do. Do you not see a problem there? In case you don’t, I’ll tell you that the way to support any group of marginalised women is to listen to tell them you what they need from you to support them. I would have thought you would know this as you’ve been claiming this is what you are doing as regards the shelter you are associated with but then I’ve found that people being aware of how to help women affected by one (or more, in this case) marginalisation does not provide awareness of how to help women affected by another marginalisation.

        I realise I’ve been perhaps unclear as to what I’m trying to say here. If your centre doesn’t serve even all cis women (which apparently is the case? It sounds like it’s based on where the women live?) then the trans women who matter are the ones who would otherwise be your clientele but also happen to be trans. They would presumably not have any more privilege than any of the other women showing up at your centre.

        Your next argument is transphobic because it holds trans women responsible for the violence of men by a call to biological essentialism (that being male makes one violent). Yet, we are talking about trans women who are coming to a centre because they have experienced violence. Trans women are well aware of the violence of men as trans women dying from violence are almost overwhelmingly dying at the hands of men. To claim that a lifelong deep-seated fear of men either an experience unique to or universal among cis women is to ignore women for whom this is not true as well as the voices of trans women who have the same experience. Positioning trans women as somehow attempting to erase a fear of violence of men when they have reason to fear violence from men is bizarre at the least.

        Yes, trans and cis women can and do have different issues and concerns just as owning and working class women can and do have different issues and concerns. Different privileges and different oppressions result in different issues and concerns for women. But to universalise any of those issues to all cis women or all trans women is incorrect. And, it’s beside the point. In this case, I’ve been talking about something that affects all women: violence, almost universally perpetrated by men. Again, I also don’t think you are in much of a position to know whether or not trans women’s needs will be different a lot of time or not (The fact that not all of the issues you list as unique to cis women are, along with only coming up with one issue for trans women, demonstrates this fairly well I think).

        And that brings me to my point on this: First, it’s just kind of bizarre that you started a discussion at your centre about what is apparently a highly unlikely hypothetical given what you have been saying, second, that the centre proceeded to make a decision apparently without even attempting to find out whether there are any trans women in its service area let alone attempting to consult them on the issue to see about needs for service, discussions of conflicts for providing service, and possible solutions to conflicts, and third, that you frame the argument as selfish trans women who don’t care about causing harm to other women. The last alone is enough for me to have a hard time taking you as seriously even considering serving trans women. Even if every trans woman you’ve ever met were completely and utterly hateful and selfish, the idea that this justifies not serving trans women you would serve save for their being trans leaves me incredulous.

  9. polly said,

    To this end you write: ‘Trans men have been physically assaulted by women outside of a lesbian event as the women shouted “Are you a guy or a girl?”.’ I know many a stand off between trans activists and radical feminists emerges because of cases like this, which I have absolutely no doubt are ubiquitous, and awful to experience.

    I’d question the ‘ubiquitous’ Maggie. I’ve never seen an incident like this in my LIFE hanging around gay venues, and I doubt we’d hear so much about it if such incidents were commonplace – this seems to have been once incident that has been extremely widely talked about. I have however on many occasions been harassed by men around said venues. Something to think about. As in why lesbians may not want men hanging around lesbian spaces.

    I also wonder why trans men were hanging around a lesbian space anyway, if they identify as men, since they were initially INSIDE the club. Does it not occur to anyone that they ‘passed’ too well and were taken for ‘cis’ men inside a lesbian club?

    http://www.bilerico.com/2009/03/possible_l-on-t_hate_crime_in_dc.php

    I’d also like to make clear that lesbian does not equate to feminist or radical feminist. Most lesbians I know do not identify themselves as either.

    Of course asserting one’s own truth about oneself is not any-phobic or any-ist.

    Then why are lesbians who say they do not include male born people in the group of people they could be sexually attracted to get told they are transphobic? Because they do: all the time.

  10. […] Gender Normativity, Privilege, and Oppression A very thorough, engaging discussion on another post has finally led to the point where a fuller response is warranted than can be provided solely in […]

  11. […] feminism. The first one is called “My Gender Is Not My Own”. The follow-ups are here, here and here (the newest one is a great analysis of gender normativity, and how it relates to […]

  12. Jeremy said,

    I think that the privilege/non-privilege paradigm which seems to be emblematic of feminism can get a little bit out of hand. Not to deny its usefulness in understanding feminist issues (though I feel that it doesn’t translate nearly so well when discussing sexuality or gender non-conformity), but, judging from comments above, it seems that it is sometimes misused as a means of attributing or absolving one of guilt or blame. I believe that there are two consequences of this – first, it fails to appropriately emphasize individual accountability for ones own actions by overly emphasizing those actions within the larger social milieu, and second, it is inherently disempowering, by, effectively victimizing those people who are non-privileged.

    I’ll cut it off there so I can go to work, but hopefully my thoughts are coherent enough to make some sense to you.


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