November 24, 2009

Questions in the Hope of Furthering Feminist Discourse on Trans Intersections

Posted in Gender issues, Women's issues tagged , , , at 2:43 pm by Maggie Clark

Pursuant to my last post, I’d like to pose a few questions about the kinds of issues I have trouble taking as Not Open For Discussion, or Cause To Be Termed Cissexist/Transphobic, in the much of mainstream liberal feminism. I greatly appreciate any and all insights therein — so thank you, in advance, to anyone who responds to them:

1) How does championing the transsexual necessity of surgery/hormones to achieve external indications of “womanness” within the feminist sphere affect the feminist mandate of teaching all women, including non-gender-conforming born-women, to question their desire for body modification surgeries (like breast augmentation or tummy tucks), love themselves just as they are, and otherwise explode the existing, oppressive gender binary?

2) How, in the sphere of feminist activism, are we to align the transsexual stance that transwomen were female from birth — just without the biology, and without the requisite physicality — when feminism as a whole sees “being woman” as a social construct foisted on born-women by the society we’re engaged with as we grow?

3) Pursuant to 2), how do we both accept (I stress again, “in feminism”) that transsexuals’ lived experience of femininity is that they were women at birth BUT that when they later strive to attain body modifications that are gender-norm-affirming, this is just the inevitable extension of their socially imposed perceptions about “what it is to be a woman”?

4) Why are good born-woman feminists expected to accept a list of privileges that does not conform to our perception of the lived experiences of born-women everywhere, when it is alternately considered transphobic and “othering” even to suggest that transsexuals may harbour residual male privilege that needs to be checked as part of their own, full transition into the feminist sphere?

5) Pursuant to 4), there are plenty of born-women who do not “pass” as a general rule, and a great many more of us who toe the line all the time with our choices, lifestyles, public presentation and actions — just the same as many trans persons do not “pass”, and many trans persons do. So why is it assumed that born-women are always identified by perpetrators of gender oppression as having “legitimate” gender identities, and all the “privilege” that supposedly arises therein?

Even if you only have the time to answer one of these questions, I would be greatly obliged. These are big, tough questions for me, and I would love to have them raised in mainstream feminist discourse: However, from my experiences to date, I have not seen them perceived as at all welcome — the argument being that questioning the actions of transsexuals in relation to feminism (as feminists already, rigorously and critically, question the actions of born-women in relation to feminism) is “othering”, “cissexist”, and/or transphobic. To me, this seems entirely counter-intuitive and unproductive, with huge implications for the calibre of feminist discourse going forward. But what are your insights on such matters?

I’ll be deconstructing each question in its own post in the coming days, so please feel free to jump in whenever you can in the discourse.

Many thanks in advance!