Category Archives: gender
Anti-Trans Hate from Suzanne Moore and Julie Birchill Isn’t the Point–Using Feminism to Push Transmisogyny Is
If you haven’t been following #trans Twitter in the UK lately, let me briefly bring you up to speed. First, UK journalist Suzanne Moore published a piece in the New Statesman about women’s anger, which included a throwaway line that justifiably got a lot of trans activists pissed off: “We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.” Moore defended herself by saying that trans issues were not the point of the article and published a piece in the Guardian where she called intersectionality “its own rectum” and attempted to sound like the sane, logical one focused on women’s issues while implicitly casting the trans Twitterati as narcissistic and irrational. Julie Birchill then shored this opinion up in a more openly vitriolic way when she wrote the Guardian follow-up piece, Transsexuals should cut it out.
Here’s the thing: the Burchill piece clearly has one aim. It’s there to stir people up. It’s there to get the Guardian clicks (which is why I haven’t linked the article; you can Google). It’s there to sell ads. And while it pisses me off that the Guardian would publish such a thing, I also know what their business is. The thing that really gets me riled up is slightly different, and that’s the fact that these arguments seem rational to some people—that this hate speech is being put out there, on its own, without any kind of warning or counterpoint, and left to sit and seep into the brains of folks who really haven’t thought about trans issues.
Blah blah, transsexual lobby, blah blah. Burchill openly insults us for funsies, but at the same time she and Moore are pushing an insidious, dangerous argument. The argument is that trans people don’t care about women, that we are getting in the way of women’s rights, that we are anti-feminist. The argument is that trans women, in particular, are so concerned about penises that they can’t focus on the important issues of domestic violence, human trafficking, and women’s rights generally. And it’s important that we stand up and loudly proclaim that this argument is bullshit.
The scary thing is that to many, it will sound logical. And of course, it sounds terrible. To someone who’s never interacted with a trans woman on a friendly basis, it’s probably not so hard to jump to “oh my God, they’re so selfish that they’re ignoring domestic violence in favor of lobbying for sex change surgeries!” We need to directly attack this strawman argument. We need to point out that many trans women are in fact actively engaged in women’s rights issues that have nothing to do with trans identity. It isn’t our fault that anti-trans feminists only notice trans women when they’re talking about trans stuff, because that’s what they want to pick on. A trans woman working against trafficking or DV doesn’t make the news when the news is all about making fun of “those silly transsexuals.”
But even more importantly, we need to make it clear that transmisogyny is anti-feminist. And this has nothing to do with penises, honestly. It’s about human rights, it’s about casting trans women as less than human and how that is a patriarchal act. It’s about issues that cis feminists talk about all the time: body image, gender stereotyping, women’s dignity. Why do these arguments disappear when an anti-trans feminist is presented with a trans woman’s body? We need to stand up in the media and shout about these hypocrisies. When someone starts dividing “real” women’s rights from the “trivial” ones, we have a big fucking problem.
Say it with me, now. As a favorite Facebook group of mine proclaims, Transmisogyny Is A Women’s Issue! Moore, Birchill, and their anti-trans feminist buddies are simply on the wrong side of history.
That gentleman to your left is Benedict Cumberbatch, an English actor who plays Sherlock Holmes in the BBC’s Sherlock series, and he’s at least in part to blame for inspiring this post. I’ve written before about shame in girlish pursuits, and how we’re taught to push down artistic expression as we age to avoid being considered arrogant. I want to look at a similar phenomenon today, one that revolves around fandom and excitement about male bodies and celebrities.
First, a confession. I am active in fandom. That includes fanfiction, the phenomenon that more and more mainstream writers are starting to touch upon, and it also includes good old fashioned squeeing about actors and characters and musicians. These other writers have already covered the importance of fannish community and fanfiction’s power as an outlet for sexual desire, but I want to talk about excitement over male characters and celebrities more broadly, and how misogyny fits in.
A few facts: I’ve been involved in fandom to some extent, mostly secretly, since I was quite young. Through various stages of sexual orientation and gender exploration, I’ve found certain male characters and celebrities attractive. Under a pseudonym, I’ve “squeed” with friends over these characters and celebrities, often for no reason more intellectual than “oh my God look at how well he wears a suit.” When I have let fandom seep into “real life,” I’ve usually tempered the interest by focusing on a more acceptable element of my fannishness, whether that be a literary interest in Tolkien’s works or a geeky sci fi love for Star Trek. I haven’t found that being a fan, in and of itself, is necessarily embarrassing. But the idea of people in my personal and professional life finding out about this girlish “squeeing” was intensely frightening, to the point that as a lesbian-identified college student I assumed that I would have to consider suicide as an option were I found out.
Why so ashamed, you ask?
I saw this button on Pinterest a little while ago, and the slogan struck me. Beyond obvious queer cutesiness, I started thinking about what it might actually mean. “Love is a many gendered thing.”
Though it sounds flip, the slogan really resonates with me, because it reflects the way I look at gender. I don’t ignore gender in people I’m attracted to, but at the same time I don’t tend to lump attractions by gender, or at least not by gender alone. My tendency is to create more complex categories–“geeky fannish femmes,” “andro punk trans folks,” “playful trans women with awesome shoes,” “fat femmes that rock the retro chic look.”
Generally, we’re expected to group the people we love into gender clusters, and even in the case of bisexuals or pansexuals, I think there’s some expectation that your “type” will depend on the gender you’re thinking of at the moment. When we talk about multiple genders, or gender being less important, then it becomes this big incoherent blob of “gender has no meaning” or “we can transcend gender.” But I think that individual genders do have meaning, insofar as they shape the people that claim them. And I think that an individual’s gender experience can be sexy, and sometimes I fall in love with the way a particular person experiences their gender.
What do you think?
It’s a blessing and a curse.
One of the issues I’m most passionate about–the rights of trans people in prisons and detention facilities–has been in the news lately. It should be a chance to raise awareness around this important issue and to use media to push forward the tide of increasing respect for prisoners’ fundamental rights that was evidenced in several recent events, including successful lawsuits in Wisconsin and Massachusetts around transition-related care in prison and the issuance of a final ruling on the Prison Rape Elimination Act that incorporates many of trans advocates’ recommendations regarding trans prisoners. But it was evident from the start that this would be a tricky story to bend in the direction of education and advocacy on the issues, because this is a story that most people just can’t pull past Us vs. Them.
The headlines that started rolling in last week range from more-or-less balanced to fear-mongering on the conservative opinion side:
- Judge rules in favor for inmate’s sex change operation (Boston Globe, Sep 4)
- Judge orders Mass. to pay for inmate’s sex change surgery (Boston Globe, Sep 5)
- Ruling on prisoner’s sex-change a matter of principle (Boston Globe, Sep 6)
- Judge goes too far in sex change ruling (Boston Globe, Sep 7)
- Is denying treatment to transsexual inmates “cruel and unusual?” (The Atlantic, Sep 7)
- Free sex change for prisoner is distasteful, but justified (Boston Globe, Sep 10)
- The real war on women–rewarded for killing his wife (BernardGoldberg.com, Sep 10)
- Inmate’s sex change: humane or insane? (Santa Maria Times, Sep 11)
The facts of the case make it tempting, even for transgender people and those engaged in trans rights work, to focus on the individual involved and how heinous it seems that the state would give someone convicted of killing her wife a “free sex change.” It’s entirely understandable that those who can’t access necessary transition-related health care due to the cost of that care and the lack of insurance coverage would find it frustrating when a prisoner is allowed access to the same care on the state’s dime. But to focus on Kosilek’s crime, or on the idea of “free benefits” for prisoners, is entirely missing the point.
Yes, it’s strange that someone in prison would have better access to healthcare than someone who hasn’t been convicted of a crime, but the problem here isn’t that a prisoner does have access, it’s that many others don’t. Prisoners should have access to healthcare as a fundamental human right, and so should everyone else. True, many people don’t have that access right now, but access to human rights isn’t about ranking people by how much we think they deserve a right and doling it out accordingly. Healthcare access in this country depends on a lot of things–structural inequality, economic opportunity, whether you can get insurance coverage, and whether your insurance covers the treatment you need, to name a few. The Kosilek case was about a specific legal determination under one specific standard that gives prisoners in a particular jurisdiction access to health care. The judge made the right call in this case. There are many other cases, many other standards, that impact trans people’s right to transition-related care in different situations, and many people don’t have care yet. That sucks, but it doesn’t mean we should wait until all those cases are solved before we provide healthcare to trans prisoners. It means that we need to hold our country to a standard of basic human rights in all areas.
I also want to remind folks in general, but particularly some of the commenters on Lesley’s xoJane piece who are heavily focusing on the idea of “free surgery” or “rewarding prisoners,” that it’s the prison system itself that leads to this situation. When people commit crimes in the United States, we handle it through incarceration. We incarcerate people in facilities where if they are allowed to work, they can’t make very much money and they certainly can’t afford to pay for their own healthcare. One of the consequences of that system is an enormous burden on the state, but that has nothing to do with the question of what necessary healthcare is. There are other solutions to criminality, solutions that experts on prison abolition and reform can speak to far better than me. If we provided some means for criminals to work and pay to access rights such as healthcare, then the argument might fly. But we don’t, and so it’s the state’s responsibility to pay for care. The state is failing in other areas–we don’t provide adequate health care for the young, the old, the sick, non-citizens, or those with disabilities–but again, the answer to failure in one area is not to fail in another.
If this case pisses you off, if you’re outraged, then great. Excellent! Join the fight for rights to transition-related care through Medicaid, Medicare, the VA, private insurance, and other programs. Fight for expansion of the Affordable Care Act. But don’t spend your time arguing about this one trans woman who did a terrible thing and later won a petition for her human rights. Frankly, it’s a waste.