It’s been several years since I spoke openly about my birth assignment. I stopped doing it, initially, because it’s none of your g-d business. It also confuses a lot of cis people not to have a birth assignment to work with. They need to know “which way” you’re trans, to fit you into at least a birth assignment binary, and that feels shitty to me. This not only doesn’t serve non-binary folks like me, but it also is an imposition of a colonial white binary gender system on lots of people whose gender never was assigned to that system. It erases gender diversity on all sorts of axes. And I get really uncomfortable when even trans people start talking about ourselves more along “AFAB/AMAB” lines than in terms of our actual genders.
But despite that, there is some relevance to birth assignment, particularly when we’re talking about transmisogyny. When I stopped talking about my birth assignment, I enjoyed that not everyone could guess it correctly, particularly those who hadn’t met me in person. It made it more difficult to lump me into a preconceived trans pile. My hope, I think, was that in the confusion someone might trip, fall, and land on my actual gender, but of course that rarely happens. Most people couldn’t pick my gender out of a lineup, because I don’t fit a lot of scripts. I don’t present in a way that consistently announces my femmeness, nor do I spend much time hanging around with assumed-female-at-birth white genderqueers. I don’t identify as transmasculine or androgynous. But I do benefit from the privilege of being assumed female both at birth and in most of my life. I don’t experience transmisogyny or the potential violence that my assumed-male peers do.
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.
I will have more to say on this soon, with concrete examples, once I do some research. But tonight, I need to get a rant off my chest. I’m sick of hypocrisy when it comes to trans rights. I’m sick of people getting the cheers and young trans radical accolades from “focus on the most marginalized among us” rhetoric and then treating actual trans women like shit.
To paraphrase Flavia Dozdan, my trans activism will reject transmisogyny or it will be bullshit.
It is not okay to talk about structural violence and systematic oppression in the abstract and then be a transmisogynist in your spare time. Part of being a radical trans activist is confronting your internalized transmisogyny and your own privilege, whatever kind of privilege that may be.
I’m not saying that I’m never hypocritical. Confronting examples of racism in my own actions that runs counter to my activism is an ongoing process. I benefit daily from a system of white supremacy, imperialism, and genocide. My entire life is built on the privileges I have as a white person born to white, college-educated parents with access to “merit-based” scholarships. It is my responsibility to confront that and actively work against forces like structural racism, transmisogyny, etc.
But it makes me angry when someone acts so uncritically, blaming and shaming trans women, and then uses their position as a respected trans activist to benefit and exploit.
I had a thought about transphobia, particularly the kind of transphobia that involves cis males freaking out because the idea of a “gender change” is so wrong and unnatural to them. When this kind of transphobia comes up, I think part of the problem may be that the kneejerk reaction is a sense of wrongness that the perpetrator feels when he imagines himself wanting to be, or turning into, a woman. A common response is to critique that sense of wrongness, challenge the sense that femininity is wrong or less than masculinity, talk about gender fluidity, etc. And while that’s not a bad approach–certainly, the gender essentialism and sexism should be addressed–I think it might be more effective to instead latch onto that sense of wrongness and affirm it by explaining that many trans people feel a similar sense of wrongness before transition. If we ask the hypothetical man to imagine instead being born into a female body, knowing that it is “wrong,” he might actually start to think about the transgender experience in a more sympathetic way.
Recent debates on whether Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars is an appropriate viewing experience for children exemplify a dangerous conservative trend in the LGBT movement. As in debate on same-sex marriage, queer activists find ourselves being ask to defend our simple humanity, backed into a corner where visible queerness is seen as a bad strategic move.
Again, I find myself using an example of a queer celebrity in the media to argue the necessity of a truly queer movement. The more time we spend arguing that we are normal, “just like” our opponents, the further we get from our policy priorities. When we allow hate groups to define the debate, they have already won.
How can we turn this disaster around? Refuse to engage by framing our position around being like our opponents. We are not like bigots, homophobes, and transmisogynists. We embrace diversity. We fight with creativity and humor. We shift the ground under gender stereotypes and we regularly fuck with patriarchy. We don’t accept conservative arguments that dehumanize us and challenge our right to occupy our space.
We’re here, we’re queer. Join us.