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 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.
Yes, I know I’ve kind of abandoned ship lately. But never fear, I shall return! I only have a month left of law school so I’m hunkering down and then joyously returning to blogging.
That said, I really wanted to get a quickie out there for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which is focusing on transphobia this year. I thought this was particularly appropriate for me personally, because in the past year I’ve been thinking a lot about gender identity and am very thirsty at this point to learn more.
Though I was always conscious of the “T” in LGBT, I think I’ve spent a lot of time being at least partially transphobic, and very trans-ignorant. The Global Arc of Justice conference really helped me understand how broad the fight for transgender rights is, though, and some personal acquaintances as well as some books I read helped clarify what gender identity is really about. There are a lot of different ways to experience gender – it isn’t just male, female, FTM, or MTF. Some people identify entirely as their “destination gender” after transition, and don’t want to be referred to in any other way. Some identify strongly as transmen or transwomen. Some prefer something more fluid, and don’t identify as trans but rather as genderqueer or something similar. Some go from being a “straight male” to a lesbian, some from “straight female” to straight male, some stay bisexual or pansexual the whole way through. Though I don’t think our society has very many set-in-stone stereotypes about gender identity, because we tend to simply cover up the variations, it’s definitely a bigger world than I initially thought, and it’s important to recognize these differences when thinking about discrimination, rights, and/or the law.
There have been some great steps in the law lately, perhaps most notably the House’s passage of the Matthew Shepard Act (c’mon, Senate!) A lot of people think of this as a hate crimes bill to protect gay and lesbian people, and it does expand our protection, but actually we’ve already got a lot of it. Trans and intersex folks have nada. So this law would be a great step, but at the same time, there are a lot of things that need to happen that aren’t happening. We need to educate ourselves about gender and not be afraid to discuss it, to ask questions, to teach our kids about different gender identities. We need to educate law enforcement (big time). And those of us who don’t really understand need to ask, read, educate ourselves, and become activists. We also need to learn to listen. I think a lot of people in the LGBT movement (myself being one) have a tendency to think we know what transpeople need (and intersex people, if we even consider their existence). We lump transfolks into the gay rights movement and then get bitchy when they intrude on our women-only space. I admit that when I first heard about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival incident, I was a little unsure about my opinion. I wasn’t sure I wanted someone with a penis in a woman-only space, because I will freely admit that I hate and deeply fear the penis at this point in my life. But on the other hand, well, that’s my problem. I need to get over it, or not show up. We don’t have a right to identify as women if we’re going to exclude others who choose to do so. My own acceptance is coming along slowly, and I appreciate any help from trans, intersex, and genderqueer folk who have advice or opinions, but I also know that it’s not your responsibility to fix my fuckups. I think we all need to take responsibility for the discrimination and plain stupidity we’ve exercised in the past, and figure out how to do better in the future. Hopefully this year’s IDAHO focus will be a strong first step.