Thursday, April 4, 2013

Some feminists are transphobic - deal with it.

Lately there's been a lot in the news about high profile transgender folk. Seems people have been talking over tea a bit more than before, and recently a close friend of mine asked me to comment on a thread where a troll was bandying about some choice words regarding transsexual women wanting to be accepted as, you know, women.This made me feel a bit ranty. So without further ado - to the rant blog!

Transwomen are women. Transmen are men. And yes, I mean like "real" men, and "real" women (why do those concepts give me the heebie-jeebies?)
Why do I say this? Because some really clever scientists who did some really complicated sciency stuff (you know, like brainscans and twin studies and post mortem brain structure studies) tells me that this is probably a good thing to do.

Some very pushy feminist types, especially some very butch lesbians and a couple of very camp gay guys, have given me some really pretty sexy philosophical arguments as to why they think gender is all a evil societal construct. They seemed legit, being homosexual and all, and some of them even had philosophy majors. You could be forgiven for thinking their opinions are authoritative. Still, maybe its just me, but where medical conditions are concerned, I tend to prefer theories that contain data that came from a medical professional, not a minority activist or a philosophy major.

While from a purely genotypical and phenotypical perspective it is technically accurate to describe transsexual individuals as being male/female  according to  birth sex, it turns out that what defines ones gender as either male or female is rather more complex than either genetics OR genitalia.

I can refer you to a very informative article which explains in fairly thorough detail where the diagnosis, treatment and definition of trans comes from historically, and what current medical science has come to know in recent years about this condition. My favourite bit is where they come to the conclusion that brain development  in-utero largely determines gender identity, and that definite brain structure differences are observable between genders - also in transsexual folk who identify as those genders.

The  long and the short of it seems to be that our brains are actually structurally linked to our gender identities, and, we were born that way.

If you want to know more, feel free to hit up some Google scholar articles or a couple of good libraries. I was required to do so myself not so long ago. Oh and look at recent publications, since the really juicy mind altering discoveries are less than 10 years old.

As for the philosophers:

I have several issues with the inherent sexism and patriarchal structures that tend to crop up in transgendered circles. I wondered why it was so important for transwomen/men to be "women" or "men", and not just "transwomen"/ "transmen". Surely we should be fighting for these terms to be accepted, instead of trying to obscure the problem behind genetic and phenotypical word games?

I'm pansexual. I'm in a polyamorous triad. I'm into BDSM. I do not subscribe to any religious or philosophical dogma for much longer than it takes me to read up about it. To paraphrase Henry Rollins I "burned my closet for kindling". Lets face it, I have a desperate incompatibility with things coercively normative.

However, when I fell in love with a thoroughly no-nonsense young trans individual who had a great sense of humour and a low bullshit quotient, I discovered to my shame that I had been propagating coercively normative ideologies in the name of equality and activism for a number of years. I for a long time believed I was Cisgendered (my wetware matches my software, I was assigned my chosen gender at birth) and therefore was rather blind to cissexism.

What 20 years of feminism could not teach me, I learned when I loved someone who lived with this on a daily basis. In time I discovered that what I thought I knew about gender equality was littered with prejudice and propaganda propagated by all factions of the gender wars.

Interestingly, transpeople have often been invisible observers in the gender wars. For those who do not appear obviously transgendered (they "Pass") a world is opened up where they become privy to the secret intimate world that is guarded by each individual gender grouping. 

The cisgendered majority accept every day in their basic interactions a rather remarkable amount of silent sexism from each other. Take it from a transperson  to know just how many small prejudices we are all blind to. They have been taking this stuff in their stride for so long, nobody even knows it's bullshit - because none of them will ever see the way the other side lives. I sure as hell learned a lot about invisible sexism from my trans partner, and I'm a better feminist for broadening my mind to include that worldview.

Without shame or rancour, I was set straight about what transsexuality is and isn't. It is, simply put, a medical condition. That is all. 


The hysterical rantings often held up in an attempt to protect the sanctified and holy spaces of the cisgendered (like bathrooms and womens only concerts and feminism) are, in my opinion, roughly on par with the arguments proposed for "protecting" heterosexual marriage. Same bullshit, different topic. Transgender people are as much of a threat to cisgendered interests and spaces as homosexuals are to heterosexual marriage.

There are no really tasty benefits to being transgendered. The suicide rate is over 50%, the overall death rate 75%, due to such factors as starvation, exposure to the elements, assualt, and murder. They face the most frequent and most serious discrimination of any minority group in the LGBT cluster. They are frequently profiled as being mentally ill, pathological liars and sexually deviant (which, research shows, is no more likely to be true of them than of their cisgendered counterparts, or other minority groupings). Hell, when their condition is managed using internationally approved treatment protocols, they actually look pretty...normal. You know, like that kid with bad eyes who got glasses and could then live the rest of their lives reading the board from the back row like anyone else.

Still, it turns out that being accepted as your target gender at all is a pretty shitty second prize when you have to live as "Freaky Friday" for your entire childhood, youth and reproductive years (and if you are treated in your youth, the treatment leaves you sterile, and you live the rest of your life afraid to have people see your childhood photos).

Lets not even BEGIN to talk about the cost and scarcity of medical treatment. How would you feel if you needed that pair of glasses, but you had to wait 25 years* to get one because your minority is so small that no facilities are available to receive treatment sooner? Unless, of course, you're willing to fork out half a million Rand for good treatment in Thailand.

For transsexuals, being accepted as a woman/man is not primarily an attempt at subdueing an unaccepting society, but a best effort attempt at treating a truly craptastic medical condition.There is, at best, only poor palliative and prosthetic treatment, and you'll just have to live with the fact that there is no real remedy for the chimerism of having brain structures mapped onto physiology that is opposite to your gender.

You know, like having to wear scratchy contact lenses or bottlebottom brainy-specs. Even if they are really cool specs, or really nice contact lenses, you are still going to get called four eyes, or end up with pink eye twice a year. But then...glasses won't get you  beaten to death by bullies the way peeing standing up/ not peeing standing up potentially can.

Its not a lame defense against the patriarchy or an attempt to gain male privilage. Its not generally motivated purely by self hatred or a desire to conform to gender normativity. Its about having what all of the rest of the Cisgendered schmucks take for granted - having your phenotypical carpet match your neurological drapes.

For me, accepting transsexual women as women is about widening the parameters of what it means to be a man or a woman. To permit anyone who wants to claim that gender construct to do so if they wish - much like allowing modern feminists to be Volvo-driving soccer moms (if that's what floats their neo-feminist boats). Its about letting go of policing gender. Its about conceding that despite our desperate attempt to claim that gender is purely a societal construct, science has shown us this is NOT the case but gender IS more multifaceted than previously believed.

It really sucks for activists when their arguments dissolve in a puff of scientific smoke, but I am a scientist first, and an activist second, so my brain didn't hurt so much the day after I woke up from this particular hangover.

We tend not to deal with that kind of defeat well, especially when our entire argument rests on (faulty) assumptions about gender that we have been fighting to entrench for generations - the idea that we have roughly interchangeable brains gender-wise but VERY definite physical differences.

As usual, in nature, the argument is rather more complex. Boys and girls can be whatever they want to be, because for every type of girl or boy or gender variant individual, there is a place in the wide continuum of human diversity. If we learn anything at all from the Kinsey report (other than that humans are a really creatively horny species), it is that human beings are extremely diverse.

Everyone deserves to be whatever they were born to be, or want to be - without judgement from either the moral majority OR minority.

I've reached a place in my life where I don't fight for us to wipe clean the slate of gender constructs anymore. I fight for the right for anyone to claim whatever gender construct they choose for themselves - because to me that is true equality. That is honouring the bell-curve. That is accepting that we are both a product of nature AND nurture.
Accepting that some men have vaginas and some women have penises is really of no consequence to anyone who genuinely wants to fuck the patriarchy and free women from eons of oppression. Becoming comfortable with the reality that we can't know the content of a persons mind or underwear by looking at them is likewise a good way to advance the cause of equality. We really need to get over the compulsive need to know what whether they have the right equipment down south BEFORE we buy a person a drink. The answer is that that's just one more thing about you'll need to learn the polite way: By getting to know them.

Trans people generally fight really hard for gender equality and to destroy sexism and patriarchal power - because transmen really hate the patriarchy for
telling them that being a man isn't an option, and transwomen really hate sexism because society treats them like even bigger crap than cis women.

They hate this stuff JUST LIKE WE DO.

So in short, friends, please can we stop hating on them for wanting to be men and women just like you?


*Recent information from the Transgender therapy team at Grootte Schuur Hospital

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this. Now I can point people here when they ask stupid insulting questions (the plain stupid questions I don't mind when asked in innocence). I have a transman friend who is a a feminine man. He is gay (bi-sometimes) and loves floral type print. People ask why he doesn't just stay a woman, because surely all effeminate gay men want to be women, or something.

    Transphobia is like any discrimination: a learnt behaviour. My 7 year old asked me why my previously mentioned friend (who still has breasts as surgery is expensive) looks like a woman and if he used to be a woman. In 5 minutes she understood the difference between his body and his identity, granted in a very basic way. While my pronouns slipped up all the time with him (I am also programmed to use physical details to assign gender) My kids never did and corrected me.

    For anyone wondering I am a ciswoman, and grok transwomen, but a great deal of difficulty understanding transmen, or even cismen. This doesn't mean that because something confuses me it is wrong, otherwise gravity is wrong since I really don't understand it.