On One of the Most Hated Aspects of So-Called Radical Feminism
I’m about to put myself in the middle of something that seems less inviting than a sex sandwich with Mussolini and that raptor from Jurassic Park that opens doors with its DISEMBOWELING CLAWS, but I’m gonna do it, because someone ought to. I expect to take a lot of flak for this, except who am I kidding no one reads my blog. Tumblr ‘trigger warnings’ all up in here; check tags. Please do not stop reading halfway through, even though it’s long.
Radscum. What’s up with that. I really don’t know.
There is, however, one key issue at stake when defending transwomen against these allegedly ‘feminist’ diatribes that angrily exclude them— an issue that, in my own personal experience, I don’t think is invalid. Just because I understand why this issue comes up does not mean I agree with it; the whole point of this post is to say “this is why it happens, here is what we can do about it.” I am trying to do that ambassador thing that always ends up causing both sides to hate me, but at least you can come together on that, right?
Anyone can be insulted, treated poorly, or otherwise socially oppressed for their gender; a transwoman who visibly passes can suffer unfair hiring practices or objectification in media, or any of the slew of continuous ethical violations that ciswomen who are visibly gendered experience, but only biological females suffer a very specific set of assaults that are not related to social roles and cannot be ignored.
If a transwoman is beaten and raped, it’s a hatecrime. If a ciswoman is beaten and raped, it’s tuesday.
I am not in any way illegitimizing the horrible, horrible crimes that transwomen suffer. In general I think the life of a transperson is much harder than the life of a ciswoman, but I also think that because transitioning is such a difficult process, the struggles of transwomen can begin to supercede the struggles of ciswomen in a way that should be addressed.
When women who are known to be trans are abused in any way, it’s always assumed that the abuse results from the fact that they are trans. I don’t know which is worse for a transwoman: the fact that they will suffer for being trans, or the fact that their suffering only seems valid if it’s about being trans. Is there anything more insulting or hurtful than being told that not only are you not a woman, your suffering as a woman is not real suffering? Radscum, this is not right. But I get it.
When your body does not biologically match the sex organs anticipated by those who would enact violent crimes against women, the crime itself becomes violence against the fact that your state is errant or confusing, not against your sex organs themselves. Rape itself is not a women-only or female-only crime; men are raped, transwomen are raped, anyone can be raped. Rape culture, however — that is, the persistent and socially-pervasive enforcement or approval of sexual abuse — applies only to biologically female genitalia, and the whole disgusting mess of laws and beliefs regarding what happens to female sex organs, like abortion legislation.
The rape of any person, cis or trans, is fucking awful, but only the rape of ciswomen is desired by the majority of the populace. When women as a whole are victimized because they are women, the people who commit those crimes are only interested in biological females. To them, ‘woman’ means ‘possessing uterus.’ Only the people who are born biologically female are assumed to possess this inherent ‘weakness’ that can be preyed upon, whether that manifests through physical abuse or psychological abuse wherein the female mind is considered inferior.
According to our enemies, the purveyors of sexism, biological sex is the discriminating factor. According to our enemies, transwomen are just men who fake it, who artificially apply this ‘inferior’ state of womanhood to a ‘superior’ male base; it’s impossible to lose that ‘superiority’ because it’s allegedly inherent in the biological form, and it’s equally impossible to gain ‘superiority’ or cease being ‘inferior.’ According to our enemies, sex informs gender; gender is the natural manifestation of sex, and therefore the ‘inferior’ expressions of femininity are due to ‘inferior’ biology.
Let us not become our enemies.
Let us not pretend that gender and sex share a causal relationship; let us not claim that transwomen are somehow less woman, because to do so is to enforce the beliefs of our enemies. Let us understand how they think — I agree with your analysis in this way, radscum — but please let’s not allow that understanding to infect the way we think.
I do not want to look at a transwoman and think, “oh, you’re just a man who’s appropriating womanhood.” Christ. I want to look at a transwoman and think “woman,” and for that to just mean woman. Not weak, or vulnerable, or lesser. Just “tending to express primarily feminine personality traits.” That’s all.
Allow me now to explain why I felt compelled to make this post; I understand this discomfort radscum have with including transwomen in certain feminist dialogues for two reasons.
One, the idea that someone could simply walk in to an oppressed state as though by choice; ciswomen do not have the choice of not being oppressed for their womanhood, and those who do not understand transsexualism believe that transwomen do have this choice.
Unfortunately, however, this is not true— transwomen do not have the choice of not being women, that is who they are, and being forced by reality to actually have to make an active choice to become who you are is an excruciatingly painful experience that few understand. So that’s a whole other minefield of human pain that isn’t being addressed in this type of feminism— everyone talks about the pain of oppression a person receives for aspects of themselves they were handed by accident; no one talks about the pain of oppression a person receives for aspects of themselves they have to do something about. I digress.
You cannot say to a transwoman, “you’re not actually oppressed like me because you’re actually a man and you could just be a man.” No. She can’t. Someone who must put herself through all the various agonies of transitioning in order to embrace her personhood is not going to say “oh, well okay! Why be oppressed when I could simply lie to myself and avoid it! WHERE IS MY SUIT AND TIE?!” Let us not become our enemies.
The reason I understand this contention from both sides is because of something in my own life that regularly occurs— I am not colored enough to be considered a person of color by a lot of people of color. Important note: this is not a comparison of race to gender, this is a comparison of ways of being told that you are not enough of something to qualify, even though you are that something and cannot be less of it. Many Pueblo people have told me, “Well you can pass as white, why are you not just white?” Why don’t you just stop being one of us because you’re not one of us enough to suffer what we suffer? Fuck that. I am genetically not white, however much I might look it, in the same way that transwomen are not men, however male they were born. To accept male privilege, for a transwoman, is to lie to herself.
Someone who has never had to lie to zemself is not going to understand this, and I don’t think we as the less scummy feminists should villify the radscum for that. If you’ve never had to say to yourself, “I am not what I am because other people don’t like it,” you’re not going to understand why forcibly excluding someone from the suffering of your category of being, for not seeming enough of that category to deserve acknowledgement for their suffering, is wrong. I get why it makes you uncomfortable, I really do. I have seen the discomfort in my own people when they say “but… but you live like one of them.”
That does not mean a transwoman is not one of you. Please, try to understand. Your transwomen sisters are still your sisters, and there are some things they won’t understand, and some things you won’t understand— that doesn’t mean you can’t understand each other.
The second reason I sympathize with radscum discomfort is that although I am not trans, I do a great deal of genderfucking myself and can regularly pass for a woman if I dress the part. I actually intend to write a post about some of those experiences, because it’s extremely interesting, but the point is that no matter how feminine I feel, or no matter how readily others around me assume that skirt + makeup = I’m a woman, I never feel unsafe. Even when I seriously try to put myself into the social role of ‘woman,’ I have absolutely no idea what it feels like to be afraid because ‘I’m a woman.’ I have not experienced that kind of oppression.
I’ve been treated like I don’t know shit about cars, I’ve been told that I won’t understand a highly mathematical topic of discussion, I’ve been told to put on more makeup, I’ve been blatantly ogled and jeered at and leered at, but I have never felt threatened. I’ve been outnumbered in barfights in Texas because some cracker with a cowboy hat decided to hit on me and was then very displeased when I spoke in my regular voice, but those sorts of altercations are about being a feminine man, not about being a woman. The truth is, for all my switching sides — and baby, I switch more than a light on the wall of a public restroom in a hippie beverage establishment — there are some secrets to the full and lifelong experience of a paradigm that I must assume I will just never be able to know. Could you tell me those secrets? Do you even know, yourself?
And as supportive as I am of the trans community, I wonder if the same goes for transwomen as well— for all people, of any paradigm, in fact. There are some secrets all of us will never learn, because the only way to learn those secrets is to hear them whispered in every quiet moment we, the doppelgangers, miss out on while we are living the moments of our own Otherness. Is it possible for a transwoman to truly know what it’s like to have been born female, or is she only able to know what it’s like to have become female? I don’t know, and I don’t know the difference.
If there is a secret to biological womanhood, it must be buried here, in this place, in this argument: you have not lived with this kind of oppression in every moment of your life, you have not heard the whispers spoken to those who were made whole by accident. Whether or not that’s true, it does not make the oppression transwomen suffer any less relevant to feminism. Transwomen are just as trapped inside their femininity as ciswomen. Please understand, the whole point of all of our struggles is to eliminate this antiquated notion that biological sex and gender roles are somehow causally related. A feminism that refers solely to those who were born female is not feminism at all, it’s bio-femalism. Okay? You’re not feminists, you’re bio-femalists, okay?
Oppression for the trans community is very real and is as deeply ingrained in our societies as ideas about gender are— and that runs pretty deep. It feeds the same fountain of oppression that ciswomen or bio-females must drink from, because it’s all the same underground hatred of gender types and differences. In feminist dialogue, femininity is what’s at stake— the equal respect for feminine ways of being that masculine ways of being receive, and anybody can be feminine. I can be feminine.
I can lose arguments with other men because I am unwilling to exude the ignorant force of ego that simply tramples on a premise, rather than actually deconstructing its validity. I can lose fights with other men because my pride does not live in my fists and my sense of being real is not at stake. I can wait for instructions from a man who will laugh at my hesitation because I am more interested in doing it right than simply proving that I can do it. I can experience the scorn that masculinity projects onto non-aggression, non-violence— I can even use phrases like “non-aggression” because the language itself is so biased that the opposite of aggression is submission, rather than simply not giving a fuck.
The point of feminism is to empower femininity and all those who enact it in their lives, to stop femininity from being treated as weakness and deserving of subjugation. Okay? The point of feminism is to teach respect for the non-masculine, not to suggest that a certain group of people are the only ones who deserve respect for their femininity. Okay?
really, really important. transwomen cannot just be men and have the privilege that radscum thinks they have.
everyone who is treated as lesser/inferior for being a woman should be welcome in feminism. because that’s the whole point. transwomen are women. biological sex does not inform gender, as said above.