“Cisgender”? Cui Bono?

 

If you read a single post here at CBG, make it this one.

Let’s talk about “cis.”  Some feminists think this word is harmful because it reflects an agreement with gender roles.

I think it’s actually more harmful when it simply means “non-trans,” particularly in the context of the sentence “Cisgender people are a privileged class.”

I’m going to start, as I often do, with an analogy.

Let’s say we had a word that meant “not Black.”  Black people have definitely faced historical oppressions that did not have easy equivalencies in other races, and let’s say that there was an idea that the proper way to fight oppression in the Black community was by defining themselves in this way.  So from now on, you have, say, people who are “melano-racial” (Black), and people who are “leuko-racial” (non-Black).

It would be very justified to say, in this context, that “melano-racial” people are oppressed people.  But it would be a mistake to say “melano-racial people are oppressed by leuko-racial people,” or that leuko-racial people were the oppressor class.

Why?  Because overwhelmingly, violence directed toward Black people, the oppressed class, has not come from simply “non-Black” people.  It has come from white people.  The oppression is not “non-Black supremacy,” but white supremacy.

Why does it matter?  Well, if programs originally designed to help, say, Latinos, or American Indians, were told that they had to also accommodate Black people, using the same budget and facilities, it would matter.  If white people—the actual perpetrators of the huge majority of offenses against Black people—used their institutional power to ensure that they were the group of “leuko-racials” that had to change the least and sacrifice the least in order to achieve equality, it would matter.

It’s likely that some of these “leuko-racial” Latinos and American Indians would accept Black people into their gatherings and spaces, for many of the same reasons that many women are accepting of both MTF and FTM trans people in their spaces—they’d recognize that the “melano-racial” people were facing serious, intense racial discrimination from white people that they empathized with to a strong degree, even though their racial oppressions weren’t exactly identical.

But what would happen if people started decrying “leuko-racial privilege,” and the principal targets of their anger were almost always Latino or American Indian?  What if a new term was invented for Latino people who objected to the new ways they were expected to share the spaces they’d carved out for themselves: MERL, for Melano-Exclusionary Radical Latino?  What if caricatures were made of what MERLs were like, caricatures that played with old stereotypes of Latinos that were hurtful and originally used to prop up white supremacy?  What if there was no similar simple acronym term for white people who continued their oppression, and Twitter filled with hashtags for not only #melanopride but also #killallmerls?

What if, when the MERLs themselves objected—both to the term and to how it was used—they were accused of being violent and melanophobic?  What if even attempting to say “this is a problem caused by white people, not ‘leuko-racial’ people” was met with scorn and derision, or an exhortation to “shut your mouth, MERL scum”?

You begin to see the problem.

“Cis” is a term that pretends to define an oppressor class, but instead works by lumping both the oppressors and many of the oppressed into a single, unified whole.  What this means, in practice, is that women—who are also an oppressed gender minority—are being treated like they are not only the oppressor class, but in fact the part of the oppressor class that needs to sacrifice the most, risk the most, and argue the least.

Terms that mean “non-x” can work to help identify oppression when they are being used to designate an oppressor class and people outside it.  That’s why “non-white” works, or “non-male.”  Anyone who is not in the class at the top gets shit on—to varying degrees, certainly, but iit’s all the same shit. Latino folks have not faced oppression in the same way as Black folks, but it’s the system of white supremacy that hurts both groups.

In other words, when there’s an oppressor class A, “non-A” works to define people experiencing oppression stemming from that oppressor class.  However, if you have oppressed class B, “non-B” can and often does include people of other oppressed classes facing oppression stemming from exactly the same place as class B.

Women and gender non-conforming people (including trans people, genderqueer people, genderfluid people, etc.) are all facing the same oppression: patriarchy and male supremacy.  So an honest and inquisitve person is forced to ask of the term “cisgender” a very important question: cui bono?

Who benefits from a term that groups the oppressor and parts of the oppressed group together?  The answer is easy to spot: the oppressor group does.  Since oppressed groups, by definition, have less institutional power than the oppressor group, the oppressor class will always minimize the impact “non-B” terms like “cis” or “leuko-racial” could have on themselves.  The burden, as much as possible, will be shifted to the shoulders of already-oppressed classes.

Male supremacy and patriarchy are the oppressions that hurt trans people, gender non-conformers, and all women.  In the words of the hashtag, yes—all women.  Terming “cis” the oppressor linguistically erases the oldest and most common form of oppression on the planet: male supremacy.  It allows members of one oppressed group to claim they are “punching up” while in fact hurting another group of oppressed people.  It allows a reversal by which other oppressed groups are viewed as the primary perpetrators of oppression.

“Cis” benefits men.  It can only benefit men, in the same way that redefining white supremacy as non-black supremacy can only benefit whites.  You can’t fight an oppressive system by redefining its victims as its aggressors.

 

A brief note on the topic of “erasure” and identity

Look how many people will say: “This argument makes sense, but I’m not going to listen to it because …”

Because tone.  Because women won’t use the right words for men.  Just call us what we want, do what we want, and we’ll start listening to you, feminists.  We promise.

 

Sure.

Let me be very clear: misgendering “erases” no one.  I have several people in my family whose primary “identity” group, as such, is Christians.  If I were to call one of them an atheist, or a Buddhist, or the man in the moon, I would not be “erasing” them.  If someone identified, primarily, as a very funny teller of jokes, it would not be invalidating their existence to tell them that they are not particularly funny after all.  It’s worth noting that they’re not erased *even if someone is telling lies*.

The only way, in fact, that denying an identity is “erasing” that identity is if the person doing the denial is telling the truth.  Then, the simple act of saying “I refuse to participate in your delusion” shatters the reality of the delusion.

 

Let me put this another way.  If I identify myself as an excellent writer and, say, a very bad fanfiction writer says to me: “You’re a terrible writer,” my identity remains entirely intact.  Why?  Because I have no reason to credit what they say, there is no reason to doubt my identification.  In the same way, if someone says about a novel I have written and am very proud of, “this is garbage, not worth reading,” my identity as a good novelist remains intact, because I really did believe I’d written it well.

If, on the other hand, a writer I respected and admired, or an editor I desperately wanted to approve my work, wrote back with comments amounting to “this is bad writing and I’m not sure why you’d think anyone would like this,” I would feel like my identity and sense of self had, in some way, been diminished.  In the same way, if I was unsure of a work’s quality and someone told me it was pure shit, I’d be much more inclined to feel deeply hurt, lashing out, and resentful about it.

 

I believe the trans people who talk loudest about “erasure” when it comes to pronouns and statements like “was born a girl” are the ones who, deep down, are least settled in their own identities.  I certainly never feel that my identity as a feminist, or my reality as a woman, is somehow threatened when they have misgendered me or called me names or said I was transmisogynist.  Insecure people who know that they’re lying–on some level–are the only ones who feel that the very fabric of their being is threatened by a contradiction of their own internal narrative.

All The Things You Can’t Deny: Title IX, Trans Women, And the Reality of ‘Neutrality’

When it comes to the issue of identification versus biology, perhaps no place illustrates the discrepancies better than sports.

Athletes like Fallon Fox, who went from being a third-rate MMA fighter in the men’s division to winning all his bouts but one when he went in the ring with women, show that the body discrepancies between an XY and XX human are not simply due to hormones.

Now, many trans activists claim that the fact that Fox lost one of his bouts—and the fact that several sports authorities have agreed to accept men as women if they complete two years of hormone replacement therapy—proves that there is no difference between hormone-altered men and natal women.

This, of course, is based only on studies that show muscle percentages being similar.  How are bone density, the differences in body shape, and so on supposed to change?  No answer.

The problem becomes clearer when we apply it to an immediately visible aspect of human physiology: height.

No one (except, perhaps, the world’s most dedicated devil’s advocate) would disagree that when it comes to playing basketball, height is an important determining factor of ability, especially at elite levels.  Basketball players in NCAA, NBA, and WNBA teams have historically been much, much taller than the average person.

Enter Gabrielle Ludwig.  Gabrielle is 51 years old and plays for a college basketball team in Northern California.  He previously coached basketball for young people.  The young women sharing a team with him are 18-20 years old.

Ludwig stands six foot six (a height he claims he has after “losing height” because of his transition—apparently he claims he was six foot eight before).  While seeing photographs of Ludwig next to the far-shorter women he plays with make it obvious that this is an old man playing against young women, trans activists are not convinced.

Image

 

(above: nothing wrong with this picture, say trans activists!)

These activists maintain that because some women have been six foot six, and because trans women (like extremely tall women) are a very narrow subset of the population, no real dent could be made in women’s basketball by transgender players.

But is that true?  Let’s take a look.

At six foot six (198 cm) Gabrielle Ludwig would be a slightly shorter-than-average NBA player. If he entered the WNBA, on the other hand—which he couldn’t, because he doesn’t have the skills and is very, very old for a basketball player—he would be in its top ten or fifteen players of all time.

Ludwig’s height corresponds (based on http://www.disabled-world.com/artman/publish/height-chart.shtml and http://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/9730/what-is-the-standard-deviation-of-adult-human-heights-within-sexes) to a z-score of 2.85, meaning that Ludwig 2.85 standard deviations above the average.  That’s quite tall even for a man—in fact, 99.8% of men in the United States are shorter than him.

Women, however, are shorter, with a slightly smaller standard deviation in their heights.  A height of six feet, six inches corresponds to a z-score of 5.67—nearly six standard deviations above the norm.

What kind of probability does that convert to?  Well, it’s tricky to say, because z-score tables usually cut out at around a score of 3.4.  However, according to wikipedia, a z-score of 5 means that only one in two million people would be expected to be over this range.

One in 500 for men—one in two million for women.  That’s a factor of 4000.  In other words, even if only one in 4000 male-born persons decided to transition, there would be as many trans women standing 6’6 as there are natal women.

And that’s just for a z-score of five (also known as five sigma).  If the calculation was for 5.67, we could expect that 4000 number to be even larger—perhaps as large as 6000 or so.

As it is, most estimates place the prevalence of transgenderism at roughly 1 in 200 people.

If those estimates are accurate, 6’6 MTFs outnumber 6’6 women by a factor of at least 20.

In basketball, height matters.  I expect to see people commenting right here on this post that height doesn’t matter, because it’s the internet and you can find someone advocating any contrarian position imaginable.  But if that’s your first impulse—to start saying height in basketball doesn’t matter—think about where your ideology has led you to.  At the point where you start denying these other basic realities in a rush to placate your own gnawing doubts or your political allies, you’ve crossed over into cultish, fundamentalist thinking.

There are many more tall (6’2 and above) trans women than natal women, even when you take into account the significantly lower proportion of trans women in the population.  Since basketball and many other sports confer a height advantage, it is likely that allowing MTF people into women’s sporting programs will lead to a slow but definite erosion of women’s opportunities for athletic scholarships and more.

I wonder what it will take for people to recognize this practice as harmful.  Given what some countries have done to ensure Olympic successes (puberty blockers, lies about birth certificates), and given that the IOC now will allow trans athletes to compete as their identified-with sex, rather than their biological sex, I suspect it will be only a matter of time before some nation fields a team of somewhat tall men as nearly impossibly tall women.

You can talk about muscle mass and estrogen all you want, but—once again—reality stares right back with objective, real physical differences that cannot be erased through verbal games and political doublethink.

As NCAA protections for women (you know, the ones who start as girls, discouraged to play sports) erode in favor of “gender-based” protections, remember who’s being protected … and who’s being left behind.

We Are All Winston Smith Now

“Trans women are women.”

 

Among the most important themes explored in Orwell’s 1984 is that of language and its relation to oppression.

One of the most compelling moments in that book describes the protagonist, Winston Smith, realizing that the most valuable freedom of all is the freedom to tell the truth.

Later on, he is tortured for the thought he had—the idea that freedom means the ability to tell the truth, to be able to say that two plus two equals four.  His torturer, hired by the state to break his will, seizes upon this idea:

 

“Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When  you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction, an  effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.’

He paused for a few moments, as though to allow what he had been saying to sink in.

‘Do you remember,’ he went on, ‘writing in your diary, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four”?’

‘Yes,’ said Winston.

O’Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended.

‘How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?’

‘Four.’

‘And if the party says that it is not four but five–then how many?’

‘Four.’

The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out all over Winston’s body. The air tore into his lungs and issued again in deep groans which even by clenching his teeth he could not stop. O’Brien watched him, the four fingers still extended. He drew back the lever. This time the pain was only slightly eased.

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four.’

The needle went up to sixty.

‘How many fingers, Winston?’

‘Four! Four! What else can I say? Four!’

- 1984, George Orwell

 

It’s a powerful scene. So powerful, in fact, that at least two science fiction television shows have used the same concept.

In the Babylon 5 episode, Intersections in Real Time, a government torturer works to destroy Captain Sheridan’s sense of time, but more than that, to get him to agree that time—one of the most measurable, readily perceived concepts available to human consciousness—is malleable to the will.

 

INTERROGATOR: This is really excellent corned beef. You have to get just the right mustard. The brown with the seeds, not the yellow kind. And not too much of it. If there’s too much, it irritates the corners of my mouth.

Oh, would–would you like some? I know they haven’t fed you since you got here. That’s at least two days. Besides, it’s lunchtime. Isn’t it? Isn’t it lunchtime? You just said it was morning. Well, you can’t have a corned-beef sandwich for breakfast. It would upset your stomach. Corned-beef sandwiches are for lunch. If it’s morning, you can’t have it. If it’s lunchtime you can. Is it lunchtime?

SHERIDAN: I’m sure it’s lunchtime somewhere.

INTERROGATOR: Excellent answer. Here. I ate half of that myself. Killing you does nobody any good. I told you, I’m here to ensure your cooperation. And I can’t do that if you’re dead, now can I? It does prove, though, how everything is a matter of perspective. You think you see daylight, and you assume it’s morning take it away, you think it’s night. Offer you a sandwich, if it’s convenient, you’ll think it’s midday. The truth is fluid. The truth is  subjective. Out there, it doesn’t matter what time it is. In here, it’s lunchtime if you and I decide that it is. The truth is sometimes what you believe it to be and other times what you decide it to be. My task is to make you decide to believe differently. And when that happens the world will remake itself before your very eyes.

– Babylon 5, “Intersections in Real Time”

 

Star Trek: The Next Generation borrows even more liberally from Orwell in its episode “Chain of Command: Part II,” even re-using the numbers four and five as the basis for the torture.  Picard’s captor insists there are five lights on a ceiling which, objectively, has only four.

Picard doesn’t yield to the torture—he’s rescued just in time.  Smith does, and is executed by the state once he truly loves Big Brother.  Lest anyone believe that starship captains are simply made from sterner stuff than a Winston Smith-style bureaucrat, the episode’s most poignant moment comes from its coda:

 

PICARD: One thing I didn’t put in my report… at the very end, he offered me a choice… between a life of comfort… or more torture… all I had to do was say there were five lights.

Troi regards him for a brief moment.

TROI: You didn’t say it…

PICARD: No… but I was going to. I was ready to tell him anything he wanted… anything at all. But more than that, I was beginning to believe there were five lights.

– Star Trek: The Next Generation (Chain of Command: Part II)

 

And therein lies the real lesson of all three works.  The goal of the torturers, in all cases, was not simply to urge the profession of belief.  The ideal party member, in Orwell’s 1984, is capable of a rather neat mental trick known as doublethink.

When a person doublethinks, they simultaneously believe something to be true and not true.  The government in 1984 tells its citizens, over and over, that “war is peace,” and “freedom is slavery.”  This enables editors like Winston to more readily change history, since people are more likely to accept being at war with a nation one day and at peace the next, for instance, if they believe that the two concepts aren’t really all that different.

Which brings us to a four-word statement:

 

“Trans women are women.”

 

I’d like to unpack this statement a little bit.

I’ve now asked a number of people making it to talk to me about what it means.  Specifically, I’ve asked them what “woman” means, in this sentence.  I’ve gotten the same answer repeatedly from trans advocates:

“A woman is a person who identifies as a woman.”

This is a statement that is literally devoid of content; a semantic nothing.  When one identifies “as a woman,” what is one identifying with?

When I have asked this question, the answers change drastically depending on the person I am speaking to.  Sometimes, I am told of boys who longed to have “the feeling of a hole between my thighs being filled” and who insist on surgery to correct their feelings of bodily wrongness (even when told that girls don’t feel a “hole” where their vaginas are), or who believed that a vagina, being cleft, would enable them to do the splits in a way their scrotum would not (just in case you’re reading this, V, splits are easier for girls because of their ligaments–not their vulvas).

Other times, I’ve heard of people feeling forced out by imposed sex roles.  “I always empathized more with women.”  “I have a softer side and abhor violence.” “I think I was supposed to be a dad, not a mom, because of the way I interact with my child.”  Many of these people profess to have little or no actual genital dysphoria, and are upset at the idea that such dysphoria is considered necessary to change sex on government forms and so forth.

In other words, when someone says “trans women are women,” they may be saying one of several things.  It can be, for instance, a statement that means “trans women have female brains.”  In this instance, “trans women are women” is being used cover for a much more controversial statement, one that forces the person saying it to agree with the notion that there is “brain sex,” a badly outmoded and anti-feminist idea.

Other times, “trans women are women” means “trans women feel they fit in better with women’s social roles.”  Again, this uses a deceptively simple four-word sentence to cover a much more problematic truth.

“Trans women are women” is a statement that means a hundred different things to a hundred different people, and it all hinges on this question: what does it mean to identify as a woman?  Simply saying that there is only one answer to this question (no matter what that answer is) will yield accusations of transphobia and cause in-fighting.  So the only safe statement—since more clear and unambiguous statements will lead to disagreement and strife—is the four-word mantra, “trans women are women.”

Yet this simple statement has worked to serve another purpose, as well.

In 1984, as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Babylon 5, counterfactual statements are used to wield power.

“If it’s lunchtime, you can have a sandwich.” It isn’t, of course, but you haven’t eaten.  So you agree to the counterfactual, starved and not caring.  “If there are five lights, we’ll treat you well (and if you don’t, they’ll torture you).”  There aren’t, of course, but you’re so tired, and the lights are so blurry…two plus two might equal five, mightn’t it?  Of course, it doesn’t, but does that matter when simply saying so will make the difference between captivity and freedom, between contentedness and suffering?

Consider the statement “trans women are women” again. This time, think about how this statement is actually used in online activism circles, rather than how people explain its definition when pressed.

When women refuse to toe the line on the trans mantra, they are harassed, threatened, guilt-tripped.  Women—many of them abuse or sexual assault survivors—are told that any statement contrary to “trans women are women” is not simply rude or even untrue, but actually violent, because it could cause transgender people to feel suicidal.

Women are told that violence is unacceptable, time and time again.  When women are accused of violence because of “misgendering,” they often change their tone nearly immediately.  It doesn’t seem like it matters much whether there are four lights or five, after all.  What’s the difference?  And if it’ll stop me from getting accused of unfeminist behavior, if it’ll stop me being no-platformed, if it’ll stop all of this—if I can come back into the feminist fold—who’s to say two plus two hasn’t been five all along?

I used to use “she” to describe MTF trans people.  I used to use “he” to describe FTM trans people.  I will no longer engage in this practice, except for when directly speaking to trans people who could conceivably direct violence toward me.  Make no mistake, trans folks: many people outside your movement, even the ones who nod in agreement with the statement “trans women are women,” don’t really believe it.  When they are women, they have been trained to spare your feelings and to avoid potential conflict with males—especially those who are backed up by other males with violent tendencies.  I hope your pronouns feel like a hollow victory, wrested as they have been from the mouths of women who know the wrath they face for saying any other words but the ones you told them to say.

Remember this, when you’re told that misgendering is “violence”: “trans women are women” is a statement that is meaningless at best and is used a power exertion over women almost always, since they are not able to disagree or even clarify the speaker’s definition without being viciously attacked.

Do what you have to do, in order to get through your day.  But two plus two is never five.  There are always four lights.  And that corned beef sandwich he’s offering you is poison anyway (seriously, look it up).

 

[[A note to my readers: I expect my next post to be about the NCAA, Title IX, normal distributions, and exactly why “trans-inclusive” athletics policies fail.  I don’t know when I’ll have it out, but you can expect it to be sometime in the next couple of weeks.]]

“I’m not like those other girls.”

I haven’t updated in a long time. I was busy being depressed. So sue me.

Recently, I was watching the sketch comedy show Inside Amy Schumer, which is often one of the most subversively feminist shows on television.  It was while watching the sketch I’m So Bad – which riffs on the way many women act as if eating high-calorie food were worse than actual immoral behavior — that I started to realize something.

Over and over, Inside Amy Schumer presents a vision of interpersonal relationships among women that is written by women.  And it shows.  It’s only after watching it, after seeing the observational detail that women can pull from their interactions with other women, that I began to understand what is wrong with even most of the media that passes the Bechdel Test.

I hear from women a lot that they feel alienated from other women.  Hell, I’ve felt alienated from other women.  I wonder, though, as I watch this show, how much of that alienation is actually an alienation from media representations of women.  The way “best friend” women talk in movies and television is poorly observed and poorly written, and many male comedians make ugly assumptions about women’s conversations with friends being shallow and cruel. Key & Peele, also with a standup/sketch hybrid show on Comedy Central, don drag and display massively misogynistic caricatures of women–women as envisioned by men.

I wonder how many of the women I hear who say that they don’t feel like they fit in the category “woman,” that they’re now “genderqueer” or “genderquestioning” or “agender” or “neutrois,” are really responding to the feeling that the conversations they see, the ways they see women interacting with each other, seem foreign and irrelevant to their lives.  “If that’s how women talk/act, then I must not be one.”

I wonder how many of “those women” that we all profess to be like are just shadows–shadows created in the minds of men.

 

I’ll be back with more content, hopefully before the week is out.  My next topic: language, and why I’ve changed my mind about the “pronoun issue.”

“Shared girlhood,” Red Herrings, and the Creation of the Third Wave

Have you heard the one about the “shared girlhood”?

 

The “myth of shared girlhood” is an idea that has been developed recently by intersectional feminists to explain why it’s wrong for radical feminists to want women-only events that exclude people who were born male.  According to the doctrine of the myth of shared girlhood, there’s nothing that really makes anyone female, because there’s no one universal defining experience of girlhood.

It’s true that there is no universal experience of femaleness.  Not one.  For anything you can come up with–even things that are experienced by huge, huge percentages of women–some women, on an individual basis, don’t meet those qualifications.

According to the “myth of shared girlhood” analysis, this means that organization based around femaleness is inherently improper, and that since trans* individuals have shared some experiences that some women have had, they should be considered no different than any other woman who has had a different experience from the norm.

 

This analysis is outrageous.

 

There is no shared gay experience.  A gay man in Uganda, a lesbian woman in Vancouver–these people have incredibly different experiences of what it means to experience same-sex attraction and love.  This does not mean that there is no such thing as gay, or that gay people should be unwelcome to meet without straight people saying “but my parents don’t like my girlfriend and people sometimes called me anti-gay slurs, which is, you must admit, pretty similar to some things that have happened to some of you!”

There is no shared American Indian experience.  Some people of American Indian descent grow up on reservations, some don’t.  Among both groups, socioeconomic status can vary tremendously.  Different American Indian and First Nations groups have very different cultural norms and policies about assimilating into a white-dominated society.  It would be ridiculous for someone to say that American Indians should be forced to admit the American Indianhood of anyone who claimed it, simply because they claimed it and there is no universal experience of being an American Indian anyway.

There is no shared black experience.  Black kids in the Portland ‘burbs from an upper middle class background and black kids in the Florida panhandle experience very different “black in America” narratives.  No one says that a lack of “shared blackness” should make it so anyone who has felt oppressed about their racial role can simply declare themselves black, and thus avail themselves of affirmative action policies designed to redress ongoing racial bias and discrimination against black Americans.

There is no shared rape experience.  Rape survivors are a diverse group, including people from every demographic.  Some rape victims are infants, some are elderly.  Some are violently beaten, others are drugged, others are emotionally coerced.  That doesn’t mean that just anyone should be able to claim the status “rape victim,” or use the resources allotted for rape victims in our society.

There is no shared labor union experience.  There is no shared working-class experience.  There is no shared Midwestern experience.  There is no shared abuse victim experience.  There is no shared alcoholism experience.  There is no shared disability experience.  There is no shared Muslim experience.  There is no shared Communist experience.

 

Some people in the categories will always be outside of the most commonly shared experiences within that category.  Yet somehow, it’s only women who are expected to defend their “shared girlhood” and what that shared girlhood experience could possibly mean.  It’s only women who are told, when they share the experiences that they feel are powerful and defining for them as an oppressed class, that the sharing of those experiences is in itself oppressive, especially if it’s in a context of sharing them only with other people who were female from birth.

Other groups of oppressed people don’t have to justify themselves when they want to say “we’ve been oppressed, and we would like to say things in our group that aren’t necessarily very nice to the oppressing group, so all members who were raised as members of the oppressing group are invited to kindly keep the fuck out.”  When black people do that to white people, it’s not (generally) by way of saying to white people, “we think you’re a racist shitbag who would disrupt our conference with your mere presence.”  It’s not a way to say “you’re not a good enough ally to us.”  It’s just a way to say, hey, sometimes it’s a shitload harder to make salient points about oppression or even just to vent when your oppressor is right there in the room.

Different groups of women have had, and I suspect will continue to have, varying policies about who is and is not allowed into events that revolve around women’s issues.  In some groups, all people who share basic ideas about feminism and equality would be welcome to attend, regardless of sex or gender.  In other groups, gender identity may matter, in others, a person’s present anatomy (for instance, the ability to penetrate/impregnate) may matter, and in others, birth sex may matter.

The differences in attendance policies in these kinds of events are equivalent to differences in attendance policies from other organizing oppressed classes.  Sometimes, racially-based organizing groups will have events that are open for all people of all races and ethnicities, but other times, usually smaller groups of people of color will want to have events that are restricted to people who aren’t members of a particular race, national origin or ethnicity.  This happens all the time, and racial groups are not asked to provide any proof of a shared racial experience to exclude people who the group feels don’t belong in the group.

In the super-liberal city of Berkeley, California, a whites-only group met for some time to discuss racism at the Niebyl-Proctor Library, specifically excluding people of color.  I think that group’s existence is pretty gross, for a whole bunch of reasons, but it’s important to note that unlike radfem gatherings (which are picketed and targeted because they’re supposedly oppressive to trans* people), this whites-only group–which is no secret, and has even posted flyers in the neighborhood around where it meets, a neighborhood with a very racially diverse population–has to my knowledge never experienced a protest.

Yes, that’s right: it’s easier, politically–in the 21st century–in the liberal centers of the United States of America–to form a whites-only group than it is to form a group that includes only people who were female at birth.

Organization is impossible if it’s only done between people who have shared every experience–if we did that, we’d never have organized as a society beyond the family unit.  That’s what makes organization tricky: if everyone had exactly the same experiences, it’d undoubtedly be a whole lot easier.  That’s also why organization happens at many different levels.  While some activists want to be in broad, coalitional groups, others choose to be in organizing groups that exclude all but a narrow class of people in order to pinpoint issues or have discussions that they feel are more difficult to have in broad, coalitional contexts.

There has not been a single incident–not one–of radical feminists “crashing” trans* people’s gatherings, picketing outside them, or gaining access to a private trans* event with the goal of publicizing where it was occurring or who was attending.  In spite of the fact that many radical feminists have grave concerns about the ways in which trans* surgeries and hormone therapies are being marketed to pediatric patients, there haven’t even been protests of these.  Radical feminists have written about problems with the trans* movement, talked about the enshrining of gender as problematic among themselves–but they haven’t picketed or invaded anyone’s gatherings.

 

Women shouldn’t have to prove anything, including a “shared girlhood,” to be able to meet and organize with other female-born persons without being harassed.  The fact that liberal feminists are buying into this idea–that without a universally shared experience, it’s illogical and bigoted for a group to be able to define itself and exclude non-members–is a sign of how far feminist analysis has fallen since feminists started “doing” feminism online.

Why has this happened?  Because the internet’s the ultimate proving ground that women talk differently when they have to talk around men and be subject to men’s criticisms all the time.  The changes that have occurred to feminism since feminism became part of the blogosphere have been the exact kinds of changes you’d expect to see when women are having to do feminism in front of men. The environment that the second wave operated in was, in some ways, shitty for what it excluded, because the fact that feminist monographs, zines, and so forth were being distributed primarily among white, middle class women left a lot of women out.  However, men also basically didn’t give a fuck (except when they were reacting with horror to out of context bits of Intercourse), so women in academia were left to talk and debate about feminist issues without constant comment and intrusion from men declaring a need to be heard and dialogued with.

The internet changed all that.  Now, everything has to be released male-ready–or else.  Positions determined to be too radical are sanded down, and it’s de rigeur for third-wave feminists to angrily declare that they’re not like those other feminists who are mean and nasty to men, the man-haters, the bra-burners, the TERFs, the Andrea Dworkin, whoever’s the boogeyman identified by men in the comments sections and subreddits where women are trying to do feminism today.

So again and again, you see women taking pains not to offend any men with what they write, because we know what happens to women who write on the internet–especially, gracious me, under their own name!–and who don’t toe the party line.  Talk about sexism in video games, get rape threats.  Talk about feminism and the oppressiveness of gender roles, get rape threats.

That’s the part where men’s comments shape the third wave.  Then, there’s this little deal with the devil that no one talks about: if you can keep the perfect balance of angry about issues that make everyone angry while still making sure everyone sees you’re still buying into the basic tenets of patriarchy, you can shout “this is what a feminist looks like!” and get a book deal.  You can have a life where you make a living by blogging and talking about feminism, today.  There are plenty of people willing to schedule “empowering” visits from feminist women and pay reasonable sums for the privilege.  There is, of course, also a catch: you have to make your feminism palatable enough and positive enough that it acquires the air of a TED talk.  Feminism becomes tamed from something revolutionary, offering the possibility of systemic change, to something that is merely performative and about individual empowerment and choices.

When feminism is subjected to market forces and incessant male intrusion, it becomes the third wave: happy to decry the patriarchy, as long as it never gets upset about any of the bits where patriarchy makes you spend more money or be more available for sex.  Decry not the expense of a wedding or the idea itself, but the whiteness of the dress and its implications, and you too could be a fully book-dealed Internet Feminist(tm) who still gets the New York Times Vows column to cover your wedding and your tasteful, dove-gray wedding dress.  Rage against gender roles, but make sure people know that you believe high heels and porn are just fine when they’re expensive and made by people who pay lip service to feminist ideals.

Girls and women deserve better than the empower-washing of the entire world.  Girls and women deserve better than to be told that theirs is the one group that has to simply allow everyone in.  We deserve better than for our concerns to be mocked or met with threats and protests.  We deserve better than for people to throw strawmen like the “shared girlhood myth” at us when we assert our rights to organize and regulate our groups in the same way that other oppressed groups organize themselves.  We deserve better than to be subject to gaslighting when we say that groups of women change fundamentally when they are joined by either MTF people or simply men who identify as men.  I know it’s not crazy, because I can see the differences between online communities with different policies.

Imagine what internet feminism might have looked like if, from the beginning, women had simply refused to grant men access to the playhouse–and how very different third wave feminism is from that, how much more placating, more quick to soothe hurt feelings, more quick to capitulate and say “well, we all have our own opinions.”

Some days, I wish we could simply go back.  However, that option doesn’t exist, and we have no choice but to keep going forward.  Building women’s-only spaces, both on- and off-line, is one of the few ways for feminism to continue existing as anything other than the auxiliary wing of capitalism and corporatism.  “Let’s you and her fight, you have no experiences in common anyway” is a great tactic to keep women from organizing the single largest class of oppressed people on the planet.  Don’t eat that red herring; it’s been rotten from the first time it was brought out.

The only thing you need to know about the aims of feminist-trashing transactivism

Trans activism, in terms of getting protections in place for transgender people in the workplace, in terms of working to prevent and prosecute hate crimes against trans people, in terms of getting appropriate medical, social and legal services for transgender people–who are oppressed for their violations of gender norms in ways that elevate their rates of homelessness and poverty–is absolutely amazing work, and I salute people who are working in it.  The kind of trans activism I’m going to be talking about is very specifically the kind confined to people whose time is spent in internet forums, chastising women for having discussions that are insufficiently inclusive.

I’m not going to talk about this issue much on this blog, except to say this:

The only thing you need to know about that kind of tumblr-style transactivism is that those same activists aren’t going into primarily men’s spaces and doing the textual equivalent of a disdainful throat clearing every time someone says “man up” or “grow a pair.”  When men say “wow, he’s got big brass ones, don’t he?”, they’re not mobbed by several people saying that testes aren’t particularly manly, many women have testes and many men do not.

It’s abundantly clear that the strategy of these trans activists involves criticism that is confined to women, nearly exclusively.  Women aren’t the ones who are committing violent acts against trans people.  Perhaps men’s language and idioms and issues need trans activism a whole lot more than people who are already fundamentally sympathetic to the cause of ending all gender based oppression.

Why Trans Children Actually Give the Lie to “Born This Way”

One of the most glaring parts of “born this way” transactivism that rings false is the idea that there have always, always been trans people who have experienced gender dysphoria in similar ways to people today.

This is pretty clearly not the case.

Listen to the trans narratives coming out of people today, and listen IN PARTICULAR to the trans narratives coming out about children.  Children who tried to cut off their own genitals, children who absolutely insist upon being treated as the opposite sex, children who scream and cry when clothing for the opposite sex is put on them (ignoring, of course, that at many points in human history, clothing for infants and young children was not gendered, that boys wore dresses, that boys wore much more pink than girls, et cetera)–now, think about this for a minute.

In all the medical and psychiatric literature of the 18th through 20th centuries, where were these children?  Here are just a few examples of “trans children” who are said to have attempted self-mutilation of their genitals.  Imagine, if you will, what Freud would have done with this–the field day that any psychologist of the early 20th century would have had if they’d encountered children with such significant dysphoria that they were hacking away at their body parts!  There are plenty of records of various psychological and physical maladies–some real and some not-so-real–in 18th and 19th century records.  Where are the children who insisted that they were the opposite sex and simply would not be moved?  Doctors at those times were NOT afraid of reporting and documenting supposedly “deviant” behavior.  It absolutely beggars belief that if transgenderism is inborn and manifests as children taking drastic and even mutilating steps toward their chosen gender, not one psychiatrist or psychologist or physician would have said, “wow, this is interesting, I’d better get a syndrome named after me!”

Because, see, that’s what actually happened with other types of issues that start to manifest in childhood.  We have records of children with autism.  We have records of children with cancer.  We have records of children with major psychological and neurological problems.  There was no conspiracy of silence surrounding transgender issues. 

Now, had trans children started to “come out of the closet,” as it were, it’s true that they’d have
probably been subjected to all kinds of horrific medical and psychiatric interventions designed to “correct” their dysphoria.  Some people will say that this means trans children stayed closeted, for their own good.  But how would trans children know?  No one would say to them, “by the way, if you think you’re the opposite sex, you can expect electroshock treatment to start in a couple of weeks.”

We have documentation of hundreds of medical and psychological conditions going back literally thousands of years.  To cite just a couple of examples, multiple sclerosis had been thoroughly described by the mid-19th century.  So had bipolar disorder (which was described by several different psychiatrists before the 20th century rolled around).  Ditto schizophrenia.  Autism was well-described by the mid-20th century (and had only missed out on earlier description because it was considered a form of schizophrenia). Case studies abound involving people with all kinds of incredibly unusual physical or mental workings–and yet, there was no penis-cutting epidemic, not even when children had less adult supervision and more access to cutting implements a lot more grown-up than safety scissors.

Trans activists today claim that without surgical intervention, dysphoria can be and often is fatal, because it will compel them to acts of self-harm.  Trans activists also claim about half of trans people have attempted suicide because of their desire to transition.  Where was this epidemic of pediatric death-wishes before doctors started telling parents that the only solution to their children’s dysphoria was expensive surgery and hormones?

Oh right–I know where it was.  It didn’t exist.  Listen, grownups: transition if you want, it’s very little skin off my ass.  But having your children medically sterilized, delaying the onset of their puberty, feeding them enough bullshit about gender that they have a desire to chop off their organs before they even know what those organs are for?  It’s Munchausen’s by proxy, and it’s child abuse.

“Born that way” makes it possible for doctors to alter little children’s genitals before they are old enough to consent, and to pump them full of drugs that have not been studied for use in pediatric patients or over the long term.  To keep their newfound gender, the children in question will have to pay, and pay, and pay, for the rest of their lives, just to stay on the hormone treatments.  “Born this way” transactivism isn’t just a problem because it enshrines gender as an innate human quality.  It’s also a problem because it makes ordinarily perfectly sane liberal people totally fine with allowing medical procedures on children that they would never, ever allow otherwise.

The trans child phenomenon is a product of our gender-obsessed, individual performance-obsessed culture, along with parents who think it’s sure fun to parade around their child in front of news cameras so they can talk about how special their kid is and how oppressed.  Munchausen’s by proxy, and the parents just SOAK UP the accolades.  Well, history foils you again, parents of “trans kids.”  Every shrink and doctor in the last 200 years–hell, 2000 years–would have given his or her eyeteeth to have had such a juicy disorder that it was causing little boys to chop off their penises.  They’d have come up with all kinds of specious reasoning for it based on their conception of the body and mind at the time, and we’d all be saying, “wow, if only they’d known those kids were trans and could be cured with surgery and hormones!”

But that’s not what’s happening, is it?  It’s all new territory, and any idea of talk therapy is immediately derided as transphobic and an erasure of trans identities.  It’s surgery and hormones–or at least the possibility of surgery and hormones, delaying puberty to make these things easier–or nothing at all.  This, in spite of the fact that surgery and hormones are shown to have little or no effect on the suicide rates of trans people or their levels of depression and anxiety.

Don’t end up on the wrong side of history, fifty years from now when a whole lot of these trans kids tell us what was actually going on in their homes, or when they lash out angrily at the people who altered their bodies permanently and prevented them from reproducing, all based on parental reactions to the child’s normal reactions to enforcement of gender roles.

Who Owns Gender?

This post is really brilliant, and encapsulates many of the issues I have with neuroessentialism and “born this way” trans* activism.

From the brilliant Delilah Campbell, who I hope comes across this blog, because I suspect we’d have a lot to talk about:

 

Since ‘born that way’ became the orthodox line, there has been more mainstream acceptance of and sympathy for the cause of gay/lesbian equality, as we’ve seen most recently in the success of campaigns for same-sex marriage. Though it is possible this shift in public attitudes would have happened anyway, it seems likely that the shift away from social constructionism helped, by making the demand for gay rights seem less of a political threat. The essentialist argument implies that the straight majority will always be both straight and in the majority, because that’s how nature has arranged things. No one need fear that granting rights to gay people will result in thousands of new ‘converts’ to their ‘lifestyle’: straight people won’t choose to be gay, just as gay people can’t choose to be straight.

If you adopt a social constructionist view of gender and sexuality, then lesbians, gay men and gender non-conformists are a challenge to the status quo: they represent the possibility that there are other ways for everyone to live their lives, and that society does not have to be organized around our current conceptions of what is ‘natural’ and ‘normal’. By contrast, if you make the essentialist argument that some people are just ‘born different’, then all gay men, lesbians or gender non-conformists represent is the more anodyne proposition that diversity should be respected. This message does not require ‘normal’ people to question who they are, or how society is structured. It just requires them to accept that what’s natural for them may not be natural for everyone. Die-hard bigots won’t be impressed with that argument, but for anyone vaguely liberal it is persuasive, appealing to basic principles of tolerance while reassuring the majority that support for minority rights will not impinge on their own prerogatives.