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Feminist perspectives on Transgenderism

by Helen Sat Dec 6th, 2008 at 11:01:52 AM EST

Note 1 : this review is written primarily as a first response for the TG community. I appreciate it is of little more than marginal interest to ET regulars and I apologise for taking up ET space. I just don't have anywhere else to publish.

Note 2 : I will try to present my notes in the order they were taken, athough some ordering will aid clarity. I will footnote my personal comments to avoid  distractions.

===================

This debate was a sort-of joint venture between MMU (Manchester Metropolitan University : School of law) and PfC (Press for Change -an alleged transgender advocacy group)  and chaired by Prof. Stephen Whittle who is head of PfC.

Principal speakers were Susan Stryker, a prominent Transgender academic and Julie Bindel, a transphobic Marxist essentialist journalist. It should be noted that SS was just 6 hours off  flight from San Francisco and claimed 3 hours sleep in the previous 36. I suspected she faded a bit towards the end of the debate.

Introduction by SW

He initially excuses PfC's silence over the recent Stonewall nomination by saying that PfC work by making friends and not by identifying enemies (1). Surprisingly he does crticise Bindel and asking about how feminism relates to transexuality.


First argument by Susan Stryker

She talks about the "relationship" between feminism and transexuality dates from the 60s and, although it has been a negative one, she believes that the tension doesn't need to exist. There isn't one true feminism practice, because feminism isn't what you do, it's what you are.

thus when anti-TG feminists claim the transgendered don't have a background of experience of being a woman, of violence against women she would argue that these are not a sufficient definition of feminism. Feminism is about more that being defined as a victum.

The question then becomes "Is feminism about the 'woman' or the 'gender system' ?"

Equally she refuses to address the surgery question. That's the "and when did you stop beating your wife ?" question in that it frames the answers. It is comparable to asking in the abortion debate "does abortion cause harm?". If yes, then ban them. It's an inapproropriate way of dealing with the issue.

But who gives other people the moral authority to define her life ? She refuses to allow anyone else to negotiate her right to occupy her body as she wishes. Equally, who gets to define feminism ? To quote JB "It's not me, it's you" SS says the subject here is surely about how to frame the issue so as not to perpetuate violence against transgender women.

She then quoted JB about transgenderism being the invention of 50s psychiatrists and schools her about reality. She also pointed out that feminists shouldn't blame TGs for reactionary attitudes of psychiatrists as that's just blaming the victim.

Beyond that tho' she claims JB is factually wrong and ideologically driven and is taking the idea that she herself might have been diagnosed as TG and then projecting her own sense of horror of something she wouldn't have wanted. From that JB assumes that if TG people allow that to be done to us then we must have been duped in some way. In short JB refuses to engage with the idea that others have different motives from her own and counsels she should guard against moralising, othering and otherwise using judgemental language about those different from her. It would be better if she took these differences as a cue to learn more about the world than simply condemning.

First argument by Julie Bindel

Actually admits causing offence to "some" members of the trans community, but says that in response we have been far more offensive and vitriolic than any other group she has offended. (2)

To her, feminism is about the end of gender and the power invested in it and added that her own brand of concern is only about sexual violence and the power inherent . Not interested in equal pay or equality issues.

She briefly mentioned women-only spaces and the issue of Michigan Womyn's Music festival. She admitted she understood and supported these as emblemetic issues, but cos she personally wouldn't go if she was paid to, it doesn't bother her either way.

Admitted that her infamous "Gender Benders beware" article " was written in rage about the Kimberley Nixon/Vancouver Rape crisis centre controversy. To her KN was a destroyer of a women's anti violence support group and was angry at it.

So when she talks about TG epople and whether they are real women, she argues that she doesn't know what it is to be a real "woman" as to her, "woman" is a social contruct to service the needs of men. In her view therefore, as she doesn't do that, she herself is transgendered. As far as she understands, TGs do not see gender as an issue of power, and thus invalidate ourselves (or something).

Indeed, in referring back to her article of disavowal, what she was saying is that she wasn't asked if the LGBTQ etc shared an agenda. Taking it further she really doesn't think that we do. Lesbians and gay men, as she sees, have no common battles to fight. And, as she believes trans women have done nothing about violence against women, she doesn't think TGs have anything in common with her either.

Further, she says that the only thing that all women have in common is a fear of sexual violence. Brought up with the fear that they will be violated by men to keep them in their place.(3)

She denies advocating aversion therapy. Merely saying that "for some people" talking about things may be better than surgery.(4)

Still believes that lesbianism is a choice and denies the biology of sexuality and identity. TGs place too much reliance on gender, a concept that she says needs to be dismantled. For women gender is oppressive and not fun

Question

Christine Burns (well respected TG) asked a very long question which microphone difficulties rendered inaudible.

SS reponds; Gender is more than a superstructure to power, it's a language to relate to other people. ther'es no outside to it and can't be dismantled. Even if you overthrew the inequalities of gender, you still have gender as the medium. There's power within as well as power imposed.

JB responds; Why transition gender if you need no hormones to transcend gender ?(5) TG is about agency rather than about essentialism or biology, yet gender is harmful to women constantly. She returns to the concept of violence/prejudice and believes it can be eliminated.

SW responds; He is of the opinion that LGBT people who clings to biological causations do so because they think if we can't help it then it might deflect violence from those hwo dispute our choices. However he adds the point that medical science, in its search for causative functions, may be predisposing what it acccepts as evidence based on cultural assumptions of difference.(6)

- FAG BREAK -

Debaters respond to each other's points

SS II

The Kimbereley Nixon/Vancouver affair was about a who is a real woman and whose problems are more important. If differing services are provided to differing kinds of women, then why should rape services be for all women except one kind. Equally, how can white women say an ex-male is triggering for raped women, yet claim to provide services for all women while ignoring that their colour is triggering of other oppressions that coloured women suffer. Misses the entire point of intersectionality.

She also commented that JB uses morally loaded terms when describing transwomen, thus KN is always and only a "destroyer" of women's services.

Also, depsite JB's assertions, transwomen do work to end sexual violence in the US, and suggested that their invisibiity here was more due to their exclusion and lack of welcome by feminists dominating the field.

JB II

Still complaining about the vilent vitriol on Facebook and believes that it's only about what she wrote 5 years ago and asked when forgiveness might be possible

The meeting then ended with a series of further questions which I lost patience with, especially as too many were coming up to agree with JB's assessment of the FB thread. I do not understand where this opinion arises except from the trolls who began to derail the discussion with ridiculous digressions and accusations.

Display:
He initially excuses PfC's silence over the recent Stonewall nomination by saying that PfC work by making friends and not by identifying enemies

This would have been meaningful if it had been said before the Stonewall event, now it just sounds silly. PfC were entirely absent from the debate and never responded in any way to requests for comment. So complaining how this silence was viewed seems, to use a word, churlish.


keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Dec 6th, 2008 at 11:03:29 AM EST
(JB) Actually admits causing offence to "some" members of the trans community, but says that in response we have been far more offensive and vitriolic than any other group she has offended.

As someone who took part in the Facebook discussions to which she refers, imo the anger and vitriol is a deliberate misinterpretation of our exasperations at her evasions, medacity and general refusal to give a straight answer to a straight question.

There were one or two people who said intemperate things, but to characterize these are exemplifying the entire debate is simply dishonest. And this is balanced by her threat to sue somebody for saying something she demonstrably hadn't. Very Marxist cred.


keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Dec 6th, 2008 at 11:05:16 AM EST
Further, she says that the only thing that all women have in common is a fear of sexual violence. Brought up with the fear that they will be violated by men to keep them in their place.

This was my conclusion from my review of the Hecklers debate (Transgenderism and Julie Bindel

And that's the point. Bindel is having a rotten life surrounding herself with all the miseries of the world. She can't imagine that most women don't see the world as she does, but she knows that the transgendered cannot possibly share her view and so, QED, we cannot possibly know what it is to be a woman. So why should we be allowed to try ? Why should society indulge us at the expense of the already oppressed 50% of the population ?

However, if all women suffer from the threat of male violence, then it follows that all those suffer that threat are women. This would necessarily include all abused children of either gender and all out LGB people who fear violence for being gender transgressive. She hasn't got a leg to stand on by using this definition for excluding transgender women from 'Category : Woman', even from Vancouver rape crisis centre. It's far too broad and self-defeating.

Equally, her definition of women's lives is too brutally dystopian. I doubt few women would recognise themselves in this, but it's a standard she only measures MtF women by.

And finally, her definition of male violence is too all-encompassing. Practically any relationship bewteen men and women, however consensual, is understandable only in terms of the politics of violence : This way lies madness.


keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Dec 6th, 2008 at 11:06:38 AM EST
That has to be one of the silliest definitions ever of women. It does not include all women and it surely includes many men.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Dec 6th, 2008 at 12:20:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, see rg's rhetoric thread.

This debate seems to be almost entirely rhetorical - it reads like a disconnected list of quick-hit soundbite talking points which are supposed to misdirect and disguise, not reveal, the true moral beliefs of the participants.

I don't think either of them is being straightforward or honest about their true positions - it reads to me more as if they're starting from their positions, arguing back from them, but at the same time trying to spin and hide their honest opinions because they wouldn't be acceptable in polite company.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Dec 6th, 2008 at 12:34:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This may be a result of the fact that both parties were talking to an audience who are aware of the main bulk of the ideas in contention. So really they're just skating the surfaces of the disagreements, not really getting to task with their differences of opinion.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 06:59:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
She denies advocating aversion therapy. Merely saying that "for some people" talking about things may be better than surgery.

Here she demonstrates a breathtaking ignorance of the transitioning process. Sadly consistent with most of her statements on this issue where the slightest preparedness to examine evidence that contradicts her prejudices and ideology would help tremendously.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Dec 6th, 2008 at 11:07:56 AM EST
Why transition gender if you need no hormones to transcend gender ?

Simply discounts or is ignorant of the affect hormones have and confuses gender with gender role. She thinks I could have been a "woman" without transitioning. It's the difference between "being" and merely "playing at". I hated being a transvestite, it didn't work for me and couldn't see the point. Hormones fixed my pain in 6 weeks.


keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Dec 6th, 2008 at 11:09:19 AM EST
After that the surgery was made inevitable by the changes the hormones made to my brain and sense of self. Staying a male, even with hormones, ceased to be an option after a while. Yet she just doesn't understand and refuses to engage with her ignorance of this vital aspect of transition.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Dec 6th, 2008 at 11:09:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
An excellent diary, Susan Stryker's comments made me think, yes, yes, yes, yes....

She refuses to allow anyone else to negotiate her right to occupy her body as she wishes

Yes!

And then that body goes and interacts with the world--and...

After that the surgery was made inevitable by the changes the hormones made to my brain and sense of self

And yes...

Yet she just doesn't understand and refuses to engage with her ignorance of this vital aspect of transition

My feeling (created in circumstances far from the situation!) is that Susan Stryker is pushing forward academically, while you and those you find similar to you, in all environments but specifically in your...lived reality as a person who has physically changed your body and your biochemistry--with permanency--Julie Bindel (from your description) seems to be a person to avoid.  Her strength (as I understand it, from what you've written) is in identifying where women suffer violence.  Her weakness--the area she hasn't investigated--at least not from what I've read from what you've written (I mean, for me this is a fantasy person....whereas you, for me, are not...so....) she is not in the correct positions to add positive information to the non-violent aspects of women's lives.  In the non-violent realm you have Susan Stryker who (in my fantasy version!) is happy to open concepts, always to the benefit of people and--hopefully, but yeah!

because feminism isn't what you do, it's what you are.

Or is feminism what you are doing?  Less essentialist, the essentials being hormones, operations, actions, jobs, all the elements that determine, that lay the path, and feminism, a concept, determines, in the moment, the next stones to be laid....

heh!  Ach,

...good work!

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Sat Dec 6th, 2008 at 09:28:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm uncertain from this if you think it was SS or me who said "After that the surgery was made inevitable by the changes the hormones made to my brain and sense of self
[....]
Yet she just doesn't understand and refuses to engage with her ignorance of this vital aspect of transition"
. That was me btw.

However you must remember that SS is herself a transgendered woman and a lot of her academic expertise arises from her experience of being a transgendered woman. So her published work is on the history of transgenerism, her feminist critique comes from dealing with and debating the american versions of Bindel.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 07:44:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
He is of the opinion that LGBT people who clings to biological causations do so because they think if we can't help it then it might deflect violence from those hwo dispute our choices. However he adds the point that medical science, in its search for causative functions, may be predisposing what it acccepts as evidence based on cultural assumptions of difference

I'm afraid this is where an arts professor shows his ignorance of scientific process. I don't doubt that cultural assumptions can conditions ideas about evidence, but that is part of the incremental advance towards a wider truth. Nobody is claiming medical science has the answers yet, or even that they will ever know the mind of Man beyond the brain pysiology. But that which is so far known implies more of a physiological basis than SW cares to imagine.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Dec 6th, 2008 at 11:11:01 AM EST
I appreciate it is of little more than marginal interest to ET regulars and I apologise for taking up ET space.

<grumble> Stop that nonsense now: you've got as much right, and it's of as much interest, as anyone else's stuff. <sheesh>
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Sat Dec 6th, 2008 at 11:19:49 AM EST
Hi, I guess I can say I'm an ET regular now, although I've only been lurking up until now. This diary is certainly of more than marginal interest to me! I'm a transwoman grad student/aspiring academic who has decided not to work on trans issues due to the fact that I can't read people like JB's writing on people categorized with me to the end and respond accurately. And the same goes for the writing of some people who identify themselves as trans allies. However, I find myself in complete agreement with JB (shudder), at least in Helen's account of her position, when she says "For women gender is oppressive and not fun." That pretty much sums up the reason why I resent so much academic work on trans issues, especially within the humanities, my home base. Transition (i.e. my gender) for me has been far more about oppression than fun: economic oppression due to decreased employability and the expenses of transition, psychological oppression due to verbal harassment and isolation from my family, and an attenuated ability to cope due to strained friendships and the institutionalized discrimination built into private and public bureaucracies. Now that I more or less pass, though, and on a day-to-day basis only have to face the kinds of oppression available to all women, I'm far more likely to see myself as privileged than oppressed. Perhaps what terrifies JB more than us transwomen is having to come to terms with the realization that there are people in this world who are more oppressed than white, middle-class, highly educated, non-disabled, English-speaking women.
Oh yeah, and in my worldview, "woman" is a social construct designed to service the needs of lesbians.
by Mia (mia dot see aitch ee en dot mtl at gmail dot com) on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 02:44:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Welcome Mia. You may find Sarah and christina's essays on this interesting (urls towards the end of the thread).

I really cannot decide which of the many possibilities about TGs frighten JB more, and I really don't care. Her personal foibles are really down to her and, of ocurse, she really is entitled to her opinion. What I do find objectionable is that she has a more or less free national media pulpit to spread her ignorance as an unchallenged "feminist truth". She is able to say the most horrendous things about us and we are given no right of reply, we cannot put a case before the public in the same way as her, we don't get a rebuttal. We are entirely powerless, yet she keeps screaming about how mean we are to her.

Hello Earth calling Julie !! Stop being vile to us with power and we minnows might stop biting your ankle.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 03:19:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Let me first say thank you for continuing your cover on this issue. If we are to break the money-media-machiavelist strangelhold on the public debate, then coverage of social movements is crucial.

It is very interesting to see the difference between Britain and Sweden. Here the feminist discourse is dominated by academic feminists, where the younger generations are mostly intersectionalists. The Feminist Initiative that ran in the 2006 elections got a lot of bad press, and quite some was due to the dominance of "strange people". Then again a lot of press was due to very public in-fighting between the older guard wanting a essentially a strong second generation feminist program (that which was not achieved in the 60ies and 70ies) and the younger crowd wanted a third generation feminist program with a clear intersectionalist agenda.

As an example, one of the many clashes was over the name law, the younger wanted to repeal the paragraphs demanding of gender-seperation of names (you can not give a boy a female name and vice versa, though there is of course gender neutral names). The older thought it was silly and detrimental. Another was over household services where the older (and richer) gen leaned right and wanted tax deductions for professional cleaning while the younger (and poorer) leaned left and wanted shorter normal workdays.

Though the conflict illustrated the schism between the generations, in the end I also suspect it marked the transfer of the role as dominant interpreters of feminism in the public from the 2nd gen to the 3rd gen. And in the 3rd gen T is seen as a natural part of the struggle.

Lesbians and gay men, as she sees, have no common battles to fight.

This I would say is where the conflict can be found within the swedish letter-combination movement. Or rather between gay men and the rest.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Dec 6th, 2008 at 12:18:11 PM EST
I think that's a pretty good representation of the differences of emphasis and opinion between 2nd and 3rd wave feminists all over the world. You see these discussions in the US and, to a lesser extent, in the UK.

Interestingly I've never seen the debate in such stark contrast in the rest of europe. Fedela Amara's work in France just seemed to be accepted as a logical evolution of feminism. Her new agenda wasn't contested, however much it embraced 3rd wave perspectives and rejected the boundaries of 2nd.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 07:50:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Helen:
Interestingly I've never seen the debate in such stark contrast in the rest of europe.

Thinking about it, I suspect the divide was not so obvious here before the Feminist Initiative started. Many different feminisms flourished, though generally keeping a common front to the outside (and having the heavy in-fighting out of the wider public).

At the time of the great public in-fight I thought they had made an obvious mistake in setting up the party. As I saw it you either start by declaring a clear direction and let those that concur gather or you start with a big group and see what you agree upon and agree to disagree on the rest. However, I am now leaning towards the conclusion that the involved parties did not realise from the start how much their policy suggestions differed and actually was contradictory. In that case there might not have been much they could agree upon.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 02:01:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've often wondered why women assume a commonality of purpose that stretches across boundaries of affluence, culture, colour etc. Men know they share no agenda, women think they do and are shocked and disappointed when they discover that isn't true.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 02:17:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Women had as a group more common interests when being a woman was legal grounds for wide-spread discrimination (property rights, voting rights, lower wages (I do not refer to wages being lower, I mean when lower wage was mandatory, which in Sweden was until the 60ies)).

But that is actually a bit beside the point - or it would have been on point if it was a womens party (which was discuseed in the 90ies and as a result gave higher female representation in elected assemblies) - but this was a party around the feminist ideology. Just turned out there was some huge differences within that ideology.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 04:39:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
but this was a party around the feminist ideology. Just turned out there was some huge differences within that ideology.

Yea, same assumptions about commonalities.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 05:02:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But assumptions of commonalities of feminists, not of women. There was quite a few men among their activists.

So it would be similar to assumption of commonalities among socialists.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 08:14:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Lesbians and gay men, as she sees, have no common battles to fight.

This I would say is where the conflict can be found within the swedish letter-combination movement. Or rather between gay men and the rest.

Again, I think this is beginning to be seen as a uniform divide. It's certainly the battle line we've encountered here.

Except that it needs to be said that it's not all, or even most gay men. Rather, it is the mattachine (straight acting/preppy) gay men who are "regular" guys except that they sleep with other men. These are the people who shun any form of queer activism and behaviour (queer is not straight acting/gender conforming). Too often they end up looking down their noses at the rest of us and feel that the way we behave alienates the rest of society and hurts their acceptance.

This is what underlay the HRC's behaviour over ENDA (employer's non-discrimination act) last year where gender conformance was removed from the act at the last moment. This was seen as a huge betrayal by HRC and specific senior figures within HRC who are historically associated with sabotaging pro-trangender initiatives.

Gay men can be straight or queer these days. And only one of these groups is an ally

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 07:59:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am glad to read Susan Stryker handled herself well.  She sounds like a thoughtful person.  

I had to wonder if your account of Julie Bindel was fair, but after following your link to her own words . . . um . . . she really is a crude, nasty, and unconcerned with rational discourse.  Her definition of woman as pure victim may be her experience, which would be sad, but when she assumes she can speak for feminism from this stance it is worse than sad, it is absurdly narrow.  

I can remember when feminism was very explicitly about over-coming oppression, and from that standpoint it is hard to see how seeking out new minorities to oppress would fit with that.  Since she herself claims to be "old school" she has no excuse.  But I see Bindel more as a psychological study rather than a sociological position:  She wants to abolish gender roles but her understanding of gender is so shallow that she cannot have the least clue how to go about it.  Since gender plays a role in just about every social interaction that a human can have, has she really given thought to restructuring every social interaction?  Never mind how to do it, just what the restructuring would consist of?  If she had, bothering transgender people would be very far down her list of concerns.  

But I suspect this is all psychologically driven, that she is not at all happy with herself, and that the idea that women could be happy with themselves as women (not self-defining themselves as victims) is not an idea she is willing to entertain, and thus MtF transgenders do hit a real nerve.  

I admit, her words remind me a bit of Janet(?) Raymond, "Transexual Empire" (from a couple of decades back) a very emotional and persuasive expose of the "transgender industry," which was fine, until you thought about it, and then it just all fell apart.  Raymond criticizes the doctors but saves her hatred for the patients, and then you begin to wonder.  I hope I am not projecting Raymond onto Bindel, but the style of thought did seem similar.  

 . . . Ah, well.  Good luck on the future of your account of this debate, Helen!  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 12:34:47 AM EST
I depends what "old-school" you mean and depends if the only oppression you recognise is global patriarchy.
My view of UK 2nd wave feminism during the 80s is that it was really essentialism, where womanhood was defined in opposition to patriarchy, and so a lot of victoriam mythologies of womanhood were dusted down and embraced as being a true reflection of who women were. Logically laughable, it was a sad reflection of the times that pointing such a thing out would have been considered a typically male position of logic that denied heart, emotion and feeling.

But yes, Raymond features, however Bindel's principal influence is the neo-Stalinist Sheila Jeffreys, whom she has interviewed several times for the Guardian. Jeffreys has a far wider set of hatreds than Raymond manages, becoming more of a feminist taliban imposing her world view and suppressing all others than challenging oppression per se.

I have heard tales of what she and her bullygirl supporters got up to in the 70s/80s that, if even remotely true, are genuinely nasty.


keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 08:12:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are a couple of far better reviews of the debate by Sarah, Bringer of Tea and also by Christina Alley who point to the many nuances and hypocrisies I missed.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 12:32:56 PM EST
Hi Helen,

I'm Australian, but as a feminist always find it interesting when I get the time to read about debates in other places that are pertinent.

I was a little bemused by your title - it doesn't seem to me to be a 'feminist' view on transgenderism, given I can find about a dozen different feminist views on that on any given day, but more the strange and warped world of a particular self-proclaimed feminist, Julie Bindel. Heck, I've read plenty of essentialist feminists who are far more respectful & compassionate of transgender/sex issues than this - well, sad idiot - comes to mind. and then of course there are all the other feminist views on the subject.

Just also a small question if you don't mind: In Aus at least, in my experience, a person who chooses to transition through hormone treatment & /or surgery is generally referred to as a transsexual, reflecting that they are looking to change their actual biology. As I understand it, while there's an infinitum of arguments to be had about the links between gender and sex, they are not equivalent. Hence here 'transgender' is not usually used to refer to someone altering their sex.

Is it used differently in the UK?

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 06:13:51 PM EST
Actually the title of the diary was simply that of the debate on which I reported.

You are correct in your definition of transexual and transgender, but I confess I had to look it up to check. Most people that I know use the word trans these days, not just as a shortcut, but simply that it avoids the semantic confusion involved in using the wrong version in the wrong place.

Personally I've always had a bit of an issue with transsexual, for the reason that this is about my gender identity, not my sexuality. Which allows our enemies to advance the idea that that we are merely failed homosexuals trying to be hetero-normative.

However I didn't invent the language and cannot remake it for my wishes. Still, I don't think I'm alone in this as a large number of people on the net seem to blur the distinction somewhat, using transgender preferentially. This could be a habit copied from the US, where otherwise a hierarchy could develop based on access to hormones/operations/legal status (not generally an issue here). Nevertheless, it's a blurring I'm happy to buy into. Trans is easiest and is global.

The only word we don't like others to use is trannie. It's an insult and we only use it ironically.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 06:48:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yea, I know a lot of feminists are okay with trans people, particularly younger ones, but I've never met an essentialist who is, so I'm surprised you know of those that do. I know Bindel thinks trans people are esentialist, but that's largely cos she knows precisely jack-shit about us. But there again, she thinks she can be transgender too, which is garbage.

(btw : I do not believe essentialism to be compatible with feminism).

However, there is so much prejudice against trans people from the feminist community in general that it is easier for me to assume prejudice than welcome from self-identified feminists. I cannot go on Reclaim the Night marches, if I were raped there are few if any rape crisis centres that would open their doors to me. I do not know of a feminist group that would welcome me (London Feminist network are notoriously transphobic / Oxford feminist netowrk attacked a trans person who tried to join a RTN march this year).

So, given that, it's kinda hard not to get a jaundiced view of feminist thinking about trans people in general.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 06:56:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
and clarifications.

I'm not the most worldly-wise or widely read feminist by a long shot, but I must admit I hadn't seen the term 'transsexual' mixed up with sexuality before.

I must humbly admit also to being confused by you saying it was your gender you wanted to change but also took hormones etc. -  but I don't want to make you feel you have to put your very personal decisions and life on a blog for all to dissect, so feel free to just let that one through to the keeper. Reading links are always welcome.

I also take your point about the last thing that's needed being some sort of bizzare heirarchy of 'trans' based on what stage people are at etc., I just know that in Aus I would get slapped down in any Queer meeting if I referred to a transsexual as a transgender, as the latter largely refers to people to change their gender expression, not their biology. Vive la difference I guess - terminology wise!

I think, just from reading your diary & comments, that brit essentialist feminists might be a bit different there. Those that I've had discussions with here are largely concerned that gender & sex have become so synonymous in patriarchal western thought, that those individuals wishing to change their sex may only be doing so because of rigidly imposed notions of gender - and of course then point to all the (I hope largely past) practices of making for eg a MtF dress & 'pass' as much as possible as a 'woman' before being granted access to surgery etc.

I've met a few nasty people in this area, but mainly I've met (luckily) compassionate people who draw the line at watching the suicide rate of trans people climb any higher while we all have a somewhat esoterical debate about sex & gender, even if they feel it's a really difficult issue that needs to be discussed, not least to look to free people from their gender/sex constrictions.

Personally, I tend to think that neither biology or social constructs explain everything  /anything about humans on their own, a consideration of both is necessary.

Which is why, as a lesbian with a life sciences degree, when your quoted academic above talks about people 'clinging' to notions of biology, I think he's just as wrong as others, and it's a reductio ad absurdum argument. Some people 'choose' their sexuality, others feel completely compelled on a 'biological' level to be who they are. I'm probably a bit of both, but I don't really know or care.

Which is where perhaps I can relate a tiny amount to trans - I suspect you don't know or care either, you just want a chance to be yourself. And I'm glad you got it.

Finally, a historical note. My partner is 12 years older than me, and cut her teeth as a young lesbian feminist in SF, surrounded by all the well known second wave thinkers of that time. Despite being a very compassionate, lovely and kind human being, when I met her she had a really emotional (negative) reaction to trans issues, and talking to her about it through the years, a lot of it (& her support for works such as Raymond's) came from personal experiences with trans MtF who were by all accounts as 'nasty' as your JB above, and from my partner's telling, were also a lot of the experiences that Raymond drew upon.

IOW, it seems that some of the historical enmity between 2nd wave feminists and MtF in particular might have sprung from personal confrontations and a reaction to the medical patriarchy, that then got write large into various theories and texts.

Now I don't think that makes it right, and I've worked hard with my partner to change her views (and she has), but interestingly enough one of the things that's made that possible has been meeting MtF's here who pretty much disavow the attitudes of older MtFs like the ones my partner first met.

The reason I relate all this is not to 'excuse' anyone (my partner's views used to flat out hurt), but more it has made me meditate on just how much, particularly in relatively small academic circles, 'theories' spring from basic personal experience on a small scale getting passed off as some universal phenomenon etc.

hope this makes sense, and thanks for reading.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 07:23:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
FWIW I find this thread on 'I blame the Patriarchy' about the best discussion I've ever read on the issues, particularly the exchange between posters 'Heart' and 'B Dagger Lee'. I tend to agree most with the latter.

relevant thread here

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Sun Dec 7th, 2008 at 11:10:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You'll forgive me but Heart is one of the most notorious trans-haters out there and I'd rather not read her spew. I have read references on other blogs to certain infamous threads on Twisty's thread and the opinion seems to be that, although Twisty is herself careful to avoid overt transphobia, she carries a few questionable views and certainly seems to revel in creating a space where transphobes can hang out.

It's bad enough to have to read Julie bindel every now and again without going looking to put my head in such things. Anymore than a coloured person needs to read every raving from some KKK-wingnut to know there are people who are ignorant and hateful. There's no argument to engage, no ideology to unpack, just stupidity and bigotry.

If B Dagger Lee, like Lisa Harnett over at questioning Transphobia, want to waste their time trying to engage people like Heart and others one to one on their home grounds then all power to them. But I tend to dismiss them as beyond salvage and would rather create a persuasive narrative to appeal to the middle ground.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Dec 8th, 2008 at 06:43:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Regarding SF in the 70s, this sums up what I know

also in SF was the issue of sandy Stone and Olivia Records

Olivia Records hired Sandy Stone to help them record their performers. Olivia Records was the only record company that would produce music with explicit lesbian/women-centered content, and as such was struggling to break even financially. Protestors forced Olivia Records to fire Sandy Stone when it became known that she was a transsexual. The Olivia Collective was supportive, but in the end had to ask Sandy for her letter of resignation for fear of having Olivia Records shut down (it was the only women run record company at that time).

So when it comes down to a question of attidue, which came first, the chicken or the egg. Everything I've read regarding feminist behaviour towards trans people at that time suggests they refused to acccept them as anything other than men in drag and consequently attacked the very basis of the fragile identity these transwomen were trying to establish. If in response trans people became resentful, then I'm not surprised.

however, if some of these transwomen continued to behave in a male way and just felt entitled to be treated as a woman whilst continuing with male cultural entitlement then maybe feminist anger was justified. I dunno, but the headline stories I point to don't support that. rather I think the ideology of the time was  driving the interpretation.

There remains even now a whole feminist culture of language regarding trans. If women behave aggressively towards transpeople then it's justifiable feminine outrage and thus acceptable. If transwomen react angrily then it's obviously male-power and entitlement and thereby QED, male behaviour from a man who must be resisted. Equally, if we respond quietly and with dignity, then we are adopting stereotyped feminine behaviours that no real woman would show, so we are seen as acting out rather than being. Either way we lose.

I also note the way these feminist narratives erase transmen. Feminists regard transmen as just extreme dykes, whilst transwomen are agents of patriarchy. Either way, the change of identity is not respected.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Dec 8th, 2008 at 07:42:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
btw, I notice that you referred to Raymond being inspired to write by the attitudes of various transwomen in SF at the time. Yet the emblemetic one mentioned by Raymond was Sandy Stone herself (Olivia Records) where it was Raymond leading the charge demanding that Stone be sacked.

When Olivia records personnel released a statement saying that Sandy was a woman they trusted, Raymond sneered that they should admit they just needed a man about the place. So, judging by the fact that the women who knew her believed in her transistion whilst those who were ideologically motivated trashed the feminist credentials of those who defended her shows it wsn't an argument about Stone herself, but ideas about feminism and transgenderism.

So if your partner bases her hatred of transwomen on Raymond's say so, I'd suggest she was was relying on hearsay and dogma rather than thought and experience. And sorry to say, that's about par for the course from the feminists I've encountered.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Dec 8th, 2008 at 09:06:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(MtF just to be clear) and had a lot of bad personal experiences, which made her very open to what Raymond wrote - and why equally meeting utterly different MtF has helped a lot. From everything I've read and people I've talked to with personal experiences, I think it's fair to say that trans people have done enormous work in kicking off the 'gender straightjackets' that they are so often pressured to enter to get help from the medical establishment, and that in turn has greatly influenced how trans people interact with others, particularly within the queer and feminist communities. Many feminists have supported that, others most definitely haven't. Having been reading Heart for some years now, while she'll never by my favourite feminist - and I think she's a rotten model for a radical feminist in particular - she's come a surprisingly long way. I wouldn't have posted the thread link if I thought you'd read hate or hurtful speech - at the very least without a warning.

And I have to say that I think suspicions of Twisty are unfounded. She let one thread go because she essentially wasn't paying attention, and in hindsight I'm glad she did because the sheer number of feminists arguing against the transphobes drove them off Twisty's blog, which was the best possible outcome. Twisty isn't just 'careful' implying a nefarious double agenda, she has categorically denounced transphobics, and there are several MtF who post on her blog.

Anyway, my partner's early experiences are what got me meditating on the whole personal -experience-becomes -academic-niche-market thing. It seems to have been particularly par for the course in second wave feminism where 'the personal is political' got IMHO taken by some authors far too far, not least because they ignored the fact that the experiences of largely middle class white women wasn't exactly representative. Thankfully feminism has evolved.

I guess I have to say, as a feminist, that I find your statements about feminists pretty anger-fuelled and quite personally confronting / hurtful. We're not the borg, and I'm not & don't hang out with transphobic people. My partner, who's had misgivings and displayed prejudice in private conversations with me, joined wholeheartedly in supporting a local MtF activist, Martine, who has a claim up with the anti-discrimination board about hate speech the conservative party put out about trans people during the last state election. Whatever her personal doubts on one level, she treats everyone with the dignity and respect they deserve, and fights for it.

so please be careful not to cling too hard to people like Heart & Julie B whatsoface and miss the fact that they aren't remotely representative of most feminists, nor are they supported by them. People change, even the older feminists, and we leave behind the ones who won't.

all the best.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Mon Dec 8th, 2008 at 09:26:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I had to laugh at the idea that Heart has evolved her thinking. Not when she writes this she hasn't...

When a radical feminist female uses insulting words in the direction of transwomen, she understand this to be no different from using insulting words in the direction of males. It might be rude, crude, and socially unacceptable, it might be insulting, but it isn't hate speech. It's not discriminatory. Because given power differentials as
they exist between males and females, females aren't situated socially so as to be able to discriminate against males, or to be bigoted towards males or to be phobic against males. To the contrary, our experience as females is that males are to be feared because they hurt females and to say so, and behave accordingly, is not "phobic," it is based on female reality

Trans women are men in her book, no debate, no shade of grey. Okay, she wrote that last year, but short of a very public change of mind and a deep apology, let's just say we're not counting her as an ally just yet. {snigger}

As for other feminists, it's difficult to say. Elsewhere I have mentioned that the feminists I knew and associated with (I'm 50) are all 2nd wave greenham common wimminists and, although they have "accepted" my change as being beneficial to me, I'm not convinced it's shaken their core belief that the transwomen are somehow misguided and aren't really women (and that transmen aren't really men) and shouldn't even hope for, let alone expect, sisterhood.

This somewhat colours my ideas of feminism. And seeing as I'm not allowed to participate in feminist discussion or go on RTN marches because I am trans, it's difficult to get any other viewpoint (especially when these prohibitions kinda confirm the idea they're all anti-trans).

So you feel I am anger-fuelled and confrontational towards feminists. I am not angry at you individually but, given that trans people didn't start this fight and there remains a significant number of feminists who continue to be hateful towards us, I think I'm entitled to a little exasperation at least. After all, it's been going on for so many years that transphobia seem woven into the very fabric of many assumptions underlying certain schools of feminism. These happen to be the dominant feminist narratives in the UK media right now. After all, it isn't just bindel, there has been a persistent trickle of articles from feminists that are hostile to trans people and precious few that are even neutral, let alone supportive. If, as you say, people change, then it's taking a lot longer than it ought.

By recently publicising our disgust at bindel's transphobia and the media's and feminist hypocrisy in supporting her we seem to have stirred up a hornets nest and I'm reading a lot of nasty stuff right now. And whilst I see individuals, I don't see feminist groups or prominent feminists complaining. So, paranoia may cause me to draw my brush too broadly, but it's hard to avoid the fact that some feminists are out to get us. We have never forgotten (or fogiven) what real actual damage Raymond's hatred achieved in the US when she succesfully campaigned to close John Hopkins GRU and we always fear a repeat from certain well-placed feminists here.

As poemless says;-

a belief in human equality regardless of gender seems, I don't know, a fundamental pillar of feminism

It sums up what I understand to be 3rd wave feminism. but here in the UK, feminists with a public pulpit aren't yet with the programme. Or if they are, equality doesn't seem to be extended to a bunch of self-mutilating weirdo men who want to be accepted as women; that, it would seem, is a step too far.

I regret sounding angry, but I have much to be angry about.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Dec 9th, 2008 at 09:57:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Quote:
females aren't situated socially so as to be able to discriminate against males, or to be bigoted towards males or to be phobic against males

That world sounds like an interesting place.

I'm not sure it's one that many Western men will have spent much time on, however.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Dec 9th, 2008 at 11:21:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am pretty sure she's a feminist separatist, ie feminism is for separatists by separatists and against men (and heterosexual women who are consorting with the enemy).

so, you're right, no western man has ever visited that world.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Dec 9th, 2008 at 12:28:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wrote a brief history of transgender relationships with LGB and feminist groups here

My friend, a long time transwoman, wrote a review of Raymond's hate-fest

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Dec 8th, 2008 at 09:15:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
JBs views don't appear to be rooted in reality in any way at all. It's the abstract extrapolated with her.

She probably thinks we are blind to the fact that women are continually oppressed and permanent victims of violence in the same way that I feel some people are genuinely blind to institutional discrimination.  But she's not interested in broader equality, equal pay, choice, access to employment, training, education? She causes huge damage to women let alone the TG community.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Dec 8th, 2008 at 04:41:14 AM EST
I wish the broad majority of feminists would recognise the damage she does. but all they see is a feminist icon writing in the mainstream media and feel compelled to attack any and all who criticise her.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Dec 8th, 2008 at 09:08:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't really know anyone who identifies as a feminist and who is also "anti-transgender."  And I would say that, among my friends, most identify as feminists.  I think that perhaps in any demographic or movement there is a probably a broad spectrum of opinions which range from those who barely have the courage to voice their beliefs to intolerant extremists.  Though I have to say that I find a fundamental contradiction in the idea of a an "anti-TG feminist," since a belief in human equality regardless of gender seems, I don't know, a fundamental pillar of feminism...

Come, my friends, 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
by poemless on Mon Dec 8th, 2008 at 02:45:09 PM EST
I was thinking that.  I'm certainly a feminist although what academic 'brand' I am, I don't know.  I certainly don't want to try to own any definition of feminism and expect everyone else to follow it.  Those who call themselves feminists and spout nonsense like JB I do believe are a minority.  

You don't need to have a degree in gender studies to be a feminist, you don't need to be a woman to be a feminist and my contacts with non-women's movement feminists brings me in touch with a great bunch of inclusive people who are not anti-trans.  They might not 'get' the issues but that doesn't mean they are hostile. Many people active in the women's movement I've met are reasonable too.

And then we get a small number of hideously vocal and hugely intimidating extremists who have no grounding in reality.  They are in any situation, any group, any scenario.  If they are the ones you bump into first then it will taint your view, understandably.  But it is important to remember that most are not like that.

poemless:

a belief in human equality regardless of gender seems, I don't know, a fundamental pillar of feminism

I'd say so.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Dec 8th, 2008 at 04:53:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But it is important to remember that most are not like that.

Given I'm not allowed to attend RTN marches or join feminist groups cos I'm trans, that's actually hard to believe. After all, if they weren't anti-trans, I'd be allowed, wouldn't I.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Dec 9th, 2008 at 10:04:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I meant most people - unfortunately that is not equivalent to most organised groups.  For the life of me I really don't understand what the issue is for feminist groups that don't want trans women to join.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Dec 9th, 2008 at 11:59:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I appreciate that it is hard to fathom, unless their considered view of the transgendered is "once a man, always a man". From which you must, at least, accept that my conclusion that a lot of feminists are, if not actively transphobic, happy to accomodate transphobic attitudes is reasonable, even if you yourself are not.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Dec 9th, 2008 at 12:13:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Fascinating. A few observations that came to me while reading this:

First, the idea that TS/TG's don't have "a background of experience as a woman" or can't be feminists seems to ignore that they come in two flavors: MtF and FtM. Whether you accept them as the gender with which they identify or stubbornly insist on the destiny of their genes, surely you must accept that at least one of the two groups meets the criteria? No?

Second, feminism is not what you do or what you are (though some do things because of it), but rather a set of ideas, like any -ism. And anyone who holds those ideas is a feminist. Even men can be feminists, so of course TS/TG people can, too.

Finally, can I just comment on the unintended humor of a discussion of LGBT topics which includes the phrase "cultural assumptions of difference" and then says:

- FAG BREAK -

Which means something entirely different depending on which side of the pond you're on. :)

Il faut se dépêcher d'agir, on a le monde à reconstruire

by dconrad (drconrad {arobase} gmail {point} com) on Tue Dec 9th, 2008 at 01:12:17 PM EST
Finally, can I just comment on the unintended humor of a discussion of LGBT topics which includes the phrase "cultural assumptions of difference" and then says:
- FAG BREAK -
Which means something entirely different depending on which side of the pond you're on. :)

hahahahahahahahahahaha. sorry, totally missed that. It was Stephen Whittle who said that and I'm pretty sure he didn't realise. I wonder if susan Stryker smiled.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Dec 9th, 2008 at 01:23:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Generally, FtMs don't feature in the narrative cos feminists don't have issues with them. If they accept them as men, then that's fine. If they simply view them as butch dykes who've gone a bit far then, actually, that's fine too.

After all, there is a whole area of feminist misoginy where "radical" feminists, in claiming to eradicate gender, simply adopt an androgyny that is practically identical to male presentation. They do not create a new genderless form, they have simply eradicated femaleness. Which suggests that there is, somewhere in their psyche, a hatred and rejection of their own womanhood. I'm sure they would suggest that they are not dressing to please men, but that's just a burqa argument dressed up as political radicalism.

So FtMs are a-okay with radfems for rejecting femininity.

Equally, for them feminism is for separists by separatists and against men. So men cannot be feminists and trans women cannot be women because they don't have an ingrained fear of men. and if they cannot be women, then they are not feminists.

But the point here is not that bindel won't acknowledge that I am a woman. She's entitled to have that an opinion, just as a KKK member has every right to think coloured people are sub-human. What she shouldn't be allowed to do is write her smears and misrepresentations in the national press and have them left unchallenged. Let alone be honoured for them by a gay rights campaign. She has no idea about transgender reality, she knows nothing of our lives or the treamtents we undergo. She has her faith, her ideology where dirty reality and inconveneint truth have no place.

Indeed she actually admitted last Friday about another story that she misrepresented her own childhood because the lie made for a better story. There is a fascinating comments thread on guardian Readers editor comments where lack of bindel's journalistic ethics come in for a serious trashing from several different directions.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Dec 9th, 2008 at 01:48:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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