EMERGENCY MOBILE PHONE UPDATE: the Andrea Dworkin post to which I allude in this post was misattributed to Renee Martin. It was actually written by Daisy Deadhead. I Blame the Patriarchy regrets the error.
Well, it’s happened again. There’s a goddam “trans debate” thing roiling in the comments of yesterday’s post. My blogging chops are obviously rustier than I thought; back in the day I would have nipped the whole thing in the bud with one of my snappy little aphorisms and a couple of judicious deletions. That’s what I get for going on sabbatical. Use it or lose it, right?
Previously, on I Blame the Patriarchy
I announced that IBTP is going dudeless. The Blametariat threw me a parade. Then somebody wondered if the dude-ban includes transwomen or not. A little red light flashed on my Patri-O-Meter, but because I am dull-witted I ignored it. All I said was that the ban only includes persons who post as dudes. And sure enough, another poster took advantage of my inattention to opine, “well, transwomen are men after all.” Whereupon the kimchi taco I had for lunch began to form a wad of napalm in the pit of my stomach. “NOOOOOOOOOO,” I wrote, even as I sensed the crushing futility of my appeal, “I’m putting my foot down, we’re not having this horrible stupid argument again!” That’s all it took. It was on.
So today I am going to — albeit briefly and somewhat abstractly, because as much as I’d like to bloot out a New Yorker-sized article on gender politics, my assistant Phil (who, by the way, is a trans man) says I gotta motor in about 15 — I’m going to splain a couple things and link a couple things and then it’s on to some nice heartwarming nature crap.
There are three aspects of this “debate” that particularly chap the spinster hide. One is that it is even considered a debate. Is there anything more demeaning than a bunch of people with higher status than you sitting around debating the degree to which they find you human? I don’t think so.
The second is the main anti-trans “argument.” It goes:
Unless you were born a woman, how can you really know what women’s oppression means? You benefited from male privilege once; how can we trust you? You mock us with your femininity. You’re not authentic.
This argument is phobic and dumb. It proceeds from, among other things like fear and internalized misogyny, the premise that there exists a standard or authentic “woman’s experience” of oppression that derives entirely from childhood indoctrination and imbues the experiencer with some kinda moral authority. The premise is false. An experience of womanhood is not the experience of womanhood. For example:
Some women have a little privilege. Some women have a shit-ton of privilege. Some women have a shit-ton of privilege and then lose it. Some women have zippo privilege and then get some later. Some women only ever have zippo, period. Some women are atheists, have short brown hair, drive red Fords, have scars where their boobs used to be, eat only vegetables and shave their mustaches.
Thus we see that there are many manifestations of womanity, both in terms of privilege and otherwise, each topped with its own unique little dollop of oppression. Of the gazillion factors that comprise female awareness, the condition of having been born female is but e pluribus unum. How do your personal woman-factors compare to, I dunno, mine? How about to Nadya Suleman (“Octomom”)? Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani? Susan Boyle? Candida Royalle? Aung San Suu Kyi? Aileen Wuornos? Carolin Berger (“Sexy Cora”)? My assistant Phil?
Not only is there no “standard” women’s experience of oppression, but a primary experience of womanhood is in fact inessential to the understanding of oppression. It is not necessary, in order for the oppressed to unite behind the common cause of liberation, that every oppressed person should share the background experiences of every other oppressed person. It is not only not necessary; it is not possible. The imposition of such jingoistic strictures precludes all possibility of revolution.
Oppression is oppression. Race, ethnicity, religion, pigmentation, sex, gender, health, education, class, caste, age, weight, ableness, mental health, marital status, employment status, diet, IQ, internet access — any combination of these or a thousand other arbitrary markers may be used by the powerful to justify oppression, but the net result is always the same: discrimination, disenfranchisement, degradation, dehumanization. It’s the Four Ds! The Four Ds make all oppressed persons identical enough.
My third point strikes a somewhat different and theoretical note. It has long been the contention of all expert spinster aunts that the notion of gender is itself a fiction promoted by the usual hegemonic patriarchal forces as an instrument of oppression. A person can only be “trans” if there are rigidly enforced gender roles from which and to which one might transition. Obviously, post-revolutionary society will not be burdened by tiresome gender constructs at all; nobody will have to become anything because everyone will just be whatever they are. Meanwhile, we gotta stop slapping the Four Ds on anyone who fails to fit the stupid misogynist gender binary.
I would love to delve into this at greater length, but the aforementioned time constraints compel me to put a sock in it. Fortunately, yesterday blamers Nails and AlienNumber were kind enough to link to Renee Martin’s excellent essay on Savage Death Island’s executive director Andrea Dworkin and her remarks on transgender politics. The remarks, excerpted by Martin from Woman Hating (1974), are sensible and kind and radical and a breath of fresh 70’s air. And they pretty precisely express the Savage Death Island doxa. Essentially, Dworkin’s saying that everyone has a right to exist on her/his own terms. Duh, right?
Transsexuality* is currently considered a gender disorder, that is, a person learns a gender role which contradicts his/her visible sex. It is a “disease” with a cure: a sex-change operation will change the person’s visible sex and make it consonant with the person’s felt identity.
Since we know very little about sex identity, and since psychiatrists are committed to the propagation of the cultural structure as it is, it would be premature and not very intelligent to accept the psychiatric judgement that transsexuality is caused by a faulty socialization. More probably, transsexuality is caused by a faulty society. Transsexuality can be defined as one particular formation of our general multisexuality which is unable to achieve its natural development because of extremely adverse social conditions.
There is no doubt that in the culture of male-female discreteness, transsexuality is a disaster for the individual transsexual. Every transsexual, white, black, man, woman, rich, poor, is in a state of primary emergency as a transsexual. There are 3 crucial points here.
One, every transsexual has the right to survival on his/her own terms. That means every transsexual is entitled to a sex-change operation, and it should be provided by the community as one of its functions. This is an emergency measure for an emergency condition.
Two, by changing our premises about men and women, role-playing and polarity, the social situation of transsexuals will be transformed, and transsexuals will be integrated into community, no longer persecuted and despised.
Three, community built on androgynous identity will mean the end of transsexuality as we know it. Either the transsexual will be able to expand his/her sexuality into a fluid androgyny, or, as roles disppear, the phenomenon of transsexuality will disappear and that energy will be transformed into new modes of sexual identity and behavior.
I recommend reading Martin’s essay for a bit more context. Nails has a new post on the topic too.
* In 1974, “transsexual” was what we now call “transgender”