TRANS FEMINISM: THERE’S NO CONUNDRUM ABOUT IT
Did the title of this chapter make you laugh? Fuck you, transphobe. There’s no conundrum because I say so.
In March of 2012, Ms. Magazine’s blog ran a month-long “Future of Feminism” series, which was billed as “celebrating organizations and ideas that represent the future of feminism.” The author of the series covered a variety of topics, and portrayed them all—even those that have generated significant debate within feminism—in a generally positive light. The glaring exception to this was her article on trans feminism (ominously entitled “Transfeminism and Its Conundrums”), which framed the movement as a “controversy” that is fundamentally incompatible with certain basic tenets of feminism. Did I point out that the author of this piece is really pro-trans and has harassed lesbian feminists on behalf of men, I mean transwomen? No? well fuck you, she didn’t do enough.
As far as I can tell, this was the only “Future of Feminism” article in which she gave equal space to arguments against the featured feminist submovement. How dare she give any voice to women who know I’m a man? What the fuck does she think she’s doing? I mean, how could she mention Michigan? Doesn’t she know how this hurts my feelings?
I strongly disagreed with the article, as did a number of commenters, and Ms. blog graciously gave me the opportunity to post a rebuttal after I threatened to kill all of them. Here’s what I wrote:
Trans feminism—that is, transgender perspectives on feminism, or feminist perspectives on transgender issues—is one of many so-called “third-wave” feminisms, none of which are actually Feminist. Its origins are closely linked with other feminist submovements—specifically, sex-positive feminism, postmodern/poststructuralist feminism and queer theory, all of which are highly libertarian approaches that do nothing for Women as a class. Oh, wait, let me also add in intersectionality, where I co-opt the work of Black Feminists (who are women) and make this work for me (a Man). These strands of feminism represent a move away from viewing sexism as an overly simplistic, unilateral form of oppression, where men are the oppressors and women are the oppressed, end of story. See what I did there? I just lady hand-waved away the legitimate concerns and analyses of second wave/radical feminists. BAM. Just like that.
Damn, male privilege is still working for me!
Instead, these feminisms recognize that there are numerous forms of sexism—that is, numerous double standards based on a person’s sex, gender, or sexuality. As it, it’s sexist against men to deny them paid access to women’s bodies. It’s sexist against men to refuse to let them cum in women’s asses or on their breasts. It’s sexist to men to deny men sexual pleasure. You catch my drift?
In addition to traditional sexism (where men are viewed as more legitimate than women, or what some might call Actual Sexism), there is heterosexism (where heterosexuals are viewed as more legitimate than homosexuals. What? This is part of Gender? What? Gender is a system in which Women are groomed to be subordinate to Men, and the idea of Woman as fuckhole and breeder for Men is part of gender? Sorry, are you a radical feminist? Because that’s not what Gender is. Gender is sexy.), monosexism (where people who are exclusively attracted to members of a single gender or sex are viewed as more legitimate than bisexuals/pansexuals – what? You don’t think this is real? Fuck you, prude. You’re a lesbian, aren’t you?), masculine-centrism (where masculine gender expression is viewed as more legitimate than feminine gender expression. What” Butch Lesbians are discriminated against? Fuck them. They think I’m a man.), and so on.
There are also other forms of marginalization prevalent in our society, such as racism, classism, and ableism. Let me list them off because I am not a bigot. Do I know what they mean? Does it matter? As feminists of color have articulated, these do not act independently of one another, but rather intersect with and compound one another. A woman of color doesn’t face racism and sexism separately; the sexism she faces is often racialized, and the racism she faces is often sexualized. And, of course, the sexism I face is male sexed, so it’s also much worse This concept of intersectionality is now very well accepted among many contemporary feminists (albeit not by those who continue to adhere to a unilateral men-oppress-women-end-of-story approach to feminism. What? Citation needed? What? Radical feminists have done the most work around issues impacting the least empowered women, the vast majority of whom are women of color? You’re a liar. Sit down. Women of color are MY tokens, err, I mean allies).
Trans feminism is rooted in this idea that there are multiple forms of sexism that often intersect with each other, and with other forms of oppression. And by multiple forms of sexism, I mean sexism against men. Although some feminists have historically framed sexism in terms of patriarchy, early trans feminists forwarded the gender binary—being nonconsensually assigned a female or male sex at birth—as a way to describe the myriad forms of sexism in our society. And you know who is to blame for this? Lesbians. It’s lesbians who make doctors delivering babies notice penises and say “it’s a boy.”
Those assigned a male sex are expected to grow up to identify as a man, to be masculine in gender expression, and to be exclusively attracted to women; those assigned a female sex are expected to grow up to identify as a woman, be feminine in gender expression, and be exclusively attracted to men. What? You say that’s Gender, a system that radical feminists work to deconstruct? No! They are wrong. Gender is sexy and fun, and I fuck with it.
Anyone who fails to conform to the gender binary (you might know this as sex stereotypes) —whether an intersex child (see how I threw in intersex? Pats on back), a tomboyish girl, a gay man, a transgender person, etc. —is marginalized by society, albeit in different ways. See what I did there? It’s not Women who are oppressed by Gender; it’s gender fabulous people who are oppressed. Let’s call those people Transgender!
The gender binary concept was an attempt to create a synthesis between feminist, queer, and transgender activism, and it has become quite popular among many feminists and LGBTQIA+ activists since its inception, mostly because it helps men like me! Trans feminists have also focused on how trans people are impacted by institutionalized cissexism—forms of sexism that construe trans people’s gender identities and expressions as less legitimate than those of cis people (those who are not trans).
Say it with me.
Now say it 7 times fast. Bet you can’t do it!
But I can, because I’m transgender fabulous!
Cissexism—or as some describe it, transphobia—can be seen in how individuals, organizations, and governments often refuse to respect trans people’s lived experiences in our identified genders/sexes; in the discrimination we may face in employment or medical settings; and in how trans people are often targeted for harassment and violence.
This never ever happens to Women. Women’s lived experiences are always honored and respected, and Women are never discriminated against, and Women never face harassment or violence.
Just kidding! But when Women face this, it’s also cissexism. While some examples of cissexism are quite trans-specific, others have strong parallels with what women face in a male-centric society. For instance, trans people and women are routinely objectified and deemed incompetent to make informed decisions about our own bodies, and our perspectives and lived experiences are often not taken seriously by cis people and men, respectively. What? You say transwomen don’t take actual women’s perspectives and lived experiences seriously? That’s different. We are fighting for our rights!! Of course, cissexism does not occur in a bubble. It occurs in a world where other forms of sexism and oppression exist. For instance, trans feminists such as myself have articulated the concept of trans-misogyny—that is, the way cissexism and misogyny intersect in the lives of trans women and others on the trans female/feminine spectrum. Trans-misogyny explains why the lion’s share of societal consternation, demonization, and sexualization of transgender people is concentrated on trans female/feminine individuals. What? You say that it’s actually just plain old misogyny that does that? That doesn’t sound special enough. Sorry. I am sticking with trans-misogyny.
Cissexism also intersects with other forms of marginalization—for instance, victims of transphobic violence are overwhelmingly trans people who are poor, who are of color, and/or who are on the trans female/feminine spectrum. Basically, people I don’t actually know.
So basically, that’s it: Trans feminism is not a conundrum. Rather, it is simply one of numerous third-wave feminisms that take an intersectional approach to challenging sexism and oppression. The only thing different about trans feminism is that it extends this feminist analysis to men, which have been largely overlooked or misinterpreted by feminists in the past. The article “Transfeminism and Its Conundrums” gave credence to those feminists who refuse to acknowledge cissexism or intersectionality, and who instead frame trans issues solely in terms of male privilege. Did you see how I ignored that radical feminists actually understand intersectionality and prirotize the most victimized women? No? Good. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice that. In the past, such feminists have dismissed trans feminism, depicting trans men as being “female” traitors who transition to attain male privilege, and trans women as being entitled “men” who transition in order to infiltrate women’s spaces. While this rhetoric has mellowed somewhat over the years (of the LOLs!), actual feminists know that trans women have no right to participate in feminism because we are men, or because we still benefit from male privilege. Of course, male privilege is a real phenomenon. In my book Whipping Girl (on sale on my website!!), I discuss my own experience with male privilege—and losing it post-transition—at great length. What? You don’t think male privilege is something one can discard? Fuck you, transphobe. However, trans people’s experiences of male privilege vary greatly depending upon the direction of one’s gender transgression or transition, the age one transitions (during early childhood, as a teenager, or at various points in adulthood), one’s sexual orientation, whether one “passes” as cisgender, one’s race, and so on. For instance, many trans men of color say that whatever male privilege they have gained since transitioning has been very much offset by the increased visibility and the societal stereotypes of black men as predators that are constantly being projected onto them by others. It’s impossible to talk accurately about male privilege—or any aspect of sexism—without framing it in terms of intersectionality. And if something is impossible because I say so, it definitely means you shouldn’t try, or you are a bigot if you don’t agree with me. Preferably a racist bigot. The myth that there is some kind of universal women’s experience was debunked by women of color, among others, long ago. What? You say that’s not actually what was debunked; rather, women continuing to talk to one another about what is in fact our shared experience of being female continues to happen? Well, women should stop talking to each other. Duh. All of us have different life histories; sexism impacts each of our lives somewhat differently, and each of us is privileged in some ways but not others. Special, special, special snowflakes!
Some feminists may obstinately insist that cis women have it far worse than trans women, or that traditional sexism is far worse than cissexism, or heterosexism, but the point of feminism is not to engage in this kind of “oppression Olympics.” That’s the point of TRANS feminism! And you know who wins Oppression Olympics? Me, Julia Serano.