Monday, 1 February 2010

More feminist cisfaff

[ETA: this post comes with an All About Me warning.]

Tonight I spent one bright, washed-out hour in a cafe in Soho talking shop and solidarity with two wise and steadfast trans activists, and am now feeling brave enough to stick my head above the parapet. Yes, I have been following the fiasco over Friday's protest against Julie Bindel's appearance at Queer Question Time, with her dangerously transphobic views in tow. Yes, I read and was tremendously upset by the casual transmisogyny of Bea Campbell's attack on the peaceful protests, including shaming the event organiser for using the phrase 'having the balls'. Yes, I'm glad that a retort made it into the mainstream press, and was delighted to see the Guardian giving space to C L Minou, who very graciously namechecked my recent F Word piece. But more than anything, I'm sick of this fight.

I'm sick of this fight, this childish, pointless, energy-draining fight to include our trans sisters within the feminist movement. Got home to find out that no, the anti-transmisogyny workshop that Sarah and Sally and I had worked so hard to push onto the agenda at Feminism In London 2010 will not be happening. Despite the fact that the workshop was designed as an expression of much-needed solidarity between transsexual feminists and the rest of the movement, despite the work we did to set it up as a signal that despite the many, many instances of transphobic speech and action by cisfeminists in recent years, the wider movement is ready to grow the fuck up and make room for trans people within our debate spaces, the workshop was not deemed a priority. We're still holding out hope that the workshop can be held on an alternative date, and maybe that will happen, and maybe progress can be made. I will never stop agitating within the movement for the vital importance of building solidarity with transsexual feminist women. But right now, I'm sick of this fight.

I get to be sick of this fight, you see, because I'm cis.

Because I am a cissexual feminist, I can divert my energies elsewhere and return to fight another day. Transmisogyny is my problem, because it's every feminist's problem, but when you get down to it, I can still walk into the lavatories or changing rooms assigned to my chosen gender without fear of punishment. Yes, I'm genderqueer and a bit of a weekend butch, yes, I have been and will continue to be privileged to act as a mouthpiece for transsexual women who are unable to bring their terrible Y chromosomes into cisfeminist 'safe spaces'. But when you get down to it: I am cis. I can walk away. If I disagree with my cissexual sisters, I will still be allowed to march alongside them and demonstrate with them and work on common issues and raise my voice in sisterhood and solidarity.

Because I am a cissexual feminist, I can put these issues to one side as the movement prepares for the massive right-wing backlash that's rearing on the horizon, whatever the result of the next general election. I can help strategise over how best to defend against Tory plans to limit equal pay audits, to "put marriage back on the agenda", to attack abortion rights. And I know without a doubt that when the fightback begins, trans women will be standing beside me.

I know without a doubt that next time we need to march on Whitehall to defend women's right to choose to terminate pregnancy, trans women will be marching alongside me - even those who, like many cissexual women, do not happen to have the capacity to bear children themselves. I know that my trans sisters will be there, standing up for the right of all women everywhere to decide what happens to our bodies, standing up for our right to control our own physical destiny even if that upsets the moral majority. Because when a shuddering, bone-crunching beast of patriarchal, hierarchial backlash is coming over the hill, solidarity has to mean something - doesn't it?


  1. Well said that cis woman! This cis woman is in total agreement.

    Did you know that Johann Hari was doing his own Campbell type thing on FB and Twitter over the weekend? Neither managed to mention the RVT protest either.

  2. Another cis woman here in total agreement. And thank you for reminding us all how much we owe to trans feminists. It needs saying. Repeatedly, it seems, to get it through some heads. :-S

    Really hope that you and Sarah and Sally can go ahead with your workshop at some point - it sounds excellent.

  3. Thank you for saying that. It needed to be said.

    Solidarity, shared experience, shared vision - I don't share the same bilogical history as most women, Que Sera Sera, but we all share the same future.

  4. What are you talking about, arewcqa? Hari defends transsexual rights very strongly. He just says Bindel has a right to speak.

  5. ...transmisogyny, transsexual, patriarchal, hierarchial, cisfeminist...

    What's with all these labels?

    Sexuality is an aspect of what we are, it isn't everything that we are or even the largest part of what makes up a human being. And aren't we ALL human beneath the skin, whatever we like to penetrate or be penetrated by in our sex lives? You can't pack humanity in a paper bag, Red, or categorise its expressions and flowerings with words made constructed from an alphabet composed of twenty six letters.

  6. @Anon: No one is preventing Bindel from speaking. All we are doing is responding.

    If you think pushing her out of certain publications is censorship, let's see a feminist publication run a piece by Tucker Max. Show some consistency.

  7. Joyboy:

    Until everyone behaves as if "we are all human under the skin", then there will remain the need to be able to talk about the differences that those people make important - and to talk about what their attitudes mean. Attempts like yours to stifle such discussion only serve to support and preserve the injustices that are imposed by prejudice and discrimination.

    So we still need the following words:

    "transsexual": having been assigned a sex and gender at birth that is at odds with one's internal identity;
    "cissexual": having been assigned a gender and sex at birth that accords with one's internal identity;
    "transphobia": fear or hatred of transsexual people;
    "misogyny": hatred or mistreatment of women;
    "transmisogyny": the intersection of transphobia and misogyny (i.e. fear, hatred and mistreatment of transsexual women);
    "cisfeminist": a feminist who is cissexual

    ...and so on.

    So you can take your solipsistic hippy claptrap and shove it back where it came from.

  8. @ SnowdropExplodes

    I think you're kind of nuts.

    The point I was making was that tolerance and commonality should be celebrated not differences. Sexuality is a continuum. Human sexuality isn't a mutually exclusive domain in which people make quantum leaps from one state to another. Human sexuality is blurry. You are the one intent on singling people out as being different, or, I suspect, to be regarded as being special in some way. My point was that human sexuality is too rich and various to be categorised and that artificial man-made constructs applied in that arena do more harm than good.

    Although it made me smile your aggression is juvenile, ridiculous and pointless. Temper does your "cause" no good whatsoever and makes you look rather immature and silly. You remind me of my niece who, after celebrating her fourth birthday, had a tantrum when she discovered that she could only have a maximum of one natal celebration each year.

    You people will be wearing armbands next. As a symbol why not adopt a fusion of the mirror of Venus and spear of Mars symbols? Whatever the symbolism you would be fascists in everything but name. Hey! As far a nomenclature goes what about cisfascists as a designation?

    There's a new category to lump people into.

    Grow up for goodness sake!

  9. @ joyboy.

    I have no idea what your last comment is about - you seem to misunderstand this post and the comments.

    Your first comment seems to show that you have no understanding of the definitions transgender and transsexuality. I'll give you a hint though - it has nothing to do with the penetration you speak so elegantly of. Now off to google you go!

  10. I kind of agree with Joyboy's argument that we shouldn't have so many different names to describe our sexuality. However surely 'man and 'woman' should be used. And if they are used how do we distinguish the types of men and women. For instance is 'gay' OK?

    At the same time this cissexual concept has me in a bit of a spin... 'accords with one's internal identity'. Is it possible to 'feel' that one's internal identity is totally in accord with one's sexuality and then within say 30 minutes you feel 'out sorts' so to speak.


    any bets on which smug bullshit measure joyboy's gonna try next?

  12. Campbell refers to "solidarity with women who are offended by the presence in their safe spaces of people who used to be men".

    Is she one of those women who does not want m-to-f transsexuals in her "space"?

    Or is she just claiming to speak for them?

    Is it fair to describe m-to-f transsexuals as "people who used to be men" when the whole point is that they never felt male?

    Does she have an opinion on f-to-m transsexuals and what is it?

    To me, Bindel is one of those women who thinks it is amusing to make puerile and snide jibes about vegetarian feminists, so as a vegan I must admit to a certain dislike of her that goes beyond this issue.

    Campbell says, "The transgender vigilantes should listen up, wise up and grow up."

    Wow. Patronise your opponents. That's not exactly sisterly, is it?

  13. Are SnowdropExplodes and Lindsay above for real?

    I am wholly on the side of equality and passionately want every human being, whatever their colour, creed or sexuality, to be coequal and treated with the respect that I believe everyone deserves. I do not want to see people labelled or categorised as being unacceptable or different and estranged or excluded because of those variations and differences.

    You people seem unnecessarily pugnacious as if you're spoiling for a fight with innocent people who have done nothing to provoke you. You remind me of that small band of hot headed British Muslims who were all too ready to put the author Salman Rushdie to death, simply because he had written something in a book which had offended the sense of propriety of a cancerous old Iranian cleric who lived thousands of miles away in theocratic barbarous foreign land.

    As a white male if I called a black person a "nigger" I would quite be considered racialist, unless I was black myself in which case I would merely be being colloquial. As a heterosexual male if I called a homosexual "bent" or "queer" I would probably be considered blunt or rude whereas if I was gay myself I might only be thought of as teasing or jokey. Penny Red announces herself as being "cissexual" - congratulations on that achievement by the way Ms.Penny - but if I called her that in public, to her face, would I be being complimentary, factual, offensive or something else? Labels can be many things depending who uses them, where, when, to whom they are applied and in what context. A tattoo of a butterfly on an ankle is quite different to a tattoo on the arm of a prisoner, put there by Nazis, in a concentration camp.

    I thought your fight was all about achieving parity and equality in society, one person with another.

    Have I been labouring under a delusion all these years?

  14. 'Penny Red announces herself as being "cissexual" - congratulations on that achievement by the way Ms.Penny - but if I called her that in public, to her face, would I be being complimentary, factual, offensive or something else?'

    Factual. It's a statement of fact, like saying I'm 5 feet tall and have brown eyes.

  15. By the way, I'm thinking that Joyboy's comments, whilst I don't agree with them in the slightest, are at least sane enough to engage in debate with, hence them still being up here.

  16. I am wholly on the side of equality and passionately want every human being, whatever their colour, creed or sexuality, to be coequal and treated with the respect that I believe everyone deserves.

    But if we are not able to talk about inequalities, then how are we ever going to be able to redress them and achieve this wonderful utopian dream?

    I do not want to see people labelled or categorised as being unacceptable or different and estranged or excluded because of those variations and differences.

    I'm looking very hard at the definitions I gave above, and as far as I can see the only hint of "unacceptable" in them was reserved for those terms that described political or social attitudes that were aimed at excluding or estranging others.

    There seems to be an assumption here that a "label" automatically is either a "good" label or a "bad" label, and so if we want to do away with people being seen as "good" or "bad", we must also do away with labels. But if we do away with labels we are then unable to make important distinctions. For example, if a person is gay or straight happens to be important if I want to have a sexual relationship with that person - if they're not into doing it with my gender, then I must look for someone else instead! So "gay" and "straight" are important labels.

    You are the one intent on singling people out as being different,

    Well, I've got news for you, Joyboy: people ARE different! They have different languages, hairstyles, clothing preferences, genitalia, eye colour, skin tone, shape, size, sexuality. Unless we have some kind of language to talk about these things then the people whose characteristics are less common tend to become invisible in any discourse. That is what happens.

    ...or, I suspect, to be regarded as being special in some way.

    All human beings are unique and special "in some way" - just like every other human being.

    My point was that human sexuality is too rich and various to be categorised and that artificial man-made constructs applied in that arena do more harm than good.

    This appears to be based on the assumption that any categorisation must also imply not only description but also prescription (laying down the law), or else that a system of categorisation can only ever allow a person to be in a single category. Both these assumptions are incorrect, but it is true that people with social or political motives have traditionally tried to use classifications of people to do those things as a means of controlling. Any tool used with malice becomes harmful; but it is not the tool that should be abolished but the malicious use.

    Categories and classifications are very useful things, as long as they are used to describe relations between different thing and ideas. And the more complex something is, the more important it is to understand how the various parts work together.

  17. "Is it fair to describe m-to-f transsexuals as "people who used to be men" when the whole point is that they never felt male?"

    I get the feeling that this is a rhetorical question for you, but it's the question at the centre of my personal struggle with this whole controversy.

    I have a couple of close friends who are trans, although they present as female only part-time and in safe spaces. When they present as male, they have privilege over me; it doesn't matter how they feel *inside*, and it doesn't even matter than perhaps in some respects I have privilege over them (privilege being a many faceted beastie); they still have white, middle class, educated, able bodied, MALE privilege over me. They get listened to more. They get called "sir" where I get called "love". They're offered the check at restaurants. They aren't passed over in conversation with patrnosing smiles. You know. All that funky male privilege stuff - they haz it.

    And my question is, when they present as female, do they carry the experience of having this privilege with them? How are the power dynamics between us impacted when they change from cis male to trans female identity? Do they still have privilege over me by virtue of being able to revert to the privileged identity? Do they have privilege over me simply by virtue of having *had* privilege over me, and the self-worth deposits that that has made into their mental bank account?

    Penny can "walk away" from trans issues, but she can't walk away from feminist ones, because she is a woman all the time, waking and sleeping (and of course a human being, a writer, a friend, a daughter and all the other identities that go into making a person). So am I. But a trans woman - or many trans women, at least - could, if they chose. At a terrible terrible emotional and psychological price that I never think anyone should ever have to pay, but she could. She could choose to walk the street at night and not get raped. She could go to a football game and not get catcalled. She could put on a disguise and feel terrible and live a lie to BE SAFE - but I can't.

    I'm not saying that being trans *is* privilege, or that feeling that you are in the wrong body is anything other than difficult, or that any of the hostility and violence is anything less than horrible and wrong. And I'm not trying to minimise the privilege that I have over a trans woman, because of course I do (and over a lot of other women and even some men, too - and I always try to be mindful of that).

    But there is this question of privilege that is conferred by the environment, and despite how difficult it is for trans people to be stuck in what they feel is an identity they can't be happy with, as long as they present as cis male they have privilege that they can't declaim. How does this get carried over into their trans woman identitites? How does it influence their modes of discourse with cis feminists?

    I read this blog a lot, and the F-Word, and Feministe, and Feministing, and I just don't seem to see much discussion of this kind of stuff, of how identities are not just momentary but accrue, agglomerate, and exist in time. I'm sure there's some theory on that somewhere but it is not accessible to me, and the only stuff that *is* accessible to me (and, I'm guessing, a lot of other feminists) is exactly what Penny calls "the fight". Which is why I'd actually like an answer to the question quoted at the top of what has now proven to be a bit of an essay, and so shutting up now.

  18. You know Marina, part of the reason why trans women don't talk about privilege around cis feminist much is that inevitable someone jumps up and grabs a bit and says "uh HUH by your own admission you're really a man!" And then it's game over and you couldn't possible experience oppression now, let alone have a valid perspective on it. Cis feminists very often place trans women in a double bind - be "feminine" and "passive" and all that shit (and hence uh HUH feminine cliche!) or be assertive (and hence uh HUH male privilege!). We can't do anything right.

    So, it needs to be acknowledged that that argument has a historically transphobic baggage. Your "I'd like an answer" has more than a whiff of entitlement about it - there's good reason why trans women may be leery of talking about it with you. Why *should* we trust you by discussing aspects of some of our lives that can and have been used against us?

  19. Also, I think this notion that femaleness is something that a trans woman can just take on and off is frankly bullshit. The idea that trans women are illusory and artificial, yeah I may have heard that a time or a hundred.

    Cos if the argument's that trans women can divest themselves from femaleness so easily, then someone forgot to tell our bodies. Frankly, a cis woman could "undo" her femaleness by consciously taking testosterone and/or getting surgery in the exact same way a trans woman who detransitioned would.

    To detransition if you've spent much time at all on hormones would require surgery ffs - first to remove your breasts and second for a phalloplasty if you've had SRS. And medical professionals believe it or not don't actually tend to just do detransitions on the spot. Piny at Feministe has written a lot about the psych/med crap she was forced through detransitioning...

    So I suppose it's doable, but if we're talking hypothetical extreme responses to the threat of violence and a sip of the superawesome cup of male privilege, then yeah it's just as doable for a cis woman.

    To (falsely) assume that your own cissexuality is immutable versus transsexuality? Yeah, that's a double standard innit.

  20. Marina- there is a danger in comparative privilege.....drop into a room of our own (Penny Red has linked to it before )and listen to a few radical feminists spray bile at "white women" :"straight women" femme women",any other woman who doesn't meet their expectation of someone who claims the word feminst - but they reserve their best & most viscious for trans women of course.

    I think what you have said seems to be based on your transgender friends who still present as male......sure they aren't giving too much ( if anything) up. It is rather different when you move to life as a woman, and as emily has said, the only way back would be the same route as a trans man (testosterone etc).

    I work as a woman, live as a woman, and share a common present and future with I get patronised by some men - spoken over by some men - leered at by some men- and pretty much have had to start all over again with my career - and in a sector of my profession where there are mostly women. I am pretty privileged by comparison to most transwomen , who aren't able to find jobs at all.

    One thing, ironic though it is , from a gender assimilation perspective , I am a success when I am patronised by men - though, of course from any perspective of broader gender politics, it is a retrograde sign ! But to para phrase a dead white male "many a time and oft have berated me.....still I have born it with a patient shrug for sufferance is the badge of all our tribe" -

  21. queen emily, I think that accusing me of arguing in bad faith on the strength of one comment was a little bit premature. It makes me feel that your first priority is to get me to shut up.

    There was one thing you said that really missed the point of my question though, and I just want to clarify it in order that perhaps other people reading this will find it easier to not suspect me of trying to undermine trans people:

    "Also, I think this notion that femaleness is something that a trans woman can just take on and off is frankly bullshit. The idea that trans women are illusory and artificial, yeah I may have heard that a time or a hundred."

    My whole question is predicated on the difference between identity and presentation: to put it in your words, on the idea that while femaleness is something internal and personal, femininity is something we can all take on or off, because femininity is performative and socially determined.

    That means that there is no necessary connection between identity and presentation - not unbreakable tie between femaleness and femininity. I, a feminine woman, may be walking down the street with a masculine man (Brad), and there is no objective way of determining if the people walking are a woman and a man, two women, two men, or a man and a woman. For that you have to resort to subjective experience - what is feels like to be me, what it feels like to be Brad.

    Because of the subjectivity of identity therefore, what the world tends to reflect back to us is our presentation; therefore if we pass a building site, Brad will not be the one to get catcalled. It's possible that on a different day (or at a different time in her life) Brad will choose to present as Brenda, and then the outside world will reflect a different image back to her.

    For myself, I accept that how Brad/Brenda feels inside, her identity, is indivisible and consistent. But her relationship with the world is dynamic and sometimes contradictory. Surgery has nothing to do with it, and I personally feel that it is a bit prurient of me to get too tied up in those intimate details.

    Anonymous touches on the sort of things that can be highlighted as a result of this dynamism in the feedback that trans women get from their environment. But I'm not interested in bickering about "comparative" privilege - I'd like to have an honest conversation about how all the different kinds of privilege we all have interact and create our social sphere, and I think it's invaluable that this conversation has room for the voices of trans people.

    This inscludes historical or no-longer relevant privilege - the privilege of someone who grew up rich but is now poor, who was able bodied for years before becoming disabled, who used to be in an ethnic majority before relocating and finding themselves a member of a non-white minority, etc.

  22. I understand what you're saying, Marina, and yes, in theory it would be fascinating to be able to discuss privilege and power with people who used to be men and are now women (or vice versa).

    But most trans women actually do *not* have that experience of 'being a man', not in the same way that cis men have. Many trans women transition at a very young age, and many have never felt or related to the world as men.

    If the world relates to *you* as a man, even if you don't want it to, then yes, that can be male privilege. But I think a lot of cis feminists don't get that trans women have a different experience from cis men *right from the word go*, that they don't make a sudden leap from male privilege to sacred opressed femaleness as soon as they have SRS (if they do make such a choice).

    There's more to male privilege than having a penis, essentially.

  23. I'm not trying to shut you up, Marina. I'm tetchy, cos you're making this conversation all about you and your questions.

    So, while *you* might feel the need for conversations about male privilege, but trans women may not (and I personally *am not*) be interested at all in having those conversations with you. There's a wider context to your questions - one in which broader cis/trans dynamics are involved, in which cis curiousity is legitimation enough. I mean, you're aware that maybe pre-transition life is painful or even shameful for some of us? That as well as the legacy of countless cis feminist fuckups and ambushes that I mentioned before, we may not for personal reasons want to revisit that territory?

    Anglo cis feminists, as Viviane Namaste has pointed out, have made "the transgender question" a debate about identity, about *why* trans people transition and what it *means* (for feminism, for the concept of "woman," for "women-only" space, for sexuality, and yes, what was or is male privilege etc etc).

    Whereas a lot of us are not hugely very interested in much of that, when we have sky-high violence, unemployment and HIV positive rates. Me, I don't really care *why* I am trans, or what that means, or what kind of relationship I *had* to male privilege. Why? Because I'm wondering if I will ever find a job again, how to pay for my health care, trying to negotiate various institutional systems mostly designed to erase me. I do love me some theory but yeah, that's not a conversation that I'm likely to find very helpful.

    So if there are philosophical questions, it's to with how to break down hostile systems, how to create more breathing space in a world that doesn't have much space for us at all.

    So. I'm not saying shut up. I'm saying, you're asking the wrong questions.

  24. I agree with Em regarding discussions of male privilege. It's all too often used to attack trans women and delegitimize our lives. It's like, I have a cis woman standing here, exerting all kinds of cis privilege against me, and the most direct cis privileged attack she's making is telling me that I had male privilege over 20 years ago and that this overrides any amount of transphobic baggage she's trying to weigh me down with right now.

    And talking about trans people who are living part-time is...well, there's a reason trans people don't always start living full-time. It may have to do with economic concerns (cis privilege) or family (cis privilege) or simple fear and insecurity over transitioning fully (cis privilege), and trans women who are not yet living full time may be passed as male and receive passing-as-male privilege, but is that really all that all-important when dealing with the significant number of trans women who do not live part time, who are women all the time?

    I mean, setting aside that it ignores the fact that cissexism itself helps encourage trans people to not transition, or not fully transition, why introduce anecdotes about your friends when we're talking about what trans women are experiencing at a society level? At an institutional level? What does bringing up your friends achieve in terms of insuring employment access, housing access, even in terms of insuring that trans women receive proper medical care or can even use the restroom in peace?

    Like Em says, we should be talking about how to break down hostile systems and create more breathing space.

  25. The Left frequently seeks to allow self-identification - succeeding perhaps most famously when legitimising the self-identification (by victims) of what constitutes a racist incident.

    I suggest you need to be cautious about over-extending the principle, for fear of undermining it when you most need it.

    In the case of gender self-identification the potential for reductio ad absurdum is so great, you seriously risk bringing the whole thing down around your ears.

  26. This is Big Kate btw and can i just say one thing

    i didn't fight my way through the 80's and 90's to fight to have LG become LGBT just to have the T turned into transexual.

    I didn't fight for the Trans or transgender to become to mean transexual either

    when we went for transgender as it was an inclusive term!

    it includes YOU!!!!

    your trans, if you choose to accept the identity, because as you say your butch and your genderqueer.

    transgender people are people who challenge 'traditional' assumptions about gender.

    Thats it, that the definition we used in the 90's when we fought through hell to get organisations to grow up and use the T.

    And yes all through that time a bunch of insecure transexuals would try to be exclusive, and i cant tell you who they are as they have ALL that's ALL of them gone stealth and now deny that they ever were transexual.

    I think I have a right to talk about things like this because i been an activist nearly as long as ROZ! I was around at the start of PFC, I knew steve whittle when he was doing a law degree. I been a feminist, a lesbian and a trans activist since 1977. I've been an activist for the bi community for over 20 years. I might not have been so active recently but...

    Anyhow how many OUT&(LOUD about being trans) trans activist do you know. How many of those are big fat dykes? You knew me when you were at Oxford, and i'm sure I must have said this same spiel to you then. I would love to be at your gig with Roz (the only other OUT/LOUD Trans Dyke I know who is almost as big as me) and David on the 25th but cant be there.

    Look your bloody not cis, and i should know I known a few...


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