Monthly Archives: November 2013

Why it’s not okay to give a forum to transcritical debate

An abridged, share-friendly version of this post can be found here

I’ve had a traumatising, train wreck of a week. It all started when I got into a debate with a “transcritical” feminist who was known to me on a local feminist facebook page. In order to try and contain the dialogue I set up a space to explore the issues. Many of my transgender friends were upset that I was giving a platform to a group that campaigns against the recognition of transgender people. The “dialogue” got out of hand very quickly, and many trans people got hurt. It resulted in me closing the debate down, but not before the “transcritical” feminists had set up another debate, one I am informed has felt even less safe for trans people to participate in.

It was wrong of me to create more space for this discussion. I have caused significant emotional damage to myself and others in doing this, and reinforced the sense of entitlement that cis feminists feel to have this discussion. What I should have done was challenge the original space about allowing this debate to happen – any feminist space that wishes to consider itself non-oppressive should not support transcriticism. There are ways of debating the nature of gender and gender oppression without marginalising or de-legitimising transgender people, and in future any feminist space I will participate in must be committed to this. I will not give any more oxygen or legitimacy to those who would seek to impose their world order onto my life.

I will, when I feel up to it, make a more in-depth analysis of what was said in the dialogue, but for now I want to make a statement about my position, following some time to reflect on these events.

How do we categorise human beings?

I identify as transgender. This does not mean I am ignorant of biological facts about my body, it means that for me, my reproductive organs are not the most significant influence on my existence, and I do not wish to be legally or socially categorised according to my reproductive organs or chromosomes. Categorising humans in this way, using pronouns and labels, is a human choice and not a biological fact. If this rigid categorisation does not work for transgender people, we have a choice to be flexible in how we apply it.

This socially constructed categorisation we call “sex” perpetuates the oppression of women as well as transgender and intersex people. I hold to the feminist principle that “biology is not destiny”.

I see myself as a person, not a woman, but this does not mean I reject people’s rights to organise and express the oppression they experience as a group:

  • I stand shoulder to shoulder with people who identify as women on issues of oppression, including rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence, reproductive control and the demeaning,  objectification and sexualisation of what are perceived as “feminine” qualities and presentation.
  • Some of these oppressions are shared by transgender women, and some are not, but overall I recognise that transgender women’s experiences intersect significantly with cisgender women’s issues and that therefore transgender women should fall under the protection of feminism, and should not be excluded from the socially constructed category “woman”.
  • Some of these oppressions are shared by transgender men, and therefore transgender men should fall under the protection of feminism, even if they do not claim the category “woman”.
  • I stand by the right of cis women and trans men to self-organise around issues of oppression regarding reproduction, but not to extend this organising to exclude trans women from all feminist organising, and in particular organising around rape, domestic violence and sexual abuse which disproportionately affect transgender women.

Why Feminism should not give “transcriticism” a platform

I have been asked to engage in further debate on whether transgender identities should be considered legitimate. I will not engage in further debate on this. I do not want to have anything to do with people who call themselves “transcritical”, knowing the devastating hurt they cause. I felt this fully this week, what transgender women in particular have experienced for too long – the belief of cis people that they have the right to create a social order that does not fit the experiences or needs of transgender or intersex people. More “primitive” societies have been able to acknowledge what we call transgender people in their cultures, even giving them an important social and spiritual role, whilst binary, black and white, heirarchical western thinking marginalises transgender people and puts them at severe risk both physically and psychologically as a result.

No feminist group or organisation should give a platform to people who call themselves “transcritical” for the following reasons:

  • To frame this as a fair, reasonable debate ignores the fact that one side of the debate is fighting for recognition and social inclusion and the other is fighting against this; this is inherently traumatising and oppressive for trans people. Therefore, “transcritical” feminists can claim to have won when transgender participants withdraw to preserve their emotional wellbeing, or become too upset or angry to debate in the coldly theoretical terms being promoted.
  • “Transcritical” theories erode transgender rights and marginalise transgender people, particularly women, particularly trans people of colour, and are therefore oppressive.
  • “Transcritical” theories are based on the supposition that it is valid for the more powerful majority to define terms in a way that suits their political ends. This is a hierarchical position that is out of step with feminist ethics.
  • “Transcritical” theories ignore intersex conditions and the overlap between the sexes, insisting the sexes are two non-overlapping categories. They also ignore the many transgender people who are also intersex – i.e. those who medically transition later in life because they cannot live according to the “sex” they were medically assigned at birth.
  • “Transcritical” theories create spurious/ strawman arguments:
    •  There is no such thing as “trans theory” nor should transgender people be required to account for themselves theoretically in order to be accepted.
    • Most transgender people acknowledge that social construction of gender, gender hierarchy and gender oppression are as real as gender identity – these are not mutually exclusive ideas.
    • Simplistic either/or arguments are employed to eradicate the complexity and variance of trans people’s lived experiences.
    • Stereotypes are employed to create a no-win; if trans women behave like a stereotypical woman, they are artificial, if they behave like a stereotypical man, they are clearly men.
    • Nurture vs nature arguments are also used when it is now understood that such arguments are ludicrous – we cannot possibly untangle nature from nurture and both have a profound influence on us.
    • The completely demeaning and trivialising acts of “blackface” or “cultural appropriation” are likened to identifying as the opposite sex to that assigned.
  • Many “Transcritical” feminists dedicate a significant proportion of their “feminist” activism to campaigning against transgender inclusion and transgender rights. The debate takes up feminist time that could be better used fighting patriarchy, and it alienates trans people from feminism, meaning they don’t get the opportunity to be influenced by more positive feminist discussions.
  • “Transcritical” theories believe biology is destiny.
  • “Transcritical” theories speak of the abolition of gender without any clear framework as to how this will be achieved without further human oppression and potential racism.
  • By focussing negatively on transgender people, “transcritical” theorists hold transgender people as responsible for the problems inherent in the way gender has been socially constructed, rather than as casualties in the way we construct both gender and sex.
  • Feminism and trans people do not exist in opposition to one another: a radical feminist understanding of transgender existence is not only possible but desirable, because it does not ignore the needs of one oppressed group to support the other. Judith Butler, Andrea Dworkin, and Gloria Steinem have all at different times put forward radical feminist frameworks that are trans inclusive.
  • It is true that not all transgender people conceptualise their circumstances in a way that is compatible with feminism, which is all the more reason why feminists and transgender people should be working more closely together – as feminism has become more trans inclusive, the ideas of trans people have evolved to take feminist ideas more into account. Relationships need to be built before understanding can be reached.
  • Feminism needs to evolve from a position of being “transcritical” to a position of “transaware” – how can we develop our theories and definitions to include both cis and trans experiences, and take all oppressions into account?

Don’t be a bystander

Finally, the worst part of this whole process has been the fact that too many cis feminists stand by and watch it happening, and either fail to see the devastating impact on the trans community or do not register it as their problem. Feminists, please say no to “transcriticism” whenever you hear that word, say no to people casting doubt on whether transgender women are “real” women, say no to people discussing any kind of trans exclusion from LGB or feminist spaces. Don’t stand by and be afraid to say “I don’t agree with this”.

I would like to teach Feminists a new motto. It goes like this:

“I oppose any debate or campaign that seeks to exclude or marginalise transgender people. Transcritism is such a debate. This debate should not be given a feminist platform.”

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Raising Awareness

In honour of Trans Awareness Week, I am sharing a new page I’ve put together; a selection of my favourite videos, blogs, books and resources on gender and gender variance. I hope you get a chance to browse this page, save it and share it to raise awareness of people’s diverse experience and understanding of gender.

http://transandfeministfriendlygenderresources.wordpress.com/

This is very much a work in progress, so please feel free to comment, feed back and suggest additions.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today I am asking everyone, and in particular the lesbian and feminist communities to observe TDoR, the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

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Some time today, take a minute to reflect in silence. Take a little time to reflect on the frighteningly high statistics regarding the murder, rape, domestic violence, homelessness, joblessness and suicide of transgender people.

I invite you to reflect on the way that resistance in any community towards acceptance and inclusion of transgender people materially affects their welfare. Your efforts to embrace and understand transgender people can make a positive difference to their safety.

It really is as simple as that – marginalisation makes people less safe – more impoverished; more vulnerable; more likely to be the victims of violence; more prone to poor mental health. Please show compassion, even if you do not fully understand – open your heart and accept a difference that cannot possibly hurt you.

This is what Crazy Looks Like

I wrote this post when I was at my most vulnerable, but ironically I felt too vulnerable to post it. Now I’m feeling back “in my power” it feels important to share it.

I can’t take credit for “pulling myself through”; there but for the grace of other people go I – it was other people’s ability simply to stay and listen without judgement that made the difference; my only skill was in seeking out those people and not focusing too much on the places where there were gaps in the net.

So here’s what I wrote . . .

Feeling Crazy

I’m feeling a little crazy right now. Hey, lucky I’m a mental health professional, theoretically I can talk myself down from that ledge.

So why am I feeling crazy? I feel suddenly, horribly alone. I’m a people person you see, and I did have a big old community all around me, but that community is lesbian and women-only and suddenly I’m not sure I fit there.

Because I’m transgender. There, I’ve said it. I’ve been fudging the issue for months, but it’s true; I’m trans. I had all these excuses, right – I don’t want to call myself trans cos I’m not transitioning and therefore I still have cis privilege.  I don’t want to look like I’m just trying to get attention or be special or something.

But all that’s bullshit – the truth is I’m worried about what people think, because by and large people just don’t get it; it’s kinda weird and out of their comfort zone and they don’t want me rubbing their faces in it.

So, back to the crazy thing. I feel crazy because I can feel people backing away from me, and that is just about the most crazy-making thing that can happen to a person. The reality is, for all we pretend that we’re an individualistic society where people are self-reliant and successful because of the affirmations they say to themselves, people thrive because of the constant bombardment of tiny little acceptances and “strokes” from other human beings – likes on Facebook, the easy smile of the petrol cashier, a zillion micro-interactions with other people that go okay and make you feel normal, part of the pack.

And then you realise you’re not what society might think of as “normal”. First, you try to hide it, but you realise that’s kind of killing you. Then you start to talk to people about it, or show the world who you are, and that’s when you feel them backing away from you – friends and strangers, not being cruel or saying anything bad (mostly) just backing away because they really don’t understand; you’re making a demand of them they don’t know if they can meet. And that’s when you realise what immense scaffolding the rest of the human race provides. Most people don’t get to discover this – they think they’re doing it all on their own, because they just don’t see the support humanity is giving them just for being them. Of course, I’m talking about privilege; I’m talking about your needs being met by default without you having to make any demands of people. I’m talking about people automatically using the right pronouns when they speak to you, of that simple recognition that what a stranger sees is actually something that vaguely resembles the human you actually are.

Making unusual demands of people just by being around them is exhausting for them and you. You’re asking for something exceptional, simply to get the same level of recognition everyone else gets automatically, and it sucks. They get fed up, feel like you’re getting too much attention, feel like you want special treatment, get tired of hearing about it. They back away.

And that’s how I started to feel crazy. Suddenly I’m alone and my scaffolding is gone and I’m babbling on about all this seemingly crazy stuff that nobody wants to hear.

So, next time you see someone acting a bit intense and crazy, please consider checking your instinct to back away and ask yourself if they might need a little extra effort from you just to feel like part of the human race again.