Tag Archives: Transcriticism

Just an ordinary day

A snapshot of one day in the life of a transitioning non-binary person

CN: TERFs, mental health, dysphoria

About me: I am taking masculinising hormones, but am still generally read as female. I identify male-ish, femme-ish, queer, bisexual and (for want of a better word) non-binary (all these words are equivocal). I actually just prefer “transgender person” in some ways rather than trying to define things that are all so loaded with complex and variable social meanings. I use they/their/them, hate she, tolerate (barely) he, cope with Mr and for some unaccountable reason don’t like Mx. Will eventually try to destroy all titles. Or become a Dr. One or the other.

7 am: Facebook status update:

[Facebook status update: 7am. What the hell? New job starts for real today and I just wanna stay in bed]

I’ve been on and off ESA this last year, mainly stress related. Going back to work is a big deal, not least because I had some difficult trans-related discrimination to deal with last time I worked (I’m self employed too but that’s unreliable, and the coffers are getting low).

7.25 am: I’m still in bed. I’ve been arguing with TERFs on Twitter over the NSPCC’s aborted “debate”. Since I wrote a take down of one of Sarah Ditum’s articles and it went somewhat viral, she and her friends have been oh so attentive. I ask myself, as always, what good I am doing listening to this poison, what point there is in repeating facts they already know but don’t care about. If this was really about child welfare, they would be jumping up and down on behalf of intersex kids. They’re not. They just want to erode trans civil rights, legitimacy, recognition. They want to end us. It’s oppressive and abusive, and I know it is, and I have trauma reactions still lingering from some of my worst encounters with local TERFs.

The plus side is I discovered a great community via challenging their twisted ideology. Doing my homework built bonds and understanding with this huge, diverse, messy trans community. Yes folks, you heard it here first, TERFs turned me transgender! Or rather, they helped me to admit it and understand it better.

Unfortunately I now have a miniTERF living permanently inside my head. Logically I know it lies and manipulates, but that nasty, perpetual, gaslighting question plays incessantly “how do you really know who you are?”

The feelings I have about gender are political, feminist, radical and yet . . . they are also deeply personal. I have an experience – of soaking up male socialisation instinctively from an early age (the science geek bit of my brain whirrs . . . could gender identity come from the hypothalamus?? Is “gender instinct” a better term than “gender identity”?). I just wanna know why I am the way I am, to prove that I’m not crazy, that this really is a thing.

“You’re making it all up” says miniTERF, echoing the words of abusers everywhere. “You’re just unhinged”. Well who wouldn’t be unhinged with this constant drip of doubt challenging your own lived reality? I just can’t be a woman, it doesn’t work. I tried, god knows I tried. I tried every way to get comfortable in that lie but it kept falling off me like an unstitched suit.

These are the sort of thoughts I generally have before breakfast.

7.30 am: I get up, wash, shave off my still patchy stubble, put on my testosterone gel. Like I do every morning. Put on a somewhat flattening bra because I can no longer wear a binder. Too many health problems. Try to tell myself the contours don’t matter, but they do to me. I didn’t want to want them gone. Didn’t want to (miniTERF alert) “mutilate” my body. But it feels more like incising tumors. I can’t seem to be in my body with those there. I wish I could. Years of therapy, mostly from a radical lesbian feminist, hasn’t fixed me on being a woman. Okay, maybe, beloved as she was (and still is) to me, the radical lesbian feminist therapist didn’t help my trans self-esteem.

I try not to argue with TERFs any more because it nearly destroyed me, brought me close to suicide in the past. Logically I can see how they operate, how they twist everything, how they seem to live in a bubble where pronouns and toilet doors and words and birth certificates are straight from nature and untouched by human hands, while my fundamental and lifelong experience of myself is nothing, is just made up, simply cannot be.

Ugh. I eat breakfast, leave the house tea in hand. I manage to make the train. Donald Trump’s rapey behaviour all over the front page of the Metro. Ugh again.

9.20 am: Need a toilet and can only see Ladies and Gents at the station. Haven’t used the ladies for a few years now. I deal with using the gents, but always feel fear. Nobody gives me trouble. I still get ridiculous anxiety and sometimes it will wreck a trip out. I’ll be avoiding a pub toilet because of drunks, wondering how long I’m going to last, or I’ll realise people have wrongly assumed my gender as female and that using the gents will out me. My anxiety gets the better of me and I’m not much fun to be around.

Seeing a gender neutral toilet or accessible toilet that isn’t locked makes me ridiculously happy when it happens.

9.45 am: Arrive at HR reception with DBS check, the one with my prior name erased like a dirty secret. I shouldn’t have to feel shame because one day I decided to take back the name I chose for myself as a kid, the one nobody would use. Because names are also biological facts, sewn into our skin, apparently.

The receptionist rings the office and I tense, waiting for her to say “this lady has brought her form” or some other gendering words.

It doesn’t happen. She didn’t gender me! This is amazing. How often in our even casual interactions are we not gendered? I start to breathe again. I want to hug her.

10.00 am: Meet my line manager for the third time. He misgenders me “she, sorry, he” and I say as breezily as I can “I prefer they”. I already told him this. It takes a lot of practice and grit to sound easy breezy every one of the thousand times you get misgendered when each time it’s threatening to snap your very last nerve. He tells me it’s going to be hard for him. I get it. “They” is hard for the brain to get used to. I really understand, because I mess up myself with my “they” friends.

Only . . . wouldn’t it be nice if one time a cis person didn’t say “this is hard for me” and instead said “this must be hard for you”.

It sucks. (“You’re not real, you’re not real, transgender doesn’t exist and non-binary doesn’t exist even more!!!” miniTERF shouts gleefully).

12.45 pm: I get my staff pass. I’m waiting for her to go “Oh, there’s been a mistake, this says mister”. Holding my breath again. Don’t smile for the photo, men don’t smile.

She doesn’t correct it! My pass says Mr and nobody blinked!!! Today is a good day.

“Thank you so much.” I say in that lilting, raised, people-pleasing voice it took me years to learn in my efforts to properly pass as a woman. Dysphoria crashes down on me – I know my voice will give me away forever now.

The usual raft of options run through my head. It’s not too late to stop this, I do a pretty good job of passing as a woman, even if it took decades of practice. Surely it would be easier to pretend to be the person everyone wants me to be?

Easier, yes, and yet also impossible. You can’t unlearn the truth about yourself, unawaken. I can’t explain it, but there it is. Even if I don’t know exactly what I am, I can’t be a woman anymore, not even a boyish woman who in no way conforms to what a woman should be. I did that most of my life, and it never resolved that pervasive truth that no matter what I wear or how I act I still was being forced to be socially labelled and segregated according to what’s in my underpants.

I just can’t manage the drip drip drip of words that all mean the same thing; “you have a vagina and socially that means more than anything else! It defines you.”

Fuck you, assigned gender. Just fuck you.

2.30 pm Walking to a meeting across town, I have a difficult phone call about a homeless trans woman I’m (voluntarily) supporting. Everything suddenly feels difficult and busy and overwhelming. I suddenly feel the weight of this entire lost, rejected, hurt community on my shoulders. Why the hell can’t people just listenpigeon and help? Just be kind.

I stop to take pictures of a pigeon in the fountain and come back to earth. I don’t remember being this easily overwhelmed, but I guess my bucket is full from that drip drip drip. Minority stress. I lived as a lesbian for years but it wasn’t like this. Trans is worse. Folks treat trans people like shit, treat non-binary people like an insubstantial but very unpleasant fart.

4.30 pm: I’m on the tram and I have no idea where I’m getting off. A nice woman tells me she’ll warn me when my stop is coming up. We share some idle chat and I remember I will miss this, being talked to as if I’m a woman, as if therefore I’m safe to talk to, to make eye contact with. I really don’t want to be a man, I just want people not to gender me at all. I want the impossible, I remind myself.

Everyone will gender you, one way or the other.

6.30 pm: Home. Twitter is on fire. Must stop reading TERF poison.

11.00 pm: Had to deal with a TERF infestation on my Twitter feed. They’re like ants – first one comes, and the next thing you know they’re swarming all over you giving you no time to think. Profiles set up seemingly with the sole purpose of antagonising trans people. Pictures of Buffalo Bill, the serial killing pseudo-trans character from Silence of the Lambs. Self-descriptions that serve no other purpose than to mock or delegitimise trans people. Parody and hate and attack all dressed up as Freeze Peach.

My Achilles heel is I try to treat their manipulative questioning with sincerity, but really all they want from me is that I will be hurt enough by them to snap and say something that will then be used against every one of the millions of trans people on the planet (we are a hive mind, don’t you know). When I start blocking them others go on the attack, how dare I set boundaries and end a conversation they want to have over and over and over?

Maybe about a hundred (it feels like) TERFs now blocked. MiniTERF has fed well, and is pretty powerful and vicious right now.

The theme of tonight’s tweets was “detransition” and the idea that if a handful of us (hundreds amid millions) change direction, then the existence of all of us is a lie.

Here’s the truth. You can’t do anything about being transgender, whatever flavour of trans you are, and there are many. But there are choices – narrow ones, in a world that makes life damn near impossible. There are calculated risks you can take, and by and large they pay off. But not always.

People detransition. I might. I probably won’t, but I might, because the world is not a friendly place to non-binary trans people, and it’s significantly easier socially and professionally to live as a gender non-conforming queer woman. I know from experience.

But whoever I live as I will still be transgender, have always been transgender. And if I regret attempting transition, it will only be like the many other regrets in my life -shags, jobs, relationships that didn’t go as planned. We know statistically the outcomes are good for transitioning, but we can never know if it will work for us until we try it. It’s a leap of faith.

Midnight: Time to sleep. It’s been a long day. TERFy days are always the hardest, they shred your head if you let them. But I was out in the world and only got misgendered once, that’s a win. Generally, the world has been kinder than usual, and I can put the cruelty in its place. Is it worth all this stress and trauma? Still yes.

 

 

Sarah Ditum – not “gender critical” enough

Sarah Ditum’s article in the New Statesman this week is very clever. I’m not going to link to it – New Statesman knows well enough that publishing Ditum’s ongoing campaign against my community will always attract a lot of traffic to its site – drawn by the inevitable controversy that follows.

This is business, make no mistake, and if the trans community gets hurt and make a fuss, well that will be good for business too.

Sadly, folks don’t read enough articles written by actual trans people to see through the holes in Ditum’s arguments, and this latest article in particular reads to the ignorant as being very comprehensive, reasonable and balanced. So, for those who have already read it and been taken in, here’s what’s wrong with it. For those who have not read it – don’t bother, it adds nothing new whatsoever to the feminist conversation and is in fact a warmed-over version of some very past their sell-by-date ideas.

I’m going to take us through the over-long article point by point to expose its manipulations and distortions, so apologies if this is also a long response.

1. The header image

The header image shows a pair of false eyelashes nestled in a makeup box. This is a trope – it signals the “falseness” of trans identities by boiling them down to how we adorn ourselves. It sets the tone subtly to undermine the “realness” of us.

2. The subtitle

“In the US and UK, politicians want to enshrine respect for “gender identity” into law. The only problem? There is no scientific consensus on what gender is.”

Right in the subtitle of the piece is the heart of what this article is about. There is a “problem” with enshrining respect for gender identity in law (i.e. giving trans people civil rights), because science has not explained gender identity yet.

In the same way, I suppose we can’t enshrine respect for gay people because science hasn’t fully explained them either.

We cannot respect what we don’t understand. Let that sink in for a moment.

3. The threat

” Alex Drummond, who is male and identifies as female without having had any surgical or hormonal treatment – and with a full beard”

Alex Drummond is a woman with a beard. Harnaam Kaur is also a woman with a beard. One is cis, one is trans. But Ditum wants us to be afraid of Alex. Ditum calls Alex “male” knowing full well the baggage that goes with that word is so much more than biological. She is effectively gendering Alex. Misgendering her, in fact.

Why can’t Alex just live her life in a way that makes her healthy and comfortable? Why can’t she just be accepted as herself? Ditum will show us how dangerous this all is, and in doing so will take us back to a very regressive place, where as long as trans women have all the surgery and make every effort to “pass” in conventional terms, they will be somewhat tolerated, but trans liberation must not be allowed.

4. What explains us?

Ditum lays out four possibilities for what makes gender identity.

a) Gender is hardwired in the brain.

The idea she cites as favoured and acceptable. She makes it clear that this is essentialist (I agree, and so do most trans people I know) and not popular with feminists (quite right). She infers it is popular with trans people – not so.

Ditum then goes on to imply there are only 3 other options (also not true):

b) A sexual fetish, ie. autogynephilia

This is where her earlier (disputed) assertion that there are more trans women than men comes in handy – we can just ignore how trans men don’t fit this theory, can’t we? Oh, and we can ignore all the research that debunks the theory, too (I particularly like this one that shows cis women have identical experiences).

c) Faulty thinking due to autism.

Ditum exploits the fact that there is a higher incidence of autism in the trans population to suggest that autistic people “latch onto” gender identity due to feeling different. As an autistic person myself, this disableism is very unsettling. The idea that autistic people cannot know themselves as well as neurotypical people has no basis in reality.

Interestingly, the link between autism and sexuality has been explored in the past in similarly problematic ways, but now it is no longer acceptable to speculate about whether gay men are gay due to faulty wiring (Alan Turing, anyone?), we have moved on to scrutinise and undermine trans identities instead.

d) A response to trauma

Another nasty contrivance. Kids that grow up different are far more easy to marginalise and therefore to bully and abuse. So of course the levels of trauma in our communities are higher, as within the LGB community.

Yes, they used to say being a lesbian was caused by abuse too.

Apparently there are no other ways to frame our existence. We’ll see about that later.

5. Trans children must be stopped

Ditum goes on to stick up for “poor” Ken Zucker, saying he “was attacked for not conforming to the current trans political line, and ultimately forced from his job”.

Zucker, if you are not aware, is a proponent of reparative therapy for both LGB and trans children. Zucker increasingly shifted the focus of his work away from gay kids and towards trans kids due to “political” changes. Imagine if Ditum was writing now about that political shift – away from it being ok to try and “cure” gay people.

All the reputable psychological organisations condemn reparative therapy for gay and trans kids, and Zucker was a lone proponent, ultimately fired by an independent investigation.

The man was a renegade, so why is Ditum not citing other research by people who work with trans kids, for balance? The article pretends to be comprehensive and even handed, but look at just a small sample of what’s missing.

Ditum later rehashes a tired old myth when it comes to trans children. Using the very scientific method of watching a TV documentary and listening to an anecdote, she concludes that trans children think they are trans because they like things associated with the opposite sex. She perpetuates the myth of desistance and misleadingly cites:

“studies suggesting 80 per cent of gender non-conforming  children go on to live in their original gender as adults”

Yes, this figure is true, but that’s because trans and gender non-conforming are not the same thing. Read this article to understand how this statistic is misused over and over again. There is also a better study that shows that gender identity in trans kids is equally as consistent as for cis kids. Not to mention (oh ok, I will) the other important recent study that demonstrates extremely positive outcomes for trans kids that receive treatment.

It is frustrating how much good work has been done to clear up these myths and yet how often they get trotted out to trap the unwary people who haven’t done the reading.

Has Ditum not done her reading? Or is she deliberately suppressing one side of the story – I will leave you to decide. Given the size of her platform, can anyone see the danger for trans people if she has not been fully ethical, balanced and diligent in her research?

A transgender child’s identification with another gender goes far beyond mere gender expression, and is extremely persistent. Often kids and parents talk about expressions and choices as some of the clues they had along the way, but obviously you cannot encompass years of gender dysphoria into a soundbite or even a documentary. And having seen the BBC documentary mentioned, Ditum is also guilty of having cherry picked the one line out of an hour’s programme that fits her own biased narrative.

6. Ergo we don’t exist

“arguably non-existent gender identity”

“In the absence of compelling evidence for brainsex”

The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence – we are still exploring the complexity of gender and biology. It is interesting that the lack of fully established evidence for brainsex spurs Ditum to fall back on possibilities that have even less evidence, including the entirely debunked theory that it is a paraphilia (autogynephilia, see above).

Like Ditum, I believe gender identity may well be multi-determined, and I am fiercely in the middle of the nature/nurture debate, as are most reputable scholars – it’s likely to be both. I do however see there are hints of a mosaic of brain and hormonal differences that, as Daphna Joel has discovered, are by no means binary. These findings back the notion of sex-similarity far more than sex-difference. Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the entirely debunked theories of Simon Baron-Cohen and others, it is possible that there is biology at work here, as well as, of course, gender socialisation.

Ditum also cites “a response to homophobia” as one possible cause of being trans. As a person who identified as a lesbian for a decade as a response to transphobia and my reluctance to come out as trans, my challenge to Ditum is this – show me the evidence that there is more stigma attached to being gay than trans in this country and I will believe you. Show me a single study that prompted you to throw that one in the mix. Or are you just falling back on the tired old trope that trans women are “confused gay men”? Yes, there is an interrelationship between gender identity and sexuality, but they are not the same. Neither are they in competition with each other.

I lived a prosperous life as a lesbian and have suffered a massive loss of privilege and circumstance in coming out as trans. I came out not because it was advantageous but because my lesbian identity was a half-truth and not a full expression of who I am, and I could not continue to manage living in that half-truth.

8. Trans is a narrow option

“as the doctrine of gender identity draws tighter, options become ever narrower”

Again, where is the evidence of this? My experience of the trans community is that the more freedom to explore ourselves and be accepted we have, the more diverse narratives spring up, the more options become open to us and the more the walls between us break down. Where 20 years ago trans people were expected to live heteronormative lives, now many of us are out and challenging many of society’s preconceptions around gender.

My trans circle is fiercely feminist, distinctly radical, and demonstrates a range of possibilities from assigned female “trans dykes” who use she/her but challenge what it is to be a woman, to non-binary people who manage to live outside of gender entirely. People who ease their dysphoria through medicine and people who don’t. And yes, people who know themselves to be women but don’t go through a medical process, who face huge challenges because of that. It’s funny how the nonconforming trans people like Alex Drummond are held up as the threat, and at one and the same time it is our community that is supposedly narrowing the options. Meanwhile, ultra conservative trans people like Caitlyn Jenner falsely dominate the public’s idea of what it is to be trans.

An observant person might suggest that cis people keep narrowing our options, while we keep trying to widen them so that we can live more healthily and congruently.

9. Cis people know better

“The fact of suffering is not evidence that the sufferer has unimpeachable insight into the source of that suffering”

A clever one, this. Yes, it’s true in a way, but it’s also deeply patronising. As a person-centred counsellor I have learned time and again that my client, whoever they are, is the expert on their own life. What is certainly not true is that Ditum can claim any real ability to shed light on this discussion.

10. It’s dangerous to give us rights

Finally, after an awful lot of going round the houses, we reach the real point of the article.

Ditum is very clearly arguing against trans people having civil rights, citing harm to “women” (read cis women) as the reason.

So, Ditum has cast trans acceptance as conflicting with both the gay community and the cis women’s community. A classic capitalist tactic to divide the groups that could be working together. She could almost be working for a neoliberal elite, so helpful is she being to them. At least, her career is probably doing very well because her message is so helpful in preserving the status quo.

So what do we know? We know, in fact, that the people who are most at risk of sexual, physical and domestic violence are trans women, and we know that there has never been any real problem accommodating them. I have experience of working in trans inclusive women’s services and it was never an issue.

What Ditum ignores is the position a trans woman has within women’s spaces. She will be scrutinised and suspected and watched. She does not hold the power in that space. How exactly is she to be a danger to others?

Ditum also plays on a fear that it is in patriarchy’s interests to perpetuate: women must keep themselves apart to be safe. Never mind that this excludes women’s voices in society, as I discuss in this blog post. Men want women to be afraid of them. They use the threat of rape and violence to enforce that fear, to convince women segregation is in their best interests. Fear of trans women is just another way of establishing that status quo.

Meanwhile, gender non-conforming cis women and lesbians are sharing with trans women the often violent consequences of this fear, as they always have.

Let’s be clear, there is absolutely no evidence that trans rights will have any detrimental effect on women’s rights. The changes in trans rights and acceptance that have happened so far over the last 40 years have not created problems for women. The problems people like Ditum feared have not come to pass. In fact, the experience of trans women and the violence, sexualisation and objectification they experience has highlighted the fact of misogyny and added a useful perspective to the feminist conversation. Transfeminism is exciting and vibrant and has earned its place within mainstream feminism.

11. Trans people are criminals

So, one Swedish study from a long time ago that has been much critiqued suggested that trans women (and trans men, as it happens) are incarcerated more than an average population of women.

It also says that trans people are more suicidal than the average population, no surprise there given how we are treated. This is often misrepresented, as in this article, to suggest we are more suicidal post-transition than pre-transition, something that has again been thoroughly debunked.

I could point out, as others have, that the study is old, has not been replicated, and was a very small sample. But actually, in the case of the criminality statistics, I really don’t need to.

Instead, imagine if Ditum was quoting the incidence of incarceration of other minority women compared to the norm for all women – say, lesbians, mentally ill women, women of colour, women living in poverty, women who have experienced trauma. Now let her continue to say those incarceration rates are due to something inherent in that population, rather than the fact that we know marginalised minority populations have higher offending rates for complex sociological reasons.

Ditum then says that prisoners might pretend to be trans to get more favourable housing. Well, yes initially they might, but when they see the hoops they have to jump through they will probably think again. Nobody is suggesting that there will be instant prison transfers on an inmate’s say-so, meaning of course that the prisoner will have to live as a woman for some time in a men’s prison, and experience the full force of misogyny that trans women experience.

All incarcerations are risk assessed, as are hostel placements and refuge placements. The reality is, sometimes cis women are too dangerous to house in a women’s prison, hostel or refuge, and special accommodations have to be made. We don’t need a special rule that affects an entire minority group, because we already have rules in place to deal with violent, dangerous, and sex offending cis women.

Ditum fails to mention Vicky Thomson, who killed herself when she was put in a men’s prison despite having lived as a woman for years. Or Tara Hudson, who was also imprisoned and sexually harassed in a men’s prison despite having transitioned long ago. Or Mary, who was raped 2000 times in a men’s prison. She fails to highlight the women who really are at risk in all this, as if trans women’s lives don’t actually matter in the same way. She also fails to highlight that those women are likely to be in danger in women’s prisons too, if we continue to stigmatise and doubt their existence.

Then, apparently thinking it will clinch her argument, Ditum cites a case of a trans inmate having sex with other inmates. Not rape, let’s be clear, but sex. Because apparently sex doesn’t happen in prisons when there are no trans women around. It takes the presence of a penis and testicles (yes, of course Ditum has to mention these) for sex to happen. And note the wording – the trans woman had sex with the other inmates, no possibility that, excited by the appearance of a penis in their midst, they might have been the ones “having sex with” her. Because cis women are always passive?

Don’t let all this essentialism slide – who people are and in what way they can move through society is being brought entirely down to the shape of their genitals. Note how, in all her discourse, Ditum is actually pushing trans women back towards a medicalised model where they will have to have “full surgery” to be tolerated. She is pushing us away from people being able to live as Alex Drummond lives.

11. Trans feminists aren’t proper feminists

“Julia Serano, who insists on a definition of feminism that contains no reference to patriarchy”

Ditum grossly misrepresents Serano’s work. I would recommend reading Whipping Girl and Excluded, but here’s a blog about this, where, funnily enough, Serano mentions the reality of patriarchy, as she often does:

“In Excluded, I describe these “gender systems” – whether it be patriarchy, the gender binary, and so on – as being models that provide a fairly decent approximation of how sexism and marginalization function in our culture. However, like all models, they are necessarily incomplete, and there will always be instances where they do not accurately describe the world.”

Why would Ditum be so dismissive of the nuanced and thought-provoking (although not always perfect) work of a noted transfeminist? Isn’t this a balanced article that’s supposed to be looking at all sides of the issue?

12. Save us from this false ideology!

“There is a real danger that an unproven theory of innate gender identity is now directing treatments”

Again, where is the evidence? Treatments are outcomes-based, not theory based – doctors try to alleviate suffering, and continue doing what works best until a better solution is found. Despite quoting again that one discredited Swedish study, we know treatment outcomes for trans people are really positive.

The answer to the philosophical question of “who are we, really, when you get right down to it?” is not necessary to know that gender reassignment works for those who want it, saves lives, and saves the NHS a fortune in mental health services that will never resolve the issue.

Whoever we are deep down, being allowed the freedom to live in a way that resolves our sense of incongruence is good for us. And actually, what’s good for the individual is generally good for the people around that individual too. Allowing trans people to be happy and healthy is a win-win.

Also note Ditum mentions that one Swedish study and fails to mention the many many more recent ones – so much for balance. There’s a handful of papers on my professional web page to get you started. Hey, that one old, unreplicated study has done an awful lot of heavy lifting for gender critical feminists, it must be tired by now.

Conclusion: Not critical enough

Despite the length of the article, I think I’ve demonstrated Ditum’s cherry picking of information prevents this from being a genuinely critical look at the full story.

But for me, the biggest issue here is the way Ditum’s argument reinforces gender.

Gender is a social construct, this is rightly a tenet of feminist belief. Gender is the word we use for everything man-made about the differences between men and women. I use “man-made”advisedly, because nobody here is arguing that patriarchy is not a real thing. As I have argued before, though, this inevitably means sex as a man-made social class and legal status is actually a part of gender.

Cue my favourite training slide:

not biology

So, in trying to reinforce the legal segregation of gender, upon which all social construction of gender is built, Ditum is in fact propping up the very thing she claims to want to dismantle. She has argued (on BBC Newsnight, earlier in the year) that sex needs to be legally recorded for women’s protection.

Let’s put that to the test in the usual way: “In order to ensure you as a gay citizen are protected, we need to legally record your status as a homosexual on all your documentation.”

No way that could go wrong, is there?

So, here is a possibility Ditum never discussed. Women and men are not that fundamentally different, although there are all sorts of complex nuances to our neurological, chromosomal, hormonal, and social experiences that create variety in how we are embodied and how we experience and interact with the culture around us.

That culture is oppressive in a number of ways – it favours heterosexuality, masculinity, men, and the idea of oppositional sex, as Serano terms it (as well as whiteness, able-bodiedness, neurotypicality, etc).

Gender segregation, in the form of legal and social sex (really gender) assignment at birth, is one way in which the culture is oppressive. This legal and social process oppresses gay people, women and trans people. Trans people are fighting to exist comfortably within this oppressive system, but many of us are also fighting to change it.

Ditum, let’s be clear, is fighting to preserve it.

Post-script- added 20/5/16

Given how hastily I wrote this, in just one afternoon, I am overwhelmed by the messages of support it has had. The only response I had from Ditum herself is as follows:

ditum

A friend pointed out this is a fine example of “dead cat politics“.

Of course that is not what I am saying! I am saying, however, that gender segregated toilets are not a feminist invention, and not necessarily in the interests of feminism, but that reaction to fear of men and rape, legitimate as that is, can sometimes lead to decisions to back gender-enshrining legislation that isn’t ultimately in women’s interests.

So, some folks then brought up the risk to women from lack of appropriate sanitation facilities in India and Africa. White women appropriating the experiences of women of colour to further their own agenda? Surely not. So let’s get this clear:

We do not have to have gender segregation enshrined in law to make safe provisions for diverse people in diverse situations. There are times, of course, when people are getting naked and need appropriate privacy, and it’s important to provide them with that. Women’s safety and children’s safety are absolutely important. This safety and privacy is generally achieved by providing a door with a lock on it, along with other reasonable security measures like safe external access. I think you’ll find most UK toilets and most new changing facilities afford this safety and privacy, and women everywhere have a right to demand this. Desegregated does not mean not risk assessed.

If facilities are not safe for everyone to use, we should probably stop letting our boy children use toilets. And women should probably start worrying about the 64,000 registered women sex offenders who are permitted to use all these facilities.

Yes, Deliberate Misgendering is Transphobia

“Is deliberate misgendering transphobic?”

This very debate is happening in spaces trans people are often not safe to access, because of, well, because of misgendering. Allies who jump in and assert that misgendering is transphobic get told they cannot speak for trans people, and often it’s hard for us to find our own voice in such environments. So, I decided to do a quick poll to check out what my community actually think of this, and surprise surprise, the vast majority of trans people who responded (94%) believed deliberate misgendering really is transphobic.

First, let’s be clear what we are talking about.

Deliberate misgendering is when people say that trans women are really men (and vice versa), or use male pronouns or old names to speak to or about them when their actual identity is known.

A good description of its impact can be read here.

As an aside, the dismissal of concerns about transphobia is often accompanied by the privileging of male-stereotypical traits. The trans community are urged to be “less sensitive”, or not to be so “weak and feeble”. This is part of a patriarchal anti-vulnerability narrative that we have all become far too indoctrinated with. If we tend to be emotional, sensitive, easily hurt, or vulnerable, there is, apparently no room for us in an activist sphere that was designed for people with thick skins (ironically, a physical trait that is linked to higher testosterone levels). When we say we are not safe in spaces where we are being continually misgendered, we are mocked and jeered at, or our concerns are simply dismissed.

Let’s face it, all suggestions that the trans community “toughen up” over the issue of misgendering are thinly veiled orders for us to “man up”.

The Poll

I polled 2 non-political Facebook groups for UK trans people. The following table makes it clear what a general transgender population thinks of deliberate misgendering:

Q: Is deliberately misgendering someone transphobia, yes or no? 68 Trans people responded to the poll Yes 94% Not always 6% No 0% Other words used: violent, aggressive, abusive, deliberately hurtful. feministchallengingtransphobia.wordpress.com

The “not always” category belonged to people who could see exceptional circumstances where it wouldn’t be transphobia; for instance where a trans man is called a “girl” in a teasing way, that’s simply sexism, and where friends and family are struggling with the change, it may not always be strictly transphobia at work. Also, when you are misgendering someone at their request and for their safety so as not to out them. However, the overwhelming feeling was clear: Misgendering is transphobia.

Which leads to the other important point made by more than one respondent – that it is not for people outside our community to decide what is and is not oppressive to people within our community, any more than it is for white people to decide what is and is not racist.

One defender of misgendering said it did not bother her so why should it bother trans people? This reminds me of a white teenage girl I once knew who told me there was nothing wrong with the N word; her friends called her it all the time and it did not upset her one little bit!

Misgendering is transphobia, end of story. When you engage in deliberate misgendering, you do so to undermine us; to make our social position less tenable; to cast doubt on our own words and explanations of ourselves; to privilege your explanation and categorisation of us; to expose us as “fraudulent” or “fake”; and frequently to infantilise, mock and belittle us. You also put us at higher risk of violence and lower access to social support and services by calling our identities into question, and this could substantially affect our wellbeing in multiple ways.

Of course misgendering is transphobic. Of course, as Laverne Cox says, it is an act of violence.

Why we should ignore Julie Bindel’s presence at Nottingham Women’s Conference 2014

The take-home message from last year’s Nottingham Women’s Conference was surely that, if the event were to be repeated, much more effort needed to be made to consult different groups and be open-minded, inclusive and balanced from early on in the planning.

The uncomfortable drama of last year’s conference was triggered by current sex workers not being given a voice in the content related to sex work – this long but excellent blog from local feminist Uncharted Worlds explains further.

When I saw that they had booked Julie Bindel as a speaker for this year’s conference, I realised if lessons had been learned, they were the wrong lessons. I am not qualified to discuss sex work, but I suggest that choosing a speaker with a history of a similar kind of problematic commentary around sex work is rather provocative after the events of last year.

In addition, the booking of Bindel speaks to a systemic issue with the conference that marginalises other groups as well. Bindel has historically been called out for problematic comments about transgender people and bisexuals, and my personal reaction towards hearing her name associated with the conference was, “I will not be safe there”. I know I am not the only person having this reaction. This, of course, is the easiest way to exclude people – not to actually say “you’re not included” but to make the space uncomfortable, a little like making sure the chairs only fit cisgender bottoms.

Transgender people are likely to feel unwelcome because Bindel is “transcritical” – she feels entitled to speak for and about transgender lives, rights and surgery in a disparaging and dismissive manner. To be clear, Bindel apologised for the worst of her comments about transgender people, made in 2004, but to this day she continues to speak against us being given access to medical treatment. This is comparable to a man speaking on the subject of a woman’s right to abortion.

Bindel, as a Guardian columnist, has a strong platform for her views and her “brand”. Intersectional feminism would hold that it is simply unacceptable to use your power to undermine the rights and the voice of one of society’s most vulnerable minorities. It would say that it is for transgender people themselves to work out where they fit in relation to feminism, how to integrate theories about gender inequality and social construction within their lived experience of being transgender, and how to negotiate the power structures of the medical profession and “Big Pharma”.

Trans feminists are aware of all these concerns and are having a vibrant, radical discussion – it is not for others to impose their views from a position of superiority (and often surprising ignorance), nor to ensure that their negative opinions are heard above those of transitioning people themselves.

Bindel, in an interview with Paris Lees in 2013, identifies herself as fitting the description of a transgender person, presumably as a means of avoiding the accusation of cis privilege. However, cis and trans are not binaries but a continuum; just as South American people may experience racism but should not speak for African people, gender non-conforming people who are comfortable with their birth sex assignment do not have the same experiences as many other transgender people and cannot speak for them.

Bindel will talk at the conference of her experience of being “no platformed”. Although we have been assured she will not speak about trans people, calls for her to not be given a platform at certain events were connected to her transcritical views. It is hard to see how Bindel will not seek to convince listeners, as she does in the above interview, that she is being “silenced” by transgender people – that is, that she is the victim and they are the threat. The perception of transgender people as a threat could, of course, lead to further oppression and marginalisation. It is an easy way to hold back a civil rights movement; to constantly highlight the worst behaviour of some activists.

It is important to highlight the economic, institutional and academic power of folks like Julie Bindel, Sheila Jeffreys, Germaine Greer, Janice Raymond, Julie Birchill and other transcritical feminists. Whilst women’s rights have a very long way to go, we should not be blind to the fact these individuals are now inside the system (or cis-tem, if you like) and have a certain amount of institutional power. As such, I think it is for these individuals to reflect more on how they silence other voices than on how they are silenced.

There will inevitably be a twitter storm over this. A lot of frustrated, marginalised people are likely to get angry and some may say things they regret. Somebody, somewhere may well say “f*** off and die” or something similarly unhelpful in a heated moment and then it will go down in cistory that transgender people (all of us) make credible, violent death threats and cannot be trusted.

All this drama is so predictable it’s almost as if it is being orchestrated. It looks like shock doctrine; a way of stirring people up and manipulating them in order to gain power and control. The controversy will no doubt sell plenty of tickets, but please remember that it is as fabricated as the “War on Terror”.

Meanwhile, folks like myself are genuinely triggered into a trauma response, because every time stuff like this happens, trans people get more marginalised within feminism, and our social support, the thing that is intimately connected to our mental wellbeing, lessens. I personally would rather devote my time and energy into dismantling patriarchy than feel sick with worry about whether it’s ever going to be safe for people like me in feminist spaces in Nottingham.

I need to be allowed to speak up and say I don’t feel safe in any space that allows a platform for transcriticism or notorious transcritics. I have stated my reasons for this previously. These imperious and damaging ideas have enough of a platform – I cannot go online without stumbling into them. Ignoring and sidelining the views of powerful people with Guardian columns is not “silencing” anyone, it is redressing a massive power imbalance.

That being said I am not going to engage in campaigning against Bindel’s invitation. Partly because it is too traumatising, but also because it would appear to be exactly what is being invited, and I do not want to serve an agenda that seeks to marginalise trans people even further.

I urge the intersectional feminist community and all elements within it to ignore this provocation – a lot to ask, I know, but please don’t feed this monster.

What I am interested in doing is getting together with other (non-transcritical) feminists in Nottingham and discussing how we can make Nottingham’s feminist spaces safer for transgender people. A meeting, led by Nottingham’s Intersectional Feminism group, will be happening in October. Contact me if you’re interested (go to the “about” section of this blog), and let’s build a more collaborative future built on consciousness raising and self-reflection. There’s work to be done here, but it isn’t going to happen on Twitter.

Yes, words can traumatise

A trans woman I admire recently withdrew from activism due to a diagnosis of PTSD, caused by the way she had been treated by a combination of right wing and “feminist” anti-trans campaigners. This has shaken me, because I know that on a lesser level I, too, have shown some signs of trauma from my (somewhat meagre) work standing up against “transcriticism” or “gender criticism”.

I am left wondering what I need to do to keep myself safe, without abdicating my social responsibility to care about the safety of others, particularly trans women.

I’m under no illusion, I don’t get anything like the shit trans women get. I have been committed to challenging “transcriticism” in feminist circles because it so materially affects the wellbeing and safety of transwomen when they are denied the social support and services they desperately need because they are not recognised as women. But it affects me too, when a group of people apparently committed to social justice dedicate so much of their time to undermining the very idea of being transgender.

Before Christmas, things got so bad I was having anxiety attacks and losing sleep. I started the New Year with physical health problems that were clearly a bodily response to stress. Whenever I saw the seemingly ubiquitous name of a local, prolific “gender critical” campaigner I had palpitations, and not in a good way. I had to make socially isolating decisions in order to avoid encountering her or seeing her name. I went to pieces every time her name came up.

It was disturbing me so much, I realise, because I have not come to any fixed conclusions about what, if anything, to do about my own gender dysphoria, and I do not want the prejudice of others to be what ultimately controls my choices. There is a “TERF” in my head that has internalised the hateful things I have heard – gay people are more important and more authentic and more socially and morally ideal than transgender people. I feel stifled by this all too ubiquitous narrative. 

“Nothing about us without us” is a really good rule of thumb in any activism, but it is an idea sadly not given any space when it comes to discussions about transgender people. People who are not transgender feel strongly entitled to their opinions and authority on trans lives.

The more clear my own transgender status becomes to me, the more distressing I find the extent of anti-trans or “transcritical” speech. But I know even when I identified as cisgender, I sometimes shied away from challenging transphobia in my community after genuine experiences of being ostracised for speaking my mind. The topic is so loaded with hurt and pain that simply raising it is felt as a betrayal by cisgender women who, even if they don’t agree with trans exclusion, would rather not live through another intractable and painful debate on the subject.

A recent and particularly distressing experience in a feminist group confirmed this for me – I was cast as the bad guy for posting a petition against trans hate that initiated “the most unfriendly debate we’ve ever seen in this group”. My perception was that the unfriendliness arrived in the form of “gender critical” campaigners, but I suspect most people were happy to take at face value the notion I was simply being uppity, without being prepared to do their own research or even read the petition.

It makes a cold kind of sense to preserve community cohesion by allowing those generally not present to be scapegoated. The feminist community rarely witnesses the devastating effects on transgender people of this oppressive, undermining rhetoric, led by people who are not trans, about whether or not being trans is a real and valid thing or simply something to be mocked, derided and campaigned against. The dialogue is particularly unbalanced because some “feminists” dedicate the majority of their campaigning to this single issue. If anyone highlights the huge distress this causes transgender people, words like “feeble”, “manipulative” or “over-emotional” are thrown back – this is to be a coldly academic discussion about how our self-experience is incorrect. 

But who but ourselves can judge the authenticity of our experience? Are we really saying the best way to discover yourself is to listen carefully to others and ignore the stirring of your own heart? Do we want to live in an authoritarian, hierarchical system, or do we want to give people the opportunity to self-actualise? The trans community have enough wisdom, grace, intuition, academic knowledge, feminism, spiritual connection, difference and disagreement to figure ourselves out without needing the input of people who simply are not close enough to our experience to understand it.

My New Year’s resolution is to avoid the emotional damage I am doing to myself by entering spaces on or offline where “transcriticism” is seen as acceptable, even if this does somewhat curtail my social and feminist involvement. I won’t engage with this toxic dialogue any longer, and I have enough self-understanding now, to see this ignorant prejudice for what it is, whilst acknowledging that it single-handedly kept me silent about my own gender issues for nearly a decade.

I urge any feminists out there who wish to be non-oppressive to consider ensuring balanced research and ample, empowered trans representation before accepting or engaging in any kind of debate or conversation that concerns transgender people. Our words are all too capable of creating an oppressive environment and thwarting or silencing people’s self-discovery, leaving them marginalised and traumatised.

Fighting to keep my empathy

I spend a lot of time mulling over how best to respond to the hate of a particular, very stuck and insular branch of “radical feminism” that focuses the majority of its activism on undermining trans* folk. Recent skirmishes have thrown me off course – pulled me into the mire of someone else’s debate, someone else’s agenda. I need to re-focus on what I stand for – not just what I stand against. My brand of feminism provides alternatives to the oppressive power structures that we currently endure – it is radically relational, radically empathic, fundamentally anarchic.

I’ve felt hurt and afraid and angry, and I have not wanted to be premature in making a response to what I’ve recently experienced. I am still processing a lot of things and I’m still, overwhelmingly, sad that this institutional cissexism that goes by the name of “transcriticism” has taken a hold in places that should be safe, anti-oppressive spaces. I’m finding myself losing my empathy, and it troubles me.

My feminism is based on a relational ethic and I strive to build a relationship with my reader through this blog, by sharing both personal and theoretical ideas. It is a conscious, ethical choice not to be sensational, abstract, overly theoretical or antagonistic. I know that you cannot really change minds by using such instrumental (and patriarchal) techniques, you can only control minds. I also know that whatever minority we may belong to, our words have power; if we have an audience on the internet and are articulate enough to communicate with that audience that is a privilege and we have a responsibility not to abuse that privilege. If we are using our words to control rather than connect to people, well, whoever we are we are instruments of the patriarchy.

I’m being careful with my words, now, because I know the depth of my anger and hurt could make me desire to try and take control of the discourse, and that would go against everything I believe. But this feeling gives me insight into where oppressions starts – how it is almost always rooted in fear.

Before I came out as trans*, I spent a lot of time in radical feminist spaces, including, I am ashamed to say, ones that excluded transwomen. When in those spaces, I and other cis feminists, tried to overturn offensive “women born women only” policies. In all of those spaces, the individuals who wanted to exclude transwomen were actually a clear minority, but somehow their views still dominated the discourse. I believe this is partly because of the misleading belief that to be considered sufficiently radical, you have to embrace “transcriticism”, and so dissenters were seen as not radical enough, or not feminist enough, and were therefore marginalised.

The “transcritical” debate has currency because it is fear-based, it catches in a little bit of dry kindling and it spreads quickly with just one fabricated story of somebody once having heard about somebody else seeing a trans woman who did a bad thing one time. It is dangerously tempting to all humans who feel oppressed and marginalised to go down that route.

I can feel my history of trauma, my bubbling resentment, my hurt, my anger and underneath it all my fear making me want to lash right back at these people who are threatening ME and my existence and wellbeing. So tempting. And don’t get me wrong, I think anger has it’s place, anger is important. But anger without empathy? Where does that take us?

It’s a struggle to stay connected. It’s a struggle not to “other” some group of people or another. Learning that those sinister places exist just as strongly in myself is what keeps me connected.

Opposing “transcriticism”

This is an abridged version of a post I made here

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.”

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.

I will outline why “transcriticism” is an inherently oppressive system of thought that feminism should ethically oppose, but first . . .

How do we categorise human beings?

  • Categorising humans according to reproductive organs or chromosomes, 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: “Biology is not destiny”.
  • People identified as women experience oppression, including rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence, reproductive control and the demeaning, objectification and sexualising of what are perceived as “feminine” qualities and presentation.
  • Some of these oppressions are shared by transgender women, and some are not, but overall transgender women’s experiences intersect significantly with cisgender women’s issues 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”.
  • Cis women and trans men have the right 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

Feminism needs to challenge the sense of entitlement cisgender people feel to create a social order that does not fit the experiences or needs of transgender or intersex people. Other cultures throughout history have been able to acknowledge what we call transgender people, 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

Too many cis feminists stand by and watch this 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”. Learn the following phrase:

“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.”