(Trigger Warning: If you find yourself triggered by blatant transphobia, transmisogyny and un/misgendering it’s best to leave this post, for today.)
Generally speaking whenever one comes across flagrant transphobia, particularly of the hopelessly cliched variety, it’s best to not waste your time deconstructing it. It’s just another way we, and other people who constantly have to bat away a barrage of clichéd bullshit, are oppressed and held back- compelled to waste our time justifying ourselves and giving 101 lessons to people who probably won’t care to come within a hundred miles of “Getting It”™. But occasionally it serves a useful purpose, and this is one of those times. Our post comes to us from the mystical world of Men’s Rights Activism, a sort of bizarro world where men are oppressed and live under a Matriarchy where women have all the privileges. It’s kind of like the Underdark. That’s the short, brutally unfair summary.
As you will see, however, the bizarro world nature of it all takes stranger turns that surprised even me.
Generally speaking, men face gendered problems in society and some iniquities. The Men’s Rights movement, however, has faithfully copied the feminism it so loathes by ensuring that it’s chiefly the Straight White Cis Able Men’s Rights Movement, thus conveniently ignoring a broad swathe of male social problems. It began as a movement of white, middle to upper class men (ostensibly representing men who had been punted into the lower classes due to onerous alimony payments) and largely remains so. Unlike feminism which, despite its routine and ceaselessly maddening failures, at least is now in the process of trying to fix that, MR remains blissfully oblivious.
One of their more important sites, Spearhead, is a reminder of why this is. Unlike feminism which has adopted many core left wing values, Men’s Rights activism comes largely from the right, complete with its disdain for respect and any notion of dignity (often expressed through very overdone whining about political correctness, as you will see here). Spearhead’s manifesto contains this little gem, in case you missed the point that this site wasn’t for sissy nanny boo boo lefties:
“But “movement” might be the wrong term, because in our contrived and artificial society the meaning of that word has come to be associated with dilettante radicals with bullhorns and giant puppets making appeals on behalf of sea turtles or some other exotic cause. … Rather than engaging in status displays of conspicuous righteousness, we are raising our voices in defense of ourselves, our families and our fellow men, which is a far more ennobling thing to do than raiding weasel farms or getting involved in intertribal disputes halfway around the world.”
Catch both the dig at PETA (fine) and the casual racism? Okay, okay; I don’t need to break this down too much. This merely sets the stage for the grand opus of fail that is to follow. It is to failure what La Boheme is to opera. And thus, the curtain rises on this article written by one Jack Donovan…
“On November 29, 2009 Los Angeles Times sportswriter Mike Penner died of an apparent suicide. In 2007 he announced that he was a transsexual and began writing as Christine Daniels. In October 2008 he returned to work dressed in male clothing and began writing as Mike Penner again.”
We see where this is going, isn’t it? We’re in the car and suddenly you see Failtown looming in the distance, through the parted fog, like an even more menacing Racoon City. But no, this is going to far more magical places than just Failtown, my friends.
“The point of this essay is not to speak ill of the dead.”
No, the point of this essay is to utterly trash the dead and savage the living.
“It is to draw attention to yet another way that feminism and cultural Marxism are doing harm to men.”
Do you see the mystical and magical place we’re going yet? I’ll give you a hint, remember that Men’s Rights is Bizarro World radical feminism.
“The incident seemed particularly timely to me because this past weekend I helped some young men move out of a crazy transsexual’s home where they were renting rooms. This former construction worker was open about the fact that he was taking black market hormones, and his behavior was extremely erratic.”
While one could argue that it’s entirely possible he’s talking about a trans man, the tone he takes here and elsewhere in the article makes it patently clear that he’s wilfully misgendering here. So, let’s be clear. Cis man starts going on about a “crazy transsexual” who’s on “black market hormones” and… what else?
“He had a history of suicide attempts. He owned several guns, and had made a plea to someone in the house to hold his ammunition—because “he couldn’t trust himself.” “
I see, that sounds like a terrible situation, Mister Donovan, assuming you’re being entirely faithful in your recounting of the story. But surely, as you are quick to say about the cis white men you care so deeply for, one individual does not define an entire people yes?
“This was no surprise to me. I associated with a wide range of pre and post-op transsexuals when I worked in New York City and San Francisco nightclubs in the 1990s. As with all things there were exceptions, but generally drag queens, trannies and transsexuals in all stages of transition were not well. They were often addicted to drugs, had been diagnosed with mental disorders or chemical imbalances, and many had at one point routinely engaged in prostitution. The erratic, emotionally unstable, borderline schizophrenic behavior my friends described to me was almost exactly what I had experienced myself in the past.”
Well I guess we are going there. So, let’s pick this apart. In this paragraph he’s basically admitting that he’s stereotyping, that he took a biased sample of trans people by looking only in nightclubs, he actually called them trannies in an article that is supposed to be professional, and engages in a bit of ableism by stigmatising people who are not neurotypical and further implying that transsexualism is such a mental disorder or evidence of others.
I was going to do this thing with the article where I had a running tally of fail but I knew that if I kept up with it I’d just have to put in a .gif of a counter spinning wildly out of control at the end of the piece.
Like many cis people who regard the trans people that work in such places they assume that their “crazy” desire to “change sex” is what’s causing all of their ‘problems’ when in reality the locus of all of these issues lies in the oppression that society imposes on all trans people. Many trans people end up doing sex work precisely because no one else will hire them, and their families have disowned them. This is tragically, depressingly common.
Do I even have to point out how such could very easily lead to depression and quite a few other unpleasant things?
But hey, maybe I’m wrong. You had something else you wanted to add, Mr. Donovan?
“A guy I knew a year ago was dating a pageant-winning local drag queen who had to be committed.”
Oh, see? It’s okay. He knows a guy. A guy who, like, totally dated a drag queen. Because drag queens=transsexuals=all trans people=transgender=genderqueer=whatever the fuck his cis privilege needs the term to mean. Inasmuch as he can’t even tell the difference between any of those groups, and that he fell for the utterly basic fallacy of assuming that drag queens are representative of the entire trans community and are all transsexual women, it just shows he has no place writing anything like this.
‘See? Trans people commit suicide lots! Just like Christine Daniels! That’s proof they’re troubled. Now watch this really sweet transphobia I’m going to crap out guys, it’s gonna be killer.’
“To be clear, I am not discussing female-to-male(FTM) transsexuals, but only male-to-female(MTF) transsexuals. Female transsexuality is a different ballgame; it seems to be almost entirely a feminist tom-boy fantasy and it is difficult to separate from feminist politics.”
Golly, these guys just love themselves some trans women don’t they? Why is it that trans men tend to always be pushed to the wayside and dimly regarded when a cis person who hasn’t done a lick of reading about trans experience and gender issues wants to start writing their theories all over us in crayon?
Rest assured though, trans men, Mr. Donovan has your number:
“At some point I will write something titled “Chaz Bono is Still a Fat Chick,” but today is not that day.”
‘Today is not the noble day on which I bravely write something that I saw scrawled in the men’s toilet stalls earlier.’
Still with me? We’re just getting warmed up here.
“I have met a few convincing post-op transsexuals. Some of them were Pilipino ladyboys who started hormones early; some were simply “pretty” boys who were naturally delicate and soft-featured.”
Again, this fills up a bingo card by itself. Aside from the flagrant transmisogyny that comes with judging by appearance, he also uses the term ‘convincing’ in that snide way that deftly implies deceit. Don’t believe me?
“They lived as women and bedded straight men (watch out fellas). As passable women they were also highly promiscuous. I knew of at least one who married a guy who paid for the expensive transition, and then dumped him later. It is worth noting, too, that many of these individuals occasionally engage in deceptive behavior, “hiding” their birth sex from potential sexual partners. It’s not just a comedy cliché. It happens, and it’s ethically reprehensible.”
‘Watch out fellas’? I can’t even make a joke about this, this is just evil. He’s actually trying to cultivate trans panic, a defence which has seen cis men get off murder charges when they just couldn’t control their murderous impulses after discovering someone they slept with was trans. (This is a running theme in Men’s Rights, by the way: they will say cis men are totally wicked awesome, but sex and murder are like their kryptonite; cis men just can’t help themselves and suddenly become a mere twitching lump of evo psych! Men’s Rights: Empowering men.)
Earlier I said that he was ‘deftly implying’ deceit, well now he just comes right out and says it. We’re deceivers, luring poor innocent cis men into paying for ‘sex change operations’ so that we can conquer the world with our newfound hoo has. It’s just another way women are trying to defraud men! (Money is a huge concern in the Men’s Rights movement. All women are gold diggers trying to get men to pay for all their girly shit, that kind of thing.)
“The majority of MTFs, however, are not even remotely convincing as women. Like Penner (as far as I can tell from this photo), many of the trannies I’ve known and seen have been rather tall men.”
A quick note here to Andrea James, Lynn Conway and all other trans people who use the MTF/FTM thing: this is why you should drop it. Look at who is using it. Trans man/trans woman works and doesn’t mislead people into thinking you’re essentially a certain sex or gender. That, however, suits Donovan’s purposes just fine. Consider that a man who hates us and even calls us “trannies” in an article that had to pass editorial review finds “MTF” an acceptable and ‘useful’ term.
It’s time for us to put it to bed.
Also, this quote highlights Donovan’s commitment to not speaking ill of the dead wherein he rubs his arse on Christine Daniels/Mike Penner’s grave and asks the audience to help him objectify hir. Stay classy, Spearhead.
“At 6 foot 6, my pal’s landlord was only ever going to pass while sitting down in the corner of a very dark bar. A lot of them you can easily pick out a block away.”
Let’s not delve too deeply into several inconvenient facts (that there are plenty of cis women over 6 feet tall, that lots of models who comprise a cis beauty ideal are over six feet tall, and that lots of trans women over that height still gain conditional cissexual privilege) for a moment and examine a fundamental truth:
A cissexist will not know someone is trans if they aren’t visibly gender variant in any capacity. Ergo, for all he knows, he could be surrounded by us. He’s premising the entire article on a few trans people he’s met in nightclubs. Aside from dehumanising them when they are among the most heavily marginalised and vulnerable people in the United States right now, he’s made a simple and idiotic mistake of presuming this is a representative sample of all trans people. But at any rate, his cissexism isn’t remotely connected to the struggles faced by the trans people he encountered in NY and SF, nope; they’re just “crazy.”
“While I’ll assume that some FTMs end up passing as women and live long, happy lives, I have a hard time believing they represent a majority of the males who identify as transsexual and undergo some sort of gender transformation.”
‘because this is, like, so totally inconvenient to my argument, man.’
The misgendering is so common that I really can’t keep pointing it out or I’ll double the length of what promises to be an already ponderous article.
“Why does our federal government now recognize it by giving these men special protected status with the new “hate crimes” law?”
That he puts hate crimes in quotes not long after drumming up trans panic and encouraging his (almost exclusively cis male) readership to actively fear us shows again how far out of touch he is. Having heard cis men grant utterance to this “nightmare” they have, seeing it played for laughs on the insistently unfunny Letterman Show, and having had to have a MRA tell me that “transgenders” actually “rape [cis] men” and that he’d “fucking kill” any woman he slept with that didn’t turn out to be cis… forgive me if I’m extremely and passionately unsympathetic to the following bit of clichéd conservative whining:
“Why isn’t this considered child abuse? How long will it be before even asking these questions will be considered illegal “hate speech?” “
‘Because, hey, guys what’s hateful about making you all paranoid about trans women and calling them names that they’re usually called when someone is trying to kill them? Effin liberals and feminists, spoiling our fun, right?’
“Why, in some communities, are very confused young boys being encouraged to identify as girls—virtually ensuring that they’ll spend the rest of their lives in therapy, that they’ll never feel normal or comfortable in their own skins?”
‘I mean, heaven knows, I’m never going to let them feel normal or comfortable. And remember guys, watch out! They’re crazy and might fool you! With their black market hormones!’ *spooky fingers*
Let’s just leave aside the fact that ‘feeling normal and being comfortable in their own skin’ (something I feel every day since I came out) is not his fucking call to make.
“The only thing that “proves” any theory of transsexuality is a feeling expressed by transsexuals that they were born “the wrong sex.” The available physical evidence strongly suggests that they were born male, and that they only thing wrong with them is in their heads.”
‘The available physical evidence I just pulled out of this Cheetohs bag, that is! Mmm… crunchy.’
A trip to the blog of Zoe Brain, who earns her surname with everything she writes, and who valiantly stood alone against Sauron’s Hordes in the comment section would be instructive in considering why that paragraph is ten kinds of wrong. The neurological and biological evidence and research that she has catalogued and ably summarises everywhere she can is ample enough proof of the utter falsehood of this statement.
But beyond that, it is not his entitlement to have any sort of biological proof that I exist. I do. The depression, self-loathing, and suicidal tragedies he’s shamlessly appropriated for his agenda are the direct result of hatred like his, not anything intrinsic to being trans.
“The idea that they were born “the wrong sex” is impossible to even contemplate without wandering into metaphysical territory”
‘And that is too adult a matter for the readers of this blog so I will not make your tiny heads explode. MEN RAWK!’
“If a man takes hormones to look more like a woman, or a woman takes hormones to look more like a man, we accept it and legally recognize the switch. If a man takes hormones to enhance his own natural masculinity, we call it immoral and we’ve made it illegal. We call him a cheater and threaten to put an asterisk beside his name.”
I actually howled at this. The way he’s worded it makes it sound like some kind of national tragedy that we discriminate against super rich cis male athletes who’ve doped up on steroids. Pity the millionaire men, but heap your scorn upon those uppity and crazy trannies!
He might as well compare this to the cis women who go on HRT for various medical reasons to boot. But of course it makes sense to him to be this flagrantly disingenuous when he thinks that this is all “in our heads.”
I’m not even going to bother quoting the “this is like amputation fetishism!” cliché. That’s just old and stale. This is new and exciting. Let us open the gates to Failtopia, cue the chorus!
“It all fits too easily into the feminist/Marxist desire to subvert the patriarchy, to craft a society where sex is meaningless and distinct roles of men and women are a thing of the past. This sort of encouragement of those who, despite questionable mental health and the lack of a real understanding of the problem of transsexuality itself, want to change genders muddies the waters of public perception. Among transsexual writers—these people who are so obsessed with gender and being something different—the questioning of gender and the attack of traditional gender roles, especially traditional patriarchal roles for men, reaches a fevered pitch. The transgendered are most often on the far left of the radical left. In their world, only when gender is meaningless and every variant on a continuum between male and female are accepted wholeheartedly and without reservation—only when being a man means absolutely nothing—can men and women truly be equal.”
I present to you my new title: Spy of the Matriarchy!
Thank you so much Mr. Donovan, I’ve been grinding that achievement forever. I have to say, after so much time feeling threatened by the Janice Raymond school of radical feminist theory, this is almost hilariously refreshing. Apparently I am now a feminist conspiracy. Take note, m Andrea! They’re onto us!
I could milk this for the sake of more bad humour but what it boils down to is this: Trans people of all identities are all things to all people except who we actually are. For radical feminists we’re a plot by the patriarchy to subvert womanhood and turn us all into Stepford Wives. And now, fresh out of the radical MRA oven: we are a feminist plot to subvert manhood and all gender roles to impose a Marxist paradise on earth.
‘Only when being a man means absolutely nothing’ he says, ignoring the fact that in his own theory’s logic this would mean ‘being a woman’ would mean nothing either.
But who cares about logic when trans women’s bodies are just there waiting for you to write your cockamamie theories on them in permanent black ink? It is simply much too tempting. Nevermind the decades’ long history of hateful antagonism against trans women from feminists, nevermind Mary Daly seeing us as “Frankensteinian” while calling for our deaths and Janice Raymond saying we were an “empire” of infiltrators, or the demands of many rank and file radfems that violence be perpetrated against us. Forget that these ideas influence feminists to this day, like mAndrea, Julie Bindel or the policies of carnivals like Michfest.
Forget all of that because, dagnabbit, Jack Donovan has a theory.
Why let history or reality stop you when you can write all sorts of interesting, self serving narratives on us? For conservatives, traditionalist/extremist religious folk, trans people are a sign of moral corruption and the rot of wanton decadence. For liberals, we are diversity chits to be toted about like iPods and able to furnish them with hipster transgressive identities. The list goes on and on.
We are everything except ourselves.
We are everything but that one thing we are most vociferously insisting we are.
Ignoring the irony of accusing trans people of being obsessed with gender after playing gender studies professor for the last several paragraphs, Donovan goes on to make a bunch of other ludicrous analogies and finishes off with this:
“[Christine Daniels] never could have known what it was like to really, truly be a woman. How could he? He would have always been an imposter, a poseur, a freak.”
Because Mr. Donovan and his ilk would’ve been right there reminding Christine of this every day of hir life. “Don’t do this or I’ll oppress you and blame it on you!” is a very old, very tired sleight of hand. Many trans people do not regret whatever transitions they had to undergo to be themselves. We lament the fact that articles like this still inform the opinions of people who try their damndest to hurt us, legislate against us, and even rape and kill us, yes. We lament that marginalisation. But if he actually cared to listen to what so many of us have to say he’d learn how to thread that apparent contradiction.
For my own part? I’m keenly aware of the hate that I’ve exposed myself to by announcing that I’m trans. It will stalk me until the day I die. But I know my only true chance at happiness came from coming out. Living a lie and “making the best of it” never, ever ends well. One makes the best of a temporary situation that is a waystation on the way to a better situation. Making the best of an ostensibly permanent bad situation is to resign one’s self to oblivion.
Had I not come out and just kept burying this, I know I’d have no chance at happiness.
But what am I saying? I’m only a trans woman who’s actually lived through all of this. What do I know?
Well, I know what this entire article is. The Cis Man’s Burden.
In the wake of Christine Daniels’ tragic suicide I have seen it come up time and time again in comment threads and blog posts, from feminists right around to conservatives. It is the belief that it is the duty of cis people to enlighten us from our deluded ideas of sex and gender and to save us from ourselves. Feminists believe that they can save us from our dreaded ‘reification of the gender binary’ and some sickeningly pitying comments have talked about how we’re poor souls who are simply the hardest-done by the ‘gender binary.’ The more conservative of the bunch, like the estimable Mr. Donovan, believe that we must be saved from politically correct nanny staters and evil psychiatrists who are lying to us and egging us on in ‘delusion.’
It is so often framed as a loving and benign viewpoint that is also used to deflect any accusations of transphobia or cissexism. How can I hate trans people when I want to save them? will rise the refrain.
Let me make this abundantly clear: We are not yours to save.
They cannot fathom the fact that it is their very attitude that leads, in large part, to the ongoing assaults on our community and contributes to our depressingly high suicide rates. If the world insisted that Mr. Donovan was not who he said he was he would lose his mind in short order as well. He merely dismisses our self-knowledge out of privilege and conveniently purports to be able to save us from ourselves, and from the wicked feminists for whom we are both spies and Trojan horses.
We’ve seen this story before. So very many times. The heavy burden that whites must undertake to liberate the noble savages from themselves and their arcane, primitive ways. The heavy burden straight people must bear as they do their level best to cure gays, lesbians and bi people of their perverted predilections. On and on. Even in liberalism these ideas manifest themselves as white and cis guilt- a lengthy topic for another day.
But at the end of the day the only thing I need saving from is cissexism and transphobia, and I learned long ago that the only woman who can do that for me is me.
The Cis Man’s Burden, much like the White Man’s one before it, is built on hatred disguised by a sunny and ennobling dressing. I do not believe any of my readers doubt me on this in regards to Mr. Donovan’s real intentions, as the tells were writ quite large and blatantly in his piece. But should any doubt persist, and if you’re up for some real hate, just read the comments. A few brave trans people peeked in to challenge him and the bigoted commentors. What Donovan says to them is painfully instructive and a reminder of the fact that neither he nor any one who indulges in this Cis Man’s Burden suffers no love for us, not an iota of compassion.
It is merely prettified hate and fear. You do not show compassion for a community by calling for its extinction, and you do not show love with erasure.
But one supposes this is all a matter of girly empathy to, Mr. Donovan and his readers. Luckily for me, and for us all, we have spears of our own.