This post will appear as a crosspost on QT very shortly and was addressed chiefly to its audience, and thus the ‘this space’ term refers to Questioning Transphobia. Otherwise, enjoy!
In looking out at the vast, expansive canon of gender studies literature, and in light of even the most superficial analysis of its myriad failings it is easy to feel dispirited by what it has to offer trans people. It is all too easy to understand the instinct to abandon both queer and gender studies as a privileged exercise in neo-pathology, the postmodern turn of the same ideologies that guided the hegemonic psychiatrists of decades past. One could find yet more examples, of course.
Judith Lorber, someone readers of my blog may remember my past disagreements with, had this to say in 1994 about trans people: “[trans folk do not challenge the gender order because] their goal is to be feminine women and masculine men” (Lorber 1994, 20). Yet again we find the tireless obsession with attributing a politics to identity in the simplest possible terms, yet again we find the clutching of pearls with regard to the innate, literal body politic of trans people. It might perhaps be too obvious to tell Professor Lorber that for all of her elegant theorising about the socially constructed nature of gender she cannot bring herself to describe trans people by their proper pronouns (for example calling Renee Richards “he” and Billy Tipton “she”) nor to belabour the questionable hypocrisy of being unable to break out of the role of arbiter even as she derides the imposition of gender schema upon people.
However, to simply shine more light on the white cis women of gender academia and call them to the carpet for their tacit transphobia does a disservice to the armies of trans folk that have devoted their not inconsiderable intellectual, emotional, and spiritual energy to challenging these things since before I even drew breath.
What follows is another journal entry, as the really bad title might well have clued you in to. This one is a brief analysis of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Needless to say, I loved the book, and equally needless to say I found a means of relating some trans issues to it. The entire thing is nowhere near as deep and comprehensive as I would have liked. There are a multitude of ways to read those 120 pages that comprise Ms. Woolf’s most famous feminist work. For instance I did not get to expound much on my idea that the Internet allows countless people from a variety of backgrounds, including otherwise very marginalised ones, to have a vast and endlessly interesting room of their own. The proliferation of blogs has created innumerable platforms that are both very personal and very public- perhaps transcending the firm dichotomy between them- for people like sex workers, trans folk, radical activists across the various spectra, people with disabilities, the impoverished, and more. It is, certainly, a point I should have dwelled on.
It is a great shame that a feminist blog named after Woolf’s book is a hive of transphobia, but excepting the corrupted allusion that it represents the growth of the Internet and the infinite number of ‘rooms’ it has created has advanced the cause of social justice like no other.
I should also not have to belabour the point of a certain significance that accrues to a simple fact: I’m getting perfect scores on these essays that routinely mention trans people in a positive light, and that routinely critiques (and indeed, more often than not, trashes) our opponents, feminist and otherwise. Where among other professors this might occasion deeply undesirable battles, I find myself supported at every turn by both my professor and others in the department. Comments where my professor expresses mirth at my witty eviscerations of transphobes are more common than not. It is also worth mentioning that the room of my own this blog represents, and the larger salons of our own that websites like Questioning Transphobia embody, are what helped me hone my skills to not only speak in my own voice as a woman who is trans, but to do so well.
With that, I raise my coffee mug to Virginia Woolf and pray that I am doing her proud. She exhorted us, with passion and verve, to write and add our wisdom to the libraries of the world. Goddess knows I’m now trying to do my part.