The Philosopher Queen of the Night: On “Hate Plus'” Oh Eun-a

(Note: This essay contains spoilers for both Analogue: A Hate Story and its sequel Hate Plus; in addition it assumes knowledge of the game and its story.)

"She seems ...well... like one of the most amazing villainesses I've ever encountered."
“She seems …well… like one of the most amazing villainesses I’ve ever encountered.” (Pictured, Oh Eun-a. The one with the cursor on her face is *Hyun-ae).

“I just can’t believe a woman is responsible for all of this!” exclaims *Hyun-ae as you finish reading the most revelatory letter in all of Hate Plus’ archives. Her fury boils over—the regressed patriarchal nightmare that had taken hold on her colony ship, the Mugunghwa, the ninth circle of hell she had awoken into when her stasis pod was shattered by a feckless noble in want of a marriageable daughter, the same man who would steal her voice with steel—all of this was sired by a woman who made of her ideology a terrifying suture to bind the wounds of womanhood.

Oh Eun-a, no less an emancipated woman than the President of Mugunghwa University herself. She was the architect of the neo-Confucian patriarchy that the Mugunghwa degenerated into.

If pressed to name my favourite character in the series, I would—to no one’s greater shock than my own—have to name Oh Eun-a, however. In a game series that is an epistolary tableau of complex and intriguing characters, she manages quite the feat by standing out the most. Oh Eun-a is perhaps most easily described—and effaced—as a mad social scientist. But she is so much more than this sideways twist on a hoary old cliché; indeed, she reveals both the impossibility of womanhood under patriarchy and the terrible burdens of idealistic scholarship. Continue reading

The Gentleman Doth Protest Too Much

Editor/Dungeon-Master’s Note: I sat on this for a while and almost didn’t publish it. Fear of speaking out bedevils most of us who say what is not exactly popular. I thank the women and men in my life for always reminding me that what I have to say has value.

Those of you who have spoken to me at any great length know that I am quite big on the idea that if you scratch a misogynist you will find a transphobe, and vice versa. There is a continuum of prejudice in our society; it’s scarcely a coincidence that Western people who bleat loudly about savage brown men in the Global South who “oppress their women” then turn around and defend egregious sexism in their own countries. But it is always an interesting exercise to find just where the linkages appear. It came to my attention that John Derbyshire, a man who writes for that great pillar of social justice The National Review Online, had this to say about not just the sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain, but the very idea of sexual harassment:

Is there anyone who thinks sexual harassment is a real thing? Is there anyone who doesn’t know it’s all a lawyers’ ramp, like “racial discrimination“? You pay a girl a compliment nowadays, she runs off and gets lawyered up. Is this any way to live?

Kurt Schlichter, who works on these cases, spills the beans in America’s Newspaper of Record this morning.

“When you consider that, more than a decade ago, Herman Cain settled some unspecified sexual-harassment claims, you also need to consider that the only things you need to file a lawsuit are the filing fee and a printer. Facts are optional.”

There has never in the history of the world been a people better mannered and less inclined to insulting acts of prejudice than today’s Americans, yet we’re supposed to believe that the nation is seething with “harassment” and “discrimination,” women being groped in every business office and crosses burning on every lawn. For Heaven’s sake. Aren’t there any grown-ups around?

I might very well ask him the same question; if there’s an adult in the room at NRO, it isn’t Mr. Derbyshire. One scarcely knows where to begin really. An upper class white cisgender hetero man thinks Americans are legendarily disinclined to acts of prejudice? News at 11.

What’s interesting for me, however, is sketching out how ideas this especially odious are not just isolated monads floating in nothingness. According to Lynn Conway:

In his writings, Derbyshire for some reason often returns to an issue that seems to particularly haunt him: the existence of gay males and “effeminate men”. We’ve included examples of his writings on these topics below, in which you can sense the particular and peculiar focus of his horror about homosexuality, namely that some people enjoy “being penetrated”, and his perception of the degradation and humiliation such penetration involves, notwithstanding that “Women expect a certain amount of penetration as coming with the territory of femaleness … ” (J. Derbyshire, The Houston Review, April 25, 2001).

And now, of course, for the coup de grace, a quote from a certain book review Derbyshire wrote for the National Review (courtesy of Andrea James):

Part Three is the book’s most difficult section, because it deals with the rarest and most puzzling aspect of male effeminacy: According to Bailey, less than one man in 12,000 is transsexual, a condition defined simply by “the desire to become a member of the opposite sex,” whether or not that desire has led to actual surgery. The striking finding here is that there are two quite distinct types of men who wish they were women, distinguished by the choice of erotic object. On the one hand there are “homosexual transsexuals,” who desire masculine men—heterosexual men, for preference—and who dress and behave like women to attract them. And then there is the “autogynephilic transsexual,” a man whose erotic attention is fixed on the idea of himself as a woman.

The strangeness of this latter type is captured nicely in the title of Bailey’s chapter on them: “Men Trapped in Men’s Bodies.” An autogynephile is essentially a heterosexual man whose object of desire is an imaginary feminine creature which happens to be himself… or herself, depending on how you look at it. Such a person was usually not effeminate as a child, has likely been married, and does not show typically homosexual preferences in career or entertainment choices. The historian and travel writer Jan (formerly James) Morris, to judge from her autobiographical book Conundrum, belongs to this category. The consummation of sexual desire presents obvious difficulties for the autogynephile. Indeed, it is occasionally fatal: Around 100 American men die every year from “autoerotic asphyxia,” which seems to arise from a conjunction of masochism and autogynephilia—the two conditions are related in some way not well understood.

All of these types—girlish boys, male homosexuals, transsexuals of both types—are of course human beings, who, like the rest of us, must play the best game they can with the cards Nature has dealt them. No decent person would wish to inflict on them any more unhappiness than their mismatched bodies and psyches have already burdened them with. At the same time, there is circumstantial evidence that complete acceptance and equality for all sexual orientations may have antisocial consequences, so that the obloquy aimed at sexual variance by every society prior to our own may have had some stronger foundation than mere blind prejudice. Male homosexuality, in particular, seems to possess some quality of being intrinsically subversive when let loose in long-established institutions, especially male dominated ones. The courts of at least two English kings offer support to this thesis, as does the postwar British Secret Service, and more recently the Roman Catholic priesthood. I should like to see some adventurous sociologist research these outward aspects with as much diligence and humanity as Michael Bailey has applied to his study of the inward ones.

Derbyshire, J. “Lost in the Male.” National Review, June 30, 2003. pp. 51-52.

You can go to Andrea James’ webpage on Derbyshire to read her pleasurably scathing response and some other interesting quotes from “the Derb.”

The little games of Six Degrees of Political Separation one can play with patriarchy are very interesting. To recap, John Derbyshire is a man who thinks sexual harassment is the legal equivalent of the tooth fairy, and who is also best mates with J. Michael Bailey whose deeply transmisogynist and unethical ‘research’ The Man Who Would be Queen is a prime example of modern cissexist pseudoscience, is also quite scared of men taking it up the chutney. When one tilts her angle of vision just so, just a few degrees off the horizon of patriarchy, one starts to see all of these things as connected. Derbyshire does not believe these things in isolation from one another, they are part of a fabric, a framework. One notion leads into the other, one idea reinforces the other. This is patriarchy as a belief system.

Who We Really Are

It seems almost obvious to belabour this point and yet I feel it bears repeating; we do not often see recognition of the fact that transphobic cis men are almost always misogynists of some flavour as well (often as not, a fairly strong flavour). There is a powerful connection between the hatred of all women generally and the hatred of trans women specifically. Men like Derbyshire, who at this point I definitely would not trust to be alone in a room with me, in a very broad sense understand what most transphobic men understand: we are women.

That’s a rather paradoxical statement to make, considering that it is almost fundamental to the definition of transphobia that it constitute an unwillingness to recognise a person’s gender. What makes men like Derbyshire transphobic is that they see women like me as “men,” right? Yes and no. We occupy the cultural space we do for a reason. Cis men who laugh off sexual harassment as so much whinging about misconstrued compliments are transmisogynist men as well, and they hate us because we are women. When they talk about crazy women making false accusations they are talking about us as well. They are trying to make our world smaller as well.  The protest of their transphobia, the assault on our gender, the mad rush to undermine us, pathologise us, erase us, or vilify us is, like most masculinist protest, premised on deep seated insecurity. They do interpellate us as women; they just don’t want to.

Transphobic feminists operate on a somewhat different level. For them it is very vital to constantly assert we are men. For your run of the mill, average cis male transphobe, the stakes are different. In a bizarre way, they see what that vocal minority of transphobic feminists do not see: that we are a fundamental threat to how most people in our society understand gender, and that if we are possible, anything might be possible in the realm of gender. It is no longer so comfortably fixed in the immutable essence of finely crafted genes with a thousand millennium pedigree. They cannot help but to see us as women, to see us as occupying that same dangerous, violently contested space that cis women occupy. They cannot help but fight with us to try and keep us there.

Who Are they Trying to Convince?

It seems almost absurd to take an idea to my readership so simple that it forms a bedrock assumption to the epistemology of most regular readers of this space, I’m sure: that trans women are women. But in most mainstream writing on the subject, be it on Huffington Post or The New York Times or O Magazine, that is actually not a proposition that is carried through to its logical conclusions. One of the reasons that I have taken the Herman Cain allegations so seriously, and the aggressive co-opting of anti-racist rhetoric by white conservatives so seriously, is because these things are very much about my experiences and my social location as a woman of colour in this country. Too often we see trans people put into segregated boxes of exoticised and discrete unitary “Experience” that more or less fully elides our lived reality in a given gender.

I have something to say about being a woman, without qualifiers, in America. Many of us do, and many of us do feel as personally attacked as many cis women might when a powerful man tells a major media outlet that women with a grievance should “think twice” before coming forward. Trans women are so hated by cis men in part because we are women. Even as they aggressively insist that we are actually male, be it through hateful words spoken in arguments, debates, or violence and rape, or published work in an academic journal, they are saying that just as much for their benefit if not more. They fixate on us because we are women, and that scares them to death.

Cisgender men tell themselves many rather twisted stories about why we transition, most reading like some pulp horror novel dashed with awkwardly inserted sci-fi elements. Perhaps it’s that we hate men so much that we “castrate” ourselves or that we’re men who drank the wrong estrogen-infested water one day and suddenly wanted to be girls, or perhaps that we were just regular ol’ guys who just woke up one sunny day and decided to transition. However they construct it, it frightens them deeply. It frightens them deeply because we are women. We’d not be much of a threat if we weren’t. There would not be this widespread cis het male moral panic about trans women “deceiving” them into fucking us if we were not women.

Their constant protests that we are men fall into the same realm of that clichéd therapist’s question: “Who are you trying to convince, me or you?” They must cling to that idea that we are men, even as a whirlpool of doubt draws their every thought of us into gendered oblivion.

And in the final analysis it makes sense that a man like Derbyshire, who views trans women as an idle curiosity, fit for colonisation, analysis, and study by a white cis male friend of his, also sees women as endlessly touchable and endlessly lying. The only way the truth can be found is if trustworthy white cis men like J. Michael Bailey cage us and study us. What would we do if we had our druthers on? Why, we might start filing golddigging sexual harassment claims when Mr. Derbyshire is being a perfect gentleman, only seeking to regale us with his thoughts on the deep (and I do mean deep) meaning of penetration ten times after we asked him to stop…

In summation, cisgender men have a profound obsession with trans women, and specifically what we do with our penises. Many cis men wince and get nervous at the thought of a trans woman having SRS, and I ask you to consider the relation between this and Tucker Carlson saying that he involuntarily crosses his legs every time he sees Hillary Clinton on television.

The bedrock truth of the matter is this: transmisogynist cis men hate us because we are strong women… and that scares the living daylights out of them.

In Faith, I do not Know Thee by Thy Name

In my recent article for The Border House I took on a number of the arguments made by a few starry eyed technophiles in favour of ending the practise of online anonymity. This is a significant issue for me that, in its many facets, presents me with the ultimate intersectional landscape on which to grow my ideas about interpersonal politics. In other words, it is very easy to talk about sex, race, power, class, and a range of issues surrounding both individual and group behaviour (group psychology and sociology), identity, and just plain old techno-geekery. It touches on a myriad of issues that are important to me.

What follows is a refinement of what I wrote for The Border House and an expansion of it.

I.- Setting Information Free(?)

It is very much worth mentioning that the central idea behind the anti-anonymity advocate’s vision is the firm belief that the death of anonymity will allow information to flow more freely. The reality, however, is that the end of anonymity means a significant lever of personal control will be wrenched away.

To explain what I mean by this I should go into greater detail about the nature of the information being hotly debated at the moment. Invariably the two pieces of information most prized by the Zuckerbergs and their ideological fellow travellers are, in order of importance: legal names and recent, tasteful photographs. This is what I’ve long referred to as “driver’s licence info” and it is information of a very particular and discrete (if not discreet) type. Driver’s licence information actually has very little to do with your personality and who you are as a person. Such information can, in the case of some, affirm who they are (such as in the case of us trans folk) but even that is only the result of the primacy placed on this otherwise relatively un-telling data.

The reason it is so vitally important, the reason it is fought over like the bloodied scrap of earth it is, is because people in power have made that information a matter of life and death.

A name is what you decide to call yourself, and secondarily what others agree to call you. The ‘legal’ codification of it was merely a forerunner to the 20th century invention of serial numbers which are used to ‘identify’ us ever more finely as the owner of a legally sanctioned identity. Legal names are the foundation of this particular form of identification and are the essence of it. Their legality arises from governmental sanction, but it says nothing immediately genuine about who you are. The reason my own name speaks so powerfully to me is because I chose it. I sought to have it legally recognised because in our society where legal names are gold standards and wherein we must all have one, I felt the most self-empowering thing I could do would be to choose it. So indeed I have and my name is now recognised at various levels of officialdom.

But it was no less mine and no less true to me when it lacked legal recognition. It was my name from the moment I chose it in the company of a dear friend as I tepidly set out to claim a name as my own for the first time in my life. If anything my old legal name actually signal-jammed a good deal of truth that may have eminated from me years sooner, and equally blocked a lot that I might have otherwise taught myself. Obviously my old name was not solely responsible for this– a welter of other social conditions played their parts– but it had a starring role to play. We can discuss and debate the particulars but the fundaments of the matter are these:

My old legal name hid far more than it revealed, hindered more than it helped, and stifled far more than it liberated.

In other words it was actually an impediment to the free flow of information for it to be known and in the public record. It was an obstacle to me forging my own identity, right up to the multiple legal rigamaroles I had to endure in order to change it publicly.

Forcing me into a particular ‘legal identity’ closed doors, it did not open them. Who, precisely, is Mark Zuckerberg to adjudicate on which name is a person’s true name? These legal names are important, yes, but only for the same reason that, say, the institution of marriage is important: so many unjust privileges are bound up in it that we cannot help but pay close attention to its use. For precisely that same reason control of that information must remain in the hands of those with the least power. More broadly, it should remain in the hands of those who are the rightful adjudicators of such information: the people themselves.

Continue reading

Fatal Error

What human beings see when they behold something like this has remarkable consequences for the other humans in their lives.

It is, by now, a cliché to suggest that transgender people of most any stripe are somehow acting contrarily to nature. This has numerous ideological expressions. On the political right we hear this from conservative Christians and “men’s rights activists,” from science we hear this from any number of would-be psychiatric colonists of our experiences, and from the left we hear this from any number of groups including a certain clique of radical feminists.

What I have found interesting is that these types of feminists– the Julie Bindel set, essentially– come from a school of feminist thought that placed a good deal of primacy on the sacred, natural body; hence their obsession with SRS and the like. I am always reminded of my father (Goddess knows he was no feminist in the slightest) angrily asking me if I was saying that God had made a mistake. Clearly I was challenging Him by saying I was “born wrong” (or something like that). The whole theoretical construct relies on a welter of cis projections and is not based on anything I’ve said, naturally[1]. But the framing of this clique of feminists is much the same: substitute Nature for God. This simple gesture is at the heart of much leftist and science-based oppression, the generative nucleus of all that is right and good is simply shifted from an all powerful white male divine to an all powerful Natural Order/Balanced Ecosystem that we cannot challenge.

It is exactly the same ideological manoeuvre that feminists rightly opposed in sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. A move that allowed the scientists to pooh pooh the religious by telling them there was no God who ordained everything… while preserving the Ur textual explanation for the inexorability of white cis male supremacy in a new form, this time ‘scientific.’ For eco-feminists, there was less emphasis on science as they understood what was going on with the then-ascendant sociobiological explanation for gender. But they simply reinvested a kind of mysticism into Nature. And thus people like Sheila Jeffreys would ask me “So are you saying Nature was wrong?”

What is tacitly ignored in all of this is the fact that humans, by default, act contrarily to nature. Virtually nothing we have done as a species, as a civilisation, has been purely natural. It never fails to make me smirk when I hear arguments about the virtues of naturalism from someone wearing glasses. Such arguments almost invariably are arguments for the preservation, in part or in whole, of the status quo. The “balance of nature” or the “will of God” always just so happens to demand that our present arrangements of power and hegemony, on one particular subject or on all subjects, are pre-ordained and foolish to fight. The set of conservative transphobes on the political right require a vision of a male/female caste system that is ineluctable, easily maintained, and lifelong that can ground itself in the perfectly constructed male/female body. The transphobes of the left, many with roots in various ecological movements, assert that nature has created a perfect body that any changes to (changes that are not sanctioned by dominant ideology, at any rate) are unnatural, aberrant, deviant, and ‘mutilation.’

What is lurking behind all of this is the anthropomorphising of the generative nucleus in each system: God or Nature. The intelligent design movement of the Christian Right in the West provides us with the clearest expression of this notion: God is a designer, a divine watchmaker, whose intelligence is used to carry out His intent in the world and thus all of nature has a sentience-ordained purpose; acting contrarily to that purpose is objectively ‘wrong.’ Since God can be conceptualised as a person, this is easier to swallow if you give yourself over entirely to the religious fervour that enables belief in a literal divine figure, lounging on a cloud somewhere in the heavens. With Nature it is much more clearly a metaphor that has spun wildly out of control. Nature, many transphobic scientists and radical feminists say, has intent as well. We can discern this intent scientifically and politically, and then measure deviance from that standard as an objective metric of ‘wrongness.’ To act contrary to the intent of nature is thus empirically, scientifically, wrong. Politics is removed from the equation, and this analysis is presented to the masses as a neutral, ineluctable truth. One which just so happens to say that the current order of white cis male power is natural and inevitable.

It is interesting to think about why certain cis radical feminists have participated in this discourse, one constructed on a theoretical paradigm that has suggested that women are intrinsically inferior to men.

This is the discourse that radical feminist transphobes are accessing when they deny trans people any semblance of personhood based on how we supposedly challenge the natural order. It uses exactly the same logic, relies on the same Archimedean Point of an all powerful, unchanging divine nature that does not err, and can be easily manipulated to come to conclusions about women that are antithetical to feminism. The ‘perfect body’ of womanhood suggested by some cis radical feminists bears a strange resemblance to the alabaster angel who bears children for the fatherland. To define women solely on the basis of our fertility is not only a losing game, but one that reinforces a central ideological pillar of patriarchy: that we really can be bound by our supposedly universal ability and desire to give birth. Since this is “natural” there can be nothing wrong with it. It is objective, neutral, ahistorical, and apolitical.

Feminists, perhaps better than anyone else, know why that is bullshit and what that imports into our highly political culture. It is precisely my own radical feminism, very specifically, that has given me the strength to confront and push back against these oppressive ideas. It is my feminism which helps me feel, in good conscience, that I am right to oppose any notion that subsumes our shared humanity beneath the weight of an abstract ideal.

The reality that human beings must confront is simple: Nature has no intent. It is not conscious, it is not intelligent or otherwise self-aware. It does not think, it does not plan, it does not design. Nature, as such, is a constantly evolving, changing, messy, illogical riot of constant evolution and adaptation that has no discernable “intent” in the sense humans understand that word. As a woman, my inability to bear children does not define me; to phrase this differently, my inability to bear children has not spared me the ravages of patriarchy. Cis men treat me as a woman, with all the negativity that implies. My lack of a uterus does not insulate me from that. The meaning of “woman” in our society is not synonymous with the meaning of “womb.”

We’re making a very tragic mistake if we think so.

To talk of nature is to talk of something that changes, that evolves. We all know this on some level: not a single one of us looks or is shaped much like we were when we were born. Nature is not a static thing held in perpetual equilibrium. Like the human beings that arose from it, nature changes constantly. Nature is change. To say that what we were born with is intrinsically good, and any alterations thereto are intrinsically bad has nothing to do with nature. It is an ideology. It is, in a word, politics. The world is one that evolves and that blossoms: human life at its best, at its freest, is a life of blossoming, a life constantly in motion whose ultimate course is one of many winding roads and hairpin turns.

To whatever extent it can be determined that evolution has a ‘plan’ or some preconceived order (metaphorically speaking, of course) we as humans, by our very nature (real nature, in this case), are under no obligation or compulsion to follow that plan. One of the things that defines us as a species is our ability to discern evolution and think about it; that awareness is part of how we then step outside of evolution, at least in part, and decide with our own self-awareness what directions we may take.

Women are not ‘intended’ for anything, and certainly not by dint of birth. In my own case, as a woman, as a trans person, as a human being, did God make a mistake? Yes, absolutely. The God conjured by humans, by men in particular, did indeed make a mistake. Because the God is not in the sky, He is invested in every doctor, every clergyman, every teacher and parent, who ever tried to force me to be someone I did not wish to be. It would be more accurate to say that they failed.

But to put it another way, if one believes in Deity of some kind, or a Creator, the best way of imagining it is this (and this applies very much to the Naturalists as well). No, God/Nature did not make any sort of mistake; but we ever fallible human beings have a lot of mistaken assumptions about what we have been given to work with.[2]

[1] I’ve never claimed to be “born wrong” and have long since abandoned any notion of being “born in the wrong body.” The very idea that being trans is the correcting of a mistake is made necessary by a society that imposes definitions on us that are inherently limiting, binding, and always against our will. In a just society, my evolution as a gendered being would have been unremarkable and like any other.

[2] I can’t take credit for this. A discussion with the ever brilliant little light yielded this idea from her and I thought it a brilliant, spiritual and social resolution to what I have always considered a deeply flawed question.