The Soul of History: Breaking the Silence of Biography

This post was originally going to appear on Nuclear Unicorn first, but evolved into something written for Questioning Transphobia very quickly. Still, it has more than earned its place here and is part of the project of confession and catharsis that “The Daughter Also Rises” began, in the hopes of telling a true trans story- my trans story- and illuminating just how complicated this whole thing is. Enjoy!

I was not so happy as I looked in the pictures on my parents’ walls. It was something that resonated with me as I read a beautiful, radical poem by Jo Carillo ‘And When You Leave, Take Your Pictures With You’ which used as a leitmotif pictures of Latinas working under the sun that might hang in the livingroom of a blanquita radfem. Like so many things in the anthology- This Bridge Called My Back- that poem is immortalised in, it made me think, not just about its own very important subject which is, alas, an all too salient issue even today… but about the pictures that were once on my wall too.

They were windows into a very particular past, a past that is assuredly a minefield on multiple levels. Much has been said, including on the pages of Questioning Transphobia itself, about those pictures. How they can oppress, or how they can liberate. It vexed me because as a budding sociologist I’m easily entranced by questions of meaning, and constantly working upon my mind was a need to decipher the meanings of those pictures in my own life. Not just the meanings of the photographs themselves, but what they represented.

And to begin the, perhaps necessary, use of ten guinea words in this piece; what the past those pictures evoked could say about my subjectivity.

What it means to be trans is one of those existential questions that excites and puzzles as surely as other such questions about the categories of human existence, the lines drawn in flesh that mark us off as one thing or the other. In the more evolved discourses of identity politics and its modern intersectional incarnations, there is an understanding that being trans carries with it a certain experience, a certain perspective on the world that only trans people have.

Certainly the vagaries of this can be disputed but one question that I’ve had and felt very troubled in answering is this one: Is my lived experience as someone who was forced to be male part of my subjectivity?

Let me be clearer still: I was never a man, no, but I lived as a male per the directions and encouragement of every social actor in my life up until the age of 21. In moving through the world in that utterly ill fitting skin, that imposed disguise whose existence tantilised the very edges of my conscious mind, I still ended up seeing things a certain way and being made to undertake certain actions, think certain thoughts. Such for me provides rich perspective, and informs my participation in discourses on misogyny. But can I talk about what that meant for me and what it felt like? What the specific experience was for me as a young trans girl- a woman forced in very deep ways to put on what society deemed a male persona? Can I say that this taught me something about male privilege or provided me with some perspective on what being a young man might be like?

Not without siring a world of trouble, that much is for sure.

I cannot speak about my past and lend a voice to those pictures that were once on my wall. I was not living as I wanted then, I was indeed battered into silence- sometimes quite literally- and I did not yet fully understand the essence of who I was.

But I was a person back then too, goddamnit. I lived. I breathed. I experienced life. I saw things. Felt things. Oh Goddess, the things I felt.

Transition is not going through life as a passive, unreceptive automaton until a switch is flipped and suddenly “YAY I’M A WOMAN/MAN!” and then suddenly all comes to life and now you live a life worth documenting and recounting. I was a person then too, in all those long, interminable years before transition. I was Quinnae-in-waiting, in a sense, but I was also Quinnae-in-progress. Despite this reality, this unshakeable duality, these contradictions held together by the insistent fact of my existence, I still feel immense fear speaking about my past with authority.

It’s a legitimate fear we’ve all felt, of course. We fear the slings and arrows that can come from any direction- from family, from radical feminists, from conservatives, from MRAs, and any number of people anywhere that might be invested in attacking our identities. We fear, with good reason, that the minute we say in a discussion “I used to live as a man/woman” that we remind people of a spectre we had hoped to banish, remind them that we are different- and in a way that often unsettles cis people. We fear we may shatter the selves that we have worked so tirelessly to build, shedding blood to make whole because we place before our potential tormentors the irresistible red meat of discussing a gendered experience as our assigned-gender, rather than who we really are.

We are often silenced because of this, and inhibited on speaking to the immense complexity of transgender experience. We fear that speaking of our pasts will court that tiny but vocal claque of radical feminists who will simply go “Aha! You DID have male privilege! We win! We win!” We fear people’s inevitable confusion and their bigotry. All with good reason.

In a recent article, Lisa spoke of the acceptable narratives of trans-ness, with a focus on the element of the acceptable liberal narrative that holds we are totally and forever happy after transition, the end. What I will focus on here is what comes before that, the hegemonic discourse surrounding pre-transition life. It is, in short, that everything is bad and terrible because you are “trapped in the wrong body” and waiting for deliverance as you sit in a swirling vortex of darkness. To a large extent this is true in its way- who among us does not remember deep depression and self loathing? I had suicidal ideations, virtually no will to live, and by the time I hit 20 my energy to do anything productive or meaningful had at last become the latest casualty to the dysphoria.

But the problem with the dominant narrative is that it tacitly insists that that’s all there is to pre-transition life, and my story was always more complicated. Talking about that isn’t easy because it upsets the prefabricated story that most cis people have about us, even when they want to be supportive, sympathetic, and mean well. The “trapped in the wrong body” cliché sums it up very aptly. The perception is one of a binary switch and also part of the same he/she media trope that bedevils so much ‘journalism’ about us (wherein the wrong pronoun will be used to refer to the trans person in past tense while the correct one is reserved for the present, post-transition person, which speaks volumes about how we are seen).

Perceptions of transition presume that you are exactly like a cis person in every way until one day you wake up and decide you want a sex change and BOOM, now you’re a man or woman. But the fundamental truth, as we all know, that our personal biographies are much more unified and complex than that.

I didn’t play with dolls when I was little, not because I felt like I couldn’t, but because Lego was fucking awesome. On my bookshelf right now, just above my copies of Whipping Girl, Women, Race & Class, and Gender Trouble, is a huge Lego starship I made and have carefully preserved. I was raised on and still adore video games. When I was a wee tyke I’d always get excited at seeing monster truck rallies on TV (my favourite was Bigfoot). To the cis observer, I didn’t fit the stereotype of the insistent five year old demanding the stereotypical trappings of femininity. But it didn’t change the dysphoria I would feel. So I was a bit of a tomboy growing up; doesn’t mean I’m any less of a woman for it.

That’s the other problem with the hegemonic cis narrative- it forces trans men and trans women (and excludes genderqueer folk, naturally) into a highly gender stereotyped fable… and then turns around and blames us for reinforcing their gender binary.

What I would experience as a trans girl was distinct to being me-who-is-trans, if that makes any sense. It’s my story and is not The Transgender Experience, but it is an experience of transness. What happened to me was that many parts of myself began to pull at me mercilessly as though my soul were being drawn and quartered. I fought against my gender socialisation as much as I felt compelled by it. This lead to contradictory postures in high school. I understood and fought against rape-apologism at age 16, earning the admiration of many female classmates, but also ended up employing entitled views about women. I became what I would come to loathe the most, a Nice Guy ™. All of this informs how I see gender politics today because, among other things, I feel I can testify to the fact that I saw certain gendered phenomena from the inside and could say with the kind of confidence that comes with that kind of knowing how remarkably troubling and disturbing it is.

Yet the reason I reject a simple male privilege analysis is because what I experienced as a trans girl is quite simply not really the same as what a cis boy might have. I internalised enough to act out some male socialisation, yes, but that has its own very distinct consequences that imbricate with the issues of potential privilege. It’s that male gender socialisation makes you utterly despise yourself as a woman, loathe who you feel you are deep inside, and worst of all compel you into a kind of ritual debasement that is a special form of torture: objectifying yourself. I strained so hard to accept I could have female role models and want who they were, their strength, their passion, their intelligence, and in some cases, yes, their fashion sense. But relentless pounding from my father, my peers, the media, all made me feel there was only one acceptable avenue for admiring women and femininity: sexual attraction.

I can’t begin to describe how that fucks you up as a woman. There are no sesquipedalian words for this, no academic prettifications I can conjure to lessen the blow of how intense I mean that to sound. It is deep and it is troubling; its enactment profoundly deepened my self-loathing and was part of what ultimately sent me spirialling downward. I owned nothing about myself, my dreams, my sexuality, nothing.

Talking about that is difficult, not just because of the shame I still feel sometimes, but because I fear that it will lead people to armchair psychoanalysis. More than a few right wing types and “men’s rights activists” have claimed trans women are just self hating men who mutilate themselves. That line of bigotry also has a silencing effect, because in talking fully and faithfully about my past I need to be able to say that acting out such and such male socialisation was like inflicting wounds on myself daily. It was deeply ingrained self hate and I need to explain a lot about my pre-transition subjectivity in order to fully explain that. I have to remind you of my past, and entreat you to step into that picture that once hung on my wall.

I also have to navigate the unyielding and craggy shoals of transgender politics. The perpetual fear of “making us look bad” stalks my mind, as I’m sure it dogs many of us here. I fear sometimes that if I say “when I was forced to live as a man, I didn’t get harassed in the street; now my life is completely different and my relationship with the outdoors is fundamentally altered” I will earn the ire of those who demand I stick to The Narrative for the good of the community and not try to give voice to my past self because it will just confuse people and undermine my identity. I don’t fully blame other trans people for doing this; the fears are very real, unfortunately. Part of the appeal of The Narrative is that it’s simple and easy to remember. It could probably fit into a limerick I don’t have the patience to think up right now.

But the fact is that we’re far more complicated- like any human being might be. That’s not good for a bumper sticker, but it is reality. As the comments here demonstrate there are a multiplicity of transgender perspectives and experiences. Being trans is a bodily experience too, and yet even that differs. When I stand up and say that I never felt ‘trapped’ by my body, will someone think I’m making us look bad or confusing people? What might people think if I tell them that for me changing my name was far more important to me than anything about my genitals? That it was less my penis and more things like my name that clawed at me and made me feel empty inside, defined by others but not by myself.

How might I describe that? I might put it in the terms I put it to a cis friend of mine who listened rapt:

“In the past, when I wrote my name or signed it, it felt as perfunctory and connected to me as a serial number. An assigned thing that signified this entity known as “me” but had no connection to my soul otherwise. It was just a thing for a form.”

She is enthralled by this and ‘gets it’ more than many cis people do. Yet I’d fear saying this to a broad audience, I would fear leaving myself to misinterpretation. The fear of that, of doing wrong by the trans people I love, silences me oftentimes. Yet I still try, on my blog and in comments sprinkled here and there, to say ‘this is my experience’- and I have found many people who, much to my surprise and pleasure, seemed to understand and welcome the complications I added to the transgender stories they had heard.

The real power of this, however, is in the person I will never forget, who read a blog post I wrote where I spoke of the tomboyish aspects of my youth and how I didn’t fit the stifling “classic transsexual” narrative that is so often repeated in news outlets right around the world. She came out after reading it because she at last felt she wasn’t alone in having that unique childhood. She didn’t play with mum’s dresses and high heels either, but she is no less a trans woman. It makes you wonder how many more of us suffer in silence and are having their pain prolonged by that ciscentric, cis-friendly narrative of transition that leaves them feeling “not trans enough” to save their lives.

I know in some way, we have to start breaking this vow of silence. How, I don’t know. But I feel like the answers lie in those pictures. I wasn’t as happy as I looked in them, no.

But nevertheless that was a woman and a human being.

On.

My.

Wall.

Author’s Note: Some of the flourishes at the beginning and especially the end of this piece owe themselves to Jo Carillo’s beautiful poetry, which I sorely wish I could have linked in this article. As I came to accept myself as Latina I wanted to elevate these voices and add their textures to my contributions to trans discourse, but I want there to be no mistake about who they belong to.

Daughter of Zero Queens: Roleplaying as Resistance

 

My Cleric of Lastai, Liera- in purple with the staff- sitting 'round a fire with her friends. Yes, including the dragon.

Picture it: a World of Warcraft RPPvP server, 2006. A good friend of mine takes up a wager with a female friend of his to test a “theory”- at least it was nothing but a theory to him, at that time. She had often sparred with him about the idea that women were treated differently in online gaming and he was more than a little sceptical. If this were about treatment in, say, the workplace or the home environment or out in the street, this back and forth might have gone on forever. But this woman had a solution that only a game like WoW made available to her. She made a bit of a wager with my friend: roll up a female character, play her, roleplay (RP) her if you like, and don’t tell anyone you’re a man in real life.

My friend agreed, being the adventurous sort and an avid RPer to boot, and went forward. To this day he still tells me how his experiences over the course of the next month completely changed how he understood the treatment of women in games like this. He found himself flirted with, harassed, the target of other unwanted advances, as well as finding out why chivalrous acts could be construed as condescending or suspicious. He even discovered that in an RP guild he was fought over by some of the male officers in a way that culminated in theatrics that eventually sundered the guild.

In his own words:

“Guys used to hit on you randomly asking for ERP [cybersex] and then if you actually interact on an equal level they think you like them, and if you turn down their advances it’s rage quit time.”

Certainly not every person will have the same experiences or reactions, but what always fascinated me was how easy it was for him to suddenly see through the eyes of a woman in society because of WoW. This is but one of many possibilities offered by roleplaying that could represent revolutionary breakthroughs in how we all understand society and the lives of our fellow human beings.

For me personally, as I have alluded to many times, being able to roleplay as a woman gave me an education similar to my friend’s but also enabled me to simply be myself. Unlike my friend, I expected to be treated differently and sometimes unpleasantly, but I also took in the joy of simply affirming one’s womanhood. In those days I would publicly lie and say that I roleplayed as women to simply express my “feminine side” and what not. I didn’t want to admit to others what I increasingly knew in the most guarded recesses of my mind: that I roleplayed as a woman in part because I was one and had no other way to express my gender. Being a woman was and is awesome to me because being myself is awesome.

Roleplaying means many things to many people. For some, simply playing a single player game as a fictional character constitutes RP. For others, it means consciously and directly acting out that character’s fantasy existence through constructing backstory and plot around them, and engaging in actions and dialogue that would be “in-character” for them. In either case, though, I have come to discover that roleplaying allows an incredible amount of agency to be invested in the player and provides a gilded road that can bypass the often problematic stories and imagery that adorn many games. You may find yourself surrounded by images of women who seem to exist to only cater to hetero male fantasy, but your female character does not have to be that. Indeed she can actively rebel against it, or any number of other ideas that predominate in the game’s setting. In that lies the power of RP.

Indeed, for a long time my women characters were explicitly designed to be strong and confident, never defined in terms of the men around them, but as their equal partners in the game world. When I played Neverwinter Nights I played a Cleric of a sensual goddess. But I did not do so explicitly for sexual reasons. Most of the time she wore conservative robes, but her revealing outfits were reserved for religious festivals and rituals where the sex had a meaning beyond eye candy, as rituals that honoured the sacred act of lovemaking. Whether matronly or overtly sexual she was not simply an archetype but a complex woman who owned her body, her sexuality, and her entire self. I even RPed her journey from worshipping a more conservative god of healing to worshiping this goddess of love as one of self discovery and assertion of herself.

There was more to her still, of course. She was a wise woman (Wisdom score of 30!) who came to the aid of many characters who were having one problem or another and quickly developed a reputation as a kindhearted counsellor. Her crises of faith were born of deep introspection on her part, and as she was middle aged they were part of a “mid life crisis” of sorts. The compelling interactions she had with other RP characters made her reassess who she really was. On the flip side she also loved hard liquor and was never afraid of having a good time with the people she shared her village with, unafraid of partying after a hard day’s battle.

I could go on, but the essence of this is that in the midst of this Dungeons & Dragons environment I wove an interesting female character who could articulate sexual struggles, religion, and the social location of womanhood and still be fun to play. Some of the people I played with were not exactly radically-minded. Some were quite conservative in real life. Yet the character was loved. Strong, complex women are not “political”- they’re just damn fun and interesting.

The namesake for this screen name, Quinnae, floating courtesy of her Levitation spell; one of many benefits to being a Priestess of Elune, along with great dental.

On the subject of religion I should relate more personal insights. I often play as characters with some religious grounding, which is ironic considering my history (and I’ll get to that in a moment); Priests or Clerics, Paladins and Druids are often my primary roleplaying characters. On my shelf right now, side by side (perhaps very appropriately) with my gender studies and sociology textbook collection are my many hardbound D&D manuals, a good chunk of which are about the fantasy religions of various settings.

When I was young I grew up with a conservative Catholic father who took “God the Father” a little too seriously. Through his faith he buttressed unchecked patriarchal authority, the subordination of women, and even quite a bit of racism (particularly Islamophobia). It’s no surprise homophobia and transphobia also came to him through his idea of God, and when I came out I faced a fusillade of assaults from him that included saying I was violating God’s will by transitioning and that my “devil reading” had made this happen. I’ll not belabour these descriptions any longer as this should paint a sufficient picture of why, for a long time, I hated religion and looked down my nose at people of faith.

That hatred existed in the midst of my RP life, of course, which began in 2005. But I figured my characters were just fiction, as were their goddesses and gods, and it was all “just a game.” Yet over time, especially as I got into playing my Cleric and reading the more in-depth compendiums about pantheons in D&D I began to realise that faith as a central organising principle in one’s life was something that could be very positive. I was very much blinkered by my self-centered perspective and yet, almost as if against my will, my own characters pulled me out of it. My Cleric was a woman whose faith taught her that love was love, no matter what form it came in, to name an example. Her goddess was a symbol of that conviction in openness, love, and the idea that pleasure in moderation was utterly sacred rather than profane. I came to understand that my father’s Catholicism was not the only form faith had to take.

Faith could evoke metaphors for beauty rather than self-abnegation.

I do not credit RP with all of these realisations, of course. A Christian woman I know and love in Canada, and who happens to be married to another woman, was a huge support in my life as I was coming out and indeed a second mother to me. She’s just been ordained in the United Church of Canada. She and her pagan priestess daughter above all deserve credit for showing me what faith can be.

And yet I also know that roleplaying was what initially opened my mind to what they would eventually teach me. As I looked through the guidebooks and found gods and goddesses for all sorts of things, and vastly different descriptions of all manner of churches, temples, lyceums, and groves for worship I came to realise that what faith was, what it could be, was not limited to bitter, closeminded evil. The Richard Dawkins style of white atheism that I had flirted with up to that point withered under that slowly blossoming realisation. The characters that I would so lovingly roleplay, from my NWN Cleric to my WoW Priest, would chart lives of faith that were not built on hate, or on othering, but on self-empowerment and a sense of social justice that infused their many actions in the game world, whether it was cleansing a den of undead or battling the Lich King or healing the wounded behind enemy lines their faith gave them the power to do what was right and resist oppression or the temptation to oppress.

Had I never been given the opportunity to roleplay religious characters I might’ve gone right on keeping my privileged assumptions about how people of faith were “irrational” and “weak minded.”

The title of my piece is a reference to the Marion Zimmer Bradley book I’m reading at the moment, Lady of Avalon,  where one of the protagonists is known as the “Son of a Hundred Kings,” a messianic figure in the classic fantasy tradition, the chosen one whose coming was foretold by prophecy, et cetera et cetera. My characters on the other hand are not built on that notion of exaltation above all others. They are the daughters of no queens or goddesses, but ordinary women called on to both do exciting things and simply muddle their way through life. They, like quite a few good RP characters I’ve come across in my time, don’t require a legacy or a prophecy to make them interesting.

Roleplaying is not just about slaying dragons or annihilating evil old gods who threaten the world, it’s about capturing the aspects of ordinary life that can make us all who we are. I love those little details. The first Paladin I ever made, Zoe, was a notoriously messy eater . My Priestess, Quinnae, is a brilliant artist and still plays with stuffed animals. My WoW Paladin, Sera, carries wine and fine cheese with her everywhere. Some come from backgrounds of privilege, like Sera, others like Zoe never knew anything but nomadic lives. But all of these little flourishes help them come to life and they evoke depth that is sometimes, or even oftentimes, lacking in the bigger characters written into the canon of all of these games.

When I RP I have no overtly political goal in mind. I never did, I never will. Certainly when I RPed as women I never expected to undergo a transgender transition in real life, or for my views about religion to change. But the effects were there all the same. Even in this fictional space I could be truer to myself than I was, at the time, allowed to be in the “real world.” Despite it all being “just a game” my knowledge of the experience of many women in society was deepened long before I came out (and it was deepened and widened much further).  I had often held a traditionally liberal view that women sometimes had a rougher time of things but it was an academic knowledge held from a distance. Playing WoW, even three years before I came into my own as a woman in the real world, made that knowledge experiential, rather than abstract.

When Gary Gygax first worked with his partners and wrote up what would become the first edition of the Dungeonmaster’s Guide I am certain he never dreamed that his game could promise salvation and comfort to transgender people who could afford to play, and yet there it is as a very positive unintended consequence. The great benefit of roleplaying worlds is that they allow people to transcend boundaries and move in social realms as someone completely different. I haven’t even talked about how one can come to a better understanding of racism or classism through RP.

But above all it allows you to take control in the face of a gaming world that is sometimes or even oftentimes hostile to women, people with disabilities, LGBT people, or people of colour. It allows you to dare to be the character that many developers don’t write, to be the character you want to see in a fantasy realm. It’s a fascinating realisation of Gandhi’s old aphorism: “be the change you want to see in the world.”

I roleplay that change.

At the Crossroads and Other Mixed Metaphors: Intersectionality

This essay, as I mentioned yesterday, got an A (which is the highest grade my professor will bestow as he doesn’t believe in A+s for one reason or another). The ‘question’ I had to answer was really more of an essay unto itself but here it is:

This essay has three parts, which should be integrated into a single essay, and not answered separately.

  1. Explain the concept of intersectionality. You should discuss at least race, class, gender, and sexuality, but you may also discuss other aspects of social inequality we’ve talked about in class. This section should focus on Crenshaw and the Combahee River Collective, but you may use other texts as well.  Do not just quote a definition here, explain the concept in your own words and in detail.
  2. Discuss one or two particular historical events, periods, or issues in the context of an intersectional analysis of multiple axes of oppression. Use at least two readings not including Crenshaw. How does your choice demonstrate some of the subthemes used in Crenshaw’s piece (over- or under-inclusion, structural subordination, etc.)?
  3. Evaluate the concept of intersectionality as it applies to feminist analysis. What does it add to, complicate, or perhaps take away from analyses based only on gender?

My answer to this is as follows and I hope it provides at least a mildly interesting read:

In the many turns that various feminist and liberationist theory has undergone in recent years, one of the most significant has been the move towards what is now commonly known as intersectionality.  In brief it is a lens of analysis that openly seeks to ask how multiple types of oppression can act on a person, group of people, or on a given event, and considers various types of oppression as a confluence of influence rather than as fully discrete entities. Intersectionality, then, is a concept that elucidates on the often complex reality of peoples’ experiences with various systems of domination; whether sexist, racist, homo/transphobic, ableist, and so on, intersectionality promotes the belief that bigotry can take more than one form simultaneously. Thus something can be both racist and sexist, and intersectionality is syncretic rather than zero sum. It holds that such considerations add to understanding, rather than take something away from someone. Intersectionality adds a great deal to feminist analysis, as well as various other emancipatory epistemologies for the very  good reason that it is best able to reflect the multilayered realities of lived experience that many people; it also provides a means to identify strategies that can truly ameliorate oppressive conditions in our society by actually understanding what the problem is for the first time. Kimberlé Crenshaw and many other theorists like her, as well as liberation movements like black feminism and gay lib all laid the groundwork for understanding that people can be affected by more than one type of oppression simultaneously and that the unique positions thus created were worth understanding on their own terms.

Kimberlé Crenshaw’s ‘Traffic at the Crossroads: Multiple Oppressions’ is a brief but illuminating overview of the simple reality that you cannot understand oppression without considering its many starting points.[1] She argues cogently that immigrant women, black men, and women of colour, to name a few examples, all face different types of unique oppression that are a product of all of their backgrounds. What happens to them is often not just racist, or not just sexist, but is best understood as being influenced by several types of discriminatory ideologies. For example, she says that US immigration laws that require non-resident spouses to stay married for two years in order to become permanent residents discriminate heavily against immigrant women who suffer abuse and must choose between staying with a batterer or losing their best hope of citizenship and the privileges that come with that. She holds that both anti-immigrant sentiment and sexism are acting upon immigrant victims of domestic violence and you cannot fully understand the causes of their predicament without examining both axes of oppression, and any others that may be relevant to her situation as well. Angela Davis makes very similar arguments in ‘Women, Race, and Class’- a book which is predicated on a very powerful metanarrative of intersectionality- when she points out that slavery in the United States cannot be fully understood without examining the specific ways in which black women were abused both because they were women and because they were black slaves.[2]

Davis challenges very strongly what Crenshaw might call the ‘over inclusion’ of black women in the broader category of black people; in other words their struggles are understood through a racialised context that considers the brutal racism of slavery, but not understood as being equally gendered in the specific case of black women. They would not only be beaten, whipped, and mutilated (many were disfigured, or tortured by having their teeth pulled) as black men were, but also raped and sexually assaulted. Davis shows that abusive white slave masters, who were not only white but also male, would routinely try to stifle black women’s resistance to their brutal subjugation by raping them. It is a terror that echoes with a terrifying scream throughout history- the attempts by men to use rape to silence or break women who resist or otherwise are not in their ‘place.’ Davis enjoins us to understand that the rape of black women was racist as well as sexist, however. It was a crime often legitimised by a deeply white supremacist idea that held black women were animals who could be treated as less than human, and who ‘asked for it’, giving the classic rape apologist rejoinder a racist twist that imbues black women with an essential quality of needing to be raped or otherwise used as a sexual object. The over inclusion of black women in the consideration of slavery, however, elides most of this. It erases the pregnant black women who were whipped in ditches specially dug for them (rather than against a tree) so that the master’s lash was less likely to damage the ‘valuable property’ in the black woman’s uterus. It erases the black women who found themselves mutilated or lashed until their backs ran red with blood for resisting a slave master’s sexual advances, or those of his son who was considered equally entitled to ‘have’ a black woman as a sexual object. All of these utter atrocities were visited on black women because they were not just women, or because they were black but because they were black women. Intersectionality holds that white supremacy and male supremacy must be considered together for a proper understanding to be had of black women slaves’ particular subordination and their resistance to it, which was often very vociferous and active.

The Combahee River Collective’s “A Black Feminist Statement”  provides another powerful illumination of intersectional analysis’ strength.[3] Their very name symbolises it; it is so named in honour of an 1863 guerrilla action by Harriet Tubman who, in Port Royal, South Carolina, led an insurrection that freed more than 750 slaves and remains the first military action recorded in American history that was led by a woman. Just as black women were oppressed in ways that have to be uniquely understood, so too did they rebel and resist in ways that we would do well to understand on their own terms. Carrying on that spirit of a particularly black female resistance to all forms of tyranny and oppression, the Combahee River Collective put forth a manifesto that outlined their commitment to principles that were fully cognisant of the uniqueness of both their subject position, and that of others who stood at Crenshaw’s crossroads. There is much that is worth quoting, but its fundamental thesis which defines the theme of the entire paper is perhaps the most evocative: “Black women have always embodied, if only in their physical manifestation, an adversary stance to white male rule and have actively resisted its inroads upon them and their communities in both dramatic and subtle ways.” In this is contained much of the gist of intersectionality, as well as one very important point hitherto undiscussed: personal perspective becomes expertise in this understanding. Thus the Black Feminist Statement recognises that black women know the myriad complexities of their experience with oppression simply by having lived it and that this knowledge is both worthy and factual. Forming an activist coalition that worked on multiple axes of oppression was, in their words a means to “develop a politics that was anti-racist, unlike those of white women, and anti-sexist, unlike those of Black and white men.” In other words, a way out of the zero sum traps of single subject position identity politics. Such things forced black women (and many other people besides, whether it was disabled women, working class women, immigrant women, queer and trans people who came from any number of backgrounds, or various subjugated men) to choose one avenue of resistance over another, which was an incomplete solution to their problems at best.

The Combahee River Collective’s famous statement emerged in a critical historical period in the midst of which a new feminism was rapidly emerging and evolving with alacrity. It was a time during which Second Wave feminism evolved out of the white male dominated New Left, and during which many different feminisms quickly grew out of that Second Wave as different groups of people realised that univocal dominance of white cis women from the middle classes left them and their unique experiences with sexism unregarded. This manifesto and many documents like it, including anthologies like This Bridge Called My Back, were part of a vital historical moment in which women of colour drew strength from multiple emancipatory ideologies and put the most modern twist on them. The purpose of this maelstrom of theorising was to, as the Collective put it, know what was really happening in their lives, and this required something that went beyond understanding, say, patriarchy or capitalism as the ultimate oppression, and understanding their liberation not “as an adjunct to someone else’s” but as a virtue and dignity in its own right. Embodied in this is a rejection of demands made on them by others, such as lesbian separatists who insist that women should build communities away from men. Such a position may have currency with the experience of white women, who need no solidarity with white men against any kind of racism, but it is an impossible and even ridiculous thing to suggest to black women, even those who identify as lesbians, because they need each other in the struggle against white supremacy. On the same token, says the Collective, they also stand against patriarchal expression within their communities and struggle with black men on the issue of sexism. This double consciousness is an example of intersectional thinking that holds many understandings together simultaneously to describe a complex position in society.

In their critique of lesbian separatism they affirm the idea that even white women’s oppression may not have a single source, i.e. patriarchy, but come from multiple locations. Put another way, what we consider patriarchy is a broad socio-political framework engendered by multiple intersecting ideologies about race, class, gender, and sexuality. To again return to Crenshaw’s ideas about oppression, the women of the Combahee River Collective believe that lesbian separatists (who were mostly white) underincluded women of colour and poor women in their analysis of sexism and patriarchy in society, as well as the men who did not benefit from what sociologist Raewyn Connell calls the ‘patriarchal dividend.’ Her own analysis of men at the margins of society finds that their own oppressive behaviour, while certainly patriarchal, cannot be understood without attention to the class position they occupied and just why it was that they were ‘marginal’ relative to more privileged men and women.[4] What this under-inclusion serves to do is to render invisible the intricate and deeper effects of what is now called Kyriarchy (a term used to describe the overarching system of interactive oppressions). This under-inclusion holds that women are oppressed- an undeniable fact- and yet refuses to grapple with those women whose class, race, sexuality,  gender identity, or disability oppresses them, seeing the only antagonists as raceless, classless men. This analysis will never reach a full understanding of sexism, never mind anything else.

Thus it is that the question of what intersectionality does for feminism is addressed at a stroke. It is not only convenient or useful, it is absolutely vital and essential that an intersectional perspective is considered. This paper has focused primarily on the illuminating examples of black feminist theory and experience, but intersectional analysis also sheds much light on the experiences of a great many people who feminism has left behind. Transgender women for example occupy numerous crossroads in various societies around the world. Trans women of colour have a shockingly high rate of HIV infection; trans women sex workers face very deep dual stigmas- both of being trans and of being sex workers; trans people who are poor have a hard time actualising their gender identity which is often gated by a patriarchal psychiatric profession and through various other arenas that cost money to access. Trans people of colour also face many other distinct issues besides, wherein they have a relationship with gender that is already complex, but complicated further by the consideration of the racial oppression they experience. For example, while many trans men who meet societal expectations for male behaviour acquire certain privileges, black trans men move into the category of being black men which is a highly stigmatised subject position in American society and acquire all the stereotypes and risks associated therewith.[5] The discussions could go on endlessly.

Yet, they do not, at least not in academic circles. Because trans people are rarely understood as people with unique experiences due to their trans-ness, their experiences with sexism, racism, classism and so on remain poorly understood, and if regarded at all are usually overincluded, by the broader cis population. In everything I have outlined in this paragraph lies the reasons that intersectional analysis brings a lot to feminism. Yes, it most definitely complicates and in some cases destroys the thesis that gender alone can provide a sufficient lens for understanding our society. But that is most definitely a good thing when one considers the fact that while we are all gendered, that is not the sum total of all our lives, necessarily. To truly solve a problem, one must identify in full what that problem is. Intersectionality offers feminists and many liberationists the opportunity to return to the real world and know it for the first time through the eyes of their sisters, brothers, and siblings in struggle.

What intersectionality adds to the understanding of gender is that how we do gender is vastly differentiated throughout various groups in various societies. To know gender as a powerfully active force in our lives is to hold one of the great keys to knowledge of our world. But gender is not a skeleton key. The lock that bars our consciousness requires many keys, which requires not just a multifarious understanding that includes the now well-worn subjectivities of race and class in addition to gender, but also a multilayered understanding of gender itself that does not over-privilege or universalise the gendered experiences of white women as being indicative of all women everywhere. It would even hold that womanhood is not the only thing worth understanding in this context. Masculinity in its various forms is also worth taking into deep consideration, as are transgender and genderqueer genders and sexualities. Transsexual peoples’ gender can be very binary and thus similar to the subject position of most white feminist women, or it can be more complicated. But in any case, the specific textures of simply being trans in this society make it stand out, and intersectional analysis allows for that. Thus what intersectionality brings to gender is perhaps the most sophisticated understanding of it to date. Such knowledge can only be manna from heaven for anyone interested in gender liberation.


[1] Sisterhood is Forever, by Robin Morgan, ed., p. 43. Traffic at the Crossroads: Multiple Oppressions, by Kimberlé Crenshaw.

[2] Davis, Angela Y., Women, Race, & Class, 1983, p. 5-30.

[3] Anzaldua, Gloria, et al., This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Colour, 1981, p. 210, A Black Feminist Statement by the Combahee River Collective.

[4] Connell, Raewyn, Masculinities, 1995, p. 114.

[5] http://www.colorlines.com/archives/2008/01/becoming_a_black_man.html

Gender Identity Dismissal

Political conflict is one of the oldest human games and it never goes out of style chiefly because it’s perpetually self renewing. It’s not a coincidence that the only remotely funny things on Saturday Night Live these days are skits mocking contemporary media and politics. It has an odd quality of breaching new boundaries and regurgitating themes that are centuries old at the same time. Its almost addicting, sport like quality is what drew me into many seemingly pointless arguments on the Internet lately about transgender issues. Yet as I reflect on what happened and what I took away from these debates, I’ve begun to realise that there is, at least for me, some benefit to them. After all, what better crucible to thrash and grind one’s own ideas in than one where they are constantly under assault? Like a planetessimal being shaped and hewn by the random bombardments of an infant solar system, one’s ideas may emerge pockmarked and flawed, yet simultaneously fully formed.

So it is here.

The first conclusion I’ve come to after these many often heated discourses with conservative and anti-feminist men, as well as browsing through this week’s right  wing media is this: the diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder can no longer do this community any good.

Far from validating us or lending us the touch of Scientific Truth what I have found in the crossfire is a fundamental truth: GID stigmatises and marginalises us. It devalues our words and erases our experiences. It empowers people in white coats to speak for us, our preternatural and perpetual custodians without whose validation we do not exist- no matter how loud, urgent, and insistent our existence may be.

Not long ago when discussing the many foibles of the so-called Men’s Rights movement through the lens of a particularly transphobic article I discussed the phenomenon of the Cis Man’s Burden, which is the cultural belief that trans people are little better than deluded children and that it is the noble duty of a self-respecting cis man (and less often, woman) to do what is best for us and cure us of our mental illness. We do not love ourselves, they say. We don’t love our bodies. Not like they do.

Yet time and again when I have encountered these hideously frustrating sirens of cis supremacy (and often, male supremacy), the slightest scratch tears away the smiling masque to reveal a snarling visage that denies you angrily and recoils in terror at your ‘mutilating’ ways. To claim the smallest bit of the terra firma of your own soul angers them greatly. Visions of hacked off penises fill their minds, and the men among them squeeze their legs together in fear at the thought of what we do.

Never mind protest after protest from our lips; the million and one voices raised up to both allay their fears and assert ourselves.

“That’s not how surgery works.”

“Not every trans person gets SRS.”

“My body, my choice.”

“My relationship with my penis is complicated.”

“But I love my body, why can’t you?”

Tears, joy, anguish, love, fear, rise up like a symphony they will not hear. Cannot hear. Why?

Because to them we are disordered and “Look!” they say “Here in this here DSM is the proof! This isn’t politics, it’s a fact! Gender Identity Disorder! You’re sick!”

Time after time I see it elevated high in an already cis-centric discourse- that simplistic reading of the DSM’s deeply flawed and conceptually troubled diagnosis for trans people. Even the psychiatrists who support the diagnosis would say that reading it as a mental illness is not an apt way of regarding it. But then who can blame the threatened layperson for grabbing onto the D in GID like a solid rock in a roiling tempest of gender uncertainty?

And who really rises to challenge this in the media but the precious few independent trans voices we possess in this community? Who, unchaperoned by some doctor or “expert”, regularly shatters the cis discourse and defiantly insists on existing before the eyes of millions?

This past week I have seen the Washington Times, that sure bastion of white male privilege and cultural conservatism, articulate just that dismissive thought on our mental states when they deemed fit to opine on the upcoming ENDA legislation:

“Similar problems abound in this bill, which treats a conscious decision to choose a new or different sexual identity as if it were an inherent, unavoidable condition. But it’s not. It’s actually a psychological disorder, officially listed as such by the current American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Our children and our co-workers should not be forced by law to be held hostage to such disorders, nor should employers be forced to have psychologically troubled persons as the public face of their businesses.”

Those words in black and white, words I know in my heart are believed passionately not just by conservatives but by many cis people on the left who hate us or simply do not know better, were the final angrily hammered nails in the coffin of my own naivete about GID.

I had long been in the camp that argued we needed this diagnosis to access health care, and that the movement to end it was dominated largely by white and economically privileged trans people who were not sparing sufficient thought for those who would suffer the most from a revocation of this diagnosis. Part of me still believes that, and I’ll return to that very important issue in a moment.

But let’s look at the reality presently. GID already fails to grant many of us needed healthcare. Advice on how to secure black market hormones abounds precisely because of this systemic problem. Most insurance refuses to cover it, most states in the US have laws explicitly banning Medicaid from covering transgender care.

And what do we get in return? “Proof” that we are a mentally ill community of ‘self mutilators’ and disordered penis-hackers (as always the transmisogynist discourse ensures little to no regard for trans men’s issues. It is the trans woman that is the fixture of cis anxiety, owing to the patriarchal nature of our present culture). In exchange for empowering psychiatrists to speak for us, judge us, control us, and in exchange for a diagnosis which supposedly proves beyond our own sense of knowing that we’re correct about ourselves, we have to accept that people will always see us as mentally ill.

At this juncture I wade into the territory of ableism and the discourse thereof which I’m certainly a good deal less qualified to speak about as I’m coming from a position of privilege. We shouldn’t live in a society where a person can be marginalised by labelling them as “mentally ill,” nor one where anyone is stigmatised as ‘disordered’ and thus ‘abnormal’ and subject to dehumanising or degrading treatment. I hope my effort to undo this diagnosis does not appear ableist. Rather what I want to do is shatter it so that trans people themselves can gain a needed boost in shaping the dialogues around our lives; dialogues that are less medicalised and more humanised. In other words revoking the right of privileged scientists to name us as “other” against our will.

As to the matter of transgender healthcare, Callen-Lorde Community Health Centre, a place near and dear to my own heart, recently had this to say about a new and improved diagnosis for GID which I had initially approved of, called “Gender Incongruence.”

We appreciate the APA’s proposed “Gender Incongruence”(GI) diagnosis is an effort intended to de-stigmatize gender non-conformity and improve transgender-identified people’s access to mental health care. We agree with the intention behind this effort; however, we endorse an alternative viewpoint, based on our years of collective practice knowledge. We believe GI will continue to inappropriately pathologize gender non-conformity, maintain barriers to medically necessary health care, and lend justification to gender based stigmatization and discrimination.”

While Helen Boyd’s beliefs and my own do not always coexist happily, I support her signing onto the Callen-Lorde letter. After many debates I’ve come to realise that what has happened with GID is not simply a matter of misunderstanding or lack of education. It’s, perhaps, the intended effect. To keep us marginalised in a little box where we’re perpetually under the purview (and control) of a patriarchal psychiatric establishment. What I hear time and again from trans people who have found sympathetic doctors and therapists is that those who didn’t give a toss about the diagnosis or the DSM were the best. They treated them as people that were trying to grow and change in accordance with who they knew themselves to be.

By contrast the horror stories I’ve heard have come from trans people who dealt with doctors and psychs for whom the DSM was a bible, whose printed text spoke louder than the voices of their patients and could never be challenged. These doctors were not terribly big on seeing their patients as people. Access to healthcare was restricted all the same, GID or no GID. A trans woman I know in Minnesota, unable to work due to disability, is beholden to the lone psychiatrist in her area who refuses to let her take hormones until her deeply conservative parents agree to the treatment, despite having a GID diagnosis.

She’s 24 years old.

The fact of the matter is that this diagnosis is a sham. Clinging to it is to accept the idea that without psychiatry and the men in white coats we are nothing. It is to accept their whispered warnings of worse things to come if we leave their loveless embrace.

But to steal a phrase from old-guard socialism, the truth is that we have nothing to lose but our chains.

From the Callen-Lorde letter once more:

An inappropriate pathway to transgender-specific medical care: There is legitimate community concern that removal of a mental health diagnosis would limit access to transgender-specific medical care. While a minority has succeeded in using the legal system or in fulfilling their insurer’s requirements for coverage to access care, the majority of people needing transgender-specific medical care are denied coverage. GI maintains these barriers to care. Medical interventions are better substantiated by the use of medical diagnoses, not psychiatric diagnoses. Access to transgender-specific, medically necessary care can be directly and more effectively addressed by utilization of a revised medical diagnosis in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The psychiatric needs of transgender people are better addressed by existing psychiatric diagnoses.”

I’m very much inclined to agree. The path to healthcare must be sustained by the agency of the trans person themselves and individual diagnoses tailored to who they are and what their needs are, not a one size fits all lie that stigmatises more than it saves. Already in Britain the GID diagnosis is becoming obsolete as the NHS pledges to provide care with or without it.

Love, not masculinist pseudoscience, is what will ensure we get the care we need. How we will get there, however, is also an important matter. It will not simply ‘happen’ once the diagnosis goes away. We’ll have to fight, we’ll have to build new frameworks of meaning and come up with new theories to give intelligible form to our experiences. It certainly won’t be an easy task but I’m ready to do my part. Many activists, unregarded and forgotten, even by other members of their own community, have already toiled on these issues. I have faith that a post-GID world can be a better one for trans people of all classes.

The fundamental, bedrock truth is and always has been that gender dysphoria was never really about us per se. It’s actually not that different from what a cis LGBQ person might feel in a conservative environment prior to knowing there are others like them out there and people who will love them: the oppressive sense that you ‘know’ you’ll never fit in, never be what your parents want you to be, the fear of losing friends, family, loved ones, status, and one’s sense of place. That does not arise from a discrete condition one may label a ‘disorder.’ It’s an understandable sense of fear, self-loathing, and depression that arises from feeling that to be your true self will make society hate you.

This is what gender dysphoria is.

Yet no matter how many times I explain this, men thrust their fingers angrily at the DSM and hearken to its supposed objectivity, and the alleged scientific truth it brings.

But I know better.

I know my own heart, my body, my spirit, and my life.

I am not sick.

I am not disordered.

I am a trans woman and I’m not going anywhere.

I need no chaperone, no white coated man or woman to act as a walking, talking identity card.

I need only to be.

The Master’s Tools

Super Italicised Editor’s Notes: I’ve been quite busy with schoolwork and reading of late so, to all three of you, I apologise. It’s been fulfilling but draining and I scarcely have the energy to write things for this journal. Updates will continue to be sporadic but I have some ideas knocking about.

More Editor’s Notes: Andrea James has graciously responded to this piece at length and I encourage everyone to consider what she has to say.

In the past I have mentioned trans rights activist Andrea James, a highly successful trans woman who writes for and maintains the invaluable resource of TSRoadmap.com, which for its relatively small flaws remains a compendium on trans feminine transition without compare. I still link it at the side of this website for those neophyte trans people who may be poking around the net for information that may stumble on this blog. Ms. James keeps up with it, updating it periodically, and keeping up with its news feed which is one of my sources on trans community news these days.

But I have to say I was disturbed to discover her latest venture, which appears to be an outright attack on two, admittedly dangerous and self-hating, trans people. Linked in the news section, I read this with both interest and concern. Andrea James could well be a scholar if she put her mind to it and much of her website contains comprehensive deconstructions of transphobic ideology, pseudoscientific and otherwise. This is no exception, save for the venom she injects into certain elements, which I will discuss momentarily. The two people she is attacking here are people she, with good reason, lumps together with a group I derisively call the “HBS crowd”, a group of conservative transsexual women who claim to have an intersex condition, “Harry Benjamin Syndrome,” and claim dominion over who is and is not a true transsexual. Much of their online presence is dedicated to outright assaults on the trans community, using extremely bigoted language that would not be out of place in a bar (“men in dresses” “eunuchs” etc.) and they appear to use little else besides political orientation to make these determinations.

They are the Uncle Toms of the transgender community and I do not use this term flippantly or lightly. I do not say this because they don’t think as I do; I say this because they actively reify cissexual oppression and buttress it, claiming standing as a trans person in one breath to legitimise their hatred, while in the next disowning it and appropriating an intersex identity as part of their perpetual self-loathing. I’ve seen HBSers cheer on transphobic feminists, support anti-trans legislation, and reject attempts at equality such as the promotion of the word ‘cis.’ They claim to know who is a real woman and who isn’t, using ‘standards’ that are incredibly demeaning to trans people and women as a whole. Indeed, there is precious little difference between their beliefs and the ideals of your run of the mill ignorant cissexist.

Their betrayal of other trans people is impossible for me to forgive. I do not begrudge those who wish to live in stealth and otherwise separate themselves from the political community. That’s their right, we transition to make our individual lives better and I cannot blame a trans person one jot if they elect to do so. My problem is that they then actively work against the rest of their fellows. They have so internalised cissexist hate that they then project that self-loathing onto the rest of us. They feel illegitimate because they have been so bogged down by a society and a medical establishment that told them this was so, that they’d always be second-best also rans as women. From this perspective, their condition is a sad, lamentable one. HBSers are victims of cissexism as much as the rest of us, and regrettably they turn around to assault the rest of the community in thrashing attempts at legitimising their own identities. They create hierarchies of womanhood with themselves at or near the top and the rest of the trans community towards the bottom. They absolutely must feel more legitimate than other trans people in order to feel legitimate period.

The brilliant author of the webcomic Trans Girl Diaries has some excellent satires of their mentality in these particular pieces.

After this very lengthy and deserved thrashing you may wonder, then, what my problem with Andrea James is in this instance. HBSers attack the community by creating websites and sockpuppets designed to promote  their unique flavour of transphobia, Ms. James comes in with her +10 Hammer o’ Justice and all is well, yes? Well, much as I love Ms. James for doing what so many of us can’t, there is a thorny ethical question here that ties into other such information campaigns she has run in the past.

HBSers, regardless of their self-loathing politics which are externalised onto the rest of us at every opportunity, are still trans women. They are still vulnerable to transphobic and transmisogynist violence and discrimination. The men who have sought to rape, murder and utterly destroy us don’t give a whit about what they would see as semantic political differences. HBSer, TG, WBT, TS, trans women, we’re all just trannies to them, and thus subhuman. For Ms. James to decide, by fiat, who is worthy of protection and who isn’t, I am afraid she’s simply playing into the hands of transphobes. I consider the two women she’s just outed to be odious and detrimental to our community, but I cannot countenance putting them in harm’s way, regardless of the hate they are spreading.

You do not out a trans person, nor splash their photos, full names, and place of residence (if not exact address) on the Internet, end of story.

In digging up all of this personal information, including their personal histories and the like, I feel as if she is going too far to make her point. Can a trans woman activist like Ms. James, however well intentioned, wield the cudgel of cis violence against her (and indeed, our) enemies? Is this ethical? My answer is a resounding no. I understand she is trying to name and shame as well as hold these people accountable for their words and actions, piercing the façade of their innumerable alts and sockpuppets to prove they’re fewer in number than they appear and so forth.

But from Ms. James’ own description, Candice Elliott is apparently confused and possibly going through a midlife crisis. In attaching herself so forcefully to an identity and taxonomy used by trans-hating psychiatrists she is, in my mind, attempting to find and legitimise some identity for herself in a world deeply inimical to trans people. We all have our weak moments, and yes we should be judged by how we handle that weakness, but no you should not be put at risk of violence by other trans people for it.

When she speaks extensively about public figures in the cis scientific community like Ken Zucker and Ray Blanchard she’s mostly going over things that are on the public record. But by outing people like Ms. Holder and Ms. Elliott she’s entering far more dangerous and far more sinister territory. There is, however, other radioactive water that she is carrying:

“As shown in the photo below, Holder is passing for black about as well as passing for female.”

I’m not going to comment on Holder’s skin alterations. I put it in the same category as I do furries; fine by me, I have better things to do with my time than prove you ‘wrong’ in some cosmic sense. However the tone here taken by Ms. James clearly indicates mocking and derision. It is, in my mind, amoral for a trans woman to mock another based on one’s ability to “pass” by their standards (which are invariably influenced by the media imagery of a misogynist culture) and it simply reifies cissexism as much as any HBSer rant does (indeed, many of them do the same, as the pyramid I linked on TGD above shows). How can Andrea James indulge this for even one moment? Would Holder’s wrongdoing be any less problematic if she looked like a supermodel? Of course not. This merely feels like kicking sand at her out of spite (deserved spite, mayhaps, but spite all the same) and echoes the ugly statements made by Lynn Conway about the appearances of some trans people she disapproved of.

The objectifying before/after photos echo an ugly media trope that is often used against trans women, and although the ‘before’ pictures don’t show them in guy mode, it still has an ugly vibe to it that makes me rather uncomfortable.

You cannot fight cissexism and then turn around and indulge in it when it is convenient for you to do so. I don’t claim any right to do so just because I’m a trans woman.

I applaud Ms. James’ valiant efforts on behalf of the rest of us, but I also implore her to be careful when outing people who are otherwise private citizens. It’s a tremendous dilemma because one wants to push back against their misinformation and hate, but they are trans people all the same (whether they claim otherwise or not) and as such are vulnerable to transphobic violence and discrimination. Opening them up to that is unconscionable, unethical, and should be unthinkable for any trans activist.

It might make things harder, yes, but I learned long ago that nothing worth doing is easy, especially that which is virtuous. We must fight our enemies with dignity and without reducing ourselves to their tactics.

The Ministry of Footnotes

My previous article was, in a word, a doozy. It is, if I may be immodest, ambitious and expansive in its arguments. This leaves it especially prone to puncturing from any number of people with ready examples of individuals and institutions or events that fall outside the parameters I laid out in The Ministry of Strength. So, tonight, I’ll address some of the weaknesses of my argument and anticipate some responses thereto.

I certainly don’t deny that exceptions to the theories exist. I’d be a little scared if they didn’t. No modern society contains 100% socialised individuals. Indeed, no society ever has. The very proposition of individuality requires that one not be ‘fully socialised.’ By fully socialised I mean simply that the individual has fully internalised the mores, folkways, and ideas of their society and never challenges or personally interprets any one of them. Such people do not exist, of course.

To construe any totalising argument from the thesis of Ministry is to miss the point of such a theory. It’s never meant to explain absolutely everything, only to corral what factual realities it can find into a cogent framework of understanding.

This theory is intended to explain a broad social trend, not society as a whole. If this reads like a lengthy disclaimer, it is in a sense. I was fortunate to learn when I was very young that no philosopher or social scientist could ever explain the world at a stroke. But this is also going to be an attempt to clarify Ministry of Strength against a backdrop of competing ideas and common arguments.

i.

The first issue comes from what one might call the countervailing (and very arguably dominant) ideology to the notions put forth by my previous article. The Culture of Victimisation. Just this afternoon I got a slightly used sociology textbook in the mail, much to my delight. Not far in, however, under the chapter headed “Culture” there was an aside in one of those ‘Thinking Critically’ insets entitled “Don’t Blame Me! The Culture of Victimisation.” In it you are presented with five cases of this supposed culture that are very sensational indeed.

Among them are things like a man leaping in front of a Subway train in New York, surviving, and then suing the City for 650,000 dollars due to the nature of his injuries. Four similar examples are given and the author then begins to discuss what he sees as the possible existence of a culture of self-victimisation. I find the examples to be spurious. Not because they didn’t happen, but because it’s rather hard to fit these sensationalist outliers into a true understanding of victimhood. We occasionally hear some story about an outrageous lawsuit or enormous rewards being reaped from them by people with relatively minor grievances but is this really victim culture?

This Culture of Victimisation is a popular theme among conservatives to be sure, but the argument there is very often expanded to include women, people of colour, LGBT people, the disabled, and so on. To claim that they are perpetuating such a culture. Many white conservatives are fond of arguing that ‘self segregation’ occurring in poor neighbourhoods is the product of this “victim culture.”

This, however, seems to support my argument that as a society we’re redefining ‘victim’ into a self-created category. Oftentimes without much in the way of real evidence. The author of the textbook, John J. Macionis, says the following:

“What’s going on here? Is US culture changing? Historically, our cultural ideal was “rugged individualism,” the idea that people are responsible for their own triumphs or tragedies. But this value has weakened for several reasons. First, everyone is more aware (partly through the work of sociologists) of how society shapes our lives. We now recognise that categories of people (such as Native Americans, African Americans, and women) have suffered real historical disadvantages. But more and more people these days are saying they are victims, including white males, who claim that “everybody gets special treatment but us.” ”

Needless to say, I have trouble swallowing this. The most glaring solecism in my view is that he seems to suggest individualism is on the decline in our society. As I said last night- and stand by today- the very opposite has occurred. In the United States especially we have become increasingly individualistic, to the point where we are actually denying the existence of social forces, institutions, and most acutely oppression itself. The idea that, as Macionis states, “people are responsible for their own triumphs or tragedies” is a consensus view in our culture, not one that is withering away.

Out of that idea comes the notion that one can self-victimise. Ironically, Macionis makes a critique that could not exist but for a culture in which individualism was so powerful. The very idea that a whole culture of individuals victimising themselves exists could only come about in a society that exalted the supreme power of the individual.

ii.

It should be noted that Macionis points out that white men are among those engaged in this sort of culture. Up until very recently I’d have agreed with that idea.

It’s worth taking a step aside now for a mea culpa. Even up until quite recently I have inveighed against reactionaries like Men’s Rights Activists for being ‘self-victimising’. I myself, without realising it, participated in the shameful exercise of perpetuating this insidious idea; that one could make one’s self a victim and attempt to profit from it.

A far better critique, I realise, would be to call out such groups for their hypocrisy. Oftentimes conservatives of various stripes will accuse me and others of being self-victimising before immediately turning around and bemoaning the sorry state of the white male at the hands of faceless feminist or NAACP oppressors. This is less self-victimising than it is pure selfishness, I realise, and naturally hypocritical. It’s just better to point that out to them: “if I’m being self victimising then surely you are. Or can we both agree that this idea is a fallacy?”

This is certainly what I’ll try to do from now on.

iii.

I should clarify my views on capitalism a bit as well. I threw around the term “rational-individualist capitalism” without defining it clearly, which is a huge faux pas on my part. Its meaning can be adequately intuited but I should not leave such things to the reader as that’s just kind of mean.

Essentially, rationalist-individualist capitalism is as much a theory of society as it is a theory of economics. It holds that all human beings are rational actors serving their self-interest, always calculating and strategising to their maximum advantage. Thus, in this model, even apparent altruism has a selfish core. It also posits that individuals are supremely powerful and can overcome all obstacles if they are talented enough; if they fail or stumble it is entirely their fault and no one else’s. It minimises the role of group action and collectives, it also minimises (or in extreme cases outright denies) the existence of a society.

This is, in short, the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” capitalism.

I went to pains to call this rationalist-individualist capitalism because to call it “capitalism” full stop as my Marxist and leftist friends are so fond of doing, is perhaps a grave mistake. Such is implicitly determinist, presuming that what we have at present is the inevitable form of capitalism that it was destined to take. The essential and basic ideas of capitalism do not lead to this society inevitably, however, at least not capitalism as an economic theory.

A good sociologist must always keep in mind that no social institution is inevitable. The institution could’ve been different had the historical chips fallen differently. Capitalism and the economies of every country are no exception.

What makes our version of capitalism so special is that it is not just economics, it’s philosophy as well. The individualism and rationalism therein which posits that economics can objectively prove human beings are entirely selfish and are best left to their own individual devices out of which an orderly and efficient equilibrium would emerge… are entirely political ideas. There is precious little that is objective about any of this, and it isn’t even really economics either. It makes many assumptions about human nature simply to make mathematical models of global economies work.

The rationalist part in particular is what gives rise to this idea of humans as inherently selfish, who’ll stab you in the back if given half the chance and if there was profit in it. This, of course, becomes a self fulfilling prophecy among both the capitalist class and economists, but that’s a tale for another day. What’s important to remember here is that underlying this notion of victim culture is the idea that the self-victimiser is trying to leverage something out of you with their victim status.

Macionis’ idea was that it was money, of course, as seen in the cases of those high profile frivolous lawsuits. In the twisted ideology of those who promote the idea of “victim culture” those who call themselves victims are actually making themselves part of a privileged class, because then they’ll be pitied, sympathised with, and perhaps even lavished with money or book deals.

Furthermore, mutatis mutandis, this also relates to the MRA obsession with false-rape allegations. In their construction of this idea, they see every woman who accuses a man of raping her as coldly calculating her maximum advantage. Rationally pursuing a selfish interest. This plays into, of course, the stereotype of women as deft manipulators who can play the fiddle of emotion, but with the coldest of intent behind it.

The selfish individual, always ready to screw over who they can for profit (financial, social, or spiritual), is a key figure in the Ministry of Strength.

iv.

A worthy question may be asked now, however. How does that square with the idea that victims are weak? It does require a bit of cognitive dissonance, really. It exists for the same reason that entitled people can believe trans activists are self-victimising before going off to complain about how they themselves are victims of some social ill.

I might also say that you can accuse a person of being weak by accusing them of taking the easy path (self-victimising to win an argument or win sympathy, say). In this view, there is no contradiction between the weak victim and the conniving victim.

But at heart the idea remains: in a society of selfish individuals, a person must have a selfish reason for claiming the title of victim. Thus the privileged person asks first “what do they want from me?” In this vein it’s instructive to consider the constant panic among white conservatives in the US about the ‘threat’ of black citizens demanding reparations for slavery. For them, this is the selfish motivation underlying black community activism.

In this racist assumption you may find the core that resolves the cognitive dissonance of the privileged. A person is too weak to win resources the hard way, ergo they call themselves a victim in an attempt to guilt people into handing it to them- or in the case of the female false accuser, dodge responsibility for a regretted night of sex. This is how many people are now conditioned to understand any activism or any accusation against victimisers (whether as groups or individuals).

v.

A brief aside may be spared here for media portrayals as well. One may raise the objection that many women are often portrayed sympathetically in the media (fiction and nonfiction) as victims we’re supposed to collectively care about. One might further argue that some form of misandry keeps us from seeing male victims brought onto Oprah to shed their tears.

Two points to be made here:

  1. The use of women as sympathetic victims in the media is usually conjoined with some sort of redemption wherein they throw off the shackles of the label and reclaim themselves. They proudly tell how they “stopped being a victim.” Alternately they may be set up as someone for men to save (see the Jessica Lynch story) or as a tragic victim of their own failings.
  2. The unwillingness to show male victims often is borne of misogyny at heart, not pure misandry. The aversion to countenancing the male in society as a vulnerable figure who can be hurt, and who would be comfortable with sharing their feelings and admitting their struggle is ground in ideas of masculinity that are directly tied to patriarchal ideals. There is no feminist conspiracy barring public sympathy for men who’ve been in some way victimised. This aversion is very strong when it comes to men who are victims of sexual violence in particular. Rape is still understood as something done only to women. Some laws even explicitly define rape as unwanted vaginal penetration by a penis. This exists largely because the patriarchal construction of Man will not tolerate a man being the victim of sex crimes.

vi.

Here might be a good place to address another spinoff of the selfish victim argument. The idea that we want to induce guilt in others. The accusation of ‘guilt tripping’ is familiar to any liberationist who has debated the privileged and I regret not addressing the matter sooner. One MRA I sparred with recently made the thinking on the matter quite clear. They said in no uncertain terms that feminists and similar groups wanted to induce guilt in order to squeeze tangible concessions out of people and thus gain more privileges. It’s not hard to see how this fantastic idea dovetails with the concepts I outlined earlier.

As I see it, guilt is the exact opposite of what we want. I do not want men or cis people in general to feel guilty because of the things I tell them or argue for (unless they themselves have committed some grievous wrong, in which case, guilt away). But in general, no. Why? Because it’s ultimately counterproductive. Guilt is self-centered by nature “I feel bad about what I did, woe is me.” What is being asked for is not yet more selfishness (which is what gets us into these predicaments in the first place) but more empathy.

See the world differently than you saw it before. See me as a human being, if you’re feeling inclined towards the radical. Consider new ideas. But don’t debilitate yourself with guilt.

vii.

While this is nearly last I think this is among the most important connections to make. As a trans person how often have you heard from some particularly callous and callow sorts that you have “created your own class to self-oppress in” or somesuch.

Consider that for a moment.

You are being accused of inventing a marginalised group to be a part of so you can… reap the rewards of being marginalised? It sounds bizarre but with the elements outlined above and in conjunction with those put forward in The Ministry of Strength it’s not really that odd. Privileged people and even those who are not so terribly privileged think that it’s very common and desirable for people to claim a victim status for some selfish end. Thus it entirely makes sense that trans people would be attacked by bigots and entitled sorts who feel, in all sincerity, that we actually made this up just to get the apparent special favour that comes with being a victim.

Not too many other people get hit with this exact iteration of bigotry. It’s hard to accuse a black person of making up their existence as a black individual, for example. The bigot can argue that they invent their oppression, yes. But beyond that, no. It is a testament to how far behind trans people are when our very class is accused of not existing. The odious Jack Donovan, MRA extraordinaire and professional ironic gay man, levelled this charge at trans people multiple times claiming that we made up our class to reap some ill defined benefit to being oppressed.

Think of how this pervasive ideology benefits those with power and privilege. To actually convince the mass of society that it is those who claim to be marginalised who have or seek privilege. How many times have you heard the LGBT lobby accused of pursuing “special rights”? How many times have you heard it claimed that we seek privileges over the rest of the hardworking, God-fearing populace? All of these ideas derive from this individualist ideology surrounding victimhood and the attendant notion that one can make one’s self a victim, with all emphasis taken off of any victimisers.

Like most cultural and social forces that afflict the marginalised, it seems trans people are prone to getting it especially bad.

viii.

Looking over these “footnotes” I know I may raise more questions than answers. None of this is easy and what I propose is an expansive way of examining this subject, part polemic, part sociology, part historical, part political science. But I feel we’ll be the better off for looking at this matter in a very different way going forward. Inasmuch as the fallacy of “victim culture” was put forward in a sociology textbook by an author who otherwise seemed disinclined to conservatism, it’s clear that what’s being challenged is a deeply engrained consensus viewpoint.

As illustrated last time, however, the need is urgent. Real people are being harmed by this ideology and its failings become abundantly clear in those cases.

Edit: Footnote seven was added a day later based on some thoughts I had after publication.

Castles in the Air

In the many debates I’ve had about the truth of my existence the question of whether one can ever truly be trans is a pressing one. How do you know you’re a woman? What does this mean about gender? Does the fact of my existence better support biological essentialism or the theories of social constructionism? Thus it is that again my life is reduced to someone else’s ideological pawn. Must I validate anything by existing? Other than the already obvious fact of human diversity, of course. But nestled in this tangled mess is the burden of my own past, which I’ve recounted in some sketchy detail here recently.

How to see it and how to understand it is an ever pressing question, the answer to which evolves over time. How we reinterpret our biographies is part of how we live our lives and how we measure its progress, in a way. One is often considered mature when they can look back on the relative immaturity of their younger years- a time when they were sure they were absolutely right. So what do I see when I look back on those days when I was younger and when I was still struggling to know myself?

Pivoting off of this thought provoking post over at Sugar and Slugs I thought its particular timeliness in the wake of Daughter Also Rises (Part I, Part II) meant this would be a good time to re-examine some of what I said.

I was impressed most of all by the fundamental honesty of her post and I think it touches on a fundamental question that dogs us all, not just trans people:

How do we know what we know?

The sociology of knowledge, such as it is in its very theoretical and airy form, exists to try and answer this question and is generally at the basis of what we know as social constructionism. This was best epitomised by the groundbreaking text The Social Construction of Reality by Thomas Luckmann and Peter Berger that, while dense as a brick and an extraordinarily wonky read,  is nevertheless worth considering. We do, to a great extent, invent our knowledge. Male and female are loose biological concepts that have been reified into socially constructed genders and identities. That is to say that the gender expressions of males and females and all who exist outside of that binary have at least some societal grounding. What we consider the ‘trappings’ of male and female are socially determined.

But then other things come into it. Why, for example, would I find such peace from taking hormones if biology didn’t somehow become part of the mix? There are many interlacing layers of complexity to be found here.

But that aside, what we understand as gender has a largely socially constructed definition that is reified by the existence of what a layperson sees as two mutually exclusive sexes (and I say ‘layperson’ because biologically speaking things get considerably more complicated than that). Thus all of that said, how do I know I’m a woman?

I just know. How can I describe how this feels? I really cannot imagine the alternative any longer and with each passing day I feel more and more at home.

This raises another question, however. This life is a hard one, one that is complicated by the many externalities of womanhood in a patriarchal society. The latter creates a welter of problems before one even gets to the part about being trans. Some particularly dense radical feminists ask why on earth one would want to be a woman in this society with all the problems we face, when one was born with a one way ticket into Male Privilege. Why indeed.

The answer lies back in World of Warcraft.

One of the details I ought not to have skipped over in my telling of that story and which I may edit in later was how I handled my first Bad Female Experiences. I was flirted with, even against my expressed wishes, stalked, had photos demanded of me, heard and rolled my eyes at innumerable sexist jokes, and so forth. The first two were especially bad. A lot of people tend to blur the lines between fantasy and reality in these games and more than one person who I roleplayed with, even for just the briefest of times, felt we had “a moment” and sought to declare their undying affection for me.

My stalker felt very much the same and he was quite determined to be my betrothed, regaling me with tales of how I’d lay against his bare chest while he played the guitar and held roses. I’m honestly a bit unclear on how that might’ve worked physically. This was something wholly new to me that I had not really experienced at all in high school. Suddenly I was surrounded by men who wouldn’t take no for an answer, who felt entitled to my time and attention, who stalked me, and who underestimated my capabilities.

Did this suck big time? Absolutely. But something else happened in that crucible. I found the strength to fight it. I certainly didn’t enjoy being treated like a woman in this respect, but I found a sense of pride in standing up for my dignity against it. When I lived as a male I didn’t ever really want to stand up for myself. I never had the energy or desire to do so. Even though I came under fire as a woman, I found I had the sense of pride I needed to find dignity in battle, so to speak.

This is not to spin my WoW experience as some kind vortex of misogynist misery; in my two years there I had some great times and met some absolutely wonderful people, men and women alike, who treated me as a friend and comrade. Suffice it to say, we kicked the arse of many a raid boss together. But the gendered experiences were instructive. When men foisted gifts upon me in thoroughly unwarranted contexts I felt hopelessly put upon and burdened. But I also found the strength to not indulge in the commodity model they were buying into; I knew I owed them no attention of any sort, least of all sexual, and learned to not feel pressured into accepting unwanted gifts or advances.

In summary, being a woman has its problems but I had the strength to deal with those challenges, drawing on a well of dignity that was somehow unavailable when I was struggling to be a male in society.

Sugar and Slugs makes an interesting point here:

“If womanhood comes, as many transsexuals seem to believe, from some kind of internal knowing (which itself seems like a form of mental essentialism), I have no way to know that my experience of “knowing” that I am a woman is the same as the “knowing” that other people experience. It’s nonverifiable.”

It seems like a wash but I can answer it, I feel. How we know ourselves, as individuals, and then vis a vis our various group associations, is an individuated self-knowing that is likely as vicissitudinal and unique as a fingerprint. So, naturally, my self knowing as a woman is different from my female best friend’s self knowing, which is different from my mother’s self-knowing and so on.

Thus while my self knowledge is unique, it is not invalid.

That knowledge is coloured by experience and how we grow into ourselves. Some of it is self knowledge based on our physical form, and the distinctive ways that hormones can interact with our brains, as well as consciousness of our particular social location in the broader world.

“If, on the other hand, we take a stance that “existence precedes essence”, and that as Simon de Beauvoir wrote, “one is not born a woman, but becomes one”, we can see womanhood as something that arises from the form and capabilities of the adult female body and the way in which that person is treated by the wider world.”

Thus this becomes a part of self knowledge for some, if not self knowledge en toto.

How do we draw the line that bifurcates essence and its prototypical ‘existence’? We cannot. Aside from simply being unable to know the consciousness of another person, we also have to account for individual variance. Shared experience is not analogous to identical experience. Thus how we see our individual womanhoods (or manhoods, or other identities as the case may be) depends on who we are as individuals based on a very diverse matrix of individual stimuli, variables, and experiences.

In my own case when I look back on my childhood and my teen years I know that I was not fully a girl, and that particularly in many of my interactions at school and in the outside world I was socially located as a male with the many things that implies. But I also know that I was not fully a boy in any sense. I was someplace that was less easily categorised. The rise of my own feminine essence, to use de Beauvoir’s term, can probably be traced back to my tentative steps into gaming.

Was I not a female before that? My self-understanding says that I was, just heavily repressed. I have no way of proving this, naturally, but that’s what it seemed to feel like. The reason I can’t prove it is a very simple one.

Womanhood isn’t any one thing.

I’d have to say I was a woman because I did or didn’t do x, y, and z. That makes no sense whatsoever and is incredibly reductive. The constituent parts of my experience, taken by themselves, and compartmentalised into bullet points, do not amount to a definition of womanhood, any more than a brick adds up to the Empire State Building. But taken together and arranged in a certain way, all those experiences I delineated, great and small, added up to something I understand as womanhood.

It would be wrong to say that just because I played female characters in video games or tried on my mother’s clothes, I’m therefore a woman. Those are just building blocks of my tower of womanhood, so to speak. Essential parts, but mere parts all the same.

In short, I was not a cis girl growing up, no. But neither was I a cis boy. I had what best approximates as a trans girl’s childhood. One of a million different kinds but a distinctive experience all the same, during which one internalises the mores and ideals of a patriarchal society and during which one can build up the same amount of baggage many cis girls have to unpack by the time they hit 20.

Constantly being told to be insecure, to hate yourself, to see yourself as less; to see yourself as less beautiful, less capable, in need of constant improvement conveniently provided in small doses by expensive products, on and on. How many times did I watch television or some movie and wonder why it was always “the hero gets the girl” and not the other way around, or wonder why every even remotely independent woman had to get hitched to a man as part of the boilerplate “happy ending”?

Figuring all of that nonsense out actually took years of slow and steady intellectual growth. It was on my road to feminism that I began to discover this, and on this path I’d begin to unravel what was within me as well.

Nebulous Persona is fundamentally correct that we have no solid, firm, incontrovertible proof of our womanhood (and presumably trans men of their manhood, or nonbinary people of their identities) at least in terms of something that could be written and considered as inerrant and objective as a physics formula. But then… neither does anyone about any of their identities or self-understanding.

No matter what I or anyone else says, I know those who are convinced that I’m somehow disturbed or evil will continue to see me as such. I’m quite sure that any fundamentalist, MRA, extremist feminist, or general, run of the mill hater will read my story and ‘pick holes’ in it. I cannot convince these people of my identity in any rational, logical, or Socratic sense. There’s just an element of decency that many people have which allows them to take a leap of faith and understand the personal truth of my womanhood, to understand what I mean when I tell my story to them, the way many of my mother’s relatives seem to ‘get it’ more or less.

But they do not do what they do because they were presented with a flawless argument.

Such attention is paid to trans people, and such harsh absolutist questions (“How do you know who you are!?”) are asked because who we are still seems to upset a great many taboos. Yet we all, each of us, somehow upset the templates laid out for us at birth. In some little way, we stand out and engage in our own unconscious acts of rebellion. Why? Is there a test that confirms some cosmic veracity of one person’s taste in fashion, for example?

Of course not. Nor will there ever be. Why should there be?

Why should my rights depend on such? It is one of the reasons why I consider the growing body of research into homosexuality to be academically useful but politically flawed. Why should it matter if it can be biologically ‘proven’ or not? Our democracies defend the choice of religion- no one argues that Christians needed to have ‘Christ-like DNA’ before they were accorded protections under our laws. No one argues that political speech must have a biological origin before we bestow the blessings of liberty upon it. So why do I have to prove myself in that way, with anything other than what I feel is my own lived experience? The obvious answers of heteronormative and cisnormative social standards leap to mind, of course.

Thus it is that while I consider these questions to be useful to consider from various academic and theoretical standpoints, I feel that they above all constitute castles in the air. To whatever extent they are solid and tangible, they’re far out of reach, occupying an almost mythical space in our collective conscience.

When I was a wee one I loved The Phantom Tollbooth and it remains my favourite children’s story. Few tales were such an elegant celebration of education and knowledge.  Toward the end Milo ascended to the beautiful Castle in the Air, high above the Mountains of Ignorance, where the exiled twin queens of Rhyme and Reason were locked away, and freed them that their wisdom might again reign over the land. To my mind, on this subject and quite a few others, we could do a lot worse than to become Milo and spring Rhyme and Reason from these aerial castles of ‘proving one’s gender.’

How do I know I exist?

Because I am here.

The Daughter Also Rises

It isn’t unusual for a new year to inspire reflection. Though it sucks when it gets caught on your blazer.

We are the masters of our own stories as human beings and our understanding of the world around us rests, in part, on how we rationalise where we’ve been. In other words, how we remember and understand our lives as they have been so far. This is true of all humans, not just trans people, but it takes on a special significance for us sometimes because when you get right down to it, our pasts are what sire the discrimination and othering that we face.

For the last two weeks as some of my entries here have indicated, this has been on my mind. I’ve done a lot of reflecting on where I came from and how I understand myself as a trans woman. It is enough for me to say that I just know this is the right course, naturally. I cannot argue with the results: my future is now impatiently awaited, my energy feels boundless at times, I can actually envision myself doing something worthwhile in my future. I cannot, and do not argue with how I feel and the rightness of it all. Yet I still feel compelled to write about this, to tell the story such as it is so far.

Perhaps it is just that after having subjected myself to so many cis narratives of late, I want to put my genuine story of trans womanhood out there to counteract the lies.

Perhaps this is just something I personally need to do on the eve of my return to college, a day that marks the beginning of a life I want to live.

[I should emphasise that this is my story and mine alone. Any comparisons to certain cliches about trans life are to better illustrate my own story by contrast, not to diminish anyone else’s. If it is to be taken as any sort of instruction on trans identity it is to say we are not all the same, but neither are all trans people like me.]

So, now to the beginning…

I was a child of the 80s and born into the infamous brown bricked projects of the South Bronx where I spent the first 4 years of my life before moving to condo in a slightly less poor neighbourhood. The stories most often told about trans people where a five year old child adamantly refuses to play with toys of a certain gender stereotype is not my story. I have virtually no memory of those years except the faintest clip of me running down a hallway in my pyjamas and then staring at a line of rat poison in a corner thinking it was candy.

Given that I’m still here I don’t think I ate it.

But Barbie was never my thing. She still isn’t. I loved me some trucks and Lego. I never once felt like I was playing with the wrong toys. Indeed,  I almost can’t blame my father for not seeing my transition coming. When I was a wee one I used to get all excited at Bigfoot, the large Ford monster truck, and quickly took to Nintendo NES like a duck to water. Or a duck to hunt, mayhaps. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that he began to call my masculinity into question.

In retrospect I was one hell of a tomboy and I have no regrets about this. Why should I? The story that is most often told about us involves little trans girls insisting on playing with dolls and walking around in mom’s high heels. Does this stuff happen? Of course it does. Even I played with mum’s shoes. But it is not the only definitive trans story. It certainly wasn’t my story. For my money Lego are the coolest toys ever for all genders. I felt comfortable with how I was raised, in that respect. Despite my father’s abusiveness I had a more or less enviable childhood. I thought nothing of the fact that there were times when I was little that I’d look in mirrors with my penis tucked between my legs.

There are phrases that are often bandied about in regards to us, such as “woman trapped in a man’s body” or vice versa. Even I’m guilty of using that to describe myself. But that is not my phrase, it only very imprecisely describes how I felt, and it is but the faintest approximation of many trans lives I’ve read about and know personally: including my own. I never felt trapped in my body, even as it masculinised. I didn’t like it, certainly, and I hated my facial hair but I didn’t shave it out of laziness. But trapped? No, not quite. Even to this day, with everything I now know and despite the occasional envy I find myself feeling of certain cis women or other trans women, I do not feel trapped in this form. I’m more grateful for it than anything else, oddly.

To say I was trapped in a man’s body would be a very old fashioned and ciscentric way of putting it. A way to help the uninformed more easily understand my situation. In reality I came to understand the fluidity of gender identity, gender presentation and an understanding that my body did not limit me to one way of life or one way of being. How I came to that knowledge was part of a long and often circuitous journey that took place mostly in high school. How and why did that happen? Because little Quinnae lived in her own world.

If there was ever any indication that I didn’t feel quite right with the world around me it was my intense desire to escape from it. All children are imaginative, and often beautifully so. But in my case there was a clear desire to utterly disassociate from the world around me as often as possible. For me, every day brought a new symphony of imagination where I was something else. I loved my stuffed animals loads and often played with them, pretending they were real, but their roles in my life were not to attend a tea party, no. They were players in my orchestras and students in my classrooms, with instruments and implements I had made using paper and spaghetti noodles. Oh how I loved spaghetti noodles…

I would use them to reinforce everything I made from paper, to keep it together.

Then there was the paper. Paper everything. I put traffic lights and street signs all over the house and pretended to drive around it. I built mockups of paper cities combining elements of London and Seattle and New York into my vision of a super metropolis. Over and over and over again for years. I built the Mushroom Kingdom. I built Ancient Rome. I destroyed them with earthquakes and space invasions and built them right back up again. I begged dad to get me a whiteboard so I could teach my classes with it and one day he obliged me by getting a huge one he’d found one day in the garbage. After that I just went to town on teaching. I used the textbooks from all my classes at primary school and unsurprisingly I aced all of my tests without studying.

There’s nothing unusual about a child flying away into their fantasies and their imaginations, and maybe that’s the point of all of this. So many trans narratives as articulated by cis people focus on what’s “wrong”. Being imaginative isn’t gendered, of course. Some psychiatrists might say I wasn’t really trans because I pretended to be James Bond for much of my middle school years.

You should see the cool gadgets I made. The cell phone car remote, the laser watch, the gadget laden briefcase. I did it all. I played James Bond, M (male and female), Moneypenny, and the Bond girls and villains. I was a one girl show with every fantasy I enacted, often talking to myself in a variety of voices. I still smile and flush with embarrassment all at the same time when I look back on it all… and also feel a sense of pride in all the laminated ID cards and credit cards I made.

There are moments now when I lament what I might have missed had I been raised as a girl, and yet looking at what young women are made to go through in their youth I feel almost glad I missed it, for I might well have hated it all.

My style these days is feminine and formal, the caricatures of myself that often accompany my posts are a good approximation of my button down blouse and skirt style. But I think I’d have been an overalls-girl as a kid and would’ve resented anything that compelled me to wear a dress.

I often feel ashamed to admit that as if that makes me somehow illegitimate as a trans woman. Yet I know in my heart it doesn’t. My road was unique and to see myself as lesser is to accept the cis stereotype that all trans people must be just so. So I was a tomboy, sue me. I live under the whim of no psychiatrist and I thank the goddess every day that this is so, for I know that some might look askance at me were I to relate this tale of my childhood. Some would have said that I was not truly trans for that, or that I might have been ‘just a crossdresser’, and sought to make my life a misery.

I made that. ...When I was 20
I made that… when I was 20.

Yet what I got out of my childhood was a zest for independence, and I know I’d never have been happy had I accepted the whims of those who thought they knew better.

But something else happened in my childhood as well.

We are often told, usually by transphobic cis women, that because trans women didn’t grow up as girls they cannot truly know what it’s like to be a woman. Needless to say, I always disagreed with that, though I found it hard to put my response into words until I really sat down with my childhood and gazed back through that dusty looking glass. When I was a kid I internalised the social messages being doled out for both sexes. While my parents insisted I was a boy and I believed them, I still looked with curiosity at what was meant for the girls at school and came to internalise other things as well. Things that would eventually come to make me hate myself.

I saw how my father treated my mother, how he hit her, yelled at her, belittled her. I saw her weep and I saw her appear to be powerless against the man who was eight inches taller than her. I remember my own father would berate me for crying or talking about my own feelings and how men ought not express such things. I saw the way girls were portrayed on television in the 90s as squealy, fashion obsessed herds in rhinestone and pink and wondered “is that what being a girl is supposed to be?” I saw all of my favourite TV shows and their male protagonists and figured men were naturally more interesting than girls with their one-dimensionality.

I internalised these things and so much more, as many young women do. It took its toll by the time I reached high school where I finally began to come to grips with the absurdity of gender stereotypes, and especially how wrong and demeaning the ones about women were. But it was entirely the truth that by the time I was 15 I hated myself for reasons I didn’t fully understand. My desire to transition was born sometime in the 10th Grade, though I wouldn’t really know it for what it was until many years later. But it had nothing to do with the fact that I was desirous of Barbie dolls or pretty dresses. It had everything to do with how I was feeling, and it was granted its first utterances when I went on feminist rants in History class against young men who asserted, ever so politely, that women who dressed a ‘certain way’ should take responsibility for their rapes.

In those moments I felt personally threatened for some reason by those words, and when the women behind me cheered I felt a sense of kinship that I didn’t understand at the time either.

This was the dawn of my awakening as both a woman and a feminist. The realisation, slow as it was, that there was power in fighting. I didn’t want to suffer in silence, I wanted to act, and to speak up, to stand and take charge of my life in the face of injustice. It’s just one more thing that doesn’t fit with the agreed upon story, for we are ever supposed to relish our silence and passivity. In my case it was that I was coming to realise such passivity was yet another lie about womanhood I’d been told. Women could stand and fight.

It was during this time that I wanted to really get to know other women, and I never fully admitted to myself why I felt more comfortable walking to the train station with a young woman than with a group of men, why I felt like a third wheel in every last group of boys I ever travelled with, or why I felt much happier at a mixed gender lunch table than even the one for nerdy guys. I did, however, using my socialisation come up with a particular rationalisation for it.

I wanted to date all of those women. At least, that’s what I told myself. After all, my father was insistently raising me to “go get ‘em tiger” and I had a penis, therefore I must be a man. Despite everything I felt and was beginning to realise about how bullshit all of that was, I knew nothing else. Happiness must come from dating and sex. Combine this with the rush of hormones that the onset of puberty brings and, well, disaster would strike oh so many times as I struggled to figure this all out.

I admired many women for many reasons. I admired Captain Janeway for her strength and leadership (and a voice I secretly and desperately wanted). I admired some of my female teachers for their skills. I admired some of my classmates for being something I couldn’t, or being smarter than I. I even admired several for their sense of fashion, wearing things I wished I could try, that I was inexplicably drawn to. In all of these cases the admiration was platonic and at times, even noble. Yet I funnelled it into sex for fear of what it meant. I could only be attracted to them in the strict sense. I could desire nothing feminine and even female role models were bad because, well, they’re female and I wasn’t, right?

Even as my father denigrated my female friends for being ugly and telling me to have more confidence in myself so I could go after “hotter” women I felt something was deeply in turmoil inside of me. I thought it was teenage angst over not getting girls, something I surely wasn’t alone in. But that was how I made myself understand it. As I reflected on all the sappy letters I wrote and my hysterically emo diary entries, I came to realise I never really fancied any of those young women or my teachers. I did not want to sleep with them, I wanted to be them. The way I had ruthlessly objectified them and shunted all of my feelings into pure carnal attraction was born of socialisation. It wasn’t just from how I was raised but from how my male peers kept trying to reinforce the idea that cross gender friendships were impossible, along with hosts of other signals.

Even through all of this some might say that this only would add up to me being a gender non conforming male. But again, there was a self-hating that emerged from all of this which was, I realised, me hating my feminine self.  It was all due to how I had been raised to see women and womanhood. When I spoke out for it, as I did in class, I felt at peace with myself. When I forced myself to deny it and to act as male as possible, I loathed myself. The simplest way to describe it is that I felt more in line with my true self the more I identified as a woman, not just as an effeminate or nonconforming male.

Even in high school when I was largely oblivious to this and thought “transvestites” were jokes I played games like Knights of the Old Republic and Morrowind to rush into the alternate realities I had so craved as a child. “Why am I always a woman in these worlds?” I asked myself. Eventually, my friends asked as well. So did my father, quite angrily.

By the time high school had rolled around I’d grown out of my desire to build fantasy out of paper, crayons, and noodles, but still craved escape. So it was that I did, into every RPG I could get my hands on. I still distinctly remember the one time I tried to play a man in Morrowind I just couldn’t continue after barely reaching level two (in a game where it’s possible to get over level sixty). But then I rolled my short brown haired Breton woman and went on my merry way, fireballing and slashing my way across Vvardenfell. So it was too in every Star Wars game where I had a choice.

Suddenly, I realised, a woman could be the hero and could kick ass.

It seemed such a trivial and elementary thought. But I was raised in a sheltered environment. I was terribly asocial, my friends were the aforementioned stuffed dolls, and my parents did little to change this. I was brutally bullied in middle school and was a touch misanthropic by the time I got to high school. Through it all I’d been raised on certain media images and by my fathers’ insistent stories about the way the world was.

Which was why it took Star Wars and Star Trek to show me women could own. And it was why it took role playing games to show me that I liked being a woman who could own. I grinned with a strange sense of pride when my Knights of the Old Republic character got to call another one a “sexist pig.” A little stab of rebellion, the same way I felt back in history class when my female teacher gave me a warm smile when I stood up against the sexism of other students. It felt so right and it felt so just, despite everything I was raised with.

Each time I didn’t feel like a feminist male, I felt like a woman who was standing up for herself and her dignity. I ask cis women to remember how it felt for them as they may have felt many a time in their youth, how terrible it must have been to reckon with the fact that they were raised to hate themselves as women, or to see themselves as lesser. That they were raised with preconceived notions about who they were supposed to be that ensured they had to expend enormous amounts of energy to just untangle the lies and discover who they really were.

I had to do the same thing.

It was so strange that it took video games to cause this awakening, and perhaps it was fitting that my father constantly threatened to break the CDs and engaged in Jack Thompson-esque rantings about the evils of gaming. Yet I persisted and became comfortable with female characters, honestly lamenting other games where I didn’t have a choice. By senior year there was an abundant sense I didn’t want to acknowledge. The reason I played as females every chance I got was because I was a male every day of my life, why should I waste time in epic fantasy worlds pretending to be who I wasn’t?

I never had the courage to say that, instead coming up with circumlocutions about how I felt more in touch with my feminine side or how the female character looked better, all those old chestnuts.

I didn’t want to say, in part because of all that shame that still stalked me:

“I am a woman.”

Stay tuned for Part II, coming soon to a monitor near you.

Out in the Rain: Gender Activism and its Discontents

Last time on Nuclear Unicorn I took down an MRA’s  transphobic blog post on trans peoples’ lives. What was most striking about the article were things I didn’t even get to discuss despite the prodigious girth of my response; chief among them was the fact that the author’s entire supposed purpose in writing it, his thesis, was left largely unproven. It became clear that he was following a very classic pattern that cis people indulge in when criticising trans people publicly. It’s a classic transphobic syllogism:

I don’t like x. I also don’t like trans people. Therefore x causes and enables trans people.

This idea afflicts most gender activism as trans people of various types tend to be excluded from it or cast as some kind of bogeyman in various gender studies narratives. Some genderqueers, androgynes, and other non-binaries rail against transsexual people for, as they see it, playing into the gender binary. The execrable Julie Bindel, and feminists like her, follow a similar pattern. She doesn’t like patriarchy and proscriptive gender roles, therefore they cause the existence of the trans people she so loathes. Christians don’t like modernisation, pluralism, diversity, and what they see as decadence, therefore all of those things cause the existence of the trans people they so despise. For Jack Donovan, his hatred of feminism and of women in general, which occludes all else, leads him to believe that trans people could only be a feminist conspiracy.

The mutual exclusivity of all of these theories should be proof enough that they’re wrong and bear little relation to reality. Their purpose is to buttress the ideologies of the speaker rather than actually address the concerns of trans people or discuss our place in society.

The fact that Donovan barely addressed his own thesis and spent a great deal more time whacking trans people with tired old bigotry and inapt comparisons is a reminder of what the real purpose was in writing the article: to be transphobic. His performance in the comments speaks for itself. When a trans woman challenges him he is reduced to a bingo-card ready script. He objectifies her, calls her ugly, calls her a man, and then essentially devolves into gibbering cursing every other sentence while simultaneously claiming he faces lots of discrimination as a white cis man.

All very droll, as Sir Humphrey Appleby might say.

I have to be entirely honest here. In addition to feeling mistrustful of radical cis feminists and most cis feminist websites, I also feel threatened by most MRAs. The Spearhead article is Exhibit A in my case for this. One could easily write it off as one radical that shouldn’t define the movement, but given that Spearhead is linked to so approvingly on many Men’s Rights websites, that the comments were all praising Mr. Donovan for the piece (except a couple of trans people who came in to question it and two others), and that the Spearhead is cheerfully endorsed by fantasist conspiracy theorists, it’s hard for me to trust MRAs or their sincerity.

Like many cis radfems, MRAs have a major centering problem. They define the “What about the menz?” fallacy. Indeed, the entire movement is built around that premise. But the simple reality is that everything is about them and their needs.

Take for example this thread from Reddit. I’m a bit biased, of course, since the thread in question links to your humble correspondent’s journal but it is very instructive to consider what happened there. The thread was meant to call attention to the hypocrisy of radical feminists in regards to their transphobia. But out of 34 comments over 20 of them were written by MRAs or people arguing with them about their “but what about how feminism treats men?” points of view. For context the forum in which this was published is called Equality, and is largely devoted to getting male and female (almost exclusively cis) gender activists to talk to each other. Thus the question of feminism’s problems vis a vis (cis) men is addressed daily.

By contrast this was the first post about trans issues for a while and one of a tiny number discussing trans women’s relationship with feminism. Despite this, the cis men couldn’t help but make it entirely about themselves and their needs. For my money, this was the best, and most telling comment by one of the MRAs about my piece:

“it discussed penises. it was therefore partially about men. Men who changed their gender, but men (or at least, formerly men) all the same.”

I don’t need to dwell on what’s wrong with that statement or why it’s transphobic. What’s most important to consider right now is that it’s appropriating, trying to shoehorn my argument into a pro-Men’s Rights agenda, never mind that you have to completely mangle trans women’s identities to do so. It is a reminder of the fact that when it comes to cis centering MRAs are as bad, if not worse, than a lot of cis feminists.

Every discussion about feminism must be about them and their cis male concerns. Never mind that trans women are routinely silenced and marginalised, rarely spoken of, and often spoken for in absentia and very poorly.

“Not supporting people who were born biologically male, and infact demonizing them and trying to strip rights from the non-females, is exactly what feminism is all about.”

Here’s a clue, sweetie. I am not you. Nor am I a man. Do not include me in your chest-beating ranting. Please. Seriously.

It ought to go without saying that I do not support discrimination against men, and my writing record does speak for itself on this matter. I believe that feminism must have a good relationship with as many men as possible. Just as Patriarchy could only operate with the consent of large swathes of women, the solution to Patriarchy must come with the cooperation of many men. I also never bought into the arguments about the power of the penis, whether used against pre or non-operative trans women or cis or trans men.

But the fact that so many cis male MRAs got huffy about the fact that I didn’t make half the article about them was quite significant. I spent 100% of my energy discussing trans women’s relationship to feminism because it doesn’t get talked about very often in the public square. So to have that public discussion derailed by cissexist MRAs was incredibly telling. That only one other known feminist chimed in to give her support or say anything at all was equally telling.

This is what leads to my complicated relationship with gender activism and my mistrust of MRAs in particular stems from the fact that they don’t notice or care about their erasure of trans people, never mind the men they routinely leave out or refuse to speak for directly (men of colour, disabled men, etc.). This is not to say that feminism has reached the mountaintop, only that more and more feminists appear to be acknowledging that there is a mountaintop to reach.

There is quite a long road ahead, for certain. Feminism at least has the tools of liberal liberation ideology to work with that make it a much easier fit with the cause of trans rights. As discussed last time, Men’s Rights being largely a reactive movement of the privileged, draws its intellectual inspiration from the right.  Halting steps forward are being taken by feminist groups. More and more are at least operating from the basic premise that trans women are women and trans men are men, and that all other gender identities on the spectrum are also to be respected. That MRA websites like the Spearhead are 50 years behind on this is a reminder of why trans people should be very wary of that movement.

Yet before feminists begin patting themselves on the back for how tolerant they are, as white liberals are often wont to do, it would be instructive to consider the higher level failures that feminism has stumbled into of late. Feminists should think long and hard about Recursive Paradox/Genderbitch’s withering criticisms there, and ask themselves why such a strong willed and beautifully passionate activist could be turned off to feminism, to the point of downright despising it. The answer matters a great deal.

In many ways, the failure she talks about isn’t even especially “high level”. The fact that I feel tempted to call it that simply because the feminist in question that she lambastes is self proclaimed trans positive is a terrible reminder of how far we have to go. Much like the cis men in the Reddit thread, Melissa McEwan centered her own feelings and ideas in a discussion that had everything to do with real life discrimination against trans people, and in that sense there’s nothing ‘high level’ about this failure at all. It’s the same thing, except with a smile on its face.

It is not enough to mouth the words about trans people, and to say that you accept and tolerate me. That comes with a great deal more responsibility than many feminists are willing to accept it would seem. Many recoiled when we challenged them for their public mourning of noted transphobe and radfem writer Mary Daly. Feministe got it right with this excellent obituary written passionately by a cis feminist who told a complete story of Ms. Daly’s life and how her journey with feminism was tainted by it.

That is called accepting responsibility and being accountable for the history our movement has, which is often very chequered and complex.

This excellent comment by another cis feminist is still another example of how to get it right while still remaining committed to feminist principles. But far too many other cis feminists clearly didn’t even try, thinking that footnotes or lofty claims to ‘starting a debate’ would mollify the many trans people who were offended at endless pictures of Mary Daly with that goddamned axe of hers (or labrys, as one pedant corrected) and the glowing obits she received from many feminists who claimed to be trans-positive.

All of the comments there are worth reading, of course. The words of little light, an excellent trans woman blogger are powerful as always.

Without a doubt, MRAs are still trying to pass Trans 101. Many don’t even realise they have to take the course. Feminists are fucking up, by and large, at the 301 level. Annoying and even angering but still a sign of (oh so slow and iterative) progress of a sort. But if you stop there and disown us for those failures, then it’s all for naught. As Melissa McEwan and others must come to understand, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot be trans-positive and still wallow in cis privilege when it is convenient. You have to give up some of your idols, yes, because you ought to believe that the higher commitment to human rights, to women’s rights, and to equality matters much more than burnishing the image of Germaine Greer.

Individuals like her need not be feminism.

Feminism is more than a person, or a building, or a blog, or a Women’s Studies Department, or a single march, or a Guardian column. You have to let go of that sense and remember that feminism is about all of us, and that feminism is liberation. It is a higher ideal that should always transcend the worldly and human failings of individuals, and thus you should be unashamed to call them out for their failures and acknowledge their role in the movement. There need be no contradiction in any of this. If we are to be better than our enemies then we must own our failures, not make cheap excuses or go on privileged tirades about “the important things.”

Fighting bigotry is the important thing.

Celebrating it or eliding it is the antithesis of that.

Don’t let feminism go the way of Men’s Rights; an insular, reactionary, ideology that spends its time boxing with shadows and kicking the oppressed while they’re down.

Be feminist.

Blunted Spearhead: The Cis Man’s Burden

(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.”

Oh.

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.

“Even in liberal communities where transsexuality is relatively accepted, suicidal behavior among known transsexuals is over or around 20%.

‘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.