Jan. 22nd, 2016



 Oh that is interesting. And, as someone who has a post-bac from SFU's Women's Studies department, yet who does not identify as a feminist (although my politics generally agree with those who do), I have many many thoughts! I don't know if any of these would be good column fodder, but it's pretty much consensus among trans women that being read as a cis woman is much safer, easier and generally more privileged than being read as a transgressively feminine man. In my case, I was shocked to realize that even though I was never perceived as a man in a dress, I still had an easier time with day to day gender stuff after transition than before, insofar as being perceived as a hundred-yarder butch dyke was way easier than being read as maybe possibly gay.

In "Whipping Girl" Julia Serano postited that as hatred of femininty=mysogyny, so discrimination of trans women is actually a clear expression of latent sexism without the veneer of militarist masculinity that prevents the more violent expressions of patriarchy day to day. This sounds smart, and it truly is smart is, and it made a big difference in getting trans women access to community and lifesaving services, but the more I think about it, and most attempts to discuss gender in anti-oppression space, the more I see people trying to discuss observations of prejudice along any axis so as to shoehorn it into what was originally a second-wave feminist frame that was extremely limited and flawed to begin with. Even most of third wave feminism is still built on this foundation, endlessly renovating the limitations of second-wave feminism to fit reality. This would be like trying to modify Lamark to account for Darwinist evolution, or trying to use the language and worldview of elemental bodily humours in Gallenic medicine to describe neurochemistry ("Prozac preserves the fiery character of the sanguine humour, thus balancing out water, and combatting melancholy. It's like a little salamander cage!").
The problem is that every conversation still has to satisfy this original frame. And yet the more *most people* look at gender, the more most people gather that discrimination around gender acts differently than discrimination around race, ability or birthplace. I can't think of any significant downside of being white, predominantly able-bodied, or having dual citizenship in rich countries. But even not looking at what happens to visible trans women, when we look at incarceration rates, lifespan, some forms of homelessless, and gay-bashing, it seems that being male has some really shitty sides. Contemporary feminism tries to reconcile this by describing "toxic masculinity withing a framework of classism, sexism and racism" and ventures into "patriarchy is bad for everyone" but can't seem to ever say that under many circumstances, being (perceived as) male is grounds for some pretty brutal discrimination - i.e. sexism.
Where this costs us is that when people come to an understanding of gender through observation first, and when those observations include watching really awful gender-related shit happen to males they care about, and then they run into feminist theory, and see that it barely acknowledges this, then hand-waves away any attempt to directly address it as a problem unto itself (because the people who disagree either "just need to be educated" or "are the enemy"). Those people then need to reconcile facts with theory. What do they do then? (1) Most people shrug, shuffle and keep their opinions behind closed doors and stay the fuck away from activism, (2) some use the feminist frame to rationalize it, (3) some (like myself) who can both keep up with academic verbal gymnastics and are not highly dependent on anti-oppression circles for security or community can defend their standpoint that acknowledges the range of observations but frames it within anti-oppression social signals in a way that doesn't have them labelled a "traitor" but they never organize because that space is a tug of war between #2 above, and the (4)th option, "Men's Rights Activism."
As near as I can tell, most trans people have intimate personal observations that leave us facing one of the choices above. Those of us at a distance from anti-oppression use #1, those of us in it use #2 because we know we'll lose any verbal throw-down about gender. But this was bound to happen eventually.
The whole MRA scene is a good example of how the left totally fails to reconcile theory (which is usually mostly accurate and wouldn't require that much change to account for data) with fact, and what happens when we do. People whose well-being depends upon a particular problem being addressed go to the right. Because the right will listen to them, give them an explanation and hope for change.
Another good example of this is hiring or admission quotas that acknowledge race but not class. Poor whites who used to be able to make up for being screwed by classism by benefitting from racism, lose part of that edge and now have to compete toe-to-toe with rich whites like myself. They naturally feel shafted. The left could have done the smart thing and fought for race *and* class quotas and made allies (in ways that have been *very* successful in the past like the "Fusionists," to the point that the rich whites of the South built the segregation system to undercut it), but we didn't, and instead we fight against these poor whites. So the poor whites blame anti-racism and vote for Trump. Nice work left wing. Slow clap.
This failure to acknowledge real problems at the top of someone else's priority list even undercuts trans activism internally. AFAB cis-spectrum people who have seen shitty things happen to themselves and other AFAB people in childhood really do have grounds to question what the hell trans women would know about that kind of sexism. Some trans women like myself had a pretty easy gender-related ride in childhood, and yeah, I don't have that particular crappy experience, and I do keep my mouth shut. Other trans women got beaten and raped as kids, specifically because they broke gender rules, and they have a *very* good idea what childhood sexism looks like. But trans activism sticks to a soundbite of "we were always girls" and hopes that no-one questions it. For the most part this works. But when it fails to grapple with people with the above observation, said people find that TERFs are ready with answers.
(See also: when people see corruption in unions and try to address it openly; and for the mirror Left/Right image, how police inability to deal with complaints has lead to the current media state of affairs)
Unfortunately, when you tries to address these problems in anti-oppression circles, unless you're a verbal ninja with in-group social status, either someone tries to "educate" you or they label you as the enemy - and even then, if you want to make change, you *never* go after the central ideological tenets. If we could deal with this and have discussions based on more on reason than ideology, we'd win over a lot more people and win a lot more battles.




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