In another post where I wrote about the function of “transphobia,” I demonstrated that a huge portion of what transactivists called “transphobia” really had nothing to do with any explicit hatred (e.g., slurs, name-calling) or outward discrimination (e.g. violence, work/hiring biases), but in women’s refusal to redefine “woman” away from the biological reality that the social status “woman” is based on. The categories of “man” and “woman” only exist when people are divided on the basis of sex (penis havers and penis not-havers).
I find something to be very disingenuous about calling radical feminists who question trans politics “transphobic,” or call their ideology transphobic. The term itself is based off “homophobia,” which refers to the fear or hatred of homosexuals. As I mentioned in a previous post, “homophobia” is not a word that frequents discussions about homosexuality, and it’s largely reserved for egregious acts of violence or explicit hatred. In articles about bans on gay marriage, gay marriage opponents are called “gay marriage opponents” and not “homophobic republicans.” Similarly, outside of feminist circles, I imagine that “transphobia” would elicit thoughts about the murder of men like Edward/Gwen Araujo, not the identification of men like Araujo as men.
Trans critical feminism is not transphobic feminism, and to declare it to be so is harmful. Conflating the criticism of trans theory by radical feminists with the violence and discrimination acted out against trans people implied with the term transphobia makes examination of the root of said violence impossible. This ultimately works out in favor of trans theorists; upon close inspection of transphobia, it becomes evident that transphobia is not rooted in a hatred of people who are transgender but in a hatred of people who do not adequately conform to their assigned sex roles. Doing this, though, would turn attention back to sexism as based on actual sex and not on a superficial personal identity, something that patriarchy/trans theory (whatever) will not tolerate.
I am not transphobic. My posts are not transphobic. This blog is not transphobic. Criticism of trans theory is not transphobic. I say all this not as a “defense” for the blog, or a “defense” for trans critical feminism. I am not speaking to or attempting to placate some pissed off transfeminists here; when I write it is my expectation that the people reading this (both of you) share my views. Rather, my ultimate goal here is to examine how the trans critical perspective develops, and how our perspective of transgenderism is radically different in origin from both transphobics and transfeminists.
The people who would be called “transphobic” if the word was used in the way its definition implies (i.e., explicit hatred and violence) are the same people who are called homophobic (and sexist). Transphobia is rooted in homophobia (which is ultimately rooted in sexism, but I digress). In fact, a major complaint by the transgender community is that transgenderism is often confused with sexual orientation and transgender people are confused as gay. This confusion extends to the violence and discrimination against them. Hatred of trans people is a result not of their personal identity but by their gender role violations, the most extreme violation being homosexuality. Those who hate trans people don’t become transphobic; it is a part of their general set of beliefs about the proper roles of men and women.
I suspect that most trans critical feminists, on the other hand, start off thinking about transgenderism in the same way that many other feminists do, with an open mind and even an unquestioning acceptance of it.
I learned about transgenderism and Gender Identity Disorder when I was in my teens, several years after learning what homosexuality was and several years before I started to become involved in feminism. It took me awhile to understand it all, but once I got it, it totally made sense. I mean, there’s men and there’s women, right? And they’re different. I mean, it’s not like women are less than men, but they’re different. While I had never felt the sensation of being a girl in a girl’s body, the idea that gender was such a huge part of a person that a whole, complete woman could be born in the “wrong body” sounded perfectly reasonable. Men and women were different, and sometimes bodies and brains got mismatched. It was a medical problem, like a hair lip, that could be fixed with a little surgery.
But the premise of this reasoning rested on the idea that men and women are inherently, innately, mentally different. As I began my higher level college studies, many of my preconceived beliefs about gender were discredited. This wasn’t in a feminist theory class, by the way. It was in a science class. I held out for a really long time, too, constantly looking for evidence in the literature that supported my views that men were from Mars and women were from Venus. But the more I read, the more I had to really look at my understanding of what gender was. Independent reading, such as Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, provided further arguments for gender as something socially constructed.
I really can’t pinpoint what part of my feminist studies made me trans critical. I can tell you that I started reading Brennan, Liberation Collective, Femonade, Radical Hub, and those sorts of blogs slowly and in waves, turning toward them when other feminist spaces I was in went trans-heavy for periods of time. The more I read these blogs, the clearer certain concepts became. Loose ends were tied, gaps were filled. I became skeptical of trans theory from my academic studies, but it was through these blogs and more classic literature that I came to understand the oppressive function of gender and its construction under patriarchy.
Based on conversations I’ve had with people, as well as observations in the comments and writings of others, I know that I am not the only feminist to begin questioning trans theory first from a position of acceptance of it. There’s a tumblr called Peak Trans which marks the moment when an individual begins to question trans theory—implying that there was a prior point when they were largely accepting of it.
Trans theory is not radical or progressive. While there is no doubt that transgender people face hatred and discrimination, this hatred is rooted in homophobia and sexism, and trans theory is theoretically in line with the values of patriarchy. I suspect that there are few feminists who become accepting of transgenderism through feminism; rather, it is more likely that they were accepting of brain sex and innate gender long before they even knew what feminism was. Feminism has always struggled to develop without influence from patriarchy, but perhaps by virtue of the free-for-all nature of the internet and the more general social justice movement, third (fourth?) wave feminism is a more liberal, individualistic, choice-defined form of feminism only loosely based on its the-personal-is-political predecessor. Without a strong theoretical foundation, it’s been watered down enough to get the patriarchy stamp of approval.