Trans criticism is not transphobia

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.

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13 Responses to Trans criticism is not transphobia

  1. Nicky says:

    Reblogged this on Kallmann's syndrome life and commented:
    This is so true on so many levels

  2. wwomenwwarriors says:

    I started there as well. It wasn’t until I started being called transphobic that I started to wonder what trans theory was all about. Like it or not, we live in a political world. We have to examine the wider social implications of our beliefs before we can start building a movement/practice that works towards an ideal of the future which reflects a sense of integrity and justice. The fact of the matter is that gender must be examined if we want to talk about the status of women. To call anyone who mentions gender “transphobic” is to deny women the right to examine their status and analyse ways to improve it. It directly shuts down genuine feminist discourse. It’s like throwing a wrench into the progress of consciousness raising.

    I may be jumping the gun, but my hunch is that this isn’t altogether an accident.

  3. Maud says:

    What is this, the 70’s? Trans people don’t have “mismatched brains and bodies”.

  4. Anonymous says:

    what the fuck is wrong with terfs

  5. Jen says:

    Anonymous, nothing is wrong with women who don’t want our entire historical political struggle erased by a bunch of people who decide, because of mental illness, they can opt-in.

  6. Very nice, brave writing on your part. My name is Stephanie Michelle Cleveland, I am a woman born woman and a radical feminist who wants both masculinity and femininity to go from this earth. They are social constructs that feel deeply painful to me and to many women (and marginalized groups of men) like me. I am critical of trans politics, and will continue to be so, despite the professional, personal, and emotional costs of that stance under the current political climate.

    • Anonymous says:

      This is the weirdest combination always produced by people who call themselves radical feminists and do nothing else than pathologolize and exclude trans people. Sorry, perhaps this is radical but definitely in a fascist way. But to call masculinity and femininity social constructs and in the same second calling oneself a woman born woman… ?!?!?! What the hell have you not understood?

      • Brigid says:

        Trans-critical feminists are for the abolition of gender. That does not mean we think it doesn’t exist, or obviously we wouldn’t feel the need for it to be abolished. Obviously it follows that we think the socially constructed, patriarchal, misogynistic norms of femininity/submission and masculinity/dominance that have been enforced on us since birth in recognition of our female reproductive organs are relevant to our experience of what we call “womanhood”.

        As persons who were involuntarily shuttled into a subordinate and oppressed class (females) upon birth, we have a lifetime of lived experience within the gender role that was forced on us, as well as obviously certain physical/biological concerns that are unique to females and different from the life experience and biological concerns of males.

        Saying “woman born woman” is something that is unfortunately necessary to say if you want to, for example, differentiate yourself from someone who has spent a lifetime as a heterosexual male, been bestowed with the privilege that comes with it, has a male body, male pattern aggressive tendencies, uses male pattern graphic death and rape threats to express disagreement, feels entitled to pressure you as a lesbian into having sex with them, or wishes to shower next to you at the gym.

        When we say “woman born woman” we are trying to indicate that their is some difference between us and people such as I just described, who one day after a lifetime of experience as a heterosexual male, decided they were a “woman” based on a feeling in their head. I agree it’s not a perfect term, after all it’s a well known radical feminist idea that a woman “isn’t born, but made”, but what this saying does is recognize an involuntary, inescapable, lifelong membership since birth in the oppressed female sex class, and that that membership counts as criteria towards being a “woman”, rather than simply one day, instantaneously, *poof* I have a “feeling” in my head that makes me a woman. Autogynephiliacs compose the vast majority of transwomen, and it’s established that they don’t “identify” as women until after years of cross-dressing; for the vast majority of transwomen the narrative of “woman trapped in a man’s body” since birth does not apply.

        So for us women who simply want to “be allowed to” (if males so choose to grant us this right) e.g. shower with other female persons, have sex with other female persons if that is our self identified sexual orientation, have our young daughters use showers or locker rooms with only other females, seek comfort or shelter from female rape crisis counselors or female-only battered women’s shelters, precisely because we recognize that this female born person has a lifetime experience that is common to ours, then we have to specify these things. Saying “woman” as we would consider the word ourselves to mean would not suffice anymore. Even “female born woman” wouldn’t mean anything since now penises and testicles are considered “female” by transwomen and liberal feminists. Simply put, we’re running out of words. So forgive us if you don’t think the phrase is perfect. It’s one of the few identifiers of ourselves that hasn’t been appropriated to mean the opposite.

        Though of course if we have the audacity to want any of those things in the first place, then we are scum of the earth TERFs who deserve to die in a fire.

        You seem indignant at the idea that masculinity and femininity are referred to as social constructs. Really? Personally I am offended by that non-radical feminists consider feminine stereotypical behavior innate, believe that there is such thing as a “ladybrain” and a “manbrain”, and believe that the very real and physical dangers we face as females and the lifetime of repressive socialization we receive from birth has absolutely no relevance to our identifying as “women”. Being a “woman” is just a “feeling” you (or any male with an autogynephiliac fetish) has. Lived experience and forced female socialization and female specific reproductive and sexual violence has nothing to do with it! It’s only, *****only****** a whimsical metaphysical feeling in your “ladybrain”. The victim-blaming concept that as someone born with female reproductive organs, I was also born with some innately “feminine” ladybrain, that has just naturally and spontaneously manifested patriarchy-defined feminine (ie submissive and often harmful) tendencies is as sexist as it gets.

        As evil as they’re made out to be, radical feminists are the ones championing and defending freedom for gender non-conforming behavior, whereas trans/genderfluid/etc proponents are only reinforcing the same tired gender stereotypes but now claiming that they are biologically and neurologically innate. How much more regressive and patriarchal can you get? A gender non-conforming male should feel free to present themselves however they wish. Radical feminists simply contend, that just because you behave differently from other males, doesn’t make you female, and that lipstick, long hair, and a “feeling” in your head doesn’t make you a “woman”. Female biology and female socialization 1) exist, and 2) mean something. And these characteristics don’t just relegate the 3.5 billion of us that share them to some arbitrary subcategory of women.

      • Anonymous, I don’t know if you’ll read Brigid’s comment (I feel like most trans people aren’t interested in the experiences of women who identify as women while critiquing femininity) but it’s thoughtful and can tell you a lot about the experiences endured by born women. For me personally that tern, woman born woman, works partly because it indicates that I was slated into the subordiante gender role of “woman” from the moment of my birth. It doesn’t imply (as terms like cis do) that I was a woman before my birth, or that gender is an essential quality that just “exists” out in the universe before people are born or in a body. I was born with an easily identifiable female body and because of that, was from day one, pushed into the role of woman. The reason for that assignment has to do with male supremacy needing to create a subordinate sexual caste. Nobody is born masculine or feminine. Nobody is born with a “feminine soul” or any such rubbish. It wasn’t until I myself was born into a female body (XX chromosomes, female genitalia) that I was labeled girl/woman. Therefore, born woman is my identity (similar to the idea of being a “born slave” in many ways, under patriarchy, which continues to exist in social reality, whether or not I choose to pretend it doesn’t)

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  9. Rikki says:

    To believe in brain sex is to believe in biological determinism. Brain Sex theories deny the capacity for free will. if people can be brainwashed into accepting the male and female personalities, then they can be easier to manipulate by marketeers and dictators. Gender, like religion are the tools of fascists. Mussolini delineated clear cut behaviors that the fascist state expected. men kill and women breed.

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