Mercedes Allen

Julie Bindel and the Trans vs. Feminism Tug-of War

Filed By Mercedes Allen | November 03, 2008 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: feminism, gender construct, gender identity, journalism award, Julie Bindel, transgender, UK Stonewall

Feminism and transsexuality have long pushed each others' buttons. Feminism often seeks to break gender roles and stereotypes, break gender barriers, and yet transsexuality says that "there's something inborn in me that I can't escape or deny," at which point transsexuals seem to embrace those same roles, barriers and stereotypes. Unlike natal women, transwomen have usually not had the lifetime of learning and confinement in those roles and stereotypes to reach the point of loathing them. And unlike transsexuals, natal women have sometimes experienced too much of the negative aspects of said roles and stereotypes to want to consider any middle ground on the matter.

Male-to-female transsexuals are not the only ones to push feminist buttons, either -- for many transmen, the moment one chooses to cross the line from "butch" to "male," they may be seen as joining or supporting the patriarchy, selling out women, etc. And most critically regarding transsexuality overall, the contention that there is something biological, inescapable and innate about our gender identity as suggested by transsexuals flies in the face of (much of) feminism's belief in gender as a purely socialized deception fed to people by society (and incidentally, this conflict applies whether one is a transgender advocate or an HBS seperatist).

I am generalizing. There are many schools of feminist thought, and many divergences in trans philosophy as well. I'm not trying to paint all feminism as an "enemy" when I know the two concepts can be resolved and have comfortably done so for my own personal perspective, as have many others. But there are times -- such as the current debate featuring the writings of Julie Bindel and an associated journalism nomination -- when certain branches choose to set themselves up in an adversarial position.

And this one emerging (reviving) perspective that pits trans versus feminism derives from this basis, and has put the right to social-determinist feminist identity in direct opposition to the right to trans identity, shaking one's foundation and bringing into question the other's right to be and right to access surgery.

"Call me old-fashioned, but I thought the one battle we feminists won fair and square was to convince at least those left of centre that gender roles are made up. They are not real. We play at them. We develop traditional masculine or feminine traits by being indoctrinated, not because we are biologically programmed to behave in those ways." -- Julie Bindel, "Gender Benders, Beware!"

Julie Bindel has led that recent charge to some extent, starting in 2004 with an article that she has since expressed some remorse for the scathing tone, but has not her overall perspective. The article, "Gender Benders, Beware!" was a reply to the Kimberly Nixon vs. Rape Relief case in Vancouver, stating that "The Rape Relief sisters, who do not believe a surgically constructed vagina and hormonally grown breasts make you a woman, successfully challenged the ruling and, for now at least, the law says that to suffer discrimination as a woman you have to be, er, a woman."

To simplify her position (or possibly oversimplify, though that is not the intent), Bindel has said that the primary success of feminism was to blur gender roles and distinctions, and that equality will only truly happen by continuing to do so to the point that gender loses meaning and "male" and "female" become indistinguishable designations (although she does defend some borders, such as washrooms, though not for the same reasons as other naysayers).

In the Bindel world, the male-to-female transsexual should be able to shed the shackles of "male," the female-to-male transsexual should be able to shed the shackles of "female," and that should be enough to make everyone happy. Gender Reassignment Surgery, she maintains, is "unnecessary mutilation" -- at which point she drums up the same 6 or 8 people who publicly pronounce their regret for their surgery that the Fundamentalists use - the logical equivalent of using the one to say that the nine out of ten are wrong.

She made her case again before the BBC and The Royal Society of Medicine (UK) in Fall 2007, so this philosophy has not changed. Bindel has also on a few occasions portrayed the horrific misuse of GRS in Iran to "cure" homosexuality as corroboration that transsexuals are really just gay and that surgery represents a medical form of corrective therapy for people who simply can't be happy with their gayness.

Salon Magazine summed up the conflict: "In other words, ye olde nature-nurture debate is rearing its head, pitting one marginalized "radical" group against another. But there is something about this explanation that doesn't quite make sense. On the nurture side, there's the belief that you shouldn't mess with the body Goddess gave you because it's just a shell, essentially empty of meaning. On the nature side, there's the belief in undergoing surgery and using hormones for life to fix an essential mistake of nature. Does anyone else see a contradiction here? If the body is a meaningless shell, why not allow people to play with it and alter it? And if you believe nature "makes mistakes" or can be improved through medical technology and a nice face cream, is that really a rigid understanding of natural gender distinctions?"

For this, UK's Stonewall has nominated Bindel for its "Journalist of the Year" award. Okay, let's be fair, the nomination is not actually for her stance on trans issues: Julie Bindel has written extensively to oppose physical abuse, to fight gender disparity, and to provide a pro-lesbian voice in the mainstream media. She's been considered a champion and I can respect that to some degree (when one disregards other conflicts) it is even deserved. But it's bewildering that the organization refuses to reconsider honoring someone whose other writings have met Stonewall's own definition of "transphobia."

In Julie Bindel's recent reply to the controversy, she addresses the original 2004 article, saying that "I was, and remain angry that Nixon decided to risk the future of such an important service for rape victims. I stand by my position on this case, but regret using sarcasm, jokes and innuendo which may well have resulted in inciting others to treat transsexual people with disdain or even hatred." Which is to say, she's sorry that she hurt people and made them feel insulted, but a transwoman is still not a real woman and could not possibly be capable of counseling real women who've suffered rape. Moreover, she adds that it is in fact transsexuals who are upset with her who are the real bigots: "The bullying insistence from some groups and individuals to have Stonewall withdraw my nomination is anti-lesbian in the extreme."

In her reply, she wonders how her writing -- outside the snide 2004 remarks apologized for -- can be construed as transphobic. And yet, she should know that transphobia, like homophobia, involves far more than hate speech and/or an incitement to hate. As mentioned, Stonewall's own booklet "Transgender" provides an itemized definition:

  • the belief that trans women are not "real women" because they have been raised and socialised as men
  • the belief that trans men are not "real men" because they do not have, or were not born with a penis
  • the belief that transsexual people are actually gay people in denial
  • the assumption that transgender people are "sick" or that they are psychologically unstable
  • when a transgender person is excluded from services, activities, discussions or decisions because it is felt that that person doesn't "fit in"
  • the refusal to recognise or acknowledge the true gender of a trans person and the continual insistence to refer to them by their former name

Even minus the 2004 remarks, there is still a refusal to accept transfolk as "real" (items 1 and 2, some of #6); her remarks on the Iranian travesty that the trans community here would never support anyway betrays some adherence to #3; her insistence that transgender people have a purely psychological issue that should be cured with something resembling reparative therapy rather than surgery (#4); and a spotty insistence on exclusion from women's spaces (#5). It would seem to me that the only thing she isn't in violation of by the above definition is the insistence on using former names.

And yet, transphobic or not, it still doesn't touch on the heart of the debate: pure biology or pure sociology -- as if it can't be some of both. Bindel refuses to accept any possibility of a biological origin of transsexuality, just as she refuses to accept the possibility of a biological origin of homosexuality/lesbianism:

All these claims serve the notion that there is something wrong with those of us who shun heterosexuality. Many lesbians and gays want to believe we were "born that way" to provoke sympathy and understanding."

And to be fair, the recent study of a genetic connection to transsexuality still does not provide solid proof in answer. What it does is replicate findings in previous studies but with a larger case sampling, to say essentially that there is a noticeably higher incidence of this element in transsexuals than in typical population, which would seem to indicate that there is some biological connection. This is similar to what the studies in "brain sex" currently say. As they accumulate, they become more convincing, but as I've said, the science is not there yet. As much as we'd like to call it conclusive proof, it isn't. Yet.

Still, it should at least give pause to stop and consider the possibility. As a transwoman, I can certainly recognize that there are some serious implications that socialization have on us, and having been socialized differently, I find myself quicker than some, perhaps, to question the parts of the gender construct that is thrown at me in a 24/7 living experience as female. There is, yes, far more than a bucketful of bull$#!t that is fed to both males and females to try to dictate how we live our lives.

Yet, I can't deny the puzzling, inescapable and inexplicable "me" that always understood that I was female, that agonized and suffocated trying to put on a false front to live up to the gender construct that was chained to male genitalia, that had a sense of understanding far before transition of the female mind and the female body, that had no understanding at all of the male minds around me and an overwhelming feeling of unnaturalness at having male genitalia, that experienced overwhelming amazement at how the peace and levelness brought on by the introduction of hormones was so much what I'd craved in my life and hadn't fully expected to find (and conversely, many FTMs have reported the same feeling about becoming "energized" by hormones in their lives).... Nothing in life ever fit correctly or made sense before transition, and I'm talking about life far beyond role, stereotype and assumption, which I've become pretty good at questioning.

Ms. Bindel, of course, has not experienced any such thing, which may make it hard to understand, but I know for myself anyway that I was not socialized as a girl... and yet I am. It's the only way in 40 years that the puzzle of my brain ever fit together, and that was not for lack of trying everything else, including aversion, repression and "corrective" principles.

And does that include surgery? I don't think it does for everybody, but I had to come to a clear realization that it does for myself. Again, this was not for lack of trying the alternative. The body parts remain foreign, the sexuality remains awkward and non-functional -- despite a clear attempt to live without GRS and search for personal meaning in the uncharted in-between.

We're at an impasse, at a point where it is necessary to question. For transsexuals, it means that we need to question our new roles and discover how much is real to us and how much was fed by society, and this is a process that most do when defining our new lives. For other transgender people, they may have never been forced to confront real versus conditioned, but it provides the occasion to do so now. But most dramatically, it forces the branch of feminism that believes that gender was nurture-dictated to open itself to the possibility that it is not wholly so.

The cumulative weight of nature evidence is growing, and although it by no means negates understandings of the effects of nurture, exceptions to the solely-nurture concept date as far back as many of the foundations of gender-construct gender theory. Dr. John Money, the man who gave us some of the foundational concepts from which our concept of social-determinism grew, including "gender identity" and "gender role," "lovemaps," "bodymind" and "concepts of determinism," was proven tragically incorrect when it came to his star research subject, John/Joan, now known to be David Reimer -- a tragedy that also continues to be replicated in places where the practice of gender assignation of intersex infants continues.

Something about the socialization theory of gender isn't quite right, and transgender people aren't yet sure why we contradict it, but the fact that we do and not entirely by choice (if at all, even) is sooner or later going to require a serious re-examination. There is resolution, we just haven't definitively found it yet to define certainties, we've only clarified it enough to make sense of our own personal realities and suggest that as a solution to others.

In the end, the issue is not about Bindel exclusively, she has simply been the loudest voice of late. The issue is about a branch of feminism that feels so threatened by the presence of transsexuals that there is a refusal to believe that transwomen might also experience rape, might also endure wage disparity and devaluing assumptions, might also run against societal structures about what womanhood is supposed to mean, might also face that same patronizing pat-on-the-head "oh, that's cute, you have a career -- but when are you going to have children?" And that transwomen and transmen might actually be what they claim to be: spiritually and psychologically one gender (minus social conditioning), though biologically-driven to another -- that perhaps gender lines will never be able to completely blur to indecipherability, due to a little something innate in each of us.

Personally, I believe that transsexuality does have the potential to teach something important about the socialization of females and males (having had to grow up with one and learn to cope with the other), and that the existence of an innate gender does not justify (nor mandate the imposition of) inequality.

Maybe that's just me.


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Why do we search for ways to divide ourselves? Groups that should be natural allies but find tiny blemishes to pick at and develop into sores... Ridiculous.

What do you mean, Bil?

Too often we automatically look at our fellow humans and determine how we're different as versus what we have in common.

I don't know that it's "searching for ways," this is a sort of foundational philosophical difference, and as Monica pointed out, goes back to Janice Raymond and prior, aside from differences in the details.

I think what is needed is a willingness to bend, a willingness to re-examine. But I at least don't think that Bindel looked for something to divide.

I genuinely believe that the problem is the term "gender identity", which all too often gets taken apart into "Gender" and "identity" when it needs to be maintained as a single thing.

Combined, it speaks to a biological causative, an potent blow that seemingly damns the social construction argument, when, in fact, it does nothing of the sort.

Women *are* different from men, physically. And, socially, that difference is taken advantage of and abused through the social constructions of gender Role.

Ms. Bindel may be transphobic, and the Stonewall organization probably shouldn't betray its very own structures, but, in the end, both are arguing for the very weaknesses implicit in the entire discussion.

Sexism is the thing they are, supposedly, trying to combat, and, in the process, they are succumbing to it themselves, using it as a blunt force weapon in a battle of meaning.

Fighting the use of a sword with such always tells a story that ends poorly.


The hatefest between radical feminists and transpeople has been going on since Janice Raymond published that hate screed 'The Transsexual Empire' and Germaine Greer piled on.

nah. longer.

They just gave it a grounding in the underlying idealism.

It goes back at least as far as Beth Elliot and DOB (without any insult intended to Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin)

Reformed Ascetic | November 3, 2008 5:12 PM

Beautiful article wonderfully written. I also appreciated the Salon.com summation of the inconsistencies.

Dyssonance is correct. This conflict emerged quickly after Stonewall, and has been directly related a number of visible intra-community conflicts.

But as Salon.com points out these positions are not really philosophically opposed. I myself consider sexuality and gender plastic and determined by social norms in powerful ways. Philosophically, both free will and the obvious nature of certain sexuality and gender roles insists on this position. Yet, twin studies and genetic studies seem to be finding some sort of contributing biological factor. Maybe not at determinant levels, but still statistically significant.

I'm saying in many ways I live this conflict in my own mind. I find peace by not only telling myself to give everyone involved as much respect as possible, but also by giving myself enough respect to have room to deal with a complicated issue. Enough respect to look for ways in which I may be wrong, or incomplete in my position.

I really do believe that the LGBTQ community is one. I not only believe that it is politically expedient to work as one, but that there are real reasons why we group ourselves together.

I am not surprised that there are disagreements within the community. I am not surprised that one part of the community may have hangups about another. I am surprised when intelligent, articulate community leaders who have not only dealt with all the issues in their own lives but educating themselves on the issues cannot at least provide others with opposing viewpoints the basic respects for which we are all always arguing.

There are current discussions about preachers broadcasting homophobic rhetoric and receiving broadcasting awards. I don't know where the majority of the community falls on that issue, but maybe we should hold ourselves to the same standard.

Our community is small and oppressed enough without eating our own. I don't want to drag down any leaders or diminish anyones accomplishments. I just want the rules of politeness and etiquette that we all agree on applied across the board. Obviously, this is harder in practice than theory, however if someone insists on behaving in a disrepectful manner then they are self-labeling. And I should respect and acknowledge their self-imposed label.

There is a key point in this debate that the feminists consistently gloss over. Many, if not most, transsexuals recognize their difference and identify with the other gender beginning in early childhood. If gender is purely socially constructed, how could this be possible?

Claire Jennifer | November 3, 2008 7:01 PM


As you say Sarahmarie, I, (MtF), did not need socialization to make me feel that I was female. I felt it from the moment I was subjected to gender specific issues as a 4 year old.

Now that I have spent many years (and many $$) with a wonderful gender therapist I realise a few things about myself which have helped me gain a better understanding of who I really am.

I was never really a guy. That is to say I was never a real guy, in the "pure guy" sense. I have always been transgendered. After transitioning I will come ever closer to being a woman but I will never quite get there. I will never be a "pure woman", for obvious reasons.

So I accept that I reside in this limbo state which is called "transgendered"

Being "just" transgendered for the rest of my life does not diminsh my joy at living as a female, but I can never truly or honestly argue that I am a woman either, (or a man for that matter).

I realise that I may not feel the same way as other transgendered people, but I do not feel threatened by feminist talk, and I do not think they should feel threatened by me, because I am truly not trying to impose on their turf. I am not attempting to take away any female rights or impose my "(fe)male brain waves on their issues.

Why can't we just all be positive.
Is it really so difficult to accept that there is variation in everything.

We owe no explanations so long as we don't try to issue mandates to those who are "pure-gendered".

Claire

Renee Simousek | November 4, 2008 8:56 AM

Purity is a dangerous word. When I hear the word purity I know the jack booted thugs aren't far behind.

Why the male and female bullshit? I mean those boxes choke our identities off, but yet we all seem to need them. I know I need female, because my brain screamed at me for years that I was female despite the physical "reality". I'm comfortable with being female, even if others aren't. F-you if you don't like it, that's who I am. I'm not going to roll over because you have some theory about me even though you don't condescend to talk to us "imposters". Where is the freaking dialog?

I don't think Ms. Bindel has the foggiest idea what we go through just to come out to ourselves let alone deal with the outside world that wants to smash us. Ms. Bindels position is grown primarilty out of ignorance and a refusal to see the world through the eyes of the people she is accusing of being imposters.

If Ms. Bindel were to talk about racial "purity" she wouldn't get published as widely as she has been. She'd be written off as a Nazi or a white supremacist. What makes sex a fair game then? It seems as though her theory of socialization as one sex has blinded her to the point of naked bigotry and aggression to another group of people who would make natural allies.

I am totally against the oppression of women and I would agree with her that some of our social conventions are wrong headed, but I do not support her position that I am not real. I am real, my pain was real, and my reasons for transitioning were real. And I'm real-ly writing this.

I expect that I am to be treated with fairness as a woman. I don't accept the half way inbetween identity even though my partner is a non-op. She is still a woman and so am I.
If we are expected to accept the same oppression in society as other women we should be treated as women. Period, end of story!

Renee (and yes that is my "real" name)

Renee;
First of all, I use my dears when addressing ANY group of women. Old school, bad bhabit, call it wheat you will.

I am not making your life miserable. I merely quoted some varied and partially mutually exclusive positions.

I am a European feminist Renee; most of the posters here who know me understand what I mean by that and where I come from philosophically.

And, I am most certainly not anti trans.

Yes, as a Lesbian activist I have an obligation to my own first but keep in mind that some of those Lesbians whom I advocate for are women of operative history. I've advocetd strongly for them, Renee, and effectively too.

My group of friends, activists all, chide me off and on when I get swatted less than gently on those occasions when I step into that portion of the LGBT arena that includes trans-rights issues. It is not that they themselves are anti-trans, it is more a matter of what happens to me frequently when I do so.

Renee, I am a member of a group and advocate and represent that group's positions. They go further in support of a trans agenda than some, perhaps not as far as others.

As for my own agenda, it is by and large focused upon improving the condition of women, of Lesbians, and nurturng the qualities and spirit of women.

I feel that it is a noble undertaking.

I am a feminist and I am a Lesbian. When I see broad based and poorly directed attacks on the feminist/Lesbian community as wa whole, I will respond, howsoever reluctantly. This is one of those occasions.

And, my dear, your rights do not include doing damage to the cause of all women.

The anti-feminist screeds that I see every time some second waver inhales Greer a bit too deeply are wounding to us all.

Dialogue with Julie Bindel if you have disagreements with her. Discuss her positions, and yours. Convince her.

It wasn't that long ago that a remrkable woman of operative history did so with me.

Renee Simousek | November 5, 2008 3:03 AM

Maura, I accept your appology.

Roz Kaveney | November 3, 2008 5:26 PM

While welcoming the airing of our little local crisis on Bilerico, there are one or two points in Monica's piece which give me pause.

Are people apart from Sheila Jeffreys and Julie Bindel and co. still seeing feminism and trans stuff as intrinsically opposed? I've identified as a feminist for the whole of the thirty years since I transitioned, and a lot of my women colleagues in politics and scholarship would never dream of questioning my right to do so. It is important not to allow the small cult of essentialist 'radical' feminists to claim the right to say who is, and who cannot be, a feminist - they did it to trans people, they did it to BDSM women, they did it, in a few instances, to the mothers of male children. When they claim a patent on feminism, as so often on other matters, they lie.

The idea that there is a clear distinction between what society mandates and what biology helps determine is a very ill-thought-out one. The human mind and brain are the products of evolution - unless we are creationists - and yet such features of that mind as the formation of narrative identity are clearly, in part, affected by society, a society which is itself a product of that same evolutionary process.

There are variations in human minds and brains - the variation as to gender identity or sexual desire are clearly products of both biology and society. Lovers of one's own sex, people who identify as the other - these exist in many societies, and have never been socially engineered out of existence, even in societies where the favoured mode of social engineering was torture and death.

The objection to Julie Bindel's ideas is that they are crass and naive as well as that they are vicious in their potential effect on vulnerable people and expressed in vitriolic terms.

In the end, though, trans women and trans men owe no one any explanations or apologies. We are here and you will have to get used to it.

As for Stonewall, like other organizations that have got complacent and overly comfortable with the back rooms of power, the time has come for them to be made to realize that they are accountable to the whole of the LGBTQ community and not just to the ones who attend cosy little lunches at 10 Downing Street.

"Are people apart from Sheila Jeffreys and Julie Bindel and co. still seeing feminism and trans stuff as intrinsically opposed?

I really don't know how large a segment this is, but it is certainly more than one or two.

Nerissa Belcher | November 4, 2008 4:36 AM

Julie Bindel appears to be someone not next in line to win any "Plays well with others" award. Her attitude being "my way or the highway."

There are many paths any of us may take in life based upon our genetics, perinatal factors, society and individualized life experiences. Julie discounts the validity of anyone whose sum total of life influences do not add up to make them a biologically born female who identifies as a radical feminist. Julie needs to grow up and understand she is not the only kid on the playground.

Julie also needs to mature enough to appreciate that adults are allowed to make mistakes. We do not need her or anyone else using their agenda to prevent us from making decisions we may later regret to even include transitioning genders via GRS, etc.

Joni Christian | November 4, 2008 6:52 AM

You attract what you try to defend against.

You can't be offended if you don't take offense.

Pick your garden. Live your own life in full bloom.

As a Lesbian Feminist, I was going to wade into this mire but thought better of it, as it guarantees an instant attack upon me.

Let me, instead, leave a thought behind me as I bow out

What are Lesbian feminists to make of the following contradictory positions:

Some of you believe that most of you are living out the end stage of a transvestic fetish and are perforce male(a Trans Theorist named Anne Lawrence)

Some of you claim to be men living lives as women.

Others state that they are innately neurologically female and have lived those lives in congruence long enough to have socialised,

As for the argument that surgery will not make a trans a woman, I've seen that there unsed by trans against trans, and defenses that somehow reconcile dsisre to keep a penis with being a woman..

Bindel has a lot of good for abused women, my dears. And before anyone attacks me for listing the incongruous positions above, none of them are mine. Just quoting.

Maura, I admire your ability to tread on eggshells. I also deplore the two facts that not only did you feel it necessary to do so, but that in fact it really wasnecessary. It shouldn't be.

You raise some very valid points, that no amount of ostrich-like "pretending they don't exist" will cope with. I wish I had a good answer for you, but I don't.

One thing though that may aid us both in thinking about it: what are those of us not lesbian to think of lesbians?

There are "lipstick lesbians" that superficially conform to rigid patriarchy-defined stereotypes.

There are Diesel Dykes, that appear superficially to be women aping male conventions.

There are those whose appearance can be anywhere between those two facile extremes, who reject gender in its entirety as a valid concept.

There are those women who just are attracted to other women, for whom gender role is almost irrelevant.

There are lesbians who used to look male before medical treatment.

There are lesbians who see lesbianism as more of a religious rite in the service of a Mother Goddess than anything else.

What are we to make of the internecine warfare between Butch and Lipstick? Between Vanilla and RadFem? First, Second and Third Wave?

Maura, please look in the mirror. Trans* are just as factionated and heterogenous as blacks, or christians, or feminists, or lesbians... and yes, there are black christian trans* feminist lesbians, some of whom are aware of all the contradictions.

That's not a good answer to your very real and relevant question, but it's the only one I have I'm afraid.

Renee Simousek | November 4, 2008 9:23 AM

Making my life miserable is not a reasonable position Maura. When we help the feminist cause our help is accepted and then we are thrown to the curb as not being real. I don't find that helpful to anyone's cause and it doesn't strengthen your position or Ms. Bindels, it deminishes it. And I feel that is a shame.

I suffer oppression in the world as a woman in the world the same as any other woman. That is my experience. Why is it that not valued? Why is it discarded as not "real". I am not an imposter and no matter how you sugar coat it, it is not acceptable in a civilized society to ask for ones help and then discard the person who gives aid and assistance.

As far as people who idenitify as they wish that is there right as human beings. It should be not used it as a wedge.

Maura you have a right to your opinion until it oppresses my rights.

Your condescending use of "my dears" like we're babes in the woods who don't know what we're talking about I find dimissive. And how does Ms. Bindel protect me when I am abused? She abuses me by saying I am an imposter. Not an acceptable arguement, my dear.

Renee

Didn't say that the same could not be said of Lesbians, Zoe, my dear girl, and am glad that you brought it up.

There are in fact some Lesbians who say that I am not a "real Lesbian" because I was marrried to men twice and came out too late to be a "real Lesbian(TM)"

We've got out own fracutres in the community, though broader feminist issues unite us and the divisiveness tends to be carried out on a very local level ("couldn't we get someone other than Maura as a spokesperson? I never invite her to my get togethers because she is just NOT really a Lesbian.") And if you date or break up with the wrong person, watch out!

In the trans-community, it seems deeper and more overt. It seems that way to me, anyways.

Again Zoe, thanks for pointing up our lil' Lesbian quarrels in house. Yes, it happens to us but it doesn't seem to pervasively dominate our politics

The transgender cult brooks no discussion or variance from the revealed truths.
Barney Frank is evil
Janice Raymond is evil
Mary Daly is evil
Blanchard is evil
Zucker is evil
now Julie Bindle is evil too.....

Rather than opening a dialogue, the immediate response to anyone anywhere in any public form who questions the basic tenants of the trans religion is immediate attack and demonization, often without mercy or letup.... I call it a religion because it is all painted in black and white, the powers of good vs. the powers of evil, no middle ground allowed, no neutral corners recognized.

Some day, some of you will figure you it is much more productive to start a conversation than a war but I've witnessed a lot of potential allies driven off in the past year by over dramatization, hyperbolic accusations of transphobia and painting anyone who disagrees as personally responsible for the next hate crime.

There is no basic conflict between feminism and having a trans history. NOW has been fully trans inclusive for more than a decade for example, but how many trans are active NOW members?

'This animal is vicious: when you attack it, it defends itself.'

So, for years, trans people were libelled and excluded, and the people who loved them or worked with them were liable to be libelled and excluded. Suddenly, we and our allies decide that we are mad as hell and not going to take it any more - and at that point, after years of quietly putting up with affront, we get accused of being a bullying cult.

That really is rich, Cathryn.

What you refer to as our basic tenets are usually such matters as our right to exist - why are we a cult because we decline to collaborate in our own cultural genocide?

There are folks of all stripes who lean toward extreme positions. Have you not noticed the tendency to paint all things political as black and white?

Jerry Falwell is evil
Bush is evil
Cheney is evil
Rove is evil

It's not a transgender tendency, but one that appears to be universal, at least to all categories that I've observed. And in each category, there are plenty of folks who disagree, resist such thinking, or perhaps even those who get really angry, hurt, and upset, but calling out their oppressors is not an way to enforce a belief in pure unadulterated evil.

In any case, I'd like to suggest that perhaps you could avoid making statements about transgender people as politically monolithic. Otherwise, your criticism of black and white thinking while painting others as simplistically good or bad will begin to apply to your own rants about people who are transgender.

See, and I don't think I'm being black and white about it at all, but looking at the underlying conflict and saying the answer is likely somewhere in the middle. The only exception is pointing out Bindel's comments in the context of Stonewall's own definition of "transphobia," which is to demonstrate that there is a little more going on here than the rabid trannies just being mean to her.

As to whether the article is not the best conversation starter, that may be valid, I don't know that I'm the best judge of that being in the middle of it.

Reformed Ascetic | November 4, 2008 5:40 PM

As I stated earlier, I, personally, found your article to be quite carefully balanced and thought out. For whatever that's worth.

And it seems to demonstrably be working as a conversation starter.

Evil?
Stonewall very helpfully provides a definition of Transphobia in a .

Here, I'll quote it:

---
Transphobia is the unrealistic or irrational fear and hatred of transgender people. Like
all prejudices, it is based on negative stereotypes and misconceptions that are then used
to justify and support hatred, discrimination, harassment, and violence toward people
who are transgender. Transphobic attitudes and beliefs include:
• the belief that trans women are not “real women” because they have been raised and
socialised as men
• the belief that trans men are not “real men” because they do not have, or were not
born with a penis
• the belief that transsexual people are actually gay people in denial
• the assumption that transgender people are “sick” or that they are psychologically
unstable
• when a transgender person is excluded from services, activities, discussions or
decisions because it is felt that that person doesn’t “fit in”
• the refusal to recognise or acknowledge the true gender of a trans person and the
continual insistence to refer to them by their former name

sexism and gender-stereotyping are the roots
of homophobia and transphobia.
---

Cathryn, I have a question for you - which of those on your list doesn't hold at least two of those transphobic (by Stonewall's own definition) beliefs? Feel free to discuss this.

Whether overt transphobia makes someone Evil or not is another issue. It's not a case of what we say about them, it's a case of what they say about themselves, and their expressed opinions.

What we say is open to debate and critique. What cannot be denied or debated is what they have said, and continue to say. Nor can it be debated that Stonewall defines Transphobia in this way, I've given the URL to their booklet.

Feel free to submit a counter-argument, I'd be most interested in it.

Zoe, the answer you won't like.

Not one of those things have been done to me in the past seven years by a non trans person.

Everyone of them except the "gay in denial" has been done to me by transpeople in that same time period....repeatedly.....and I've seen the same treatment to some of my friends.

And I'll leave you with this thought, there isn't a trans-activist I'd choose over Julie Bindle if I had to be locked in a room with someone for three days..and that should speak libraries to how I feel I've been treated.

I am.

But then, I was before I transitioned, too

Mercedes Allen's article is well-written and intelligent--a great conversation starter. I really appreciate that she articulated her point of view in a thoughtful, probing way without slamming or denigrating others.

Personally, as a long-time lesbian feminist, I have huge trouble with these issues. When Mercedes articulates her own experience, of having always felt like a woman, I respect it and I believe her. Yet I have trouble reconciling it with my own experience of being furious, stifled, uncomprehending at the way others defined what being a woman really is. I wanted to define it myself, and ultimately did, and my definition is nowhere near the demure, self-effacing identity-crushing one that others tried to impose on me.

My question is, what does it mean to a trans person to feel like a woman? It totally makes sense to me if someone says their genitals never felt right--it's clear to me, even though I don't feel the same way. Where I have trouble is when they say they feel like a woman because they want to do things, or wear things, which are traditionally associated with femininity. Why is that feeling like a woman? Why is that not just a boy who has a personality and the guts to admit (at least to himself) that he doesn't conform to society's artificially imposed gender norms?

What I wonder is, what if society were a feminist ideal in which boys could wear dresses and lipstick, play with Barbie townhouse and jump rope and girls could play with trucks, climb trees and get dirty in the mud? In this type of society, what would the trans experience be like?

Broadly, I guess what's bugging me is that it seems that in all the desire to make the world safe for transfolk, we have forgotten the age-old battle against society's silly gender constructs. Is there some way we can make the world safer for trans folk while also continuing to make it safer to people who don't fit society's gender norms but who are happy with their bodies? Is there some way we can fight both battles at the same time? If we can, I am so on board.

I was particularly interested by the part in the essay where Mercedes wrote, "For transsexuals, it means that we need to question our new roles and discover how much is real to us and how much was fed by society, and this is a process that most do when defining our new lives." This part is just fascinating, and I've never heard anyone discuss it.

I think a constructive dialog on many of these issues between the trans and feminist lesbian communities on this issue would be hugely helpful. It might be hard or impossible to reach agreement on the political/philosophical issues, but I think at least for me a good conversation about it would go a long way.