I guess people already think I’m some kind of reactionary monster thanks to previous commentary on free speech issues, so I have little to lose. I do have a sort-of resolution this year about not stirring the pot or arguing so much with arsehats on the internet, however…
So this whole Julie Burchill/Suzanne Moore thing blew up this week over supposed transphobic comments by Moore and quite-definitely-hurtful comments by Burchill. As a result of which I have found myself to be in the uncomfortable position of nodding along with elements from both sides, which is terrifying for a lefty when one of those is the Telegraph.
Moore’s comment, in a larger article tackling gender bias and other issues, was:
“[Women] are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.”
Which, if anything, seems to me to be a statement of jealousy and a kind of compliment to brazillian transexuals more than an insult. I’d find Gok Wan constantly going on about ‘bangers’ more insulting, not to mention that awful de-gothing on his new show, but I digress. One wonders whether the same up-in-arms attitude would come to defend the victim if she’d said ‘that of a pneumatic porn star’ rather than a brazillian transsexual.
I’m biased of course. I’ve been on the receiving end of the Social Justice Sallies myself on more than one occasion, one of them involving a particularly obnoxious and horrible trans person and so I’m less likely to courteously extend guilt-free, oppressed-victim status to people than others might be, despite my progressive and leftist bent. Still…
To understand a thing is not to accept or condone a thing but there’s a marked lack of willingness on all sides of pretty much every debate to even try to understand the point of view of others who disagree with you. I mean, we can all look at the WestboroBaptistChurch and agree that they’re thundering fuckmuscles for their hatred of homosexuals etc but it is also possible to understand where they’re getting it from (a particularly vile spin on Christianity and selective reading) without thinking that its OK for them to galloping cuntbadgers and picket funerals.
Similarly I can understand where feminists like Burchill, Moore, Greer and so many others have issues with trans people – at least in the context of feminism. I can also understand why Burchill would lash out – and do so in a fashion designed to hurt. They perceived the reaction to a single line in an article by Moore as an unwarranted, hurtful, unnecessary attack and overreaction. You lash out when you’re angry, just as the trans lobby did in picking on Moore. I did the same thing under sustained assault by my trans denigrator and their backing singers. You regret it, but a testy insult doesn’t reflect your true attitude and thoughts. It just reflects the fact that you’re pissed off and want to hurt the person hurting you or your friends. Mature? No. Understandable? Yes.
Why do I think feminism has trans issues?
Well, if you think about it trans people present challenges to base assumptions around many aspects of feminism. Principles of equality, definitions of what makes someone a ‘woman’ in the first place, feminist challenges to claims about those self same things on the part of ‘kyrarchy’.
If you can be a woman just by saying you are and acting like one or dressing like one, then where does that leave feminism? What does it say about certain behaviours, actions, even phrases, clothing choices etc that these are adopted by trans folk (obviously I’m only talking about Male-to-female here but most of it applies the other way). If clothes maketh the man (or woman) then how shallow and meaningless does ‘womanhood’ become? Adopting ‘female behaviour’ presumes that there even is such a thing and reinforces gender stereotypes and that’s part of why – I think – some have problems with it.
If womanhood is behavioural, then women who don’t act that way ‘aren’t women’.
If you take a more biological approach to womanhood then trans people having cosmetic operations, hormone treatment etc presents another challenge to your definitions. Are you a woman because of your shape? Because of brain structures? Because of your hormones? Is it something more fundamental? If you grow up a man but then ‘become’ a woman do you share experiences and viewpoints with women or are you something unique?
If womanhood is purely biological/morphological then there are significant biological differences between the genders which may be a basis for discrimination.
Can we now begin to see where there might be some conflicts of interest, definitional problems and clashes of ideology? These are pretty fundamental things that its hard to gloss over.Then there’s the desire to set up male-free ‘safe spaces’ which presents its own challenges when it comes to trans people’s desires versus the fears and trepidations of people who may have suffered abuse and been left with androphobia.
For my part I decide to cut through all the surrounding bullshit and take it down to the genetic level. Your chromosomes and the genes they carry determine what biological gender you are and – as of yet – that can’t be changed. You can change your gender identity – and more power to you if you do – but you can’t change your actual gender. http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/gender
I’m perfectly happy for trans folk to be addressed by whatever title they prefer, to go through life in the gender identity that they see themselves as being but, short of huge advances in retroviral treatments and direct reshaping and modelling of the human body and brain tissue, a trans person will never actually be the other gender.
Is this any reason to be horrible or prejudiced to them? To deny them rights and privileges? No. It’s just a bald statement of non-judgemental fact like ‘the sky is blue’ or ‘this product contains sugar’. Not that this hasn’t prevented people from lambasting me for holding this viewpoint. When ideology trumps reality, that’s where you get religion and I want no part of that, thanks. It would also be nice if coffee enemas cured cancer, but they don’t.
Yes there are genetic outliers like de la Chapelle syndrome, but even these are separated by gender and in the specific case of de la Chapelle syndrome the second X chromosome contains transposed genetic material from the Y chromosome which causes the development of male characteristics. Not that the issues facing intersex or genetically anomalous conditions have that much to do with trans issues anyway – different things, different causes.
You can pick and choose your studies of course but, while people with particular traits and sexual alignments do have certain differences and characteristics it seems that gender dimorphism in the brain isn’t one of them particularly when it comes to trans: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21467211
Peoples reasons for saying or believing things may be bullshit, but for there to be any progress effort must be made to understand why they say or believe those things and games of ‘more oppressed than thou’ don’t do any cause any good. That’s part of the reason ‘privilege’ is such a toxic and stupid thing to bring into debates, but that’s a conversation for another time.