I have been on the hunt for more feminist blogs to read during the past month or so, and outside of Rage Against The Manchine every blog I come across has some transphobic shit in it.
It breaks my heart. Most of the blogs refer to transpeople as "men" and ridicule them for daring to attempt to pass as women. Some of the women don't count themselves as feminists so much as separatists, but some do. Well known feminists like Germaine Greer and Mary Daly have made transphobic comments before, too.
These are women who know certain things- like that gender is largely a performance in our society, and that living with violence and discrimination is a painful part of every day life for women. Knowing those two things makes it very difficult to know where to start on critiquing transphobic feminists- it seems self explanatory that trans people have to perform femininity well because they are under a much greater threat of violence and discrimination if they do not. Trans people are such a low priority that lawyers can sell juries on the idea that being trans makes for provocation of violence. You can fire someone for being trans and it is completely legal most places. It is so far on the list that places fighting for gay rights in the workplace and housing don't bother to include trans people because they don't want to press their luck. It seems as though every group that trans people might find to include themselves in rejects them or downgrades their concerns, all while they face murder and assault and rape at astronomical rates and really need some fucking support. The fact that trans people make up a relatively small portion of the population makes it difficult as well- though gay rights groups have made a lot of progress with that same hurdle, so perhaps there is still some hope.
A lot of the anger from transphobic feminists is in the perception that these are men who choose to be trans somehow (I am primarily talking about mtf trans people because it is what these cis women take issue with most often). The tiniest amount of research into transsexualism reveals how far from the truth that idea is. Just like with gay people, it seems absurd that anyone would want to endure the social stigma and threat of violence that comes with being trans. It isn't something that people can will themselves out of- it is a matter of identity, which each of us has at their core. It is a consistent feature that the feelings of identifying with a different physical sex emerge in childhood and continue throughout life. I know this because I was once curious about transgender people, and instead of deciding what they were I went and read about it from researchers. In that time I also turned up information on what is now being called the transabled- they are a group of people who have the need to change their body in a fundamental way not related to gender. Commonly it means the wish to amputate a perfectly functional part, like a leg or a foot or a finger. They too feel this way for their whole lives, and feel relief upon getting the limb removed. Other phenomenon like phantom limb syndrome points to a part of the human mind which constructs a deeply meaningful picture of what our bodies *should* be. It seems to me like transsexual folks have the misfortune of having a misogynist society scrutinize their issue in a way a transabled person would not. I have no doubt that in a society free of gender roles and sexualized violence there would still be trans people, who would have more safe options about how to appear and act and speak.
Objections to being trans inclusive ring kinda hollow to me. All of them boil down to the same thing- women won't accept transwomen as authentic women. Some will say they don't want to include male bodied transwomen because of possible safety issues for cis women. If that was the end of it there wouldn't be much of a problem, because cis women could give trans women their own space and RESPECT for their own separate sexuality, but that isn't what happens. Cis women now use the gender binary against trans people in a way that reinforces misogynist ideas about what makes people female or male. Not only does it ignore that sex is a spectrum, but it also shows the hateful nature of these comments from ciswomen.
It never ceases to amaze me that some people can so totally get what is wrong with oppression of one sort, but not another. On the flip side, I recently watched Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda. It is an awful movie, one that was very daring for its time about cross dressing and transgender issues. The director obviously had these issues himself, and risked a lot in making the film. About ten minutes in the narrator talks about "less civilized cultures" and shows footage of a bunch of black people dancing and beating drums in cartoonish masks around a fire on a truly shitty set. I was fucking shocked. It seems like everyone has serious flaws in the ability to perceive wrongs perpetrated against other groups.
UPDATE: There has been a new reason to discriminate against transpeople that I have recently become aware of, and I want to add to this post rather than restating all the stuff in this post.
I Blame The Patriarchy has gone dude free as a policy. An inquisitive poster asked what trans people should do, and the usual shit storm surrounding trans people began. There is a conversation about if radical feminist sites like IBTP should include trans people in the discussions, if they are relevant, and if they can really contribute anything. A few arguments I see over and over:
The first argument is:
They are men. They grew up like males and had male privilege so they don't know what the oppression of women is about.
There isn't a one size fits all oppression of women. Where you grew up, who raised you, what race you are, how much you weigh, how much money you had, how much education you had access to, etc ALL affect the way that women experience oppression. The oppression facing white upper class academic women isn't going to be the same as the kind affecting lower class hispanic immigrant women. Its basic shit that everyone at IBTP knows about, and the intersection of privilege and oppression is often discussed there, but women aren't told to not talk about women's oppression because of how they experienced it.
The idea that the way society treats someone during childhood should be the criteria for real womanhood doesn't have much merit. I spent several years as a child being mistaken for a boy. I dressed that way to increase the frequency of being treated like a boy. It made the realization that I couldn't be one of the guys that much harder when it happened later in my life, but I sorta got a kick out of people thinking I was a boy and persisted with it for at least 3 years, maybe more, if I recall correctly. I was an uncover girl. It gave me a view into what boys, and society in general, thought about my real self from time to time. They didn't like me a whole lot. I couldn't be mistaken for a boy everywhere of course, so it wasn't a complete disguise. Trans people know they are trans from a very early age. They are undercover in a way that is a lot more difficult to deal with, because they cannot just take off a disguise and be accepted for their inside self the way that I could. Then there are people like David Reimer, who was raised as a girl after an accident destroyed most of his male genitalia as a child. The theory at the time was that sex identity could be changed and molded at the convenience of parents, but it didn't work out. David spent his whole childhood having femininity shoved down his throat and it did not take. He grew up and found out about his past and the reassignment surgery and immediately began trying to live as a man. Would David, who always felt that he was a man, be invited to participate in feminist discussions (like the ones on IBTP) by virtue of his childhood experiences? I sorta doubt that someone who is so into being a dude would be welcomed.
The point of going through the mix of sexist oppression isn't to try and equate any of them or to say what is the worst sort of oppression vs others, it is to say that there are a lot of lines being drawn to exclude trans people where they wouldn't be to exclude other people that feminists embrace. No one asked me what I was treated like as a child before deciding I was worth talking to on IBTP. This standard is brand fucking new, and unless some scale is created to measure how much of a say we all get based on how much sexism we experienced as children I find the entire thing to be really useless. Transwomen experience sexism right now- that matters a lot to me. It seems as though that should be the primary consideration when inviting or silencing others in a conversation about feminism. I do not see a reason why the experiences of transwomen cannot be seen as a variety of female experience the way that other intersections of privilege and sex discrimination are.