Dear feminists, welcome to the world you’ve made

Even if you aren’t a fan of reality shows, it’s nearly impossible to miss that Caitlyn Jenner has been a hot topic of conversation. I’m old enough to remember her as the male presenting decathlete on the Wheaties box in the early 1980s. The fact that she can now live as her true gender and receive a generally positive reecption says so much for how far our culture has come. Conversations with and about MOGAI people, Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair, Laverne Cox on Time, Transparent winning the Golden Globe at the start of the year, we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots.

And there’s the inevitable criticism, like this editorial from yesterday’s New York Times. A cis woman criticising Caitlyn’s coming out, many words against trans folks (who knows what she might say about non-binary people), and despite her claims to the contrary, engages in some serious gender essentialism. Not only that, she seems intent on turning Caitlyn’s personal experiences into a broad brush for all trans women.

I thought we were supposed to be past this in feminism. We’re not supposed to be reduced to out genitalia or secondary sex characteristics. We’re supposed to be more than just reproduction machines, bringing about the next generation of workers (or elites in the rare cases), keeping the house cleaning, and a martini ready for our man when he gets home. Marriage is no longer an automatic in womens’ lives, nor is having children, or even compulsory heterosexuality. We have autonomy.

That’s the core here, autonomy. Autonomy over our bodies.

I’m guessing Elinor Burkett has not spoken with many trans people in her life.

Her words remind me of what the Dianic community continues to spout about the exclusion of trans women from their spaces and treating trans women as the ultimate enemy. Back in the 1970s there was an idea that trans women were not actually female identified. Instead they were so threatened by women’s spaces and hated women so much, they sought out sex changes in an effort to invade those single sex spaces.

Let’s take that apart. Men who apparently loathe women so much, they will become the object of their hate, fundamentally change their bodies on the outside, risk the loss of jobs, friends, family, and life, just to “invade” a space. Seems like a steep price to pay, especially since it’s not that easy to “change back.”

MOGAI people are not a modern invention. We find people like this all over the world, and through history. But we’ve had a dominant culture in place for a long time which punishes people for trying to step anywhere outside their designated boxes. Even feminism, which has done so much to help women and men, has only widened the box in certain ways for women. We’re still in an overculture where the worst insult you can deliver to a man is to insinuate that he is even a little bit “feminine.” Yes, women can wear pants, but how often do you see someone male-identified/male-presenting in a dress? I’m not talking about drag here, or something done for humor or humiliation. When it’s summer, I practically live in dresses because it takes 30 seconds to get dressed and there’s no worry about coordination.

iggydress

Burkett seems to think that the existence of trans women, identifying as women and accepted by other women as being just that, is a threat to her own identity as a woman. How? Do women who do not have kids do that? Do women who do not share her sexual identity do that? Do women lose that womanness when they have hysterectomies or mastectomies? There is an undercurrent of objectification to her editorial. I’m guessing she did not see the interview where Laverne Cox schooled Katie Couric about why cis people need to stop focusing on the surgery side or what resides between their legs.

She’d also do well to familiarize herself with the work of Norman Spack, who works with transgender youth. Maybe she’d see that many trans folk know from a very young age that their gender assignment at birth does not match with their true identity.

Plus, how is the high rate of murder among trans women not also violence against ALL women?

This is the world which feminism has helped to shape. There are still miles to go. But I write this today, as a bisexual queer woman, over 40, unmarried, not being pressured to change that, with many friends and even family who are trans, genderqueer, metagender, who do not have to live their lives struggling to be someone they are not. In modern paganisms and polytheisms we are finding more ways to acknowledge and celebrate our siblings in all their identities. Until children do not have to worry about violence from their families as a response to their autonomy, until slurs in reference to gender and sexuality are gone from our vocabulary, until young people stop killing themselves because they cannot live as their authentic selves, we need to continue to support trans women. They are our sisters too.

About Soli

Mystic, traditional foodie, librarian.
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20 Responses to Dear feminists, welcome to the world you’ve made

  1. carl says:

    Thank you.

    I understand that it can be a difficult world for Cis folk (at the risk for discrimination and splitting individuals into a belong and not-belongs group and inevitably tarring many with the wrong brush). In a world that is comfortable with their experience and expectations and upbringing we are introducing large amounts of chaos, questioning the very foundations of their identity and value structures. Sadly such is the world of privilege, one can only can smooth sailing if either everyone is one board, or everyone who doesn’t conform is pushed off a gangplank (preferably silently where no-one has to notice). For those without that don’t fit the cis mould we really don’t have any “nice” choices.

    I’m glad the writer brought forth the comment about children, as I have had that thrown at me many times. That a “real woman” can birth babies from her body – to all cis folk please do not say this thing. Many woman who are born genetically female have difficulties conceiving and carrying to term – some of them are probably in perception range, suffering in silence. they really don’t need to heat that told to them on top of their own loss. And many women choose for their own reasons to not have children. I realise this is preaching to the choir, but if you ever hear anyone bring that phrase up, rather than address the trans-issue, please show compassion instead and remind them of the tragedy they may be causing inadvertently.
    A woman is not _defined_ by her babies… to do so reduces us to sperm donors and incubators. That helps no one. And many transwomen would carry if they could, and many transdads would be epic donors – but we do what we can instead. Is it wonderful, yes, is it defining, no. As many an old housefrau had found when the nest emptied and her life gone. Lets get beyond that as a species.

  2. saffronrose says:

    I agree with your statement about the editorial reminding you of issues within the Dianic community–certainly issues I’ve seen at PCon–that was my first reaction on skimming that.

    Again, some clueless person (of any non-marginalized description) telling someone marginalised, only vaguely known to them, how to identify themselves, differently from how they DO identify themselves.

    You’re not them: you don’t get to tell someone how to define themself unless asked, and no-one did.

    As to autonomy over our own bodies, why are so many WASP male politicians so upset about it? It’s not a zero-sum game: our autonomy does not lessen theirs.

    I live in skirts, whether as dresses or separates. I wear pantaloons as a tribal-style bellydancer under protest, as they seldom fit me, and I’m already warm enough just standing around without them, much less when I have to dance outdoors or at a place already too warm the minute I enter.

    Due to leftover hormonal artefacts from menopause, I’m overheated all the time: I can be out in 50˚F weather in a gauzy single-layer summer dress without being chilled, unless the wind is blowing hard. Makes other people shiver even more!

    I’m glad you chose to respond here to that opinion piece. Yes, she needs to know more transfolk. She doesn’t understand that the choice to align yourself as female, when you’ve been an adult male in the workplace, means that you will see fewer workplace and employment opportunities, more former than current friends and associates/associations (consider many churches), more likelihood of assault–which is acceptable because to stay in the wrong body hurts too much.

  3. caelesti says:

    This is why I don’t judge people on the basis of their labels/identities- whether someone calls themselves a feminist or not- I judge them by their actions. Many people who advocate for gender equality don’t identify as feminists often because of these types of exclusion (trans folk, women of color, working class/poor folks, disabled folks etc) See cartoon illustration here-http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/03/what-im-not-a-feminist-means/ Interestingly, the only Dianic I’ve met is actually a cis-het man! From my many discussions with him, clearly he doesn’t agree with other Dianics about a lot of things!

  4. The entire trans thang is vastly more complicated than ever gets a real discussion. Frankly, being lectured by those who didn’t live the experience gets old. Trans issues are one of those rare situations where those who completed the process are considered heretics and those who never do finish are considered the experts. One of the things that frosts my pumpkin is all the random invention of essentially meaningless terms.

  5. BTW, I was born intersexed, had to correct as an adult the medical decision made at my birth and totally resent being othered by yet another bull crap made up term then applied to me. MOGAI? How many people born intersexed consented inclusion under that term? As many as one? Those who defend to the death the right to self definition would do well to learn NOT to then turn around and define others against their will…….

  6. carl says:

    Where does one “finish” it’s not like it’s a race to the big O… ;)

  7. Soli says:

    @Saffron: I’ve been wishing I could say something like what I wrote abov eto Z Budapest for many years. I’ve read some Dianic material, and it is fascinating to me how focused the tradition was on one model. I read Shekhinah Mountainwater’s book many years ago (and was on her Moonspells list for a time while she was alive, nice lady even if I didn’t always agree with her) and was struck that during her writing in the 1980s she could not even conceive of women coming up in the tradition having anything other than her previous life experience. For her at least, there was an expectation that women would have gotten married to a man, have kids, eventually come out and have only other women as lovers and partners.

    @Cathryn: are you addressing me in all the comments? I freely admit I have no idea what it’s like to be trans since I am not. I do my best to be an ally and am sure I still have more to work on.

    As for MOGAI, I know there are people who prefer it to LGBTQIA, and wanted also to include people not in the mainstream of genders and sexualities who aren’t covered in the latter.

  8. saffronrose says:

    Cathryn (what a lovely spelling!), wrt ‘being lectured by those who didn’t live the experience gets old’. I’m an insomniac and a migraineur, and while not on a level with your reference, members of these two communities get really tired of well-meaning (one hopes they’re well-meaning, otherwise…) idiots who have no idea what we go through, what remedies and changes we’ve tried over decades, telling us something any kindergartener would have tried first off, and found ineffectual, will be good for what ails us. It’s not a self-identity matter, but if folk-medicine worked for us, we’d have nothing further to seek.

    The finished=heretic vs in-the-midst-of=expert is not a situation I’ve encountered or observed. Must keep my eyes open.

    I love the phrase “frosts my pumpkin”. I collect different linguistic mannerisms unconsciously, and this is one I hope to remember.

  9. Soli, I try to stay out of trans politics these days and your use of MOGAI was the first time I encountered yet another “umbrella” term I do not wish associated with. Transgender is another I view as an insult and fought tooth and nail when it first appeared. I was a high visible trans activist in the mid nineties, lobbied Congress twice and two different state legislature multiple times as well as a principle founder of NTAC, the first national grassroots trans rights organization so I have some street creds here.

    Carl: finished as I had a physical problem, got it corrected and then went on with my life as a standard woman without modifiers. I did so well enough I have been written up in multiple news stories ranging from Forbes to the NY Times with my trans history only a minor footnote during our battle at the Maetreum of Cybele for Pagan equal treatment under the law.
    here is a link to a blog entry I wrote about a year ago on this subject after some idiot (who writes here on Pagan Activist) declared the Maetreum transphobic.
    http://cybelinecrone.blogspot.com/2014/09/open-letter-to-greater-pagan.html

  10. carl says:

    Cathryn re:finished. I’m glad you got your physical problem sorted what I was referring to was that many people treated post-op as some kind of target. If a person doesn’t choose that option then to many they’re a wannabe or a failure. I think that it is very said they do that, have the neither experience or compassion to see that person is simply who they are and if they don’t want to make that step for whatever reason that’s their call. Likewise, a bit like the “pregnancy is finished at birth” type attitude, there is a whole world more finishing to come once that “goalpost” has been passed. A whole life, hopefully not revolving around ones’ genitals, again hopefully, awaits.
    I would hope (again) to see better attitude in magic-users and pagan folk whom know life is all a journey and not finished until the next step in the journey is undertaken.

  11. Soli says:

    Cathryn, thank you for everything you have done. I am trying to use MOGAI now because I have friends who fall outside of cisgender heterosexuality but aren’t represented by LGBTQIA. I am also one of those people who tends to cringe when yet another new acronym appears but this one may serve to cover a broader range of people.

  12. Carl, re “finished” Your comment is precisely why I fought “transgender” as an umbrella term because for someone born transsexed, fixing the body is a HUGE deal. Transgender should never have included transsexuals and it is erasure of those born transsexed under that umbrella and the specific issues they face that you are talking about when you talk about not everyone needs surgery…..duh! Apples should not be lumped in with kumquats………

  13. carl says:

    http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/transgender-gatekeeping/
    I do like that term “gender affirming surgery” … have you got gas? lol. much more positive

  14. Soli says:

    Carl, can it right now. Don’t disrespect Cathryn or any other commenters here.

  15. carl says:

    I beg your pardon Soli.
    No idea why you find anything as “disrepecting” but that’s your issue not mine, and you can absolutely get the heck off telling me what to do … or is that what passes for “Respect” in your community??
    One thing *I* find absolutely intolerable is ignorant _abuse_ by people in authorative positions and I DO NOT pander to them or enable their control issues.
    You want respect, you show it. You want to call me out on “disrespect” then you better have your house in order, and you better be showing respect when you bring it forward. Telling me to “can it”, when I’m not disrespecting anyone…. go get some counselling gurl your issues are showing.

  16. Soli says:

    Carl, asking if someone has gas is personal. You can disagree without insulting them.

  17. Thank you Soli….. and now you have an excellent example of why I left all trans activism……

  18. Transsexualism is fairly rare and is mainly about physical reality for the individual. Transgender identified people are not transsexual, they are concerned mainly with social roles. This is why the two never should have been mixed. Those born transsexed did a bang up job of educating the public back in the 80’s and 90’s and the modern transgender movement has been trying to undo that since the late 90’s rather than establish their own education about their identities. This is not very well known by the general public because most of us went back into the woodwork once our problems were fixed and frankly, transgender activists were incredibly nasty about silencing our voices and they greatly outnumber those born transsexed, The linked cartoon is part of the disinformation campaign painting those who required surgery were somehow socially forced into it rather than what the DSM V recognized as a cure for a known prenatal neurological intersexed birth condition. Thus transsexualism is a medical term and condition unlike transgenderism which is a social condition and identity.

  19. Soli says:

    You’re welcome, and thank you for the additional information.

  20. carl says:

    ahh. so you had surgery to remove your humour glands?

    The term was “gender affirmation surgery” vs the term “genital reconstruction surgery”. ie Brings a whole new concept to “I’ve got gas”, “Hi let’s go to the gas station”, “gas prices are going up this week”, “Senator X is taking a staunch position on gas prices in the mid West”. GRS sounds like something I want fitted to my car, it’s just not nearly is interesting.

    What you probably don’t understand over the last 40+ years dealing with my own gender identity and not having people to tell me how the Approved(tm) way of handling it, i did it through observation.
    You know what I noticed about CIs folk, ie those born to a gender that isn’t an issue to them? Is simply that they _don’t_ have a issue about their gender. To the transperson the dysmorphia is a _huge_ factor in everything I did, everything I thought. Often it was unavoidable – what clothes woould actually suit this body frame, How not to alienate people I needed to deal with, being jammed into toilet facilities at school and conferences (10 males at the urinal *is* an issue for a young MTF). But there were a lot of issues that “real X” didn’t deal with because it simply didn’t affect them (except under certain circumstances, and at those times I often had more in common than their abusers) – How often does a cis-woman put on a blouse and think does this make me look like a woman? If I don’t shave my stubble today am I not going to look feminine? Those things just aren’t in their world – and if that was *my* real world, then I couldn’t let those gender-orientated obsession overpower my life. A “real man” doesn’t win an argument he just has to get on with life because there’s so many more battles he’s fighting – he doesn’t have time to get his back up “because someone think’s he’s a pussy”.
    And what I did find after accepting those aspects that people less obsessed about their gender were not worrying about is that my sense of human improved and my egotistical-over-sensitivity (which transgender folk are famed for) eased off….. so Soli… Just laugh…it woz a funny..chill.

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