Monday, November 29, 2010

Part 2: Sara and Julian Discuss Trans/Feminist Issues: a few more thoughts on the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, and on to the matter of Cisgender Women's Privileges

This image is from here. We can note how it doesn't include political location and structural position as part of how identity is defined, decided upon, imposed, enforced, and determined. This is, typical to U.S. dominant culture, a highly individualistic and apolitical understanding of "identity". For whom isn't "oppression" a factor in their identity?
[Part 1 of this exchange is *here*. What follows is Part 2.]

JR wrote: "The truth about MWMF is that there's no way to know who was FAAB and who wasn't, unless the person gets naked while there or is known by participants to not be FAAB. So intersex women, trans men, and trans women have likely attended."

Sara responded: Yeah, they first vocally expelled trans women they knew were trans. But eventually got against doing pantie-checks and adopted a DADT policy instead, still telling potential trans women going there that doing so was disrespecting the policy and they should feel ashamed for that.

    I've never been there myself and have no intention to go, either. My only take in the debate is to be against injustice.

    It's a bit hypocritical to say "for all women" and then define women as "not trans-women" (or like they say: FAAB).

As I understand it, the issue is that some people with male privilege want to attend and claim to not have male privileges. Not necessarily in those terms, but that's the political gist of it, as I see it. If Black people wish to gather without people who have white privileges and entitlements, to convene and celebrate what it means to be Black, I am all for it. And if someone shows up who is not visually identifiable in terms of distinct race as such things are constructed in the U.S., and many Black attendees experience the person as throwing white privilege all over the place, and want that person to leave, they should have the ethical/communal right to do so. That's my view. And if a white person shows up and claims (completely genuinely) they have always felt Black, grew up in Black community, identified always as Black, and see themselves as Black, I also support Black people not letting that person into their gathering.

Identity is not a product of subjective experience only or, often, even primarily. If that were true, lots and lots of white middle class New Agers who felt "Native American" (maybe especially "in a past life") or who were into "Indian culture" ever since they could remember (as they stereotypically and exploitively understood it), would have been claiming to be "generic Native American--heritage, language, affiliation, or nation unknown", while holding onto VERY white privileges and entitlements. And the very act of claiming, in all earnestness and sincerity, to be part of a group you aren't part of, if you structurally oppress that group, is even more proof that you aren't a respectful member of that group, not proof you are. And, just to be clear here, as I understand it from American Indians and First Nations people, there are varying ways of determining ethnic membership and skin color isn't one of them. So I'm not saying that "white" people can't be American Indian or First Nation in heritage and identity.

But in the dominant U.S., identity, along with subjective experience of self, is also a product of how one is experienced interpersonally and socially, and how one is structurally positioned and located in political hierarchies. Some women, for example, may well be predatory, and if women don't feel safe with her being around, then they should be able to request that she leaves and not returns, based on her behavior being disrespectful, threatening, hostile, or violating to other women.

Sara, do you see it as an injustice for an oppressed group to be violated by people who are structurally oppressive, by being born and raised with privileges FAAB women didn't have as girls or as women? Do you see it as an injustice or a social wrong for women to be made to accept into a gathering members of the human community they don't wish to have there, when that decision is not based on race, ethnicity, class, age, ability, or appearance?

I think a key point of contention in these debates, which I imagine you and I will explore much more, is the issue of who carries cisgender privilege, and what cisgender privileges mean, for example, when the cisgender person was always gender non-conforming or always appeared to not "fit" the dominant categories that were or are socially enforced, with terroristic force.

You might have heard of the Vancouver Rape Relief vs Kimberly Nixon court stuff that went on until 2007?

Yes. I have.

Their argument is about FAAB, again - but the way they "spotted" this particular one was through looks, and they brought arguments against "masculine looks" (defacto also excluding butch women), wether it be clothes or just "your face looks too masculine".
    I agree they only should hire women, but not their reasoning that reeks of lookism. And they never proved their point about the need of FAAB-only. They only asserted it was so.
    One wonders how they deal with not triggering victims of female-female rape. Since the concept of triggering was central to their court plea.

I will get back to you on this case. I need to research it a bit. I won't forget to pick up these points you make, though. And I thank you for raising them.

"No, that's not the same. You repeatedly keep ignoring the issue--that the person or people excluded are not politically structured in the same location, socially, as those who the gathering was designed to support. Those who seek to exclude are politically located beneath those they seek to exclude, structurally speaking and evidenced in behavior."

    You might not agree, but it's evident that women in general are located structurally above trans women in general. Like white women are located above black women, or Jewish women.

I'd like to know what your conception is of trans women. Are you speaking here only of trans women who have had MtF surgery or hormone therapies? Are you speaking of trans women who, regardless of therapies being approached and surgeries being performed, pass as women in the larger population, or those who don't? What about trans women who have decided not to transition, but who choose to present as genderqueer? And who, to most people, appear to be and are regarded socially and politically as male-men? It is a frustration for many of us who are trans and intergender that the term "trans woman" gets used and repeatedly discussed as if this is an identifiable population who are more oppressed than cisgender women, when no such group exists in such a readily identifiable way.

You say "women in general are located structurally above trans women in general." I assume you are using the term "woman" in the first part of the sentence to mean cisgender women. I see very cloudy evidence for making that statement and think it presumes far too much about the conditions impacting cisgender women's lives and trans women's lives.

For example, we might say that gay men are always more oppressed than straight men. And while gay men have a different relationship to homophobia and heterosexism than straight men, I've known "fey" straight men who have been queer-bashed, and gay men who have always been assumed to be straight. So if we're speaking of "who gets beaten because they are targeted as gay" it doesn't always play out that it is gay men. Some straight men are beaten for being gay too, even while they're not gay or bisexual.

Here's another example. A lesbian cisgender woman onced remarked to me that, in some ways, she has more privilege that heterosexual women. That goes against "conventional thinking" in anti-oppression activist circles--she was part of such circles at the time she made this statement to me. She wouldn't deny that lesbian women are targeted generally and in specifically harmful and hurtful ways for anti-lesbian violence, which may be institutional as much or more than being interpersonally experienced. But she noted that living intimately with members of the population who are raised to sexualise your oppression is not "a privilege" among women. It is a danger. And to the extent that lesbian women don't choose to "regularly sleep with men--or one man", they are not putting themselves at the same risk for rape as those women, often heterosexual or bisexual, who do regularly sleep with men--or one man. Heterosexual women are more likely to be battered and abused by a man than by a woman. So is her socialisation to live with men--or one man--intimately, "a privilege"? Yes, if she's married to a man she may, statistically and in fact, in her own life, benefit temporarily or for the long term in economic ways, but she's also made vulnerable due to that economic advantage, when and if it is there. She's vulnerable to homelessness upon divorce, for example.

You then state: "Like white women are located above Black women, or Jewish women."
First, many Jewish women are white. So that gets problematic right away. I'm someone who does believe that if all other aspects of being are politically on par, white women live more privileged lives than Black women in a white male supremacist society. And I'd say that white Christian women in the U.S. have privileges over and against white Jewish or Muslim women, Jewish women of color, Black Christian or Muslim women. So, in that sense, white Christian women are structurally located above those other groups of women, in the U.S., generally speaking.

I'll respond to your evidence about how it is you arrive at the conclusion that trans women are structurally positioned below cisgender women, as we proceed here.

The incredibly high suicide rate speaks for itself (50% attempt and about 20% overall succeed).

That's so very sad. Tragic.

And given that stats are often calculated based on LGBT youth, for example, I'd welcome knowing your source for that statistic. Not because I don't believe it--it feels accurate to me, however horrible it also feels to contemplate that. But because I just want to know how they gathered that information, given this, which is a common problem for our community (from Wikipedia--admittedly, not the best resource for such things):

Though it is impossible to know the suicide rate of LGBT youth because sexuality and gender minorities are often hidden and even unknown, particularly in this age group. Further research is currently being done to explain the prevalence of suicide among LGBT youths.

Are we assuming the people we're talking about are white and class-privileged? Because most stats are based on people with race and class privilege. Poor and of color populations are routinely not factored into such statistics because the researchers don't bother to find out how such populations are impacted by mental health issues, depression, suicidality, suicide, or violence and murder. If a poor woman is murdered and her body is found, is it assumed she was a prostitute, compared to when a rich woman's body is found? If she's Black or Brown and her body is found, is there an assumption then, by media, that she died of drugs, HIV/AIDS, or prostitution-related harm? How would we know her cause of death? If someone is a drug addict, and they die, how and when do we know that was a suicide or not? If most suicidally depressed women--trans or not--do not seek out mental health services because the services, personnel, agencies, and institutions are so terribly racist, heterosexist, and classist--or just plain inaccessible or unavailable--how can we really know how many women--trans or not--commit suicide?

But there's also housing, employment and hospital discrimination, simply for being trans women.

I'm wondering, right now, if there's any meaningful difference in how cisgender women in prostitution survive--what their chances are of being assaulted and worse, compared to trans women in prostitution. I'm wondering if the issue is "being trans" or "being visually gender non-conforming". Because it seems to me that, again, there's a huge assumption here that "trans women" are all, everywhere, recognised and identified as such by housing personnel, employers, and hospital workers. Are you wanting to make that kind of stereotypical statement about "trans women"? Again, isn't the issue here more about who appears to be gender conforming and who doesn't--regardless of whether or not they are trans?

Being left to die on the pavement after you got hit by a car, is not a privilege. Nor is it one to have the paramedics laugh at you instead of helping you. This really happened to a trans woman, a couple years back.

I can well imagine--against some internal resistance--that there are despicable experiences visited upon trans women in life and in death. And the thoughts make me shudder as is the reality that poor people are more likely to be left unattended when in life threatening situations: the Katrina/U.S. government neglect disaster is proof enough of that. The incident you cite is horrible--beyond words horrible. But that is an example of a story that is anecdotal, however true and horrid it is in its indication of some cisgender people's utter cruelty and gross inhumanity--was the person who hit her a cisgender het man? Were the paramedics cisgender het men? I ask because this might be a case of a combination of forms of gross bigotry and inhumanity--combining homophobia--if they registered the victim not as trans but as a "cross-dressing 'homo'", for example. Do we know how the paramedics identified the victim in their gross humor? It could be a kind of anti-lesbian gender non-conforming misogyny, also. I believe you oppose conclusions about oppression based on anecdotal evidence. There are so many unanswered questions about that one atrocity. I raise those examples of how some non-trans people respond grossly and inhumanely to trans people because so many non-trans people don't even accurately identify trans people AS trans people. So I wouldn't assume, for example, that the victim was mistreated because they were perceived to be transgender, but rather because they were perceived to be a "cross-dresser". That's as likely to be the bigotry one would encounter, depending on how one's body matches with society's restrictive homophobic, lesbophobic, transphobic, classist, racist, and heterosexist ideas about "appropriate" attire personal presentation. And none of that means a transgender person wasn't mistreated in grotesquely dehumanising ways--regardless of what was in the minds of the abusers.

I have absolutely no doubt that atrocious things happen to some trans women. I'd be in tremendous denial to state anything contrary to that. But moving from that awareness to a conclusion that trans women are oppressed structurally by non-trans women is not reachable, for me, based on anecdotal stories, because we all have them about every population. Paramedics, for example, laugh at many people--such as obese people. And I'm willing to bet that all the people involved in the degrading behavior weren't cisgender women, but were cisgender men. Do you know if that was the case? And, sorry to make you recount those details.

I almost didn't get my last job. They figured I was trans if only for the name mismatch (legal and current usage) and the head woman in HR thought it might be better for me not to get hired, for my sake. The formator and the scheduling guy thought I would do fine, and I got hired. The people who worked there were generally not mainstream (videogame testing needs hardcore gamers, of which there are few), so I didn't get harassed or anything.

Not hiring me "for my own sake" wouldn't have been much help even had there been discrimination and harassment. I need income like everyone else.

I totally agree. I totally agree that the apparently cisgender (?) woman was not doing you any favors at all. I'm curious to know how you know she was cisgender. I can also imagine scenarios where, for example, a Jewish person tells another Jew, "it'd be better if you didn't work here" because the place is crawling with Christian anti-Semitism. Same with a gay male doing the hiring for a position in a place that is virulently homophobic. But, assuming that woman was cisgender, that'd be actionable discrimination, as far as I can tell. Fortunately, you did get hired. I wonder what she has to say about this now? Have you run into her since? I'd be curious to know if she's been confronted on her discriminatory attitude--not necessarily or even preferably by you, but by anyone. Is it still actionable, do you think? I'm not saying you should risk your job to pursue a case, or that you even have the will or energy to do such a thing, but I am wondering if those other people you encountered in the hiring process are required to report her discriminatory behavior.

I'll close for now and look forward to your responses. I'm glad you got the job!!! I hope you're relatively happy with it. :)

When Het Men Aren't In Denial or Busy Defending Patriarchal Atrocities, They Can Say Some Profoundly Truthful Things About Themselves

image from the movie, A Serbian Film, is from here
Case in point:
This kind of content – sexual violence as horror, and the male sex drive as monster - really hasn’t been explored this way on film before. I found myself reminded of the most distressing literary explorations of the subject that I have ever encountered: American Psycho, Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, but even more so than those – Andrea Dworkin’s Pornography: Men Possessing Women. Any heterosexual male who has ever read Dworkin has doubtless gone through the same cycle I did of being enraged by the assertions made of our gender, yet ultimately coming to the crushing realisation that everything said about the masculine was true: the drive to dominate, to brutalise, to attempt to satiate the ultimately insatiable appetite.
The above passage is from a review of a movie called A Serbian Film. The full review may be read *here*. There's plenty of sexualised violence against women in the film. And it's being discussed as if extreme misogyny something new in cinema. Apparently the author forgot about Snuff, and most films by Brian DePalma and David Lynch. Or mainstream pornography films.

The reviewer, Ben Bussey, seems to be making a simultanously pro-feminist and anti-feminist point: that men desire to torture women, and that men will torture women because men desire to do so. See, for example, this portion of his review.
This, I think, is the overriding theme that has made A Serbian Film the hot topic it is. At the screening, director Spasojevic reiterated his assertion that the film’s primary function is to serve as a metaphor for life in his home nation (and while I do not doubt his conviction, I must say I do not entirely approve of filmmakers promoting so specific a reading of their work; there’s a lot to be said for leaving things open to interpretation). But to my mind the film is really driven by the universal theme of the male sex drive, and of course the universal taboos of rape and paedophilia. It is not anti-porn per se - central protagonist Milos (the also remarkable Srdjan Todorovic) is portrayed as a well-balanced, down-to-earth family man, never frowned upon for his chosen profession – but tough questions are asked about where ‘good’ porn ends and ‘bad’ porn begins, and just how much it takes for a man to embrace those heinous impulses which, like it or not, on some level exist within us all.
If this is what he's saying, I will say that I don't agree with him that a rape-impulse (and practice) in men being an inevitability, or asocial. Or biological. Or natural. Or universal. Such a viewpoint, that men will rape women and that this terroristic action is not due to conditioning one gets in the political formation of patriarchal manhood in rapist-protecting societies, is one that MRAs and "anti-misandrists" ought to be getting their boxers in a bunch about. Because, as has been noted here many times: when men openly say what men do, when it is in agreement with what radical feminists notice about men's behavior, the men are not called out as man-haters by other men (or, for that matter, as woman-haters). It is only when radical feminists note what men do that men deny doing that those women get called man-haters, not woman-lovers, and not truth-tellers.

You know how THEY mistreat lesbians over THERE. Don't you?

image is from here

One of many things radical feminists of color brought to my consciousness was how to responsibly speak about conditions women face globally. For example, not letting white people always speak for women of color. Not assuming that one person of color speaks for everyone else. Not assuming that what happens in the Global North is the same as what happens in the Global South. Not assuming that the West and the East are the opposite of each other. Not assuming Asia means Korea, Japan, and China only. Knowing that one in five women in the world is Chinese. Not assuming Indigenous people are all gone. Knowing that the people who understand globalised economics the best are poor and of color, not rich and white. Understanding that access to clean water is a critically gendered issue for most women on Earth. The list is endless, really. And I strive to keep learning because the list is endless.

The bottom line for me is to do my best to center the many experiences and analyses of radical women of color in the formation of values and activism this blog supports. And to make sure to support marginalised voices from the Global South and East in Northern and Western media I have access to, including progressive and justice-seeking radical media. And to support the activism of women from the Fourth World.

A critical evaluation by radical women of color is how completely hypocritical white men's cultures and values can be and often are. White men say one thing and do another: like preach about contraception being bad while promoting and protecting men raping children and women and also then condemning girls and women for wanting abortions as if pregnancies were all immaculate.

White men cover each others tracks. White men have one another's backs. The spoken and unspoken bonds among white men make them a formidable bunch to try and challenge and hold accountable. White het men usually and generally don't have a clue about what the majority of human beings experience that is WHM supremacist in origin. And this makes that group very ignorant about the world and also very dangerous, in part because they think they know everything about everyone. They think they are the experts. They think that G-d looks like them. And they think women, especially lesbian women of color, are not created in G-d's image. They don't grasp the spirituality in The Color Purple by Alice Walker (not by Steven Spielberg). They don't get what the women in For Colored Girls are talking about--in soliloquies written by Ntozake Shange (not Tyler Perry). White men can grasp it all because they are human. But white men usually don't because they think only they are fully human.

A typical expression of U.S./Western/WHM Supremacist Hypocrisy-As-A-Way-Of-Life is to deny that what happens in other places--places far away from "US", also happen right here, right now, where we are, where we live. Like genocide or terrorism. For now, let's take the issue of terroristic violence against lesbians. Some progressive media in the white West have been focused on those outrageous Africans--you know--those BLACK Africans, who have a country or a culture or a continent or something like that? Yeah, THOSE Africans! The ones who hate gays and lesbians and want them all to die. You know. Those people over there, not here, who think that violence against lesbians and gay men is okay? Yeah, THOSE people, far away from "US".

Consider, if you would, the following two stories and let me know if your conclusion is that the U.S. wants lesbian women to live lives free of sexual/gender violence.

First, from pinkpaper,com, news from a country in Southern Africa. Please click on the title to link back.

First lesbian couple come out in Botswana

A lesbian couple have made history in Botswana by becoming the first to publicly reveal their relationship despite homosexuality being illegal in the country.
Monday, 29 November 2010
28 November 2010


A lesbian couple have made history in Botswana by becoming the first to publicly reveal their relationship despite homosexuality being illegal in the country.

Onkemetse Pule, 26, and Lawrence Kwataka, 24, met through the dating pages of their local newspaper, The Voice, ten months ago, and they have since informed family members of their relationship.

Homosexuality is currently illegal in Botswana, but they felt the time was right for them to show the way for other gay and lesbian couples even though those found having been engaged in gay acts can face imprisonment.

Pule told The Voice: “We have nothing to hide. People should know that lesbian relationships exist. It’s only that we are not being given a chance to express it in the same way as those in a heterosexual relationship. We want the same rights and freedom of expression. If we kiss and hug, hold hands in public, we don’t want to face the prospect of arrest for what society regards as a crime.

The couple, known gay rights activists in the country, believe there are many other gay people in Botswana who are afraid to come out for fear of persecution and discrimination.

“Until gay and lesbians are given the same rights, people will continue to stare and snigger at us with a nudge that says, ‘look at them," they say.

“We are not the only ones – there are many other couples out there. We have friends who feel the same way and just want to spend their time together without making a big deal out of it. Our society needs to remove the labels that say ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ or ‘bisexual’ or whatever, and accept people as people.”

Earlier this month Botswana's government voted in favour of removing sexual orientation from a UN resolution on minorities protected from discriminatory grounds for execution.

But last month former president, Festus Mogae, urged African leaders to decriminalise homosexuality to help the fight against AIDS on the continent. He said: “There was no need to discriminate and stigmatise homosexuals and sex workers because they are part of society.”

Under Mogae’s leadership and that of current President Ian Khama, no one has been prosecuted in the country for being gay for more than three years.

*          *          *
Next, we have this, from North America, or some country or culture in it. It's so hard to keep those countries in North America "straight". From Clicking on the title will link you back to the source site.

Judge: Let lesbians into military so male GIs can turn them straight

By Daniel Tencer
Thursday, November 25th, 2010 -- 6:09 pm

 Judge: Let lesbians into military so male GIs can turn 
them straight

Did judge suggest corrective rape for lesbian soldiers?

The conservative news site The Daily Caller has removed part of an article that suggested lesbians be allowed into the US military so that their male colleagues can "convert" them.

Critics say the article went as far as to suggest corrective rape for lesbians.

"Lesbians should be allowed to serve, gay men should not," declared Joe Rehyansky in an article published Monday. Rehyansky, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, is a part-time magistrate in Hamilton County, Tennessee, and a former assistant district attorney.

In the original article, Rehyansky concluded that his lesbians-only policy "would get the distaff part of our homosexual population off our collective ‘Broke Back,’ thus giving straight male GIs a fair shot at converting lesbians and bringing them into the mainstream."

That alarmed some LGBT activists, who note that much of the article before that comment argued that men are rapists by nature. Rehyansky's argument that gay men should continue to be banned from the military was based on this notion:
[S]houldn’t the overwhelmingly straight warriors who answer their county’s call be spared the indignity of showering with other men who achieve lascivious enjoyment from the sight of those lithe naked bodies, and who may be tempted to seek more than the view? They are, after all, guys.
In the early evolutionary years of the human species, Rehyansky argued, "It fell to men to swing through the trees and scour the caves in search of as many women as possible to subdue and impregnate — a tough job but someone had to do it."

Writing at, Amanda Hess reads between the lines of Rehyansky's article: "Once all the lesbians are easily accessible in one place, an army of straight dudes will turn them all straight, presumably through that time-tested tactic of subduing and impregnating women against their will."

Hess reports that The Daily Caller briefly dropped the article when it began to gain attention, only to put it back online but without the "converting lesbians" comment. The comment has since been republished at other Web sites.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Rehyansky's specialties are "sending criminals to prison" and "astute political analysis."

The Daily Caller was launched earlier this year by Tucker Carlson, formerly of CNN and MSNBC and now a Fox News contributor, and Neil Patel, a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.