Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gender liberation, feminism, and the trans movement

I want to link you all to this excellent article about feminism and transphobia by Penny Red* (h/t i.t.). I highly suggest this, so click the damn link! I'll know if you don't (actually I won't, I've never bothered to add any sort of stats monitor on this blog).

Anyway, the article really reminded me of when I was an undergraduate, and I was minoring in Women and Gender Studies. There was a professor there, a woman I respect and like quite a bit, and she was something of a second wave feminist who became third way who then went back to being second wave. We got into more arguments than I can remember, but sometimes she would assign certain authors, like Janice Raymond, and I'd be like, "How can you expect me to take this person seriously?" Anyway, I'd like to quote near the end of the article (this doesn't excuse you from clicking the link):
Trans activism is not merely a valid part of the feminist movement: it is a vital one. The notion that one’s biological sex does not have to dictate anything about one’s behaviour, appearance or the eventual layout of one’s genitals and secondary sex organs, now that we live in a glittering future where such things are possible, is the radical heart of feminist thought. It is essential for cis as well as trans feminists to oppose transphobia and transmisogyny.

Conversely, at the very heart of sexist thought is the assumption that the bodies we are born with ought to dictate our character, our behaviour, our appearance, our choices, the nature of our relationships and the work of our lives. Feminism puts forward the still-radical notion that this is not the case. Feminism holds that gender identity, rather than being written in our genes, is an emotional, personal and sexual state of being that can be expressed in myriad different ways that encompass and extend beyond the binary categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’. Feminism holds that prescribed gender roles are a tyranny that no-one - whether trans, cis, male, female or intersex - should be forced to conform to in order to prove their identity, their validity or their human worth.

This is an important and fundamental point. When I was doing my bit as an undergrad, I had really come to feel trapped and exhausted by certain gender norms that were being placed on me. There were certain psychic wounds, violences that had happened to me that I was unable to articulate as such because of my gender. Certain feminists, queer theory, and particularly transtheorists helped paved the way out of that for me. Particularly an early meeting with Kate Bornstein was formative for me. All of this probably also explains my early attraction with philosophers like Deleuze and Guattari, who wrote things like this:
[E]verywhere a microscopic transsexuality, resulting in the woman containing as many men as the man, and the man as many women, all capable of entering-- men with women, women with men-- into relations of production of desire that overturn the statistical order of the sexes. Making love is not just becoming one, or even two, but becoming as a hundred thousand. Desiring-machines, or the nonhuman sex: not one or even two sexes, but n sexes. Shizoanalysis is the variable analysis of the n sexes in a subject, beyond the anthropomorphic representation that society imposes on this subject, and with which it represents its own sexuality. The schizoanalytic slogan of the desiring-revolution will be first of all: to each its own sexes. A-O, pp. 295-296.

On the one had, I am saying all of this is true, absolutely true. But I also want to hit a note of caution, from one who did it. I think this type of thinking, especially for us cisgendered, carries with it a risk of fetishizing transpeople. Many transfolk are simply trying to live their lives, many are just trying to survive in a frankly genocidal culture. We need to also be aware of that. We need to not end up turning all transpeople, or the experiances of trans people, into some sort of weird revolutionary vanguard. Liberating gender expression means also liberating people to express their gender in the most stereotypical displays. Turning a group into our revolutionary nonconformists carries with it a plethora of dangers that we have to warn against.

To each its own sexes!

*I erroneously referred to Penny Red as Red Jenny in an earlier version. Red Jenny was a nickname of a friend of mine years ago. Sorry for the mistake and any confusion.