On dicks, pudding, transphobia and feminism

CN: transphobia and transphobia-related issues.  Also dick jokes.

So here was a recent thing.

On January 8th, Suzanne Moore published a piece in the New Statesman called “Seeing Red: The Power of Female Anger.”

And it was good.  No, really – it was a decent piece.  Made some good points.  I don’t know if I’d call it “powerful,” but it was a good piece.

And then out of nowhere comes this line: “We are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.”

Like Cecilia Marahouse.  Who was murdered on Jan. 11.

Like Cecilia Marahouse. Who was murdered on Jan. 11.

Whaaaa?

What did this have to do with the piece?  Why was this necessary?

In case you’re not clear on why this was bad, let’s start from the top and work our way down.  First of all, it plays into the tired old mold of valuing some women at the expense of other women.  In this particular case, it’s demonizing women who have culturally-considered “ideal” bodies, as if self-esteem were a zero-sum game.  I am all about teaching women to love themselves no matter what shape their body is, but the way to do this is NOT implying that women who have “perfect” bodies, whether they grew it themselves, had help from hormones, or had cosmetic surgery, are therefore bad and should be blamed or dismissed.  Sentences like these sound nastily like “We REAL women shouldn’t compare ourselves to THOSE women!”  And it is pretty nasty, no matter who THOSE women are – if she’d singled out fashion models, porn stars, or Hollywood actresses, it’d still be pretty darn nasty.

BUT!

Instead, she specifically chose to single out – and dismiss – women who are a) transgender and b) Brazilian.  And this is where it gets especially problematic.  Because transgender women are already facing a tremendous amount of marginalization.  They get all the marginalization of being trans AND of being female, all at once!  Whee!  Choosing transwomen as your negative example just smacks of kicking someone when they’re down.  (Not to mention the Unfortunate Implication that transwomen are, therefore, not Real Women.  An accusation that transwomen have to put up with all the damn time.)

Furthermore, as Monica over at Transgriot points out, Brazilian transwomen especially catch more than their fair share of violence.  These are women who are quite literally being murdered for who and what they are – and you’re turning them into a punchline?

And here’s the thing – I get it.  Sometimes you say shit and you don’t think it through.  The line’s pretty punchy; I can see writing that and going “hey, that makes the point pretty well.”  And then just not thinking about how it’s going to sound because, well, you’re not transgender and you don’t have to think about it all the time.  It’s called showing your ass in public, and I’ve done it.  Everyone’s done it.  Everyone’s had that moment where, in all unthinking innocence, they said something hurtful and made themselves look like ignorant bigots.

But – as I pointed out in my last post – the big question then is – what are you going to do next?

What Suzanne Moore did, in point of fact, was throw a fit.  She complained about how mean and nasty the transgender community was being – well, I’m sure they were.  The line was, after all, pretty hurtful if you take a moment to think about it.  Then it got nasty.

Things that got said (in addition to flat-out refusing to apologize):

“I don’t prioritise this fucking lopping bits off your body over all else that is happening to women.”  Ok, well, no one’s asking you to prioritize it.  Transgender issues aren’t at the top of your list, that’s fine.  But there’s a difference between not prioritizing something and actively attacking it.  You can discuss other feminist issues without resorting to random racism and transphobia.

“!) People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.”  Really?   You have NO idea how you might possibly have come off as transphobic?  Must be a mystery.

“I use the word transsexual. I use lots of ‘offensive’ words. If you want to be offended it [‘s] your prerogative.”  Seriously, someone who claims to be feminist ought to have a better understanding of privilege than this.  “I’m going to use any hurtful word I feel like using, and if you’re hurt it’s your own fault.”  Telling a marginalized group which words you’re going to use to describe them and dismissing them when they tell you a word is hurtful is an abuse of privilege.  If you know the word’s offensive, you don’t use it unless you’re actually TRYING to offend people – and then you have to own the fact that you’re being a jerk.

And my personal favorite: “read my essay. It is NOT about trans anything. Are you utterly thick? Dont bother answering that.”

…ok look.

We know the essay’s not about trans anything.  That’s precisely WHY it’s so egregious that you stuck a random transphobic comment in the middle of it.

Zero Punctuation had a beautiful metaphor about situations like this –  sticking your dick in the pudding.  “It may be a perfectly good pudding, but nobody wants to eat it now because you stuck your dick in it!”

zero punctuation

See, that’s what you did when you decided to throw random transphobia and racism into an otherwise good essay.  The rest of the essay may be a perfectly good essay, but nobody wants to read it now because you stuck your dick in it.

Now, you can whine about how unfair and mean it is that nobody wants to eat dick-tainted pudding… or you could, y’know, LISTEN, apologize, and attempt to refrain from sticking your dick into any more puddings.  (Wow, for a post about feminism this has turned decidedly phallic…)

It would have been really, really easy to react to the first angry responses by saying “Wow, I kinda screwed that up, guys.  Sorry.  I was trying to make a point, but I didn’t stop to think that I’d be hurting people by doing so.  I’ll admit I haven’t thought too much about this issue, but maybe I should – transgender women are facing the same things ciswomen are, after all, and the last thing I need to be doing is making life harder for them.  In the spirit of the rest of the essay, I’ll try to work harder at valuing ALL women.”  And that, I think, would likely have been the end of it.  A few outliers would still be mad, but most people would go “Eh, she showed her ass in public, but she owned up to it and apologized, moving on.”  But she didn’t.  She dug in her heels, defended her statement, and in doing so revealed some even uglier attitudes.  And while she did eventually apologize, it came across as “Hey, yeah, I shouldn’t have said that, but wow, I feel really misrepresented too.  Guess I just shouldn’t speak freely anymore.  And yeah, I got nasty, but that’s because they attacked me first!  Oh well, at least the GOOD trans people weren’t mad at me.”

…Which brings us to Julie Burchill.  Who decided to chime in on the topic with a nice long love letter to hate speech.  (The article and its comments has since been removed, a decision which I’m torn between considering the right thing to do, or kinda cowardly – but if you particularly want to read it, it’s here.)

I… I don’t even know how to begin addressing this, other than to say WTF is wrong with you?  Where on earth did you get it into your head that this is an okay way to talk to people?  I… that piece is just pure nast from front to finish, and I don’t even have the energy to begin picking it apart.

doctor wtf

Although I will address this part: “(I know that’s a wrong word, but having recently discovered that their lot describe born women as ‘Cis’ – sounds like syph, cyst, cistern; all nasty stuff – they’re lucky I’m not calling them shemales. Or shims.)”  Ok, first of all, you did go on to call them both of those words later in the post.  Second of all… seriously?

Seriously?

…Ok, I’ll play.  “Cis” sounds like syph, cyst, cistern.  Sure.  It also sounds like sister, Sistine Chapel, sylph, sysadmin… look, it’s a damn WORD.  It sounds like itself.  And it’s a pretty useful word, as the alternatives are things like “real women/normal women,” (which are pretty damn othering), “women who were assigned to the female gender at birth and also identify with it” (which is a mouthful), and “women-born-women” (which, in addition to being co-opted by transphobic radical feminists, is also impossibly twee.)  I’m cisgender.  I’m a ciswoman.  I’m also a white woman, an American woman, a married woman.  These are descriptors.  Not insults.  (Unless you really truly think having what kind of woman you are noted in conversation to be offensive, in which case can we just call transwomen “women” too, then?  I think that would be nice.)

And in addition to being outraged on the behalf of the transgender community, I’m also pretty annoyed about this because of how it paints feminism.  See, I’m a feminist.  I hang out with feminists, I read blogs written by feminists.  I talk about feminism, and I’m going to raise my daughter to be feminist.  I think feminism is pretty damn important.  And the feminists I know, the ones I’ve been learning from and engaging with?  They do not do this shit.  They do not act like it’s ok to do this shit.  I absorbed intersectionality as part and parcel of feminism, and if any one person can’t fight all the battles all at once, at the very least they can keep from stepping on other marginalized people’s toes while they fight their own battles.  And so when I see someone using the feminist badge to demean and further marginalize someone else, it makes me pretty damn pissed off, because it taints the whole movement and the rest of us have to fight double-hard to be taken seriously.

You’re sticking your dick in my feminism.

Quit it.

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16 thoughts on “On dicks, pudding, transphobia and feminism

  1. I like. And its a good point. It is also terribly easy to see your rights battle being fought on only one front, and forget that other people have it worse. Ah, kyriarchy. 😦 I wish people could see that until all people are treated fairly no one really wins.

    • *nods* To me, the basic idea behind feminism, gay rights, transgender rights, anti-racism, and all other civil rights and social justice movements – not to mention most philosophies and just about all major world religions – is, quite simply, “don’t be an ass to other people.”

      If you’re fighting for one set of rights but being an ass to someone else, you’re doing it wrong.

  2. Great post. Of course, anything with photos of the Tenth Doctor automatically raises my opinion of it, but you make a lot of great points about how liberal activism automatically loses its inherent value when we make prejudice part of the the recipe.

  3. *waves* Hello! Found you from Ana’s blog. Just wanted to say I definitely agree with you here. You summed it up pretty well – my reactions to all of this. Also, I’m really getting sick and tired of feminists targeting trans people. It just destroys my respect for them. Trans people are not destroying feminism; in fact, many are fighting for it. (Actually got in an argument with someone in real life where they claimed this, and claimed that trans people don’t actually exist. I called her out as transphobic with as much respect as I could in that situation and even explained to her why she was wrong with basic facts and studies, and her reply? To claim I was a women-hater, that was trying to stop feminism. *facepalm* )

    Here’s a great article from a trans blogger that is probably the best response I’ve seen yet to this transphobic awfulness: http://quinnae.wordpress.com/2013/01/13/unguarded-and-poorly-observed-a-response-to-julie-burchill/

    Thought I’d share it with you since it relates directly to what you said here.

    • I absolutely adored that article – much better expressed than mine, I must say! Thank you for sharing it.

      The feminists who target trans people are, I can only imagine, the ones who a) don’t believe that it’s possible to actually change gender, and b) don’t believe men can have any role in feminism. Because really you’d have to believe both of those to do that.

      If you truly believe that someone’s biology and physical body is more important than their mind, emotions, personality, choices and (for lack of a better term) soul, in determining who they “really” are, then I don’t really want to know you. Since that pretty much goes against EVERYTHING I believe about the world and people.

      And if you don’t think men (or “men”) have any place in feminism, well, I covered that one already.

      • Yes, I very much agree. And you’re welcome! That blogger is definitely one of my favorites. Always insightful.

        The main contention I have with radical feminists is mostly due to a few I’ve met in real life that hounded me, harassed me, and then harassed my trans friends. There wasn’t much we could do but try to report it, and the authorities at that particular university just dismissed it like they did nearly everything else trans-related. Those radical feminism proved to me that they didn’t actually care about feminism — they cared more about obliterating trans people, for that’s where all their energy was. That’s all they’d talk about and all the activities they did were focused on it. At least for that group of radfems at my university.

        The most bizarre point of that experience is that the radical feminists were proving just how dangerous it is to be trans. The fact most people, especially in positions of power, will make their lives worse, will not help them when they seek to report abuse/harassment/ect, and often retaliate against them to the point of them fearing for their lives. And yet the radical feminists kept claiming that they have male privilege and never experience discrimination or prejudice……..

        They are harming feminism.

      • Ah haha, I should clarify, that it is the rad feminist who are harming feminism. Used way too unspecified ‘they’ at the end of that comment there. Whoops. *facepalm* I apologize for that.

  4. Thanks for writing this. I’ve been encountering more and more examples of people “sticking [their] dick[s] in my feminism” recently, in RL and online, not to mention people involved in other movements or groups I am a part of who fail on intersectionality. And ultimately it just helps oppress ALL marginalized groups.

    • I wonder what their response would be if that line was used to their faces? (…it would probably be bad, and I’m probably a bad person for suddenly wanting to try it now…)

  5. Here here. Also, do you want to know what cis- means? Cis-” as a prefix of Latin origin, meaning “on the same side [as]” or “on this side [of].” Now look at the definition of trans: Trans is a Latin noun or prefix, meaning “across”, “beyond” or “on the opposite side”. So cis- just means “opposite of trans.”

  6. Thank you so much for this post. I came across it thanks to Google, searching the phrase “transphobia in feminism”. By the way, that is the DEFAULT and FIRST search term which pops up when one types “transphobia in…” Thankfully, your post is currently at the top for this search, too. Your consciousness about this issue, and your words of heart, mean alot. I hope they also mean something to the less generous feminists you address.

    I’m a lesbian. And I’d like to call myself a feminist. But, I don’t, because at least as far as Euro-American cultures go, these are social groups which are patently and experientially NOT safe for me. Why? Because I’m also a transgender woman.

    Most people don’t know. I keep it stealth most of the time. But I’ve learned the brutally hard way that there are MANY women in both of these camps who utterly and unapologetically hate transgender women. It makes it hard to date other lesbians, to relate, to just be in community with other queer women. I don’t particularly give a damn about the stale ideological blather and angst behind it all. Petty rationalisations. I’m sick of it.

    I’m happy to hear you know many feminists who wouldn’t do this sort of vilification. Unfortunately, I’ve come to the conclusion that these transphobic/cissexist bigotries are almost the default attitude in many Lesbian and almost all feminist circles.

    An example of really sticking the dick in the pudding: When I had my first ob-gyn exam, the radfem nurse went out of her way to humiliate me and denigrate my body as she shoved the speculum up inside my vagina. It got pretty ugly. I relate this to starkly show what we are dealing with here. Transphobia is institutional amongst feminists to the point of medical abuse. Even as a Queer activist young woman, at the time I didn’t even think of it as a violation, as a RAPE. Not for years. I simply shrugged, because I was already aware that such transphobia is what to expect from most feminists and cultural lesbians. I hastily rationalised it as the “cost of education”, buried the pain deep. Too deep.

    I know I’m not alone in such experiences. Many transgender women are out there RIGHT NOW, trying to live our lives in these communities. OUR communities. Cisgender people DO NOT always know us by sight. We don’t necessarily have bodies any more or less siliconed than other women… We are dykes, too. We sit there when other lesbians crack jokes about “trannies” – and we wanly smile, terrified of coming out, of standing up, alone, amongst a community we slowly come to understand HATES US.

    Anecdotal, perhaps. But I must strongly emphasize that the dynamic appears INSTITUTIONAL. The reason that the authors you valiantly challenge in your post feel so free to vent such bile toward transgender women is that *communally*, feminism and lesbians enjoy transphobia as a default standard of denigrating behaviour. It’s still very deep in the culture.

    Yes, good willed cisgender people do occasionally stand up. I love to read such solidarity. I LOVE you for it. LOVE. YOU.

    But check it: It is 2013. Yet for the most part feminist and lesbian communities still mire in this bigotry as if it were Janice Raymond’s 1979. This hate is the communal standard, and QED a deeply conservative standard in form and execution. It has effects which hurt transgender women across the board: medical, social service, economic, emotional, cultural… Yet there are still no costs for transphobia, neither in feminism nor in much of the GLB movement and communities. No one is being held accountable in palpable ways. Offenders are quickly forgiven as one of “us.” Cissexist feminists couldn’t repeatedly get away with this blatant oppression otherwise.

    Why?

    Why…?

    It makes it too hard, you know? I’m long done trying to pitch in to a group as the perpetual foreigner, the suspect alien, grudgingly tolerated or invisible at best, vindictively hated at worst. I’m just done.

    But now and then, maybe twice a year, I sit down, pour a glass of wine and survey the discourse. The landscape I see is unchanged: the ghetto which feminists and cultural Lesbians have allowed us lately. Maybe. Sometimes – as the least loved colour of the rainbow. We’re still not at MichFest. HRC still shafts us. They still chuck us out of domestic violence shelters and bully us out of “womynspace”. Oookie dokie. Then, I get up and live life.

    My activist energies go toward radical Labour now, the religious Left, and Occupy, and my daily community work with seniors. I date lower-case lesbians, bisexuals, women who love women… Rarely I’ll tiptoe back into wider Queer community, wave the rainbow and march. I try to stay involved with many such communities and causes I support.

    But not feminism.

    Never again feminism.

    I just won’t take the hate anymore. There comes a point when you realise, “These are not your friends.”

    Thank you for your solidarity. Please keep it up. It mattered… tonight… for me, at least. Good luck to you.

  7. Pingback: And I don’t even know my last name…(warning, there be cursing ahead) Part one | Hey Mom Bo!

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