November 21st, 2021

Fence

I'm straddling a fence, with one foot hanging down on either side.

When gender-critical feminists say that people with XY chromosomes and penises who match the social definition of "feminine" should not have to transition socially or medically and present as female in order for their identities to be valid, they are right. And they are right in saying that rhetoric from transgender activists tends to say otherwise, they're right about that too.

But when they say that such people can't transition because they aren't and cannot be female, and that they're propping up gender stereotypes not challenging them, I stand with my transgender feminist sisters. They are right in saying transgender excluding feminists are fundamentally in the wrong, and when they claim that there is outright bigotry involved, I agree with them there also.

If you are in either camp, and feel strong emphatic hostility towards the other, you really need to read this, because *both* of you groups of people are stomping on my toes and it needs to stop.


"Should Not Have To"

In their outward-facing messaging to the general public, transgender people have explained that there are people who were assigned female at birth (AFAB) but who are actually men, and deserve to be evaluated by the same standards as other men, to be thought of as indistinguishable from men who were considered male since birth. And that, similarly, there are people assigned male a birth (AMAB) who are actually women, and who are entitled to be thought of and considered women, indistinguishable from the women who were perceived as female since birth. This is what the general public has been hearing since the 1970s when I was a teenager and it is still the message that the average person understands about trans people.

This message celebrates transition -- in the social sense if not necessarily in the medical sense as well -- as the end-all and be-all of wonderful self-affirming possibility for people whose identity is at odds with the expectations that are attached to their physiological body type.

It is not so much that trans voices are saying that a person in that situation has to transition; it's more that they are saying loudly and often that they can and have the right to and that a caring loving world would support them in doing so. And their numbers, and established voices, make their message a loud shout when compared to the voices of other gender-atypical people who opt for a different approach and walk a different self-affirming path.

When you add in the fact that they inclusively define "transgender" as applying to anyone whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth, this single narrative and the lack of any loudly spoken narrative that goes a different direction comes across as "anyone whose gender isn't what it was expected to be on the basis of their assigned sex is one of us, and we transition".

Even the exceptions aren't much of an exception. I just saw a meme on Facebook that asserted "TRANS WOMEN ARE WOMEN. TRANS MEN ARE MEN. NONBINARY PEOPLE ARE VALID". Well, there, you might be thinking, see, they are including other possibilities after all! But not so much. There is a complete lack of any detail, any specifics, about the nonbinary folks. Consider: the meme could have just said "TRANS AND NONBINARY PEOPLE ARE VALID" and left it at that. But by restating again that trans women are women, we're reminded that, oh yeah, the point is to not distinguish them from other women. Likewise for the trans men being men. Then when we get to the nonbinary people, saying "are valid" has the general effect of a vague wave of the hand: "And them, whatever the hell it is that they consider themselves to be, which we're not bothering to learn about or describe, they're cool too, okay?"

What you hardly ever see is a message from the transgender community stating "MEN WHOSE BODIES WOULD BE CONSIDERED FEMALE ARE VALID MEN WHETHER THEY DRESS TO FIT EXPECTATIONS OF MEN OR NOT. THEY DON'T NEED TO TRANSITION TO BE VALID". Or that "YOU DON'T HAVE TO CHANGE YOURSELF TO MATCH SEX EXPECTATIONS, AND YOU DON'T HAVE TO CHANGE YOUR SEX TO MATCH YOUR GENDER EITHER". And when you do see such messages, they were usually written by us, the minority of people who do not fit the widely shared social concept of transgender any more than we fit the expectations that describe cisgender people.

There is a lot of passive acceptance of us within the wide trans community, but there's also some real hostility. Our situation is different so we describe it differently, making different points than those that trans people in general tend to repeat, and that alone can get a person labeled "transphobe" and evicted from a support group.

Some people are blunt and coarse in their opposition, saying "You're not doing it right, if you're a trans woman you are female, and if you're still calling yourself male then you aren't trans".

But there is more fully thought out opposition too. One trans woman told me, "What happens to those of us who actually worked hard to transition? What happens to those of us who have nearly been brought to bankruptcy because we have felt the disconnect, have suffered through, had gone through the torment of society making us suffer for it, and worked hard to make the suffering cease? If your ideologies are to be a new 'norm', that would render all of our hard work meaningless."

Gender critical feminists look at the mainstream transgender message, the one about transitioning as the solution, the one that describes people assigned female at birth as "TRANS MEN ARE MEN", and people assigned male at birth as "TRANS WOMEN ARE WOMEN", and what they see is people hopping over the fence instead of helping them tear the fence down. They say that this leaves all the societal expectations of female people fully intact -- the transitioners who were born female will be regarded as men, hence not contradicting the stereotypes about female. And that the voice advocating this as a solution is shouting down the voice that was saying "WOMEN WHO DON'T DO FEMININITY AND DON'T CONFORM TO YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF FEMALES ARE WOMEN". And advising such people to become men instead.

"Can't"


The flip side, though, is the position that gender critical feminists take when they opt to declare that trans women aren't women. "Having a surgeon rearrange your body tissues into the approximate shape of a female body doesn't make you a woman. Dressing in high heels and a bra and putting on makeup doesn't make you a woman."

Feminists have for years and years said that our socially shared notions of how a man should be are an embrace of toxic and destructive traits. And that actual male people, in pursuing that ideal, have wrought pain and destruction and violence. They have refused to excuse the guys, rejecting the notion that "boys will be boys", and said, "No, this is political. Males aren't the freaking weather, something that simply is the way that it is and everyone has to just adjust to it. No, males should be held responsible for their behavior, for their entire way of being in the world."

Feminists have, of course, been accused of hating men. For daring to criticize them. For calling them out on their destructive and sadistic behavior. For holding males accountable.

In response, feminists have generally tended to say they don't hate male people for being male. They hate the way these male people manifest in the world, their entire way of thinking, feeling, their priorities and values, their behaviors and even the things commonly regarded as personality traits, these are all interlaced and interrelated. And as a whole, they are oppressive and oppositional and hateful and fundamentally a social problem, the world's largest and most central social problem, the social problem from which all of the others stem. Patriarchy from the structure of corporations and nation-states all the way down to the way a five year old boy learns to handle social interactions. How men are.

So if the goal is to change that, end that, shift away from that pattern, and along come some male people who say "We're bailing out on that, we don't want that identity", you'd perhaps think they'd view this as a positive development, or at least to contain some important positive elements.

But gender critical feminists, the primary modern inheritors of the mantle of radical feminism as it existed in the 70s and 80s, have made very little effort to examine male efforts and voices, or to engage any of us in deliberate dialog. It's mostly been a combination of "Nope, you aren't women. We're women. You aren't us" and "Fixing men's problem with what society expects of males is not our job".

If the existence of men -- that toxic, lethally destructive bundle of traits and behaviors, that interwoven and fully integrated patriarchal identity -- is a problem that needs to be addressed and brought to an end, then either males need to have a different identity available to us or else there needs to cease to be males.

When a group's collective traits are persistently described and defined as horrible, and it is also asserted that these traits are fundamental to who the people of that group are, the word for that is "hate".

Not all feminists hate men, and in my experience the overwhelming majority do not, but within the feminist community when an individual woman shows up, angry about women's situation and what has been done to women, and she not only hates how men have behaved but also believes males are intrinsically and naturally like this, that male people are inherently oppressive and violent and adversarial and have, built into us from the Y chromosome onward, all these horrendous traits... when the individual woman shows up and says so, her feminist sisters do not tell her "Ooh, sorry, we don't really want that attitude here, we can't go around viewing the male as being The Enemy innately". Of course not. They understand how the fury can lead to feeling that way, and solidarity among women is more important than litmus-testing something as relatively harmless as having a bigoted bias against males as inherently morally inferior beings -- especially given how many male people harbor bigoted attitudes about the intrinsic inferiority of females!

But that means that yes, in and amongst feminists are some individuals that feel the male is intrinsically inferior -- and when you start with that premise, your attitude to any of those who say they consider themselves women and wish to be regarded and accepted as such is about what you'd expect.

My transgender sisters are right. The response of gender critical feminists has taken the form of a lot of bigoted hate. For the most part, those feminists who don't feel that way about it aren't ready or willing to contradict those who do.


Some will continue to reassure themselves that it's just that fence-jumping behavior they're objecting to -- that instead of tearing down gender, the trans people are just hopping over to the other side. Well, in the 1970s, early 2nd wave feminism was often hostile and condescending about women who were wives and mothers or otherwise conformed to society's expectations of female people instead of being the resistance to that, being gender nonconformists. But they outgrew that, and came to the realization that all women are in this together and need to be allies whether they are compliant with expectations or openly rebellious. Robin Morgan, for instance, apologized for some of the things she'd said about femininity-track women. With that in mind, back to the trans people. We are all in this together and we cope at the individual level as best we can. Some of us are in a position to stand out as noncompliant nonconforming people who violate gender expectations. Others need to find a safe place to escape the penalties for being anything of the sort, and a modicum of compassion for those who seek gender asylum is not inappropriate here.


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My book, GenderQueer: A Story From a Different Closet, has been published by Sunstone Press. It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and ebook, and as ebook only from Apple, Kobo, and directly from Sunstone Press themselves.


My second book, That Guy in Our Women's Studies Class, is also being published by Sunstone Press. It's a sequel to GenderQueer. It's expected to be released in early 2022. Stay tuned for further details.



Links to published reviews and comments are listed on my Home Page

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