In the weeks before her appearance, she expressed dismay that last fall I had signed a petition favoring "dialog, not expulsion" of the Georgia chapter of the Green Party. Cynthia BrianKate joins many other trans activists and supporters within the Greens in thinking that the Georgia chapter is unapologetically transphobic and full of TERFs and TERF sympathizers and should get booted to the curb, so why was I supporting these folks who were running to their aid?
I owe Cynthia, the Lavender Caucus of the Green Party, and transgender activists in general an explanation, perhaps an apology. Let's start with explanation.
The Georgia chapter of the Green Party signed or endorsed a statement about women's sex-based rights. I read it. I would not have signed it myself. I felt like it contained language that was insensitive to trans women at best and denied the legitimacy of their identity at worst, depending on one's tendency to interpret dog whistles.
But I'm not a fan of "You said something wrong! You are bad and must be punished! I am absolutely right and you are absolutely wrong and there's no room for discussion" types of stances. So when I was approached and asked if I would support -- literally -- dialog with the Greens, as the next step, not expulsion of them -- I agreed. And (perhaps foolishly) thought I could bridge communication gaps between the parties involved.
That's really it in a nutshell.
Here are some additional details and elaborations.
Why (you might be wondering) would I think I was in a position to mediate between these parties?
I was born male. I’d place the timeframe as between first grade (when I don’t recall any awareness of it) and second grade (when I do) as when I became conscious of being at odds with gender expectations. Specifically that who I was was more akin to being one of the girls. And I was proud of that.
But I never felt dysphoria about my body. I was okay with being a male person, a person in a male body, who was one of the girls and not one of the boys.
And to drop this timeframe into a larger context, I graduated high school in 1977 and came out in 1980. How I identified would nowadays be called "nonbinary" or "nonbinary trans" or "genderqueer", but there was no such word and no so such concept back then; and although I recognized that my situation had stuff in common with the situation of gay folks and also with trans people, I did not find a social home in that community. What community? Trans people themselves weren't really very included with the gay and lesbian folks yet. No one was saying LGBT in the 70s, let alone LGBTQ.
The political people who were saying the most relevant things were the feminists. That double standards, where the same behavior or trait is valued differently depending on whether you're male or female, or where people have different standards of how you're supposed to be and behave, were sexist and wrong. That the attribution of masculinity to male people and femininity to female people was social, not built-in.
So I went to the university and majored in women's studies. Essentially I ran off to join the feminists.
I can't claim that I was fully accepted and understood in that community either, but it's important for people like the Lavender Caucus folks to understand that for most of my life the LGBTQ community wasn't an "us" that I belonged to. It wasn't a place where I was understood and my identity embraced.
Trans people back then didn't include people who didn't transition (or at least want to). At a minimum, if you identified as a woman, you were supposed to want to be perceived and thought of as female-bodied. You were supposed to want to pass.
Nowadays, the "big tent / umbrella" definition of transgender includes people like me, but because of concern for people who can't or don't do a medical transition, the attitude from the tent feels like our genital parts are an embarrassing thing that should be ignored lest they make our gender identity less valid. That makes it still not a completely warm and welcoming home for me, if you see what I mean. I'm not a cis woman, I'm male not female, and my tendency is to be in your face about being both a femme girl and a physically male person.
In my previous blog post, I wrote about how feminists tend to see gender as chains, as constraints. They believe that if we could get rid of sexist expectations and sexist notions, there would be no gender, because being male or female of body would have no social implications as far as how people think of you, or how you would think of yourself. (Interestingly, some of the people who commented on that post dissented to say that only TERFs would believe that, that real feminists embrace gender).
I don't fully agree with this "gender is just bad let's erase it" view, whether it is or isn't a typical feminist belief. I say "not fully" because I agree with it somewhat. Where I dissent is that we -- you and I and all of us -- we live in this world, this social world, and we are affected by gender; there may come a day when gender no longer exists, but before that can happen there first needs to be a world where you can be any physical sex and it doesn't determine your gender, and before we can get to neutral no-gendered-expectations we've got to create some social space for inverts. You can't move directly from a world where male people are boys and female people are girls to a world where being male isn't associated with being boyish and being female isn't tied to being girlish. You first have to confront some male girls and female boys and get to the point of recognizing them as okay people.
Mainstream trans rhetoric may seem at first glance to be there, but it's really not. Instead of saying "There are male girls and female boys and they can be proud of that", it says "If you say you're a girl, you're a girl; if you say you're a boy, you're a boy, and it's not polite to conjecture about what's in people's underpants". And lurking in the shadows of the hidden physical attributes that you're not supposed to conjecture about is the remaining fear that if you have male bits down there you aren't as girl as someone with female parts, and vice versa for the boyish folks.
TERF, of course, means trans EXCLUSIVE. As in "excluding trans women from what we mean when we say 'women'". And this exclusion plays right into that area of sensitivity, making an issue of whether a person was born with a vulva and clitoris or born with a penis and testicles instead. Hardly a surpise that trans activists perceive it as an assault on trans identities.
Is it always?
Trans women are women, period. But is it ever okay to exclude them?
Feminist women often consider people who were viewed and treated as female since their birth to be in a different social situation than people who were initially perceived and treated as male. The latter, they say, have been beneficiaries of male privilege even if they identify as women and are now perceived and treated as women. And, they sometimes also say, we want to organize as the former, as people who have always been in the social situation of being regarded and treated as female in a patriarchal society.
I am open to that argument even if many transgender activists are most vehemently not.
I have to say, though, that in any plural convocation of people who were taking that position, I have found at least a handful of genuinely bigoted intolerant hateful folks. Women who believe people who were born with penis and testicles were also born with a violent nature, a desire to dominate, a predisposition to destroy and kill and subjugate. An evil nature. Women who believe that patriarchy is male people expressing themselves and their natural built-in traits, and that males are the problem. Other feminists in their midst don't call them on it. And they won't embrace me as a feminist nor my trans sisters as women, because of it.
But because I was open to an argument that treats sex as one thing and gender as another -- because I treat them as separate components of my own identity -- I could see some possible merit to the "sex based rights" position, even if it is often voiced by trans-misogynist hateful people.
So for that reason I signed in support of having an actual dialog, and to find out where the Georgia Greens were actually coming from.
You're secluded in quarantine, and all the performances and events have been cancelled, so it's a good time to read a book!
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.
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